I've Never Felt Better: Part Two
The Haunted Woods was back to its normal, gloomy skies again. Haquin and Lord Tamerson had bid farewell to Kapport and the mansion, and walked into Neovia where Haquin had landed the hot air balloon. They both carried packs full of food, water, and, in Lord Tamerson’s case, books. His was the larger pack, for he had brought five books along. He would’ve dragged his entire collection with them if he could, but fortunately Haquin had been able to make him realize that if he did bring all of this, his back would probably break the minute they set out for the balloon.
However, having been denied the option of bringing all of his books, he was in a grumpy mood. He was muttering angrily the entire way to the hot air balloon. When they got into the town, he shot glares at everybody who looked at them. He was actually well-known in Neovia, but he was infamous for being an ill-tempered old Wocky who rarely went outside.
They made their way to the opposite end of Neovia, where the hot air balloon was tethered to the ground, awaiting them. Lord Tamerson shot it an accusing look, as if it was the one responsible for this journey. He had ridden in a hot air balloon before, and like many of his experiences, he had hated it.
“Come on, it’s not so bad,” Haquin said. “Doesn’t it make you feel powerful to look down on the land? Doesn’t it make you feel more important?”
“No,” Lord Tamerson snapped as he climbed into the basket of the balloon. “It makes me feel sick.”
This hot air balloon was designed for long-distance flights. It had two sleeping bags in the basket and an empty corner where one could put their belongings. They put their packs down in this corner. Haquin went to set up a fire in the balloon while Lord Tamerson stood, looking out of the basket.
Soon the balloon began to drift upwards, away from the ground. Haquin dropped back into the basket and cut the rope that kept the balloon earthbound. Lord Tamerson grimaced as the balloon rose up into the sky, taking him further away from the solid ground that he had taken for granted. Now he really did wish he had never agreed to come with his nephew.
“Let’s see, the Lost Desert is directly south of the Haunted Woods,” Haquin murmured, “so we should be there by nightfall.”
“Good. We’ll stop there,” Lord Tamerson said.
“Maybe.” Haquin leaned over the edge a little, looking down at the tops of the trees that were rushing by.
“Maybe?” Lord Tamerson growled.
“If we find a city to stop in.”
“But why do we have to wait for a city? Why can’t we just land?”
“Gosh, what do you read about, Uncle? I thought that one of your books would’ve told you that the Lost Desert is almost as filled with spirits and monsters as the Haunted Woods.”
His uncle groaned. He did that a lot.
It was nearly sunset, and the Haunted Woods had thinned out and eventually become the barren dunes of the Lost Desert. The Wockies were beginning to learn why it was called the Lost Desert. “So, how far away is the nearest city?” Lord Tamerson asked. He had sitting on his sleeping bag reading for most of the journey, while Haquin had been watching the landscape around them, a compass in his paw.
“Um...” Haquin looked at the horizon.
“Don’t tell me you forgot to bring a map.”
“I have one! I have one!” Haquin hissed. He went to his pack and rummaged through it, eventually taking out a large map. “Um... we’ve been traveling south for a while...”
“I know that,” Lord Tamerson growled. He stood up and went to look at the map with Haquin.
“So... uh...” Haquin looked at the map. He turned it upside down. He turned it to the side. Finally, he declared, “I have no idea where we are. Sorry.”
“Aargh, you idiot!” Lord Tamerson shouted.
Haquin hung his head in shame.
“Well, this is just great. What do we do now, hm?” Lord Tamerson paced back and forth through the basket.
Haquin had no answer.
“Look, give me that thing,” Lord Tamerson growled, taking the compass away from him. “Sakhmet is the largest cities in the Lost Desert. Sakhmet’s to the east... so we go away from the sun.”
“I don’t think we’re going to find any cities tonight, Uncle,” Haquin sighed. He still wouldn’t look Lord Tamerson in the face.
“We’ll still head east,” Lord Tamerson said. “You know how to work this thing. Move it so we’re traveling east.”
“Yes, Uncle,” Haquin said meekly, and went to carry out his uncle’s orders.
They went eastwards, and several times Lord Tamerson swore that he saw Sakhmet on the horizon. But it was always just a mirage, an illusion. The gray Wocky seemed bent on reaching the city before night, perhaps just so that he would be on solid ground for the night. Lord Tamerson was now the one looking down at the world, searching for the city while his nephew avoided him.
“Wait! Land the balloon!” the Wocky exclaimed.
Haquin frowned, confused. “Why?”
“There’s somebody down there!”
Haquin rushed to his uncle’s side, forgetting that he’d yelled at him. Below, in the sands, was a single black figure silhouetted against the desert in the last rays of light. They could not see who it was, but Lord Tamerson wanted to talk to him.
“Perhaps he can tell us if we’re going the right direction or not.” Lord Tamerson waved down at the figure. “Hello there! Hey! Stop for a minute!” Whoever it was either didn’t hear them or decided not to acknowledge them. “Come on, Haquin, land the balloon!”
His nephew nodded and brought them down to the ground as quickly as he could. They had hardly been landed for five seconds when Lord Tamerson grabbed his cane and climbed out of the basket with surprising ease for his age. Haquin had hardly begun to tie the balloon down with a rope and peg when Lord Tamerson was hurrying off after the figure. “Hello! I’d like to talk to you!”
The figure was a few yards away. It stopped for a moment, and turned to face them. It was then that Lord Tamerson saw that it was a Techo in a cloak. Why he was out here was anybody’s guess.
Haquin came running up behind Lord Tamerson. “Hey there, friend! Perhaps you could tell us if we’re going towards Sakhmet!”
The Techo paused for a moment, and, without any warning, scurried off in the opposite direction.
“Hey! We just wanna talk!” Haquin yelled. He and his uncle ran after the Techo. They chased him over the dunes, but they were much slower than him, mostly because of the fact that Lord Tamerson was doing more of a hobble than a run. His nephew tried not to get too far ahead of him.
Luckily for them, they were able to follow the Techo, for he had left his tracks in the sand. They ran along, trying to keep sight of the Techo’s tracks, for it would soon be completely dark. The sun had already mostly disappeared beyond the horizon. It disappeared just as they came to the end of the tracks. But there was no sign of the Techo, and no clue as to where he had gone.
Lord Tamerson frowned. “He couldn’t have just disappeared...”
“Maybe there was a Uni waiting for him?” Haquin suggested.
“But look, there aren’t any hoofmarks here.”
Haquin scratched his head and took one step forward. The ground beneath him collapsed, revealing a hole in the sand. Lord Tamerson heard Haquin’s surprised yell as his nephew fell down the hole.
“Haquin!” he shouted, his eyes wide. His heart beat faster as he rushed to the side of the hole. His nephew was somewhere down there. “Haquin!” He listened, trying to hear for any response. But he heard nothing at all. He looked back the way they came, just as the sun set completely. Soon everything was dark.
There was definitely no going back in this light. For the first time in his life, he regretted getting out of a hot air balloon. He sat down and put his face in his paws. What could he do? If he stayed up here, the monsters that Haquin had spoken of would probably attack him. But who knew how deep that hole was? What if Haquin was lost forever?
Perhaps they hadn’t been so smart, following that Techo. There was always the possibility that whatever you saw in the Lost Desert was just an illusion. Perhaps that was all the Techo was, something that they had seen only because of the heat of the desert sun.
He stood up. He had to at least find his nephew. It was his fault that they were out here in the first place. He had to make amends somehow. He leapt into the hole.
To be continued...