The Unorthodox Expedition: Part Seven
Lucille Harmond pursed her lips.
Was it even legal to have those many piercings on a single ear? Really, wasn't Shem's Inn supposed to be a family place? How could the other folks even stomach their breakfast with such a horrendous sight at a corner table?
Mrs. Harmond was beginning to hate Mystery Island.
She had been eating, or, well, trying to eat an early breakfast, on a table with Sam and her husband. They should have left an hour ago, but Lucille would not deprive the crew of the most important meal of the day.
Even though the offender in question was too far away to hear her speaking out loud, the brown Acara leaned over the table and hissed to Mr. Harmond, "Would you look at that Kyrii sitting by the window, Theodore? I can count no less than fifteen rings on his ear, even from back here!"
Captain Harmond craned his neck to look past Lucille and at the Kyrii. He chuckled. "I hope you don't disapprove too strongly, dear, because that man happens to be our guide to Techo Mountain."
"Hmph!" Mrs. Harmond expressively exclaimed, stiffening up and stirring her chamomile tea. Then, a sudden thought clouded her face, and she looked at Sam urgently. "Sam, I hope you will not be too influenced by this questionable character; never, never make holes in your body for the sake of fashion."
Sam looked up from his bagel, which Ben was busily begging for, with an expression of unmarred angelic-ness and nodded serenely. Lucille was relieved, and he chuckled at the scene in private.
Meanwhile, across the room, Sebastian, Lilith, Elizabeth, and Old Phil were at their own table. Lilith was glumly sipping her black coffee. Her black hair, the most likely cause of her distress, was frizzed beyond recognition thanks to the humid weather. She, after trying to tie it up, had unceremoniously stuffed it into a second-hand bicorn hat. Perseus, on the floor, was neatly devouring some sausages.
"So, that's the guide, is he?" Sebastian inquired, after failing at rousing Lilith to conversation.
"Yes. And I had a bloody hard time finding him, too," Elizabeth said, remembering the countless doctors who had offered her their assistance.
Henry Chum, who just happened to be eavesdropping from the next table, let out a snort of laughter. His brother, Edwin, who had been tuning his precious fiddle, stared at the floor and looked uncomfortable.
Elizabeth rose to her feet, staring daggers at the duo. "You did this!"
"What are you talking about, Miss Steele?" asked Henry, immediately assuming an air of ignorance.
"Don't play dumb, Henry," Lilith said in a threatening tone. "I'm not in the mood."
"Oh, come, Miss Ferrars! You would accuse a fellow shipmate of spreading word that Miss Steele here was desperately looking for a doctor to cure her ailing mother? Really, madam, I thought you had more honor than that." He clutched at his heart and gazed at her dejectedly.
Lilith curled her lips in distaste. She liked a joke as well as the next person, but she was a proud girl, and wouldn't have any obnoxious mutant Ixi questioning her integrity. She opened her mouth to give Henry Chum a few choice words, but Old Phil stopped her with a hand on her arm.
“‘Ere, now, lass! Let's all jus' make nice. Aye, Henry? 'Twon't do to 'ave dis'greements between ourselves. Aye?"
"Aye," Lilith agreed, but if looks could kill, Henry Chum would have been breathing his last.
Later, the entire party was trudging through a small path in the jungles of Mystery Island. Thick vegetation loomed around them like vast green walls. Their guide, the island Kyrii with the pierced ears, led the group. His name was Wave, which Lucille had pronounced ridiculous. Next was the Captain, wishing he had paid more attention to his doctor when he had told him to keep in shape. Professor Cornelius Winthrop scurried after him, not because he wanted to be so close to the front of the line, but he felt it his duty to look enthusiastic about tromping about after some treasure.
Edwin Chum was behind him, so Cornelius was a bit comforted by his intimidating presence. Henry Chum came next, then Lucille Harmond, whose dress kept getting caught in branches. Sam was behind her. Perseus and Ben walked on either side of him. Then Old Phil came, leaning on a sturdy stick but looking none the worse for wear. Sebastian Duske and Lilith Ferrars followed them. Elizabeth Steele took the rear, with a hatchet drawn.
Lilith was enjoying herself immensely. The forest was beautiful! A vibrant flower or a musical petpet caught her attention, and she almost wore her neck out, turning her head to capture every image.
Sebastian watched her widened green eyes reflect the greener forest. He smiled to himself. "I've seen that look before," he said.
"What look?" Lilith asked, sparing him a glance.
"The look of a being reveling in the beauty of the world. I've seen it on my mum enough times; she was an artist, like you."
Sebastian had her full attention now. "Really? That's lovely! Was she successful?" she asked bluntly.
"Oh, yes. People would come from all over to see mum's work. She didn't like to sell her art, you see, so they would just have to settle for an eyeful," Sebastian said.
Further conversation was hindered, however, because Wave had led the group to a sheer rock face. It was framed with slithering green vines, on which bright orange flowers bloomed.
"Weeeellllll, heeeere it isss," the Island Kyrii said in a relaxed drawl, "Techooo Mount'in, juuust like we agreeeed."
"W-wait!" Cornelius said, from behind Captain Harmond. "Y-you can't mean to leave us here!"
"Ach, Idiot Professor! Don't be such an Angelpuss!" Captain Harmond said in disgust, stretching to soothe his aching muscles. "You're right, Wave, lad. We only agreed for you to take us this far."
"Oh, iiif yoooooou want me to gooo fartherrr, Iiii'll gooo," Wave said, "Buuut, yooou'll have to paaaay moooore."
"No, lad. We can go on by ourselves. Thank ye, all the same." Captain Harmond placed a velvet sack in Wave's hand. It jingled on impact.
Wave pocketed the money, and strolled away, after giving our valiant explorers a slow wave and a lazy smile.
"There's a fellow you won't catch me missing," a certain brown Acara said, briskly freeing the hem of her dress from a stray branch.
"Well, men. Onward!" Captain Harmond punctuated his sentence by thrusting his cutlass into the air in front of him, hopefully in the general direction of the treasure.
Everyone managed an enthusiastic cheer. And thus they went.
Half an hour found our valiant explorers facing the head of the famous Techo of Techo Mountain. Scraggly grass grew on its looming face, and years of exposure made the sandy-colored stone rough and cracked. It smirked condescendingly and rather intimidatingly at any who passed under it. Pests and petpets of questionable breeds nested around its eyes, giving the Techo a Jazan-like look.
"Lovely mug," Elizabeth Steele said sarcastically.
"Gather around, please, everyone!" Cornelius said. Our explorers, who had been admiring the mountain's "lovely mug", assembled before the speckled Lenny. "Ahem, well, one may conclude that the treasure we seek is inside the volcano. So, now we need to find a way in. Everyone should please look for something on the rock. A doorway would be ideal," here Cornelius paused for laughter, which never came, "b-but a panel or tunnel or something equally unusual would work just as well."
Lilith suddenly raised her arm up with a forefinger pointing at the sky, as if they were all in a classroom.
"Er- Miss Ferrars?" Professor Winthrop said uncertainly.
"Excuse me, sir, but the line in the riddle is brought to mind: Hearken, explorer, rise and then. Perhaps our goal is upward."
This statement was followed by a rather awkward pause. Everyone had expected Professor Winthrop to have the right answers; he was a professor, after all, idiotic or not.
"Good show, Miss Ferrars!" Captain Harmond said finally.
The white Lupess nodded gratefully at the pirate Bori.
"Mr. Henry Chum!" the Captain thundered, "If you would please find us a path up this infernal mountain!"
The mutant Ixi had just stepped away, when Sebastian Duske said, "Wait! What about 'hearken'?"
"Aye! The boy's right!" Old Phil said, shaking his walking-stick in the air excitedly. "Sez pretty 'pecifically on the map we got to hearken 'afore we rise."
Cornelius knew it essential to redeem himself in the eyes of the crew, so he attempted to take control of the situation. The Professor used his trembling forefinger to push his spectacles higher up on his beak, then said, "I-I think we should all quiet down, then, and try to listen."
No one heard him, though, as they were too busy voicing their own theories. Cornelius repeated himself, with twice as many stutters.
Our explorers instantly fell silent, so silent that a pin couldn't have dropped on the damp leaves without being heard. Winged petpets singing, leaves rustling in the breeze, a nearby spring flowing, the monotonous chirping of some tiny petpetpets. They listened with all their might, but heard nothing that could encourage them to rise.
This continued for quite a while, until Mrs. Harmond huffed, "This is quite ridiculous! I say we go up anyway!"
Perseus barked enthusiastically. That was just what the Seti was thinking!
The rest of the crew all agreed, more or less, so Henry Chum was once again ordered to find a path. The sure-footed Ixi trotted off.
Lucille looked up to find the sun indicating high noon. "Let's have lunch while we wait for Mr. Chum," she proposed. She removed her pack and pulled out sandwiches, which she had bullied the cook at Shem's Inn into letting her prepare, and a thermos of lemonade.
Our grateful explorers arranged themselves on the leaves and grass. Lilith started sketching a clump of oddly-shaped plants, while Sebastian looked over her shoulder in fascination. Elizabeth Steele sat on a moss-covered rock and sharpened her gleaming hatchet. Old Phil ignored the food and promptly fell asleep under a shady tree.
Edwin Chum was a bit worried about his brother. The two weren't often separated, and bad things had a tendency to happen to one while the other wasn't there. To calm his worries, Edwin pulled out his precious fiddle and played his favorite song. It was one his mother used to sing. The tune was low, haunting melody.
Our explorers' pleasant picnic was cut short, however, by an ominous chittering sound from beyond the clearing.
"Wh-what is that?" Cornelius asked, trying and failing at rising bravely to his feet to face the danger.
"Shh!" Lilith said, succeeding where he failed in standing.
Elizabeth Steele jumped to her feet and scanned the trees, looking for the source of the noise. It grew loud enough to awaken even the half-deaf spotted Gelert napping under a tree.
"Weapons at the ready," Captain Harmond ordered, in an overly calm tone. "Lucille, take Sam and head around the mountain, to the left side. Edwin, guard them."
The crew swiftly obeyed his orders, while the source of the noise was revealed. Chumablahs entered the clearing, and masses of them.
They, themselves, weren't so bad. Annoying, yes; but not very frightening. The hordes of Reptilliors, however, managed to ignite some concern.
Reptilliors are fatally venomous. The serpentine creatures writhed and slithered over the grass with deadly speed, right at our explorers. The Chumablahs gave unearthly shrieks and launched themselves into the air, falling quickly, as their wings were too tiny to carry themselves very far. They continued on in odd little hops and leaps that would have been comical, in any other situation.
"Attack, men! We will not be overtaken by glorified Slorgs!" The Captain slashed at the nearest group of Reptilliors.
Elizabeth Steele was shooting the pesky Chumablahs with frightening accuracy, occasionally turning to the ground the swipe at some Reptilliors with the hatchet in her other hand. Sebastian and Lilith stood back-to-back. He was wielding a chipped saber, and Lilith had the ornate Shenkuviaan sword from Threelegs. Edwin, with a heavy cudgel and a heavier fist, was effectively defending Lucille and Sam. Perseus took a defensive stance before the rather dazed Old Phil. He snapped viciously at any petpets who came too near.
Cornelius stood to a side dumbly. In his hand was the dagger Elizabeth had pushed at him, which he was unknowingly holding the wrong way. Oh, if only he had become a squire like his brother! Then he might have known what to do in this situation. George was right; he was a spineless Gobbler!
Lilith turned from the Chumablah she had just speared. "That would explain the noise," she said to Sebastian, referring to the creature's loud claws. She paused to swipe at some Reptilliors. It was odd, she thought, to have so many Reptilliors in one place. The animals were mostly solitary, with the occasional two or threesome. And, while deadly, they were rarely aggressive. Chumablahs traveled in groups, called murders, but she had never heard of a murder of a hundred before. And there were never reports of the two species travelling together.
"Watch out!" Sebastian leaned around her and deftly parried a Reptillior's bared fangs, dangerously close to Lilith's leg.
Lilith gasped. "Th-thanks."
The shadow Kougra grinned.
Before the two could go back to their strategic fighting, an odd, warbling scream was heard.
Lilith blanched. "Sam?" She could only imagine the horrors that might have happened to her little friend.
She abruptly tore off through the grass in the direction of the sound, breaking the formation and leaving Sebastian to fend for himself. She was running too swiftly for any Reptillior to try and attack her.
The sight she met was not the one she had expected, though it was nearly just as bad.
Edwin Chum, the compassionate musician, was on the floor, choking on the air. On his left forearm were two distinct, tiny holes.
His large body spasmed as the venom of a Reptillior spread through his circulatory system.
To be continued...