I Have A Novel To Share

For years, I have had a passion for creative writing and have written a whole bunch of novels. When I found this section of the TTV message boards, I thought maybe I could share one of my novels on here.

The novel that I’m going to share is titled Playtime. I wrote it about a year ago, when I was up at my college’s spring semester. The novel Playtime revolves around a 14-year-old boy named Hunter Brooks whose father is an inventor, and he creates a machine that can scan its surroundings and create a new dimension based off of what it scans. Trouble arises when Hunter’s little brother and sister get their hands on the machine and accidentally use it to scan their massive toy collection. Hunter finds himself inside a dimension where all of his siblings’ toys have came alive (think Jumanji meets The Lego Movie).

Like most of my novels, I’m hoping to get this one published one day. So I’m hoping that, when I have posted every chapter, you guys can give me feedback on the story that I have written. I’m only gonna upload one chapter at a time, since the message boards probably have some kind of character limit. (next post will be chapter 1).

Chapter 1

The future was not looking so bright for Hunter Brooks. It wasn’t even a month after he’d been released from jail, and he wasn’t doing very well in school. Up until the day he’d stolen from a store, he had been doing okay in life. But ever since he’d been arrested and put on trial, the downward hill had gotten steeper and steeper.

Hunter was fourteen years old, living in Georgia with his parents and two younger siblings. His father was a skilled inventor, and a successful one at that. He owned his own shop and had sold his inventions to dealers all over the state. Because of his success, the Brooks family lived in a nice house with two floors and a basement where Mr. Brooks housed his workshop.

Because of his background, you would think that Hunter would turn out to be a good kid. But you’d be wrong. When Hunter was little, his parents used to spoil him. They’d always buy him candy, or toys, or anything he asked for. But things changed when Hunter was eight. His mom had gave birth to twins, Isaac and Ellie. With the addition of two extra kids, Hunter’s parents had decided to cut back on the money-spending. They still tried to indulge their kids, but not as much as before.

Of course, the damage had been done. Hunter would often sulk when his parents refused to buy him that big Snickers bar on the grocery store shelf, and get jealous of his friends’ cool stuff. To compensate, Hunter’s parents taught Hunter to share with Isaac and Ellie. They managed to set aside at least some of their differences through sharing ice cream sundaes and playing video games together.

Even so, there were still falling-outs between Hunter and his siblings. They’d have disagreements, or get greedy and hog something to themselves, or just play pranks just to be mean. That’s what siblings do, after all.

But one day, when Hunter was thirteen, things went a little too far. Hunter and his family were at a gas station filling up their car’s gas when Isaac and Ellie demanded their mom to get them some chips. Their mom had caved, buying a bag of chips for both Isaac and Ellie. Hunter had asked for a bag of his own, but his mom had told him to just share with Isaac and Ellie.

Well, Hunter had asked his siblings to share, but they had refused to do it. Hunter pleaded, but his siblings ate their entire bags of chips. Hunter was really upset about that. He had dug a few coins out of his pocket and went back into the store. Unfortunately, the coins only added up to fifty-one cents, and a bag of chips cost a dollar.

That was Hunter’s breaking point. He had taken a bag of barbecue chips, stuffed it in his pocket, and smuggled it home. Hunter ate the bag of chips alone in his room, and he thought he’d beat it. But a couple days later, a policeman had showed up at the Brooks’ front door. Hunter had been caught on camera stealing the bag of chips from the store, and the cops were here for him.

To make a long story short, Hunter was sentenced to six months in jail. The six months extended through the remainder of the summer, past his fourteenth birthday, and well into his freshman year of high school. Before he went back to school, Hunter had had to take a bunch of classes to make up for the school time that he’d missed. He’d managed to pass those classes by some miracle, but he was seriously behind his new classmates in high school.

For all his time in jail, and even when he was released from jail, Hunter’s mind
was overshadowed in shame. He had replayed the gas station incident over and over in his head, and he had realized how stupid he had been to steal a bag of chips over such a stupid reason. Granted, Isaac and Ellie were in the wrong for not sharing with Hunter, but what Hunter had done was way worse. Now, because of his impulsive thinking, he had a criminal record that might prevent him from getting into a good college or business in the future. He was lucky his school had even accepted him back.

The only high points in Hunter’s life came with his father. He often brought
Hunter down to his workshop to help with his projects, which Hunter enjoyed. Through his hours with his dad, Hunter had gained skill with his hands and a basic knowledge of technology. And when he came home from jail, Hunter was surprised to find that he’d retained almost all of the skills he’d learned.

But even within Hunter’s family, there were still issues. His siblings Isaac and Ellie had an immense toy collection. Every Christmas and birthday, they would make big wishlists and end up getting half the stuff they wanted. By the time they were six, they had a big fire station, a plethora of stuffed animals, a fleet of space corps vehicles, a huge princess castle, and heaven knows what else. They spent hours upon hours playing with their toys and going on crazy adventures.

Ordinarily, Hunter wouldn’t have a problem with any of this. After all, he had passed down his old toys to Isaac and Ellie when he had outgrown them. But Isaac and Ellie would always demand Hunter to play with them, even when he would rather be doing anything else. Half the time, Hunter’s mom would make him play with his siblings.

The worst part? Whenever Hunter played with Isaac and Ellie, they hardly ever let him actually “play” with anything. Hunter would just end up sitting and watching while all the Mechanicle guys fought each other.

Mechanicle was a toyline full of action figures and playsets that was all the craze with kids nowadays. Isaac had gotten a couple action figures for his birthday right before Hunter went to jail, and then ended up getting a bunch of huge playsets. Then Isaac and Ellie had went on the computer and read up on the toys’ backstories. Now they were like walking encyclopedias for Mechanicle.

Even though he wasn’t into toys anymore, Hunter had curiously gone onto the Mechanicle website to see what the big deal was. But he couldn’t get himself into any of the lore. There were just so many story threads, and so many characters (some of which didn’t even have toys!), and so many weird concepts, it was ridiculous that all this was attached to a bunch of action figures. Hunter had seen Alabama family trees that were less complicated.

Needless to say, Hunter Brooks hated his life. He had two younger siblings bombarding him with Mechanicle crap, and everyone at school looking at him like he was a criminal, and grades that were dangerously close to failing. He didn’t see how anything could improve.

On the weekend that our story begins, Hunter was working with his dad on a new machine. Over the past year or so, Hunter’s dad had been experimenting on ways to teleport objects or people. He had succeeded in making an apple disappear and reappear on the other side of the room. But during his studies, Hunter’s dad had discovered the possibilities of creating new dimensions. He had made a deal with his company to perfect his teleportation machine by the end of the year, and had succeeded. It was 2005 now, and Hunter’s dad had gotten into creating new dimensions.

“There are old stories of wizards creating new dimensions to house dangerous monsters,” Hunter’s dad told him. “If they can do it, so can we!” He was very devoted to his work indeed. Whenever a new idea entered his head, Hunter’s dad would get to work on it as soon as he could and work on nothing else until he’d perfected his idea. This time was no exception.

Hunter and his dad had agreed to work together on the project on Friday the 14th, right after Hunter got home from school. Hunter got home, put his backpack away, and went downstairs to the basement where his dad’s workshop was. His father was already waiting for him.

“Welcome home, son,” Hunter’s dad said. “How was school?”

“Not great,” said Hunter. “I’ve got a math test next week, and I know I’m gonna flunk it.”

“You sure about that?” Hunter’s dad asked.

“Well, yeah,” I said. “I’ve been doing horribly in math lately. There’s no way I’m gonna pass that test.”

“Do you have a study guide?”

“Even if I did, it wouldn’t do any good,” said Hunter. “I’m just not doing good in school right now.”

“I don’t think that’s true,” Hunter’s dad said as he put on a pair of goggles. “Mom told me that your Homeroom teacher told her that you have a 2.7 GPA.”

“Will that really be enough to pass my first year, especially when I missed the first half of the year? Will I really get to my sophomore year, or even further?”

“I believe in you, son,” Hunter’s dad answered. “I’m sure you’ll make it through high school, and into college-”

“Not college,” Hunter said. “I’ve got jailtime on my record. That won’t-”

“-put off every college,” his dad finished for him. “You don’t have to graduate Harvard or Yale to be successful in life. And even if you don’t get a college degree, I can get you a job in my business.”

Hunter didn’t respond. As much as he enjoyed building stuff with his dad, he didn’t see himself doing that for the next fifty years. He’d rather become a repairman or a mapmaker, but he knew he’d never get that opportunity. All because he’d stolen a chip bag of all things.

Hunter and his dad didn’t talk much as they worked on the machine. They were designing it with the idea that the machine would scan its surroundings and use them as a template of sorts for creating a new dimension. Hunter’s dad had tried a machine that could make a dimension from nothing, but to no avail. His new theory was that the machine would need material to work with for creating a new world.

Hunter and his dad spent several hours crafting the pieces and assembling the machine. By the time they were done, the machine was about the size of a couch cushion. It had a control panel on the side and a portal rim that unfolded from the top. When unfolded, the circular portal rim would have a three-foot diameter. It would scan its surroundings, then power up a world generator in its computer.

“Well, Hunter, I think we did a good job,” Hunter’s dad said when they had finished the machine.

“Will it work?”

“It should,” Hunter’s dad answered. “We can test it in the morning.”

“Why not right now?”

“Because Mom’s probably finished making dinner by now. And I’ve got a work meeting tonight.”

“I am getting hungry,” Hunter admitted.

The Brooks family had chicken noodle soup for dinner. While they ate, Isaac and Ellie were talking nonstop about-you guessed it-Mechanicle. Isaac was bragging about how he’d played some online game and got to a new level, but everything was going in one ear and out the other with Hunter.

“Hey Hunter!” Ellie asked.

“What?” Hunter replied.

“We want you to play with us tomorrow!”

“No way.”

“Please? Tomorrow’s Saturday, and we’re gonna play all day.”

“Hard pass,” said Hunter.

“But we’ve hidden the six keystones in the T-Rex mountain and in the city bank and Princess Ariana’s castle and the race trophy and-” Isaac started.

“I said no,” said Hunter.

“We’re gonna go on a big adventure to find the keystones so the Elemental Masters can activate the portal to get back to the Great Creators-”

“N-O, spells no!” Hunter interrupted. “Seriously, how did you two make it to the first grade?”

“Hunter, be nice,” Hunter’s mom said. “You should really play with your brother and sister.”

“I don’t want to.”

“Well, then, you can spend all day doing homework tomorrow,” his mom said. “It’ll probably help you with school.”

Hunter cringed. “I hate homework,” he said.

“It’ll help you with your grades,” his mom reminded him. “Like we’ve talked about several times, you won’t get far in life if you drop out of high school.”

“What if I end up dropping out of high school anyway?” Hunter asked. “Ralph Feldstein says that seventy percent of kids who commit crimes end up dropping out of high school and then live in their parents’ basement when they’re thirty.”

“That kid’s full of baloney,” Hunter’s mom scoffed. “Even if he was right, there’s a chance you’re part of the thirty percent of kids who still go on to be successful.”

“But what’s the point?” Hunter asked. “What’s the meaning of life? We’re all gonna die anyway, so-”

Hunter’s mom put down her fork. “Hunter, I really think we need to get you to a therapist.”

Hunter threw up his hands. “Yeah, maybe we do!”

“Tell you what,” Hunter’s mom said. “I’ll call a therapist after dinner, and see when we can set up a meeting.”

“Sure,” Hunter mumbled. But internally, he didn’t see how a therapist could help him work things out.

End of Chapter 1…

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Chapter 2

The next morning, Isaac slept in late. Usually, he’d wake up early to see what the cartoon channels had in store, but for some reason his body had decided to stay asleep till 7:00. He probably would’ve slept even later, but then Ellie shook him awake. “Wake up, wake up!” she said.

“What do you want?” Isaac mumbled.

“I found something in Dad’s workshop!” Ellie said as she pulled something to the side of the bottom bunk where Isaac slept (Ellie slept on the top bunk).

“You what?” Isaac asked as he sat up.

“I woke up and was bored with watching TV, so I went down into Dad’s workshop,” Ellie explained. “And I found this!”

Isaac looked at the thing Ellie had brought back up. It was as big as a couch cushion and made entirely out of metal. There was a computer interface on the side of it. “Whoa,” said Isaac. “What is that?”

“I think it’s some kind of computer,” said Ellie.

Isaac got out of bed and lifted the machine to get a better look. “This is heavy,” he said.

“I know,” his sister replied. “If you’re wondering how I got it up the stairs, so am I.”

“What does this do?” Isaac asked as he pressed a button on the computer interface. Instantly, something unfolded from the top of the machine. Isaac and Ellie watched as two arcs of metal unfolded and curved above the machine. The two arcs formed at the top, making a circle wide enough to ride a tricycle through.

“Whoa!” Isaac exclaimed. “What’s that supposed to do?”

“We should ask Dad,” said Ellie.

“Is he awake yet?” Isaac asked.

“No,” said Ellie.

“Well, let’s go get breakfast,” said Isaac.

“I already ate,” said Ellie.

“Of course you have,” said Isaac. He and his sister went downstairs, leaving the machine sitting in their room, among the many toys they had set up on the floor ready for their big adventure.


Hunter woke up just a few minutes later. He was considerably grumpier than he was on most Saturdays, because he knew that his siblings would be begging him to play with him, and his mom would make him do it (“What else are you gonna do?”). Heck, they’d probably be in his room within half an hour, ready to wake him up for their big playtime. Hunter might as well get out of bed now, because there was no way he’d get out of playing with his siblings.

As Hunter walked down the hall, he went by Isaac and Ellie’s room. They had left their door wide open, offering a full view of the stuff strewn about their floor. There was that big Mechanicle village, and that princess castle, and that colony of dinosaurs and cavemen, and that big metal circle-

Wait a minute. Big metal circle? Hunter looked again, and he was surprised to see his dad’s machine set up in the kids’ room. The main computer interface was set right beside the Mechanicle villagers’ city, and the portal ring was expanded to its full extent.

“Isaac! Ellie! What are you doing with Dad’s machine?” Hunter called. But of course his siblings didn’t hear him, because they were probably watching TV. Shaking his head in frustration, Hunter went into their room to get the machine. He knelt down to look at the control panel. The buttons weren’t labeled, but Hunter was sure he remembered which button did what. His dad had had a diagram of what each button was supposed to do, which Hunter had looked at while helping to wire the circuitry.

But the button knowledge seemed to have leeched away from Hunter’s brain. Even though he’d spent hours down there with his dad, the machine’s control panel was now obsolete. He pressed what he was pretty sure was the button to open/close the portal rim, but nothing happened. He pressed another button, but nothing happened.

“Now look what you did,” Hunter grumbled. He pressed a third button, but this one had a different effect. When Hunter pressed this button, a camera eye popped up out of the machine and extended two feet high. The camera pivoted around the room and cast a blue light on everything; the walls, the furniture, and the toys littering the floor. The machine cast a humming noise as the camera retracted.

“Oh no,” said Hunter. He frantically pressed several more buttons, trying to turn off the machine. But he just made things worse; the machine’s portal rim began to vibrate and glow blue. A pulsating blue vortex appeared in the middle of the portal rim. Hunter pressed one more button, hoping that this would turn off the darn machine. But it
didn’t.

By this point, Hunter was panicking. Had he damaged the machine in some way? If he had, then his father would be furious. They had spent all that time making the machine, and now it was broken. And if Isaac and Ellie hadn’t stolen the machine in the first place, then this wouldn’t have happened.

And yet, there was something about that vortex that compelled Hunter to touch it. It was so bright, so pulsing, Hunter just couldn’t look away. The effect was almost hypnotic, causing Hunter to reach out his hand and touch that vortex…

“Touch” isn’t really the right word. Since the vortex wasn’t made out of solid matter, Hunter couldn’t physically touch it. But when his hand came into contact with the portal, it started to prickle all over. As Hunter watched, his fingers started to dissolve into colorless dust particles that swirled into the vortex. Shocked, Hunter tried to withdraw his arm. But it was too late; the vortex drew Hunter’s arm, and then his whole body, into it. The prickling sensation spread over every inch of Hunter’s body, until it felt like his whole body was “asleep.” As the dissolving spread to his head, Hunter began to feel faint. The last thing he remembered before fading into nothingness was trying to call for help, and his voice failing him.


After what felt like an eternity, Hunter finally woke up. He found himself lying on a hard stone surface, with voices echoing in his ears. He blinked his eyes and looked around. He was lying in a street in the middle of some kind of city. But it was no ordinary city; the buildings were tall and alien, and there were no sidewalks, traffic lights, or even lines painted on the road. Instead, there were chutes going all around the buildings and dipping down to the road every once in a while. It all looked like something out of a science fiction movie.

But the strangest things were the beings standing around looking at Hunter. They were all about four feet high, with hard metal bodies and robotic joints. They looked like robots, but there was something about them that felt organic. Their body movements were smooth and natural, and there was something about their faces that seemed almost…human. They wore masks of varying shapes and colors, but the masks had holes in them for eyes and mouths. Through the holes, Hunter could see organic-looking faces. The eyes still looked like points of light, but they widened and dilated like human’s eyes did. And their mouths looked anything but robotic.

“Who is this?” one of them asked.

“Is it a human, from the other city?” another asked.

“It can’t be,” said a third. “He seems different.”

“Okay,” Hunter said, standing up. “Who are all of you?”

“We’re the villagers living in the city of Voyo,” said a being that wore an purple hexagonal mask with extra holes in its cheeks and forehead. “And you are…”

“Hunter. Hunter Brooks,” said Hunter. “And did you say I’m in the city of Voyo?”

“Yes, you are,” said another being. This one’s mack was orangish-yellow, with a mouth opening that was much bigger than his actual mouth. The result was that he always looked like he was smiling creepily. “The first city to ever be built by our forefathers.”

Voyo…why did that sound so familiar? For that matter, the beings surrounding Hunter reminded him something, but he wasn’t sure what. All he was sure of was that that machine had created a new dimension, and now Hunter was in it. He had to find a way out.

“Do…do you…have you guys seen a portal anywhere?” Hunter asked.

“Portal?”

“There was a portal, when the Great Creators sent the Elemental Masters to save us from the Shadow cultists,” the purple-masked villager answered. “But it’s deactivated since the six keystones powering it have been lost.”

“What-where is the portal?” Hunter asked.

“It’s just a few streets away,” said a villager who wore a blue mask. “We can take you there.”

“Please do,” said Hunter.

The villagers eagerly led him down the streets and around several corners. As they walked, Hunter saw some more of the buildings lining the streets. And strangely, these looked familiar as well. There was something about those spires, and the way those doors were shaped…where had Hunter seen those before?

After a few streets, they came to a center square. In the middle of the plaza was a large pedestal with a large, round portal rim on top of it. It looked kind of like the portal rim on Hunter’s father’s machine, but it was constructed with a completely different style. It had little grooves in the sides that made its pieces look like pistons, and at the top were sculptures of twelve humanoid figures, all united and looking down at whoever stood before them.

“Is that the portal?” Hunter asked.

“It is,” said the orange-masked villager. “The portal where the Elemental Masters came to save our city.”

“Save your city?” Hunter asked. “From who?”

“Why, from Tenebris and his followers, of course,” said the villager.

Suddenly, everything clicked. Not just the designs of everything around Hunter, but the names and phrases he was hearing. Elemental Masters. Tenebris. Great Creators. These were all from Mechanicle. Somehow, Hunter had been sucked into the world of Mechanicle. “This…this is bad,” he said.

“What’s bad?” the purple-masked villager asked. “The Elemental Masters already defeated Tenebris and his organization of Shadow cultists.”

“Shadow cultists-what?” Hunter asked.

The villagers all exchanged glances. “I think we’d better take you to Turan.”

End of chapter 2…

Dear thewimpykid,

My colleagues and I have just finished a reading of the first chapter from your debut novel “Playtime”. We have come to the conclusion that it is really quite flawed. The main complaint we had was the consumption of soup with a fork as seen here and here:[quote=“thewimpykid, post:2, topic:50934”]
The Brooks family had chicken noodle soup for dinner.
[/quote]

As you might be aware, soup, especially that of the “Chicken Noodle” variety, is typically liquidus. One typically consumes this type of food with the utensil known as a spoon. However, your characters do not. We are quite concerned your characters will become malnourished by not consuming soup with the proper tools.

In addition, my colleagues and I are also very concerned that a 13-year-old spent 6 months in prison, for shoplifting a bag of chips worth approximately $1.00 USD plus tax. It would have been much more believable if he spent 11.78 years in prison instead.

We also found that the tenses were quite hard to follow, as the narrative swapped from first to third-person narration multiple times, as seen here:

We look forward to reading the next chapter, and hope you do not publish this work in it’s current form.

Sincerely yours,

  • The Conglomerate

P.S We do not believe you are in college.

4 Likes

Well, interesting feedback.

This is actually not my debut novel. I wrote a whole bunch of novels before this one.

I’m a little unclear what you mean by this. Are you meaning to say “colleagues?” Because if actual colleges are reading this…then wow.

My bad. Thanks for pointing out these inconsistencies.

My goal with this setup was for the main character to do something that wasn’t a huge felony (such as killing a person or vandalizing private property) but bad enough that he’d have reason to worry. However, you seem to be suggesting that I made a factual error in what his punishment would be. Granted, a 13-year-old spending 11.78 years in prison for shoplifting doesn’t seem that believable to me, but you clearly know more about this matter than I do, so I’m not gonna argue.

1.) I never said I will publish this novel in its current form. Part of the reason I’m posting it on here is to get feedback, which you have given me. To that end, I thank you.

2.) Chapter 2 was already posted. I don’t know if you read it, but…it’s there, and the next chapter will come soon. What intrigues me, however, is that in your opening paragraph, you said the first chapter was quite flawed, and towards the end, you tell me you look forward to the next chapter. I will not complain, because if you’re looking forward to the next chapter, then that’s a good sign.

Why is that? Is it because of the typos you observed in my writing? Because I am telling the truth when I say I’m in college.

Nonetheless, thanks for giving me feedback. Since you seem to enjoy combing over my work, I’ll get the subsequent chapters out soon.

Nah, he’d spend at most up to 2 months in jail for petty larceny, that as well as a $500 fine.

1 Like

Two months in jail and a $500 fine for shoplifting. I was pretty uncertain about that when I was writing this novel. THNX for clearing that up.

Chapter 3

The orange-masked and purple-masked villagers led Hunter down the street, past the portal pedestal, and toward a smaller, more hut-like building where Turan lived. The orange-masked villager introduced himself as Hewlie, and the purple-masked villager introduced himself as Nutara.

“Who is this Turan?” Hunter asked.

“He’s the oldest of us villagers,” said Hewlie. “He serves as our village elder.”

“Your village elder? But this is a city,” said Hunter.

“Voyo wasn’t always a city,” said Hewlie. “It started out as a village, where Turan was in charge in his younger days. But in the years since, it’s been built into a much bigger city.”

Hunter, Hewlie, and Nutara were only a few houses away from Turan’s hut when it happened. Out of the corner of his eye, Hunter saw something move in an alley to his right. He looked at the spot where he had seen the movement, but nothing was there.

“Uh…are you sure that that Tenebris guy is gone?” Hunter asked.

“Of course,” said Nutara.

“Right…” Hunter said, not entirely convinced. He’d endured hours of playtime with Isaac and Ellie, and he knew that there were other bad guys in Mechanicle besides Tenebris. Sure, some of them might have been Tenebris’ servants or allies or whatever, but Hunter’s knowledge was limited.

Suddenly, someone or something jumped out from the alley on the left. It moved so fast, Hunter couldn’t make out its shape until it had landed on its feet and was walking toward him. It was ten feet tall, with four scorpion-like legs and a humanoid upper half. It carried two knives in its hands, each shaped like a crab’s claw. Weirdest of all was its head. It had a vaguely humanoid face, with slit-like yellow eyes and a devious sneer. But its forehead and skull extended into a crest-like extension that extended backward. There were two protrusions from the base of the skull that curved around the head, ending in points that made them look like some kind of insect’s pincers. The figure was made of a material that certainly wasn’t flesh and blood, but it moved naturally like the villagers did.

“Well, well, well,” said the four-legged being in a hard, cold voice. “Now who might this be?”

“I’m Hunter,” said Hunter.

“Hunter, you say?” asked a deeper voice. Everyone looked to see a tall, hulking brute coming out of the shadows where Hunter had seen movement before. This one was much more humanoid than the four-legged being, with two thick legs and an upper half that was so huge, it was a wonder he didn’t topple over. He had two arms that…well, “beefy” doesn’t seem to be the right word, as this was a mechanical-but-not-mechanical being like the rest of them. His fists were big enough to crush human skulls, and he had a chunky head that looked like a metal chunk slapped onto his body. His face was elongated to look like a wolf’s, and there was a red monocle covering his right eye.

“Yes, that’s my name,” said Hunter. “Who are you?”

“Hunter, these are bad guys,” Hewlie whispered. “You don’t want to mess with them!”

“My name is Brict,” said the hulking brute. “And this is my partner Septra,” he added, indicating the four-legged being.

“But that is not our main concern,” Septra said, regarding Hunter the way a mob boss would regard a con artist who had swindled him. “Where are you from, and what are you doing here?”

“I-I came here by accident,” said Hunter. “It was my dad’s machine that malfunctioned, and then I woke up in the middle of the street-”

“So you’re the Outsider,” said Septra.

Brict’s jaw dropped. “The-the Outsider? No, he can’t be.”

Nutara nervously cleared his throat. “Uh, yes he can…can’t he?”

“Yeah, you could say that I’m an outsider,” said Hunter. “I’m not from here, and I have no business here. So if you’ll excuse me, I need to go find a way home.”

Hunter started to walk away, but Septra stuck out one of his feet and tripped Hunter. “You’re not going anywhere,” Brict said as he picked up Hunter by his right shoulder and lifted him into the air. “You are-”

“Let him go!” shouted a voice from across the street. All heads turned to see four figures coming their way. Three of them were the size of normal humans, with strongly built body frames and different colored armour. All three of them carried their own unique weapon. The fourth was the size of a regular villager, with a walking staff and a frail form.

“The Elemental Masters,” Septra cursed.

“This kid belongs to us!” Brict shouted.

“No, he does not,” said the tallest of the three beings. This one wore red armor and carried a sword whose blade was shaped like a giant flame. His red mask had a furrowed brow carved into it, but everything below that acted like liquid metal. It was as if the mask and face were one.

Septra’s eyes narrowed. “And what business do you have with him?”

“More business that you do,” said the red warrior. He stood before Septra and pointed his sword at the monster.

Septra took a step back. He eyed the red warrior with hate, but in his eyes, there was a trace of fear. “Brict, let the boy go.”

“But-”

“Just do it.”

Brict pursed his metallic lips and, literally, let Hunter go. Hunter fell in a heap onto the ground. “But don’t think we won’t be back, boy,” Brict added as he and Septra retreated back into the alleyways.

“Who were those guys?” Hunter asked.

“Septra and Brict are a pair of thugs living in Voyo,” said the second tall warrior as he helped Hunter to his feet. This one had green armour, and he carried a large, battle axe-like hatchet. His green face had a cocky yet amiable expression. “They make trouble wherever they go.”

“Well, thanks for saving me,” said Hunter.

The third warrior, whose armor was bright yellow and whose mask/helmet was shaped like a ball of energy, cracked his knuckles. “It was no sweat. Even those two know better than to pick a fight with Elemental Masters.” To prove his point, he unfolded his hands, which were actually large pincer-like claws.

“So…you’re the Elemental Masters?”

“Yes, we are,” said the red warrior. “My name is Pyras, master of fire. “This is Aeras, master of air, and Electras, master of-”

“Electricity,” Hunter finished. He had heard those names more times that he would’ve liked, thanks to Isaac and Ellie. It’s one of the basics of having siblings that were obsessed with something-you know all the basics of said something whether you want to or not.

The shorter, elderly villager stepped up to Hunter. “Ah, I see you are the Outsider,” he said.

“You’re Turan,” Hunter guessed.

“Indeed I am,” said Turan. His mask was crimson and egg-shaped, with grooves in the sides to represent facial wrinkles. He wore a smooth brown robe over his metal body, and he walked with a thick wooden walking stick. “And it seems that what the Great Creators have told me is true.”

“Let me guess-the Great Creators are your gods?” Hunter asked.

“They are indeed,” said Turan. “And it seems that you are the Outsider that they told me of.”

“The Outsider? What are you talking about?” Hunter asked. “I’m just a kid whose dad’s invention went wrong.”

Aeras looked at Hunter quizzically. “Your dad’s invention?”

“Perhaps it would help if you would explain where you were from,” Pyras suggested.

“I just did,” said Hunter. “Kind of. My dad made a machine that can create new dimensions by scanning its surroundings and using those surroundings to write a template for the new dimension. And then my brother and sister took the machine into their room and left it there. And I just woke up, like, fifteen minutes ago, and then I saw what they did and tried to take the machine back down. But then I accidentally activated it, and it scanned all around…” Suddenly, Hunter realized what must have happened. “Oh no,” he said.

“Oh no what?” Electras asked.

“Isaac and Ellie had their toys all over the floor,” said Hunter. “Their Mechanicle stuff, and their dinosaurs, and their castles…the machine must have scanned them and created a dimension where those toys are alive!”

Pyras, Aeras, Electras, Turan, Hewlie, and Nutara exchanged glances. “I’m sorry, what are you talking about?”

Hunter took a deep breath. “I know this may sound crazy, but you’re all toys.”

“Toys? No, we are biomechanical beings created by the Great Creators to inhabit this world,” said Hewlie.

So this is how Woody felt when he was talking to Buzz Lightyear, Hunter thought. “Well, I mean, maybe in this dimension, you’re probably real robot beings that were-”

“We are biomechanical beings, not robots,” said Turan.

“What does ‘biomechanical’ even mean?” Hunter asked.

“It means that we’re metal-based life forms,” said Pyras. “Though we do have traces of organic substances, the Great Creators made us out of metal and similar substances. By definition, we are living things-just made out of different materials that others are.”

“I guess that makes sense,” said Hunter. “But in my world, you’re a bunch of action figures. And your city is a big playset with buildings and vehicles and stuff.”

More glances were exchanged. “When did you say you created this ‘alternate dimension?’” Aeras asked.

“I dunno. Twenty minutes ago?” Hunter guessed.

Pyras shook his head. “Time must move differently in your world. My brothers and sisters and I were created centuries ago.”

Hunter sucked in one cheek. “Well, maybe you guys were downloaded with knowledge of your backstories, or something,” he said. “Like Buzz Lightyear.”

“Who’s Buzz Lightyear?” Nutara asked.

“Never mind,” Hunter said as another thought came to him. “Do you guys know any people that aren’t from Mechanicle? Like, policemen, or princesses, or-”

“We’ve been to a handful of cities beyond Voyo,” said Pyras. “We’ve met various peoples who have…interesting customs.”

“Like what?”

“Racing cars, and living in big pink castles,” said Pyras. “And attempting to tame dinosaurs.”

So the Mechanicle toys weren’t the only toys that the machine scanned. It must have gotten all of Isaac’s and Ellie’s other toys as well. “Well, I need to get out of here,” said Hunter. “How did you say I showed up here?”

“There was a bright light above that one street,” said Hewlie, “And then a bunch of dust particles swirled into existence and joined together to form you.”

“So…there wasn’t a portal of any kind,” said Hunter.

“Nope,” said Hewlie. “You saw that we had to walk a ways to find the Elemental Masters’ portal.”

“Great,” Hunter grumbled. “How am I gonna get home now?”

“Oh, but you can’t leave yet!” said Turan. “If you’re the Outsider, then you’re the one who’s gonna help us defeat the ultimate evil!”

“Whoa, whoa, whoa,” said Hunter. “Didn’t you say you already defeated this Tenebris character?”

“Yes, we did,” said Pyras. “Just weeks ago, in fact.”

“Then you must’ve already defeated the ultimate evil,” said Hunter. “Why would you even need me?”

“We do not know that yet,” said Turan. “But we will surely know soon.”

Hunter did his best to hold his temper. This conversation was going absolutely nowhere. “Look, are you going to help me, or not?”

“Of course we will help you,” siad Pyras. “One of the tasks the Great Creators entrusted us with was guiding the Outsider and helping him succeed in his goal.”

“Well, I’m sorry, but I have no idea what any of this Mechanicle nonsense is,” said Hunter. “If you could explain it to me, then that would be nice.”

Turan nodded. “Yes, I think we should,” he said. “Send for the other Elemental Masters,” he told Pyras, Aeras, and Electras. “I think this boy needs a full orientation.”

End of chapter 3. And P. S, thanks for the feedback you’ve been giving me so far.

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Chapter 4

Hunter was taken back to the city square, where Turan and all of the Elemental Masters gathered. Hunter had already seen three Elemental Masters, but there were some he hadn’t met. As he was escorted into the city square, Hunter saw three more Elemental Masters coming to see the Outsider. Hunter vaguely recognized their body shapes and colors from his playtimes with Isaac and Ellie, and he had a rough idea of which colored heroes had which powers. He was sure the blue one was water, the white one was ice, and the black one was earth.

“Elemental Masters, I present to you the Outsider,” Turan said, indicating Hunter.

“So this is him,” said the blue Elemental Master. She had a female voice, a smooth, graceful body, and two short axes for weapons. “The one that you said would come.”

“My name’s Hunter,” said Hunter. “What are all your names?”

“I am Hydras,” said the blue Elemental Master.

“I am the master of earth, Terras,” said the black Elemental Master. His mask, unlike the others, was harder-edged and had cold blue eyes. He carried two drill weapons that looked like giant screws, with their sharp ends and helical ridges spiraling from the tip to the rim.

“And I, Glacias, am the master of ice,” said the white Elemental Master. Like his fellow Elemental Masters, his face moved like it was made of liquid metal. But, unlike the others, he had a permanent scowl. This, along with his mask having a permanently furrowed brow, gave him a very aloof presence. He carried a double-bladed sword and a round shield.

“Right then,” said Pyras. “Now that we’re finished with our introductions, Hunter, would you please share with us what little you know of our history?”

Hunter cleared his throat. “Well, I know that you guys are always fighting bad guys, like that guy Tenebris,” he said. “I’ve heard some stuff from my brother and sister, and it sounds like Tenebris wants to destroy Voyo to honor a god, or something?”

“You aren’t far off,” said Pyras. “You see, when the world was new, there were two primordial deities that embodied the two primary elements-light and shadow. In fact, those were their names-Light and Shadow. For centuries, they lived in harmony and watched as the Great Creators created the world and all of the beings who inhabit it.”

“Great Creators…I guess those are pretty self-explanatory,” said Hunter.

“They are,” Pyras continued. “But after a while, Light and Shadow began to have…disputes.”

“They both started to take on pride, and greed,” said Hydras. “They knew they were superior to everyone and everything in the universe, since they were primordial beings. They were already recognized as such, but they wanted to rule the world themselves. They felt that they deserved it, since they were older than anyone-even the Great Creators.”

“But there was a problem,” said Turan. “Light thought he should be the sole ruler, and Shadow saw himself as more fit. This led to them fighting, and shaking the balance of the universe. You see, the universe’s existence depends on balance between light and shadow. If Light or Shadow killed one another, it would tip the balance too far and cause the universe to unravel itself.”

“So the Great Creators were forced to put both Light and Shadow in an unending sleep,” said Pyras. “That way, they would still exist and allow the forces of light and shadow to exist in harmony, but there would be no more conflicts between them.”

“For a while, the problem was solved,” said Terras. “But here, in our world, there were still people who worshipped Light and Shadow as gods. They would make sacrifices, pay tribute to Light and Shadow. But there was one cult who took it too far.”

“Tenebris,” Hunter guessed.

“Yes,” said Pyras. “Tenebris, along with his ally Prohahka, discovered ancient runes telling of Shadow’s and Light’s desires to rule the world themselves. They then led their organization of Shadow worshippers in a quest to conquer the world in Shadow’s name.”

“Were there not any Light worshippers?” Hunter asked.

“There were,” said Pyras. “They were led by Claritas, a shapeshifter like Tenebris. They opposed Tenebris’ cult when it tried to take over the world, though they weren’t a very effective force.”

“Those were dark days,” said Turan. “You never knew who was secretly a follower of Tenebris, or Prohahka, or both. They were plundering every village in sight, murdering innocent lives, laying claim to priceless artifacts. We had to fortify the city of Voyo, as it was Tenebris’ biggest target.”

“Right around that time was when the Great Creators sent us to Voyo,” said Glacias. “Us Elemental Masters had been created for this very purpose-to protect innocent lives from any evils that might exist in this world.”

“Claritas was more than happy to team up with us,” said Hydras. “We were starting to gain an edge in the war when Tenebris and Prohahka created the Rahrok.”

“Rahrok…I remember Isaac and Ellie talking about them,” said Hunter. “Aren’t they those big, spiked, worm-headed people with the jaws and staffs?”

“They were,” said Terras. “There were six of them, and they had elemental powers of their own. But, worst of all, each of them had control over two elements. Pyrok controlled fire and time, Attrok controlled both electricity and magnetism, and Turrok controlled both earth and metals. Those are just a few examples.”

“Tenebris is lucky he had them on his side,” said Aeras. “Those things went right up to Claritas and tore her from limb to limb.”

“So how did you defeat them?” Hunter asked.

“There was a heroic villager,” said Pyras. “He went by the name of Tathai. He was unexpectedly bestowed powers of light, and he came and helped us destroy the last of the Rahrok.”

“And, later, he went with us to defeat Tenebris,” said Hydras. “It was him, Pyras, Terras, and I versus Tenebris in his underground lair. Tathai pinned Tenebris down while the rest of us brought down the cave’s ceiling. We made it out, but Tathai and Tenebris were both buried under a ton of rock.”

“Tenebris was never seen again,” said Pyras. “Once his followers had heard that their leader had been killed, they disbanded. Some tried to keep fighting, but they were no match for us Elemental Masters.”

“So…Tenebris is dead,” said Hunter.

“We are sure that he is,” said Aeras. “Granted, he was not easy to kill. Tenebris in his natural form was a cloud of energy, capable of forming its own body or possessing one. He had been in a body of his own when he was killed.”

“We were wary, those first few days after his defeat,” said Pyras. “But as time has gone by, we have had less and less doubt that Tenebris is dead. If he were still alive, he would surely have shown his face by now.”

“Okay,” said Hunter. “Tenebris, bad, and dead. Elemental Masters, good. Light and Shadow-asleep and unable to cause any damage.”

Pyras nodded. “Precisely.”

Turan cleared his throat. “Except, we are unsure where you fit in.”

“Is this where you explain that ‘Outsider’ thing?”

“It is,” said Turan. “You see, some years ago, I was communing with the Great Creators, and they told me that in the future, a being known as the Outsider, someone from a different world entirely, would one day come and save us from the ultimate evil. They said that it would be someone who was not an Elemental Master, nor a being of their own creation. And I have reason to believe that that someone is you.”

“What makes you think that?”

“Well, after the war with Tenebris, I didn’t see what could possibly be worse. I prayed to the Great Creators once more, asking when their prophecy would come true. They told me that it was very near, and that the Outsider would come to our city in three days’ time.” Turan looked Hunter square in the eye. “This conversation occurred three days ago.”

“Uh…no,” said Hunter. “I’m not the Chosen One or whoever. I’m just a kid, and not a very gifted kid at that.”

“Oh?”

“Yes,” said Hunter. He hesitated before saying, “I’ve never done anything great, or won any awards. I’m just…not cut out for anything great.”

“Electras expressed similar self-doubts to me, right before he single-handedly won a critical battle against Tenebris,” said Pyras.

“That’s not-I just…” Hunter couldn’t think of anything to say. “I don’t know if I can be anything.”

“Of course you can,” said Aeras. “You just have to believe in yourself.”

“Well, what are you guys gonna do?” Hunter asked. “Start teaching me to fight or something?”

“That would be a wise course of action,” said Turan. “Of course, assuming you are up for it.”

“No, I’m not,” said Hunter. “I can’t be the Outsider. I have to get back to my world.”

“Well, so do we,” said Terras. “The Great Creators told us that we could only return to them when we had fulfilled our mission. And our mission wasn’t just to save the people of Voyo. We were also told that we had to guide the Outsider and help him fulfill his destiny.”

Hunter sighed. There was no changing these people’s minds. “Well, is there anything more you have to say?”

“No,” said Hydras.

“Then I’ll just be going,” said Hunter.

“To where?”

“Just-just to look around,” said Hunter.

Pyras nodded. “I understand. I remember when the Great Creators first created me and gave me life. A mission like yours is a lot to process.”


Hunter walked the streets of Voyo, looking around the weird, stylized buildings and villagers walking about the streets. He wasn’t sure why the machine had added all of this to the dimension. Isaac and Ellie were spoiled, sure, but even they didn’t have a whole city’s worth of Mechanicle buildings, or a villager population this large. Maybe the machine had cloned the things it had scanned, so that the city would be at its full size.

Before long, Hunter came to a tall, fortified wall. It was twenty feet in height, with ladders on the sides that led to the ramparts. Curiously, Hunter climbed up the nearest ladder and got to the top. The defending wall was high enough that it gave Hunter a good view of the surrounding countryside. He could see the sun rising in the sky, giving him an idea of which ways were north, south, east, and west. Right now, Hunter was facing to the east.

Looking out over the parapet, Hunter could see what lay beyond Voyo. About five miles away from Voyo was another town. Only this one was much more normal. Hunter could make out houses that resembled the ones from the real world, along with what was unmistakably Isaac’s fire station.

Just north of the normal city was a forest of lush green trees. The trees were glowing with magic sparkles, and in the middle of the forest, the spires of a pink castle were visible. Judging by the conical spires, hot pink bricks, and rainbow flags waving from the tallest spire, it was clear that that was a princess castle.

Even farther to the east, beyond the forest and the castle, was a desert landscape. There wasn’t much to see there, really. Just a handful of cacti and miles of sand. A much more interesting sight was down south, where there was a long range of mountains. The mountains were tall and imposing, and some of them had snow covering the tops. But in the middle of the mountain range was a patch of dark storm clouds, hovering over a valley from which a red glow was emanulating.

“Enjoying the view?” Hunter looked to see Pyras standing there, looking out at the countryside himself.

“You could say that,” said Hunter. “Have you ever been outside Voyo?”

“Of course we have,” said Pyras. “Tenebris wasn’t interested in just attacking our city, you know.”

“He sure wasn’t,” said Hunter. “My brother and sister-they like to have their Mechanicle toys attack their other toys.”

“Well, we did have allies in other places,” said Pyras. “As did Tenebris.”

“Those guys that tried to capture me earlier-were they in league with Tenebris?”

“You mean Septra and Brict? No, they weren’t. They never worshipped Shadow or Light, so they held no sympathy for either side. In fact, they mostly kept away from our conflict.”

Hunter looked back at the mountain range, where he could see that stormy red area. “This ultimate evil…what is it?”

“We’ll likely know when the time comes,” said Pyras. “Are you worried?”

“Yes,” Hunter admitted.

Pyras nodded. “I understand. There were times when I felt discouraged when we were fighting Tenebris. I was tempted to surrender to his forces. But I had my teammates there to encourage me. I had a responsibility as their leader, and I couldn’t show my fear. My teammates helped me accomplish my goal.”

“What are you trying to tell me?”

“I’m trying to tell you that you won’t be alone in this,” said Pyras. “Us Elemental Masters were tasked with assisting the Outsider, and we will do so.”

Hunter sighed. He’d had quite enough of arguing about this Outsider business. Suddenly, another thought occurred to him. “Well, what about those keystones?” Hunter asked. “Didn’t you say they powered up the portal to the Great Creators?”

“They do,” said Pyras. “The portal gives us access to the Great Creators’ realm, but it will not operate without the keystones.”

“Are we gonna have to find them?”

“My brethren and I will, eventually,” said Pyras. “Why?”

“Because my brother and my sister were talking about it,” said Hunter. “They said something about needing them to get back to the Great Creators.”

“Did they, now?”

“Yeah, they wanted me to play with them and have a big adventure where you’d find all the keystones.”

“A big adventure, you say?” said Pyras.

“Yes,” said Hunter. “They had hidden all the keystones in their other playsets, so that you could find them.”

Pyras frowned. “In our world, the keystones are missing because Tenebris stole them. And when his cult disbanded, the members took the keystones with them. Up until now, we weren’t sure where the keystones went.”

“What do you mean, ‘until now?’ Do you think I know where all the keystones are?”

“Not really. But do you?”

“Well, Isaac and Ellie were talking about some of the places where they put the keystones,” said Hunter. “But I don’t remember all of them.”

Pyras started to say something, then stopped. “It slipped my mind,” he muttered.

“What did?”

“Just last night, the Great Creators came to Turan in a dream and told him where we would find the keystones,” said Pyras. “He was telling Aeras, and Electras, and I about his communion with the Great Creators earlier this morning. He would’ve told us more, but then we saw you being assaulted by Septra and Brict.”

“So…he knows where they are?”

“Apparently so.”

“We’d better ask him, then,” said Hunter.

“Good idea,” said Pyras.

By the time they got back to Turan’s hut, Hydras, Terras, Aeras, Glacias, and Electras were already there with the village elder. The six of them were gathered around Turan’s table, where he had drawn a map on a sheet of parchment. “You’re just in time,” said Turan. “I have drawn a map of where the six keystones are hidden.”

Hunter looked at the parchment map. He could see Voyo drawn and labeled on the eastern side of the map, while everything else he’d seen from the defending wall was also on the map. Also, there was an ocean taking up a good chunk of the northern side of the map.

“I’ve marked every place on this map where the keystones are hidden,” said Turan. “They’re marked with red dots on the map.”

“Where should we start?” Hydras asked.

“Probably at whatever’s nearest,” said Glacias. “Like, say, the other city where the humans live.”

Hunter looked the map over. He saw red dots in areas labelled as the Dead Desert, Dino Valley, Lord Vulcon’s Kingdom, the Power Race Track, the City, and Princess Ariana’s castle. He recognized everything from the huge collection of playsets that Isaac and Ellie had forced him to watch them play with. “Some of these might be kind of…dangerous.”

“I wonder what a Shadow cultist would be doing in the humans’ city,” said Hydras.

“Maybe he settled down there after he’d had enough of the war,” Terras suggested.

“We know Lord Vulcon was in league with Tenebris,” said Glacias. “It makes sense that he’d have one of the keystones.”

“It does look like we have our work cut out for us,” said Aeras.

Suddenly, a white-masked villager burst into the hut. “Elemental Masters! We need your help! Now!” he cried.

“What’s going on?” Hydras asked.

“We-we’re under attack!” said the villager. “They’re climbing over the walls and invading the city!”

Pyras drew his sword. “Who’s attacking?”

“Kakkarak,” said the villager. “A whole horde of Kakkarak.”

“What are Kakkarak?” Hunter asked.

“Looks like you’re about to find out,” said Aeras.

End of Chapter 4…

Chapter 5

Hunter followed the Elemental Masters as they left Turan’s hut and ran out into the streets. They ran towards the outer defending wall, where large bionic spider-like beings were crawling over the walls and into the city. Villagers were trying to fight back with tools, weapons, and whatever they could find, but most of them fell under the monster spiders.

“What are those things?” Hunter asked.

“Kakkarak,” said Pyras. “They shouldn’t even be here.”

The Kakkarak were bigger than timber wolves, with six thick pointed legs and narrow red eyes. They all had different colors-some were green, some were black, some were grey, some were red, and some were blue. Their bodies were shaped like beetles’ bodies, with hard rounded shells and soft bodies underneath where their legs protruded from. But, unlike beetles, the shells were all one piece that covered their whole bodies. There was a row of vertical spikes going down their backs, right between their two slit-like eyes. Scariest of all were their legs. Four of the legs were angled downward, for walking. But the two frontmost legs were angled upward, almost like arms. Between the two forelegs, right below their shells, each Kakkarak had a gaping, toothed mouth.

A blue Kakkarak saw the Elemental Masters coming and screeched menacingly. It ran at them with forelegs raised, but Pyras was ready. He swung his sword and cut off the Kakkarak’s left foreleg. Screaming in pain, the Kakkarak slugged Pyras in the chest with its good foreleg. Pyras stabbed the Kakkarak in the face, killing it. Pyras shoved the limp Kakkarak aside and ran to meet another two monstrous spiders.

Hunter watched as the Elemental Masters fought the Kakkarak, using both their melee weapons and elemental powers as they fought. Fire, water, ice, cyclones, lightning bolts, and boulders were flying everywhere, killing Kakkarak left and right. But more just kept coming.

One Kakkarak, which had a bright red shell, got through the Elemental Masters’ defenses and saw Hunter standing there. It ran at Hunter, its mandibles clicking in anticipation of the fleshy meal that awaited it. Hunter turned around and ran in the opposite direction. He hadn’t even gone ten feet when the Kakkarak caught up to him and body-slammed him onto the ground. Before Hunter could crawl away, the Kakkarak had rolled him onto his back and was snapping at him. Hunter pushed against the Kakkarak, determined not to let those jaws bite off his face. Hunter could feel his bones trembling, straining to match the Kakkarak’s strength. The Kakkarak pushed back, coming so close that its fangs actually scraped Hunter’s nose.

Just when death seemed inevitable for Hunter, Hydras spotted the conflict going on behind her. She whirled around, thrust her axe in the direction of the Kakkarak pinning Hunter down, and shot a blast of water at the Kakkarak. The monstrous spider was thrown away as if hit by a fire hose. Hunter got to his feet and faced Hydras. “Thanks for-that,” he said.

“Don’t mention it,” Hydras replied as she drove her other axe into an oncoming Kakkarak. “You should leave now. You’re not ready for something like this.”

“You’re right,” said Hunter. He turned to run to safety, but it was already too late. Kakkarak were getting past the defending line of villagers and Elemental Masters and running into the city. The monstrous spiders were smashing into houses, attacking villagers, and starting to spin webs between buildings.

“There’s too many!” Electras said as he zapped a brown Kakkarak with his electricity.

“But what are they doing?” Glacias asked as he pointed to the wall where the Kakkarak were coming over. Someone or something was pounding the wall from the outside…as if the Kakkarak had a battering ram. Cracks were appearing in the wall with every hit.

“They’re breaking down the wall!” said Aeras.

“Well? Stop them!” said Pyras. He, Hydras, and Glacias raced for the defending wall where the battering ram was. They frantically ascended the ladder and looked down at what was smashing into the wall. Sure enough, the Kakkarak had a massive battering ram that was hammering away at the defending wall. It was fifteen feet long, twelve feet high, and made of a wicked navy blue metal. The battering ram head was shaped somewhat like a Kakkarak’s shell, with bronze plating and a chiseled front end. Kakkarak soldiers were using their forelegs to pull the battering ram back, and letting it go.

Without hesitation, Glacias thrust out his double-bladed weapon and froze the battering ram in an enormous block of ice. The surrounding Kakkarak gaped at their frozen battering ram in awe, then looked up at the parapets. Clicking angrily, they began to scale the wall to tear the Elemental Masters from limb to limb. Hydras blasted the first wave away with a jet of water, but there were still more.

As Pyras, Hydras, and Glacias fought the ascending Kakkarak, the Kakkarak on the ground began to push their frozen battering ram out of the way. As they did so, more Kakkarak came pulling another battering ram toward the defending wall. “You’ve gotta be kidding me!” Hydras exclaimed when she saw the second battering ram.

“We’ll just have to-” But Glacias was cut off when a white Kakkarak pounced on him and sent them both tumbling off the parapet.

Pyras looked down at the oncoming battering ram to see that there were two humanoid figures marching in front of it. One of them was obviously the king, judging by the way the Kakkarak walked behind him and gave him space. His head was shaped much like a de-masked Voyo villager-shriveled, gray, and with wicked red eyes. He wore a silver crown with a face plate that covered his mouth. The rest of his body was covered in blood red armor. His fingers were so long, so curved, and so pointed, they looked like talons.

The Kakkarak king, along with his second-in-command, went off to the side as the battering ram was brought up to the defending wall. The Kakkarak soldiers pulled the battering ram back as far as it would go, then released it. The battering ram sent the defending wall crashing down on contact.

Inside the city, everyone stopped cold. Hunter, Terras, Aeras, Electras, and the villagers watched in horror as the Kakkarak king stepped through the wreckage of the defending wall. “Citizens of Voyo!” he boomed. “Welcome your new leader, Brintoco!” he gestured to himself.

“Brintoco?” Electras asked.

“I’ve heard of him,” said Terras. “He’s bad news.”

Brintoco led the last hundred or so Kakkarak charging into the city. Terras rushed to intercept Brintoco, whirling his drill weapons like crazy. But Brintoco was ready. He slashed Terras across the face and kicked him in the chest, sending him sprawling. Brintoco laid his foot on Terras to hold him down, then reached down and tore off a chunk of his torso armour. Terras cried in pain as this happened.

“Oh gosh,” Hunter gasped. He watched as Brintoco left Terras and advanced farther down the street. Another Kakkarak launched itself at Hunter, but he saw it just in time. He dove out of the way and grabbed a spear from a fallen villager. He jabbed the spear into the Kakkarak’s face, wounding it badly enough that it lost interest in him and turned away.

Hunter turned to see another humanoid figure, who was Brintoco’s second-in-command, coming for him. Like Brintoco and the Kakkarak, this person was made of living metal-a biomechanical being like everyone else in Mechanicle. But this one was obviously female, with high-heeled boots, feminine curves, and a chest shaped like a woman’s breastplate. Her armor was mostly black, with some highlights of electric blue. In her hand, she held a long, sharp-edged scimitar designed to hook an enemy’s blade and maybe even cut it in two. The being had a pronounced lizard-like face, with slit-like red eyes and hair-like metal wires that made up a large braid at the base of her head and dreadlocks going down her neck.

“Well what have we here?” the female warrior mused. “A human living in the city of Voyo?”

Her voice was so seductive, yet so scary, it filled Hunter with fear. He dropped the spear he was holding and took a step back. “No,” he said. “I-I-I’m not from here.”

The female warrior raised her eyebrows in surprise. “So you aren’t from the City, or from any of the southern kingdoms,” she said. “Could you be…the Outsider?”

The female warrior was distracted by a commotion behind her. She and Hunter looked to see Pyras fighting his way through several Kakkarak, toasting them with red-hot fire. When the last of them had been burned to dust, Pyras faced the female warrior. “Prohahka,” he said, his voice full of contempt. “We meet again.”

“I thought it would be you, Pyras,” said the female warrior, whose name was Prohahka. Without hesitation, she advanced on Pyras and slashed at him. Pyras parried the strike, then pulled his sword out before Prohahka could hook his weapon. He willed his sword to light on fire, ready to scorch Prohahka. He sliced Prohahka across the chest, burning through her armor. Prohahka doubled over, grimacing, but she did not give up. As Pyras moved in for another strike, she reached her left hand out like she was going to Force-choke him. Prohahka’s fingers glowed as the flames covering Pyras’ sword died down. It was Pyras’ turn to double over as he realized that Prohahka had snuffed out his elemental power. Two Kakkarak pounced on him as Prohahka turned to face Hunter.

But by the time she did so, Hunter had already gone off running. Prohahka shrugged, knowing that she could deal with him later. Right now, she had to take care of her utmost task. She marched along with the Kakkarak as they went farther into the city.

After several streets, Prohahka had came to the city square, where several Kakkarak were cornering Hunter against the portal. “This is it,” said Prohahka. “The means by which I can awaken my master.”

The Kakkarak backed away as Prohahka stepped closer to the portal. Hunter, frozen with fear, couldn’t bring himself to move. “What do you want?” he asked, his voice sounding less calm than he intended. Prohahka cast him a disapproving glance, then looked down at the portal’s empty keystone slots. “We don’t have the keystones!” said Hunter.

“You think I don’t know that?” Prohahka asked. She glared down at Hunter with her cruel red eyes. She stepped closer to him and focused her gaze on him. The stare was creepy, almost hypnotic. It was like Prohahka could see through Hunter, and was discovering everything hidden inside him. “Well,” she said. “You are an…interesting being.”

“Uh-yeah,” said Hunter.

Prohahka grabbed Hunter by the shoulder and forced him against the pedestal. “Listen here, Outsider,” she threatened. “Tenebris would want me to tear you from limb to limb, but I am willing to show mercy. Leave this dimension now. Do anything in your homeworld, but do not stay in this world!”

“How-how did you know about-”

“I know all,” said Prohahka. “This isn’t the place for you, boy. Those foolish Elemental Masters think you’re the Outsider who will save them, but they are wrong. If you try to interfere with my plans, then you will fail horribly. It will lead to a very painful death for you.”

“Are you threatening me?”

“Not necessarily,” said Prohahka. “If you leave this world, then you won’t have to worry about being the Outsider. Then again, you won’t be able to amount to anything in your world, either.”

Hunter had no words. Prohahka must have seen very deep into his mind.

“Think about it, boy,” Prohahka said as she let him go and left.

For a minute there, Hunter just sat there, not knowing what to do. The scary thing was, Prohahka was right. Hunter didn’t feel like the right person to be the Outsider, but he knew he wouldn’t get very far in his old life, either. What choice did he have?

“Hunter!” Hydras called as she ran toward him. “What happened?”

Hunter shakily stood up. “I-we-we gotta leave,” he said.

“Leave? Why?” Hydras asked.

“We…we can’t win,” said Hunter.

“He’s right,” Pyras said as he parried a Kakkarak’s strike. “There’s just too many Kakkarak. And they have Prohahka on their side.”

“But we can’t abandon Voyo!” said Hydras.

“We’ll come back for the villagers,” Pyras promised. “Right now, we have to leave.”

Hunter, Pyras, and Hydras left the city square and ran for the city gate, which was about a hundred feet away from the hole in the defending wall. “What are you doing?” Glacias asked as they ran past him.

“We’re retreating,” said Pyras. “Now.”

“But we can still stop Brintoco!” said Glacias. “He hasn’t-”

Pyras looked Glacias square in the eye. “Did you just question an order from me?”

“Yes,” Glacias admitted.

Aeras joined the group as they reached the city’s front gates and busted them down. “Where are Terras and Electras?” he asked.

Hunter looked around. “I don’t know!”

“We’ll have to hope they make it out,” said Pyras. “Now come on!”

End of chapter 5…

Chapter 6

Hunter, Pyras, Hydras, Glacias, and Aeras ran as fast as they could away from Voyo. A small group of Kakkarak chased after them, but they stopped when they were sure that they weren’t coming back.

The five survivors slowed to a walk after about a mile of running. They looked back at the city behind them, and they saw that it was already covered in thick green Kakkarak webs. “They’ve defiled the city,” Hydras said, unable to keep the distaste out of her voice.

“We will go back and save the city…won’t we?” Glacias asked.

“Not right now,” said Hunter. “Those spiders are probably waiting for us to come back.”

“Well, where are we gonna regroup?” Aeras asked.

“The other City,” said Pyras.

“Is there somewhere we can stay there?” Hunter asked.

“I would hope so,” said Pyras. “Let’s go.”

They still hadn’t recovered from the battle. As the group walked down the road towards the City, they barely spoke any words. After an hour of walking, they came into the normal (ish) human City. They entered a street of small, one-story houses and street lamps. After spending the morning in Voyo, the city looked almost foreign to Hunter.

There were a couple civilians walking down the street. One was walking his dog, and another was checking his mailbox. “So…who are we gonna ask?” Aeras asked.

“We should probably talk to the police,” said Hunter.

“Oh sure,” Glacias said sarcastically. “Let’s see the cops go to Voyo and put Brintoco and Prohahka in handcuffs.”

“That’s not what I had in mind,” said Hunter. “I meant, like, maybe they could help us find somewhere to live.” There was a short pause where all four Elemental Masters stared at Hunter. “It’s the way we do things where I’m from.”

“Well, if you want to do it that way, then fine,” said Pyras. He walked up to the man who was checking his mail and tapped him on the shoulder. “Excuse me,” he said.

The man looked up and was surprised to see an Elemental Master standing there. “Oh my word!” he said.

“Yes, it’s me,” said Pyras. “Do you know where Officer Janson is?”

The man shrugged. “Probably at the station with the other cops.”

“Thank you,” said Pyras.

“Officer Janson?” Hunter asked.

“We’ve worked with him before,” Hydras explained. “We know where his station is.”

The five of them walked through the streets, following Pyras’ lead. They soon came to a police station with two garages, a three-story main building, a jail cell on the side, and a helipad on top of the jail cell. Inside the garages were a police car and a prisoner transport van. There was a fire truck parked next to the police station.

Pyras was the first to enter the police station’s foyer, followed by Hunter, Hydras, Aeras, and Glacias. They entered to see a policeman standing behind the front counter, talking to a fireman. The policeman wore a black police suit with a polished badge. He had a slick brown crew cut and a face that was hard to judge. He could’ve been in his late thirties, or early fifties. He had a five o’clock shadow and smooth cheeks with hardly any wrinkles.

When the policeman looked at him, Hunter suddenly felt a surge of fear. Over the past year, every time he had gone face-to-face with a police officer, it hadn’t been good. First there was the shoplifting incident, and then Hunter’s jail sentence. He had seen policemen escorting criminals into the jail on several occasions, and on every one, the policeman had looked at Hunter like he had just committed murder or vandalism or something. The worst part was, Hunter had known full well that he was guilty.

Luckily, this policeman wasn’t aware of Hunter’s crimes. In fact, Hunter wasn’t even the first thing he saw. “Well, well, well, the Elemental Masters have returned,” said the policeman.

“Yes, we have,” said Pyras. “We have an emergency.”

“What is it? Are those thugs Septra and Brict giving you trouble?”

“Worse. Much worse. The Kakkarak have invaded our city.”

The policeman’s face lost its color. “It can’t be.”

“It is,” said Hydras. “We just escaped, like, an hour ago.”

“And we’re looking for somewhere to stay,” Hunter added. “Until we figure out what to do next.”

The policeman nodded. “Yes, we can find a place for you,” he said. “I’ll have Officer ■■■■■■■-”

The fireman spoke up. “Officer Janson, I can let them stay at my station.”

The policeman-Officer Janson-raised an eyebrow. “Sam, are you sure you want to-”

“Yes, I’m sure,” said the fireman. He wore a silver helmet and had a flat, oval-shaped face. Every inch of skin that wasn’t covered by clothing was thickly calloused, and he had biceps that bulged through his sleeves. His knit-together eyebrows made him look serious, but there was something in his eyes that didn’t seem so grim. Almost…lonely.

Officer Janson shrugged. “Well, if you wanna let them stay at the fire station, that’s fine,” he said.

“Great,” said Sam. “You guys come with me.”

Sam the fireman led Hunter and the Elemental Masters outside to where his fire truck was waiting. “You can get in shotgun,” he told Hunter. “The rest of you can just hang on to the sides.”

Hunter got in the fire truck’s front cab, while Sam got in the driver’s seat. “This is cool,” he said.

“You like fire trucks?” Sam asked.

“I used to when I was little,” said Hunter. “One time a fireman came to my kindergarten class and told us all about how he fought fires.”

“Nice,” said Sam.

It was only a five-minute drive from the police station to the fire station, which had just the one garage for the one fire truck. And the fire station office had two floors, as opposed to the police station’s three.

“Right this way,” Sam told Hunter and the Elemental Masters. The six of them entered the fire station’s ground floor, where there was a front desk, phone, and coffee maker. At the end of the room, there was a fire pole going from the top floor. “So this is the office where I take phone calls and respond to emergencies,” said Sam. “And upstairs is where you’ll be sleeping.”

They went upstairs, to a floor that was basically one big bedroom. There were two bunk beds and a TV, not to mention the fire pole at the end of the room. There were fire alarm bells hanging on the wall.

“This is your bedroom?” Pyras asked.

“It is,” said Sam. “It’s been pretty empty since my teammates disappeared, so you-”

“Your teammates disappeared?” Hunter asked.

“Yes,” said Sam. “I used to be the fire chief, until my squad and I went to go put out a fire at a hospital. Well, we put out the fire, but then my teammates just disappeared!”

Just disappeared. “That’s right,” Hunter said. “That one time when Isaac took his firemen over to his friend’s house, and how he was complaining that his firemen had ‘just disappeared,’”

“Yes, my fireman friends did disappear,” Sam affirmed. He spoke with the air of a middle-aged man who had watched his friends and family grow old and die, and was fearing the possibility of dying himself. “They went into the burning building, while I kept on squirting water from my truck’s hoses. The fire was put out, but my teammates never left the building. Ever since then, it’s just been me.”

“I am terribly sorry to hear of your loss,” said Aeras.

Sam sadly closed his eyes. “I went looking for them, so I could at least bury them in the yard behind our fire station. But there was not a trace of them.”

“That sucks,” said Hunter.

Sam looked between Pyras, Hydras, Glacias, and Aeras. “There’s supposed to be twelve of you, aren’t there?”

“Twelve, originally,” said Pyras. “But, sadly, some of our Elemental Master brethren went down the wrong path. Because of that, they are no longer with us. As for the other two…”

“As far as we know, they’re still fighting the Kakkarak in Voyo,” said Hunter.

“I’m sure they’ve been killed or at least thrown in jail by now,” said Glacias.

“You-you have a jail in Voyo?” Sam asked.

“We technically don’t,” said Pyras. “It’s Turan who owns the city jail and the keys to it. But if Brintoco and the Kakkarak have taken over the city, I’m certain they will have taken control of everything.”

“We might have some trouble getting our city back,” said Hydras. “Especially if the Kakkarak are involved.”

Hunter sat down on a bed. “Well, these Kakkarak, I don’t know much about them. Other than that they’re big, and scary.”

“They’re from the moorlands to the south,” said Hydras. “They are a very territorial species, who kill anyone who trespasses in their homeland. Except for Brintoco.”

“And…he’s their king?”

“Indeed,” said Glacias. “He was made king by the Great Creators, but was forced to sign a treaty between him and Turan. Brintoco was unhappy that he was confined to the moorlands where the Kakkarak lived, and he despised that treaty.”

“Except now, he’s violated that treaty by invading Voyo,” said Pyras. “And if he’s got Prohahka with him, then things are even worse.”

Prohahka. Hunter shuddered at the name, as it put images of that cruel, cunning warrior that had cornered him against the portal and seemingly saw everything in his mind. “She…she was pretty scary,” said Hunter.

“What did she do to you?” Hydras asked. “I saw her-”

“She, like, I don’t know, read my mind?” said Hunter. “I didn’t even say anything, and she talked to me like she knew me. And there was that thing she did to Pyras…”

“Those are her powers,” said Pyras. “Mind reading, and taking away our elemental abilities. Our powers recharge after a while, but until they do, we have to rely on our melee weapons and fighting skills.”

“The question is, what was she doing with the Kakkarak?” Hydras asked.

“She probably convinced Brintoco to violate the treaty,” said Pyras. “So she could invade Voyo and get revenge on us.”

“And she said something about awakening her master,” said Hunter.

“Come again?”

“When she was pinning me against the portal pedestal, she said that she could use the portal to awaken her master. Whoever that is.”

“Awaken her master…” said Pyras.

“Why would she need the portal to awaken her master?” Aeras asked. “Unless…”

“You said she worshipped Shadow, right?” said Hunter. “So if she wanted to use the portal to awaken her master…”

“…she was intending to go to the realm and find Shadow so she could awaken him,” Pyras finished. “Unless-”

“She knows about the keystones,” said Hunter. “She said so.”

“We-we can’t let her find them,” said Hydras. “If she finds Turan’s map, then-”

“We’ll have to find the keystones first,” said Pyras. “Sam, you have a piece of paper?”

“Yes, I do,” said Sam.

“Hydras, it’s your chance to prove that you have a photographic memory,” Pyras told Hydras. “Draw a map and label where all the keystones are.”

Sam and Hydras went downstairs to start working on the map, while Glacias and Aeras followed. Pyras started to follow himself, but faltered when he saw Hunter just standing there. “Is something wrong?” Pyras asked.

“You…you’re not gonna make me go with you, are you?” Hunter asked.

“Well, yeah,” said Pyras. “You’re the Outsider, aren’t you?”

Hunter did not answer.

“Is there still a problem, Hunter?” Pyras asked. “You’re not still worried, are you?”

“When-when Prohahka was talking to me, she warned me,” said Hunter. “I mean, I guess she probably saw my self-doubt and was trying to do some kind of reverse psychology. But what if she was right?”

“Tell me exactly what she said.”

“She said that if I interfered with her plan, then I’d fail. She basically said that I wouldn’t succeed anywhere-here or my world.” As Hunter said it, it felt all the more true. If he went back to his home dimension, then he’d just be on the same failing course as a D student with a criminal record to his name. But if he stayed here, then he’d likely get himself killed. “I-I just-I don’t have a reason to be here. You and your friends can stop the Kakkarak without me. I’m of no use to you.”

Pyras shook his head. “I don’t care what Prohahka, or Brintoco, or anyone says about you,” he replied. “In my book, anyone who travels with a group has a place in that group, and is important to it.” He pulled out his sword and tapped Hunter on either shoulder with it. “You’re one of us. Now come downstairs, where we formulate our plan.”

End of Chapter 6…

Chapter 7

Brintoco stood in the city square, looking down on all the villagers that had been rounded up along with the village elder Turan, the Elemental Masters Terras and Electras, and the thugs Septra and Brict. Brintoco was standing on a pedestal separate from the portal’s pedestal, allowing him to stand over everyone else. Kakkarak surrounded the city square, making sure nobody tried to escape.

“Citizens of Voyo,” said Brintoco. “I am Brintoco, king of the Kakkarak, and now the king of your city.”

Turan looked hatefully up at Brintoco. “We will never bow to you!” he shouted. “You have no right to rule over us!”

“Oh, but I do,” said Brintoco. “I was the first warrior the Great Creators ever created, even before the Elemental Masters.” He cast a hateful glance at Terras and Electras. “I should’ve been respected, honored, made one of the Great Creators’ shock troops. But instead, I get kingship over the cursed moorlands, bound there by a petty treaty.

“Now, however, I am declaring myself the ruler of Voyo, in place of this wizened old fool Turan. Whilst I assume his role of leadership, Turan will be sent to the city’s prison.”

“No! You can’t!” Turan protested. But as he said it, a Kakkarak came up to him and grabbed him with its two forelegs. Turan’s feeble strength was no match for the Kakkarak’s grip as it carried him off to the prison cell.

Electras ground his teeth. He and Terras had had their power snuffed out during the battle earlier, but some of Electras’ power was starting to come back now. He could already feel energy running through his body. As his mechanical parts started to tingle, an idea formed in Electras’ mind. He inched closer to Brintoco’s pedestal and summoned what little energy that had formed. As Brintoco was saying, “But now, my Kakkarak and I will rule your city. You shall-” Before he could finish, Electras struck. He thrust out his hand and sent a bolt of electricity at Brintoco. Brintoco was knocked off his feet, his body crackling with electricity.

Immediately, all the Kakkarak began clicking angrily. Electras stepped forward, ready to deliver another strike. But he wasn’t the only one who was ready. Prohahka, who had been standing beside Brintoco on the pedestal, thrust out her hand and pressed it against Electras’ forehead. White light glowed from Prohahka’s fingers as Electras cried out in pain.

“A good try,” Brintoco said as he stood up, “But you won’t defeat me.” He looked down on Electras and Terras. “Take these two Elemental Masters to the prison.” Before any Kakkarak could step forward, Septra placed his hand on Electras’ shoulder. “Excuse me?” Brintoco asked.

“We can take them,” said Septra. He was grinning evilly, relishing the thought of Elemental Masters sitting powerless in prison.

“If you insist,” said Brintoco.

Septra took Electras by the shoulder and guided him out of the city square. Brict stepped up to Terras and lifted him by his neck. “I’ve waited a long time for this,” he said as he carried Terras after Septra and Electras. Terras didn’t even bother trying to fight. His powers hadn’t come back yet, and even if they had, then he’d be in the same situation as his comrade.

“I’m glad someone is willing to comply with my regime,” Brintoco said, watching Septra and Brict walk away with admiration. “Now, is there anyone else who needs to be sent to prison?” Brintoco asked the multitude.

All the villagers shook their heads. After seeing the Elemental Masters, their guardians and idols, get taken out so easily, it killed their spirits like nothing else could. “Excellent,” said Brintoco. “Now leave me.”

As Brintoco was walking off the pedestal, Prohahka stopped him. “My king,” she said, though she looked less than happy about calling Brintoco her king. “If I may ask, there is something I feel we should take care of.”

Brintoco raised an eyebrow. “What may that be?”

“Four of the six Elemental Masters escaped,” said Prohahka. “I feel that we should find them, and deal with them.”

Brintoco scoffed. “Let them come back to us! We’ll capture them, and lock them in our prison, and perhaps even kill them.”

Prohahka, reading his mind, could tell that in spite of his hatred of the Elemental Masters, Brintoco did not want to leave his new city for fear that someone would try to take over while he was gone. Of course, Prohahka didn’t care about that. Her plan was not affected at all by Brintoco’s rulership of Voyo. All she needed was an excuse to leave the city with a squadron of Kakkarak, in search of what she needed to complete her plan.

“I didn’t say you had to lead such an expedition,” said Prohahka. “I would like to offer to do so myself.”

Brintoco pondered this for a moment before asking, “You are certain that you can find the Elemental Masters?”

“Of course I am,” said Prohahka. “The escaped Elemental Masters cannot have gotten that far by now. I can promise that, within two days, I will have found and exterminated those Elemental Masters.”

“Very well,” said Brintoco. “If you want to undertake this mission so badly, I’ll allow you to do it. But I’ll also hold you to your promise of two days.”

“Thank you, my king,” said Prohahka.

“I’ll round up a swarm of Kakkarak to assist you,” said Brintoco.

“Excellent,” said Prohahka. “Now, if you’ll excuse me, there’s one more thing I have to take care of before I embark on my quest.”

Prohahka grinned as she walked away. She had successfully conned Brintoco into giving her exactly what she wanted. When she had entered the Kakkarak’s territory, it had been no accident. She had been there because Tenebris’ Shadow cult had been disbanded, and she needed help.

After Tenebris’ defeat, it had became clear that a higher power would be needed to overtake the Elemental Masters and plunge the world into darkness. Prohahka had resolved to awaken Shadow and bring him into the world to conquer it himself. But the only way to do that was to go to the Great Creators’ realm, which would require using the portal in Voyo. The first stage of Prohahka’s plan had been to overtake Voyo and force the Elemental Masters out, which she would not have been able to do on her own. So she had gone to the Kakkarak and talked their king into violating the treaty and invading Voyo.

Now that Prohahka had control of the city as Brintoco’s second-in-command, it was time for the second stage of her plan. During Tenebris’ war with the Elemental Masters, he had stolen the portal’s keystones and given them to several of his minions for safekeeping. But, when his cult had disbanded, the members that had possessed keystones had all gone their separate ways without ever talking to one another again. To activate the portal to the Great Creators’ realm, Prohahka would need to find the keystones scattered across the world. With Brintoco’s support, Prohahka would now have a bunch of Kakkarak at her back to deal with whatever problems she might face. The Kakkarak might not have been as formidable as the Rahrok, but they were still a powerful species on their own. But, after seeing into that human boy’s mind, Prohahka had realized that tracking down the keystones would be easier than she thought. She just needed one thing.

Prohahka went down to the prisons where Turan, Terras, and Electras were being held. The prison was being guarded by four Kakkarak, who willingly let Prohahka past with no qualms whatsoever. Inside the prison, there were six one-person cells, only three of which were occupied by the current prisoners. Prohahka went straight for the cell that housed Turan, ready to delve right into his mind.

“What do you want from me?” Turan asked.

Prohahka smiled. “Oh, nothing much,” she said. “Just a little inside information.”

Turan, who knew of Prohahka’s powers, immediately tried to block the thoughts he knew she was looking for. “I have nothing,” he said.

“Is that so?” Prohahka asked. She had seen inside the so-called “Outsider’s” mind, and she knew about the map that Turan had drawn. Turan was trying to think about other things, things beyond the current situation, but it was no use. The image of the map was swimming to the front of his mind, becoming clearer by the second.

Prohahka closed her eyes and focused on the image of the map, burning the image into her own brain. Once she was certain she had the map memorized, and knew all the places that it indicated had keystones hidden, she relinquished her powers. “Thank you, Turan,” she said.

“You-you didn’t-”

“I’ve learned what I need to know,” said Prohahka.

Terras and Electras had been listening to every word of the conversation, and they didn’t like what they heard. “Stop! You can’t!” said Terras. He stamped his foot in an attempt to will a slab of earth to rise up and block Prohahka’s exit. But he forgot; Voyo’s prison was specially designed to relinquish any powers that its prisoners might possess.

Prohahka cast an evil grin in Terras’ direction. “Oh, but I can,” she said.

“Our-our brethren will stop you!” Terras shouted.

“Oh, they can try,” said Prohahka. “I would love to see them try…”

End of Chapter 7…

Chapter 8

Hunter, Pyras, Hydras, Aeras, Glacias, and Sam stood around the fire station’s office desk, looking at the map Hydras had drawn. “Okay, so according to your map,” Pyras was saying, “There’s actually a keystone here in this city.”

“But where might it be?” Aeras asked.

Hunter looked at Sam. “Do you know anyone in here that used to be part of Tenebris’ cult?”

“I do not,” said Sam. “However, if I talk to Officer Janson, I might be able to investigate this matter.”

“Sounds good,” said Pyras. “Perhaps you could do that while we go off to find another keystone?”

“Of course,” said Sam. “Anything to help you.”

“So what’s the nearest keystone?” Aeras asked.

Hunter looked at the map. “It looks like it’s Dino Valley,” he said.

“Dino Valley,” Sam said, shuddering. “I know a guy who went there with his kid.”

“Yeah? What happened?”

“The kid loved dinosaurs and really wanted to see them. But then when his dad took him to Dino Valley, the kid had almost got eaten by a T-Rex. It traumatized the kid so much, he lost his love of dinosaurs.”

“Wow,” said Hunter. The crazy thing was, something very similar had happened to him. When he was, like, two or three, he had been very curious about dinosaurs. But when his parents had took him to see Jurassic Park, he had been REALLY freaked out. The movie was so scary, it killed his interest in dinosaurs for years to come.

Glacias scoffed. “Well, we’ve seen worse things than dinosaurs.”

Pyras looked between everyone. “So, Dino Valley it is?” he asked.

“Yes,” said Hydras and Glacias.

“I guess so,” said Hunter.

“Right then,” said Pyras. “We leave immediately.”

Sam stood to his fullest height and tried to look confident. “I’ll have the location of this City’s keystone by the time you get back.”

“Thank you so much,” said Hunter.


The five companions left Sam’s fire station and went south toward the mountains. According to the map, Dino Valley was in the foothills of the mountain range, several miles north of Lord Vulcon’s kingdom. As they walked toward the mountains, Hunter saw the patch of storm clouds over that one area again. Hunter didn’t have the map on him, so he couldn’t confirm this, but he wondered if that area was where Lord Vulcon’s kingdom was. He had heard that Lord Vulcon was in league with Tenebris, implying that he was a bad guy. But what kind of bad guy was Lord Vulcon? Was he some kind of monster that lived in a kingdom of shadow?

The mountain range’s foothills were mostly made of sandy tan rock. There were dark green ferns and shrubs here and there, and a couple of water pools. As the group descended down a dirt road that led down into those foothills, the temperature started to heat up. Not super hot, mind you, but warm enough to melt a block of ice in just a few minutes.

As they walked, Hunter’s heart began to speed up. Even though he was scared of what may lay ahead, he was somewhat excited, too. Despite being scarred for life by Jurassic Park, he had sometimes fantasized about seeing a real live dinosaur. His third grade teacher used to joke that he saw real live dinosaurs every day, when he walked by birds sitting on the power lines, but Hunter always shrugged those off. In his eyes, birds were not true dinosaurs. He wanted to see a Triceratops, or a Brontosaurus (Apatosaurus, whatever), or even a T-Rex.

After a while, the dirt road led down between two tan plateaus. As they entered the valley, Hunter saw the bleached white skull of a Triceratops sitting aside the dirt road. “I guess we’re in Dino Valley now,” said Hunter.

“We are,” Pyras said as they rounded a corner. As they rounded it, they saw the sight of their lives. There was a huge oasis, where Triceratops, Stegosaurus, Iguanodon, Ankylosaurus, Parasaurolophus, and even a few T-Rex were drinking from the immense water hole. There were palm trees on the far side of the drinking hole, where a couple of Brachiosaurus were eating the leaves from the branches. Hypsilophodon and Troodon were going between the larger dinosaurs, trying to avoid getting stepped on as they went to get a drink. Among all the dinosaurs were cavemen, wearing thick furry cloaks and sporting luxuriant hair and beards.

“Oh my word,” Hunter said, his jaw gaping in awe. These were living, breathing dinosaurs! Not some weird theme park robots, but real dinosaurs! Without hesitation, Hunter walked toward the nearest edge of the drinking hole, where a Triceratops was happily drinking. He walked closer to the Triceratops, watching it bend forward to drink from the water pool. It was surreal, to see its eyes blinking and to hear it gargle with water. The way the sun reflected off its brown scales and bone-white horns…Hunter had dreamed of this moment his whole life.

Hunter reached out and touched the Triceratops’ side. Its skin felt rough and leathery, like a reptilian elephant. Hunter had stroked the skin for several seconds when it happened. The Triceratops raised its head and turned to look at Hunter. On seeing him, the beast glared at him and made a guttural growling noise in its throat. “Uh, uh, sorry!” Hunter stammered, his awe vanishing on the spot. He quickly backed away from the Triceratops, hoping not to make it any madder. When Hunter had gone twelve feet away, to where a caveman was watching, the Triceratops went back to drinking.

“You not bother Triceratops,” said the caveman. He was five feet in height, wearing a furry brown toga adorned with dinosaur teeth. He had thick, neck-length black hair and a beard so scraggly that no amount of brushing could have straightened it out. His features were almost exactly like the Neanderthals Hunter had seen in movies, with a prominent brow, a rounded-out nose, and lips that were the same color as his skin.

“Uh, no,” said Hunter. He watched the Triceratops finish drinking and walk away. “That wasn’t the smartest thing I’ve ever done.”

Pyras, Hydras, Aeras, and Glacias came up to them. “Enjoying seeing these dinosaurs?” Pyras asked.

“I mean, yeah,” said Hunter.

The caveman smiled at Hunter. “You my friend,” he said. “You Glug’s friend.”

“Glug’s friend?”

“Me Glug,” said the caveman, gesturing to himself.

“You’re name is Glug?” Hunter asked. The caveman nodded.

Glacias scoffed. “Who gave you that name?” he asked.

Glug cocked his head at the Elemental Masters. “You knights,” he said. “With armor.”

“Uh, no,” said Aeras. “We’re Elemental Masters.”

Pyras lit his hand on fire. “With elemental powers.”

Glug’s eyes widened at the fire in Pyras’ hand. “You make fire!” he gasped.

“Yes, I do,” said Pyras.

Hunter suddenly saw something move out of the corner of his eye. He looked to see a large T-Rex walking in their direction. It was a dark shade of red, with a lighter-colored belly and blue stripes going across its back. Its expression wasn’t as mean or scary as the T-Rex from Jurassic Park, but it was scary nonetheless. It was twenty feet tall and forty feet long, with a mouth big enough to swallow a medium-sized dog whole. Worst of all, it was eyeing Hunter.

“T-Rex!” Hunter exclaimed. “We’d better-”

“Rexy not eat you,” said Glug.

“Uh, he’s a carnivore,” said Hunter, not bothering to take his eyes off the approaching T-Rex. “Of course he’s gonna eat me!”

“T-Rex and Spino not eat other dinos at water hole,” saig Glug. “He my friend.”

“Um, what?”

“He means that the dinosaurs don’t attack each other at the drinking hole,” said Hydras. “They all come here to drink in harmony.” Glug nodded, confirming Hydras’ statement.

The T-Rex looked down at Glug, making a grunting noise in its throat. “Me and Rexy go home now,” said Glug.

“Rexy? You call that T-Rex Rexy?”

“He my pet.”

A caveman that had a pet T-Rex? All right then.

“Well, it’s a pleasure to meet you, Glug,” Glacias said, though he didn’t sound too happy. Clearly, he wanted to be out of there as quickly as possible.

“Wait,” said Hunter. “Glug, have you seen a keystone anywhere?”

Glug cocked his head. “Key-stone?”

“Yes,” said Hunter. “Like…what do the keystones look like?” He looked at Pyras for support.

“The keystones are glowing white stones, about the size of one’s hand,” said Pyras.

Glug shook his head. “There no glowing stones,” he said.

“You sure?” Hunter asked.

“No glowing stones.”

Hunter sighed. “Well, we’d better start looking,” he said.

So they said good-bye to Glug and Rexy (who eyed Hunter in a very disturbing manner) and set out across Dino Valley. They passed herds of Triceratops, and raptors tending to their nests, and cavemen trying to start fires in their caves. But with all the things they saw, it was difficult to know where to start.

“So…where would a keystone be in all this?” Hunter asked.

“Well, let’s think,” said Pyras. “Why would a former member of Tenebris’ cult come here, and where would he hide a keystone?”

“Maybe he was a caveman and wanted to go back to his old life?” Hunter suggested.

“No, there weren’t any cavemen in Tenebris’ ranks,” said Hydras. “I imagine there was a cult member who found his way here, and then got eaten by a dinosaur.”

“Okay, but what kind of dinosaur?” Aeras asked. “And did the keystone…you know…”

“Ugh, I hope we don’t have to dig through a bunch of dinosaur poop,” said Hunter.

“Let’s hope it doesn’t come to that,” said Pyras.

“Maybe the cavemen could give us some pointers?” Aeras suggested.

“No!” said Glacias. “These cavemen cannot help us. They cannot even think for themselves!”

“Hey, Glug wasn’t that bad,” said Hunter. “He seemed pretty friendly.”

“Nonetheless, I am not sure the cavemen will be of much help to us,” said Pyras. “Their intentions are good, yes, but they aren’t very bright.”

“But we’re still at a dead end,” said Hydras. “We still don’t know where to start looking for that keystone.”

“Wait, I just had a thought,” said Hunter. “Is there anything here that’s, like, a dinosaur mountain, or a caveman hut, or something?”

“There might be. Why?”

“Because I know my siblings hid a keystone in their dinosaur playset,” said Hunter. “I think it was some kind of dinosaur mountain.”

“Well, in that case, there’s plenty of mountains here that we could look,” said Hydras.

“It wasn’t just a mountain,” said Hunter. “It had a bunch of dinosaur bones all over it, like a giant T-Rex skeleton.”

“Well, it shouldn’t be too hard to miss something like that,” said Aeras.

Pyras looked around at the surrounding mountains. “I don’t see any giant skeleton mountains,” he said.

“Well…” Hunter trailed off. He had heard loud footsteps coming from a nearby forest. He looked to see a large, two-legged dinosaur emerge from the trees. It was as tall as a giraffe and was a bright shade of orange. It had a long crocodile-like head, long and slender arms, and a tall sail going across its back. Because of these features, Hunter recognized it as a Spinosaurus.

“Uh-oh,” said Aeras.

The Spinosaurus saw Hunter and the Elemental Masters and licked its chops. The dinosaur tromped toward them, ready to devour them all. “Get away from us!” Glacias yelled. He raised his dual-bladed sword and charged at the Spinosaurus. He went in for a blow, but the dinosaur was quicker. It chomped down on Glacias, lifting him into the air. The Spinosaurus shook Glacias from side to side like a dog playing with its toy. Glacias dropped his sword, but that wasn’t going to stop him. He clenched his fists and summoned his ice powers. The temperature in the Spinosaurus’ mouth dropped by fifty degrees as ice filled its mouth. The Spinosaurus gagged, startled by the sudden cold in its mouth. It retched like crazy, spitting out Glacias and the ice he had generated.

“Run!” said Hunter.

“Run?” Pyras asked.

Hunter ignored Pyras’ doubt and ran away from the Spinosaurus. Aeras and Hydras followed suit, much to Pyras’ dismay. Pyras turned to face the Spinosaurus, but the dinosaur just knocked him out of the way. The Spinosaurus had seen three of its potential meals running, and it had decided it would rather chase down its food than fight it. The Spinosaurus ran after Hunter, Hydras, and Aeras, shaking the ground with every step.

Hunter’s heart jackhammered against his ribs as he ran. He could hear the Spinosaurus’ roars behind him, and was now starting to feel its breath as it started to gain on him. He was half expecting to be snapped up and eaten, like that bathroom stall guy from Jurassic Park. Right when all seemed lost, Hunter looked up and saw a T-Rex heading in their direction.

“Run for the T-Rex!” Hunter shouted. He remembered a very similar scene from the third Jurassic Park movie, where the two titanic dinosaurs had been chasing the humans and ended up fighting each other. Maybe if that could happen now, then Hunter and the Elemental Masters could get away.

As they got closer to the T-Rex, Hunter realized that it was Rexy, the T-Rex from the oasis. Glug the caveman was standing right next to it, brandishing a crude spear. “Rexy, kill!” Glug shouted, pointing his spear.

At first, Hunter wasn’t sure if he was pointing at him or the Spinosaurus. But it became clear when Rexy stomped forward and roared at the Spinosaurus. The Spinosaurus skidded to a halt and roared at the Rexy as if to say, Hey! These people are my food! But Rexy chomped at the Spinosaurus, missing its head by inches. The Spinosaurus snapped and clawed in retaliation, scraping the side of Rexy’s face. Rexy roared in anger and bit down on the Spinosaurus’ neck. The Spinosaurus writhed and shook, trying to break free, but it was no use. Rexy pinned the Spinosaurus to the ground and bit down harder, crushing its neck in the process. The Spinosaurus fell limply to the ground.

Glug grinned. “Rexy save friends!” he said.

“Yeah,” said Hunter. “Thanks, Rexy.”

Pyras and Glacias ran up to them. “There you are,” said Pyras. “I see you’ve ran into that caveman again.”

“Yes,” said Hydras. “Thank you, Glug. And Rexy.”

“Me like to help friends!” said Glug.

“Think you could help us find the keystone?” Hunter asked.

Glacias frowned. “I thought we already established-”

Hunter ignored him. “Glug, is there a mountain that looks like a dinosaur skeleton?” he asked.

“Skeleton mountain?” Glug asked.

“Yeah, like a T-Rex,” said Hunter.

Glug grinned from ear to ear. “T-Rex mountain!” he said. “Me take you there!”

“You can take us?”

Glug nodded.

“C’mon guys,” said Hunter. “I think he knows where that mountain is!”

End of Chapter 8…

Chapter 9

Glug led them through Dino Valley, down a path he obviously knew. They followed him around some small mountains that they had seen before, and then they realized why they hadn’t been able to see the skeleton mountain before; it had been obscured by said small mountains.

But as Hunter rounded the corner, he saw the mountain that they had been looking for, standing in all its majesty. Granted, it was kind of small to be considered a mountain-only a hundred and fifty feet high. It consisted of mostly a huge slab of stone, with enormous T-Rex bones sticking out of it. It was as if a T-Rex had died and rotted away, and then had a bunch of dirt and stone erode around it to create a mountain. The T-Rex’s head was located near the top of the mountain, with its ribcage located directly under. There was a large, clawed, bony foot sticking out of the mountainside right above the bottom. A bony tail wrapped around the side of the mountain.

“That’s…interesting,” said Pyras.

“That’s where we’ll find the keystone,” said Hunter.

“Key-stone, glowing rock?” Glug asked.

“Yeah. Why?”

“Glowing rock up there,” Glug said, pointing at the T-Rex skeleton’s head. Among its thick, cracking teeth was a large glowing stone. Hunter couldn’t see many details from this far down below, but it appeared pearly white with some swirls of rainbow.

“That’s the keystone,” said Pyras. “We just need to figure out how to get up there.”

Hydras looked the T-Rex skeleton mountain up and down. She saw that there was a tunnel going through the mountain, which was visible through the skeleton’s ribcage. The skull’s mouth opened to another tunnel, and there was a cave going into the bottom of the mountain. “Does that tunnel lead to the top?” she asked.

“No go in cave. Raptors eat you,” said Glug.

“Raptors?”

“Raptors live here,” Glug answered. It was probably the first real sentence he said.

Nevertheless, it cast worry over the group. “Well, we’d better start climbing,” said Hunter.

“Are you kidding? We can’t climb this thing,” said Glacias.

“We’ll just have to fight our way through those raptors,” said Pyras. He drew his sword and entered the cave, followed by Hydras and Aeras.

“Come in with us,” Glacias said as he followed the others.

“But-”

“We’ll be fine,” Glacias insisted. He pushed both Hunter and Glug, forcing them to walk into the cave.

The cave angled upward almost immediately, no doubt going higher into the mountain. It had virtually no illumination, forcing Hunter to follow Pyras’ flaming sword for light. Hunter could see bones littering the floor, no doubt bourne of the animals that the raptors had eaten.

They passed several forks in the tunnel, each of which led down another tunnel that looked just like the one they were going through. “Are you sure you know where we’re going?” Aeras asked Pyras after going through several such forks.

“Of course I’m sure,” said Pyras. “Look, there’s light up ahead!”

Indeed, there was light coming from the tunnel up ahead. Pyras extinguished his flame as they entered a chamber full of raptor nests and eggs. Light came from an opening in the side, covered by the T-Rex’s ribcage.

“Eggs,” said Glug. He was looking around apprehensively, as if he was expecting a raptor to pounce on him any second. “They protect eggs.”

“Look,” said Hydras, pointing. Lying against the cave wall was the body of a humanoid Mechanicle being. Its metal body was rusty and lifeless, with its head torn off. “Do you think-”

“That Tenebris’ follower had taken his keystone here, and was ambushed and killed by the raptors?” Pyras finished for her. “Yes, I think that that happened.”

“But the keystone’s not in this room, remember?” said Glacias. “It’s in the T-Rex’s skull.”

“Then we’ll have to-”

Pyras didn’t even get to finish. He was cut off when a raptor leaped out of the shadows and pounced on him. He didn’t even have time to react; the raptor pinioned him to the ground and made him drop his sword.

Hydras whirled, swinging her two axes at the raptor. But a second raptor leaped out and attacked her. Hunter, Aeras, Glacias, and Glug backed toward the cave wall, but then they heard a growling behind them. They turned around to see two more raptors standing there, ready to pounce.

“Glaaah!” Glug yelled as he stabbed his spear at one of the raptors. The spear sank into the raptor’s flesh, causing blood to dribble down the raptor’s body. Angered, the raptor slashed at Glug and missed him by a fraction of an inch. Glug punched the raptor in the head and stabbed it again, hitting it in the heart this time.

Glacias engaged the second raptor, swinging his double-bladed sword like a Chinese martial artist with a bo staff. The raptor looked for an opening, then lunged at Glacias. Glacias stepped out of the way and kicked the raptor to the ground. Before the raptor could get back up, Glacias conjured a chunk of ice around the raptor’s neck. The raptor tried to get back up, but the ice weighed it down. The raptor growled in frustration as it tried to pry the ice off. The ice was stuck on there like some enormous collar.

But there was no time to celebrate the victory. More raptors came running from the tunnel that Hunter, Glug, and the Elemental Masters had came from. They had heard the commotion in their nest cave and were coming to attack the intruders. “We’ll hold them off!” Pyras called in Hunter’s direction. “You get the keystone!”

“But where do I go?” Hunter asked.

“C’mon,” Aeras told Hunter. Holding his hatchet at the ready, Aeras took Hunter by the hand and led his through the cave toward another tunnel. A raptor came in their way, but Aeras beheaded it with a swish of his hatchet. He and Hunter ran up the tunnel, praying that it would lead to the T-Rex skull.

Sure enough, after some climbing, they found themselves in the literal mouth of a cave. They stood on the skull’s lower jaw, which gave them a pretty decent view of the surrounding area. Hunter could see Rexy at the base of the mountain, waiting for them to come out.

But this was not the time for sightseeing. Hunter went straight for the keystone and tried to pull it out. But to his surprise, it was wedged between the teeth really good. “Ah great,” said Hunter.

“Get it out,” said Aeras. “We got company!” He watched as two more raptors came running up the tunnel and into the T-Rex’s throat. He immediately engaged the raptors, determined not to let them reach Hunter.

Sweat beaded down Hunter’s face. As if the situation wasn’t bad enough, now he had to dislodge the keystone while Aeras was fighting two raptors in the background. Hunter grabbed the keystone with both hands, pulling it with his full weight. The keystone started to ■■■■■, but it still wasn’t coming out. Good glory, was that thing coated in superglue?

Aeras chopped the head off one of the raptors, but the other one pounced on him. The raptor slammed its left leg on Aeras’ chest, jabbing its sickle-shaped claw into him. The claw didn’t kill Aeras, but it left a dent in his armor. “Hunter, I hope you’ve got that keystone out!” Aeras shouted.

“Almost…got it!” Hunter shouted as he finally dislodged the keystone. His pull was so hard, he had stumbled backward when the keystone broke free. But before he could help Aeras, the skull bone shifted under his feet. With a sickening crack, the T- Rex’s lower jaw broke off of the mountain and went sledding down the side. Hunter fell against the jaw’s teeth, while Aeras and the raptor went tumbling over the side. Hunter reached out to grab Aeras, but he was unable to reach him.

The jaw bone hit the ground and lodged there like a snowboard in a patch of snow. Hunter climbed out of the jaw and saw Aeras lying there, alongside the raptor that had tumbled down with them. The raptor shook off its pain and hissed angrily at Hunter. As if on cue, Rexy stepped up behind the raptor. The raptor barely had time to look around before Rexy took the raptor in his mouth. Rexy chewed on the raptor, shredding it into smaller pieces that would go down his throat better. Rexy swallowed what was left of the raptor.

“Wow,” said Hunter. “Thanks, Rexy.”

As if on cue, Pyras, Hydras, Glacias, and Glug came stumbling out of the cave at the bottom of the mountain. “Did…did you get the keystone?” Pyras asked.

“Yes, I did,” said Hunter. He looked at the source of all the trouble in his hand. It was about the size of a calculator, made of a pearly white material. Not only did it have swirls of rainbow and was giving off a brilliant glow, but Hunter could also feel some kind of magical energy emulating from it. He had no doubt that this was a magical keystone that could open a portal to another realm.

Pyras nodded in approval. “Well, one down, five to go,” he said.

Hunter looked at Aeras, who was still lying on the ground. “You okay?” he asked.

Aeras grimaced as he stood back up. “I’ll be fine,” he said. “That raptor’s claw didn’t do too much damage.”

“Good,” said Pyras. “If we’re gonna find the other five keystones, then we’re all gonna need our strength.”

“More key-stones?” Glug asked.

“Yes, we’re gonna have to leave Dino Valley,” said Hunter. “And probably face even more danger.” He still hadn’t fully recovered from the raptor chase. He was pretty relieved to have survived, but they had almost been killed twice just for this one keystone. At this rate, who knew what lay ahead?

Glug frowned. “Friends leave Glug?”

“Yes,” said Hunter. “But you were a big help to us here.”

Glug smiled. “Me help friends.”

“Yes, you did,” said Hunter. “We appreciate that.”

“Me hope you find key-stones,” said Glug.

“So do we,” said Pyras. “So do we.”

End of chapter 9…

Chapter 10

Hunter, Pyras, Hydras, Aeras, and Glacias were hoping that when they returned to the fire station in the City, then Sam would have some information on where in the City that the next keystone would be. They knocked on the fire station’s front door and waited for Sam to answer.

It took a minute, but Sam answered the door. “Hey guys,” he said. “Did you get your keystone?”

“Yes, we did,” said Hunter.

“Have you found out where the keystone here is?” Pyras asked.

Sam sighed. “I’m very sorry,” he said. “I talked to Officer Janson while you were gone, and he and I looked over the records of the people in the City. No one on record was a supporter of Tenebris.”

“Are you absolutely sure?” Hydras asked.

“Yes,” said Sam. “Officer Janson looked through all the records of everyone in town.”

“Are you sure no one had lied on their records?” Glacias asked.

“We toyed with that idea,” said Sam. “But obviously, we couldn’t have gone to every house and question everyone while you were gone.”

“Even then, they might still lie,” said Pyras.

“Maybe you could have the police search all the houses,” Hydras suggested.

“Huh,” said Sam. “That’s not a bad idea at all.”

“How about you present that idea to Officer Janson,” said Pyras, “While we track down the next few keystones.”

“Sure, I can do that,” said Sam.

“Where are we gonna go next?” Aeras asked.

“Come inside,” said Sam. “The map’s still on the front table.”

So the five of them went inside, where Sam had the map to the keystones laid out on the front office table. “So, Dino Valley, check,” said Pyras. “City, we’re working on it. What we have left are the Power Race Track, the Dead Desert, Princess Ariana’s castle, and Lord Vulcon’s Kingdom.”

“You might want to go to the Power Race Track,” said Sam. “They’re having a big race tonight.”

“They are?”

“The Power Races were founded just two weeks ago,” said Sam. “People from all over have been gathering to see the races, or enter the races themselves. They’re all competing for a big, shiny trophy.”

“Hm,” said Pyras. “We ought to investigate that matter.”

“What about the Dead Desert?” Hydras asked. “Where could a keystone possibly be hidden in there?”

“Maybe the cursed badlands,” said Aeras. “Where the mummies’ tombs are located.”

Pyras looked over the map. “I think we should split up,” he said.

“What-split up? Why?”

“Prohahka’s probably organized a hunting party by now,” said Pyras. “To find the rest of the keystones before she does, we’ll need to cover more ground in less time.”

Glacias nodded. “I agree,” he said. “Where will we go?”

“We should go to the Power Race Track, and Princess Ariana’s castle,” said Hydras. “If we’re gonna get the keystone from Lord Vulcon’s Kingdom, then we’ll all have to go together.”

“You’re right,” said Pyras. “Glacias, Hydras, and Aeras, you three go to the Power Race Track. Hunter, you and I will go to Princess Ariana’s castle.”

“I take it you’ll be meeting back here?” Sam asked.

“Yes, by tomorrow morning,” said Pyras. “If Hunter and I aren’t here by then, then you should come looking for us. We will do the same for you.”

“Sounds like a plan,” said Aeras.

“Right,” said Pyras. “Let’s go.”


Before they left, Pyras decided to leave their keystone with Sam. Everyone agreed that it would be safer to leave the keystone in Sam’s care than to risk being caught by Prohahka when they had the keystone on them. Hunter and Pyras wished Hydras, Aeras, and Glacias luck as they departed for Princess Ariana’s castle.

Princess Ariana’s castle was located in a magical forest to the north of the City. There was a paved road leading from the City into the forest, until the pavement faded into a dirt road that went through the forest. As Hunter and Pyras walked down the road and into the forest, it was as if they were entering a fairy tale. The road was lined with brightly colored flowers and was illuminated by a beautiful sun. The trees went as high as a two story building, glittering with what looked like fairy magic. From up above, Hunter could hear birds chirping and singing, adding to the overall soothing feel of the forest.

As they moved down the road, they saw more roads coming in and joining with the one they were on. There were people coming from those roads, heading in the same direction Hunter and Pyras were. The people wore old-style medieval tunics, dodgy-looking pants, and black leather boots. They were talking excitedly as they went, as if they were headed for some big event.

“This seems a little…medieval,” said Pyras.

“Maybe it’s because Princess Ariana is supposed to be a fairy tale princess,” said Hunter.

“Fairy tale?”

“It’s an old story, about princes and witches and things like that,” said Hunter. He almost brought up Disney, but then he realized Pyras probably didn’t know what Disney was. “And it can also have dragons, or mermaids.”

The road widened into a huge clearing in the forest. In the clearing, there was a fence surrounding a beautiful castle with many turrets and pointed towers. It was built from many large, pink bricks, while the tiles covering the towers’ roofs were deep purple. The topmost spire had a flagpole on top, with a rainbow flag waving in the breeze.

“There it is,” said Hunter. “It’s her castle.”

All of the people that they had seen on the street were gathering into a large crowd of people. They were filing through the gate, walking down a stone pathway that led straight to the castle’s open front doors. Guards dressed in shiny gray armor were lined up on either side of the stone pathway, spears in their hands.

“What do you think they’re doing?” Hunter asked.

Before Pyras could answer, a man in a navy blue suit came running up to them. “Pyras, you came!” he exclaimed.

Pyras looked at the man quizzically. “I’m sorry, what?”

“You came to Prince Handsome and Princess Ariana’s wedding!” said the man. “Prince Handsome wasn’t sure you’d come, but here you are now!”

“Who said anything about a wedding?” Pyras asked.

“The prince and princess are getting married,” said the man. “Don’t you remember? I came to Voyo just last week with the message from Prince Handsome.”

“Oh, that’s right,” said Pyras. “I completely forgot about it.”

“Well? You gonna come in?” the man asked. “The ceremony’s happening in just a few minutes.”

“Uh…yes,” Pyras answered, not wanting to be rude.

“You got invited to the wedding?” Hunter asked as he and Pyras entered the gate and walked down the stone pathway.

“Apparently yes,” said Pyras. “It wasn’t actually me who that messenger came to. He reached Terras first, and then Terras mentioned it to me later. But the reason I forgot about it was because Septra and Brict were making trouble that day, and I had to help deal with them.”

“But why would the prince and princess invite you to their wedding?” Hunter asked. “Do you…know them?”

“Not really,” Pyras admitted. “I think they invited us Elemental Masters out of gratitude, since there was a time when Tenebris and Prohahka had kidnapped them to use as slaves, and we saved them.”

They entered the castle and found themselves in a large entry hall. There were murals of the king and queen on the wall, and the floor was adorned with a massive colorful rug. Hunter and Pyras followed the other wedding guests as they went down the entry hall towards the wedding room.

“Right this way,” said a guard that was standing aside the entrance to the wedding room. Of course, “wedding room” isn’t really the right word. As Hunter stepped into the room, a hush immediately fell over his mind. The room looked and felt like a chapel, with its two rows of church pews and pulpit near the front. Above the pulpit was a stained glass mural of a man and woman holding hands while watching a sunset. The mural was colorful and beautiful, as if it had been crafted by angels. In fact, the whole wedding room was very elegant. Everything was smooth and shiny, with no dirt even from the guests that were entering. At the back of the room, there was a line of priests standing behind the pulpit and reverently singing a religious song. The song had no discernible lyrics, but it added the the calm and happy atmosphere.

Hunter and Pyras sat down in a pew on the right row. They watched as all the other wedding guests found a place to sit, waiting for the wedding ceremony to begin. Once everyone had seated, the singing priests sat down in a row of pews behind the pulpit. Another priest, who wore blue robes embedded with flecks of gold, stepped up to the pulpit. “Thank you all for coming,” he said. “We will now begin the ceremony. Please welcome Prince Handsome.”

At the other end of the room, the doors opened to allow Prince Handsome to walk in. Prince Handsome was…well, handsome. He had smooth brown hair, dreamy black eyes, smooth cheekbones, and a warm smile. He wore a white suit with large gold buttons, brown dress pants, and gold epaulettes on his shoulders. Watching him walk across the room toward the pulpit, Hunter could immediately understand why he was called Prince Handsome. He was the embodiment of male attractiveness, and would be a chick magnet if he went to Hunter’s school.

Prince Handsome took his place in front of the pulpit, happily looking up at the priest at the pulpit. “And now,” said the priest, “Let Princess Ariana come forth.” Every head turned as the princess entered the room. The moment he saw Princess Ariana’s face, Hunter forgot how to think. Her face was so delicate, and her eyes were so beautiful, and her hair was so luscious and red, and her lips were so red and perfect, and her dress was so ornate and pink, and her body was so nice, and her smile was so amazing…

Hunter’s mind fought back after a minute, but he still couldn’t take his eyes off of Princess Ariana. He had seen some pretty cute girls at school before. And he didn’t like admitting it, but he had a celebrity crush on Britney Spears. But Princess Ariana blew every other female out of the water. She was so beautiful, and yet it wasn’t in vain. She was just naturally beautiful. Unlike the models on the covers of magazines, Ariana was beautiful without makeup or plastic surgery or anything like that.

“Welcome, Princess,” the priest said as Princess Ariana took her place opposite Prince Handsome. “Now, to begin the ceremony…”

At first, the ceremony was somewhat fun to watch. Prince Handsome and Princess Ariana were smiling at each other, taking each other’s hands, and just anticipating the moment when they could kiss. It was so sweet, like something out of a fairy tale where they all lived happily ever after. Hunter almost wished he could have a happy ending like that. If only he could get through high school and college, and find a good job, and then settle down with the girl of his dreams. And then…

As Hunter thought about it, he realized that it couldn’t happen. He still had a criminal record, which would make it hard to do any of those things. It wasn’t fair, Hunter thought as he saw Prince Handsome and Princess Ariana kiss. Hunter made one little mistake, and it would prevent him from getting anywhere in life. He’d just be living in his parents’ basement, watching all his friends go off and start lives of their own while he lived out the rest of his meaningless existence.

Seriously, what was the point of even living anymore? Even if Hunter did get a college degree, there would still be the issue of finding and keeping a job. And if he did find a soul mate, he would have a job mantaining the relationship. Besides, if his wife were to die, then he’d go back to living depressed and lonely. And, one way or another, Hunter would end up dying, along with all his friends and family and everyone he’d ever known. And then the world would keep going on without him. In the grand scheme of things, Hunter could never have been born and the world would still be the same.

Hunter was so lost in thought, he didn’t even stand up to produce applause with the rest of the people in the wedding room. He barely perked up when the priest told them to go to the dining room for the wedding banquet. He just sort of followed Pyras as they all left the room.

End of Chapter 10…

Chapter 11

The wedding banquet was held in a large, royal dining hall. There was a long table full of food set up near the end of the room, with circular tables set up all around.

Princess Ariana and Prince Handsome were the first to get food, followed by Ariana’s parents and Handsome’s parents. The other royal dignitaries got their food, and then the guests were finally allowed to dig in.

There wasn’t too much food that Hunter didn’t like. He ended up getting a plate of steak, scalloped potatoes, sliced apples, and a cinnamon muffin. He sat down at a table to enjoy his food, but he found himself picking at the steak. He was just so lost in thought, and so discouraged. As beautiful as the wedding was, Hunter and Pyras were still no closer to finding their keystone. Hunter was sure that Hydras, Glacias, and Aeras had already gotten the keystone from the Power Race Track by now, and here they were just sitting at a wedding ceremony.

Meanwhile, Pyras was mostly glossing over the food table. Since he was a biomechanical being, he did not need to eat food in order to survive. He’d never really tried to eat, though, so he figured he might as well try a piece of steak. As he was leaving the food table, Pyras ran right into Prince Handsome and Princess Ariana. “Well, well, well!” said Handsome. “One of the Elemental Masters did decide to show up!”

Pyras forced a smile. “Yes, I’m glad you invited me.”

Handsome looked at Pyras’ plate. “Ah, um, if you can’t eat food, then you don’t-”

“I’ve never tried,” said Pyras. “But that doesn’t mean I can’t do so now.”

“Let’s find a place to sit,” said Handsome. He, Ariana, and Pyras looked around and saw the table Hunter was sitting at. They sat down with him.

“Are you with Pyras?” Ariana asked.

“Yes, he is,” Pyras said as he picked up the piece of steak on his plate. He turned it over in his hands, trying to figure out where the best spot would be to take a bite. He brought it up to his mouth and bit off a piece. He chewed it slowly.

“Well?” Prince Handsome asked.

“I don’t…taste it,” said Pyras as he swallowed the bite of meat.

“What do you mean?”

“I mean, it didn’t have any taste to me,” said Pyras.

“Maybe because you’re mostly made of metal, and you don’t have taste buds,” Ariana suggested.

“Maybe,” said Pyras. “But in any case, we’re not here to dine on fancy food.”

“Well, what are you here for?”

“We’re here for a keystone,” said Pyras. “I take it you remember Prohahka?”

Ariana shuddered. “I try not to.”

“Well, she’s still alive. She and the Kakkarak have invaded Voyo, and now Prohahka’s trying to find all six keystones so she can go and awaken Shadow,” Pyras explained. “And supposedly, there’s a keystone here in your castle.”

“What does this keystone look like?” Handsome asked.

“It’s big enough to fit in your hand. It’s white, and glowing, and it emulates energy.”

Handsome’s face lit up. “As a matter of fact, I do have something like that!”

“You do?”

“It was in the evil witch’s lair,” said Handsome. “I found it when my soldiers and I were going to kill the evil witch. I was planning on giving it to Ariana as a wedding gift, but if you need it, then I’d be willing to turn it over.”

“Please do,” said Pyras.

“I will be right back,” said Handsome. He got up and left the table.

“How many keystones have you found already?” Ariana asked.

“Once Prince Handsome brings his back, two,” said Pyras. “And three of the other Elemental Masters are currently recovering the third.”

“Sounds like the keystones are scattered all around the world,” said Ariana.

“They are,” said Hunter. “We have a map pointing us to the Dead Desert, and Lord Vulcon’s Kingdom, and-”

Princess Ariana’s face was drained of its color. “Did-did you say Lord Vulcon?”

“Yes, I did,” said Hunter.

“Oh my glory,” said Ariana.

“What’s Lord Vulcon’s deal, anyway?” Hunter asked. “I’ve been hearing about him like he’s this evil king, or sorcerer, or something.”

“He’s both of those things,” said Ariana. “He used to be a knight in the kingdom down south, but he was exiled for practicing black magic. He formed his own kingdom in the dark mountains, and now he wants to wage war on the kingdom that exiled him.”

“No wonder he was a supporter of Tenebris,” said Hunter.

Pyras nodded. “Next to Prohahka, he was Tenebris’ most loyal supporter. In fact, rumor has it that Lord Vulcon went looking for Tenebris after we defeated him.”

“I was held captive by him once,” said Ariana. “He threatened to sacrifice me to finish forging his magic sword, or something like that. Luckily a band of knights saved me, but Lord Vulcon…” she shuddered. “I wish you the best of luck dealing with him.”

“Thanks,” said Hunter. “We’re gonna need it.”

Ariana gave Hunter her first good look. “So you’re…Pyras’ companion?” she asked.

“You could say that,” said Hunter.

“He’s the Outsider,” said Pyras. “He’s the one who’s-”

“No, I’m not,” said Hunter. “I know you think so, but it’s not who I’m meant to be.”

“Well, then, who are you meant to be?” Ariana asked. “What are your dreams?”

“I-I don’t have any,” said Hunter. “I know I’m not going to amount to anything.”

Pyras sighed. “Hunter, this attitude has to stop. You are a capable young man. I saw how you did in Dino Valley.”

“You don’t understand!” said Hunter. “Just because I outran a couple of dinosaurs, doesn’t mean I’m a good fighter, or leader, or planner. Prohahka saw this, and she saw how badly I’ve been doing in my world.”

“Well, just how badly have you been doing in your world?” Ariana asked.

Hunter took a deep breath. “You’re not gonna like this,” he warned. He explained the story of his family’s gas station excursion last summer, and how he’d stolen from the store, and how he’d served six months in jail.

“So…all this over a bag of chips?” Ariana asked when Hunter was done with his story.

“Yes, it’s stupid,” said Hunter. “I was an idiot, and then I was basically a criminal.”

“Just because you were a criminal then, doesn’t mean you’ll be a criminal in the future,” said Pyras.

“Even if I won’t, I’ll still have a criminal record,” said Hunter. “And it’ll probably prevent me from getting a good job when I’m older. And then I’ll end up living on the streets, and then I’ll die depressed and lonely. I just…I just don’t see the point in trying anymore.”

Pyras and Ariana exchanged glances, not sure what to say. “Hunter-it’s not that bad,” said Ariana. “You can still move forward in life.”

“To what?”

“You shouldn’t let your one setback destroy the rest of your life,” said Ariana. “You can still work forward, do good things to compensate for the bad things.”

“It’s not just my criminal record,” said Hunter. “I’m not doing too well in school, either. I’ve got a math test coming up, and I know I’m gonna fail it.”

“Hunter, listen to me,” said Pyras. “If there’s one thing I’ve learned in my experience as the leader of the Elemental Masters, it’s that belief that you will fail will lead to you actually failing. If you believe you will succeed, however, then you are likely to succeed. I’m not saying success comes easily, but confidence is key.”

“I guess you’re right,” said Hunter. “But how can I find confidence when everything is so…hopeless?”

“Everyone has a purpose in life,” said Pyras. “You just have to work to find yours.”

“Well…”

“From the way it sounds to me, the best thing you can do right now is pass high school,” said Pyras.

“Assuming I can even make it back to my world,” said Hunter. “We still haven’t gotten anywhere on that front.”

“Maybe the Great Creators can help you with that,” said Pyras. “Once we defeat Prohahka and the Kakkarak, I’ll take you to the Great Creators so they can send you home.”

Hunter smiled. “That sounds like a deal. I’ll help you save your city, and you’ll help me get home.”

“Well, that’s not what I was trying to say, but yes, I suppose so.”

“There’s a lot of innocent people that’ll die if you fail,” said Ariana. “So there’s that, too.”

“You’re not…you know, worried that Prohahka will try to invade here, are you?”

“Of course I am,” said Ariana. “I know that if she awakens Shadow and brings him to this world, then we’re all doomed. But if you’re really the Outsider, then I’m certain you’ll stop her.”

Right then, Prince Handsome came back with the keystone. This one was identical to the one they had found in Dino Valley, with its pearly white glow and pulsating magical energy. “Is this the keystone you are here for?” he asked.

“It is,” said Pyras. “Thank you so much.”

“Our pleasure,” said Handsome.

“Well, we should probably be leaving now,” said Hunter. “We gotta meet the other Elemental Masters back at Sam’s fire station. They’re off getting another keystone, and…”

“We’re still glad you came to our wedding!” said Princess Ariana.

“Oh yes,” said Pyras. “Congratulations on getting married.”

“Good luck,” said Ariana as Hunter and Pyras stood up. “I hope you find the rest of the keystones.”

“Of course,” said Hunter.


Prohahka stood at the edge of the City. She knew that one of the keystones was hidden somewhere in the City, and she knew what she would have to do to find it. But right now, she was talking with one of her Kakkarak scouts. Even though Kakkarak did not speak English, Prohahka had learned to understand their language from Brintoco. The scout had came to her from the magical forest, carrying disturbing news with it. The scout had seen a legion of people gathering at Princess Ariana’s castle, with an Elemental Master among them. Later on, that same Elemental Master had been seen leaving the castle alongside a human companion, taking a keystone with them.

“This Elemental Master had a human companion?” Prohahka asked. A little red “trouble” light had gone off inside of her.

The Kakkarak scout nodded.

“It wasn’t the Outsider, the human boy from Voyo, was it?”

The scout nodded once more.

Prohahka growled in frustration. It couldn’t be Hunter Brooks. Prohahka had looked into his mind and seen the hopelessness he carried in his heart. She had advised him that his best option would be to give up and distance himself from Prohahka’s conflict with the Elemental Masters. And yet he had ignored her advice, and helped obtain the keystone from Princess Ariana.

No matter, Prohahka told herself. She had a map, too, and she also had personal connections to some of the people who possessed keystones. Prohahka had already been to Lord Vulcon and promised to bring him at least one Elemental Master in exchange for his keystone. She had also gone to the location of another keystone, one that the Elemental Masters hadn’t found yet. This one, it turned out, was also possessed by a former ally. Not only had said ally willingly given Prohahka his keystone, but he had also agreed to help her set up a trap…

End of Chapter 11…

Chapter 12

Hydras, Glacias, and Aeras left the Power Race Track successful. They had entered the race stadium while the race was in progress, and seen a picture of the trophy on a video screen. The trophy, it turned out, had a keystone built into it. Hydras, Aeras, and Glacias found their way to the commentator’s box, where the person who called himself the Racemaster was watching over the race.

After finding their way to the commentator’s box, the Elemental Masters had found that the Racemaster was actually a Mechanicle being dressed in human clothes. It turned out he had been one of Tenebris’ supporters, but after Tenebris died, he had decided to join the racing industry. Since he had presented a trophy that was made from a keystone, the racing officials had decided to make him the Racemaster.

To the Elemental Masters’ surprise, the Racemaster was very willing to let them have the keystone. He said that he no longer held sympathy for Tenebris or Prohahka or anyone from Mechanicle. For all the Racemaster cared, the Elemental Masters could have their keystone back.

So after a little talk with the racer who won the race, Hydras, Aeras, and Glacias left the Power Race Track with another keystone in their possession. They made it with lots of time to spare, too-they had to be back at Sam’s fire station by morning, and it wasn’t even midnight yet.

“Well,” said Glacias, “That was much easier than I expected.”

“Yeah, it was,” said Aeras. “Imagine if we’d had to enter the race ourselves!”

Hydras smiled. “They wouldn’t have even let us,” she said. “But they did let us have the keystone for nothing.”

The Power Race Track was located between the City and the Dead Desert. As they left the race stadium, Aeras looked over to the east and saw the Dead Desert. “Speaking of keystones…”

“What is it?” Hydras asked.

“You think we could get the keystone from the Dead Desert?”

“No. Our plan was to get the keystone from the Power Race Track, then meet Hunter and Pyras back at Sam’s fire station,” said Glacias.

“We’ve got until morning,” Aeras insisted. “Besides, we’re not the only ones looking for the keystones.”

He didn’t even need to mention Prohahka’s name. “You do have a point there,” Hydras admitted.

“Come on, guys,” said Glacias. “We’ve got three keystones and a lead on the fourth. I think the odds are playing out in our favor.”

“But if Prohahka gets even one keystone, then it’ll be extremely difficult for us to get it from her,” said Hydras. “Heck, who’s to say she hasn’t gotten one we haven’t found already?”

“I can’t argue with that,” said Aeras.

Glacias sighed. “Fine,” he said. “But don’t expect me to stand up for you when Pyras finds out we disobeyed his orders.”

So the trio went to the east, toward the Dead Desert. They watched as the ground faded from dirt to sand as they entered the desert. “So we’ve got the entire desert to search,” said Glacias. “Where do we start?”

“The mummy tombs,” said Hydras. “Where else would the keystone be hidden?”

“Well, then, let’s go there,” said Aeras.

They headed in the direction that they knew the mummies’ tombs were located. But before long, the sand under their feet started to feel cold. It didn’t bother Glacias, as his element was ice, but Hydras and Aeras could feel their metal feet going numb. They looked down and saw that the “sand” they were walking on was actually snow. “Snow? In the desert?” Hydras asked. It shouldn’t have been possible for it to snow in a desert, but here they were. They had gone from sand to snow in, like, a minute.

“This is just…strange,” said Glacias. He looked out to the east, and he saw that the entire desert was covered in snow and ice. Even the tall mesas that dotted the edge of the desert had literally turned to ice.

“Who do you think did this?” Aeras asked.

“What do you mean, ‘who?’” Glacias asked.

“It’s just-snow and ice in a desert, it seems…unnatural,” said Aeras.

Glacias shrugged. “Well, I can tell you right now, it wasn’t me,” he said.

“No, I know it wasn’t you,” said Aeras. “I was just saying-”

“Did you see that?” Hydras asked.

“What?”

Hydras looked around. “I could’ve sworn I saw something move up ahead.”

Aeras and Glacias looked ahead, to where the topography started to disrupt and create hills. “I don’t see anything,” said Aeras.

Perhaps Hydras had been imagining things. “Let’s just keep going,” she sighed.

They went onward and crossed over what used to be a sand dune. Now that it was covered with snow and ice, it couldn’t really be called a “dune.” More like a snowy hill. As the Elemental Masters reached the top of the hill, it started to get less and less snowy, with the ice that had been underneath the stone exposed. Aeras was beginning to descend when it happened. His metal foot slipped off the icy ground, and he fell flat on his face. Aeras started to slide down the hill.

“Aeras!” Hydras shouted as she reached for him. But Aeras had already slid out out of her reach, and Hydras toppled over herself. Aeras pulled out his hatchet and dug it into the side of the hill, stopping his fall. But then Hydras slammed into him, causing Aeras to lose his grip and the both of them to slide to the bottom.

“Well that happened,” Aeras grumbled when they had reached the bottom. He looked up to see Glacias casually walking down the hill, doing so as easily as if he were walking on a regular hill. Glacias was the Elemental Master of ice, so of course he knew how to walk on ice without taking a tumble. But at least he picked up Aeras’ hatchet on the way down.

“You guys okay?” Glacias asked as he tossed Aeras the hatchet.

“We’re good,” said Hydras. But she paused when she heard a noise. “What was that?” she asked.

“Nothing,” said Aeras. “Why are you being so jumpy?”

“I thought I heard some ice cracking…” said Hydras. She looked around at the surrounding hills. She didn’t see anyone or anything, but she couldn’t shake the feeling that they were being watched.

“Maybe my hatchet started a crack when I dug it into the ice,” said Aeras.

“Maybe,” said Hydras. But she drew both of her axes, making herself feel a little safer.

The trio was starting to climb the next hill when it happened. All three of them heard a loud clicking noise, like some gigantic bug walking across the ice. The noise was mixed with a mechanical whirring sound. Whatever was making that sound, it was just over the hill.

“What. Is. That?” Aeras asked.

“I don’t know,” said Glacias, drawing his double-bladed sword.

Hydras hefted her axes. “I guess you were right,” she said to Glacias. “Coming here wasn’t such a good idea.”

“Are…are we sure that that’s bad news?” Aeras asked hopefully. It sounded like he was trying to convince himself that whatever was coming over that hill was friend rather than foe.

The answer came when a large, black, scorpion-like robot climbed over the edge of the hill. It was as long as two school buses, and had a robotic tail that extended thirty feet high. It had six long, pointed legs that resembled those of the Kakkarak. The robot’s arms were stubby, yet their claws were large and serrated. The robot had a head-like cockpit with a dark blue windshield. Inside the cockpit was a driver who looked awfully familiar.

“Uh-oh,” said Glacias. If that was who he thought it was, then they truly should not have came here.

“We can take him,” said Aeras. “There’s three of us, and only one of him.”

As if in answer, the scorpion robot raised its right arm like a military commander withholding his troops. It pointed forward, giving a signal. Immediately, Kakkarak and black-suited human soldiers came over the surrounding hills and down towards the Elemental Masters.

“Uh…maybe we can’t,” said Aeras.

The scorpion robot crawled down the hill, and its front cockpit opened. The driver stood up in his seat and faced the Elemental Masters. He was dressed in a black jumpsuit, with a gold chain around his neck. He had thin facial features, a pencil mustache, and a shaved head. “So you’re the Elemental Masters,” he said. “I’ve heard about you.”

“Who are you?” Hydras asked.

“My name is Professor Tick-Tock,” said the robot’s driver.

“Professor Tick-Tock?” Glacias scoffed. “That’s your name?”

“Yes,” said Professor Tick-Tock. “And you are trespassing in my territory.”

“What are you talking about? This is the Dead Desert!” said Hydras.

“Not anymore, it’s not,” said Professor Tick-Tock. “It’s my testing grounds for my freezing bombs. I’ve been developing them for months now, trying to create one that can freeze time. But so far, I’ve only succeeded in freezing the desert!”

“Right,” said Hydras. “We’re not trying to put your plan on ice or anything. We’re just here to obtain our keystone.”

Professor Tick-Tock laughed. “Oh, you won’t find any keystones here,” he said. “I was warned that you would come here to get my keystone, and would likely try to stop me from freezing time. Well, I don’t want that. And luckily, the Kakkarak are more than willing to help me stop you.”

Hydras, Aeras, and Glacias exchanged glances. “I think Prohahka beat us here,” said Glacias.

“But why isn’t she showing her face right now?” Aeras asked.

“I hardly think that’s our biggest worry right now,” said Hydras. She watched as Professor Tick-Tock sat back down in his scorpion robot’s cockpit and fired up the engine. The scorpion robot snapped its claws as it crawled forward.

Not even bothering to wait, the Kakkarak and black-suited people-who must have been Professor Tick-Tock’s goons-came charging forward. Hydras, Aeras, and Glacias stood back to back, their weapons drawn. They hacked away at the first tier of enemies, but there were many more coming. One of the black-suited goons thrust a transparent blue spear at Aeras, but he deflected it. As the two were pushing against each other, a Kakkarak came for Aeras with its mandibles clicking like crazy. Aeras turned his hatchet in an arc that sent the spear flying out of his goon’s hands, and then sliced into the Kakkarak’s head.

“There’s too many of them!” Hydras exclaimed.

“Not if I have anything to say about it,” said Glacias. He thrust his hand out, and a barricade of ice spikes froze into existence in front of him. The spikes impaled several goons and stabbed a few Kakkarak, while scaring the rest into stepping backward. “Back away from us, all of you!”

“Yes, back away!” Professor Tick-Tock ordered. “It seems I’ll have to deal with these guys myself.” The scorpion robot advanced on the three Elemental Masters, its claws snapping angrily.

“No, you back away!” Aeras shouted. He charged at the scorpion robot and leaped for its cockpit head, even summoning wind to boost his jump. He brought his hatchet down on the cockpit’s canopy windshield, creating a big crack in it. Professor Tick-Tock growled and pulled a lever inside the cockpit. The scorpion robot reached out with its left claw, grabbed Aeras, and threw him off the cockpit.

Hydras had been stepping forward to attack the scorpion robot herself, but faltered when she saw what happened with Aeras. She knew there had to be another way to defeat the robot, but…

Hydras fixed on an idea. “Glacias, I know how to defeat it!” Not taking her eyes off the advancing robot, she whispered her idea in Glacias’ ear.

Glacias ground his teeth. “That had better work,” he said.

“Be ready,” said Hydras. She crossed her axes across her chest, Wonder Woman-style, and focused her elemental energy into them. Once she had built up the right amount of energy, she thrust her axes forward and sent a powerful tidal wave against the scorpion robot. The blast hit the robot right in the cockpit head, causing a little bit of water to leak into the cockpit. As the water was dripping off of the robot, Hydras willed it to gather into one big blob of water under the robot. As she was bringing the water upwards, Glacias did his part. He froze the rising water into an enormous ice spike, which went right up through the robot’s scorpion body. Glacias even conjured some extra ice to add to the spike’s mass.

The ice spike grew to the size of a sixteen-wheeler as it went upward. It smashed the scorpion robot’s body, sending its parts flying everywhere. The cockpit head broke off and rolled to the ground, with Professor Tick-Tock cursing in rage.

The surrounding goons and Kakkarak watched in horror as the whole scene unfolded. “Retreat!” one goon shouted. He, along with most of the goons and a handful of Kakkarak, turned and ran away from the battlefield. Those that remained just stood there, unsure of what to do.

“Nice one,” Aeras said as he regained his senses.

“We gotta get out of here,” said Hydras. “We have to warn Pyras that Prohahka has one of the keystones.”

But, as they ran westward, Professor Tick-Tock managed to punch a hole through his cockpit’s windshield. “Stop them!” he commanded. “Don’t let them escape!”

Heeding his orders, the black-suited goons and Kakkarak regrouped and ran after the Elemental Masters. “Oh great,” said Aeras. “How are we-”

“Just keep moving!” Hydras urged. The trio ran off into the night, in the hope that they would lose their pursuers.

End of Chapter 12…

Chapter 13

It was almost midnight when Hunter and Pyras knocked on Sam’s fire station’s front door. They were hoping that he would’ve talked to Officer Janson and set out a warrant for the keystone.

What they got, however, was a much more pleasant surprise. Sam answered the door while wearing his fireman suit. “Ah, great timing,” he said.

“What, did you find the keystone?” Hunter asked.

“You could say that,” said Sam. “After you left, new evidence came to light about who we were looking for. Officer Janson was looking at the records of who has moved into the City since Tenebris’ defeat, and there was only one person. We went to his house and searched it, but we did not find a keystone.”

“So…”

“The civilian was refusing to divulge what he had done with his keystone,” said Sam. “But I suggested that he might have hidden his keystone in the bank. Officer Janson had other stuff to take care of at the time, but he agreed to meet up with me and search the bank later on tonight.”

“And you’re leaving right now?”

“Yes,” said Sam. “You two can come with me.”

“Don’t mind if we do,” said Pyras.

A few minutes later, Hunter, Sam, and Pyras were in Sam’s fire truck, driving to the city bank. The bank was located just a few blocks away, just down the street from the hospital. Sam pulled over right across the street from the bank, then got out with Hunter and Pyras.

“Looks like we beat Officer Janson here,” said Sam.

Hunter looked up at the bank. It was two stories high, with an ATM machine beside the front door and a skylight up top. He could see the lights on inside, meaning that the bank was open. Hunter wouldn’t have thought that a bank would be open at this time of night, but here it was.

However, something didn’t feel right. The front door was thrown open, and Hunter couldn’t see anyone behind the front desk. Suspicious, he entered the bank. “Hello?” he asked. “Anyone here?” No answer. He peeked around the front desk and, to his horror, saw the bank teller laying spread-eagled on the floor.

“Oh my gosh,” Hunter gasped.

“What is it?” Pyras asked, sticking his head into the bank. His eyes widened when he saw the dead (?) bank teller.

“There must’ve been a robbery or something,” said Hunter.

If it was possible for a metal face to lose its color, then it happened with Pyras in that moment. “You-you don’t think-”

“I do think,” said Hunter. He had a very clear picture of what had happened, and he didn’t like it one bit.

“C’mon!” said Pyras. He ran upstairs to where the vault was, with Hunter following behind him. The whole way, Pyras prayed to the Great Creators that he was wrong. He couldn’t be this unlucky, could he?

Unfortunately, he was. Pyras and Hunter reached the second floor to find the vault’s door yanked off its hinges, with wads of dollar bills littering the floor inside the vault. “No, no, no!” Pyras wailed as he dug through the piles of money, looking for the keystone.

“Why couldn’t we have thought of this sooner?” Hunter asked as he started rifling through the vault himself.

“I knew something like this would happen sooner or later,” Pyras grumbled.

“That keystone has to be in here somewhere!” Hunter said in an attempt to lift both of their spirits. But it did no good; the keystone just wasn’t in there.

Pyras stood up. “Keep digging around,” he said. “I’m gonna go outside and let Sam know about this. Officer Janson too, if he’s shown up.”

Pyras went downstairs and out the bank’s front door. “Sam,” he said. “I’ve got some bad news.”

“What is it?”

But before Pyras could answer, he heard people calling his name from across the street. To his surprise, he saw Hydras, Glacias, and Aeras running toward him. “Pyras, thank goodness we found you,” said Hydras. “We weren’t sure if you’d gotten back from Princess Ariana’s castle, but here you are.”

“What happened?” Pyras asked.

Hydras, Aeras, and Glacias gave Pyras a hurried explanation of their encounter with Professor Tick-Tock in the Dead Desert. “We’re lucky we escaped,” said Hydras.

“So let me get this straight,” said Pyras. “You three disobeyed my orders and went beyond the Power Race Track, and almost got killed because of it?”

“Don’t blame me!” said Glacias. “I voted against it!”

“That’s not the point,” said Aeras. “The point is that Prohahka beat us to the keystone in the Dead Desert!”

“I don’t think it was in the Dead Desert to begin with,” said Hydras. “I think Professor Tick-Tock set up a base in the Dead Desert and happened to take his keystone with him, and then Prohahka visited him in his base and then-”

“Well, I think she’s been here, too,” said Pyras. “Someone broke into the bank, and we can’t find the keystone.”

Sam’s eyes widened. “Then-what do we…” He trailed off when he saw the Kakkarak crawling out of various hiding places-alleys, rooftops, manholes-and surrounding them. There were about forty of them, all of which were eyeing the Elemental Masters hatefully.

“They’ve caught up to us!” Hydras shouted, drawing her two axes.

Pyras drew his sword. “They were following you?”

“Apparently!” said Glacias.

“But what would they want from you?” Pyras asked.

“Oh, you would be surprised,” said an all-too-familiar female voice. A cold metal hand slammed onto Pyras’ shoulder, and a chill spread throughout his biomechanical body. He felt that sensation again-his elemental power being drained away. He dropped his sword in fear and looked to see who was standing behind him. He had known who it was the moment he heard the voice, but that didn’t make the sight any less shocking.

“Hello, Pyras,” said Prohahka, grinning evilly.


Hunter sifted through the stacks and piles of money in the bank vault, hoping that whoever had broken in hadn’t taken the keystone. But after fifteen minutes of searching, Hunter came up empty-handed.

“Sorry Pyras, it’s just not here,” said Hunter. “Pyras?” He had been so wrapped up in rooting through the vault, he’d almost forgotten that Pyras had gone outside to talk to Sam. Hunter walked out of the vault and looked out the window, hoping to see Pyras talking with Sam and maybe Officer Janson. But, to his surprise, Pyras wasn’t out there. The only person in the street below was Sam-and he was lying unconscious.

Hunter barely had time to think uh-oh when he saw a police car pull up next to the bank. “Well finally!” Hunter muttered to himself. “What took Officer Janson so long?”

Officer Janson got out of his car and pulled out a gun. As he entered the bank, Hunter went downstairs to meet him. “Officer Janson!” Hunter said as he came down the stairs. “You’ve-”

“Freeze, mister!” Officer Janson shouted.

“What? Why?”

“I said freeze!” Officer Janson ordered, pointing the gun at Hunter’s chest.

Hunter reluctantly raised his hands. “It-it’s not what it looks like-”

“You have the right to remain silent,” said Officer Janson. “Come over here.”

This scenario felt all too familiar. Hunter remembered the day that the police had came to his house after finding out about him stealing that bag of chips and then taken him to be tried. The situation had played out differently, but Hunter knew what he had to do: let the cop handcuff him and take him to the car, and not argue with anything the cop does or says.

But internally, Hunter was totally freaking out. He had basically been framed for a crime he didn’t commit. He was certain that Prohahka had been the real culprit, along with her Kakkarak cronies. She had probably gone to the house of the Tenebris cult member that Sam and Officer Janson had tracked down, and then questioned him about where his keystone was. Since Sam had said that the former cultist had refused to open up, Hunter doubted that he would’ve been any more willing to help Prohahka. Then again, with Prohahka’s mind-reading powers, she probably didn’t need to force him to tell her.

Hunter didn’t have any proof, but he suspected that Prohahka may have been the reason Pyras had disappeared. Since Sam had been knocked out, Prohahka and her Kakkarak had probably captured Pyras and taken him somewhere. But where would they be taking him, and why?

Hunter waited in the back of Officer Janson’s police car while Officer Janson performed CPR on Sam and woke him up. Immediately, Sam looked around and realized what had happened. Hunter couldn’t hear their conversation, but it looked like Officer Janson was calming Sam down and assuring him that he’d look into everything that had happened around here.

After Officer Janson sent Sam home, he got back into his car. “Thanks for being patient, young man,” he told Hunter. “Now let’s get you down to the station.”

“But I didn’t do it!” said Hunter. “Sam told you, didn’t he?”

“We’ll question you at the station,” said Officer Janson. “Then we’ll call Sam and see what he has to say.”

End of Chapter 13…

Chapter 14

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-”

“Ahem?”

“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.”

“Really?”

“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.

“I-I just…”

“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…

Chapter 15

Obtaining an enemy battle wagon was much easier than they expected. One battle wagon was parked beside one of the dead-tree forests, with the two black-armored knights who operated it sitting in front of a campfire.

Fendrel was more than happy to go in front of the evil knights and dance a jig to some imaginary music. “Hey guys!” he said merrily as he danced. He put up his helmet’s visor so the evil knights could see his giddy smile. “Bet you guys haven’t seen me doing this before!”

The two evil knights exchanged looks of confusion. “Really?” the first one asked. “This is what Anthrall sends us?”

“Why yes!” said Fendrel, grinning from ear to ear. “Everyone needs to have a little fun! Even you!”

“Should we kill him?” the second evil knight asked. He didn’t notice Hunter, Merek, Sam, Cedric, and Barda sneaking up behind him and his comrade.

“Of course we should!” said the first evil knight. “Let’s-”

“Give us your battle wagon?” Barda asked. He ripped the evil knights’ helmets off their heads and clonked them in the heads. The knights counted stars as they fell on their faces. Before they could regain their senses, Barda and Cedric tied them up and stuffed gags in their mouths.

“One battle wagon for us,” said Merek.

“Fendrel sure seems to have a sense of humor,” said Hunter.

“I used to be a court jester,” said Fendrel. “I still know a thing or two about making people laugh.”

“Nice,” Hunter said as he looked over the battle wagon. It was about twenty feet long, with a seat at the front for someone to control the horses, a prison cell at the back to hold one prisoner, and a miniature cabin big enough for five or six people to sit in. Cedric stole one of the evil knights’ helmets and chest armor, put them on over his own armor, and took the horses’ reins while everyone else huddled up in the wagon’s cabin.

As they rode through the land of evil, Hunter couldn’t shake the feeling that he was being watched. Most of the enemy knights they passed gave them sideways glances, and every time it happened, Hunter was worried that one of them might have gotten suspicious and went off to tell Lord Vulcon. He tried to assure himself that everything was all right, but he couldn’t. This place was just too creepy, radiating too much evil. He wondered if Brintoco and the Kakkarak would’ve liked to rule this kingdom, rather than Voyo.

As they neared Lord Vulcon’s fortress, the ground under them started to rumble. Through the cracks in the volcanic rock, the lava underneath started to glow brighter. “Uh, guys,” said Hunter. “I think we may have a problem.”

“Yes, we do,” Cedric said from up front. “This is where the lava starts to spew out of the ground and form geysers.”

“Lava geysers?”

“We’d better hold on,” said Barda.

Cedric whipped the horses pulling the wagon, urging them to go faster. The horses neighed in anguish and went at full gallop. As they started to go faster, a torrent of lava burst out of the ground a few yards away. The geyser went as high as a London bus.

“Not so faithful,” Hunter said as another lava geyser erupted five feet to their right.

“C’mon, horses!” Cedric yelled as he whipped them again. “Get us out of the geyser area!” That, along with the geysers erupting all around them, urged the horses even more. They put on an extra burst of speed and made it past the halfway point of the geyser area.

“We’re almost there,” said Merek, clearly trying to convince himself.

“You think?” said Sam.

Before Merek could reply,the ground underneath them rumbled. “Get out! All of you!” Barda yelled. He threw open the wagon’s side door and leaped out. Hunter followed suit and jumped out of the wagon just as a lava geyser erupted directly underneath it. For a few seconds, the air around him was so hot, it singed every hair on his body and melted his shoes’ rubber soles. As the lava settled back into the hole where it came from, Hunter looked around. He, Barda, Fendrel, and Sam had all successfully jumped out and were scattered across the rumbling ground, and Cedric had been catapulted twenty feet away. But half of the wagon had been burned to nothingness, and the other half had upended right in front of the geyser.

“Is everyone okay?” Sam asked.

“Where’s Merek?” Hunter asked.

“Here!” a weak voice called. Hunter got up and rushed over to what was left of their battle wagon. Merek was pinned underneath a section of the wagon’s roof, struggling to get out. “Help me, please!”

“Like you have to ask,” said Hunter. He grabbed the piece of roof and tried to lift it, but it was too heavy for him. “Could someone give me a hand?”

Sam, who was nearest, came over to help. Together, Hunter and Sam lifted the piece of roof until Merek could crawl free. “Thanks, guys,” said Merek.

“Come on, we’ve gotta get out of here!” Barda urged. He, Fendrel, Hunter, Sam, and Merek ran toward the edge of the geyser area, where Cedric had already reached. As soon as the ground stopped rumbling under their feet, they slowed to a walk so they could catch their breath.

“Okay,” Hunter said between pants. “That was intense.”

“We can’t rest now,” said Cedric. “We’re closer to Lord Vulcon’s fortress than ever.”

They turned to see the fortress looming against the dark, stormy red sky. It was now only a mile away, if that. “So where’s this secret entrance?” Hunter asked.

“There’s a tunnel somewhere,” said Cedric. “It goes under the lava moat and leads into Lord Vulcon’s dungeons.”

“Well, where is it?”

“It’s to the west,” said Cedric. “Follow me.”

The six of them went to the west, in the direction where Cedric said the tunnel would be. They tried to keep their heads down, so that the evil knights on the fortress’ parapets wouldn’t see them, but it was hard not to cast glances up at the fortress. It was so huge, and radiated so much evil, it was kind of mesmerizing. It looked like something out of, say, The Lord of the Rings.

“It should be around here somewhere,” Cedric said as they got to a cluster of rocks. “Hidden under a large rock.”

Everyone immediately got to flipping rocks over, looking for a secret tunnel of any kind. It took several minutes of searching, but Merek finally uncovered a dark tunnel big enough for a person to sidle through.

“Well done, Merek,” said Cedric.

Fendrel’s eyes widened as he looked at the fortress’ tallest tower. “Uh, guys…” he said.

“What?”

Fendrel pointed to a parapet on the tallest tower, where a dark figure was standing. It was clearly a knight dressed in black armor, but this wasn’t like the others they’d seen. This one seemed to radiate a red glow.

Hunter could feel the rock fall into his stomach. “Please tell me that’s not Lord Vulcon,” he said.

“It is,” said Barda. “Hurry, get in the tunnel!”

Hunter didn’t have to be told twice. He hopped down into the tunnel, followed by Sam, Merek, Fendrel, Cedric, and Barda. “He-he still saw us, didn’t he?”

“I’m afraid so,” said Fendrel.

“Does he know about this secret passage?” Hunter asked.

“We aren’t sure,” said Fendrel. “This is the tunnel we used when we were rescuing Princess Ariana, and we know Lord Vulcon didn’t know about it back then.”

“All we can do right now is move forward,” said Cedric. “If Lord Vulcon knows we’re here, then we mustn’t dilly-dally.”

As they started to descend the dark tunnel, a light suddenly appeared. “What’s that light?” Merek asked.

“My flashlight,” Sam answered. “I always have one on me for situations like this.”

“Boy, you thought of everything,” said Hunter.

“I tried to,” said Sam. “Too bad I lost a few things in the lava geysers.”

With a light to illuminate their way, the group should’ve felt reassured. But the sight of Lord Vulcon had really shaken them up. They were so paranoid, every small scraping noise caused their hearts to leap.

“You don’t think there’s gonna be-” Merek started to say.

“Don’t think about that,” said Cedric. But not even a minute later, he heard a falling rock. “Sam, put your light out,” he said.

But the loss of light made things all the more creepier. Hunter’s pupils were at their widest extent, and he could still barely see his own hand in front of his face. He began to get a little encouraged when he finally saw a red torchlight up ahead. “Is that-”

“I see it, too,” said Barda. “Stop.” They halted in their tracks, not even daring to breath. They watched the torchlight flicker, half expecting a plethora of evil knights to come charging around the corner. But nothing happened.

“Right with me,” Cedric commanded. He drew his sword and cautiously advanced forward. He heard the distant clinking of chains and raised his fist. “Wait for me.”

The other five companions watched nervously as Cedric walked around the corner to where the torchlight was coming from. For about thirty seconds, they waited breathlessly. And when Cedric poked his head around the corner and beckoned them forward, they let out sighs of relief.

“We’re here,” said Barda. “Right in the dungeons.” The exited the tunnel to find themselves in a dank, dark dungeon chamber made from black stone and with cells made from dark crimson metal bars. It almost looked like a volcano cave lit by torches. Looking back at the tunnel they had came from, Hunter could see why it had gone unnoticed by Lord Vulcon or any of his soldiers. The hole in the wall was relatively small, turning sharply into the corridor. Looking straight at the tunnel, it might have passed for another niche in the hall.

“Okay,” said Hunter. “We’re in the dungeons. Now where are the Elemental Masters?”

“They should be around here somewhere,” said Cedric. “Hunter, Sam, Barda, you three look for the Elemental Masters. Merek, Fendrel, you two come with me. We’ll get that drawbridge down.”

“Got it,” said Hunter. “Good luck.”

“Same to you,” said Merek as he, Fendrel, and Cedric went off.

Barda, who had been in the dungeons before, led Hunter and Sam through the halls of cells. They encountered several of Lord Vulcon’s guards along the way, but Barda’s strength and skill with the sword was more than a match for them.

They passed lots of locked cells, many of which had rotting skeletons inside of them. Looking at them, Hunter tried not to imagine what the Elemental Masters might look like when he found them. Actually, now that he thought about it, he wasn’t sure what happened to Mechanicle beings when they died. They were made of mostly metal, so did they just rust away until they were gone, while any organic parts rotted like on a regular being? And, for that matter, did they have spirits that left their bodies when they died? If so, where did those spirits go? Maybe back to the Great Creators, who would judge them like God would in Hunter’s world? Whatever the case, Hunter did not want to let it happen to his friends.

Eventually, they rounded a corner to see a cell where Pyras, Hydras, and Glacias were chained and locked inside. The three of them were sitting against the cold stone wall with their arms held above them by shiny black shackles. Their weary expressions faded when they saw Hunter, Sam, and Barda coming for them. “Hunter?” said Pyras. “What are you doing here?”

“Rescuing you,” Hunter answered. “I came out of the bank to see that you were gone, and then Officer Janson came and thought that I had been the one who robbed the bank, when really it was Prohahka.”

“Curse Prohahka,” Hydras grumbled. “She probably wanted to land you in jail so you wouldn’t be a nuisance to her.”

“Well, it didn’t work,” said Sam. “I was a witness to Hunter’s innocence, and I was able to talk Officer Janson into letting him go.”

Barda grabbed two of the cell door’s bars and pulled them apart. The bars shifted like they were made of Silly Putty, parting to form a space big enough to wriggle through. “Didn’t Hunter say there were four of you captured?” Barda asked.

“There were,” said Pyras. “They took Aeras to sacrifice for Lord Vulcon’s sword.”

“THEY DID WHAT?”

End of Chapter 15…