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Tyght screamed, “Imperial scum!” and ran at General Catrix, preparing to strike him with his staff. But General Catrix held out his hand, the palm facing Tyght, and he stopped dead in his tracks. He appeared to be struggling, as through he was trying to walk through an invisible wall.

“There’s no use fighting it,” said General Catrix, “My power is far greater than yours. The Emperor has been most kind with his gifts to me.” Tyght gave up the struggle.

Gaian then said, “What brings you to the Republic?”

General Catrix laughed, and then said to his men, “He still thinks there’s a Republic!” His men laughed with him. “The Republic has been utterly destroyed! The Emperor has been building up his power for many years, and now there is no one who can stop him! He will rebuild the world in the efficient style of the Empire, and that is the whole world! There will be just one nation on his Earth, leading to an eternal peace. The Emperor’s peace! And under his guidance we will live just and prosperous lives!”

“His guidance?!” said Bevern, “Have you not seen what he’s done to the world? This used to be a green and pleasant land, now it’s devastated! Towns have been destroyed, fertile fields now flow with rivers of magma, uncountable numbers of people have been killed! What kind of peace is that?!”

“It was the only way!” shouted General Catrix, “Before you can have eternal peace there must first be a great war! The Republic was becoming dangerous, they were threatening our borders. The Empire had to strike first otherwise it would perish! But fear not, when the war is over, when the Empire has established itself in all four corners of the world, these fields will be green again, and all of the world’s people will be able to live in peace for the first time in the history of the world.”

“You’re mad!” said Bevern, “To save the world you say first you must destroy it?! Why didn’t you just try to negotiate a peace with the Republic? Not once has the Emperor made contact with the Senate! He says he wants peace you say, what made him conclude that Republic didn’t want the same thing?!”

“The Republic didn’t want peace! If they wanted peace why would they amass such large armies along our borders? Why would they build such a large navy along the coast of the sea that lies between us? Those sound like actions that are preparing for war!”

“They were for defence only! We were fully aware of the Emperor’s desire to expand, to acquire more land for the Empire at the cost of the sovereignty of our people. We were merely preparing for the very strong possibility that he would threaten our borders! And after what has happened, and seeing you here, it would appear that we were right!”

Before General Catrix could reply, Gaian spoke up, “And why are you here, General? I don’t see you leading an invading army.”

“I could ask you the same thing, but I believe that we are here for the same thing.” He looked at the Crystal. “As you have seen, our Emperor has acquired a great power, but there are greater powers still to be sought. For that he requires the power of the four Elemental Crystals. When their power is combined with that which he already has, he will be able to reshape the world in his very image! He will be all powerful and immortal! None will be able to challenge him! And when that happens there will finally be peace!”

“And how did he acquire this power? Has he done a deal with Geevan? Has he done a deal with the devil?”

General Catrix laughed once more, “Silly fool! Geevan doesn’t exist! That nonsense about doing good deeds to strengthen God was just a fairy tale they tell little children to make them behave. There are no Gods! Just the four Elements. But once our Emperor obtains their power and combines them with his own he will become a God! A God is what this world needs to lead its people!”

“You didn’t answer my question – how did he acquire his power?”

General Catrix was silent for a moment, and then he said, “That is a secret that only our Emperor knows. He has been studying the magical powers of this world very hard for a great many years, and he has unlocked their secrets.”

Sianna was now starting to come round, “W... What happened...?”

Bevern walked over towards her, “We’ve balanced the Crystal, but we’ve got company, some of the Emperor’s goons.”

Sianna looked over towards the General, and a look of fear came over her face, “Catrix...”

“You... you know each other...?”

“O... only reputation...”

General Catrix then said, “I tire of this chit-chat. We don’t have all day and we have three other Crystals to reach.” He turned to his men, “Biggs, Wedge, kill them. But not the girl! I want her alive.”

Gaian held his sword aloft, “You don’t think we’re going to go down without a fight, do you?”

“I’d expect nothing less!” General Catrix drew his own sword, “But once you are dead I will take that sword of yours, and with it, the power of the Fire Crystal!” And with that he lunged at Gaian, who was able to parry his blow.

They continued to exchange blows, whilst Bevern and Tyght took on one each of his men. Bevern was able to match the blows of the man he was fighting, and Tyght’s staff, despite only being made of wood, took the blows of the sword of his foe without so much as breaking off a splinter.

Sianna slowly stood up as her strength slowly came back to her, but there was no possibility of her casting any more spells. She looked around her – the Fire Hounds were pacing around noiselessly behind them, and the Fire Crystal was shining brightly. When she looked at the Crystal it held her gaze, almost hypnotising her. Slowly, she found herself walking towards it. The men were all involved in fighting each other, and so did not notice her.

She reached the alter, and, as she did so, she felt compelled to place her hands upon the Crystal. As she did so images of the world flashed through her mind. She could see the ruined towns and cities of the Republic. But she could also see other parts of the world – the Frozen Wastes were starting to melt, the Central Desert was enveloped in a piercing sand storm, and the majestic trees of the Great Jungle to the far west of the Republic with withering and dying. She could also see towards the East, towards the Empire. But rather than seeing a people geared up for war and invasion, she saw the same images of destruction. The Empire, it would seem, had suffered the same fate as the Republic.

She let go of the Crystal and turned to face the others, who were still fighting. “Stop!” she screamed, but they all appeared to not hear her. “Stop it! This is pointless!” They still didn’t react. “STOP!!!” and at that moment the Crystal flashed brightly, causing all of the men to stop perfectly still, as though they were frozen.

Sianna was confused. She thought to herself I didn’t have the energy to cast a Stop spell, and certainly not one to stop six people...

A voice then entered her head, You didn’t. It was I that cast the spell. She looked around, but could not locate the source of the voice, but then her eyes stuck on the Crystal. That’s right. Warriors of Light, my power belongs to you now. Now, all of you, come here.

Gaian, Bevern, and Tyght all became unfrozen and, as they regained their senses, they walked towards the Crystal. Catrix is unaware of the truth that the Emperor has concealed from him, but it is not for I to reveal it to him. But he will have a key part to play in the events that are shortly to unfold. A great catastrophe has befallen our world, but it is still one that can be put right, once the truth of all things is known. Now, place your hands upon me.

The four each stood on one side of the Crystal, and, without questioning, placed both hands upon its surface. Once they had done so they were engulfed in a bright light. Safe journey, Warriors of Light. May the truth be known to you soon.

When the light had faded they found themselves back on top of the hill they had climbed previously. They looked around, and they saw that the rivers of magma had stopped flowing, and the magma was cooling to form rock. They could see the light of the Crystal shining out from the ground. Just then, the ground shook, and the hole was somehow covered up by the surrounding ground. When the ground was still again it looked as though the hole had never been there.

“What happened to the General?” asked Bevern.

“I don’t know,” said Gaian, “But I’m more concerned about what the Crystal meant about this truth that we’re meant to know. What is it that’s been kept from us?”

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