It was impossible to see farther than a few feet from your own face, Eddie discovered, because even though there were holes in the temple roof, the jungle had almost completely swallowed the ruin, blocking almost all light from entering.
“Lexington?” she hissed.
“Be ready for anything.” Eddie drew her sword and held it in both hands, stretched out before her to meet anything which might be in her way.
They advanced slowly forward, feeling their way between two rows of stone columns. Once they knew where the columns were, it was relatively simple to keep to the straight path in between. Eddie was breathing quickly, not liking the fact that they were so blind, so open to attack.
The long walk between the columns continued for what seemed to be hours. Lexington eventually took the lead, because his eyes were better in the dark than Eddie’s. They both saw the tiny bright spot in the distance, though, the moment it came into view. Eddie lifted her sword higher, and Lexington rattled his scales a little, and they both pressed on. As they drew closer, they saw it was a single shaft of light, radiating from a gap in the ceiling. What was more important, however, was what was lying in the light.
It was the chest. And, lying coiled around the chest, there was a long, snaky, sinuous form; it seemed to be fleshy, rather than scaled, and was colored a noxious green. Its wide, vacant face was lifted just over the lid of the chest. Its bulbous eyes were wide open — it was watching them.
Eddie swallowed hard at the sight of the creature. “For what’s a quest worth without a monster to face at the end?” she murmured to herself, and then asked softly, “Ready, Lex?”
Eddie raised her vorpal blade and charged, yelling at the top of her fifteen-year-old lungs. Quick as a flash, the frog-snake-thing was uncoiled, its body far, far too long, with too many sets of multi-jointed legs. It reared its head back and spat at Eddie as she came, and she barely had time to dodge the stinking, smoking missile as it whistled past. She heard it smack into a column, and then there was a sizzling noise, and a crumbling one, and Eddie really did swear this time. “It spits acid, Lex!”
Lexington had already descended upon the thing, his paper talons raking along the soft skin of its back; the frog-monster let out a shriek and wheeled on Lexington, presenting Eddie with a large expanse of its body to strike at. She stabbed into it with all her might, drawing another shriek and a fountain of silver blood. As monster-blood spattered her face and arms, she could only pray its blood wasn’t acidic, too. Luckily for her, it wasn’t.
Apparently its skin was, however. From overhead, Lexington rasped, “Miss, my claws are melting,” as he evaded another glob of frog-spit.
“Then stop trying to attack it!” yelled Eddie. “Get back and let me deal with it!” Her vorpal blade, by dint of being vorpal, was entirely unaffected by the creature’s skin. She pulled it back over her head and put all its weight and her weight and her momentum into another thrust, hoping to find the monster’s heart.
She didn’t find it, although the frog-monster definitely felt the pain of the wound. The creature just kept growing, it seemed to her, pulling more and more coils and legs from the darkness around the ray of light. Eddie began hacking desperately at its body; maybe if it lost enough blood…
“Miss,” came Lexington’s voice in her ear, “try its head.”
Eddie stared the monster full in the face, saw its wide mouth working as it prepared to spit at her again, and the vorpal blade was just so heavy that she didn’t know if she could lift it in time —
But she did lift it, and she swung sideways with every ounce of strength, and she would later remembered hearing a distinct “snicker-snack” as the vorpal blade cut into the frog-creature’s throat and severed its head entirely. Eddie had to leap out of the way as the head rolled towards her, the mouth falling open and a puddle of steaming saliva eating away at the stone floor.
The body flailed for a brief moment before it fell still. Eddie wrinkled her nose at the thick smell of the blood, and made herself stride over to the chest and kick the monster’s coils away from it. She grabbed the chest by one handle and called out, “Lex? You okay?” She’d lost track of her dragon in the heat of the battle.
“Fine,” he answered, fluttering into view. He had, to Eddie’s surprise, shrunk itself down to about the size of the Wisest Eagle, and he settled on her shoulder just as any bird might do. “You’ve done well, miss.”
“Thank you.” Eddie felt in her pocket once again, and this time pulled out the little bronze key Egleston had bestowed upon her. “Here goes nothing.”
She put the key into the lock of the chest and twisted it. The lock clicked open. Breathlessly, Eddie lifted the lid of the chest and looked inside.
Her eyes widened.
“I’m sorry, miss,” said Lexington from her shoulder, and for once there was true emotion in his voice — he actually sounded sorry.
“Well,” Eddie answered, “it’s not what I was expecting.”
Lexington twisted his long neck around to peer at her face. “Are you unhappy, miss?”
“Unhappy?” Eddie reached into the chest and pulled out the single item it contained — an aged, browning piece of parchment, covered in lines and markings. A map. Eddie looked at the dragon on her shoulder and grinned wide as a drunk cat. “Come now, Lex, do you know what this means?”
“Your card is…not here?”
“Correction,” she told Lexington, getting to her feet, holding the map reverently spread over both hands. “My card is somewhere else. And this map is going to lead us there.”
“So, you are not done with your adventure?”
“My dear Lexington, I am never done with my adventure.” Still smiling, Eddie turned and began to make her way back through the hall of pillars. “Come on. The treasure hunt is just beginning.”