Chapter Eighteen

Meg’s feet move forward on their own until she is standing with her toes barely hanging over the ground on the other side of the door. Keone rattles off a scrolls’ worth of excitement behind her and she tires to ignore him. A gust of wind sweeps through her hair and she suddenly wants to run as far, and for as long, as she can.

She pushes her hand into the air in front of her and stares at it; the sunlight and sharp green grass makes her grayish-teal skin appear more purple than usual. She slowly steps out of the doorway and jolts as her feet land on soft dirt. She takes off running before she can think.

Trees flash by around to her. But she cannot bring herself to stop until the ground becomes rough with vines and pebbles, and her lungs ache for air. She bends over and leans her hands against her knees with a grin spreading across her face. Who knew something so beautiful could be inside a planet covered by sand.

Her grin fades and turns into a scowl; what if and entire horizon inside a planet is impossible? What if she is not where she thinks she is? She turns around and her feet reluctantly carry her back to Keone and the Shade. Her scowl deepens as she nears them and cuts Keone off before he can speak, “How do we supposed know if this is real?”

The Shade separates into two shadows and runs a circle around them before stopping where it started, “I-I do not know. I-I cannot tell if this is real; but I think it must be. I-I have heard that this planet is far larger than it seems, but I do not know exactly what that means. I-I think it might have something to do with a scientist my masters always talked about.”

She opens her mouth to demand a better answer, but Keone jumps in front of her, “What was the scientist’s name?” She steps out from behind Keone and it carefully moves away from her, “Don’t you think this is amazing? It’s the perfect time to actually do some research.” She scowls at Keone, “What research? We don’t even know if this is real. We could be standing back on my planet with guns pointed at our heads”

Keone laughs and turns in a circle, “But wouldn’t this be amazing if it is real? There are hundreds, thousands even, if different types of planets, why wouldn’t a planet like this be possible? Look at how beautiful this is! Green grass and tall trees; teal sky and an actual colored horizon in the distance.” She opens her mouth to abject, but the Shade cuts her off, “E-excuse me, but I think I might be able to help.”

She crosses her arms, “Very well; if you want to to. Help out and tell us what this place is and why it’s, supposedly, so important.” The Shade nods and turns back to the doors that lead inside, “I-I do not know very much-“ Meg’s scowl deepens, “You’ve already said that enough times for me to loose count and stop caring.” The Shade ignores her interruption and starts to step over the door’s threshold, “M-my masters kept a room full of hard research; multiple other rooms are filled with notes and things that they have found. I-I have never been inside because I have never been allowed, but now that you have told me that I can go anywhere I want, I can take you there. I-I do not know if it will be helpful, but it might be.”

Meg rubs her forehead, “Just bring us there and shut your slick mouth.” Keone gives her a death glare and she resists the temptation to return it and slap some sense back into his face. The Shade pushes the curtain to the side and a sharp voice echoes through the doorway, “Containment door number ten has been activated. Please remain where you are until the situation has been assessed.” Meg stops as the words slide through her head and her ears start to ring. Keone yelps and jumps toward the doors, but he is too late and they snap shut.

The Shade melts into a pile of withering darkness and Keone yells for Meg to help. She tries to blink haze away from her eyes as the Shade slowly forms itself back into a human shape. Keone pulls the Shade to its feet and glowers at her, “What the blazing comets are you doing? You’re supposed to take care of us!”

She scowls and turns around to head into the field behind them, “I told you that I’d let you live; I never told you that I’m interested in protecting you. Or your friend as a matter of fact.” Keone runs to catch up with her with the shade following, “But you have. And that means that you care enough not to let either of us die.” She whirls around and grabs Keone’s throat, “You should know better than think that I have any inkling of mercy for you. You’re helpful, but you’ll be trash once that helpfulness wears off. The Shade here might be useful, but that’s the end of it. I don’t want to protect you, and I most certainly will not. Keep your sniveling mouth to yourself, and let me try to focus on finding a way to get out of her.”

The Shade floats a few inches off of the ground, “T-the doors have been locked because of a containment breach. N-no one will be allowed in.” She bares her teeth, “What is your point? And I don’t want to hear anything about your ‘masters’.” The Shade hangs its head, “I-I have heard that there are dangerous things in here; monsters that would kill everyone in the bunker. I-I did not tell you because I wanted to see the beauty that my masters have always talked about; I did not think that we would become trapped in here.”

“Well, we are. You should have paid more attention; and I am not going to help you the next time something like this happens.” Meg grabs onto Keon’s arm and starts walking, “Move; we’re going to find a place to stay until we find a way out.” Keone stumbles, “But we’re stuck. And what about the monsters that are in here? Going deeper won’t help anyone.” She stops and glowers at it, “What monsters? I don’t see any; and as far as I can tell, they’re just a rumor to keep your Shade friend from exploring; Like an order isn’t enough to stop a Shade from doing something.”

The Shade trembles in anger and Meg grins, “Do you think I’m afraid of a few monsters? As far as you know, I am the worst monster in here.” Keone gulps and obediently follows her as she leads them toward the nearest clump of tree.

The trees are tall with gray bark wrapping around their trunks, and bright green leaves interspersed with dark green veins. Dried leaves crunch underneath their feet and Keone twists his head to study her, “Where are you from? You’re a Hirpoun, but you talk like you know something about the higher end of society.” She walks faster, “Who I am isn’t your damn problem. Now shut up and let me think.” “But we’re stuck in here, and I’d like to know exactly what I’m stuck with.”

A jolting shiver crawls across her skin and she slaps a hand over Keone’s mouth before it can speak again. The Shade starts to object and she gives it a warning look. It slowly shrinks underneath her gaze and she yanks them closer to a towering tree next to them.

Her heart roughly pounds in her chest and her hands curl into fists. Something must be watching them, but she cannot tell what it is. An electric shock jumps across her fingers and she turns on the Shade, “What is supposed to be in here? And exactly where are we?” The Shade shivers at her demanding voice, “I-I do not know very much-“ Meg grits her teeth together, “Stop saying that! Just tell me what you know and be done with it. Or would you rather make me tell you? What’s your choice?”

The Shade reluctantly nods, “Y-yes; I can tell you. M-my masters always talked about monsters that do not belong anywhere else. T-they are monsters that my masters never thought existed. A-apparently, one of them managed to find its way into one of the labs not many days before my masters left and told me to stay; I do not know what happened, but my masters were not happy. I-I think they never thought something such as that would be possible. I-I think that they were always afraid of the monsters because they could not understand them.

“T-They used to say that the world out here has always existed, and that the planet on top is an illusion to keep people away. ‘W-who would want to settle on a barren planet of beautiful sand without supplies?’ they said. I-I do not know what they were going to do with the monsters here, and I do not know what would have happened if they had stayed out here for more than a few hours. T-they always kept track of their time carefully and made that they never stayed out after night started to arrive. I-I think they were afraid; but I do not know what they were afraid of.”

Keone sighs, “Great. We don’t know what we will face; and night is when all of the scary monsters come out to hunt. I guess we will end up becoming food. This is not the way that I thought my life would end. And I didn’t think that anything would end today.” Meg grits her teeth together, “No one is going to die tonight; and we’ll figure out what whoever used to be here wanted. Remember, I’m a scary monster too; and I don’t intend on letting other ‘scary monsters’ push me around. Now; is there something else you want to tell me Shade? Or should we start walking and find out where we end up?”

The Shade bobs its head, “I-I think my masters talked about fruit trees and meadows once. I-I do not know where they might be, but I think we might be able to find them.” Meg straightens up and grabs Keone’s arm, “Good; now move it and keep your sniveling mouths shut.”

She can barely hold back a sigh of relief as Keone obediently stays quiet and both of them follow her into the trees. The sharp air fills her and she briefly wonders if it would be possible to float. She dismisses the thought as soon as she can and pulls Keone faster. Twigs dig into her feet as the trees grow denser and Keone occasionally glances in her direction to wonder if it is safe to ask one of its thousand questions.

But Keone continues to keep its mouth shut; and she resists the temptation to thank it. A headache pounds at her, and she is honestly not sure what she would do if anyone bothered to truly get on her nerves. She tries not to yelp as Keone suddenly digs its heels into the ground, “What is that?”

Its voice is jarringly loud among the tree trunks, and she yanks Keone back as it leans toward a tree with slightly greener bark, “This isn’t a tree.” She sighs heavily and gives Keone slightly more room, “What the ghastlygod do you mean? Of course it’s a tree.” Keone turns to her with a grin, “No; it isn’t! It’s a person, or a person-type thing. It’s not a tree at all. Come on; look.”

She reluctantly lets Keone pull her closer to the tree as though Keone is a toddler and she is the cornstalk maiden in charge of it. Keone points toward a gap in the bark, “Look; it looks just like a face. It isn’t an exact face of course, but’s it’s close enough to have a resemblance to a being like you or me. And look here, the bark is slightly differently colored on most of the trees, but the bark is an even color all of the way around on this one. Most of the trees here have been bleached by the sun on two sides and hidden by the shade on the others. But this one has clearly been bleached by the sun on each of the sides and hidden by the shade equally. That proves that it can move around, even if it’s only in a circle to stay warm in the sun. Also, watch the bark, it seems to move. It’s breathing; whatever it is.”

Meg scowls and pulls Keone back, “Come on; you can pray to stuff you don’t know and talk about theories later. Right now, we need to find a place to stay for the night.” Keone grins at her, “Why don’t we stay here? Come on whatever-your-name-is, you can’t deny the fact that you’re at least slightly curious. And I think that this would be the perfect place to stay. It might not be a cave, but you won’t learn anything if you stay in the dark all of the time.”

She moves as close to Keone as she can without touching, “I’m not interested; in fact, I think the only way that you’ll have anything to explore tomorrow is if you obey me. And these woods are woods; you can stay here if you want everyone, or everything, in this entire vicinity to know exactly where you are without moving a finger. I won’t stop you if you want to be eaten; but we’re not staying here.” Keone unsuccessfully tries to cross its arms, “You may be the boss back in your world, but this isn’t your world. And you are not the scientist; I am. I know what’s right right now, and I say that we should stay here.”

She opens her mouth to answer, but a slithering voice cuts her off, “Yes, yes; stay here.”

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