On their arrival at the police station, Officer Janson took Hunter straight to the jail cell. “This is where you’ll sleep for the night,” said Officer Janson. “We’ll question you in the morning, when you’re a little calmer.”
“But I’m calm now,” said Hunter.
“Kid, you’ve just been arrested after robbing a bank. I’m not buying that you’re calm,” said Officer Janson. “A good night’s rest is what you need.”
Hunter sighed. It wasn’t until now that he’d realized how tired he was. He’d woke up that morning and got sucked into this dimension, and then ran all over the world and got involved in several major battles. He found himself collapsing on the jail cell’s bed. Even though it was cold and uncomfortable, Hunter fell asleep real quick.
The next morning, at 6:00 sharp, Officer Janson came to Hunter’s cell and knocked on the metal bars. “Wake up, kid,” he said. “It’s questioning time.”
Hunter rolled out of bed and went up to the cell door. “I’m telling you, it wasn’t me,” he said.
“We’ll be the judge of that,” said Officer Janson.
Officer Janson slapped on the cuffs and led Hunter to the police station’s confession chamber. Hunter was sat down on a short blue bench facing a desk where Officer Janson sat. Right in front of Hunter was a microphone wired to a computer on the desk.
“Start talking, kid,” said Officer Janson. “Tell me exactly what you did at the bank last night.”
“Well, Pyras and I were tagging along with Sam to do your check of the bank,” Hunter started, “Because that one guy refused to give up his keystone. So we got there, but we saw that the door was open and the bank teller was dead. We went upstairs to see if the thief had taken the keystone. Pyras went outside to talk to Sam while I kept looking, but I didn’t find the keystone. I went outside to tell Pyras, but he was gone, and Sam was unconscious. And then you came, and…you know what happened from there.”
“Yes, I do,” said Officer Janson. “It seems like you’re telling the truth, as my lie detector hasn’t gone off.”
“This is a lie detector?” Hunter asked, pointing to the microphone.
“It is,” said Officer Janson. “But your story doesn’t explain who did rob the bank, and what happened to Pyras.”
Hunter was about to suggest asking Sam, but then he remembered what Officer Janson had said last night. “Let me guess-Sam’s waiting right outside the door,” Hunter assumed.
As if on cue, Sam walked in the room. “I’m here, Officer Janson,” said Sam. He looked and saw Hunter sitting on the bench. “Has he-”
“Yes, he has,” said Officer Janson. “Please, sit down and tell us your side of the story.”
Hunter sidled aside as Sam sat down in front of the lie detector. “So I went with Hunter and Pyras to the bank, and then they went inside to look around. I waited outside for a few minutes, and then Pyras came outside. But then the other three Elemental Masters-Hydras, Aeras, and Glacias-came and-”
“Wait. The other Elemental Masters came?” Hunter asked.
“It’s not your turn,” said Officer Janson. “Sam, please continue.”
“So the Elemental Masters were talking to each other about where they’d been, and then suddenly the Kakkarak came out of nowhere. They had Prohahka with them, of course. She used her powers to take away the Elemental Masters’ power, and then she ordered the Kakkarak to capture them. The Elemental Masters tried to fight, but the Kakkarak wrapped them up in their cocoons. They knocked me out, too.”
Officer Janson nodded. “Did Prohahka drop any hints about whether she had stolen the keystone from the bank?”
“Yes,” said Sam. “She said that yes, she’d stolen the keystone, and then hung around in case any Elemental Masters came. She seemed pretty happy that she got all four of them, because I guess the other ones escaped Professor Tick-Tock’s ambush.”
“Professor Tick-Tock,” Officer Janson grumbled. “I know that madman.”
“Yeah, apparently he’s trying to freeze time in the Dead Desert or something,” said Sam.
Officer Janson stroked his chin. “If he’s on the loose,” he murmured, “Then we should probably call-”
“Sorry, keep going.”
“The last thing I remember hearing before I got knocked out was that Prohahka was taking the Elemental Masters to Lord Vulcon,” said Sam.
A sledgehammer hit Hunter’s chest. “Lord Vulcon?”
“Yes,” said Sam.
“Are-are you sure that’s what she said? Not some other guy?”
“No, she said Lord Vulcon,” said Sam.
“Oh no,” said Hunter, his heart filling with dread. He had thought nothing could be scarier than Prohahka, but everyone had talked about Lord Vulcon like he was the devil. Princess Ariana had been frightened just talking about him, since she had been held captive by him once. And to think that Prohahka was taking the Elemental Masters to his kingdom…
“They-they’re probably there by now!” Hunter’s voice was louder than he’d intended. Looking at Officer Janson angrily, he added, “We could’ve stopped them!”
“Just you, against a horde of Kakkarak?” Officer Janson asked.
Hunter opened his mouth, but no words came. He’d been nailed.
“No, it’s my fault,” said Sam. “I shouldn’t have brought you two to search the bank with me.”
“It’s not your fault, Sam,” said Hunter. “It’s Prohahka’s.”
“But-but you’re not gonna try to rescue them, are you?” Sam asked.
“I mean…Officer Janson does have a point,” said Hunter. “I’m just me, against Prohahka and whatever Lord Vulcon has in his kingdom.”
“I’m not trying to degrade you,” said Officer Janson. “I’m just-”
“Stating the facts, I know,” said Hunter. “And those facts are true.”
“But Prohahka has a keystone, doesn’t she?” Sam asked. “And if she’s going to Lord Vulcon’s kingdom, then she’s probably got another one. And if she talked to Professor Tick-Tock, then she has another. And if Hydras, Aeras, and Glacias had the keystone from the Power Race Track on them when they came back…”
“Then Prohahka has four of the six keystones,” said Hunter. “We’ve only got the ones from Dino Valley and Princess Ariana’s castle.”
“I don’t like those odds,” said Sam.
“But what do we do?” Hunter asked.
“Well, I mean, you’re the Outsider,” said Sam. “You can probably think of something.”
Hunter didn’t know what to say. He’d came up with ideas, sure, but he’d had help from Pyras or Hydras or somebody almost every time. But now, no one was here to help him. Hunter was all on his own.
“Well…we have to save the Elemental Masters,” said Hunter. “One way or another, we can’t win this without them.”
“So you’re saying you’re gonna go and rescue them,” said Sam.
“Well…” Hunter hesitated. “I mean, I guess it would be the right thing to do, since they’ve helped me through all this. Besides, if what Princess Ariana told me is true, then Lord Vulcon’s going to do some pretty bad things to them.”
“You’re pretty brave,” said Sam. “Going to Lord Vulcon’s kingdom all by yourself.”
“Um, I was thinking you should drive me there,” said Hunter. “If I go on foot, I might not make it in time.”
Sam nodded. “I was thinking the same thing,” he said. “Are we free to go?” he asked Officer Janson.
Officer Janson shrugged. “Well, I suppose you’ve proved yourself innocent,” he said. “Go ahead and rescue the Elemental Masters.”
Of course, that proved to be easier said than done. Sam took Hunter right outside to his fire truck and got into the cab. “Here we go,” said Sam.
“So what have you heard about Lord Vulcon?” Hunter asked. “Have you talked to anyone that’s been to his kingdom?”
“I’ve heard rumors,” said Sam. “I’ve heard that he has a fortified castle that he calls a fortress. His kingdom was established in a dark, stormy area in the mountains, filled with volcanoes and lava rivers.”
“Princess Ariana said she was captured by Lord Vulcon once,” said Hunter. “And apparently some knights rescued her.”
“Those knights were probably from the kingdom south of Voyo,” said Sam. “The one Lord Vulcon was originally a member of.”
They drove out of the City and toward the mountains to the south. They went on a dirt road that went past Dino Valley and between two of the mountains. As they neared the valley, Hunter saw four people walking along the dirt trail. “Speaking of knights…” he said.
Sam saw the knights, too. “Huh,” he said. “They’re probably from the other kingdom.”
“Pull over, Sam,” Hunter blurted out. He wondered…
The four knights stopped and turned to look at the fire truck that was pulling over next to them. “Hey, knights!” Hunter said as he got out of the truck.
“Who are you?” the lead knight asked. He, along with the rest of his knights, was dressed in silvery blue armor with a blue horsehair plume. He wielded a long, bronze sword and a shield big enough to snowboard on. On his shield and chestplate was a coat of arms depicting a scroll with ancient writing.
“My name’s Hunter,” said Hunter. “Are you knights from the kingdom?”
“If you mean the kingdom of Anthrall, then yes,” said a second knight. His sword was more of a blue color, and his coat of arms was a brown chain. His voice was hard and deep, like a wrestler’s.
“Uh…is Anthrall the kingdom where Lord Vulcon was banished from?”
“It is,” said the first knight. “And we are on a mission to stop him.”
“I knew it!” said Hunter. “That’s where I’m going, too.”
The deep-voiced knight scoffed. “You’re just a boy,” he said. “What business do you have dealing with Lord Vulcon?”
“He’s holding my friends the Elemental Masters captive,” said Hunter. “And I’m going to rescue them.”
“The Elemental Masters?” the third knight exclaimed happily. His sword was colored silver, and his coat of arms depicted a diving bird-maybe a falcon. “You know the Elemental Masters?”
“Yes, I do,” said Hunter. “And I have to save them. I don’t want Lord Vulcon to do whatever it is he does to his prisoners.”
“Well that’s pretty noble of you,” said the fourth and final knight. His coat of arms was a whirlwind of green shaped like a cyclone, and his sword was an emerald green.
“You must really like the Elemental Masters.”
“I do,” said Hunter. “They’ve saved my life more than a few times since I got to this world. I can’t let them die.”
The first knight shook his head. “I’m sorry,” he said. “But Lord Vulcon’s kingdom is a very dangerous place. We’ve been there once, because Princess Ariana needed rescuing, but we barely made it out with our lives. It is no place for a peasant boy like you.”
Pursing his lips, Hunter played his last card. “I’m the Outsider,” he said. “I’m supposed to do things like this.”
All of the knights exchanged glances. “I knew it! I knew the Outsider was coming soon!” said the third knight.
The second knight raised an eyebrow. “Are you certain that you are ready to face Lord Vulcon?” he asked.
“I am,” said Hunter. “And my friend Sam can drive us in his fire truck. It’ll make your travel much quicker.”
The first two knights exchanged glances. “We’ll accept your help,” said the first knight. “But on our way, we would like to hear the story of how you came to know the Elemental Masters.”
“You will,” said Hunter. “What are all your names?”
“I am Cedric the Wise,” said the first knight. “Leader of this quartet.”
“I’m Barda the Powerful,” said the second knight. “The punch and muscle of our team.”
“My name is Fendrel,” said the fourth knight. “And this is Merek. He’s the youngest.”
Smile lines appeared around Merek’s eyes. “It’s very nice to meet you, Hunter!”
“He does get excited,” said Cedric. “But if we point him in the right direction, then he’ll keep going until the job is done.”
“Right then,” said Hunter. “Let’s get going.”
The fire truck’s cab could only fit three people, so Cedric, Fendrel, and Barda all had to ride on the sides of the truck while Merek rode in the cab with Hunter and Sam. During the drive through the mountains, Hunter told Merek everything that had happened since he had accidentally activated his dad’s machine.
“Whoa,” said Merek. “I wish I could’ve done all that.”
“You sure?” Hunter asked. “It was all pretty scary.”
“Yeah, but look at all the stuff you did,” said Merek. “If you were in Anthrall, then you would be honored for your bravery.”
“Oh yeah, I’m sure,” said Hunter.
“I’m serious,” said Merek. “There’s people like me who are eager to perform acts of heroism. That’s why I became a knight.”
“Yes,” said Merek. “For years, I looked up to warriors like Cedric and Barda and admired their bravery. I wanted to be a knight, so I could be a hero too. I spent most of my youth training and training and training, so that I could be a good knight. Barda would tell me I was too impulsive, but I didn’t let that stop me. I kept on training, knowing that I could become a knight.”
“And you did,” Hunter guessed.
“Indeed,” said Merek. “The day that the King knighted me was the happiest day of my life. He made me even happier when he assigned me to be a part of Cedric, Barda, and Fendrel’s team. The four of us made a great team, especially during Tenebris’ regime.”
Tenrbris…Hunter couldn’t go very far in this world without hearing that name. “So…now you’re going to stop Lord Vulcon?” Hunter asked.
“It’s part of the King’s plan,” said Merek. “My team and I are gonna sneak into Lord Vulcon’s fortress and figure out a way to lower the drawbridge, so that the King and his army can invade. And, while we’re in there, we need to figure out a way to destroy Lord Vulcon’s magical sword.”
“Sword…Princess Ariana said something about that,” said Hunter.
“He’s been forging an enchanted sword that will give him unspeakable power,” said Merek. “The one thing he needs to complete it is a sacrifice.”
“So that’s why Prohahka brought the Elemental Masters to him,” said Hunter. “She probably did it in exchange for Lord Vulcon’s keystone.”
“Well, it’s a good thing we still have two of the keystones back at my fire station,” said Sam. “As long as Prohahka doesn’t know about that, we’ll be fine.”
As they drove down the road, the sky above them started to darken. Hunter could still see traces of sunlight from above, but it was mostly obscured by dark red storm clouds. Under the storm clouds, everything in the valley became tinged with red. From outside, Barda reached over and knocked on Sam’s cabside window. “We’d better get out now,” he warned.
Sam pulled his fire truck over. “Are we gonna go on foot from here?” he asked as he got out of the cab.
“Sadly, yes,” said Cedric. “A fire truck would call too much attention in this land.”
“Well, let’s go,” said Fendrel.
The six of them went down the road as it started to open up. “So what’s our game plan?” Merek asked.
“The plan,” Cedric explained, “Is to enter the kingdom, steal one of the enemy’s battle wagons, and ride it to Lord Vulcon’s fortress. Once we make it there, we’ll sneak in via a secret entrance in the side of the fortress. Then we’ll rescue your Elemental Master friends and get that drawbridge down. Then we’ll go to confront Lord Vulcon.”
“I like that plan,” said Fendrel. “Except, where are we gonna find an enemy battle wagon?”
“That shouldn’t be too hard,” said Cedric as they came into full view of Lord Vulcon’s kingdom. Hunter had heard so many terrible things about Lord Vulcon’s kingdom, and about the evil knight lord himself, that he expected the worst from the place where he lived. Unfortunately, the kingdom was exactly what he’d expected it to look like. The ground was made entirely of black volcanic rock, with red cracks in it that revealed lava below. There were several forests of dead, withered trees that resembled thorn bushes. Several outposts dotted the area, made from dark red rood and charred black bricks. Lightning flashed in the clouds overhead.
Worst of all was the large, imposing fortress toward the south of the area. It was shaped like a U with corners instead of curves, with its walls built into the volcano behind it. The walls were easily a hundred feet high, and its central tower was at least twice that height. The walls had a couple of smaller towers and catapults, which were manned by black-armored knights. The central tower had an enormous brazier of fire on top, making it look like some miniature volcano. The front of the tower housed a drawbridge big enough for a small yacht to rest on. The drawbridge was raised, providing no way over the lava moat that surrounded the fortress and volcano behind it.
“So that’s it,” said Hunter.
“Yes, it is,” said Barda.
“Oh boy,” Merek squeaked, surveying the land of evil before them. “I think I just peed a little.”
“Excuse me?” Barda asked, raising an eyebrow.
“You’ve been here before, haven’t you?” Hunter asked.
“He hasn’t,” Cedric answered.
“Didn’t you guys rescue Princess Ariana that one time?”
“We did, but Merek wasn’t with us when we did,” said Fendrel. “The King didn’t think he was ready to go to Lord Vulcon’s kingdom.”
“But-but I’m ready now,” Merek said, trying to put on a brave face. But through his helmet’s eyeholes, everyone could see the fear in his eyes.
“It’s okay,” said Hunter. “We’re all scared.”
Cedric pointed at the land before them, where black-armored knights were charioteering horse-drawn battle wagons. The wagons were like miniature houses on wheels, with space for carrying soldiers and miniature prison cells. Each wagon was drawn by two horses. “We’ll need to get one of those wagons,” said Cedric. “That’ll be our key to navigating this land of evil.”
End of Chapter 14…