Two Are Better Than One Chapter 5
By Samara Secor
“It appears as though the rain’s finally letting up, so, I guess that you’ll be moving on soon. Am I right?” Arvad asked, and, after waiting for Alicia, Laticia, and Neil to nod, he continued, “I don’t suppose that many musicians ever make it up there since they’d have to fight that cave full of monsters the first time through.”
“And since we’re heading that way, anyway, you’d like to come along, eh?” Neil shrugged. “I doesn’t really matter to me as long as you do your part during a fight. Just keep your lightfingers to yourself, okay?”
“Hey…. I told you that I was reformed. Why don’t you believe me?” Arvad put on an expression of mock hurt before removing a knife from its sheath in his sleeve and balancing it on his fingertips. “Besides, these nimble fingers are as good at scaling rocks as they were picking pockets. Unless you guys are part mountain goat or something, you’ll need help getting through that muddy mess that people have the nerve to call a mountain pass.”
Arvad was well on his way towards the mountain pass with Alicia, Laticia, and Neil close behind, when he heard a sneeze. Oddly enough, the noise seemed to have originated from Alicia’s backpack. Arvad stopped in his tracks and crossed his arms. “Okay, ‘fess up. What are you hiding in there?” he asked.
“Hiding? I’m not hiding anyth…” Alicia’s reply was interrupted when Conch popped his head out from inside her pack and said, “Hello. How are you doing? My name’s Conch.”
Surprisingly, Arvad didn’t even blink at Conch’s unusual appearance. He just smiled and shook his head, “I can tell things are really going to be interesting traveling with you guys. Maybe too interesting. Oh, well. I don’t intend to back out now. Let’s hurry up and get through this mountain pass before dark. I’m not relishing the thought of spending the whole night worrying about whether or not a rock is going to fall on my head.”
After finishing his statement, Arvad resumed walking at a pace that was just short of running. The others were quick to follow. “Gee, what’s gotten into him? He wasn’t in this much of a hurry before…” Alicia grumbled. “If we hadn’t been walking our whole lives, I doubt that we could keep up with him.”
Neil leaned his head closer and whispered in a conspiratorial tone, “I have the sneaking suspicion he just might be a bit… afraid of this little blue furball.”
“Hey!” Conch shot a venomous glare at Neil before saying, “As much as I hate to say it, I think you’re right. Maybe he’s just afraid of cats.”
“I thought that you said you weren’t a cat, Conch,” Laticia said teasingly.
“That’s right. I’m not,” Conch affirmed.
“Is it at all possible that he might have encountered another one of your kind before?” Laticia asked.
“Well… I suppose he might have met another one of my kind before, but it’s highly unlikely. There aren’t very many of us, and we pretty much keep to ourselves,” Conch answered.
“Do you know anything that might make him afraid of you?” Alicia asked.
“Of me personally? No, I’m a perfect angel,” Conch grinned and said, “But seriously, I can’t do much of anything to hurt anyone. I’m not old enough.”
Neil grimaced. That statement implied that the elders of Conch’s tribe were powerful enough to do some serious damage. Maybe it wasn’t such a good idea to be picking on Conch like he had been. He might remember it later. Neil looked ahead to where Arvad was and began lengthening his strides to catch up.
They continued on their way through the mountain pass with little of note except the occasional slip on the muddy ground. Alicia had thought that Arvad was merely boasting about his climbing skills, but when she saw him hanging practically upside down and still going without a pause, she realized that he was actually being quite modest. After one of these spectacular feats of daring, Arvad tied a rope securely around an outcropping and sat down on a reasonably dry patch of rock to wait for them. The former thief turned musician was not used to such a workout, and the strain was beginning to tell on him. He waved off any suggestion that they take a break, though, repeating his statement about rocks falling on them in the night.
Laticia didn’t believe that excuse for a moment. Arvad made too many glances in Conch’s direction and sped up whenever he thought that the distance between them was lessening. It was right after once such episode that Arvad missed his step and almost tumbled over the edge. He remained crouched by the ledge for a moment, staring off into the distance with a wild look that had nothing to do with his present circumstances. He came to himself with a jerk and said, “I suppose I do need a little rest. If I can’t even walk straight, I’m likely to bring the whole mountain tumbling down around our ears.”
Arvad walked over to a place a bit farther from the edge and sat down. He removed his sitar from its case at his back and began to play, at first tunelessly, but then changing into what Laticia thought to be a rather soothing melody. Evidently, Arvad felt that way about it, too, for the creases in his forehead smoothed out, and he began to relax.
Just as Arvad was finishing up his piece, an extremely loud screech rent the air. His fingers stilled on the strings, and he propped the sitar against a boulder. He motioned for the others to keep quiet and scanned the sky in search of the cry’s source. He could think of several possibilities as to the author of that horrendous racket and none of them were good. He made a circuit of the area and found nothing. He shrugged and said, “Well, I guess my music critic is no longer in the area, so...”
Arvad broke off in the middle of his sentence and dove for the cover of the boulder that he’d left his sitar lying against. He was not a moment too soon, for the claws of a gigantic bird swept the area where his head had been. Instead of grasping their intended target, they swished harmlessly through the air. The bird let out an angry squawk at being thwarted and rose up in the air to dive again.
Before the bird had a chance to repeat its maneuver, Laticia drew her bow and loosed three arrows in its direction. The crafty fowl dodged two of them, but the third one struck the bird’s leg. It let out another piercing call and was answered by a few similar cries in the distance. “Oh, man. We’re in big trouble, now...” Arvad crawled out from behind the boulder and produced a pair of knives from his sleeves. “One’s bad enough, but there’s no way we can handle more... We’ve got to get out of here.”
Arvad, Neil, Alicia, and Laticia began running northward, not noticing that Conch was not following. He was huddling in the shadow of another large rock within sight of Arvad’s sitar. Slowly, so as not to risk attracting the avian’s attention, he began inching his way across the clearing towards it. He let out an almost inaudible sigh of relief and nudged the sitar with his nose. ‘I can’t leave this instrument out here, but how am I supposed to carry it?’ Conch wondered. ‘If only I were a little older, I could... Well, crying about it won’t change anything. I’ll just have to do the best I can.’
Gently, Conch grasped the neck of the sitar in his mouth and rose slowly into the air. ‘Gah... This thing’s heavier than I thought,’ Conch wavered in mid-air while trying to adjust for the extra weight. ‘I hope I don’t damage it too badly, or Arvad may not thank me for my help. Then again, he probably won’t anyway. I wish I knew which one of my fellow dragons caused his dracophobia. It might give me some idea of how to help.’
With a yell, Neil leaped into the air and swung his sword. It clipped the wing of a bird that had gotten too close, sending it plummeting downward. He barely had time to take a deep breath before dodging the attack of another bird. A sudden, piercing pain in his shoulder told him that he hadn’t been completely successful. Neil gritted his teeth and did his best to ignore it. ‘This is not going well at all. If we don’t make it out of here soon...’ Neil shook his head violently and asked, “Arvad, how much farther is it to the end of the pass?”
“It’s not that far... Just a few more turns,” Arvad paused to throw a dagger at one of the birds before continuing, “There’s no guarantee that these feather-brains will leave us alone once we get there, though. They seem to be rather persistent.”
“Yeah, you’d think somebody stole one of their eggs or something. Wait... Arvad, you didn’t, did you?” Alicia asked.
“Grr... How many times do I have to say this? I am reformed!” Arvad exclaimed. “Do you understand? Besides, even in my thieving days, I wasn’t stupid enough to mess around with a gryphon’s nest. That would be suicide.”
The words had barely left Arvad’s mouth when a fiery flash accompanied by a loud bang erupted from just around the bend. There was a flurry of wings and three of the gryphons zoomed out into the open air with tails ablaze. The rest of the gryphons continued to fly in circles around the area, afraid to approach, but unwilling to leave.
Arvad held up a hand to keep the others from going forward any further and peered cautiously around the corner. A girl with a pink cape and black hair was holding a short staff in the air between herself and the gryphons. Arvad had no doubt that she was the source of the fireball.
The girl didn’t hold his attention for long, because he saw not one, but two eggs sitting on the ground behind her. “I don’t believe this,” Arvad turned to the others and said, “Wait here. It looks like a little stealth is required for this task. I just hope she doesn’t hear me and burn me to a crisp...”
Arvad slipped around the corner before anyone could ask him what he meant. He held his breath as he moved slowly forward, aware that the slightest misstep could literally cost him his life. Luckily, the girl didn’t turn around, and he made it to the eggs without incident. He bent down and picked the eggs up, cradling one in each arm. Keeping his eyes on the girl, he began moving back the way he had come, praying fervently to Althena that his luck wouldn’t desert him now.
Althena must have heard his prayer, for the girl’s eyes remained fixed on the sky and the circling gryphons. Arvad smiled in silent acknowledgment of the amazed looks on the faces of Alicia, Laticia, and Neil. Then, he turned back towards the heart of the pass and raised the eggs high over his head. He began to run as fast as he could, singing nonsense words at the top of his lungs to draw the gryphons’ attention to him.
Arvad was almost too successful. The gryphons were on him in an eyeblink, and he froze, thinking, ‘I’m going to get pecked to death by birds! I never thought things would end up like this...’
The gryphons, however, were far more concerned with getting their eggs back safely than they were with causing any harm to the one holding them. With tender care, a pair of them grasped the eggs in their talons and flew off. The rest of the gryphons followed, although they were slowed somewhat by the suspicious glances they kept throwing in Arvad’s direction.
When the last of the gryphons had faded away to a speck in the distance, Arvad sat down and began laughing in a timbre that contained no small amount of hysteria. He didn’t even notice when Neil, Alicia, and Laticia surrounded him with worried looks. “Umm... Arvad? Arvad? Hey, Arvad!” Laticia yelled before slapping him.
“Ow! Hey, what did you do that for?” Arvad asked, frowning as he rubbed his jaw.
“Oh, I don’t know. Maybe it had something to do with the fact that you were sitting in the middle of the path giggling like a maniac,” Alicia commented.
“What?” Arvad got up hastily and began brushing the dirt off of his clothing in an attempt to hide his embarrassment, thinking, ‘Blast it, this is the second time today that I’ve made a fool of myself in front of them! At this rate, they won’t even trust me to carry a... Hey, wait a minute! It’s gone!’
Arvad waved the empty instrument case over his head as if he could will the sitar into being simply by shaking it hard enough. “No!” Arvad moaned. “I must have left it behind when we started running from the gryphons. I’ve got to go back and get it.”
“Not anytime soon, you’re not!” an angry voice exclaimed from behind them.
As one, the four of them turned to face a rather furious wizardress. “What do you think you’re doing snatching those eggs out from under me when I worked so hard to get them?” she asked, her blue eyes flashing. “You little thieves!”
“Um, excuse me!?! I think you’re the thief in this scenario,” Laticia said, pointing a denouncing finger in the direction of the wizardress. “Arvad was simply returning them to their rightful owners. Just who do you think you are, anyway?”
The wizardress unfurled her cape with a flourish and said, “I’m Edrea Terrell, apprentice to the great sage, Orielle of Vane, and you guys just set my midterm project back a whole month! You’re going to pay dearly for this.”
To Chapter 6
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