“What do you think I’m doing!”
Jaxon Frost’s feet pounded the forest floor below him. A miracle really, that he was still upright considering the littering of roots, trees and underbrush beneath them. He was already feeling the burn in his lungs of trying to stay ahead of whatever was chasing them this time.
It didn’t matter how many times they did this, the running never got easier. He just couldn’t get the breathing right.
“Run faster Jaxon!”
The waiver in Evelyn’s voice meant the danger behind them was more of the unstoppable-rolling-boulder variety than the giant-python-she could-be-trusted-to-take-out-with-a-crack-shot variety so Jaxon forced his legs to pump harder, faster. Why had he ever thought this was a good idea? Why had he agreed they should leave camp and follow the signs of something in the woods. The answer of course was Evelyn, wasn’t it always? He’d follow her to the ends of the Earth if she only asked and pulled that face. That infuriating face that suggested she was asking him to do something potentially dangerous, when in actual fact they both knew she’d already made up her mind and would be going regardless.
Jaxon came skittering to a stop as the forest floor dropped sharply away into what must have once been a water filled ravine. Evelyn thudded into the back of him, almost sending them both over the edge and down into the swampy ground below.
The walls of the ravine were covered with deep green slimy moss, that shimmered in the sunlight breaking through the umbrella canopy of branches which had twisted together above them. The walls of the ravine were just visible in scattered patches of slate grey and the brown of compacted earth. Vines dangled from the canopy above, like hands reaching down towards the watery mess below. The smell rising from the ground was the kind of damp stagnant that was almost palpable. Filling not only the nostrils but the mouth where it settled on the tongue.
“We have to jump.” Evelyn said eyes scanning the surrounding opening and realising there was no feasible way of climbing down. Not quickly anyhow.
“Are you mad?”
Evelyn raised a single brow.
“We’ll die.” Jaxon said peering over the ravine before looking back as the thudding continued to advance through the trees.
“Where’s your faith?” Evelyn asked adjusting the bundle around her chest and taking three strides back. The sound of splitting trees, and trampled underbrush reverberated around the forest.
Evelyn took a running jump and gripped a vine hanging from the web of branches above them. She was surprisingly elegant and sturdy, tangling her wrist up to secure herself and looking back to Jaxon and the trees behind him which were now shaking violently.
Jaxon hesitated. Had he not watched Evelyn do such ridiculous, dangerous, fool hardy things so successfully, so often, he never would have considered it.
The boulder came into view.
Jaxon backed up and jumped. Heart jumping into his throat as the first vine he grabbed snapped beneath his weight. He gripped a second wrenching his shoulder but just managing to secure himself.
The thing wasn’t a boulder at all. It was a great slathering grey mass of what seemed like a giant frog only it didn’t move like a frog, it moved something closer to a spider. It let out a sound somewhere between a gurgle and a scream. Then, the monster, unaware of the cliff edge, failed where Evelyn and Jaxon had succeeded in stopping before the edge.
It dropped into the ravine with a hearty squelch, pop and the slow sound like the air being let out of a balloon.
“Jaxon look.” Evelyn said eyes trained on the swampy ravine floor. “Fascinating.” She said dangling from the vine like it was no effort. Jaxon nodded and made a noise of acknowledgement but covered his mouth as bile rose up at the sight of the splintered grotesque body below.
“We have to go down there.” Evelyn said swinging closer to him along the vines.
“Evelyn, darling, I know this is going to be fruitless but don’t you think maybe this is enough for today?” He gestured between them.
“It’s bones though Jaxon, look their so- so opulent. Fascinating how they shine and its flesh it’s, it’s purple inside. I never would have guessed.”
“The bones are gaudy.” Jaxon said shifting his weight on the vine and deciding it was time to put feet back on solid land. “And they appear to be attracting some not very friendly looking natives.” Jaxon pointed out as something akin to a scorpion crossed with a preying mantis approached the grotesque carcass, beginning to pick at the smashed flesh. It was not the only creature either. There were things moving in the marshy shallows of the ravine, things moving in unnatural ways, neither of land or sea.
“Maybe we could just-“
“Evey.” Jaxon said softly as he leapt from the vine back onto the forests edge. “We have cargo.”
Evelyn sighed. Though reluctant to admit it, he was right. It would not just be dangerous to inspect it now, it would be downright idiotic and Evelyn was a lot of things but idiotic was not one of them.
“How is she?” Jaxon asked as Evelyn set her feet down on the ground. Evelyn peeled back her coat to show Jaxon a softly sleeping, undisturbed Anna.
“Slept through it. Not moved an inch.” Evelyn replied stroking the soft hair of her daughters head. “May not have time to collect opulent bones but we definitely aren’t leaving empty handed. I found this.” Evelyn rooted around at the bottom of the sling beneath the sleeping Anna before pulling out a small rough square shaped stone with a jewel the colour of galaxies at it’s centre.