Chip and the Book of Rose Leaves: Installment Seven

This week, Chip and Alfeus brave a hidden cavern that’s beautiful, but not altogether safe…

*

They rested for a time there, near the entrance to the cavern. Chip took a long drink of cool, clear water from the small spring that trickled down into the cavern’s depths. Feeling refreshed now, he balanced carefully on his hind legs as he sniffed the air.

It was pleasantly cool, just what you might expect from a mysterious, hidden place like this one.

And yet…

There was something unusual about the smell the longer Chip sniffed, but he couldn’t quite place it. Something almost smoky.

“Whatever is your nose quivering about now?” Alfeus asked, and Chip frowned, for his friend almost sounded nervous.

“What’s wrong, Alfeus?”

The chipmunk, rubbing his snout in distracted agitation, answered briskly, “I’m not altogether fond of some of the underground residents, if you must know.”

“Why? Who lives here?”

“Fire lizards,” Alfeus said. “They’re changeable creatures, by all accounts, and were no great help when the forest stood at odds.”

“So, they’re dangerous?”

“Well, I wouldn’t exactly call them enemies,” the chipmunk offered, shifting uncertainly. “I wouldn’t exactly call them friends, either.”

“And you’re certain that the cavern is the only way to reach Abaline?” Chip asked, feeling the warning twinge of danger, which made his left ear start twitching, as he spoke.

“Yes. If you try to go past the waterfall and stay aboveground, Abaline is nowhere to be found. You go through, or you go nowhere at all.”

He knew Alfeus was right. Still, Chip felt compelled to point out, “You might have mentioned the fire lizards earlier.”

“I’m hoping they keep to themselves,” the chipmunk said, choosing to ignore the pointed comment. “They only venture out at high noon to soak up what heat they can before returning to the Obsidian Lizard.”

Chip, who had just begun to hop further into the cavern, stopped short. “Obsidian Lizard?”

“Yes, yes, that’s what I said! There’s no reason to get your fur ruffled about it. He only leaves the underground during the peak of summer, and that’s a ways off yet. Until then, his fellow lizards soak up heat to warm him. Somehow, it keeps the fire within him aflame.”

At this, Chip muttered something about the chipmunk’s words being less than reassuring.

“Better informed with a little healthy fear than ignorant and foolhardy because of it. Besides, only heat draws them out, and we won’t have any flame to attract them. I’m certain we’ll make it through without incident.”

“So, you managed it safely with Leah?”

“Well, no…” Alfeus confessed, his voice trailing off. “I only went as far as the cavern’s mouth. She insisted that it was something she must do alone. But I’ve always regretted not going with her all the way to Abaline.”

Chip offered an encouraging smile, for he could sense Alfeus’ discomfort, and he was truly grateful to have a friend along on this journey. “Well then, it’s a good thing you have another chance now.”

With that, they began to make their way through the luminous underground. Both Chip and Alfeus stared above and around them at the glittering walls, mouths agape.

Thousands upon thousands of gems and crystals were encrusted in the dark gray stone, but it seemed more than happenstance to Chip, as if someone had lovingly chosen just the spot from which each gem could best send out its own radiant glow.

He could not help but continue to stare in wonder; in fact, so enraptured was he that he nearly stumbled into the widening stream.

But can you blame him, reader?

After all, of the many things that Chip might have anticipated encountering, he had never expected to come face to face with a radiance such as this beneath the earth where no familiar rays of light might reach them.

What is this place? Chip silently pondered as they continued to follow the water’s meandering path.

“Where is the light coming from, I wonder?” said Alfeus in a whisper, which seemed only right in a place like this.

Once the question was voiced aloud, Chip naturally felt that he must investigate further. He hopped over to the wall on their left, placing a paw against the stone before jerking it back just as quickly when it proved to be quite warm.

When he mentioned this to Alfeus, the chipmunk did not look terribly surprised. “That’ll be the fire lizards. There are so many of them, they’re bound to heat the very walls themselves.”

Chip heard Alfeus, but did not reply. He had caught sight of movement in a nearby gem. Oh, how he wished Romulus were there to teach him their names, for he was sure to know them all.

There it was again!

Something darted to the right past a jewel, carnation pink in color, and Chip was sure the movement came from the other side of the wall, rather than from the reflection of the gem’s smooth surface.

“Alfeus, did you see that? I think there’s a passage on the other side of this wall!”

“Well, if there is, it’s the fire lizards who use it, and I’m not inclined to wait and see,” Alfeus said before marching resolutely forward.

Reluctantly, the young rabbit followed. Much as he might long to uncover the mysteries of the fire lizards’ dwelling, he knew Abaline was more important. They followed the flowing stream to their right, Chip admiring the way the stone shimmered beneath the perfectly clear water. He had expected to feel tense and afraid after learning of the fire lizards, but there was something altogether pure and comforting about this underground haven, and the rabbit found that he felt free to explore every crevice and nook, much to Alfeus’ consternation.

At last, they reached the back of the cavern. Before them, looking as if they had been there since time began, were three gaping tunnel entrances. The stream flowed merrily down the middle path, and Chip was tempted to simply follow it, but instead looked at Alfeus expectantly. “Which one do we take to Abaline?”

The chipmunk was silent, staring fixedly from one tunnel to the next.

“Alfeus?” Chip prompted.

He jumped a bit before replying, “Well, I can’t say that I know, Chip. I imagine that’s something that each seeker of Abaline’s treasure has to uncover for themselves.”

At the end of this lofty pronouncement, Alfeus looked away rather sheepishly, for after all, he truly did want to be useful and was bothered when he felt he was not.

“That’s all right, Alfeus,” Chip said, noticing his friend’s embarrassment. “We’ll figure it out.”

He hopped forward to the tunnel on the left and sniffed, immediately scrunching up his nose in distaste. It smelled damp and unfriendly, and something in the heavy staleness of it warned Chip against taking that path.

“Alfeus, what does the tunnel on the right smell like to you?”

Hurriedly, the chipmunk scampered over, taking a good and proper whiff before sighing with delight at the scent that greeted him. “Hazelnuts, Chip,” he breathed. “Mountains and mountains of them!”

Alfeus was several feet past the entrance before Chip managed to stop him. But then, all of a sudden, the headiest sensation swept over him, enveloping him in the scent of lilac, just as if he were back in his grandmother’s burrow beneath the grandest lilac bush that Everleaf Forest had ever seen.

Alfeus continued to mutter about hazelnuts as Chip turned to stare down the tunnel, breathing in his favorite smell. He was just about to make his way closer to it when his left ear twitched violently.

For one pivotal moment, Chip’s mind cleared, and he was struck by the pungent wave of rot rising up from the tunnel’s depths. He pushed the hazelnut-crazed chipmunk out of the tunnel until they were far back enough for the smells to fade.

Though Alfeus had, at first, been overtaken by indignant hysterics, only a few minutes passed before he returned to his own, rather persnickety self. “Confound it all! What sort of depraved mind makes false promises of hazelnuts?”

“At least you didn’t get a whiff of what was really coming from that tunnel,” Chip choked out, still nearly gagging from the unrelenting stench of it. Still, he managed a smile at Alfeus’ dramatics.

The chipmunk was yet to be appeased. “I refuse to tolerate such deceitfulness! Such foul play! One nice, wholesome adventure is all a chipmunk asks for in life, and if anyone else comes to muck it up, it’s me they’ll have to answer to!”

It was then that a roar sounded, so terrible and deep that it made the very walls around them tremble.

Chip looked at Alfeus. “You were saying?”

*

Any guesses on where (or who) the roar is coming from? Share your ideas using #bookofroseleaves

Until next week,

Alexandria

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