The team met just before sun up in the cafeteria and fueled up for the day’s journey. Sin wore her squeaky clean and new trail runners, while the rest of the group had on worn and dusty hiking shoes or boots. Sin was always spunky like that.
Mikaela set down her pack and checked her gear. Frank walked up beside her and handed her a sheathed knife to add to her equipment. “I have a pocket knife, Frank. What’s this for?”
He smiled, “Take it, look it over. I think you’ll appreciate it.”
She pulled the knife from its hand crafted leather sheath. The sheath has similar scroll work as her ring. The handle was formed with similar open scrollwork, and had a beautiful color shifting stone in the pommel. She smiled, and appreciatively said, “Thank you.” Her voice was quiet and soft. “It’s beautiful.” She never looked at knives as anything other than tools, to cut away at wood, vines, vegetables or even box tape. Others might see something more destructive, but she just saw them as a thing of beauty.
She sheathed the knife and hooked it to her belt. Satisfied with her pack, she looked at the threesome in front of her. “Ready to go?”
They all nodded in agreement, donned their packs, and headed out into the pre-dawn light.
The first part of their journey was almost pleasant. The air, still cool from the night, set a brisk tone, waking up their senses. The trek along the lake and next to the meadow was almost joyful. The team chatted, shared stories of their lives since three of the four had last seen each other. Mikaela also was delighted to find out more about Frank; he seemed to be a good soul and a kindred spirit. He loved solving puzzles and hated when he figured out the whodunit in mystery movies too quickly while anyone he was watching it with still were putting the pieces together.
Mid-morning, they reached the base of the mountain. Moe reminded them the plan. “We’ll have a short climb up this slope. There is one tricky part where we need to pass over a creek. Be careful there. Then we’ll find our way to the entrance of the mine which will take us to the caverns.”
Mikaela was worried about Sin’s trail runners, but with the four of them as a team, if they stick together, they should be able to make it through. A big-horned sheep wandered out in front of them on the trail. He looked their way, then trotted off in the opposite direction.
The slope was deceiving and the trail became hard to follow. The trees offered some shade from the sun, which had risen during the morning walk and now hung directly overhead. Each of them took turns leading, finding and pointing out tripping hazards and loose rocks as they climbed up the slope.
As they continued to climb, they heard running water off in the distance. The creek Moe mentioned sounded more like a flowing river as they neared. They crested the slope and saw the swiftly moving water. “It must be snow melt. I didn’t expect it to be like this yet.” Moe scratched his head.
The team walked along the banks looking for a shallow point to cross. Mud oozed around Sin’s pretty new trail runners. She pouted a few moments, then caught up with the rest of the group. Mikaela was grateful her boots were waterproof, but they wouldn’t protect her if the water was more than ankle deep.
Moe found a set of rocks where they could cross over to the other side and continue their trek. They’d have to cross carefully however. Two of the rocks were slightly under water, which could cause them to easily slip. Moe started across first, carefully pointing out which rocks were not stable and plotted the path. Next, Sin passed behind. Her shoes were slippery on the rocks, so Moe reached out to her as needed to help her stabilize.
As they approached the halfway mark, Mikaela started stepping across, and Frank pulled up behind. As they proceeded across, Sin gained confidence and relied less on Moe’s assistance. Then, she slipped. Falling into the water. Moe turned back and Mikaela caught up to pull her out. Finally, they got her to a safe spot where she could recover and step out of the water. She giggled. “At least my shoes are clean now!”
The whole team paused, precariously perched on their own rocks and the far shore almost in reach. Suddenly, Mikaela’s rock shifted out of its position, and threw her into a swiftly moving area of the river. The team tried to get to her, but the water quickly carried her downstream. She was positioned on her back and keeping her feet up, hoping to find a way back to the shore while the team finished crossing and attempted to keep up with her. However, the water was moving too swiftly.
The underground river rushed by with her body in tow. Mikaela hit her head on a rock and was knocked unconscious as the water swept her further downstream. At least she was face up, unconscious but not dead. The current from the flow forced her onto a gravelly shore.
A small creature approached and smelled her. He licked her arm. The river water left a sour taste in the creatures mouth. He spit it out, scraping his tongue with his front bucked teeth.
Her face bloodied, her brown hair matted to it, sprinkled with dust and pebbles. Her clothing was torn, her tank top also bloodied, soaked khaki shorts rolled up, and hiking boots still attached to her feet.
She moaned in pain, raising her right hand over her eyes to shield them from the light streaming into the cavern. The one trickle from the outside world, and it landed in her eyes. The small creature scurried away, frightened by her movement.
As she sat up slowly, the dank odor of the cavern greeted her nose. With limited sight, she pat her own body looking for her light which had been hanging from her belt loop. She located it and started to shine it around. Slowly, her eyes began to adjust to the dark.
Mikaela bent her knees and attempted to stand. Pain streaked up her left leg from her ankle. A familiar pain her mind determined, likely a sprain. She’ll need to find a way to bandage it if she’s going to make it out of here.
She moved her light about the cavern over the river bed. On the other side, gratefully, she spied her pack trapped by a boulder jutting into the river.
She limped across the shallow river bed here, picked up her pack, and took a seat on a boulder nearby. She pulled out her first aid kit and a wrap then begins to tape up her ankle to stabilize it. She swallowed some medicine to dull the pain.
Mikaela called out for the rest of team, but nothing responded in return except for the rush of water and drips within the cavern. She hoped her team was okay and that she could find her way back to them.
In the distance of the cavern, she spied a blue green glow. She remembered how the wall used to glow this way. She looked at her hands. They were trembling, and the tattoo was again glowing, even stronger than before. Perhaps her detour down the creek turned river shortened the complex journey. She thought to herself, This isn’t lone wolf — I’ve been separated from them. I have to find a way to get back and up and out will not be an option. She decided to follow the glow to try to link back up with her team.