“The Underworld entrance that my dad went through was in some abandoned factory. It takes a couple hours to get there by shuttle. I suppose the Underworld could be the size of the entire surface,” Sita pulled her slate from her pack, sat on a root, and began researching.
“Let’s go see what’s down there,” Han said with a gleam in his eyes.
“Hang on, monkey boy,” Sita said, “I’ve heard stories about the kind of Nefilim that lived in the Underworld. If this is an undiscovered part, then perhaps anyone who lives here is still dangerous. Let’s see… Drones have discovered entrances, many of which are interconnected, all over the planet. It looks like Grandpa Marduk patrolled the realm himself after the colonial battle.”
“Plus the monkeys think it’s alright to explore. So maybe we find people down there, maybe we run into anzu birds up here. There could be danger anywhere we go,” Han said.
“Han has a point. There are potential dangers everywhere, down there,” Cray pointed through the entrance, “we could discover something new, perhaps something amazing.”
Sita smiled, she looked at Han and Cray, then turned to Wisp. “I’m in. What do you think?”
Wisp took her girl form long enough to shrug shoulders with her hands up, as if to say she didn’t know what to think, and that she didn’t really care.
Sita said, “Just in case this is an unknown entrance and section of the Underworld, it’s our responsibility as colonists and explorers to activate the mapping feature on our slates. Between the three of our devices, we can generate a map. If anything, having a new map will help us get back out later.”
Cray pulled its slate from the small messenger bag slung between shoulders and resting on his side. He tapped quickly and returned the device to his pouch.
“You know,” Han said. “Outside of school, I’ve only ever used that thing to watch old Earth cartoons of a brown monkey. He lives in a big city, is curious and gets into trouble.”
“Cartoons are for little kids,” Sita shouldered up next to Han and began pecking her finger on her own slate.
“Maybe,” he conceded, “but monkey cartoons are for monkeys, I think.”
The boy loped down through the doorway with Wisp in tow, giving a monkey call to locate his little cousins that had gone ahead. They hooted in return, and Han yelled up for Cray and Sita.
“After you,” Cray said.
“Ladies first?” Sita asked.
“How would that apply? Craygarta have no gender. We are mother and father to our offspring.”
“Sounds easier than getting monkey boys to like you,” she said in a huff and entered the passage below the rusted door.
Cray hesitated in the entryway, then joined the others. “I let Master Craygarta know about the location to the Underworld that we just entered. Just to check in.”
“Did Master Craygarta ask us to stay in the forest?”
“No, the master sent gratitude for the check in.”
“We get a longer leash than the human kids, you know,” Sita said.
“Master Cray taught us to defend ourselves, besides my cousins are here.” Han smiled. Monkeys covered his head, shoulders, and back as he stood on all fours.
The corridor they followed ramped down for thousands of feet. They walked in silent awe, admiring the small gemstones embedded in the ceiling and walls, casting a grapefruit pink-orange glow to dimly illuminate their path. After better than a half hour’s descent, the pathway leveled out and opened up into a thick jungle of vine, broad-leafed trees, and undergrowth.
Glowing from the minerals intensified. The gems were no longer little flecks amid cold stone, but a solid surface forming a ceiling and walls. There was no night or day in the underworld, only the constant glow. The ground beneath their feet was moist in spots.
“I’ll bet all this plant life gets water directly from the ground instead of rain. The water table probably rests near this depth, judging by the muddiness here,” Sita said. She typed notes in her slate.
A monkey leaped from a nearby tree, landing near Han and the other monkeys and loped up to the group carrying a bushel of purple fruit. His little green face was covered in juice and pulp. Han stashed the bushel in his pack. A few monkeys took their share first, despite the fact that they had eaten just before their journey down the glowing path.
“A jungle underneath a forest. Maybe Nibiru is a world sitting on top of a whole other world,” Han said.
“Let’s follow that path through the jungle,” Sita said.
“Let me get a look at things from near the ceiling,” Cray replied. He lifted his back shell, fluttered transparent wings to warm up, then flew up near the glowing cavernous ceiling, around a thousand feet up.
Han motioned for Wisp and the pair flew up after Cray, leaving Sita and the monkeys below. Han looked out over a land that stretched past his sightline forward and to one side. He suspected the directions were South and West, if the descent had not turned them around. The glowing pink-orange ceiling curved and touched the ground in the other two directions.
“Look there,” Cray pointed west. The jungle thinned some ways off and it looked like a town was situated in the clearing.
“Great!” Han shouted and dove down to Sita and his furry cousins.
“I bet we can walk to that town in a couple hours,” Han said.
“Do you think navigating the jungle will be too troublesome?” Cray asked.
“You’ve got machete hands, Cray,” Sita interjected. “Besides, we’ve got twelve little scouts to find paths for us.”
They pushed on into the thick foliage. Soon a monkey led them to a game trail that followed the direction they hoped to take. At first, travel was slow. The monkeys would dart off, then return carrying fruit pillaged from the jungle. Sita, Cray, and Han’s packs soon bulged with produce. Han gathered his cousins and chattered in their dialect at length.
“That’s settled. I convinced my cousins that we won’t run out of food down here.”
Cray and Sita sighed in relief. The weight wasn’t as bad as attempting to maneuver through tight spots with a bulging pack.
They pressed on for a few hours. Wisp occasionally drifting up through a canopy too dense for Cray to fly through and confirmed that their path was still pointed in the right direction. Without her course corrections, the adventurers would have walked in circles.
Sita led the pack a few paces ahead of the others. Han and Cray ambled behind, amid Wisp who moved like a low hanging fog, and the pack of monkeys. Suddenly Sita froze in place, turned back to the group and motioned for silence. Sita beckoned for the others to join her.
As Han and Cray approached the spot where Sita crouched, peering through a hole in the undergrowth, they began to hear rowdy voices and the clatter of equipment. Han peered through the opening.
A gang of strange beast men stood around a cook fire. Each of the seven beings stood around seven feet, and muscle bulged on their arms, backs, and chests. Their faces bore hideous expressions and two long tusks extended from the corners of their mouths. On the cook fire, something turned and roasted slowly. Something bigger than a rodent or poultry, but not near the size of a herd beast. Then he saw scraps that had been cast away in the fire pit, but not close enough to burn. Steely blue skin and tatters of a tunic.
Han could feel Sita trembling next to him. He leaned close to whisper into her ear, “Is that a Pneuma person on the fire?” Shock at the sight had temporarily numbed his emotions.
“Yeah,” she replied in a half sob. “These Nefilim have adopted the life of Rakshasa, man eating shape changers. Grandpa Marduk was afraid some of the Nefilim would use the gift of free will for bad deeds.”
The cold wicked truth slowly sank in to Hanuman. Before him stood seven beings who killed another sentient person to eat. Cannibals. Rage filled the boy. He began pulling long slow breaths. Unconsciously, he began to grow.
Cray sang in a whisper, “Han… You’re nearly fifteen feet tall buddy. What are you planning? Should we fall back and…”
Before Cray could finish speaking, Han leaped through the gap in undergrowth, pulling a snaggle of brush and vines with him. An inhuman snarl erupted from deep within the giant boy and he swung his staff in a blur. It connected with the neck of the nearest Rakshasa, folding its head down unnaturally onto its back with a sickening crunch.
The six remaining Rakshasa spun toward the sound, dropping bits of cooked meat and bottles of wine. Han jabbed another through the throat, and grey fluid bubbled down its chest. Two Rakshasa lunged toward the giant boy, razor sharp claws flexed. A yellow burst of vapor blocked one beast’s approach, and Han’s staff deflected the other.
Sita and Cray lurched into the fray, pairing up as they had practiced, to face the nearest Rakshasa, careful to keep their opponent between them and the other two unoccupied killers. The monkeys screeched as they pounced upon the two uncontested Rakshasa, clawing at their faces mercilessly.
“Surrender now!” Sita screamed. “My grandfather Marduk will show you cannibals mercy if you submit to justice.”
Han spared a glance at Sita as she spoke. The girl was trembling with fear, but her expression was bold. It was only then that he realized the danger he had put his friends in.
A Rakshasa slashed into one of Cray’s arms even as Sita spoke and the mantis monk took a knee under the force of the assault. Green fluid welled up under Cray’s slash, but he sunk a scythe arm into the Rakshasa’s throat.
Monkeys flew through the air, flung aside by a snarling Rakshasa, who barreled directly into Sita, scooping the girl into its arms, shooting through the brush, and disappeared in seconds.
Wisp flung her opponent high into the canopy, his scream fading as he flew to his fate somewhere off in the jungle. Han dropped the staff he had been using to block a Rakshasa’s claws, growing larger still as he grasped the Rakshasa’s head in one hand and his arm in another and tore it apart. Grey bits spattered the boy, who snarled as he cast his intense glare about, searching desperately for Sita.
Monkeys screeched in triumph. Grey fluid spattered their fur. They stood on the still form of the final Rakshasa, whose face and throat had been clawed to shreds.
Cray shouted, “Wisp, can you track where that Rakshasa carried Sita off to?”
Han, shrinking now, began to race off in the direction Sita had been taken, intent to follow Wisp.
“Wait!” Cray shouted. “If it wanted to kill her, it would have tried. Let Wisp follow them, then we’ll know if there are more out there.”
Han struggled to slow his breathing. “I lost my temper. Sorry. That poor Pneuma…”
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