Thankfully, the night of the full moon happened on Friday, which according to the vampire, that would mean that the Grendel shouldn't be in the cave for the next couple of days. I managed to scrounge up several broomsticks from the room of requirement, and everyone met up at the lake early Saturday morning.
Before we took off, I handed out copies of the map that Hagrid had given me to everyone and said, "Let's go over a few things in case something should happen while were in there. First off, in the case we get separated, head north, and that should bring you back towards Hogwarts."
Pointing towards the smiling spider that Hagrid had drawn, I continued, "Next, under no circumstance should you go anywhere near this area. Finally, should you meet with a centaur, treat it with respect, they have been known to attack overly arrogant witches and wizards."
As I continued to list out possible dangers, the mood began to shift somewhat, with everyone showing more serious expressions, realizing that our trip through the forest needed to be taken in the proper frame of mind.
Before we left, I freed Athena from her collar, after stretching her wings, she took off into the sky. She was an impressive sight with the sun shining off her blue and silver wings. We all got on our brooms and took off after her.
After twenty minutes of flying on the old broomsticks, we arrived in the general vicinity of the cave. Before we landed in the clearing, I twisted my wrist, activating my hidden dueling wand holster, which shot out my wand into my hand. Although Athena hadn't given any indication that something was near us, I wasn't taking any chances.
Seeing me draw my wand, everyone else followed suit and drew their wands from their robes. I smirked as Alicia had to struggle to get her wand out, and teased, "You should really think about getting one of these. I know the other ones the room provided weren't in very good condition, but you can always order a new one as Cedric and Anna did."
This wasn't the first time I had suggested getting a wand holster for her. But for some reason she dug her heels in on this topic, she argued that using a hidden wand holster would mean that she would have an unfair advantage over someone else, and she was confident enough in her own skill not to use one.
Her attitude only solidified that the sorting hat put her into the correct house. It was a brave attitude, but in my opinion, also kinda stupid. When Micheal ambushed me, it taught me that the best way to approach a confrontation is to seek ever advantage to a fight. Even if the holster only gives a small advantage, it is one I will take.
Before Alicia could argue with me, we heard a loud snap, as a branch broke. The snap was quickly followed by a panicked squeal and a thud as something hit the ground. Turning hastily towards the sound, I saw Athena lying in a pile of snow looking disgruntled. She had landed on a branch, but it broke under her weight. I tried not to laugh at the offended look she was giving the tree. Brushing the snow off herself, she launched herself at me, climbing up to her favorite perch, secure in the knowledge that at least I wouldn't be dumping her on the ground.
Anna broke the silence by giggling, Athena turned her glare from the tree to Anna for daring to laugh at her misfortune. Anna needs to be careful; Athena can be quite vengeful to those who offended her.
As we made our way through the snowy forest, the only sound we could hear was our muffled footsteps as we tramped through the snow. Eventually, we arrived at the cave opening, not about to let my friends be at risk; I took the lead. Raising my wand, I chanted, "Lumos."
My friends followed suit, and the four illumination spells, lit up the pitch-black entrance, we slowly made our way down into the deep bowels of the earth. When we arrived at the cavern, I got a much better look at the place because of the additional wand lights.
As everyone was looking around the cavern in curiosity, Anna pointed towards the Latin inscription above the entryway and asked, "What does that mean?"
Cedric and Alicia both turned in curiosity to see what Anna was talking about. The inscription was one of the first things that I had translated when I had gotten the Latin language primer.
Wanting to explain, I said, "Ego Voluntas Evinco Moriunyur, it means I shall conquer death. Aelius spent almost 15 years dedicated to that goal, and in a twisted way, he kinda succeeded, he is still alive 1300 years later. Although, if anything of his mind remains within the Grendel, I doubt that he is happy about it.
Making our way into the fortress, I stopped at the entrance of the nest. The silence in the chamber was unnerving, we all strained our ear to listen for any hint of activity inside, but the only thing I could hear was everyone's breathing.
After a moment, I decided it was safe to continue and entered the nest. Like last time, lamps lit up, illuminating the Grendel's home. Seemingly waiting for me, no sooner than I entered, Octavius hopefully called out, "Young wizard, is that you?."
Ignoring the other doors that lead deeper within the fortress, I made my back to the door where Octavius was imprisoned. Opening the door, we all found Octavius pressed up along the boundaries of his invisible prison. I thought he looked worse than last time. Considering that I didn't return last month, he probably assumed the worst and had given up. From my previous life, I knew nothing was worse than being given hope only to have it ripped away.
Upon seeing me, a demented grin showcasing his fangs appeared on his gaunt face, and he cried out, "I knew you wouldn't leave me down, young wizard. When you didn't show last month, I that feared you had decided to abandon me to my fate."
Examining the complicated warding circles that kept him trapped, I shook my head and said, "Don't get too excited, I don't think we'll be able to get you out of there until we learn what spells are keeping you trapped."
Even after hearing my words of caution, hope still shown on his face. After a moment, he seemed to realize that I wasn't alone and asked curiously, "Who else did you bring with you? Your master, perhaps."
Shaking my head, I said, "No, just some of my friends. Besides, we don't have a master, the master, and apprentice-style of teaching died out over a thousand years ago. It was far too inefficient."
Octavius's blinked his green eyes rapidly as he processed this new information. Perhaps he was only just now realizing that the whole world he knew was long gone. His face fell for a moment, trying to make light of his situation, he eyed my friends and teased, "Well, since you didn't bring anyone who could free me. I don't suppose you could bring me a snack."
Even though I realized he was trying to make a joke about his situation. I couldn't stop the anger coursed through me, and I replied flatly, "I know your just making a joke. But, if you ever joke about eating one of my friends again. I will leave you to rot in this prison for eternity."
Not understanding why I was so annoyed, Anna put her hand on my arm, trying to calm me down. Cedric and Anna had made great strides in learning Arabic but hadn't yet mastered it, so they didn't catch his joke. Alicia, on the other hand, understood it perfectly and sneered a challenge back at Octavius.
Once I calmed down, I tried to imagine not eating for 1300 years. The idea was horrifying, so I added grudgingly, "If we end up not being able to free you, I will let someone know you are trapped down here. As for getting you some blood to drink, I have a few contacts that might be able to help."
Faint hope appeared back in Octavius's eyes, and he asked, "How long do you think it will take to free me?"
Shrugging, I said, "It depends on if we can find out what spells he used, once we know, then we can work on dispelling them."
Anxious to be free, Octavius pleaded, "Can't you just wave your wand around, surely getting dispelling a barrier can't be too difficult."
Not about to be rushed into doing something stupid, I explained, "That's not how it works, there are hundreds of ways to contain something inside a ward. Each one would have a specific way to deactivate it, and if we go poking around, we could make the situation worse."
Grumbling bitterly, Octavius mumbled, I don't see how it could get worse."
Rolling my eyes, I scolded, "Oh, stop complaining. We're going to go look around and see if we can find anything useful."
Turning to my friends I said, "Alright, we have two objectives we need to accomplish quickly, just in case the Grendel comes back from his hunt early. First, we need to find my ring. Second, we need to look for any books down here. Hopefully, one of them will describe what was used to imprison Octavius."
Alicia looked a little too enthusiastic after she heard about the possibility of the Grendel returning. She eagerly said, "How about we just fight the Grendel, that way, after we defeat it, we'll have all the time in the world to search this place."
After considering her idea for a moment, I shook my head and said, "It very well may come to that, but I would prefer to gather more information about the capabilities of a Grendel unless we have no choice. Besides,choosing to engage with a creature we know nothing about sounds like a recipe for disaster."
I tried not to laugh as Alicia looked bitterly disappointed at being denied a chance to fight the Grendel. Apparently, she had been looking forward to challenging the Grendel; I'm beginning to think that wanting to fight monsters might be a prerequisite for being in Gryffindor.
Before we left the room to begin our search, Octavius called out ominously, "Take care in exploring the lower level, the wizard set up a strange enchantment. If you get caught in it, you will be frozen forever, and the only way to make it through safely is with the wizard's bracer."
Upon hearing his warning, a sinking feeling welled up inside of my stomach. I just knew that finding my ring was not going to be easy. That stupid Grendel probably found my ring in the forest and went and put it behind the barrier, which would explain why it was unable to be summoned.
"I don't suppose you happen to know where the bracer is?" I asked, hopefully.
Octavius replied unhelpfully, "Sure, the last time I saw it, it was on the right arm of the beast."
Of course it was, nothing could ever be easy. I stubbornly held out hope that my ring wasn't behind the magical barrier Octavius had mentioned. So, we started the search in the main nest area, and I was determined not to miss a thing.
While a thorough search revealed many interesting things, such as, ancient spells books, notes detailing Aelius experiments, old potions bottles containing who knows what, and I was pretty sure the strange organ I had found last time in the dust room, was one of the original Grendel's organs Aelius experimented with. Planning to sort everything out later, we started bagging up everything we thought could be useful or interesting.
Finally, I was forced to admit that my ring was not on the main floor, and we would need to descend to the next level. Opening the only door, we hadn't searched revealed an unlit stone staircase leading into darkness.
Similar to the main floor, when we entered, torches bolted into the wall lit up, exposing the stairwell. Curious at what we would find, Anna brushed past me, wanting to be the first downstairs.
Following closely behind, I ran into her when she stopped suddenly at the last step. Before I could ask her why she stopped, I saw what had surprised her. Across the room, were chunks of precious metals like gold and silver, that looked like they had been pulled from the earth. Other strange objects also decorated the room, like wood carvings that had been shaped in strange patterns. I even spotted my ring placed carefully among the objects, whatever all this was, it was clear that the Grendel prized all of these things dearly, every object looked like it had been reverently placed and well cared for.
In the middle of the room was a stone stalagmite growing from the rock. It was decorated with organic geometric symbols, and embedded at the top was a glowing, chipped stone that was constantly shifting colors.
Something about the stone bothered me; I was sure I had read something about a stone like this when I was young. While I was going through my memories, Anna took a step forward off the stairs, transfixed by the scene. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a moth unmoving in midair, almost like it was frozen in time.
I suddenly remembered what I had read all those years ago. Horrified, I stepped forward and grabbed Anna, pulling her back towards me. I took a quick step back towards the stairs pulling Anna along. As soon as we got back to the stairs, Cedric and Alicia were waiting for us with panicked looks on their faces.
Anna, not really understanding what was wrong with everyone, asked curiously, "Why is everyone so panicked?"
Pointing back towards the chipped glowing stone, I explained in disbelief, "That's a chrono-sphere, otherwise known as a time stone, they are unbelievably rare. Wizards have only ever found a handful of them throughout all of history."
Looking back towards Cedric and Alicia, I asked, "How long were we stuck in there?"
Cedric tersely replied, " Around half an hour, had you been much longer, we were going to get the headmaster."
Anna asked, "What do you mean we were in there for 30 minutes? It was more like 3 seconds."
Correcting her assumptions, I explained,"Time gets a little funny around time stones, you see those geometric symbols. I think those are an enchantment which is boosting its effects. My guess is that the distortion effects get worse the closer you get until time is almost completely frozen There is a moth above the stone, I bet that it has been trapped in there for centuries completely unaware that time is moving so slow it might as well be stopped."
Realizing how close she had come to disaster, Anna shot me a grateful look and said, "Thank heavens that you were close enough to stop me before I got any closer. I can't imagine what would have happened to me if you hadn't been so close and responded so quickly. I could have been trapped in there forever."
Scowling at the thought of Anna being trapped in a time field, I responded, "Not forever, only long enough for me to track and kill the Grendel."
Looking at my trapped ring, I completely missed Anna's face, reddening at my fierce declaration. After considering my ring for a few moments, I said, "I bet you all, that the missing chip in the time stone is in the bracer that Octavius mentioned. I imagine it lets him pass through unobstructed, which means the only way to get my ring back it to get ahold of the bracer. Alicia, it looks like your getting your wish; we're going to have to go Grendel hunting.