Chapter 28:

Search for the Golden Arch, Part 6


Though Caleb, Hope, and Joseph had agreed to work together, that didn't mean that their goal was that much closer in sight. They had already been cooperating pretty well over the past week, yet that had gotten them no closer to finding the golden-arched butterfly. To be honest, even this new partnership had not given Caleb that much extra confidence, but it was certainly better than nothing.

For that reason, Caleb suggested to Joseph that they take some time to strategize first. They had his knowledge of entomology and three bodies with which to search the forest. So long as they had some sort of plan, he was sure they could at least find some of the butterfly's traces.

For now, they headed over to Joseph's campsite, which was located in the shade of several large trees in a grove quite far from where the others were camped out. His tent and his tools were unsurprisingly covered in dirt and mud, and even the rocks nearby had mud prints from Joseph's dirty clothes. Joseph tried his best to clear off the mud for his new guests, but in the end the two decided to opt to stand while they were here.

“Well, to be honest, I'm running out of options here, too,” Joseph began. “I've looked for the usual places butterflies hide during winter, but I've come up short almost every time.”

“Isn't it possible that the butterfly migrated elsewhere?” Hope asked. “It's a new species, so its behavioral patterns aren't fully known to us yet.”

Joseph shook his head. “This area doesn't get so cold that it would force most butterfly species to migrate. Besides, the butterfly was seen only a few weeks ago. If it was a migratory species, it would have left for warmer pastures much earlier.”

Hope sighed. “Then what do we do? What else have we not checked?”

Joseph scratched his chin for a moment. “There is one place I don't think anyone has looked at yet. It's a little outside the established search radius, but I wouldn't think it too unreasonable for the golden-arched butterfly to be there.”

“Where is this place you're talking about?” Caleb asked.

“This forest sits at the base of a mountain, right? Around there I found a little cave, just outside of the search radius Computer had laid out. At the time I didn't think the butterfly would be near there, but now that we've run out of options, I think we should at least check it out.”

“You've got a better reason than that, right?” Hope asked pointedly. “We can't waste our time exploring some cave just because it's the only place we haven't looked.”

“Well, I've got a couple,” Joseph replied. “Most butterflies like to go dormant in the winter, especially when it gets too cold for them to be normally active. The cave isn't the warmest place around, but it should provide them with enough shelter from the cold.”

“But you didn't think to search it earlier?”

“Like I said, it was outside of the search radius. It wouldn't have been out of the question for the butterfly to have taken refuge inside the forest instead, like inside a bush or under a tree. I wanted to search the more likely locations before taking a chance on the cave.”

“Then let's not waste any time,” Caleb declared. “The sooner we check out the cave, the better. After all, if the others get desperate, even they'll start to take notice of the cave.”

“There's no need to rush, is there?” Joseph asked nervously. “The cave isn't going anywhere, and if the golden-arched butterfly is sheltering there, I doubt it'd be moving either.”

“We're still in a race, remember? I know you aren't big on competition, but if you want to be in charge of researching the new species, you have to find it first, right?”

“Right.” Joseph seemed surprisingly dejected.

“What's the matter?” Caleb asked curiously. “This was your idea.”

“It's a little embarrassing to admit, but... I'm afraid of the dark. That cave is pretty deep, so I'm just trying to work up the courage.”

“Well, work it up on the way there,” Hope said without a hint of sympathy in her voice. “The sooner we check out the cave, the faster we can get out of here.”

Caleb smiled wryly. He guessed she was still pretty incensed about having to stick around in this forest for so long. Hopefully, the cave would turn out to be their best bet.

After an hour-long trek, the trio finally arrived at the cave in question. It was still early afternoon, but the depths of the cave remained dark and foreboding. It was not very big, but its still seemed like a massive maw opening into the darkness. Caleb couldn't blame Joseph for being apprehensive about entering the cave. He took out his flashlight and waved it around for a bit.

“I hope this won't disturb the butterflies,” Caleb mused aloud. “It'd be a shame to finally find it only to scare it away.”

“It shouldn't be a problem,” Joseph answered as he turned on his own flashlight. “The butterflies aren't easily awoken just with a light.”

The three remainers stepped into the cave, which was deceptively deep compared to the relatively small size of the opening. It was initially so small that the tall and lanky Hope had to bow her head slightly to fit in, but now she was able to stand up straight with room to spare.

“This really is quite a big cave,” Caleb mused as he looked around. “But I don't know if we need to go this deep into the cave. Would butterflies even come in this far?”

“I can't deny that butterflies don't really like the dark. Still, there's no reason why we can't explore the whole thing just in case. Who knows? Maybe the new species has the ability to see in the dark.”

“I highly doubt it,” Hope sighed. “But I don't see the harm in taking a look anyway.”

The three continued to trek through the cave, which turned out to have quite a few winding paths. It was surprisingly damp as well, with plenty of wet rocks that made keeping their footing even difficult. Eventually, Caleb ended up slipping on one such rock, hitting the ground with a loud thunk.

“Gah!” he cried out. He didn't need to turn around to imagine the smug smirk that was on Hope's face.

“Careful, or you'll crack your tailbone,” Hope said as she bent down to pick him up, smug smile fully present on her face.

Caleb grumbled as he took Hope's hand, but stopped when he spotted something out of the corner of his eye. “Wait!” he shouted as he pointed upwards. “What's that?”

Joseph and Hope turned around to see a small hole in the top of the cave, where sunlight was shining through. It was a distance away, but with his eyes used to the darkness, Caleb could tell that there was also a pathway up to the hole.

“Joseph! Is it possible that leads to a place where the butterflies might be?!”

Joseph glanced up at the hole and furrowed his brow. “Possibly. There's only one way to find out.”

“I agree,” Caleb remarked as he stood up. He carefully stepped over to the hole and looked up at it as he tried to find a way up. Now that he was closer, he realized the pathway he thought he saw was more of a slight ledge running up the wall diagonally. He couldn't walk on it, but he could use it to climb up to the hole and squeeze his way through. The rocks were quite wet, of course, but he had been in stickier situations before. He just needed to be careful.

Caleb reached up and grabbed onto a part of the ledge that was close to the hole, but low enough for him to grab. Once he made sure his grip was secure, he pulled himself up and wedged his right arm between the space between the ledge and the ceiling. He then turned towards the hole and grabbed at the edge with his left hand. Thankfully, this wasn't wet, and testing proved that it wasn't going to collapse even if he pulled on it with his wait. Confident, Caleb pulled his arm out from the ledge and pulled his body through the hole. Once he was out, he was graced with the sight of a beautiful little vista, a green little meadow hidden along the mountainside.

He bent down and peered into the hole. “There's another place hidden away up here, Joseph! Come here and take a look at this!”

Joseph looked up uneasily, but ultimately swallowed down his hesitation and tried to climb up as well. He managed to climb up to the hole using the ledge just like Caleb, but he seemed to have some trouble making it up to the actual opening.

“What's the matter?” Hope called out. “Just reach out to the ledge!”

“I- I can't!” Joseph called out. “I'm scared of falling!”

“Argh!” Hope shouted out in frustration. “You're scared of this, you're scared of that! How did you work up the guts to become a remainer in the first place?!”

“There's no need to say that, Hope!” Caleb called out as he reached his hand through the hole. “Joseph, grab my hand!”

Joseph turned around and hesitantly grabbed at Caleb's hand. Caleb firmly gripped Joseph's hand and guided it to the opening, allowing him to grab onto the edge. He then motioned for him to move from the ledge, which Joseph seemed reluctant to do. Nevertheless he swallowed his doubts and pushed away from the ledge. Caleb grabbed Joseph's other hand and pulled it through the hole while Joseph simultaneously pulled himself up, finally making it to the hidden meadow within the mountain.

As Joseph and Caleb panted and gasped for breath, Hope leapt through the hole herself, making it as though the trial the two of them had just went through was nothing at all. It might have been his imagination, but Caleb swore that he saw a small smirk on Hope's face as she arrived.

“Show-off,” he grumbled as she shook the dust off of her body. Hope ignored him and looked around at the little alcove Caleb had discovered. “I can't believe there was something like this hidden inside this mountain,” she marveled. “How high up are we?”

Joseph walked over to the edge and peered down to the ground below. “I'd estimate that we're about twenty to thirty feet from the ground. Not too high, but high enough that I wouldn't have noticed this place all that easily.”

“I think this place faces away from the forest, too,” Caleb remarked as he joined Joseph. “No wonder no one else found this place.”

A gasp from Hope suddenly prompted Caleb and Joseph to turn around. “Look at this!” Hope called out softly as she bent down in front of a bush. As the two of them walked over, they suddenly saw what she was talking about.

At first, they seemed like leaves rustling softly in the wind. As they got closer, however, Caleb realized that they were not leaves, but butterflies sleeping quietly inside the bush. Joseph knelt down and gently brushed aside some of the frost that had built up on one of the butterflies, exposing a brilliant green wing with a brilliant streak of gold running along the top of the wing.

“We've actually found it,” Joseph murmured, barely able to contain his glee. “I didn't think I'd actually be able to.”

“Now your knowledge can really be put to use,” Caleb declared as he gave Joseph a reassuring pat on the shoulder. “I hope you're ready for the workload.”

Joseph laughed. “It feels weird to be encouraged by someone so much younger than me, but thanks. Guess I've got a lot to look forward to now.”

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