Lights were missing in most of the corridors, as the group ventured the further underground. The Children were staying alert while they passed through rough terrain.
‘If the area were infested with creatures, they would all be armed’ John’s feet kicked something as he was being led. All of the Kids went stiff in the legs for a moment until he recovered and continued on their way. Aside from the occasional rumblings from Johns stomach, the hour long journey was a mostly quiet one. For the entire group, it was easy to hear every footstep, every pebble displaced, every breath taken. The hallways were silent and still.
Ilani stopped suddenly, “wait..”
“Why?” John whispered in curiosity. The kids in the group all made shushing gestures, not daring to make a noise. He took their cues and waited patiently, there was no reason to distrust them and he needed to know what dangers existed.
Ilani made a hand signal and the kids walked single file, holding hands, as fast as they could through the passage. For nearly two hundred yards they did their best to hold their breath, creeping as quietly as possible.
The Group’s coordination was methodical, like they had been doing it their entire lives. John wondered what sort of life they must have had to have led to be left with such awareness. It wasn’t until they were all clear that any of them seemed to un-clench.
“Can you explain what that was all about?” John didn’t mind the sneaking but he desired an answer.
The kids looked at each other than at Ilani. She sighed aloud and held up her hands, “It’s like you’re from Mars, how do you not know about sentries.”
“Sentries?” John’s regular inability to process their words and phrases to their content was alarming for the group but he had to idea what they were talking about.
Ilani knew he wasn’t kidding, it still annoyed her. Reluctant to have a lengthy discussion about it while still in the tunnel, she tugged at the rope. “Let’s talk to the Elders first.”
‘Shrewd but appropriate’ He appreciated her attitude even more, she was honest and responsible, if not a bit rude and pushy. ‘I can see why she’s taking charge.’ By the time the group started moving again, John’s stomach was having a conniption fit, the grumbling had become a droning yell.
“Can you make that stop?” Ilani could hear every gurgle and it was upsetting her.
“Got anything to eat?” John felt a snappy answer was best but didn’t want to insult her at the same time, the children within the group all looked like there was little remaining of the trip. When he realized they were not carrying any supplies he shrugged and acted as if nothing happened.
The flooring changed, instead of metal lined corridors and machined corners, everything became more natural. Stones were lining the walls, piled high to keep the wall in shape. The edges were sharp and jagged but eventually they led to stairs that were carved from the bedrock, lighting marked their path.
“Hurry up!” Ilani grabbed one of the others who had come along, her second, and the rope, bursting into a sprint.
John tripped and fell but recovered fast enough to keep up. He didn’t want to pull on the rope, his strength was enough to chip at the rocks on impact. Grateful that no one noticed a few additional rocks on the floor, he matched Ilani’s speed and paid closer attention to his footing.
Passing a corner, people were standing near a fire as some sort of animal roasted. The smell of food was in the air and John was hungry. He scooped Ilani into his arms and leapt down, catching everyone’s surprise when he landed, people didn’t come down that way for a reason.
“What are you doing?!” The woman cooking yelled and threw a hot ladle.
John turned his back and let it it the blanket. Setting Ilani down, he raised his hands with the rope still tied, “Can I please have something to eat?”
Ilani turned from shock into laughter.
The people standing nearby were disarmed in an instant but John’s stomach rumbled again.
“Please?” Holding out his hands, John knelt down slowly.
“Oh come on…” Ilani tugged on the rope and pointed to a stool. “Sit here.”
Turning to the others at the table, she handed the rope to one of the older men in the group and stood up straight. “I’m going to get Father, keep an eye on this one.” Without another word, she vanished from sight.
“So.. What’s your deal?” The man holding the rope had a stern tone but did not appear to be angry.
John was going to speak but his stomach started yelling, the cramps had gotten pretty bad. Putting his head down on the table he raised his hands to his chin and closed his eyes. ‘God, I know you’ve tested me already. Why else would I be here, in this situation? I hope I don’t mislead myself, please show me your guidance and patience. Thank you, oh Lord.’
The Man at the table tugged at the ropes just as he had finished, “What are you doing?” he said.
“Praying.” John’s attitude lifted, he had wanted someone to talk to, if nothing else.
“What were you hunting?” The man seemed eager for information his body shifted and he started to smile.
“Understanding..” John tilted his head and smiled back.
“How do you hunt for understanding??” Thoroughly confused, the Man got up. He walked to the cook and pointed toward the table. When she handed him a bowl of food, he put it in front of John but didn’t let it go. “Tell me, where are you from? We haven’t seen you before.. and why are you tied up.” He let go and held up the spoon, “Well?”
When it appeared to John that he wasn’t going to get to the spoon without giving answers, he picked up the bowl and started drinking from it.
“Tsk.” The old man clicked his tongue and tapped the spoon on John’s head, “Here, I’m just asking.”
“Ahh, thank you.” John reached for the spoon and started to inhale the food as fast as his mouth could move. Given the chance to miss out on food, he dared not speak for the first few mouthfuls. After he could feel his insides begin to readjust, he settled down and set the spoon into his other hand. Gently grasping the bowl, he slurped down a large sip and tapped it onto the table in satisfaction.
“You act like you’ve never eaten before.” The Man laughed and then stood up with everyone else in the room. They turned toward the entrance, Ilani was standing there with three others. No one made a sound, the crackling of the fire roasting nearby was the loudest in the vicinity.
“Father, there he is.” Ilani pointed to John, her face full of smiles.
‘Oh?’ Her hands clasped and clapped while she skipped toward John, he thought it was interesting, the number of moods this girl seemed to have. As he was about to stand, the Man who had been holding the rope rest his hand upon the table and shook his head.
“See, I told you.. I caught an outsider.. they aren’t all dead.” Ilani seemed more excited than anyone else in the room when most of them started to reel back.
John coughed, holding his hands up with one finger pointing, trying to interrupt.
Ilani’s Father looked important within the community, he was the only one in the room wearing decorative objects. It was the same as in the tunnels for the children when he got to the table, everyone went stiff and there was not a sound in earshot to be heard. Lifting his hand, he slammed it onto the table, “Are you really from outside?”
‘Huh?’ John’s pause was so brief that no one noticed, ‘Another quick change in attitude..this must be where she gets it,’ he thought. “Yes but I wouldn’t suggest going there, I only made it underground nearby by chance. If I had been a little slower, I might not have been able to be here talking with you now.”
Ilani’s Father nodded. “I’m told you’re called John. My name is Bates, I am the Chief. I suppose you can say this is our Hitsumoto Village. Tell me. What brings you here, and Daughter.” turning toward Ilani, he asked, “Why is he still tied up?”
John laughed and pulled the ropes apart. “It’s no bother.”
Chief Bates was upset, he looked at Ilani, “I thought I taught you how to tie a proper knot, look at him just slipping out like that. Don’t worry, I’ll make sure you learn this for next time.”
“Yes, Father.” Ilani lowered her head.
“Oh yes, so.. What brings you here?” Chief Bates looked at John and tried to assess his value.
John grabbed the bowl and spoon, “Food.” Shoveling another mouthful down his throat gave him time to figure out what he really wanted by showing himself. He could have hidden, keeping himself out of their lives but he felt compelled to respond.
“So, you’ve come in search of food. That’s not an awful reason and some would say a perfectly good one to have ventured out and having found us.” Chief Bates turned to the room and stood up. “We welcome John of.. Where did you say you were from?”
“I’ve come a long way.” John smiled and kept it simple.
“John from far away..” The Chief understood, trust was something that was built, not a given. “Treat him well. I am off to rest.” After addressing the room, he turned once more to John. “Make sure to come see me in the morning.”
Nodding, John watched him leave then grabbed the bowl and the spoon, in an attempt at finishing his meal. “What are you expecting?” He could feel the eyes of Ilani burning at the back of his skull.
“I have no idea but you keep surprising me.” Ilani laughed and skipped away.
John devoured what was left of the food while the women of the village danced around the fire. It was otherwise dark in the area without the fire and no one seemed to mind. Looking over at the Man who had held the rope before, he asked for the Man’s name.
“Horvil.” Horvil seemed preoccupied with the Dancers, most of them were bountiful beauties, his interest in John had all but evaporated in the light of the fire.
“I see. Well, Nice to meet you Horvil.” John stood up and stretched his arms, the blanket nearly fell from his back before he re-secured it. “How do you guys know when it’s morning?” he asked.
“Wow, you have a lot of questions. It’s light out, you come from outside, don’t tell me you’ve never seen the sunrise.” Horvil seemed sarcastic and short, John noticed right away in his tone and gave up the conversation.
‘Even without the Dancers, I wonder if he would treat me differently than now’ John brushed it off and looked for Ilani, he didn’t know where to sleep. Spotting her from across the room was simple, she was the one girl that wasn’t dancing by the fire.
“Ilani.” John raised his voice to cover the sounds of the celebration and catch her attention before he approached. “Where is a good place to rest?”
“Oh, you’re tired already? Oh well, I guess people do get boring when they get old. Momu, can you take him to the coves.” Ilani looked at the guy standing by the entrance and gave him a stern look.
Momu rolled his eyes and waved John over. “Her attitude hasn’t gotten any better, it’s actually getting worse.” Waiting until they had escaped earshot, Momu started to unload small talk along the way. “I’m Momu.”
“Nice to meet you Momu.” John was tired, he wanted to rest. If he could have been left undisturbed, he would have just slept anywhere.
“How Far is a long way?” Momu asked.
“Far.” John kept trying to avoid conversation, he was yawning, hard. It was getting very difficult for him to keep his eyes open in the darkness.
“You don’t seem to want to talk, that’s okay.. I’ll talk.” Momu kept talking for the rest of the trip down the hallway. Several others moaned in displeasure while he boasted, most tried to ignore him.
‘He must be like this with everyone’ John smiled and kept up, when they finally made it to a sleeping area that hadn’t been occupied, he laid down on the floor and thanked Momu for showing him the way.
John laid there for a moment, once Momu had gone, he got to his knees and prayed. “Dear Lord, I don’t know why you’ve set me on this path but I cannot abandon these people to this world. Please tell me, what is it that you seek from me? Dear Lord I pray for your guidance. May your wisdom shed onto me like a flood upon my soul and wash away the doubt.”
He wanted there to be a reply but even when he was an Angel, God didn’t respond. John laid his head down and was fast asleep.