DAY SIX HUNDRED EIGHTY
The open tableland came to an end, and with that our ease of movement. Our progress slowed with much time taken up in the descent to a lower elevation.
When the pass below came in view, no one was in sight.
We wondered if we had outpaced the army.
The Captain suggested we halt to wait and see. Elijah, however, said we had things to do further along.
And so it was before the daylight faded, Tomas spotted another force, hidden in ambush in a defile off the trail of the pass.
Elijah took up a position above them and struck the ground with his staff. The mountain quaked and the defile below filled in with an avalanche of rock.
DAY SIX HUNDRED EIGHTY ONE
The advance units of the army arrived at the point of the avalanche this morning, and passed by oblivious to the danger that had lain in wait for them.
We pressed on ourselves, resigned to the fact that we will be falling behind again, especially as the trail ahead was climbing.
With the gain in elevation this time another problem arose, snow was on the ground – not on the path – but standing off to the side – not melting, for it was very cold. We wrapped ourselves in our blankets and continued on.
I fell in with the Captain and we picked up our studies from the day before. It kept our minds off the cold.
Elijah stayed close and listened.
DAY SIX HUNDRED EIGHTY TWO
We arrived in an area at a lower elevation – and less cold. The advance units of the army had disappeared further down the pass and the main body had marched into view.
They moved more swiftly than before. At the double quick.
At first I wondered how long they could maintain that pace, but then I was struck by perhaps a more important question – why.
Tomas chimed in with the thought that they may have discovered evidence of their enemy’s presence back in that defile.
Our discussion on this topic was interrupted by the Captain who brought the news that we were not alone on the trail. He had found tracks on our path that merged onto it from above.
DAY SIX HUNDRED EIGHTY THREE
Tracks continued to precede us on the trail. Another set joined the first at the juncture of the path with a mountain stream. This second set came up from below.
We slowed our pace by tacit agreement. I believe none of us wanted an encounter up here in the mountains.
We all felt relief on that score when the path forked and the pair of tracks took the upward bound route. We will stay the course and keep in view of the pass below.
We are left curious though. Tomas told us that the upward branch was marked with signs of warnings about radiation – like those in the hills up from the town on the plain.
Elijah alone remains unconcerned.
DAY SIX HUNDRED EIGHTY FOUR
We have monitored the area uphill from our trail ever since we learned someone up there could be watching us like we watch the army below in the pass.
So far none of us have seen anything in that direction but snow and ice, or drifting fog or slow moving clouds. There was much more of interest going on down below.
The head of the army was far beyond us. And what we saw was moving at a normal pace. And in a couple of instances at a complete standstill. These were some tanker trucks that were replenishing themselves from mountain streams.
The Captain judged by the time spent on that chore that the water levels were running quite low.
DAY SIX HUNDRED EIGHTY FIVE
A wind storm blew in over night. It became so fierce we backtracked on the trail to a rock wall with a crevice-like opening on its face.
All four of us easily fit inside. We just stood there shivering and listening to the howl of the wind. Praying it would soon pass.
Tomas, crammed in the back of the crevice, felt the movement of air on his legs. Upon investigation he found another opening through which he could crawl to a larger chamber.
We gratefully joined him.
The smell of burnt wood was pervasive. Feeling around the Captain found a firebrand which he ignited with flint and steel.
We held up inside all day as the storm continued unabated.
DAY SIX HUNDRED EIGHTY SIX
We kept warm last night, having ignited wood left in a fire pit at the center of the chamber.
Tomas, as ever, made the most helpful discoveries. He rummaged around beyond the limit of the light from the fire and fell into an alcove that contained a gasoline generator. He was able to crank it up and we had lights.
We thus learned that this place was a whole lot bigger than we thought. Other tunnels branch off the chamber to sleeping quarters, ammunition stores, and food supplies.
So we ate well and rested while awaiting the storm to subside.
The Captain regularly went outside to check the storm. The last time he was ushered back in by two soldiers.
DAY SIX HUNDRED EIGHTY SEVEN
We could not communicate with one another save through gestures and signs. Their weapons did most of the pointing.
After a few tense moments they seemed satisfied that we were not on a mission from their enemies which we took to be the army in the pass.
Thankfully they did not force us out into the night, but neither would they let us depart this morning.
The Captain had a sense they were waiting for someone else with the authority to make that decision.
Tomas went outside briefly with one of them and brought back news that the storm had passed.
Both Elijah and I sought to redeem the time in prayer. We were allowed use of the sleeping quarters.
DAY SIX HUNDRED EIGHTY EIGHT
Elijah awoke first, and came and roused me. We collected Tomas and the Captain and departed our captors.
Both soldiers were in a deep, sound sleep.
Outside the crevice I had to hush our puzzled companions until we were further down the trail.
Later to my explanation the Captain said it was like one of the passages he had read to me recently. I concurred.
We looked for the army but the pass below was empty. Elijah told us it was imperative for us to catch up to them.
We picked up the pace, but I was not convinced it would make any difference. Another path at a fork looked to suffice and we took it despite its radiation warning.
DAY SIX HUNDRED EIGHTY NINE
We crested a ridge this morning and got a look down into another section of the pass. We could see a mass that just might be the rear guard of the army.
Tomas departed from us down a side track to a better vantage point.
He rejoined us later with the news that it was the object of our interest. Or a section of it. And further, it appeared to be not moving. Stalled.
We were heartened that we could soon catch up, but at the same time concerned for what the reason might be for their inactivity.
Our attention was soon back to navigating the trail with Elijah pressing us onward. Tomas ran ahead hoping to find a shortcut.
DAY SIX HUNDRED NINETY
Tomas returned after one of his side jaunts. He had come upon a section of this mountain that in his estimation we should avoid at all costs.
An enormous crater spans the area between our side of the range and the next ridge that would be our desired destination.
Though judging by its topography we would be able to cross it easily, he is convinced it is a radiated area about which we’ve been warned.
A cloud of fine rock dust floats in a continual agitation above the crater, and one can sense a source of heat somewhere beneath its screen.
Elijah decided then and there, that we must descend down into the pass itself.
Even if we must backtrack.
DAY SIX HUNDRED NINETY ONE
I was the one who stumbled upon the right path this time. Tomas had just returned from an unsuccessful attempt to find a way down when I arrived with the good news.
After an hourlong descent we were on the level of the pass. Signs were everywhere of the army’s passage: abandoned and broken down equipment, strewn trash and spent fire pits. The area must have been used a multitude of times by different units of the army as it passed along.
After the briefest of rests, we took to the trail again. It was very easy going, our only impediment, having to walk around garbage dumps.
We hadn’t gotten far when the Captain noticed that we were being watched.
DAY SIX HUNDRED NINETY TWO
Every once in a while we could make out two figures on the ridge above us shadowing our movement. We soon outdistanced them, as they were forced to follow the contours of the mountain.
Midday we finally sighted what we thought to be the rear guard of the army, but it turned out to be a field hospital. From what we could tell as we skirted the area there were no battle casualties, only footsore stragglers.
A couple of guards spotted us and came out to check, but upon closer view, dismissed us, I believe, as wandering nomads. They returned to their posts without a backward glance.
Toward evening, Elijah noticed that the two figures were back.
With a third.
DAY SIX HUNDRED NINETY THREE
A number of vehicles passed by today. We had plenty of notice, so we were well out of sight before they came into view.
Many more came from the hospital behind us than came from the army ahead on the pass. I concluded that meant that things must be going very well for the army.
This appeared to be confirmed shortly after when trucks lumbered by carrying the elements of the mobile hospital.
And we were once again dropping further and further behind the army.
So, with Elijah’s consent I dispatched Tomas ahead for the express purpose of finding a better way to catch up.
But when the time came to camp for the night, Tomas was nowhere in sight.
DAY SIX HUNDRED NINETY FOUR
Although Elijah and I were dismayed over the absence of Tomas, the Captain was beside himself with worry. Even the reminder that neither could perish outside the presence of the other, failed to alleviate his despair.
Finally, I persuaded the Captain that inaction was not an option and got us moving again. We would continue to keep on task by chasing after the army.
I had to rein my friend in a couple of times when we came across paths that Tomas may have taken.
The Captain gave in to our bidding, but only after insisting that we leave an indication of our passage in order to prevent Tomas from heading in the wrong direction should he return that way.
DAY SIX HUNDRED NINETY FIVE
We arrived at the end of the pass today. And caught up with the army. It was spread across a wide valley. A valley that was hemmed between two mountain ranges. And the only exit appeared to be a pass on the far side.
The army did not appear to be ready to tackle that next leg of their journey.. Or so we hoped.
Elijah still desires to get out in front of them. We have found a place apart where we can observe and plan our next step.
The Captain can’t help but want to stay in this area because he can’t shake the belief that Tomas is somewhere behind us.
We plan but we look to the Spirit.
DAY SIX HUNDRED NINETY SIX
The army still rested in place, and gave no sign of moving on. But we had to act if we were to get out in front of them.
The way I saw it, we only had three choices: one, skirt around to the north side of the valley, or two, go via the trail to the south, or three, stay here and wait for better options to present themselves.
I believed the last would have been the most appealing to the Captain, but he surprised us by opting for the second.
Elijah, then, set us off on the southern route.
Along the way he told us there had been a fourth option – we could have gone straight through the valley.
DAY SIX HUNDRED NINETY SEVEN
We have wended by deserted farms and abandoned villages on this southern route around the bivouacked army. Nothing of value has been left behind. Either the inhabitants departed with their possessions, or foragers from the army scooped them up.
A number of times we were forced off the trail by the approach of patrols, and remained motionless until after they had passed. It makes our progress very slow.
On one of these occasions five peasants came up behind the patrol, in plain sight and made no move to avoid the soldiers other than leaving the road to them when passing them by.
As we were similarly attired, we were emboldened to do the same.
We quickened our pace after that.
DAY SIX HUNDRED NINETY EIGHT
We hadn’t realized it. We’d been traveling for over an hour without any contact of any kind along the road. Soldier or peasant.
The Captain spoke up first. He had a feeling that he could not shake off. An oppressive sense of impending danger.
Our surroundings had changed subtly. From open country to something else that none of us could describe.
After the Captain shared his apprehensions he suddenly blurted out the thought that perhaps Tomas was being held by the great army to our north.
Elijah stood there and smiled at him, then he turned to me and said that the time had come to turn our steps towards the center of the valley to seek our friend Tomas.
DAY SIX HUNDRED NINETY NINE
We passed through the first encampments of the army with ease. They subjected us only to mild scrutiny. But as we arrived at the next ring of army units we were challenged, brought to their commander and kept waiting for hours (the individual was tied up with other pressing matters, or so we were told).
All was uneventful until the arrival of an officer to make his report. He saw Elijah standing there, staff in hand, and demanded that he relinquish his “weapon.” (I believe he recognized Elijah from the broadcast).
When Elijah didn’t comply, the officer attempted to take it by force. The second he touched the staff, he fell to the ground.
The commander no longer ignored us.
DAY SEVEN HUNDRED
Our captors were more uneasy than us. They had rushed to the side of the stricken officer, and were relieved that he still breathed. They kept their weapons trained on us, but at a respectful distance.
The commander was at a loss as to what to do with us. Once he settled it in his mind that what had happened was defensive and we had no inclination to go on offense, he put us in a room with twelve guards.
This morning he dispatched us with our detail to appear before the Supreme Commander of the army.
It was a long hike through ring after ring of army units to its hierarchical center.
Our weary day ended in more waiting.
DAY SEVEN HUNDRED ONE
The detail of soldiers given charge of us was beyond strange. I don’t think any of them shut their eyes at any time. Nor did they, in our hearing, say a word. They filled the night with their unblinking stares.
As for our side I was the only one who had trouble sleeping. Elijah and the Captain didn’t stir.
Come the dawn we were remanded into the charge of the Head Quarter’s guard, and the strange detail departed.
We didn’t have to wait long for our interrogation before the Supreme Commander. He had only one question for us – why were we there.
Elijah answered him with another question – were they prepared to release our friend.
Then Tomas was ushered in.
DAY SEVEN HUNDRED TWO
I think the Captain practically cartwheeled for joy at the sight of our friend Tomas, clearly hale and hearty, sound of limb and mind.
And we noticed that the Supreme Commander relaxed with relief to realize that we were known to Tomas from whom he had learned many things. Including the fact of our actions that had averted disaster to his army in the pass. He gratefully set us at liberty.
We spent a better part of today, catching up on Tomas’ adventures. He had been following up a promising path when he ran into our former captors and their leader. His hasty retreat ran him headlong into the clutches of an army patrol.
He’s been with them ever since.
DAY SEVEN HUNDRED THREE
Just because we were set at liberty did not mean that we were free to leave. Our guards were dismissed to other duties which meant that instead of being under their sole observation we had the attention of the entire army wherever we turned.
The Supreme Commander had decided for reasons of security that we would not be allowed to depart from the camp. And orders were issued accordingly.
I was surprised at Elijah’s complaisance in the face of these strictures. However, Tomas and the Captain were unperturbed and welcomed the opportunity to take it easy.
Finally I realized I had my sights too attuned to the end goal and was not directing my immediate focus where it should be.
DAY SEVEN HUNDRED FOUR
Tomas had noticed my frustration yesterday. So he pulled me aside to explain a few realities.
The Supreme Commander is only supreme in matters pertaining to the army. He is the servant of one of the global factions and must answer to them. He has made a very risky decision in our regard, for each of us are wanted individuals by those same authorities.
For now, the Supreme Commander’s sense of debt towards us has dictated his stance. And Tomas is reasonably certain he will stand by his decision in the face of opposition.
Still there are factions in the army that would delight to see him fall and assume his place.
Elijah confirmed Tomas’ analysis with a wistful smile.
DAY SEVEN HUNDRED FIVE
We had no sooner noticed that activity throughout the camp had increased, when Tomas brought word that orders were circulating for the army to advance.
At that juncture the Supreme Commander came to us with a request. He wanted us to assume a place with the advance units as they go through the next pass.
Or specifically Elijah, the Captain and myself. For he had decided to keep Tomas back in the rear of the army by his side.
(Obviously to keep us from wandering too far).
After a brief conference we acceded to his request.
I knew from my ongoing talks with Elijah that this fit exactly with our goals.
Even in the position that Tomas will find himself.
DAY SEVEN HUNDRED SIX
The leader of the army’s advance units took it upon himself to place us out front. Obviously he sees us as a shield and intends to wield us as such.
Of course, we actually are his shield and for the army at large wherever they place us or wherever we would choose to place ourselves.
I scanned the mountains on the right and the Captain those to the left. Elijah just forged on ahead.
This first day nothing out of the ordinary happened. At its end we set up camp and sent back word for the rest of the army that it was safe to advance.
The message was acknowledged and an additional communication was handed to Elijah from Tomas.
DAY SEVEN HUNDRED SEVEN
The communication from Tomas was already opened and we assumed read by other interested parties. On the face of it Tomas was assuring us of his well being and inquiring after ours. But there was a subtext that I was sure had eluded anyone other than our eyes.
It was much in my thoughts as we set out once more.
If I was correct in my assumption, the Supreme Commander was about to suffer the same fate as David at the hand of his son Absalom.
I was discussing the implications with Elijah and the Captain when the surrounding mountainsides of the pass sprang to life. And our attention was riveted on the threat around us.
Where was the Spirit?
DAY SEVEN HUNDRED EIGHT
It was all over practically before it began, but we have been dealing with the aftermath clear into today.
It had taken us all by surprise. Even Elijah.
Timed explosions on both sides brought the towering canyon walls down upon the army unit behind ours. The perpetrators made a gigantic mistake, however, perhaps too big of a charge – for they also brought down the very rock upon which they were standing.
We discovered this fact when we turned back to investigate. (Only when we felt assured the threat had passed).
Things became clearer as the day went on. Not only had our attackers been taken out, but also every one of the leaders of the conspiracy against the Supreme Commander.
DAY SEVEN HUNDRED NINE
It took quite some time to clear away the obstructions. An engineering unit was brought up for the heavy lifting to that end. Until they arrived the leaders of this unit set down the best path for the endeavor.
This left us with a lot of free time. Elijah suggested that we all fast. We agreed.
Our non-eating went unnoticed among our army companions until our absence at evening mess.
It created no little stir.
We were each interrogated about what we were not doing. Something about this behavior unsettled them, making them very suspicious. And in a way I believe they somehow intuited the power that lies behind it.
I finally convinced them they had nothing to fear.
ON TO MONTH TWENTY FIVE