They slept in that cavity below the ground for how long none of them could say after. They awoke to a somewhat less than total blackness. A little ways off, Benda saw a soft blue light almost as if dancing. A silhouette of a golek passed in front of it, hiding the glowing forms. Machef.
His familiar voice filled their minds with warmth when they felt his words form in the hearing of their hearts. “This way,” he said.
At once, they were roused and scampering off behind him as a group. Benda’s eyes adjusted to the gloom, and could make out the grey hues of a tunnel. His hand touched the wall as they passed within. Earth, and rock, and root, lit on occasion with tiny dappled glimpses of maybe daylight, Benda mused, perhaps indirect and refracted issuing forth from possibly fissures on the surface through many blind passages here below. They must not yet be too deep — and Benda’s fear stirred a little. Did the sunlight carry the rays of the eyes of the Watcher Above?
“Fear not,” Machef’s voice assured them. “His eyes are keen, but his understanding does not penetrate the depths.”
They went on a while longer in silence. Not out of fear, but each lost in their own deep pondering.
After a time, Eradus broke the silence.
“I see, at times, or I think I see — perhaps I feel — some strange small lights of different colors. Sometimes blue, and sometimes white. Others yellow. They seem almost familiar. Pray tell, what lights and powers there be who flit about these halls and palaces of the Place Below?”
“Let’s go a little further,” Machef said. “And your sight and understanding will come together.”
They passed a while longer, countless, unnumbered minutes as the dimly lit tunnel sloped down, or curved to one direction, and then down another. At last the tunnel terminated at a wall of stone with a natural threshold, and a door of solid, ancient wood.
“Go ahead,” Machef said. “Knock.”
Eradus stepped up, and rapped on the door three times. They waited. The door swung silently open, and one by one they passed through. They saw no porter, guard, nor attendant. The door closed again behind them.
They looked around. They were in a luminous cavern, carved into a hall with columns and decorative arches. On the walls were murals set in tile, depicting lush gardens, fruits, leaves, and grasses of all manner in sweet marvelous abundance. Scattered here and there within the murals were birds flitting about happily, and on and above the ground, dancing, prancing figures with long bodies of white.
“Rabbits!” Eradus exclaimed. He pointed off to the many tunnel openings which were scattered around the walls. “We’re in a giant warren!”
“You are correct,” said Machef. “This is one of many such hubs built in ages past by the ancient Lagom peoples at the height of their civilization.”
“Which way leads home?” Benda said.
“These tunnels have fallen into disuse,” said Machef. “And the way is bent, but not broken. But for I, and a few others of my people who remember still the passage ways down here, few from the world above now visit the Place Below. And even I do not know more than a few of these vast tunnels. But as the intuition of the King of the Forest rightly spotted, there are other powers now who dwell here down below.”
“The white lights still can be seen to scamper throughout these tunnels, and sometimes on starlit nights in fields of the world above. They are the rabbits in the murals, the Lagoms. The murals depict what we call in our language still Allfruits, or the Place of Dappled Summer Light.”
“And the blue lights?” asked Benda. “I saw them too when we first awoke in the cavity.”
Machef replied, “The Lagoms might have built these walls and arches, and painted these murals. But the tunnels are much, much older, going back to the dawn of time, or perhaps before. To the Zalthyrmians. Who themselves, legends say, only discovered them. And, of course, systematically explored them thenceforth.”
“The blue lights are their language. Their language is their heritage, which they bequeathed to the Place Below, though their domain crossed many, many realms. Their heritage is tangible and visible at times, as in that cavity, or flitting about the tunnel. The words describe the place, and are written in the place. If you have eyes to see and ears to hear and heart to understand, you can read and speak the language. The language gives us light in the dark places. As we speak the language, so can we pass through the places bodily, but we beings must bring our bodies along too, for that is our nature. The Zalthyrmians, when they left, according to their nature, passed into their language as light. This was only after they had explored completely all worlds, and encoded in each place their findings and the peculiar beauties they had there partaken of as witnesses.”
“They say the Zalthyrmian tunnels, at times, go along the veins of the Great Vine itself, from whence each ensuing world as fruit is born.”
“And the yellow?” asked Eradus.
“Gobs,” said Machef. “But we will see them soon enough, of that there is no doubt. Let us not speak of it til then. Now, Benda, is the time to find the way home.”
“The Zalthyrmian language.”
“I do not know it.”
“Speak your destination aloud,” Machef said.
“Cannaxus,” asserted Benda firmly.
“Use your desire…” pushed Machef.
Benda closed his eyes and inhaled deeply.
“Home,” he said aloud.
A faint blue light appeared before a tunnel off to the right, and Benda began walking toward it. Machef stopped him, directing silently his eyes to another tunnel, which now had a blue light hovering by it, and another, and another.
“What manner of trickery is this?” Eradus said. “I thought you said — ”
“Hush,” intoned the voice of Machef in their hearts. “Many roads lead to many homes. Focus on the best of what resides in yours to find your doorway thither.”
Benda’s silence lasted only a moment, turning to joy as his heart fixed on the last image he saw before leaving home for the ill-fated fishing trip which lead him through such long roads over sea and under tunnel: his wife holding their infant son in the arch of the door to their small house, waving goodbye.
“Luala,” he said sweetly aloud.
At once the disparate soft blue lights converged onto a single tunnel opening, just right of center.
“Come,” Machef said, and they all followed after him, crossing the great hall beneath the murals to the tunnel opening. “You have found the way. Let us go.”