As above ground – so much more below ground
As soon as the banister levelled with the ground, the knots increased and made the ride lumpy. Ghost’s expression revealed shock because the root system was immense. An entire subterranean world existed amongst the roots of a dead tree.
The deeper they descended into the system Davina noticed the increase in fireflies lighting the levels. It was a subtle illumination. In the meantime, Davina used her hands to slow her decent, the others had to catch up. While she waited, she rubbed her nose; the smell of rotten eggs filled the air. The deeper into the ground they descended, the more the stench increased. Were they near a sulphur pit? Or was it the residue from the recent batch of Grotes? Maybe it was the rotting, festering egg-juice. Whatever it was – it was disgusting!
As usual, Ghost wasn’t paying attention and collided with Davina. Smack! Thud! Johnny and Susie collided too.
‘What are you doing?’ said Ghost.
Davina made a shhh! sign. A cracking noise sounded about the dank cavern.
‘Don’t tell me to shhh!’ said Ghost angrily. As soon as he made a noise, the fireflies became inquisitive and fluttered towards him.
‘Good going Ghost,’ whispered Davina.
‘Ghost we’re trying to make a secret entrance – but since you are here we may as well sound a bloody gong!’
‘There’s nobody here that can hear us,’ said Ghost.
When the fireflies hovered over the banister, there was an increase in light in the area below. Davina pointed; Ghost, Johnny and Susie gasped. In the massive cavern, there were eggs as far as they could see. Not just normal eggs either, but eggs the size of the largest dinosaur’s eggs. Ghost was silent; all he could do was smack his lips together.
‘Davina are those what I think they are?’ asked Johnny leaning forwards,
Davina nodded, ‘I think we’ve just wandered into the birthing den of the Grotes.’
‘Do they know they’re supposed to attack us?’ whispered Susie shuffling closer to the group.
Davina nodded, ‘The Chimera has probably had it written into their genetic coding.’
‘Well how do we find your father?’ asked Johnny.
Davina stared at the eggs; the larger eggs were resting against the outer walls. ‘He will be at the centre. Look how the eggs are gradually growing larger towards the walls. I think that when they hit the wall they break and the Grotes rise through the sand. They must roll out from a central point,’ she said noticing the egg sizes.
The group stared at the sight before them.
Davina was probably right. It kind of explained why the mounds of sand took on the shape of each creature.
‘So what they move out from the source?’ asked Johnny.
‘Actually I think they’re pushed out by new eggs. They roll towards the outer edges of the warren. When they collide with the edge the pressure forces the Grotes out or maybe it is contact that hatches them along with time,’ said Davina.
‘So how do we get through them without them hatching and tearing us apart?’ asked Johnny.
Davina shrugged, ‘We’re all just going to have to walk very slowly. We’ll have to be extra careful not to touch the eggs.’
Ghost folded his arms, ‘Oh here we go again! Great! There are millions of eggs belonging to creatures that can kill us. Yes they are just hanging out in the root system of a dead tree – in the middle of the desert. Hooray for all this weirdness!’
Davina glared at Ghost, ‘You know what? You keep moaning and I don’t like it! If you haven’t got anything good or helpful to say then don’t talk to me!’
Ghost went to say something.
‘I said don’t talk unless you have something useful!’ said Davina glaring.
‘Well maybe you might be interested in what ‘only’ I can see down here,’ said Ghost stroppily.
Davina sighed, ‘What can you see?’
‘I can see through the eggs and I can see the central area over there is glowing. There is a limp figure suspended from something. Is that helpful Davina? Was that useful enough for you? Or should I have kept quiet?’ he said.
‘Ghost end of chat!’ said Davina glaring at him.
‘Thanks! Is that all I get for telling you that?’
Davina turned to Ghost, ‘You know what Ghost – you’re asking for thanks after I’ve had to save you numerous times… You never said thank you once. Now I mean it… Don’t talk to me!’
Davina slid down the rest of the banister and carefully climbed off. She landed between two enormous eggs. She carefully sidestepped between them. When she knew she was safe she summoned the others. Ghost’s lip protruded, it was about time he understood his tantrums and stupid comments were not going to get him anywhere!
Johnny carefully jumped from the banister and crept cautiously to a clear area.
Susie grimaced; she touched one of the eggs, which instantly began to crack.
Davina pulled her away; a small wing broke through and stretched.
Ghost clung to the banister knowing that if he made one false move it would end in disaster. His knuckles turned white from clutching the banister so tight. The more he thought about it, the more he began to shake. He was dangerous and no doubt it would all go wrong because of him.
‘Come on Ghost!’ said Davina.
Ghost shook his head and with his hundreds of eyes he blinked furiously. All the worst case scenarios streamed through his mind. ‘I think I’m going to stay here. We all know that whatever I do will get us all into trouble. You go and get your father… then come back this way.’
‘You need to come with us…’ said Davina.
‘I’m not going to be the one who sets off this eggy time bomb!’ he replied and folded his arms.
Davina tentatively wove amongst the eggs. There was not enough time to convince Ghost.
Throughout the vast den regular cracking noises sounded as she walked. Crack, crack, crack! Davina flinched a hoard of creatures were born, clambered to the walls and burrowed towards the surface. Crack, crack, crack! Some eggs broke beside Ghost. Davina glanced back, should she go back? Davina sighed, ‘Do you think we should go back and get him?’
Susie shrugged and glanced at Johnny.
‘I think we need to get this over and done with. The sooner the better if you ask me,’ said Johnny.
There was another crack to the right. Susie turned slowly, a repulsive creature struggled to break free. Two wings and a tail emerged from the shell.
‘Davina we have to hurry!’ said Johnny.
‘But we can’t touch the eggs,’ said Susie.
Another egg cracked and a barbed tail broke loose.
‘Davina we’re going to have to run. This whole batch is about to hatch,’ said Johnny.
Davina’s eyes navigated the room. There was an obstructed path ahead, but it involved jumping to avoid touching the eggs. ‘Right follow me. Run the exact same path as me. Jump where I jump and whatever you do… do not touch the eggs. Do you understand?’
Johnny and Susie nodded.
‘On the count of three,’ said Davina.
‘One, two, three,’ the group whispered simultaneously.
Davina launched into a run. She ran and jumped the first eggs then wound through the rest. Johnny kept up well but Susie, after her third jump, was already tired. As she made her fourth jump, she tripped and smashed into an egg. Something reached out, grabbed her, scurried to the wall and disappeared.
Davina and Johnny stopped. Susie had disappeared.
Johnny stared back in horror, ‘Where’s she gone?’ Instinctively Johnny went to follow but Davina dragged him back.
‘Let go of me Davina! I have to save her!’ he said.
‘Don’t you see that’s what they want you to do? They’re trying to break us up.’
‘You reckon this is a set up?’ said Johnny incredulously. ‘No… I don’t believe it. I have to find her… She is my sister and she is my priority.
Davina studied Johnny, ‘Johnny…’ From across the cavern there was a loud scream. Both Davina and Johnny turned to see Ghost sitting alone on a banister with no less than twenty newly hatched Grotesques sniffing him.
‘What should he do?’ asked Johnny.
‘He’s going to have to run,’ replied Davina.
Ghost trembled when the first Grote sniffed him. Another licked him to see what he tasted like and squealed. The more they examined him, the more Ghost sweated. The Grote who licked him spat with repulsion. Ghost stared with different eyes focused on all the Grotes surrounding him. Even though they were infants, what he saw scared the nurk out of him. The Grotes were the ugliest kids he had ever seen and they were all dripping with egg slime.
‘Davina… er… what…. should I do?’ said Ghost very slowly.
Davina couldn’t hear but waited. He had to solve the situation himself.’
‘Davina I need to follow Susie! She’s my sister… I can’t… what if…’ said Johnny, his voice cracking.
Davina empathised with Johnny. ‘If you follow her you will be captured too. Now if that happens there is no guarantee either of you will make it… Stick with me… we must do this or everything is lost!’ she said.
Johnny stared at Davina then glanced at the wall. As much as he didn’t want to admit it – she was right.
Davina continued walking slowly to the centre of the warren. A limp figure, bound to a metal contraption, was suspended over a ravine. It was definitely her father.
‘Davina they’re tasting me. I think they’re going to eat me,’ cried Ghost.
She tapped the Shamaventus, ‘Allow Ghost and I efficient communication.’ A pair of holographic mouths manifested in the air above them and relayed Ghost’s last message.
‘Are you sweating?’ she replied.
‘Yes,’ said Ghost.
‘Why’s that good?’
‘It means they won’t eat you. Remember the whole thing about salt and water? The wise woman told us about it. You must remember?’
‘Sort of,’ said Ghost, who obviously didn’t remember.
‘Salt and water are like poison to them.’
‘So they won’t eat me then?’
‘Not unless you stop sweating,’ she said more focused on how to reach the limp figure above their heads.
Davina sidestepped past a couple of smaller eggs. What was her father attached to?
‘Davina, I think that time has come for me to run,’ called Ghost.
‘Why are you telling me that?’
‘Because I think it’s time for you to run too!’ he shouted.
Davina glanced back and her heart jolted. All the Grotes on the edge of the room were rising out of the eggs. ‘Oh my… Grunt! She must have anticipated the timing. She planned for them to hatch while we were here. Johnny, Ghost run!’
Davina bolted towards he father quickly followed by Johnny. Further behind, Ghost launched himself from the banister; the Grotes excitedly pursued him like prey. The same kind of game a small lion cub plays with a piece of meat before it devours it. Ghost used all his martial arts skills to dodge, but he was not going to be able to fight them so sprinted his absolute fastest.
Davina daren’t look back; all the eggs were cracking and Grotes were scurrying everywhere. What’s more, as Ghost ran he rebounded off the eggs creating a trail of destruction.
A sudden edge revealed itself. Davina came to a sudden halt and dug her heels in. She teetered on the edge of a deep ravine descending into a lava pit. Below molten magma bubbled. Regaining her balance Davina glanced behind her. ‘Johnny stop!’
Johnny skidded and stopped just in time. For a second he wavered on the edge of the ravine waving his arms to balance. Davina grabbed him and dragged him backwards.
‘That was close,’ he said.
‘This whole place has been set up. It is all connected to the volcanoes. She has been planning and building this for years.’ Davina studied the platform above her. A silver rock dangled from the central root system and her father was attached to it. Below him was a lava pit.
‘None of this makes sense,’ she muttered.
Johnny remained silent. He was still fixated on his sister’s disappearance. He studied the walls of the cavern but his thoughts were interrupted by Ghost, who was running his fastest in a zigzag motion. As he ran, he destroyed most of the eggs in his path.
‘Davina why aren’t you running?’ screamed Ghost.
‘Because there’s nowhere…’
Ghost sprinted, panted and glanced over his shoulder.
‘Ghost stop!’ shouted Johnny.
Ghost didn’t stop, instead he collided with Johnny and Davina. There was a moment of silence; the second expanded into eternity, each realising what was below. A moment later, the group plummeted towards the lava.