Here is the second half of Quest for the Dragon’s Kiss. If you don’t know what I am talking about check out the link for the first half and then come back for this half. If you know what I am talking about then read on. The story takes a turn for the weird, maybe or not… I don’t know but no matter how we look at it this is the end of the mess at any rate.
So um, ya, um, read this…
In the Valley
The last light of day fell over the mountains in the distance. With camp set Jane could tend to her brother in the privacy of their tent. Guards were set to watch over the camp throughout the night. Terry worked into the rotation, asked to be woken for last watch of the night.
“We are close now, Jack.” She wiped his brow with a wet cloth. “You just need to hold on for a couple more days. I will give you the flower directly when we find it.” He moaned in response, more communication from him than she had heard in days.
A knock on her tent pole broke the silence. “Are you still awake?” Terry asked.
“Yes come in.”
“I want to apologize,” he said. “My attitude hasn’t been the best lately.”
“This trip has been tough on all of us. But it will be worth it. Soon, it will be worth it.”
“I do hope you are right.” His hand brushed across hers. “We paid a huge price to make it this far.”
“I know. But look at Jack. How can we deny him this chance?”
“He is your brother, this is true. But most people would have given up before now.”
“I can’t just let him die.”
“You should get some sleep. Tomorrow will come soon enough.”
“I know,” she said. “Would you hold me?”
“Are you sure that would be right?”
“I don’t want to be alone. I just need to know that someone will be near.”
Jules shook them awake. “They’re all gone,” he said.
“What do you mean?” Terry asked.
“The natives, they left in the night,” he said. “They killed Kimbai and staked him to a tree.”
Terry jumped from the cot. “Show me.”
Blood oozed from the slice in Kimbai’s neck. Tent stakes held him up, hammered through his hands into the trunk of a tree.
“Madness,” Terry said. “Why would they wait till we were so close to the valley?”
“Fear eats at the heart of men.” Jules pulled the stakes from Kimbai’s hands. “We should bury him. The smells will bring in predators.”
“Let’s do this quickly then,” Terry said. “The longer we wait the worse this will be.”
Jane and Terry carried the stretcher while Jules cut through the underbrush. Slow going but they pressed on despite the hardship. The distance from the crest of the hill into the valley below deceived them. Through thick jungle underbrush travel took longer than expected.
“We are almost there,” Jules called back to them.
Terry said, “We should have turned back.”
“Not when we are this close,” Jane said. “I will see this through to the end.”
Jules broke through the underbrush; with the open valley before them they no longer fought through jungle. Jane and Terry stopped beside him.
“Finally,” Jane said. She set her end of the stretcher on the ground. “I need a breather.”
He wiped sweat from his brow then said, “There is a pool of fresh water a short distance from here. We should resupply before we make camp.” Jules picked up the free end of the stretcher.
“We are in your hands,” Jane said.
The sun beat down on them, but the crisp cool water from the small lake refreshed Jane’s tired feet. She refused to strip down any further, claiming their shortage of time. Jules assured them that the grove of flowers would be close.
The jungle heat affected Jack’s body in an unexpected way. His fever broke, his skin felt chill. His breathing steady and strong, Jane grew distraught that he might turn for the worse at a moments notice. Jules mentioned that it must be pollen from the Dragon’s Kiss rejuvenating him as the crept closer to the source.
They saw few animals in the valley. Terry complained that they scared them off as they smashed through the brush. He kept his rifle close and ready at all times. A few times he mentioned to Jane that he felt a strange touch to the air. Though still a feeling, Terry claimed there was a predator near by.
Jane sifted through several photos she kept in her cargo pocket. “What colors are prominent on the flower?”
“We seek a black and yellow flower with petals similar to a rose.” Jules said.
She held a photo for him to see. “This is the flower correct?”
“Yes that’s it, that’s it exactly.”
“I think I saw some flowers similar to this over there.” She pointed off to the left near a small pool of water.
“Stay here,” Jules said. “I’ll check it out.” He set the end of the stretcher on the ground.
Terry set the other end down as well and unslung his rifle. “I don’t like this.” He sniffed at the air. “Something is strange in this valley.”
“I think you are paranoid,” Jane said. “You’ve been like this the whole trip.”
“Some things are not meant to be discovered by man.” He sighted the scope in on the back of Jules head. “The price for this ‘cure’ has been to high already.”
“The guide knew what he was getting in to.”
“It is more than that and you know it.” He aimed the rifle toward the tree line. “This hasn’t gone anything like you expected, the whole trip.”
“The jungle is treacherous,” she said. “Anything can happen.”
“What is the real reason? There must be more to risk this much.”
“I will do anything to keep my brother alive. I thought you understood that.”
“Madness,” he said. Terry swung the rifle around, the barrel pointing at Jacks head. “Let me end his misery now. We can all go home.”
“You would do this now? Now when we are so close to the finish?”
“I have done everything I could to make you turn back. Instead you chose to push forward with this mad plan.”
“What are you saying? You are the one who has gone mad.”
“Do you think it was easy to kill Kimbai? The fool fought like a lion. Then to drag him back to the camp and nail him to that tree…”
“You are mad. You would doom us all with your madness.”
The barrel of the gun sited in on her chest. “I did all but plead with you or drag you back to civilization to convince you of your foolishness,” Terry said. His finger wavered on the trigger, the slightest nudge and death would meet her the the span of a breath. “I can’t take you back with me at this point. You would never follow me. But I can’t let you go either.”
“Put the gun down, Terry,” she said. “The heat has brought you to madness and lunacy. Put the gun down and go for a swim. You will feel so much better.” She watched the war waged across his face. At any moment he could pull his rifle’s trigger and his look of confusion would be the last thing she saw. She refused to break eye contact, refused to give him that last permission to end it all.
“One.” His eyes held hers but they didn’t look at her. Instead they looked past her, into the distance, the area where they last saw Jules. “Two…” He never reached three.
At first Jane hadn’t realized what she heard was the report of a pistol. She still watched Terry and saw the red swell blossom at the center of his chest. She never felt the white heat of a bullet cut through her body. She released the air from her lungs and felt her torso before she looked down to find it devoid of damage.
The rifle lay beside Terry where he had fallen to the ground. Jane turned to her brother and saw the smoking pistol in his hand. He said something, though Jane wasn’t sure what. At first she thought her hearing might be gone but then realized that he lacked the strength to speak loud enough for her to hear. She leaned in close, her head on his chest. Whispered words, “I… never… trusted… him…” she barely felt his chest rise and fall.
It wasn’t long before Jules returned with a few flowers in hand. “What happened here?” he said.
“He’ll be out for the rest of the trip,” she said. “Personal reasons.”