Sir Henry had leapt up onto a piece of scaffolding, some five inches tall, and addressed the crowd. “COMPATRIOTS, BROTHERS-IN-ARMS, OUR SUPPLICATIONS HAVE BEEN ANSWERED. THE DEITY HAS BESTOWED ON US THREE DEMIGODS FROM THE OVERWORLD. OVERDWELLERS PRUE, CURTIS, AND SEPTIMUS. WITH THEIR AID, WE SHALL BE VICTORIOUS!”
More “HUZZAHS!” erupted from the crowd; Curtis noticed they all shared the same strange dialect and timbre as Sir Henry.
“Hello,” said Curtis.
“Howdy,” said Septimus.
“Hi,” said Prue. They all waved timidly.
The mole army, silent, stood before them. Prue imagined that they might be expecting something more, some holy declaration. “Nice to meet you!” was all she could manage.
“I don’t suppose you’ve got any food, like, for overdwellers,” said Septimus.
Prue shot him a look; Curtis poked him in the ribs with his finger. It didn’t seem like a very deity-like thing to say.
“THE OVERDWELLERS CALL FOR MANNA! QUICK, THE GRANOLA BARS!” came a call from the rear of the crowd.
“See?” said Septimus, vindicated.
Twin waves of moles, their bottle caps clanking, folded away to create a clear avenue down the center of the army. A group of the animals broke away from the whole and sprinted off to some unknown destination; they returned moments later, hauling a brown and mildewed cardboard box. They laid it at Prue’s and Curtis’s feet, prostrating themselves as they approached.
“OVERDWELLER AMBROSIA,” explained Sir Henry. “FOOD OF THE GODS. SEVERAL BOXES OF IT WERE DEPOSITED IN A CHAMBER BY ONE OF YOUR KIND, MANY, MANY POOL EMPTYINGS PAST.”
Prue picked up the box. It was a package of Nature’s Friend granola bars, though the printing on the box had nearly faded away completely with age. She flipped it over and inspected the expiration date: 10/23/81.
“Uh,” she said. “This expired in 1981.”
There was no response from the mole army.
“Let me see it,” said Curtis, grabbing the box from his friend. He tore open one of the green foil packets; he scarcely had time to examine the granola bar within when it was ripped from its packaging by the rat at his shoulder. “Meems okay to me,” Septimus mumbled through the crumbs. “Mpretty mgood!”
The army erupted once more into shouts of praise and adulation. Curtis offered Prue one of the bars from the box; she took it, eyeing the bar skeptically.
Another tumult sounded from the rear of the army. The path was once again cleared, and a retinue of mole knights traveled up the center; a few of them were riding what appeared to be salamanders, each draped in a kind of livery made of repurposed cardboard squares. The mole in the lead, astride one such reptile, wore a bottle-cap suit of armor that seemed, somehow, more impressive than the rest of the army’s array. A thimble was perched on his head, held there by a thin, pink rubber band.
When he’d arrived at Prue’s and Curtis’s feet, he vaulted from his salamander with a dashing leap, like Errol Flynn launching from his steed to greet a maiden in distress, and dropped to one knee on the stone of the chamber floor. His armor clicked and clanked dramatically as he moved. “OVERDWELLERS! I AM SIR TIMOTHY, HIGH MASTER COMMANDER OF THE KNIGHTS UNDERWOOD. I SUBMIT MYSELF TO YOU. GRACIOUS OVERDWELLERS, WE GIVE THANKS FOR YOUR BLESSED REVELATION.”
Curtis, having sated his hunger somewhat by the Reagan-era granola bar, took the bait; he’d been leery at first to dive into the strange endeavors of the mole army, but he was now taking to it with a real flair. “We are well pleased with your devotion, Sir Knight,” he said. “And the Overdweller Mother has deemed you worthy of … intercession.”
“Hold up,” said Prue, ever the prudent one. The attention of the room swiveled in her direction. “We’re not really, you know, gods. We’re just…”
The room was silent as she searched for a description. Curtis was fixing her with an astonished glare. She swallowed loudly. It occurred to her, then, the implications of being imposters to such a devout race of animals. She envisioned the three of them being swarmed, Lilliput-like, by these armed rodents. Those darning needles, while being somewhat harmless on their own, seemed frightening if employed en masse. Curtis intuited her change of heart.
“Demigods, more like,” he finished for her. “You know, pretty much the same.”
The room seemed to relax at this announcement.
Prue decided then that she would continue to let Curtis do the talking; he seemed to have the lingo down. He continued, “And we’ve been tasked to aid you in your struggle. However, the Overdweller Mother has demanded one condition to be met after your victory has been won.”
“NAME THIS CONDITION, O GREAT ONES,” said Sir Timothy.
“That we, in a, um, show of your faith, are brought in regal procession through the tunnels of the Underwood to the South—to the city of the Overdwellers in the South part of the Overworld.”
Sir Timothy paused, his knee still firmly planted on the stone. He was working over what Curtis had just said. “THING IS, O GREAT ONE,” he said after a moment, his voice trembling with fear of reprisal, “WE’VE NEVER BEEN TO THE CITY OF THE OVERDWELLERS OF THE SOUTH. THE WAY IS A MYSTERY TO US.”
A voice came from behind him. “THERE IS A WAY!” The voice, while still carrying the strange resonances of the moles’ speech, sounded old and decrepit. Sir Timothy turned to watch a mole, dressed in a robe and walking with the aid of a twiggy cane, approach from his throng of attendants. Oddly enough, the old mole sported a long white beard, which Curtis didn’t recall being something that moles typically did.
“THERE IS A WAY,” said the old mole again.