Heroes of the Habitarium: Part Six
"What's it like... up there?" Talia asked Kei as they and Harrow ate together. The three were sitting at the dining table in Harrow's underground barrack. Kei was shoveling food in his mouth faster than anyone Harrow or Talia had ever seen before, and he was showing no signs of stopping. The two were still a bit amazed at how much the Pinchit could eat, but they had almost gotten used to it, so it didn't show on their faces.
Kei paused for a moment to answer his question.
"It's a lot like down here, I suppose," he said. "Except, you know, brighter, with grass and trees and flowers..." His voice trailed off.
"That sounds pretty different to me," said Talia, one dark blue eyebrow quirked.
Kei shrugged. "Well, we have houses and barracks and storage like you do here. And from what you've told me, our Council and your Chamber are pretty much the same, and your soldiers are on par with ours... We seem to have the same diet too. Mostly cornmeal and water. The occasional piece of bacon. As far as I'm concerned, other than the where, we're the same." He casually started shoveling more food into his mouth.
Harrow was silent for a moment. "Do you want to know why we live down here? Do you want to know what happened to us that drove us to live in the darkness and to steal from the Lightwalkers to survive?"
Kei swallowed all the food in his mouth loudly then quirked an eyebrow and nodded. He had been wondering those very things since he had been removed from imminent danger.
"Now, I don't know all the details, but I do know this. Our kind used to live on the surface in harmony with the Lightwalkers, but then, somewhere in our distant past, my kind—The Blue Beasts as you call us— were driven out of the light. The Lightwalkers were led by a Mootix named Rahm, who legend says led his soldiers to battle against ours until only he was left. After that, our workers and nesters had no choice but to run away from him and never looked back.
"And when we finally had the strength to fight back, our bodies had already become accustomed to the darkness. The light will blind us if we are exposed to it for more than a few minutes and our skin will blister like crazy. That's why we have to wear all that ridiculous armor all the time. It protects us, yes, but when we have the helmets on, we can't speak to each other and we can hardly hear what's going on around us. I seriously didn't even know that the Lightwalkers could speak like us. In our armor, it just vaguely sounds like you're grunting and making random noises at each other. I guess your voices just get so muted and muddled that we never knew. That's why we do that humming thing, you know. For some reason, it's easier for us to hear the higher pitched sound. We use it as a signal to retreat since we can only stay on the surface for so long."
Kei listened closely to Harrow's words. As Harrow's explanation had grown longer and longer, Kei had gone from shoveling food into his mouth, to nibbling on it, to stopping completely.
"But why do you all still go up to the surface to attack us?" Kei asked. His voice was low and serious, but it wasn't accusing. "Why don't you just stay down here, leave us alone, and live peacefully? Why can't you leave us in peace? You never see my kind coming down here to destroy your homes and resources. Or Injuring your soldiers and workers or breaking eggs. So why attack us? Is it just revenge—retaliation—for what my kind did to yours all that time ago?"
"No, no, no," answered Talia, shaking her head. "The only reason we risk our lives to go up there is because we have to. You said it yourself. We are basically the same as you and the only major difference between us is where we live. And where we live is underground. With no sunlight and therefore no plants, no trees, no grass, no flowers. No real reliable source of food and water..."
"No reliable source but your village, of course," finished Harrow.
"Oh," was all Kei could say.
Everything suddenly felt more complicated than before. And Kei had thought that it couldn't get any more complex than it already was. Somehow, in just over a day, he had gone from being scolded by Marin, to being confined to the Mushroom Tower, to battling Blue Beasts and being captured by them, to finding out that they could think and speak and listen just like him, and now he was being told that his ancestors were the reason that they had been driven into the darkness and that his friends—his family—had destroyed them when they were just trying to collect enough resources from them to survive.
"Well, is there anything we can do about it?" he finally asked. "If you let me go, I can talk to my Council. They may not be my biggest fans, but I am sure I could get them to do something. We can change all this. We can fix it."
Harrow sighed. "I'm afraid it's not that easy. The Chamber still doesn't know what to do with you, and they are not our biggest fans either. I mean, I was the one who brought you here, and Talia—Talia was the only one that sympathized with you when you first got here. And as far as the Chamber is concerned, she has always been a thorn in their side with a screw loose. She's always bothered them about this or that—things that no one else cares to talk about or think about. She even accused them of being at fault for the Great Light even though they have no control over something like that."
"I just think that things could be better is all," Talia said defensively.
"I know, Tal. But you have to admit that you aren't on the best of terms with the authority around here," said Harrow.
"That may be so," allowed Talia, "but that isn't the point. The point is that this time we can do something. It won't just be talk. It won't be me talking at someone, trying to get them to change things. I'll be changing things."
Kei couldn't help but smile as Talia's rant came to an end. "You sound like me," he told her quietly. "Even down to the trying to get my Council to do something about the Great Light."
Talia smiled a smile that reached all the way up to her deep blue eyes. "We're even more alike than I thought," she said.
Kei nodded, and he couldn't help but smile back at her.
Harrow cleared his throat loudly. "So are we going to do something or are we just going to sit here talking about it?"
Kei and Talia looked up at Harrow. Both of the petpetpets' eyes were shining with determination. "We're going to do something," they said together.
"Are you sure this is the place?" asked Colston. The three young Pinchit soldiers were standing in the darkness of early dawn, looking down at a small trapdoor beneath them. It was old and worn and covered by vegetation.
"As sure as I can be," said Kendra. "Why else would there be a door out in the middle of nowhere?"
"She got you there, man," Brett said, elbowing Colston in the stomach.
"Well, are we going to open it?" asked Colston after a moment.
"Of course we're going to open it," Kendra snapped. "But there aren't any handles or anything... I'm not really sure how to..." She ran her hand through her hair and let out a frustrated sigh.
Though Kendra was quite tough, she was exhausted. The sunlight was starting to creep over the horizon, and she, Colston, and Brett were all worn out, both physically and mentally.
"Maybe if we wedge something underneath it?" suggested Brett.
"But what would we use? All there is around here is grass for miles," said Kendra with a sigh.
Colston slowly pulled his spear from where it had been strapped to his back. He tested its weight in his hands, and then looked down at the trap door.
Kendra turned to him angrily. "Don't even think about it, Colston!" she growled. "How are you supposed to protect yourself if your spear is useless? How are you supposed to fight?"
Colston knew that without his only weapon he would be useless in a fight, but he also knew that every second was precious. As time ticked by, they had less and less of a chance of finding Kei alive and unharmed.
"It's the only way," he said with a grim determination. And with a loud thunk, he thrust the tip of his spear into the small gap between the trap door and its frame, wedging it open with a grating, goose-bump-inducing creak.
Kendra and Brett dropped to their knees, slid their hands into the open space, and pushed the door up and open with one big heave.
Colston stared at the tip of his spear. The spearhead had fallen off completely. A crack had started at the base of the staff, snaking its way up vertically from the tip and up a few inches. It was pretty much useless in such a state; after a few whacks it would probably snap into pieces.
"Well?" asked Brett. Colston looked over at him.
Brett and Kendra were staring into the darkness that the now open trap door revealed.
"Well what?" asked Kendra. "We have to get going."
She pulled the map from her pocket. "This is where Rahm said the entrance to the Underground was, and here it is. Now we just have to find our way to this 'Chamber'. That seems to be the best place to negotiate... or attack if we have to. I have the map memorized already, so just follow me. And if we get separated, use the whistles."
Brett and Colston nodded silently.
Then, the three of them climbed down into the tunnel, leaving the trap door open above them. Light streamed in from above them, revealing dirt and stone tunnel walls, lined here and there with wooden planks.
They stood still for a moment, letting their eyes and minds adjust to their surroundings.
"Let's get going," said Kendra. She sped off to the left of the light, with Brett and Colston following closely behind.
To be continued...