Fandel suspected it had something to do with the heart in that box. Ever since his reflection had moved it from the Splinter, everything had started to change. The two worlds no longer seemed to be running parallel to each other. Now they seemed to be overlapping. He had always known that the two worlds of Earth and Endra had time differences. For instance, he knew that whilst he was fifty-two years old, Throat seemed to be much older – as if he had been around for many years. Perhaps hundreds of years. The people of Endra seemed to live far longer than their reflections on Earth, but to think about it made his head ache and he considered himself to be intelligent, far superior to anybody else that he knew. The fact that he couldn’t quite work out the math frustrated and angered him, so he tried not to think about it.
Reaching the cottage, Fandel went inside. The first milky-grey rays of morning light seeped through the kitchen windows and onto the table where he prepared Anna’s medicine. Filling a glass with water, Fandel took one of the yellow spiked tablets from a piece of muslin cloth they were wrapped in. He counted their number and nodded to himself in approval.
‘Good, good,’ he sighed. ‘I should have enough. I was wise to buy so many from the Delf.’
He recalled his journey across the wastelands of Endra to seek out the ancient Delf. She specialised in concocting the most vile and repugnant of potions and medicines. He was meant to have stayed with her for a day or two, but ended up staying for six months as she shared her demonic-magic with him. She had been putrid-looking and stank so rotten that, for the first month or two, he had a handkerchief tied about the lower part of his face whenever she was near him. But despite her decaying face and the rancid smell of excrement that emanated from her, she had somehow bewitched him. The sight of those white bloated maggots crawling from her ears and nostrils like globules of snot had made him want to vomit at first, but as the days rolled into weeks and then into months he had somehow grown fond of her. He had grown to want her.
It had been subtle at first; just the odd flutter of his heart as he got near to her. Then those minor fluttering’s grew stronger and his heart began to race in his chest every time he had looked at her. Even her revolting smell didn’t seem so bad, and he removed the handkerchief from his face.
Then, one black evening, sitting next to the Delf in her shack, Fandel had the sudden urge to entwine his fingers amongst the wispy strands of her greasy hair and kiss her cracked and blistered lips. As he drew closer to her, his mouth hovering over hers, he knew that it was time for him to leave. If Fandel didn’t go now the spell that she had worked on him may never be broken, and he would have stayed with her forever.
And now, as he stood in his kitchen and counted out the remaining yellow spiked tablets, he felt relief that he had taken enough of them from the Delf. Fandel knew that he would never be able to return to her little broken down shack because he would never leave. As he thought of her now, his heart began to flutter again and there was a small part of him that felt excited at the memories of her.
Picking up the tray, he made his way up the stairs to Anna’s bedroom. He eased the door open with one of his twisted hands and crept inside. He stalked across the room on his stilt-like legs, and again his shadow spilt across the sleeping girl like a giant claw.
Placing the tray on the bedside cabinet, Fandel whispered into Anna’s ear.
‘Oh Anna my sweet child, it’s time for your medicine.’
Anna stirred and without opening her eyes she mumbled, ‘I…I…don’t want anymore.’
‘Of course you do,’ he soothed. ‘Your uncle Fandel knows what’s best for you.’
He then plucked up the tablet from the tray. With a crooked forefinger, he pulled down on Anna’s lower lip and pushed the tablet into her mouth. At once, she began to twist and turn, like a snake beneath the bedclothes. He wrapped a hand around her jaw to keep her mouth shut.
‘There’s a good girl,’ he whispered.
Anna tossed to and fro but she was just too weak, too tired to resist him.
The tablet spiked its way to the back of her throat and seeing her eyes bulge beneath their lids, Fandel reached for the glass of water. Parting her lips just a fraction, he poured some of it in.
Anna made an involuntary gurgling sound at the back of her throat and spluttered, causing some of the water to seep from the corners of her mouth. Snapping her jaws closed, Fandel screeched, ‘swallow you little bitch. Swallow!’
He watched as Anna’s windpipe almost popped from her neck as she forced the tablet down. Then she became still again, and Fandel smiled.
‘Good girl,’ he grinned, playing his fingers across her hot, feverish brow.Fandel took the tray back to the kitchen, and then turned his thoughts to his nephew Zach.
While the others slept, Warden spent the day in the Howling Forests gathering together supplies for the journey that lay ahead of them. Using his acute sense of smell, he butchered the lunar bear, wrapping large chunks of its flesh up in leaves to keep it moist and fresh. Before he had finished with the bear’s carcass, he removed two pieces of stringy looking cartilage and placed them in the pockets of his dungarees. He then sent Wasp up into the trees to gather Pinyans, a succulent blue oval shaped fruit that was full of vitamins and minerals. They would strengthen Zach, William and Neanna when they became tied and weak, which he knew they would on their journey.
Using Wasp as he guide, Warden made his way down to the river where he filled three drinking vessels made from the hide of Bloats; an animal similar to that of wildebeests, except they were larger, fatter and unable to move very fast. This made them perfect for hunting as they had plenty of meat and were easy to catch.
Warden placed the items into three woven sacks which William, Neanna and Zach could carry on their backs. Once he had finished scavenging, he felt his way through the undergrowth until his fingers happened upon what it was he was looking for. Breaking off two ‘Y’ shaped branches from a tree with his huge hands, Warden sat down. From the deep pockets of his dungarees, he pulled out the two lengths of cartilage.
Blind, Warden looped these around both the ‘Y’ shaped pieces of branch and secured them in place. Holding out one of the branches in front of him, he pulled back on the cartilage. It felt springy yet strong and he was content that he had done a good job. His son and Neanna would need something to protect them as they made their journey across Endra to the Prison of Eternal Despair. Zach Black had his crossbows with their everlasting stakes, but the other two? They had nothing. Letting go of the cartilage with his thumb, it made a ‘thawping’ sound.
‘That should do them,’ he said to himself, placing the two catapults into his pockets.
‘Now,’ he said, stroking the hair beneath his wide chin, ‘they will need shot and lots of it.’
Pulling on Wasp’s tether, the creature rolled from its snoozing position it had adopted on the ground next to Warden and sprang into life.
‘Lead on,’ Warden barked. Wasp buzzed with excitement as it led Warden through the forest. ‘Take me to the biggest and ripest inferno-bush you can find,’ he commanded.
Sniffing at the air with his long, whiskered snout, Wasp charged forward pulling the giant behind him. Warden remembered how, as a boy, he and his friends had taken the berries from the inferno bush and had played the game ‘Blast’ with them. Smiling to himself, Warden pictured him and his friends catapulting the inferno berries at each other as they charged through the Howling Forests. If hit by one of the charcoal-looking berries, it would blast open on impact and sting you like a wasp. The pain it unleashed wasn’t agony, just uncomfortable as it sent a burning sensation through your body. It didn’t last long, just enough to stun you and make you wail. Then you would be off again, seeking out your friends to return the pain.
However, it had been by chance one evening at the end of a hike through the Howling Forests that Warden had learnt the true ferocity of the inferno berries. Wally Willabee, his best friend had by accident dropped some into their campfire. He wasn’t called Wally for nothing. They watched as the berries had grown hot in the fire, then hissed and spat until they exploded in a hideous ball of green flames.
Warden and Wally had both been thrown backwards through the air under the force of the blast, and landed some distance away. They looked at one another as they lay slumped at the foot of a tree, both sporting singed beards.
‘Whoa!’ Wally had said, smiling from ear-to-ear.
‘What was that?’ Warden asked dazed and confused.
‘It was those berries. No wonder they’re called inferno berries!’ Wally grinned.
‘I won’t be messing with them again,’ Warden said, pulling the burnt hair from his beard.
‘What do you mean?’ Wally said, ‘think of the fun we could have with them. Maybe we could heat them up just enough so they don’t explode. Who knows what would happen then?’
‘That’s what frightens me!’ Warden howled after his friend, who had disappeared into the undergrowth in search of the nearest inferno bush.
They sat for the rest of the afternoon until it grew dark, experimenting with the berries. They heated them and then reheated them, but were careful not to let them touch the flames of their campfire.
Warden and Wally let them cool on the forest floor. As soon as they were cold enough to be picked up, Wally took one and placed it against the cartilage of his catapult. Holding it out in front of him, he pulled the inferno berry back against the sling. Glancing over his shoulder at Warden, he said, ‘you might want to get a little further back my friend.’
Grinning, Wally faced front and released the berry. Zipping from the catapult, it raced through the forest until it collided with a tree-trunk. On impact, the berry ripped open, releasing a blast of seething, green energy which sliced the tree-trunk in two. The tree went crashing to the forest floor. All the trees surrounding it were scorched black, and some of them stood smouldering like candles that had just been blown out.
‘Did you see that?’ Wally howled with excitement. ‘Did you see that?’