The five were dry from the flood by morning.
“Today’s the day,” Laquin said. “At last.”
“What day?” asked Mills.
“Our last day of travel,” Laquin answered.
“Whoo-hoo!” Mills cheered. “Oh, I thought we were going to have to walk forever!”
“How much longer will it take?” Xala asked. “I busted my knee pretty badly during the flood.”
“Not more than an hour or so,” Laquin answered.
“I can’t wait,” said Mills.
“Well, you have to,” said Laquin. “But not much longer.”
Bubbles of rock started to pop up from the desert floor not long after breakfast. They were adorned with spikey little plants, which came in all colors. The rainbow was rather beautiful as the team entered it and started their crawl over the smooth rock outcroppings.
“Here we are,” Orn announced suddenly.
“Where are we?” asked Mills. “I thought we were headed toward safety?”
“Safety awaits below us,” said Orn. “The passage is tight at first. But then it’ll open up.”
Mills was about to ask more questions when Orn suddenly ducked down into a patch of the rainbow plants and disappeared.
“Where’d he go?” asked Anaxis.
“Home,” said Laquin, with a great smile across her face. “Home at last. Here. Come over here.”
Xala was the first to the tight cave entrance. She squeezed through it, then Anaxis and Mills followed after, then Laquin.
It took a moment for the travelers’ eyes to adjust to the subterranean darkness, but as they did, sparking striations in the ceiling and walls started to glitter for them.
“It’s beautiful!” exclaimed Xala.
“Sure is,” agreed Laquin. She whistled.
A whistle came back from somewhere in the black depths below.
“There he is,” Laquin said. “Follow closely after me. And watch your footing!”
The team passed through a tight passage after Laquin into a much larger chamber.
“I’ve got just the thing for this,” Xala said, reaching into her bag and producing her bioluminescent lamp.
“That’s wonderful,” Laquin said. “But we won’t need it.”
“But you can’t see a thing,” said Xala.
“Just give it a second,” said Laquin.
Almost as soon as she had spoken, a wave of purple light washed across the floor. A wash of blue followed afterwards, then another of green.
“What is it?” asked Anaxis.
“Probably the same thing in your lamp, Xala,” said Laquin. “We’ve treated the floor with it. It shines every minute or so. We just have to follow the path. We’ll wait for the next wave and proceed.”
In another minute or so, the purple wave began. The team walked over the glowing rock as it changed color beneath their feet. Just as they came to another tight squeeze into the next chamber, Orn jumped out of the dark.
“Aah!” he growled with a horrible grimace.
Mills screamed so loud he nearly fainted. Anaxis laughed.
“Really funny, Orn,” Mills scolded. “I’m pretty sure I peed my pants. I hope you’re real happy with yourself.”
“I’m sorry, I couldn’t help it,” Orn said. “Anyways. Come along.”
The next room was absolutely massive. Far-off drips of water echoing from around the space attested to how large it was, despite the fact that it was nearly impossible to see.
“Ready?” asked Orn.
“Ready,” answered Laquin.
“Ready for what?” asked Mills.
There was a blasting noise, and for a brief flash a cannon held by Orn was visible. From it flew a swarm of colored beads, which soared out into the dark chasm. They stuck where they hit, defining the rock pillars of the chamber for those near its entrance. The space was hardly well-lit now, but its features were now somewhat apparent and at the very least more navigable.
“That’s kind of neat,” said Mills.
“We’re nearly there,” said Orn. “Stay close! The trobs live in the next chamber.”
“Trobs?” Mills asked. “That doesn’t sound good.”
“Flying terrors,” Laquin answered.
“Oh,” said Mills. “I liked trobs better.”
As the team entered the next chamber of the cave system, the noise of wings flapping rapidly buzzed by the spelunkers. It was accompanied by high-pitched screams from the animals, and more of the same from Mills.
“That was terrible!” Mills sobbed when the swarm was passed.
“Just be glad you didn’t see them,” said Laquin.
“Hello!” Orn called out. “Talar! Hello!”
There was a brief pause, and then a voice from the darkness answered, “Hello! Orn?”
“Orn and Laquin, with guests!” Orn replied.
A light went up in the distance, which grew to fill nearly half the cave.
“Where have you been?” asked the man behind the light source.
“It’s a long story,” Orn answered. “Lower the bridge?”
“Right away,” Talar answered.
The team had just reached Orn’s intended stopping point for the night in the Great Wash when the sky was flooded with dark clouds moving at incredible speed. Seemingly within minutes, the dark blue of twilight was overtaken by viscous purple rain clouds.
“I’ve never seen clouds move so fast,” Xala said, watching the sky.
“This is exactly what I was worried about,” said Orn. “This is the worst place this could happen. If the clouds break, we’re in serious trouble.”
“Why?” asked Mills.
“See the walls of the canyon?” Laquin asked. “How they look carved by water flow? We’re in the flood zone. An ancient river channel.”
“What’s going to happen if it rains?” asked Anaxis.
“We’ll be flooded out,” Laquin answered. “And depending on how much it rains, we could easily be drowned.”
“I have something that might help,” said Xala, going into her bag.
“The flotation hides?” asked Mills.
“That’s right,” Xala said, tossing one to him. “Though I only have three.”
“You three go ahead and use them,” said Orn.
“You don’t need one?” asked Anaxis.
“No, I could certainly use one,” Orn answered. “But they’re yours. Laquin and I will do our best to stay afloat.”
A flash of bright white lightning split the sky and the clouds opened up. The rain fell in an instant torrent.
“It’s here,” Orn said. “We can’t escape this. Just, do your best to stay alive.”
“What does that mean?” asked Mills.
“Whatever it must,” Orn answered. “Keep an eye on where the flood is taking you, and try not to get stuck in any of the pockets or indentations in the canyon walls.”
There was nowhere for the rain to permeate the hard rock of the ancient sea bed, and so immediately it began to rise as floodwaters. The rock ledge the travelers was on looked ready to be overtaken in minutes.
“Secure your things the best you can,” Laquin said. “It would be best to tie them to your arm or leg, if possible. But watch that they don’t become lodged anywhere. If they do, untie them. Let them go. They are only things, which can be replaced.”
Mills looked with terrified eyes at Anaxis. “This is really scary,” he whispered.
“I know,” Anaxis said. “But we can get through it, okay? Just keep your head above water.”
“After all this time in the desert that I’ve been wanting water, I can’t believe how much I don’t right now,” said Mills.
“Here we go,” Orn interrupted. “Get ready, everyone.”
The water lapped up over the lip of the ledge the travelers were bracing themselves on. The rain started to come down even harder. Soon it was over ankles, then knees.
“Go ahead and float,” Laquin said. “Don’t try to stand up. It’ll be easier to control your direction if you just go with it.”
Anaxis fell down into the water and was immediately swept away from the ledge. The water wasn’t moving too fast, and so he found that if he floated on his back and directed himself with his arms, staying above the flood wasn’t difficult.
Looking back, he saw that the others were all floating down the canyon after him. Coming around a bend, Anaxis saw a large waterfall pouring down into the flash river. He took a deep breath and readied. The volume of water pouring down from the side of the canyon was so great that it forced him deep underwater, into a confusing mess of bubbles. He scraped against the bottom of the wash, but was able to get leverage and push himself forward with his legs off the rocks, which propelled him out of the waterfall. He popped back up from under the water to see Xala and Laquin had overtaken him.
Through the screaming noise of the rain and the flash river, Anaxis heard Mills crying out. He flipped over onto his stomach and saw his friend, who was obviously stuck, bobbing in and out of the water, screaming every time his head appeared. Anaxis tried his best to swim against the current, to go back and help Mills, but he was helpless against the flow of the water.
The flash river took a sharp turn around a bend, which send Laquin into the rocks. She yelped and disappeared under the water. Anaxis hit her as he just barely managed to make it around the bend without smashing into the wall himself. He felt her hand wrap around his leg. Feeling the pull downward, he couldn’t help his instinct to try and shake Laquin off, but she let go when she was able to make it past the bend with the short help from his pull.
The wash grew much wider, and the turbulence of the flash river slowed. Anaxis was able to spin around now and see that Orn, Laquin, and Xala had survived the narrowest stretch of the canyon, but Mills was still nowhere to be seen. Anaxis saw a pocket in the rock ahead, and, against instruction, angled himself toward it. He grabbed the wall of the pocket as he went passed, and pulled himself into it.
The water was still rising. The rain hadn’t relented for a moment. Soon, Anaxis thought, the water level would reach the top of the wash, and spill over. As he crouched in the rock, struggling to find any trace of Mills up the way, he knew that if he stayed too long that he would be trapped and drown. The pocket started to fill with water. It was at Anaxis’s waist seconds later. Just before he jumped out, he saw Mills come around the bend, his pack missing. Anaxis waited longer than he should have, until Mills was nearly beside him, to push with all his might and escape the pocket in the rocks.
“I was trapped!” Mills shouted at Anaxis.
“I know! I didn’t know what to do!” Anaxis shouted back.
“This is terrible!” shouted Mills.
“It can’t last forever, can it?” Anaxis shouted.
The two passed around another bend, which the other three already had, and then saw a great drop-off ahead. Before they could look to each other in acknowledgment, they fell over a massive falls and tumbled through the air to splash into a churning pool. They spun around the pool multiple times until it shot them out through an extremely tight narrows into another, larger pool, which continued flowing down the wash.
Without any sign, the rain stopped as suddenly as it had started, and the water level started to drop dramatically.
Orn, Laquin, and Xala came into view when the flash river started to move more slowly, and then the whole party sank down the walls of the canyon with the diminishing flood. The water sank to where the party could reach the rock bottom, and then a few long, hard scrapes later, the flood was gone and the five were left gasping on the slick rock of the empty wash.
“We’re all alive?” Orn called to the others.
“More or less,” answered Xala.