"Her prediction… was correct?"
I took off my mask along with everyone else and gazed at a flower that was blooming on the ground. It was large, beautiful and gave off a soothing sweet scent.
Pippa continued, "Tammy discovered interference on the scanner after putting the locater together. The stone's location was not revealed and it was suggested that a high abundance of sage was the cause of this. Since the stone didn't show up anywhere else, Tammy predicted it would be in an area protected by sage."
"So all of this is being protected by an abundance of sage?" asked Lux.
"Yep it is" Pippa smiled as she pointed to a dense flowing pillar of light-greenish substance in the center of the protected area. The sage flow dispersed at the top, creating a protective coating in this area. "The stone should be somewhere within this protected area."
"Hmmm…" Breccan suddenly had a devious smile upon his face. "I know, why don't we make a game of this?"
Everyone turned to him for a better explanation.
"Which ever group finds and reaches the stone first gets to keep it. The group of the first person to touch it wins."
Kiko gave a similar devious chuckled. "Fine by me," she grabbed me by my pack and took off running. "We start now!"
"Hey!" I gasped as I was pulled quickly through the trees and brush. I saw most of Breccan's team watch us leave, like they expected us to just take off. They huddled together and I'm guessing they spoke to each other briefly before taking off in different directions. Finally Kiko let go of me and I was able to stand on my own two feet again.
"You didn't have to drag me, and why are the three of us sticking together? Shouldn't we split up like Breccan and his crew to find the stone?"
She answered as she weaved through the trees toward the greenish pillar, "There's no need to, we both know where the stone is. It's just a matter of how we both approach it."
"We know where it's at?"
"Rei saw it when we were all standing there, it's just beyond the pillar but we're not alone in this area and I'm pretty sure Breccan split up his crew to ambush those ahead of us. We, on the other hand, are going straight for the stone."
I glanced at Rei and she smiled. I guess she already knew what Kiko was going to do. This was typical Kiko, rushing right in without really thinking and I'm sure Breccan knew this too.
We made our way towards the small mountain that housed the pillar of light which was shooting from the top of it.
"You sure there's a way through this mountain Rei?" Kiko asked.
"Yeah, but it's like a maze in there so stick with me."
Then she stopped briefly.
"What is it?" I asked behind her.
"I thought I saw…" she turned to Kiko with a slight look of confusion, "nevermind, it's nothing."
That was strange, Rei doesn't usually have any problems looking ahead.
"Stay close to me" she assured.
I followed Kiko who was right behind Rei and we made our way through a narrow crack in the mountain side.
It was dark. It would've been pitch black if it weren't for the glowing green veins that covered the walls. I tried to keep up with the sound of Kiko and Rei but it seemed like they were getting further and further ahead of me. I didn't want to hinder them but I also didn't want to be left behind, lost in this maze of a mountain. Then suddenly it was silent and I could see no movement at all.
No response. My heart started pounding. Was I lost?
Something moved ahead of me.
"There you are! Don't just disappear like that!" Came an angry toned voice.
Huh? This voice wasn't Kiko's or Rei's but of another girl along with a strange boy who were both about the same age as me as they came into view behind a turn.
I turned around to see if I was the only one around. I was.
"Are you… talking to me?" I asked.
"Of course I am! Who else is there?"
Before I could respond the girl turned around to leave.
The boy gave me a funny smile, "Let's go, she'll seriously leave without us."
What the heck is going on? I didn't know who these two were and they acted like they knew me. They wore matching white clothes which was easier to see in the dark cave but what stood out the most was what they were wearing on their arm. It looked like an armband that had a small, round, glowing stone in the center.
I found myself following them, thinking about ways to ask if they knew me or what was going on.
The girl continued to talk, "Seriously, why did we come here? This is the right place right?"
"How would we know?" said the boy, "Do we look like province dictionaries?" he said sarcastically.
She sighed, "Let's just get to the drop point and find out."
We weaved through the cave and I followed behind these two strangers, still unaware of what I should do.
A beam of light shone through a small hole in the wall. I glanced through it as we passed by and my eyes widened. It was Kiko and Rei standing beside a pool of green liquid. I quickly did a double take back to the small hole but they were gone. This was apparently at the center of the mountain where light poured from the hole in the rock ceiling, but I couldn't see them anymore.
"Kiko! Rei!" I shouted out through the hole, hoping they would simply reappear again.
"Alex!" came the girl's voice.
"What're you doing?" asked the boy.
The boy and girl both gave me a puzzled look.
"Mark! Kim!" came another male voice in the direction of the green pool. The boy and girl gave no reaction to the voice.
"Did you hear that?" I asked them.
They listened for a moment, "Hear what?" asked the boy.
Couldn't they hear that? It was possible that they could be Mark and Kim.
I spun around and took off in the direction of the voice. The owner of the mysterious voice was definitely close to where I saw Kiko and Rei.
"Hey! Where you goin' now?!" the girl yelled at me as she and the boy followed close by.
I ignored them and looked for a path to the center of the cave. I weaved through the spaces as quickly as I could. I hit a few dead ends but I immediately turned around to look for a different route.
The girl and boy were still following me and finally the girl got fed up. "Ugh! What's going on Alex?!" she asked angrily toward me.
I didn't pay much attention to her, my sole focus now was to find Kiko and Rei as soon as possible. My name wasn't Alex and I had no idea who these people were so I don't know why they're acting like they know me.
Frustration began to fill me because I was tired of running in circles. I stopped in a dark passageway to catch my breath and get my bearings re-straightened. The other two also stopped behind me and didn't say anything.
I was worried I was never going to find them and remain lost in this mountain with these whack jobs until the planet would eventually be sucked up by the black hole.
I hit the wall with anger. How did this happen? I thought I was right behind Kiko when we entered the mountain.
"Hey, just tell us what's wrong Alex" said the girl in a now soothing tone after noticing my anger.
I sighed. I guess it wasn't their fault I was in this predicament.
"I…" The two others lingered for my next words when I heard voices getting louder, and these voices were familiar to me.
I quickly stood up and walked around the corner to where light was shining through a large crack in the cave.
The girl was back to being angry, "Alright, I'm seriously gonna to hurt you now." She said through gritted teeth.
I ran to the crack and I heard Kiko and Rei's voices getting louder.
"Kiko! Rei!" I shouted as slipped through the crack.
The area I entered was extremely bright and I had to cover my eyes. When they finally adjusted I found myself being stared at by both Kiko and Rei.
"Yeah what is it?" asked Kiko as if nothing had happened.
I was happy and angry at the same time. "Didn't you guys notice that I was missing?" I asked.
"Missing?" questioned Rei. "Since when? You've been with us the whole time. You were pretty quiet though, is something wrong?"
"Uhh…" I was with them the whole time? That can't be. How would I explain what happened to them though? "It's nothing I guess…"
Kiko peered at me like she knew I was lying but didn't want to say but anything. "Oookay…"
A fake smile appeared on my face as I scooted closer to them. There was no way I was going to lose them again.
I changed the subject, "So what were we doing here?"
"We just found this pool of sage. It looks like this is where the sage that's protecting this area is coming from."
The three of us went up to the pool to get a better look. It was pretty large and it looked as though the sage was boiling, because it was also giving off some heat. We watched as the sage seemed to be steaming off and rising up through the hole in the top of the mountain as a light-green pillar and protective shield.
For some reason I was drawn to it, "You think it's safe to touch?" I asked, wanting to hold it in my hands.
"I'm not too sure," answered Rei, "but we can ask Tammy when we get back. I'll take some with us." She took out a canister from her pack and carefully filled it with the liquid.
Kiko stared into the green sage and then took out her knife and dipped it into the pool. "This stuff is supposed to be strong right?" she asked, examining her knife.
"Yeah according to Tammy" I answered.
We all watched as Kiko's black bladed knife interacted with the sage. It bubbled then sizzled before finally hardening back into its original black form, but now it had a greenish-clear casing around the black blade.
She tapped it against a rock and then quickly stabbed it, breaking the rock in half with her knife.
I guess that was working well for her.
Rei discovered something, "Hey, it looks like there's a path across the pool if we use the rocks to jump across."
We studied the rocks that were just above the boiling pool.
"Yep," Kiko confirmed, "looks like we can cross here if we jump carefully."
We adjusted ourselves to form another line. I really didn't want to be last again. I was going to say something but I didn't have to.
"Alright Rei go first, Sarth you can go next since you're acting weird."
Acting weird?? It's not like I wanted to be separated. I wasn't going to complain though.
Rei took the lead and I jumped onto every stone that she used. She was quite agile which meant her pace was quickly out-jumping mine. I lost track of which stones she used and jumped onto the wrong one.
"No! Sarth!" I heard Kiko yell before the stone I jumped to, sank underneath the bubbling green liquid bringing me along with it.
I braced myself to be burned alive by the boiling hot sage but it never came. The liquid was actually quite cool and thick. I was completely submerged when I was lifted up out of sage by Kiko.
"Can you be more careful!" she said angrily still holding me up in front of her by my pack.
I wiped my face before talking, "I'm sorry, I thought the rock was stable."
Rei sighed with relief, "At least we know the sage isn't dangerous to touch, it looks like it's just sliding off of your skin."
Kiko set me down and I looked at my hands and arms. She was right, the sage was simply sliding right off of my skin, leaving it dry-looking and I didn't feel any different.
I saw Kiko wiping off her arm. I would've died instantly after hitting the sage if it really was boiling, instead she risked losing her arm to try and save me even if it was smarter to just say goodbye to my existence.
"Thanks for saving me." I said sincerely to her.
She was still angry however, and she grumbled to me, "be more careful".
I guess I really was hindering the journey. Maybe I shouldn't have come along. I thought back through the seven days we've been traveling. Throughout that entire time we've had to go at my pace since I was the slowest, plus I had to eat the real food rations because I couldn't eat the nourishing capsule. I had to step it up if I really want to make a difference and contribute to the mission.
We made it to the other side of the pool without any more problems and I followed Rei back through the caves to the other side. I was so close to her in the dark that I had to watch where I stepped so I didn't trample on her. Losing them again… was not going to happen.
Rei could sense my desire to stay together and after a few steps she gently took hold of my hand to lead me through the dark. The glowing veins on the wall began to get thinner as we came closer to the other side of the mountain.
Happiness could hardly describe how I felt to finally be out of the mountain.
It took us all a moment to readjust our eyes and what we saw afterwards was stunning. A large ruby red stone was embedded in the ground about a mile ahead of us like it crash-landed there, waiting for someone to find it.
"That has to be it" I said in awe.
"I agree with you" said Rei.
Kiko smiled, "Let's go claim it."