Xander frowned at the cold cereal in his bowl, letting his shoulders fall into a practiced slouch as he grabbed his spoon. He propped his head up with his other hand and began to eat.
He didn't acknowledge Ryan, when the teen slid onto the bench opposite him, and began discussing the plans for the day.
"Xander, are you listening?" Ryan folded his arms.
"Huh?" Xander said, looking up from the few cheerios floating in his bowl.
"Hiking! Rock climbing! Whitewater rafting! Doing anything that doesn't involve hanging around here, while they," Ryan pointed over a shoulder, "go gaga over the rocks. Not that I have a problem with rocks, mind. I'm just more interested in the artifact type rocks, of course, and i'm happy enough to observe those once they've been uncovered."
Xander shrugged, he could understand Ryan's sentiment. Looking at the same clump of rock, or half uncovered brick building, held very little appeal to the young almost thirteen-year-old.
"I wouldn't mind getting some more rock climbing in," Xander shrugged.
"Alright!" Ryan cheered. "I'll get my gear ready."
Xander, spoon halfway to his mouth, blinked at the sudden empty spot where Ryan had been sitting.
~ Jormungandr ~
It was a much more awake Xander that left the dig site with Ryan later that day, as the older teen led them down the path away from the dig, and into the canyon.
The two of them tripple checked each other's equipment, Ryan having insisted on the safety precautions before allowing them to even approach the cliff face.
"I'm not kidding Xander," Ryan said. "I had a friend who shattered his legs last year, if he'd double checked his harness like he was supposed to it never would've happened."
"Fine," Xander grumbled, but let it go and followed the older boy's instructions.
"Right, remember to use your chalk pouch any time your hands start feeling sweaty. We're going to one of the paths I mapped out when we got here a few weeks ago, so just follow me."
Xander shrugged and grabbed for the hand hold Ryan pointed out.
Xander tired much quicker than Ryan, and used the rope to rappel to the base of the cliff where he started flexing his hands. The climb had been surprisingly fun, tiring, but fun. But now he was sore all over and had aches in muscles he could swore he didn't know he had.
"Keep moving Xander or you'll get stiff," Ryan called from near the top of the cliff.
"I'm already stiff!" Xander yelled back to Ryan's laughter.
"Welcome to the Rothman bootcamp, cadet, we'll get you whipped into shape in no time!" Ryan yelled back as he started back down.
"Thanks, but no thanks," Xander replied.
"Aww, come on x-man, besides just think of the expression on Willow's face when you get back and she hugs you and feels all those muscles," Ryan teased.
Xander blushed and remained silent the rest of Ryan's journey down.
"Let's head back for Dinner," Ryan said as he noted the sun was almost beginning to set, gracefully ignoring the red tinge on the other boy's face.
Xander groaned as his muscles protested the movement.
~ Jormungandr ~
The next few days Xander slowly adjusted to the camp schedule finding himself waking up earlier each day regardless of his own feelings on the matter. His time was filled as Ryan dragged him along on whatever morning activity the older boy had planned.
Ryan confessed to him later on, that since Xander's arrival, he was getting to do a lot of his summer goals accomplished. Which, normally, he would've had to wait until one of the more active outdoor types among the scientists were free to go with. Not that he needed a babysitter mind, but it was safer to have someone else along, be prepared and all that.
The days flew by and before he knew it he'd been there a week. He wasn't a slouch when it came to exercise, Jesse and Willow, well between the three of them, they'd never be fat but, they weren't jocks either. Now, though, all that rock climbing he'd been doing was starting to show, not that he'd noticed.
It was saturday and the two boys were working their way along an unexplored section of the cliff. Xander had taken lead on this one while Ryan belayed.
"Xander," Ryan called out pointing past him.
"I see it," Xander yelled back. He reached for the hand hold, leaning into the cliff as he stretched, his fingertips barely taking hold, out of the corner of his eye he thought he saw someone standing on the opposing side of the canyon, before he felt something shift under his feet. "Shit."
"Xander!" Ryan yelled as the younger boy lost his footing, the older teen braced himself for the pull of the rope against the protections.
The lead rope tightened with a snap, and Xander cried out in pain as his shoulder and side slammed into the rock three feet below his protection.
Xander winced as he moved to pull himself back towards the previous hold. "Descending," He called out making his way back towards the ground.
Xander looked up to the cliff where he'd seen the man before he lost his hold on the cliff and frowned.
"What is it," Ryan asked, as he noticed the frown and looked in that direction himself.
"I thought I saw someone before I lost my footing," Xander said.
Ryan frowned, "there's no one there now, let's head back to camp.
Xander's legs felt unsteady from the close call and Ryan was shaken himself so the two called it quits for the day and headed back to camp where Xander let himself get poked and prodded by one of the scientists with medical training.
"Ah!" Xander hissed, "Stop that."
"I need to see the extent of the bruise, young man," Dr. Melissa Coombs said, as she smeared a foul smelling cream over the bruise. "You're lucky you didn't break anything."
Later that evening Xander pulled Ryan aside, "Did anyone follow us from camp yesterday?"
"Everyone's been busy enough here that none of them should have free time to follow us," Ryan said.
Xander crossed his arms in frustration, "And, I'm telling you, I saw someone standing at the top of the cliff on the far side of canyon."
"There shouldn't be anyone else out here but us and the scientists," Ryan started but changed tactics at Xander's expression, "I'm not saying you didn't see someone, do you remember what they were wearing?"
"It was right before I lost my footing, but they looked like they were wearing a camo pattern," Xander replied.
Ryan's eyes narrowed, "Keep an eye out, I'm going to let dad know someone was snooping around."
~ Jormungandr ~
Xander was less than enthusiastic about further outings that week as he gingerly massaged the salve into the bruise each night. Not that he'd ever admit to Jesse or Willow that he was enjoying learning, but, with all the scientists at the camp, there was little else to keep him busy, except to listen to them lecture about this or that observation.
There was also the occasional rare exclamation of a new discovery. Which he very quickly learned to ignore unless he wanted his ears talked off. He'd made the mistake of asking the anthropologists, and received a lecture on the typical pottery found in this area, and how rare the intact jars and pots they'd found were.
In spite of all the effort he was putting into keeping himself busy. There was a restless feeling creeping up the back of his spine; he kept getting the feeling that someone was watching him, and the prickling of the hair on the back of his neck only served to reinforce the feeling of unease in his gut. There was just something that felt off about the dig site, a feeling in the pit of his stomach that he'd learned to trust long ago. As much as the feeling in his gut made him want to crawl inside himself and hide, the lack of any one individual thing to justify his paranoia was the only thing holding him back from embracing his fight or flight instinct.
As the fourth day of his medically enforced grounding dawned, he was far to jumpy to be of any use just sitting there at camp listening to the geeks talk about their rocks. He was a bundle of nerves; and everyone, including Ryan were looking at him like he was a land mine waiting to explode. As he seemed to flinch at every noise.
About mid-day, Ryan had enough of his jumpiness, and pulled him away from the camp with a set of fishing poles and a tackle box.
They sat in the folding chairs Ryan made Xander lug out to the edge of the river, their lines cast into the river with the little red and white bobbers floating in the current.
"So, want to tell me what's wrong," Ryan asked, breaking the awkward silence they'd fallen into after casting their lines into the water.
"No," Xander replied.
Ryan shrugged, as he turned his head back towards the water, and the rhythmic bob of the red and white attached to his fishing line.
After a few minutes had passed Xander spoke up, "I—I've just been—I don't know. On edge?"
"Yeah, I've noticed," Ryan teased, pushing the other boy on the shoulder.
Xander returned the shove good naturedly.
"That's not all though, I keep feeling like someone's watching us, and it sets off all sorts of flashy lights and alarm bells in my head."
Ryan raised his eyebrows at the description.
"Do you feel like we're being watched right now?" he asked.
Xander shook his head, "it faded away the further we got from camp."
Ryan made a noise of contemplation as he narrowed his eyes at the bobbed.
After a few moments of silence, Xander felt the hair on the back of his neck beginning rise. He nudged Ryan and began looking around.
Ryan grunted in acknowledgement and Xander pointed to the left. At the top of the cliff about thirty feet away was an animal staring at them, a long pink tongue hanging out of its mouth as it panted lazily. As if noticing their attention on it the animal gave what could be described as a bark of laughter before rolling onto its back and wriggling around. It stood up looking at them before turning and trotting away.
"Weird," Ryan muttered under his breath.
"Yeah," Xander agreed.
"Let's clean up and head back," Ryan said, as he moved forward to pack up the tacklebox.
~ Jormungandr ~
The two boys were even more spooked the closer they got to the camp.
"You hear something?" Xander asked.
Ryan stopped suddenly, motioning for Xander to do the same, he tilted his head to the side and stood completely still for a moment.
"What—?" Xander started only for Ryan to shush him again.
They stood there silently for what Xander felt must've been five minutes, and he was about to say something when Ryan started moving again.
"It's quiet, too quiet," said Ryan. "Come on, we'll stay above the ravine and check it out with my binoculars."
Xander followed the other boy as he abruptly changed direction and went down a fork in the path that took them up a hill and out of the canyon, after a time the path wound its way around the rocky slope until they stood at the top of the cliff looking over into the camp at the dig site.
Ryan pointed at a spot that had been covered the day before. There was a stone adobe with carvings in the walls that gave Xander an ominous feeling. He passed the binoculars to Xander.
"Look over there," Ryan said.
Xander looked where he was pointing.
"To the left of the artifacts tent?" he asked.
"And right above that," Ryan confirmed.
Xander held the binoculars up and adjusted them until he could see.
"There's tire tracks, recent ones, and it looks like someone broke one of those ceramic jars. You remember, the ones the anthro-scientists were all excited about," Xander said. "Here, take a look."
Ryan accepted the binoculars and looked out over the dig site again.
"Rodger is gonna be ticked," said Ryan, "That jar was priceless."
"Speaking of, where is everyone?" Xander asked.
The call of a bird echoed through the canyon. Ryan and Xander looked up at the sky to see if they could identify the source.
"The spirits have been disturbed," a deep voice startled the two boys. "Hold, younglings, and do not enter the camp."
The two turned towards the voice.
"Don't do that," Xander said.
Ryan shot a glance towards Xander and then back at the man, "What did you do? And, who are you?"
"Do what? I am Atian, and I did nothing," Atian replied. "Look, and watch."
Xander and Ryan turned back towards dig site, and watched as another ATV roared into the camp, carrying two men dressed in desert camouflage.
"They aren't part of our crew," Ryan hissed.
"Then who are they?" Xander asked.
"They are with the ones who broke the seal of Atse-hashke," Atian said, "the spirits will deal with them."
As the two watched, a haze of mist formed around the two men below, and though the two made an attempt to be alert, they soon nodded off. When the mist had done its job, it thinned, and the two teens watched as four gorgeous women approached the ATV and proceeded to bind the men and carry them away.
"The mist of slumber will dissipate in another hour, and then you may return to the camp," Atian said, once the scene had played out.
"And, what then? What about our people," Ryan demanded.
"The seal of Atsehashke was broken, for balance to be restored, you must seek out the unnatural cave within the canyon to the north. Within the cavern, you will find a an emblem emblazoned with the image of the thunderbird. You must bring the amulet back to your camp and perform the rite of renewal, The skinwalkers will not have use for your people for fourteen sunrises. Hold until the mist has dissipated, then gather your things quickly and seek out the cavern of the trickster. I will perform my own rituals to petition the return of your people."Return to: Jormungandr
Posted: 2018-08-27 03:47:24 -6 gmt