Cara didn’t know what to think. How could you climb up the inside of a tree and end up in a jungle?
‘Maybe this is like Narnia.’ Cara whispered to herself, turning in a slow circle, taking in her surroundings. Her throat felt dry, she needed water after that climb. She decided to move away from the broken tree trunk standing alone in its clearing, and go off into the dense bushes and trees, searching for a river of some kind. Cara spared one last glance at the broken trunk, she knew it would be smarter and safer to go back home, but something told her to explore. She was curious about this new place, what kind of animals lived here? Were there any intelligent life forms? As well as curiosity, resentment towards her mother kept Cara from returning; crawling back. she thought, her lip curling. She turned her back on the broken and rotten tree trunk.
It didn’t take long for Cara to find water; she found it in the form of a shallow, but wide stream. The water was crystal clear and inviting. Cara kneeled down on the soft, spongy moss and soil, and dipped her fingers in the water; it was freezing cold in sharp contrast to the stifling humidity of the darkening forest.
There must be mountains nearby, for the water to be this cold. Cara thought to herself. Common sense told Cara to not drink the water, not knowing if there had been any contaminants put into it, but she threw caution into the wind and dipped her hands in up to the wrists, rubbing them together to get rid of some of the sweat and splinters from the climb. There were still a few small shards of rotten wood too far into her flesh for her to get them out with only her fingers; and her hand throbbed. Cara cupped her hands together and lifted them out of the water, drinking the cold and refreshing water quickly from her hands; she swallowed five mouthfuls and then wiped her mouth with her jacket sleeve, not really drying her face, since her jacket was still soaked with water. Her jeans were also getting exceedingly uncomfortable, since they were still wet, and clung horribly to her skin.
She looked down the river as it meandered along peacefully, a little way away, a small tree had fallen across the river, its trunk held clear of it by the few branches that stuck into the rocky bottom of the river. The branches were no doubt collecting sediments, and the trunk looked sturdy enough to provide a decent bridge.
The water had provided a small window of relief from the heat of the jungle, but as soon as she started moving again, the humidity pressed back in on her. The sky and jungle itself had darkened much more now, and Cara’s eyes were beginning to strain in the low light. Strange songs from no doubt strange birds echoed mournfully through the thousands of silent trees that crowded the jungle.
Am I actually in another world? Cara thought, reaching out and touching the wide but thin leaves of a ground plant. It felt real; the heat felt real, the water tasted real, everything looked real, but was it?
Cara decided to make her way back to the broken tree, not to return home, but to stay by it, she had no doubt that she would get lost if she explored for much longer, So she picked her way through the jungle, pushing the ground plants out of her way as she went.
Cara didn’t know how long she had been wandering around for, only that she couldn’t find the broken tree that would lead to safety if she suddenly got attacked by some kind of predator. However, when she got caught, darkness had just fallen, and she was sitting against a thick tree, eyes wide open, but she hadn’t heard the approach. The attack had come swiftly and silently; a pair of strong arms grabbed Cara, and a blindfold was shoved unceremoniously over her eyes, she was hoisted up into the air. By the time she had got over her shock and began to struggle, her attacker had already gained the upper hand, having her hauled over one large shoulder. Cara kicked and pounded on the back of her attacker with her fists to no avail, she was no martial arts champion. However, she continued to struggle, she heard an impatient grunt and felt a small prick in her back, before she fell unconscious.
Cara woke up draped uncomfortably over the shoulder of someone, her hands had been bound behind her back, and she was still blindfolded. One of the first things Cara noticed was that the air was cool, they must be out of the jungle, but that meant they were away from the tree that would lead her home. The cool air combined with her wet clothes made Cara shiver. Next, Cara used her ears; she could hear a swishing noise, as her carrier moved forward, through long grass, perhaps? If that was true, they were either in a large field, or in some kind of grasslands.
How long was I out for? Cara wondered, panic beginning to rise, how far am I from the jungle?
She could have been out for hours, or even mere minutes. Either way, Cara decided she might as well do something sooner rather than later. Just as Cara was getting ready to try and surprise her captor, she heard the clacking of stones, like a gravel path, the new sound halted Cara’s plan. The person holding her was slowing down. The next minute, Cara was dumped unceremoniously on the ground, or what she thought was the ground. Sharp rocks dug into her back, and she lay there, stunned for a few seconds. Then her blindfold was whipped off, and the rope around her wrists cut away. Cara blinked a few times, her eyes didn’t take long to adjust, since it was dark, with a few small fires around. Then she noticed that she wasn’t sitting on stones, but rather bamboo-like wooden bars, they were irregularly carved and had many sharp, small spikes protruding from the wood. It took her a while to process, but she also soon realised that the bars extended about a meter over her head and connected at the top and sides. She was in a cage. The cage was picked up suddenly, making Cara overbalance and fall painfully on her side, small wooden bumps and spikes digging in. Cara looked around wildly, someone had picked up the cage. She looked quickly behind and up. There was some kind of person holding the cage, a person covered from large and horned head to…hoof? With a short, thin tail on the small of his back.
The weird furry man-like thing began climbing a large tree, using a wooden ladder to put his hoofs on as he climbed; he carried the cage holding Cara up and up and up, into the bare branches of the tree. Cara squinted into the darkness, and could faintly see more cages hung up in the branches. The man-thing lifted Cara’s cage up and hooked it onto a branch, Cara swung uneasily, she felt sick, the man-thing watched her gaping at him. He grinned, showing large and dirty yellowed teeth, like a cow. He had a large black nose and dangerous looking small horns on either side of his large head, small ears flicked back and forth.
‘What, moonchild, never seen a bison before?’ the man-thing grunted, his voice deep and gravelly. The bison-man snorted in laughter at the dumb look on Cara’s face and descended back down the tree, taking away the ladder as he went. Cara swallowed hard and carefully sat back, the cage swung gently.
‘I’m definitely far from home.’ She said quietly to herself. She was shivering again, except now; it was as much out of fear as cold. The bison-man walked off into a large den, where laughter boomed from within, and a warm light glinted. Cara realised that the bison-man’s legs were bent backwards too, like a normal bison. She decided to survey the camp from her high-up place. There was no fence around the camp, but there were paths and clearings cut into the long grass, the dens were made out of what looked like clay or mud, and had thatched roofs, the rectangular hole, which was the door, didn’t have any kind of covering.
Other trees throughout the camp had similar cages swinging from them. If she listened carefully, she could hear the sniffs and whines of other caged people. Cara was glad for the cloudless night, it gave her something to look at, the countless thousands of stars and full moon were both very beautiful, but also both provided a pale silvery light that illuminated the camp enough to allow Cara to see by.
Cara frowned, she actually recognised some of the constellations in the sky! That meant that she had to be in the same world that she was in previously! Maybe it was an alternate dimension of earth?
a forlorn wail startled Cara, she looked up, a small wolf-person was clutching the bars of his cage, his head tilted up at the stars, he kept howling.
a bison-man stomped out of one of the dens,
‘Shut up!’ he bellowed, hauling a small rock up at the wolf’s cage, it struck the wolf on the nose and it fell back with a yelp, whimpering as his cage swayed violently. The air was getting colder, Cara shuffled back against the corner of the cage and hugged herself, her clothes were still damp, and her teeth were chattering. Her injured hand didn’t throb as much as it had before. Cara sank into a sort of daze; she only paid attention to the moon and its leisurely journey across the silent sky.
The sluggish beating of large wings snapped Cara out of her thoughtless daze,
‘don’t make a sound!’ a voice hissed. Cara squinted into the darkness; she saw a brief flash of something illuminated by the moon. Something slammed into her cage, sending it swinging and spinning back and forth and round and round feverishly. The ground flashed past sickeningly, eventually the cage slowed to a stop, the branch it was tied to creaked quietly.
‘You’ll be safe once I’ve got you out,’ a pleasant voice murmured, Cara could see the figure clearly now, it was part bird, part cat; a gryphon. Its front feet, a bird's yellow talons gripped the bars of the cage tightly, and the back paws, resembling a snow leopard, were positioned on the bars that made up the floor of the cage. His head was covered in snow-white feathers, dotted with black flecks; his eyes were an intelligent, handsome green, like grass after rain. His beak was hooked, silver fading to black. The gryphon swung his thick tail, covered in black rosettes, definitely a snow leopard’s, to balance.
‘Never seen a gryphon?’ the white and black gryphon cocked his head to the side, he had long feathery ears, they were pricked attentively, swiveling every now and again, listening for any movement below.
‘It’s okay,’ the gryphon said, he seemed to smile, ‘I’ve never seen a moonchild before, my parents told me about them.’
‘Moonchild?’ Cara frowned
‘they told me that moonchildren were also unfamiliar with the term.’ He said, amusement as well as kindness in his voice, ‘I’ll tell you all about it when I get you out.’
The gryphon gripped the bars more tightly in his deadly, curved talons, he spread his wide, angular white wings, like that of a falcon, and pulled hard on the bars. They snapped and the gryphon fell backwards, flapping his wings to right himself, he swept back up and hovered next to the gap in the cage.
‘Can you fit through?’ he asked, the silence of the night was shattered by the sounds of other cages being broken open.
Cara walked towards the gryphon, the cage tilted unsettlingly, Cara had trouble keeping her footing. She turned sideways and managed to slip through, holding onto the outside of the cage. The gryphon moved closer,
‘jump on.’ He said, Cara bit her lip, looking down, it was a long drop from here to the ground, she wasn’t sure that she’d be able to make it.
‘I can’t hover here forever.’ The gryphon hissed urgently, ‘come on!’
CRASH! Thwp-thwp-thwp! Arrows flew past the gryphon, he shrieked loudly in surprise and fury, but stayed where he was. The bison-men had seen the gryphons breaking prisoners out of the cages! They were nocking arrows on crudely made bows, and were taking aim.
‘Come on!’ the gryphon said loudly, not bothering to keep quiet now, ‘I’m an easy target since my fur and feathers are white, bison can’t see well in the dark, but they can still see a white gryphon in amongst the black night!’
Cara gulped and stepped off the cage, letting go, she felt a jolt as she landed on the back of the gryphon, her knees resting just behind his wing joints, she gripped his long neck feathers hard, trying to stay on.
‘Yes!’ the gryphon flapped his wings hard and fell into a dive, more arrows flew past them, the gryphon flung out his wings and soared low over the heads of the bison, raking the muzzle of one with his talons as they flew over and ripping the bow out of another’s hands. He snapped the wood with his beak and threw it to the ground. The gryphon gained height, flying clear of the camp, Cara twisted her body around and watched the fight, the darkness was quickly swallowing the small battle, Cara could see enough, she watched in horror as a gryphon who had just let go of a cage sank into a dive and was struck in the chest with a spear. A saddening screech filled the night air and the gryphon struck the ground in a crumpled heap, dead. His passenger scrambled to his feet and ran, but was quickly caught.
More gryphons streamed out of the camp, some with passengers, others without. They poured off in different directions, probably taking their passengers to their homes. Cara and the white gryphon soared up high; she could see the ground, lit by the moon as it began its slow descent towards the far horizon.
Cara slowly loosened her grip on the gryphon’s neck feathers as she grew accustomed to the rhythm of his wing beats.
‘My name is Klikan.’ The gryphon said, flattening his wings out and gliding gracefully on the weak nighttime thermals, hot air that had been absorbed into the ground during the day was being released in the night.
‘I’m from the mountains, where my family lives, the gryphons here are from all over the place, from the grasslands, jungle, mountains and beyond.’ Klikan said,
‘my name is Cara.’ Cara replied, ‘I…don’t come from here.’
‘I know.’ Klikan said softly. They flew in silence for what seemed like hours, it was very peaceful, and Cara had grown relaxed, listening to the wind whistling past, and the ground sliding below, it was the only indication that they were going fast.
‘Klikan,’ Cara began, she was almost lying on the gryphon’s back, legs still behind his wing joints, her arms were wrapped loosely around Klikan’s neck, her arms could only just reach all the way around.
‘Where are we going?’ she asked, ‘and where am I?’