If you missed it, here's chapter 3.
They were hit by a wave of dirt, peppering them hard with stones and earth. Rowan threw an arm across his face to protect his eyes.
The baying of animal noises and the crashes of the incoming attack all collapsed into one another to become a single deafening roar. The only sound to rise above it was the scrabbling of claws at the walls.
Another explosion blew through the cells, once again pelting Rowan with rubble. The clang and clatter of collapsing metal rang in his ears.
But as Rowan stumbled out into the passageway, he still had no idea what was attacking them. No sign of an enemy moved through the veil of brown that hung on the air.
Another bang, and now he was running, gripping the back of Marvin’s waistcoat in his fist.
The cacophony of animals faded, and all of a sudden Rowan was aware of other figures moving in the haze. The last explosion must have torn apart some of the cells, as the animal prisoners were loose, desperate to find an escape. An enormous bird swirled over his head, and right beside them was a flailing ball of black tentacles tumbling along the passage.
The passage was a straight line, but now it was so dusty that they had to slow down. Even so, Rowan struggled to keep his grip. The floor was shaking violently, enormous booming sounds like oversized footfalls echoing around them, louder and louder every time.
They had not moved far when they reached a lantern still burning on the wall. By the little light that penetrated the dust Rowan could make out a high wooden doorway, arched churchlike at its top. Rowan remembered the creaking door they had heard when Doremi entered the cells.
Marvin moved to push it open, but as his hand touched the wood it burst outward, shattering into splinters. The magician was thrust back against the bars of the nearest cell, before falling onto the muddy floor.
Before Rowan could run to help him, a monster stepped through the broken doorway. At first Rowan thought it was a living shadow, until the lantern light revealed that it was covered, from its long snout down to its stubby haunches, in dense black fur. Its body seemed to be entirely round, until it advanced on him; flesh-coloured paws the size of dinner plates emerged from its sides, piercing claws protruding from each one.
Rowan turned to run, but collided with the ball of tentacles, apparently paralysed with fear. When he turned back, the beast was almost on him, those terrible paws stretched out to grab him.
Then there was a roar, but not from the monster. Springing between them, Marvin launched at the creature’s face with a flaming lantern. In the light, Rowan realised that it was a mole, grown to epic proportions, that was now recoiling from the flame. Marvin thrust the lantern again and again, and the mole stumbled blindly backwards through the doorway with a cry of anguish.
‘Come on!’ shouted Marvin, throwing down the lantern and taking Rowan’s hand.
They ran back down the passageway, only to find the cells swarmed with moles. The mammoth creatures streamed from holes in the earth walls on either side, tearing the underground prison apart and chasing down the animals that tried to escape.
Marvin turned to look for an alternative way out, but as he did a mole lurched into the passage to block their retreat. It swiped a vast paw at Marvin, missing his head by a fraction of a claw. Before the other paw could strike, something bellowed from behind the mole. It was the shaven bear that had eaten the steak, and now it repaid the favour by pouncing on the mole’s back. The mole roared and tottered sideways into the wall, before swinging wildly to try and shake the bear off. They crashed sideways into a cell, leaving the passageway clear.
Rowan and Marvin started to run again, but the noise of the fight had attracted the attention of other moles. Once again their escape was blocked, and on either side of them the black beasts loomed closer in the muddy smog.
Rowan could see no hope of escape. Within seconds he would be torn to shreds by animals that used to dig up his back lawn. He moved closer to Marvin, doing his best to keep a brave face.
It was at that moment that he saw the movement on the ceiling. Two thin antennae eased silently down, feeling at the walls on either side. Then a long body lowered itself slightly into view. It was in armoured segments, and they seemed to ripple as the body shifted.
The moles didn’t see it until the woodlouse dropped onto their heads, flipping over onto its countless legs and knocking them flying. Then the overgrown insect galloped toward Rowan, charging through the moles as if they weren’t there.
Before he knew what was happening, there were hands in Rowan’s armpits. He was flung into the air, where he came down hard on the woodlouse’s armour.
‘Go!’ shouted Marvin, as two moles seized his arms and dragged him back.
‘Marvin!’ screamed Rowan. The magician had thrown him to safety, and now he was leaving him behind.
Guilt burned in his chest as the insect veered through the broken wooden doorway at the end of the passage, and Rowan had to slide his fingers underneath a silvery armour plate to avoid falling beneath the wave of legs below.
He didn’t see who or what threw the net that tangled around him. As he tried to escape it he lost his hold on the woodlouse, and rolled along its back. The net made it impossible to scrabble for a hold, and he fell off the back of the creature, his head colliding with the ground and filling with darkness.
When he came to his senses, he was propped over a mole’s shoulder as it rocked through an underground tunnel. A pink paw was clamped over his back to hold him in place. He faced forwards, his head just below the long snout of the mole. Ahead was a procession of the creatures, lunging back and forth like carousel horses as they ran on their clumsy hind legs.
The tunnel was carved straight into the earth, taller than it was wide to provide just enough space for the moles. Somewhere ahead a mole must have been carrying a light, as Rowan could clearly see around him in the gloom.
Despite the constant movement, the soft black fur of the mole tempted him to sleep. His head still felt thick and dizzy from the fall. Rowan shook himself awake and focused on the mole in front to keep him that way.
It looked the same as all the others he had encountered, aside from a glaring bald patch that stood out a startling white against the black fur. Rowan couldn’t place it, but the patch seemed to be in such a familiar shape. Even more bizarre was that it was situated on the mole’s bottom.
Then the stirring of someone on the mole’s shoulder caught his attention; it was Marvin, his waistcoat turned inside out and covering most of his head.
‘Marvin!’ shouted Rowan.
Rowan’s carrier mole growled, but took no action to rebuke the shout.
Marvin stirred drowsily, and then brushed the waistcoat back to its proper place as if slicking back his hair. He was bleeding from a cut in his eyebrow, but seemed otherwise unharmed.
‘Are you OK?’ Rowan yelled as he rocked to and fro, towards and away from him on the mole’s mighty shoulder.
Marvin shouted something back, but it was lost amidst the echoes of the tunnel. Rowan shook his head to show that he hadn’t understood.
Marvin mouthed the message to him, one word at a time, each time the lunging of the moles brought them closest together.
‘Don’t – bet – turnip – blades!’
Rowan hoped that he had merely misread the message, rather than Marvin having gone stark raving mad. Either way, he nodded enthusiastically to pretend that he’d understood.
The journey underground was a long one. At times the tunnel would swing upwards so that Rowan’s legs dangled precariously into the abyss below. On other occasions it dipped so suddenly that his stomach turned over and he felt sick. Yet always the tunnel was the same height and width, a perfect fit for the moles. It occurred to Rowan that the moles, for whatever reason, must have dug very deliberately and as quickly as they could towards Doremi’s underground prison.
Had they captured Doremi? Rowan hoped that somewhere ahead he too was perched unceremoniously on a mole’s shoulder. There had been no way to escape the assault; the moles had been flowing out of the walls like water from a burst pipe.
But what would they do to Doremi? If the moles believed that he and Marvin were in league with the bandits, they’d receive the same treatment. The thought sent a shiver of fear through him. It was like watching the school clock tick toward the end of the day, wondering if he’d make it home without the other boys hassling him.
Rowan turned his attention to Marvin ahead to take his mind off it. The magician was quite a sight: his waistcoat refused to stay in its proper place, and whenever he pushed it back his hair puffed out into straggly red points like porcupine spines.
It was through one of these untamed spikes that he saw the mole furthest ahead drop out of sight, as if he had simply fallen off a precipice. But the march continued, and the next mole fell from view, followed by the next, and the next.
Marvin hadn’t seen what was happening and cried out in surprise as his mole dropped through a hole in the floor of the tunnel. His face vanished into darkness.
Then it was the turn of Rowan’s mole. The creature arrived at the hole, and without a moment’s hesitation leaped into the black.
Read Chapter 5 now!