Thursday, 3 July 2008

The Journey

Madeleine landed in a thick forest. A solitary bat-like creature hovered above. Behind it, the fading moonlight. For a while, she sat motionless gazing up at the fleck flittering in circles. All of a sudden, it dived low and perched itself on a branch. It was then she spotted the dark lotus-bud shaped lanterns dangling from the trees. Except these were no lanterns. This was a colony of roosting Flying-foxes.
‘Don’t just sit there. Get up. You need to get out of here.’ The sharp voice spoke as he swooped to a lower branch.
‘Who are you?’ Madeleine asked, rising to her feet. She brushed off the twigs and leaves, moving closer to the fox.
‘Keep your voice down. It’s our bedtime,’ he hissed.
‘What time is it?’ Madeleine looked at her watch. Almost six o’clock.
‘Well – who are you?’ Madeleine asked again.
‘Pipistrelle is the name. You must be the chameleon child. You’ve been the talk of the whole kingdom.’
‘Really...? Yes, I’m Madeleine.’
‘But... you’re supposed to have been captured. Locked away somewhere. You and the earthen boy.’
‘Jake...? Do you know where he is? I must find him.’
‘First tell me. How did you escape?’ His tawny coloured eyes caught hers.
‘They locked me in one of the rooms. In the Towers.’
‘The Towers? How on earth did you get away? No one escapes the Towers of Sarpos. It’s impossible! And to get past the phantoms that guard the Towers.’ He shook his head in disbelief.
‘I found a porthole.’
‘A porthole exists?’ His face lit up, eyes wide with amazement. ‘We’ve always thought that was a myth.’
‘Yes, it exists.’
‘You must be a special child to have discovered the porthole.’ He left his perch and flew towards her. ‘I will help you find your friend.’ His voice was grave.
‘Thank you Pipistrelle.’
‘Pip’s the name, my dear. Now that we are friends.’
‘Thank you Pip. We don’t have much time. I need to be home at eight.’
‘I know. I know. It’s the curse of the chameleons.’
‘Do we have enough time?’
‘They will have locked him up in another room in the Towers. We should have plenty of time so long as nothing goes wrong.’
‘How are we going to locate him? There must be dozens of rooms in the Towers. And once we find him how will we make our escape?’
‘There’s nothing for it,’ he declared. ‘I am going to have to enlist the help of some of the others. They’re not going to like it. They’ve all settled in for the night and they’ll hate being woken up.’ He pursed his lips.

Ph-ooo-eee-ph-ooo-eee! Pipistrelle let out a series of piercing chirps. The pattern of his squeaks was like a Morse code signal. In seconds, each unique call commandeered a dozen foxes. They stirred, soared high, as if to shake off sleep, before joining Madeleine and Pipistrelle on the ground.
The largest of the twelve spoke first. He looked grumpy. Madeleine wondered if he was always so, or only so because he had been woken up.
‘Pip what’s going on? Who is this then?’
‘It’s the chameleon child.’
‘Madeleine.’ She introduced herself, giving twelve nods as she acknowledged each fox.
‘I thought you were locked up in the Tower?’ another fox asked.
‘Yes, yes – but she escaped. Through the porthole. It exists.’ Pipistrelle explained, with an air of authority mixed with impatience. ‘I’ve told Madeleine here that we will help her find the earthen boy so that they can make their escape.’
‘Why should we help?’ The large, grumpy fox spoke again.
‘Pascoe – don’t be rude. She’s in trouble. And it wasn’t right that we went to Earthendom and kidnapped these two children,’ said Pipistrelle.
‘The Council decided it. We vote for our council and they act in the best interest of our kingdom,’ said Pascoe.
‘We’ve gone against the Treaty,’ said Pipistrelle with a sigh.
‘Treaty?’ Madeleine asked.
‘Yes. The Treaty. It states that we will not intentionally trespass into each other’s worlds. And what have we gone and done? We’ve not only trespassed into Earthendom, we’ve stolen two of their own.’
All looked at Pipistrelle intently. Some nodded their agreement. Madeleine remained quiet, and solemn.
‘There’ll be trouble if the Council finds out that we’ve helped these two young ones,’ said Pascoe.
‘Well they refuse to hear the voices of the lesser creatures of the kingdom. I think it’s about time we do the right thing,’ Pipistrelle half-shouted.
‘The right thing?’ Pascoe repeated. ‘For whom?’
‘For the Quadrant. This chameleon child is our hope. The key to bringing lasting peace between the Quadrant worlds. We must help her.’
This comment was punctuated with a lengthy pause. Pipistrelle resumed.
‘We must find the earthen boy and help these two back to their world.’
‘We don’t have a lot of time. The whole kingdom will be awake soon,’ said one of the foxes.
‘I don’t have much time either,’ Madeleine blurted, glancing at her watch again.
‘What’s the plan?’ asked a young fox called Jasper.
‘We know he’s being held in the Towers,’ said Pipistrelle.
‘If you could locate which room he’s being locked in,’ said Madeleine.
‘Then we can form a stairwell so that the boy can climb down to safety,’ Pipistrelle added with a wink. He knew that no single fox would be able to fly the weight of the children. This would be the next best thing.
‘Sounds like a good plan,’ Pascoe said, nodding. His voice had lost its rough edge.
‘Madeleine. We’ll lead you to a safe distance by the Towers. Then we’ll go and find your friend and get him out.’
‘I do hope he’s okay.’

The group traipsed through the forest under a canopy of bark and mangroves. They tracked the narrow stream that would lead them out of this marshland. Madeleine, with Pipistrelle resting on her shoulder, walked. The other foxes flew. At last, they came to a clearing. From their vantage point they could see the ashen Towers loom ahead. It was an unusual looking building. At this distance, it had the appearance of a hovering alien spaceship. Madeleine and Pipistrelle followed the rocky path that led down into the valley. Compared to the moist habitat of the forest they had just left behind, the landscape here was sparse.

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