Waking up proved difficult for Anchovy. Her eyes were puffy and red from crying, and she had an awful headache. However, when she heard Mushroom uttering a battlecry and swearing loudly, she found it just a bit less difficult. She roused herself and jumped to her feet, and she looked to see Mushroom facing a pair of angry-looking zombies.
"What the hell?!" she screamed. Mushroom jumped and turned around. "Ah, glad you’re awake," he said. "I could use a bit of that technique you were imposing upon that creature from before." He gave her a little grin, and Anchovy, much to his relief, returned that grin and grabbed her knife.
"Use as much martial power as you can manage," she told him, rushing into the fray. "You want to save your pistol for when there’s a real threat."
"Oh, and zombies are not a real threat, then?" he asked as Anchovy ran up beside him and started fighting the zombie on the left.
"No way!" she replied, swiping quickly with her dagger and slicing off the zombie’s left arm, just like that. The zombie stopped and looked down at its arm.
"Dhur?" it gurgled.
"Dhur!" Anchovy confirmed, kicking it in the face. Mushroom looked on with genuine admiration as he tried to fend off the zombie to the right.
"That seems to be one of your trademark moves," he commented.
"That it does," Anchovy agreed, giving the zombie a second kick. Mushroom decided to go barehanded, and he fought fisticuffs against the second zombie. Anchovy turned and kicked Mushroom’s zombie in the face as he fought.
"Nice one," Mushroom said as he punched Anchovy’s zombie in the knee, crippling it to the ground. Anchovy took this opportunity to slice its head off, killing it.
"You too," she replied. She glanced at Mushroom, who pulled back his arm to deliver a firm punch into the zombie’s head. With a sickening pop, the zombie’s head came clean off and flew into the side of the cavern wall. A distinct click was heard, and Anchovy laughed and patted Mushroom heartily on the back.
"Good one, partner!" she said. Mushroom grinned and was about to say something, but he was cut short by a loud rumbling.
"Quick!" Mushroom said, grabbing Anchovy by the wrist and running up against the right wall. "It’s the axe again!" Anchovy ran up against the wall alongside Mushroom. They pressed as closely as they could manage to the wall, and they heard the characteristic rumbling sound of before. However, instead of getting slapped in the neck with a sharp object, they suddenly felt the wall behind them collapse altogether. They both cried out and tried to gain their footing as the rock crumbled around them. Anchovy held on tightly to Mushroom’s sleeve, and he tried to grab for her but ended up falling backward and onto the ground.
About a minute later, the toppling rubble had settled considerably, but a thick plume of dust hung in the air. Both parties coughed and waved the dust out of their faces, trying their best to see.
"Are you okay?" Anchovy asked.
"I’m fine, and you?" Mushroom asked in return.
"I’m fine," Anchovy said with a nod. "But what happened?" Mushroom shrugged.
"It would seem that instead of hitting the button which brought the axe down, the zombie’s head hit another button which opened a secret passageway. Now, though, it’s all covered in rubble and we will have to climb up over it all." Anchovy shrugged.
"Fine with me. Let’s get our gear and try just that," she said. "Wow, it’s a wonder the rubble didn’t fall on US. We were directly below it, after all." Mushroom nodded.
"It would seem luck is on no one’s side but ours," he replied.
The pair went back to the fire, which still mostly lit the cave but was obstructed by the settling dust cloud. They collected their personal items and some things they had borrowed from the lifeless bodies of Pepperoni and Banana Pepper, and they moved toward the large passage opening, cloths over their mouths to keep them from breathing in too much dust. They held their torches high.
"So... how are you feeling, Anchovy, after the events of a few hours ago?" asked Mushroom with some reluctance. He had been awake thinking about the whole dreadful affair for hours, as he had been watching over Anchovy, and he had only hoped that she could manage to put it at the back of her mind.
“I… don’t really want to talk about it,” Anchovy replied in somewhat of a confused tone. What a strange question to ask, she thought.
"Well yes... obviously..." Mushroom said, somewhat embarrassed. "But... are you all right?" Anchovy nodded.
"I’m a big girl. I’ll be fine," she replied with a smirk. "Besides, while I’ve…”—she swallowed audibly before continuing—“never killed allies before... I know what it’s like to kill someone. I’m no innocent." Mushroom nodded in agreement.
"As do I," he said. This brought the pair into the comfortable discomfort of another awkward silence, which they seemed to be getting rather adept at. They decided to speak of different matters.
"This hallway is narrower, I notice," observed Mushroom.
"Very astute," Anchovy replied flatly, "you would have made quite the detective." Mushroom frowned slightly.
"And this is the thanks I get for watching you while you slept, heartbroken because you had murdered your own comrades?" he asked, blunt as a hammer. Anchovy stopped walking and proceeded to kick Mushroom swiftly in the seat of the pants. Mushroom hadn’t noticed before that these dainty travellers’ boots Anchovy was wearing were steel-toed. He noticed now.
“Arrrghhh!” he bellowed loudly. Anchovy stalked by him, her free hand balled into a fist.
"Next time," she said icily, "it will be on the other side, with a dagger." Mushroom whimpered a little and walked, a little awkwardly, behind her.
They climbed over the rubble and wreckage for some time until it finally dispersed, leaving nothing but bare ground.
"This has got to be one of the most boring caves I’ve had the displeasure of being in," Anchovy muttered. "The traps are few and when they are there, they’re foolish. We’ve encountered some random fuzz beast and two zombies so far--" she paused a moment. "Wait, I didn’t even realize. If there are zombies here, there must be someone making them somewhere." Mushroom glanced at her and frowned.
"I haven’t seen many zombies in my time," he said. "I found it rather strange, myself, to see them here."
"I wonder if the jewels are cursed, and if they create the zombies,“ Anchovy mused. "Unless there is someone here actually using their abilities to create the undead." Mushroom pondered.
"Or perhaps the whole cave is cursed?" he suggested. "I mean, three of us have died already trying to get to the jewe-" Anchovy stopped him.
"If that’s the case," she said in a low voice, "this entire island is cursed. Why else would the natives be unwilling to search for the jewels themselves, despite the promise of riches that would come of it?" She nodded once. "Someone doesn’t want anyone to find those jewe--AIEEEEEE!" Anchovy’s sentence was abruptly cut short as she plummeted down a shaft that had suddenly opened in the ground. Mushroom’s eyes widened as he watched her disappear from his view. He could still hear her screaming, but that was beginning to fade as well.
"She’s my partner," he reminded himself. Then, steeling all his determination, he said, "The worst thing you could do is die, Vladimir." He took a leap down the chasm and screamed like a little boy all the way down. He couldn’t see anything and he was getting roughed up a little by the rock wall that he was being chafed against every so often. He could feel himself picking up momentum and falling a little faster.
"I need to slow down!" he said to himself. He was starting to see spots. Biting his lip, he splayed his legs very slightly and dragged his feet along the wall to slow himself. This worked, but only slightly; he had to push a little harder with his feet, but he also couldn’t push too hard or he would risk doing some severe damage to his feet and legs. He had been falling for what felt like five minutes by this point, and finally he was starting to see some light below him.
"Anchovy!" he called.
"Mushroom! You came for me!" Anchovy called back. Mushroom saw the light growing, and the next thing he knew, he had fallen rather painfully on his rear, precisely the same spot Anchovy had kicked him only minutes before. He squeaked in agony, but then felt arms around him.
"Thank you!" came Anchovy’s voice in his ear. He chuckled.
"Well," he said, "we are partners." He returned the hug. He then felt her knock him over. Mushroom let out a little oof sound and held Anchovy at arms’ length to look at her, surprised. Anchovy kissed him on the cheek.
"Thank you," she said again. "I was terrified." Mushroom nodded in agreement, grinning.
"Think of how it must have felt to jump down there voluntarily!" he replied. Anchovy smirked.
"I can well imagine," she replied. "I heard you scream, you big baby.” Mushroom’s face proceeded to turn a rather shameful shade of crimson. Anchovy laughed and slapped him playfully on the shoulder as she stood, leaving Mushroom lying on the ground on his own. “I think we’re even for those… words you had for me up there.” Mushroom cringed. “Ah… yes. Ah.”
He stood up and took a good look at his surroundings, and was surprised to find that they were sitting in a well-lit room. That must have been where the light was coming from before.
Sconces held torches up on the walls, and there was little in the way of decoration, except for a rather simple-looking table and a pair of chairs. There was a candle in the table’s centre and, surprisingly, it was set with a pair of goblets full of water and a two plates with some cold food on them.
"Someone’s been expecting us, I wager," Anchovy said pointedly. "I’m a little surprised to see that. It makes me wonder if I wasn’t right about my theory of someone making zombies."
"Do you think it’s safe...?" Mushroom asked suspiciously. Being in the secret service, he knew better than to let food and drink foil him.
"Probably not. Let’s give it a look." The two moved over to the table and gave everything a careful look. The plate held some bread and cheese, with butter on the bread and everything, as well as a few cold pickles and a pretty red flower as an attractive garnish, and a small sliver of pie. The goblets with water looked normal enough, but neither of them could really be sure. To their surprise, though, they found a little note wedged under one of the plates. Anchovy read it aloud.
"Greetings, my guests," she read, "if you wish to find my jewels you will need to go through my many tests. If you like to think, then take a drink; if you don’t want to die, you must have some pie." Anchovy stared at the paper and then glanced at Mushroom. "This has to be one of the most foolish things I have ever read," she interjected.
"Keep going," Mushroom said, gesturing with a hand.
"If you think these are poisoned you must think again, for I’d like to meet you at the end with a hen," Anchovy read. "Okay, he was just looking for something to rhyme with ’again’ there," she muttered. "Really, this is an offense to any kind of written word anywhere." Mushroom took the paper out of Anchovy’s hands, frustrated with her commentary, and continued to read.
"This food and drink all contains a spell, and if you consume it, it will serve you well," Mushroom read. "If you think it’s a trap then you are a sap."
"Absolutely foolish drivel. An insult to the literary world," Anchovy said with disgust.
"Well, sounds to me as though this food and drink is not of poison," Mushroom says.
"But it could be a trap," Anchovy replied. "Don’t we have any way of trying to figure out if it’s poisonous or not?"
"I could try it," suggested Mushroom, "and if I don’t die then it’s safe." Anchovy stared at him. “You’re right, that’s a bad idea,” he said before she could even speak. He thought for a moment. "Wait," he said. "I have a plan." He paused a moment and looked around the room. Conveniently, as though by design of some higher power, a rat was scrounging about in some garbage in the corner, digging away. Mushroom snuck up on the rat and tried to catch it. It took him several tries, as rats can be rather slippery when being caught, but finally he was able to get a hold of it. Anchovy shuddered.
"I hate rats," she said.
"Well, you might like this one," Mushroom replied. "He’s going to test our food for us. Will you feed it for me?" Anchovy went slack-jawed.
"You want me to hold out food for a rat and let it eat out of my hand?" she asked, her face and tone devoid of emotion.
"Well, yes," Mushroom said with a nod.
"Absolutely not!" Anchovy snapped. "Rats are disgusting! No! I’m not letting it touch me!” She sniffed, then added, “Besides, I’m against animal testing.” Mushroom sighed.
"Either this food is going to help us, or it will kill us," he said. "Is it really all that important that we eat it? I mean, honestly."
"It could be," Mushroom said, gritting his teeth through his impatience. "Just take a chunk of food and give it to the rat, damn you!” Anchovy sighed and moved over to the table.
"I’m warning you," she said, turning around and wagging a finger, "I will make good on my promise of the dagger going into your front, and I will enjoy every second of it, if that rat so much as touches me. You hear me?" Mushroom swallowed audibly.
"Loud and clear," he replied. Anchovy picked a slice of the pie from a plate and nervously approached Mushroom and his makeshift pet, holding it out. The rat hastily grabbed the pie piece and ate it in a matter of seconds. Anchovy gave a little scream as it did so, and the rat gave her a look that said "leave me alone, lady. I get that a lot". It devoured the food and promptly keeled over and died.
"Well," said Anchovy, "that settles that.” Mushroom paled.
“Yes. Yes, it does,” he agreed.
"What an idiot, whoever left the note," Anchovy commented. "As though just saying it’s not poison is enough for us to believe that!"
"Well, we almost did," Mushroom noted. Anchovy shrugged. "Anyway, let’s uh, get rid of that rat," she mumbled, adding, "I was looking forward to a bit of free food.” Mushroom quickly obeyed and dropped the rat on the ground.
"You could always eat rat," Mushroom offered with an amused smirk on his face. Anchovy rolled her eyes and gave Mushroom a little kick with her boot.
"Yeah, thanks but no thanks," she muttered. "Let’s get out of this room already."
"Maybe we should keep the note," Mushroom suggested. "After all, maybe we can match handwriting later on, if we find something else." Anchovy nodded, gazing at the ceiling in thought.
"That’s very true," she replied. "All right, let’s do that." The two made it to the door and gave a tug, and to their surprise, it actually opened. When they went through, they found themselves in a well-lit, if somewhat narrow, hallway.
"Interesting," Mushroom commented. "This is much different than upper level." Anchovy nodded slowly as she perused the hallway. It seemed to her that the hallway ended directly behind them, leading them both to believe that the room they were in was the entrance to this level.
"Funny how a random booby-trap sent us down to the actual level," she said. She paused for a moment, and her face quickly grew very pale.
"What is it?" Mushroom asked quickly. "What’s wrong?" Anchovy swallowed.
"I just realised," she said quietly, "that we have no way back up." Mushroom’s eyes widened.
"I hadn’t thought of that!" he gasped. "Well... I don’t know, Anchovy... let’s... let’s just worry about that when time comes, yes?" Anchovy swallowed again.
"Yes..." she managed. "Yes, yes, all right. Besides, there may be another way up, right?" Mushroom nodded, and the two, shakily, made their way down the hallway.
This hallway had intermittent sconces with torches mounted on the walls, keeping it well-lit. Both Mushroom and Anchovy were grateful for this, because their torches had gone out in the sudden rush of air that hit them as they tumbled down the rabbit hole, so to speak. At the same time, though, they wondered who must have been keeping these torches lit, and whether someone had been expecting them. The ceiling was fairly low; it was probably only about ten feet high, and nothing of note hung from it. It was arched smoothly. The ground beneath them looked like someone had swept most of the dirt out of it, and it was fairly well kept. Not much else graced the walls. Not that they noticed, anyway.
"Well, at least we’re down to the real part of this cave," Anchovy commented. "We’ll probably have an easier time of finding the jewels if we’re down at this level." There was a bit of silence after that, as Mushroom didn’t feel he had much he could say to agree or disagree with that either way. They walked along until they found a fork in their path.
"Oh boy, nothing like a good old cave cliché,” Anchovy muttered. "You know, I have seen this so many times in my travels. Cave designers are really so unoriginal. I think they should try like a five or six-way intersection instead of this. Someone could navigate this in their sleep." Mushroom blinked at her.
"You mean, you know which way to go?" he asked. Anchovy nodded and sighed.
"When you have to choose between right and left, it’s always, always right," she explained. Mushroom raised an eyebrow.
"Always? Why, and since when?" he asked.
"Since forever," Anchovy replied simply. "It’s always right, trust me."
"What if I want to go left?"
"You want to go left?"
"We’re going right!" Anchovy said finally, grabbing Mushroom by the wrist and giving him a firm tug forward. "Let’s go!"