Tinamou stood staring towards the dark opening in the hillside. She still couldn’t understand how Judash, Tec and Stantion had followed Zero here. For that matter, why had Zero come to this place? It didn’t make sense. There was nothing around for miles. Well, nothing excepting rubble and the fallen remains of civilization past. Still, what would cause him to run here? She glanced to her left where Jaxes stood. It seemed he was just as perplexed as her, but yet he said nothing.
To her right, Judash stood with Tec and Stantion. She could tell they were in the midst of a heated discussion, but since they were just out of hearing, she couldn’t tell what the discussion was about.
A few minutes later, Tec and Judash strode over to her, and Tec spoke out.
“I must tell you, I don’t like where your friend has gone. Some of the nastiest weapons that have ever been created were made and stored in this area. Weapons that helped create the firestorm that ended the world as it was. Yet here he is. Perhaps we have misinterpreted the prophecy? Perhaps he will bring about the end of all things?”
“That can’t be true.” Tinamou gasped. “Zero would not seek destruction. He would seek salvation. There has to be a different reason that he is here. Maybe when he ran from those hunters, he just happened upon this place. Maybe it is just a coincidence that those weapons were created here.”
“Perhaps you are right young one. I know we won’t find out by standing here though. We must follow him inside the cavern. Whatever he is doing in there will give us our answers. Be warned though; you might not like what you see.”
Tec quickly gestured for the others to follow and led the way into the dark hole. Tinamou was not surprised to see Stantion follow at a distance.
“Oingo! Boingo! What are you two doing here?”
Zerosta rushed out to greet the diminutive brothers. Though travel worn, they appeared just as he remembered them.
“Ah! We have found you atlas giver. Praise the gods. We feared we would never catch up to you!”
“Call me Zero. That is my name Oingo. What do you mean you feared you wouldn’t catch me? Why were you even looking for me? Why have you even come north of the wall? You said it was insane and death to do so.”
“That is what we said, and that is what it will be for you. At least we feared it would. We had to come. You were so nice to us. We had to warn you.”
“Warn me? Why warn me? You already told me how dangerous it was to be here. There shouldn’t be any more warning, should there?”
Even as he talked with Oingo and Boingo, Zero sent thoughts to Baobab. What did he think of their appearance? Should Zero be worried? Maybe he would like to meet them?
Though a bit perplexed by the brothers, Baobab responded that he’d stay where he was. Something was bothering him.
“Warn you we must. You are being followed. The day after you passed our gate, another group passed us. Two humans and an Other. We hid. Something about them worried us greatly. As we hid, we overheard them talking. They were following someone. It was obvious to us they meant you. No one else had passed that way in months.”
As Oingo took a breath, Boingo continued the narrative.
“So, that in itself was worrisome to us. Who would follow you? We knew not, but still we watched. Shortly after that, a second Other appeared, following those three. We tracked them all here. The three tracking you, the one tracking them. Of course that changed less than a day from here.”
“We found a killing field. That isn’t strange in these parts, but what we saw worried us more than before. The group of three joined up with two others. These were Kin. I should say they were Kin assassins. The Kin kill all humans they come across. Something about averting a prophecy. Anywho…these two spoke to the Other, and then joined them in tracking you. The second Other still did not make its presence known though. He kept far enough back to see what would happen.”
“We knew now you were in grave danger, so we bypassed them and came rushing after you. We had to warn you of them. They mean you harm. We know it.”
“I know of these Kin you mentioned. I saw them myself. I saw them kill a couple human refugees. Yet, they did not see me. You’re sure they are coming this way?”
Just then Baobab spoke out in Zerosta’s head “It is too late…they are here. Hide yourself.”
Tinamou could hear talking from somewhere ahead. It confused her. Who was Zero talking to? Was he even there? Perhaps Tec had been wrong. That was when Tec motioned for them to stop.
“OK…Zero is just ahead. Obviously he is not alone. Perhaps I was wrong. He may have been found by the hunters. They could be who we hear. They could be deciding what to do with him. Stantion, see if you can find a place to set up. We may need some cover. If you get a shot, take it.”
As he was talking, Tinamou watched them. Something felt wrong, but she just couldn’t put her finger on it. She was about to let it go when she saw something pass between Tec and Stantion. What was going on?
“Once he is in place, we will go forward. Tinamou, you and Jaxes will be in front. If it is just Zero, he will respond better to you. If he sees us, he may panic and run away. That could be bad. If there are hunters there, they will pay too much attention to you and we will be able to kill them.”
Without waiting for either her or Jaxes to respond, Tec pushed them forward. Not having any idea of what else to do, she stepped forward. They entered a huge empty space. Light spilled down from an opening somewhere in the ceiling of the cavern. She didn’t see Zero anywhere. There were just two small furry creatures standing on the other side. Who were they?