Chapter 8 - Hidden Water and Lost Key

Chapter 8 - Hidden Water and Lost Key

A Chapter by Kuandio

The ranger, the old mountain man, and the young Irasheya warrior have set out to cross the Broken Horns and crossing into Warkhan country where there are some evils no one can see but that can see you


     The air was breathless in the canyon, but the pathfinders didn’t trust the halcyon quiet. This was Warkhan country. Cold sloping shadows of early morning clung to the defile’s furrows and labyrinthine turns. The scapes they walked through echoed the cavernous bone structures of a titan beast fallen long ago. Crumbling fortresses of rock upheaved, and boulders fallen from monstrous battlements that had crashed amid the beige-gold sands strewn along the ravine floor. Raiden was aware of how vulnerable they were at the bottom of the dry-river gorge. He scrupulously surveyed the lofty chines for fleeting movement. Nothing stirred. Nevertheless he feared they were being lulled further down this corrugated corridor until it’d be too late to turn back.
    For the past few hours since coming to this deep gulch, the trail-partners had advanced with especial caution. The young Irasheya remained at the fore with the Drift-wolf. Now and then he crouched, placing his hand in the dry earth as if panning for gems among the pebbles. Then he’d study the craggy heights. Nobody spoke, however, the old man, who had fallen almost permanently to the rear guard, grumbled sporadically to himself about this or that, punctuating his observations when he spat. Raiden kept the middle, guiding Night-Wind, with the Strider-hawking .50 slung over his shoulder like a warning standard to anyone or thing in these lands that dared deem them easy prey.
    M**********r - thought Raiden - Why’d it have to be so damned quiet down here? Hardly a breeze stirred at the low elevation but for the occasional debilitated gust. Strangely, when the wind did blow, it was to the west that it went, channeled by the curvature of the canyon walls he reckoned. The hollow silence made every little sound of their passage strikingly clear - their breathing, their steps and the horse’s hooves crunching the gravelly shale - all these things echoed against the ravine’s cliffs, slowed down in time. Raiden even felt his thoughts had to be whispered to himself. 
    After joining up the day before, the newly formed outfit had opted to forgo any respite and instead cover as much terrain between them and Old Bones Ridge as possible. Making their way down the steep fissured scarps had been an unwieldy affair that’d lasted throughout the night. Glacial winds screaming and biting and sands stinging, but the worse was over before the first harbinger of grey light in the east. By morning they reached a more level basin-land formed by a once bountiful but now evanesced and parched waterway. The course of the extinct tributary meandered westward between the promontories. They followed the gullies which lead them to the canyon they currently traversed. They were searching for signs of water - one of the main reasons they’d come this route in the first place. Their canteens and water-skins were running low.    
    “Aint much further” that’s what the old man had kept saying about the mountain streamlet that supposedly flowed somewhere in the gorge deeps.
    So far there wasn’t a lick of water and it didn’t look like there was going to be a drop. Where mighty waters had once sloshed and surged were bone-dry alluvial sands and smoothen rubble.
    Another hour passed before the old man’s word proved true. First they heard the sunny little tweets of birds flying dartingly overhead, mud-nesting swallows. Soon after they saw the heavenly white-sliver glimmer ahead and far below at the nadir of the desert dale, a place where many sierra streams had once converged. The rivulet was a steady little rushing that gushed from between high crevices and broken clefts in the steep stairs of diorite precipices.
    “Thar she blows lads!” laughed the old man.
    “Well, I’ll be darned” said Raiden.
    “Yep” said the old man, “She flows from the runoff of the highest icepacks. Makes a long journey to get here”
    After weeks of seeing no water, the sight of the diaphanous flowing was something special to behold, downright holy in a sense. They went down to the creek. Raiden tested the water. It was cold, sweet, with a fresh invigorating and minerally sapor. Wasn’t going to be giving anyone the s***s. The water was god-sent indeed. The mustang and the Drift-wolf lapped it up as the travelers replenished their vessels. The young Irasheya smiled and poured handfuls of water over his head as if he blessing himself. The old man dunked his head, bringing it back up with a gasp, beads of water streaming from his bushy face. The Irasheya hand-paddled sprays of water at the wolf and the old man.
    “Dag nab it!” grouched the Jeb, which caused the Irasheya to laugh.
    After having their fill they renewed the march.
    “We keep this clip and we should make it to Old Bones by daybreak” said the old man.
    Leaving the stream behind they climbed up to a shelf-ridge that followed the contours of the bluffs like a bumpy terrace. Away from the waters’ banks silence soon dominated anew, but they were more at ease at present, as if their prior chariness had perhaps been unwarranted. During the passage it felt they trekked down a hall in a land of giants, for the canyon rose higher, its primordial parapets yawning into the blue, silently reverberating a colossal power and patience.
    The Irasheya fell in alongside the ranger, “What is the name of the princess you are going to save Tall-Rider?” after Raiden told him, the Irasheya repeated the name, pronouncing it slowly as if to understand its meaning, “Yarokia, ….Yarokia”
    Raiden kept the thought to himself that it might be he who needed saving from the young woman if she’d turned into a nightwalker by the time he got to her. Before Raiden could think twice about what had possessed him to ask the question, he went ahead with it, “And what is it you’re looking for No-name. Don’t tell me it’s just the vision and your name. That’s part of it, but why’d you really come all this way?”
    After a lapse of introspective silence the Irasheya answered, “You are wise Tall-Rider. I am a quest-seeker, like you. Something magical was lost long ago that belonged to my tribe. I don’t know where it is, or if it even exists anymore”
    “What is it?”
    “Have you ever heard of the Orb of Colors?”
    It sure rang a bell, but he couldn’t quite recollect.
    The Irasheya helped him, “It was created by the White Buffalo Woman in times of old, by bending the Rainbow and Powers into it. We, the Irasheya, were entrusted to watch over it. But it was stolen many generations ago. Most think it is a legend, but I do not. That is why I have set out to find it, and bring it back”
    “Hmm. But if you don’t even know if it exists, why would you risk your life traveling this far and wide into the outlands?”
    The Irasheya grew graver, “Because there is a sickness that is afflicting my people, and the Blue Mountains. The medicine men cannot cure it. Sky-Bear had a dream and prophesizes that the orb of colors is real, and that we must find it. Not only for ourselves, but to help stop the darkness that is in men’s eyes and the heart of the world”
    Raiden chewed it over. The legend sounded an awful lot like the one about the lost Celestial Key. Even though he hoped it was true, Raiden reckoned it was more than likely a bunch of hogwash.
    “Well, I hope you find it. Who knows, if it’s as important as you say, maybe I’ll even lend you a hand”
    The Irasheya smiled, “That would be very good. I think I will need help”
    “But don’t get ahead of yourself. I take it one assignment at a time”
    “Of course” nodded No-name, his smile sunny, as if he knew that the ranger would be helping him sooner or later in his quest to find the lost Orb of Colors.
    As the next hours wore on Raiden made sure not to get lost in castles of air so he’d maintain focus on the potential hidden perils of this country. The eroded path took them higher. The westerly wind swooshed lonely and seldom. Up on the lofty ridge the Drift-wolf stopped, it’s body taught and head and ears up. The little band came to a halt. The wolf sniffed the air, then the ground, trying to pin down the source of a scent that only it was able to detect. The white wolf whined in frustration when the wind blew away the mysterious scent.
    “I think we are coming to an evil place.” said the Irasheya, “We must be quiet as the lynx and listen to the land”
    Raiden tried giving the compass a go, but the sable glass screen unfailingly displayed nothing. He put it back in his coat pocket. A little later the strident cry of a beast flying overhead caused them to duck. Nothing more than a dusky harpy-eagle with fell voice. They proceeded.
    The old man, nervous again, asked tentatively, “So how much ya say they was offerin to bring that lassie in?”
    “Don’t worry old timer. The drinks will be on me, but you’ll have enough to buy yourself a damned saloon. Just you wait”
    The old man grinned falteringly. He liked his money, but he knew it wasn’t no good for spending if you were impaled on a spear, unless it was the sort that could be used to purchase another life with.
    The trail morphed into a narrow ledge with a drop of over three hundred feet to the rockbound riverbed. On their shoulder strapping arms of stone reached into tall ochre cliff faces. At stretches the way was obstructed by boulders, forcing them edge gingerly around.
    Upon turning a bend they realized the wolf was nowhere to be seen. It had lagged behind, something it never did. When they turned to have a look-see Raiden held up a hand to indicate he was going to be the first up front, and when the old man and the young Irasheya were about to speak he shot them both a harsh glance that told them to be as quiet as can be. He swung the Strider-hawking around and pulled back the bolt with a soft clack.
    With weapons primed they rounded the bend at a careful angle. The Drift-wolf was a stone’s chuck back the way they’d come, looking at something none of them could see and growling viciously. The wolf barked a few times until the old man sternly demanded its silence. Raiden suddenly had no doubt they were being watched. He did a slow three hundred and sixty degree scan, fine-combing the scarps with keen eyes and rifle barrel pointed. There wasn’t a damn thing. None of them had any idea what Shenso had been yelping at unless there was a ghost off yonder.
    The Drift-wolf however, continued to sense something around a spot on the embankment unremarkable in anyway, and it was snarling bad with fangs barred. As the minutes passed and nothing materialized, the old man rubbed the top of his head, baffled, “What the hell has gotten into ya Shenso?”
    Ultimately, there was nothing to be done. Whatever bothered the Drift-wolf came from the direction they’d come by. If there was indeed something there, it could be Shenso hadn’t noticed it because they’d been upwind of it during their advance. In any case, they weren’t going to turn back when for all they knew it was just a coyote or some pesky varmint. It took the mountaineer more than few scolding calls to disengage the wolf from the enigma that had grabbed its attention.
    The wolf came back, looking over its shoulder more than once and giving off a snarl. The old man spoke to them all, “Come on, let’s get a move on”
    The outfit double-backed, but Raiden lingered a moment longer. He didn’t like this one bit. For a moment he’d had the frigid feeling eerily characteristic of when dark energy is nearby. He stared intently in the direction the Drift-wolf had been fixated upon. The ice prickling sensation of dark energy faded. He didn’t know what else to do, but it wasn’t wise to remain in one location overlong, so he rejoined the others and they continued towards Old Bones Ridge.

© 2013 Kuandio

Author's Note

This and the next were originally going to be one chapter, but I just divided them because of the changing points of view. Let me know if you think it works that way

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Added on October 15, 2013
Last Updated on October 15, 2013
Tags: western, horror, science fiction, native american, mythology, fantasy, epic, adventure, love, romance, spiritual, new age




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