“Damn!” Billy muttered.
The skull wearing leader stepped forwards. He held a jagged sword in his hand that had serrated edges along its serrated edges. It was also permanently stained in dry blood from his past victims. He made a throat slitting gesture while growling. “Time to die,” he sneered.
“Sorry. I don’t feel like dying today, or anytime soon. I’ve got places to go, people to see and you’re not one of them. See ya!” Trey called as he quickly chanted some words and shot a purple bolt of lightning at the leader before sagging against the crate.
It seemed to have no effect. The leader laughed coldly. Then all the skulls he was wearing suddenly came alive, and considering he was wearing a lot, he became very worried rather quickly. They all started to chatter and bite at him as he tried to pull them off to no avail. He was being eaten alive by his own armour.
Zak rubbed his hands together and grabbed the handle of the axe by his feet. With a great amount of strain he lifted it up. “Time to have some fun!” he shouted as he began to spin around in circles with the axe extended out in front of him. Both Trey and Billy threw themselves to the deck to avoid being hit. Some of the warriors tried to defend against the blows but it was futile. Bodies flew everywhere until they got the idea to stay away from Zak.
“Come on! We need to help that Heptalli ship,” Trey called to Zak and Billy. Glancing at the battlefield below, they saw the wrecks of the fishlike sand speeders and more Flesh Eroder craft swarming across the dunes. Bigger speeders packed full of warriors were dotted among the smaller skirmishers. Heptalli cannons fired, devastating what targets they hit but few reached their mark. Soon the cannibal forces would be storming the Heptalli ship.
There was an ear-splitting whoosh as a fiery explosion engulfed half the Flesh Eroders’ main ship. Flames and smoke spiralled into the sky and began to consume the remaining sections of the vessel. Men and women screamed, turning attention from the battle to combat the blaze.
“Zak, what did you do?” asked Billy angrily.
“It wasn’t me,” replied Zak. “I’d have gone with a bigger bang.”
“Thank the Sprites it wasn’t you then. That explosion was too big. Any bigger and we’d be dead.”
“I know. Whoever did it took all the fun out of it.”
“You scare me.”
“That explosion was my doing and it’s called a distraction so use it well,” said Pux from his heroic pose over on the crate Trey had been sat on. “Your weapons are in that chest over there. We should head down to try and escape. Now get moving.”
Pux picked the crude lock on the chest using his sword and waited for the boys to equip themselves. Zak slid both his swords through his belt and opted, much to everyone’s terror, to use the battle axe. They ran through several corridors before finding an undamaged way down to the lower levels. They met very little resistance as most of the warriors were trying to extinguish the inferno.
Two club wielding Flesh Eroders turned a corner at the same time as the teens and instantly went on the attack. Zak used his new axe as a shield. The man’s club hit it, causing his attacking arm to jar. Before he could recover, Zak drew a katana with his free arm and slid it between his opponent’s ribs. The second man had swung straight for Trey’s head. The teen ducked just in time then leapt back to avoid a downward stroke. Billy lunged but only nicked the man’s arm before the brute countered, knocking the weapon away. Billy moved back into a doorway and slid his knife from his belt. The man tried to attack again but the area was too narrow to effectively swing his weapon.
Seeing his chance, Billy lobbed the knife, his mother’s training paying off. It thudded blade first into his chest, dropping him like a stone. At the sight of the blood Billy threw up. Now that the adrenaline was fading, the realisation that he had just killed a man struck him with a wave of nausea. Zak recovered the knife for him and passed it back after wiping it clean of blood. Death seemed to hold no sway over him. His eyes were so deep that Trey could not begin to read his emotions. The boy held more secrets than his manic personality hinted at.
Trey grabbed Billy’s shoulder, snapping him back to reality. He too felt sick and suddenly very weary, but more voices were coming down the corridor. He motioned for the group to move on, leaving the scene behind them. After some reassurances, Billy regained his calm, although his eyes were visibly still troubled. Eventually they reached what they presumed was the hanger. Five more speeder ships were being launched as the boys stepped out through the bulky wooden door. Only one wrecked vehicle remained in the room.
The large open space was filled with strange metal gears and levers connected by wooden beams and ropes. Crude tools littered the floor while all manner of spare parts hung from the walls. The far wall had been dropped down to form a ramp that hung just above the dune tops, leaving a large gap through which a raging wind howled inside.
“Damn. I was hoping we could hijack a few of them. Looks like we’ll have to walk,” growled Pux.
“What’s wrong with this one?” asked Zak, pointing to the wrecked speeder.
“Um, it only has three wheels, lots of the structural bars are broken and that important looking thing there is held on by string,” answered Billy.
“Maybe we could fix it,” offered Trey.
“Maybe,” said Pux. His sharp eyes scanned the scattered parts but it was obvious that he knew little of their purposes.
They shoved the vehicle over to the launch platform to make the repairs. After scouring the hanger for any materials that they thought were needed, then everyone except for Zak climbed up onto the vehicle’s metal bar structure. .
Billy clambered into the driver’s seat with Pux while Trey checked the important looking thing held on by string. Zak quietly snuck around to the firing lever. Billy, who had a good technical mind was just saying how it could take hours to fix when the vehicle shuddered.
Billy roared, “Zak! What have you done?”
The vehicle shot off into the sand. Zak leapt on at the last second, holding onto a back bar with one hand, dragging his axe with his other. It zoomed forwards at a terrifying speed towards the Heptalli ship with so much momentum that tears streamed across the boys’ faces.
“Zak, you idiot!” screamed Billy.
“Slow it down!” shouted Trey over to Billy. His voice was nearly lost to the wind.
“I don’t know how!”
They were rapidly drawing near another sand-speeder and the pilot looked ready to kill them. The craft spun to intercept them. Zak somehow dragged himself onto the front of their ship where Trey was, amazingly still with his axe in hand.
“Rock on!” howled Zak as he launched into the air.
Time seemed to slow as he soared through the air with his axe held above his head. As he began his descent he smashed down with all his might. The weight of the axe alone sent the speeder plummeting into the sand. In an explosion of sand and a storm of splinters and metal, the ship shattered.
Zak pushed off the disintegrating craft as his feet hit it, narrowly missing several flying objects, and landed perfectly on the back of the speeding ship Billy was trying to drive, his axe resting on his shoulder.
Trey snapped out of his amazement and shouted “We need to slow down or we’re going to crash!”
“Too late!” laughed Zak ecstatically.
They flew straight into the Heptalli ship’s hull with a crash then cartwheeled through a second wall before gently rolling to a halt. Debris rained down like a monsoon around them. As dust started to settle the scene was one of total carnage. Mutilated bodies of what they presumed were the Heptalli were littered across the floor. A few of the Flesh Eroders corpses could be spotted within the sea of blood soaked yellow garbs.
The Flesh Eroders’ attack speeders were imbedded in the outer wall of the Heptalli ship, the frontal spikes just touching the next wall that the boys had smashed straight through. That had taken the Flesh Eroders by surprise since they were currently looting in that room. Most had been battered by the heavy debris while others had suffered a direct hit from the ship.
One unlucky man had been skewered by the frontal spike but was still alive. He tried desperately to dislodge himself while screaming and cursing in a language the boys couldn’t understand. None of the men were in any condition to stand and fight. Trey counted fifteen enemy bodies, most still groaning in pain.
When the boys emerged from the under levels into the open sky they saw a full scale battle consuming the entire deck. The heavily armed Flesh Eroders fought the robe wearing, scimitar wielding, Heptalli. The odds weren’t in favour of the defenders.
“Ooh, ooh,” said Zak as he jumped excitedly from one foot to the other. “Please let me do some spells.”
“No,” was Trey’s quick answer.
“Oh come on. It is my gramp’s book so I should get to do stuff with it.”
“No,” Billy replied. “You’ll kill us.”
“He has a point, Billy. It is his granddad’s book,” Trey pointed out.
Before Billy could protest, Zak took the book from Trey and flicked through the pages.
“Most will need too much energy for you to use and the ones you could cast wouldn’t help much,” reasoned Trey. The few spells that he could even use nearly always left him faint.
Zak muttered some words and Billy and Trey braced themselves for some kind of mass destruction. Nothing dramatic happened for a few seconds. Then the ground began to shake. The surrounding desert began to swirl. A shape of sand began to form in the distance, a triangle. It was heading towards the ship with a lot of speed. Suddenly the sand rushed up and, to everyone’s terror, a huge body followed the triangle, or fin as it was now clearly. The fin of a gigantic sand shark.
“You made an enormous shark out of sand!” Billy roared.
“No,” replied Zak. “It’s a dolphin.”
“Never mind what it is. It’s about to hit the ship!” Trey pointed out. Zak nodded happily. “The ship we happen to be on,” Trey hinted. Zak just smiled and nodded. Trey gave up with hints. “Just get rid of it.”
Zak sighed. “Fine”.
He snapped his fingers and the shark exploded, sending a wave of sand in every direction.
The fighting had stopped. Every pair of eyes were locked in amazement and terror at the sand shark. When it exploded no one reacted as a wall of sand slammed into the ship. The wave wasn’t big enough to cause serious damage; instead it knocked everyone off their feet and onto the deck. The Heptalli warriors quickly gathered their wits and got back to their feet, brushing sand from their robes.
Trey stood up and shook sand from his hair. Billy spat out a mouthful of sand while Zak stepped from behind his battle axe with nearly no sand on him whatsoever. Trey looked over to where all the tribal people where and noticed a person that he had not seen yet.
The figure was presumably Heptalli as it was surrounded by the yellow robed warriors. The thing that threw Trey off was that it wore a crimson garb that stood out like a rose in a thorn bush. Its head was hooded unlike the others and around its neck hung a thick golden necklace.
Slowly it lifted its arm and the sleeve slid back to reveal a slender, bronze coloured hand. The fingers lit up green, firing bolts of the same green at the Flesh Eroders, who then fell back to the floor and struggled against invisible ropes. When the figure seemed satisfied it ordered several of the men to throw the captured warriors off the ship and into the desert below using swift hand gestures.
The person then turned to the three boys and spoke. “It’s lunch time.”
“Sprite damn it!” muttered Billy.