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It was Bevern who spoke first. “What happened...? I mean, how you did... The whole placed filled up with magma, we all thought you were a gonna...”

“It was my staff that saved me.”

“Well, that’s some staff you have there then. Glad you’re on our side. But how did you get all the way here? We’ve been walking non-stop for a day.”

Tyght thought quickly, then said, “I... found an underground river that flowed from the lake. It had been unaffected by the magma. The only option that I had was to swim down it, and it left the mountains a couple of miles back there. I’ve just been walking after that, seeing if there are any other survivors. Have you seen any?”

“No,” said Gaian, “There have been no signs of life, other than an increase in the number of beasts that roam the land now. We’ve had a few skirmishes with them, but we are unharmed.”

Sianna then spoke, “But we have no idea as to where we’re going, we haven’t a clue as to where this Fire Crystal is! You would have thought that Lisa would have at least have given us some pointers!”

“I say we keep moving,” said Gaian, “Maybe Lisa will have left a sign for us somewhere out here that will manifest itself at the proper time.”

“Yeah,” said Bevern, “like a pack of Fire Hounds!”

Gaian was clearly not amused, “Come on.” He led the way.

After just a few minutes, Tyght stood rigidly still. Everyone stopped to look at him. He had his eyes closed, and both of his hands were firmly gripping his staff. Bevern went to shake him, “Tyght, you OK?” But he didn’t respond at all, keeping his eyes closed and hands firmly clenched.

After about a minute he opened his eyes again. He turned to his left and said “This way.”

“What?” asked Bevern.

“The Fire Crystal is this way.”

“How d’you know that?!”

Tyght turned round to look at him, “It’s my staff, it can sense the crystals. I think it may be what Lisa's gift to me was.”

“Is there anything that staff can’t do?!”

Tyght now led the way. In the distance ahead of them there were some hills. Tyght led the party at a brisk pace, and Gaian noticed the change in him. He seemed very determined, and in a hurry. They all wanted this to be over as soon as possible to try and regain some normality, but Gaian felt that it would be sometime before that would happen, and exhausting themselves on a march would not change that fact.

After about an hour they reached the hills and started to climb. They weren’t that tall, just around a hundred feet, and before long they were at the top.

The hill that they had climbed was one of a collection that roughly formed a circle. In the centre a gaping hole had appeared in the Earth, and an orange glow was emanating from it. Tyght pointed his staff towards it and said, “The Fire Crystal is in there.” And without another word he started to lead the party down the hill towards their destination.

Bevern said to Sianna, “Since when did he become our leader? He’s marched us up to the top of the hill, and he’s marching us down again. I for one could use a breather!”

“Why? I’m fine! Are you out of shape, old Bevern? Those horses making you lazy since you left the army?” She had a cheeky glint in her eye.

“No! Not at all! I’m as fit as a fiddle me! Ready for anything! I can march up and down hills all day if I had to!” And, as if to prove his point, he quickened his pace to catch up with Tyght, and Sianna giggled.

Gaian drew up next to Sianna, “Bevern never was one for exercise, even in the army.”

“Is that so? Then why are you bringing up the rear, instead of racing Tyght?”

Gaian smiled at her, “I am merely conserving my energy. The leader of a marathon at the beginning is rarely the winner at the end.”

“Well, you better make sure you don’t run out of energy.”

“Oh, and why is that?”

“Because you still owe me a date!” And with that she winked at him, and ran off to catch up with Tyght and Bevern.

Before long they had reached the hole in the ground. From here they could see that the orange light was pulsating. The ground was rocky, and stairs had been cut into the ground, leading as far down as the eye could see.

“This looks like it’s been here for a while,” said Bevern, “but I’ve never heard of this place before. We’re not that far from Eliviston. Surely someone would have mentioned a place like this?”

“Maybe it was hidden,” said Gaian, “And it has only been revealed since the Apocalypse.”

“Maybe so, but it still gives me the jitters.”

“Then,” said Tyght, “The sooner we get this over with, the sooner we can leave.” And without another word he began to descend into the hole.

Bevern looked at Gaian in despair, but Gaian just shrugged his shoulders and followed Tyght. Sianna followed him, and said to Bevern in a mocking childlike voice, “Does little Bevern need Mummy to hold his hand?”

“Hey! I’ll have none of that! I don’t normally go down glowing holes every day so it’s right that I should feel apprehensive! But, er, I think I’ll just bring up the rear, you know, to protect us if we should get attacked from behind.”

“You do that,” said Sianna, winking at him.

They all walked down in silence, as the stairs wound downwards in a broad spiral. The lower they went, the hotter the air got. But, after about half an hour, they still could not see the source of the light.

They then heard a howl from above them. Then another, and another. “Fire Hounds!” cried Gaian, “Let’s move!”

They quickened their pace, and Bevern overtook Sianna. “Hey! I thought you were going to protect our rear!” she cried out.

“As nice a rear as you have, I was only joking when I said that! I can’t fight a whole pack of Fire Hounds! You’re the one with the magic! I nominate you for the job!”

It was indeed a pack that was pursuing them. The group ran down the steps as fast as they could, but it wasn’t long until the pack was almost on them.

Sianna held out her hands and shouted, “ICE!!!!!” A blast of ice shot out from her hands. The first three Fire Hounds were frozen solid in a block of ice that spread right across the path, stopping any more Fire Hounds from reaching them.

Sianna was panting and short of breath. “We've got to hurry. With this heat that wall won’t last for long, and I don’t have the energy to cast another spell.” The group redoubled their efforts.

After about another ten minutes they reached the bottom of the stairs. Ahead of them was a large corridor, and at the end they could see the source of the heat and the light. “The Fire Crystal!” declared Tyght, “Quickly!”

They ran down the corridor, with Bevern helping Sianna who was almost about to collapse from exhaustion. But when they were about two hundred metres away from the Crystal they heard an almighty roar. Flames started to appear from all sides, and started to gather in front of the Crystal. They started to form some sort of beast, looking roughly like an Ogre, but made entirely from flames, and who was starting to slash at the group.

Gaian drew his sword and started to swipe at it, but it just passed straight through, causing no harm to the beast. Bevern tried the same with his sword, but got the same result. The beast swung what looked like an arm at Bevern, causing him to recoil backwards.

Tyght them stepped forward and held out his staff. The beast started to stand back from the party, screaming in rage. “I can’t keep him back for long!” Tyght called out, “Someone is going to have to try and reach the Crystal!”

“I’ll go!” said Gaian. There was no other choice. Sianna was exhausted, and Bevern was still recovering from the creatures blow. There was a gap to the right, and Gaian made a run for it. The creature, which was facing Tyght and his staff and being held by some force that was preventing him from approaching, didn’t notice Gaian, who quickly reached the Crystal.

Gaian then heard a soft voice in his head, “Warrior of Light, hold out your sword.” Gaian did so, unquestionably. He felt compelled to obey this voice.

His sword touched the altar that the Crystal sat on, and it started to glow and pulsate in tune with the Crystal.

He heard the beast roar behind him and could sense it coming towards him, but he could also sense that the Crystal had yet to be secured.

“ICE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!” Sianna’s voice was ear shattering. A huge block of ice enveloped the creature, who howled in pain, and within seconds both beast and ice had disappeared. But Sianna now lay unconscious on the ground.

Bevern, still slightly stunned, walked up to Gaian and said, “What’s happening?”

“It’s the sword, Excalibur. It’s rebalancing the Crystal, becoming one with it. I can sense that throughout the world the element of fire is being normalised.”

Tyght had walked over to Sianna, cradling her in is arms. The look on his face showed that he was in two minds – he disliked her form of magic, but it had just saved them all. He then quickly looked up into the distance, “The Fire Hounds are coming!”

The barks could be heard coming closer. But then, from behind the altar, they could hear someone clapping slowly. A man clad in armour and with long brown hair emerged, with two other men in similar armour. He held out his hand towards the Fire Hounds, and said in a soft yet commanding voice, “Halt!” Instantly, the Fire Hounds fell silent and stopped where they were.

Gaian withdrew his sword from the altar, with the Fire Crystal now no longer pulsating, but glowing a brilliant orange. The man turned to face him, “My name is General Catrix, and I am here on the orders of Emperor Calistan.”

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