Chapter 13: The Descent
Kerri took a deep breath. Looking up, she saw Tiponi watching her and Mahasani off in the distance, silently running his fingers over the feathers of one of the giant eagle wings.
“I need to get my team out of here,” she told the kind-faced Hopi woman. Then she turned to Mahasani. “Which way did you go when you went to speak with Darren? What direction is his camp.”
“I will show you,” Tiponi said quickly, cutting off a sharp negation from Mahasani before beginning to argue with him in a rapid tongue. Kerri didn’t recognize the language, but she thought she could pick up the cadence of the southwest, mixed with what she thought must be Hindi, and even a hint of Latin.
Finally, after a sharp word from Mahasani, Tiponi turned and strode to the other side of the small home, jerking a bone-handled knife from a leather sheath against the wall. A plume of white ash followed in its wake, nearly obscuring the flash of an obsidian blade, and Mahasani’s tirade faltered.
She spoke once more, tone one of firm resolve before slamming the knife back home and turning to Kerri. “I will take you.”
Kerri blinked hard against the double-brightness of the snow-covered ground. Tiponi emerged behind her, pulling a fur-lined hood over her black hair.
When they reached the edge of the village, it was to find a frantic search in progress, her team trying with rudimentary hand gestures to communicate with the few tribesmen who had come out to assist.
One of the supply team caught sight of her and rushed over, skidding to a halt on the snowy ground. “Kerri!” he panted, “Jim’s been screaming for you for the last twenty minutes. Where’d you go?”
“Getting the rest of the story,” she answered, taking in the harried look of the team rushing up to her. “I’ve gotten in touch with Jim. There’s been an incident.”
She took a moment to fill the team in on what had happened, explaining it as Darren losing his grip and turning to hunting humans. For brevity’s sake, she left out any involvement of the Unnamed and Darren’s possible were-morphing into some unknown animal. Then, to avoid any skepticism that might hinder their progress, she showed them the screenshot of Todd, earning her three pale faces and two loud vomits into the snow.
Tiponi took the lead after that, escorting them to the edge of a tall rise and stepping out onto a precarious sheep’s trail down the mountain.
“Who is Mahasani to you?” Kerri asked quietly as she edged along behind Tiponi, keeping easy pace with the Hopi woman, quietly thankful for the frequent hunting trips her father had taken her on growing up.
“He is my father,” she answered, confirming Kerri’s earlier suspicions. “And also my machistu.”
Kerri frowned, not recognizing the term. Perhaps some variant of magister?
“My mother was born of the Hopi nation, and she was called to give herself to Cold Mountain after hearing the legend of the Unnamed. It happens that way sometimes, the calling. I was born to her and the Mahasani several years later and became his student as I grew.”
The Mahasani… So it was a title, rather than his name. A sharp scuff drew Kerri’s gaze behind her as one of the supply crew caught his balance against the sheer rock wall. He turned his head to the sky with murmured supplication before inching on. Grimacing in sympathy, Kerri turned back to Tiponi, who was traversing the narrow rocky path with the confidence of a mountain goat.
“Kerri, you there?”
Kerri brought her glove to cup over the receiver in her ear, blocking the rush of wind as she tried to listen. “Jim?”
“Kerri, we’ve lost visual on Darren.”
“We’ve still got audio,” he hurried to assure her. “We can hear him rustling around in the woods, but he reached up and covered the camera a second ago and he hasn’t let up yet. We think he’s carrying it around in his hand for some reason. He was by Todd’s firepit not two minutes ago though, so you’re still good on time. Bugout is idling ready for whenever you get there.”
Kerri worked to calm her pounding heart. “…Ok… Ok, we’ll make it there.”
“I’ll let you know if we get visual back on Darren.”
“Thanks,” she answered, then relayed Jim’s message back to the rest of the team. Tiponi, hearing her words, furrowed her brow and increased her pace down the narrow trail.
Soon, the trail widened out and the way became easier. Darren’s feed came back after only a few minutes, though Jim couldn’t tell her exactly where he was, but he promised to let her know as soon as he recognized Darren’s surroundings.
Tiponi led them through a dense spruce grove and then shimmied between a gap in two large rock faces. Kerri slid on in her wake, feeling invisible eyes on her as the narrow pass hid them in deep shadows. Emerging onto a tall rise on the other side, Kerri looked down and breathed a sigh of relief.
Darren’s camp was just visible in the distance below them, the Bugout boat a bright beacon on the edge of the lake. Twenty minutes, tops, and they would be out of this place.
“We’ve lost him again, Ker,” came Jim’s voice in her ear. “I don’t know why he keeps going dark, but I’ve got Search and Rescue headed up right now. Holly and Dr. Gillis are safe at Bugout, we’re just waiting on you guys now. You make it to the boat and you’re home free.”
Home free… “I hear you. I’m in sight of the camp. We won’t be long.”
“Good. I’ll breathe again when you’re all out of there. Then we can figure out what to do about Darren.”
“Yeah, me too.”
Kerri relayed Jim’s words again to a wave of relieved sounds from the team.
Tiponi, though, frowned again. “He is playing with you.”
Kerri looked over at her, standing at the edge of the rise. “Sorry?”
“This ‘Darren’, whatever he was before, the Unnamed is changing him—turning him into something that enjoys games.”
Kerri felt the familiar burn of anxiety ice through her veins as she looked out over the camp. “Well, he’s too far away to cause us any trouble. If we hurry, we’ll be long gone before Darren makes in anywhere near his camp.”
Tiponi pressed her lips together but didn’t reply, keeping her eyes on the clearing below them. Not speaking, she moved off again into the dense trees.