Without thinking, Neanna yanked back on the reins, lent forward, and raced towards them in a complete nosedive. Zach and Neanna’s decent was so rapid, both could feel their cheeks rippling against their skulls.

With only inches to go before they were racing alongside William, another of the spiders swept in, the rider reaching for him. Pulling on the reins so tightly she thought they might snap, Neanna got every last drop of power from the Butter-Flyer and inched towards William.

Desperately trying to hold on to Neanna, Zach aimed his crossbow with a wavering hand and released a short burst of stakes at the dead peacekeeper. They thudded into it, thick streams of black blood spraying into the wind. The dead peacekeeper let out an agonising moan, giving Neanna the chance to grab hold of William as he continued to plunge towards the ground.

Neanna released the reins momentarily and reached hold of William. The wolf-boy howled as he took hold of his friend. Holstering one of his crossbows, Zach helped pull William onto the Butter-Flyer. Once on board, Zach put one arm tightly about his shoulders and Neanna picked up the reins again.

“Are you okay?” Zach shouted at him.

“You took your time, Zachary Black!” William howled, his long hair flowing back from his face.

“Oh, quit complaining,” Zach muttered and drew his crossbows again.

Then prodding Zach in the chest with one long finger, William barked, “Don’t you ever try and get me to go flying again!”

“Duck!” Zach roared in response, releasing another surge of stakes at the approaching spiders. Then looking back at Neanna, he said, “What are you waiting for? Go after Faraday!”

Neanna looked down and could see Faraday racing towards the ground below which looked rugged and scattered with giant red boulders.

“Faster!” Zach hollered, seeing that Faraday was now just feet from smashing into the rocky ground below and his own death. But in their hearts, all of them knew that they would never reach Faraday in time.

“Don’t look!” William howled, and turned away.

But as Zach was about to close his eyes, something shot passed his eye line.

“Look! Look!” Neanna shouted.

William peered over Zach’s shoulder just in time to see Captain Bom skim just above the rocky ground and snatch Faraday from the air.

“Whoa!” Zach roared, and punched the air with his fist.

With Faraday clinging to him, Bom circled his Butter-Flyer in the air as if doing a victory roll.

“Aww, he’s just showing off now,” William woofed.

Zach looked back over his shoulder and could see another swarm of flying spiders with dead peacekeepers approaching. Then for the first time since the spiders had attacked, Zach saw the Seek-Wasp go fluttering past him and hover over the red coloured rocks below. Tapping Neanna on the shoulder, Zach spoke into her ear and said, “Neanna, land this thing. I think this is the canyon we’ve been searching for.”

Neanna banked the Butter-Flyer to the left and swooped towards the ground. With the machine hovering above an outcrop of red coloured rock, Zach and his friends jumped off. Bom brought his Butter-Flyer within a few feet of the ground, and both he and Faraday came racing towards the others who had now taken cover behind the rocks. The flying spiders swopped low, their wings made of webs beating on either side of them. Then, one of the dead peacekeepers saw where Zach and the others were hiding and zoomed in towards them. Darts sprayed from the spider’s fangs, burying themselves into the rocks.

Huddled next to one another, Zach looked at his companions who stared back at him.

“What?” he asked them.

“What now?” Neanna said.

“Do you have a plan on how we’re gonna get out of this?” Bom added.

But before Zach had a chance to think up an answer, the rocks they cowered behind started to move, as if coming alive.

Chapter Twenty-Nine

The rocks rolled aside to reveal a hole in the ground. Zach and his friends peered into the darkness, as the spiders and the dead peacekeepers swooped above them. The darts from the spiders’ venomous fangs whizzed all around them.

“I think we should go down there,” Zach said, looking at the others huddled around him.

“So that’s your plan?” Bom grunted. “We don’t know what’s down there.”

“Got a better idea?” Zach snapped back, glancing up at the spiders. “I think these rocks have been rolled back for a reason.”

“Like what?” William asked.

“I dunno, but I think someone or something is offering us a way of escape,” Zach tried to explain.

“You can’t be sure,” Neanna said.

“Trust me,” Zach smiled back at her, and then disappeared into the hole.

Zach found himself in a narrow tunnel. It was wide and high enough for him to be able to stand. It was dark, and he felt his way by brushing his fingertips against the coarse stone walls. The others followed into the tunnel, and the boulders rolled back over the opening, sealing them all inside. From the other side of the rocks, Zach could hear the spiders screeching and the dead peacekeepers’ respirators hissing as if they had suddenly come under attack.

“Keep moving,” Faraday said in the darkness, his synthesized voice echoing back off the tunnel walls.

Zach blindly followed the tunnel downwards until the darkness seemed to lighten. At the bottom of the tunnel, Zach led the others out into a rocky chamber. The walls pulsated with an orange glow which gave some light to their surroundings. On the opposite side of the chamber, there was a much larger, wider tunnel than the one they had followed down from above. Huge piles of boulders and rocks lay scattered over the ground. Then from the larger tunnel came a noise so loud and terrifying, that Zach and his friends hid behind the nearest pile of red coloured rocks.

From behind them, Zach could see the mouth of the tunnel. The screeching from within it got louder and louder, until it became unbearable. Beneath the sound of the screaming, Zach could hear a dull thud-thud sound. It made the ground shake beneath them.

“I knew this was a bad idea,” Bom groaned.

“Shhh!” Neanna said, placing her forefinger over her lips.

The ear-splitting sound was almost on top of them. They peered over the top of their hiding place to see what it was that could make such a noise. Then, out of the darkness of the tunnel, they saw a piece of railway track come crashing down onto the hard-packed ground. A plume of dust belched up from beneath the track. This was followed by two gleaming black pincers as they gripped onto the track and scurried forward, pulling a gigantic body behind it.

It was the largest scorpion any of them had ever seen. And when they looked at it again in sheer disbelief and wonder, Zach and his friends realised that it wasn’t a scorpion, but in fact a train which had been designed to look like one. The rest of the body came lumbering out of the tunnel, a huge black tail snaking menacingly back and forth. The tail reached blindly down behind, ripped up the piece of track that the train had just scurried over, and threw it over the length of its own body, slamming it down in front of it again, providing another length of track for the creature to crawl along.

The tail whipped backwards again, snatched up the piece of track it had left behind, and hurled this down in front of itself again. Over and over, the scorpion’s tail snaked through the air, so it had a continuous path to follow.

As the bizarre-looking train reached the centre of the cavern, its tail twitched and rattled, coming to rest poised over the length of its own body. As it slowed to a halt, the creature omitted a hissing sound, as it locked on its brakes. Jets of steam oozed from beneath its scales.

Suddenly, Zach felt a sharp prod in his back and he heard Neanna shout, “Hey! What do you think you’re doing?”

The group whirled around to discover they were surrounded by a group of creatures, all of which were pointing sharpened staffs at them. Zach, William, and Neanna instinctively reached for their weapons, but the creatures were too fast and jabbed at the three of them with their staffs.

“Okay! Okay!” Neanna said, slowly raising her hands above her head.

Zach and the rest mimicked her actions to show the hostiles they meant them no harm. The creatures had bodies similar to humans with two arms and two legs, but on closer inspection, Zach could see differences. Their skin was the same colour as the rock which covered the walls and floor of the chamber. It was red and rusty-looking. The texture of the creatures’ skin closely resembled that of rough sandpaper. Their eyes were yellow and sat vertically on either side of two gaping holes which were their nostrils. The only facial similarity they shared with humans was the shape of their mouths, although their teeth looked like pieces of jagged stone. The tall, red creatures were hairless and instead of ears, they had two folds of skin on either side of their head, which pursed open and closed at regular intervals like gills.

With their staffs, they gestured in the direction of the strange-looking train. Zach and the others turned around, and the very rocks they had hidden behind began to unfold into four of the red-skinned creatures. Bom groaned again, as he realised they were now totally surrounded.

A side panel in the scorpion slid open, and a set of steps extended to the ground. In the doorway appeared another of these creatures. He paused momentarily, and then made his way down to ground level. Although Zach’s first thought was that all of the creatures looked the same, this one was different. Whereas the others all wore the same rustic-looking uniform, this creature’s clothing was black in colour. Around his sleeves were a series of intricately-woven braids. On his shoulders there were three stars. Like the others, he carried a long staff, but this one was ornately carved and the top of it seemed to glow a warm orange colour. It looked as if a tiny light had been hidden inside. Zach suspected that this creature held some importance in this race’s hierarchy.

It walked slowly towards the group, its bright yellow eyes fixed on them. As it drew within a couple of feet it stopped, and Zach realised he had seen this creature before. It had been in the photograph with Der Cribbot.

Zach and his friends stood perfectly still, their arms above their heads, none of them wishing to antagonize the creature. It looked them up and down with interest, then spying Faraday standing amongst them, the red coloured creature said, “Doctor Cribbot,” in a dry, rasping voice, “It’s so good to see my old friend again.”

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