Minecraft Legends: Return of the Piglins
For the Zoo
When it comes to being a zookeeper, I’m an absolute failure, Farnum thought as he hiked through the Overworld, glad that no one could hear him confessing what he really thought of himself. It was hard enough keeping up appearances around his friends so that they wouldn’t abandon him. He just couldn’t lie that well to himself.
The sun hung high in the nearly cloudless sky, shining down on Farnum and the rolling landscape that tumbled toward the mountain range just outside of the town he’d been born in and known all his life. All sorts of animals wandered around the place, grazing on the copious grass and swimming through the nearby river. He had studied them well and knew them all—perhaps a little too well.
It’s too bad, then, that being a zookeeper is my job.
The trouble wasn’t that Farnum disliked animals. When it came to the creatures in his zoo, he’d built habitats for them that were far better than anything they’d have found out in the wild. If they had to give up their freedom to roam anywhere, after all, it seemed only fair that he make their new homes as wonderful for them as he possibly could.
The trouble was that his zoo was small and only featured creatures like the ones he saw now on his hike: common and ordinary ones that anyone else could see in the wild by simply venturing outside the town limits on their own feet. The only thing the zoo offered any of its visitors was convenience.
Farnum knew this was his place’s biggest flaw, but he didn’t know what he could do about it. He’d never intended to open a zoo, but he’d somehow found himself in charge of one.
It had all started when he’d been out on a hike on a day very much like today and had stumbled across an injured fox. Such creatures were usually only found in taiga biomes, so it must have wandered far from its home. He normally never would have been able to capture such a creature with his bare hands, but hurt as it was, it had allowed him to gather it up in his arms and take it home so he could nurse it back to health.
Once Reynard—as he’d named the fox—was healthy again, Farnum had tried to release it into the wild again, but the fox hadn’t wanted to go. It just stuck around his home and begged for sweet berries instead. Eventually Farnum had relented and taken the fox in. Rather than let it run wild in his house—where it kept picking up his things and carrying them about—he’d built a large enclosure for it outside of his place.
While the pen had been more to keep people out of the fox’s designated area than to keep Reynard in, once people realized that there was a fox living in town they started coming around to get a better look at it. Someone eventually asked if they could make a donation to help pay for Reynard’s upkeep, and it wasn’t long after that Farnum decided to make the zoo an official thing and build it around Reynard’s home.
Unfortunately, Farnum was terrible at finding rare and exotic creatures and bringing them back to the zoo. To date, the only other creatures in the zoo besides Reynard were a cow, a donkey, a pair of sheep, a rabbit, and a turtle—the kinds of creatures you could find all over the lands around town.
Perhaps not surprisingly, no one seemed to care much about them.
Despite that, Farnum had put a lot of effort into giving each of the creatures a wonderful home and keeping them fed and sheltered. He hadn’t considered this as a business decision but as simply the right thing to do for these lost creatures, and he didn’t have the heart to chase any of them out when they refused to leave.
Still, if they were going to stick around he felt obligated to feed them, and the donations for the zoo had mostly dried up. If he didn’t get something new and exciting into the zoo soon, he’d have to start choosing between feeding the animals or feeding himself.
The thought made his stomach rumble. He adjusted the watertight pack on his back and wondered how long he could go before opening it up for a snack.
“At least it’s a beautiful day,” he said aloud to no one at all.
That’s when he spotted the cave, or at least the opening into it: a wide hole tucked away under the edge of a rolling hill. The sight of it turned his blood cold.
Farnum had never traveled all that far from his hometown. Not since that incident in the Underworld, as he liked to call it, when he was young. He liked his hometown. It was comfortable and safe and full of all sorts of people he’d known forever. Other than wanting to find new animals for his zoo, he had never had a strong desire to leave.
Because he wanted to bring more—and more unusual—creatures into the zoo, though, he’d been striking out farther and farther on his hikes. He knew that finding really exotic creatures would mean having to explore much farther away, and he was working up to that. In the meantime, he figured scouring the lands around the town would make for a good start.
But did that really have to involve going into a cave? Couldn’t he just stick to the surface, where he could see long distances and flee if anything dangerous came after him? A terrible experience he’d had as a youth had involved going underground, and he was not eager to repeat the experience.
Still, he told himself, a cave’s not really the Underworld, right? It’s not like I have to dig to get into it. It’s right there, open to the rest of the world.
He wasn’t sure he believed that, but his curiosity about what he might find in the cave warred with his fears—about what in the cave might find him.
Without him willing it, his feet drew him closer to the mouth of the cave. It’s okay to get closer. The sun is shining warm and bright out here. It’s not like the Underworld can just reach out of the cave’s mouth and grab me. Right?
He did his best to agree with himself and crept closer and closer to the mouth of the cave, step by agonizing step. After what seemed like all day, he found himself standing at the cave’s lip and staring into it.
Sunlight slanted down through the opening, illuminating the first several feet of the cave’s rocky floor. Farnum couldn’t make out much beyond that, other than to see that the cave was much larger than he had hoped. If he wanted to know what might live inside of it, he was going to have to enter it.
He just didn’t know if he could make himself do that.
He broke out a torch and lit it, holding it high over his head as he edged forward. The cave, he found, stretched back farther than the torch would let him see. He cocked his head to one side and tried to listen as hard as he could for anything that might be living in the cave. All he could detect was a faint trickling of water somewhere in the distance.
He froze there, unable to force his feet to move forward, no matter how hard he tried. The sound of the beating of his heart in his chest grew louder and louder in his ears, drowning out anything else. The urge to turn around and run back home tugged at him so hard he didn’t know how he could deny it.
Then he heard footsteps coming up behind him.