April 25, 2016
As he and Tynilia plummeted toward the river of churning lava flowing below them, Jack quickly realized that he couldn’t count on her flying ability to save them this time for one of the boulders of ice must have knocked her unconscious.
As the raging flow drew near, Jack saw a ledge to the northern side of the cliff. Not pausing to consider his chances, he became a giant serpent. As they fell, he quickly wrapped his tail around Tynilia. Live or die, at least they would share the same fate.
Looking to the north, his serpentine eyes spied an elongated pillar of ice centered in the middle of the ledge. The flowing magma bubbled less than a hundred feet away, but he had the time to make one attempt at reaching the icy pillar. His body struck forward with his neck creating an arcing C. He managed to get part of his body around the narrow pillar, but it had a slick surface and when Tynilia body fell past him, her weight began to pull her with him. He panicked as he slipped away from the pillar. His upper body slid over the icy ledge and in seconds he would be plummeting to his doom.
At the last moment he thought of something and opened his mouth wide. He had become a reticulated python and he slammed his rows of dagger sharp teeth into the ice below him. He continued to slide. Eight feet, Four feet. Two feet. At the last moment, he hit an elevated lip of ice and his teeth held.
He almost couldn’t believe he still lived, but wasted no time in drawing Tynilia’s unconscious body onto the ledge and then crawling onto it himself. He remained there panting long after he had returned to his human form.
Once Jack had caught his breath, he looked around, but saw no obvious signs of danger other than being trapped on a narrow icy ledge situated over a raging lave flow. He got to his feet and then moved Tynilia as far away from the edge of the ledge as possible, which he guessed was only about a dozen feet.
Once he felt she would be about as safe as she could get, he returned to the edge and looked around again. Through the large hole created in the layer of ice that had once covered the river, he could see the tunnel through which they had entered the area Due to the angle he couldn’t spy the passage the group had headed toward, which he guessed remained roughly over his head.
He still had his backpack, which had some rope. He might be able to rig a way up there, but he figured that the risk might be too great to bother when Tynilia could just fly them up there as soon as she regained consciousness.
Still what had happened to the others? If they had survived it wouldn’t be such a leap of faith to assume Shadowknife and Stalker had survived too. He’d seen neither of them falling with them.
Jack took off his pack and set it under Tynilia’s head and then placed his cloak over her. She moved while mumbling something, but showed no sign of waking. He used some of his precious Ki to heal her a small amount, but needed to keep some in reserve. Who knew what else they might be forced to face before he had a chance to rest. Her breath became more even, but she remained asleep.
He was thinking that perhaps he should just join her in resting, when he saw a figure appear within the tunnel that led back the way they had come. He recognized Shadowknife at once. The Darcarre waved down at him and Jack thought it might have been the first time he’d ever seen the Xemmoni smile.
Then Jack tensed. A black shape moved behind Shadowknife. Before Jack could warn him, the figure grabbed Shadowknife by the hair, jerked his head back, and slit his throat.
Shadowknife hovered for a moment and Jack wondered if there was a way the Darcarre could cure himself before it became too late. But then the tip of a spearhead appeared through his chest and a second later the form behind him kicked Shadowknife not only off the spear but into the pit. Jack could only look on helplessly as his ally fell through the air and hit the lava below with a splash of burning steam. A brief fire blazed, but within seconds nothing remained to prove Shadowknife had ever existed.
Looking back up at the ledge, it shocked him to see Stalker standing there with a murderous grin that spread over his blood drenched spear.
“Hah, worm of Yig,” he called down to him. “I see you and Ty survived. I might find a use for her, but you I will leave to rot. Do not attempt to follow me, for I will soon be the one commanding the Lava Dragons. I’ll leave you alive just long enough to witness the doom of all who dared oppose The Darken.”
“But how could you betray your own people?” Jack managed to get out, despite his shock.
“That’s just it, my people will be spared, while the rest of the races are wiped out or allowed to become our slaves, the followers of Tezcatlipoca will bask in the glory alongside the forces of Darken.”
“You’re mad if you think he will honor any bargain he made with you.”
“I tire of this. Look to the skies and see your doom, Yigling,” and then without another word, Jack’s former ally flew off toward the lair of the Lava Dragons.
Come back next Monday to see if Jack and his allies can somehow survive.
April 18, 2016
The sun had just begun to dip behind the snowcapped mountains to the west. Its last rays stained the snow a fiery orange, which matched the belching steam of magma exploding from the peak of the active volcano they had reached. Even at the base of the mighty towering mountain the waves of heat could be felt washing over them and gave them some relief from the bitter biting cold they had endured throughout the day’s long march.
No one spoke as they neared the base of the impossibly huge mountain. Whether exhaustion or awe caused this, Jack couldn’t be certain, but he led the way with long strides, one way or another their quest had had almost reached its end.
“I suppose we need to find a way inside,” He said breaking the party’s long standing silence.
“I doubt these ancient legendary dragons have laid out a human sized welcome mat,” Stalker grumbled from the back.
Jack ignored him and continued to let his eyes sweep the cliff faces for an opening into the mountain.
Shadowknife spied it first. “Up there, I see an opening. It looks rather large.”
Jack shaded his eyes from the glare of the last of the sun’s rays and could just make out a darker blackness set out against the whites and greys of the range.
“Just the right size for a dragon to move through.” Stalker spoke again.
“That could be a good thing,” Tynilia said. “It might mean that we have found the right place.”
“Perhaps,” Shadowknife agreed. “I have no desire to climb such a height. Since all of us have the ability of flight, save Jack, I think the cost to our mana is justified in this case.”
“I agree,” Stalker said. “Let’s just get this over with. And I’ll tell you one thing, cost to my Ki or no, if there are no dragons up there, I’m flying all the way back home. The rest of you can do what you want. This trek has been cursed from the first footfall.”
Again Jack didn’t address the man of Tezcatlipoca’s statement, but instead turned to his lover and said, “Ty, if you would be so kind…” then without finishing his sentence he started his transformation into a serpent.
She whisked him up and sped off flying after the two men that had already taken to the air. Stalker indeed appeared anxious to complete the quest for he rushed ahead of the others and forced Shadowknife and Tynilia to struggle just to keep up with him.
The sheer mountain face loomed before them blocking out everything else. Massive cliffs of black stone cut into the sky like the rotten knives of titans. Snow and ice clung to the angry cliffs, but is some places appeared to have been cleared by random jets of lava. Before them the cave opened like a dark mouth and Jack couldn’t shake the feeling of being devoured as Tynilia followed the two flying men into the stygian gloom.
Jack knew that the two followers of Tezcatlipoca and certainly the Splinter Darcarre could all see in the darkness, but he had no such skills, he felt his anxiety rising as they continued to rush forward until a complete darkness claimed the group and yet they traveled further. Soon he couldn’t make out the opening behind them and still the headed deeper into the mountains.
After what seemed like half an eternity, a rosy glow built before them disrupting the absolute black. As they drew nearer to the source of the light, Jack saw that it came from beneath the ice that covered the floor of the cave. From what he could determine, a river of flowing lava run under a sheet of ice and over the years it had melted enough of it away for a soft scarlet glow to illuminate up from the raging torrent of magma below.
It made him again very thankful they flew for he wouldn’t have enjoyed testing the ice’s integrity on foot. Just as that thought crossed his mind, some kind of explosion crashed into the cavern. He saw Shadowknife tumbling by them for a moment as the icy floor broke into thousands of crystal shards. Tynilia tried to stay in flight, but when the roof above the ice caved in and rained down toward the lava below, both he and Tynilia started to plummet with it.
Come back next Monday to see if Jack and his allies can somehow survive.
April 4, 2016
Stalker and Shadowknife had seen the glowing fires of the active volcano and they returned to the cave. Some luck had found them because they had slain a small rabbit like mammal before their return. Jack stoked the fire while Tynilia grumbled about being forced to do woman’s work while she gutted the small creature.
“So what is the plan now?” Stalker asked from the shadows. He’d wrapped his fur cloak around himself until his entire body was obscured, save his face, which rested in shadow.
Jack had been sharpening his axe, but paused as he looked his way. “I’m not sure what you expect me to say. We march there tomorrow. We should be able to make the journey in a day. Once there, we find a safe way in and try to figure out if these Lava Dragons are more than just a myth. If they are real and still breathing, then we’ll work together to figure out a way to communicate with them.”
Stalker didn’t let the matter go. “Even if we can communicate with them and they also don’t try to eat us. And we can also find our way into an active volcano, what makes you think they’d be willing to help us?”
“If I can get them to see that Vile will be coming for them later, when he’s stronger and has put down all his other enemies, perhaps they will be smart enough to relive that this is their best chance to eliminate a threat that will one day be finding them.”
Shadowknife spoke up. “I do not mean to dash water onto our goal, but I believe you are assuming they will think like humans and use logic, which in both cases seems unlikely.”
“Well we didn’t come all this way to give up now in sight of the place,” Jack stated. “All we can do is give it our best shot. None of these issues are new. We knew what we were getting into before we left.” He looked around the cave. “Are some of you having seconds thoughts? Would you have us turn back and face Vile’s dinosaur mounted horde with our axes and spears?”
Tynilia joined the discussion. “I don’t think anyone is suggesting that, Jack. We just want to have an outline, a plan.”
Jack paused and rubbed his temples. “Okay, I hear you, but I really think this might be a one step at a time process. First we get in. Then we see if they even exist. We try to talk to them and do they best we can with what we got.”
“And if that doesn’t work?” Stalker asked.
“They we try to escape with our lives. Now let’s cook that wannbe rabbit of yours. We’re going to need an early start. One way or another I have a feeling this will be our last day of hiking for a long while.”
The small group regarded each other and the silence was only interrupted by the raging wind.
To be continued next Monday