When they reached Gliendale, there were no Jagophites to be seen. To Aldric, it just looked like the same small village. Tiny black and white houses, arranged neatly along the roads, outlined the grey streets with an archaic charm. The morning sun peeped over the tops of Dale’s Hill, illuminating the deserted street that should have been bustling with life. Traders and early-birds should have been sorting through crates of stock and setting up their market stalls. Children should have been wandering down the road in groups, dreary eyed from their night lessons. More children should have been wandering in the opposite direction, dreary eyed from having to wake up early for day lessons. Aldric noticed the school at the end of the road, its gates barred shut. On a normal day, this would have pleased him. He continued to step carefully down the middle of the road, no energy left for running, whilst Raiden lingered beside him, glancing around the place like a sightseer.
‘It doesn’t look that bad,’ said Aldric, ‘I was imagining dead bodies, pools of blood and guts…’
‘Charming,’ muttered Raiden.
‘No, really,’ he retaliated, ‘Maybe the authorities are making it sound worse than it is. Maybe it is safe here!’
‘I doubt it,’ Raiden replied, ‘There’s no blood because Jagophites do not like to waste a drop.’
‘So where are they all?’ said Aldric, ‘And where are the bodies?’
‘Beats me,’ said Raiden, ‘Who is this friend of yours anyway?’
‘Kakalina,’ Aldric replied, ‘Her father’s garage is just down that road!’ Raiden strode ahead, turning down the path that Aldric had been pointing to, but he soon came meandering back out of it again with rapidity.
‘Any other routes?’ Raiden asked calmly. Aldric briskly walked to catch up but was faced with a sight he had feared. Jagophites, more than he had ever seen before, were prowling the quiet lane.
‘But they can’t see us,’ he replied, ‘Can they?’
‘Course not,’ said Raiden, ‘But we’d never get through. They’re packed in too tight.’
‘I know another way,’ said Aldric, taking the lead. He reached a shadowy alleyway between two shops and made sure it was clear before heading down it, ‘This will lead us to the back entrance,’ he added, bearing in mind to keep his voice down for the Jagophites had very keen senses. They walked very slowly. Even their footsteps were magnified by the enclosed walls. They weren’t to know if something was hiding in the shadows or not, waiting for them. Aldric let out a loud startled shout as he tripped over a cold lump and landed in a shallow puddle, ‘What was that?’ he said, staggering to his feet. He could taste blood in his mouth but it wasn’t his own.
‘Just keep going,’ said Raiden as he stepped over the mass, ‘It’s nothing.’ But when Aldric turned his head to see, he yelled. It was a distorted dead corpse with its neck cleaved open, exposing bone. Its eyes were wide and screaming and its blood was oozing into the murky puddle that Aldric had landed in.
‘That’s not bloody nothing!’ exclaimed Aldric once he had calmed down slightly. Together, they paced the short distance to the Bottimore Garage. Aldric stopped just outside the rusty building that stood out from all the others. It would have been better situated with an urban backdrop. He tiptoed to look through a small grimy circular window and felt relief enlighten him when he saw Travors Bottimore, the man in charge, arguing with his daughter. Aldric tapped softly on the glass but was unheard.
‘Please don’t make me go,’ he could hear K protesting, ‘I can’t just take off and leave without...’ Raiden banged loudly on the metal door. K’s eyes widened. Travors stuttered upon his words and glanced around to search for where the sound was originating. K’s sharp ears found the source of the noise and she peered out of the window.
‘It’s me, Aldric,’ he called out dubiously as he nudged Raiden out of the way, ‘I’m invisible!’
‘I can see that,’ she replied, her voice quiet through the glass, ‘Although, to be precisely accurate, I cannot.’ She wiped the glass with her hand and squinted as if to encourage her eyes to see the unseen. Travors pulled her back from the window by the collar of her shirt and pressed his snout against the glass.
‘Stop messing’ around,’ he grunted, ‘Show yourself!’
‘I can’t sir,’ Aldric called back, more loudly than he had meant to. He glanced around to make sure he had not been heard by a passing Jagophite. Something dark prowled by a wall in the distance, its bulging head lifted up before it lazily skulked down one of the alleys. ‘It’s a long story,’ he continued, looking to Raiden who seemed fairly relaxed, ‘I just wanted to know that you were safe, both of you.’
Travors gave him a smile full of sarcasm and turned to K, ‘We would be if someone would just get on the bleedin’ ship!’
‘I’m not going to run away,’ she cut in, ‘We have to do something to help, think of all the people who are trapped, or hurt!’
‘You’re normally such a clever girl,’ he snarled, ‘We can’t help anyone when we ourselves are also trapped.’
‘But we’re not,’ K pranced over to the door and opened it triumphantly.
‘What yer doing?’ Travors bounded over to the door and slammed it, but Aldric had already snuck inside. He stood behind K.
‘There may be deadly creatures out there,’ she continued calmly, ‘But there is nothing preventing you from stepping outside the door. The only real cage is in your mind.’ Travors scowled.
‘You take after your mother,’ he said as he stumbled out of the room, ‘Didn’t understand a word she said either!’ Aldric shifted from one foot to another, watching as Raiden’s face bobbed up and down at the window like a puppy locked out in the cold. He smiled to himself and jabbed K in the back. She jumped but almost instantly realised who it was.
‘Why didn’t you tell me?’ she asked curiously.
‘Tell you what?’ replied Aldric, folding his arms as he sat down on a dusty worktop.
‘That you’re an Isahiel,’ she replied, eyes wide, ‘You think I hadn’t figured it out by now? I mean, this is the clincher! It proves it. Of course, I’d suspected for a while now, six years to be perfectly exact but I didn’t want to say anything in case my theory turned out to be completely wrong. I would have looked completely stupid wouldn’t I?’
‘Can’t you put your pendent back on, I feel silly talking to the air.’
‘Don’t tell me you’ve lost it!’
Travors burst back into the room his cheeks puffed out, his face red. He stared at K with eyes full of fury.
‘I’m not arguing anymore,’ he said, knuckles whitening. K’s eyes flickered around nervously as metallic footsteps began echoing across the roof. The footsteps vibrated across the metal walls and scraped against the weak corrugated roofing. Aldric thought that he could hear the soft tumble of dirt as it skidded from the top of the dome. A couple more clangs and something was towering unseen above them.
‘They’ve found us,’ whispered Travors, his eyes transfixed upon the ceiling, ‘Get in the ship love.’ Aldric’s eyes narrowed curiously. All of a sudden, a latch opened and Raiden dropped through a small circular door in the very top of the domed roof. He speedily climbed down a ladder and found his way into the small ship that Travors had so desperately wanted K to board.
‘Oi,’ Travors erupted, ‘Get outta my ship! I know you’re there, I can hear you.’
‘You brought others with you?’ K asked with a hint of surprise.
‘He followed me,’ he explained, ‘I don’t even know him.’ A magnificent growl burst out of the machine as Raiden kicked it into life. It hovered above the ground; the tip of it nudged the interior walls of the dome as it tried to find its way out. Its pilot poked out his head, a sly smirk stretched across his face.
‘Who do you think you are?’ Travors boomed, ‘Get out now!’
‘Coming for a ride,’ said Raiden, patting the ships exterior, ‘You want to help people little miss? Then come aboard!’ Aldric stared up at him, with admiration and disgust. Here Raiden was, stealing a ship from a well-respected man and he still gave off the essence of a hero. Aldric’s gut wrenched inside him and he had to narrow his eyes in disapproval. K on the other hand was already climbing into the ship. Aldric followed reluctantly and buckled in just as the garage door began to open. Aldric glanced back at Travors as they sped away into the sky, but the anger he had expected was not there. Instead, his eyes were sorrowful, his cheeks pink with shame as he slowly shut the door on them.
K was still standing by the ship window, clinging on tightly to a single metal railing as Raiden dragged them through the clouds. She looked almost as ashamed as her father.
‘This is manic,’ she whispered to herself. Aldric got unbuckled so he could look outside without straining his neck but the windows were riddled with condensation. The ship gave a violent lurch and Aldric was thrown backwards, causing him to immediately regret unbuckling himself in the first place. K, used to the turbulence of flight, walked over to the pilot seat and her eyes flickered up and down as if to find Raiden’s face.
‘Who are you?’ she said simply, turning to stare instead out of the front window.
‘Name’s Raiden,’ he replied. K waited as if expecting him to continue and looked perturbed when he remained silent.
‘Is that all?’ she wondered.
‘He crash landed near here,’ said Aldric, ‘We rescued him and his cousin from the wreckage.’ K looked impressed.
‘Your pretty friend helped us,’ Raiden corrected him. K’s expression wavered, ‘Aldric did nothing,’ he told her. Raiden turned his attentions to three tiny figures running across a green crop field, ‘That must be them,’ he said elatedly.
‘They’re being chased, look,’ K exclaimed, ‘Quick! Land! Give me the controls!’ The ship swerved as she reached for them, ‘I know this ship better than you!’ She protested as Raiden swung them into the opposite direction. ‘Don’t crash!’ she added urgently as they began to plummet towards the ground. Raiden pulled up at the last second and the ship skidded. As it did so, crops flew into the air, threw up moist dirt and battered the windscreen. K and Raiden were fast to escape the ship, their footsteps clonked quickly down the steps that led outside. Aldric, feeling rather nauseous, followed on and stepped out onto the flattened crops. It was a familiar place to him. He and K had built a den nearby but as he was still dizzy from the landing, Aldric could not remember exactly how to get to it from where they were.
‘K?’ gasped December as she Evie and Jaireth bundled through the crops that towered higher than any of them there.
‘Please, come aboard,’ she replied hurriedly.
‘Wait!’ shouted Raiden.
‘What the…?’ Evie spluttered as they all skidded to a halt. Raiden produced Feliciana’s pendent from the box, put it around his own neck and appeared before them.
‘Where’s Feliciana?’ asked Raiden severely.
‘She’s not here?’ Evie replied. She held up Aldric’s pendent in her hand, holding it to the side of her but not leaving Raiden’s gaze. Aldric took back his pendent. He had not forgotten the warmth of his physical existence.
‘We were being chased,’ explained December, stumbling slightly over her words, ‘But…she’s so quiet…I didn’t think… I thought we could lose them in here…I thought she was still with us!’
‘Well she’s not,’ said Raiden fiercely, ‘I shouldn’t have trusted you lot!’ He sprinted off, disappearing through the towering foliage and called for her. A moment later there was a startled yell and the brisk swish of Raiden tumbling into the crops.
‘Are you okay?’ called Evie. They heard nothing except rustling as a gust swept by. December made a motion to go into the crops too but Raiden burst back out of them, a Jagophite surging after him.
‘Get to the ship!’ Raiden yelled, but no-one needed telling. Just as they were about to board, something made Aldric turn back. A green scaled humanoid was emerging through the green.
‘No! We have to get out of here!’ K followed hastily as Aldric drew his sword and aimed it towards the creature, ‘What did you do to my father?’ The leader of the Jagophites tilted his head, ‘I saw you! And don’t pretend you didn’t see me!’
‘I remember you,’ it replied. Even though Aldric knew the creature could talk, it still came as a surprise. The leader stared forwards blankly, ‘Friend,’ it said simply.
‘Friend?’ he returned, ‘I’m not your friend.’
‘I don’t think that’s what he means,’ said K slowly, examining the lost expression on the leader’s face.
‘Your father was his friend,’ said the leader as if in a daydream. He looked past Aldric, eyes resting upon Raiden, ‘Cousin,’ it said, ‘She’s your cousin.’ Raiden barged forwards.
‘Give her back to me,’ he shouted.
‘No,’ said the leader, ‘I must have blood.’
‘Give her back!’ shouted Raiden even louder.
‘I must have blood.’
‘You can take mine,’ he argued, ‘Just don’t hurt her!’
‘Beg,’ the leader whispered. Raiden scowled as if offended by the request, ‘I must have blood,’ said the leader again, the corner of his lip twitching. He looked up at the sky, distant once again as if settling into the mind of a stranger, ‘I must have a name,’ he said, ‘Incursio. My name shall be Incursio!’
‘Where is she?’ said Aldric, his sword edging ever so closer to Incursio’s neck, ‘How could you even have seen her?’
‘Aldric,’ K whispered in his ear, ‘Who was your father’s friend?’
‘Not now,’ replied Aldric.
‘But it might be important,’ she insisted.
‘Why would it be?’ said Aldric exasperatedly as he turned to face K. Incursio took advantage of Aldric’s distraction and fled back through the crops.
‘Hey!’ he exclaimed.
‘I have to find her!’ shouted Raiden as he raced back to the ship, ‘He’ll be hiding her somewhere. I can follow him better by air.’
‘We’ll come with you!’ Evie called as she, Aldric and K followed. The four of them clambered aboard first, cramped together. December was following too and was speedily pulling a reluctant Jaireth by his hand but it was too late: the ship rose up several feet into the air.
‘Wait!’ Evie cried out.
‘I’m not doing anything,’ said Raiden, ‘Someone’s put it on autopilot.’
‘This is my dad’s work,’ said K, trying to assist Raiden in turning it off, ‘I should have known he’d try to do something like this!’ Aldric watched as December and Jaireth got smaller and smaller. Tears leaked from Evie’s eyes. Aldric attempted to tear her away from the ship door in case she should fall but she refused to budge.
‘No,’ she screamed down to them, ‘We won’t leave you!’ She turned onto Raiden and shoved him hard in the shoulder, ‘Go back!’ she cried as the door closed itself.
‘What don’t you understand by autopilot?’ Raiden asked rhetorically as he fiddled with the controls, ‘No, no, no,’ he shouted as he began to punch the control desk. Evie fell to the floor with a tinny thud, her windswept hair falling over her wet face. Aldric buckled himself into a chair and glanced around at everyone. K was buckled in the seat next to him, her eyes shut, head tilted back and a long cascade of blonde hair dangling down the back of the seat. Aldric had seen that pained expression on her face a hundred times before. She was thinking; working things out, probably calculating their chances of survival and hoping for the best. Evie was bundled on the floor, trying to pull herself together whilst Raiden was still in the pilot’s chair, banging the control desk and muttering expletives under his breath.
‘I’m sorry,’ Aldric said quietly, his face burning. He hated apologising but he had to say something. K opened her eyes very suddenly and looked over to him.
‘For what?’ she asked, leaning over.
‘It’s your fault for taking off like that,’ shouted Evie, ‘If you hadn’t had gone... Jaireth would still be with us!’
‘Now hang on,’ Aldric defended himself, ‘If I hadn’t had left to see if K was alright, we wouldn’t even have transport. I was some use!’
‘If we didn’t have transport?’ asserted Evie in an outraged manner, ‘Then we wouldn’t be on our way to who knows where! And like I said, Jaireth would be with me!’
‘If you want to be technical about it,’ said K, ‘This whole situation has arisen from whoever brought the Jagophites to Gliendale. No-one here is to blame for anything.’
‘Don’t get all technical with me,’ Evie retaliated, ‘Like you said; this is your dad’s work! Why is he doing this?’ Aldric noticed that K and Raiden were looking at Evie as if not expecting such a loud voice to erupt from a girl with such a composed facade. Evie looked away, flushing pink. ‘Sorry,’ she muttered, ‘I don’t normally act like this.’ She sat back down by the door, holding on to its handle as they suddenly picked up speed. Aldric leant forward in his chair, his head heavy and ears popping loudly. The ship levelled up and it seemed to be going a lot smoother yet Aldric’s head still felt heavy as a concrete block. He felt the contents of his stomach churn and something warm rise in his chest. Knowing what was coming next he quickly unbuckled himself and staggered into the back-end of the ship. When he was feeling better, he emerged from behind the curtain. He poked his pale green-tinged face through first.
‘Are we nearly there?’ he mumbled, the rest of his body falling through the curtain.
‘Not quite,’ said Raiden as he spun around in his chair, ‘The database says that the co-ordinates have been set for the planet of Iccolsio. So we should arrive in exactly...96 hours, 33 minutes and 45 seconds...relative time.’ Aldric groaned and flumped back into his chair, not bothering to buckle himself in.
‘But that’s...’ Aldric began, working it out in his head.
‘About four days,’ K explained, ‘Slight variations depending on time zones and all that, but nothing major.’
‘I’m going to die in here!’ he replied melodramatically, slouching further into his seat. And what about when they got to Iccolsio, thought Aldric. What then? Were they going to turn back and waste another four days travelling? Aldric voiced his concerns to K.
‘Oh I wouldn’t worry,’ she told him, as optimistically as ever, ‘I know exactly where to go.’