Out of the Ashes

II: The Return

Chapter 1

"Warning. Power low. Cannot maintain stasis generators. Shutting down stasis fields."

Callum opened his eyes. He stared up through the glass covering on his stasis pod as it hissed back. He blinked and struggled with the straps that held him in place. As he freed himself he sat up and looked around. His eyes met Sillika's and he grinned.

"Hi again."

She smiled back, then frowned.

"Where's everyone else?"

Callum looked round. The other pods were open, but there didn't seem to be anyone in them. He stood up shakily; he'd have to get used to moving again.

"Urgh. Callum, I think I know where everyone else is."

Callum turned, a feeling of dread flooding over him. Sillika was standing next to another open pod, hand over her mouth. Slowly Callum moved so he could see what she was looking at. He stared in horror. Staring back at him from the inside of the pod was a grinning skull. He looked away, at another pod and another skeleton. He stepped back and looked at Sillika. She'd gone slightly green.

"Wha... what on Albia happened here?"

"I don't know, they look as if they've been dead for centuries..." Callum trailed off, a horrible thought entering his head. He looked round quickly for a computer terminal. Spotting one he hurried over. It, like everything else, was coated in a thick layer of dust. He brushed it off and tapped at the keypad. The system was slow, worryingly slow. A computerised voice suddenly emitted from the small speaker.

"Warning. Power low. Unable to comply. Please rezzrrcxxc..." The voice was obscured by static then clicked off. Callum looked at Sillika again; feeling a surge of fear hit him. She frowned, then her face cleared.

"The bridge! We might be able to access the main computer system from there."

"Do we really have any choice?"

"Not a lot."

"Let's go."

As they hurried down the corridors, both trying not to too look at the contents of any pods they passed, Callum wondered what on Albia they were going to do. Thankfully Sillika appeared to know the way to the bridge, so they go there quite quickly. The lifts still worked, albeit slowly.

As he stepped into the bridge Callum was impressed by the size of it. The place was huge, with rows and rows of computer terminals and massive screens. He whistled under his breath.

"Woah, this is big."

"There's the understatement of the year," replied Sillika, and headed for the raised section in the centre. She clattered up the steps and Callum followed her, their footsteps sound eerily loud in the empty room. Sillika sat down at the terminal.

"Right, let's see what we've got here," she said to herself as her fingers danced over the keyboard. Callum watched in amazement.

"I never knew you were this good with computers."

"Marc taught me. And he told me quite a bit about the system used on these ships... There! Got it!"

Callum was puzzled.


"The main system power relay, now then... Ah! If I reconfigure the system to re-route more power to the computer system I should be able to get everything else back on line." She clicked away as she spoke. Callum shrugged, he didn't understand a word of that, computing was not his strong point. Sillika clicked something on the screen then there was a change in the noise of the room. Mainly that it started. Bleeps and whirrs of machinery coming online was intermixed with the occasional small explosion as something blew due to years of neglect. Callum stared round as the huge screens lit up and began scrolling through reams of information. Sillika grinned at him.

"Told you I could do it. Now, what did you want to know?"

"Okay genius, find out where we are, how long we've been in stasis for and what happened to the others."

Sillika turned back to her console, fingers typing away.

"Right," she said after a while, "We've been out for... Oh my God!"

"What? How long?"

Sillika looked up at him, eyes wide.

"We've been in stasis for over a thousand years Callum! Way over. The computer didn't give an exact time, there was some problem with the stasis field about a thousand years after we left Albia. They all over loaded, all except ours. Callum, we're the only ones left!" Shock was plain in her voice. Callum gulped.

"You mean we're a thousand years into deep space?"

"Hold on," Sillika frowned at the screen, "No. We're four years from Albia. The engines failed four years away from the planet."

Callum frowned.

"But, I thought the engines couldn't fail. You said they were organic, they could heal themselves couldn't they?"

Sillika nodded slowly then snapped her fingers.

"Yeah, but didn't the Master say that these ships were only partly organic? I'll bet it was a machine part that failed. The stasis generators are mechanical too."

Callum groaned and sat down heavily on a nearby seat.

"Terrific. We're hanging in space with broken engines, alone on a massive ship filled with dead skeletons and are four years away from the only habitable planet and that's full of radiation and frozen solid. Isn't life great?"

Sillika frowned again and began typing frantically away at the computer. Then she looked up and grinned at him.

"Wrong Callum."


"The poison from the bomb will have degraded now and the deep freeze will have stopped. Albia should be habitable again."

Callum felt a faint surge of hope, then his face fell again.

"Yeah, but we're still four years away, and the engines don't work."

Sillika clicked away for another few seconds. Suddenly the huge screens flashed up a massive blueprint of the ship's engines and stasis generators. Callum looked at Sillika in disbelief.

"You are kidding me right? We can't fix a ship!"

"Callum, I've checked the list of faults. All the parts we need are on board and all we need to do is replace the damaged bits and start it up again."

Callum opened his mouth to protest then stopped. They didn't have much choice. He rolled his eyes.

"Okay. Where do we start?"

"First I'll get some copies of the blueprints we need. Then we'll look for those parts."

"This is stupid! Isn't there a lift or something?"

Callum was hanging over an extremely large drop, attached to a safety harness that in his opinion wasn't. He looked up at Sillika who was standing by the winch. She shook her head.

"No, there's this."

"Great," Callum muttered as he re-adjusted his grip on the box under his arm. It contained the parts that Sillika assured him were the ones he needed and some tools that were too weird to describe. The rope jerked and he felt himself being lowered into the depths of the engine.

"This is really really stupid. A) I can't see a thing and B) I've never done any technical work in my life."

"I gave you a torch if you'd actually look in that box! And you're a bio-engineer, this ship's alive so you shouldn't have too much trouble."

"I'm a student bio-engineer and I've only ever worked on Norns. And that was using a computer!"



"Shut up."

Callum glared up at her.

"That's fine for you to say, you're not stuck on the end of a piece of rope over a damn great drop!"

"Watch it Callum, or I may loose my grip up here."

"Okay, okay. I'm sorry. I'm not too good with heights, that's all."

"Really? You never told me that."

"You never asked. Just call it male pride or something."

Sillika laughed.

"Okay, I'm sorry. Now can you see anything odd looking? You're at about the right place."

Callum fumbled with the torch and finally succeeded in turning it on. It lit up something that looked worryingly like a massive vein, right infront of his nose.

"Erk! Yeesh this place is weird," he said as he let the torchlight drift over other parts of the engine. It illuminated a lot more vein things and other bits that looked like some sort of bone. It all glistened strangely and looked far too organic for Callum's taste. Here and there, making the place seem even odder, chunks of machinery poked out, seamlessly integrated into the organic structure. Callum found the whole thing slightly nauseating.

"Well? Anything odd down there?"

"Plenty of odd down here. An lot of just plain creepy down here too."

He heard Sillika sigh.

"No, can you see the power regulator?"

"I have no idea what you are talking about. All I can see is a lot of stuff that looks far too much like a scene from a horror film for my liking."

"Describe it."

"Are you mad? I'll need to invent new words meaning 'strange', 'freaky' and 'why the hell am I down here?'"


"Alright, I'm looking," he sighed as he stared around. The rope he was attached to jerked again, causing him to swing to his left. His face hit something faintly warm and pulsating.

"Urgh! Sillika, stop moving that rope!" He turned his torch on the thing he'd hit. He gulped in an attempt to keep his stomach inside his body. The thing infront of him looked like a huge, mutated heart with pieces of weird machinery sticking out of it. It throbbed slightly, what looked like blood vessels on its surface wobbling with each shake. Callum looked up, partially to talk clearly to Sillika, partly not to have to look at the thing.

"Um, Sillika? What's this power regulator thingy supposed to look like?"

"Hold on," there was a rustle of paper from above him as Sillika checked the blueprints, "Aha. It's sort of eggish shape and has three large tubes running from it. These branch off into a lot more smaller ones which..."



"Does it look like an extremely peculiar heart shaped thing?"

"Sort of."

"Ah. I think I've found it. What do I do now?"

"Find the broken part and replace it with one from the box. Use the clamps and scalpels. Oh, and the sealant." Callum gulped again, he couldn't see any broken part. That meant he had to get hold of the thing to move round to the other side. He closed his eyes and gripped the thing. It felt horribly warm and moved slightly under his touch. He gritted his teeth and managed to pull himself round to the other side. He gripped his torch again and swept it over the thing. He looked closer.


"Have you found it?"

"I think so. There's a sort of star-shaped thing here, and the, erm, flesh, around it is pretty discoloured. Looks like it's been starved of something."

"That's it. Now find another piece in the box that looks like that."

Callum rummaged around in his box until he located something that looked vaguely like the star-shaped piece. It seemed a lot bigger, and appeared to have bits on it that were supposed to be inside the thing... His eyes widened.

"Um, Sillika?"

"What now?"?

"Do I actually have to, y'know, open it up?"


"I was afraid you'd say that."

Callum gingerly removed one of the scalpels from the box and inserted it into the heart thing as close to the star-shaped bit as possible. For five minutes he tried to remove it. Suddenly, with a sort of slimy popping sound the piece of machinery came free in his hand. He placed it in the box and selected the new star bit. He pushed it into the gap. It didn't fit. He tried again. Again it didn't fit. He sighed and looked into the hole. The torchlight picked out a series of tubes; all of them empty of anything at all. The spiky bits on the star-thing were probably supposed to fit in the tubes. He peered closer at the insides, one of the tubes, the big one, seemed to be blocked with something. He shifted position and jabbed at the blockage with a hand. It seemed to be some sort of dried up stuff. He hooked a finger into it and pulled hard. It came free in his hand, and suddenly a stream of thick, gooey liquid shot out and hit him full in the face. He jerked back and wiped his eyes. He spat out a glob of whatever it was and looked back in the hole again. The tubes seemed clear now so he tried again with the star-thing. This time it fitted perfectly. He held it in place and squirted a line of the sealant along the gap between the star thing and the rest of the heartish. It set immediaty. As he looked round he could see that already the heart-thing was a slightly better colour.

"Okay Sillika! I've done that. Now what?"

"Um," there was another rustle of papers, "Ah, right. Now you've got to replace the system feed for..."

Callum groaned.

"Enough with the technical. Just pull me up and get me there."

"Actually Callum," Sillika's voice floated down as the rope jerked again, "You've got to go even further down this time."

Callum groaned again and gripped the box even tighter as he continued his downward journey.

Chapter 2

Callum flopped into one of the bridge chairs. He had no idea how long he'd been awake for, as the drinks dispensors still worked Sillika had kept them both supplied with heavy duty caffeine drinks for however long they'd been working for. They'd done as much as they could on the engines and by far the oddest part of that operation had been giving the engines a dose of anti-virals and anti-biotics. Then... Callum shuddered. Then they'd attempted to move as many of the skeletons as they could. However, that task had quickly been abandoned, as the bones were so old they crumbled to dust almost instantly as either him or Sillika gingerly touched them. He shivered; at least the bridge was free of stasis pods.

"I am totally exhausted!" Sillika exclaimed as she dropped down in a chair next to him. Callum grinned at her.

"I'm a lot more tired than you! You just had to read out the instructions, I'm the one who had to go down there and actually fix the things!"

Sillika returned the grin.

"Yeah, I guess. And I didn't get spat at by everything either."

Callum groaned and looked down at his clothes. He was covered in a variety of different sorts of mucus that just about every part that he'd tried to fix had sprayed all over him.

"You wouldn't think there was so much diversity in the types of revolting goop that an engine could spatter you with." He pulled his fingers away from his robe with a sort of sucking sound. Sillika laughed, then her face became more serious.

"We've done the engines, now..."

"Let me guess. The stasis generators, right?"


Callum shuddered.

"I just can't get rid of this bad feeling about going into one of those again. I mean, four years to Albia? Anything could happen. The damn things overloaded before, and that was when trained engineers had installed them. Compared to that, the engines and generators have been done by two inexperienced students. You really trust our repairs to last that long?"

Sillika shrugged, a flicker of doubt crossing her face.

"Honestly Callum, I have no idea. Anyway, everything has bugs when it's first installed. Maybe it takes third-party help to get things running up to speed."

Callum sighed and nodded.

"Okay. Shall I bother getting changed first?"

"Nah. It'll probably stick you into the harness."

"Ugh. I've an idea, why don't you go down the freaky holes and get spat at by machines while I read the map to you and shout down unhelpful instructions?"

"Shut up Callum. C'mon, lets get moving."

Callum stood up and removed a piece of his robe that had been glued to the chair by something he'd rather not investigate further. He trudged after Sillika as she headed off down a different corridor.

"Watch it!"

"Sorry, I can't see much from up here."

Callum rubbed his head where it had slammed into a piece of machinery. He'd just finished the stasis repairs, and Sillika was trying to winch him up without giving him concussion. The stasis systems were all machinery, which was good in the fact it didn't require vaccines or spit mucus at him, but bad in the way it really hurt when he collided with a lump of solid metal. And this place was full of oil, which was even harder to remove from his clothes than the slime. He reached up as he neared the edge of the outstreached platform and thankfully pulled himself up onto solid flooring. He looked up at Sillika, and glared at the grin of amusement on her face.

"What's so funny?"

"You look really daft sitting there. You're dripping oil."

Callum glared jokingly at her. Then he threw a handful of oily slime at her. It hit her full in the chest.

"Yuk! Callum!"

"Teach you to laugh at me."

Sillika rolled her eyes.

"You can be so immature."

"And you aren't? I didn't shove my best friend down a hole into a river that was basically fast-flowing mud."

"That wasn't me! It was Nirri..." Sillika's voice trailed off as their thoughts returned to the brightly coloured Norn. Callum shook himself.

"Come on, let's see if there's anything food wise. On second thoughts, you can go look for a meal, I'm going to have a wash and change into something that won't attach me to the seat."

Sillika grinned and helped him up. They headed off for the habitation deck.

Callum gasped as the icy water of the shower cascaded over him. The hot water tanks hadn't been used for longer than he'd care to think about, so the showers were absloutely freezing! At the moment though, he was trying to remove the vaious blobs of slime/oil/other less indentifiable substances that had attached themselves to his skin and hair. Oh, and also trying to avoid getting hypothermia. He scrubbed as hard as he could, with just the water because all the soap had degraded ages ago. He managed to remove, or at least loosen, the stuff stuck to his skin and get most of it out of his hair. He turned the shower off, shivered and grabbed a towel. At least a few of them had survived. The problem was that all the goods had been in stasis too, and as most of the cargo pods had also overloaded with the passenger fields, there was precious little left. All the same, Callum had managed to find some towels, and there had been some of his clothes stored in an extension of his pod. When he was dry he got dressed and headed out to look for Sillika. He found her in the bridge.

"Hi again. Did you find anything to eat?"

Sillika pulled a face and gestured to the nearest desk. It was certainly an odd horde. There were four chocolate bars, a bread roll, some assorted fruit and something baring a very vague resemblence to jam. Callum raised an eyebrow.

"Is this it?"

"Yup. Pathetic or what?"

"What, definatly what. D'you want the roll?"

"Nah, just leave me some chocolate."

Callum split the roll in half and made an attempt to eat one half. It had the consistancy and flavour of cardboard. He swallowed, and on the third try managed to get it down. The chocolate was okay. Sillika quickly polished off her bread and chocolate. They avoided the fruit for a while and had a long look at the jamish.

Callum looked up as one of the monitors began bleeping frantically. Sillika quickly slipped back into her chair.

"Yes! We have operation!"

"Engines or stasis?"

"Both. Engines are running at...89%, stasis fields at 95%!"

Callum grinned.

"Great! When shall we start moving?"

"Any time we want. I think we should start the ship going as soon as possible to see if our repairs will hold up to the strain."

Callum nodded, a surge of excitement flooding through him. This was it, they were actually going to pilot a ship! Sillika turned to him.

"Right, we'll just follow the old course in reverse. The engine should be starting up right about..." There was a huge rumbling sound that was felt as well as heard and the floor began to vibrate slightly beneath Callum's feet. The screens began flashing up even more data that he didn't understand and huge printers churned out page after page of info.

"...Now," finished Sillika. Callum grinned.

"And now what?"

"Now," said Sillika, picking up the rest of the fruit and slipping it into the pocket of her robe, "We have to test the stasis fields."

"Okay Callum, let go... Now!"

Callum dropped the piece of fruit he was holding. Halfway down, the stasis field in the test area activated and the fruit stopped falling. Sillika grinned.

"Okay, we've done loads of tests. I guess it's safe to run."

Callum bit his lip.

"Are you totally sure?"

Sillika sighed.

"Do you want to spend the next four years testing these things or are we going to try them for real?"

"Try them for real."

They made their way to the stasis pods they'd used originally. They could have used some that were closer to the bridge, but neither of them fancied the task of clearing out the skeletons, or using a pod that was now basically a coffin. Sillika grinned at Callum.

"Okay. The only fields that're gonna be used are these two so there shouldn't be a problem with power distribution. I've also set the computer to switch them off if there are any problems at all with either the pods, engines or life support."

Callum frowned.

"Weren't the systems set to wake everyone up if there were any problems originally?"

Sillika shook her head.

"Nope. My guess is that the Shee in charge of the ship thought it'd never happen. Then again, our fields did last for a thousand years so I guess someone did something right."

Callum suddered.

"Don't remind me how long we were out for, it's way too creepy. According to my birth certificate I'm 1019 years old. I sound like a date in one of those boring history books we looked at."

"Briefly looked at, the school never had much time for the past. Anyway, technically we might be 1019, but we've only been awake for 19 of them. It's still odd though."

"This has gone way past odd. Infact, it's gone through odd and out the other side."

Sillika grinned, then went over to her pod. Callum turned to his and gingerly steped in. He hesistated.



"Good luck."

"Good luck too. We're gonna need it."

Callum took a deep breath and activated his stasis field. Once again, time froze.

Chapter 3

< class="main">4 years later:
The huge engines of the ship brought it into orbit around Albia. It turned out to be the final manoeuvre the ship would ever make, as the engines died for the second time. They'd been fighting a loosing battle with infection and old age for six months now and had finally succumbed.

"Destination achieved. Engine failure. De-activating stasis fields."

Sillika opened her eyes as the glass cover on her pod slid back. She half-expected to find everything that had happened had just been a dream. She sat up. It wasn't a dream.

"Sillika, Sillika look at this!"

She looked round. Callum was standing by the window and beckoning excitedly to her. She swung her legs out of the pod and steadied herself, then headed over. She gasped. Albia! The planet looked exactly as she'd remembered it, beautiful. Callum grinned, then his face fell.

"Um, Sillika?"


"How're we going to get down there? The engines have gone. In a serious way."

Sillika snapped her fingers.

"This thing's got escape pods. Not many, but they are there. I'll find them." Sillika hurried over to the computer console and began typing.

Callum felt lightheaded as Sillika tried to figure out the controls for the escape pod. The pods had been easy to find, the corridor that led to them had actually been accessible from the bridge. Figuring the controls however, wasn't so easy and Sillika had been at it for fifteen minutes.

"Got it!"

Callum grinned at her.

"I take it that is good news."

"Yeah, we can go now."

Callum felt a pang of some emotion he didn't recognise. He shook his head to clear it.

"It's weird, I'm actually feeling regret at leaving this ship."

Sillika nodded.

"I know what you mean. Is there anything you want to take? I doubt we'll be able to get back."

Callum hesitated, then shook his head.

"No. We already know that our cases and stuff have gone, so basically all we've got is what we're wearing." Sillika nodded sadly.

"Well, here goes. Strap yourself in Callum, this is likely to be a bumpy ride."

Callum quickly attached the harness around his shoulders. The escape pod wasn't very big, about the size of a small room. The computer panels circled the walls, with the pilot's station infront of the window at the front of the capsule. The rest of the place was basically rows of seats. Callum was in the co-pilot's chair, although Sillika had warned him not to touch anything. There was a rumbling sound, then a clunk as the pod detached from the main ship. Callum felt the vibrations run through the deck as the engine started.

"Here goes nothing," Sillika muttered.

"Correction, here goes us. I hope you can fly this thing Sillika."

"So do I."

Callum watched as the planet grew steadily in the viewscreen and started to relax. This wasn't as bad has he'd been expecting. It was at that point that they hit the atmosphere. Callum was jerked forwards, then to the side, then upwards. His harness dug into his shoulders as he felt that his brain was being shaken free in his head. Sillika wrestled with the controls.

"I said it'd be a bumpy ride!"

Callum nodded, as he was afraid that if he opened his mouth he'd bite his tongue in half.

"Oh s..." Sillika started to swear, but was cut off as a particularly violent bump almost tore her from the harness. She fought her way back to the controls, cursing to herself.

"That is really not what I want to hear right now Sillika! Nothing like that ever precedes good news!" Callum yelled over the sound of the ship juddering.

"The engines are shot to hell, and we've lost 50% of our manoeuvrability! I think the best we're going to managed is a controlled crash!"

"Controlled is good."

"The hulls pretty strong, we should be able to..."

Whether Sillika managed to say the rest of that phrase or not, Callum didn't hear it as it was at that point that the ship hit something. Specifically, it hit Albia. Callum was half ripped from his seat, the harness cutting of most of the blood supply to his arms. It felt like they were cutting off his arms. His head slammed back into the headrest, and he was pressed back into his seat. There was a ripping sound as one of the straps for the harness came loose, and something gave him a dead arm by slamming hard into his shoulder. Then, it stopped.

Callum opened his eyes and waited until his head had stopped spinning before releasing what was left of his harness. He stood up shakily and waited for the walls to stop rotating then grinning at Sillika.

"Nice landing. Remind me to bring a crash helmet next time."

Sillika threw a plastic cup at him.

"Shut up Callum. Are we going to see what's happened out there or what?"

Callum made his way down the badly listing floor to the scanners. He tapped away at the keypad for a few moments.

"I'm reading no problems with the atmosphere, and four life signs in the immediate vicinity!"

Sillika climbed up to the door release and typed in her code. With a hiss of releasing pressure the hatch slid open, jammed, then laboriously crept open the last few inches. It was in what was now the roof, so Callum had to climb on the chair to get out. He stuck his head out into the fresh air. Sunlight, real sunlight, washed over his face for the first time since he had left Albia, all those years ago. He blinked, looked around and gasped. He was in a garden, flourishing with life. Flowers grew in neat beds around patches of carrots. White flowers with bright red berries grew intermixed with everything, and bees, butterflies and birds flew through the air. Sillika shoved him from beneath.

"Come on, what's it like?"

Callum pulled himself up.

"You have got to see this!"

He clambered out and jumped to the ground, feet sinking slightly into the soft grass. He heard Sillika jump down behind him, then gasp in amazement. He faced her and saw the same expression of surprise, astonishment and joy that was probably on his own face. Her grin grew until it reached from ear to ear. Then as one they gave a huge cheer and embraced. Callum felt hot tears run down his face.

"We're home! We did it!"

"Oh my Hand! Frog, look at this!"

Callum spun round. Standing by a vine covered in yellow fruit was a female PMN Norn with a shocked expression on her face.

"What? I..." A male 'Horse' Norn with greenish fur and red legs emerged from a covered bridge and stopped dead next to the female. His eyes boggled. Callum looked at Sillika, his grin about to split his face in half.

"It worked!"

Sillika returned the grin, when frowned slightly.

"But if they're here, what about..." She was cut off by a strange silken voice behind them.

"What is going on here?"

Callum turned round slowly, knowing what he was going to see. The hand floated infront of his nose. Sillika grabbed his arm.

"Callum, Callum it works!"

"I can see that! Yes!"

The hand floated back a little.

"What the hell are you? And what is that thing behind you?"

Callum tried to calm his heartbeat. This was fantastic, Albia was even more beautiful than he had remembered it, the Norns had survived, and the hand worked! And was currently floating infront of his face asking him questions. He grinned at it.

"I'm Callum, and this is Sillika. That's our escape pod, the ship wasn't in good enough shape to get through the atmosphere and the engines had gone. As far as we know, we're the last of the Shee."

There was another gasp from the two Norns. The hand floated there thoughtfully for a moment.

"You're the Shee? Very well, let me make some introductions. Delila, Frog, come here a moment." The two Norns approached them cautiously, and sidled round behind the hand.

"This is Delila," it pointed to the female, "And this is Frog, so called because of his colouring."

The Norns gave uneasy smiles.

"The Hand has introduced us, so we will introduce it. Shee, this is the Hand."

Callum blinked at the hand.

"So, you've got a capital letter eh?"

If possible the Hand looked like it was frowning. It bobbed up and down for a second.

"Well, welcome back to Albia. We'd better show you around."

Callum grinned.

"Yup. And we'll tell you what we're doing here at the same time."


The Grendel mother swelled slowly, another egg ripening inside her. The last egg. Somewhere in her simple mind she knew, this was to be the last. The final egg that she would ever lay. The bulging tube at her front-end stretched as the egg began to slide down it. It was a very large egg, bigger than any before. The tube stretched to it's maximum, then tore with a horrible ripping noise.

Grui, the female Grendel who was guarding the mother grunted in surprise. The egg finally emerged and hit the ground. Unlike any normal Grendel egg from the mother, it didn't crack immediately. With a faint sigh the Grendel mother died. Grui scratched her head and stared at the egg. It was a lot bigger than it should have been, and the wrong colour. Mother eggs were always black and yellow; this one was pure black. Grui lumbered over to the egg and tried to pick it up. It wouldn't move. She grunted and tried harder, but with to no avail. She hurried off to fetch the Chieftain.

Raual, the current Chieftain of the Grendel tribe watched the events in the garden with interest from the treehouse. The scouts had reported seeing a bright object drop from the clouds and land in the garden area. They'd fetched him immediately, and he'd watched the events with interest. Now, the Hand had led the strange tall creatures away and Raual had relaxed. Norns and Grendels had never got on well, but in the last few years the Frontier Treaty had defined the borders of the Grendel and Norn territory well and there had been far less arguments between the two groups. Raual had tried his best to keep the terms of the Treaty in place, as he didn't want the Grendels to live in a permanent state of war. His older brother had been killed in a battle with some Norns, and he wanted to make sure that no more Grendels died uselessly. Albia was large enough for all of them to live in without constantly trying to kill eachother, and Raual had high hopes about his proposed trade with the Norns. He feverishly hoped that the strangers would not be here to cause trouble. He sighed and turned to his scout.

"Nothing's happening, lets head back to..."

"Sire! Sire!"

Raual spun round as a distressed looking female Grendel lumbered up to him. He recognised her as Grui, the Mother Guard. He grunted a greeting.


Grui stopped, breathing heavily.

"Mother dead! Egg, new, odd!"

Raual worked out what Grui was saying. She wasn't the brightest of Grendels, but was strong and a good guard. His eyes widened.

"The Mother's dead? How?"

"Egg, egg kill Mother. Come, come." She grabbed his arm and pulled him forwards. He hurried after her, the scout just behind him.

Soon, a large group of Grendels was gathered around the egg, which had almost trebled in size.

Raual crept forwards and gingerly tapped the incredibly back shell with a claw. Nothing happened. He stepped back, and then suddenly the egg began to shake. There were grunts of surprise and a little fear from the assembled Grendels as cracks snaked down the outside of the egg. With a final splitting sound the egg cracked open. The creature inside unfolded its limbs. Raual growled and took a step backwards. The thing was tall, very tall. It had jet-black hair, red eyes and green scaled skin. As it turned its head to one side Raual could see that it had the sharpest teeth he had ever seen. It was also obviously female, but although it shared some similar characteristics, it was not a Grendel. It looked a bit like the tall strangers on the Norn side. As it straightened its neck, he could see a strange marking on it, a perfectly circular scar of some sort on its chest. Its eyes locked gaze with his and he felt fear run through him. This female was powerful, very powerful. Her eyes were filled with a deadly intelligence.

Lraac straightened up, and growled softly. This time, Albia would be hers.

Chapter 4

Callum looked around at the room they were sitting in with interest. It was the kitchen area, but it had undergone some renovations since they'd last been here. A bright yellow fridge stood by the lift call button, and various sorts of food were cooking on the stove. Toys that Callum didn't recognise littered the floor, along with piles of carrots and cheese. The Hand floated a few feet away from his face, giving the impression that it was staring at him in disbelief.

"You're serious about all this?"

Callum nodded.

"Yup, everything we've told you is true. Now, we want to know as much about the Albia of the present as possible"

The Hand seemed to hesitate for a second.

"Alright, but it may take some time," it agreed. Callum grinned.

"Right now, we have a lot of time."

Raual was worried, very worried. They had brought the creature back from the egg site, and tried questioning her. The female refused to answer any questions, even when they had caged her inside one of the metal constructions that had long ago been used to try and capture Grendels by the Norns. Right now, the thing's eyes were locked on him as he paced the floor infront of her cage. The stare was getting on his nerves, and also sending pulses of fear down his spine. Raual didn't like fear, and it was making him edgy. Rowk, an older Grendel and one of Raual's closest friends hurried up to him.

"Any luck?"

Raual shook his head.

"Nope, not a thing. Either she can't understand our questions or..."

"Or Raual, she is merely biding her time."

Both Grendels spun round in shock. The female was watching them intently, a small smile playing around her lips. That smile was disconcerting and Raual fought an urge to back away. The female's grin increased.

"Allow me to introduce myself. My name is Lraac."

Raual found himself watching her warily.

"You already know my name so there is not much I can say to that."

"I don't know Raual, you could tell me what the Frontier Treaty is."

Raual hesitated and the female, Lraac, sighed.

"Very well, if that's how you want to play." She gripped the bars of the cage hard. She grunted, and to Raual's amazement, the metal twisted, bent and snapped. She carefully did this with five more bars, then stepped out of the cage and seemed to unfold. If possible she seemed to have grown since she had hatched, and her muscles were now even more obvious. She was at least twice the size of Raual in height, but was less bulky. Each movement was fluid and silent, leaving no doubt that she could cause serious damage in a fight. She smiled her frightening smile at Raual again.

"Now Raual, I want to know everything about the Grendels of Albia present."

Raual glanced at Rowk, then at Lraac. It didn't look like he had much choice.

Callum sat in the garden, just watching everything happen. He still could hardly believe it; Albia was even more vibrant, more colourful, more alive, than it had ever been. It was, he thought ruefully, as if the Shee leaving had been good for the planet. The Hand had decided that, instead of spending a huge amount of time and effort removing the escape pod, it would be changed into a playground for the young Norns. Already, most of the ruined wiring and circuit boards had been removed, and the Norns were in the process of helping renovate it. Sillika was helping them by making sure everything was de-activated and not likely to electrocute any Norns. She'd told Callum to keep out of the way, the right thing to do, as machinery didn't seem to like him much.

A flash of reflected sunlight caught his eye and he turned round. Something lay, half-buried in the churned up soil next to the pod. It glinted again. Curious, Callum made his way over and pulled the thing out. He blinked. It was a golden disk of metal, a carving of a hand gripping a circle of flame carved into its surface and set with small red gems. It was the Amulet Sillika had given to Nirri!

"Hey! Sillika! Over here!"

"What?" She jogged up to him, and her eyes widened as she saw what he was holding.

"How did you get this?" She exclaimed.

"It was just lying here, and..." Callum was cut off as Sillika gasped in shock. Callum looked down. The Amulet was glowing, and began to feel hot. He dropped it instinctively, and it didn't fall. As one, both Shee backed away. The Amulet began to shake in the air, and then there was a sudden burst of bright light. Callum opened his eyes and blinked away the after images. The Amulet hung in the air, cord suspended as if being worn by an invisible figure. Slowly, a sort of bluish fog began to seep out of the glowing metal, forming a vaguely humanoid shape. Gradually, details became clearer, until... Callum gasped.


The fog-thing did look almost identical to the little Norn. With a final flash of light, the Amulet dimmed, and the figure opened its eyes. They widened in surprise.

"Callum? Sillika? Wh... How on... I... Wow."

Callum nodded slowly.

"Wow indeed. Nirri, that is you isn't it?"

"Course it's me, who else did you expect?"

"Um," Callum wondered how to say this, "Someone who wasn't, well, transparent."

Nirri looked down at herself.

"Oh my... It wasn't a dream."

Callum frowned.

"What wasn't?"

"This," Nirri gestured to herself.

"What happened? After we left you that is," Sillika asked gently.

"Well, I came out here, and put the Amulet on, and it started to glow, then I seemed to fade, but I wasn't worried, then everything went dark and the next thing I remember is you saying my name..." She trailed off. Callum sat down next to the ghostly Norn and grinned at her.

"Hey, sounds better than dying, and that was your original plan if I remember correctly."

Nirri gave him a faint smile.

"I guess. Y'know," she said, turning to Sillika, "When you said this was just a piece of jewellery, you were a bit on the wrong track."

"Just a bit," Sillika grinned.

"Right, how are you d..." The Hand's voice cut off, probably as it noticed Nirri. Callum turned round.

"Like us to explain this one too?"

"That would definitely be helpful."

"Intro's. Hand, this is Nirri, a Norn from when the Shee ruled Albia. Remember we told you about her?"

The Hand bobbed up and down, its version of a nod.


"Good. Now, remember what we told you about the Amulet Sillika gave her..."

Rowk was really worried now. Lraac had been pumping Raual for information for several hours now, and showed no sign of slowing down. She wanted to know everything, and Raual was telling her. It wasn't that he had much choice, she had ripped apart metal bars that not even the strongest Grendel had been able to bend much without even breaking a sweat. Raual was being diplomatic, and Rowk was getting the steady impression that this was a bad thing to do. Lraac seemed to radiate an aura of complete confidence and menace, which was seriously giving Rowk the creeps. The sound of claws on stone attracted his attention and he span round. A large group of Grendels stood silently watching Raual and Lraac.

"Go away!" Rowk hissed at them, the less Grendels knew about Lraac the better. Lraac looked up, and a horrible smile spread across her face.

"Not at all Rowk, I want them to say. Everyone should hear what I have got to say. I want to call an, ah, 'election'."

Raual frowned.

"What? I didn't authorise you to do anything like that! I am the Chieftain here..."

Lraac's burst of laughter cut him off.

"Oh yes, the great leader Raual. What have you done to let the Grendels take our rightful place as rulers of this world? Nothing, instead, you are a collaborator with the Norns!"

Raual growled angrily.

"It is called 'peace' Lraac. It means that no Grendels die needlessly in a stupid war!"

"Hah! A Grendel will only die against a Norn if they have a bad leader. I shall make the Grendels strong again."

"You are trying to challenge my leadership?"

"No. I am succeeding."

Lraac moved so fast that her hand was a blur. Raual was physically lifted off the ground and smashed into the wall. Lraac drew back a hand, razor claws glinting in the dim light.

"You are a traitor to your blood Raual, so that blood must now be spilled." She thrust her hand into Raual's belly, claws slicing through the flesh and scales with sickening ease. She drew back her hand and thrust again, this time twisting her claws and dragging them up through Raual's body, accompanied by the gruesome sound of cracking bones and cartilage. He gave a half-scream of agony, which quickly degraded into a horrible gurgling sound. Blood poured from the great tear in his torso, and also dripped from the sides of his mouth. As his eyes glazed over, Lraac lifted the still twitching corpse into the air; scarlet blood drenching her hair and skin, then idly tossed the body onto the sandy floor. Rowk stared in horror at the scene, as the blood from the corpse formed a pool around it. Raual had been his friend since they were hatchlings, and had been one of the best damn Chieftains the Grendels had ever had. And now... he was dead, tossed aside like a piece of rubbish. Rowk felt sick, and angry at the same time, the faintly metallic scent of blood assaulting his nostrils. It activated the violent instincts buried deep down inside him; the urge to rush out and challenge Lraac was almost overwhelming. However, he knew it would be useless, she had killed Raual, one of the largest and most powerful Grendels on Albia, without raising a sweat. Rowk himself was no longer young, or particularly strong, so he wouldn't stand a chance. Lraac's accusing gaze swept over the shocked crowd. Then, when she was sure everyone was watching, she slowly and deliberately licked the blood from her claws. Rowk felt his stomach churn as there was a murmur of terrible admiration from the crowd of Grendels. Lraac finished her macabre cleaning, then growled loudly, a sound so filled with threat and menace it sent shivers down Rowk's spine.

"I take it there are no other objections to my rule. No? Excellent. Now then...You," a foreclaw flicked out and pointed at a burly Grendel male standing to her right, "Take the body and skin it. You help him," Lraac gestured to another Grendel. As the two males went about their gruesome work, Lraac selected another four Grendels, then dismissed the rest. Rowk hurried towards the lift, then stopped as he noticed the figure standing, looking lost by one of the walls. It was Grui, staring forlornly at the pool of blood on the floor. Rowk hurried over to her and touched her shoulder with a claw.

"Come on Grui, let's go," he said quietly. Grui turned to look at him sadly as they made their way to the lift.

"First Mother, now Chief. Lraac bad, make death," she said mournfully. Rowk nodded. Grui was a very simple Grendel, and would be insulted by others if she had not been able to break arms with one blow. Other Grendels tended to think Grui had no idea what was going on around her, but she did, an sometimes her simple words had more impact than longer sentences by a Grendel with a higher IQ. This was one of those times.

"Yeah, and I get the feeling that this is just the start," he said quietly.

Chapter 5

Callum watched the small group of Norns clustered around the Hand. They'd been deep in conference for ages now, and he'd decided that he wasn't about to butt in. It must be confusing enough for the Hand, and the Norns, to have the Shee turn up out of the blue, not to mention what could only really be described as a ghost.

"Hello? Callum?"

Callum looked up as Sillika flopped down next to him.

"What's up."


"Har har. Where's Nirri?"

"Over there," Sillika gestured towards a mass of flowers which a faint shape could just about be seen sitting infront of.

"I think she's watching them, or something."

"I know how she feels, this is just, well, amazing."

"Callum? Sillika?"

Callum turned to look at the Hand as it floated over.


The Hand bobbed, somehow seeming worried.

"I... I'm not totally sure how to explain this, but I'm going away for a bit. Not long, but I'd feel more comfortable if you two were looking after the Norns for me. They're pretty independent, so you shouldn't have much trouble."

Callum grinned.

"Sure, we'll help. It can't be that hard."

The Hand seemed relieved.

"Great. Just don't let them eat anything poisonous, and teach any babies their verbs, use those books by the incubator, and make sure there are plenty of carrots growing, and..."

Callum laughed.

"Don't worry, we'll be fine."

"Right. I've told Frog what you're doing so there won't be any trouble. See you later then." The Hand paused, then disappeared into the sky. Callum watched it go, then turned to Sillika.

"Looks like we..."

"Hand! Oh, damn, it's gone hasn't it?" The sound of Frog's exasperated voice cut Callum off. The Norn hurried over to them, stopping at a respectful distance. He looked suddenly uneasy and stared at the ground.

"Um, Shee I, that is we, all the Norns, well, most of us anyway, we, er since the Hand left you in charge I er..." He trailed off, then took a deep breath, "Well we wondered if you'd want to come with us to see the Grendels."

Callum blinked, and heard Sillika gasp. He frowned at the Norn

"The Grendels? But, Norns don't exactly get on well with Grendels, right...?"

Frog half-nodded.

"Yeah, but the current Grendel Chieftain isn't so bad. For a Grendel he's pretty forward thinking. He came up with the Frontier Treaty that's stopped a load of arguments about who owns what. Um," he shuffled his feet nervously, "Is there any way we have to address you? I mean, you are the Shee and everything."

Callum laughed.

"No, just Callum and Sillika. And please don't treat us like we're something special."

"They aren't, believe me," a familiar voice laughed from behind Callum. He turned round and grinned at Nirri's pale figure.

"Thank you Nirri."

Frog's eyes were wide and fixed on Nirri in a sort of low-grade shock.

"Are you... Are you a ghost?" He trembled slightly. Nirri shook her head.

"I don't really know."

"Right..." Frog said slowly, his tone implying that if someone was a ghost they should at least know about it. He turned back to Callum.

"We're leaving in a few minutes, if you want to come, meet us by the bridge." He hurried off.

"Sillika? Callum?" Nirri's voice sounded urgent.

"What's wrong?" Sillika asked. Nirri held up a hand, then reached out and waved it through a plant.

"I can't touch anything! Not properly, except this," she pointed to the Amulet. Sillika reached out, and her hand went through the little Norn's shoulder. She drew it back quickly. Nirri held out a hand to Callum. Gingerly he went to touch her, but all he felt was a faint warm sensation in his fingers. Nirri looked sorrowfully at him.

"What's happened to me?"

Callum shook his head.

"I'd love to tell you, but I honestly have no idea."

Out of the corner of his eye, Callum saw a group of Norns gathered around the bridge, casting glances at him. He gave Nirri a weak smile.

"Looks like we've been invited to meet the Grendels. D'you want to come?"

Nirri shook her head.

"No, no I need to think for a bit."

Sillika stood up.

"I'll come."

As the two Shee headed towards the group of Norns, Nirri lay back on the ground and stared up into the blue sky. Albia was like she remembered, but it seemed to have, well, a different feel to it. It might be, she thought, that the Shee had gone. Or it might be that she was, to all intents and purposes, a ghost. Less of a ghost, more a spirit really because she was sure she hadn't died. It was as if she'd just woken up from such a deep sleep she couldn't remember dropping off. She laughed bitterly; she certainly hadn't expected this to happen to her. A few days ago... She stopped herself. No, it wasn't days, it was centuries. 'A few centuries ago' didn't have the same ring to it. However long it had been, she'd never planned her life out to end up a ghost-like thing hundreds of years into Albia's future. And there was something else, it was as if she could feel the world around her, sense Albia itself. Somehow she could feel the essence of the world. She hadn't mentioned it to Callum or Sillika; it just seemed too strange. All the same it wasn't a frightening feeling. She closed her eyes and relaxed, letting the strange sensation wash over her. She'd never done this before, but it just seemed, right. She could sense the grass underneath her, feeling its movements with something other than her skin. Further now, and moving faster, the awareness of the sea filled with fish, plants, all adding to a huge idea of something, something growing with every breath of wind, every birdsong, every movement of the leaves on a thousand different plants. It was Albia. Silently exploring further, her mind, or whatever it was she was sensing with, brushed something. She stopped, and retraced her path. There it was again, something dark...

She sat up suddenly as the feeling hit her like a punch in the stomach. Something was very seriously wrong with the world. Something had entered Albia, something evil. She shivered, then stood up. Callum and Sillika had to know, she had to find them. She hurried off in the direction of the bridge. She knew where she was going.

Frog walked at the head of the party, nervously aware of the two Shee following behind him. They were making him edgy; they didn't behave like he'd imagined. Somehow, from the stories, he'd expected graceful, wise beings with strange powers, filled with knowledge from their past. He had not expected two people that acted, well, normal. They joked with eachother, argued and certainly didn't seem to have any strange powers. The strangest thing about them was probably their appearance. They had smooth, pale skin with a slightly blue tint, oval faces and quite large, dark eyes. The male, Callum, had shortish, slightly spiky golden hair, and Sillika, the female, had long pure white hair. Both were at least twice as tall as a Norn and wore long, white high-collared robes.

"What'cha thinking?" Delila whispered in his ear. He turned to his mate, and grinned.

"Them," he jerked his thumb over his shoulder at the Shee. Delila nodded.

"They aren't exactly what you'd expected, right?"


"What about their friend, that ghost?" Delila sounded nervous. Frog shrugged.

"Strange, can't think of any other way to describe it."

Delila nodded.

"Still, she seems friendly enoug... What the...?" She cut off. Frog followed her gaze. Spread out over the path infront of them was a large group of Grendels.

"Don't worry," Frog whispered, "It's just the reception committee. They're supposed to be here. We've done this before." All the same, the last few times the Hand's been with us, he thought privately. No one in Albia wanted to upset the Hand, even the Grendels tried not to do so if they could avoid it. It was too hard to guess what It's response would be. Frog turned to the Shee, who were watching the Grendels very closely. They looked slightly frightened.

"Just leave the talking to me, okay? I've done this before." He stepped forwards. One of the Grendels also left the line and came closer to the group. He looked nervous, as though he expected something to jump out and bite him. Even the entourage of burlier Grendels was more edgy than normal. Frog extended a hand.

"I am pleased to..."

"Silence Norn!" The Grendel cut him off. Frog blinked in surprise. He swallowed nervously.

"Erm, where is your chieftain Raual? I though we could come to some agreement..."

"There will be no agreement. Raual has been...disposed of. The Grendels are now under a new, stronger leader. All previous agreements between the Grendels and the Norns are considered void."

Frog's mouth hung open in shock.


"There are to be no objections. The Grendels shall become great again."

"Why did you come here then, if it wasn't to talk?" Callum joined in the discussion. The Grendel looked up at him, and seemed to be trying to work something out.

"What are you?"

"We're the Shee. Now why are you here?" Sillika snapped back. The Grendel appeared to come to a decision.

"We are here to declare war, on the Norns," he spat the word, "And their allies. The Grendels have settled for too little for too long. The time has come for us to take our rightful place as rulers of this world!" Impressive though the speech was, it still sounded as if the Grendel was reading from an invisible script. Frog watched the hulking figures turn and stalk off into the jungle, feeling as if someone had just kicked him in the head. Delila laid a hand on his arm.

"Come on, let's get out of here," she said quietly. Frog spun round to face her.

"I can't believe this! Everything we've worked for, it's gone! We're back to square one, only worse!"

Callum came up to him.

"We'll help, however we can."

Frog sighed.

"Looks like we're gonna have to get some sort of defence up. The Hand had better come back soon or we're in serious trouble. I've got a very bad feeling about this."

Chapter 6

Lraac lounged back in her hastily improvised throne as the Grendel knelt infront of her.

"It...It has been done, we are now at war with the Norns."

Lraac laughed.

"You almost sound worried Grec, are you afraid of these Norns?"

The Grendel practically bit through his tongue.

"No! No, I am a Grendel of pure blood, no Norn shall ever bring me fear," he stuttered, repeating the phrase Lraac had drilled into them a few hours ago. She was pleased; she'd expected a bit more challenge to her take over. It had been easy, and now she only had to eradicate the Norns, and the Hand of course. Shouldn't be too difficult, once she got her Amulets back. She looked down at the Grendel.

"You're still here. Is there something else?"

The Grendel shuffled nervously. Lraac could almost smell his fear.

"There... The Norns are not alone."

Lraac waved a claw.

"The Hand will not be a problem when I have those objects."

"It is not the Hand, it seems to have gone. There are two Shee with the Norns..." The Grendel trailed off. Lraac nodded.

"I am aware of that. Believe me, Shee bleed just like everything else. I shall deal with them personally. Have my plans been put into action?"


"Excellent. Go and work on the tunnels, I require some time alone."

The Grendel hurried out, practically radiating relief. Lraac watched him go. The Grendels were smaller than she had remembered them, slightly more intelligent as well. Still, they responded to a show of force like any others she had met. She looked down at her new, green scaled clothing. Raual had made a contribution to her rule after all. She guessed it was her Shee heritage that gave her a dislike of being naked, Grendels never wore clothes.

Shee... that remained her. She closed her eyes. If she was right, she knew exactly who one of the Shee with the Norns was. Again, it was surprisingly easy to pick up the thoughts of her 'anchor' as he headed back towards the Norn base. He was worried, understandable she supposed. She wasn't sure what to do with these Shee, killing them might be too straightforward. She'd let the Grendels think of something to do with the female Shee, although Lraac herself might have to give them a few pointers. Grendels were never good at inflicting long deaths on their victims, however amusing it may be. The male... well, she was sure she could find a use for him. At the moment, he was proving to be a mine of information on what was happening with the Norns. She settled back in her chair. While there was not much else to do she might as well watch events unfold.

From the shadows near the door, a pair of glittering red eyes watched her carefully.

"Sillika! Callum!"

Sillika looked up as she heard Nirri's voice calling frantically. The Norn's pale figure hurtled towards them, eyes wide. Sillika was about to try to catch the little Norn before she went right past, then she remembered that she couldn't touch Nirri. Nirri managed to stop infront of them.

"We've got trouble, there's..."

"We know that!" Snapped Frog, "We've just been declared war on!"

Nirri's eyes got a little wider, quite a feat for a Norn, but she shook her head.

"No, I mean yes, but that's not what I meant. There's something here, something's wrong with the world."

Sillika frowned.

"I don't understand, what's wrong?"

Nirri half-glared at her.

"There's something here, it's... well, it's dark."


"Yes, no, um... I don't know how to explain this," Nirri waved at the air. Sillika crouched down and looked at the little Norn.

"Calm down Nirri. Now, what do you mean?"

"I can... sense the world, things in it. And just now I felt something else, something evil. There, I've said it now."

Sillika realised her mouth was hanging open.

"Wow. You can sense the world?"

Nirri nodded impatiently.

"Yes, yes. I guess I'm the 'Guardian of Albia' or something, but you're not listening to me here! There's evil in the world, over the sea."

"The sea? You must mean the island, that's where the Grendels live!" Frog exclaimed. He turned to the female Norn, Delila and muttered something. She nodded. Frog turned back to Sillika.

"We need some sort of defences, if we're at war with the Grendels you can bet they'll attack soon," he looked at the group of Norns surrounding him, "You lot go and sort out finding some sort of weapons, and find anyone who can use them."

Delila gave a mock salute.

"Yes, sir. I'll move the kids up to the beehives. Anything else?"

"Yeah, get some guards up by the cable-car and near the tunnel. Find some way to block it off if you can. Callum, Sillika and, um... You," he pointed to Nirri, "Come with me. We might have one advantage."

Sillika grinned at Callum.

"Knows what he's doing, doesn't he?" She blinked; something seemed to be wrong with her friend. Callum was staring blankly ahead, eyes glazed. She waved a hand infront of his face.

"Hellooo? Anyone home?"

"Huh, what?" Callum blinked rapidly and shook himself. He grinned at Sillika.

"Sorry, I was miles away."

"I can see that. C'mon, Frog's got something to show us."

Callum blinked again, looking puzzled.


Sillika looked carefully at him.

"I said Frog's got something to show us. Are you okay?" She asked, feeling concern well up inside her. Callum's face was slightly paler than usual and he kept blinking as if he had something stuck in his eye. He rubbed his forehead.

"I guess so. Should your brain itch?"

"I don't think so."

"Oh, right," he frowned, "What was I just saying?"

Sillika frowned back.

"Are you sure you're alright?"

Callum waved a hand.

"Yeah, fine. Just a bit of jet lag, that's all. So what do we need to see?"

Callum followed as Frog lead them into the incubator part of the kitchen. He shook his head again, his brain felt odd, as if someone was rummaging around inside his mind. He had to keep stopping himself from scratching his eyeballs, as they seemed to have something stuck behind them. He really needed more sleep.

"Albia to Callum? Hello in there?"

He looked up into Sillika's face. She looked worried.

"I'm fine," he said quickly, before she could open her mouth.

"This is it," Frog called to them. Callum hurried over. Behind the incubator, resting on the ground was what looked like a very crude gun, wooden handle and dull metallic barrel. Sillika frowned.

"That's what you wanted to show us? It's just a gun, practically antique."

Frog shook his head.

"No, you don't get it. It belongs to the Hand, none of us can touch it."

"You mean you're not allowed to touch it?"

"No, I mean we can't. Watch," Frog went over to the gun and reached out for it. Callum blinked. Frog's hand seemed to pass through the gun and behind it at the same time. It hurt the eyes to watch. Frog pulled his hand back.

"See? Only the Hand can use it. It kills whatever it shoots in one shot; it was used last time we were at war with the Grendels. Now the Hand's not here, we can't use it. Unless one of you can touch it. You are the Shee after all, that must count for something."

Callum glanced at Sillika. She nodded.

"I'll try." She reached forwards... and missed. Her hand didn't touch the gun, and she drew it back quickly.

"My go," Callum reached for the wooden part of the gun. There was a faint tingling sensation in his fingers, then nothing. He pulled his hand back.

"Nothing. Weird."

"Someone mention my name?" Nirri slipped in beside them. She looked at the gun.

"What's the problem?"

"We can't touch it, and it's the best weapon, well, the only weapon we have."

Nirri frowned.

"Looks solid enough to me." She reached forwards... and picked up the gun. She let it settle in the crook of her arm, and grinned slightly.

"Number of things I can touch: two."

Callum grinned.

"Can you shoot?"

"I can learn. Does this thing have any more bullets?"

Frog shrugged.

"I don't think it needs them, it's the Hand's."

"Frog! Frog!"

Callum span round as Delila came rushing into the kitchen, pale purple hair flying out around her. Frog caught her as she skidded to a halt infront of them.

"Hey, what's wrong?"

Delila took several large gasps of air, then started gabbling frantically.

"We've caught a Grendel at the border, it was trying to come across the cable car. It says it wants to talk to the Shee!"

Frog's gaze hit Callum's.

"What do they want you for?" He asked. Callum shrugged.

"Dunno, but I think we should find out. Come on." He blinked again, and the strange feeling in his head vanished. He shrugged, whatever it was, it wasn't important now.

Lraac growled at the Grendel infront of her. Just as things had started to get interesting, she'd been disturbed. She curled back her lips, exposing as many of her fangs as possible.

"I expect you have a reason for this disturbance?"

The Grendel bowed even lower.

"We have found the objects you wanted, they were exactly where you had said."

A horrible smile crept over Lraac's face.

"Excellent. Bring them here," she ordered. Nervously, the Grendel backed away, and two more made their way up to her, each carrying a perfectly round object. Lraac leaned down and snatched the Amulets from their unresisting hands. She laughed, the sound echoing round the chamber. She had the troops, she had the power, and soon she would have the world.

Chapter 7

"Shee! Grui come Shee!"

Callum stared in mild shock at the Grendel as it tried to lumber over to him. It was very large for a Grendel, and probably a female, though sometimes it was a bit hard to tell. To his surprise she didn't seem to pose any threat. She was surrounded by a group of Norns armed with hastily improvised weapons that were basically the age-old traditional piece of armoury called the pointy stick. The Grendel shoved one of the Norns aside and barged through the rest towards Callum. Nirri brought up the barrel of her gun, and looked surprised when Callum shook his head.

"No, let her speak."

The Grendel reached him, and to his surprise, fell onto one knee. She looked up.

"Grui no harm, Grui come Shee. Raual dead, Lraac kill. Grui get Shee help, Grui help Shee. Lraac want kill Shee, kill Norns. Lraac bad."

Callum felt his eyes widen, and he looked at Sillika, who was also practically radiating shock. He looked back to the Grendel, Grui.

"Did you say Lraac?" Please don't have said Lraac, he thought. To his dismay Grui nodded.

"Lraac, yes. Lraac hatch, Lraac big. Lraac kill Raual, make Chieftain. Lraac order caves make larger, Grendels dig. Lraac want Amulets, Grui sent to find. Grui run, Grui come Shee, warn Shee, warn Norns."

Callum sat down heavily on a nearby log, his legs giving up.

"Lraac... She died! We know she died, she was here when the bomb went off. It'd make her over a thousand years old!"

Sillika sat next to him.

"Technically, we're over a thousand years old Callum. She wasn't stupid, maybe she found an old stasis pod before the bomb went off."

Callum nodded, trying to identify the feeling he had at the moment. It wasn't disbelief, more a sort of buried knowledge of the real reason. So buried he had no idea what it was. He nodded slowly.

"Probably, but whatever it is, she's here again, and we've got to stop her."

Frog looked at him.

"What do you want us to do?"

Callum took a deep breath.

"We'll have to attack."

"Pardon me? Those are Grendels!"

"There is another way," Nirri piped up. Callum frowned.


"We find the Amulets first, Life and Death."

"That's just a story..." Sillika trailed off as Nirri glared at her. The little Norn waved the Amulet she wore.

"That's what you said about this. 'It's supposed to be magical' Sillika, you were right. This is one of a set of three, and the other two are a thousand times greater than this. This Amulet saved my life, imagine what we could do with the others," Nirri's violet gaze burned into them, "Now imagine what Lraac could do with them."

There was silence. Callum whistled quietly.

"Ouch. Okay Nirri, we'll try it your way."

"We'll do both," Frog said, "Delila and I will organise what army we can, you lot look for the Amulets. Good luck."

As Frog headed back the way they had come, Callum turned to Grui.

"Okay Grui, where were you supposed to be looking?"

The Grendel's eyes lit up.

"Grui like Shee, Shee good. Come, Grui show." She grabbed Callum's hand. He grinned at Sillika as he was dragged off.


She hurried after him, followed closely by Nirri.

Lraac smiled as she held up the Amulets. She'd spent time painstakingly cleaning them, noting with interest the different things that happened to the soil coating them. Even as she'd cleaned, small plants had been springing from the dirt covering the Life Amulet, whereas the soil on the Death Amulet had been filled with small skeletons of creatures that had got too close. Interesting indeed. Now all she had to do was combine them. Her smile increased. With the combined Amulets she would be able to wipe her enemies off the face of the planet almost single-handedly. Still, it wouldn't be easy to combine them. The Ettin priest she'd acquired these off originally had said that combining them would be very dangerous and that there was a likelihood that the effects would destroy the combiner and most of their surroundings. Just before he died from loss of blood, the priest had mentioned a way of combining them safely would be to use a Life circle, to draw the life symbol and stand inside it. She wasn't sure if she believed it, but she wasn't willing to take the chance. Well, it was time to begin drawing the symbol.

"Whoa. Someone has been busy," Callum exclaimed as they surveyed the scene infront of them. Grui had lead them into a small clearing in the jungle. The ground was churned up, trees had been overturned and the whole place looked like a bomb had hit it, with spades. Nirri stared at the clearing, then shook her head.

"They're not here, the Grendels must have found them already," her shoulders slumped.

"Grui! Grui, where are you?"

Callum turned as the sound of a Grendel's voice reached them. A smile spread over Grui's face.

"Rowk come, Grui here!" She called out, before Callum could stop her. The foliage on the opposite side of the clearing rustled for a second, then a green figure burst out of it. It was another Grendel, a male this time, and it looked to be older than Grui. Grui snorted happily and lumbered over to the Grendel, wrapping it in a bear hug. Or should that be Grendel hug? Callum grinned slightly. The other Grendel looked relieved as he saw Grui.

"Thank goodness, I was getting worried. Lraac..." the Grendel trailed off as he spotted Callum's group. He pushed Grui behind him with one clawed hand.

"Get back to the island Grui, I'll sort this out," he sounded nervous, but squared his shoulders and held up his claws. Grui looked puzzled.

"Rowk no, dis Grui's friend. Rowk friend," she grabbed the other Grendel's arm and dragged him over to Callum. Callum grinned at him.


The Grendel looked wary.


Sillika crouched down next to the Grendel.

"Can you help us? We're looking for some Amulets that, oof!" She was knocked sideways as the Grendel swung a fist into her shoulder. He grabbed Grui's arm and pulled her over to the other side of the clearing. At least, that looked to be the idea, but Grui just stood still and the Grendel couldn't move her. Nirri brought the barrel of the gun up.

"Stay right there," she warned. The Grendel looked at her, then at the gun, and finally at Callum. He looked angry.

"Listen, Shee, I don't know what you said to Grui, but we can't afford to get involved. I don't..."

"Actually for your information, Grui came to us, and if the alternative is facing Lraac I don't blame her," Sillika snapped, rubbing her shoulder. The Grendel looked at Grui.

"Did you go to them?" He asked, surprisingly gently for a Grendel. Grui nodded.

"Lraac scare Grui, Grui get Shee help. Rowk help Shee, help Grui."

The Grendel hesitated for a moment, then nodded.

"Okay Grui." He turned to Sillika, "I'm sorry, is your arm alright?"

She nodded.

"Yeah, a bit bruised, but nothing serious."

The Grendel turned his attention to Callum and held out a clawed hand.

"Rowk, and your friend was right. Working with you might be the lesser of two evils."

Callum grinned.

"I'll take that as a complement. Have you seen any Amulets on the island?"

The Grendel, Rowk, frowned.

"That's the second time you've asked me about Amulets, what's so important about them?"

Nirri stepped forwards, and made sure that Rowk was looking at her. His eyes widened.

"You're, you're a..."

Nirri grimaced.

"If I could tell you what I am it'd help both of us. Let me put it this way, this," she pointed to her Amulet, "Has kept me alive for over a thousand years. This is the least powerful Amulet; the other two are much, much stronger. And Lraac has them."

Rowk's mouth dropped open.

"I'm definitely helping you then. Lraac..." He shuddered. "I'd better tell you what's happened."

Nirri rested the gun on her arm, trying to ignore the fact she could see through her hand. After Rowk had given them the low down on what was happening, Callum had hurried off to find Frog and Sillika had continued to talk to the Grendels. Nirri shivered, she'd never get used to having Grendels around, even ones as friendly as Rowk and Grui seemed to be. At the moment Frog and Callum were deep in conversation and other Norns were busy charging around collecting and making weapons from the most meagre materials, mostly wood and stone. There was a seemingly limitless supply of slingshots and spears, and a large group of Norns trying to learn to use them. Long-range weapons had been decided to be the best bet, as in close combat Norns stood little chance against a Grendel, but everyone had to be equipped with a small dagger too. Nirri couldn't get the nagging feeling that perhaps they weren't moving fast enough from her mind. She wasn't sure how, but she knew that if Lraac got the Amulets together and combined them there was little they could do to stop her from destroying everything. It was a frightening thought, not helped by her knowledge that it was totally true.

"Nirri, over here!" Callum called to her. She made her way over to where Callum was standing with Frog. He looked worried.

"We've decided to go for the full attack, it might be our only hope," Frog said quickly, "Are you sure Lraac hasn't got the Amulets yet?"

Nirri shrugged.

"I'm not sure, but if she does we're in serious trouble."

"We might already be in it," Sillika came up behind them. The two Grendels followed her. Rowk stepped forwards.

"We think the Amulets might have been found, but we're not sure that Lraac has got her claws on them. Grui and I will go back to the island and try to find out what the situation there is."

Nirri watched the Grendel leave, and felt another shudder run down her spine. She had a horrible prediction that something was going to go very, very wrong.

Rowk hurried through the jungle, barely noticing his surroundings. He was too busy having an internal battle with himself over what he was going to do. He'd told the Shee that he'd help them, but he was afraid of what Lraac's reaction would be if she found out. Grui lumbered along behind him. It didn't take them long to reach the submarine bay, the start of Grendel territory. But not for long, Rowk thought grimly, if Lraac got her way then the whole world would count as Grendel territory. It was a strange idea, the Norns and Grendels had shared Albia for centuries and regardless of wars, the boundaries never seemed to have changed. Then again, there had never been anyone like Lraac before. Rowk could feel the pull of her ideas, the lure of power, but his gut told him not to go along with her. She had the potential to kill everything in Albia, he was sure of that. He realised that he did not want any part of it, he'd do whatever he could to stop her. Raual would have wanted that, and Rowk had no desire to betray the memory of his friend. Grui's arm shot out and stopped him in his tracks, jolting him out of his thoughts. He looked up, and found that the sub had gone. Damn, aside from the paddle boat, the submarine was the only way of getting from the mainland to the island. There was the undersea tunnel, but that was right at the other end of the Norn territory and... His trail of thought vanished as the ground under his feet began to move. As one, he and Grui dived behind a handy dead tree, watching the ground. Rowk strained to listen, and he could almost make out the sound of Grendel voices, under the ground. The floor caved in, and a Grendel's head poked itself through the hole. With a variety of grunts and a lot of pulling, four Grendels pulled themselves out of the hole and set about enlarging it. Rowk watched in amazement. Before he had left to find Grui, he'd heard about a tunnel project that Lraac had ordered, but he hadn't understood what had been meant. He knew now. She'd got them to dig under the sea, bypassing the need to squash into the submarine or paddleboat. If the tunnel got large enough, an entire army of Grendels could be brought across very easily. He realised his mouth was hanging open, and shut it quickly. Lraac was clever, too clever. In image of the Shee flashed up in his head, then another of Lraac. His mouth dropped open again, and this time he let it. Lraac must be part Shee, which would explain her appearance and intelligence. No Grendel would ever think of a scheme like that.

Chapter 8

Callum looked at the ranks of Norns assembled in the garden. They watched him back with the now characteristic wide-eyed expressions of nervousness. He forced a grin, but he knew his eyes were betraying him. The Norns were kited out in the makeshift weaponry, and had been training furiously. However, a large number of them also were supporting real shiners of black eyes and various other minor wounds from being a little over-enthusiastic with a slingshot. He turned to Sillika. She raised an eyebrow. Callum nodded, the unspoken thought clear to them both. They were in serious trouble.

"Callum? Sillika? Um..." Frog's voice trailed off.

"Nirri," the little Norn sighed.

"Yeah... Can I speak to you for a minute?"

Callum hurried over to where Frog and Delila were studying something intently. Callum peered over Frog's shoulder, quite an easy thing to do with the height difference really. He blinked. It was a map of Albia, with various areas circled in a red colour. Frog pointed to them.

"These are the areas most vulnerable to attack from the island," he stabbed at one set of marks, "And these are the most vulnerable areas for us to attack." There were two of these. Callum frowned.

"So, what are we going to do? Incidentally Frog, are you sure that this is a good idea? I mean, there are so few of us..."

Frog spun round to face Callum, fire in his eyes. The same burning, grim determination Callum had seen in Nirri's face. "No, I don't think this is a good idea. But you said it yourself; we have no choice in this. I personally would prefer to die fighting than wait for the Grendels to come and find us."

"He's right Callum, and if Lraac uses those Amulets there's no telling what she'll do. If she joins them, something terrible will happen," Nirri said quietly. Callum looked at her and was shocked by the seriousness in her face. Nirri looked up at him.

"I don't know how I know, I just do. It'll change Albia completely if she does."

Delila handed Callum a wooden spear, passing a similar one to Sillika. Frog smiled slightly.

"I wonder what the Hand'd had to say about this."

Callum weighed the spear in his hands, trying desperately to convince everyone, no least himself, that he knew what he was doing.

"It'd probably be just a little bit surprised."

"There's the understatement of the year."

"You've said that before Sillika."

"Hey, it's a catchphrase. Repetition is a part of it."

"Har har."

"What is it with you two and joking in life or death situations?" Nirri complained.

"It's an attempt to diffuse the situation with humour."

"Okay people, enough with the jokes," Frog sighed heavily, "Lets get moving."

Callum followed Sillika as they headed back towards the group of Norns on the grass. He bit his lip, no matter how much he tried to shake it off; he had a feeling that things weren't quite as straightforward as they'd thought. He blinked. What the hell...? Not again, he thought, shaking his head as his eyeballs began to itch again. He blinked again, and the feeling that someone was looking over his shoulder left him. This was getting really weird now. He shrugged to himself and hurried after Sillika.

"Grui come Rowmmhf!"

Rowk thrust a hand over Grui's mouth as they crept down the tunnel.

"Sssh Grui, we don't want to be heard."

Grui nodded and Rowk moved his hand.

"Grui scared."

"So am I," Rowk muttered. They'd waited until the other Grendels had moved back down the tunnel, then followed them. Rowk was beginning to have doubts about what they were doing, but he tried to ignore them. Even if Lraac had the Amulets, how on Albia were they going to be able to get them off her?

"Hey! What're ya doing in here?"

Rowk's head jerked up and he froze. Blocking the tunnel was a large group of Grendels, staring menacingly at him. He gave them a slight smile.

"Just finishing up at the other end, we'll be going now," he stepped forwards, but the largest male grabbed his arm.

"I know ya. Rowk innit? And the retard there's Grui," the Grendel laughed, "This is just what I need. Ya've been reported AWOL." An expression of disgust crossed his face as he sniffed Rowk, "And ya stink of Norn!"

Fear running through him, Rowk jerked his arm away and spun round. Two more Grendels blocked his path, and another three were restraining Grui. The big male snarled.

"I'll take that as a confession. C'mon boys, bring 'em along. Lraac'll be interested in this. I may even get promoted."

Rowk struggled uselessly at the vice-like grips on his arms, desperately trying to think of a reason why he'd smell of Norn and had been missing. He couldn't find one.

Lraac opened her eyes and smiled nastily. Well now, there was an unexpected event. Rowk and Grui, the names meant nothing to her, but the images from the male Shee's mind triggered a flash of recognition. Both Grendels had been at Raual's execution, so Lraac dimly remembered them. Her gaze travelled over to the circle carved into the floor of the cave. She'd spent a long time painstakingly copying the symbol from the Life Amulet into the rocky floor. Now she was ready, but she had one more matter to attend to. The sound of Grendel voices reached her ears and she smiled. Who said Grendels had no sense of timing? This was perfect. She hurried back to her chair and draped herself over it, just as the doors were flung back.

Rowk stumbled into the room, terror flooding through him. Lraac lounged over a throne-like chair. Her gleaming gaze pinned him to the spot. The Grendel who'd dragged him in dropped onto one knee.

"These two were found in the tunnel..."

"Smelling distinctly of Norn and one other that you could not identify?"

Rowk's mouth dropped open. The Grendel gaped for a second, then seemed to recover.

"Um, yeah. We also have reports that a Norn army has mobilised against us."

Lraac waved a hand.

"Deal with them. They are Norns, they will not prove much of a threat."

"The... Shee are with them."


"So... We will have no trouble at all," the Grendel stuttered quickly. He bowed again and hurried out of the door. Rowk suddenly felt very alone. Lraac stared at him, and a cruel smile spread over her lips. She unfolded herself from the chair, and Rowk could see that she had acquired some clothes from somewhere... His eyes widened in horror as he saw what they were made from. Lraac's grin increased.

"Well Rowk? Raual suits me rather well, don't you think?"

Rowk fought with the rising sense of nausea that threatened to overwhelm him. Lraac watched him again and her nostrils flared.

"You really gave yourself away with that stench Rowk. Norn, possibly you could have talked your way out, but Shee? No. Not that it matters, I already know exactly what you and that thick friend of yours have been doing."

Rowk hardly saw Lraac move, but suddenly there was a blast of pain from his mouth and he crashed into the wall headfirst. Vision spinning, he sat up and spat out the broken teeth, the pain indicating he'd probably broken his jawbone. Lraac flicked a piece of tooth from her fist.

"You see Rowk, I don't approve of traitors. Not that anything you do will matter," she laughed. She stalked back over to her chair and removed two things from the armrest. She held the objects up, and Rowk saw that she was holding the chords of two perfect circles. One sparkled pure gold, the other seemed to suck in all light. Lraac's eyes glittered. "You know what these are Rowk? I take it from that horrified expression that you do, but it sounds so much more dramatic if I tell you. Besides, I doubt Grui will realise what is actually happening if I don't say. The Amulets of Life and Death. These will win me this world."

Rowk struggled to sit up.

"Y...you can't..." He started. Lraac laughed.

"What makes you so sure? I have the Amulets, I have the circle and I have the army to match. With these combined, I have ultimate power. Ultimate."

"You're mad," Rowk croaked. Lraac laughed.

"Perhaps. But I prefer to think of myself as dangerously sane. Do you know why Rowk? Because I know exactly what I'm doing. Your little Norn army stands no chance. Those I don't kill I will enslave, those I enslave will wish they had died with the rest."

"And us?" Rowk asked, already knowing the answer. Lraac smiled again.

"You? Why I'm going to kill you of course. But first, you are going to witness firsthand the implement of my coming rule." Lraac strode towards a circle carved into the floor of the cave. Rowk caught a glimpse of movement out of the corner of his eye and heard Grui's furious yell.

"Grui angry, Grui very angry!" There was a dull sounding thud as Grui's fist slammed into Lraac's chest. To Rowk's amazement, it actually knocked Lraac backwards. Grui lumbered over to Rowk and hoisted him up.

"Rowk come Grui, Grui run. Get Shee, Shee help Grui. Shee help Rowk."

Rowk nodded, his mouth too sore to speak. Lraac's cruel laughter sent a chill down his spine and he spun round. Lraac held the two Amulets in her hands. Grui growled.

"Dat wrong. No Amulets," she mumbled as she lurched towards Lraac. Lraac laughed again.

"This is your last defences? A geriatric fool and a retard? What do you expect to achieve?"

"Grui get Lraac, Grui angry!"

Lraac's hand shot out and grabbed Grui's wrist as the Grendel swung her fist. Lraac gave Grui's arm a sharp twist and there was the distinctive sound of breaking bones. Grui paled, then brought her other fist around. Lraac moved quickly and suddenly she was pinning Grui to the wall, broken arm held tightly up behind her back. Grui whimpered as Lraac twisted her arm again.

"If you submit now, your death will not be quite so painful."

"Lraac bad, Grui hate."

Lraac laughed again.

"Oh yes, Lraac very very bad indeed. Now, say goodbye to your friend Rowk."

Grui kicked out backwards, catching Lraac's stomach and knocking her back. Lraac turned her fall into a backflip and landed on her feet again.

"Well done Grui, I haven't had a fight like this for a long time. However, all good things come to an end." Lraac produced the black circle of the Death Amulet from behind her, and held it out infront of her. The air around it seemed to blacken, and Rowk had a sudden feeling of dread.

"Run Grui!" He shouted, but he was too late. A blast of what looked like black lightning shot from the Amulet, slamming into Grui's chest and throwing her against the wall. Grui screamed in pain, as the blackness seemed to burrow into her. Lraac laughed as Grui writhed in pain, then moved her arm down. The bolts of darkness stopped, and Grui's horribly still form dropped to the floor. Lraac gave Rowk a vague glance, visibly writing him off. She growled softly and stalked over to the centre of the room and stood in the circle that had been drawn on the flood. She held up both Amulets, one in each hand and seemed to be muttering something. Rowk gripped the wall behind him, watching in horrified fascination as the Amulets began to glow. Suddenly, sparks began erupting from each one, jet black from the Death Amulet and as golden as sunlight from the Life Amulet. More and more sparks poured out, until a waterfall of glittering lights surrounded Lraac. Then it changed, the sparks seeming to loose interest in gravity. They swirled up and round, forming two threads of glowing blackness linking the Amulets. The glow became brighter and brighter, forcing Rowk to close his eyes. There was a flash of pure white light, so bright that it burned after-images into Rowk's closed eyes. He opened them and blinked in shock. Lraac was still stood in the centre of the circle; arms still raised above her head. But now, instead of the two separate Amulets, she was holding just one, one half black, the other gold.

"She joined them," Rowk whispered in horror. Lraac smiled and brought the Amulet down. At least, that was the idea. A shocked expression passed over her face and she visibly struggled to move her arms. Rowk became aware of a strange sensation in the air, like the feeling just before lightning struck. His skin tingled unpleasantly and he shivered. There was a stretched out moment of total silence. Lraac screamed. The sound seemed to slice into Rowk's mind, tearing him apart from the inside. He gripped his head as Lraac's scream rose higher and higher, gaining energy until it was a roar that seemed to fill the universe. The Amulets glowed dangerously, making a menacing humming sound. They shook, and Lraac with them, their light increasing until it formed a glowing cylinder around Lraac. Then it seemed to explode, three blinding lightning flashes shooting out from her. Two struck the walls, blowing them apart, tremors rocking the ground under Rowk's feet. He clung to what was left of the wall, a gale appearing from nowhere, threatening to toss him around like a rag doll. He glanced out of the holes in the wall, and practically screamed himself. The island was rising, the chamber he was in already at least a hundred feet off the ground. Lightning continued to shoot upwards from the Amulets in a huge beam of glowing blackness. Rowk caught a glimpse through the massive hole in the cavern roof of the sky, coated in boiling dark clouds, lightning leaping from one to the next. Lraac could hardly be seen now, cloaked in swirling black fire. The ground rocked again, sending Rowk crashing down. Hissing and crackling with raw power, the last of the beam of darkness flowed up into the clouds. In the complete silence that followed Rowk saw Lraac standing too still, her entire body pointing skywards and eyes glowing an eerie green, the combined Amulets still clasped in her hands. Slowly, a terrible sense of prophecy crept over Rowk. He looked up into the pulsating clouds...

Chapter 9

Callum swung his spear like a club and managed to knock the Grendel trying to kill him into unconsciousness. Sillika dispatched another, but there were ample numbers ready to take their place, pouring out of the tunnel like a green-scaled flood. They'd made it to the jungle infront of the sub bay before the Grendels had emerged. Now they were fighting hard, desperately outnumbered. Almost rhythmically came the sharp sound of Nirri's gun firing, one advantage they did have. Frog and Delila were backed up against a tree, fending off five Grendels with anything that came to hand.

"Frog! Delila! Move!" Nirri screamed. The Norns did so; just managing to avoid slashing Grendel claws as they did so. Nirri fired off five rounds in quick succession; there was an ominous creaking sound, and the tree toppled to the ground, blocking the entrance to the tunnel. Seizing the chance, the Norns managed to dispatch the remaining few Grendels, but it wouldn't be long before they got past the tree. Callum shot Nirri a slight grin.

"Damn that gun's powerful!"

"Lucky for us eh?" Nirri smiled, then her face creased up. She dropped the gun and clutched her head.

"No! Not now!"

Callum felt another shot of panic join the cocktail of adrenaline, fear and various other emotions flooding through him.

"What? Nirri..."

"She's joining the Amulets! She can't!"

"She can."

Nirri turned to looked at him and Callum took a step back at the expression on her face.

"She can't, not safely! I'm the Guardian dammit, I know this!"

Callum was about to reply when the earth shook. He looked down.

"What the hell...?"

It was about then that the island exploded. It seemed to almost flow upwards; rock blasting out of the sides, followed by blasts of what could only be described as glowing darkness. The top of the island burst forth a massive beam of the same, the ray plunging into the sky. Clouds materialised from no-where, seething across the sky in a mass of darkness and lightning. The sun vanished behind them, coating the land in an instant twilight. Callum's gaze hit Sillika's, and he knew that the terrified expression on her face was the same as his own. The ground shook violently as massive cracks snaked out through the rock. Callum jumped to one side, narrowly avoiding plunging into the yawning chasm. He looked up and blinked. Sparks were dropping from the tips of the leaves, golden and sparkling. More and more, not just from the leaves now, but from everything, including him. He watched golden lights drop from his fingers, his hair standing on end and glowing. Sillika looked the same, as did the Norns. The earth shook again, knocking him sideways. Wind blasted him with all the ferocity of a hurricane, sweeping the sparks into a glowing vortex linked to the boiling clouds. With a high-pitched sucking sound the glow vanished into the clouds, the beam from the towering shape of what used to be the island following. Callum glanced at Sillika.

"What was that?"

Sillika opened her mouth to reply, then stopped, her mouth just dropping further open. Callum turned slowly to follow her gaze and his own jaw dropped. The clouds pulsated with light over the very pinnacle of the island, looking unpleasantly organic. Small flashes of lightning criss-crossed the island, then stopped. Literally. They hung in mid-air, looking far too much like targeting sight for Callum's liking. Suddenly the clouds exploded downwards, a pillar of black fire slamming into the island, woven through with lightning bolts. There was silence for a second... Then the island erupted in a nightmare of molten rock and ash.

Rowk crashed to the ground as the rock split open. A blast of red-hot air seared his face as glowing lava splurted through the floor. He jerked back, staggering to his feet. The rocky floor of the cave cracked and buckled, magma jetting out of rapidly widening rifts. The heat was unbearable and Rowk was half-choked by clouds of ash. Through the suffocating dust, Rowk could just see Lraac's motionless figure, standing on a miraculously unbroken piece of rock at the centre of the inferno. Rowk ran towards her, ducking fountains of lava and narrowly avoiding pools of molten rock. He reached her, almost frying himself in the process. Lraac's face was twisted in an insane smile, the glowing Amulets held high above her head.

"Stop it!" Rowk screamed at her. Her face turned towards him and he gasped as her glowing gaze pinned him to the spot.

"Never!" She screamed above the volcano, her voice high and crazed. Rowk tried to grab the Amulets, but was thrown backwards as he touched Lraac. She laughed maniacally again.

"The power!"

Rowk dodged another exploding rock.

"Let go dammit! You'll kill us all!"

"Die then."

The small piece of intact rock they were standing on began to rise, faster and faster. Rowk fought to keep his balance as they rose on the pillar of rock. Ash clogged his nose, making his eyes stream and choking him. He looked down at the sickening drop to the swirling lava below, then at Lraac. An image of Grui rose in his mind, he didn't know what had happened to her. He guessed she'd been blown out of the island as it started to rise, but if she'd survived, or was alive anyway, he didn't know. He looked again at the lava, as if seeing it for the first time. Lraac would destroy Albia, destroy the world. A sudden calmness flooded over him. He knew what he had to do.

As if watching from outside, he saw himself lunge for Lraac, slamming into her, knocking her flying. Her grip was torn from the Amulet and they plunged headlong towards the burning sea.

Callum ducked another falling rock, seeing with horror the rivers of fire pouring from the volcano. As they hit the sea, huge clouds of steam boiled into the sky, mixing with the thick ash and dust. His eyes were streaming, but his attention was drawn to the top of the volcano.

"Callum! We have to get out of here now!" Sillika shouted.

"Wait! What's that up there?" He yelled, gesturing to the pillar of rock that was rising out of the smoke. Outlined against the glowing clouds were two figures. One, tall, was surrounded by the glowing blackness and holding something high, something that was shooting lightning out in all directions. The other was smaller, but somehow more familiar.

"No!" Nirri cried out.


"That's Rowk, and Lraac! I... I think I know what he's going to do!"

Callum looked up, a feeling of dread overcoming him. As Rowk leapt for Lraac, both figures were surrounded by a blast of lightning, burning the image into Callum's mind. A scream echoed above the commotion, cutting into Callum like a knife as the figures plunged into the volcano. For a second, the glowing object stayed hanging in the air, then seemed to split in two. The separate pieces floated for a second, then followed the figures into the volcano. Callum felt sadness hit him. He'd not known Rowk for long, but the Grendel had improved Callum's overall image of the race somewhat. "Callum! Look out!" Sillika screamed. Callum's head jerked up as a massive lump of molten rock smashed down through what was left of the trees right towards the group. Callum froze, his eyes slamming shut. When he failed to get fried he opened his eyes and gasped. A golden globe surrounded him and Sillika, the lava solidifying on the outside of the glow. He looked into Sillika's wide eyes.

quot;Wh...What the hell is happening?"

Sillika shrugged.

"Nirri, are you doing this?" Callum glanced at the little Norn and blinked. She was standing very still, arms raised above her head. The golden light streamed out of the Amulet of Guardianship and seemed to run through the Norn and out of her in all directions, maintaining the golden sphere. Her gaze hit Callum's. She looked as surprised as he felt, but managed to nod.

"I, I think so. I don't know how long I can hold it for though, let's get out of here!"

Another chunk of molten rock shot towards them, and this time Callum didn't even have time to blink. He didn't have to. The lava had hit the golden globe and solidified instantly, forming part of a sort of shell around the top of them. As more rocks rained down, they formed a solid shell around them. Callum didn't dare move for fear it would upset Nirri's concentration. As the last bit of light was blocked out, Callum felt a sudden sense of calm. His eyelids closed of their own accord and a strange sensation of stopping overcame him. The muffled sounds of the volcano disappeared. For a second there was silence. That second seemed to last for an eternity.

"Come on!" Frog beckoned desperately at the panicking Norns as the molten shower rained down around them, "Let's get the hell out!"

Delila grabbed his arm, mouth open in shock. Frog followed her gaze, and felt his jaw drop. The ghost-like Norn was standing, arms raised above her head, in the centre of a golden glow. The Shee were there as well, standing far too still. Lava just seemed to stick to the glow as it fell.

"Frog, we've got to do something! They'll die!"

Frog ducked as a rock the size of his chest missed him by inches.

"The fallout is getting too heavy! We can't do anything, let's get outta here! Everyone find some shelter! Preferably rocky shelter!" He caught Delila's expression; "They're Shee! And the other one called herself the Guardian! We can't help them, so let's move!" Snatching his protesting mate's hand, Frog dragged her along, behind the fleeing groups of Norns. The ground shook madly as the group dashed for the safety of the lowest part of the city. They could hold out for a long time there, with the shower system to provide water, the underground mushrooms would be good for food, and the walls were very thick rock.

His foot caught on something, sending him sprawling to the ground. He looked down, into Grui's bleeding face. Her eyelids flickered open.

"Grui hurt," she said plaintively, and struggled to get up. Frog grabbed her arm and supported some of her weight. Delila grabbed the Grendel's other arm. One of the other Norns stared at them in disbelief.

"What are you doing? That's a Grendel!"

Frog glared at him.

"Without this Grendel we'd probably all be dead by now! Now go! We'll catch up."

The Norn hesitated, then ran forwards and took some more of Grui's weight. Delila flashed a smile.


"No problem."

"Right," Frog said as they half-lead, half-dragged Grui with them, "Come on!"

As they raced along, Frog looked at the group of Norns, and at what was left of their world. He knew one thing for sure; Albia would never be the same again.