The travelers reached the mountain trail path before dawn, just as Kenton predicted. They had left the plains long ago, however, and the ground rose up and dove down in rocky hills and dusty valleys. Before an hour's time was up, the path had begun to rise in a permanent incline, and the animals began to tire. By this point they could push no further - they had traveled all night, and Artemus was becoming weary and anxious with the morning sunlight ahead. They hurried the cart off the path towards a small trail that led to a fairly large cliff not too high up. It was an indentation into the mountain, giving off plenty of shade for the crew to rest under as the sun rose and the temperature swelled at a rapid pace. Artemus was tucked into the wagon, the blankets pulled over his pale skin and the bandages secure around his eyes, and before long he fell asleep soundly. Veia and Andra set to feeding and watering the animals and setting up a small fire by the side of the cart. Blankets were pulled out and attached to the side of the wagon, which were then held to the ground by picks, creating a small shelter to protect them from the vicious wind that ensnared them during the daytime hours.
Meanwhile, Kenton had set off to explore, feeling very restless and eager to find anything that might be useful to the crew. He had dragged along Maeron, knowing that if anything was to be found, he could help with carrying any items that were heavy. Compared to Kenton's small, thin frame, Maeron had a tall, sturdy figure suitable for hard labor. Any difficult jobs that could be handled neither by Andra nor himself, they always called Maeron to do. Because of the hard jobs given to the man, they both asked very little from him most of the time.
"Have you explored here yet?" Maeron questioned as they walked along the cliffsides. Kenton shook his head. "This is the farthest east we've ever been. And I'm starting to worry - we need to find the mountain path through here if we're to continue. I'm starting to think that we've finally reached the end of the line."
"What do you mean? Weren't we just on a path?" Maeron motioned behind his shoulder as he climbed over a small boulder of red rock.
"That's the problem - that path leads to nowhere. I just saw. It wears off into nothing towards a wall of stone. But that can't be possible. Until now it looked like any other path we've taken. We never take roads that haven't been traveled often, and we never blaze our own... I don't think we could ever take that chance. But now... if we don't find something useful soon, we're in trouble. The last oasis is weeks away - we only have a week and a half's supply of water. We have to find something within a week's time continuing forward, because we would never make it back. I'm afraid," he paused, giving a weak, nervous smile, "that I might have led us to a dead end, in all respect."
Maeron said nothing for a long while. He was a quiet man, Kenton had noticed from the beginning, ever since they had first crossed paths. Quiet and a bit ill-mannered, but he also knew from the start that he never meant harm to anyone, and was misunderstood by his blunt way of speaking. He kept quiet most of the time, as he was either in thought or had no way to express his voice in the given circumstance. Kenton was a bit grateful at the moment for this characteristic, seeing as the situation was already awkward as it was.
The sun rose through the sky slowly, as everyday, but the heat that came with seemed to be even more intense on the mountainside than when they had traveled on the plains. Kenton was forced to sit after a while, unable to keep himself upright under the blazing sun. He pulled himself under the small shade of a rock formation that stuck out of the mountain, wiping his face with his cloak and pulling the goggles from his eyes for a moment to find his canteen strapped on his side. "I think we'll press on a little higher before going back. Just maybe fifteen minutes' worth. If there's no sign of a path, we'll head back and figure out what we're doing from here. We have time, at least."
"I don't think we'll need to proceed any further," Maeron said quietly. Kenton looked up to him, an enquiring look upon his face. The man pointed towards a small indentation in the cliff side, where a fairly large cavern entrance stood. Kenton stood up once again, shielding his face from the wind and stumbling over towards the cave entrance.
"What is this?" he exclaimed, his heart suddenly jumping with excitement. An entrance! They had found an entrance leading to somewhere! And by the looks of it, the trail led down through the mountain. Kenton had to hold himself back - he wanted to explore further, the cave looked so inviting - but he knew that Maeron would rather go back to the campsite, and truth being, Kenton was extremely exhausted by the night travels. He had not seen sleep in almost a whole day's time. So he reluctantly turned his back upon the cavern and began to walk back the way that the two had come.
"Perhaps we will have better luck tomorrow, after a full day's rest..."
He woke up to darkness. His body was numb; he couldn't feel his fingers or toes. A cold ache fell into his bones. Where was he? Where could he possibly be? There was no light anywhere - no ground either, it seemed. Was he floating? How could he be floating...?
The man's head started to churn. Such a headache; he wanted to rest. But no, he must think, he must figure out where he was. Where had he been last? He closed his eyes. Crashing could be heard echoing through his mind - a soft rumble, a splash, the sound of mist and waves - waves? The ocean! Where by the ocean? The sands? Or had he been on the boats? A scene began to play in his head... there was a bright sun dancing in the sky, playing hide and seek among the white, fluffy clouds. The ocean was only so many feet away - he could almost feel the cool sea breeze flow through his hair; he could almost smell the salty spray of the ocean and he could hear the endless waves crashing upon the shore. It was a scene he had lived over and over in his life... no different than any other day. But where was he now? So many questions...
He pulled his arm up over his head. Though he could not see it in the slightest, he could feel the water droplets drip from his fingers and brush against his face as they fell and slid down to the bottom. Water? He brought his hand to his mouth and touched his lips, licking them clean. It was fresh water. How was this possible? Had he fallen somewhere farther from the ocean?
He suddenly jerked forward. Water. Water everywhere. He could feel it - fresh and bitter cold, stinging his body fiercely. He began to tremble from the rude awakening of what trouble he might be in.
His first instinct was to orient himself - find top from bottom - and dive as deep as he possibly could. He soon found that he could not find a bottom within reach - the pressure on his head became too much - he had already felt dizzy beforehand - and he realized that he could not hold his breath half as long as he usually could. Was it because of the situation? How long had he been in the water? He was feeling so lightheaded...
With absolutely no sense of direction, He was fearful of trying to travel any long distances through the frigid water. How long could he last? Dehydration might not be a problem, but hypothermia was a definite risk. He was starting to panic. What could he do? What were his options? Stop. Think. Relax. There's time.
The water fell still as he stopped stirring. He closed his eyes and began to clear his head. What could he hear? Smell? Feel? There was no wind anywhere, he found. The air gave off a damp, crisp scent. Almost as if he had been washed into still waters beneath the surface of the earth.
...A cavern. Could it be? How could it be true? But his senses confirmed it; he not only smelled the air and tasted the chilled water - he could hear the constant dripping of condensation from the stalactites into the large pool of water. This couldn't be possible... He knew of no caverns that held fresh water; only those littered among the cliffs of the ocean, a few miles from his home. Perhaps... if there was a freshwater cavern close to his home, how did he end up there?
He began to swim, hoping to find some sort of ground to sit upon and remove himself from the bone-aching iciness of the water. But moments later, he found himself plastered against a stone wall. Everywhere he moved, there was rock blocking his path, too tall and steep to climb on or rest. It was as if he was stuck in a small well...
Hope started to fade. What could he do? His hands were so numb he could not grasp at the rocks to climb up, and he would surely freeze to death if no one found him...
"Help!" he began to cry desperately. "Help me, please! Someone! Help!!"
Kenton and Maeron set off for the cave system again in the early evening, as the sun had just begun to set. Bringing a lamp and a day's worth of rations, they had agreed to thoroughly examine the caverns and map what they saw as they went. If there was any suggestion to a path through the mountains by the caves, then that was their best shot. But it would take some consideration - after all, how much were they all willing to abandon? How much could they afford to bring with? Was there a water supply? Enough food? How long until they found the other side, and then how long until they found a new town? It was a hard decision to make, and needed time.
Kenton was happy to enter the cavern. Compared to the desert air outside, the air inside was cool and inviting - such bliss to be out of the heat! It was as if all the shade and shadows of the day hid within this cave, and became concentrated. Caves like this were far and few between - most mountain trails led directly through the valleys, and they did not provide much comfort from the sun - many times, it was just as hot as being on the flat plains. Kenton loved the caverns for many reasons - the cool aura, protection from the wind and sun, the beautiful structures...
The two explorers soon found a large, open pathway, carved with wheel tracks that had been worn through the ages. "Do you think we could fit the cart up here?" Kenton questioned. "Maybe there's a way through - there must be! This obviously could be a commonly used path, what with the tracks worn through the rock."
"Possibly. It might have been at one time," Maeron muttered. "Could be abandoned for obvious reasons. There might have been a part of the cave that collapsed. We would have passed another cart a long while ago if it was commonly used."
Kenton sighed, scratching the back of his head. "...You might be right. I don't want to give up hope yet, though. ...Let's keep searching. Let's follow the road."
They traveled quite a while, stopping at certain forks in the path that seemed to lead to dead ends. There was nothing useful in any of them, though one or two showed signs of being disturbed, possibly for camping, as Kenton pointed out, or possibly from an earthquake, a pessimistic Maeron said. Whatever the case, the two kept going, and before long they reached a dead end path that strayed from the main road that held something very valuable.
"Water!" Kenton rejoiced! What a relief; they had a water supply after all! That could now be the least of his worries. "It looks like there are a lot of natural wells around here," he remarked, circling around one of them carefully. "Maybe they were man-made." He kicked a rock into one of the holes to see how far down the water was. It only took a second before a small ‘plink!' echoed up to his ears. He smiled. "Well, then, let's see if I can't get Andra to come up with us and help us bring back some water. That way we could spend a longer time looking for a way out. This is a relief, isn't it?" Maeron said nothing in return.
Kenton was about to turn around and head back towards the main path, but a sudden splash startled him and he spun around, hoping that Maeron had not fallen in by accident. Fortunately, he was standing right behind him. "...Did you hear something? What was that?"
A sudden cry filled the air. "Help! Please... someone! Help!"
Kenton became alarmed. "Someone's fallen into one of the wells!" He turned to where the voice was coming from - a larger hole - and ran over, shouting down. "Hey! Are you all right? How did you get down there?"
The voice suddenly sounded relieved, but it did not lose its nervous edge. "...I'm all right! But the water's so cold... my muscles are cramping up; I don't know how long I'll last! Please, help me!"
"Hang on!" Kenton cried back, then, turning to Maeron, he pointed towards the exit. "Get Andra and tell her to get as much rope as she possibly can. Grab some buckets as well. And please, hurry! I'll stay here. Take the lantern." He handed it over.
Maeron silently and swiftly started for the pathway out.
Kenton sat by the well - far enough so he wouldn't fall in by accident - and called out again. "Hang on, we're going to help you! Just grab hold of something until then! It'll be soon, I promise. Hold on."
Again, I didn't quite proofread too much; just skimmed over. any crits would be helpful! ^^