A story based on New Leaf and the metroidvania game, Hollow Knight. In it, a human, of Petworth, who isn't the mayor, finds use for her own hobbies, and can help the town in her own way. She becomes aware of the small, but immensely large and expansive world of insects. But, the world isn't at all what she expected. Against all beliefs, the world of bugs is directly effecting Petworth.
[I]A small disclaimer:[/i] I have not finished the Hollow Knight game yet. This story is not directly following the story line of either Animal Crossing or Hollow Knight, but is based on the two.
Chapter One: As Above, So Below
Out of her mind, they said. Buggin’ out, they said. But Tinsley knew she was the only entomologist in Petworth. The town was ever-growing with her sister as mayor. There were modern necessities like a café for visitors, a fishing and tackle shop and furniture repairs, and a main street, and a cultural museum. But the museum mainly focused on the local marine-life and Paleolithic period relics. The curator, a pristine type of an owl, absolutely despised bugs. Bugs, the only thing that Tins loved. He’d become abashed and offended when she asked him to please make a bug exhibit for her to patronize. And it was futile. She was as crushed as a cockroach.
“Sun is shining, isn’t it.” Came a little shriveled voice from up the pathway. It was Bella, a puny white mouse. She weren’t the only mouse in town. Bettina was the other, but Bella was the smallest mouse, and the only one Tinsley had befriended.
“Caught the sunrise myself. It’s beginning to warm up, and when the ground turns dry I’ll lose my chance to find certain buggies.” Tins said.
“Well, get goin to the town meeting then. It’s under the town tree in the park, if you wanna be there this time.”
“Mayor Sawyer hasn’t had a positive thing to say in months. She’s always been bitter as long as winter holds out, and it’s been a long winter. The trees should have blossomed last week, and the trees that got new growth are dropping leaves again. I’m having a hard time finding larvae in this cold.” Tins blew her dragons breath to show Bella the chill in the air, “An entomologist sure misses spring, you know.”
“Well I hope you find the signs of spring you’re looking for. I’ve got to get on to this meeting. Be seeing you.” Bella skipped off, mildly unaware that the signs in the dirt and the trees were more unnatural than evident to the regular residents of Petworth.
Tinsley returned to groping thru the grass and brown leaves beneath the barren trees, when the ground began to pulsate. The dirt began to pultrude out from beneath a patch of mulch. She jumped back.
Pop! Out came a mole. He burst from his tunnel and waved his arms around blindly to try and feel out his location. He patted the soil and gave the air a sniff with his soft, pink nose.
“Hey, Ai, Ho. It’s you there, Miss Tinsley. Hey there, I have a favor to ask of you.” He pushed up his dark, round sun shades to cover his beady, burrowing eyes. He didn’t see in the light, but he was the respectable town handyman. He worked underground on piping and upkeep. Resetti, the mole, kept underground surveillance of Petworth.
“You scared me, but sure.” Tins sighed.
“It’s about the town meeting.” Resetti spit a bit of root out from between his teeth.
“I don’t attend those! Sawyer knows I don’t, and I don’t appreciate her sending you out of your way to try and convince me.”
“Don’t be too stubborn. See, I’m here without permissions from Miss Sawyer. I need you to drop by my surveillance center before the town bell strikes ten. See, I’m on a schedule. Some of us have schedules, but you don’t. You’re here looking for bugs, I bet. But it’s futile, and I’m going to have to prove to you that. So, meet me back at the manhole entrance to my hideout. In an hour tops! I want no one to see you coming in, since they’ll all be at that meeting.” He quickly plopped back down into the earth, and there was a faint brushing sound as he hastened back to his home hole.
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Feeling rushed, Tinsley grabbed up her lunch box and bag, and got on her way to the surveillance center. It was really the human-sized entrance to Resetti’s tunnels. The entrance to the little underground room was a heavy manhole to the left of the train station. The hefty lid probably rattled and echoed through Resetti’s home each time a train passed. But Sawyer chose the location so that the hole wouldn’t be an eye sore in her town square, where she was now addressing her residents under the canopy of a big, sickly tree.
She didn’t want to be spotted, so she kept off the main paths, and brushed through all the trees and bushes along the side of the trail. The way was dark under the limp limbs of the fading trees. Winter had been harsh on them, and their brown leaves were thick and dry. As she passed through their porcelain cracked trunks, the breeze made the leaves scratch and cheer her on. The eerie change in the plants didn’t seem to make them evil, but they were clearly weakened. Tins could only hope that Resseti had some news from the roots of Petworth.
She came to the train station by the main drag. All commerce was centered on Main Street. In the distance she could hear the boom of her sister, Sawyer, addressing the townsfolk through a microphone down in the park to her back. Ahead of her would be Resseti’s homestead. She slowed to her own surprise. She had never wondered what was down in his mole hole, and now that she was invited in, the prospects all seemed doubtful. But it loomed ahead of her. She could see that the man hole lid was actually open wide. It was propped against a tree, and a bright yellow light was shining from within. The entrance glowed in the moments of morning gloom before the clouds would pass and let the sun through.
She climbed down the ladder propped up against the edge, and Ressetti came out of the abrasive fluorescent light from behind to pull the man hole shut with a hooked tool. Ka-CLANK! Inside, her eyes adjusted to the flickering, bright yellow lights that lined the roof. The ladder turned out to only be a few steps deep. Before she has assumed she was in for a long descent.
The room itself was low-roofed for short, stalky mole inhabitants. Resseti stood in front of her, hiking up his baggy overall straps to appear formal in the eyes of her first judgmental glance. The place wasn’t at all how she imagined. The walls and all were cement, but he kept hanging tapestries, and a thick Persian rug, though it was damaged badly with many years of trekking in tunnel mud. There was a whole kitchen, a dining table for two, and a bunk bed.
“Not what I imagined.” She murmured.
“Right so, Miss Tinsley. I put the lights on for you to keep you comfortable like at home. Like you’re right at home almost. But don’t get too comfy and go snooping around. We’re on serious business.” Resseti promptly let out a puff of breath through his nose to punctuate his business.
“So, what is going on?”
“I’ll show you first off, so you know what I’m facing.” He turned about face and stiffly walked through the blinding light, for the light is blinding to an underground animal, and he felt out for the cabinet doors in the kitchen, “Open them!” He ordered.
Tins ran up and lightly pinched the small mole-sized handles of the cabinet. When she peeked inside she was even more surprised than before to find there was a dim light emanating from—
“Yes, you’ll see now that my surveillance center is not simply a cozy home, but truly for surveillance.” Inside the cabinets he kept dozens of small black and white screens with pictures from hidden cameras all over Petworth. And all of them were secret!
“Is this legal?”
“Miss Tinsley, where there is no law, I must take the reins and be The Law. I meet with Mayor Sawyer in this home monthly, but I couldn’t trust to her eyes alone to keep track of everything happening above ground. Now, lets listen in.” He reached in for the bottom row of screens. He felt for the second in, and turned a little knob in the corner. Each had its own knob, and apparently they all controlled volume.
The screen he chose was of a view of the town park. It was in a tree over the back of the pavilion. It showcased the whole crowd of town’s folk below the big town tree. Sawyer was at their front, the closest to under the large tree. She was speaking:
“Citizens, this winter will let up in no time, and fisherman and tourism will return to our little town. We will look like a post card before spring ends. Keep up your busy days, and don’t worry for the state of the woods and flowers. In winter, they wilt, and in spring they bounce back. It’s poetic in a way, how the nature of Petworth can dwindle, and spring back so suddenly. Look forward, is all I can say. Don’t let the gloom of our last weeks of winter keep you down.” Resseti quickly turned the dial off with disgust.
“She spouts that garbage constantly. I’ve told her time and time before this whole long winter, that something is amiss. I told her that the ground bugs are moving. I told her that the little birdies wont nest in the trees. The trees are crying and creaking in their roots. The soil is turning gray, and the mulch has an acidic stench. There’s something amiss, Miss. You’ve got to get it fixed before it’s too late.”
“But what am I supposed to do about it?”
“You work with bugs? Right? You’re a dang-buggy entomologist! You know what’s wrong with the bugs! Whats your research show!” Ressetti became really worked up.
Tinsley did know what he meant. She had been finding only exoskeletons since the evident rotting of Petworth had begun. First, the woods began to whither at ground level. Winter plants and blooms all faded to gray. Then, the trees bark began to crack and dry, and the limbs all drooped. Then, the town tree, the biggest, beautiful tree in the park began to show signs of change. In winter the intertwining branches and fallen leaves all made the tree more regal and imposing, but with the colors less rich, and the leaves so dry and scratching in every little breeze, the tree seemed sick. It seemed to be groaning and coughing. It no longer seemed the proud focal point of Petworth Park. And that Sawyer gave that hopeful speech under its sick arms was ironic.
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The bugs were what scared Tins. The bugs were all scarce. They all seemed to disappear in winter as usual, but Tins knew how to look. She could find only exoskeletons. And those carcasses weren’t right either. They were pale and discolored. After death, insects exoskeletons keep shape and color as to in life. These were changed, eerily changed. They were pale, almost white. The shells were wisps of what the beetles had been in life.
“Sure.” Tinsley said.
“Sure? How sure?”
“Oh, I mean, yes, the bugs aren’t right. The trees and flowers and all of Petworth isn’t right. I see what you meant when you showed me the town speech. The mayor, uh, my sister isn’t listening to you. She’s never been the one for nature. She’s stubborn. She thinks she can wait it out instead of asking for help. She wont want to admit that she needs help running Petworth. I can only imagine the struggle her secretary is having with her… So, I’ll help, but who do we go to?”
“You, Miss Tinsley! My brother and me found that the beetles have something to do with it. The insects are changed by the tree sickness. They are burrowing down. Out of character for some of them, but all of the bugs are moving down. We followed their little white shells they left behind, and we got to tunnels that were too small for me. I’ve put on weight, see… Then my brother went on ahead into the smaller tunnels. Don went to follow the trail, and he hasn’t come back.”
That was dark news. Tinsley knew of Resetti’s brother, Don. They lived as roommates, and Don worked alongside his brother. The little mole hole was made for two. She seen the seats at the table, the bunk bed, and still she hadn’t wondered where Don was. The sudden fear of the tunnels and mysterious bugs overcame her, and her head swam.
“Miss Tinsley, it’s only your people who can go in for him.” Resseti said.
“You know as well as I do that you humans have a knack for adaptability. There’s something in you that’ll make you match your terrain, you know. You do know, as well as I do, that humans have a special power for adapting to change in times of need to survive. It’s how you come down into my hole. It’s how you live under the trees with us here in Petworth. It’s how humans kept on trucking after the world changed. Don’t be silly like you’re not the only human here who knows a thing or two about bugs, and who might be willing to go in and get my brother.” Resseti was begging. Of course Tinsley understood how humans worked. She was one, and even if her body was second nature to her, she could be made aware that she kept to a certain size on the outside world, but came down to the same head height as a mole when she entered their homes. For goodness sakes, her best friend was a mouse. When she visited with Bella, she got down to her size to have a tea cup with her.
“You’re right. It’ll take an entomologist to follow the trail and see the signs. I’m an excellent tracker of bugs. I’ve just never been underground.”
That was the deciding tone that Resseti had been waiting for. Tinsley had it in her mind to go into the tunnels to follow after Don. The door to the tunnels was right behind them, in the cement wall to the left of the exit ladder. There was no ascending and just leaving now. Tins was dedicated to entomology, and if that weren’t enough, she knew the rescue mission would be for a human, if Don were stuck in small tunnels.
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She got herself together before they entered. She straightened out her pink smock, and pulled up her socks inside her yellow rain boots. She tightened her hair into three tails out of her face, and buttoned up her raincoat against the mud she was bound to come up against. If mud were her only enemy, then that would be a more innocent story.
Resseti wrapped up a backpack of snacks for her, in case she were in the ground for a long time. He thought too that Don would have an appetite after having to munch on worms and roots for food down there. Tins packed up her magnifying glass, her specimen baggies, and odds and ends that she thought might come in handy. Lastly, Ressetti handed her a battery powered lantern. Surprisingly, she recognized it! It was the one she had used on her first day in Petworth. Back when Sawyer was just starting out, and had politly invited her little sister to come out and enjoy the nature. The secretary, or assistant, had come and introduced herself. She was a bouncy Pomeranian. She gave Tins a used lantern to use for a light in her empty new home. The lantern was scratched beneath the button, and had a paw print sticker from a kids sticker-book on its handle. Tins had donated it to the lost and found a year ago. Funny how small the world was in Petworth, she thought.
They entered the tunnels at once, and wandered a long way in through the wet-roofed passages. Before too long they reached the spot where Don had gone in alone.
“Don, were coming for you. I got Miss Tinsley here. She’s gonna come bring you home!” Ressetti called into the tunnel loudly, to no response. He turned to Tins, “Ok, I’ll wait here a few hours to see if you need help, or if Don turns up. Call back with the sound of a barn owl if you’re in distress. I’ve got ears of a hawk while were down here.”
“Ok.” Is all Tins could muster up. She wasn’t sure if she knew what a barn owl sounded like. Mr. Blathers was a Northern Saw Whet Owl for all she knew.
With a few cheap parting words, Tinsley descended further into the tunnels where Ressetti couldn’t reach. She couldn’t feel any change in her own size, but she could feel the tunnels quickly constricting, and leading downward. She came to sudden turns or where the path split. Her light shook in her hand, and made the soil glisten, and the hanging roots cast shadowy veins. She called out weakly for Don, but it was dark, and quiet, and her own voice droning back to her became eerie. There was only distant dripping, and every time her coat arm brushed the wall she flinched that it might have been the sound of another’s feet rustling the soil.
From time to time she found a bug carcass. But as she went on, the bugs became bigger. She was scared of the abnormally large, white beetle shells. They came up now to her waist height laying down, and she could see all the details of their tendril hairs on their curled legs, and the ridges along the pincher. She thought she might have gone too far in. Don could never have fit into the tunnels sized for bugs. She must have turned the wrong way somewhere. And if she came across a live bug! She was an entomologists, but she was no expert at the same size as one of the beasts. She decided to turn back around and find her way back. She was thinking over the correct sounds of a hoot owl, when her worst fear came to life.
From around the next bend came a moving, scuttling beetle. She hadn’t even been paying attention to his light pattering movement to know he would be coming around the corner. She screeched, and not in an owl way.
The beetle flinched and held up a large, blunt weapon in its defense. Its joints clicked audibly, and the pinchers on top its head snapped. Its wings rustled around its shoulders like a cloak that hid its form, and to Tins fright, it wore a pale mask. It stood on two legs, and wielded a weapon as if it had hands, and it wore a mask to appear to be standing and facing forward. The bug imitated walking animals! Tins imagined her size, and how small a catastrophe this really was. She could have never imagined the world of bugs to be like this.
“Please!” She shouted.
“You’re no resident of Dirtmouth.” The insect spoke, “You, name yourself. I be a Knight. I died, I’m afraid, and have been given the duty in my afterlife, to protect this realm. I’m sorry for frightening you, poor insect. My visage is abnormal, but so is yours, if I may be plain. Name yourself, if you are not a pawn of the Pale King.”
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BA-plup! There in that moment, Tinsley tripped on her own feet in an attempt to escape, and fell backwards, sending her lantern flying. The lantern bounced a few times, and the on switch flicked off with the impact. But instead of being left in the dark, there was a dim luminescent light remaining in the little tunnel. She got her wits backs, and tried to scramble away from the sickeningly large beetle.
“Do not run! I mean no hard to you? Do you support the Pale King?” said the white beetle.
She seen it now as a ghostly husk. It glowed in the darkness. She basked in his mysterious existence. Tinsley thought of back on top, where all the village of Petworth had no idea that this underground world of insects could ever exist. Above, they were too large and distracted to notice the lives of the bugs. This bug, with a voice, and with a whole existence of its own, was in the tunnels—Tins was in the tunnels—and the fact that Tins had mistakenly taken her adaptability to nature to such an extent as she had, it was all so foreign and horrifyingly real to her.
“I don’t know a pale king!” She shouted. The beetle lowered its weapon in response. She saw now that it carried a rusted nail as a sword. It’s mask and mandibles imitated a helm, and it’s cloak-like wings and skeleton acted as armor. The bug was truly a small white knight.
“Young Maiden of the soft exoskeleton, you are truly blessed to not know the Pale King. Where do you hail from that is free of this tainted earth?”
“Above. I came down too far, and I never knew any of your land existed, Sir Knight.”
“Maiden, I am at your service, and will act as your protector to return you to safety.” The knight bowed as low as his crooked joints allowed.
“Knight, I’m here with a purpose. A friend of mine is lost in the tunnels. There’s a mole by the name of Don. He’s in here somewhere, and that’s why I came so far.”
“Don Mole has ventured into dangerous lands, Maiden. As have you. A rescue mission is valiant, but you’ve stumbled into a land whose soil is wreaked havoc on by an infection. I have sworn to act as your guide, but the nature of your journey has turned for the worst.”
For the beetle knight knew the weight of the world on his small shoulders. He was on a rescue mission of his own. Long ago, the upper layer of the cavernous kingdoms of bugs had been named Dirtmouth, as it was the mouth to the ever deeper tunnels of Hallownest. The Pale King made a kingdom of Hallownest for all the bugs to live peacefully and in multitude. Many insects of all kinds gathered in Hallownest from the surrounding lands, and they all burrowed deep. The kingdom grew and multiplied, and the insects of Hallownest discovered histories, sciences, and religions. The spirits of the old beetles rested in Hallownest, and gave great power to the dirt there. The energy in the dirt created a Radiance. The Radiance was worshipped. Only the power of the Pale King could rival that of the Radiance.
The fair Kingdom of Hallownest blossomed and drew more and more bugs into its light. But the beauty of the place became tainted by the greed. The bugs must have burrowed too deeply, and relished in their discoveries too deeply, and drank in the natural beauty of the Radiance too deeply. The power in the dirts became spoiled. The spirits living among the insects became cursed. Empty husks of bugs long deceased rose again from the Resting Grounds to ward off the residents of Hallownest. The burrowers and innocents all fled their homes to escape the infection. The Pale King became a hollow enemy to bug-kind. His desires became too much even for him, who made Hallownest with the best intentions.
Out of the rubble of Hallownest, the Knight was resurrected from his grave. He rose with the direction in his mind to delve deeper into the Hollownest and find the source of the infection. Only the Knight now held the radiant light which was untainted. This small bug, which stood in front of Tinsley in the damp tunnels underneath Petworth, was the only spirit left to protect the world of bugs.
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“So you see, my desperate Maiden, I have a goal of my own. My exoskeleton cannot rest peacefully until the soil of Hollownest is revived.”
“Knight, I believe this “infection” in Hallownest is spreading to my town too!” Tinsley burst into tears. Her eyes glossed over and poured out at the thought of the sick soil feeding the roots, and destroying her home in Petworth. “Darn you, Sawyer. You can’t see anything smaller than you!” She cried out. Her sister would never have thought to look so deeply into anything.
And now that Tins was in the ground, and saw the state of the world of bugs, which she had dedicated her whole life’s studies to above ground—as an entomologist—she knew she couldn’t step down and leave the saving of the dirt to a hollow knight alone.
“Please, Maddam, it is not so hopeless as it looks.”
“Knight! I’m Tinsley of Petworth, Above Ground. I am an Entomologist. I will help you save Hollownest and all of this land. And we will save my lost friend on our way.” Tinsley vowed, trying to sound as official as she could.
The Knight bowed again, “Gratitude for your hand in this business.”
The two were now in league together. Their journey deeper into Hallownest seemed pretty straight forward, but Tins knew nothing could be so simple. They both agreed that the rescue of Don Mole was most urgent. The Knight decided their best shot to track him down in these winding tunnels was to first visit the town of Dirtmouth. They were conveniently within just a few beetle-sized miles of the small village. Only, in the tunnels you could never see how close or far you were to any civilization. If you could call the remnants of Dirtmouth civilization. Or, by the standards of any resident of an animal town above ground, the cities of insects would be inhospitable.
Dirtmouth had dwindled along with Hollownest below its borders. There were still ramshackle buildings with low roofs within the cavern of the town, but many were vacant. The heart of town was all that remained. Outside, there were low, dim streetlights to illuminate the paths. According to the Knight, the lights of this land once shined brilliantly. It was all magic to Tinsleys mind. The small spirits of bugs were so many that they could power whole underground cities. Tinsley couldn’t even afford electricity in her little home.
On a bench outside sat another bug. It was the only bug Tinsley had seen besides the Knight, and it scared her stiff. If she didn’t think it was the most important thing she had ever needed to do with her life, then Tinsley would have run away screaming long before. The idea of living and talking in a small bug world was still outside her average understanding of the universe she lived in. The bug on the bench simply grunted a hello as they passed. The oldest of the bugs couldn’t travel to leave their long-time home, it seemed. The danger of living so near to the cursed Hollownest couldn’t dislocate all of the bugs. Ahead, in a building that must have been a inn, there was clattering and clicking bug sounds. Chirping and singing led Tins to believe there were a handful of stragglers living close-knit in Dirtmouth. But the Knight decided it was too dangerous to reveal himself to all of the town at once.
Its visage, as it had said, was abnormal. The other bugs still had color and life in them. The bugs resurrected after the infection of Hollownest were all pale and evil as the Pale King. They radiated the bright Radiance, but the power they stored was not cheerful. Many would be afraid of the hollow knight. Instead of joining the others in the Inn, the Knight led Tins to a small shop. Inside, a long, stooped bug greeted them.
“Why, the Knight has returned from his adventuring. What have you brought back with you?” Hissed the shopkeep.
“Tinsley of Petworth, this is Iselda, and she runs this last store in Dirtmouth. She helps us where she can.”
“Aye, I help where I can. There isn’t much help a bug can be to even itself in these dark days. What will it be today?”
“Go on, Tinsley, describe Don Mole.”
“Oh, well. I’m on a rescue mission for a mole who goes by Don. He’s probably dressed in blue, and he’s a little tall for a mole. He’s been missing for a day already.” Tinsley wasn’t sure how to describe a mole to a bug.
“Yes, we don’t get many moles round here. But, I got a message back from my husband down in the Hollownest. He’s seen a mole, I’d say. He didn’t leave specifics, but he said he’d come across a stray traveler by the name of Don, who he sent on his way. That’s all I can tell you. My husband and I talk through short messages. You’ll have to go into the old kingdom to find my Cornifer and learn more.” Iselda said.
“That’s a good lead. Thank you, Lady Iselda. Now, for a few provisions, and we will be off.” Said the Knight light heartedly. The news that a Don had been spotted below was lucky.
The entrance to Hallownest was just outside the border of Dirtmouth. The hole to the lower caverns was as simple as a well is the viewer above ground. A slim stair ran along the wall of the hole in a spiral. They descended at once into the cursed kingdom. Tinsley could feel the weight of the journey now more than ever. She feared the deep world of the bugs, and worst of all she feared the cursed spirits of the bugs. The danger was real, and the likelihood she would find Don and return to Mr. Resetti’s sturdy home was looking less and less likely in her mind. Her life as the laid back sister to the mayor was farther and farther away from her as they descended into the newly found world of insects Tinley had thought was so simple.
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Down. Down the never-ending stairwell. Tin and her Knight went deep into the old kingdom, and as the dark bottom of the steps neared, Tinsley became strong and hard. Nothing could stop her from finding Don. She thought about how the end of everything could be bad. Don could have gone too deep, and never return. She could go too deep, and—Yes, she knew she would stop at nothing. This world of bugs had always been hers in a way, and she wouldn’t reject it now that she saw it was in such danger. No one in her world up top would believe such a tale, and Don could be missing forever without her.
Upon arrival on the lower, deep surface of the old kingdom’s cavern, everything appeared dark and surrounded. The knight led the way, and at a sharp turn around a corner that Tins couldn’t see, the wide cavern was revealed. The stalagmite ceiling was marvelous and baroque. The walls were reflective with dew and crystals. In the center of the cavern was a pale, organic building with many domes.
“This is the Temple of her Radiance. It is fallen, now, with the power of the Pale King’s evil. None dare pass so far as even the great stair now. The temple may lay empty, for all we bugs know”, explained the Pale Knight. His perspective gave the beautiful temple a different air. It became more heavy and ominous.
The two companions silently entered the temple on that note. Within, there were round, soft mounds all along the walls and floor. There were three altars made to house strange glowing relics. Tins realized they were inside the ancient house of their forefathers The temple was made of egg sacs. Egg temple. Normally, the eggs of insects are so small and delicate. Tins never imagined they could be so large and strong, and beautiful! But she hadn’t imagined any of this could exist. For the squeamish, the egg temple may have lost some of its luster, but for tins she was impressed and in awe.
Below each altar crouched darker mounds, and when they suddenly moved she jumped out of her skin. But the pale Knight didn’t move. He had expected them to be here even after expressing that the temple may have been laid waste to. His exoskeletal face remained unexpressive, but in his posture Tins could tell that her little knight was relieved to find the three bugs bowing before the egg relics.
“We’ve been awaiting visitors from above for some time.” Spoke one.
“Please accept our guidance on your journey.” Said a second.
“Receive what refreshments we can offer. With our current state, we do not feed, but what remains in the temple from before the Hollowing, may be yours.” Rang in the third.
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“Good Knights of the Radiance, we seek a traveler who is lost. He may have passed through these parts.” Pale Knight said.
“Yes, his name is Don the Mole. He is from the top soil, and has been missing. I’m on a journey to recover him.”
“Aye, perhaps you should speak to our Commander.” Said any one of the identical knights of the temple.
“A commander?” Pale Knight seemed confused. Tins wasn’t familiar with the bugs customs, but a commander of a guard seemed natural to her.
“Yes, until recently the Knights of her Radiance did not need a commander, as we commanded each ourselves and all served the same purpose. In this desolation of our land, we have become unorganized. With the reinstating of a captain of the guard, we have strengthened our resolve in protecting our temple. The radiance is weakened, and with it the strength of our souls.” Said one.
“The commander will return shortly and explain our position.” Said a second.
At that the three knights returned to their prayers to her Radiance. The Pale Knight took Tinsley to the farther seated area where food and drink were stored for travelers. There the knight explained how he once served the radiance in the temple as well, but these three were the only guards who remained to guard her most holy place. The Pale Knight now served his own purpose, and left the temple with the intentions of saving the kingdom through other means. He had been shocked that a commander was in charge, but saw now that it was necessary to keep the remaining knights in the deserted temple. Without the last three knights in place, there would be no one left to strengthen the Radiance and protect her during the onslaught of the infection.
From the main chamber they heard the hazard entrance of the commander. His exoskeleton clamored on the floor of the temple and the remaining knights scuttled to his side.
“Alert the guests!”
“Please, please! I am simply famished!”
“Radiance save me, you look atrocious!”
“You spoke of guests? Who has come? Is it our miner? Tell me!”
“Nay, Commander! The expedition has not returned! It is a lost knight returned with a guest from the top.”
“Bring them to me.”
At that, the Pale Knight stood and took Tinsley by the hand to lead her into the main chamber himself. The knight sent to get them was met half way, and faltered before leading them the rest of the way. As a lost knight, her pale savior was perhaps rude in taking the lead in a temple that he had abandoned. He was prideful though. In his pale heart he knew he had done what was best.
“Bow as I do to the commander. We need to ask for his help—“
The Pale Knight’s directions were lost on Tinsley. Her heart stopped and her breathing flaked off. Before her stood the tallest Knight of the Radiance. He towered over the other beetle knights. He shone the brightest in his silver armor. It was strange to see metalwork among the bugs. The armor was no exoskeleton, but true armor with engravings and shining plate. The Commander exceeded her expectations in appearance.
The Pale Knight stood in shock as well. He gasped at his own insolence, and very suddenly bowed to one knee in beetle fashion. The Commander of his order was not what he expected. Suddenly the Pale Knight felt at home again in the temple that had before felt abandoned to him. The order of knights were their own, and would always follow their own ways. The Pale Knight had taken that rule to the farthest degree and left to fight the infection on his own. These last knights had gone in another direction and instated a leader. A leader from above, at that.
Before them stood the gleaming Sir Don the Mole.
“Good Knights, this is Master Tinsley! Why didn’t you speak up at once? Tinsley, I had no idea you were familiar with this kingdom.” Don the Knight said.
“Don, I’m on a mission to save you and bring you home to Mr. Resetti. Your brother is missing you back home.” Tinsley had been thinking of how their meeting might go, but this was not it. Her humble explanation didn’t seem to mean as much now that she saw Don in his guards armor.
“Miss Tinsley, the truth of the matter is that I’m here for a reason. I’m not lost, and I’ll have to refuse to return to town with you. I have responsibilities to the earth.”
Don had never told Resetti of his intentions to save the bugs, or protect the earth under Petworth. Tinsley couldn’t have known that there was such a complicated situation right under her feet. Commander Don hadn’t gone too deep and became lost at all. In fact, he had returned to the dirt and tunnels that make him a mole.
“I will have to wait for our miner to return from his expedition deep into the kingdom. He will be a proper escort for you to return home. This is not your war, and I will safely escort you to Petworth from here.” Don said, and Tins suddenly realized her journey could be done.
“Miss, this is your Don?” The Pale Knight was confused by the turn of events. Tins saw him now, and his dedication to her, and to this small, forgotten world. Tins could go back now, with Dons help, and leave the fighting to him and his insects. But bugs were her life. Her life was underground too, even if she wasn’t a mole.
“I am Tinsley the Entomologist, and I will continue my journey with the Pale Knight, here. Don, we’ve found you, but this has only been the first stage of the journey.”
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Chapter Three: Deeper Tunnels to Come Part One
Tinsley sat groping through leaves and low leafy plants. Above, yellow lights played through the sparse branches of the only tree in her yard. From beyond a fence she heard shrieking that could only be her sister and the neighbor girl playing house. It wasn’t any real house. Mom never allowed any outside voices in a real house. Her sister was always making pretend worlds. Tinsley was proud for staying realistic. Really, she didn’t feel she needed anything more than her soft, dew-beaded grass to wiggle her toes in. “Tins! Tins!” Her sister yelled over the fence.
“Tintin, where are you?” came the neighbor girls voice, but it sounded strange and distant. It was so long ago that she could hear how far away time had gone.
Under her fingers were plump, white worms. Their segmented bodies curved in the palm of her hand. These types left zig-zagging trails through thick green vegetation. They writhed and ate and ate. Their munching trails were intricate. Tinsley pressed little black dirt between her two fingers. These were little worms now, but no one loved a maggot for what it was. It was no grave worm, but no one could love the little pale body. She read how some people ate the worms, and she pictured them sautéed. Worm stew, maybe. Her family would only gag at the though and sneer about a maggot.
She blinked in the blue luminescence. Tins woke in the cool floor of the egg temple. She was still beneath the ground. She was alone for a moment, and could reflect on the memory her dreams were imitating. She used to spend every day rummaging through the garden in her childhood yard. Her sister was always so active and energetic. Her sisters energy was always projected up and outward. She valued her outside world so much that she grew to leave home to create her own, though it was no fantasy. Petworth was a real community, and the earth beneath it was more real than anyone could possibly imagine. Tins thought of life back up top with relish. Her soft carpeted living room, and the trees brushing against her windows at night. She thought now of all the dinner invites her sister had made, and all the post cards her parents mailed out. She was more distant than any of those memories—Oh my, Tins was honestly as deep as she could possibly be in her own world. Her sister had supported her for so long, and now Tins was underneath all that her sister cherished. If she didn’t help the insects revive their Radiance, then she could never hope to save her sisters dreams either.
Off in the high ceilinged main chamber, she could hear the bugs scuttling across the hard compacted floor. They were preparing for their day, and for the events she was now a part of. The bugs had a whole secret kingdom beneath Petworth. The Pale Knight was her escort down into the tunnels and catacombs of Hallownest. His mission had been to help her find Resseti’s brother. That’s how this all began, she thought. She wanted to help Resseti. She too had a sibling. She could never think of losing her Sawy. And helping Resseti was helping Sawy too, since he was part of Petworths upkeep and maintenance. Don and Resseti were loyal moles. Tins had no idea how loyal Don truly was when she set out to bring him back from the tunnels. He was a classic knight, only way down beneath the regular world.
Sir Don the Mole, in his armor and shining nail-for-a-sword. His face was more slim than Resseti’s. He wore a goatee, and was well groomed. His whole visage was knightly. He was taller than Tinsley, and so towered over the other beetles. He may be the perfect hero that Hallownest needed. Tinsley couldn’t possibly stop the course of events that she had gotten herself into. The Kingdom was beautiful, if not empty and echoing. The Pale King had lost control of the Kingdom when he gathered too much power. The corrupt king leeched the natural glowing Radiance from the Earth. Her Radiance, the entity that the bugs knew to be their source of life, was being sucked out of their world. With the two worlds being so directly linked, the land above, in Petworth, was also threatened. Don was heroic, and Tinsley found herself easily following him deeper into the mysterious world of bugs. “Good morning to you, Tinsley. Have you slept well enough? I know that the first few nights underground are strange. The dim light never falters. So few can truly see it, but you’re blessed to be one who can. Mammals aren’t usually a part of this level of the world.” Said Don in greeting.
It was all a lot to process, “Thank you, I’m fine.”
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“Miss Tins, your companion, the Pale Knight, he is bound to this temple. He abandoned it for the cause. He means to face the Pale King. I had dedicated my strength to protecting the Radiance in this temple as well, in my own attempt to save Hallownest. But now that I’ve been speaking with him, I know that he is right. We must act now to locate and defeat this menace.
“I’m saying that you must be prepared to fight and travel deeper than any human ever has. You’re brave to want to do some good for this world, but it is dangerous. You could always return to above land and know that I am well, and that we brave knights are the ones protecting this realm.
“Only, no one above will ever believe an of this kingdom is truly here. Resseti believes already that I’ve been dreaming up fantasies because I’ve never had anything more interesting in my life. It was disarming to hear my brother dismiss something I knew to be real. He will believe you that I am safe and on my way home as soon as I’m ready. Tell him I’m mining if you will, but I do not suggest explaining any of this to our Mayor, or anyone but me. You will have to wait for my return.” Don finished with a clang of his plate armor.
He was right. Nothing would ever be the same for Tins. She didn’t think of herself sitting at home waiting for him to return. What if he and the Pale Knight did actually need her help? She wasn’t strong or tall like Don the Mole, but she was knowledgeable about bugs, and all of this was where she knew she belonged since she was just a kid.
“Don, I’m staying. I won’t abandon something so vital. It’s important to me.”
So the three gathered themselves to move forward with their journey. Tinsley wore white, luminous fabric made from some delicate material. She liked to think it was spider’s webbing. It flowed around her, and wrapped around her new sword belt and scabbard. A shining brass tack was tucked into one side for a dagger, and a short, stainless steel nail waggled in its sheath when she walked.
Don shone brilliantly in the aura of light his tin can armor gave off. She saw now that the engravings across his breastplate were the expiration date for canned peas. He wore a cloak over his shoulders of the same white fabric. Don stood proud and firm. She couldn’t ever remember him looking so strong. From what she knew of him above ground, he was shy and patient. Deep beneath his little under-hill home he shared with his brother, he was a true Knight among insects.
The Pale Knight remained himself. He was brittle looking by comparison. He wasn’t alive. The bugs of Dirtmouth were full of life still, but the Pale Knight was different. He was hollow. When his joints moved, they whispered. His steps were all soft and dry. His eyes did not seem calculating or thoughtful, but the power of the Radiance was life enough. He was quick still. Tinsley wouldn’t want to fight him. He was more dangerous with his little nail for a weapon than any big bug they could come across. The Pale Knight was also a friend. She trusted the Knight.
“Alright, our first goal is to find the old miner, Cornifer.” Don said.
“His wife lives in Dirtmouth. Might be she has an idea where he is.” Said the Pale Knight.
“Might be she regularly would, but he has not been home in long days, and that’s due to my own commands. Cornifer is my cartographer of the deep tunnels. He’s mapping the Radiance. There may be no source to be found, but our goal had been to find the Radiance naturally. That was before you two came to the temple. It’s clear that we need to go to Cornifer and get the map he has been drawing up. I think now that there isn’t a main vein of Radiance in these tunnels. I believe the Radiance is housed in bugs.”
The deep roads to Cornifer were all softer and wetter than the higher ones. Soon their beautiful white garments were all smudged, and Tins was feeling far less strong and proud. The air was heavy and dark. The only light they kept was the natural light of the Pale Knight. He led the way, and Don gave directions for where to turn. At first Tinsley thought Don knew where he was going. But that would mean that Cornifer didn’t need to be found at all. Only, Don’s little pink Mole’s nose was twitching and sniffing. He was following Cornifer’s trail!
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