All Eggs in One Basket

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Domenica gives Nathan a piggy-back ride right away. He doesn't look so drained anymore, but I'm sure this moment of all-powerfulness took a lot out of him. He should definitely rest, especially if he still has a role to play.

We've found a path into the protected grounds of the mountains barely forty feet from where we stopped the car. Before he went, Dave lent us a headlamp. Given how night is falling at a fast pace now, it was a really good idea. Some people are practical like that, I say kudos. Even in the daytime, the density of the trees would have made it hard to see after a while.

Domenica, still giving not-so-little-anymore Nathan a ride, is also wearing the headlamp. It's better if she gets the light and I go first, that way if anyone trips and falls it's me, not the other two people together. I say tripping because this jungle, as I mentioned, is pretty dense. It is very obvious that it hasn't been cared for by humans in a long time. It's a long way away from being a primary forest, but it's not very human friendly. A few steps in, I had armed myself with a stick in order to beat bushes and creatures out of the way if necessary. Tonight, though, the wild land seems eerily quiet. It's not a good sign when every creature alive hides from sight.

There are the remainders of a path here and there, made of cobblestone and punctuated with mostly covered signs at their last rotting stage. No matter how hard it may seem, I have to stay on the path. Do you know what happens when you attempt to take a shortcut on a wild mountain? As many kids who grew around high places, been there, done that. You quickly realize how a ten-minutes ride can turn into an hour of debacle, fighting spiky plants, climbing up ridges that looked like flat terrain five minutes ago. Sometimes I just couldn't reach — there would be a tree in the way full of red ants, a cliff of some sort, a bee's nest right next to the only available path. In those cases I ended up turning tail and going back on the track I thought of as 'too long and convoluted'. In the mountains, turns in the road are rarely there just for show. I need to stay on that path and it's gonna be tough if all of it gets eaten by the plants that grew there.

After half an hour, I start wondering how long the climb will be. I mean, I know that this is in no way a sharp summit and that we started quite high up 'El Pollo' already. It shouldn't be the hardest climb ever. Still, those kind of things always look easier from afar. Domenica's a scientist, not a mountaineer and she's giving Nathan a ride. The dense vegetation has made her switch him from a piggy-back position to just having him on her shoulders. This is bound to be tiresome.

At the same time, I not volunteering to carry him all the way up, no matter how much buffer I might have become after a few days of going back to cycling. It's probably a bit cowardly to simply avoid helping like that, but come on, we have bigger issues right now. The first one being that I think I hear it.

Ñox Cayu, the nightmare chicken made out of human flesh. It seems far away but it's getting closer. Is it just after the top of the mountain like we do or is it chasing us down? I could ask Nathan about it but I think I don't wanna know.

Then there is no doubt it's there, a few hundred meters below us, because it starts howling again. Just the sound makes my skin crawl. It sounds hollow like a cavern and painfully angry at the same time. The cry ends in a disgusting fleshy gurgle. It really makes me strongly aware again of how unreal the day has gotten. It reminds me that we're trying to stop it. Ñox Cayu. Dark god. With the power of an eight years old.

We're so screwed!

To be honest, though, the only thing that is really important to me right now is to put some distance between me and that thing. Good thing I seem to be working pretty well under pressure or we'd have lost the path already. Soon we seem to be joining a larger path that is flanked by a cliff dropping at least a hundred feet down. I can't see exactly how steep it is: the trees have parted a bit here thanks to the terrain, but the sky is covered in a thick layer of clouds now, making the night even darker than it needs to be.

I'd like to think that it will hide us from the horror following in our footsteps, but I don't think it sees through regular means as it has no head. No luck there, I guess.

The terrain has gotten muddy and slippery. It has gotten much easier to follow the path that still seems to be going straight up, but the slope and the cliff right beside us makes me anxious. This would be the perfect moment for a stupid and deadly accident to happen.

"Domenica?" I say. "Do you mind switching with me? I think it will be safer."

She gets up to my level, Nathan still on her shoulders. "What do you mean?" She says, exhausted. "You want me to walk out front?"

"Yeah," I say, nodding. "It's pretty slippery here and I don't think you wanna fall with Nathan on your shoulders. At least I'll break your fall if you do."

Domenica nods vaguely. She doesn't have much fight in her. I'd bet mountain climbing isn't the favorite part of her job. "I guess you have a point," she says.

I nod back and hold out my hand. "I'm gonna need the flashlight, though."

Having such a normal conversation helps us be a little less on edge, even with the screaming monster that's after us. In the next half-hour I can hear it once in a while, sometimes closer, other times further away. With the kind of body size that thing has, I guess it isn't possible to go through the dense parts of the forest. At least that is still to our advantage.

At some point Domenica is past playing tough and asks for a relay with Nathan. He's better now and he wants to walk, but looking at the path still ahead of us, I'd feel better having him on my shoulders. I'm not as used as Domenica is, though, so I get tired of it a lot quicker than she did. What worries me most, though, is the last part of the mountain: right in front of us, the jungle recedes, giving way to a drier landscape and a much lower density of trees. If the mad god catches up with us in this kind of open field, we're quite literally dead meat. I fasten my pace towards a what appears to be a building at the very end of the path. That's probably the temple where we're headed. At least some walls and a roof might offer some protection. I just have to believe that little Nat over here has a plan.

There are many things that I'm ready to let go of in life, but I definitely don't want to end up as a zombie nugget.


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