Chapter 1:

Letters Often Get Lost, Sometimes 70km Below Ground (Also a cute blonde girl and a Somalian Warlord)

Return To Sender

Part 1 -

Adrenaline coursed through Aspen’s veins, his palms sweaty with anxiety and nervousness. He clenched his hands into fists, until they were pale white, beads of sweat dripping down the back of his head and onto the nape of his neck. There would be no challenge of battle that would ever surpass this one. He took a deep breath and unwaveringly looked at his enemy dead in the eye.

“So ah- Astrid, I like you.”

There was a deafening silence.

“As a friend! Of course! I like you as a person! Yes!

“Mhm.” The vivacious looking, brown-blonde haired girl seemed unimpressed.

“Sorry… I lied.”

She raised her eyebrow.

“Right,” she replied. “Are you done?”

“Ah, no. I do... like you… more than just a friend. Please go out with me?”

Astrid stared back at him, speechless, her gaze boring a hole straight to his soul.

Ah shit, Aspen thought.

There’s no recovering from that. I feel like Brazil when they got fucked by Germany. Reuel, you have forsaken me. I will remember this day until I die.

A small giggle escaped Astrid, which developed into a full blown fit of laughter.

Forgive me father for I will have sinned. By day’s end this earth will have one less child of yours.

“I was wondering when you’d finally do it,” Astrid said, still bent over from the pain of laughing too much. She leaned against the wall, arms crossed over each other. She flashed a light hearted smile at Aspen.

“Not bad. F for execution but A for effort.”

Aspen let out a small sigh of relief. At least he had saved some face.

“...You knew, huh?”

She grinned at him again - an all knowing, slightly cheeky smile that hinted of her playfulness.

“Always have.”

Aspen scratched the nape of his neck. Had it always been that obvious?

“Yeah well, no thanks, I won't go out with you.”

Aspen felt his heart drop to the floor. He had hoped by some miracle of nature that it’d play out like one of soppy rom coms he had watched, and would return to his comrades no longer a mere boy, but now a man. Alas, real life was far from a trashy love story and Aspen had no such protagonist-like plot convenience.

"I’ll be visiting my grandparents for the month.” She singled out a strand of her brownish-blonde hair and twisted it around her finger.

“But… I get back 2 weeks before summer ends.” She glanced to the ground, suddenly interested in the laces of her shoes. She looked up and their eyes met once more. “That’s more than enough time to get some convince me isn’t it?” She gave him a playful shove as she walked past.

“I’m rooting for ya.” She gave him a wink before disappearing through the door of the female locker rooms.



Aspen walked along the park trail as he headed home, head still pondering the events that had transpired mere minutes ago.

Huh? What is going on?

Aspen was speechless. His brain could barely process what had just happened. Did he get rejected? Did she say yes? Why had she flat out denied him then told him that she was free for the last two weeks of summer? What is he supposed to do?!

I’m getting toyed with. She’s taking the piss out of me. Surely. But why is she ‘rooting for me’?

The sun setting on the horizon and the light breeze that blew across the landscape provided a soothing and calm atmosphere that suited any sort of deep thinking and reflection. They were, unfortunately, no help in alleviating the buzzing cluster of thoughts that clouded Aspen’s mind. Not even the intervention of God himself could help his poor soul now. Such is the power of such affectionate love and sly women who know how to weaponise such an emotion.

I can't think right now man. Nothing smart has ever been done by a dude with his bladder full of piss.

Aspen veered off the path, keeping one eye scouting for a secluded area of lush greenery, and another eye for nearby park-goers who could accidentally catch a glimpse of his improvised commando operation.

Ahhh, that’s so much better. I’ve been freed. I have been reborn an enlightened being.

As Aspen looked up from his handiwork, the darkness had fallen around him. What was a small, dense area of bushland had morphed into a jungle under the blanket of the night.

He stepped away from the bush he had camped in, and surveyed his surroundings. While he could’ve sworn the path was fifteen or so metres in front of him, it had been replaced with the silhouette of towering trees, and the thickness of flora.

Surely I just go forward right? And then I can just stay on the footpath, and then I won’t end up lost in the middle of Narnia and end up on channel 7's Missing Persons.

Aspen took a few tentative paces forward, before breaking into a hurried walk. He felt like he had travelled half a kilometre, but still didn’t feel the comforting hardness of the concrete footpath underneath his feet.

Ah. I'll be making my television debut. Guess I’m camping in that bush till morning or a search team comes after me.

Aspen took a step back, and promptly and rather ungracefully tripped on a tree root that had been behind him the whole time.

Whoa what the-

Aspen plummeted to the earth. He braced himself for the hardness of the dirt but felt no resistance. The floor seemingly gave way as he free-falled into the abyss below him.


Part 2 -

Aside from cats, bugs and a few other small mammals, there aren’t many living things that can survive terminal velocity. Especially not a male human who was plummeting towards the ground at speeds upwards of 200km/h. While Aspen wasn’t plus sized  or even chubby by any means, the few kilometres of speed that he managed to shave off for keeping a slim figure was no consolation for the fact that when he does finally hit the bottom of the hole, he would be instantly pulverised into an atrocious mess of blood, flesh and bones.

That is, if there is a bottom. Aspen had been free falling for 12 minutes, approaching 13 and there was still no end in sight.

Aspen had been absolutely wrought in fear in the first 30 seconds or so. It had taken him all of his willpower to prevent himself from pissing himself in fear, despite having just emptied his bladder before tripping and falling to his demise. Fortunately, he was able to hold any remnants of urine back.

The same could not be said for his rear end.

After the novelty of plummeting to his death wore off, and Aspen had promptly finished soiling his pants, he came to the realisation that he was somehow still not dead yet.

He quietly accepted his fate, and came to terms with his demise, making peace with himself and his sins and the burdens on his shoulder.

But after another 5 minutes, he was miraculously still not dead. It was then Aspen developed a slight annoyance. It is rather impolite to not be instantly killed after making peace after all. Aspen, being quite competent at mathematics and physics, ran a few calculations as he continued to plummet at two hundred kilometres per hour.

He had been falling for around 6 minutes now at the aforementioned 200kmh velocity, which meant that he was currently around 17km under the ground. He was surprised that the pressure hadn’t yet crushed the life out of him but he certainly wasn’t complaining.

He spent the next few minutes clearing out the faeces from his soiled pants, which luckily didn't fall at the same speed as he did.

Having progressed from terror to confusion to acceptance, Aspen was now bored, and spent time doing tricks in the air, like a professional skydiver.

And that brings us to now.

Is this some sick joke? Am I gonna fall like this forever? If someone had told me from the start I wouldn’t have soiled myself - I don’t wanna be stuck with shit stained jeans for the rest of eternity.

And as if the universe heard his complaints, it was then that our protagonist finally arrived at his destination, 68 kilometres below the ground.

Now if he had promptly died I would be out of a job and this novel would be no more than an atrocious attempt at scat comedy. Luckily, I still have a job and Aspen is not (yet) deceased.

He landed with a loud thud on a bed of yellow flowers, landing chest first mid-trick, spectacularly breaking a few ribs and dislocating his shoulder in the process.


Considering he had just fallen from the top of the earth to god knows where nearly 70 kilometres below surface level, a few broken ribs and an obliterated shoulder was a god-bless in comparison.

He rolled around onto his back, still groaning in pain and muttering some extremely colourful choices of words, he sat upright, mustering all his willpower to overcome the agonising pain he was in.

He surveyed his surroundings despite his vision growing more and more blurry by the second. The flower bed he had landed on was surprisingly soft, and he was incredibly surprised to find out that it was a thin layer of the yellow flowers that had cushioned his fall.

The hole above him where he had emerged from was much bigger than he had thought, spacious enough to fit a MAC truck or two. There was an extremely faint light that seemed to indicate the surface world from where he had come from.

At last, he could no longer fight against unconsciousness and the world blacked out.

Part 3 -

“He’s been out for 3 days! He ain’t coming back after that one. Face it Lee. He’s dead! Deceased! Goodbye JoJo!”

The whiny voice began to grow clearer and clearer as Aspen started to shift slowly into consciousness.

“Man Reece, shut yo ass up. You can’t blame the lad for having the wind knocked out of him after a fall like that. For goodness sake, you were out for an entire week when you dropped.”

The man called Reece let out a dissatisfied ‘hmph’ and turned away his nose still high in the air. He had blond locks and scruffy facial hair, carrying an air of haughtiness and arrogance around him. The man next to him had a look of annoyance as if it wasn’t the first time that he had heard the spiel from Reece.

“I’ve more than made up for it with my calling. Can’t say the same about this flop.”

Aspen was wide awake now. He was content to shut his eyes and play dead to his captors, but couldn’t restrain himself after being insulted in front of his very own eyes.

“The FUCK you say to me you little shit?” Aspen retorted, bursting upright all of a sudden. He had quoted a famous internet personality from the surface, named Ninjeer who played the popular battle royale game Nightfort. 

Reece let out a small yelp and jumped backwards, colliding with the IV behind him. It was only now that Aspen took in his surroundings. He appeared to be in a medical ward, surrounded by beds and medical equipment. Was he back on the surface? Was it all just a hallucination?

Lee let out a hearty laugh. Aspen sized him up, and jumped to the conclusion that he wouldn’t be able to frighten the big man as easily as he had spooked Reece. Lee was a tall, bulky man with a dark complexion and bald head. He had a weathered yet somewhat handsome face and confident look about him. He seemed like a man who wouldn’t kill a fly, but could easily drop a Marine using nothing but a broom handle and half a Hershey’s bar.

“The big floppa sure seems strong enough to flip yo ass out.”

Who are these people? Why do they let idiots and a black mafia hitmen in hospitals now? And is that a SWORD? What the fuck?

Aspen had a wild look of bewilderment on his face, that was as clear as day to anyone who saw him. Lee gave him a slap of the back and a toothy grin.

“Relax sonny, we ain’t gonna do nothin’ to ya.”

You just used a double contradiction he thought to himself. He didn’t dare voice his thoughts out loud.

“Boyo, I didn’t quite catch your name.”

I could probably knock out the blondie and make a run for it. But who knows if my legs still even work. And I feel like the Somalian kingpin is gonna beat me to the door.

Aspen had the wind knocked out of him as Lee planted another hefty slap on his back.

“Your name, boy.”

“Levi, sir.”


“Yes sir, Levi Ackerman.”

“Boy don’t take me for a fool, I know that a TV show character. ”

Damnit he’s cultured.

“Yes sir, sorry sir. Call me Bob sir.”

Aspen was well educated by his parents to not give his name out to strangers, especially imposing men with a sword attached to their hip and a look that could scare off even the hardest of gangsters.


“Yes sir, Bob Sagot, that’s me!”


Aspen held his breath. After a few seconds of pondering, Lee seemed to let the matter slide and went on.

“If you’re feeling fresh now, then walk with me.”

Aspen reluctantly obliged. He wasn’t quite “feeling fresh” as to be expected when you take a tumble through 70 or so kilometres of earth but he wasn’t about to complain any further.


“The story goes like this right? You was walking or something then bam, you fall through a hole and take a tumble and end up here right?”

The two of them walked down the hallway of the medical ward. The place carried an air of coldness and bareness, despite the bustling commotion of medical staff at work, and IVs and beds being wheeled in and out.

“More or less.” Aspen replied.

He was wearing different clothes from the ones that he had worn when he first fell down. His tracksuit, t-shirt and hoodie was gone. He was now wearing a long sleeved tan t-shirt and brown pants. Even his underwear had been changed. This implied that someone must have had to strip him buck naked to dress him, and that they must have witnessed his accident downstairs. Aspen could only pray that it wasn’t the big man himself who had extended this generosity.

“Humans are remarkable creatures, boy. We invented society, built aqueducts, cars and even been to space.”

Lee paused suddenly.

“But don’t you think it’s strange that we know more about Mars then what’s been under our very own planet?”

He paused again, as if to stress the importance of what he was about to say.

“Well… take a look for yourself boy.”

He held out his arm, beckoning Aspen to cross through the door.

A strong earthy smell hit his olfactory. He strained his eyes to get a better look at his dim surroundings. The walls were jagged with the natural formation of limestone and other rocks. The ground was a hard bedrock without a trace of grass or flora. The lighting was significantly dimmer, with the only light coming from antique-like black lamp posts. When he looked up he could see no ceiling - there was only a pitch darkness that seemed to extend infinitely.

“The Subterrane, Aspen.”

Part 4 -

Aspen was stunned, frozen with shock. He could hardly believe his eyes. Gone was the greenery of the park he had walked on just days previously, and the chilly, refreshing breeze of the spring. The air was old, musty and devoid of any sort of life like the blustery wind of the dusk sky. He was in a whole different world altogether.

And to put the cherry on top of the cake, a very ominous, depressing cake, Lee somehow had guessed his real name.

“What is this pla - where am I? How do you know my name?”

Lee barred a dry grin at Aspen.


“Fuck off. Enough of your shenanigans.” Aspen replied curtly.

“You’re one to talk about shenanigans, with that shithouse of a confession to blondie you got eyes for.”

Aspen was taken aback. He began backing away from the man he had thought was a complete stranger - until now.

“Astrid? Is that her name? The one with the blonde locks and looks like she’d cheat on you? Here’s a tip, lad, from my years. Give up on her son, she don’t want you boy.”

“The FUCK? Who are you? How do you know these things?”

The imposing man tapped the side of his head with his finger knowingly.

“I told you boy, magic. The whole place sittin’ on a ley line boy, otherwise we’d be long dead right now. I ain’t waffling son, it’s magic.”

Aspen shot him a deadpan stare. He stared back at the boy, before giving in, letting out a long sigh.

“Come with me.”

Lee placed a hand on his shoulder and guided him towards the main road. It was less of an invitational, encouraging hand on the shoulder but more so of a ‘come or I will reduce your collarbone to atoms’ hand on the shoulder. Aspen acquiesced and allowed himself to be led by Lee. His surroundings evoked a weird atmosphere of familiarity but also hostility. The architecture somewhat reminiscent of the modern renaissance design that were commonplace in the older, more historically rich suburbs of England like Essex but had some sort of irregularity that he couldn’t quite place his finger on, and could easily overlook if he wasn’t paying such close attention to it. The buildings were old in design but new in construction… too new for houses that were 70km below ground and built on dust bedrock from the body of the earth.

Aspen walked past a number of people, who roamed the streets, minding their own business. They were people of all different shapes and sizes and ethnicities, but all wore the same similar clothes. Simple designs with dull colours ranging from grey to white to tan to brown. Although the housing stayed relatively new, the clothing had been knocked back a few decades. There were no hoodies or Gucci shoes to be seen. The people here didn’t seem to wander around aimlessly - they all had a task at hand and were determined to fulfil it. There was an air of tension and hostility, as if fighting might break out any second. The multitude of armaments that everyone seemed to attach on their belts or carry on their backs supported this notion. There was everything from simple knives to swords to full blown bows and rifles.

They finally arrived at their destination. It looked like a parliament building, with four large, marble pillars hoisting the front and a great flight of steps leading to the top. The interior of the building carried a somewhat grandiose feeling brought about by the noticeably more luxurious decor, with the trademark red carpet and pristine chandeliers screaming out wealth and class to passers by. Lee greeted a man in a black cloak and whispered in his ear. The black cloaked man stole glances at Aspen. His lips folded into a slight frown. Aspen retorted with a smirk. He wouldn’t be intimidated so easily.

Their wordless standoff was broken by Lee.

“On your best behaviour now boy,” he whispered in his ear. Lee nodded at the cloaked man and walked off, leaving the two on their own. He gestured towards the large doorway at the end of the wall.

An old, bearded man with pepper-like hair and weathered wrinkles sat on a leather arm chair, with his boots on the table, no apparent regard for his visitor. He was reading a sheet of paper, fiddling with an antique feather quill, its tip wet with the ink. He seemed to take no notice of Aspen, until the cloaked man came up to him and whispered something in his ear. He promptly left the room and shut the door behind him, leaving only Aspen and the old man alone, by themselves.

“Another young lad huh?” he remarked, his eyes still glued to the document he held on his hand. “You have it bad, Aspen. That is your name right?”

“Yeah… sir. What’s going on? Where am I?”

The old man froze, his prior steadfast concentration towards the paper in his hand broken. In the blink of an eye, he had remained his composure. He set both of his feet back on the floor, with a gentle thud. He scratched out what looked to be his signature on the paper after what seemed to be years of deliberation and stamped it, before setting it aside. He locked eyes with Aspen for the first time.

“California, America. Or maybe Paris. Or Venice. No one knows. We get people all over the world coming here.”

Thanks mate, you’ve been a great help. Aspen thought to himself.

“From the looks of it, you’re from the land down under. We haven’t had one from Melbourne yet, so this is a first.”

The fuck? Why does everyone here just know my name and address?

“Imagine this though, Aspen. Someone had to be the first one down here, didn’t they? Someone had to build up this place from scratch, so that when more and more people all over the world get stuck in this shithole, they don’t shit themselves and spend the rest of their lives crying to mommy.”

Aspen was beyond confused. “What do you mean?”

The man sighed and rose from his chair. He poured a liquid that looked reminiscent to rum out of a flask and took a sip from it.

“I would offer you a glass, but you seem to be a tad underage.”

Great, the geezer knows my age too. Now he’s gonna tell me what brand my toothpaste is, too.

“Humanity started getting trapped down here, around 150 years ago. We’ve heard that holes and doorways and paths appear out of nowhere all around the world, where they’ve never been before. And then some unlucky man, or woman for that matter stumbles across it and goes tumbling alllllll the wayyyyyyyy down here.” He slurred the words for extra effect, tracing a long line from just above his head to the floor for extra effect.

“And that’s where we are now, god knows how many feet below ground.”

He stopped, shooting a quick look at Aspen, who by now was thoroughly interested in what the man had to say.

“By all means, we should’ve been dead, either by the fall, or the pressure, or the heat ages ago. But we aren’t.”

Aspen stopped and pondered his words. It had been his precise thoughts as well. He should most definitely have been obliterated by his fall at terminal velocity, coupled with the immense pressure this deep underground or the skin splitting heat of the mantle.

“I’m not sure you would have noticed this, but where you fell into this place was next to, or directly on top of a ley line was it not?”

A light went off in his head. He vaguely remembered someone telling him that his local park ran through a ley line, whatever that was. He also recalled Lee stating something about ley lines previously.

“Ley lines have always been associated with magic throughout history, but we just passed it off as fable and fiction.”

The old man stared at Aspen straight in the eye.

“It’s not fiction, boy. We’re sitting on the single hottest magic hotspot on the entire planet.”

Aspen interjected as soon as the words came out of the man’s mouth.

“Ok, no, enough. I’ve heard this magic bullshit from the Somalian warlord back there, and now I have to hear it from you too, you old geezer.”

The old man sighed. “Graham, please. If you’re gonna call me something, then it might as well be by my name.”

“Graham, man, you must be a heck of a writer. Cause this is some best selling novel fluff you’re pulling out of your ass.”

Graham let out a tired sigh, as if this wasn’t the first time he had heard these words before.

“Kid, think about it. You landed on a bed of yellow flowers that wouldn’t normally do jackshit in breaking your fall. Lee and I magically know your name and everything about you. We have goddamn electricity down here without a single cable or generator. What else do you need as evidence?”

Aspen let out a scoff. “You lot are just social engineers bro. Why can’t you have electricity down here? You probably found a way to get geothermal energy or something.”

“Trust me kid, no social engineer could pry the name of your wish-to-be Mrs and your piss pitiful confession. Grow some balls mate, how many ‘ah’s did you wanna throw in there? Little miss Astrid is pissing herself laughing? Mate, from one man to another, just fuckin’ give up.”

For fucks sake, why does everyone and their fucking mothers know about it?? I’m gonna rip the head off of the next fucker who mentions it.

“Ok, let’s just say magic is real, and somehow it’s saving us from being toasted, or crushed or whatever,” he replied, still vexed at Graham’s wayward comment. “How do I get outta here?”

Graham gave Aspen a sad, pitiful smile.

“The obvious answer would be to go back up the hole, innit? We tried that, but like I said, we have people from all over the world. But they all come down the same hole don’t they? Who knows if our lad from Chicago will end up back there, or he’ll end up stranded in Timbuktu or something.”

Aspen nodded slowly. It did seem to make sense. There were people of all different ethnicities that he had seen, way too many to simply be disregarded as a simple handful of different peoples from a Sydney carpark.

“So how do we get out?”

Graham smiled grimly, a forlorn expression behind his smile. “We gotta follow the ley lines, all the way back to the surface. It’s a long and perilous journey that takes years of preparation. If we don’t stick to the ley lines, the heat gets us, if the pressure doesn’t already.”

“Right, can I just dip now?”

“Lad, if it were as simple as that, you’d be stuck at the bottom of the hole all alone and we’d have been hot assing it out of here years ago. Magical energy has been a catalyst for all sorts of life that we don’t see on the surface. Orcs, trolls, goblins and the like all feed off of magical energy. Explains why we see them in stories all around the world: they’re real.”

Aspen’s head was spinning. Words like magic and trolls and goblins seemed to go in one ear and out the other. His rational sense of being simply couldn’t accept the reality that Graham was claiming. He had to be pulling his leg. Surely.

“And so, we have to master our own magic, to survive. We call it our Reagent. Only when you practice and master your Reagent do you get to join a Departure Party. 100 to 200 of our best soldiers and magic users, battling our way through the catacombs of the Subterrane, before they emerge on the surface.”

“Hmm,” Aspen pondered in thought. As reluctant as he was to accept it, he didn’t have much of a choice. And if by the off chance that somehow Graham was telling the truth, it was in his best interest to play along with the system.”

“So how long do I have to wait before I’ll be ready to join one of those Departure Parties?”

“Oh, 11, maybe 12 years give or take. Then you’d probably have to do tertiary education to increase your chances of getting chosen.”

Aspen was in complete bewilderment.

“HUH? 12 years? What the fuck is tertiary education? Why do I have to get a college degree TWICE?”

Graham gave him a soft pat on the shoulder, his eyes full of pity and sadness.

“It’s a curse being stuck down here lad. When we finally get back up, if we do make it out alive, that is, the world will have changed. Our families will have moved on, our friends will have gotten us. Will they even remember our faces? How will they react when their husbands, children, family emerge from the grave more than a decade on? It scares me thinking about it, Aspen. I’ve been here for 54 years. I’m scared, Aspen.”

Aspen felt a chill run down the back of his spine. He could envision his mother, who had always been so protective of him at absolutely everything, cry in anguish and pain. He could picture his father cursing himself, having not done enough to protect his only son, living with the burden on his shoulders for the rest of his life, not knowing what had happened to his son. He saw the image of the beautiful, charming Astrid waiting for him to come to her, only to disappear, never to be seen again. His blood boiled, as he found a newfound purpose. He had to come home. Now.

“Sir… why haven’t you gone home?

Graham composed himself, sitting on the corner of his office desk.

“Partly because there’s no one left up there for me anymore,” he said, eyes slightly wistful. The look about him suddenly changed. He was no longer a feeble and weak old man. There was an underlying strength about him, a steely look in his eye that challenged any adversity that might come his way, whether it might be dangerous mythical creatures, a 70km fall or a young boy from Melbourne with a cheek about him.

“But also because I need to be here for lads like you, Aspen. Someone has to manage this underground city, so that when a lad like you takes a tumble, I’ll be there to help you back on your feet and get you home.”

Graham seemed to stand more tall, with a stronger air of determination and strength around him. Even if so called 'magic' was nothing more than narrative, Aspen saw the man who he had passed off as a drunk geezer in a whole new spotlight, one of respect and appreciation.

“Anyhow, not everything’s grim my boy! Like I said, you get to play with magic for 12 whole years! Let’s get you outta here and find your calling.”

The harsh reality descended back upon him. Would he be stuck here for another dozen years, never to see his friends or family until then?

“My calling?”

“Think of your Reagent as a job, boy. There’s people who specialise in healing magic, soldiers, engineers, architects, all sorts! That’s the silver lining of it all boy!"

My calling, huh. Do I have to attend Hogwarts?

“Let’s go awaken your Regeant.”