"A Journey to the Center of the Earth Story"
By John Pirillo
Maybe it was the never ending trek into the bowels of the earth that caught Rowlf's fancy, or perhaps it was these strange creatures who demonstrated such extremes of emotion. Emotion was not new to Rowlf. All his people had it, but jut not so extreme! His people were not nomadic by nature. Once they found a cavern or large protected area with access to water and food, they seldom left that area to adventure about.
There were some, like Rowlf though, who while tolerated, and put a stress and strain on the society they were born to, because their minds were curious. Always looking to explore one more thing. Learn one more thing.
Such had Rowlf been as an egg and such was he now as a fully grown Therm...The description his people gave themselves. It meant hard shell, soft heart.
Of course not all Therms were as reasonable as Rowlf's had been. He still remembered when their quarters were invaded by a variation of Therm that used strange weapons that sent beams of light, blistering the shells of loved ones and friends. Rowlf had been but little over an egg in size at that time, so he had been hidden in the back, protected by the Warrior Mothers, those who gave up egg lying to protect the young. More often than not, they also laid eggs, but they never had the privilege of raising and nourishing them as a mother might. Their sights were upon the overall communal protection.
They had thrown off that invasion, not because of superior weapons, but because they cared for each other. None were afraid to die for the other. And many had perished. It take many long periods of egg laying to even begin to get back into the numbers of population they had before the battle with the evil Therms.
Evil is a loosely translated word for the emotion they felt from the invading Therms. No one of Rowlf's tribe would ever have said that word. They didn't believe that creatures were made of one thing or another, but a blend. They believed in shades of gray, not black.
Rowlf had awakened the night of the invasion with a frightening vision. He saw these short white skinned creatures invading their home with weapons that could pierce their armored skin and explode them from the inside out. It had terrified him.
His mother had tried to calm him down and it might have worked, had not the invasion begun shortly thereafter. Rowlf remembered little of those moments in retrospect, because his mind was still forming. Therm brains aren't fully developed in the second area of the head until they reach ten terms. Which are about twenty earth years as measured by surface dwellers.
Rowlf had scrambled on his legs and arms like an insect. Children did that. Not adults, though they might in a warlike situation, which this was, though few at the time could believe such was happening.
Rowlf had been taken the long path, not the short, for the invaders were camped at the edge of the short path and were using their strange weapons to pick off anyone that came within range. Which in the beginning had been pretty much dozens of Therms who couldn't believe that the strange lights would harm them, let alone the invaders. It was unheard of for Therm to harm Therm. That illusion was quickly broken by the fight that ensued.
Hundreds died in the first fatal hours, before the invading Therms ran out of light throwing weapons. Their beams of light might have killed Therms, but not always on the first blow or the next. Even dying, Therms took a long time to realize they were dead and kept on fighting until their brains were fried, or their multiple hearts broke.
Rowlf's heart broke at least twice during the battle, for his mother and father were among the first to fall as they strove to protect him and the other children from the invading Therms. It had been their goal to rob the colony of the babies. Later, after they had scattered the foe, and captured a few. The majority they swiftly killed once their light weapons failed.
They learned about the goals of the invaders from one especially tall one. He had been captured and kept from biting his own body in two by four of their own. He had been interrogated and found out to have led roughly a thousand of the Therm invaders. Only fifty of them survived. He had told them that there were more waiting to invade and with even more powerful weapons, but none believed him. The cells in his eyes lied. They glowed the wrong way.
The Therms of the colony knew bitterness and sorrow for the first time in a long time. They did not feel for vengeance, so they allowed the captured leader to choose his method of death. The leader had chosen the Molten Falls. A series of volcanic rivers that burned up anything that touched them within the blink of multiple eyes.
He had marched to the edge of the precipice he would jump from, then turned back and faced his captors. "You have won this war. But there will be another. And it will be led by the White Ones."
And then he had given them a brittle smile. The only kind their sort could make and fallen backwards from the edge of the precipice, laughing.
Rowlf remembered breaking free from the others and running to the edge of the precipice. He should have seen the leader burning in the molten lava, but he saw nothing for a long time, but then he saw this mottled shell of color moving sideways about halfway down the precipice. It stopped a moment, and then a face looked up at him. One he would never forget.
Rowlf woke up with a nerve grinding roar of anger, startling both Russ...a Midwestern man with a quirky sense of humor and his friend, Everett, a British genius with an even stranger sense of humor. Rowlf never thought much about what brought their humor to life. Had he done so, he might have realized it was their way of coping with all the death they'd seen and near deaths of them during their journey beneath the earth.
"Bloody Hell! Rowlf!" Everett hollered at him. "A man's trying to sleep here!"
Russ grimaced. "Where?"
Everett glared at him. "Ha-ha. Very funny."
Everett, finally coming back to his senses from the very deep sleep of exhaustion, arose and began stretching his limbs, just in case. Rowlf had proven more than once to be a valuable friend and very much like a good watchdog when it came to danger. He clasped his stone spear and surveyed the pocket of tunnel they had put themselves in so nothing could attack from behind. It was the same bland rock with a few clutches of glow moss on its sides and ceiling. Outside their pocket the cavern was lit by thousands of glow moss, which gave it an eerie look. One that was never comfortable to wake to, because while intensely beautiful, it could also be incredibly dangerous because of the monsters that hid in the depths.
"Nothing wrong I can see." Everett muttered finally, settling down beside Russ, who hadn't bothered to open his eyes even.
Russ yawned. "Rowlfie had a bad dream."
Rowlf, who had levered himself up from the floor into a position of defense nodded. "Dweam!"
Rowlf looked at the two men. "Was dweam?"
Russ finally opened his eyes when Everett refused to speak.
He gave Everett a glare, and then patted his friend Rowlf on his armored shoulder. "Pal, it has to do with seeing things that aren't there."
Everett tensed again. "Saw what?"
That brought Russ fully awake. He grabbed his own stone spear and sat with his back to the next to Everett, but opposite Rowlf. "What kind of danger?"
Rowlf considered that a long time, then shrugged. "Wusual."
Everett and Russ both groaned.
They had no water or food and had stopped to rest and sleep because their bodies were groaning for both. But now they realized they had to get on with it again. They struggled to their feet and Rowlf followed them from the pocket cave.
The path before them split and ran in two directions. North and South.
Everett made a fist. Russ did also.
"The Big One." Everett said with a satisfied look on his face.
Russ groaned. "Cheater."
"You saying it don't beat the others?"
Russ just glared at him, and then went the right path.
"Aren't you forgetting something, old man?"
Russ stopped and turned around. "What?"
"This way." Everett smiled, stepping on the left path. "I won."
"Yeah. By cheating." Russ grumbled, following Everett anyway.
Rowlf watched them a moment with amusement.
"Whomens!" He said in a voice that sounded like garbled metal clashing together.
He followed his human friends, contemplating what they would find this day. He was as hungry, if not more so, as them. He didn't tell them, but usually he ate much more. But he hadn't the hearts to take all the food. That wouldn't be Therman of him.
Russ got lucky first. He found a patch pod of moss eggs. The humans didn't know why eggs were always nested in the patch pods, but they were. It was almost like an Easter egg hunt, finding the spoils that way. But they didn't complain, nor did they flinch when they broke the egg shells and sucked them dry.
Only Rowlf would not eat them. He knew where the eggs really came from. And while the eggs would not grow up to be Therms, they were sentient and he respected them anyway. He did not interfere because he also knew these eggs had been lost or abandoned. The owners, he could tell by is olfactory nerves located along his jaw and nostril areas, were long gone and would not care at this point. Eggs if not kept warm...died.
So sad for the loss of the life, but happy for his friends. He watched them fill their empty stomachs. Finally, after they offered him for the last time a share of the eggs, they greedily split those up and sucked them down as well.
"Hey!" Everett called out, stumbling to his feet. He belched, and then made his way to a new pocket cave. "Anyone for a nap?"
He started to enter, and then paused. "Russ. Look at this."
Russ was so groggy from sleep loss and a full stomach, he had almost missed it.
They both stood and stared at the strange marking on the entrance to the pocket cave. It looked like a series of stars with long arms.
Everett nodded. "It's almost like they're some kind of territorial marking. Except that they're incredibly detailed and well done."
Russ glanced around the cavern a long time, and then sighed. "Worry about whom later. I'm beat."
He and Everett found the best spots they could to be comfortable and instantly knocked out. But Rowlf did not sleep. Rowlf stood guard. He considered his friends for a long time. Such a strange group of creatures. And then he remembered his dream. The leader screaming about the coming of the White Ones. He shook his head, making a rattling, raspy sound which disturbed Russ and Everett's sleep for a moment, then they settled back to sleep.
He didn't tell them he had also seen the symbol before. And he just might know what it meant. It was for wiser ones than him to go there. And since there were no wiser ones with them...Rowlf sighed in a gravely tone, and then locked his joints so he didn't have to worry about falling. He preferred to sleep in that position. It gave any likely invaders second thoughts about attacking, but also gave him the advantage of striking first. Therms were extremely light sleepers, even if in the middle of what had they called his experience..."Dweams?"