“None of those things can be worse than living down here for the rest of my life and not knowing what’s up there. Don’t you want at least one adventure worth taking risks, taking chances?”
“Well of course I do but-“
“Curiosity killed the cat.”
“What does that mean?”
“It means I don’t want to lose you. Like how we lost Dad.” Derek walked over to her and placed his hands on her shoulders. Staring into her blue eyes he said with much seriousness, ”I’ll be right back before tomorrow is through I promise.”
“I know. I’m going to have to tell mom though because I’m a horrible liar.”
“Fine, tell her I’ll be long gone.”
“I didn’t finish, I’m a horrible liar. So I’m coming with you.” She smiled at her older brother. “Then you need to start packing.” He pushed her out of his room so she could start getting what she needed.
On the screen she could see her daughter walking out of her brother’s room leaving the door wide open to see the suitcase. The hooded figure smiled and left to tell her master. “My lord,” the cloaked one said bending down on one knee to the floating chair before her, “your children are planning to journey to the surface.”
“I am fully aware of what my children are doing.”
“Do you want us to stop them?”
“No, I want them to find out what mommy did to the earth long ago.”
“Come on Alice the coast is clear,” whispered Derek to his sister. “I’m coming, my backpack just got stuck,” she replied yanking her backpack free from the narrow ally. They had left early that morning while their mom was asleep and hopefully most of the city. They kept walking along the brightly lit path, the holo-projecter showed that the sun was beginning to rise. Picking up the pace they headed towards the opening they’ve seen millions of citizens try and get out of the city from. The opening on the side of the wall was big enough for them to crawl under even with their backpacks still leaving plenty of room to breath. Placing their flashlight headbands on their heads Derek went into the hole. A few anxious minutes later Alice heard the all clear signal from the dark depths and followed after her sibling. The small beams of light only showed what little was in front of them, mainly it was small rocks that stuck to their hands and various new forms of glowing fungi that gave the cavern a dimly lit glow. Minutes flew by, leaving them in an endless rut thinking they will never see the end of the tunnel. There was a sudden sickening crack along with the piercing screams of the teens as they tumbled down a giant abyss. Bouncing against the rocks that jutted out of the sides both of them landed to the ground with a thud and blacked out.
Gasping for breath Derek woke up in a hammock made of a soft, silky fabric of many colors. He looked to his left to see his sister lying on a similar hammock. Looking around he saw they were in a small hut made of sticks and dried mud peeking out of the brightly decorated room; torches were in the corners near the only entrance of the hut. Reaching over he shook his sister awake. “Alice, Alice wake up we need to get out of here.”
“Just one more minute mom,” she mumbled in her sleep. He pinched her arm. “Ow! "What was that?" She starts taking in her surroundings finally coming back to her brother. “Where the heck are we?”
“That’s what I was just thinking and that is why I woke you up.”
“Well, wait, where’s our stuff?”
“It’s right-“ Derek started looking for their stuff just realizing they were missing. “Dang it they took our stuff.”
“Who exactly are ‘they’?”
“I don’t know but I don’t want to be here to find out.”
“Agreed let’s go.” They headed out of the wooden framed entrance finding themselves in a village of similar huts some larger than others. Walking throughout the village were theses slightly larger than the average human blue creatures. They stood and walked like humans but they had large doe-like eyes, they had slits for nostrils and elf like ears. Three fingered hands held baskets on what they assumed were the female’s heads. Half of them had long braids running down their colorful robed back. The others had baldheads and held all sorts of weapons, they bore no shirt but dark tan pants that looked worn. Derek felt someone tap his shoulder, he whipped around placing his fist in front of his face looking ready to strike, and he came face to face with one of the creatures. She had deep violet eyes with a long braid running down her back, multiple piercing ran up and down her pointed ears. She bore many different types of bracelets on her slender wrist her three-fingered hand was still raised from when she tapped him. Alice stepped in front of her astonished brother and extended her hand. “Hi my name is Alice and this is my brother Derek.” The alien looked down at her extended hand and took it in her own, her skin felt soft and cool. “My name is Zemirah.”
“You speak English!”
“Yes I see you do too.”
“Um, Zemirah, where exactly are we?”
“You are in Tophria.”
“Tophria,” Alice repeated trying the word out for herself.
“Come I must show you to the shaman, he will determine if you are kind people or if you are enemies.”
Derek finally snapped out of his trance, “Enemies?”
“Yes if you are deemed friends you will be treated as we are all treated, if not then we you shall be put in the eternal fire as a sacrifice to our god, Nadeem”
“To the shaman it is then.” They walked through the thick crowd of blue watchers. Some reached out to try and touch them never seeing these forms of life in their lives. “I’m not sure if I trust these people,” Derek whispered to Alice. “You and me both.” They reached what appeared to be some form of a cathedral, leading down to the stage were candles made of a green substance. At the bottom of the stage was another one of the blue creatures, he was bald like most of the men but wore a large breastplate with the same tan as all the other men of their village. All along his body he had white lines painted on him. “Father I have brought these strangers here to be judged.” The creature opened his eyes to reveal the milky whiteness of them. “Leave the children here Zemirah, I shall see what I can do.”
“Yes father.” She bowed and headed back up the stairs. “Give me your hand young one.” Both of them hesitantly extended their hands. “Not you boy just the girl.” Derek retracted his hand and watched as his sister gave her hand to the strange man. He placed his hands on top and below her hand sandwiching it in his grip. The minute he touched her there was a huge gush of wind, blowing out all the candles. His hands shrank back towards him as the wind died down. “Of course,” he muttered, “you’re Gaia’s children. I should have known from the scent in the air.”
“Wait, isn’t Gaia the Greek’s version of Mother Earth? But that’s just a myth.”
“A myth, no she is as real as you and me.” Derek and Alice looked back at each other giving off a look that both of them knew as disbelief. When they looked back towards “father” they found him a few feet away near the back of the cathedral. As they drew closer they saw it was not just a plane backing, but also millions of small crude drawings. The shaman pointed to one of them, they looked just like Alice and Derek. “But, but, but-“
“How can we be in there? We just met you today.” Derek finished for her. He smiled and pointed at the pictures and spoke, “A long time ago, years before we came to this planet, a creature unlike those we have ever seen rose from the ground that we stood on. When it spoke to us it sounded as if thousands of voices were coming out of that one mouth. She told us to leave our planet for it was to be sacrificed to her King. Frightened by her magnificent size, we hurriedly packed our belongings and set off into the universe. We floated around space for many years. Finally we were caught in an orbit this planet’s orbit. Our ships crashed beneath the surface of this world; thankfully we landed into this oasis. We have rebuilt our civilization and prospered. We finally thought we were safe, oh how wrong we were. She showed up yet again, destroying our vibrant villages. She went after our cathedral but once she saw the drawings she stopped. We all prayed that she wouldn’t destroy our history and she didn’t. Instead, she shrunk down to our size grabbed a piece of coal and started drawing more pictures, theses pictures of you to be exact. Then she vanished. We haven’t seen her since.”
“So why did she draw a picture of us,” Derek inquired.
“We believed them to be her children and now here you are, proof that we were right.”
Nothing was exchanged between them when Alice spoke up. “Mr. Shaman man, we’re not children of Gaia. Our mothers name is Lisa and she is anything but Mother Nature.”
“Believe what you may, Alice, but I know I am right and you will soon see it, too.”
“How did you know her name is Alice? We haven’t told you our names.”
“It is just like how I know your name, Derek. I told you already, I know when I am right.” The siblings backed away from the creature. They sprinted back the way they came from toppling over Zemirah. They jumped off of the crumpled alien and helped her up. “Sorry we just ran you over but we need to find our stuff and get out of here like right now.”
“Of course Derek, all your supplies are in the cabin that we brought you into.”
“Thanks Zemirah.” Derek jet off in the general direction he believed the hut was in. “He is going the wrong way. Does he know that?”
“Probably not. I’ll go get him, could you wait here and direct us back to the cabin.”
“Yes I will.”
“Thanks. Hey Derek! You’re going the wrong way.” Alice jogged after him in order to correct his direction system.
They went back to Zemirah who took them straight to their small hut. They found their gear lying on their hammocks as if they had never been touched. Zemirah watched from the doorway, her violet eyes had a forlorn gleam to them. Alice nudged her brother and nodded her head towards their blue companion. She gave him the “say something” look; silently they battled it out until finally she won. “Is everything all right Zemirah?”
“Yes I was just wondering if I might be able to join your journey to the surface of this world. I have always wondered what has been above my head.”
“How did you-”?
“You mutter in your sleep.”
“I told you you mutter in your sleep but no you didn’t believe me.” “Now’s not the time Alice.” They heard a cough from behind them. “May I or may I not accompany you on your journey.” They huddled together discussing the many options of what could or could not happen if they let her join. After many raised whispers they turned back to face her. “We have decided that you can join us on our journey but we can’t hear any complaining from you.” A smile broke over her face, “Oh do not worry I won’t complain one bit. Wait here while I pack my belongings.” With that she zipped out of the room. “Do you really think this is a smart choice, Alice?”
“Of course I do. She knows what she’s doing and I don’t know why, but I have this feeling that we can trust her.”
“Well, I can’t argue with that logic.”
“Oh shut up. It’s not like you have any better ideas, Einstein.”
“So we agree that is was a good decision.”
“Fine, I guess it was.”
“Good.” Zemirah came back with a satchel made of canvas along with a few assorted knives for hunting.
“There is an entrance to here a few feet away from the village. We can go there and see if we can reach the surface from there.”
“Ok then, lead the way,” Derek said pointing towards the door. They departed the small hut and headed south to the heart of the village. They weaved their way through the numerous merchants and fishmongers of the shopping center. “Where are you getting the fish from?” Alice pestered. “There is a waterfall not to far from here where all the fishermen go to get our fish, it is the main source of protein here since we-“
“Wait, water! Of course why didn’t I think of this sooner.”
“What is it Derek?”
“Water always flows downstream meaning that where ever the water starts, it starts above ground.”
“Yeah,” Alice chimed in, “I remember learning that in school. If we follow the waterfall, well, it’s bound to lead us to the surface. Change our course Zem, we’re heading for the waterfall.”
Their faces floated on the holoprojector. “They know too much. We need to dispose of them soon.”
“No not yet. We need to take them by surprise, that way they will be unprepared for what is to befall them.”
“How do you know they won’t be prepared?”
“Mother’s instinct.” She gave a wicked grin as she watched her children and their new friend start to scale the sides of the waterfall.
“Help me up, my pack ways a ton.” Zemirah and Derek reached down to grab Alice’s hands and hauled her onto the large ledge. “Let’s stop here for the night,” Derek suggested dropping his pack down and sitting on top of it. Zemirah started walking around looking for bits of moss and twigs she could use to build a fire for them. Once the fire was established Alice brought out some of the food they had packed for the journey. They munched on their packed goods in silence for what seemed like ages to them. Alice broke the silence, “Why did you want to join us?”
“What you ask, it seems like such an easy question to answer but of course there is always more to an answer than what you need. My parents died while I was still young, they were out fishing one day when someone came up behind them and slit their throats just for sport. I was sent to live with my relatives on the other side of the village, but they did not want another mouth to feed, so I was kicked to the streets. I went to our shaman to see if he had any kind words and something to eat for me. He took me under his care and I grew to call him father. He took great care of me even in his old age. I have nothing left to gain from being with him, nor nothing I can repay him with. So I long for the surface, to find the one thing he wants most, freedom.”
“I am so sorry. We lost our father in a fire ten years ago. I was only six. The fire came out of nowhere, it ate up half our home along with our father. The firemen came too late; they found some of his bones, fragile and charred.”
“I am sorry for your loss, but you do have a mother, yes?”
“Yes we do and she loves us to bits.”
“Then why did you leave her? Why do you seek the surface?” Her voice caught in her throat, her brother knew well enough to take over the talking for her. “We left her because we felt trapped. In our village we have technology all around us leaving us no place to call our own. It felt more like a prison then a home. So, we left to find adventure, and coming to the surface seemed like a worthy adventure to go on.” Silence fell upon them yet again as they finished their meals. “Well,” Derek started standing up, “I don’t know about you two but I’m, going to get some sleep before tomorrow. We’re going to have a long hike ahead of us in the morning and I want to get up nice and early. Goodnight Zemirah, night squirt.” He messed up Alice’s hair and jumping into his sleeping bag leaving the two girls alone.
“We’d better get some sleep too. Goodnight Zem.”
“Goodnight Alice.” They both went to their separate makeshift beds and tried to fall asleep on the cold hard shelf.
Zemirah lay awake listening to the rush of the waterfall, her eyes closed yet active as they darted around under her eye lids trying to find the comfort of sleep, yet none came.
“Can’t fall asleep?” She opened her eyes to find herself starting at Derek.
“Yes I have never slept out on the ground before.”
“It’s ok I can never fall asleep.”
“What do you do when you cannot find sleep?”
“Well usually I look at the stars and think about what the surface looks like.”
“How can you look at the stars if you live underground?”
“Well we have a huge holoprojector that makes a copy of what they think the sky above us looks like. It changes from morning to afternoon to night to make it feel like we really are on the surface. I know it’s all fake, but some nights I actually feel like I’m looking at the real sky.”
“And that puts you to sleep?”
“Well sort of. It calms me and then I’m able to fall asleep.”
“Oh. We do not own such advanced gadgetry. We used to when my people lived back on our planet; the ships were the last of that technology. The ancestors decided to leave it all behind when Gaia came.”
“So you’ve never seen a flash light or a blender or any type of machinery?”
“Never.” A grin appeared on Derek’s face; he held up his finger and ran to his side of the ledge. He came back with his pack, sitting down he took out his flashlight and turned it on. Zemirah jumped backwards at the sudden burst of light. Laughing, Derek helped her back up and handed her the flashlight, trying to get the strange feel of cold metal in her three fingered hand. He reached over and pointed to the switch that turned the device on and off. She laughed in delight as she watched the light dance on and off. Placing the flashlight down she turned towards her bag and pulled out a small yo-yo. Placing the string loop around her finger she showed off her skills by making the yo-yo flip in midair, making it fly in all sorts of directions. Derek’s eyes widened in fascination, “I’ve never seen a real yo-yo before. They were discontinued way back when they started inventing more and more video games.” She slipped the loop off her finger and onto his.
“Try it,” she prompted. Derek rolled the string around the connecting piece of wood, he jerked his hand down and then back up whacking himself in the head with the yo-yo. This set off a peel of laughs from Zemirah as Derek cradled his injured head resulting in yet another bump on the head. Taking back the yo-yo she showed Derek the proper way to use the new toy. They spent the rest of the night showing each other the new devices they each had and showing each other how to use them. When they thought it was time to head off again Derek asked Zemirah if she had a feather. “Indeed I do. May I ask why you need a feather?”
“Just watch.” He walked over to the sleeping form, taking the feather from her; he moved the tip of the feather quickly back and forth against her nose. Alice’s hand shot up just barely missing Derek’s ear. He cried in shock and fell backwards. Alice started cracking up as she sat up, “I told you I would get you next time.”
“I didn’t believe you,” he muttered back. They ate a quick breakfast, packed up and started back up the mountain again. They hiked for some time taking periodic brakes to refill their water bottles. Finally they decided to stop for some more food. They trekked to the nearest ledge to start a fire. “Hello children,” the soothing voice stopped them dead in their tracks. They slowly turned around to find young woman with jet-black hair surrounding her chocolate brown eyes, she wore a green dress that dragged on the floor. “M-mom?”
“Hello Alice, Derek. Did you really think you would be able to just go to the surface so easily?”
“What are you talking about?”
“The shaman was right Alice and you know it.”
“No, no I don’t.”
“Of course you do, when you were six right before the fire started you saw me talking to one of my agent who was so foolish enough to call me Gaia. I abandoned that name long ago so I would be able to raise my dear children, my heirs. I was hoping that there would be no interference with my plan, unfortunately your father got in the way. He longed to reach the surface as much as you do; he got much farther than you are now. He had found a map that lead straight to the surface, a map I buried years ago in hopes no one would ever find it. He would soon be able to discover what I did to the surface long ago; your father would have then left me and would have taken you two with him leaving no heir to my realm. No one to take over when I wander to new lands, no one to take over my dirty work.” They stared at her in disbelief thinking it was all some sort of trick. “So before you ask yet another ridiculous question I will answer a few things for you. Yes, I did in fact start the fire that killed your father. I was the one who destroyed the surface of the earth forcing everyone to move underground and yes I am real and you are one with nature.”
“So why did you come here?”
“Ah, yes, back to the reason why I am standing here before you. You see I can’t let you go back up there, so I’m here to make you an offer. If you decide to continue on your journey I will release my army upon you and I will not hold back, however, if you decide to forget about the surfaces I will take you back as the heirs to Nature.”
“What would happen to Zemirah?”
“I would erase her memory of any events that happened after she met you that is if you decide to join me otherwise she will be killed along with you.”
“Give us a moment.” Alice pulled them into a huddle talking in hushed whispers, when they finally broke apart Derek told her their answer. “We agree to go with you and become your heirs.” This brought a smile to mothers face. “Well then follow me and we shall start -- “She was cut off by the swish of a blade shooting past her ear sticking into the rock wall. “Always be prepared mother.” Alice’s voice chirped behind her. Their mother turned around at a break neck speed her eyes glowed like bright emeralds. The ground beneath them shook violently throwing them off balance. When Gaia opened her mouth it sounded like thousands of other voices besides her own, “You dare challenge me Mother Nature the one who brought you to life?” She raised her hands and hundreds of rock monsters rose from the ground. Their bodies crudely cut into jagged beasts; their faces were flat slates aside from the two small pebbles they assumed were eyes. “Kill them all,” she commanded. With that they raced towards the small group. “Now,” Derek shouted, they all dashed in different directions, Alice scrambling through the monsters legs, Derek took the left and Zemirah took the right. They all had one goal, take down Mother Nature. Alice swerved around the giant pillars of stone gaining more ground to her goal. Her arm jerked almost dislocating the arm from her body caught in the grasp of one of the monsters. He smacked her head sending stars fly across her vision and dragged her into the dirt floor.
Zemirah held out two of her blades slashing the sides of everyone she passed hoping that is will slow down the beasts. Half way there she fell face first onto the cold ground, looking down she saw half of the demon that caught onto her ankle dragging her into the ground. Clawing at anything she could get her hands on she struggled to free herself. Losing her grip on one of the ledges she was swallowed into the ground.
Where are they? Derek thought to himself as he slid under a pair of legs. He had lost sight of them after they had split up. He did not realize that soon after he had started all of the monsters seemed to stop. The ground started to rumble yet again and the giant creatures stepped out of the way leaving a path for him to walk through. Oh no. He rushed into the middle of the walkway to see Alice and Zemirah tied up in vines hanging like rag dolls, arrows aimed at their backs. “My son, the one who would take my place. I am giving you one last chance you may join me and I’ll let them live otherwise I will kill you all.” Derek hopelessly looked at his sister and his new strange friend. His head pounded, he dropped to his knees. “Your answer Derek.” Derek slowly got up, his eyes glowed the same green as their mothers. “You will leave us alone.” He raised his hand forcing the arrows to face her. Mother’s face turned ashen, her own son turning against her. Not in a million years has she seen this coming, he own son turning against her using her power. “Good bye Mother.” He closed his hand and the arrows shot. Seconds before the arrows hit her she disappeared, the arrows flung against each other and clattered to the floor. The bonds holding the two girls vanished and they fell upon the ground too. Derek rushed to their aid his eyes returning to normal. He hunkered down next to Alice as she stirred, “How ya feeling sis?”
“Like I just ate a pound of dirt. My shoulder kills.” He smiled knowing she was all right; they turned to Zemirah who had not moved an inch. Alice raised her good arm and lightly tapped her shoulder. She emitted a small moan allowing some relief to her friends knowing she’s still alive. “I’m going to get our bags hopefully our stuff will be in them still. Just stay here until I get back.”
“No problem.” Alice replied laying back on the ground trying to stop the pain in her arm. He ran back to the spot they left them in finding the packs still intact with everything in them, rushing back he saw Zemirah start to move. “How you feeling Zem?”
“I feel there is dirt all over my tongue. It is most unusual.” He passed them both their water bottles and some medicine to take for their injuries. “Hey Derek do you think there’s a way that you could oh say blow a hole through the top of this place and get us out of here?”
“I don’t know. I can try.” He walked ten feet away from them so no debris would land on them causing more harm. Closing his eyes he concentrated on opening a hole, minutes flew before finally something happened. A small chunk of earth fell in front of him, followed by millions of flakes fluttering by him. A soft beam of light shined down on that spot. The flakes stopped falling; they had now opened a gaping hole in the surface of the world. “Why is the light so low? Shouldn’t it be brighter?” Alice called. “I don’t know if I made it through the surface.”
“Well you must have because the ground stopped falling.”
“Hold on a sec I’m gonna try and make some stairs.” Silence befell them once again; it only took a few minutes this time before the ground started shaking beneath them, step rising like an escalator from the earth leading to the hole. “You did it Derek.” Zemirah yelled. “My head hurts.” He responded. They grabbed their gear and headed up the stairs.
“Oh my gosh.” Alice whispered as they entered the foreign land. The night shone with thousands of diamonds scattered around as the shattered moon lit up the sky. The moon was split in two, large pieces were scattered in the center and around the largest halves. “This is so much better than the holoprojector.”
“Agreed. What about you Zen? Zem?” Zemirah was lying in the grass staring at the sky. Derek and Alice took off their shoes feeling the cool grass in between their toes they flopped onto the ground mimicking Zemirah. Never would they see their underground homes again. They still had places to go, things to explore, new lands in need of discovery. One journey just ending another one begins.