Heroes of the Habitarium: Part Eight
"Is this really going to work?" whispered Brett.
"It will," promised Harrow.
"It'd better," hissed Kendra. She wasn't even trying to attempt to mask her irritation. In fact, she sounded furious.
Like Brett and Colston, her hands were bound behind her back and her feet were tied together so she could only shuffle along. And a short length of rope twined through the knot on her wrists like a leash, trailing its way into Harrow's hands. Kei was tied to a leash like the others, but it was just tied around one of his wrists. His ankles and hands were not bound together.
Harrow held the ropes gingerly in one hand and four pieces of cloth in the other. "Now for the blindfolds," he told them, holding them up quickly.
Kendra glared at him as he put one on Brett and then Colston. "I still don't like this, Kei," she told him angrily.
"Well, if we all end up dead or injured or trapped down here for eternity, you have my permission to say, 'I told you so'," he snapped.
Kendra's eyes widened for a moment before they were covered by a thin piece of cloth. Harrow tied it loosely behind her head, and then he moved onto Kei.
"This will work," Harrow said quickly. "Trust me."
And then Kei, too was thrust into darkness, the fabric tight against the back of his eyelids. He resisted the urge to pull it down but barely.
Harrow then swiftly tied his four 'prisoners' together and tethered them to the belt around his waist, skillfully and swiftly knotting the ropes together. With Harrow in the lead, followed closely by Brett, Colston, Kendra, and Kei, they all walked out of the windowless barrack back into the corridors of the Underground.
Kei couldn't help but hold his breath as he crossed over the threshold. Claws outstretched blindly in front of him, he was reminded of his first few hours in his storage room prison. It had taken a while for his eyes to adjust to the almost-darkness, and he hoped that they would do the same again.
"I don't like this," Kendra hissed as the group shuffled along. The other two warriors nodded in agreement; they were completely out of the element. They weren't used to being so helpless or so unsure. On the battlefield it was easy: kill or be killed. But in the Underground, where they were sorely outnumbered and on the precipice of an all-out war between the Blue Beasts and the petpetpets of their village, they had no idea how to take control of things.
They slowly inched their way around several corners and down numerous passageways, occasionally tripping over their bound feet and bumping into each other and the walls, for what felt like hours. They walked for so long blind to their surroundings that their other senses, through their years of training as soldiers, became hypersensitive. They could hear each of Harrow's footsteps in the seemingly infinite silence, they could feel the subtle changes in wind and air pressure at each turn and crossroads, and they could feel the gradual downward slope of the path they were walking.
So, they heard the footsteps the others coming towards them before they were actually seen, before their plan would begin to be tested. Time seemed to speed up as they waited for confrontation to take place.
A scream pierced the silent air, echoing out in every direction.
Harrow and the caravan of petpetpets came to a sudden stop.
Heart beating wildly in his chest, blood swishing erratically in his ears, Kei moved towards his comrades, huddling into a tight formation against one of the tunnel walls. He felt Harrow move protectively in front of them, in an attempt to block them from the dangers of his world.
The scream continued and was joined by another then another. They pierced Kei's and Colston's and Kendra's and Brett's ears, making it impossible to hear the footfalls of the guards amassing around them.
"Stay still," they heard Harrow say, but it was barely audible, even though he was only inches away from them.
The tunnel was radiating heat. The screaming came to an abrupt stop, and the four blindfolded petpetpets could feel and hear the breath of dozens of guards, all crammed in the tiny space around them.
"They're unarmed," announced Harrow. "And they have agreed to a temporary truce in order to speak with the Chamber. I suggest that we comply."
A murmur ran through the crowd.
"Sergeant Harrow," came a voice from somewhere to the left of them. She sounded like she was in charge. "If you are certain that you have them contained, we will escort the four of them to the Chamber room. Whether they will have an audience will be up to the Chamber themselves."
Harrow let out the breath he didn't know he was holding. "Yes, ma'am," he replied.
"Untie them from your belt and split them up. You can keep the one that started this mess in the first place. Shane, Tristan, Bella, you take the other three. And untie their feet. I want to get this over with as quickly as possible."
"Yes ma'am," chorused three more voices, albeit a little shakily.
Kei stood patiently as he was untied from Kendra and then reattached directly to Harrow, and he could hear his comrades' ankles being untied beside him and their hands re-tethered to their respective guards.
"They won't hurt you," promised Harrow. "And Colonel Trinia, please keep the prisoners together, ma'am. They have been more than cooperative so far, and I honestly don't think they mean us any harm."
"Alright, Sergeant," she replied after a long pause. "But don't let me down on this. This is the biggest thing that has happened down here since that monster escaped from our prisons in 'legend.'"
"Rahm," breathed Kendra.
Kei heard more than one of the Blue Beasts gasp as the word left her lips.
"They do talk," he heard someone hiss. The crowd of guards started to murmur again. He heard the petpetpets shifting around, heard their armor clanking, their spears clicking against one another's.
"Harrow..." Kei started.
"I've got it under control," Harrow replied under his breath.
The murmuring grew louder, the guards more restless. Kei felt Harrow tensing up next to him. He stepped closer to his 'captor' instinctively, shying away from the overly anxious crowd.
"Silence, everyone," commanded the voice of Colonel Trinia. "Escort the Overworlders to the Chamber. And someone find me Talia. I know that she is somehow involved in all of this."
Then, Kei and the others were all prodded along down yet another series of corridors, further and further down into the labyrinth, this time surrounded by Blue Beasts, their armor clinking, their feet echoing across the floor, their breath heating up the moist tunnels.
Behind the blindfolds, the four warriors felt almost claustrophobic. At least for Kei, he knew that if he hadn't been trained for something like the situation they were in, he wouldn't be able to be near as calm as he was.
And before they knew it, they were rushed into what felt like an enormous cavern. The way the sounds echoed through the suddenly cold air suggested that the space was much larger than any of the rooms or passageways they had occupied before, and by quite a substantial amount.
"Seat and restrain them," ordered the Colonel.
The four were guided into a row of stone and wood chairs and then loosely bound to them.
Kei strained to hear as claws and feet scraped and fell against stone and dirt and wood, against the floor and what sounded like benches. Petpetpets came in and out of the room over the course of what felt like hours, some rushing, some meandering, as if they had nothing better to do, even though Kei and everyone else knew very well that the whole Colony was probably already in an uproar.
Kei's focus shifted from the foreign petpetpets to the ones on either side of him. He could hardly hear Brett or Colston, but he could hear Kendra clearly. She seemed to be trying to calm herself down, taking long, slow breaths into her nose and out through her mouth.
The shifting and scurrying of petpetpets slowly came to a stop. Silence filled the space before a deep, reverberating voice crept into it. "Remove their blindfolds," it said slowly.
Light instantaneously flooded into the warriors' eyes, blinding them momentarily even though it was just as dim as it had been in Harrow's tiny barrack.
Their eyes adjusted quickly though, and just seconds later they were all blinking at the sight in front of them, at the dozens of light blue faces with dark blue round eyes and almost-white hair. Seven faces in particular stood out: Harrow, Talia, and five petpetpets that Kei rightly assumed were the members of the Chamber.
"Now," started the Chamber member to Kei's far right. A woman with long eyelashes, probably Marin's age, maybe a little older. "I understand from what Talia tells me that you understand us? That you're capable of being civil?"
Kei cleared his throat. "Yes, we understand."
If the Chamber was surprised by his words, they didn't show it.
"You see?" piped Talia. "They're just like us. And I don't think the restraints are really necessary anymore are they? They are unarmed and outnumbered considerably. I think—"
The Chamber member nearest her held up his arm to silence her. "If they are truly warriors than they can handle at least this much," he said calmly. Then he turned his attention to the four. "You are warriors, aren't you?"
"Yes, we're soldiers," replied Kendra coolly. "Though I don't know what that has to do with being tied up."
"With all due respect, young lady," chimed in a forth member, "I don't think it's in your best interest right now to be questioning us."
"Not questioning," Kendra corrected. "That was a statement. But I can see how you'd get confused."
Harrow shot her a look.
"Not only do they talk, but they talk back as well, huh?" chortled the fifth Chamber member, a squat Blue Beast with rumpled hair that curled up just above his neck.
"Charrel, don't encourage it," whispered one of them.
"'Her.' I'm a 'her,'" piped Kendra. She tugged against her restraints.
"Kendra," said Kei quietly. "Calm down."
She glared at him for a moment then went back to fighting her bonds.
"Enough of this," boomed the first Chamber member that had spoken. The one with the deep, low voice who seemed to be in charge. "Let the lady free. She obviously can't speak to us normally if we have her tied up like this. And untie the others as well." Then his orders turned from the Blue Beast guards to the prisoners themselves. "That means that the four of you won't cause us any trouble, right?"
"That's right," Colston said quickly, before Kendra could say anything crass again.
The Chamber member nodded towards the guards on either side of them.
They were untied one by one, starting with Brett down to Kendra. When she was released, she leapt to her feet and walked around, but in as nonthreatening a manner as she could manage. She was restless, jumpy, anxious, but she didn't want to provoke anyone. She just needed to move around, to feel like she was in control of something.
"Now," started Chamber member Charrel. "Let's get started."
To be continued..