Chapter 17: The Chasm
An hour later and whatever caught Desòchu attention didn’t look any more promising than the Wind’s Teeth. It remained just a smear on the desert, a ragged line of darkness that hinted at something else.
However, he couldn’t walk away. Something drew him closer, like a whisper in the back of his head that refused to get loud enough to understand. It called to him, urging him to keep walking even as the sun dipped below the horizon and shadows stretched across the sands.
His bare feet ached and burned. He was going through a patch of fine sand that clung to everything. It caught the scratches and cuts along his body, irritating them as they nestled into the drying wounds.
Desòchu slowed down and turned to look at the Wind’s Teeth again. They were further away and even less of an option.
A whisper caught his attention. He turned back toward the dark splotch. He had to know what it was. There wasn’t enough light to jog so he started trudging forward, moving steadily through the fine sands that made every step a struggle.
He panted and grumbled. With a thousand little irritations and the growing anxiety that he was heading nowhere, his mind returned to the familiar thoughts of anger toward the clan and his brother.
By the time he was only a rod away from the dark spot, he had worked himself up into a fury. Grumbling under his breath, he was lost in the memories of the many times Yutsupazéso refused to give him a break from Rutejìmo that he almost walked off a cliff. Only a cool breeze and a prickle of danger stopped him from taking the last step.
A surge of adrenaline rushed through him and he stumbled back. His aching feet caught a ridge on the ground and he fell back, landing on the sand with a thump.
With his heart slamming into his ribs, he couldn’t move for a moment. Sweat prickled along his brow but the rapidly cooling air quickly evaporated it.
“Shit,” he finally said, his throat sore from ranting earlier. He spotted a bit of fog from his breath, it was getting cold rapidly.
Desòchu waited until his body calmed down before he scrambled to his hands and knees and crawled over to the edge of the cliff. Peering over, he looked down expecting to see inky darkness.
To his surprise, there were streaks of blue and green light everywhere behind him. It looked like a stream of water, except the colors were solid and there were no waves. He stared in shock as his mind tried to measure out the distance to the bottom of the chasm and failed.
It wasn’t until he shifted to the side that he could identify the colors that were painted on the sheer walls of the chasm and which ones were at the bottom. It looked like it was only about seven or eight feet deep, maybe a foot taller than himself.
Desòchu drew back. What was he thinking? Crawling down into an unknown chasm because it had lights? He looked around at his dark surroundings. Compared to the light in the chasm, it felt like he was standing in the void while looking into the world.
He shivered at the thought and stood up.
A whisper tickled his hearing. He spun around but there was no one. He glanced at the chasm, it almost sounded like it was down below.
Desòchu shook his head and stepped away. No, he couldn’t go down there. He scrambled up to the top of a nearby ridge and peered around, trying to find the Wind’s Teeth to head there.
Despite the crescent moon, the three spires of rocks weren’t visible in the dark. No matter what direction he headed, he would be risking his life by traveling blindly.
“Damn, damn all of those goats.”
When faced between the dark and the light, he realized he had to stay near the chasm. Grumbling, he carefully worked his way down the dune toward the ridge. This time, he walked slower and slower until he spotted the light. He continued forward until he stood at the edge, staring down into the lights below.
He felt like he stood on the edge of the world.
Gulping, Desòchu took a step away and then considered his options. Not seeing an obvious way down, he turned to his right and followed the edge carefully.
Every step made him feel like he was about to plummet into the chasm but it was better than the pitch darkness around him. He carefully scanned the depths, looking for a spot that he could climb down. A ladder would be nice, if he had his option.
His opportunity came about an hour later when the side of the chasm had collapsed creating a scree that lead to the bottom. The greens and blues were partially obscured by the gravel but he could see where the glowing colors had started to crawl over the mound.
Carefully, he worked his way down. Compared to the fine sands and gravel, the sharp rocks were uncomfortable against the soles of his feet and his bare hands. Thankfully, years of walking around the valley had toughened the calluses on his feet and the effort to reach the chasm floor was only a discomfort.
At the bottom, the source of the glow became obvious: small glowing plants, none of them more than a half inch tall covered every surface. The air was moist and icy, the ground soft and damp. He breathed in the delicate scents; the sweet sharpness was unlike anything he had smelled before.
Desòchu gave a hesitant step. The ground was soft and damp, not quite wet. It also wasn’t sand but something else, something more pliable than rock or sand or gravel.
Warning stories told over the campfires told him that he should be worried about stagnant water but he couldn’t see anything pooled. He half expected a stream, like one that came out of the water tuns in the valley, but he couldn’t find any.
Fear prickling along his skin, he started his way down down the valley back in the direction of the Wind’s Teeth. He wasn’t sure what he would see, but he was hoping for something to parch his thirst or at least something to use as shelter for the night.
He didn’t get more than a three chains—only a couple hundred feet—before a crunch behind him startled him.
Desòchu spun around, his eyes wide and his heart pounding.
The ground thudded underneath him, the vibrations shaking through his legs.
He reached out and planted his hand on the cliff wall, his palm crushing the glowing plants underneath.
Another crunch followed by a thud. Something in the chasm seemed to be moving toward him.
He glanced over his shoulder and then back.
It was still moving. Greens and blues wavered back and forth, revealing a skull-like head with black holes for eyes.
“Shit,” he whispered to himself. Turning on his heels, he sprinted down the chasm. As he ran, he crushed the glowing plants underneath his feet and the wet sucking noises of his steps echoed against the walls.
Underneath him, the ground continued to shake in steady, thudding waves.
He didn’t slow until the sounds faded and the thuds in the grounds were just quivers. Panting, he scanned the cliff walls for any place to hide. The sheer walls didn’t offer any.
Desòchu had to turn and fight. He started to scan the ground for a weapon to use. To his surprise, he spotted both a hand-sized rock and a hollow niche in the wall at the same time. Swearing under his breath, he snatched up the rock and got a firm grip on the moist surface. The glowing plants smeared across his skin, the glow turning his flesh black in contrast.
He shoved himself into the crack in the cliff. It was tight, narrower than his shoulders, but he was able to cram himself in with the rock in his hand ready to strike out.
The sound of thudding grew louder.
Desòchu tightened his grip on the rock, holding it so a sharp edge was exposed like a blade. In his mind, he prepared himself to slash out. He didn’t know if it was a creature or man, but he wanted to make sure he would win the fight.
A few rocks fell on his head.
He held himself still, his breath coming sharply. He realized he was making too much noise and tried to breathe through his nose but it was still painfully loud in his tight confines.
Wanting to silence himself, he tried to bring his other hand up to cover his mouth and hands but it was trapped in the rock.
Rocks crunched and rolled. The earth shuddered underneath him.
Then a snort.
Desòchu’s fear subside slightly. It was just a creature. He could handle that, it would be scared. He forced himself to take slow, deep breaths despite the pounding in his ears. His fingers ached from holding the rock.
The shaking grew louder and overwhelming.
He began to worry. Was it slowing down? Had it already passed? He shivering with anticipation as he fought the urge to look.
The sound of cracking noise startled him. And then a hot blast of air rushed past him.
He clamped down on his lips and held his breath.
Large horns swayed as they passed him, then a massive head of some sort of steer. It looked like one of the oxen the Fijimòsu had used to deliver wood and supplies to the valley. The green and blue plants had clung to the creature’s hair, painting it with the same colors as the chasm. The only part that was black was the eyes. The empty space was dark as night.
Then the ox stopped.
Even though Desòchu couldn’t see it looking at him, he could feel the gaze of the creature as it regarded him.
He clamped his jaw tight and lashed out. The rock caught the side of the ox right behind the eye. It felt like hitting the cliff wall. He slashed at it again as he shoved himself out of the niche.
His shoulder slammed against the bulk of the creature. He scrambled back, shoving his way past while slashing out with the rock to beat it away.
The ox swung its head, ramming its horns into the side of the cliff. Stone crunched and cracked as it tore out the side of the sheer wall.
Shards of rocks peppered Desòchu’s back before a sharp pain scored across his back. He let out a cry of pain and beat the creature harder with the sharp rock until he could throw himself free.
The ox howled, either in pain or anger. It slammed hard against the walls and the ground shuddered.
Clutching his back were hot blood was already soaking his shirt, Desòchu raced back the way he came. He had to escape before the creature gored him.
It was only moments before the ground buckled underneath him. The steady beat had gotten faster, thudding rapidly on the ground as the sense of something approaching loomed over him.
It was the ox and it was charging after him.
Desòchu snarled himself as he raced along the valley. Greens and blues rushed past him in a blur. He tightened his grip on the rock in fear that he would lose it.
The ox’s thundering hooves beat faster. The ground shook more violently and he found it difficult to retain his balance.
To his relief, he came up to the scree. With a bellow, he surged up it.
Sharp rocks tore at his feet and the gravel shifted out form underneath him. He slid back. “Shit!” he swore as he was flipped over and dragged down by gravity. The rocks ripped at his back and legs.
The ox was roaring as it charged. He could see the painted fur as it covered the distance.
Desòchu set his jaw and held back his hand. He would only have one chance to kill the creature.
The sharp horns dipped low. They dug into the ground, narrowly avoiding piercing Desòchu’s body before they scooped him up.
He let out a cry filled with shock and anger. With the force of the creature’s charge holding him down, he managed to slam the rock into its skull with all his might, hammering into it the rock-like head in desperation to kill the beast.
Blood splattered across his face but he didn’t dare stop.
The ox shuddered as it swayed to the side. The horns tore into the side of the cliff as it stumbled over the scree.
Desòchu’s body was crushed against the rocks for a moment and he felt something snapping in his chest. His yelling was halted instantly in a flash of pain but he bore down and continued to hammer into the steer, smashing at fur and bone until his body was coated in blood.
The creature staggered forward, finally slowing as it shook its head.
He gripped the horns tightly and began to strike with more precision, channeling hours of rage and anger into more effective blows against the creature’s nose and eyes.
The ox yank its head up and threw him into the air.
Desòchu tried to get one more blow but missed. Then he was sailing with nothing but dim light spinning in all directions.
“Shit!” he swore, his voice echoing against the cliff walls.
The scree tore into his body as he landed on it. The impact slammed against his chest, driving the air out of his lungs. As he scrambled to his feet, he tried to inhale by his body wasn’t responding. He opened his mouth to draw in air even as he held up his bloody rock to strike another blow.
The ox was still recovering, shaking its head back and forth. Blood splattered to the ground underneath it, the thick liquid snuffing out the glow in ragged lines and puddles.
Despite the blood rolling down his back and the agony of his injuries, Desòchu considered racing forward and killing the dazed beast. He hefted his rock and prepared to charge.
The ox stopped.
Desòchu held his breath.
Slowly, the steer turned its head to face him. Blood ran down the side of its face, blotting out the light that had been painted across its hairs. A low grumble rose up from the broad chest, a sound that rumbled against the walls.
He reconsidered attacking.
The creature pawed the ground, kicking up divots of glowing plants and earth. It turned around, each step shuddering the ground.
Desòchu looked up the scree and then back. If the ox charged, he didn’t have many options to avoid being gored besides climbing up the rock. However, if he was on his hands and knees, he would be vulnerable.
A choice had to be made. He flicked his thumb at the ox. “Rot in sands!”
The ox charged.
Surprised, Desòchu threw the rock at the ox and scrambled for the screen. His fingers dug into the sharp rocks as he raced up the side.
The ground shuddered as the ox slammed into the gravel underneath his feet. The horns ripped out the ground and he slipped down, his bare feet smacking against the bloody skull.
Desòchu howled and kicked off the ox’s head. He threw himself as high as he could and dug his way up, kicking rocks and gravel behind him as he raced for the top.
The ox reared back and slammed down again, the blow destroying the lower part of the screen.
With the sharp rocks pouring into the valley, Desòchu made a desperate lunge to catch the edge of the cliff. His fingers caught the edge just as he lost his footing. Fingernails cracked as he hauled himself up on the cliff.
The entire cliff shuddered as the creature below slammed into it.
He almost lost his grip but he managed to hold on long enough to hook one leg over the edge and pull himself up.
“Shit, shit!” he gasped as he crawled to his knees.
The ground continued to shudder as the ox slammed into the cliff. Roars rose up, echoing against the walls.
“Rot in hell!” Desòchu screamed back before shoving himself up to his feet and stalking away. He didn’t care about the dark anymore.
“Just a waste of time,” he muttered.