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course all the way here."
"Yeah, this is the source, but it's not the stream we were supposed to
He looked toward the darkening, nightmare landscape to the northwest., "So I
guess we'll have to detour."
She shook her head. "Uh-uh. You don't want to go through that mess, I'll tell
you. This is a calm and stable part, I'll swear. You could never be sure of
the ground elsewhere. It's a good twenty miles back to the fork, then another
thirty to
the pass. That's two, maybe three days, and I don't think the horses could
take it. They're straining now."
He sighed. "So what else can I do? You can fly over and be safe and
comfortable in bed tomorrow, but I sure as hell can't, and I'm not going to
abandon the horses and supplies unless I have to. In this stuff, it would be
their death warrant."
She nodded. "Then the only way is to go up. If we can cross over, the horses
can get a good rest and watering on the other side." She paused. "You, too."
He wiped sweat from his forehead and looked up at the ominous hill. "So how do
we do it?"
"First let me go up and check it out, see if there's any place we can cross.
Then we'll risk my horse, with me leading. If the stuff underfoot holds her,
it will hold you and yours."
He nodded. "Fair enough. But be careful I don't want you melted down."
She laughed. "No danger of that. I can swim in the stuff, Joe. I have done
it." She sighed and looked up at the swirling smoke. "Well here goes!" And
with that, she was gone, flying up the side and into the dense cloud at the
This time she was gone for only a couple of minutes, reap-
pearing and setting down in front of her horse. "There's a way, I think," she
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told him, "but it's going to be a real hairy time for you and the horses. It's
cinder most of the way, but I think it will hold. Up just into the smoke,
though, the heat comes and goes. There are real nasty cracks all over the
place." She pointed. "But in one spot, just over there, it seems fairly cool.
It's been hot, though, and the heat has melted and remelted the stuff up
there. The surface is almost like glass, and it's bound to be slippery. If you
slip, it's pretty nasty on either side."
He looked up and swallowed hard. "Well, let's try it. Any-
thing to get out of spending a night around here. I want to get it over with
while there's still some light."
She nodded. Taking her horse's bridle, she stepped out onto
e%20Dancing.txt (40 of 222) [1/19/03 4:26:44 PM]
ods%202%20-%20Demons%20of%20the%20Dancing.txt the cinders. The horse resisted
for a moment, then went along when she saw Marge being supported. Then the
horse sank a bit into the cinders and ash and thrashed for a moment in
confusion. It took precious minutes of Joe's daylight to calm her down and get
her to go on.
Beyond, the cinders and ash were so dense that they gave a surprisingly solid
footing. Joe decided to lead his horse as well and was relieved to Find that
the hill felt, at least at the beginning, cool. He was, however, really
beginning to wish he could trade his thick sandals for some even thicker
Asbestos boots, preferably.
The slope was rather gentle, and they took it at an angle, but it was slow
going, and several times the material gave way, causing a momentary loss of
footing. The horses were a big problem here, but, fortunately, none were
sufficiently unbal-
anced by the occasional loss of footing to go tumbling over and back down.
Almost before Joe realized it, they were up to the smoke level and into it.
The stuff stank and stung his eyes, causing even more problems with the
horses, but the gases weren't very dense, once he was in them, and he could,
at least, see ahead to the rear of Marge's horse. One thing for sure,
though the air was getting really hot, and he was sweating as he never had
before. The volcanic surface, too, was getting pretty damned warm, although
not bad enough to cause burning.
And then they hit the remelted area. He had imagined a smooth slope. In fact,
it was rough and irregular, but it was shiny and slippery. Only the
irregularities in its surface, almost like a frozen sea, allowed them any
chance of footing. The stuff was hot, too he felt as if he were in somebody's
giant oven, and the bottom of his sandals were becoming very, very warm.
He soon saw why. Only ten feet or so on either side, the glassy surface
dropped away to reveal a bubbling, hissing pit.
"I'm already well done!" he called out, coughing at the smoke and miserable
from the intense heat- "How much farther is it?"
"Not far," she called back. "Just ten more minutes and we're home free!"
He groaned. He wasn't sure he or the horses could last that long. Right about
then he was so miserable he didn't give a damn about the horses.
Suddenly Marge stopped, and he almost screamed out in agony. "Now what?"
"We're not alone up here," she responded, sounding wor-
ried. "I think you better draw Irving."
"He's so damned hot I can't even touch him," Joe called
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