The Underground: Part Two
“Ronan!” Cove cried out again, feeling as if his heart was being torn in two.
He stared at the empty petpet bed, unable to move, hardly able to breathe. His petpet, his best friend. They had stolen him. They’d stolen something far more precious than a material item. That was it! That was going too far! He would get them for this!
Cove whirled and came face to face with a vibrant yellow glow only inches from his face. He yelped and stumbled back, and his Lightmite rushed to his side, asking him if he was all right in a series of concerned squeaks.
“Ronan! Oh, Ronan, you’re all right!” Cove snatched the Lightmite out of the air and hugged him against him.
Ronan's squeak came out in a croak, but it was enough for Cove to catch something that sounded like, “Too tight!”
“Oh, sorry,” he apologized and released his little friend. “I thought the Symols had gotten you.”
Ronan’s wings batted the air lightly, and he told Cove he had merely gone for a drink of water. Cove put a paw to his still thumping heart and smiled.
“Good. I’m glad, but there won’t be any more sleeping tonight. We’ve got to-”
Cove’s sentence was drained out and cut off by a high-pitched, blood-curdling scream that froze the petpet and the petpetpet to their very spots in fear.
“No..” Cove whispered.
There was no mistaking the scream had come from Gio. Cove was off in a mad dash with Ronan fluttering hurriedly behind him. He flicked on the light and barreled into the room. As soon as the light flickered on, Cove saw that Gio’s room was still a disaster zone, but Gio was no longer in it.
No, they hadn’t gone for his Lightmite; they’d gone for his friend. Panic threatened to rise in his throat, but he shoved it down.
“Start looking,” Cove ordered Ronan. “There’s got to be a tunnel leading out of our neohome somewhere. We’re going to find it.”
I’ll get you back, Cove promised Gio silently.
But in an hour, there was still no luck. They’d searched all over the neohome, and could find no traces of a hole or a tunnel. Cove returned dejectedly back to Gio’s room and shared a moment of disappointed silence with Cove.
“They must have already filled it back in,” he guessed.
Ronan squeaked and dropped onto his shoulder.
This, Cove decided, must have been the payback they had in mind for him. They spent a week stealing his belongings, making him wonder, and then they stole his friend, and they left no way to be followed. They were going to leave him now with no way to find them, and no way to bring Gio back. That was the punishment they had created for him.
He wouldn’t let it go at that. He’d do whatever it took, but he’d get his friend back. He wouldn’t let Gio be forced to stay there, in the one place he despised the most. Filling in a tunnel wouldn’t stop him. If he had to work his way from scratch, he’d do it.
“Be ready in the morning, Ronan. We’re going to go to Meridell, and we’ll start from the beginning if we must.”
He turned to leave, but something caught his eye. Something purple. Cove dashed to the side of Gio’s petpet bed and scooped up the purple petpet ball lying beside it. It was warm to the touch, as if someone had just recently handled it.
“Impossible!” he decided, though it was real and in his paws even as he denied its existence.
It was there, and it was Gio’s. Cove knew it, because of the distinct teeth marks in it and the patch where it had been repaired after Gio had accidentally jabbed it with one of his tusks. There was no way Gio would have ransacked his whole entire room and missed this ball that was lying in the exact position he had said it’d been in when he’d went to sleep. No way. That meant that it had been returned.
Or maybe it had been used as bait. It would explain how Symols could outmaneuver a Gruslen, and if Cove was correct about his guess of where the hole was, it would also explain how they’d stolen the ball out from under his nose. Cove shoved the petpet bed aside, and he was rewarded.
There, beneath the petpet bed’s original position, was the hole.
Despite Ronan’s light, Cove couldn’t see into the hole. It was the utmost ominous shade of midnight black. He could feel it, they were waiting for him down there. And why keep them waiting?
“Listen to me, Ronan. If I’m not back by morning, go find help. All right?”
Ronan squeaked an objection.
“You’re not going with me, and that’s final. One of us has to hang back and alert help if something goes wrong. That has to be you. Please, we’re wasting time.”
Ronan was silent for a moment, and then he gave in.
“Thanks.” Cove smiled at his Lightmite. “I’ll be back soon, hopefully.”
Bracing himself, Cove lowered himself into the hole. This time he had the option of not doing a cannonball and knocking the wind out of himself. The hole in Meridell was thankfully the only one a petpet had to make a fool out of himself to get into.
When his feet touched the ground, he had to feel his way down the tunnel. The ground beneath his feet went from dusty and dry to damp and solid the farther in he went. It was cold, and he couldn’t contain the shiver that wracked his small, blue body. It was so dark, he couldn’t even see the nose on his face. It was like walking around with his eyes closed.
But that didn’t last long. As he had expected, there was someone waiting for him. The farther he ventured down the hole, the more he could see. The tunnel led to a chamber that was dimly lit with torches, one that Cove recognized from his first adventure into the Symol Hole. Cove made his way to it, trying to be brave.
His fear washed away to surprise as the tunnel opened up into the Throne Room, and Cove saw Donnovan seated on the throne. He stopped and merely gawked. The new King returned his look, but his face was coldly composed.
“You-” Cove sputtered.
“Me,” Donnovan answered, smiling wickedly.
Cove glanced around him. The Throne Room was deserted save for the two of them. Cove wondered if Gio had already been thrown back into the dungeon he had been so determined to never see again.
“Where’s Gio?” Cove demanded, advancing on him, his fear draining completely as he thought of his friend, and the fear his friend had of ever returning here.
Donnovan pushed himself off of the throne and twirled a scepter in one of his paws. It was gold and encrusted with jewels, some that had been stolen from the crown of Brightvale itself. He shrugged.
“You’ll see him soon enough.”
“Let him go. We’ll go back home, and we can all forget this ever happened.” Cove decided to try the friendly, cautious approach first.
Donnovan snorted. “Somehow I don’t believe the Spardel who has been trying to get everyone he meets to believe him about the Symols since the day he escaped our hole.”
Cove winced. He had always had a feeling his big mouth would get him into trouble one day, but he had had no idea how much trouble, or that he wasn’t the only one that was going to have to pay for it. Guilt threatened to wash over him. “I won’t say another word about what you do here if you give me Gio and let us return home.”
Donnovan shook his head, clucking his tongue in mock sadness. “As we speak, my Symols are filling in the tunnel to your neohome.”
Cove paused as something clicked in his head. “Your Symols?”
Donnovan nodded. “Yes, mine.”
“But what about-” His thoughts surged back to the image of the old Symol King that had forever been implanted in his memory since his first encounter in this hole. He could picture him now, large and powerful seated in the Throne Donnovan had evacuated only minutes before.
Donnovan waved the words away before Cove had the chance to speak them. There was a malicious gleam in his eyes as he spoke of the former King.
“He was demoted to digger on the charges of smuggling. It appears our beloved King was holding out some for himself.”
Cove didn’t buy it. Not when Donnovan was the one who had claimed the throne after his loss of the crown. “And, let me guess, those stolen items had help finding their way into his room.”
“So what if they did?” Donnovan challenged, his eyes narrowing.
Cove dropped into silence for a moment. He wasn’t helping his cause by arguing with the new Symol King. Especially not since that King was Donnovan, and he already knew that Donnovan had a wicked, cold heart to begin with.
“Look, just let us go. Otherwise, Ronan is going to alert Neopians, and you’ll be found out.”
Donnovan chuckled. “The hole to your neohome is closed. No one will believe the Lightmite any more than they believed you. No one is going to waste their time venturing down into our cramped little Symol Hole to investigate the poor, innocent Symols.”
Cove knew he was had. “So what are you going to do with us then?”
Donnovan twirled his scepter. “The same thing I did to the King.”
And then right back to the dungeon with them as soon as the work was completed, Donnovan decided. He knew how much the Gruslen enjoyed it there. It was the least he could do. The thought made him grin.
“Which was?” Cove prodded.
“You’re going to help the ex-King help me. I need a tunnel dug to the treasure chamber in the palace of Princess Amira. The old King, your Gruslen friend, and you are going to be the key diggers of that tunnel, and the three of you are going to aid greatly to the rise of my empire.”
Cove closed his eyes in dread against the sound of Donnovan’s wicked laugh of triumph.
To be continued...