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Author: Good E. Venson
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Forbidden Valley History

The First Age: A Young WorldEdit



Bendonsail as a Sapling

I, Good E. Venson, a humble member of the Nexus Force, have discovered the true History of Forbidden Valley as recounted by one of the only beings worthy of the task. This being has seen with his own eyes, or heard by eye witnesses all the events described in this volume, and through all the years following his plantation and early days, he has spread his roots throughout his island of rock. He witnessed the disappearance of the ocean, the arrival of the ninjas, the coming of the maelstrom and the rising of the Nexus Force. He is, as you must have already guessed, the Great Tree. Now, this is how I found the record of events which the Great Tree wrote.

I am not exactly part of the Venture League, but like a lot of Assembly I have met, we have a little bit of the exploration spirit within us too. Well, it was like this, I was in FV exploring some of the lower roots of the Tree, when I slipped and fell. I caught hold of a small twig, and while hanging there, I noticed a small cave in the rock. With some difficulty and a Quicksickle, I managed to get in, where I was somewhat surprised at what was inside. The cave was about twelve studs across, by about twenty studs deep. There was a large area rug spread over the floor, and the walls were painted with strange symbols. Although I recognized them to be in the ancient language of the first builders, I had totally flunked at language class when in school, and I couldn't make any sense of them. Towards the end of the cave, there stood what looked like a writing desk that was in reality just a section of root that came through the wall, but although not actually carved, it was formed in the shape of a writing desk. It occurred to me that when the Tree had grown this root for itself, it had intentionally grown into that shape. But what captured my attention most, was not the desk itself, but what was happening on the desk.

There was another root, about the width of my wrist, and narrowing down to a point, that was growing out of the wall. This root was holding a strange gold and silver pen. It was writing, very slowly, on a scroll that was laying on the desk. When I saw, and fully comprehended this phenomenon, I was terrified. I had never believed that trees could move or think of themselves, but at that moment I saw the truth. I turned to flee, but only to see that my passage had been cut off, the entrance now being thoroughly obstructed by a thick tangle of brush and branches. It was then that my honor returned, I had Ventured into a place I should never have been, that was a legitimate cause of fear or maybe even shame, but now, faced by an enemy who as I thought, threatened my life, it was a time to be courageous. I started my serratorizers, equipped my anvil, stood against a wall, and prepared to meet the worst.

After standing there a good three minutes, with all my anvil powerups flashing, I realized how smart my antagonist was, he was going to wait until my defenses failed, then attack. But after sitting there for ten more minutes that seemed like hours, with the Tree doing nothing except slightly thickening the wall between me and my freedom, I began to relax. I looked over at where the Tree was writing; he was still at it, writing, writing, very slowwwly. For some reason, the writing had a quieting effect on me. Not anything bewitching: no, I made sure of that, (if there is one thing that I can't stand, it is having my actions controlled by another against my will.) But, it was calming to think on that pen, writing, writing, for who knows how long. Cautiously, I walked up to the desk, and when I got within reading distance, I saw more of the language of the first builders.

Wishing I had paid more attention in language class, I silently laid down my heavy serratorizers. I reached for the giant scroll, just wanting to examine it further, but before I could put my hands out to take it, the writing root stopped writing. And rolling the scroll together, with the pen inside, the root held it tight in its grasp. It was strange, while it was happening, it seemed as though the root was moving quite as slowly, and quite as deliberately as when it had been writing. But the shortness of time in which the action had been preformed, was puzzling. I had but a few seconds to think on this however, because in a jiffy, the scroll was placed upon a shelf among about fifty other scrolls of voluminous proportions. I had not noticed the shelf until then because of its height from the floor, but my attention was diverted again. The root was writing something in the thick dust that lay all over the rest of the desk. It was a message in plain modern language, written in a strange gnarled looking font, and it said,

"What do you want, small one? Why are you here? Why would you take my book? Speak, small one, for I can hear you." At this I knew that the Great Tree was not my enemy, but was just curious; so I spoke.

"In all respect, Great Tree, it was by an accident that I came to be here. I was exploring your land, and I fell from one of your roots and caught hold of one of your many twigs to save myself. Thus I came here, master, and with respect to the book, I only wanted to examine more thoroughly your handiwork."

"Well said, small one," the Tree wrote in the dust, "I must apologize for causing you fear by trapping you here. It was only to find out what you were about."

"Such was a wise decision master. By what may I call you?"

"My real name is not for the tongues of your kind, but you may call me Bendonsail. Do you read the ancients?" Here the Tree motioned with his root toward the shelf of scrolls.

"Well, no, actually not, you see-"

"Ah, I forget, it has been a long time for the small ones, you probably don't even know who the first builders were, I see that I must begin further back than I had thought."

"We 'small ones' aren't as ignorant as you might think, Master Bendonsail. Some of our research scientists have discovered artifacts from them, and every Nexus Force member learns the fundamentals of their language in their training. Well, that is, everyone except me and all the others who aren't as good at language as some. But, good sir, what is it that you write all day, and what is in those volumes that sit atop your shelf?"

"I see... small ones thirst after knowledge, they strive to know everything. You risked death in your attempt to find out what lies beneath. I am glad I was born a tree." Throughout this conversation, whenever the Tree wrote, it was with his usual deliberate slowness. And yet, it seemed to me that the length of time he took to write was nothing. It was as if he and I were in different dimensions of time, and a year to us is like a day to him. So that when he moves in ordinary speed for him, it appears to be very slow to us, and yet takes an ordinary amount of time. I guess I am just as confusing as I sound to myself, so I will let your Imagination figure it out for you.

"The books" wrote the tree, "are for myself, and will not be understood by even your best scientists, but if you come back in ten days time, I will give you a copy in your language. It was pleasant talking with a small one again; now go." With that, and a rustling at the entrance, I picked up my serratorizers and turned to go, but was stopped by a tap on the back. Bendonsail was writing in the dust again, "Promise not to use those on any of my brethren."

"How," I asked, "will I know your brethren? Are all trees your brethren?"

"No," he wrote, "half of our noble race were cursed in the olden days, even before the great builders lived, and the spirits of these trees died though their flesh lives on. To discern whether one is among my brethren, wear this." Bendonsail reached into a crevice in the rock and retrieved a shirt of mail. The links were made entirely of wood fashioned exquisitely, and it fit me perfectly. "You will see members of my brethren on your map when you wear this, it is also better in stats than your best armor, small one."

When I saw the stats, eight armor and six Imagination, I was incredulous and asked him, "Where did you get this? It must cost a hundred thousand coins!"

He replied simply, "I made it while we talked. Now go."

After expressing my great thanks, I used another Quicksickle to get into an updraft, and floated back up to the familiar known land. Once there, I rushed to the Nimbus Station launchpad where I was supposed to meet up with SmallBabyCool on my Nimbus Isle property to brickbuild some new inventions.

Chapter One of the Ancient History of Forbidden Valley : The beginningsEdit

| Rule: 1 stud is about ⅓ of a yard. |

Note to reader: Good Venson here, the rest of this narrative is as I copied it over from the translated document that Bendonsail the Great Tree gave me. Everything from here on out (unless I say otherwise) is from his perspective.

Long, Long, ago, before the first builders ever knew about that part of the Universe, there was a large planet named Niembaz orbiting the sun we trees called Slaithern. This Niembaz was an oceanic planet. It had an orbit such that one side of the planet was always facing Slaithern, and the other was in perpetual darkness. Closer to the Light side were two places of land, one, a place of vast meadows, was called Langaustur, for it lies in the furthest East. The other, called Staoftre, was home to one of the oldest forests in the universe. It is regarded by me as my homeland even though I never saw the place except for what I could observe from inside my seed pod. There were also some islands, but the rest of the planet was covered with water.

Near the middle of Niembaz's existence, there was a great meteor shower at the Dark side of it. Not great as in many many meteors, but as in gigantic ones. They were big enough to be small planets, and when they hit Niembaz, they altered its orbit just enough to start it on its path to being eaten up by the cruel heat of Slaithern. Now, these meteors, when they hit the ocean, eventually came back up to the surface and floated there. The composition of these rock chunks was such that, combined with the mineral content in the water at the Dark side, it caused pillars of rock to start forming out of the bottoms of them. Over thousands of years, the pillars eventually connected to the ocean floor. These meteors, so close together as to be regarded as one landmass, became the sister of Langaustur and Staoftre, albeit a dreaded sister, and known by their inhabitants as Dalinanao (or "The Valley Forbidden" in your tongue.)

The people of Neimbaz, called the Choku, were not advanced like the first builders, but they had excelled in the art of seafaring. They chose Staoftre as their home chiefly because of its position nearer the Light/Dark line where the heat of Slaithern was not so intense as on the plains of Langaustur. But it was also partly because of the softness of the rock, and the abundance of trees and game.

It was about that time that the Dragons came to the Valley Forbidden, no one knew how they came, or where they came from. Some said that they came from planets other than Niembaz, others speculated that they might have come from other lands on Niembaz yet unexplored. But whatever the origins of these beasts, they were there; fierce, wild, revengeful. Any ship that ventured too near the Light/Dark line(or the Haunted Place as it was called by the Choku) would never be seen again. Or sometimes it would be found, unoccupied, half charred, and stranded upon a reef.

For about five hundred years, the Choku, the Turtles, Elephants, and Alligators of Staoftre; the Buffalo, Skunk, and red Dinosaurs of Langaustur; the Trees, the Dragons, and all the other unknown creatures of Niembaz lived together in comparable peace. The Choku had discovered that there were gems and precious metals in parts of Langaustur, and began mining operations. They carved sculptures and made homes out of the soft rock in Staoftre. But between all the comings and goings, the trade, and just plain living, the planet of Niembaz was on its road to incineration.

As Niembaz got closer and closer to Slaithern in its orbit, the planet's core grew hotter. Molten lava pushed itself out between the tectonic plates creating strings of underwater volcanoes that came nearer, nearer, nearer to the surface of the water. Of course, because of the biased orbit of Niembaz around Slaithern, the volcanoes on the eastern side of the planet grew much faster than those on the west side. In fact, the particular tectonic plate that the Valley Forbidden rested upon grew no volcanoes at all.

Soon, the Choku started noticing the change. The water in the passage between Staoftre and Langaustur grew warmer and warmer. Dull red glows were noticed far below the surface of the water. The heat on Langaustur grew more and more unbearable, soon, the voyages were stopped. The Choku retreated to Staoftre, and their feeling was one of great fear. They imagined that the Fire Mountains that now imprisoned them were the result of a joint curse between the Dragons of the far West, and Slaithern of the far East. Caught between two dreadful foes; the eternal darkness and fierce dragons on one side, and the furious heat of Slaithern on the other, with the volcanoes forming a wall surrounding them. Each of the other land plates floating on the ball of burning lava that Niembaz had become, the planet was in terrible straights. And that was when it happened.

Slaithern was an old star, his power plant of energy was failing, and he was nearing the end of his life. It was about the tenth age in the star system that Slaithern was born in when he collapsed. With a final burst of energy, the star Slaithern, who had out lived many of his brethren, living through the ninth and tenth age, exploded. Niembaz was on the outer side of the star system in its orbit when the shock wave hit. Whilst being carried outward towards the more explored regions of the universe, the already unstable and splitting surface of the planet separated into chunks. It was in this chaotic time that I was a young tree, barely able to keep hold of the rock to which I clung. Before I continue with the story I would like to go back to the events leading up to my planting.

Chapter Two of The Ancient History of Forbidden Valley : Appeasing the DragonsEdit

It was before the volcanoes had completely cut off all water passage to and from Staoftre, and the west side still had numerous gaps where a ship could get through. Following the belief that the dragons of the Valley Forbidden were in the most part responsible for the calamities that were befalling Niembaz; the Choku would send a boatload of ten prisoners to appease the wrath of the dragons every three months. It was the custom of the time to carry a seed of the trees in one's pocket for good luck, the trees being on friendly terms with the Choku, and regarded by them as the wisest beings in the universe.

In the last boat that was sent to the dragons, there was a young man named Bendauch who happened to choose my seed as his lucky one. Placing me in his pocket, he took his place in the ship that was to bear the prisoners to their doom. You wouldn't imagine that such a great tree as myself could be carried around in the pocket of a man would you? But there I was, being toted around like so much grain. Well, when my man took his place aboard the ship called the "Sea Dog" in your tongue, he waved good-bye to his family, and prepared for adventure.

Bendauch did not indulge in the superstitions of the times. He did not know why his planet was heating up, or why the volcanoes were rising out of the sea. But he knew that dragons did not have the power to do such things, and that they were just creatures like the elephants, warthogs, alligators, and turtles he knew so well. He resolved in his mind to escape if he could, but the only way he could think of was to do so after they arrived in the Valley. If he had escaped before the ship left, it would just mean assigning one more innocent person to be dessert for some hungry dragon. If he hid himself onboard ship, the religious ministers would surely find him, and perhaps bind him when they got close to the regions ruled expressly by the dragons. So he resolved to find the first opportunity to escape once they were already in the Valley Forbidden, or at least beyond the reach of his captors.

After four hours steady sailing, the ship came in sight of the volcanoes; three of them were erupting at that moment, giving a dismal aspect to the dark atmosphere that was beginning to show in the western horizon. After another hour, the ship was within a hundred and fifty studs of the two volcanoes that the captain was going to attempt to make his passage through. As the ship and its passengers passed between the black pinnacles looming overhead, the heat was intense. There was a constant stream of lava flowing down the sides of each mountain, and where it met the water there was also a constant steaming and bubbling. Once past these guardians, the darkness grew quickly. The ship's company, half of whom had never seen a night in their lives were plunged into a darkness like pitch.

Lights were produced.

Among the prisoners was Bendauch's sister Coalessa, who was a great lover of animals. She knew all the habits and ways of any animal she met within hours. Bendauch had resolved to save her as well as himself if he could, so after a while in the darkness, he explained to her his plan. It went as follows: When the ship's boat was launched, Bendauch and Coalessa would take their places in the back of the boat. As soon as a dragon was sighted, they would slip over the side, and stay with the boat. If no dragons made their appearance by the time they had come within sight of the land, they would wait until then to go over. After reaching the shore, they would swim parallel to the shore as far as they could go, then they would beach and try to find some shelter.

After about an hour in the darkness, the captain of the ship declared that he would go no further into the Haunted Regions, and ordered the boat to be dispatched. During the operations of turning the ship and loading the boat, fear had risen to a considerable height among the men. When the last prisoner had climbed with trembling legs and a quaking heart into the boat, every scrap of sail was put on, and the oars were put out and laid to feverishly. Then the priest who was to accompany the boat to the dragons lair gave the order to row, and the six men chosen for the task bent to the oars. There was no thought of disobedience, for the Choku were a very superstitious race, and the priests were held supreme. Before the boat had gone three hundred studs however, all attention was diverted back to the fleeing ship. Coming from the East, the direction in which the ship was headed, were three dragons, one of whom was bearing in its talons one of the small white whales that live in the waters of the Light/Dark line.

"See," Coalessa said in a low tone to no one in particular, "Three dragons go out to hunt so that when they return with their prey, one can carry it while the other two guard."

As soon as the rowers saw the dragons they set off at twice the speed that they had before done and all eyes sat riveted on the fearsome trio. From the ship which was directly in the dragons path came a cry. Slowly, the steersman turned the craft and the ship began making its way out of the dragons' line, but they moved too late. The two guard dragons suddenly veered and began making their way towards the ship while the third soared in circles around it. The pair of dragons breathed a cone of fire each, and swooped down upon the vessel. They flew in tight circles and thus avoided most of the arrows that, falteringly aimed, were shot from the inflamed ship. By then, the combined efforts of the rowers in the boat, and of those in the ship had put upwards of half a mile between the two craft, and all that could be seen of the ship was a flaming mass. With tears in their eyes for their fellows burnt, drowned, or picked up by a dragon, the party in the boat watched as the dragons circled higher and higher and finally flew off with their patient companion towards their lair on the land.

Bendauch looked over at his sister and said, "Truly, it is a terrible thing." Then addressing the priest, "Sir, do you think that now the dragons have been appeased, we may attempt to return home?"

The holy man looked back at Bendauch with irritation in his eyes, "You will never understand religious matters, my son, did you not see those fools shooting at the dragons? The Choku need a double recompense now!"

I sighed within my shell, I longed to get out. The world was waiting for me. I had a bit of foresight at that moment, I saw men using my great branches as meeting places, training spaces. I also saw my land covered with a dark power, unknown to me at the time, but now all too well recognized as the Maelstrom. For the first, last and only time in my life I longed to have been born a great hero, to conquer the forces of darkness. But ah, such are the thoughts of the young, always yearning to be something else. At that moment my master Bendauch muttered to me that he wished that he had been born a tree. Yes, those are the thoughts of the young. But, I had best stop my musings, I know that the small ones are not used to such things and quickly get tired of the ramblings of trees, so I will continue my narrative.

As the dragons did not seem to have noticed the boat in the darkness of the western waters, Bendauch and Coalessa decided to wait 'til a more suitable moment to make their escape. In another hour, the boat's company came in sight of the crags and pinnacles of the Valley. All had entertained a view as to how the land should look, for many tale tellers had come back from voyages and said that they had seen the place. Some even said that they had landed there. But even though these wild tales were never believed, they still affected the imagination, and every one of the group had a slightly different idea about what it would look like. Some imagined a deep valley that shut out the water, and out of this valley came the dragons. Others thought that the sea turned to fire, that no land actually existed, and the dragons were the embodiment of the smoke that perpetually rose and spread throughout the dark land. But Bendauch's idea turned out to be the most correct. What lay before the unwilling adventurers was not a sea of fire, nor a single landmass, but a group of islands of a rock-type foreign to Niembaz.

There was no grass, trees, or anything green to be seen. These islands were of varying sizes, and some of the smaller ones looked as if they were not fixed, but floated upon the water like large vessels. It was hard for the Choku to see, especially because their eyes were not developed for seeing in the dark. The atmosphere however, was very thin, and the stars in Slaithern's system were bright, so these things the boat's passengers could see. And that was the moment for escape.

Chapter Three of The Ancient History of Forbidden Valley : Plantation, Early Thoughts, Ruhedrache, and The Pohr HorsesEdit

Bendauch touched Coalessa's arm; the signal to go. Silently, the two slipped over the low sides of the boat into the cold Western water. {C I don't know what ideas the priest had entertained as to the land of his awaiting death, but whatever it was, when he saw the barren, bleak, blackened rock, the stark reality must have hit him full force. Commanding the rest to commit themselves to prayers, the holy man fell into despair. The rowers kept on rowing, rowing. The others kept on sitting, sitting. And the priest looked up in dread as a lone dragon flew up on silent wings.

The dragon sat upon a crag and watched them till they came within eighteen studs of the beach. Then, with the air of one receiving a gift, the dragon leaped into the air, and swooped down, down, towards the boat. The rowers stopped their rowing. The others stopped their praying. The priest let out a long, piercing shriek, and all felt their hearts melt within them. Bendauch and Coalessa dived down and to the right as the dragon came on, faster, faster, with a tongue of flame building up deep within its chest. At the last moment, all within the boat threw themselves prostrate as the dragon breathed its burning breath over their backs. Lifting the whole boat out of the water, the dragon carried it and all of its occupants into the interior of the islands.

From the moment they dived, to the moment they surfaced only three seconds after the dragon and its piteous cargo had disappeared, only twenty-five seconds had elapsed. When they emerged from the water, they were eighteen studs from where the boat had sat, and only nine studs from the beach. Covering that distance in a matter of seconds, Bendauch and Coalessa clambered up onto the beach. It was a strange beach they came out upon, instead of the gradual sloping sand that Staoftre had possessed, this new land had steep sides of barren rock. Continuing in a low run, they reached cover without much difficulty, where Coalessa remained while her brother searched for a better place.

Bendauch discovered a lonely island in the center of the Valley Forbidden which the dragons rarely visited. The island was about thirty studs wide, by thirty studs long and had shelter in the form of two mud huts. On the nearest islands stood five more in bad disrepair. This area was different from the rest of the Valley in that instead of the normal hard rock, clay dirt made up the ground for about three feet deep. Bendauch and Coalessa stayed here for a week before moving on in exploration of the Valley Forbidden. At the end of that time, Bendauch planted me in the middle of that central island between the two huts. Coalessa wanted to find something to interest her besides the rude goats that ran about the crags and heights, and Bendauch wanted to have adventure. Besides, Bendauch's supply of food he had smuggled along wasn't large, and they were running out fast. Upon starting out, Bendauch blessed me with the blessing of a truly thankful man, and these were his words:

"Oh tree, though you are naught but a seed, I thank you for saving me and my sister from the wrath of the dragon. Though I never believed in luck, and just brought you along like the other fellows did your brethren, I do now believe in the power of the ancient race to protect those it will, and safeguard the passage of prisoners. I now plant you here, in this new land, and charge you to fill it up with your being, do not raise up young for yourself as companions lest there not be sufficient means to live and all die. Instead, wait as is the nature of trees, and you will see, the children of man will come, some will be pleased by this barren landscape and your by then magnificent stature. Do not grow as trees that hate man, but spread your arms outward, fashion with your trunk places of gathering, with your roots, bridges to cross these watery chasms. I name you Bendonsail because you protected Bendauch, on, his sail. You are the master of this land, you must master it."

After watering me, he and his companion-in-adventure swam to the eastern shore, and started off to find a better place. {C . It was strange to be thus left alone, ever since I grew as a seed in my parent tree, I had been continuously taught and nurtured by my elders. I had watched the children of the Choku playing underneath where I hung, and I observed the elders of the Choku when they came every month to inquire of the trees on matters which required great wisdom. I remembered the day that Bendauch received the news that he was to accompany the ship to the dragons. I had seen him come by many times before, in fact, he often climbed up into my parent tree and sat on one of its branches to meditate. That day, he had climbed up and sat very disconsolately on the branch upon which I grew. Suddenly looking up at the sun, he plucked me from my place, dropped me in his pocket, and dropped to the ground. Since then, I had been in his pocket, and when I realized myself to be all alone in the world, buried under a foot of dirt between two mud huts, I felt very very small.

I thought about the blessing given by Bendauch on his parting... He was wrong, I had done nothing to save him, if anything, it had been the Great Spirit who, as the wise elders say, rules the world. But the other thing I could not dismiss, I had been taught that the Great Spirit had made the Choku the masters of everything on Niembaz, and that included the trees. I therefore resolved to work toward the first command laid upon me, and that included growing.

Time passed quickly as I focused all my attention on growing. Trees have an innate knowledge in all matters pertaining to growth. That includes everything about reaching water, reaching sun, proper distribution of weight, proper distribution of root system, etc... So that while not great in wisdom or general knowledge yet, I had at the time all the information required to set about planning my future. Even from the beginning, everything is crucial to proper growth, so while letting myself grow in the way that all trees grow, either with spirit and consciousness, or without. I set myself to think of the very best way that I could grow. I thought of how I could best suit the "children of man" that Bendauch had said would come. I thought of how I could make myself attractive to them, make them want to stay. I thought of how I could establish myself strongly here in the Valley Forbidden. I thought of all these things and more, and after long days of debate and deliberation working out how and what I was to grow into, I came up with the best plan for myself as the Master, Watchman, Host, and King of these islands. With redoubled energy I shot out my roots toward the water. I opened new leaves that were big enough to catch the rays of the stars. I rose up higher and higher and sprouted temporary branches to help me in my growth.

When Bendauch came a week later to water me, he was surprised to find that I had already rose a foot out of the ground. I bowed to him, and he told me that he had found a place of grass and fruit near the dragon's den. Coalessa and him had met a friendly young dragon who used what slight influence it had to convince the other dragons to let them alone. This dragon was strange in that where most dragons had scales, he had grey fur, like the fur on a cat. His skin underneath the fur was a bright orange, contrasting strangely with the greyness of the landscape, and his own fur. He became a frequent visitor, and Coalessa took him specially under her care. After a time though, his visits were less frequent, until at last he was only seen at times wheeling over the Islands looking for goats and other small animals to eat.

There were horses in the place Bendauch had found, and although they had not yet been able to get near one of these strange creatures, Coalessa had made such progress that Bendauch was sure that in the course of a week she could be able to tame one. I mentioned that these creatures were strange, and they were indeed foreign to us, there being no known animal of such a type in all of Niembaz, but they were strange for quite another reason as well. Let me describe to you as best as I can from the description that Bendauch made to me, and what I later found out in time.

These creatures were like ordinary horses of the Universe in their shape, size, manner, and actions, but what set these horses apart from ordinary specimens, was the color, visual image, and the effect that they had upon the environment. They were an aqua color, and slightly opaque. Their hair gave you the impression that it was constantly growing, flowing out, but when you looked at the ends of the tails and manes, they did not grow longer, but stayed relatively the same length. It may seem that these creatures were of a liquid nature, not real or even made of flesh, but these assumptions are false. They were real, physical, creatures; it was just the effect that they had on the eyes and their surroundings that was unique. Wherever they walked, the grass was left wet, and grew more lush and green. That is enough said about the horses, now I will turn my recollections into a different vein.

Chapter Four of The Ancient History of Forbidden Valley : The Crack-UpEdit

I grew fast, following the plan I had set for my life, I sent my roots reaching far and wide. For trees, unless interrupted by the actions of men, the hours pass quickly, almost too quickly. It seems like it takes just minutes to grow a leaf, just hours to grow a new limb. But I was still young and small when the last days of Slaithern came upon us. It was that part of the year when Niembaz lay in the outer side of its orbit, and there were no stars in the sky.

The light of the explosion hit first. Where the dull red glow in the horizon had been but a moment before, a blinding white was now, the water of the western sea glowed a neon blue-green. At the time, I didn't know what was happening, I knew it had to do with Slaithern, and after a few minutes I came to the conclusion that Slaithern had happened upon a new energy resource which enabled him to burn more brightly. Soon however, the whole planet of Neimbaz began to shake violently, and suddenly, sound. No notes, nothing distinctive so as to tell what made the sound, just sound, so loud, so intense that nothing could describe it. At the same moment the sound came, Neimbaz was shaken to its core, then, as if carried by the sound itself, Neimbaz began to move. Faster and faster, slowly turning around, for the first time in thousands of years, the Western side of Niembaz saw Slaithern, and a very different Slaithern it was. He looked a white ball of fury. Expanding bigger and bigger. With a sudden shudder, he collapsed. In the place of Slaithern, that great sun, there was nothing. Nothing except a hole.

But, carried on by her impetuous, Niembaz continued on her course. The planet, already divided into sections by the volcanoes that lined the fault lines, began to split into chunks. The Valley Forbidden though, had not these guardians to keep in her water, so as soon as the planet began to shake apart, the Valley's sea began to rush down into the belly of the world. This had a few effects upon Neimbaz, one obvious effect I will attempt to explain in simple language. I mentioned earlier that when the various meteors that make up Forbidden Valley as it is now, had rested in the Western sea, they had "grown" supports for themselves that reached to the ocean floor. Although that is the truth, if the islands had remained the way they had first grown themselves, they would now be relatively the same height. But, as anyone knows who has ever been to my world, that is not the case. In fact, when you look at the particular island that the dragons have their main abode, it is a good six to nine hundred studs below the general level of the other islands. The reason is this. When the shock wave hit, the lower portions of some of the islands' support pillars gave way, and when the sea level began to go down, the islands came down with it until they rested on solid pillars again.

Meanwhile, Bendauch had been climbing some rocks in order to catch a goat. He had had it cornered when everything started happening. When he saw the light, he knew something big was coming. Abandoning the goat, he climbed down as fast as he could, but before he got more than half-way, the quakes began. The whole ledge that he was on shook free and plunged down to the ocean below. Upon resurfacing, the sound came. Diving into the water to escape it, Bendauch tried to imagine what was happening, but try as he might, he could think of nothing save that the great sun Slaithern had exploded. That was the only thing with enough power... Then it suddenly struck him. The whole events of the last five hundred years played out in his mind and it all made sense. He remembered the legends of the great waves that had come upon the western shores of Langaustur and Staoftre. He remembered the growing heat in Langaustur, he recalled the chains of volcanoes stretching as far as the eye could see. He came to the full understanding that it was by the power of the sun, and by that power alone that Niembaz had been suffering. But how came the change? Again Bendauch recalled the legends of great fear, fear of whatever had fallen into the "Dark regions". Of course! The Islands of the Valley Forbidden! That's it! When they had struck the planet they had so altered its course that in time Neimbaz would be eaten up by the sun.

But his lungs were bursting, and he made for the surface. When he got there and had taken a deep breath, the sound was not as intense, so he looked around for the best way to ascend the twenty foot climb. That's when he got surprised, there was no land- oh wait, there, to the right, about a quarter mile away Bendauch could see the Valley Forbidden rising above the water. How could he have drifted so far away? Getting set for a long swim, Bendauch took off in measured strokes. After ten minutes with basically no gain on the Valley, Bendauch began to be worried, he couldn't do this forever, why didn't he get anywhere? Letting himself drift, Bendauch realized that there was a current pulling him away from the land. Before he had time to ponder however, he saw something that made him stop in amazement. Creeping over the horizon, as Niembaz turned, was the dead star Slaithern. The sight was awesome. Man had probably never witnessed such an event at such close range. But Bendauch's attention was diverted to the situation closer at hand. The current was growing stronger and stronger, soon the Valley Forbidden was at least half a mile away. Also, the height of the water appeared to be growing less. Bendauch did not know where, but he knew that the water was all going somewhere, and whatever happened, he did not want to get dragged down with it. Striking out with great effort, Bendauch managed to gain on, match the speed of, but eventually succumb to the swiftly moving waters. He realized that there was no way to win, so he settled back to wait out his doom.

After about five minutes, Bendauch started to see mountainous shapes rising out of the sea. He knew then how quickly the water was going away, and started to hope that maybe he could get aground on some high spot, and thereby make his escape out of the clutches of the sea. No matter how hard he tried however, Bendauch could not get ashore on any of the growing islands. Soon he found himself in a river of sorts that was rushing through a valley. As Bendauch looked ahead, he saw that the valley widened out considerably and formed into a small lake. At the end of the lake, the water spilled over and down, and up from the crack into which the sea from both sides poured, issued a constant billowing of steam. With his last ounce of strength, Bendauch exerted himself to get to the side of the lake. There, the current was not as strong as it had been in the middle, but still, bendauch could not get a hold of the steep, slippery, seaweed covered rock that made up that side. Slowly, the current pulled him towards the edge. Slowly, Bendauch lost hope and fight. Slowly, the last of the portion of the great ocean of the Western Sea that the Valley Forbidden stood upon drained: Like a bathtub, like the basin of wash water that gets used to extinguish the camp fire. When Bendauch came to within fifteen studs of the drop-off, he realised that he could touch the bottom. Exerting himself to the utmost, and now with a foothold, Bendauch struggled against the force of the water. At nine studs, the water was only up to his waist. At six, the height of the water was down to his thighs, and finally, when only three studs from the point-of-no-return, the sea had lowered itself down to Bendauch's knees, and he could hold his own against the flowing tide. When finally the water stopped flowing, Bendauch collapsed in a heap, his exhaustion was so great that he slept there for twenty hours. And what a resting place it was, right on the brink of an ever widening crack, steam continuing to issue forth. From the silence of the ocean floor issued moans and cries from the poor sea creatures that had succeeded in escaping from getting washed down into the depths of the earth.

After a long rest, Bendauch started off to find a way back to the Valley Forbidden and his sister Coalessa. After a day of walking, Bendauch came upon the Pillars of the Valley, but no way up could he find. Nor could he do anything but stand at the base of the pillars and wish he could get up. After years of wandering, Bendauch passed quietly away at the foot of the pillar on which I rest, and in about a hundred years from that time, I finally reached him with one of my roots, dug him a grave, and buried him there.

Chapter Five of The Ancient History of Forbidden Valley : A Cave, a Chair, and an Ancient(er) HistoryEdit

When Neimbaz was hit by the shock wave following Slaithern's explosion, the whole Eastern side was annihilated. Every living thing, from trees to grass, Choku to animals, everything was burnt so fast and so hot that not even ash was left. The only things that survived were the roots of the grass and trees, and the few animals that were asleep in their caves. The water did not get evaporated though, only the top ten studs of it. The blast of heat that hit Neimbaz was so fast that only the things that suffered any great damage were those above the general surface of the planet. When the catastrophic event struck, Coalessa had been hit on the head with a rock, and was unconscious for three hours. When she awoke, it was to find that the place she had lived for the past months had become a prison. The surrounding land had risen about twenty studs above her, and the rest of the Valley Forbidden (or at least what she saw of it) had risen some eight hundred studs above that! Wait a minute... Coalessa looked over the edge to where the ocean had been hours before. Where had the sea gone? Suddenly she realized that Bendauch was not there. Well, he would be. He always came back from his sometimes week long excursions into the interior. He would be back. Yet somehow Coalessa still felt uneasy.

During the next week, Coalessa spent her time exploring her now new surroundings and trying to get the Pohr horse that she liked best to like her in return. This particular horse (named Wave by Coalessa,) had always been the one that let Coalessa get the closest before trotting off. But I'll leave this at that until later. During one of her explorations, Coalessa found that there was a way to get some distance down towards the ocean floor. It was located in the crevice between the main rock chunk inhabited by dragons, and the piece of land on which she was confined. Immediately, Coalessa started down. It was tough climbing at first, but after a bit, she came out onto a sort of path.that went down on the sides of the rock. The path was rough and broken at places, but it was definitely a path made by man... or something akin to man. Coalessa wondered how anyone could have used the path as it had been covered in water since its creation. She also noticed that the surface of the path, and the face of the rock for a certain height above the path was much rougher than the rest of the rock. It was as if everything except the path and the rock in the immediate vicinity had been sanded smooth. Coalessa soon came to a cave hollowed out of the rock. She stood looking at it meditatively. The path continued to go down the rock, but the cave looked inviting. After a minute more of deliberation, Coalessa entered the cave.

The first impression that this cave gave was one of cool refreshing, a feeling of fun and creativity. But after a few seconds, Coalessa was aware of another feeling that pervaded. It was one of quiet security, as if everything was clearly defined and rational and good. With this inviting and hospitable atmosphere, Coalessa set about to explore the cave. . The whole floor was flat and smooth with a thick layer of fine sand. There was a stone table, and two stone benches at one side of the room. On the other side was a book shelf made of thin slabs of rock, and a comfortable looking armchair. Coalessa walked over to the book shelf and looked at its contents. There were some ten scrolls and a dozen marble blocks the size of one inch cubes. Coalessa examined the scrolls, reading had been one of her favorite pastimes in Saoftre. She took the smallest scroll and began reading...

...this man took the name Plathen and was the President of the Illusions Club which was established on the planet Claunt. The members of the Illusions Club believed that the only way to make meaning out of Life was to change reality to their interest. Every week, Plathen conducted secret meetings of the Illusions Club where its members would, through meditations and incantations, change their view of reality to a distorted one. Where trees and sky were, they saw bushes and blackness. Where there was a building, they would see nothing, or maybe a broken cottage. The rigors of the secret meetings were intense, and eventually Plathen had only one faithful student called Barrel. With this student, Plathen embarked on a mission into the universe to find an easier way to live in Illusion, and not just them, but the rest of the universe as well. . After many years, the two Illusionists finally discovered what they were seeking. High in the hills of Glatterfelt lived a monk of whom it was rumored that he could give you anything. It took a while to find his abode in the forest clad hills, but eventually, Plathen and Barrel stood at the door of this monk and knocked. What came to the door was not what they had expected, the personage they had come to seek was no more than a boy some thirteen years of age. Plathen was angry when after the boy brought them in and sat them down, he told them that he was the monk. But after testing the boy's knowledge and wisdom, Plathen permitted himself to be talked to by the boy-monk. He said this:

"You may well wonder at my apparent youth, but I say truthfully that I have seen many many moons in my time. You see, I was once the apprentice to the greatest master of Imagination that has ever lived, or ever will. We were going about our usual business collecting Imagination for his experiments when he sent me out of the lab to get his lunch. I left the door to the lab open, but the kitchen was only just around the corner, so I didn't think too much of it. But grave was my mistake, for in slipped the cat, as silent as a ninja, and as curious as a... a cat. I was back into the lab with my master's sandwich, and that is when I saw the cat. She was up on the shelf where my master kept his most concentrated and dangerous ingredients. My master had his back turned to her, and he was stooping over one of his instruments carefully adjusting knobs and dials.

"As I walked in, I set the plate of sandwich on a counter, and in a low voice, I informed my master of the presence of the cat, all the while watching her carefully. My master looked up in horror, only he knew the real danger that hung over our heads. We stood there frozen, watching the cat step daintily in between the vials and vases. She would stop here and sniff at a vial of bright glowing blue liquid Imagination, then go on to eye a vase of stagnant green Death. On and on, second by second ticked by. Suddenly, it seemed that the cat became aware that we were watching her. She looked at us in silence for about ten seconds, then purring, she began to look for a way to descend. I had been watching the cat, but my master had apparently been watching her tail. It was now swaying gently back and forth, brushing a vial here, and a vase there, and then the accident happened.

"It seemed as if everything was in slow motion. The tail of the cat brushed against an unusually small vial containing swirling purple Chaos. Knocked off of balance, the vial tipped. I could see that the force of the tail was not enough to send it off the shelf, but my master was terrified, and covering his face with his hands, he backed slowly against the wall, pressing a large red button. It was the steam release button, and a terrific blast of hot steam was let out of the "Liquidizer." The steam so terrified the cat, that she jumped three feet in the air, knocking five vials of Chaos over. Two of which fell headlong into the "Liquidizer" which was in the process of liquidizing a large quantity of Imagination.

"Before the Chaos made contact with the Imagination, I had dived behind the filing cabinet and pulled a drawer out over my head. At that moment the vials of Chaos entered the Liquidizer, but as the corks were on tight, they didn't do anything until they crashed against the side of the machine. Then the concentrated liquid Chaos and the weaker, not-quite-liquid Imagination combined in a desperate battle. Even though Imagination is innately stronger than Chaos, the battle was so uneven that the twin vials were bound to win. But struggles of this nature are not bound within our laws of time and space, so in the instant that the houses of the Chaos were shattered, there was a tremendous explosion. Everything living thing that was touched with the initial blast was immediately turned into a Chaotic counterpart of itself, and all inanimate objects were either instantly consumed, or flung back whilst being melted like plastic.

"The first living thing that was touched was the cat. Where there first was an ordinary house cat, a disgusting looking creature that somewhat resembled a cat remained leaping through the air. Then the Chaos reached my master, he turned into a biped with the hands permanently attached to his face, only his nose and mouth protruding. When the blast came to my place of refuge, the filing cabinet was lifted of the ground and hurled toward the open door. But that was when the second explosion occurred. The Chaos had reached the large quantity of Imagination stored in various containers on the shelf, and as it consumed the glass in the beakers, vases, and vials, the Imagination was released. Now, the weight was all in favor of the Imagination, and It made short work of the Chaos that had invaded the lab. Still in the act of leaping through the air, the Cat was purified. Not returned to normal cat shape, but the corrosion was stopped, and, seeing that the creature was flying, the cat was given wings.

"When it got to my master, it must have been somewhat confused as to what to make of him, but it did not hesitate. It left my master just as the Chaos had left him, except it gave him a slightly bigger nose. When it reached me, it did nothing, ‘apparently I am already great' I flattered myself. But It wasn't confined by the five walls of the lab, and passing through them, it permeated the whole of Glatterfelt, endowing all living things with a gift until it exhausted it's energy."

The Boy-Monk paused, evidently he was not used to talking so much.

"Hmm, but what exactly does this have to do with your apparent youth?" Barrel wanted to know.

"Don't you see," the Boy-Monk replied, "The Cat was given wings, my master was given an exceptional sense of smell, and I, well, I was given lasting youth."

Plathen leaned forward interested, "People say that you can do anything, can you give me eternal youth?"

The Boy-Monk laughed a low chuckle, "People say what they do not mean then. I say that Imagination can do anything, I am only one versed in it's use."

"Well, can't you use Imagination to give me eternal youth?"

"I don't know, I have not tried to repeat the experiment, you see, it takes quite a lot of Imagination to give such a gift, and with such a lot, it is difficult to control it."

At that moment Barrel cut in, "Master, this is not what we came for, let us get back to the point."

"You are right Barrel." Then turning to the Boy-Monk, Plathen said, "Yes, we need a way to control illusion."

A week later, the two minifigures set out for the return trip home...

Coalessa awoke. She had become so absorbed in the story that she had fallen asleep without being aware of it. She realized that she had been laying in the rock armchair, and that the scroll she had been reading lay on the floor beside her. Getting up and brushing at the sand that clung to her clothes, Coalessa decided to explore the rest of the dwelling before reading further.

Chapter Six of the Ancient History of Forbidden Valley : The Seven Elemental BrothersEdit

Coalessa put the scroll carefully back in its place and went through an arch in the back of the wall. She found herself in a sort of hall about six studs wide with two doors on the right side, and another door at the far end. Through the first door on the right was a small bedroom with a bed, a table, and a square hole in the wall looking out into where the sea was accustomed to reside. On the table was a device that Coalessa puzzled over for a time. It was in fact a lamp made out of a bluish quartz that glowed dimly. The walls of the room were etched with wavy horizontal lines, and at the head of the stone bed were four letters: P, O, H, R. The next room was similar, except without a window. The lamp was bigger, and the walls had straight vertical lines. The letters on this bed were V, E, N. As Coalessa came out of the second room she noticed that the opposite wall was etched with writing. Finding the beginning of the paragraph, Coalessa read these lines:

We seven brothers lived there,

With trees and sky and land.

And everything we wanted,

Fell right into our hand.

But trouble was not far whilst,

We lived in happiness,

A brother new was giv'n us,

And he was not the best.

The terror he bestowed on,

Us seven other friends,

Was not like other fears it,

Would scare and haunt brave men.

His name was Dox Nightmare,

And Nightmare he did seem.

We'd wake up in the dark night,

Be startled out of dreams.

We knew we had to leave them,

Our home and Dox Nightmare.

We knew we had to find some,

Thing better than this fear.

We launched ourselves into space.

We found some chunks of rocks.

They didn't have much comfort,

But at least we weren't near Dox

After about a half year,

Whilst working out some math,

We spotted a large planet,

It lay within our path.

On seeing this obstruction,

The others went away.

But I and Pohr my brother,

Decided that we'd stay.

We crashed into the ocean,

My brother Pohr and me.

We made ourselves a dwelling,

Beneath the darkened sea.

My brother held the ocean,

Back while I made our house.

We brought our scroll-books here too.

So they would not get doused.

The rest of this our story,

Is written on a scroll.

It is entitled "Seven,"

In the shelf next to the wall.

"This is a marvelous find," Coalessa thought, "I will not find the time weigh so heavily on my hands in the future. There must be a good weeks worth of reading in the larger scrolls, and maybe two days in the smaller ones if I stretch them. In all, I might take two months, and if I only read every other day that would make four! And after that, Bendauch may have found a way to leave this place for something better and nearer Slaithern."

Coalessa was not the scientific type, she did not even wonder why or where the ocean went. She did not wonder what had made the level of the various islands in the Valley grow to different heights. It still had not dawned on her that Neimbaz was no longer orbiting its sun. She took life as it came, enjoying its different pleasures; the Pohr horses, the new land to explore, and now the cave of Ven and Pohr. Coalessa walked back to the main room, and over to the book shelf. Besides the items that she had previously noted, there were, on the lower shelves, two sets of dishes fashioned from a greenish stone, more small marble blocks, and some very curious items that I will attempt to describe here.

There were two small globes made out of a very transparent sort of stone. Inside these globes there was a light, and after examining it a bit, Coalessa determined that it was fire. Constantly flickering and glowing, the Fire Balls sat there. Of course, Coalessa-like, she did not even stop to wonder what the fire burned on, but went on to inspect the next curiosity.

The next item was a Mirror. It was made out of the greenest emerald, and it's face was a thin sheet of ice. When Coalessa looked in it, she realized how much she had grown since she and bendauch had left Staoftre. As she let her mind go over the past, she suddenly realized that not only her mind, but the mirror as well was reflecting what she remembered. She gazed into it, watching herself playing in the great oak tree in the front yard of her parents house.

Everything was vivid, just like it had actually happened, there was her doll sitting propped up in the crook of two branches, and her pet cat sitting up higher watching her. Then there were the two men walking down the lane toward their house. They knocked at the door and Coalessa's father and mother stepped out into the porch. Coalessa saw herself sitting silently watching the two men, they were ministers in the temple, and Coalessa knew them by sight. She saw her mother start crying, and tears in her father's eyes too. Her mind skipped ahead to when the city Guards came to their house, and Coalessa was marched away in the midst of them with her father and mother following behind. She watched as she met her brother Bendauch on the docks. Then, she saw herself and Bendauch being pushed up the gangway onto the ship. She looked back at her mother who was crying bitterly but doing her best to let herself be comforted by Coalessa's father. It was too much, overcome with emotions of sadness, grief, and sorrow all combined, Coalessa let the mirror slip from her hand to the floor.

When the mirror hit the sand floor, the thin ice face shattered, leaving nothing but the emerald green body of the mirror. Already much affected by the recollections of the past, Coalessa was not in any way emotionally bettered by the fact that she had just ruined a priceless treasure that did not even belong to her. A sudden fear gripped her, she imagined that she heard the voices of the late occupants of the cave coming down the path that led from the top. In the madness of fear that all of the race of the small ones have felt, Coalessa rushed out through the cave entrance, and down the path. After a short time of running, Coalessa came to a place where the path stopped. She looked down, and saw that the pillar that supported the rock began there. Then she noticed steps cut out of the side of the rock. They went down to where there was another path that kept going down, down, down, probably all the way to the sea floor. Coalessa hesitated, the steps hung over pure emptiness. A slipped grasp would mean certain death. But just at the second when Coalessa was deciding to wait where she was, the sound of steps came clearly down the path. . Fear returned full force, and Coalessa quickly swung down the steps. Right before she disappeared below the edge of the ledge, she caught sight of the head of some beast coming round the bend. With a beating heart, Coalessa took no time in choosing her steps, but recklessly continued down to the path below. Maintaining a headlong rush, Coalessa did not see a large rock that lay in the path, until she had tripped over it and crashed against the hard stone path. She knew no more.

At this break in Coalessa's story, I think I should converse on a point that will be troubling many of my more scientific minded readers by now. The question of Light. There is a substance, only slightly physical that exists in the Universe. It is that thing that gives one new Ideas, encourages Creativity, and sparks Life. We living trees that have the gift of vast knowledge and wisdom know that it is the gift of the Great Spirit. A thing that comes halfway between the realms of the Physical, and the Ideal. This thing has had many names, some call it Life, some call it Light, and others deify it as a god. But it has eventually become commonly known as Imagination. Throughout the Universe, Imagination presides. It is attracted to Hnau, that is, beings with mind and soul. Beings that can think, and have a need for Imagination. When enough Imagination gathers around the general location where these individuals mainly stay, it is perceived as light. When individuals use the Imagination to think, design, and create, they are even more attractive to Imagination than before. Thus, a very dark world can become a place of light and joy quite fast if enough thinking Hnau are present. This effect is especially evident when the world in question is in an Imagination-rich part of the Universe.

Now, I will talk briefly about the seven elemental brothers Ven, Pohr, Ala, Para, Lenu, Nem, and Zicire. The planet on which they lived "With trees and sky and land," was in a portion of the universe in which Imagination abounded. There was not a dark patch in the whole galaxy. When they left their planet for the "chunks of rocks," they brought very much Imagination with them. But, as Imagination is still partly physical, a large quantity of it was left in a trail through the universe until they crashed into Niembaz. It was only after the dragons came, (another species that fell into the category of Hnau,) that the Imagination started to gather again. So, while the dark side of Niembaz is naturally dark, the asteroids that make up Forbidden Valley are much lighter than would be expected without the presence of Imagination.

Chapter Seven of The Ancient History of Forbidden Valley : The End of The Story of Bendauch and CoalessaEdit

Coalessa heard the noise of gently rippling water, but everything was dark. Then she realized that her eyes were still closed. Opening them, she stared straight out into the great expanse of nothingness that used to be the ocean.

"Where am I," Coalessa wondered, "Am I dead?" Then it all came back to her slowly; the earth quake, the path down from the Valley Forbidden, the cave, the Mirror, she shuddered. Then she remembered her flight, the strange creature that had pursued her. She tried to feel frightened, but nothing could defeat the strange peace that was in possession of her. She was again aware of the sound of gently moving water, and sitting up, looked around her. Ah, there was Wave, sleeping on the path near her. As Coalessa looked at the horse, she realised that it was him that had been following her, and his was the face that fear had so disfigured.

After a few minutes, Coalessa rose to her feet. The Pohr horse instantly stirred as well and rose. Shaking his literally flowing mane of long, soft, aqua colored hair, Wave walked sedately up to Coalessa and submitted to be touched.

As I am but a tree, and have little understanding of the natural bond between the hearts of horse and man, so I cannot describe what Coalessa felt. But I do know something that Coalessa did not know of at the time. In the beginning, the Pohr horses were common, ordinary horses that lived on the planet inhabited by the Seven Brothers. The second Brother Pohr, was very fond of them, and when he created the Elemental Crystal of Water, he transformed a group of these horses into water horses. This new species had many advantages over ordinary horses. Due to their new bodily make-up, they were not susceptible to the normal aging that affects other living creatures, and therefore essentially enjoyed the privileges of eternal live. There was one catch though, besides Pohr, if any other living thing (not counting plants or trees) touched them, they would be turned back into their normal horse form. Not in the same instant, but over time they would lose their water. Therefore, the fact that Wave willingly put himself in the power of this girl, demonstrates something of the natural tie between Horse and Man.

After a few minutes, Coalessa thought it was time for action. It had been more than a week, and now that Coalessa thought about it thoroughly, she decided that something must have happened to Bendauch. After a few tears, she decided that if Wave would come with her, she would see this path to the bottom. And if, as she thought, it led all the way to the ocean floor, she would set out on foot with Wave to see if she could get back to Staoftre and her parents. Coalessa stood up, and set off down the path, watching Wave to see if he would follow. He did, and the duo continued down the path.

Round and round they went, down and down, where it would stop, neither of them knew. After going around ten times, or more, or less, it was hard to tell; everything began to seem like a dream where you are trying to get out, but you just keep going in big circles. The only things that enabled one's bearings to be got at all, were the pillars upholding the various other islands. But even these were not much help, for the dense fog that had replaced the ocean was so thick that at times, Coalessa could barely even see the form of Wave walking five or six studs behind her.

After about two hours steady walking, Wave and Coalessa got to the bottom and set out in the direction of Staoftre. The journey from there on was about as varied and unexpected as the hike down was dull and monotonous. Sand hills rose up every where, and though the fog was not as bad down there as it was before, the going was difficult. Because of the fog, Coalessa and her equine companion were constantly being forced into taking long detours. The going was treacherous, sharp corral reefs lay just under the sand, and in some places, there were forests of long seaweed lay flat on the ground. Every once in a while, a shark would be spotted, quite dead and half buried in the sand. As they got further from the Valley Forbidden, the numbers of dead animals began to grow considerably. Here, a drove of jelly fish, there, a large saw-fish, and all about them were shells of different sizes and shapes. But not all the animals that lay scattered on the ocean bed were dead. Several times, noises came through the fog, eerie noises, strange cries and scuffling.

Whilst Coalessa was gazing out into the fog and looking for the cause of the noises, A massive shape suddenly rose out of the fog almost directly at their feet. Coalessa stopped dead in her tracks, and Wave, taking a step back, neighed a short, surprised neigh. After staring at the shape for a minute, Coalessa realised that it was the shape of a giant whale. Chuckling a bit at her short lived fear, Coalessa turned to make a circuit of the dead beast. In doing so however, she noticed that Wave was acting strangely. He was standing there, immovable; every muscle in his body tense. He was testing the air with his delicate nostrils, and suddenly he gave a sharp snort. Looking back at the huge carcase, Coalessa saw what Wave smelt. A single wolf stood on top of the whale, his body, black as coal, was shrouded in fog, but his two cruel green eyes pierced through to Coalessa's heart. With one fluid motion he leaped down from his perch, and landed smoothly only eight studs away from Coalessa and Wave. In two more bounds he would have been upon them, but Coalessa grabbed Wave's mane, and he galloped off just inches in front of the snarling wolf. The wolf did not pursue them long, but after he saw that he was not quite the horse's match in point of speed, he slowed down to a trot. Sitting down on his haunches, the wolf let out a long wailing howl. Within seconds, at least a dozen other howls broke out from various points all around Coalessa and Wave.

As they galloped on, the number of pursuers grew steadily. Packs would appear out of the fog and join in the chase. Sometimes a pack would come racing out from the fog directly ahead of them, and Wave would swerve to the left or the right. After a time, the band of about fifty wolves stopped receiving reinforcements, and the race continued at full stretch. For Wave and Coalessa, the chase was terribly frightening, but for the casual observer, the scene was amazing. Let me describe it to you from that point of view.

A girl and a majestic horse fleeing for their lives from a crowd of vicious, snapping, snarling, great big, black, brutes, only ten studs behind. Tearing across the dried bed of an ocean in a very dense fog. It was by no means easy riding, the girl had never been atop of a horse before, and this was no beginners lesson. The sand was not smooth, there were hills and valleys, stone outcroppings and sudden cliffs. But there was one thing about the race that was particularly interesting. It was Wave. Once the horse had gotten to a certain speed, he no longer seemed to be galloping over the smooth sand, and jumping over the rocks. Rather, it was a flowing motion, like a raging torrent he swept along, leaving in his wake a streak of water that quickly sank into the sand. It seemed he could not tire, sweeping forward, forward ever on and on.

Although the wolves did show signs of fatigue, they did not stop, for they knew what Wave and his rider did not. The wolves knew that territory, for a week they had been going to and fro, making dens, feasting on fishes, and they knew of a place where they could corner their new prey. Out shot ten of the fastest wolves, who began to head Wave off to the left. They had been running parallel to the edge of the rift, but as the wolves had hoped, Wave played right into their hand. Turning into a wide valley, Wave sped on, right down through the middle, until they suddenly came to the end where the sand rose sharply all around them. Greedily, the wolves closed in, sure of their success, but they were surprised and angered when they saw that wave did not stop. Instead of stopping, Wave rushed up the almost perpendicular wall of sand, like rushing water over an obstruction. Only when they got to the top did Wave stop, indeed, it was with such suddenness, that Coalessa was nearly flung off. For before them lay a vast expanse of empty space, and about half a mile away lay another chunk of land, bleak and barren as the one one which they stood. But the Wolves were not to be stopped by such an inconvenience, and leaving a party to guard below, the rest raced off to find a way up the arms of the valley. Half went one way, and the other half went the other way.

Coalessa looked down into the expanse of nothingness. There was no fog, and she could have seen clearly, had it not been for the intense darkness. Clearly, it was there that the ocean had gone, but what had caused this great crack in Neimbaz, she could not guess. But that was no time for speculations, the wolves had found a passage up from the right, and another further away on the left. The longest Wave and Coalessa could stretch their fate was maybe five minutes. Wave was clearly unsure of himself, for he just stood there, looking down at the guarding wolves, and glancing back to where the wolves had found a passage, and were racing along toward them. Just then, Coalessa noticed a shadow winging its way toward them, a dragon? That would be better than the wolves she thought, they would at least have time to figure out a way of escape before the dragon got them to its cave. But the wolves were close, and Wave set out at an uncertain trot along the ridge towards the further group of enemies.

Coalessa kept her eyes fixed on the flying shape coming towards them, yes, it was a dragon for sure, and he was coming up fast! The wolves were now but ten yards away in the front, and the same in the back. As the first wolf reached them, Wave dispatched him with a well aimed kick, but in an instant, another was on them. Just as he sprang, the dragon came up, and with a blast of blue flame, the springing wolf was knocked off course, and fell, terribly scorched, off the edge, and into the abyss.

The other wolves turned, and started running down to where they had come from. They had not been long in the land of the dragon, but they had learned to fear them already. With a flick of his tail, the dragon whisked two of the fleeing wolves off the edge, and followed this up by consuming one more with the hot wrath of his fiery breath. In this short time, Coalessa had noticed that this dragon had the same markings as the dragon that she and Bendauch had known as Ruhedrachen. But, although the markings were the same, this dragon was much superior to Ruhedrachen, in size, strength, and overall massiveness.

After the last of the ravenous creatures had disappeared, the great dragon, which was Ruhedrachen himself, turned to Coalessa. In the ancient language of the dragon, he spoke:

"Ah, my mistress, I am a glad dragon to have been the means of saving your life. How come you to be so far from your usual abode?"

And Coalessa, in the same tongue replied, "I have made up my mind to try to get back to the home of my people, and I have brought this horse along with me. But I now see that this will be improbable in the extreme, seeing this wide gulf that separates us from that land to which I belong. And even should this land meet with that one further on, there will be no getting to the pass as the way will be patrolled by the Wolves."

"Well," the dragon said, "I am going myself to find a land where I can settle in comfort. My relatives and neighbors here are bad companions. They dislike my fur."

"Mightn't you take us along with you to the other side?"

"Nay, I will do better than that, I will accompany you to where you wish to go, and serve as a guard the whole way. There are not but one of these cracks, but they break up the whole planet. If you wish to traverse it, you must be able to fly across them."

"I would very much appreciate that, and I am sure Wave would be glad to come along as well."

"Then it is settled, You must climb onto my back, and I will carry the beast." Once Coalessa had climbed aboard, Ruhedrachen took off, on his great wings, circled a couple of times, and glided down off the edge of the cliff, snatching Wave up in his talons as he passed over the horse.

And this is where my retelling of the story of Bendauch and Coalessa ends. I could go further, and tell of the further adventures of Coalessa, Wave, and their Dragon friend Ruhedrachen, but I would prefer to let that story be told by the Great Eagle of Shipwreck Rock ( or Pet Cove as it is was named by Coalessa. ) And this is where the you must stop reading, for further reading will do you no good as there is no more to read. Good, I charge you to spread this word out to the world of the small ones, that they may know the True History of Forbidden Valley.


  • Good E Venson here*

So, that is the history of forbidden valley, and retold by the Great Tree himself. There is a lot of things I didn't know in there, I always thought that FV was part of planet Crux, but this explanation actually makes a lot of sense! There were a lot of things that I had to ask the great tree about, things that confused me a little. Things like, Plathen, and Ruhedrachen for instance. Bendonsail is a great and wise tree, and I am privileged to have his friendship. Well, that is all for now, Bendonsail is busy copying out the next scroll. I have an appointment with Jobo and Butterscorch at Crux Prime, so I have to go right now. Bye!

-Good E. Venson

The Second Age: Discovery of the ValleyEdit

Drag n tree

Preface: A few diary entries by BendonsailEdit

First year, Second month, Sixth day, Second age of Forbidden ValleyEdit

The second age has begun, this planet is no longer part of Niembaz, but rather, the Nimbus Planetary System. We of the Valley Forbidden on Dalinano are very much distanced from our sister Staoftre, and our brother Langaustur is almost unreachable even by flight. I am now a small sapling, and I am faced with a dilemma. Ever since the ocean went away, I have been saving, and conserving as much water as I can, but I am almost out of reserves. I will have to find some way of living without water, or maybe I can find an alternate water supply.

First year, Second month, Tenth day, Second age of Forbidden ValleyEdit

I have hit upon a plan; if I can stretch one of my roots down to the valley of the Pohr Horses, I can draw water from the soil there.

I saw old Kelterfill, Prince of the dragons today, he told me some news from the other planet chunks. An exploration party under his son Dave returned from Staoftre, and they say the trees there have already started to grow again. Unfortunately for them, all my relatives and old friends are now smaller than myself. It's funny how those things happen, I thought I was going to my doom when Bendauch brought me along, but in reality, I would have been burnt for a certainty had I stayed in Staoftre. Dave's exploration party had also met Ruhedrache, and he said that he would be coming back home soon.

First year, Second month, Twenty-first day, Second age of Forbidden ValleyEdit

I am very low on water, I am feeling weaker and weaker every day, every hour. I am so close to the valley of the pohr horses, I can sense the water. Never has growing felt so slow, I feel as if-

Hey, I've reached it! I feel so much better even though I haven't consumed any of the water yet. It just feels good to know that I CAN get it if I want.

First Year, Third month, First day, Second age of Forbidden ValleyEdit

The Nimbus planetary system is fast approaching the asteroid belt that surrounds the late Slaithern's star system. I have warned Kelterfill that danger is near, and that he should keep all his subjects in shelter and most especially to keep them in Dalinano's atmosphere. I have calculated that due to our velocity and inertia, the Nimbus system will break through the asteroid belt, but we shall be broken up and separated. I think that some amount of the atmosphere will stay with the planet chunks, but where there is still a little in the spaces between them, there will be none after we crash through the belt. This absence of air will prove very detrimental to any lone dragon that gets separated from here, as there will be nothing to fly in. Therefore, I have advised Kelterfill to take his whole clan down to the ocean floor and lay low until the chaos is over.

First year, Third month, Second day, Second age of Forbidden ValleyEdit

Although Kelterfill heeded my warning so far as to send the elderly dragons, the young dragons, and their mothers down to the ocean floor, he insists that he and all the dragon warriors would be making children of themselves should they flee to the lowlands before the danger even threatened.

Ah, such stubborn creatures dragons are, I once heard a story of an old dragon mother who was looking for a den. Well, along about low tide, she came to the sea shore, and there among the rocks, she found a cave. Thinking it to be a nice place, she went back, and fetched her children, and they lay down to sleep. Pretty soon however, the tide started coming back in, and the water started trickling in. The old dragon mother was annoyed at the water that would invade her new home, and she set about vaporizing it with jets of flame. Pretty soon however, the water was coming in so fast that she had to get her children up to help her keep the water out. And there they were, all night, with flame and fire, turning any drops of water that were so brave as to make an appearance into steam that constantly issued forth until the tide turned again. Even after that first night, the old dragon mother and her family stayed on in the little cave, battling the high tide, and sleeping away the low tide. For all I know, she may still be there to this day. Anyways, I hope that Ruhedrache comes back home before there is no more air in between the planet-chunks to fly through.

First year, Third month, Fourth day, Second age of Forbidden ValleyEdit

This is the day that you will always remember having read this sentence, for this is the day that the Nimbus System ceased being one entity, and began being multiple individual entities.

I looked into the heavens as is my habit of doing, and I saw many many rocks. There were so many that I feared that my calculations were incorrect, and that we would not break through them. This is essential to my plan, for it was past these guardians of our star system that my wise elders had said man lived in abundance. And if Dalinano does not get through, my life mission given me by my master Bendauch will require much patience before I can fulfil it.

Anyway, I must get to the point, the Nimbus System has been getting closer to the asteroids by the second, and now... Now we are among them. They are moving, and we are cutting directly across their path. Not one of the planet-chunks in the Nimbus System have been- Oh, one of the asteroids just took out a smaller planet chunk, and is carrying it along with it through the hollow center of the Nimbus system, and- Ouch, it just crashed into the back side of Langaustur, and would you believe it, such was the force with which the asteroid collided into Langaustur, that it split that planet chunk into two separate planet-chunks. It looks as though Langaustur is prepared for it however, for there is a string of volcanoes that already divides the planet chunk into two. Another is just now coming for this planet-chunk- CRAAACK!! Oh, the shock is terrible, and the stupid dragons are having the time of their lives, swooping and soaring, whooping and roaring, they are flying about, daring danger to get them. There goes one, he flew to far out where the atmosphere is very thin, and he is getting carried away by a smaller asteroid. I see, he is desperately grasping for something to hold on to. The asteroid is carrying him through the atmosphere of another planet chunk. He is getting back in the air. Oh! There is another dragon on that planet chunk, Ruhedrache I think. They are flying back and out of sight. But they have turned, and here they come, flapping their wings as long as they have air to support them. Now they are in the middle of the two planets, shooting like rockets through space. I think they are going to make it back!

But, I must not let you be fooled into thinking that this is all that is going on, no, there is no semblance of order left in the Nimbus System. We are being constantly bombarded with small asteroids, medium asteroids, and huge asteroids. And while we still maintain a forward motion, we are being very much slowed down.

By the time we got through, the Nimbus System was only half the force that we had started out with. We were so crippled, that no one would have recognised us as the formidable force that had only that morning grappled with the Guards of the Galaxy.

Chapter One, We are DiscoveredEdit

For many years, I, Bendonsail, grew without interruption. I spread my self all through the islands of Forbidden Valley, I wanted to be able to know all things that went on in my world. I don't know really how long it was in the time of the small ones, but I do know that I had the most relaxing, most solitary time a tree has ever had, or ever will have again in this universe. I am one of my kind, I don't need light to live, I taught myself early to live on Imagination. What little water I do need, I get from the Pohr horses that continuously water their bit of land. I am Bendonsail, the only rightful ruler of this, my little world. These thoughts were what I thought as a young growing lively strong tree. I looked to no one for aid, I believed in myself, my wisdom, my power. I believed that I was the greatest being in the universe. I was cruel and hardened at heart. I had forgotten Bendauch's blessing, I had forgotten Bendauch. I knew only of myself, and what I wanted. I twisted my trunk into knots, I grew myself evil, and I ruled my world with a cruel iron fist.

But all this changed when something happened that would alter the course of history for Forbidden Valley.

Deep within the halls of the dragons, a meeting was being held. A meeting conducted by the new dragon prince, Dave. Dave was an energetic dragon of great repute, and he had gathered the dragons together for a special purpose. He had seen ships in the sky more than once, and he knew that sooner or later, other creatures, most likely men, would soon come to see their land. He knew that they had already landed on one of the sections of Langaustur, and he also knew, that if they be men, they would be sure to come to the Valley Forbidden. Therefore, Dave knew that he would have to make fortifications if they would keep their land. First, Dave and the council met, and discussed these issues. Then, a general assembly of the dragons was called, and jobs were given to every dragon capable of work. The most important job was the carrying of boulders. Boulders were the only thing they had to work with, so they wanted to make them count. First their caves were fortified, then the dragons made huge stockpiles on all the heights. Soon enough, the dragons had everything ready. And they were not a moment too late.

There was excitement on the planet Skerion, the first exploration party had returned after a two month long expedition to the new planet system that had been spotted by one of their satellites. They had only landed on the first planet (the larger portion of Langaustur,) but they had returned with much information. Apparently, there had been mining operations going on already, because there were deep mine shafts, and some primitive mining equipment.

Skerion was a small planet, it had a population of about ten million. Skerion's government was composed of four branches of government. The Military branch, the Public branch, the Scientific branch, and the Exploratory branch. The said Exploratory branch was composed of frontiersmen, outlaws, and pirates. It was formed somewhat out of necessity, by people who wanted to get away from Government in general. These people had banded together, and formed their own state where the Skerion government had no power. Well, this could not be a lasting state of affairs, with no government, there was no order, and without order, there was no peace. Soon, the confederacy began making raids on the peaceful folks, and Skerion's army was deployed to stop the rebellion. Well, long story short, those with the power got the upper hand, and the result of the conflict was decided even before it started. But the law laid down by the Ancient King Archibald Exeter for the creation of the republic was very honorable, and provided peaceful and kind ways to deal with insurrection. The rebels were given a place in the government to be the watchmen and explorers for Skerion.

Therefore, when this exploration party returned to Skerion with news of the new planetary system, preparations were set about to make a larger scale exploration of the new planets. Four ships were sent out with mining equipment and thirty soldiers each to explore these new islands. It takes three weeks traveling in a straight path from Skerion to Langaustur, and another twenty four hours to get from there to Dalinano. So, it was roughly three and a half months after Dave the dragon spotted them on Langaustur, to when an exploration ship landed here at the Forbidden Valley of Dalinano.

The scout dragon flew rapidly back to the Caves, he had seen the ship coming straight for the Valley. Prince Dave commanded all dragons to stay in the caves except for two guards who were to keep watch over the landing party, and take note of all their actions. The two guards were Flameborne, son of Ruhedrache, and Jedediah, a young dragon with a fiery temper.

The ship "El Explorador" was a small ship, pretty much just a transport vehicle. There were cabins for the crew (4 - 8 men,) but the rest of the passengers were put into hyper-sleep pods for the trip. The space warp system was the first to be deployed in the common craft, and the technology was very new. Because of this fact, warps were few and far between, but they still sped up the trip nicely. The crew was composed of:

Captain Daily. First Mate John. Second Mate Zeff. Chief of Engineers Cobalt. Bill, Cabin-boy. Chuckie Bean, Cabin-boy.

The passengers in the hyper-sleep pods were: Echs Ray; scientist. Flay; Cook. Rex Foom; armorer. 4 under engineers. 30 pirate soldiers.

It was 10:54 AM, in the five hundredth year, the ninth month, the sixth day, in the second age of Forbidden Valley when the explorers landed. Wanting to explore the heights before they tackled the sandy bottom land, Captain Daily set the El Explorador down on one of the islands of Forbidden Valley. The occupants of all the sleep pods had been wakened an hour before, and a group of six soldiers, the second mate, and Captain Daily stepped out of the ship, and walked down the gang plank to reconnoiter. When they were about ten yards away from the ship, a dark figure stole out of the open hatch, and raced northward across the flat space to the edge. There was a ledge a little further down, and the dark figure dropped silently down to it. He was clad in black cloth, a ninja hood and soft leather boots. At his back was slung his famous dragon-slaying sword, El Escabeche, and at his belt hung a long dagger (a modified machete from the armory.) His belt also contained twin (or maybe not so twin) nunchaku, gifts from his father.

At the same moment when the top of his black hood disappeared from view, a cry was heard from the ship. Then, with a pounding of feet, the captain and his men ran back to the ship to see what was going on.

"He's gone, the Bean kid's gone, and my silver watch with ‘im!" The voice was Zeff's, and he sounded upset and angry. The dark figure thrust his hand into his pocket, and there was the watch.

"Oops," he thought, "I guess I put that into my pocket for cleaning later, and I forgot it in the excitement of the arrival. Well, I can't take it back now, they'd just throw me in a hyper-sleep pod and forget about me until we get back to Skerion. I'll just keep it safe here in my pocket while I have some adventure here. When they are going to leave, I can give myself up and be none the worse for it except for the sound whipping Zeff will probably give me." There were now twenty soldiers, the captain, Zeff, Bill, and the armorer out searching for "the Bean kid", they looked in the shadows, they looked in the light, they searched behind boulders, and they searched in the ship. Sooner or later they would find him, so Chuckie Bean set out along the ledge. The ledge ran along, gradually sloping up until it joined the plateau above. Suddenly, three searchers turned from the upper land, and started down the ledge. Chuckie swung himself down over the edge, but he held on tightly with his hands. Luckily, there was a small foothold that he utilized, and he felt as if he could hang there forever.

The three men walked along over head, and their conversation was easily heard. "That kid is the worst trouble, I wonder why the cap'n even let him come along!"

"Well you're lucky Skyle, you got to be in the hyper-sleep pod the whole way, I have to share quarters with him."

"You are both lucky, I had to have him in all my classes during school. AND, my little brother was best friends with him, so he was at my house basically my whole childhood!"

"I guess you're right Vics," Skyle said, "if Bill and I think he is bad at seventeen... Well, I just feel sorry for you having to be around him while he was younger." Throughout this conversation, Chuckie Bean had been struggling to keep from bursting into laughter. Of all the people, it had to be his old friends to come along this path. He had known for a long time, Vics had been his best friend's brother, and he had met Skyle in the uprisings of the pirates and other outlaws. Chuckie swung up right behind the astonished trio, and he hoped they would not betray him to the others.

"Hi fellas, what's everybody looking for, the Cap'n's pet toad? I never liked that toad, he always stares at me when I come to clean the Cap'n's room."

"Uh..." bill started, but chuckie continued.

"Well, if it's a toad catcher you need, I am the right guy for the job. I can't count how many times you used to let that toad out Billy, and I would always have to go after him!"

"Well, uh, ninja bean, it was actually YOU we were looking for, you see, Zeff's watch is missing and he thought it was you who took it. You DO have a habit of *cough* borrowing *cough* the officer's things you know. But we know you wouldn't actually steal a very expensive watch and run off with it, so we are pretty annoyed that we have to go to all this trouble."

"Oh, do you mean this watch Vics?" Chuckie asked holding up the watch by the chain.

"What! So you actually DID steal the watch and run off with it?" Bill demanded.

"But you don't even care for watches, Chuckie." Skyle said. "You like knives and swords and guns and blasters."

"Hold it guys, first of all Skyle, I like tacos too, and second of all, I didn't actually steal it. I had put it in my pocket so that I could polish it back in my quarters when the Cap'n said over the loud speakers that land was in sight, and to open the hyper-sleep pods. After that, there was no end to work getting everyone armored up and armed for the expedition to the interior, and I clean forgot about the watch. As for running away, I just wanted some adventure, I would have come back before you left." While saying this, Chuckie had been idly swinging the watch around in big circles, and just at that moment, the second mate came up to the edge of the cliff, thinking he had heard voices. When he saw Chuckie there, swinging his watch around like it was nothing, he took no heed of the others, but shouting, "I'VE GOT ‘IM!!!" Zeff leaped down on top of Chuckie. Chuckie dodged to the side, and Zeff hit the path. Zeff groaned, "Get ‘im boys!" but Vics, Skyle, and Bill just stood there trying not to laugh at the comedic aspect.

"Here's the watch Zeff." Chuckie said, placing the watch next to the second mate, "I'm off guys, I hear the others coming."

Chapter Two, DeliberationsEdit

Chuckie Bean raced up the narrow ledge, and on to the plateau. Shouts of, "There he is!" or, "Catch the thief!" or, "Stop, Bean!" sounded from all sides except one, so Chuckie ran in that direction. Suddenly, the ground stopped. Chuckie leaped, then looked to where he was falling. Bad move. In front of him was a very steep cliff, but that was not all, directly below, there was... There was... Uh, what was there? Chuckie looked down, down, down, there was nothing in sight. Absolute emptiness. Chuckie was just about to start yelling on his way down (that's what you're supposed to do when you're falling to your death right?) when he suddenly hit wind. Very strong wind. So strong in fact, that Chuckie slowly stopped falling, then started floating upwards, faster and faster. Fairly soon, he was high above the people chasing him. Then he was above the top of the high cliff. Then he was out of the air current and on his way down again toward the said cliff. Landing expertly, Chuckie ran up a couple natural stone steps and looked back at his pursuers laughing. They were standing crowded around the edge and shaking their fists at him.

"C'ya later folks, I'm- uh, I'm going to find some place to HIDE!" Chuckie decided mid-sentence, for behind him, the shape of a massive dragon rose out of the darkness, and a ball of fire shot forth and flew just above Chuckie Bean. The dragon was Jedediah, and he not going to let anybody pass, and that included Ninja Bean. Chuckie rolled out of the way of the next fireball, and wound up behind a large boulder. Unfortunately, this allowed the missile to continue into the crowd of pirate soldiers below, causing them to scatter, and make back for the ship. Now, Chuckie Bean, just a lone ninja, was left to fight it out with a terrible foe.

He had fought dragons before, but they were the much less formidable opponents that held hermitages up in the hills of Skerion. This dragon was the worst thing Chuckie had seen since college mathematics! This dragon called for some serious weaponry, this dragon called for... El Escabeche! Drawing the long katana from the sheath on his back, Chuckie admired it's smooth, black Damascus blade. After Chuckie had owned the sword for quite some time, and it had become the death of many several dragon pillagers, he had rewound the handle with bright green dragon skin, and had named it El Escabeche for its bright color and the sour sting that it struck into the hearts of his opponents.

Taking a deep breath, Chuckie stepped out from the shelter of the rock and looked the dragon over. A fiery blast shot out from the dragon, and he stepped forward, eager to end the fight. Jedediah, had never fought Man before, and he thought that surely this new creature couldn't have much fight in him. Chuckie immediately saw that the dragon was not versed in human warfare, and resolved not to show his steel until he could be sure of the stroke. Jedediah came on, fast, and suddenly he was upon his antagonist. Chuckie however, dodged another tongue of flame, and jumped over the sweep of the dragon's tail. Seeing an opportunity, Chuckie leaped up, and caught a hold of the ever-moving tail. He was flicked into the air, and landed on a rock some ten feet up.

"Aha, my friend," Chuckie said in the ancient tongue of the dragon, "now I have the upper hand!" The surprise of the dragon was complete, how did this small creature know the tongue of the dragons? This was just what Chuckie had wanted, in his surprise, the defenses of the dragon were lowered. Chuckie leaped down onto the dragon's back, and El Escabeche was put to use. Thirty seconds later, there was a dead dragon, and a proud boy standing beside it. But Chuckie had no time to admire his prize however, for the sound of El Explorador's engines told him that the ship was fast approaching. Waving up at the windows, the boy darted off to seek adventure.

Flameborne had watched the conflict between Chuckie and Jed from his vantage point on the top of a high cliff with his telescopic vision. He was stationed too far away to be of any service, but as soon as he was sure of the result of the contest, he flew directly back to the Caves.

Prince Dave had been waiting for the news that the Men had come to fight, not just to see what the Forbidden Valley was like. Therefore, when Flameborne came in with his news, twenty dragon warriors flew out, headed by Dave, and took their positions on the heights. Each dragon grabbed a huge boulder and flew over the Explorador, and once there, all twenty dragon warriors released their loads, one by one. And one by one, the heavy boulders crashed into the Explorador. As all transport and expedition ships are heavily plated and built to withstand the toughest meteor shower, there was no real damage done, but, as the rocks were dropped on the top of the ship, it was sent to the ground, and crunched to a halt. The dragons came back around with another round of boulders, but after these had absolutely no effect whatever, the dragons abandoned this tactic. A long consultation was held, and it was determined to see if the doors could be pried open, and the contents pulled out. The strongest warriors would sneak up, they would tip the ship over to immobilize it, then try to get the doors open. The rest would gather on the heights and be ready with more boulders in case the ship tried to fly away. No thought was given to the dark figure that was hiding in a crevice in the ground, and watching the ship and the guarding dragons with great anxiety.

Meanwhile, Captain Daily, John, Zeff, Cobalt, and Echs Ray were holding an urgent meeting in the captains cabin. The captain was sitting in his high backed chair in front of the hearth. He was facing the room in which the others were sitting or standing, and he held a large south-skerion cigar tightly between his lips. His clothes were like those of a captain of a sea vessel, and he wore a large black admiral hat.

First mate John stood sentry like beside the captain's chair, he had blue canvas pants and a grey canvas cavalry shirt. In his hand he held a tall red shako hat, and he had a cutlass at his side. Zeff sat cross-legged on the thick green carpet smoking jalapeño leaves (his newest invention) in an over-sized ebony pipe. He held a holographic map, and was busy marking the layout of forbidden valley. He wore an ordinary pirate hat sideways, green breeches, and a red striped crew shirt.

Cobalt and Echs stood in the corner out of the smoke that drifted lazily up towards the ceiling from the captain's cigar and Zeff's pipe. They were quietly discussing a new missile system designed to ward off the dragons. Cobalt wore his usual Explorian Bot shirt and pants, and was holding his orange overcharged blaster, and a helmet that looked almost exactly like the modern engineer rank two's. Echs Ray was wearing a brown batlord shirt, and plain brown pants. He held a notepad and a laser pen; he thought that holographic everything was annoying, and liked the old school way better.

The room was silent except for the low murmur of conversation between Cobalt and Echs. The captain smoked slowly, deliberating their position. The dragons were numerous, they had no offensive weapons big enough for such creatures, and the soldiers were not versed in dragon warfare. There was only one thing... John stood as stiff, still, and as straight as a beam, but inside he wasn't that quiet, he had a family, a good fortune, and he wanted to get back sooner or later. He determined that he would do anything to preserve his life, the dragons wouldn't take it!

Zeff sat musing over his map, he had put everything in that he knew about FV, and quite a few things that he had guessed. He kept going back over the trip into the planet's atmosphere, and the short sally outside of the ship, he was a close observer, and you would be surprised at how much he already knew about the Valley. He thought about Chuckie, the most annoying ninja ever, he had always hated ninjas, and this one was the worst! But he wished that he were outside with him, not for company, but to use him as a guard against the pesky dragons, and most of all, to explore the land. He thought about the past five years, just in those few short years he had participated in the confederacy of the pirates, he had killed his first ape, and he had gone on nineteen different exploration missions; this was his twentieth.

Cobalt had graduated from Overbuilds School of Engineering and Public Services with a Masters in Transportations and Ballistic Mechanics. His best friend Fred Trumblebasher had introduced him to Echs Ray, a young scientist in Dr. Stintler's department, and they had instantly become friends. Since then, the two had collaborated on projects, and when Cobalt had been drafted for service with the exploration party, Echs had volunteered to go as well.

Suddenly, the Captain cleared his throat loudly. Everyone snapped to attention except for Zeff who had fallen asleep and was snoring loudly.

"Get up ya lazy dog!" the captain said irritatedly, throwing a book at him which happened to be Overbuild's Table of Weights and Measurements. Zeff immediately sprung to his feet, and snatching up the book, he began reading;

"Uh, um, sretemillim dnasuoht eno slauqe hcihw ,sretemitnec derdnuh eno slauqe hcihw ,sretemiced net slauqe retem eno-"

"What are you doin'?!" hollered the Captain, "First off, you're readin' that upslidedown, and sec'nd, why are you readin' it a'tall?"

The second mate fumbled with the book, turning it right side up, "I'm, I'm sorry teacher, I-" but he was cut off by the captain.

"Teacher! Why you good fer nothin' scoundrel, I ought to keelhaul you!" And the captain snatched the book from Zeff's grasp.

"Keelhau- wait, you're not my teacher, you're-" but the second mate couldn't go on, red faced with embarrassment, he stood looking down at the floor, he had been dreaming of language class, and his horrible language teacher Mr. Crab.

"I'm callin' this meet'n to order!" the captain said, "Mate," he said turning to John.

"Yessir!" the first mate saluted.

"Git arter here and get the troops ready for battle, arm ‘em with the best weapons master Floom can give ‘em!"

"Yessir Cap'n."

"And tell Flay to git in here too, we can't fight on empty bellies!"


"Balt, what were you talking ‘bout with the scientist fella eh? A new ‘vention perhaps?"

"Yes Captain, I think, that is, we think that we could make a weapon to defeat the dragons with, but we only have enough materials to make one, and that will probably not be enough to defeat the number of dragons which recently attacked us."

"Make it Cobalt, work out the imperfections and give me a blueprint in an hour. I'm fix'n to order a ninja backup, and I'll have them bring enough materials to make a hundred such weapons."

At this point, the second mate interjected, "Awe Cap'n, not ninjas, please!"

"I'm just as adverse to them sneakin' landlubbers as you be mate, but them's the only ones thets got any experience with them dragon critters, so we'll have to settle fer ninjas."

"Oh I guess yer right Cap'n, but they've got to be banned from this here ship, I don't want no ninjas sneakin' around me things."

"That's as well as may be mate, them ninjas are infilltraitors, and make no mistake, we'll have to warn the guards to be especially watchful. Ah, here you are Flay, make us a nice big crock o' grub the way I like it, and cook some up fer the men too."

The cook turned to go, "One big crock o' mashed potatoes and jalapenos coming right up Cap'n!"

"Ah, that's the way Flay, that's the way I like it, make it rhyme and it'll be as good as any good southern cookin'!" . .

Chapter Three, Dragon Battle... PluralEdit

Chuckie slowly raised his head out of the crack in the ground he had been hiding in. The ship was only fifty yards away, but he did not envy their predicament. Instead, he looked around for dragons. There were three dragons posted on every height, but there, far in the distance was something that stood out from the barren landscape. Chuckie saw what looked like a tree, a huge tree. He decided to check it out, the safest place would be away from the ship, as there were about ten dragons keeping their eyes on it. Where the other ten he had seen earlier were, chuckie had no idea, probably off planning somewhere. Tightening his belt, and pulling his hood down further, Chuckie jumped out of the crack in the ground, and started with a silent tread toward me.

"I choose you Boulderbull, you will lead the attacking party." Prince Dave was speaking, and ten of the senior warriors were standing in front of him. There were fifteen elderly dragons who composed the council, and these, with Dave, had finally come to the decision of how the battle was to be conducted. Boulderbull flew out of the cave entrance, and three huge dragons followed him. On arriving in the general vicinity of the ship, Boulderbull and co. landed and crept silently toward the Explorador. Then, Boulderbull sprang forward, and shoved against the side of ship. He had expected it to tip over immediately and was therefore surprised when it stood firm. But then, the other three dragons came up, and with united effort they strained to lift the ship and tip it over.

"Captain!" Bill shouted as he rushed into the captain's room without knocking, "The dragons are at it again!"

"At what Billy?"

"I, uh, I don't really know, three of the monsters are up against the opposite side pushing with all their might!"

"Why, it's oblivious! Them dragons is tryin' to tip us overn!"

"But they can't can they, the stabilizers protect against that."

"Don't be so sure young'n, yes the stabilizers are designed to withstand anything, but four strong dragons is enough to tear them straight off the hull of this here ship." As if in direct response, there was a creaking groan and the ship tilted slightly upwards.

"Come on kid, we've got to retaliate!" The Captain snatched his cutlass off the wall and rushed out of the room, the cabin boy following close behind.

The four dragons knew they were getting close, and pushed all the harder. But suddenly, out of a small door poured Captain Daily, Rex Foom, the second mate Zeff, and twenty pirate soldiers armed with cutlasses and double barrelled laser blasters. Boulderbull and his team-mates ignored them until, after taking their places behind large rocks, the soldiers started firing upon them. Then, the four dragons circled up and called upon the ten dragons on the heights to help in the battle, this was their chance to wipe out the invaders once and for all. With fire and roars, all fourteen dragons swooped down upon the twenty three waiting men. Expecting an easy victory, the dragons flew around close to the ground searching behind boulders for their prey.

But the men were ready, and when a dragon came upon their hiding spot, they gave such a hot reception with their blasters that the dragon had no chance to attack. Every now and then, a dragon would be brought down, and five or six pirates would rush out and attack it with fury until another dragon came up and drove them off. For a time the battle was an equal one, a dragon would fall here, and a few men would fall there, but after a few minutes, Boulderbull knew that he had to change tactics. Three great dragons lay dead on the battle field, and he couldn't see that any of the opponents had fallen (these had been pulled into cover by their fellows,) so the dragons drew off to make some quick plans. Meanwhile, Rex Foom had made his way over to where the captain was hiding.

"Hey, Captain, I have an idea."

"What iz it Floom?"

"Look, there are no dragons waiting for us to take off in the ship, I vote that we sneak back and board her, only leaving a few behind to keep up a show. Then, after we get her in the air, we can pick up those few, and make off for one of the other planets in this system, and join up with another exploration party. And my name is Foom, not Floom."

"Arrg, you've got somthin' there Floom! But I don't take to sneakin' like a cursed ninja, if we are to do something, we'll do it in the open."

"Sir, if we are going to get out of here alive, we'll have to meet these dragons on their own terms, and if they aren't the sneakiest creatures alive I'll be darned!"

"Aye, now yer beginin' to talk like me har har har! But ya do have a point, jest don't be callin' it sneakin'!"

By this time, the dragons had made up their minds as to plans, and they were quite ingenious plans too. They made two lines of five dragons, one line at each end of the battle field, and they flew towards each other, fighting men as they went. The men were now faced by foes in the front and the back, and they were hard pressed.

"Men, it's the captain speakin'!" the captain spoke into his radio, "I want four of ery five of you to sne- wait, don't sneak, creep, up to the ship. I've alerdy radeyoed them there to open the door for you'n, and start ‘er up. An' all you who are stayin' behind, make yer way here, and weel trick them dragon critters till the others kin pick us up."

"Floom, yer to go with them to the ship, and doctor the wounded men."

"Foom captain, and I am on it!"

Boulderbull was elated, this new plan was working much better, there were already only about half the number of men continuing to resist. As the pirates crept away evenly, nothing was suspected of an escape, and the dragons didn't even give a second thought to the ship. That is, not until it lifted off the ground, and flew high up into the air. Boulderbull was furious, and shouted,

"Dragons! Go up and fetch the space ship back down, but don't use boulders, you don't have time!"

But the first mate of the ship was ready, and the twin lasers (the only weapons mounted on the Explorador) opened fire on the attacking dragons. But lasers were not enough against such a large number of assailants, and he had tough work dodging and maneuvering. Eventually, John knew there was only one way. He put the ship into hyper drive, and she shot away beyond the dragons reach.

"We lost the ship fellows, but let's kill the rest of the invaders at least." Boulderbull roared, he was very concerned about his military position, and needed to redeem himself. He headed back with fury to annihilate the captain and the rest of his men.

Meanwhile however, Captain Daily had led his men away from where they had been before, and, whilst keeping in radio communication with Second-mate John, the captain looked for a good hiding place that would be good for getting picked up as well. There was an outcropping of huge rocks near by, and the captain sent Zeff and three soldiers there so as to make the dragons think all of them had taken refuge there. The captain, Bill, and the remaining ten men went off in another direction and hid in the dark shadow of a high cliff. When the dragons returned to where the battle had taken place just minutes before, they were enraged, and started searching the vicinity. A messenger flew up to where Boulderbull sat high up on a ledge scanning the area, watching the searching dragons.

"Boulderbull my man, what happened? Did you complete your mission? Where is the space ship?"

"Greenbriar my friend, I don't even know. Everything was going according to plan when some of the varmints came out and began attacking us. There were so many of them that I called for reinforcements, and the ten guard dragons came to our aid. At first, we did badly, Lindel and Gordan fell, then Jackslie was killed, and I knew we had to change tactics. We did much better, and killed a good half of their number, but then their ship flew off and evaded all our efforts to recapture it. Two more of us fell, Ball and the cave carver's son I think, but now the rest of the annoying bunch of wing-less bipeds have evaded us again, and now I have all the dragons searching for them."

"I see... But I think that you are not conducting business correctly even now, the ship is sure to come back for the rest of their friends, and the way you are doing things, the ship could easily pick them up, and then be off before you could capture them. I would suggest posting dragons on the heights again, and waiting for them to come back."

"You are right, I will follow your ad-" But Boulderbull was interrupted by a roar and the sound of a blaster. "Greenbriar, please go get the rest of the warriors to guard the heights, I've got some Man to hunt!" . .

Chapter 4, Tree tops Dragon dropsEdit

Meanwhile, Chuckie had reached me, and was climbing up my twisted trunk. Strange feelings swept over me. I had not been touched by human hands in hundreds of years, and it was strange. At first I cringed, what was this creature doing climbing me like a plaything? Then anger welled up within me, and I tried to squash him like an ant. I groaned, trying to move my branches to do what I wanted, but I had grown too twisted and knotted to move. Oh, let him climb, I was not a very nice place to be in anyway, and if he ventured up into my more flexible top branches, I'd throw him down to his death on the sandy ocean floor. He would join that other skeleton... Bendauch I think, hmm, Bendauch, Bendauch, Bendauch... Memories flooded my consciousness, memories that pained me, I struggled to regain my composure and soon returned to my usual state of stony silence and my bitter thoughts.

I saw everything that went on in my Forbidden Valley, with one of my far roots I saw the captain and his eleven followers. They were hiding in a crevice in the ground near one of the high cliffs, and the Captain was talking to Zeff on his radio. With another of my roots, I saw where Zeff and his three men were, they were darting to and fro among the boulders, about eight dragons searching carefully for them. I could also see the dragon council members conversing, Ruhedrache lay curled up on the outskirts, listening, and occasionally giving a grunt of ascent. And I could see the ninja, trying to find a place to rest in my trunk. Never had so much gone on all at once here, and though I would never have confessed it at the time, I was bewildered, I was tired, I was hungry for rest. But trees do not sleep, they are destined for a life of constant watching, constant waiting, and in my case, constant boredom.

Chuckie found a place, and sat down. Then he looked out over the barren landscape, far to the west was where the others were. He wondered if they had been killed, he would be all alone then. But it would not be the first time he had been left all alone in the world, though that had been a different world, but it was still pretty much the same thing. The loneliness, the feeling of almost crying but not having any tears to cry with, then the acceptance, and the quest for survival. But then Chuckie saw something in the distance, it was the ship! Was it coming back for him? But then the dragons flew up at it and launched their fire balls, and deftly dodged all laser blasts. Soon the ship flew back into the depths of space, and chuckie was left alone, again. He turned away, and toward the south-east, there was a large landmass there. He dozed for some minutes, and dreamed of his parents...

He dreamed that they had never been taken by the dragons of Skerion, and that they were with him in a cave, and that they were prisoners of an ape, a very large ape that was setting a big table with pink plastic doll plates and utensils. Then he dreamed that the ape was trying to cook them all in a little pink doll stove, and was getting frustrated at the stove for not working properly. Then he dreamed that the branch of a tree was reaching through the window of the ape's house, and was trying to get at him. The ape and his parents did not notice the tree branch, and he was stuck there, in the apes little stove, with that branch coming nearer, and nearer, and nearer, and-

Suddenly, Chuckie awoke, he was wrapped tightly around and around with vines, and a branch was moving toward him, reaching as if to grab him. Taking a deep breath, chuckie burst the vines (a special trick he had learned from his master Bjen tzien,) a groan came from the tree and the branch caught him and pinned him down. But it was too late, Chuckie had drawn his modified machete, and slicing at the branch, he freed himself. Then, he half rolled, half jumped down to the ground, and ran full speed across a huge root that happened to lay in a north-easterly direction.

As chuckie sped over a stone path, he kept running the previous scene through his head. Over and over again, trees did not move, or think, they couldn't, it was impossible! But it had happened hadn't it? No, it must have been his imagination, his dream must have made him imagine it all. But then he looked down at his clothes, they were torn for sure, and that was physical proof of what had happened. Well, he would investigate it further later. Suddenly, Chuckie saw movement out of the corner of his eye. With the quickness and speed of a trained ninja, he flipped around and hit the ground as a wave of fire swept overhead. Chuckie rolled out of the way of another blast and reached for El Escabeche. With a sinking feeling, he realised that the sword was gone, it must have fallen out, or maybe the tree had taken it! Oh well, with his long dagger in one hand, and a nunchuck in the other, he snuck around, and sprang upon the dragon's flank.

This time, the battle was much different, instead of dodging all the dragon's attacks, Chuckie blocked them with his left-hand nunchuck. It was a special weapon that created a small force field whenever and wherever the user swung it. The dragon was enraged at this, and decided to change his tactics as well, he lifted a rock, and flying into the air, he dropped it onto Chuckie Bean. But, where this would surely have smashed a pirate, Chuckie was by no means outsmarted, and he decided to try to outsmart the dragon. Chuckie leaped over the side of the cliff where there was a root sticking out. Catching hold of this, he hung there, waiting for the dragon to come down in pursuit, when he would jump down on its back. But before he could carry out his plan, I had begin shaking and wriggling the root that the boy was clinging to, hopefully he would fall all the way down to the ground far below.

Chuckie hung on tightly, but my root was slippery, and hard to hold as it was without me trying to be rid of him. Chuckie searched for a handhold on the cliff face, but the only thing he could see was far down, and he knew that the inertia of falling would prevent any chance of utilizing that small handhold. But then, Chuckie noticed something else, there was a leaf floating up and past him, there must be another updraft! Swinging out, chuckie fell toward the air current. Then he was caught up in it, and eventually he began rising into the air. It was strange that there was an updraft here, (Chuckie had the impression that these air currents were man made,) the only other land in sight was too far to get to, and this current wasn't very strong. But here was the dragon coming to finish the battle. Chuckie sheathed his blade and grabbed his other nunchuck. This one was different from the left hand one in that instead of creating a shield, it formed bubbles of energy when spun, which could then be hurled at the opponent.

The dragon came on, and when the battle recommenced, it was different again to anything that Chuckie had done in the Forbidden Valley yet. He was suspended by strong wind, and that alone impeded his movements. Also, not being in contact with anything solid prevented him from being able to move in any direction while the dragon was perfectly at home in the air. As soon as the battle began - with Chuckie throwing energy bubbles that mostly missed because the dragon would dodge them, and the dragon launching his strong fireballs and breathing out waves of fire - Chuckie noticed that when ever he blocked a fireball, he was pushed back a short distance. He realised that soon he would reach the edge of the air current and fall to the ground below. Suddenly a thought came into his mind. He started throwing the energy bubbles only to the dragons left (Chuckie's right) and when blocking, he would strike out to the left. The consequence was that the positions of the dragon and Chuckie changed in a counter-clockwise direction, and he would eventually end up with his back to the land. Once there, he would just have to let a fire ball hit him square in the chest so as to get knocked all the way back onto the land (the air current stopped before the cliff face, so he would have to let himself get hit full force in order to have the impetuous to carry him far enough.)

About three quarters of the way into Chuckie's secret maneuver, one of his energy bubbles hit and exploded into the dragon's left wing, and the dragon shuddered and started falling. Once the dragon was about fifty feet down however, he regained control and began flying back up. Chuckie formed an energy bubble and threw it down towards the dragon, but he had not reckoned with the force of the wind, and it came back up at him. Chuckie did not have time to block it, and when the bubble exploded into him, he was flung upwards and towards the land. What luck! Chuckie collapsed on the stone path. Being hit with an energy bubble was not fun. It didn't exactly burn, not in the way fire does, but boy did it hurt! It was sort of like doing that belly flop on the first day of swim school, but about eleven times worse. His arms and legs felt like jelly, any exposed skin (his arms from his elbows down and half of his face) was parched dry and felt too hot to bear. As he knelt there on his hands and knees, his head limp and his nunchaku on the ground beside him, he waited for the dragon to come up and finish him off.

But the dragon had no such intentions. Since the arrival of Bendauch and Coalessa in the Valley in the first age, some of the dragons had come to realise that Men were Hnau as well and not just dumb animals like the mountain goats and giant praying mantis. The dragons were honorable, and this dragon would not kill Chuckie as he knelt defenseless on the ground. Instead, the dragon settled down behind the boy and pondered him for a while. At last, Chuckie turned to see why the dragon did not immediately devour him as the barbarous dragons of Skerion would have. The dragon took this as a signal, and began to speak.

"Who are you foreigner? You are a brave warrior, and do not fear us like your companions do. Why did you run from them? There is nothing here to interest Men, the last of your race that was here left to one of the other places of Niembaz.

Chuckie did not say anything, he was too surprised at the charitable speech of this dragon. Surely, this must be a much nobler race of dragons than those that he had grown up among on Skerion.

"Oh, of course you do not speak, not all Men know the tongue of the dragon, I wonder what I can do with you..."

"I do know your speech noble dragon, I was just too taken aback by your not eating me at once!"

"What? Is that what you think of me? I would never harm a helpless dragon or Man, especially should he be a brave one!" Chuckie was quick to speak.

"I am sorry, the dragons from where I live are not like you, they would kill an old man... they, they took my parents." There was silence for a minute, then the dragon said, "Come Human." . .

Chapter 5, Some get off easy, Others don'tEdit

My heart was torn within me, visions of Bendauch, visions of Langaustur, feelings of hatred, sorrow, bitterness, pain. Then, a Voice spoke out of the sky to me. I can not repeat what It said, I do not remember any words, It just communicated meaning to me. It broke my heart, and I groaned aloud, my branches drooped down as far as my knotted and twisted body would allow, and I cried. After a while, the Voice spoke again, it said that it was time Bendauch's blessing came to pass, but because I had not obeyed him, I had a choice. Either the Voice would tear me out of my land, and cast me into the furnace, or I could consent to being straightened out and to change my heart. I chose the latter, and the Voice began the work.

Captain Daily radioed first mate John up in the Explorador, and requested that they be picked up. There were but three dragons on the heights, and the rest were hunting for them among the boulder field.

"We're coming in, but it will be tight. There is another party of dragons ten strong that are approaching to reinforce those already out there."

"Alright John, I'd better be atellin Zeff to stand ready to board."

Zeff and his team (Gock, Thunder, and a guy generally known as King) were hard pressed to keep away from the dragons, and besides an occasional shot, there was nothing but dodging and running. Suddenly Zeff's radio crackled to life-

"Zeff, ya ther?"

"Yes Cap'n, wat news?"

"Yer distracshun has worked, an' John'l be pickin' us up enny time now. Git yer boys ready to make a break fer it, we'll be cover'n ya."

"Yes Cap'n, I'll be git'n up to the edge ‘n this here rock field, an we'll be ready when she lands."

Zeff turned to his three men, "You heard ‘im boys, let's git out'n ‘ere!" But King, real name of Gameking, shook his head.

"No sir," he said, "there aint no way y'all ken get outa here alive if someone don't act as a decoy. I've spent my whole life tryin' to get in somebody's story, and I'm now that I'm in this'un I aint backin' out. I have made up my mind to be the hero for once. I hate being pushed to the sidelines, and I will NOT let myself be pushed around now. I am going to stay here and you are going to escape!"

The other two men and Zeff were stupefied, but then Thunder said to nobody in particular, "Oh King, I guess I'll have to stay with you, you'll need someone with a brain to protect you." Then turning to the amazed Zeff and Gock he said, "Don't worry, Chuckie's out there too, though I'll bet HE doesn't need any of our help." Then, without another word, he set out after Gameking, carrying his large barreled grenade launcher and back-up single barreled blaster. After a few seconds, there was a yell, and an out burst of shots. The decoy was in effect.

"Well, um, that was odd." Gock said, "It looks like this will be easier than we thought. Now we have two less to evacuate, at this rate, the ship will only have to pick the captain up!"

"Wow, that's a bright outlook Gock," the second mate said sarcastically, "where did you get your optimism?"

"It wasn't just a bit of optimism sir, I was talking about that dragon that is staring at us there!" and Gock pointed behind the second mate to where a dragon was trying to climb through two stone pillars, but had gotten stuck half-way through.

"Run! Gock, he's calling all the other dragons! Look! the ship is here, let's go!"

The captain and his men had mostly all boarded, but a party of three men stood by to cover Zeff's retreat. When the captain saw only two men running up to them, he yelled into his radio,

"Zeff! Where be the other two?!" But Zeff was running too hard to respond, as five dragons were right on his and Gock's tails. The Explorador was hovering in the air, ready for a take off, and after Zeff, Gock, and the ten guards were upon the ladder, the Explorador took off. Fifteen dragons were in the air with boulders, and five were trying to get to the men clinging to the ladder. After five minutes of dodging, ducking, laser blasts, and fire balls, the Explorador and her crew were safe beyond the Forbidden Valley. Well, all except the two decoys and Ninja Bean.

Ninja Bean and the dragon went along the path to the North-East. The dragon had agreed to take Chuckie under his protection, and the boy had agreed to abstain from attacking any dragon until the next general dragon council. The council would be held in about thirty five hours, and Chuckie's case would be discussed there. After walking a short time, the two came to an open space surrounded by high cliffs. To the right in the large open space was a cave and an old dragon was sitting in the opening. The dragon in the cave walked out to meet them, and he and Chuckie's guide entered into conversation.

"Welcome Flareborne son of Ruhedrache, what brings you here to my home?"

"The human here cannot fly my friend, so I am taking him by the land route to my home under the shadow of the Mountain."

"What? Oh, I did not see him," the dragon stepped away from Flareborne and Chuckie in repugnance, "step aside and let me kill him!"

"No friend. The human is my prisoner, and I will not let you kill him until the elders of the council make their decision."

"Very well, but I will not have Men running through my yard and killing my children, so make sure you keep him away from here!"

"Your wishes will be obeyed, and I will keep this human out of your land. If you find him here again, you may do with him as you wish."

"That is good enough for me, now get the human out of my sight!"

Flameborne and Chuckie left the old dragon staring after them, and crossed the open space to where there was an opening in the cliff face. Ahead was a bridge of many small rocks, but Flameborne just leaped into the air and flew to the other side. Chuckie sprang after the dragon, but he was startled when the rock he jumped onto bobbed like a cork. Even with his excellent training, Chuckie was thrown down, and he was glad that Flameborn was still in the air, and had not seen his fall. Getting up again, Chuckie struggled to his feet, and tried to keep his balance. It was hard, but he could manage. His training in Skerion had involved a lot of balance exercises, but they were nothing compared to these floating rocks. With much difficulty, Chuckie made his way across, and finally he got to the solid ground again. There the dragon was waiting, and he said with a chuckle,

"Mental note, carry the human across next time."

"I am sorry about that, we do not have floating rocks in my home land."

"I can tell, I'll bet you don't have air lifts in your country either. They were gifts to this land from Lenu."

"Oh, I thought they weren't natural." They had been walking westward on a path just below a ridge, which was made of a slab of rock jutting out from the eastern side of another of the Forbidden Islands. Chuckie could not see what lay on the other side to the south, but they suddenly came upon an opening, and a path through to the other side. When Chuckie came through the rock slab to the other side, he was amazed at the sight. Below, hundreds of feet down, lay the largest and most amazing island of the Forbidden Valley. Right in the middle, was a large open space, and at the western side of the land mass rose a high and large mountain. All around were caves, and there were many dragons flying about, or sitting outside their front doors.

"Climb up on my back human, we are going all the way across." . .

Chapter 6, The Decoys' planEdit

The Explorador skimmed along the tops of the trees of Staoftre, her engines humming, and her crew all standing to duty on the main deck.

"All hands to deck!" rang the captain's voice through the loud speakers, "We be approachin' Capitan Drew's devision on this here gnarled lookin' forest planet, and I want ya on yer best behavior. No fightin', no drinkin' beyond the daily allarance, and most of all, don' be atalkin' ‘bout our little dragon problem back on our planet. We're just pickin' up some supplies and awaitin' a ship with more specialized minin' equipment! Har har har, that be a good'n, minin' supplies, har har!"

Back in the control room, John had been quiet, he had a decision to make, but it was a hard one and he didn't know how the captain would react. But the captain had noticed John's attitude, and inquired into the matter.

"What be troublin' ya mate? You seem to be a mite down, do ya miss them dragons? Or is it the eight men we lost?"

"It's not either of those captain, I've been thinking-"

"Thet's not unnatural fer a smart fella like you."

"No Captain, it isn't, but I've pretty much made up my mind to resign."

"Oh, I see." Daily said, "Aye, I'm thinkin' that I'd probably be wantin' to do the same thing should I be in yer position." The captain was silent for a few seconds, then turned back to the first mate, "Is there anythin' that I kin do fer ya?"

"Yes Captain, you see, if I were to resign, it would bring dishonor to my family. I would rather you send me home with an honorable discharge and dispatches or something."

"Consider it done mate, you're the best first mate I ever had I want ya to know. If it weren't fer ya, we'd all‘ve been dragon food. Ya sure you don' wanna stay with the ship?"

"I am sure, if there is one thing I can't stand it is dragons. I don't think I should have been a warrior after all, I guess farming might be a little more to my taste."

"Awe, don't be sayin' that now mate, yer a right good soldier, and an excellent pilot. Dragons just ain't yer preferred enemy. If the Nexus Force ever goes to war with another planet, I'm sure you'd defend yer country bravely!"

"Thanks Captain, but here we are at captain Drew's camp, I see they have a landing pad and hangars already built. Look, there is my old buddy Frank flagging us down there on the pad!"

"Aye, that he is, but this Pirate don't need landin' pads to make his grand entrance," then he spoke into the microphone, and the crew on the deck heard his voice through the loudspeakers: "Prepare to land!"


"Hey, King, wait up!" Thunder shouted over the din of the general hubbub of battle. The dragon captains were shouting orders, most of which were different, and the rest of the dragons were confused, some were chasing Zeff his men, some were flying up to get boulders, but only one or two were still chasing and fighting Gameking. Thunder ran as hard as he could while still staying hidden, and he saw Gameking standing up on a boulder in plain sight, firing at his two dragon assailants.

"You call that making a diversion?" Thunder muttered to himself, "I call it suicide!"

When he was close enough, he launched a grenade at one of the dragons that was closing with Gameing. The explosion threw the self-proclaimed "decoy" off his perch on the rock, and sent the dragon to the ground as well.

"Ha, now I just have to get to you before you jump up on the rock again King, grrr!"

Running around to where Gameking was struggling to his feet, Thunder exclaimed in a low tone, "Dude, what's the idea? You're going to kill yourself if your not careful!"

"That was kinda the plan Thunder, I was supposed to be the diversion right?" Then, rubbing his sore head and arms, "And why'd you have to launch that grenade? I'm sore all over!"

"Well, being sore is better than being mauled and charred by a dragon isn't it? But no time for talk, we've got to scram!"

The two soldiers made a crouching run for the shadow of the nearest cliff. Once there, they continued northward to where a path ran up to the top of the cliffs. Gameking would have continued along the path, but Thunder stopped him saying, "King, we are not going up there where the dragons can see us, we have to find another way!" Gameking turned to his companion with a determined air.

"I am going to go up there where the dragons can see us whether you are or not! I want to do something brave so that I can star in this story!"

"Look Gameking, not to be rude or anything, but WHAT ARE YOU TALKING ABOUT? What story? This is REAL! Anyway, even if it was a story, sometimes being the star of a story entails NOT dying the first chapter you are included! For me, I just want to stay alive until the captain comes back with the Ninja cohort." Gameking stood silent for a few minutes, then nodded his head in agreement, "I guess your right, maybe we should just lie low for a bit... But maybe we can rescue that ninja that ran away, that would give us a good chance to be star-"

"Cut it out already! If I hear one more word about a story, or anything of the sort, I promise you that I will give you another grenade over the head!"

"Ok ok ok Thunder, I won't talk about it any more, but seriously, don't you think he is in danger?"

"Naw, I think he's fine, but we might as well try to meet up with him somehow, I wonder where he is..."

"Um, you're one of Cobalt's assistant engineers aren't you? I understand that you guys have a bunch of miscellaneous gadgets, and I just happen to know that you have a missile thing that can tell us where everybody is or something. Maybe you could use that."

"Hey, you're right, but it isn't a ‘missile thingy', it is a highly specialized heat-sensing infrared device. And it doesn't exactly ‘tell' us where everybody is, it just gives us a heat map of the surrounding area which trained users can use to find people and vehicles. Now, let's find a better place to talk, like down there." Thunder pointed down to the left where there was a small ledge running down the side of the cliff going down. The two set off down the ledge, and soon found a safe spot to sit for a while.

After taking a breather, Thunder took some things out of his pack. First, he took a box shaped device with a large screen and several buttons out and set it on the ground. He called it the Monitor. Second, he took a small grenade shaped item(the heat camera) out, and set it next to the screen. There was a small green button on the upper left hand corner which Thunder pressed, and the screen flashed to life. After pressing a few buttons, Thunder picked up the heat camera and moved it around above Gameking. The Monitor screen showed a fairly precise picture of Gameking, only in red, orange, yellow, and green. Gameking gave a snort of annoyance and said, "Why can't you just attach a regular camera to this thing instead of this heat sensing thingamajigger?"

"I do have a couple of those King," and Thunder pulled out a handfull of the small camera grenades, "but these heat sensing cameras are best for dark places like this."

"Huh." Gameking grunted.

"Ok, let's get this working!" Thunder loaded his grenade launcher with the heat camera, and standing up, shot it as straight as he could into the air. Then, grabbing up the Monitor, Thunder studied it carefully. "Gameking, look at this! I think I see Chuckie!" Gameking gazed at the screen, and then suddenly exclaimed that he saw the ninja too.

"Look King, there is another dragon there where Chuckie is heading! They are fighting now! Chuckie just ran away, and the dragon is following. They are fighting in a strange manner and slowly turning about. You can see faintly the fireballs and other fire attacks the dragon is using, but it looks as if Chuckie is dodging all of them or jumping over them."

"I think I see Chuckie firing something at the dragon, and Oh, it looks like he got it! But he just got flung back to where the fight started, and here comes the dragon to kill him."

"Yes King, I think you are right about Chuckie shooting at the dragon, but he doesn't have a gun I don't think, so how can he- Look! the dragon and Chuckie are walking off together, what's happening?"

"I don't know thunder, but I feel as if we had better go and rescue the ninja, and quick!"

"You're the boss King."

"I am? Great! Being the boss is part of being a main charac- Oh, sorry, never mind. But yes, we must rescue him! Give me the Monitor soldier and cover me!" Then turning with a theatrical sweep of his arm to an imaginary audience, Gameking said in a loud voice, "And now Ladies and Gentlemen, I and my faithful servant are going to venture into an unknown land, with dangers and dragons and, and, no supplies. We are going in the quest of a lost ninja -no, ninja doesn't sound right- a lost traveller who has just been captured by a dreadful foe, and is about to be EATEN!"

Thunder did a face palm and muttered, "This is going to be the longest three weeks I have ever lived through."

"Come soldier! Let's go!" Game king ordered Thunder.

"Yes King." Thunder sighed as he picked up his pack and followed Gameking back up the path. . .

Chapter 7, Twins, or Duplicates?Edit

Captain Daily guided the Explorador over an opening in the trees and prepared to set her down. The landing gear was bent out of shape but it still worked a little, so the captain lowered it and let the ship come to rest. Scarcely had the front left stabilizer come in contact with the ground however, when there was a loud cracking sound, and the Explorador lurched into a hole that had appeared as the landing gear had torn itself through. Apparently, there had been a trap dug for some large wild beast at that spot.

Groans were heard from the soldiers and crew that had been jumbled together with the lurch, but there was silence in the control room, no one dared to breath. They all knew that when the captain got angry, you did not want to be within forty feet of him, and he had just made the biggest mistake since his first day of pilot class (when he was banned from going within a hundred feet of any vehicle bigger than a motorcycle for three months,) and those in the control room were deathly afraid. The Captain was the first to break the silence.

"Well, I'll be darned if Drew didn't pick the worst place for a bear trap!" Then he burst out into outrageous laughter. John, Zeff, Cobalt and Echs joined relievedly in the laughter, and then the intercom crackled to life:

"Daily my friend! *stifled laughter* Dit you not see our big comfortable lanting pad vit a cabin boy a vaving a big ret vlag? *cough* Vee did not know vee'd be catching YOU in our leettle monkey trap! *more stifled laughter* Come in for tea von't you, vee've been expecting you!"

Captain daily cleared his throat and spoke into the microphone, "Har har har Captain Drew, fact is, I did it on purpose, we've got a little spring cleaning to be doin', and it works best to tip the whole ship instead of carryin' all them buckets full of dust out'n here in pails."

"Vell, after your done do you vant me to get zee crane out so vee can chat over a leetle cup uf tea?"

"Aye, a crane would be to me likin', we ran into sorter a mishap and ar landin gear's a bit messed up, and we cain't use it properly to lift ourselves arter this ‘ere hole ya dug."

"Alaright, vee'l be getting it to you as fast as vee can. *chuckles*"


Two hours later, the Explorador was jacked up in a hangar, and Cobalt and the two remaining sub-engineers were messing with the landing gear. Captain Daily, First-Mate John, Second-Mate Zeff, Captain Drew, and his first mate(he was wearing a jester mask) were sitting in Drew's study, and the crews of both exploration parties were mingling and talking and joking.

"Arrg, I feel so, so un-piratey sittin' here drinkin' tea Drew, ya don't happen to have any ale around here abouts do ya?" The captain said whilst trying to find a comfortable position on the hard floor.

"I'm sure zee crew has some ale, zey can't seem to get enouf uf zat stuff, but I do not like zee taste uf ale, so I don't keep any uf it in my cupbords." The other captain said whilst sitting straight and still.

"Arrg, I guess tea isn't that bad, but ya don't mind if I have me a smoke do ya?" Daily asked.

"No, I take a pipe myself vonce in a vile." Drew replied smilingly.

There was silence while Captain Drew and his first mate sat cross-legged sipping their tea, John had already finished his, and was sitting just as straight as Drew and was staring straight forward at nothing. Zeff was sitting with his elbows on his knees, holding his cup and sipping at the tea. He had already had two cups, and was thinking of a way to start up the conversation again.

"So, Captain Drew, where does this here tea thing come from? I've taken quite a fancy to tea, but I've never seen it drank ‘cept by the peasants." Zeff said thoughtfully. After a few seconds, Captain Drew answered the question.

"It is a very old tradition zet originated in zee hill country uf east Skerion." Zeff's teacup froze in mid air as he took in this information, a confused, and shocked, and disgusted look spreading over his face.

"Y- Ya mean, th- the Ninjas?" he stammered.

"Yes, but vat is wrong? Does zee tea not agree vit your stomach?" Drew was definitely concerned. Zeff sat there, his face deathly pale. Then suddenly he sprang up, and dropping the teacup to the ground, rushed out of Captain Drew's study shrieking.

"I've been tricked! Fooled! Absolutely Ninja'd! AAAHHHHhhhhhhhh" and his voice died out as he fled into the forest to hide his shame.

"Vat does your secont mate haf against zee ninja Captain?" Captain Drew inquired of Captain Daily who was standing at the window looking after the fleeing pirate, a look of mingled concern and amusement on his face.

"Aw mate, I dunno..." Then turning around to face Drew, "Zeff has hizself a burnin' hatred against the Ninja, it's worse'n most of us pirates have. Ya know, sometimes I just cain't seem ta fig're that kid out." There was silence once more as Drew sipped his tea and Daily smoked his cigar. Then Captain Daily laughed and said, "Why, you first mates be the most quietest things I ever seed, y'ain't shy are ya? Go on John, ‘ntroduce yerself."

John started as if out of a dream, then said, "Oh, yessir." then turning to Captain Drew's first mate, "Hi, my name is John, how do you do?" The man nodded and held out his hand to John to shake.

"Mine's Gameking, and very well thank you." he said. Both Captain Daily and First-Mate John started.

"Ay, wat's that boy?" Daily asked.

"I said ‘Mine's Gameking'. Is that wrong?"

"But, but, we left you on the Forbidden Valley King, how did you get here?" this time it was John who spoke, but before Gameking had time to answer, Captain Daily cut in sharply.

"Who are you tryin' to fool mate? Ay? I say that's a mighty big step up from common soldier to first mate! Take off that mask and show us who you really are!" Captain Drew had been looking on confusedly, and now spoke up.

"Vat is going on Captain? Vat is my first mate being accused uf?" Gameking looked at his Captain without making a move to remove his mask.

"That man is a ninja spy I'll warrant you Captain Drew! I know it ‘cause I've got me a man on my force whose got himself that very same name, and ya don't see Gamekings everyday I tell ya! Take off thet mask ya sneakin' ninja spy!!!"

"Captain!" Drew said, "I am sure zet it is not how you think. Take off zee mask my boy, I do not know vat zese men haf against you, but it vill be best to let zem see zee truth before zey resort to forceful measures." Drew's first mate obeyed, and Daily and his first mate saw the last thing they expected to see...

They saw Gameking!

"But, it can not be, we left you back on the Forbidden Valley as I said earlier. What can you say for yourself King?"

"I say John, that I am gratified."


"You see, I have always known that somebody, maybe even multiple somebodies are writing about my life. And now that you say that there is another one of me, I know that my suppositions were correct, if there are two authors writing about my life, they must have different perspectives on it, and therefore, there are two, or more, of me."

"But-" John started.

"Look, does your Gameking have any other similarities to me?"

"Well, he does always try to do extraordinary things to get attention, he says it is so that he can have a bigger role in some story. And he has always worn the same shoes ever since I've known him..."

"And I always wear the same mask too!"

"Aye, there do be similarities between the two of ya." Captain daily said, "But how are we supposed to know that y'ain't just twins or somthin?"

"Oh, that is a point." Gameking said reluctantly, I guess there is only one way to find out.

"And vat might zat be Game?" Drew asked.

"I have to be introduced to me."

Captain Daily nodded his head in his agreement and said, "Aye, thet's probabably the olny way, ‘less of course we just decide to avoid the trouble."

"That wouldn't be any fun, I think it would be exiting to meet myself!"

"Vell, I could not spare you Game, if you left who vould be my first mate?" Captain Drew said.

"Arrg, I think we could fix us a swap Cap'n, yer King for my John." Daily remarked.

"Yes, zat is a goot idea, do you agree John?"

"Yes, I do Captain," then turning to Daily with a smile, "I think we can post-pone the discharge back home right Captain?"

"Yes my boy, you can stay in the exploration expedition after all har har."

Chapter 8, A Dragon CouncilEdit

Flameborne touched down in a place so well sheltered that Chuckie had not seen it till he was right above it. This new place was much different than the rest of the Forbidden Valley. It was a small cove with grass, and water in the form of a stream that coursed its way across the little valley, and poured down over the edge. Chuckie sat down, and reclined against a boulder. It was peaceful there, and Chuckie fell asleep.

Flameborne sat, contemplating the Ninja. "He is very trusting," Flameborne thought, "I wonder who he takes me for, his grandma?" A whiny broke out from a group of horses that lay a short distance off, and one of them rose and approached Chuckie. It was a large stallion, but he approached timidly. What was this new creature that the kind dragon had brought? But after looking at Chuckie for a while, the horse turned, and went back to his friends.

After three hours, Chuckie woke, completely refreshed, and ready for adventure. The first thing he noticed when he rose to his feet, was that Flameborne was gone. The second thing he noticed was the Pohr horses, they were grazing on the lush grass on the other side of the small stream. Thinking it was time for his daily ninja practice, Chuckie decided to try to creep as close to the horses as possible without them noticing. Getting down on his belly, he crept to the next boulder, and hid behind it while determining his next move.

Chuckie Bean had an excellent imagination, and in his mind, the Pohr horses were not just a group of peaceful equine grazers, no, they were a council of vicious pirates who would kill him for sure if they caught him. But they were holding a council as to the best method of exterminating all the ninja in the universe, and it was Chuckie's duty to his countrymen to catch the news before it was too late. Therefore, Chuckie crept as quietly as he could from rock to rock, taking advantage of every little rise in the ground, every tuft of grass. He was almost close enough to hear them, but there was nothing else to hide behind. Chuckie's eyes swept the surroundings, ahaa! the stream! Retracing his steps with utmost care, Chuckie got to a place where he could crawl into the stream down stream from where the horses were grazing. Then, ignoring the cold water, Chuckie crept up to where he could hear the conversation of the Pirates. And oh, such dreadful things they were discussing, Chuckie cringed as he imagined what the pirates were saying.

"Arrg Mate, I think that's a capital idea, capture ‘em THEN execute em ‘stead of the other way around."

"No Cap'n," another voice interrupted, "The right way is not to capture them at all, just catch a bunch of them snappers and set ‘em loose in their villages, then when the law man come along we can say that we had no part in it, twas the fishes that ate them sneakin' ninjas."

"Aye, that there is a much better way, I hadn't thought of it before."

"The reason you didn't think of it before Cap'n Zeff," broke out still another voice, "is that snappin' fishes only snap when they're in the water!"

"Aye, that's a good point Lem," the captain responded, "But we could bring up a bunch of water in buckets and fill up their camps with that ‘afore we loose the fishes."

"Aye," said the second speaker, "that is jest what I was sayin'!"

"First," said another, "we'll have to build walls around them viliges so's the water doesn't all run out."

"Aye, that's the way Sam,-" but he was cut off by the same speaker who had contradicted the first idea.

"Meanin' no offense Cap'n, but me thinks it'd be a better plan to lay in wait in their dinin' hall, then surprise them once their bellies are all filled up and they can't fight."

"Aye, that be an even better idea Mac-" But the imaginary conversation was cut off when Chuckie noticed something creeping up out of the corner of his eye.

Springing to his feet, and drawing his long dagger, Chuckie spun around to face whatever had been sneaking up. His sudden appearance out of the stream caused the pohr horses to alarm, and they stampeded off to a small cave. Chuckie scanned the area, looking for whoever it was he was looking for, but he saw nothing. Then, he noticed the very tip of a tail protruding from behind a large boulder. Walking stealthily, Chuckie crept up to the rock, and with a cry, he sprung up on top of it brandishing his dagger. Laughing a great dragonish laugh, Flameborne stood to his full height.

"Wow Flame, I didn't know you could be that noiseless, are all dragons here as good?"

"Pretty much so human we have to be quiet in the hunt, by the way, I did not catch your name."

"The name's Chuck, Chuck Bean. But most people just call me Chuckie."

"Strange, why does your kind always change names? You say people call you Chuckie, when your name is not that. You just called me Flame, when my name is not that. We dragons of Dalinano do not change each other's names or titles. But enough said about that. There are other humans in the Valley."

"What? I thought the ship had gone!"

"Yes, they escaped our clutches thanks to that blundering Boulderbull, I'll bet our chief will never let him lead anything bigger than a hunting party in the future."

"Then how are there more humans here?"

"I do not know, but I think they are searching for you. They have a device that the loud one holds, it has a screen, and either they use it to avoid us or they are very lucky in circumnavigating all of our guards."

"I know that device Flame, there is a small camera or something that is attached to a helicopter of sorts, and once they shoot it into the sky, they can see what it sees on their screen."

"Hmm, that could be dangerous, I must bring it up at the council. I am bringing you as well, and we will discuss what to do with you and these other two men."


Several hours later, Flameborne took Chuckie to the Mountain where the general dragon council was about to begin. Every dragon from Prince Dave himself, to the newest dragon, Bunny, attended the council in the great Meeting Hall. There were three great pedestals, and on the central and biggest one sat Prince Dave and his most trusted advisers. On the right hand pedestal sat the Minister of War and a few of the young dragon captains. While the Minister of Home Affairs and Ruhedrache sat on the other. They were connected by a stone bridge which was used by young dragon pages who served as messengers between the three branches of the council. On the ground all around these sat the whole of the dragon population except for the few guards who were on patrol.

The first subject that was brought up was that of the late invasion and subsequent escape of the "humans". Boulderbull was mysteriously absent, and the only excuse for him was that he was out hunting(which could mean anything.) Then the subject of the two men who had stayed behind came up, and a long debate as to what they were doing, and why they had repeatedly failed to get caught ensued which lasted for about twenty minutes, then some matters of domestic content was brought up, of which one article concerned the old cave digger hogging too much land. Then finally, Chuckie's case was brought up.

He and his captor had arrived a little late, so they had taken their place on the outskirts of the gathering. So when he was called up to stand before the Council, he had to walk through a great crowd of dragons first. He stood up with such an air of fearlessness that all the closest dragons were amazed, and pretty much took a liking to him immediately. Then, with firm steps, he came down the open path the dragons had made straight to the first steps of the stone bridge, and mounted them. Then, standing before the King, Chuckie bowed and addressed him in a slightly jovial manner:

"How do you do sir? You've got a nice little kingdom here." There was a general titter among the crowd, and Chuckie took it as a sign to go on. "My name is Chuck Bean," then he added in a confidential tone, "I'm a ninja." Chuckie stopped, the King would probably take it as mockery if he continued further. The king looked at Chuckie for a few seconds as if wondering what to say, but eventually figured it out, and in a slow voice he said:

"Why did you come here Chuck Bean? Did you come to kill the rest of us as you killed Jedediah?"

"No sir, although I did have the misfortune to kill Jed, I only came here because the captain of the air ship brought me along to clean his cabin and polish his silver watches. I hated it so much that I ran away, only to have them leave me behind." He finished with a sigh which brought more laughter from the crowd. Prince Dave considered this for a while.

"If you are but a slave, then how came you to defeat one of my warriors?"

"Ah my friend, therein lies the injustice! Back home, I am known as the dragon slayer, nigh a million dragons have fallen my my arm." and he held up his arm and flexed it like a child, "But sadly, us ninja aren't appreciated very well, and we are treated as just that, Slaves."

"Hmm, ‘nigh a million' is quite a few dragons for such a young human as yourself Chuck Bean, did you truly kill that many?" Chuckie bent his head in (pretended) embarrassment, "Well, not, not exactly that many, it was just about twenty..." but then he lifted his head again in exultation, "But they were all real big dragons, almost as big as you your majesty!" Laughter again passed around the hall, Chuckie conducted himself with such an innocent air, and such seeming ignorance of his position, that it was quite a comic sight.

"That is still a lot, but I doubt not that you could do it." Then the King assumed a much graver tone, "Tell me Chuck Bean, why did your king come here to my country?" . ~

Chapter 9, Wolves and RecollectionsEdit

"AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!" A loud scream issued forth from a guy falling off a cliff.

"Watch out Gameking! There's a... cliff... there." Thunder peered over the edge of the cliff and watched the falling Gameking until he was out of sight. "Man, my job is just getting harder and harder." Getting his 5000 foot rope from his backpack, Thunder tied it so that as long as constant pressure was applied, it would stay fixed, but he could get it down from the bottom if he needed to by flicking it. After about five minutes propelling down, Thunder finally reached the grinning Gameking who was sitting cross-legged on a little mountain of sand.

"Hi Thunder!"

"What? You're okay? How-"

"Ok Thunder, I know I said I wouldn't talk about it more, but I've got to."

"Oh whatever, get over with it while I take a rest."

"I know. I know for a certainty that I am in a story. You ask me how I know? How could I have not died by jumping off that cliff? Look, if you were an author, and one of your best characters happened to fall off a cliff, wouldn't you provide something to save him at the bottom like the little air draft that saved me?"

"Well, I don't know, maybe, but I don't even write stories, so I don't really know... But why did you choose this way to test your theory?"

"For two reasons. First, it is the only way that could actually prove my theory, and second, I haven't been in a chapter for quite a long time, so I wanted to do something shocking to get me back in."

"Wow King, I just don't know what to say."

"Me neither... Wanna climb back up?"


"Me neither... Wait, what was that noise?"

"I don't know, what are you sitting on?"

"A little sand hill."

"Why is there a little sand hill right there?"

"I don't know, maybe my patron author made it for me because he knew I needed something to sit on."

"No seriously, I think the sound came from that little sand hill you're sitting on."

"Really? Hey I just heard it again, it sounded kind of like something snoring! I think you're right though, the sound is coming from this little hill!" Gameking jumped up and dug furiously into the little hill. Suddenly, something leaped out of the sand, right into Gameking's face, and throwing him back it landed right on top of him. It was a wolf, huge and black, with bristling fur, and sharp, piercing, green eyes.

"GAMEKING!!! You're the worst thing I've had to babysit since my little brother!!! Why did you have to dig up a wolf!!?!!"

"Sorry Thunder, I won't do it again, but I need a little bit of help here!" The wolf snarled menacingly and stepped off Gameking. In a mechanical sounding voice, the wolf said:

"Who are you."

"I'm Gameking, and this is Thunder." Gameking said shakily, getting up and retreating to Thunder's side.

"You look delicious I hope a dragon doesn't take you from me like one did the last time I found a human in my land."

"Uh," Gameking replied, "I actually kinda hope one does!" Ignoring the comment the wolf asked, "Should I catch you by myself or should I call all my friends to help me." The question hung in the air, until Thunder spoke.

"Why, that would be cowardly Wolf."

"Then it would be cowardly for you to both fight me at once. I will take you on one at a time." There seemed to no other option, so Thunder and Gameking decided that Thunder would fight first, as he was an experienced fighter.

"The other will sit there and if he moves I will call forty-five wolves to kill you all."

"Fair enough Wolf." Thunder said as he charged up his blaster and tightened his belt. Then without warning the Wolf leaped at Thunders throat. Thunder dodged at the last millisecond and jumped to a distance. He had time to fire two blasts at the wolf before he had to dodge out of the way again. The problem was that the laser blasts bounced right off the wolf. Once again out of the reach of his opponent, Thunder threw down his laser gun, and un-slung his grenade launcher. He had no time to use it however, because the wolf was on him again, and this time, a simple roll would not do the trick. The wolf watched where Thunder was going, and perfectly aimed his spring so as to be able to close with his opponent's throat. Right before the wide open metallic jaws of the wolf closed around Thunder's neck, he accidentally pulled the trigger of his launcher, and there was a huge explosion, knocking both Thunder and the wolf back so that they landed a hundred feet apart.

Meanwhile, Gameking had been watching the fight closely, and images flashed through his mind. In his mind, he saw a robot towering high above him. Then he saw the robot dead at his feet. He tried as hard as he could to see what he had defeated the robot with, but he only had the two pictures to work with, but he had a feeling that what ever it was, that was the key to defeating this monster. Suddenly, he saw in the picture with the dead robot, an object laying on the ground. Concentrating his hardest, he realized that what was lying on the ground was a trident, a trident of lightning. Back to the situation at hand however, Gameking saw that Thunder was losing badly, if he didn't do something quickly, he would have to face the wolf alone. He reached into his seemingly bottomless pack, and pulled out a spear. It was supercharged with electricity, and really packed a punch. If the wolf was what Gameking imagined it was, a blast of electricity might be enough to short circuit him.

Thunder was only surviving by repeatedly knocking the wolf back with grenades, and he was running out of ammo. The wolf seemed to be taking no damage whatsoever, while Thunder was very tired and getting weaker by the second. He glanced over to where Gameking had been sitting a minute before, and was surprised at what he saw. Gameking stood in full armor, gripping a long spear in his hands, and was buzzing all over with electricity. Thunder gave the wolf another grenade, which knocked him back to within five feet of Gameking. Gameking took this opportunity, and charged. At the last second, the wolf noticed him and turned to make fight, but it was too late, Gameking thrust the spear as hard as he could into the wolf, and there was the sound of metal grating against metal, and the wolf went into spasms as the electricity shorted every connection, and blew up every fuse. The wolf's servos were burnt out, and its batteries were disintegrated, all in all, where there had been a fearsome and unstoppable wolf machine, there was now just a heap of scrap metal and burnt-out electronic components. The great wolf, King of the cold desert wasteland of Dalinano, was dead.

"Wow King, how did you do that?" Thunder said as he limped up to the breathless Gameking.

"I am the Ging of Games don't you know?" He returned. "Hey, I even defeated Emperor Plathen himself in a one-on-one battle once!"

"Emperor who?" Thunder asked.

"I don't know... that is wierd, it just came to me like the pictures did. I am absolutely sure I am in a story now! How could I remember doing things I never did if I wasn't?"

"Gameking, you're just too much for me. Let's forget about it and disassemble this robot dog so that it can't come back to haunt us!"

Thunder and King made sure that the great wolf was not going to come back to life; they pulled off the legs and head and buried them and the body in the sand a hundred feet apart. Then Gameking raced over to where the end of the rope hung down, "C'mon Thunder, let's get back to the top. I wonder if this thing will hold my weight." And Gameking gave the rope a hard flick to make sure it was stable.

"NOOOO!!! Don't do that!" The ripple traveled up the length of the rope and Thunder and Gameking watched as the end of the rope that was supposed to be tied up at the top came hurtling down and finally the rope landed coiled up on the ground between them.

"Sorry Thunder, I won't do it again." Gameking said in a timid voice.

"Humpf, I should've tied it tighter." Thunder and Gameking set off to try to find a way up (which from Bendauch's example, you know that it is pretty much impossible. There is only one way up, and that way is so concealed that it takes Lion Art to find it from the bottom.) . .

Chapter 10, Escapes and ApesEdit

After an hour of talk and debate, Chukie's fate was sealed. The majority of the dragon council thought that he was a spy, and though Flameborne offered to keep him as his prisoner, the council overruled, and Chuckie was led to a cell in the Mountain below the Meeting Hall.

Chuckie sat in the large prison cell designed for dragon malefactors. It was a small room for a dragon, and dark as pitch, but it was big for Chuckie as he sat in the middle of it and thought. He thought of all the things that had happened since he had rushed out of the open door of the Explorador, bent only on fun and adventure.

Chuckie must have fallen asleep, for he suddenly awoke sitting bolt upright and listening intently. He heard the receding steps and swishing tail of the prison guard who walked up and down the passage outside every half-hour, and saw the disappearing glow of the torch the dragon held. But that was not what had awakened Chuckie, he drew his right-hand nunchuck out of its place in his belt. The dragons had not taken his weapons from him as they considered his cell impregnable, and the best way to keep such small items was on the prisoner himself. Chuckie slowly twirled the weapon around, an energy bubble forming slowly, and shedding a little light on the surroundings. There was nothing except a few mice that crept away into the corners, but then Chuckie looked up. Dangling from the ceiling was a root, and it was holding El Escabeche. Immediately Chuckie moved out of the way, the root dropped it to the ground. Fearing the sound the sword would make as it clattered to the floor, Chuckie lunged forward and grabbed it before it could hit the floor. Then he prepared to chop the root off as close as he could to the ceiling, he couldn't let it stay there, it would strangle him in his sleep. But before he made his move, the root retracted into its hole. Chuckie looked at his sword, it could use a little cleaning, but it was as good as he had left it. He noticed that the root was coming back and was holding something rolled up. The root dropped the thing, and Chuckie stooped down to pick it up. It was a scroll of smooth tree bark, and Chuckie unrolled it and started to read the words that were etched in a gnarled font.

"I am sorry about any inconvenience I might have caused you when you chose to use me as a resting place, and in the subsequent adventure with the dragon where I shook you off of me when you were fighting the dragon. I confess that I was purposefully trying to kill you by throwing you down to the Cold Desert, and I ask your forgiveness.

"You might wonder why I am saying this, but it is a long story, and I must give it to you in brief. My whole life, ever since I was a young tree, I did not have any mentors or teachers to guide me, and growing up in this hard and barren land, I became hard, twisted, and bitter myself. I was planted by a man named Bendauch, and from him I received a blessing and a commandment which I failed to obey. Since you left me, I was visited by a great Voice which offered me life at a cost, or death. I chose life, and after the Voice straightened my limbs, I was commanded to change my heart. Therefore, I ask you to forgive me, and I am offering you a place in my branches to live and call your home.

"There is a way out of this cell you are in, you just have to follow my instructions, do not worry, I see everything, and I hear everything. If you wish to get out alive, you must follow the path that I set before you." Chuckie thought about the proposal, it could be a clever trick designed for if he woke up in time to dodge the sword that had been lowered right toward his head, but then again, it could be the truth. Well, with his sword in his hand, he felt like a man again, and ready for anything, so he read on:

"There is a hole in the right hand corner by the door, in it you will find a key. Give it to me and I will unlock your door. After you are out, go down three cells to the right, and hide in that, you will know what to do when you get there." Chuckie sighed, it couldn't hurt could it? He sidled over to the corner, set his nunchuck down, and reached deep into the hole. His felt his hands breaking through spider webs, and things crawling up his arm. Finally he reached the key and pulled it out and brushed at the webs that clung to his arm. He picked up his nunchuck and walked back over to where the root was waiting for the key. The root took it, and coiled itself around the key, then uncoiling, Chuckie saw that the key was gone. There was a grating in the lock, and the door swung open. Chuckie took a look outside, and seeing nobody in sight, silently stole out.

In the third cell to the right, there was a high window that though small indeed for a dragon, chuckie could easily get through, but it was also high, and Chuckie could see no way up. Then he spied a root that hung down from the ceiling, and it looked close enough to the window that chuckie immediately began scaling it. Once at a certain height, Chuckie began to swing. I helped him along, and in a couple of seconds he was balancing on the sill, and then he was scrambling down on the outside.

One week after Captain Daily landed the Explorador in the "monkey trap"...Edit

Gameking sat up in his hammock in the Mates' Quarters, he had been dreaming a strange dream. In his dream he had been in a strange sandy place with another guy named Thunder. Thunder was fighting a huge robot wolf, and losing badly. Then he had reached into his pack, and had pulled out a translucent green spear. With it he had defeated the wolf somehow, then he had woken up. The strange part about the dream was how real it seemed, just like it was actually happening. Gameking tried to get the dream out of his head, but it continued to haunt him, so he got up and walked out doors. It was the same early evening light that had covered the forest since Captain Drew and his crew had set foot there almost a month ago, and Gameking was really getting used to it. He looked over the tree tops to the ocean, and further to where the ocean met the sky. Everything was so peaceful... CRASH!!! Gameking spun around to see what had caused the noise, there was an ape in the camp by the equipment shed, and it had just busted a huge hole in the wall!

"AAAPE!!!" Gameking shouted, "Everybody Wake Up!" But it was not a wise decision, for the ape heard him, picked up a cylinder of fuel out of a stack that was neatly piled up on the outside of the shed and hurled it at the annoying tattle-tale. Unfortunately, the ape's aim was perfect, and Gameking caught the heavy metal fuel container full in the chest. The impact sent Gameking through the wall of the Mate's Quarters, and he collided into First Mate John, who had just gotten out of his hammock. But the action did not stop there, Gameking and John were so un-balanced by the ape's projectile, that they fell down the twenty steps that led to the lower apartments. At the bottom of the stairs was a door to the chamber occupied by Captain Daily, and he happened to come out at that very moment fully armed and prepared for battle. The second Daily stepped out of his door, Gameking and John tumbled down the last five steps and slammed into him. They all went down in a heap, and Captain Daily's blaster went off. Just then, Captain Drew stepped out of his room with a cup of tea and stood looking curiously at the three men all struggling to their feet.

"Eh, my friends, vee don't haf to get rough now do vee?"

Captain Daily rose angrily, "I'll have ya hanged fer treasin, both of ya!" and he shook his fist in the First-Mates' faces. But Gameking was undaunted, "AAAPE!!!" he shouted as he ran out of the room.

"Uh, sorry Captain, that Gameking was smashed right through the wall and into me and we couldn't help falling down them stairs." John said as Daily dusted himself off.

"Excuse me my friends, but it zeems I smell somesing burning!" Drew said worriedly.

"FIRE!" Zeff's voice came down the stairs, and was followed in an instant by the speaker himself, "GIT DOWN CAP'NS!!!" The second mate had snored all the way through the incident with Gameking and John, but he had somehow wakened up just in time to see that the fuel cylinder's nozzle had broken off and was spilling fuel all over the floor, and to see that the oil lamp had been knocked over, and Gameking's hammock was ablaze. He had then gathered anything of value and fled down the stairs. Everybody hit the floor as an explosion rocked the building, it seemed as if the whole building fell apart all around them. After the dust cleared, Captain Drew sat up.

"Is everybody alaright?"

"Arrg, me thinks I'm alright, but me blaster's history." Daily said as he pushed a door off of himself. John was already standing, and was frantically pulling aside broken pieces of boards and beams. "Captain! Zeff was right here when the explosion hit, I don't think he could have survived getting buried in all this rubble!"

"What's that Johny?" the voice of Zeff came from behind a piece of plywood a couple feet away from the "pile of rubble" that John had been digging through.

"Oh, I am glad you escaped, how did you get out of the way so fast?" John asked taking the board off Zeff.

"It was just a little dodgin' and a little duckin', nothin' too hard."

"Wow, I have to say Zeff, that was just as good as a nin- er, pirate acrobat!" John said. But before the conversation could be continued, a bucket of loose bolts came hurtling by and crashed through the far wall.

"Arrg Captain," Daily said, "me thinks we'd better git arter here, that ape's not gonna wait till we're ready fer battle, he's already in the mood!" All four men agreed and rushed out through the hole the ape had made. They came out right in front of the troop's bunk house where Gameking was getting everybody into order. Zeff was sent off to the hangars to get the troops of the Explorador up and in arms.

"Ok men," Gameking said in an authoritative voice, "your captain will take charge now!"

"Thank you Game." Then turning to the thirty Nexus Force soldiers, "Attack zee evil ape!" The soldiers rushed around to where the ape was waiting, and a desperate conflict ensued. The ape had excellent aim, and every one of his projectiles told. When the soldiers got too close, he would pound the ground so heavily that anyone close fell. The ape was holding his ground until Zeff's brigade came up, when the ape was soon conquered. Everybody cheered and congratulated each other, but their rejoicings were crushed to the ground as a great rumbling sound came on and ape after ape broke from the woods into the clearing. . .

Chapter 11, Ninja to the rescue!Edit

The battle ship shot through space toward the Nimbus System. She was a deep black with dull red stripes and a little bright yellow detailing. She was, The Payload.

Captain Ixius Uberius sat in the control room of the Payload, he was proud of his ship, from where he sat, he could see everything that went on. What he couldn't see with his eyes, he could see on a hologram map of the whole ship. The Payload was the first to be equipped with the new upgrade to the Space Warp system, and it could make the trip to the Nimbus System in one third of the three weeks that all the previous voyages had taken. There were forty ninjas on board, all trained in dragon warfare, and equipped with the best of everything, and all their gear was tuned to their new battlefield (information courtesy of Zeff):

They had light heat resistant clothing, it was black with grey, and dull red detailing, and their hood was equipped with night vision for the dark territory.

They had special climbing equipment for the rocky terrain, with grappling hooks that each used the same technology that the Stabilizers on the landing gears of the spaceships used, and soft boots with similar, though weaker, functions.

They had a katana and a light dart gun for their main weapons, with a full compliment of shuriken for distraction purposes.

The Captain didn't have first or second mates, he didn't have a council, it was just him, and the fighters. He worked best alone, and he had trained his men to work alone as well. It was the best way the Ninja fought, he would give them the main goal, and they would do it. They were each equipped with a screen built into their night vision hoods, which had a feature that let them see the positions of their comrades relative to themselves, and a heat sensing device to show any foes close in the vicinity. There were also a set of head phones in the hood, and he could send them messages with them if it was necessary. With these innovations, the ninja warriors could be completely independent of each other, and yet work together as an organized team, and have no need for officers, or commanders, except for the guy that comes up with all the plans.

The Payload was fast approaching Garland as Captain Drew had named the planet chunk at which he was stationed, and Captain Uberius spoke quietly into the ship's speakers.

"We are approaching the Nimbus System, please stand to arms. You will stay in the ship at all times except a guard of four soldiers who will accompany me if I leave the ship." Then he listed off the four guards, and in five minutes they were standing by his side, in addition to the gear all the soldiers wore, they each carried a machine gun loaded with knock-out bullets. Captain Uberius did not hold to killing his fellow man, and therefore his men used stun guns when dealing with possibly treacherous men or enemies.

At the front of the ship, instead of a window to see out of, there was a large screen that displayed what was seen by a camera mounted in the front of the ship. When the Captain came within half a mile of Captain Drew's camp, he suddenly pulled the Payload to a stop. There was unusual action ahead, and Captain Uberius wanted to see just what was happening before coming too near. Moving his hover-chair over to a row of buttons on the control panel, Captain Uberius pressed a green one with a plus sign, zooming in, then he pressed a large yellow one. Screens all over the ship flashed to life, and showed just what the captain was seeing. There was Captain Drew's camp, and a crowd of about thirty apes were surrounding a small building, and the ninja concluded that the pirates were confined inside.

"Gunners to your positions, and infantry, prepare to be dropped!" the captain said into the microphone. Inside the Payload there was silent action, all their training hadn't been for nothing, the forty black clad ninja moved like a well oiled machine, the ten gunners climbed up into their stations, and the thirty remaining soldiers gathered around three points in the ship where there was a metal bar (to which they snapped their ropes,) and they stood on trap doors that would open at the push of a button on the captain's control panel. From the outside of the ship, small slides slid open, and guns protruded. Three from the front, four from the sides, and from the top of the ship rose a large turret manned by three men.

Captain Uberius hovered close to the ground, and out of sight of the camp, he pressed the button that released the infantry, who began to sneak up to the edge of the forest in preparation of the attack. Then the captain flew the Payload into the clearing, and commanded the gunners to gun down the apes.

5 minutes earlierEdit

The din was great in the camp, and the apes were pressing close. Captain Drew was fighting next to Captain Daily, and he shouted to his comrade, "Vee haf to fight our vay to zee hangers Captain! Zere is no other vay!"

"Arrg, I reckon we kin hold out fer another ten minutes Drew," Then checking his watch he said, "I've got us a back-up plan."

Five apes lay on the ground dead or dying, and the same number had received more or less severe wounds, but apes are pretty much the stubbornest creatures alive, and the defenders were slowly losing ground. Out of the initial sixty able-bodied men, only forty remained, and what with all the apes' missiles smashing openings in everything they hid behind, they were losing cover fast.

"Captain, vee must go now! Soon vee vill have nothing but reeds betveen us and zee apes!"

"Hold yer horses Cap'n, my back-up plan should be going into effect in just a few-" Suddenly bullets were whizzing through the air all around them, and burying themselves in the thick hide of the apes. Although the apes were not seriously harmed, they bawled angrily and began hurling their projectiles up at the Payload. Then the guns from the turret on the top of the ship spoke out, and the smaller machine guns retracted seeing they could do no real damage. The guns of the turret were loaded with explosives instead of bullets, and every shot that found its mark told. After seven apes were killed, the rest ran off into the woods, but continued to be on the offensive.

"Now be the time Cap'n, let's drive them apes into the sea!" And Captain Daily leaped up with a shout, his twenty remaining men following him as he rushed into the forest to confront the enemy. Captain Drew and his men followed behind Daily, and Captain Uberius set the Payload down on the landing pad.

The ninja who had jumped out of the ship had made a circle around the clearing, and when the apes retreated back into the woods, the ninja retreated behind them so that none would escape. When Daily and Drew would come upon a group of apes, one or two would make off, not wanting to be killed. Then the ninja would close on it/them and there would soon be no more ape. Eventually Daily and Drew's bands came upon a large group of apes that made a stout resistance. The ninja from the whole circle closed upon the apes, and they were soon annihilated. The job was done, and the apes were no more, and the men from all three parties gathered in the clearing in front of the door of the Payload. Out stepped Captain Uberius and his body guard, and the rest of the ninja filed back into the ship.

"Velcome to my, er, my ruined camp Captain, I am most grateful for zee assistance you haf given us, and I hope you vill stay for a leettle cup uf tea!"

"Ha ha ha, Captain Drew, I am sure we will all be grateful for a cup of tea before we head out again with Daily to fight some dragons." There was silence, Captain Daily had not yet let the news come out as he did not want his friend to think he was a coward, and he stood looking down at his boots.

"Ah, dragons is it? Zat is vhy you came back so early my friend, I see."

"No, ya don' understand Drew, these dragons are bigger than them dragons back home, and their meener too! Don't think that I ran away from the Forbidden Valley, ‘twas a strategic withdrawal!"

"I do not doubt it my friend, efen I haf a hard time dealing vit zee dragons back home, vere zey are only just a leettle bit veaker zen zese apes zet attacked us recently, I sink it vas a good idea to hire zese ninjas to help."

A quarter of an hour later, all the leading men were sitting in captain Drew's room (which his men had speedily cleared of the ruins of the battle,) and were sipping tea like they had when Captain Daily had come to Captain Drew's camp that first day.

"Where is your second mate Captain Daily?" asked Captain Uberius, "I haven't seen him since I came out of my ship." "Arrg, you know, I guess he's just doing second-matey things Cap'n Ix." Captain Daily said wanting to avoid bringing up the old fight between Ninja and Pirates again. "Ha ha ha, I haven't been called that in a while, but I guess I'll have to get used to it again, seeing I am going to be in the company of pirates for a while." and he broke into loud laughter. Gameking leaned over and whispered something into Captain Drew's ear, and the Captain whispered back to the first mate.

After half an hour sitting and talking and drinking tea, one of Captain Uberius's guards walked around from where he had been standing behind him, and showed him the face of a large black watch.

"It seems as if the time of our departure has come my friends. Thank you Captain Drew for your hospitality, and Captain Daily, we will be ready to make the attack upon the dragons when you are." With that, Captain Ixius Uberius bowed and left the room, his four guards following behind.

"Why did he leave so soon Cap'n Drew? Was it somthin' I said?" Captain Daily inquired.

"Protocol Daily, for small social gatherings like zis, thirty minutes and no longer for zee ninja." Drew responded shrugging his shulders.

"What if we had us a hundred people drinkin' tea? Would they stay an hour?"

"Vell, zey might stay forty five minutes, but it is more judged by zee importance of zee meeting, rather zen zee number uf people involfed."

"Arrg, I kin see a lot of problems in the near future with these ninja fellers. Wail, I better be goin', I don't want to keep them waitin' fer long, C'mon Gameking, it be time to start yer new job. See ya later John." And he tipped his big black pirate hat to John, who simply nodded for loss of words.

When Captain Daily and his new first mate arrived at the hangers, they were surprised to see a large pile of boxes and crates next to the loading door for the storage deck. Cobalt and the two under engineers were busily loading them into the Explorador, and Echs Ray was standing by with a chart, marking things in it every time a crate went into the ship.

"What're loadin' into me ship mate?" The captain asked as he sauntered up to Echs.

"Those DDU's you ordered Captain, the Payload brought them here." Echs responded, just glancing momentarily up before writing again as Cobalt walked past with a box.

"What's a deedeeyoo?" the captain wanted to know, "And why are there so many of them?"

"The Dragon Defense Units I and cobalt designed. Remember, you ordered enough to make a hundred, only the emergency shipping department only had enough materials to send twenty-five." Then he went back to his writing as the two under engineers walked past carrying a large metal drum.

"Oh, I remember." The captain stood watching the boxes and crates and the occasional drum filled with explosives. "Do you think they will work?" Cobalt stopped beside the trio on his way to get another item, "Yes they will work captain, we did have to make them much more manual than we are used to in such devices, but you only gave us an hour to build, test, and give you detailed instructions, and I think we did well. Don't you Echs?"

"Well, we didn't actually have to build a prototype Cobalt, I had it all worked out on paper, and we could have started designing everything else instead of building it first... But I guess that is what comes of being in Dr. Berry's class, you have to test EVERYTHING to make sure it works!"

"Well, not everything, I don't have to use a calculator for my powers and roots, I've got them up here." He said as he tapped his head.

"Hey, that rhymes!" Gameking burst out, "He SAID, as he tapped his HEAD!"

"Uhhh, what?" The three others stared at him in blank surprise.

"I said it rhymed when the story said that, I don't know if I am breaking a wall, or the author is breaking it, but there is some 4th wall breaking going on here, and I am sure of it!"

"Game," the captain said, "there is a comfortable room for you in the ship, room 2. I suggest that you lay down for a spell, try to sleep until we get to the Forbidden Valley." Then the captain turned to go inside of the ship, and Gameking followed him. Turning back to Cobalt and Echs however, the captain said, "I want you to leave Captain Drew five of them dragon blasters, assembled. He might be able to use them in case of another ape attack. Come to the control room when you are all finished here, and we will be off." . .

Chapter 12, A Good Plan, and a Strange ManEdit

Gameking tossed and turned in his hammock (which is very hard to do without falling out,) and thought about meeting himself. When he had first thought about the meeting, he had been exited, wouldn't it be fun to have a twin? They could switch clothes and fool the captain and the other mates, they could do all sorts of funny things... But then again, what if they didn't get along, what if the other Gameking was a dope, a fool, a pure comedian? THAT would be embarrassing! Finally, Gameking dropped off to sleep, only to be awakened what seemed like just seconds later by a knock on the door.

"Wee'z approachin' Forbidden Valley Game, I want ya in the control room in two minutes time." The captain's voice sounded faintly through the thick sound-proof, shock-proof, bullet-proof, pretty much anything-except-moth-proof door.

"Yes Captain." Gameking yawned as he pulled on his first-mate's jacket that he had hung on the door knob. He reached for his sailors hat that he had dug out of his trunk and thought about how his new captain ran his ship. Daily was strict in some ways, but very lenient in others. He treated the Explorador like a seafaring vessel, and the names of everything were the same as their corresponding parts of a real ship. The hierarchy of the crew was strictly observed, and respect was first. But in the galley, things went on at a much more chaotic level, Flay was treated second only to the Captain himself on board the Explorador, and the way he turned out the food was really an amazing thing. There would be a lot to get used to, but that lay in the future as Gameking walked down the hall, and entered the control room.

The captain was holding a conversation over radio with Captain Uberius of the Payload, but it was more like Daily conversing at Uberius than them both conversing together. The conversation went something like this:

Captain Daily: "Arrg Ix, them dragons is fearsome creatures I kin tell ye!"

Captain Ixius Uberius: "..."

Captain Daily: "You should ‘ave seen em critters when they attacked us the first time, twas a line of em all carryin' rocks nigh as big as themselves, and then, CRASH BANG CLUNK!!! they let them rocks fall on top'n us and down we went!"

Captain Ixius Uberius: "...*static*..."

Captain Daily: "You see, we was tryin' to rescue that Bean kid I told you about."

Captain Ixius Uberius: "... You mean Chuck Bean? The orphan kid?"

Captain Daily: "Yep, Chuck Bean alright, he sneaked out o' the ship when we were reconnoiterin' and took my second mate's watch with ‘im."

Captain Ixius Uberius: "..."

Captain Daily: "Anyway, we caught ‘im an' procured the watch, but he ran off again and escaped."

Captain Ixius Uberius: "You mean he escaped once you had already caught him?"

Captain Daily: "Waal, it weren't my idea to let ‘im go ag'in, three of his friends caught ‘im, and after they got the watch back, they didn't put up much of a fight when he tried to get away agin' I guess."

Captain Ixius Uberius: "...*static*..."

Captain Daily: "Well, he flew up a cliff(must've used some kind of ninja power) and we thought he was gone when out stepped a dragon and they started to fight!"

Captain Ixius Uberius: "Flying powers? Hm..."

Captain Daily: "Yep, flyin' powers alright, and he used them to defeat the dragon! He flew right up onto a ledge and jumped down on the dragon's back, and after a few seconds of desperate conflict the dragon was dead!"

Captain Ixius Uberius: "Yes, that is Chuck Bean alright, he was the Dragon's Bane after he quit his acrobatic stunt job."

Gameking took one of the hover chairs that was leaning against a wall, and turned it on. Pressing a button, Gameking adjusted the height and tilt of the chair, and then sat on it and waited for the captain's orders. They came soon, the captain said goodbye to Uberius after a few particulars were discussed, and Daily turned to Gameking.

"You a good helmsman son?"

"Uh, you mean do I know how to drive?"

"Sure, call it what you like, but I am accustomed to having the first mate at the helm when I am not, and Zeff'll crash us through three mountains in thirty seconds if I let ‘im take the wheel."

"Well, yes. Captain Drew doesn't know how to drive, so I am in the driver's seat all the time."

"Know any tricks? You'll need to do a bit of dodging if them dragons attack the ship while we're in the air."

"I could probably make out, but Captain Drew is very strict about safe driving, and I've never learned anything ‘cept dodging meteors."

"Waal, that should be enough, jest think of them dragons as meteors with wings and you'll be alright."

The captain then went on to describe what had been agreed upon as the best course of action. The Explorador would go in to where they had fought the battle against the dragons, and set up the DDU's as fast as they could. When the dragons attacked, the Payload would open fire upon the dragons (the machine guns that had proved so unsuccessful against the apes had been replaced with laser blasters.) Once all the dragons had been defeated, the ninjas would land and secure the area for a camp.


Thunder collapsed in the sand, and moaned, they had been walking for six days, and they were exhausted. Gameking was walking ahead, and turned when he heard the moan of his friend.

"C'mon Thunder, there MUST be a way up, we just have to find it!"

"Water! Must. Have. Water!"

"Get up Thunder I am just as thirsty as you! You're going to help NOTHING by laying there, maybe you could build something to find us a path." Before Thunder could groan again, a voice came out of no where, and startled them.

"You will never find a way up strangers, the path was hidden with lion art, and will only be revealed by lion art." It was an old voice, filled with dark foreboding, and Gameking shivered.

"Who are you?" Gameking asked.

"Do you have water?" Thunder inquired.

"I am the grand master Mardwin Maskdur, maker of the ancient art of the Lion. And yes thirsty ones, I do have water." The voice said. As the voice was speaking, a light wind had sprung up, and at a spot some three yards away from the two lost explorers, the sand began swirling clockwise, and rose into the air forming a dust devil. Images flashed through Gameking's mind, pictures of a place of sand and great pyramids, there was a battle raging, a battle between the Chiindii. Huge whirling pillars of sand and dust, continuously raging and crashing into one another, trying to disintegrate each other. There were two armies, the soldiers of one were just regular chiindii, but the other army's warriors glowed with a strange purple light, and crackled with chaotic energy. Then Gameking noticed another battle raging in the midst of the first, and apparently having some connection with the first. Suddenly it all made sense, the second battle was composed of men, and purple mummies. The battle of the chiindii followed directly the battle of those on the ground, whenever the mummies were pushed back, the good chiinii would push the chaotic chiindii back, and vice versa. But the good chiinii were losing fast, and soon none were left. When the last of them were gone, the evil chiindii, ever spinning in a counter-clockwise direction and shooting out sparks of purple electricity, went among the good army and scattered them to the four winds of heaven.

Then Gameking saw pretty much the same thing, except this time, it was the evil chiindii and the zombie-mummies against a disjointed mob of people in bright gear. Surprisingly, the said mob of people were actually winning! Some wore yellow and orange gear, these were in the back, building laser turrets and catapults. These were sometimes accused of "hiding" behind their turrets by the ones in the green gear, but Gameking saw that these machines were a great help in the battle. The Green ones were fighting in the front lines, often jumping right into the middle of a bunch of the mummies, their guns and cutlasses wreaking havoc in the enemy's lines. The green ones, especially the ones with twin double blasters were looked down upon by the red people (the ones that used the purple energy.) They would dig a pit in the ground and hide in it until the tide of the enemies swept over them, then they would leap up and fight until they got back to their own lines. These tactics were despised by the blue soldiers, these were dressed as knights, and with their shields locked, they would march into the enemy lines while archers followed close behind, and showered arrows into the ranks of the mummies. But the whirlwinds of chaotic sand were not idle either, they would try to break any groups of the multicolored foes apart so that the mummies could attack more effectively. The main problem that the chiindii had was their inability to pick up and throw their opponents. In the previous battle men had been like match wood, so light that they could be hurled to the ends of the earth. These colorful soldiers were no heavier, but for some reason, the best the chiindii could do against them was to break up their groups and hurl the men to the ground. But their worst enemy they had to deal with was a form of warfare affectionately named, Spinjitzu.

Gameking was recalled from his recollections, (or revelations?) by the swirling dust devil, at least it was turning clockwise! Then the dust and sand stopped spinning, and fell back down to rest in the place it had just been, and in its place stood an old man, holding a staff as straight and as smooth as anything you could imagine, and his face was radiant with a genuine smile. He wore light green robes which shimmered as if they were made of woven light and emerald. Scooping up a handful of dry sand, Mardwin Maskdur held it cupped in both hands. He blew on the sand gently, and it started to whirl around like a tiny tornado, then it stopped and the sand drifted away leaving an exquisite glass filled with the purest, clearest, most refreshing looking water Gameking or Thunder had ever seen. Then, taking the glass, Mardwin handed it to Gameking while Thunder gazed longingly at the water. Gameking's hand trembled as he brought the glass up to his lips, but then he stopped, and turned to Thunder.

"You need it more than I do friend." he said as he handed the glass of water to Thunder. Thunder took it and croaked a thanks, then tipping back his head, he drank, and drank, and drank. How could a glass hold this much? Thunder drank until he could drink no more, then handed the glass back to Gameking still half full. Gameking finished it off, and then handed the glass back to Mardwin. The strange figure took the glass, and crushed it in his hand, then opening his clenched fist, he let the sand sift through his fingers.

"For out of dust it came, and back to dust it has returned... Quite efficient actually, think of how much I save on groceries!" The joke brought forth spontaneous laughter from Thunder and King, and from that moment on, Mardwin Maskdur was a trusted friend. . .

Chapter 13, A Cave, A Chair, and an Odd Old ManEdit

Chuckie went the only place he could think of, back to the Valley of the Pohr Horses. It was the only place where he could have a hope of mercy, and maybe he could find some place to hide out for a while. He sneaked through the dragon city, or town, trying not to be seen. When he got to where he needed to climb down, he saw a dragon coming up too near for comfort, and jumped down instead of climbing.

Once again in that peaceful dell, Chuckie realised that he was not alone. At the edge stood a very old dragon who was staring down to where the Cold Desert lay stretched below. He was apparently watching something far below, and his tail swept gently back and forth. Chuckie looked around for cover, and settled on a place next to the cliff he had just jumped off of.

The valley of the Pohr horses was my sole water supply, and I had several great roots that I had grown for myself, and these hung over the side of the cliff and down to the little stream that cut across the green grass. Chuckie ducked behind my roots, and peered out at the dragon sitting on the edge. I thickened the foliage around Chuckie so as to better his cover, for dragons have very sharp eyesight. Quieter than a cat, another dragon came into view from Chuckie's place of concealment. It was Flameborne, and he was carrying a goat which he proceeded to roast with fire. Then the old dragon turned from the cliff edge, and walked slowly towards Flameborne, and began conversing quietly with him as they shared the roast goat. Chuckie couldn't hear what they were saying, but he didn't care, he had seen something very interesting. There seemed to be a path of some sort down below, and Chuckie's venturing heart was never going to be at rest until he saw where it lead.

"I'm a Ninja daredevil. Jumping off cliffs is my job... or hobby." Chuckie thought, preparing to do the leap. He'd been jumping off cliffs ever since he was a kid, and combining the hereditary athletic skills that generally followed the Ninja people with his general craziness, he had done some pretty high ones in is time. He had preformed his jumping acts in front of small audiences of pirate kids and had made a living that way for a while until he had decided to train to become a real warrior. After that, he had had no end of jobs to kill this or that dragon pillager, and then he had been falsely accused of theft and high treason, and had fled to the city and had taken up his place in the Explorador as a cabin boy where he had happened to meet three of the four people in the entire universe that he could have considered his friends. Chuckie jumped and landed gently, breaking into a roll and coming up ready for anything.

Looking up the path, he saw that it ended in a pile of jumbled rocks ten yards away, looking down the path, he saw that it kept on downward until it made the sharp turn around the corner. He set off down the path, always ready for adventure, and walking with a light, springy step. He loved adventure.

When Chuckie had gone a short time, he came upon the entrance to a cave, and immediately entered. To the right was a book shelf made of rock, to the left was a table of rock, straight ahead was an arch in the wall, and beyond that a dark hall.

Chuckie called aloud, "Anybody Home?" There was no answer, and Chuckie went over and had a seat at the table. Chuckie sat there, looking out of the front entrance for about thirty minutes, there was something peaceful about this place, something he had not felt in a long time, not even the valley of the Pohr horses compared to this. After the said half hour, the sand on the floor rose into a spinning dust devil, and then the sand dropped to the floor again, and in its place stood Mardwin Maskdur. He stood there humming a strange Scottish sounding tune, then shuffled over to the book case, his light green robes swishing gently over the soft sand floor. It seemed that Mardwin did not even notice chuckie as he sat at his table, but as the former sat down in the rock chair next to the book shelf and took a large scroll down to read, he talked to chuckie in a friendly and familiar manner.

"Are you waiting for dinner Chuckie Bean?" Chuckie was surprised, and didn't know what to say, so he said nothing.

"I am glad you came here Chuck, I have a serious lack of visitors this time of year." Mardwin sighed as he stood up again and placed the scroll back on the shelf. Then coming over to where Chuckie sat, he scooped up a handful of the sand that lay on the floor, and tossed it onto the table. As the sand came falling down to the surface of the table, it formed into many small tornadoes that when they settled down, left the table filled with delicious looking dishes of food. There were breakfast foods, lunch foods, dinner foods, and deserts, there were fancy dishes and plain dishes, sweet dishes and sour dishes, pretty much every kind of food Chuckie could imagine. But Chuckie did not move to take anything, he was still too shocked at the old Magician's tricks to do anything. Then, hesitantly, and looking up at Mardwin's jolly face, Chuckie took one small fruit from a basket, and bit carefully into it. Chuckie realized he was famished, and ate and ate and ate. Then suddenly he stopped, wiped his mouth and said, "Thank you, I did not know that I was so hungry!"

"Neither did I," the man said as he took a seat at the opposite side of the table, "I am Mardwin Maskdur, maker of the Concealed Lion Art. Say, do you like cats?"

Still somewhat taken aback by this strange man, Chuckie stammered, "Uh, yes, yes I do, though dragons are really my favorite animal."

"Dragons, yes. Intriguing aren't they? But how can you have them as your favorite animals when they stole your parents from you?" Chuckie was surprised that the old Wizard knew so much, and asked him.

"Who are you Master Maskdur, how do you know so much, and how do you make things appear out of thin air?"

"Ha ha ha, you might say I have mastered the art of the Lion, but I also have a few tricks up my sleeve that aren't in any way related to my art."

"Wait, you just said earlier that you invented Lion Art, how can you master it if you made it yourself? Weren't you always a master of it?"

"The Way of the Lion, just as every martial art, exists because someone made it, in this case, because I made it. It has always existed, and it always will. When I discovered it, I worked to achieve it, then I invented it. Although the Art had not been invented in our time, it was and always has been in being." The man paused to let the information sink in, then said, "You must return to the top lands, and never come back here again except you find your way up from the bottom. This place holds secrets that I guard, and in time, they will be used for the benefit of the universe."

"I will consent to your wishes master," Chuckie said as he bowed his head. He felt something tugging at his heart, but brushed it off and stood up after a moment of silence. "If you ever want company, I have my home in the great tree."

"You need transportation do you not?"

"I don't know, it would be helpful, but I don't want to be a burden..."

"It would be nothing of the sort my son, just let me clean up dinner, and we will be off!" Mardwin Maskdur waved his hand over the table, and the food and dishes disappeared in a gust of wind, leaving nothing in their place except swirling dust. Then Mardwin told Chuckie to stand by him in the middle of the room, and the sand started to swirl around them. Higher, higher the sand crept up as it swirled faster and faster, soon nothing was to be seen. Then, just as suddenly as it had started, the wind finally died out, and the sand fell back away from them. Chuckie looked around in amazement, for there he stood with Mardwin Maskdur, up in the branches of the Great Tree.

Bendonsail had spoken truthfully when he had said that he had been straightened out, the trunk of the great tree was as smooth and straight as could be desired, and though it was obviously the same tree, the atmosphere of the place had so improved that Chuckie felt like jumping for joy at how refreshed the tree must feel, and I shared his exultation.

Mardwin also seemed a bit surprised at the change, and he commented to Chuck, "Looks like someone's been doing a bit of remodeling to this old place!" Then shouting up into the branches he called, "Hey, tree, how do you like your new look?" He then turned back to Chuckie and said in a slightly cover-up voice, "not that he cares I guess, it's only a tree, and everybody knows trees are just plants like a broccoli or lettuce..."

"Actually, I know this tree master Maskdur, he saved me from a long imprisonment in the Mountain, and his name is Bendonsail."

"Oh, I didn't know that he let you know what he is... Sorry. You see, the living trees are almost all gone, and they try to keep them selves as just trees in the eyes of the rest of the world. I guess they figure that if the world knows, they will be exterminated by the cruel cowards that view their race as the best, and only race fit to inhabit the universe."

"I see master, and I will keep their secret for them in the future."

"Aye, but I had best be going, I have things to do. I will be seeing you."

"Do you think you could teach me the tornado trick later master Maskdur?"

"No, that is not your destiny, you must stay here and help in the work of making a civilized world out of this place, good luck!" And with that, Mardwin Maskdur the Lion was surrounded by swirling dust, and descended into the trunk of the tree. . .

Chapter 14, Obstacles and TreacheryEdit

Thunder sighed, training was tough, and he was tired. He couldn't understand how Gameking could go so, never tiring... They had been training vigorously under their new sensei for the past three days, and the assignments were only getting harder. The first day, their gear had been taken away, and they were given sticks as their only weapons. It wasn't too bad for Gameking who was used to the cutlass and other hand to hand weapons, but Thunder had only ever used long range equipment, and the stick that lay beside him as he sat on a rock watching Gameking tirelessly running the course seemed pretty much useless in his hands. Gameking came up breathing heavily, but not winded at all, and told Thunder that he was up next. Sighing, Thunder stood up, and walked over to where Sensei Maskdur stood waiting at the beginning of the obstacle course. At the Sensei's word, Thunder started off, with the words of the Sensei that he had already heard numerous times still ringing in his ears, "and be careful about where you step Thunder, there is a Robot Wolf under every mound!"

First, there was a quarter mile of balance beams, and rickety bridges, and all sorts of different balance exercises. Then there was another half mile of speed training, then a big puzzle maze that constantly changed so that it was impossible to memorize it. The maze was occupied by a number of enemies that were harder and more numerous each time you did the course, and the whole rest of the course also got harder and harder each time.

Thunder made it through the balance section, then raced off on the speed training. He wound around three of the big pillars that held up the lands above, then jumped and ducked through a series of high and low bars, then Thunder jumped down into the maze. He was immediately confronted by an armed battle dummy and only got away by ducking its blow and rushing through an open door that snapped shut. Unfortunately, the place he had run into was like a hall, and contained five of the battle dummies all armed with spears. Thunder rushed at the first one, and dodging the thrust, he disarmed the dummy and knocked it aside with the spear it had held a second before. When the next one came up, Thunder attempted to thrust it through with the spear he still held, but the dummy blocked the blow and knocked Thunder back. Thunder staggered back, and tripped over the first dummy that lay in the path. The second dummy came upon Thunder, but he gave it such a shove with his feet that it toppled backwards taking the third one down with it. Thunder grabbed up two spears from the ground, and hurled them at the remaining two battle dummies, and these fell to the wooden floor. It was then that Thunder realized that the floor had been slowly lowering. Suddenly, four sections of the wall slid open, and Thunder was looking down four long halls.

He chose the one furthest away from the entrance as the exit was in the opposite direction. Before he had gone five steps into the hall he had chosen however, he heard the sound of the battle dummies coming around the corner. Thunder turned, and ran back to the place he had been in previously, and took the second best looking hall. This led him to a large room that seemed like a dead end as there were no doors leading out of it, and Thunder stood in the middle of it wondering what to do next. Then, a wall about two feet wide, and spanning the whole width of the room began to rise out of the floor, and Thunder jumped up on top of it so that he could leap down on either side of it when a door opened in the room. When the wall got within six feet of the ceiling, Thunder noticed a small open door at the far end of the room near the ceiling, and ran along the wall till he got to it.

Diving through, he found himself in another hall, but this one was vertical, and reminded Thunder more of a chimney than a hall. He could see ladders running up to the top of the chimney, and down, down, down, to where Thunder could see nothing but darkness from where he stood on the edge of the entrance of the hall. Thunder started on his way up one of the ladders, and was making good time, when he heard a sound. It was a dripping, drizzling sound, and looking around to find its source, Thunder realized that there was a drizzle of water that was coming down from the top of the chimney, and splattering down to the floor far below. The amount of water that was coming down gradually increased and was soon a pouring torrent. Thunder struggled to keep control of himself, and not get swept down by the water. But then Thunder looked down. The water was coming up the chimney, and Thunder realised that he would have to climb or die. So climb he did, and it was hard work. The rungs of the ladder were wet and slippery, and the water was coming up faster than he could climb. Finally, Thunder reached the top of the Chimney, and could climb no further.

Looking around frantically (for the water was up to his waist,) Thunder spied a button, and pressed it with all his might. The water stopped flowing out of the large hole in the ceiling, and the rest of the water surged down, and in ten seconds the Chimney was empty again. Then a door slid open and Thunder walked out of it. What he walked into was a short hall way with fans all over. When he came out of that, and into the open air again, he was completely dry. Unfortunately, the surface he stepped out upon was very slippery, and he lost his balance, and started sliding down a huge slide. It was sort of like riding down a water slide, only there was no water. The whole slide was one of those half open ones, and it was very steep and very twisty, and very frightening. Thunder closed his eyes the whole way, but didn't know he had been yelling the whole way until he was suddenly stopped by shooting out of the slide, and landing hard on the sand at the Sensei's feet.

"Bravo! Well done Thunder, you beat Gameking's best record in the Maze by twenty seconds!"

"What? But King's best record is 5:32!"

"Yes, but yours is now 5:12!"

"Wow! That slide must have been REALLY fast!"

"Yes, you bypassed half of the course by happening to come upon it, I am surprised myself at the crazy paths people take sometimes! You know, you probably will never get that short cut again." Then looking over at Gameking's triumphant grin he said, "Either of you! The Maze is constantly changing, the next time you do it King, the Chimney will probably not even be there."


Captain Daily set the Explorador down gently, and Cobalt, his two under-engineers, and five of the soldiers unloaded the seven DDU's that Cobalt's team had been able to construct and program on the way over. Once they got them arranged in a semi-circle around the sally port of the ship, and enough ammunition for twenty rounds each, Captain Daily chose seven men to man them while the rest of his small fighting force were kept as reinforcements in the Explorador. Flay served a meal of fried pork and boiled potatoes while the pirates waited for the dragons to attack. They waited, and waited... and waited some more. Captain Daily began to get frustrated, and marched into the control room from where he had been sitting outside waiting for the dragon's attack.

"Cap'n Ix please come in!" Captain Daily said into his radio.

"Captain Ixius Uberius here, I read you loud and clear."

"Hey there, Cap'n, can you understand what is going on? Why aint they attackin?"

"Well Captain Daily, I can't think of anything, maybe they all moved away."

"Arrg Cap'n, that caint be it, they're very protective they iz, maybe they're jist waitin' fer us ta be off'n our guard. Think that could be it Ix?"

"Maybe, but we're coming down, if they're going to wait till your backup is gone, we might as well get it over with."

Captain Ixius Uberius called a meeting of all his ninja warriors before bringing the Payload down to the Forbidden Valley. Once everyone had assembled, he laid out his thoughts in an orderly manner. First, they had been called out to meet a foe that appeared to be nonexistent. Second, everybody knew that Pirates were the natural enemies of the Ninja. Third, Captain Daily's third mate had been mysteriously absent the whole time they had been on Garland. And lastly, all these facts combined were evidence enough for the captain that Captain Daily was preparing treachery.

One of the men spoke up wondering what the pirates could do against them, and Captain Uberius said he couldn't think of anything that the piratical crew could do against them if they were on their guard, just as long as they were. After a few seconds of silence, one of the men suddenly gasped and exclaimed, "What about the DDU things we brought from Skerion? Maybe DDU stands for Device for the Destruction of Uberius!" The Captain raised an eyebrow, and congratulated the man on his thought. The plans were changed, so that the Payload would come down out of reach of Daily's DDU's, and the ninja would then commence on the job they had been assigned.

Captain Uberius brought the Payload down on the other side of the large outcropping of boulders that Zeff and his small company had hid in a week or so ago. Three scouts left to see what Daily's troops were doing, and came back with reports that, "The lazy pirates are just sitting on the deck of the Explorador and smoking Captain, they look like they aren't expecting an attack of any kind."

"That proves it men, let's go talk to a Pirate ‘Cap'n'!"

Matters were backed up in the dragon council, the returning of the Explorador was no surprise, but to have it backed by another ship was unexpected, and unfortunately, the two best leaders were down sick in their caves. Prince Dave finally prevailed upon the council to let him lead the attacking party, and eventually a great fleet of dragon warriors exited the Mountain.

Chuckie Bean sat up in the place that I had made for him with his chin in his hands, he had had a good day, but he did not feel tired in the least. He was staring out towards where the dragons lived mainly, and saw the army of dragons as they flew on silent wings toward where the Explorador had landed on that fateful day when chuckie had foolishly left the ship. He watched them with interest, maybe they were looking for him, but they would be more scattered if that were true. Maybe they were hunting... but no, there were way too many for that, hmm, what could it be?

Chapter 15, A Mission and a ConfrontationEdit

Twenty ninja silently surrounded Captain Daily's camp while Captain Ixius Uberius and his guard of five men walked straight up to where Daily sat smoking on the deck of the Explorador. They assumed an easy manner so as to appear normal and unsuspecting, but when they reached the place where Daily sat, Captain Uberius quietly and sternly said to him, "I think we have some matters to discuss Daily." Sensing something in the ninja's tone, Captain Daily immediately stood, and nodding to Zeff to follow, he led the way into the control room of the Explorador. The control room was not like that in the Payload where the walls were only half walls, but the Explorador had full walls, and the only window was the huge one in front that looked out to the outside world.

"Waal, wat do ya want ta talk about Ix?" Daily said as he pulled out a hover chair and sat on it.

"I think you know as well as I do Daily, but I just want to know why. What do you have against us? Why would you call us out here just to try to kill us?.. me..."

"What're ya talkin' about Ix, I called for you so's to protect us while we're minin'!"

"No. There are no dragons, those things you ordered from Skerion that we brought were for our destruction, not for the destruction of the dragons, the real name of them is Device for the Destruction of Uberius." he accused. The room was silent, that is, until Zeff leaped up with a cry, drawing his cutlass, and rushed at Uberius. The ninja captain stood still looking at the third mate with a smirk. Neither he nor any of his five body guards made a move as Zeff charged, but just at the last second, Uberius stepped out of the way of Zeff's sword, and one of the guards brought him to the floor with one shot from his dart gun, and the cutlass skittered across the floor.

"You, you killed me mate!" Captain Daily shouted as he jumped up and pressed the alarm. He grabbed his blaster from the holster, and fired at the ninja who had "killed" Zeff. The ninja fell to the ground groaning, and the others darted into battle formation behind anything that could afford shelter, and began firing their darts at the unfortunate Captain Daily. Or maybe not so unfortunate... At the moment he had pressed the alarm summoning the rest of the crew, he had also activated the personal shield that Cobalt and Echs Ray had given him for his birthday just a week ago. He hadn't had any chance to test its powers yet as it was not built to resist dragon fire, and now he stood in the open, firing his blaster at any ninja who dared to peak out from behind his cover. The shield worked so as to cover the entire surface of Daily's body, and its power source fit neatly inside his back pocket. The visual effect that the shield had on any observer was that of a bright blue film, and for Daily, everything he saw was tinted a bright blue as well.

Ixius Uberius saw that further fighting would be useless, and spoke into the small microphone in his hood, "Men, cease the attack!" But just at that moment, a score of pirates rushed into the control room. The first four fell under the ninja's darts, but then the rest rushed in, and it was cutlass against katana. The ninja were holding their own in a corner, and Captain Daily was up in the front fighting the ninjas lustily. Captain Uberius sat slumped in his corner, taking no part in the confusion that reigned everywhere, for the Captain felt something was astray, a dark foreboding hung over him... The twenty ninja that had accompanied Uberius and his body guard poured in at that moment, and the battle raged fiercer than ever. Groups of two or three pirates fought groups of two or three ninja, and Captain Daily was engaged in fierce combat with a tall ninja, and nobody seemed to even notice Captain Uberius. He walked out of the battle scene like one does in a dream, he walked straight to the door of the control room, and straight through. And he was shocked at what he saw.


"You have both been good students, and have performed your training manfully. You have learned the basics of my art, and now I must pose a question to you. Which one of you will consent to becoming a master? Before you answer me this however, I must tell you that there are some strings attached. The first one is that you never return to your land, your mission lies in another direction. The second is that you follow and obey the mission that I set before you. I will give you one hour for you to decide, and then I will take the other up with me to where your ship has arrived and is being besieged. Do you have any questions?" Mardwin Maskdur paused as he let Gameking and Thunder take in the news. Then Gameking spoke up; "Sensei, I have a question."

"Yes King?"

"Is the mission you will give the one of us who stays with you very noteworthy? I mean, would it be the kind of thing that might make history?"

"Ha ha ha, King, that it is, though you will not appear in THIS story much more if you choose the Way of the Lion. Your story would be another tale, and that tale will not be told for many hundreds of years to come."

"Oh, ok." Gameking said with a slightly disappointed air as he twirled his staff meditatively. But Thunder was interested in what Mardwin had said, and inquired further into the matter.

"What is the nature of this mission Sensei Maskdur?" he inquired.

"I may not disclose much information as to its particulars, but I may say that it has something to do with the creation of a world, and that the way is fraught with danger and perils, but in the end, you will be rewarded for your pains."

The two young students of Lion Art walked a short distance away and discussed what they were to do. Neither of them wanted to forever abandon their old life and friends, but both of them wanted to become a master of the Lion Art, and fulfil the mission that Mardwin had mentioned. Eventually Gameking and Thunder returned and told the Sensei of their decision. Mardwin Maskdur nodded approvingly, and walking over to Gameking, he took him up with himself into a whirlwind of sand and they left Thunder standing there gazing out across the Sea of Sand.

They came up out of the ground right beside an astonished ninja who stood guard outside the Payload, and Mardwin demanded to see Captain Uberius. The ninja eyed them suspiciously, then pointed in the direction of the Explorador. Gameking gasped as he saw that there was a whole crowd of dragons gathered around where the Explorador must be parked. He turned to where Mardwin had just been standing, but there was nothing but the nervous ninja guard. Then a voice spoke out of the air saying; "This is your battle King, good luck!" . .

Chapter 16, The Light BrigadeEdit

Chuckie awoke refreshed, he heard the din of battle, and looked out, scanning the area for the cause of the sound. There, far to the south west he saw some activity, and rose to go and see what it meant. Leaping down from his place high up in the tree, Chuckie thought of the last time he had done this, that time he had been running away from a living nightmare, and this time, he was venturing forth from a safe base of operations. He ran along my root and jumped up to the stone pillar that I had wound myself around, then jumped down again to where my root stretched out again to the west. Chuckie jumped up onto the mainland again and raced on, on, like a shadow skimming over the path when he suddenly came to where the battle was raging.

When Captain Uberius had wandered out of the battle scene between his men and the pirates, he had been rudely awakened from his dream-like state by a blast of fire that sent him reeling backwards into the control room, and right into the arms of Gameking (the one from Drew's camp who we will call Game from now on, while we will call the other King.)

"Why, uh, Captain Ix, whatever is the matter?" Game said as he set the captain back up on his feet and returned the katana that had fallen from Uberius's hand.

"There, there really are dragons!" the ninja stuttered, then he shouted over the din, "STOP FIGHTING EVERYONE! THE DRAGONS ARE HERE!!!" The confusion subsided and pirates and ninja alike rushed out of the control room and confronted the dragon that had stuck its head in through the open door. After sending another wave of fire, the dragon retreated from the opening under a barrage of laser blasts.

There were shouts and calls from the pirates as they formed up in battle array under Cobalt, Daily, and Zeff (who was still a little groggy from the effects of the poison darts,) but the ninja had already been informed of the plans by Uberius and were at their battle stations. The dragons had surrounded the Explorador, so there was no way to fight them out in the open. The Explorador was not a battle ship, and consequently had little offensive capabilities. The only places the defenders could utilize to fire upon the dragons were the portholes in the cabins, and these were immediately broken out by the ninjas and used for loopholes to fire their blasters out of. Unfortunately, the seven assembled DDU's were all captured, so Echs went off to the lab to build more.

King was in the Payload talking to the twenty scared ninjas, they knew that Captain Uberius was in a jam, but for some reason, the communication was out, and their last command was to stay put and guard the ship, so they didn't know what to do, and none of them knew how to fly the ship, and they were pretty much scared, and they needed a leader. Luckily for King, his late sensei had given him and Thunder suits for their Lion Art training, and the said Lion suits somewhat resembled that of the ninja of Skerion, so they had accepted him as a friend.

"I will tell you what to do my friends, first, send out a scout to see exactly what is happening over there." King said.

"I just came back from there, and I can tell you what is the case." one of the ninja spoke up. "Everyone is trapped inside the pirate's ship, and the dragons are tearing it apart."

"Is no defence being made?" King inquired.

"Yes, there are four dragons dead, but as the defenders are only able to use their blasters, and the dragons hide is tough, the dragons are sure to win in the end."

"There is only one way we can rescue Captain Daily and our fellow ninja..." King said deliberately, hoping that the ninjas wouldn't be hostile to his leadership, "We must fly this ship to their assistance." He was greeted with a few nods of approval, but for the most part, the ninjas were silent and unemotive. Then the same man who had been scouting said, "But, sir, none of us know how to manipulate the controls, and even if we did... none but Ixius Uberius may touch anything in the control room."

"Well," conceded King, "I must do it then, for it is a choice between letting the Captain be killed by the dragons, and disobeying his rule as to who may drive." The room was silent. All the ninja agreed that there was no other way, but no one was willing to voice his ascent of disobedience.

Five minutes later, all the ninja were in their battle positions inside the ship, and Gameking was in the control room searching frantically for the ship's manual. After another three minutes with no success, he finally just decided to wing it. He pressed several buttons before there was a quiet hum, and all the lights and dials and displays in the room flickered to life. "Wow, this is some pretty high tech equipment!" King thought. A hologram of a flight attendant popped up, and she said in a gentle robotic voice;

"Welcome stranger, You have been authorized by Captain Ixius Uberius to fly the Payload to his aid. We will now be switching into autopilot." Thunder stared in amazement, this was the best artificial intelligence robot he had ever seen! But the ship was hovering ten feet above the ground, and Natalie (the AI) was speaking again.

"Please give me your directions stranger, Captain Ixius Uberius requests immediate assistance."

"My name is King," he muttered under his breath, then speaking out loud, he said, "Fly to one hundred feet."

"Your command is being obeyed King." Natalie said as the ship rose directly into the air. "Next?"

"Fly down to fifty feet as we cross over the Explorador, then back up to one hundred feet as we pass it. Repeat."

"Your commands are being obeyed King." Natalie said as the ship proceeded to carry out King's instructions.

"HEY GUYS!" Gameking shouted at the ninja in the gunner positions, "FIRE ON THE DRAGONS AS WE PASS!"

"You have no need to shout King, please just speak into the microphone situated in front of you, and the warriors will receive your voice in their headphones." Natalie said laughing.

"Oh, sorry Natalie, I didn't mean to hurt your ears." King said sarcastically.

Chuck Bean started when he saw the Payload rise out of the boulder field, and realized that Captain Daily must have sent for reinforcements. Then he noticed Prince Dave up next to the Explorador surrounded by guards. They were using their united force to rip off parts of the ship, some blowing fire until the metal was red hot, then others beating in or pulling up pieces of the softened metal. Chuckie shivered as he saw one huge one tear up a large piece of the outside armor plating. Sooner or later, the dragons would break through. The Payload dove in on the dragons, unleashing a heavy barrage of laser blasts and grenades.

Chuckie watched in horror as three of the grenade missiles buried them selves in Prince Dave, and the great dragon was blown to nothing. After that, all the other dragons continued the battle in an enraged and ferocious manner, and those in the Explorador suffered badly, including Captain Daily, who was injured very seriously. But where there is no leadership, the battle cannot go on, and soon the dragons were losing in their confusion in the absence of a leader. The Ninja were able to escape the Explorador and fall on the dragons with their katanas, and they were divided and great was the slaughter of the dragons. When ten dragons had been killed, the rest drew off in confusion, and the Payload, by King's orders, followed them, bringing another two dragons down. King was of a mind to continue the chase, but Natalie informed him that Uberius had commanded the ship to return immediately.

When the Payload set down beside the battered Explorador, Captain Uberius was wiping his katana off carefully after having just finished a dragon off, and he smiled under his ninja hood as King came out of the Payload and bowed to him.

"You are a good pilot stranger, tell me, what is your name, and where do you hail from, your clothes are different from any I have seen before." Captain Ixius Uberius inquired.

"My name is Gameking the Lion, and I hail from the Cold Desert, as to my clothes, they were given me by my master Mardwin Maskdur as I studied the Art of the Concealed Lion." King responded proudly.

"Gameking you say?" the ninja said eying King curiously, "There is a pirate I know named Gameking, but I guess you couldn't be the same one..."

"Well, I was a pirate once, but now, now I am a lion ninja!"

"Yours is an interesting case Gameking, never have I seen a pirate repent of his ways, and never have I seen a lion ninja. I have seen tiger, praying mantis, even bear ninja, but no lions, interesting..."

At that moment, Zeff ran out of the explorador, and shouted, "The Cap'n, he's dead! Or, almost dead that is, but Cap'n Uberius, you know medicin, and as our doc was killed too, you are the only one who can help!" Then Zeff noticed King, and froze in shock. "Why, Gameking, what ‘appened to ya? Why ‘re ya dressed up in them nasty-" then looking up at the frowning Uberius, "er, Ninja clothes? Tell me they're jest temp'rary!"

"I would third mate Zeff, but you see, I have sworn fealty to the Way of the Lion, and I cannot go back on my word."

"But, ye swore that you'd serve under Captain Daily until yer term was up, ya cain't go back on that kin ya?!"

"No, and I don't intend to either, I just hope our beloved captain will accept a ninja into his ship."

"Waal, we'd better git back to the Cap'n, he's unconscious in the sick bay, and our sub physician is looking arter him, but," turning back to Uberius, "We need your help, our sub physician is not experienced."

"I will come with you if you apologize for trying to kill me." Captain Uberius said sternly. Zeff's eyes turned dark, but he said with an unusually calm voice, "I admit that rushing at you like that was rash. I should have waited until later, and shot you in the back."

"Like a coward!" Uberius said, his eyes flaming, and his hands clenched in tight fists. But Zeff was not intimidated, speaking through clenched teeth he said, "Like a ninja." and turning on his heel, he stormed off back into the Explorador. . .

Chapter 17Edit

Chuckie Bean strode across the late battle field and right up to where Uberius stood pondering on the recent events, and King stood nervously a few feet away wondering what it all meant.

"Captain Uberius I think," Chuckie addressed the captain, "I'm Chuck Bean." The captain slowly turned his head and gazed at Chuckie for a while before appearing to recognize him, then his face lit up in a smile, "Ahh, it is a pleasure to meet you Chuck Bean, the Dragons Bane, Come into my cabin and let's talk! You too King, we can wait a while before you go back to your captain."

"But, what about the Captain Sir, shouldn't we go and tend to his wounds?"

"No, Daily is alright, I saw to him when he fell, he is badly scorched and has a few bones broken, but the sub will know how to handle that, I will go in later and confirm, but he will be all right."

*Three minutes later, Captain Ixius Uberius, Ninja Chuck Bean, and Ninja Gameking(King) sat in the Captain's cabin and talked like old friends.*Edit

"So, Chuckie my friend, been slaying any dragons lately? Made yourselves some enemies yet?" Captain Uberius spoke half humorously.

"Well, I have killed only one, and though I did battle Flameborne, I was overcome and was taken prisoner by him."

"What? Did it not eat you instantly?" Captain Uberius asked, a shocked look crossing his face, then, "But how came it to defeat you, the Dragon's Bane?"

"Well, it was by my own hand that I fell, my own carelessness I should say. We were fighting in one of the air currents that Flameborne says were given as a gift to this land by one Lenu I think. Anyway, the dragon was below me in the current, and I launched one of my energy bubbles down at him, but unfortunately, the wind carried it back up at me, and it exploded in my face, sending me almost lifeless back onto the land. At the dragon council later, they ruled against me, and I was put in a cell indefinitely. With the help of Bendonsail however, I made good my escape and returned to that Great Tree that you can see through yonder window."

"How did you get back to the tree without the dragons finding you again?" King wanted to know.

"I met a very strange personage in a cave someway down the cliff, and he brought me there in a tornado of sorts."

"Was he perchance named Mardwin Maskdur?"

"Yes, do you know him?"

"Yes, he taught me the basics of Lion Art!"

"Excuse me," Uberius broke in with a puzzled expression, "but what are you two talking about? Who is Mardwin Maskdur, and what is a dragon council? aren't they beasts?"

"Mardwin Maskdur is the creator of Concealed Lion Art, and is training Thunder to be a master." King said while Chuckie spoke at the same time; "They aren't beasts, but intelligent creatures like you or me, just way larger."

"One at a time, one at a time please!" Uberius said chuckling, "So, Mardwin Maskdur owns a lion, and is larger than most humans, and the dragons are intelligent beings that control thunder? Or am I confused?" Chuck Bean and King repeated what they had said in a more orderly way, and Uberius leaned forward interestedly.

"You know the language of the dragon Chuckie, as do some others who are interested in the ancient races, but we thought that noble race had died out long ago, I wonder where they came from! If I wasn't Captain of a protective force, I'd set up a scientific research project here!"

Gradually, the conversation turned to Zeff, Uberius was sad that the pirate hated the ninja so much, everybody else seemed to realize that it had all been a big misunderstanding, but Zeff had retained his aggressive and angry attitude against Captain Uberius and his troops. Chuckie had remained silent when the conversation had turned to Zeff, but Uberius then turned to him and asked, "What do you know of the matter, Chuck?"

Chuckie hesitated before he spoke, but then he said, "I think I know the cause, but would feign not speak it."

"I would know, Chuck, it may enable me to better my understanding of the boy." Captain Uberius said. Chuckie sighed, then spoke.

"It was like this, you know captain that my parents were taken by the dragons when I was a boy, and I made my living by acrobatic stunts that I performed for the pirate children, and then I was taken in by master Bjen Tzien and trained in Ninjutsu. Well, between those events I was forced to join one of the marauding gangs that cause such a bad name to fall on our race. We would make raids on the pirate villages, and carry off plunder and spoil. The leader of the gang said we did it in retaliation, but as far as I could see it, the pirates never did anything to us ninja other than the mild violence that rises out of argument. Thus I was very unhappy, and attempted to run away a score of times, but as I had not had a second of training after my parents had been carried off, I was cought just as many times. Well, it happened that the leader of the gang had been insulted by a pirate, and he carried out his vengeance by destroying a whole pirate village, not sparing a single soul except this very same Zeff who I saw run into the forest. I had slipped away from the others once they had become fully occupied in their work, and had lain hidden in the bushes when I saw him run past my place of shelter. Thinking that he may need help finding refuge, and wanting to do something to recompense for the wrong of my fellow ninja, I started after him. He was a fast runner, and knew the forest well, and I soon lost him in the thick tangle of woods. He evidently thought I was after him to kill him, and he therefore led me by the worst routs, and I lost him in half an hour. At that time, I was standing in a clearing in which stood a small hut, and fearing the other members of the gang, I hurriedly knocked at the door. In a few minutes, I was let in by Master Tzien, he heard my story, and took me under is roof for the night. Later that night, there was a dreadful knocking at the door, and the leader of the gang demanded that I be given over to them, but Bjen Tzien refused, and battle ensued. Very amazed I was that he defeated the whole twenty of them in less than ten minutes, and I asked him to teach me his art. He therefore undertook teaching me the Art of the Bold Dragon, and I became the Dragon's Bane, and there is my story. And that is why Zeff holds such a hatred against the ninja."

*Meanwhile, the first and second mates, Cobalt, and Echs, and the sub physician were all standing right outside Captain Daily's cabin, discussing Daily who was lying unconscious and covered in bandages within.*Edit

"Do ya think he'll make it Lenny?" Zeff inquired woriedly of the sub physician.

"I am not sure exactly sir, but it seems to me ‘zif he has nothing worse than a few broken bones an' several dreadful burns sir, he should be able to take command ag'in in ‘bout four weeks, albeit from a wheelchair, but he won't be completely well ag'in fer another three months arter that sir."

"A month afore he'll be in any shape to command!" Zeff exclaimed, then he turned to Game and said, "I'd trust you ta be me cap'n, but the men don' know ya, and I don't know as they'd be quite as peaceable as they are under Daily."

"You are right Zeff, but what can I do? Captain Daily discussed with me as to all the particulars of his mission here, and it is quite mandatory that we bring back at least half a ton of ore to be tested by the scientists back at Skerion, and that will take at least three weeks!"

"Cobalt and I have been looking at those mining rigs we brought, and I think we can get them to work much faster, but due to shortages in men, it will still take at least three weeks even with the improvements." Echs spoke up at this moment, and Cobalt nodded his head in agreement, "They really gave us the worst mining rigs, they have to be using ten year old technology!"

"Did someone say they need more men?" A voice spoke from the end of the hall, and all turned to see Chuckie Bean and Captain Uberius standing walking silently up. Chuckie spoke again.

"I and Gameking could do a bit of mining."

"And I am sure I can spare a few of my men as well." Uberius said, but Game looked annoyed, "I have to run things while the captain is down sick, so please don't volunteer me for mining duty, who ever you be." At this, Chuckie started, and said, who are you? you look exactly like Gameking, but he is down in the mess room talking to some of his friends!"

"Oh, him?" Game asked somewhat excitedly, "I've got to go see him!" Then, without further adieu, Game rushed down the hall, with the others coming after him. When they entered the Mess Room, they saw King laying on the floor, and Game sprinkling water over his face.

He fainted the moment he saw me." Game said ruefully, "I guess the shock of seeing himself rushing towards him was too much!" and everyone laughed as the revived King sat up and stared at Game in utter shock, for indeed, the two Gamekings were exactly alike!

Over the next week, the crew of the Explorador and part of that of the Payload mined ferociously, and in that time, a good quarter of a ton of ore was stored in the hold of the Explorador, and that good ship started on the return journey. The Payload stayed on the Valley forbidden until word should reach them that the ore was good, and in that case they would stay on until a regular mining ship would come, and operations be set about to more efficiently extract the ore. If the ore was bad, the ninja would return to Skerion.

Ninja Bean, Billy Shaido, Rex Foom, Cobalt, and Echs ray stayed in the Forbidden Valley with Captain Uberius. Ninja Bean and Rex had fallen in love with the Forbidden Valley, while Echs Ray had been asked by Uberius to help him with his scientific research project until either they had to return to Skerion, or they had someone else to protect. Cobalt had obviously joined Echs, and Billy had stayed with them just for good measure.

And this is where I will break in the telling of the second age, for I have run out of room in my scroll. Good Venson, let this be given to the people of earth as a reminder that though they may not have access to my part of the universe any longer, we still exist, and are still striving against the forces of Maelstrom. We thank all the recruits from earth for their help in holding this foe at bay while the Nexus Force studies it and decides how to defeat it. Goodbye for now, Bendonsail.

The Second Age: A New CivilizationEdit



The Great Tree in, and the Dojo in Blender ;)

All good things come to an end... As I write this, it is only days after the Nexus Force was deprived of all assistance from earth. Thousands of Nexus Force Battle Units were left abandoned on the field, and despite the best of Dr. Albert Overbuild's efforts, three hundred have not been accounted for, and are obviously in Maelstrom hands.

But that is not the subject of the coming story, at the time of this story, the Nexus Force was still just the government of the small planet of Skerion. Sir John Ashley was the president, and headed the military. Dr. Milton Overbuild (Albert's Father) was in charge of domestic affairs. Giovanni Petrarchio, or Earl Cann, of Sardinia led the Science Department in the Government, no one really knew why science was given a place in the government, it was always the source of the troubles. Maybe it was because troubles that arose in that quarter were easily put down, better than if they had arisen within the domestic or military sectors. The fourth and final sector of government was led by famous pirate and former outlaw Captain Hael Storm. This branch of government was directed towards the discovery of new worlds, colonization, and sea and space sailing. As the Pirates and rogues of Skerion were naturally attracted to service in the ranks of Hael Storm's exploration units, all the quieter and more well-to-do folks such as the Ninja and older population of Skerion were drawn (or pushed) towards the Scientific Department, and the beginnings of what we now see as Factionalism was born.

In the midst of all these goings on, the "New World" was being conquered and colonized. Upon receiving a very glowing report by Captain Drew, concerning the Garland Forrest, Captain Hael Storm had resolved to visit that planet chunk, and though nothing of great value had been found in the ore of Nimbus Major, Nimbus Minor, or Garland, iron had been found in abundance in the ore Captain Daily had brought back from the Forbidden Valley, and a heavy mining rig was sent out to that planet chunk.

Due to the happenings and goings on in places outside my dominion, I must not assume full responsibility for all the matters described here as I have relied on accounts of those that saw them when they fall outside my jurisdiction.

There, now, on to my story...

Chapter 1: Whispers of UneasinessEdit

The KosningarEdit

"Dragons!" Roared the Minister of Home Affairs, "We are here to choose us a new Prince!" The hall was filled with growls and roars of assent. The great meeting hall held three raised platforms, upon these normally sat the three greatest dragons in the Forbidden Valley, along with their advisers. This meeting was no different, except that the middle platform, the one on which the Prince of the dragons usually sat, was empty. Prince Dave, son of Prince Kelterfill, son of the Ancient King Lemagedon who had founded the dragon kingdom of the Nimbus System, had died, died in defense of his land and country, and Prince Dave had no heir. Now, the Kosningar, the meeting of election was being held under the Mountain, to chose for the dragon people, a new Prince.

The times were desperate, the dragons faced an enemy greater than any they had yet encountered, they had nowhere to go, and they were being threatened with extinction. This Kosningar was not just the choosing of the next Prince, this Kosningar was the determination of the future of the Dragons of Forbidden Valley.

"As the Minister of Home Affairs, I will proceed in charge of this meeting as the law duly requires." The dragon paused for breath, and to lend his ear to Ruhedrache, who apparently had something to say. "Wise Ruhedrache says to take care in whom you pick, the future is in your hands!" The dragons then broke into groups, discussing the matter, they had already talked it over amongst themselves, over and over again, but to most of the dragon community, it seemed as if there was no dragon fit to lead in these times. Then all eyes snapped to where the Minister of War stood, he had cleared his throat and had begun speaking in a loud voice:

"I hereby nominate myself! As the Minister of War, I believe that it lays in the best interests of us dragons that I, who am versed in warfare, should lead this community in our victory over the Human invaders!" The speech was greeted by some with growls of assent, but the majority stood still.

"I do not believe that anyone is permitted to nominate themselves, my good Minister of War." Ruhedrache spoke quietly, but his voice was easily heard throughout the assembly. "It requires three to nominate, and another three to confirm the new Prince. If there is competition however, we must hold a vote." A couple of seconds of silence followed this comment, but then the Minister of War spoke again.

"Well then, since the good Minister of War's aide has reminded us of the law," then turning sharply upon one of his advisers, "You!" and another, "and You!" and a third, "and You! Nominate me! … Please?" and he ended with an evil looking grin. The three chosen dragons held a five second consultation, and then they stood up and faced the assembly, voicing the nomination.

"Now, you heard them, I am nominated." and he looked at Ruhedrache where he sat deep in thought, and smiled triumphantly, "Formally. And, seeing as I have no competition, who will be so kind as to confirm my throne?" But his eggs were not all hatched yet, for up spoke the Minister of Home Affairs.

"I have an objection!"

But the Minister of War interrupted him saying, "Ha, but you can't nominate yourself, can you, and you only have one advisor to manipulate." he subsided into a low chuckle, but got caught short and choked on his chuckle as the Minister of Home Affairs said the thing that he least expected.

"But I don't intend on nominating myself good Minister of War, I intend on nominating my aide, Ruhedrache!"

The NinjaEdit

Captain Ixius Uberius sat reclining in his chair in the meeting room of the Payload with his four lead researchers, Captain Ixius Uberius of the payload, Chief of Opperations, Echs Ray the Chief Scientist, Cobalt the Chief of Engineers, Rex Foom, General Handiman, and the odd-job-doer, Billy Shaido..

"Echs, lay it out for us, what have we found in these six weeks time?"

"Well sir, we have not found much due to the constant interruptions of the dragons, but I think I may say that we have uncovered some valuable information. First, there is strong evidence that before the dragons, or maybe even coexisting with the dragons, there was not too long ago, intelligent life forms, probably bipeds. Further evidence leads us to conclude that they were, in fact, a breed of homo sapien." Echs Ray spoke in a quiet, measured, altogether scientific tone.

"So, what you are saying, is that there were people here before us." Cobalt, another of Captain Uberius's associates, confirmed in a no nonsense attitude.


"Now, what conclusions can we draw from our evidence as to how many of these beings there were, where they came from and where they went?" Captain Uberius asked as he leaned forward with his elbows on the table. There was silence for a minute as the team considered on the question.

"Well," Rex spoke up, "like Mr. Ray has mentioned, the constant interruptions of the dragons have made it somewhat hard to do anything but hide... I wouldn't doubt if the folks that were here got eaten by the dragons."

"Possibly," Echs admitted, "But it may be that they left this country in boats and went to Garland, the scientists there have found many traces of an ancient civilization there."

"I think," Billy Shaido spoke up, "we should go find Chuckie Bean. He knows a dragon that is more friendly than most of them, and I think if he could question the dragon, we might gain more information than any amount of talking and analyzing data could unearth."

"That's what I say, let's stop talking, and start doing!" Cobalt suggested as he yawned and stretched himself. As in response to his comment, there was a knock on the door of the meeting room, and a second later it opened and one of Captain Uberius's scouts strode through.

"Captain," he said, "I have something to say to you."

"Speak up, what is it?" Uberius wanted to know.

"I think that we are being watched sir. Every time we are out, I have an eerie sense. Many times, I have felt that we were being purposefully led away from our object of study by something that wants to keep something hidden, wants to keep it out of view... I don't know sir, but as I was on duty this last hour, I am almost sure that I saw something gliding close by this wall here, it seemed to pause for a second as if listening, then it just vanished. I went and looked for it, I did not see anything, but still, I am sure there was someone or something here."

Captain Uberius thought for a moment, then answered, "What you say disturbs me, for I too have had this sense of being watched and guided... Come Cobalt, let us inspect the wall from the outside."

Mardwin's UneasinessEdit

Thunder watched as his instructor paced back and forth in the room.

"Master Mardwin, why do you fret so? Aren't the crystals safe? If we can not find them with the map, how can they find them without it?"

"There is always a chance my son," Mardwin said as he paused in his walk, "but I am more concerned about us than about them finding the Crystals."

"What do you mean?"

"They are ninja, trained in the art of observation and equipped with the best and latest technology, and there are a lot of them. If they figure out that we are here, they will make it very hard for us to continue our work in hiding."

"But what if they do? Why would they interfere with us? Besides, they will not find us anyway will they? We are good as well, and have never been spotted by their scouts, how can they know of our presence?"

"I fear that they may already have some knowledge of us, I have just come back from spying on them, and I placed a mirophonic sensing device on their ship so that we can listen to their conversations. Unfortunately, they had a scout posted where I did not see him, and I fear he saw me place the device, as he immediately rose from his place of concealment and went into the ship. Later I heard from my receiver a snatch of conversation that led me to believe that they know of us. What we are they do not know, but that there are creatures other than the dragons that are interested in them they do know. As to what they might do with us... I don't know, but they will be sure to want to know who we are, what we are doing here, and it would add all sorts of complications to our search. My only comfort is that they will not venture too near this cave, as the dragons unwittingly stand guard over us."

"About that..." Thunder mumbled shaking his head.

"What?" Mardwin Maskdur turned to his student, he was quite used to being in charge, and he disliked any form of dissent.

"Well, it is just that Bean kid... There is a dragon that is not hostile to him, and perhaps, using that dragons influence, the rest of the dragon population could be turned hostile to us." Mardwin Maskdur turned and gazed out of the entrance of the cave in thought, maybe, just maybe... But no, if it were possible he would have thought of it long before, no one outwits the great Lion.

"No Thunder, it is impossible, besides, numb Chuck Bean is not with them, he lives alone in the branches of the Great Tree."

"Numb Chuck? I've never heard him called that before, I like it, Numb Chuck!"

"Oh, go to your room Thunder Bolt. Leave me to think in peace!"

"Yes Master." Thunder sighed as he got up and went where he was bidden. Before he had quite disappeared from view, he heard his master's voice calling after him somewhat apologetically, "Sweet Dreams Thunder!"

The Coming of ManEdit

"You say that danger is coming to the Valley?" The voice rumbled in a deep dragon growl. A human voice answered back, young, but brave and confident:

"Yes Flameborne, the people of my planet have found a metal of value to them in the rock, and have sent a great number of coarse men to dig it out."

"I will bring it up in the next council, they must know about it. You will come will you not?"

"Will your people imprison me as they did last time?"

"I think not, however I think it would be best for you to come whether or no."

"Very well then, I will come. *silence* How is your new king Ruhedrache getting settled in?"

"Well enough, no thanks to the Minister of War who thinks that my father is too old to lead the dragons."

"Yes, I can see that, do you think there will be trouble?"

"No, my father will have his way, he always does."

"Good. Have you any more news?"

"The old cave-digger died yesterday."

"Was he not young to die at such an age?"

"Yes, it is a mystery to us, he fell ill a week since, and we found him dead in his cave yesterday."

"Who will succeed him in his profession?"


"I don't think the dragons will need a replacement cave digger..."

"Why not?"

"My friend, the Dragons of Forbidden Valley are an old race, our time is fading. The time of Man has come."

Both the dragon and the man bowed their heads in sorrow, the one, because all things must have an end. The other, because the last of the noble race of the dragons were seeing their last days, and partly because of the shame of being a Man, one of that race that was bringing those days to the dragons.

Chapter 2: The Miners ArriveEdit

"Such a Thing as Camouflage"Edit

"I have determined to forget this circumstance, in light of the approach of the mining rig from Skerion." Uberius was speaking to the whole assembled body of his ninja soldiers and his partners in his scientific research project. He was speaking of a sighting of a figure by one of his scouts. "In light of this fact, we must do a few things to get ready for their coming. First, we must hide this ship, in a place worthy of defense. There are a good hundred workers coming in on that ship, and twenty more people capable of bearing arms besides. You all know that the workers of these heavy mining rigs are taken from the scum of Skerion, and upon the slightest offense, they could all rally together and overcome us despite our higher skills. Therefore, a strong defense, and a hidden refuge will be necessary."

"We will need to know where they are going to fly in from right?" Cobalt asked.

"No. There is such a thing as camouflage Cobalt. We could put the ship anywhere and they won't see us. We'll just need to prepare two or three places of concealment depending upon where they decide to begin mining." That put Cobalt out, but he quickly regained his countenance when Uberius offered to put him in charge of laying out the defenses for one of the places of concealment.

Smudge, Meet UberiusEdit

"Six thirty three, we are coming in, prepare an escort to receive us." Captain Smudge Brandall of the Iron Extraction Unit number 7729 spoke into his intercom. He was a tall man, about 6' 9", and he was very powerfully built. He was dressed in a grey tuxedo that was too small for him and stained badly. He had thick short black hair combed straight back and flashing fiery eyes to match his temper. He checked his watch and scowled as his foreman came up.

"Is the Lander ready Napoleon?" He asked of the short fat fellow in greasy overalls.

"Yes Sir. iss all ready ‘cept that your man Charlie 's missin'."

"If he don't show up in thirty seconds..." the Captain muttered angrily. Just at that moment, Charlie ran up panting, his master was about to go into a torrent of words against him for delaying their departure, but Charlie interrupted.

"Please forgive my slowness mastuh, but I remembered me just at the last second that you took afainting last time we were out minin' cuz the air wuz too thin, so I juss ran me down to the medicine room an' got you these." and Charlie held out his hand, in which rested a small bottle of pills.

Thus arrested in mid flight, the Captain's words fell flat as he said, "Well, next time get ‘em faster!"

"Yes mastuh! I'll be sure to do that!" After these words, the Captain went down to the bay and got into the cockpit of the small landing vehicle.

Captain Smudge landed the lander just in the exact same spot that Captain Daily had landed the Explorador almost a year hence. Captain Daily and ten of his men crouched hidden behind boulders and watched as a thin scrawny man stumbled out of the door and lowered a ladder down just in time for the next man who came out of the lander. That man was Captain Smudge, and after standing a few seconds, he un-capped a small bottle, and poured its entire contents into his great mouth and gulped them down much to the dismay of the skinny man, his servant.

"Mastuh... them's supposed to be eaten olney one at a time... whenever you feel slightly woosey!" The captain only responded by giving a loud grunt. Then he leaned against the ladder and surveyed the landscape. After a few seconds of tense silence, he suddenly bellowed, "Come out Come out wherever ya be, ya sneakin' ninjaws! Y'aint skeered o' me are you! You don't need ta be, I probably won't hur-" The big man jumped and stopped mid sentence as he felt a hand being placed on his shoulder. Spinning around to face his startler, Captain Smudge saw Captain Uberius standing silently before him, his hood pulled down tight and only the cold stare of his steely grey eyes were to be seen.

"Wail, they really DID send ninjers ta help, but my, ain't them ninjer suppliers the stingiest creatures alive? The only thing I kin do with jest one o' you in case the dragons attack is ta chuck you out in the open ta give the dragons somethin' ta eat while the rest of us get away!" and Smudge burst out in uproarious laughter, with Charlie his servant joining in as well. While Captain Smudge and his servant were engaged in laughing their heads off, Captain Uberius just stood there waiting for Smudge to stop. The rest of the ninja had walked silently up so that they were standing in a ring around the trio, though they stood so still that they were not noticed against the dark landscape. After a while, Captain Smudge began to feel uncomfortable under the gaze of the Captain Uberius, and subsiding his laughter, he said roughly, "Wuts your name kid?"

Captain Uberius then took off his hood and stared coldly for a few seconds at the fool in front of him. Then, without taking his eyes off of the somewhat bewildered Smudge, he held up his hand in token for the closest of his men to act. The man drew a long steel katana from his sheath, and tossed it through the air to where Uberius caught it deftly. At the sound of the drawing of the sword, and the sight of it flying through the air, Captain Smudge became aware of the presence of the ten other ninja and all color drained from his ruddy face as he guessed the truth of the situation. Captain Uberius waved the sword menacingly in front of Smudge's face for a few seconds, but then he sheathed it in his with a deliberate air.

"That! Is who I am Smudge Brandall, and be glad of it. Had I been any other man, your second mate would have been the new Captain of the Iron Extraction Unit 7729."

"There," Cobalt sighed as he added the last finishing touches to his work, "that should keep any wandering miner from finding our hiding place."

"Yes, this is the best I have ever seen!" Billy agreed. The two were standing in a gap between two giant towers of rock gazing at their finished masterpiece. If I were to describe to you how it looked, it would be quite dull, for there was nothing that differed from the surrounding scenery. But that was the fact that set the stage for success, for their work was one of camouflage. Hidden beneath the disguise of rock lay the Payload, and all around where the ship lay, the ninja were getting the place ready for defense against any surprise attack. Paths were cut so that the ninja could traverse the rocks fleetly, and grooves were cut so that darts could be fired without the ninja showing so much as a scrap of the cloth of their hoods.

Just then, Cobalt's radio crackled to life.

"Cobalt, I need you over here, bring Echs and Bill and Rex Foom with you. Over." Cobalt nodded to himself and sent Billy to get Rex Foom while he ran over to where Echs Ray was occupied in planting sensors here and there among the rocks outside the fortifications.

"Echs, we've got to go meet up with the Captain, the Rig is preparing to set down."

"Okay, Ro can finish the rest." and Echs walked over to a ninja who was occupied in the same work he had just been engaged in, and handed him the rest of his sensors. "I've got to go Ro, please finish up the work, and thanks for helping." Ro said not a word, just nodded and resumed his task.

When the four friends came up to where Captain Uberius was standing, they saw the massive mining rig hovering fifty feet above the ground, and Captain Smudge standing near it bellowing orders and shouting directions as it slowly descended upon the ground.

"Wow!" Billy said, "It's enormous!"

"That is a true statement my boy." Captain Uberius responded, "It looks heavy too... I hope they don't drive too far out on the edge of these rocks, they are liable to crack and send the rig to the bottom." There was silence as the five men watched the mining rig finally come to rest, then Cobalt said, "Where are the ten others that you took with you Captain?"

"They have surrounded the rig and are watching the miners."

"Or, if they are discovered by the miners, they are guarding them from dragons." Echs joked.


Chuckie's ImprisonmentEdit

Chuckie Bean had been being questioned thoroughly by Prince Ruhedrache for an hour. Being convinced that the dragon Prince was going to pursue a strictly peaceful foreign policy when it came to the ninja under Captain Uberius, Chuckie had not withheld any information in that quarter. As to the mining rig that he had told Flameborne about, Chuckie knew no more than what he had picked up from bits of conversation he had overheard whilst practicing his stealth skills on the unsuspecting crew of the Payload, and therefore he could give no accurate details to Prince Ruhedrache. When Ruhedrache had finished his interrogation, he dismissed Chuckie, who walked down from the dais and over to where Flameborne sat. Before he got there however, he was caught up by one of the huge dragons that wore the royal insignia and was carried off to the prison chambers. Chuckie was enraged at this act of treachery, but he caught Flameborne's eye as he was being carried off, and saw his friend nod to him as if to say, "Trust me, and be calm." Therefore, Chuckie did not struggle or shout, but let himself be carried off.

After five minutes of waiting in his cell, Chuckie heard a grating sound, and looked up to see the cell door swing inward and Flameborne step in.

"You may wonder why you were brought here my friend..."

"That I do."

"It was for your safety Chuck Bean, the Minister of War does not like you, and I fear that ill would have befallen you had not my father discerned this method of protecting you." Chuckie got to his feet and walked toward Flameborne and the door, saying as he went, "Well, thanks for coming to get me." But the dragon shook his head sadly and backed out so that he blocked the open door with the huge bulk of his body.

"No Chuck Bean, you must abide patiently here until you are fetched. We must wait until the Minister of War somewhat forgets about you, then you will be allowed to come down to my home. I hope that in time you may have free roam of all this country, but for now, you have enemies, and we must take precaution with you."

Chuckie hung his head, he was a wild bird, and cages did not suit him well.

"I will come down here frequently my friend, but for now, I must go else I be missed in the council."

Chapter 3: An error, or intention?Edit

Rocket MalfunctionEdit

Johnathan Prendergahst looked out the window of his transport rocket, he had just awaken from hypersleep, and he still felt a little numb. He could see Barunn12, the large planet that Skerion orbited, and Barunn12's other moon Milly. Milly was the storage planet for Skerion, the climate was great, the atmosphere was absolutely dry and not too cold. It had begun to be used when Skerion's population had grown too large to be supported by the limited agricultural assets of the planet. Giant greenhouses were built on Milly, and the commercial food corporations were forced to migrate their operations there. Likewise, the factories were soon migrated to Milly, and instead of the stores buying things from local farmers and factories, they ordered everything from the supplier companies who shipped things to and from Milly.

John was still amazed at some of the things that the scientists and engineers were able to do. Using the information provided by Captain Hael Storm's explorations and satellites, interplanetary travel was an easy thing. Spaceships could now seamlessly navigate from planet to planet, calculating for the movements of the heavenly spheres and avoiding any obstacle in their path. But as he looked down towards Milly, John felt a tightening in his stomach, it was going to be a close shave, he thought, for the moon lay very close to the rocket's path.

The rocket was increasing speed and entered Milly's atmosphere. John looked around frantically, entering any planet's atmosphere other than the destination was outside space travel protocol, his rocket must have malfunctioned! The rocket skimmed five hundred feet above the planet's surface now, and Milly's gravity was warping its previously straight flight, but as the speed at which the rocket was traveling was very great, it began to pull away from the surface of the planet, and was soon out of its atmosphere and on a straight course again.

John was now thoroughly amazed, for he looked ahead and saw just on the rim of the swiftly growing Skerion, the Nexus City, his destination. Had his rocket slowed its flight so as to allow Milly to pass out of its path, Skerion would have been turned too much to land without orbiting the planet at least once! Instead, the rocket had utilised Milly's gravitational pull to not only save a lot of time, but also to end up in a more suitable angle for landing!

"John me hearty, I be right glad to see ya!" The burly pirate captain said as he swaggered up to John, he wore the typical pirate captain's clothes and his hair hung in thick brown tangles down to his shoulders. In his belt was stuck a cutlass, and a blue gem embedded in the hilt sparkled and shone in the golden light of the afternoon sun as it sifted down through the lattice roof of the Captain's house. "What news from Captain Drew?"

After exchanging the usual greetings, John took a seat opposite to where the captain had sat down and said, "Drew says that Garland is the best place his eyes ever beheld, and that once his term is up , he would like to start a colony there." He then reached into his pocket and withdrew an envelope, which he proceeded to hand to the Captain. "He explains it more fully here."

"He writ a letter? He must be mighty serious!" The Captain said as he tucked the envelope into his pocket. "I'll read it later. Meanwhile, I hear yer rokit malfunctioned on ya... Ya hain't bin tinkerin' none with the programs have ya?"

John was a little taken aback by the Captain's remark, for tampering with the hardware or software of government equipment was strictly off limits, but as he knew that he was in the right, he quickly answered. "No sir, it was entirely the rocket's fault, but I wouldn't exactly define it as a malfunction, the rocket used Milly's gravitational pull to save time and end up in a better landing angle, it was amazing!"

"Wail, I don't know ‘bout all that, all I know iz your rokit went too close to Milly. And so close I hear, that if Milly was turned but five points ta leeward, ya would ‘ave crashed through Bellington's candle fact'ry, an' the Nexus Force would've bin stuck with a huge fine!"

John nodded, he knew too that if, as Captain Storm had said, Milly had been turned but five points toward Barunn12, he would be laying in a Nexus Force Hospital, or maybe in a even in a coffin. Shrugging aside the gruesome thought, John said, "Is the problem being worked on right now?"

"Aye, yer rokit was sent a warning, but ‘parently, it ignored the message and kept on its path. After that, I heard that our programmers were searching fer the error."

"Have they found it?"

"I dunno, an' I dont care neither. Now, I must be agoin', so C'ya later Johnathan!" and with that, Hael Storm, Captain of the Venture League, departed and left John sitting in his high backed slat chair.

John stood up and stretched his arms and walked out to the hangars to see if he could get a ride into the city center where he would meet up with his old buddy Steve Hereford at the Milt Inn to talk of old times and catch up with the latest news over a good cup of hot ale.

He walked out to the hangars where ships were being tuned and worked on, and asked the officer in charge if any ships were going to be setting out for the city center soon.

"Eh? What's that son?" the elderly man spoke as he peered over his spectacles at John, "Aye there is... but it is leaving right now, you'll have to run to catch it." John looked up and saw a large airship rolling down the runway.

"Thanks, I'll see if I can!"

John ran down the runway and slowly gained on it. Soon, he was just inches away from the ladder, but then the ship began to speed up, and John made a last desperate leap and just managed to catch hold of it with one hand. But the ladder was oily, and John's grasp slipped, and he fell to the ground, the huge wheel of the airship rolling past and crushing a pen that lay there on the pavement just inches from John into dust.

John got up shakily and brushed himself off, looking disgustedly at the smear of oil on his hand. He turned around and trotted off back to where the old officer sat in his booth. When he got near enough to see his features, he noticed that the old man was doubled up, laughing uncontrollably. Turning away in further disgust, John entered a hangar in search of more helpful help. Before his eyes got adjusted to the dim light however, he tripped over a toolbox and would have fallen to the ground had not he been caught by someone who, as John found out when he could see again, was dressed in a blue flight suit with three large gold stars embroidered into his sleeves.

"Hi, sorry about my tools," said the blue clad man, "can I help you?"

"Um, yes please, I need to get a ride to the City Center, I have to meet with Sir John Ashley at five o'clock, and I am afraid walking will not get me there until seven." The man raised his eyebrows, for although the four heads of the government were not so much surrounded by guards and security as they would find the necessity of being in times to come, it was still a rare honor to be given an appointment with one of them, as their time was usually full.

"You are Johnathan Prendergahst, are you not? The one whose rocket fouled up so badly on the way from the new worlds, right?" The man was evidently interested in the affair, but John, who did not like being associated with the rocket's demeanour, and furthermore, did not quite like how everyone was ranting over what seemed to him a bit of ingenuity on the rocket's part, changed the topic, and asked again if the man would point him to the fastest way to the City Center. After a bit of discussion over fares and wages, the man, whose name happened to be Steve, agreed to take John over for just twenty coins if he would assist him in getting his biplane put back together.

Vanda DarkflameEdit

Sir Krakkus was sitting in his second floor study, and looking out of the large window. He was observing the shadows that were cast onto a hill by the hands of the huge clock on top of his house. He watched the shadow of the minute hand as it slowly turned, and waited expectantly for it to point towards a certain point where a path came over the brow of the hill, and meandered down the hill, through the garden, and up to the back door of the house. When the hand finally arrived at the awaited destination, Sir Krakkus saw to the satisfaction of his extremely punctual nature, his daughter come walking over the brow of the hill, and on down the path. A minute later, her silent step was heard on the stairs, and after that, a quiet knock on the door.

"Come in daughter." the knight said as the door opened, and his daughter came in. "How was work today Vanda?" The girl smiled a slightly tired smile, and replied.

"Fun as usual daddy, Giovan and Collin were working at calculations all day, but I was allowed to play around in the lab and experiment with whatever I wanted." Sir Krakkus chuckled as he thought of Vanda "playing around" in best laboratory in the world, with the most expensive equipment, the most delicate instruments, and to be permitted to do so by the worlds best mind in science.

"Did you make any startling discoveries today?"

"Well..." Vanda went on and on about the properties of different metals, and that she had discovered a way to dissolve certain kinds in a mixture of chemicals, and all sorts of different things. After a while, she stopped and seemed to be thinking deeply, then after glancing up at her father a little nervously, she asked, "Will you tell me about the first builders please?" Sir Krakkus deliberated with himself, his work lay in the research of the said First Builders, but he did not like to talk about it. But, as Vanda had just told him all about her latest work, he decided that he would return the favor.

"Okay daughter, but get settled for a long tale..."

Dr. Albert OverbuildEdit

It had worked! Dr. Albert Overbuild was exited and happy; the official report had come in from the authorities on Milly indicating that a government rocket had entered the unauthorized flight zone, had stayed there for one minute, fifteen seconds, during which time the rocket approached within four hundred sixty seven feet eight inches, and had then exited the unauthorized flight zone all the while completely ignoring all alerts and messages sent from Milly.

Dr. Albert Overbuild was probably the youngest student to reach that title; at the age of twenty, he had graduated as a doctor in physics, mathematics, astronomy, and space travel, with several masters in things such as robotics, systems engineering, architectural engineering, public relations, and history to name a few. He was, to say the least, a very studious fellow, and the pride of his father Milton's life.

In the lab owned and run by the senior Overbuild, there were two or three super computers. Of these monsters of processing power, one was devoted to space. It ran a simulation of the entire known universe, containing every known planet, asteroid, and star in high quality 3d, and utilized all known information as to size, weight, mass, velocity, etc... It was here that Dr. Milton Overbuild's staff conducted rigorous tests on any new space traversing equipment, programming, and other things. The simulator was so accurate, that anything that could be done in the simulator could be almost flawlessly duplicated in real space. It was here also that Albert and some of his friends engaged in racing and agility competitions using the space craft they designed and built on their own computers.

When, about two years ago, the decision in Milton's council had passed that a new design of transport rocket should be introduced into the market, Albert and some of his friends had taken up the task. With a little help from Milton, they finished their prototype and it was selected out of the nine other entries to be the design for the new rocket. Now whenever Albert visited the port, he had the satisfaction of seeing at least one of his rockets berthed in the loading or unloading bay.

But recently, Albert had turned his attention to the programming, rather than the building of things, and had made some private discoveries which could possibly make a great improvement in the efficiency of space travel. One of these things was based on his own belief that gravity is a great tool, and should be utilized, instead of fought against. He had spent months of hard labor working in secret on a program that would allow ships to utilize the gravitational pull of the heavenly bodies to make turns instead of the thrusters that they had used up till then. Finally, after running several tests in the simulator, he concocted his plan as to how to test it in real life.

It would take an unacceptable amount of paper work, tests, and legalities before he could actually test his idea, and by that time, the idea would have been taken up by others, and soon everybody would forget who it was who actually had the idea in the first place. No, he had to figure out a way to bypass the system and test it on his own without anyone finding out that it was anything short of a mistake.

Albert wrote a program that would load his gravity utilizing program onto the test subject, bypassing all security measures and in all ways copy the normal behavior of the rocket. Then, just minutes before the test subject lands, the program would delete any vestige of itself and the gravity utilizing program, and reload the old one so that all seemed to be normal. The best test subject would be the smallest, fastest, and least noticeable craft, and it would have to be travelling on certain paths at certain times in order for the effects to be noticeable. The private rocket was obviously the best, and Albert wrote a script that would alert him whenever a private rocket was going to set out in a favorable line.

That happened sooner than he expected, but it was such a favorable time, that Albert didn't hesitate to remotely load his bug onto Johnathan's rocket, and had awaited the report from Milly in the highest anticipation.

Chapter Four and Beyond (I haven't divided these yet)

Johnathan's Reporter DilemmaEdit

John glanced at the morning paper laying on the table as he sipped on his cup of hot steaming black coffee. He was still groggy from the effects of the sleeping pills he had taken the night before, he couldn't imagine how he used to sleep through all the traffic noise, how ANYone could sleep through it for that matter. But as he gazed blankly at the headline, the meaning of the letters slowly burst upon his mind. WHA? Hael is doing WHAT?!?

"Hael Storm, Leader of the Venture League Traveling to the New World!" the headline read. John was instantly wide awake, what was the Venture League, and why was Hael Storm going to the ‘new world'?

When he had left, the Nexus Force was still the Nexus Force, but now that he had returned, schisms between the pirates and the Ninja had grown wider and feelings had risen hotter. This was partly due to the fact that Giovanni Petrarchio had turned tycoon, and had begun selling his scientific research in the form of weaponry and armor. But the catch was that he sold it very sparingly, and never so much as an ounce of it went to a pirate. Milton Overbuild declared that there was no need for new weapons and better armor, but he did not press his views and instead, he put laws into effect that limited the ownership of the new things to the peacekeeping forces and the military. But Giovanni continued selling his weaponry to the Ninja for self defense purposes only of course. Though they tried to keep it a secret, news does have a way of getting around, and Hael Storm soon got wind of it and brought it up to the other two government leaders. I won't go into the details much, but you can guess what the tensions were at that moment, and factionalism was born. Hael began calling his party the Venture League, and he raised up a defensive force to guard against the ninja, and the followers of Giovanni responded to all the ‘ninja haters' by calling themselves a paradox that the stupid Venturers couldn't understand. Only Dr. Milton Overbuild and Sir John Ashley refused to get caught up into the argument, and still just called themselves the leaders of the Nexus Force. But, back to the story...

John caught up the newspaper and read...

"Captain Hael Storm just announced that he will be taking a trip to the newly discovered Garland in his newly refitted ship, the Venture Koi. Our reporters on the field say that prior to the announcement being made, Johnathan Prendergahst, the first mate of the official on Garland, had an appointment with the captain and that..."

John dropped the paper in realization, Captain Drew's letter must have been an invitation to Captain Hael Storm to come and visit Garland. Drew might have even mentioned starting a colony with Hael's blessing. But John was prevented from thinking further by a knock at the door of his apartment. When he opened the door, he had expected to see his friend who had agreed to drive him to the car rental place until he could pick up his own. Instead of that, there was a fat lady with a clipboard and a badge that said "Nexus City News" on it, and behind her were ranged four men carrying T.V. broadcasting equipment, and a tall girl, who held a sheaf of papers.

"Are you Johnathan Prendergahst?" The fat lady asked as soon as the door was opened.

"Uh, yes? What are you doing here?" The man with the video camera immediately began filming, and another man held a microphone in front of John's face, and the lady began asking questions so fast that John just stared blankly at her for a while. Then, holding up his hand for silence, he said, "All I know is that I delivered a letter from Captain Drew to Captain Hael Storm before I came back to my apartment here." The woman scribbled on her clipboard and began firing more questions at the unfortunate John.

"What is Garland like? What did Captain Drew say? What was in the letter? Why did Captain Drew send a letter instead of an e-mail? Why did John not go back to Garland once he had given the letter? What did-" But John held up his hand again to talk.

"Listen, my coffee is getting cold, and I am sure you could be doing a lot more productive things with your time than talking at a simple man like me for an hour. Good day!" and the door shut behind John as he turned back to his coffee and the morning paper...

Raiding the Petrarchio MansionEdit

Johnathan Prendergahst was sitting in his car and eating his hastily packed lunch of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. He had driven and driven until he found a spot where he could not see a single human being. It was much more peaceful than in the city, and his mind was filled with pleasant thoughts. Captain Hael Storm had set out for Garland two days before, and John only had five days of leave before he would have to go back and report himself for duty again, so he had come out here to take a quiet rest. He opened the door and got out of his car, stretching his arms and his legs as he did so. He looked around at the fields of heather and sighed, it was as good as Garland Forest. But then he noticed far down the road, an army vehicle streaking along at a terrific speed towards him. Thinking it best to move, John got back into his car and pulled further off the road into the ditch. When the vehicle came close enough to be recognised, John saw that it was one of the new hover trucks that was built somewhat like a cross between a regular hovercraft, and a quadrocopter with four huge fans mounted on the underside.

It pulled up to a stop besides John's car, and the driver of the hover truck motioned for John to get out of his car. When he had done this, the driver yelled out over the roar of the fans.

"You're John Prendergahst right?"

John shouted in the affirmative.

"Get in the truck and come with us, we are going on a raid! Yes, it is Sir Ashley's orders."

John shrugged his shoulders, so much for his peaceful afternoon.

There were twenty soldiers besides the driver of the truck who appeared to be in charge. John sat up in front next to the man, who began conversation as he lifted the truck off again and continued on his speedy course.

"Hi, I am lieutenant James Spidrom I and my small following are going up to raid the Petrarchio mansion."

"Isn't that the headquarters of Giovanni Petrarchio, the head of the Scientific Department?"

"Yep, but I doubt he'll remain in that station for long, there was a ninja outbreak down in Denver Falls yesterday, and their weapons were traced back to Giovanni's arms manufacturing plant."

"Why don't you go there?"

"There is already a squad down there, we were sent out to make sure the old bird doesn't get a tip off and fly the coop."

"Ahh, I see."

"Look, there it is!"

The truck had just come over the brow of a hill, and below them lay the Petrarchio Mansion. The drive was decorated on either side by tall stone columns, petrified trees they were, in respect for the old family name. The hover truck ground to a halt right outside the front door as James suddenly turned off the rotors, and the twenty men jumped out and surrounded the house, three men stationed at each of the three doors, and one at each of the six corners of the house. James and the remaining five soldiers entered through the front door, and John followed behind at the suggestion of James to watch the action.

The six armed men walked with their guns in front, through the entrance room and into a massive open area with a giant chandelier hanging from the ceiling. There were two spiral staircases and four more doors that led into the other sections of the house. The room was surprisingly cheery, though the dust did lay heavily over the floor, and it was apparent that this was not the most used section of the house.

"Let's split up men, each of you take one way, and John and I will take the last." James said in a hushed tone. "If you hear firing, make your way over to the spot and help whoever needs it."

The men nodded and started towards their selected area of scrutiny, the only place left was the staircase to the left, the one that wound all the way up to the ceiling and up through it.

"Creepy old attics are too boring huh?" James laughed, as he and John started up the stairs.

"You don't think the old tinker has any ninja bodyguards do you?" John said as they passed the second floor.

"Naw, the ninja don't take to guard work, they will do a mission for you anytime as long as it pays good, but after it is done, there is no keeping them about."

"That is good, I was getting a little nervous about splitting up."

"You don't need to have any worries on that score, just watch your step, Giovanni is known for his booby traps and practical jokes-" James stopped short as a thump was heard from below and a cry, followed by someone yelling "OOOWWwww, let go of my LEG!"

"There, I said so, one of my fellows just got strung up, he should have watched where he was going!"

The two men had come to the top of the staircase and were confronted by a shut door. Just as James was reaching for the handle to open the door, John caught his arm and warned him against incaution. James nodded and stood back against the edge of the staircase so as to be shielded by the door from whatever might come out when he should open it. John followed, and then James reached out and turned the knob. The door swung open, and squished James and John against the stair rail, and from out of the door came rolling around twenty ten pound bowling balls. James stared in amazement as the bowling balls crashed through the stair railing and fell twenty five feet to the ground below. But the hard wooden floor did not stop them, the balls bounced and crashed through one of the large glass windows and out five feet into the garden where they buried themselves halfway into the soft dirt, smashing several delicate flowers on the way.

"You call THAT a practical joke?" John inquired incredulously, "I call it a lethal joke!"

James sighed shakily, and let John lead the way until his spirits should recover, being shot in battle was one thing, but being knocked off of a three story high staircase by bowling balls, only to have them crush you to death when you reached the bottom was another.

The door opened into a gloomy hall, at the end of which was a large window that looked out onto the windswept moor. James and John looked at each other in disbelief. Really? A huge magnificent staircase just for a window that looked out onto nothing? John turned away in disgust and began retreating down the hall again when he heard a faint gasp from James. Turning around quickly, John asked what was the matter.

"What's wrong Lieutenant? Did you see a ghost?"

"I think so John," James said excitedly "at least, a ghost of the great outdoors!"

"What are you talking about?" John said as he returned to where James was studying the window frame.

As he found the latch, James said, "Take a look for yourself!" and slid the bottom half of the window up to reveal a continuation of the gloomy hall behind the window frame. But further conversation was ended by the sight of a man in dark blue slacks and a reddish purple jacket fleeing down the hall and through a door at the far end.

"Quick! After him! That's old Giovanni himself! James sputtered as he ducked through the window, followed by John." They ran as fast as they could, but when they got to the door, it had been locked. Without a moment's hesitation however, James, who was a big fellow, gathered himself and threw all of his weight into the door. It gave, but James did not expect the thing that happened next, the door opened into a steep stair, and as the door went down, James went down on top of it, and slid down all the way to the bottom. Five stairs up from the bottom the door caught and sent James flying, but he miraculously landed on his feet, and dashed off in pursuit of Giovanni Petrarchio. John, having no such quick way of reaching the bottom, ran down the stairs two at a time and rushed after James, who slackened his pace a little to let him catch up.

They were speedily gaining on their quarry when he suddenly turned to face them with a gun in his hand and a mean looking expression on his face.

"Step one step closer, and you are both dead." he said in a thin voice, "I want to say something to you both before the rest of your men come down here and I am taken."

"What is it?" James asked curtly.

"I want you to know that during my whole career as head Scientist, I have done my best to act for the good of all people. I have spent many long hours researching and making life better for Skerion, I am not a bad man, I am a good one. A very good maaaannn..." and he broke off into a groan of agony, his hands trembling.

The sounds of footsteps overhead and a shout of "They are down here!" changed the aspect of the pathetic man, his groaning turned into laughter, and his laughter into cackles, and when the first of James' five men came running into the room, Giovanni raised his gun to his head and pulled the trigger.

What happened next was not expected, instead of the crack of a gunshot and a dead man, there was a flash of bright light and nauseating smoke began to pour into the room. The last thing the men saw before they fell to the floor unconscious was a face, large and luminous, staring at them through the swirling smoke. The last thing they heard was the cackling laughter, and the last thing John thought was, "Oh duh! The window, trick... again......"

An Explanation

Vanda ran along the path much earlier than the usual time, and raced down the hill to the house. The back door was locked, and after she ran around to the front, she discovered that that door too shared the same predicament. After thinking a few seconds, Vanda climbed up a lattice and into a window in search of her father.

Sir Krakkus was in his study with the curtains drawn and his reading lamp on. A large leather bound book lay on his lap, and his finger moved slowly across the page as he read the ancient language of the first builders. When Vanda knocked at the locked door of his study, he hastily placed the book on his desk and shoved a pile of other books over it so that it was completely hidden. He then rose and unlocked the door, and asked what was the matter.

"They are coming to get Giovan Father, we must do something!" Vanda replied.

"What? Who?" Her father asked.

"No time Father, come see!" and she grabbed her father's arm and pulled him down the stairs and out through the back door and up the path, he blinking in the dazzling sunlight, and she blinking away tears at the thought of what her teacher and friend would go through in prison. For if there was one thing that Sir John Ashley would not allow to be reformed by the kind hand of Milton Overbuild, it was the centuries-old custom of the Prizen Hous, a place where malefactors were sent to work off their evil deeds and pay penance for their crimes.

When they arrived at the brow of the hill, Vanda threw herself down in the thick heather and gazed at the Petrarchio Mansion. Her father just stood still, gazing too, with his hand shading his eyes from the sun. From their vantage point, they could see both of the back doors of the place, and nine of the fifteen soldiers stationed around the house. There was silence for several minutes, and at last, Sir Krakkus set out with heavy strides towards the house and the guards, much to the distress of his daughter, who stayed hidden where she was.

"Hello, sirs, what is the meaning of thus standing about my good neighbor's house with your guns and army hats, does Mr. Petrarchio expect a raid from pirates?"

"No," said one of the men who was standing a little way off, "we are the raiders!"

"What do you mean? What did my neighbor do?"

"Look Sir," one of the men who appeared to be in charge of the party said, "we've got a job to do. If you want to chat, wait till we're done!"

Sir Krakkus just shrugged his shoulders and walked around to the front of the house to see if he could find more ready information there. The knight was often so immersed in his books that the news from the outside world did not reach him until a week after everyone had stopped discussing it. Sometimes it never reached him at all. When he discovered the reason of the arrest, all he said was, "I told him to stay out of that, he gets quite enough money already with all the donations he receives, and that selling weapons and armor could only breed jealousy and discontent."

The soldier shrugged his shoulders, "Whatever."

"May I go in to see what's happening?" Sir Krakkus asked.

"No, wait until they bring him out."

"How long have they been in there?"

The soldier glanced at his watch, then glanced again, then said in a worried voice to one of his comrades, "Hey Mel, they've been in there for half an hour!" His comrade was alarmed, and passed the word on to the next soldier. The news went along down the line until it reached the guy in charge, and a minute later, news came back that all nine men that had been guarding the doors would close in and search the house for their comrades inside. Sir Krakkus was still excluded from entrance.

Since all the traps had already been sprung, the house was searched much quicker, but it still took twenty minutes to get to the fake window, and Mel decided that he would look for the source of the illusion. On the ceiling, about five feet away from the window was mounted a hologram-projector-like device that was transmitting the amazingly accurate image of the outside onto the window panes. Gazing thoughtfully at the very realistic hologram, Mel saw a shiny dark object zooming across the moor. Laughing at how strange it was to mount a large window in the middle of a hall, and then project a hologram onto the outside of it to make it seem as if you were looking out of a real window into the real outdoors, Mel turned away and followed two of the men who had already started down the steep staircase at the end of the hall.

The first thing that he noticed was the smell, it smelled thick and sweet and sugary, like the cotton candy store, but then he realized that it was also nauseating and made him tired. Turning back and rushing up the stairs, he stopped three men who were about to go down. "Stop! Toxic gas!" That put them to a stop and they ran out to the hover truck and removed breathing apparatus and rushed back into the house and back down into the sweet smelling poisonous air.

They retrieved the two men that had gone down before Mel, and had succumbed to the gas, and then went down again. They each brought flashlights as it was very dark in the passageway, and Mel kept his shining up at the ceiling, watching for spiders. As he kept sweeping his light back and forth, he suddenly saw two more of the super-hologram projectors, one mounted in each corner, and staggered so as to happen about five feet apart. Then the man in front waved his flashlight around in the air frantically, the sign that he had found somebody, and then Mel saw through the stagnant fog, six bodies. Hoping the unconscious men were still alive, the seven men except Mel each took one of them and headed back up the stairs and to the hover truck. Mel stood still, shining his light around and looking for the source of the poison gas. On the far wall were two large vents which he determined to be what he was searching for, and on the ceiling were two more of the super-hologram projectors and a set of speakers were mounted in the corners.

A man came down and signaled that it was time to go, the detective would be up shortly to see if he could figure out what had happened. But Mel signaled back that he wanted to stay and look around one of the most famous houses in Skerion, and that he would ride back with the detective. The idea seemed fine with the official left in command while James was unable to lead, and Mel went up and watched the hover truck as it glided up and out onto the road, and then out of sight over the ridge.

Mel was about to return to the dark hall when a knock sounded at the front door, and he remembered that man who had come asking questions before, and thought his company might be pleasant, so he went and opened the door. Outside stood the old gentleman and another, a girl about fifteen, and maybe 5'9".

"May I and my daughter come in now? We'd like to look around."

"Sure, I was just going down to see if I could find out how your neighbor got my friends into such a trap, and also to see if I could find the old owl himself! If he did not make his escape already that is."

"We can help, my daughter knows every nook and cranny of this old house, and she will be glad to show you around. About finding Mr. Petrarchio however, he is quite gone, and has had a good hour's start, so unless he is by chance caught in some other town, I have no doubt but that he shall entirely escape from the hands of the law."

"Oh, okay, I guess I will have to just stick to finding out how he made his escape. But, you will both need one of these." and Mel held up the breathing apparatus that he held in his hand.

"No we won't, I know how to drain the gas." Vanda said.

"Oh, well in that case, I guess we'll just go on down! But, how do you know so much about Giovanni's house? And how do you know that he is gone?" Mel asked suspiciously, suddenly turning around to face the two again.

"I saw him drive away about an hour ago, I am surprised that the watch on the other side of the house did not see him... And my daughter is an apprentice in the lab, she does no work for him with the illegal arms distribution though."

"Oh, I see."

There was no further conversation until they reached the top of the stairs, and then Vanda flicked a light switch that had not been noticed by any of the soldiers, and the hall was flooded in light. When they came to the window, Mel ducked through it, but Vanda just touched three spots in unison with her fingers, and the large window swung outward like a door, making an opening such that Vanda and her father just stepped through with ease. Mel continued towards the stair, but stopped when he noticed that Vanda had paused some little distance off, and was tapping at the wall as if there was a number pad or something there. Stepping closer, Mel could see that there were slight lines traced in the wall, a real number pad in disguise! But Vanda turned towards him laughing.

"I wouldn't stand there if I were you Mr. Soldier, come over here."

When Mel did so, Vanda tapped once more on the disguised number pad, and the section of floor that he had just been standing on slid away, revealing a hole in the floor. There was the slight whir of an electric motor, and an elevator car came up through the hole, entirely blocking the hallway.

"In we go men!" Vanda laughed as she watched the astonished faces of her father and Mel. Sir Krakkus had been in Giovanni's house only a few times, and had always been shown into the sitting room. He had never seen any specimens of Petrarchio's handiwork before. The elevator came to rest with a ding, and the doors slid open, revealing a lighted passageway. The three walked along, and came to a set of doors, which Vanda proceeded to unlock with a large key. On entering, Mel drew his breath as he saw a wall lined with two desks, with two large computer screens and a keyboard and mouse on each. Vanda sat down in a large swivel chair and motioned for the other two to take a seat in two other chairs that were pushed into a corner. When they had pushed these up, and had sat down in them, she said to Mel,

"So, you wanted to see what happened?"

Mel nodded expectantly, and leaned forward to watch as Vanda typed on a keyboard and clicked a few things. Soon a video was playing on one of the large screens, and everyone saw Giovanni Petrarchio run down the hall, and then duck behind one of the large curtains that hung on the walls. A second later, another Giovanni popped into view, and continued running down the hall exactly the same way the first had.

"That is a hologram." Vanda stated. The rest of Holo-Giovanni's performance was then displayed, and Vanda couldn't stop laughing at how well the act had been believed by the audience of John and James and the other men. And when the climax came, and the hologram shot itself with a hologram gun, even Mel and the always-composed Sir Krakkus burst into laughter at the expressions of horror and surprise on the faces of the men. After the show was over, and the laughing had subsided into low chuckles, Mel asked,

"But how is it so real? I mean, even with such good hologram projectors as the ones used in the fake window, he would still look flat, like a man drawn on paper, how did Giovanni make the hologram seem so realistic?"

"By using two of them in conjunction. Giovan was a very smart man, and he figured that if he staggered the holo-projectors, he could have two of them project the same image, but at different angles, and therefore give more of a three dimensional appearance." Vanda said as she glowed with enthusiasm, it was all very exciting to her.

"Well that is cool, but I have another question, if Mr. Petrarchio uses such expensive hologram projectors, and is into the best in technological development... Why does he still use a BC, and run Doors? Why doesn't he get a QuackBook Pro or something?"

"Ha ha ha," laughed Vanda, "he says that running Doors on a BC is good and stable, and lets him use his software hacks and stuff. He says that Quacks are only for rich snobs who like to let the guys at Quack'nThrow take care of everything for them."

Just then, however, a light started flashing, and a buzzer went off, indicating an intruder, or visitor.

"It must be the detective!" Mel said when he had been told what the signal meant.

Vanda typed something and the monitor that they had been watching the action on changed scenes to show a thin wiry man with an electronic notepad and a camera carefully walking about the house, apparently looking for clues. Every few seconds he took a picture, and he often stopped to scribble something with a stylus that he normally held in his mouth. Vanda and Mel stared at the screen, watching the man, and laughed every time he would turn around suddenly and glance around as if he was sure that someone was watching him. Sir Krakkus just took a book from a shelf and began reading it, ignoring everything else.

A PropositionEdit

"Vanda," Sir Krakkus said one evening, "you have been very idle of late, and I am worried that this old house is no fit abode for you to spend all your time in. Truly, I believe that if it weren't for old master Shader, you wouldn't ever see the light of day."

Vanda had taken up study under the local ninja master, Fong Shader, about a year ago. After the temporary shutdown of the Scientific Department by the other three branches of the government, Vanda had increased her training time from once a week to once a day, but still, most of her time was spent in her room in her father's house.

"Yes Father, you are right. But, what can I do, Master Shader has other students taking his time, and there is nothing else of interest anywhere near."

"You have heard, I doubt not, that another cohort of ninja is to be sent out to the new world."

"Yes..." Vanda caught a look in her father's eye, "No, you don't really mean it?" She jumped to her feet in excitement.

"Yes, I do. Fong is going, along with several of his students. We talked yesterday, and he hinted that he wouldn't object to you going with them. You will not of course," the gentleman was quick to add, "take part in any fighting that may come up, unless it be to save yourself if you are attacked."

"Than what am I to do?" Vanda inquired, "I don't mind keeping myself at a distance and watching, but it will be funner if I have some sort of mission to do."

"Yes, why don't you set out to write up a very detailed description of all circumstances going on in the Forbidden Valley, for I assume that is where you will end up, the chronicler that was going to accompany this voyage has fallen ill, and I am sure that if you apply quickly, you can get his spot. And added to this, if you get the chronicler's spot, you'll get a cabin, and won't have to be put into hypersleep."

"Thank you! Thank you! Can I go now Father?"

Sir Krakkus laughed and stood up saying, "I am afraid that taxis don't come out this far this late, and the maid just left on the last bus, do you propose to walk?"

"Well, I was actually going to use your car... But I guess that would not be practicable."

"No, I need it every once in a while, and you will be gone for two or three months."

Vanda thought for a moment, then said slowly, "Well... You wouldn't be exactly stuck here, I mean, there is another vehicle you could use."

"What do you mean there is another vehicle?"

"Well, um, I am keeping Mr. Petrarchio's car for him until he gets back- er, until his sentence is over."

"Hmm, I'm thinking that you know more of the old scientist than you let on... But I won't press you, You may use my car, I'll drive down in Giovan's car with the maid, and she can drive it back while I drive mine. Now skedaddle, you've got to pack!"

After a quick thanks, Vanda ran off to her room to pack her bag. After getting the usual necessities, she pressed a button on the side of her closet. The whole inside slid back, and another closet-inside slid into view from the right. This one held an array of old toys and things from her earlier childhood, but Vanda did not stop to ponder over the past, and pressed the button again. The closet-inside slid back like the one before, and yet another slid in from the right. The contents on the shelves and in the drawers was much more interesting than the previous closet, three katanas rested in katana holders, and a pair of nunchaku hung on two hooks side by side. There was a coil of fine line with a shuriken tied onto the end, a pair of gloves with tough steel knobs mounted on the knuckles, and a blow dart gun along with a large package of fitting darts and another package of shuriken. But besides these and other ninja accessories, there was a large chest, which, after Vanda had unlocked it with the key that hung around her neck, revealed a large assortment of technology which Vanda had taken from Petrarchio's house before a guard of sentry bots had arrived and no one could get in or out.

She took a couple score of shuriken, a hundred poison darts, her blow dart gun, her favorite katana, and a small, sharp dagger, and placed them in her pack. She also took a few hologram projectors and one of the blasters that had lately been banned. She hesitated about this last item, but decided on taking it anyway just in case. Despite her father's admonition against going into battle, Vanda had secret hopes of being attacked by a dragon or something, and being able to put her skills to the test against a real enemy. Therefore, her pack looked as if she were walking straight into a war zone rather than going on the peaceful information gathering mission that was hers.

Vanda Gets the JobEdit

Jonathan sighed, life in the barracks was good, he looked out of the window of the recruitment office at the latest recruit who was taking his place in the bus that would leave at nine o'clock. Just fifteen more minutes, and they still needed a chronicler, yesterday had been busy, but today was very slow. John shivered, ninja weren't too bad if they were friends, but if they didn't know you, they were just plain creepy. It must have been nearly a hundred ninja that had shown up in the last two days, but Jonathan had to pick only fifty. Normal people are happy or excited when you tell them they have the job, and are usually sad or even angry when you tell them that they will not be needed. But these ninja... They walk in silently, wearing an emotionless face, give you their credentials in the fewest words possible, and sounding like it was memorized by heart before they ever left their hovels. Then they wait, standing silently, alertly, until you give them the verdict, and then they bow, turn and walk out of the door, showing no sign whatever of disappointment or pleasure concerning my statement.

The engine of the bus outside started up as the clock in the hall rung nine, but when Jonathan stood up to leave, the sound of a car pulling into the parking lot stopped him on his way back to the lunch room to pick up his stuff. He glanced out of the window, expecting to see his commanding officer's car, for ninja are never late, but parked outside was the kind of car driven by the older gentry out in the country. Ah, some ninja kid had got a kind neighbor to drive him in, the engine of the bus coughed and died, just one more recruit needed transportation.

The door of the car opened, and a girl jumped out. She suddenly paused, and standing up taller, walked up to the door of the recruitment office and came inside. John had returned to his seat, and motioned for her to sit down. Of course, he knew that she had no such intention, she walked like a ninja, and had the same alertness of eye.

"No thank you sir, I'd rather stand."

John went on as he had done scores of times before, "Name."

"Vanda Darkflame, daughter of Sir Krakkus Darkflame, and student of Master Fong Shader. I wanted to apply for that position as Chronicler- That is, If I am not too late."

Jonathan was startled, he had taken this girl for a runaway ninja, and was surprised to find out who her father was, Sir Krakkus had been high in favor with the Earl of Exeter when he had been president, and John was perplexed at why the knight allowed his daughter to associate with the ninja.

"It is not the custom to allow minors on these expeditions, but as your father is such a great knight, I will allow it when I see his written approval. Also, as Chronicler, you will not have much opportunity to fight. Captain James Spidrom is your commanding officer, and your Master Fong Shader will have no authority over you besides that given to him by the Captain, Do you understand?"

"Yes Sir."

The horn of the bus blared loudly as the driver vented his annoyance at the delay.

"All your luggage will be inspected when you arrive at your barracks, I have no time to check it now. Here, sign this, and get into the bus."

Vanda climbed up into the bus and smiled at the glaring driver, but before she found a seat next to Fong Shader, the bus lurched into high gear and rolled out into the street.

"Good evening Master," Vanda began, "I am coming too!"

The man nodded almost imperceptibly, and said, "Do not call me master. While in the dojo I am your master, but here in the field, you are my superior. You come from better family, you have better job, we are no longer Master and Student."

Vanda was silent for a few minutes, she knew it was true, in the eyes of society, Fong Shader was just the leader of a small village, no wealth, no name, no nothing. She now realized why the other students of Fong had always acted coldly and indifferently towards her, they must have felt that it was degrading to their master to teach a girl totally outside their class.

"But," she said, turning to Shader again, "aren't we still friends?"

The ninja smiled warmly, something that ninja keep for rare occasions, and said, "Yes daughter, we will always be friends."

A Favor Complied WithEdit

The driver of the bus was a fat fellow, he wore giant headphones that continuously throbbed and hummed. His eyes were fixed on the road, the only way home. He didn't think about his passengers anymore than the driver of a private car thinks about the soda cans rolling around in the back, all he had to do was get to the next stop in the long trail towards home... Home, that place with the microwave and the soft sofa and the TV, the only place of rest for a Skerion City bus driver.

They were only seven or eight minutes left when Vanda suddenly gasped, the recruitment officer had said something about her bags being checked when she got to the barracks... Grrr, she knew she shouldn't have brought that blaster she had picked up at Giovan's, those were banned, and the owners were usually fined when discovered! She let her gaze drift over to Shader's duffle bag as she thought over what she should do... She could pretend like she didn't know... Or she could roll down the window and throw it out... She could just leave it under a seat in the bus... But maybe...

"Fong! Will you do me a favor?" Vanda whispered. The man raised an eyebrow, ninja did everything on their own, and expected everyone else to take care of themselves as well.

"It depends on what the favor is."

"I want you to hold something in your bag for me... I - I'm afraid it won't pass the security check."

"What is the item?"

"One of those blasters that got banned, I know I shouldn't have brought it along, but I did, and I need a place to put it."

The ninja chuckled, "I have one of them stowed away as well, I have it disassembled and marked as spare parts for my ordinary one."

"I don't have time to disassemble mine far enough to pass inspection when I arrive at the barracks, I was wondering if you could let me stow it in yours until you or I have time to dismantle it."

"Yes, you do not have time... but neither can you put it in my bag, it is fastened shut, and I am told that I will not be able to open it again until we are once on the ship, or rather, not until we arrive at our destination as I am going in a hypersleep pod. We will be given uniforms and any other necessities while we are in the barracks and on ship, so there will be no need of what we have in our luggage until we arrive at our destination."

Vanda thought a moment, then said, "Can't we open it at the seams and then sew it up again?"

"Yes, but it will have to be done discretely, and we must hurry."

So saying, Fong Shader eased his bag closer to him, and began to cut the threads of one seam carefully with a pocket knife. When he had a hole of sufficient size, Vanda slipped the blaster from her bag, and handed it to Fong, who pushed it into his bag through the opening. Next, he took a case of needles and thread out of his pocket, threaded a needle, and began to stitch the bag shut again. As you may well be thinking, sewing a bag full of gear from one side, without any way of getting to the other side would be no speedy task. Indeed, Shader had three inches left to sew when the bus went through a gate in the high, lazer topped fence, and two left when the bus pulled to a stop outside the barracks. The bus doors swung open, and the driver slouched tiredly as he waited for his passengers to alight. The ninja took their bags, and headed down the aisle. A slight whisper and a knowing nod passed through the crowded ninja, their Master Fong needed a bit of extra time, and they would do their best to give it to him. As one of the ninja walked toward the door, his foot caught on the smooth tiled floor and he went down. After he had fallen, it appeared that he had sprained or maybe even broken his ankle, and two of the others had to help him out, very carefully, and very slowly. In the back of the bus, a quarrel broke out between two ninja, and the others just stood there and gawked for a while before endeavoring to break it up. All in all, it was five whole minutes after the bus had come to a complete stop that the last of the ninja filed out of the bus, hauling their bags along with them. The driver sighed, let out the brake, and began the last leg of his journey home.

The ninja lined up in front of the barracks officer who had come out from his office to inspect them, with Fong stationed inconspicuously in the middle, and Vanda at the end. The man glanced at the description card signed by John the recruitment officer that each ninja held out to him, and glanced at the ninja. Then he took their bag, weighed it with a hand held weighing device, glanced at the tag John had stamped that hung from the bag, and nodded to the ninja that he had passed inspection. When he reached Fong Shader, everything went well until the officer weighed the bag. He looked at the tag hanging from the bag, and looked back at the weighing device, and then back at the tag. Finally, he inspected the fastening that John had placed on the opening of the bag, but seeing that it had not been tampered with, he gave the bag back to Fong, and nodded that he had passed inspection. A few ounces didn't matter, it was probably a small mistake that John had made when he had weighed it before. He scratched something in his notebook, and moved on to the next ninja. When he got to Vanda, he smiled at her, and told her that he knew her father. Then he dismissed the others to go find their places in the sleeping quarters, and invited Vanda into his office.

After inspecting the contents of her bag, he reminded her of the little need of weapons for the job she was to perform, but allowed her to keep everything except the poison darts and her blow gun as, "Poisoned weapons must be approved by the general, and he has specifically stated that this reinforcing expedition should not be supplied with them. In fact, Captain Spidrom has orders for Captain Uberius that his soldiers should confine themselves to non-poisonous weapons now that the dragons have been somewhat put down." The officer also told Vanda that he thought that the General had made the decision because the ninja might become embroiled with the miners, and poison is not fair for any of the parties involved. The confiscated items would be returned to Vanda upon her return from the trip.

On Legends and FolkloreEdit

Vanda sat back in the recliner in her cabin aboard the NightWing, it wasn't exactly a battleship, it was more of a hybrid between that and a simple transport ship. There were enough cabins for a comfortable sized crew, but there was also a large hold that was filled partly with ninja sleeping comfortably in hypersleep pods, and partly with food, machinery, and other articles of survival. She had just returned from saying goodbye to Master Fong, and she still felt a little strange from witnessing all those people being stowed away like so many dolls in a toy store. There were others besides the ninja in the hypersleep pods, there were a few carpenters, a dozen stone masons, eight mechanics, three electricians, and a partridge in a pear tree, or so Vanda liked to think of him.

He was a somewhat stout peasant named Geremy Kuake who had apperantly been brought along because he had been close friends with James Spidrom when the latter was a boy, the former having been the family gardener. She still wasn't sure how it had all come about, but somehow, an opening had been made in the staff, and Geremy had somehow gotten James to let him come even though he really couldn't do anything except tend a garden and tell stories of his grandfather's adventures, most of which were so clearly false that they were almost embarrassing. He had made himself such a nuisance before the NightWing ever even left Skerion that James had been forced to throw him into a hypersleep pod before the inspector arrived so as to avoid the embarrassment of having one of the crew that he himself had picked out ejected by the inspector.

Once they were underway however, Geremy was let out, and he immediately began a tale of how his grandfather had been accidently shut in a hypersleep pod he had been working with in the basement for six months, and when his wife finally found him, she had been so terrified that she called in the mortuary services to carry off what she thought was a coffin with her dead husband inside. Of course, nobody believed old Geremy, because hypersleep hadn't even been dreamed of back in the days of his grandfather, but in the course of the voyage, the ‘Pheasant' as he had begun to be called, brightened many an otherwise boring hour.

However, I have not come here to talk about Geremy Kuake, but about Vanda Darkflame at the time of the departure, five minutes after they had broken out of the atmosphere of Skerion. She sat there thinking about all her father had told her about the first builders, he didn't like to talk about it much; he said that it were best kept unknown, so it had taken her many attempts to get enough information out of her father to have at least a basic understanding. She wasn't sure how much her father knew about them, but he certainly knew a lot that he didn't tell.

This is the basic outline of what she knew:

The First Builders had come from an ancient race of people on a far distant planet, and had made some very astonishing discoveries in the field of science, but instead of sharing it with their fellow men, they had made off in a space ship, and had apparently come to this location of the universe, and had set up their base of operations. It was uncertain why they went away from their home land; some accounts told that they were fleeing from their planet because of some crime they had committed, others said that they were in search of some treasure, but any ways, they had settled on a small planet called Gallant5, and had stayed there for some time. After that, there had been some great construction going on that had been kept a secret, and then, after years and years of the secret construction, the project was apparently canceled or something, and the authorities moved everybody from Gallant5 to a new planet that had apparently been recently discovered, by the name of Crux.

This new planet was not normal shaped, for instead of being spherical, it was in the shape of an enormous cube. The way the gravity worked was interesting; because of the cubic shape of the planet, the only places that one could actually stand up straight was in the center of each of the six faces of planet Crux. The further one got out towards one of the edges, the steeper the climb was, so that at the very edges, it was nearly impossible to get over without flying. But there was also another interesting point as to how the gravity worked, it seemed, according to the records, that the g-force exerted upon any object had gradually increased as time had gone on, and the civilization of the first builders grew.

Well, it seemed as though the people of the first builders had grown and grown, and their knowledge and technological advancements had far surpassed anything that most people thought was possible, and they grew haughty, and proud, and released the information that Crux was not a planet at all, but a giant holding tank for Imagination, the source of their power, that their ancestors had built long ago. They devised ways of stealing imagination from all nearby parts of the universe, and storing it inside of Crux. Then, when they had collected such an amount that the universe was dark and silent, they settled down and feasted and lived, rolling in the power they possessed.

Now, where Imagination is, it breeds more Imagination, and as the planet Crux sat there in space, the Imagination inside grew exponentially, its mass increasing and compressing as it grew and was confined inside the six faces of its prison. Soon it was obvious that Crux must be enlarged, the excess Imagination must be let out, or the planet would break at the seams, and their treasure be lost to the First Builders. They decided on letting a small stream of Imagination out into the universe, just enough to keep their home intact. They therefore built a magnificent structure that would protect their precious store, and at the same time, allow for a certain amount to be released.

But, where there is no light, the darkness gives birth to evil things, creatures of chaos and destruction, and therefore, when the First Builders began giving back a little of what they had stolen, the creatures came, attracted to the beacon of light and power like moths. They came from all parts of the universe that had been robbed of Imagination and, slowly at first, but soon much more rapidly, they began to make war on the First Builders, not an all-out war, but creeping up in the dead of night, massacring a house, or wasting a farmer's fields. Rumors came to the ears of the rulers and high people that there was no safety in arms, for their enemies were too strong. It was then that the Mythran were created, a force of elite soldiers, so infused with imagination that nothing could stop them… Or so it seemed.

In the great battles that followed, their enemies were always defeated and routed from the field. All except four great beasts, in the form of huge quadruped spiders, no effort of the Mythran would avail against the Eraxnalimn. All attacks just made the beasts stronger. They would break into a city and steal the stores of Imagination, using them to make themselves stronger than ever. A plan was hit upon by the Mythran that may have ended the struggle had it not been for the stubbornness of the leaders of the people in refusing to allow all citizens to aid the Mythran in fighting the Eraxnalimn, but the Mythran determined to carry it out anyway. They saw that all the Eraxnalimn wanted was the Imagination that Crux contained, so they lured them towards the Imagination Nexus, the place from which the planet released her treasure to the Universe, so that all four would come upon it at once, and from different sides. The leaders of the people were furious at what they thought was the treachery of the Mythran, but they could do nothing against the might of the mythran, so the Eraxnalimn came on. When they got there, the four beasts just stood in awe at the power that seemed to lay just within their grasp. One stepped towards the beam of light, but the others, seeing his intention, all hastened to cut him off, each one wanted the treasure, and did not want the others to get it. A fierce battle ensued, and all the Mythran stood inside the Temple of the Nexus and watched the fierce contest in satisfaction.

One after another of the Eraxnalimn fell, until only one remained, badly wounded and sorely tired, but she stepped forward, Ollogothylis, the spider queen had come to claim her own. But now was the chance of the Mythran, they had discarded their Imagination weapons for this battle, and ran out, with sword and battle axe, urging the common people to follow. But the leaders of the people would not allow them to attack the beast, and it was Mythran against Spider, a battle that struck trembling into the hearts of all who saw it, and resulted in the destruction of a third of the Mythran. But though the Mythran fought with the most desperate bravery, Ollogothylis managed to get away and escape to the fourth peak of Crux, Flaxmaulheitt, to remain until her wounds were healed, and her strength was regained. The leaders of the small remnant of the formerly prosperous planet Crux had a space ship built, and with the strongest youth of planet Crux, they sent a man named Exeter to start a colony far away from the First Builder's failure, and charged all on board to let none of their fateful past be remembered so that no one would come back to planet Crux to be destroyed by Ollogothylis or attempt to rule Crux and its preciously dangerous treasure.

Vanda wondered whether the legends were true, for all she knew, they could just be fairy stories, tales told by their ancient ancestors that had lived before them on Skerion around their fires. For these stories of the first builders were to the people of Skerion like the stories of King Arthur and the round table are to you, nobody really knows for sure how much of them are true, or if they are true at all. Vanda knew that her father was very interested in them, and that Giovanni Petrarchio also held a sort of interest in them, but she really did not know what to believe. That the people of Skerion had come from a different place was certain, for as far as archeology goes, there was nothing to be found before a certain date, but indeed, some of the stories of the first builders seemed quite incredible, and most people did not believe in them at all. But although Vanda was curious, she really didn't care much whether there was or wasn't a planet Crux, whether there was or wasn't Mythran, or whether the First Builders even existed, it made no difference to her. But there was the bell calling all hands to the mess hall, Vanda sprung to her feet, but then quickly grabbed the arm of the chair she had been sitting in to steady herself, she had to get used to this weak artificial gravity on board the NightWing.

"What are you tryin' to find out?"Edit

Captain Uberius strode in through the entrance of the Iron Extraction Unit 7729 with his usual accompaniment of two guards armed with knock-out machine guns. He himself did not carry such a gun but he had dart shooters mounted in his sleeve cuffs, and a long black handled katana was slung in a black sheath at his black belt. The shifts were changing, and a crowd of miners were pushing and shoving their way out to the pits. The odd thing was, however hard they hustled and crowded one another, the three ninja were given a wide berth of at least a yard all round. <p class="MsoNormal" style="text-indent:.25in;mso-pagination:widow-orphan">Captain Smudge had called them in to see him in his office and when they were ushered in by Charlie, he was sitting in a large swivel chair that was dwarfed by the massive frame of the grimy Captain. He offered them chairs, but only Uberius sat down, his two guards taking up positions so that one commanded the hall, and the other watched Smudge and his servant. <p class="MsoNormal" style="text-indent:.25in;mso-pagination:widow-orphan">"I called you in here," the captain said in unusually civilized speech, "‘cause I want to clear something up atween us." He studied the ninja's face carefully. "You show no emotion, I suspect you intend to hide the fact that some of your men have been spying on us while at work. First of all, what are you trying to find out, and Second, why sneak? I'd let you have a full tour of the place if you'd just ask." Captain Uberius was confused, why would any of his men let themselves be seen? <p class="MsoNormal" style="text-indent:.25in;mso-pagination:widow-orphan">But then he asked, "Where exactly were they when you saw them?" <p class="MsoNormal" style="text-indent:.25in;mso-pagination:widow-orphan">"They was right up close, not ten yards from where the men were working to the south." <p class="MsoNormal" style="text-indent:.25in;mso-pagination:widow-orphan">"What did they look like Captain? When did you see them? How many of them were there?" <p class="MsoNormal" style="text-indent:.25in;mso-pagination:widow-orphan">"I cain't say exactly how they looked, they were just shadows... There was two of them, an' they came sometime last week at the third shift." <p class="MsoNormal" style="text-indent:.25in;mso-pagination:widow-orphan">"Okay Captain, I'll look into it and see if I can find out who was there. I can assure you though, it was not by my orders. Possibly a couple of them went over to watch you work when they were off duty." Captain Uberius knew that when not on duty, all his men stayed in the Payload, but he rose and left with his two guards following behind. And Smudge stayed there in his chair watching them leave with a grim untrusting smile. <p class="MsoNormal">

A Break From Crystal HuntingEdit

<p class="MsoNormal" style="text-indent:.25in;mso-pagination:widow-orphan">"They are getting very close to the last one Thunder! We have already tried to see if we could come up close, but they always have men working, and there is no getting down into the ground to look for it without being seen! They will get it and it will be lost to us!" Mardwin Maskdur paced the floor of the cave angrily, a map was on the table, and Thunder sat studying it intently.

<p class="MsoNormal" style="text-indent:.25in;mso-pagination:widow-orphan">"How much time do we have Master?"

<p class="MsoNormal" style="text-indent:.25in;mso-pagination:widow-orphan">"By my estimations, we have but forty eight, maybe fifty hours left. It is hopeless." The old man stopped his pacing, slumped down at the other side of the table, and took the map from his student. Thunder was worried for him, it seemed as though Mardwin had aged so much since he had seen him last, he seldom ever wore his jovial countenance that used to be always present on his face. His skin had become old and wrinkled, and his eyes were bloodshot, Thunder knew that if he kept this up, he would die of exhaustion and exasperation. As Thunder watched the old man's eyes furtively studying the paper, he knew he would have to do something.

<p class="MsoNormal" style="text-indent:.25in;mso-pagination:widow-orphan">"Master Mardwin," Thunder started, "you need some rest from this problem, lets go visit one of the other planets in this system. Maybe that great forest, we could spend a day on the beach, and be back in time to get the crystal." Mardwin Maskdur looked up, almost incredulously at the boy who had always been smart and practical. Seriously? A day at the Beach? When all the future depended upon their getting the last crystal before the miners? But a smile slowly spread over the man's face as he realized that there was really nothing to be done anyway, and they might as well spend the time in relaxing and refreshing themselves as waste it trying to find a way to get at something they really had no chance of getting...

<p class="MsoNormal" style="text-indent:.25in;mso-pagination:widow-orphan">"Your plan is a capital one Thunder!" Mardwin said, his face beaming for the first time in months, "but we'll need to borrow a couple rockets from our friends up there, Lion Art will not take one through space!" Thunder looked up in surprise, as he had been suggesting the plan, he had realized how foolish it was, and had looked down at the map in front of Mardwin in slight embarrassment. But when his master said what he did, and Thunder saw how happy Mardwin looked, he sprang up from the table, followed by Mardwin.

<p class="MsoNormal" style="text-indent:.25in;mso-pagination:widow-orphan">"I'll beat you to the Great Tree!" Mardwin Maskdur said as he began spinning himself into a tornado of dust.

<p class="MsoNormal" style="text-indent:.25in;mso-pagination:widow-orphan">"Never!" Cried Thunder as he sprinted out of the cave and up the path. Mardwin's skill was so great that he could go pretty much anywhere from anywhere as long as he knew the way, but Thunder still could not do anything better than line-of-sight travelling, so he raced up the path until he got up to the valley of the pohr horses. Peering from behind the edge, he saw that there were no dragons in the place, so he scrambled up my roots until he could see the far side of the canyon. Then he too gathered the dust around him in a tornado, and ZAP he was on a place where he could see my spreading branches. Again he wound himself up in swirling dust, and was sitting upon one of my thick limbs in no time at all, panting from the exertion of the race. It was about five seconds later that a tornado of dust sprang up lower down on a flat spot in my trunk and left Mardwin Maskdur standing there, looking tired as well, but completely alert.

<p class="MsoNormal" style="text-indent:.25in;mso-pagination:widow-orphan">The man looked around hastily, and laughed, "Ha! I beat you this time Thunder Bol-" but then he caught sight of the boy sitting up higher than him, and shook his fist up at him in mock anger. "Come down boy, we have some quick scheming to do!" Thunder jumped down, and looked around.

<p class="MsoNormal" style="text-indent:.25in;mso-pagination:widow-orphan">"Where's Chuckie Bean? He usually greets us when we come to visit, do you think he is sleeping up on his perch?" Thunder said as he looked up to where I had made chuckie a comfortable resting place.

<p class="MsoNormal" style="text-indent:.25in;mso-pagination:widow-orphan">"No, he is not here." Mardwin said shaking his head with a knowing smile.

<p class="MsoNormal" style="text-indent:.25in;mso-pagination:widow-orphan">"Why? How do you know?" Thunder inquired.

<p class="MsoNormal" style="text-indent:.25in;mso-pagination:widow-orphan">"If he were here and awake, he would have greeted us as you have already said. If he were here and asleep, we would be hearing his extraordinarily loud snore." Thunder laughed as he nodded his head in agreement, if Chuckie Bean had one fault, it was his snore.

<p class="MsoNormal" style="text-indent:.25in;mso-pagination:widow-orphan">"He is a prisoner of the dragons at the time being, though I doubt not that he will get out before long, the dragons are not very good guards, that is why they only keep six jail cells, prisoners get out pretty much as soon as they get in." Thunder laughed at this, though he had no idea how his master knew of the fact.

<p class="MsoNormal" style="text-indent:.25in;mso-pagination:widow-orphan">"Are we ready to swipe a rocket or two and make our getaway?" Thunder said, still laughing.

<p class="MsoNormal" style="text-indent:.25in;mso-pagination:widow-orphan">"About that..." Mardwin said as his eyebrows suddenly pulled together in a very concerned frown, "We'll need a launch pad..." The two lions stood there deliberating on their problem, they could manage to sneak into the payload and get a couple rockets, but the launch pad of that ship was inaccessible to them if they could even manage to launch without attracting unwanted observation. The Iron Extraction Unit had a launch pad on its roof, but the same problem of the noise and bulk of blasting rockets assailed them.

<p class="MsoNormal" style="text-indent:.25in;mso-pagination:widow-orphan">I decided to help.

Off To GarlandEdit

<p class="MsoNormal" style="text-indent:.25in;mso-pagination:widow-orphan">I got Thunder's attention and handed him a piece of parchment that I had written quite fast.

<p class="MsoNormal" style="text-indent:.25in;mso-pagination:widow-orphan">"Sensei Maskdur, look at what I have here!" he handed his master the parchment.

<p class="MsoNormal" style="text-indent:.25in;mso-pagination:widow-orphan">"Hmm, it says that we can go to the mining rig to launch, and there will be a distraction. It also says that we do not need to take the rockets from the Payload, there is a closet right next to the launch pad that has rockets in it."

<p class="MsoNormal" style="text-indent:.25in;mso-pagination:widow-orphan">"Cool! Let's go!"

<p class="MsoNormal" style="text-indent:.25in;mso-pagination:widow-orphan">"Not so fast young one!" Mardwin said laughing, "This old heart of mine doesn't take a beating like yours, we will walk down so as to restore our energy in case of need." The two ninja went down my trunk, Thunder jumping, and Mardwin climbing. I watched them as they went, and when they were close enough to the mining rig to take advantage of my little distraction, I set to work to send a few boulders down among the miners from a height where I had one of my big, strong, roots.

<p class="MsoNormal" style="text-indent:.25in;mso-pagination:widow-orphan">

<p class="MsoNormal" style="text-indent:.25in;mso-pagination:widow-orphan">Mardwin and Thunder sat in the shadows waiting for whatever I had planned, and examined the massive machine. They had done the same many times before, but then, it had always been with the intent to discern whether they could get down into the pits to search for the crystal. This time, as they examined the mining rig from the outside, they were impressed at how huge the machine really was. It towered a full fifty feet above the ground, and although ten feet of this was the space in between the ground and the bottom of the machine, it was still awe inspiring, and there seemed to be absolutely no way up. But then Mardwin espied a thick coil of metal cord on top.

<p class="MsoNormal" style="text-indent:.25in;mso-pagination:widow-orphan">Just then, rocks began tumbling down one of the cliffs and the rumble filled the air and mingled with the cries of the miners as they saw the impending danger. In a constant stream they poured out of the pits in which they worked, but there were still several men down when the rocks rolled over the edge and into the open mines.

<p class="MsoNormal" style="text-indent:.25in;mso-pagination:widow-orphan">"NOW!" exclaimed Mardwin, "Go up to that coil of cable, and toss the end down to me so that I can climb up!" Thunder began spinning around, then shot through the air in a blur and landed next to the said cable and waited as Mardwin threaded through rocks and fleeing miners until he was standing below Thunder. Thunder tossed the end of the cable down to Mardwin, who commenced climbing immediately. Mardwin climbed, and Thunder pulled on his end as well, and the master was soon up. They looked around, and saw the launch pad, and beside it, a shed-like structure which Mardwin opened to reveal at least thirty rockets. Thunder took one, and set it on the launch pad. He entered a few coordinates and jumped in, the air lock sealing shut tight over him. After a couple seconds, the engines roared to life, and the rocket took off. Mardwin Maskdur had also brought a rocket out of the shed and had set it upon the launchpad when something told him that danger lurked behind. Sidestepping quickly, drawing his katana, turning, and dealing a strong slicing blow, all in one motion, Mardwin looked up to see a huge man in greasy overalls clutching his right arm tightly, blood streaming from it from the blow Mardwin had delivered. On the ground lay a heavy club which had fallen from the man's grasp. Mardwin lunged for it and brought it down with all his might on the big man's head, sending him crumpled to the ground, but not before the man let out a loud yell for aid. Being thus pressed for time, Mardwin rushed over to his rocket and typed the same coordinates that Thunder had entered. Before the ninja had time to leap into his rocket however, three men, not quite so large as his late attacker, but still fearsome opponents, had come up, and began to assail Mardwin so hotly that he feared for his life. When I noticed that they had not gotten safely away, and it was all my fault for suggesting the plan to them, I decided to help again if I could. So, plucking up a small boulder with a root, I hurled it at Mardwin's attackers, the old man meanwhile dodging out of the way. The obstruction removed, Mardwin hopped into his rocket and was off, nothing more happening to recount until he arrived on Garland's beach.

A Tree ProblemEdit

<p class="MsoNormal" style="text-indent:.25in;mso-pagination:widow-orphan">Thirty miners set out to clear away any of my branches or roots that lay around their camp so that no further accident could befall them. They carried axes and chainsaws, and I could see that they were determined. I had a couple of choices before me, I could attack them, or I could let them attack me. I decided that attacking them would be the surest way of getting myself killed, not of course in the immediate onslaught, which I would of course win, but later; when reinforcements had arrived, I would be completely exterminated.

<p class="MsoNormal" style="text-indent:.25in;mso-pagination:widow-orphan">So, I pulled all of my roots and branches back to myself, and soon there was nothing left of me anywhere near where the miners were marching.

<p class="MsoNormal" style="text-indent:.25in;mso-pagination:widow-orphan">When they got to where they meant to commence operations, they were surprised to find that no vestige of any root or limb could be seen. They therefore went on in search of me. They did not find anything until, upon coming out on to a high place, they saw me in my full splendor. I had put half of my roots down to entwine themselves around the pillars underneath me to provide strength in stability in readiness for the possibility of a coming battle, but the rest of my roots were sticking straight into the air, much higher than the tops of my branches. When the miners saw that I was so much together, they cheered because their job was that much easier. They still could not get it into their thick heads that I was a little more than just a huge tree. But then one of the slightly smarter of them looked for a way to get at me, and finding all paths cut off by a wide gap, he told the others to stop their cheering, for there was no way to get across. So they returned to their base, satisfied that they had done all they could, and that there was no longer any threat of boulders rolling down. But when Captain Smudge heard the report, his face grew white and he ran down to the radio and requested an immediate meeting between Captain Uberius and himself.

<p class="MsoNormal" style="text-indent:.25in;mso-pagination:widow-orphan">"Captain Uberius! Listen Up!" Captain Smudge gasped before the ninja had even gotten seated, "You have a big problem on your hands!"

<p class="MsoNormal" style="text-indent:.25in;mso-pagination:widow-orphan">"What is the nature of the problem Captain Smudge?"

<p class="MsoNormal" style="text-indent:.25in;mso-pagination:widow-orphan">"It is a tree problem. I think we have a living, moving, knowing, tree to deal with, and not only that, but from what my men say, this tree is huge, and I am sure it could wipe us all out if it wanted to do so."

<p class="MsoNormal" style="text-indent:.25in;mso-pagination:widow-orphan">"That may be, I myself have seen this great tree, and know that it could defeat us in a pitched battle. However, that is not the way in which I conduct business Smudge, if you will agree to follow my lead, and if nothing occurs to baffle my plan, we will come out the victors in this situation."

A Failure of an ArrivalEdit

Mardwin sat in his rocket as it streaked through deep space towards Garland, he had never been in space traversing ships as small as this rocket, and he felt unprotected and insecure as the rocket whizzed past asteroids and floating debris. He was the last in a long line of wizards, and he used to be content in his rickety old Castle Balfour on the planet Glatterfelt. His only brother had been deceived and taken in by a group of ritualists who called themselves the Illusionists, and it had taken all his magic and wizardry to protect himself and his property from the clutches of the quickly growing Illusion Kingdom. After battling for years in the cause of reality, and losing ground each day, Mardwin had abandoned the lost cause and left for more profitable places in the universe.

On his Journey, Mardwin had come across a group of asteroids travelling in formation, and stopped for several days with the seven inhabitants of this strange place. They possessed powers over the elements, which was just a little disconcerting even to a magician. It was there that Mardwin was inspired to invent Lion Art, and as he continued in his travels, he worked hard to achieve a degree of excellence in the art. Nowhere seemed to suit the tastes of Mardwin, and he decided to return for another visit to the seven lone brothers. After searching for a bit, Mardwin found the remnants of Neimbaz and his friend's late home. He found no one however, and was about to return to deep space in his spaceship when he found a map that explained that the elemental powers of fire, ice, electricity, and earth had been put into usable form and hidden, and the map gave clues as to where. He was immediately intrigued and began searching for the elemental crystals. There was another thing that happened to irritate Mardwin and keep him here in the Valley, that was that the dragons had found his space ship and had destroyed it beyond repair.

So Mardwin Maskdur stayed in the valley and found the elemental crystals of ice and electricity, and when Captain Daily's exploration party had arrived, Mardwin was on the third one. Unfortunately, most of Mardwin's time was taken up by his two charges, Thunder and Gameking, and he had not had time to look for the fire crystal. After Gameking had gone and Thunder had reached a certain level in his studies, Mardwin released the secrets of the crystals to him and they soon found the fire crystal deep in a dragon's lair. Now there was only one crystal left, the most powerful of them all and unintentionally guarded by the most unassailable foe, fellow man.

Thunder almost panicked when he saw that his rocket was heading straight towards a large encampment, and searched frantically for the manual button so that he could steer away from detection. He did not see one however, and grasped the control stick. Hopelessly pulling it up and away from the camp, Thunder was surprised that the rocket immediately responded. But the rocket pulled up too sharply, and Thunder tried to correct it, but he over corrected. "Man, Lion Art does not help flying skills much!" he thought as he tried to get out of his wild loop of over corrections.

A group of monkeys sat staring wide eyed and open mouthed at the crazy maneuvers of the rocket until it finally disappeared into the sea with a loud splash. They held their breaths and stared expectantly at the place the rocket had gone under until it came bobbing up like a cork. Then the monkeys let out such a clatter of laughter and calls that a flock of parrots that had been sleeping nearby flew up into the air screaming cries of shame on their annoying neighbors. Mardwin did not do so well either, he had accidentally pressed the eject button thinking it was the manual switch, and the monkeys again went into fits of laughter as the rocket dumped the man into a tree and he tumbled to the ground.

Ten minutes later, Thunder and Mardwin were lying on the beach, the one, soaked from head to foot, and the other, bruised and sore from his tumble. It was the very picture of a relaxing vacation.