It’s already February! Wow. We had a great January fighting a giant and helping small twig creatures, but now it’s time to go looking for a mythical well that grants special powers.
What’da’ya say? Shall we get started?
Stale air surrounds you in the dark cavern, holding in its every dusty particle the feeling that you are the first person to breathe it in in several hundred years. The dust you see floating in your lantern’s light has already started to coat your jacket and skin in a fine layer.
There’s a thump behind you and a cloud of debris wafts outward from the dropped pack that now sits slumped on the stone floor. It matches the pack you carry. A moment later, the rope trailing down from the hole in the ceiling quivers and Peter’s leather boots appear as he belays himself into the cavern to join you.
“Thick in here, isn’t it?” he says, looking around. After years of searching for this place and finally finding it, he shows no more enthusiasm than an old dog.
“They’ll kill us for opening the door without notifying them,” Peter mutters as he lights his own lantern.
“Not if they don’t know,” you say. The dry chalk taste of stale air coats your tongue. You spit but it doesn’t help.
Peter snorts. “It’s not likely we’ll find the Well and get out before they notice us missing from camp tonight.”
You don’t answer. Peter would complain no matter the situation, and you don’t want to give him more ammo by validating his comment. Although admittedly, he’s correct.
Arnold and Horace are the group’s two other companions but they’re in the group only to keep an eye on you, and to dispose of you as soon as you serve your purpose. Baron Avedo hired them as your ‘help’ in searching for the Well, but you and Peter quickly realized neither muscle-bound man knew anything about treasure hunting or archeology.
That morning, knowing you were close to the Well entrance in your search, you convinced the two men to dig out the vines obscuring part of the mountain east of your location for the day. Beneath those vines they’ll find a wall of ancient script, which they’ll spend the time copying because you’ve repeatedly told them to do just that. You’ve already translated the script, but they don’t know that.
They’re under the impression that Peter and you are doing the exact same thing on another section of the mountain.
You have no intention of giving Arnold, Horace, or ultimately Baron Avedo the Well. When the Baron first realized what you were searching for on ‘his’ land, he threatened to take your research and leave you for the scavengers if you didn’t include him. Cornered, you’d agreed to take along his men.
“Which way, my stoic leader?” Peter cuffs you on the shoulder.
“Let’s see.” You move through the cavern with lanterns held high. The scuff of your footsteps echoes, telling you how vast the room truly is. It takes a good hundred yards before your feeble light touches a wall.
“Think the Well will grant me waterbreathing?” Peter asks.
“Knowing my luck, it’ll give me an unreasoning craving for mushrooms,” he goes on as though you didn’t speak. Peter hates mushrooms and water.
“Mushrooms?” You frown. “Really?”
Waterbreathing is part of the legend, but you’ve never heard the Well and mushrooms mentioned in the same sentence.
“Mushrooms.” Peter shudders. “I’d crave them but my logical brain would still know about their fungusiness. It’d make me crazy conflicted.”
“You’d have to have a logical brain for that,” you say as you stop before the cavern wall.
“Huhh, guess that’s true.” Peter stops beside you.
The lantern light flickers off two levers sticking out of the cavern wall. They’re coated in a layer of gold, which bears etchings in the soft metal. Peter reaches out a finger to touch the gold on one handle.
You read the the etching on the other one, “To continue, you must trust one path or another, never both. Choose the Raven’s Flight or the Salamander’s Crawl.” The lever you’re reading has wings below the words. When you check the right hand lever, it bears the same words but instead of wings, it finishes in the sinuous body of a reptile.
When you look at Peter, he shrugs. “Don’t like ravens or lizards,” he says.
The Well-Salamander’s Crawl
You reach for the lever with the salamander on it.
“Wait, wait.” Peter steps back first one step, then two. “There,” he says. “That should be safe.”
You scowl at him and pull the lever. Your stomach drops like you jumped off a cliff and repelled too fast. Peter gives a high-pitched scream that if you ever mention, you’re sure he’ll kill you for.
The floor disappears and you fall. Both lanterns shatter against the stone and you slide down a chute that you know is smooth because you don’t hit any rocks. It’s like someone took a sander to the stone.
Peter, who fell behind you, kicks you in the head. His feet tumble along with your shoulders and you end up wrapping your hands around your head to protect your face.
Slowly, your slide comes to a halt as the chute levels out.
“Well, that was unexpected,” Peter mutters. “Darn builders must have wanted to catch a whole passe with that trap. I was sure I’d backed up far enough!”
“Got any matches in your pack?” you ask him.
There’s a zip and some fabric rustling, then a small flash of light as Peter scrapes a match to life against the stone.
You’re in the bottom of the chute but the idea of climbing back up is quickly negated when you spot a large boulder wedged into the chute above. It didn’t make any noise falling into place, so you wonder if it slid out of the wall to block the path.
Going the other way, the chute levels out. Peter’s match burns out. In moments he strikes a second one and you find the tunnel on the other side of you remains completely rounded but flat.
“Guess it’s time to crawl,” you say.
“Should’ve brought knee pads,” Peter grumbles but he blows out the match and you both start crawling. “At least it’s dry in here.” Then after a while of silence, he asks, “Where you think this comes out?”
In the dark, you just shake your head. You have no more information than Peter does. How does he expect you to know where the chute comes out?
The tunnel narrows a bit, pressing the ceiling against your shoulder blades as you crawl. Since it’s smooth, this doesn’t bother you but you hear Peter, who’s bigger than you, grunt in disapproval. Surprisingly, the stone feels warm.
“At least there’s no mushrooms, although it does smell…charcoal-ish in here? What makes it smell that way, you suppose? You’d think it’d just smell like stone and stale air but it almost reminds me of woodsmoke. You think the well’s deep in the earth? Maybe people haven’t found it bec…”
Peter continues asking questions and you let him fill the silence to mitigate his nerves. Tight spaces, like mushrooms and water, are not high on his list of favorite things. If he doesn’t talk to distract himself, it’s likely he’ll throw up on your shoes. As you listen, the chute narrows further, which makes you crouch in your crawl, bowing out your elbows until you go down to crawl on your elbows. Peter gulps and his questions speed up.
“Do you-remember-Timarain, where-we-found-the-Ruby-of-Sight?” he asks. “I-can’t-get-the-color-out-of-my-head. You-remember…” He rushes on, his words getting faster, as you slide your hands along the floor. It’s this motion that warns you of the oddity in the floor before you pass over it.
You stop. “Strike a match again,” you tell Peter.
He grunts in the effort to get into his pack, but a moment later, a match flares to life. You carefully reach back and pinch it between your fingers to light the chute ahead.
The chute narrows even further right where two pressure plates, one is in the ceiling and one in the floor, are built into the tunnel.
Peter curses. He’s scrunched so tightly you wonder if he can draw a full breath, but you’ve got to agree with his sentiments. Usually tight spaces don’t bother you, but this is getting ridiculous even for you.
“Problem,” you say. “We can’t get past without pressing one of these and we can’t go back.”
The match burns out and Peter whimpers. He strikes another one and hands it forward. “Any clues like with the levers?”
Trying to hide the shake in your hand from Peter, you hold the match farther out and crane your neck.
“There’s the symbol for fire on the ceiling,” you say, “and the symbol for water on the bottom. What do you think?”
Peter shudders. “Neither sounds good in here, but I guess I like fire better than water.”
“The gold lever talked about the Salamander’s Crawl. Think it was talking about the small lizard that swims or the fire elemental of myth?”
“Your brain has to be about twenty pounds,” Peter grumbles, “but then, you ‘ve gotten me out of tighter spots than this, so you choose.”
“Here goes nothing,” you say and prepare to move forward.
Peter grabs your ankle. “Wait, which plate are you going for?”
Peter gusts a sigh and lets go.
Crawling forward, you reach beyond the water plate in the floor and arch your back up until you feel the edge of the fire plate on your spine. Then, with a steadying breath, you push against it to slide your body past.
What you didn’t mention to Peter was the possibility of the fire plate either burning you—the obvious danger—or the flame sucking all of the air out of your small tunnel—the less obvious danger. But these possibilities sit heavy in your mind while you press against that pressure plate.
At first, nothing happens and you think that maybe someone already triggered the plate and it didn’t reset.
But then you hear a whoosh and a hot breeze brushes against your face. You cringe and close your eyes, not wanting to see the flame coming toward you. Your eyelids light up with flickering light, but after a moment of just waiting, Peter nudges your feet and you peek an eye open.
Ahead, beyond where the small matches lit the tunnel, torches now light up the walls, showing that the chute expands into a corridor you can actually walk in.
Heady relief makes your limbs watery you as you crawl forward until you and Peter can stand.
“See,” he says with a triumphant grin. “Twenty-pound brain. What made you go for the fire option?”
You don’t have a good reason beyond the fact that you knew Peter hated the idea of water flooding the tunnel, so instead of answering, you approach the first torch and take in the etchings along the wall.
“What do you make of this?” you ask.
The wall is covered in salamander images. Some are just salamanders, but others seem to be in various stages of lizard turned fire until some of the etchings are salamanders made entirely of flame.
“Huh,” Peter says. “Crazy. Glad the fire plate didn’t do that to us.”
Peter continues down the tunnel but you continue staring at those images for a moment longer until you’re sure you’ve seen all the variations of them. Then you follow. With each step, the air grows hotter until beads of water run down your face. The back of Peter’s shirt turns dark with his sweat. All along the tunnel, the salamander images continue.
Before long, the tunnel widens further into a chamber and you understand why you feel like you’re being roasted. The middle of the chamber has no floor. Instead, a pool of magma boils with large bubbles spewing drops of fire.
The etchings rush into the chamber from the tunnel, swirl around the walls and create the feeling that the salamanders are spiraling into the magma pool.
“Here we go,” Peter heads toward a pressure plate set into the wall far to your right.
“Anything on it?” you ask.
He inspects it. “Nope, there’s scratch marks but no images, and it’s the only pressure plate here, so-” He reaches for it.
“Hold up,” you say.
A crazy thought rumbles through your head as you stare at the magma pool and the etchings. Does the Well have to be full of water?
You point at the pool. “What if that’s the Well?”
“What?!” Peter steps toward you like you’re a crazy and he’s concerned you’re going to hurt yourself.
“There’s nothing in the writings concerning the Well about what’s actually in it,” you explain. “What if it’s filled with something other than water?”
“Soooo,” Peter takes another step toward you, hand outstretched. “What are you proposing, touching it?”
You pause. What are you proposing? “What if we take some of it with us?” you ask. “We have the insulated thermos. If we can isolate some magma, maybe we can take some of it with us.”
“You’ve led me through some crazy things but this might be the most loony I’ve ever heard.” Peter hesitates though as he looks around. “But then, few succeed at the Well. Even people who find the caves don’t always walk away having found the Well.”
He slings his pack around so he can reach inside. Pulling out the thermos, he holds it up. “Up to you. We can try being loony or we can press another unknown pressure plate. Oddly enough, as I think about it, either option seems a bit unwise, but I don’t see a third choice, so—” he shrugs and waits for you do decide.
“You’re right,” you agree with Peter, “this might be the looniest thing we’ve ever tried but what the heck, let’s see what happens.” You accept the green, metal thermos from his outstretched hand.
The magma bubbles with slow, bulging pops that splatter droplets of fire. You watch, waiting for a brief moment when you deem those bubbles are safely building but not ready to splatter, and then rush in to kneel beside the magma pool.
The thermos grows hot just being near the heat and begins to singe your fingers. You back up, tear a sleeve from your shirt, and use it to hold the thermos as you wait for the bubbles to recede a second time.
Seeing your chance, you rush in again and dip just the lip of the metal container into the thick magma and quickly tilt it upright to let it slide inside.
The small, crimson glob doesn’t budge. It sticks to the lip of the thermos like fiery glue and then starts sliding, not into the thermos, but up over the lip and down the outside as though it were a slug.
You drop the thermos.
The bottom pings against the cavern floor and the molten slug flies into the air. You throw up an arm to protect your face and the magma hits your bare skin. You scream…and then bite the sound off as the magma expands over your skin, hot like the lick of a campfire’s heat, but not burning.
Your skin tingles, every fiber coming alive as the thin layer of magma flushes across your fingers and up your arm, over your face and down your torso. There’s the sense of cavern walls, cool air, and endless miles of flowing, bubbling magma. It’s such a vast awareness that you lose sense of your own body, of Peter’s frozen, gapping face, and even the small cavern where you found the tiny magma pool, which is only one among many in the system of caves.
You rush through the mountain, seeing the actual Well where it overflows with pure, almost glowing water. You experience the beautiful battle of fire and water where the Well’s water seeps into the mountain, touching the magma within and forever changing it, and finally the breath of air where the magma becomes lava at the spots it oozes from thin cracks in the mountain’s granite.
Within moments, your body’s engulfed in the fire, but not consumed. Coming back to an awareness of your body, you marvel at the myriad of sensations. Lifting a hand, you stare at your fingers, now made of flame.
Wanting to share this new experience, you look at Peter.
Meeting your gaze, he shakes himself and spins, racing for that unmarked pressure plate.
In your new form, you know what that plate does. A thought has you streaming through the air and blocking the plate with your flames.
Peter curses and spins again, looking around frantically.
You open your mouth to tell him it’s okay, only to find you can’t speak. The breath of air you breathe in only seems to make you burn hotter.
You can’t tell him, then, but you might be able to show him. Streaming through the air again, you rush across the magma pool to the far side and use your flame to show him what was hidden before.
You breathe in, flaring brighter, and Peter sees it, a small tunnel opening like the one you exited moments before.
Peter follows you into it, crawling, climbing, and huffing as he sweats in the heat off your body.
“Following you has always been a pain,” he finally grumbles, “but now it’s downright scorching. Think you can tone it down a bit?”
You try, you truly do, but the smaller you make yourself, the harder it is to move. You settle on keeping a little farther from him instead until you show him an exit from the mountain. He cries when he sees it, then pauses.
“Was that the Well?” he asks.
You shake your head.
“Can you take me to it?” Hope brightens his face.
You want to, but as soon as you think about it, you realize you can’t get him to the Well from here. The very thought of leaving the mountain to reenter where you started fills you with a dread you can’t explain. Somehow, you know you can’t leave anymore. And now you can’t tell him to go out and return to meet you in the original cavern.
Swirling with frustration, you shake your head.
He slumps. “Oh well,” he mutters. “Guess I’ll come back sometime to try again.” And with that he shambles out of the mountain. He doesn’t see the excitement his comment causes you. But you know Peter. Eventually, he will return, and then you might be able to show him to the Well.
So you settle in to wait.
You survived! Thank you for joining the adventure this month =)