Eida ran as fast as she could, until her bones felt like splitting. Something was chasing her, but she dared not to look back. The grass under her feet was warm and soft, but she tried to push away her curiosity towards the strange world around her and run faster. Several thunderous sounds erupted behind and above her. Something small whizzed through the hot air, and the ground burst into bits to her left and right. Blades of grass were sent flying after the series of bursts, some getting stuck in her short hair. Whatever was behind her, it was flying, and it was going to kill her.
She needed to keep running for a few more seconds before she could slip into the dense forest in front of her. There had been a pause in the fiery bursts from the sky that ripped the ground apart moments ago. Then, to her surprise, she saw it right in front of her.
It hovered some twenty paces between her and the forest. A polished, floating silver ball, it had two cylindrical pipes pointed at her. A hint of smoke rose from them, and Eida saw words etched into its body: “Demon Corp. V3” outlined in red.
A sudden, sharp noise buzzed from it, as if some device started to spin rapidly. Eida sprinted towards the hovering ball, moving in an unpredictable zig-zag. It roared once again, and fire escaped its mounted pipes. Each step she took was torn apart as soon as her feet left the ground. Worse still, the ground was uneven, and she knew what would happen if she tripped or stumbled even for a moment.
Once she was directly under the hovering ball, the fiery explosions from its pipes stopped, and she used that opportunity to jump and pull the thing down to the ground. It was smooth as a rock shaped by water, but she grabbed hold of the hot pipes and held them away from her body. She reached for a boulder near her and started to smash the ball with it. Her powerful arms made the task easy, almost fun. She brought down the rock again and again, denting the metal, breaking the pipes, destroying what seemed to be mechanical eyes. Thick, dark smoke rose from the cracks in its mangled hull, and Eida left it there in a hurry. Returning to the safety of the tunnels seemed more tempting at the moment than discovering more of the new, dangerous world around her.
She hurried to the forest. As soon as she stepped in, she took in a great breath of fresh forest air, and it filled her lungs like honey being poured into an empty water pot. She finally had a small moment to think about everything.
Around her, a massive, well-entrenched lie was broken by tall trees, and shaken by the thick shrubs. The blue sky was not gray as she had been told. The land was not a scorched desert above the tunnels. Other than her leg muscles burning, she felt fine. The Lord did not smite her with a strange sickness. The stories of her childhood became just that, stories.
A small creature with a bushy tail and pointy ears climbed and jumped from tree to tree. Flying things with thin and colored arms, which they flapped to rise above the ground, travelled in packs towards a point unseen. She heard strange noises, some high and sharp, others repetitive and scratchy. This forest was a home to living things which should not have existed after the rapture. Did it not happen? Did Tribulations 1:11 not state, ‘nothing remained after the Lord’s fury, except those few who wished to regain His blessing’?
Eida traced her steps back to the entrance of the tunnels. Clusters of shiny red things, like small little balls, clung together on shrubs, and her curiosity made her pick one up and eat it. She stopped for a moment, surprised. It was sweet and juicy, and she eat the rest of the cluster, and then some more. There was food here. If all living things above the tunnels were supposed to be dead, what could explain the food? Who was the Lord planning on feeding with these?
She pocketed a handful of them, and kept going deeper into the forest. The entrance to Rota, the only refuge for people underground, appeared in front of her. Long grass covered most of it, but the solid hemisphere shape was still apparent. She gripped the metal handles, and pulled the concrete lid off. It was a long way down, probably a hundred paces, and Eida dipped into the entrance and carefully placed her feet into cracks in the vertical tunnel.
There was no ladder or safety cage going down. It either never existed or was torn out by someone. Still, she descended skillfully, and found ridges where she could push her toes and fingers through and hang on to. The sunlight above was swallowed by the deep darkness around her, and she relied on feeling with her fingertips for disturbances in the smooth tunnel to keep descending. In a few minutes, her feet couldn’t find anything below her, so she jumped.
If she would have been someone else, and discovered the tunnels by accident, she would have died then and there. There were concrete spikes just below the drop from the vertical entrance. Anyone else would have been impaled, never to discover the underground city of Rota.
But she broke the spikes and laid a layer of brick on top of them a few days ago, when she first discovered the secret exit from the tunnels. Her curiosity for the unknown made her question why there would even be a trap there if there shouldn’t be anyone else left on the planet.
Eida took her gas lamp beside the spikes, flicked it on, and came upon a brick wall. It looked like it was the end of the tunnel, and the wall didn’t seem out of place with brick lining everywhere. Before exiting the tunnels, she had reassembled a small part of the wall to look like it hadn’t been broken, and so with a small kick the bricks fell apart and formed a little passage. She crouched down and wormed her way through it.
Getting back was easy from then on. There was another dark vertical tunnel going down, but she knew it was barred shut. She broke away a second brick wall same as the last, and emerged in a room with two dozen drums of explosive oil. It was either an emergency fuel reserve or a last-ditch defense to blow apart the ground entrance—Eida didn’t know for sure. She cared only to be cautious enough around them with her lamp. Did Elder Walter even knew about this place? She walked around the oil drums and kicked a certain spot in the corner of the room. Bricks toppled, and a small, secret tunnel leading back to the underground city opened up.
Eida emerged from the secret tunnel and caught a small group of passerby’s completely unaware. Normally used to sneaking around when the city slept, she hesitated for a moment. They looked at her as if they caught a thief, though unsure how to proceed. The population of the city wasn’t large and they all knew her, and an awkward silence arose. They gawked at her and didn’t move. Eida brushed herself off, straightened her back and simply walked past them as if nothing happened.
The delicious smells from the 1st Food Storage almost pulled her in, but she kept walking despite her hunger. Running and fighting and having your worldview turned upside down works up a powerful appetite. She reached a vertical tunnel, descended to Level 3, and approached the entrance to the Brickery. Elder Walter revived that part of the city when he decided to create Rota II, with new brick-lined tunnels leading to it, a new geo-thermal power plant, and whatever else was needed to start a new underground city. Eida loved to work in the Brickery. She would take something from nature, and make it her own. The familiar smell of wet clay and hot air coming from the furnaces spilled out of the entrance tunnel as she walked past it. The air became heavier as she decended.
She passed the 2nd Water Storage, then the Steelery shortly afterwards, and climbed down the next vertical tunnel to Level 4, now some 160 meters underground. To the side, there was another tunnel with a sign that said “Rota II”, and the Angel machine stood idle. A massive machine, it looked like an oversized cylindrical metal can. It ate the earth and replaced the gap with full-sized, brick-lined tunnels. Simply, it built underground worlds for those trying to prove their faith to the Lord.
Eida kept going until she reached Elder Walter’s quarters at the end of Level 4. She gave the door a strong knock, turned off her lamp and placed it by the door.
A moment later, a familiar face opened the door. He was getting old, but he tried not to show it. His clothes were fresh, his hair neat, and he used a cane more like a status symbol than a walking aid, though he surely could not walk without it.
“Come in, Eida. You were absent from the Brickery this morning, a few of your colleagues told me,” said Walter.
She came in but chose not to sit down.
“Do you know where I’ve been, Elder Walter?” she asked.
The man looked confused, but happy to know more. Beneath his confusion, he was excited as a child waiting for secrets to be shared.
“I found a passage on Level 2 that took me above ground. By accident, really. There were a few more walls that blocked my path, so I broke them. And you know what I saw when I reached the top, when I climbed out of the tunnels?” she narrowed her eyes on him.
Walter’ expression changed immediately. His smile disappeared, his eyes were cold and gray as stones. “Tell me,” he crossed his arms.
“I saw…” she didn’t know where to begin. “Trees. Animals that flew. That climbed. I saw a blue sky. There was grass beneath my feet, not a desert. And I destroyed a demon, and it was made of metal and—”
Walter laughed. “You killed a demon?” Another great roar of laughter erupted from him. “Please, Eida, if you wish to write stories, feel free to do so. You have a wild imagination. You still need to work at the Brickery in the mornings, so don’t be absent without a warning. We need everyone working to help build Rota II.”
She shook her head. “Don’t brush this off. I saw it all. I was above the tunnels, and I almost died trying to get back. I don’t understand, did the Rapture never happen? Why is it so different than what the Lord said it would be? We could live up there. Look, I even found food.”
She took out some of the berries she had pocketed, and placed them on his metal desk.
Walter looked concerned now. He stared at the berries for a long while, before picking one of them up and examining it, gently pinching it between his thumb and finger. He put it back down.
“Listen, Eida, I don’t know what you are trying to achieve. These berries obviously grow underground, though I admit I don’t know their name. I’m not an expert in these things. The fact remains, nothing grows on land anymore so there’s no possible way you could have gotten them there, even if there is a passage that leads to the land above, which there is not,” he said.
“Then tell me, why isn’t the Lord punishing me with sickness? Is it not said in Tribulations 2:15?” Eida paused for a moment to remember the exact passage.
“…And he walked upon the charred plains of the Earth, and defied the Lord, who struck him with a sickness. His mortal body shook, he became sick of the stomach and head, and he said many evil things, before collapsing under the heavy judgment of the Lord’.
“What do you say to that?” she said, her voice growing louder.
Walter breathed deeply. “It means you did not go to the land above, for the Rapture is still in progress, and you would have indeed been struck by the Lord, as he is testing the will of his faithful one final time,” he said. He seemed satisfied with his response, and some of the tension from his body relaxed.
Eida couldn’t believe what she was hearing. She looked down at her pants, sporting a few green-stained spots. “I touched the grass, look at my pants,” she pleaded.
“My guess is that’s green fungus dye. I don’t understand, Eida, what are you trying to prove to me? At first I thought perhaps you wanted permission to write and circulate stories, but now this seems to me like you are committing Acts Unbecoming of the Faithful. The berries, the green dye, drop it before I become angry with you,” he said, tapping his fingers on his desk.
Eida looked around her, eyes wide like a trapped animal. Her fists clenched, her blood boiled, and she shook her head not merely to show her objection, but as if she was trying to shake something off.
“It’s all a lie! It’s all a damned, horrible lie,” she screamed.
“William, Edgar, come immediately,” Walter shouted. “I will not have you drain the morale of the community,” he told Eida.
She ran out of the office, plowing her way through two men with gas lamps. Elder Walter yelled something behind her, but she couldn’t hear what it was. She noticed the two men give chase to her soon afterwards.
She climbed up to Level 3. She sprinted past confused crowds, and heard the two men behind her ordering her to stop. The vertical ladder to Level 2 creaked violently as she climbed faster than ever before.
The lengthy climb took its toll and Eida slowed down, out of breath. The events of the day had exhausted her, and her body wasn’t built for so much climbing and running. Still, after a brief jog, she hurried her pace. Her legs were burning, her lungs wanted to swallow the world, and she was drenched in sweat. The secret tunnel entrance was uncovered, and Eida remembered she didn’t replace the bricks, though it didn’t matter anymore. On her knees, she squeezed through the small gap and slowly made her way through the dark tunnel without her lamp to guide her.
There was a scraping sound behind her, likely the two men were now hot on her heels and inside the tunnel. A weak glow of light illuminated the walls around her, and then she knew for certain she couldn’t outrun them.
She still couldn’t catch her breath, and panted like an overheated Steelery worker. Kneeling down again, she wormed her way through the gap in the next brick wall, which led her to the room with two dozen drums of oil. She was nauseous, and couldn’t keep running anymore. Leaning on a wall, eyes closed, she tried to get a few steady breaths.
She heard a sound in the room. A head popped out of the hole in the wall, and soon the man’s shoulders and torso squeezed through. The second man followed.
“Eida, you need to come back with us on Elder Walter’s orders,” said the man. He was built like a Brickery worker, with a strong upper-body and a round face with a prominent underbite. He put down his lamp, took the coil of rope off his shoulder, and grabbed Eida’s arm. She didn’t take that too kindly.
Just as soon as the second man pushed himself through and entered the room, Eida struck the man grabbing her with the force of a club hammer. He dropped to the floor and hit his head against the wall, and he lay there dazed.
The second man lounged at Eida with his free hand. She raised her left elbow and blocked, and smashed his face with a powerful right hook just below his jaw line. He stumbled and fell backwards, landing on a rusty oil drum. His lamp shattered on the floor.
Eida heard a faint sound of something dripping, and she froze in her spot when she saw the top of the oil drum produced a thin crack along its rusted rim, along with a sizeable dent where her assailant landed. The gas in the lamp had spilled on the floor, and a small fire floated over the puddle of oil.
“You fools! You damned us all!” she screamed.
A massive explosion shook the underground city. The entrance to Rota above the tunnels was obliterated, and the entire secret Level 1 tunnel collapsed. In the Level 2 tunnels below it, a living quarters tunnel, no one had enough time to react and they were unaware when the shockwave hit them. The destruction dealt to the upper tunnels was so vast that they collapsed, and send debris down the vertical shafts. And yet, the fate of the underground city as a whole was uncertain, and the lower tunnels surely survived. However, with no entrance remaining, no one saw the likes of Rota, Rota II, or its faithful people ever again.