The Beast of Ravenwood

When the Jewel Riders hear about a legendary creature living in the Ravenwood Forest, they must investigate an old ruin to discover the truth behind this mystery! 

Author: Chris Kanther

Note: Princess Gwenevere And The Jewel Riders™. ©1995 New Frontier Entertainment.  This is a work of fan fiction, and no money is being made.

=O=O=O=

Drake pulled his woolen cloak closer around his shoulders against the chill as he and the other members of the Pack rounded the bend and caught their first sight of the Crystal Palace after nearly a week out on assignment in Ravenwood Forest by King Jared.  Late afternoon light sparkled across the huge crystal dome, showering the grounds with prismatic rainbows.  The Autumn air was crisp and clean, and Drake took a deep lungful before letting out a contented sigh.

“Thank Merlin we’re home,” Drake said, patting Thunder absentmindedly as the huge wolf began to pant.

Josh nodded in agreement as he pulled his white wolf Stormrunner up beside Drake and Thunder.  “I for one am looking forward to one of Cook’s good meals – we’d die eating what you put together every night, Drake!” the black boy added with a mirthy chuckle.

Drake turned to their third member Max who was riding behind him.  “Max, tell Josh I prepare excellent – bordering on genius I might venture – camp food, and he’s just being a snob.”

Max simply rolled his eyes and shook his head at the antics of his fellow Pack members before spurring his wolf Shadowgale on toward hearth and home.

=O=O=O=

“Ravenwood is so haunted,” Drake argued as he flopped down into his favorite battered leather armchair by the roaring fireplace in the Pack’s shared quarters.  “Every little one knows that!”

A smirk rolled across Josh’s features as he sipped at a steaming cup of mulled wine before retorting, “Yes, and every little one grows out of that superstition when they reach the height of their mothers’ knees!”

Drake scowled at his fellow Pack member before turning his head to Max.  “What about you, Max?  Kingsford is right on the border of Ravenwood; didn’t you ever heard any strange noises coming out of the forest at night?”

“Drake,” Max said from his reclined position on the squashy couch opposite the chair, “I grew up in the ducal palace.  It’s not exactly at the edge of the forest, and I certainly didn’t steal my grandfather’s ear horn to listen for sounds in the middle of the night!”

Drake sniffed.  “Your loss then.  Lots of people who stayed at our inn said they heard strange sounds at night when they camped near Ravenwood.  Some people even said they caught glimpses of a strange creature on the forest trails.”

“A bunch of superstitious nonsense,” Josh crowed.  “Just like those ridiculous stories about the so-called ‘Prince of the Forest’ people claimed to see in Arden a few years back.”

Suddenly, Drake heard the click-click of heeled boots at the door.  “Boys and their stories,” Fallon said with a snort as she strode into the room and poured herself a goblet of the mulled wine heating by the fire before settling on the armrest of Josh’s chair.  Fallon was the first non-Pack member ever allowed access to what she described as their wolf den.  Though Drake was loathe to admit it, the dark-skinned Moon Stone Jewel Rider was very skilled at both riding and tracking.  Her cartography knowledge had especially impressed Josh on their last ride to Silver Lake, and he had extended the invitation to join them in their private quarters sometime.

“I can’t believe with all the crazy stuff we’ve seen already that you guys aren’t even open to the possibility that a truly mysterious creature lives in the Ravenwood Forest,” Drake said.

“And I can’t understand how you could think something like that could go undiscovered with all the generations of Jewel Riders who have come before us,” Josh retorted.

“Besides, wouldn’t the trees have reported anything unusual like that to us?” Max added, a thoughtful look on his face.

Drake scowled, momentarily defeated, before his face split into a wide grin.  “But what if the creature is invisible?”  Josh, Max, and Fallon all collectively groaned.  “What?  Besides, if it’s a creature, then wouldn’t Tamara be able to communicate with it?”

Max’s head lolled to one side on the pillow as he gave Drake a stink eye.  “Are you actually suggesting we go looking for some hoax in the middle of the night?  We just got back today!”

“I’m not saying we have to go…today,” Drake said, letting just a hint of his younger sister’s best pleading tone creep into his voice.  “But you wouldn’t be…scared of spending All-Hallow’s Eve looking for the creature, would you?”

Fallon arched an eyebrow at Drake over the rim of her cup as she took a sip of the steaming liquid.  “Why don’t we make it interesting, boys?”

“What did you have in mind?” Josh asked, the interest evident on his face.

Fallon flashed a pearly grin.  “Gwen’s Harvest Party Gala.  Whichever of us successfully finds a trace of the creature is excused from guard duty and being stuck in a room of the most boring people in Avalon.”

“And just like that, I’m somehow interested in this little hunt,” Josh laughed.

=O=O=O=

Drake pushed out his lower lip and gave Tamara his best pleading gaze.  “C’mon, Tamara, I know you have something in one of your bestiaries about the Ravenwood creature!”

Tamara looked at Drake over the tub where she was washing the Babies as Cleo, Sugar, and Spike splashed water everywhere.  “Fine, fine!” she relented.  “If you help me finish cleaning up these rascals, I’ll help you look through my books.  But there’s no guarantee you’ll find anything!  I’ve never even heard of such a creature, honestly.”  Tamara gave a shake of her pink-haired head.

One very wet hour later, Drake and Tamara dried off and headed into the Crystal Palace library.  It was an ornate room with built-in bookshelves and plenty of tables and chairs for reading and study.  Aside from occasional lessons with Merlin, Drake didn’t spend too much time there.  Fortunately, he was spared the embarrassment of asking Tamara where the magical beasts section was when she headed straight for it.

Tamara indicated a shelf full of large, heavy looking tomes.  “As you can see, there’s been quite a few authors who have written about the creatures of Ravenwood and Arden.  It’s one of the better mapped areas of the kingdom, actually,” she added.

Drake traced a line of books until his finger came to rest on the gilded spine of a huge volume.  “A Survey of Magical and Non-Magical Creatures of the Ravenwood Forest, by Count Dubrinsky.  He died over a hundred years ago!” Drake said.

“I told you, most of Ravenwood has been mapped already,” Tamara said, pulling several other volumes off the shelves and setting them on a nearby table.  “It would be helpful if you actually had some idea of what this creatures is supposed to even look like.”

Drake tapped his chin, trying to recall all the stories people had told when he was a child at the Welcome Inn.  “Claws.  Definitely claws.  Oh, and sharp teeth!”

“Well, that removes most herbivores,” Tamara said drily.  “Any word on coloring, perhaps?  Quadruped?  Biped?  Furred?  Flying?”

Drake scratched the back of his head, embarrassed.  “You know, I don’t know if anyone ever got into such specifics…”

Tamara spun Drake around and pushed him toward the table,  “Well then, we’d better get to researching!”

Several hours later, Drake could feel his eyes trying to glue themselves shut the longer he looked at the miniscule printed type in the books.  He could almost swear the words were getting smaller the longer he looked at them.  “This is going nowhere!” he moaned before dropping his head on the book.

Drake heard a laugh from the doorway of the library.  “I can already taste my victory,” Josh crowed as he strolled by, giving Drake a cheery wave.  “Hope you enjoy security duty!” he called out.

“What was that about?” Tamara asked with an arched eyebrow as she glared at Drake over a pair of reading spectacles.

“Do you think it’s getting a little warm in here?” Drake sputtered.  “Maybe I should open a window?”

Tamara tapped a nail on the table.  “Don’t think you’re weaseling out of this one, Drake.  I demand to know exactly to what Joshua was referring.  You don’t want me to use this, do you?” she said, pulling out her Heart Stone.  “I don’t think you’d live down singing your love for Thunder from the Crystal Palace roof, you know.”

Drake hung his head.  “You got me.  I’m not interested in the Beats of Ravenwood just because of the childhood tales; Josh, Max, Fallon and I have a bet that anyone who can find a trace of the creature will get out of guard duty for Gwen’s Harvest Party Gala.”

“So I’ve been brushing up on my Cryptozoology for you because of a bet?” Tamara snorted, pushing the spectacles to the top of her head and rubbing her eyes.  “And here I was, hoping you’d taken an interest in the sciences, finally.”

“Hey, I really am interested!” Drake said.

“And what do I get for helping you?” Tamara asked, a light glinting in her eye.  “I mean, the Heart Stone can call out to any animal.  Some people would say asking for my help is…cheating,” she said with a giggle.

Drake grinned.  “If we do find it, shouldn’t the Heart Stone rider be content with…uh…leading the team that discovered a brand new magical creature?”

“Touche,” Tamara said.  “It would be the naturalistic discovery of a generation.  All right, I’m in.  But just to be clear, I’m doing this for science.  I – unlike you and the others – am actually looking forward to the Harvest Party Gala.”

Drake allowed a chuckle to escape his lips.  “That’s because you don’t have to work security.”

=O=O=O=

Gwen was furious – as Fallon had privately predicted – when the Princess found out about their excursion.  “I can’t believe you, Fallon!  The party is in two days, and I need everyone here helping to set up.  You and Tamara can go out riding with the boys any day!” she huffed.

Fallon rolled her eyes as she grabbed an apple from the fruit bowl on Gwen’s table and began eating.  “I’m sorry wild creature sightings in Ravenwood are interfering with your party planning, Gwen.”

“I just don’t understand where these reports are coming from,” Gwen said thoughtfully as she brushed Sunstar’s mane and tail.  “We found the Crown Jewel of the Northwoods weeks ago.  There shouldn’t be any more Wild Magic outbreaks in that area!”

“Was I the only one listening to Queen Anya?  I thought she said the Wild Magic outbreaks would only be less frequent once the Crown Jewels were restored,” Fallon said.  “And anyway, these creature sightings predate the scattering of the Crown Jewels.”

Gwen made a distinctly un-princess-like grunt in her throat.  “Looks like I have to do everything myself!  It’s decided – Sunstar and I are going with you on All-Hallow’s Eve.  The sooner we either catch the creature or verify it’s nowhere to be found, the sooner you can all come back and help me finish party preparations!”

Fallon allowed herself a small chuckle as she threw the apple core away.  “Glad to see your priorities are so clear, Princess.”

=O=O=O=

“This is the place,” Josh said, pointing at a densely-forested area of Ravenwood on the map.  “If we’re going to find the creature, the deep forest is the place it’ll be lurking.”  He and Max sat in the dining hall of the Crystal Palace, with cartographic surveys and maps spread out over a large table.

“What makes you so sure?” Max asked, a skeptical look on his face.

Josh snorted and adjusted his sunglasses.  “Maxy, I know maps – certainly better than Drake.”  He tapped the map area again for emphasis.  “This is the closest area of deep forest to the reports of strange sounds, plus it borders the Misty Moors.  A singular creature could easily hide out here for generations without being discovered.”

Max nodded.  “It’s close to a Travel Tree Ring, too.  Who’s to say something didn’t come through once upon a time and escape into the forest?”

“Now you’re talking!” Josh said, slapping Max on the back.

“Ho, lads!  What are you two going on about?” King Jared said with a jovial grin as he strolled up to peer at the maps strewn all over the table.

“We’re checking up on reports of an unknown creature in Ravenwood, sir,” Josh said.

King Jared’s eyes lit up.  “Ah, the good old Beast of Ravenwood.  Lads, those stories were old when I was young!” he laughed, a deep booming sound.

“Then you don’t believe in them?” Josh asked, looking crestfallen.

King Jared winked.  “I never said that, lads.  Happy hunting, and I’ll be the first to congratulate you if you find anything!”  He began walking away before turning back and pointing to the map.  “But if I were you, I’d start here.”

Max gave King Jared a quizzical look.  “Ravenwood Castle?  That place was abandoned centuries ago; we don’t even put it on modern maps.”

King Jared just smiled.  “Yes, and now aren’t you curious why?”

=O=O=O=

The trees of Ravenwood were alight in the flaming colors of Autumn as the Jewel Riders emerged from the Travel Tree tunnel.

“Great Trees of Merlin, we thank you for a very pleasant ride,” Gwenevere said as the rest of the Jewel Riders took off their Jewel Armor in a cascade of magic.

The tall trees were just beginning to lose their crystalline covering as they boomed, “As always, it is our pleasure to serve Princess Gwenevere and the Jewel Riders.

Drake scratched behind Thunder’s ear as the great gray wolf pulled up beside Moondance and Fallon.  “How could you let Gwen find out about our search?” he whispered to the Moon Stone Rider.

Fallon simply scowled at Drake.  “Me?  You let Tamara know and even asked her for help!” she retorted.

Drake blushed slightly at that.  “Well, Josh and Max asked King Jared for information too.  It’s why we’re setting up a base camp at the old Ravenwood Castle.”

Fallon rolled her eyes.  “I’d be hard pressed to call that old ruin a castle anymore.  According to Josh, nobody’s lived there for a few hundred years.”

“Maybe the Beast of Ravenwood got them,” Max said with a smirk, as his wolf Shadow pulled up along Fallon’s other side.

“Laugh it up, Max, but I’m telling you we’re going to find that Beast,” Drake dropped his voice to a whisper again, “And I’m getting out of guard duty.”

Max just smirked.  “We’ll see, fearless leader.  We’ll see.”

“How far is our ride to the castle from here?” Tamara called out as she trundled along in the Crystal Carriage at the back of the group.

“Not far,” Fallon called back.  “According to the map, the castle should be just over that rise.”  Fallon pointed to a hill not far from them.

Archie flapped up from where he had been sitting by Tamara and alighted on Moondance’s head.  “Doohoo, is it really safe?  Are you sure there’s no possibility of a Wild Magic outbreak?  Or wild animals getting us while we sleep?”

“We’ll be taking every precaution, Archie,” Drake said, “Josh, Max, and I will be erecting magical barriers around the camp at night.  They’ll alert us if anything comes close.”

“And I’ll use the Moon Stone to cast an illusion that we’re not really there,” Fallon added.

Archie nodded, his feathery head bobbing.  “That sounds all well and good.”

“Um, except that part about camping,” Gwen said from atop Sunstar.  “I thought we were going to a castle!”

Drake laughed.  “Yes, Princess, a castle that’s probably filled with rats and trees growing in whatever used to be the ballroom!”

Gwen glared at Drake.  “You mean there’s no hot water?”

“Not unless you boil it on the fire, Princess,” Josh replied.

Gwen let out a loud groan.  “Why in Avalon did I agree to this?”

Fallon smirked.  “I believe your exact words were ‘Looks like I have to do everything myself.’”

“Come one Gwen, it’s only for one night.  Think of it like a camping trip.  A camping trip…where we look for a potentially magical, potentially deadly beast,” Tamara finished with a shudder.

Drake rolled his eyes.  “I’d hardly call sleeping in the Crystal Carriage ‘camping.’  That thing has more down pillows than my room at the Crystal Palace.”

The group chatted amiably while enjoying the scenery of Ravenwood.  Drake breathed deep of the scent of pine trees and enjoyed the sounds of forest life all around them.  He always felt much more comfortable out here than in the stuffy ballrooms and salons of the Palace.

As the group finally crested the hill at midday, Gwen let out a gasp of indignation.  “That cannot be it!”

“‘Fraid so, Princess,” Drake said.  He now understood why Ravenwood Castle was left off of most current maps.  ‘Castle’ was a generous term for the ruin that stood before the Jewel Riders in the small valley below.  No roof remained on the colossal structure, and Drake could see grass carpeting what had once been the floors.  The lone tower was covered with climbing ivy, and looks on the verge of collapse if a strong wind started to blow.

Drake hated to admit it, but the King had been right.  This place was certainly spooky enough to qualify as the hiding place of a dangerous magical creature!

=O=O=O=

Camp went up quickly, though Josh could have done with a few less shenanigans from Tamara’s baby animals.  But soon enough, they had the Crystal Carriage set up in the shadow of one of the old ruin’s walls.  Tamara left the Babies in the care of Archie at the camp before climbing on Thunder’s back behind Drake.

“Is everyone clear on their directions?” Josh asked.  “We’re sending one Enchanted Jewel out with each Forest Stone.  The Forest Stones will help us stay linked and speak with the trees about any magical animals in the woods, and the Enchanted Jewels use their specialties to ferret out any more information.”  He looked up at the sun, which had just begun its westward descent.  “I want everyone back here at camp before nightfall.  That includes you, Drake!”

Drake mock saluted Josh.  “Absolutely, sir.  Of course, sir.  You can count on me, sir!”

“And if any of us run into this so-called Beast of Ravenwood?” Gwen asked, her arms crossed.

“Use the Horn of Merlin,” Max suggested.  “It worked well the last time we were here, and I think we’ve gotten better enough with magic that two riders could summon it.”

Fallon looked perplexed.  “What about Gwen, Tamara and I?  Won’t any of us be left behind if one of the groups uses the Horn to summon the Pack?”

Archie fluttered over.  “I did a bit of reading after you recovered the Crown Jewel of the Northwoods.  As long as each of you stays linked to a Forest Stone, the Horn’s magic should work on you as well.”

Josh nodded in agreement.  “All right, Jewel Riders, let’s ride!” he said.

 

Hours later, Josh could feel himself getting tired and sore.  Their hours of riding hadn’t turned up anything interesting, other than reminding Josh what a good tracker Fallon was.

“Nothing but deer and wolf tracks out here, Josh,” Fallon said after studying a new set of tracks in the wet earth.  Fog had rolled in from the Misty Moors as Josh and Fallon had traveled East from the campsite, blanketing the forest and obscuring the top of the trees.

Josh simply pushed his glasses to the top of his head and rubbed his eyes.  “I told Drake there was nothing to find out here,” he muttered.

Fallon simply shrugged as she remounted Moondance and the silver and purple unicorn moved back in step beside Stormrunner, who had his nose to the ground in an attempt to pick up any uncommon smells.

Anything, old friend?  Josh asked his white wolf.

Stormrunner whuffed his displeasure.  There are so many smells here it’s hard to make out anything.

 

Leagues away to the North, Gwen and Max were having no better luck.

“Max, I’m tired, cold, and chilled to the bone!” Gwen squealed as she rung out her pink jacket.

Max couldn’t help it that Gwen and Sunstar had gone charging through the woods until the winged white unicorn had splashed in a deep river, submerging the Princess with her.  “Can’t you use the Sun Stone to dry yourself?” he asked.

Gwen’s mouth hung open, as if ready to retort, but she closed it and huffed.  “I was…just about to do that!” she said, before taking off the golden jewel and using its warm magic to dry her clothes and Sunstar’s fur.

Max patted Shadow’s green fur as Gwen continued her primping.  He sure hope that the others were have a more fruitful search.

 

“When you said expedition, this isn’t exactly what I had in mind!” Tamara yelped as Thunder sped through the trees, bouncing his riders up and down in the saddle.  Behind the wolf ran a stampeding herd of elk, their jeweled antlers flashing as the crystalline facets caught the light.

“You’re the Heart Stone rider – you do something to calm them down!” Drake growled.

Tamara rolled her eyes in annoyance, glad that Drake couldn’t see her face.  “Well, it was your wolf that spooked them in the first place!  And just because I can speak with animals doesn’t mean I can calm down a rampaging herd of them!”

“Well if you don’t try something, they’re going to trample us!” Drake shot back.

Tamara touched her Heart Stone, trying to get some kind of contact with the elk, but their minds were far too chaotic and panicked for her to get any kind of message through.  “I can’t do it – I need more jewel power!” she yelled over the din.

“See what you can do with this magic!” Drake yelled back as he held up his Forest Stone began feeding magic from it to Tamara.  She grasped the magic with her own Enchanted Jewel, and used it help her pinpoint the the leaders of the herd, pressing frantic messages for them to stop or slow down along the mental communication lines that the Heart Stone had opened for her.  Slowly, slowly, the magic seemed to be working, the elk slowing down.

Until something else spooked them from behind again.

Drake was barely able to direct Thunder to a small hollow, and the three of them pressed themselves against the packed earth as the sound of a hundred hooves thundered overhead.  Tamara’s legs were cramped, but she didn’t dare move or make a sound.  She stayed pressed up against Drake, both of them shielded by Thunder.  Drake and his wolf whispered magic words and made vines grow over the opening.

When the forest grew still again, Drake gingerly parted the curtain of vines and peered out.  “Looks clear,” he mouthed back to Tamara who nodded and followed the Forest Stone rider of the hollow.

Tamara reached out with her Heart Stone, sensing for any malicious presence, but couldn’t feel anything.  “I don’t understand what spooked the animals a second time.  I wasn’t sensing anything out of the ordinary for the situation.”

“I’ll report this to Josh and Max,” Drake replied.  “Should we use the Horn of Merlin to call the rest here?  We seem to be the only ones who found anything exciting.  Well, more exciting than Gwen falling in a river,” he added with a chuckle.

“But there’s nothing to find, and it’s getting late,” Tamara said, looking at the sun sinking in the sky.  “And to be honest, I think I’ve had all my heart can take today.”

Drake nodded, and helped Tamara back on Thunder before climbing up behind her.  Despite the chill beginning to crisp the air, Tamara was warm with Drake’s arms around her.

=O=O=O=

Gwen was alternating tapping her foot and pacing as Fallon set up the warm crystal fire and lit it with the magic of the Moon Stone.  “Oh, where could they be?  Tamara and Drake should have been back over an hour ago!” she wailed.

“Don’t be such a worrywart, Gwen!  Drake has a Forest Stone inside a forest.  He’s not exactly going to get lost like that time up in the Crystal Cliffs,” Fallon said as she began warming her hands.

Gwen lowered herself on her heels next to Fallon.  “Don’t tell the boys, but I do worry.  There are still so many missing Crown Jewels, and Merlin put me in charge of finding them, and-”

Fallon placed a comforting hand on Gwen’s arm.  “You’re not alone anymore, Princess.  You have us.  Friends Together, Friends Forever, remember?”

Gwen felt her face flush and nodded as a shout of greeting went up from the treeline as Drake and Tamara emerged.  Grumbling, the Princess of Avalon rose to her feet and began stalking toward the late arrivals.  “Do you three have any idea how late you are?”

Drake had the nerve to place a hand over his heart and give her one of his winning smiles.  “Gwen, I didn’t know you cared so deeply!”

The Princess simply groaned and stalked back to the warmth of the crystal fire and Fallon’s merry laugh.

 

The Jewel Riders enjoyed a camp supper that Max and Tamara whipped up from food that the Crystal Palace chef had sent along.  When the dishes had been cleared away, Josh stood up.  “All right, since nobody seemed to find anything concrete today, we’re going to take the evening and explore the castle ruin.”

The group collectively groaned.  “You want us to go into that creepy – and may I add very likely haunted – place?” Drake choked out.  “At night?”

Josh smirked.  “You wouldn’t be…afraid of finding something inside, would you Drake?”

Josh saw the other boy swallow a retort.  “Never said I was afraid,” Drake replied.

“Good, then you’ll have no trouble leading the first team.  I’d like you to go with Gwenevere and Tamara.  The Heart Stone can sense any animals that might be inside, and the Sun Stone should be able to help light your way.  Fallon, Max, and I will be following close behind.”

=O=O=O=

“By the first queen, I hate doing things like this,” Gwen whispered as she tightened a vice-like grip on Tamara’s arm.

Tamara tried to smile despite the dull ache Gwen’s grip was beginning to cause.  “Nothing to be afraid of, Gwen.  It’s just an old castle – there are no such thing as ghosts, and goblins don’t even live in this part of the forest.”

Gwenevere held the Sun Stone in her other arm, waving its golden beam down the darkened hallways of the castle.  Tamara decided it was a bad idea to mention that it looked as though every shadow seemed to swallow the light of the Gwenevere’s Enchanted Jewel.

“Well, I’m certainly not afraid!” Drake said from Tamara’s other side, as he waved his dagger in what was probably supposed to be a menacing gesture, but only succeeded in making a whistling sound through the empty air and adding to the general spookiness.

For her part, Tamara reached out with her Heart Stone, sending gentle pulses of magic down each corridor that Gwen’s light touched.  She did hope that something reached out and answered her calls, but certainly wasn’t expecting it.  Scientifically speaking, this trip might end up being a total wash.

Gwen’s grip tightened.  “Did you hear that?” she asked, peering down into an inky room.

Always practical, Tamara had to resist rolling her eyes.  “Gwen, it was probably just the win-”  She didn’t have time to finish the sentence as Gwen began to scream at the sight of hundreds of bats spilling out of the dark room.  They chittered and flapped, as Drake and Gwen waved their arms above their heads to shoo them away while pelting down the hallway.”

It would have been a very convincing display to anyone who didn’t have a Heart Stone.

“They aren’t real!” Tamara yelled over the noise.  “It’s just an illusion – a trick!”  As soon as Tamara said the words, the bats melted back into the shadows.

Gwen was panting after the exertion of running down the long hallways.  “H-how…how did you know?” she asked.

Tamara patted the Heart Stone.  “No signs of life from my Jewel, so I knew they couldn’t be real.”

Drake looked at his hands.  “But I could feel them.  The beats of their wings…the, the feeling of them brushing against my hand as I tried to shoo them away…”

Tamara shook her head again.  “Like I said, it was an illusion.  A very sophisticated and powerful one, perhaps, but not real all the same.”

“What’s going on here?” Gwen asked, tapping her foot.  “Jewel Riders, let’s form an Enchanted Jewel Circle.”  Drake and Tamara moved to equidistant points from Gwen as they all held their Jewels aloft.

“Jewel of Sun, Jewel of Light, reveal to us this source of fright!” Gwen said as rays of magic shot out of her jewel.

“Jewel of Forest, Jewel of Wood, help us in the name of good!” Drake added, as the Forest Stone added magic to Gwen’s spell.

“Jewel of Heart, Jewel of Love, bring us peace like flying doves!” Tamara added, sending the magic of the Heart Stone into sphere that was gathering their spells.

“Really, doves?” Drake whispered.  “You couldn’t think of anything better?”

Tamara swatted his arm.  “You try rhyming with love and see how far you get!” she whispered back.

The spell coalesced in the middle of their Jewel Circle, and let off enough light to see every detail in the crumbling hallway quite clearly.  There were no sign of the bats, but the spell swerved along the top of the room, clearly indicating for the group to move upward through the castle to find their answers.

The trio followed their spell as it led them through parlors that had the barest hint of moth-eaten tapestries still on the walls and armories where the swords had long-ago rusted beyond use.  Finally, it brought them to the center of the castle and to a long spiral staircase that Tamara assumed would take them up the central tower of the castle.

=O=O=O=

Judging by the deep growls and feral calls coming from the top of the tower, Drake’s dagger was going to be woefully inadequate for whatever was lurking up there.  Sheathing it, he turned to Gwen and Tamara.  “Here, try this spell – King Jared taught it to me,” Drake said, before holding out his Forest Stone and saying, “Jewel to Sword!”  The Forest Stone lengthened, becoming both grip and blade of an impressive longsword.

Gwen followed suit, but Tamara decided to try a shield instead.  “The Heart Stone isn’t very good at things like that,” she said with a shrug.

Several times as they wound their way up the staircase, the Jewel Riders tried to make contact with their fellow riders still searching the castle down below, but nobody could get through.  There was too much magical interference.  Tamara tried, but couldn’t speak with any animals either.

They got to the top of the staircase, which opened onto a small landing with an ancient wooden door that looked ready to fall off its hinges.  “Get ready – the Beast of Ravenwood could be behind that door!” Drake whispered.  He held up three fingers to Gwen and Tamara, and counted down before he and Gwen kicked at the door simultaneously.

“We’ve got you now, Great Beast!” Gwen said, before Tamara heard a loud roar, followed by Gwen and Drake’s screams.

“I’m coming! Tamara yelled, readying her shield to block the claws of whatever was hiding behind that door.  Rushing through, Tamara stopped dead in her tracks as she came face to face with a huge black wolf that had Gwen and Drake pinned to the floor and was…licking them?

“Goliath!  Stop!” Gwen squealed as King Jared’s wolf wagged his tail.

Over in a corner of the room, a dark shape seemed to melt away from the wall, revealing King Jared, Josh, Max, and Fallon, who were all doubled over in laughter.

“Oh, to see the looks on your faces!” King Jared laughed, wiping tears from the corners of his eyes.  “As I live and breathe, that is the funniest sight I’ll take with me to the grave!”

“Daddy, how could you!” Gwen whined, slapping the King on his arm.

Drake groaned.  “Now I understand why you wanted us to come to this old ruin, Your Majesty.”  He whirled and turned on Josh, Max, and Fallon.  “But what I don’t understand is how long the three of you have been in on the King’s joke?”

Josh simply smirked.  “Oh, since we left New Camelot.  The King saw your interest in the Beast of Ravenwood, and well, one thing led to another…”

Tamara rolled her eyes.  “So there never really was a beast after all?”

King Jared shrugged.  “Who knows, Tamara?  Those stories were old when I was young.  Hah, why I even remember someone once telling a version where the Beast was this big blue thing with a yellow mane!  I mean, really!  What kid is going to scared of that!” he chortled.

=O=O=O=

To make up for the prank, the King had fireside desserts prepared for them, and (out of earshot from Gwen) made sure that he would honor all their bet that they could all have the evening off from guard duty for the Harvest Party Gala.

Drake just shook his head as he removed a marshmallow from over the crystal fire and pressed it between cinnamon crackers.  “I can’t believe Tamara and I got chased through the forest by Goliath,” he said, before taking a big bite.

King Jared’s eyebrows rose.  “What are you talking about, lad?  We’ve been here at the castle the whole time.”

Drake and Tamara’s eyes widened as the glanced at each other.  “Then it wasn’t you and Goliath who spooked the herd of elk that were chasing us?”

“Afraid not, my dear,” Jared replied.

Just then, a loud howl resounded through the forest.

Everyone stopped eating and looked at each other before beginning as one to hurriedly pack up the campsite.  “Perhaps we’ll check back for the Beast of Ravenwood again in a few years,” Drake said, before shoving two more marshmallows in his mouth.

 

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