"I hate cults," Kyle muttered.
cult," Twest said back.
"What are they doing on this side of the Spinal Mountains?" Crim wondered out loud.
The Scarlet Skye crew, minus Jace and Carmine, had only just tracked down the Followers of Mephisto this morning. It had taken them until lunch time to find a spot where they could keep an eye on all of the comings and goings of the camp.
Tiara and Mara gave the boys curious looks.
"Know this lot?" Ti asked.
"We met them a long time ago," Twest explained. "They're a bit... er..."
"They suck as cultists," Kyle chuckled. "Always fouling things up."
"But they know how to cause a commotion," Crim said, "And they tend to get their hands in all the wrong things, if only by accident."
"So how do we find the bow?" Angelis asked. "Think one of them has it on his person? Or stashed in a treasure area?"
Crim shook his head. "That guy at the school said these guys realized how to use the thing. Someone who can use magic is going to have it. And I would guess that someone is going to have clout. If we sit this out long enough, he'll make himself known."
Everyone groaned. It had taken them days to figure out who the group was that had stolen the stupid bow, and where they were camped. This bounty was WAY more trouble than it was worth, and the anxiousness of the crew lent credence to it. None of them had liked leaving two of their own behind, and the more time passed, the more edgy they all seemed to feel. It was taking all of Crim's patience to manage keeping a cool head in the absence of one of his best friends and the mageling.
He sighed. Knowing the mageling she'd either have set the entire school on fire, or be hidden behind a pile of books feeling sorry for herself that she sucked at magic. Heh.
The sun set. The crew complained of being hungry. Mara and Kyle jaunted back to the ship and returned with light snacks. Night fell. The moon rose and shone bright overhead. Only Twest noticed it. He checked a pocket watch and started making calculations.
"Does anyone else find it odd that the moon is almost directly overhead and it's almost exactly midnight?"
Crim and Kyle's heads snapped up.
"You don't think they're going after Phoebe, do you?" Kyle asked.
Crim growled, "They've got another thing coming, if they do." He stood up and started down toward the camp. "Come on."
The group crept around the camp to the most elaborate looking tent and snuck up behind it.
"It never fails to amaze me how easy it is to sneak up on encampments of idiots," Angelis mused.
Twest and Crim shushed her. Inside the tent, there were people talking.
"The moon's almost in the proper position, Frank better have memorized that song properly, because if he performs it wrong, there's no telling what could happen."
"What if the moon goddess smites us, boss?" a second voice asked.
Crim chuckled and shook his head.
"She's not gonna smite the people who summon her, you moron!" said a third voice from within the tent.
"How do you
know?" the second voice retorted sharply.
"Hush!" said the first one. "It's time, now. Fred's a pretty strong cantor caster as it is, and Frank's playing has an otherworldly quality. If we add that ribbon Faust has been using into the mix, we're sure to be able to pull this off. Now let's go."
There was rustling and then quiet as the tent emptied.
"So they are
going after Phoebe," Twest sighed. "This won't end well."
"Amateurs," Crim scoffed. "They want a smiting? We'll give them a smiting. I've got an idea."
A short while later, the whole troop of cultists were gathered around a huge bonfire. One brought out a stringed instrument and sat close to the flames. Another came out and stood by the first's side. He had an awkward pink bow tie round his neck and looked horribly embarrassed for it being there in front of the others.
The player started playing. While he did, other shady characters came forward from the crowd and threw various objects into the fire. Each gave some kind of chant when they did so. After five objects, the singer with the bow tied around his neck started a low song.
An explosion rocked the camp. All of the cultists looked around, startled, for the source.
"WHO HAS SO FOOLISHLY CALLED UPON MY NAME IN FALSE TESITMONY?!" rang a female voice.
There were shouts of dismay as people crowded together near the fire.
Tiara stood up on top of one of the tents, dressed in a short but flow-y bit of light colored cloth. Her normally dark tan skin was a sickly white and her dark purple hair was ghostly pale. She'd traded out her scythe for a long bow and was scowling down at the group by the fire.
"Queen of the Night Sky!" one of the braver cultists cried out, "We are the Followers of Mephisto and have called upon you to-"
"I KNOW WHO YOU ARE!" Tiara shouted. "YOU SO FOOLISHLY USE THE NAME OF THAT MAN I KILLED AS THOUGH IT MIGHT GRANT YOU POWER?"
The silence that followed was deafening.
"We, uh..." the same fellow tried again after a moment, "Have summoned you here to grant us your assistance with the Song of Destruction."
"THE SONG OF DESTRUCTION, INDEED!" Tiara cried.
Around the camp more explosions went off. Several of the tents caught fire. People in the crowd shouted and started to run.
"THOSE WHO CALL UPON MY NAME IN SUCH IGNORANCE SHALL RECEIVE THE DESTRUCTION OF MY WRATH! LET THIS BE A LESSON TO YOUR PEOPLE!" She drew the bow and aimed at the main section of the crowd. Something flashed as she loosed what should have been an arrow.
Someone in the middle of the group suddenly cried out in pain and fell over backward, grasping his throat and crying out in pain. "Pray, spare us, goddess!" he cried, then shook violently and ceased moving.
The bonfire suddenly choked, and then ceased completely.
"RUN FOR IT!" shouted someone else in the crowd.
"SHE'LL KILL US ALL!" shouted another.
Panic and riot broke out in the camp.
"FLEE FOOLS," Tiara shouted, laughing maniacally. "THE HUNT IS MY GAME! YOU WILL ALL BE DEAD BEFORE THE DAWN!" She drew her bow again and retreated into the leaves of a tree near the tent she'd been balanced on top of. Several more explosions went off around the camp at various intervals.
In the chaos, no one noticed when the bow tied around the singer's neck was filched. No one noticed Tiara never left the tree she was in. Small darts struck a few of the cultists as they were leaving, and various people screamed and cried out in pain while fleeing the scene. The moon went suddenly dark, leaving no light for those who were running blind through the forest.
A similarly pale female to the one Tiara was dressed as knelt down by the first fallen fellow, smiling.
"You never fail to amuse me with your antics, Crimson Skye," she said.
Under the dark robe he'd snitched from one of the cultists' tents, Crim grinned. "Good to see you, too, Pheebs. Like the show?"
"Go now," she said, "I'll hold back the moon's light for another ten minutes. Gather your friends and leave."
Crim stood and bowed deeply. "Many thanks." Then he was off.
The eternally youthful female shook her head and smiled.
By the time the moon returned to the sky, the cultists were scattered throughout the forest, and the Scarlet Skye was back in the air, leaving the scene, victorious.
Everyone congratulated Tiara on her portrayal of the ancient moon goddess while she wiped white powder off of her face and out of her hair. Mara was also congratulated on her exploding potions, thrown together spur of the moment. Kyle loudly said he ought to be praised for screaming like a girl amongst the crowd in order to up the horror factor, and managing to get the bow off of that singer guy. Twest said he thought he and Angelis ought to get some praise, too, for actually managing to hit people with darts while they were moving
, since neither of them were that good at throwing weapons to begin with.
Eventually it was decided that celebrations would relocate them to the galley while Mara whipped up a quick cake. Only Crim stayed above deck, piloting the Scarlet Skye south, back to Barton. But he felt like he wasn't really alone; there was a beautiful full moon out tonight.