So they had set off at first light, which gave Edna a turn to object. “Why do adventurers always begin at ‘first light’ or ‘rooster’s crow’ or other such evil times?” She grumbled, rolling away from the hand of whomever had gently shook her, “Why never at ‘brunch’s end’ or ‘after a lazy shower’ or… ‘10:30’?” But she had relented in the end.
When she finally did open her eyes, she noticed the horse paintings had all disappeared from the oversized landscape. Portions of their frames lay broken and discarded in a pile next to the bed, and Highmond had a new cane.
Larry, the dear, had organized some small fanfare for their exodus, and Iona had pretended to pretend to be touched by it. Edna guessed this was a way to pretend to not be touched by it. Highmond guessed she would betray them.
The old man led the march for much of the morning, as surprisingly spry as ever. He, of course, did not know where they were meant to be going, but when have such things ever quelled the confidence of Inglishmen?
They were in the shadow of one of the mountains that, as a byproduct of its existence, made the valley in which Iona’s little town sat - when the world’s stomach began to rumble. The ground shook softly beneath them (and more violently beneath that), until at length whatever geological processes had been attempting to avert disaster gave up. The mountain exploded, and earth (the second) spewed its lunch everywhere.
First came a shockwave of so much force it had threatened to smoosh them all by itself. Next came Edna’s sighed suggestion that they, perhaps, run. Then, in an order made unclear by panic, ash blackened the sky, lava rained and rolled down the mountain, and a great cloud of heavy smoke raced across the ground in one direction.
“That,” Highmond panted, running and pointing at the low smoke, “is a pyroclastic flow, and we are very, very lucky it has gone another way - for it would surely devour us in a most painful death.”
A bit of lava fell from the sky, nearly devouring Iona’s head. “Yes, I feel very, very lucky,” she said.
They continued to run, with Iona assuming the lead, for the next five minutes or so, but it was pointless. The lava ran faster and unopposed by obstacles, creeping closer by the moment until it had nearly reached them.
“It’s hot on our heels!” Highmond cried, coining the phrase on Earth the Second.
“Literally,” said Edna, whose earth had the idiom.
“What?” called Highmond, “Yes, that’s what I mean!”
Then there had been the small boulder that Edna had leapt and Highmond, inept, had stumbled and tumbled over. After Edna and Iona had caught him, and he had garbled his fishy gratitude, they yanked Highmond over the rock and stood him up. His trousers were torn, but he himself was alright.
As they were setting Highmond right, and he and Iona were lamenting the ruin of his pants, Edna watched the lava, preparing to run again. She had expected the stuff to overrun the boulder, but instead it broke around the rock, splitting its path of destruction. Too quickly the new streams traced an oval round the edges of the small party, hemming them in from both sides.
Edna turned to check the path ahead. There was a much larger boulder some ten paces beyond, but the lava was already there, pooling at its base. They were surrounded.
“Well,” she interrupted her friends who were now bickering over just how bad Highmond’s trousers looked. “It would be very nice if one of you had a thought that wasn’t about pants right about now.”
“What?” They said in unison, then looked around.
When she had surveyed her doom and concluded its doomfulness, Iona said, well, some words - which words precisely, and the order they were in, was less important than the spirit of them.
Highmond laughed, a scoffing, good laugh, “Nonsense?” he bellowed, “We’re fine! We’ll just lift ourselves out on those branches!” He pointed to the boughs of a large tree. It was nearby, but not quite nearby enough.
Iona turned to Edna, “Did we break his eyes when we caught him?”
Edna turned to Highmond, “And how will we do that?” she asked, trying and (therefore) failing to keep the edge off her voice.
Highmond’s mustache curled in a grin. “With this!” he shouted, hoisting a stick high above his head. Before anyone could react, he aimed the stick’s end toward the tree limbs and pressed a knobby part of the wood with his thumb. The stick sat there, in its sticky way, and nothing else happened.
“Good. Now that’s done, shall we have a group cry?” Iona deadpanned.
Highmond saw what he was actually holding now and burst into a stammer of babbles. “I--well--but! My cane!” He looked to the boulder where he had tripped and saw his cane, sitting on top in a pile of sticks. The others turned as well. As if the cane and sticks had been awaiting an audience, they immediately burst into flames. “That had a grappling hook in it,” Highmond said sadly.
Edna patted his shoulder. “It’s alright,” she said, “You tried, and I understand that’s meant to be a virtue.”
“I--” he began, “But no! There must be another way! A vine perchance, or…” he looked around in the ash-dimmed light, finding no vine on their little island, “or we could jump or… climb that rock!” But even in saying these things he knew they were folly. The molten moat that encircled them was too wide on either side to leap from their position, and the larger boulder to which the lava ran had a sickening overhang that seemed almost eager to deposit them in the burning pool that grew beneath it.
He was trailing off, but Edna could see that his mind was still turning the problem over. She admired that, deeply, but she had looked at every angle - her experience told her - and there was nothing to be done.
She thought about giving him a speech, letting him know that this, not fame and accomplishment, is the soul and whole of adventure. Death is the beginning, middle, and end - the prologue and epilogue and footnotes. It is the glossary and index and every other part of adventure. Glory is only the purgatory in which adventurers await their tragic ends.
But then she had an idea.