The wind ebbed and flowed. They were tired, but full of greater determination than ever before. The nearer they got to their final destination and the challenges they faced the stronger and more resilient they had become. They were more ready than they ever would be at that present moment. The open field of white salt trembled beneath them to some invisible movement and fluctuations. Cracks under the skin of the sky illuminated above their heads as the gigantic sphere rose high into the air. It was covered in a white coating with splashes of neon colour.
London was somewhere inside the slowly rotating sphere and the determination clothed on the face of Ash transmitted to his friends that through any means possible he was going to get his little sister back even if it would cost him his life. As the sphere continued to levitate and rotate in the air six gold and silver columns broke through the ground and rose up creating a barrier around the sphere. As the columns came to a halt, the sheer force and resulting vibrations knocked all of them to their knees except for Ash. The group looked on speechless and motionless. They had shared every emotion possible on this journey thus far and their faces now painted a serious glare devoid of any real expression.
Ash looked back towards his friends with a free smile upon his face.
‘Things are different now. You’ve all changed. Remember me. For I will never forget you.’ He glanced at Kurumi, ‘I’m in harmony with you Kurumi.’ He turned and ran towards the shadows before him. None of his friends could move no matter how much each of them tried to propel their bodies up and forward. The gravitational force became heavier.
‘Wait!’ Kurumi screamed. She somehow managed to rise to her feet. Such were the deep emotions running through her that she did not once glance over at the rest of her friends before running after Ash. As she caught up to Ash they both realised that they were no longer running at the sphere and its protective six columns, but now an army of creatures of every shape and form imaginable including those they had encountered on their journey. Without warning these creatures had appeared a hundred metres ahead of them. There were fierce hyena’s, wolves, cloned human bodies cloaked in a white light, menacing small dragons, and wild satyrs and bears. There were so many creatures that it was impossible to analyse them all. The evil intent of the army which stood before Ash and Kurumi was clear for each of their eyes were glinted in a murky red and green. Such was the piercing darkness that Kurumi began to tremble in fear. She had run forward into the unknown.
Ash took a deep breath and ran forward leaving Kurumi behind once again. ‘We return to you our beautiful earth, we see beyond colour and form,’ he said whilst running. His voice traveled in the layers of the atmosphere by telepathy and was carried into the minds of his on looking friends.
‘Get up!’ screamed Bradley to himself, ‘we’ve depended on Ash too much, but don’t you see, he believes in us.’
‘We will believe,’ said Aruna. They helped each other up to their feet and looked over to Ash, who by now had come to another halt in front of the growing mass enemy. To their disbelief the enemy’s numbers in force was immense. The Sphere illuminated and as it did a disturbingly sinister female voice surrounded them. ‘You can not win, you will all die!’ it said in a slithering tongue. This was the first time they had heard from the enemy, but strangely neither of them bat an eyelid. A voice that spoke in the sky or in their heads was the least of their worries right now.
‘Tree spirit, come here please!’ shouted Ash. He jumped into the air, touched the tree spirit and fell gracefully to the ground. He then brought his two fists together, took a deep breath in and moved elegantly into an earth shadow dance. He moved like water flowing into a tree and then branching out into a tiger, a lion and a polar bear. Each form he did a creature appeared behind him. His friends had now caught up and stood united. The tree spirit touched each of them and one by one they began to earth shadow. They had seen Ash do this previously. At the time it did not much sense to them, but it did now, it all felt right and necessary. Kurumi moved as if holding a sword and symbolically slashing through the confidence of her enemies with every swoop.
There were now two vast armies of good and evil facing each other. The evil creatures snarled and chattered in an unsettling manner to say the least, but Ash smiled at his friends and they did so in return.
‘London’s waiting for us, let’s go.’ he said. They moved forward together. The battle began. Snow leopards clashed against more sinister snow leopards. Tigers, great big birds and rocklins. The group fought in unison and covered each other’s back. They threw punches and kicks at the cloned humans and some animals, but after a while realised that they were causing no real damage to their enemies. They were only serving to push them back slightly. Frustration and anxiety began to seep into the veins of each involved.
‘Stayed focused,’ shouted Ash.
‘Why aint they falling mate,’ replied Bradley. By now the tree spirit had disappeared and as nimble as it was however, it could not afford to take a blow or swipe from any oncoming enemy. Ash saw an opening in the haze of the battle and broke off from the group.
‘You lot stay together,’ he shouted over his shoulder.
‘Come back!’ shouted Kurumi. She stepped forward, but Bradley pulled her back into formation.
‘It’s about time we trusted him,’ he said, ‘he’s got us this far already.’
The opening for Ash came to a sudden dead end for he came face-to-face with a creature that could only be described as a cross between a hyena and a bear. It took a slash at him, but he evaded only to be then set upon by three other creatures of the dead from all angles. He had been caught by one of them. Any normal human being would assume this to be his or her last breath and cringe in fearful defeat, but not Ash. He relaxed his body, smiled, and rolled his right arm like a snake around the arm of his enemy and struck it in the chest. It was a Wing Chun move he had learned. The creature however came back at him, but this time instead of hitting the creature he used the electromagnetic energy around him to repel the attack. He continued to repel attacks until he realised he needed to deliver one himself.
‘Tree palm! Be at peace,’ he said, as he firmly struck one of the creatures with the palm of his hand. The creature dissolved into water and disappeared. ‘Relax everyone, strike them with confidence and love,’ Ash said to his friends through telepathy. Kurumi palmed her closest enemy. It disappeared. The fortunes of this battle had now appeared to turn in the favour of the group. They broke off from formation and waited for the creatures to attack knowing their greatest offence started from a solid defence. They defended life and all that was good with all the energy and strength that they could muster. Love was a stronger force than hate. They were no longer wandering in the dark naked; instead they were clothed with purpose, empowered by the love for each other and their bondage with nature.
Before they could begin to reap the benefits of their change in fortunes, the dark shadow which had followed them since their entry into Vaalbara had now entered the field behind them. The strikingly brilliant contrast of white and black stroked the atmosphere with an intense force field. The force of good began to advance forward towards the sphere with greater urgency and potency. Some of the injured creatures – both good and evil – that fell behind became consumed by the darkness, vanishing into an abyss of nothingness. The battle was still in their favour as they edged closer to the sphere and just when it was within reach a sudden flux of violent tremors rattled the ground echoing around like a thunderstorm. Uncertainty and fatigue resurfaced and crept into the arms and feet of Aruna and Bradley. The battle had been raging for a seemingly long time now without respite.
From within the columns the guardians of the sphere broke out. To the shock of the group they were clones of themselves standing tall with intimidating strength. They exact replicas of themselves to everyday fine detail. Each of their clones held a wooden pipe, which they brought to their mouths and played a frequency that disturbed the atmosphere and made the animals fighting for the preservation of life become dizzy and confused. A bear crashed into one of the columns in an attempt to stop the sound waves. The column cracked. The music stopped only to be followed by another terrifying roaring sound. The column crumbled into an enormous golden and black jaguar the size of two double decker buses. It had killer sharp spikes sticking out its body like a hedgehog. The rest of the columns crumbled into mythical creatures of similar size. An atros, glamin, falger, kokiklo, and a black and grey lion. The atros had six enormous legs with wings on its back; scales along its grim face and its teeth were razor sharp. The atros walked beside the glamin, which stood like a bear on three legs with its body being a mixture of different animals merged together. The falger was a quick moving creature. Its head could twist in a total loop with its body stretching and expanding as it moved around, yet its skin was as hard as stone. The kokiklo was the most mysterious of them all. It moved like a lizard, but could change its shape into a snake with its legs disappearing into its body. It had no wings, but yet it could levitate in the air and allow physical objects to pass through it. This was tested immediately when a regular lion in all its bravery tried to claw it down, but simply passed through it. The clones stood upon their creatures with expressionless faces and the same evil red and green glint in their eyes as the rest of the evil force. One step of their evil elemental creatures crushed a dozen animals. The group of friends were unsettled having to look at an enemy that cloned itself to look exactly like them.
Kurumi was closest to one of the creatures, the jaguar. She turned as quick as possible to run in the opposite direction. Her heart was pounding against her chest and her breathing heavy and tight. Ash charged into Kurumi’s direction calling after her, skipping in and out of individual and group battles that took place. Kurumi in fear of being pursued lost sense of her surroundings. A passing vulture struck her and as she tumbled to the floor the jaguar pounced upon her with its claws expanding out from its paws at lightening speed. Ash saw this moment play out before him in ultra slow motion and as he continued to move forward and get closer to Kurumi, he let his guard down in his haste and was struck from behind. He hit the ground with his eyes still focused on Kurumi. The jaguar brought its paw down with ferocity followed by a large crunching sound. Ash quickly got to his feet, but could no longer see Kurumi. There was only salt rising and falling in the air from the impact that had engaged her.
‘Kurumi!’ screamed Ash. He dropped to his knees and punched the ground. His body began to shake. He looked up at the sky and screamed again with his arms reaching out. In his rage and despair he had forgotten where he was for a moment at least. A hyena charged from behind unnoticed to Ash who now had his eyes closed as he calmed his thoughts and breathing to a more stabilised condition. As the hyena jumped to attack Ash, a tree root emerged from out of the ground and caught the hyena in mid-air crushing it to sleep. Ash remained unaware of the attempted attack as he continued to calm himself, and as he did so a warm tingly sensation came over him. His body became enveloped by emerald and azure flames burning and flickering all around him. The energy levitated him off the ground and up into the sky and back down again in a gentle warm swoosh. When his feet touched the ground the flames dissolved into his skin. He breathed out slowly and deeply. He brought his fists together, opened his eyes and then palmed the floor. The ground began to shake yet again. A cloud of salt dust now surrounded Ash and when it cleared he is stood on top of a snow leopard equal in size to his enemy’s creatures. Ash had now released his element. A power given to those who have dissolved all the barriers and restrictions layered upon the human mind and emotions.
His appearance had also changed. His Vaalbara attire had turned into a silky dark green and the patterns were glowing in a gentle golden shade. The markings on his hand had disappeared and his facial skin was refreshed. He looked stronger, taller, more confident and fresher. It looked as if he had been living with nature all his life.
‘I can feel the energy all around me even more now,’ said Ash, ‘Bradley, your colour is dark blue. Visualise it. Focus on drawing the energy from all around you and release your element by palming the floor. Tree spirit, I’m sending energy through you, please pass it on to my friends to help them. Also, create a momentary barrier around them to help them focus. That creepy figure may look like me, but it’s not me. There is only one me in all existence.’ Ash turned and through thought commanded his animal to charge at the jaguar. The snow leopard and jaguar clashed at a frightening pace, ripping into each other. Such was the force of their dual that the atmosphere fluctuated. Ash was able to hold on by wrapping the snow leopard’s fur around him. As the others focused on releasing their elements, tree roots sprang out from the ground protecting them from the fierce attacks aimed in their direction. Aided by the tree spirit and Ash’s energy transfer, it only took a short time until a glow of colours sparkled across the sky. Now they had all released their elements. Each of their attires was now identical, except of course for their elements. Bradley was on top of a wolf and Aruna a mountain gorilla. Bradley looked stronger and from the smile on his face you could sense that he felt it to. His hair was even neater and shorter than previously. Bradley looked over at Aruna whose hair was now veiled beneath a beautiful gold and green hijab.
‘Focus Bradley,’ said the tree spirit. Noticing that Bradley was momentarily dazed looking at Aruna. Aruna like the rest of her friends looked more earthy and organic, as if she were the source of nature itself.
Ash took on the jaguar and atros together whilst his friends fought with the other creatures. The atmosphere trembled even more because of the ferocious battles taking place amongst all the elements. It rained, then a swift gush of wind bellowed across the area eventually slowing down under the dazzling sunshine, followed by hail and snow, thunder and lightening. The weather was now in constant change and transition. The realisation was evident, they needed to finish the battle before the atmosphere became unstable beyond repair for who knew what would happen if the sky cracked open like it threatened to do at any moment.
Ash seized the opportunity and flipped on to the atros and kicked his clone off. He jumped into the air following his clone and gave repeated mid-air tree palm blows to his enemy’s chest. His clone and the atros vanished before hitting the ground. Ash’s elemental snow leopard swooped on its back to cradle him. Whilst reflecting upon his brief victory the jaguar pounced him upon. There was a roar and flash of yellow in the midst of the battle. Ash’s opponent darted a sharply carved branch towards him under a flurry of attacks. At the same time his snow leopard was now pinned down by the jaguar and held by a mass of other unknown creatures. Dark weeds of unbelievable strength were also holding Ash’s feet. He could not move no matter how hard he struggled.
‘Help!’ screamed Ash. The branch drew nearer to his chest aiming directly at his heart and just as it was about to pierce into his chest a sword reached out, its ice-cold blade cooled his anxiety and stopped the branch from hitting him.
‘You finally learn to ask for help,’ said Kurumi in a confident voice. Dangerous as the moment was Ash’s heart skipped a beat yet again for Kurumi. You could say he fell in love with her all over again. She stood on top of a red panda. Her hair, which was slightly longer than before, was hanging in the wind like a flag on a pole. Her attire also matched the rest of her friends.
‘In anger our eyes are clouded from reality,’ said Kurumi, ‘the tree spirit had protected me with its roots, though the impact did knock me out for a while. It was your voice that brought me back. I heard you shouting my name.’
‘I’m in harmony with you too, Ash. This is my fight, so don’t get in the way.’ Kurumi kissed her red panda and together they attacked the jaguar in co-ordination with a group of Asian tigers. Her hair flickering by her side as she advanced in full speed was a picture of pure beauty. She defeated her opponent swiftly and in the same manner as Ash by applying a tree palm. She communicated to the others on how to defeat their enemy.
Bradley moved swiftly to join Ash and Kurumi. Aruna chased after him and stopped one of the elemental creatures striking him from behind. He turned to see Aruna smiling.
‘Phew, that was bloody close, thanks Aruna.’
‘Don’t mention it,’ she replied. In her lapse of concentration she was pierced through the heart by claw of an unknown creature. The life in her eyes disappeared and a gush of blood came out of mouth in her final breath. Bradley grabbed onto her hand, but she had vanished before he could pull her close to him. Ash and Kurumi though engaged in their own battles could sense that Aruna’s energy had disappeared. They hurried to where Bradley was to find him going on a rampage of anger. They both placed a hand on Bradley’s shoulder to calm his emotions and bring him back to his senses.
‘We know,’ said Ash. There was no time to mourn Aruna’s death because they were being attacked from all angles. They quickly formed a triangle defence and attacked back. With Aruna and Jumo close in their hearts and the will to save London they eventually defeated their opponents in a non-stop fight; defending and attacking in sync that lasted for at least ten minutes. They were virtually on their last breaths when the atmosphere finally became stable and all the creatures and animals on their side began to retreat. The group advanced forward with their elemental animals and lunged at the sphere with a unified attack striking at the same time. They were thrown backwards with their animals disappearing in mid air, but they each still managed to land on their feet. The sphere rotated at speed charging up a mass of energy, which surged out towards the group.
‘Put your hands on my shoulder now,’ screamed Ash. Both Kurumi and Bradley did so in hast without questioning. As the flash of energy drew nearer, Ash held out both hands in a motion to stop the energy surge, which was now funneled into a spear shape.
‘Give me your energy!’
The flash struck some invisible barrier, which now surrounded them. The energy bounced away and span off into the distance before crashing into the ground creating a massive explosion. All that was left was a gigantic crater in the ground.
The tree spirit appeared from behind them and dived deep into the sphere. There was a roaring thunder and the atmosphere grew dark. The group watched as the sphere crashed to the ground. A small figure rolled out onto the floor. It was London. Ash rushed over to pick her up.
‘Strawberry ice cream,’ said London. She was awake and giggling.
B. L. Crisp | Copyrighted to © Barry Crisp