Saturday, January 2, 2016

Threat of the Fire Demon - Chapter 7

“Come on,” Charles coaxed. “You need to clean up anyway.”

Charles stood waist deep in the pool at the mouth of the cave. They made it to the mountain ridge by late afternoon. Remy’s map indicated this gate would take them to the Crystal Cave. In the cave they would find the last gate, the one that would deliver them into the Land of the Fire Demons.

Only problem was, this gate was a pool of water and required the traveler to dunk their full body under the surface in order to pass through to the Crystal Cave. Saul was more than reluctant to go for a swim.

Charles stepped back further in the pool. “Come on,” he said again. “It’s warm, and look at you,” he waved his hand at the cat, “you’re filthy. This will clean you up in no time.”


Charles dipped his hands in the water and rubbed his clothing. The caked on mud, dirt and sand from their journey clouded the pool with silt. He noticed his hands didn’t itch any longer. He looked down. It was amazing. The water had healed them instantly.

“Look!” He held up his hands for Saul to see. “The bites are gone.”

He cupped water in his hands and splashed it on his face. When he ran his hands over it he could feel the welts and blisters had disappeared.

He grinned at Saul. “Come on,” he begged. “Good for what ails you. Look, no more bites or blisters. This is going to be a walk in the park compared to the swamp and the Land of Sand and Stone.”

Saul took a tentative step into the pool. He stopped at about ankle depth.

“That’s my brave friend,” Charles smiled and backed up a bit more. “One quick dunk and we are out of here. Only one more gate to go after this one,” he reminded the cat.

Charles pulled his bow and quiver off his shoulders. It wouldn’t hurt them to have a quick dip in the pool, but at the rate Saul was moving it might take some time and he didn’t want to damage them.

“Maybe, better to just get it over with,” Charles advised. “Maybe, just dive in. It’s obviously enchanted. Bet you come out on the other side dry and clean.” He smiled winningly at the cat.

Charles’ face and hands were healed. Saul took another solemn step forward. The shelf to the pool dropped off quickly. With that step he was surprised to find himself almost knee deep. He started to back up, but found he couldn’t. He panicked. He tried to turn. Instead, his feet slipped further down the slope and he was waist deep before he knew it.

“Charles!” he said in a frantic voice. “I can’t back up.” He looked around as though he thought he might find a log or rock to climb on to. The pool was empty of convenient cat perches.

Charles tried to step toward his friend to calm him. He found he couldn’t move back toward the shore either.

“Remy said the gates were one way,” Charles said. “I guess once we stepped in, we were committed.”

Saul took a deep shuttering breath. “I don’t like this.”

“I know, but we’re almost there,” Charles soothed. “You leaped out into space from the swamp,” he reminded his friend. “That was scary for me. Just take a deep breath and dunk under.”

“You first,” Saul said.

“Nope, if I go first you are libel to be stuck here. I won’t leave you.”

Saul dipped his paws down in the water. “It is warm. Oh, what the…” He drew in a deep breath and plunged forward, head first, into the water at Charles’ feet and he was gone.

*****

It was pitch dark on the other side of the gate until Charles raised his hand and conjured a luminous orb, then everything sparkled and glittered.

The Crystal Cave was spectacular. It was like being an ant in a giant geode. The crystals were huge, some as big around and as long as the tallest tree either of the travelers had ever seen. But, it was extremely hot - hotter than the Land of Sand and Stone ever even thought of being. And, the humidity must have been one-hundred percent because in just a matter of moments Charles was drenched in sweat even though the pool had delivered them clean and dry to the cave just as Charles predicted.

Within minutes the pair realized they were in trouble. It was not only hot and humid it was extremely difficult to breathe. They had to find the gate and get out quickly.

“It looks like a number sign,” Charles said in a panting breath. He had already removed his cloak and stuffed it in his pack. “Two crystals horizontal over two crystals vertical. We find them and step through the center.”

Saul leaped up on one of the huge crystals above Charles’ head to get a better view of their surroundings.

“I think I see something that way,” he said and pointed.

Charles climbed up on a jutting hunk of crystal.

“Careful,” Saul warned. “The edges are sharp as razors.” He illustrated his point by lifting his hind paw to show it was cut and bleeding.”

“Here,” Charles offered. “Let me wrap your paws.”

He pulled his cloak from his bag and started to tear off strips of cloth from its hem. Saul hopped down and took his dragon tooth knife to the cloth.

“We have to hurry,” he said, his mouth open panting.

They both worked at wrapping his back paws. Then slowly, because that was all they had energy for, they rose and started climbing over and around the crystals in the direction Saul thought he saw the gate.

“Damn,” Charles cursed. He grabbed at his leg. The crystal he slipped on had cut right through the material of his pant leg and slit his leg almost to the bone.

Saul turned back to see blood flowing between Charles’ fingers as he grasped his leg. He moved as fast as the oppressive heat of the cave would allow. He pulled Charles’ bow up over his shoulder and unstrung it. He took the bow string and tied it around his friend’s leg and then he cut more cloth from the cloak and wrapped it tightly.

“We have to get out of here,” he panted. “Come on.”

Charles threw his arm over Saul’s shoulders and the cat helped him to his feet.

“This way,” he said with more certainty then he actually felt. All the crystals were beginning to look the same through the haze of hyperthermia.

A few minutes later they unknowingly passed the gate. The bottom crystal had broken since the last time Remy passed this way. Therefore, it was not recognizable to the travelers as the ‘number’ sign it used to be. Instead, the two walked past it and in their haste to get out of the stifling heat and damp suffocating air, they took a wrong turn and passed through another gate. A gate not marked on the map, but lying in wait for the unsuspecting traveler…a gate to parts unknown.


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