For those who have read the previous two excerpts and then wondered, “WHERE IS PROSPECTOR?” Have no fear.
All lovers of Splat can rejoice!
The Last Prospector (available for only 99 cents on Amazon!) was, predictably, all about Prospector. But the Song of Solstice is a big story, Travellers and Tramps really opens up the world of Solstice. There are many new people to meet. Prospector is a constant though, he is the key to everything.
At the end of The Last Prospector, Tonyo and Prospector received orders from The Boss. They are to finish the Keptyn Pike – btw, I’m a little wounded no one saw what I did there, but no matter, onward – and today’s sample finds the men at their work.
Right now, they were waiting for it to stop pouring. Tonyo was up ahead with a group of the stronger Lofts taking down a medium sized tree in the way while Prospector was at the paving with his crew of twenty. Huddled together under the canopy of tightly woven gossamer protecting the freshly laid concrete, he hoped it would end soon enough to get another few feet of pike done before torchset.
This part of the jungle was deksum territory. The thirty foot long serpents could be heard every night slithering below Napaaqtuq. The sound of their scales scraping against the trunks made Prospector’s blood run cold. Deksums were not beasties he could hope to control like cats or zebras.
The jungle downpours started as quickly as they stopped. This one had been going for a half an hour and kept getting heavier. Prospector decided to call a halt for the day, it was too close to torchset to risk anyone’s life.
“Go on up, Mak and I’ll catch up to the others, bring ‘em home,” he told Aput who clearly agreed.
“Deksums have much boldness, more than before the road.” This was not meant to be a rebuke, Aput was not criticizing as much as warning. Prospector still detected a tone.
“Aye I noticed. It’s still early enough not to worry, I reckon.” Prospector was trying to reassure himself as much as Aput.
Zilubra and Makyldun were the only mounts. The Lofts traveled the tree tops rather than the jungle floor. Prospector had a tightness in his gut that felt like something was wrong. His instincts saved him many times in his life, so he never ignored his gut. He called Mak. Going alone was not the wisest thing, but there was no other option. He leaned into the cat and sped out into the rain.
Aput already had the road gang up the vines and into the tangle of foliage. The Lofts rarely ever used the lift themselves, preferring to use the series of gossamer lines and ladders ringing Napaaqtuq. They knew more about protecting themselves from the dangers of the jungle than even the Viridyans. Prospector wasn’t worried about them.
He was worried about something though. He felt danger around him like it was part of the rain washing over his skin. Mak flew through the jungle towards the scent of Tonyo and Zilubra. The wet leaves they passed slapped angrily against Prospector’s legs. The cat’s body was tense beneath him and Mak’s ears flicked quickly in all directions. As the rain eased, the jungle seemed to close in around them. Prospector suddenly felt very small, intimidated by the towering trees.
The roar of the raindrops hitting the foliage was gone leaving an eerie silence in its place. Mak slowed down of his own will, lowering his body close to the ground and prowling forward through the undergrowth. Prospector held his breath and waited for the return of birdsong that always burst from the trees after the skies cleared. It didn’t come.
Approaching the last bend before Tonyo’s crew, Prospector found himself praying for the safety of his people. It was not something he usually did simply because he had enough faith The Boss always knew what was happening. But he was scared now and wanted to make sure. A low, throbbing growl came from Mak’s chest as they came around the bend, his whiskers twitching faster than the zebra’s ears. Prospector closed his eyes.
A shout pierced the air and Mak lurched to a stop. Prospector’s eyes came open, relief flooding over him in a cool wave. The tree was down and the crew was in the process of hauling it away from the site with Tonyo in the lead pulling a thick rope. All of them were well, laughing and teasing each other loudly. None had noticed Prospector yet and he was glad of that.
He wasn’t sure what girlish madness overtook him and didn’t need the younger people mocking his non-vine swinging self more than they already did. He composed his face and hailed the group. Zilubra shook her head at Mak but he didn’t respond with his usual meows. He was still quite tense, but Prospector wasn’t noticing in his relief.
Tonyo dropped his rope and pulled himself up onto the log with a couple of Lofts, waving hello and spreading his arms with pride. It was a fairly large tree and Prospector was dubious about it coming down in one day with their inadequate axes. It motivated Tonyo to get that puppy down as fast as possible.
Some of the crew on the ground were cheering at Tonyo’s display. He happily played for the crowd as Prospector watched. The Lofts on the tree next to Tonyo stopped cheering and their pale eyes widened. Prospector saw their long arms come up in slow motion. He saw their lips moving but couldn’t hear them. Then Tonyo looked up and the fear in his eyes was visible from far away.
“Meowch!” A chorus of voices yelled, pointing behind Prospector. He did not turn to look. Meowch was the Loft word for cat, really big cat.
Prospector leaned into Mak. “Run!” He said, but the cat was already moving.