Chapter 8: Memories

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did tug Isla along, and I feared for my life every step of the way.

Harris took the lead, following the stream of water I'd involuntarily bathed in down. He pushed overhanging willow branches to the side, zigzagged through bushes and kept his eyes on the stream bank, where frog corpses rotted in the autumn sun and the remains of unidentified creatures lay scattered.

I'd gripped Isla's right arm with one hand and clutched her machete in the other as I dragged her along with me. My nerves acted up; if she snapped out of her stupor where we stood, chances were high she'd yell at me to let her go and physically attack me out of sheer shock. I didn't want my eyes to end up like those of the corpse candle at my door, namely scratched out of my skull, and thus tried to keep my distance from my boss as well as I could.

"Here," Harris said, taking a sharp turn left towards the stream, ducking into a patch of reedmaces. Isla and I followed, though I hated how the smell of decay intensified the closer I got to the water, how I had to keep my mouth shut tight to keep pesky little mosquitoes from entering it. I swatted at the plants with Isla's machete, ungraceful and inexperienced as could be, and wondered how many disgusting ticks I'd find burrowing in the flesh of my hands before darktime came.

"You might want to tell me," I began, "what could possibly be so amazing you couldn't just tell me about it in the clearing?"

"See for yourself." Harris stepped aside so I could see better. In front of me lay a rowing boat, tied to a thick branch of a fallen tree trunk with a ragged, dirty piece of rope. The boat's wood was worn and reeked of must and water, and the thing's design was of the sort I could have found in the 1900s. 

Ancient as the boat looked, though, it struck me as seaworthy. Shabby, tattered and dark, yes, but neither the boat itself nor its oars looked gnawed on by termites or colonized by too much mould. I spotted no leaks or particularly weak spots at first glance, though I imagined a constant creaking would fill our ears if we chose to travel with it. But all in all, the vessel seemed capable of doing what it was meant to do. It even came with a little lantern attached, to facilitate navigating at night; could've been useful, if the glass hadn't been broken and we'd possessed candles to light.

"How… Harris, how'd you find this?" I asked, genuinely curious. "Did that shadow lady you mentioned give you that boat as well? If she did, I'm starting to think you're a… a chosen one of sorts."

This earned me an amused chuckle. "Me? A chosen one? No." Harris shook his head with a small smile. "This wasn't a gift. I found it… Not sure how long ago, and also not sure where. You know time and space and their workings here are a secret for Algor's ears only, right?"

I nodded, nervously plucking at my lips. I wasn't fond of that phrasing: Algor's ears. It implied that the swamp was a living creature, sentient, breathing, hosting a variety of monstrous parasites in its body. That thought made me uncomfortable, for I feared it was true.

"If the boat's strong enough to handle us, we can travel in it," I stated, "but… Is it safe? That creature… The guardian… It's in all the water in Algor, present everywhere we go. Who says it won't come say hi again?"

Harris shrugged, nonchalantly adjusted his glasses. "There shouldn't be a problem if you don't put your hands in the water, which I don't think anyone willingly does in the first place." He looked at me, wrinkling his nose in disgust; I was afraid I didn't look so good after being dunked into the stream by Isla. I was supposed to be a fucking snack, but I wouldn't charm any ladies looking like a green-brown blob monster with duckweed in his curls and mud all over his suit.

"Good point." I glanced at my watch, found the golden dot indicating the necklace's location, which had grown in size. That meant we were closer to it than ever before. "It's faster, isn't it? Travelling by boat? The paths only take us so far, but going downstream… It could be a shortcut."

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