Day 10 – Just a little bit over with 1807 words today and a total of 16 142 words! Tomorrow might not go so well…

“Do you think this is safe?” Stikky asked, pushing a bit harder on the bucket with his foot.

Leddy yanked with all his might on one of the twin pieces of chain attached to the container which held it up.

“I think so…” he decided eventually. “But I don’t want to trust myself on it yet. Let’s find something heavier than us and try that!”

Stikky nodded, and they searched the cavern carefully, lighting the lamps around the perimeter as they did so.

“What about these?” he asked a moment later, as out of the darkness came a stack of large barrels.

“What’s in them?” Leddy asked in curiousity, bending over one of the barrels to get a better look. Lifting the lid, he peered inside, wrinkling his nose instantly.

“It’s oil!” he exclaimed, half-surprised.

Stikky nodded. “I was expecting to come across something like that sometime. And if its all stored in somewhat air-tight barrels, then this oil will be perfect for us to use!”

Leddy grinned. “Well, their first use is gonna be testing if that bucket can hold our weight! Then we can use them for oil,” he added in a joking tone.

Getting behind a barrel each, they tipped them over on their sides and rolled them over to the pit at the centre of the room with much puffing and blowing.

“These things are heavy!” Panted Stikky, wiping the sweat from his forehead as he stood his barrel up in the middle of the bucket beside Leddy’s.

Stepping back and shutting the gate, the two watched nervously as the bucket creaked loudly under the weight of the two barrels, but after some minutes, it was clear it would hold them.

“How about we take them down now?” Leddy suggested, and the two began to crank the handles of the winch, looking anxiously at each other as, with a groan and a whine, the container began to descend into the darkness.

The winch turned for some minutes, until the chain stopped turning and from somewhere deep below them came a faint, echoing thud!

Stikky and Leddy grinned to each other. It worked!

Hurriedly cranking the winch in the opposite direction, they waited for what seemed an eternity, until finally the bucket appeared out of the darkness, the two barrels still standing upright inside.

“Our turn!” Stikky decided, rolling one of the barrels out of the bucket as his younger friend moved the other. “You or me?” he asked a moment later.

Leddy scratched his head. “I suppose I may as well…” he replied after a moment or two of hard thinking. “That is, if you don’t mind.” he added hurriedly.

Stikky shook his head. “Go ahead, fine by me!”

Stepping carefully into the bucket, Leddy shut the door behind him and waited nervously for Stikky to begin lowering him down.

Giving his younger friend one last, ‘are-you-sure’ look, Stikky began to crank the winch, watching as slowly began to disappear into the darkness, a mixture of fear and excitement on his face.

First the bucket beneath Leddy disappeared, then his feet and legs, his arms and chest, and finally his head.

Then he was gone.

 

(This is followed by what was written on Day 1)

 

The loud, high-pitched squawk of a parrot echoed eerily through the thick, overgrown jungle, causing every single one of the explorers to shiver.

“Is it just me,” Leddy began slowly. “Or did everything suddenly get colder?”

Everyone nodded as they all realised the unpleasant feeling slowly growing around them was not purely their imagination, but real.

“Nah,” Stif replied eventually, folding his arms across his chest. “It’s just you.”

Stikky pushing a large branch out of his way, stepped out into a large clearing, let the branch fall carefully back into position, and turned around. Then he gasped.

A huge group of tall, thick bushes surrounded the clearing, with enormous orange flowers poking out of the plants here and there. Large crops of peculiar yellow berries were everywhere, hanging below the flowers as their shiny surfaces reflected the hot rays of the sun.

Looking around at the vibrantly-coloured bushes surrounding him, Stikky was completely dumbstruck, not even noticing when the rest of the group sidled up alongside him.

“Oooh!” Stif exclaimed excitedly, breaking the silence. Stepping forward, he selected a large berry, opened his mouth, and was just about to pop it in when Steik intervened.

“Stif!” he burst out, just managing to stop him from eating the peculiarly coloured berry.

“What?” grumbled Stif, reaching for the berry with his tongue.

“Are you sure you want to eat that?” Steik continued.

“Why wouldn’t I want to eat one of these delicious looking berries?” Stif asked, puzzled.

“Because those berries… they’re not very good to eat…” Leddy explained slowly, jumping in before Steik and choosing his words carefully.

“Oh…” Stif mumbled, looking at the berry sadly. “Do you mean they taste bad?”

“Well, yes…” Steik added, plucking a large berry from the bush and examining it slowly. “But… unless I’m mistaken, they have some… unpleasant side effects, such as-”

“Sshhh!” Hissed Stikky, startling everyone and making Steik drop his berry and hold up a hand to keep his glasses from following suite.

“Wha-” began the twins together, but Stikky silenced them with a glare. Moving silently, and yet so quickly that no one saw it happen, Stikky whipped his sword out from his belt, spun around, and stabbed it into a large, dense bush with a peculiar thunk!

With a mighty heave, he pulled his sword out, throwing the small sparking body of a Strobot into the middle of the group.

Watching grimly as the eyes of the small robot faded from red to black, Stikky turned and looked at the others, who were all staring back and forth; first at him, then at the robot.

“Who knows how long that… thing has been following us…” he muttered, tucking his blade back into his belt. “I only just saw it myself!”

After a few moments of silence, Leddy shook himself. “I never thought of them being here,” he mumbled.

“You guys do realise,” Steik said nervously, looking around at the expectant faces of his friends. “I mean you people obviously know what this is, right?”

Stib rolled his eyes. “A Strobot, what else could it be?” he replied, then looked down at the ground apologetically as Stikky glared at him.

“Well, yes Stib… I think that’s already been established,” Steik continued. “But what I really mean to say is: you all realise this is a scout, right? Someone—or something—that explores ahead and checks out the area, gathering info, and occasionally spying on people.”

“So…” Leddy interrupted, scratching his head thoughtfully. “In our case, if that Strobot had got away, it would’ve reported our position to the main group, and we’d have been overrun?”

Steik nodded, his eyes opening wide as he realised something. “Um, guys?” he added, looking around nervously. “I just thought; that probably wasn’t the only scout out searching ahead… there’d have been at least two, if not more!”

“But that means,” somebody shouted. “That they’ll be here any second!”

Panic began to break out at this statement, until Stikky’s voice rose above the hubbub.

“Okay everyone!” he shouted, silencing everyone as he climbed up onto a tree stump and looked over the group. “We can’t fight them, there’s only a few of us here, and most likely there’ll be hundreds of them. We can’t run either, they’d catch us soon enough. No, what we’re going to do is hide. Climb a tree, hide in a bush, behind a rock, anything! So long as we’re out of sight, their heat-sensors shouldn’t be able to pick us up. Quickly!”

Instantly each stickman in the group spun around and darted off into the undergrowth, some diving into bushes, some clambering up into the thick leafy branches of trees, and some hiding behind rocks.

After making sure everyone was out of sight, Stikky and Leddy nodded to each other, then both dived into a large, uninhabited bush just the right size for both of them to fit in without being seen.

Just as they settled down, making sure no body parts were visible, the clomping of metal feet were heard echoing through the forest, gradually getting nearer.

Two booted legs suddenly appeared beside their bush, and Stikky realised in shock that a Strobot was standing right beside them.

“This is where… bzzrt… Scout-126’s coordinates lead us…” said a monotone, slightly-puzzled voice. The two in the bush hardly dared to breath—they held their breaths instead—as the Strobot’s words echoed in their minds.

“Maybe… bzzzrt… they ran away?” Answered another voice, equally puzzled.

“Well, if they did,” the first Strobot continued. “Bzzrt… we need to go after them!”

Stikky leant back at that moment, and a twig that had been underhand suddenly cracked.

“What’s that?” One of the Strobots asked sharply, spinning around.

Suddenly the ground beneath the two stickmen shifted, giving them time to give each other one petrified look before it gave way completely, and they were falling…

 

(Continued from before)

 

Stif and Stib continued down the downhill path for a while, ignoring the side passages that cut off in random directions as they followed the main tunnel, time passing uneventfully.

Suddenly they emerged out into a roughly-hewn stone room, the usual sight of lanterns hanging around the perimeter passing unnoticed.

Looking around, Stib held up the lantern he’d been carrying, examining the cavern with close interest.

“I say!” he exclaimed a moment later to Stif, who was going around carefully lighting each and every lantern. “I think these are the kitchens!”

“How d’ya make that out?” Stif asked in a bored voice, yawning.

“Well, look!” Stib explained, slightly impatiently. “There’s this wide benchtop here, there’s the fireplace there, the ovens are over there,” he continued, stopping to take a breath as he waved his hand in the direction of each thing as he said it. “There’s a well here for drawing up water—probably goes deep down into the ground and connects somewhere with the sea—there’s a heap of storage here, and here,” he finished, stepping further into the room and pointing to a shelf with a stream of water pouring down behind it. “Here, would’ve been where they kept all the cold stuff, there’s this cool waterfall of water pouring down behind it, that’d keep everyone chilly.”

“Okay…” Stif replied, putting his hand up to his mouth to stop himself from yawning once more. “Man, we need some sleep.” he added, trying to keep his eyes from closing.

“Did you even listen to anything I said?” Stib exclaimed impatiently, putting his hand on his hips.

“Not… really…” his brother said even more sleepily, dropping into a sitting position against the large stone bench in the centre of the room.