Axiom 8: Adapt to setbacks.
It turns out that deserts are hot. And the sand really stings when it blows in your eyes. And even though something doesn’t look that far away, as you start walking towards it, you realize that yes, it really is that far away.
In short, deserts suck.
I repeated this thought to myself over and over as I trudged through the sand, the tip of the sword blade dragging along as it hung low from my belt and leaving a long track behind me (at least, until the blowing, shifting sand covered it up). Through sunburned, slitted eyes, I glared at the mountain of Megiddo, which appeared absolutely no closer than it had started off whenever I first began hiking.
“Screw you, Apocalypse,” I coughed out from between dry, sore lips before I closed them, trying to keep the last little bit of moisture from seeping out of my husk of a body.
I took another step, faltered, wobbled a little as I tried to keep my balance in the unsteady sand beneath my feet. I couldn’t catch myself in time, however, and felt my body slowly but surely, almost in slow motion, topple forward.
This was it. This was the end. Here came death, which would probably lead to me just ending up right back in Hell, alongside Vinrael’s body (and probably also Alice’s and Eremiel’s, by this point. Strangely enough, the thought of seeing Alice again made me feel slightly better about the whole dying thing, even if it wasn’t going to be under ideal circumstances). I closed my eyes and let gravity take over, bringing me down to my final resting place.
I landed… and coughed, arms flapping, as I sat up out of the wet puddle.
It appeared, I realized after I’d wiped the water out of my stinging eyes, that I’d managed to fall into an oasis.
Oasis seemed like the right term. I sat in the middle of a waist-deep puddle of clear blue water, with grass growing out for about a foot in all directions from the water. Around the edge of the little pond stood half a dozen palm trees, heavy with coconuts. Even as I watched, one of the coconuts detached from the tree and landed in the sand below with a soft plop.
Suspiciously, I crawled forward, out of the water, and snatched up the coconut. Eremiel’s sword, even with the flames turned off, was still sharp enough to pierce the coconut, and I tasted the milky liquid that leaked out.
Yup. Definitely a coconut. I tasted some of the cool, refreshing water from the oasis, and then poured more of it over my face. The water felt like a warm, wet balm against the stinging, burning sensation that infiltrated every inch of my skin.
It seemed like this oasis had come along at the perfect time. Strange, I thought to myself, that I hadn’t noticed it while walking along, just moments earlier.
I drank water carefully, only letting myself take a few sips at a time, until my stomach felt better and the fever in my head had subsided. I cracked the coconut open and ate the meat from inside, and then used the empty shell as a cup to drink more water. The sun had dropped down towards the horizon as I rejuvenated here, and when I next rose up to my feet and stood without wobbling, it was barely more than a sliver of red on the horizon.
Innumerable stars dotted the sky, shining like a massive spray of glitter thrown down on top of a navy blue bedsheet. I grabbed another coconut to stick into my pack, slipped Eremiel’s sword back into my belt, and once again set off towards the dark shadow of Megiddo.
It took me three days to reach the base of the mountain.
Somehow, I survived the journey. A large part of my survival, as it turned out, seemed to come from my uncanny ability to fall into oases. I’d walk along for most of the day, but even with the coconuts and rationed water, I still quickly found myself growing exhausted and woozy, barely able to cling to a single thought, my feet shaking each time I lifted one of them up from the sand. At a certain point, each day, I felt like I simply couldn’t go on, like I had finally reached the doorstep of Death.
And then, when I next opened my eyes, I was invariably sitting waist-deep in a water hole. On the second night, I even opened my eyes to find a chicken sitting in front of me, clucking as it watched this new and ungainly creature with which it shared its oasis.
I managed to hit the chicken between the eyes with a thrown coconut, and ended up making a fire from some driftwood and cooking it.
Yes, I know that oases don’t have driftwood, but this one did. Maybe I just didn’t know enough about desert biology.
On the evening of the third day, I finally reached the base of Megiddo. The mountain, it turns out, rose up slowly, little more than a hill. The slight incline, however, just kept on extending seemingly forever in front of me, rising up and up, as far back as I could crane my head.
It didn’t look like an especially hard hike, just long. I gathered as many coconuts from the oasis as I could stuff into my pack, and began climbing.
I picked my way up through the boulders, negotiating my way around the occasional outcrop of rock that jutted up in the air like a tooth. I climbed until the night air grew chilly around me, and when I finally couldn’t see in front of me because my eyes kept on closing every time I yawned, I lay down on the hard ground, shivering as I tried to get some rest.
Well, this was new, I thought bleakly to myself as my teeth chattered together. I’d made it through the searing heat of the desert, only to freeze on the slopes of Megiddo itself. Rather ironic. They’d probably all get a nice laugh out of it down in Hell.
Finally, despite the bitter cold, my eyes closed.
They opened at some indeterminate time later, and I grunted a little as I reached up to push back the warm, slightly scratchy, furry blanket draped over me.
I froze, halfway through the movement, as I remembered that I hadn’t fallen asleep with any sort of blanket draped over me.
The blanket, however, kept moving. A slow hearbeat, one too heavy to be my own, quickened a little as a huge head lifted up. A massive, annoyed looking cat’s eye stared back into my terrified little face.
With a grunt, the huge mountain lion pushed me back down.
I decided to sleep in a little longer.