Morgan awoke in near total darkness. His arm was numb. His neck was stiff and sore. He winced as he shifted his weight and felt a stabbing pain shoot down his spine like a bolt of lightning. Apparently he had fallen asleep with his head propped against a rock wall and his backpack jammed awkwardly under his left shoulder.
“Ow!” he moaned, rolling onto his side and unslinging the pack. For a few moments he couldn’t remember where he was or what he had been doing. He sat up and rubbed his eyes. And then, like a scene from a forgotten movie, it all came back to him: the wild flight from the Baile; the harrowing descent from the tree; the beast with the sharp teeth and the rainbow monkey-face; the rain and the flashing sword and the hasty retreat into the cave.
He blinked and looked around. It was hard to see anything. The only illumination came from the cavern’s mouth, which was low and screened from his view by an outcropping of jagged rock. Opening his backpack, he took out his flashlight, switched it on, and swung the beam from one end of the chamber to the other.
Baxter was nowhere to be seen.
“Baxter!” he called, his voice rebounding hollowly down a long, empty corridor. “Baxter! Are you here?”
The name went echoing into the shadows until it died somewhere deep in the interior of the hillside.
Morgan got up and stumbled further into the cave. It seemed to go back for a long, long way.
“Baxter!” he cried again, shining the light up and down, peering into rocky nooks and crannies, stopping every so often to look behind big boulders and gleaming stalactites. “Where are you?”
And then, as the light slid over a deposit of sparkling emerald crystals in the wall, sending a splash of green brilliance up to the ceiling and down across the front of his tunic, he suddenly noticed something else.
His bolg was no longer hanging at belt.
His heart racing, Morgan retraced his steps. Back he went to the place where he had been sleeping beside the wall. There he got down on his hands and knees and examined every inch of the floor. Again he flashed his light from one side of the cavern to the other. Five times he crawled around the chamber in search of the bag. But there was no trace of it. It was completely gone. And gone with it was the precious Sword of Paracelsus!
That rat! he thought. I should never have trusted him!
There was only one thing to do. Hunt the culprit down. He couldn’t have gone far. He didn’t know the terrain, and he obviously wasn’t cut out for hardship and danger. Probably hiding under a bush somewhere, smirked Morgan as he peered out through the cavern door.
Outside it had stopped raining. Birds chattered in the wet shrubbery below the dark gray-green hillsides. Spiral-shaped fall flowers, orange, red, and yellow, bent their heads together in the shaded spaces between the rocks. The sun was still below the horizon, and two very bright stars gleamed white between pink and lavender bands of cloud. He glanced to the right. He glanced to he left. And then he saw it.
Halfway down the muddy slope that he and Baxter had climbed the previous afternoon sat the horrid monkey thing. Its arms were raised above its head and its long multicolored snout was tilted upward to the heavens. It did not notice Morgan, for it had its back towards the cave. But Morgan realized at once that there was no possibility of slipping past it unseen.
Not this way, he thought. I can’t possibly fight that thing without the sword. Baxter must have found some other path.
(To be continued …)