If the molemen understood Scrumtumbler, then they ignored him. Instead, those clawed fingers forced him forward into the open chamber. It was brighter in here, with the bio-luminescent moss growing much more thickly along the cavern’s ceiling and walls.
Among the stalactites and stalagmites, the molemen went about their various chores. Some were digging new burrows, their arms blurring in the half-light. Others traveled the winding paths, seemingly indifferent to whether they walked on all fours or on their hind legs. A few lead trails of young ones behind them and a few more drove a flock of fat white grubs the size of wild turkeys. Most grouped together in twos and threes, standing so close that they almost touched snouts. It made them look as if they were sharing secrets.
His captors hauled him deeper into this cavern. The rough ceiling rose, first enough so that he could walk without stooping and then eventually high enough that he might have driven a double-decker bus through it, were it not for the stalagmites that blocked the way. The sounds of the moleman language were higher here, too, and the voices fell together now so that instead of a babble of different conversations, now they were unified in some kind of song or chant.
In the deepest part of this cavern, the stalactites and stalagmites had been cleared away, allowing Scrumtumbler to see what the chanting was about. Dozens of molemen bowed down around a huge, steel vehicle with a sharp cone for a nose.
“Hey, that’s my drilling machine!” Scrumtumbler shouted. The molemen’s chant faltered, and many of the worshippers shot fierce glares in the scientist’s direction.
“What are you fellows doing—worshipping it?” Scrumtumbler’s voice echoed off the walls. “I made that thing, you know. You should be worshipping me! I created your god, and my name is Scrumtumbler. It’s spelled S-C-R—oh, here, let me etch it on this stone altar—”
Scrumtumbler tried to pull away from his captors, but the clawed fingers clamped tightly around his arms. The chanting continued, though with a little more dissonance than there had been before the interruption.
One of the molemen broke away from the ritual to approach Scrumtumbler. Evidently, this was a shaman or a chieftain, because he wore an ungainly headdress made of bat wings and shiny stones, all cemented together with what appeared to be dried mud. Scrumtumbler made a desperate attempt to explain himself and his relationship to their new-found god, but the chieftain and his guards ignored him as they grunted and clicked to each other. A moment later, he was hauled forcibly away and thrown—quite unceremoniously—down a hole.
He crumpled as he landed and lay on the ground for a time, waiting for his eyes to adjust to the dark. They never did. There was simply no light by which to see. So, instead, he listened. Here, the sounds of the molemen were nothing more than a distant echo. Closer by, there was a trickling of water which signified some underground stream. And there was another sound, which at first he could not identify. It was a scraping, clawing sound—not rhythmic, but persistent, like an animal chewing on a bone. No, he thought as he listened more closely, not like one animal—like dozens of animals. Or hundreds. Maybe thousands of things gnawing all around him.
He was not alone.