Champion of the Light -- Prologue through Five

Champion of the Light -- Prologue through Five

A Chapter by David Castleton
"

This is the story of Andrew and Katy, two normal teens from Earth who get caught up in an epic struggle on a world that is not their own; the Color Realms.

"

Release is tentatively set for December 15, 2013


Prologue

 

          "Out of style!?" King Vallidius Blue raged. "Out of style? How can this be?"

          The King tugged at his blue hair as he sat down heavily on his exquisite throne of rare blue coral. He twirled his azure beard around and around his finger in a display of nerves.

          "Y-yes, milord," said Gleef, Vallidius' servant. "Our agent close to Miss Edomal Blaize, Dloop, has obtained some ominous information. It points towards a declaration by the famous fashion designer and supermodel to ban the color blue for the coming summer season. This will be made public in three months time, on June the twenty-first."

          There was a crash and the tinkle of broken glass was heard as Vallidius' goblet shattered, spraying its watery blue contents all over Gleef's shiny bald head.

          The King stood up and paced back and forth as dark cerulean torchlight flicked eerily around the room. "This is terrible news. It's not as if she is going to announce that another color is in style. That would be tragedy enough. But no. She will place an official fashion ban on blue clothing, effectively creating a taboo on blue for the entire summer season!"

          The King wiped his brow. "Gleef, do you understand what this means?! If Edomal Blaize, influential chairwoman of Blaize-Paris, comes out with a declaration like this, everyone involved in the mortal fashion world will follow suit. No civilized mortal will dare be caught wearing blue this summer. Oh! what will be of me? Of us? And of my precious power that I have worked so long to build up, that I have toiled so much to fortify, that I have labored so hard to strengthen. I, King of Blue, must stand every bit as mighty as the great and terrible beautifly blue seas."

          "Yes, it is heart breaking news, and very terrible indeed, sir," said Gleef. But Blue barely afforded him a glance.

          One of Blue's many pet octopuses swam by the King, contained in its magical watery bubble. He reached through it and pet the creature's mushy, spongy skin. "Octopus, oh mighty, splendid, cobalt octopus. You understand why I need my power, don't you my maritime friend? The power of a man is always symbolized by his hand, which you have eight of! You want power, and you crave dominance, just as I do. You understand me better than all of my thick, brainless servants. Such a beautiful creature. How I love, and how I admire, the beautiful octopus."

          "Love them so much that your extravagant octopus feasts are driving them to near extinction," Gleef muttered to Carrow, one of the King's Guard. Carrow laughed softly, a bittersweet sound, tinged with misery. The laughter of a subjugated man with no hope of freedom, enslaved against his will until the end of time.

          But the King's ears were spry. "What was that?"

          "It was nothing, nothing at all, milord," said Gleef hastily. He knew that whether he would be allowed to live through the rest of the day or not depended on what he said next. "Just a little joke about, um, Edomal Blaize. About how foolish she is!"

          "That's right," Carrow quickly agreed. "She's such an utter fool, to mess around with the great House of Blue."

          "Yes indeed," Blue breathed softly to himself. "How very foolish she is. She has no idea of what's coming her way."

          Gleef exhaled a sigh of relief. He had been spared, this time. They told him that working as personal assistant of Blue would be hard and exhausting. Most lasted an average of eight months before they were executed or ran away, whichever came first. But he was forced to take on the undesirable job to save his son who had been caught stealing an apple from the King's private stores from the death penalty. And a half rotten apple at that.

          Blue continued lamenting. "How I wish that I had eight arms, eight long, marvelous arms"" he paused to stare at Gleef, as if he was expecting him to say something. Gleef just stared blankly back.

          "Why," Blue hissed.

          "Oh yes, of course. Should've known that I was supposed to ask the King 'why'. Silly me," mumbled Gleef. In a louder voice he said, "why?"

          "To wring that insolent mortal Edomal Blaize's neck!" yelled Blue as he clenched his fist dramatically around an invisible neck. 

          Tensions between the Royal Houses of Blue and Green were steadily rising. Blue knew that he would need all the power he could get for the battle that was sure to come.

          "Well, at least we still have the blue sky on our side," said Blue.

          "Ahem," Gleef spoke up. "I regret to inform milord of some more ominous information that our agent Dloop has managed to procure. Miss Blaize has made plans to employ colorful gases in coloring the skies of fifty major mortal metropolises at the start of summer and continuing for two whole weeks, to kick off the start of a blue-free summer season."

          A thud was heard as King Blue fainted and his tall form struck the floor. His servants quickly revived their master.

          Blue walked to the gigantic window of his underwater throne room which afforded a view of the sea and watched a shark swim by. Something had to be done. Miss Blaize couldn't be allowed to carry out her evil plan. "Gleef, send out our best investigators to the Mortal Realm at once. They are to try and find out where this horrible idea originated exactly. We may be able to trace it to one of the other Houses of Color. And I assure you, when I find out who it was there will be hell to pay!"

          "Yes sir."    

          "Now, bring me my Book of Punishments!" the King roared. "I'll show that arrogant mortal."

          King Blue just loved to administer punishments, but had a terrible memory. So he had all the many punishments that he knew of written down long ago in a massive book bound in whale-skin leather.

          Two servants of the Royal House of Blue staggered into the throne room with the huge book and set it down on a table with a thump. Blue flipped through the pages in search of a particularly nasty punishment to match to the great crime Miss Edomal Blaize plotted to commit against him. He couldn't find anything fitting. But then one caught his eye.

          "Deeth," he read slowly. "What is deeth, Gleef?"

          "Death," Gleef corrected, "is what happens to mortals when they cease to live, sir. Like when one of our kind dissolve. Only they can't come back."

          When an inhabitant of the Color Realms is injured adequately, they dissolve into a puddle of liquid in the color of their Realm. Then they evaporate. Some are formed and come back again as men, others come back as plants and animals, and still others move on forever.

          "And what happens to mortals, after death?" asked Blue with a gleam in his eye, savoring the word 'death' in his mouth.

          Gleef gulped. "Surely the soul of Miss Blaize will be sent to a very horrible place for the heinous crimes that she has committed against the most exalted King Blue."

          "That's right," said King Blue. He smiled for the first time that day. "That's what I wanted to hear. You did well, Gleef. You have potential. You may even last the year, if you keep it up."

          Gleef managed a half-smile that showed gaps in his teeth. He didn't want the King to think him ungrateful.

          King Blue stood up to his full height and shouted, "Death! I shall punish this mortal, who dare challenge Blue, with Death!"   

 

Chapter One

         

          When would the day come. When would he be free of the endless dungeons of boring schoolwork, of mindless repetitiveness. When would he rise above it all to something higher, to truly be free. Would the day ever come.

         

          Andrew slogged through the first half of the school day, his mind barely there. At lunch he spotted Katy Giordano and went to sit with her, as they had recently started to hang out together.

          Katy brushed a strand of her dark blond hair out of her eyes. "How's your day so far, Andrew?"

          "B plus in Literature, A minus in Social Sciences. Not bad." 

          "You got an A minus from the Creep?! That's amazing! He's sooo stingy with his grades. Even Natalie Wesner can't manage an A in his class." She was referring to their grumpy teacher, Mr. Creed. Flip the 'd' around and you got 'Creep.'

          "Well, I had some help from Phoenix with that report," Andrew admitted.

          "Oh, that explains it. How's your painting coming along?"

          "The one of the dolphins and the ocean? I needed to restock on my blue paints twice for that one. I spent an hour last night trying to fix the shade of blue just right."

          "Listen, my older brother Jay was telling me about this secret waterfall that he and his friends discovered in Arbori Park. It's hidden deep in the woods. He told me how to get to it. Do you want to go later and check it out?"

          "I don't know, Kyle has been bugging me for ages to play this new game he got, Call of Warfare Five...."

          "Please, I'm dying to get out after the long winter."

          "Okay. The game will have to wait. I'll tell Kyle that we're on for Wednesday instead. But first I need to pick up a book from the library for my geology report. Lithosphere Basics, by Larry Coopersmith. So we'll meet an hour after school near the library, on Beldon Lane, and go to Arbori from there, okay?"

          "Great. See you then."

          The bell rang and they went to their afternoon classes.

          Katy tended to act first, think later. Andrew was more of a thinker, who liked to mull things over beforehand. Together, they made a good team.

 

          Andrew made it through the rest of the dull school day and biked right afterwards to the nearby public library to get the geology book he needed.

          He enjoyed his life; school, family, judo, friends, painting. But sometimes he got the feeling that he was meant for something more, for something bigger than an ordinary life. That adventure would one day find him, or that he would find adventure. Whichever came first.

          Andrew entered the library and started towards the science section to retrieve the book he needed. But then something unbelievable happened. His feet turned on their own accord and led him towards the fiction section. He felt strangely drawn, as if by an invisible power, to the fantasy books. His hand reached out without him consciously controlling it and pulled a small, thin book with a colorful cover from the shelf. Its title was written in large wavy, silver letters: The Kingdom of the Light, by Lumendo.

          Then the strange force vanished. Andrew could barely remember the last couple of minutes of his life. It was very hazy. What was he was doing in the fiction section, when he had wanted to get a science book?

          But for some inexplicable reason it felt right to be there.

          He took a closer look at the small book that was now in his hand. Strange. It had no barcode or card, and nothing to indicate that it belonged to the library. Yet here it was, on a shelf in the library.

          'I'll show it to the librarian,' he thought to himself. 'They forgot to put a barcode on this book, whatever it's about. By Lumendo? Funny name.'

          Andrew was finally free to get the geology book he needed. He found it easily and went to the counter to check out.

          He handed Lithosphere Basics and his library card over to the librarian, a large woman with frizzy brown hair and oversized glasses. She scanned them, and gave them back. "Next!"

          "Hang on a second please. I found a book that's missing its barcode. Here it is."

          Andrew pulled The Kingdom of the Light out of his pocket to show to the librarian.

          "Next!" called the librarian again. "Excuse me young man, you are holding up the line. Move along!"

          Andrew could only wonder why she would not acknowledge the book that he was trying to show her. It was as if it didn't exist.

          After two more tries the librarian threatened to call security, so Andrew just gave up and walked away, shoving The Kingdom of the Light into his pocket. But first he took a quick look at the first page. "You have been chosen." They were the only words on the entire page. Intriguing.  

          Andrew had no time to dwell on the strange occurrences that had just happened. Katy would be waiting. He hurried out of the library and started off towards Beldon Lane, four blocks away. He would peruse The Kingdom of the Light when he had the time, and perhaps try to find a clue to its real owner, since it seemed that it did not belong to the library.

          Andrew made it to the meeting spot on Beldon Lane just in time. Katy was already there. "Hi Andrew."

          "Hello Katy. Guess I just made it. Sorry, I was held up in the library."

          They set off towards Arbori Park, a fifteen minute bike ride away.

          As they rode, Katy described how to get to the falls. "Bikes aren't allowed on the path that goes close to the hidden waterfall, so we will walk for about forty-five minutes. When we see a fallen oak tree, we leave the trail and head through the forest due north for another twenty minutes. I brought a compass to guide us. To get back, we simply reverse those steps."

          "Sounds easy enough," said Andrew. "I could use a hike through the woods after being cooped up for the cold New York winter."

          Andrew told Katy the story of how he came across The Kingdom of the Light. The book with no owner. He omitted the part where his feet moved on their own will, and where the librarian wouldn't acknowledge the book's existence. Katy might be concerned that he was seeing or hearing things. It was all very strange, to say the least.

          They reached the park and locked up their bikes. The walk along the quiet wooded path was pleasant. Andrew found his hand entwined with Katy's. It felt good to be in her company.

          They reached the fallen oak tree right on schedule, left the path, and set off through the forest due north, towards the hidden waterfall.

          At last they reached the secret falls.

          "Isn't it pretty?" said Katy.

          "Yes, it is beautiful," said Andrew. "And sure worth the long hike."

          It was fairly large, as waterfalls go, fed by a brook that ran through the woods. Andrew estimated it to be more than twenty feet tall, and about seven or eight feet wide. The water roared down the rocky face of the falls.

          Katy stretched out her hand. "Ooh, look. A rainbow!" And then, Andrew's world turned inside out, and upside down. Everything spun around and around, faster and faster, until it was all just one big blur of color, light, and shadow, all blended together with each other….

         

Chapter Two

 

          The teens rose into the air, until they couldn't feel the ground beneath them. The next second, Andrew landed with a thud on the ground, Katy beside him. The spinning came to a stop. Instead of the roar of falling water, he could only hear the loud buzzing of swarms of insects along with the occasional bird call. Giant trees surrounded him. Where was he?

          Katy scrambled to her feet. "Aaah! What's happening? Did we die? Where are we? Where's the waterfall, and the pine trees, and...."

          The change of scenery would make sense in something like the matrix, where surroundings and scenery can switched by the computers, Andrew thought. But the matrix didn't really exist.... did it?

          "Could it be that the rainbow teleported us to somewhere?" Andrew asked. "But where? And how?"

          Andrew had no idea of where he was at all. But if this was real, he somehow sensed that he was far, far, away from home. Far away from Pine Valley, New York. Maybe it was the angle of the sun, maybe it was the strange plants that surrounded him. Or perhaps it was something else entirely that he couldn't put his finger on. For all he knew, they could be on another continent entirely, and perhaps not even on Earth at all.

          Andrew felt the stirrings of fear begin to possess him.... where were they?         He looked around at the forest that had sprouted up around them. It appeared to be similar to a tropical rainforest on Earth, with a heavy canopy of gigantic leaves almost completely blocking the sunlight from hitting the forest floor. The tall trees grew thick for as far as he could see in every direction.

          "Look at the colorful leaves," Andrew said. Unlike any forest that he had ever seen before, the leaves here grew in every color of the rainbow. But he still wasn't sure if it was real, or just an illusion.

          Katy craned her neck to look up at the trees. "Ooh, the leaves are gorgeous. And look at the monkeys!"

          Small, black playful creatures flitted through the branches above their heads, along with brightly colored exotic birds.

          It might be gorgeous. But looks can be dangerous and deceiving..... don't be fooled, Andrew told himself. He sensed danger, lurking just out of sight.

          So much info about the forest they were in was pouring into Andrew's brain through his eyes. He closed them, took a deep breath, and just listened. The picture in his mind changed, as a thousand noises hit his ears. Roars, screeches, singing, hissing.

          The noises of the rainforest animals blended together in a mixture of sounds that was distinctly the forest's. The animated chatter of monkeys blended with the high pitched singing of birds. The low buzzing of insects merged with the throaty grunt of the gorilla. And the distant roar of the jungle big cat combined with the soft but deadly hissing of snakes. Together, they formed the lively cacophony of sounds that was the rainforest.

          Andrew tried to listen for something even deeper. At first, all he heard was a random jumble of noises. But then a congruous image formed in his mind, as some order arose from the randomness. It sounded as though the animals were communicating with each other at this giant animal convention that was taking place here in the forest: the monkeys yelled something, the snakes answered. The birds put in their two cents, and the cats demanded to be heard. The gorilla made a speech, and the insects applauded. There was a conversation taking place here, in the language of the wild. If only he knew the translation....

          "This is unbelievable!" said Katy. Andrew snapped out of his reverie. "One second we're walking in familiar Arbori Park, the next we're in this weird rainforest. How did this happen? It's like magic! Is it real? Or is it a simulation of some sort?"

          "Yeah, unbelievable." But Andrew was getting exited, despite their predicament. This held much promise of and much potential for big, extraordinary things to come. Maybe this was the beginning of his quest for adventure, with incredible things ahead.

         

          Before he could say more, Andrew heard a low humming noise coming from his right pocket, which held The Kingdom of the Light. Did an animal climb into his pocket without him noticing?

          "What's that noise?" Katy asked.

          Andrew pulled the thin book from his pocket and held it in his hand. "Good question."

          No, it wasn't any creature that was causing the humming noise. The book itself was glowing softly and was warm in his hand, as if it were alive.

          He then watched, openmouthed, as the book changed and grew right before his very eyes.

          What was it changing into? It soon became apparent that the book was transforming into some kind of garment. Andrew stared, stunned, as the arms and then the rest of it stretched and formed out of what moments before was a lifeless, inanimate book. Was this also a part of the weird simulation they were in?

          "Wow, how did that happen?" Katy asked. "Isn't that a martial arts gi robe?"

          "Yes, it looks like one. Only with buttons that fasten with loops in place of a belt," said Andrew.

          Katy ran her finger along the robe's cuffs and hems, which were covered with intricate gold designs made of tiny curves and swirls. "Look at those exquisite patterns. Cool."        

          "Nice detail," Andrew agreed. He thought it to be quite a beautiful robe, in a simple and minimalist way.

          Then, as they were admiring the newly formed robe, something long, hard, and thin fell out of it and onto the ground.

          "Ooh, more surprises," Katy gasped.

          Andrew bent down and cautiously picked the object up. In his hand was a sword in its scabbard. He drew it out. It was fashioned in the style of the deadly Japanese long curved sword, the katana. An archaic language was engraved on its shining blade. Andrew held it aloft. It gleamed brilliantly in the light. So he was given a weapon, and an interesting garment to wear here.

          "Double cool!" Katy exclaimed.

          Then Andrew tried on the robe. It fit him perfectly. "It's as if it was made for me."

          The material was light and cool, and felt very strong.

          "Look at it!" said Katy in a hushed voice. "It's as if it lives."
           Andrew stared at the magical gi robe. When he focused his gaze on it for more than a few seconds, he sensed that it shimmered faintly. It was as if it there was a brilliant light contained inside it that yearned to burst free, but was held at bay by the edges of the fabric. It was magical to look at.

          "I see what you mean," Andrew said. "The robe contains the light. Like body and soul. Incredible."

          He held out the sword with both hands. Now he was ready for an adventure. Even though he wasn't experienced with swords, having only studied judo, which didn't employ any weapons, he could tell that this sword's balance was utterly superb. A sword such as this, along with a skilled swordsman, would make a lethal team. But that didn't help calm his fear one bit. Why were they here? In fact, where was here? Was he going to need the sword? What for? And what about Katy? How would she defend herself if it came down to it, with no weapon? Why wasn't she given a weapon as well? Did whoever was pulling the strings in this strange show want her to die?  

          "Katy, who do you think sent these items to us? And why? Where are we? What's happening? This is so insane! We are inexplicably transported to this strange forest, given these strange gifts...."

          "I don't know how or why they got to us, Andrew," Katy said. "But live in the now. And now we have them. That's what's important. The history of how they got to us doesn't matter so much."

          "The past will help us understand the present. If we knew how and why these gifts were sent to us, we would probably know a lot more about our situation and how to deal with it."

          Katy spotted something lying on the floor. "Hey, what's that shiny thing on the ground?" She picked it up. It was a silver paper card, about the size of a business card. "There's no name."

          Andrew took a look. It was blank aside from a picture of a rainbow emerging from a prism. What did it symbolize? "It must have fallen out of the book when it was expanding and we didn't notice."

           "So there was a card, a robe, and a sword, all contained in that little book," Katy said. "Maybe they have advanced technology here, wherever here is, and can transform and transport things easily."

          "Maybe." Andrew pocketed the card. "Or maybe this is all an illusion, and we never left the clearing in Arbori Park to begin with. Either way, the card might be some kind of message. Perhaps we'll meet someone who will know what it means."

          "Yeah," said Katy. "If people even exist in this world."

          Andrew breathed in the forest air deeply. It felt good. It smelled like adventure. If this was real, then he was finally on the path. Who knew where it would lead? He may be on the road towards glory, death, tranquility, honor, or something else entirely. The only way to find out what lay at the end of the road would be to live the adventure, and see it through to the end.

         

          The sun hung low over the horizon, creeping its way towards the obscurity of night. Long shadows were cast through the rainforest trees. It would soon be dark.

          "Let's find a clearing and make camp for the night," said Andrew.

          "Okay," said Katy. "Camping out in a rainforest. This should be fun!"

           The duo hiked through the trees until they found a small clearing. Andrew gathered a few dry braches from the surrounding forest and they started a fire, as the forest was cooling rapidly with the onset of night.

          "Good thing that I was once a boy scout," Andrew remarked.

          They lay near the fire, sleep eluding them. Andrew couldn't stop his many questions of 'where?' 'why?' and 'how?' from running through his head over and over again. The mystery of why they had been transported to this strange, uninhabited forest completely boggled him.

          They were thrown into the thick of the forest, by a mysterious power. How they would react, and how they would survive"or even if they would survive at all"remained to be seen.

         

          The flames of the campfire had died down somewhat when Andrew heard low growling noises. The menacing sounds were emanating from just outside the clearing.

          Katy sat up with a start. "What's that noise?"

          The teens peered out into the pitch black darkness, in an effort to locate the source of the sound.

          "Do you see those red balls?" Andrew asked.

          "Uh huh," Katy whispered.

          They could see in the darkness what appeared to be a few small, glowing, red orbs, floating a couple of feet off the ground.

          "This is strange," Katy said. "What are those things? Floating red marbles? Floating red marbles that make noises and growl?"

          A few more moments passed before..... "They're eyes," Andrew hissed. "Those little red orbs are eyes! Which belong to some exotic nocturnal creature. And eyes can only mean""

          ""head and body attached," Katy finished.

          Judging from the amount of red orbs, a sizable group of these threatening creatures were prowling just outside the clearing.

          "Andrew, I'm scared," whispered Katy. "What if those animals are hungry? What if we are just another meal, to them?"

          "Don't worry," he murmured, taking her hand in his. "They're probably just as afraid of us as we are of them. If we don't provoke them, they won't attack."

          The growling sounds only grew louder, as more animals joined the pack already circling the clearing. Red balls paced around and around the scared teens.

           Andrew shivered, and squeezed Katy's hand. "Hopefully they aren't aggressive or dangerous. Maybe they are just here because they are attracted to our fire."

          A few more minutes of growling and snarling passed, and the creatures still hadn't made a move. Andrew felt relieved. It seemed that they wouldn't attack after all. Katy's fear gradually vanished as well, and in its place, she began to feel a little cocky. "What's the matter, ugly eyes? Scared of us? Scared of our fire? Scared that we'll kick your furry butts? C'mon, show us what you've got!"

          Just then, as if it understood her, a large, coal black beast that looked mostly like a wolf, but with some German Shepherd mixed in, came soaring clear over the campfire. It was bigger than a large Great Dane. Perhaps not as tall, but much longer, with many legs, four glowing red eyes, and a tale like a whip. Its long white fangs stood out in sharp contrast to its black face. It had a small splash of white fur on its nose and forehead.

          And the monster; claws, teeth, and all, came flying in straight at Andrew, with what could only be intent to kill.

 

Chapter Three

 

          Andrew had only a fraction of a second to react, but didn't have too many options. There was no time to roll out of the way, and even if he did, the beast would only get him seconds later. But his reflexes and judo training kicked in immediately.

          As the heavy beast landed on him, Andrew rolled backwards onto his back whilst planting his foot on the animal's stomach. He gripped the paw of the beast in one hand, its furry shoulder in the other. Using the heavy animal's own momentum, Andrew rolled backwards and threw it over his head in a sacrifice throw. It weighed hundreds of pounds, but for a judo move such as this, it made no difference. If anything, the animal's great weight worked against it.

          The beast flew back up into the air and soared headfirst into a tree trunk some six feet away. The sickening "crack!" of skull striking wood was heard, and it dropped unmoving onto the forest floor.   

          But before the teens could celebrate their victory, two more of the menacing, snarling beasts were already coming at them from the woods, bent on avenging their fallen brother. How could they escape them? They could never outrun the beasts, even in daytime, and surely not at night when the animals had the additional advantage of their special nocturnal eyes. There was only one place to go....

          "To the trees!" Katy screamed.

          She ran to the nearest tree and scrambled up its trunk. But she wasn't fast enough. The beasts were closing in on her, and she was still within their reach. Long fangs glinted in the moonlight. Red eyes locked onto their prey. This was their forest. They were the masters here.

          Andrew frantically looked for a way to cover Katy's back. He grabbed a half-burnt branch from the fire and thrust the flaming end at the beasts. The animals recoiled from the heat, growling. The flames reflected strangely off their red eyes. He held off the animals with the burning branch while Katy climbed out of their reach. Then he tossed it at the creatures to buy himself a few more seconds of time, and clambered up the tree after her.

          He had climbed about eight feet up the trunk when... "Andrew look out!!" Katy screamed. One of the long animals leaped and managed to snag the bottom of Andrew's jeans in its jaws.

           "Nooo!" Andrew yelled.

          The beast dragged him downwards, closer and closer towards the snarling pack. Andrew slid down the trunk, hands grasping for purchase on the smooth bark in vain. Then he managed to snag a small branch, and tried pulling himself up. The beast pulled harder, and the branch began to bend. Inch by inch, Andrew was pulled downward towards the hungry mouths. He was only seconds away from being wolf chow. He yanked his leg, and the jean cuff tore. The beast spat out the torn cuff in disgust and growled ferociously.

          Andrew shot up the tree. "Thank God for cheap jeans."

          The terrified Pine Valley pair raced up the tall tree. Andrew thought that they must have set a world record for fastest tree climb. They couldn't seem to climb fast enough, as panic and fear spurred them ever onward.

          They continued climbing until they were well out of range of the beasts, not stopping until they were about thirty feet up above the forest floor. They were safe from the snapping jaws and ripping claws of the creatures, for now. The teens made themselves as comfortable as possible in the thick branches, while the angry wolf-dogs pawed at the trunk below.

         

          "Whoa. That was too close," Katy said.

          "So not only are we lost in the middle of a forest, but we are also among creatures who want to eat us, and are quite capable of doing so," said Andrew. "A far cry from the 'walk in the park' that we originally set out to do. I'm terrified."

          "Me too," said Katy.

          But Andrew's heart beat fast with excitement, despite the danger they were in.

          "What are those things?" Katy asked. "Did you see the amount of legs they had? And those four glowing red eyes? Those whip-like tails? Those long, long fangs? They're like demons from another world."

          "I don't know what those creatures are," Andrew answered. "But I think the more important question right now is: where in the world are we?"

          "Yeah, where are we?" echoed Katy.

          "I don't know the answer to that question either. I guess that it can be said that we are in "adventure". Which isn't an actual physical place, but rather exists in the mind. But anyway, wherever we are, one thing I do know: Katy, I'm sure glad that you're here with me. And what's more, even though we're lost in the middle of this strange forest, with no obvious goal to be met here, I feel as if this world is where I belong right now. I feel like I have a purpose to see through here. I feel like I belong here. It wasn't mere chance that made me pick up that book in the library. Something big is going down. I have a hunch that great things will happen here, and it's going to involve the two of us." 

          "Hear hear! Well said. And I'm glad that you're here too. But I'm not excited about this at all. I've never been more terrified in my life! I just want to find the way out, and find the way home."

          Andrew looked at her starlit face. As always, when he looked at her, he was amazed by her beauty all over again.            

          Katy adjusted her position on the branch and her fingers brushed his. Suddenly, Andrew found his right hand entwined in her hair, his left hand on her face, and his lips locked with hers, in their first kiss. They kissed deeply, savoring the moment.

          Finally they drew apart.

          "That was fun, and a bit dangerous," giggled Katy; Andrew had let go of the branch with both his hands to kiss her.

          "A bit dangerous, but very necessary," he replied.

          "And not to mention very enjoyable" Katy added.

          They sat there on the high branch for a while, arms around each other, seemingly oblivious of the ferocious beasts below. Just enjoying each other's presence, lost in the tranquil atmosphere of the forest noises.

          "The forest is full of paradoxes," Katy observed. "Beautiful, yet dangerous."

          "Terrifying, yet wonderful."

          "Tranquil, but in turmoil."      

          "Calm, but in chaos," said Andrew. "On the surface, these elements of the forest are oxymorons. But if you think about it a little deeper, they really aren't contradictory at all. In fact, they complement each other very nicely indeed."

          After some time, Katy yawned. "Where should we sleep now?"

          "Welcome to the magnificent Brown Tree Hotel," Andrew said in an impression of a posh hotel receptionist. "We have your basic big branch package. Then we have some deluxe rough limb suites, and we even have a few luxurious king sized boughs, all at very attractive prices."

          "So, will four leaves be enough for the king sized bough?" She smiled and brandished a handful of colorful leaves. A caterpillar crawled across one of them.

          He kept up the act. "Four leaves and a bonus caterpillar! Why that is quite generous madam. If only more of our customers would be so kind, and we might be able to renovate our hotel!"

          At that they both burst out laughing, unable to keep up the ridiculous act any longer. The pair climbed over to a tremendous branch, and got as comfortable as possible on the broad, rough limb. It was prodigiously thick, nearly as wide as the width of a truck, and there was little danger of rolling off when asleep. They were now about sixty feet from the forest floor.

          "Hopefully by morning the many-legged beasts will be gone," said Andrew.      

          They settled down to go to sleep.

          "I'm still scared of those animals, even high in this tree," said Katy. "Their very image permeates my thoughts. All I can think of now is sharp fangs and black whips. Can you please hold my hand?"

          "Sure." Andrew took Katy's hand in his, comforting her. "I guess from here on in it's the law of the jungle for us. Kill, or be killed. But with any luck, by tomorrow we will have found our way back home."

          He didn't know how wrong he would be. Like Andrew had said, they were there for a purpose. And that purpose would take some time to be realized, if it was to be realized at all. And Andrew didn't want to admit it, but a part of him wanted to continue on. A part of him didn't want to go home so soon, right when they were just starting to explore this extraordinary place.

          "'Night," said Katy, "don't let the tree bugs bite."

          "Good night," said Andrew. "All will be quite all right."

          And soon she was asleep. But Andrew lay awake for some time, thinking about their predicament. How did they get here? And why? It was obvious to him that somehow The Kingdom of the Light gave the rainbow the power to transport him to another world, kind of like the teleportation devices in those science fiction movies. How exactly it worked he didn't know, but he needed to try and find out. He had to know what sort of powers they were dealing with.

          But why was Katy transported along with him, wasn't he the sole bearer of the book? Perhaps whoever had transported him here had wanted her to come along too, for some reason. Or perhaps because Andrew had been holding her hand when they had seen the rainbow, she had been transported as well.   

          Rainbows, rainbows. They keep seeing rainbows. First in Arbori Park, then on the mysterious silver card.

          All of this only led to more questions. Yes, the book brought him here, somehow. But who created the book? Who sent it to Earth, and why? For what purpose? What did those portentous words 'you have been chosen' mean? Chosen by whom? Chosen for what?

          Or was it all just nonsense? Was it just some strange being who had powers of teleportation playing games with them by sending them to this strange, wild place for no purpose at all, other than his own nonsensical whims and quirks? Were they just pawns in some twisted game?

          Why were they brought here, Andrew mused. For good, for evil, or for neither?

          Andrew tried sorting out his priorities here in the rainforest. Whatever the case, he knew that his first priority now was to protect Katy in this dangerous place, until they got out. Besides the fact that they were almost girlfriend-boyfriend, and chivalry demanded it of him, it was also because of him that she was here at all. In a way it could be said that it was his fault. So he resolved to protect her fiercely. Even though she was no pushover, and could normally fend for herself, anyone could use additional protection in the middle of a weird and treacherous rainforest, that was filled with all sorts of creatures that could seriously hurt you, miles away from any kind of civilization. Of course, he would try and watch over Katy to the best of his ability.

          His second priority would be to protect himself, and his third, to find a way back home. Or was it to find out why he was here? What was more important? Get to safety? Or find the answers, and seek out the adventure that lurked around the corner, to find a higher purpose in all this. Which was it? He couldn't decide right then.

          With these muddled thoughts whirling around his head, Andrew closed his eyes to go to sleep high up on the rough branch, wondering what the next day would bring. Wondering where this path would lead him.

 

Chapter Four

         

          Andrew and Katy woke a couple of hours after dawn and immediately looked to the ground to check if the beasts were still there. Sure enough, several of the wolf-like creatures were prowling around the tree. Apparently they were bent on making the teens their next meal.

          Katy groaned. "These guys don't give up. We're trapped. Now what?"

          "I could try and fight them off with my sword," Andrew offered.

          "Don't be silly Andrew. There are far too many of them. They'll kill you."

          "But Katy, why would they be so desperate for food that they would stay here all night waiting for us?"

          "What do you mean?"

          "I mean, wouldn't it indicate that these powerful predators don't have a plentiful source of food, even in a place such as this where there is meat aplenty? Which would further indicate""

          ""that there are even tougher predators around here, whom they must compete with."

          "Exactly. There are tougher predators in this forest that we didn't even meet up with yet. So we really need to be on our guard. These vicious creatures aren't even the worst of it."

          "Andrew, suddenly I feel so fragile. I mean, normally, all the animals around me are way smaller than me. They are scared of me. Now that we're surrounded by these large predators, I feel so vulnerable. They can end my life with one swipe."

          "Yeah, I know what you mean. Suddenly we're not on top of the food chain anymore."

          They sat there on the branch for a few minutes, pondering their next move. The air was hot and muggy. Brightly colored leaves waved in the breeze. Orange and gold insects crawled along the bark. White monkeys swung through the trees. The forest was alive. Alive, and dangerous.

          Katy broke the silence. "I'm starving. If the animals don't get us, the hunger surely will. Do you think that whoever sent you The Kingdom of the Light intended for this to happen? That we get stranded here, with danger surrounding us on all sides?"

          "That's a good question," Andrew replied. "I don't even know if the book was meant for me, or if by chance I was the first one there to take it. I guess that we will have to find him, or her, if we want to know for sure. For now, the reason why we were brought here is a total mystery to me. I just hope that some good comes out of this in the end, that we aren't going through it all for nothing. If we want to make it through this alive, we need to believe that it is all for the best, and that there is an important reason for us to be here. Or else, we will first die on the inside to hopelessness, and then, death on the outside will quickly follow. It is important, no, it is crucial, that we stay in good spirits if we want to make it out of here alive and whole."

          Katy gazed into Andrew's hazel eyes with a hard look filled with determination and resolve. "You're right. We're here for a good reason. We are here for a purpose. And we will make it out alive and well, if it is up to us to do so at all."

          Andrew leaned in for a quick kiss. "That's the spirit."

          "So, are we going to have to kill monkeys to eat?"

          "I don't know. At least that would be better than eating bugs."

          Then Andrew looked around, and noticed that on the very ends of the branches there grew amongst the colorful leaves what appeared to be large, purple fruit, each about the size of a grapefruit. Their surface was smooth, and many-faceted. Hanging from the tree branches they looked like big, purple cut diamonds, only without the sparkle.

          "Look Katy, fruit!" Andrew pointed out the fruit to her. "We aren't going to starve after all. And the monkeys and bugs will live. The fruit will save us. I'll just climb to the end of the branch and get some."

          "Wait," said Katy. "How do you know that they are safe to eat? Maybe they're poisonous."

          "You're right. For all we know they could be poisonous. But look. Do you see that animal?" Andrew pointed through the branches and leaves at a small, furry, brown creature some two hundred feet away. It was about the size of a house cat, with six legs, hanging upside down from the end of a branch. Four legs gripped the limb, while the other two fed on the purple fruit.

          "Yes, I see... oh, I get it. He's eating the purple fruit. I guess they are safe, thankfully. Unless he has a different physiology than us. This is a strange place, after all. It's quite possible that his nutrients are our poison."

          "Maybe. But you always have to take a little risk to get anywhere," said Andrew. "I'm going to get them." 

          "Okay Andrew, but please be careful," Katy cautioned. "The branches are very thin at the ends."

          "Thanks. I will." 

          He ventured out onto the rough branch, sixty feet above the hard forest floor. It tapered off, and grew narrower and narrower the farther away from the trunk he went. Insects climbed all over his face. They tickled.

          When he was about seven feet away from the end, the branch became too narrow for Andrew to crawl on. He would have to swing his way across the branch to the prized fruit, Tarzan style.

          "When in Rome, do as the Romans. And when in the rainforest, do as the monkeys," Andrew muttered. He swung down, grasping the overhead branch with both hands. Hand over hand he swung along the branch monkey style, towards the end, and the prize: the enticing purple fruit.

          Andrew's heart was now pounding like a tom-tom. He dangled six stories above the ground. He knew that if his grip slipped he'd be eaten alive by the hungry animals below, if he even survived the fall at all. It was very risky. But he had no choice. They needed to eat. They needed energy to hike out of the forest, whilst defending themselves against the wild animals that roamed there. If they wouldn't eat now, they would easily fall prey to the next band of predators that came along. They would not have enough energy to run or to fight.

          Andrew made his way along the last segment of the branch, dangling high above the solid forest floor. He was very relieved when he finally made it to the end safely.

          "Katy, I've reached the fruit!" he called.    

          "Great. Then you're halfway back to safety already."

          He was finally at the goal, when Andrew realized that he had no means of carrying the oversized diamonds back to the trunk of the tree, when swinging itself would require both his hands. He tried stuffing them in his jeans pocket, but they wouldn't fit.

          "Katy, I can't carry them! Get ready to catch!"

          "Okay. Go ahead and start throwing!" Katy called.

          Using his one free arm, Andrew threw the coveted fruit to Katy. He thought he would surely fall, that his grip would give way and he would plunge to the ground, his wrecked body to be devoured instantly by the starving beasts. But miraculously, his grip held.

          He dangled from the tree branch with one arm as he threw the fruit to Katy. The hungry wolf-dogs sixty feet below eagerly awaited his fall. Their snarls and growls filled his ears. Whatever you do, don't look down, Andrew told himself. He felt like he was bait dangling from the end of a huge line, about to be cast into the water to the hungry fish below. The branch bent under his weight, bringing him even closer to the hungry mouths. 

          It took an almighty effort on Andrew's part just to keep on hanging from the branch with only one arm. Beads of sweat poured down his face. It was getting harder and harder to keep holding on. He could be moments away from death. The animals gathered in a group directly below him, jaws wide open, awaiting his fall that was sure to come. Their long whip-like tails flicked back and forth in excitement.

           Andrew found the purple fruit to be surprisingly heavy for their size, and hard, so he tried to lob them to her as gently as possible. Consequently, many of his throws missed, and the heavy fruit went crashing noisily through the branches to splatter on the floor below. Big purple splashes of juice appeared around the tree.

          This gave Andrew an idea; a way to use the fruit to help them out of their predicament. So he threw to Katy many more than they could eat. His right arm burned and ached, as he struggled to hold on. And who knew if he was even helping them at all? Like Katy had pointed out, it was possible that the fruit were poisonous, and he was only bringing them closer to their death. But he tried to push that thought from his mind to concentrate on the task at hand.

          When he deemed they had enough of the fruit for his plan, Andrew swung back along the branch towards the tree trunk. When he reached the segment of the branch where it was thick enough for walking, Katy grabbed his hand and heaved him up. They made their way carefully back to the trunk, where Katy had formed a large pile of the fruit.

          She hugged Andrew briefly. "I'm so glad you're safe. I hope we don't have to do that again."       

          "Yeah," Andrew rubbed his aching arm. "After that terrifying experience, even the bugs are looking attractive. In fact, I think I ate a few by accident while crawling on the branch."

          "So you have a head start on me for breakfast then. Did they taste good?"

          He smacked his lips. "Mmmm. Nothing like a yummy tree bug for flavor."

          She laughed. "Why do we need so many of the fruit? We can't eat all of this."

          "You'll see why soon. I have an idea that will help us with our little wolf problem. But first, let's eat."

          Katy knocked her fist against the hard fruit. "Hello. How do we open this thing?"

          Andrew examined the smooth fruit. He tried biting into it directly, but only succeeded in hurting his teeth.

          Katy played around with the rigid stem. "Oh." It popped off in her hand, along with most of the fruit's top.

          Inside was a thick, citrusy liquid that tasted like a mix between lemon and grapefruit, with a salty tang to it. They ate their fill of the odd tasting pulp. Besides for quenching their thirst in the hot rainforest, the thick fruit juice was nourishing and filling.  

          Katy patted her stomach. "That was good. Hopefully we won't die in five minutes from poison."

          Andrew chuckled, and hoped he was right about this.

          "Okay, so what's the big idea?" Katy asked. "Why do we need so many? Are we going to start a fruit store?"       

          "Simple," Andrew replied. "They are hard as rock, big, and heavy. Exactly what we need. We throw them at the beasts until they are scared off."

          "I like it. We fight, instead of run. We use the forest against itself. Let's do it!"

          They walked to the edge of the branch, carrying some of the fruit.   "Fire!" called Andrew. They threw at the creatures sixty feet below, periodically walking back to their stash to reload. And it wasn't long before they saw results. Andrew scored a direct hit on one of the beast's snouts, as Katy hit one in the hind leg. The injured animals yelped and growled. And soon the teens scored more and more hits. Katy cheered whenever they managed to injure one of the beasts that had wanted to eat them.

          After several more strikes, the predators looked at their bloodied and limping comrades, and ran off in search of easier prey.

          Katy cheered. "We did it! We actually did it! We scared off a pack of monsters. And we freed ourselves from this prison of a tree!"

          "All right!" Andrew pumped his fist. "Now we can finally start to get out of here."

          In defeating the monsters, aside from freeing himself of the tree, Andrew gained confidence, which would help him greatly on his search to find a way out of the forest and to wherever it was he needed to go.

         

          The duo climbed back down the tree that had served as refuge for the night.     

          Midway down, Andrew inadvertently stepped on a branch that couldn't hold his weight. It snapped with a loud crack that echoed through the forest. The sound had barely died away, when he heard a loud, piercing screech that sounded like "ka-keeeer!" coming from the top of the tree.

          Katy was startled. "What's that noise?"

          Moments later a scarlet bird came swooping towards them from the treetop. The avian soared in towards the teens, mouth wide open.

          Katy covered her face. "It's going to bite us!"

          But the teens were not its target. The creature soared to the branch that Andrew broke and circled it, apparently surveying the damage. Satisfied that it was not completely severed from the tree and would continue to grow, the avian shot Andrew an angry glare and with another piercing cry of "ka-keeeeer!" flew back up to its treetop nest.

          Katy's face was still covered. "What happened? Did it bite you? Is it gone?"

          Andrew patted her back. "It's okay. It wasn't after us after all. It just took a look at the branch that I broke and left."

          Katy uncovered her face. "What did it look like?"

          "At first I thought it was a bird. But on closer inspection it looked more like a bat. It had red leathery wings that stretched out from its small fur covered body, in what looked like a three foot wingspan."

          "What about its face and head?"

          "That was its most striking feature. Its head was shaped like no head on Earth. It was a circular cylinder a few inches thick, its facial features arranged on one side, its neck connected to the other. In the center of its face was a large circular mouth, inhabited by row upon row of sharp black teeth. Its eyes were set in small bulges protruding from the side of its face. It was beautiful and ferocious all at once."

          "This is great," Katy grumbled. "More freaky animals. First the wolves from Radiation City. Now the red bats from hell."

          Andrew laughed. "'From Radiation City.' It seemed that the red bat thingy was guarding the tree from harm. I wonder if all the trees in this forest have them."

          "Oh, even better," said Katy. "Freaky animals with a mission."

          Now that he was aware of the creatures, Andrew could make out glimpses and flashes of scarlet here and there on the very tops of many of the surrounding trees. They probably inhabited most of the trees in this forest.

          "Hey Katy, maybe we can take some scarlet-bat babies and bring them back to Earth with us to guard our trees. That would go a long way towards saving the rainforests."

          "Yeah right. Steal from those things? You described their rows of sharp teeth, right? They'd probably chew your hand off."

          "Once we're here, we should take from it what good we can."

          "I don't care about gaining anything here, Andrew. All I care about now is going home and getting out of this horrible place!"

          They reached the ground.

          "Okay Katy, I understand how you're feeling. Just please don't panic. Stay calm, and we'll make it out safe and sound."

          Katy turned towards Andrew, her lip trembling. "Do you promise?"

          "Yes, I promise."

          Andrew put his arms around her and hugged her tightly.

          "We're here for a reason. We're here for a purpose," he whispered. "We can't forget that."

          "I wish I could believe it," said Katy. "We don't know why we're here. Maybe it's for no reason at all. Maybe you picked up that horrible book by accident. Maybe it wasn't meant for you."

          She was right, in a way. He had no proof of what he was saying. But he didn't need proof. It was something he felt deep in his heart, and deep in his soul.

          "Just trust me, Katy. Please trust me. It's the only way we'll survive."

          Katy hugged him tighter. "Okay."

          They were now standing in the heart of the rainforest, amongst huge trees with giant colorful leaves, surrounded by the beautiful, diverse and dangerous forest wildlife.

          Katy assessed their situation. "All right, so we're stuck in the middle of this rainforest. We are miles, maybe even light-years away from home. We have no GPS device to guide us, nor even a map. And, we have no idea how far we are from any kind of human civilization. We don't even know the direction of the closest settlement, let alone its location."

          "True," said Andrew.

          "In short, we are completely and utterly lost. We are as lost as an Eskimo in the middle of the Sahara desert, as a fish on dry land, as a Martian on Earth. So what do we do?"

          Andrew looked into Katy's green eyes. She was afraid, no doubt about it. And so was he. But he couldn't show it. "You're right. We are lost, and we have no way of knowing which way lies civilization, at least until we find a path, if they even have such things in this world. So our best prospect now is to head in one direction, and stick to it. That way, at least we know that we aren't going in circles, and we just might have a chance of getting out of here."

          "Yeah, I guess that makes sense," Katy conceded. "It's our best chance."

          "So pick a direction."

          "West."      

          "West it is."

   

Chapter Five

 

          The teens hiked west through the perilous rainforest the entire day, stopping occasionally to eat more purple fruit and to rest. They encountered many exotic and beautiful plants, birds and animals. Luckily, they didn't meet up with any more wild predators. The weather was pleasant, but they walked in fear, not knowing who or what they would meet up with.

          That night, the young travelers found another thick-limbed tree to sleep in, high up and out of the reach of most predators. They gathered a few giant, soft, colorful leaves to use as makeshift bedding on the hard bark and went to sleep.

          Katy woke in middle of the night to the sounds of snarling animals emanating from the ground below them. She peered through the leaves and branches, and could make out a fight between two groups of animals; a large band of gorillas, and what appeared to be several giant eagles. The monstrous heads of the eagles were much larger than the heads of the fully grown gorillas. Though it was difficult for her to see anything clearly on the rainforest floor at night. The dense leaf canopy blocked out the moonlight almost completely.

          Katy watched the fight, entranced. The gorillas struggled, but the eagles were very powerful, and ripped them apart limb for limb. They killed every one of the gorillas, ate their fill of the tough, stringy meat, and moved off. For some reason they only moved along the ground, and did not appear to fly. Fortunately, the ferocious animals didn't notice Katy and Andrew, who were hidden behind the branches and leaves of the tree they were in.

          When the giant eagles were gone and fully out of earshot, Katy woke Andrew and told him of the gruesome scene she had just witnessed. They considered themselves lucky that they had made the choice to sleep high up in the tree that night. They could only imagine the terrifying possibility of what could have happened had they slept on the ground. Their soft, sweet human meat would be a nice meal for the giant eagles. If the mighty gorillas lost to the eagles, surely the much weaker humans would. 

          "Ironically, it was the wolves of last night who saved us tonight," said Andrew.

          "How do you mean?" Katy asked.

          "If not for them, we would've slept on the ground tonight, easy prey for those vicious eagles."

          They went back to sleep, images of bizarre monsters; scarlet eagles, flying wolves, and gorillas with glowing eyes, inhabiting their dreams.

         

          The hikers awoke soon after dawn, eager to begin the new day and make more headway in their search for civilization. They needed to leave the threatening forest that held them in dread as soon as possible. They would search for any civilization, primitive jungle tribe or sophisticated society. Any human contact would do for now. They ate a breakfast of purple diamond fruit once again, and resumed their desperate hike west.

          "I always wanted to go on a safari in somewhere like Brazil," said Katy. "But I thought that it would be in a jeep, and on a trail, accompanied by a fully armed and equipped guide. This is intense! A terrifying creature could be hiding behind the next tree trunk."

          "Yes," said Andrew. "Even with a jeep, on a trail, and armed with guns is an intense enough safari for me. The only thing more intense and risky than what we are doing now would have to be something like bungee jumping off a tall building! We're easy prey for any wild predator out here. Let's pray we don't meet up with one."

          "I just wish that we knew why we were brought here," said Katy.

          "Yeah, me too," Andrew agreed. "It must've been an evil sorcerer, luring innocent people to a wild place like this. Hey Katy, maybe that's why we're here. To stop him. To hunt him down and put an end to this."

          "I don't know Andrew. I don't think we're here for any reason at all. I just want to go home."

         

          They continued hiking. Before long they encountered a deep, narrow ravine, about two hundred feet deep and twenty feet across. It cut deeply across the rainforest floor, like a huge gash in nature.     

          The ravine ran in a north-south direction. Andrew walked to the edge, and looked down. Its walls were as steep as sheer cliffs. There was no visible way in or out, save a direct jump down to the bottom, two hundred feet below.

          Katy turned towards Andrew. "So we walk north or south along the edge until the end of this ravine, and then continue on west, right?"

          "Hang on. I may have an idea of how to get across, but it would probably be a bit dangerous. Give me a moment to work it out, okay?" Andrew requested.

          "Danger's my middle name," said Katy brightly.

          Andrew studied the branches that hung out over the ravine, calculating angles and trajectories in his head. When he pinpointed a branch that was suitable for his idea, he walked back, away from the ravine and into the forest, in search of a long, thick vine. It needed to be longer than thirty-five feet, and thick enough to hold their weight for the plan to work.

          When he found a vine that met the right measurements, he cut it with his sword and dragged it back towards the edge of the ravine. He tied the vine around his arm and climbed up the target tree. Then Andrew went out on the limb he had chosen, untied the vine from his arm, and tied it to the branch with a strong sailor's knot.

          Andrew climbed down.

          "Okay Katy, if we stand on that branch," Andrew indicated a branch that was farther into the forest than the one the vine was tied to, "we can swing clear across the ravine, using this branch as a pivot, and hopefully land on those bushes over there on the western side, which will cushion our fall. Whichever of us goes first will tie a rock to the vine, and toss it back over."

          "It sounds like fun, but is it really necessary?" Katy asked. "It's risky. We could easily miss the bushes, and the vine or branch could break. Instead, we could simply walk along the edge of this ravine until it ends. For all we know, civilization may be that way anyway."

          "You're right. It is an unnecessary risk. We should walk to the end of the ravine instead. It's much safer."

          At that moment the teens heard a fearsome roar coming from close by. They turned. Not one hundred yards away, three ferocious, blue beasts charged through the trees straight at them.

          "Oh no, more monsters," Katy moaned.

          Andrew drew his sword and turned to face the beasts, only to re-sheath it a moment later. He would never stand against three of the terrifying creatures.

          Quickly, the pair started climbing up the nearest tree, which also happened to be the very tree that Andrew had proposed they take off from. Andrew carried the thick vine with him. 'Here we go again', he thought, 'chased up a tree like a kitten.' None of the trees in the area grew the hard purple fruit that they had used to defeat the red-eyed beasts earlier. They would need another solution now.

          Andrew and Katy stopped climbing about midway up. Andrew gazed down at their pursuers, who were now circling around the tree. The creatures were terrifying and beautiful at the same time, with the body of a jaguar, and the head of an eagle, like something straight out of Mayan mythology. They were mostly a pretty tiffany blue in color, spotted with darker blue in the same pattern as jaguar fur, only with a different color scheme. They had small wings on their backs which apparently they could not use for flying, like the wings of chickens and penguins. The creatures roared, and they were so loud that Andrew could practically feel it ruffle his hair.

          "Maybe if we just wait, they'll go away," said Katy optimistically.

          That's when the eaguars started to climb, leaping gracefully from branch to branch with the agility of the cats which they partly were.

          "AAAAH!" Katy shrieked, the images of mangled, half eaten gorillas fresh in her memory. She screamed hysterically, "let'sgolet'sgolet'sgo!"

          Andrew took Katy's hand and rushed to climb towards the take off branch. If they could make it in time, they could use it to get to safety.

          The deafening roars of the eaguars grew dreadfully close. The animals had already covered more than half the distance between the ground and the teens. They wanted their food. And it was an easy catch.

          Andrew tried climbing faster, but he had to wait for Katy, who was literally shaking and having trouble to focus sufficiently to continue climbing to the take-off branch.

          At last they reached the take-off branch. Andrew quickly tied the vine around himself and a trembling Katy. The closest eaguar was only ten feet below them, leaping from branch to branch with grace. Andrew struggled with the knots, the thick vine hard to tie. "On the count of three, we jump, okay?"      

          Katy didn't respond. It was as if she hadn't heard him. But he was right next to her. Andrew was getting worried about her.

          "Katy, I said, on the count of three, jump! okay?!" Andrew shouted.

          This time he got through. Katy nodded her head vigorously.   

          "One, two, thraaargh!" Andrew cried out in agony as the lead eaguar sank its beak into his arm. Ignoring the pain, he jumped. They soared out over the deep ravine, hanging from the vine, which was itself attached to a branch, with the eaguar dangling by its beak from Andrew's arm, like some bizarre train.

          When they were passing over the midpoint of the two hundred foot deep valley, the strength of the eaguars jaw gave way, and the animal plunged to its bloody death far below, too-small wings beating in futility. Andrew continued to ignore the horrible pain in his arm as they flew out over the other side of the ravine.

          Then he realized that there was no pain. He wondered if that meant that his arm was bitten off entirely. He didn't dare look at what was surely a bloody mess of a limb.

          A fraction of a second later, and the teens were only a couple of feet from the soft bushes on the western side. Andrew drew his sword and slashed the overhead vine, cutting them loose. They rocketed into the soft shrubbery. 

          The teens lay there in the bushes for a few moments, stunned by all that had just happened. Then Andrew extricated himself from the undergrowth. He realized that somehow his arm was intact, even after the horrible eaguar bite. But right now there were more important things to tend to.

          Katy was not coming out from the bushes. She just sat there, trembling and shaking from their near horrible death experience. Otherwise, she wasn't moving, wasn't trying to get out of the undergrowth. She was still. Lifeless. It seemed that she was in state of severe shock. Andrew gently lifted her up and out of the bushes, and sat her down on the ground with her back to the terrifying eaguars on the other side, who were already running back into the forest, probably to find some gorillas to eat.

          Andrew didn't know what to say to soothe Katy. It truly was a horrifying experience, and particularly for her, as she had saw with her own eyes what the eaguars were capable of. So he just sat next to her, arm around her shoulder, gently stroking her dark blond hair. Katy just stared blankly ahead, her green eyes wide open in shock.

          Andrew felt a surge of anger towards whoever had caused this, whoever had brought them here into this horrible nightmare. Being alone in a strange place was bad enough. Being alone in a strange place where there were many, many creatures that could kill you was infinitely worse. Whoever had caused all this would have much explaining to do when it was over, to say the least. It was possible that they wanted the teens dead, for some reason. It certainly seemed that way.

          After several minutes, Katy began to cry softly. Andrew took this as a good sign, a sign that she had started to connect more with the reality of their situation. Instead of zoning out, and disconnecting, she was zoning back in, and responding emotionally to what had happened. Which indicated that she was no longer in shock. It was only temporary, and not permanent, thank goodness.  

          He let her cry for a while, to let her sadness flow out through her tears.

          "You were very brave," he told her. "You climbed the tree, and you agreed to do my wild stunt when it became necessary. I'm proud of you."

          Katy smiled through her tears, for the first time since they saw the eaguars. She continued to cry for several more minutes though.

          At last, she regained her composure. "Whew. We made it through. That was without a doubt more thrilling than any roller coaster ride I've ever been on! I'm sure glad that those creatures can't fly with those little wings of theirs!"

          Andrew could tell that Katy was trying to put on a brave front, after she had broken down like that. He wanted to tell her that it was nothing to be ashamed of, that anyone would have acted the same way had they been in her situation. The only reason why Andrew wasn't affected like she was, was because he hadn't seen the eaguars tear apart the gorillas with ease with his own eyes. But telling her that would be tantamount to calling her a liar. So he let it slide.

          Andrew wasn't sure if Katy had the strength to continue on. She was surely demoralized after all that had happened.

         

          Then a whimpering sound was heard, coming from a nearby tree, close to the edge of the ravine. Katy went over to investigate. "Andrew, it's a puppy! The poor thing got stuck under a root. It's funny looking, in a cute way."

          She freed the puppy from its imprisonment, and brought it to the shrubbery where they had been sitting. It was an adorable little thing, its long shaggy fur colored in beautiful shades of light green, blue, and lavender. It had big, floppy ears, and a small, cute nose. It looked like one of those stuffed animals that one can win at a carnival game or claw machine, come to life. The puppies' large violet eyes gazed up at Katy, full of love and trust.

          As she held the puppy and pet it, something unusual happened. Katy felt her fear of the forest and its wild inhabitants ebb away, and the strength and courage to go on flow into her. The puppy gave her hope, and strength, as if the power of the great, shining sun was contained within its tiny body, parting the storm clouds of Katy's trepidation. "I think I'm going to keep her. I'll name her Bella."

          "Now you have a souvenir to take back home with you," said Andrew.

          "Yeah, to take back home," repeated Katy. She thought wistfully of home, living in her comfortable house, and sleeping in her cozy room, instead of the rough trees they were now forced to sleep in. She thought of eating normal food, instead of the pulpy, tangy fruit juice that they now had for meals three times a day.

          "Do you think you're ready to continue?" Andrew asked.     

          Katy snapped out of her reverie. "Not five minutes ago I had absolutely no will to go back into the forest, after what just happened. But now, somehow I regained my resolve to resume our quest to find a way out of these immense woods. I don't know what changed, or why it did. Somehow, I think that this little puppy has caused a wonderful change in me. Like some kind of magic. I'm more than ready to resume our journey now."

          "That's great," said Andrew. "It was good luck that we found that puppy, then. Also, another strange thing happened to me, a few minutes ago. When we jumped from the tree, one of the eaguars bit down directly on my arm. You said that you saw the mighty eaguars rip apart fully grown gorillas with their powerful beaks. I thought that my weak human arm was a goner for sure. But nothing happened to it. Look, not even a scratch."

          He pulled back his sleeve for her to see his unscathed arm.

          "Maybe these animals can't hurt us, because we're not from their world," Katy said excitedly. "This whole time we've been so worried about them. But it could very well be that they couldn't even do anything to hurt us all along, since we're from another world!"

          "That could be it. But I wouldn't risk letting our guard down around these vicious creatures. There may be another explanation." 


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© 2013 David Castleton


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Added on November 10, 2013
Last Updated on November 29, 2013
Tags: mg, ya, fantasy, adventure, action, katana, color realms, king blue, king green


Author

David Castleton
David Castleton

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Tentatively planning to release my MG/YA fantasy novel 'Champion of the Light' on December 15, 2013 :) more..

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