“Anyone surprised Big Bird flew behind a waterfall?” Cyn was standing at the edge of a jutting rock outcropping overlooking another of Kukenán’s minor waterfalls. This one dropped about eighty feet into a deep pool with no visible outlets as its edges disappeared into the crowding jungle around it.
The team had landed the Karasu no Yūrei in a clearing a quarter mile away and walked to the top of the falls to make their way down.
“Not only that, but the chances of it just being a little cave with a mama pterodactyl and her chicks is rapidly approaching zero.” Tink agreed, crouching at the edge rock. Looking over her shoulder, she addressed the others. “So we have a ton of ways, but how are we going to get down?”
Lisa smirked and took a piece of glass from her spell reagent satchel. “Well take the elevator of course. Levante este pared!” She cast the glass into the space just beyond the waterfall and in a ripple of scarlet energy, it reformed into a translucent, pentagonal tile that then began to expand and subdivide until it became a platform about eight feet to a side floating about two feet from the falls.
“Well sure if you want to do it the lazy way,” said Cyn, sprouting a set of golden wings on either side of her backpack full of snacks.
“Same!” Kura shouted, taking a running jump off the cliff. Instead of falling, she started drifting down like at a speed slower than most people walked.
While the others were piling onto the platform, Warrick; having called up a set of light, mobile armor; Offered a hand to Tink, who readily accepted. Putting her arms around him like the damsel in an old fantasy, she held on was Isp and Osp began to scale them down the side of the slope.
Cyn gave a whoop and hopped down, using her wings to slow her descent.
A few seconds ticked by as the heroes descended to where they’d seen the pterodactyl disappear behind the falls. Then something flashed out of the jungle and Cyn cried out in shock and pain. A six-foot spear with a wooden haft and a chipped stone head stuck her in the gut, plucking her out of the air and pinning her to rock wall. What looked like an ordinary spearhead managed to penetrate the stone face of the slope four inches.
Kura, who had been right beside her, screamed and scrambled away in-air, flailing her arms and legs as if trying to swim.
Letting out a metallic scream, Osp snapped out and shattered the haft of a second spear, but by then arrows had started launching out of the jungle canopy. The arrows were coming from too far away against gravity to go through the ballistic weave the Descendants wore as costumes—even Kay was wearing a jumpsuit of the material.
But two members of the little expedition didn’t have ballistic cloth costumes. Tammy and Kura were in street clothes.
Seeing his little sister in danger, Warrick had Isp and Osp maneuver him so he was interposed between her and the incoming volley, making sure he was holding Tink so that she was also shielded by his body. “Occult! Go faster! Get everyone behind the falls!”
Tink on the other hand, used her enhanced strength to lever herself up with just her leg muscles. She raised herself so she could aim over Warrick’s shoulder with a gauntlet-mounted weapon, searching the jungle below for their attackers.
It took a few seconds for Cyn to get over her shock. When she did,s he extended one of the orihalcite blades she kept concealed inside her person and used it to slice the spear off just past where it entered her belly. Then she kicked odd the rock wall, pushing herself off the impaling weapon and taking flight, tackling Kura out of the path of a flight of arrows and flying her up, out of range.
Down below, a path of ice froze itself into being from one edge of the pool. Onto it stepped a strange creature. Powerfully built, it had four legs, more stout than a horse’s to match the big, muscular barrel of a main body with feet that ended in padded toes like a lion’s. A long, thick tail swung slowly back and forth as it stalked forward.
What was really strange was that it had a second torso emerging from the front of its quadrupedal body. This one was just as big and burly, somewhat built like an ape’s but with a soft brown and white spotted pelt like a deer’s—at least what they could see of it. For indeed the being was wearing barding made of some sort of bronze-colored leather scales over both torsos and a boiled leather helm with a bone visor that concealed its face. Long, hairy arms with big, flat-fingered hands reached back to one of two quivers of spears hanging by its flanks to grab another weapon now that it had more of a clear shot.
Rearing back, it used its free hand to test the wind before making final adjustments and hurling the next spear directly at Lisa. It clashed against a field of blue psychokinetic energy from Juniper and went tumbling down into the pool.
Then Tink returned fire, expanding foam pellets striking the centaur in the joint of its right shoulder, then spattering across its upper torso and left leg, binding it to the ice.
More figures appeared at the edge of the pool, the tallest being about four feet tall, their bodies fuzzy with gray fur wearing leather harnesses and thick goggles fitted over their pointed, tufted ears. These carried short bows and now that they weren’t firing through leaves, some of them were muttering things over their arrows when they were at full draw, causing them to trail smoke and sparks when loosed and burst into flashes of fire wherever they struck.
Juniper kept the enspelled arrows at bay while Lisa maneuvered the platform down the last ten feet and then backward into the falls.
Watered thundered down around the team as they passed into a hollow behind the curtain of water. Diffuse light both from the water and Juniper’s shield painted everything in wavering light. They found themselves facing a lip of stone extending from an obviously man-made arch fronting the start of a darkened tunnel running deep into the rock face.
Melissa hopped the last two feet from the floating platform to the edge of the tunnel, pulling Tammy along with her. Keeping the squirming teen from trying to get back into the fight, she used her free hand to extract a compact flashlight from one of the compartments on her first-aid belt.
The light played on smooth walls and a floor covered with damp sand, revealing a gently-sloping tunnel that went on beyond the reach of the flashlight’s powerful beam.
“Hey!” Tammy struggled in the healer’s surprisingly strong grip. “What gives?”
“Now that I’ve got a little brother myself, I understand what Warrick thinks of you.” Melissa said offhand, keeping eyes on the tunnel. “Just trying to help keep you safe.”
“I can take care of myself.” Tammy insisted, though she stopped struggling and started peering past the others. “Where’s Kura?”
As in in answer to her question, there was an explosion of water and Cyn awkwardly flapped through the waterfall about ten feet above them. Her wings was pincushioned with mundane arrows and trailing feeble smoke, especially with her backpack which looked like it had been on fire before the trip through the falls.
Clutched in her arms was a bedraggled Kura, who she deposited on next to her best friend after a clumsy drop from above. Kura was soaked to the bone and—until she noticed Tammy was watching—was trembling.
The second she saw she had an audience, however, she straightened herself up and… was suddenly as dry as the Sahara. Still, even Kura Akagi couldn’t get over what just happened. “What were those guys!? The big dude was like two bears stuck together—some kind of Multi-bear!”
With a mildly jarring bump, Lisa’s platform came flush against the edge of the tunnel. The sorceress herself provided an answer: “The big one’s a centaur. We saw a few when we were trapped in Faerie. The others? I don’t know. Goblins, maybe? We’ve never run into goblins before. Or it could be some species that’s never run into humans and got a name.”
Knowing full well that she like the two younger girls, had no business on the front lines, Kay hopped off to join Melissa, Cyn and their charges. “And if faeries are here, it means we’re in the right place, guys. It also means Maeve can send troops here when she feels like it.”
“Bad sign,” murmured Juniper.
Before anyone else could say anything, the falls parted as Isp and Osp thrust Warrick and Tink through and deposited them on Lisa’s platform.
“I broke the ice the big thing was on!” Tink called out, getting her footing, “But bad news: It can swim, and judging by how they scrambled up the trees, the little ones can climb. Won’t be long before they head this way.”
“And we know there’s at least one totally-not-a-dinosaur in this hole—the only way out of here.”
Kura, calming down in the way only Kura could, grinned. “Oh, it’s going to be way more than that. It’s the Lost World!”
Warrick looked back through the falls. “She’s probably right. But if this is the Lost World, that tunnel’s going to end in a big, open space. That’s better than getting caught in here when the big one’s throwing those spears. I’ll go up front with Isp and Osp just in case there’s traps.”
“I’ll pull the wall up behind us and block up the tunnel,” Lisa added. “It should last for a little under a half hour or until they break through.”
Tink nodded and moved to the front with Warrick. “Okay then, let’s move. Just stay close together. Remember: never split the party.”
“Yep!” Tammy chirped. “Fighters up front,” she pointed to Warrick and Tink, then to Melissa, “Healer in the back,” then she threw her arms around Lisa and Juniper. “Wizards in the middle. OH, and also the rest of you. I guess Kura and Kay would be bards and Cyn’s… what? A Druid?”
“Wait, aren’t druids like nature guys who build rock circles? What’s that got to do with me?”
Before Tammy could explain using the encyclopedic knowledge of tabletop gaming she learned from him, Warrick cut her off. “It means you’re tough enough the hang back with Melissa in case the faeries come up from behind.” Beneath his helmet, he grinned at his sister. “You know what, Squirt? When I was your age, a teacher actually told me RPG strategy would never help me in real life. In your face Mrs Ramsey!”
Flourishing to build up his team’s morale, he transformed the chain belt around his waist into in a sword and started forward. “Let’s get going before the faeries find a way to get the big one up the cliff.”
The group followed him into the depths, compact flashlights and a spell to illuminate the head of Lisa’s staff lighting the way. The walls of the tunnel were looked more like they’d been melted and cooled into place instead of worked or bored out.
It lead steadily, but gently downward, widening from where only two of them could walk abreast to twice that size at about the same rate. It wasn’t straight either, but the twists and turns were so gradual it was hard to notice.
A mile or so in, and the walls became visible damp with no real source, becoming more and more so until it was dribbling down and collecting into a rivulet that started to run down the center.
Three miles, and they had to walk in ones and twos one either side of a small, fast and shallow creek that had worn a narrow channel into the rock.
After a short break and a total of seven miles from the falls, the rushing water that separated the two halves of the tunnel was at least three feet across and deep enough to be dark at the bottom even when light was shone onto it.
“So,” Tammy mused, walking along the rightmost ledge beside the little river, “Are we going to have to make camp before they get to the end? I don’t think any of us packed with that in mind.”
Cyn nodded. “Yeah, this backpack only has like enough food through dinner tops.”
“What? You guys don’t hear that?” Everyone looked at Kay questioningly. She looked right back at them. “What? Of course the sound expert is going to notice when the major sound changes. The running water goes way off from how it’s been up ahead. My guess? We’re about to go into a big cave where it empties out.”
“Oh thank god. I was getting so bored!” Cyn hopped across to the other side of the water and started jogging down the tunnel. The others picked up the pace to go after her. They were thinking so hard about having something to look at besides smooth stone walls, they weren’t really watching where they were going or how the shadows were lightening.
That was until they rounded the last corner and found Cyn silhouetted in sunlight, standing where the tunnel terminated and the little stream became yet another waterfall.
Only this was no fall of Kukenán and they could all easily see that.
Because below them, a different kind of rain forest rose to meet the sky: truly ancient and towering redwoods that made those of the Pacific Northwest look like saplings. These dominated to slope of whatever mountain they had emerged from, forming a forest that carpeted the foothills and flanked a river born from that very mountain and its neighbors. Beyond was a broad floodplain.
Just as Kura predicted, the plain was inhabited by dinosaurs: herds of duck-billed hadrosaurs near the river, a troop of massive, long-necked sauropods lumbering from one forest to a new feeding ground, and another herd, this one of frilled ceratopsians, congregating on a hill.
But none of them noticed because they could see the horizon—or rather the anti-horizon, as the distant land turned up at the edges, forming the interior of a sphere perhaps a hundred miles across. And rising up from the other side of the flood plain was a sandstone ziggurat atop which sat a golden structure not unlike a crown.
And the jewel of that crown was the literal sun of the Lost World.
To Be Continued…