I feel a little remiss right now. It seems ages since we have had some good old fashioned adventure. Let me tell you it doesn’t get much cheesier and strange than a good old fashioned trip through the jungle.
But then I might be getting ahead of myself.
Anyway, what you are about to read is the first half of a longer story. I am going to cliffhanger you. I am telling you upfront, it’s going to happen. But never fear, the second half is only a week away. Mind you, you could skip all the pain of not knowing what’s going on till next week, but where’s the fun in that?
Quest for the Dragon’s Kiss
“You… knew … this … day … would … come…” His voice was little more than a whisper. Milky eyes looked through her, if she was in his sight at all.
“Hush,” she said. “You need your strength. Please get some rest, for me ok.”
No answer, lost to the pain again. His open eyes focused on nothing in this world.
“How much more of this can he endure?” she asked. “It was a mistake to bring him.”
“Even as he approaches death, Jack is hard headed. Would you deny him this last chance?” Terry’s gaze swept from the man on the stretcher back to Jane.
Jane turned away from the emaciated figure on the stretcher. “I just wish there was something else we could do for him.”
“This is the last chance,” he said. “If we can’t find the root here in the source jungle, he is gone anyway.”
“Why must you always be so melodramatic, Terry?”
“It’s the truth isn’t it?” he said. “We knew this coming here, right?”
“It doesn’t mean I want to believe it.” She checked her watch, as she paced around the stretcher. “Where is that jeep? They should have been here by now.”
“They’ll be here. We paid good money for this expedition. The guide has worked for my family for years.”
“I still don’t like it. This is a fool’s errand and you know it.”
The rumble of two military issue HMMWVs broke through the still air. “I think that may be our ride now.” The vehicles pulled up along side their equipment. One a four seater, pulled an equipment trailer. The other was a med wagon.
“Terry, is that you?” A tall man stepped out of the first vehicle. Dressed in khaki cargo pants and expedition jacket, he was the poster child for clichéd adventure.
“Jules, fantastic seeing you again,” Terry, said. “Are we all set then?”
“If this is your gear, we can get it loaded and be on our way,” he said. “This must be the special case.”
“He’s my brother.”
“Ah, forgive me. Miss?”
“Jane, Jane Wainwright,” she said.
“A pleasure Miss Wainwright.” Jules took her hand in his and kissed her knuckles. “I meant no offense.”
She pulled her hand away. “He needs to be handled with the utmost care,” she said. “He is stage four Krelt Disease.”
“You hope to find the Dragon’s Kiss then?”
“We were told you were the best,” she said. “You had the highest record for finding the flower.”
“This may be true. But the flower is at the end of its season,” he said. “How much longer does he have?”
“The last doctor to examine him gave him a week. That was five months ago.”
“A fighter,” he said. “Good. He will need to be here.”
They left the HMMWVs at the edge of the jungle when they moved to the river. A rough trip for her brother for sure, but it had to be done. The site they traveled to had no roads. The boat ride was only for a day, Jane was sure they would be ok.
They slept on the boat, Jules assured them that the wild life ashore would smell her brother. His weakness would draw them in for an easy meal.
It was the mosquitos that drove them mad. The constant buzz and incessant bites drew fits of slapping. “How much longer?” Jane swatted the mosquito that bit into her arm.
“Jules said it would be another day by boat,” Terry said.
The rocking boat soothed her brother. Jane could not remember when he slept so much. The dull hum of a gas-powered generator in the cabin next to the sick bay sounded much the same as the mosquitos to Jane. “I hope he will make it that long. This heat is unbearable.”
Terry stood behind her rubbing her shoulders. “You should relax,” he said. “The flower will be there and we will save your brother.”
“Quit humoring me. This is a waste of our time and you know it.”
“It doesn’t matter. This is what he wanted.”
Someone knocked at the door. “Relax, I’ve got it.” Terry unlatched the door and opened it. “This better be important.”
A native stood there holding a rolled up parchment. He offered it to Terry and then held out his hand showing his palm. Terry took the paper and moved to close the door.
“I think he is waiting for a tip.”
“Non-sense. What would a wild man care about money?” He shut the door in the face of the messenger.
The note bore a wax seal, a crest that Jane recognized as the Count of Grennalm. “Strange for this to show up out here. How do you suppose it came to us?”
“The boat captain has trained pigeons. I was expecting this,” she said. “I sent a pigeon off three days ago.”
“Under the best of conditions that should have taken weeks,” he said. “This must be something else.”
She broke the seal and unrolled the letter. Written in Moravian, she knew Terry would not be able to decipher the flowing script. She folded the paper and slid it into a breast pocket.
“Well, what’s it about?”
“Curious, I am not entirely sure.”
“Read it to me. I may be able to help you.”
“Not yet. This will require some thought before I am ready to share.”
“Fine, don’t tell me then.” He sat in a chair at the end of the bed.
“Don’t sulk, Terry. It doesn’t suit you in the least.” She stepped toward him, but he left the room shutting the door behind him. “Sometimes he can be such a child,” she said to her brother. There was no response.
The rain stopped. Beams of light shone through the trees, at first warm and refreshing, reminded them that they were afloat on a jungle river. Terry avoided the issue but she knew that the letter upset him. Or more to the point her refusal to discuss it with him did.
They were not lovers, not yet anyway. But he made the advances. While she cared for her brother it was easy to rebuff him. Things change, what she would do if Jack passed on, she avoided the thoughts.
Through all of it though, he professed friendship for her first and foremost. His new tact troubled her. She asked Jules to put a watch on her brother when she could not be there. Just in case.
“We should have a good spot to make a landing soon,” Jules said.
Jane glanced at Terry on the foredeck before answering. “So we are getting close then?”
“My native guide, Kimbai thinks so,” he said. “It may be a hike to reach the clearing but we should make it before nightfall tomorrow.” He pointed at the hand drawn map on the table between them. “This spot here, this is where I have found the Kiss before.”
“So close,” she said. “Why does it feel so far away then?”
“Relax, this is not my first time into these jungles.” He packed tobacco into an ivory pipe, then tamped it down.
“Your confidence does little to reassure me.” The jungle felt closer to her in the sunlight. “You did not have a sick man to carry on your previous treks.”
He puffed on the pipe, lighting it with a match. “True, but I see that as little more than a minor obstacle. My team is the best you can assemble for this.”
Kimbai spoke with Jules in hushed tones. The attack left them with four porters. How they survived with only the one death, Jane might never know. The beast, she had no other word for it, tore the head off the native. A sight she hoped never to see again.
The ungodly beast was hideous. Scaled leather skin and teeth, pointed like daggers and just as long. Terry did his job though. It took three shots from his elephant rifle to take the beast down.
Jules broke away from his conference with Kimbai. “The natives are afraid. I don’t say that I blame them,” he said. “Where there is one wildebeast there are always more.”
“We can’t turn back. My brother won’t survive.”
“At this rate none of us will survive.” He wiped at his brow with a kerchief. “Let me talk to him again. I might be able to get him to change his mind.”
“Do what you must.”
“This is madness.” Terry joined her after Jules left to speak with Kimbai again. “Are you hoping to kill us all?”
“Saving my brother is what is important here. These beasts are rare at best.”
“You can’t lie to me about this. I heard what Jules said.”
She smiled at him. “Are you telling me, big hunter, a few forest creatures scare you?”
“That isn’t what I am saying and you know it.”
“No, I don’t know it. All you have done since we left the boat is complain.” Her stern eyes burned into him. “Have you lost your nerve?”
“Fool woman, you will be the death of us.”
“I have convinced the men,” Jules said. “Forgive me, have I interrupted something?”
A soft smile crossed her lips. “Not at all. Terry was just telling me that he hopes to move on soon.”
“Let us give the men a little more rest. We shall be underway shortly.”