Rock Hard

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Chapter 19 - Peak Performance

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“I just needed a place to rest. I didn’t know this cave was occupied.”

“Every cave along the mountain is occupied. Only the young fools think they’ve discovered a new cave. They spend too much time fantasizing about striking it rich that they’ve lost their sanity. Gotta keep them grounded, or they end up fools like you.”

I grumbled. This man was annoying.

“Look, I wasn’t planning to stay anyway. I gotta go vanquish a fire drake up North before it brings destruction to the land.”

I watched as the old man’s face brightened up. His rotten teeth weren’t a pleasant sight but I tried my best to look him in the eyes. If he noticed my quick glances at his mouth, he didn’t let on.

“Excellent. That ruthless fire drake has caused more people and creatures than you know showing up to my cave. A lot of them aren’t as friendly and as talkative as you. I’ve got to work more now which my tired bones don’t agree with.”

“What do you mean by work more?” I asked.

“Oh, talking to visitors like I’m doing now or if they are more aggressive, lighting and throwing a stick onto the explosive power I piled around you.”

I shifted uncomfortably as I realized the tiny piles of dust around might not be dust. I hoped that an accidental spark wouldn’t set me ablaze.

“Well, I should get a head start on my day. I’m on a bit of a deadline,” I said.

“Do take care. If you end up killing that cave menace, feel free to come back and tell me your story. It’s the least I could do for you.”

I watched drool slowly drip out of the gap in the gross man’s teeth. I’m not sure if I wanted to come back. I was yet to learn the man’s name and he wasn’t too great of a host.

I got up and crawled out of the tight cave. I didn’t look back in fear that the crazy cave-dweller would ask me to come back. That wasn’t something I was willing to do. The sun had shown itself but it was still early enough that the cold seeped through my bones. I shivered as I continued down the road. I was nervous that I would miss the cave that led to the drake’s lair.

I was told it sat to the right of the highest peak, on a much lower, more average peak. I didn’t understand why anyone would want a cave sitting next to the largest peak. You lost all the bragging opportunities of living under a relatively large peak since the largest peak made your somewhat average peak look smaller than average. I shuddered at the thought of showing my tribe that cave. I wouldn’t be able to live with the humiliation and, more importantly, with the teasing. It never made sense to me why others made such poor home choices.

As I looked around, I didn’t see many good spots to lay claim to. There wasn’t all that much out except for hard tan dirt, the occasional bug, and peaks blocking more peaks. Every time I climbed over the next peak, a bigger peak emerged as if to tease me. I repeatedly and wrongly assumed that I was looking at the highest peak, only to have my dreams of the journey ending to be crushed like the accidental scorpion I stepped on.

I felt sorry for the little guy. It was an accident. I stopped and tried to reconstruct the poor thing but my hands were too clumsy. I smeared his poor guts on a rock to clean my hand after I realized I wasn’t helping the bug I turned to paste.

Eventually a peak came into view that was much larger than any peak that I had seen before, which was also probably true for the last three peaks I’d climbed over. To the right of the peak was a much smaller, more average peak. It was the first peak I’d seen in a while that was small and kind of looked out of place, embarrassing really.

As I got closer to the large mountain in front of me, I spotted a small crevice high up on the mountain. It was a humble hole, one I wondered how a fire drake would fit in. I figured dragons were larger than the entrance. Maybe there was another way in or maybe this was the wrong cave. There was really only one way to find out.

It was a longer hike to the cave entrance than I initially anticipated. Maybe the smaller mountain was higher than I initially thought. At a certain point, the rock became too hard to walk on, forcing me to climb. I wasn’t a monkey so I didn’t enjoy climbing, not when my hands were fat and clumsy. I never liked monkeys. They thought they were kings of the forest because they could swing from tree to tree, while they talked smacked right to your face. Clearly golems were the most superior animals in the jungles, monkeys were just posers.

The entrance was larger than I anticipated but it still wasn’t very large. I was able to fit through the entrance, however, and that was what only mattered. I worried if the entrance had been just a touch smaller I wouldn’t have been able to fit.

On the inside, the cave was much roomier. I had enough room to stand straight comfortably. A seemingly endless passage that winded deep into the mountainside greeted me. I couldn’t see very far in front of me so I had little idea how deep the cave went or more importantly what lurked in it. I may not have believed the crazy cave dweller but I was certain he wasn’t lying about all the caves being occupied. Not when he was so prepared at protecting his cave.

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