Chapter 39: Mystery At The Waterfall
Read all the chapters here. Enjoy!
Previously: After learning the location of one of the devastating spell’s crystals, Madnes and the group with him entered the forest and found the crowv village where it must be hiding. But in the midst of investigating, a new mystery pops up: a mysterious illness that has been following crowv villages for years. They call it “bad luck” if you venture outside the village perimeters, because that’s where it lurks. But what is it, and how does it follow the crowv? Madnes Hatter and the prince must find out!
“Right then!” Cheshire clapped his paws together. “Spread out and search the village for the crystal,” he told their group, “but no venturing outside it. We don’t know if the illness poses a threat to non-crowv or not.”
As the motley group dispersed, Madnes tip-toed away, but not before a sharp “Madens!” from the cat caught him. He turned a fraction. “Where do you think you’re off to?” demanded the feline.
He put on an impish smile and winked, “Off to get into trouble, of course. See you later!”
With a hand firm on his hat, Madnes sprinted away from sight. “That—!” Cheshire’s whiskers trembled as his furry cheeks puffed out, exasperated. “Why do Madness Solvers never listen?”
Madnes peeked one eye around the mossy bark of a pine, trailing the prince as he followed a crowv guide beyond the village perimeters. The forest slopped downhill, a stumbling terrain of hidden boulders and gnarled roots. After a whiles walk, the crowv came to a stop and turned toward the prince.
“This is as far as we should risk going, My Prince,” he bowed. “The river is close, the bad luck is near.” His neck turned like a nervous bird, watching their surroundings.
Oz nodded lightly. “Yes, you should go back.”
Oz raised his hand in a gesture for silence. “I command it,” he said. “Do not worry. I will not put myself at unnecessary risk. But I do intend to locate the source of this illness that’s been taking my people. That is the job of a ruler, to take care of their subjects, is it not?”
The crowv stared at him, jaw working for words but finding none. “Now, go,” ordered Oz. “Leave the rest to me. I will return before nightfall.” The overwhelmed crowv bowed, and with reluctance slowly made his way back uphill.
“Quite a show of bravery there, going off alone. Or is it that you can’t stand being around people for too long?” Madnes jumped from behind the tree, landing two feet from Oz. He watched Oz’s face turn from surprise to anger and pure annoyance.
“Do my claws need to come out and slice that nose off which seems so terribly fond of sticking itself into others’ business?”
“Ha!” Madnes strolled past the prince, folding his arms and raising his chin high. “As the Madness Solver, it’s my job to solve mysteries and promote peace,” he said. “I plan on solving this case, with or without you.” He stumbled over a rock, and had to lower his chin to watch the ground.
Oz hissed through his teeth, slick-back hair falling into his eyes. “I’m solving it first!”
Madnes gave an impish chuckle and dove headlong down the forested hill.
“Oh no you don’t,” Oz shouted, chasing after him. “I’m not letting you beat me!”
Laughing and taunting all the way, Madnes nimbly kept ahead of Oz. Until the rush of water reached his ears, and he scrambled to stop. Oz plowed into his back, and they both spilled out of the forest’s brush and onto a sandy river bank.
Madnes strained to raise his head, Oz’s weight on top of him. The river? Oh…uh-oh. They weren’t supposed to have come this close. He struggled to rise, and Oz deliberately took his time getting up—pushing off his back so Madnes got a mouthful of sand.
He scrambled up, spitting, ready to grab Oz from behind and lay a handful of sand all over his neat hair, when he noticed Oz freeze. Madnes moved up beside him to catch what he was looking at, and saw bones: A stretch of skeletons littering the river bank, as far as the terrain would let them see before the river curved around a rising rock cliff.
Madnes stepped closer, inspecting the bones. The surfaces were black, and eaten away as if by dripping acid. “The illness…” Oz murmured behind his left shoulder. “Or is it?” Madnes questioned, “Can an illness follow a village around?”
The prince straightened, and spread his black wings with a rustling flap.
“Wait—take me with you,” Madnes quick insisted.
“As if I’d carry your sorry backside around,” Oz snorted, and lifted off. Before he got more than a foot from the sand, Madnes grabbed his ankles and wrapped his arms securely around the crowv’s knees. “Let go, you backstabber!” Oz flapped above the bank.
“Stop bringing up the past, and fly!” Madnes countered, top hat tilting. “Check beyond that cliff.”
Muttering something bitter under his breath, Oz flapped up into a glide and swung around the cliff face. The river’s length halted abruptly at the foot of a steep waterfall. Madnes narrowed his eyes, focusing further, and could make out something like a cave behind the water’s cascade.
He voiced his findings to Oz, who then lowered them to the nearest bank. He released his hold, and landed on the sand. “For the record, not agreeing with you on every subject when we were kids isn’t called backstabbing,” he huffed, and readjusted his hat and damp bangs.
Oz barked a laugh, dripping sarcasm. “Is that what it was to you? You ran away from me when I needed your help most, and you don’t call that betrayal?”
Madnes kicked at the sand, turning his back on the crowv. “I’m sorry you took it that way, but you were acting strange. I was a scared child…all those crazy things you were saying…”
“Things that were true,” Oz’s tone grated. “And you didn’t bother to let me prove them!” Hands struck Madnes in the back, knocking him to the ground—getting a mouthful of dirt, this time. “My mother went missing, and you could’ve helped me save her. It was your fault!”
“How cwan you bwame mwe?” Madnes growled around the dirt and hand pressing his head down. “That illness kwilled her, not mwe!”
Oz’s breath snarled by his ear, but before he could say more, the ground below them rumbled…and cracked open.
Madnes took in a breath of mixed dirt and air as he tumbled, headfirst, into an opened sinkhole, black like a chasm beneath them. Gripping Madnes’ coat, Oz tumbled in after—dragged along with him into sudden darkness…
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This is my entry for this week’s #BlogBattle challenge by the wonderful author Rachael Ritchey, where the challenge is to write a short story based on that week’s chosen word. This week’s word was: “Chasm.” Check out the link, read other great stories there, and VOTE for your favorite 3 to win!
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