The Underground: Part Three
The next day, with no word back from his owner, Ronan went to the only place he believed someone might listen to him.
“Symols? Ha! Don’t be ridiculous!”
Ronan had to exert more of an effort to stay in the air with Judge Hog’s booming voice echoing around him. The gigantic, muscled Moehog wiped his eyes behind his black mask. He’d had a long, nice laugh at Ronan’s expense.
Angry, Ronan released several short, snippy squeaks.
“I simply don’t believe that the Symols could possibly think up and execute something so diabolical.”
Ronan squeaked again, batting his wings until he was inches away from Judge Hog’s face.
“You claim they kidnapped a Spardel and a Gruslen, are holding them against their will, and creating a plan to rob Neopia blind? Why didn’t the Gruslen just eat them?”
Ronan squeaked and added more to that scenario.
“Oh, I’m sorry,” Judge Hog corrected himself, his voice dripping with sarcasm, “I forgot that they already have half of the goods reported stolen this year in a chamber underground. You expect me to believe that they stole all of those Brightvale windows, Coltzan’s riches, and everything else we have had go missing lately?”
Ronan said he did expect him to. Judge Hog laughed again, moved to his desk, and pressed a red button on the corner. Several seconds later, a knock came on the door, and a strapping green Lupe entered. He was wearing his orange and red costume, and his eyes looked mildly annoyed behind his orange strap of a mask.
“Yes, sir?” he addressed Judge Hog.
Judge Hog circled his desk and sat down behind it. “How did the incident go over this morning?”
The Lupe defender grinned. “A little rational persuading with the Cave Chia, and he finally let the Aisha twins go. They were a bit frazzled from having the club brandished in their faces for half a day, but I think they learned their lesson about pestering irritable Chias.”
“That’s good, and what did-”
Ronan interrupted with a loud, anxious squeak.
Judge Hog caught himself. “Oh yes, I’d like to introduce you to my Lightmite friend here. This is Ronan.”
The Lupe defender tipped his head in acknowledgement toward Ronan. “And what does Ronan have to do with us?”
“Ronan here believes that his Spardel and a Gruslen were kidnapped by Symols,” Judge Hog began.
“Symols?” the Lupe asked, perturbed. “But Symols are harmless, and wouldn’t a Gruslen have just eaten them?”
“That’s what I said,” Judge Hog told him over Ronan’s squeak of annoyance. “But not only that, this Lightmite here also expects me to believe that the Symols are responsible for all the pricey thefts that have been occurring this year. He says he’s seen the Symol Hole, and they have a chamber filled with all the missing riches.”
The Lupe defender snorted despite himself. “Those furry, brown little Symols are supposed to be mastermind thieves? Don’t be ridiculous.”
Ronan squeaked indignantly.
“You see, my boy, you must have bumped that tiny head of yours on your way over here. There’s no way what you say can be true.”
Ronan felt as if his tiny head might just explode from anger soon, but, determinedly, he landed on the Moehog’s desk. He wasn’t about to leave until someone listened to him and saved Cove.
With guards stationed behind them at all times, Cove, Gio, and the old Symol King were forced to aid in the digging of the tunnel to Princess Amira’s palace. After only two days, Cove’s back ached, and his paws were sore to the touch.
But that was probably because they received little to no breaks. Donnovan forced them to work all day and on through the night. His desire for the completion of the tunnel was driving him slowly mad, and forcing them all to work at a crazy pace. Cove wasn’t entirely sure how much longer the old Symol would last. He knew that he was barely hanging on and that Gio was close to breaking too, and they hadn’t been at work as long as the King. How anyone could be so heartless, Cove had no idea.
“I should have known. I should have known.”
Cove spared a glance at the graying Symol beside him. The old King had been muttering the same sentence ever since Cove and Gio had been thrust into the tunnel beside him. He dug with old, cracked claws caked with layers and layers of dirt, and hardly ever seemed to stop. There was always a far away, glazed look in his eyes as well, and Cove wondered if he was still all there up in his head. If he wasn’t, Cove couldn’t blame him, and he was forced to wonder how long it would be before he wound up in the same state.
“Sir.” Cove nudged him. “Sir, are you all right?”
The Symol blinked and broke out of his trance for only a second, sending Cove a puzzled look, and then he turned his head back around, dug his claws into the dirt, and continued to move forward with the help of some hidden well of energy that Cove couldn’t quite peg the location of.
“I should have known. To think! To think!” he spat, becoming abruptly angry, though it wasn’t at all unusual. “To think my own grandson could do this to me!”
That line, however, was a new one. Cove’s eyes widened. His grandson? Donnovan was his grandson? He nudged Gio, who was digging on his other side.
“Did you hear that?”
Gio looked up, his mouth opened a little, but his words never had the chance to be spoken.
“So you know our little family secret.”
Both Cove’s and Gio’s heads snapped up at the sound of the voice, but the old Symol continued to plow his way forward beside them, lost in his own world again, completely oblivious to the Symol that had sentenced him to this gruesome fate. Donnovan stepped around the two guards and came into view.
“You must think I’m horrible for stripping my grandfather of his title and sending him to the tunnels, but you’d understand if all your life you’d grown up wishing to be the king, and knowing you were better suited.”
Cove glanced at the old Symol, still muttering to himself, and he disagreed, “I would never do this to anyone.”
Donnovan rolled his eyes and crossed his arms over his dark brown chest. He had expected no less than an answer like that from a foolish Spardel. Weren’t they the petpets renowned for being a little dim upstairs? “You know little of how the Symol Hole works. You think just because you stumbled upon our treasure chamber and got a basic understanding of what we do when you came down in search of a gift for your owner that you know all the secrets of the Symol Hole now.”
Cove rolled his eyes. He didn’t want to hear any excuses for this kind of treatment.
“What else can there be? You’re all nothing but thieves. That’s simple enough for me to see and understand,” Cove told him angrily.
Donnovan glared at him. “Do you not recall my grandfather being the one who ordered you to be thrown in the dungeons the day you were eavesdropping on our conversation?”
Cove remembered it well enough. He remembered using the cannonball to get into the hole, and he remembered venturing further when he saw no treasure at the bottom of the hole. He also remembered, very clearly, eavesdropping on the Symols and being caught in a trap. Most of all, he remembered and could recall the feel and smell of the cold, dark dungeon and the cage he had been held captive in. It had been he who had freed the other petpets who had been captured and enslaved during years past who had grown old in the dungeon, and the ones, like Gio, that had been there so long they couldn’t remember where home was when they were freed.
It enraged Cove.
“So, we’re Symols. We look out for ourselves and no one else. If he hadn’t needed me, I’m sure my grandfather would have sent me to this fate long ago,” Donnovan explained, tracing a claw down the dirt wall to his left. “We love treasure, and all we know is that we want it. My grandfather and I are a little better at thinking and planning than the others, so Symols like us are made leaders. The other Symols don’t care as long as they get a share of the treasures. We’re a heartless bunch, I’m sure you agree, but you had to know that Meepits weren’t the only masterminds in Neopia.”
“One day, you’ll get caught.”
Donnovan snorted. “Don’t hold your breath, my friend.”
Their conversation ended when the old Symol abruptly stopped digging and mumbling to himself. He sat back, his eyes becoming clearer than they had in weeks.
“I’ve done it.”
Donnovan was the only one that knew what he meant, and he shoved Cove and Gio roughly out of the way and scooted in front of the old Symol. He pressed his ear to the wall and listened.
“Yes!” he hissed. “The Palace! Guards, hold the prisoners back. This is my job.”
Cove was seized roughly under the arms and dragged back into the tunnel to watch. Donnovan flexed his paws and extended his long claws. He sunk them into the dirt with a happy sigh and began to dig slowly, then faster, until the ground began to crumple away above him and daylight slanted in. Cove watched in amazement as the Symol dug up through the floor of the Palace of Amira, shoved a slab of flooring away, and climbed out into the treasure room.
“Well, I don’t believe it. Who would have known,” a voice that didn’t belong to Donnovan spoke. “Men, seize him!”
There was a rustle of movement.
“Grab him! He’s running!”
The movement became the sound of feet running across the floor, a crash that sounded like someone leaping at something, and then a squeal of terror that couldn’t be mistaken as anyone but Donnovan.
“We’ve got him!”
“What’s going on?” one of the Symol guards whispered to the other.
“I think it was a trap. Let’s get out of here!” the other guard answered.
Frightened, the guards holding Gio and Cove released them and scurried back into the tunnel. The old Symol, having come somewhat back to his senses after the completion of the hole, scurried after them in a swaying line. Confused, Cove and Gio exchanged looks.
“Is there anyone down there that goes by the name of Cove?” the voice from before called down into the hole.
“Yes!” Cove answered, and went to the hole and climbed out.
He shielded his eyes, letting them readjust to the bright light, and looked up at Judge Hog. His mouth dropped open, and he heard Gio gasp beside him as he crawled out of the hole.
“You’re Cove?” the leader of the Defenders of Neopia asked him.
Cove nodded feebly.
“I believe this belongs to you,” Judge Hog said, gesturing to the Lightmite that jumped off his shoulder and flitted down to Cove.
“Ronan! You did it!” Cove cried to his petpet.
“That he did,” Judge Hog agreed, “though I have to admit I didn’t believe him at first. I mean, who would have guessed? Symols? Ha! Erm- But anyway, I didn’t believe him until we got the call from Princess Amira’s guards. They installed some new alarms in their palace, and as soon as the Symols dug close enough to the treasure room, it went off.”
The green Lupe Defender Ronan had also been arguing with stepped up to his commander. He was holding Donnovan by the back of his neck, and the evil Symol king was flailing and yelling madly.
“Sir, what shall we do with this little crook?” the Lupe asked.
“Take him back to headquarters. Watch him closely, and I’ll be back to deal with him soon.”
The Lupe nodded and walked away.
“You’ll pay for this, Cove!” Donnovan yelled as the Lupe carried him out of the room.
Judge Hog waved the threat away. “Pay no mind to him, son. He won’t be bothering you where he’s going. You’re a hero now.”
Cove grimaced. “If it’s all the same to you, I think I’ve had enough of being a hero.”
Cove gestured to Gio and Ronan, and the trio left Judge Hog staring after them in amused confusion. When they disappeared out the door, Judge Hog looked down at the hole in the floor and scratched his head.
“Now, how are we supposed to get down there to arrest the rest of the Symols?”