Hearts of Fire: Part Four
Pinkerton was forcibly marched along a narrow ramp down into the belly of one of the Invader ships. He was almost tired enough to be glad of the support. He had no idea how long he’d been in here, but it felt like the interrogation had lasted several hours.
He had mostly waited, bound and under guard, in a small room. Several different officials had come in to question him about his friends or about Moltara – not one of the Commanders at least, thank Fyora for small favors – but he hadn’t given a cooperative word to any of them.
Finally, a Garoo Elite had said, “He’s not going to be helpful right now – throw him in the brig.”
But he was aware enough as he was led down the corridor to worry. The others will be so upset... do they think I’m dead? Did Carmen and Musetta escape? Have they gone to warn Moltara that Sloth’s here?
I’m glad they’re not here, but I wish I wasn’t alone.
He was thrown roughly into a small, dark cell – like the ones on the station, with featureless walls and floor. He stayed on his hands and knees as his eyes adjusted to the dim light from the single bulb set in the ceiling.
The Techo looked up quickly.
A mutant Ixi was sitting in the corner – tall and thin, like he hadn’t had enough to eat in a while, wearing a worn, unmarked jumpsuit. Pinkerton realized with a shock that he recognized him. The scar across the Ixi’s brow, over his right eye, was fairly distinctive. “I’m Pinkerton, but you – you’re IXI 3870!”
The Ixi frowned. “Yes, that’s me... how did you know? And how do you have a name rather than an identification number?”
“I recognized you – my friends and I were in the room when you were taken away.” Pinkerton continued, “And the name... there are five of us that banded together – four besides me who hadn’t been brainwashed. We gave each other names to remind ourselves that we were more than just Sloth’s drones. And we proved that we were – we escaped! We’ve been living free in these islands for the last month. My other four friends are still out there. I’m certain that they’ll warn the Moltarans of the invasion, and if they can rescue us or do anything to help us, they will.”
The Ixi asked, “How can you be so sure?”
Pinkerton felt more than a little sorry for this nameless, lonely Ixi, and tried to be confident for his sake. “Because they’re my friends. They’ll do as much as they can – just like I’d do for them.”
Then he said, “If we’re going to work together, I can’t call you IXI 3870. What would you like me to call you?”
“A name, you mean?”
The Ixi paused. “I don’t know any good names – nothing that I’d like to call myself.”
Pinkerton thought, remembering the little book that Musetta had stolen and used to help them pick names. His final two choices had been Pinkerton and Calaf... “How about Calaf? Do you like that name?”
The Ixi tested the name. “Calaf... Calaf... I like that!”
They shook hands, and Pinkerton said, “Nice to meet you, Calaf.”
Calaf said, “I don’t know whether or not your friends will be able to get to us or not... even though I’m just locked up down here until they figure out what to do with me, I’ve still heard about what’s going on. There’s a lot of firepower attacking Moltara.”
Pinkerton leaned back against the wall. “So, what can we do?”
Calaf smirked. “Plot. I’ve thought up some plans... most involved two Neopians, though, so I thought they were useless...”
The Techo saw where his companion was going and grinned. “Well, you have a partner, so let’s hear some of these plans.”
The Ixi explained. Pinkerton nodded slowly. “It’s a long shot, but long shots are the best we have right now. I say we go for it.”
The two prisoners shook hands again.
The next night, two helmeted and armed soldiers walked out and away from the Sloth camp. No one bothered to question them – the insignias on their arms showed that they outranked any of the sentries.
As soon as they were away from the ships and the camp, Pinkerton and Calaf removed their helmets. Calaf exclaimed in a whisper, “I can’t believe we managed to overpower the guards and sneak out like that! You must be a good-luck charm, Pinkerton.”
The little Techo looked up at his companion. “We aren’t out of the jungle yet, buddy.”
Calaf surveyed the green-tinged darkness. “Clearly. Now, where should we go... the Onasis Island or straight to Moltara?”
Pinkerton said, “I don’t think the others will still be on Onasis, especially since the Sloth army headed out earlier. If only we knew how long ago that was!”
Calaf sighed. “It’s too easy to lose track of time in the brig. I hadn’t thought I’d been in there three months until you told me. But I doubt it would have been any later than midday, and it was probably as early as dawn. I think we slept for a while before the guards came to give us food.”
The Techo drew his stolen blaster. “Well, we may reach trouble when we get to Moltara.”
The Ixi drew his as well. “I’m ready to give them some trouble.”
Pinkerton hadn’t been this tense and excited since the night they ran away from the Space Station. He held up the lamp that he had also taken from the guards. “Okay, then. Walk as quickly as you can, but remember to keep quiet – we won’t do anyone any good if we get caught!”
Through the jungles they strode – breaking into a run whenever they could be fairly sure of their footing, slowing to a walk whenever they had to cross narrow straits between islands – and using the directions that Pinkerton remembered, the two mutants were able to find their way to a signpost reading, “Isla Molta – this way to Moltara.” There was a path beyond it, which was good, because the sign was uprooted and scored with blaster marks. Carmen wouldn’t have liked that... she thinks signposts are so important... Pinkerton muttered, “There was really no call for that.”
Calaf bent down and picked it up, shoving the sign back into the sand. “That’ll do for now.”
The Techo shook his head to get the strange mood away, and reminded Calaf, “We do need to keep going.”
And they kept going.
Finally, they reached the huge metal gates to the underground realm. There were no guards or any sign of a struggle here... Pinkerton looked around, uneasy. Calaf gave voice to both their worries. “It’s too quiet. Maybe they’ve taken the fighting down below.”
Pinkerton held the light out in front of them as they started into the dark cave. There were noises, now – echoes of booms and shouts from deep down below. The reddish stone was dark and cold... the Techo’s jumpsuit was old and worn from a month of jungles and salt water, and didn’t do a very good job of keeping the chill out. “I’m going to freeze before we get down there,” he complained.
Calaf reminded him, “Silence! If Sloth has guards posted and they hear us, they’ll kill you before the cold can.”
“Oh, someone’s already heard you...”
The two mutants jumped back as a dark head stuck out from a hole in the ceiling.
It was a Krawk – Pinkerton thought. But she looked like she was made of stone and liquid fire – he was surprised that she didn’t melt the archaic crossbow she held in her hands. He asked, “What on Neopia are you?”
She smiled. “I’m a magma-dweller... don’t worry, we don’t burn anything. And who are you – two mutants worried about Sloth catching them?”
As long as the magma Krawk didn’t try to kill them, Pinkerton considered her an ally. “I’m Pinkerton, and this is Calaf. We’re deserters – runaways. We’re on your side... have you met four other mutants down here?”
She nodded. “The ones who came with Roxton to warn us! You’re their friends?”
“Well, I’m Endellion. Come on up!”
Endellion threw a rope down, and the two mutants crawled up into the narrow passage where the Krawk had been keeping watch.
Pinkerton asked, “So, how do we get into Moltara from here?”
Endellion leaned against the wall as she thought. “We could go down the central tunnel, but then Sloth will be between us and our allies. Or we could take this air vent, which will let us into the top of the cavern.”
Calaf commented, “Well, that’s no good, then – we can’t fly...”
Endellion opened her mouth to interrupt, but Pinkerton spoke first. “Wait – you’re coming? Aren’t you on watch here?”
“Is anyone else out in the jungle?” the Krawk asked, fiery eyes blazing.
Maybe it’s best not to argue with someone made out of fire... she says she doesn’t burn people, but I bet she could if she wanted to. Pinkerton recognized her mood – minus the fire – from Carmen when she was irritated, and knew it was far less painful to just agree. “Not that we saw.”
“Then I’m probably more useful in the thick of things. And there are a few sets of mechanical wings at the edge of the vent for just this sort of purpose – we can use those to get into Moltara.”
Calaf paled. “Wings? Flying?”
Endellion was already walking down into the darkness of the tunnel, illuminating it faintly with her own glow. Pinkerton shook his head. Tall strong guy like him, scared of flying? Of all the silly phobias... “Don’t worry, wimp. It’ll be fine.”
Eventually, they began to see light streaming from beyond their guide, and the noise of battle got louder and louder. Calaf dodged around Endellion as soon as the vent got wide enough. Pinkerton heard him mutter, “Sweet Fyora...”
The three of them were on a narrow ledge, looking hundreds of feet down at a city below. A city of chaos.
They could see where the Virtupets soldiers clashed in battle with the rather motley group of Moltarans – both regular Neopians and the strange magma-dwellers. And they could see that the Moltarans and their allies were taking a severe pounding. I don’t see Carmen or Niklausse – they aren’t flying like some others I can see. Maybe they just went to ground to avoid being a target for blasters – he could certainly see the lines of light and hear the scream of blaster-bolts screeching through the subterranean city. I really hope they just went to ground.
Pinkerton looked to the magma Krawk. “Endellion, we need to get down there! Where are the wings?”
Endellion was already pulling three metal contraptions out of a metal vault built into the cave wall. “Right here.”
Pinkerton accepted his set – the smallest of the three – and then laughed at Calaf as the Ixi looked at them askance. “These will hold us up?”
“Quite well. The city-dwellers are good with gadgets like these. Put them on!”
Endellion helped them adjust their wings and gave them brief directions on how to use them. Then she jumped off the ledge. “We’ll find your other friends – follow me!”
Pinkerton grabbed the hesitating Calaf’s arm and pulled him off the ledge as they leaped.
The wings caught the air immediately, and they soared up behind Endellion. It was warm now – they were close to the core.
Even Calaf got the hang of flight quickly, Pinkerton was pleased to see, because now they were under blaster-fire. He screamed at Endellion, “To the ground! To the ground! Or we’ll all be fried to crisps!”
And they dived down to the raging battle below.
To be continued...