My chest heaved with exhaustion as I stumbled back from the giant grub’s lifeless corpse. Farkuz’s clawed hand held me upright as Stalk licked my grub juice covered hand affectionately. A nausea budded in the pit of my stomach and I fought the urge to retch. It was partly due to the exhaustion, but mostly because I was covered in juicy bits of grub flesh that dripped down my face. I looked to Farkuz and saw he looked no better. I could even see a grub’s severed feeler twitching in his mane. I looked away in disgust.
‘You’re no flower yourself, sprout,’ Farkuz growled.
‘My people,’ Matrik’s voice squeaked and Farkuz and I looked down at him. ‘You saved skritt! Skritt can come back to village now. Thank you!’
I merely nodded, but Farkuz spoke up.
‘How come you’re so much smarter than the rest?’ Farkuz asked, gesturing to the other skritt who were poking curiously at the dead grubs littered around them. ‘I doubt they know which way is up right now.’
‘Separation not matter so much to me. That why I’m leader!’ Matrik said lifting his chest with pride. ‘Safe now so skritt return. Skritt soon smart again.’
He was right. As we started to inspect the collapsed tunnel all of the skritt had picked up their swords again and were chattering to Matrik and his son Kratt’ok.
‘The cave-in looks superficial. The bomb wasn’t big enough to properly seal us in. We could probably dig ourselves out in a day. Lucky really. It could have been a lot worse,’ he said, running his hand through his mane. ‘If I had of set the bomb it’d take you months to get through.’
‘Well let’s be thankful that you did not,’ I said.
‘Let skritt tunnel,’ Matrik said stepping forward. ‘Skritt know how to tunnel better than plant or cat.’
Farkuz chuckled and stepped aside, letting the mischief of skritt pass by.
‘If you think you can tunnel faster, then go ahead.’
The skritt proved to be efficient tunnelers. In a few short hours they had broken through the cave-in and emerged back into the skritt caverns, received by a torrent of happy chittering. Elated skritt soon surrounded us, and after a few moments of happy squeaking Matrik turned to Farkuz and I.
‘You saved our village. Skritt owe you a great debt. Skritt will give you what you want in return.’
‘Well, you can show us the way to the surface so we can find our friends again,’ Farkuz said. ‘But first, we need some water. I want to wipe this slop off.’
‘We show you to better place,’ Matrik chirped, gesturing to two skritt who began pulling at our clothes. They lead us through increasingly narrow tunnels until we squeezed into another cavern. Like the cavern the skritt village was nestled in it had a large window at the top exposing bright blue sky, laced by thick greenery. In the center of the underground chamber was a spring of water, but oddly this one steamed like a pot of broth on a warm fire.