“What’s a when?” she asked, looking confused again.
“The universe is made up of many whens,” Wally said, scratching his head as if trying to think of the best way to explain what he had to tell her. “They all reflect off one another. But they are not perfect reflections – just distorted ripples of each other. The only constant is the rails, the points and the levers which control them. There will be a railway station like this in all of the whens, all with their own levers, just waiting to be pushed and pulled. Endra is just one of many whens. There are The Hollows, a place called The Old West and many more. There are similarities between all of them – but not exact – just shadowy reflections. Each can be reached by passing through doorways, holes in the ground; but my most favourite I heard about are the tube train tunnels. I mean, that is great. Tracks, tunnels, and points all rolled into one. Genius!” he enthused with a beaming smile.
“So who are these other people who pushed their levers in their different whens?” Willow asked him.
“I know little about them,” he said thoughtfully. “I wish I knew more. I find them fascinating. There is a young couple – very much in love as far as I can gather. But they made some very bad decisions. They really did push! There is another – I don’t know his name – he seems to have so many, but he took his lover’s heart because she rejected him. Bad, bad decision. But he is interesting because his push changed the points of another. A young policewoman...”
“Policewoman?” Willow cut in.
“Peacekeeper to you and me,” Wally said. “Similar, but not the same. Just reflections. Like the Slath in our world, they are known as vampires or Vampyrus in others. Just like us, the Noxas. There are many names for us in different whens. Lycanthrope, skin-turners, and Skin-walkers are just a few. But all the same – just reflections.” Then scratching his head again, he said, “Now, where was I? Oh, yes, the young policewoman. She has pushed back, and in style. There hasn’t been another like her. I will follow her story with interest.”
“Who is the sixth?” Willow asked him, fascinated by what he was telling her.
“Now that is a particularly sad story and her tracks pass over many others,” he said thoughtfully. “She is a young woman in love with a man who kept a secret. When she discovered that secret, she took the decision to reject him. That one decision pushed her points and she started down a new set of tracks. Someway down these tracks, she met that man again, and this time, she truly did love him – but it was too late for her. In this young woman’s new when, he had fallen in love with another.”
“Who was this other?” Willow asked him.
“The young policewoman who is pushing back like no other has pushed before,” he said with a childish excitement. “Like I said, I am waiting to see what happens to her with interest.”
“How do you know so much?” Willow asked him.
“Just whispers,” he smiled. “And I read a lot.”
“But we only have to worry about William’s lever being pushed back into place, right?” Willow asked, her head spinning with everything Wally had told her.
“Yes, the others will push their levers back into place – or maybe not?” he said thoughtfully. “We don’t have to worry about them.”
“So what happens now?” Willow asked him.
“We make our way to the station in Endra – in our when,” he smiled at her.
“We have a station like this back home?”
“Yes,” he said. “It’s part of the Great Wasteland Railroad. We need to be ready to push the leavers back into place when this boy Zachary Black hands the box to our Queen.”
“How will we know when the Queen is in possession of the box?” Willow asked, following Wally out of the railway station.
“We’ll know, all right,” he smiled, and then set off back down the railway tracks.
“We’re heading for the Craggy Canyon,” the voice spoke out of the dust, which hovered like a swarm of bees above Throat’s head.
“Very good,” Throat smiled beneath his hood. “You have done well. Was Cribbot at the farm house? Is he dead?”
“No, he wasn’t there,” the voice echoed through the black grains of dust. “But there is another friend of Cribbot’s named Tamrus Turanion who might know what happened to him.”
“If Cribbot is alive, he could be a threat to us,” Throat gagged, as if he had phlegm wrapped around his wind pipe.”“When will you restore my people?” the voice asked.
“Soon,” Throat rasped.
“How soon?” the voice pushed.
Throat turned his back on the dust and moved across the chamber. He didn’t like being pressured. He would do things in his own time and way. The candles attached to the walls flickered as the dust followed him, casting a shadow across the grey stone walls.
“When I have the box in my hands, that is when I will set your people free,” Throat said, his voice rattling like a box of rusty nails.
“But you said I just had to keep the key safe and deliver Zach Black to the canyon,” the voice complained.
“So I have changed the terms of our agreement,” Throat spat back. “Pray that I don’t change them any further.”
“Why is the canyon so important?” the voice asked.
“It’s what lies beneath the canyon that matters,” Throat said.
“And what is that?” the voice asked.
“That is no concern of yours, my friend,” Throat chuckled. “Now steer the boy and the others towards the canyon. I will have a reception party waiting for you.”
The dust separated above his writhing hood and vanished like smoke on the air. Staring down at the Queen, his puckered lips twisted into a leer as his shrunken heart raced with excitement.
Fandel Black guided the Mortality Crow over the vast desert plains of Endra. From so high above, even he was staggered by how much of Endra had been eaten up by the vast desert. It looked as if the world below was being sucked dry. In every direction, the land was thirsty, arid, and cracked. He knew that Throat’s black magic was responsible, but Fandel secretly wondered how much of a kingdom there would be left to rule. He wasn’t sure if he wanted to reign over nothing more than a vast wasteland.
The Delf held onto him, her arms circling his waist. She didn’t need to hold on so tight, but she enjoyed the feeling of being so close to him. The Delf longed for that human touch again. As she leaned against him, she brushed her cheek against his, knocking the tops of the boils which festered on her face. The Delf couldn’t help but notice Fandel recoil away in disgust. He wouldn’t always be so revolted by her, the Delf thought. But how much longer would it take for her beauty to be restored? Even she was starting to become sickened by her ugliness, the stench of excrement that wafted out of her mouth every time she spoke, and her constant farting. She couldn’t even begin to describe that stench. She didn’t blame Fandel for being repulsed by her – but that would all change soon. Then, spying a line of rafter horses in the distance, she knew that she might not have to wait too long after all.
The Delf gripped Fandel’s shoulder and he flinched away, nearly toppling from the giant crow he sat astride.
“What do you want?” he hissed over the sound of the crow’s beating wings.
“Look,” she breathed in his ear. “I spy some peacekeepers. They must be heading for the canyon. They’re going to join the boy – Zachary Black.”
Fandel guided the crow downwards, its jet-black wings, folding backwards against its body.
Zach waited until sundown, and then woke Neanna. Faraday had spent the rest of the day rummaging downstairs in the basement – looking for anything that might suggest how he came about. It seemed obvious to Zach that Faraday was nothing more than a series of cogs, wheels, pistons, and springs that all worked together to give him some kind of life. But he knew that Faraday believed himself to be more than just a mechanical man. It was like Faraday was searching for his soul down in that basement beneath Der Cribbot’s farmhouse.
William finally fell asleep in the armchair across from Zach’s, where his eyes felt so heavy that he finally gave in and slept too. Bom woke them as night fell outside. Neanna smiled up at Zach as she pulled her cloak from over her head and let it drape about her shoulders.
“What time is it?” she asked him.
“Dunno,” Zach said back. “But it’s time to leave.”
“Did you find anything which might help us get across the Outer-Rim?” she asked, sitting up and combing her long, black hair with her fingers.
“We haven’t found a way to turn off the machines,” Zach told her, then continued to explain about what he and Faraday had discovered in the basement and the photograph of Der Cribbot and the Boulder man named Tamrus Turanion. Zach watched Neanna stretch and stand up, then an ear-piercing scream came from outside. William leapt from the armchair and Bom went to the window and pulled back the curtains.
“Get Faraday,” he barked.
But Faraday had heard the screaming too, and Zach could hear his feet thundering up the stairs from the basement. With his crossbows drawn, Zach dashed into the hallway to find the front door thrown wide open, and Faraday running up the garden path. Zach went to the open door and could see that one of the Butter-Flyer machines was being eaten by what looked like an alligator.
Zach raced down the front path, and drawing nearer, he could see that the alligator had a long yellowy-green body, but with as many legs as a centipede. Each leg was long and spindly, like the teeth of a giant comb. They flexed back and forth as the creature tussled with the Butter-Flyer.
The alligator – if that’s what it was, had jaws which appeared to be made of a rusty metal and snapped open and closed like a mantrap. The alligator clamped its jaws down on one of the Butter-Flyer machines, and it let out a high-pitched mewing sound as it screamed for its life. Its wings fluttered frantically up and down, and the alligator rolled it over onto its back as he fought to hold on.