(Continued from parts 1, 2, and 3)
The murderous black water had now reached my knees and continued to rise at a slow, steady rate. I could feel Shu Shu's rapid, shallow breath as he clung desperately to my shoulder with his remaining left paw. All the while, our hearts pounded with fear.
An hour earlier, the treacherous Wuhh revealed himself as a human wizard instead of a Mew, as we had once believed. He tortured us with magical flames, while his cackling zombie slaves watched from a high portal. In agony, we relented and returned the mysterious red stone that he so desired. Then he vanished, leaving us trapped in this darkest of chambers, deep underground, and filling with water.
"Shu Shu," I whispered, as the water crept closer to my waist. "We have to think of a way out of this."
Shu Shu trembled, then began to blubber. "I sh-shouldn't have g-given him the stone," he whispered dolefully.
"We did the best we could," I replied. "You were very brave to stand up to him in the first place. He beat us this time... but we're not dead yet. Right now we're both going to drown if we don't think of a way to get out of this death trap."
"You're right," Shu Shu admitted and then he patted me on the shoulder with his one front paw. I could sense that his confidence was returning. "At least this water feels better on my cracked and thirsty Mew body, but I'm not sure that I can swim without my right paw."
By now the water had reached my chin and I mentally prepared for what was so soon to come.
Ten minutes later we were treading water. Thankfully, the average weight of a Mew is only about one pound and Shu Shu was on the smaller side so he wouldn't weigh me down. If he managed to hold on, and I managed to keep our heads above the rising water we could prolong our lives for the time being. Needless to say, the fact that we were still hopelessly imprisoned in an enormous, pitch dark, subterranean pit weighed heavily on our minds.
"We must not panic," I said as I tried to conserve my strength. I filled my lungs with air and attempted to float on my back. From time to time the panic would build in my chest and I'd loose the air in my lungs to shakes. Then it would take everything I had to regain control and return to floating calmly. I started to feel phantom things swimming around my legs. It's all in your mind, I told myself. Stay focused.
After another half hour my fatigue had nearly reached its limit. We still had no clue how deep the water had become, but figured the roof of this godforsaken tomb must soon be within reach. Once there, we would have to locate and somehow manage to open the tiny portal door through which bloodthirsty zombies had looked down upon us, or die trying.
Shu Shu stood on the highest point of my head with his two hind paws gripping tightly to my hair. He cast about blindly with his left paw, desperately trying to find the door, which we believed to be our only hope of escaping.
That's when I felt it. Something slimy and wretched was truly close. It swam about my drooping legs and filled my heart with sheer dread.
"Sh-Sh-Sh-Shu Shu," I managed... "Wwwwe are not ah ah alone anymore..." my trembling voice trailed off.
"Got it!" Shu Shu exclaimed. "I've found the door!"
He had located the edge of the portal! I reached up myself and felt the steel edge of a three foot diameter, circular hatch. A heavy mechanical latch existed on one side but in the impenetrable darkness I could not figure out how to release the door. It was a great relief to no longer be forced to tread water, as I was now able to hang from the latch as I blindly fidgeted with the apparatus. Something clicked. A thin ring of sunlight appeared around the edge of the hatch. I saw Shu Shu's face smiling with tremendous relief.
"Now what were you just say...?" Shu Shu started to ask, but before he could finish we were violently yanked underwater by some tentacle-like arm wrapped tightly around my ankles. In an instant it was as though we were sucked into a savage whirlpool. I kicked and thrashed about but my weary body, already beyond exhausted from hours spent treading water, was useless against the strong thing pulling us downward. I went limp. I almost passed out but my mind was shocked awake by a new and stinging pain. It was Shu Shu's sharp, strong hind claws. They were digging deep into my skin one after the other. Somehow, despite the strong current against him, he was walking along my body towards my legs. He had to focus every ounce of his strength to keep from being washed away by the surge. The stabbing pain moved down my chest. He made his way onto my right leg. (If we somehow manged to survive, I'd have to thank him for deftly avoiding my crotch.) Soon he had reached my ankles and with all the strength a six inch tall Mew's tiny jaws could muster he laid into our oppressor with a massive "CHOMP."
The beast winced and shook us about. I caught the horrifying glimmer of jagged pointy teeth in the faint light coming from the edge of the hatch several fathoms above us. Deafening bubbles engulfed us as Shu Shu continued to bite the beast's arm repeatedly. My left leg came loose and was now kicking futilely at the monster. Shu Shu, still clinging tightly to my right ankle, was nipping fiercely at the monster's rubbery arm like a homicidal snapping turtle.
All of a sudden, an intense bright spotlight beamed down into the chamber. Looking up I saw the hatch had opened and a tiny brown face was peeking down. In the new light our attacker's octopus-like body became suddenly visible to my blurry, waterlogged eyes and another of its massive tentacles was quickly headed straight for my face. I tried to blocked it but my arms were too weak. I struggled to keep it from breaking my neck but I could no longer hold my breath. Then, out of the corner of my eyes, I saw a long silver streak fly down from above, pass my head on the opposite side, and strike the forehead of the aquatic monster. That's when I blacked out.
After a while, I regained consciousness. My body felt like it had been trampled by a herd of elephants and my eyes could hardly open beyond the narrowest of squints. Somewhere, not far away, I could hear hear voices. I tried to speak but my tongue had turned into a gritty bag of sand.
"Brett's awake," said a familiar voice. I looked about cautiously to find myself surrounded by six smiling Mews. One of them, the one who had spoke, was Shu Shu!
"Foo, bring some more water please," Shu Shu asked a large Mew while pointing at me. The Mew nodded and, using an empty shell, proceeded to scoop water into my mouth from a small pool. The water felt as though it was a gift from heaven even if most of it dribbled down my chin. I forced my eyes to open and looked about at my current surrounding. I was once again in some sort of cave but instead of a dark and evil place, this cave was homey and well lit from a large skylight in the ceiling. Five tiny hammocks hung about the small room and a tiny table set with shell cups was in the middle. In one corner a large iron pot of water could be seen bubbling over a pit of glowing coals and all around us herbs and flowers could be seen. In some cases they were growing right out of cracks in the walls, in other cases they were cut and hanging upside down to dry. The wall I was leaning against had a small rivulet of clean water running briskly from a crack in the stone. It pooled up conveniently by my side and flowed out of the room along another tiny crack. Most remarkable of all were the five new faces staring up at me. Besides the pitiful Mews that had been turned to stone and trapped in the dark heart of this island, I had never seen another Mew before Shu Shu in all my life.
"How long have I been out?" I asked.
"At least twelve hours. I was scared out of my mind," replied Shu Shu, and with this he crawled up to my neck and gave me a warm hug.
"What happened, and where are we?" I asked.
Shu Shu grinned. "We were saved from certain death by these lovable rascals," he made a sweeping gesture around the room as he spoke. "Brett, I'd like you to meet Foo," he pointed at the large Mew who gave me water. "This is Sheena," he pointed at a fierce and pretty looking Mew with a wild tuft of spiky red hair on the top of her head. "And over there are Quin," (a small and smart looking Mew poking at the fire), "Guhh," (an old looking Mew with only one eye), "and Tock" (a twitchy, excitable looking fellow chopping a coconut with a very large knife).
Each of the five Mew gave me a polite smile as they recognized their names. I was in awe.
"Mew Mew Muh Muh" Foo said to me with a happy glimmer in his eye.
"That's a common Mew greeting!" Shu Shu explained. "They all speak Mew all the time! Isn't that cool? They speak some English too, though. Guhh taught them. He's over five thousand years old and he knew Ben Jones!"
Shu Shu was practically jumping up and down as he spoke.
"Muh Roey!" Quin called from the corner. All of the other Mew looked over at him excitedly.
"What's happening?" I asked Shu Shu. He just shrugged but Guhh answered.
"Muh Roey means, tea is ready." Guhh explained. "Shu Shu is our Mew guest so he's first to soak."
Shu Shu smiled from ear to ear as the others gestured him toward the big pot of fragrant boiling water. It was full of lovely smelling flowers and leaves. Shu Shu climbed inside. I have never seen him look happier. A five minute soak did wonders for my little friend. His dry cracked skin became smooth and healthy. It seemed to nourish his body and soul.
"Next the big man drinks," Guhh proclaimed while looking up at me. He seemed to me to be the patriarch of this little tribe. The other Mew each grabbed large shells, filled them up from the pot and lay them at my feet.
"Careful, it's hot," Guhh said with a grin.
It certainly did look hot. It almost looked like it was still boiling inside the shells. I decided to wait for a few minutes. During this time, the other Mew took turns soaking in the hot cauldron. Guhh was the last to soak and remained in the water much longer than all the others. He seemed to go into some kind of trance as the bubbling water violently licked at his brown stony flesh.
At last I sipped my "tea." It was pure ambrosia. Each sip soothed my weary body. Built up pain and stress evaporated away. As I started to feel better, I began to feel hungry too. It had been ages since I had eaten. But Guhh had already foreseen this and motioned towards Foo to bring me a steaming hot coconut shell bowl filled with stewed coconut meat, yams and herbs. I ate with relish.
As I ate, Shu Shu told me what I had missed since the moment I passed out in the water. "Somehow these five wonderful Mew were in the right place at the right time. They heard us thrashing about underwater, attempting to free ourselves from the sea-beast. They looked inside the hatch and immediately launched a rescue. Sheena threw a harpoon dead center at the kraken's brain. It died quickly and sunk to the bottom. Quin and Guhh tied a rope around a nearby tree, and Foo and Tock, who are both excellent swimmers, dove in after us. They tied the rope to your waist and then hauled us both up. Fortunately, we Mew are like ants in that we are super-strong for our size. All of us worked together to carry your limp, waterlogged bones back to their secret headquarters. That is to say, this place!"
At this point Guhh began to speak.
"There is still so much we must discuss," he said earnestly. As he spoke, a stillness came over the room and all heads turned to face him. Guhh addressed Shu Shu and continued, "It is simply amazing that you found Ben Jones' journal and came to our island. In fact, the night before you first arrived, I made a wish on a falling star that help would come soon." Then Guhh turned to face me, "Brett, while you were unconscious, Shu Shu told us every terrible thing that has happened to you since you both arrived here on our beloved island of Mewluwi. Now it is time I tell you more about us.
"I was born on this island 5,040 years ago and for a long time I've been the oldest Mew alive. As you already know, our race can live forever as long as we bathe often in hot, fragrant water or unless we meet with some unexpected peril. Once in a while, a hapless Mew would fall off a cliff or get carried away by a desperately hungry seabird. Whenever something like this would happen, the whole community would take a vote to choose which pair could reproduce. In this way, we kept the population stable and sustainable. By and large our island was a very peaceful place, though occasionally, bad-tempered Mew would fight over petty things. I can remember only a handful of murders and suicides during my long lifetime. One of the murders was my twin brother Wuhh."
Guhh paused for effect as my mouth dropped open in wonder. The other Mew, who had heard all this before, returned to their various projects. Foo was exercising, Sheena was sharpening her spears, and Quin was over by the fire, tinkering with an odd mix of metal and mud. Tock, on the other hand, remained close to Guhh. He stared at Shu Shu and me with deep interest.
"Captain Jones and his crew were not the first humans to visit Mewluwi," Guhh continued. "The first human to arrive came one hundred years earlier. He was a castaway clinging to a small raft. My brother and I spotted him near Muhfu Bay and immediately gathered a rescue party of strong Mew swimmers. None of us had ever seen a real human before, but we had heard stories about them from the few Mew adventurers who had traveled abroad and managed to return home.
"After we pulled the man up on to the beach, my brother Wuhh innocently tried to remove a small leather bag tied around the man's neck, so as to help the man recover and facilitate the removal of his soggy tattered clothes. The man harshly pushed away Wuhh's paw and clutched his bag possessively. As he did this, Wuhh noticed the man's wrists were raw with rope burn as if they had been bound. Wuhh gave the man a quizzical look and the man quickly checked himself and flashed Wuhh a forced smile. He spoke in English and told us his name was William. A friend of mine named Tut, who had spent the last decade traveling the world, was able to translate William's words into the Mew tongue. William claimed that he had been adrift in the Pacific for over a week after falling off his ship three days after leaving Fiji. Wuhh and I were skeptical of this story, because he seemed to be in very good shape for someone who had just endured such a hardship.
"During the following weeks, William made friends among the Mew and picked up quite a bit of our language, but Wuhh and I didn't like him. From the moment we hauled his murderous bones out of the sea we expected his whole story was a lie. 'What type of seaman falls off his boat?' Wuhh and I asked at a meeting of Mew elders a week after William's arrival. 'And what is in that bag he's always wearing around his neck?' The Mew elders did not share our distrust. William had already won them over with his stories, jokes and charm. It was not until later that we discovered he had actually taken control of their minds.
"A month after William's arrival, funny things began to happen around our society. Nobody ever had a bad thing to say about William. We often heard other Mews chatting about the wonderful things he had done for them, but we never actually saw him lifting a finger, except to build a comfortable two room cottage on the far side of the island with the help of 20 devoted Mew. Wuhh and I decided we may have been wrong about him and visited him once during this time. We even brought him a large fish and a few pounds of edible flowers. William thanked us and invited us into the main room of his home. He asked a group of Mew to clean and cook his new fish. They jumped up and got right to work. Another Mew quickly brought William some tea, along with two bowls for Wuhh and I to soak in.
"William stared us at coldly. He fidgeted with the bag hanging around his neck. He asked us if we had ever traveled outside of Mewluwi. We answered, honestly, that we had not. I asked him what he was doing in Fiji. He told us his captain had stopped there to take on provisions but found the natives too hostile and shortly after they departed, a terrible storm nearly capsized the ship. Next thing he knew, he was plunged into the raging sea and it was a blessing that he came across a small raft drifting free of his ship.
"Wuhh looked at me doubtfully. William continued to stare at both of us. Between words, his lips moved like he was mumbling silently. It was very hypnotic and I began to feel sleepy. William's attendants constantly refilled our bowls with hot water. It was all very relaxing. I was feeling comfortable and beginning to believe William's story. Wuhh pinched me. I gave him a confused look as he briskly told William, 'Thank you for the tea, but we must be going right now.' He pulled me out of my bowl and dragged me from the cottage. As the door closed behind us I caught one last look at William's face. He was frowning and his narrow eyes seemed to simmer with rage.
"Wuhh and I raced home. 'What happened back there?' I asked him.
"'You were nearly hypnotised by that monster! That's what happened!' Wuhh replied. 'I bet he's enslaved every Mew he's come in contact with. Well he won't get you and me. We have to stop him.'
"I stared at my brother in awe. He was right, of course. But how? What could we do against a full-grown human with bizarre evil powers? As he so often did, my twin answered my unspoken question. 'We have to steal whatever is in that bag around his neck. That's what he's using to control the minds of our people. We must return tonight, sneak into his cottage, remove the bag and get out of there without getting caught.'
"I shuddered and then stared at Wuhh in disbelief. After a minute I said 'OK, I'm in,'"
Shu Shu, Tock and I hung on every word of Guhh's exciting story. The other Mew had retired to their hammocks and presumably fallen asleep. Guhh stared straight into the white-hot coals of the cave's cooking fire. His voice became more serious as he pushed ahead with his tale.
"That night we waited in the jungle a few yards from William's cottage. To our dismay, William had two Mew guards stationed on opposite corners of the house. Of course we knew them and were, in the past, on friendly terms with these two. But something was not right about them tonight. We could see it in their eyes. They had been programmed to destroy anybody who tried to enter William's cottage uninvited. We watched them for hours, occasionally pacing around and, from time to time, whispering to each other.
"It was well past midnight when Wuhh and I saw our chance. One of the guards had gone inside and the other had heard something rustling in the bushes on the far side. While his attention was on the dark tree line opposite our position, Wuhh and I crept up to the building. In the shadows we moved around the side until we found ourselves under what we believed to be William's window.
"Using our claws, we climbed up the rough wooden boards and peeked through the glass. William lay sleeping several feet away in a gently swaying hammock. The small leather bag, as always, was hanging around his neck. Otherwise, the room appeared empty, so as quietly as we could, we attempted to open the window. It was locked. Then we heard the front door of the cottage gently close. The other guard was likely returning to his original position and would soon be able to see us if he chanced to look directly up at this window.
"Wuhh whispered a crazy idea. 'Run home!' he told me. 'Make a lot of noise once you get in the jungle, but don't stop running and don't look back. One or both of the guards will follow you. I'll slip inside the house, take the bag and head for a safe place. We'll meet up tomorrow.' I began to protest when the moonlight-shadow of guard number one started to round the corner.
"I ran away from the house as fast as possible, yelling once I got to the jungle. The guard was indeed after me. I ran faster than I've ever run before. Luckily, I knew of a small side trail that would take me to the perfect hiding place in a grove of ancient ferns. I threw myself into the foliage and willed my loudly beating heart not to give away my position. I listened closely and then, to my immense relief, the guard ran past me. After a few minutes I changed my route and took the long way, cutting through thick jungle back towards my house. But then I stopped short. I couldn't go home. I couldn't just abandon my brother. What if he needed me? I decided I had to sneak back to William's cottage.
"I doubled back and took a different trail, closer to the beach, and soon found myself within sight of the tyrant's abode. The first light of dawn was beginning to heat up the eastern sky and the guards were nowhere to be seen. I crept silently closer to the house until I heard my brother screaming in agony. I raced to the door and entered the main room of the cottage.
"William and Wuhh were in the bedroom and the door was slightly ajar. William was chanting in a low monotone. It sounded like Fijian, a language some other Mew could speak but I had never learned. I looked around for something to use as a weapon and settled on a long, sharp fish bone lying on the floor where William ate his meals. I slowly peered into the bedroom and saw my brother's body. It looked dry and shriveled, and his screams were slowing down. It was as though he was turning to stone. Occasionally, his scaly brown skin would crack and pop horribly.
"I didn't waste another second. I rushed at William, caught him off guard, climbed up the front of his shirt and began stabbing him violently in the chest and neck. Blood started to swell up from his wounds and he came out of some sort of trance. He grabbed me and threw me across the room like a baseball. I crumpled against the wall. William pulled the fish bone out of his neck and lunged at me. He caught me right in the eye with that bloody white bone. I recovered all the strength I had and made one last attempt to crawl toward my brother. I had to get us both out of there but William overpowered me. He put me in a dark wooden chest that he had recently built. The lid closed to total blackness.
"I was trapped inside this hellish box for several days and my Mew body had nearly dried out, leaving me wretched and on death's door. At last, the box opened. It was Wuhh and he looked healthy. I could not believe my remaining eye. How could this be? 'Wuhh!!!' I bellowed with half-insane delight. 'What happened? Where's William? How did you escape?'
"Wuhh didn't say anything, but he let me out and gave me a much needed soak in hot boiling tea. I repeated my questions. He didn't answer. I knew something was not right. I attempted to hug my brother but he turned away. When he looked at me again, I saw evil behind his eyes. 'Your brother is almost gone.' he said coldly. 'My human body died as well from the barrage of wounds you inflicted on it. But just before it passed I was able to perform one last spell and I've moved into Wuhh's body.'
"I swallowed in disgust. I was suddenly gripped by fear and rage and loss and guilt. 'You what?!' I screamed. 'Where is my brother?! What have you done with my brother?!'"
"'I'm here.' It was really Wuhh's voice this time. His eyes were those of my dear brother. 'I love you brother, but he is just too strong. I fought so hard with him just to open the box and give you a chance. You have to get out of here. I can't hold him back much longer.'
"'I love you too Wuhh!' I cried as I witnessed those shockingly evil eyes regain their unrightful place on my brother's face.
"'Now you will die.' hissed the demon through my brother's own lips. He began to speak rapidly in Fijian. I ran for the door. I didn't look back and I never saw my brother again.
"These last centuries, I have been at war with this terrible wizard that I know only as William. Fortunately, his power was greatly reduced from our encounter. He spent the last few centuries rebuilding his power and working on his evil spells as a xenophobic recluse. This is how Captain Jones came to know him. I knew the truth, of course, but could never convince my peers. His ability to control their minds has made my life a living hell. Eventually, I assembled a small team of trusted Mew. Each of them has a personal reason to despise William. Our numbers were much greater until the Great Battle. That is when William mastered the spell of taking on a new human form. I will save that story for another time, but it ended, of course, with every last Mew except ourselves being turned into stone deep inside the island."
The low fire in the warm, pleasant cave cast dancing shadows around the walls. The others were snoring contentedly. Shu Shu and I realized just how tired our bruised and broken bodies actually were. Tomorrow, we would proudly join Guhh and his team to try and save Mewluwi from Wuhh's--I mean William's--evil clutches. But for now, we'll sleep.