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The rain was pelting down. Cody ran across the courtyard, lugging an important package. The Cyan Shirt League had grown to fit its population of 52 in six months. Kids just seemed to pop up in places. Cody entered the training hall, which was packed considering the time of day. People were sending arrows across the length of the room, wrestling or practicing swordplay with each other, and plenty of other age-inappropriate things for kids aged 7-16.
Finally, he found who he was looking for. Steve was in the back of the room, dismembering a straw dummy. "Hey man. What did that dummy ever do to you?" Cody asked him with a sly grin.
"Hi, Cody." Steve said, hacking off a straw arm. "'Sup?"
"Oh, not much. Say, could you take a break from maiming that thing and come down to the mine for a minute?"
Steve chopped the head clean off and sheathed his sword. "Yeah, sure."
They walked through the back door and through a few corridors, until coming down some stairs. The walls steadily transitioned to a rough stone. They continued underground until they came to a river of lava. They had yet to build a bridge that didn't burn down or melt, so they hadn't crossed to the other side.
"Okay, what do you want?" Steve asked him.
In reply, Cody thrust the package into his hands. "Happy birthday."
"Oh. Thanks." Steve said, very surprised Cody would remember, considering his memory span.
"Open it!" Cody insisted.
Steve unwrapped the package. In it was a sword, razor sharp with a light blue surface. "Is this made of-?"
"Yep. Pure diamond."
Steve put it back in the wrapper. "If you don't mind, I think I'll be testing it out by giving some dummies the beating of their lives..." he said.
"You show them straw heads what for!"
"Oh, I wasn't referring to those, I was thinking of some other idiots I know."
Cody edged away from him in mock terror. They went back off to the training hall, laughing their heads off.
Caroline stormed into the mess hall and dumped her pack on the table. She had been attempting to reconcile the Testificates and the Endermen. It looked to her that by the end that war was going to break out.
"How was your day?" Cody asked her with his mouth full.
"Terrible. Those guys were almost at each other's throats."
"That bad, huh?" Cody asked.
"Why are we even doing this again?"
"Caroline," Steve said, "It's important that we help out wherever we can."
"Bluh bluh," Caroline said in reply, sitting down.
Magnus came in and sat down next to Cody. There was a large bandage wrapped around his head. He had arrived at camp with a dreadful wound and eyes whiter than a snowstorm. Now he looked completely normal.
"So, Magnus," Cody said. "Remember anything about what you were doing before you came here?"
Magnus shook his head. "Nay." He said in a Scottish accent. "Met some friends. Spent some time around. Then just a lot of blank. Then I was here."
Judging by the look on Steve's face, this was pretty bad news. "Well, Magnus, we can figure this out as soon as-"
A crash rang through the hall. A spider three feet wide had punched a hole in the ceiling and jumped into the mess hall. It jumped across the room and landed on the wall behind Magnus, preparing to strike. By the time Cody, Steve and Caroline had drawn weapons, fifty arrows had been loosed at the spider, killing it. They stared at the monster, pinned to the wall and dripping green blood. Steve turned to face the rest of the hall.
"Whoever let that thing in is in huge trouble."
Magnus followed Steve through the twists and turns of the hallways. "You mean to say that this wasn't an accident?" he asked, jogging to keep up.
"No way. We have archers surrounding the place. That thing would've been driven off long before it reached the mess hall."
"Even so, who and why would someone-"
"Not now, Magnus," Steve cut him off.
They came to a door.
Magnus opened it and stepped forward, but Steve grabbed the back of his shirt. Magnus gave a yelp that echoed down the empty shaft as Steve pulled him back.
"Sorry. Should have warned you. This is the lift."
"Blimey," Magnus whispered.
Steve leaned into the shaft. "Hello in there?" he shouted.
A voice, indistinct to Magnus, shouted back. "Second floor. We're going down to the lab."
A minute later, a lift trundled up. It was a plain wood platform with nothing on top other that a lever and what looked to Magnus like a gramophone.
"How does this stuff work, then?" Magnus asked.
"Well, this lever releases the catch on the rope." Steve pointed to the lever. "That'll take us down. And this is for entertainment. Elevator music." He reached into a compartment on the side of the gramophone and pulled out a disk.
Magnus supposed this is what they were using for records. Steve placed it on the gramophone, and scratchy music started playing.
Steve released the lever, and they shot down at terminal velocity. The cheerful song playing on the gramophone did not help.
"Make it stop!" Magnus yelled, clinging to the gramophone for dear life.
"Hold on, we're almost there!" Steve shouted back. He threw the lever and the lift stopped, throwing the occupants to the floor. "Come on!" he said, running down the corridor.
They went through a metal door six inches thick. The room was very large, and smelled of roses and burning rubber. There were people giving lectures, people brewing strange things, and people examining what looked like a large silver bug in a case.
"Hey Jake!" Steve yelled at a tall, dark haired kid with goggles. He was attempting to pick up the bug with a pair of tongs.
Jake turned around after the bug recoiled and hissed at him. "Hey, commander." he said, "This silverfish is a real piece of work-"
"Okay," Steve cut him off. "One, don't call me commander, I'm not the commander. Two, where's Hannah?"
"She's inspecting the you-know-what, commander," Jake said
"Mind bringing us?" Steve asked. "Not at all." They followed Jake to the back of the room and through a smaller door.
A group kids were digging for gold. Their mission had not been successful so far, but they'd find some by the time Hannah's project needed it. The work went on for hours.
"Hey, Liv, I found some!" A boy shouted.
The girl called Liv came over for a look.
"Hannah can have her's, and we can go out and buy what we need from villagers! This is brilliant!"
"Definitely, Vince, but did you notice the weird smell?"
The boy sniffed the air. "Yeah, kinda reminds me of my dad's old car." He sniffed again, and looked down the hall. "Who's that?"
There was an older boy in a red collared shirt down the hall.
"Hey you! What's up?"
He looked up. His eyes were pure white. There was no emotion in his face, but he radiated evil. He took a box of matches out.
"Liv...I know what that smell was."
Horror dawned on her face.
"Run!" he shouted.
They bolted further down the hall. A match was struck, and half the mineshaft burst into flame, killing all.
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Steve, Jake, and Magnus walked through the door. On the other side was Hannah. She was examining a black frame that was leaning against the wall. "Hey Hannah." Steve said. "What happened to the swirly purple stuff?" "Oh, hi Steve." she said. "Horrible things were coming through. We had to put it out." Steve nodded. "Okay, so how do you observe it?" "It's still giving off a residual energy. We can study that." The frame sat there. It seemed to radiate a feeling of forboding.
Vince and Liv ran across the lab. "We need to talk to Hannah immediately!" Vince said. Jake took a good look at them. Their clothes were singed and they had several burns. "I'm sorry, I can't let you in, she's working on something top secret with the Commander." At that moment, the door opened. Hannah, Magnus and Steve walked out. They both spoke at the same time.
"Hannah, we were in the mine, and there was a guy there, a weird guy-"
"We had just struck gold, there was a funny smell-"
"The guy's eyes were all white, he had a book of matches-"
"He lit one, the weird smell was gas!"
"We barley escaped with our lives."
Hannah looked at them, horror dawning on her face. "A guy with white eyes killed a whole tunnel of miners with a match?" Liv and Vince nodded. Hannah sat down and covered her face. "This is horrible." She said. "You said my eyes were all creepy when I came, didn't ya?" Magnus asked. Hannah nodded. "It might be a disease, driving people mad?" "No, it would have affected us by now." "A psychic hold? The Enderdragon did that to the Endermen. Look how well we're getting on with them now!" "Possibly." "Shall we go on a trip or something to find out?" Steve asked. "Maybe. The situation is dangerous." Hannah looked at the silverfish again. It had settled down. "We can't be sure." The silverfish flipped out, banging itself against the glass. It's eyes had suddenly turned a glistening white. "Holy smokes!" Hannah yelled. "If I didn't know that case was nearly unbreakable-" She stopped. The bug was throwing itself against the case with all its strength. The case cracked, then broke. The silverfish jumped on Hannah's shoulder and attacked. "Ow! Get it off!" Magnus grabbed it's tail end and yanked. It came off Hannah's shoulder, a bloody piece of fabric in its jaws. It turned its mean head at Magnus and hissed. He threw it. It flew over Steve's head, and he unsheathed his sword, swinging at it. He missed, and it landed on the table behind him. It seemed to have a newfound desire to kill Hannah, because it ignored him and jumped for her again. This time, Steve was ready. He sliced it in half. The two parts lay on the floor, wriggling for a moment and stopping. "Now do you think it's a psychic hold?" "Probably." "So should we deal with the problem?" Steve asked. "Yeah." Hannah said. "Let's get moving then, people! Sound the Code Yellow alarm! Get the posse together! We're going on a quest!" Steve shouted, running from the room.
A bell chimed. Though sweet sounding, it was an alarm indicating war could break out. A small band had already assembled in the courtyard. Caroline was debriefing them. "Alright everyone, there have been sightings of people with pure white eyes. They were both in uniform, so we must assume there's more. We need a military group, because if they all turn out to be aggressive, we are screwed. Any questions?" A hand went up. "You?" "Yes, Caroline." a girl said. "Wasn't one of them that Magnus kid?" "That's General Caroline, and yes, it was." The girl hesitated. "Then we can't trust him, can we?" Caroline eyed her. "His eyes look fine, and he hasn't tried to kill anyone. Yes, we can trust him. If you don't, than leave." The girl shuffled behind someone else. "Okay. A few people are still coming, and we'll be going. Stay vigilant!" Caroline stormed off to the weapons shed. Spares and things were kept there. Cody was trying to find Magnus a weapon he liked. "And so here's a sling for rocks. You could kill a giant if you had the right aim..." "No thanks, Cody. It isn' exactly my style." Magnus said, taking the sling and putting it back down. "Claymore?" Cody attempted to pick a huge sword up from the pile, but it was to heavy for him. "I don' think so. A normal sword will be fine." "Alright, tell you what. You take this piece of junk-" Cody gave Magnus an old stone sword, "-and I'll go forge a better one for you." Magnus nodded. "Okay. See you later." Cody left for the forge. "Coming, Magnus?" Caroline asked. "Aye. Let's go."
The posse filed through the narrow gaps in the trees. This was a Darkwood forest, and sightings of the sun were rare. As such, forests like that one were home to the undead and other horrible creatures that Cody never saw on the trip, only heard. People carried torches in one hand and weapons in the other. Little came after them, although a few zombies came close. A dull thumping sound had started, and it was getting louder. Cody looked around. There were a few creatures, but they were heading the opposite direction as them. "Guys, you notice that?" Cody indicated the retreating creatures. "It's probably just some predator or some thing. Chill out, Cody." someone said. A dark, furry shape bounded by as fast as it could. "What eats werewolves?" Cody asked. There was a silence. Then Caroline spoke from the front of the posse. "Guys, I think we should stop here for a sec. Does someone want to go look ahead?" Cody raised his hand. "I'll go." he said. Caroline sighed. "Alright. Go on." Cody took his torch and walked forward. A zombie noticed him alone, and he batted it off with the torch. Most of the other ones stayed away from him after that. He continued walking for the sounds of thumping. The thumping became crashing as the trees in front of him fell down. The beast that had everything riled up was...
"Oh no." Cody said. He ran back to the others as fast as he could. "So what's the deal, Cody?" Caroline asked. "It's a freaking dragon!" Cody gasped. "What?" "There's a dragon-headed this way!" Caroline paled. "Everone get up and run!" she shouted. A ball of fire sailed over their heads and the crown of the tree burst into flames. Everybody started running in the direction the dragon was heading "No, you idiots! To the left!" Caroline yelled, "It's not going that way!" After that, people got out of its way. The dragon, as it turned out, was not after them. It had simply been on it's way, and something had frightened it into breathing fire. "Come on, keep moving." Caroline said, stepping into the path the dragon beat. "We've still got to find something."
They continued the trek. Caroline had promised that if a night passed, they would go back. Finally, they noticed a light gleaming in the dark. Caroline sent Cody, Vince and Magnus to spy on it, while the rest of them followed at a long distance. What Cody saw gave him shivers down his back. A boy with pale white eyes was walking deeper into the forest, carrying a torch. As they watched, he joined a procession of others, all carrying torches. In the middle, two of them were carrying a girl in chains. "Sophie." Magnus whispered, stricken. They followed them closley, and when they came to their destination, Cody thought his heart might stop. There was a long stage, a red curtain hung at the end with a black frame in front of it. The girl was dragged in front of it, and one of the others walked up to the frame. She yelled something to the others, and they all yelled back. Is this some sort of prayer? Cody thought. The older girl who had shouted took a torch and waved it across the frame. A purple mist stretched through the center, and Cody felt oddly drawn to it. The girl yelled again, and a man stepped from the frame. His eyes were a similar color. He walked up to the chained girl and held out his hand, which glowed red. The chained girl screamed. It's not a prayer, Cody thought, it's an execution. He was about to try to do something, but Magnus acted first. He unsheathed his sword, running up to the stage and screaming. He beat the man's arm away with the butt of his sword and buried the blade up to the hilt in his chest. The man merely knocked him down with a blow from his arm and pulled the sword right out of his chest. He pointed it at Magnus's face. He rolled out of the way, fury glinting in his eyes. He brought his fists together and swung them down on the man's neck. He fell, kicking Magnus in the stomach. He stood up, punching Magnus in the face. Magnus fell again. He didn't look too good; one of his pant legs were torn off at the knee and his nose was bleeding. "Who are you?" he choked. The man was silent for a moment. Then, "I am Herobrine. King of The Nether, and your lord and master. You, however, are nothing to me, and you and your friends-" A hot, sharp pain went down Cody's spine as he and Vince were lifed off the ground and floated over. The chained girl and Magnus seemed to be lifted in the same way.
"-will all die." Herobrine grinned. Cody saw something in this man. Unlike the others, he had a dark power glinting in his white eyes. This man was a megalomainiac with some aim of vengance. Cody felt the pain mount, when suddenly it stopped. Herobrine had taken an arrow to his literal Achillies' heel. He knelt over, yelling in pain. He tore the arrow out and flung it in the general direction it came from. The others suddenly disappeared. It was Cody, Herobrine, and his followers. Suddenly, something hit him from the left. He had been grabbed by someone swinging from a rope, and they had dropped him fifteen feet away from the execution stage. The unknown one turned to him. "Run!" Cody made a wild dash away from the unknown camp, following the other person. He heard shouting. Herobrine and his followers were rallying after them.
Cody sprinted after the cloaked rescuer. Chaos was ensuing. Herobrine and his troops were chasing, throwing spears and rocks. The forest was suddenly aflame. The dragon had returned with a vengance. It spat fire and threw trees everywhere. A small tree was knocked over right in front of Cody, and he just barley lept it. The dragon wailed. There were several spears stuck in it's shoulder. Cody stopped then. This wasn't the same kind of monster they fought in the End. This was only a creature defending it's home. He lit a torch and drew a sword in his free hand. He ran in, screaming and slicing. He quickly lost his sword and his torch was snapped in half. He was slammed into a tree by one of the attackers. He punched her in the face and she dropped him. The dragon was flying away, having given up. He was in the middle of the clearing, surrounded by people who inexplicably hated his guts, with some sort of god about to murder him.
He'd tried to beat them single handed, and had his butt kicked and handed to him on a silver platter.
Herobrine turned around just in time for the cloaked rescuer to stab him with a knife. Cody jumped up, grabbed a stick, and whacked him in the back of the knees. "He'll be better in a second, run!" They took off again, this time for the path. They ran down it in the direction of the Cyan Shirt base. After a long run, they stopped, panting. Cody leaned against a tree, the cloaked rescuer standing in the street. There was a long silence. Then, "Who're you?" Cody asked. His rescuer pulled down his hood. "Trevor Goodwin, at your service." He bowed, magician like. "Cody Miles. Thanks for rescuing me." He held out his hand, which Trevor shook. "We really should keep going. It's twilight already, and we don't want to be caught here at night." Trevor said. "Alright, let's go."
They set off again, at a walk this time. "You're part of a group or something, right?" Trevor asked. "Yeah, actually. What gave it away?" Cody replied. "There were a whole bunch of others in similar clothes." "Oh." Night had falled, but they were now on an open trail, passing the occasional traveler or horse and cart. Minecraftia was more populated than they thought when they arrived. They stopped at a roadside inn. Trevor walked right up to the counter and spoke to the landlady. "We'd like a room for two, bunk beds if it may please you." he said, throwing a few silver coins on the counter. They were copper, thin, with a tree on one side and a crest on the other. "Yes, thank you. Follow me." They followed the landlady up the stairs and down a hall, coming to a small room with bunk beds, as promised. "Enjoy your stay," they landlady said, going back down the stairs. "'Night, Cody." Trevor said, getting right into the top bunk and dropping off to sleep. Cody climbed into the bottom one. He lay awake for a while, until finally dropping off to sleep.
Cody and Trevor trudged down the road. The sun had only just risen, and Cody wished they'd stayed at the inn for breakfast. They had properly ordered some, but as soon as it was set on the table Trevor had swept it all in a bag. He'd insisted they needed to be on their way before Cody's friends sent a search party for him. The day warmed up a great deal in a few minutes. "We're almost there," Cody said, looking down the path. There was a massive jagged rock shooting up out of the ground, casting a shadow on the path. It was a familiar landmark to Cody, who looked at it through the telescope from the lookout tower. The journey home would be ending very soon.
They walked well into the day, eating what Trevor had taken. By the time the sun was setting, they had come to the gates. Cody knocked on the door six times. A panel slid aside. "Who's-" A pair of eyes looked at Cody, who waved. The panel slid shut immediatly, and the doors slid aside. Caroline was standing where the panel had been. She jumped down from the box she was standing on, kicking it aside. "Hi," Cody said nervously, for Caroline had a look of anger on her face. She went right up to him, grabbed him by the shoulders, and kissed him. Trevor laughed. Cody suspected his face looked like a tipped cow's. He looked from Caroline to Trevor and back again. "Well I never--What in the--" Cody sputtered. Suddenly, Caroline drew her fist back. She right hooked Cody hard. He spun, hitting the ground and blacking out.
Cody woke up, vision fuzzy. The roof was a stone one, about fifteen feet up. "Where am I?" he asked, sitting up suddenly. A sharp pain went through his head. "Lay down," someone said, pushing him back into the bed. "Caroline gave you quite the conk there. You should be fine." It was Jake, the guy from the lab. "You're in the infirmary, by the way." "We don't have an infirmary." Cody said. His head was clearing up now. "After the most recent incident with the mine, we do." Jake said. "What happened?" "Another gas explosion. Natural one this time. Most everyone was pretty fine, though some of the burns were nasty." Cody sat up again, slower this time. His head felt fine. "Is Steve around? I need to tell him what we saw." "Yeah, hold on. COMMANDER!" Jake had turned and shouted through an open door. "HE WANTS TO SEE YA NOW!" Steve stumbled into the room, hands over his ears. "Alright! No need to yell." He went over to Cody's bed. "I heard everything from Caroline." "Excellent, I didn't want to have to tell you everything." Cody said, leaning back again. "What I want to know is what you think we need to do now." Steve's face turned grim. "I think it's time to start the frame up again."
Not a few hours later, a team of eight was ready outside the thin obsidian frame. Cody thought they should have taken less, but Steve insisted, "For good luck." Cody shifted under his thin armor. They had seen a few portals before, but they never ventured behind the veil. "Ready, everyone?" Steve asked. There were nods of aggrement, a "Yes" from Trevor (who had stayed along for the sake of finding out more) and a "No." from Cody. Steve took a flint and struck it over the frame. Purple mist burst from the specks dotting the black until there was a curtain stretching across the frame. They all walked through, single file.
It was nothing like the last portal Cody went through. The other felt like he'd been falling through space, and he landed so hard he couldn't stand for a good amount of time. This time, however, he stepped in on one side and stepped out on the other. The moisture was sucked from his mouth completley. It was dim, but not dark. It was a massive cave. The ground, walls and ceiling were all made from a dark red rock. Giant glowing stalactites and small flourecent mushrooms gave light. Fifty feet away, a sea of pure magma glowed.
They were in The Nether.
"Everyone stay calm!" Steve shouted, drawing his sword and looking around. He was having a hard time keeping his head himself. If the world above was dangerous, there was nowhere in this land that could possibly be safe. The ground shook, knocking Steve to the ground. Something had slammed into the ground three feet from him, sending small bits of flaming stone everywhere. "What was that?!" Cody yelled. "Jellyfish!" Blaze yelled from the back. There was indeed a massive floating jellyfish over the lake of lava. It appeared to have eyes, which were pouring tears. "Are you suggesting that that thing blew a crater in the ground?" Steve asked, getting up. "I dunno, Steve...It looks kind of dangerous." Cody walked forward, holding his newly forged sword and shield up. Suddenly, the monster's eyes flew open. They were bloodshot, still streaming tears. It opened its mouth with a scream, a fireball flying out. Cody lifted his shield in front of his face, fast. Steve waited for the blast. When it didn't happen, he looked up. The fireball appeared to have bounced off his shield, flying back at the monster. It slammed into its side, and there was a massive explosion. There was simply no monster left. "Wow." Cody squeaked. "Let's keep moving!" Steve shouted, moving along. Everyone else began following, single file.
The away team moved through the Nether with extreme caution. They were moving along a ridge hanging just above the lava, and a misstep would mean boiling to death. Steve thought of the zombie pigman he'd encountered in the stronghold six months ago. That had been a denizen of this awful place, and in all likleyhood, there would be more.
"Guys." Blaze was trying to get their attention from the back of the line.
"Something to report?" Steve asked, taking a quick glance over his shoulder. "Did you notice that it was getting cold back home?"
"Where?" Cody asked.
"In the world on the other side of the portal. In the Overworld."
Steve thought about that for a moment. "Yeah. I did."
"Me too." Cody said.
"Like winter, or something." Magnus added.
Blaze waited for a long moment before saying what she'd been thinking for days. "I think it's Christmastime."
A cold feeling hit Steve like a hammer. So much terrible stuff had been going on, and he'd barley thought about his thirteenth birthday the week before.
"You're right." Cody said. "It's gotta be around now."
The rest of the walk was pretty muted. Blaze found some mushrooms she recognised from the surface and had ground them together in a bowl. When Cody had taken a sip, he'd spewed the contents of his mouth all over the rock, where it had become a vapor within seconds. "Don't complain." Blaze said. "It's all the food you're gonna get."
More walking and they'd come to a sort of land basin. There was a little puddle of lava resting in the center. There were various small caves as well, along with zombie pigmen sitting around the pool.
"It's like a camp or something." Caroline whispered. "You reckon they're friendly?"
Steve and Blaze met each other's eyes. "No." Blaze said.
One of the pigmen raised its head, sniffing the air. It turned to the team and gave a squeal. Others looked up, and and a couple ran into the cave.
"What're they doing?" Cody asked urgently.
They emerged with swords, throwing them to the others.
"RUN!" Steve yelled. He drew his sword, running around the pit. The others followed, drawing their own weapons. Pigmen were climbing from the pit, weapons raised. Blaze turned, nocking an arrow and letting it fly, hitting one in the shoulder. It fell to its knee, and another stopped to make sure it was alright. Seven still followed.
They found themselves facing a thirty foot cliff within minutes.
"Cody!" Steve yelled. "You know what to do!"
"Gotcha." He pulled off his pack, rummaging around.
"Hurry!" The pigmen were closing in.
Cody pulled two miniature pickaxes out of the bag. He jammed one in at about elbow level, another a little above his head. He ripped two small chuncks from the wall. "Soft rock." he said, going higher. He was breaking footholes into the cliff, climbing higher.
"Start following him!" Steve yelled once Cody had nearly reached the top.
Blaze went next, and that's when the pigmen caught up. It was five against seven. Steve flung his sword upwards to stop the blow from the pigman. It threw a punch at him and he ducked, grabbing it's wrist. Using its own momentum, he flung it into the cliff face. It lay there, stunned. Another one promptly grabbed Steve by the back of the shirt and slammed him on the wall. And again. And again. It dropped him suddenly, and he fell next to the unconsious one. It stumbled back, an arrow having practically sprouted from its forearm. It ripped out the arrow just in time to fall off the edge, right into the lava.
Steve took this opportunity to climb up the cliff with the others, who had already gotten up. He reached the top, rolling onto his back. His nose was probably broken, his ankle might have been sprained, but that was probably the worst of it. The others didn't look too great, either. In fact, Cody might have been the only one to escape harm. Blaze was covered in cuts, Caroline had a black eye, and Magnus was being supported by Jake and Liv, who were also battered. Trevor looked as though he'd been punched in the mouth, as his lip was bleeding.
"I think we've almost found what we're looking for," Cody said, pointing up.
There was a massive bridge looming above them.
Cody stepped forward. "There's no turning back now, right?"
Without thinking, Steve nodded.
"Okay!" Cody took his picks and started scaling the bridge's support, just as he'd done with the cliff.
"Hey, wait!" Steve yelled to Cody. Fortunately, he stopped.
"What?" Cody asked, raising an eyebrow.
"If a guard notices you, and there's no doubt there are guards, you'll be filled full of arrows and dead faster than you can say 'Oops'."
Cody winced. "Well, what do you suppose we do, Sherlock?"
"You take this," Steve said, lifting his shield slightly.
"How do you expect me to take that? Both my hands are full."
"Oh, it's not going in your hands," Steve said. "Logically, we're going to strap it to your head."
Cody grumbled something as he took the shield. "I'll do it myself."
After a good twenty minutes of struggling, Cody had it strapped to his head. "Alright. Up we go." He began climbing up again, the others following.
The climb was long, but for some reason, they weren't noticed once. They climbed up onto the wall, walking along the rampart with their weapons ready.
The quiet was too good to be true. As they rounded a corner, they crashed into a Pigman. This one was not a zombie, however. It was a living, breathing, pigman, dressed in slightly tarnished armor and carrying an iron sword. Steve stumbled back, pushing the others away too. Blaze nocked an arrow and shot the Pigman point-blank, hitting him with such force that it pierced right through its armor. It squealed, falling over the edge.
The cry of the dying Pigman must have prompted another to sound an alarm, because a noise echoed throughout the massive caverns, a horrible scream. Pigmen and black skeletons with swords were marching towards the posse on both sides. They didn't look like they intended to take prisoners.
"Steve," Caroline said. "This is just like the stronghold. I don't think we'll all make it out alive." Her voice sounded shaky and fearful, but for once, Steve didn't share that feeling as he had done in the stronghold.
"The situation is completely different this time," Steve promised, tightening his grip on his sword.
"How, Steve?!" Coraline asked, anger slipping into her tone. "We're doomed."
"No, we're not," Steve said, raising his sword above his head. "I have a different tactic." He pointed the sword directly ahead of them at the approaching monsters.
It was as if a wave of new energy had struck the group. Caroline pulled out a pair of long knives. Cody threw a sprinkle of gunpowder on his torch stick and simply scraped it on the ground. It burst to life, and he swung it around as he followed Caroline and Steve. Blaze was letting three arrows go at a time, focusing on the monsters following them. Magnus, this being his first skirmish, didn't seem as energized as the others.
But most inspiring of all was Trevor.
He cut down Pigmen and Skeletons like it was nothing, throwing them over the sides, kicking, slicing, and jumping. He practically cleared the path for everyone else, letting the others pick off the stragglers. Unfortunately, this left him far ahead of the others when he actually needed their help. Both his arms were grabbed by a pair of burly pigmen, who started dragging him back, clearly trying to take him as a hostage.
"Cody, Caroline!" Steve shouted, picking up the pace. "Trevor needs help!"
No more words were needed. They charged forward as Steve fell back towards the others. "Blaze, I need you to take those kidnappers out," he said, pointing towards Trevor.
Blaze didn't make a comment about hitting Trevor. She'd trained long enough to hit something from fifty feet. She got down on her knees, drawing her arrow back and squinting. It flew, piercing the back of the left pigman's helmet. It let Trevor go, falling to the ground. Trevor took advantage of this by punching the other in the snout. By then, Cody and Caroline had arrived. Coraline had wasted no time in stabbing the remaining kidnapper in the stomach. Everyone was standing before the entrance to a fortress.
"This is it, guys," Steve said. "The belly of the beast. Are you sure you want to-"
He stopped. Everyone was already running inside.