The weather beat down on us; unexpected summer showers mixed with the cold density of the area, making the terrain slushy and slippery. The vehicles wrestled with the slick forest floor, dense with wet leaves and soil slosh. We scientists were unusually excited despite the situation, making notes and sketches of the rare weather. Professor Kachie even managed to convince Lemmont to give his camera back, provided he not shoot any of the crew, of course. I don’t even suppose Professor Kachie even stopped to think about getting our assailants on film.
I sat quietly in the back of the jeep, watching as the sunshine turned the wet landscape into a glittering mess. My hands moved automatically, jotting down whatever of Professor Gimbald’s observations that passed through my ears. You sat behind us atop our bags, boredly picking your nails or whatever. Once in a while I could swear you were peeking over my shoulder and watch me write, but I was too uneasy to turn around and stare you in the face.
The ride to the ruins was quiet, save for my team trading botanical and meteorological information. Some of your mercenary friends even joined in on the conversation, offering their knowledge accumulated from other mission trips. I cringed as Prof. Gimbald turned to ask you a similar question, establishing a reluctant conversation, from your tone at least.
I learnt that you had ‘toured’ most of the Middle Eastern hemisphere with Lemmont, but also had your solo adventures recovery diving off the coasts of Spain and the Pacific islands.
“But you are so young?!” Prof. Gimbald seemed surprised. You fell quiet, but in the smug kind of way. “No offense, but I didn’t have time to go to school,” you chuckled. I found myself wondering what that was like. I seemed to have done nothing but go to school all my life.
Our conversations ceased as the signal of us approaching the city ruins rung out. As Professor Gimbald instructed me on what to take note of inside the area, I saw you out of the corner of my eye, soldiering up. You produced some sort of yellow packet from your pant pocket, stared at it for a bit, before tucking it into the breast of your jacket.
“Chrysanthemum,” I murmured.
You looked at me, surprised. “Yea. How’d you know?” your voice came quietly, as if you were telling me a secret.
My mouth hung open, a croak coming forth. How did I know?? But that was the first thing that came to mind, as if someone had simply asked me the colour of my hair.
“It’s just… most people assume chamomile first,” you chuckled again. Your hand remained at your breast pocket.
Lemmont’s orders to form up made me tear my eyes away from you. I rejoined my group, huddled in terrified excitement at what we were about to see and speculating what still withstood after at least 100,000,000 years. “We might even find a more intact Arkaim!” Professor Gimbald practically clapped her hands together.
I smiled halfheartedly and looked at Lemmont, busy with giving scouting orders to you and your gang. My eyes traveled further, to the small mountain towering over the site. Despite the gentle sunshine and the fresh rainfall, the mountain seemed almost ominous. I found myself slightly shuddering when a colleague of mine squeezed my arm to ask if I was okay. He too, was riding off the defensive adrenaline since last night.
I nodded and focused on double-checking my pack for all the essentials; the shit-ton of note books,
camera (confiscated), water, snack bars, survival knife (confiscated), pencils, towel, walkie talkie (confiscated), compass, laptop (confiscated), solar charger; and other personal nick knacks.
We were discussing how to split the load of archaeology equipment among us (and deal with the lack of certain ones) when Lemmont ordered a few of your gang, you included to haul ass and carry our crates with us to save on travel time. He even proudly presented some to be ‘rather qualified to be photographers’ and would therefore be taking site pictures on our behalf. I wondered why a robber would be bothered to preserve whatever history he was going to loot anyway? But I got my answer soon enough.
“Money in the pics, boys. A little cash on the side from the nerds,” he laughed. The bastard!
You suddenly snorted quietly; did you perceive the disgust on my face and find it amusing?
Lemmont’s openness with his plans put us even more on edge than before. The chances of us returning to a reasonably normal life were looking slim to none. We could die out here and no one would ask about it for the next two years at least.
The trek to the ancient site was nothing but horrible. The rain from before showed no signs of beating down, but didn’t quite stop either. The sloppy ground and guns in our backs had no effect on the wonder we felt as we began to see signs of the ruins however. Mossy stones too square to be natural began to outline a path.
We reached a steep eight-foot drop in the path, what Professor Kachie explained as a result from seismic activities over a long period, causing hills and valleys to form. The path was broken in two. We worked precariously with each other, sending the strongest down with the equipment first, then the older. Me being the relatively youngest was last to come down, with you waiting below for an assisted decent.
I tried to lower myself as carefully as possible, but the wet moss refused to acclimate my boot and I tumbled downward a bit too suddenly, letting out a little yelp.
You were ready, however, and caught me by pressing your body against mine to alleviate the impact.
My head went painfully light at the contact and I shriveled in your arms. You dropped to your knees too at the same moment, your face scrunching up.
The light shifted, and I saw you in dark armor, your hair long, secured by a red headband of some sort. Big white sleeves fluttered up to your neck (my hands?!) But I couldn’t tell if I was embracing you or forcing you away. My heart thundered in my chest and I froze, too surprised to move. I still was very much afraid of you, make no doubt of that, but you were looking at me in such a strange way too.
“Eyh Clay! Cop a feel later, we got work to do,” your mates laughed. You dislodged yourself from me, staring back with an equally bewildered questioning look. I bit my lip and practically ran past you, away from whatever the hell that was. From the laughter behind me, it appeared that you too, had chosen to neglect that little…. vision incident.
My colleagues worriedly collected me, asking me in hushed voices if I were alright. I reassured them firmly, the image getting forced out of my head the more I blinked. And I blinked rapidly. By the time we were ready to move again, I barely had any memory of the fall aside from the flash migraine.
You too, kept too much distance from me to reaffirm if you had the same experience too.
Writer’s note: sorry for the extremely long delay. I’m in a hell of a writing slump 😦