Heroes of the Habitarium: Part Five
"You... brought me here?" asked Kei in disbelief. "You?"
Kei stepped back, almost tripping over the chains that bound his feet to the floor of his prison, as he stared up at the blue petpetpet before him. His face was twisted into an expression of guilt, and he couldn't look Kei directly in the eye.
"Yes," Harrow said, "I was the one that brought you here. It was my first time in the out of the Colony and into the Lightwalker of the Habitarium. When are leader called for us to retreat, I was so heated up in the battle that I didn't hear it at first. I was so caught up with fighting you and that other Lightwalker that I didn't have enough time to get away from you before we were all brought back here."
Harrow shifted around uncomfortably. Talia was staring at Kei like he might explode at them at any second.
"Brought back?" Kei repeated slowly. "What do you mean brought back?"
"Neither of us are really sure how it works, exactly," said Talia, "But we have a power that lets us teleport to the surface and then teleport back down here. And for some reason, we can only do it in pairs or groups. I'm not really sure why. I think it has something to do with resonance?" She looked up towards Harrow as if asking him to supply a clearer answer.
"Don't look at me," he said, putting his hands up in front of his face defensively. "I don't really know how it works either. If I did, we wouldn't be in this situation, would we?" He looked over at Kei. "I didn't even know we could take other species of petpetpets with us."
The three petpetpets quickly turned their attention towards the door as they heard the latch. Then, it was thrown open and several beefy, armored Blue Beasts walked into the small space, making it seem even smaller and more suffocating than it had before. Kei counted a half a dozen of them before Harrow stepped forward and unchained him from the floor, blocking his view.
"Can you walk?" asked Harrow.
"Yes," Kei told him. He was still a bit shaken, but with food and water in his stomach and his limbs free of numbness, physically he was fine.
"Just lead the way," Kei continued, this time more loudly than before. He could feel the eyes of the other Blue Beasts on him. He could feel the tension and disbelief in the room as the words flowed from his mouth.
Harrow nodded and turned towards the door, indicating to Kei that he should follow him. "It's really not that far from here," Harrow told him as they passed through the doorway, "But we have to go the long way around through the unused passages so as not to scare the others. Most of the other petpetpets in the Colony don't know that you're even here. We don't need to start a panic."
Kei nodded, but he was hardly listening. Escorted by the Blue Beast guards, Harrow and Talia started to lead him down a narrow hall. Though it was boarded up with wood and stone, it was clear that they were in a dirt tunnel, far, far underground. Every few yards or so, their path was lit with some sort of phosphorescent orb, glowing blue-green in the brown-black darkness. And the air was just as damp as it had been in his holding cell, but out in the open, it was at least a bit cooler and slightly less stale.
Kei was led down a series of tunnels. He didn't know how far they walked, or how long it took them to get there, or even what time of day it was, but when they finally reached their destination and walked through the trim wooden door, he couldn't help but breath a sigh of relief.
Harrow's living quarters were really quite normal. Save the fact that it had no windows, its interior was almost identical Kei's own barrack back in his village. There were three small bunk beds pushed up against one wall with short, wooden nightstands spaced between them. There was a sitting area in the middle of the room and a small kitchen and dining table were arranged on the wall opposite the beds.
"Usually I have some other soldiers staying with me, but for now, they will be staying somewhere else, so it'll just be you and me," Harrow told him. "And there will be guards posted outside at all times, so don't even think about running off. Don't know where you'd go, but don't try anything anyway."
"And I will try to get this all resolved with the Chamber," said Talia.
She looked Harrow and Kei over. "Until then, try not to get into any trouble. Either of you." As she said the words, she focused solely on Harrow as is she was directing her words only at him.
Then, she turned on her heels and walked back out Harrow's door, the six Blue Beast guards following close behind her.
"I found it!" shouted Brett. "I found Rahm and Rose's other Journal!"
Colston and Kendra rushed over, Kendra plucked the book from his hands, and quickly flipped it open. Unlike the first Journal, she didn't have to skim over most of its pages to find what they wanted. The first page contained exactly what they were looking for. Kendra took an excited breath and started reading aloud. The words rushed from her lips at first, but after a few sentences, she fell into a more steady rhythm.
"I truly hope Rahm will find himself again. Not just for me but the petpetpets of our village. More than I need him, they need him.
"So, after this entry, I will not be writing for a while. I want to focus all my efforts on Rahm. Hopefully the next time my pen touches paper, it will be to write of good news, of how Rahm has made a full recovery."
Kendra flipped the page to reveal a passage written in a messy scrawl that didn't match Rose's neat and loopy handwriting. It was difficult to read, but Kendra could make out a date in the top corner, nearly a month later than Rose's previous entry.
"Not everyone believes me," Kendra started reading aloud. "And I have a feeling that after a while, I won't even trust my own memories anymore. So, I think it is best that I write them down while they are still so... vivid—so fresh in my mind.
"Some parts of my... experience are blanks. There are holes, but most of the pieces are there. The last memory of home prior to my... abduction was that day. The day that the Blue Beasts attacked.
"My memory of that day isn't fluid; its in bits and pieces, in flashes of images and sounds. I sent my pupils into battle, told the soldiers of the village where to go and who to protect. And then I ran back towards Rose to find the area near our house swarming with the creatures.
"I attacked them head on, but there were more than I could handle at one time. There were more near just our home than had ever attacked the entire village. Instead of taking them one at a time starting with the closest one, I tried to force my way through them to get to Rose so I could take her to safety.
"And then... I'm not really sure what happened. One minute, I was on top of things. And, the next, the world was crumbling before me, taking Rose with it.
"Everything went white after that. Well, not white exactly, but everything was so bright, so clear, yet so overwhelming and blinding at the same time. I could feel my body moving, but I couldn't see what I was doing. I wasn't thinking, I was just doing.
"Then, everything went black. I'm not exactly sure what happened. Rose said that I was taken by them, that I disappeared.
"All I know is that when I came to, it was just as dark around me as it had been when my eyes were closed. I couldn't see anything, but I could hear them. The Blue Beasts. They were breathing close to me, and then they were whispering. Whispering about me. Things like 'what do we do?' 'just kill it,' 'who brought here?' and 'did anyone know this could happen?'
"I was afraid, of course. I was scared for my life. So, without a second thought, I ran. I pushed through the crowd of them while they were still trying to figure out what to do with me. I felt their bodies collide with me, but I couldn't see them.
"As I stumbled along, I willed my eyes to adjust just a little faster, willed my feet to land a little more surely. I hate to admit this, but I had never been so frightened in my life. I had never been so desperate. So scared.
"I ran and ran and ran for what felt like days. Even when my eyes finally adjusted, there was nothing to see. Just endless stretches of dirt and rocks and planks of wood. Occasionally, I would run across a corridor with doors lining its walls, but I tried to avoid those, especially when I heard their voices. Their whispering. Often about me.
"From what I overheard, they were searching for me. But I didn't know for sure until I saw a horde of them myself, fanning out across the tunnels periodically. Searching. Hunting me down. I was terrified, but I continued my desperate quest for a way out.
"For food, I stole from storages left unguarded in what I assumed was the middle of the night. Every time of day looked exactly the same, so I couldn't be sure.
"My wife tells me that I was down there for months, but it felt like a lifetime. I am sure whomever is reading this right now can't even imagine the horrors I felt down there in the darkness. Alone. Hungry. Lost and scared, thinking that any minute could be my last.
"I wandered around down there for so long that I memorized all the tunnels and the paths by heart, and, eventually, I found my way out using that knowledge. I used the process of elimination until I ran into a path that wasn't a dead end.
"When I finally climbed all the way back up to the surface, I was a changed Mootix. I could hardly see in the light of day, I could hardly walk without my hands outstretched in front of me, without leaning my weight against a tunnel wall. I had been in the darkness for so long that I didn't know how to live in the light again.
"It took me just over a month to come to grips with what had happened to me and to heal enough to be able to speak and communicate properly again. And I never ever want any petpetpet to go through the same nightmare as I did.
"So, to prevent that from happening, I have drawn out a map of the Underworld of the Habitarium. I have given a copy to my wife to give to the Elders (as they still do not believe anything I say), and I have enclosed a copy in the back of this Journal.
"Kendra! Flip to the back!" interjected Brett. His voice was filled with anxiety.
"Oh—right," she said. She had gotten so into the story that she had been taken out of reality; she was so caught up in Rahm and Rose's lives that she had almost forgotten entirely about Kei.
She quickly flipped to the last page of the journal.
A worn, yellowed, folded piece of paper fell to the floor. Brett swiftly picked it up and unfolded it.
"It's the map," he confirmed, eyes wide. "But it isn't like any map I've seen before."
Kendra and Colston peered over the edge of the paper. The drawing was done solely in black and brown ink, and it mapped out a confusing labyrinth of tunnels that was titled "The Underworld".
Charcoal and sienna lines snaked out across the faded paper, intersecting, turning, and tilting in every direction. Small and large spaces branched off of the tunnels at seemingly random intervals. Some of which were labeled in tiny letters.
"Are those... rooms?" Brett asked slowly.
"By the looks of it," said Kendra. She read over the words, muttering some of them out loud. "Store Room – Water, Store Room – Weapons, Store Room – Armour, Chamber Hall, House 1, House 13, Barrack 2, Barrack 3..."
"Does that mean...?" Colston started. His voice trailed off, leaving his question open-ended.
Though he didn't finish his sentence, the other two young soldiers knew exactly what he was talking about. They, too, were wondering the same things.
What exactly were they dealing with? No, who exactly were they dealing with?
Had the Blue Beasts constructed the tunnels and caverns?
And if so, just what exactly were the Blue Beasts?
If they could build like them and store like them and fight like them, then what other similarities did they have? Were they simply just petpetpets just like them? Could they think and feel and speak just like the Larnikins, the Pinchits, and the Mootix that lived in their village?
Had they been completely wrong about them all this time?
To be continued...