A/N Sorry for the delay on this chapter! With school starting and all, life has been a little hectic. Chapters will still be rolling in but a little more slowly now. Id really love some reviews on my characterization, im not sure if im hitting the right flow for some people
First thing Gregor noticed was that Cerberus wasn't a newbie to flying nor flying with a rider. In fact, Gregor felt stressed to counter-place himself on the bat so he wouldn't fall off during Cerberus's technical maneuvers between the stalactites which hung from the ceiling. It was classic underland stalking technique, and a tactic which humans have mastered and in a sense, thought of themselves invincible to. The human party which they were tailing, a group of bonds numbering two dozen or so, flew less than fifty feet below him, within hands reach of the stalactites which nearly scraped their heads. Humans on their flyers have grown ignorant of danger lurking from above, and hence never pay second glance to the non-existent dangers that could exist above them.
Yet this scouting party took no risks, making Gregor, who in order to claim the highground, left to dodge amongst a minefield of stalactites. Projections of rock threatened the duos flightpath hundreds of times a minute. Cerberus's skill and profession never ceased to amaze Gregor, skillfully executing maneuvers Gregor and Ares slaved hours over; maneuvers practiced so much the two could execute with their eyes closed and their ever so tight bond intuition. Gregor felt a calm connection with this bat, a similar language spoken by body and mind, predictive skills and psychological sharing that could only be described by a single word – a bond.
Gregors focus in the hurdle infested air was distracted when at second glance he noticed the group they were following wasn't there anymore, but Cerberus had already caught on and in a single swift save perched themselves on a stalactite, claws scraping and sliding to eventually get a grip on the limestone rock. Gregor was about to mention something to Cerberus when a wing pointed to a cluster of bats and humans still ahead and below them, each bat with claws grasping the narrow points of rock and their bonds standing on their wings with hands clenching the bats neck to stay vertical at the awkward angle. Gregor held his breath for a minute straight as his target of his espionage stood petrified below him, but as he saw them begin to interact with one another he let his pent up breath slowly out through his nostrils.
Three humans in particular seemed to be discussing something while the others formed a perimeter around them. The humans and their bats were crouched over a large square sheet of white paper, probably a map Gregor thought to himself. When one of them turned to talk to another nearby rider, a silver flash caught Gregors eye. A long glistening mane of silver hair shined in the dim and desolate ceiling of the Underland. Luxa? Gregor thought to himself, tediously trying to remember back to the evening before when he saw the light to his world speech to the masses.
Suddenly to bring Gregor back from his lovely fantasies the two dozen riders and their bonds peeled off of the hanging rocks and plummeted to the Underland surface, quickly disappearing in the thick Underland haze.
"What do we do!" And urgent whisper came from Cerberus. Gregor was dumbstruck for a second but calmly said "Follow them" as he felt weightlessness take over him.
It was a long ways down, an endless abyss it appeared from the ceiling of the Underland. Terminal Velocity was quickly reached giving Gregor and Cerberus a mere few seconds of sight in the dusty and smoky Underland haze. Gregor quickly transferred over to echolocation, but the slow speed of sound only reached his ears with a delay, still fast enough to make the distinguishable dots of their target priority. Seconds after focusing on the dots ahead of him he noticed half of the pack peel off to the side in all directions.
"You see that!" Gregor screamed in the ear of Cerberus to be heard of the roar of wind in his sensitive ears. Gregor couldn't hear the response of the quiet bat who in his loudest stage, emits nothing more than a soft purr but he took it for an acknowledgement to the deviation ahead.
The quicker echo of Gregors high-pitched ticks signified the ground quickly approaching but Cerberus was way ahead of him pulling up still above and out of sight of those below.
Gregor motioned to the ground to land behind of the slow moving pack of bats now numbering in only a dozen now. The ground seemed relatively flat and rocky, the soil from above appeared a leathery black and very smooth. Yet when the claws of Cerberus landed, a satisfying crunch was to be heard as his feet penetrated a foot deep until solid ground was reached. Gregor launched off the bat to a similar sound and the feel of his own feet falling knee high in black muck. Crouching down he plucked what appeared to be a black rope from the ground, but the integrity of the decaying vine he touched couldn't hold itself and crumbled as he picked it up.
"We aren't…. in the jungle are we?" A soft purr asked from behind Gregor.
Gregor didn't say anything, he didn't need to say anything because everything around him said it all. Gregor crouched on his heels with his elbows propped on his knees and his face buried in his palms; reliving everything that had been in his dreamed flash through his head again, he had been here before. The picture of the dying cutter obscured by the decaying shrubbery flashed into his mind again, the ringing of Luxas voice in his ears, the cutters really are on the move.
A crunch and a thump landed before Gregor, close enough to feel the wind blow off of his fall and breeze over his head. Gregor didn't move an inch, still sorting through his own thoughts and testing his sanity before he tried to comprehend the insanity going on around him. Eleven more consecutive thumps around him seemed to be enough to break him out of his mental trance; still crouched Gregor peeled his fingers off his face to bend his head up to see what had fallen before him. His eyes tracing up dark brown yet thick and filled furry legs, further up attached to the torso of an armor clad bat stood before him with a man towering over the side of the bat, only two violet circles visible through the narrow slits of his helmet. He had his elbow resting on the hilt of his sword with disapproving eyes measuring Gregor as if to see how much of a threat he posed to himself. And judging from the body gesture the man slouched at, he really must've underestimated Gregor. Gregor felt the prod of a flashlight in his side, then imagined himself fending off twelve armed and dangerous Underlanders wielding swords with nothing but a flashlight. The absurd thought etched a smile across Gregors face.
A voice above seeked everyone's attention, "Who goes there!" The familiar tone demanded from above.
"Nothing my lady" The man before him called back, "Just a boy and his bat." The man stared back with icy eyes. "What should we do? Nobody should know of our position. Should we kill him?" Another man inquired from somewhere behind Gregor, and at the phrase "kill him" all soldiers around him drew their swords simultaneously other than the one who sat before him.
"Not yet," The voice above was now heard from behind the man who looked at Gregor with such disdain, and the crunching foot falls approached. The figure with silver blossoming out of the rim of her helmet and flowed over her breastplate walked around the bat to take a look at Gregor. His heartbeat must have of doubled if not tripled in rate because Gregor found himself standing up to face his long lost friend and his acute senses picking up on every soldier taking a step closer in preparation to kill if aggressive action was taken. Luxa stood for a solid minute, measuring Gregor up and down, face unnoticeable shielded behind cold metal. She then made a small motion with her hands to lower the guard of the surrounding guards who took a step back, but each one of them wielded their weapon with prone hands.
She took a slow step forward, Gregors heart beating so fast it seemed like it took an eternity to close the three foot gap to face him closely. A lightning fast fist with force only a trained warrior can achieve caught Gregor in the stomach just short of the ribcage, capable of denying him his morning meal if he had any. In a grunt Gregor keeled over Luxa's shoulder as she held him close with a fist still buried in his abdomen, close enough she could whisper in Gregors ear so only Gregor can hear it which was hard enough since he was mesmerized in the savory essence of her luscious hair.
"Three. And a half. Years" Luxa punctuated each word in Gregors ear, "No message, no word, no visits, for three. And a half. Years. Welcome back… Gregor" Each word stung like a butterflys wing in the face. Her breath burned in Gregors ears like sweet honey and the pain she inflicted on him could be comparable to the happiest bouts of laughter. Gregor knew he deserved everything she did to him, and actually was surprised her first impulse wasn't a dagger to the neck. The worst part being when she started to back away the pain began to grasp his body but her sweet voice coaxed his discomfort like a loving mother's care, "James, lash him to Aurora and make sure he is bound good. Shackle the bat to Hemera to and they will follow us." Gregor couldn't be happier.
Capable hands hefted Gregor up who was crippled by the blow Luxa dealt, yet giddy in the excitement to see his reason of life once again. Both hands and feet were bound with half-inch cord until blood was nearly restricted to his extremities, then the cord tied taught around the belly of Aurora with Gregor draped over her rump. The man who bound him, James as Luxa addressed him by, almost went out of his way to strap Gregor in the most uncomfortable position conceived then kneelt to Gregors height, his face nearly an inch from Gregors, "Listen, Warrior" He spat venomously, "Times have changed from your glory days. You, son of the sun, savior to the Underland, you had it all!" He then laughed a little before continuing, "Vikus, the ol' crippled bastard, he adores you. Even had a monument built in your remembrance. I hear songs sung every day on the streets of Regalia, man you really had it all… but then you left?" He took a quick glance around to make sure no one had caught onto the two's secret meeting, "You see, you really broke a lot of hearts when you left and, I'm no surgeon but I sure know how to put the pieces back together." He glanced back at Luxa, making sure Gregor knew exactly what he was talking about. "Take a look at the queen to be in nearly a month, and now take a look at the king to be in nearly a month." Gregor, bound at the angle he was, couldn't get a full look at James's face but he imagined it was adorned in every mocking expression possible.
"All ready for flight?" Luxa spoke out to the crowd who were now all mounted on their flyers, but stared at Gregor and James.
"Yes my lady, just taking the extra moment to ensure his restrictments are legitimate." He replied with an ever so cunning reply.
"Good, now let's fly high, this place sickens me." She said as Aurora took flight. The entire squad of flyers took off in close escort, within a few seconds if need be to make contact with Luxa. As they took off Gregor took a look at the desolate remains of the jungle, black and brown as far as the Underland haze permitted Gregor to see. Then only after a minute of flying did Gregor see the small white arch of Tantalus standing out in the uninhabited wasteland, the last site of Gregors dream. After that it was hours of rocky and rolling land, boring and seemingly never-ending.
"I saw your speech the other day." Gregor spoke out to distract his mind from his pale hands from the lack of blood and sore belly and arms. He looked at the regal sitting figure before him, hair dancing in the wind and body silhouetted by finely worked metal. She was unresponsive to his statement but Gregor carried on just for the hell of it, "Regalia really has improved recently!" No reply. "I had a fight last night, left a gnawer dead in an alleyway when he tried to rob me." Still no reply. "I had a dream about a cutter in the jungle the other night, before I even reached Regalia." With this, a head turn was all the reaction he received, but only for a second before she petrified herself again facing forward. He was getting closer, "What about this James guy, he seems pretty nice ya think?" Gregor thought his statement would only arouse another unappreciative crowd but right when he was about to try again Luxa cut him off.
"Why'd you come back?" She said. Why did he come back? Gregor asked himself. Was it just because of the fight he had at school and he really had nowhere else to go, or was it because he didn't fit in to the Overland because his roots were too deep underground. For some reason unknown to himself he found himself lying again, "I wanted to see how things have changed." Gregor got the feeling that this wasn't the right answer because it brought on another period of awkward silence.
But he needed not to wait for long because his ears told him they were descending and Aurora stopped flapping as she spread her wings for a comfortable coast to the ground. They landed on a small plateau and from Gregors vast knowledge of Underland geography, they landed somewhere in the deadlands. Luxa dismounted from her bat and took a deep breath, all the other riders stay stayed on their bonds and pranced into a semi-circle around Luxa in the most defensive position.
Scratching could be heard echoing around them, the acoustics bounced excellently on the rock in sharp definitive tones. Gregor then realized that his was how they communicated in the war as his ears picked up on different tones on the rock, each scratch sort of like a beat in a telegraph. This set the flyers around him at unease, always shifting their weight from one foot to another. Luxa whistled a small musical tone as if to speak back to the scratches she was hearing, then like a well-practiced orchestra the noise around them stopped instantaneously. Now instead of scratching a patter against the rock approached, starting quietly then growing like a stampede nearby. Some flyers at this point even took to the air yet Luxa stood with feet planted to the ground in no sort of defensive stance.
Then up from the edge of the plateau, hundreds, maybe even possibly a thousand rats came jumping and charging, snarling and racing towards Luxa and her party. At this point every flyer was in the air save Luxa and Aurora with Gregor still strapped immobilized. The army of rats stopped a mere hundred yards from them, each rat with an equally gruesome look on their face. After a few minutes of the crowd before Luxa was parted as a particularly loud and fat rat made his way through the ranks, sweeping the others to the side as he threw condescending words to ward off anyone who might threaten his rank
"My god you filthy scoundrels! Get back, don't you know you're in the presence of royalty!" The large gnawer stumbled forward on deceivingly skilled and balanced legs. Gregor knew the voice. He loved that voice, he hated that voice. The voice had made him do things he would've killed him for but he wouldn't change a thing if he had to do it again. "Now now my little faerie princess, is this anyway to treat our guest of honor? As many times as he's saved your precious little people's lives." Ripred said never breaking pace as he moved towards Gregor, ripping the cord that bound him by a flick of his claw freeing Gregor to the ground. Gregor rubbed his wrists, feeling blood pulsate through each finger once again and moving every joint that was stretched mercilessly.
"No time for petty politics nor small talk Ripred, what do you know of the cutters?"