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I, like most readers, was sorely disappointed by book #54. It didn’t feel like an ending (in fact, it was entitled The Beginning). It seemed to invite fanfics. So I started writing my own.
Basically, this book is Animorphs #55. It picks up where #54 left off and works its way from there. It is the first of many more to come until I reach an ending I’m satisfied with.
Because #53 was a Jake book, #54 should have been Rachel. That means #55 should be either Tobias or Ax. Since Ax is busy being possessed, I went with Tobias.
I made these as much like the original Animorphs books as I could. That includes adding a chapter from the next book in the series at the end as well as a summary of the next book. I’ll post the next one when enough people ask me to.
Enjoy or go to hell.
If I owned the Animorphs, you wouldn’t be reading this for free.
And if I owned Streetlight Manifesto, I'd have better things to do than write fanfics.
My name is Tobias. You might have heard of me. For three years, five friends and I fought alone against an alien force that sought to enslave humanity: the Yeerk Empire. Yeerks, in their natural state, are just little grey slugs. But these slugs can crawl inside your head and take over your body completely.
The six of us were, me, our leader Jake, his best friend Marco, Jake’s girlfriend Cassie, and an Andalite kid named Aximili-Esgarrouth-Isthill. And there was Rachel. Rachel was Jake’s cousin and Cassie’s best friend. She was also the only person I ever loved. In our final battle, she…well, you know what happened then.
We called ourselves the Animorphs because of our only weapon: the power to morph. We could transform our bodies into any animal we could touch. Once we touched a creature and acquired its DNA, we could become that creature. One of my first morphs was a red tailed hawk. I never really got out of that morph. You see, there is a time limit on morphing. If you stay in one form for more than two hours, you stay like that forever.
A vastly powerful alien called the Ellimist gave me back my power to morph a while ago. Still, every two hours, I have to go back to hawk or I’m in whatever body I was in forever.
That was the old days. We had a few allies, but I won’t go into that here. For the most part, it was just the six of us. For three years, we waged a terrible, bloody war against our unseen enemies. Attack after guerilla attack against any tiny weakness we could find in the Yeerks. It started out as a delaying action. Then, it turned into a victory.
But none of that matters now. Because that war ended three years ago. Fast forward to the beginning of this story. After our final battle, the last of the Yeerks escaped in a ship and flew out into space. Aximili, we always called him Ax, chased after them for years. Finally, they outsmarted him and ambushed him. They captured him. That was when Ax’s second in command, Menderash, came to Earth. He contacted Jake and told him everything. So Jake got Marco and me. I never wanted to see anyone again after the war, but I couldn’t turn my back on Ax. He called me his shorm. It’s Andalite for “best friend.” Jake also recruited some special agents he had been training to morph, an American named Santorelli and a French girl named Jeanne. Menderash morphed permanently to human to avoid some legal complications, so he’s stuck like that.
So here we are again. Jake, Marco, Santorelli, Jeanne, Menderash, and me, Tobias. We’re deep in an unknown, unfriendly sector of the galaxy on a deadly, secret mission against forces we don’t understand. If anyone were to find out about us, it would start an intergalactic war that our own sector of the galaxy did not think it could win.
Does any of this seem a little familiar? If you were with me for the first ride, it should. But just remember: this is a new world with new rules, new dangers, and whole new morphs. You might recognize me, but that’s about all you’ll recognize. Ready? Then hang on, because this starts out fast…
My name is Tobias. I can’t tell you my last name or where I live. I don’t know what my last name would be anymore. As for where I live, right now it’s somewhere in a foreign sector of the galaxy. I’m writing this because, when this is all over, there I want the survivors to be able to understand who we were and why we did what we had to do. And I’m writing this because maybe, just maybe, someone will read this and have the strength to go on when they might fall without it.
. Let me set the scene for you. We came out of Z-space and found the Blade ship, the ship with the last Yeerks in the world, waiting for us. Ax, my friend, had been taken over by some being called The One.
I just heard Jake, my old ‘friend,’ give the order to our pilot, Menderash. “Ram the Blade Ship.” I saw Menderash reach for the controls. Then, I saw him freeze. I looked around.
Nobody moved. Not an inch. No breathing, no blinking, and no wavering of the grotesque hologram of Ax that even now smiled at us with arrogance etched into his mutated face.
I knew this game. <Ellimist,> I muttered. <Come to not help us once again?> Then I heard a voice I wasn’t expecting.
“Not Ellimist.” I turned to see the Drode. The Drode looked sort of like a purple dinosaur, but his flesh was very wrinkled and his face was way too close to a human face.
The Drode served a being known as Crayak. At first, I thought of the Ellimist as good and Crayak as evil. But I haven’t been sure what those words meant for years.
<Crayak, then. As if it matters. What does your master want?> I demanded. I guess most people would be a little thrown by a creature that could stop and start time on a dime. Not me. The whole ‘time freeze’ gag is old news.
“I remember when you were respectful and shy,” the Drode sighed. “I might like this version better. But that is neither here nor there.”
<What do you want?> I repeated.
“Come now, Tobias. Surely you don’t think that the Ellimist would let his little friends the Animorphs kill themselves like this.”
<If the Ellimist cares, why are you here?>
The Drode didn’t answer me. Instead, he said, “I’m about to tell you a story. Don’t say anything until you hear it. I’m sure the Ellimist has told you a thing or two about my master, but I’m going to tell you the whole story. Then, you need to decide something. Are you ready?”
I tried to answer in thought speak, but I heard nothing. So I just nodded. Yes, I was ready. Then, just as I had expected, I was no longer in our dimension.
When I looked around, I could see into and through things at once and form every angle. I saw the core as easily as the surface. I could see Jake’s unbeating heart as easily as easily as I could see the Yeerk slugs in the brains of the humans, Hork-Bajir and Taxxons in the Blade ship commanded by my shorm.
I noticed something else. Small threads of light came from every Yeerk and Taxxon in that ship. They all converged at Ax. One great strand, a braid of every other thread, extended from him into a world I could not see even here. I turned to the Drode, who looked ‘normal’ even in this place.
“As you may know,” he said, “my master, the great and glorious Crayak, did not come from your galaxy. In his own galaxy, he had great power. He could control most anything he put his mind to. But there was a greater power than he.
“My master despised this one. He began a war against him. He turned the races of the galaxy against the other one. My master’s rival did the same. A long war ensued. In the end, my master lost and was banished from his home galaxy. So he went to yours.
“There, as you know, he met the Ellimist and now they play the same game for the stakes Crayak always wanted. Can you guess what comes next? The being who drove him out is The One, the very creature who has seized your Andalite friend.
“My master did not immediately engage the Ellimist. That would have been foolish. He built himself a base of power in a sector of the galaxy that the Ellimist rarely visited. That was this sector of the galaxy, Kelbrid space. My master’s home. At least, it used to be. A millennia ago, the people rose up and challenged his power. The One gave them the ability to succeed, so my master abandoned this place.”
I could feel that my thought speak was working again. So I said, <So now you want our help. We beat you in our own home so you think we just might be able to take on The One.>
“Don’t be ridiculous. You don’t have even a fraction of Crayak’s power. You are nothing to The One. But you can harm his servants.”
<Go on,> I told him. <Tell me more about The One.>
“Oh, but that would hardly be fair. You’ll have to learn about The One and his servants on your own. I’m sure you can find a suitable source of information if you think about it.”
<And what makes you think we’re going to help Crayak?> I asked. <He hasn’t exactly been our friend.>
“Believe me, Tobias, we are on the same side now. You humans proved yourselves stronger than the Yeerks. Crayak has no need of a weak species. We are done with the Yeerks. The One can have them. But humans…you present interesting possibilities. You’ll find that Crayak isn’t so bad once you get to know him.”
<Did you stop to think that maybe I don’t care?> I asked. <I don’t want any part of your war. I just want to get Ax and go home.>
The Drode laughed. “Do you really think it’s that easy? You can’t break The One’s power simply by taking dear Aximili beyond this sector of the galaxy. You have to sever him at the source. And to do that, you’ll need my master’s help.”
<So maybe we just leave Ax here. Better that than help Crayak.>
“You still think of my master as your enemy. Very well. Then take this little gift as a sign that my master is on your side. And that, unlike the Ellimist, he doesn’t lie to you.”
I felt the change the instant it happened. One moment, I was in my hawk body. The next, I was human. “What game are you playing?” I demanded of the Drode. My voice was raspy; I hadn’t used it in years.
“The games are over, Tobias. The game between Crayak and the Ellimist has collided with the war between Crayak and The One.”
“You said that the Ellimist, and apparently you too, wouldn’t let us die like this. But what can you do? You can’t interfere directly, according to the rules of your game. What’s your plan?”
“What did I just say? The game is over. Or, rather, postponed. The Ellimist and Crayak have all the time in the universe, plus a little extra. They can rest for a few eons while Crayak settles his old score. Crayak can use his full power here.”
“Then why does he need us?” I demanded.
“Why use a sword where a scalpel would do? Subtlety is so much more elegant.”
“I see. So what are you going to do?”
“Aximili seems to have you in quite the tight spot, doesn’t he? Of course, that spot wouldn’t be so very tight if, say, his Z-space engines suddenly engaged and left him thirty trillion light years away from you.”
“I see. So you save our lives and in return we go after The One. And what do you think we can do? It’s as feeble as attacking Crayak himself.”
“The six of you, alone, against a force far more powerful and advanced than you could ever be? I’m sure you’ll figure something out. Or you’ll fail, in which case Crayak simply delays his attack until he finds another, more suitable species with which to make his war.”
“Meanwhile, you buy me off by giving me back my humanity. But Crayak can’t give me back what I really want, can he?”
The Drode sighed. “Very little is beyond Crayak’s capabilities.”
“But he can’t raise the dead,” I concluded. “Fine. I’ll talk to the others. I can’t see Jake going for it. Or Marco. Santorelli and Jeanne maybe, but only because they don’t know what they’re getting into. Menderash will go along with anything to save Ax.”
“You’ll have to convince the others. But know, Tobias, that if Crayak wins, his power will be limitless. Nothing will be beyond his grasp. Nothing.” That final bribe left in the open, the Drode brought me back to my own world.
“Hey! Where’d the Blade ship go?” Marco asked. Then he looked at me. “And when did you morph?”
“An old friend of ours just paid me a visit,” I told him.
“The Ellimist?” Jake asked.
“Not exactly. The Drode. He told me that Crayak used to have a strong base of power in this part of space. And that The One kicked him out of here and out of his own galaxy. Now he wants us to help him take The One down. If we succeed, we get Ax back.”
“So it was Crayak who moved the Blade ship” Jake realized. “Now he wants our help. He does us a favor, so we do him one. What do you all think?”
Santorelli shrugged. “I don’t really know anything about any of this. I think it’s best if I leave it up to someone who knows what’s going on.”
“I am going to agree,” Jeanne said. “This is for our commanders to decide.”
Menderash added, “I am no expert on this Crayak, but if he offers us a way to save Prince Aximili, I am inclined to seize the chance. But I will obey my commanders.”
Marco looked at me. “Tobias, is there something you’re leaving out? Like why you’re human right now?”
I sighed. Marco was quick to see through subterfuge. “Crayak gave me back my human body. He wanted to prove to me that he’s trustworthier than the Ellimist. He means what he says. And he wants me to trust him.”
“So are you on his side?” Marco asked me.
“I don’t know,” I answered. “If Crayak wins here, the Drode says he’ll have unlimited power. We’d be condemning an entire sector of the galaxy to his rule. But he wouldn’t be that powerful in our own sector of the galaxy because the rules of his game still limit him there.”
“Sacrifice half the galaxy to Crayak in order to save Ax?” Jake wondered. “I can’t condone that. I’m voting against helping the big eye.”
I said, “The fact is that whatever happens in this part of the galaxy probably doesn’t harm us back home. Our goal has always been to take care of humans first, everyone else second. I think we can make a deal with Crayak. We help him. In return, he leaves Earth alone in his game.”
I looked at Marco. It was me against Jake. Marco’s vote would decide. He looked from Jake to me and back again. Finally, he said, “For me, my first goal has always been to protect my family. That’s why I was against fighting back in the beginning of the war with the Yeerks. When I found out about my mother, it became about saving her. If I can make a deal with Crayak to protect my family, then I don’t really care what happens to this galaxy.”
IT IS SETTLED THEN, a voice said in our heads. It was great and terrible, like a flood about to shatter a dam into a thousand pieces. We all knew that it was the voice of Crayak. YOUR EARTH IS SAFE IF YOU ASSIST ME AGAINST THE ONE. DO NOT FAIL.
He didn’t have to add that, if we failed, Earth would pay the price.
“So what do we do now?” Marco asked. “I mean, how do we get at a guy who kicked Crayak’s butt? This isn’t like going after the Yeerks or Visser Three or something. We don’t have the slightest clue how to start.”
I answered. “The Drode told me we’d think of something. So I guess we start thinking.”
Jake turned to Menderash. “What do you know of Kelbrid space? Where’s the nearest planet?”
Menderash answered, “As we have traveled through Z-space, I have been compiling a map of the star systems. There is one only a few thousand light-years away. If we were to fly through it, the ship’s scanners would detect any signs of intelligent life.”
“Go for it. If The One is more powerful than Crayak, there must be some local legends about him. We need all the information we can get.”
So Menderash set out into space. I retired to my quarters. And quickly realized that I’d need to do some redecorating. They were furnished for a hawk. Fake trees, a few other places to perch. Nowhere for a human being.
I guess the trip wasn’t that long, but it was uncomfortable for me both physically and emotionally. I sat in a corner of my room and thought about what this war meant.
Crayak wanted me on his side. That much was certain. But why me? Jake was our leader. Why not bribe him instead? Okay, so maybe that wouldn’t have worked. The war jaded Jake, but he would never sell out to Crayak. That just wasn’t his style.
But what about Marco? He had more influence than I did and he was cold enough to cut a deal. Then again, Marco had millions of dollars back home, a mansion, a T.V. show, and his family in perfect order. What could Crayak offer him?
So it was down to me. There was only one thing I wanted and Crayak promised to give it to me. Long ago, I had done a service for the Ellimist. He had promised to give me what I most wanted. I wanted him to make me human again. Instead, he gave me back my power to morph. That was why Crayak gave me my human body.
I wondered, not for the first time, why these beings had taken such an interest in me. If it hadn’t been for the Ellimist, I wouldn’t even have existed. My father was an Andalite warrior named Prince Elfangor. He came to earth and assumed a human form. One day, the Ellimist called him back to his own planet to fight the Yeerks. The Ellimist erased all evidence of Elfangor’s time on earth. Except for his son.
The Ellimist helped us Animorphs out a few times after that. And got us involved in his game with Crayak. He seemed to have some special interest in me and that freaked me out.
I remember the first time we went against Crayak. The six of us Animorphs and a friend of ours were transported to a weird planet so many light-years away from out own home that the Yeerks would never reach it without consuming most of the known universe. The planet was occupied by the Iskoort, intergalactic merchants and traders. We were supposed to fight Crayak’s champions for the fate of their race.
Crayak sent seven warriors against us. They were all Howlers, genetically engineered killing machines, products of Crayak himself. We couldn’t outfight them, so we outsmarted them. We forced Crayak to destroy them himself.
Now Crayak wanted me for his pawn. I knew he was using me. But the thing was, he said he could bring Rachel back. Didn’t he? Then I remembered. Both of them, Ellimist and Crayak, have a way of lying without lying. They speak the truth, but it isn’t the truth you think it is.
My thoughts were interrupted when my door slid open. Jake stood there. “We’re there. And you won’t believe where ‘there’ is.”
I went to the bridge and looked over the screens. At first glance, I recognized the place. It looked like Lego land if it were designed by Dr. Seuss. Towers miles high pierced the sky. They seemed to be made of bricks of every color imaginable and some that I don’t have words to describe.
There were no railings to keep you form falling over the edge. And it was a long fall. There were staircases that led from one level to the next. There was no pattern or shape to the towers. Just platforms stuck in wherever they would fit.
Aliens moved across every platform. There were many species I had never seen before, native to this sector of the galaxy. But there was one type that was very common.
They had triangular heads with crab-like eyes and little gasping mouths. Their torso was veined and scrunched together, like a living accordion. Their arms had too many joints. The hands ended in two tentacles and a claw. Their legs were oddly shaped so that it looked like they were crawling backwards on their knees even when they were moving forward.
I couldn’t see all of this from the ship, of course. I was just remembering it from the last time I had been here. Here being the planet of the Iskoort. It didn’t surprise me as much as it might have. I knew something about Crayak by now: he loved circles.
We met on the bridge. Jake addressed our group. “Tobias, Marco, and I know this planet. It is full of different alien life forms. We shouldn’t stick out much here.”
“Not so, big Jake,” Marco said. “The One will have access to Ax’s memories, or so we need to assume. Which means that he’ll know that humans don’t belong here.”
“How do we know he’s watching the Iskoort?” Jake wondered.
I answered. “It’s a safe bet. We’ve been here before. We have friends here. If we were to come to this sector of the galaxy in search of Ax, we’d probably stop here.”
“Exactly,” Marco agreed. “That means that we should only go if we have morphs that are from this part of the galaxy. Or at least one that isn’t associated with us.”
“Why does it matter if he’s watching us?” Jeanne asked.
“We don’t want him to know we’re walking around here asking questions about him,” Marco answered. “The less he knows about us, the better. But what morphs do we have that can walk around here and not seem out of place?”
“I have a Howler morph,” Jake said. “I can use that. The rest of you can hide on me in fly morph.” Jeanne, Santorelli, and the other special agents who had been given the morphing power back home had acquired a few of our standard morphs to use in training. Fly, our most common surveillance morph, was the first one they got.
“I have another morph I can use,” I said. “Remember the Nartec?” The Nartec were a race of mutated humans living beneath the ocean. During one mission, I had acquired one of them. “They’re not native to this galaxy, but I doubt The One will be on the lookout for them.”
“Are you sure you can still morph?” Marco asked. I just looked at him. “I mean, we know Crayak made you human. But did he let you keep your power?”
That surprised me. “I don’t know,” I admitted. “I didn’t think to try.” I focused my mind on the Nartec. And I felt the changes begin.
Morphing isn’t painful. If it was, you’d die long before you morphed. Your bones stretch or shrink, your organs rearrange, grow, or disappear altogether. Even your brain alters.
My body stayed pretty much the same. My arms grew a little bit so they were as long as my legs. My skin turned blue. I looked at my hand and saw webbing grow between the fingers. The same thing happened to my feet.
I felt my eyes grow larger. They grew unfocused and the ship seemed entirely too bright. My sense of smell enhanced. I felt the gill slits grow in my neck. It became harder to breathe. Not impossible, but not as easy as it had been.
I felt an odd sensation as fins slid out of my spine, forearms, and legs. I got a queasy feeling in my stomach as my organs subtly altered for the Nartec’s more fishy diet.
Finally, I felt the Nartec mind. When you morph an animal, you get their instincts, not their memories. Still, we had a rule about morphing sentient creatures like Nartec or Howlers. We didn’t do it without permission or without necessity.
In this case, the Nartec mind was almost like the human mind. Aside from a strong desire to be in water, it was calm enough. Human enough that it wasn’t totally disorienting.
Of course, the desire for water conflicted sharply with my own mind. I had spent the last six or so years of my life as a red tailed hawk. That still felt like my true self.
It was my father, Prince Elfangor, who gave us our morphing power. His ship had just been shot down by the Yeerks in a battle over Earth. He crash-landed in an abandoned construction site in our home town.
Jake, Marco, Cassie, Rachel, and I had been taking a shortcut home from the mall. We found him and he told us about the Yeerks. Then he gave us our power.
Jake got a small blue cube from his ship. We each put a hand on it. Ever since, there was no turning back. Not for me at least. Marco wanted to give up the whole thing for a while. I thought he was a coward.
At the time, Marco’s father was the only family he had. His mother had been taken by a Yeerk leader Visser One. She had left earth and faked her host’s death. She was eventually freed and Marco’s family was reunited. But for a long time, all Marco had was his father. And his best friend Jake.
Jake’s brother, Tom, was a Controller, someone controlled by a Yeerk, from the beginning of the war. At one point, Jake’s parents were captured, too. In the end, they were freed but Tom was killed.
It was Rachel who killed Tom. In that final battle, Jake sent her on a secret mission onto the Blade Ship. She killed Tom. And she was skilled by the Yeerks. Then the Blade Ship got away. Ax spent years searching for it. Then the Yeerks captured him and here we are.
As for me, I never had a family. My father, Elfangor, was taken away by the Ellimist. My stepfather was killed when I was very young. My mother disappeared shortly after that. I was shunted back and forth between my aunt and uncle, both of whom hated me.
In the end, I was reunited with my mother. She didn’t remember my father or me. After the war, she went to the Andalite homeworld. I never heard anything about her after that.
I guess I kind of zoned out. I remember Marco saying, <Well look at that. Looks like Crayak is trustworthier than the Ellimist. Who knew?> He was using thought-speech. It’s a form of telepathy that we use in morphs. It is also the standard Andalite method of communication.
I looked down at my newly webbed hands. “Weird,” I said with a Nartec’s voice. I looked up to see that Jake had already morphed to Howler. Marco was a fly. Jeanne and Santorelli were still working on it. Morphing takes practice and they were rookies.
I looked away. Turning into a Nartec may be a little disorienting, but it is nothing compared to the horror show of watching someone become a fly.
Menderash couldn’t morph. He has trapped himself as a human to avoid the legal complications of having an Andalite in Kelbrid space. That was one of the reasons we had to get Ax. Menderash would have to wait in the ship.
Jake turned to me. <Ready?> he asked.
I tried to fake a Nartec smile. <Ready.>
Just because I had been to the Iskoort world before didn’t mean that I knew my way around. Not by a long shot. Luckily, Jake and I had a friend who did.
His name was Guide. Actually, it was something longer, but we just called him Guide. Last time we were on the Iskoort world, he showed us around. And we made him a very rich Iskoort.
Finding Guide would be a problem, though. To us, every Iskoort looked the same. <Which one’s Guide?> Jake wondered in our heads.
<Look for the Iskoort rolling in huge piles of Iskoort dough,> Marco suggested. <What do you think he’ll charge us for help this time? We already gave him our memories, our hair, and Erek’s hologram thingy.>
Erek was an old friend of ours. He is from a race of androids called the Chee. Their own planet was destroyed by the Howlers so they came to live on earth. They’ve passed as humans for millennia using sophisticated holograph technology. Erek came to help us save the Iskoort from the Howlers.
<Just remember our rule when dealing with Iskoort,> Jake said. <No body parts.>
<I have an idea how to find him,> I said. <Remember how everything on this planet is organized into guilds? There’s got to be an information guild or something like that. They’d tell us where Guide is.>
<For a price,> Marco added. <Maybe they’d accept an autograph…>
<I don’t think the Iskoort have heard of you,> Jake told him. <Let’s find someone and then hash out a deal.>
<Your wish is my command,> Marco said. Then I heard him shout, <Hey, Iskoort! I’m looking for a guy named Guide. Anyone got any info?>
Thought-speak can be used in one of two ways. It can be addressed to a small group of people or an individual. Or it can be broadcast to everyone within range. Marco was shouting at the top of his “lungs.”
For the most part, the Iskoort ignored him. They themselves communicated in thought-speech. There saw nothing strange about hearing it yelled at them.
Or course, a few of them came towards us. Probably part of the welcoming guild or something. They spoke to us. <We are Iskoort of the Gossip, News, and Speculation guild. You seek information about an Iskoort formerly called Guide? We can help you. All we ask is your memories.>
<No deal. We all know how valuable Howler memories are,> Marco said privately. <Don’t give them away for this.>
“No,” Jake told them using his Howler voice. “Tell me or I’ll give you my claw.” Howlers are about as large as a tall man. They are bowlegged and walk with a swinging gait. Their eyes are a weirdly beautiful blue. They are also faster than your eye can see and able to regenerate lost limbs. Their skin is red and black. On the backs of their hands are steel claws that they can extend or retract. Basically, picture the love-child of Darth Maul and Wolverine.
<There is no need to be hostile,> the Iskoort whined. <I am sure we can make a deal of some kind. There is always something to be had. Perhaps one of your friend’s fins?>
“No fins,” I said. “What if I gave you my DNA?”
<I would prefer the Howler’s DNA,> the Iskoort commented. <Perhaps I could have him?>
“Not him. There are too many Howlers in the world as it is. Take my DNA or we’ll find someone who will.”
<But what could I do with your DNA?> he asked.
“Drink it, sell it, clone it, I don’t care. Take it or leave it.”
<You trade seems acceptable,> the Iskoort decided quickly. <I will show you to the one formerly known as Guide.>
After he collected my DNA, the Iskoort began to lead us to Guide. He started by leading us to a flight of stairs. Jake stopped him before he reached them. “No stairs. You have elevators. Use them.”
The Iskoort was about to protest. Then he caught sight of Jake’s very sharp claws and thought better of it. The elevators made the trip a lot easier.
The elevator went down for a long time. It seemed like an eternity with the Iskoort asking for more body parts every thirty seconds.
At one point, Jake very calmly shoved his claws into the wall of the elevator and used them to carve out a small circular hole. He scratched a message on it and handed it to the Iskoort. The message was two words: you’re next. The Iskoort probably did not read English, but he understood it well enough.
The elevator eventually stopped at one of the bottommost levels of the Iskoort world. <This is the level where the individual formerly known as Guide lives,> the Iskoort told us. <I cannot help you any further. It is very strange for visitors to come this far down. I wish you luck.> He turned and rode the elevator away, glad to be rid of the Howler and his fishy companion.
<Not exactly where we expected to find Guide, is it?> Jake said.
<I’ll say,> Marco agreed. <I smell so much biological waste that this fly might as well be in heaven.>
<This creature seems to have a fixation with excrement,> Jeanne commented. I almost jumped. I had forgotten about her and Santorelli.
<Flies do about two things: fly and smell poop,> Marco told her. <You get used to it.>
We walked for half an hour or so before we came across our first Iskoort in this level. He informed us that he was a member of the Beggars Guild. He told us where to find Guide in exchange for part of one of my scales.
It didn’t take long to find Guide after that. We were led to a small hut made out of scrap metal and some of those Lego-looking bricks. The door was unlocked so we let ourselves in.
An Iskoort was there. He looked like any other Iskoort to me except for one thing: his eyes were wide with terror when he saw Jake. <Please,> he whined, <I’ll have your money in a week. I promise. Just don’t kill me.>
“I’m not here to kill you, Guide,” Jake told him.
<Guide? I haven’t been called Guide since…> he trialed off. <Are you a Howler?>
In response, Jake began to demorph. Marco and I followed. It took the three of us about thirty seconds to demorph. Jeanne and Santorelli were far behind. We had had a lot of practice. They were still rookies.
When our faces emerged, Guide threw himself down at Jake’s feet. <You have returned. I am saved. They won’t kill me after all!>
Jake looked down at the weeping Iskoort. “You have some explaining to do.”
<It is a sad story,> Guide began. The six of us were sitting in Guide’s hut, Jeanne and Santorelli having finished their demorph.
<At first, everything went great. Your memories made me even wealthier than the android’s hologram projector.> The Iskoort had a way of copying someone’s memories and playing them back like a DVD. It was one of their planet’s main attractions. We had sold our memories to Guide to pay for some things we needed.
“If they were so good, what are you doing in the slums?” Marco asked.
<That’s just the thing. They were too good. Everyone loved your story. The drama. The horror. The psychological and philosophical implications. But I was foolish about it. I released all of your memories at once.>
“How did that turn out?” Marco wondered.
<It made me a very rich Iskoort, I can tell you. I owned an entire market level by myself. I was in the running for Grand Guildmaster of the Merchant Iskoort. I was on top of the world!>
“The thing about that is, there’s always someone to knock you down,” I pointed out.
<Exactly. My opponent sabotaged me and my campaign. He had some foreigners burn down my market. But worse than that, he started a demand for more of your story.>
“What’s so bad about that?” Santorelli asked. “Wouldn’t that mean more Iskoort watching the memories you produced?”
<They didn’t want the same old memories,> Guide answered. <They wanted new ones. I wouldn’t have had a problem if I had kept some of the memories to myself, but everyone had already seen everything.>
“What happened then?” Jeanne asked.
<With my market gone, my only chance was in the memories. I used what I had left to hire experts to fabricate the ending of your story. >
“But you got caught,” Marco concluded.
<But I got caught,> Guide agreed. <When everyone found out about the fakes, my memory shows were boycotted. I lost everything. I was expelled from the Merchants guild. Only the Beggar’s Guild would accept me.>
“Well, it seems like we can help,” Jake told him. “The war with the Yeerks is over. We can sell you the rest of our story.”
<That is very generous of you. But what is it that you want from me?> His whine got higher in pitch. I think it was a nervous sound. <Our last meeting was exciting, but also very nearly deadly for me. Is this something like that?>
“No. Nothing that will get you killed. Probably. Let’s start with the basics. What can you tell us about the Kelbrid sector of the galaxy?” Jake asked.
<This part of the galaxy hasn’t been called that in centuries. The Kelbrid were a race of warlike conquers whose power spanned the galaxy. They conquered planet after planet in a campaign for galactic conquest.>
“But…” Marco prompted.
<But their power grew so great that no one would stand against them. All of their foes submitted to them the instant they arrived. With no one left to fight, The Kelbrid turned to civil war.>
“I think I see where this goes. The Kelbrid destroyed themselves, didn’t they?” Jake asked.
<Yes. Well…yes, yes they did.>
“What are you hiding?” I demanded. “What are you leaving out?”
<Nothing that I know of. Those are all the facts I know about the Kelbrid.>
“What do you know that isn’t fact?” Marco asked.
<There is a legend about the Kelbrid. It says that the Kelbrid originated millennia ago. As the story goes, the Kelbrid began as lowly creatures with no intelligence. But a being of great power gave them intellect. They became sentient. Because they were still base, animalistic creatures, they were driven by war and rage.
<This being led them as their master. They obeyed its commands and it led them to glory. Unexpectedly, one creature rose up against the Kelbrid to challenge their power.>
“Crayak,” I said.
Everyone turned to stare at me. Jake and Marco opened their moths and Guide’s whining reached a higher pitch than I could have ever thought possible. <You have heard this story?> he asked me.
“Parts of it, but go on,” I told him.
<Yes, it the being who challenged the Kelbrid called himself Crayak. Many of the galaxy’s races joined him. In the end, Crayak was banished from this sector of the galaxy forever.>
“What happened to the Kelbrid?” Jake asked.
<They were greatly weakened by the struggle with Crayak. They began to doubt the power of their maker. Although he had banished their enemy, he was unable to destroy Crayak. In the end, they forsook their creator. But when they left him, they were leaderless. The Kelbrid themselves were fools. Their remaining enemies easily defeated them.>
“I thought you said this hadn’t been called the Kelbrid galaxy for centuries. But Crayak was exiled millions of years ago,” Marco pointed out.
<I was getting to that,> Guide whined. <Several centuries ago, the Kelbrid reemerged. We do not know where they came from. But they were every bit as fierce and deadly as the original Kelbrid.>
“So they conquered everyone and then killed themselves,” Santorelli finished.
“Mostly?” Jake asked.
<Travelers have been reporting Kelbrid sightings for the past few years. I have never thought anything of them. After all, if the Kelbrid return, they will simply destroy themselves again.>
“We need to know about another legend,” I told Guide. “What can you tell us about a being called The One?”
Guide’s whine rose to a pitch so high that the human ear could no longer hear it. “What is wrong?” Jeanne asked.
<We do not speak of The One,> Guide answered.
“Guide, we already did,” Marco told him. “The One was the being that controlled the Kelbrid. Now, what else do you know of him?”
<I can’t tell you. It is too dangerous. It is forbidden. Not even the Beggar’s guild would have me if I told. I would be cast out into the swamp. I would be exiled. It would be the death of me.>
“Guide, do you want our memories or not?” I demanded. “If you don’t tell us everything you know about The One, we walk. End of story. You stay a beggar and end up in a pauper’s grave. Or you can tell us what we want to know and get your life back. Your choice.”
There is one thing you can always count on when dealing with Iskoort. When reason fails, you can always appeal to their overdeveloped sense of profit.
Guide looked at Jake and Marco. <Do the three newcomers know about the Isk and the Yoort?> he asked.
“Three?” I asked. Then I remembered. Guide had only known me as a hawk. “Guide, it’s me, Tobias. The hawk.”
<Ah, Tobias. But who are these other two? Where are Aximili-Esgarrouth-Isthill, Rachel, and Cassie?>
“Cassie’s back on earth. Rachel…you’ll find out about that later. As for Ax, we can’t say,” Jake told him.
“Why not?” Marco asked. “I mean, the Andalites made a deal to stay out of Kelbrid space. But since the Kelbrid are gone there’s no reason they can’t be here.” He turned to Guide. “Ax was kidnapped by the Yeerks and brought here. We found him, but The One was controlling his mind.”
<That is a tragedy. And a fascinating story. Perhaps…>
“We’re already selling you the memory,” Marco said. “You don’t need to swindle us.”
<Sorry. Old habits are difficult to eliminate. Well, for the two of you who do not know, the Iskoort are not what they seem. They are composed of two parts. The Isk is the outer body and the Yoort is an inner self.”
“Think Yeerk,” Jake told Santorelli and Jeanne.
“But with an important upgrade,” Marco added. “The Yoort created the Isk and evolved so that each needs the other.”
“From parasitism to symbiosis,” Jeanne said. “If the Yeerks knew about this…”
“We’ve been down that road,” I told her. “The Ellimist told us that the Yeerks and Iskoort don’t meet for another three thousand years or so.”
“What does the whole Isk Yoort thing have to do with The One?” Marco asked.
<Iskoort legend…I am forbidden to speak of it, but I will make an exception in your case. Iskoort legend tells that the Yoort were brought to this planet by The One. We were separated from our homeworld by a catastrophe that we do not now remember.>
“How do you not remember?” Santorelli asked. “I would think a disaster that took away the homeworld of an entire race would be more memorable.”
“What killed the dinosaurs?” Jeanne asked him. Santorelli shrugged and looked at Guide to continue.
“I did,” I answered her. Jeanne cocked her head. “It’s a long story.”
<Within days, without our Kandrona sun, we were about to die. Then The One appeared. His power gave us life. It kept us alive. He showed us how to build Kandrona generators so that we could live.>
If you’re reading this and you have no idea what Kandrona is, then I have to suggest that you go back and read about the Yeerks some more. It’s a good story.
<The One guided our ship to this planet. Then…Then he gave us Kelbrid hosts.> I was shocked. So were Jake, Jeanne, and Santorelli. But Marco was nodding like he expected this. What was he thinking?
<We were happy with the Kelbrid hosts. The One asked us to guide the hosts, to control them. We led them into battle and each time, the mind of the Yoort and the strength of the Kelbrid conquered.>
“So what went wrong? Trouble in paradise?” Marco asked.
<The One had us colonize the worlds that the Kelbrid conquered. We would enslave the minds of the inhabitant species and keep them docile. But there were too many species, too many minds, and not enough Yoorts. In time, all of the Kelbrid were Yoort-free. When the downfall of the Kelbrid came, the Yoort were attacked as well.>
“What happened then?” Jake asked.
<We were driven back off of the planets that we had conquered. In the end, we retreated here. A great council was held. It was decided that we would create symbiontes and set free all of the slaves.>
“And thus the Iskoort were born,” Marco sighed.
<Yes. This planet was once a fortress of the Kelbrid. It was built here because of the many Z-space routes that converged near it. We tore down the walls, leaving only the supporting towers. We replaced the bare, lifeless floors with the colorful ones that we now have. We swore off war with other species forever. Our planet became a neutral meeting ground for different species. Eventually, due to Z-space routes and frequent trafficking, it became the hub of galactic commerce.>
Marco looked pale. With is hard for him to do. He’s Hispanic, and he had done a lot of tanning in his life.
“What’s wrong?” Jake asked him.
“Don’t you see it?” He asked. “The connection? I get it now. I know why the Ellimist and Crayak care what happens to us. I know why Crayak saved us.”
“Congratulations,” came the Drode’s voice. “We have a winner.”
The Drode appeared in Guide’s hut. It was starting to get pretty cramped. Especially since no one wanted to get too close to him.
The Drode smiled at us. “The Iskoort are the key, you see. Crayak knew whom the Yoorts served. Naturally, he kept an eye on their cousins, the Yeerks.
“It was always Crayak’s plan to use The One’s own weapons against him. He bred the Howlers, a race of super warriors to match the Kelbrid. He sent them on hundreds of training missions to hone their skills. He gave them a collective memory so that they could defeat the Kelbrid.
“Crayak wanted to see the Yeerks engulf the whole of your sector of the galaxy. Then, he wanted to merge them with the Howlers. All would be ready for his invasion of The One’s galaxy and this section of space.”
“But something happened,” Marco said. “The One’s Kelbrid army collapsed and the Yoorts swore off war. The One had to change his plan.”
“Yes, he did. My master did not know what The One would do next but he was not willing to take chances. He wanted his own army, and so he helped the Yeerks. But there was a complication in his plans.”
“The Ellimist,” I said. “The Ellimist fought against the Yeerks. He helped Elfangor and us.”
“Indeed he did. So Crayak decided to tie up a loose end. He wanted to send the Howlers to destroy the Yoorts. But once again, the Ellimist interfered. He and you, his pets, saved the Yoorts. You aided The One.”
“Did the Ellimist know about The One? Is he on his side?” I asked.
“Who can say? Crayak believes that he was simply meddling as always. But who knows?”
“What does that have to do with Prince Aximili?” Santorelli asked.
“I’m sure you can figure it out if you think hard enough,” the Drode smiled.
Marco thought out loud. “The One lost the Yoorts to control his Kelbrid. His track record shows that he wants the Kelbrid to dominate the galaxy. Without the Yoort leadership, they consume themselves.”
Jake continued. “The Yoorts are useless to him now because of their pacifism. So he needed a new species to control his Kelbrid soldiers.”
I finished. “Then the Yeerks showed up. A species just like the Yoorts but with a major difference: a violent streak. Just the sort of creatures The One needs.”
“But what does he want with Prince Aximili?” Jeanne wondered.
“Bait,” I answered. “When the Yeerks showed up, they probably told him everything. Including that we Animorphs had defeated them.” Then, I realized what that meant. “So if The One was going to use the Yeerks, he would want us far away.”
“So he draws us off the scent than by making us chase our old comrade into The One’s own territory.” Marco added.
“While The One moves into our own home and finishes off his old enemy Crayak,” Jake finished.
“Wait,” the Drode said. “That can’t be right. No, I’m sure Crayak would have seen that ahead of time.”
“Yeah?” Jake said. “Crayak’s been wrong before. Look at the Yeerks. And the Howlers.”
“Crayak slipped up,” I said. “Guess he isn’t so omniscient after all.”
“My master has more than enough power to defeat The One now,” the Drode said.
“Then why doesn’t he do it?” Jake asked. “Because he can’t. Face it: he’s scared of getting beat again. That’s why he’s waited here for millennia. Why he didn’t make a move earlier.”
“Crayak fears nothing,” the Drode insisted.
“Yeah?” I questioned. “Then why doesn’t he just take out The One? Because he can’t. But we can.”
“You can?” the Drode laughed. “What could you do against a foe greater than my master?”
“We figured out his plan,” I said. “And we know how to stop him.”
“We do?” Santorelli asked.”
“Yeah, we do,” I said. “The One’s showed us some major weaknesses. But Crayak’s too afraid of him to see them. We aren’t. At least, I’m not.”
The Drode wasn’t convinced. “The One was counting on you thinking this way. He wants you to run back to your own sector of the galaxy. Then he can remain unopposed here.”
“Then why bait us into his home turf?” Marco demanded. “He either wants to finish us off here or he wanted to trick us into coming here so he can move around in our own world unopposed. With Crayak focused on this galaxy, The One has free reign back in ours.”
“The Ellimist would oppose him,” the Drode said.
“The Ellimist?” Jake said. “I thought the Ellimist was noting but a fool. A meddler.”
“A fool with power,” the Drode insisted. “Nearly as much power as my master has. The One would not dare challenge the two of them.”
“Which is why he tricked you into coming here,” Marco told him. “This whole section of the galaxy is a trap.”
“But what would The One do in our galaxy?” Jake asked. “He doesn’t have enough Yeerks or Kelbrid for a war.”
“Crayak manufactured the Howlers. The One could do the same with the Kelbrid. As for the Yeerks, I know where he could get some,” I said.
“Where?” Marco asked. “All the Yeerks are quarantined on their homeworld.”
“Exactly,” I said. “And who do you think is going to stand in his way if Ax decides to take a tour of the planet? No one knows that he’s been taken. He could walk right in, collect some Yeerks, and walk out.”
“But where would he get the hosts?” Jake asked. “The Hork-Bajir are free now and the Taxxons are either quarantined or morphed into snakes in the Amazon. And I just can’t picture Ax walking away with a few hundred Gedds.”
“The Kelbrid,” I said. “I can’t believe that a species could kill itself to the last member because of a civil war. There must be some Kelbrid left and I’m sure The One has them stashed away somewhere, ready to invade Crayak’s new home. Probably kept them in his own galaxy, where they’d be safe.”
“I will inform my master,” the Drode said. “You had better be on your way back to your sector of the galaxy. The One is probably already on his way.”
We gave our memories to Guide and made it back to the ship without incident. Menderash was not pleased with what we had figured out. Of course, in true Andalite style, he kept quiet and did as he was told. Barely an hour after our visit with Guide, we were back in Z-space.
I thought I finally understood Crayak. He wanted to use our galaxy as a training ground for his Howlers. Or to find a species capable of taking on the Kelbrid. That was why he used one species against another. It wasn’t about sadism or power. He wanted to see a galaxy dominated by a single species because that would be the race to handle The One.
But then the Ellimist arrived. The Ellimist wanted to put a stop to Crayak’s plans, so the two of them ended up in their contest. Crayak was willing to wait patiently for the end of the conflict. But then something else happened.
I think The One was watching their battle. And maybe he was more far-seeing than either of them because he saw the future. He saw that the Yeerks would be defeated by us and flee to Kelbrid space. So he withdrew his surviving Kelbrid and waited.
Then, when the Yeerks came, he used Ax as bait to lure us and Crayak away from our home. But why us? Was it just so that Crayak would be looking in the wrong galaxy? Or was it because he thought we could be a threat.
I started to wonder. If he could see that we would defeat the Yeerks, he had to see that we would figure out his plan. Which meant that he was ready for us. Which meant that he wanted us to come after him.
I ran to Jake’s quarters. He and Marco were there, talking about something. “Jake,” I said, “The One wants us to go after the Yeerk homeworld.”
“Why?” Jake asked. “Marco and I were just thinking the same thing. What does he want from us?”
“I think he wants us there so that he can attack Earth,” I said. “Think about it. Five humans and an Andalite defeated billions of Yeerks against all odds. Why wouldn’t his fist move be to take care of the humans?”
“The One is smarter than Crayak and the Yeerks,” Marco agreed. “He would know not to count out humans.”
“The question is, what do we do?” I said. “He’ll have to go and get more Yeerks eventually. But he’ll also want to take out the humans quickly.”
“We’ll have to split up,” Jake said. “Some of us go to warn the Andalites guarding the Yeerk homeworld about Ax. The others go to Earth and warn the world leaders what’s happening.”
“Who goes where?” I asked.
“The Andalites guarding the Yeerk homeworld will probably only believe Menderash and me,” Jake said. “He and I will have to go there. I want Marco to come with us. If it turns into a battle with the Blade ship, or with The One’s Kelbrid, I’ll want him by my side.”
“I’m not sure the world leaders will listen to me,” I said. “Most of them forget about me pretty easily.”
Jake nodded. “Yeah, they do. But I bet you’ll be able to find Cassie pretty easily. They’ll listen to her. Take Jeanne and Santorelli with you. They need a visit home. And get them some combat morphs. If we fail on the Yeerk world, they’ll need them.”
About five minutes later, I was sitting in my quarters, wishing I had some human furniture. My door slid open. It was Santorelli. “Hey, Tobias. Got a minute?” he asked.
“Sure,” I said. “What is it?”
Santorelli was a big guy. Not too much over five and a half feet tall, but he was beefy. He used to be in the army and he looked the part of a battle-hardened marine. He was tan, with dark eyes and hair.
He sat down hard on the floor. When he looked at me, I didn’t see a guy twice my age. He looked kind of like the kid I used to be. “I guess there isn’t any reason to beat around the bush. I’m scared. I told Commander Jake and he told me to talk to you about it.”
This was weird. I’m not the best guy to talk to about emotions. Jake knew that. I was no substitute for Cassie, at least. Jake was the closest thing we had to a sensitive guy. Maybe Jeanne was. I didn’t know her.
“What are you scared of?” I asked at last.
“Honestly? I’m scared that we’re going to get into another war with the Yeerks. I’m scared that what happened to you when you were kids is going to happen to me. But most of all, I’m scared that they’ll put one of those slugs in my head again.”
“You were a Controller?” I asked. I didn’t know that. I hadn’t exactly been outgoing with the new recruits.
“Yeah. For about two years. After Desert Storm, I retired from the regular army to work security at an air base called Zone 91. The Yeerks took me as part of their plan to find out what we had there. When that project fell through, I got transferred to Visser Six’s security detail.”
“You worked security for a Visser?”
“Yeah. I was a top army sniper. A skill that comes in handy when you’re a bodyguard. Visser Six liked to have human bodyguards. It made us seem less threatening, which made us all the more dangerous.”
“No doubt. But I can’t help but wish you had been bad at your job.”
He laughed. “It would have made my life a lot easier. I was finally freed when the Yeerks were defeated. It’s funny. I joined Commander Jake’s program for a chance to get payback. But now I’m terrified. I don’t want to be a Controller again.”
I was silent for a few moments. Santorelli said, “Look, I know you’re not one of those touchy-feely guys. That’s fine. I came here to ask you a favor.”
“What?” I asked.
“If it looks like they’re about to capture me, I want you to kill me.” He said it calmly. Professionally.
“I promise,” I said.
“The Commander said you would. The others, Jake, Marco, Jeanne, they’d try to save me. Maybe they’d succeed, I don’t know. But I don’t want to live another second with one of those things in me. You’re the only one on this ship cold enough. Well, maybe Menderash.”
“I’m sure he’ll warm right up if you give him some sugar.” Then, I got an idea. “Grab a bag of M&Ms and follow me. I’ll show you something hilarious. We just need to find Menderash.”
End of part I