The chamber, the collected thousands of mole knights, all quieted to listen.
“THERE IS A WAY,” he repeated. “THERE IS A—”
Sir Timothy finally interceded. “WHAT IS THE WAY, O ELDER KNIGHT?”
The senior mole chewed on his lip for a moment and stroked at his beard with his paw. “THE SIBYL, THE GOOD HIGH MASTER COMMANDER’S SISTER AND PROPHETESS TO DENNIS THE USURPER, KNOWS THE WAY TO THE LAND OF THE SOUTHERN OVERDWELLERS. SHE HAS THE KNOWLEDGE FROM HER VISIONS.”
“INDEED!” exclaimed Sir Timothy. “MY DEAR SISTER, GWENDOLYN, IN THRALL TO THE USURPER. WHY DIDN’T I THINK OF THAT?”
The old mole shuffled in his robe, in shrugging humility. “’TIS NOTHING, HIGH MASTER COMMANDER,” he said.
“Hold up,” said Prue, stepping forward. She heard a scream issue from the ground at her feet; she’d stepped on one of the moles, a squire to the High Master.
“I’VE BEEN SMOTE!” shouted the squire. Prue quickly jumped back, removing the heel of her boot from his back.
?? she said, her hand at her mouth. “Is he okay?”
A few moles had rushed to the squire’s side; with their help, he seemed to be recovering well.
“I’M OKAY!” he said.
“I didn’t mean to, uh, smite him,” said Prue. She smiled apologetically. “What I wanted to ask was, who’s this Dennis?”
“YOU DID NOT HEAR IN OUR SUPPLICATIONS? OUR OFFERINGS AT THE OVERDWELLER ALTAR?”
“Maybe we missed that part,” interjected Septimus.
The moles, thankfully, did not fault them for their gap in omniscience. The old mole, his paws cradled at his belly in a kind of thoughtful pose, began speaking in a quavering tenor. “THREE EMPTYINGS OF THE GREAT POOL AGO, THREE EMPTYINGS PAST, WHEN THE OVERDWELLER ARCHITECT CEASED HIS VISITATION AND THE CITY OF MOLES HAD BEEN COMPLETED TO THE SATISFACTION OF THE OVERDWELLER ARCHITECT, WHO CAME NO MORE, DID THEN DENNIS WHO FORMERLY WENT AS THE CONSUL TO THE HIGH MOLE KING COME FORWARD AND, UPON THE DYING BREATH OF THE HIGH MOLE KING, SAY UNTO THE GATHERED CITIZENRY THAT HE HIMSELF HAD THUS BEEN BEQUEATHED THE KINGSHIP. UPON THE CORONATION, THUS DID DENNIS WAGE WAR UPON HIS FELLOW MOLES, CASTING OUT THE ENEMIES OF HIS CREST AND WILLFULLY IMPRISONING THOSE WHO DARED SPEAK OUT AGAINST HIS WANTON RULE. HOCHMEISTER SIR TIMOTHY, GREAT AND POWERFUL, WAS THE FIRST TO GATHER IN THE WASTELANDS OF THE UNDERWOOD, BEYOND THE CRESTED BRIDGE, AND MUSTER AN ARMY TO CHALLENGE THE RULE OF DENNIS, DENNIS THE USURPER OF THE KINGSHIP, AND RECLAIM THE THRONE OF THE CITY OF MOLES FOR THE RIGHTFUL HEIRS, THE UNITED MOLES OF THE UNDERWOOD.”
When the small, aged animal had finished his recitation, which sounded to Curtis like someone saying aloud some ancient scripture, a silence followed as the three Overdwellers attempted to digest the information they’d just been given.
“Okay,” said Septimus. “That’s Dennis.”
The mole continued, “IT IS AUSPICIOUS, THE OVERDWELLERS’ ARRIVAL AT OUR PLACE OF MUSTER. OUR PRAYERS HAVE BEEN ANSWERED BY THE OVERDWELLER MOTHER. THE SIEGE OF THE FORTRESS OF FANGGG MUST COMMENCE. WE SHALL BE VICTORIOUS WITH THE HOLY ASSISTANCE OF THE GREAT OVERDWELLER DEMIGODS CURTIS, PRUE, AND SEPTIMUS.”
The chamber exploded with sound. Every last mole raised their voice in a warlike yowl, and the collected roar echoed endlessly through the stone tunnel; the floor was a prickly carpet of raised darning needles, brandished wildly in the air.
“One second,” said Curtis, waving his hands out to the cheering mass. “I’ve got a few questions. So—we’re going to help you defeat this guy, this Dennis the usurper? In his Fortress of Fang?”
“FANGGG,” corrected one of the attendant moles.
“Fanggg,” said Curtis.
“SUCH WAS THE NATURE OF OUR SUPPLICATIONS,” said High Master Commander Sir Timothy.
“Okay,” replied Curtis. “And if we do that, you’ll, um, give us a procession to the Southern Overdweller land?”
“WHEN WE’VE FREED THE SIBYL, SHE WILL GUIDE THE PROCESSION.”
“Right,” said Curtis. “The Sibyl. She’s got the directions.” He paused and looked at Prue, then back at the moles. “Guess that’s all my questions.”
Prue spoke up. “You said something about another Overdweller. The architect? Who’s that?”
Again, it was the decrepit mole who answered. “THE OVERDWELLER ARCHITECT CAME FROM THE OVERWORLD IN OUR TIME OF NEED, WHEN THE KINGSHIP WAS IN RUIN IN THE AFTERMATH OF THE SEVEN POOL EMPTYINGS WAR. THIS WAS MANY POOL EMPTYINGS AND REFILLINGS BEFORE THE RISE OF DENNIS THE USURPER. THE CITY OF MOLES LAY IN WASTE, ITS BRIDGES TORN ASUNDER AND ITS CITIZENRY CAST TO THE WIND. IT WAS A TIME OF GREAT STRIFE IN THE UNDERWOOD. THE ARCHITECT, SENT BY THE OVERDWELLER MOTHER IN ANSWER TO THE SUPPLICATIONS OF THE MULTITUDE, DID ENDEAVOR TO REBUILD THE CITY OF MOLES AND CONSTRUCT THE FORTRESS OF FANGGG FROM THE BLESSED MATERIALS HE GATHERED IN HIS SOJOURNS TO THE OVERWORLD. ONCE HIS LABORS WERE FINISHED AND HE LOOKED ON THE CITY OF MOLES AND THE FORTRESS OF FANGGG WITH SATISFACTION, HE DID BID US GOOD-BYE AND THUS RETURNED TO THE BOSOM OF THE OVERDWELLER MOTHER. THUS SAYETH THE HISTORIES, AS WRITTEN BY SEER BARTHOLOMEW MOLE.” The old man paused for a second before adding, “THAT’S ME.”
“Huh,” said Prue thoughtfully. Curtis tried to catch her eye to see what was transpiring in her mind, but she seemed too engrossed. Besides, the High Master Commander, Sir Timothy Mole, had raised his sewing pin to the crowd and said, as loudly as his little voice could manage, “WE MARCH FOR THE HONOR OF THE OVERDWELLER ARCHITECT, WE MARCH FOR THE HONOR OF THE CITIZENRY OF THE CITY OF MOLES, WE MARCH FOR THE INALIENABLE RIGHTS OF THE MOLES, AS CONVEYED BY THE GRACE OF THE OVERDWELLERS. KNIGHTS UNDERWOOD: WE MARCH NOW ON THE FORTRESS OF FANGGG!”