Once clear of the rocks, Faraday hit the accelerator again, and the beetle scuttled onwards at a terrifying pace.

“There’s more of those things back there!” William howled from the back of the vehicle, the glare of the tiger-bikes’ headlamps showered the beetle in white light.

Faraday veered the beet-wagon to the right and smashed into the side of one of the tiger-bikes that pounced through the night. It roared as it drew level with the beetle. Zach glanced at Faraday as he threw the vehicle left and right. Neanna stared out of her dark window and at the dead peacekeeper racing alongside on the tiger-bike. Neanna’s window then exploded inwards, as the rider released a shower of stakes into the vehicle. Zach watched Neanna suddenly blink away.

“Where’s Neanna?” Zach cried.

“Out there!” Bom roared back, pointing out of the window.

All off them stared through the window to see Neanna now sitting behind one of the riders as they raced along on their tiger-bike. Her long, black hair flew out behind her, and her cloak flapped like a cape.

“What does she think she is doing?” Faraday asked.

“Fighting back!” William howled, lowering his window. A rush of air blew into the car, his brown dreadlocks whipping about his face.

Zach took one of his crossbows from its holster as he watched Neanna pull at the respirator which covered the dead peacekeeper’s face. Immediately, the unmasked rider began to screech as if in agonizing pain. Zach looked at his face. Its skin was white and as wrinkled as a withered balloon. The rider had no mouth or nose, just a gaping hole. Its eyes were dark and rolled backwards in its misshapen skull. Releasing the handlebars, the rider cop covered its face with its hands and began to scream.


The tiger-bike bounded onwards as Neanna tried to throw the rider from it. He thrashed his arms backwards, desperate to take hold of her. But Neanna was too quick, and grabbing the rider around the throat, she threw him clear of the bike. He rolled over and over on the ground, sending up a shower of dirt in his wake. Neanna quickly glanced back then faced front, taking hold of the handlebars. She lent low and bounded forward, the tiger-bike roaring and swishing its long black and orange tail.

Behind the beetle, three more tiger-bikes raced forward. Leaning out of the window, William placed one of the inferno berries into his catapult and took aim.

“No!” Zach shouted, remembering the damage the inferno berries could cause. But it was too late. William released the berry. It fizzed and spat as it tore through the air. The berry hit the ground in front of the approaching tiger-bikes and exploded. A vile green shockwave of light ripped outwards, slicing the tiger-bikes and their riders in two.

“Brace yourselves!” William howled as the shockwave raced outwards behind the beet-wagon. The back of the vehicle lifted up off the ground, the beetle’s legs kicking out wildly. It made a screeching noise as it hit the ground again in a cloud of dust, and continued to race forward.

“See, that wasn’t so bad!” William barked in triumph.

Before Zach had the chance to say anything, Faraday looked sideways at him and said, “Take the wheel.”

“What!” Zach shouted over the roar of another tiger-bike which raced alongside the beetle.

“Take the wheel,” Faraday ordered again.

“But I can’t drive!” Zach insisted, leaning over him and gripping the wheel. Immediately a humming sensation crawled up Zach’s arms and exploded across his chest as he took control of the beetle. It was then he truly realised that the car wasn’t just a machine – it was a living thing. Then, Zach saw Faraday do something so peculiar, that he momentarily lost control of the beetle. It scuttled left then right.

“Don’t watch me! Watch where you’re heading,” Faraday said, pulling at the tips of his fingers on his right hand, as if removing a pair of gloves. As he pulled at his pearly-looking skin, it began to come free, revealing his mechanical arms hidden underneath. Once he had removed the skin on his right arm, he pulled the skin from his left. From the corner of his eye, Zach watched as Faraday laid the flesh from his arms across the top of the dashboard, like a pair of baggy rubber gloves. Then the air was filled with a whizzing sound, as his arms transformed into an array of tools, knives, and odd-looking gadgets. To look at his arms reminded Zach of the Swiss army knife his dad would carry with him. But whereas his dad’s knife had five or six tools, Faraday’s arms appeared to have hundreds – no thousands!

Faraday pushed back the beetle’s shell and stood up. Where he once had fingers, he now had ten rotating blades which he slashed through the air. Then as quick as Neanna had blinked away, Faraday was gone. He sprang from the beetle, his arms rotating so quickly on either side of him, they seemed to propel him through the air.

The riders on their tiger-bikes released a torrent of stakes at him, but he just batted them away with his arms as he twisted through the air. Just as Neanna had done, Faraday landed on one of the tiger-bikes just behind its rider. In one swift movement of his mechanical arms, Faraday had sliced the head from the rider and it went spinning away. A deafening thud was heard as the rider’s head bounced off the bonnet of the beet-wagon.

Neanna raced alongside him, both of their tiger-bikes bounding forwards. Attached to the side of her bike was one of those sidecars which Zach had seen earlier. He watched as the top slid back and one of those dead peacekeepers climbed out.

“Hey, Neanna!” Zach tried to warn her.

Neanna was so focused on the other tiger-bikes which leapt and bounded all around them, she failed to see the dead peacekeeper reach for her. With one hand gripping the wheel, Zach took one of his crossbows from its holster and took aim. The beetle scuttled left and right as he tried to keep it steady and fire off his shot. With his finger hovering over the trigger, he screwed up his eyes and fired. The stake whizzed from his crossbow and sliced into the respirator covering the dead peacekeeper’s face.

As it sucked in air through its torn mask, the creature began to convulse. Through the lenses of its respirator, Zach watched its eyes grow fat and round. They bulged and then popped out of their sockets altogether, exploding against the inside of the mask. The dead peacekeeper began to thrash about uncontrollably as he tried to claw the mask free from his face. Neanna saw the dead peacekeeper as he finally ripped the mask free, his gooey eye sockets wept black tears onto his deathly pale face. Just like the other had, he shrieked, “URG! URG! URG!”

With one hard kick with her foot, Neanna knocked the creature off the bike, where it rolled away lifelessly into the sand.

The last remaining tiger-bikes with their riders circled in the sand ahead, then came bounding towards the beetle. Leaning out of the window again, William took aim with his crossbow.

“No don’t do it!” Zach yelled.

“Show some backbone, will ya!” William howled, his eyes glowing like two hot coals behind his glasses.

The inferno berry rocketed through the air just inches from Zach’s face and thudded into the ground. The whole world seemed to tremble then explode in a bright green flash of light. The shockwave created by the exploding inferno berry carved through everything in its wake, taking the remaining tiger-bikes and their dead riders with it. The circular blade of green light raced towards Neanna and Faraday, as they bounded along in front of the beetle. Just seconds to go before it sliced them apart, Neanna blinked away. With lightning speed, Faraday leapt into a standing position on the back of the tiger-bike, and then, back-flipped through the air.

For a moment Zach lost sight of him as he frantically steered the beetle away from the approaching shockwave. There was a ripping sound. Zach glanced out of the open shell to see Faraday being dragged along in the dirt, the knives and blades on his mechanical arms hooked into the side of the beetle. The vehicle wailed in pain and began to slow. Using his arms as a set of hooks, Faraday pulled himself up and back into the car. Zach slid to one side so Faraday could take control again. His arms whizzed and hummed as the tools which ran the length of his arms folded away.

The beetle continued to slow. It shuddered and lurched forward, its six legs trying to move forward over the desert. It screeched and then stopped. Zach glanced sideways and watched as Faraday pulled the flesh back over his hands and arms, like gloves made of skin. Faraday caught Zach staring at him and said nothing.

Chapter Thirteen

The Delf travelled through the night towards the Outer-Rim. The Splinter was so far behind her now that when she looked back, it was no longer visible on the flat horizon. Max panted as she pushed him faster and faster across the desert. His thick, pink tongue lolled from the corner of his mouth as he grew tired. When she thought the dog could carry her no further or faster, she would take a fistful of the maggots that crawled from her ears, nose, and mouth and lean forward so he could gobble them from between her fat fingers. He licked her fingers clean and galloped on.

As she travelled towards the Outer-Rim, the Delf thought of how she had once been – how she and her brother had once both been. They had been beautiful. They had been loved by all who looked upon them. They were meant to have been the future rulers of Endra. There had never been twins before in the monarchy. But then, the other had come. The Queen, who now lay asleep at the top of the tower, had spoilt everything, the Delf thought with bitterness. Why had she ever been born?

The wind blew hard across the desert floor, and the Delf bent low over Max, losing her face in his unruly mane. She dribbled maggots into his long hair, and they wriggled down the length of his giant skull.

“Faster, there’s a good boy,” she soothed in his ear.

Max sped up, a wake of dust blowing up from beneath his black paws. Although the Delf had spent a great many years living alone in the shack beneath the granite tree, she had hated every moment of it. The loneliness seemed to eat away at her. Her brother had been busy putting his plan together, getting everything in place so that when the time came for them to retake the kingdom which was rightfully theirs, it would pass without interference.

Throat had discovered that the Queen had a reflection – a girl from the other side of the doorways. She would have to die too, but how would he take her? Neither the Delf nor Throat could travel through in their current condition. It might kill them, and even if they could pass through – what sort of beast would they turn into on the other side? But there was another who could help them. The child’s uncle, Fandel Black. From the doorways, Throat studied him and knew that he had a heart that longed for power – he lusted after it. And that was good. So Throat showed Fandel the doorways and what power lay behind them. Fandel’s sick heart fell in love with Endra. But he didn’t fall in love with its beauty – he fell in love with the idea that one day he might rule it alongside the other – Throat. But Fandel had been deceived. He was not Throat’s reflection. Throat didn’t have one – nor did his sister. Twins were a reflection of each other, were they not? How could they possibly have another?

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