Thursday, November 29, 2012

NaNoWriMo 2012: [Pargons Of Virtue: book #1] Day #7

The rest of my post has day #7.

We laid hands on each other to improve our health.

We used the same technique to cross as before, but this time, Dickerson led the way. He cautiously poked at each hold. The others did not need to be told what to do, and neither did I. We did exactly what he did, and we tried to follow the exact path. I was the second last to step on the other side.

The big paladin took his rope out from under the rock, and we pulled our end under a rock on our side. Every time he made progress, we pulled in the slack, and anchored it.

We took another breather, before carrying on. We hiked for another half hour, which seemed uneventful. There were no tracks; no signs of anything. My heart sank. The danger was significant, but what bothered me the most is that we didn't do it properly from the beginning, and it was all because of me.

Half an hour later, the sun had set. There was still light, but it was getting very dark. We had small flash lights, but they would be worthless.

We sat down, and drank the remainder of our canteens. We also took time to eat our only rations. The wind blew in our ears. Everybody kept quiet and to himself.

Dickerson said, “Did you hear that?”

I cupped my ears, but all I could hear was wind. I waited a moment more. I thought that I heard white noise. “Is that...water?”


Hope. Desperation. At that moment, without saying anything, we hoped that we could follow the creek out of the canyon. We all looked through our binoculars.

Dickerson said, “I see a crack in the canyon floor!” He went for a closer look. When he got there, he hollered in excitement.

We picked up our gear, and move onwards. Half an hour later, the creek had swelled and deepened. We had reached an oasis. There was a lush carpet of grass. It was not too hard to see, because it a full moon shone down on us, and there was not a cloud in the sky.

My firing team partner said, “Oh, God. Thank you. Look! That's a way out of the canyon.” He pointed to a gentle path that led to the top of the western wall. We entered in on the west side, so that was very serendipitous. All the others shouted for joy, and gave thanks. I said a few words myself.

I pulled my book out to write.

I could see out of the corner of my eye Dickerson turning to celebrate with me. When he recognized what I was doing, he buried his face in his hands. “Wait...wait.”

I said, “It's not what you think.”

“You're not doing what...what you're doing. You are not doing it.”

“You have to understand.”

“No, man. No. Don't. Don't. Please.”

I shook my head. I walked over to him. “Look. It's not what you think. Think about this.”

“I did think about this. It you, who needs to think about this.”

I shook my head. “Listen.”

“Oh, man!”

“Listen. Listen. When I did it the first time, I had fairly genuine motives. I wanted to catch the guy. That's all. I also wanted to give God the glory. I never meant any harm. I was tired. I was forgetful, but I...and I made a mistake. I meant nothing by it. I've learned my lesson.” He shook his head. I could tell that was trying to ignore me. “Would you listen? The second time, he forced us across. This was consistent with the first pull.”

“That was your fault. That was because of you, not the mission!”

“Yes. You are right. I would never lie. I was tired, and I got mixed up, but that's why the section has you. You are there to hold me accountable. We got through it. The second pull is what forced us over the hole, and we believe that it was to teach me a lesson, and--”

“But why carry on?!”

“Because. Because maybe I didn't learn my lesson yet.”

“Oh, yes, you have. Come on. You're just saying that. You're just saying that as an excuse to go on. You don't need to pull a stone for that.”

“No! It's not like that. Yeah, I might have seen a while ago, the consequences of my ways,” I said, and I gestured onwards, as I said, “but who's to say that I have or don't have more consequences of my ways?”

He pointed at me forcefully, and said, “That ridiculous!”

“It is? Who brought out the white stone?”

Dickerson pressed his lips upwards, and turned away. He pressed his hands on his head. As he fell to his knees, he screamed.

I finished writing in my notepad. With great hesitation, I pulled out a white stone. I showed it to the group. They simply sighed and looked away.

I walked away a few steps for some privacy. Tears started flowing down my cheeks, as I squatted and hugged my legs. I am confident that I can speak on behalf of all of us, when I say that at no moment did we fear for our lives. We trusted God for that. We just did not want to do this anymore. That is all. We were exhausted. We were walking uphill practically all day, carrying 20 lb packs, and 10 lb rifles with ammunition, and we didn't bring any sleeping bags and tents.

If only I had turned back in the first few minutes, or if only I had let Reed lead the way.

I didn't even know what to want anymore. Therefore, I did what I knew best. I dropped my pack and rifle. After I shed the weight, my shoulders felt so light. I walked down to the creek. I took off my boots, and waded in. The moon glimmered in this babbling stream. I felt around for smooth stones about the size of diner plate. Every time I found one, I brought it up to the river bank to build an altar. It was built like a log cabin, with four sides. I was sure to bring out fresh stones, that were most probably untouched by human hands. Some were rough. Some were smooth. As was the standard, I used what I found. I also filled in any spaces in the altar with smaller stones to stabilize the sides.

Normally, we were required to use pine needles for this specific sacrifice, but I was sure that God would have made a small exception. I grabbed handfuls of grass, and placed them in the middle of the altar. I picked several branches of scrub brush, and placed them in a pile beside the altar. When I went for more, I discovered clover, which meant a change of plans for the better.

I was never a biologist, so I could never understand why clover was growing in an oasis in a canyon in a desert. I live in a world of miracles, so I just accept such things as relatively normal.

I cleared out the inside of the altar, and picked several handfuls of clover, to fill the entire altar.

I poured my entire canteen on the branches and the clover. I filled the canteen, and did it again.

I then faced the altar, with the creek on the other side, and knelt down. I closed my eyes, and lifted my head and arms towards the sky.

The sound of the creek, which was once white noise, had become a beautiful sound. It felt like a gentle hymn that nature played to accompany my humble attempt at penance and praise and thanksgiving.

I opened my eyes. The moon shone down on this beautiful moment. making it more special than I deserved. The reflection shimmered in the creek.

I looked down on the altar. Smoke started to appear. It rose to the heavens, carrying the sweet savoury scent of the clover. As it rose, I felt my burdens and pains lifted away.

I then placed handfuls of the wet branches in the altar. A few moments later, a tiny orange light appeared in the night sky. It grew. It came closer. It was a thin column of fire. As it grew longer, it bent in the shape of an arc. About a minute later, it finally landed on the wet branches. It kept burning for about another half minute. It then disappeared, leaving my branches burning in the midst of the altar.

I let my arms down for the first time since I started praying. I felt my soul being replenished. Peace overcame me, and visions filled my mind. It was a peace that I could not understand. Ever since I heard about this canyon, I felt as if it were an obstacle that could be easily walked through or a challenge to be overcome to get what I wanted. When I first pulled a stone, it became a prison, although I never realized it at the time. Now it seemed as if it were a sanctuary and a source of protection.

At last, for the first time since waking up this morning, I was at one with God.

I can only assume that my loyal paladins saw this. They walked past me, and fetched stones from the river and did likewise.

The pride that I had in that moment was not a pride in toughness or an ability to fight. I did not even want the pride of catching the kidnapper anymore. I was content in the pride of having fellow men who had the humility to depend on a God who controlled us as he willed.

Soon, there were columns of fire arcing to their altars as well.

When all had been accomplished, we put on our gear, and stood in a circle.

I said, “Men, you have trusted your lives to God, to me, and to the order. You have committed to fulfilling the mission. I have too. My goal is no longer pride and success. Rather, I now want to focus on doing what is right. Therefore, let us carry on, as planned. For the remainder of this mission, I will commit choosing the most cautious path, believing that my lesson is mine alone, and that God will deliver the kidnapper into our hands, if it is his will. Do you have any questions?”

The men calmly shook their heads.

“Sub Sergeant, I want to split up into groups, so that we could each scan one side of the canyon. Do you have any recommendations?”

Dickerson said, “I had considered splitting up into pairs, but it is getting dark and dangerous. It could be too easy for a team to get lost in here.”

“Agreed. I believe that we should walk slowly, and call out often, so that we can keep track of each other.”

My firing team partner said, “Sergeant, what about stealth?”

“Safety first. We can choose our path, but God has chosen our direction. Ultimately, there is nothing that we can do to capture the kidnapper. We must wait for God to hand him to us.”

He nodded.

“Unless there are any other suggestions, we should get move on.”

The others shook their heads.

Dickerson led on the west side. I led on the east. Due to the amount of moon light, I was able to see fairly well in front of me, for about ten feet. Anything beyond that was a mixture of grey and black meaningless shapes. We walked slowly, testing each step, before putting our full weight on it.

We pressed on for about ten more minutes. The terrain changed into uneven hard ground. It was as if we had discovered a collection of boulders. I put up my hand to tell my group to stop. Climbing the boulders would have been easier than climbing across the big hole, however, if we fell here, we might become wedged in a tight space. The thought of amputating a leg just to free myself flashed across my mind. I said, “Okay. I'm going to climb a few of them, and look ahead. I'll let you know what I see.” I walked closer, and searched for a way up. Suddenly, I heard a gasp. I listened. I heard uneven forced breathing.

I cocked my rifle. The other group members did likewise, when they heard me. The group on the other side of the creek heard it, and noticed me crouching down and stepping slowly. I stepped closer to the source of the sound. I was not sure if I was approaching a cornered animal or not.

I arrived at the source of the sound. It was a person, lying on the ground. He was wounded. I could not recognize the face, since the moon shone from behind him. I trained my weapon on him, and my group came forward and did likewise. My eyes scanned the area, and saw nothing particularly out of the ordinary.

I said, “Who are you?”

“Benton Masterson. Please. You have to help me. I leg is broken. Help. Please.”

“Dickerson! Over here.” The name never sounded familiar in the least, but I had difficulty trusting him.

Dickerson led his team carefully across the stream.

“Hands up where we can see them.”

He was quick to comply.

One of my group members stepped forward to cuff the man's hands behind his back. He winced and screamed in agony.

I said, “Okay, Benton Masterson. Why are you here?”

He refused to answer. He kept moaning and breathing heavily.

When he was secured, that group member pulled out a flashlight and shone it the man's face. He said, “He looks like the kidnapper.”

“I agree.”

I suspected that he was holding back on us, even in his excruciating pain. As a sign of good will, I laid my hand on him, and healed his leg, which appeared very malformed.

He breathed a little more easily. “Please. More. Please.”

“No. You tell us what we want to know. That'll be enough for you. You can walk, and that's all you need, Benton Masterson.” My group members heaved him onto his feet.

“I'm just an ordinary camper.” He winced in the pain, and leaned on his good leg.

“A camper named, Benton Masterson. Where is all your gear, Benton Masterson?” Even until the bitter end, villains always seemed to lie. Listening to them try to pitifully lie their way out of their predicament amused me.

“I got lost, when I came down that ramp back there. My gear is at my camp site.”

Dickerson shone his flashlight on our captive, and said, “You caught him!”

I said, “Yes, the eight of us did.”

He noticed my emphasis, and looked at me. He nodded. We patted each other on the back.

As the guys started back, I said, “Whoa. Where are you going?!” They looked at me, and I said, “We have to keep going.” I paused, and said, “Just kidding. Let's go.”

We arrived at the top of the ramp at the perfect time. In the distance, we saw headlights coming towards us, but not directly at us. Apparently, the canyon had switched back. So, much of our travel had brought us to near where we entered the canyon. The vehicle might have been about a half mile away. We brought out our flashlights and waved them. The vehicle turned towards us. I felt such a relief. It was like we were being rescued.

The guys cheered. The guys who held our captive shook him a little.

The captive muttered something in a foreign language.

I think that he swore at us, and maybe even pronounced a curse on us. I didn't care.

As the vehicle came closer, we could see that it was the truck. We climbed into the back. The truck rolled over lumpy ground, including shrub brush and rocks, rattling us back and forth. We sang a song of victory. The ride was uncomfortable, but I was so glad to get off of my feet, that I felt like I was getting a luxurious limo ride. The captive screamed, because his leg was not fully healed.

At the operating base, we unloaded our captive. Some other paladins took him from there, to be fully healed by the clerics, and to be processed.

Captain Morley approached me. “Congratulations, Smith. You found him. I was pretty worried about you. We've sent the others out looking for you. They should be back in another twenty minutes. How did you find him.”

“We found him in the canyon. We just followed the canyon. He was injured, so we were able to find him in plain site. It was dark, but still.”

“Your first mission as sergeant, and you bring home the trophy. You have a very promising future. Congratulations, Smith.” He held his hand out to shake mine.

I held my hand out, but before I grabbed his, I said, “It was a group effort. They kept me grounded, and God just handed him to us. I'll shake it on behalf of the guys. It's their loyalty and hard work that helped us push on.”

He nodded.

I gripped firmly, and shook.


We climbed down out of the back of the truck. I put on my shades to protect myself from the blinding reflection off of the desert plain.

In the midst of it, was the deep canyon that we had been briefed about before leaving. The canyon snaked left and right in curves off to the horizon. From my position, it seemed like a tattoo or a scar on the plain.

The canyon mouth opened towards us just a hundred metres away. The gentle slope seemed like an invitation to adventurers. The well worn path testified to the canyon's accessibility to day hikers.

I stretched my arms back and up. I smiled.

The canyon walls towered above us, as if they were guarding us and preventing our escape. Perhaps the prisoner came here, to collude with the canyon and plead for asylum.

As we descended into the canyon, I got distracted by the sedimentary layers of the walls. On the left, the walls went straight up, with no hand and foot holds. Therefore, that wall reminded me of large long bars that prevented all forms of escape. I welcomed them, taking comfort in the earth poetically helping our noble cause. On the right, the desert rains had eroded the wall over the years into a gentle slope of layers. Therefore, that wall reminded me of the stands of a coliseum, where an audience could gather to mock adventurers who naively passed on towards danger. I was a paladin, and I chose boldness and courage for the journey ahead.

After about 15 minutes of walking, we found a creek that flowed along the length of the canyon floor. The mouth of the creek connected to a deep pool, which was partially under the left wall. It either drained through the bottom or at the side.

As we rounded the first major bend in the canyon, a private marching in the first position of the section signalled possible danger. I signalled to the rest of the section to stop, kneel, and prepare to fire. We cocked our weapons, and the sounds echoed along the canyon, betraying our presense.

He looked for a few moments more, then aimed his rifle ahead, and then signalled for us to approach. I gestured for us to get up, and jog over.

I said, “What have we got?” I saw two large rocks, which were pure stone, like granite, and they extended to above the canyon walls. Almost like sentries guarding a narrow passage in the canyon. The creek sneaked underneath the rock on the left.

He said, “The fugitive was probably intelligent enough to not hide so closely to the mouth of the canyon, but...”

“Right.” As paladins, we did not take chances. I brought the group in together, and ordered them to sneak up, one a time, finding cover along the way.

Sub Sergeant Dickerson went first. According to our training, he intended to take a midway point, so that he could direct the privates and corporals as new information came up.

In these situations, I had the unpleasant task of sending the least experienced privates in first. We did this in the case of an ambush. He was trained enough that he should survive, but it was still unfortunate.


The end. Thank you for reading!

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