by Kirby Ray
Jay Scott and her friends discover an ancient secret buried beneath the town of Arboleda.
CHAPTER 4: THE PRIMOGENITOR OFFICE
As Jay curled up and sobbed into her knees, Warren stood still as a statue, unsure of what he should or could do for her. He had only known her for a brief moment, yet he had managed to land on her bad side after unknowingly dredging up a miserable past. At the same time, he did not feel comfortable seeing anyone break down in front of him, but he had no idea how to approach her. His parents had never been the most comforting whenever they were home, and while the staff around the Harvey mansion were nice, there was always a professional distance that kept him apart from them. With nerves bubbling inside him, the boy ran his fingers over his copper hair and thought to ask his companion for advice.
"Hey Davide," he whispered over his shoulder, "do you think we should--I don't know--help?"
When he got no answer, Warren whispered again, "Davide?"
He glanced behind him and found the massive student crouched down in front of the wall, studying something intently. Davide waved the nervous boy over and called out, "Bikini, come take a look at this!"
"Can you please just forget that ever happened?" Warren grumbled as he nevertheless answered the call and walked over.
Davide moved aside to reveal what he had been gazing at--a tiny hole in the wall of the cavern. He pointed to it with one of his sausage fingers and told his classmate, "There's this little hole here. I didn't really notice it right away, but look--it's perfectly round, like there was something cut out of it."
Curiosity piqued, Warren reached down to the spot and traced his finger around the rough granite wall. Sure enough, it was exactly as Davide had described it, and though he searched his brain for an answer, he could not find one that made much sense. He turned to Davide and suggested, "Let's see if there're any others like it."
The two nodded before searching up, down, and across the chamber, but try as they might, they could not find another hole that matched the first one. Their snooping attracted the attention of Rosa, who shot the boys a glare that could melt steel and asked, "Can you two cool it with all the walking around and the mumbling? We're trying to have a moment here."
"Yeah, well, we're a little busy doing super-serious research here," Davide contested as he slapped the section of wall where the hole lay. "There's this little hole in the wall, we don't know what it's for, and we're trying to find some more!"
Ears perked, Jay looked up and over at the boys as they gestured to the spot. Warren explained, "It might not be anything, but it's weird that there's just this one. It's no bigger than a pencil, and--"
"Did...did you just say, 'no bigger than a pencil'?" Jay sniffled. She pulled her glasses away and wiped her face on her rosy sleeve. After taking a breath to compose herself, the girl rose to her feet with some help from her friends. "Let me take a look. Bian, can you look in my bag for a little black stick?"
Her silent friend nodded eagerly and trotted off to root through Jay's backpack while the girl dusted off her pants. She felt her cheeks burning from crying until her eyes turned red, but also from the feeling of shame that can only come from embarrassing oneself in front of friends and acquaintances. Clearing her throat in an attempt to compose herself, the lanky girl crossed the cavern with purposeful strides until she reached the spot in question. A close examination did not reveal anything out of the ordinary, but she could not shake a sense that there was something more to it.
"I'd try taking a picture to see if anything's in there, but I don't have the right gear for that," Davide explained before straightening up and puffing out his chest with phony machismo. "Not like I'd know what sort of cameras you'd need, I mean."
"Of course. Warren, can you bring over the lantern?" Jay asked before adding on an extra, "Please?"
The boy nodded and turned to retrieve it, only to throw up his hands in a desperate attempt to catch it. Rosa gave him a thumbs up and clapped him on the shoulder as she walked past with a breezy, "Nice catch, Warbucks."
Warren blushed a bashful pink and handed the lantern to Jay, who turned the light to the hole while the others gathered around her. As she peered into the tiny space, her eyes went wide; she wrenched her glasses off to clean them, just to be certain what she saw was truly there. Thankfully, it was, and a grin spread from ear to ear as a fit of giggles came over her.
"You guys are never going to believe this!" she exclaimed as she scooted over to give her friends room to see what she had found. "Holes! A bunch of little, tiny, itty-bitty holes!"
It was difficult to make out between the awkward angle of the light and the depth of the hole, but it was true; there was a series of little holes in the back, each one only slightly larger than a pin. Rosa scratched her head and asked, "Okay, so what does that mean?"
"It means--thanks, Bi," Jay said as Bian delivered the stick in her bag. It was no mere stick though--it was the key that Caster Lea had left with her at her Pop-Pop's viewing. The girl excitedly held it out for everyone to see, and pointed to the pins at the end of the key. "This is a key that I got from one of my grandfather's partners, and it's not just any key--it's a Primogenitor key!"
"And you think it goes to this because why, exactly?" asked a skeptical Davide. "I mean, what are the chances that this exact key goes with this exact door?"
Jay scowled at the boy before approaching the hole. "They're miniscule at best, but after seeing what was going on in Armenia, you can't tell me that they're nonexistent."
With fingers trembling from nerves and anticipation, she inserted the key into the hole and slid it towards the back until she hit the end. She turned it this way and that until she felt the needles connect with their holes, at which point the rest of the key slid in up to the base. Jay studied the wall with bated breath, unsure of what to expect but knowing that something was bound to happen. Unfortunately, her friends and classmates did not share the feeling.
"Guess it wasn't the right key," Warren decided with a shrug.
"And now we don't have a way to get it back out," Rosa remarked as she tried to remove the key.
Suddenly, Bian pushed her way past Rosa and put her ear up to the wall. Jay tapped her on the shoulder, only to be answered with a quiet murmur. Her eyes went wide and she quietly informed the group, "I hear gears turning."
The meek girl immediately regretted her announcement, as everyone crowded around her to press their ears against the cavern wall. Sure enough, they could all hear the muffled sounds of gears grinding against each other from deep within, slowly but surely increasing in speed. The students leaned in closer, only to jump back when they felt the wall shift against them. Bian hid behind Jay, Warren hid behind Davide, and Rosa pulled out her phone to take pictures of whatever happened, but nothing changed.
"Well, that's a let-down," Rosa sighed as she tucked her phone back into her dingy jeans. "I was expecting it to open up like some kinda adventure movie--like we just turned on a booby trap or something. Where are the snake pits, the spikes in the floor, or the ceiling that'll crush us like pancakes?"
"You want that to happen?" Warren asked as he questioned his classmate's sanity.
Undeterred, Jay crept back up to the wall and put her hands on the rough rock as she felt around for any changes. She took a deep breath, dug her feet into the ground, and began to push against the cavern wall with all the might a fourteen-year-old can muster. Sweat beaded on her ebony brow as she strained every muscle in her body, but all that toil amounted to little more than a hair's breadth of give. That was all that she needed though; it proved that the rock could be moved.
Davide trotted up to the self-imposed leader of the bunch and told her, "All right, string bean--move over before you pull something."
"What? And let you have all the fun?" Jay grunted as she continued to push, even as veins bulged in her forehead. "Not on your life."
The jock chuckled as he took his place beside Jay and bent his knees before ramming all his weight against the cavern wall. With the much-needed boost in force, the rock gave way, releasing a cloud of dust and a shower of pebbles in the process. Nevertheless, the duo continued to push, and the blockade gave way to a dark void inside. The air inside the tunnel was stagnant and rank, and the students all plugged their noses from the foul stench of millennia-old funk. Only Jay took a deep breath of the stuff, happily filling her lungs before letting it out in a sigh of contentment.
"Just like I always pictured it," she hummed dreamily before waltzing over to the supplies and grabbing her lantern. "Davide, bring your camera--we're going to need it."
Before the giant boy could comply, Warren stepped in and asked, "Wait, you're seriously just going to walk in there? I'm all for doing something stupid, but Jay, we've only got one light and no equipment for exploring caves."
"I know--that's what makes it so exciting," Jay giggled as she brushed past her classmate and shined her lantern into the depths of the tunnel. "Where's your sense of adventure?"
"Its shift is over, and common sense just punched in," the boy grumbled before turning to the rest of the group for some back-up. Unfortunately, he did not find the reassurance he was looking for, as Bian and Rosa fell in line with Jay and followed her into the darkness. This left only Davide, who only shrugged and held his camera up.
"Sorry, man, but this is too good to miss out on," he explained apologetically. "You want to hang out here until we get back?"
Warren glanced around him and pulled his platinum-encased phone from his pocket. He did not need to wait in the humid cave; he could just as easily head back to the surface and tell Star to meet him at the end of the trail. But what would that accomplish? All he had waiting for him back home was an empty house, and shopping or going to a movie sounded so dull compared to the afternoon he was having so far. There was no telling what to expect from that tunnel, but at least he would not be alone or bored with his classmates around.
"No, no, I'll join you," he replied with a tired, accepting grin. "Besides, you'll need all the light you can get down there, and my phone is an experimental prototype with three times the battery power; we'll have light for hours."
"Then lead the way," Davide chuckled as he gestured ahead for the smaller boy. "I'm right behind you."
It did not take long for them to catch up with the girls, as Jay was creeping along at a snail's pace in an effort to record everything she came across. The group joined her in studying the tunnel, most notably how the walls were smooth and made of a different stone than the cavern outside, as though they had walked into a new place entirely. There were no markings on the walls, save for those that Jay occasionally made in order to show where they had been, nor were there any doors or alcoves to break up the monotony of the tunnel. The only sign that they were making any progress was the slight slope leading them down into unknown depths.
Not a word was uttered among the teens, as if anything they said would alert something in the darkness; even Rosa, ever the chatterbox, had clammed up for the journey. The more fearful of the group stayed close to the headstrong, with Warren nibbling at his perfectly manicured nails in front of Davide and Bian clinging to Jay so tight that the bespectacled girl would need a crowbar to pry her off. At least the headstrong leader of the bunch was enjoying herself, even as her cohorts kept one eye out every step of the way.
Finally, after what seemed an eternity of silence, the group came upon a door a head shorter than the one they walked through before. There was a small indentation on one side of the door, and Jay's fingers fit perfectly in the groove. Before she did anything, she glanced over her shoulder at her friends and classmates, waiting for any one of them to tell her not to do it. Fortunately, everyone--even Bian--seemed more curious than scared by that point.
"Anyone going to try and stop me?" she asked as she glanced from face to face. "Last chance before I maybe do something incredibly stupid!"
Rosa rolled her eyes and scoffed, "Please...like that's stopped you so far. Just open the door before I decide to do it for you."
Jay nodded to her friend and tugged on the handle once, twice, three times before the stubborn door slid open on her. Just like the cavern door, ages of being kept shut had ruined whatever mechanisms were in the ancient device, and she had to force it open with all her might. This time, however, she was joined in her efforts by everyone joining in pushing the thick slab of stone open. It took a Herculean effort on the gang's part, but they finally pried the door open enough for everyone to squeeze in--literally so in Davide's case.
Once all five were in the room, Jay raised her lantern to illuminate the darkness, but nearly dropped the light when she heard a crackling sound all about her. It was like a thousand knuckles cracking one after the other, and as they increased in volume and intensity, the chamber filled with dim light. There were half-globes lining the round room and beams that stretched across the ceiling, and though they started as soft as fireflies, they quickly grew to moonlight, then twilight, and finally daylight, as if the kids were not deep underground. The crackling died down once the lights reached their peak, leaving the chamber silent once more.
The abundance of light allowed the gang to see exactly what they had stumbled into, and were it not for the historical significance, it would have been disappointing. The chamber was no bigger than Ms. Kilpatrick's classroom, and taking up much of the space was a round, royal blue table in the center. Ten egg shaped, sky blue chairs circled the table, and placed in front of each chair was a small, obsidian box. Aside from the table, there were ten gray panels along the walls--five on either side of the room, each the size of the door into the chamber. It was sparse and barren otherwise, with nothing else of note save for the smell of stagnant air.
"Do you smell that, guys?" Jay asked as she took a deep breath of the stale scent. "Smells like history to me!"
"Smells like a hot car if you ask me," Rosa remarked as she walked around the room and ran her fingers along the smooth walls.
Davide made his way to the table and crouched down to eye-level with the surface. "What do you suppose they did here?" he asked to anyone listening.
"Maybe budget meetings?" asked Warren, his tone unclear if he was joking or not. "It looks like a start-up's conference room."
The others congregated around the table in the shape of a star: Warren and Davide sat down in chairs pointed to the corners of the room, Bian and Rosa took the seats directly across from the walls, and Jay sat facing the door to the chamber. The chairs were far from comfortable, but simply sitting in them made the kids feel like they were part of something much bigger and older than they were--like they were Primogenitors themselves.
"You know what the best part of all this is?" Jay asked her friends and classmates as they settled into the seats. When no one answered, save for Bian shrugging her shoulders, she readjusted her glasses and answered, "We found this first--it's ours, and no one can take that from us."
Unfortunately, as Jay and her companions discovered the Primogenitor lair, so to did the Black Star Army halfway across the world. Pyramax rolled into Lord Cosmic's throne room, her four eyes blinking wildly as she came to a stop in front of the King of Black Stars. Despite the frantic pulse of her lights, her tone was as cold and detached as ever when she told her lord and master, "My King, I have detected the activation of a Primogenitor stronghold."
"Where?" Lord Cosmic grunted as he sat up in his throne.
Pyramax projected a map of the United States onto the far wall, and then proceeded to zoom in until she reached Arboleda. "It is in some backwater town called 'Arboleda'--quite far from the capital."
"Maintain our present course, but dispatch the closest agent," the hulking menace ordered his general.
"Scanning for any nearby troops," droned the expressionless Pyramax as her eyes blinked rapidly for a moment. Finally, they came to a stop and she told her lord, "There is an agent a day's travel from the town. They shall be dispatched at once."
Lord Cosmic nodded in approval and waved one of his massive iron hands as he commanded, "Tell them to get to this Arboleda as soon as possible; I want to secure that stronghold as soon as possible."
"As you wish, my lord," Pyramax replied before rolling out of the room once again.
As he sat atop his throne, the King of Black Stars pursed his lips and furrowed his brow at the thought of anyone other than him taking a stronghold. His power was mighty, but his greatest advantage was that this modern world had no defense against his technology; it was how he was able to strike fear into the people of Earth mere hours before. If someone else had gotten their hands on the same ancient weaponry, they posed a threat to his reign, however meager that threat might be. He would not abide that, not when he was on the cusp of domination once again.
"Mark my words, Arboleda," Lord Cosmic growled as his iron fingers dug into his throne, "I shall have my prize, and no one shall stop me."