Fistful of reefer, p.15
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       Fistful of Reefer, p.15
 

           David Mark Brown
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FOURTEEN

  Rock With Eyes

  Darkness engulfed the canyon floor, the moon blocked by steep canyon walls. Soft sounds of sleep echoed gently off the overhanging rock as the horses and the forest rested in stillness. Exactly at the night’s apex the eyes flickered open again, shifting slightly, gathering information. With a slithering silence they inched forward from the pitch black of the cave toward the fresh night air.

  Whisking open and shut several times, the yellow eyes finally emerged, embedded deep in the skull of a pallid, skeletal figure that took several seconds to expand to its full height. Moments later several other grotesque figures emerged from the small opening, each with glowing, yellow eyes and pale flesh. Clothed in shimmering, slick hides clinging tightly to their bodies, they appeared in the open as sparkling ghosts with firefly eyes. Responding as one being to an unspoken cue, they unsheathed a dozen luminescent knives of crystal, each a foot long.

  An angry hissing and glowing light startled the sleeping fugitives as cold boney hands assaulted them from every angle. The crossbow and Spencer Repeater disappeared before Nena and Muddy could reach for them. Chancho tore at a grasping hand, blocking a luminescent blue knife as it slashed for his throat. Instead it bit into the thin skin of his forearm and struck bone. He kicked his assailant in the chest as it dragged him toward the cave opening, but his boot deflected off the tough, slippery hide.

  Muddy bellowed in anger. Clutching two of the creatures in headlocks, he bashed their skulls together. But the glittering skins combined with flashing movements dazed him. Twisting wildly with his elbows extended at head height, he lost balance. Hitting him low, several attackers lifted him and drove him into the ground.

  He crashed down with a thud that took his breath and left him stunned. Suddenly Nena’s voice cut the night air with piercing clarity, “Neemwa Ihkweea, Ehtamwa Ihkweea! Hear me, see me!” She prayed for protection for her people in her native tongue, and instantly the assault stopped, their attackers backing away slowly.

  A gravelly voice answered her, speaking in a similar Kickapoo tongue, “You are one of the people?”

  Chancho scurried toward the others on hands and knees while Muddy struggled to draw a full breath. Nena answered calmly, “We are of the people, yes.”

  “But your friends are not, he is black and—”

  “You are white.” Nena responded curtly. Several of the attackers looked back and forth at each other before silently coming to agreement.

  “We must go inside. You will come with us.” They began to close on them, Chancho jumping to his feet. “What are they saying? What’s—”

  “Fsscht!” Nena silenced him and rose to her feet as well. She snarled at the one who spoke for the others. “We will enter only as guests, not prisoners.”

  He showed no sign of emotion. “Of course. We bring no one into our home unless they be a guest. The rest we kill.” This time he waited politely for her, understanding that the others could not speak their language.

  Nena turned to help Muddy up and spoke to him and Chancho in English. “We have been invited inside, as friends. It would be seen as a rejection of friendship if we refused.”

  Chancho grew pale and pointed toward the tiny cave opening. “Go in there?”

  “Otherwise, they will most likely kill us.”

  He dusted himself off and checked the bleeding from his arm before looking around at the strange yellow eyes gazing back at him. He shrugged it off. “Well, if you put it that way. At least I don’t have to worry about fitting through there with my sombrero.”

  Muddy put his hand on Nena’s arm. “What about the horses? We need them.”

  Nena turned toward the leader and indicated the horses with a point of her chin. He likewise gestured to those next to him who trotted obediently over to the horses. “We have a secure place for them. They will be fed and watered.”

  McCutchen had almost fallen asleep when he heard a struggle coming from the fugitive’s camp. He shifted his position for a better view, but all he could see were faint flashing lights—glowing apparitions. The strangeness of the sight chilled him. Then a woman’s voice pierced the night with a frightening urgency.

  He tried to get closer, but he couldn’t risk giving away his position. He strained his eyes until, for a moment, he thought he saw several figures standing in the shelter of the overhanging rock. Then they were gone, leaving him wondering if the whole thing had been a dream. A few minutes after the last signs of movement he slipped quietly from the brush.

  Footprints mingled and overlapped so badly it was impossible to tell their number, but certainly more than three. And blood. A trail of blood led toward the mouth of a small cave. McCutchen drew his second Colt and advanced on the opening, a storm of thoughts circling in his head. Who the hell lived in a place like this? And what had they done with his fugitives? What was he going to do now if he found them?

  Before he could think his way clear of the questions he crouched and ducked his head inside the cave, leading with his shiny .45s. A heavy thud reverberated from the recesses and he froze, begging his eyes to adjust to the brand new depth of darkness inside. A skittering across the cave floor grew louder in his ears. He stretched the surface space of his eyes until they were white saucers in the blackness.

  Closer. The skittering echoed in the small space, impossible to locate the exact source. He had barely entered the opening of the cave. Now instinctively backing out, his eyes caught a flicker of a shadow flying toward him. He flashed his pistols, but the movement caught him in the hand before he could react. A second quickly followed the first.

  Two sets of razor sharp teeth clutched his hand in a searing pain, grinding his bones like a pair of reciprocating bear traps. Stumbling backwards, he flung himself toward the opening. He threw his guns out into the night ahead of him, but he couldn’t shake the monsters clinging to his left hand.

  Violently he clipped the top of his head on the low rock at the mouth of the cave and pitched out of the opening. He slammed his hand down on the rocks as he fell, in a vein attempt to free himself from the beasts that seized him. In the dim light of the night air he finally beheld his attackers, two black-shelled beetles, each almost a foot long.

  Terrifying in size, the insects were ripping his hand apart in their claws. He seized a loose rock. Crashing it down on the back of one, the shell split and gushed a sticky green ooze. The dying insect pitched with seizure, releasing a shrill cry. McCutchen raised the rock again, but before he could bring it down the remaining beetle ripped his ring finger from his hand and scurried into the shelter of the cave.

  “Good God!” McCutchen clutched his wounded hand, staring in shock where the finger had been moments before. He gathered himself and struggled to his feet with difficulty, pulling his good hand away from his head covered in blood. “If that ain’t a good God damn.” He panicked. “My hat.” His grandfather’s Stetson rested in a heap next to the mouth of the cave.

  Returning his Colts to their holsters, he inched toward the opening which had transformed into a yawning nightmare, a blackness within the blackness of night. But nothing on the whole damn planet would separate him from his hat, without killing him first. He snatched it and staggered into the woods toward the first aid kit he kept in Chester’s saddle bags.

  Chancho and the others followed the glittering, faintly luminescent hides through winding crawlspaces for half an hour until they stood inside a much larger subterranean room.

  Without a sound the leader left to spread advance word of their arrival. Chancho’s jaw dropped as he gazed around the room. For a hundred feet the walls of the cave were lined with tiny, twinkling lights—nothing like open flames or oil lamps. His hosts paid no attention as he stepped toward the nearest ones. Upon touching the gently buzzing light, he suddenly realized it was electric.

  The whole length of the room buzzed with electric lights, frustrating every potential shadow. The glorious effect drove away every ounce of foreboding he had felt about being
underground. Any sense of claustrophobia disappeared. “Electric lights.” He whispered to himself. “Increíble.”

  Stalactites hung from the ceiling while helictites decorated the walls. One wall contained dozens of large crystals, glowing with luminescence. Chancho inched away from the entrance as the cave dwellers who had accompanied them began to spread out and find places to rest. Only one of them remained behind to guard the entrance. It appeared they were indeed guests.

  Curiosity overwhelming his fear, Chancho discovered the narrow cavern to be more of a passage. Generally oblong in shape, over a hundred feet long and twenty feet across at its widest point, narrower necks broke the space up into a series of chambers sometimes connected with multiple windows and passageways.

  As Chancho advanced along the main path it became clear others were in the cavern as well, many others. Almost every new chamber held either an individual or a family, each of them staring intently at him. Self-conscious, he looked down at himself. Bedraggled and dirty, he had gone from flood to cave, and his arm was dripping blood onto the rock floor.

  Without noise an elderly woman approached him, giving him a slight start. She nodded, indicating his wound, and beckoned him to follow. He looked back the way he had come. Muddy sat near the enterance, his hulking presence a smudge against the glowing rock wall of the cave. No harm in seeking medical attention, I suppose.

  Taking a wooden box from a shelf carved in the rock, the woman nodded for him to sit. She studied his arm, clucking softly to herself, before removing a small tin can from the box. She unscrewed the top to reveal a brush dripping with black ooze. Gently scraping off the excess, she scooted closer to Chancho.

  He held out his arm. With toothless grin she snatched his arm out of mid air lightning quick and lavished the medicinal ooze on the wound. Chancho clutched his arm, gritting his teeth. He squeezed his eyes tight, the flesh of his arm boiling.

  Then a subtle pinching nipped the edge of his wound. Opening his eyes, he saw a huge, black beetle gnawing at his arm. He barked while fumbling backwards off his perch. Before he could get to his feet another sound swelled within the cavern like owl’s wings beating the air. He stood, trying to identify the source, but it surrounded him, echoing off every wall.

  Finally he looked back at the old woman. She was laughing, quaking almost silently, creating only a small guttural sound in the back of her throat. All around him, everyone was laughing—at him. Their laughter filled the space with a pulse, creating the sensation of being a baby in a womb. The sound, the light, the presence of so many others, it warmed him. Retaking his seat in front of the old woman, he did his best to mimic their laughter.

  She steadied herself and took the beetle between her finger and thumb. She held it close to a sticky gauze which it seized hungrily in its pincers. After a few seconds the beetle, encrusted with strands of gauze, ate at the skin around the rough edges of his wound. As it did so the sticky strands wove in and out, back and forth, across the wound with the movement of the beetle’s pincers. Chancho gripped his elbow, holding his arm still. Amazingly, the blood that had been seeping from the wound clung to the clot forming between the black ooze and the strands of gauze.

  The old lady put the beetle back in its cage and dropped it in the box. With a clean cloth dipped in water she dabbed the wound gently. The throbbing subsided. If he hadn’t been looking at the wound he wouldn’t have known it was there. “Increíble,” he whispered. Before he could think about the language barrier he asked the woman, “What was that?” The woman smiled. “Oh, sorry. I forgot—”

  “Guano.”

  Chancho flinched, “You speak English?”

  The woman cocked her head, giving him another toothless grin. Her yellow eyes were sunken deep into their sockets, her cheeks irritated and red. “Guano.”

  “Guano?” Chancho finally understood. He put his nose to the wound and sniffed. “Ay caramba. Guano.” He closed his eyes and started to laugh, this time assimilating the native form much more naturally. While he was laughing the same gravelly voice he had heard outside announced from behind him in adequate English, “The chief is ready to meet you.”

  Nena, Muddy and Chancho were ushered through a series of narrow passageways and small rooms until they entered a luxurious, yawning cavern. It buzzed with the gentle hum of electric lights, the walls smooth and curving like the dried bones of a giant. Several surfaces boasted ornate paintings and tapestries varying from story panels to impressionistic art.

  The room so overwhelmed them it took several moments to realize a man sat on the far end among a heap of cushions. Their escort indicated they were to move forward. Nena found it natural to take the lead, still the voice of negotiation for her people. But this time she negotiated with her people as well, and had no idea of what to negotiate.

  She played through several possibilities in her mind. What sort of recompense would the cave dwellers want now that the three of them knew of their existence? Would it be as easy as swearing to remain silent, or would there be blood? And even more basic, who where these people? And what were they doing here?

  Finally the chief spoke, in English. “Welcome. I hope you have not been treated too roughly. We are not accustomed to guests.” He was a short man, elderly, but not infirm, with white, wispy hair. His nose hooked so sharply it jutted towards the ground. But his eyes pierced them and his gaze was strengthened by his jaw. He invited them to join him on the cushions.

  As they sat Nena responded. “We were treated no worse than I would have expected from proud Kickapoo warriors.” She crafted her words so as to compliment her host while portraying personal strength.

  The chief nodded. “We have not maintained much of a warrior tradition, but we do what we must to survive.”

  He was self-deprecating, surprising Nena. Maybe these where not to be negotiations after all. “It looks to me you are doing much more than merely surviving. These caves are truly remarkable.”

  “Thank you, we are proud of them. At first everything we did was from necessity. But that was over ninety years ago. During my lifetime we have shifted our focus to discovery. It has made life underground,” he hesitated, “more pleasant.”

  Nena did not know where to go next with the conversation, but before she could continue Chancho interrupted.

  “It’s simply amazing. How do you generate electricity for your lights?” He waved his arms about energetically as he spoke.

  The chief shook briefly with silent laughter. “Yes, we’ve only had those for the last several years. I am proud to say they are a product of my granddaughter, Crystal. She was the one who first thought of gathering the cave winds to turn wheels producing electricity. We have three small generators that create power for our lights.”

  “Wonderful!” Chancho clapped. “Like windmills for pumping water. It’s so simple.”

  The chief smiled, “Sometimes it’s the simplest solutions that are the hardest to see.”

  Chancho nodded.

  Nena asserted herself back into the conversation. “So you have been living here secretly all these years?” She emphasized the word ‘secretly.’

  “Yes,” the chief closed his eyes before continuing, “we have remained hidden.” He opened them. “You are from Mexico, correct?”

  “Yes. My people still live there. I moved north,” she indicated Muddy with a point of her chin, “for my man.”

  The chief nodded. “Many of us were also from Mexico. We were part of the Kickapoo who left to return to Indian territory, but we did not make it. It was reported that Indian territory was shrinking as its inhabitants grew. Without a home ahead of us or behind us we decided to go no further.”

  Nena could no longer contain her excitement, “Then you are indeed relatives.”

  The chief continued, “At first we used the caves only for shelter at night and for temporary defense against our enemies. Then it became plain that we would never be safe in a world no longer our own. Not just our land had been taken, but our w
ay of life. Finally, the simple answer came to light. We discovered the vastness of the caves out of curiosity. We carved homes from them out of necessity, until the space within the earth finally became a place to ourselves.”

  Chancho asked, “How many of you are there?”

  “That, I will not say, but there are many.” The chief looked from person to person, gripping them with his piercing eyes. “The only question remains, will you be numbered with them.”

  Nena glanced at the others, unsure how to answer.

  “As you have observed, our existence here depends on secrecy. A secrecy we have maintained with diligence for over three generations. It would not do for us to betray those efforts with neglect.”

  Nena tensed. It had been a negotiation all along, only she had been lulled asleep during the process. Her mind flashed in an effort to detect what ground she had lost. What strength could she still bring to bear? Would they be required to stay?

  The chief continued, “It has also become apparent we cannot remain detached from the world above us.” His eyes flashed to each of them in turn. “We need friends. Allies. Family,” he nodded more to himself than anyone else, “who live on the surface. We need a connection to the outside world we can trust will not betray our secret. I am asking you to be that connection.”

  Nena was shocked. She looked at Muddy, who raised his eyebrows. She turned toward the chief. “But you don’t—”

  “Not one of you has looked selfishly or acted selfishly toward each other or your surroundings since you have entered my sight. We live closely with each other. It has become impossible to hide our intentions. Yours are as clear to me as my own. You,” he nodded toward Nena, “are upset for letting down your guard. Your only intent upon entering was to negotiate the safety of your people. You,” he indicated Muddy, “are unable to disguise your love and passion for your woman, and your concern about troubles that await you on the surface. And you,” he nodded toward Chancho, “you have made my decision easy. You have shown no interest in your own safety, only the pure joy of discovery.”

  “I know,” he continued, “your time is short with us, and so I make my invitation bluntly. I know you will not threaten our safety.” He looked Nena in the eyes. “Neither will we threaten yours.” He looked at Chancho, “But will you join our people?”

  Nena looked into Muddy’s eyes. He trusted her completely. She shifted her gaze to Chancho, whose eyes swam with tears he could not hold back. She knew he felt an outcast, without family. To an extent they all did. But for Chancho, the chief’s offer represented the fulfillment of one of his deepest dreams—to be part of a people.

  Chancho gripped both Nena and Muddy by their arms and smiled at them before looking longingly into the chief’s deep gaze. “Si, señor. We will.”

  After the decision had been made the chief gestured for several other members of the tribe to be let into the room. As a council they briefly discussed the nature of their relationship with their new family members. Chancho found the whole process amazing, but with much of the conversation conducted in the old Algonquian tongue, his attention flittered.

  He studied the paintings on the walls, learning what he could from the story panels depicting the descent of the people from the surface to the caves below. They also repeatedly depicted the image of the beetle and the bat. With a chill he wondered if the cave dwellers tamed bats for different uses.

  His attention snapped back the conversation as it shifted to English.

  “The man on the surface. What of him?” A cave dweller asked.

  Nena put her hand on Chancho’s. “He is an enemy. You may have saved us by bringing us here. We did not expect him to be so close behind us.”

  “He is white man’s law?”

  Muddy spoke for the first time since entering the caves. “Yes. He is a Texas Ranger. He pursued us here out of no fault of our own and seeks to arrest or kill us because of a medicine and intoxicant that we carry.” He realized he did not know what had happened to their packs. “Or that we did carry.”

  The gravelly voice interjected, “We have all of your things. Nothing was left behind.”

  Muddy nodded. “It is called marihuana, and the white man is frightened by its properties. But our people, the Mexicans,” he nodded toward Chancho, “and the black Seminole. We cherish it.”

  “We would appreciate a sample. If it is so important we would like the opportunity to study the properties you speak of.”

  Chancho was still trying to catch up. “What about the ranger? Is he at our camp?”

  The man with the gravely voice interjected again, “He tried to follow us into the caves. He was well armed, so the watchman released two sentinel beetles and sealed the entrance. That is all we know for the moment.”

  “Sentinel beetles?” Chancho couldn’t help himself.

  Everyone fell quiet until finally the chief spoke. “They are one of our greatest accomplishments, our guardians. But they are very dangerous, even to us.” He pointed with his chin at Chancho’s arm. “You have met one of our smaller beetles, a pet. We use them for many things. But the largest of them are trained for defense. Half a dozen sentinels can clean a man’s bones in an hour. If two have been released at the entrance you used we will have to take you out another direction.”

  “And the ranger?” Chancho asked.

  The chief shrugged, returning to the greater topic at hand. “I am sure there is much you would like to know about us and our existence underground. There is also much we would like to know about changes occurring on the surface, but our time is short. It is unlikely the man hunting you was killed by our sentinels. When two are released it is just a warning. We have waited many months to meet you. We can wait longer to hear what you know. For now, in exchange for some of your marihuana, we would like to offer you safe passage through our caves and some simple gifts to assist you in your travels.”

  The chief pointed with his chin and the men standing around the entrance snapped into action. The man with the gravelly voice returned the travelers’ satchels to them while two others sat a wooden crate next to the chief.

  Chancho unrolled his bundle and removed a large pile of drying leaves and buds. Their pungent smell curled from the canvas, slowly filling the room. “To heighten the intoxicant and medicinal value, these buds should be dried evenly for another week.” He touched his finger to the sticky residue oozing from one of the buds. “This sap contains its richest properties. If smoked or ingested it can reduce tumors, settle indigestion or remedy pain.” Chancho shrugged and shook his head. “I’m sorry. There are many others among my people who could tell you more.”

  The chief nodded. “It is enough. During the years of peace our secrecy has bought we have developed a hunger for discovering natural properties. Many of my people, my granddaughter among them, will enjoy the mystery. We thank you.”

  He reached into the crate and pulled out a smaller wood box similar to the one Chancho had seen earlier. “This is a medical kit. It contains a salve made from guano beneficial for all external wounds. It will prevent infection and promote healing. The gauze is made from living rock and spider silk, but do not apply it directly. It will irritate in large amounts and is very rare. You will want to use this.”

  The chief reached into a small cage and pulled out a five inch long beetle, gripping it with thumb and forefinger. “The beetles have developed quite an appetite for spiders and bat guano, as well as human flesh. It is best to keep him hungry, but if you do not need him for several days you should feed him with salve. Manure of any sort will work for a spell.” He put the beetle back. “These I do not believe you have seen yet.” He pulled another wooden box from the crate and handed it to the man with the gravelly voice who took over the explanation.

  “These are our last line of defense. We have used them only once when a group of bandits persisted in using our caves.” He opened the lid of the box and revealed several dried gourds. He removed one and handed it to Muddy, who hefted it and p
assed it to Chancho. “These are filled with a paste made from cooking a mixture of lamp fuel and guano. It is difficult to make, but once it has cooled it can be handled safely, until it is mixed again with heat.”

  He indicated a wick drilled through the hard shell. “Light this fuse and stand clear. They are effective from several feet, even in the open, and more so in contained areas like a cave.”

  The three friends nodded and handed the gourd back to the man with the gravelly voice. He returned it to its case while moving the entire crate closer to Muddy. After a short discussion as to which exit the travelers would use, the chief stood to indicate the conclusion of their meeting. He approached each of the three friends in turn, formally introducing himself.

  “Now you know me. I am Sun Never Sets.”

  Nena bowed, “Now you know me. I am Nenaiquita Losoya.”

  Next Muddy replied, “Now you know me. I am Monday Sampson, known to my friends and family as Muddy.”

  Finally Chancho. “Now you know me. I am Del Rio Villarreal, but known as Chancho.”

  Sun Never Sets backed away from Chancho and smiled. “Before I became chief I was known simply as Sunny. It was what my parents called me. I am too old for formality now, so I would like it very much if you called me that as well.”

  After being dismissed from Sunny’s chambers they found themselves in a section of living cave they had not yet seen. A low table of rock carved from the floor ran the length of the narrow cavern where dozens of Kickapoo were gathered for an evening meal.

  Chancho’s stomach growled. Welcomed as family, they ate roasted bat, a hardy bread, and a paste explained as being made from beetles which tasted like ground chicken and pecans. Some members of the tribe, preferring days on the surface, were elected as farmers, hunters and gatherers. The conflicting schedules meant the evening meal was the one time of the day and night when everyone in the tribe could gather around subterranean tables to break bread. For some it served as breakfast while for others it was supper.

  Nena fetched dried fruit from their supplies. The Kickapoo received it enthusiastically. After eating their fill, everyone broke into smaller clusters, talking among themselves. Several curious cave-dwellers surrounded Nena, detaining her with questions of her heritage and life on the surface. Muddy entertained a huddle of small children by making funny faces, even before the meal finished. Afterwards they assaulted him, climbing up and down his massive frame like the trunk of a tree.

  In the midst of the after meal frivolity Chancho remained, more or less, by himself. At first he gazed around the room basking in what he considered his new family—his stomach full and heart happy. Eventually he wandered from the main cavern into smaller tributaries. Most of them ended quickly in small pools of crystal clear water or living walls covered with mesmerizing rock formations. Eventually he found a darkened corridor that tapered into a small opening with no light on the other side.

  He stooped, putting his head close until he felt the breeze created from the narrow opening. He sniffed a faint odor of sulfur and something else even more noxious. Having totally forgotten his previous anxiety for small spaces, he stuck his head into the mouth. Instantly a hand grabbed him by the shoulder.

  “Bats. It is not safe for you,” said the same gravelly voice from before. Chancho turned, standing before the man who hours ago had attacked him. Tall and slender, he could have easily been younger than Chancho, but he did not look it. He smiled, the gesture ill-suited for his hawkish face. “Now you know me. I am Rock With Eyes.”

  Chancho bowed.

  “I am sorry, for how we met.”

  “I did not know you then.” Chancho shook his head. “But now you know me. My name is Chancho.” The two men embraced and started back toward the room with the long table. “Why are the bats dangerous?”

  “It is not the bats, but the beetles, and the gas. The beetles live off guano. The guano produces a poisonous gas known as ammonia which, when mixed with water, creates ammonium hydroxide.”

  “But how have you learned—”

  “We know many things.” Rock With Eyes attempted another smile. Then he indicated the red irritation of his skin. “We have grown somewhat accustomed to the gas. I can tolerate very high amounts, but it is eventually lethal. Some of my people believe the gas is what causes our eyes to change.”

  Chancho looked more deeply into the strange yellow eyes. “Is it just the color? You know, that changes?”

  Rock With Eyes shook his head. “If any light is present at all, I can see clearly in it. My eyes are the sharpest in the tribe. It was the reason my parents named me. It is natural for me to watch.” The two men arrived back at the table where Muddy and Nena were still engaged. “But now it is time to return to the surface. The sun is rising, and your horses will not be hidden from anyone with keen senses.”

  Chancho had lost track of time and forgotten the reality awaiting him on the surface. All the chupacabras of the Anglo’s world had seemed miles away, when in reality only a hundred yards of rock separated him. Thoughts of the rinche settled like a stone in his stomach. The caves were wonderful, but he needed open space, stars at night and to feel the breeze. Still, he regretted leaving so quickly.

  They gathered their things, packing the gourds and medical kit in their bundles, and began the journey out from under the hills. For what seemed like miles of pitch black caverns they followed Rock With Eyes, until they reached a small room dimly lit with natural light. Slightly warmer and dryer, their movement kicked up a light, choking dust.

  “I cannot accompany you to the surface. It is much too bright for my eyes.” Chancho peered toward the opening. It looked to him that the sun wasn’t even up. “There is a watchman standing guard over your horses. Ask him and he will point you in whichever direction you would like.” In the dark he embraced each of them before they turned to go. “Wait.”

  Chancho squinted in the darkness as a blue glimmer emerged from Rock With Eyes’ clothing.

  “Take this. An apology.”

  The crystal blade hung suspended in the air. Chancho hesitated. “You don’t need—”

  “Please.” Rock With Eyes tilted the hilt toward him until Chancho received it with silent thanks. Before they stepped out into the world above ground, Rock With Eyes called out to them. “When you return make sure you introduce yourselves by the names which we know you. I would not want to make the same mistake twice.”

  Chancho peered toward the two glowing, yellow eyes. “Thank you, and don’t worry.”

 
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