After I made a new set of braces for Jack, which I will not go into detail on, we spent the rest of the day climbing.
Jack kept making comments about how good it felt to work his legs, and not to be carried. For a while, Mo was silent, sulking about the fright I had given her. I, on the other hand, stared up, at the peak of the mountain, my eyes constantly searching for my next handhold. As I went, a grin slowly spread itself across my face. Out of swimming, running, mud wallowing, and just about any other outdoor exercise, climbing was my favorite. I loved it so much because it was a challenge. It required me to focus on balancing, holding onto the wall, and finding the next handhold all at the same time. I had to be able to pull back and keep my balance if the handhold crumbled, and I had to search for footholds blindly, my feet rubbing across the rock face, searching for a suitable nook or cranny for it to insert itself in and hang onto.
Almost two hours later, all I could hear were complaints from everyone else about sore hands and feet and legs and arms and being hungry and a long list of other things.
“I’m working on it!” I finally yelled out in frustration. One can only listen to so many complaints.
My eyes wandered up the rock face, searching for somewhere that we could rest and take care of all the problems that the others were whining about… There! Perfect!
“Hey, guys! I think I found a ledge!” I shouted down, sighs of relief following my words. “Follow me.”
I slowly made my way to the ledge, angling my climb so I don’t surpass it.
Upon arriving, I discover that it’s not a ledge, but the entrance to a cave. A magnificent cave, the light from the sun that made it in illuminating a floor that glittered an awe striking aqua color. Without thinking, I take a few steps forward, completely entranced by the gorgeous natural decor of the cave. “Oh, wow…” I heard myself say, my voice laced with unashamed awe.
“Wha… Oh… Wow…” Came Harry’s voice from behind me.
The others arrived within the next ten minutes, and they all had similar reactions, their amazement showing on different levels. Silence soon fell over us, the moment of wonder stretched out for as long as possible, until Jack piped up.
“Well, what are we going to do now?” He asked, his voice breaking us out of our trance.
“We rest. Then we explore.” I respond, my mind whirring, trying to imagine what else might be inside that cave.
“I’m not so sure that we should go in there.” Said Harry.
“We could get lost.”
“We would leave a trail.”
“It would be dark.”
“We could use torches. We have the materials.”
“Fine. We’ll explore the cave, but if there’s an accident, I’m blaming you.”
“You wouldn’t have to blame me. It would either already be my fault for getting them to come along, or it would be entirely their own clumsiness.”
Harry sighed, knowing that I had gotten the need to explore, and the only thing available that would quench that desperate thirst to see and to touch was to go and take a look inside of that cave.
“Ok, we’ll take three hours to rest, and then we’ll see if everyone is up for exploring the cave.” He said.
The others all remained silent during our minor argument. They sighed at the prospect of a three hour rest, all relieved that we won’t continue for a while.
Harry removed his pack, and set it down, his shoulders relaxing with the loss of the weight. I took of my pack, too, and set it down, beginning to pull out fruit and pass it around. After everybody had some, we all sat down and started eating. The fruit was squishier than when freshly picked, due to the slight manhandling in the pack that I had devised. However, it was still rather delicious, filling that empty, seemingly acidic bubble of our stomachs.
When we were done, everyone but me took a nap. I, however, was way too curious to sleep.
Warning. Looking back, this next thing that I did was extremely dumb.
After watching them sleep for about ten minutes, when I was sure that I wouldn’t wake them up, I scooted over to the pile of tinder that Harry had dropped. As quiet as possible, I grabbed two relatively thick branches and wrapped vines about six inches from the end of both sticks. Setting the end contained end of one of the branches on fire, I picked it and the other branch up and slipped quietly into the cave.
For a few feet, my path was lit by sunlight, glinting aqua off the unique gemstone the floor and walls were made of. Shadow would have taken over about ten feet in if not for the torch I had in my hand. The orange light caused the stone glow more of an indigo hue. I felt my jaw come slightly loose, my eyes wandering across the walls of the caves, picking up even the smallest details, such as the grooves in the walls, and the smaller rocks scattered through the tunnel, and the series of stalagmites and stalactites littering the ceiling and floor.
Despite my awe, my feet continued to carry me on, going deeper and deeper into the cave, drinking up the view like an extremely dehydrated person does cool water.
After what I estimate was about 45 minutes, my first torch was beginning to run splutter. I transfered the last few feeble flames to the unburned torch.
Instead of turning around, like I should have, I told myself, Just a little further. Then I’ll go back. Just a little further.
As I continued into the cave, the blue stone turned lighter shades, before fading into white limestone, the amount of stalagmites and stalactites increasing by many. Streaks of rust ran down the stone, overlapped by small streams of water. Water pooled in rings around the stalagmites, creating small moats. After almost another hour, my torch flickered, spluttered, and died.
“Oh, no no no nononoNONONO!” I shouted, dropping to my knees, my eyes straining and failing to see in the darkness that I had been plunged into.
After trying, failing, and burning myself in my attempt to revive the flames, I slowly got up.
“Okay, lets try this. If I’m going to get trapped in here forever, I might as well at least try to get out.” I said to myself. I turned around, and, walking to the left, found the wall of the cave. “Ok,” I said again, trying to reassure myself. I took my first tentative step forward. Then another, and another.
Eventually, I broke into a full out run, my left hand dragging across the wall of the cave, my right straight out, keeping me from running into something. I took a turn, then another, and kept running.
It started out subtle, and grew, till there was no doubt that I was hearing the immense roar of rushing water. The floor grew slippery, and the wall became smooth. I went ten feet before this registered in my mind, and when I tried to stop, my feet slid across the ground, the wall flying out from my touch. Barely a second passed, maybe even less, before the floor dropped out from underneath me, and all that was left was fast moving water. With an echoing splash, I fell in, and was swept away by the current.
I was pulled under for almost a minute, my lungs burning as if they were on fire before I finally resurfaced. With a slight splash, my face broke the surface, and I was gasping for breath. My arms flailed, trying to keep my head above water. My attempts, however, were futile, and my face was submerged once more.
This continued for what felt like an eternity, before I finally began to see some light as my head surfaced once more. Even the dim glow reflecting off the water and the wet stone hurt my eyes after so long in the inky darkness. As the light grew brighter, my air starved, panic ridden mind knew that, although it was a relief to see light, something wasn’t right. However, it couldn’t quite figure out what was wrong until I was staring at it square in the eyes. Metaphorically, of course.
The light was coming from the sun, and the sun was coming from an opening, and the river was leading to the light and therefore the opening, and it then flowed straight out of the opening, resulting in a waterfall, and I, being swept about by the river, was just about to go over said waterfall. (Insert colorful swear word here)! I thought to myself, my brain barely able to fathom the doom that I was going to be submitted to right… About… Now!
A scream ripped it’s way through my throat and out of my mouth as I seemed to float on the edge of the waterfall for almost a second, before plummeting and being sucked by the current into the heart of the waterfall. I struggled not to breath as I curled into a ball, bracing for impact with the inevitable bottom of the waterfall.
When I did hit, for a few moments, everything was pain, like being punched relatively hard everywhere. Then it all went black.
When I woke up, I wasn’t really awake. It was more like that point where you’re pretty sure that you’re still dreaming, because your imagination isn’t quite fully in control, but you seem to be aware of everything.
I felt a smooth, slick, wet, warm something supporting me, and two webbed hands gently holding my head above water. I could tell we were moving, and that we were in a large body of water, not just a lake or a river, due to the waves I could hear and feel lapping on the shore, on me, and on each other. I could hear birds singing, chirping, and squawking overhead. I could, in a way, see the blue sky above, littered with the occasional, wispy, pure white cloud. And yet, I wasn’t truly aware of any of this. I was somewhere else, somewhere that wasn’t sleep, wasn’t dreaming, wasn’t awake, and wasn’t daydreaming. It was just simply somewhere else.
I stayed in this state for who knows how long, slowly drifting in and out of consciousness, the sky above me switching from about 4:00 in the afternoon, to sunset, to midnight, to sunrise, and then the sky was covered up by trees, the light shining through the thick canopy, dappling the water with small spots of light.
Then, after this state of numbness, due to being half submerged in cold water, half conscious, came pain. I felt gentle, soft, large hands begin to take me out of water, and my entire body tensed up, the warm, humid air, along with the hands causing all the pain that had been numbed by the cold wetness of the water to come flooding back.
It was pain like nothing I had experienced before, and not even breaking my leg when I was seven could compare. As the feeling of my very blood being on fire coursed through me, I wanted to scream, but couldn’t get enough air in my lungs to do so. Instead, my body became as stiff as a board, a few tears leaking out of the corners of my eyes, my mouth opening, not being able to make much more noise than a few strangled, choked up gasps.
If anything had registered in my brain other than pain, I would have noticed that the large, soft hands holding me were attached to two long, furry arms. Those two furry arms were connected to a tall, half-human-half-monkey, almost bigfoot type creature that the other explorers and I know as a codrow. This codrow was making almost familiar clicks, squeaks, and moans to what was either what had gotten me to that point or another codrow.
The codrow set me down on a cushiony pile of something that I would later learn was a stretcher with a pile of leaves on it. Due to this new, cushioned position, the pain was less intense, more of a tight throb that spread throughout my body.
I felt the thing that I was on being jostled lightly, and then being moved. But why would I care about that? I could breath again. Scratch that, I could think almost straight! Well, more at an angle, but still. I could think!
As soon as I realised this, I started to try and work out what had happened. I found that I couldn’t fully remember what had happened the past few hours other than I had been in the water, and I was staring up at the sky, and that something was keeping my head above water.
What was that thing? I asked myself. Well, it had hands, and it seemed to be perfectly at home in the water. It’s skin was perfectly smooth, and now that I think about it, I think that it was entirely under water! Is I thought this through, I realised that that thing must have been an nort. What was it doing helping me? If it wasn’t naturally violent, than how would it know that I wasn’t? My brain got stuck on this enigma. Just as I realised that I might never figure those questions out, it hit me exactly how achingly, purely exhausted I was. A bone deep need for sleep sank in, and I let my eyes flutter shut.
I have no clue how long I was asleep, but when I woke up, it was to two hands, long fingered, calloused, and so amazingly human. My eyes dragged themselves open, and my head slowly turned towards the person. My entire body felt like it was one big bruise.
Then I saw their face. It was one that I knew very well. And it wasn’t Harry, Mo, Jack, Richard, or Rachel.
My jaw dropped, my eyes widening, and all I could think was This must be a dream. That or I’m dead. Oh, please let this not be a dream! Please!
“T-Ten?” I stuttered out.