To Leave Domaqua…

Set aside from the corruption of our world, a wondrous cave hides in a catacomb of caverns—a refreshing oasis in a desert of darkness. Unlike its peers, however, this cave receives dim light from a small hole in its slick ceiling. The brilliant light shines down and refracts in a peaceful pool in the center of the grotto's floor. As if it is composed of many crystals, ripples cover the pool, continuously lapping at the young green shoots poking out from the rocky shoreline. Myriads of minute fish glide through the clear waters barely visible to the passerby. The whole cave creates a pleasant sanctuary for countless creatures, its damp and misty emotions generating a sweet smell of protection and an aura of serenity. Quietly secluded, the cave will forever stay unknown by the destructive world of man, eternally remaining a hidden paradise.

One of this paradise's most remarkable inhabitants was a cat named Bandit. The black and white feline often explored the cavern; his sleek fur rubbing up against the walls, his eyes questing back and forth, and the sound of smacking resonating as he hunted for fish. And as he ate the fish, he'd smile, as only a cat can. Eyes glowing he'd quest into everything, except how he came to live in such a strange place and what lies outside of his paradise. He had discovered, just as Adam did before him, that even a Garden of Eden could be hell when one is all alone. He seldom bogged down his mind with such depressing thoughts and instead occupied himself in another task; his favorite of which is chasing the other lonely cavern dwellers.

That day was no different. BAM! Griff slammed into the wall. He leapt back onto his paws and continued to flee his pursuer. He dove into the pool, just wide and deep enough for him to swim, and twisted to the other side. Griff was an otter, and although he knew Bandit cannot reach him inside of the water, he doesn't want security right now; he wants to play. So, he gracefully leapt out of the water, running over towards the caverns exit.

Bandit bounded ahead and goes to block his way. "Are you crazy?" Bandit asked. "You would leave the protection of Domaqua; our home?"

"And you would have me stay?" Griff returned the question. "We can run more out there. It is larger. We can have more fun. It is boring in here."

"But it is safe," Bandit insisted. They had had this argument before. Bandit believed that this cave, Domaqua, should remain their home. "We have both been here for as long as we can remember. Why should we leave now?"

Griff let out a sigh of distress. "Why can't you move on? There must be something outside of a Domaqua. There must be another place to live." Griff pointed at the hole in the ceiling. "Where do you think that light comes from?"

Bandit was persistent. "I do not care. We do not need to know."

"You do not care, but I do. I can not stand staying here all of the time. Domaqua is our home, but there must be something else. Somewhere else. Do you not get lonely? There must be another cat out there; someone for you. And an otter out there for me. There must."

Bandit wasn't done arguing yet but Griff dove back into the pool, cutting Bandit off. "I'm leaving tomorrow," Griff's rough voice cried out, "whether you are coming or not."

Bandit plopped down on the smooth ground near the entrance and stared out. His curiosity was awakened by Griff. He knew that he would never be able to be happy in Domaqua again. He had no choice but to go with Griff. He laid his head down on his paws and went to sleep, thinking furiously about the journey he would undertake the next day.

That night, he had a dream. He dreamt of Looren, the red panda who had left Domaqua long ago. She had promised to return when she found what there was to find. But it was already a year later and Looren was nowhere to be seen. But in Bandit's dream she was just as beautiful as she ever had been—just as spunky, just as curious, just as intelligent. Oh how Bandit missed her. Griff had not been the same since she'd disappeared. That was what gave him this strange notion of leaving.

And indeed how peculiar it was; to abandon one's home, to depart one's safety, to desert all one knows. And all for what? To search for a friend who is dead and a place that doesn't exist. Ridiculous!

But Bandit needed something more. He longed for a pretty cat to fall in love with, one with silky ginger hair and a calm voice, one who would comfort him when he was weary. But there were no such creatures in Domaqua. And so, Bandit couldn't stay and when Griff shook him awake the next morning he was prepared to leave. "Looren," he muttered as he woke.

Griff glanced at his friend. "Goodbye friend. I may never see you again."

Bandit chuckled. "Are you joking? I am coming with you! Did you think I wouldn't? Now come, let us leave this paradise of Domaqua and seek out our new home."

Griff stared at Bandit for a moment in disbelief. "But I thought…" He trailed off.

"Come. We must go now." Bandit walked out through the caves entrance, beckoning for his companion to follow. Griff followed, mystified by Bandit's recent acts of curiosity. Together they slowly stepped into the darkness, leaving the safety of Domaqua for the last time.

"INTO THE DARKNESS OUT OF THE LIGHT; OUT OF THE DAY AND INTO THE NIGHT; LEAVING HOME IN A HAPLESS PLIGHT; TO FIND ALL THAT THEY NEED." The verse surrounded Bandit and Griff, spoken by an unknown source somewhere in the pitch.

"We must keep moving," Bandit urged Griff, stepping further away from the light of Domaqua, watching it fade out into the distance.

Together they strode through those lonely caves, straining their eyes to see. The followed twists and turns and found themselves altogether lost in this labyrinth of shadow.

Bandit did not admit to Griff how scared he was. But Griff confided his fears to Bandit. "We are lost," he cried, "and practically blind. And there is probably nowhere to go anyway. You were right. We should have stayed in Domaqua. We should not have come here."

"No," Bandit told Griff. "I could not bear it. I was so alone. I need someone to love; their must be a nice cat on the outside. Come, we must keep moving." Bandit tried to stay calm as the voice resonated from the darkness again.

"THROUGH THE WEB THE TWO DOOMED TROT; TOWARDS THE STICKY CENTER SPOT; THEIR MURDER—GRUESOME—NOW A PLOT; TO END THEM. FOR THEY ARE LIKE FLIES IN A WEB."

Bandit tried to gaze at Griff but the cave was just too dark. "I have a bad feeling."

He heard Griff agree. "Good idea."

"This way," Bandit stated, running in a direction, Griff following the sound of his galloping feet.

"FASTER, FASTER TWO FLIES RUN," The voice was getting louder as they ran, no matter which direction they chose. They desperately twisted through cavern after cavern.

"RUNNING 'TIL THEIR LIVES ARE DONE," They saw a light, peering at them through the dark passageway. Had they found their ways back to Domaqua? Could they be safe again?

"ALREADY THOUGH THE TRAP IS SPRUNG," They desperately turned the corner and saw an ominous shadow illuminated on the wall. The creature had too many legs to count and enormous tentacles. Bandit and Griff gasped in unison. This was not their home; it was somewhere else. Here the light was ghastly, provided by a small bonfire in the center.

And the monster was on the other side looming… "THE NOOSE IS LIFTED AND THE VICTIMS HUNG!" Out from behind the fire leapt the animal who had been inspiring fear in Bandit and Griff's hearts. It was a small spider. Prey for a cat.

"WAIT!" The spider hissed. "I CAN HELP YOU FIND YOUR WAYS OUT. JUST AS I HELPED YOUR FRIEND." The spider was no longer speaking in creepy rhymes. It indeed sounded sincere.

"What do you know of Looren? Why would you help her? If she escaped here, why has she not returned? Why would you help us?"

"SILENT, SILENT, I MUST EXPLAIN SOMETHING!" But the poor spider never had a chance, for out of the adjacent cave leapt a truly fearsome beast. A regal tiger, roaring evilly. The beast leapt forth and landed on the spider.

"A what a waste," the lion yawned. "Shaira was a great spider. Streaking fear in the hearts of my enemies…" He sighed. "…what will I ever do with out her?"

Griff and Bandit could not answer. They just stood there staring at the lion that was sure to be their doom.

"You don't have to answer. Rhetorical question. Ah, what wonderful lies she spun in her last hour. Helped your friend? Bah. Help you? She'd sooner try to eat you." The lion paused for a moment.

"How about a friendly contest?" the vile creature proposed. "If you win, I'll show you your way out, if you lose I'll eat you, and if you decline I'll let you wander in these caves until you die of hunger and thirst and then I shall feast on your remains."

He mimicked Shaira, "TWO FLIES LOST SLOWLY DYING; WAND'RING 'ROUND 'TIL THEIR DOOM; WHEREUPON A HUNGRY LION SHALL FEAST." He wasn't as good as Shaira but the meaning was apparent.

Bandit stuttered, representing both Griff and him, "What sort of contest do you want?"

"I rather like these stories I've heard of a sphinx. How about some sort of riddle? Ah, don't bother answering. A riddle it shall be. Now listen carefully and present me with the proper answer, or…"

"We have not agreed to your contest yet," Griff spat out miserably.

"I knew you'd agree to it. Now, let's begin." He coughed politely.

"Everyone has one,

"Although not all know it.

"For some it's ever changing,

"For some it stays ever still.

"It leaves some behind,

"And never follows others.

"None can live without it:

"The pleasure it provides.

"What is it?"

Bandit and Griff exchanged miserable glances. What could such a thing be? If everyone had one, then why would it leave them? It must make them happy, this mysterious thing.

"Hurry up," the lion roared, "I get hungry."

Without looking at each other Bandit and Griff knew they were beaten. Neither of them could solve the riddle. "We do not-" but he was cut off. Someone stopped him from finishing his sentence. A red paw had slipped across to cover his mouth.

"We do not," a clear voice declared, "want to back down from your challenge and I will give you an answer to your riddle. The word you seek is 'Home'"

Bandit swiveled, his feline posterior swinging behind him. His eye locked with those of an old friend. It was Looren. "There is no way out," she proclaimed, "this creature is a cheat and lier. More so than Shaira ever was. He is our enemy. Friends we must flee. TO DOMAQUA!"

The three critters sprinted out of the room, and turned several corners, before the lion could react. They quickly lost him in the darkness of the caverns and were able to rest for a moment.

"I do not understand." Bandit said.

Griff nodded, "You should be dead, and if you escaped, did you find this outside world?"

"Yes," Looren admitted, bowing her head in sadness, "it was beautiful. Endless open space. It was lit all of the time with the most magnificent light. And the trees, oh the trees! They were so tall. And there were so many. It was a paradise."

"Why did you return?" Bandit inquired inquisitively.

"Because, even though I found another of my species, I could not stand it up there. These hideous creatures on two legs burned down the trees I had come to love. They took my friends, killed my neighbors and I barely escaped their murder."

"Then I guess we must return to Domaqua," Griff sighed.

"And I shall never meet a nice kitty."

"Now, now," Looren soothed them, "be greatful for what we have. We should be grateful for Domaqua. I for one have learned much throughout my adventures. I shall share it all with you. Just we must be safe."

"Fine," Bandit agreed, following her off toward their home again, hoping she knew where she was going, willing to put his life in her hands. He knew know that he could be content in the paradise that was Domaqua. He understood that there he must stay. And so, he quietly followed his friends, waiting for what would happen next.