Day 23 – 2792 words and a total of 43 075 words!

They hurried out of the kitchens, down the maze of tunnels, down the steeply-dropping staircase, out through the cave into the sunlight outside, and a little way around the base of the mountain to where the deposit was.

Stikky stared at it. A huge vein of silvery-grey metal stretched upwards for several metres until it disappeared into a ledge of overhanging rock.

“So…” Leddy asked from behind him. “How are we going to get this out again?”

Steik grinned as he wiped his glasses with a piece of cloth. “There are some good, strong pickaxes in one of the storage rooms,” he explained. “I found them while you guys were gone; normally they would have rusted out in the air, but in those tunnels, well, let’s just say things don’t always work out properly…”

“Do we really have to spend ages digging that up?” Stif asked from behind them, and they turned to see him standing at the edge of the forest beside Stib.

“Or,” continued his brother directly in timing. “Can we just use this?”

Stepping back, they revealed a large, shining, boulder-like lump of pure iron. It was lying in the undergrowth, covered in rust and dirt, but the sun still shone off the parts that weren’t dirtied.

“Where did you find that?” Leddy exclaimed, staring at the twins in amazement.

The two shrugged. “It was just lying right here, covered in rust and dirt, exactly like it is now,” Stib explained. “No idea how it got here, but, well… it’s here!”

Stikky shrugged. “I’ll work with that. No use trying to explain why it’s here when all we need to know is that it’s actually here. Come on, someone fetch a cart; this thing’s heavy!”

A wagon was duly fetched, and with a great deal of huffing and puffing, they got it into the cart.

“Phew!” Steik groaned, stretching his back as he wiped the sweat from his forehead. “I don’t know if the bucket will even be strong enough to hold it!”

Ignoring his comment, Stikky and the others pushed the wagon through the ivy-covered entranceway, up the tunnel, and loaded it into the container.

“Just to be safe, I think none of us should be in at the same time,” Stikky decided, wincing as a mighty groan echoed towards them from the strained winch and chain above. “I’m sure we can all climb these stairs… we don’t want to have anyone falling to their deaths if the chain breaks.”

“Come on…” Leddy said optimistically. “Let’s get up these stairs, get this wagon up, and get ready for Destick’s attack!”

That got the weary stickmen going, and they climbed the stairs—for the most part—with vigour, the first few to reach the top beginning to wind the winch between them.

Stikky staggered up to the top of the stairs, panting heavily as he tried to get his breath back. Looking around, he stared in amazement at the wagon, which had somehow made its way up into the room as was slowly being wheeled towards the exit tunnel.

“How?” he managed to gasp out, receiving a wink from the stickmen pushing the cart and its heavy load.

“Teamwork!” they chorused, grinning at each other mischievously.

“Keep up!” Leddy called from behind him, patting him on the back as passed. “You’re not going to miss it, are you?”

“I… might!” Stikky gasped, turning his crawling-walk to a run and wincing as a stitch materialised in his side as he attempted to follow the group.

After once more following the maze of tunnels—this time following a slightly different route—they emerged out into the castle grounds, and sat there, panting, while they waited for the rest of the stickmen to catch up.

As they gathered around the cart, each placing their hands on the heavy piece of pure iron, Stikky took command once again.

“On three!” he called. “One, two, three!”

The cart lightened as its burden was lifted from it, only to almost be broken as someone’s hand slipped, and it fell back onto the cart with a groan as something splintered.

“Okay… let’s try again!” Stikky ordered, glaring in annoyance at the unfortunate stickman who had lost his grip. “One, two, three!”

Once again the wagon groaned as its weight lightened, the heavy piece of iron lifting into the air.

“Where… do we… put it?” Leddy panted, his face beginning to go red.

“Just… anywhere!” Stikky groaned in reply. “Come… on! Drop it… in three… two… one… now!”

Everyone leaped back as the hunk of iron dropped like a piece of lead, landing on the floor of the courtyard with a terrific crash and showering the surrounding stickmen with piece of dirt and rust that flew off it.

“I suppose that’s as good a place as any…” Stikky decided, panting heavily. “Can someone please take the cart back to the storage room?” he asked, nodding in thanks as Stif and Stib leaped forward and began to push the wagon—much lighter than it was before—into the dimly-lit tunnels.

“So, what do we do now?” Steik asked, wiping the dirt from his hands.

“Well,” Stikky decided, thinking hard. “First, let’s go have lunch; I’m sure McRhoddy’ll have something delicious in store for us…”

There was a hearty cheer, but no one moved just yet.

“And then what?” someone called, and everyone went silent as they strained their ears for the answer.

“And then?” Stikky repeated, looking upwards at the sky. “Then, we wait.”

 

Far away, back on Destick’s Island, in a wide, circular clearing near the centre of the landmass, a large, unnatural launch site had been built, the metal and concrete contrasting greatly with the lush, green undergrowth surrounding it.

Dr. Destray sat in chairs behind a transparent protection shield, studying the control panel in front of him as he looked up at the massive body of the laser cannon, rising up and over the heads of the trees towards the sky.

“What’s the status?” Destick asked from behind him, closing the book he was reading and sitting up.

Dr. Destray studied the control panel for a moment before answering. “Fuel is at one hundred percent,” he said presently, not taking his eyes off the small screen in front of him. “All the final tests have been successful, and I think we are about ready to launch!”

Destick rubbed his hands in glee. “What are we waiting for then?” he demanded, the smile leaving his face as he examined the panels of iron-like material covering the laser cannon.

Leaning over a microphone, Dr. Destray’s voice boomed out of a loudspeaker. “All Strobots leave the rocket site. I REPEAT, leave the rocket site while you still have the chance!”

Destick rolled his eyes as the group of robots hurrying around the cannon—doing the final changes to the rocket—looked around, then scurried away, bumping into each other as they made their way frantically into the undergrowth.

“Why are you wasting time waiting for them to get off?” he asked grumpily. “They’re just worthless robots, we can afford to lose a few in exchange for not wasting time.”

Dr. Destray looked up at him disapprovingly. “You should never waste things, Destick.” he said stiffly, as if reading out of a rule book. “Unless it is absolutely necessary, you should try and preserve what you have.”

Destick rolled his eyes. “You just said not to waste things…” he muttered. “And yet we’re wasting time!”

The hunched doctor shrugged. “Well, we can stop that, at least!” he exclaimed, turning back to the control panel. “Countdown beginning!” he boomed, his voice echoing through the clearing. “We have liftoff in 10… 9… 8…”

Destick grinned, laughing evilly.

“7… 6… 5… 4…”

The last few Strobots desperately working on the cannon abandoned their posts and fled, leaving one solitary robot turning a bolt.

“3… 2… 1…”

The Strobot looked upwards in surprise, then dropped his wrench and ran for his life, but it was too late.

“Blastoff!”

Destick covered his ears as Dr. Destray brought his hand down on a large red button, activating the engines of the laser cannon.

BOOOMMM!!

A huge burst of flame and smoke exploded out of the base of the rocket, causing the trees and bushes surrounding the site to bend away from the cannon, as if trying to escape from the heat.

Dr. Destray now covered his ears too as the laser cannon began to slowly lift off from the ground, spluttered slightly, and then shot upwards.

A moment later, the black, scorched, and half-melted body of the Strobot dropped from the sky after finally losing its grip on the rocket, but Destick ignored it.

As the cannon disappeared from view, Destick grabbed a pair of binoculars and searched the sky for the rocket, quickly finding it as it stopped going upwards and began to fly in a southeast direction, towards Tri-formed Island.

Dr. Destray watched as the speck disappeared into a group of clouds, then turned to speak to Destick. “And we have liftoff!”

 

Leddy was the first to see the rocket. He was sitting atop the wall, leaning against the parapets as he searched the skies with a telescope.

Suddenly he stiffened. What was that speck emerging from the clouds? It was far too big to be a bird, and there was nothing else he could think of that would be that big…

“It’s here!” he yelled at the top of his voice, leaping up and running along the battlements as fast as he could and waving both hands above his head. “The laser cannon is here!”

Everyone was shocked into action. The stickmen who had been wandering around aimlessly in the courtyard looked around wildly, then ran for the stairs.

Stikky was the first to reach his friend. “Where?” he yelled, taking the telescope as Leddy handed it to him and focusing it on the section of cloud he was directed towards.

“Leddy’s right,” he said grimly. “There’s nothing else it could be.”

Handing the telescope back to Leddy, who focused it on the skies once more, Stikky turned to the stickmen that surrounded him.

“Everyone who’s not needed here, go back into the tunnels,” he ordered. “Tell everyone you meet not to go outside; it’s too dangerous. Those who are staying, spread out along the walltop, we’re more vulnerable in a group.”

The stickmen around them turned one by one and filed down the staircase back down into the castle grounds, where they hurried for the tunnels, leaving ten or so behind.

Stikky felt a tap on the shoulder, and turned to see Steik and the twins standing behind him, swords drawn.

“What are you doing here?” he demanded angrily. “It’s not safe for you guys!”

“And it’s not safe for you either!” Stif retorted, folding his arms across his chest and tucking his blade back into his belt. “We don’t care if we’re in danger, we’re sticking with you!”

Stikky softened. His friends were willing to do so much for him, and even ready to stay by him in the face of danger when their lives were at risk. He was about to reply when Leddy spoke again.

“It’s getting closer!” he yelled, jumping up and down with nervousness. “I think it’s going to fire soon!”

Stikky nodded, taking the telescope one more to take a look. “Well,” he decided. “The closer it gets before it fires, the better!”

Stif and Stib grabbed the telescope and took turns looking through it as the rocket drew closer and closer, becoming easier and easier to see every minute.

“Any time!” Stif decided a moment later, handing the telescope back to Stikky, who took one last glance through it.

It was now possible to see it quite clearly as it hurtled through the skies, providing you moved the telescope along at the same pace. He could see the iron-like panels that covered its body. He could see the orange trail of fire exploding out of its base, propelling it forward. He could see the thick, bionicle arms surrounding the tip, which was just beginning to glow a bright red as it tilted round towards them.

“Look out!” he yelled, dropping the telescope as he grabbed Leddy and dived out of the way.

A moment later, a huge, powerful blast of red light shot out of the tip, crossing the distance between the cannon and the wall in a split millisecond. Bricks flew in all directions as the section of the wall they had been standing on a moment before exploded.

Staggering to his feet, Stikky looked around in horror. A massive segment of the wall—almost ten metres across—had been hit, destroying it as if it was nothing.

The others crowded nervously around him. “Well,” Stif added, shrugging. “It looks like he missed!”

POW!!

A second laser shot out of the rocket, missing the wall entirely and hitting the side of the mountain instead, showering the whole castle with rocks as the stickmen ducked for cover.

PEW!!

Another section of the wall was hit by a third blast, narrowly missing the gate as it tore through the brickwork like it was paper.

“This isn’t working!” Stikky yelled, staring around in panic as the stickman standing above the gates were showered by bricks and debris.  

The fourth blast struck the mountainside above the castle, causing a huge slab of rock to slip off and come crashing down towards the courtyard.

“Oh no.” Leddy whispered to himself, and Stikky looked down to see a group of panicking stickmen running around wildly in the courtyard, directly in the path of the avalanche.

“Look out!!” Stikky bellowed at the top of his voice, snapping the stickmen out of their panic and causing them to look up.

Watching in horror, the five stickmen atop the walls stood helpless as the great slabs of stone crashed down the mountainside towards the figures below.

Darting forward, the stickmen dived for the tunnels, just managing to scramble inside before the avalanche crashed down into the castle grounds.

As the debris cleared, Stikky stared down in relief at the remains, then a puzzled expression spread across his face. Why were those rocks shining in the sun? Was it something else, not just stone?

His eyes widened as he realisation dawned. “It’s iron!” he yelled happily, then jumped as another blast smashed through the wall on the opposite side of the castle.

“What?” Leddy yelled frantically.

“Those rocks are filled with iron!” Stikky replied, staring down at it. “Which means we just need to get it to hit them!”

As an idea popped into his head and a sixth burst of light shot past, this time missing both the mountainside and the castle entirely, he vaulted over the walltop, landing halfway down the staircase.

Leaping down the rest of the stairs—two at a time—Stikky hurried into the courtyard, stood among the iron-filled rocks of the avalanche, and waved his arms frantically.

“Hey!” he bellowed at the top of his lungs. “Down here!! Come on, fire at me!!”

The others stared at him in horror as a seventh blast of light shot out of the laser cannon, travelling down from the sky in a split millisecond towards Stikky, who made no attempt to move.

Zzziiiinnngg!!

With a high-pitched clang, the bright red laser hit a piece of iron—not a metre from Stikky’s foot—and shot back up into the sky.

Jerking his hand away as the rock shot through the air to hit the castle wall twenty metres away, Stikky and the others looked upwards in trepidation.

A few seconds later there was a faint explosion in the sky, and a round, cylinder-like shape dropped like a stone until it disappeared behind a dune in Dehydration Desert.

A cheer rang out among the remaining stickmen on the wall, and a moment later the stickmen waiting in the tunnels came running out into the sunlight to join them.

Stikky found he was yelling at the top of his lungs, jumping up and down as a huge grin materialised on his face.

Leddy ran up to him, laughing in relief. Stikky patted him on the back.

Turning, they looked around at the cheering stickmen around them who were rejoicing over their victory, who one by one stopped celebrating as they noticed how badly damaged the castle was.

“Well,” Stikky decided as the last cheer faded into silence. “We’ve won this battle, but if we don’t get this castle repaired, we won’t stand a chance against the next!”

Stif rolled his eyes. “You’re very optimistic, aren’t you?” he called, folding his arms across his chest as he too surveyed the damage.

“I’m sorry to spoil the party,” Stikky replied calmly. “But it’s true. Now let’s get to work.”