Chapter Three: Inventory
She slowly climbed down the western side of the sequoia-like log, using rough patches of bark and the remaining stubs of a broken branch or two as handholds and toeholds, almost like rock climbing. Once she was back on the ground, she made her way toward the Lord of the Rings. It was standing about fifty feet away from the log, and glistening in the pale blue moonlight and starlight. The faint blue light was perhaps not ideal for this, she realized, but it needed to be done.
Once she approached it, she realized that her initial guess as to its size had been just about correct. The ring was about the size of the facade of a two-story townhouse, and inscribed with about three dozen symbols enclosed in clearly marked, equally sized sections. She didn't recognize any of the symbols themselves, although one near the left-hand horizontal sort of reminded her of the White Tree of Gondor, and another over on the right bore a passing resemblance to a chicken, and one near the ground looked sort of like a push lawnmower, if you had balanced it on its handle. There were just the symbols, no text attached, so obviously they bore some other purpose than as flash cards, but what it was, she had no idea.
She walked around the Ring, to check the opposite side, which she'd arbitrarily decided was the back; it bore the identical inscriptions, in a mirror pattern so that each was on the same segment of the Ring. She made sure by looking around the outside of the Ring, which was several inches thick; just in case it was some sort of portal, her Sunnydale-trained instincts were telling her not to stick her head or hands through the Ring itself. She tapped the Ring experimentally, but other than a slight increase in the queasy tingle in her stomach, probably just a reminder that she hadn't eaten in about ten hours, she felt nothing in response. The Ring seemed too smooth, and the edges of the inscriptions too sharp, to be stone, so she was guessing some sort of metal alloy, but it had that slightly speckled appearance you normally saw with stone. It was hard to tell the color in the blue moonlight, but she thought it might be a deep gray, one a paint company might label as 'thunderstorm' or perhaps 'battleship'.
Deciding there was little more she could figure out in the dark, she headed back to the two-story-high log, slowly climbed over it, and started hiking back to her campsite, which was close the far end of the clearing. Along the way, she thought about moving closer to the Ring, in case someone else came for it or to it, but decided she'd need to find a water source and for now, her campsite was only about a mile away. Hiking back to the campsite took a half-hour, according to her watch, which theoretically made it close to eight in the morning. The sky, however, was still dark, and the moon still rising. She remembered that there was a connection between the phases of the moon and the times it was visible, but couldn't remember right now exactly what that was; she'd have to sit down and draw it out. Geometry homework... fun! Not.
Shrugging as she passed through the handful of trees separating her campsite from the clearing, she decided it was time to take a critical inventory of her situation. First, she seemed to be in perfect health, and even that slight queasiness she'd been feeling while checking out the Ring had passed. Fingering her hair, she made a small mental note about the tips of her hair being singed. Second, her clothing was in good condition, and third, reaching for her pack, she didn't see any obvious damage to her equipment. Tapping one of her water bottles, the only one that still had water in it, she made another mental note - she'd need to find a water source rather soon.
Spreading out her bright orange rain cape on the ground, she unpacked everything. Two sets of spare size AA batteries (for her flashlight), her first-aid kit, signalling mirror, 2012 edition of the official Appalachian Trail guidebook - which she expected would be close to worthless, now - two full changes of clothes, two additional sports bras and panties, an extra set of shoelaces for her hiking boots, a screw-capped case with a hundred wooden matches, water filter (with a spare cartridge; the one she'd been using since New Jersey was nearly worn out), her trekking pole, a pair of mud-brown size eleven Crocs, two hundred feet of parachute cord, a navy blue one-piece swimsuit, a lightweight Hawaiian-print beach towel, and a couple other random items. An aluminum plate/bowl thing that could also serve as the lid for a matching frying pan, a set of interlocking aluminum flatware, an aluminum teapot, and two small aluminum sauce/soup pans accounted for her cooking gear, along with the wood-debris powered Zip stove, another Isis and jackrabbit idea she'd grabbed.
Looking critically over her food supply, if she was careful, she had enough to last her about five days, maybe six. Five or six days according to her watch, that was; who knew how long the days were on this planet or in this dimension or wherver she was; she just knew it wasn't Earth. Then she'd have to hunt or forage for food, and realistically, she should probably get started on that before it became critically necessary.
Well, she had been hunting a few times in her life, though mostly for demons, and there was her Slayer-induced emergency kit, taped down into the bottom of her pack. The parts to assemble a collapsible, pistol-sized crossbow, and a dozen aluminum-tipped wooden bolts for it, as well as the two lightest throwing daggers from the Watcher's Council arsenal. Neither a throwing dagger nor a hand crossbow was anywhere even close to being an ideal hunting weapon, but either was better than nothing at all.
After packing everything back away except her sleeping and cooking gear, she carefully tore a blank page out of her journal, and slipped it in her pocket. She pulled out her day-hiking pack, a simple black Jansport that she had used for her schoolbooks in grad school, and began loading it with the flashlight, a pen, the compass, all her water bottles, and the filter. Time to go find some water. On second thought... she grabbed a piece of rope, and since there were no rocks handy, found a foot-long piece of rotten branch to tie to one end. Then she flung it over one of the lower branches of one of the nearby sequoia-like trees, which took a couple tries as the branch was at least thirty feet above her head. Catching the free end as it came down, she tied a complicated series of knots in the two rope ends, and used it like a pulley system to lift her pack fifteen feet into the air. Although she hadn't seen any land animals yet, she'd seen game trails, and it would be just her luck that one would come by and be interested in her pack and what was left of her food supply.
Remembering that water, of course, flowed downhill, she stepped out into the clearing and tried to decide which way was 'down'. It turned out, although the clearing was almost perfectly flat, that a dribble of water from her bottle flowed away from the Lord of the Rings, to the east. With the moon having passed the high point of the sky, its light was now at her back as she headed off into the row of half-height trees that were slowly encroaching on whatever had caused the strangely rectangular clearing surrounding the Ring.