I could feel each step crunching against the bone dry ground. What used to be dirt turned dry and brittle after eons under the sun, caked with sand and dust. I could see the heat rising off the ground, hovering above the surface, embracing my group and me. I looked forward, and saw only desert, I looked back and the results did not change, days of traveling in this hell of a place. The last week was filled only with walking and struggling to continue in this sandy place, interrupted only by an abandoned shack or the soft embrace of night.

I could sense my legs growing tired, my muscles struggling to push me farther. The most recent hill taking what little energy and patience I had remaining. The top of the hill opened into a large clearing, the trees forming an almost perfect circle around a field of grass and the odd flower. I turned to Barney, keeping my voice a whisper.

“Do you think we’re stopping anytime soon?” I said, out of breath from even attempting to speak. “ I don’t think I can keep walking like this, it’s been like this the whole day.”

Barney turned to look at me. It was clear to me that he was in a similar situation, his face red, his lips dry, and his eyes struggling to focus on a clear point. He was sweating, losing water I wasn’t sure we would be able to replace anytime soon. But my worries were useless, as I noticed Barney stretching his hand upwards, and I turned to match his pointing.

No matter how out of place it seemed, I found myself facing a creek outlining the clearing, providing a border, a place of reference, and most importantly, water. 

Almost unconsciously I began a rush towards the creek, and from the side of my eyeline I could see Barney follow my lead. Before any major ground could have been gained, an arm came down before Barney and myself, blocking our way to the creek, to water. I glanced up, growing increasingly annoyed at these series of events. Before I could even think of what I would say, Barney beat me to it.

“What’s the deal?” He spat out, obviously just as frustrated as I was. “We’ve been following your lead for the last week, we haven’t stopped walking at all today, and yet at the first sign of water you won’t let us go?”

The tall man lowered his hood, revealing short kept white hair, and his face turned brown with decades of sun and complemented by numerous scars of varying sizes. The man reached into the once purple cloak he wore, years of dirt and mud changing the colors to a more earthly shade. 

I watched as he reached a bony hand into one of the numerous pockets, and watched as he took a long moment fiddling with the collection of junk and material stored inside. After an awkward moment of watching he triumphantly shot his hand out of the pocket, clutching an even older pocket watch. Not yet ready to speak, the man flicked up the watch, read its display, and seemed to spend time thinking about what he read. After another moment he decided to speak.

He walked into the clearing, momentarily pausing to take in some aspect of the environment I did not understand. He kept his head on a semi-constant swivel, registering everything that happened within his gaze. He cleared his throat and turned back to face us.

“Now why would I be cautious?” He asked, shooting a curious face to Barney, and then back to me and so forth. I looked to my left, giving Barney a confused look, which he shared. I peered back at the man in the clearing.

“Because it’s a new place?” I guessed.

“Yes it is a new place, very good. But that is not the reason I am so cautious.” He replied. “The answers dumber than that, it’s right there, you’re just too tired to grasp it.”

Feeling drowsy and dehydrated to lash back, I kept thinking about his question. After what seemed too long, I faced the man and softly said.

“Because this place shouldn’t be here.” I said, growing more confident at my answer as I read the man’s face. 

“Very good Oliver.” He said, smiling at the fact I managed to answer his question under threat of fainting due to the number of things I was fighting at the moment. He darted back towards us, seeming too excited for someone who has been walking for a week. He grabbed both of us by the shoulder and turned us around to face the way we came.

“Look out there.” He said. “What do you see, or rather what is it you don’t see?”

I looked down the hill and out towards the horizon, stretching green until the trees miles away were too small to see. I saw nothing wrong with the forest, the forest. There was Forest, everywhere.

“Where’s the damn desert?” Barney had beat me to it. He kept staring outwards as we all did. We tried to find one speck of sand from our vantage point, but no speck was found.

“We didn’t walk that far.” I said. “A mile at best, at best. I remember, it went sand, and then green, the hill, and the clearing.” “So-”

“So where’s the sand?” The old man anticipated my question. “That seems to be the biggest mystery at the moment. He pulled a triangle object from his cloak, it let out a high pitched shriek. He pointed it to the sky, and then the ground, and then the horizon.

“What does that do?” Barney asked the man.

“Hopefully something useful.” He responded, pocketing the shrieking trinket.

He turned back to the clearing, and practically skipped towards the edge. With a quick turn he was facing the two of us once again.

“Boys.” He began. “I think you’re both right, we should begin to look for a place to set up camp.” He said, never looking at the two boys in front of him, instead darting his view around the clearing. He cleared his throat and said. “This will work, we’ve stayed in worse haven’t we?” He asked, glancing at Barney.

“No sir, I don’t think we have.” Replied Barney, who had grown tired of the old man’s worn humor weeks prior. “At Least we had a cabin last night, what are we even supposed to sleep in?”

The old man smirked at Barney’s remark. I had a feeling that the man most definitely had an idea of where we were going to sleep. I knew that the man did not like spoiling a surprise, so I kept my mouth shut and watched.

“Oliver, hand me bag four will you?” The old man said, now facing me.

I did not know which one of the stained leather bags I had in tow was “bag number four”, so I took a guess. I handed him the brown bag, lined with a once beautiful red lining, hoping this was the correct option.

“I said bag number four Oliver, the leather one.” The old man said, looking at my obvious error.

“Sir.” I started. “All the bags are leather, in fact most of them are identical, they are also not numbered in any way, sir.” I said to the man, mumbling the last portion of my comment. The old man was not mean in any way, but he was not a supporter of sarcasm, at least when someone else uses it. 

I knew I did not have the right to argue with the man, I had already owed him so much. I began traveling with the once retired explorer after I myself had made the decision to discover the unknown. I gathered that the man thought I wouldn’t survive on my own, so he offered to travel with him. 

In a very similar situation was Barney. Barney was tired of whatever life he lived before, so he decided to go seeking adventure, and just a week before I found the old man, Barney had done the very same. I was close to Barney, as we have traveled together for well over a year now, but never close enough I learned of his life before our travels. 

I looked back at the man, as he continued to point towards the elusive bag number four. I remember when I had first met the man, at a tavern very close to a woods I was looking to explore. The man first saw me buying, and occasionally taking, the supplies I would need for the trip. That was the day we offered to take me under his wing as he explored the little portions of the world he had not yet seen. His exact history I never knew, and I probably never would. I only knew he was experienced, and infamous, any other questions I choose not to ask.

“Now that we got that handled.” Said the old man, clutching bag number four to his chest. Barney and I kept our eyes locked on his movement, watching him maneuver his way to the middle of the clearing. 

“The first time I did this I didn’t even mean to!” The man shouted towards us, overestimated our distance. “There I was, I was being chased by bounty hunters.” He paused, looking puzzled. “No, it was poachers.” He decided. “I had nowhere to go, I had to hide somewhere, I may have even been crying.” He blabbered on. “I thought I was out of luck, and then.” The old man raised the bag, and hurled it into the ground at an alarming speed.

I watched the bag hitting the ground, expecting to hear the sound of vials breaking and precious resources going to waste, but the bag began to move on the ground, it almost looked as if it was growing. I kept my distance as the bang grew upwards and outwards, and after a moment of silence there was a roomy tent in the middle of the field.

“Well look at that.” Said the man. “Honestly, I didn’t know if that would still work.” He said, chuckling as he did. He walked from the other side of the tent, and he promptly opened the flap and entered, completely disappearing from sight.

My eyes darted around the interior of the tent, a glow seemingly surrounding the shelter. There were animal skins surrounding the walls, tarps and blankets covered the floor, and felt lined the roof and large pillows were lying on three cots set in the middle of the tent. I

“Spell Proof, Waterproof, people proof my boy.” The oldman said, showing me around my home for the night. “I haven’t gotten her out in too long, so I started to miss her.” He whispered as he paced the floor. 

I had wanted to keep the tour going, but as I had learned during my time with this odd group, the events of the universe are not parallel to my expectations.

“Hey Oliver, look at this.” Barney called, his voice partially blocked by the thick tent walls.

“What?” I asked, opening the flap of the tent and stepping back into the clearing. After a moment I glanced skywards, and I no longer needed Barney to clarify what he wanted me to see. The sky was no longer clear, it was the opposite. Dark columns of black cloud began to lower themselves to the ground. THe rest of the sky was fast moving and dark, swirling, fueling the branches that were heading towards the ground.

“Alright boys, I think it’s time to turn in for the night.” Said the man, moving quickly to transfer us inside, never removing his gaze from the sky, and the funnels rapidly racing towards the surface.

Before we even had time to fully shut the flaps, rain began assaulting our shelter. I could tell this was not a normal storm, anyone could have picked that up. The rain sounded as if it was angry, this was not a normal pelting, it sounded personal. It sounded as if each raindrop had a vendetta against our group inside.

I cleared my throat, preparing to speak, but the cutting noise of the wind cut me off. The noise soon became unbearable, blocking out every noise we desperately tried to make.

I could see Barney’s mouth moving as he tried to force the words out, he looked scared. I was right there with him. I glanced over to the man, seeking some reassurance of our situation. But the old man was half buried in another bag, trying to find something, desperately trying to find something. 

Before I could make a move to get his attention, my mind registered I was stepping in something, something wet. I looked downwards, and I saw the floor of the tent was slowly being covered with a layer of fast moving, incredibly dark water. The old man seemed to notice this at the same moment I did. He turned around to face me.

“I thought you said this tent was waterproof!” I yelled towards him. He did not need sound to understand what I was saying, as he pulled an object from his pocket. He held in his hand a small circular orange disk. I noticed engravings on its sides, but I did not have the time or interest to see what they were. 

The water was not to my ankles, it was clear that the water was still making its way into the tent, and not slowing down either. It was only growing faster, as everything inside the tent became wet and the lights that lined the walls slowly dimmed and were extinguished by the flooding.

The water level was soon marching up my leg, growing higher and higher. I was terrified and frantic, never growing to appreciate brushes with death in my adventures. The water did not seem normal in any way. It was an impossibly dark black, and it almost seemed heavy, but that wasn’t possible.

Barney jumped onto his cot, escaping the rising water, but it soon met him there anyway. It was growing quicker, and every inch that covered me made me feel more worn, tired, and frightened. My mind was racing, is the outside underwater? Is this it? Is this how I die, from water?

Even the old man seemed nervous, once again searching frantically through his pockets for some trinket or artifact. He searched and searched, and with every second that passed I became even more horrified at my fate, trusting the old man to figure out some genius last minute solution to save us, but I was nervous that this ending would not be as beautiful as I had imagined it to be.

The man pushed both me and Barney back, and we both crashed into the tent wall. The wall of the tent seemed to be solid, as if there was brick behind it. I was dizzy, hurt, and confused. I looked towards the center of the tent, and saw the old man pull a small brass key from his cloak’s pocket.

He removed the small disk from earlier, and shoved the key inside, and gave a frantic turn. A small glow escaped the objects. And with that he looked towards us.

“Shut your eyes, both of you, now.” He ordered. We both followed his command, but not before I saw him begin to plunge the opened disk into the water.

Even from behind shut eyes the flash was blinding, opening my eyes I was met with more light. I began blinking as fast as I could manage, and sight slowly returned to me. With that I looked over at Barney, who was still leaning on the wall, now shaking uncontrollably. I looked at the oldman, sitting on his cot, completely out of breath. In an instant I remembered the flooding, and in the instant I looked at the floor, which was completely dry. 

I began to walk towards the opening of the tent, expecting some quick witted warning from the old man, but no such warning came. The oldman was at the end of the day, old. He was tired and beat, and quickly asleep on top of the cot which moments before was submerged in some supernatural flooding. Still wrapping my mind around what just happened, I started to open the tent flap, struggling to untie every rope which kept it shut during the storm.

Opening the tent, I was expecting to be hit with what rain was left after the climax of the storm, but I was met with nothing close to rain. It was sunny, warm, and I could hear animals and birds chirping in the forest around me. I rushed outside, looking for a point of reference. The clearing looked different, the atmosphere felt off. I practically sprinted towards the edge of the clearing. I had to get to the creek, the creek I knew what there, the creek that made us notice this spot in the first place.

I reached the edge of the clearing, and searched for the creek, the creek that was not nowhere to be seen. I began scanning the entire clearing, which I now noticed was more of a space between trees than a clearing. I knew something was off, the desert, the forest, the clearing, the storm, and now here. 

Barney emerged from the tent, and more quickly than me he realized the fact we are in a different location than when the storm first began. I saw him look at me and say something, but I was still too shocked from the events of the last few hours to process his words. 

“I- I don’t know what to do here.” Barney managed to get you, before setting himself down on the grass, which was dry as if it was summer. Barney laid down on his back, put his arms over his head, and began yelling at no one in particular.

“Okay Barney, I hear you.” The old man said, exiting the tent at the sound of Barney’s breakdown. “Nothing’s wrong at the moment.” This set something off inside Barney.

“Nothing wrong? Everything about this is wrong. I wanted adventure, not to be inside some eternal forest getting drowned by some magic storm. The old man heard Barney’s cry, but only seemed to register the least important aspect.

“I think you’re wrong there, I do not think this was magic, it seems deeper than that, something primordial.” He gazed towards the sky, as Barney gave up on influencing the man, and laid back down in his patch of grass.

“We’re safe for the moment, I know of it.” The now questionably sane man said, holding a small ball on a string. He lifted it to the ear and spun it around for a few rotations, and then quickly shoved it back inside his cloak. “Yep, we’re not in any danger.” I knew I could not stay silent forever. Barney was essentially a brother to me now, and I was becoming tired of how he was ignored.

“Safe?” I said, facing the man. “I signed up for adventure, to explore and discover. I knew there would be an occasional chase or something, but not a divine attack.” I was becoming more and more frustrated as I thought more about our situation. “Tell me, what are we after?” I asked him. “What in the universe is so important that we have to spend weeks riding horses through plains, sailing pass whirlpools, walking through deserts and being chased by living storms?” I could see the expressions on his face change, he was thinking, actually thinking, not just some look he made to convince others of his vast wisdom.

“I took both of you on because you reminded me of myself, at least when I was your age.” He was speaking to us, but he was staring intently at the ground. “I explored and learned from when I was younger than both of you. We are on the heels of something great here, please, both of you, trust me.” He gave alternate glances between Barney and Me. “The storm is gone, and trust me Oliver, we are going to be okay.” He said. Even though I did not feel okay in any sense, his words eased me slightly, and I became more comfortable in this hellish situation. 

“Now.” The man began again. “If we are past this mutiny, I believe it is past time to begin again.” 

Barney and I looked at each other and then up and forwards, scanning for the man, who was already at the end of the clearing, motioning for us to catch up.