Chapter Five

Through the Otherworld

A dreadful headache.

A freezing atmosphere.

A strange surrounding.

Those were the things that Vesper woke up to when he had finally managed to open his eyes. He had never felt so much pain in all of his life. His joints and limbs felt as if they had been crushed by a giant steamroller and were left to get trampled on by a bunch of stampeding buffaloes.

He spent a few minutes waiting for every ache and every soreness of his muscles to die down. The process would have been done much faster if he was lying on somewhere much more comfortable than the cold, jagged ground he was sprawled on.

When he was finally able to get up on his paws, he shook himself free from any dust or dirt that was clinging to his messy fur.

"W-Where am I? What is this place?" Vesper's voice shivered from the cold.

His eyes scanned the unfamiliar territory he was in. One thing he noticed was that the place was completely and utterly barren, with the exception of a few seemingly deceased, weirdly looking trees. It was also exceptionally dark, the darkest place he had ever seen. The ground was as pitch-black as the feathers of a crow, and the barrenness of the place seemed to stretch on forever. Vesper knew that no matter how much he would try, without the presence of a sufficient light source, even an animal like him known for having an enhanced eyesight would have significant trouble in navigating through such as treacherous area.

He looked up and saw that the sky wasn't much better.

There were no clouds, stars, or moon whatsoever. Not even a faint glimmer of something other than the abysmal darkness that surrounded him. It was a void. An absolute sea of emptiness.

Another thing he discovered was that he was not alone.

He heard a weak groaning noise behind him. He saw that it came from none other than his little, rodent companion.

"Fibi!" cried Vesper out to the rat. His yell reverberated many times through the open, barren field before it went deathly silent once again. "Are you okay? Are you hurt anywhere?"he asked as he helped the rat get back up on his paws.

Fibi could only stay standing for a few seconds before his legs fell unconscious again and collapsed to the ground, moaning in pain.

Vesper bit his lip. He knew what kind of agony the rat was going through. He experienced it first-hand. "You should stay down for a moment until the pain goes away," Vesper patted Fibi's head gently, but it seemed to do absolutely nothing to ease the rat's discomfort, let alone tell him that everything was going to be okay.

Fibi became silent after that, making Vesper wonder if he had fallen asleep.

He heard another groaning noise not too far away from him. At first, he thought that the sound had come from Fibi, but then he noticed that something was quite off about it. The groans were too low and distant for them to come from such a small animal.

Vesper felt the presence of a large figure moving beside him. What he thought was just a big boulder was actually a living and breathing creature. It was trying to get up on its paws, but at each attempt one of its legs would wobble. Still, it tried to push through but it was always sent collapsing back on the ground.

It took some time before it eventually did manage to stand. It towered over Vesper with its significantly tall and bulky stature. The two animals locked eyes with one another before the both of them recognized who the other was almost instantly.

Vesper and Oreo quickly put on aggressive stances. They exchanged enraged growls, snarls and all sorts of frightening noises at each other. Their tails were stiff and were raised high up in the air, vibrating from side to side. Their sharp teeth were exposed and ready to bite.

"You.. What are you doing here?!" demanded Vesper before letting loose a shrill hissing noise. It was the kind that sent mice cowering for days in their little hiding spots.

Oreo threw booming barks at him that seemed to unsettle the stillness of the whole area. It was as if he was trying to say "Yeah? I could say the same thing about you!"

It only made Vesper angrier.

He no longer felt any guilt for what he had done to the dog. His hesitation to do something bad to him had gone. All that was left was immense hatred along with the urge to do all sorts of nasty things to him. He wanted the dog to suffer; to make him experience unbearable pain no living creature has ever experienced before. He wanted to lunge at the dog and leave endless claw marks on his entire body. He wanted to tear off all of his skin and all of his fur and let him freeze to death from the cold, bitter wind. He wanted him to receive more than just a coma—he wanted him completely wiped out from existence.

Vesper could tell that Oreo also felt some hatred towards him, but he knew that it was by no means as intense and scorching as his.

Soon, however, his attention began to slowly drift away from the dog towards a heavy breathing noise creeping into his ears.

As Vesper turned around to see where it was coming from, he was slightly taken aback when he saw Fibi was now standing on his two paws and looking like he had already recovered from the fall. He had his back turned towards him but Vesper immediately felt that something was wrong with the vibes that he gave off. The rat began to tremble.

Just as Vesper was about to ask him what was wrong, Fibi turned towards him with a panicked expression.

"W-Where are we? What is this place?!" Fibi's voice was vicious and violent.

"Fibi," Vesper tried to calm him down but Fibi only became more and more psychotic. He grabbed hold of Vesper's forelegs and shoved his claws into them. "WHERE ARE WE?!"

"I-I don't know," Vesper barely even let the words escape from his mouth.

"No," Fibi's paws fell limply to his side. "No, no, no, no, NO, NO, NO!" Fibi yanked the fur from his head, not the even slightest bit bothered about the pain it gave him. "What have you done? WHAT HAVE YOU DONE?!"

Vesper was rendered completely petrified by what he saw.

Fibi's eyes were bulging hideously from their sockets. Red veins began to blister on the edges. His sharp, crooked teeth was bared and were covered in saliva. His paws twitched wildly underneath. Never had Vesper seen such a disturbing and unsightly appearance in all of his life. He didn't know if the rat he was seeing was still the rat that he knew and grew familiar with.

It was as if Fibi was on the verge of losing all of his sanity.

The rat then began to wander around in a circle. His eyes looked left and right, trying to figure out which path to take that will, hopefully, lead him back into the musty streets of New Jersey as he yelled the words 'I have to get back! I have to get back!' over and over again like a broken record player.

Vesper approached him slowly."Just.. J-Just calm down and we'll figure something out,"

"Calm down? Calm down?! I DON'T WANT TO CALM DOWN!" bellowed the rat. "Do you realize what kind of predicament you've put me into? I can't be somewhere I can't keep an eye on—" his words broke off suddenly, as if his mouth about to spill something it wasn't supposed to spill and he had stopped it just in the nick of time. "Tell me how to get out of here! Tell me right now!"

"I can't! I don't know how!" said Vesper.

Fibi growled. He turned towards Oreo. "What about you, mutt? Do you know the way back home?"

The dog shook its head as it backed away nervously.

"You are all so useless!" spat Fibi.

Before the moment could go beyond the border of verbal assaults and into something that involved claws and fangs, a yellowish orange light glowed above them, which ceased all uproar happening between the three animals.

When they looked up to see where the light was coming from, they saw that it was radiating from several strange, lantern-like orbs that were hanging from a dead tree beside them. There were about six to seven of them suspended on the tree. Vesper couldn't really tell. He was far too mesmerized with the vivid orange glow of the orbs.

He wondered if it was some sort of fruit, and if it was, he wasn't quite sure if he would want to go up and taste it. He had never heard anything from the stories that Maisie told him just before bedtime about a fruit that blazed a bright orange light during the dark. If he had, he was certain that he would have remembered.

None of the three animals spoke a single word. They were left completely enthralled by the glowing light. It was like they were gazing at a miniature version of the sun setting over the horizon. The light gave off a warm and comforting feeling. It melted away all of the bitterness and ill feelings that the three animals felt for one another.

"What.. are.. they?" Vesper whispered each word with a long pause in between, his eyes still affixed towards the glimmering orbs that seemed to shine more brilliantly at each passing second. He had never felt so happy to see light in all of his life.

Another set of orbs from another dead tree began to glow right next to it.

And another one.

And another one.

And another one.

Before the three animals could even gather their senses at what was going on around them, the place was soon engulfed by the gleaming orange light from the lantern-like orbs. Darkness had slowly faded and was replaced by dozens of twinkling orbs that were scattered on the twisty branches of the dead trees.

Finally, Vesper realized what was happening.

The glowing trees glowed not because they were trying to illuminate the dark surroundings. Rather, they were actually making a path for them to follow. They were (Vesper believed) trying to lead them to a place where all of their questions and uncertainties can possibly be answered.

"Should.. Should we follow it?" asked Vesper. His heart nearly jumped out of his chest when he caught sight of something dash right past him through the corner of his eye.

"Hey, wait! Fibi!" Vesper called out to the hastily scurrying rat as he began to chase after him.

And so began their journey through a world full of unknown ordeals and hardships awaiting them in every corner.