6. Focus on a warrior by Lunaeclipse


									Focus On A Warrior.
By Brandon Allen There is point in the universe… A tiny swirling vortex consisting of a mere billion billion stars… A point of space… Nine planets, insignificant in their size… Orbiting a yellow dwarf… All in all a thoroughly insignificant place… The inhabitants, however, project themselves as the center of the universe… On one of these planets is a story… Insignificant of course, but nonetheless interesting… For lack of better entertainment… The war had been raging for two hundred years with only very brief tea-breaks. Luckily for the planet nuclear weapons were still considered too dangerous to employ in open warfare. The inhabitants, however, were not so lucky, a continuous bombardment of fear had smashed their spirits into a shape closely resembling a pancake, to illustrate: yesterday there was another excursion into enemy territory, resulting in heavy losses on both sides and a shaky truce which had about as much truth in it as a politician crossed with a lawyer. This was typical information which usually spread through a village like rats. It is a matter of concern that now days in this same village comments about the amount of green adorning Aunt Mildreds dress spread like rats carrying the plague, overtaking and killing off any ordinary „war‟ rats and just for the kick of it infecting everyone. In summary, the populations of the two great continents had just learned to live with it. They had fortified their homes and villages to such an extent that all but the bathroom toilet were impervious (plans to thwart enemy cistern divers were already in the works.) On this insignificant planet are too insignificant continents… One of these insignificant continents… Ha‟skud… The name, in the ancient language of the Elementas means: „land of green and water‟, fitting, since the last green seen in this land was previously revealed to be on Aunt Mildreds dress, and the closest you came to water was the glass! No body knew how ancient the Elementas who had spied water must have been, no liquid had been seen in the land since the last human was trodden on by a Wagglewot. The land had seen its last plant shrivel up and die in the greenhouse of highly reputed professor Whatnot nearly four hundred years previously. The separate villages now survived on subterranean bulbs grown in kilometer long tunnels dug in a crisscross pattern under each village. Some however were so long that they broke through the wall of another settlement‟s caverns. Most of the time the diggers were lucky enough to find the offending tunnel vacant, this left them valuable time to plug up the hole and resume digging in another direction. Other times they lacked in aforesaid luck and plopped out unceremoniously in front of a Harvester. The Harvesters were always woman, as the work of pulling the tulip-shaped bulbs out of the ceiling was deemed a waste of good talent had the job been allocated to a man, even if those talents only included winning the beer drinking competitions in the local pub three years running. (Hadesh still employs this excuse even though the last pub fell into someone‟s bulb tunnel twenty years previously. The owner went down with his shop and is still missing, presumed drunk.) The general practice when a breakthrough occurs (in tunneling as in science), is for the diggers to run as fast as possible in the opposite direction, the assailant may be armed with such a deadly weapon as a spade, in this case the stragglers would be taught very quickly the finer art of avoiding the back-swing of

a politically oppressed woman. And so life went on with a battle against Nim‟rush here, a couple of the slower men recuperating from spade swipes there. A village, insignificantly important… Come closer… Today there was more excitement than usual in the peaceful village of Frudopia. On the very border of Ha‟skud with just a narrow strip of sea separating it from the brutish forces of Nim‟rush. (Luckily the they had learned the all important art of neutrality, in essence this meant that the scouts reported on whichever army happened to be marching on them at any particular moment, this sparked off a frenzy of activity as the Frudians changed all identifications in favor of the attacking nationality. Neither side had wizened up to this behavior and it was high on both territories lists to enquire as to how the village of Frudopia managed to survive so deep in enemy territory.) The eccentric inventor Nuts'nbolts, known by all the land, which was glad he was on the outskirts, was unveiling another one of his inventions, one, as the rumor spread through The village, that would win the war for Ha‟skud. (The favored continent at the moment.) Bract was one young villager upon who‟s ears the rumor had alighted. A seasoned and tested warrior, he doubted for which side Nuts'nbolts was really working for. (although he was confused about this fact himself.) This thought was instantly swept from his mind as he hurried to join the crowd on its way to the professors new laboratory on the hillside. After his last invention he had been relocated to the surrounding hills while the villagers repaired what was left of their village, for the third time. Hence the thoughts of espionage. The professors hut was well out of the village, set into the mountains so that they would bear the brunt of an explosion and in ideal circumstances bury the man who had proved again and again that madness was not just a state of mind, but a way of being. The professor appeared in his doorway, a strange cap of leather covering his head, and began his speech, wallowing in the attention he was getting, “friends (a lie), countrymen (a variable), you are about to witness the greatest discovery since the square wheel.” The square wheel revolutionized the transport industry, replacing the traditional hexagonal wheel by eliminating two bumps, this meant you could travel twice as far before evacuating your breakfast. The people of Frudo had long ago ceased trying to fathom this little mans logic. He continued, “I will require a volunteer, one with the heart of a Neplud, the strength of an Elemental, the eyes of a Corupid (another of the mans mind numbing statements, since Corupid‟s were almost totally blind.), the ears of a, a…” he trailed off trying to think of something clever, something he wasn‟t very good at, and then finally gave up and came down to business. “Fine…I need someone to help me pedal a machine.” He admitted and without giving himself time to think (probably not the smartest thing to do, he thought later) Bract stepped forward. The professors face lit up in a big smile and he rubbed his hands together, something in his eyes made Bract instantly regret his decision. At first Bract had been frying his brain in an attempt to find an excuse, but the bubbling little professor would have none of it. But now, after he had been strapped into the machine and explained the fundamentals of screwing through the air he was more self confident, he would be in no danger whatsoever, there was not a chance in Has‟kud this machine would make it into the sky. If the professors idea actually worked, then the „helicopter‟ as the professor called it, would fall apart before it rose one stride into the air, hopefully. The crowd had dispersed for the safety of any upright object and the only remaining humans were the ones too inexperienced or stupid to trust their own instincts on the professors inventions.

The professor tapped Bracts head from where he was sitting behind him and Bract strained against the unoiled gearing system. Slowly the machine began to move, it hopped once, twice and then a third time, this was it, thought Bract, this was where something goes wrong. Not to disappoint the machine came to rest again after the snapped chain had whipped Bracts cheek. A new chain on they went after their second attempt. The machine hopped and then the spinning rotors above them grabbed at the air hungrily and the wheels lifted lightly off the crude runway. In the laboratory of Vina‟illa the meteorologist were countless charts and equipment. He had heard of the professors success and chuckled to himself as he stepped in through the door. The sight which caught him took his breath away. Immediately he turned heel and sprinted off back down the hill. Bract had his eyes closed, waiting for the inevitable snapping sounds as the helicopter tore apart. It never came and in an effort of self-sacrificing bravery dared to open one eye and then the other in amazement, they were perhaps twenty strides in the air and the ground rushed past at an uncomfortable pace. Then his common sense took hold and he decided (quite correctly) that it was unnatural for people to be so high. Slowing his furious pedaling they began to sink down to earth. The details in the village grew clearer, it was deserted as everyone was gathered around the professors hut or in the tunnels, anticipating the inevitable blast that usually followed his discoveries like a vulture pursuing a wounded animal. The machine with its two passengers hovered a few strides off the ground, there was a sickening lurch as the steering stick came off in the professors hand. He stared at the object in disgust, “Must remember to fix that when we land.” he muttered to himself as Vina‟illa came huffing and puffing behind the rapidly moving machine. The stick had, conveniently, jammed forward and Vina‟illa was fast becoming a candidate for the cross country team, or hospital, whichever found him first. He yelled something unintelligible and waved his hands in a frantic fit. The professor had a history with the gyrating figure behind, often boasting that it had been him who had proved the existence of huge hailstones in the Gulag mountains (life was boring in Frudo and experts often threw themselves wholeheartedly (sometimes quite literally, as in the case of Derun the Volcanologist, into pointless theories). The meteorologist had been his prime obstacle and in an effort to disprove the other‟s theory had consented to a „scientific‟ expedition into the Gulag mountains. Their camp had soon been bombarded by golf-ball size hailstones. Finally consenting to the older man he had collected some hail to take home. The professor however, being old and possibly senile, had „accidentally‟ pushed Vana„illa into the storm and, since they had happened completely by chance of course, had used the bruises as proof (Frudoens have extremely tough skulls, and luckily no brain damage was incurred, probably.) After that incident the weather man had given the mad professor a very wide birth indeed. “O shutup you blithering old fart!” and the professor tossed the dismembered stick at the man to make his point. The black storm cloud overtook the dizzy man lying on the floor and swept towards the defenseless helicopter. The scrubland over which they flew was completely desolate, the monotonous grey and brown was only broken by the occasional odd formation of rock which stubbornly pushed its way through the parched ground. Bract had long ago stopped pedaling and now they were being carried by the strongest wind Has‟kud had ever seen. The professor had never stopped cackling like an old woman (the kind who live in creepy old houses with creepy black cats and about whom you have a creepy suspicion about, but hey, she makes one hell of a brew, so you‟re willing to overlook those bats which just stole your coat.) As they passed strange landmarks and various phenomenon the professor would bend over a ragged old journal and record it all in name of science (Bract thought that this Science must be a very important guy to have all these people recording things for him.) Having nothing better to do Bract turned back and for the first time really looked at the professor, quickly he turned back again, there was a reason he had never done it before! The cap the professor wore covered his entire head, hiding his bald scalp, every hair burnt off as a result of his line of work. Two teeth on one side of his moth had been sacrificed to a self propelled cart which had taken offence to him tinkering with its springs. He was extremely short, there was an old story

in the village that his parents had tied a brick to his head in an effort to stop him from becoming a giant, this would also neatly account for his mental „situation‟. It was also complete rubbish as the young professor had blown himself up for the first time long before some puny stone could do any damage. The final diagnosis was therefore: mad from birth. All these thoughts were not helping to reassure Bract though. Now that he thought about it he was the complete opposite. He had grown up in a very respectful household of an average thirty-seven members, not including distant relatives. He had worked as an apprentice blacksmith for three years in which time he had built up a barrel chest and powerful arms. (in stark contrast to the professor who would have fitted into one of his huge arms, with place to spare.) Now a fully venerated blacksmith and warrior, he was well known as the man who had fashioned the jewel encrusted sword that king Ulck had yielded in the battle of the plain. (this battle, however, was less remembered as a total defeat, but this was probably not the swords fault.) Now he and this nutty old man were sailing over mountains and twisted trees in a contraption which should not be pushed off a cliff, let alone full fledged flying! Suddenly a haze emerged from the distance, it grew in size and at last resolved itself in their minds. “The Chasmas!” The great divide of ocean between the two super continents, crossing it would mean being sighted by a patrolling sentry and sure death at the hands of the Nim‟rushians. A new sense of urgency gripped Bract and he frantically began pedaling, forcing the helicopter higher into the protective cover of the clouds. The professor, who‟s most excitement this week had been a trip to the greengrocer, cackled as he rocked back and forth in his rickety chair, clapping his hands with delight. They had been travelling for three hours now and had left the Chasma far behind. The scenery had changed dramatically, the tortured branches being replaced by lush green specks of forest, Corupids grazed the thick, dark green grass, their long trunks swept back and forth, often causing humorous situations with other Corupids due to their lack of vision. These animals, moving on three legs, stood upright like „most‟ humans, swinging their bodies alternatively on the one middle leg and then onto the two outermost limbs. When placed on their backs they are unable to right themselves and this, coupled with a shaky sense of balance has led them almost to extinction. The shadow mountains of Nim‟rush loomed ahead, dark shapes perpetually covered by cloud. The wind began to dissipate as the helicopter neared the obstructions. Bract tried in vain to correct their fall, but the rotors couldn‟t take the strain and one snapped with a loud crack. They were now at the mercy of the wind as it bore them ever nearer to the colossal mountains. The wind whipped Bracts hair painfully, trying to uproot it from its nest. The ground was rushing towards them in a thoroughly distasteful manner, individual trees began to trace their motley outline upon the landscape, Bract tried to think light thoughts. The professor gave one final cackle and jumped from the falling machine. Bract watched the material parachute slow the mans decent and then turned to face his own destiny, which at this moment was looking painfully short! The tree branches bent and broke under the weight of the falling helicopter, twigs ripped at Bracts unprotected face and he could only see a wall of blurring green in front of his eyes (he was quite surprised to see it detached from Aunt Mildred‟s dress). There was an unbelievable rush of pain as he was thrown from the vehicle and continued his descent in a very undignified manner. His body slammed into the water and the sensation of pain returned sharper than ever. Unable to move he drifted down through the crystal clear water. His arms drifted beside him as if they were unattached, which was quite possible, although he couldn‟t move to check. Opening his eyes he was met by a kaleidoscope of light filtering though the ripples, tiny shapes darted on the surface oblivious to the being sinking into the darkness of oblivion. This pastoral scene was broken by his leg, which floated in front of him at an unnatural angle. A surge of water and he was sucked into the gaping maw of a Liprodaur as the overgrown tadpole swallowed him whole. Bract struggled from the all engulfing water, dragging his broken leg behind him and finally collapsed onto the stony shoreline. Luckily for him the Liprodaur had suddenly become a strict vegetarian and he‟d

been hastily spat out. Bract suddenly remembered and replaced his dagger in its pouch. Knowing full well the dangers of being out in the open at night fall he dragged his half working body into a hastily chosen clump of reeds before his mind became black and pretty white specks doted his eyesight. At last he closed his eyes and submitted himself to the darkness which came to welcome him in much the same way as an undertaker. „WAKE UP‟ the thought had an almost physical force to it. Bract jolted upright as if someone had slapped him in the face with a bucket of cold water. Peering out from his little fort he saw a Lupa, one of the top predators in the forests. Four legs, each covered in and between with feathers, allowed it to glide great distances when it jumped from its treetop roosts in search of prey. As tall a man with long curved fangs protruding from its top lip, it could easily decapitate a Corupid in a few bites. All in all a thoroughly ludicrous animal, but the smart person would not walk up to it in order to inform it of this fact. This one was drinking silently at the edge of the lake, suddenly its head jerked up and Bract held his breath for fear of making too much noise. The bird took a few tentative steps towards him, rolling its head from side to side in order to place smell that filled its nostrils. Smell placed and the direction confirmed the giant bird stormed towards Bract as he unsheathed his huge sword in preparation. The monster veered to the right as the Neplud burst from its cover and, ruling out escape turned on the bird, making a menacing swipe at the open air. Startled, the Lupa dug its thin claws into a tree and began to climb, fluttering its poorly developed wings to aid it, it disappeared into the foliage. Reaching a clearing it could defend itself form, the Neplud turned in a complete circle, surveying the trees and bracing itself for the coming attack. The huge cat was sent sprawling as the Lupa crashed into it. The two animals faced off in a deadly mixture of games. The Neplud made his move and jumped forward snarling. The Lupa called his bluff and sent his sabers into the cats back, who in turn smashed a huge paw into the birds thick legs. The mountain toppled over and lay helpless on the ground, the Neplud took its chance and lunged for the birds open neck. In a move which would have had even the most seasoned poker player swelling with pride, the Lupa raised itself and its enemy fell to the ground, dead. The Lupa‟s nostrils and senses dulled by the smell of fresh meat, Bract searched the surrounding area quietly for a splint. Ahead was a white object hanging from a tree, it struggled violently as Bract approached. He positioned himself underneath the helpless professor Nut‟nbolts, moving with only mild discomfort now that his leg had almost fully healed (Frudians develop a natural tendency to heal, as a result of a great many encounters with spade wielding Harvesters and mad professors.) “What are you waiting for, you sorry excuse for a man? Cut me down!” Bract just shook his head and carried on along the makeshift forest path with the professor screaming blue (and red) murder after him. “You call yourself a blacksmith, you couldn‟t hammer your way through a biscuit! Ha ha ha heh!” The dangling figure had finally lost his last few precious marbles and he thrashed around as he showered various profanities at whatever plant or rock dared to listen. At this rate every predator in a twenty kilometer radius would be attracted by the sounds of crazy prey, and while this was a very desirable outcome in Bract‟s mind the fact remained that he was still in the vicinity. “This is the perfect place to test my new gadgets!” The professors voice almost broke with the excitement. Actually it was not as uncomfortable as a person would think to be dragged by a parachute, the material cushioned your path and you used no energy whatsoever. And energy was not one of the professors strong points. The only problem in his mind with this situation was the fact that Bract had obviously forgotten to untie him, he should mention it soon. “Oh will you shutup! If it hadn‟t been for you and that infernal machine of yours we wouldn‟t be here in this uncharted jungle, on another continent with no food or water, deep in enemy territory!” “If I hadn‟t built that „infernal machine‟ as you call it, the future of Ha‟skud would have been signed, sealed and handed to our enemies on a silver platter. Whatnot knows how this invention will help the war effort!”

“Yes, help the war effort.” Bract stalked away to examine the rock wall which had decided to block their way, just for fun. “But for which side?” he muttered to himself. He put his hands on the rock face and began to climb. As he passed the halfway point he heard a tiny voice below him. “You could always use this.” And a grappling hook came soaring past his head and imbedded itself into and old tree at the top. The professor came flying past him with a self-satisfied look on his face, the winch on his belt making a high pitched whirling sound. They had traveled wearily for two hours since the cliff and the sun and insects had joined forces in a bid to drive Bract into taking a long jump off the shortest plank he‟d seen in his life. He swatted at random in the hope of catching the odd fly, it was a futile gesture but one which needed to be made nonetheless. Ahead a plume of red death spewed from a crack in the wall. The Dragonfire mountains were considered the badlands of the world, (the people who considered them this had obviously never visited Ha‟skud) a hellish series of canyons and hill consisting entirely of volcanoes, surrounding a bleak wasteland where the only thing that moved was the dark dust, the molten rock which was pumped endlessly out of the surrounding mountainside and the creatures fleeing in unutterable fear. “Do we have to go in there?” The professor had abandoned his usual bubbly manner and now lowered his voice as if the black rock in front of them was alive and would attack at any moment. It probably was and would though! He was covering behind Bract like a frightened child. “Unless you want to go around, but that would take another three days, more time for a hunting party from Nim‟rush to find and torture us for information. But if you‟re willing to risk it I suppose I will have to go along to make sure they find you in good condition.” At a silent nod from the little man he turned and started on a dead path around the area. A fracture suddenly opened and spurted some lava onto the ground near Nut‟nbolts and he quickly went to walk on the other side of Bract. “How much longer?” “At the rate we‟re going…two days. Don‟t look so nervous, any Nimru wouldn‟t dare set foot in here.” The professor ceased his fruitless survey of the surroundings. “Maybe we should‟ve followed their example!” “Don‟t be stupid, they are very superstitious, something about a fire demon that prowls the badlands looking for weary stragglers who enter its domain. Pure superstition.” “Wait, aren‟t we weary stragglers who have wandered into its domain?” Bract just smiled to himself and continued their passage. Behind a black and burnt outcrop two fiery eyes watched the intruders as they walked and waddled respectively past, he would have to do something quickly before they reached any deeper into the wastes. “HALT INTRUDERS. YOU HAVE STEPPED ON SACRED GROUND. TURN AND RETURN TO WHENCE YOU CAME OR YOU WILL FACE MY UNFORGIVING WRATH.” The voice echoed menacingly through the canyons and the lava in its cauldrons surged and boiled in agreement. Bract dived behind a convenient rock, leaving the professor shivering alone in the pathway until his remaining teeth threatened to shake themselves out of their roots. From his makeshift cover Bract tried to shout in a whisper, “Stay there.” The Professor was not about to argue. Careful to keep out of sight Bract edged his way towards the source of the sound. “YOU DARE TO REMAIN, YOU SHALL NOW FEEL THE FULL FURY OF MY POWERS!” A paralyzing roar streaked through the canyons amplifying itself towards a terrifying crescendo. Suddenly sensing something behind him the Elemental turned to face this new threat, abandoning the natural rock megaphone he had been using to amplify his efforts. Bract stood behind the Mystical creature blocking its escape with his naked sword. The Elemental backed up against the wall, then, regaining his composure and remembering who he was raised his hands and started forward in what he regarded as a thoroughly threatening gesture. Bract continued to lean against the entrance to the tiny passageway, regarding this

flaming creature with a distinct lack of awe. Nuts‟nbolts climbed up the rock next to him, eager to catch a glimpse of this monster Bract had cornered. (Bravery only rears its head when nothing can possibly go wrong.) He now turned and came face to face with the fiery creature. One glimpse was enough to send the Elemental screaming into a corner and the professor screaming off his perch. Bract rolled his eyes, convinced that the only threat this creature posed was to himself, and sheathing his sword once again, continued on the path. The professor kept a wide berth between himself and the fire Elemental. He was not absolutely convinced of this animals state of mind, the irony in this was that this idea was often expressed regarding him. “So where are you going?” The Elemental had called himself Firestorm although Bract queried the validity of this name, the fire part was hard to dispute and he had to keep his distance to avoid being burned by the permanently enflamed creature. As for the rest this Elemental would more likely to run and hide, let alone storm anywhere. “To Ha‟skud, the continent across the sea.” Bract answered after a moments hesitation. What was the harm, this thing couldn‟t exactly swim across, he‟d be extinguished for good. “I have been living in this hell hole since I lost my memory two hundred years ago, I think it‟s time for a change, don‟t you? Can‟t I accompany you? I could really help you know.” He did his best impersonation of a vicious Neplud, but in reality it came out more like a Corupid with a nasty cold. “Ok, whatever, just stay out of my way.” The Elemental positively ignited with excitement. He was swiftly warned not to do that again while Bract doused the flaming professor. The small groups first night in the forest had been far from ideal. For one thing Firestorm was away from his fiery home and had suddenly developed a fear of the dark. Now they were tramping through the last stretch of forest, trying their best to prevent their jaws from breaking with each phenomenal yawn. The professor was just in the middle of giving the sad creature his fiftieth dirty look when a rustle in the near grass sent them down into hiding. The professor adjusted his position in the grass and came face to face with a razor sharp scimitar. (In these kinds of situations one need not ask if a sword is razor sharp, it is just assumed that the owner wishes to use only one swipe to finish the job before pushing off for tea.) The warriors face was coated in camouflage paint and he gestured with his sword for the professor to stand up very, very slowly. He did so and found Bract doing the same but with his hands in the air, the professor quickly copied him. “You don‟t know who you‟re dealing with here!” Bract stared straight into his warriors eyes with a look which would have made most men run like water, this one seemed to have a glass handy. “Don‟t we then, I suppose you deny that you speak with a Hask accent.” The warrior was looking forward to the coming torture. “We have a powerful Elemental with us, the most powerful of all the Elementas.” “Well then show yourself you…” He never finished his sentence as Firestorm rose from where he had been hiding, twice the height of the soldiers and in such a frenzy of rage that he singed the hairs on the soldiers‟ head. This warrior was not lacking in back bone and he leapt at Firestorm with his sword raised. “Get back you beast!” Firestorm began to draw back in fear, thought about it, came forward threateningly, thought again and fled into the forest. “Come back here you coward!” Bract covered his eyes with his hand in frustration. “Hah, if that‟s the most powerful Elemental then I‟m a wingless Lupa!” The soldiers laughed among themselves as they prodded their prisoners towards camp. Firestorm sat huddled against a tree. His body was perpetually aflame but he shivered at the thought of what he had done. Something rustled in the bushes, it was coming closer. They‟re coming for me! He drew back into the little alcove of bushes he had made himself. Looking out without trying to look out he saw that the dark jungle was void of any particular threat to himself. Lucky, but it would only be a matter of time before the hunters found him, then they would… Firestorm jumped up screaming, something was

attacking him! When he opened his eyes finally he gave a little whimper of a laugh. The squirrel seemed to be laughing with him, but more likely at him. If fire could cry then the Elemental would have broken out into Niagra Falls right there and then. Dust, clouds of dust, in the air, on the ground, everywhere. The stark terrain continued as far as the eye could see. Firestorm peered into the horizon, big surprise, more dust! But not just dust, some of those clouds were moving, they were coming closer, fast! The clouds resolved themselves into heavily armed people, they were riding wheeled vehicles, strange. Firestorm took a moment to consider his situation while he tugged on his sword… sword! He half unsheathed the flaming blade before feeling the extent of his armour. He was fully kitted out with flaming armour. He glanced behind him and then took a harder look, as far as he could see was a pool of bustling Elementals. Each one bearing arms and armour, this was a battle! The wheeled people were very close now, the battle was about to begin. Firestorm was quivering with excitement at the prospect of a fight, he just wondered when the commander would give the order to charge. It was at this point that he found a distinct lack of commanders in the immediate vicinity. Quickly he fingered the „Blue Fire‟ command badge on his breastplate…“Holy…” That was as far as he managed before the missile fell from the sky like a hawk. Firestorm flew up into a sitting position. “Oh no, no, an entire civilization…gone!” he covered his eyes and rocked back and forth. The memories came flooding back in a deluge, each one piercing his mind like a sword. The next day was cloudy and threatened rain like someone had just washed their car. Bract found himself shackled between the professor and a man he would rather not have been shackled to. The long line of prisoners made its agonizing way towards the capital of Cualacha, of which Bract had once read: „…The population and its rulers are so crooked they could hide in the shadow of a corkscrew…‟ Their prospects were not looking great as they passed the two kilometer mark and the highest spires of the city began to make their appearances through the voids in between trees. An agitated scout suddenly burst from the treeline and scrambled to his feet screaming, “The Fire Demon has returned, run for your lives!” Shortly in his wake came Firestorm stooping under the low trees. Like most Elementas his body tapered off to a point and he hovered over the fallen scout. His eyes flickered with a righteous fire which threatened to engulf all. Finally a truly awe inspiring sight. His previous acquaintance now stepped forward. “I‟ll take care of the monster.” He pointed his scimitar, a pitiless pin against the moving wall of fire. Even this tried and tested warrior was exhibiting slightly damp pants. Firestorm glanced down at him and lifted his arm in a slow swipe. The warrior found himself momentarily able to fly, before reality quite literally smacked him in the face. The remaining guards needed no more convincing and abandoned the prisoners to their fates. The wind rustled Bracts hair and the cold sea spray became a constant reminder that against all odds, he was indeed alive. The ship they had „borrowed‟ was not a bad one at all, considering that it had belonged to the Nim‟rushians. He turned away from searching the horizon and looked back at his little army. The professor was on deck drawing up plans for a new improved helicopter, (Bract would make sure that this one was tethered to the ground by a very strong rope.) while trying to explain the fundamentals of aerodynamics to Firestorm, who was trying his best to equate all this with lava. (Bract had learnt that there were many, many types of lava, way too many for such a long trip!) Has‟kud appeared slowly over the horizon. Smoke rose lazily into the sky and formed a counterfeit cloud. This was lightly worrying to Bract and he began to move around nervously. The smoke thickened as they drew closer to land and fires began to show themselves, dotted about the landscape. The Nim‟rush imperial army! “We‟ll just have to go around the peninsula then.” Bract wrenched at the wheel, straining it into a steep turn. As the boat banked and headed out towards the great sea again his suspicions were confirmed as myriads of ships lay in the bay they had been headed for, each one flying the Nim‟rush flag.

The approach Bract had chosen was not the easiest by far, but it was well out of sight from the army encamped a mere kilometer away. They began to descend the slope to the village, drawn with a new sense of urgency by the fire which was already dying out. The problem with neutrality was the question of what you did when both sides attacked you at once. The entire village lay in ashes, black and ugly. They searched carefully for survivors, although Bract doubted they would find any. A veteran of many an attack, he had seen first hand the brutal force that the imperial army applied. Suddenly the ground gave way beneath Firestorm and he disappeared into the blackness. His fiery body illuminated his position for Bract and the professor as the citizens of Frudo attacked with their famous pans and spades. The beach was lined with soldiers from Nim‟rush, ten deep at points, for kilometers on end. Clad in metal armour and helmets forged of the toughest steel they faced off against their cousins in leather armour and bare heads. A mere two hundred meters separated the two forces. A burrowing Molard poked its head above the surface in the no-mans land, took one look around and quickly vanished beneath the sand to get a video camera. The Hask had been assembled from every village on the continent. This was the final match, they were still sorely outmatched and outwitted, (something which seemed to happen an alarming amount of times) but their spirits were bolstered by the presence of an Elemental in their ranks. Now had come the time, the two commanders rode out to each other. King Ulck, with his jewel encrusted sword was overshadowed by his elder and wealthier brother from Nim‟rush and he knew it. The only thing that kept him from fleeing was the Elemental and Bract who had accompanied him. “You expect to win a war with an army of Corupids.” The Nimru king smirked at his shorter brother. “They may be Corupids but they have the hearts of a Lupa and the minds of a… well they have hearts.” Ulck almost visibly cowered. “Your army is doomed to fail, they are wounded beyond repair just by having you as their leader!” The Nimru drew his saber and lunged at the startled king, but Bract was quicker and parried the blow with enough force to throw the other off his tame Neplud and he landed in the swirling dust. The armies knew the signs of war and rushed towards each other, drawing the fragile dust into a hurricane of death. As the men drew towards the slaughter the sand between them began to rise in mounds. Firestorm had his eyes closed and his burning palms facing the earth. “There will be no more…death!” Firestorm whispered angrily to himself so that only Bract, by straining, could hear. A puzzled look crossed Bracts face. The mounds swirled into countless tornadoes before materializing into the magnificent creatures they were. Both armies stopped dead in their tracks and gasped at the full might of the Elementas army. “Those of you from Nim‟rush will now get into your ships and sail away!” Firestorm was very calm as he slowly opened his eyes and repeated the command. The sand Elementals were unmoving as the dust flowed through their bodies in an ever falling waterfall. They stared straight past the nearest soldiers, neither stopping passage nor allowing it. A few brave souls waved their hands in front of their Elemental in an effort to elicit a response. No one moved, Firestorm suddenly flared up and his order boomed itself across the blue sky. Both sides fell over themselves to escape. There were only the Hask left on the beach now, combing it for bits of armour the invading army had dropped in their haste, the Elementas still hovered where they had materialized. It was night time and the only light came from the fires which had been built to lighten the mood of the makeshift army. The king, Bract, the professor and Firestorm were huddled around one such fire. “You can‟t protect us for ever you know.” Bract passed the pipe to the king, who took a healthy drag, which led to an unhealthy bout of coughing. “The Nim‟rush will return in full force and nothing you can do will keep us safe forever.” “That is true, but I can damn well try.” “Just exactly who are you really, I found you as a scared little candle in the mountains and now here you are defending a continent.” “Lets just say I came to my senses, there are moments in history we Elementas are not very proud of.”

“Such as?” Bract was having a difficult time handling all this. “Ever heard of Atlantis?” Firestorm put his hand into the fire, this was a painful line of questioning and he‟d rather be more at home. “No, not really.” “Exactly!” He gave a crafty smile and walked a little way into the night. For the first time since they had materialized the Elementas moved. They raised their hands until their palms faced the sea and a thin wall of sand began to grow from them. When this shield had disappeared into the clouds and encompassed the entire continent, Firestorm thrust his hands up and sent a huge plume of fire into it. The heat spread rapidly through the sand structure and the whole construction began to glow with a fiery heat. Firestorm ceased his activities and resigned himself to watching. Across the continent people came out of their houses to watch as the dome glowed orange and then slowly revealed a few slightly distorted stars. The entire world watched the creation of a huge glass dome over the continent. It had been five years since the Elementas had created a world within a world. Bract now wore the crown of Ha‟skud with pride as he rode out to inspect the magical barrier. Dismounting he ran his hand over the glass Elemental still with his hands against his charge and then onto the wall itself. Something caught his eye and he stooped to caress the tiny seedling which had pushed its head up from the parched soil. A tear came to his eye and he looked up towards the sea. Wait, that wasn‟t right. His brow furrowed and he carefully felt the wall just to be sure, yes, it was there. Bract quickly mounted his Neplud and sped off through the recovering land leaving the crack as it slowly began to grow. The Great Big Encyclopaedia of Everything: a Philosopher on Lanetal 12 once retorted: “In my experience I feel quite certain that the greatest destructive force in the universe is a swarm of Ravenous Grantel Swamp Destroyers upon removing their food source!” Our researcher discovered that this philosophy is grossly incorrect, apparently the author had never visited Earth or witnessed an earthling when his remote is confiscated!

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