Chip and the Book of Rose Leaves: Installment Eight

Here you’ll find adventures, not for the faint of heart.

*

“Perhaps it was nothing,” Alfeus suggested hopefully, but his voice was shaking.

Another bellowing roar sent countless pebbles and shards of rock skittering across the cavern floor.

“Alfeus…” Chip whispered.

Before the chipmunk could utter a word, the opposite end of the cavern exploded in flame and the rush of powerful wings. The heat was immediate and intense, but it was nothing compared to Chip’s first glimpse of the dragon clawing its way into the cavern, its blue scales alight with the fire’s reflection.

Yet, even as Chip took in the sight of the enormous, and frighteningly angry, creature, he was distracted by an altogether unexpected noise. He almost missed it, so loud was the crackling of the dragon’s flame, but there it was again – laughter, louder now as four small figures shot across the cavern towards the flabbergasted Chip and Alfeus.

They were rabbits like him, Chip realized, who were apparently rather amused by the fire-breathing behemoth pursuing them with a vengeance.

The four raced past them, making for the center tunnel where the river flowed, shouting over their shoulders as they passed by.

“I wouldn’t linger!”

“Not unless you want your whiskers singed!”

“And just ask Roderick,” said the third with an impish grin, and the last bunny – who possessed decidedly short whiskers – agreed, “It’s simply not worth it, lads!”

“Why, why you –!” Alfeus began, and then Chip had him by the paw, pushing him into the tunnel’s confines where the dragon could not reach them.

Chip was right, of course. The dragon could not.

But his flames could.

Alfeus thought of this only just in time, and he pulled his frantic friend below the river’s surface, thanking God for the water as they looked up to find the tunnel above bathed in flame.

Ever so slowly, the flames disappeared, and the gems encrusted in the wall flared brightly, almost as if they had absorbed the heat and grown all the more brilliant because of it.

As soon as the fire cleared, both Chip and Alfeus rose, breathing in great gulps of air as they broke the water’s surface. The current of the underground river was growing stronger, but there was no dry ground available to them, and the pair was forced to let the river carry them where it would.

All around them, sound bounced and echoed. First, the gathering rush of water as the river speedily carried on its way, then the delighted whoops and cries of the four young rabbits, followed by the enraged roar of a fierce dragon, who was, for once, quite aggravated by her awesome size, for it kept her from pursuing those very rabbits who had been the source of her trouble from the start.

Yet, underneath it all, Chip could hear something more, a skittering sound, unobtrusive at first, but undeniably growing.

“Alfeus,” Chip called, “do you hear that?”

The chipmunk gazed down the tunnel, listening. “Claws on stone,” he whispered, more to himself than to Chip.

“What?” the rabbit cried.

But Alfeus didn’t seem to be listening. “The dragon’s fire.” With those words, the chipmunk jerked back to attention. “Chip, the heat from the dragon’s flames, it will –“

But it was much too late for warnings.

The danger was upon them now!

Sound engulfed them, and Chip suddenly understood Alfeus’ whisper.

Claws on stone.

Untold numbers of them.

The very walls of the tunnel seemed alive as the fire lizards swarmed down the tunnel walls, covering them with the chaotic, shimmering movement of their fiery red forms. The river continued to carry Chip and Alfeus in a now frenzied rush.

There was nothing they could do but watch in fascination as the fire lizards’ rough crimson skin began to glow while they greedily absorbed the heat from the dragon’s flames.

The tunnel began to feel uncomfortably warm as steam began to rise from the water, dampening Chip’s and Alfeus’ fur.

The fire lizards were moving closer to the river, and the water was growing warmer in response, but it wasn’t until a terrifically deep boom sounded that Alfeus felt truly afraid.

He swam as best he could towards Chip, and when he spoke, his voice was low, but urgent. “Steady now, my friend.”

They watched as, one by one, the fire lizards dropped into the water, filling the tunnel – now so enormous that it was practically a cavern in its own right – with great plumes of steam.

All the while, the deep booms were growing louder, until the tunnel walls began to thrum with the force of them.

Nearly all of the fire lizards were in the water now, and Chip began to squirm at the sudden heat.

“Alfeus, what are they doing?” Chip shouted, really frantic now.

The answer was immediate. “They’re warming the water.”

And before Chip could question why, he looked up to find two immense eyes, red like coals, staring into his own with an intensity that burned.

The Obsidian Lizard, wakened by the dragon’s flames and the intrusion of so many into his underground home, crashed down into the river.

For the briefest moment, Chip caught a glimpse of the creature’s hide, smooth like black glass, except for where meandering veins of red made the lizard look like he was burning from within.

In the next instant, a wave of water and steam, triggered by the Obsidian Lizard’s bulk, covered Chip and Alfeus, leaving them with nothing by heat and the need to escape it.

The river first pushed, then pulled, sending Chip spiraling down to its depths before sending him tantalizingly close to the surface and air. He could see nothing, do nothing, could only feel as the heat bit and choked and consciousness slipped –

But then there was a brief glimmer of light and something took hold, and suddenly, Chip knew clean air and cool breeze and dry ground.

He rested and he breathed, and soon enough, let out a half-choked laugh of relief as Alfeus’ familiar, indignant tone reached his ears, grateful beyond measure that his friend was alive and well.

Gratitude, however, was quite the last thing on Alfeus’ mind. In fact, the best the bedraggled chipmunk could manage was an utterly dismayed cry of, “Oh no, not you,” as he looked into the endearingly cheerful face of their rescuer, Beauregard Beaver.

*

Until next time, reader.

And be on the lookout for some exciting news about 21:25 Books! You won’t want to miss it.

Alexandria

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