GAVIN PAUL CARTER - FANTASY CHILD III - LEGACY OF THE LOST

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by Gavin Paul Carter

The Land of Grimney

In this magic land of Grimney

Smoke curls out of every chimney

For with Grimney marsh and Grimney Mire

Folks like the comfort of a fire.

Even in their beds at night

They will leave their fires alight

To fend off all those nasty things

With their sharp teeth, sharp claws, and stings.

Although you should feel safe at home

There are such things that like to roam

Around peoples' houses in the night

Things which scratch and claw and bite

So even though you may insist

Such nasty creatures do not exist

I really think that you should

Stock up with lots of firewood.. .

Cora Pearl

 

FANTASY CHILD III

LEGACY OF THE LOST

PROLOGUE

The God of Creative Imagination harnessed the powers of the mind, and from that mind extended the three spirits of divine consciousness. Ethereal beings linked throughout all eternity to the three Guardian books.  These books were hidden in interlinking dimensional worlds. Parenthia (Earth) Vorgania, and Dellvara. The Mind Spirits harboured within could be controlled by the willpower of the Zoriat, mystic explorers from the Earth world Parenthia.  However the twin brothers and the twin sisters of the Nexus Malignus also wished to obtain the divine power of the books.  Thus the Grimnian War began... The violent deaths of the twin brothers and the supposed drowning of the twelve year old Zoriat, Cora Pearl in the dark depths of the great Dudrassa Sea, had thrown the Land of Grimney into a dangerous state of instability.  With the escalation of the conflict, the armies of the Nexus Malignus ravaged the Queen's kingdom, and many great warriors fell in battle.  Daniel Blackthorn, the last living Zoriat offered hope to the Queen's people, but even he was now in hiding.  In the world of dreams, beyond one dimension, and into the next, from the ageless Land of Grimney, to the Earth world of Parenthia, a sleeping child would once more set in motion events that would reshape existence.  The journey of the lost was about to become a new journey of discovery.

 

CHAPTER ONE

DRAVIS ZANDER

The man was tall and muscular, his clothes shabby and dark. He stood before a cracked oval mirror set into a cavern wall. Moisture trickled down through a small hole at the top of the angular chamber, a shaft of pale white light beamed down from above, and his bald white head glinted as the liquid trickled down his scarred and battered face. The man's eyes were dark and his expression was a mask of gloom, and despondency. He reached into a marble bowl that stood upon the cabinet below the mirror, and using his big heavy hands he scooped the water that rippled inside, and brushed it over his head. The cool liquid ran down through the jagged grooves that lined his face and moistened the congealed blood, and  merged into a crimson stream that dripped from  his chin.  The man sighed, and closed his dark eyes. The  sounds of conflict echoed around him.

Swords clashed, and the screams of the dying flooded  through the small claustrophobic chamber, the  noises increasing in volume with every passing  second.  The wooden door that linked the chamber to the  outside world began to splinter, as heavy axes  cut frantically through the panels. 'Cora Pearl... Were you just a dream, a legend?'. The man muttered, his voice splintered with grief 'If ever Grimney needed you, now is the time for  you to return'. 

The metal heads of bladed weapons fractured the wood, and black studded gauntlets punched their way into the room. The man went down on one knee, and leaning his  head forward he closed his eyes.  'My name is Dravis Zander... I submit myself to my enemies freely'. 

A clawed, red gloved hand reached around Zander's  throat and pierced his skin. The man barely flinched. His composure remained, but his eyes  opened slowly and the tears followed swiftly. 

A red headed woman in black and green leather  armour crouched down before him, and eyeballed  him nose to nose. Her pale white freckled face,  only inches from his.

Zander could see the hate  in the young women's large green eyes, and he  studied the demonic cat like face tattooed in red  at the centre of her forehead.  'Hellcat Meridian'... He muttered, unconcerned with  the throng of armed leather clad warriors  gathering around him. 'So is your face the last I  am to see?' 

Hellcat laughed, bearing two sets of ivory white  teeth that were carved into small jagged spikes.  'Dravis' Her voice faint, yet coolly threatening  'The Queen's rule is crumbling ... Most of her  people are dead, or hiding out in caves like  this'... She looked mockingly around the chamber and then returned her gaze to the defeated man.  'The Zoriat are all but finished and gone from  this land, and only those that follow the Nexus  Malignus will survive' ... 

Zander shook his head 'Hellcat ... Or whatever your  real name is. I'm not the last of the great  warriors, and my capture is a minor victory'.  Hellcat chuckled 'Jade? Shrester? And Pearl?' Her  tone was arched and mocking. 'Their deaths will  follow, as will those who follow their lead' ...  Hellcat looked up at the bloodstained faces  gathered around her, and smiled coldly 'Capture?'. The motley gathering of warriors  chuckled.  'There is no trophy in a capture' ... She brushed a  sharp claw against the side of the man's scarred  face 'I only want your pretty little head' ... 

Zander was quick to react and grabbed her by the  wrist, and held her arm tightly. 'Then take it!’.  He snapped, releasing her from his grasp 'Don't  toy with it like a little kitten'. 

Hellcat looked angered and nodded to a burly fur  clad warrior. The bearded man stepped forward  pushing his colleagues to one side. The man lifted his heavy bloodstained axe. Zander sensed  his own impending death, and once more lent his  head forward and closed his eyes. 

'My death will not go unpunished'... Zander's mouth  curled into a knowing grin and his thoughts  drifted into the mind of another. 'I see you on the other side'... Zander's voice  began to trail away 'There is hope ... With life  comes hope'... 

Hellcat winked a big green eye at the bearded  warrior and she drew a razor sharp finger across  her throat. The axe fell, blood splattered from  Zander's dry lips and blackness seeped into the light behind his closed eyelids, and all became  silent in the dark... 

 

CHAPTER TWO

WAKING NIGHTMARES

The screams of a child echoed through Blackthorn  manor, the dark corridors penetrated by the night  terrors of a young girl, caught between sleep and wakefulness. 

A light beneath a closed door streamed into a  glaring golden strip, and the door handle turned  quickly. A young woman in her early thirties stepped barefooted into the gloom of the  passageway, her slender form bathed in an oblong  yellow glow that emanated from the shaded bulb  that hung behind her from the ceiling.

She was  attractive, but appeared tired. Her deep blue green eyes were puffy and her face, pale and drawn.  She slipped a dressing gown over her sloping shoulders and walked swiftly along the creaking  floorboards.  The door at the far end of the passage stood  isolated in the dark, and reaching for the handle  she pushed her way inside. The young woman brushed her hand against the wall, and fumbled  blindly for the light switch. 

'Sara'... She called out, desperately trying to reassure the girl, who continued to sob in the  darkness 'Mum's here, don't worry'. The light flashed, and the room became welcoming  again.

Sara sat bolt upright in bed, she clutched  her quilt to her chest, and stared blankly into space, her hazel eyes fixed, and running with tears. She was so lost in her own dark world that  she did not feel her mother's arms reaching about  her shoulders, or feel the soothing kiss of her  mother's lips against her moist cheek. 

'Sara'... Her mother said gently, brushing the  girl's blonde hair away from her face, so she  could look into the child's terrified eyes. 

'Mum'...The girl muttered, trying to catch her  breath 'I saw a man die' ... 

'No you didn't'... The young woman responded 'It was just a bad dream, it is all forgotten now angel'... 

Sara sighed, her eyes becoming more relaxed, but the sadness in her stare was clear, even without  the tears. 'No mum, it was real, and you know  what was really weird?' ... Sara said rubbing her eyes with the back of her trembling hand. 

'No' Her mother asked nervously. 'What was weird  about it?'...  'The man in my dream was asking for you'... Sara responded hesitantly. 'He said, Cora Pearl were  you just a dream or a legend? And that Grimney needed you... What is Grimney?'... 

Cora looked dumbstruck, her own daughter having reached the age of twelve was being haunted by the world that she had created all those years ago, Cora could not think of an answer, and chose to brush over the subject entirely. 'I don't know'. Cora whispered, not wanting her  lie to be heard 'I guess some dreams are very  vivid, and that perhaps you have a really big  imagination'... 

'Mum'... Sara replied innocently 'Do you really think I'm that creative?'...

Cora began to chew her bottom lip. She did not  like the path this conversation was taking. Sara was very imaginative for a girl of only twelve  years old, and she enjoyed writing poems and drawing. However Cora now thought that this hobby could lead her daughter into danger. What if Sara's dreams inspired her to write about Grimney? The thought of that filled her with dread... Cora squeezed her daughter's shoulder 'Just focus on your education'. She said softly, attempting to lead her child away from any other thoughts 'I  neglected mine, I spent too much time daydreaming, and I don't want you to do the same'...

‘But mum’. The child's voice was tinged with  frustration 'I think I may have a talent, my  dreams are in a world of their own'.

'No Sara' Cora said firmly pulling the child  deeper into her chest 'Listen to me, don't get lost in your own dreams, I want you to do well at school, forget everything else, it isn't important'...  Cora closed her eyes tightly, and briefly her mind wandered into thoughts of her own childhood. The dark spectre of Samuel Blackthorn her hated Stepfather, seemed to be rising around her, his  thoughts had merged with her own. She could smell  the poison of his soul, the stench of his  tobacco, and in her mind she could hear his  voice. 'I told you so'. He seemed to be saying 'Now you understand why I tried to stop you writing'. 

Outside beneath the glowing midnight moonlight  stood the giant oak tree, and the field that surrounded its twisting roots had become  overgrown with weeds and thick flowing grass. The  branches seemed to be moving back and forth,  swaying silently and eerily, there was no breeze,  but still the mighty limbs beckoned, as if its  very nature had woken after twenty years to  fulfil a new purpose. 

 

CHAPTER THREE

ANOTHER SCHOOL DAY

The school playground bustled with happy children, a sea of blue uniforms and a dance of smiles. Laughing children chased each other and  young girls played hopscotch with their friends. Sara and her mother walked amidst the lively gathering, seemingly oblivious to the merriment  around them. They crossed the playground to the school entrance and strolled inside. A trail of metal lockers swept down along the corridor, and at the end of the passage, arms folded across his blue suited chest stood Mister Nash, the headmaster. He was immaculate in appearance; a thick black moustache covered his upper lip. His thinning hair swept sideways across his balding head and his brown eyes stared passively through a pair of designer glasses.  Nash smiled warily and raised the palm of his  hand in greeting. He quickly returned it to his  chest and once more folded his arms together. 

Sara looked up at her mother, and gulped. She was worried and her mother sensed the child's anxiety.

Nash raised himself on the balls of his feet, and  his shiny black shoes creaked, and his moustache twitched 'Miss Pearl’. He said with a slight lopsided smile 'Glad to see that you have made  our appointment'. Nash did not look down, his flickering brown eyes were on Cora's face and  they did not stray. He stepped to one side and pushed open a door, and gestured to Cora. 'If you'd like to come into my office'... 

The room was rather blandly decorated, and it did  not have the appearance of an office at all. A large table stood in the middle, and three chairs  were placed around it. It seemed more like a police interrogation room than an office.  'If you'd like to take a seat Miss Pearl'. He  remarked solemnly 'We can discuss the matter in  hand’. Nash ignored Sara, he seemed uneasy in the child's presence, although Cora was not entirely sure, perhaps it was Sara who was making the situation uncomfortable.  Nash took a seat opposite both mother and daughter, and drummed his fingers on the table. 

There was no doubt in Cora's mind, it was clear  to her that this man was worried.

'Perhaps'... He said ponderously, finally registering the child's presence, with a brief, yet nervous glance 'It might be best if Sara went to her lessons'... 

'No Mr Nash' Cora replied firmly 'Whatever you  have to say about my daughter, I would like her to hear' ...  Nash's moustache twitched back and forth, like a  hairy black caterpillar trying to wriggle free of a snare.

Sara smiled, she always found the man's hairy lip amusing, and wisely looked down at the floor to prevent herself from laughing. 

'As you wish'... The headmaster responded, his face  registering a mixture of emotion that Cora found  hard to define 'We have concerns about your child  that several of my staff have brought to my  attention'... 

 

Cora leant back in her chair, and crossed her  arms defensively. She had been putting off this  meeting for over a week. Cora moved her body uncomfortably in her chair 'What concerns do you have?' 

Nash scratched his forehead, and dislodged a long strand of dark hair, and he quickly brushed it back into place 'Simply put your daughter has vandalised certain books, she has drawn pictures that we think should be brought to your  attention'... 

Cora gazed down at her daughter, and Sara looked away from her mother, her face glowing red with  embarrassment. 'Oh?' Cora said frostily, her gaze  returning to the headmaster's twitchy face 'What kind of pictures? What books?'... 

Nash reached into his jacket and fumbled through  his pocket. He placed a book down upon the table and Cora leant forward and read the title. 'The Child of the Sorcerer' By the Reverend Winston Gilliad'... The headmaster drummed one finger firmly on the  front cover 'One of my favourite books, a fantasy masterpiece, with a Christian message'. His voice quivered with suppressed irritation, but he maintained his composure as best he could, but  both Cora and Sara could see the anger in his  dark brown eyes. 'Your daughter has vandalised several more of the reverend’s books’... 

'It looks fine to me' Cora interceded, not really  wishing to be told what was scribbled inside. 'I can't see what she has done, all the pages look  intact’... 

'I wish that was so'... Nash replied sadly, opening  the book and pressing the pages flat.

Cora gazed down at the printed text, and observed a bloody  scene of violence. A drawing of a dead knight lay at the bottom of the page and another warrior stood over him, his bloodied sword held aloft.  The illustrations were precise, and very mature  for a girl of twelve. 

'There are many more like this’... Nash continued,  flicking through the pages 'This book, and many  others by reverend Winston Gilliad are completely  ruined'...  Nash spun the book upon the table, and slid it  forward towards Cora. 'Take a look at page twelve'... 

 

Cora leant across and turned the pages as  directed. The drawing inside disturbed her. It  showed a picture of Sara standing amidst a black, swirling cloud, the child's face was white with  fear. The words 'It's coming for me’. Scribbled  in black ink did nothing to lessen the uneasiness  of the illustration. 

 

CHAPTER FOUR 

EXPLANATIONS

The journey back to Blackthorn manor was a solemn affair. The long winding country lanes seemed  narrower somehow, as if constricting the blue car and its two occupants inside.  Cora sat in the driver's seat, and adjusted the  centre mirror until she could see her daughter's  face reflected in the glass.

The child looked  sheepish, and bowed her head. Sara knew that her mother was angry, and that the subsequent  suspension from school would not be deemed a  holiday. Sara had her reasons for drawing in  reverend Gilliad's books, and although she was  not forthcoming, Sara was well aware that she  would have to give some kind of explanation to  avoid her mother's wrath. 

'Why did you do it Sara?' Her mother asked, tightening her grip on the steering wheel in a  failed attempt to squeeze away her frustration. 'I think you have to tell me. I didn't raise you  to be destructive, I thought you liked fantasy? You really have disappointed me Sara'. 

The child looked a little tearful, she wanted her  mother to be proud, and it hurt deeply to hear  such hurtful things. 'It isn't true'... The child responded innocently 'The whole series of stories by that man are a lie'... 

Cora shook her head in bewilderment 'Of course  it's not true, his books are Christian  allegories'... She said, the tone in her voice  exhibiting a slight shakiness, due partly to the bumpy country lane and her own nervousness. 'They’re fairytales, with religious messages and not  meant to be taken seriously'... 

The child folded her arms and gazed out of the  passenger window and watched the trees flowing into each other as the car went faster. ‘There are no fairytales mum’..  Sara.s words were tinged  with sadness 'I don't believe in them, you don't, dad doesn't, I'm just not happy that's all'... 

Cora wanted to close her eyes and shut out the  world, unwise, she thought when driving a car  'Your dad and I don't love each other anymore,  but he still loves you, that won't change’. Cora hated talking about him, the past year had been a bitter break up, and she had no desire to think  about him. ‘Whatever you are feeling, it does not give you the right to vandalise school property,  there is no excuse for that’..  

‘I don't care about the silly books, it isn't just about that’. She said knowingly 'Something has been happening to me, there is something out there that wants to talk to me, and worst still, something else that wants to hurt me’.

Beads of perspiration started to form on Cora’s forehead they rolled gently down and were caught in the heavy frown that lined her skin. 'You're just having bad dreams Cora, night terrors, quite  common in a girl your age’. It was the best answer she had, and she knew it sounded flippant, but the subject troubled her, and she had no wish  to discuss it further, simply because it would  play on her own fears. 

'I know what I've seen, there's another world out  there mum, it's not just in my head. Something is coming for me, and it wants you too'... 

The car continued along its winding path, twisting through the tall trees that lined each  side of the road. Canopies of green branches  intertwined and formed a dark roof above the  vehicle. Sara gazed through the side window once more and the green leaves from the overhanging trees seemed to darken.

A black fog was forming amidst the greenery, and something unnatural was moving  through the branches. The child wanted to speak,  to tell her mother what she was seeing, but fear  held her tongue tightly as the saliva in her mouth froze to ice water. A sudden sound of gushing air flooded through the car and Cora felt the steering wheel tighten, a  cloak of darkness flooded in through the windscreen, instantly blinding Cora and the  child.

 

The vehicle gathered speed, control of the vehicle slipping rapidly from Cora’s grasp. 'Sara!' Cora screamed, but before any other words  were spoken there was a sickening thud, as the car left the road and plunged headlong into a tree. The windscreen exploded inwards, and the  metal bonnet tore away from the frame and folded  in on itself. 

The black cloud rolled away, its task completed. Cora lay slumped against the steering wheel, forehead bloodied and her nose twitching, as grey fumes from the shattered engine wafted into her nostrils.

Sara stood upon the road some distance from the wrecked car. Her hands held tightly over her  face. Somehow, she had been thrown from the vehicle. Sara examined her body, and she appeared to be completely unscathed.  ‘Mum’..  The child's hands slipped slowly down to  her sides, and she began to cry. 'Mum!' She  screamed, running forward to the back of the smashed vehicle. 

The black fog descended in front of her, and Sara  stepped back. ‘I know you from my dreams’The  child whispered. 'Who are you?'.

The dark being rolled into a more human shape and a long black clawed hand stretched out to grab her. Sara needed no further warnings, and turning on her heels she ran headlong into the forest. 

A skull face formed amidst the fog and huge black eyes burned with hate. Its mouth opened and a  hideous wailing gurgled from its skeletal jaw,  and surging across the road the being gave chase... 

 

CHAPTER FIVE 

THE COTTAGE IN THE WOOD

Cora remained unconscious, and the smell of  burning did nothing to stir the woman. Petrol  fumes flooded through the interior of the car. The intoxicating odour drawing Cora deeper into  coma.

A black sports car pulled up alongside the wreckage. A young man, his hair long and blond, opened the driver's door and stepped out. He wore  a smart black suit over a crisp white shirt, and  he ran forward his dark blue tie flapping on the  wind. He gazed through the shattered window on the  driver's side. ‘God’..  He muttered as he reached inside and placed a trembling hand upon the  woman's shoulder. 'Can you hear me?' He shouted, hoping for some response and reassured by a shallow murmur from the woman's bloodied lips. He tried the door, but the impact had bent the metal  and the lock had jammed into the framework. 'Miss!' He yelled, his shiny black shoes paddling  in a sea of petrol rolling around his feet.  ‘You've got to wake up!’.  

The urgency of his words penetrated Cora’s  fractured mind, and slowly she began to lean back  in the driver's seat. Shards of glass fell from  her scarred forehead, and her eyes slowly opened. ‘Sara’. She whispered ‘Where's my daughter?’.

The man was not interested in the welfare of her  passenger at this point 'You've got to get out of  here’.  He used his elbow to batter away the remaining pieces of glass that were fixed in the  window frame, and reaching inside he began to  haul the women through the gap. He dragged her by  the shoulders and she tumbled into his arms, and  the man gently carried her through the flood of  petrol, and laid her down upon the road. 

Cora grabbed the man's arm ‘My daughter’.. She gasped 'Please, she was on the back seat. Please save her’... 

The man removed his jacket and placed it across  the woman’s bloodstained torso 'Just keep calm, I'll be back when I've got her‘. He ran back to the car, and tried the rear  passenger door, and it opened first time.

Sara lay on the floor behind the front passenger seat,  and her face was covered in blood. ‘Poor child’..  The man knelt down and lifted her  gently from the wreckage, and once more he staggered back through the pool of petrol.

He carefully placed the child next to her mother. The girl appeared lifeless and without hesitation he bent down at Sara's side and tilted her head back and listened for breathing.

'Oh God'... The child was limp, like a puppet  severed from its strings. The man did not  hesitate, time was short, and he had to move swiftly if there was to be any hope of saving her. He leant forward and placed his mouth gently against Sara's and puffed air into her lungs. She  did not stir and the child's bloodied cheeks were  turning blue. 

Cora lay on her back shivering, drifting back and forth in nauseous dreams.

The man reached across and once more he shook her shoulder. 'Stay awake... You have to stay awake'... 

The woman's eyes opened and she gazed skyward,  her eyesight blurred by droplets of blood caught  beneath her lids. 

The man straddled the child's legs, and placed his hands beneath the little girl's ribcage and began to perform a heart massage. The continued motion summoned life back into Sara’s body, and  her blue cheeks began to regain a little colour. 

He wiped his forehead on his sleeve and exhaled  heavily. The girl was alive, and the man smiled with immense relief. 'It's OK'... He said soothingly, stroking the  girl's matted hair. 'You’ll be fine. He reached  down and grabbed Cora's hand, and squeezed it  gently 'You're both going to be OK'. 

Cora looked into the man's deep blue eyes, and he  smiled gently. I ring for an ambulance, and  get you both to safety'. 

'My daughter... You saved my daughter?'... Her voice  drifted in her own thoughts, as if another somehow spoke her words. The trauma of the accident had left Cora disorientated, and out of her mind. 

Sara ran through the forest, a canopy of twisted branches, plush with sunlit leaves loomed above her head, she felt isolated, trapped. She feared  for her own life, and for her mother’s, what if she had not survived the crash? Terror carried the girl onwards, and she did not look back over her shoulder.

The black mist rolled through the woodland and wherever it past the vegetation turned crisp and  black, and died beneath it. The girl kept moving, and the faster she ran, the  more aware she become of her own physical state,  something very strange had happened to her. Sara  did not need to draw breath, and her stamina did not diminish. She believed that her heart was  beating fast, and as she ducked behind a tree to  hide, she placed a pale hand upon her chest. Sara was horrified to find that her heart was still, it did not appear to be beating at all.

'Mum?' She whispered, her voice trembling 'I think something is very wrong'...  She ducked down, and weaving in and out of the tall trees, she came to a small clearing.

Set  amongst a sea of blue forget-me-not stood a small  white thatched cottage. It had a neatly tended  garden that was surrounded by a wooden picket  fence. The cottage's grey stone chimney belched  out thick plumes of white smoke. 

Sara pushed open the gate and ran across the  lawn. A sign above the wooden door read 'Gateway  cottager and Sara pounded her fists upon the wooden panels, and they vibrated violently.  The dark entity began to sweep into the clearing,  and the blue flowers began to wilt and shrivel as  it approached the frantic child. 

'Let me in, please'... Sara was gasping for breath,  although she did not feel the air in her lungs, in fact she felt nothing physical at all.

The curved black door handle began to turn slowly and a large framed lady appeared in the open  archway. 'Come in, come in’. The lady said gently.

Cora did not hesitate, and stepped through into a  large, well-furnished, old-fashioned room.

The  middle aged lady closed the door, and slid a  large iron bolt into the wall to seal it shut. 

The child fell to her knees, and placed her hands  over her face and sobbed through the cracks in  her trembling fingers. 

The lady crouched down beside the child, and  wrapped her arm around the little girl's shaking  shoulders. 'You're safe in here dear'... She said  softly 'If something was chasing you it is locked  outside'... 

 

 

 

CHAPTER SIX 

LOSS OF REALITY

The wheels of the trolley spun frantically as they rolled down the brightly-lit passageway. The strip lights above the injured child blurred together as it gathered speed.

Medical staff dressed in white coats ran alongside the little girl. Sara's eyes were closed, and blood laced  her pale face, a young nurse held an oxygen mask  against the child's mouth, and gazed across at the doctor who was holding Sara's right hand. The look that passed between them spoke volumes about Sara's physical condition. There was no exchange  of smiles; it was the lowering of eyes that said it all.   

Cora Pearl was unaware of the tragedy unfolding around her. Heavily sedated, she lay silently in a hospital bed. Her dreams suppressed by  medication. Her thoughts lost in blackness. 

A vase of flowers stood upon her bedside cabinet, a mixture of white and pink roses. As the days  passed the petals began to shrivel, and drop from  their prickly stems. Time measured by decay,  whilst all the while Cora lay drifting in her  subconscious. 

Disturbing images of blood and torn flesh began to flicker and take shape in Cora's thoughts.  Cora could see herself falling, and gazing upwards into the dark void she saw her daughter  standing above her bathed in shadow.

'Sara!' Cora screamed, reaching out a bloodied  hand towards her daughter 'Hold on to me!'...  But the words fell on deaf ears and Sara remained motionless. She stood in a trance, her eyes glazed and bloodshot, looking into a world that  no longer existed, whilst her mother fell into  the darkest recesses of her own mind.  A blue light caught the tumbling woman, and wrapped itself around her. She stopped falling and the mind spirit lowered her down.

Cora stood in silence, as the spirit rolled around her feet. In the distance a large figure began to form, and  a blue glow lit the features of a familiar face.  'Hugo Drax'... Cora whispered, as the man walked forward towards her, his eyes shimmering with a blue static glow. 

'Dear Cora'. The big man spoke solemnly 'The tragedy of your own inner pain, resentment and hatred still casts it shadow over your life'.

'This is a dream' Her voice was barely audible,  she had no wish to be overheard by the glowing  man, and she did not want any answers from him.  Cora just wanted to wake up. 

'No Cora' The spectral warrior was not willing to cushion that illusion 'This is not a dream. Darcus Ryalls has once more unleashed itself upon your loved ones'.

'Ryalls' She had not thought about that dark creature for two decades. Cora placed the palms of her hands over her face and closed her eyes, 'My daughter... Is my daughter OK?'... 

The big man shook his head 'She is lost in this  world, the only way to save her is return to Grimney. The gateway is already opening for her and you must follow her through'. 

Cora crouched down on her knees, and bowed her  head 'I can't go back... I died there'. Cora's eyes welled with tears. 'I've tried to forget about Grimney. I don't want to return' She lifted her  eyes and stared into Drax's glowing face. 'Use the power of the mind spirits and save my daughter'... 

Drax reached his hand forward and stroked Cora's face. Cora could feel the warm blue glowing energy pulsating against her cheek.

'You must travel to Dellvara, the isolated far kingdom in the east. There you will find the great secret of the mind spirits, and perhaps a way to bring your child home'... 

'Dellvara?' Cora had never written about this third land, and therefore it was a mystery to her. ‘I never created Dellvara ... Someone, or  something, is using their own imagination to  generate that other place’.  

The big man's hand slid down the young woman's shoulder and he held Cora by the wrist, and  lifted her back onto her feet. 'Your daughter is being cared for by the Applebee sisters, their  house is a short walk from the place where you crashed your car’The blue light began to surge along Cora's arm and the man's eyes sparkled more brightly 'You must put your daughter's picture into the book of the Guardians, before the walls of the Applebee's  cottage are brought down, and the dark spirit  gains entry and steals your child's soul' ... 

Cora's whole body became absorbed inside the swirling vortex of dancing colour, and Drax's body began to distort itself, dissipating amidst the cloud. 'Remember, to save Sara in this world, you must gather all three books and unmask the secret behind the guardian mind spirits' Drax closed his eyes 'I will channel the first books  power and take you home soon’..  

The young woman began to melt away, and she fell  backwards into the light. The softness of the  hospital's bedclothes wrapped around her body and once more she found herself lying unconscious in the quiet surroundings of the hospital bedroom. 

 

CHAPTER SEVEN

THE APPLEBEES

The large circular oak table in the centre of the  room was laid out with current buns, and bone  china cups plates and saucers. In the middle of  the table stood a gigantic white porcelain teapot. The walls were lined with black and white  framed photographs of a bygone age, and Sara had  noticed immediately that the large candle lamps fastened to those walls did not give out any  heat. 

Margery, and Doris Applebee, were a friendly  jovial pair of middle aged ladies, but there was something very eccentric about them.

Sara sat quietly at the table and watched as Margery  placed a lace doily upon a plate and handed it to  the child. ‘Do have something to eat Sara, because I can’t'... The stocky lady said with a smile ‘As I still dream of losing weight, oh I wish I wasn't so fat'. 

Sara looked the large framed woman up and down.  Margery Applebee's appearance seemed a little old fashioned. The lady wore a long blue silky dress  and a white pinafore was fastened tightly around  her waist. Margery's bushy hair curled around her  rather large ears, and flecks of grey rolled  amidst the golden brown.

Sara gazed into the ladies deep dark eyes and  smiled. 'Thank you'... She said politely, reaching across the table and taking a currant bun from the tray 'You're very kind’...

Doris Applebee lifted the large teapot, and held the curved handle in both hands. She leaned  across the table and started to pour the contents  of the pot into a teacup. 

The child watched the other lady carefully,  studying her delicate movements. Doris was smaller, and appeared rather frail, her hair white with age, was tied back in a bun. Doris's clothes were similar to Margery's, and her dress was long and grey, and the material hung  shapelessly to Doris Applebee's diminutive  figure. Slightly reserved, and rather quiet, she  did however have an aura of warmth about her that  made Sara feel very at ease in Doris's company. 

‘Thank you Doris'... Sara said as a cup and saucer  of steaming tea was placed down in front of her.  'My pleasure dear'... Doris said quietly, smoothing out her dress and taking a seat at the opposite  side of the table next to her sister. ‘Now do tell us more about what was chasing you’. 

Sara lifted the cup and sipped the hot liquid.  Her nose twitched and she licked her top lip with her tongue. Sara looked perplexed, the tea had no flavour. She swallowed slowly, and although Sara saw the steam rising from inside the cup, the  sensation of heat did not reside in her throat  and the drink slipped down unnoticed into the pit  of her stomach. Shocked she placed the cup back  down upon the saucer and gazed at the two ladies  who sat before her. 

'The tea not to your liking?'... Margery asked 'Too  many sugars perhaps? Oh I am sorry, I should have  asked, it's just that we always have two‘..  

‘No, it's fine’.. Sara was unsure of what to say  'I need to use your telephone... I should have asked before, but my mind was a bit shook up, I  need to find out if my mum is OK’. She reached down and lifted the bun from the plate and took a bite 'You do have one don't you?' She said chewing slowly, once more experiencing a total  lack of taste, and texture. 

'Telephone?' Margery said looking at her sister 'We don't have anything like that in this house dear'... 

'Why not?' Sara said, the pitch of her voice somewhat higher than before ‘Everybody has one of those’..   Margery sipped gently from her teacup and smiled 'Well we don't, it just isn't necessary. We never really liked new technology, what's wrong with writing a letter?'... 

'New technology?’... Sara replaced the half-eaten bun back on the plate and pushed it away. 'I'm  not hungry, sorry. In fact I feel a little sick'... 

‘It doesn't taste of anything does it dear?’.. Margery said slowly, her sister Doris sat nodding slowly and solemnly by her sister's side.

'No, why is that?‘.  Sara's voice was low, and the room became deafeningly quiet. ‘I don't even feel like me at all, it's really weird’..

Doris looked sad and placed one hand down upon  the tabletop, and Margery reached across and  gripped it in her own. ‘We'd better tell the child’. Doris said  nervously, her lips trembling, and her voice splintering as deep emotion built inside of her. 

'Tell me what?’.. Sara's face became rigid, and  she had the look of a startled rabbit caught in  the bright beams of an oncoming car.  Doris smiled nervously, tears seemed to glisten in her green eyes 'Your mother is alive,  otherwise she would have past this way too, this  is a very old cottage nobody truly lives here anymore'... 

The child's mouth dropped open and an icy feeling swept through her. She did not wish to understand, although the thoughts in her mind  cast little doubt about her place in the world. Realisation gave way to a dark fear and that fear haunted her. The fear of recognition, that she was no longer alive at all... 

 

 

 

 

 

CHAPTER EIGHT 

THE DARK FORCE

Cora opened her eyes, threw back the bed covers  and placed both feet upon the tiled floor. The  room was bathed in semidarkness, and the dead  roses, their petals scattered at the base of the  vase had shrivelled, turned brown, and curled  into themselves.  Cora glanced at the rotting flowers 'I must've  been here sometime... I must have an admirer’... Sliding off the bed, Cora straightened her body,  and stifled a yawn with the back of her hand.  ‘Where's Sara?’..  She muttered, wiping the sleep  from her bloodshot eyes. 

Stepping through the door into a dimly lit  corridor, Cora narrowed her eyes and gazed down  the long passageway. Long white strip lights  stretched out along the ceiling, only one  appeared to be working, and it flickered  erratically, as the tube began to burn out.  A metal trolley stood against the wall.

A body  lay upon it, hidden beneath a long white sheet.  The yellow light blinked, and the trolley faded  in and out of sight. Cora walked slowly forward  and She looked down at the lifeless form  concealed in front of her. Unsteady hands reached down, and Cora gripped the material. Nervously she drew back the sheet. Cora recognised the pale lifeless corpse immediately. The woman's blonde hair lay matted  below her ears, and her grey lips were dried and  motionless in death.  'No’... Cora’s eyes rolled back in her head, and  she felt faint. The dead woman that lay before  her was her own reflection made flesh. The dead  woman was Cora Pearl. 

‘Not possible’..  Cora dropped the sheet and it  fell clumsily across the corpse's face. ‘I'm alive’..  Cora shook her head in bewilderment. 'The  poor light must be playing tricks'... But the body  began to move beneath the sheet, and slowly the  corpse arched forward and raised itself from the  trolley.  The sheet fell away, and Cora stood transfixed,  staring into the icy white features of her own  rigid face.

The eyelids of the cadaver began to  flicker and open and black unholy eyes stared out  at the young woman. Cora took one step back, but  a pale hand reached up and grabbed Cora around  the throat, and began to strangle her.  Cora dug her own fingers into her assailant's  hand, but the dead woman’s grip, tightened like a  vice, and Cora began to choke. She could feel her  own consciousness slipping away, and the shadows  began to fall into her eyes. 

'Let go’.. . She gasped ‘Cora... Let go of me’..  Her  words were lost, and her eyes became heavy as the  flickering electric light gave way to blackness.  Cora was lying flat upon her back. Her legs  arched, as she frantically dug in the heels of  her bare feet and pushed back the sheets upon the  hospital bed.

A nurse struggled to pull Cora’s  hands away from her throat.  'Cora!' The nurse shouted, trying to draw her  patient out of the nightmare ‘Please wake up!’..  

Summoning every ounce of strength, the nurse  wrenched Cora’s fingers away, and held her arms  down by her sides. Cora’s eyes rolled rapidly in  her head, and slowly the woman's body became  still, and she drifted back into a deep sleep.  The nurse stroked Cora’s brow. The perspiration  thick upon the woman's skin, but Cora did not  stir, the night terrors had left her, and all  seemed tranquil again. 

 

CHAPTER NINE 

THE CRUMBLING WALLS

The foundations of the cottage began to vibrate  as an immense energy force battered against the  walls. Margery and Doris had spent the last few  hours boarding up the windows with heavy pieces  of wood. Nailed in place, they hoped that they  would have the strength to repel the dark being.  Sara sat at the round table, her head bowed  forward. 'I'm dead’. She said in an empty whisper  'Whatever is out there can't kill me’..  She felt the gentle touch of Doris Applebee's  hand against the back of her head. 

‘Oh my dear’..  Doris said softly, drawing her  fingers gently through the child's hair 'We must  keep that creature out. It wants your soul, and  if it takes that away from you, you'll have  nothing left of yourself'... 

'What can we do?' Sara looked up into the lady's watery green eyes. 'How can we escape?‘. 

Margery pulled a chair out from beneath the table and sat down. 'Sara my dear, it is God's hands now'. She reached across for the teapot and  poured herself another cup of tea.

'I'm only twelve, and I'm not ready for Heaven yet'... She said defiantly 'Can we fight it?' She  shrugged her shoulders 'But what is it?‘.

Doris sat down by the child's side ‘A dark  spirit, earthbound for some reason’..  The lady  shuddered, embraced her own shoulders and rubbed her bony biceps for comfort ‘But you can feel its  coldness ... Its undying hate, and rage’..  

'But what have I done? Why does it want to hurt  me?' The walls of the cottage began to crack and  the plaster flaked and fell upon the floor. 'I'm  just a child‘..

'Something that stems from the past '... Doris continued 'Something brought this spirit into being, and it won't be satisfied until it has destroyed you... Margery sipped her tea, and she seemed very calm under the circumstances. 'But we have our own  power’..  She said sagely 'Although we cannot hold it back forever. We must hope that God intervenes and saves your life’...

The nurse had left Cora sleeping. Alone in her room, the dark began to fade, as the blue light descended down from the ceiling and rolled across the sleeping woman's prostrate body. 

Cora began to fade away. The mind spirit  absorbing her. In her dreams she felt herself  lifted, and a starry sky surrounded her as she  drifted through the heavens. 

Fields and meadows swept out below, and a dark  foreboding building rose up in the distance. The  crumbling walls of Blackthorn manor stood stark against the moonlight.  The blue spirit spiralled downwards and entered  through an open window, and rolling itself  against the wooden floorboard like an unravelling carpet it released Cora's body and laid her  gently down. 

The young woman opened her eyes and sat up. In the corner of the room, seated in an armchair sat the glowing form of Hugo Drax 'Cora'... He said  gently 'You must move swiftly, there is little time'... 

Cora crawled onto her feet and lent against the  wall, the journey had left her dizzy 'Why have you brought me back here?' She placed the palm of  her hand upon her brow and lent her head against it 'I need to call the hospital and find out how  my daughter is‘..  

Drax shook his huge head slowly 'I've told you to  trust me. You always did before. I wouldn't lie  to you Cora. You must go to Grimney and meet her  there'... 

'What do you want me to do?' Cora said, trying to  contain her growing anger.  The big man smiled 'You must dig up the book, stick in your daughter's picture, and travel back  to Grimney to save her‘..  

No’..  Cora slumped forward, the idea was too much  to bear ‘I can't go back, I really can't. There  must be another way’..  

‘I'm sorry Cora, but that is your destiny... You  created Grimney, and that world is your responsibility’.. He pointed a metal finger at the young woman 'A god does not disown its children'...

'I'm not a god'... She replied, her voice raised in  irritation 'I have my own life'... 

'Perhaps'... The man nodded 'But if ever wish to  see your child again, you must do as I ask. Stay  in this world and you lose Sara to the next‘.. 'I won't go back alone'... She said adamantly 'I  want allies, someone with a strong faith of their  own. Someone who knows about such places, and has  the power of the so called true God as their  master' Cora’s tone was somewhat sarcastic 'Grant  me their help, and guidance, and I will return’...     

 

CHAPTER TEN 

PREPARATION

A stepladder extended to a trapdoor set into the  ceiling. Cora pushed her palms upwards and lifted  it away. Hauling herself into the dimly lit  surroundings, she scrambled hesitantly forward on  all fours. A row of large wooden boxes stood  before her, and shining a torch, she reached down  and lifted the lids off two of them.  Inside the first box was a long black leather  overcoat.

Cora dragged it from the container, and  dropped the coat through the trapdoor behind her.  The torch beam blazed over the contents of the  second box, and Cora lifted out a pair of biker  boots, big buckled and made of sturdy black  leather, they would be ideal for hiking over the  harsh terrain in Grimney. Folded neatly beneath the boots lay a pair of grey combat trousers and  a red tee-shirt with the word 'BAD' daubed across it in italic lettering.  Gathering the items beneath her arm, she closed  both boxes, and lifted the lid of another. It was  filled to the brim with books, and the one she  wanted rested squarely on top of the others.

Cora  past her torchlight over the front cover, her lips moving slowly as she spoke the title under  her breath 'The Golden Throne, by Reverend  Winston Gilliad'... She smiled 'Just what I need'.  On the back cover of the book there was a colour  photograph of the author. The man was very dark  skinned, and he had short white hair and a neatly  trimmed grey beard. He was dressed in a black  suit, with a white collar denoting his status as  a man of God, protruding from his mouth was a  wooden black pipe.  Cora ripped the picture from the book and slid it  amongst the other items she was holding, and  turning around she descended back down the  stepladder. 

In the vast open field outside, the great oak  tree swayed back and forth. Its thick curved branches twisting from side to side in the gentle  breeze. The night sky had become meshed in dark  clouds, and the moonlight had faded beneath them. 

Cora Pearl had dressed and she approached the  tree cautiously. Her long black coat billowing around her form, her black boots gathering  moisture from the dewy grass as she strolled  warily towards it. The young woman was carrying a  shovel, and she held it tightly in front of her.  The blue light danced above the long grass, its  ethereal form curling like a snake, as Cora  continued her trek to the base of the giant oak. Cora stood beneath the tree, and gazed down at the thick brown roots that had entwined  themselves together beneath the ground, and  bending forward she began to dig the soil. 

The blue mind spirit rolled above Cora's head, lighting her surroundings as she shovelled the  moist earth and tossed it over her shoulder. The  digging continued for some time, until the bare white pages of the legendary book appeared before  her. Cora threw down the shovel, and fell upon  her knees. She reached into the hole and lifted  the book from the dirt. 'God‘. She muttered uneasily, her breath unsteady due to the strain of digging 'I never wanted to see this againCora flipped open the pages and  gazed down at the many pictures and poems that  she had placed inside over twenty years ago.  Everything had remained as she remembered it, the  pictures blazed with colour, as if they had only  been drawn yesterday.  The blue mind spirit was satisfied, Cora had  followed her instructions, and stretching skyward  it drew itself into a narrow blue thread and  bolted upwards into the clouds, and disappeared.

Cora grabbed the book with both hands, and tucked  it carefully under her arm. She stood up slowly,  and turned away from the foreboding shadow of the  giant oak, and walked solemnly back to the old  dark manor house. Her future was now, once more,  in the hands of spirits that she had never  trusted and who now would lead her way back into the very world that had destroyed Cora’s  childhood... 

The large hallway of Blackthorn manor stood in eerie silence. The long staircase at its centre creaked as Cora ascended the steps. Memories of her lonely childhood haunted the young women and  the walls of the grey stone building seemed to constrict against her, as if they were closing in.  Samuel Blackthorn had died only three months ago,  the man's sanity had deserted him towards the  end. Blackthorn had spent the last years of his  life in an institution, ranting about the other  world that he had visited and the monstrous  creatures he had encountered. His death was not mourned by many, and even his son Henry had shed very few tears. 

Cora entered an upstairs room, and approached a vast stone fireplace. Hanging upon the wall above  a large overhanging shelf were several framed  photographs of Cora Pearl, and her daughter. The pictures had been taken fairly recently, and Cora  was deeply saddened by the images. 'I never understood why you took these pictures  Samuel'. Cora said sadly, unhooking the photograph of her daughter from the wall, and sliding it into her overcoat pocket. 'But then, I guess you were my stepfather after all‘.. Cora sat at a large kitchen table and opened the First book of the Guardians. She read the  inscription once again ‘Imagination is the only limit’..  Cora's tone was mocking 'My imagination has done me no good at all'...  She slid the picture of her daughter from her  pocket, and in anger smashed the frame against  the tabletop. The glass fractured and burst across the floor. Carefully she removed the  photograph, and finding a blank page inside the book she fastened it into position. Cora gently smoothed the palm of her hand against it. 'I'll  find you honey, I'll bring you home’.  Turning the page she placed the photograph of Winston Gilliad onto the blank sheet and pressed  it firmly into place. ‘Maybe you will be able to  help, after all you're man of God, and you should be able to understand the world I created’.. 

Cora closed the book, and stood up. She ran her fingers through her long blonde hair, and gritted her teeth. Cora sighed... 'I need a haircut’.  Cora stood in front of the bathroom mirror, and  gazed at her reflection. She looked pale, her big blue eyes stared back at her from the glass, but they seemed blank and empty. Leaning forward over the sink she began to cut through her blonde  locks with a pair of scissors. Clumps of long  golden hair fell into the sink.  The blades continued to cut their way through her  hair, until she had trimmed it very short around  the sides and the back. She snipped several  inches from the top of her head, and ran her  fingers through it. Satisfied with her new look  she dropped the scissors into the sink and turned  away from the mirror. 

Cora would not return to Grimney unprotected. She knew how dangerous the experience would be. Cora  would have to defend herself against the many creatures that inhabited the land, and she would use any method she had at her disposal to destroy them.  A glass cabinet stood in the downstairs lounge. Inside this there were a row of shotguns. One stood out from the others, it’s barrels sawn short and its metal as black as ebony.

Cora  unlocked the door using a silver key, and lifted the gun from inside. Clicking it open she examined the empty barrels. Cora reached down beneath the other weapons and slid out a box of cartridges and scooping them up she pushed them into the pockets of her leather overcoat.  Dressed, armed and ready for battle, Cora had  only one more task to perform. She needed to take  a photograph ...   

 

CHAPTER ELEVEN

THE ESCAPE

The cottage walls began to split and zigzagging  cracks tore their way through the framework. Sara  and the two sisters sat huddled together around the table. Margery continued to sip from her cup of tea, but the vibrations were causing the saucer to shake, and the brown liquid spilled over her dress.  She brushed the flat of her palm over the material 'Oh dear me, that's going to cause a  nasty stain'... 

Doris Applebee's eyes fell upon the boarded window, the wood began to split. A sudden rush of  cold air flooded into the room and all the candle  lamps blew out.  Sara grabbed hold of Margery's hand, it was still  moist from the liquid that had spilled upon her  dress. 

'What’s happening?' She whispered. Isolated by the claustrophobic darkness, and shaking from fear and terror, Sara closed her eyes.  Doris began to pray. Her words were indistinct  but she was clearly calling upon God's help. The oak table began to creak, and stretch. Sara  placed her right hand down upon the wood to  steady it. 

‘Sara’. A malevolent voice hissed 'Sara open your  eyes’.   Sara was afraid, but shutting out the malign  force would not protect her. She had to face her  tormentor, if this was to be the end of her life,  she would die bravely. 

Slowly Sara raised her eyelids and stared into  the gloom. The darkness seemed to be moving.  Dark, formless clouds of intertwining smog rolled  back and forth before her.  'What are you?' Sara asked, not really wanting  the answer.  Two blood red glowing eyes opened and stared out  from the twisting mist. 'I am a fragment of your  mother's soul... Cora's pain ... Cora’s rage, and  Cora's hate' ...  'I don't understand‘..  Sara looked from side to  side, seeking reassurance from the two sisters. 

Doris was still praying in the dark, and Margery  just held the child's hand more tightly. 'I was born from unhappiness, and you were born into it. Thus it was written‘.. 

The entity  continued, the bile in its voice growing with  each word uttered 'For your fate you must die'...  Sara was flung backwards against the wall. The impact should have broken her back, but the child  was beyond pain. She felt herself lifted from the  floor, and her body began to spin in the black mass that swallowed her.  Sara tried to scream for help, but Doris  Applebee's prayers seemed distant, and the  child’s voice became stifled by the power of the  dark being.  Silence built a veil of black shadows around her and she reached out for Margery's hand but she  could not make contact.

Sara's vision began to blur, and she felt her consciousness turning to liquid, as if her very  essence was being stretched into a stream of broken particles and poured outwards into an  unwelcoming oblivion. A ball of bright blue light appeared at the  centre of the room, and bolted forward. Sara felt the warm energy pushing against the dark cloud.  The shadowy entity began to lose its grip, and  the mind spirit formed a cocoon around her.

The dark entity began to scream in anger, as Sara  was sucked from its icy grip. The child could  hear Doris Applebee's prayers once more, and  closing her eyes she felt her soul evaporate and  her whole form sparkled with deep, blue, pulsating sapphires. Spinning in the heavenly  light she passed from one world, and followed the  mystical path to the next.   

 

CHAPTER TWELVE

THE REVEREND

Winston Gilliad lived with his dog in an old rectory half a mile from the church where he  worked. He was a quiet man, thoughtful and deeply committed to his faith. His life consisted of  weddings, funerals, baptisms, and the occasional  church function. Although he was the writer of  several bestselling children's novels, he had  never neglected his responsibilities to the community.  Gilliad lived a modest life, his existence entirely structured around his duties at the church. Tonight Gilliad sat at a big oak desk in his  study. The room was small and square and high shelves stacked with theological books surrounded him. The man worked by lamplight, and in between smoking his pipe, he put pen to paper as he  prepared Sunday's sermon. 

Jasper, the reverend's dog began to bark. Gilliad  looked up from his writing and listened. Something was bothering the animal. Jasper was  very old, and spent much of his time asleep in his basket, but tonight the dog was clearly unsettled. 'Oh dear boy'. Gilliad lifted himself from his chair 'I'm coming Jasper, now don't you worry’. 

He picked up a pair of glasses and slid them onto  his nose. He was a tall stately man and walked  across the room with his head held high. Turning  the handle of the study door he stepped into a  narrow corridor. Jasper had stopped barking.

Gilliad called the animal's name and half expected the animal to come bounding down the passageway to his side. Instead there was a cold silence, and the reverend sensed that something had happened to his loyal companion. In the dimness of the passage the ball of blue  light began to form. The reverend stood motionless gazing through the shining lenses of  his circular spectacles. He was unsure of how to react, but he believed in the Holy Spirit,  although he had never seen it before.  'Are you a spirit from God?’. The man's voice was deep and firm. His faith alone protected him from the fear of the supernatural. 

The ball of light grew in density and rolled  towards the holy man. Gilliad reached into his  pocket and pulled out a small crucifix and he held it up in front of his face. 'In the name of Jesus Christ, I command you to speak’.  Undaunted the spirit continued to surge forward.  Wisely, Gilliad took one step back. 'Speak, in  the name of God, I ask you to speak!’.

A bolt of blue light shot forward and wrapped itself around the reverend's outstretched arm. Gilliad watched in horror, as his hand began to vanish. Before he could speak again the mind spirit encased him and within seconds the man  had vanished from the corridor.   

 

 

 

CHAPTER THIRTEEN

RETURN TO GRIMNEY

The camera stood upon a tripod and a silver light pulsated above the dark circular lens. Cora placed a pair of sunglasses over her eyes and waited. She held the sawn off shotgun at her side, and made no attempt to smile. The picture was for one purpose only, and therefore a cheerful expression was not warranted. The light flashed, and the photograph ejected  itself from the base of the camera. Cora approached, and pulled the picture out. She stared at the blank print and watched as the  picture began to develop. The Guardian book lay  on the floor by her side, and without further thought she pasted the photograph onto a blank  page inside.  Cora stood at the window and gazed down at the  dark forlorn field where the oak tree stood. The cold night draped grey shadows over the moonlight, and the wind had stilled. 

Time passed slowly and Cora became impatient. She clicked back the twin barrels of the shotgun and inserted two cartridges. Closing the barrel she slid the weapon into her overcoat pocket; the  shotgun fitted snugly inside.  'Come on’She said quietly, looking at her  watch, and sliding on a pair of black leather  gloves. 'Where are you?‘... 

Cora turned away and  picked up the Guardian book, and slipped it into a black leather rucksack that was strapped upon  her back. Cora knew that success on this journey rested inside the pages of the manuscript.  Suddenly the bright blue light smashed through  the window. The shattered glass showered Cora, and she ducked down to avoid the tumbling shards. The young woman became wrapped inside the swirling vortex, and making no attempt to struggle, the entity absorbed her and she too  vanished from the bland normality of the real world. 

The universe seemed to stretch out in front of  her. Stars, planets, and thunderbolts of blue  fire rolled rapidly past. Swept along in a fast flowing waterfall of blazing blue light, she was carried onwards into the infinite realms of time and space. Her own heartbeat quickened, as the  motion of the mind spirit tore through the widening heavens. Cora stretched out her gloved  hands, the lack of air was making Cora  delusional, and she almost believed that she  could touch the face of a God. She drew her hands back, and the arrow of light  began to descend as swiftly as it had risen.  Cora's face began to ripple. The velocity of the  fall pulling at the skin of her cheeks and gritting her teeth, tears pouring from her eyes, Cora slipped into unconsciousness once more. She was slow to wake, and when she did, her eyes  opened beneath two glowing red suns and a sky as green as grass in summer.

The Land of Grimney rested beneath her prone body. Cora's limbs felt loose, and flimsy, and  sitting forward she felt a dizziness, which quickly led to nausea, and turning her head to  one side, she proceeded to be sick on the grass.  Wiping her mouth on the back of her glove, she  bent her knees into her body, and stood up on her  booted feet. Behind Cora stood her father's cottage. Twenty  years had passed since her last visit and time had left the building in a state of dereliction.

The walls had crumbled away and the thatched roof  appeared scorched and blackened.  Cora slid her shotgun from her coat and crossed the meadow of long grass, crushing forget me not  beneath her long buckled boots. 

The door of the cottage hung battered from its  hinges, and Cora poked her head through the archway. The interior had been gutted by fire, nothing lived behind these walls anymore, Robert Pearl was either dead, or living somewhere else. Cora closed her eyes and hoped for the latter. She turned away and stepped back into the meadow,  and with her head bowed strolled back into the  sunlight. 

Butterflies flew past Cora's head and settled on the blue flowers that grew all around her. Cora  looked up through the dark lenses of her glasses.  She observed a tall man, dressed all in black  strolling slowly towards her. 

Cora raised both barrels of the shotgun, and the  man stopped and stood still. 'Put up your hands, and approach very carefully!' Cora shouted. 'If you've got any weapons, drop  them now or I'll blow your head off!’... 

The man raised his arms, and called out 'I'm a man of God’.. He replied confidently 'My only  weapon is my faith, and even that I would use  peacefully'...  Cora lowered her gun, and slid off her sunglasses. She recognised the man immediately. 'Reverend Winston Gilliad!' Cora called out with  a cynical smile 'Welcome to the wonderful Land of Grimney!’..  

The man stretched out his hand and Cora shook it gently. 'Sorry, I really have absolutely no idea who you are?’... Gilliad said politely, looking  around in bewilderment at the green sky and marvelling at the two glowing red suns. He  scratched the back of his head 'I was writing my  sermon, and then was somehow dragged away by some kind  of spirit, a non alcoholic one I must point out’. He added with a twinkle in his eye. 

Cora grinned. ‘I brought you here’. She slid the shotgun into her coat and gazed at the distinguished, dark skinned, grey bearded features of her new companion. 'I'm hoping my daughter might be somewhere near, but I doubt  it’She moaned 'The mind spirits have brought me back for a reason, but they know that as soon as I find her I'm leaving... But she's probably in the farthest reaches of the land. Although I’ll still find her’. She glared at the holy man 'And for some reason you've become part of my story,  although I did choose to bring you here’.  

The reverend looked somewhat disgruntled, but he had a good temperament. ‘Well, I sympathise with your situation’Gilliad said, sliding a black  pipe from his jacket and slipping it into his  mouth 'But I'm afraid I really have absolutely no idea what you are talking about’. He raised a burning match and lit the tobacco crammed inside and took a big puff. 'I would naturally go for the obvious conclusion'... Gilliad said  thoughtfully, puffing on his pipe and nodding his head 'That somehow my own writing has entered  into my dreams, and that in reality I am at home, asleep at my desk'. His face twitched uneasily  'If not’... He concluded. 'I need to see a  psychiatrist’. 

Cora looked skyward. She had become distracted by  several small black dots on the horizon.

The reverend gazed over his shoulder and narrowed his  eyes. 'What is that?' He said quietly, looking back at  Cora 'And who are you exactly? You didn't tell me your name’... 

'Cora Pearl’. She said quickly, grabbing the  reverend by the arm. 'I think we should hide in  the cottage. Until, whatever that is'. She pointed a gloved finger skyward. 'Has passed over us'.   

 

CHAPTER FOURTEEN

THE HOARDS OF HELLCAT MERIDIAN

Cora and Gilliad hid behind the broken door, and  squatted upon their knees. They stared through  the archway and watched the sky. 'What are they?' The reverend whispered, the  black specks growing in size as they approached  the cottage from above. ‘I don't know’..  Cora replied cautiously, opening  the twin barrels of the shotgun and then closing them again. 'But the gun's loaded’.

'You don't seriously intend to shoot somebody?'  Gilliad placed his hand upon the weapon and  pushed the barrels down to the floor 'That would be a dreadful thing to do'.

Cora shook her head with irritation 'This is a godless place... You'll soon learn that violence solves everything'...

Eight giant mechanical reptiles, their eyes  glowing with green light and their powerful  winged bodies covered in thick metal scales  soared overhead. A rider sat upon the back of each one. Eight men dressed in leather body  armour, their faces concealed beneath black steel  helmets. 

Hellcat Meridian sat astride the ninth, and final  winged creature. Gripping the beasts reins tightly in her black gloved hands, she steered the monstrous grey metalled black-eyed reptile onwards. 

Barrossa, a huge man dressed in battered brown  leather and fur, followed at the back of the entourage. He looked below at the derelict cottage, and decided to break away from his colleagues and investigate. The huge creature  folded in its wings and swooped downwards. 

Outstretching its talons, the beast landed steadfastly upon the ground. The mountainous man slipped from the saddle. Barrossa's booted feet bounced upon the grass and  his bulbous body wobbled back and forth. The man lifted his helmet away from his face. Barrossa's  head was white and shaven and the man had a blue spider's web tattooed over his face. Due to his tremendous bulk he did not appear to have a neck,  just several layers of flesh that rippled beneath  his chin.  Barrossa drew his sword and lumbered through the  meadow of forget me not, he walked bow legged due to the amount of fat around his huge thighs.  Narrowing his blue eyes he approached the open  door of the cottage. ‘Anyone in there?!’..  The man's voice was gruff and deep ‘The name's Barrossa, I'm an agent of the Nexus Malignus!’.  

Cora stepped into the archway and smiled. 'Really?' She raised the twin barrels of the  shotgun 'Well I'm Cora Pearl and I'm a Zoriat'... 

Barrossa's face reddened and raising his sword he lumbered forward. The big man roared with  anger his blue eyes blazing with rage. Cora stood her ground and pulling back the shotgun's trigger, discharged both cartridges at the man.

Barrossa's body was flung backwards into the grass and he fell heavily upon his back, and lay bleeding from the belly. 

Cora approached and stood over the dying man. Barrossa tried to lift his sword, but the woman's booted foot crashed down upon the blade and she  pressed it into the grass with her heel.  ‘Nexus Malignus’.. Cora sounded scornful 'Not a very wise choice of ally, especially when they killed the child in me'... 

Gilliad rushed to the big man's side and crouched down next to him. The reverend slipped his crucifix from his jacket, and tried to place it in Barrossa's hand.

The dying man pushed it away.  He would not accept it.

'Your God is useless here, and as useless as it is in the real world‘.. Cora scoffed, and opened the twin gun barrels and slid in two more cartridges. 'They don't have any knowledge of Jesus Christ or the Crucifixion in this place'... 

Barrossa's mouth filled with blood and trickled  down his fleshy face. As his sight began to fade, he could only watch helplessly as Hellcat and her colleagues vanished in the distance. The man's eyes flickered and rolled back in his head. 

Gilliad watched silently as Barrossa passed away before him.  The reverend stood up and bowed his head 'I think  you're right' ... He said solemnly 'If people can kill so easily, then there is no doubt that I am in a godless place’.

Gilliad raised his head and closed his eyes. 'Jesus Christ is our lord and saviour... I shall bring his love to this land and teach you, and these people the true meaning of  faith, and compassion'. 

Cora laughed at Gilliad's hollow words 'Well  maybe God has provided us something after all’The young woman looked across at the winged  mechanical creature standing silently amidst the blue flowers 'It seems that we have inherited a  means of transport’... Cora raised her arms into the air and grinned 'Hallelujah, God be praised'...  She said sarcastically. 

Gilliad ignored the woman's cynicism, and bending down he  crossed the dead man's arms over his chest.  The reverend did not dislike Cora. He was not a man who judged others. Gilliad was willing to accept that this was a very different world from  the one he had known, but he would not accept acts of cold blooded murder...   

 

CHAPTER FIFTEEN

DHUMASS SHRESTER'S PAIN

At the centre of a deep circular chasm, stood a  tall, narrow, windowless tower fashioned from  jagged black rock. It was built upon a giant stone pillar, a triangular wedge of solid granite that jutted upwards from the darkest depths of the deep pit. A curved iron bridge stretched  across the void. The disturbing gothic  architecture of twisted intertwining rods and skeletal carvings gave an insight to the individuals that occupied the dark tower. 

A lone horseman approached the bridge and pulling steadily at the animal's reins halted the heavily armoured beast at the mouth of the  entrance. The man who sat astride was shaven  headed and covered in scars. His face smeared with blood and dirt. A long battered crimson  robe hung about the warrior's slanting shoulders  and the torn material draped loosely over his black and grey leather armour. Two sad pale green eyes stared out beneath their heavy lids, and surveyed the bridge beyond. Iron slates fixed six or seven inches apart along the  walkway would prove hazardous to the man's horse.  So, without further issue, the warrior slipped from the saddle and made his way across on foot. 

A huge iron portcullis stood before him, and a  thick, wooden arched door lay sealed behind it.  Bolted into the stone and hanging from a chain  upon a thick iron rod was a large bronze bell. The man reached a gloved hand forward and rang  it, and the bell tolled. Behind him he heard the flourish of wings. Drawing his sword, he turned  around and gazed down into the yawning chasm. All  seemed quiet, only the dull echo of the bell  pushed against the grim silence. The portcullis groaned, and slowly it began to rise.

The iron scraped against the smoothed edges of the walls, and it sounded as if the mouth of a huge mechanical beast was opening for its supper.  The grey wooden panels of the vast arched door shuddered and creaked. The man's hand gripped the hilt of his sword and stepping over the  threshold, he walked cautiously inside. 

A grey fog rolled about the man's booted feet and stepping forward he crossed the stone floor. Black beetles and red shelled centipedes scuttled  over the cracked grey slabs. At the centre of the circular chamber stood a huge throne carved out of black rock. The  surrounding high walls rose upwards into a vacuum of foreboding emptiness.

A deathly silence prevailed and seated motionless upon the throne sat Glaverse Montrasse. The creature was half human and half scorpion, an unfortunate construct of his own dark magic. Glaverse leant forward lopsidedly, his huge, twisted black shelled body cracking with the  motion. A pair of giant claws beckoned the  warrior forward, and Shrester approached. The deformed creature had two large white  compound eyes. Pale and clouded, they stared  unblinking at the bald headed warrior. The  creature's face was dark, and his skin was red with blotches and boils. Long white unkempt hair  hung matted over his ears and forehead. Glaverse's mouth was wide and gaping. Two rows of sharp curved brown teeth protruded from black receding gums. Saliva dripped through the thick  grey stubble that grew from his wide, angular  warty chin. 

‘Dhumass Shrester’... The creature gurgled, froth  seeping through his decaying teeth. 'You've  returned to gain knowledge of the dark arts?'  Shrester crouched down on one knee. ‘My guilt has brought me back... The pain inside won't go away’. The man sounded tired, although his voice was  full of anger 'The armies of the Nexus Malignus are over running Grimney, slaughtering anyone who opposes them'. Shrester grudgingly closed his  eyes and bowed his head. The warrior wiped the  sweat from his forehead.

'Grant me my wish... Give me what I want... The dark magic'... Glaverse narrowed his eyes and looked down at the warrior.

‘I will grant you your wish, the Nexus  Malignus are a danger to me also, but you know of  my nature, and the more you draw from me, the  more I will take from you’...  

Shrester raised his head and stared directly at the creature. He had no fear of the grotesque  half-breed. In fact Shrester had no fear of anything anymore. Glaverse had the power to make  him into a God, and that was all he desired. 'Take my soul... It's a small price to pay’. Shrester spoke slowly and calmly. ‘My spiritual  destruction means nothing, I have no faith in my old beliefs. All I want is to destroy those who  took Cora Pearl away from me’.  

Glaverse began to laugh and he nodded his head. 'My magic for the gift of revenge’... The creature clenched his brown teeth together and smiled 'Dhumass you are a worthy disciple. I would never stand in the way of that desire’. The creature placed his claws upon the armrest of  the throne and pushed himself onto his feet. A  long, spiny, spiked, segmented tail unfolded behind him and unravelled across the floor. ‘You want peace. Only the death of your enemies will bring that'... Glaverse shuffled lopsidedly across the stone floor, his tail whipping against  the stale air in the chamber. 

Shrester closed his eyes once more and he felt a sharp sting against his forehead. The man’s body  shuddered, as an energy force surged through him. A sickness swept down Shrester’s throat and a  deep nausea entered into the pit of his stomach. He fell forward onto his hands and knees, and the man began to choke. Scraping his fingers upon the  stone floor, Shrester's body began to spasm and the tips of his fingers became icy cold. For a brief moment Shrester was separated from his own soul, as if his identity had been sucked from his mind. Sickening thoughts spun erratically through his throbbing head, and the man's body lost every ounce of strength, as Shrester collapsed  twitching upon the floor...   

 

CHAPTER SIXTEEN

THE HUNT BEGINS

Cora and the reverend had mounted the powerful green eyed metal beast and soaring high above the fertile plains, they flew towards a cloud of  grey smoke that billowed upwards over the horizon. Beneath them they could see Holme's Tavern. Cora remembered the fate that had  befallen the alehouse twenty years before. As a small child she had witnessed the brutal acts of Draygon the Scar. He was an evil man who had set the establishment alight. But as they drew nearer they saw people gathered at its entrance. Once more Holme's Tavern looked open for business, or so it seemed... 

‘We need to go down’. Cora said, gazing over her  shoulder at Gilliad, who had wrapped his arms  tightly around the young woman's waist for safety. ‘I used to have friends there’. She chuckled ‘Well, when I say friends, I don't necessarily mean they liked me. We'll just have  to wait and see’. The metal reptile extended its powerful legs and landed a short distance from the tavern. Two burly unshaven men stood at the tavern's door. Dressed in shabby sackcloth and chain mail and  holding axes they looked liked outlaws.

Cora and the reverend slid from the back of the  mechanical creature. Gilliad grabbed Cora by the arm 'Do you know these men?’.

The young woman gazed across at the two unsavoury looking individuals 'No'... She whispered, pulling her arm from the reverend's grasp and sliding her gloved hand into her overcoat pocket 'But there's nothing to stop us from being sociable is there?'... 

Gilliad sighed, and stroked his beard. Cora's ice cool nature was beginning to unnerve him. The reverend followed slowly behind, and watched  Cora's coat flapping gently upon the breeze. The  young woman's right hand was still concealed  inside her pocket, and he already knew what she  would do if the two men proved hostile. Perhaps, the reverend thought, perhaps he should warn  them?... 

Cora smiled and raised her left hand in greeting  ‘Hello boys!’. She called out with a wide smile 'I fancy a drink, how about you?’.

The larger of the two men, a tall thin man with spiky red hair and yellowing teeth stepped in front of the door. The thin man stretched out his  arm and showed Cora the palm of his hand 'Bar's closed girl’.. . He said spitting on the grass in  front of her. 

'That was disgusting’. Cora was not impressed by the man's manners. 'But I’m willing to forgive your rudeness. If you buy me a drink?'. 

The second man was far shorter, but he was broad  shouldered and looked physically strong. Lifting  his axe he shook the blade at Cora 'Leave now!’. He bellowed, his mad blue eyes flickering with  aggression 'If not I'll add another notch to my chopping block!’. 

Gilliad moved to Cora's side and placed his hand upon the woman's shoulder 'I'm sure these gentlemen prefer to drink alone'... He said softly 'In any case, I'm teetotal. Maybe there is a  coffee shop around here somewhere?’.  

She was not interested in the reverend’s attempts  to pacify her, and brushed the man’s hand away from her shoulder. 'Nobody threatens me'. She said, raising her voice and fixing the two men with an icy stare, but they just laughed in the  young woman’s face. 

Gilliad watched as Cora began to slide her hand  from her overcoat pocket. 'No Cora'... His voice low, but firm 'Violence is not the answer’... 

Cora ignored the holy man and drawing the weapon, she pointed it directly at the axe wielding warrior, and his objectionable companion. Closing one eye Cora gazed down the sight. 'I'll give you ten seconds to move, and if  you don't, I'll use my magic boom stick to blow  you both out of the way’..  

The two men looked at each other and the axe man  smirked, whilst the tall man chuckled, and  shrugged his broad shoulders. 'You can't frighten  us. 'What is that? Some kind of wand?’..  

Cora held her arm steady. The twin barrels of the  shotgun pointed at the axe man’s head 'I’ll take you first’..  She announced with a smile, and then  she began her maddening countdown. 'Ten, nine, eight, seven’...

The two men stopped smiling and began to look a little uneasy with the situation.

The axe man puffed out his chest and tried to look intimidating. Leaning forward he stuck out his chin. 'You don't scare me girl. You'd better shut up, or I’ll cut you in half!’.  

The young woman grinned, and to the satisfaction  of the two men the counting stopped. 'Good'... The axe man said boldly, pleased that the girl had lost her nerve 'Now be gone with you and don't show your face around here again’.

However, Cora had not lowered the shotgun and  once more she began to count. ‘Six, five, four’Her voice grew in volume.

'Stop this'. The thin man began to edge away from the door. ‘We have no quarrel with you lady’.  

Cora aimed both barrels at the man with the axe. 'I want you to move out of the way too'... 

‘Not a chance’..  The axe man sneered ‘You'll have  to kill me if you can’..  

‘Fine’..  Cora replied ‘Three... Two’..  

The reverend began to sweat. He knew that Cora would pull the trigger, and even if these men were bad, there was no justification for shooting  either one of them. 'Cora for God's sake’... Gilliad was agitated, and his breathing became heavy. ‘Let's just leave’. He watched Cora’s gloved finger curling  inwards on the trigger. 

‘One!’... Cora said loudly, and Gilliad knew that she was going to fire the shotgun. The reverend  pushed the young woman's arm to one side, and a  flash of flame burst from both barrels. 

The axe man dropped his weapon, as the lead shot struck the warrior in the left arm. The man's legs gave way beneath him and he fell to his knees, clutching his wounded limb.

The thin man panicked and turning on his heels he ran away. Leaving his companion to his fate. 

Cora turned on the reverend and pointed the smoking barrels at the holy man 'Don't ever do  that again Gilliad. This is my world!‘..  She  snapped 'And I decide who lives and dies!'... 

The wounded warrior slumped against the tavern  door. His blood seeping through his grubby  fingers. The man's face contorted in agony and the veins inside his neck protruded. 

Cora stood over the man and prodded him in the shoulder with the gun barrels. 'You're lucky that  my colleague is opposed to killing. Otherwise I would have splattered your brains all over the grass'... 

Gilliad crouched down next to the injured man and looked at his wounded arm. 'You'll survive'... He said reassuringly 'But... Please, I would advise you to sit quiet, my companion does have an awful temper'... 

Cora lifted her booted foot and smashed her heel  into the door's wooden panels.

Gilliad stepped forward and turned the handle, and the door  clicked open. 'Is brute force the only way you  know?' He said with disbelief. 

Cora clicked open the gun barrels and inserted  two more cartridges. 'I want to find my  daughter'. Her voice was tinged with bitter  sadness. 'I don't care about anything else'. 

The woman stepped forward and the reverend placed  the flat of his palm against her chest. Cora looked down 'Don't you think your hand is placed inappropriately for a reverend?’. 

Gilliad sighed. ‘Cora I have absolutely no idea what is happening here’. He allowed his hand to slip down by his side. 'I was brought to this place by a blue light'... The man shook his head and shrugged. ‘I have no idea what that was... I  need explanations, but I also need you to stop shooting people’. 

Cora slid the gun back into her overcoat. 'Just believe that I've brought you to hell. If you think like that, there should be no issue'... 

The reverend stepped aside, and Cora pushed her way into the tavern.

The bra room was virtually empty, except for a large oak table at its centre. Seated in a chair clad in black leather armour, her wrists chained together in front of  her sat a familiar looking woman. 

Cora smiled 'Joanna Simm... What an extremely unpleasant  surprise'... 

The outlaw raised her head and shook her long  black hair from side to side. Simm looked up at the shadowy woman standing in the archway. 'Do I know you?'... 

‘You haven't changed a bit. But then people don't grow old in Grimney do they?’..  Cora was surprised to find that Simm was still alive. Or maybe not, she reconsidered, because this notorious outlaw had spent much of her life hiding from the authorities and avoiding conflict. 

‘Let me guess’. She sneered. 'You've seen my face on a wanted poster, and you've killed the two  bounty hunters to claim the reward yourself'... She banged her fists upon the table. ‘Well you'd better take me in’. She smiled cynically 'Although as I said to those two fools. The authorities who will pay for my capture are  probably dead anyway'... 

‘Is that so?’.. Cora said coldly, approaching the  table and placing her hands down upon it. 'Then'...  She said leaning forward and staring into Simm's brown eyes. 'I guess I'd better leave you here'... 

Simm studied Cora's face closely. She recognised the young woman, but could not remember where they had met. ‘I know you’. She said thoughtfully. 'We've met before'.

‘My name is Cora Pearl’. She said with a glint in  her eye 'Twenty years ago you turned your back on me, and left me to die'... 

Simm's face became ashen. 'I did think you were dead ... I left you, because you were fighting a battle you couldn't win. I see you've changed your shape again?'... Simm lifted her manacled wrists towards Cora and smiled softly. 'You going to set me free?‘..  

'Why should I?' Cora did not like Simm and she knew that the feeling was mutual. 'You're no use to me, dead or alive’. 

‘That's where you're wrong’... She grinned ‘I know where your parents are, now surely that is a good  reason for you to be friendly?’..  

'Really?' Cora said frostily, stepping to the outlaw's side and grabbing Simm by the arm. Cora lifted Simm from the chair, and pushed the outlaw forward ‘Then you'd better come with me hadn't you... I think our reptile will carry three’..     

 

CHAPTER SEVENTEEN

THE NEXUS MALIGNUS

The castle in the sky was constructed from thick  red glass, and it stood firmly upon a rotating  silver disk. The speed of the revolving platform  kept the towering construction from falling.  Three tall, forked turrets jutted skyward,  piercing the grey clouds that hovered overhead. 

A large stained glass window carved into the wall  of the middle tower shone in the light from the  two red suns. The beams bathed the ornately  designed patterned window in a luminous glow. 

Behind the glass, there was a room, and in that room hung a dozen silver birdcages. Suspended  from the ceiling they contained many different  species of rare bird. Their wings clipped, the  beautifully plumed, feathered creatures were  unable to fly. 

A ruby carpet covered the floor, and standing  barefooted upon the soft material stood Karlisa Treymaine, one of the two twin sisters of the  Nexus Malignus. Karlisa was a tall, statuesque woman. Her long, curly, deep blue hair flecked with red streaks, hung down across her sloping  white shoulders. Her large pink eyes stared out from her jutting forehead, and her wide, full mouth was tinted with blue colouring. Karlisa's  drab pale grey robes hung around the women's body in shapeless folds, and slowly she approached one  of the many cages. 

Karlisa reached her long slender fingers through  the silver bars, and enticed the green feathered  bird inside with a small piece of bread. 'Take it’... She said softly 'You must eat my  pretty one’... 

The bird shuffled on its perch, and tilting its head, it took the piece of bread from the young  woman' S grasp. 

Karlisa turned her head, and her eyes fell upon  another cage covered over with a black cloth.  'Well, I guess you light be hungry too’... She said with a slight smile. Karlisa lifted the cloth.

Inside a glass cage, balancing upon a metal perch with his little hoofed feet tilting over the edge stood the Bugwug. He rolled his orange crosseyes,  and fluffed his unclipped purple wings. 'Karlisa, you can’t keep me prisoner. I belong to  the mind spirits, and they will seek you out and  destroy you and your sister’... 

The woman smiled 'Those spirits must have so little power, if they can allow their mouthpiece to be captured’. She reached a long finger through the bars and prodded the bird in its yellow and black belly. 'I don't fear them... But you are a link to the Zoriats and they will suffer for killing my two brothers'... 

The Bugwug flinched and edged across the perch.  The bird remembered the two men in question. In  life Jaynus Weaver and Kayleb Kassell had been two evil, ruthless men, and their fate was well  deserved. The bird lowered his eyes in sadness.  'Cora Pearl defeated them, and died in battle'.  The bird focused his eyes as best he could and  stared directly at the woman. 'Daniel Blackthorn  is equally as powerful, and he will fight you  until the end. until your inevitable destruction'... 

‘The Warlock of Solitude?’. Karlisa looked bemused and chuckled 'My warriors are laying waste to Grimney in their hunt for that boy'. She sighed 'One day we will have peace in this world, and that day will come when the Zoriat mystics are wiped away forever’

The Bugwug twiddled his little pink fingers 'The power of evil will never overcome the power of good'... 

Is that so?’. She replied thoughtfully with a slow nod of her head 'We are the evil ones?' She asked, her pink eyes narrowing 'Depends on where you stand. We have a right to live. The enemy is  evil, and the Zoriat are our enemies. So it has  been since the beginning of time, and so it will be at the end'... 

The Bugwug was disgusted by Karlisa’s beliefs  'You have joined forces with Hellcat Meridian'.  He said forcefully 'Your brothers formed an  allegiance with Darcus Ryalls. It is you who have  chosen the bad from the good, and by doing so,  you and your sister have brought misery and death  to so many innocent people’..  

Karlisa grabbed the top of the black cloth and  began to lower it over the cage 'Darcus Ryalls was brought into existence by Cora Pearl. The evil in that being was from her hurt. The goodness of the Zoriat is a myth’. She smiled. ‘Peace will be with us when we have defeated our enemies. When  that day comes, and the Zoriat are gone, there will be no more war'... 

The cloth rolled over the bars and the Bugwug fell into shadow. Karlisa had no wish to continue discussion. The Bugwug’s views contradicted everything that she believed. The reasons for the war between the Nexus Malignus and the Zoriats had long been forgotten, but Karlisa knew that the Zoriat were alien invaders and did not belong in her world, therefore it was Karlisa's responsibility to erase them from existence, once and for all. 

A huge silver butterfly flew down from above. Its  silky wings sparkled with diamonds, and its huge yellow compound eyes glistened with glowing light.

Karlisa turned towards the insect and smiled, but  her sad eyes portrayed her true feelings ‘Trelaya’.. She whispered 'Have you been watching me again?'...

The butterfly settled on the carpet and it began  to change shape. Its body twisting and bending  into itself, until a beautiful young woman took  form in front of Karlisa. She had golden hair and unblemished white skin.  Her figure was slim, and her eyes were huge,  yellow, and sparkling. She had beautiful red lips, and high sculpted cheekbones. A silver dress hung gently against her angelic form, and  when she smiled it was like witnessing the rise  of a thousand rainbows. 

'Sister'... Karlisa said firmly 'We face many dangers... Our time may be drawing to a close... Or this final conflict may be the start of a new era’..

Trelaya shook her shoulders, and silver dust fell  upon the carpet. ‘We will not die Karlisa’. She said innocently. ‘We will find, and destroy those that threaten us. Hellcat Meridian and her people will not fail us'.

Karlisa bowed her head and drawing in the fingers of her right hand she made a fist. ‘Hellcat is a woman without honour, or compassion’.. She raised her fist and extended a  long finger towards her sister 'You know that I am sad that we have joined forces with her.  Hellcat Meridian will bring us the heads of our  enemies, and for that we must be thankful. But in time she must die too. Hellcat's desire for war  will never fade’... Karlisa's arm fell limply by  her side 'Peace is all I wish for us sister. A  long life and happiness'.   

 

CHAPTER SEVENTEEN 

THE SIX PHANTOMS

Six spectral beings carried Dhurnass Shrester's body across the bridge. They were shapeless creatures in hoods, and long, grey misty robes.  The cold air stung the man's pale face and his eyes began to water. Shrester's body was lifted higher upon the brittle shoulders of the wraith like figures and he felt the freezing touch of their skeletal fingers through his armour.

Shrester had been touched by death itself and the warrior made no attempt to struggle. Weakened by dark magic, he was at the mercy of Glaverse's supernatural servants. Stepping solemnly from the bridge, the phantoms lowered Shrester to the ground and laid him flat upon his back. They gathered around the prostrate  man, and slowly their misty forms began to fade,  merging together in a cloud of grey fog, they drifted shapelessly into the sky.

Shrester's forehead was bleeding. The golden moon  tattooed upon his forehead ran with blood and  the pain caused the man's face to twitch.  Regaining consciousness Shrester pushed himself  up from the withered grass. ‘God’. He muttered, dipping a finger into the streaming blood oozing  down the ridge of his nose ‘What have they done  to me this time?’. He staggered to his feet, his legs barely supporting him, as the dizziness and nausea began  to increase. ‘I asked for power, not weakness’..   Bedight, Shrester's loyal horse trotted towards his master and the man fell against the animal's saddle. He held tightly to the stirrups and closed his eyes 'I think I'm dying’He said breathlessly 'I feel a poison in me‘. Summoning every ounce of strength, the warrior  lifted his body onto the animal's back. He grabbed the reins and shook them feebly. 'Bedight  we must leave this place now’. The horse sensed his master's distress and  neighed gently. The dark tower cast a black  shadow over both horse and rider, and without  hesitation the mighty stallion turned away and  trotted across the decaying plains to free the  ailing man from Glaverse Montrasse's malign  influence.   

 

CHAPTER EIGHTEEN

THE HUNTED

Cora Pearl stood talking to Gilliad. The reverend seemed angry with the young woman, but she remained calm, her hands resting defiantly upon her hips, as the holy man berated her. 

Simm had been freed from her chains and casually  watched from a distance. She was unmoved by the argument that was taking place some distance away. Instead Simm's eyes fell upon the wounded warrior slumped upon his knees outside the cottage. The man looked sick and he clutched his  bloodied arm into his chest. She approached him and raising her booted foot she slammed it against his shoulder and  shoved him roughly to the floor. 

The wounded warrior lay beneath her boot and Simm applied pressure. 'Scream and I’ll stamp on your throat’. She said quietly 'Did you really  think you could capture me... Turn me in?’.

'I'm just a bounty hunter’. He whispered, sweat seeping from his brow 'You were fair game’.  

‘Not anymore’. Simm's expression was murderous,  her blue eyes darkened and she looked down upon him with bitter  disgust 'I could kill you right now, because that's what I do. I have no reason not to, and if  I did, that's one less hunting me’. 

The man looked helpless and Simm was delighted by the fear she could see flooding through him.

‘I have nothing against you personally’. He said meekly. 'You're a criminal, and I only hunt bad folks’. 

'I’m only bad, when I have to be’... Simm took one step back and lifting the heel of her boot, she brought it crashing down upon the man's face. 

Gilliad ran to Simm's side and grabbed the woman  by the arm and pulled her back. 'What do you think you are doing?’.

Simm smiled ‘Dealing out justice to my enemies’. She answered sarcastically, folding her arms across her chest in a defensive gesture. 

The reverend crouched down next to the injured  man, and felt for a pulse. 'He's alive. I think you just stunned him'... 

Simm looked irritated 'Oh well, I guess I must be  losing my touch then’.

Cora crossed the meadow and placed her hand upon Simm's shoulder and squeezed it tightly. 'Joanna, do you wish to travel with us? Or stay  here?'. 

Simm turned her head and looked into Cora's blue green  eyes. ‘That winged beast will carry three. I  can't stay here, you can get me to safety’.

Gilliad gazed up at the two women. He could not  decide which one he disliked the most. Gilliad just wanted to go home. He was worried about his dog Jasper. What would become of the poor  creature? 'I will not travel with either of you, unless you both agree to stop using excessive violence’. The  reverend stood up. The man was shaking, and he clenched his hands into fists, but held both arms rigid against his body 'I seem to be in a world  that cares little for life. I will not follow you Cora, if you continue to behave in such a way’.  

‘Enemy or ally, she’ll fight until the last drop of your blood’. Simm laughed mockingly ‘Has the gentle little  child grown into a brutal little adult?’..  

'Gilliad'. Cora spoke softly, ignoring Simnm completely. ‘I’m willing to listen to you. I brought you here to represent your God. I’m hoping that being, which you believe in will give me a balance’She needed the man's allegiance, although Cora considered the holy man's beliefs to be defunct. 'But you won't go home unless I  find my daughter, and help me fulfil the mission  that the mind spirits have given me’.  

'What is this mission?' The reverend asked impatiently. 'What do we have to do?’. 'Rescue my daughter, defeat the Nexus Malignus and travel to Dellvara and find the key to the kingdom’. Cora's eyes were fixed firmly upon  Gilliad's face. 

The man removed his glasses and rubbed the lenses  against his jacket. I need more explanations as we travel. I'm not clear in my understanding of this world, but I will help as best I can. If God has seen fit to place me here, then I must be  here for a purpose'. He slid the glasses back  over his nose. 'Lead on Cora. I will follow you'.   

 

CHAPTER NINETEEN 

THE MAKER OF MIRRORS

Garva had once been a lively, bustling village.  Children had played happily on the cobbled  streets. The thatched roofed buildings stood tightly packed together, because the citizens of Garva had once been a very close knit community.  Life in the village had changed and an eerie  silence had replaced the joyful laughter of the  village children.

Plumes of grey smoke drifted from the smouldering  ruins, and dozens of lifeless bodies lay strewn across the cobblestones. The stench of death had  replaced the smell of fresh spices, fruit and  vegetables.  Garva had once traded these goods. Sadly the villager's peaceful existence had been brought to a brutal end and the many wooden barrels that had stored the produce lay broken upon the stone, their contents spilled and rotting. 

Four large circular wheels rolled against the  stone, and a wooden cart, drawn by two white  horses drew up outside a smouldering building. 

The man seated in the cart was powerfully built.  He wore a thick, dark grey sackcloth tunic that  hung in folds about his broad shoulders and a hood hung down over his face. The man's baggy light brown trousers were tucked into his long black leather boots and a curved dagger stuck from a metal studded belt that hung loosely  around his waist. Stacked together in the back of the cart, wrapped loosely in oilskin were seven oblong parcels.

The hooded man was named Maymon and he was a maker of mirrors, a trader who had come to the village to sell his wares. It was immediately clear to Maymon that he would conduct very little business in the village of Garva.

Sliding from the wooden seat he placed his booted feet upon the cobblestones and drew the curved dagger from his belt.

Maymon approached one of the corpses that littered his path and slipping his boot beneath the dead man's chest rolled the body onto its back. The dead man's white tunic was torn in blood stained strips, as if a wild animal had clawed him to death. Bending down, Maymon reached into the man's pocket and slid out a small collection of coins.

‘Poor soul’. Maymon muttered gruffly, his voice dry and gravelled. 'Rich pickings for me, but of little use otherwise’.  

A large shadow fell over the trader and he raised his hooded head skyward. Behind him he felt the cobblestones vibrate, as a heavy weight  fell upon them.  Maymon stood up, and turned around. The huge  metal beast towered over him. Its green emerald eyes staring coldly and its silver wings folding slowly into its body. 

Cora, Simm and the reverend slid from the mechanical reptile's back and they circled the trader. 

Maymon slid his dagger back into his belt and raised the palms of his hands in front of his  chest. 'I'm not a fighter, or a killer and I am not a rich man either'.

'But you're a thief'. Cora said gazing down at the dead man. 'We saw you take the money from his pocket’. 

Simm began to step backwards, and she watched the  backs of her two companions carefully. Simm was well aware that the hooded man had distracted both Cora and Gilliad.  'Waste not want not'. Maymon said rather flippantly. 'If I didn't take it, someone else would'. Gilliad frowned 'I'm Winston Gilliad, please tell  us your name?' He asked politely. ‘And do you have a face?’.  

'Sure I do’. Maymon reached his hands upwards and  pushed back his hood. The trader's skin was dry and grey. Short white stubble grew from his square, dimpled chin and Maymon's face was lined, yet full of character. Light blue watery eyes stared out from beneath greying bushy eyebrows and his hair was thick, white, and trimmed fairly close to the scalp. 'Happy?'... Maymon said dryly. 'I'm not fond of sunlight... So I'm not hiding my face for any other reason'... 

Cora looked around at the smouldering buildings and began to count the corpses ‘I guess this  place was attacked by the Nexus Malignus’

Simm climbed into the saddle of the mighty silver beast, and grabbed hold of the reins.

Cora and Gilliad were unaware of Simm's intentions, but Maymon watched the young women closely. 'What's your friend doing?’. The trader asked, pointing his finger towards Simm. 

Cora and Gilliad turned around and watched as the huge creature's wings began to flap rhythmically.  Simm smiled and waved her hand, as the metal  beast lifted its talons from the cobblestones and began to ascend.

‘No Joanna!’. Cora shouted, running forward and trying to grab the legs of the reptile, but it was already too late. Cora reached into her overcoat and slid out her  shotgun. She was just about to pull the trigger when Gilliad grabbed the weapon and pulled it away from her.

Cora could only watch the reptile fly over the burning  buildings and glide out of sight. ‘I don't believe this’Cora was seething. 'I saved her life, and as usual she behaves totally selfishly'. 

Gilliad looked uneasy. 'What she did, does not  warrant her murder’. He held out the shotgun. 'You want this gun back Cora?'

Cora snatched the weapon from the reverend, and once more she pointed it directly at him. 'I don't know why I brought you here holy man’. She hissed 'I should shoot you where you stand’.

The reverend grabbed the gun barrel and pulled it  against his chest. ‘Cora’.. His voice trembled. 'If you think that's the right thing to do, then  do it'...

Maymon screwed up his face, and narrowed his  eyes. He could not decide what to do and as a result he did absolutely nothing. 

The reverend gazed into Cora's eyes. His stare  was soft, and unthreatening. ‘I'm not your enemy Cora, but it seems you delight in making them. I'm a good person, if you kill me, you must be evil’. 

Cora sighed and lowered the weapon. ‘Evil?’. She broke away from Gilliad’s stare and cast her eyes down to the grass. ‘I fight fire with fire’. She responded harshly, looking up at the holy man's judgmental face, the tears welling in her eyes. 'I want my daughter back, and this place is holding her prisoner. This is my land, and it  will share my pain'. 

Maymon interceded. He could feel the tension between the two and decided that he would offer his help. But in time, Maymon planned to use Cora  and Gilliad for his own ends.

'I have transport. You're welcome to ride with me‘..  He said warmly. 

Cora slid the shotgun back into her coat and smiled sadly. 'Thanks, I guess you're the only choice I have'.

The reverend reached into his jacket, and  clenched the palm of his hand around the silver crucifix. He could feel the metal edges digging into his skin. 'Have faith in her'. Gilliad  whispered under his breath ‘I must keep my faith in all’...   

 

CHAPTER TWENTY

SARA’S FATE

The two red suns began to set. The green sky had  darkened and the strange blue cloud drifted down  towards the yellow fields below. The mind spirit had finally transported the unconscious child into the land of Grimney and Sara Pearl floated inside.

The girl's transparent body was like a fallen leaf carried upon a stream. Descending to the fields below, Sara was laid gently upon a sea of yellow flowers and the mind  spirit separated itself from the child, and hovered above her head, and slowly the girl  became solid again. 

Sara's eyes opened and she looked into the bright  blue light. She could see the glowing face of a  man inside, and a deep voice spoke out ‘Sara... I am Hugo Drax... You have been brought into the land of Grimney... In time I hope that your mother will rescue you'. 

Sara slowly raised her hand and tried to touch the sparkling cloud. 'Rescue me from what?' She asked, her voice shaking.

Drax's face began to fad and the mind spirit drifted skyward. 'Do not fear'. Drax said soothingly. 'I will tell your mother where you are. Just do not tell anyone who your mother is' And with those words the blue light vanished into the ether. 

The child was disoriented. She had no memory of her journey and the two red suns descending on  the horizon, merely added to her confusion. 'Grimney? What is this place?'. She whispered. The isolation of the wide-open plains made Sara wrap her arms around her shoulders. 'I want to go  home mum, please take me home'. 

Sara was not alone. In the sky above the yellow eyes of the huge silver butterfly watched the child closely. Gliding silently overhead it circled Sara several times, before sweeping down towards her, the wind rippling over the insect's silken wings. Sara gazed skyward, transfixed by the beautiful creature and she made no attempt to run. 

Settling upon the yellow flowers, the butterfly  began to twist into a human shape, and growing  outwards from the insect's body, like a blossoming flower, the beautiful maiden once more emerged. 

Trelaya and Sara stared at each other across the  meadow. The young woman's yellow eyes flickered with silver light, and her dress rippled in the gentle breeze. 

‘I'm lost’. Sara said, her voice trembling. 'I don't know where I am'. 

‘I won't hurt you’. Trelaya replied softly. 'I saw the blue light descending and flew down to investigate’The beautiful maiden smiled, and instantly Sara felt relaxed. The lady looked like an angel, and  Sara believed that someone so beautiful could only have a heart of pure goodness. 

‘I don't belong here’. Sara said, brushing her fingers through her knotted hair. ‘I'm from Earth’... 

Trelaya's yellow eyes began to grow in size, and  glow with exquisite delight. 'Parenthia?' Her porcelain features began to develop a hint of  colour. 'A child from the other world carried here by the mind spirits'.. Trelaya raised her  arms in praise. 'A gift from the Grimnian gods themselves'..... 

Sara folded her arms again and hunched her shoulders, and a cold shiver ran down her spine. 'I'm not a gift'. She protested 'I'm an accidental tourist'.

Trelaya's yellow eyes were beginning to spook her. 'Tell me'. Trelaya said with a smile 'Can you draw?'...

The question seemed odd to Sara, and she frowned. 'Yes'. She answered belligerently 'So what?'.

Trelaya'a smile turned into a broad satisfied  grin. 'You must be a Zoriat, sent to this land to destroy the Nexus Malignus'. 

'I don't know what you're talking about'. Sara  responded, shaking her head.  Silver dust began to form upon Trelaya's skin and shaking her shoulders it flaked onto the yellow flowers. The mystical woman's mouth began  to widen unnaturally and a snake like golden tongue began to extend from inside. 

Sara stepped back, and watched in horror as Trelaya's tongue uncoiled and rolled through the air. It hovered in front of the child's face and swayed gently back and forth.

Sara was shocked to see a third yellow eye staring out from the fleshy tip and it studied Sara closely, blinking  unnaturally beneath a thick fleshy eyelid. 

'What are you?' The child muttered breathlessly. Her mouth drying and her body motionless like a stone cherub. 

The eye winked at Sara, and Trelaya quickly retracted her tongue back into her mouth. 'I am  Trelaya Zanara and you are my prisoner'... 

Sara considered running, but Trelaya's transformation from humanoid to insect was miraculously quick. The little child had no time to escape as the silver creature wrapped Sara  tightly in its wings and carried her away.   

 

CHAPTER TWENTY ONE 

THE QUEEN'S CASTLE

Tall gleaming white towers jutted high into the dark red sky and a huge square castle supported the solid structures. A large deep stream rolled around the building's foundations. Protected by  the murky, polluted water the fortress could not be easily breached. 

A solid wooden drawbridge fixed into the castle's wall stood firmly in place. No one could enter and no one could leave. The battlements were fully manned.

Soldiers in black armour and red cloaks stood guard upon the  ramparts and they watched the horizon for any sign of invading forces.

Cassius Loran, the Queen's loyalist general,  climbed the steps of the highest tower. Pushing  open a trapdoor, he lifted his huge armour plated frame over the last stone step and silhouetted by  moonlight he crossed the tower floor. 

A young man dressed in expensive red and black fur robes stood silently, with his arms folded across his chest. Lost in deep personal thoughts he gazed over the battlements. He failed to hear Loran's heavy clanking footsteps approaching him. 

The robed man had long blonde hair and a beard of similar colour. His eyes were blue and reflected a deep sadness that could not be disguised. 

Loran placed his gloved hand upon the man's shoulder, and smiled. 'Robert Pearl'. He whispered 'The Queen is dying'. The knight lowered his head 'If our enemies know this,  they'll grow in number, and it will be more than  just the Nexus Malignus attacking us'... 

Pearl took a deep breath and turned to look into the face of his companion. Loran was a rugged looking man. His plump face was lined and deeply tanned. His greying hair hung loosely over his  ears and forehead, and his dark eyes seemed  almost lifeless. 

'Whether she is alive or dead, they'll come’. Pearl's voice trembled. 'We must control our fears my old friend. Stand as strong as we can and hold together'.  Loran's eyes closed briefly, as if by doing so he could somehow escape the shrinking world around him. 'So many great warriors have fallen already... Dhumass Shrester... Dravis Zander, Rand Kalvos... Vin Reddell and we alone, are reduced to defending this castle'...  Loran could not disguise his bitterness. He had never lost a battle and he resented the thought of fighting for a lost cause.

'This castle is the last resting place of our Queen's once great kingdom'...  Pearl's face began to redden and his mouth twisted into a disgusted sneer. 'Dhumass Shrester was banished from this land'. Pearl made no  attempt to disguise the rage behind each word. 'He was not a great warrior. Shrester failed to save my daughter and she died in his care'. Pearl  unfolded his arms and jabbed Loran's dark red breastplate with an accusing finger 'You know  that... You know that too well'. 

'I'm sorry my lord'. Loran's eyes darted from left to right, scanning the moonlit darkness for answers. He was searching for the right words to say, but even he knew that words could not appear out of thin air. 'I forgot myself'. Pearl brushed a tear from his eye and wiped the  moisture against his robe 'Cora's death has brought many martyrs to our cause, but many more will die'. The man raised a trembling hand and stroked his beard. His blue eyes pooled with tears and he  made no attempt to hide his emotion. 'Elizabeth'... Pearl whispered 'Has there been any news from Killnock Dale?' 

Loran's dark lifeless eyes sank further beneath their lids and he bowed his head slightly  forward. 'No my lord. Your wife and the many  soldiers that followed her have not returned.  Sadly, tragically they have failed to make any contact with us'. 

Pearl breathed deeply, and the warm night air seeped into his lungs. 'I may fall... You will fall with me. At least by doing so we may have the satisfaction of killing all those who believed in bringing about Cora's death, and I fear that of  my dearest wife Elizabeth'...  Pearl turned away and gazed into the dark, blood red sky. The crimson fury of the heavens seemed so very close. In a brief moment of anger, a violent passion consumed him, and Pearl felt that  he had the power to pull down both moons and crush each one in the palm’s of his hands...   

 

CHAPTER TWENTY TWO

THE RAIDERS

The village of Farll was an isolated, quiet place. Hidden away from the two red moons by a forest of tall trees. These stood high into the night sky.

Silver berries and crisp golden leaves hung from the branches in abundance and strange birds nested there, tucked away in slumber beneath red and yellow feathers, their glowing green eyes closed tightly as they slept. Beneath the outstretched branches, bathed in shadow the villagers of Farll lay sleeping in  their houses. But not all slept peacefully, for the lands beyond the door, were cold and threatening.

The Long War had turned great warriors into thieves and killers. Armour clad knights who had once carried the Queen's colours had abandoned their allegiance to the crown. They roamed the land raiding villages and stealing without any consideration for others. Battle scarred, lost and embittered they cared little for those that the Queen had once  protected. Lesser races fared the worst. Trolls, drumlins, mogrins, grodlings, and goblins were  the main victims of these armoured bandits. Human  villagers were generally left untouched and it  was the inferior species that suffered the most. Inferior only by the judgement made on the basis of greed and desperation.

The village of Farll had been raided several times and tonight they would suffer this persecution again.  Twelve riders, clad in the black armour of the  Queen's Elite rode their mighty horses through the dark forest. 

At their head, astride a white horse and riding some distance in front of the others, seated in a saddle plated with silver and inscribed with the words 'Lutonious grascious martus' Dellvarian words meaning 'Loyalty, grace, and martyrdom' A somewhat misplaced sentiment considering this  man' S grim intentions. 

Kellerman Bolte had long forgotten the meaning of the words. He had fought in many campaigns and he had watched men die at his feet. The faces of the fallen dead haunted him, but his shallow conscience allowed him to sleep peacefully at night. Kellerman was once greatly respected by those in authority, but the years in the wilderness had  made the man brutal and barbaric. Stripped of his rank, and outlawed from many provinces, Kellerman was hated throughout Grimney.

The only man that allowed him to continue with his thievery and murder was Grimwood Scribes, the notorious Lord of the Mire. The mercenary Lord took his cut of whatever the knight acquired and therefore Kellerman Bolte was free to raid the villages within Grimwood's territory. He was an impressive looking man. Tall, broad and very powerfully built, his thick, black armour  increasing his already considerable bulk. The  man's face was chalk white and his jaw line was square. and a deep dimple indented his chin.  Kellerman's hair was short, dark and streaked  with strands of white. His eyes were large and jet-black. A scar ran vertically from his  forehead and down beneath his left eye and the  man's lips were thin and twisted, and his teeth, beneath, gleamed white. 

The men that followed behind him wore the helmets of their visors down, and thus concealed any sign  of humanity. They were focused on the dark path  through the forest, their intentions as bleak as  their leader's. The village of Farll was only a short distance away and blood would be shed this night. 

The hooves of Shrester's horse waded through the  shallows of Grimney mire, the grime and liquid slime sloshed back and forth.

Strange lizards and writhing snakes swam away as the murky water rippled around them.  Shrester leant forward in the saddle, the bloody hole in his forehead had dried, but streaks of  blood had run down the ridge of his nose, and  dripped upon his chin. He looked dazed, his green eyes rolled in his head, and his whole body was shaking.

Behind him the water continued to splash, another rider  was following... Hooded and wearing black sackcloth robes, the rider kept its distance from the wounded man.  Slightly built and seated in a tattered fur saddle fastened around the belly of a rather malnourished white and red horse, they both  seemed unthreatening.  The pain in Shrester's head increased and slumping forward, he began to lose consciousness again. His body went limp and he tumbled roughly from the saddle. Shrester's weight caused the water to splash away from his body, and the man lay twitching in the murky swamp and slowly he began to sink. 

The hooded figure jumped down from its horse and  crossed the shallow mire. Crouching down beside the fallen warrior, it threw back its hood. Cass Crellwin was an elf. She had short, spiky  blonde hair, and pointed ears. Her eyes were large and completely blue. Her pale white face narrow and pointed and her cheek bones high, and  sharp. She knelt next to Shrester and cradled his  head upon her lap. Crellwin looked up at Bedight.  The horse stood over his fallen master its head  bowed in sadness. 

'Don't worry'. Crellwin said softly, 'He'll be  fine'. The elf looked left and right, all that  surrounded them was dark swampland. 'We need to  leave the mire'. She stated, smiling warmly at the horse and stroking her long fingers across Shrester's bloodstained forehead, 'I've made camp in the forest, I'll care for your master there'...   

 

CHAPTER TWENTY THREE

THE CHASE

Joanna Simm's dark eyes narrowed. She had left the village of Garva far behind, but a gathering of winged beasts began to form on the dark horizon.

The two moons glowed eerily behind thick green clouds and the creatures began to swoop down towards Simm and the mechanical reptile that  she sat astride. Simm pulled upon the reins of the metal reptile and heaved it away from those that were approaching. 

The reptile's wings flapped back and forth  against the wind, and Simm dug her heels into the  beast's metal belly. 'We need to go faster!'.. She shouted, gazing over  her shoulder at the eight riders. They were closing quickly, it was clear to Simm that they  had decided to pursue her. Hellcat Meridian was leading the seven riders. Her flaming red hair rippling against the strong  current of air. Hellcat's green eyes focused on the flying beast ahead. Simm shook the reins of the silver beast, and the reptile plummeted towards the ground.

Below the tall trees of Grimney forest loomed high, their thick black branches hidden by cushions of greying leaves. The clawed metal feet of the creature brushed  against the leafy outstretched canopies.

Simm was trying to find a gap large enough to fly through. Her only means of escape would be to hide from  her pursuers. Simm knew that the forest itself  held many dangers, and she hoped that fear would drive her pursuers away.

Unfortunately Hellcat's brutal nature and cold hearted  ruthlessness had driven the women mad. Fear was something she instilled in others and as she watched Simm disappearing through a gap between a cluster of tall trees, Hellcat smiled.  Waving her gloved hand above her head, Hellcat lowered her finger and pointed downwards.

The gathering behind her, the shabby, bloodstained  warriors would follow their leader to the death and one by one they followed Hellcat through the gap and descended down into the dark depths of  the forest. 

Simm had already abandoned her ride, and she was  making progress through the woodland on foot. Unarmed and defenceless, Simm could smell her own sweat as it trickled down her forehead. 

Strange sounds echoed around her, unnatural cries  of hungry creatures calling to one another. Eyes  in the dark watched their prey. Simm knew that she was not alone and she had not forgotten that Grimney forest was a place where loneliness was the only means of survival. 

‘Damn this place’. Simm pushed herself back against a tree and reaching up, she tugged at an overhanging branch. 'This is Cora's fault, I'd  have been better off with those two bounty hunters'... The branch snapped, and Simm pointed it ahead of her. The darkness of the forest seemed to be moving.

Lumbering shapes crossed the woodland  floor. Simm could hear twigs snapping beneath heavy feet. Simm remained stil and prayed that the night would hide her.  Creatures were circling around her. Sounds of  movement drifted towards the young woman from the left and the right.  Simm wiped her brow and tried to control her own  breathing, she swallowed hard, and sunk her teeth  into her bottom lip. 'I'm not afraid'. She whispered 'I won't die without a fight. No matter what you are'. 

Something grabbed at Simm's hair and wrenched her backwards, exposing her neck. A curved blade slid beneath her Adam's apple and the branch dropped from the young woman's grasp.  'I could kill you. Cut your throat'...

The voice belonged to Hellcat Meridian. Simm recognised her icy tone immediately. The two had been friends many years ago and she hoped that this would save her life.  'Hellcat'. Simm replied shakily 'It's me Joanna Simm... Remember me?'.  

The knife pressed against the woman's throat, the  blade made Simm's sweaty skin itch. 'I do'. She said slowly 'Why should that save you?'... 

'We used to be friends. We rode together'. Simm's voice was barely audible. 

'You've got Barrossa’s ride, you must've killed him to take it'. Hellcat's hand twitched and the knife nicked Simm's neck drawing blood. 

Hellcat's shabby warriors began to loom out of the shadows and they stood in dark silhouette in  front of the trapped woman. Simm could feel the blood trickling from the cut,  and she was paralysed with fear. 'I took it from Cora Pearl... The girl who killed him, she's your enemy not me'. 

Hellcat lowered the blade 'I can smell the blood on you, it smells good'. She sniffed the cold  air. 'Cora Pearl is dead, Daniel Blackthorn is the only threat left to the Nexus Malignus'.

Simm wanted to shake her head, but with Hellcat's blade only inches from her throat Simm kept her neck rigid to avoid another scratch. 'That’s where you're wrong’... Simm's confidence was slowly returning. 'Now, I suggest you listen to me... I can guide you to her, I'm happy to work with you again’... 

Hellcat drew the knife away from Simm's throat 'I trust you ... You'd be mad to tell me lies'.. 

Simm bowed her head, and touched her neck with  her gloved fingers. The blood was still flowing. 'I'm a survivor... She nodded 'I'm only interested in myself, that's why you can trust me'. 

Simm’s eyes caught sight of moving shadows and the forest came alive. One of the shabby warriors screamed as a large shape covered in black fur grabbed him around the waist and  dragged him screaming into its wide open jaws. 

The other men drew their swords and watched in  horror as their colleague was dragged lifelessly  away. Creatures jumped down from the towering  trees above them. Swords flashed through the dark and crimson jets of blood spurted across the  woodland floor.  Another warrior was hauled from his feet and  lifted into the branches. He managed a brief scream, and then there was silence. 

Simm did not hesitate, and charging forward she  leapt upon one of Hellcat's men knocking him to  the floor. The man dropped his blade and Simm made a grab for it.

Hellcat slipped her bladed gloves from her pocket and slid them over her hands. She screamed aggressively and charged forward slicing at the  air. One of her followers was the first to fall. His throat slashed, the man dropped to his knees  as a huge creature fell upon him and tore into  his shoulder. 

Simm slashed her blade back and forth through the  darkness. She cut through two creatures and their  blood sprayed across her face. Leaping over the fallen corpses she fled back through the forest. The screams of panic and the moans of the dying gave Simm some comfort. Silence would mean that  the hunt was over. The creatures would look  elsewhere for prey, and she would be the next  victim. 

In the distance beams of moonlight shone down  through the gap in the tree's canopy, and Simm  could see the silver reptile standing motionless beneath the glowing light.  She leapt upon the back of the beast, and hauled  at the reins. The creature's huge metal feet began to lift from the ground, but before she could lift herself to safety a clawed glove  grabbed at her leg. 

'Joanna!' Hellcat screamed 'Let me on board or I'll cut you to ribbons!’.

Simm looked upwards and rolled her eyes 'Damn it!'. She yelled, reaching down and grabbing Hellcat by the wrist and lifting her onto the back of the metal creature.  'You owe me one Meridian, hold on tight!'..

The  wings of the creature lifted and slowly the two  women were carried upwards to safety. The tree branches brushed against Simm's face as the silver reptile pushed itself through the gap in the tree...   

 

CHAPTER TWENTY FOUR

A QUESTION OF FAITH

Sunlight began to lift the darkness and the white wheels of Maymon's cart rattled along the winding road, led away from the lifeless village of Garva by the two white horses.

The grey faced man hid beneath his hood and Cora and Gilliad his two passengers sat either side of him. 'So where are you heading?' Maymon asked.

Cora pointed a gloved finger ahead of her 'That way, down the road. I'll know when I get there'.

Maymon'. Gilliad spoke slowly 'Or Mammon... It's a  name I'm familiar with'... 

Cora rolled her eyes. 'It has some religious  significance does it? I didn't write an allegory. This isn't your moral world reverend, it's mine'... 

Gilliad looked thoughtful and slipped his pipe from his jacket and tapped it against the side of the cart. 'Mathew Six, Verse twenty four, You  cannot serve God and Mammon'... 

‘I don't know what you're talking about'. Cora yawned because she was not interested in the  man' S ramblings.  'Mammon... Maymon... In William Blake's poetry it was  a demon that loved money'. Gilliad began to cram  his pipe full of tobacco. 'Collin de Plancy calls Mammon the demon of avarice'... 

Maymon shrugged 'Maybe so, but I don't know who  Blake is, or this Plancy character. In any case my name is Maymon, not Mammon'.

The reverend lit his pipe 'Sorry I wasn't trying  to of fend you'.

'I'm not offended'. He smiled beneath his hood 'I'm just a trader, and far from rich. I make mirrors, not the kind of job that brings great wealth'... 

Cora looked over her shoulder at the brown packages stacked against each other in the back of the cart. She thought it curious that Maymon would sell mirrors. Alcohol, spices and vegetables seemed a much more fruitful trade to the young woman. 

'Why mirrors?' She asked, her curiosity getting the better of her 'I mean why not sell something else?'

 Maymon shook the reins roughly, and the hood of  his tunic fell further over his face, casting a deeper shadow. 'Family business'. He replied  quietly, as if not wishing anyone to hear. 'My  father before me, and his father before him followed the same trade'... 

'A strange trade'... Cora said firmly. 'Not exactly a lucrative business I wouldn't have thought'.

Maymon smiled beneath his hood 'It serves me well. There is so much vanity in Grimney. People like to look at themselves, admire their own reflections, and sometimes that's all they ever really see of themselves, their faces that mean so much'. 

Cora chuckled 'Like me you mean?'... 

'I don't mean anything Cora'. He leant forward in his seat and gazed out at the empty winding road ahead. 'Cora Pearl... I know that name... You're a  Zoriat, more than that you're supposed to be dead'... 

Cora nodded and smiled 'The dead always have a part to play for the living, as a memory for  many, or as a regret'... She leant back her head, sighed, and closed her eyes. 

Gilliad puffed once more on his pipe and  interceded 'What are you Cora?'... 

The young woman fell silent. She was lost in thoughts of her mother and father and in the darkest corner of her mind she could see the face of her daughter crying out for help. Cora swallowed heavily 'I'm nothing without my  daughter, without my family I won't go on living'...

 Gilliad looked sad. 'I have a dog called Jasper'... A smile crept upon his face, but quickly  vanished. 'It's not the same as a child, but I love him. There's a lot of love in you Cora, but  you're too frightened to show your feelings. But the anger doesn't hide it'... 

Cora grinned and shook her head 'Don't analyse me  Gilliad, you don't know me'. Her voice was dry  and cold. 'I'm full of hate, but I have my reasons'... 

'Yes'... The reverend continued to smoke his pipe and plumes of tobacco smoke drifted over his  head. 'You just keep feeding that hate, and it won't just be this world you destroy'... 

Cora sat up quickly and her eyes glared at Gilliad, and he met her stare without fear. 'There's nothing in this ugly land worth saving apart from my child. You'll learn, in time how bad these people are'

'All of them?' Gilliad replied innocently, a frown creasing the skin on his forehead. 'I doubt very much that the world, you say, you created has no goodness, after all, it is a reflection of you, and even you cannot possibly be all bad’.

Maymon understood the meaning of reflection. He could see the truth. He had the gift and his thoughts were mixed. Cora Pearl did not seem to be the young girl who had inspired a legend. Maymon would seek his own answers, and if Cora  did not live up to his expectations, then natural  law would decide her fate.   

 

 

 

 

 

CHAPTER TWENTY FIVE

THE CURSED GIFT

Shrester watched the dying flame. The red embers of burning wood crackled in the dying fire. Grey smoke rippled upwards and Shrester watched the drifting vapours rising. The man lay on his side beneath a blanket, his green eyes running with tears. The trickling liquid ran down through the dirt upon his unshaven face and left a long clean trail against his skin. He turned his head slowly and glanced to his left.

The young women sat beneath the hood of her dark  robes. Crouched down by the side of the fire hidden inside the deep folds of the material. She appeared to be talking to someone.

Shrester listened to her words, but could not see anyone  else seated by the dying campfire. 'This is the man I was sent to find?' She muttered 'He does not look like much'.

Shrester could hear a male voice, but it seemed  distant, and unclear. The young women's tone was higher and sharper and her words penetrated his dazed thoughts succinctly.

'Dhumass Shrester... Yes I know the name, but he is as good as dead, he’s had his time I think'. 

Shrester felt the touch of the young woman's palm  against his forehead. Her skin was hot and the contact seemed to burn. I'll take him through Farll, through the forest and those at the monastery can decide his fate'.

Shrester, although sick was still a warrior of strength and determination. He reached down a trembling hand and felt for the hilt of the blade tucked in his boot, and slowly drew it from its scabbard.

The blanket flew aside, and landed upon the fire, and the flames blazed quickly through the material.

The young woman attempted to pull the blanket from the fire, but Shrester surged forward and grabbed her around the throat and pushed her to the floor. He pulled away her hood and put the knife to her throat. 

'An elf'. He said his voice filled with surprise 'A pretty elf at that'. 

'Cass Crellwin is my name'. She replied defiantly 'I saved your life, and now you want to kill me'.  It did not seem that this was a question. It seemed to Shrester that the elf was already resigned to her own death. 

'I don't want kill you Cass, I just heard the  conversation'. Shrester gazed around the camp. A circle of tall trees surrounded him and there seemed to be no one else in sight. 'I don't think I've gone mad, but you were talking to someone else, I heard you'. 

‘No matter’. Cass raised her hand and gently pushed the blade from her throat 'You're poisoned by black magic... I can help you, if you can trust me. If not that poison will eventually kill you'... 

'How do you know I'm poisoned?' Shrester asked,  sliding the blade back into his boot and gripping his hand around the elf's delicate neck. 

Cass's completely blue eyes blinked seductively and Shrester was briefly in awe of the girl's  beauty, and he looked away, her stare made him feel uncomfortable. 

'You have the sting of Montrasse ... I've seen the  mark on your forehead. You've absorbed his magic,  and in time it'll kill you'. 

'Really?' Shrester replied with a nod of his head  'Well maybe you're right'. Shrester sighed 'I don't have an issue with dying, I have been out  in the wilderness so long, I don't wish to live  with people anymore'...

Shrester looked down into Cass's deep blue eyes and gazed at his reflection glinting inside them. 'We never see the truth. Although we all look at each other and I only have one path in this life, but I don't seek its meaning anymore. Shrester loosened his grip on the elf's throat  'All I seek is vengeance, and I will have revenge  against those that wished Cora Pearl's death,  even if I must call upon dark forces to do so'... 

'Then Dhumass Shrester you’re a lost soul’. Cass said  forcefully 'But my death and yours should at least be given fighting side by side, rather than  as enemies'.

Shrester lifted his hand from the elf's neck. He  did not trust her, but he also believed that she could easily be killed. Therefore she posed no threat and perhaps they could be allies. 

Cass pushed herself up, and smiled, she too needed an ally and Shrester was the man she had  been sent to find.  'The village of Farll is not far, I have friends there. We can rest, for a time then I'll take you to the monastery’... 

Shrester climbed to his fee and reaching down he grabbed the elf by the hand and hauled her up.  'I don't want the magic taken from me'... He said  firmly, touching the open sore upon his forehead. 'If I'm to kill the two sisters of the Nexus  Malignus I'll need all the powers that Montrasse  has given me to do so'... 

Cass shook her head and chuckled, brushing the dried dirt from her long black cloak 'It' S nearly  dawn. I'll put out the fire, and we can travel on, I think that'...  The elf stopped speaking, her deep blue eyes watched the shadows between the trees. 

'What is it?' Shrester drew his dagger and moved to Cass's side. 'Is something out there?' Shrester was aware that elves had very powerful eyesight, many of them could actually see in the dark. 

'Not sure, but I thought I saw a human shape'...  She said pointing a long finger to a cluster of  tall trees just in front of her. 'Over there'. 

Shrester edged slowly forward and Cass stood her  ground. 'Is anyone there?' He called out. 'If you  have a voice please use it'... 

The elf's eyesight was not strong enough to see the trail of glistening blood running down the bark of a tall  tree. Neither could she see the broken and bloodied grey skinned fingers clutching at the loose soil around the tree's  base. 

'Careful Shrester'. Cass said softly, as she  watched the man edging ever closer. 'I'm sure there's something there’. She said squinting into the dark. 

An ugly grey skinned creature with a large  balding bulbous head, and a huge pock marked body  crawled on its hands and knees through the dark. Its body moved unnaturally, and its ragged clothes hung from its torn flesh, and its blood oozed out over the dull vegetation of the forest  floor.

It looked up at Shrester, its huge red eyes rolled back and forth beneath a film of grey skin. The creature's mouth hung loosely open and  blood dripped from the tips of its shattered green teeth. 'Help me'. It moaned weakly, outstretching a shaking hand. 'Please help me save the village of Farll'...   

 

CHAPTER TWENTY SIX

THE TORMENT OF FARLL

The troll's wrists were chained with metal bracelets. The huge creature sat at a wooden table in a small square room. He looked handsome for a troll. Thick red hair and a wispy ginger beard grew neatly upon his head and face. The troll's eyes were huge and yellow and his grey  skin, unusually for a troll was not smothered in warts. Dressed in a dark green suit, a grey  shirt, and a red cravat fastened neatly around his leathery neck, he appeared rather dapper. 

Kellerman Bolte pulled out a chair from beneath the table and sat down opposite his prisoner. The man smiled 'Vors... I've strung up seven of your ugly friends tonight and I might string up several more'...  Kellerman leaned across the table and grabbed hold of the troll's cravat. 'Now do you want to be hung from this'... He said with a smirk, sliding the material through his  black gloved fingers. ‘Why you creatures think that dressing in clothes makes you civilized I’ll never know. You don’t fool me. You belong naked, walking on all fours, whipped like dogs’.

Vors bared his sharp green teeth, and snarled  'You took all we had last time you visited. Why  don't you just leave us alone?'. 

'Because the law says we don't have to'... Kellerman arched his narrow lips and smirked, the expression caused the scar upon his face to  deepen. ‘Your race is hated. Grimwood Scribes does not oppose your persecution’

Kellerman Bolte despised trolls, and his words did not disguise this fact. 'When your kind, and other lesser species are wiped away from Grimney, this land will be a  better place’... 

Vors shook his head and sighed 'Not so'. He said sadly 'When you've killed all the trolls, you'll simply start on another species, and finally, you'll start upon your human brothers and  sisters'...  The troll's yellow eyes sparkled with tears, but none fell. The troll was proud and would not weep in front of his oppressor.  'Although I forget, you've been killing each other since time began’.

Kellerman looked irritated, but the smug grin quickly returned to his thin lips. 'Vors ... Do you know what we're going to do? We're  going to burn down your village and hang everyone from the trees'. 

The troll's huge yellow eyes stared into the  white chiselled features of his enemy's face.  Vors gazed into Kellermen's eyes, black, and  lifeless, murky, like pools of ink. 

'We are a peaceful community, and we will not fight you'.  Vors raised his chained hands. 'Release me, so I may at least die free'. 

Kellerman stood up and leaning across the table he placed his hand upon the troll's shoulder and patted it gently.  'Come outside and you can watch the show'. Kellerman said with a cold smile. 

The troll pushed back the chair and lifted  himself from his seat. 'I don't think so Bolte, I don't think so at  all'. The black armoured warrior was sent sprawling  backwards. The thick metal bracelets fastened around the troll's wrists struck Kellerman across the mouth and the man fell flat upon the floor. 

Vors jumped over the knight's body and smashed his shoulder against the door. The wood splintered and the bolts began to tear away from the hinges. The troll pushed heavily against the door for a second time and his massive bodyweight forced the hinges to fracture and the door to collapse.  He tumbled through the archway and his chin hit the panels of the wooden door as it struck  the ground beneath him. 

The troll tried to scramble to his feet. However,  before he could rise from his knees the tip of a long sword pressed against the troll's chest. Vors looked up and blinked into the early morning sunlight streaming through the overhanging tree branches.

A masked warrior encased in thick black armour stood over him. The shadowy figure's frame was lit from behind by a  halo of white light. 'Are you an angel of darkness, or light?' Vors asked softly. Vors already knew the answer, but the troll was optimistic in nature and hoped that  the knight would say the latter. Any hope of a decent humanity rapidly vanished when Vors observed a gathering of villagers, being whipped by two of the black knights.

Other trolls were being rounded up like cattle. Hands and feet bound together they were forced to lie upon the floor, whilst the armoured warriors strutted around their captives like big game hunters after a successful hunt.

The black knight's red eyes gazed through the narrow slit in his helmet. Beyond the splintered archway, inside the room that Vors had crashed through. Kellerman Bolte was sitting up. The man was rubbing his chin and he looked very angry as he dabbed his cut mouth with the tips of his fingers. 

The red eyed knight raised his blade and slid the  sword back into its scabbard. 'Striking Kellerman Bolte was not a bright thing to do'. The man's voice was muffled and it  vibrated against the inside of his helmet.  'He'll burn down this village for certain now'. The red eyed knight lifted the troll onto his feet. 'So you'd better make peace with whatever gods you have. Because you and your people will be meeting them very shortly'... 

Vors looked up into the trees and caught the sunlight in his eyes, as it streamed through the leaves above. The troll smiled and breathed the cool, fresh air into his lungs.  'The smell of the new day always comforts me'.  He said sadly, although there was calmness,  tranquillity in his words. 'Gods?' Vors looked across at the villagers who were still being flogged. He quickly looked away. 

In despair his eyes fell upon the trolls, bound and helpless, and lying at the armoured feet of Kellerman's men. 'As long as the gods don't have human faces, I  think my people and I will find happiness there'. Vors bowed his head and closed his eyes. 

Kellerman Bolte had managed to lift his heavily armoured body back onto his feet. The hate filled twisted expression upon the man's face forced the red eyed knight to step nervously back from Vors.  Kellerman stood behind the helpless troll and raising a small cudgel above his head, he struck  Vors hard across the shoulders. Vors fell upon his knees and slumped down upon his face. His jaw struck the ground with such an impact that one of the troll's green teeth broke in half. 

Kellerman stood over the fallen creature, and  drawing his sword, he prodded the unconscious  troll in the back with the tip of the blade, Vors did not react, he remained motionless, as if he were dead. 'Burn this place... Burn everything... Burn all those evil trolls!’  A greater madness had possessed Kellerman's soul, but his jet black eyes flickered lifelessly and he continued to rant. 'I will not be mocked by these vile creatures,  I'll see this race destroyed before I'm done! It's our duty to make Grimney a better place and we can start with their elimination!. 

The red eyed knight gazed over his shoulder at his colleagues. The black knights stood like statues, unsure of how to react. 

Kellerman waved his sword at each one of his men. 'Kill them, burn them. That's an order and I expect it to be obeyed! If anyone fails to obey it, I'll burn them too!’.

The trolls remained impassive, and the ones who were not bound hand and foot snuggled together for comfort. Troll children clung to their mothers and sobbed. Tearful wives hugged their husbands. All prayed that someone would deliver them from these monstrous men who had brought to  their lives nothing but pain and misery.   

 

CHAPTER TWENTY SEVEN

TRANSPORT PROBLEMS

Maymon's horses continued along the dirt track. The wooden wheels jolting the three passengers back and forth.  Cora looked down at her booted feet. The rucksack  containing the first Book of the Guardians rested  against her legs. 'I am sick to death of carts and horses’. She rolled her eyes, and shuffled her bottom upon the uncomfortable wooden seat.  'This is my land, my world and I shouldn't have to travel like this'. She said sliding her sunglasses from her overcoat and slipping them over her eyes. 

Gilliad lay in the back of the cart. The man blinked into the bright sunshine and rubbed his eyes wearily. 'Well it's a fairly standard means of transport for a fantasy world... Although, a magic carpet would've been better'.

Cora placed her hand on Maymon's shoulder. 'Stop the cart'.

Maymon hauled on the reins and pulled his two  horses to a stop.  'What have you got in mind Cora?' ... He said  draping the reins across his knees.

'You don't even know where you're going. So what is the  point of travelling anyway?'... 

Cora stood up and jumped down onto the road. The dust coated her boots. ‘But I’m going to the centre of Grimney, to the Queen's castle, and from there I will gather troops and travel to Dellvara... I plan to kill the Nexus  Malignus and rescue my daughter'. Cora gazed into the distance and grinned. 'A simple plan'... 

The road ahead seemed never ending. Open fields of tall red mushrooms stretched out on either side. The green sky above was filled with hazy sunshine, as the two red suns blazed with burning glory. 'It’s a long journey, doubt you’ll want to help me’ She said coldly.

Maymon shrugged 'Well the Queen is ill and her forces are fighting all across the land. So,  simple it won't be’.

Cora ignored Maymon's words and lifted the rucksack from the cart 'Wait here, don't you dare leave'... The young women walked from the road into the field of tall mushrooms and disappeared from  view. 

Gilliad sat up and looked over the side of the cart.  'Cora where have you gone?'... He slipped his glasses from his nose and wiped them upon the lapel of his jacket.  'What's she doing?'... Gilliad asked, replacing  them upon his nose and gazing through the smeared  glass.

Maymon leaned back upon the seat, his hood slipping down against his back. The man yawned, folded his arms and closed his eyes. 'She's playing with the world again'... He said dryly. 'If the legend is true... I believe we are  about to see some magic'. 

True enough, in the sky above a blue light began to appear. It moved swiftly in a the formation of a glowing arrowhead and spiralled down amidst the mushroom field. A bright glowing ball lit the red mushrooms, until the cloud of swirling blue particles consumed them. It arose as quickly as it had descended. Streaming upwards like flowing water it vanished back into the heavens and disappeared. 

Gilliad gazed skyward, his mouth open in  astonishment 'That was what brought me here. That light, what was it?'. 

Maymon smiled knowingly 'A mind spirit... The  Zoriats have the power to control the energy of these beings. But where she has gone is anyone's guess... But I do believe she'll be back... Sooner rather than later... She doesn't want to be in that field at nightfall'. 

Gilliad climbed over the wooden seat and sat  down.  'Why not?'. The Reverend inquired uneasily. He looked at the stillness of the mushroom field, it appeared completely unthreatening to him. 

'At night the Mushkin wake up to feed'. Maymon replied,  almost chuckling. 'It would be a shame if she became a snack for carnivorous fungus'. 

Gilliad made the sign of the cross 'Dear God. Is that true? Can they walk?'. 

'Only as far as their roots will allow'. Maymon sat up, and pulled the hood over his eyes, the sun was burning his grey skin. 'Pray for her... If you think it'll do any good'...   

 

CHAPTER TWENTY EIGHT

CORA'S PLAN

Blackthorn Manor looked even more dilapidated in  daylight. Its high white walls had crumbled, the paint  eroded, and stripped down to its bare red stone.  The top window of Blackthorn's study remained  broken. The glass scattered inside upon the dusty  wooden panels. 

The blue mind spirit descended from the crystal clear sky and rolled in through the broken window frame. It spread itself across the floor, and  Cora emerged from the mass of energy swirling around her. She stood motionless, clutching her own photograph in one hand and the Guardian book tucked beneath her right arm. The light left her  body and rolled into the corner of the room. Cora's knees buckled and she fell to the floor, her body convulsing. The book fell against the wooden panels, opening upon the page where she had stuck in her picture. The page was now empty. Cora began to choke and saliva turned to froth  in her mouth. She dropped her photograph and began to cough, and splutter. 

Hugo Drax's face emerged from the cloud of blue  particles. The man looked sad and spoke softly to the sick young women. 'You are abusing the power of the mind spirits Cora... You should only travel to Parenthia when  sleeping'... 

She pushed herself back and fell against the wall... Cora's skin was tinged with a blue sheen and she looked very sick. 'Shut up Drax, this is Earth, not Parenthia'.  She said weakly, flattening the palm of her hand against her forehead 'I don't have to listen to you anymore... You're dead, or never alive in the first place' ... 

Drax ignored Cora's rudeness 'Do not break the rules of the realm... Grimney is not just a mere land of fantasy, there are forces beyond even your power that will stand in your way if you do'. 

Cora raised a shaking hand and pulled off her glasses. She glared at the mind spirit. 'Go away'. She said bitterly 'I'll call you when I need you. I have the book, and I control you... I want my daughter back. That's all.  Where is she?' 

Drax's face distorted and the once soft smiling  features of her one time friend twisted into a grotesque parody of itself. 'No Cora... The spirits of the book found you. You did not find the book. Tamper with the physics of  fantasy and you will tear holes in the real world and this one’. Drax’s expression became solemn. ‘The Nexus Malignus have Sara... You will need to defeat them to Save her, not an easy task, the Sisters are very powerful'.

The mind spirit began to pulsate more brightly and it consumed Hugo Drax's face. Moving steadily across the floor, it rolled towards the window and vanished once more through the shattered  glass.  Cora slid her body up against the wall and bowed  her head. The dizziness and nausea remained. 'Physics?' She muttered with sneering  indifference 'I was twelve when I created Grimney ... What in hell did I know about physics then?'...  She wondered what would happen if she simply pulled her daughter's picture from the book. Would  Sara return to Earth alive or dead? Cora shook her head. The risk was too great and she quickly decided against such action.  She had other plans, and what did she care if it  opposed the will of the mind spirits. Cora just  wanted to save her daughter, and if she had to violate some stupid fantasy code to do so, it would make no difference to her. 

Cora had a plan and once instigated it would make the journey across her land an easier and far more appealing prospect.  Downstairs in an old, tall wardrobe its wooden  doors warped by time, was a photograph album thick with dust. Inside there were faded memories  of happy times long past. A colour picture taken  some five years before would reshape the path of Cora's journey, and make Corars passage through Grimney a far swifter affair.  But every memory has a past, and every picture,  as the old saying goes, tells a story ...   

 

CHAPTER TWENTY NINE

THE KAYLION

Flaming torches were held aloft. Trolls were forced down upon their knees, their hands tied tightly behind their backs. Nooses of thick rope were placed over their heads. Kellerman Bolte stood in the foreground. Two black knights flanking him on either side. They too held torches of blazing flame. The light from the dancing fire passed shades of dancing yellow light over their breastplates. 

The red eyed knight stood over the stooped and crouching body of Vors. The troll had regained consciousness, but he did not look up, he merely played with the dust at his booted feet, pouring the loose soil through his grey fingers. 'Dust, you may burn us to dust... But we all become dust in the end'. Vors’s voice was barely audible. He raised his head, the blood dripping from his broken tooth.  'What you do, you do out of fear. Fear of us, and  fear of him'. His yellow eyes darted towards Kellerman, and then back to the loose soil tumbling through his fingers. 'You are not Knights... You have no honour... You are lost'... 

The red eyed, black knight sighed inside his helmet. 'I don't approve of this either'.  He  whispered. 'But there are eleven of them, and only one of me'... 

Vors lifted his body from the ground and pushed himself up on one knee. 'I understand' He said sagely 'To act in our defence would see you slain'... The troll looked over his shoulder and gazed up through the slit in the knight's helmet, he was intrigued by the man's bright red eyes. 'You're not human... Yet you serve these lost souls... You'd let them kill us... If you can live with seeing our blood spilling in those red eyes of yours then I pity your future, more than I pity my own'. 

Kelllerman raised his black gloved hand and pointed to a small thatched cottage that stood separately from the others. 'Burn that one'. He said enthusiastically 'As far as I know that house belongs to Vors'.  

The two knights standing alongside their leader stepped forward and marched towards it. The two men tossed their torches onto the roof and the thick, dry straw ignited into a blaze of blue flame. 

The red eyed knight placed his gauntleted hand  upon Vors’s shoulder, in a hopeless attempt. to reassure him.  Vors quickly brushed it aside and watched with tears in his eyes as his beloved cottage became consumed by raging fire. 'Your people will regret that... You will disturb  the Kaylion'... Vors averted his eyes from the inferno and looked up into the trees. 

Thick black smoke began drifting upwards. The silver berries hanging in bunches amidst the clusters of golden leaves became coated in a sooty residue. Vors knew that there was hope and he watched as the veil of smoke formed a shroud over the village and the sunlight began to fade as the atmosphere darkened. 

Kellerman waved his gloved hands and pointed left and right. The remaining knights understood the  instruction. Their duty was to burn the village of Farll to the ground... 

But the tiniest things can undo even the mightiest warriors, and the birds nesting quietly in the treetops had been disturbed.  Narrow Green eyes flicked open and long red and yellow-feathered wings began to unfold. Hideous, wailing, guttural sounds emanated from their  nests.

The knights lowered their torches and drew their swords.  Kellerman raised his gloved hands and appealed for calm. 'It's just the sound of birds burning. Continue with the torching’... 

The trolls had heard the sounds of the Kaylion before. Although bound by their wrists and forced down upon their knees they began to glance at one another. Their expressions though guarded began to change and slight smiles were creeping upon  their once sullen faces. 

The knights lifted their torches once more and stepped away from the huddled masses.

A row of cottages stood just in front of them.  Kellerman pointed his finger. 'Burn those houses first' He remarked casually... 'They're close together'... 

Yellow and red flashed past his eyes and Kellerman stepped back, unsure of what he had seen. Hovering in the smoke above him was a small bird and its cold, narrow green eyes were  staring directly at him.

'What are you?' Kellerman inquired, not expecting a reply. The Kaylion bird flew upwards and disappeared into the smoke. 'Shy little creature. Inoffensive. Not a threat to civilisation'.  Kellerman lowered his eyes and stared at his men. The black knights had not sheathed their  swords. 'It was just a pathetic little bird'. He  announced 'You can put your weapons away. Follow your orders, burn down the village'. 

An arrow whizzed through the trees and struck one  of the knights through the slit in his helmet. The warrior staggered sideways, dropped both the torch and his sword and fell backwards onto the  ground. 

'What in God's name?'. Kellerman was dumbstruck. His men stood motionless, even though their faces were hidden, the bewilderment was clear from their behaviour.

The men glanced to their left and right, trying to establish the direction that the projectile had come from. 

The red eyed knight remained impassive. 'The Zoriat won't help you Kellerman'... He muttered, drawing his own blade slowly, the metal scraping gently  against the inside of the scabbard. 'It looks like your people maybe saved after all my friend'... Vors frowned and looked back into the knights red eyes. The red eyed knight winked at him. 

Wings outstretched, the grey smoke began to fill with colour as hundreds of birds descended upon the black knights. Their beaks began to open and  jets of yellow liquid spurted forth and struck  the armoured helmets of two of the men. The metal sizzled and melted away. Screaming in agony they crumbled to the floor, the saliva of the Kaylion  burning the skin from their faces...

'It's an ambush!' Kellerman yelled, charging forward, his sword slicing through the air in a desperate attempt to fell the winged assassins.

Another arrow flew and a second knight tumbled.  He lay motionless with the tip of the bolt protruding from his helmet. 

Dhumass Shrester stepped out from the shadowing smoke. Sword raised, he struck down three of the  knights before they had time to retaliate.  The Kaylion swooped down on the three remaining  knights, and consumed them in a flurry of red and yellow feathers. The Kaylion's acidic saliva streamed from their beaks, and struck the men's  armour. Losing their footing, they fell without  further issue.

The red knight's eyes opened wide with astonishment and he wisely slid the blade back into the scabbard. 

Kellerman glared at the bald headed warrior and stepped forward. Pointing his blade at this new enemy, he raised his voice defiantly... 'I don't know who you are ... But you're clearly not a knight... You've shamed these fine warriors, murdered them!'... His voice was tinged with  sadness. 'They had families'... He screwed up his  nose... 'And children'. 

The birds began to circle over Kellerman's head,  but the threat to their nests had been eradicated and they dispersed back into the trees. 

Vors brushed the dust from the palms of his hands  'The Kaylion hate fire and smoke, lucky that you and Kellerman were not carrying torches'. 

The red eyed knight nodded slowly. 'Not that lucky'. He said slowly, staring through the slit in his helmet at Dhumass Shrester 'I know that man, and he's more deadly than a flock of pretty  birds'... 

Shrester lowered his sword and fresh blood dripped from the tip of his blade. 'The battle is lost, throw down your weapon'. 

Kellerman was not intimidated 'I think you over estimate your chances'... He said, his deep, dark eyes focused and unblinking. 'I am knight of the  Queen's Elite, and have no fear of death. What’re you?'. He asked contemptuously.

Shrester gave a weary smile and looked down at the terrified faces of the trolls that sat huddled together around him. 'This is not the  action of a man who was once a Knight of the Queen's Elite... You are nothing more than a mindless, bloodthirsty barbarian'... 

Kellerman lifted his chin and stared down his long aquiline nose at Shrester. 'I allow you to fight me... If you don't, I'll cut you down where you stand'. 

Shrester shook his head ‘No’. He replied... 'Drop  your sword... Or you'll have an arrow through your skull'... 

The red eyed knight watched his leader carefully. Kellerman had never retreated from battle or shown weakness to any foe. Kellerman was brave, of that there was no doubt, but was he insane?  The answer was about to be given. 

'You are not a knight... You have no honour'. Kellerman chuckled and lifted his sword to shoulder height, he tossed the blade into the dust... 

Cass Crellwin walked calmly from the trees and  lowered her bow. Drawing a dagger from her belt  she began to cut the trolls free of their bonds. 

Kellerman gazed at his fallen comrades, their  armoured bodies smouldering as the acid continued to eat away at their lifeless corpses. 'The disgrace... The dishonour'. He muttered, his  voice choked with emotion. 

The red eyed knight reached up and lifted his helmet over his head. Shrester grinned in recognition. 'Vin Reddell'. He looked down at the floor and sighed. 'Together again, after all this time'. 

Vin saluted his friend and ruffled his sweaty  hair with his gauntlet. Smiling at the pretty elf  he greeted he with a rather inappropriate thumbs  up. 'Glad you didn't shoot me with an arrow'. 

The elf shrugged. 'Why would I?' She remarked  casually 'You didn't seem like much of a threat'. 

'Story of my life' ... He replied, bending down and  undoing Vors’s manacles with a silver key. 'The only frightening thing about me are my eyes'... 

Kellerman stared straight ahead and gazed into the distance, his focus on nothing at all. He  appeared to be in a trance. Kellerman was calm and without fear, but slowly he returned to the reality of the situation. He looked down at the sword lying at his feet. The urge to pick it up was strong, but the thought of dying at the  hands of an elf or a man who quite clearly had  not been knighted disgusted him. 

'I am a knight of the order'. Kellerman said under his breath 'I will not be killed by anyone from the lower orders of this society'. He raised his dark eyes and stared at Shrester and Cass. 'But your time will come'. He whispered curling  his thin lips into a cold sneer 'One day'... He continued, staring coldly at the trolls as they hugged each other affectionately, so happy to be  alive. 'Grimney will be free of you and these wretched,  disgusting, creatures'... He paused to draw breath  'Only war will purify this land'.    

 

CHAPTER THIRTY

KILLNOCK DALE

The young man's eyes were wide open, still and clouded. His head thrown back rested upon a mound of dry, crumbling soil. His face, pale and bereft of any colour, stained in streaks of blood. His mouth twisted and his tongue hanging loosely from the corner. In life he had been a noble soul, kind to his mother, honest with his children. In death, deprived of all, he was nothing but food for flies and the carrion crow. 

In death he was not alone, for the very ground around him heaved with decaying corpses Struck down where they stood and left to rot in the aftermath of a great battle.  Hundreds of men and women, warriors all, slaughtered in their prime, killed for the cause  of freedom.  The crows circled overhead, their eyes flickered beneath heavy lids, their bellies full of human  flesh.

A fat black crow settled upon his chest and leaning forward, its beak dripping with saliva, it pecked out his eyes for nourishment. A black woman, her clothes shredded from her torso crawled on all fours through the pools of  blood, and torn flesh. Her left eye put out and  bleeding from its dark empty socket. She clutched at her sword, as she tried to stand, but her wound increased her agony, and a sickness swept her body and she vomited into the churned soil.  She could hear the echoing of heavy boots, and  the laughter of a man. She felt the touch of rough fingers running through her hair.

Fear drew her into action and she grabbed the hilt of her  blade, the man's fingers retracted and she found  the strength to strike. He stumbled backwards clutching his ragged clothes, the sword blade protruding from a hole  in his stomach. Lying on his back, his belly  bleeding in the hot sun, he gazed into the face  of the women who now stood over him. 'Mother'. He cried, his body shuddering. 'Why have you killed me?'... 

The woman fell to her knees, cradled his head on her lap, and sobbed. It was too late, and he drew a final deep gasp and died before her.  Tears streamed from the black woman's eyes, she  would have cried more if a blade had not severed her head from her body. 

Eliza Jade lowered her bloodstained sword and watched the headless corpse twitch. She stood proudly over the slain, for she was on the winning side. Jade stepped over the corpses and surveyed the carnage. She appeared to be alone, with only the flies and the crows for company. 

'Elizabeth Pearl!' She shouted. 'Elizabeth are you alive?'. No sounds and no movement, the silence echoed  with the faint vibrations of her own fading voice. 'Elizabeth!' She called once more, shaking the dried mud and blood from her long blonde locks. 'Where are you?'. Jade's tone was desperate. She adjusted her red body armour because a deep dent in the metal was crushing her chest. Her  boots were heavy with mud and clay, and this made the journey across the battlefield exhausting.  She slipped upon the crimson streams and tripped over severed arms and legs, but staggered on relentlessly. 

Another man his white hair matted to his forehead  moved amongst a mass of dead men. He was broad shouldered and clad in black and red leather body armour torn in across the back, a deep wound had ripped through his armour and his blood pumped freely. Through his one good eye he could see the young blond warrior moving through the sea of twisted, bloated corpses. He reached for his sword and  watched as she walked past him.

The man's name was Vortigern, he was warrior, a thief, and a man without principle. His white  goatee beard and pale complexion were splattered with mud. Lifting his body from the ground, he heaved himself back onto his booted feet. Vortigern considered the situation. In the battle, which had lasted for over seven hours, there had been great confusion as the two opposing armies met. Due to the lack of uniforms, and the abundance of mercenaries fighting on both sides, the warriors had become confused, as men and women, unsure of who the enemy was had killed their own people by mistake. Vortigern rubbed his white, sightless eye, and droplets of dried blood stained his fingers. His dark eye followed the young warrior, and he made slow careful steps towards her. He could see that  she was not wounded and concluded that fighting her would prove fatal. He hoped that she had been fighting for the Queen's forces, because he had been hired to defend the kingdom. The one eyed man raised his sword and shouted at the top of his voice 'Long live the Queen!'. 

Jade turned swiftly, and smiled. 'Who are you?'. She demanded her voice cold and indifferent. 'Vortigern!’.  He replied lowering his sword. 'I'm exhausted and wounded. The man slumped down and  sat upon a pile of rotting bodies. 'That was some battle’... 

'It was'. Jade answered, but her mind was still  entirely focused on finding Elizabeth. 

The man grinned 'We won'... He said weakly, without  any hint of irony. 

Jade laughed bitterly. 'We won?' The remark seemed flippant, but she had to agree. 'Yes, we  did win, but at what cost?'.. Her eyes scanned the faces of the dead that surrounded her, she hoped that Elizabeth was not amongst them. 'But our leader... Lady Elizabeth Pearl is  missing'. Jade's voice was staggered with emotion. 'We need to find her ... Dead, or alive she must be returned to the Queen's castle at Kilnaroc Dor'... 

Vortigern spat a globule of blood from his mouth.  He did not care about Elizabeth because the Queen had paid him for his services, and he also remembered the past and the reasons why he had been blinded in one eye.

The encounter with Cora Pearl, Elizabeth's daughter had left its mark and if Elizabeth were dead he would shed no tears at her fate. 

Vortigern nodded 'Yes... We mustn't leave our leader to rot. We should split up and look for her'. He had already decided on his actions, if he found Elizabeth in a wounded state, the one eyed man would speed her journey to the grave. 

Jade approached the body of a young woman. She  was lying face down in a pool of her own blood. Her body was covered in what appeared to be a  black glistening sheet. Jade prodded the woman with her sword. The black sheet splintered into fragments, and fractured into a thousand feeding  flies.  Jade waved her hand back and forth in an attempt to disperse the vile insects.

'God'... She grimaced, stepping back from the dead body. 'What kind of a land have we made for ourselves?'... 

Elizabeth Pearl was alive and therefore she had not become food for the flies. She lay beneath a pile of dead bodies and their blood and hers had mingled together, although relatively unscathed, she was drenched in sticky red liquid.  She rolled a limp corpse off her legs, and stood up. She could see Eliza Jade, and called out to  her. 'Eliza, thank God you're alive!'...

Jade slid her sword into its scabbard and clapped her hands with glee. 'Elizabeth'... She took in a deep breath 'I'm so relieved to see you in one piece'... 

Elizabeth opened the palms of her hands and the layers of dried blood flaked away. Her clothes were hanging from her red skinned body, Elizabeth’s bare shoulders, thighs and forearms were smeared in human blood. Elizabeth's long black hair hung like crimson straw over her ears and forehead.  'I feel sick'. She muttered, her eyes rolling back in her head, her legs giving way beneath her. 

Jade could only watch in horrified silence as Elizabeth Pearl fell amongst the dead...   

 

CHAPTER THIRTY TWO

MICHAEL DELAMERE

Night had fallen over the field of red mushrooms.  Eerie clicking noises echoed amongst them and the red circular tops of the mushrooms began to sway from side to side, as if caught in a strong wind,  but there was no wind. 

The cart remained motionless, but the horses seemed to be agitated, shuffling their hooves and shaking at their harnesses, they seemed eager to leave. Maymon sat quietly upon the wooden seat, his head forward his face concealed beneath his hood. 

Gilliad sat next to him, and looked at his watch, but the hands had stop rotating and he tapped the glass with his fingernail. 'Broken. Although I would  suggest that she has been gone a very long time’. He said  nervously. 'Perhaps we should look for her?'.. 

The hooded man remained motionless 'No, not very wise. You go in that field and the Mushkins will devour you'... 

Gilliad removed his glasses, rubbed his eyes and  sighed. 'So we just sit here and wait?'... 

'Yes'. Maymon said quietly. 'If we hear her screams, we leave'... 

The dark sky began to glow and the blue light  began to emerge from behind the dark green clouds. It streaked through the sky like a lightning bolt and fell into the field, exploding into a shower of blue particles. 

'She's back'. Maymon muttered 'All we can do is listen’.

Inside the field of mushrooms, a large shape began to form. It was red in colour and oblong in dimension. As the particles dispersed the red object inside became clearer. It was car. A Yuzari Sports... Its windows blacked out and a  huge spoiler and silver exhaust pipe protruded from the rear. 

The blue mind spirit released the vehicle and moved aside and it began to generate a far smaller mass into existence. The metamorphosis was swift, and the mass, quickly generated into a human shape. Cora Pearl had returned to Grimney.

The blue mind spirit meshed itself into a ball of twisting light and once more ascended into the heavens.

'Oh hell'. Cora collapsed and fell beneath the towering mushrooms. The journey between the two  worlds was taking its toll. Abusing the power of the mind spirits had created a battle of wills and human strength was no match for the awesome powers of the supernatural. 

The mushrooms behind her began to move, stretching their roots they shuffled towards the dazed woman. Large slits opened in their thick stalks and a dark, treacly liquid ran down their fleshy grey bodies.  A long root rolled through the vegetation and wrapped itself around Cora's boot. 

Cora could feel the pressure around her ankle and she looked down with glazed eyes as more roots began to snake towards her.

'No'.. She gasped reaching into her overcoat and  sliding out her shotgun. She pointed both sawn down barrels at the root as it continued to entwine itself around her leg and pulled the trigger. 

A flash of flame, a wisp of smoke and the root was severed. The mushroom screeched and shuffled  back, but other mushrooms were moving slowly towards her. 

Cora leapt to her feet and ran to the car, she  tried the silver handle, but the vehicle's door was locked. 

'Damn!'... She said desperately 'I don't have the  keys!'. She banged her gloved fists against the  windows in frustration. 

The headlights of the Yuzari Sports raised themselves from the sloping bonnet and beams of yellow light streamed over the shuffling mushrooms. The central locking of the vehicle, clicked and Cora wrenched open the door and jumped inside,  slamming it shut behind her, she pushed down the bolts. 

She leaned forward in the passenger seat and  placed her head between her knees, and tried to breathe. She closed her eyes and leaned back in the leather seat, the perspiration flooding down her forehead. 

The interior light glowed, and a man's voice alerted her.  'Cora what am I doing here? I thought you and  Sara were in hospital?' 

She opened her eyes and turned her head. Seated  in the passenger seat was Michael Delamere. He was a handsome young man, his hair short and  black, his eyes large and brown. He was dressed in a black suit, waistcoat, a grey shirt and a dark green tie, and his stylish black leather  designer shoe rested upon the accelerator. 

Michael looked utterly bewildered, but Cora's  expression was a mixture of fear and revulsion.

'Michael?'. She said, the confusion and fear in  her voice all too apparent. 'I didn't realise'.  She began to think that she should leave the car and take her chances with the carnivorous fungus. 

'That picture was taken five years ago and I put  it in the book'. She just stared at Michael and  he did not separate his own eyes from Cora's glance. 

'What are you talking about? What book?' Michael was dumbstruck. ‘What is this? A kidnap? I’m having my worst nightmare’. He shook his head. ‘But it’s so vivid’.  

Cora bit into her bottom lip, and frowned. 'You  must've been inside the car when the photograph was taken' ... Her voice was distant, slow and studied. 'And I can't change that, because I only have one picture'. 

'I don't understand any of this. You're at the  hospital with Sara' ... Michael responded hesitantly. 'I stayed late at work, sorting out the Baker and Jones account. There was a blue light'. He shook  his head again and gulped heavily. 'Suddenly I'm sitting in this car and you show up'. He gazed through the tinted windscreen at the giant mushrooms. 'Not only that I'm surrounded by  Frankenstein food... I mean how the hell will the  supermarkets package that stuff?'. 

Cora looked stern 'I suggest you just drive out of this field'. Her tone was frosty. 'Then you  can get out and walk home'... 

'Walk home?' He said sarcastically, turning the  key in the ignition 'Do you have a map? Never mind'. He pressed a button on the dashboard and a small screen beneath it blinked into life. ‘No. I’ve got the Sat Nav’. He sounded  relieved. ‘All I need is a postcode and I can work out where I am’. He was surprised and unnerved by the fact that the screen remained blank no matter what buttons he pressed. ‘Where’s the purple road gone? How will I find my way home now?’. He looked across at Cora and smiled uncomfortably. ‘This is nuts’.    

'You really are an idiot Micahal'. Cora's tone was icy cold. 'I don’t want you here either, I didn't want to see that smug, irritating face of yours ever again'... 

The engine roared into life and Michael began to  accelerate the car gently forward. 'Listen you silly cow... I'm not here on purpose... Believe me I was happy to get away from your whining, selfish nature'... 

‘Just drive without the satellite’. Cora replied ignoring the man’s comments and staring through the windscreen.  'And don’t talk to me'.  

Michael continued to press the heel of his shiny shoe upon the accelerator, but the car would not move. 'I can't seem to get the car going'... He said harshly, as if speaking to Cora would make him choke on his own  tongue. ‘Perhaps the added weight of your mental problems  is preventing the car from moving?'... He turned his head towards the woman and smiled. 'Maybe you'd like to get out and push?'... 

Cora's shotgun was resting beneath her overcoat. She was so tempted to blow the man's brains all over the dashboard. Only one thing prevented her from taking such action. Sara would lose her father and Cora knew that her daughter still loved this ghastly man. 

'I can't go out there, the mushrooms will get me?'. She narrowed her eyes and pulled the seatbelt across her chest. 'Just keep trying'. 

Michael looked into the centre mirror, he could  see smoke rising from the rear of the car. 'The  mushrooms will get you? Are you on drugs?'. He  said, lifting his foot off the accelerator. 'You always were weird'. 

'I’m weird? You’re the one with orange skin, and who’d be happy sleeping next to a full length mirror’. Cora lifted the shotgun onto her lap and clicked open the barrels.

'It’s called a suntan’. Michael said loudly. 'What's with the shotgun? Have you gone completely crazy? Can you tell me what this is about?'. 

‘No, I’ve talked to you too much already’. Cora inserted two cartridges into the barrels and clicked the shotgun shut. 'The roots of the mushrooms have wrapped around the tyres. I'm going to have to shoot them off' She grabbed the door handle and began to pull it  back ... 

'Oh, fine'. Michael said casually, trying to disguise his irritation. 'Right, yes, you do that’.

Cora scowled and pointed a gloved finger at him 'I know how much you hate me'.. She said unclipping the seatbelt. 'From my point of you, we’ve got that in common. I don't like you either. But don't you dare drive off and leave  me'... 

Cora opened the door and placed one foot upon the  ground. 'You know I've got a bad temper'.  She shook the shotgun at him 'Remember I've got a shotgun'... She smiled, stepped outside, and closed the door. 

Michael, chuckled, and shook his head 'Bad dreams again... What a cockroach that woman is'... 

The ground around Cora's booted feet was moving. Grey roots entwined together and snaked rapidly through the mushroom forest.  Cora lifted her feet and clambered onto the car's roof. The giant mushrooms edged nearer and she  slid her body down across the rear windscreen and  flattened her, body against the glass. She could see the entwined roots wrapped around  the two rear tyres, and levelling her shotgun she  took aim and fired.  The root around the left wheel tore away and  hideous screeching, once again, echoed through  the mushroom field. 

Cora grinned and loaded another two cartridges 'One down.  One to'. A thick root swung against Cora's body, and  grabbed her around the waist, yanking her off the car. Cora fell beside the right wheel. As the root of the large mushroom lifted her into the air, and a huge slit opened in its stalk. Black  bile ran from the mouth of the beast, and Cora was dragged towards it. 

'Not a chance'. Cora aimed her shotgun and fired. The cartridges exploded against the soft flesh of the mushroom and Cora tumbled to the floor. Clicking open the gun she inserted two more cartridges and fired at the roots that secured the right wheel. Cora opened the passenger door and jumped back into the car. 

'Go! Go!'... She screamed, sliding her seatbelt back on. 'Go now!'...  Michael forced his foot down heavily upon the  accelerator and the wheels of Yuzari Sports smoked, as they spun rapidly into action. The car smashed through the sea of mushrooms. Their grey flesh splattered against the windscreen as the car hurtled through the forest. In seconds the sports car spun into the road. Dust and mushroom juice flew in all directions. Michael slammed his foot on the brake, and the  vehicle came to an abrupt halt. Michael switched off the engine and puffed out his lungs. 

‘What a mess’. Cora moaned 'How did you ever get  a licence?'...

The cart on the dirt road had been overturned and the mirrors lay scattered in the dust. Maymon and Gilliad were covered in mushroom juice and  lumps of grey flesh hung from their clothing.  The horses had broken free of their harnesses and  galloped into the field. Their fate would be a grim one. 

Cora opened the passenger door and stepped out.  She slid the shotgun into her overcoat pocket and leant her arm upon the roof of the car.

'You don't need your cart anymore Maymon'. She patted the Yazari Sports with her gloved hand. 'I've brought us some wheels that don't need  horses to pull them'... 

Maymon was more concerned about his mirrors and he began to stack them against the side of the wrecked cart. 

Gilliad placed his hands on his hips and gazed at the flashy sports car. 'Maymon's upset, he's lost his horses. They flipped the cart, because you can't drive properly'.

Cora looked at Maymon, but she was unable to see his face, due to the hood hanging down over the tip of his nose. 

'I'm sorry about that'... Cora tried to sound  sympathetic 'Where did they go?'.

'Into the field'... Maymon replied firmly. 'I won't  be seeing them again, I know that'. 

Michael opened the driver's door and climbed out. ‘Everything feels real, but it can’t be’. He loosened his tie and undid the buttons on his jacket.   

Gilliad looked surprised by the appearance of another suited man. 'Are you collecting men in suits Cora? ... He asked. 

Maymon threw back his hood. 'I won't leave my mirrors, is there room in that contraption to carry them?'... 

'Yes' Cora nodded 'There's plenty of room for all of us'.

Michael grinned 'Even for me?'... 

Cora raised her gloved hand and opened her palm flat against the air. 'It's your car isn't it?...  She said coolly ... 'What do I care?'... 

Michael lifted the car keys from his waistcoat  pocket 'True, it was... Until I sold it ... But I know  you have a stronger emotional connection to objects, rather than people'. 

Cora's expression hardened 'Michael, why don't you just shut up, you're a lousy father, and as a husband you didn't rate in any department'... 

Gilliad patted Michael on the back. 'So'. He said  cheerfully 'You two were married? How delightful'... He squeezed the man's padded shoulder... 'Perhaps my children we should continue the conversation in the car?’.

Michael and Cora stared at each other, but it was Cora who decided to look away. 

'This is Grimney' ... She said gazing at the giant  mushrooms ... 'Not the real world... Your daughter is  here, and I have to save her’. Cora glared at Michael ... 'People die here' She  said forcefully, 'And you might die too, but there's no going back for you'... A slight grin formed on her face. 'This is your chance to be a  better man, are you up to it?' ... 

Michael ran his trembling fingers through his  dark hair. 'I'm confused. This must be a dream'.

He licked his dry lips 'Yes ... I am up for it, Financial Advisors are up for anything'.  Michael outstretched his hand. 'My name is Michael Delamere'.

Gilliad shook the man's hand 'Winston Gilliad'. He responded with a warm smile. 'The other gentleman is Maymon, I don't know his first name'... 

'You're the writer?' Michael inquired, but  looking very confused, lifting his shoe and shaking the dust from his heels. ‘Oh, this might come in useful’. Michael took a business card from his jacket pocket and handed it to the reverend. ‘I’m also involved in pensions and loans, life insurance’ He smiled sheepishly. ‘The full package really’.    

Gilliad studied the business card and frowned. ‘Yes. Thank you. Life insurance, could prove useful. Does it cover being eaten by dragons?’ He asked candidly.  

‘Not sure’. Michael replied. ‘I’d have to check the policy’. He gazed over at Cora and he could see that she looked  irritated. 

'I brought him here by accident... I'd send him back straight away, but I need the car. He just happened to be in it'... Cora stared at Michael and rolled her eyes. 'Unfortunately not under it'... 

‘Charming as always' ... Michael had not forgotten  that his ex wife had an excruciatingly dry sense  of humour. Cora had so many characteristics he disliked. Her whining, bossy personality, her self-pity, and selfish nature. Cora was brimming with human failings, and these would try the patience of a saint. 

Michael Delamere, however, was certainly not a saint. He was a man who had deep flaws in his character. Michael was greedy, vain, often dishonest and obsessed with his own ambitions.

One truth elevated him beyond his weaknesses and that was the deep love he had for his daughter. Although, to his own regret he had not visited the child in the hospital, he had, however sent his ex wife and daughter a 'Get well soon' card and a bunch of flowers in his absence... 

Cora opened the rear passenger door. 'I want to make some progress. So I guess we'd better get going'...   

 

CHAPTER THIRTY THREE

THE ISSUE OF RACE

Kellerman Bolte was amused by his changing fortunes. He sat at a table, his wrists shackled together and his head bowed, but not in submission, Kellerman would be defiant to the last. 

Vin sat on a chair in the rooms corner, his armour plated arms folded over his breastplate.  His red eyes watching the prisoner closely... 

'Are you just going to stare at me Vin?'. Kellerman asked, leaning back in his chair and stifling a yawn with the back of his hands. 

Vin blinked his eyes and looked away. 'Sorry, I  suppose that is quite rude'... 

‘Rude?’. Kellerman could not believe the remark. 'Rude?!. Treachery is another name for the action you’ve taken... You offend your own kind, with your love of trolls and trollops'. 

Vin sighed and scratched his forehead with his thumb. 'I respect life... Is that so wrong?'. 

Kellerman hammered his chained hands down upon the tabletop. 'They hate us, you do know that,  don't you?'.

 Vin nodded, scowled and raised his armoured shoulders in a shrug. 'They're a lot like us... Some trolls hate us, some of them like us, some of them have no issue with anything at all'. 

Kellerman was deeply scornful. 'You're so simple'. He looked Vin up and down. ‘Look at you. What do you know about this land?’. He pointed his fingers at Vin. 'The trolls are in a minority now... But they breed like wild animals... One day, they'll be more of them than there are of us, and they'll be no one to stop them, because men like me will be dead, and men like you will fall to  their axes and clubs'... 

Vin was silent for a moment, carefully absorbing the information that Kellerman had imparted. 'You're right'. He replied, nodding his head, much to the satisfaction of his captive 'One day, perhaps, there will be more of them than there are of us. So this is the time we should be  treating them with the respect they deserve'. 

'Nonsense boy'. Kellerman responded, dismissing Vin's  appraisal of things. 'How can you be so stupid? Don't you understand anything?' He chuckled 'How absurd is this situation? I am shackled because I fight for human rights’... Kellerman’s voice reflected his bemusement and his own sense of the ridiculous... 'I fight against those grotesque grey skinned creatures? And I am shackled?'.

Vin rolled his tongue in his mouth, and sucked in his cheeks. ‘Kellerman’. He said softly 'I'm not a philosopher or a guru'. He smiled gently, then sighed 'But trolls, orcs, goblins, they've always been made into monsters by men like us. But that's just fiction'. Vin wanted Kellerman to listen, to understand that there was more to Grimney than individual prejudice. 'There is good  and bad in every species. We all see what we want to see, and forget anything that distorts our view. No species should be valued higher than any other'. Vin's red eyes glistened, the young man looked sad, but still managed a gentle smile 'It's a pity you can't be a troll for a day'. 

‘You’. Kellerman said firmly 'You are a very sick boy'.

Vin laughed. 'You think that?'. He remarked casually, the lines around his mouth forming dimples. 'But I was sent by Lord Darius Rackham to watch you... You strayed so far from your duty. You had so much respect, why throw it all away?' 

Kellerman's dark eyes clouded and his nose twitched. 'I have never failed to do my duty. I have never lost my honour. I fight for the good of our kind. You do not know how to serve your own people, and Rackham? What does he know, he’s never picked up a sword in his life!'... 

Vin shook his head slowly. 'Kellerman, we are at war with the Nexus Malignus, they're our enemies, not these trolls’. He could not understand Kellerman's nature, although Vin desperately wished that he could. 

Kellerman stared at the tabletop and his dark dead eyes followed the cracks in the wood. 'You may take me back to face your... Justice'... He commented sarcastically ...  'And I will die with the honour I deserve'.  Kellerman smiled... 'A silver sword will sever my head from my body. But you will not die a noble death, because you are weak, and you allow  weakness to grow strong around you'. He lifted his dark shrouded eyes and stared at Vin  'Remember what I have told you... The trolls and other lesser species may one day be as strong as we are and you'll be the hunted, and you'll be bound and shackled like I am'. 

Vin looked uncomfortable, but quickly regained his composure 'Nobody knows what will happen in the future, but the lesser species are afraid of what they don't understand. If you force someone  into a corner, they'll fight back no matter how frightened they are'...

Kellerman Bolte was not afraid of dying. He had lived with death and saw it as a natural  progression, and war was part of that natural progression. Kellerman's approach to existence was quite basic. If something or someone could be killed easily, then it simply did not deserve to live. Kellerman viewed Vin Reddell in those  terms and in time he intended to take the young  knight’s life...   

 

CHAPTER THIRTY FOUR

THE ARMIES OF THE NEXUS MALIGNUS

Beneath the snow-capped Maljaros Mountains and  far east of Kilnaroc Dor, the armies of the Nexus Malignus were gathering in the valleys. 

The moonlight streamed across the pale faces of  the thousands of men, women, orcs and glornes who were massed together at the valley floor. The human warriors were dressed in black furs and thick body armour, they raised their swords and axes, and yelled aggressively. 

Skelton Knaggs, a powerfully built red bearded soldier, his shabby long hair hanging down to his fur clad shoulders, stood on a raised platform and waved a large black flag with the emblem of a red cat's head emblazoned upon it. 'Death to the Queen of Grimney! Death to the Zoriat!'... 

The human army cheered their general. But the  tall green scaly skinned glorne soldiers their spindly bodies encased in glowing emerald armour stood pensively in the background. Slanting shoulders draped in yellow capes, their scaly claws holding burning torches, the glorne watched General Knaggs through large circular purple  eyes. Persecuted, isolated and driven to near  extinction, the glorne were a species that had  suffered greatly at the hands of others. They had seen firsthand the inhumanity of mankind, its greed and desire for power, its selfishness and its cruelty. Human failings that had forced the glorne into servitude, they were  lost and Knagg's hollow words did little to comfort them. 

The Queen's death would not free the glorne from  slavery, because as long as the human species were in power, the glorne believed they would  suffer under their rule. 

'For too long we've been starving to death!'. Knaggs leaned forward and curled up his dry top lip and bared his rotting teeth. He made his hand into a fist and shook it at the mass of soldiers  that stood gathered in their thousands before him. 'For too long we've been  controlled by the rule of law, and laboured under  unfair taxes!... Watching as our money lined the  pockets of the rich!'. 

The human contingent continued to cheer their leader.

The orcs, however seemed far more subdued. They disliked the human species and because of this, they stayed quiet. 

Knaggs continued to shout at his soldiers. 'The Nexus Malignus and Hellcat Meridian have promised us freedom! They will rule Grimney, once the  Queen is dead, and the Lords of this land are overthrown. We will welcome in a new and greater power, and it will rise from the ashes and bring democracy to this land!'... 

Guided by thousands of burning torches, the green eyed silver reptile began to descend into the valley. The army of torch wielding warriors craned back their heads and watched in awe as Joanna Simm and Hellcat Meridian, seated in the saddle, swooped over them.

The mighty mechanical creature circled around the vast army. Hellcat drew her sword and pointed it down  towards the gathered armies. 'My friends, take up your weapons!' The flame haired woman shouted... 'We march on the Queen's  castle tonight!'. 

The valleys echoed with the optimistic sounds of  cheering. If a man or women had stood atop the  frozen peaks of the Maljaros mountains that  night, they would have heard the glorious cries of the army rising into the dark sky and cradling the heavens with a dream of freedom...

   

CHAPTER THIRTY FIVE

THE YELLOW LIGHT

The Yuzari Sports thundered down the dusty track, its circular headlights guiding the vehicle through the night. The mushroom field had faded  in the dark and the car was surrounded on both sides by a carpet of golden flowers. 

Michael reached for the dial and turned on the radio. There was no signal, just a wheeze of static.

Cora rolled her eyes. ‘That obviously won’t work’. She said dismissively.

He shook his head and switched the radio  off.  'If I’d have known I would’ve brought a CD, I hate driving without music’. He sighed. ‘So let's just get this straight, I've stepped  into a magic world that you created and Sara is  someplace in Grimney and we have to rescue her. Michael said squeezing the steering wheel in  frustration. 'So where's this magic book?'... He inquired, reading the word 'Bad' written across Cora's tee  shirt and nodding silently in agreement. 

Cora was seated in the passenger seat next to him. The shotgun resting on her lap, her leather overcoat bundled up on the floor by her feet. 'Well, I guess the mind spirit objected to me abusing the books awesome power'.. She said sarcastically... 'So when I got beamed back down, I  guess it decided to keep the book to punish me'.

Maymon and Gilliad sat side by side in the rear  passenger seat, the reverend's head rested on the  backrest and he appeared to be asleep. 

Michael changed gear and pressed his foot more firmly down against the accelerator. The sports  car gathered more speed. 'So how do we get home?'... He asked, the knuckles on the back of his hands turning white as he  continued to squeeze the steering wheel. 

Cora looked angry 'Nobody gets home until we find  Sara'. She said firmly. 'If I don't get the book back, we'll be living here forever'... Cora lowered the overhead passenger mirror and looked at her face. She could see the sadness in her blue green eyes, and Cora barely recognised her own reflection. It  was like looking into the face of a pale white fading ghost. 

Michael's focus, however, was drawn to something else. A strange yellow light, some distance ahead of the car was glowing brightly. Michael pushed a switch below the steering wheel and dipped the  car headlights, and slowed the car to a stop. 

'What is it? You looking for the A38?' Cora asked, lifting the mirror back into its place 'Just keep driving North, I want to be at the Queen's castle by dawn'. 

Maymon raised his hood and slid it back over his ears and stared through the front windscreen.

The ball of light floated at shoulder height, and  it blazed in the dark. Gradually it began to stretch in a vertical direction, forming into a narrow cylindrical shape. 

Michael leaned against the steering wheel and scowled. 'What's that?'... He looked at Cora and she shook her head. 

'I don't know'. Cora replied slowly, her eyes transfixed on the glowing yellow shape 'But I'm  going to find out'. 

Cora opened the passenger door and stepped onto the dusty road. She pushed it shut and heard the central locking clicking into position.

'My hero'. She whispered sarcastically holding the shotgun against her chest and stepping cautiously forward.  'You always were a pathetic weasel Michael'...

Cora took a deep breath and approached the light. The vertical beam continued to grow, and it was now almost touching the road beneath it. 

'What are you?' Cora slid off her leather gloves and outstretched the fingers of her left hand towards the light. She could feel the heat against her palm. 'Are you a mind spirit?' She asked, hoping for an answer. Cora quickly retracted her hand.

The light started to pulsate and a sinister rhythmic  humming began to echo from within. The vertical beam rolled downwards and struck against the surface of the road, and the cylindrical light began to expand outwards. 

Cora stepped backwards and raised her hand in front of her eyes. The yellow light began to turn white and Cora could feel static electricity forming around her. 'I've got a bad feeling about this'... She whispered retreating further back.

A sudden surge of energy almost knocked Cora from her feet. A  powerful, armoured, mechanical, shiny silver and  black arm with a long curved blade attached to its jointed wrist burst through the vortex. Two, thin giant silver and black booted feet stepped out onto the dust.

Cora levelled her shotgun, as a giant faceless glass cylindrical headed glass visored warrior pulled itself from the swirling white light. 

‘A spindlesmite?’. Cora gazed into the smooth black mirrored glass face of a mighty mechanical man.

Its huge body towered over the young woman and Cora was unsure of how to react. The whirring movement of the robot's blade convinced Cora that its motives were aggressive. Especially when the blade was now raised and  pointed towards her. Three more arms extended from the mechanical man's body and each one had a large curved blade attached. Below the wrist of its fourth arm,  attached by a metal chain hung a rod of solid silver, the tip of which was glowing with a golden light.

Cora could see strange symbols inscribed upon it, but the shallow light from the car's dipped headlights made it difficult for her to see. Cora continued to edge backwards. Her own terrified face reflected in the blank glass mask  of the mechanical man's face. 

The ball of white light behind the robot shrank  in size, until it swirled into itself and disappeared.  Cora aimed her shotgun. 'I guess you can't  speak'. She said calmly, her finger beginning to pull back the trigger.

The blades of the robot whirled more frantically and lifting its booted feet it gathered speed and  charged at Cora.

She fired the shotgun and severed one of the  rotating blades. It spun through the air and landed amidst the golden flowers.  The silver rod slipped from the wrist of the  mechanical man and fell at its feet. Yellow sparks flashed from its smoking limb.  The machine's mighty body froze in motion. Its  mind trying to adapt to the damage its body had received.

Cora could not resist the temptation and she ducked down beneath the stunned robot and picked up the silver rod.  Cora was intrigued by the mechanical man's existence. She stood face to face and stared once more at her reflection in the black glass mask. Her fingers trembled as she outstretched her left hand and touched the visor.

'You're not so tough'...

The robot's head clicked violently down towards her and a curved blade sliced through the air. 

Cora's face twisted into a look of agony and she  withdrew her hand, but the blade had severed all her fingers, and cradling the blooded stumps, she  fell upon her knees. 

The robot raised another blade, but once more the  machine's body seized in mid motion.

The headlamps of the red Yuzari Sports switched to full beam and the rear passenger door opened.

Gilliad ran to Cora's side and grabbed the wounded girl under her arms and attempted to drag the barely conscious woman to safety.

The mechanical man regained its power and the axe  fell. But Cora was being hauled back to the car and far beyond the reach of the robot's weaponry. Cora clutched the shotgun and the silver rod across her chest, her wounded hand wrapped in the  hem of her bloodstained tee shirt.

The reverend bundled Cora through the rear passenger door, and gazed nervously back at the  machine. He was horrified to see that the ghastly  thing was now running towards him, its three remaining axes flailing in the light from the car's headlamps. 

‘Dear God’. Gilliad muttered, before sliding into the seat next to Cora and Maymon and slamming  shut the door.

Cora slumped against Maymon's body and the man wrapped his arms around Cora's shoulders and hugged her gently.

Michael looked physically sick. ‘How bad is she? Is she OK?’ The sweat poured from his forehead and he watched the robot approaching the car. 'This is a nightmare'. He was barely able to speak... 

Gilliad thumped the back of the driver's seat with the flat of his palm and this jolted Michael into action. 

Slamming his foot down upon the accelerator Michael drove the sports car straight at the robot. The machine creature bounced across the bonnet and was catapulted over the roof. Its body spinning it rolled violently onto the dusty track and fell into the shadows. 

Inside the car Cora's face was turning blue, she seemed delirious and she was muttering incoherently. Her blood  seeped across the seats and desperate attempts were being made to staunch the bleeding. 

Gilliad had torn away the lower half of Cora's tee shirt, and fastened the material tightly over the injury. 

Michael changed gear and the vehicle sped away, leaving the mechanical man lying motionless by  the roadside, its body twisted and smashed beyond repair.   

 

CHAPTER THIRTY SIX

THE TROUBLE WITH MAGIC

In the very early hours of the morning, peace had  returned to the village of Farll. The kaylion birds slept silently in their nests, and the  trolls had returned to their houses.

Kellerman's knights lay side by side on the ground, bed sheets draped over their lifeless bodies, their swords placed vertically upon their covered breastplates. 

The house in which Vors had lived all his life had been burnt to the ground. The few possessions he had managed to salvage from the fire stood in  boxes before him. The troll looked sad as he watched the fading smoke drifting upwards from the blackened debris. 

Shrester was standing by the troll's side. He too  looked saddened by the senseless destruction. 'I'm sorry that this had to happen, and I wish we could have saved the troll we found in the forest'.

He sighed and looked away from the destruction 'But the wounds were deep and there was nothing I could do'.

Vors patted shrester gently on the back. 'You did all you could and you restored in me what little faith I had in human nature'... Withdrawing his hand, Vors wiped a tear from his left eye with his fingertip. 'The villagers here will not let you take Kellerman, they want to burn him'. Vors said firmly, stifling a yawn with the back of his hand. 

Shrester shook his head. 'No, I'm sorry Vors, but he has to go back to the Queen's castle. He'll face justice'... His green eyes did not flicker, nor did they blink. He simply stared into the fading darkness. Shrester seemed lost in his thoughts. 'I hope that justice will reach to  Grimwood Scribes himself. The Lord of the Mire grows rich through the miseries of others. He's the man who has allowed Kellerman Bolte and his rebels to persecute and kill your people'.

Vors watched as the tear trickled down the palm  of his hand. 'I doubt that the Queen will help us' ... His grey lips curled into a sad smile. 'Grimwood Scribes has always maintained his loyalty to the Queen. I know that these are desperate times. She needs people she can count  on'... 

'I'm your friend Vors'. Shrester said, turning towards the troll and offering his palm to shake. 'Trust me, Bolte and Scribes will be exposed for the evil men that they are'. 

Vors chuckled and glanced once more at the smouldering rubble that had once been his house. 'How many more houses must be burned down before that can happen?'.

Shrester offered his hand again 'I saved your village, and now I offer to save your species'... 

The troll looked down at Shrester's outstretched  fingers and smiled with genuine affection. 'I trust you'... Vors said slowly, stretching forward with his hand and gripping Shrester's hand firmly in his own. 

Troll and human were briefly united.

Although Vors could feel his fingers stiffening and the troll's smile quickly changed to a look of surprise, and finally horror as his grey skin began to harden. 

Shrester released the troll from his grip and the man could only watch as Vors began to turn to stone. He gazed into the large yellow eyes of the  troll and they bulged unnaturally and rolled back into his head.

'What have you done to me?'...  The fear in the troll’s voice was very apparent.

'I don't know'... Shrester looked bewildered and  found that his hand was shaking. He looked down at his open palm, and flexed his fingers back and forth. 'It's magic, dark magic'... Shrester could only watch as the troll's entire  body became rock solid. Vors managed one last  word ... 

'Why?'... Before his lips turned to stone and the  troll's yellow eyes faded to grey. A tear fell from his left eye, and tumbled to the ground, turning to dust as it struck against the soil. 

Shrester fell to his knees and placed his head in  his hands. 'Curse you Montrasse'... He looked up at the lifeless statue standing over him. ‘This is your doing’.

Cass Crellwin grabbed Shrester by the shoulder and shook it roughly. 'We have to leave now Dhumass'... The elf had witnessed the whole tragic event and she was very aware of the danger they would now  face from the villagers of Farll. She grabbed Shrester below the elbow, and hauled  the dazed man onto his feet. 'It'll be dawn soon,  we must ride out now'... She said urgently. ‘Or’. Cass stared nervously at the stone statue 'They'll burn Kellerman Bolte, and us for what we did to their chieftain' ...   

 

CHAPTER THIRTY SEVEN

A REFLECTION OF PAIN

Dawn arose in a furnace of burning sunlight and  the two red suns melted against the sky. Clouds  of red stretched across the glowing green horizon. 

The roof of the Yazari Sports car glinted, as the  hazy sunbeams struck against its shiny red metal exterior.  Inside the vehicle drifting in and out of consciousness, Cora Pearl lay slumped against Maymon's shoulder. Her badly damaged hand wrapped in torn strips of bloodstained material, ripped  from the young woman's tee shirt.  The grey skinned man stroked the young woman's blonde hair.

'We need to stop this vehicle'... Maymon said gruffly. 'She needs my help'...

Gilliad held his crucifix in his bloodstained fingers. The previous experiences had left the man physically shaken. He missed his dog Jasper and the tranquillity of the old rectory. 'Pull over Michael'. His voice quivered and he sounded tired.

Michael looked into the centre mirror and he could see Cora's reflection in the glass. She was lying unconscious against Maymon's shoulder and looked as white as a ghost. 

'If you say so'. Michael muttered, pressing the flat of his palm against the gear stick and sliding it down into first. 'Is she dying?'. Michael was unsure of his own  emotions, because his feelings for this woman were very mixed. 

Maymon responded firmly to Michael's question 'Please ... As Gilliad said... You must stop this contraption'. 

Michael pushed his foot down upon the brake and  the car slowed to a stop. The dirt track road ahead had widened and a large wooden signpost stuck out from the grass verge. Inscribed upon it, in black lettering, were the words 'Kilnaroc Dor, twenty miles'. 

Sunshine bathed the open plains in glorious light and the two twin suns had welcomed in the new day with a glorious heavenly display. Michael turned the ignition key and switched off the engine. He gazed over the headrest. 

Maymon pushed the passenger door open and gently lifted Cora from the seat.

Gilliad slid out after her, and they propped the young woman up between them. 'What are you planning to do Maymon?'. Gilliad  placed his arm around Cora's waist and she fell limply against him. 

‘Heal her’. Maymon announced, allowing Cora to fall completely into the reverend's arms. 'Lay  her down by the side of the road'.

Michael opened the driver's door and stepped out. He watched as the reverend lowered Cora's unconscious bloodstained body onto the grass verge. 

Gilliad knelt down by Cora's side and lifted the  woman's head gently upon his lap. 'Cora?'. He said gently 'Can you hear me?'

The young woman was breathing but she was unable to speak.

Gilliad looked away and his eyes followed Maymon as he opened the boot of the car and raised the lid.  

Maymon lifted one of the packaged mirrors from  inside, and ran his fingers along the ridges. He nodded to himself 'This is the one'. 

Michael stood with his hands on his hips and  smiled, he had never seen Cora so quiet.

Maymon crouched down and placed the package upon the  ground. He reached for a knife fastened into his boot, and sliced the mirror free of the packaging. 'You need to wake Cora up. She needs to see herself in the mirror'. Maymon glanced at Michael and smiled. 'I have the solution'. Maymon slid his hand inside his grey sackcloth  tunic, and produced a small glass vial. The bottle contained a strange luminous orange liquid. 

'This'll do the trick'... He looked at the reverend. 'Gilliad!'. Maymon called out... 'Catch'.

He tossed the bottle through the air, but it was Michael who caught it, and he held it up to the  light. The beams of sunlight fractured against the glass and caused the liquid inside to glow more brightly. 'What's in this?'. Michael asked, shaking the  contents very slowly. 

Maymon stood up and tucked the mirror under his arm. 'It will wake Cora up' He replied. 'And when she wakes up, she will gaze into the mirror and  everything will be as it should be'... 

Cora's body was propped up against a tree in a seated position. Her head dropped forward and Gilliad lifted her chin gently and leant it back against the tree's trunk.

Michael unscrewed the lid of the container and was about to sniff the contents, but Maymon interrupted his actions.

'No Michael'... He shook his head and pointed his finger at Cora. 'Place it under her nose, It'll bring her back'...

Gilliad stepped aside and Michael placed the flat of his palm on the top of Cora's head to hold her steady. He past the vial beneath her nostrils and Cora's face began to twitch.

'She's waking up'. Maymon said 'You and Gilliad should move behind me'. 

‘Sure’. Michael screwed the lid back onto the bottle and patting the reverend Gilliad on the shoulder. He handed the glass vial back to Maymon and moved himself out of the way.

Maymon placed the ornately framed mirror upon the ground and Cora's reflection was caught in the glass. 'Cora'.. He said gently ‘Look into the mirror Cora’... 

The young woman's eyes opened slowly and Cora felt immense pain sweeping through her damaged hand. She looked into the glass, her weary eyes filled with tears. 

'Oh God'. She muttered desperately, the grisly sight of her own bloodstained clothes making her feel queasy. 'Am I dying?'. 

Maymon held the corners of the mirror firmly in both hands 'Remember how you once looked Cora...  Remember'. He said almost hypnotically. 

Cora's image in the glass began to change. The  bloodstains that had dried on her clothes slowly faded away, and the strips of torn tee shirt unravelled from her bandaged hand. 

Gilliad and Michael watched in amazement as Cora's fingers grew back, one after the other. The young woman's pasty complexion became rosy and the tears evaporated against her skin. 

'The mirrors all have different powers' ... Maymon  said proudly, his grey eyes focused on Cora. 'But magic only works if you believe in it'... 

Gilliad crouched beside Cora and squeezed the young woman's shoulders affectionately. The reverend smiled at Maymon. 'By God!... It's a miracle'.

He said enthusiastically 'Perhaps Christian allegory in fantasy, still has its place'.

Michael turned his back on what was happening and  strolled away. 'I don't believe anything I'm seeing... Christian what?'. He said with a frown. 'God knows what you're talking about'...

Michael gazed into the green sky and squinted into the twin suns. He looked at the fields of yellow grass and the rolling grey hills that rolled below the horizon.  Michael knew that this was not a dream. It was far too vivid, the events too structured. He wondered what other horrors awaited him. The strange mushrooms and the mechanical man had shaken him, but what next? He gazed at the signpost to Kilnaroc Dor. Perhaps, Michael  thought, he would learn more when he reached the Queen's castle...   

 

CHAPTER THIRTY EIGHT

HOSTILE REACTIONS

Angry grey skinned faces had gathered around the stone statue of Vors and the villagers of Farll were furious.

Kelken, a gigantic, muscular troll dressed in black sackcloth, his long white hair flowing down to his huge shoulders, and his white eyes flashing with rage ranted at his fellow villagers. 

'We have been deceived!'. He yelled, saliva spurting from the gaps between his sharp black teeth... 'Shrester is our enemy!'. The troll announced loudly, thrusting his axe  high into the air. 'We must hunt Kellerman down and kill him! We must exterminate those that took him from us!’

The reaction of villager's was mixed, the women and children looked sad and uncomfortable. However, the male trolls, their huge eyes passing from the statue of their former chieftain back to the raging face of Kelken, were in agreement with him. Dhumass Shrester, the elf and the two knights should be hunted down and burnt alive for the crimes they had committed against the villagers of Farll.

Kelken could sense their bubbling hatred and smelt the sweet, sweaty desire for revenge. The troll pointed his axe towards two large grey feet sticking out from under a sheet. The corpse of a troll lay covered beneath it, its body outstretched upon the ground. 

'The humans killed our brother!'. Kelken's white eyes rolled madly. 'It was the birds that saved us... not the human creatures!'. Kelken spat angrily upon the ground. ‘We must kill our enemies, and we must fight as always to survive!’.  His mad eyes moved from one face to the next  'Who is with me?!' He screamed 'Look to Vors... He too  must be avenged!... 

The trolls were silent, lost in their thoughts. Vors, their chieftain had been a wonderful compassionate leader, but for all his efforts he had now been turned to stone. One, by one the male trolls lifted their axes  into the air. Kelken smiled grotesquely, he had their undying support. 

The women and children huddled themselves together, afraid of the new aggressive stance the village males were taking. But the blood was up and the trolls began to chant Kelken's name.

Kelken's eyes fixed upon the grey, stony face of Vors. The sad, pained expression, carved forever in stone did not register with the ragged white haired troll. Vors had failed the villagers and Kelken believed that he would now be their saviour. The troll's bleak nature thrived on the chanting of his name and it made him feel powerful.

Kelken stroked his thick grey fingers along the blade of  his axe and grinned. He was keen to use the weapon against his human enemies, but he would start with the human corpses first.

'Kellerman's knights!'. He shouted... 'Cut off their heads and mount them on poles!'. Kelken began to salivate again 'For we are the lost legion of death'.  

 

CHAPTER THIRTY NINE

BAD MEMORIES

Cora twiddled the fingers of her left hand. There  were no scars and not even the slightest twinge of pain. Seated in the front passenger seat Cora leaned against the leather headrest and gazed into the centre mirror. She could see Maymon's face reflected in the glass. 

'I'm impressed, but then I guess, this being my land, I healed myself'... 

Maymon raised his hood and drew it over his head. 'Believe what you will'. He said tiredly, pulling the hood down over his face 'All that matters is that you have your fingers again'. The hooded man folded his arms over his chest and bowing his head forward Maymon appeared to fall asleep. 

'I'm astonished'... Gilliad breathed on the lenses of his glasses and polished them against his black jacket.

‘Although I'm worried about my dog and I was supposed to be doing a fete for the Women's Institute on Sunday afternoon!’ 

Michael chuckled, shook his head and changed gear. 'Well.  I'm losing money, and I think that's a little more important than some fete'.  

Cora ignored the conversation. She seemed more  interested in the silver rod that the robot had  dropped. There were six circular buttons running down along its side, the strange symbols looked a little like hieroglyphics. 

Gilliad looked through the rear door window and watched as the splendid scenery swept past the car. 'I've seen things that convince me that my faith in God is justified'... Gilliad slipped the glasses over his nose.  'Do you have any faith Michael?'... 

'Not really'. He replied quietly, glancing at Cora and seeing that she was lost in her own thoughts 'You lose faith in lots of things when you have a relationship with someone like Cora'. 

'I heard that'. Cora said, not bothering to look up and running her fingers along the silver buttons. 'Why don't you just get over it. Or are you still out to get me because we didn't emotionally connect?'. 

Michael slammed his foot against the brake and  the car screeched to a sudden stop. Gilliad and Maymon were thrown forward and the reverend's glasses fell into his lap. The seatbelts prevented them from smashing their faces upon the  back of the seats. 

Maymon shook himself awake and threw back his hood. He looked unmoved by the experience, the  expression on his face completely blank... 

The reverend was naturally agitated 'What are you  doing?'... He asked breathlessly, picking up his glasses with shaking hands. 'You trying to kill us?’... 

Michael squeezed the steering wheel and looked daggers at Cora. She sat with her hands resting on the dashboard, drawing in deep breaths to calm her nerves. 'You're a right bitch Cora'. He said aggressively 'You spent a long time saying you loved me and at the end of it all, you told me we didn't emotionally connect'...

Michael glared at the wretched woman. 'You're a shallow, pathetic liar, with the emotional depth of a twelve year old child'. 

Cora gulped and her Adam's apple rolled up and down her throat. The young woman looked uncomfortable with Michael's comments. 

Michael narrowed his eyes and raised his left eyebrow 'You know what you are?' ... ‘You're a ginn... A witch and only a witch could magic up a place like this, and make me suffer in it'... He said aggressively, his eyes unable to conceal the anger he was feeling inside. 

Cora did not respond. She just sat and stared into Michael's angry face. The colour in her cheeks fading quickly. 

Gilliad and Maymon sat listening, neither man moved, or spoke. 

'You just going to stare at me Cora?' Michael grinned  ‘You wanted the ground to swallow me up, but it didn't’. He banged his fist on the steering wheel. 'Next time I brake hard'... He said nonchalantly 'Don't wear a seatbelt, because I want to put you through the windscreen’... 

Cora's shotgun was resting next to her thigh and she stroked the barrel with her fingers. The temptation to shoot Michael was increasing. 'I helped you many times'.  She said with a deep sigh. 'I was there when your parents died'. 

'You're having a laugh aren't you?' He responded his body trembling as he tried to repress the fury welling up in his stomach.  'My dad died, and then my mother, with a two week gap between each'. Michael gritted his teeth, and  scowled 'And do you know what you said when you  heard that my mum was ill?' 

Cora shook her head. ‘At least you had parents. I had Blackthorn, and he never changed’. She could feel her mouth drying, and the sweat moistened the palms of her  hands. 

'As for what I said... No, I don't remember'. She spoke in a low voice... 

‘You said’. Michael gripped the wheel tightly and closed his eyes. He felt sick. 'You said... I can't go through all that again'. He turned his head and glared at Cora. 'You can't go through all that again?! For Christ sake they were my parents!'. 

'I don't remember that'.. Cora's words were barely  audible... 

'No... You wouldn't remember would you?’... He sneered  at the women. 'You only remember the things that make you look good, and anything that is wrong is the fault of others. But remember this, I know the real you... I've seen the truth... What I just said is scratching the surface of your lifelong masquerade'... 

'You really hate me don't you?' ... Cora's voice sounded harsh, but her eyes were welling with tears, and her tough exterior was beginning to  falter. 

Michael could see that Cora was upset and it made him feel warm inside. He wanted the feeling of his own well being to increase so he continued his verbal attack.  'Sara is the only reason for you to exist. If she  stops loving you, you'll be worthless'... 

Cora raised her palms and pushed them against an  oppressive, invisible wall that in her mind had formed in front of her. She closed her eyes and swallowed hard.

'Go to hell Michael'... She said tearfully opening the car door and stepping outside. Michael shuddered as she slammed it shut behind her. He banged his head gently upon the steering wheel and lifting his brown eyes he gazed sheepishly through the windscreen at the open  road ahead. 

Maymon and Gilliad looked at each other and the two men instinctively shook hands. The reverend  stepped out of the car, and closed the door. 

Outside the car Cora kicked against the loose  soil that lay scattered across the dirt track  road. 

'I hate that man'. Cora said, grinding her teeth  together. 'I want to kill him'... She clutched the  shotgun tightly across her chest. 

Gilliad stood back, although he wanted to embrace the young woman, Cora's  anger dissuaded him from  doing so. 

'Cora' The reverend said softly, leaning against the car. 'You want to find your daughter. But he's not to blame for you losing your child'. 

Cora stared down at her booted feet, and shook the dust angrily from the bottom of her trouser legs.  'I can't work alongside that man'... She gazed tearfully at the reverend's half smiling face. 'So?' She said forcefully 'You just going to smile at me?' 

'No' Gilliad replied slowly. 'Life is often a painful experience. Sacrifice, loss'... His chest lifted beneath the dark collars of his suit, as he drew in a deep breath 'But we can control our hate, because hate only causes us to lose more. It shouldn't rule your life Cora'... 

'What do you know about hate and sacrifice?' She sneered 'You just believe in God and hide from the real world. You don't know anything'. 

Gilliad shrugged and scratched the tip of his nose with the smooth edge of his crucifix.

'I'd  give up my life before I'd hurt another' He  raised his hands into the darkness 'But all of this is life whether I'm here or not, and all life matters, human or otherwise. Hate and love'... He continued, clasping his fingers together as if in prayer 'Hate and love are all bound together, but where there is love; it is true to say that hate really has no power. Let it fall away... Or you will fall with it Cora'... 

Cora bowed her head and lowered the gun barrel to  her knees. 'You've got reason to hate me'. She  muttered 'After all I brought you here'. 

The reverend slipped his pipe from his pocket and  unwrapping his tobacco he began to fill it.  'Well' He said striking a match and igniting the  pipe's contents. 'I was brought here for a  reason. This is more important than the fete, or the women's institute, or even Jasper'. He began to puff contentedly, and watched as the smoke  spiralled upwards. 'God created the universe, and  this appears to be another part of it. I will  serve him here, as I would serve him anywhere'... 

Cora chuckled and shook her head 'This is my  world, it was not made by your God. Where are you from originally?’ She blinked quickly and wiped her trickling tears away.

Gilliad raised his head and smiled proudly. ‘I was born in Jamaica, raised in the Christian faith. I came to England in the 1970’s. I know hate and I know prejudice, and poisoned judgement. But I could walk naked in the Grimney valley and be pierced by spears or bullets, but my faith is greater than my mortal life. And because of it I have no fear’.  

'Your faith does not extend to Grimney and God whatever that is’ Cora said flippantly... 'Will not change anything in this world reverend'... 

Gilliad took another puff upon his pipe and his soft lips curled into a knowing smile. 'God moves in mysterious ways, his wonders to perform'. The reverend grinned 'We are all children of God and God himself can be perceived in many ways, and through many religions, but God, in truth is master over all faiths, and we serve the very  same no matter what our faith maybe'. 

Inside the car Michael sat quietly, drumming his fingers rhythmically upon the steering wheel. 'What’re they doing out there?' He said his voice trembling with frustration.

'Do you know what I see when I gaze in the mirror  Michael?' Maymon asked, his face bathed in shadow. 

‘No’. He said glumly ‘Do I care?’.

Maymon hesitated before answering. 'Nothing'. He replied, without a hint of emotion in his voice 'But then that's the honest truth about me... I'm only what other people want to see. It isn't about how I view myself at all. Although, that does make me rather hollow'. 

Michael looked irritated 'What's your point if you do actually have one?'. 

'She may have made mistakes'. Maymon said casually. 'Perhaps you may only have seen one part of her character'. The grey man's voice was staggered, and he paused for a moment, before continuing 'Cora may only have seen a small part of your character too'. Maymon looked thoughtful 'The question, maybe, was not about who was good and who was bad, but, who was most afraid of  showing their true feelings, and their true character'.

Michael shrugged. 'What is this?' He chuckled 'So you don't just pull rabbits from hats, and do magical things with mirrors... You're a qualified psychiatrist too?'.

Maymon leaned back in his chair and pulled his hood  down over his eyes. 'Michael, if I don't exist, then why should I care?' The grey man folded his arms and in moments he had drifted to sleep. 

The front and rear passenger doors opened and Cora, and Gilliad climbed back into the car.

Michael glanced at Cora from the corner of his eye. He could see the blotchy patches on her cheeks and it was obvious that Cora had been crying.

Gilliad sat down in the back of the car, and taking the silver crucifix from his jacket, the reverend kissed it for comfort. 

Michael turned the key in the ignition and stared straight ahead, as the engine burst into life.

‘Kilnaroc Dor is straight ahead. That's where we're going’. Cora rubbed her cheeks against the back of her  hands, and pulled the seatbelt across her chest. ‘Let’s go’. Her mood was heavy and she felt deeply uncomfortable seated next to Michael. 'All that matters is that we save Sara'. Cora spoke, slowly and softly, her words subdued. 'I don't matter as much as my child, and I'm willing  to accept that Michael. What happened between us  is best forgotten'... 

Michael shook his head, but made no attempt to look at Cora. ‘Fine by me’. He said, revving the car engine aggressively. 'Easy to forget, than to apologise’. He put the car into gear ‘But if that's the way you want it... So  be it. Let's just go and find Sara'.    

 

CHAPTER FORTY

FARFELL MONASTERY

High walls, tall, white, and coated in chalk. Spires of solid stone, twisting into the sky and a domed centre, with windows of red stained glass, and doors of pious grey. An arched wall surrounded Farfell Monastery and a large wooden  gate shut out the world beyond. The grounds  inside were immaculate, and pruned green bushes, shaped into praying figures, dotted the decorative landscape. Huge beds of flowers, rainbow coloured, and blessed with heavenly colour, bloomed in the wide opened spaces. 

Four tired horses, carrying four riders, trotted towards the monastery. Dhumass Shrester led the way and he sat astride his horse Bedight. Shrester looked lost, and his eyes were downcast. Cass rode by his side, her small delicate frame hidden beneath black sackcloth robes, her hood  pulled down over her face. 

Seated at the rear, astride his white stallion,  Kellerman Bolte's armoured boots were bound tightly against the saddle. His hands were tied in front of him, but the man still looked proud. The humiliation of captivity did not daunt him.  Attached to the muzzle of Kellerman's stallion was a long chain, this linked to the saddle of Vin's horse, and the red eyed knight guided his prisoner along the winding path towards the  monastery. 

'I know the monks here'... Cass's voice had a soothing effect. 'They can be a little  boisterous. But they might be able to help you Dhumass'... 

Shrester gripped Bedight's reins tightly in his gloved hands. He realised that the slightest touch from his bare fingers had the power to turn people into stone. Shrester struggled with the memory of Cora's death, and the shame he felt knowing that he had allowed a child of twelve to  die in his care. This tragedy alone had made the man escape into the wilderness, and now, Vors, the good spirited troll had fallen foul of Shrester's tainted life.

The four riders trotted their horses up to the high arched wooden gate. Cass dismounted and wrapped her delicate knuckles against the door. 

A wooden panel slid down and a round, smooth hairless face peered through the hole. 'Good afternoon'... The monk said, in a very posh voice. 'What may we do for you? What brings you to our door?'. 

Cass lowered her hood and revealed her pretty elfish face. The girl smiled at the monk. 'Hello Father Malthus’. She said softly. 'We need your help. Please help us'.

The holy man quickly slid away the bolts securing the door, and lifting the iron handle he pulled it open.  'Come in, come in!'... The monk said enthusiastically. 'I would happily help. Oh what a pleasure, what a pleasure'.  Father Malthus peered around the door arch. 'Do leave your horses... I will send a monk to tend and water them'. 

Shrester and Vin slid down from their saddles.  Kellerman restricted by his bound wrists did not move. He simply stared straight ahead, his eyes steady and unblinking. 

'Is he a naughty person?' Father Malthus inquired, his small pink eyes scanning the sharp features of the prisoner's face. 

Kellerman looked down upon the monk. 'I am not a law breaker'... The man's voice was harsh and dismissive. 'I am Sir Kellerman Bolte, a man of honour, and I was knighted by Queen Eleanor herself'. He commented arrogantly, his cold dark eyes narrowing as he glared at the fat little holy man. 'Who are you monk?'... 

Father Malthus looked dumbstruck and shook his face, the monk's chubby cheeks and hanging chin wobbled like pale pink jelly. 'I wasn't trying to offend you sir. If my  assumption is false, then I am deeply sorry to have upset you'... 

'Ignore him'... Shrester said, offering his gloved  hand to shake, but then quickly withdrawing it.

The monk looked confused by Shrester's behaviour.  'Have I upset you also sir?’ Father Malthus asked. 

'No, not at all'. Shrester replied rubbing his gloved hands together in front of his face and blowing on them. 'I've good reasons for my behaviour'... 

Vin grabbed the monk affectionately by the hand and shook it firmly. 'We would appreciate your hospitality. Maybe some fruit, a glass of wine or two?'. He said with a broad grin. 

Father Malthus chuckled like a half strangled chicken and huge dimples burrowed into his flabby round cheeks. 'You are all very welcome at Farfell. We have fruit by the barrel load, and wine by the bucket'. The man threw back  his large head and roared with peculiar laughter.  'Come in, come in!' The monk said dancing around Vin and the elf. The holy man's huge belly bouncing, as he lifted his hefty bulk onto his bare toes, and hopped merrily about, the monk was surprisingly agile for a man of his size. 

Shrester stepped aside. He found the monk's behaviour somewhat odd.

The monk brushed his fat little fingers across Vin's face and the red eyed knight frowned. 

'Ah!' Father Malthus said with a giggle. 'The wine is fine, if you have the time. Come in! Follow me!'... 

Kellerman shook his head, and scowled. 'The monk's isolated life has driven the man mad'. He thought. 

'This way my good fellows!'... Father Malthus said, skipping through the open door and disappearing from sight. Moments later the monks fat foot appeared from behind the door, and he wiggled his painted toes at his guests. ‘Follow my foot!’. He called out, before he quickly pulled it out of sight.   

Shrester, Vin and Cass looked at each other. The  two men looked bewildered, but Cass just smiled. ‘Well.. She said winking a lovely blue eye at Shrester 'Let's follow him’.     

 

CHAPTER FORTY ONE

THE THOUGHTS OF EVIL

The monastery chapel was filled with life size marble statues, each one depicting the immortal images of holy men. Arms outstretched in what appeared to be acts of prayer, but as Cass and the others followed father Malthus across the uneven stone floor. It quickly became clear that the statues did not show monks in worship of  their god. For each one of the ten figures held long stemmed bottles to their lips, and all were engaged in the act of drinking. 

Father Malthus climbed a series of stone steps to the altar at the room's end. A bottle of wine and six goblets encrusted with jewels were laid out upon a large red cloth that draped over the altar. 

The monk pulled a cork from the bottle and began to pour the liquid into the cups. 'You must need a drink of our Holy Spirit. Oh yes, a drink is always needed'.  Father Malthus handed Vin and Cass a goblet each. 

Shrester shook his head politely. 'I don't drink anything but tea... It's against my beliefs to drink anything given to me by another order’... Shrester tapped his wounded forehead with his finger. The small golden moon tattoo was barely noticeable, but Father Malthus still recognised the symbol. 

The fat monk gulped down the wine and wiped his big lips on the sleeve of his red robe. 'A Gadroon Monk... I thought your order had died out?'. He commented his eyes gazing at the long sword strapped in its scabbard to Shrester's back. 'I notice that you are a contradiction sir... Monks do not generally carry weaponry, and as a seeker of the meaning of life does your Order permit the taking of it?'.. 

‘I am a War Mage’. Shrester replied and he gazed at the statues that surrounded him. The bald headed warrior looked bemused by the monk's obvious worship of alcohol. 'As for me being a contradiction'. He said sarcastically, smiling at the glum faced Kellerman who was  standing to his left. The man's hands were still  tied. 

'I'd like some wine'... Kellerman's voice was firm and clear, his expression blank and unfriendly. 

'Take this man for example'... Shrester said gesturing his light green eyes towards the prisoner. 'On his saddle are the Dellvarian words 'Lutonious, grascious, martus’.  'Ah yes'... The monk said knowingly. 'Loyalty,  grace, martyrdom'. Father Malthus had a very scholarly mind, and he was fluent in several languages. 

'If sir, he does indeed have those rather fine  qualities. Then why is he bound by his wrists and  paraded as your prisoner?'... 

'Because this land is full of contradictions'...  Shrester responded dryly. 

Kellerman was not impressed by the judgement that  Shrester was obviously making against him. He  glared at the bald headed warrior. Shrester was every inch his inferior, and the man disgusted him. 'Don't judge me'... He said harshly, staring at the faces that surrounded him. 

Vin looked away and Cass lowered her deep blue eyes and sipped her wine gently.

'I am not a lawbreaker. I am loyal to Lord Grimwood Scribes and have served my Queen faithfully in many campaigns' Kellerman raised his bound wrists and jabbed his fingers at Shrester. 'You're a coward Dhumass. You're afraid of me.  That's why I am bound. You know that if I was freed I'd be a danger to you'... Kellerman’s eyes  switched to the stunned face of father Malthus.  'And you monk, you are allowing criminals into your monastery. My black armour was issued to me by the Queen herself, these people do not wear  the uniform of the Knight's Elite'. He looked at  Vin, and the young man sighed.  'Except you Vin... That armour represents your loyalty to me, to the Crown... You have betrayed your own people'... 

Shrester drew an iron key from his pocket, and  tossed it to the floor by Kellerman's feet...  'Release yourself'.  He said slowly 'You can  travel without your shackles, I have no fear of you Bolte'... 

Kellerman raised his chin and looked down his nose at the bald headed warrior. 'Don't play games with me little man’. He sneered, bending  down and scooping the key into the palms of his hands. 'You’re a pathetic human being'.  Kellerman stood back upon his feet and once more  craned back his head and looked down at Shrester. 'I know the story about you'. He said with a smug  grin. 'How you failed to save that little child from drowning'. Kellerman attempted to slide the key into the lock fastened to his shackles. 'I think your failure to save Cora all that time ago, is a far greater crime than the deaths of a few  wretched trolls, that no one would miss'.

Vin shook his head and sunk his teeth into his  bottom lip. Cass and father Malthus looked at Shrester nervously. 

The Chapel seemed unbearably silent and the sound of the iron shackles falling away to the floor seemed deafening.  Kellerman rubbed his sore wrists. 'Dhumass Shrester' ... He said turning up his nose. 'The legendary war mage who couldn't save a twelve year old girl from drowning'.

Shrester lowered his eyes, and he gazed at the iron shackles lying still upon the floor. His expression blank, the man was lost in his own thoughts of guilt and sadness. 

‘That's enough’. Vin said softly 'Cora was killed by Jaynus Weaver, one of the Nexus Malignus and he died too. Dhumass is not to be blamed... An act of evil killed Cora’.

Kellerman laughed shallowly 'Evil? Who is evil? You  think I'm evil?. You think the Nexus Malignus are evil.. Such a trivial word... I don't think that evil is so easily defined ... It all depends on which side you’re on and who wins'. He said glancing at the downcast warrior 'Doesn't it Shrester? And who's side are you on now?'...

Shrester looked up and simply stared straight ahead, his green eyes unfocused and flickering oddly. 'The twin sisters of the Nexus Malignus are our enemies. I will see them destroyed. If need be, I will die in battle against them'.. He grinned, but the expression seemed false. Behind the narrow, empty smile his hatred for Kellerman  Bolte was growing. 'Your life is nothing'... Shrester said sternly 'You will die too'...   

 

CHAPTER FORTY TWO

KILNAROC DOR

Kilnaroc Dor was a ghost town. The stylish domed white buildings appeared to be empty. Stables attached to the many houses stood in rows beside their neatly tended gardens, but no horses grazed within them. Bakeries, taverns, and small corner shops their  signposts hanging above their doors rocked  against a gentle wind. 

The red sports car drove slowly past and Cora and her colleagues gazed silently through the tinted windows. 

Maymon peered out from beneath his hood. 'The war is coming... The armies of the Nexus Malignus are on their way'.

Cora held her shotgun upon her lap. 'I'm ready for the final battle'... Her voice was unfaltering and without a hint of fear 'I will kill anyone or anything that gets in my way. I’m the Creator of Grimney and I can be its Destroyer’. 

The reverend bowed his head forward and stared down at the silver Crucifix cradled in the palm of his right hand. 'I pray that we can get her back without further bloodshed. I really do'. He swallowed hard and brushed his finger across the shiny metal. 'The need for violence should never outweigh the need for peace'...

Cora frowned and shook her head with irritation  'I don't care if ten thousand die. I only care about my child'.   

'Our child. She wasn't an immaculate conception, and you sure aren’t the Virgin Mary’. Michael interceded, turning the steering wheel gently and pressing his foot down upon the accelerator... 'Sara is our child. I love her just as much as you do'...  

'Oh right'.. Cora replied flippantly. 'That's why you took this car away and sold it after we split up... Sara was heartbroken'. 

The reverend rolled his eyes. 'Here we go again'... He muttered, sliding down in his seat... 

'No'. Michael said calmly 'I took this car away from you as I was paying for it, and I was simply sick to death of you scavenging off me... That's all’.. He scowled at his own faint reflection in the windscreen. 'Don't keep using Sara as a defence for your own greedy and selfish nature'.

'Think what you like'. Cora responded stroking the trigger of the shotgun. 'I'm past caring what you think anyway, just don’t talk to me'. 

I know, and I don’t want to talk to you'... Michael said nodding his head and gazing out at the empty buildings  'What I felt ceased to matter when you dumped me out of your life and went off with somebody else... You had no  regard for Sara's feelings or me when you did that... I hardly think the car matters after all the pain you caused anyway'...   

 

CHAPTER FORTY FOUR

THE LONE RIDER

The three men were ragged, their skins leathery and tanned by the burning suns. Dark fur clothes that were shabby and swept with dust clung to their sweating bodies. The horses that carried  them were laced in their own blood and branded with the letters 'NM'

Axton Dredge the formidable looking man who rode  slightly ahead of his colleagues had long dark blue hair, platted into dreadlocks. The right side of his face had been horribly burned, and half of the man's top lip had been ripped away exposing his upper teeth in such a way that he appeared to be permanently grinning. 

The two men riding behind him were dark skinned and hideously pock marked. Blisters and growths covered their faces, and their hair hung lankly over their scarred foreheads. 

A lone rider, his face hidden beneath a hood and his body wrapped in long purple robes sat astride a glistening skinned black horse. The magnificent animal began to approach the three men, as it trotted slowly over the open plains. But the robed man's focus was on the tall white towers of  the Queen's castle that stood in the far  distance. 

Axton raised his hand, and the two horses behind him stopped in their tracks, as his two followers pulled sharply on their reins. 'It be our man... Come to taste his blood'... Axton lisped as he spoke... 'Time to her earn our pay'. 

The men reached into their saddles and slid out their swords and stood their ground as the robed rider approached. The purple robed figure drew his horse to a stop  and lent back in the saddle. 'Do you have a score to settle gentleman?' He had the voice of a young man, but he sounded confident and self-assured. 

'Yes traveller'. Axton replied. 'We think you're Daniel Blackthorn... The last living Zoriat... We've been sent to kill you'. 

The young man threw back his hood. 'I am the person you seek'.  Daniel's hair was short, black and spiky, and red  stripes streaked through it. His skin was pale and white like snow and his brooding pale blue eyes stared steadily ahead. 'But I suggest you join me and ride to the castle, for in the final battle all those that fight alongside the Nexus Malignus will certainly lose their lives'.   Daniel pointed to the branded letters stencilled upon the skin of the men's horses. 'NM... Nexus Malignus'. He sighed... 'Three against one is hardly fair odds'.

Axton chuckled and rocked in his saddle. 'It’ll be quick and painless. You’ve killed quite a few of your hunters, but it ends here for you Zorait’. The two henchmen looked smug and grinned at their leader. Holding their swords by their sides, they waited for the order to strike. 

Daniel slipped down from the horse and reached inside the saddle's large leather pocket. 'No'. He said sliding out a large bound book. 'I was thinking that the odds were in my favour rather than yours'. Daniel placed the book upon the ground and opened it and the pages fell flat against the books white cover. He went down upon one knee and  flattened his palm against a blank page. 'I travelled to Vorgania and reclaimed the second Guardian book from the Vorgranor and I have killed many of your people’. Daniel closed his eyes and began to mutter incantations under his breath.

A streak of fiery red lightning blazed its way through the green sky. Descending rapidly like a beacon of swirling flame it fell upon Daniel's shoulders and absorbed him inside a twisting  maelstrom. 

The horses carrying the three assassins panicked and tossed the men from their saddles. They fell roughly into the grass, their horses bolting away from the light in panic. 

'Damned warlock'. Axton grabbed his blade and staggered onto his feet... 'Kill that boy!'... 

The two dark skinned henchmen were unsure of how to react to the mystic forces. They stood back and edged cautiously behind their blue haired leader. The ball of red light expanded and a dark shape loomed through the dancing, writhing sea of colour.

'By the gods'. Axton said his mouth twisting more  grotesquely as he spoke.

A huge shiny black scaled winged dragon arose from the crimson tide and the red light dissipated, and faded into the ether. Daniel's pale blue eyes stared down the dragon's long slender nose at the three men. Daniel  snorted heavily and smoke blew from his nostrils... 

Axton stepped forward. ‘You don't frighten me Daniel Blackthorn!’ He shouted, unaware that his  two colleagues were edging away. 'I've slaughtered more dragons than you've had hot dinners'. He said thrusting his sword  threateningly at the dragon. 'I have single-handedly killed more dragons than any man or woman in Grimney!'. Axton roared. 'Haven't I boys?' He said boastfully turning to look as his two followers, only to find that both men had climbed back upon their horses and were  galloping away to safety. 'Cowards, Hellcat Meridian will flail your skin from your bodies!. Axton shouted angrily. 'But as I said he's just another damned dragon'. He  stared up at the long slender scaly-faced beast and snarled 'You'll be easy! I'll be having dragon pie for lunch!'. He boasted. 'And then I’ll mount your big stupid head on a plaque in my dining hall!' 

The dragon looked angry and screwed up his pale blue eyes, and lowering his huge head he puffed smoked into Axton's face.

The blue haired man coughed and brushed the smoke away with the palm of his hand. He reached up and jabbed the dragon hard upon the nose with an outstretched finger...

Daniel jolted backwards and raised his head high into the air, and once more the dragon glared menacingly at Axton.

'Time to meet your maker dragon'. The blue haired man gave a blood curdling battle cry and waving his sword, he charged recklessly at the magical creature. Daniel craned back his scaly head and inhaled the warm air. Puffing out with his lungs he opened  his huge mouth and a jet of orange flame belched from his throat. 

'Wait! I’m not ready!'. Axton screamed, dropping his sword and raising his arms in front of his face. A wave  of rolling fire engulfed the man's body. The assassin's skin melted and dissolved into ash, until he was nothing more than a pile of scorched  bones lying at the dragon's scaly feet...   

 

CHAPTER FORTY THREE

MONASTIC MAYHEM

Dhumass Shrester sat upon a wooden stool in the  monastery's infirmary. It was a small square room. There were shelves stacked with all sorts of different medicines. Glass bottles contained remedies to cure sicknesses of all descriptions, from demonic possession to irritable bowels.

Father Grecko, a red robed, tall thin monk with a coned shaped shaven head, one arm and a long pointed chin pottered around the seated man. He peered through the half-mooned spectacles perched upon the tip of his slender nose. The one armed monk's pale white eyes watered as he stared at the circular wound on Shrester's forehead.

'Yes' He said drawing out the word dramatically. 'It seems you have been infected by dark magic'... 

Shrester looked irritated 'I obviously know that'. He said abruptly 'Just tell me how I can reverse the magic’. 

‘Undo spells'...  The monk scanned the shelves for the appropriate medicine. 'Love potions'... He grinned inanely. 'Elixir of Laxative, hair loss solutions'... Father Grekco rubbed his hand across the top of his  coned shaped head 'I mean to try that I think'. He  muttered to himself. 

'That won't help me'... Shrester responded frostily. 

The monk gazed down at Shrester's hairless head. 'Oh I don't know though'... He said with a crooked smile. 'Would you like help with you balding  cranium?'... 

'No I wouldn't'. Shrester gritted his teeth together in annoyance. 'Look... Are you a man of alchemy and science or not?' 

'Yes'. He replied nodding his head. 'I was stalling you, and bracing for the truth. Whatever magic you have acquired can be undone... Yes'. He said ponderously. 

'So you have an answer?'... Shrester's green eyes  narrowed and he studied the lined grey face of the holy man.

'In a land of men with no arms'. The monk said sagely  'The one armed man is king'.

Shrester's expression was blank. 'Given that we are in a land of two armed men that comment seems pretty pointless’.

'True'. The monk said in agreement, pushing his glasses to the top of his nose. 'The solution is simple... You could break the spell by dying, or perhaps killing the creature that gave you the magic'. 

'I see'. Shrester considered the two choices. 'Both options appeal to me'. He said 'But I think I'll try the latter first'... 

Father Grekco smiled. 'Very wise... Now what about the hair loss? Would you like me to help you with  that?'.

The door to the surgery burst open and another monk staggered in. His face bruised and bloodied,  his robes torn around his neck. He tripped over his own feet and fell drunkenly into the outstretched arm of father Grekco. 

'Father Verdell'. The one armed monk shook his head in disappointment. 'Drunk and fighting again'... 

Shrester looked shocked. He could not believe his own eyes and ears. 'Fighting?'. Shrester remarked with bemusement... 

Father Grekco laid the injured monk upon the floor. 'Well we do like our wine and quite often  that leads to a bit of a fisticuffs. Monks will be monks'. Father Grekco said with a chuckle. 'We just like to imbibe the Holy Spirit'.  He winked at Shrester 'And there's nothing wrong with that now is there?'...   

 

CHAPTER FORTY FOUR

THE LAST SUNSET

The daylight comfort began to fade away and the two red moons shimmered over the darkening horizon. The gleaming white walls of the Queen's castle stood in shadow, as the moonbeams were caught in silhouette against the pale stone. 

Weary soldiers stood upon the battlements. Bleary eyed and exhausted, these men and women watched over the silent plains that swept onwards beneath  and beyond the castle walls. Nothing stirred and a blanket of tranquil silence draped across the land. 

General Cassius Loran, a man of perceived principle and honour had volunteered to stay on guard duty overnight. He believed in sacrifice and service. Loran had risen through the military ranks because of his selfless nature, and in that respect he was extremely unique. The general was  popular with the lower ranks, and respected by  those whose status surpassed his own. Therefore he never performed guard duty alone, because there was always another volunteer, willing to serve alongside him during a lonely night. 

Maresca Carlina a raven haired young women clad in black armour, was a striking looking girl. Her  face was almond shaped and her eyes were dark and mysterious, Maresca's skin was smooth, unblemished and porcelain white. She leant against the battlement wall of the highest tower, and staring into the setting suns, she felt a cool, comforting breeze ruffle through her hair, and she closed her dark eyes. 

Loran stood by the young women's side and watched as a tear trickled from beneath Maresca's left eyelid, it ran gently down the young girl's cheek and fell into the wind.  Maresca opened her eyes, and they glistened. The  warm colours that filled the sky were an orchestra of art. It was as if she could hear the distant sounds of violins, and the gentle strumming of a heavenly harp. Red, yellow, green,  and orange flowed together and burst from the core of the twin suns as they descended into the  night. 

'It's amazing isn't it?'... Maresca said gently wiping the tears from her eyes. 'Such a beautiful land... But this time tomorrow we'll probably be slaughtering each other'. She raised her eyes and gazed once more into the splendour of the glowing sky. 'The sun will set over the dead, and it'll  probably still be as beautiful as it was  tonight'. She glanced at Loran, and smiled sadly. 'But we may not be here to see it'. 

Loran patted his colleague on her armoured back. He knew that Maresca would not feel his touch, but he hoped the gesture would be of some comfort to her. 'Daniel Blackthorn's arrival will save us from defeat. I'm also confident that our superior military training will lead our forces to victory'... Loran's words failed to reassure Maresca, she  raised her eyebrows, and frowned.

‘Sir’. She said softly, trying to suppress her fiery temperament 'There were only three survivors at the battle of Killnock Dale... We lost some of our finest  warriors, there are very few of the Queen’s Elite left... I lost my young brother'... Maresca said solemnly looking back at the sunset. 'And our spies have indicated a force of three thousand Nexus Malignus soldiers against our three hundred remaining Queen's Elite stationed here at the castle... We may be better trained... But we are certainly not evenly matched'. 

Maresca lowered her eyes. She could see two strange yellow lights moving slowly at ground level. Like the glowing eyes of some strange red  monster, it appeared to be approaching the castle. 

'I don't know what I'm seeing'... Maresca said quietly, her eyes narrowing with curiosity. 'But whatever it is, its heading towards us'... 

Loran leant over the high battlements. He too could see the strange object, weaving its way towards the castle. He did not seem concerned. 'The drawbridge is raised... So whatever that is'.  He said calmly, pointing a finger down towards it. 'It won't be entering the castle, unless it can swim and then knock down a stone wall'.

   

CHAPTER FORTY FIVE

THE AILING QUEEN

A beautiful tapestry hung upon the wall in the Queen's bedchamber. It displayed the Coronation of a young princess. She sat upon a golden throne and a tall priestly man dressed in a flowing silver robe stood over her. The holy man was immortalised in the act of lowering the crown upon the maiden's head. Golden clouds floated overhead and a fanfare of angels holding emerald trumpets blew their horns in celebration of the glorious occasion.  Time had withered the glory of that stately moment. The Queen's powerful reign had been reduced to a small secret windowless room beneath the castle's foundations.

A large ornately designed four poster stood upon  the stone floor at the rooms centre. The bed hung with silken drapes, and the breathing that ruffled gently against the soft material seemed laboured. Lying upon her back, her thin, pale face running with perspiration. Her naked body wrapped tightly in white silken sheets, Queen Eleanor's mind drifted in feverish dreams.

Robert Pearl sat upon a high backed oak chair and the man held the Queen's hand in his own. Pearl stroked her fragile fingers and spoke softly to the young monarch.

'Elizabeth my wife is alive. But she returned with only two other survivors'. His voice was choked. 'Our main force were completely wiped out'.

Queen Eleanor did not react. She remained unconscious, her thoughts lost in her own fading realm.

'I can tell you this, because I know you cannot hear ... Our only hope rests with the Zoriat mystic, Daniel Blackthorn'... He squeezed the Queen's hand, but it felt so cold, her skin was like ice to touch. 'God forbid  that you should die. Now, more than ever I need  your guidance. I cannot fight this last battle alone'... 

The Queen's pale, dry lips trembled and for a brief moment Pearl thought that she might speak.  Sadly it was the fever that was responsible for this behaviour and Queen Eleanor's quivering lips became still once again. 

'The armies of the Nexus Malignus are marching  against us. Our hope of driving them back at Killnock Dale did not come to pass'. 

Pearl stroked the Queen's long blonde hair with  the palm of his shaking hand. 'I miss my daughter'... He said tearfully. 'That beautiful child gave meaning to this land...  Without Cora's presence in my life, I am not a  whole person'. Pearl swallowed hard, trying to drive his rising emotions deep into the pit of his stomach. 'I love my wife... That is one great blessing'...  He looked into the pale angelic face of the monarch. 'And I love my Queen, and her kingdom'. Leaning forward he kissed her forehead gently. 'I will serve you unto death, and I shall sit behind your golden throne in Heaven, and serve  you loyally for all eternity'.    

 

CHAPTER FORTY FIVE

GOOD NEWS

The red Yuzari Sports car rolled to a halt  beneath the white walled castle. Michael turned the key in the ignition and switched off the engine. He stared out through the windscreen at the still waters that surrounded the high towered  building. 

Maymon leaned forward in the rear passenger seat and placed his hand on Cora's shoulder. 'The Queen's castle'. The man said slowly 'The journey wasn't fraught with danger after all'. Maymon's grey eyes scanned Cora's face, the young woman was looking down at the shotgun resting upon her lap. 'You may need that weapon of yours  Cora... For I believe that the real danger is on its way’.

Cora was not interested in Maymon's comments.  'We're not staying long'. Cora muttered grumpily 'I will take what soldiers the Queen can give me and leave for the outskirts of Dellvara first thing in the morning. With their assistance I will rescue my daughter from the Nexus Malignus'... 

Gilliad reached into his jacket pocket and slipped out his pipe... 'Well'.. He said with a warm smile 'I think we should knock on the door and  introduce ourselves'...

'Can you walk over water Gilliad?'...Cora asked  sarcastically, 'I doubt it holy man'... She said  sliding the metal rod from inside her boot and examining it closely. 

Michael puffed out his cheeks and exhaled, placing his forehead on the steering wheel and  gripping it tightly in both hands. He turned his  head sideways and stared tiredly at Cora.  'Leave him alone'. He said lazily, stifling a yawn 'I just want to get some sleep, I've been  driving for what seems like days... Not to mention all the work I did on the Baker and Jones account before I got beamed here' ... 

'Look'. Maymon said pointing his finger at the tinted windscreen. 

The four occupants of the car stared through the glass. The castle's huge wooden drawbridge began to lower itself over the moat. Gilliad opened the rear passenger door and  stepped outside.

The iron chains that supported the drawbridge pulled taut and the thick wooden panels opened a route over the dark waters into the castle. The reverend pushed a lump of rolled tobacco into his pipe, and stepped boldly onto the 'bridge. Ahead of him he could see a long arched  passageway lit by torchlight. 

'Is anyone there?' Gilliad asked, taking another step forward. 'I wouldn't like to enter uninvited'... He said politely, striking a match and lighting the pipe tobacco. 

Maymon was the next to leave the vehicle. He lifted his hood over his head and walked to the reverend’s side.

Cora and Michael remained seated inside the car, gazing out through the windscreen they waited cautiously to see who would appear... 

Cassius Loran, Maresca Carlina and two other black clad knights marched down the long arched passageway. They walked quickly and  purposefully, their short red cloaks lifting on a gentle breeze.

Loran and his soldiers walked to the centre of  the bridge. The general raised his hand, and  Maresca and the two black knights halted behind him. Loran stared at Gilliad and Maymon.

'State your names and your business'. His eyes wandered to the strange red machine. 'What kind of transport is that?' He inquired. 

Maymon and the reverend remained standing at the  drawbridge entrance. The sheathed swords and curved daggers hanging from the belts of the armoured knights had not gone unnoticed by either man.

'That's a car'. The reverend replied, 'Hard to explain that I know'. He said puffing gently upon his pipe. 'My name's Winston Gilliad, and this gentleman is Maymon... A maker of mirrors'... 

The hooded man nodded his head towards Loran and the other three soldiers.

Maresca smiled, but Loran and the other two guards remained stony faced. 

Cora and Michael stepped out from the vehicle. The young woman slipped on her leather overcoat and Michael fastened the buttons of his suit jacket and brushed himself down. 

Loran gazed at the young man and woman. 'And who are they?'. He asked firmly his attention once more returning to Maymon and the reverend. 

'Michael Delamere'... Maymon was smiling beneath his hood. 'And Cora Pearl'. 

'Cora Pearl?. Loran said in total astonishment, staring at the young woman and shaking his head in disbelief. 'Cora Pearl was a child when she died ... She was killed in a battle against Jaynus Weaver one of the Nexus Malignus'. 

The young woman looked irritated 'I am Cora Pearl... I died here as a child, and the mind  spirits took me home, but they let me return twenty years later as an adult'.

Loran was unsure and he turned to Maresca 'What do you think?'... He asked. 

Maresca shrugged her shoulders and smiled. 'I don't know, but Cora Pearl was a shapeshifter'. She replied ‘If she's telling the truth her father and mother would be very  pleased, and we'd have two Zoriats fighting for us'.

Cora's blue eyes sparkled with a flash of excitement and as always just a little hint of green. Her parents were alive, and after twenty years of being an orphan she would once more be able to embrace them and feel the nurturing warmth of their bodies against her own.   

 

CHAPTER FORTY SIX

FAMILY REUNION

Cassius Loran led Cora and her companions into the castle's Great Hall. This was a magnificent oval room. High arched ornately carved stone  pillars supported a painted ceiling. The beautiful illustrations of powerfully built knights holding gleaming swords and warrior women riding chariots of fire, were astonishing  to behold. A giant round table shaped from black marble, and surrounded by twenty one silver thrones stood as the  centrepiece in the Great Hall.

Loran motioned a gloved hand towards it. 'Sit down his Lordship will be with you shortly'. He clicked his heels together, bowed politely and turned towards a side corridor, lit by torches and marched down the passage.

Michael watched the red cloaked knight disappear  from sight, and smiled. 'So where's King Arthur then?'... 

Cora was in awe of the artwork. Her eyes watered  with wonderment as she stared unblinking at the extraordinary paintings. 

The reverend was equally awe-struck, and he was unable to view the paintings with his mouth closed.  'Extraordinary. They look a little like the  paintings in the Sistine Chapel'. Gilliad commented. 'It's as if Michelangelo himself has  been reborn into Grimney'.

Michael looked blankly at the reverend. 'Cistern what? Say again?'. He said with a shrug. 'That Chapel?'. He  said ponderously. 'It’s in Venice isn't it?'. 

Gilliad was horrified by Michael's question. 'Certainly not. It's in Rome. Michelangelo was an Italian, born in 1475'. The reverend puffed on  his pipe, and continued to inform the gathering about the artist, whether they appeared interested or not. 'He sculpted the statue of David in 1504'. Gilliad pondered the statement, and narrowed his eyes thoughtfully 'Or was that 1503?'. He  scratched his head. 'Anyway my personal favourite'. Gilliad enthused 'Is the Last Supper painted in 1537'. The broadest smile swept across his face 'A truly wonderful work of art'. 

'It is beautiful Gilliad’. Cora said casually, smiling at the reverend. 'But can you shut up now  please, because I find you really boring’. 

The reverend gulped. 'I can... But there is no need  to be rude my dear'. He said politely. 

‘That David statue. That’s the one with the dick, it’s kind of pornographic’. Michael concluded. 

Maymon sat down at the round table and rested the oblong package that he was carrying against the leg of the throne. 

'Why did you bring a mirror with you Maymon. Are  you really that vain?' Cora asked rather rudely,  taking a seat at the table and drumming her gloved fingers against the marble. 

Michael leant against the table and flattened  his palms down upon it. He gazed sheepishly at Cora. 'Doubtful ... As he says he doesn't have a reflection'. 

'Really?' Cora said in mock surprise. Her eyes focused on the hooded man. 

Maymon lifted his hood and stared down the table. 'It seems we have a visitor'. The man announced, nodding his head in casual greeting. 

'My God'... Cora's expression was one of complete  disbelief. The young woman's heart began to pound  heavily inside her chest, and Cora's breathing became rapid.

The man who stood before them was her father Robert...  The blue eyed, blond haired bearded knight was dressed in polished silver armour. A short blue cloak fastened with an emerald clasp hung loosely over his metal shoulders, and a red dragon motif was painted upon his breastplate. 

'I am Robert Pearl'.. He said warmly 'I am told that you claim to be my twelve year old daughter?'... Pearl's eyes scanned the delicate facial features of the young woman.

Cora's lips trembled and the years seemed to roll back in her mind, withdrawing her into the silence of her childhood. Cora seemed frozen in time, unable to move, unable to speak. Her eyes welling with tears were fixed upon her father's face and she did not want to look away in case he vanished from her sight. 

'Dad'... Cora found her voice... 'Oh my God, it really is you'. The tears began pouring from her eyes. 

Michael bowed his head. He felt emotional, but he  had no desire to allow Cora to see this. He never showed his feelings to anyone. 

Gilliad smiled and puffed cheerfully on his pipe, the reverend was relieved that Cora was human after all. 

'I want to believe'... Pearl looked confused because the young woman was not much younger than he was. 'But my daughter drowned when she was twelve'. He rubbed his eyelids with his thumb and forefinger. 'You are not a child of twelve'... 

Cora had to convince the man that she was telling  the truth. She wanted to hug him, and feel his  powerful arms around her shoulders. Her eyes flashed with excitement, she had the answer... 'You bought me a horse called Sparks ... You died on  Earth when I was seven'. Cora wiped the tears  from her eyes. 'I lost my voice as a child, but then I found the first book of the Guardians, and  stuck my poems and pictures into it and Grimney  was created' . . Her voice was splintered with emotion ... 'I stuck your photograph into the book and on the back of the picture you had written the Carnival 1987 and you returned to life'. Her breathing became staggered and she began to sob... 'Now I've returned to life'. Cora's head fell forward... 'I love you so much ... I've missed you'.

Pearl crossed the room and wrapped his arms around the girl;s shaking shoulders. Cora's legs buckled and she fell into her father's arms. 

'Cora'... Pearl kissed the top of the young woman's  head, and stroked her hair. 'I've spent so much time remembering your death. Suffering it day  after day’He began to cry. 'But now I can live my life again, because you've returned to me'. 

Gilliad wiped away the tears from his own eyes and reaching into his jacket he slipped out his silver crucifix, and raised it to his lips the  reverend kissed it gently.  'Thanks be to God'... Gilliad whispered, his faith in Cora's humanity restored... 

Maymon was unmoved. The man sat rigidly at the  round table watching the faces of his colleagues. He was not convinced by Cora's display of emotion. Maymon stroked the oblong package leaning against the chair leg. The answer to Cora's identity would not be given via the bond  of father and daughter. 'It's in her eyes' ... Maymon said under his breath 'And love ... Cannot hide... What I see in Cora's eyes'...    

 

CHAPTER FORTY SEVEN

THE DECEPTION

An alarm bell sounded throughout the monastery.  Drunken monks bounded from their bedchambers,  bleary eyed, their sandals falling off their  feet, their red robes catching upon their heels.  The disorientated holy men fell over each other  in the corridor.  'What's going on?' ... A young monk asked, unable to  move due to the weight off another monk lying on  top of him.  'I don't know'. The second monk said rubbing his  eyes. 'Maybe the Zoriat gods are at the door with a crate of grimati wine'... 

Cass awoke in a small dimly lit room. The ringing  in her ears pounded inside her head, and then  slowed to a stop.  The elf had been lying upon a wooden bed, her  body supported by a straw mattress. The discomfort of which made the elf sit up and rub the back of her neck.  Shrester was looking through a round window.  Yellow light shone through the glass, and bathed  the man's face in a golden glow. 

'What's going on?'. Cass enquired, stretching out her arms and yawning. 'Is somebody out there?'. 

Shrester nodded solemnly. 'The Nexus Malignus'. He replied. 'Thousands of soldiers under the  black and red flag of Hellcat Meridian'. 

Cass stepped lightly across the room, wrapping a bed sheet around her slender shoulders. The elf gazed through the window.  Beneath the window and beyond the monastery walls  Cass saw the gathered army. The human warriors  bearing flaming torches, and waving their dark  flags. The emerald armoured glornes, and the pale  faced, cone headed, warty orcs unified in a mass  of brandished weapons, armour and steel. 

Shrester placed his ear against the glass and listened. He could hear a woman's voice. The  coldness of her tone was familiar to him. 'Hellcat Meridian' ... He whispered. 'The Nexus Malignus could not have chosen a more brutal  ally'. Shrester looked back at Cass and grimaced.  'Our enemies are truly evil'. 

Hellcat Meridian, Skelton Knaggs and Joanna Simm stood at the main gate. Unaware that they were  being watched from the high circular window above. 

'Knock again Knaggs'... Hellcat ordered, prodding the red bearded man in the back with her spiked glove. 

The panel in the arched wooden door slid down and father Malthus peered through the gap. 'Yes?'... He said with a nervous smile. The monk's eyes scanning the thousands of warriors that had gathered outside the monastery 'Are you looking  for a room for the night?'... 

Simm chuckled. 'It'd have to be a very big room'. She said with a wry smile. 

Hellcat ignored the comment, and her green eyes did not leave the monk's chubby round face. 'I represent the Nexus Malignus'. The flame haired women pointed skyward. 'Even now their castle is floating over Grimney'... She glared at the monk. 'We want one of your order to come with us to the  Queen's castle'. 

Father Malthus looked confused and puckering his lips oddly, the monk pondered the question. 'Why  do you want one of our people?'.. He inquired 'We're a peaceful community. I think I'll have to decline your request'...

Hellcat's spike gloved hand thrust itself through the square hole and the sharp bladed fingers closed upon the material of the monk's robes and wrenched him against the door. 

Knaggs grabbed the monk around the throat and slid a dagger against the holy man's right ear. 

'You're not listening'... Hellcat snarled revealing her sharp white teeth. 'So you might not need that ear'...

The monk closed his eyes. 'I don't have any  quarrel with you'... He said quickly, his whole body quivering like a giant jelly. 'Or with the Nexus Malignus'... 

‘Then gives us what we ask'. Hellcat's bladed fingers shredded the monk's red robe... 'We will not go into battle unless we are blessed by a  priest, nun, or monk'.

Father Malthus nodded his head frantically.  Perspiration dripping from the holy man's forehead and running down his chubby cheeks. 'I will grant your request. Now please. Just let go of me'. 

Hellcat looked up and Shrester stepped back from the window. The war mage had crossed swords with this ferocious woman on many occasions. Alone, she was a very formidable opponent, but backed by an army of over a thousand soldiers?

'God'... He thought. 'This will indeed be the war to end all  wars'... 

Cass remained standing by the window. She had no reason to hide her face. She could see Hellcat,  Simm and Knaggs a few storeys below her. She could also see the silver reptile amidst the sea of armed warriors, torchlight glinted against its shiny body, and its green eyes burned brightly. 

'They've got a flyer' ... Cass said 'I know about these creatures, ask them where you want to go and they'll take you there'... 

'Is that so'. Shrester replied excitedly. 'I have a plan. If they want a monk or a nun to join  them'... He said smiling at Cass. 'You have robes and the spirituality to perform the blessing they need'... 

Cass looked a little uneasy. 'I can pretend...  Yes'... She answered, stepping away from the window. ‘What do you have in mind?'... 

Dhumass smiled. 'I want you to go with them and steal that flying creature. Bring it back to the monastery and we can use it to fly to the floating castle'...

Cass sighed heavily. 'That could prove very  dangerous’... She replied, pulling the bed sheet more tightly around her body. 

Shrester cared about the elf because she had saved his life, and the man regretted the fact that he was sending her into danger. 'I can't go with their army Cass... I'd be recognised immediately’... He had to convince the elf that the risk was worthwhile. 'This is an opportunity to  strike against the twin sisters. For me to eliminate the Nexus Malignus once and for all'. 

‘I understand’. Cass said quietly, trying to maintain a steady voice. 'I will do what you ask. I want the war to end too, and I always swore that I would fight against evil, wherever I  encountered it'... 

Shrester slid his gloves over his fingers and stepping forward the man embraced Cass. 'I know  you can do it' .  He said confidently, wrapping his arms around the elf's shoulders and squeezing her gently. 'I believe there is a powerful spirit guiding you'. Shrester said, remembering back to the incident at the camp.

The disembodied voice, he had heard when drifting in and out of consciousness. 

Cass patted Shrester upon the back. 'We all have angels or demons that guide us, and I too have mine. Elfish folk are protected by their brothers and sisters, and when we die they come for us, guided by the Zoriat, and we can finally go home to Hallowed Halls of Nethalin'. She said mysteriously, looking up into Shrester's eyes ... 

'Who is your angel?' He asked, his hands sliding down the young elf's body, and falling against his side. 'Or do you have a demon?'... 

'I am guided by what I believe is good' ... She smiled seductively, and blinked one of her deep  blue eyes at Shrester. 'But what is good for some is bad for others ... As you know Dhumass’...   

 

CHAPTER FORTY NINE

CORA' S TRAGEDY

Cora had talked for some time with her long lost  father. She had wanted to sit on his knee and stroke his beard. But, at the age of thirty two that kind of behaviour would have been somewhat inappropriate. She had learned about the ongoing conflict between the Queen's forces and the Nexus Malignus.

War between the two opposing sides had developed over the twenty years that Cora had been away. Cora's supposed death had opened the flood gates of blood drenched conflict, as the twin sisters had sought revenge for the killing of their twin brothers.

Daniel Blackthorn, the last living Zoriat had aligned himself to the Queen and he, more than anyone was prepared to die for her.

Cora Pearl sat at a huge wooden desk in her father's study. A candle stood at one corner. The dancing orange flame melting the black wax. In the room's low light Cora's eyes scanned the four walls slowly. They were covered in landscape paintings, beautiful murals and colourful sketches of knights on horseback. Much of the  artwork displayed looked similar to the ceiling  painting in the Great Hall.

'Your father is a great artist isn't he?'.. The female voice came from across the room.

Cora pushed back the chair and stood up. Her body  went rigid, still, like stone... 'Mother?' She said looking through the gloom. 

Elizabeth stepped out from the shadows and the tears  glistened upon the young woman's face. Dressed in a flowing blue robe, dotted with sparkling sequins, Elizabeth looked like an angel.

Mother and daughter stared at each other across the desk. Their relationship had always been confused and complicated, and now time had played another trick. Cora and Elizabeth were now the same age...

'Cora... Cora’.. Elizabeth repeated her daughter's name. Elizabeth wanted to convince herself that this grown woman was her child. 

'It is me mother'. Cora's legs felt wobbly and she placed her palms flat upon the desktop and slumped into the chair. She felt emotionally drained. 'I came back from the dead'... 

Elizabeth seemed to glide across the stone floor, the statuesque woman's long robe sweeping behind her. She moved gracefully around to the front of the desk and taking her daughter's hands in  hers, she crouched down by Cora's side. 'Look at me honey'. Elizabeth said gently, lifting Cora's left hand and kissing her  daughter's fingertips gently against her lips. 

Cora looked into her mother's beautiful unlined face. She had missed her parents so much. Living in the real world, and raised by her stepfather Samuel Blackthorn,  Cora had lived a hard life. 

'When you died Cora'. Elizabeth's voice was filled with emotion and she wanted to weep, but she had questions that needed answering. 'Why didn't you pull my photograph from the magic book? If you'd done that, I surely could've come home to you'... Elizabeth swallowed heavily, she was trying vainly to contain her emotions, but Elizabeth's eyes welled with sparkling tears...

'I would've raised you, as I should've done'... 

'I couldn't'... Cora said quickly, pulling her hands back, and linking her fingers tightly together... 'It was a choice I made'... Cora laid her hands upon her trembling thighs.  'I thought about bringing you home... But what would you have come back too?' Cora gulped, and a  single tear fell from her eye, and rolled down her face.  'Life with Samuel Blackthorn would have made you  miserable'. Cora's expression hardened 'It would've made you bitter and choked the love out of you '. She gave a heavy sigh, and wiped the tear from her chin. 'I couldn't bring dad home, because of his death on Earth, you know he can only live in Grimney'... 

‘Such a sacrifice for you’. Elizabeth raised a shaking hand and brushed her fingers through Cora's short blonde hair. 'New  haircut'... She smiled softly. 'So, why come now? After so many years?'... Elizabeth's touch gave Cora a warm feeling in the pit of her stomach and she felt comforted.

'I came back because my daughter was taken by dark  spirits and brought here'. 

'Your daughter?'... Elizabeth looked astonished. 'I'm a grandmother'. She said excitedly. 'Oh that's wonderful'. 

'It would've been'. Cora said bitterly... 'But I've been told that the Nexus Malignus have her and that's why I'm here, to kill them, and get her back'... 

Elizabeth stopped stroking her daughter's hair and placed it instead upon Cora's shoulder.  ‘Kill?’ She said firmly. 'Killing is not a job for you honey ... You were always such a gentle girl'. 

Cora chuckled. 'Not anymore mother'. She replied coldly 'Not anymore'. 

Elizabeth stared into Cora's eyes and they appeared to turn black. There was a sudden gust of cold air and the candle upon the desk flickered violently and went out...

  

CHAPTER FIFTY

STEALING THE REPTILE

The armies of the Nexus Malignus marched onwards through the night. The shuffling of heavy booted feet roared like thunder, echoing across the plains like the shuddering of an earthquake. Thousands torchbearers led the way and the  firelight glowed beneath the vast canopy of sky.  Moonless and devoid of stars, the clouds hung thick across the widening horizon. 

Cass Crellwin held tightly to the reins of her horse. The elf's hood pulled over her head, hung  down in loose folds over her pale face. She trotted alongside the glorne cavalry. The purple eyed, emerald armoured warriors rode upon darlani war lizards. These huge, yellow skinned creatures walked upon  two legs. They had long necks and tiny triangular heads, with narrow, slit like mouths and a single large blue eye at the centre. The creatures were very peculiar in appearance.

The elf gazed overhead. She could see the silver reptile flying over the massive army. Hellcat Meridian sat upon the mechanical creature's back. She waved her sword to encourage the army to move onwards.

If the elf was to successfully steal the silver reptile, she had to develop a plan. Cass had absolutely no idea what the plan would be. Therefore, she concluded, she would simply have to wait for an opportunity, and then take a chance. 

Joanna Simm trotted her speckled grey horse through the gathered marching masses, and pulling  upon the animal's reins drew up alongside the elf...

‘So you're a nun are you?’. The outlaw asked, looking the elf up and down suspiciously.

‘That's what I am’. Cass replied looking at Simm's horse and reading the branded letters 'NM' burnt into the animal's speckled grey skin. 'So you're obviously working for the Nexus Malignus?'

'No' Simm answered, patting her horse's side. 'They gave me this animal'... She lowered her voice to a whisper 'As soon as I find the opportunity I'm out of here'. She smirked. 'You don't think I'd be fool enough to fight alongside these stupid people?'.

Cass recognised Simm's face. The elf had seen the raven haired woman's picture many times before. The words 'Wanted dead or alive' were normally inscribed in big black letters beneath it. 

'I don't know'... Cass said quietly, lost in her own thoughts. 'Everyone has a cause or belief they would fight for'. 

Simm frowned and rolled her eyes. The elf was yet  another doomed idealist. 'You know, I had a friend called Max Drexler. He generally stayed out of trouble, I used to drink with him at Holme’s tavern'. She grinned sadly 'The one time he got involved in someone else's war, he got killed'. 

'Your point being?'. Cass interrupted politely.

A huge smile swept across Simm's face. 'In times  of war, idealism is the biggest killer, and those values aren’t worth much when you're biting the dust on the battlefield'... 

Cass nodded, but she did not agree 'If there is nothing worth dying for'. She said innocently. 'Then there is no point in living'. 

'That's ridiculous'. Simm was already growing tired of the conversation. 'I enjoy my life... I drink and I enjoy my own company... I take whatever I can from whoever I can... I don't believe in self sacrifice and I never will'... 

'Then you can help me, and I will help you'... Cass  replied, glancing to the left and then to the right and observing the faces of the glorne riders. 

'I knew you weren't a proper nun'. Simm sounded smug. 'I know Farfell monastery is unusual... But I also know they don't have resident nuns. The monks would be too drunk to do anything with them anyway’. She said sarcastically. 'So you got a plan?'. 

The elf gazed skyward and watched the silver reptile and its rider weaving in and out of the green clouds. 'That's my plan'. Cass pointed a finger towards it. 'We steal that thing and fly it back to the monastery... We can hide there until the war is over'. 

Simm shifted her body uncomfortably in the saddle. Suicide seemed like a better plan. 'You're crazy'. Simm said with a smile and she remembered a conversation she'd once had with Cora Pearl. 'I know that no horse will carry me to safety'... She said thoughtfully. ‘So, I suppose. What other choice is there?’.  

'Then you agree?’. Cass threw back her hood and closed her large blue eyes 'Please agree'. 

'I'll back you up Cass'. Simm replied, not entirely believing her own words. 'But you have take the risk... You do that... I’ll help you get the ride’...

The elf had promised to help Dhumass Shrester. She believed that the death of the twin sisters of the Nexus Malignus would bring peace to the land of Grimney. Therefore Cass was willing to risk her life to save others.

Joanna Simm was not that way inclined. She would  bide her time, and wait for the elf to act. If the elf died, she would find another means of escape. Simm would only fight her own battles and even then she relied upon ambush and assassination, rather than face to face  confrontation.

 

CHAPTER FIFTY ONE

DARK SPIRIT

Cora strolled down a long cobbled stone passageway. Suits of silver armour stood either side of her against the walls. Iron chandeliers hung from the high ceiling and their candles blazed. An iron door stood at the end of the corridor and Cora turned the handle. She entered a small room, with an oak desk and chair in one corner,  and a bed in the other.

A large rug patterned with a weave of intricate coloured shapes lay upon floor. Cora slid her leather overcoat from her shoulders and tossed it onto the bed. She crossed the room and sat down upon the chair. She was about to slide off her boots, but stopped when she heard  someone knock upon the door. 

‘Oh’. Cora sighed, rolling her eyes with irritation. 'Come in if you must'. 

The door handle began to turn slowly... Cora folded her arms with annoyance. 'If it's you Michael. You can go to hell, I don't want to talk to you'. 

‘It's Maymon’. Came the reply. 'I need to show you something Cora'. 

'Now?'. Cora replied with irritation, looking at her watch and seeing that it had stopped. 'Time in Grimney, such a strange thing’. She looked up at Maymon. ‘Can't it wait until morning I'm tired'. 

‘No’. Maymon said firmly pushing his way through the door. 'This is important'.

Cora noticed that Maymon was carrying a mirror  underneath his arm. He placed it upon the desktop, and leant it back against the wall. 

'What’re you doing with that?'. Cora asked, standing up and edging away from the chair.

'You'll see'. The grey man slid a knife from his  belt, and reached across the desk. Maymon slashed the brown wrappings away from the mirror and pulled the paper away.  Maymon gazed into the mirrored glass and it was clear to Cora that Maymon did not have a reflection.

The man smiled, but the lines around his sullen grey eyes did not wrinkle with a joyful expression. He just looked sad 'As I said... I have never seen myself... I have no idea what my face looks like'...  Maymon brushed his hands through his short grey  hair. 'Sometimes it's like I don't have a head'. He chuckled hollowly. 'Or any sense of who I am at all’. The grey man turned towards Cora and frowned. 'But then does anyone truly know who they  actually are?'.

Cora was lost for words and she found herself  inexplicably drawn to the mirror. She edged sideways and stared into the dark reflective glass. 'My God'. Cora could not believe her own eyes. 'What is that?'.  

Reflected in the mirror before her was the disturbing image of the back of  Cora's own head.

Maymon stepped behind Cora and placed his hands upon the woman’s shoulders. He remained invisible, although Cora could feel his touch. 

'You have a demon Cora'. Maymon said firmly. 'There is a dark spirit hiding in your eyes. It will only let you see the back of your head'. 

'This is crazy'. Cora shook her head and broke eye contact with the image displayed in the mirror. 'I want you to leave now'. She said attempting to step away. 

'No'... Maymon responded coldly, gripping Cora tightly by the shoulders and holding her still. 'You have to look into the mirror'. 

‘Are you mad?’. Cora was angry and her voice did not disguise her growing irritation. 'Let go of me Maymon'.

The man responded by poking the blade of his  nife into the young woman's side. 'Don't be  foolish Cora... Don't move, and don't cry out'... 

Cora could feel Maymon's cold breath against her neck as he peered over her shoulder into the mirror.

'You're some kind of evil spirit'. Cora gazed back at her reflection. Once more she could only see the back of her own head. 'Gilliad said you might be a demon... I guess he was right'. 

'Concentrate Cora, visualise your own face in the  mirror'. He forced the knife upwards and Cora could feel the blade's tip tickling her lower ribs. 

‘I can't’. Cora felt tearful. 'It's not a normal mirror'.

Maymon's knife felt icy cold against the young  woman's skin... 'Fine'... He said breathing in deeply. 'Then I'll cut out your kidneys'... 

Cora screamed as the blade pierced through her side. The woman's eyes bulged in horror, and the  reflection in the mirror spun around to face her... 

The image in the glass was a grotesque distortion  of Cora. Long black matted hair hung about its  forehead and down over its ears. Jet black eyes blinked slowly and unnaturally and its skin was dark blue, pallid and lifeless. The face in the glass curled its thin black lips upward and revealed a mouthful of rotting brown teeth.

'Darcus Ryalls'. Cora muttered. 'It's my other side'... She was so gripped by the terrifying image, that she did not feel Maymon's blade sliding away from her side.

Maymon stared at the ghastly reflection, and it glared menacingly back at him. 'It's been hiding inside you, drawing on your strength and life force, feeding on you like a vampire'... He whispered. 'Waiting for the right time to release itself... Waiting for the chance to leave your body and kill you and your daughter'... 

Cora felt dizzy. She could feel her legs buckling. 'What's happening?'... Cora's voice was slurred, 'I feel ill'. 

Maymon helped Cora to the bed and laid her down upon it.  'Your demon just left you'... Maymon smiled coolly and tossing his knife to the floor, he looked back at the dark being inside the mirror. 'And now it's a prisoner of its own mind, and I don't need a weapon to defeat it'.

The expression on the dark spirit's face altered. The grisly smile was replaced by a look of sheer anger. Ryalls swirled into a black mass of energy and pushing against the glass it attempted to break free. 

'You're wasting your time... I am the Maker of Mirrors. You're a prisoner of my will and I will not let you free’.

A look of shock and finally an expression of agony replaced Maymon's smile because a long bladed knife protruded from his back. Bewilderment flickering in his watering grey eyes, Maymon fell upon his knees.

Vortigern had survived the battle of Killnock Dale and had waited until midnight for the opportunity to kill Cora Pearl. He had not forgotten their last encounter. The man's scarred face and missing eye constantly reminded him of that day, when Cora's pet bird, the Bugwug had brutally savaged him. But now, at last, he had  his chance for revenge. The one eyed man grabbed the hilt of his blade, and lifting the heel of his boot he shoved Maymon to the floor, Vortigern slid the dagger from the  wounded man's back. 

Maymon fell upon all fours and looked up at the  mirror. The swirling mass of dark energy began to seep through the glass. 

Vortigern wiped the bloodstained blade on his trousers and moved slowly towards Cora. The young woman was lying on her back, with her eyes closed. She seemed delirious. Cora's mouth twitched and it looked as if she was trying to  speak.

Vortigern bent down over the young woman  and raised his knife. 'Goodbye Cora. I am your death'.

A sinister smile  swept across his face and the raised dagger fell towards the prostrate young woman, but two firm  hands grabbed Vortigern's wrist and dragged him  to the floor. 

Maymon pinned Vortigern down and wrestled the knife from the man's grasp. Both men scrambled for the blade, but Maymon reached it first and  leaping back upon the would be assassin he drove the blade through Vortigern's heart.

The man's eye rolled back in his head and thick blood seeped from his mouth, and he exhaled a long heavy breath...

Maymon could see that the man was dead and staggering to his  feet, he turned his head back to the mirror ... 

The dark spirit leapt from the glass and twisted itself around Maymon's body... The dark entity began to suffocate him. Maymon pushed against the energy force ...

'I will not be killed by you!'. He shouted. 'I am strong  enough to defeat you!'. The man opened his mouth and began to suck in the air around him.

Ryalls tried to resist, but it found itself swirling uncontrollably, and the dark spirit snaked helplessly down Maymon's throat... 

The man had swallowed Darcus Ryalls and he fell upon his knees coughing uncontrollably...  He crawled to his feet, and stumbled over to Cora, he went down upon one knee, and kissed her upon the  forehead... 

'Goodbye Cora'. He said weakly, his grey eyes darkening as he spoke. 'No time for us'... Maymon walked to the mirror and leaning over the desk he placed the palm of his hand upon the glass and a powerful force pulled him inside it... 

Cora's delirium ended and she sat up upon the bed... She could see the dead body lying upon the floor and looked around the room for Maymon... 

'Cora'. The voice was that of Maymon's, but he sounded weak and very far away.

'Where are you?'... Cora asked, stepping over the dead body, but briefly looking down at the corpse's face to see if she recognised him... 

'Vortigern'. She said in disbelief. 'Finally, after all my years you've got what you deserved'.

Cora looked around the room, and repeated the question. 'I asked, where are you?'. 

‘In the mirror’. He relied faintly 'You must  destroy the mirror'... Maymon sounded as if he was in terrible pain.

Cora stepped in front of the mirror and she could see Maymon's face behind the glass. His eyes had turned black, and his grey skin was darkening.

'Cora ... You must smash the mirror'...  Maymon's face was beginning to distort, the man's expression twisting into a threatening sneer. He smiled and the dark spirit began to seep from  his mouth.

‘I’m coming for you Cora’. Maymon's voice had become deeper, and Cora was disturbed enough to grab the chair and smash it against the glass. 

The mirror exploded into a thousand sparkling shards and the room fell into silence. Cora could sense that Maymon and the dark spirit had gone...   

 

CHAPTER FIFTY TWO

THE THEFT

Campfires blazed, torches held upon iron poles protruded from the soil. The flat open lands were empty of trees, and the army of the Nexus  Malignus had made their bed in the long grass. Darlani war lizards lay fast asleep upon their sides. The glorne warriors rested their heads  against the creature's yellow bellies. A wide circle of soldiers surrounded the dozing  masses. The men and woman faced away from the slumbering army and watched the quiet land around them. Sword and axe in hand they scanned the  horizon for predators, and enemy soldiers. 

Cass and Simm sat together in front of a campfire. The silver reptile stood nearby, its green eyes closed. 

Knaggs and Hellcat Meridian lay together, their bodies entwined, and they were both fast asleep. 

'This could be our chance'... Simm whispered, tossing a handful of twigs into the flames. 'The guards are looking in the wrong direction if they want to see any action'.

Cass took a deep breath and muttered a prayer. 'OK'. She replied. I take Hellcat as a hostage and if anyone wakes, I'll threaten to kill her'. She smiled nervously at Simm. 'You go for the reptile, and then I'll let Hellcat go,  and jump on the back of it'. 

‘Do you trust me?'. Simm asked.

The elf smiled 'Yes'. She said firmly, but she was unsure of her answer... 'I trust you'.

Simm chuckled. 'I could just fly off and leave you'. She slid a dagger from her boot and toyed with the blade. 'And if things go wrong, I will'... 

The elf sighed. She did not doubt that Simm was telling her the truth. ‘Well . I just have to  believe that you won't'. She said innocently. 

'I guess you will'. Simm responded with a cold smile.

The elf offered her hand in the hope that Simm would shake it... 

‘No’. Simm said shaking her head. 'I don't make pacts with anyone... Because I can't promise anything' ... 

The outlaw stood up, and stepping over the  sleeping warriors she walked carefully towards  the silver reptile. 

‘Fine’. Cass drew her own dagger and approached Hellcat Meridian. She placed her hand over the woman's mouth and slid the blade beneath the her chin... 

Hellcat's green eyes flashed open and she stared up into the elf's pretty face.

'Don't speak'... Cass said firmly... 'One word and I'll kill you'. 

Simm placed her hand upon the silver reptile's back and wrapping her fingers around its reins she lifted herself into the saddle and the creature's large green eyes opened slowly... 

A yellow bearded warrior, his huge body wrapped in red and black fur, began to wake. He glanced out of the corner of his eye and saw the outlaw seated upon the reptile. The man grabbed at Simm's leg and held on tightly. 

‘Damn you!’. Simm cursed looking down into the dirty  dishevelled face of the man...

'Let go'... Cass turned her head and glared at the bearded warrior, and called out to him. 'Let go of Simm's  leg... If you don't I'll cut your leader's throat'...

The dishevelled warrior released Simm from his grip and slid back down to the ground, but his  orange snake eyes continued to watch the elf. 

'Get up Hellcat'... Cass commanded...  The flame haired woman separated herself from the  arms of Skelton Knaggs.

The man did not even stir and with the knife still at her throat she stood up very slowly.

'What now elf?'. Hellcat asked belligerently 'You'll never get away alive'... 

Cass dragged Hellcat towards the silver reptile and shoving the woman to the ground, the elf jumped upon the metal creature's back.

Hellcat and the dishevelled warrior scrambled to their feet and tried to grab the reptile's tail,  but they were too late.

The creature flapped its huge jointed wings and lifted into the sky. 

'We did it... We did it!'... Cass said excitedly,  gripping her arms around Simm's waist, and hugging the woman's stomach. 'I could trust you after all!'...

Hellcat grabbed a small crossbow from the  dishevelled warrior's belt and loaded a bolt. She closed her left eye and gazed down the sight with her right. 

'Threatening me has a heavy price'. Hellcat  hissed and the bolt whizzed from the crossbow. It flew through the air and embedded itself into the centre of the elf's back.

Cass slumped in the saddle and her arms tightened around Simm's waist. 'I'm hit'. She spluttered. 'I think I'm dead'... The elf's blue eyes bulged and wincing with pain  the tears welled inside them... 

‘Damn’... Simm shouted. 'Just hold on... The monastery is not that far away!'. She said desperately... 'Just don' t let go'... 

The reptile soared upwards and Cass felt her body turning cold. Her head rolled backwards and orange blood trickled from the corner of her  mouth. 

‘Cass’. She had not asked her name, but the friars at the monastery had called that. 'Don't fall. You fall and you're dead'... 

The elf did not respond. She was barely conscious, but somehow Cass still managed to maintain her grip upon Simm's body. 

The reptile moved rapidly through the dark sky and soon the enemy army was left far behind. Simm considered her options.

I'll fly lower!' She shouted. 'If you fall low to the ground it won't kill you!'...  She directed the creature towards the ground and they were so near, that the reptile's clawed  metal feet brushed against the grass.  'Stay awake Cass, damn you!'... Simm shook the reins, forcing the creature to go faster.

The  elf's hands began to loosen and she could feel  the elf slipping from the saddle. 

'I don't care about you'. Simm's voice was icy cold. 'If you want to be a stupid crusader and die for some cause, I'm not to blame for that!’.

Simm could see the white domed tower of the monastery ahead and she dug her heels into the  reptile's solid belly in a desperate hope that  the creature would increase its speed.

'Stop!'... Simm shouted as they reached the high walls, and the reptile extended its huge clawed feet and settled upon the long grass.

Cass slid from the saddle and fell heavily to the  ground. Simm leapt off the creature's back and knelt down by the elf's side.

'Cass can you hear me?'... 

The elf lay upon her back a trail of dried orange blood had run horizontally from her mouth across  her cheek. Cass's deep blue eyes were closed. The outlaw slid her arms underneath Cass's limp body and lifted her from the grass. The crossbow bolt was deeply embedded in her back, and cradling the wounded elf, Simm carried her gently towards the monastery. She kicked against the door with her booted foot and the panel slid down.

Father Malthus peered out through the hole. 'Yes?'. He said. His eyes quickly registered the ghastly situation and sliding back the iron bolts, he opened the gate. 

Cass was carried into the chapel and Simm laid the elf face down upon the altar. She crouched beside the elf and stroked her fingers through Cass's blonde hair. 

Father Malthus examined the wound and looked sullen. 'I'll get her friends'... He muttered rushing through a near door and running down a connecting passageway. 

Simm slumped against the altar and bowed her head. 'I did my best'. She muttered, licking her dry lips. 'I couldn't do anything else'. 

Time passed painfully slowly. Although it was perhaps only minutes before Shrester, Vin, Kellerman and Father Malthus arrived, but it had seemed like hours to Simm.

The two men stood over the elf and Shrester placed two fingers against the girl's delicate neck and felt for a pulse.

Vin stood pensively behind him and father Malthus raised his hands in front of his face and prayed. 

Kellerman folded his arms. The man was indifferent. Cass was an elf... An inferior and one less elf would be a blessing. 

Shrester looked tearful, but he did not cry. 'She's gone'. He muttered, his voice choking on the words. 'Cass Crellwin is dead'... 

Vin lowered his head, and sobbed into the palms of his hands. 'Oh no'... He said, attempting to control his emotions. The knight's red eyes blinking away the tears. Vin looked down at the outlaw and he could feel the anger sweeping  through his body. 

‘Joanna Simm’. Vin could not hide his bitter rage. 'Trust you to be involved in her death'. 

Simm raised her thumb and began to chew on her  fingernail. 'I tried to save Cass'. She whispered. 'I brought you the reptile... That's  what you wanted, and that’s why she's dead'... 

Kellerman looked indifferent 'Well let's look on the positive side'. He smiled. 'At least she's not human’... He said flippantly. She's just an elf'.

Vin turned towards Kellerman and raising his fist he punched the man hard in the face. The man staggered backwards, clutching his face, the blood spilling from his nose. 

'You maniac'... Kellerman shouted pinching his nostrils together. 'How dare you strike me... I am  an officer'.

'You're nothing’... Vin snarled, rubbing his sore  knuckles. 'You should be lying there, not Cass, you deserve to die'... 

A glowing white shape loomed over the altar. It formed into the figure of a tall man. Featureless  and virtually transparent it stood over the dead elf. 

Shrester stepped back and Simm looked at the startled expressions upon the men's faces. 

'What is it?' She asked nervously, sliding further down beneath the altar.

The strange entity spoke briefly. 'I am one of the Zoriat... I shall take her to her ancestors, for they are waiting on the other side'... 

Shrester recognised the voice. He had heard it once before at the campsite.

The being lifted the elf from the altar and her head fell back. The dead girl's legs and arms hung loosely beneath her. Drifting through the altar, the being walked solemnly past the small gathering, and began to fade from sight. Cass and the mysterious entity  merged together as one, and the elf, wrapped inside the glowing white light, vanished from the chapel. 

Shrester took a deep breath, and looked at the stunned faces of the people around him. 'She is with the Zoriat... But her death will be avenged, we have the means to reach the floating castle. All of you are now going to  help me defeat the evil twin sisters'... 

'I don't think so'... Simm replied, standing up and  brushing herself down. 'I brought you what you  needed. I've done my bit'... 

Shrester shook his head slowly. 'No, you and Kellerman will come with me. If you don't then Vin and I will kill you here and now'... 

Father Malthus looked horrified ‘No’. He said shaking his huge bulbous chin. 'This is a holy place ... Blood must not be shed'... 

'Don't worry father'... Shrester said firmly. 'They  know my reputation. They won't refuse me. Only a fool would do that'. 

Kellerman was unarmed and far from stupid. He looked at Simm's nervous face and smiled. 'I guess we have no choice'. Kellerman smiled at the raven haired outlaw. 'I agree to help you... I am happy to strike down the forces of evil wherever find it'. 

‘Damn’. Simm was deeply unhappy. The outlaw was well aware of Shrester's reputation and if she refused, she knew there was nowhere to run. Reluctantly, she nodded her head.  'I'm with you Shrester... On one condition'.

'Oh, and what's that?' He asked. 

'That you get the price on my head removed and that I can be free from arrest'. Simm grinned confidently. 'Grant me a full pardon from the Queen and you'll have my support’.

Shrester smiled and nodded. I'll do what I can'... He offered his hand to shake. 'You have my word'... 

'No handshake, but I'm in... It's a deal, your word is enough'. 

Vin disliked Simm and despised Kellerman. He was far from happy with their involvement. They were bad people and he knew that neither one could be trusted. But Vin had accepted Shrester as his leader and therefore made no attempt to argue  with the man's judgement ...

   

CHAPTER FIFTY TWO

THE FIRST STRIKE

Cora sat at the round table in the Great Hall. Her father and mother were seated on either side of her. Daniel Blackhorn, Reverend Gilliad and Eliza Jade were seated opposite. 

Calaman Kade sat away from the others, two black armoured Elite guards stood behind him, the  visors upon their red plumed helmets pulled down  over their faces.  Kade was a legendary warrior, a loyal warlord and  a Knight of the Obsidian Order. He was dressed in  silver and bronze armour. A band of gold rested  upon his head, and Kade's thick white hair rolled  thickly beneath it. The man's beard was grey and  streaked with strands of white, and his large icy  blue eyes stared out beneath bushy white  eyebrows. Kade clasped his hands together over the table.  On every finger he wore a ring, each one contained an emerald, sapphire, or diamond, Kade was wealthy beyond the dreams of avarice. 

'We must strike against the hoard... Our scouts have told us their position. They are camped at Baroc Moor, not far from here. I will make a cavalry charge against them... We must take the fight to the Nexus Malignus, and not allow our enemies to bring the fight to us'... 

Pearl listened to the knight's bold plan, but he looked uncomfortable with the idea. 'We have three hundred soldiers. One hundred of which are cavalry. If you ride to the enemies camp, and they slaughter you, the castle will be even more vulnerable'...

Kade looked irritated. 'I am Warlord... I have fought more campaigns than anyone seated at this table. I know, that my plan, is the right plan'. 

Cora interrupted 'I need soldiers to assist me in the rescue of my daughter'. She looked at Kade and smiled. 'What about helping me do that?'. 

‘Your daughter is one of many suffering children and therefore she is no more important than any other’. Kade's expression was blank, and without feeling. 'I want my cavalry charge'... 

Jade pushed back her chair and stood up. She placed her palms upon the table and leaned  forward. 'You just want add to your legend Kade... You want to attack three thousand warriors with one hundred men, in the hope, that one day poets will write songs about you'. She said glaring at the  man. 

'I know what I am doing and my men will follow me, whether you command it or not'.  Kade lifted his armoured body, and standing up straight he bowed to those seated around him... I suggest you gather your best bow men, and  place those archers at the ridge of the moat'. Kade would not be dictated to. He believed he was right and the discussion was over. 'I intend to draw the  enemy into a trap ... I will not fail'. Kade clicked his heels together, and turning  swiftly, the blue cloak hanging around his shoulders lifting on the breeze, Kade and his two black knights marched from the Great Hall. 

'He's mad' Daniel commented brushing a piece of  fluff from the saggy sleeve of his purple robe. 'But I don't think you can stop him Robert'. 

Pearl looked glum and he bowed his head... 'We can't arrest him... The men would rebel against such a decision'... 

Elizabeth could see how sad her daughter looked and took her hand in her own. 'We'll get Sara back, Cora please don't worry'... She smiled at her husband. 'I guess we have no choice... If it's any  consolation the archers are terrific shots'... 

'God will help us'. Gilliad muttered. ‘Although the Grimney gods did little for poor Maymon. I liked Maymon’. He lit his pipe and puffed upon it heavily. 'To think  tomorrow morning I was supposed to be doing that fete for the women's institute, and instead I'm fighting in the third world war'... He sighed heavily ... 'And I wish God would tell me how my dog Jasper is'...

Daniel smiled. ‘Well, I’ve obviously been in Grimney longer than I realised judging by your appearance Cora’.

Cora looked at the boy wizard and at the other uneasy looking faces gathered around the table ‘Daniel, I will take you home, all of you that don’t belong here, I will find a way to get you back to the real world’.  

 

CHAPTER FIFTY THREE

CALAMAN KADE’S DARING RAID

The drawbridge to the Queen's castle lowered and the thick iron chains rattled against the hinges. Calaman Kade rode his mighty horse across the wooden panels and a hundred black knights astride powerful armour plated stallions followed behind. They galloped through the dark and occasionally the shallow beams of moonlight  fractured the green clouds and made the path  ahead much clearer. The leather armoured archers trailed behind, and  they gathered in rows at the ridge of the moat. The men and women laid down in the long grass and  wide eyed they watched the horizon.

The enemy camp was far closer than Kade and his cavalry had realised, and within hours the riders could see the flaming torches and blazing campfires. Kade drew his blade from the saddle and raised it high into the air. The black knights galloping behind, astride their mighty stallions followed in kade's lead. In unison the knights slid their shining blades from their scabbards and pointed them ahead. 

The armies of the Nexus Malignus were taken completely by surprise, as one hundred horses galloped through the sleeping masses. Sword blades flashed against the firelight and fur clad warriors too slow to grab their weapons were cut down where they stood. The soldiers on guard duty were trampled under pounding hooves. Men and women screamed and the orcs scrambled for their axes, as the wave of thundering death swept through the disorganised ranks. 

Knaggs and Hellcat picked up their swords and slashed at the legs of an approaching horse. The rider was flung from the saddle, as the stallion buckled beneath him. Shabby warriors gathered around the fallen knight and hacked him to death.

'Kill them!'. Hellcat screamed 'Don't let them escape!'. 

The glorne riders jumped upon the backs of the  darlani lizards and grabbing the reins of the yellow-bellied creatures they pursued the Queen's cavalry through the camp. Orcs and human warriors fled in all directions. Some of them killed by their own glorne allies, and many others hacked  down and trampled by the mounted knights.

Kade waved his sword 'Flee the camp!'... He shouted desperately ‘We must flee for our lives!'.

The Queen's cavalry galloped back through the camp, arrows flew through the air and another  black knight fell from his saddle.

The glorne gave chase and the darlani war lizards bounced through the bloodstained grass. 

Hellcat approached the fallen knight and plunged her sword through his breastplate. 'Curse them. They think they can attack us?!' She was mad with rage and turning to one of her own soldiers she  cut off his head to ease her bloodlust. 'Weak, pathetic warriors. We are the aggressors, not them!' She spat violently at the dead  knight. 'They will be slaughtered for this, their women and their children will die!'.

The Queen's cavalry galloped through the night. The glorne fired arrows from the saddle and several more knights fell to their deaths. Kade led his knights onwards and the glorne were relentless in their pursuit, they would not to give up the chase. The darlani war lizards thundered recklessly behind their quarry. 

The camp soon faded behind them and in the distance the Queen’s cavalry could see the rising walls of the castle, but still, the glorne pursued them. 

'Split the group!' Kade demanded 'One group to  the left, the other to the right!'.  The Queen's cavalry separated and a large gap opened between them. Exposing the glorne and their lizards to the archers lying in wait at the  ridge of the moat. The bow men charged forward  and took aim with their weapon.  A sea of arrows fell from the sky and row upon row the glorne of warriors fell, as the falling arrows struck their targets with ease. The glorne's panicked and turned their lizards  away from the battle, but the Queen's cavalry had circled around and they were now charging directly at them. The black knights smashed into the glorne riders, cutting them to pieces. The yellow skinned darlani were a clear target for the skilled archers, and the arrows continued to fall. The battle between the glorne and the Queen's  Elite was quickly decided. There would be no escape...

Calaman Kade and his men hacked and slashed until there was only one glorne warrior left. Kade watched as the creature tried to make his escape on foot. The fear and terror in the glorne's purple eyes made no difference to Kade and digging in his gold plated spurs he charged  forward and trampled the terrified creature beneath the hooves of his powerful stallion.

Back at the camp Hellcat Meridian was counting the cost of the attack. Corpses of men and women lay at her feet, and the wounded crawled through pools of their own blood. The assault had been  devastating. Hellcat turned to Skelton Knaggs.

Knaggs stood before her cradling the corpse of a young boy in his arms. 'He was so young'. Knaggs said  tearfully. 'They'll pay for this'. He placed the body at Hellcat's booted feet. 'Tend to the wounded and bury the dead' She said, her voice empty of any emotion. 'When we've reorganised ourselves, we will ride to the  Queen's castle and butcher them all'. She bared her razor sharp teeth 'There won't even be a crawling insect left alive in that castle when we've finished'...   

 

CHAPTER FIFTY FOUR

THE TWIN SISTERS

Wispy clouds drifted across the two red moons and the green eyed metal reptile scanned the darkness for the floating fortress. The glass castle that belonged to the twin sisters Trelaya Zanara and Karlisa Treymaine, was a distant speck upon the horizon. 

Shrester sat with his legs strapped around the reptile's thick neck and his gloved hands gripped the reins. His three colleagues Vin, Simm and Kellerman were harnessed into the creature's saddle. In an attempt to prevent the man from escaping, Shrester had tied Kellerman’s wrists around Simm's waist. Not that Kellerman wanted to  escape. The man liked a challenge and he realised that if he were to kill the twin sisters, he would no doubt be greatly rewarded. Kellerman was keen to regain the Queen's trust and he longed for the people to call him 'Sir' again. 

Simm's thoughts were similar, because she had spent her days and nights running from the authorities, she now wished to start a new life. She knew that stealing and killing would eventually lead to her downfall. In the past she would have robbed the coins from a dead man's  eyes if given the opportunity. 

As the green eyed metal reptile flew nearer and nearer. Simm and the others could see the three red glass forked towers jutting upwards from the rotating silver platform. Simm smiled, this was her chance to regain her freedom and to finally make a better life for herself.

Talons extended, the metal reptile descended rapidly towards the stained glass window set into the middle tower. Shrester and his colleagues bowed their heads as the creature smashed through the glass. 

The green eyes of the reptile closed and its silver wings folded around its body. The creature flattened its talons upon the ruby carpet and became motionless. 

Shrester raised his head slowly. A piece of glass had   embedded itself his forehead. He reached up a gloved  hand and pulled it loose. 

The room they found themselves in was filled with silver birdcages and these cages were suspended upon iron chains that hung down from the ceiling. 

Vin used his sword to slice away the harnesses. He lifted his armoured legs over the saddle and slid down to the carpet. 

Kellerman and Simm drew their swords and slipped from the creature's back. Kellerman squeezed the hilt of his blade. He felt more like the man he was now he was holding a weapon again.

'Birds in cages'. Shrester commented, glancing at the many varieties that were trapped inside. 'The Nexus Malignus would make prisoners of us all if they could'.

Vin's red eyes looked across to a cage at the room's centre. It was covered over with a black cloth. He was curious, and walked over to it and  using the tip of his sword he lifted the veil. 

Standing on a perch behind the bars of a glass  cage. The Bugwug slept... His orange eyes closed beneath his feathered eyelids. 

'No way'. Vin's red eyes glowed with happiness.  ‘Bugwug!’. He shouted, rattling the bars with his  fingers.

The bird's eyes flicked open and the Bugwug gave a loud squawk and fell off the perch. The creature's eyes rolled and due to the fact he was cross-eyed they did not return to focus.

'I'm asleep'. He squawked ‘I don't like bird seed’. Vin peered through the bars at the bird. Shrester, Kellerman and Simm gathered behind him. 

The Bugwug looked dazed and he was somewhat surprised by the faces staring in at him. 'What's this?' He asked, stretching his wings and yawning. 'Guests at the castle?’. 

Vin smiled at Shrester and looked back at the purple bird and grinned. 'It's me Vin... Don't you remember me?'...

The bird's orange eyes flickered in recognition. 'Vin. Yes... Yes of course... It's been so long... Have you come to rescue me?'... 

Kellerman laughed. 'Do you think we'd risk our lives for a stupid bird?'... He scratched his dimpled chin and screwed up his dark eyes. 'We're here to kill the twin sisters. You are of little importance’... 

'Don't listen to him'... Shrester said softly. 'I am very pleased to see you... It's been so long ...  Too long my old friend’. He reached a gloved finger through the bars and stroked the bird beneath the chin. 

The Bugwug ruffled his feathers and flapping his wings he flew up to the perch and lowered his hooves upon it.  'Dhumass Shrester’. The bird chirped. 'I imagine that you've come to take revenge for Cora's death?'... 

‘Yes’. Shrester replied coldly. ‘Where are the twin sisters?’.  

Simm gazed nervously around the room. ‘I guess they're about someplace'...

The Bugwug nodded his feathered head 'They are here, but the castle is virtually empty...  A guard or two here and there, but your opposition is not substantial, our enemies are on the march'... 

'Good’. Simm said puffing out her cheeks with relief. 'Let's just find them and get it over with'... 

The Bugwug shook his head. 'The sisters do not need an army to protect them'. The bird twiddled  his tiny pink fingers nervously, and his purple wings opened and closed upon his fragile little arms. 'They are powerful and very dangerous... It may take more than swords to defeat them’. 

‘Great’. Simm responded sarcastically 'If that's the truth... Well... I really think we should leave now'...

'Leave? Leave when you've only just arrived?'

A woman's voice, the tone of which was icy and impersonal, echoed behind the small gathering.

Simm looked sheepishly over her shoulder.

Standing tall and statuesque amidst the many birdcages was a young woman. Her hair was a deep blue and streaked with red dye, and it hung in curls across her slender shoulders. She had strange pink eyes that were set back beneath her  wide jutting forehead and her full lips were  painted with blue colouring. The woman's pale grey robes hung loosely to her  slender figure, and she held a black staff in her long white fingers. 

Shrester and the others turned to face her.

The Bugwug shuddered in his cage. ‘Karlisa Treymaine’..  He twittered ruffling his feathers ‘She's one of the twin sisters’.  

Shrester pointed the blade of his sword towards her. 'I thought that the Nexus Malignus had a third eye? The man was curious 'So where is yours?'... 

Karlissa raised her hand and unfolded her fingers. Set within the centre of her palm was the woman's third eye. White and bloodshot, it blinked at them oddly. 

‘What do we do now?’Simm stepped back, and hid  behind the three men. 

‘We kill her’. Shrester replied waving his sword from side to side. 'I've waited such a long time for this Karlisa'... 

'So have I’... The blue haired woman pressed a button upon her staff and two long razor sharp blades flicked out from either end. 'I know you were involved in the deaths of my  beloved brothers'... The woman's pink eyes  glistened and she could not hide her emotions. ‘I too have been dreaming of this day’. Karlisa's pink eyes scanned the faces of her would be assassins. 'Although I don't admire your concept of a fair fight. She scowled 'Four against one? And you think that you're the good people?’.  

‘The war has to end’. Shrester edged towards the woman. 'Revenge has to be taken'.

Kellerman and Vin side stepped away from each other and approached Karlisa cautiously on the  left and the right.

‘Damn’. Simm muttered gripping the hilt of her sword in both hands and making eye contact with Karlisa she stepped warily across the carpet towards her. 

The Bugwug raised his wings and covered his eyes. 'Oh dear. I really can't watch this’. He squawked.

Shrester's sword clashed against the pink eyed woman's staff and orange sparks splintered from the metal.  Karlisa waved her bladed weapon through the air and Shrester defended himself against the attack by deflecting it away from his body with the edge of his blade. 

Kellerman and Vin swung their own swords against their enemy, Karlisa moved swiftly parrying both assaults. The staff cut through the air and Kellerman felt the tip of the blade against his already scarred face. The man staggered back, blood seeping from a gash in his cheek.

Shrester's sword struck against Karlisa's staff for a second time and she parried the strike with ease. Slashing her double bladed weapon, she caught Shrester's shoulder, ripping through his body armour and tearing through his flesh.

'Simm!' Shrester shouted, his face twisted in agony, his green eyes watering as he winced with pain. 'You want that pardon... You'd better  fight!'... 

The raven haired warrior charged at Karlisa. Blade and staff clashed together and the sparks  flew once more. 

Vin edged behind his opponent and tried to strike her down. The woman turned swiftly, sweeping the double bladed weapon against her two knew opponents. 

The blade sliced through Simm's stomach and tore a hole in the outlaw's belly. Simm dropped her sword and fell to the floor. Blood oozing through her shredded leather armour. 

Shrester and Vin attacked Karlisa again, the men's swords slicing through the air. This time Shrester's blade smashed through Karlissa's defences and he severed the woman's arm below the elbow... 

Karlisa screamed and her pink eyes flashed with an intense rage, but she would not be easily defeated. She continued to fight ferociously and the blade of her staff caught Shrester's thigh, tearing a gaping hole in his upper leg. 

‘It's over!’. Vin yelled as he forced the blade of his sword into the woman's back. The tip of the weapon burst through her chest and Karlisa's blue blood spurted over the injured Shrester.

The woman fell flat upon her face, her body twitching violently.

Kellerman, Vin and Shrester gathered around their dying enemy. 

‘Why?’Karlisa asked, drawing her final breaths ‘Why do we kill each other?’. Karlisa's eyes closed and the men watched silently as the ferocious woman died quietly at  their feet.

Shrester fell to his knees, clutching his hand over the wound in his shoulder and placing the palm of his other hand over the deep cut in his  thigh. He looked down at Simm, the woman was not moving. 

Vin and Kellerman bent down next to the outlaw,  they could see that her stomach had been torn  wide open, and judging by the lifeless expression on Simm's white face, it was obvious to both men that she was dead. 

'Joanna is dead'... Vin said sadly. 'And we still have the other sister to fight yet'... 

Kellerman pressed the palm of his hand against his cheek, and applied pressure, in an attempt to stop the bleeding. ‘Well you did promise her  freedom’..  He said cynically. 'And the dead are the freest of all'... 

The Bugwug lowered his wings and stared through the glass bars. 'This is all so tragic'... He muttered, rolling his yellow tongue inside his  green beak. 'If only we could resolve things  without the need to kill each other'...

Shrester used the edge of his sword to cut strips of material from Karlissa's robe. He then tied the material around his thigh in attempt to stem the flow of blood.  The war mage stood on his feet and rubbing his injured shoulder he lifted his sword and squeezed the hilt in his sweating palm. ‘If only we could’. He sighed 'Joanna's death will be avenged'... 

Vin's expression was clearly one of frustration.  'Shrester, I've always admired you... A deep frown  furrowed his forehead 'You came here to take revenge for Cora's death'... The red eyed knight shook his head in disbelief 'Then it was revenge for Cass and now you want revenge for Simm'... Vin stared at Shrester and shrugged. ‘Where will it all end?’.  

Shrester looked uncomfortable with the question. 'It will end when the other sister is dead'. He glared at the young warrior. ‘It will end when the war is over’..  

Kellerman looked bemused. ‘You are as ruthless as I am Shrester... You and I are the same. We both  want to free the land of evil influence’.  

Shrester bowed his head and looked solemn. 'No,  you and I are not the same... You're a murderer and I am fighting for justice ... ‘No' ... He said slowly shaking his head 'No ... We're not the same at all’... 

'You're killing for revenge'... Kellerman replied,  lowering his bloodied hand and watching the blood  dripping through his fingers. 'What you're doing is not the actions of an honourable warrior at all. You're driven by hate, not a desire for justice'...   

Shrester ignored the comment. Kellerman Bolte was a racist, a brutal criminal without principle. Shrester knew that everything he believed in was  right, and he was convinced that he was above the judgements of evil men like Kellerman. 'I have nothing more to say, let's just find the other sister and end this once and for all'.

Above them the three men could hear the flapping of wings.

The Bugwug peered up at the high ceiling. He could see a huge silver butterfly circling  overhead. Its silky wings sparkling like diamonds.

‘Trelaya Zanara!’. The Bugwug gurgled. ‘She's a shape shifter!’.

The silver butterfly flew down and flapping her wings gently she settled next to the butchered body of her sister. The insect's body began to change. The wings  shrinking and fading amidst a cloud of sparking silver stars. Slender legs and arms extended from the butterfly's sleek body, and once more the  metamorphosis from insect to beautiful maiden  took place. 

Shrester, Vin and Kellerman stood around the young woman, and watched her carefully as she crouched down by her dead sister's side. Trelaya cradled her sister’s head upon her lap. 

The three men kept their distance. Swords held at their sides waiting to see what the yellowed eyed  female would do next. 

Trelaya hugged her sister's limp head against her  chest and wept bitter tears, she gently stroked Karlisa's blue hair, and ignored the three warriors gathered around her. 

Vin looked upset by the display of emotion. He had dealt the fatal blow, and Vin felt guilty and ashamed.  'What have we done?'... Vin whispered, his own red eyes glistening. ‘What have I done?’...  

'What had to be done'... Shrester replied firmly. ‘They wanted war, they wanted revenge for their brothers deaths and now they've paid the price’.  

The golden haired maiden kissed her sister upon the forehead and gently laid her head upon the  bloodstained carpet. 'My whole family has been murdered'...  Trelaya raised herself from the floor and turned to face the three warriors. ‘You have killed the only person I ever truly loved’. Her yellow eyes glared at Vin. 'Was it you that killed my lovely sister?'... 

‘I was trying to do my duty’..  He said feebly. 'I  am so sorry, but you made war against our Queen, and Cora Pearl is dead because of your brother Jaynus Weaver’.

Trelaya bowed her head and shook her hair, and silver dust fell across her shoulders. ‘You wanted revenge? Revenge for Cora's death?’. She said bitterly. 'You want to kill me now too?'... The young woman laughed hollowly. 'You have no reason to hunt us... Your desire for justice is misplaced... It is you who are misguided and evil’..  

We don't have to listen to this creature’... Kellerman raised his sword. 'Let's just kill this insect and be done with it'... 

'You've taken all I have, I am nothing without my family'... Trelaya began to transform once again. The huge silken wings opened like petals, as they grew from the young woman's back 'Death will be a release’.. She said  tearfully, her arms and legs shrinking into her  torso. 'Alone... I will be a freak ... Fight me, and kill me, so I can be with my sister and brothers again'...

Vin watched the butterfly rising above him. She was a beautiful creature and as she circled overhead he felt compelled to throw down his sword. 

Shrester stared down at the discarded weapon. The man was bewildered and angered by Vin's disregard for his own safety. 'What're you doing?'... He picked up the sword from the carpet. 

‘I'm through’. Vin smiled wearily at Shrester. ‘I always believed in right and wrong, but I can't tell the difference now’He closed his eyes ‘I really’....

Vin never finished his sentence. The butterfly flew down and opening her wings she wrapped the  man inside them and began to squeeze... Vin tried to scream but the pressure upon his body was immense and he could feel the breath  being forced from his lungs... 

Kellerman hacked at the insect with his sword and sliced through her silken wings.

'Leave him be!' Shrester yelled, swinging his sword into  Trelaya’s back and orange blood coated the blade. 

The butterfly released Vin from her vice like grip and the man fell heavily to the floor. 

Kellerman raised his sword and tried to strike the insect for a second time. Trelaya opened her mouth and a long tongue rolled from inside. The third eye, set into its fleshy tip, sighted its victim. It rolled and twisted  across the room and wrapped itself tightly around  Kellerman's throat, and began to throttle him. The man dropped his sword, and the veins in his  temple throbbed. He grabbed desperately at the grotesque tongue as it continued to coil around his neck, but even with his gloved fingers pulling at the flesh he could not free himself... 

Shrester moved swiftly and his sword descended, slicing the tongue in half. It twisted backwards and returned to the insect's mouth, orange blood pouring from her yellow lips. 

Kellerman collapsed, his face drenched in sweat, his dark eyes bulging from his head, he rolled  onto his back and gasped for breath. 

The butterfly attempted to fly, but its wings had been shredded so severely that she simply crumpled in on herself. ‘This is the end of the Nexus Malignus’.

Shrester slid his long sword into the scabbard strapped  upon his back. The man pulled off his gloves and approached the wounded butterfly. He placed the flat of his  palms against the insect's shattered body, and  felt the dark magic seeping through his fingertips. 

The butterfly shuddered and tried to lift a silken wing, but Trelaya's movements became heavy as her body began to turn to stone. 

Shrester stepped back and gazed down at the grey  insect. He had worked his magic and reduced the last of the Nexus Malignus into nothing more than a statue of solid rock. 

'Revenge is satisfied'... The man said weakly, his own complexion as lifeless as the startled face of the insect. Shrester looked at the lifeless body of Joanna Simm, and glanced sadly at Vin, the man was completely still, and lying flat upon  his face. 

Kellerman had pulled the severed tongue from his  throat and sitting up, his breathing erratic, the  man smiled proudly at the carnage surrounding him... ‘Looks like we won... I expect to be well rewarded for this Shrester’.  

‘What reward is worth this?’. Shrester's green eyes gazed despairingly at the Bugwug.

The bird’s  green beak was hanging open in disbelief and his cross-eyes stared into Shrester's tortured face.  ‘It's over’. The bird said solemnly... 'With their pay mistresses dead, the army of the Nexus Malignus will not continue to fight against the Queen, or hunt the Zoriat Daniel Blackthorn'... 

Shrester was not listening. The man just stared into nothingness, his thoughts confused. He had completed his task, and taken revenge for Cora's untimely death but now he felt empty of life and devoid of feeling. In the pit of his stomach Shrester felt an overwhelming sickness that made him want to vomit...   

 

CHAPTER FIFTY FIVE

THE ATTACK

Cassius Loran stood upon the battlements and  watched the suns rise. It was a magnificent display of shimmering colour. Red, yellow and gold cloud streaked across the two glowing suns. The man closed his eyes and breathed in the  warm air. Loran felt comforted and nourished by the dawning of a new day.

‘Sir!’. Maresca's voice had a sense of urgency about it. The young woman was looking down and she could see a black mass of soldiers moving at a distance over the open plains towards the castle. It was the army of the Nexus Malignus, their shabby black furs blending together amidst their grisly ranks. 

‘They’re coming’. She said. 'Should I call up the  archers?'... 

Loran opened his eyes and sighed. 'The oil is in the water’. He commented slowly. ‘Line the walls with bow men, And tell them to wrap the tips of their arrows in straw’. The knight stared  unblinking into the heavens, his eyes weeping  against the bright light. 'The time has come to decide the future of the realm’. He smiled at the  young woman. 'I would ask for one request’... Loran  said gently 'On a beautiful morning like this, with death marching towards us, I would like to tell you my dream’.

Maresca looked confused. Her lovely dark eyes scanning the face of the rugged looking man. 'What dream?'... She asked. 'I don't understand'... 

Loran raised his hand and stroked the young woman's white cheek. 'My dearest Maresca, I've  loved you since the day I saw you, and I've dreamt of a day when I could tell you this'. 

The young woman blushed and she looked embarrassed, but Loran's touch was so soft that she felt the love flowing through his fingers. ‘I would like to kiss those soft lips’. He  continued to caress Maresca's face. 'If I am to die, then at least I can have a small taste of Grimney’s heaven  before I meet my maker’.  

Maresca stepped forward and tilting her head she  embraced the man. Beneath the rising suns they kissed and held each other tight. It was as if night and day could not separate them, and time itself for that brief moment ceased to exist because the pureness of their love meant that all was well. 

The kiss ended quickly and the two hugged  affectionately, neither one wishing to separate from the other.  Loran stroked Maresca's hair and kissed her upon  the forehead. ‘Thank you for giving me hope’. He slid his arms down the young woman's back and stepped away.

Maresca's hands fell limply at her side and she looked up into Loran's face, tears trickling from her eyes. ‘I've taken guard duty on so many nights, just so I could watch the sunset and rise with you’She sniffed and wiped the tears from her cheeks and tried to regain her composure. ‘I am a loyal soldier’.  She felt her body tremble ‘I’ll call out the archers, and sound the alarm’.  

In a high chamber in one of the white towers behind the draped windows, rippling against the cool morning breeze, Michael was having a bad dream. Lying beneath silk sheets, he could see the face of his daughter drifting over his head. Sara was trying to speak, but her words were indistinct, and lost in a cold silence. The  child's eyes were empty of life, and clouded in a film of death.  Michael tossed and turned in his sleep, and  called the child's name, his voice breaking beneath the weight of unconscious emotion... 'Sara'... He began to scream 'Sara speak to me?’

The face of the child began to run with blood and it spilled from her eyes like crimson tears. ‘Sara!’Michael felt his body jolting and he awoke with the sunlight streaming in through the billowing curtains. 

The man felt a hand upon his shoulder and sitting up he looked into the face of Cora Pearl. 

The young woman was seated on a stool by his bedside, dressed in her leather overcoat tee shirt combat trousers and boots.

‘Cora?’... Michael said in bewilderment, wiping his sweating brow on the bed sheet 'Why are you here?'.

The young woman stared at him. 'You were having a  nightmare'. She said brushing her hand through her short blonde hair.

‘Maymon is dead. He sacrificed his life for me’..  

Michael bowed his head 'How?' He asked 'What happened?'.

Cora slid out her shotgun and laid it across her lap. 'It doesn't matter ... All I know is that life is short'... She said solemnly. 

‘Your mind must be a very twisted place to create all this’. Michael frowned and reaching down he picked up  his shirt from the floor. 'We still have to save Sara'... He said pushing his arms through the sleeves and fastening the buttons. 

‘Michael’. Cora said softly. 'A huge army is between us and our daughter, to reach her we must battle our way through them’.  

Michael slid out of bed and pulled on his trousers. ‘Whatever it takes Cora, I won't give her up, but when all this is over, I want an explanation as how this all came to be... This Grimney’’..  

Cora smiled and nodded. 'I know how bad things became between us’..  The young woman's voice was slow,  and her thoughts about Michael were still very mixed. 'I don't ask for forgiveness, or even your friendship'. She looked around the room and  tried to find the right words. 'I believe we both did the wrong things‘..  She said with a sigh. 'All I ask is that we fight for our child and get her home... Please let's forget about our petty  fighting'... She said sadly. 'And it is petty... All I can ask is that we support each other and rescue her from the real enemy’. She said firmly. ‘We both love Sara... I know that... At this point in my life that's all that matters to me'... 

Michael slid his jacket over his shirt and sat down upon the bed. The man took hold of Cora's hand in his own. 'Cora, I'll fight for her, and we will save her. Whatever our differences and there are many... I won't let Sara down, I'll do everything I can, I promise that’... 

The alarm bell sounded and echoed through every part of the castle... Michael allowed Cora's hand to slip away.   ‘The enemy must be coming’... He said nervously. 'It's time’.  

The metal booted feet of the Queen's archers mounted the stone steps to the battlements. The warriors drew their bows from their backs and lined the ridges from north to south, east to west and gazed over at the approaching army. 

The shabby ranks of three thousand warriors charged across the open plains. Red flags waving, swords and axes held high.

Loran lifted his own blade, and the archers leant  over the walls and drew back their arrows. The  hoards of the Nexus Malignus ran towards the  moat.  Loran brought his sword downwards and shouted at the top of his lungs.

‘Fire!’..  

The arrows flew and hundreds of iron tipped projectiles soared, then fell upon the enemy. Men and women tumbled amidst the shower of bolts and death rained down upon them. 

Warriors and orcs carrying long wooden ladders waded into the moat. Swimming across the filthy water they lifted ladders against the castle  walls and began to mount the steps. 

Loran directed his archers to aim their arrows  down, and one by one the men lit their straw  tipped arrows and fired into the water. Flames erupted and the enemy soldiers were caught in a sea of swelling fire. They floundered in the haze and fell burning into the dark water. Many others were overcome by panic, as the belching black smoke choked them unconscious.

Hellcat mounted a horse and galloped  along the lines of men, women and orcs. ‘This is a glorious day to die... But make it one life for ten of theirs!’. Hellcat attempted to rally her warriors into the conflict.

Soldiers leapt into the flames and swam beneath the fire, and sodden through with oily water they mounted the steps. 

Maresca and one of the Queen's soldiers pushed against a ladder and sent it crashing down. It fell upon the enemy soldiers, crushing some and causing others to scatter. But still they came and undaunted the shabby hoards continued to climb the ladders to the battlements. 

Skelton Knaggs gathered his own archers and lined them behind the infantry. He pointed his blade above the rising smoke. 'Take aim!' He shouted, saliva spitting from his  mouth 'Kill the enemy archers... Shoot them from  the walls'... 

In the sunlight from the glowing suns, the metal helmets of the Queen's forces glinted, and the  enemy archers had their targets marked. 

Loran paraded across the battlements, encouraging his men and barking orders. 'Keep your arrows straight and true!’  He shouted  'We must not let  them into the castle!'... 

Below castle the enemy narrowed their eyes and pulled back their bowstrings and releasing their grip they fired their arrows skyward.

Loran caught a glint of silver in his eye, but he was too slow to step aside. An arrow pierced him in the throat. The man staggered back and fell against the cobblestones. 

The Queen's soldiers fell upon each other and rolled down the stone steps, the blood trickled and pooled beneath the walls.

The soldiers of the Nexus Malignus leapt over the battlements. The Queen's archers drew their swords and defended desperately against the onslaught. 

Maresca hacked and slashed at the shabby warriors. Arms tore from their bodies. Heads were split, ears severed, and the screams of the dying echoed all around.  Through the rising smoke she saw Loran. The man was lying sprawled upon the floor, his broken body trampled underfoot as the men, women and orcs fought desperately for their own survival amidst the growing carnage. 

Maresca hacked and slashed her way towards the man she deeply cared for, and blood showered her face and coated her armour. 'Cassius'... She screamed, tears drawn from her eyes by emotion and the stinging smoke 'Cassius  hear me!'... 

A black fur skinned warrior sliced his axe into  Maresca's side and shattered her armour. The blade pierced deeply into the woman's flesh, and  she fell upon Loran's lifeless body. 'Cassius?'... She said weakly, ignoring the smell of blood and sweat, and the clashing of weapons. ‘Cassius speak to me?’. She looked up into the two red suns, and the golden sunlight swept warmly across her bloodstained face. ‘It's going to be a beautiful day Cassius’... The girl's dark eyes closed, and  she slumped against the dead man's body. A trickle of blood seeped from her lips. Beneath the heat of the glorious sunshine her flowing blood turned to ice as her life silently slipped away. Maresca's arms draped loosely over his body, as if she could somehow protect him even in  death... 

Cora Pearl and Michael Delamere ran down the long  torch lit castle passageway. The man was dressed in golden armour, and he carried two swords. Cora held her shotgun, and loaded the chamber of the gun with cartridges. 

Eliza Jade, Robert Pearl, and Elizabeth followed behind, and each one was dressed in the finest body armour. Pearl placed his plumed helmet upon his head and drew his sword.

Reverend Gilliad ran down the passageway after  them ‘Wait for me!’. He shouted, sliding his  crucifix from his jacket and kissing it. 'God go with us’. He muttered.

The battle for the castle had entered an enclosed  courtyard. The Queen's forces continued to fall  back, with each step they took more men and women  were hacked and battered to the ground. The blood was swelling around them, and they waded amidst a crimson tide.

Hellcat Meridain  marched through the marauding army, and she splashed through the churning liquid. She waved a  double bladed curved sword and directed her soldiers onwards.

'Kill them! Kill them all!’. Hellcat screamed,  her sharp teeth dripping with saliva, as she licked her lips and trampled over the many corpses that lay around her. 

Pearl and Jade charged into the courtyard, and  Hellcat's shabby soldiers moved in quickly to  attack them. 

Jade stood her ground and Pearl stood shoulder to  shoulder with the young woman... 'Good luck'... He said bravely, as a handful of enemy soldiers surged in upon them. 

Cora aimed her shotgun and fired twice. Striking  down two ferocious looking orcs. Their fat legs buckled and they fell amongst the dead. Smoke from the gunpowder spiralling from the holes in their chests.  The woman loaded two more cartridges, and stepped  back against a bloodstained wall. 

Michael had never used a sword before, but it was now time to learn and he waved both blades back and forth in an attempt to frighten the opposition. 

Gilliad stood at the entrance to the corridor. He watched the two opposing sides as they continued  to slaughter each other. The reverend clutched  his crucifix tightly against his chest. 

‘This is madness’. Gilliad watched as Cora shot down another orc. The creature fell backwards and blue blood spurted from its mouth. ‘Complete and utter madness’.  

Cora shouted at the holy man. 'Find Daniel. Tell  him to hurry up with the magic!'. She reloaded the shotgun and took aim again. 'Time is short Gilliad!... 

The reverend nodded and ran back down the passageway. He felt ashamed, but he was not a soldier. Gilliad loved God and believed in the Ten Commandments.

Jade and Pearl were fighting ferociously. Jet streams of blood fell around them in beaded trails and the air was ripe with a sweet smell.

Elizabeth stood amidst the Queen's black armoured soldiers and parried and deflected the axes and  swords that were being swung against her. 

A knight fell at her feet. His shining armour bent and dented, his throat sliced open.

'Close ranks!' She shouted. 'Hold them back!’.  

Hellcat and Knaggs charged at Jade and she found  herself battling against both of them. Golden sparks showered from the metal, and she turned towards Pearl. 

'Robert!’.. . Jade shouted.

The man spun upon his heels and sliced his sword through the belly of a sword wielding orc. The creature fell to his  knees and Pearl severed the orc's head from his  shoulders.  Pearl waved his blade through the air and it  caught Knagg's across the shoulder, inflicting a deep wound. Knagg's dropped his sword and  stumbled backwards.

'Help me Hellcat’... He whispered, wincing with pain, but Jade stepped forward and ran him through with her sword. Knagg's slid from Jade's blade and he could see his own blood dripping from the sharp edges. His eyes rolled back in his head and clutching his stomach, he fell amongst the dead. 

Hellcat was furious and swirled her double bladed sword through the air. Jade was struck twice and it sliced through her right arm, and her left shoulder. 

Pearl stepped in front of the injured warrior and as she slipped to the ground he defended Jade from another assault.

Hellcat's green eyes flashed with rage and she licked her lips. The woman wanted blood, and stepping back she raised her weapon.

'You'll die!'... She hissed 'I’ll cut off your head!'...

Pearl raised his sword instinctively and Hellcat's double blade smashed against it. The man swung his weapon against her and she caught the blade and forced it down. 

Michael Delamere could not see. His forehead was so badly cut that the blood was running into his eyes. The man had been wounded in the side and he had lost both his swords. 

A shabby warrior dressed in red fur edged towards the injured man. He clutched the hilt of his  sword in both hands and approached him. He could see that Michael was easy prey. 

Michael felt rough fingers grabbing at his hair,  and he gasped as his head was wrenched back, and  he was forced face down onto the bloodstained cobblestones.

'Goodbye'... The shabby warrior said.  'Sweet dreams’...  The man's body jolted, and he coughed blood. A  huge gash had opened in the back of his neck and  smoke drifted from the wound.

Cora reached down and dragged Michael away from the corpse of the  man who had tried to kill him.  But still the battle raged, and the ground was  now swept with broken bodies... 

Dressed in purple hooded robes and seated upon the highest tower. His legs crossed and the Second Book of the Guardians open upon his lap. Daniel drew pictures upon the blank pages. He was generating dark creatures from the depths of his  mind. 

A red light formed above him, and wrapped itself  around Daniel and the book. Inside a swirling  vortex of light, hundreds of huge red bats flapped their way into existence. They flew downwards and descended into the castle, attacking the soldiers of the Nexus Malignus and  attaching themselves to their bodies, biting and tearing at the enemy with a hideous ferocity. The creatures flew into the courtyard.

The orcs ran in panic as the monstrous bats savaged their  faces, and tore huge chunks of flesh from their  bodies.  The shabby fur clad men and woman slashed against  the winged menace, but they were quickly covered  in the clinging creatures and brought low, the  bats ripping their flesh from the bone. 

‘Nobody runs!’...  Hellcat screamed. ‘The battle is to the death!’...  The bats swooped upon her and she sliced them from the air.

One of the creatures sunk its teeth into her face and she  pulled it away, and crushed it between her  fingers. The bat dissolved into powder. 'It's magic!' She yelled 'Find Daniel Blackthorn and his book, and kill him!'...  Hellcat hacked down two of the Queen's soldiers and ran towards the torch lit corridor. The flame haired woman charged down the passageway. 

The bats pursued and the creatures quickly engulfed her. Hellcat battled through them, her  armour torn from her body, her skin bleeding through the material. 'I will not be beaten! She screamed. 'I will never be defeated!'. Hellcat tried to run forward, but she could only drag her feet. She looked down and saw that the red bats were  feeding on her thighs. 'No!’...  She screamed grabbing at the creatures and pulling them loose. ‘I will not be stopped!’. She tossed them to the floor and crushed them beneath her bloodstained boots. Hellcat reached the stairwell to the tower and attempted to climb, but Gilliad appeared above her and raising his foot he pushed her back with the heel of his shoe. 

‘No!’...  He said firmly, raising his crucifix ‘You  will not pass!’..  

Hellcat grabbed the stair rails and lifted her body. 'Where is Daniel Blackthorn?'. Blood was drying upon her lips and she could feel her life slipping away. 'Out of my way... Or I’ll kill you' ... 

Gilliad shook his head 'You won't pass me... I won't allow it'...  'You're a fool’... She squeezed her fingers around the hilt of her sword and with one final surge  of strength she thrust it upwards. 

Gilliad dropped his crucifix, as the blade pierced his stomach and exited through his back. The man gasped and fell down the steps. He fell on top of Hellcat, his body pinning her to the ground. She tried to push him off, but in her wounded state the weight was too much to lift. Hellcat turned her head and screamed in agony as a flurry of red bats swooped down upon her and devoured the skin  upon the woman's face, and tore the flesh from  her skull.... 

In the courtyard the battle was won. The surviving orcs and human soldiers of the Nexus Malignus had fled the battlefield. 

Elizabeth slid her sword into her scabbard and  waded through the pools of blood. She saw Eliza Jade lying unconscious and smiled sadly at Pearl  who knelt next to her, stroking the injured woman's hair. 

Michael lay upon Cora's lap. The man was delirious, his wounds bleeding heavily.

'It's over’... Cora said soothingly. ‘We can get our  daughter back now’... 

In the low light of the Queen's bedchamber, Calaman Kade waited. He had been assigned to guard her and he held a glass vial containing poison in the palm of his right hand. He had been ordered to administer it if the enemy broke through.

Kade looked down at his Queen. She was fast asleep. The man was aware of the silence outside. The battle was over. He prayed that the Queen's soldiers had driven the enemy from the castle  walls. The shrill sounds of a bell chimed brightly above him. Kade bowed his head and muttered a prayer of thanks, because he knew that the war was well won...

   

CHAPTER FIFTY SIX

BRUTAL REVENGE

The cage door had been opened and the Bugwug flew haphazardly around the room. The bird drew in his wings and settled upon Shrester's shoulder.

The man was sitting upright against the wall, his head slumped forward, congealed blood stained Shrester's clothes and the man was barely conscious. 

Kellerman laid a sheet over Simm's corpse and knelt down beside Vin. The red eyed warrior was breathing shallowly. His bones broken, his body armour crushed in folds against his shattered body. 

'What now Shrester?' Kellerman asked, touching his torn cheek and flinching. ‘I want my pardon...  You two had better not die before I am given it’..  The man's dark eyes stared coldly at Shrester... 'Are you listening to me?'... 

Shrester was struggling to stay awake. The blood loss had weakened him severely. ‘Cut off the sister's head. take it to the enemy army’. He could barely find the energy to speak. 'Deliver it and you'll be granted your wretched pardon'... 

'I will’. Kellerman replied, drawing his sword 'You know Shrester'... He said sarcastically 'You and I should work together again sometime'... 

The Bugwug ruffled his feathers and Shrester chuckled. 'I'd rather die than work with you again'... 

‘You’. The man replied with a cynical grin  'Yes... You will die'... Kellerman approached Karlisa's body and grabbing her hair, he pulled the dead woman into a seated  position. Kellerman raised his bladed weapon and cut the head from the body. 

‘I’ll deliver this gift as requested’... Kellerman  grabbed a black cloth from the floor and wrapped the head inside it. 'You should be proud... We have rid the land of evil, and by doing so we've become heroes'...

Shrester cupped his head in his hands. 'Just take your trophy and the silver reptile... Fly to the Queen's castle'. He looked despairingly through the gaps in his trembling fingers. 'I'm tired... I have no more part to play in this... Just go'... 

Kellerman bundled the head beneath his arm and saluted Shrester with his other hand. 'You've done a man's job sir. Never forget that it was you who gave me the honour of reaffirming my knighthood'... The man bowed and clicked his heels together and with his head held high, he strolled over to the silver beast and slid the severed head into the saddle. Kellerman looked back at the broken man. 'It is you that decided my fate. It is you that will  return me to the Queen's table... I bless you Dhumass Shrester...  I bless you'...  He climbed onto the metal reptile's saddle and lifting the reins he pulled them tightly.

The  creature opened its glowing green eyes and spread its wings. The broken stained glass window provided the perfect exit and the reptile flew straight through. 

The twin suns were high in the heavens and blazing against a backdrop of luminous green sky.

The red glass towers of the giant floating fortress rippled with shimmering heat and light. Kellerman laughed with delight, and patted the silver reptile with his gloved hand. ‘Success and  glory!’. The man's dark eyes sparkled in the  sunlight. 'They’ll build statues of me’.  He shouted into the wind. 'And I'll be given the power to wipe out all the inferior creatures!’. He continued to laugh, but fate can sometimes  play a cruel hand.

A bolt of blue lightning flashed across the sky and struck against the silver reptile's saddle clip. The body of the creature shook and Kellerman nearly fell from  his mount.

The clip securing the severed head  began to come loose, and the grisly trophy  contained inside slid from the leather pocket. 

Kellerman glanced downwards. His expression turning to one of sheer horror. The black cloth  fluttered upon the wind and the severed head  continued to fall. Smoke was rising from a hole melted into the silver reptile's side.

‘It's the Grimnian gods, they've always been out to get me’. He cursed his misfortune and directed the  smouldering metal creature towards the ground. 

Kellerman could see a small gathering of figures  walking across the open plains, and he decided to land the reptile close by, in the hope that they  had seen where the severed head had fallen. 

Kellerman slid from creature's saddle and hopped down to the soft dewy grass. He stared into the hazy sunshine and watched as the silhouetted figures, dressed in grubby brown and black sackcloth, crossed the open plains towards him. 

The man raised his hand in greeting and smiled as  the motley looking hooded warriors approached. He counted ten in all, and Kellerman glanced at the weaponry each one was carrying. The travellers were armed with axes and short swords. 

'You haven't seen a head lying around any where  have you?' Kellerman asked with a frown, already accepting the question seemed rather odd. 

The hooded figures did not respond. They stood  like statues, their big grey hands holding firmly  to their weapons.  

Kellerman drew his own sword because big grey  hands meant only one thing... ‘Trolls’. He muttered. ‘Filthy, dirty, ugly trolls’.

The creatures lifted their hoods and pushed them back over their huge grey fleshy ears.

The huge muscular troll named Kelken shook his matted white hair angrily. The creature's white eyes narrowed and he opened his mouth and  spat saliva through the gaps in his pointed black teeth. Kelken reached into his black sackcloth tunic and  pulled out a human head. He tossed it down at Kellerman’s feet. 'Well there's this one' ... He said with a twisted smile. 'My village friends have some too'... 

The other trolls produced severed heads and tossed them towards the man. They bounced off the knight's body armour and rolled into the grass. 

Kellerman looked down at the pale, lifeless faces and the man recognised his colleagues who had been killed at the village of Farll. 'You revolting... Sick... Twisted animals’... He said in stunned disbelief. ‘They were good honourable men’... Kellerman sneered at the creatures... 'You're a  barbarous species ... No better than crawling  insects that feed on dung... You need to be wiped out entirely’... The man raised his sword. 'Fight me if you wish...  But if you kill a knight of the Queen's Elite you  will be hunted down and destroyed’...  

Kelken smiled and looked at the gloomy grey faces of the trolls gathered around him. 'Do you think we care?' The other trolls chuckled. 'After what you tried to do to us?’. The powerfully built white haired troll ran a fat  grey finger along the blade of his axe. 'No ... We are not afraid of human retribution’. He glared at Kellerman. 'Troll retribution is far worse’... Kelken snarled. ‘Kill him’... 

The trolls began to spread out and form a circle around their hated enemy. 

Kellerman waved his sword from side to side and  spun his body back and forth. He watched the  faces of the trolls, and in his mind he tried to work out which one would strike first. 

It was to be a joint attack. The trolls charged forward, Kellerman gritted his teeth and flashing his sword he defended himself against the overwhelming onslaught. 

Blood splattered over the grass, and Kellerman fell to his knees beneath the heavy blows from  the troll's axes.  The wounded knight held tightly to the hilt of his sword. Thrusting the blade upward it pierced Kelken's throat.

The troll slumped into the grass. His neck and chin gouged open.

The other trolls continued to hammer Kellerman's  armoured body with their weapons. A huge gash appeared across the man's forehead. ‘God?!’... Kellerman wailed, as the axes continued to hack against him. 'God curse these freaks of nature!'... 

The troll's axes smashed away the man's dented black armour and the blades tore huge chunks from his torso. A sharp blade severed Kellerman's sword hand and he fell flat upon his face...  'God curse them all’... These were Kellerman Bolte’s last words because the troll's frenzied  assault hacked the dying man into pieces...   

 

CHAPTER FIFTY SEVEN

REUNITED

The soldiers who had survived the great battle  were in the process of laying out the dead. The  courtyard of the Queen's castle had become a blood drenched graveyard. The bodies of men, women, orcs and glorne lay in row upon row  against the stained cobblestone. 

Maresca and Loran lay side by side, the woman's limp head resting against the dead man's chest. 

Reverend Gilliad lay in the castle corridor. The  man was dead. Hellcat's half eaten body lay beneath him. 

'This is my fault'... Cora said tearfully, looking away from the grisly display. 'The one main reason I brought him here'... Her voice was choked with  emotion. 'Was to show him that his fantasy novels were romantic, idealistic nonsense'... 

Michael, Elizabeth and Robert Pearl stood silently behind her, but the dark shadows ringing their eyes spoke volumes about their mental  states. They too looked down at the dead holy  man. 

'His stories were filled with heroics, and noble sacrifice’. Cora tried to hold back the tears. 'I thought that was nonsense, humanity is not good in nature... But Gilliad, He would not kill. He would not hurt anyone'... The tears rolled from her eyes. 'His  approach was right'... She said bitterly. 'But my Land of Grimney... She bowed her head and looked down at the  shotgun. 'My land was so wrong, and I made it that way, I had a choice, and I chose all the bad things'... Cora dropped the weapon, and it cluttered against the stone. ‘I created so much violence’. She looked back at Michael. ‘I must fly to the floating castle and talk to the twin sisters'. Cora smiled sadly 'Their army is beaten... The  war is over... I just hope they'll see reason'... She  began to sob 'I just want Sara back ... That's all'...

Elizabeth wrapped Cora in her arms and hugged the young woman against her chest. 'We'll get your daughter back. Let's just go... Daniel's waiting'... 

Daniel Blackthorn had transformed into a blue dragon and the magnificent scaly skinned creature sat atop the highest white tower of the castle. Cora, Michael, Pearl and Elizabeth climbed the winding stone steps and walked out into the golden sunshine.

The dragon bent his powerful legs and crouched  down upon his knees. Cora climbed upon Daniel's spiny back and Michael wrapped his arms around the woman's waist.  Michael turned his head and looked down at Pearl and Elizabeth

‘Jump on’Michael said and they did...  The blue dragon flapped his wings repeatedly and stepped boldly over the tower wall. He circled the castle slowly and with his wings completely outstretched, the dragon glided gracefully onwards. A gentle wind rippled over his sleek,  elongated body, and his brown eyes scanned the glowing horizon for any sign of the floating  castle. 

Inside the castle of the Nexus Malignus, Dhumass  Shrester sat motionless, his head hanging limply against his chest. The legs of the wounded man lay flat upon the floor, blood seeping into the carpet from the wound in his thigh. A crimson stain swelled behind him against the wall, the wound in his shoulder had not stopped bleeding. 

The Bugwug stood upon Vin's bent breastplate. The bird looked down into the young man's pale face. ‘Vin?’. He twittered 'Can you hear me? It's me, the Bugwug'... 

The man did not respond and the Bugwug feared that Vin was dead. The bird leant forward and pecked the warrior gently upon the nose. Vin's face twitched and the man moaned gently.

The Bugwug flapped his wings excitedly. 'You’re alive’... He screeched 'Thank the Zoriat!'... 

Shrester wanted to look up, but the man did not have the strength to lift his head. ‘I loved Cora’. He murmured. ‘I spent my life’. Shrester could taste the blood forming in his dry mouth. 'Searching for the meaning of it'. His voice was barely audible. ‘She was the meaning of it... Cora was the meaning of my life’.  

The Bugwug flew across the room and settled upon the man's shoulder. ‘Dhumass... You must stay awake’. The bird stroked his left wing against Shrester's cheek...  'Dhumass?'. 

The blood ran in a long trickle from Shrester's half  parted grinning lips. The man's body was completely still. His eyes were closed and the colour had completely gone from the man's face. 

The Bugwug's orange eyes welled with tears. He could see that Dhumass Shrester... The legendary warrior ... Was dead... 

The magic spell that had held Shrester's victims in a prison of stone was now broken. His death would release Vors the troll from his entrapment,  but the Bugwug could only watch in horror, as the stone skin that surrounded the silver butterfly began to flake away. The nervous bird flew back inside his cage and reaching  out with his little pink fingers he closed the glass door. The bird hopped back upon his perch and watched the transformation. 

The wounded creature's wings moved gently, as the stone coating continued to turn to powder. The creature's eyes returned to their original yellow colour and the butterfly attempted to fly. The wounds made the motion difficult, but she  managed to glide falteringly across the floor and  the insect settled in the far corner of the room  and hid in the shadows. 

The Bugwug remained in the glass cage. His orange cross eyes focused on Vin. The unconscious man remained still, and the bird hoped that he would continue to stay that way.

The blue dragon entered through the shattered glass window. The four riders bounced against the creature's back, and outstretching his webbed feet the dragon settled gently upon the carpet and his passengers climbed off. 

‘There is too little room for me in here’The  dragon said. ‘I’ll fly around outside and come back when I think I'm needed'... Flapping his wings Daniel lifted his body, and disappeared through the broken window. 

Michael had taken possession of the shotgun and he held it in both hands across his armoured breastplate.

Pearl and Elizabeth drew their swords, but Cora hoped that she could resolve the conflict with a polite, diplomatic conversation...

'No killing'... Cora said sharply. ‘I think we've all had enough of that’.  

‘What happened here?’. Pearl asked, pointing his sword at the three bodies lying at the centre of the room. 

‘I don't know’. Cora replied 'But one of them is Vin'...

She rushed over to him, and bending down upon one knee Cora felt for the pulse in his neck. ‘He's still alive’She reached across and slowly lifted the black cloth from Simm's face. ‘Joanna’. She muttered, averting her eyes ‘You finally had to stop running’. Cora laid the cloth  back in place. 

Pearl and Elizabeth examined the headless corpse.  Neither of them had any idea of the woman's identity. 

The Bugwug flew through the open door of his  glass cage and fluttered haphazardly overhead. 

'What the hell is that?' Michael remarked aiming  the shotgun at the peculiar creature.

'No!' Cora shouted 'It’s the Bugwug!’.

The bird flew down and settled upon the young woman's shoulder 'She's in the corner. ‘The sister is in the corner!’. The Bugwug squawked pointing his wing. 

Pearl and Elizabeth stared into the shadows but they could not see any signs of movement.

'Oh God’. Cora could see Shrester's body slumped against the wall and with the Bugwug still perched upon her shoulder she walked slowly over to the man. She Knelt beside him and squeezed his gloved hand, but Shrester did not react.

'Oh Dhumass... It's me Cora’. She said tearfully. 'I've come back’. She leant forward and kissed the top of Shrester's smooth shaved head. 'I'm so sorry if you died thinking I was dead'... 

The Bugwug rolled his orange eyes and flapped his wings excitedly. 'Cora? Cora Pearl? But it can't be? You died.  And then you got so big?'... 

Cora stroked the bird gently beneath his feathered chin. 'Yes my dear old friend'... She sighed, still staring at Shrester's lifeless body. 'I came back from the dead... If only we could all do that’

Pearl and Elizabeth stepped cautiously across the  carpet. The nearer they got to the room's corner the more shadowy the surroundings became... 'Something is there'. Pearl whispered. 'Definitely some sort of move’... The man failed to finish his sentence as the injured butterfly propelled herself from the dark and enclosed her torn wings around his body.

'Help me!'... Pearl gasped as the insect began to crush him.

Elizabeth sliced her sword across the creature's silky back, but this was not enough to force the butterfly to relinquish her grip. 

'Elizabeth get out of the way!' Michael aimed the  shotgun and fired.

The butterflies head exploded and the insect crumbled to the floor. Trelaya's delicate body falling apart as she tumbled onto the carpet. 

Michael and Elizabeth dragged Pearl free. The man was unconscious and covered in the insect's orange blood. 

Elizabeth laid her husband across her lap and stroked the man's hair. 'Robert? You'll be OK... Say you'll be OK?'... 

The man's eyelids. flickered and opened and he looked up into Elizabeth's face 'I’ll be OK'... He said with a weak smile... 

Cora rushed to her father's side and the Bugwug  bounced about on the young woman's shoulder. 'Steady on Cora!'... The bird chirped as he tried to regain his balance, but Cora simply ignored him.

'Dad'... Cora said patting Pearl on the shoulder 'Stay here with mother'... She looked up at Michael and smiled. 'We are going to find our daughter'...

  

CHAPTER FIFTY EIGHT

RETRIBUTION

The Queen raised a glass goblet to her lips and sipped the water slowly. The woman looked gaunt, her skin pallid, and colourless. She leant her head back against the white silk pillow that was propped against her back. The bed sheets rolled around her waist, the soft shiny material folded across her thighs. The Queen wore a silver gown studded with gold sequins and even in her  fragile, weakened state she looked very beautiful.

Calaman Kade and Eliza Jade stood beside the Queen's bed. The blonde haired warrior's shoulder and arms were heavily bandaged. 

The Queen handed the glass goblet to Kade and he bowed his head, and took it from her.  'We are so relieved that you have recovered'... The bearded knight's soft blue eyes radiated with happiness. 'What are your orders, your majesty?'...  He asked. 'The enemy army has fled and we have regained control of your kingdom'... 

The Queen smiled and closed her eyes. 'I am Queen!'... She said firmly 'My reign will never be put in jeopardy again'... 

Kade and Jade stood silently, their eyes lowered  as they awaited the Queen's orders. 

The Queen's expression was blank and cold. 'Those who fought against my kingdom must be made an example of... Capture every soldier who raised their sword or axe against me. Take them back to their villages, towns or cities and execute them in front of the citizens... I shall rule this land with an iron fist, and I will never be challenged again'... 

Eliza Jade looked angry. Her jaw tightened and she clenched her teeth together. Jade had fought for the kingdom, but the Queen was now behaving like a ruthless tyrant. 

'See my orders are carried out!'... The Queen said  waving her hand, and directing them to leave. 'I will have revenge against my enemies ... I will not  be mocked by my subjects again’..

'Your majesty’. She said firmly. ‘That cannot happen’.

‘It can and it will!’. The mad Queen raged. ‘See that my orders are carried out at once! Or you will be placed under immediate arrest Eliza Jade!’.

Jade reached for the hilt sword 'May the Zoriat’s forgive me’..  She began to slide the blade from the scabbard. 'I will not be involved in cold bloodied murder'... 

The Queen felt a sharp pain in her stomach and looking down she saw the blade of Jade's sword protruding through her gown. 

She looked up and stared into the warrior woman's  glazed eyes. 'Why?'... The Queen whispered, her  body slumping forward, her warm blood dripping from her trembling lips. 

Kade squeezed Jade's wrist and he forced her clenched fingers from the hilt of the weapon... 'Stop!’... The knight shouted 'You murdered our Queen!'... He drew his dagger and plunged it deep into Jade's chest.

The warrior woman's eye rolled in her head  and she fell lifelessly upon the Queen's bed. Her body twitching as her lifeblood ebbed away...   

 

CHAPTER FIFTY NINE

SARA PEARL

Sara Pearl sat at a wooden desk in a large room  in the lower levels of the floating castle. The  young girl was drawing pictures with a silver  quill pen, and she seemed fairly content. 

The room was decorated with illustrations of dragons and fairies, and a large bed stood against the wall. A stylish patterned rug lay upon the polished wooden floorboards. A weave of beautiful rainbow colour stitched into the soft  material. 

The door in the far wall rattled and the sound of  bolts sliding echoed through the oak panels. Sara  laid the pen upon the desktop, and pushing back her chair she stood up. The handle turned and Cora and Michael stepped  cautiously into the room. 

The child's eyes widened and a huge smile swept across her lips... 'Mum!'... She shouted, clapping her hands. 'Dad!'... The girl ran forward and jumped into Cora’s arms and they hugged and kissed each other. 

'Darling'. Cora was crying and she stroked the girl's hair. 'I knew I'd find you’... She squeezed Sara tightly. 'I was never going to give you up' ... Cora stroked hair daughter's hair, and kissed the  top of her head. 'I love you angel... I love you so much'... 

Michael hesitated, but he wanted to touch them  both. He reached out his hands and wrapped his arms around Cora and Sara. The trauma of the past seemed to fall away and once more he felt part of the family again. 

The Bugwug stood upon Vin's crumpled breastplate. 

Elizabeth was on her knees and she held the man's hand. The red eyed knight was breathing shallowly, his half open eyes were glazed and staring up at the ceiling. 

Pearl stood over them. He looked pale but his injuries were not severe and his armour was only slightly dented.  'Tin?'... Elizabeth said softly. 'Try not to go to  sleep. Think of good things, happy memories'... 

The young man tried to smile. 'I'm thinking of Eliza Jade'... He said slowly, trying to breathe, but struggling 'She's so beautiful’. I had dreams that she and I might marry someday'... Vin's eyes watered and the tears trickled down his cheeks. 'I had so many dreams... But I have lost.. Lost all and Cora... She was a lovely child... Such a lovely child... I loved that little girl... We all did'... 

Elizabeth wanted to tell Vin that Cora was still alive, and that she had grown into a beautiful young woman, but the shadow of death moved over the red eyed warrior. 

Pearl and Elizabeth could only watch as Vin's eyes  closed and the knight gasped his last breath. 

Elizabeth laid Vin's limp hand across his breastplate and the Bugwug bowed his feathered head. 'Vin's gone' ... She said tearfully, looking up  at her husband. 'I wanted to tell him Cora was alive'... She began to cry. 'Why wasn't I allowed to  do that?'... 

'I don't know'. Pearl responded, bending down and wrapping his arms gently around his wife's shoulders. 'I wish I had the answers... I really do'... He sighed heavily 'This land is lost. If it can allow the deaths of so many good people'...

Cora, Michael and Sara appeared behind them. 'Vin's dead isn't he?'... Cora asked, the answer already given by the solemn expression upon her mother's face. 

'Yes'... Elizabeth replied closing her eyes. 'But his last words were about you and how much you mattered to him'

Pearl reached down his hand and helped Elizabeth to her feet. They turned around and came face to face with their beautiful granddaughter.

'Sara?'... Elizabeth said, wiping away her tears. 

'Yes'... The child replied shakily. Her eyes flickering with recognition. Cora smiled 'This is your grandmother and grandfather. You thought they were dead... But  they're not... In Grimney they can live forever’... 

Elizabeth looked back at Vin's body. 'Unless someone kills you’... She said sadly. 

Pearl reached out his arms. 'Can I hug you Sara?'... He asked beckoning her towards him.  ‘Please?’... 

The child recognised her grandparents from old photographs, and she ran into the man's arms and he embraced her. 

'I never thought I'd see Cora again'... Pearl sobbed.  'I thought my own daughter had drowned'... 

Cora bowed her head 'I brought your grandfather back to life when I was a child'... She said by way of explanation. 'On Earth he died when I was twelve... But I found a magic book and put in my poems and pictures about Grimney'... She looked up at Elizabeth and smiled sadly. 'I brought my dad back to life when I stuck his photograph into the book'...

Elizabeth smiled. 'You changed the world Cora, whatever happens to us now, you made things so much better'... Her tears continued to fall. 'We lost each other, but your love reunited me with your father'... 

'And what of me?'. Cora added bitterly. 'Because I wanted my father back, I lost you both, and grew up with Blackthorn tormenting me'... 

 

CHAPTER SIXTY

THE KEY TO THE KINGDOM

The small group of survivors had searched the floating fortress for guards, but all had fled. 

Daniel had transformed himself back into his human form, and his colleagues had decided to spend the night and return to the Queen's castle at sunrise.

Elizabeth and Pearl lay sleeping together upon the carpet, arms entwined, they snored gently. 

The Bugwug had returned to his cage and he lay in the corner, his head hidden beneath his wings. He too was asleep.

Sara slept next to her father, his right arm draped protectively over her shoulder. The little girl looked like an angel, her blonde locks hanging over the man’s heavily bandaged bare chest.

‘So peaceful’... Cora whispered ‘It’s all so peaceful now’... She sat against the wall, examining the silver rod, stroking her fingers over the buttons and trying to understand the meaning of the symbols engraved upon it.

The cages suspended from the ceiling began to sway  gently as an energy force pushed against them. A  blue light began to form and it swirled in  through the broken window. It snaked around the room and rolled towards Cora, and drifting in front of the young woman's face,  the mind spirit pulsated gently.

'Drax?'... Cora said firmly ‘Hugo Drax are you in  there?'... 

The cloud of glowing particles began to form a  face, and Drax's disembodied head appeared inside the vortex and smiled at Cora. 'You and your friends have done well'... He said. 'You have saved your daughter and destroyed the  Nexus Malignus'.

Cora shook her head. 'Yes, I found Sara... But it cost a me a lot of lives to find her'... 

Drax grinned. 'Now you want the Key to the  Kingdom?'... He whispered looking down at the silver rod Cora was toying with. 'There, in your hands is  the key to Dellvara'... 

'Is it?'... She said, holding the object in front of  her face. 'Tell me how to use it?'... 

'Press the middle button... Think of the name Kraylien Magdallor... Have no other thoughts in mind and the gateway will open'... The man's face dissolved and the mind spirit drifted upwards. Swirling into a glowing ball it vanished back  through the broken window... 

Cora examined the silver rod. Was this strange object the key to the kingdom? Would this give her the answers and explain the existence of Grirnney? 

'Well'... She said closing her eyes and puffing out her cheeks. 'I've waited a very long time for an answer'. She began to press the button. 'And I want an answer'... 

The rod's silver tip glowed with golden light. It  pulsated gently and a beam of yellow energy emerged from inside the key. It drifted across the room and formed into a ball of sparkling yellow particles.

The light was blinding and Cora slid her sunglasses over her eyes. She gazed at her companions. She thought that they were all still fast asleep. 

Michael, although lying perfectly still, watched the mysterious ball of energy through his half opened eyes. He felt for the barrel of the shotgun and slid his fingers gently over the trigger. 

The yellow ball began to shrink in size, generating a shaft of light that descended from the core down to the floor. 

Cora was half expecting another robot to step through. Instead the vertical beam of energy just rippled in front of her. 

'The gateway'... Cora whispered ‘It’s the gateway the robot stepped through’... Cora stepped forward and reached out her hand.

She passed her shaking fingers into the rolling light, and her hand seemed to disappear. 'God'... She said, withdrawing her arm, and watching her hand emerge whole again. 'This is the door to Dellvara'...

Cora slid the silver rod into her pocket and once again she closed her eyes. She lifted her booted foot and  stepped boldly into the vertical light and the young woman instantly vanished from sight... 

Cora opened her eyes and slipped off her sunglasses. The expression that swept across her face was one of awe and astonishment. The yellow beam still pulsated behind her, but Cora’s interest was no longer focused on the doorway of light... 

Cora stood upon the threshold of a strange new land. A vast metallic landscape of tall grey faceless towers that stretched high into an empty, colourless sky. Chains of gigantic metal cogs linked each pillar to pillar and they rolled  slowly together, creaking with continuous motion.  Bolts of luminous black lightning sparked and  crackled from the tops of the narrow towers. It  formed a mesh of twisted energy, unravelling like  barbed wire through the sky. 

'The Kingdom of Dellvara'... Cora muttered in amazement. 'This is not my creation'... 

She walked amidst the many towers and every footstep she took caused the metal floor to vibrate with a metallic sound. 'It's like being inside some giant machine'... She  thought. Gazing up at the dark matter layered thickly beneath the sky. 'But where's this energy  coming from?'.

At the centre of this mechanical world stood a  triangular building fashioned from black glass. From the tip of the pyramid, a yellow shaft of energy shone upwards without any interruption in continuity.

Cora walked cautiously towards an arched doorway set into a high glass panel and she stepped over the threshold.  Inside the pyramid, there was a large metal throne, and seated upon it was a very strange looking individual.  It had a bulb shaped head, and the top part of its skull was transparent. Cora could see the being's huge wrinkly grey brain encased behind thick glass. A blue liquid bubbled around it, pouring through the curved ridges that channelled through the organic tissue.

The beam of yellow light that shone from the pyramid's tip appeared to be  generated from the brain inside the glass. The peculiar being appeared to be part organic and  part machine. The long narrow face appeared to be in stark contrast to the bulbous glass skull. It was mechanical, and angular. High cheekbones smoothed down to a narrow pointed chin. Two large yellow eyes glowed with an unnatural energy, and there were two holes where the nose should be. A slightly built metal body supported the giant  bulb shaped head. It had long spindly legs and  arms, and each part was bolted to the other. Cora  could see knee joints fastened to triangular upper thighs and narrow biceps fixed by metal hinges to flat jutting shoulders. Long metal fingers clicked and whirred as the  being extended its mechanical digits upward in a  form of greeting. 

'Welcome Cora Pearl'... The mechanoid said in a trange metallic voice that seemed neither male  nor female. 'My identity is Kraylien Magdallor, the Zoriat God of Creative Imagination’... 

Cora stood her ground and simply gazed in astonishment at the peculiar creature. 'You’re a God? I thought I was the God of Grimney. After all it was my pictures and poems that created the place’... 

Magdallor's jointed neck clicked rigidly and the being lowered its yellow eyes and blinked at the young woman. The metal eyelids clicking up and  down slowly.  'You are the thought of Grimney, but I am the mind'... The cyborg paused for thought, and the more  he thought the brighter the yellow beam became. 'Beyond what you see, there is always another'... Magdallor raised his skeletal mechanical hand in front of his glowing yellow eyes. 'I am not flesh, or bone, yet I exist'... The mechanoid looked down  at Cora. Its voice and face remained rigid and  completely expressionless. 'You are not a god. For  mortal man and mortal woman are but flesh and dying tissue... They pass from their world and die without issue'... Magdallor paused, before adding. ‘I can write poetry too Cora’.  

Cora looked into Magdallor's huge yellow eyes.  They were very bright, but completely soulless. 'You created Grimney? No... I found the first Guardian book and I stuck in the pictures and the  poems'... She said firmly 'I created this land, not you'... 

Magdallor shook its bulbous head, and the joints in the mechanical neck clicked once more. 'The  books, of which there are three, contain the spirits of creation... The mind spirits'... Magdallor blinked slowly. 'It needs creative thought, like  yours to visualise a world... But it takes a  mastermind like mine to channel the energy of the mind spirits to bring a world into existence’... 

'You used my imagination?'... Cora asked, unsure of  whether she was offended or flattered. 'What gave you the right?’.

The mechanoid pondered the question and the beam of yellow light intensified. 'The mind I have is without imagination, I am guided by the Zoriat, the mystic explorers in this land and yours... I create what others can only dream to make real... I am not flesh ... I am not bone...  I am God eternal and I will exist forever’.

Cora chuckled 'But you're a machine?' She said shaking her head. 'You're not a god. Someone made you'. She looked the being up and down. 'Who made you?'...  Magdallor's eyes closed slowly. ‘I have always existed  But you have violated the code of creation Cora ... You have tampered with the principles of fantasy, and brought your own evil into the realm’... 

Cora looked uneasy. 'What do you mean?' She licked her dry lips nervously. ‘I was brought back here to rescue my daughter and defeat the Nexus Malignus’. She took a deep breath 'Believe me I never wanted to return... But I've done what I had to do and now I want to go home’

The beam of light began to turn black and it flowed through the glass dome into Kraylien Magdallor's brain, turning the liquid inside to ink.  The mechanoid's eyes opened slowly, and they too had turned to pitch black.

'I have joined with Darcus Ryalls, the evil spirit  that once dwelled inside you Cora Pearl'... Its eyes blazed with a dark luminosity. 'Linked with Magdallor's mind I no longer need human flesh to exist, and with the Nexus Malignus dead and the Zoriat subdued. I can find and take control of all the Guardian books, and all the lands will suffer for their lack of love’.  

Cora reached into her overcoat, but the shotgun was no longer in Cora's possession. ‘Great’. Cora whispered edging carefully backwards. ‘Well’. She said with a nervous smile. 'It was nice meeting you'... 

The dark energy did not break contact with its host and the spirit of Darcus Ryalls seeped from Magdallor’s eyes. It floated in two black streams of energy towards Cora. Merging together into a twisting mass just in front of the young woman's face.

'You thought that Maymon could destroy me?' Ryalls  said menacingly, its face forming into a grotesque mirror image of Cora’s. 'You thought that you could be free of your own darkness? Remember you created me when you were twelve ... Whilst you live I'll haunt you and your child, and you'll never be  free of me or Grimney, for many other minds are at work'...

Cora gazed into the deep hollow eyes of the dark spirit, and watched as it formed into a billowy skull.  

'Then I’ll have to destroy you myself’... Cora replied with a glint in her eyes. 'I am a Zoriat after all’... 

The young woman reached her arm into the swirling  mass of energy and she managed to grab the being's hideous face. She could feel the creature coursing into her body, and the perspiration began to pour from her brow.

The veins and blood vessels throbbed in her body, as she struggled to contain the entity. They struggled against each other for control. Ryalls roared with anger and twisted itself around Cora's body. 

Michael and Daniel appeared behind her. They stood back from the writhing mass, and watched helplessly as Cora fought against the evil spirit.  'She's dying in there!'

Daniel screamed and  without hesitation he leapt into the fray. The young man was tossed aside like a rag doll. The  skin on his face ripped away and his eyes were  blackened and smoking. 

Michael levelled his shotgun and aimed at the bulbous glass head that contained Magdallor's  brain. He pulled back the trigger and fired. The cartridges tore through the casing, and the cyborg slumped in its throne, black sparks showering from its frail metal body. 

Cora continued to struggle with Ryalls, and she  began to fade from sight, as the maelstrom consumed her.

The dark spirit screamed in agony as its link with Magdallor was severed. 

'Cora!'... Michael screamed, as the tall metal towers began to split in two. 'Cora save yourself!'...

The young woman was tearing at the entity and summoning all her strength she scratched her fingers through the dark light. A gaping hole split Ryalls in half. White energy seeped through and Cora fell backwards as it enveloped her inside a glowing ball. 

The land of Dellvara was collapsing in upon itself, and Michael fled. He reached the glowing yellow doorway and hurled himself through. 

The man tumbled onto the carpet and the yellow light behind him blazed brighty before imploding in upon itself and vanishing from the room. 

All was quiet... 

Michael staggered to his feet. Elizabeth and Pearl were awake and Sara stood between them with the Bugwug standing upon her shoulder. The Bird looked worried.

'Where is Cora and Daniel?' It twittered, ruffling his tail feathers and twiddling his little pink fingers. 

Michael did not have time to answer as the  floating fortress began to crumble around them. 'There’s no escape'. He gasped.

The blue mind spirit swept through the falling  walls, and Michael ran forward and jumped into Sara’s open arms. 'Hold onto me honey... Close your eyes'... 

The blue spirit wrapped itself around the huddled  group, and began to lift them from the ground.

Elizabeth grabbed hold of her husband's hand, but Robert smiled sadly and allowed his wife’s grip to slip away.  Pearl understood that the spirit was taking them home, but on Earth Robert Pearl was dead and buried.

The man tumbled from the mind spirit's  grasp, and landed heavily upon the carpet. The  Bugwug flew to his side and settled upon the  fallen man's back. 

'Go home! Go home!' The bird screeched, as the  walls of the floating castle tumbled around him. 

Elizabeth could only watch as the energy force carried them through the crumbling towers, and she knew that she would never see her husband again. 

The vortex of blue light drifted heaven bound and  Elizabeth, Michael and Sara rolled back and forth  through the heavens. Buffeted upon a violent wind they felt as if their own bodies were being shredded to atoms, as the fortress crumbled into oblivion, Elizabeth, Michael and Sara lost all sense of reality and fell into unconsciousness, but the mind spirit carried them safely home. 

 

CHAPTER SIXTY ONE

RETURN TO REALITY

Sara was the first to open her eyes, and they  flickered with blue light, which faded gradually.  She sat up upon the floor and found herself back in the large room at Gateway Cottage. 

Michael and Elizabeth lay unconscious next to her.  But at least they were alive. Sara rubbed her eyes  and tried to focus on the surroundings. The room  had changed. The walls crumbled, the floor bare  stone, and the windows had shed their glass and  were now mere holes of broken stonework. 

'Mummy?’... Sara called out. In hope that her mother would run forward and gather the child in  her arms. But silence penetrated all, and the derelict ruin of the Applebee's house showed no sign of life. 

'Oh no’... Sara bowed her head and prayed that somehow her mother would appear. A glimmer of white light flickered in through a broken window frame. 

Sara was transfixed, and she sat motionless hoping  that this was her mother returning. A ball of white energy rolled in through the broken stone. It floated a short distance in front of Sara's face. Closing her eyes she felt a warm glow against her skin. 

'Sara'... It whispered 'Open your eyes'... 

The child looked up into the ball of white light. She could see her mother's spectral face amidst the glowing particles. 

'I am not lost' ... Cora said slowly. 'But I am free of hate, guilt, shame, and sadness’... 

'Mummy?’... The child's eyes filled with tears.  'Mummy, please don't leave me... Please?'... 

Cora's energy wrapped itself around the child and Sara felt the warmth of her mother's love rippling through her body ... 

'I am on the other side'... Cora whispered, her spectral face forming amidst the white mist 'I will always watch over you, and I will always be there in your thoughts'.

The words echoed in Sara's mind and she reached out to touch her mother's face, but the energy drifted into the ether and Sara found herself alone, with a feeling of deep, unconditional love coursing through her veins.   

 

EPILOGUE

THE DEPARTURE

The sun was shining gloriously overhead when Elizabeth and Michael walked solemnly down the overgrown path from the cottage. Sara stood between them and she held her father and  grandmother by the hand. 

The building behind them was a mere shell of its  former self, and as they passed through a garden overflowing with bright blue forget-me-not  flowers, their eyes fell upon two tombstones.

The rounded slabs were weathered by time, but the  inscriptions on each were still clear enough to read.

Margery Applebee, born August 1880, died May 20th 1940, and Doris Applebee, born December 23rd  1875 died June 22nd 1940... ‘May they rest in peace'... 

'They were lovely ladies'... Sara sighed and looked up at the faces of the two people who had been left to love her. 'It's over now isn't it? I’ll never go back to Grimney will I?' Sara said tearfully.  'This is the only world that's left?'... 

Elizabeth looked sad and stared up into the sky, she would never be able to live under a single sun again. ‘Gods or no Gods… I’ll find my way back Sara. You can be sure of that’. 

Michael crouched down upon one knee and squeezed his daughter's hand gently. 'Sara, this is the only world we should live in’...  He replied with a warm smile. 'So let's make it a good one’.

 

The End

© Gavin Paul Carter 2011

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