“You lied,” Willow barked, feeling cheated herself somehow.
“And can you blame me?” Wally suddenly barked at her, his sense of fun leaving him. “I was always considered a joke. No one ever took me seriously. I was always the wild one. All the other Noxas thought they were smarter than me. Even your husband, Warden, felt the same.”
“Warden has spoken about you often,” Willow told him. “For all these years, he believed you were dead, blown to pieces by an inferno berry in the howling forests. But all the time you have been living here in Earth. Don’t you think that was a cruel thing to do?”
“I didn’t want to come back,” Wally snapped. “In Endra, I was mocked – I was a nobody; but here, I’m a somebody.”
“Are you?” Willow asked, glancing around the cave. “You seem very much alone to me. Even your friend left you and hasn’t come back.”
“Okay – you don’t have to rub it in,” Wally howled at her. “I know I get excited and can act the fool sometimes – but I’m really not that stupid. I’m the only Noxas who has managed to trap their own doorway. I’m the only one who has managed to figure out the doorway’s true power.”
“And what is the true power, and can it help save Endra?” Willow asked him.
Wally stepped away from the odd-looking table and crossed the cavern towards his doorway. Standing before it, he said, “Why does everyone go through their doorway like this?” he said, and stepped forward through the open doorway. There was a bang so loud, the cavern shook, sending down a shower of stone and dust from above. There was a blinding flash of light, and Willow threw one of her paws over her eyes. When she dared to look again, Wally was standing before her as a wolf. Like Willow, he was bigger than any wolf that a human would care to see. His fur was chocolate brown in colour with an orange streak of fur blazing down the front of his snout. His eyes burnt red as he stared at her.
“Step through the doorways like you normally would, and you change into your other self – the wolf,” he barked. “But that lacks such imagination. What happens if you go through sideways?”
Before Willow had had the chance to say anything, Wally had bounded back towards the doorway, flipped onto his side, and passed through it. This was followed by another Earth-shattering bang and flash of light. Wally stepped through the doorway as he had stood before Willow just moments before – a Noxas, with his long flowing beard, long matted dreadlocks, claws, and razor-like teeth.
As if brimming with excitement, Wally said, “But what about if I went through the doorway backwards? What happens then?”
Willow looked at him and shook her giant head. “I don’t know.”
“Watch this,” he said, and stepped backwards through the doorway.
The cavern trembled again as his doorway banged open and closed. This time the light was so bright that Willow felt a hot ripple of air pass over her. The light winked out and Willow barked at Wally as he stood before her.
Anna glanced to her right and gasped as Van Demon flew backwards under the sheer force of Tanner’s brow slamming into his face. The sound of Van Demon’s skull was sickening, like brittle bones being crunched underfoot. But this was soon drowned out by the sound of gunfire. Anna looked up to see six powerful-looking rafter horses come scuttling over the sand dunes which surrounded the shoreline. Their pointed hooves kicked up plumes of sand, almost masking the riders on the strange-looking creatures. The rafter horses’ manes twisted and coiled in the air as the riders held them like reins. With their free hands, Anna could see that the riders held crossbows, and they released wave after wave of stakes at Van Demon’s men.
As they raced nearer, Anna could see that each of the riders was dressed just like Tanner. They wore blue denim shirts and jeans. The tails of their long, black coats trailed out behind them, as their horses scuttled forward. The horse’s heads snaked back and forth on their serpent-like necks and screamed at the bandits who now fired back at the approaching peacekeepers.
“Release me!” Tanner hollered at one of the riders as they went tearing by. He then turned his back, leaned forward, and raised his tethered wrists into the air.
The peacekeeper turned his horse in the sand and came racing back towards Tanner. Anna looked up at the rider and could see that it was a pretty young woman. Her long, pulled-back hair fluttered about her shoulders as she raised her crossbow and took aim at the rope which held Tanner’s wrists together.
The woman released a shot, and the ropes disintegrated. Tanner whirled around and held his good arm up. As the female peacekeeper raced past, she threw a crossbow at Tanner who snatched it out of the air.
“Thanks,” he winked at the female as she raced away, unleashing another volley of shots at Van Demon’s men. “Turn around!” Tanner ordered Anna as he came running towards her.
Just as Tanner had done, Anna swung around, lent forward, and raised her wrists in the air. There was a cracking noise and she felt the rope fall free, releasing her arms from behind her back. She inspected her wrists; they were red and raw where the rope had cut into them.
“Get down!” Tanner roared, as he pushed her down into the sand. As she fell, she watched Tanner bound over her, releasing a volley of stakes into the head of a bandit who had been racing towards her. The bandit flew through the air as if being dragged backwards by a pair of invisible hands.
Tanner landed in the sand on both feet, crouched low, and fired off another flood of shots at the approaching Dammed Bandits. They raced forwards; some with axes held high, others firing bullets from their rifles. The bullets whizzed and whined over Anna’s head and thudded into the sand all around her. Anna pressed herself flat into the ground, and watched as the group of peacekeepers raced their rafter horses across the sand as they gunned down the Dammed Bandits. Tanner crouched someway along the shore on one knee as he picked off the approaching bandits. Anna saw that his eyes seemed bright and keen. The fever he had been suffering from the wound in his shoulder, now gone.Anna tried to stand, but as she did, she felt someone sit astride her. Rolling onto her back to see who had hold of her, she cried out at the sight of her uncle’s narrow and pointed face leering down at her.
“And where do you think you are going?” he sneered, his hands still fastened behind his back.
“Get off me!” Anna screamed over the sound of gunfire and the cries of the dying. She hoped that Tanner might hear her.
“I can’t let you go, sweet little Anna. I have to take you with me.”
“I’m not going anywhere with you!” She hissed, thrusting her hips upwards. With his hands tied behind his back, Fandel toppled off Anna and into the sand.
“Ahh, you little bitch!” Fandel cried out, trying to get to his feet.
Seizing her chance, Anna got up and headed towards Tanner further along the shore. She ducked and dived as she dodged the bullets and stakes that still whizzed overhead, then a hand grabbed her ankle and she fell, face-first into the sand. She spat the grit from her mouth and looked back to see that it was Van Demon who had hold of her. His jaw swung loosely where Tanner had shattered it with his forehead. Anna recoiled in disgust as she watched Van Demon’s tongue roll from the open wound and flop on to his chest. He made a gargling noise as he tried to speak, but his fleshy grey tongue just beat against his chest. His eyes swiveled in their broken sockets as he looked at her.
Then there came two bangs in quick succession. The first sounded like an explosion, as Van Demon’s head flew clean off his neck and thudded into the sand some distance away. Anna glanced back to see Tanner standing with one of the dead bandits’ smoking rifles in his hand.
“Are you okay, kid?” he asked in his dry tone.
She nodded, and the second bang came and Anna flinched so violently, she thought her heart might just stop. Staggering to her feet, Anna watched as a twisted black doorway appeared on the beach.
“No! No! No!” Tanner roared as he raced towards the doorway that had materialized before Fandel in the sand. “Don’t let him go through it!”
Hearing his cries, the other peacekeepers turned their rafter horses and galloped along the shore towards the doorway, as Fandel crawled towards it. He looked back, his pointed face beaded with sweat as he saw the peacekeepers racing towards him. He hurried towards the door, his hands behind his back. Fandel dropped forward, face-first into the sand, just as the doorway flew open.
“Get him!” Tanner roared as he raced towards the door.
Fandel looked back, and fixing Anna with his beady black eyes, he smiled. Then a hand appeared from the other side, took hold of Fandel by the collar, and dragged him through it. The doorway slammed shut as the stakes from the peacekeepers’ crossbows bounced off it. Then the door was gone, and so was Fandel.
The beet-wagon crawled to a stop. Smoke poured up from the front of the creature and it made a rattling sound deep within its body. Its black insect-like legs skittered in the sand, and the machine almost seemed to collapse with exhaustion.
“That’s as far as it’s going to take us,” Faraday said, pushing back the creature’s shell and climbing from the vehicle.
Zach and the others clambered out into the night.
“So, what now?” Bom grumbled.
“We walk from here,” Faraday told him.
“How far is this Clockwork City?” Zach asked, looking up at the sky, wondering how long they had before daybreak.
Faraday shrugged his shoulders and said, “I don’t know. Is it important?”
“Kinda,” Neanna said. “Let’s just say the sun doesn’t agree with me.”
Faraday looked at her blankly with his dead, black eyes.
“I’m a Slath,” she told him.
“I thought that race was extinct?” Faraday said, moving away from the giant, dead beetle.
“I’m all that’s left,” she said thoughtfully.
Zach looked at Neanna and could see her eyes cloud over – grow darker – as she remembered how Throat had tricked her race of people. Zach moved closer to her. He wanted to put his arm around her, comfort her. But he didn’t. Zach didn’t know if he should. William did though, and Zach watched her squeeze one of his giant paws with affection.