“We have now entered the orbit of Inferno,” Clamp announced over the intercom as the ship slowly flew closer to the planet, giving the team a chance to look closer at the planet as it came closer.
“I guess I see why they call it Inferno,” Thran muttered as they all looked at the planet that seemed to be covered with lava, both cold and old as well as new and hot. Everything on the planet looked slightly red and there seemed to be very little life at all, which considering the conditions were not very surprising.
“How can anyone live here?” Tia murmured, sharing a look with Mei that seemed to suggest that she was wondering whether they were even on the right planet. However as the ship turned and began to move around the planet, the team gasped as several large domes, seemingly standing on top of columns, came into view. By the largest of the domes, an opening, which looked a lot like a huge hatch, opened as their ship came closer and Clamp confirmed who they were to the crew on the ground.
“Why doesn’t the columns melt? Certainly the temperature down there has to be…” Rocket drifted off and looked towards Clamp.
“They use a metal that’s special for Inferno, from what I gather it seems to be able to grow stronger and take strength from the heat, rather than give in under it… However the government have never been fully clear on what that means…” Clamp answered as the ship slowly began its descent on the docks of Inferno.
“It looks insane,” Micro-Ice said, still staring down at the lava below them, “what if we fall off?”
“I believe the fields around the domes are electromagnetic and they’re designed to keep that from happening,” Clamp answered as the ship stopped its movements, docking safely.
“It would be a long way down if we did fall off…” Micro-Ice whispered, sharing a look with Thran who grimaced at the thought.
“I think I’d be more worried about being burned alive…” D’Jok said, watching as the lava currents shifted, allowing red-hot and fresh lava to come to the surface.
“I’m sure it’s perfectly safe, otherwise people wouldn’t be living there, would they?” Mei looked a bit anxious as she spoke, sharing another look with Tia.
“I guess we’re about to find out,” Tia murmured as the door of the ship opened, allowing them to step out of the ship and onto Inferno.
The team shared a look, as if trying to decide who was going to be the first to step out, when the sound of someone knocking made them all turn abruptly to the now open door.
“I hope I’m not interrupting,” a somewhat older and pudgy looking man said, shifting his feet as if feeling uncomfortable being on a ship. “But on behalf of the royal family of Inferno and its noble houses I’d like to welcome you to Inferno.” Adjusting his tie, the man squared his shoulders as best as he could seemingly attempting to look more authoritarian that he had at first.
“My name is Cornelius and I am the King’s First representative and voice in the Senate and it is my duty,” he paused a bit as he adjusted his feet apparently feeling a bit unbalanced, “and honor to welcome you to Inferno on his behalf.”
“It is an honor to be invited,” Dame Simbai gave a small bow as she approached Cornelius. “I am Simbai, the medic for this team,” she gave Cornelius a gentle smile as she took a step backwards. “This is Rocket, our Coach,” she made a gesture towards Rocket who stepped forward, shaking hands with Cornelius. “And this is Tia our Captain,” she made another gesture and Tia stepped forward and shook his hand as well before stepping back to show the rest of the team.
“And this is the Snow Kids,” Simbai said as the rest of the team stood up from their seats.
“It’s an honor to meet you all,” Cornelius said with a graceful bow, “it’ll be most amusing to see you out on the field,” he gave a small smile as he gestured towards the door.
“I must take my leave I’m afraid, there are a lot of duties to see to because of this event,” he stopped for a moment, paling a little as he realized how he sounded, “not that we are not grateful that you decided to accept our invitation,” he gave another smile as he stepped towards the door.
“You will find your own personal tour guide waiting for you at the docks, she will give you a short tour of Inferno while your belongings are moved to the hotel,” he was stepping through the doorway as he spoke, seemingly eager to escape the ship.
“If you have any questions, please direct them to her, she is at your service,” giving another small bow he stepped out of the ship and quickly turned around, apparently in quite the hurry to get to solid ground (or as solid as Inferno’s ground could be) again.
“Did he seem… nervous, to anyone else?” Micro-Ice asked, rubbing the back of his neck.
“Forget his nervousness; did you hear how he said it would be amusing to see us out on the field?” Mark asked, both brows raised as he shook his head. “Doesn’t he realize we’ve won the Galactic Cup three times already?”
“He might not have meant it that way…” Tia said slowly, “perhaps he just worded himself in a bad way?”
“Maybe…” Mark said, but he seemed reluctant to believe it and Tia didn’t seem much more confident in what she was saying.
“It doesn’t matter guys,” Rocket said, “we’re here to play and to see and explore a different planet. If he thinks we’re not good enough, we’ll be able to prove him wrong on the field,” sharing a nod with Tia he moved towards the doorway.
“Now, I do believe he said we had a tour guide waiting, so I say we go meet her and see what Inferno has to offer,” grabbing Tia’s hand he moved through the door, quickly followed by the others.
“Aren’t you two coming?” Thran asked as he noticed Dame Simbai and Clamp staying behind.
“I want to make sure the equipment is moved alright,” Clamp answered.
“There is someone here from the Wambas Planet I would like to meet,” Dame Simbai answered with a smile, “we will meet you at the hotel.”
“Aright then, you two have fun!” Thran said with a grin before jogging out of the ship in order to catch up with the rest of his team.
Well on the ground, Rocket glanced around the dock, trying to spot who might be the tour guide when D’Jok came up next to him.
“It’s probably some old lady with nothing better to do,” he said with a shrug, “someone who doesn’t know how to have any type of fun.”
“Yeah, she’ll probably show us all the places you can go to get a manicure,” Micro-Ice said with a grin.
“And what’s wrong with getting a manicure exactly?” Mei said with one brow raised.
“Err…” Micro-Ice said slowly as Rocket shook his head and smiled a little.
“Easy guys, you haven’t even met her yet and you’re already picturing the worst-case scenarios!”
“Hey, I’m just trying to keep people from being disappointed when we have to sit through a lecture on how things used to be better in her day,” D’Jok said with a laugh.
“Well, unless I’m 95 and looking mighty fine for my age, back in my day would be back in your day too,” the voice, belonging to a girl who seemed to be around the same age as the Snow Kids, caused the team to turn around as the girl walked up to them, stopping just in front of D’Jok.
“I’m Ella,” she said with a smile as she looked up at him, “I’m your tour guide,” she looked to the other members of the team and grinned.
“It’s my honor to show you Inferno,” she stopped and looked back at D’Jok, “starting of course with the coolest and hippest retirement homes Inferno has to offer,” grinning at him she turned around to the rest of the team.
“If you could all follow me to the hover craft over there, we can get started,” she said with another smile, “unless there are any protests?”
When no one protested (though Micro-Ice did elbow D’Jok and murmur something about being burned on Inferno, which included making a ‘psssh’ noise), Ella nodded and began to walk towards what seemed to be a rather large hovercraft.
“That’s a big hovercraft,” Mark murmured, causing Ella to turn her head and grin at him.
“Only the best of the best for guests of Inferno,” she stopped and laughed a little, “that and you’ll soon discover that Inferno doesn’t do anything small and that there’s always something to compete about.”
Stepping onto the hover craft, Ella walked to the front were she leaned against the rails of the craft as she waited for the Snow Kids to find their seats.
“Are you sure we aren’t sharing this with someone else?” Thran said as he and Ahito found their seats along with the rest of the team near the front of the craft, still leaving several seats empty.
“This,” Ella said, patting the rails of the craft, “is a hovercraft belonging to the royal family of Inferno and is used for its honored guests,” she nodded towards the team, “which would be you. It was made specifically to provide comfort and space to our guests,” she smiled, the paused for a moment, “and of course to show off the wealth of the royal family.”
“They must be very rich…” Thran murmured as he looked around the craft, which had seats made out of velvet, golden linings on the sides of the seats, gold railings and wooden flooring.
“They are,” Ella said without pause, shrugging, “it’s part of the reason why they’re the royal family.”
“Wait…” Mei said, looking from the shine of the railings to Ella, “I thought you had to be born into a royal family not…” she gestured towards the craft, “pay your way into it?”
“Yes and no,” Ella said, seeming to consider her words before she continued, “Infernos elite is made up of several noble houses. These noble houses have been around since the first people settled here many centuries ago,” as she spoke, the hovercraft began to move. “These noble houses have been fighting among themselves ever since, in an effort to discover who is the strongest, the wealthiest and so on,” shifting her weight Ella gave a small, almost grim, smile, “the family who has all those things is the royal family.”
“But, it can change?” Tia asked, titling her head as she looked at Ella.
“Yes,” Ella nodded, “the present royal family has had their position for almost a hundred and twenty years now, which is the second longest that any royal family has held that position.”
“In the beginning, the noble families and the present royal family would come together and fight a number of duels and battles in order to determine who was the strongest. If the royal family won, they continued on, if they did not, the noble house that won would take on the position of royal family and the royal family would become nobles again,” Ella stepped away from the landing, glancing to the left as the hovercraft slowed down.
“This,” she held out a hand as she pointed to some rather old looking houses that formed a narrow alley, “are some of the first houses that were ever built on Inferno and they make up our Old Town. In the Old Town you’ll find craftsmen, jewelers, artists and quite a few bakeries. It used to be the home of the noble families, but they moved away from this part of town a long time ago,” Ella said as the team looked down the alley.
“How many houses are there? I can’t see the end of them!” Micro-Ice turned to look at Ella who smiled.
“Down this alley? Well over a hundred, the Inferni are proud of their heritage and have done their best to preserve it,” she shrugged her shoulders, “almost too well,” she said softly before shaking her head.
“You said that the noble families and the current royal family would fight to determine who would get the position,” Rocket began, glancing down the alley before looking at Ella, “that must mean that a lot of people have died over the years…”
“In the past? Yes,” Ella said with a nod, “in the past deaths were frequent and lives were very short.”
“And now…?” Tia prodded, glancing towards Ella.
“Now, we have Galactik Football,” Ella said with what seemed like a forced smile.
“You don’t seem very happy about that,” Micro-Ice stated.
“You’ll soon find that the Infernis urge to determine who the best are, and to be the best, is more or less the only thing people think about here,” Ella said with a solemn face.
“And if you’re not the best?” Mei asked quietly.
“They you don’t matter on Inferno,” Ella said with finality, sighing softly. “It’s the curse left to us by our ancestors. You’re either the best or you are nothing at all,” she smiled sadly as the hovercraft began to move again.
“Surely that can’t be true, I mean, look at all those people working in the shops, providing food, surely they matter?” Rocket frowned as he stared at the people who were working in the shops and carrying goods from the direction of the docks to the stores.
“For our survival? Yes, they matter. In our society?” Ella met Rockets eyes and sighed again, “I’m afraid society here doesn’t quite see the same value in honest work that you do, if you cannot play Football, then you simply don’t matter.”
“That’s insane,” Rocket murmured, drawing a soft laugh from Ella who nodded when he looked at her.
“Yeah, it is,” she had moved to the other side of the hovercraft and was leaning against the railing again as she nodded towards a rather large, circular and very old looking building.
“That,” she said as the Snow Kids turned around to stare (and gape) at the huge building, “is the Great Inferno Amphitheatre, it is where, many years ago, we used to host the duels and battles that the noble families would engage in.”
“The Amphitheatre can house over fifty thousand people and the battles would draw spectators from other planets who wanted to watch the great warriors of Inferno fight,” Ella said, pointing to a carving on the outside that showed two warriors engaged in combat. One was holding an axe while the other held a shield and sword, around them were what looked like flames.
“Are they fighting with Flux?!” D’Jok said as he studied them.
“Yes,” Ella said, “before Flux was banned and only allowed in Galactik Football, the people of Inferno would fight their battles with Flux,” she nodded towards another carving showing two warriors engaged in battle, both were wearing a symbol that looked like the sun on their chest.
“Warriors within the same family would fight against each order to determine who would be leading them in the duels and battles as well as in general,” she sighed softly, “it is not uncommon in our history that siblings have hurt and even killed each other for that.”
“People would kill their own siblings...?” Thran looked towards Ahito, who seemed to have awakened just in time to hear that part, as he looked rather grim.
“I’m afraid so,” Ella said softly.
“That’s…” Mei seemed at a loss for words and looked at Ella, “horrible…” she said eventually as she looked back at the carvings.
“Yeah…” Ella sighed, “the history of Inferno is a bloody one.”
As the hovercraft moved on, Ella sat down in one of the seats near the front of the craft, crossing her legs.
“In a minute we’ll arrive at what is known as Modern Inferno or New Inferno,” she pointed up the street that the hovercraft was travelling on, “it is where most of Inferno’s businesses can be found as well as restaurants, cafes, theatres and other forms of entertainment.”
“Your hotel is not very far from the Inferno square, were you can find one of the biggest market places on Inferno. It sells a lot of food, drink and homemade clothing, accessories and other trinkets,” Ella said as the craft finally moved away from the older looking buildings and began moving onto a street that had incredibly modern looking buildings on each sides.
“That’s amazing,” Rocket murmured, “it’s so different here,” he said as he stared towards the building before glancing around himself. All around were bright and clean buildings, pavements and windows. Each side of the street was lined with smaller looking trees, with enough space between them to allow a hovercraft to park. One building seemed to be covered completely in glass and there was a huge fountain on the inside of it.
“That’s beautiful…” Mei murmured as she watched the building.
“It’s the offices of our biggest news station,” Ella said, “the Inferno Network. They’ll be providing the news cameras that Arcadia Sports will use.”
“Doesn’t Arcadia Sports have their own news cameras though?” Micro-Ice asked.
“They do,” Ella said, pausing for a moment as another hovercraft passed them, “but the government here wants to be sure they have the very best equipment,” she said slowly, giving each of them a meaningful look. “Just to be sure that the footage is of the best quality and that no unwanted…” she paused again as they were passed by another hovercraft, “unwanted episodes are recorded.”
“What kind of episodes?” D’Jok said quietly.
“The kind that might show the,” Ella smiled as an elderly couple passed them by in a hovercraft, “the other face of the Senate and the ruling powers here in Inferno,” she whispered softly.
“Why are you telling us this?” Tia asked, glancing around them as if afraid someone would appear behind them, listening in. “Why take the risk?”
“Because you might see things, hear things,” Ella said softly, but sternly, “and I wouldn’t be a very good tour guide if I didn’t warn you about certain… Cultural hiccups that might get you in trouble would I?”
Leaning back, she gave them a bright smile as the hovercraft stopped again.
“And this, is your hotel,” she said as she pointed to her left, “the Grand Vulcan Hotel.” The walls of the hotel was covered by fire-red brick, with what seemed to be golden cement holding it together, the entry way was huge, with a massive bird sitting on a perch two stories above the entrance, spitting out fire every few seconds.
“It’s huge…” Mark said.
“It looks like it’s on fire,” Micro-Ice said.
“It’s inspired by Inferno’s Flux,” Ella said.
“Your Flux is fire?” D’Jok asked.
“Not literal fire, but almost. Our flux is known as the Flame, I’m sure you’ll get to see it in action sooner or later,” Ella said with a shrug.
As the bird spat out another huge bout of fire, Thran cringed.
“I can’t wait.”