Chapter 5

Exceedingly scratched and bruised

After touring their hosts’ deceptively large house in the morning Tye and Kam had lunch with them followed by a tour of the grounds. They brought along a helper bot to carry extra water and snacks for the hike. Tye and Kam loved the forest surrounding the house.

“What’s that over there?” Tye asked as they neared the end of the tour.

“That’s really off our property. Over there is the lake. There are several streams and caves in the area. You can do some nice cave exploring if you’re experienced.”

“We have many underwater caves back home. I’ve gone caving often. It can be really fun.” Tye said.

“Fun,” Kam repeated. “I didn’t know you did anything for fun.”

“I like amusements. Besides, it's also good training.”

“I knew it.”

“There are markers on the path you can download into your devices. If you think you can make it back on your own you two should go explore. We have some things to finish up at home.”

“Would you want to?” Tye asked Kam hesitantly.

“Yes, I’m up for anything. Sure you won’t come, Sparrow, Tuffnet?”

“You two go ahead. We’re too old for that stuff,” Tuffnet said.

“Speak for yourself,” Sparrow teased.

“Don’t forget the fruit cookies!” Tuffnet handed them to Kam.

“So, I guess we should go,” Kam said. Tye led the way. It was the happiest she had ever seen him. Jumbo tried to follow behind Kam, but she stopped him. “No Jumbo I don’t want anything falling on you or jamming you up. Stay here and help, uh, leave a path back to the house. Okay?”

Jumbo looked back, his whole face spinning round to where Tuffnet and Sparrow were strolling back with the helper bot.

“Please,” Kam said.

He walked back toward the couple managing an excellent impression of sulking despite his robotic frame.

Kam hurried after Tye. “Hey, don’t forget about the rules!”

He smirked. “Really? I don’t think anyone’s going to report us out here.” The area seemed very isolated despite the size of their hosts’ estate. He hadn’t been able to send or receive any message since they arrived.

“Oh, I see the stream,” Kam said pointing. “Think it goes to the lake?”

“Seems likely. I hope they really have underwater caves.”

Kam’s eyes widened. “You want to go underwater into a cave?”

“Those are the only kind I’ve explored…for fun,” he added.

Kam stopped. “Wait, Tye, was that like a joke? He can joke. Tye Zenith has a funny bone. Alert the hospitals, alert the universities, alert the calendar makers. This is a landmark day.”

“Okay. That’s enough,” he said but there was a slight smile on his lips.

They soon reached a cave before the lake. Kam stopped to read a plaque outside of it and get the map. “Hey, I downloaded this map. It says this is a designated climbing cave we can go rappelling here.”

“But this is above ground abseiling. Don’t you want to go diving?”

“I don’t know. I like climbing and rappelling.”

“I thought you liked to swim.”

“Yeah the two times I went, and it was artificial and--”

“Natural is much better, you'll see. Come on.”

“But, don’t you think,” Kam didn’t want to say but natural water sources intimidated her, “don’t you think we should start here. It’s something new for both of us. Above water not made of sand. It’ll be fun.”

Tye frowned. On Mer it wouldn’t be a discussion. They’d do what he ordered. He tried reasoning with her, “It looks like a cave for training exercises. They’re not fun.”

“You don’t know unless you try.” She ran ahead.

“Kam,” he groaned but followed.

The mouth of the cave was live with insects and they had to avoid unusually large spider webs. They could hear the gentle roar of a small waterfall they had had to pass through to get to the next chamber. Tye paused when they got there.

”Forget the other chambers. I’m staying here.” He stood under the fall while Kam watched him from outside the tumbling water. “We should stay here, it's nice,” he repeated.

“How can you just hang out under there? I don’t like water pounding down on me like that.”

“Like in a shower?”

“Ha, ha.” She looked down at her boots and dug a hole with her toe. It felt like she was waiting for ages. “Oh come on Tye. What are you some kind of Aq’minian?”

“No.” He finally stepped out from the water. “But I feel a lot better.” Kam had to admit he looked better. Smiling and refreshed. His skin was more brilliant and his hair clearly golden.

“Yeah, well you wasted time and your clothes are soaked.” She shook her head and watched him wring water out of his clothes. He seemed to subtly shine, like a gemstone, but it was not overpowering it was… beautiful. Kam mouthed the word, sighed and examined her boots again. “If you’re done being a guppy or whatever can we see the cave?”

He finished wringing out most of the water, flicking some good naturedly at Kam in response to her comment. When he was no longer sopping wet, Kam led the way into the next chamber. They kept moving deeper into the cave until it became pitch black, silent and damp. They picked up the path again and decided to follow it straight through. Automatic lanterns sensed their movement along the path and lit the area around them. Kam looked back at the lanterns. They didn’t stay lit but went out once they had moved on to conserve energy.

“This is kinda creepy,” she said.

“So are you too afraid to go abseiling?” Tye asked. “We could go back to the waterfall.”

“I’m not afraid,” she protested. “It’s just creepy.”

Tye was holding his shortened DES staff horizontally in front of him. It projected down like a scroll the map loaded from the plaque while he examined it. “Let’s get off the path, there’s a good wall this way,” he said.

“Is that safe?”


“No. I’m just saying . You’re the one who said you don’t climb so much as dive.”

“I think it’ll be fun. Don’t you?” He kept going without waiting for her answer.

They turned to the left and Tye set his DES staff to illuminate and slipped it into the holster on his back. Soon enough they reached a high wall.

“Alright,” Kam said, looking up at the wall. “Free climb?”

Tye frowned, feeling the slick walls. “I’d feel better with a safety line.”

“Now who’s scared,” she said. But she knew it was a good idea. Kam made a small, quick motion with her hand, then a shooting motion toward a spot half way up the cave wall. A flash of light drove into it leaving a glowing cord from it to her gloved hand. She measured out the line and they secured themselves to it. Kam turned sharply at a slight sound.

“You hear that?” she asked.

“No,” Tye said, looking around. It was quiet except for the trickling sound of the water from the stream running through and the cave. They stood silently for a minute.

“It was nothing,” Tye decided. “You go first. I’ll spot you.”

They reached the top without incident then sat on the edge and looked down. They shot light pellets down and watched them reflect off the slick rocks. The pellets momentarily lit up bits of the rocks, showing them to be black, blue and beautiful. Stalagmites taller than Tye jutted up from the cave floor. When they lit up an area from their spot on the ledge they could see all captivating if dangerous features of the cave off the established path.

The lights went out as they hit the bottom. Kam tossed a handful as far as she could, and they saw a deep, malachite-colored pool further in the cave. After those lights went out they sat back. Simultaneously they looked toward each other. Kam felt even more unsettled than when she was looking over the precipice. In the dim blue glow from Tye’s DES they could only see each other. Tye leaned toward her and Kam suddenly stood up.

“I wonder what’s on the other side.” Kam said. She stood and moved quickly as usual to see what was behind them.

“Kam wait a minute,” Tye said. He placed his DES in the holster across his chest then slid around to follow her. She stopped abruptly realizing she had reached another edge. Tye bumped into her from behind. She let out a sharp breath of air as he put an arm around her waist helping her lean back. He felt her tail wrap around tensely too. They stood that way on slick rocky ground that could slip from beneath them at any sudden movement. Tye tried to take a careful step back but some rocks slid beneath his feet and over the edge, echoing as they fell and fell into the vast darkness.

“Don’t move,” he whispered.

“Wasn’t planning on it,” she said.

With his left arm around Kam, he gingerly reached his right one up and grabbed his staff. He shot a cord into the ground behind them. “Brace yourself.” He hit rappel and they were jerked back. The ledge fell away making a noisy descent that lasted even as they regained their bearings.

Kam rolled out of his lap and sat on her knees.

“You ok?” he asked.

“Sure. What about you?”

He was rubbing his shoulder. The strain had pulled it, but he said, ”I’m fine.” Tye stood and took her hand to help her up.

The last of the sound of falling rocks faded away and was replaced by something higher pitched and incremental, along with the sound of steady beating.

Tye was still holding Kam’s hand. They stood facing each other and she took a step toward him, her eyes wide in the dim light. Their surroundings were hidden in darkness. Kam’s breath quickened as she asked, “Do you hear that?”

His grip on her and his DES tightened. He moved to stand next to her. A quick movement turned its dim blue glow into a dazzling white light illuminating the cavern. Then the screeching started. All around them were flying creatures with small eyes and large pinching claws. They flew toward Tye and Kam, irritated by the light. They ducked and Tye shut off the light.

“Okay,” Tye said. They stayed crouched. Tye took his staff in both hands and lengthened it. “On my signal we’re going to move.” He spun the staff in large arcs around them generating a protective field of energy, and then activated the light. “Now,“ Tye shouted.

They stood and ran back to the edge they had climbed earlier with the DES staff providing a protective halo around them. When they reached the edge they jumped, and half slid down the edge before grabbing the safety line. They had to rappel down awkwardly as fast as they could. It was impossible to keep their balance as they reached the ground. Tye still clutched the staff in one fist providing a dim light. Kam tucked and rolled and landed crouched on her feet and hands. Then Tye slid to the ground beside her and attached the staff to his back. They immediately had to run from the creatures tearing at their hair, skin and clothes. Tye used his temporal connection to send a warning pulse from his DES staff that shocked some of them. A few crashed into each other.

“This way,” Kam said, pulling Tye along. They continued running even after the flying things had given up the chase. They passed under the small waterfall and reached the light at the mouth of the cave. Finally they could stop. They leaned against the towering stone walls breathing hard. About an hour later they made their way back to the house, exceedingly scratched and bruised, leaning on each other for support.