Chapter 1 - Eyes

Thick dust sealed Mari’s eyelashes shut as cool, dank air enveloped her still body. She extended an arm, tracing the dirt-laden stone floor, while her other arm moved to rub her eyes free. She opened them to the faint glow of a delicate blue light emanating from the corner of a dark cavernous room. Her eyes quickly adjusted and began to make out details.

As she sat up, a shattered mural spread across the cavernous wall in front of her. She searched her mind, trying to recall how she ended up here, but the memories eluded her, like fragments of a dream slipping away. “Whatever,” she muttered as she attempted to stand. “I’ll figure out what’s going on, even if my mind can’t remember.” Everything was stiff, as if she had been lying there for days. She trembled slightly—was it fear or uncertainty? Mainly, she was incredibly hungry. Her stomach growled, and she put a hand to it.

She surveyed the cavern and moved towards the light. "Ah," she echoed in her mind, this was her lantern. Rectangular and compact, it emitted a delicate blue light. She quickly inspected it, brushing some soil off, and clipped it to the shoulder strap of her pack. She turned and saw a passage, tracing her own paw prints. It looked like she came from there at one point. Rubble filled the space now.

Mari approached the mural, her lantern illuminating the details. It seemed to depict a story, but much of the mural was damaged by what looked like claw marks, making it illegible. In the center, however, was an emblem marked with three diamond-like shapes forming a triangle, circumscribed by a circle. Below it was writing that Mari did not recognize.

She dropped her pack off one shoulder and swung it around in front of her. Rifling through it, she pulled out a metal cylinder and a small piece of chalk. Unscrewing the end of the cylinder exposed a roll of parchment, which she pulled out and flattened over the emblem and writing. “I’ll bring this back to The Burrow; Rufus will know what to do,” she thought.

Mari packed up and moved across the chamber to the rubble-filled entrance.

“Okay, I just have to remember my teachings,” she thought. “Clear your mind an—” she paused. “I almost forgot,” she said aloud and dropped her pack down in front of her, pulling out what looked like a petrified watermelon half. She spun it around and lifted it over her tiny head, placing it firmly.

She swung the pack back onto her back and refocused her attention on the rubble pile. She outstretched her arms, and her paws began somatic gesturing. She started giving herself the same mental pep talk, “Okay, clear my mind, clear my mind and focus on the vision, let the vision move through me and see it thro—”

The light on Mari’s lantern shuddered, and a blast rendered through the cavernous space while dust filled the air. The sounds of rock and rubble making an impact in whatever space adjoined this room echoed around her.

Mari coughed as bright sunlight broke through the swirling dust, reflecting on millions of bits of suspended particulate. For a brief moment, she saw what looked like the face of an old marmot appear and then whisk away as a rush of warm air blew through the now gaping hole.

She scrambled through the cleared rubble, pieces of rock shattered sharply. “Dang,” she thought to herself, “that might have been my most powerful mind blast yet. Maybe I’m starting to get the hang of this!”

As Mari moved to the next room, she saw the source of the daylight: a rope suspended softly from an opening about 40 tails up. She looked back at the passage she had just come from. While most of this chamber was an unremarkable rock cavern, the passage was ornately inscribed with images of various burrowing rodents. Some engaged in battle with fish, while others defended against aerial assaults from birds. Towards the top was an image of a bipedal creature Mari had never seen before. Surrounded by burrowing rodents of all types, this creature seemed to be a sort of partner or friend to them.

She reached out her paw, and as it drew near the images, a wave of energy pulsed through the inscriptions. Reflexively, she withdrew, paused, and reached back to replicate the reaction. Nothing.

She inspected the doorway a while longer, then scrambled up the rubble to the rope. Climbing to the surface, she pierced the sunlight and ascended into the day. Her eyes squinted; the light was so intense. She had spent a long time acclimating, but it was always a shock. She pulled off the helmet, sliding it back into her pack, and reached into her vest pocket to pull out a pair of shades. Donning them instantly relieved her eyes. They mechanically expanded to cover even the sides from sunlight, effectively sealing her eyes.

Mari surveyed her surroundings. She knew she was on the north end of Long Valley. Scrub, pine trees, and loose boulders marked the landscape, mountains lining the horizon in all directions. Next to the opening she had just climbed from, a large boulder sat, its tracks sliding in the dirt, indicating it had previously covered the hole. She pressed her tongue to her big flat incisors and gave a sharp whistle. A large rabbit with dark tan fur peppered with black and white markings leapt from a nearby bush. Its massive ears eclipsed the sun, which Mari noticed was a couple of hours from the horizon.

“Ah, there ya are, my beautiful boy,” she said with a grin, patting the rabbit on its haunch.

The rabbit was rigged up with a riding harness, saddle, and bags. Mari reached into one of the saddlebags and pulled out another long tube.

“Well, Phlip, what were we up to and why can’t I remember anything before we left The Burrow?” she exclaimed aloud to the rabbit.

She unfurled a large map and traced the route back to The Burrow with her furry finger. “Well, I’m not seeing any notes here…” she gave the rabbit a side-eye. “Do you remember anything?” The rabbit dropped a few quick pellets to the dry, rocky ground.

“Thought not,” Mari muttered to herself. “Alright then, let’s try and get home before dark. The birds will be out soon.”

She grabbed Phlip’s harness and, in a swift motion, swung herself onto the saddle while seamlessly giving him a firm kick with her heels. Off they went, bounding into the sunrise at rapid speed.

As they rode home, Mari pondered the events. Trying to recall her last memory before waking up in that chamber. The last thing she could remember was chatting with her friend Jerro, one of the engineers that worked at the power station in the dam. But they were just chatting about her upcoming psionics trial and what her plans were after the academy.

“Well,” she thought to herself as the wind whipped through her fur, “I suppose that’s somewhere to start.”

The hidden entrance to The Burrow was coming up. The landscape shifted from rocky scrub and pine to soft grasses and scattered trees. She was descending from the mountains and getting close.

A downed tree marked the entrance. She rode up and hopped off Phlip’s back. Quickly looking around the area, she flipped a hidden panel on the tree. A small metal pad revealed itself, and she placed her paw on it. A red light glowed under her paw, then flipped to green and faded.

The fallen tree shifted and hinged at one end. Soft lights, similar to Mari’s lantern, led down a slope. She hopped back on Phlip’s back and descended the ramp. A deep thud from behind alerted her that the entrance had resealed.

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