Episode XVI: Forget the Movies
The second waterfall along their journey was an easier one to navigate, particularly because they weren’t in a boat this time and had time to realize they could use the soldiers’ zip lines.
“Remind me to get rich before we try this again,” Latakia said. “I want cool toys to use next time.”
“I thought the plan was to get rich this time,” Asia said.
“And here I thought we were down here because you had gotten bored running in Central Park.”
“It’s not like you couldn’t use the exercise with that little bit of pudge you’ve been growing.”
“You like my pudge.”
“Almost as much as you like running out of beer, but not nearly as much as you like everything leading up to it.”
“That almost made sense,” Latakia laughed, “but you need to work a little bit harder.”
Asia made some noise that meant she was done with the argument, at least for now.
The river continued on, through some rocks before ducking into a low cave that they had almost no hope of getting through, but the path was branching off anyway. The soldiers led with their flashlights, and Latakia held a torch he stole form the underground city.
“I doubt anyone actually lived down here,” Asia said, trying to pass the time more than make any point. “The building was probably a shelter. In this area, probably against warring tribes, but it could have been weather. It’s hard to tell without more study.”
They had only gone a hundred yards when the path ahead of them started glowing. This was the first light they had seen that they didn’t cause, but not everyone was happy about it.
“What a rip off,” Latakia yelled, looking up at the ceiling for a glimpse of sky poking through. “To make us go so far out of our way when there was a way in here, that just mean!”
As they drew nearer, the glow grew stronger. Jose called past it into the darkness, in case it was someone coming the other way.
“We aren’t here to cause trouble,” he said to whoever might be on the other side.
“Not all of us, anyway,” Latakia added.
“You’re not helping,” Asia scolded.
“It’s gone,” Rose gasped.
The two soldiers had turned off their lights, and the glow ahead of them followed suit. Latakia had turned his back for the verbal sparring with his friends, and he spun back around with the torch to see, but the light came back on.
“Soldier boy, come here,” he called to Gylden, who obliged, despite his objection to being called “soldier boy”.
Latakia used Gylden to block the torchlight, and the glow vanished. He exposed the light, and the glow matched. He rushed ahead to bring the two lights together, the glow strengthening as the flame drew near.
The glow was as bright as a strong night-light when Latakia reached it, and it extended for a 50-foot stretch of tunnel.
“It’s a crystal,” Latakia shouted back to his friends. “It’s a lot of crystals.”
“A lot” didn’t do the sight justice. There were hundreds of perfectly clear crystals, carefully carved and crafted and perfectly positioned to cast any light down the tunnel, crisscrossing the whole way down. Each crystal was rounded by hand to bounce the glow in all direction, only to be caught by another and passed down the line. With each step, the crystals sacrificed some of the light to pass it along, so the far end of the tunnel faded as the edges of a desert mirage.
Faces filled the spaces between the crystals, angry, screaming faces. Their eyes accused, mocked and saw the fear in any who passed; their mouths shouted shrill warnings into the soul. Asia traced the nearest one with a finger and started to step in for a closer look.
“I wouldn’t do that.”
Latakia grabbed her by the shirt and pulled her back.
“What the heck are you doing?” she demanded.
He pulled his machete and pushed it into the ground. A section of floor fell slightly at his touch, and a knowing look passed over Asia’s face. The faces spewed projectiles across the tunnel for the full 50 feet.
“Even if you haven’t seen all the movies, you’d think you’d have had enough arrows shot at you to be a little more careful,” Latakia said.
They stared for a while at the crystal-lit passage, forming a plan, pondering the implications.
“So all those arrows in the canyon?” Jose asked. “They could have all been shot without anyone aiming them?”
“I assume we have to get across still,” Asia said.
“So how many Indians are there?” Jose continued.
“What if we…” Asia pondered.
“Don’t do anything rash,” Latakia said.
“We’ll have to time it,” Asia declared.
“That would be rash,” Latakia warned.
“One,” Asia counted. “Two.”
“And that’s where we’ll stop you,” Latakia said, grabbing her by the arm. “I like you as an American. I don’t want to see you turned to Swiss.”
“You keep getting cheesier all the time,” Asia said, pulling her arm away from him. “So how do we go through?”
“We wait until it runs out of ammo, of course.”
He laughed at her blank stare and turned to see three more.
“You mean you guys never thought of this? You never wondered why they never run out of stuff to shoot in the movies?”
Laughing, he pressed down again on the pressure plate. Arrows again sprayed across the tunnel. He triggered it again, but there were fewer arrows this time. Eight times he pressed it before the trap stopped responding.
“See, I told you,” Latakia said to the rest. “It’s not like the movies. You do run out.”
He stepped out into the crystal-spread light, and a single arrow sliced through his sleeve, leaving streak of blood to mark its path.
“I guess one got left behind,” he said, rubbing his arm. “No need to worry, by the way; it’s just a scratch.”
“I wasn’t worrying,” said Asia, as she walked out past him. “Just hoping.”
Rose drew his gun, and they all froze. The dim light from the crystals gave everything a shadow, even things that weren’t there. The hours, days or weeks they may have spent down in the caves already had made the darkness a constant companion, but it was an annoying and obnoxious friend, the kind that made Latakia seem reserved and cultured, but they could never say for certain whether the shadows had mass or if the dark was just messing with them. Whatever it was, the darkness was moving.
The second time the shadow flew by, Gylden pulled his pistol, and the soldiers stood shoulder-to-shoulder to take on this new threat. They inched forward, the tunnel vibrating around them, speaking to them in a low rumbling voice. A pattern emerged: a deep growl, followed by playful whisper, and then the fluttering shadow. The grumbling was random, but the sequence came regular as clockwork. They learned to listen for the cadence.
Rumble. Whisper. Flutter.
The closer they approached — slowly, ever slowly — the lower the flutter. Before more than a few yards, the soldiers were pulling themselves along on their elbows, just to keep the flutter at eye level. Their movements were impossibly slow and calculated, so as not to disturb whatever was before them. No one, save the mountain, made a sound as they moved, scarcely daring to breathe as the moment of truth drew near. Rose lay inches from the fluttering shadow, the growl fell on them from above, and it ran away. Really, that’s the best way to describe it. As soon as the noise came, it scuttled away, as if it were more afraid of the sound than the strange face that was inches away from it. They waited for the pattern to play out; the grumbling had passed, and next came the whisper.
Most of them heard the whisper, but Rose felt it. A shower of dirt and pebbles fell on him, a light dusting really, and nothing nearly serious enough to evoke his reaction.
“I have had enough of this damn place!” he shouted into the air, his echo forwarding his distress higher and higher into the air.
“It’s alright,” Latakia urged. “Try to calm down.”
“It is not right!” Rose’s volume was increasing as the others tried to calm him down. “This whole place isn’t right! Not one single thing is right here!”
The three adventurers gestured for Rose to pull it back together, to lower his voice, to return to sanity. Gylden had no intention of waiting.
Like an overpowered linebacker, Gylden speared rose, driving them both to the floor, but it wasn’t until Rose heard the click of his partner’s pistol cocking that he finally stopped shouting.
“I am getting out of here one way or the other,” Gylden hissed into Rose’s ear. “I will make it back to the outside, even if I have to bury you to do it. Don’t make me.”
Rose opened his mouth, be he never uttered a sound. He was lying on his back and glanced up to see a nose and whiskers hovering over him. Gylden, lying on top of Rose and pinning him to the ground, looked up to see the same sight. They froze.
“That’s enough of this silent waiting,” Latakia said, and he turned one of the flashlights on the soldiers and, as it turned out, a mole. Just a mole. Nothing more than a common, everyday mole.
The grumbling above returned, and the mole disappeared. The dust shower fell with a whisper, and another mole darted across the floor, this time not bothering to stop and inspect the prostrate soldiers. The pattern made sense. The rumbling let the moles know rocks would fall, and they waited until the shower ended to sprint from one wall to the other.
Rose lost it. He had been using all his skills to track a boring rodent, and he could think of no better response than cussing a blue streak. He got out four or five good, loud profanities before Gylden could cover his mouth.
As if spurred by his raised voice, the ground above them quaked. The rock groaned and rumbled and grumbled and shook. A few more moles scurried past, then a dozen, then hundreds. It was a mass evacuation, and still the ground above them shook, but this time it wasn’t dust that fell, it was large stones and a waterfall of sand. Rose and Gylden rolled over each other getting out of the way, and they waited for the dust to settle before venturing back in.
Pointing their lights up, they found the tallest cliff they had yet found, a great hole in the ground that acted as a drain for whatever was up above pushing dirt around.
“We have to climb it.”
Of them all, Asia was most surprised to find her voice making that suggestion. She felt nauseous over the prospects of scaling another rock wall and that she had condemned herself to do it.
Latakia and Jose looked immediately at the soldiers. Gylden had one eye closed, peering with the other at the top of the cliff above, while Rose’s eyes were clamped shut, his face giving off a look of deep calculation. They turned to each other and shook their heads.
“It’s too high for our grappling hooks,” they said.
Jose stammered. “But you used those to go all the way up a mountain earlier!”
“We must have come down a lot lower than we thought,” said Latakia. “Are we even sure we’re in the same mountain?”
“Heck, I’m not even sure this is still Arizona,” Jose said.
Asia said nothing. She was still coming to grips with the fact that she just forced herself to climb the largest cliff they had come across so far and she couldn’t think of anything else, not even the rope being secured around her again.
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