Danica gestured kindly to the serving girls she would pocket the ants for later in case she became ’snacky’ on the way up to the cave.
Carlos laughed softly to himself as he overheard.
Each of the trio was dressed in comparable hiking shoes, denim shorts and long-sleeved light cotton shirts with wide brimmed caps for sun protection. They spent a good five minutes spreading bug repellent and sunscreen on in thick coats.
While Danica slept in the sleeping bag beside him, Hayden had spent the morning cleaning his weapon and spraying on gun oil. He knew a clean gun could be the difference between life and death.
Carlos had thrown their equipment pack over his back, adjusting his coat collar to avoid being dragged down on his throat, shifting the handles high to his right shoulder to support the large amount of weight.
The trio gave themselves one quick look over and moved towards the tree line.
The Elder was waiting for them at the camp’s border, two warriors at his side, one holding a spear while the other was carrying a wooden stump, likely the same one from the night before and ready to be placed at a moment’s notice.
The trio nodded a greeting to their host as he and his men returned the gesture.
A third warrior slipped suddenly from the trees, brushing remnants of dirt and mud off his lower legs. He came up alongside the stationary Elder and whispered something in confidence.
The Elder upon hearing looked up and gestured for Hayden to approach.
The Elder explained. “It appears we underestimated the giants. They’ve already reached the cavern entrance. Based on the time it took my warrior to reach us to relay this news, they have an hour head start.”
“I can’t believe it.” Danica noted, her shoulders drooping at the news. “All of this for nothing.”
The Elder seeing Danica’s displeasure waved his hand dismissively. “Fear not. They have already taken the first wrong turn. As indicated, the cave system is vast. By the time they figure out they have gone the wrong way, it will be late afternoon. And presuming they take all the correct routes in their back tracking to find the entrance, they still will be behind your party by at least a day. And with the….” At this the Elder scowled. “Map from the chamber… You should be at the island before sundown. Trust me when I tell you, your night’s rest will be the difference between success and failure.”
“Half way by late afternoon?” Danica turned to Hayden in dismay. “It didn’t look that big on the model to….”
Hayden cut her off. “Unlike our current maps of today, the chamber did not come with a scale. I presumed the possibility existed the cave could be much larger or smaller than the map portrayed, but we couldn’t be sure until we were actually within it. Remember, whoever crafted the map did so from memory. In such cases, design tends to take precedence over size.”
“It doesn’t matter.” Carlos interjected. “We already planned to descend it and we, well more me, knew it would be a long way down. But I should point out; the longer we sit here debating its size, the smaller the lead we’ll have, so it’s best if we get going.”
The trio nodded their understanding amongst one another.
The Elder bowed one final time, followed by his warriors, all of them sharing a wish of good fortune.
Within a few minutes, the trio was on their way, their goal line getting closer and closer, the camp shrinking behind them.
Over the next hour, the trio walked, sometimes jogged, over a weather beaten path pressed hard by time and exposure through the trees and shrubbery. The route before them was somewhat hidden by plants and leaf-filled branches so unless you were looking for it specifically, the trail would seem only a commonly used animal track.
Eventually, by the bottom of the next hour, the trio reached their destination.
The stone wall housing the cave to the lost island.
As they approached, the jungle arbour formed a large canopy over their heads, with thick heavy branches from decades of growth, recently trimmed for maximum development. The greenery shielded them both from the heat and rays of the rising sun, but also curious eyes in the skies such as low flying helicopters or planes.
Nature took good care to cover this cave and the tribe did their best to maintain it.
It was a massive stone wall. It consisted of one single boulder, fifteen feet in height and a good thirty feet long. It was pushed back into a large dirt mound which buried the rock completely from the rear. Trails of dirt framed the rock structure to all sides with long tendrils of plant life and foliage which had proliferated all over the front forming a beautiful tapestry of coloured flora, individual vines and flattened leaves which further hid the surface beneath it.
Hayden could not see a single etching, design, painting or picture drawn on this rough layered rock. “It appears the tribe does not decorate this particular location.”
Danica was confused. “Why’s that? If this island is so sacred to their tribe, you’d think this wall would be covered with ornamental paintings and decorative pictorials.”
Carlos turned to them both. “Unless they don’t want the cave entrance to be found.”
Hayden agreed. “If someone came along looking for something, anything, the lack of symbols here would deter a more thorough search. Even a single pattern not natural to its environment would have any archeologist, such as me, stopping for a better look, if only to examine it to dismiss it. And one picture, no matter how minuscule, could quickly lead to finding the cave entrance.”
“Something the tribe would very much like to avoid.” Carlos noted.
Danica stared at the rock wall. “So where’s the entrance? On the other side?”
Carlos stepped forward and seemed to sink into the stone, the wall appearing to close around him like the grey rock had melted and poured in and around his body. Amazingly, the cave entrance was hidden at an angle to the rock itself, making it seem like it was a solid structure with no opening or deviation. A natural optical illusion if you will.
Danica’s mouth dropped slightly open, which she closed immediately to prevent it being intruded upon by insects.
Hayden whistled. “Now that’s impressive. If I’d not been looking for it, I’d never have found it.”
Carlos looked downtrodden for a second at Hayden’s remark. “I was equally as impressed with it too when I first saw it. So much so, I detailed the specifics of it in my journal.”
Hayden and Danica understood Carlos’ displeasure. His description would have allowed the Thornes to find the invisible cave portal along the rock face much easier as a direct result of his personal and written historic walk through memory lane in his diary.
Carlos lowered the equipment bag from his back and placed it upon the ground. In seconds, he had unzipped it from top to bottom and laid everything out for the taking.
In minutes, the trio were each wearing a solid helmet, leather work gloves, pads for both knees and elbows and a wool jacket. Cave walls could be sharp and unpredictable so any protection would be important.
They all took a selection of rock climbing rope, two coils at a hundred feet and one at fifty. Hayden and Carlos carried the longer rolls while Danica attended to the shorter one.
Each of the trio carried a small fanny pack on their waists, equipped with screw link carabineers, two long frame descenders and matching ascenders, anchor rigging and a small hammer with claw.
For vision, each of the trio was sporting a pair of the double flashlight headbands, not unlike the ones Hayden had used in the chamber with Danica. As she found them far preferable to flashlights or lanterns, since both were hands free and they could be quickly hooked onto the helmets, she had specified the devices to her father. Based on their brightness and focused directional beams, she felt they were perfect for cave exploring. All three of them packed replacement bulbs and lithium batteries.
Carlos found the double lights amusing as he fastened them to his helmet. Looking forward, he felt like an automobile with headlights.
Hayden suggested night vision goggles on the plane, but Danica declined the idea indicating if the Thornes did come upon them unaware, the last thing they needed was the disadvantage of having their eyes blinded at the Thorne’s arrival by the backlash of light into the goggles, turning them into easy targets.
Hayden acquiesced as he had no desire to be trapped in a cave system blind with the Thornes and the Horror.
Finally, they each strapped on a small backpack which included protein snacks, trail mix, bottled water, vitamin supplements and extra ammunition. In each of these packs, they individually carried their own selection of personal accruements, with Hayden having archeological picks and brushes, including a digital camera and Danica sporting her medical kit which included research and sample recovery cases, glass slides and a selection of scalpels, syringes and surgical gloves.
Carlos was happy with his shotgun, nothing more and all his ammunition. “This time, I shoot first and ask questions later.”
Hayden and Danica were okay with that, especially with the unknown Horror awaiting them below.
Hayden posed the question. “Since we can’t take this Horror off the island, how do we expect to get the miracle to the world before the Thornes?”
“Simple.” Danica said, sounding more confident than she believed. “We know for a fact the tribe has confirmed that whatever it is on the island that provides for the miracle of rapid healing and long life can be stolen from the Horror. So we need only to find out what it is and take the miracle for our own, leaving the Horror behind.”
“Logical assumption.” Hayden accepted, but thinking, ‘Easier said than done as the tribe refused to divulge how they take the Horror’s precious gift in the first place.’
“Plus,” Danica smiled as she considered this. “The Thorne’s still think the treasure is the Fountain of Youth. Though they know the Horror guards the prize, and are intrinsic to the power, they don’t know the Horror in fact carries it.”
Hayden fastened and clipped the last of his gear around his waist. “Then let’s get this little wagon train on the road.”
With that, the trio entered the cave.