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Night of Wonder Stables
Secrets of the deep Continued


*********************************

Back at the hotel, Milly, Cas, Tim, Azmat, Deirdre, Louise and Miss Hardbroom, were all looking for Ethel and Hobbes. Naturally, the first place they checked was their rooms, but, of course, they didn't find them.
"Maybe they just haven't got back yet," suggested Cas, but even she couldn't hide the concern from her voice. She started pacing up and down again, as she had been doing for the past five minutes. They were all assembled in the hall outside the two rooms.                           
"We'll give them fifteen minutes, and if they're not back, we'll start looking for them," said Deirdre.
"That sounds sensible," said Miss Hardbroom, sounding just as worried as Cas. For a minute, they all just stood there.
"I think I'll go and check the gardens," said Tim. "Just so I'm not standing here doing nothing."
"I'll go with you," volunteered Azmat. The two of them walked off, leaving the other five standing there.
"I think I'll go for a wander along the beach, just in case," said Louise.
"Not by yourself you're not!" her aunt told her.
"Are you volunteering to go with me?" she asked. Miss Hardbroom looked at her niece, realised she was serious, and sighed.
"You three stay here, just in case they come back," she told Milly, Cas and Deirdre.
"We'd be as well to go round to the stables first. If they're not there, we can search on the unicorns; it'll be much quicker," said Louise.
"O.K. Go and get changed and I'll meet you at the stables."
Louise was ready before her aunt, who had gone into the shower room to get changed. She ran out into the hall, ran forward a few steps, stopped, and then used magic to make herself disappear. A matter of seconds later, Miss Hardbroom came out of the room and stopped dead. She looked at Milly, Cas and Deirdre in confusion.
"Was that one of you that just opened and shut the door?" she asked.
"No, it was Louise," Milly told her.
"Well, where is she? She couldn't have disappeared down the corridor that quickly." Miss Hardbroom looked down the corridor, just to make sure she hadn't missed anything.
"She disappeared into thin air," Deirdre informed her. "I can only assume she must be at the stables." Miss Hardbroom looked at her in astonishment. She stood for a minute, then folded her arms, and disappeared herself.
"I wonder what that was all about," said Milly.
"Who knows?" replied Cas. The two of them let themselves into their room, and went out on to the balcony to wait in the sun.
 
*   *   *
 
Down at the stables there was no sign of Ethel or Hobbes.
"Is everything alright?" Kerry asked them.
"Ethel and Hobbes seem to have disappeared," Louise told her. "Would you mind if we borrowed Tempest and Promise to go and look for them?"
"No, of course not!" replied Kerry. "Do you want me to help look?"
"I think we should be alright," Miss Hardbroom told her. "Chances are they might be back in the hotel as we speak." She didn't sound too hopeful, though.
It wasn't long before Tempest and Promise were tacked up and ready to go. The two of them rode out, side-by-side, straight on to the beach. Louise moved into a trot, and Miss Hardbroom followed her lead. Louise waited until the unicorns were properly warmed up, before suggesting a canter.
"Ready for a canter?" she asked her aunt.
"Yes," she replied.
Louise slid her right led back and gave a gentle squeeze. Tempest obliged by moving smoothly into a working canter. Miss Hardbroom got Promise to pick up an active canter, and cantered up beside her niece.
"Louise?"
"Yes?" There was a pause before Miss Hardbroom continued.
"How did you get down to the stables?"
Louise thought for a moment. She hadn't realised herself what she had done. Her aunt looked at her, and read the expression on her face correctly.
"Have you ever done that before?" she asked.
"No, I didn't realise I could!" Louise sounded genuinely shocked.
"Looks like you might be even more talented than we thought," Miss Hardbroom told her. Louise didn't say anything; she was having difficulty getting her mind round the fact that she was able to do something that many qualified witches couldn't do. Miss Hardbroom smiled to herself as she looked at her niece.
Suddenly, Louise sat back, pushed her heels down and forward, and hauled back on the reins, bringing Tempest to an instant halt. Promise didn't want to go on alone, and so slammed on the brakes, sending Miss Hardbroom halfway up her neck.
"What's wrong?" she asked, as she righted herself in the saddle and disentangled her reins. Louise didn't reply. Miss Hardbroom followed her niece's gaze and saw instantly what she was looking at. A deep, glowing green lake was cutting across their path. It came from the mouth of a cave, and stopped just before it reached the sea.
"Where did that come from?" asked Louise. "I don't remember seeing it earlier. We would have seen it when we were on Summerhall Pier having lunch." Miss Hardbroom glanced up to the pier behind her, and realised her niece was right. The light, which was glowing from the lake, would certainly have caught their eye when they were at the sandwich bar. Louise edged Tempest forward, in order to get a better look.
"Be careful, Louise," her aunt warned. She slowed Tempest down, but didn't actually stop until she was right at the edge of the lake. She was so close, that the silky white fur on Tempest's legs was reflecting the green light. She allowed the reins to go slack as Tempest stretched her head down to drink from the water. Miss Hardbroom brought Promise up beside her.
"Do you think this had anything to do with the tremors we felt earlier?" asked Louise.
"I'm not sure. It might, I suppose," her aunt answered. Louise took up her reins, and turned Tempest towards the cave mouth.
"Louise, wait!" her aunt called after her. She paused, and looked back.
"Well, come on then!" she said. Miss Hardbroom looked at her niece as though she was mad. Louise waited for a minute, before turning her head back to the cave and moving Tempest forward another few steps.
"Louise!" exclaimed her aunt in exasperation, but she got no response. She hesitated, and then cantered Promise on. She slowed to a walk when she reached her niece. Worry was written all over her face.
"Louise, for goodness sake, what are you doing?" she asked.
"I'm just going to look, that's all," said Louise, matter-of-factly, but she couldn't help noticing the look of concern on her aunt's face. "Don't worry!" she told her.
"Please, will you stop this and turn back?" said Miss Hardbroom in a trembling voice. She paused before adding; "I'm just frightened you get hurt. I only just got you back and I don't know what I'd do if anything happened to you!" She sounded extremely distressed.
Louise brought Tempest to a halt and turned to face her aunt Constance. She realised that she really was frightened, and decided to turn back. After all, this wasn't fair on her aunt; she had been through enough already.
"Alright, I'll turn back." She paused for a minute, before continuing. "I didn't mean to frighten you." Miss Hardbroom looked relieved, but still quite nervous as she faced her niece. "I just thought we'd be as well to have a look. From what I've been told, Hobbes can be a bit of a power freak. It wouldn't surprise me if he was in there somewhere, or had something to do with it," Louise said thoughtfully.
"Oh, surely not," Miss Hardbroom laughed nervously, but she didn't look completely convinced herself.
"Why do you think he didn't want to come with us today?" Louise asked, although it was clear from the tone of her voice that she already knew the answer.
"Well, I thought it was so he could stay behind with Ethel," Miss Hardbroom answered. Before she had reached the end of the sentence, however, Louise was already shaking her head.
"Hobbes said he wanted to stay behind before Ethel did, as though he already had something planned. He didn't even look at her when he said he wanted to 'stay and read'. And from what I've seen so far, they don't look like a couple." Miss Hardbroom wasn't sure what to think, but she knew her niece wasn't stupid. She couldn't help but wonder if she was right. "They've never shown any sort of interest in each other at the hotel, there doesn't seem to be any chemistry between them at all," she added. Miss Hardbroom glanced over her shoulder, towards the cave mouth. She thought for a minute, and then turned back to Louise.
"Alright, we'll go a bit further in, but not a lot!" She hastily added the last part.
"We're only going to look, don't worry!" Louise assured her. "We'll be careful." She turned Tempest around, and slowly headed deeper into the cave, following the lake as she went. Miss Hardbroom brought Promise up beside her, unable to hide the concern from her face, but she didn't say anything.
After a few minutes, the ground started to slope down steeply. Louise slowed Tempest down, and leaned back as they went, in order to keep her centre of balance over the unicorn's. Miss Hardbroom did the same, and it wasn't long before they were deep underground. The whole place was illuminated by the eerie green light coming from the lake. The unicorns looked strange; their white coats reflecting the light, making them look as though they themselves were glowing green. Louise couldn't help but laugh as she noticed this.
Miss Hardbroom, on the other hand, didn't look happy at all. It wasn't that she was frightened for herself. In fact, if Louise hadn't been there, she wouldn't have hesitated to venture down into the cave to look for Ethel and Hobbes. She just couldn't bear the thought of losing Louise again. Just being in that cave was enough to bring back all the memories of when she had disappeared at the Weirdsister open day. She tried to block it out, but she couldn't help playing the whole incident over in her mind, time and time again.
She was suddenly jolted out of her thoughts when Louise brought Tempest to a halt and dismounted. She watched as her niece walked over to the very edge of the lake.
"Louise, what are you doing?" she asked in a rather worried tone. Louise knelt down beside something, and it was a minute before Miss Hardbroom realised what it was. She quickly dismounted herself, and was at Ethel's side in an instant.
"Ethel, can you hear me?" asked Miss Hardbroom. Ethel groaned, but didn't open her eyes. "Looks like you were right Louise," she told her niece. "Wait here, and DON'T move." She gently lifted Ethel into a sitting position, and put her arm round her shoulders. She waved her other hand and the two of them disappeared. A matter of seconds later, Miss Hardbroom reappeared.
"Ethel's being looked after at the hotel," she said. "The fact that we found Ethel here, means there's a pretty good chance that Hobbes is here too."
"That much, I'm sure of," stated Louise. She walked over to Tempest, who hadn't moved since she dismounted, and swung herself back up into the saddle. She waited for her aunt to mount, and then headed further into the cave.
 
*   *   *
 
Back at the hotel, Professor Thunderblast was tending to the unconscious Ethel. Milly, Cas and Deirdre looked on with concern, as she applied a strange looking potion to her head. It was bright purple, with traces of blue and scarlet through it, and it smelled strongly of mint.
"That'll help to reduce any pain or swelling," she told them. "All we can do now, is wait."
Just at that moment, Tim and Azmat walked in, accompanied by Dr. Starfinder.
"What happened?" he asked, looking at Ethel.
"We're not entirely sure," Professor Thunderblast told him. "Miss Hardbroom appeared with her, saying something about finding her in a cave."
"Where is Miss Hardbroom?" asked Starfinder.
"She disappeared straight after she brought Ethel here, saying she thought Nick Hobbes was somewhere in the cave," Professor Thunderblast told him.
"Did she happen to mention where the cave was?" he asked.
"No, she didn't. I can only assume it must be one of the caves on the beach," said Professor Thunderblast.
"Right," muttered Starfinder to himself. He was still feeling guilty about what he had done to Louise, and wanted badly to make it up to both her and her aunt. He took one last look at Ethel, and then disappeared out the door. Ethel started to stir at the sound of the door closing, and slowly opened her eyes.
"Are you alright Ethel?" Milly asked. Ethel tried to sit up, but Professor Thunderblast forced her back down.
"Just lie still for a minute," she instructed her. Ethel obliged, and stopped struggling. Slowly, the room came into focus, and she looked at everyone around her. She looked confused, as though she had no idea what had just happened.
"What happened?" Cas wanted to know. Ethel thought for a minute, and then it all came back to her. The look of confusion was quickly replaced by one of fear and worry. She tried to sit up again as she spoke.
"The wizard...the stone...he's trying to...he's going..." She was speaking quickly, trying to tell them what had happened, but she couldn't seem to put her thoughts into words.
"Alright, just calm down," ordered Professor Thunderblast. Ethel stopped talking and lay back. She put her hands to her face, and shut her eyes as she tried to concentrate and focus her mind. "Now, slowly tell us what happened."
Ethel removed her hands from her face, and began to explain, in detail, exactly what had just happened.
 
*   *   *
 
Louise and Miss Hardbroom were journeying deeper and deeper underground. They could no longer see any daylight, and the light, which seemed to be coming from underneath the lake, was growing stronger.
Suddenly, the narrow tunnel opened into a vast space. The lake, which had been more like a narrow stream until now, formed a massive pool in the middle of the opening. The ground was covered in sand, and the whole place was illuminated by the eerie green light, which seemed to come from beneath the water. The rocks forming the cave walls and roof were wet; their shiny black surfaces glinting in the green light.
They brought the unicorns to a halt, and stared, speechless, at the sight in front of them. Louise found herself shivering, even although it wasn't cold. In fact, the air around them was just as warm as the air outside, only damper.
"It doesn't look like Hobbes is here," stated Miss Hardbroom. Louise was jolted to attention by the sound of her aunt's voice. She scanned the scene in front of her, looking for anything, which might suggest that Hobbes had been there.
"Come on, let's go," Miss Hardbroom said. She turned Promise around, but Louise didn't follow. She was looking very closely at the cave wall. Miss Hardbroom turned her head, and stopped when she saw that Louise wasn't following her.
"Louise?" she said, but Louise didn't answer. Instead, she walked Tempest on toward the cave wall. She then seemed to disappear. Only when she stuck her head - and Tempest's - back round the corner, did Miss Hardbroom realise what had happened. There was a gap in the rocks, which was almost impossible to see at a distance. Louise, however, being as vigilant as she was, had noticed it.
Miss Hardbroom walked Promise on toward Louise, and stopped when she reached the gap. She looked uncertain about following her niece in, and watched as Louise turned Tempest and walked away. Before she had the chance to shout her back, though, Promise decided to take matters into her own hands. She could sense her rider's fear, and this, in turn, made her feel afraid. She didn't want to be left behind, and leapt forward after Tempest. It was all Miss Hardbroom could do to stay in the saddle.
Louise stopped when she heard the clatter of hooves on rock (the sand wasn't very deep as they went through the gap) and waited as Promise came up beside her, with her aunt hanging half out of the saddle. She laughed as Miss Hardbroom straightened herself up, and then continued on. The rock walls, which towered above them blocked out the light from the lake, but the unicorns easily overcame this problem. Their horns glowed softly, giving off a gentle, golden light.
After a few minutes, they reached a dead end, with no sign of Hobbes. There was nothing for it, but to turn back. Miss Hardbroom was only too relieved when they passed through the gap in the rocks again. Louise, however, was more concerned with finding Hobbes.
"He must be here somewhere," she said. She walked Tempest forward, and stopped when she heard her aunt calling after her;
"Louise, where are you going?!"
"I'm just going to walk round the lake to see if I can find anything," she replied. Miss Hardbroom was about to argue, but she realised she wouldn't be able to stop her niece. She watched as Louise walked Tempest on, trying to think of something to say to stop her, but her mind just went blank. She nudged Promise into a trot, and quickly caught up with Louise. The two of them walked round the lake, and Louise halted when they were exactly halfway round.
It took a minute before Miss Hardbroom could see what her niece was looking at. There was another gap in the rocks, just big enough for the unicorns to get through. Louise was about to head through it, when she heard a splash, and felt something wet on the back of her head. She turned round, but, at first, she couldn't see anything. She looked at the lake, and noticed a few ripples, but nothing more.
"What's wrong?" asked her aunt. Louise opened her mouth, about to answer, then stopped as something caught her eye. Something was moving beneath the water. Miss Hardbroom looked at her niece, and followed her gaze to the lake, but she couldn't see anything.
"Can you see that?" whispered Louise. Her voice was trembling, and Tempest shifted uneasily beneath her, as though picking up her thoughts. Miss Hardbroom looked again, but she had no idea what her niece was looking at. Louise followed the dark shape with her eyes, hardly daring to breath. Tempest took a few steps back, and Louise didn't try to stop her.
"She's playing up because she knows you're nervous," Miss Hardbroom told her niece. She had wrongly interpreted Louise's look of fear, thinking she was afraid because Tempest was acting up. "Sit deep into the saddle, and use your leg. Show her who's in charge." Louise let Tempest back up a few more steps, before halting. Her face was chalk white and she was visibly shaking, looking over her aunt's shoulder to the lake. Miss Hardbroom looked at her niece in confusion, and turned back to the lake.
"I don't see anything," she said. She failed to notice that the centre of the lake had gone dark, the eerie green light only coming from the edges now. Promise lifted her head up, and flattened her ears back. She started to back up, just as Tempest had done. Miss Hardbroom tried to stop her, but her aids were ignored by the frightened unicorn. It wasn't long before she was beside Louise, and, once again, she followed her gaze to the lake. She tried in vain to see what her niece was looking at, but it was no good.
"What do you see?" she asked Louise. "I can't see anything at all." She might not have been able to see anything at first, but she couldn't fail to miss it when it rose above the water. Slowly, the massive, dark, scaly head started to emerge, stopping when the closed eyes were just above the water level. Gradually, the large, yellow, reptile eyes opened, the narrow slit of a pupil on each, staring into the distance, before moving slowly, and focusing on the intruders.
Tempest spun round on her hind legs, taking the necessary action to get both herself and Louise to safety. Promise, however, remained rooted to the spot; her ears flat against her head, and her eyes wild with terror. She was frozen with fear, and stood, shaking, as the dragon of the ocean slowly turned its head towards them.
Louise fought to bring Tempest under control, as she galloped away from the danger. She eventually managed to haul her round in a circle and bring her to a halt. They were about halfway between the dragon and the cave mouth. She wasn't sure what to do, but she knew she had to do something. She asked Tempest to walk on, but the unicorn was too frightened to obey. She half reared, and gave a frightened whinny, before backing up a few steps.
"Louise!" Louise turned to see Dr. Starfinder running towards her. He had seen the glowing stream leading into the cave, and correctly guessed that he would find Louise and her aunt in there.
"Where's your aunt?" he gasped.
Louise quickly filled him in on what had happened. Her voice was panicky, and she looked petrified. Starfinder knew the situation was serious, and that he was going to have to think quickly.
"Right, I've got an idea, but we're going to have to move quickly," he said. "Do you think you can convince this unicorn to go back?" he asked her. Louise shut her eyes, and the next thing she knew, she was back in the deepest part of the cave; on the opposite side of the lake from her aunt. Starfinder was still standing next to her, and he whispered his plan, trying not to attract the dragon's attention.
Louise might have looked petrified before, but that was nothing compared to the look on her aunt's face. Louise watched as the dragon moved towards its victims. Promise was wild-eyed with terror, and Miss Hardbroom had turned chalk-white. She clung helplessly to the reins as her unicorn backed up, half rearing after every few steps. The reins were slippery; wet from the moisture in the air, and it would have made no difference at all to Promise if her rider hadn't been there.
All of a sudden, there was a bright flash, and the dragon looked round. Starfinder headed away from Louise, and started walking round the lake. He waved his hand at the dragon, creating another flash of light. The monster turned and headed straight for him.
Louise saw her chance, and managed to force Tempest towards her aunt. The unicorn was terrified, and pranced around as she went. Starfinder was just managing to keep the dragon at bay, by flashing magical fire at it. It was desperate to get him, but it didn't want to get burned, and responded to his tormenting by fighting fire with fire, and sending a burst of flames in his direction. He only just managed to avoid being roasted alive.
Louise dug her heels in, and Tempest leapt forward, stopping beside Promise.
"Why don't you use magic to get out of here?!" she asked her aunt in desperation.
"I've tried," she told her, "but I can't. There seems to some sort of interference; as though there's powerful magic in this part of the cave!" Louise looked at her aunt thoughtfully, as the dragon promptly singed the edges of Starfinder's coat. She started to chant, and lifted her hands. A strange sort of barrier formed around Miss Hardbroom, and it remained when Louise stopped chanting.
"Now try," she instructed her.
"I'm not going to leave you!" she exclaimed.
"Just do it!" Louise screamed at her, as the dragon let out a roar. "If you don't, then we'll both be stuck down here!" Tears of fear and frustration formed in Miss Hardbroom's eyes as she looked at her niece. "Just GO!!!" she screamed, but still her aunt didn't move. "Listen, if you don't get out of here, then everything I've just done will all have been in vain! And I'll definitely have no chance of getting out! Go, NOW!" Miss Hardbroom was blinded by tears as she vanished into thin air.
Louise moved Tempest forward, until she was close enough to Promise, and gave the now rider-less unicorn a hard slap on the quarters. Promise responded by leaping forward, and galloping flat out towards the cave entrance, away from the danger of the dragon. Starfinder was really struggling with the dragon; his magic was powerful, but so was the dragon.
"Take your own advice and get out of here!" he yelled at Louise. Louise cast one last glance at him, before sending Tempest on at a gallop. She wasn't completely aware of everything going on around her, as she clung on for dear life. She could feel Tempest's thundering hooves, and hear the unicorn's heavy breathing, but everything else was just a blur; a blur of fire, talons and waves. She could feel the unicorn beneath her, but she couldn't see. Her fingers were knotted in the mane, and her mind was only focused on one thing; staying on the unicorn. She vaguely acknowledged reaching the outside world, emerging into the dusk, and hearing the waves break against the shore, and her aunt's voice, but she was completely oblivious to what happened next, or even to the injuries she had received in galloping past the dragon. Everything just faded into darkness...
Back in the cave, Starfinder and the dragon appeared to be evenly matched. However, the level of magical interference was so strong, that Starfinder's spells were losing power. The dragon sent a shower of flames in his direction, and he fell to the ground, in order to avoid being burned to death. The beast moved forward, and rose further out of the water. It's evil, yellow eyes fixed on its prey, as it bared its teeth, ready to strike. Starfinder could hear the dragon's laboured breathing, and felt its hot breath on the back of his neck. It opened its salivating mouth slightly as it sniffed at him, and he shut his eyes, preparing for the end...
Just at that moment, there was a flash of green light from the back of the cave, and Hobbes emerged from the gap in the rocks that Louise had been about to enter, right before the dragon emerged. The monster turned its attention to Hobbes, and left Starfinder lying there. Hobbes raised his staff, and the green light coming from the water slowly started to change. It went from green, to yellow, to orange, then finally to red. The monster let out a roar as it advanced on Hobbes. The water around it started to bubble, and it roared angrily at Hobbes as it moved towards him.
Hobbes continued to hold his staff in the air, and the dragon slowed as it jumped up out of the water, as though it was about to pass out. Just before it reached Hobbes, it's eyes rolled round, and it fell; it's massive, scaly body smashing down into the water, causing huge waves to cover the whole of the cave floor. Hobbes and Starfinder were soaked, as the sea dragon sunk back into the mysterious depths from which it came.
Everything went quiet, and the colour of the water returned to normal. Hobbes walked round to Starfinder and helped him to his feet. They both stood there for a minute, before they heard a strange rumbling sound coming from beneath them.
"The lake's about to disappear back underground," Hobbes said; no emotion showing in his voice. They looked at each other for a split second, then turned and ran. The cave began to shake, as the lake seemed to sink, and sand and rock began to cover its surface. Hobbes and Starfinder knew they had one hope; to reach the cave entrance before the roof started to cave in.
 
*   *   *
 
Outside the cave, Miss Hardbroom had been waiting anxiously for her niece. She was sick with worry, and couldn't stop the tears of fear and frustration as she paced up and down. As soon as she heard Tempest's hoof beats, she stopped pacing, and ran forward. She caught Louise as she slid from Tempest's back, and collapsed in her aunt's arms.
"Louise?" She looked at her niece with concern. A strange sort of quiet, tranquillity fell over them, as the light was beginning to fail, and the only sound that could be heard, was the sound of the waves, and the seagulls' cries, carried on the sea breeze. Miss Hardbroom took her hand from her niece's shoulder, and looked at it. It was wet, with blood. The dragon had lashed out, and caught Louise with its talons as she galloped past it. However, she had been so frightened, exhausted, and focused on getting out, that she hadn't noticed what was going on around her. Her aunt waved her hand, and transported both of them back to the hotel.
 
*   *   *
 
Slowly, everything seemed to grow brighter, and the room swam into focus, as Louise came round. She lay there for a minute, trying to remember what had happened. She looked around, and realised she was in her bed in the hotel room, and the light that had seemed so bright, was from the moon streaming in through the open window. Night had now fallen, and the room was dark, save from the silvery moonlight. Louise looked around, and saw her aunt. She had been sitting at the side of her bed, and had fallen asleep; her head resting on the bed.
Louise sat up, and suddenly felt a rush of pain spreading from her right shoulder, down her arm. She gasped, and looked down at her now bandaged arm. Miss Hardbroom stirred as she heard the gasp. The second she realised her niece was awake, she was by her side, making sure she was alright.
"What happened?" Louise asked, sounding confused.
"Lie down," Miss Hardbroom instructed. "Just lie down." Louise eventually gave up and lay back down. She felt dizzy as a result of the pain, and just lay quietly for a minute. Then, all of a sudden, she sprang up, ignoring her aunt's attempts to force her back down.
"What about Tempest and Promise?" she asked worriedly.
"They're both fine," her aunt assured her. "They both made their own was back to the stables and Kerry got them." Louise calmed down and lay back. "Trust you to think about the unicorns before anything else." Louise gave a relieved laugh. Her aunt looked at her niece, thoughtfully.
"In fact..."
"In fact what?" Louise asked.
"Nothing," replied Miss Hardbroom. Louise looked at her aunt, but she wasn't going to give anything away just yet.
"Just get some sleep." Louise knew it was useless to argue, so she gave in, lay back and shut her eyes.
 
*   *   *
 
"So did the dragon actually get you?" It was late the next morning, and Milly, Cas, Deirdre, Tim and Azmat were all gathered around Louise's bed. Louise laughed at the look of shock and amazement on Azmat's face.
"Must have done," she replied. "I don't really remember much from that point on, though."
"Hey there." Everyone turned round as Ethel walked in. She looked at Louise, feeling as though she was partly to blame for what had happened.
"Hey, how are you feeling?" Louise asked her.
"I think I should be asking you that," Ethel replied.
"I'm alright," Louise told her. "I've had worse injuries from falling off horses before."
Ethel gave a small smile and sat down on the edge of the bed. She still had a bit of a sore head, but other than that, she had completely recovered.
"Doesn't it hurt?" Milly asked Louise.
"Nowhere near as much as it did last night. That stuff Professor Thunderblast used really works wonders."
"You'd still better make sure you get enough rest." Miss Hardbroom had been standing in the corner, listening in, and keeping an eye on her niece.
"I'm injured, not ill!" Louise told her. "There's a difference."
"Just don't overdo it," her aunt warned.
Louise said nothing, but smiled as she realised just how worried her aunt must have been.
"Alright, but I'm fine, really."
"Well, this looks like a merry gathering," announced Dr. Starfinder as he walked in, closely followed by Hobbes, who was looking somewhat ashamed of himself. Miss Hardbroom's look softened as she regarded Dr. Starfinder. His eyes met hers, and he hesitated before making one final apology.
"I really am sorry for what happened last year..." he began. Louise cut him off.
"I think we can quite safely say you've made up for it now," she said with a smile.
Starfinder smiled back, and turned to Miss Hardbroom, who remained silent. It was impossible to tell from the look on her face what she was thinking. After a fairly long pause, she spoke.
"I think, Dr. Starfinder, that we can quite safely say, that you have more than made up for what you did. What you did wasn't right, and you have no excuses for it, but it's only thanks to you that both Louise, and myself, got out of there alive. Thank you."
"Ah, I'd just like to apologise for the whole, dragon/cave incident, and say I'm sorry," muttered Hobbes awkwardly, before turning to leave.
"Just a minute," called Miss Hardbroom. He stopped and turned. "What you did was both stupid, and dangerous, and almost cost Louise, Dr. Starfinder, Ethel, and myself, our lives. Count yourself lucky that Professor Thunderblast is so lenient, because if I'd had my way, you'd have been expelled from the college instantly."
Hobbes looked down at the ground, and didn't reply as he walked out of the room.
 
*   *   *
 
Louise stopped before boarding the bus and looked around for one last time. It was the end of the Secret Shores trip, and the students were all getting ready to head back to Weirdsister. Thanks to some special potions from both her aunt and Professor Thunderblast, her arm had healed up completely within a couple of days, and she had been able to join in with all the activities throughout the rest of the holiday. Despite the dragon incident, she had had a fantastic time, especially with the unicorn riding. She had really enjoyed the jumping they had done on the beach, and had exceeded her own expectations. This, however, hadn't gone down too well with Ethel, who was now more jealous of Louise than ever.
Milly and Cas came up behind her as she stood, looking out to sea.
"It's a shame we have to go back to Weirdsister, isn't it?" commented Louise.
"What, even after what happened with the dragon?" Cas asked her, incredulously.
"We're witches. Things like that could happen anywhere. And besides, look around, don't tell me you've ever seen anything as beautiful."
Cas and Milly both looked around. It was another warm, sunny day, and the sound of the waves breaking on the shore and the seagulls' cries were carried to them on the sea breeze. The sunlight sparkled on the sea, and both girls had to agree with Louise; it was the most beautiful place they'd ever been in. They stood for a minute, just looking, before Louise turned and led the way onto the bus.
Ethel also stopped to take a look around before getting on the bus. As she was standing there, Hobbes pushed past her, looking extremely annoyed.
"What's up with you?" Ethel asked him.
"I was this close, this close, to getting that stone. If Louise and 'HB' hadn't been so meddlesome"
"You're unbelievable, you know that..."
"Well I would have got to it if they hadn't appeared and wound up that dragon of the ocean."
"They were almost killed! And it was your fault!" Hobbes didn't answer. "You didn't seem particularly concerned about me either did you?!"
"Alright, fine. Maybe I was a bit..."
"A bit?! You weren't 'a bit' anything..."
"Alright, sorry!" Hobbes paused for a moment, before boarding the bus. Ethel followed him. He sat down and looked out of the window. Ethel sat next to him, and he remained silent as the rest of the students boarded, and the buses left. Ethel wondered whether there was any point in trying to engage Hobbes in a conversation. He stared out the window, then started speaking, quietly.
"One day, somehow, I will get that stone. Just wait..."
 
The End.

Back at the hotel, Milly, Cas, Tim, Azmat, Deirdre, Louise and Miss Hardbroom, were all looking for Ethel and Hobbes. Naturally, the first place they checked was their rooms, but, of course, they didn't find them.
"Maybe they just haven't got back yet," suggested Cas, but even she couldn't hide the concern from her voice. She started pacing up and down again, as she had been doing for the past five minutes. They were all assembled in the hall outside the two rooms.                           
"We'll give them fifteen minutes, and if they're not back, we'll start looking for them," said Deirdre.
"That sounds sensible," said Miss Hardbroom, sounding just as worried as Cas. For a minute, they all just stood there.
"I think I'll go and check the gardens," said Tim. "Just so I'm not standing here doing nothing."
"I'll go with you," volunteered Azmat. The two of them walked off, leaving the other five standing there.
"I think I'll go for a wander along the beach, just in case," said Louise.
"Not by yourself you're not!" her aunt told her.
"Are you volunteering to go with me?" she asked. Miss Hardbroom looked at her niece, realised she was serious, and sighed.
"You three stay here, just in case they come back," she told Milly, Cas and Deirdre.
"We'd be as well to go round to the stables first. If they're not there, we can search on the unicorns; it'll be much quicker," said Louise.
"O.K. Go and get changed and I'll meet you at the stables."
Louise was ready before her aunt, who had gone into the shower room to get changed. She ran out into the hall, ran forward a few steps, stopped, and then used magic to make herself disappear. A matter of seconds later, Miss Hardbroom came out of the room and stopped dead. She looked at Milly, Cas and Deirdre in confusion.
"Was that one of you that just opened and shut the door?" she asked.
"No, it was Louise," Milly told her.
"Well, where is she? She couldn't have disappeared down the corridor that quickly." Miss Hardbroom looked down the corridor, just to make sure she hadn't missed anything.
"She disappeared into thin air," Deirdre informed her. "I can only assume she must be at the stables." Miss Hardbroom looked at her in astonishment. She stood for a minute, then folded her arms, and disappeared herself.
"I wonder what that was all about," said Milly.
"Who knows?" replied Cas. The two of them let themselves into their room, and went out on to the balcony to wait in the sun.
 
*   *   *
 
Down at the stables there was no sign of Ethel or Hobbes.
"Is everything alright?" Kerry asked them.
"Ethel and Hobbes seem to have disappeared," Louise told her. "Would you mind if we borrowed Tempest and Promise to go and look for them?"
"No, of course not!" replied Kerry. "Do you want me to help look?"
"I think we should be alright," Miss Hardbroom told her. "Chances are they might be back in the hotel as we speak." She didn't sound too hopeful, though.
It wasn't long before Tempest and Promise were tacked up and ready to go. The two of them rode out, side-by-side, straight on to the beach. Louise moved into a trot, and Miss Hardbroom followed her lead. Louise waited until the unicorns were properly warmed up, before suggesting a canter.
"Ready for a canter?" she asked her aunt.
"Yes," she replied.
Louise slid her right led back and gave a gentle squeeze. Tempest obliged by moving smoothly into a working canter. Miss Hardbroom got Promise to pick up an active canter, and cantered up beside her niece.
"Louise?"
"Yes?" There was a pause before Miss Hardbroom continued.
"How did you get down to the stables?"
Louise thought for a moment. She hadn't realised herself what she had done. Her aunt looked at her, and read the expression on her face correctly.
"Have you ever done that before?" she asked.
"No, I didn't realise I could!" Louise sounded genuinely shocked.
"Looks like you might be even more talented than we thought," Miss Hardbroom told her. Louise didn't say anything; she was having difficulty getting her mind round the fact that she was able to do something that many qualified witches couldn't do. Miss Hardbroom smiled to herself as she looked at her niece.
Suddenly, Louise sat back, pushed her heels down and forward, and hauled back on the reins, bringing Tempest to an instant halt. Promise didn't want to go on alone, and so slammed on the brakes, sending Miss Hardbroom halfway up her neck.
"What's wrong?" she asked, as she righted herself in the saddle and disentangled her reins. Louise didn't reply. Miss Hardbroom followed her niece's gaze and saw instantly what she was looking at. A deep, glowing green lake was cutting across their path. It came from the mouth of a cave, and stopped just before it reached the sea.
"Where did that come from?" asked Louise. "I don't remember seeing it earlier. We would have seen it when we were on Summerhall Pier having lunch." Miss Hardbroom glanced up to the pier behind her, and realised her niece was right. The light, which was glowing from the lake, would certainly have caught their eye when they were at the sandwich bar. Louise edged Tempest forward, in order to get a better look.
"Be careful, Louise," her aunt warned. She slowed Tempest down, but didn't actually stop until she was right at the edge of the lake. She was so close, that the silky white fur on Tempest's legs was reflecting the green light. She allowed the reins to go slack as Tempest stretched her head down to drink from the water. Miss Hardbroom brought Promise up beside her.
"Do you think this had anything to do with the tremors we felt earlier?" asked Louise.
"I'm not sure. It might, I suppose," her aunt answered. Louise took up her reins, and turned Tempest towards the cave mouth.
"Louise, wait!" her aunt called after her. She paused, and looked back.
"Well, come on then!" she said. Miss Hardbroom looked at her niece as though she was mad. Louise waited for a minute, before turning her head back to the cave and moving Tempest forward another few steps.
"Louise!" exclaimed her aunt in exasperation, but she got no response. She hesitated, and then cantered Promise on. She slowed to a walk when she reached her niece. Worry was written all over her face.
"Louise, for goodness sake, what are you doing?" she asked.
"I'm just going to look, that's all," said Louise, matter-of-factly, but she couldn't help noticing the look of concern on her aunt's face. "Don't worry!" she told her.
"Please, will you stop this and turn back?" said Miss Hardbroom in a trembling voice. She paused before adding; "I'm just frightened you get hurt. I only just got you back and I don't know what I'd do if anything happened to you!" She sounded extremely distressed.
Louise brought Tempest to a halt and turned to face her aunt Constance. She realised that she really was frightened, and decided to turn back. After all, this wasn't fair on her aunt; she had been through enough already.
"Alright, I'll turn back." She paused for a minute, before continuing. "I didn't mean to frighten you." Miss Hardbroom looked relieved, but still quite nervous as she faced her niece. "I just thought we'd be as well to have a look. From what I've been told, Hobbes can be a bit of a power freak. It wouldn't surprise me if he was in there somewhere, or had something to do with it," Louise said thoughtfully.
"Oh, surely not," Miss Hardbroom laughed nervously, but she didn't look completely convinced herself.
"Why do you think he didn't want to come with us today?" Louise asked, although it was clear from the tone of her voice that she already knew the answer.
"Well, I thought it was so he could stay behind with Ethel," Miss Hardbroom answered. Before she had reached the end of the sentence, however, Louise was already shaking her head.
"Hobbes said he wanted to stay behind before Ethel did, as though he already had something planned. He didn't even look at her when he said he wanted to 'stay and read'. And from what I've seen so far, they don't look like a couple." Miss Hardbroom wasn't sure what to think, but she knew her niece wasn't stupid. She couldn't help but wonder if she was right. "They've never shown any sort of interest in each other at the hotel, there doesn't seem to be any chemistry between them at all," she added. Miss Hardbroom glanced over her shoulder, towards the cave mouth. She thought for a minute, and then turned back to Louise.
"Alright, we'll go a bit further in, but not a lot!" She hastily added the last part.
"We're only going to look, don't worry!" Louise assured her. "We'll be careful." She turned Tempest around, and slowly headed deeper into the cave, following the lake as she went. Miss Hardbroom brought Promise up beside her, unable to hide the concern from her face, but she didn't say anything.
After a few minutes, the ground started to slope down steeply. Louise slowed Tempest down, and leaned back as they went, in order to keep her centre of balance over the unicorn's. Miss Hardbroom did the same, and it wasn't long before they were deep underground. The whole place was illuminated by the eerie green light coming from the lake. The unicorns looked strange; their white coats reflecting the light, making them look as though they themselves were glowing green. Louise couldn't help but laugh as she noticed this.
Miss Hardbroom, on the other hand, didn't look happy at all. It wasn't that she was frightened for herself. In fact, if Louise hadn't been there, she wouldn't have hesitated to venture down into the cave to look for Ethel and Hobbes. She just couldn't bear the thought of losing Louise again. Just being in that cave was enough to bring back all the memories of when she had disappeared at the Weirdsister open day. She tried to block it out, but she couldn't help playing the whole incident over in her mind, time and time again.
She was suddenly jolted out of her thoughts when Louise brought Tempest to a halt and dismounted. She watched as her niece walked over to the very edge of the lake.
"Louise, what are you doing?" she asked in a rather worried tone. Louise knelt down beside something, and it was a minute before Miss Hardbroom realised what it was. She quickly dismounted herself, and was at Ethel's side in an instant.
"Ethel, can you hear me?" asked Miss Hardbroom. Ethel groaned, but didn't open her eyes. "Looks like you were right Louise," she told her niece. "Wait here, and DON'T move." She gently lifted Ethel into a sitting position, and put her arm round her shoulders. She waved her other hand and the two of them disappeared. A matter of seconds later, Miss Hardbroom reappeared.
"Ethel's being looked after at the hotel," she said. "The fact that we found Ethel here, means there's a pretty good chance that Hobbes is here too."
"That much, I'm sure of," stated Louise. She walked over to Tempest, who hadn't moved since she dismounted, and swung herself back up into the saddle. She waited for her aunt to mount, and then headed further into the cave.
 
*   *   *
 
Back at the hotel, Professor Thunderblast was tending to the unconscious Ethel. Milly, Cas and Deirdre looked on with concern, as she applied a strange looking potion to her head. It was bright purple, with traces of blue and scarlet through it, and it smelled strongly of mint.
"That'll help to reduce any pain or swelling," she told them. "All we can do now, is wait."
Just at that moment, Tim and Azmat walked in, accompanied by Dr. Starfinder.
"What happened?" he asked, looking at Ethel.
"We're not entirely sure," Professor Thunderblast told him. "Miss Hardbroom appeared with her, saying something about finding her in a cave."
"Where is Miss Hardbroom?" asked Starfinder.
"She disappeared straight after she brought Ethel here, saying she thought Nick Hobbes was somewhere in the cave," Professor Thunderblast told him.
"Did she happen to mention where the cave was?" he asked.
"No, she didn't. I can only assume it must be one of the caves on the beach," said Professor Thunderblast.
"Right," muttered Starfinder to himself. He was still feeling guilty about what he had done to Louise, and wanted badly to make it up to both her and her aunt. He took one last look at Ethel, and then disappeared out the door. Ethel started to stir at the sound of the door closing, and slowly opened her eyes.
"Are you alright Ethel?" Milly asked. Ethel tried to sit up, but Professor Thunderblast forced her back down.
"Just lie still for a minute," she instructed her. Ethel obliged, and stopped struggling. Slowly, the room came into focus, and she looked at everyone around her. She looked confused, as though she had no idea what had just happened.
"What happened?" Cas wanted to know. Ethel thought for a minute, and then it all came back to her. The look of confusion was quickly replaced by one of fear and worry. She tried to sit up again as she spoke.
"The wizard...the stone...he's trying to...he's going..." She was speaking quickly, trying to tell them what had happened, but she couldn't seem to put her thoughts into words.
"Alright, just calm down," ordered Professor Thunderblast. Ethel stopped talking and lay back. She put her hands to her face, and shut her eyes as she tried to concentrate and focus her mind. "Now, slowly tell us what happened."
Ethel removed her hands from her face, and began to explain, in detail, exactly what had just happened.
 
*   *   *
 
Louise and Miss Hardbroom were journeying deeper and deeper underground. They could no longer see any daylight, and the light, which seemed to be coming from underneath the lake, was growing stronger.
Suddenly, the narrow tunnel opened into a vast space. The lake, which had been more like a narrow stream until now, formed a massive pool in the middle of the opening. The ground was covered in sand, and the whole place was illuminated by the eerie green light, which seemed to come from beneath the water. The rocks forming the cave walls and roof were wet; their shiny black surfaces glinting in the green light.
They brought the unicorns to a halt, and stared, speechless, at the sight in front of them. Louise found herself shivering, even although it wasn't cold. In fact, the air around them was just as warm as the air outside, only damper.
"It doesn't look like Hobbes is here," stated Miss Hardbroom. Louise was jolted to attention by the sound of her aunt's voice. She scanned the scene in front of her, looking for anything, which might suggest that Hobbes had been there.
"Come on, let's go," Miss Hardbroom said. She turned Promise around, but Louise didn't follow. She was looking very closely at the cave wall. Miss Hardbroom turned her head, and stopped when she saw that Louise wasn't following her.
"Louise?" she said, but Louise didn't answer. Instead, she walked Tempest on toward the cave wall. She then seemed to disappear. Only when she stuck her head - and Tempest's - back round the corner, did Miss Hardbroom realise what had happened. There was a gap in the rocks, which was almost impossible to see at a distance. Louise, however, being as vigilant as she was, had noticed it.
Miss Hardbroom walked Promise on toward Louise, and stopped when she reached the gap. She looked uncertain about following her niece in, and watched as Louise turned Tempest and walked away. Before she had the chance to shout her back, though, Promise decided to take matters into her own hands. She could sense her rider's fear, and this, in turn, made her feel afraid. She didn't want to be left behind, and leapt forward after Tempest. It was all Miss Hardbroom could do to stay in the saddle.
Louise stopped when she heard the clatter of hooves on rock (the sand wasn't very deep as they went through the gap) and waited as Promise came up beside her, with her aunt hanging half out of the saddle. She laughed as Miss Hardbroom straightened herself up, and then continued on. The rock walls, which towered above them blocked out the light from the lake, but the unicorns easily overcame this problem. Their horns glowed softly, giving off a gentle, golden light.
After a few minutes, they reached a dead end, with no sign of Hobbes. There was nothing for it, but to turn back. Miss Hardbroom was only too relieved when they passed through the gap in the rocks again. Louise, however, was more concerned with finding Hobbes.
"He must be here somewhere," she said. She walked Tempest forward, and stopped when she heard her aunt calling after her;
"Louise, where are you going?!"
"I'm just going to walk round the lake to see if I can find anything," she replied. Miss Hardbroom was about to argue, but she realised she wouldn't be able to stop her niece. She watched as Louise walked Tempest on, trying to think of something to say to stop her, but her mind just went blank. She nudged Promise into a trot, and quickly caught up with Louise. The two of them walked round the lake, and Louise halted when they were exactly halfway round.
It took a minute before Miss Hardbroom could see what her niece was looking at. There was another gap in the rocks, just big enough for the unicorns to get through. Louise was about to head through it, when she heard a splash, and felt something wet on the back of her head. She turned round, but, at first, she couldn't see anything. She looked at the lake, and noticed a few ripples, but nothing more.
"What's wrong?" asked her aunt. Louise opened her mouth, about to answer, then stopped as something caught her eye. Something was moving beneath the water. Miss Hardbroom looked at her niece, and followed her gaze to the lake, but she couldn't see anything.
"Can you see that?" whispered Louise. Her voice was trembling, and Tempest shifted uneasily beneath her, as though picking up her thoughts. Miss Hardbroom looked again, but she had no idea what her niece was looking at. Louise followed the dark shape with her eyes, hardly daring to breath. Tempest took a few steps back, and Louise didn't try to stop her.
"She's playing up because she knows you're nervous," Miss Hardbroom told her niece. She had wrongly interpreted Louise's look of fear, thinking she was afraid because Tempest was acting up. "Sit deep into the saddle, and use your leg. Show her who's in charge." Louise let Tempest back up a few more steps, before halting. Her face was chalk white and she was visibly shaking, looking over her aunt's shoulder to the lake. Miss Hardbroom looked at her niece in confusion, and turned back to the lake.
"I don't see anything," she said. She failed to notice that the centre of the lake had gone dark, the eerie green light only coming from the edges now. Promise lifted her head up, and flattened her ears back. She started to back up, just as Tempest had done. Miss Hardbroom tried to stop her, but her aids were ignored by the frightened unicorn. It wasn't long before she was beside Louise, and, once again, she followed her gaze to the lake. She tried in vain to see what her niece was looking at, but it was no good.
"What do you see?" she asked Louise. "I can't see anything at all." She might not have been able to see anything at first, but she couldn't fail to miss it when it rose above the water. Slowly, the massive, dark, scaly head started to emerge, stopping when the closed eyes were just above the water level. Gradually, the large, yellow, reptile eyes opened, the narrow slit of a pupil on each, staring into the distance, before moving slowly, and focusing on the intruders.
Tempest spun round on her hind legs, taking the necessary action to get both herself and Louise to safety. Promise, however, remained rooted to the spot; her ears flat against her head, and her eyes wild with terror. She was frozen with fear, and stood, shaking, as the dragon of the ocean slowly turned its head towards them.
Louise fought to bring Tempest under control, as she galloped away from the danger. She eventually managed to haul her round in a circle and bring her to a halt. They were about halfway between the dragon and the cave mouth. She wasn't sure what to do, but she knew she had to do something. She asked Tempest to walk on, but the unicorn was too frightened to obey. She half reared, and gave a frightened whinny, before backing up a few steps.
"Louise!" Louise turned to see Dr. Starfinder running towards her. He had seen the glowing stream leading into the cave, and correctly guessed that he would find Louise and her aunt in there.
"Where's your aunt?" he gasped.
Louise quickly filled him in on what had happened. Her voice was panicky, and she looked petrified. Starfinder knew the situation was serious, and that he was going to have to think quickly.
"Right, I've got an idea, but we're going to have to move quickly," he said. "Do you think you can convince this unicorn to go back?" he asked her. Louise shut her eyes, and the next thing she knew, she was back in the deepest part of the cave; on the opposite side of the lake from her aunt. Starfinder was still standing next to her, and he whispered his plan, trying not to attract the dragon's attention.
Louise might have looked petrified before, but that was nothing compared to the look on her aunt's face. Louise watched as the dragon moved towards its victims. Promise was wild-eyed with terror, and Miss Hardbroom had turned chalk-white. She clung helplessly to the reins as her unicorn backed up, half rearing after every few steps. The reins were slippery; wet from the moisture in the air, and it would have made no difference at all to Promise if her rider hadn't been there.
All of a sudden, there was a bright flash, and the dragon looked round. Starfinder headed away from Louise, and started walking round the lake. He waved his hand at the dragon, creating another flash of light. The monster turned and headed straight for him.
Louise saw her chance, and managed to force Tempest towards her aunt. The unicorn was terrified, and pranced around as she went. Starfinder was just managing to keep the dragon at bay, by flashing magical fire at it. It was desperate to get him, but it didn't want to get burned, and responded to his tormenting by fighting fire with fire, and sending a burst of flames in his direction. He only just managed to avoid being roasted alive.
Louise dug her heels in, and Tempest leapt forward, stopping beside Promise.
"Why don't you use magic to get out of here?!" she asked her aunt in desperation.
"I've tried," she told her, "but I can't. There seems to some sort of interference; as though there's powerful magic in this part of the cave!" Louise looked at her aunt thoughtfully, as the dragon promptly singed the edges of Starfinder's coat. She started to chant, and lifted her hands. A strange sort of barrier formed around Miss Hardbroom, and it remained when Louise stopped chanting.
"Now try," she instructed her.
"I'm not going to leave you!" she exclaimed.
"Just do it!" Louise screamed at her, as the dragon let out a roar. "If you don't, then we'll both be stuck down here!" Tears of fear and frustration formed in Miss Hardbroom's eyes as she looked at her niece. "Just GO!!!" she screamed, but still her aunt didn't move. "Listen, if you don't get out of here, then everything I've just done will all have been in vain! And I'll definitely have no chance of getting out! Go, NOW!" Miss Hardbroom was blinded by tears as she vanished into thin air.
Louise moved Tempest forward, until she was close enough to Promise, and gave the now rider-less unicorn a hard slap on the quarters. Promise responded by leaping forward, and galloping flat out towards the cave entrance, away from the danger of the dragon. Starfinder was really struggling with the dragon; his magic was powerful, but so was the dragon.
"Take your own advice and get out of here!" he yelled at Louise. Louise cast one last glance at him, before sending Tempest on at a gallop. She wasn't completely aware of everything going on around her, as she clung on for dear life. She could feel Tempest's thundering hooves, and hear the unicorn's heavy breathing, but everything else was just a blur; a blur of fire, talons and waves. She could feel the unicorn beneath her, but she couldn't see. Her fingers were knotted in the mane, and her mind was only focused on one thing; staying on the unicorn. She vaguely acknowledged reaching the outside world, emerging into the dusk, and hearing the waves break against the shore, and her aunt's voice, but she was completely oblivious to what happened next, or even to the injuries she had received in galloping past the dragon. Everything just faded into darkness...
Back in the cave, Starfinder and the dragon appeared to be evenly matched. However, the level of magical interference was so strong, that Starfinder's spells were losing power. The dragon sent a shower of flames in his direction, and he fell to the ground, in order to avoid being burned to death. The beast moved forward, and rose further out of the water. It's evil, yellow eyes fixed on its prey, as it bared its teeth, ready to strike. Starfinder could hear the dragon's laboured breathing, and felt its hot breath on the back of his neck. It opened its salivating mouth slightly as it sniffed at him, and he shut his eyes, preparing for the end...
Just at that moment, there was a flash of green light from the back of the cave, and Hobbes emerged from the gap in the rocks that Louise had been about to enter, right before the dragon emerged. The monster turned its attention to Hobbes, and left Starfinder lying there. Hobbes raised his staff, and the green light coming from the water slowly started to change. It went from green, to yellow, to orange, then finally to red. The monster let out a roar as it advanced on Hobbes. The water around it started to bubble, and it roared angrily at Hobbes as it moved towards him.
Hobbes continued to hold his staff in the air, and the dragon slowed as it jumped up out of the water, as though it was about to pass out. Just before it reached Hobbes, it's eyes rolled round, and it fell; it's massive, scaly body smashing down into the water, causing huge waves to cover the whole of the cave floor. Hobbes and Starfinder were soaked, as the sea dragon sunk back into the mysterious depths from which it came.
Everything went quiet, and the colour of the water returned to normal. Hobbes walked round to Starfinder and helped him to his feet. They both stood there for a minute, before they heard a strange rumbling sound coming from beneath them.
"The lake's about to disappear back underground," Hobbes said; no emotion showing in his voice. They looked at each other for a split second, then turned and ran. The cave began to shake, as the lake seemed to sink, and sand and rock began to cover its surface. Hobbes and Starfinder knew they had one hope; to reach the cave entrance before the roof started to cave in.
 
*   *   *
 
Outside the cave, Miss Hardbroom had been waiting anxiously for her niece. She was sick with worry, and couldn't stop the tears of fear and frustration as she paced up and down. As soon as she heard Tempest's hoof beats, she stopped pacing, and ran forward. She caught Louise as she slid from Tempest's back, and collapsed in her aunt's arms.
"Louise?" She looked at her niece with concern. A strange sort of quiet, tranquillity fell over them, as the light was beginning to fail, and the only sound that could be heard, was the sound of the waves, and the seagulls' cries, carried on the sea breeze. Miss Hardbroom took her hand from her niece's shoulder, and looked at it. It was wet, with blood. The dragon had lashed out, and caught Louise with its talons as she galloped past it. However, she had been so frightened, exhausted, and focused on getting out, that she hadn't noticed what was going on around her. Her aunt waved her hand, and transported both of them back to the hotel.
 
*   *   *
 
Slowly, everything seemed to grow brighter, and the room swam into focus, as Louise came round. She lay there for a minute, trying to remember what had happened. She looked around, and realised she was in her bed in the hotel room, and the light that had seemed so bright, was from the moon streaming in through the open window. Night had now fallen, and the room was dark, save from the silvery moonlight. Louise looked around, and saw her aunt. She had been sitting at the side of her bed, and had fallen asleep; her head resting on the bed.
Louise sat up, and suddenly felt a rush of pain spreading from her right shoulder, down her arm. She gasped, and looked down at her now bandaged arm. Miss Hardbroom stirred as she heard the gasp. The second she realised her niece was awake, she was by her side, making sure she was alright.
"What happened?" Louise asked, sounding confused.
"Lie down," Miss Hardbroom instructed. "Just lie down." Louise eventually gave up and lay back down. She felt dizzy as a result of the pain, and just lay quietly for a minute. Then, all of a sudden, she sprang up, ignoring her aunt's attempts to force her back down.
"What about Tempest and Promise?" she asked worriedly.
"They're both fine," her aunt assured her. "They both made their own was back to the stables and Kerry got them." Louise calmed down and lay back. "Trust you to think about the unicorns before anything else." Louise gave a relieved laugh. Her aunt looked at her niece, thoughtfully.
"In fact..."
"In fact what?" Louise asked.
"Nothing," replied Miss Hardbroom. Louise looked at her aunt, but she wasn't going to give anything away just yet.
"Just get some sleep." Louise knew it was useless to argue, so she gave in, lay back and shut her eyes.
 
*   *   *
 
"So did the dragon actually get you?" It was late the next morning, and Milly, Cas, Deirdre, Tim and Azmat were all gathered around Louise's bed. Louise laughed at the look of shock and amazement on Azmat's face.
"Must have done," she replied. "I don't really remember much from that point on, though."
"Hey there." Everyone turned round as Ethel walked in. She looked at Louise, feeling as though she was partly to blame for what had happened.
"Hey, how are you feeling?" Louise asked her.
"I think I should be asking you that," Ethel replied.
"I'm alright," Louise told her. "I've had worse injuries from falling off horses before."
Ethel gave a small smile and sat down on the edge of the bed. She still had a bit of a sore head, but other than that, she had completely recovered.
"Doesn't it hurt?" Milly asked Louise.
"Nowhere near as much as it did last night. That stuff Professor Thunderblast used really works wonders."
"You'd still better make sure you get enough rest." Miss Hardbroom had been standing in the corner, listening in, and keeping an eye on her niece.
"I'm injured, not ill!" Louise told her. "There's a difference."
"Just don't overdo it," her aunt warned.
Louise said nothing, but smiled as she realised just how worried her aunt must have been.
"Alright, but I'm fine, really."
"Well, this looks like a merry gathering," announced Dr. Starfinder as he walked in, closely followed by Hobbes, who was looking somewhat ashamed of himself. Miss Hardbroom's look softened as she regarded Dr. Starfinder. His eyes met hers, and he hesitated before making one final apology.
"I really am sorry for what happened last year..." he began. Louise cut him off.
"I think we can quite safely say you've made up for it now," she said with a smile.
Starfinder smiled back, and turned to Miss Hardbroom, who remained silent. It was impossible to tell from the look on her face what she was thinking. After a fairly long pause, she spoke.
"I think, Dr. Starfinder, that we can quite safely say, that you have more than made up for what you did. What you did wasn't right, and you have no excuses for it, but it's only thanks to you that both Louise, and myself, got out of there alive. Thank you."
"Ah, I'd just like to apologise for the whole, dragon/cave incident, and say I'm sorry," muttered Hobbes awkwardly, before turning to leave.
"Just a minute," called Miss Hardbroom. He stopped and turned. "What you did was both stupid, and dangerous, and almost cost Louise, Dr. Starfinder, Ethel, and myself, our lives. Count yourself lucky that Professor Thunderblast is so lenient, because if I'd had my way, you'd have been expelled from the college instantly."
Hobbes looked down at the ground, and didn't reply as he walked out of the room.
 
*   *   *
 
Louise stopped before boarding the bus and looked around for one last time. It was the end of the Secret Shores trip, and the students were all getting ready to head back to Weirdsister. Thanks to some special potions from both her aunt and Professor Thunderblast, her arm had healed up completely within a couple of days, and she had been able to join in with all the activities throughout the rest of the holiday. Despite the dragon incident, she had had a fantastic time, especially with the unicorn riding. She had really enjoyed the jumping they had done on the beach, and had exceeded her own expectations. This, however, hadn't gone down too well with Ethel, who was now more jealous of Louise than ever.
Milly and Cas came up behind her as she stood, looking out to sea.
"It's a shame we have to go back to Weirdsister, isn't it?" commented Louise.
"What, even after what happened with the dragon?" Cas asked her, incredulously.
"We're witches. Things like that could happen anywhere. And besides, look around, don't tell me you've ever seen anything as beautiful."
Cas and Milly both looked around. It was another warm, sunny day, and the sound of the waves breaking on the shore and the seagulls' cries were carried to them on the sea breeze. The sunlight sparkled on the sea, and both girls had to agree with Louise; it was the most beautiful place they'd ever been in. They stood for a minute, just looking, before Louise turned and led the way onto the bus.
Ethel also stopped to take a look around before getting on the bus. As she was standing there, Hobbes pushed past her, looking extremely annoyed.
"What's up with you?" Ethel asked him.
"I was this close, this close, to getting that stone. If Louise and 'HB' hadn't been so meddlesome"
"You're unbelievable, you know that..."
"Well I would have got to it if they hadn't appeared and wound up that dragon of the ocean."
"They were almost killed! And it was your fault!" Hobbes didn't answer. "You didn't seem particularly concerned about me either did you?!"
"Alright, fine. Maybe I was a bit..."
"A bit?! You weren't 'a bit' anything..."
"Alright, sorry!" Hobbes paused for a moment, before boarding the bus. Ethel followed him. He sat down and looked out of the window. Ethel sat next to him, and he remained silent as the rest of the students boarded, and the buses left. Ethel wondered whether there was any point in trying to engage Hobbes in a conversation. He stared out the window, then started speaking, quietly.
"One day, somehow, I will get that stone. Just wait..."
 
The End.



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