Out of the Ashes

I: Out of the Ashes

TIME: BC (Before Creatures).
PLACE: Grand Hall, Albian Research Institute.

"What is the meaning of this?"

Callum stared at his feet as the Master of the institute towered above him. The Master frowned.

"You are a student, and a very fortunate one to be studying here, yet I find you neglecting you duties and devoting you time to making this, this whatever it is! What does it do may I ask? I cannot see what possessed you to do it, I really can't."

Callum drew a deep breath.

"It's kind of like a dimensional porthole, something can enter it and it'll move and talk. I thought it would be useful to help us look after the Norns. And it could do some of the manual labour as well, if we made more I'm sure they would work harder than the Ettins. It'd be cheaper too." He sighed inwardly; his argument didn't sound too convincing to him either. The Master picked it up like it might bite him.

"Has it worked?"

"Not yet, but I was hoping to get a result any day now."

"You see? It doesn't work. What exactly is it supposed to resemble?"

"I don't know, some sort of hand I think."

"A hand? With five fingers? You can't even count now boy. Get back to the lab, and take this hand with you." The Master threw it out of the door. Callum hurried out, pausing only to pick up the hand. The Master was in a dreadful mood today. As he walked down the tunnels that lead to the lab he decided that he didn't want to go back to his work on the new Norns, not yet anyway. At a junction he turned right and headed towards the surface. He emerged inside the temple and headed towards the top of the huge tree, his favourite thinking place. He lent against one of the branches and closed his eyes, the hand resting on his lap. In a strange way the Master had it right, he didn't know why he'd built it. It just seemed like it had to be built. A noise attracted his attention and his eyes snapped open. A Norn was standing about three feet away from him. It was a female, with short purple fur, except on her legs where it was a grassy green. The result was a little eye watering. Callum grinned and sat up.

"Hello, what are you doing away from your area?"

She stared at him with mixture of curiosity and contempt. Callum was confused; Norns generally were frightened or awed by the Shee. The sound of the lift caused him to turn around, and when he looked back the Norn had vanished. Sillika, a female Shee whom Callum had known since childhood, stepped out of the lift.

"There you are!" She exclaimed, "I thought I'd find you here."

Callum grinned.

"What's the emergency?"

"There's a big meeting in the Great Hall. Everyone's got to be there, including you."

Callum stood up, groaned and followed Sillika into the lift. He hated meetings, they were so boring.

When they finally reached the Great Hall it was almost full.

"Every Shee in Albia must be here!" Sillika whispered. Callum nodded, and tried to duck out of sight as he spotted the Master. The Master frowned at him.

"Late again are we boy? Typical!"

Callum felt his ears burn and he pushed his way nearer the front of the crowd. Suddenly a hush fell over the room as the Counsel stepped up onto the platform at the front.

"The Counsel! This must be important!" He whispered. One of the Shee stepped forwards and raised his arms.

"My fellow Shee, we are in the gravest of danger."

Conversation rippled across the audience. The Shee carried on.

"I am sure you have all heard of the Grendels."

Callum shuddered, how could he forget? Green scaled, ugly and evil; Grendels were the result of a genetic engineering experiment gone horribly awry.

"The Grendels have evaded our attempts to capture them. I can now reveal the reason why." The other Shee pulled down a flat screen and an image was projected onto it. Callum felt his heart leap into his throat. Staring out from the screen was what appeared to be a Shee, except for the fact that it had some distinctly Grendelish features. Its eyes were red with silted pupils, it's skin green and scaled. Its mouth was slightly open, and Callum could see that its teeth were sharp points. Two-inch claws replaced its fingernails, and its ears were pointed and flattened against the side of its head. It was also obviously female. The speaker pointed to it.

"This is Lraac, the worst mistake in a long history of serious mistakes. First the Grendels were accidentally created, and then some were set free. The genes were studied to see where the error had occurred, and then the second mistake was made. One of the gene tubes had not been cleaned properly and resulted in a disastrous splicing. Shee genes and Grendel genes were mixed, and Lraac is the product. She has the cruelty of a Grendel, and the intelligence of a Shee. A deadly mix. She escaped and has turned the wild Grendels into a fighting force that far outnumbers our own. This has been top secret for two years; we did not want to cause a mass panic. Patrols were sent out to destroy this danger before it became too serious. They have not returned. Last week, the Grendel army attacked and captured our most western settlement, including a main army barracks, and are reported to be on the move."

The Hall erupted in conversation, and it took several minutes for the speaker to be able to carry on.

"This threat is capable of destroying us, we cannot mobilise enough troops in time to repel danger. However, we do have an alternative. Our astronomers have located what appears to be a habitable planet, outside of this system. We have the technology to move, what with the new spacecraft that have been produced and the improved stasis fields. The counsel have approved a plan to destroy the Grendel threat once and for all," the picture on the screen changed, "This is a bomb specially designed to cause something called 'Nuclear Winter'. When it explodes it will first send a dose of radiation across the world. It will poison everything living in the world, but that is not enough to eliminate this threat. The explosion will release a specially designed reflective material into the atmosphere. It will reflect all sunlight away from the planet, causing it to go into deep freeze. All life will die, and to make certain this material will stay in the atmosphere for three years. We shall leave, taking with us our equipment and experiments."

There was silence after the speaker had finished. Then the Hall burst out in shouting. Callum stood there, unable to believe what he had just heard. Poison Albia? Destroy all life? He felt dizzy. Sillika turned to him.

"Can you believe this?" She exclaimed, her eyes wide in shock. Callum shook his head.

"It's just so, so unemotional, I mean this is our home! And now we're expected to leave everything behind, just like that."

Sillika nodded.

"I never thought I'd hear myself say this, but science can go too far."

Callum was about to reply when the speaker started again.

"We have less than a day before the Grendels get here. The lab equipment has already begun being loaded onto a ship; you'll all have to help. Then get any possessions that you want to take with you and pack them. We have twenty four hours to evacuate the planet."

Slowly, the Shee began to file out of the room. Callum was still reeling from the shock. Twenty-four hours to evacuate the world? It sounded like something from a science fiction story. But it wasn't. This was reality.

Sillika opened the door to her room in the student block. She shook her head; she still couldn't believe what was happening. It was the cold, clear way that it had been announced; they were leaving Albia. If someone had told her yesterday that this was going to happen she would have had them committed. Not just leaving Albia either, killing the planet and escaping to another world. It felt like a dream, no, a nightmare.

In a daze she transferred everything off her shelves into bags. Clothes, textbooks, lists of known genetic mutations and their effects, blueprints of the Hatchery storage device, she suddenly realised how little she had that was not work related. There was a knock at the door.

"Come in," she called out. Callum stuck his head round the door.

"Are you ready?"

"Almost," Sillika answered, and went over to her desk. She opened a draw and took out a small wooden box. Callum peered over her shoulder.

"What's that?"

Sillika opened the box and removed a fist-sized circle of golden metal. She handed it to Callum.

"It's a family heirloom. Some great, great grandfather of mine was the head of the army at one point. Someone gave him this after he saved their life. It's called the Amulet of Guardianship, it's supposed to be one of a set of three magic amulets, one of Death, one of Life and this one. They're supposed to be incredibly powerful when together. Anyway, it's a nice story but there's nothing magical about it, it's just a piece of jewellery."

Callum looked at it and rolled it over in his hand.

"Very nice. Got it in silver?"

"Shut up," Sillika said as she took it from him. She slipped it into one of the pockets in her robe.

"Come on, we'd better get going." She grabbed a bag in each hand and followed Callum out of the door. Once in the corridor, they joined the stream of chattering students as they made they're way up to the surface.

Callum blinked as he stepped into the open air, then gasped in astonishment. Towering above him, glinting in the sunlight was a spacecraft. Huge, with many glass domes the ship looked strangely organic.

"A magnificent sight. A combination of machine and organic structure. A scientific breakthrough."

Callum instantly recognised the voice of the Master and turned round slowly. The Master stood behind him, gazing up at the ship. Callum frowned.

"What do you mean, organic structure?"

The Master gave Callum a withering look.

"The ship is a living thing. I had expected you to know that."

Callum's cheeks began to burn again and he turned to Sillika. Who wasn't there. Looking round, he spotted her talking to Marc, another Shee they had grown up with. He lugged his case over to them and grinned.

"Not interrupting am I?"

Sillika smiled at him.

"Not at all, we were just talking about the ship. I can't believe they managed to grow another in this amount of time."

Callum frowned.

"Another? When did they grow the first?"

"A few years back. Marc, you know more about this than me."

Marc grinned.

"Okay. The ships are grown, not built, which means they can repair themselves. Some machinery is added after. About five years ago the first one of these ships was finished. It had six huge, and I mean huge, areas that were linked by a large corridor down the middle of it. It was loaded up with every type of plant imaginable, and a few that were created just to fill out the space. Not just plants either, a sample of every animal from Albia and a few new creations, including some Norns and Ettins were loaded aboard. The crew was hand picked by the council and, along with over two hundred other Shee who had gotten permission to go, they left Albia. The aim was to colonise other planets and send word back. But," he added, "That was the last that was heard of them. All that got back was a garbled message about Grendels."

Callum let this sink in.

"So the ship broke down?"

Marc shrugged.

"They don't think so, the ships are mostly organic so they should repair themselves," he saw the look on Callum's face and laughed, "Hey, don't worry! It'll work perfectly. Look, I've gotta go now. I'm helping transfer the lab equipment. See you both later." He jogged off. Callum watched him go.

"How does he know all that?"

Sillika grinned.

"His brother works on the ships."

"Ah, right. Sillika?"


"What were you saying about it being grown fast?"

Sillika frowned.

"They've just been grown quite fast, that's all. Marc says the first one took about ten years to complete."

"However we are now much more advanced and posses the technology to speed up the growth of a ship, which we have done here," finished the Master who had appeared behind them. Callum turned round.

"You mean we've grown that whole ship in the five years since the first one?"

The Master rolled his eyes and sighed heavily.

"It is a trial to teach you boy. These< ships have been grown in less than a year. Of course, they have more machinery in them than the original, in the engines for example, but that merely increases efficiency."

These ships? Callum walked to the left so that he could begin to see round the huge bulk of the ship. His jaw dropped. At least six other of these vast behemoths rose from the landscape. Crowds of Shee, robes flapping in the wind, looking like ants compared to the ships, bustled about loading boxes of equipment into cargo space. Everything seemed to be becoming more frantic.

The Master came over to him.

"Don't just stand there boy, load your luggage onto the ship."

Callum dragged his case over to the ramp of the ship nearest to him. A conveyer belt was carrying boxes and cases into the hold so he dropped his onto it. Suddenly the ground began to shake and a roaring sound filled the air. Callum looked up to see one of the ships take off, fire blasting from the engines, scorching the ground underneath. It accelerated into the clouds, quickly becoming a point of light in the sky. A cheer went up from the crowd as it vanished, and activity seemed to double. Callum stood there, looking up at the tatters of cloud the ship left behind and felt a feeling of dread threaten to overwhelm him. Something was very wrong.

The door gave way and burst open. Lraac strode through into the main lab and stopped. There was no one there. She growled in frustration, they must have anticipated her supposedly 'surprise' attack. Then where were the defences? There must be something else, something she had not foreseen. She found a computer panel and tried to access it. 'INSERT PASSWORD' flashed across the screen and she slammed her fist into the desk, leaving a sizeable dent.

She became aware of a commotion outside. She stepped out and gave an evil smile. Two of her Grendels were pinning a young male Shee to the wall. One raised its claw.

"Stop," she barked. The shock was visible on the faces of both the Grendel and the Shee. She strode over and glared at the Shee. He squirmed and tried to avoid her gaze, the fear clear in his eyes.

"Do you have security clearance?"

The Shee nodded fearfully.

"Excellent. Bring it," she ordered the Grendels and entered the room again. They dragged the Shee to the console.

"Now," Lraac said, "Get me into this."

"Or, or what?" The male stammered. Lraac's patience failed. Her hand shot out and clamped around his neck. With only a slight grunt she lifted him about a foot off the ground and tightened her grip. His eyes bulged and he clawed at her arm.

"I shall repeat my request. Get. Me. In. To. This. Computer." With every word her grip tightened until the Shee's face had reached an interesting shade of purple. His head moved in a nod and she released her grip. He crashed to the floor. She yanked him upright so that he was kneeling infront of the computer screen.


His hand danced over the keypad, and the screen lit up. Lraac smiled again and dropped the Shee. She bent down and began typing quickly.

"What do you want done with the Shee?"

Lraac didn't even bother glancing at the Grendel who said it.

"Kill it. Kill anything you find breathing." Ignoring the screams of the male Shee, that didn't last that long anyway, Lraac continued to search the database.

Callum wipe sweat from his brow as he hauled the last case onto the conveyer belt.

"That's it." He turned and looked at the other three remaining ships. A thought struck him and he looked round for the Master. He located him supervising the transfer of a set of boxes onto another ship. Sillika followed him. The Master heard them approach and turned round. He looked down his nose at Callum.

"What do you want now, boy?"

Callum already felt his ears turning red. He took a deep breath.

"Where are the Norns? I've not see them being loaded onto a ship yet."

The Master sighed.

"And you are not going to. We shall leave them here. Who knows, they might survive. It does not matter, we shall carry out our experiments on another planet as soon as we can set up our equipment."

Callum felt anger rise up inside him.

"You don't care do you? You're quite happy to let them die! They are alive, they deserve a chance to live!" He shouted, red faced. The Master sighed.

"The last transport leaves in one hour. If you think can do something by then you are welcome to try. But be warned boy, the transport will not wait for you."

"Fine." Callum strode away, heading for the Norn pens. Sillika glanced at the ship, and then at Callum's retreating figure. She hurried after him.

Callum heard Sillika behind him and stopped so she could catch up. She looked at him.

"Callum, what exactly are you planning to do? We have one hour before we have to get off this planet."

Callum realised she was right, he didn't have a plan. An idea entered his head.

"The Hatchery you and Marc were working on, we can use that!"

"We could, but Callum, it's sealed, no air or anything could get in. They would die of suffocation!"

"Eggs don't need air or food."

"You're right, but who would hatch the eggs?" Callum pulled some thing out of his pocket. Sillika shook her head.

"We've already established that the hand doesn't work! We can't put their whole future in the hands, well hand, of a hand! Well you know what I mean!"

"It's the last chance they have of surviving." Sillika looked at him for a second then nodded.

They ran as fast as they could towards the Norn pens. Callum yanked the door open and hurried through, Sillika following closely behind. He stopped dead. Inside was a scene of chaos. One of the walls had been broken down, and the doors to the other pens had been forced open. Bodies of dead or dying Norns littered the floor and the stench of death was everywhere. Callum could clearly see the marks of Grendel claws on the corpses. He felt sick. Sillika dashed past him and pushed at the next door. Callum followed her and added his weight to hers. The ruined hinges groaned, but they managed to force a gap open at the side. Callum climbed through. It was the same in this room, total destruction. As he turned to pull Sillika trough the gap he heard a yell, a distinctly Norn like yell. He swivelled round. This area was an L shape and the sound had come from round the corner. He sprinted round. A Norn was backed into a corner, swinging a piece of metal infront of it. A Grendel stood there trying to grab the Norn, but the piece of rapidly moving metal kept it at bay. As he watched, the Grendel managed to grab the metal and yank the Norn out of the corner. Leering cruelly, it raised its killing claw.

"No!" Callum cried. The Grendel turned, distracted for a moment and the Norn bit down hard on the arm that was holding it. The Grendel cried out in pain and dropped it. Instead of running like Callum had assumed that it would, the Norn picked up a jagged piece of metal and turned to face the Grendel again. He was impressed by the Norn's bravery. The Grendel snarled, and looked at the Norn. Then it looked at Callum, and its eyes narrowed. Ignoring the Norn it began to advance on him. Callum tensed himself. The Grendel lunged for his throat. Callum sidestepped, and the Grendel missed him. It didn't even slow the creature and it began attacking him again. Callum had never had to fight properly before; he was a student bioengineer and did not know much about self-defence. The Grendel only came up to his waist, but it was built like a tank and was very, very fit. The creature's claws sliced with sickening ease through the flesh on his arm. Callum managed to get his hands round the Grendel's neck, but the creature retaliated, sweeping its own arm round to land a crushing blow to the side of Callum's head. It knocked him backward, sending him crashing to the ground. The Grendel stood over him and again raised its claws.

"Die, cursed Shee," it rasped, the hate in its voice all too clear. Callum waited for the fatal stroke, his vision spinning. The Grendel laughed, cruel, hard laughter that sent a chill down Callum's spine, as it brought its claws down. Suddenly the laugh was replaced with a soft gurgle. The Grendel stared down at the few inches of serrated metal that protruded through its chest. Blood pumped from the wound, splattering Callum's robe with gore. The Grendel swayed, and fell forward onto Callum with a surprised expression on its face. Callum pushed at the body, knocking it sideways. Sillika helped him up.

"Thanks, I thought that I was dead then."

Sillika shook her head.

"It wasn't me."

Callum heard a faint cough. He turned and saw the Norn standing by the Grendel's body. He could now see that it was the same green and purple female that he had met earlier. She regarded him solemnly.

"You saved my life, I saved yours. Now we are even." There was another scream, somewhere in the distance. The Norn's eyes flitted around the room, then rested on Callum.

"Why are you here? All the Shee have left us to the Grendels."

Callum looked at her and sighed.

"We know, that's why we're here. We can't take you with us, but we can give your race a chance."

The Norn frowned.

"Why are you leaving?" Callum glanced at Sillika. She shrugged.

"Ok, I'll tell you. There's a bomb that's going to detonate in less than an hour, and the resulting radiation will kill everything in Albia and leave the planet uninhabitable."

The Norn nodded.

"And you are going to help us?"

Callum nodded.


"We can't save the living Norns, but we can save some eggs."

The Norn frowned.

"Who will hatch them?"

"This," Callum flourished the hand. The Norn raised an eyebrow.

"That is it? The 'Almighty Shee', the ones who claim to be our gods, this is the best you can do?"

Callum bristled at the sarcasm in her voice.

"I've never claimed to be a god to anyone! I'm a bioengineer, and Sillika studies gene mutations. If you don't want us to help you can just say so!"

The Norn looked defiantly at him, then her shoulders drooped.

"I think I can help you. I know where the eggs are. Come on." She beckoned to them and ran towards the door. Callum hurried after her.

"What's your name?"

"Nirri." They reached a larger room, which showed the same extent of damage as the rest of the place.

"Oh no!" Sillika breathed. As well as bodies, the floor was strewn with broken eggshells. Nirri looked around in distress.

"No, there must be something here!" She ran from wall to wall, searching cupboards and under any debris she could find. Callum and Sillika took one look at eachother and joined in the search. After five minutes Nirri sat down heavily.

"There are no eggs here, the Grendels have destroyed them all."

Callum bent down to try and comfort her, something caught his eye and he stood up. Now all the cupboards were open, he could see that one of them looked odd. It seemed to be shallower than the others. He bent down and picked up a piece of metal. He went over to the cupboard, stuck the piece of metal in the small gap at one side and pulled hard. With a clang, the back of the cupboard dislodged and fell to the ground. It was a false backing, and behind it were...Six eggs!


Sillika spun round and grinned.

"Nice one Callum!"

Callum dropped the piece of metal and began pulling out the eggs. He handed them to Sillika and Nirri. As he removed the last egg, he noticed something else behind it. He reached in and produced a small metal thing. He frowned and gave it to Sillika.

"Any idea what this is?"

She looked at it, then her eyes widened and she tapped a few keys.

"It's a genetic sampler, we use these in the lab. It takes a sample of genes from a creature and stores it. You can clone a whole creature from the sample. This one contains two sets of PMN, Ron and Forest type DNA! We haven't released these breeds yet! How on Albia did the Norns get this?"

They looked at Nirri, who shrugged.

"They probably stole it."

Callum frowned.


Nirri gave a slight smile.

"Probably for the same reason those eggs were stored in secret. The parents didn't want their offspring's genes messed up by the Shee. They were trying to preserve our race."

Callum nodded, he could see what Nirri meant. Genetic engineers had a habit of messing about with the DNA of a creature when it was still in the egg. He realised how little he knew about the Norns. He picked up three of the eggs, and paused to get his bearings.

"Er, Sillika?"


"Where exactly is the Hatchery?"

"It's in the tutoring area, the kitchen part."

Callum groaned.

"Let's hope we don't come across any Grendels."


"Let's go." He stepped through the broken door and headed for the surface.

Lraac thumped the console again, adding to the first dent. So that was it, the Shee were leaving the planet because they were going to kill it. It was amazing how little security systems there were on these computers. She'd been able to find everything she wanted to, including information about the bomb. Unfortunately it turned out that the bomb didn't have a de-activation code, it was set to go off, and go off it would. It would kill everything, eventually. Her army would die of either poisoning or freezing. However, she was not prepared to go like that.

She bent down and picked up a small Ettin-skin bag. She reached inside and produced two metal disks. One was gold, and seemed to have an inner glow. Picked out on its surface was a circle of fire set in red jewels, the ancient symbol for life. She examined the other. This disk was black, so black that it looked more like a gap in the universe. The symbol on this one was a jagged shape of black lightning, the symbol for death. A smile played across her lips, the amulets of Life and Death. She'd, ah, acquired these when the army had reached the temple. It was amazing what you could find hidden inside religious statues if you hit them hard enough. According to the legends, and the late priest of the temple, the amulets could be combined to give the wearer ultimate power. Unfortunately, that wouldn't do much good, but she had got more information from the priest before she killed him. She'd got the amulet of Life, and that had the ability to let her come back. All she needed was an anchor.

She typed in a command to the console and activated what was left of the security cameras. She flicked through the images and stopped on one. She looked closer and smiled nastily. The image showed two Shee, a male and a female, and a small brightly coloured Norn heading for the surface. She could use one of the Shee, the male would do. Keeping the image on the screen she slipped the cord of the amulet of life around her neck. What had the priest said? The sound had been a bit muffled due to the claws digging into his neck, but she could remember it. She relaxed, touched the amulet and tried to picture the male Shee in her mind. The amulet began to feel hot, and leapt out of her hand. She forced herself to keep picturing the Shee and then added a mental image of herself. Suddenly as if seeing herself from outside her body, she saw herself begin to glow, a blast of light shooting out from her and into the console. For a second she had the image of the male Shee, then it was gone. Abruptly there was a blast of pain from her chest. She gasped and her eyes snapped open. The glow from the amulet filled the room, hurting her eyes. She looked down and saw that the amulet was pressing itself into her chest. Another blast of pain hit her, causing her muscles to automatically contract, doubling her up. Out of the corner of her eye she caught a glimpse of the image of the male Shee, also doubled over in pain. With a final burst of agony, the amulet dropped from her chest and dimmed. She tore it from her neck and threw it as hard as she could against the opposite wall. Looking down she saw that it had burned through her clothes, leaving an amulet shaped brand on her chest. She cursed loudly and growled as one of the Grendel's poked its head around the door.


It scrambled backwards. Lraac breathed deeply, had it worked? The priest had said that if you anchored yourself to someone you'd be able to pick up some of his or her thoughts. She might as well have a go, make sure it worked. Once again she relaxed and tried to form a picture of the male Shee in her mind. It was surprisingly easy to pick up bits of his thoughts. Fear, normally an emotion to dwell on in others, but worrying in her lifeline. What was he afraid of? She concentrated... There! Grendels. Understandable she supposed, but there was something else. He was afraid of... Not being able to leave the planet. That was slightly more serious. Correction, a lot more serious. If the Shee didn't get off the planet with the rest Lraac would die for certain. She sighed and stood up. The Shee was heading for the tutoring area for some unknown reason; she'd not been able to sense that bit of his thoughts. She'd have to make sure he got there and back safely.

Spinning on her heal, she marched out of the door, avoiding any of her Grendels and headed for the surface.

"Callum! Callum, are you alright?"

Callum was dimly aware of someone calling his name. He groaned, opened his eyes, and stared up into Sillika's worried face. He coughed and sat up. There was a burst of pain from his chest and he looked down. A fist-sized circle of his robe had been burnt away and the skin on his chest branded with a perfect circle. He touched it gingerly, prompting another burst of pain. He rubbed his head.

"What happened?"

Sillika pointed to the smoking remains of a security camera on one wall.

"That blew up, you caught the full blast." She helped him up. He looked down at the burn on his chest.

"Weird that it only burned that small area isn't it?"

"By the look of that you're lucky it wasn't a larger bit of your chest."

Callum nodded, not really paying attention. He had the strangest feeling that someone was rummaging around inside his mind. He shook his head to clear it and stood up. After wobbling for a few seconds he picked up the eggs he had dropped and straightened up. Sillika laid a hand on his arm.

"Are you sure you're ok?" She asked, concern in her voice. Callum nodded and shook her off.

"Fine. Really. Come on, we don't have long."

Nirri ran alongside the female Shee, Sillika, as they resumed their dash for the surface. The Shee were both taller than she was and their strides were easily twice the length of her own. However, she did have a slight advantage in her lack of clothing, the Shee's long robes really got in the way when running. Still, she had to work hard just to keep up, and by the time they reached a lift she was exhausted. Sillika placed her hand on a small panel by the doors. As the lift began its upward journey, Nirri looked around with interest. This wasn't one of the lifts that the Norns would have been allowed in, which were basically crude wood and rope affairs; this was the lift the Shee would have used. It had a well-decorated interior and small seats around one edge. Also, unlike Norn lifts, it could quite comfortably accommodate a group of people. Norn lifts could hardly hold one. She was jerked out of her thoughts as the lift reached the level they wanted.

The doors opened with a ping. As one, the twelve Grendels standing there turned and the stare of twelve sets of silted red eyes bored into them. Callum, the male Shee, leaned over and pressed the lift button again.

"Sorry," he said in a voice full of forced calmness, "Wrong floor."

The doors finally shut, just as one of the Grendels leapt for the lift. Nirri found her heart pounding. She swallowed.

"And now what?"

Callum glanced at her.

"We keep going. We can still get to the tutoring area, but we'll have to go up through the ruined Temple. That means we've further to go, so more chance of having a Grendel encounter."

"This is not a good thing."

"There's the understatement of the year."

The door opened again, and Nirri peered cautiously out into the old temple. Thankfully it was clear of any signs of Grendels. She hurried over to the lift and stopped. Her heart sank; it was a Norn lift. Sillika came up behind her.

"Damn. We're going to have to go up one at a time."

Nirri stared at her.

"One at a time? But, the Grendels..."

Sillika bent down and looked at Nirri.

"Don't worry, we'll be ok. If there were any Grendels up there we'd have heard them by now."

Nirri nodded nervously, trying to ignore the fear that was rising inside her. Callum looked at the lift.

"I'll go first then."

He stepped into the lift and pressed the up button. Nirri watched him go, and wished she knew some real gods to pray to.

Lraac sniffed the air as she got to the surface, using her sensitive nose to search for any sign of the Shee. With the wind came the distinctive sent of Shee, and Norn. She allowed herself a small smile; this was not going to be as hard as she had expected. Then a sound reached her ears, a Grendel battle cry. Damn, they were going to ruin everything. Quickly, she broke into a run. Powerful calf muscles pumping effortlessly she reached the old temple ruins in a matter of minutes. Her keen eyes caught a glimpse of someone inside. Without stopping she leapt up, grabbed the edge of the temple roof and swung herself into its statue-covered roof. She paused for a second, then carefully moved through the masses of statues, vines and other plants that adorned the roof. As she reached the edge she crouched down, listening attentively. Her ears pricked up as she detected the sound of Grendel voices, very faint but definitely there. She swung herself into the thick branches of the tree next to the temple, then continued towards the sound of the Grendels. She could smell them now, she was very close. The scent of Norn and Shee reached her and she gave a barely audible snarl. Her Grendel heritage had instilled a deep resentment of the scent of Norns and Shee; both smells caused her temper to flare wildly. She shut out their pungent aromas and concentrated on the Grendels. Her sharp eyes scanned the bushes around the area the smell was coming from. There. She caught a glimpse of red eyes as the Grendel lurking in the bushes moved slightly. Silently she continued moving through the treetops until she was behind the Grendel pack. It was a big one, seven individuals in all. She dropped down silently behind them. She straightened up, settling into her intimidating stance.

"Your observation skills are inadequate," she snapped. The Grendels spun round, all looking surprised. Except one. The leader of the pack turned slowly until Lraac could see his face. Her eyes narrowed. It was Grarq, a very large Grendel whom Lraac suspected of plotting against her. He was also far too intelligent. He smiled, almost as horribly as she did.

"I beg to differ Lraac, I had sensed your presence some time ago. We are currently tracking a group composed of two Shee and one Norn," he gestured towards the temple area, then his eyes narrowed. "Of course you already know about them, you observed them as you passed over the roof of the Temple. I wonder why you did not intervene then? You have quite often mentioned your own strength, so I assume that you would have been quite capable of taking them out. Yet you did not."

Lraac studied his features. He was defiantly too smart, too able to figure things out. Lraac preferred her Grendels to be stupid enough so that they would follow orders without question, but bright enough to figure out new strategic situations. It was a dangerous mix, sooner or later there was bound to be a Grendel like Grarq. His lip curled back in a threat display.

"I believe that you were instead trying to assist the Shee in escaping our forces Lraac. I no longer have confidence in your leadership."

Lraac growled.

"You dare to challenge me?"

Grarq laughed and gestured to the group of Grendels around him.

"We all challenge you Lraac."

The other Grendels straightened up as far as they could. Lraac knew the Grendel combat rules, first try to intimidate your opponent into submitting. She would not submit.

Her hand shot out with lightning speed, hand-claws sinking deep into the chest of the Grendel nearest to her. His neighbour lunged for her and she leapt over him, landing directly behind his back. Grendels were incredibly powerful, but that power came from bulk. Lraac was taller and less bulky than the Grendels so she was more manoverable. As her attacker paused, Lraac brought her claws down with deadly force on the back of the Grendel's neck. There was a sickening crack as his spine broke and Lraac dodged another fistful of claws from the first Grendel she had hit. She landed and immediately dropped into a roll, snatching a rock from the ground as she avoided three more blows. The roll carried her onto her feet and she slammed the rock into the side of another Grendel's head, crushing his skull. As she looked up she saw a Grendel charging her head-on. She leapt again, catching hold of a branch hanging just above her head. Her arm muscles clenched and she pulled herself up onto the branch as the Grendel shot underneath her. She swung around the wood and dropped lightly to the ground infront on the Grendel. She kicked hard, hind-claws cutting deep into his stomach. As the Grendel looked down in shock Lraac struck again, tearing through the scales and flesh, exposing the Grendel's guts. A third kick completely disembowelled him. Lraac quickly took stock of the situation, three down, four to go. Two other Grendels charged her from opposite directions.

"Bad move," she muttered, and slashed out with her claws. The extra length of her arms meant she caught both Grendels on the face before they got near, gouging shallow but painful wounds out of the scales. A second before the Grendels hit her she flipped backwards, a move no ordinary Grendel could perform so had no defence against. There was a crash as the Grendels collided, knocking eachother out cold. As Lraac turned on the remaining Grendel his nerve broke and he turned and ran. Hold on, only one...? She thought and ducked, a second before Grarq's claws sliced through the air where her head had been a moment before. Grarq laughed.

"Well fought Lraac, against those fools you were victorious. Now we shall see how you fair in real combat."

They circled eachother. Lraac studied her opponent and snarled softly to herself. This fight would not be so easy. Grarq was big for a Grendel, his head reached up to her neck and his claws were a lot bigger than hers were. Lraac waited carefully for him to make the first strike. He lunged for her, his claws slicing through the air with a silken sound. Lraac spun to avoid the blow, quickly adding a return blow that cut a narrow strip out of Grarq's back. He went to repeat the move; then abruptly dropped down and slashed at her with his hindclaws. She only narrowly missed that shot, hardly having time to retaliate before he thrust again. Suddenly there was a blast of pain from her shoulder. She looked down in shock at the small, but deep wound that Grarq's claws had opened in her skin. The throbbing pain and the smell of her own blood caused anger to flood through her. Her nostrils were filled with the scent of Norn and Shee, adding to her fury. She roared loudly.

"You dare to strike me? I will kill you now Grarq!"

Lraac lunged for the Grendel, her world narrowing to the movements of her body. Rage gave her blows strength as she rained down a frenzy of punches and claw slashes onto the Grendel. She forced Grarq down, pummelling him and slicing deep into his flesh. She felt the scales and cartilage go down beneath her claws and she tore into Grarq, rage directing her every move. Finally the Grendel went limp and Lraac's furious attack subsided. Breathing heavily and snarling she stepped back from the ravaged form that was hardly recognisable as a Grendel anymore. She felt the pride of a good kill wash over her and she growled in satisfaction as she relished the victory. It had been a long time since she had had such a violent fight. She examined her own wounds, none of which were particularly serious. The scent of Shee reached her nostrils again, stronger this time and moving closer. She hurried over to the tree and yanked herself once again up into its branches. Concealed behind the leaves she had a good view of the clearing, now filled with the remains of the battle. She heard a distinctly Shee-like gasp and craned forwards to get a better view.

Callum looked round nervously as Sillika came up in the lift. She flashed him a slightly worried grin. Nirri's defensive attitude had subdued slightly and she was currently trying to hide behind Sillika without looking like she was doing so. Callum glanced round the temple and out of the door. He couldn't see any Grendels, which was a relief to say the least. He looked at Sillika.

"Which way?"

"This one. C'mon."

They hurried out of the Temple, each of them scanning the area for any signs of Grendels, for the rustle in the bushes or a glint of red eyes. Callum took a deep breath of relief. Then the smell hit him. The sharp, sickly, faintly metallic smell of blood. Fresh blood. His gaze locked with Sillika's.

"Let me guess, we have to go that way?"

Sillika nodded. Figures, Callum thought worriedly. By some unspoken agreement the small group drew closer together as they approached a path through a large group of bushes. The stench was almost overpowering now. Suddenly there was a crashing noise from the bushes infront of them. Callum threw himself into the undergrowth, taking care not to land on the eggs. He was in time to see Nirri jumping into another nearby bush before Sillika landed on him. As he shoved her out of the way a green shape smashed through the plants, grunting in panic. Callum caught a glimpse of glittering red eyes, wide with fear, before the Grendel charged off towards the Temple. From the direction it had come from there came a terrifying roar. Callum looked at Sillika again.

"I don't know about you, but I think I'm going to stay here until whatever that was has gone."

Sillika nodded and gulped. They stayed hidden in the bushes for about five minutes. Callum listened as carefully as he could, and couldn't hear a thing. He slowly stood up; disentangling himself from the bush and a stray creeper that was attached to his foot. He crept out into the path and cast a nervous glance around. He took one step further out and trod on something that screamed at him. He jerked back in shock, loosing his footing and landing hard on his backside. A pair of distinctly Nornish eyes peered out of the bush at him. He laughed with relief.


The little Norn clambered out of the bush, looked at him and giggled.

"You look daft," she giggled, and Sillika joined in. Callum glared jokingly at them and stood up, brushing dust off his robe.

"You gave me a shock."

"You trod on me!"

Sillika handed Callum two of the eggs and helped Nirri locate the other from her bush. Then the light-hearted mood evaporated as Callum looked at the rest of the path again. He bit his lip.

"Come on, let's get this over with."

The group crept down the path, slowly, as none of them wanted to go first. Callum found himself infront as they came across a slight curve that obscured the rest of the path from view. He crossed and uncrossed his fingers, then peered round the corner. His eyes widened and he gasped in horror. It was a slight clearing in the bushes, and it was strewn with bodies and blood was splattered over everything. He blinked as he looked slightly closer, they were Grendel bodies! Sillika came up behind him.

"I don't believe this! What on Albia could have done this? There's six bodies there!"

"I'd prefer not to know, and definantly not to meet it!" Callum gulped as he took in the scene. There had been a battle here, no doubt about that. But what sort of creature could defeat that many Grendels? He shuddered slightly; whatever it was had done them a huge favour, if they'd come across this group of Grendels by themselves... That did not bear thinking about.

"Callum? I think we'd better get moving now, these two are still alive!" Callum looked to where Sillika was bending over two Grendels that looked like they had run head-on at eachother. He felt small hands clinging to his leg and looked down at Nirri.

"I'm not scared," she said defensively.

"Really? I am."

Sillika pushed back the bushes around another path on the other side of the clearing.

"Come on you two, there's no way I want to be here when they wake up!"

Callum nodded and hurried over to her, his progress slightly hampered by Nirri's refusal to let go of his leg. He looked grimly at Sillika.

"Right, which way to this hatchery thing of yours?"

As Sillika lead the way Callum shivered again. The image of those dead Grendels was still floating in the back of his mind. Some of the wounds on them looked like Grendel claw marks, but the only living Grendel they'd seen had been running for its life away from the clearing. He didn't want to know what had killed those Grendels, but somehow he felt he already did.


Sillika spun round at Nirri's cry of alarm. The little Norn seemed to have vanished.

"Nirri? Where are you?" She called worriedly. She'd grown quite attached to the Norn. To her relief Nirri answered.

"Down here! I'm in some sort of water."

Sillika followed the voice and suddenly the ground gave way beneath her feet. She landed with a splash in a stream. Nirri was sitting near her and grinned.

"Sillika? Where on Albia are you?" Callum's voice floated down to her ears.

"Here! Mind your footing," she called back. Callum's head appeared in the hole above her. He grinned.

"This is no time to go potholing. Here, I'll help you up."

Sillika reached up and grasped his hand. Eventually, with a bit of tugging, she clambered back up into the light. As Callum pulled Nirri out, Sillika tried in vain to wipe the mud from her robe.

"Yuck!" Exclaimed Nirri as she looked down at the thick mud that caked her bottom half. Sillika grinned at her, then a thought hit her.

"Oh damn, we've left the eggs down there." Her gaze met Nirri's, and then they both turned to look at Callum. He rolled his eyes.

"Okay, okay. I'm going, I'm going."

He put his eggs down and crouched at the edge of the hole. Nirri, eyes sparkling with mischief, gave him a quick shove. He lost his footing and disappeared down the hole. There was a splash.

"Oh very funny."

Callum passed up the three eggs, miraculously clear of mud, then Sillika helped him out. He wiped a glob of mud from his forehead.

"At least you two went down feet first," he complained, "When we get to a shower I'm stealing your soap Sillika."

Sillika grinned at him as they set off again. Soon they had cleared the bushes and reached a garden. Sillika recognised it as part of the area where Norns were tested for independent survivability. The kitchen should be at the other side, along with the hatchery, in the small building built to Norn dimensions. As they made their way across the garden, it's soil now churned up by Grendel claws, the group drew closer together again. Sillika kept an eye on the ruins of some old stone building incase there was a Grendel inside it. They reached the wooden door without seeing anything other than a bird of some sort. Sillika pushed the door open and stepped inside. The kitchen area was bathed in a warm glow from the fire in the stove, and was free of evidence of Grendel attack. Sillika made her way over to the end of the room, where a small alcove contained the incubator that the Norns were sometimes allowed to use to hatch their own eggs. It was a far cry from the sophisticated device in the labs, but it worked. Sillika reached up and pushed a small stone in the wall that seemed no different to any others. Nirri's mouth dropped open as a section of wall moved aside. It exposed a small room filled with a thick mat of dried grasses. A large whirring fan and a dim light bulb completed it. Callum raised an eyebrow.

"Leaves? And why'd you need a fan if no air can get in? Or a lightbulb for that matter?"

Sillika rolled her eyes.

"Have you listened to anything I've said? These are replica leaves, they give more of an impression of a nest, the fan is to regulate the temperature of what air is in here already and without a lightbulb you'd need a torch to see anything clearly. And before you ask about opening it, this is in an incubator area and baby Norns will push anything to see what happens. It's a security method."

Callum held up his hands.

"I stand corrected." He carefully placed the eggs he was carrying into the hatchery. Sillika dropped her eggs into the leaves next to the others. She took Nirri's eggs and put them into the hatchery. She went to close it, then remembered the gene files. She removed the sampler from her pocket and slipped it in next to a large green egg. The she closed the hatchery and watched, pleased, as it seemed to seamlessly melt into the wall. Not even a line remained to show where it was. Callum grinned.

"Nice work Sillika. Now we'd better get out of here, that ship's not going to wait for us."

Sillika nodded and turned to Nirri.

"We can get you onto the ship, don't worry."

Nirri looked up at her and shook her head.


Callum frowned.

"What do you mean, no? You'll die if you stay here! If you come with us..."

"I'll be used as a test animal by your scientists. My genome will be meddled with and my DNA analysed. I'm not going through all that again. I was born on Albia and I shall die here. Today if necessary," Nirri interrupted. Her violet gaze met Sillika's. Sillika felt her shoulder slump.

"Nirri, are you sure you know what you're doing?" Said Callum gently. Nirri hesitated, then nodded.

"Yes. I'm staying on Albia, even if it means dying for it."

Sillika blinked back the hotness in her eyes. She saw Callum also blinking rapidly. She knelt down so her face was level with Nirri's.

"I'll ask you Nirri, or I'll hate myself. Will you please come with us?"


Nirri looked into Sillika's eyes, seeing the sadness there. No, she had to stay. She smiled slightly. "It's my choice, and I want to stay here. I, I'm not sure I can explain to someone else." Sillika looked at her again, then slowly reached into the folds of her robe and took something out. She pressed it into Nirri's hand.

"Take this."

Nirri looked at it. It was a gold pendant. Carved into the surface was a finely detailed hand. The hand was gripping a circle of fire. The symbol was picked out in scarlet gems. It seemed to draw all the light towards it so that it appeared to glow.

"What is it?" Nirri asked, awe entering her voice.

"The Amulet of Guardianship. My ancestors have passed this down for generations. It's supposed to be magical."

"What does it do?"

"I don't know. But seeing how you want to stay here I thought that you should have it."

Nirri looked up at Sillika, then hugged her. She felt slightly embarrassed, she would never have shown any affection towards a Shee normally, but Sillika seemed genuinely concerned about her. She looked at Callum and gave him a smile. Then she hugged him. Both Shee seemed a little surprised at this. Sillika stood up and looked down at Nirri with a hint of tears in her eyes. Nirri knew what she was about to ask.

"For the last time, yes I am sure. I'm staying here," Nirri glanced around, "Now hurry up or you'll be stuck here too."

"Goodbye Nirri," Sillika whispered.

"Yeah, good luck," Callum added awkardly, "Damn, I nearly forgot. Here Nirri, I guess you'd better look after this," he handed her the hand thing. Nirri took it. It felt smooth and slightly warm. There was something comforting about it and she clutched at it as, with a few sad backward glances the two Shee left. She watched them until they were out of view, then placed the hand on the floor of the kitchen. As she looked out through the door she decided that if she was going to die here, she was going to spend her last minutes in the garden. Almost all the fear had gone now, to be replaced with a sense of calm, she'd chosen this and she was going to stick it out. She stepped out into the sunlight, swinging the amulet in her hand.

Stevan looked out over the deserted landing area. He glanced again at his list of supposed passengers and the two unchecked names. He looked round again, where were they? He did not want to leave them behind, but the ships were operating to a tight schedule and they had to leave soon. They should have already left, but there had been a minor fault somewhere that had to be fixed so they were about fifteen minutes behind. All the other ships had gone, and Stevan was getting incredibly worried as he swore he'd seen a Grendel a minute ago.

"Stevan! What're you waiting for? Pull up the hatch man!"

Stevan jumped as the captain's voice blasted in his earpiece. He scrabbled at the controls.

"Um, there's, um, two missing s...sir," he stuttered nervously. The captain sighed.

"They must have got on a different ship."

"Um, no. I've got all the other lists here too. They're not on them sir."

"Well, we'll just have to..."

"Hey! Wait for us!"

Stevan spun round and saw two other Shee, a male and a female running as fast as they could towards the ship. As they reached the gangplank the male grinned at him.

"Thanks!" He gasped as they hurried up it, "We thought we weren't going to make it."

Stevan looked at them in amazement. The female's robe was caked in thick, half-dried mud up to about her waist that had the occasional dry leaf stuck to it. The male had mud all over his front and what looked suspiciously like bloodstains. He also had a real shiner of a bruise on one side of his head and a piece of the robe over his chest had been burned away, exposing a bright red scar. The hair of both was full of bits of bush and their robes were torn as if they'd been scrambling through thorns.

"You're Callum and Sillika?"


"Right," Stevan said slowly, "I suppose it'd be too much to ask what happened to you?"

They looked at eachother and nodded simultaneously.

"Okay, I won't ask. You can get cleaned up if you hurry. You really don't want to be in stasis looking like that."


He gulped and pushed at his earpiece again.

"Um yeah Captain, we've got them."

"Well shut the damn hatch and let's get out of here."


Stevan closed the hatch and pressed the gangplank retract. He turned to Callum and Sillika.

"Come on, I'll find you a shower."

Nirri watched the Shee spacecraft vanish into the sky with a roar. That was it, no more Shee. In a few minutes, there would be no more Albia. No more beautiful blue sea, no more trees, no more flowers, no more life. No more Grendels. This was the end. At least, it should be the end. But Nirri had a strange sense that this wasn't an ending, it was a beginning. She looked up at the sun, for probably the last time. Then she looked at the amulet Sillika had given her. What had Sillika called it, the Amulet of Guardianship? She wished she could be a guardian, to guard Albia against... Well anything really. It really was beautiful, the way it seemed to draw light into it and glow was amazing. She blinked. It was glowing. Suddenly she was gripped by an urge to put it on. She bit her lip, then shrugged. What the hell, she was going to die anyway. She reached up and slipped the cord over her head. The amulet felt oddly warm on her chest and she felt her muscles relaxing. Slowly, the warm glow from the amulet surrounded her and she felt light-headed. She looked down and found that she could see through her hand. She jerked up and tried to take off the amulet, then stopped. A sense of calm washed over her and she let her arms drop back down to her sides. Whatever this was, it didn't seem a bad thing. It could be a whole lot worse, so she might as well see what happened next. Faintly, as her vision was obscured by the golden light, she though she heard a voice whispering.


Lraac watched the ship tear the cloud to shreds. Was the male on it? A quick though proved he was. Suddenly there was the sound of a massive explosion. Lraac watched as a mushroom shaped cloud rose into the air and spread across the land. As the sky darkened an evil grin spread across her face. She'd be back.

Then Albia died. The explosion knocked the birds from the sky, filling it with an endless night.

Inside the Shee City the Grendels ran around in fear and confusion. They would all soon be dead too.

Lraac died, staring up at the sky at the hole in the clouds where the last ship had vanished.

In the garden there was a bright flash of light and the pale figure of Nirri vanished. The golden amulet, still glowing brightly, fell to the ground and sank into the grass.

Albia died.

Callum watched the planet drop away from them. Sillika put her arm round his shoulders.

"We gave them the best chance we could Callum."

"I know, but couldn't we have done more? At maximum only 12 will survive, including the Ron, Forest and PMN DNA sets that we left. All the others will die."

Sillika smiled and quoted an ancient Shee proverb.

"The few will raise the many, out of the ashes shall come the flame. We left objects behind, I'm sure they will be found." Callum smiled too, then his eyes widened.

"The Ettins! We forgot about the Ettins!"

"We brought most of them with us. You don't expect Shee like the Master to do any work for themselves do you? The ones left were old or dying." Callum stared out of the window again and wondered how long it would be before something entered the hand. How long before Albia came back to life. He heard the pilot's voice through the speakers.

"Okay people, get into your stasis pods, this is going to be a very long ride." Callum strapped himself in and activated the stasis field. For him, and everyone else on the ship, time froze.

4 years later: A metal component in the engines failed. Emergency procedure kicked in, stopping the ship from moving with the last few working moments of the engines. The massive engines growled and died leaving the ship hanging in space. The other ships carried on. Eventually, one got sucked into a black hole. Another was forced to make a crash landing on a nearby planet. The others vanished into history.

1000 years later:

A small red light flashed on and off on the control panel of the ship. A computerised voice echoed throughout the corridors.

"Warning. Malfunction in stasis generators. Deactivate stasis fields. Repeat, deactivate stasis fields."

There was no one awake to hear it. All but two of the fields overloaded, killing their passengers. The occupants of the two remaining pods slept on, Callum and Sillika, the last of the Shee.

Time passed in the frozen, poisoned world of Albia. Gradually the poison degraded and the planet began to warm. Plants started to grow again. Birds flew from the treetops and bees buzzed happily round their hives. An egg, lying forgotten in the branches of the tree began to move. The top cracked, revealing what looked like a bulging sack with a lumpy tube at one end. It heaved itself up onto its stumpy legs and moved instinctively, slowly up into the branches. It was something not seen in Albia for Millennia, a Grendel Mother creature. The tube drooped down; ready for the first egg that was already ripening inside it.

The wind blew gently through the garden and through the open door of the kitchen. It disturbed a mound of dust lying on the floor. The dust scattered, revealing a yellowish coloured object. The fingers twitched slightly, and then it rose off the floor and floated round. It paused for a moment, and suddenly a large red egg appeared next to the lift. The hand picked it up and dropped it into the incubator. After a while, there was a cracking noise and the incubator doors thudded open. Out popped a small brown Norn, blond hair moving slightly in the light breeze.

"Eeem foo dat!" She exclaimed happily. The hand led her into the lift and it ascended upwards. After a few seconds, words could be heard issuing from the aged learning computer. For a moment the wind seemed to whisper the old Shee proverb.

"The few will raise the many, out of the ashes shall come the flame."

Welcome to Creatures, the future of a civilisation is in your hand.