“Watch it,” one of my best friends and accomplice-in-mischief, Firestar, whispered as he pushed me against the wall of Star Rebellions HQ. Some people had passed at the far end of the corridor, and thankfully they hadn’t noticed me. I had been skipping down the hall when my friend had heard the footsteps, even though we were technically sneaking out. If a girl needs to skip, then she needs to skip.
Once the people at the end passed, Darkstar walked out of the shadows. “You guys need to be more quiet.”
I rolled my eyes at my other best friend, who, as the name implied, basically controlled the dark and could hide in any shadow. Okay, a bit of an exaggeration.
“I thought you said it was unmature to sneak out!” Fire said triumphantly. He had tried, and failed, to get Dark to accompany us on our pseudo-spy mission. Last Fire and I had known, Dark was pretending to sleep back in our combined room, ignoring us constantly shaking his shoulder and shouting in his ear.
“The proper word is immature for one thing,” Dark said patiently, “and for the second, I couldn’t let my two friends go out by themselves and get in trouble. Teams do these things together.” He added a slight smile at the end and I giggled. That was us, the most troublesome team at Star Rebellion.
“Are we going or not?” I asked impatiently. I never could stand in one place for more than a few minutes else I started to get really antsy. It was a side effect from our line of work, and well, just me in general. You’ll know more about that later, if you prove cool enough.
“Lead the way,” Darkstar said while sweeping his arm in an ‘after you’ motion.
I smiled at him and continued skipping down the hall, though I’m pretty sure I could hear the two guys snickering behind my back. They were probably just jealous that they didn’t have the nerve to skip. It would probably hurt their ‘manly’ pride.
After avoiding a few more rebels who were on patrol, and Fire having to shove me into an empty room to avoid being seen, we finally got to our destination: the kitchen vents.
“Do you think Gravel has anything sweet around here?” Firestar asked while rubbing his stomach, which appropriately made noises demanding food.
“Do you want to face Gravelstar’s rath?” Dark asked. Gravelstar was the burly cook who was overprotective of his kitchen and had been known to put midnight snackers in the infirmary for weeks at a time.
Fire’s face darkened. “No, but I want sweets!”
“Man up, Firestar!” I said, once again impatient. I had already climbed onto a counter and taken off the cover to the AC vent that would take us to the meeting room.
“Nan mup, Fiyerstar,” Fire mimicked me as he hoisted himself into the vent. Dark chuckled before following him, and I went in last, loosely putting the covering back on the vent. We didn’t need amatuer mistakes to reveal where we were.
“Fire, you know the path, right?” I whispered into the dark vent; I could hardly see Darkstar’s shoes in front of me, but the vent easily echoed my voice up ahead.
“Of course I do! I’m the one who planned the route… wait, was it the first or second left turn that we took?”
“First!” both Dark and I said agitatedly.
“Let me go ahead of you,” Dark whispered.
“Shh, our voices really echo!”
“Thanks, captain obvious,” Fire muttered. He was waiting in a turn off in the vents to let Darkstar pass him.
I rolled my eyes and pushed him with my shoulder before he could enter before me. “Too slow old man!”
“Least I’m not considered to still be a kid.”
“Stop bickering!” Dark warned from in front of us.
We made the rest of the trip down the vents in silence, with Dark having a flawless memory of the routes. I ended up kicking Fire in the face because he kept nudging my feet to annoy me, and I think we woke up whoever was below us from the confused muttering that we heard a few seconds after that.
After a few more turns, Darkstar said in an even quieter whisper, “This is the vent path that should be above the conference room,” It was almost impossible to hear him now.
“How do we know which one it is?” I asked trying to be as quiet as he was, though epically failing. I was too hyper to be that stealthy.
“We just have to crawl down it and listen at each vent until we find the room.”
“Yay,” Firestar mutter from behind me. I nudged him again with my foot and he silently bared his teeth at me in what was supposed to be a growl. I appropriately countered by sticking my tongue out at him.
“Children, children, behave. We have work that we need to be doing,” Darkstar was once again the peace keeper between us, as had become common in the past few years.
We both turned and stuck our tongues out at him as if we were synchronized jokers. He rolled his eyes but still slightly smiled before turning his back to us and once again crawling down the vent shaft.
The first time that Darkstar had paused to listen at a vent, I had tripped over his feet and slid into one of the walls, creating once again another echo throughout the vents. Both of my comrades glared at me, but after I had freaked out for a second, Darkstar reassured me that the vent he had been at wasn’t the one we had been looking for and was just an empty room. As we passed over the opening to the room, I looked down and saw that there was only a long, oval table and some swivel chairs in it. It was dark down there, though not as dark as the vents were.
It was on the fourth opening that we finally found success. Dark had stopped and looked down, then smiled over his shoulder at us before passing over the cover and onto the other side. Luckily, it was at the intersection of another passageway, so all three of us were able to cram ourselves in the space around the vent opening to listen in on the conversation.
I pulled out a small camcorder and positioned it on the cover to the opening so that it filmed between the slanted slits and pressed the ‘record’ button so that we could go over the tape later if we wanted to. We all looked at the tiny screen to see what was going on down there.
A guy with silver hair stood up and walked around the table, handing pieces of paper to each member of the meeting. That guy was known as either Arctic or Commander; he was the only one at Star Rebellion who didn’t have the obligatory ‘star’ at the end of his name. No one knew why that was, because rumor had it that even before he had been made commander in Silverstar’s place, he had only been called Arctic.
“What I am handing to you right now,” Arctic said in his business tone, “is all of the information concerning the Underworld and Mystic Animals.”
“So it’s real then?” some brown haired, official guy said. His hair wasn’t any unusual color, so I immediately dismissed him from being part of Star Rebellion.
“Precisely, Mister Washington. The pollution coming from Earth can be eradicated by the use of the Mystic Animals, though it seems that our rivals have beaten us to finding them. We are not sure if they have made a deal with Him yet, but we are going to be sending one of our best spies, Darkstar, to find out as soon as we possibly can. However, a delay will not hurt us. The reason that we are trying to obtain the Mystic Animals is so that expeditions to repopulate Calsh may proceed.”
Fire and I gave Dark quiet high fives in congratulations; it took a lot to get such praise from Arctic.
“Why not send the boy now?”
At this we all exchanged worried glances; if someone turned up at our room to get Darkstar, then they would see that all of our beds were empty way past curfew time.
“With our position, he cannot walk in and out of their offices as he pleases yet. We will have to at least wait for morning to get something like that organized.”
“Should’ve thought of that sooner,” some other man at the table muttered, who had a really strange accent. He obviously wasn’t from Calsh.
“How long can you wait before getting these, uh, animals?” a woman far to the end of the table asked. She had blond hair and really blue eyes.
“Years, if not even decades. The repopulation of Calsh is not something that needs to happen immediately, and those of Calshian decent are fit to survive in the current circumstances. We have evolved to be able to sustain ourselves in such an environment, though foreigners would not find it quite so easy after a few weeks of being here.” Arctic still seemed indifferent with what he was saying, as if it didn’t matter which way things turned out.
“Shouldn’t we try and populate Calsh sooner? Look at all of the land you have here, while some countries are way too crowded and have many, many homeless citizens they can be sending here,” a man with pitch black hair but surprisingly pale skin interrupted the conversation, and someone else turned a laugh into a cough somewhere along the table. Apparently his comment wasn’t valid.
Arctic simply ignored the man before continuing. “Now, since the proceeding of going through with the mission to capture the Mystic Animals is something that may affect conditions on Earth, I needed to bring you all here to make sure that I had permission from every major Earth country.”
“Hold up a second,” the guy Arctic had called Washington said as he too stood. Arctic looked expectantly at him, as if he knew something like this would happen. “I’m sure that Misters London and Paris would agree with me, that being first-world countries, we need to know what type of effects might come upon our citizens.” He motioned to the guy with an accent and a blond man to his left.
“Of course,” Arctic said calmly. Actually, it seemed as if the air around the conference room itself was emitting calmness. “Your concern is valid. The type of risks that would come from this are simple things like natural disasters, probably most likely fires seeing as what we are dealing with, to the possible catastrophic things like invasions of demons and so forth.”
“Demons?!” a small man toward the end of the table also stood now with his fist on the table. He had a thick mustache and by the way he dressed it looked like he came from cold regions. “You can’t expect us to agree to some strannyy idea like this? We would be submitting our citizens to death! Rome here has experience with that and knows how much trouble it can cause!”
The tanned, dark haired man that he motioned to seemed to pale at some memory. “Mister Moscow, please don’t pull me into this.”
“It’s all right, Mister Rome. We must embrace such things as demons to be truth, and as long as we fight with God’s will behind us, we shall come out the better. I consent to this.” A blond man spoke up this time.
Arctic nodded his head. “Thank you, Mister Vatican. Misters London and Moscow, can you please take your seats?”
After some grumbling, both of the men sat down. “Now I see why you have some concern about what may happen when the plan goes on, but these scenarios are only if anything goes wrong. I will, as I have already told you, be sending in my best spy to get confirmation of where the passage to the Underworld truly is, and only then will I send in my elite team to infiltrate it and bring back the Animals.”
“Who is in this elite team of yours? How much experience do they have?” a small man asked with a graying beard.
“Excellent question, Mister Tokyo.” Arctic said as he moved toward his computer in front of his seat. After typing in some things, the wall behind him lit with light and I saw him motion toward someone by the door. Soon the overhead lights were off, making it easier to see what had been projected on the wall.
Dark, Fire, and I all shifted our positions to get a better look at the wall, and I ended up bumping my head into Fire’s, who then sweetly flipped me off with an evil smile. I rolled my eyes and looked back down at the wall.
Arctic had taken up a pointer rod and tapped it against one of the sections, which happened to have my face on it. I looked at the other two portions and saw Dark and Fire staring back at me from the wall.
“This will be the team that gets sent in.”
The Washington man was the first to speak up after a seemingly awkward silence. “Arctic, sir, surely you are jesting? Only three people? All of whom are only kids?”
Arctic gave a placating smile. “These three, young people are not only kids. I assure you that they are some of the best people that we have working for us. The dark haired teen on the far right is Darkstar, the spy I have been telling you about. There is not a scrap of information that he cannot get from enemy hands. Waterstar here, though she has a bit of a temperament, is the best fighter with any weapon, hand to hand combat included. There isn’t a place in the world that she cannot successfully break into either.” Arctic paused for a moment as if thinking before he set down his rod.
“Sir, what about the… man in the middle?” the dude named Rome spoke up, his voice wavering a little.
“Firestar? His talents are confidential.” Arctic’s mouth raised up in a smirk.
“Confidential how?” Mister London asked.
“Confidential because I am afraid if the information was discovered and broadcasted to others, then it would put the people under my command at risk.” Arctic lost all sense of humor with this.
I looked across the vent at Fire and quirked an eyebrow up. He quirked an eyebrow back at me, his mouth a grim line. Apparently he didn’t know what Arctic was suggesting either.
“So you’re telling me that one third of this ‘elite team’ that you have can possibly put an entire organization of people at risk?” and that was Moscow. I was wondering when he would entire the shenanigan again.
Arctic smiled at him, though his gaze was as frosty as his name. “Not at all. All three of them can do so. This team, though very high functioning, can get into quite some trouble, though that wasn’t what I was referring to with Firestar. Every single person in this building, under my command that is, has an ability, though not completely similar to each other’s, that can put everyone else at risk. This ability,” he said before Moscow could protest again, “is not in itself dangerous, though some can be used for dangerous purposes. The reason why it can put us all at risk are the people who would exploit the ability, and I can assure you that none of my members would do something like that, especially not anyone among this team. I have all my faith in this team.
“Now, if you have any more questions, I hope that you will come to me privately to ask them, and if I deem that they are pertinent enough to explain to the entire meeting, I will do so. If you do not have any further questions, then please proceed in signing the paper at the very back of the packet that I had given all of you upon the beginning of this meeting.”
We could hear the Mister Vatican telling the Rome dude that he shouldn’t worry and trust in God’s faith that nothing bad would happen before Darkstar motioned for me to turn the camera off. We had gotten all the information that we had wanted to get.
Darkstar crawled back across the opening of the vent and I let Fire follow him in second this time before I took up the rear. We had quite a few things to talk about once we got back to our rooms.
The journey back to the kitchen was a lot more boring than when we had come through the first time, but that was only to be expected. It was, however, a relief to finally slide out of the vents, even if it had to be craftily done headfirst.
When Dark and Fire were on the floor, I picked up the vent covering from the counter and put it back in place while screwing it on. One of the screws, however, wasn’t fitting in properly so I called out behind me. “Hey, can one of you guys give me a light or something?”
“Sure thing.” The lights flickered on and I was about to say thanks when I realized that the voice was way too deep to be either of my friends.
I shakily turned around to see Gravelstar leaning against the wall next to the lights and door. “Footprints. On. My. Counters!” he shouted before thrusting mops and rags in our hands and placing a sloshing bucket of soapy water on the floor. “Clean. If it isn’t spotless by the time I return, you will wish that you had stayed in your beds like nice little rebels.”
The irony of that sentence wasn’t even funny in this situation, though if I wasn’t scared out of my mind I probably would’ve laughed.
“Nice going Waterstar,” Fire muttered under his breath once Gravel had disappeared.
“Shut up,” I said while flicking water at him.
“Don’t,” Dark said seriously before we could get into an all out cleaning supplies fight.
We both consented with our heads down and I soaked my rag in the water before attacking the counters. You could hardly even see the shoe marks!
I don’t know exactly how long we had been cleaning, but I was really starting to understand the term of ‘elbow grease’ when Gravelstar came back with Arctic close behind. Oh yea, we were in trouble.
I threw a dirty look at Gravelstar before he left. Arctic pulled out a chair at the small island that was used to prep the large amount of food that was required to feed an entire rebellion. Yea, I was stalling my mind from the lecture by pointing out meaningless facts.
“I would ask what you were doing in the vents, but I believe I have a fairly good idea of it already.”
We all had the brains to at least bow our heads and seem as if we regretted our little venture.
“What all did you hear?”
Dark played advocate for us as he leaned against the mop. Slacking in cleaning, too, clever kid. “We got to the vent opening when you started passing out papers, then left when you had sat down and started talking about questions and such.”
“What are your thoughts on it?”
“We haven’t discussed it together yet….”
I spoke up, “We still have our own opinions though.” I glanced at Darkstar. He merely shrugged. “It seems like we can’t do much without the approval of foreigners, and that what we need to do is fairly urgent, almost more urgent than negotiations could allow.”
Arctic nodded his head in consent, and then looked at Firestar.
“I noticed that you said I hadn’t any ability, outside of the thing that everyone here has. Why haven’t you told them about us?”
“I said you didn’t have an ability because I am unsure of what it exactly is. There is something different about you, Firestar, and I believe it has to do with the year you were alone in the Barrens, but that is something to discuss at a more normal time. I haven’t told anyone outside of the Star Rebellion about our special abilities because it would cause quite a disruption on our sister planet. People would decide they want powers similar to us, and the things they would do to you to try and get those powers are horrible. Scientists would be willing to dissect you alive if they thought they could achieve something from it.”
We all nodded in agreement with his explanation; it really was a good reasoning, and from what we had seen in Earth movies, some guys would do almost anything to get what they didn’t have, which was kind of scary when you thought about it. I was curious about Firestar’s time in the Barrens though. He didn’t remember much about it, but when he was around four years old, he was found by himself in the dead landscape that was just past the villages that cooperated with Star Rebellion.
“Did you mean it when you said that we were an elite team?” Dark questioned from his side of the kitchen. It almost looked as if the shadows were melding themselves around him.
“Yes. I have full confidence that you could pull off this mission with flying colors. Yes, you have had some mistakes in the past dealing with the concerns of controlling your powers,” he glanced at Firestar, “and the effects that trying to improvise a new plan can have,” this time looking at Darkstar, “and let’s not forget rushing into things head first without any thought or reasoning,” this time he looked at me, “but you have yet to badly fail at any mission we have assigned you, and I doubt this one would be any different.”
We mulled over this in silence for a bit, still robotically cleaning Gravelstar’s kitchen. “Were you being serious about the demons? Like, is there a good chance that that could happen?” I asked the question after I had considered it for a while; he might’ve only said it so that the Earth leaders could get a real taste for how risky this mission could end up as.
“Yes, there is a good chance, but only if you fail. As long as the King of the Underworld doesn’t have a reason to blame humans for the disappearance of his prized pets, then all should be fine.”
“How could he not blame us? Like, obviously it would have to be stealth, but still, who else is to blame besides humans?”
Arctic’s mouth tipped up in a smile. “Demons are interesting creatures, and easily turn against each other in times of self preservation. As long as none of them see you sneaking them out, which if everything can go as planned, that won’t happen, then they will simply blame some other demon to make sure that their King doesn’t plan on torturing them.” The way he spoke of the demon’s King torturing them so lightly made chills run up my spin. Apparently that wasn’t uncommon in the Underworld, but of course! Torture should be common where everything evil resides. Damn logic is right again.
“When will this mission start?” Dark asked. He would be the one trying to get the intel, so it was definitely him who would be starting first. Fire had the easy part of being used for facts and strategy as we went along, and I was the weapons master. We weren’t needed until later.
“Tomorrow, though you won’t be going to the Underworld for some time, I think. It all depends on how quickly you could get the information from the other side.”
“Yes sir.” Darkstar nodded his head once before becoming silent for the rest of the time that Arctic was there.
Fire and I drilled him with a few more questions on strategy and weapon usage before he finally left, after saying that we were released from our kitchen duty because he thought that the kitchen was now sparkling enough, and if Gravelstar had an issue with it, then Arctic didn’t know what else would please the man.
As we were heading back to our rooms, Dark questioned us. “Do you guys think we should go through with this mission? You know that it is always possible for us to back out. It’s one of the pacts for being in Star Rebellion.”
“’Course we should! We’ve only been doing serious mission for just over a year with the Rebellion and we’re already one of the best!” That was Firestar, being loyal to Arctic’s word as usual, along with slightly egotistical. But here, when you can brag about something, that means a lot.
“Or Arctic at least thinks we have what it takes to be the finest. You heard what he said; he doesn’t know how soon we would actually be going into the Underworld. It could be years from now for all we know.”
Fire rolled his eyes and crossed his arms. If it was possible, he was even more stubborn than I was.
“We’ll just have to trust him,” Fire said as he unlocked our room door and entered. We all crashed onto the beds in exhaustion.
Now that I look back on this day, I realize just how innocent we had been at the time. Two years and a month marks the day since this happened, and boy did we improve. I mean, I’m a solid seventeen years old, making me at least an adult now.