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by Lord Offler

Gryz woke up. He could tell right away that something was wrong today, but he couldn't quite put his finger on it. He sat up in his bed and looked around. Everything seemed normal so far. He could see his sister Pana, still asleep in her bed. The smell of Sand Newt chops came in from the kitchen. But he couldn't hear his parents anywhere. Come to think of it, he couldn't hear anyone. Getting up, Gryz looked out the window. It looked like it was late in the morning, and normally he could hear the rest of the town bustling about doing chores. Then his gaze shifted to the town gates. The entire town was assembled at the gates, their backs to him. All concern left his mind. It was probably just another trading group from Tonoe.

Putting on his clothes, he went to the kitchen to serve himself some chops. Then he stopped. Wait a minute, he thought, a trading group from Tonoe just came last week! That's when he saw Father's axe was missing from it's place by the table, and his ears pricked up as he could hear the sound of marching-approaching Molcum!

Gryz ran to grab his own axe. He checked the blade carefully to see if it was in good condition like he had been taught. The axe itself wasn't suited for combat, just woodcutting, but it would suffice in case of trouble. Then he went back into the bedroom, grabbing Pana and shaking her awake. She looked at him, rubbing her red eyes drowsily. "Hmmm, what is it, Gryz?"

"Pana, get up, get dressed, and wait here. Something's happening, and there might be trouble." Gryz ordered. Too sleepy to question him, she complied.

Gryz sprinted out of the house, running to join the rest of the town. By the time he had reached the gates he could see who was heading towards Molcum. Palmans. Armed Palmans.

Father spotted him in the group, and walked towards him. "Gryz! What are you doing here? Go back to the house, now!" he said.

Gryz shook his head. "No Father. I won't go. They're only Palmans, what harm could they do?"

The fur on Father's neck bristled. He knew arguing with his son was useless when he had made a decision. "Fine," he grumbled. "But stay at the back, and be ready to run if a fight starts." With that, he moved to the front of the group to join the town leaders.

Gryz was elated at finally being able to defend his town. Then he noticed the Palmans had arrived. There were ten of them. Nine carried spears, and had the uncaring look of people following orders. The tenth was different. He was dressed entirely in black clothes, with a cape and hair to match. The Palman seemed to exude menace, and Gryz found himself gripping his axe tightly while watching him.

The group stopped at the gates. Those that carried spears set them down, waiting. The one in black approached closer, and began to speak. "I am Zio," he said in a voice that would almost be soft were it not for the edge of anger in it's tone. "I have come to this town to gain the titanium stores within and learn how to refine titanium. Give me what I ask for, and I will leave. If not, then everyone and everything in this town will be destroyed."

The leaders grouped together to discuss this. Gryz was amused. So this was the Zio that everyone was so afraid of? He didn't even have a weapon! And given that there were also far more Motavians than there were Zio's soldiers, he could already tell what the leaders' decision would be.

The group dispersed, and Father walked right up to Zio.He stared at him for a moment, and then spat on him. "Begone, Palman!" he snarled. "Molcum will not submit to the commands of a monster like you. Go ahead and do your worst to us!"

Zio didn't say a word, but his eyes narrowed. He gestured casually, and seemed to glitter for a moment. Father raised his axe in warning. Zio ignored him, and gestured again. The face of a horrible demon appeared over him. The Motavians became frightened, and started to back away. Father would not stand down though. He swung his axe at Zio with enough force to take his head off-and missed. Something made his hit veer off at the last moment. Shocked, Gryz could only watch as Zio made a final gesture, and a bolt of dark energy shot out of the demon's mouth and struck Father down. He fell to the ground, spasming in agony, then mercifully lay still.

The townspeople were stunned. They stood there, staring at Father's corpse. They hardly even noticed as Zio turned to his soldiers and made one simple statement. "Kill them."

The Palmans snapped into action, grabbing their spears and marching forward. The Motavians came to their senses quickly, readying their weapons for combat. A fierce battle ensued. Though fewer in number, Zio's soldiers were skilled fighters, making them more than a match for the people of Molcum. Spear clashed against axe, and blood was spilled on both sides. Through it all walked Zio, cutting down Motavians and destroying homes with blasts of energy from the demon above him.

Gryz fought through the melee like a madman, knocking aside all who stood in his way, desperately trying to get back to his house. I've got to get Pana. he thought. I've got to find Mother, got to get out of here!

When he finally broke through, he raced as fast as he possibly could back home. He stopped when he entered the doorway. Apparently Mother had been in the fight, and had tried to get Pana as well. He could tell, because she was lying on the floor, a bloodstain on her robes where she had been struck by a spear. Pana was standing over her, sobbing. "Mother!" Gryz shouted as he rushed to her. He checked for signs of life. He found none.

Gryz realised the sounds of fighting had stopped very quickly. He stood up, knowing who the victor was. "Pana, come on. We've got to get out of here," he said. She continued to cry. Giving up, he took her arm and dragged her out of the house.

The scene before him as he went outside was not pretty. Molcum was decimated. The bodies of Motavians and the Palman soldiers littered the ground. The buildings were burning. Including his own, Gryz noted. He hadn't even smelled the smoke, he was so occupied with his parents' death.

"Survivors, I see," said a voice behind Gryz. Zio's voice! Gryz turned around sharply to face him, his axe at the ready. Zio continued to talk. "Go, Motavians. Go, and tell the rest of your kind of this," he waved his hand at the destruction around them. "So that they will be more obliging to my requests."

Gryz suddenly exploded in rage. "Murderer! I'll rip you apart!" he yelled, and charged at Zio, axe flailing madly. Zio laughed at his attack. Gryz swung wildly at him. Every blow that should have hit missed. Finally Zio grabbed Gryz's arm, holding him fast. He muttered "Foi.", and a small fireball struck Gryz in the stomach. He fell down, trying to beat out the flames in his shirt and keep from screaming in pain.

Zio shook his head. "Pathetic." was all he said. And then, he was gone in a beam of light.

Pana went over to help Gryz, who had finally stopped the fire in his clothes. She had calmed down now, and she helped him stand up. "What do we do now Gryz?" she asked.

"We have to get to Tonoe. We'll be safe there, and we can warn them about this to prevent it from happening again." Gryz knew he could get them there safely with the hunting skills he had learned from Father.

The two of them stood there for a while, looking at the wreckage of their home. Pana noticed that Gryz's eyes seemed to glow, and thought it was a reflection of the fires. His eyes really glowed with the inner anger he was carrying, and one thought now dominated all his others.


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