He felt his eyes close. Felt Minerva clinging to him, her small arms tight around his neck. Then they slowed dramatically. He opened his eyes and watched as the wave diminished and vanished. The boat was no more than a mile from shore. The brown mountains, which he now saw were as much green as brown towered thousands of feet in front of them.
As he examined the mountains, he heard the engine sputter. He turned to learn if he could keep it stable when it quit completely. The sudden silence was punctuated by small waves lapping at the hull. The sound was a dull wet slap.
Stanton looked at his daughter and realized she fallen asleep in his arms. Smiling and feeling true affection, he gently carried her below deck and placed her on a lower bunk, tucked her in and returned to find Taisie guiding the boat on a current that led directly to the dock before them.
As he moved to stand alongside her, he looked at the land they approached. As with the locations he docked before, this too was basically barren. The dock they would tie up to extended at least a hundred feet into the lake. Beyond it there was a small stone building so similar to the one he and Margaret spent a night in that for a second he felt an uneasy stab of confusion.
With a small headshake, he looked beyond. There he saw landscape looking layered with green plateaus forming a path through the forest of conifer trees that carpeted the mountainside. What he saw gradually rose up the side of the mountain until he could no longer see much detail.
“I can only wonder if this place will finally bring me to the destination I’ve been struggling to reach since returning to the ring world.” He spoke more to himself than to his companion.
“Perhaps it will.” Taisie’s voice sounded flat like she’d answered in a way that would hide her feelings.
“It never does.” He answered himself.
The boat floated to the nearest dock, drifted until the bow bumped against a piling. Friction slowed the boat enough to enable Stanton to jump off and on the dock. He turned and caught the rope Taisie threw, quickly wrapped it around tie-off piling. The boat pulled the rope taut and then stopped moving.
He wrapped a second rope around a second piling as Taisie began unloading supplied. Minvera stood watching them. She didn’t seem curious but did seem to understand their tasks.
Finally after months of travel, nearly a year he knew, Stanton helped his child off the boat, and lifted her on his hip. He grabbed his backpack and accompanied Taisie onto the land.
No one was there to greet them, or to repel their approach. He had retained his hand held laser weapon, but was glad he wouldn’t need it then.
Neither of the spoke but they walked side by side and began the climb to the first plateau. The slope was gradual but after several hours with but one stop, he legs began to burn.
“We should rest,” Taisie said as if reading his pain. “You have injured places that will never be as they were. Even an immortal can push his body until it demands a difference.” She waved at a downed tree that lay in the shade of others. “We can sit there eat and drink. Minerva looked tired and hungry.”
Stanton lowered the girl to the ground. He let her walk for as long as she wanted and carried her for the rest. She looked at him and yawned. He small teeth were pointed, but he decided that was common for all toddlers. She’s no ordinary child, he thought as he recalled her fighting the lake serpent.
Squatting he sat on the log drew a low groan. He lower back hurt. Along with areas were he now had scar tissue that hadn’t been there on earth.
“I’m immortal but I heal and scar like a normal human.” He stated.
Taisie nodded with no verbal replay. She was busy preparing a meal for Minerva.
Stanton prepped adult rations and then the three ate. “We’ll need to locate a place to spend the night.”
“We can camp if needed.”
He nodded and watched Minerva finish eating. After they’d cleaned up, they walked in the edge of the forest to keep them from getting too much sun. The day was warm.
Stanton spotted a trail and guided them to it. As they progressed the trees grew thicker, closer together forming a green canopy that provide shade, which cooled the air several degrees.
The path curved to the left and as they walked around the curve, a rumbling sound behind them grew louder as it neared. Stanton turned, digging out the laser, only to see that the forest was closing off the trail. Trees grew with astonishing speed. He scooped up Minerva and began running. Taisie was several steps ahead, and stumbled as the ground under her feet acted like a wave, then opened and she disappeared.