Chapter 21 - Friend or Foe

Nero stood wide-eyed at the forest around him. Nobody liked him anyways... and why should they? He was just a coward. A worthless, useless coward who when things got thought, he hid. He hated himself so much for that. He thought back to the days when the Phoenix paranoia was going on… he'd been a complete jerk back then as well. One thing that'd surprised him was that they still had electricity. It seemed to be that the dome protecting them, also kept their basic heating and lighting on. No internet access nor plumbing though, obviously.

In any case Nero had began to realize more and more as he laid there hiding from everyone earlier... he really did hate himself. Well, no more. He was prepared to prove he was worth something. Earth was his element anways, how hard could this whole hunting and gathering thing be? He would get enough to provide a lot of food for everyone. Maybe then they'd accept him again. Or at the least that'd be a start.

The funeral was incredibly depressing. Some of the people who'd died were nice to him. That wasn't a common thing, because everyone found his wild conspiracy theories and rambling to be crazy and irrational. They'd buried them beside the flower gardens, so people could visit them. They were given as nice of a burial as they could but, the graves had to be mass graves because there wasn't much room to bury them anywhere else without being a constant reminder to everybody.

Nero had thought about asking Miles to come with him, but the guy creeped him out too much. Especially since they'd landed in dark world. Nero tried to search him out, hoping for some sort of kindred spirit among them, since as far as he knew, they were the only non-healer magic users left in Camp 3.

He'd began making a lot more puppets, and kept a room to himself as his own private work station. Everyone in charge didn't know, and anyone who DID know were too busy trying to pretend they didn't. Miles was a bad idea. Besides... this was something Nero should do alone.

It was dark outside, but it had been long enough everyone had figured out it was probably always dark outside in this world. Nero was good at seeing in the dark anyways though, so it effected him little. Perhaps everyone's eyes could adjust to it anyways when not indoors.

He formed a bow and arrows out of hardened earth. He'd gotten to where he could make it as hard as rock. It would do the trick as he aimed at something resembling a deer. As he did so he heard a loud shake, and out of the ground, the deer turned out to be an ornament, a sort of font horn to lure in food.. belonging to a gigantic creature with sharp teeth and fur the same color as a deer. It stood on two legs but could clearly also run on all four, with a mouth big enough to swallow a paddle boat whole with no problems.

Nero yelped as he ran, but then stopped. No. He would not run anymore. He turned and stomped on the ground as stone pillars came out of the ground and sent the creature flying backwards. He fired a few arrows at the beast as it flew back, the arrows pierced its flesh and a loud roar of pain could be heard from the beast.

He then dug his hands into the ground and then used the earth to form a stone sword in his hands, a two-handed longsword. Not a great sword/claymore mind, those are bigger. In any case, he swung at the beast and managed to puncture its skin. It screeched but scratched his arm, leaving a long scar along his arm.

Then a werewolf jumped out from the clearing and began beating up the creature. As the werewolf turned and looked at him it said, "Don't worry, I won't hurt you. Hi. I'm Christian."

Nero fainted.

Christian went into human form. He then rolls Nero's uncurious body in the the dirt. He then takes Nero's hands and places it in the monsters blood, and wipes it on Nero's shirt, as if he had just whipped blood off of his hands.

After he's done he throws one of Nero's arms over his shoulder and lifts him up by the waist. They head back to camp. One of the students sees them coming from the forest and shouts, "Oh my god! Students coming back from the forest, they appear to be hurt!"

As students gathered to stare at the sight of the bloody shirted Nero and Christian beside him with his shredded and torn clothes.., as well as covered in wounds.

The students said, "Are you guys nuts?! We were not supposed to go there yet! Not until they checked it out!"

Christian sighed, "I went out to search for food and Nero was with me. I was nearly ripped to shreads by a monster. Nero saved my life."

The Students say, "So what happened to him?" Pointing to the unconscious Nero

Christian, "Oh he was amazing. He fought off the beast with his earth abilities using them to create arrows and even a sword, he was so fearless it was amazing and if he had not been there I'd be dead right now. But unfortunately, he was exhausted and passed out. So I felt the least I could do was bring him back."

One of the people in the crowd said, "You should've left the spineless coward!"

Christian walks over to the boy and knocks him to the ground and says, "You wouldn't be talking so tough if it was you!"

He kicks the guy, now on the ground and says, "dumb bastard!"

As Sho had just walked outside, Christian looked toward him and said, "You took charge yesterday, perhaps you can help him."

Sho nods as they turn around to head back. Sho says to the other, "Return to what you were doing." He turns to Christian and says,"Gimme a hand with him."

As they head towards the medical area of the School, Sho asks: "Did he really do all those things you were talking about?"

Christian chuckles, "Well, he was fairly brave, for Nero anyways. He did make those Earth weapons I mentioned. But no, it was me who saved him in the end. I was just helping him out, you know what his reputation is."

Sho nodded, "Your secret is safe with me."

And with that, they headed to the medical area.

Back in the forest near Camp 3, where the dead creature lies a few men were talking amongst themselves.

A man with short brown hair and wore a black fur vest, shirtless underneath and scars all across his chest, wearing black jeans and black boots said, "Looks like we're not the only one around here. Makes me wanna howl with excitement."

Next to him was a man with white and black fur. He looked like a hybrid as his head was like that of a white-tiger but his body that of a man covered in white and black stripped fur, black claws along each of his fingers. He wore red jeans and a white belt, with a gold buckle. He wore a white shirt under a long black jacket. "Indeed. This could prove to be a problem. We isolated ourselves from all other continents for a reason. The force field could be a problem though."

A slender girl with medium hair which on the left side was platinum blonde and black on the right side was behind them . She had a large bust and was wearing a brown leather jacket over her white shirt and wore leather armor under her white pants. She was holding a halberd spear and said,"Hmph. As long as it's a good fight, I'm up for anything." She then allowed herself to do a large shout as she turned into a hybrid, much like the tiger with her, but was part bunny instead.

In the distance at the school, the weird shout could be heard among the bewildered students.

Zach realized his prompting wasn't working. But if he didn't wake her, soon the Orc would be upon them. He heard the Orc had already figured it out, "Trying to pull a fast one ey? Where are you? I'm gonna skewer you both!"

Zach smacked Shakira firmly across the face, "Shakira, I know you've been through a lot and you miss Joey. But do you think he'd want you like this? If you don't snap out of it, his death will be in vain! You have friends here and now. I'm your friend, Max is your friend… we're your friend Shakira and if you don't snap out of it, we might die too! You need to wake up!"

Shakira blinked and looked at him. She stood up and suddenly the ground under them rumbled. Zach instinctively dodged as a massive eruption of lava came out of the ground and hit the Orc in front of them, briefly. She then stood there and said, "I'm…I'm sorry about that Zach. I'm ready!"

Suddenly they both heard Brokk shouting, "Dragon!"

Sure enough a purple dragon was flying above them. It swooped down and began eating the Orcs. Max headed in Zach's direction.

He looked at Shakira and smiled, as he teared up a bit and hugged her. He was overjoyed to see she was ok, but the he noticed something as he let go and shouted to everybody, "There's a crevice over here guys! I think it's a cave! We can get away over here!"

The others ran for the cave and all of Camp 1 headed into it. As they headed through the cave, it was a narrow pathway that seemed to go on for a while.

As they continued their walk, they eventually reached an area where they noticed a light coming from the sealing. It was a jade light. And before them was a ruin, somehow within the cave.

It appeared that the ceiling wasn't always there.. it was like something had dug it out. And before them was a ruined castle. On the front of the castle it said the words "Gallindor".

Brokk was wide eyed, "I'd heard about it. Gallindor. A kingdom that fell many years ago. But they say that right before the kingdom fell, the castle mysterious disappeared and was never found… this..this must be that castle. At any rate, we can rest here. I'm sure we could all use it, since we still haven't gotten any sleep yet."

They walked into the massive Castle. It was big, and beautiful. But everyone was exhausted and tired. Especially Max, he could barely keep his eyes open. They found a large room, near the center of the castle. It had a red carpet that was faded and old, but was mostly rock floors and walls. There appeared to be a thrown as well, but everything else was messy, like a battle had happened.

They all laid in various places. Max laid down on the floor beside the thrown. Brokk slept on the thrown. Cael and Zach slept near a small well that was for some reason in the throne room. Shakira and the others were in various places on the floor.

Zach lay there asleep. He was dreaming. In his dream, he had on red and black armor. He was taller too. In both of his hands were swords, but the swords were wide in shape and had chains at the end of them, so they could be thrown and then pulled back to himself.

In the dream he was standing above a man and there was red magical energy coming from his own hands and hitting the man. The man was screaming in pain.

"Please! Just kill me and let it be over with."

Zach smiled and said, "No. I want to see you squirm. I'll grant you death when I am bored with your screams of pain. They entertain me too much to stop now!"

Suddenly a woman came into alleyway they were in. "Harold! W-what are you doing to my husband?! Y-You're him aren't you?! Zach Gordon! I've heard about you! P-please, I beg of you, let my husband go!"

Zach grinned as he threw his blade straight through her chest and tore down her mid-section, killing her brutally as he proceeded to use the blades to tear her shreads right in front of her still in-pain husband who was crying but could barely make a sound out of the sheer pain he was experiencing.

While Zach was having this dream, Brokk too was having a dream. He dreamed of his ancestor, Josh. This was many years ago, in an age before this world was known as "Dark World". Brokk had heard Josh was a great knight, but knew very little else about him. But the dream showed a much more detailed story. The dream had himself looking through his ancestor's eyes. It was if he was his own ancestor!

Tearing through the enemy one by one, he wasn't sure what he was doing anymore. What did he fight for? What purpose did he have in this world? Not much time to think about it, but now it's all he thought about. He'd slash down the enemy with his sword. The blood would smear down it. Yet now he thought again… why did he fight? He was but a foot soldier. Not even a knight. Not royalty, just a soldier fighting for his king. Yet he'd seen many battles. Well more like 3 or 4. Fought in all of the ones he saw, of course. He'd just killed his last enemy when he stopped and looked around.

Bodies everywhere. This battle had been far worse than any other. He was the only foot soldier alive. Only ones on his side in battle who was alive besides himself was the Knights themselves. He'd only survived by pure luck. Though some would say it was skill. One of the Knights stopped to get off his horse, "Are you Injured?" He laughed, "Just alot of cuts and bruises. Nothing a little rest can't fix." The Knight laughed, "Impressive. What is your name?" "Josh sir." The Knight grinned, "Josh... Kneel." Josh did as we was told, in shock at what was about to happen. The Knight put his blade on either side of the man's shoulders and said, "I, head Knight Bartholomew, hereby declare you, Josh, Knight of Gallandoir. Rise." Josh again did as commanded. 'Wow, he thought to himself. This.. this wasn't at all what he expected to happen today. He actually was expecting to die.. he even wondered why he even existed, yet now.. he was a knight. Barth smiled, "Ride with us." Josh nodded, "Yes Sir." Barth laughed," No need to be formal with me. Now let's go." He headed over and got on a horse they had.

Bodies everywhere. This battle had been far worse than any other. He was the only foot soldier alive. Only ones on his side in battle who was alive besides himself was the Knights themselves. He'd only survived by pure luck.

Though some would say it was skill. One of the Knights stopped to get off his horse, "Are you Injured?"

He laughed, "Just alot of cuts and bruises. Nothing a little rest can't fix."

The Knight laughed, "Impressive. What is your name?"

"Josh sir."

The Knight grinned, "Josh... Kneel."

Josh did as we was told, in shock at what was about to happen.

The Knight put his blade on either side of the man's shoulders and said, "I, head Knight Bartholomew, hereby declare you, Josh, Knight of Gallandoir. Rise."

Josh again did as commanded. 'Wow, he thought to himself. This.. this wasn't at all what he expected to happen today. He actually was expecting to die.. he even wondered why he even existed, yet now.. he was a knight.

Barth smiled, "Ride with us."

Josh nodded, "Yes Sir."

Barth laughed," No need to be formal with me. Now let's go."

He headed over and got on a horse they had.

The Six headed back for Gallandoir, to report that the enemies had been killed, but the cost was great. The Kingdom of Gallandoir would be ambushed by a second wave soon. That just now WAS Gallandoir's second wave. It would be down to the Knights themselves and the wall guards of the Kingdom to fight this army. But that wasn't the half of it...Joshes Birth Mark mysteriously started to glow. Josh scratched only tended to glow when something bad was to happen soon...this was a bad sign. Josh covered it with his sleeve, which had been rolled up, as he rode with the knights.

In any case, he rid his horse over to the castle.

On the way, he had to ask, "I notice each of you have a small number on your arm, probably showing what order you joined. Makes me wonder.. how did each of you guys become Knights?"

The Head Knight laughed, "Well, let's just say I've been one for quite a while."

The fourth knight, who was short but stalky with big muscles and was bald, laughed, "Oh come on Barth, you and the king are old chums. It's no secret. As for how, who knows. Barth doesn't talk much of his personal life, and we don't mind that."

Josh looked at the fourth knight, "well then, how'd you become a knight?"

The fourth knight laughed, "Me? Simple. My father was knight of this kingdom before me. I wanted to be one too, but Barth here said I had to earn it just like anyone else, so I did. They say I fought an army of Cyclops while my arms were bound. That's what they say. I'll let you decide for yourself if you believe it. Names Hogar by the way."

Josh looked at the fifth knight, "And you?"

The fifth Knight was covered in black clothing. He was lean in build but muscular. He had no sleeves. He ignored Josh completely.

Hogar remarked, "That's Alucard. I wouldn't go asking him too many questions were I you, kid. He's got a mad temper. But don't worry, he won't hurt ya. You don't want to know how he became a knight though, trust me. If you value having sleep at night, you're better off not knowing."

Josh laughed nervously, "Okay. Guess that leaves those two."

He pointed at the second and third knights, who were further up ahead from everyone else.

Hogar laughed," You got a lot of questions don't you? Well, those two are old friends of Barth. They were former mercenaries when Barth found 'em. Brothers those two are. Same father, different mother. Took a lot of convincing but they became knights alongside Barth. The three of them were the only knights we had for a long time because of the death of our first king and his knights against the Paraians. We only got a reprieve because of a short truce we had with the Paraians. As you know, we just defeated the them two years ago. Vicious lot they were. You're the first new knight since those days, well sort of. We'll be meeting with the sixth Knight when we arrive. He's guarding the king."

Josh was curious, "Sixth? How come I've not heard of him before?"

Hogar grinned,"He's one of the strongest among us. Definitely the oldest. They say his skill level is comparable to the head knight himself. He hasn't been doing much sense we beat the Paraians, and he wasn't knighted until after he had helped us win the final battle of that war. Ever sense, he's been guarding the king most of the time. Opted out of fighting with us, and we respect that. The rest of us are like brothers though, and you our newest brother. You and I should have a drink sometime."

Josh laughed, "I don't drink."

Hogar laughed, "Never hurt to give it a try." Josh just nodded.

When they arrived at the kingdom, the front gate lowered and they entered into the kingdom. It was smaller than some, but that makes sense when you note that Gallandoir only started about 80 years ago, making it much younger than most other kingdoms. As they began entering the kingdom, the dream continued.. as Brokk wondered how it was that he not only was seeing the memories of his ancestor, but knew what he was thinking at those moments as well.

Max had a different dream, two in fact.

His first dream was he was back home. There was a woman crying to her daughter, her daughter being in her early 20s. The mother was blonde. She spoke to the daughter while laying in the sand and covering her arms in the sand, and Max could see from the daughter's eyes.

The Mother said,"What were they working on there? Please.. just tell me what they are doing."

Max could see the daughter's thoughts. As he saw her think about the Zombie Virus and how it had failed because the enemy had necromancers. He then thought on how the US had developed gigantic humanoid robots and had already long deployed them on the battlefield in the "previous war", whatever that meant. In any case, they felt the "mechs" weren't enough now that the enemy had struck again.

Then he heard her say it from what felt like his mouth,"They've developed a machine. Powered by potatoes of all things. The goal is to see the future, but with scientific machinery. They gained the idea when the Schneider house head, Maxwell, revealed he had the gift of divination. Please, now get up."

The mother said,"I can't. They tried to kill me once before. They'd shoot at me the second I got up off this ground."

Max continued to see through the Daughters eyes as she looked at mysterious black car pulled up beyond the gate and two government agents dressed in black came out of it and closed the doors.

It was very vivid..was he seeing the future? He felt like he was, though he couldn't explain why. Then the dream faded away into black and he was in a new dream. This time he could sense it was his regular dream... somehow.

He was standing in a gigantic white room. It was clean and beautiful. He saw a door. The door was labeled "Dream Hallway." As he walked for the door, suddenly the white room expanded into a massive cornfield. And he heard growls all around him. Creatures of some sort, and they didn't sound friendly.

He found himself more capable as a fighter in his dream however, as when the first beast came out it was a shadowy creature resembling a cat and a dog mixed, he somehow knew martial arts as he did a karate kick to push it back and then used kung fu punches and swings to take down another. He ran for the door, which continued to get further and further away. Then he jumped into the air and found himself flying, superhero style. He flew at great speeds and reached the door and opened it. As he opened the door he saw the doors were labeled.

The doors read "Jericho, Shakira, Leon, and Anna." He looked above the door he'd come out of and saw it read "Max". These doors must have led to other people's dreams! He opened the door labeled "Anna", and stepped inside….

Now we look back at Camp 2. They'd reached the speck. Turns out the speck was an odd bit of rocks gathered together. But they were shaped in such a way they look like they could provide shelter, like they'd been dug out into makeshift caves sort of. It was amazing looking to Simon. It reminded him of the cave they were in before. He'd been in shock at first, but he was quickly realizing they did not have time to just stand around doing nothing.

Oh how he wished they'd stayed in that cave. The walk had been long, cold and he couldn't feel his fingers. Nothing but snow, everywhere and all they had to wear was school uniforms. They were lucky they hadn't frozen to death.

He felt like he might pass out even. But he wasn't about to allow that to happen. Everybody else was being strong during that walk. Nobody complained and they'd marched forward. He felt like the weakest team member, but he was determined not to show it.

Besides, he was one of the Crimson Twins... or was it the Azure Twins? People kept debating whether to call them off their fire powers or their last names. Guess that didn't matter now though. He was the quiet type anyways, so he tended to let others do the talking.

Suddenly many arrows started heading their way. Him and Ikuto Instinctively blocked them by creating a bunch of flames in front of themselves, strong enough the arrows turned to ash. That was new. Their fire was clearly stronger in this world, just like the lava.

Ikuto looked down as he said, "That…was better than expected." Then he felt his hand and made a sound of pain as he noticed he'd lightly burned his thumb and a couple of his fingers on his right hand. "This fuckin hurts!"

Jared was the next to speak as he nodded understandingly, "Just like my lava. This worlds doing something to our magic, making it stronger, but harder to control."

Simon looked at his fingers, it would seem his were unharmed, for now. He remarked, "I wasn't burned, for some reason."

Tim nodded, "That is awfully weird. But right now I'm more worried about where those arrows came from, and why they stopped…and where did Connor go?"

Connor came out from the rocks holding a man who was apparently by now unarmed as he threw the man onto the ground.

Connor nodded, "I found this guy. I scouted up ahead and saw him about to re-arm his bow. I stopped him with a good nice shock from my lightning and decided to bring him here."

Simon felt immediately reminded of how he felt like the weakest in the group. Rally had ice element, so this place was a natural fit for her, though she did seem to be constantly scared by the expressions on her face, which was in its own twisted way at least a small comfort to Simon. Other than just now, Ikuto had been handling things well enough, proving how opposite twins can be.

Jared was handling the situation with his usual mellow attitude, almost as if this place hadn't affected him, which unlike Simon, he probably wasn't faking. Tim had taken charge proving to be the brains of the group showing just how much a hick's smarts can be useful in survival, and Connor was continuously proving why Allanon had made him one of the two in charge back home. Sure Anna was apparently in a coma, but it was because she'd healed the entire school at once!

What could Simon say? He was just another fire guy, while they already had his brother. He felt worthless.

Tim asked the man they'd captured,"You wanna tell us why you were shooting at us?"

The man was silent for a moment and then said, "No reason. I just thought you looked funny."

Tim looked to his side and then back at the man and said, "My ghost buddy tells me you're lying. I don't particularly like lying. Makes me unhappy. Connor, which part did you electrocute again?"

Connor replied, "His left leg mostly."

Tim kicked the guys shin and he shouted in pain. Simon didn't like what he was doing, but he said nothing. It could be key to their survival to figure this out.

"Now care to rephrase that?"

The man seemed too stubborn to speak.

"Connor, give him a lil zap please."

Rally stepped forward, "That isn't right! He's a human being! Enemy or not, that's just cruel!"

Tim looked at Rally and said,"I know it ain't pretty, but we gotta stay alive out here. Do you want to freeze to death or worse get killed by this guys buddies?"

Rally looked at the ground, "No….but-"

Tim interrupted her, "But nothing. Connor and I are doing what we have to do to get it done."

Connor replied, "If it makes you feel better, you don't have to watch. The area I came from should be clear for now. Just stay on guard. Look, I don't like doing it either. But I agree with Tim. We have to do this."

Rally sighed, "W-whatever…."

It took a little while, as the man was very stubborn about not talking. But they managed to get some information out of him.

"My people are hiding after the war with the North. We've been barely surviving off of the food and water here. If anyone from the North finds out we're alive, they'll slaughter every man, woman and child! I beg of you, don't report us! We're barely surviving as it is!"

Tim nodded,"We won't. But in exchange, you gotta show us your people. We need shelter."

The man grumbled but seemed to agree as he said, "Its several miles underground, directly under these rocks."

Ikuto replied,"Sounds like we've got a place to go to!"

Tim nodded,"That it does. That it does."

And with that, they reached a man hole cover and opened it. There was a ladder. Tim went down first.

Then the man that was their guide, then Connor, then the others, with Rally bringing up the rear.

As they headed down the ladder, they'd told her to cover the whole back up with the cover they'd opened, so she did.

As they went down the ladder they reached a massive round staircase. It took them a really long time to get down it. Apparently he wasn't fooling. It was six miles down before they reached a dead end.

The man said,"She ga-ra-tie-lenthia."

Jared asked,"What language is that?"

The man said, "Snake language. My people can talk to snakes. We're quite proud of it."

As they entered the door there was a makeshift elevator. It was very cheaply made as a big cage with a door and held by normal rope. The man used his hands to wheel them down. This last a very long time.

As they got down he opend the door. There was another door, this time massive, no less than sixty feet tall.

The man said,"Eye-lewith-ydga-seth!" and the door opened.

Upon opening they saw a massive castle-like fort in the distance, and a bunch of poorly made make-shift buildings with people on the streets. But right in front of them were many men dressed just like the man they'd brought with them.

They had their bows pointed at Tim and the others.

One man seemed to be in charge, he had ginger hair and a ginger goatee and was pail white, looked to be in his fifties. The man used magic to create a pillar of ice as he sort of surfed on the ice and headed for them, confidently and proudly, before landing on the ground in front of them, in between them and the guards. He wore the same standard leather armor as they did, and had two short swords, one on each side of his waist and a bow with its quiver on his back. His bow was larger than that of the others.

"I am King Terragon of the Southern Kingdom. You are my prisoners and you are coming with me, faggots."

Simon replied, "We're not gay actually..."

One of the guards said, "He calls people that all the time, even if there is no reason. You'll get used to it, if you survive that long."

And with little other choice, they followed the guards into the kingdom.