Heroes of the Habitarium: Part Seven
Kendra, Brett, and Colston snaked their way through the tunnels of the Underground. They had been traversing the labyrinth for hours, but they felt as if they were getting nowhere fast.
"Get ready," Kendra whispered. "We're almost to the first set of barracks. From here on out, we have to be as stealthy as possible. If we get caught down here, there's no way we can save Kei."
Brett and Colston were silent, but Kendra could feel the tension grow in the air. Their breathing became slower and lower, their footfalls got closer and closer to silence.
They padded across the dirt floor further and further down into the shadows. Doors started appearing on their left and right, some made of wood and some of stone. Letters and numbers were carved into their faces, barely legible in the blue glow of the lights that dotted the tunnels.
Barrack 9, Barrack 8, Storage 12, Storage 11...
Voices came from somewhere in the distance.
"...I can't believe Harrow let that thing stay in his barrack with him," said one.
"I know," said another. "He already caused enough trouble by bringing it here with him. Now he has to oppose the Chamber with that Talia. I don't know who they think they are, but..."
The rest of their words were lost in darkness as the Blue Beasts walked away from the three Pinchit soldiers, their voices absorbed by the dense and moist tunnel walls. Kendra glanced back at Brett and Colston, and they stared back at her meaningfully.
They knew that the creatures could only be talking about one petpetpet—Kei.
Kendra took off in the direction of their voices, winding around corners and down narrow side-tunnels until they could hear the footsteps of the two petpetpets they were following.
"...And now she wants to get the Chamber to let it go?" said one of the two voices. From their close proximity, they could tell the petpetpet the voice belonged to was male.
"And she was blabbering on about how it isn't as much of a beast as we think it is," the second voice said angrily. A male. "They kill our kind. They keep us from the light. They couldn't possibly be like us."
Kendra, Brett, and Colston pressed themselves against a cold wall and strained to hear every word that escaped the Blue Beasts' lips. They were silent for a while, though, so the three Pinchits silently shadowed them, always staying just a corner or two behind them.
"No," one of them said—the girl. "Don't go that way. I want to stay as far away from Harrow and that thing as possible."
"Coward! Peadackle! Scaredy-Wocky!" the other responded playfully.
"Oh be quiet. And just turn left. I know you don't want to go anywhere near Barrack 4."
Kendra looked back at Colston and Brett, her eyes lit up with excitement.
"Kei," mouthed Brett.
Colston couldn't help but hold back his smile. Even the corners of Kendra's lips turned up ever-so-slightly.
"Right," she mouthed back. "To Barrack 4."
The two boys nodded
Then, the three turned and rushed down the dark tunnel and turned right when they came to the first fork. To their left, they could see doors lining the walls in the distance, barely visible in the blue glow that shrouded the narrow passage.
The closest door read 'Barrack 6', the next 'Barrack 5', 'Storage 8', 'Storage 7'...
The three came to a sudden halt as they spotted four Blue Beasts standing guard in front of the door to Barrack 4. Two were sleeping soundly, but the other two were awake and alert. Their eyes traced back and forth the lines of the tunnel, up and down, left and right.
"Just get inside," Kendra instructed. Her voice was barely audible. Brett and Colston had to lean in close to hear her. "But don't let any of them in with us. We're outnumbered, so speed is all we have. Get in there, get Kei, and run."
Brett took a deep breath. "Good luck," he said.
Colston nodded. "Let's go save Kei."
Kendra turned and darted down the hall at full speed, ducking her head down low. As she ran, she slipped the spear from her back and into her hand. Colston and Brett followed closely behind her.
Brett pulled his spear off his back and Colston clutched his hands into fists.
The guards noticed them the moment they rounded the corner, but the Pinchit soldiers were so fast, that they had the first two guards down before they could wake the others.
All four were unconscious in a matter of seconds.
Colston didn't even need his spear.
Kendra stepped over one of them to open the door, but it was locked.
Adrenaline coursing through her veins, she rapped on the door quickly. She couldn't help but keep the desperation from escaping her knuckles or her voice. "Kei," she hissed. "Kei? Are you in there?"
Inside of Barrack 4, Kei bolted upright. He had fallen into an uncomfortable sleep in the bunk next to Harrow's.
And he had been awakened by the sound of a scuffle just outside the door.
Suddenly alert, he sat as silently as possible to try to hear what was going on just outside. But he soon found that he didn't need to concentrate to hear what was going on. He didn't even have to strain to hear who was on the other side of the door.
He could hear her voice, perfectly well. As clear as day. Calling his name.
He jumped out of the bed and ran over to the door. He fumbled with the lock for a moment, then threw the door open. He vaguely sensed Harrow approaching him from behind, but Kei hardly paid attention to him.
How could he pay attention to anything else when his friends were standing right in front of him? Admittedly, they looked a little worse for wear, but they were all grinning from ear to ear. Colston and Brett pulled him into a hug.
It lasted for a brief moment before they all pulled apart. When they did, the smiles were wiped from their faces, replaced with determined frowns.
"Quickly," said Kendra. "We have to get going."
Kei nodded and took a quick step towards them.
But, then, he felt a hand on his shoulder, restraining him.
He saw Kendra's eyes widen as she took in the petpetpet the hand belonged to. Unlike the guards in the hall, Harrow was armorless. And Kendra, like Kei, was clearly stunned by what she saw.
"Kei," she said slowly, backing away. "We have to go."
She grabbed his arm and tugged him towards her, towards the exit, but Harrow's grip tightened.
"I'm afraid I can't let you do that," he said. "I admire you bravery in coming here, but if I let you go, I don't know what will happen. To me, to Kei, to your village. You clearly know your way around here, and there is no way that the Chamber won't figure that out the moment they realize you're gone."
"I don't care about your Chamber or you or anything that has to do with you and the rest of the Beasts," said Colston.
"We came here to get Kei and take him home," growled Brett. "So that's what we're going to do."
"And I'm telling you that it's not going to happen," said Harrow.
"I hate to break this to you, blue boy," sneered Kendra. "But you are outnumbered, and you—"
"No," said Kei quietly, "He's right. If we just leave now without explaining anything, the Chamber will see it as an act of war. Staying underground is what has kept them alive all these years, and us knowing the way down here, us escaping with knowledge of how to send raiders down here... well... What would you do? What would you think in that situation? Would you let us go with no questions asked? With not even close to a guarantee that we won't come back with the full force of our village's soldiers behind us?"
Kendra was silent for a moment. "Are you suggesting that we stay? Down here? Are you crazy? After we came all this way to get you? Do you know what we've been through? Do you know how worried we were? You were down here dead for all we knew, and we could have been walking to our very own deaths as well. And you want to stay?" Kendra's voice grew louder and louder with each sentence until her voice was practically at a yell.
"Shh!" Harrow hissed at her. "Come inside and be quiet."
Harrow pulled Kei further into the room, and Kei grabbed Kendra by the wrist and pulled her in as well. Brett and Colston followed after a moment's hesitation, and Harrow quickly shut the door behind them.
"We don't have much time to talk," said Harrow. His voice was low and serious, and his words came out in a rush. "Only the guards just outside this room saw you?"
"And you knocked them all unconscious. Which means they could wake up as late as tomorrow morning or as early as a second from now. So, I need you to listen to me and follow my instructions carefully if you all want to get out of here in one piece."
Kei looked over at Kendra; she looked as though she wanted to tear Harrow to shreds.
"Kendra. Brett. Colston," Kei said, turning to each of them, "I think the best way out of here is to trust Harrow. Now, I don't know if he is one-hundred percent on our side, but he's not our enemy. And if we do this right, if we somehow get the Chamber to understand, then I think that we may be able to fix this. To stop the battles. I think—"
"Kei," interjected Kendra. "I understand that wanting to do things like stopping never-ending wars and preventing the Great Light from taking petpetpets, but be realistic for once. Please. Let's just go. I can take this Harrow guy out and we can leave. We can go home. Don't you want that? Don't you want to go home, Kei?"
"Yes, I do. Of course I want to go home. Of course I'm scared out of my mind, scared for my life. But for once, I can change things, for once I can save people. And if I don't at least try, I would regret it forever. So, you guys feel free to leave, but I'm not going with you. I'm staying here."
Kendra was stunned speechless. Mouth agape, she just stared at Kei, unable to say anything. Brett and Colston seemed to be in similar states. Kei looked at them, determined not to back down.
Harrow cleared his throat.
"I hate to break up this... reunion," he said, "But the guards can seriously wake up any minute, so I need to know who's staying and who's going so I can come up with a plan. And let me warn the three of you, whatever your names were, that if you try to run off with Kei, I will stop you. I don't want anyone to get hurt, but I can't let him leave either. Not when we are so close to resolving things. And not while he's under my supervision."
Kendra turned from Kei to stare at Harrow, but not in disbelief. She looked him up and down, sizing him up, gauging just how serious he was. Trying to figure out if she could trust him or not.
"Fine," she finally said. "I'll stay as well." She turned to Colston and Brett for a second. "And from the look on these two's faces, they are too. So, let's hear that plan."
To be continued...