Whereas Morphan understood instantly, Harry took a moment to process what Neko just said.
“This kid is a slave.”
“I’m sorry to say he is.” Neko stated as she walked up to the little boy.
She then punched the slave boy on the top of his head; he rubbed his head in pain for a moment before Neko started to yell “Hedgehog, how many times do I have to tell you not to go about stealing? Honestly one of these days I’m not going to be around to protect you and then where will you be?” After the slave boy was done rubbing his head he looked up at Neko and gave her a big pair of bambi eyes “Don’t give me that look Hedgehog, you know what the other demons would do to you if they caught you stealing from them.”
Hedgehog started to rub his arms recalling old wounds.
“Can, I interrupt for a moment?” Harry asked sheepishly, Neko glared at Harry in annoyance before nodding to let him know he could continue “Uh Hedgehog? Seriously?”
“What’s wrong with Hedgehog it’s a good enough name as any.” Neko retorted “I should know I’m the one who gave it to him. On the count of his spiky little crew-cut.” For the last part she pointed at his hairdo for emphasis.
“You named him?” Morphan asked “Doesn’t he have a name of his own?”
“Maybe? I don’t know he never told me his name or anything about himself really.” Neko then thought for a moment “Come to think of it I don’t think he’s ever said a word since he got here.”
Hedgehog nodded silently.
“Is he a mute or something?” Harry asked.
“Harry this boy came here from a world that Argus conquered.” Morphan pointed out “He probably saw his home destroyed before his very eyes, and then he was captured and enslaved by demons from another dimension. The terror of what he’s seen would render anybody a mute.”
“So I’m right he is a mute.” Harry continued.
“You’ve gotten the facts right but you’re missing their meaning.” Morphan pointed out chagrined.
Throughout the conversation Hedgehog held on very tightly to Neko’s leg.
“It’s OK Hedgehog, these two are real nice.” Neko cooed “Not particularly intelligent or useful but nice.” Hedgehog looked up at Neko with his big blue eyes “Trust me they are not going to hurt you.” Hedgehog then let go of Neko but still stood very close to her.
“Oh I almost forgot!” Harry exclaimed “Neko did you get that map you were supposed to get.”
“Yes I did, here you go.” She then handed Morphan a small black, plastic, rectangle, the front of the rectangle was covered in glass with a small square button on the bottom.
Harry looked over Morphans shoulder and stared curiously at the plastic rectangle “What the hell is that?” Harry asked.
“That’s the map?” Neko exclaimed, Harry stood still visibly confused “What you were expecting some scraggily piece of paper? Get with the times old mon.”
Morphan pressed the single button on the map turning it on, the screen showed a beeping red dot on a digital map “How does this thing work?” he asked looking it over.
“Don’t really know.” Neko stated casually, Morphan continued to look over the map “I wouldn’t try to do anything fancy with it if I were you, that thing can be a real bitch to use. And there isn’t any tech-support way out here in the Null Lands. As long as you can turn it on and off it’ll lead to where you want to go.”
“Looks just like an I-Phone.” Morphan stated.
“A what?” Harry asked.
“I-Phone, another one of Argus’s stolen goods.” Morphan thanked Neko for the map and the advice as he turned it off and pocketed it “Well we got the map that means if everything turns out OK we’ll be able to get out of the canyon. So that’s one problem solved, we still need those codes from Mad-Hat.”
“Well let’s go the sooner the better.” Neko stated “Come along Hedgehog.” Hedgehog then grabbed Neko’s hand as she led him down the dark staircase. Morphan and Harry followed her close behind.
A few minutes later...
“What is that horrible smell?” Harry asked.
They descended deeper down the dark stairway, emphasis on dark since there were no lights. Even for the advanced eyesight of a demon the three of them had a hard time seeing. Thankfully Neko knew the stairway well enough to navigate even without sight.
Like Neko, the human boy Hedgehog knew the stairway well enough to move without sight which was fortunate for him since as previously stated humans can’t see as well as demons and half-demons.
“Where exactly does this staircase lead to?” Morphan asked.
“Hey listen Lobster-boy if I wanted you guys dead I would have fed you guys to those bandits in the mess hall.” Neko snarled.
“I wasn’t implying anything of that nature I’m just curious where this staircase goes.” Morphan stated.
“Oh” Neko was glad for the dark for it hid the embarrassed look on her face “Well it takes us to the basement.”
“You know nobody answered my question about the funny smell I smell?” Harry exclaimed annoyed.
“He who smelt it dealt it!” Neko chuckled.
“Very funny Neko. But I know farts, and what I’m smelling aint farts.” Harry pointed out.
“Then what is it that you think your smelling?” Morphan asked.
“I don’t know, that’s why I’m asking. Oh finally some light!” Harry then rushed to the lights at the bottom of the stairway. However due to the darkness he could not see where he was going so he tripped and tumbled down the stairs landing on the hard floor loudly.
TUMBLE TUMBLE TUMBLE
Harry lied on the floor groaning in pain for a few moments before picking himself up and brushing himself off.
Harry was set to complain but when he got up he found himself utterly speechless. While Harry stood mouth agape, Neko, Hedgehog and Morphan walked right past him.
“Now you know what that smell is.” Neko stated.
Inside the basement was a large colony of humans, the humans were clearly un-bathed and malnourished. Dressed in rags and covered in filth they at the moment did little more than just sit on the floor looking forlorn, a few wandered about in an almost zombie-like fashion. The human slaves had piles of wreckage and garbage arranged to form meager shelter, as well as various discarded junk as furniture and belongings. The drippings from various water pipes acted as the human’s water supply.
“What is this place?” Harry asked aghast by what he saw.
“Isn’t it obvious?” Neko stated bluntly, by now she and Morphan stopped walking to let Harry catch up “This is where the humans go when they’re not busy with slave work.”
“Do they live here?” Harry asked.
“NO they just hang out here they live in a bloody five-star hotel OF COURSE THEY LIVE HERE STUPID!”
“Harry this can’t be that much of a surprise.” Morphan stated bluntly “Argus has made it no secret that this is how slaves are treated.”
“Well yeah I’ve heard but, but to actually see it with your own eyes.” Harry’s gaze shifted all over the place “It just takes your breath away, in a bad way of course. I mean how can you guys act so calm in the face of...” he gestured to the whole basement “...This.”
“This isn’t the first time I’ve been to a human colony.” Neko stated “And I’ll bet money that Lobster-boy here has been to a few human colonies himself.”
Morphan nodded solemnly in response.
“So anyways this is nothing we haven’t already seen before.” Neko stated.
“In fact I’ve seen conditions even worse than this.” Morphan stated.
Neko, Harry and Hedgehog stared at Morphan in shock “How can there be conditions even worse than this?” asked Harry.
“Are you aware that there are some parts in Argus where humans are considered a delicacy?” The others needed no more explanation then that.
“C’mon Mad-Hat is this way.” Neko then got eye level with Hedgehog “OK little guy you head home now.” Hedgehog nodded then rushed off “Stay out of trouble!” Neko yelled before Hedgehog disappeared.
Morphan and Harry stared at Neko “WHAT?” She snarled.
“I should have known.” Harry grinned widely then sauntered over to her “You may act like an obnoxious bitc... uh queen, but deep down your a real sweet female aint ya.” Harry patted her on the back playfully.
Neko slapped away Harry’s hand “Yeah I look after the little guy, someone has to. These humans they are kind to each other when it’s easy, when they all desperately need each other. But trust me when things get bad they turn on each other just...” she snapped her fingers “... like that.”
“I get it the kid was orphaned during the attack wasn’t he?” Harry asked.
“I can only assume so, I’ve never seen him with parents or anyone who could qualify as a parental figure.” Neko stated.
“SO that’s it!” Harry yelled excited over his little epiphany “Hedgehog is all alone in this world, and you are also alone in this world so you feel a connection with him, am I right or am I right.”
Neko punched Harry in the gut “Just follow me.” She snarled, she walked off with Morphan and Harry behind her.
Neko marched forward, giving off waves of displeasure, all the while trying to keep herself ahead of the others by as much distance as she could. Which wasn’t hard since Harry moved slowly thanks to pain in his gut “What’d she do that for?” he groaned.
“She’s angry with you because you claimed you understood her.” Morphan spoke, while still moving forward.
“Isn’t understanding a good thing? You know empathy and all that jazz.”
Morphan sighed heavily before taking a moment to think of a proper explanation “Harry I know you meant well but you need to understand that the suffering of a half-demon isn’t something that can be understood so easily, you understand.”
“Uhhhhhhhhh YYYYYYYea No. Your gonna have ta be clearer than that.”
Morphans body went rigid; he then held his hand in front of his face “You cannot possibly comprehend what it like to spend your life alone...” Morphan said while staring at his carapace “...hated by everyone for something you never asked for...” he clenched his fist “...the years of prejudice and ostracization. The sorrow, the fear and the anger that goes through you day by day by bloody day.” as he clenched his fist tightly his body started to glow with a film of blue aura, some aura managed to seep off like steam.
Harry was visibly nervous as he recalled his school lessons on Demonic Aura. Aura was controlled by a demons mind, so when they are in mentally unstable state their Aura also becomes unstable.
“OK Harry remembers those lessons on how to deal with demons with out of control Aura.” Harry tried even harder to remember the lessons “Oh mon I wish I paid more attention in class, I think it all comes down talking to them slowly and calmly.”
Harry then tried to get closer to Morphan who was now just standing in one spot seeping Aura, it was a bit difficult to get close to Morphan as the seeping Aura made him hotter than a cast-iron stove.
Morphan glared at Harry in response “You don’t have to be alone anymore you’ve got me now?”
Morphan exhaled to calm down, deactivating his Aura “Your right can’t do anything about the past. Thanks Harry I’d hate to think what would have happened if I... lost control.”
“I know what you’re saying mon, it’s dangerous enough when a regular demon loses control but if someone as powerful as you would lose control, well I’d hate to think what would happen.”
“Trust me you have no idea.” Morphans voice was laced with genuine fear as he spoke.
Now that the two of them were calmed down they caught up with Neko who was waiting for them down the path, impatiently tapping her foot “Yo Lobster-boy you done blowing off some steam.”
Morphan nodded unable to react in any other way at the moment.
“Good you should uh blow of some steam once in a while. It must be a real hard putting on that tough guy act all the time.” Neko turned to move forward “Though not here of course, a glowing demon has never meant anything good for these people.”
They continued on their way, as the humans cowered in their presence.
A few minutes later...
They walked through a door at the end of the basement to find themselves in a large dark cylinder shaped room, in the room was a tall metal tower that reached not only to the top of the room but judging by the height of the room could very well reach the top of the base itself. The metal tower had large pipes and wires coiled around it. The pipes and wires would attach themselves to the wall of the room like veins connecting an organ. On the tower were various disc shaped lights changing from white to red at seemingly random intervals, some of the lights were no bigger than regular light bulbs while others were massive.
“What is this place?” Harry asked nervously.
“This area is basically a control station for the entire base.” Neko explained “They call this place the “Rose Garden”. Some of the guys think that the lights and the wires look like giant roses or something.”
At the mention of their supposed similarity to giant roses Morphan stared at the lights and as he stared he began to wonder “What is the purpose of those lights?”
Neko shrugged her shoulders “No idea, we bandits didn’t build this base we just found it.” Neko turned around so that she was staring at the two of them “All right it’s important that you let me do the talking all-right.”
Morphan and Harry nodded.
“You understand no talking especially you Baldy.”
Harry scowled but nodded all the same “Trust me Neko I’ll behave.” “I can’t imagine what kind of demon would live in this dark and creepy tower. He must be something really nasty.”
So they went inside the tower, inside they found a large room cramped with computers of various shapes and sizes including a huge one at the end. There were no lights in the room but fortunately the glow from the computer made the room bright enough. On the screens were various graphs, charts and other things of that sort that seemed indescribable save for someone fluent in them. Even more confusing was that the graphs and charts kept changing at random moments. Every now and then some surveillance footage would come up and then disappear just as quickly as it appeared.
In the center of the room was a large wooden table, covered in a raggedy moth-eaten, patched up, dirty old table cloth. Upon closer inspection it could be surmised that it was in fact multiple table clothes stitched together.
On the table was a menagerie, of tea party cutlery, none of which appeared to belong to the same set.
Most bizarre of all was at the end of the room in front of the giant computer screen was a five foot green top-hat on a chair.
“OK Mad-Hat you can come out of hiding it’s me Neko.” The room was silent save for the buzzing of the machines “I brought two guys with me that need your help, I promise you there on the level.”
Again the buzzing of machines filled the room.
“(Sigh) please don’t do this pal.” Neko huffed in annoyance “All right fine have it your way.” She then walked up to the hat grabbed it and held it in the air, then a small creature fell out of the hat. The creature was humanoid and stood roughly four feet tall, with a rotund body and skinny limbs with comparatively large hands and feet. It also had a comparatively large head with a huge droopy nose and elephant like ears along with wild snow white hair, done up in a “mad scientist” style. For clothing he wore what used to be a fine old fashioned suit but was now torn and stained.
“Is that a goblin?” Morphan asked “Mad-Hat is a goblin.”
“Goblins!” Harry chuckled “Don’t be silly goblins are make believe, he’s just a weird looking human. ”
“Human, goblin doesn’t matter, does-not mat-ter, nope nope.” Mad-Hat spoke in a high pitch voice “Nor does it matter if I’m a dwarf, a giant, a prince, a pauper, a caterpillar, a butterfly, a raven or BLOODY WRITING DESK!” He roared the last part “No, no, no, no only thing that matters now is that I’m a slave in Argus.”
Harry leaned into Morphan and whispered “No wonder they call this guy MAD-hat.” He then twirled his finger around his ear for emphasis.
“The attack on his realm must have been quite traumatic.” Morphan pointed out.
“Is it safe to come out now?” said a squeaky voice from under the table.
“Never truly safe here, no, no, no, some times safer than other though, this time, this time safer then others.” Mad-Hat rambled.
“I’ll take that as a yes.” Said a second voice from under a table.
Then two humans came out to reveal themselves.
The first human was a tall voluptuous woman with ebony skin and brownish-blonde hair. She wore a red one-piece suit that although torn and raggedy managed to remain very tight. In addition she wore black stockings which were torn in certain areas and a red head band with what looked like bunny ears on top. She also wore a stitched up sash that said “March” on it. To Morphan she looked like someone who had once been very lovely, but now had to wear excessive make-up to cover her beaten face.
The second human was as big as Harry and just as burly. He had a very small timid face with beady almost dot-like black eyes. He wore a purple t-shirt with red short both of which looked to be two-sizes too small for him. He also wore a small round purple hat, with a wool ball at top. He nervously jerked his head around in an almost rodent like fashion.
“I’d like you to meet my assistants, you won’t remember them, why should you their just slaves.” Mad-Hat then cackled at what he thought was a funny joke, or perhaps he just simply cackled.
“Anyways...” Mad-Hat continued “The lady is named Miss Hare.”
“No I’m the lovely Miss March.” Miss Hare/Miss March then started to strike a series of poses that would have once been considered sexy, and might still had been had she not been cackling bulgy-eyed and muttering over how beautiful she thought she was.
Everyone waited till she was done before continuing “And the large fella is named Dormos.”
“Awww what a cute little hat you’re wearing.” Harry coed as he reached his hand for the hat. Dormos then squealed loudly before curling down on to the floor whimpering loudly.
“Wow, wow easy pal, I don’t want to hurt you I just what look at your hat.” Harry explained.
Without getting up from his position, Dormos took off his hat and held it for Harry, Harry then took it out of his hand to inspect it, “He he, it’s so cute it looks just like a lid for a teapot.” Harry giggled as he put it on. Dormos continued to cower on the floor.
“I believe that hat is called a Kippah.” Morphan explained “I believe it worn by humans from a certain religious order.”
“Huh you mean Dormos is some sort of holy man?” Harry asked.
“Was a holy man of sorts.” Mad-Hat said as he jumped onto the table wearing his incredibly large hat, how the hat didn’t simply swallow him up again was a real mystery. “Just as Miss Hare...”
“Miss March!” she snarled.
“... Miss March, was once a Playboy bunny.”
“What’s a playboy bunny?” Harry asked.
“In certain realms certain old guys collects pretty women and has them dress up as bunnies.” Neko explained.
Harry then imagined a human woman dressed up in fuzzy bunny pajamas “Well I don’t see the sex appeal in that at all.”
“Ok now that introductions are out of the way I need a favor from you Mad-Hat.” Neko explained. Mad-Hat gestured with his hand to show he was listening. “I’d like you to give me the codes for the vault and the Shrink-Ray please.”
“Sooooooorrrrrrrry I won’t give them to you.” Said Mad-Hat, he then hoped back into his chair at the front of the room.
“What do you mean you can’t give them to me!” Neko yelled, at the sound of her heightened voice Miss Hare and Dormos started to cower by Mad-Hat’s chair, Mad-Hat on the other hand didn’t look afraid at all.
“You misheard me.” Mad-Hat continued “I CAN give you the codes but I WONT!”
“Why not?” Neko asked with clenched teeth.
“Because the only reason you could possibly want those codes is because you want to steal something from Jabberwocky.”
Morphan and Harry looked to each other in worry figuring Mad-Hat was on to them.
“Actually we are planning on stealing something from the Wonderland Circus not Jabberwocky personally.” Neko corrected smugly.
“In Jabberwocky’s eyes they are one in the same. SoOoOo regardless of whether you succeed in what-ever you’re planning Jabberwocky will figure out that we helped you. And I’m sure I don’t need to go into detail over what he’d do to us if we helped you.” At the mere thought of what Jabberwocky would do to them Miss Hare and Dormos screamed hysterically before diving under the table to hide.
“Look Mad-Hat I’m the only bandit in this trope who’s ever tried to help you people. I’ve never asked for anything in return before so just give me the codes.” Neko got close to Mad-Hats face before saying “I PROMISE to take full responsibility for what I do.”
“Your promise means absolutely, positively nothing.” Mad-Hat retorted as if speaking to a child “For there is nothing you can say or do that would prevent Jabberwocky or any of the other bandits from punishing us. AW but don’t feel bad...” Mad-Hat cooed the last part as if speaking to a kitten “... we’ll probably still be punished even if we don’t do anything.”
“Maybe Jabberwocky would go easier on you if he found out I forced you to tell me!” She drew her claws and bared her fangs as she said that.
“Everyone both slave and bandit know you’d never do that to us.” Said Mad-Hat “And even if you did, anything less than killing us would prevent them from coming down here to punish us. Don’t you see? Whether you succeed or fail whether we help you or not, IT WILL end badly for us slaves.”
Everyone got quiet, so quiet that the gentle humming of the machines seemed as loud as an orchestra.
Neko stepped back till she was on the other side of the room “I didn’t think of that.” Said Neko Maneki sadly.
“You never do.” Mad-Hat remarked.
“You know for a human or goblin or whatever you are you’ve got some real cheek talking to Neko like that.” Harry retorted.
“I thought I told you to let me do the talking?” Neko said half-heartily.
Harry made no implication that he heard her “Anyways Neko may be nicer to you then the other bandits but she’s still a member of the troupe there for your master. Not very many slaves would talk to their master in such a way.”
Mad-Hat slumped down into his chair looking his most serious before saying “One who has given up on life, does not fear death.”
“If you don’t care what happens to you then why not help us?” Morphan asked “You seem to think you’ll end up dead no matter what we do so why not help us before you die.”
“I may not care about my life but the other slaves do care. About their own lives I mean not mine, just figured I’d make that clear.” Said Mad-Hat while mood swinging. “Any-ways I’m the closest thing these slaves have to a leader, a true testament as to how desperate they are if I ever heard one, so even if I never wanted to be I’m in charge of these people and I will not put them in any more danger then they are already in.”
Neko, Harry and Morphan got quiet unsure of how to proceed.
Harry then took off his hat and placed it on the table, “Hey Dormos you can have your hat back.” Harry said softly.
Dormos continued to cower under the table “(Sigh) come on guys lets go and think of something else.” Harry and Neko started to leave the tower saddened by not only their plans gone wrong but also by the slave’s position.
“WAIT!” yelled Morphan, Neko, Harry and Mad-Hat all gave Morphan their undivided attention, even Miss Hare and Dormos peaked from under the table to hear him “What if we offered you a trade?”
“What could you possibly give me that would be worth my services, my time, very likely my life?”
To be continued...