Sunshine and the Sphere: Part Five
Pouncer led the group of five out from their shelter and down the street. The mist, instead of abating, had thickened into a drab pea soup. Rae was forced to find his way by following the sound of Pouncer’s heavy steps. His normally dull and grey village was transformed into what felt like a ghost town. Bleak houses and closed shops lined the cobbled streets, leering out of the mist.
The five of them moved like phantoms through the streets, running quickly to keep warm and following Pouncer’s lead. The park they were heading for wasn’t far away, and after only a few minutes they had reached it.
Pouncer called them into a huddle. “Right. Puffy, Sunshine and I will start digging under that tree- you said that was the most likely place, Queenie?”
Val nodded and the large Kougra continued. “Queenie and Twinkletoes will keep an eye on Copper. If he finds anything, or if he does anything unexpected, come to me right away, got it?” The two female Kougras glanced at each other and nodded. “Right. Let’s go.”
Pouncer pointed mutely to a large tree situated near the centre of the park, and Rae and Alden picked up a shovel each and began digging near its base.
Val beckoned to Emie, and began jogging down one of the paths. The small Island Kougra glanced at Rae, and then followed. Val led her at a run, and in only a few minutes they reached the second possible resting place of the Sphere, Arcane Park. As they came to the park gate, Emie thought she could hear voices. Val mimed to her to keep quiet, and stealthily led her through a maze of bushes to where the voices were coming from.
Four large Chias were digging beside some benches. Standing above them, with paws folded over his chest, was a tall blue Lutari. Val nudged Emie and pointed to him. “That’s Copper. Those Chias are probably hired labourers.”
“What do we do now?”
“We wait. And listen. And hope.”
The temperature declined steadily, leaving Emie and Val shivering in the cold behind a group of bushes. Even though he wasn’t wearing anything thicker than a shirt and trousers, Copper didn’t seem to notice it. He stood, like a pillar, frowning at the workers and occasionally barking an order. He was cold and unsympathetic, and worked the labourers mercilessly. The more she saw of him, the more Emie disliked him.
“Pouncer! I found something!”
The Shadow Kougra jumped up from where he’d been digging and jogged to Rae’s side. “What is it, Sunshine?”
“Something solid, but not rock.”
“Let’s have a look at it, then.”
The two Kougras dug side by side for several minutes, scraping dirt off something that was most definitely not rock. It was only when they got down on the paws and knees and wiped the last layer of dirt off that they realized what it was. “Wood!”
Pouncer sat back on his heels and grinned, white teeth contrasting sharply with his dark fur. “This has got to be it. It looks like a trapdoor.”
With rising excitement they dug more of the dirt away, until they had the definite shape of the trapdoor. The wood was weak and rotten from its long submersion under the soil, but was held together by metal bars. With no small amount of difficulty they managed to find a handle and open it.
The light of the moon, weakened by the fog, wasn’t strong enough to penetrate the blackness below the trapdoor. Picking up his lantern, Pouncer lit it and handed it to Rae. “I’ll go in first. I’ll give a yell if it’s alright.”
Before Rae could object, the giant Kougra leapt into the gaping darkness. There was a heavy thud as he landed, and silence for a few minutes.
Rae leaned over the hole, raising the lantern in an attempt to shed some light into the persistent darkness. “Pouncer? You alright?”
“Sure am, Sunshine. Toss me the lantern, would you?”
Rae obediently dropped the source of light through the hole. Pouncer caught it easily, and suddenly the room was illuminated. Pouncer turned in a circle, lighting around himself with the lamp. The room was so old and filthy that it was hard to make out anything except large collapsed bookshelves and empty doorframes. Pouncer looked up at Rae and gave him a thumbs up.
“You know what, Sunshine? I think this just might be it. Call Stuffy.”
Rae jumped up excitedly and turned to where they’d left their Bori friend digging. “Alden! Oi, Alden! We found it!”
Silence met him. Rae frowned and tried again. “Alden! Where are you?”
More silence. Rae got up and ran to Alden’s hole. It was empty.
“What’s wrong, Sunshine?”
Rae looked over his shoulder to the digout where Pouncer was. “Alden’s missing! I can’t find him.”
Pouncer was silent for a few minutes as he thought. “I don’t like this. Find the other two and bring them back here. Be careful.”
“Will you be okay down there?”
“I’ll be fine. I’ll have a look around while you’re gone.”
“Okay.” Rae swallowed and turned to the road leading away from the park.
Despite the cold air and her uncomfortable position, Emie was starting to fall asleep. Val was hunched up next to her, a lacklustre expression on her face as she watched the Chias dig. She was obviously very, very bored.
The only person who seemed fully awake was the unmoving form of Copper. He seemed to be growing increasingly impatient with the diggers.
Emie was almost asleep when Val nudged her. “Look!”
Jolting awake, Emie peered through the fog. Copper had turned abruptly to something they couldn’t see at the other side of the park and, with swift, assured strides, went over to it. They soon lost sight of him in the swirling fog and darkness.
Emie jumped at a poke to her arm, and someone clamped a paw over her mouth before she could scream.
“Shh! It’s only me- Rae. We need to go!”
Val turned to him hopefully. “Did you find something?”
“We think so. Quietly, though, I’ll explain on the way.”
Rae guided them through the bushes and out of the park silently. But, instead of leading them through the deserted shopping strip, he took a detour through the residential section. Val glanced at him quizzically. “Why this way?”
Rae made frantic motions to keep quiet. In a whisper he replied, “Because there’s people in those houses. Alden’s disappeared. I think Pouncer suspects he’s been kidnapped. If we need to yell for help, at least we’ll be heard here.”
Emie’s small face creased with concern. “Alden? Kidnapped?! Can we rescue him?”
“Alden’s a tough customer,” Val said. “I know he doesn’t look it, but he is. He’ll be alright.”
Rae nodded sadly. “I don’t know what Pouncer has in mind, but we think we’ve found the resting place of the Sphere. Our town, or even the whole world, could be in danger if the wrong people got their hands on it. I’m sure Pouncer will do everything he can to save Alden, but at the moment our primary focus has to be the Sphere.”
Emie drew her lips into a thin, determined line and nodded. At that moment, Rae felt immensely proud of his small, shy friend.
Rae led them at a cautious run. Pouncer had told him to be careful, but without the group’s leader Rae felt lost. Pouncer always seemed to know the answer to everything. He mightn’t look it, but he was incredibly smart. He’d proved this several times during their work by second-guessing Copper’s plans.
Mercifully, the fog had begun to ease by the time they reached the Weistchester Park, and several thin, weak beams of moonlight lit the mounds of dirt and holes where they’d been working. Rae led them to the trapdoor and looked through it to the room below. Everything was dark.
“Pouncer? Are you there?”
Val was looking edgy. “You don’t think they found him...?”
Rae shook his head slowly. “He said he was going to have a look around. He’s probably in another room.”
“Should we go down and look for him, or wait here?”
Rae looked at Emie, who had spoken. Both she and Val were watching him expectantly, waiting for an executive decision. If something had happened to Pouncer, it would be nothing short of stupidity to go down there. But, on the other hand, they couldn’t stand up there indefinitely. Rae gritted his teeth in indecision. Pouncer would have known what to do, he was sure.
All choice was suddenly taken out of his paws when something crashed through the bushes at the other side of the park, and they were confronted with a very tall and very angry Lutari.
“GET DOWN!” Rae yelled, simultaneously shoving Val and Emie into the gaping black hole.
For a terrifying moment he was tumbling through air, clawing for a hold, and then he landed heavily on the ground.
Pouncer had made the jump look so easy.
Rae rolled over and pulled himself to his feet with a groan. He quickly turned and helped Emie up while Val glared at the gap in the roof they had come through.
“Everyone okay?” Rae asked.
“Fine... for now.” Val pointed at the roof. A small amount of light had made its way through the fog, and was allowing them to see the silhouette of a Lutari. He stood completely still, like some phantom rock, looking down at them. Even though they were submerged in total darkness, Rae got the feeling that he could see them nonetheless.
At last the Lutari spoke. His voice was deep and colder than ice. “Run, little ones. Run all you want. I will find you.”
To be continued...