Erik, the brave soul that he is, led ahead with me tagging behind. I took the map from my pocket examining it once more as we strode.
Pausing momentarily, Erik briefly asked as he looked over his shoulder,
“What’s so important on that map? It’s nothing but a blank parchment to my eyes.”
“Clues. It’s a magical map for the Keeper’s eyes only but so far, the first two have led us to the traps behind us so where this next one leads or has us do, is a mystery to me.” I revealed.
“Well since I can’t read it to help you figure it out, what does it say? Maybe we can figure it out together before we reach it.”
I looked at Erik for a moment knowing I could trust him, so I explained. The third and final black X appeared with what looked like a bridge symbol, followed by the last riddle beneath it which I read out loud,
ACROSS THE BRIDGE...A TRAVELER FLOWS...WHAT WAS ABOVE...IS NOW BELOW.
“I wonder what that could mean.” I said.
“I don’t know but I guess we’ll find out soon enough, huh?” he replied.
“Maybe it’s a pit full of…rats.” I teased.
He paused once more, as he turned to me. Leaning in, he whispered,
“Maybe it’s a pit full of…bugs.”
“I hate you.”
“I know.” he smiled knowing I didn’t mean it, “Now, come on.”
We again counted our steps amounting to twenty-two when we entered a large cavern, revealing a huge pit in the ground with no apparent bottom. There were no edges or ways to cross except for a decrepit iron bridge tiled in a checkered-grid-like pattern; attached by rusted clamps and bolts. The bridge itself was made of iron girders hung by iron chains secured on either side of the bridge’s length, fastened through metal rings suspension style. Leading into the darkness ahead,we didn’t notice the obstacle that laid before us. Even with the high beam flashlights.
Erik cautiously examined the bridge’s rickety construction as we advanced slowly.
Grasping onto the iron chains with gloved hands we carefully walked across the bridge which swayed a great deal more as we grew closer to the middle. Erik noticing something out-of-the-ordinary,halted quickly.In the center where the bridge should’ve been connected, was a thirteen foot gap due to a collapse of this fifty foot long bridge directly above the pit below.
Knowing I couldn’t possibly jump the distance, I asked Erik who studied our surroundings shining his flashlight around, figuring out a way across to the other side where he could see the ledge,
“Do you think you could jump that, cause I know there’s no way in hell I could.”
He looked down at me momentarily, replying as he focused ahead of him,
“Maybe. That’s it?”
“Well, can’t you use your vampire...transport thing that you do?”
“Unfortunately not in here. Iron, remember? It′s everywhere, limiting my abilities. Sorry. I wish I could tell you otherwise, Keeps.” then he examined the ceiling of the cavern noticing chains hanging, once holding the bridge in place among crumbling cave stalactites.
“You’re right.” I whispered, “Sorry. It’s effecting me too.” I felt dizzy.
Old age had crept up on the chains causing them to rust; eventually breaking.One chain in particular unaffected from rust hung closer to the bridge, within easy grasp.A hook still attached to its end must’ve been connected to the broken bridge. Erik reached out grabbing hold of it and as he did, it lowered itself at least two feet. Startling Erik for a moment he thought that if pulling on it once more, would break it.
“Hopefully this chain will be strong enough so we can swing over to the other side. It’s only thirteen feet. We can make it easily.” Erik said as he tugged on the chain testing its weight, then reassured me of its strength.
“Hopefully?” I replied.
Placing the flashlight in his pocket, he grabbed onto the chain. Taking a deep breath after a quiet cough, he stepped on the curvature of the hook giving himself a good jump, swinging over the gap. Having to swing his body once or twice gaining momentum, he barely made it to the other side. Even someone as fit as Erik, this was very difficult. Roughly landing on the ledge, he sighed; relieved he made the swing. He examined the area using his vampire vision, taking notice the area was clear of future obstacles or pits.
“Erik!” my voice echoed.
He turned to me,calling over before he swung the chain back in my direction,
“It should be strong enough to hold you too! Do what I did and I’ll catch you on this side! Just give yourself one good push and swing! I’ll catch you!”
“How romantic! But if I fall and die, I’ll haunt your ass! Besides...you’re still stronger than me even without your vampire teleportation or speed!” I replied tucking my flashlight and map in my pocket, before he swung the chain.
Erik nodded carefully, pushing the chain strongly toward me, watching as I carefully grabbed hold of it, without slipping off the ledge.
I stepped closer to the edge doing the one thing I shouldn′t have done...looking down to see nothing but blackness staring back up at me. I glanced over at Erik taking in a deep breath. Stepping onto the hook and off the ledge,I gave it all I had. Unfortunately not good enough for I didn’t quite make it to the other side falling short a few feet. Erik couldn’t reach out to grab me or he would have fallen off the bridge himself. I swung back and forth a few times trying to get to the other side but it just wouldn’t work out that way. Even though it wasn’t the appropriate time to joke around, I just couldn’t help myself as I blurted out, having my voice echo,
“Oh, you’ve got to be kidding me!F*** me!”
“Yza...swing your feet and move your body back and forth to get enough movement and swing over to me!” Erik hollered out, “Think of it this way...take all the energy it takes to mouth off at me, and transfer it into your movement!”
“I’m going to forget you said that!” I snapped.
Well, I tried again and...I swung the other way. Oh come on, this just wasn’t my day. Erik not meaning to started laughing but managed to say through his laughter as he gestured his hands out in a beckoning motion,
“Yza...come this way! Not that way, over here...over here! Not...not over…” he continued while I kept swinging the other way.
I kept trying to swing my body in his direction but felt the weight of my foot slipping from the hook; followed by the sound of the chains squeaking. As I looked up at the ceiling, I could see the chains were beginning to un-link themselves bit-by-bit until the most unexpected but expected thing happened next. The chain links broke causing me to lose my grip sliding down the chain. Upon that occurrence, bats flew from their habitat, hiding among the stalactites. They swarmed around the cavern, adding that unsettling attack by cave vermin.But thankfully once I slid down the chain, I reached out, grabbing onto the edge of the bridge on my side.
“Keeps!” Erik hollered out, “Are you alright?”
“Do I look all right!?” I replied as I tried pulling myself up but to no avail because there wasn’t anything sturdy enough to grab onto except for iron grid, which were too small for my gloved fingers to grasp.
I held on as tight as I could when the grid started loosening due to the rusty iron bolts being pulled from their fastenings. Glancing at both sides of the grid, they were loosening more and more, and poor Erik was frantically trying to find a way back over but couldn’t find one.
“Yza!” Erik’s voice echoed, “Hang in there. I’m going to come and get you. Just hang on...” he searched for a way to swing back over.
“IF ONLY THERE WEREN’T ALL THIS DAMN IRON EVERYWHERE.” he thought, “DAMN IT!”then he began feeling more weakened and tried to fight off the effects, as he began to stumble.
Before I could reply, the worse that could happen at this moment, occurred; the bolts popped from their places.
“Erik!” I shouted as I fell twelve feet straight down into the blackness of the hole below.
Falling, I released a deafening scream which I’m sure all of Scotland heard. I landed hard on my back knocking me unconscious and for how long I didn’t know. Thank God I landed more on my side, shielding me from the impact of the fall, or I would’ve broken my back. The iron grid that fell with me, bounced away as it landed. Stalactites fell among the chains and grid but crumbled once hitting the ground around me.
Marxus paced worrying when he heard my screams coming from the cave. Sarah jumped up at the sound asking fearfully as she stood,
“What was that!? A banshee!?”
Marxus didn’t answer as he kept his eyes fixed on the cave’s entrance. “I HOPE NOTHING HAPPENED TO THEM. I′LL NEVER FORGIVE MYSELF. PLEASE, BY THE HEAVENS...KEEP THEM SAFE.” he thought, “MARXUS, YOU FOOL.WHAT HAVE YOU DONE!?”
Hearing my scream, Zanz frantically tried pulling free from his chain leash and after a few strong attempts, he successfully broke the leash from his harness. He ran straight into the cave catching everyone off guard. Thomas hollered out as he stood, underestimating Zanz’s powerful strength,
“Where’s he going!?” Jonathan asked.
“He’s going to her.” Marxus replied calmly.
“Now I’m worried.” Jonathan said.
“Me too.” Anthony added, “We should go in there and help them.”
“No!” Marxus affirmed, “This is her quest, and Erik’s too.”
“And what’s that!?” Jonathan yelled, “Those are my best friends in there and our future Keeper!”
“What are you doing, Marxus!?” Thomas argued, “They’re kids and you’re putting them in danger. Again!”
“If you won’t go in, Marxus...then we all will.” Anthony stated firmly as he stood before Marxus, “Are you trying to kill those two young ones!? Your purpose is to train her. Not harm her! And that’s exactly what you’ve done. To all of us!”
Marxus didn’t reply as he gave everyone his word of assurance that everything would be fine and they should worry more right now about the rain, explaining the cave could flood.Peeking their heads out of the cave’s opening, dark treacherous clouds began rolling in rather quickly.
Moments after, the rain started to pour in torrents.
Everyone grabbed their bags climbing onto the stone platforms to keep themselves dry. The rain flowed through the middle trench, turning into a flood in just a matter of minutes but didn’t cause any major damage or puddles.But as it flowed deeper into the cave...that’s another story.
Zanz made his way through the cave as his eyes adjusted to the darkness, sniffing the ground catching our scent.He came across the first trap; still activated. Not knowing what to do, he backed away watching the spikes fly from one side to the other.He laid down hoping it would stop when he noticed the space underneath. Being an extremely intelligent animal to begin with, he judged the measurement of the space, realizing he couldn’t squeeze through. Becoming nervous of the bolts falling to the ground, he paced jumping in place, when he suddenly and unknowingly, stepped on the stone, deactivating the first trap. Watching as the bolts had stopped, he stepped forward, sniffing at them then ran through. The water from outside began rapidly flowing in as his feet grew wet. He ripped off the wet booties and ventured on, catching my scent.
Once making it through, he came across the wall of fire. He jumped continuously, nervous of how he’d get past this obstacle. He whined as he spun then; a male figure appeared; face blocked by shadow. Zanz glanced up at the figure, listening as the man spoke to him in an ancient tongue while pointing toward the fire. Zanz whined then released a guttural growl once the man disappeared. Zanz shook his fur before backing away. He howled as he ran toward the hot flames, leaping straight through them as if the flames had no effect. Once landing on the other side, his fur was singed as he steamed before shaking it off. His leather harness had snapped from the flames that melted it away. He stood there, holding his head back releasing a powerful and deeper howl, then caught my scent leading through a narrow tunnel.
Minutes that felt like hours passed and I started regaining consciousness. I heard Erik’s frantic voice calling out my name repeatedly. Opening my eyes, I turned my head upward, seeing his head peeking over the edge of the bridge along with the beam from his flashlight. Moaning in discomfort, I turned my head away. Before shutting my eyes, I caught the glimpse of a tall figure standing above me to my right. Trying to mumble for help, the figure knelt down; face shadowed from the lack of proper illumination. His voice was soft and soothing. I tried making out his words but they faded as I began closing my eyes. However although I couldn’t understand his words verbally, I heard his voice enter my mind,
“My dear, lovely…I can not help you now for I’m not allowed at the moment, but you must fight. You must be strong. You’re not alone. You’re not going to die. Not here. Not now. Not today.”
The figure reached out his left hand, gently stroking my cheek before disappearing.
Hearing howls coming from the tunnel we passed through Erik looked up,observing Zanz coming through the tunnel and onto the bridge; water flowing in from behind him and into the pit below. Surprised, Erik hollered over,
“Zanzabarr!? What are you doing here, boy!?”
He barked in response as he searched for me. Walking onto the bridge toward the edge he glanced down, seeing the faint outline of my figure laying there unconscious. Zanz didn’t have to think about what to do as he just jumped down into the hole landing on his feet right next to me. He whined a few times giving a few licks on the face and nudged me, trying to wake me. He looked up at Erik who frantically tried searching for a way down to rescue not only me but now Zanz. Unsure of the stability of the ground below, Erik hesitated jumping in himself for he was afraid of killing us. But seeing Zanz risk his own safety and the ground’s stability, he breathed deeply before leaping down.
The water level in the pit rose, causing me to float slightly as well as supporting Erik’s weight.
Landing, he caused a splash due to the waist high water, but that didn’t stop Erik from pushing through over to where I floated. He put his arm around my waist pulling me close resting my back against his chest, while laying my head on his shoulder, keeping my head out of the water. Poor Zanz swam around trying to find a place to climb up on when he spotted a large cutout in the wall to the left. Swimming over,he climbed up finding the cutouts were natural stairs leading up and out.
Zanz howled as he jumped in place.
Erik pointed the flashlight toward the wall.
“Good boy, Zanz...good boy.” he muttered.
The water level now chest high, began making things harder for Erik to hold me and swim toward the stairs when I began coming to. Managing to get to the wall, with Zanz helping by grabbing my left coat sleeve, he and Erik sat me up on one of the steps, so I could cough out any water that might have filled my lungs.
After coughing and moving strands of wet hair out of my face, I opened my eyes seeing Erik standing chest high in water and Zanz sitting to my left.
Looking around remembering what had happened, I questioned,
“Erik!? What are you...Zanz...how are you...ugh, what happened?” I held my hands to my head, due to the pounding headache I was now feeling plus a sore lower back and hip.
“Never mind. I’ll explain later.” Erik replied, “Right now we have to get out of here before we drown. Can you move?”
“I have a headache. I’m not an invalid.” I snapped then realized my tone, “I’m sorry. I didn’t...”
“Don’t worry about it. You’re in better shape than I am right now.”
“I don’t know about that. I feel sick.” I mumbled, “I think I swallowed the iron tainted water.” I coughed.
“I know. There’s a lot of iron to last us a life time. It’s soaking through our clothes and skin so let’s get out of here…now!”
Zanz barked as if agreeing with Erik then turned, jumping on the steps leading up and out. I climbed up slowly after him with Erik following directly behind me, moaning in discomfort.
“You better not be checking out my ass, right now.” I said as I continued climbing up.
“Right now, I wouldn’t dream of it.” Erik replied, “Well, on second thought...”
Erik!” I shouted out, “Not now!”
He grew a quick smile as he followed behind me, letting out a cough or two.
Crawling onto the dry ledge, we laid there momentarily on our backs; Zanz laying next to me. We took in deep breaths as I turned my head, looking at Erik who laid there with his eyes closed breathing heavily. Things were silent as we both sat up when I broke the silence,
“Erik...thank you. I owe you big time.”
“Yeah.” he replied with a cough, “You will and I’ll be there to collect.”
“Are you okay?” I asked as I stood.
“Me?” he argued as he too stood, “I’m the one who should be asking you that question. Come here and let me check you.” as he then gently examined my forehead and the back of my head as well as my face, from which he removed a few more strands of wet hair.
There was a moment when we stood there staring into each others eyes. I watched as his eyes and fangs revealed themselves at the sight and scent of blood that escaped from my head wound due to the fall. Zanz stood behind Erik, growling aggressively alerting Erik to let go. He turned away in disappointment as he tried fighting off his urge. He stood with his back to me then turned and mumbled as he noticed I stood in place shivering; teeth rattling in the process,
“I’ll be fine.” I replied, “You’re shivering just as much as I am.” I put my hands into fists tucking them under my arms even though I wore my gloves. I tried concentrating on using my heated aura, but knew it wouldn’t work at this point. Damn Iron!
“I think we should make a fire so we can warm up before continuing on.” he informed as he searched for something to start a fire with.
“I’ll be fine. Let’s just go on ahead, get this over with and get the hell out of here.”
“God damn it, Keeps!” he shouted, “I’m trying to help us here and you’re not making it easy by being a stubborn little pissant!” then he paused, catching the tone in his voice was demanding, “I’m sorry. Please, Keeps…just listen to someone else for a change. Stop being strong all the time.”
I nodded as I turned away, knowing he was right. I’m not a super hero that has answers for everything or can DO everything on my own. I know my limits and this is one of them. He was genuinely trying to help. He was a man; taking his stand as one and that, I admired greatly. Zanz on the other hand, wasn’t as cooperative.
I stood back with Zanz, watching as Erik strolled over removing a few old wooden planks off the bridge on this end. He crouched down, laying them in a pile; breaking pieces on his left knee creating smaller shards.Laid in a crisscross pattern, he raised his gaze toward me and commented as he gestured toward the hope-to-be fire,
“Do you think you can…maybe…demon out and spark a flame?”
“No more than you can teleport us out of this God damn cave.” I answered softly, “Sorry, but my mind can’t focus on anything other than this headache and I’m not a fire starter.”
He nodded as he stood.
“Just thought I’d ask.”
Kicking at stones near by with his feet, he located two large enough to spark the flames. Kneeling down, he ripped at the hem of his shirt once more, using that as a flint to start the fire which started within a matter of minutes.
Sitting close enough to it, I asked Erik where he learned that trick. He proudly revealed that his father taught him after running out of matches to light his fireplace. Nothing spectacular.
The fire provided just enough warmth. While Erik worried about me, I was worried about him because I could seethe iron was beginning to take its toll on him. As he gazed into the flames, I could see slight shadows under his eyes. I turned to Zanz who continued shaking water from his wet fur, before laying alongside me near the warm fire. I wondered how the hell Zanz made it past the flames and as I petted his drying fur, I noticed singed tips.
“Oh, boy…you couldn’t have…” I mumbled, “it would’ve been impossible.”
He leaned in, giving my face a quick kiss before laying down. He released a low mumble before closing his eyes, taking a deep breath.
We removed our boots, jackets, gloves and over shirts, leaving our undershirts, pants and socks on. Glancing over at Erik, I noticed his arms, neck and face were slowly healing from some sort of burns. Looking around at all the water splashed from our escape, I realized. Studying Erik’s facial expressions of discomfort as he examined his hands, I knew then, he would have sacrificed himself for me if he had to.
“Erik...” I whispered as I sat closer to him, “what happened?”
“Nothing, I’m fine.” he replied, “I’m healing. Slowly, but I’m getting there.”
“Not fast enough, though. You’re getting weaker aren’t you? And don’t lie to me.”
“Never mind me, love. You don’t look too good either. You’re too pale.” he observed.
“Well, for you…it’s burning your skin, while for me…it’s the opposite.” I complained, holding onto my abdomen, feeling painful nauseous cramps, “It’s destroying me on the inside.”
He looked into my eyes and I could see the kindness and warmth in his diminish, replaced with extreme fatigue and dullness, as if his life were being drained. This wasn’t the beautiful healthy vampire I met. His head hung low as he turned away. Knowing what he is and what he needed, I took a chance in my next actions. After quarreling back and forth about it, Erik finally gave in and agreed to feed on me, just enough to heal him. Not completely, but enough. But what’s enough for a vampire?
“You have your choice.” I said, “Wrist, neck, or shoulder?”
“I don’t want to do this” he argued, “I’ll be fine.”
“God damn it, Erik…here!” I held my wrist out.
He glanced at my wrist but decided on my shoulder. Pulling me toward him onto his lap, he gently and sensually slid the strap of my tank and bra off my shoulder. He stared at the veins running through my neck and upper shoulder.
“Whatever you do, Keeps...stop me before I take too much.” he whispered.
“I’ll have Zanz bite you...how about that?” I answered.
“Mm.” then he gently bit down, sinking his fangs into my skin.
Wincing at first from the sting, after a few moments, I felt nothing. I guess the allure of the vampire really takes hold when they sink their fangs into you because at this moment, I felt an almost sexual attraction toward him; almost euphoric. I stared at the ceiling then down at Erik’s shoulder and arms, seeing his skin had healed. I dug my fingers into his back, before I began feeling a weakness come over me; a sign for him to stop. After calling out his name and receiving no answer, I snapped three times signaling to Zanz, who immediately ran over, biting at his leg. Sinking his fangs through his jeans, Erik released his grip hissing in the process as he turned, facing Zanz, letting out hisses of aggression while Zanz retaliated, snarling and slathering his jaws; ready to attack Erik if needs be.
After hearing my voice Erik turned observing me leaning forward; head low.
“Keeps?” he worried as he crawled over, “Oh, God...what did I do!?”
“I’m fine.” I whispered as I stared up at him, “Oh, look...you...look better.” and hearing Zanz’s continuous snarls, I turned, “Zanzabarr...that’s enough! Back away!” but he wouldn’t listen so I shouted out firmly, “I said…back away, now!”
Continuing to growl, Zanz lowered his head as he walked over laying beside me, keeping Erik in sight.
Things were silent for a while as we attempted to regain our strength. Erik suddenly however, in between my upheaving from the iron water, crouched over holding his hands to his stomach. He frowned in discomfort, feeling a burning sensation; a vampire’s sense of indigestion but something more intense. A vampire can drink any blood type, except that of lycans and other vampires, without sickening effects, but I wasn’t fully human.
“Erik...are you alright? What’s wrong?” I worried, gently touching his shoulder.
He pulled away, snapping as he turned his head up toward me; eyes leering in fear and distaste,
“Don’t bloody touch me...just...don’t...” he held his hands out toward me, as if to leave him alone, “What kind of demon are you and if you wanted to kill me, just behead me already!”
“I...” I stuttered, for I became speechless for I was seeing a side of him that couldn’t be hidden behind his charm and charisma. The arrogance he lashed out the day we met was once thing, but this was rage and superiority, “Fine...” I continued then backed away; feeling a sense of judgement toward me on his part, and that of an underlying fear.
“I’m done with all of this...” Erik whispered under his breath then glanced over his shoulder, “I can’t...” then he stood and turning around, I stood inches from him. He knew I must have heard his complaint for even a whisper echoed through the dead silence of the cavern, “Keeps, I didn’t mean…” he knew how it must have sounded.
“No, I get it.” I frowned before stomping out the fire, “I’m too much...too much for you...too much for Marxus...too much for anyone! I GET IT!” my voice shouted before releasing a deep sigh; faint steam emitting from my petite form, as well as tears building in my eyes.
I turned away, reaching into my pocket for the map; nothing but a pile of wet paper in my hand.
“Sh*t...” I muttered, throwing the soggy pulp toward the ground.
“Great.” Erik huffed knowing what it was, then glanced at the ceiling, “Well…since we don’t have the map, we have the compass right?”
“Yes but in case you haven’t noticed...there aren’t many places to go from here!” I snapped, gesturing around.
“We’ll just have to look around and see if there’s another tunnel or something somewhere. We need to get through this and make it to the end before we both die!”
“Sounds like a plan, because I’m never offering again.” I muttered. ” Especially after your reaction.”
Erik stood silent for he had no further words to say that could correct his behavior.
We searched the area when Zanz alerted us he found something. Aiming our flashlights, there he stood in the entrance of another tunnel leading away from the pit behind us.