‘It can happen the other way too,’ William interjected. ‘Reflections from Earth can slip through their doorway into Endra.’ And he made a zigzagging motion with his hand as if to illustrate them passing through.
‘You said that not everyone has a reflection,’ Zach said, ‘do I have a reflection in Endra?’
Again Neanna eyed him as he stood in the light of the fire dressed in his long black coat, leather boots and crossbow holsters. Could he really be the one we’ve been waiting for?
‘No,’ she replied.
Hearing this, Zach wasn’t sure whether to feel disappointed or relieved.
‘How can you be so sure?’
‘If you had a reflection in Endra you wouldn’t be dressed like that, unless that’s how you carry yourself in your world?’ Neanna asked.
‘Of course not,’ Zach sighed, ‘but what has the way I’m dressed got to do with anything?’
Inching closer to the fire on his haunches, William stoked it again with a stick. Glancing up at Zach, with the glow of the flames dancing in his saucer-shaped eyes, William said, ‘if you had a reflection, you would have come through as plain old Zach. But seeing as you’ve come through dressed like that, suggests you’re just the one – a loner. Your clothes tell us that if you had been born into our world, you would have been a peacekeeper.’
‘What’s a peacekeeper?’ Zach asked, looking down at himself and straightening the holsters hanging about his narrow waist.
‘In your world they are known as police officers,’ William informed him.
‘What you’re telling me is, I’ve stepped into another world to become a copper?’ Zach said, sounding almost disappointed.
‘It’s not something to be taken lightly!’ Warden thundered. ‘Only those with the purest of hearts and the most accurate of shots were chosen by our Queen to be peacekeepers! All but a few have lost their lives. So mind your tongue!’
Sensing Warden’s admiration for these peacekeepers, Zach said, ‘I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to offend anyone. The peacekeepers that still are still alive...where are they now?’
Hearing the boy’s apology, Warden could smell that he had a pure heart, one that had yet to be corrupted.
He might well become the peacekeeper he has to, Warden thought to himself.
‘The peacekeepers that remain were scattered,’ Warden told him. ‘But some say that they have now regrouped in the town of Tux. It’s just rumours, but that’s what I’ve heard.’
Worrying that he wouldn’t live up to the hype of the peacekeepers; Zach glanced at William and said, ‘you saw me on that stagecoach. I’d wouldn’t say I was a crack-shot would you?’
William didn’t answer. He no longer seemed to be interested in the conversation and had moved to the edge of the clearing, where he was sniffing the air.
‘You will learn to master the tools of your trade with time,’ Neanna said, her voice soft and kind.
‘What about you? Do you all have reflections in my world or are you loners too?’ Zach asked.
‘To that question we do not know the answer,’ Warden said, sniffing at the air and holding Wasp in his lap.
‘We have yet to pass through the doorways and travel into your world,’ Neanna answered for the giant. ‘Only when we pass into your world will we know.’
‘So you reckon my sister Anna’s reflection is the Queen of your world?’
Nodding, Neanna looked at him with her pale eyes. She was surprised at how little Zach knew about his family.
‘Wow, that’s random,’ Zach sighed. ‘So how is this Queen of yours dying?’
‘Throat stole her heart,’ Neanna replied, then shot a glance over her shoulder at William.
Standing rigid – as if carved from stone – William continued to sniff at the air.
‘Who’s Throat?’ Zach asked.
Looking back at him, Neanna’s eyes had turned dark and dead-looking.
‘Your uncle Fandel’s reflection!’ she said, vanishing in a flutter of shadows.
Blinking in wonder, Zach watched as Neanna reappeared next to William on the other side of the clearing. Then something came screaming from the darkness towards them.
For someone so large, Warden shot to his feet with surprising grace. Wasp skittered from his keepers lap, buzzing with excitement on the forest floor.
The beast entered the clearing in an explosion of broken branches and leaves, as if fired from a cannon. This was followed by an ear-splitting bang.
‘That was the doorway closing!’ William barked.
‘The doorway?’ Zach asked, confused.
‘Get back!’ Neanna warned him, flittering away in a spray of shadows to avoid the reach of the screaming beast.
Zach looked up at the huge white monster that now reared up on its back legs in the centre of the clearing. Without thinking Zach reached for the crossbows. His fingers twitched as he fumbled to release them from their holsters.
Warden circled the outer rim of the clearing led by his guide. He had towered over all of them with his great height but now, as he stood before this creature, Warden looked small and insignificant. Warden sniffed the air and could smell the animal’s anger and fear. He couldn’t see the creature but he knew it was colossal because its scent was strong and almost suffocating. Since losing his eyes, Warden’s sense of smell and hearing had become sharper. These senses let him ‘see’ things now.
The white fur-covered beast pounded its chest with two gigantic claws and roared with such ferocity that Zach feared his eardrums would burst. The creature had a long muzzle that, when opened, revealed a gum-full of teeth standing in jagged rows like slithers of ice. Its eyes were jet-black, and a series of razor-sharp horns ran vertical from the bridge of its snout, over its vast skull and protruded from its back. It looked as if the beast had swallowed a dozen rhinoceroses, which were now trying to break free.
‘What is it?’ Zach asked, trying to release his crossbows. Not daring to take his eyes off the creature for one moment.
‘It’s a lunar bear!’ Neanna replied, appearing beside him. ‘In your world it would be better known as a polar bear, but here they’re different…’
‘Completely different!’ William howled, ducking and rolling like a fur-ball beneath one of the lunar bears mighty claws.
‘How did it get here?’ Zach asked Neanna.
‘Just like you did!’ she said, but this time her voice came from the opposite side of the clearing. Zach looked round to see her standing just behind the bear. He glanced through the creature’s giant legs and yelled:
‘What? Through a doorway?’
Before Neanna had a chance to answer, she was gone again in a flutter of black shadows. Neanna knew that if they were to stand any chance of defeating this monster, she would have to find a way of drawing its attention so the others could make their attack.
‘With the veil between our two worlds being eroded by Throat,’ William shouted, ‘more and more doorways are appearing at random. Sometimes it’s not just people that come through them!’
Seeing Zach was having trouble with the only weapons that were available to them, William clawed the crossbows from their holsters and thrust them into Zach’s quivering hands.
‘Now how about showing us what a good peacekeeper you are,’ William grinned, his eyes lighting up like two smoking coals. Then he was off again, bounding like a giant dog towards the lunar bear which was twisting and turning, grappling at something that had attached itself to its back.
Zach bought the crossbows up to take aim as the creature wheeled round in the centre of the clearing. And now Zach could see what it was that the creature was trying to shake off. Neanna was climbing up the lunar bears back. Placing one hand over the other, as if she were climbing a giant stepladder, she reached up and took hold of the ivory looking horns.
To distract it, Warden rushed forward, letting go of the tether that connected him to Wasp. Blind, Warden flung himself into the air taking hold of one of the lunar bear’s powerful arms. The smell from the creature was so overpowering, Warden guessed if he still had eyes they would now be watering in streams.
Thrashing its arms about, the bear roared. Warden hung on with his claw-like hands, tossing this way and that like a paper kite.
‘What ya waiting for Zach Black?’ William shouted, ‘shoot!’ Howling like a wolf, he sunk his crooked teeth into one of the beast’s legs.
The bear wailed and its eyes swivelled in their sockets. William tightened his jaws. Steadying his hands, Zach fought to take aim at the lunar bear. But with the bear lurching left and right, Zach’s friends kept appearing in his line of fire.
‘Hurry!’ Neanna yelled, clambering across the beast’s colossal skull.
‘I can’t get a clear shot!’ Zach roared above the bedlam of the lunar bear’s screams.
‘What, it’s not big enough for ya?’ William barked.
‘Very freaking funny,’ Zach hissed, closing one eye and aiming both crossbows at the bear.
Taking hold of one of its horns, Neanna dangled over the front of the bear’s massive face, yanking on its long whiskers. The creature roared again and Zach wobbled under the blast of breath that rushed from between its jaws.
‘Almost…almost there!’ Zach whispered, steadying his outstretched arms and squeezing down on the triggers.
Staggering again, the lunar bear lurched around as Warden fought to hang onto its arm.
‘Hurry up Zach Black! I can’t hold on much longer!’ Warden barked.
William clung to the lunar bear’s leg by his jaws as Neanna continued to yank on its whiskers. Sparks flew up into the night like fireflies as the bear stumbled over the campfire. Then came two loud bangs in quick procession.
For a fraction of a second, Zach wasn’t sure if it had been the sound of two more doorways closing or the crossbows firing in his fists. Opening his eyes, he saw two wispy streams like cigar smoke coiling up from the ends of the crossbows.