‘Wow,’ Zach sighed. ‘So that’s why your dad is blind and why you wear those weird glasses.’
William touched the thick lenses of his spectacles with the tips of his fingers.
‘When my Granddad had calmed down, he made these for me. I wouldn’t be able to see otherwise.’
Zach thought for a moment and then added, ‘you said I know everything.’
‘That’s right,’ William replied.
‘But you never told me what you saw inside the box?’
William toyed with his beard and then in a chilling whisper he said, ‘I saw Throat.’
‘What else?’ Zach pushed, desperate to know every detail.
William stared at him with his magnified eyes and they shone crimson behind their thick lenses.
‘I saw you in that box, Zach Black. I saw you!’
Fandel lay like a crab, pressed flat on his stomach on the ledge just above the rocky overhang. As William finished telling Zach about how he had snuck into the Splinter and what had happened there, Fandel rolled onto his back and grinned up into the moonlight.
So there’s a key to the box! He thought to himself and rammed one bony fist into his mouth to smother the sound of his impending laughter.
He remembered how Throat had worked all of his magic on that lock, but had been unable to work it open. In his desperation he had suspended it over the Rusty Volcano, hoping that the searing heat would erode the box and release the power within. Now Fandel had learnt that it could be opened with a key, but more important than that – he knew where to find it!
The Noxas’ Granddad has it and he’s rotting in the Prison of Eternal Despair. Getting to his feet, Fandel crept away from the ledge as tears of joy slipped over his gaunt face. When he was far enough away, so as not to be heard by the others, he threw his arms into the air and began to dance in joyous circles.
‘I know where to find the key!’ he cried, punching the air with his fists.
He skipped along the cliff-edge until he stood high above the black rolling waves of the Onyx Sea.
‘I must tell Throat,’ he whispered to himself. ‘How pleased will he be with his reflection when I tell him this news? This will make-up for letting that nephew of mine escape and return to Endra.’
Rubbing his hands together, Fandel knelt on the ground at the edge of the cliff-face. Tilting his head back, he gazed into the star shot sky and flung his arms out. He thought back to his time spent with the Delf, and at once, his heart began to race. Her face swept to the front of his mind, and he pushed it away as he began to rummage through his brain for the spells she had taught him. He hit upon the one that he wanted and then began to chant:
Beat thy wings from the depths of torment
From the darkness above make thy decent
Raven black and as cold as snow
I give you flight Mortality Crow!
His waxen lips opened and closed as he whispered the words over and over again until the air all around him filled with the sound of beating. Lowering his gaze, he looked out across the Onyx Sea, and then stepped off the edge of the cliff.
He fell down the cliff-face and landed with a thump on something huge and black. The wings of the mortality crow he had summoned beat up and down on either side of him as it screeched into the night. Fandel wrapped his arms around its sleek black neck and dug his legs into its sides.
‘The Splinter,’ Fandel cried. ‘Take me to the Splinter!’
The gigantic crow banked to the right as it headed west above the Onyx Sea and towards the Splinter. The night air rushed all around Fandel and rippled the bird’s glossy black feathers.
‘Faster!’ Fandel roared and pressed his heels deeper into the creature’s sides.
The mortality crow opened its pointed beak and screamed as it thrust its mighty wings up and down like two giant sails.
While William woke Neanna from her rest, Zach repacked their supplies and gathered them by the entrance to the overhang. His mind was still trying to make sense of what his friend had told him and he was concerned at how William had seen him inside that box.
Zach glanced over at his friends and could see that Neanna was taking small sips of water from the animal skins that Warden had filled for them. In the pale milky light of the moon, Zach could see that she looked better than she had earlier, although her skin looked red and blotchy in places where the blisters had been. Even so, Zach had come to notice that unlike most people Neanna looked her best, her most radiant during nightfall rather than during the day.
‘How you feeling?’ Zack asked her, handing over some of the Luna bear meat.
Taking the meat from him and tearing it into small chunks, she said, ‘my skin will only heal so many times before it cracks and blisters permanently – or worse. That’s the second time I’ve saved your hide Zach Black. I hope you get to return the favour someday. Then again, perhaps not huh?’
Zach looked at her beautiful face and said, ‘I’ve got your back.’
Neanna popped the last of the meat into her mouth and chewed it as she stared at him. Zach looked away.
‘What now?’ he asked William.
‘We find my Granddad and get the key to that box,’ William said, slinging the supplies over his shoulder.
‘Neanna said that the prison was a labyrinth of underground tunnels. Do you have any idea where he is in that maze?’ Zack asked him.
‘Nope,’ he said, thrusting his catapult into his back pocket.
‘Do you even know how to get into this prison?’
‘Nope,’ he said again, throwing his sleeve full of inferno berries across his back.
‘Well this rescue or whatever you want to call it, could take forever!’ Zach said.
‘That’s why we should get going,’ William said, stepping from beneath the overhang and out onto the shore.
Zach looked back at Neanna who was now standing in the centre of the cave and straightening her hair and ruffled cloak. Again, Zach couldn’t help notice how beautiful she looked and his heart raced.
‘What’s got into William?’ Neanna asked him, as she prepared herself for whatever might lay ahead.
Zach shrugged and said, ‘I’m not sure, but he was telling me how his dad lost his sight and…’
‘Oh,’ she said as if she now understood William’s sombre mood. ‘What else did he tell you?’
‘That he had seen me…’
But before Zach had a chance to finish what it was he was about to say, William howled, ‘C’mon. Let’s get going!’
Zach and Neanna glanced one final time at each other, then made their way from beneath the overhang and joined William on the shore.
‘There in the distance,’ he said, pointing between the cliffs that broke through the sand like jagged skyscrapers, ‘can you see those torches burning in the search towers? That’s where we’re heading.’
Zach and Neanna looked at the orange glow that seeped from the towers and lit up the night sky miles away.
‘I don’t think we will make it by dawn,’ Neanna warned, not wanting to be caught in the glare of the sun again.
‘If we hurry we’ll be able to reach the prisons perimeter by day break. We’ll take some shelter during the day, and then we’ll break-in tomorrow night.’
Before either one of them had a chance to reply or even put forward another suggestion, William had bounded off across the sand and towards a huge valley cut between the cliffs.
As the mortality crow swooped towards the Splinter, it opened its mighty talons. Fandel buried his head amongst its feathers as it dived for the balcony that jutted from the side of the tower. Fanning its wings on either side, the crow lost altitude and came to rest on the railings that circled the balcony.
Wasting no time, Fandel slid from the back of the giant bird and climbed over the railings. Flapping his arms out before him, he shooed the crow away. With an ear-splitting squawk, the crow disappeared back into the night in a flurry of silky-black feathers.
Fandel pushed open the tall glass windows which led from the balcony and hurried into the Queen’s chamber.
‘Such an unusual entrance Fandel,’ Throat rasped from the shadows. ‘Couldn’t you find your doorway?’
On hearing his reflections voice, Fandel spun round to find Throat slumped in his throne at the opposite side of the room to the Queen, who lay looking lifeless in her bed.
‘Throat…’ Fandel began, but was cut short.
‘This had better be good Fandel,’ Throat gasped, his voice sounding as if he had spent the night chewing on broken glass. ‘You’re carelessness has caused quite a commotion in Earth!’
Fandel stammered as he tried to find the right words. He was taken aback at how the news of his wretched nephew’s escape had reached Throat.
‘Throat,’ Fandel began, his mouth turning dust-dry, ‘Zach was assisted by the Noxas and the Slath.’
‘I don’t want excuses Fandel,’ Throat cackled.
‘And there was this annoying cop…’
‘I don’t want to hear it Fandel. I just want to know how you intend to clear up this mess!’
‘I have some important news,’ Fandel began, annoyed that he appeared to be taking the blame for his nephew’s antics. After all, wasn’t it Throat who was meant to have dealt with him in Endra? Wasn’t it the Demonic Guardians fault? They were the ones that had let him slip back into Earth. But Fandel didn’t have the stomach, and if he were to be honest, the nerve to point this out to Throat.
‘Don’t just stand there!’ Throat choked. ‘What’s this news?’
‘There is a key to the box’ Fandel said, knowing deep down that he now had the upper hand.
Hearing this, Throat sat up in his throne. His robes began to disintegrate as he moved and the sound of the spiderpedes could be heard as they scuttled about him.
‘What key?’ Throat gagged.
‘One of the Noxas has it. Before your arrival in Endra, two of the Noxas were entrusted to repair the box and fashion a new lock and key for it.’