‘Which way?’ she said aloud.
Then, in the distance, she noticed a cluster of twinkling lights set between two menacing looking cliffs. Guessing that this was Piranha Bay, Anna ran towards them hoping that she would find help there. The wind whipped around her, and howled in the distance. Pausing for just a moment and listening, she realised that it wasn’t the wind that she could hear, but the sound of that vicious dog coming after her again.
Turning, she ran as fast and as hard as she could towards Piranha Bay.
With the key to the box of Endra hidden beneath his shirt, William bounded up the spiral stairs which led from the cellblocks. Zach, Neanna and the Captain were at his heels.
Racing from the stairwell, they spilt onto the exercise yard to find hundreds of Norsori waiting for them. Released prisoners fought with the guards for their freedom. Others hadn’t managed to get very far at all, and lay dead or in restraints on the ground.
‘I’m too old for this!’ Captain Bom grumbled, flicking his eyebrows away from his eyes with his thumb.
With bows drawn, the Norsori came forwards, their wicked green eyes staring at them from behind their masks. Zach and his friends, edged backwards towards the stairwell, not taking their eyes off the prison guards for one moment. From behind them, a flood of Norsori spewed from the darkness at the top of the stairs and they were surrounded.
Within moments, Zach had his crossbows held out before him. Neanna stood with her hands on her hips, and William snarled as he pulled back on his catapult and took aim.
‘You can’t escape!’ came a voice from above them.
Looking up, they could see the shape of a figure standing in the dark on a stone gantry that ran around the top of the prison walls.
‘Bring them to me!’ the figure ordered.
Stepping forward, several of the Norsori pushed and shoved them up a flight of wooden steps to where the figure was waiting. As they drew close, Zach guessed that whoever it was, they too were one of the Norsori. It was the arms that gave it away. They were so long, that without stooping or bending, the figure brushed the tips of his fingers across the ledge that he stood on. Just like the others, its face was covered with an iron mask. Its eyes were just visible. They were dark and cat-like in shape. On top of this Norsori’s mask, stood a huge black plume of feathers that sprayed outwards like the tail of a peacock. The figure was dressed not too dissimilar to the Roman soldiers Zach had seen in the old black and white action movies he’d watched with his dad as a kid.
‘I’m sorry, but I didn’t get to welcome you when you made your grand entrance into my prison,’ the figure said. ‘I am Marshal Goth, the governor of this facility. And you are?’
Ignoring his question, Zach said, ‘what do you want with us?’
‘Apart from putting an end to your pathetic little insurrection, I don’t want anything from you.’
‘So we’re free to go then?’
‘Not exactly. I think they would like to speak with you!’ the figure said and although his face was hidden, Zach knew that he was smiling.
‘Who does?’ Captain Bom asked.
Turning, Marshal Goth pointed over the top of the prison walls and out across Endra with one of his long arms.
Looking over the top of the wall, Zach and his friends gasped as they saw the army of Demonic Guardians and Radan gathered below. The tips of swordsticks twinkled in the glow of the fireballs that danced around their fists. The naked white bones of the Radan’s skeletal apes gleamed beneath the glare of the moon like silver statues.
‘All of them just for us?’ William whistled through his broken teeth. ‘We are popular.’
‘They’re not here just for us,’ Neanna said, staring at the thousands of troops amassed below.
‘Why else could they be here?’ Marshal Goth asked.
‘To invade,’ Captain Bom said, throwing his hands into the air as if to surrender.
‘Put your hands down. You’re embarrassing us,’ Zach scowled at Bom.
Lowering his arms, Captain Bom said, ‘my days of fighting are over.’
‘You may not have a choice,’ William growled, snatching a sword from a nearby Norsori and thrusting into the Captain’s hands.
Looking over the edge of the prison wall again, Marshal Goth said in a smug tone, ‘they’re not here to invade. My people struck a deal with Throat…’
But before he could finish, a wave of swordsticks whisked over the top of the prison wall and sliced through a hundred or so unsuspecting Norsori guards. The tips of the swordsticks were covered with white mercury and as the Norsori flew back through the air, they burst into seething balls of white flame.
‘What were you saying?’ Zach said, snatching his crossbows from their holsters and taking aim at the army below.
Turning away from the wall, Marshal Goth screamed at his guards, ‘We’re under attack. Ready yourselves for battle!’
Willow stood in the centre of the cavern deep within the Snowstorm mountains. The rest of the remaining Noxas had gathered around her. All of them except for her husband Warden, who didn’t agree with her decision to go into Earth and find Wally Willabee. Wilberforce had asked for a volunteer, and it had been Willow that had raised her hand.
He knew that Willow had never gone as far as the edges of the Howling Forests in her life, let alone travel into another world. The mission that Wilberforce had offered her would be dangerous and Warden resented the high priest for putting his beautiful wife in that situation. It should have been him who was to risk his life by going into Earth, not Willow.
Curse my blindness! He howled inside.
So he had decided to stay away from the caverns, and instead they had said their tearful goodbyes in private.
Wilberforce stood before Willow in his noble gowns, cut from the leaves of the silkweed tree.
‘Close your eyes and picture your doorway,’ he told her.
Willow closed her eyes.
‘Take deep breaths,’ he said.
‘What does my door look like?’ she asked.
‘You’ll know it when you see it.’
‘But what if I don’t have a doorway?’
‘Everyone has a doorway,’ Wilberforce explained. ‘Some don’t have to look at all. It just appears when they least expect it. Others have to work hard to find theirs, but for most they never find the doorway at all. It eludes them their entire life. It’s a lot like the search for true love.’
Squeezing her eyelids together and screwing her hands into fists, she searched her mind for her doorway.
‘Relax,’ Wilberforce whispered in her ear.
Way ahead in the darkness of her mind, Willow could see something; like a solitary star in the night sky. She walked towards it, her arms outstretched.
There’s something there, she said to herself. Is that my doorway?
Without taking a single step, she moved forward in her mind. Whatever it was, it was coming nearer. It was narrow and oblong in shape and light radiated from around its edges. It looked like the centre of the universe was opening like a flower.
‘I can see something,’ she whispered and the Noxas exchanged excited looks with one another.
Whatever it was stood feet away and it pulsated like a heart. Then, through the glare of white light that glowed all around it, Willow could see what looked like a door handle protruding from its centre.
‘I think I’ve found it,’ she said, sounding breathless.
‘Open your eyes Willow,’ Wilberforce said.
Opening her eyes, Willow looked in wonder at her doorway.
It stood before her in the centre of the cavern and glistened. It was constructed from a series of giant icicles that reflected back the white glare of the snowy caves. Willow approached it. She could see herself looking back, like a splintered reflection. She stroked the braids of hair that hung from her cheeks, and looked at the long eyelashes that curled from the corner of her eyes.
‘So this is my doorway?’ she asked. ‘It’s beautiful.’
Wilberforce’s reflection appeared in the icy doorway as he stood behind her.
‘Are you sure that you want to go through it?’ he asked.
Turning to face him, Willow nodded.
‘You can change your mind. It’s not too late.’
Although Willow was scared of what she might find on the other side of her doorway, she also felt exhilarated by it. This was her chance to step out from the shadow of the Howling Forests and do something for her people.
This is my chance to have some adventure! she told herself.
‘I will go into Earth, find Wally Willabee and return with this League of Doorways,’ she said.
‘Then we have no more time to waste,’ Wilberforce said, stepping forward and placing one of his hands on her shoulder. ‘May our Queen’s peace be with you on your journey Willow Weaver, and may you return safe and well.’
Turning away from his cool stare and flowing white beard, Willow faced her doorway. Without saying another word, she looked at her friends hoping to see her husband amongst them, but he wasn’t there.
Taking hold of the freezing cold door handle, she pulled the doorway open. Without looking back, Willow stepped into Earth.
The icy doorway slammed shut with a boom that echoed throughout the caverns, sending icicles and snow showering from above.
In his cave, Warden heard the closing of Willow’s doorway. Throwing his arms out and his head back, he began to howl.
Climbing to the top of the prison walls, the Norsori fired wave after wave of arrows at the Demonic Guardians and Radan that charged the gates below.
‘We’ve been betrayed men!’ Marshal Goth roared, pulling his bow from his back and firing off four arrows in a blink of an eye.
The Demonic Guardians released bolt after bolt of fire from their fists which rained down on the Norsori protecting the prison. The fireballs smashed into the Norsori and they flew screaming from the prison walls.
Crouching, Zach took aim and released a volley of stakes down into the army that attacked below. The stakes sped through the night tearing into the Guardians armour and sending Radan hurtling from their rides.