It was another one of those long, lion days. A heavy, thickset man with a face divided into two sections of grey and dull yellow dozed gently in an armchair behind a cheap, untidy desk. A fly buzzed lazily against the glass window, making tiny thunks on the pane. All of a sudden, the phone rang. The man shot awake, banging his knees against the edge of the desk as he did so. Groaning slightly, he reached out a finger to press the answer button.
“Hello, Crassus Demolition & Co., how may I help you?” he said sleepily, lifting his arms in a mighty stretch.
A soft but steely voice spoke right into his ear. He scratched his chin lazily as it droned on. He shot awake like a rocket. “Oh, your Excellence, my apologies, I did not know it was you. Yes. Yes. Of course. We can get it done as soon as your Excellency wishes. At night? Oh, no, sir, it is not an issue. Of course.”
There was a slight pause while the voice on the other end continued speaking. “Of course, your Excellence,” he said, his tone becoming wheedling. “If your Excellence does not think it is impertinent of me, I am but a humble construction worker, burdened with the years of toil. If it could be in your Graciousness’ heart to offer a bit more, in terms of your Excellencies’ generous nature, compensation for our labors at unorthodox hours?”
He listened anticipatingly as the voice spoke again. His eyes lit up greedily. The voice went on for a little while longer, and then the line went dead. The display on the tabletop phone lit up momentarily. He wheeled his chair over to a drawer next to the desk and grabbed a piece of paper. His grin stretched wider and wider as he scribbled sum after sum.
“Rutch Wzikobert?” He called.
Another man poked his head around the office door. “What?” he inquired, his angular, ashy grey and white face contorted in question.
“Scramble the crew. We got ourselves a commission.” He beckoned Rutch closer to him. The man leaned down to listen to what his boss had to say. Halfway through the explanation, he jerked his head backwards and gasped.
“A commission from the royal palace?” he said in awe.
“Shhh. Not so loud,” the man, whose name was Anthone Crassus, whispered sharply. He quickly told Rutch the rest of the details. After he was done, Rutch asked with some hesitation, “But, the old man’s house… are you certain it’s safe? I heard tell that ever since the old man left, he left many… you know, in there behind him.”
Anthone waved the thought away. “Ah, it’s nothing. Anyway, it’s not like we can pass up such a profitable commission.”
“Profitable?” Rutch took the scribbled sums from Anthone’s hands and scanned it. His eyes widened in disbelief.
He pointed to the figures. “Is this what we are getting paid for one building?” he asked in a whisper.
Anthone nodded. The two men looked at each other and rubbed their hands together in a most pleased manner. This was most definitely the job of a lifetime.
A mountain of rock stood in its solitary state in the center of a darkened chasm. Not a breath of air stirred, and not a drop of water trickled out of place. There it rested, like a giant tomb of some ancient race of godlike entities. Silence. A singular pebble broke away from the mound, the thud it made as it fell onto the mass of stones on the ground piercing through the untouched stillness. Another pebble fell, then another. A sudden eruption of pebbles rained down like hail on a spring day. Two fuzzy ears popped out of the gravel bed. They shook themselves a little, and then disappeared from sight. Some scratching followed, and then a nose stuck itself out into the open.
“Bother,” the nose said, the word echoing off the cavern walls.
The nose disappeared into the mound. More scratching. Another rain of pebbles desecrating the silence. A fuzzy arm reached out and groped around for a solid platform to grasp on. It settled on an exceptionally large rock jutting out not some distance from it. With a heave, the figure pulled itself out from the rocky grave. It dusted itself off, and then looked around. It’s two eyes glowed in the darkness, contrasting most eerily with the silhouette of its body.
“The heck am I?” It asked no one in particular.
“Hello?” It called out into the darkness. “Johann? Aragon? Professor?”
A sudden deluge of loose stone slid past him, almost sweeping him off balance. Another figure emerged from the dark.
“Phew. Made it,” he said in a relieved tone.
The first figure whipped around and stared straight at him. He yelped. The two glowing eyes he saw staring at him looked straight out of a Stephen King movie.
“Aragon?” The first figure asked.
“Who are you?” The one identified as Aragon asked.
“I’m K-7,” said the other.
Aragon sighed in relief. “Oh, K-7. I’m glad it’s you.”
K-7’s ears pricked up. “Really? That’s the first time you’re happy to see me.”
“Welp, you’re no longer a kitten now. That helps.” Aragon said pointedly.
“Whatever.” K-7 rolled his eyes. He wandered off aimlessly through the dark.
“Say,” Aragon said. “Where are the others?”
K-7 shrugged. “Dunno.” He kicked at a random rock sticking out of the mound. I do suppose he had never read of the cause of rockslides, having been a kitten for most of his life so far. A rumble shook the mound, and an avalanche of pebbles swept both of them off their feet. The two of them screamed as they slid faster and faster down the steep decline. It almost seemed as they had been sliding forever when the avalanche hit the gravelly bottom and levelled out.
Aragon spat out a mouthful of pebbles. He painfully wormed out of the pebbles shrouding him. “Blast that cat,” he muttered to himself. The sharp rocks stabbed into the cuts on his hands like shrapnel. He stood up, bruised and aching all over.
“Hey,” K-7 called out to him from somewhere in the darkness. “I found the van.”
A soft orange glow shone through the darkness like the beacon of a lighthouse. Aragon gratefully stumbled towards the light, almost tripping twice over the rocky bed. K-7 held open the door for him as he dragged his weary self up the steps. He slumped into the nearest seat with a sigh of relief. K-7 shut the door behind them. He was about to sit down himself, but right as his tail touched the leather seat the pain made him stand right back up. Aragon glanced over at him holding his tail in his hands. The sticky ooze of blood covered the white of his fur.
He let out a low whistle. “What happened?”
“I don’t know.” K-7 let his tail dangle and sighed. “Any bandages?”
Aragon reached over for his backpack. He pulled out a roll of gauze, a pair of scissors and some tape. “Bring your tail over,” he said.
In only a few minutes he had the entire tail wrapped up nicely in lengths of gauze. “Right,” he said, taping the end fast. “This should do.”
K-7 went over to the seat and sat down, being careful to keep his tail from touching anything. “I didn’t know you had medical skills.”
Aragon shrugged. “Learned it myself.”
“Ah.” K-7 leaned back in his seat and closed his eyes. Aragon looked at the cat out of the corner of his eye. The cat-being sat slumped sideways in his seat, his chin resting slightly on his chest. Well, it’s an improvement I guess, he thought dryly to himself. The power of the diamond was more than any of them had expected. If it could turn a kitten into a human-like being, then imagine what it could do in the hands of someone who’s mind wasn’t exactly right.
A sudden realisation hit him square in the head. His head whipped around to K-7.
“K-7, the diamond! Where is it?” he asked.
K-7 stared at him, panic quickly setting in. “The Professor had it last. I swear.”
“But where’s the Professor now?”
An oppressive silence was the only answer. K-7 stood up. “I’m going to look for him.”
Aragon jumped up right fast. “Oh, no you don’t.”
K-7 tried pushing past him, but Aragon stood firm. “No one is leaving this van,” he said. “As far as I know, we’re the only ones who found the van. We have to stick together where it’s safe.”
K-7 stepped back. “Fine,” he said. He stalked back to his seat and flopped down.
Some time passed. It could have been but 5 minutes, or 3 hours. In the darkness, where the only light is in the place where you are at, we lose all track of time. And even more so when you are sitting in stony silence waiting for someone.
“I don’t think they’re coming back,” Aragon finally said. In the half-light the harsh truth cut deeper than it had before. K-7 was not one to believe that, though. Would you, if you had gone through such unspeakable horrors that he, as a little kitten, had? Anything would have sounded like a walk in the park after you had lost the only family you’ve ever had; after the Grim Reaper had nearly paid you a personal visit.
He got up and hopped into the driver’s seat. Aragon could hear the jangling of keys as the engine turned over and roared to life.
“Right, let’s go find them,” K-7 said.
“W-w-what?” Aragon sputtered. “Find them? How would you know even remotely where they are?”
K-7 shrugged. “I don’t know. But I’d rather be doing something about it than sitting here like a sack of potatoes.”
“But can you drive?” Aragon pointed out.
“Uh…” K-7 looked down at the unfamiliar myriad of pedals at his feet. “Do you?” He looked at Aragon with an awkward grin.
“Well, no. But how hard could it be?” Aragon was now the one acting confident. He hopped into the passenger seat. “All right,” he said, pointing to the pedals under K-7’s feet. “So I think the one furthest to the right makes the van go, and that one,” he pointed to the one in the middle, “Should make the van stop.”
“And what about that one?” K-7 poked the pedal on the left with his foot.
“That one… uh…” Aragon leaned over and pressed the clutch pedal a couple of times. “I, uh, don’t really know.”
K-7 shot him a look. “What?” Aragon said.
After some fiddling and trying of this and that, they somehow managed to get the van in first gear. K-7 pressed down gently on the accelerator, and then, most wonderfully, the van stole into motion. “Yippee!” he cried as gravel crunched under the van’s tires.
In the meantime Aragon was poring over the driver’s manual with a flashlight he’d found. Mutters of ‘Ohs’ and ‘Ahs’ followed every turn of the page. “Alright!” He slammed the manual shut with a thump. “I’ve got it!”
“You know how to drive this thing?” K-7 asked hopefully.
“I finally know what all those marks on the dashboard mean!” he said triumphantly.
K-7 made a disgusted noise. A sudden rattle and shudder shook the entire van.
“What was that?” K-7 slammed on the brake. The two of them sat panting in the darkness.
“I don’t know, but it sounded awful.” Aragon was no longer feeling so confident.
In fact, had they more experience, they would have quickly realised the engine was overheating from being in first gear for too long. A few seconds passed. “Well, I guess it’s safe to move now?” Aragon ventured. K-7 refused to budge. “Nope,” he said. “You, sir, are going to finish that instruction manual, or else we are going nowhere.”
“Come on,” Aragon complained. “That would take ages, and I don’t like it here.”
K-7 leaned back and crossed his arms. Aragon groaned. He began to (grudgingly) read the manual. He may not have noticed it, but the adventure had changed him too. Before that, he would have started a massive fight over why he had to be the one reading the boring manual. As for now, he did just as he was told.
After an hour, he had a pretty good idea about how the van was supposed to work. The two of them swapped places. K-7 watched in wonder as the headlights went on and the dashboard lit up.
“Here we go!” Aragon cried as he stepped on the gas. The van began to move once more. They headed back down the road in which they had come from. He depressed the clutch pedal, and, with a deep breath, changed into second. The van rattled a little, and picked up the pace as if it sensed its freedom in the air.
“Wait, what’s that?” K-7 asked, pointing to something glittering outside his window. Aragon slammed on the brakes. K-7 threw open the door and ran out. He returned in a second, holding something large and shiny in his paws.
“Ara,” he said, eyes shining. “It’s the diamond.”
Aragon’s eyes widened. For in his hands was the Sytlgheist diamond, the covet of all overlords, and the artifact that caused whole wars in other realms over its unfathomable power. The skies had shaken, and the stars had crumbled into dust as massive armies stretching across the universe had clashed in the fiery cauldron of war. One by one, the great kingdoms of old had fallen, as generations of men and creatures sacrificed themselves under the grasping hands of their tyrants. At last, there were but two Overlords left standing. Blazium Barathogum, the iron-fisted ruler of the Feral Wolves, and Wrathgor, the crafty, hawkeyed king of the Manasanetians. It was said that even the galaxies were split apart as the two armies battled, the cosmic scales tipping precariously from one side, then to another. At last, at the final battle of the war, the Wolves were surrounded, outnumbered, and exhausted, as the Manasanetians drew ever closer to their home planet, Ritesignion.
Saying that all hell broke loose was the only close enough description. Blazium himself escaped with but a handful of his most loyal followers to an obscure corner of the universe. Wrathgor took the diamond in his own possession, and, for a time, there was peace in the universe, as Wrathgor, then his sons and grandsons sat in the throne of Manasanet.
But soon, the ancient kings realised the diamond was too powerful for any one being to have. And so, it was hidden, or locked away in an impossible maze, where its temptation would harm no one for eternity.
That is, until an old man, a gangly scientist, two teens, and a very annoying kitten came along.