‘Find this Noxas!’ Throat gasped. ‘Bring me the key!’
‘We already have the Noxas and the key, my dear Throat,’ Fandel said. ‘He’s one of the inmates in your prison of eternal despair!’
Throat twitched in his throne and the spiderpedes spun their webs all around him.
‘But we’ll have to move with speed. Zach and his friends are on their way to the prison as we speak to free him,’ Fandel warned.
‘Impossible!’ Throat screeched. ‘They will never break into that prison, let alone break anyone out!’
‘Don’t be too sure Throat,’ Fandel said. ‘My nephew and his friends, however much it pains me to say it, have proved themselves to be resourceful and cunning foes.’
Throat sat for a moment, and the sound of the spiderpedes scuttling to and fro across his body made Fandel’s flesh crawl.
‘I will destroy the prison and slay everyone within its walls!’ Throat seethed. ‘And then we will search through the rubble for this Noxas and snatch the key from his lifeless hands!’
‘But what about Marshal Goth and his people. He has been a good and loyal governor as have his guards, the Norsori,’ Fandel reminded him.
‘They can all be replaced,’ Throat heaved as if he were going to be sick. ‘We don’t have time for any further delays. If we can find that key we can open the box. Once the box is open the Queen will die, as will her reflection. There will be no more of this waiting for the box to erode above that volcano. Its power will be ours!’
Fandel began to get an excited flutter in his pot-belly as if he had swallowed an angry bee.
‘I will go to the prison at once…’ Fandel said, no longer able to wait to be joint ruler of Endra and Earth.
‘Not you!’ Throat spat. ‘I need you to go to the girl. She has been left in Earth for far too long on her own. After the theatrics that have occurred there, the authorities will soon be after you, and if they find you they find her. Go fetch her and bring her into Endra.’
‘But…’ Fandel stammered. ‘I thought you said it would be dangerous…that it could cause complications if the two were brought together…that they could get strength from one another.’
‘Don’t bring her here to the Splinter. Take her far away from here…somewhere…’ Throat thought aloud. ‘Where there is magic that will prevent them from drawing strength from each other.’ Then Throat had it. Why hadn’t he thought of it sooner? It was perfect.
‘Where should I take her?’ Fandel asked.
Grinning from beneath his writhing and shifting hood, Throat said;
‘Take her to the Delf!’
‘Not the Delf!’ Fandel cried. ‘Anywhere but the Delf!’
‘Why not?’ Throat rasped.
‘She has bewitched me,’ Fandel hissed. ‘I dare not go back there Throat...or I fear I may never leave.’
‘I’ve asked you to take the girl to her, not marry her!’ Throat gagged as if he were choking. ‘Pull yourself together!’
‘But…’ Fandel protested.
‘No ‘buts’ my dear Fandel!’
‘The Delf?’ Fandel whined, his heart beginning to race again at the very mention of her name.
‘Don’t fail me again Fandel,’ Throat rasped, then slumped back into his throne.
The three of them walked all night towards the prison’s searchlights. The cliffs towered high above them as they made their way through canyons that had been cut in the hard-packed earth. The sky was cloudless and the moon illuminated their way. Pulling their clothes about them, they shivered against the chill wind that snaked around the cliff-faces.
They had walked in single file for hours, each one lost to their own thoughts. William took the lead, bounding ahead then pausing for the others to catch up. William knew that if he could return home with his granddad and nothing else, this may go some way towards gaining him his dad’s forgiveness.
Neanna blinked back and forth amongst the rocks. Sometimes she appeared ahead of Zach, at other times behind him. She thought of her family and race of people and how, for her, their mission had to be complete if the curse Throat had cast upon them were to ever be lifted. Neanna conjured pictures of her mother and father in her mind, but their images were somehow distant and foggy as if peering at them through a dirty window. She could just make out her father’s long black hair and firm jaw line, and her mother’s wistful smile and perfect blue eyes, but that was about it; everything else was just a blur. The harder she tried to picture them, the more their faces turned into those nightmarish zombies that now protected the Howling Forests.
Zach thought of his sister. Apart from that freak of an uncle, Anna was all he had left. He wondered if she were still alive and if he shouldn’t be with her, but William said she could only be saved if his Queen was saved and that had something to do with taking the box back to Anna. He still hadn’t come to terms with losing his parents and he wondered if he ever would, but to lose his sister as well would be unbearable.Turning his thoughts away from the pain of his parent’s death, Zach turned his attention to William and his confession.
Hadn’t he said that the reason I was in Endra now was because of what he did? Zach thought to himself, squeezing through a narrow gap in the rocks.
But how did William opening the box bring me into Endra? He puzzled.
With these thoughts at the forefront of his mind, he quickened his step and caught up with his friend.
‘You said that everything that had happened was because of what you did?’ Zach asked.
William slowed so Zach could keep pace with him.
‘That’s right,’ William said.
‘I understand how opening the box caused your dad’s blindness, but what about everything else? Where do I fit into all of this?’
Neanna blinked and appeared next to William. Zach wondered if she had done this so as to offer William some comfort.
‘For thousands and thousands of years Endra has lived a peaceful existence. Like Earth we’ve had our wars, but like you that was us evolving – learning to appreciate our differences and except one another. But the day I opened the box changed everything, not just for Endra but for Earth too.’
‘But this is what I don’t understand?’ Zach said.
‘Within days of opening the box a man walked out of the wastelands. It is believed that he was attracted to the light that I released. He caught its scent on the wind and followed it like a rabid dog. Shrouded in moving robes, which appeared to be alive, he strode up to the gates of the Splinter and demanded an audience with the Queen. Compared to him, the Queens guards were feeble-minded and they led him high up into the Splinter and into the Queen’s chamber.’
‘The story goes that he held her captive for days at the tip of the Splinter,’ Neanna added, ‘and during this time she succumbed to his power and she hasn’t been seen since. We’ve heard rumours that she lays asleep and will die when the box is opened, and the full power of the Heart of Endra is released from the box and absorbed by this stranger.’
‘But she’s the Queen,’ Zach gasped. ‘How was she manipulated?’
‘Like your sister,’ William growled, ‘she’s a child – innocent and naive. No one had ever experienced such evil in the whole of Endra before.’
William stared ahead at the towering searchlights and pulled the collar of his shirt about his neck to block out the cold.
‘But where did this stranger come from and what is his name?’ Zach asked.
‘No one knows the answer to those questions, but Endra has named him Throat,’ William said.
Realising that they had been talking about his uncle’s double, Zach shivered and looked at his friends.
Neanna blinked and reappeared beside him. Her fingertips brushed the back of his hand.
‘Both Throat and your Uncle want what’s inside the box so they can rule both Endra and Earth,’ Neanna told Zach, her eyes sharp and serious looking.
‘Sounds like my Uncle. Not content with one world, he wants two to destroy.’
Stooping and with his hair billowing out behind him, William stared deep into Zach’s eyes.
‘Our worlds are reflected Zach Black. I’ve explained this before. And with the box releasing its secrets, our two worlds are overlapping and soon we won’t be able to tell them apart. What happens here will happen in Earth!’
‘But I don’t understand,’ said Zach.
‘Our world is being ravished by desert. The dust is eating away our rivers and streams. Endra is getting hotter by the day. Our seas are polluted and black. Species are on the brink of extinction. Does any of this sound familiar?’ William howled.
Zach’s eyes grew fat and round as the realisation of what William was saying hit him like a train.
‘Earth is suffering because of global warming!’ Zach said. ‘Not because of Throat.’
‘Call it what you want,’ Neanna said. ‘The end result will be the same!’
‘Like I said before; whatever happens in Endra happens in Earth. Whether it’s caused by some insane sorcerer’s lust for power or your ruler’s greed – the effects will be identical,’ William barked.
‘But what can we do?’ Zach asked.
‘I don’t think we can ever put the genie back in the bottle,’ Neanna sighed, ‘but we can try and reverse some of the damage that Throat has caused or stop it from getting worse.’
‘And to do that we need to get the key to the box and then get the box to your sister,’ William said, turning and heading once again in the direction of the prison, his granddad and the key.
‘But why do we have to take it to my sister?’ Zach called after him. ‘Wouldn’t it make more sense to take it straight to the Queen?’
‘We’re hoping that as they are reflections it won’t matter which one of them opens the box,’ Neanna said, then blinked away.