Awen: Tongue of Flame

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Calamity

'Everyone run!' Kelly yelled.

The kid's mother froze in a panic until Kelly ushered her out of the way.

Swooping into action, Hal realised that there was no time for the backboard after all. Throwing it aside, he began to drag the kid out by his shoulders.

Jensen leaned over the gap in the car window, ready to help pull them both out. 'Not me, Jensen, get him first, will you?' Hal pleaded. He did, and after passing the child over to his mother, he dashed back to help Hal.

'Take my hand!' Jensen called. Hal reached out, the tips of his fingers scraping along the length of Jensen's forearm as he sought to grip firmly. Jensen hissed through gritted teeth, as he pulled with all of his might, and Hal pressed his palm hard against the crumpled metal of the car door.

Breaking free of the wreck, Hal got to his feet, and they all ran like hell.


They managed to bundle the lady and her kid into the back of the wagon. The others had barely climbed in themselves before Hal pressed his foot down on the accelerator aggressively.

'Damn it; we aren't moving fast enough. We need to ditch our load; Kelly flip the switch!' Hal ordered.

'Load is... gone.' she confirmed a moment later.

They were already travelling at a nimble pace, and so when the cargo container was disconnected, it skidded violently across the road. Sparks of intense light shone brilliantly behind them, as it catapulted into a tree. The wagon repeatedly swerved, as Hal attempted to evade the explosion of log debris which was showering all around them.

'What a loss.' Jensen brooded.

'I know Jensen, but take a look up there. I think that we have bigger fish to fry my friend.' Hal reasoned.

It was so warm. Jensen rolled the window down again, being overwhelmed by choking toxic fumes. He immediately covered his nose and looked down into the footwell.

There was no respite from the heat, and sweating profusely, Jensen dared to look back up. 'The tyres are melting, for crying out loud, they're melting!' Hal wailed.

Gazing back through the rearview window, Kelly noticed a blackened trail where vulcanised rubber was breaking off upon contact with the sizzling road. 'The tyres aren't melting! This is just what happens to the rubber on a hot day.' she replied.


'It's time to go off-road people. Hold on to your boots; we're almost there.' he announced. Hal could find joy at the most unusual times.

The truck impacted a soil ridge, forcing them off of the road. They tumbled like an autumn leaf into the looming woodland, before unceremoniously crashing back to the ground. It was fortunate that they didn't care about the truck's suspension, as there wouldn't be anything left of it after this perilous detour.

'Eyes out everyone, according to the map, this cave of ours is supposed to be nearby. I'm braking! Hold on, again.' Hal said.

'At least he told us this time.' Jensen mumbled.

Intriguing rock formations could be seen up ahead. It could have always been a mirage though; a betrayal of the mind.

The wait was agonising. Squinting eyes accompanied slouching backs, as they all tried to see further into the distance.

'Over there! I see…' Kelly began.

Fire.

Flash fires began engulfing the surrounding forests, and whips of swirling flames lashed out at them repeatedly. They could no longer see anything if ever there was a hell, this was it.

Under the control of Hal, the wagon broke frantically. Unable to slow down enough, it shot into several large jutting boulders. The vehicle spun through the air, before crash-landing, bouncing wildly onto all eight wheels. Despite their best efforts, they were sliding towards another cluster of rocks up ahead.

The vibrations of grating metal could be felt through the flooring, as Hal stomped his foot on the pedals with force to no effect. It was an ominous sign; the brakes were no longer working. The only thing that was slowing them down was the friction between the rich, sinking soil and the truck's giant wheels. They clipped another boulder, and the tumbling vehicle ground to a halt.


There was no movement at first until Jensen coughed.

A thin trickle of blood streamed down his right cheek, and a throbbing headache threatened to consume him. A faint buzzing sound filled his ears, and the world around him kept spinning out of control. Massaging his temple, Jensen felt a protruding egg-shaped lump.

'Are you okay?' an incoherent voice asked.

A strange blur of a figure began merging into something tangible until a familiar face appeared at last, and Jensen smiled at the man.

Standing over him, Hal looked worried when he did not receive a reply. 'Are you okay?' he repeated.

'I'm just peachy.' Jensen groaned.

Hal shook his head; the sarcastic reply had not escaped him. 'How about the rest of you?' he asked.

'We're still here.' Kelly replied.

'Everyone out!' Hal shouted, ushering them into the gloomy darkness, their heavy breathing sounding eerie amidst an enveloping silence. The occasional chirp of a bird or the growl of some other creature was more jarring to them than the fire, as startling screams echoed throughout the land.

'Ouch, my foot!' Jensen yelped.

'Jensen, stop screaming!' Hal whispered.

'The ground is scolding though!' Jensen replied, rubbing the heel of his foot.

'Then, don't touch it!' Hal groaned.

'That would be a neat trick boss; I can't exactly hover.' Jensen mocked.

'I can't see a damn thing!' Kelly complained.

'Not you as well.' Hal sighed.

Their search was proving to be hopeless.

'Where are these caves that you were talking about earlier Sir?' the rescued lady asked Hal.

Kelly acknowledged the lady first, though. 'What's your name?' she asked.

'Rachel, my kid's name is Connor.' she replied, gazing over at her son.

'It's nice to meet you officially Rachel, and you too, Connor. I realise that this is a little terrifying, just a little mind you, but the caves are supposed to be around here somewhere...' Kelly began, before being cut off by the clatter of a massive explosion in the distance.


'This world's falling apart and we are looking for a damn cave!' Jensen cursed.

A murky fog band lay low over the landscape, and as they crawled forward at a snail's pace, they struggled to navigate the terrain. The scent of burning wood also lingered with them.

Looking back, they realised why. The raging fires which they had barely escaped, could be seen scouring the once lush greenery.

Twenty minutes had crawled by, and Hal was now carrying Connor. The others were still frantically searching behind ancient shrubbery and giant trees for an elusive cave entrance. Meanwhile, the surrounding blazes were getting much worse.

'Over here!' Jensen announced.

The cave entrance was somewhat hidden, yet it was within reach. The rocky summit appeared to climb up and beyond the thickly veiled sea of fog, and there would be no clue as to just how expansive the caverns were inside.


There were no apparent sources of heat or light, as they continued to fumble their way into the cave mouth through overgrown vines and tree roots. Soothing cold stone provided a welcomed comfort to swollen feet though, and the chilling air was already relaxing their overworked lungs.

'Damn, my head hurts.' Jensen cried.

'We know, just be grateful that we aren't being cooked alive.' Hal replied, laughing.

Jensen fell to the floor. 'I'm shivering now! I need to stop.' he pleaded.

'It's just your body trying to compensate for the loss of heat. Alright, five minutes. Going back outside, is no longer an option though.' Hal reminded him.

Five short minutes later, they sauntered forward.

'It's like time has no meaning down here.' Jensen commented.

'I agree; it is surreal. Still, it would be for the best for us to keep some form of record.' Rachel chimed in.

'Are you volunteering?' Kelly remarked.

Rachel grinned. 'Sure, why not?' she replied.


'Mom, where are we going?' Connor asked Rachel in a calm voice. Rachel, in turn, looked to Hal, there was already an unspoken bond between them, perhaps because they both had children.

'Hello bud, you know, you are incredibly brave, I'm proud of you, and so is your mother. We need to look further inside, have you ever been camping?' Hal asked.

'Well, my dad used to take me camping in our garden sometimes, he would say that I could be a scout leader one day. I like the adventure though.' Connor replied eagerly.

'Your dad is right kid, we're all on a big adventure, and we need your help. Do you want to help?' Hal asked, he somehow knew what the kid would say.

'Yes sir!' the kid replied, performing a dramatic salute. The sheer effort that Connor went to brought a lasting smile to his mother's lips. If anything were going to get them through this hell, it would be laughter.

Connor took the lead, with Hal and the others in tow, heading ever deeper into the heart of the caverns. A strange green coloured luminescent moss covered the interior walls of the cave, and this was to be their only source of light it seemed. If the situation outside was not so dire, one could truly appreciate the exquisite beauty of the natural phenomenon.

There were no signs of the great fires that once plagued them, and there had been no further contact with the outside world either. They had no answers, and the only hope that they could hold onto was the untold mysteries lying within these deep caverns.

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