After a few minutes of bumping along clinging to the rough back in the dark, Moric’s eyes adjusted. He realized that it never got as dark as he expected, even well after the light from the cave mouth disappeared behind them. No hope existed that the Moose could steer the great Titan’s wild dashin that irregular, confined space. He could not grow big enough to manage the reigns without the distinct possibility of braining himself on the stalactites and other rocky protrusions from the uneven ceiling overhead. Luckily, because of the persistent sources of light, he did not really need to.
Just as Sheriff Moric asked, Georgia and her crew marked all the turns. Wherever the cave split into another cavern big enough for the running lizard, a cooly glowing paste heavily spread on the rocks lit the mouth of the path best taken. Even with the firelight still leaking past the Titan Lizard from the burning bush, the glow showed clearly. Most of the other caves were far to small to accommodate that mad dash in the dark, but in its distressed and mildly concussed state, the Titan chose the lighted path over the dark every time, without hesitation.
For something to do and to help keep his place, Moric concentrated on flattening his body and spreading it wide like a blanket, hugging the surging back beneath him. He was not as good at that sort of transformation as some of the other Mooses. The Matriarch of Moose Valley could contort into most anything she could contemplate. She did not leave the Valley much anymore, but she taught regular classes on stretching the imagination and the body. Necessity concentrated the Sheriff’s mind wonderfully in this case, however. From the Titan Lizard’s back, there was no telling how far they had to go to reach the fire ants, and he forgot to ask when he had the chance.
The flames behind soon went out, not long after Moric got the hang of hugging the great lizard with his whole body, but the lizard kept running. There was no room to turn around, the pain continued to throb, and ahead the light of the next glowing marker beckoned them deeper and deeper into the earth.
Time stretched on into an un-markable eternity. It occurred to Sheriff Moric to wonder just how he would identify the fire ants’ tunnel entrance goal when he found it. He knew quite a bit about the great fire ants. The Moose encountered a few here and there before he took up his post as Sheriff, but they were not on visiting-one-another-at-home terms. Ending up in the middle of the colony with a rampaging Titan Lizard would probably be very exciting, but possibly not a lot of fun. Moric did not particularly worry about it, but he did wonder.
The smell of scorched stone reached Moric’s nose over the prevailing pall of burnt lizard before the chill, damp air of the cave even began to warm and dry, a clear sign that their ride was nearing its end. With a surprising touch of regret, the Sheriff surrendered his now comfortable blanket shape to bounce along upon the lizard back once again. It was time for the tricky part, well another tricky part.
Before reaching the nice fire ant dinner the Funtown and caravan people went to so much trouble to arrange for their monumental uninvited guest, Sheriff Moric needed to make sure the big beasty would be able to appreciate it. The makeshift reigns still held the great teeth together, after all. Of course, if Moric simply let go, the lizard could easily work his jaws loose, but the whole town surrendered all the rope they could find for that lizard riding lasso. They needed it for all the other things that went wanting while the emergency ran its course. They wanted it back if at all possible.
Sheriff Moric took both reins in one poof and a deep breath, somehow managing a firm grip in spite of the thickness of the braided strands. He carefully coiled the loose ends and stuffed them into his Moose Pocket, the amazing pocket into elsewhere he carried about even when going about without a shirt or pants to keep it in. Leaning back with the reins held tight, Moric pulled his feet up in front of him and surged up to a standing position, all in one motion. If anyone had been there to watch, he must have appeared to be a toy trick rider balancing on the back of a new breed of dinosaur or dragon.
The Sheriff took a moment or two to catch the rhythm of the surging muscles under his riding boots. He wished, briefly, that he had come on this particular adventure bare poofed, but some things are expected of a Sheriff in a desert town, and he liked the noise the boots made on wooden floors and other hard surfaces. The slick, stiffish soles did not make the trick that much more treacherous. Hand over hand, Moric half pulled, half walked his way up the Titan’s neck, stuffing the spare rope into his pocket as he went, shifting his weight like a sailor on the deck of a storm-tossed ship.
Moric paused on the lizard’s wide brow, waiting for some hint they approached near the lair of the fire ants. It would not do to go through all that fuss and bother only to leave the great beasty running around the empty caves in the end, still hungry, angry and free to find its way back to the surface with the colony still threatening the river.
Moric’s footing grew even more precarious when the lizard started finding ants along the way. The great, many legged insectoids were big enough to make a good bite or two for the Titan, which is very big indeed. The headlong plunge through the dark would suddenly halt and shift each time the lizard paused to snatch up each snack they encountered. If the fire bothered the Titan at all, Moric could not tell. Of course, trying to keep his footing on a head which kept surging down and forward after scurrying prey took so much of the sheriff’s attention, there was not a great deal left over for noticing much of anything. That included the entrance to the fire ant colony. Luckily, Georgia planned ahead.
A great, rumbling voice cut through the chattering and skittering of the increased ant population, the heavy thump and clack of lizard feet and claws, and the slithering hiss of scales on stone where the Titan brushed the cave walls with tail, leg, or side. “Dismount!” the voice ordered. Morid did not need to be told twice. Even a Moose tummy will start to get unhappy after that wild, plunging, bucking ride.