Elise winced as her finger was pricked by yet another dead-looking weed. How many had they looked through now? She lost count sometime yesterday. For all she knew, she had already looked in this one twice. Stifling a yawn, she found herself wondering how Caroline was doing it. 'Does she EVER get tired?' she thought begrudgingly.
They had been at this for two days now with very little rest, and Caroline was relentless in her determination. 'Why is such a little thing such a big deal?' she thought for what felt like the thousandth time. 'And why am I still helping her!' she berated herself. This was not the first time she had had the latter thought either. She knew the answer to that question. Caroline didn't seem to have much choice in the matter. She HAD to find it and Elise wasn't about to leave her up here alone. She only wished Caroline could tell her a little more about what "it" was.
Her mind drifted to that night that began with such innocence. How could something so seemingly innocuous turn out to be so gravely urgent?
The old lime kilns were a place that Elise and her friends had frequented often. Creeping along the dark trail was no different this night than any other. They giggled as they told stories of what these kilns were used for, which was nowhere near the truth. They were trying to scare themselves and it was working. Everyone was getting sufficiently jittery. Well, almost everyone.
"Caroline, what's wrong?" Elise whispered. "You're acting weird."
"Nothing", Caroline replied stiffly. "I'm just freaked out." Elise could tell by her voice that that was only half true.
Shrugging it off, Elise sped up to where Evan was walking. They fell into easy conversation and continued up the path. Even in the dim light that the moon cast, Elsie could just see the kilns ahead. They reminded her of a small castle. The quarried rock that was mortared together spanned fifty feet and held the openings to four tunnels barely big enough to walk in. The kilns were built into the scarp of the mountain side, allowing the group to hike up the steep sides to the top, which rose more than twenty feet from the base.
Exploring the top always left Elsie feeling a little unnerved. A gaping twelve-foot hole, serving as a shaft for the limestone back when the kiln was in operation, looked ominous and foreboding. Everyone seemed to feel much the same as Elise because the mood shifted from giggling to sober in an instant.
"That is just plain freaky" Gabe quavered. Elsie's friends edged closer. The mood was lightening again as they taunted each other around the side of the shaft.
"Let's go check out the tunnels" Evan whispered. He wasn't alone in his idea. There were already others backtracking down the steep sides of the kiln. Elise turned to follow him but stopped. Caroline had caught her eye. She was moving toward the shaft instead of away from it. Her movements were unnatural, almost jerky as if she didn't really want to get closer, but she couldn't help it. As she twitched toward the hole Elise noticed her hand reaching into her pocket. She brought out something in a tightly clenched fist and quickly threw it into the blackness. It made no noise.
"Caroline!" Elise hissed. "What are you DOING! What was that that you threw in the hole?"
Caroline whipped around, her hair, silver in the moonlight, stuck to her wet lips. "Nothing!" she cringed, an almost hysterical note to her voice. Even in the wan light Elise could see her cheeks flush as an abashed look came over her face. "Honestly, I don't even know." She was almost whispering now. "I had a, umm, friend give something to me, and he told me to throw it in the shaft of the kiln. It was some sort of powder stuff. I really don't know what it was. He said that it would be funny."
As she spoke, Elsie noticed she had a hand in her other pocket. Feigning nonchalance, she kept the hand in her pocket turned away from Elsie. Caroline didn't seem to want her to notice it. "What's in the other pocket?" Elise asked.
"The other half of the joke." she murmured, almost too soft for Elise to hear.
Suddenly Elsie was on her back, as a blast from the shaft shot fire up into the sky. Screaming and shouting rained around her. 'Caroline!' she thought. 'Where's Caroline? She was too close to that hole!' Pulling her elbows up underneath her, she lifted her head. Caroline was down in a crouch, the expression on her face bouncing between panic and snarling rage. Her hand was still in her pocket, her shoulder curved protectively over it, and she was muttering to herself. Elise caught something about "too soon".
Elise shouted three times before Caroline responded. "Caroline, are you OK?"
Caroline looked around as if she was only just aware of where she was. "Yes. I'm fi..." She stopped mid-sentence as flashlights suddenly surrounded them. Men's voices shouted "Hold it right where you are!"
"Holy crap! It's the cops!" Elise squeaked, darting a glance at Caroline. The snarl was back on her face as she flung her hand out from her pocket, throwing whatever it was into the darkness of the mountainside. It whistled shrilly as it sailed past Elise's head. Seconds later, the cops had both of them in hand.
Elise kept her eyes on Caroline. She squirmed impatiently as the cop patted her down, but Caroline's eyes never moved from the direction she threw the... whatever it was.
Elise was brought back to the present by another stupid weed. Those cops had not stopped asking questions until the small hours of the morning. None of the group had any answers, except perhaps Caroline, but she was all wide-eyed innocence about the fifty foot jet of fire that burst out of that hole. They had been lucky Evan and the others hadn't ventured down the tunnels yet.
Elise asked Caroline about the fire, and she wouldn't talk. But when she asked her about what it was that she threw, Caroline grabbed her hand and squeezed it til it hurt saying, "We HAVE to find it! You have to help me Elise! The Prime. I've lost it!" The desperation on her face was frightening. What else could she do.
And so, for two days they searched, and at the end of those two days they found what would change Caroline and Elise's life forever.