Chapter 4: Rambo Junior

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When someone puts a curse on a place, I soon learned, time and space lose any and all meaning.

Literally.

We travelled, but I couldn't for the life of me tell for how long. Hours, days… Weeks. There was no day, there was no night. Only daylight and darkness. Sometimes we could walk by daylight for what felt like ages, only to sit beneath a starless, dark sky for seemingly but a moment. At other times, that darkness stretched on endlessly, with only brief light periods to brighten our spirits. While I tried to figure out if there was a certain logic to it, a schedule of sorts, I couldn't find it. I had to conclude it was all random chaos, terrifying in its unpredictability.

No day. No night. Just light-time. Darktime.

No inbetween.

And space? Space was even worse.

A swamp or morass, as I'd been taught, was an ecosystem. Forested wetland. Well, Algor had plenty of forest and plenty of water and wetland. We steered clear of the water, which reeked of rotting algae, decaying flesh. I didn't know what horrors resided in the water, and I preferred keeping it that way. We followed the paths, twisting and miry and sometimes almost non-existent, guided by the enchanted watch I treasured, hoping it would lead us to the place we sought.

Unfortunately, nothing can ever be easy in life. Everything has to be inconvenient at all times. Algor was such an inconvenience, for space fucked us over.  On the other side of the fence where civilisation lay, Algor didn't seem so big. You could walk around it in a morning and half an afternoon and still have quite some time left to hit the bar and have yourself a nice beer. But on our side of the fence, Algor was far larger, huge. Though we moved forward at a steady pace, we didn't seem that much closer to the famed necklace. Many frustrated glances at my watch taught me we were getting closer one moment and back at square one the next. We weren't walking in circles, yet we came back to where we'd been before at times, only to reach unknown territories again not too long after. I began to fear we'd only find our treasure if Algor allowed it.

A swamp is an ecosystem, but a cursed swamp is something else entirely. It occupies its own distinct spot in space-time and exists in a vacuum, in a separate reality. Algor, to me, seemed a gloomy place trapped in a snow globe; a snow globe with a glass dome so grimy you'd almost forget there's a whole world beyond the dirt. Though time flowed in strange ways in the swamp, that world felt like nothing but a distant memory.

Not that we had much time to think about home, for the swamp creatures kept us on our toes. When I wasn't staring at my watch, I was glancing at the water in our vicinity, prepared for the worst. Isla lived in a state of dire concentration, registering every peculiar sound, every unfamiliar sight… And whatever dared to lunge at us, she killed in cold blood.

Afanc were the most numerous: lake monsters, resembling a cross between crocodiles and large beavers. The damned things raced out of the water and straight to us if they were hostile enough, dirty projectiles with coarse fur and slimy green scales. Their evil eyes, tiny and beady, gleamed as red as Isla's hair, and their mouths were full of intimidating teeth and foam.

Whenever we encountered them, I'd back away in a remarkable display of cowardice. Handling the monsters was Isla's job, and handling them she did: her machete cut clean through the bastards, sharp and quick, tearing through flesh until the weapon came back slick with blood. And when the afancs let out their final pained snarls, Isla looked upon them with indifference in her eyes, radiating an annoyed iciness.

"They're rabid," she'd say later as she cleaned the beasts' sickening bodily fluids off her blade with caution. "A death like this one for them might even be merciful."

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