7: ONE DOWN
A long road stretched ahead of him and the wind blew small clouds of dust across the tarmac and through the air, creating a brown haze outside. Either side of the road were scraggly clumps of bushes and clumps of brown grass, long since withered in the sun. The sky was now beginning to fade from the spectacular pink of sunset to the deep purple that would soon lead to the blackness of night.
Nick yawned slightly and rubbed his eyes with the back of one hand while the other still held the steering wheel of his car to continue the drive along the deserted road. Behind him there was not a single other vehicle, but just up ahead and almost completely out of sight he could just about make out the truck of the Ersnai. He had allowed them to venture so far ahead of him to avoid being noticed, as that could lead to disastrous consequences. He wanted them to be completely unaware of his pursuit and hopefully, they would lead him to his friends.
He suddenly saw the truck turn off onto a road to the right. Nick frowned slightly as he glanced at the map in front of him. He still had no idea where the Ersnai were even heading.
This road did not lead anywhere except to nowhere, but he kept driving in the hope that he could perhaps steal their ship and then head into space to Zator’s battle cruiser in orbit.
As he approached the part of the road where the Ersnai had turned off, he saw that there was no other road. He slowed down and glanced to his right, but could hardly make out the truck at all. He slowed down a little more and carefully inspected the ground from his window until he saw the imprints of tires upon the dirt that lead over several clusters of flattened grass and over a dirty patch of land.
Nick quickly backed the car up and then turned to follow the tracks. Anxiously he peered through the rapidly darkening sky to try and spot the Ersnai’s truck. He had followed them all day and he was determined that he would not lose them now.
Finally he saw it, a small, squat, rectangular building sat between thick clumps of dead bushes. Beside it was the Ersnai’s truck. Nick glanced down at the map again but saw no sign of any building. He stepped down on the brakes and drummed his fingers against the wheel as he contemplated his next move. Even in the dark, the Ersnai might still see his approach, therefore it would probably be safer to leave the car here and walk to the building.
He clambered out of the car and pocketed the keys as he began to stealthily creep towards the building. He clasped his amulet and closed his eyes as the tingle of power travelled throughout his body. When he opened them, he was in his ninja super hero form. He patted his amulet and his fingers slipped about Zanell’s for a moment, as if for luck. Then he began to jog towards the building, keeping to the small cover that the bushes and sickly trees provided.
As he drew closer, he saw that the building appeared to be abandoned. The windows were coated in thick layers of dust and the frames were brown with flaking rust. The Ersnai’s truck was empty and Nick saw that their footprints led through the rickety door and into the darkness of the building.
Nick withdrew his sword and clasped it tight in his hand, nervous in case they chose to attack. He inched his way forward and peered through the doorway, but the room beyond was black and completely dark.
Nick touched his amulet for a second and it began to glow and cast a red light about the room. He now could see that he was in a room where the floor was covered in dead insects and dust. Carefully he looked about until he saw the marks in the dust which indicated that several people had passed that way before.
Uneasily Nick followed the trail through another doorway and found himself in a long narrow room. Still the footprints showed him that his prey lay straight ahead of him and so he continued.
As he reached the third door, he noticed that they were no footprints here. He turned about him and used the amulet’s light to glance about the room. The trail led to the right where there was a dark opening in the wall. Nick leant down beside it and found that it was almost like a tube that led downwards. It was easily big enough for a man to crawl into, but Nick had no idea where it would lead him. Was there an underground section to this building?
He glanced about the room again, but the dust about him was undisturbed. There was nowhere else the Ersnai could have gone. They must have used this tunnel… but what if Nick was falling into a trap?
He touched Zanell’s amulet and thought of her and his friends. He did not have a choice. He sheathed his sword and then clambered into the tunnel. He gripped hold of the sides for a moment as he saw that it led almost vertically downwards in a pipe. He took a deep breath and then released his hands.
Immediately he began to fall and slide down the black tunnel, the only light came from the amulet about his neck. His fingers gripped the sides of his cloak tightly as he tumbled down the slide, unable to stop himself or control his descent.
“Well, well, well,” a voice hissed. “Look who’s come to join us.”
“Just like Zator said he would,” another voice added.
Nick swept his cloak away from his face and stared about him to discover that he had emerged from a black hole in the wall and had fallen into a huge room where the walls were made of metal.
He turned from his position on the floor and found that the Ersnai were watching him with amusement. They were still shamelessly wearing the disguise of his friends and the amulets glowed about their necks. All four were ready in their super hero forms and Nick gritted his teeth as his hand fought to clench about the hilt of his sword.
Nick narrowed his eyes and slowly pulled himself to his feet, wiping away the dust from his cloak as he did. “I know that you’re not my friends. None of you are! You’re all Ersnai!”
“Ersnai warriors hired by Zator to stop you and your incompetent comrades,” Kevin said with a smirk upon his face.
“And what is he giving to you in return?” Nick asked curiously.
“Payment,” Brian replied bluntly.
“But how do you know he’ll pay you?” Nick said, his hand still poised above his sword hilt ready to fight if he could not reason with them. Since when had the Ersnai been involved in this fight? This was between Zator and the Backstreet Boys.
“He’ll pay,” AJ replied stubbornly. “He knows well our reputation and knows that you should never cross us. He wouldn’t dare.”
“Maybe - ”
“Do not try to drive a bargain with us!” Kevin snapped. “We are Ersnai and we honour our agreements! We are bound to Zator and we will not stop until our task is complete! We will stop you from hindering Zator from his plans ever again!”
“I don’t want to fight you, but I will if I have to!” Nick said, drawing his sword threateningly. “I just want my friends back!”
“Because you are nothing without your friends!” Howie taunted. “And you’re never going to have them back!”
“Zator is going to kill them!” AJ laughed.
“And then poor Nicky will be all alone for the rest of his miserable life!” Brian spat.
“No!” Nick screamed. He could feel the rage pulsing within him and rushing about his veins. For a second his mind filled with the image of one of the photographs at his home of all five of them together, and then he leapt forwards to attack.
His sword was raised above his head as he sprang towards Brian, intending to slay the evil creature that had polluted the sweet image of his best friend. Brian merely laughed at him and used the top speed powers hat the amulet gave him to nimbly dodge the attack, allowing Nick’s sword to only succeed in smacking into the metal floor.
Quickly Nick raised his sword again and found the other three Ersnai watching the fight with interest. He spun around and saw that Brian has his hand outstretched and a huge ball of bright angry orange energy had formed within his fingers. He smiled at Nick for a moment and then he flung the ball at him.
Nick cried out as the blast hit him, sending a burning pain along his arm. He hit the floor heavily biting his tongue to prevent the whimper of pain from escaping him.
“You really think you can take us on?” Brian hissed from above him. “Let’s see how you cope with four against one!”
Nick groaned slightly and forced himself to roll over and pick himself up again, despite the aching pain that seemed to be fighting to consume every part of him. He was lucky that his amulet also gave him limited protective powers as usually Brian’s powerful energy blasts were capable of knocking walls down…
He stared up at Brian, preparing to dodge any other attack that might be hurled at him, but the Ersnai had turned back to his friends.
“You’re turn,” Brian said to AJ.
AJ grinned as he jumped forward, eager to have his own play with Nick. Nick retrieved his sword from the floor and staggered to his feet, but his legs felt weak and he found himself slumping back down to the floor, accompanied by a roar of laughter from the Ersnai.
AJ raised his guns. “Say goodbye to your head, Nicky Carter!” he said evilly as he aimed the guns at Nick’s face.
“No, don’t kill him!” Kevin ordered, smacking AJ roughly about the head causing the Ersnai to emit a squeal of pain. “Zator wants him alive to suffer!”
“Yeah, don’t get too carried away!” Howie snapped.
Nick smiled at the brief distraction and jumped forwards, his sword raised. He needed to diminish his foes to even out his chances of success. He aimed for Brian’s back, his eyes narrowing as he stared at the hideous monster that had cruelly taken the real Brian’s place.
Brian suddenly seemed to sense the attack and spun around, his eyes flashing green with horror. “Watch out!” Brian screamed, dodging Nick’s sword as he leapt out of the way.
Nick saw Brian leap away from him, but he kept on running until his sword connected with the Ersnai that had been standing beside Brian. His sword sunk into Howie’s chest and the Ersnai emitted a high-pitched scream that echoed painfully in Nick’s ears. He pushed the sword deeper into his flesh, ignoring the grotesque green slime that slithered out of the wound and onto his hands.
“Get him off!” Howie cried, still squealing and whimpering.
Nick felt Kevin’s and AJ’s hands upon his shoulders, but he roughly pushed them away as he pulled his sword from Howie’s chest and drove it into his neck, knowing from his fight with Zanell that it was the weak spot of the Ersnai. The chest wound did not seem to be a vulnerable patch, but the neck was. This evil, twisted beast that had posed as his friend was finished now.
“No!” Kevin screamed, realising that their number was about to diminish to three.
AJ seized hold of Nick’s shoulders fiercely and yanked him away from Howie, but the damage had been done. Already Howie was beginning to transform into the green slime as Zanell had done and slump to the floor into a thick puddle of scum.
“You monster!” AJ shrieked, pulling his guns from his belt and beginning to fire at Nick.
Nick bounded out of the way, only just missing the spray of energy fire. He circled the room, leaping every time one of AJ’s energy beams came to close to him. He ducked as one of Brian’s energy basketballs glided over his head
He jumped over another round of AJ’s gunfire and then scooped up Howie’s amulet from the pool of green slime that had once been an Ersnai. Already the remains were dissolving into nothingness, completely annihilating the false Howie.
He spotted the door at the far end of the room and then began to run, his heart hammering madly against his chest as he fought to escape. No doubt that the Ersnai would have no problems about killing him now, despite their promise to Zator. And what help would Nick be to his friends if he was dead?
“He’s getting away!” Brian yelled, as another energy ball narrowly missed Nick as it bounced to his left.
Nick slid Howie’s amulet into his pocket as he hurtled down the corridor and his fingers tightened about the handle of his sword. Brian could easily catch him with his top speed powers…
He suddenly froze and then spun around, his sword held out directly in front of him. He saw the blur approaching him but Brian was moving too fast to be able to stop in time as he noticed Nick waiting for him with his sword. He ran straight into the point of Nick’s sword and he screamed in agony as green slime leaked from the chest wound.
Nick pulled his sword out of Brian as the Ersnai collapsed and slumped to the ground. He leant down and snatched the amulet from his neck. Brian hissed and his eyes glowed green with rage. His hand reached out to take it back, but he was too weak from the wound to be able to seize the precious item back. Nick smirked at him and then continued to run down the corridor, away from the Ersnai warriors.
Now the Ersnai only had two amulets and three warriors and the odds for Nick seemed a little brighter. They would be even better if he could just find the real Howie and the others.
He turned his head briefly as he ran and saw that Kevin and AJ had reached their fallen comrade. He ducked for a moment as AJ fired his guns again and then he quickly turned the corner and kept on running until he spotted a door to his right.
He slipped inside of the new room, breathing hard as his lungs fought to take in vital oxygen to keep his body working. The Ersnai had seemed to know that he would follow them here and had waited in ambush, but was this location important or had it just been a random place which they had decided to use as a battle arena?
He glanced about the new room, which was dimly lit from above by clusters of green light that seemed to be embedded in lumps of crystal upon the ceiling. Curiously he glanced about him and noticed several control panels dotted about the room upon the walls and a few consoles at the far end.
This as certainly like no place he had every seen before. The building looked abandoned above the ground, but down here was like a secret lair of some description.
‘Wonder if I’ve found area 51?’
Nope… Area 51 wasn’t even in this state according to rumours… but perhaps he really had stumbled across someone’s secret hideout… Zator’s perhaps? The technology was definitely more advanced than anything Nick was used to…
Anxiously he stared about him, as if his friends would be waiting for him in this very room. They had to be in this building somewhere.
“Guys!” he screamed. “Where are you?”
Only the echo of his own voice answered him and Nick’s eyes darted about him glumly. Shouting was probably not the wisest thing to do as the Ersnai were bound to be after him now and no doubt Zator had droids guarding the place. He would have to be careful from now on.
“Guys, I’ll find you,” Nick whispered quietly. “I’ll find you before Zator hurts you.”
Because if Zator killed them, then Nick knew that he would never be the same again. Ever.