Chapter 08 of Quest for the Blue Crystal

Three hours had passed since Drake left the Wizards Guild. The sun settled beow the horizon, turning the sky to ever darkening crimson. “How much longer, General?” asked Drake. As the sky dimmed the general became noticeably more nervous. Nervous people  make Drake nervous.

During the first half of the trip they had traveled southeast, and Drake had watched the terrain change from wooded forest to open grasslands to dessert sand. The heat had steadily increased to a sweltering sauna until they rounded the southern tip of a mountain range and turned northeast. The temperature began dropping as the sequence of climate and terrain reversed themselves. Now they were back to wooded hills, with an occasional view of high mountains on their left, barely visible in the deepening twilight.

At first Drake had welcomed the relief from the fierce heat of the dessert, but now that they were farther north and the sun had set, it was becoming a bit too cool. He had buttoned up his shirt a half hour before. There wasn’t much else he could do.

“Eh? Oh, not much longer. Less than an hour,” answered Messick distractedly, his eyes scanning the sky. Drake noticed the driver’s eyes were watching the sky as well; almost as closely as the road. Both men were clearly concerned. Drake looked down at his MP-5, afraid that the damn thing might disappear out of his hands again. He gripped it tighter, willing it to remain with him. This gun had saved his life many times, and he didn’t want to lose it now.

Ten minutes later, the general spotted them.

“There!” he yelled, pointing his index finger ahead and to their right, and near the horizon. “I make out three of them.”

Drake stared hard, but saw nothing more than the silhouette of some large birds against a huge white dome of a rising moon. The driver looked and agreed with the general.

“Damn that’s a big moon,” commented Drake. He’d seen some weird optical effects of the atmosphere, especially in the desert air down near the horizon, but the magnification on this baby was impressive.

“Should we stop, sir?” asked the driver, ignoring Drake.

“No! I want to get to the castle fast! Maximum power!” the general shot back. The jeep surged ahead, nearly knocking Drake out of his seat as it hit the ruts with more violence than before. The general evidently had a better grip, or was more used to this rough riding, for he not only kept his seat but was able to reach into one of the storage compartments and pull out a cross bow. He offered it to Drake.

“No thanks,” Drake answered, smiling. “I’ll trust this if I need some protection,” he said, patting his MP-5. The general shrugged and kept the bow for himself, pulling back the bolt and putting in an arrow.

“General! They’re coming around on us!” the driver shouted. Both Drake and Messick looked up and saw the three Reps gliding more or less parallel to them on the right, at about eight feet off the ground. Drake didn’t think they looked much like birds; they were more like huge mosquitoes with big flapping bat wings. He set the gun for a three shot burst, clicked off the safety, took aim, and squeezed the trigger.

Click. Misfire.

The general’s crossbow twanged, and there was a muffled ‘thwack’ and a squawk as the shaft found its mark. The creature hit the ground with the sound of breaking bones. Its two companions veered off and did not return.

“Home,” sighed the driver, as the jeep rounded a bend and brought into view the massive Castle Krashbrinae sitting atop a broad hill. Both the driver and General Messick were clearly relieved, as Drake cursed at the failed piece. With so much bouncing around, he’d have to wait for a chance to field strip it. But he had the sinking feeling he wouldn’t find anything wrong with it.

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