Writing this installment was one of my greatest joys. I hope you enjoy it!
Chip was dreaming.
He was in a dark place, deep within the earth. All the shadows in the world seemed intent on suffocating him. He looked around, anxiously trying to catch sight of Alfeus or Beauregard, but the darkness was all-encompassing.
Chip shivered from the damp and the cold, shivered from how very alone he felt.
But then, a clink sounded behind him, the twinge in his left ear faded away, and Chip turned.
Barely a foot away, a diamond was laying on the cool rock, shimmering as if in defiance of the dark.
Chip huddled close to the jewel, comforted by its cool light, but no sooner had he nestled against it than the light began to fade.
The twinge in his left ear returned in full force as his paws scrambled clumsily to keep hold of the diamond. So frantic were his movements, though, that the now dimly glowing jewel skittered across the rock floor.
Its light much too faint by now to allow the rabbit to find it once again, Chip just sat there, watching the diamond’s radiance succumb to the dark, never thinking to simply ask the light to stay.
He woke with a start, unsettled and discouraged by the dream. Chip saw no reason to dampen the others’ spirits, though, so he kept the dream to himself.
They had stopped to rest underground, Chip and Alfeus feeling spent after their many adventures, and Beauregard always agreeable to a nap. The moth rested nearby, but Chip could see its pale wings fluttering softly, as if it were eager for them to be on their way.
Much like the underground path they had visited not long ago, the walls of this tunnel were encrusted with jewels of various kinds, though not as many as he’d found in the fire lizards’ dwelling.
He shuddered, hoping that none of the lizards’ tunnels connected to this one. Ready for adventure as he was, Chip wasn’t sure he could bear another encounter with the fiery creatures.
Shaking loose any lingering thoughts of the lizards, the young rabbit returned to looking around the tunnel, and he wondered again at the presence of the jewels.
What were they doing here?
But a loud snort from the waking Beauregard woke Alfeus with a start, sent the moth flying, and put a stop to all Chip’s wonderings.
Distracted by the excitement of continuing on their way to Abaline, the many jewels became, for the time being, nothing more than brilliant sparks of light in the darkness.
But I believe, and I think you do, too, that they’re something a little bit more.
It wasn’t long before matters took an unexpected turn. The further the small group of adventurers travelled, the more they realized that this part of the underground was quite unlike any other.
Near the underground river, it had been abundantly clear that the fire lizards ruled; no other creatures dared to make their homes in those tunnels and caves.
Here, however, just the opposite was true. Small glow worms made their meandering way across the rocks in search of cool earth to sink into. Toads hopped along the slick stone paths, seemingly oblivious to Chip and his companions, before disappearing beneath lily pads that covered the small pools they called home.
Fluttering about Chip’s ears almost playfully were insects with the most intricately designed wings he had ever seen. They moved so swiftly, though, that after only the one clear sight of them, they seemed to disappear, and the only thing that betrayed their graceful flight was the pale luminescence of their wings.
Chip breathed in and out slowly, savoring the richness of the air. Moss and lichen covered the ground until only small patches of bare rock could be seen, and it gave the tunnel an earthy smell that Chip loved.
He looked all around in wonder as countless creatures hopped and flew past jewel-encrusted walls, water softly splashed, and the tunnel filled with the sounds and smells of it all. This felt like a wonderfully secret place, and our small rabbit friend felt entirely content to remain there.
They all remained quiet through this part of their journey, unwilling to interrupt the peacefulness of this place.
That is, of course, until Alfeus’ paw became hopelessly stuck in a thick patch of moss.
“Now, now, Alfy, stay still,” Beauregard said.
The chipmunk gave him a long-suffering look. “There is nothing but mud beneath my foot. If I stay still, Beauregard, I shall sink into the mire and be lost forever.”
Chip chuckled, earning himself a withering stare.
“You always did have a touch of the dramatic in you, Alfeus,” the beaver replied with a fond look that was not returned. “Now, stay still and hand me your paw.”
“Do you listen to yourself?” was the exasperated answer. “How one is supposed to stay still and move at the same time, I would very much like to know!”
All the same, Alfeus held out his paw.
It seemed to all that the amusing incident would end right there, until, when Beauregard gave Alfeus’ paw a good tug, the chipmunk did not budge.
A hint of panic crept into Alfeus’ voice. “Put a little more effort into it, Beauregard! I do not wish to become a part of the scenery.”
“I’m sure one more tug ought to do it, Alfy, never you fear.”
Alas, one more tug did not do it, and before Alfeus could protest (as he surely would have), Beauregard wrapped him in a giant bear hug. With a great heave, the beaver tried to free his friend. Just as he did, though, an ominous rumble filled the tunnel, and as all the small creatures nearby scurried away, the ground beneath them crumbled, and Beauregard and Alfeus disappeared from sight.
“Alfeus! Beauregard!” Chip cried, truly frightened now. Quick as he could, he hopped to the edge of the gaping hole his friends had fallen into.
He was just about to jump in after them, heedless of the danger, when the great rumble filled the space once more and the rock shifted back into place. In seconds, the tunnel’s floor was whole once more and the moss was creeping back over the rock, as if the giant hole had never been.
Chip stared in disbelief, unwilling to believe that his friends were gone and the most obvious path back to them was barred. But just then, a deep boom set the tunnel shaking and rocks clattering.
Chip didn’t think.
He just ran, heedless of the direction he took through the branching tunnels and the sudden darkness surrounding him.
When next he stopped, heart racing, body shaking, Chip knew he was lost. Still, he was poised to flee at the slightest sound, and when it came, he bolted.
Down the nearest tunnel he flew, never considering the dank, musty smell stealing away the good, clean air.
Looming shapes rose suddenly all around him. Chip gasped in surprise, veering away from one only to nearly collide with another.
Whichever way he turned, it made no difference. He was hemmed in on all sides, and, at long last, Chip stopped short, heart pounding more powerfully than he had thought it capable of.
Thick darkness still surrounded him. So frightened he could hardly move, Chip curled himself into a ball. He closed his eyes, his whole body aching for fear and the longing to not be alone.
A few moments passed before Chip noticed the light.
Tentatively, he opened his eyes and saw that, though still a good distance off, something was illuminating the tunnel. He rose slowly. Fear still clamored for his attention, but the rabbit felt its hold shaking loose. He could see now the strange, looming forms that had frightened him so.
Countless toadstools of all shapes, sizes, and varieties filled the tunnel. Chip stared up in awe at the tangled forest surrounding him, some of the toadstools rising close to the tunnel’s ceiling, others remaining near to the ground, but all of them impossibly vibrant.
He was as entranced by this underground wonder as he had been by the vivid wildflowers in the forest clearing. This, however, was a sight all its own. Whether it was deepest green, richest purple, or impossibly bold red, color was everywhere, and all the while, the light led him on, lending a brilliance to everything it touched.
Yet, when he reached its source, it wasn’t at all what Chip expected.
A solitary diamond lay on the rock just as it had in his dream, only this time, there was no sign of the light fading. The jewel lay at the entrance of a new tunnel, which branched to the left and down. If it led deeper underground, Chip thought, perhaps he would find Alfeus and Beauregard. He could see specks of light further down the path, and he suspected that they came from more jewels.
With no further hesitation, Chip continued on, no longer afraid, for, though he had not consciously thought it, some piece of him understood that when fear had kept him from speaking, his desperate need had been a prayer, and it had been heard.