“You care about her, don’t you?” Faraday said.

“Of course I do, she’s my sister,” Zach said, turning to look at the mechanical man again.

“I wasn’t talking about your sister,” Faraday said, and glanced down at Neanna.

“She’s my friend,” Zach answered back, his cheeks flushing scarlet.

“Oh,” Faraday said, turning back to the bookshelf.

“And what’s that meant to mean?”

“Nothing,” Faraday said.

But Zach knew what Faraday meant. If a machine had picked up on the fact that he liked Neanna more than just a friend, had the others? Zach wondered. Had he made it that obvious? It was times like this that he missed his dad. He would have been able to ask his advice. But instead, he was discussing it with a machine.

“Is it that obvious?” Zach asked him, his voice just above a whisper.

“Just a bit,” Faraday said. “Are you going to tell her?”

“Tell her what?”

“About how you feel for her.”

“Nah, I don’t think so,” Zach said, glancing down at Neanna as she slept peacefully. And he did want to tell her, but he knew he couldn’t.

“Why not?” Faraday asked him, replacing the book he had been looking through and plucking another from the shelf.

“She might laugh at me,” Zach whispered.

“Why would she laugh?”

“I dunno,” Zach shrugged, and then said, “Look, can we just change the subject? I thought we were meant to be looking for anything that might give us the whereabouts of this Cribbot guy. Find a way to turn the machines off.”

Faraday shook the book he was holding by the spine, as if he was hoping that something which had been hidden inside would fall out. When the book failed to give up any secrets, he discarded it by tossing it onto the floor.

“If we do find a way to turn off the machines, then I might be turned off, too,” Faraday said.

“You were off when we found you,” Zach reminded him.

“I was switched off,” Faraday said. “I was just powered down – there is a difference.

“So what you’re saying is that if we find a way of switching off the machines for good, then the same might happen to you?” Zach asked him. “So you die?”

“I’m just a machine - a synthetic life form,” Faraday said. “I can’t catch a cold, but I can be permanently switched off – so yes, that would be like dying.”

Zach looked at Faraday as he started to dismantle the bookshelf at lightning speed.

“Are you sure you want to switch off the machines then?” Zach asked him.

“We have to, or you won’t get across the Outer-Rim,” Faraday said. “You saw all of those wild animals – machines – that we flew over. This part of Endra is wild and barren. You will never get across it alive with those beasts roaming free.”

“Couldn’t we just fly across the Outer-Rim on those Butter-Flyer things?”

“They are a weak and a fragile creature,” Faraday told him. “There are many more creatures which take to the skies, and most of them would tear apart those Butter-Flyers. They won’t get you to the volcano safety.”

“What about you?” Zach asked. “You can’t just die along with the other machines.”

“Why not?” Faraday said. “I am nothing more than a machine. I have no feelings. I don’t know love or fear. I can’t even make people laugh. So you could say I’m dead already.”

“But you seem like more than just a machine,” Zach breathed as he watched Faraday inspect the dismantled bookshelf for any secret drawers or cubbyholes hidden behind it. “I want to find Der Cribbot and find out who I was. I know why I was made. But not who I was.”

“Why were you made?” Zach asked him. “I kinda get the whole animals being entangled as they came through the doorway. But why make machines which look like men?”

Faraday turned away from what remained of the bookshelf and looked at Zach. His eyes were as black as ever, and his hair fell across his brow. “Just imagine you could make one person run at super speeds, you were able to give them the ability to jump over buildings, and they could live two, or perhaps even three hundred years. Their very arms, weapons. What would that person be?”

“Invincible,” Zach breathed slowly.

“Then let’s say you were able to make a thousand - no five thousand, or perhaps ten million of these invincible people. Just consider an army made of these soldiers - what would this army be?” he asked.

“Unbeatable,” Zach said, his mouth turning dry and his head beginning to thump.

“I think you’ve got the picture,” Faraday said.

“So Throat wants to use this army to overthrow Endra?” Zach asked him.

“No,” Faraday said. “This is a world of magic and sorcery – he has the Demonic Guardians for that. But your world – Earth – is different. It’s a world of technology – he would need a special kind of army to conquer such a world.”

“So what you’re suggesting is that when the time comes, when my sister and the Queen die, when he has the power inside the box, Throat will send mechanical men like you in to...” Zach began.

“Yes,” Faraday said, brushing past Zach and leaving a pile of scattered books in the corner of the room. He then began to hurl the pillows from the armchairs and search beneath them.

“So, what about me?” Zach asked him. “Where do I fit into all of this? William and Neanna believe I’m a peacekeeper who has come into this world to defeat Throat and his armies. But you make it sound like an impossible task.”

Faraday strode past Zach and back towards the lounge door and disappeared into the hallway. Zach rushed after him to find Faraday pulling open a wooden door that was tucked beneath the staircase. He yanked it with such force that the frame that housed it began to snap and splinter.

“Cover your eyes,” he said as he pulled on the door one last time. It came away in his hand in a shower of wood and masonry where he had actually pulled the brickwork away from around the outer edge of the door.

Faraday cast the door aside, and looking back at Zach he said, “Follow me.”

Zach followed the machine into the darkness beneath the stairs.

Chapter Twenty-One

The Delf looked through the doorway that the black dust had created in the night sky. Through it, she could see Fandel with his hands bound behind his back as he crawled along the shoreline of the Onyx Sea. Black waves crashed against the sand. There were others, too.

“The peacekeeper!” she cried on seeing Tanner racing across the sand towards her. And there were more, too – just like him – at least six. “The girl!” she screeched again, as she watched Anna struggling with the bandit named Van Demon. She watched with a sense of delight as Tanner blew the bandit’s head clean from his shoulders. It saved her from doing the job at some later time, she guessed. But then Tanner turned his attention to the doorway again and came charging towards it, his crossbow blazing in his fist.

“Fandel!” the Delf whined, holding out a set of swollen fingers. “Take my hand!”

On the other side of the doorway, where it was just dusk and not yet night, Fandel turned and saw her. “Delf!” he cried out, and she couldn’t ever recall him looking so delighted at seeing her. Usually he was covering his nose and mouth with his handkerchief to block out her vile stench. But not tonight, he looked happy to see her. With his hands behind his back, he shuffled along the shore towards the door where she waited for him on the other side.

“Quickly!” she urged, maggots spraying from her lips. “Come to me, Fandel!”

And he did, as fast as he could. Through the doorway and over his shoulder, she could see Tanner and the other peacekeepers gaining on him fast. The stakes that they fired from their crossbows whizzed above his head. When he was within reaching distance, she stretched through the doorway and grabbed him.

“Come, come!” she cried, as Fandel stopped at the doorway and looked back. Then he was falling out of the sky just above the Delf’s head and into her arms. For such a thin man, he was heavier than she expected. So grunting, belching, and farting, she lowered him to the ground. The Delf rolled him onto his side and untied the ropes that bound him. Fandel yanked his hands free and sat rubbing his wrists as he looked up at her. At first she could see the relief on his face at being saved – perhaps at seeing her too – but then his face screwed up as if his very flesh was cracking like stone.

“Jeez,” he groaned. “You stink.”

She hitched up her baggy skirt and turned away. She was hideous, the Delf knew that. She did stink like excrement, but she hadn’t always been like that. She had been beautiful once and would be again. Fandel wouldn’t look upon her with disgust then. No, no, no. He wouldn’t be able to take his eyes off her. He’d never want to let her go. Fandel would want her. But until that day came, his spiteful and callous comments hurt her all the same. Just because she was so ugly didn’t mean she didn’t have feelings – it didn’t mean that she didn’t hurt.

“A thank-you would be nice,” she huffed, snorting back a nostril of maggots. She swallowed them and looked back at Fandel.

“For what?” he said, standing and brushing the dirt and sand from his smart flannel trousers and waistcoat.

“For saving your skinny arse,” she belched, and handed what she had burped up to Max who licked greedily from her fingers.

Fandel saw this, and throwing his hands to his mouth, he gagged and said, “I think I’m gonna puke.”

“Maybe you would prefer it back on the beach with your friend, the peacekeeper,” she said, shuffling back towards Fandel. She brushed up against him, wrapping her arms around his neck. Fandel looked down into her upturned face. The smell coming from her mouth revolted him, and he pushed her away.

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