Disclaimer: Well, it HAS been a long time since I last added to this story. I also want to apologize to those readers who have been faithfully following along. I ran out of steam and my muses abandoned me. Real life sometimes comes crashing through the haze of creative writing. That is my excuse and I am sticking with it! :0)

Anyway, this is not a gut-buster or an edge-of-your-seat chapter, but I hope it segues into what will be the homestretch of this story. I will not say how many chapters I have left, since I never know what my muses have in store for any story. Nevertheless, I am hoping to finish this story quickly enough. However, I want to do justice to it, as well, which is why it has taken me so long to get back to it. As I've stated before, I do not write just to write. I want each chapter to matter.

With that said, I want to offer a premature thank you to anyone glancing my way.

Now, on to the story, such as it is!


Chapter 30 – Follow the Yellow Brick Road

Shortly after the pirates and turtles entered the jungle, Jack found a natural trail.

Initially, it was wide enough to allow passage for the sled, but eventually the jungle growth grew too thick. That was when Sparrow ordered his men take up swords and machetes.

It didn't take too long before a path of chopped up foliage and felled small trees greeted the men assigned to pushing the sled. It was easy going for a while.

However, it didn't take long before the jungle proved even those implements ineffective. As the trees grew denser and became virtually impassable, the men switched to using axes.

Teaming up in pairs, several worked simultaneously - depending on how many trees blocked their way. Overall, they created quite a ruckus. The explosive sound of trees crashing through the rainforest, the terrified squawks and screams of displaced creatures, created a startling cacophony of noise that made Jack cringe. He was certain that 'someone' would hear them. He kept a wary watch on the jungle surrounding the group, a hand resting on the hilt of his pistol. Although he would instinctively defend himself, even though the curse pretty well protected him, he still preferred talking his way out of trouble.

As his men continued with their symphony of axes against stubborn wood, Jack mouthed a sentence in Aztec, one that supposedly would communicate his desire. He had learned it from a good friend of his…well, someone who used to be a good friend, anyway. She was as old as the sea itself and knew more things about the world than she was willing to share, but she did share the all-important sentence.

Jack Sparrow just hoped she had told him the right one.

Nevertheless, it was imperative to find the Aztecs, no matter how much noise his men had to make in the process. Otherwise, they may as well turn around and go back to the ship.

Although felling most of the trees took a mere ten minutes, other times a half hour would pass before a particular tree would fall. When they encountered mahogany, that time almost doubled.

In any event, after six hours of traipsing through the jungle, they covered less than two miles into what would one day be Colombia.

As closely as the trees grew at their crown, they formed a tightly woven canopy high above, as well. Overlapping, thickly leafed branches made it near impossible for sunlight to permeate the jungle below. It created an almost twilight environment at ground level in fact.

However, Jack and his men came well prepared.

When their way proved too dark to see by natural light, they took up torches they had brought along and lit them. Soon, flickering tongues of yellow flame chased back the premature night and illuminating their path. It would have been a pleasant walk, too, as walks go in an uncharted jungle…that is, if not for the rain.

The storm had swept in just after the crew of men and mutant turtles began their trek. Fortunately, for them, the canopy above acted like an umbrella and kept the rainfall from becoming an outright downpour. It made it possible for the torches to stay light, too.

Just the same, the rain found ways to the men and four turtles.

Branches and trunks became water highways. Rain dripped off trees and limbs like eager faucets, or wicked down trunks to collect in pools at their base. Because the ground was already over saturated from normal precipitation, the trees didn't have to 'dig deep' for nourishment. Consequently, surface roots littered the forest floor. Unfortunately, they hid beneath the pools of collected rainwater and the ground could not absorb fast enough. More times than not, they caught the sled and tripped many of the men – and one turtle.

"Hey, would ya watch where yer goin?"

"How can I see where I'm goin' when my going s'under water?"

"Well, Raphael, assume there's somethin' in th'way."

"If I was a fish, Mr. Gibbs, I would, but I'm not."

"Yer a'reptile."

"Yer point?"

"Forget it. Just make sure if ya trip again, ya don't step on me heels. Yer one heavy turtle."

"I'll make sure I land on yer back, then. Will that do?"

"Cheeky turtle."

"Whiney pirate."

Whenever they stopped to clear yet another impenetrable barrier of trees, those with sled-pushing duties took a rest, not that they needed rest, but – curse or no – the job was a boring one.

While waiting for the path-makers to finish their work, some men took up errant pieces of wood lying along the jungle floor. With knife in hand, they worked at freeing whatever shape they had imagined from the kindling.

Other pirates played games of chance, using ivory dice they had brought with them. Winners cheered, while losers grumbled unhappily.

Another group engaged in knife-throwing contests. When they missed the mark and, instead, impaled one of their mates, a loud squabbling ensued between them. Of course, Jack Sparrow reminded them of where they were.

"Are ye daff? We're in hostile terri'try, mates. Curse or no, we needn't t'make enemies TOO soon AN' before we rid ourselves of th'bloody curse. Savvy?"

His admonition did well to curb the boisterous enthusiasms and complaints, but it did little to stop their play.

As for Elizabeth and Will, they kept to themselves primarily, yet were acutely mindful of where they were and with whom they kept company.

Draping one arm around his beloved's shoulders, Will scanned the shadows watchfully, while Elizabeth looked warily between the pirates and turtles.

The girl still did not like these strange creatures. She thought she had seen everything, with Barbossa and his men in skeleton form. At the very least, that experience should have prepared her for such a sight as walking, talking, two-legged, man-sized turtles, but it did not. For a moment, she thought she would prefer dealing with Jack's old nemesis – or even Davy Jones himself, than dally with the unnatural and almost perverse quartet of weapons-wielding reptiles.

As they began moving again through the jungle, a sudden, appetizing thought occurred to Elizabeth. Maybe, when they were free of the curse, she could convince Jack to do with the turtles as the men had earlier suggested – and out of earshot of said topic. A pot of salamagundi stew sure sounded good to her right now. The more Elizabeth considered it, the more her hunger grew, until just looking at them made her mouth water. She was certain the Aztecs would find such a delicacy as turtle stew just as tasty. Maybe they would even reward them with provisions for the trip back to the ship and Port Royal. That is, IF she were allowed to go back home. Given the nastiness of her last encounter with er ex-fiancé', Commodore Norrington, and the British fleet, it was probably a moot point, anyway.

Nonetheless, Elizabeth decided that as soon as she could and with Leonardo and his brothers out of hearing range, she would make her suggestion to the captain. No doubt, she would have the support of his crew, as well. They would be famished for food anyway, might as well take advantage of it!

The more she thought about a pot filled with succulent turtle meat, the more the curse intensified her appetite.

Elizabeth Swan licked her lips hungrily.

While he waited for the pirates to clear a path, Leonardo stood guard while his brothers relaxed nearby. He scanned the jungle intently, turning in place, thoroughly attune to the fact that despite the curse, there were still dangers to consider. His life-long relationship with shadows and things moving in the dark made him perceptibly aware of his environment. Leonardo's ninja skills were on high alert.

Suddenly, an unsettled feeling came over him. He scanned the deep dark of the surrounding shadow rich jungle, but saw nothing alarming. As he completed his second turn around, he caught sight of Elizabeth, standing with Will Turner, fifty feet away. He noticed how Miss Swan kept looking at him, and then at his brothers, as if sizing them up. Her expression seemed intense, almost hungry. It sent warning shivers through Leonardo's shell. Yes, he knew she still didn't trust him. He didn't really blame her, not really, but there was something in the way she looked at him. It matched the pirates' expression the first time Leo and his brothers boarded the Black Pearl. It was a hungry, famished, and knowing look.

Leo did not like that look.

Yet, he had more important matters with which to concern himself. Donnie had told him earlier that the Aztecs were quite advanced, or had been, for their time. They knew things that modern technology had proven. They made a calendar that accurately timed the seasons and the days per year. They were an amazing group of people who sadly died out, but then they were bloodthirsty, so maybe it was just as well.

With one sword at the ready, he waited, prepared. He knew that the curse should protect him and his brothers. After all, the experience with the pyroclastic flow from the island's explosion proved that. Yet, the men sounded anxious, almost from the moment they had entered the rainforest. It worried Leonardo. Their palatable fear told him that these Aztecs were not the friendly type and maybe they knew ways around the curse that could cause them much harm.

Leo considered Don's comment about the Aztec's bloodthirsty culture. Since they were responsible for the curse, it went without discussion that they could do other supernatural things, too.

Of course, Leonardo could only imagine how they would react to four bipedal sentient mutant turtles - and armed ones at that. Nervously, he gulped, which annoyed him, since he rarely if ever felt nervous. He was, after all, a ninja master, and ninja never got scared…right?

Yet, the more Leonardo thought about the Aztecs and imagined what else they could do, the more that fear grew. Maybe it was the curse. Maybe the curse acted like yeast, taking whatever emotion one was feeling and multiplying. Greed, lust, hunger; all of it seemed to intoxicate him, almost overwhelming him. If not for his training in self-control, Leo was certain he would have lost control long before now.

In that moment, Leonardo wished that Master Splinter were here to advise him.