Dawn looked like she would run at any second. Fear laced her features. Only her pride kept her feet rooted in place. She wasn’t scared of the robed figures. She feared returning to her caged life.
The Heptalli started towards the group. A crimson clad figure marched at the head of the warriors. Thinking of something else to say or do yielded no results. A curse passed through Dawn’s lips. She bit at her lip subconsciously with worry.
“Why do they have their weapons drawn and have really angry looks on their faces?” asked Billy.
Dawn was silent for a moment. “I was meant to be gone less than a single day. I promised I would only take you to the desert’s edge. Instead I’ve been gone for six days, alone with three young men who are absolute strangers.”
The Heptalli warriors had reached them now. Two continued past them to guard the rear. Both sides were guarded by grim faced men while another two took their place at the front. All had their weapons pointed at the boys. The red robed Heptalli approached them and stood at the group’s front in between the two warriors already there, face to face with Dawn. It was her mother, Rose, the Heptalli Matriarch. Her face was carefully composed but her amber eyes glared daggers.
The ensuing silence was so loud it was almost deafening. Everything was perfectly still. Trey would have thought time was frozen if it was not for the sharp pain in his back where a spear pressed against him. The void of sound rolled on, Trey wondered if anyone would ever speak. He certainly wasn’t going to and no one else looked ready to either.
“Aah, family reunions are always so touching. How have you been Mrs Rayin? Now it’s a funny story we have to tell you, or actually it’s not funny but it’s certainly entertaining, depending upon your disposition towards interests-” The unwanted ranting was cut short as the guard behind Zak bludgeoned him across the head with the hilt of his scimitar. Zak collapsed to the floor unconscious, his blood soaking into the sand.
Trey flinched as he watched. They were deadly serious. Zak had managed to break the silence at least. Now things suddenly started as if the event had been paused until that moment.
“What have you to say?” demanded Rose to her daughter in a harsh tone. When Dawn gave no answer her anger seemed to rise. “You broke your promise, abandoned your royal duties, ran off with three total strangers, and had the nerve to steal and abandon our finest speeder!” Dawn cringed at every point that was stabbed at her. She still didn’t give a verbal response to defend herself.
“Do you not care for your tribe? Your family?” accused the Heptalli leader.
“I do!” shouted Dawn. Now she looked furious too. Trey and Billy cowered at the sight of the enraged women, as did the guards. “A better question is do you not care for your own daughter, your own blood?”
“How could you even insinuate such a thing! You have been given all you could ever need and have always been treated with honour and respect,” Rose almost snarled.
Dawn scoffed angrily. “You know I don’t want that life. I want to be treated with love not honour and respect. I want to explore the world, not stay in the same desert my whole life. I want to earn people’s’ respect not have it handed to me on a silver platter because of some stupid title I don’t even want.”
“That is the way we work. It has been the same for generations; you can’t forgo the destiny given to you at your birth. It is the way of the Heptalli.”
“So the way of the great Heptalli is to be trapped in a cage for eternity.”
Both women’s anger had calmed into a mellow sadness. Rose turned and addressed her tribesmen. “We are going back to the village and will discuss matters with the wisdom of the Elder. Load the prisoners onto a speeder.”
“Prisoners?” said Billy.
The warrior in front of him picked him up and slung him across his shoulder. Another did the same to Trey and the still unconscious Zak. They were dumped into one of the normal speeders while Dawn and her mother entered the royal speeder. Five guards stood around the boys. The driver had yet to climb aboard.
As Trey looked around the speeder he noticed something was out of place. The wheel used to steer the sand vessel was already occupied. Leant against the controls was Liam. He half heartedly nodded his head to Trey then pulled a lever. The speeder juddered slightly and started forwards, startling the warriors aboard. One warrior stood near the edge of the speeder fell off into the sand.
To everyone’s surprise, Zak leapt to his feet and tackled the closest warrior over the speeders side. Following his example, Trey pushed another off the edge while Billy punched one in the face causing him to stagger backwards into the sand below. The final guard was prepared and had a spear at Zak’s throat within seconds.
“Finally,” shouted a small voice from somewhere on Zak. “I haven’t had any action for ages.”
Pux jumped onto Zak’s shoulder, swung himself onto the spear, ran along its shaft, vaulted into the air and kicked the Heptalli in the nose. This achieved nothing other than to surprise the man at the sight of a finger sized being.
“You are a very small man,” stammered the guard in confusion.
“Well done,” said Pux in an immensely patronising tone. He sighed then in one swift movement cut the man’s beard off with his sword.
This seemed to greatly annoy the man. Before he got a chance to swing he was punched in the face and sent hurtling overboard by Billy.
“I was just starting to enjoy myself,” moaned the Yuxova captain.
Liam had turned the craft and now it was about to pass the royal speeder that Dawn and her mother occupied. The Heptalli warriors were in a state of confusion. Liam seemed to know how to drive the vessel. Things were looking good until Trey realised a problem.
“Dawn!” he shouted. Trey could see the girl push her way to the side of her speeder but the two vehicles were many feet apart and one was gaining speed every second. The speeders would only be adjacent for a few brief seconds.
“Jump!” Trey roared over the shouts of the warriors that surrounded them. Dawn hesitated for an instant but by then the two speeders had passed. She still leapt forwards in the hopes that she could make it.
She was going to fall short; there was no doubt about it. Just as she was about to land face first into the sand someone grabbed her hand and swung her towards her goal. She hit the side of the speeder, knocking all the air from her lungs. She looked up with tear blurred eyes and saw Trey grasping her hand, trying to pull her aboard with all his might. More hands reached down and she was hoisted onto the deck.
Before she had a chance to thank the boys, Dawn noticed Liam standing at the helm, which was strange, but stranger was the fact that in his hand he held a black ball the size of a man’s fist. A strand of string protruded from the top that was ablaze with a small flame. Without any warning he threw it towards the speeder Dawn had just escaped from.
Just as Dawn was thinking what a pointless idea it had been, the royal speeder disappeared in a ball of fire and a crash of thunder. A wave of monstrous sound hit her, followed by a blast of immense heat. The force was almost enough to knock her from her feet. As the smoke cleared, only splintered wood remained.
Dawn dashed to the speeder’s edge holding back tears. The Heptalli ships were now fading into the distance but the smoke and flames could still be seen clearly. She collapsed to her knees and tears streamed down her paling skin.
Trey and Billy rushed to her side when they noticed she was distressed. Zak would have done the same but he still was not fully coherent after the blow to his head.
“What are you playing at?” roared Billy at Liam. “That was Dawn’s mother you idiot.”
“They attacked you and took you as prisoners. They were enemies,” replied Liam calmly, his logical approach infuriating.
“That’s still no reason to blow them up. We only needed to escape.”
“That’s why I targeted that speeder. It was far faster than ours. They would have caught us up and captured us again.”
Billy looked like he was going to shout some more but Trey interrupted him. “Everyone calm down. Fighting won’t help anymore. It’s too late to argue now.” Trey placed a comforting hand on Dawn’s shoulders.
Zak was absently admiring the smoke. “What was that ball anyway? Some kind of nimula? It made an awesome explosion.”
“Onlasar’s military alchemists designed it. They named it a Boom-Ball. It’s filled with powder that explodes when fire touches it,” answered Liam.
“What about Dawn though?” said Billy, not forgetting his anger.
Liam shrugged dismissively.
Dawn looked like she couldn’t take anymore. She rose to her feet then ran straight to the sleeping area below the deck, her head in her hands. Rage contorted Billy’s face. He moved to deliver a punch to the pessimist’s face but Trey managed to hold him back. Zak didn’t have that problem. His fist connected to Liam’s face, sending the boy back into the railing. Blood trickled from his lip and his eye looked like it would swell. He licked away the blood with slow deliberation.
“You should be kinder to her,” Zak said as he walked away. “She likes you more than I do, and you’re much less harsh to me.”
“You hold a giant axe on your shoulder almost all of the time,” Liam pointed out. “She doesn’t.”
“But she’s female,” Zak added. “That alone should scare the hell out of you.”
* * *
The day passed by in an awkward silence. Tensions were high and everyone stayed in their own little spaces. Dawn remained below deck, Liam stayed at the helm, while Billy sat at the fastened down table toying with his knives. Zak lay in the middle of the deck staring at the sky and Trey stood at the prow gazing out into the distance deep in thought. Pux was the only person being constructive. He had found a wild lizard and had begun training it as a new steed for himself. Bo-bo stood by his side, aiding his master when possible.
Trey absentmindedly watched the endless dunes of sand zip by as he contemplated their predicament. He was getting nowhere. He was about to retire to his makeshift bed when he noticed something on the horizon that was out of place. At the current distance he couldn’t be sure what it was but the speeder was hurtling towards it at a great speed so he would find out soon.
It was black and about the size of a human. It certainly wasn’t a Forukk even at that range. As the speeder came closer to it Trey realised it was a robed man. The speeder was heading straight for him. Trey was about to call out to Liam to avoid the figure when he caught a glimpse of its face.
The being was tall, taller than a good sized man by a full head. It seemed rather thin but Trey couldn’t be sure because of the heavy looking, void black robes it wore. Its head was hooded but when it looked up it revealed its face. It was a smiley face. Not to say a normal face that was smiling. An actual bright yellow, black featured smiley face. All in all it was like a cross between a painting Trey had once seen portraying Death and a stretchy yellow smiley faced man he had once won at a fair.
Its emotionless eyes met with Trey’s. An entire conversation that involved no words or motions that lasted an eternity took place inside Trey’s head. In all this time his heart didn’t beat once. In reality their eyes only met for a second before the speeder ploughed through the otherworldly being.
There was no sound of impact. Trey ran to the back of the speeder to see if there was a crumpled body, or to prove it had all been in his head. He wasn’t that lucky. It was still standing in the same spot as before. It was in the exact same position other than the fact its head was turned a full one-hundred-and-eighty degrees. Its surreal face still staring at Trey. As it faded into the distance he noticed both Billy and Zak standing by his side staring out at the being.
“What the hell was that?” asked Billy.
“I was hoping it was a figment of my imagination,” answered Trey.
“If so you have a really vivid imagination,” added Zak.
A strange fear bit at Trey’s heart. It wasn’t like facing the Forukks or almost dying. It was a stronger feeling but at the same time not as terrible. He breathed deeply and tried to calm himself. He felt drained.
With his last amount of strength he pulled himself over to his bed and draped the thin cover over himself. He felt tired like never before in his life but sleep didn’t come. Nightmares plagued his brain though he knew he was awake. He couldn’t do anything to dispel them. It was going to be a long night.