Maeko sat cross-legged, awaiting Adara to explain what could possibly be bringing a smile to her face at a time like this. It has never made sense to him, how even in the gravest of times, Adara wore a smile. Sometimes she would smile to lift everyone else up, smile for them, smile at them, her smile shone on dark days. He couldn’t look at it without smiling himself, it was frustrating sometimes, now being one of those times. “Well?” He crossed his arms and coughed, waving the smoke out of his face. Adara just grinned and danced towards the wall of the cliff, grey dress whipping around her legs, red hair flying behind her. She placed her hand on a crack in the wall and ran her finger down it about 3 inches and put all four of her fingers inside the crack, gripping the stone. She coughed into her elbow and locked eyes with Maeko and then gestured to the group. “Fellow travelers, I am now honored to share some good news with you all.” She grinned and pulled at the stone, revealing a gap large enough for someone to slip through it.
Ezekai grunted. “A hole in the cliff. Woohoo! We can all fall and die now.” Nitza slapped him on his left shoulder. “Not now.” She turned to Adara, “I don’t get it.” Nikyla turned to Connell and jumped up and down, whispering to him, Connell nodded, smirking. “What do you think it is, Connell?” Nikyla coughed and waved smoke away, still bouncing around. Connell pondered this a moment and pointed at the gap. “I believe Adara knows something about this cave that we don’t.” Nikyla nodded and rushed to Adara’s side, attempting to get a look in the cave. Maeko coughed again and stepped towards the hole, Nitza stood over Nyla and waited for an explanation, arms folded over her dark brown sweatshirt.
Adara flashed another grin and stepped through the triangular gap. Connell stroked his chin a moment and ducked through behind her with Nikyla right behind him. As the others piled in, Connell stared in awe at the cave. A small underground spring filled a pool of water in the visible center while a small amount of light trickled in from somewhere above, dark grey and brown stones that flickered with blue light from the pure water stretched above into blackness with a pinhole of light somewhere mixed in. Connell’s jaw dropped as he took in his surroundings. Nikyla rubbed her eyes and dashed past him, almost sliding into the pool. Connell observed a small amount of plant growth where the light danced, stretches of stone and tunnels under the water’s surface, and three large, open tunnels stretching deep into blackness, beckoning the explorer’s heart. Adara dipped a wooden ladle he now saw was roped onto a stalagmite near the pool’s edge into the water and sipped calmly, with a wide grin. He half excepted her to spew it out any second. “The air is clear inside, Connell. Come, have some of the water.” Nikyla snatched the ladle and poured the fresh water down her throat and grinned. Connell smiled and snatched the ladle from Nikyla.
Ezekai stepped through the hole and glanced around at the cave, spotted the water and rushed Connell, taking the ladle before tucking into a roll. “Connell swallowed and caught himself. “Watch it, small one.” He glared at Ezekai who sipped at the cool water. “Small one?” Adara laughed. “Where are the others?” Ezekai nodded his head towards the entrance. “Nitza and Maeko are trying to pull Nyla and her blankets through,” he took another sip. “the smoke has gotten worse. It’s not natural.” Adara cocked her head. “Not natural?” Ezekai nodded and slurped the last of what he had dipped out. “As if they had set bags of chemicals in the treetops, I wouldn’t doubt it.” Adara nodded as she stepped towards the entrance. Nikyla lay by the pool, resting. “Would you two take a break from the tea party and help us get Nyla and the supplies through?” She placed her hand on the frame of the entrance. “The food!” Both boys stood and walked towards the door, Connell took his time, still observing the cave walls.
Maeko watched Ezekai vanish into the cave. He coughed and wiped his eyes once again. “This air is impossible!” Nitza yanked hard on the brown blanket Nyla was sleeping on. Nyla’s soft face was twisted into a frown, her breathing shallow and wheezy. Maeko’s heart melted. She has to make it. “Maeko..” He looked up again, Nitza was holding eye contact, concern pooled in her eyes. “Maeko, go see what Adara found. I’ll get you Nyla in there. You don’t look so good.” Maeko gave her a blank stare and pulled hard on the blankets again. “No,” he coughed. “I’m not leaving Nyla here alone.” He coughed. “Um.. Ouch.” Nitza picked up the food bag and started untying it from the climbing rope. “You know what I mean.” Maeko fidgeted with the blankets and dragged Nyla the rest the way to the entrance and wiped soot off his face, the soot only smeared. “You don’t have to help me, you know.” His voice was slurring more with every word. His vision was blurring, and just before he blacked out, he heard Nitza whisper. “That’s what I’m here for.”
Ezekai poked his head out the door and quickly drew it back in, his face caked in a thick layer of soot. He coughed and rubbed it off on his trench coat. “Adara, you may want to see this.” Connell slid Ezekai to the side and looked out himself. Unlike Ezekai, he was able to squint and make out three figures before his face was blackened. He pulled his head back in and coughed before dipping out some water and washing his face off. “We must act quickly, only Nitza is standing and she won’t be for long at this rate.” Ezekai sat with his head in his hands, Adara paced, and Connell peered out into the darkness. Ezekai was the first to speak up. “If they stay out there, we may never see any of them again.” Connell nodded and Adara put her hand on both boy’s shoulders. “They won’t stay out there, because they have us.” Nikyla came back from the pool, holding water in her mouth and smiling, murmuring unintelligible words. Ezekai poked her cheek and she spewed water all over Ezekai and Adara, throwing the group into laughter. Nikyla wiped her mouth. “I might have an idea.”
There is always hope, so long as we are not alone.
(To be continued here)