Shadow on the Sun Ch.13: Descent by Nils Durban

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SUMMARY: Sleet must quickly come to terms with his alien surroundings. With only Sean Perry and an imposing Shadow creature for company, that proves to be an extremely tall order...

During the initial stages of the descent Sleet could find no time for conversation, even though, as they had exited the cave up above them, his mind had been buzzing with questions. Questions that demanded urgent attention. The rocky ledge, however, was frighteningly narrow and, at times, precipitously steep, and Sleet required complete concentration and all of his nerve in order to keep placing one foot in front of the other as he clung onto the rock face to his right hand side. As he descended gradually, keeping one eye on his footing and one on Perry's back ahead of him, his lungs continued their acclimatisation with the dense air that surrounded him - almost by the minute it was becoming less and less of an issue. Very soon, he suspected, he would not be conscious of it at all. He marvelled at his body's ability to adapt as quickly as it had - not half an hour ago he had been prostrate on the floor of the cave and, seemingly, choking to death. Every so often from up ahead came the harsh hacking of the Shadow creature as it continued to expel the air of Earth from its own lungs, evidence that the transitional process was, if anything, more troublesome to them than it was to Human beings. Sleet chided himself now for his earlier reaction. He'd almost lost consciousness altogether - left himself at the complete mercy of the beasts and the unfathomable whims of Sean Perry. If only he'd begun to gulp down the gloopy substance as soon as he had fallen through the portal (as, presumably, Perry had) he would have been in much better shape, much more quickly. Still, he thought, it was pointless castigating himself now. Hindsight was a wonderful thing, after all, and it was not as if he wasn't at the mercy of these creatures anyway, whether he was fighting fit or not.

He slipped suddenly, cursing under his breath, as his foot lost grip on some loose scree which was sent skidding off the narrow ledge into space. He clawed at the rock-face behind him, momentarily desperate for purchase, grazing his palm in doing so, before he re-established his footing, breathing deeply, his heart pounding in his chest.

Perry turned to consider him. "You alright?" he asked.

"Yeah," Sleet grimaced back, "of course I am. I've only been kidnapped by monsters and a raving psychopath and whisked off to an alien world which has air as thick as soup. In what way could I possibly not be ‘alright'?"

"Good." Perry replied and, as if nothing Sleet had said had even registered with him, he turned about and continued the descent. Sleet mumbled an expletive which made him feel only slightly better, before carrying on himself. He started to take greater strides, this time ensuring, however, that each foot was very firmly planted before he committed his entire weight to it and, in this fashion, he found that he made better progress. The path itself was, for all its precipitous nature, well formed and, if great hulking creatures like the one than stalked up ahead of him could make their way along it on foot (and claw) then he certainly could.

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