The Archives of the Heroes: Series One - Foundation.

This is the story of two brothers growing up in our Universe. They manage to find themselves all kinds of trouble and adventures while travelling from galaxy to galaxy with their father.
Or, in some cases, by themselves.

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14. Episode Five: Easy come, easy go.

 

The school was hardly eager to let the brothers out, and postponed their outing for two entire months. Liart didn't particularly mind, however, as he had a plan for their outing, though he would not be sure whether or not to follow through with it for a few weeks at least. Not until he was certain he couldn't make any friends.

He started straight away in his effort to befriend the boys. He'd read books and watched people, so he had a rough idea as to what to do. He started in the classroom.

He did not ask any questions, did not challenge the teachers' view at all. They were extremely narrow minded, so it bothered him extensively, but – he reminded himself – he had promised Strongh he would try. Then, at the end of the class, he quickly stashed his homework in his desk and did not hand it in.

'Liart.' The science teacher interrupted, just as he was leaving. Ah. So far he was the first to complain. 'Where's your homework?'

'I haven't done it sir.'

Again, the boys looked at him in total shock.

'Are you sick?' One of the tallest asked. 'You always do your homework.'

'Yeah.' Another agreed. 'What's wrong? Why didn't you do it – for any of your classes?'

Liart shrugged. 'I'm sick of homework. I don't have any fun or any friends. So I thought maybe if I stopped doing homework I could have friends.'

The tallest boy grinned. 'Really? Wanna be friends with me?'

Liart frowned. 'Aren't you a bully?'

'Yeah, but not if you're my friend. Hey, why aren't you friends with Johnny here?'

Liart glanced at the other boy. He was the smartest boy in class, other than Liart, and still managed some-how to have friends. It was probably because he wasn't a show-off, and was extremely trust-worthy.

'I dunno.' Liart replied, forcing himself to speak colloquially.

'Wanna be?'

Liart nodded.

'Great!' The tallest boy cried. 'I'm Roy, spelt with a 'j'. German background, okay?'

Liart smiled. 'Can you speak German?'

'Yup. Can you?'

'Ah-ha.'

'I don't believe you!'

'Aber Ich kannst!'

'That doesn't prove anything!'

Liart sighed. 'Do you really want me to prove it to you?'

Roj nodded.

Liart needed no more prompting.

'Wer reitet so spät durch Nacht und Wind?

Es ist der Vater mit seinem Kind;

Er hat den Knaben wohl in dem Arm,

Er  faßt ihn sicher, er hält ihn warm.

 

«Mein Sohn, was birgst du so bang dein Gesicht?» –

Siehst, Vater, du den Erlkönig nicht?

Den Erlenkönig mit Kron und Schweif? –'

«Mein Sohn, es ist ein Nebelstreif.» –'

Roj shuddered at once; he seemed to know what was coming.

Liart's smiled faded as he thought about the rest of the poem, and he jumped promptly to the end.

'Dem Vater grausets, er reitet geschwind,

Er hält in Armen das ächzende Kind,

Erreicht den Hof mit Mühe und Not;

In seinen Armen das Kind war tot.'

All had fallen silent, something which disturbed the mono-lingual Johnny.

'Hey!' He cried eventually. 'No fair! I don't speak German!'

And so, sighing, Liart briefly translated the few verses he had recited.

'Who rides so late through the night and wind?

It's the father with his child;

He has the boy safe in his arm,

He holds him secure, he holds him warm.

 

“My son, what makes you hide your face in fear?” –

Father, don't you see the Erlking?

The Erlking with crown and flowing robe? –

“My son, it's a wisp of fog.”  -

 

The father shudders, he rides swiftly,

He holds in (his) arms the moaning child.

He reaches the farmhouse with effort and urgency.

In his arms the child was dead.'

John's face fell immediately, and Roj scowled.

'Why did you have to quote that one?'

Liart shrugged. 'I like that one – the Erlkönig.'

'Yes.' Roj agreed, though he was still scowling. 'J. W. Goethe is certainly good. But you really must be a very strange boy to like that poem of all things.'

'Not at all. It's about a father who does not believe a word his son is saying, and so his son dies. The only person with a happy ending is the Erlkönig, if he can be called person.'

'You know,' Johnny interrupted, 'if you want to make friends, quoting terrifying poems in German probably isn't going to work.'

Liart shrugged. 'Well, did it?'

Roj smiled very suddenly. 'Yes!' He cried. 'I think it did! You may be crazy, but I think I like you – I'll call you Verrückt!'

Liart did not particularly appreciate the idea of being called crazy in German, but he figured that was the best he was going to get.

'All right.' He gave in. 'I guess you can call me that.'

'Verrückt?' Johnny repeated. 'What on earth does that mean? Is that German too?'

'Don't worry.' Roj said, standing up, 'you don't have to call him that. You can call him Rookie. After all, he's pretty new to this whole being friends business, right?'

Liart nodded.

'Let's go.' Roj prompted, walking out of the room. Johnny followed.

Liart quickly glanced at the teacher before leaving. To his surprise, the man was not bothered at all. In fact, he seemed happy, and regarded Liart with a smile that he'd never seen before. How odd, Liart thought. The minute he disobeyed the teachers was the minute they decided to like him.

 

Liart did his best to trust his new friends, and they promised him they were one-hundred percent trustworthy. He soon realised that he'd have to trust them a little bit if he wanted them to take any interest in him at all, and so he went out on a limb and told them how much he hated school. He didn't like doing that, talking about his feelings, even to Strongh. But at least – for the most part – he knew Strongh was trustworthy. Who was to say these boys wouldn't run off and tell everyone what he had said?

'Gee, that's a shame.' Was all that Johnny said reply, whereas Roj's answer was much deeper.

'It'll get better.' He promised. Once you get used to being here.'

'I've been here for a year.'

'So? It just takes you a while to get used to it.'

Liart couldn't help but smile at that logic – one of his adorable smiles he'd inherited from Jaliq. His friends smiled back instantly.

Liart decided that – if he were to really prove to Strongh that he could make friends – he would have to go all out. And so, shaking, that night at dinner he did the most outrageous thing he could think of.

Standing on his seat, it wasn't like he was nervous or anything. He just knew he was taking a huge risk. If he didn't pull this off, he'd be considered a fool forever.

But he knew better than to let that happen.

He smiled, and the faces of all those turned towards him beamed straight back.

'I'd like to sing a little song!' He cried, and the teachers eyed him warily, though they were mostly in shock. 'And I'd like to dedicate it to my brother, Strongh.'

Strongh's eyes widened, and he froze in horror.

'That's right, brother!' Liart cried, pointing at him, and smiling with such delight in his eyes that Strongh wanted to slap him across the face. 'Come climb Blie Foosta Maiek with me!'

There was a round of applause, and Liart relaxed. Strongh saw that there was no avoiding this, singing this stupid song about climbing the Snowy Ranges, and so stood on his chair as well. Then, glaring at Liart, he readied to do the actions.

Liart grinned – looking a little menacing – and began the song. Strongh could not help but join in, and he was loud, so Liart certainly wasn't singing solo.

'Climb, climb, Foosta Maiek, let your heart be free! Climb, climb, Foosta Maiek, let your heart go boom, boom, boom! Turn, turn, turn around, turn, who do I see? Climb, climb, Foosta Maiek, I see you. I see you.' Liart pointed at Johnny, whereas Strongh pointed at one of his friends. Then, with big grins on their faces, the two boys jumped up and joined in.

Liart got the distinct impression that the teachers would have stopped this epidemic had he not started it. He wondered how much he could get away with before he finally did get into trouble.

Soon everyone in the room was singing the ridiculous song – even the teachers – and Liart felt more than a little proud of himself. And afterwards it seemed like he had a thousand friends; he wondered that he had ever been bullied.

He didn't like this, this wavering. Still, he liked to know that he had the power to change people's perceptions of him so easily. This morning they had hated him. Now they loved him.

When bedtime came, Strongh found there was no-where left in Liart's room to sleep. The entire room was filled with boys!

'Um...' he began, beginning to wish he hadn't forced his brother into making such a promise. He hadn't expected him to be so good at making friends – he was acting, he supposed. 'Aren't you all gonna get in trouble when the teacher's come?'

The boys only shrugged.

'Who cares?' Roj asked. 'Liart's so cool it's worth the risk.'

Strongh glanced at his brother who grinned brilliantly.

Oh, this was so not fair! He could feel his jealous, hurt, and angry emotions written all over his face. Liart was better than him at everything. Everything!

'Am I sleeping in your bed tonight?' He asked, glaring at his brother.

'No.' Liart replied bluntly. 'You can go have fun with your friends.'

This was made to sound like an invitation, but Strongh could tell it was a command. Liart did not want him, he was being rejected. And there was a hint of rebuke in there: Liart was trying to get even with him.

Strongh's eyes flashed, and he stormed out of the room.

Liart would pay for this.

 

Things seemed to reverse very suddenly.

The teachers suddenly hated Strongh, because they finally realised he never did the work, and loved Liart instead. The students hated Strongh because they finally realised he was blunt and gruff, and loved Liart instead. And Strongh could no longer ignore and protect his little brother – that role fell to Liart. But Liart chose only to ignore his older brother. There was no protecting whatsoever.

Only one thing had not changed: Strongh was still Jaliq's favourite. He could call whenever he wanted and Jaliq would speak to him, and he began calling more often now. But he didn't want to leave school. He believed he could make everything good again.

Liart had not run the risk of telling the boys lies about himself, but hadn't run the risk of telling them truths either. He told them as little as possible, and – for the most part – was a mysterious, shady character. Strongh knew he could fix that. It was all a matter of what to choose.

Liart was not so wrapped up in his own little world as to not notice his brother's darkening countenance, and did not like the look of trouble he saw in his eyes. So one day, when he was finally able to steal himself away from the crowds, he confronted him.

'Strongh,' he began, 'what's the matter?'

'What's the matter!?' Strongh cried immediately, finally venting his anger. 'You know exactly what the matter is – you started all this!'

'It has not even been a month, brother. You managed to do twelve.'

'I was protecting you, Liart! People are cruel, and if I had of taken too much care of you they would have thought you were a wuss!'

'So? At least I would have had you.'

'Liart! Come on, you know this is ridiculous.' Then, as an afterthought, he asked, 'are you still praying?'

Liart nodded defiantly. 'I thank God for my friends every night.'

Strongh rolled his eyes. 'Brilliant. Well let me tell you, they're not your friends. Nobody – not even God – can fix your friendlessness. You're just.... doomed to be a loner forever.'

Liart's eyes flashed. 'That's not true! I'll always have at least one person, even if it's not you, which it won't be because you ditched me!!!'

'Liart...' Strongh sighed. 'Liart, I understand, I really do. And I'm sorry. But... you have to remember something – something father once told me. After I went and killed the lion.'

Liart scowled. 'Whatever he told you was for you.'

'He told me not to seek revenge, Liart. He told me it was dangerous.'

'For you, maybe. But I know how to do the job properly. That's your problem. You're too stupid to do anything properly.'

'Liart!' Strongh cried, beginning to lose his patience. 'Just shut up! I've had enough of you acting like the king of this place, and I'm gonna bring you down! I'll show you – people are mean, okay? Fickle too. They'll change their minds pretty quick smart, and then you'll be back in the gutter where you belong.'

'I don't belong in the gutter, you do.'

'I was the first born. I don't belong anywhere but beside father. And quite frankly, I worked out why he doesn't like you.'

Liart flinched. Then, hesitantly, his curiosity got the better of him and he asked, 'why?'

'You killed mother.'

Liart's face fell at once, and he turned quite pale. 'No!' He cried, his voice barely above a whisper. 'I couldn't have – no, if she were alive she would love me, even if father does not, so I would not kill her....'

'But you did coz you're an idiot! And now you're stuck with father who hates you and me who hates you too!'

Something within Liart snapped, and he moved in closer to his brother, screaming, 'you're not allowed to say hate!'

'I'm allowed to say what I want – father doesn't tell me off!'

'I hate you!'

'You're a murderer!'

'I hate you!!!'

'I hate you more!'

'I'll not forgive you! Never!' And saying this, Liart reached out and pulled down on Strongh's hair, slightly longer than the average boy's.

Strongh cried out in pain, as the boy manage to pull one hair out by the root.

'You're horrible!' He cried, his eyes filling with tears against his will. The pain really did smart.

'No you are!' He pulled harder.

Strongh roared, and slapped his brother across the face. The boy very nearly fell over, if he hadn't stopped himself by holding on to Strongh's hair.

'I hate you!' Liart cried, tears beginning to well in his eyes. 'I hate you!!!'

Then, sobbing, he ran to his room.

Strongh wondered whether or not he should follow the boy, but quickly decided against it.

'You'll pay for this!' He screamed. 'You'll pay!'

He winced in pain and touched his head. Yes, it was bleeding.

He walked off angrily.

 

Liart had not been crying for long before Johnny and Roj burst into his room.

'What did you do!?' Roj cried.

Liart did not hold back, he had spoken to his friends about Strongh before.

'I hate him!' He cried, knowing his friends would be able to work out who he meant.

'I should think he hates you!' Johnny cried. 'You were horrible to him!'

'He was horrible to me!'

'Well maybe that's because you were horrible to start with.' Roj reasoned. 'Maybe that's why you had no friends.'

Liart was stunned. He stopped crying and looked up. 'What are you talking about?'

'You.' Johnny answered. 'Being a horrible liar and always getting him into trouble.'

Liart's eyes widened. 'That's not true!' He cried. 'He got me into trouble!'

'Oh yeah? Well whose idea was it to go travelling around the Universe?'

Liart couldn't believe it. Strongh had been right. He still did not have any friends.

'Do you hate me?' He asked.

'Yes. And we're going to shun you – all of us. You're a liar, Liart, and you ditched your brother after he helped you. Who wants to be friends with some-one like that?'

'But you're ditching me – right when I need you most!'

'We're not ditching you.' Roj finally spoke. 'That would imply we were friends.'

'Loser.' Johnny muttered. 'Take your lies elsewhere.'

Then, with a look of disgust, the two left the room.

Liart sat perfectly still for a long while. He wasn't entirely sure what Strongh had told them, but it wouldn't have been a lie. They really did hate him.

Hate – a strong word.

He hated his 'friends'. He hated his father. He hated Strongh. Was there anyone he didn't hate? Anyone who didn't hate him? Anyone who could help him, fix his friendlessness?

No, he thought. There was no-one.

Not even himself.

 

Liart had plenty of time to perfect his plan before the end of the month, and knew exactly what he would do on his outing with Strongh. He didn't want to spend any time with his brother any more – he was still angry for his cruel words, and the actions that sprung from them were just as harsh.

No-body spoke to him now, but it was worse than before. Worse because – while Liart knew he could fix it – he would always know that they were ready to turn around and betray him. Worse because his temporary rejection of Strongh would have to be permanent if he were to fix anything. Worse because he was now entirely alone – not even Strongh spoke to him anymore.

Jaliq had heard of it. He scolded him when he called. Liart simply gave up on calling, even on his allocated day. If Strongh wanted to speak about him, he would let him.

The only good thing that had come out of his month of fame was the teacher's esteem for him. They felt sorry for him, and seemed to understand him now. They were encouraging and kind.

But they weren't Strongh.

Oh, if only Strongh would forgive him he would be happy!

Truth be told, Strongh felt the same way.

When the two met outside the school gate, it was the first thing he said.

'I'm sorry!' He pleaded. 'I didn't mean it, Liart! Please forgive me!'

'Didn't mean it!?' Liart cried immediately. 'What do you mean you didn't mean it!? Of course you meant it, what else were you trying to do, Strongh!?'

Strongh hung his head in shame. 'I didn't realise it'd be this bad, Liart. I didn't even expect it to last a week.' He brightened up a little. 'I'm sure I can fix it Liart – make you popular again.'

Liart crossed his arms. 'I don't want you to. I don't want to be friends with people as fickle as that.'

Strongh frowned. 'Then you can hardly blame me for anything! You could at least forgive me!'

Liart sighed. 'Fine. I suppose you're right. I may as well have you, even though you're not a friend.'

'Liart!' Strongh cried, losing his patience. 'We're brothers! And brothers are closer than friends – they're better!'

'You meant they steal all your friends?'

'They obviously didn't like you too much if they could turn against you so quickly.'

'Don't say that, Strongh. Don't you think I know that?'

'Of course you know that. But you're not acting like you know it.'

Liart sighed again. 'Fine. I suppose you're right. I forgive you, you idiot, even though I don't want to. Now let's go.'

'Wait, there's one more thing I have to say.'

'And what's that'

'I forgive you, Liart. And I should have forgiven you before you had to forgive me.'

'Yes, you're right. Now let's go.'

'Where did you want to go?'

'Well, remember that cave the head-master showed us on our excursion last year?'

'You mean the one he said was 'incredibly dangerous' about 50 times?'

'Yeah, that one.'

'Please don't tell me you want to go there.'

'I want to go there.'

'What, just to look at it, like we did before?'

'Yeah, that's right.'

Strongh seemed wary, but he consented anyway. 'All right, then, let's get going.'

Liart beamed, and followed his stronger brother through the streets.

Blie Estabak – or The Capital – was the capital of Zraiatormma, and one of the busiest yet orderly city in the Universe. It was in Graeda – the country that made up the bulk of Zraiatormma - and not too far away from the beach. The school had taken them there once, very briefly, during winter to the boys' disappointment, so the water had been far too cold for swimming in.

Liart had been surprised to learn while reading the Scatorian Encyclopaedia Britannica that Earth was the only known planet in the Scatorian Universe that didn't have a planet capital. It was not unusual in that each country had its own capital, but not having a capital for all of them? Liart thought that was strange. Still, he supposed it reflected the attitude of the planet as a whole. They really did sound like a messed-up geneticism. Maybe one day he'd go there and fix it up.

It didn't take the boys long to reach the cave. It was a dark, menacing place, and even Strongh felt a little glad that Liart didn't want to go in.

Yes, Liart had told the truth for once. He did not want to go inside the cave at all. But he still had something terrible in mind – something worse in fact.

Strongh noticed his brother was gazing not at the cave, and not even at the fence around the steep drop that surrounded the cave, but at the street behind him. Slowly, he turned around.

'Liart!' He cried at once. 'Why didn't you tell me? We have to hide!'

Liart only blinked. 'Only if we want to stay.'

It took a little while to work out what his brother meant, but as soon as he had he turned bright red.

'Liart!' He cried, a little louder than he had wanted. To make up for it he began hissing. 'You knew he was here, didn't you?'

'How could I, Strongh? He's the stalker, not me.'

'How did you know!?'

Liart frowned. 'I saw him while we were on the excursion.'

'Liart! We were sent here to hide from him – he's dangerous, how could you lead us to him?!'

Liart only shrugged. In a fit of rage Strongh took his brother's arm and pulled him round to the other side of the cave. It was here that something shone in the sunlight, blinding him and catching his attention.

'What's that?' Liart asked, assuring Strongh that he hadn't somehow set it up.

'I don't know.' The older replied, walking over to the thing. He picked it up and cupped his hand over it in an attempt to stop it blinding him. 'It's a key, attached to a card.'

'A key? To a house?'

'I don't think so. It says something on it.'

'What does it say?'

'Give me a minute, Liart!'

'What, can't you read?'

'Don't be ridiculous! You know I can! It's just... I think it's in German.'

Liart frowned. 'German? That's considered the devil's language on Zraiatormma. Why would anyone write in German?'

'I don't know!' Strongh cried, handing the key to his brother in frustration.

Liart squinted at the thick, Gothic writing, and read slowly, in Zraiatormmaein for his brother's benefit.

'The key to your freedom can be found in the cave.'

Strongh frowned immediately. 'You're pulling my leg. You just want to go in.'

'I don't, Strongh, it actually does say that! Look, you'd probably understand it enough to know I'm not lying. Der Schlüssel zu Ihrer Freiheit kann in der Höhle gefunden werden.' He frowned. 'Actually, it's not the best German ever. Almost like some-one went onto Google translate... still... everyone knows Kakil's better.'

'Why would anyone use an Earth web-browser?'

'That's what I'm asking, Strongh.'

'Oh, I get you now. So, what will we do? Do we trust the creepy key? It could be a trap from that guy.'

Liart hesitated. 'Yes.' He finally replied. 'I think we should.'

'That's just because you want to be expelled.'

'No, Strongh. I'm intrigued, okay? You've finally rubbed off on me.'

Strongh beamed. 'Well then, I'd better follow you.'

Liart smiled back at him. 'Strongh, are we really friends again?'

Strongh laughed. 'Brothers, Liart? We were always brothers. But... yes, I think we are friends... again.'

Liart beamed – the biggest, happiest smile Strongh had ever seen him give, and so full of relief. Then, overwhelmed by feelings of guilt and love for his little brother, he turned away and led the way to the cave.

'We can't just get in.' He pointed out the obvious. 'We'll have to sneak.'

'Do you suppose we could jump?'

'Yes. But I don't reckon we'd survive.'

'Strongh, you know what I mean.'

'I guess so. Hey, it's too bad we don't know that science of bridges, whatever it was called.'

Liart smiled – that smile Strongh hated. It was a little proud. 'The science of Astronomical Itineraries.' He remembered perfectly.

Strongh ignored his brother and gazed down at the cave. It was a long fall – built deliberately to stop people going inside. 'Why do you suppose it's dangerous?' He asked, hoping Liart wouldn't be able to answer. While he didn't turn around, he knew Liart shrugged, which pleased him greatly.

'Why don't we get a ladder?' Liart suggested.

'We'd need a pretty long ladder.'

'Um... Strongh?'

'What?'

'Maybe we should just jump.'

'I told you, we'd die.'

'But they're coming.'

Strongh growled. 'You led us here deliberately, didn't you?'

'Yes.' Liart admitted. 'Of course I did. But I didn't expect to find this mysterious key. Maybe we should stick to my plan and run away now.'

'I'm not leaving, idiot! That's just so typical of you to run off like this! Come on, we'll jump.'

'But if we do we'll die!'

'Well work something out because they're pretty close right now!'

Liart groaned. 'What do you want me to do, Strongh!? Build a bridge!?'

'Yes!'

'Out of what?!'

'Out of...' he paused. Then, beaming, he cried, 'ice!'

Liart staggered. He had forgotten about that.

'Hurry up!' Strongh pressed.

In an instant, Liart bolted forward and began making a clumsy slide of ice. Strongh barely waited for him to finish before jumping over the fence and sliding down to the cave. Liart followed close behind.

'Can you get rid of it?' Strongh asked, in a hurry. 'So they can't follow us?'

Liart wasn't sure, but he turned around and tried to do so. The bridge not only melted, it evaporated. But once again, Liart had turned white, grey, perhaps blue, and appeared to be on fire.

'I don't like doing that.' He muttered, spinning a little. 'I feel angry or frustrated when I do it. And I feel like I'm burning inside. And I can't control it you know. It just goes away as my emotions ease.'

Strongh ignored his brother and pulled him into the cave. It was dark, and Strongh quickly guessed why it was dangerous.

'I bet it's a labyrinth. With sudden drops to certain death and unpredictable waves of water.'

'Good guess.' Liart said, shaking a little. 'Can we get out yet?'

There was a flash, and Strongh beamed.

'That must be the key to our freedom. Come on.'

Liart whimpered a little as Strongh pulled him over. Neither was sure how the key had gotten there, but were too distracted by the mystery to stop to think. Strongh pulled the key off the hook and handed it to Liart.

'It's not in German.' Was all that Liart said in reply. Strongh rolled his eyes and took it for himself.

'Choose wisely. One box will trap you and one will reveal your fate.' He rolled his eyes. 'Whatever. Come on, pick a box.'

'Wait, don't just open one! That man obviously set this up for us – what if they're both traps?'

'Then I'll just open both.'

And before Liart could object, he did. The first key was for the box on the left, and the new one was for the box on the right.

There was something in the left box, and Liart quickly snatched it up. It was another key by the looks of it. Strongh spotted an envelope in the right box, and quickly snatched that up. Then, at lightning speed, he grabbed Liart's arm and sped out of the cave. Just in time too, for a net fell from the roof landing right where they had been.

The man entered with his henchmen almost immediately after.

'Why do you keep trying to trap us!?' Strongh shouted angrily. 'Just leave us alone!'

The man clicked his tongue. 'Now, now. The key promises to explain that. Just follow the instructions and you'll find out why soon enough.'

'They're all just traps!' Liart shot back. 'As if we're going to follow them!'

'Are they really?' The man returned. 'Well those keys were telling the truth. The box on the right triggered the trap. But it also contained something valuable. You will appreciate having it. However, I should not let you read it.' He turned to the strange half-Ai on his right and nodded.

Strongh took the hint and bolted.

Liart used his fear to quickly construct a ladder back up to the top, then jumped on Strongh's back and let him do the hard work climbing up. As soon as they had reached the surface Liart destroyed his creation.

Then they ran.

'We've missed the Lysa!' Liart cried, checking his watch.

Strongh groaned. 'Then we're going to have to run.'

The boys were not sure how the men had managed to follow them down into the cave, but they didn't seem to have the necessary tools for getting up. The boys felt brave enough to slow down a little.

'Strongh!' Liart pleaded eventually. 'Can we stop!?'

Strongh could have kept running for hours, but took pity on his younger brother.

'All right. Hey, what's the time?'

Liart checked his watch – his eyes widened instantly.

'Oh, Strongh, we're a whole hour late!'

Strongh's face paled. 'Oh dear.'

As if on cue, the head-master appeared with two other school teachers.

'Strongh!' He cried. 'Liart! Why are you late?'

Strongh was shaking, but Liart was immensely pleased.

'We got distracted.' He replied. 'And then missed the bus.'

Strongh nudged him angrily and began hissing in his ear.

'Don't lie!'

'But it's true, Strongh! If we hadn't of gone inside that cave, we wouldn't have missed the bus!'

Strongh's anger waned at once, as he realised how Liart's plan had done more than just worked. His plan had been to expose his and Strongh's whereabouts to their stalker. Then Strongh had helped him along by making them an hour late.

'By the way.' The head-master spoke. Liart was already looking at him – had he been speaking? Strongh had been too traumatised to notice. 'Your father called. I don't know how you imitated his voice, but he said he never gave his permission for you two to go out. He was very angry.'

Now Liart paled too.

 

The two boys sat in the detention room, feeling more than a little worried and bored.

'Well, your plan worked.' Strongh muttered. 'We've been expelled, and father's coming to pick us up. What's more is, he's angry with us, and we're probably never going to get to go to school again.'

Liart smiled at the last part. 'Yes. Say, why don't we read the keys?'

'One's an envelope.' Strongh corrected. 'But all right. I'll yell at you later.'

Liart was not looking forward to that, so tried to push it to the back of his mind.

The key was from the left box, and was in Quixaseu. It read: 'you shall be a destroyer.'

Strongh frowned at this. 'Does this mean me? Coz I'm reading it.'

'But I picked it up.' Liart reasoned. 'So maybe it means me.'

'Well if it means destroyer of my happiness, then it's right.'

Liart scowled and snatched the envelope from his brother. This was in their mother tongue.

'They shall either be protectors or destroyers. It is not clear whether one goes for one, or one goes for both. They can be moulded, they can be shaped, but they cannot avoid their destiny. We will make sure it happens.'

Strongh shuddered. 'Okay. Whatever. Hey, is that writing on the back of that key?'

Liart flipped the card over. 'Yes. It just has a bunch of numbers on it.'

'Looks like longitude and latitude.'

'Let's not follow it. I think we know what the next letter will say.'

'We do?'

'Yes. It will say 'you will be the protector.''

'Maybe there'll be another after that that'll say exactly which one of us is which.'

'This is stupid, Strong. How could anybody possibly know our future? Come on.'

Strongh frowned quizzically. 'Still. They promised to make it happen. Maybe they don't know at all. And maybe....'

Liart seemed to have the same idea. 'Maybe that's what they said to father! Maybe that's why we have to run from them – maybe that's the only threat they pose to us at all!'

Strongh smiled. 'Reckon we should ask?'

'No way. Let's keep this to ourselves. And maybe – if we can do it without getting into trouble – we'll find the answers to our many questions.'

Strongh nodded. Then the boys jumped.

Jaliq had burst in.

'Liart!' He cried immediately. 'I hope you're proud of yourself! I have to move you now, don't I? And Glesi refuses to come back and tutor you ever – quite frankly I don't blame him. If it's not you it's Strongh. Yes, Strongh, don't look so innocent. I heard it was your idea to go in the cave. And while Liart pushed you into it you imitated my voice! Well when we get home you are both in big trouble – very big trouble!'

'Where's home?' Was all that Liart said in reply.

Jaliq's face fell. He obviously hadn't been expecting that question. Then his face hardened again, and he replied, 'home.'

Strongh's face eased. 'Back in Yohin?' He asked. 'In Aih?'

Jaliq nodded. He’d been pondering that question for the entire trip from Neuron to Zraiatormma, but still hadn't come up with anything. He just didn'have a clue what to do with his sons. And Strongh was nearly thirteen now! He really needed to get his act together.

Sighing, Jaliq softened a little. 'Let's go.'

The boys stood up – Strongh had stuffed their finds in his pockets – and pulled their suitcases behind them. Liart struggled with his heavy bag and Jaliq instinctively took it, eyeing his younger son in a most peculiar manner. Liart couldn't quite tell if it was with hatred and anger or kindness and love.

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