Ahead in the distance Adam noticed a break in the grid. The manta turned and swam towards this clearing. Adam saw that the clearing was actually a large, rock shelf that stretched out over a shallow basin. The tight grid of coral hovels resumed on the other side of the basin.
The manta stopped directly above the clearing and the urchins up top signaled the net’s release. The thick, dark ropes tumbled downward and the net, along with everyone in it, drifted downward. Adam, Ramata, and Spot climbed out of the top and swam down to the clearing.
While the net full of urchins touched down, Adam took in the immensity of his surroundings. This was indeed a complex. Building after drab building as far as the eye could see and in every possible direction. Adam then heard some scuffling behind him. He turned to see a pile of urchins forming around Ramata and Spot. The urchins rolled up each other’s backs to form walls to separate the three friends.
Adam heard Ramata cry out once, but only once. He didn’t hear any noise at all from Spot. Adam himself was soon enclosed within a dark shell of living urchins. A shaft of light then broke through the walls, then another, and another as Adam’s urchin cell began to dismantle itself. By the time Adam could again see around, most of the urchins that had been on the clearing were nowhere to be seen. He watched the few stragglers roll off down the tight streets – maybe they were headed home. Only one urchin remained on the clearing with Adam, Admiral Pinch.
“Where are my friends?”
“Safe. Away, away.”
Adam clenched his fists. “What have you done with them?”
“These are the King’s orders: ‘Leave the child, take the other two.’ I don’t question my King.”
“I have a question for your King.”
“Oh, you do?”
“Yes, I must ask him something.”
“Then, by all means, you should ask her.” Admiral Pinch barked then rolled away from the shelf lip, his spikes twitching with laughter.
“Her?” Adam asked.
Pinch, with shrill excitement, replied, “Yes, child. I present to you, for all your precious questioning, Her Royal Wetness, the Lady King Altern.”