Saturday, December 19, 2015

Threat of the Fire Demon - Chapter 5

Sleep was uncomfortable that night. The rock was warm at first from the day of exposure to the sun, but it soon cooled. As the evening breeze rose it became first chilly and then downright cold. They found a ledge to huddle under, but nothing grew on the rock to put to a flame, so Charles huddled up as tight as he could in his cloak and wished he had a fur coat like Saul’s.

It was a long time before Charles joined Saul in sleep. He sat quietly scribbling notes in his journal of the area they passed through thus far. Eventually, sleep did overtake him in spite of the cold.

Morning found them both equally stiff from sleeping on the hard rock shelf. It took them more than an hour to determine their position and where they needed to go to get to the next gate, based on Remy’s map.

They scaled the rock bluffs one by one. Like a giant stack of offset cards, there were ledges that ran back and forth up the height and length of the hills. The two travelers zigzagged their way up toward the next gate.


“There it is,” Saul said, as they rounded the ledge on the upper level of the last hill.

Before them stood the two stones leaning against each other, creating an arch through which you could see the sky. When they got a little closer, there was no doubting this was the next gate. There were rune characters on the stone - the same as the ones drawn on Remy’s map.

Charles clapped Saul on the shoulder. “Another step closer,” he said with a grin. He walked through the gate and disappeared.

*****

“Yuck!” Saul complained for the umpteenth time. He climbed up out of the swamp onto a fallen tree and shook. His wet fur sent sprinkles of mucky water flying.

“Stop that!” Charles shot back. He wiped at his face with his shirt sleeve.

He levered himself up on the log, sat down and pulled his boots off. He dumped the slough thick, liquid out of them back into the swamp below.

Saul set to cleaning himself. Until three days ago, when they entered this steaming cesspool, Charles thought he liked to watch the cat clean himself up, now it had become a constant irritant. The cat hated the muck they were forced to trudge through and climbed up on anything that would hold him to clean as often as possible. They were spending more time sitting than walking. At this rate they could be stuck in this sewer for the next week or two.

“We have to move faster,” Charles complained. This had been his lament as often as Saul had said Yuck! or Ugh! He swatted at a mosquito the size of a housefly. He scratched and then scratched harder at the bites on his hands, face and neck. He was being eaten alive. Saul didn’t have to worry about the bugs. On occasion they landed on his ears, but he just twitched them off.

“How much further?” Saul asked, as he scrapped muck off his hindquarters with his paws and flicked it back into the water.

Charles removed his journal from his pack and took out the map tucked within. He fell into a sink hole yesterday and got it wet. They had to stop long enough to kindle a small fire on a damp log to dry it out. Luckily, Remy drew it in pencil, if it had been in ink, it might have been a major disaster. As it was, it was only slightly smudged.

Charles followed the route with his finger. It was always just barely light in this swamp - a constant kind of twilight haze. He looked around for the landmarks on the map. The last one they passed was near the sinkhole. That was why Charles fell in it, because he was looking at the map instead of watching where he was going.

“We passed that knurled tree and ahead it looks like the moss forest…See…”

Charles leaned toward Saul to show him the drawing Remy did of the curtain of moss hanging from the tree limbs, trailing into the water below.

Saul scowled at the drawing and then went back to grooming.

“How long?” he asked again impatiently.

“Well, based on how long it took us to get this far, and using the drawing as comparison, I figure if we stop as often as we have the past three days it will probably take us another week.” Charles folded up the map and stuffed it back in his pack. “If we moved at a decent rate, I figure we could be out of here in another two days at the most.”

A dragonfly landed on Saul’s ear. He flicked it. The insect moved off, but persisted and landed a second time. He squint his eyes at Charles.

“You’re saying if I stop pissing, moaning and cleaning, we would get out of here faster? In another two days?”

Charles pulled his wet boots back on. “I did.”

“Promise me,” Saul begged with as pitiful a look on his face as the cat-man could muster.

Charles looked at the wet, disheveled cat. Nothing looked quite as pathetically miserable as a wet cat unless it was a big wet cat-man.

“If we don’t, I will carry you the rest of the way,” he said with a grin.

*****

It didn’t take two days, it only took a little over one and they reached the next gate. Saul was so anxious to be out of the swamp he literally sprang up the fallen log and jumped out into space trusting Remy’s directions without questions.

Charles followed and landed on top of the cat on the opposite side of the gate.

They were lying on sand, a blanket of sand that reached for as far as the eye could see, under a sun beaming down on it from directly overhead.

“Warmth…Sun…” Charles breathed happily and rolled off the cat.

Saul came to his feet. “The Land of Sand and Stone,” he said.

The words were spoken in such a way that Charles shivered even in the heat of the sun.


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