Heroes of the Habitarium: Part Three
Bang, bang, bang. Kei awoke, startled by a loud noise. Then, he winced in pain. His head was pounding. His vision was blurry. Every one of his muscles ached like they never had before. And something was biting into his ankles and wrists.
"Hello?" a voice called hesitantly.
Kei looked up, surprised. The voice was coming from the other side of a worn wooden door. He looked around, his mind still a little fuzzy. He was in a small, dimly lit room with stone walls and a mud floor. He was sitting against one of the walls, his back uncomfortable and cold. And there was a tray with food and water near his feet.
"Hello?" the voice called again, this time more concerned, and then, after a pause, "I'm coming in." The door was slowly pushed open and a figure walked into the darkness. At first, Kei could only make out an outline, but as the silhouette inched closer, Kei could start to make out some of the details.
She was tall with long, shiny white hair. She wore clothes made entirely of blue fabric and an expression of concern. "You're awake," she said, more to herself than to Kei. She knelt down a few feet away from him and stared for a moment, then sighed. "But you haven't eaten," she said sadly. Her words came out hardly louder than a whisper; Kei had to strain his ears to hear them.
"You need to eat," she said, this time speaking directly to Kei. He looked down at the food at his feet and tried to reach for it, but he found the endeavor impossible. His hands were tied behind his back. He was surprised he hadn't noticed before.
"Oh. You're still tied up?"
Kei opened his mouth to respond, but no words came out. His throat was dry and sore.
"Well, I'll have someone remove them later." She looked around hesitantly. "I guess I can feed you for now." She scooted closer and reached her hand out towards the tray, but Kei instinctively kicked the food and water out from underneath her. She jumped back as she was soaked with cornmeal and water. Wide-eyed, she turned and ran from the room, muttering, "I guess they really are savages," as she shut the door behind her.
Kei stared down at the spilt water and food at his feet, surprised at what he had done. He had just been startled. The hand that she had reached out with had been pale blue, unlike anything he had ever seen on a petpetpet before.
In fact, he only knew of one thing that had such coloration. The Blue Beasts.
"Do you have any idea where we're going?" whispered Colston to Brett. Colston had his arm slung around Brett's shoulders and the two were hobbling along behind Kendra, who was practically sprinting in front of them.
"I can here you," she called. "And we're going to the archives."
"The archives?" asked Brett. "But only the Council and the heads of each task force can use the archives."
"I got special permission a few years ago," she shrugged, "I'm not going to become a council member just by strength alone, you know."
Their pace quickened.
"What's in the archives?" Brett asked Colston in a low voice.
"Not really sure," whispered Colston. "Books?"
"Jeez," yelled Kendra, "Of course it has books. Did you think we were just going to run off with no plan whatsoever? Idiots."
Colston and Brett cringed at her words. Though they were tough, they weren't dumb. Kendra was just much smarter than the average petpetpet. They both knew she was smarter than them, but actually hearing it out loud wasn't exactly pleasant.
They started off again, faster than before, crossing the green grass of the village, which was now streaked in charred brown and black. They made their way to a small rock building near the village wall, away from the bulk of the houses and nests. A worn wooden door hung on rusted hinges in front of them, with the words 'Village Archives' messily inscribed on its face.
"Wait here," Kendra ordered.
"No. We're coming with you," said Colston. Brett nodded in agreement. Kendra stared at them for a moment, then sighed.
"Fine. But if you mess anything up in there, you take all the blame. I don't want to get my privilege revoked because of you two."
Kendra swung the door inwards, revealing a dimly lit room. A staircase descended downwards in front of them, its stone steps worn smooth with time.
"After you," said Colston.
"Yes," said Brett. "Ladies first."
Kendra rolled her eyes. "Very soldier-like, guys," she said sarcastically. Then she led them down the stairs, which were actually much shorter than Colston and Brett had first imagined. They had only walked down about a dozen or so steps before they reached the bottom. And what they found at the bottom left them stunned.
Seemingly endless rows of wooden shelves spanned from the stone floor to the low ceiling above. Every one of them was stacked full of books and papers, some new and some yellowed and falling apart with age. The rows seemed to go on forever, fading into the distant darkness the same way the Habitarium disappeared at the horizon.
"Well, don't just stand there staring," snapped Kendra. Brett and Colston automatically straightened at her tone.
"Look for any information regarding the Blue Beasts or Rahm," she ordered. "They should be somewhere in these two rows or that one over there." She pointed to each row as she spoke. "We'll each take one. Work as quickly as you can, but don't miss anything."
Back in the darkness of his cell, Kei faded in and out on consciousness. He didn't know if he had been in the dark for hours or days or even weeks. His hands and feet remained bound, and he was tied down to the wall and floor as well, giving him very little room to move around. His muscles were stiff, his head was pounding, and his skin stung from the scratches and bruises that dotted his body.
He winced in pain as something cold touched the side of his face.
"Sorry," apologized a vaguely familiar voice, "I was just trying to wash the blood off. I didn't mean to wake you." Kei slowly opened his eyes and peered into the darkness. He could make out the shape of the woman that had visited him before. Her expression was shrouded in shadow, but her movements were more slow and timid than they had been before, and Kei could see that her hands were trembling. She moved towards him, and, seconds later, he felt cold water trickling into his mouth and down his throat. He drank greedily for a few seconds then moved his head away.
"I'm sorry about before," he rasped, finally finding his voice. "I'm sorry if I hurt you. I won't do it again. I was just—surprised."
The woman was still for a moment, her expression still unreadable. "I'm Talia," she finally said.
"Kei," he replied, his voice almost inaudible. He looked around for a moment. "Is it always so dark around here?"
Kei shifted around and flexed his fingers, trying to regain the feeling in his arms and legs. "Can you unlock the shackles?" asked Kei. "At least the ones on my hands? I won't hurt you."
Talia looked around nervously. "I don't know," she said.
"Can you at least unhook them from the wall? I can't feel anything above my elbows."
"Um... okay." She reached over his head and unhooked the chains from the wall. Kei's deadweight hands fell to the floor with a loud clunk. He winced in pain as the feeling in his arms started to return. He rubbed his wrists in the place where the shackles had been pushing into his skin.
"Do you want some cornmeal?" asked Talia after a moment, holding it out to him. Kei nodded and plucked it from her hands, practically inhaling the small square of yellow food. And after the cornmeal was all gone, Kei turned his eyes up to Talia's face.
"Where am I?" he asked.
"An unused storage room. We have never had such a... situation before, so we weren't exactly sure where to put you."
"But where?" he repeated. Talia stared at him blankly for a moment, and then she realized what he was asking.
"The Colony. You're in the Colony. I'm not allowed to tell you much about it, but, as you can probably tell, it's underground. Far underground, in fact. And I can warn you against escaping. There are thousands of tunnels down here. You could wander for weeks without seeing a single soul, let alone the sole exit."
Even though the thought of escape hadn't seriously crossed Kei's mind, his heart still sunk at her words. For the first time since his capture he wondered if he would ever be able to get back home. Would he be trapped in 'the Colony' forever? Would he never be able to see his friends and family again?
His disappointment and sadness must have shown on his face, because Talia gave him a look of sympathy.
"We don't want to keep you here, but the Chamber must decide what to do with you. They—we—are afraid that you know too much about us. A Lightwalker has never been down here before. I have no idea what they will decide to do with you, but I do know that it will take them a very long time to make their decision, so I don't know when you will be able to leave, but it won't be soon."
Kei was silent, trying to digest everything that Talia had just told him.
"But do I have to stay here while they decide?" He looked around the dark space. Staying in the cold and damp little room was something that Kei definitely did not want to endure for a 'very long time'.
"For now, yes, but if you don't cause any trouble, I am sure I can get them to move you. You seem like you as much as a monster as everyone says you are. You seem pretty normal, in fact," she laughed nervously, "almost like one of us. A little hot-headed and quick-tempered, but not evil. And not completely barbaric."
They sat for a few minutes in silence. The only noise that echoed in the little room was the sound of the chains that bound Kei clinking together as he shifted around.
"I have to leave you now," said Talia suddenly. "But first I have to attach you back to the wall. I will make it as loose as I can," she promised. She grabbed the chain between his wrists and hooked it onto the wall behind him. And, with a final look of sympathy, Talia left the storage room, closing the wooden door firmly behind her.
Kei stared after her for a moment and then hung his head in defeat. He was all-alone in a strange place, locked up for who-knew-how-long, with no end to his imprisonment in sight. He had no idea what would happen to him, what the Beasts would do to him, or even if he would live to see the light of day again, let alone his village.
To be continued...