“The rumours,” Neanna whispered. “So they were all true.” She looked at Zachary. Not in a cocky or smug way that she had been right all along – but in a way one might look on realising that the bogeyman does really exist, that there are really monsters in the closet. All the stories had been true.
“So what happened?” Zachary asked, looking away from Neanna and back at Doctor Faraday.
He explained how the technology and creatures, which had been taken from beyond the doorway started to advance the people of Clockwork City at a speed that wasn’t meant to have been. And because most of it was damaged and way beyond anything they would have been able to imagine, it wasn’t always used to enlighten and advance the people, but destroy them and Endra.
“It is believed that the Queen dispatched a company of her most trusted peacekeepers to investigate if there was any truth to the rumours which had reached the top of the Splinter. She feared that if such technology had truly been smuggled into Endra, than it would soon destroy her world as quickly as it was destroying Earth.”
“So what did the peacekeepers find when they reached the Clockwork City?” Zach asked. He was interested to find out as much as possible about the race of people he was meant to be a part of.
“They found a city in ruin,” Faraday said. “There had been a war – a war that I had been a part of but one that I can barely recall. I remember great birds taking to the skies, their wings on fire. These black and orange striped creatures came racing across the outer-rim, more machine than animal. Giant black beasts tore up the city and creatures with tusks that breathed fire torched the city.”
“So why did Cribbot turn these animals – machines – on his own people?” Bom asked from the corner of the overhang, and the others couldn’t help but sense the fear in his voice.
“He didn’t, as far as I can recall,” Faraday explained. “It wasn’t only the Queen who had heard the stories coming from the outer-rim – there was another.”
“Who?” William asked.
“A sorcerer called Throat,” Faraday said, a click-click noise suddenly coming from the back of his throat. The others watched as he lifted the skin beneath his chin and slipped two fingers beneath it. There was a whizzing noise as he pushed and prodded at the cogs and pistons he had exposed. Another series of click-click sounds came, then stopped. Faraday removed his fingers and replaced the artificial skin. “Just dust,” he said.
Zach looked at his friends at the mention of the name Throat.
“So what happened?” Zach asked Faraday.
“I’m not too sure,” he explained and Zach couldn’t help but think that Faraday was trying to avoid answering his question. Machine or not, Zach sensed that Faraday was hiding something.
“Then we must find Cribbot’s home,” Zach said.
“But why?” Bom grumbled.
“Because if we are to reach the Rusty Volcano and open the box, we have to cross the outer-rim and this Clockwork City,” Zach said.
“You can’t do that,” Faraday spoke up.
“And why not?” Zach asked him, staring into his jet-black eyes.
“Thousands of those creatures that Cribbot created – the creatures Throat found a way of multiplying – still roam the outer-rim and the city,” Faraday said.
“And that’s why we need to find the home of this Cribbot,” Zach insisted. “Perhaps we will discover a way across the outer-rim. Perhaps we’ll find a way of switching these creatures off.” Then, staring at Faraday, Zach added, “Like you, they’re just machines.”
“But it will be dangerous,” Bom said, getting to his feet and coming across the overhang to reason with the boy.
“Maybe not,” Zach said, eyeing Faraday. “Perhaps the machines have all been turned off already. After all, we did find Faraday lying out in the desert. I wonder who it was that flipped your switch to the off position?”
Faraday said nothing and just stared emotionlessly back at Zach.
“What happened to the peacekeepers who were sent to investigate?” Zach asked him.
“It is rumoured that they still patrol the outer-rim, preventing anyone from entering,” Faraday said, his eyes never leaving Zach’s.
“That’s funny,” Zach spoke with a knowing smile, “But I thought all of the peacekeepers were dead.”
“They are,” Faraday said, and his throat made that clicking sound again. “Nothing you find in there is truly alive – not as you know it.”
A silence fell over the group, the only sound being the burning fire in the centre of the overhang. William looked at Zach, as if waiting for him to speak. Neanna lay on her side and looked at Zach, too. He knew that they were waiting for him to make a decision – to lead them. But what choice did he have? Zach wondered. There was no other way to reach the volcano where the box hung – the box that would save his sister and the Queen of this strange world. He sensed that the mechanical man knew more than he was saying, but what he didn’t know was if he could trust him or not.
Drawing a deep breath and feeling the weight of the decision he had to make bearing down on his young shoulders, he looked at his friends and said, “We rest today and leave for the outer-rim at twilight.”
“What about him?” Bom asked, pointing at Faraday with the end of his pipe.
“I’m going to switch him off,” Zach said, heading towards the mechanical man.
“I wouldn’t do that,” Faraday said, again his voice flat – cold.
“And why not?” William asked, reaching for his catapult again.
“Because you won’t survive without me,” Faraday said.
“We’ll take our chances,” Zach told him, his fingers twitching over his crossbows.
“And do you know where to find the home of Cribbot?” Faraday asked. “You won’t find it without me. You won’t reach the volcano without me.”
“Why do you want to help us?” Zach asked, unable to crush the feelings of suspicion he felt inside.
“Because like you, I have my own mission.”
“And what’s that?” William woofed.
Then leaping to his feet with the same speed and agility he had shown before, Faraday stood before Zach and said, “Like you, boy, I need to find out who and what I really am.”
Anna Black felt the boat slow. It listed from left to right on the oily black waves. The paddlewheels on either side of the floating stagecoach stopped spinning as the giant seahorses steered it towards the shores of the outer-rim. Anna looked to her left. Tanner lay on his side. His fever seemed to have broken. It had been several hours since he had last screamed out in a state of delirium. In that time, Anna had managed to sleep. She didn’t know for how long, as she had lost track of time, deep in the bows of the strange boat in which she was held prisoner. Her Uncle Fandel felt the boat slow too, and he lifted his narrow face off his chest and looked over at her through the gloom.
“It feels like we’re docking,” he whispered, and she couldn’t help but notice the fear in his eyes. “It’s our last chance to get out of here.”
“I’m not going anywhere with you,” she glared. Anna broke his stare and looked at the peacekeeper. His face looked thinner than it had when they had first been taken prisoner. His hair looked whiter somehow.
“Hey, you,” Anna said, nudging him with her foot. She still wore the nightdress she had been wearing the night she had escaped from her uncle and the jeans and boots she had found at the railroad station just outside the town of Tud.
The peacekeeper groaned and his eyes flickered open.
“Are you okay?” Anna asked him.
“Thirsty,” he whispered.
“I am too,” she said back. “I think we are going to be taken ashore.”
Tanner peered blearily about the bow of the boat, as if trying to remember exactly where he was. Then, looking over, he spied Fandel and whispered, “Why aren’t you dead yet?”
“Nice,” Fandel sneered back. “I think we’re all going to be dead soon.”
“Not you,” Tanner hissed, struggling to pull himself up into a sitting position. With his arms tied behind his back, he cried out as the wound in his shoulder exploded with pain. The world swam darkly before him and he gritted his teeth. With his head rested against the bow of the boat, he looked at Fandel and said, “Van Demon and his crew aren’t going to kill you. They need you to lead them to the box.”
“What’s inside this box?” Anna asked, looking at Tanner.
“It contains the Heart of Endra,” Tanner explained as he tried to focus on the pain which made his left shoulder blade and arm feel as if they were on fire.
“And what is Endra?” Anna asked him, her brow furrowing.
“The world in which you now find yourself in,” Tanner said through gritted teeth. But before he had a chance to continue, the hatch above them slid back and Julio’s decomposing face appeared in the square of light.
Willow Weaver followed the man through the woods as he strode ahead. She could have easily kept up with him, but she hung back deliberately, just in case she was being led into a trap. How had he known that she was a Noxas? Had he had dealings with her kind before? She guessed that he had, as there was a smell about him that reminded her of home. But that didn’t mean he was a friend. Maybe in this world, it was his job to round up those who had come through the doorways from Endra. He said that if Willow had wanted to live then she should follow him – but how long did he intend on letting her stay alive?
So, fearing that she might be led into some kind of trap, Willow hung back, her blood-red eyes looking and her nose sniffing the route that he cut through the woods for any sign of a trap. The man wore a hat which covered most of his face in shadow. He was tall and wore a knee-length coat and boots. His hands were gloved and they brushed against his thighs as he headed deeper into the woods.