The Jungle of Cyrus is said to be home to the Phoenix of Acheron, who as legend tells it is the guardian of the gates of hell. It is said that if you pass the phoenix’s test he will grant you a wish of your choosing, nothing is off limits as he is rumoured to have the ability to bring back the dead should you choose it.
Which ironically is exactly what I plan to ask of him, as soon as I get a read on where exactly I am on this infernal map.
The rain spattered and bounced off my soaked parchment, I gave it a shake and did my best to stretch it out in the dim moonlight. Setting it on a rock I held my lantern over it in hopes of getting a better read but to no avail. I needed somewhere dry to read this thing.
Looking around, a flash of lightning revealed a small cave in the mountain face's side. That would have to do.
Gathering my map I waddled through the thick bushed jungle towards it, praying nothing lay in wait.
It was warmer and much dryer inside, I didn’t dare go too far inside as I had no plans to meet anything within its depths.
Setting my lantern and map down I gave myself a shake, something like a very wet and ill-mannered dog might do. Throwing my backpack down and peeling off the first few layers of my clothing in hopes of hanging them somewhere to dry.
My lantern illuminated the mouth of the cave where I stood, I fought the curious adventurer that stirred inside me. The intrusive thoughts impeded my brain and bayed me to walk just a little further inside.
Shaking the thought from my mind I refocused and bent low over the sopping-wet map, trying to make out the blotchy shapes and words. I’d have to wait until the rain stopped and the map dried out a bit more before I would be able to configure where I was in this godforsaken jungle.
My thoughts were interrupted by a shuffling and whining noise coming from the remaining darkness of the cave.
Immediately set on edge, I grabbed my pocket knife from within the front of my backpack and readied myself for a fight. But nothing came from the darkness, only the whining sound continued.
Against my better judgment, I grabbed the lantern in my other hand and shuffled forwards, bathing more of the cave in light. I jumped as a bolt of lightning hit just outside the cave and the light of my lantern revealed the source of the whining.
My heart raced in my chest as I saw the most revolting creature known to man. It looked like a featherless vulture hatchling, with remnants of feathers that seemed to have moulted off. It could easily have been mistaken for a naked mole rat with dust-like feathers all over its body as it lay in a pile of black charcoal-like soil.
The poor creature appeared to be in such agony as it lay there struggling to fill its lungs with air, giving a few pathetic whimpers in pain.
My heart ached for this poor creature. I couldn’t in good conscience leave it to suffer longer. My stomach turned to knots as I made the hard decision to put it out of its misery, setting my lantern down near its head I knelt alongside it.
“I’m sorry, little guy.” I cooed as I placed a hand on its side gently stroking its dry cracking skin. Fighting the impulse to cringe and withdraw my hand from its grotesque feeling body. The sooner I got this over with the better off we both would be. There was no telling what kinds of diseases I was picking up just by touching it.
Taking a deep breath I clutched the knife tight in my hand and closed my eyes as I prepared to plunge it into its tiny chest.
“NO!” Rang out a melodic and terrifying voice, that echoed throughout the cave.
Suddenly my hand that rested on the suffering bird was painfully searing hot like it had been placed upon a stovetop. I recoiled immediately as a bang rang out and a burst of radiating heat filled the cave.
Flames licked my cheeks and chest as I backpedaled toward the opposite wall. I sat open-mouthed in horror and shock as the creature flew into the air and hovered in place above where it was laying only seconds ago.
“I am Elio, Pheonix of Acheron, guardian to the gates of hell.” He bellowed in a foreboding voice that reverberated through my chest and echoed into the belly of the cave.
“Silence. I know who you are and you have failed the test set upon you.” He bellowed, the only other sounds in the cave were the soft flap of his wings and the crackling of the flames that covered his large body.
“I know that you have come to the Jungle of Cyrus to seek me out, Devland. But your search is in vain.” He continued, fixing me in the furious gaze of his beady black eyes, his brow pulled into a tight furrow.
“You will speak no more.” Elio bellowed, “I now place a curse upon you so that you are doomed to forever wander the jungle in search of a way out. This will be your punishment for undervaluing the importance of life.” The Phoenix commanded, then erupted into more flames and exploded.
Suddenly leaving me in the cave alone and swallowed in darkness.
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