Introduction

Far away in another galaxy, there is a planet called Alease. This planet is much younger than the Earth, probably a few million years younger, although nobody really knows. It is such a beautiful place! The sky is clear and high, the oceans are calm and gentle. Each of the continents and islands has high mountains, clear lakes and deep forests. Gentle rivers flow everywhere in Alease so the plants grow fresh and green. There are four seasons just like the Earth and the weather is quite similar, but it’s usually warmer.

On this beautiful planet creatures have evolved much faster than animals on Earth. There are no humans on Alease, but the Animals can understand each other’s languages, they have houses and towns and palaces, and most of them can stand and walk on two legs just like humans. And yes! Amongst the cleverest animals... are rats! Alease rats are much bigger than our rats, about one metre tall. Most of them are clean and polite, and enjoy good food and conversation. This story is about one particularly adventurous rat.

 

Who is Little Croft?

Alease rats live in the southern ocean on an island called Ellen. They live in the south of the island, and their land is called Dallon. In the north of the same island is a land called Kalan, where eagles live. Dallon surrounds by many high mountains which keep them safe from eagles.

Dallon is a beautiful country. It is quite small but still has mountains, forests and waterfalls. Rats on Alease live a simple happy life near the fields and forests. They build warm houses from mud and straw. They grow or find most of their own food nearby (their favourite foods are nuts and grains). Their life is so pleasant that they rarely want to leave their home country. Except from one rat who thinks differently…

In the year VIII of Alease’s calendar, two rats, Serly and Bailyn were married. Serly is a female rat with blue fur and a long thin tail. She also has a cute, round, reddish nose. Her body is chubby, but certainly not fat. She has the lightest brown eyes, which makes everyone feel peaceful when they look at her. If you got to know her you would agree that Serly is a very kind rat.

What about Bailyn? He has brown fur and a thin, but strong body. He also has an elegant long thin tail. His tail is always curving and pointing upward.  He has a dark brown pointy noise and his eyes are a reddish colour. He might seem a very serious rat but actually when he is with his family he is very gentle and soft-hearted. He loves painting and adores his family.

One year after they were married, Serly gave birth to a baby boy rat who they called Little Croft. Where did he get his name from? Well, he was born in a field of wheat near a croft house. Why “little”? Like all mothers, Serly thinks of her child as little.

Little Croft has inherited all the pretty bits from his parents, especially his wonderful streaky blue-brown fur. He is a little small but his body is very well-built with an elegant long curving tail, just like his dad. His eyes are brown like his dad, but his noise is round and dark red like his mum.

Croft’s father, Bailyn, loves painting pictures of the countryside. He is very skillful, using the tip of his tail to paint. So he travels around Dallon and often takes Croft with him. Sometimes Bailyn and Croft go mushroom hunting when they are out. Occasionally, they have a fun shower in a beautiful waterfall in west Dallon. If Serly goes with them, they always have a family picnic near the waterfall. So Croft and his parents have a lot of good memories of their trips around Dallon and Croft has developed a deep love of travelling. However from Croft’s childhood, he has been told about the eagle that lives by the other side of the mountain and they will eat rat. In the past, there were some brave rats who went over the mountains but never came back. For many rat’s generations, this story has always been told by the elderlies to scare and protect their youngster, but Croft finds it mysterious and challenging. He is very curious about eagle’s country and would like to explore.     

Croft always seemed to be a good little rat but secretly he was very naughty indeed. One year, during the rat's summer festival, the town's best tailors prepared their most elegant clothes and put them in a showroom. But when the show opened and all the clothes were revealed, they had claw marks and paint all over them. Nobody knows who did it. Well let me tell you that was the work of our Little Croft.

Well now, Little Croft has grown up into a very kind and honest young rat. He has become a strong and handsome rat. Well, that’s what all the girl rats think of him. You might ask how old he is now. Actually he is only four years old, but because rat years are different than human years he is about same age as a sixteen year old. If you see him walking around, you will always notice he loves to wear the same style of clothes, a brown-red gilet jacket and a pair of light brown baggy shorts together with short boots. He is always running around the town and forest looking very busy. Actually, despite all the fun trips with his parents, Croft is bored with his daily routine. Every day he dreams about a journey of adventure in far away lands.  

Anyway his dream and reality are two different matters. Croft is rather naive so his mother won’t let him go anywhere far away on his own. Croft’s mother thinks the world would end if Croft ever went on a trip by himself. So Little Croft has been planning for a long time how he can escape. He thought maybe he could get his parents drunk with Adrop[1]. The problem is he has no idea how to make it. Another idea is to pretend to go out looking for food, then run away. However, he thinks, “that’s not very good either, a little bit immature’’. Finally he decides to leave a letter and explain why he has gone. He feels satisfied and thinks to himself, “That will show everyone that I’m grown up and strong now, just like a male rat should be”. However, he still must wait for a chance to leave unnoticed.

 

Chapter 1 - The Escape

One summer a dry season comes and the rats are running out of food. The adult rats have to leave their houses and go further afield in Dallon to search for food. Before they leave, Serly and Bailyn tell Little Croft many things: he must look after himself and the house, he mustn’t wander off and he must be careful with all strangers. Normally Little Croft could get annoyed because they are treating him like a child. This time he is not annoyed because now he has an opportunity to follow his dream. However, his parents have another idea...

               Croft: Don’t worry mum and dad, I will be fine and everything will be ok. I think you two should look after yourselves.

               Serly: We are adults, so we will be fine.

               Bailyn: Listen to your mum, she’s right. Anyway we asked Miss Gramith to look after you.

               Serly: You have to stay with her because we will be away for many days.

               Croft: What?!!! Miss Gramith…No way I can look after myself.

Who is Miss Gramith? She is a very old rat and everyone knows her because, unusually for a rat, she isn’t married. She is a demure rat, always very serious, and all the rats respect her because of her age. But no one knows her secret: she really wants to date Mister Danrith who she meets every time she goes to market. However, she is afraid if she talks to him then he would just disappear like air. She doesn't think she is good enough for him because he is a handsome old rat and she is just ordinary. Actually, Miss Gramith looks good and just isn’t confident in herself.

Croft and his parents continue their conversation:

               Bailyn: Don’t argue. You have to stay with her, there is no discussion.

               Serly: Yes, I am sure she will treat you nicely.

Croft: Well, I suppose I have no choice because you have already decided. Anyway you better be quick. The others are waiting for you.

Serly: Be a good boy, we will be back soon.

Bailyn: Don’t do anything naughty.

Soon after Croft’s parent have gone, Miss Gramith knocks at the door.

               Miss Gramith: knock… knock… knock… Are you there, Little Croft?

               Croft: Wait a moment!

Croft comes out feeling a little worried, but he has a plan in mind…

               Croft: Hello, Miss Gramith.

               Miss Gramith: Hello, Little Croft. How do I look today?

               Croft: You look quite beautiful.

Miss Gramith shows only a slight smile but actually feels very pleased with Croft’s answer.

               Miss Gramith: You should come to my house now because I have to look after you.

               Croft: Okay, Miss Gramith.

Croft goes with Miss Gramith to her house. Soon after, they arrive she tells him to stay there while she goes to market to get some food for his stay. Croft thinks about leaving on his adventure now, but he knows that Miss Gramith will be back soon and would send other rats to look for him. He needs a better plan. So while Miss Gramith is away, Croft has a look around her house.

Miss Gramith's house is very small and cosy. At the back there is a small dark room which is closed, but not locked. Always curious, Croft has a look in the room. It is full of flowers, romantic pictures and stories. On the desk he finds her dairy. Croft can't resist reading a little. As he reads it, he understands Gramith’s secret love for Mister Danrith. A mischievous thought runs through his mind. But then he hears the footsteps of Miss Gramith returning. He quickly jumps out of the room and pretends to wander around the house as though he is doing nothing important.

Croft: Ah you’re back, Miss Gramith. I was just looking around your house, Miss Gramith. It is very comfortable. A rat could feel at home here.

Miss Gramith: Oh no it's just an ordinary house, Little Croft.

Croft: Have anyone ever told you about the magician who lives in the woods near here, Miss Gramith?

Miss Gramith: No, I don't think so, why?

Croft: My parents told me about him. Did you know he can make a love potion?

Suddenly Miss Gramith is very interested and her tail starts to twitch. However, she pretends it is not important to her and continues unpack her bag.

               Miss Gramith: Hmmm Love potion. What is it for?

               Croft: It can make someone fall in love with you.

               Miss Gramith: Really? Anyway where exactly does this magician live?

               Croft: You sound interested, Miss Gramith?

Miss Gramith (flapping her tail and shaking her head): No, no, just err… err… it’s nothing just curious, you know...

Croft: He lives in the forest to the east, by the river near the waterfall. It takes about half a day to get there.

Gramith (pretending not to be interested): Oh, I see, now let's get dinner shall we...

That evening, Croft has to stay in the spare bedroom at Miss Gramith's house. After he goes to sleep, Miss Gramith starts to get very excited. She tries on different clothes and make up and writes a love letter to Mister Danrith. "This time he will fall in love with me, I know it", she thinks to herself.

Next morning Gramith wakes up very early and calls Croft,

Miss Gramith: Little Croft. Can you look after the house? I’ll need to find some wood for the fire. I’ll be back soon.

Croft (smiling in a cunning way): It’s okay, Miss Gramith. Don’t worry, I’ll keep your house clean and tidy.

Miss Gramith: Good little rat.

Miss Gramith has already prepared a bag for her journey, and as soon as Croft answers she immediately leaves, her feet pattering quickly down the street outside. Croft doesn't feel so bad about sending Miss Gramith into the woods, there is a man who makes some potions by the river, although nobody thinks his potions work. But Croft thinks that Miss Gramith needs confidence, not a potion, so maybe this will help her get to know Mister Danrith. Anyway, she will be away for a day now, so finally Croft has his chance to escape!

Croft starts to pack for his adventurous journey. To start with he gets a shoulder-bag, like an artist’s bag to carry everything. He packs some food, bedding and clothes… And look, what else he has found: it’s a mysterious old book. He begins to read it with his usual curiosity,

“It looks like a book about medicines. There are methods to blend different kinds of plants and herbs into useful potions. Ah!!! This could be handy”, Croft said to himself.

He puts the book in his bag, next a Stulf[2] and a Carlot[3]. “This should be enough for my journey”, Croft thinks to himself. After everything is packed, Croft leaves the house and heads to the north. This road leads to eagle country.

 

Chapter 2 – A Dangerous Country

Croft climbs over the mountain and through eagle’s home land and after a few days he reaches a wide plain of Ilis[4] fields. He walks through the field for quite a while, then he rests and thinks to himself

It's very quiet and safe. Nobody is around, maybe those stories were just to make to scare youngsters. Well, I suppose it could be different when I meet an eagle, so l better walk quietly and try not to disturb them. But I shouldn’t be worried because I have a knife so I can defend myself and attack them if necessary

After a few hours rest, he continues his journey first crossing a small river then continuing on over the gentle hills beyond. On the way, he picks up a few herbs and plants. He sleeps in the tall grass and eats the food he has brought or found on the way. After two days, he reaches a thick forest. This is Kalan, the land of eagles. The forest is very large and spreads out over most of Kalan. Croft doesn’t know much about eagles, but takes a deep breath and walks into the forest. The trees are so close together that the forest is very dark and cold. Although it is late summer, the leaves have fallen off some of the trees. It could be a scary forest, but Croft is not afraid.

After a few hours walking, Croft comes across a clearing with a wide, black lake. Just as he arrives, a group of eagles appear in the distance on the other side of the lake. They are pulling something with their claws. It looks like a dead eagle! Kalan eagles are much stronger and bigger than our eagles. They have long sharp beaks and have dark, almost black feathers. These eagles must be soldiers because they are wearing a full armor. It is too far away to see the eagles clearly, or to make out exactly what is happening, so Croft walks slowly and quietly toward them. As he gets close, the eagles push the dead eagle into the black muddy lake.

               First eagle: See, this is a lesson for us.

               Second eagle: A lesson? What?

First eagle: Look at what they did to this eagle. Just between us, I don't think we can trust this Solar. He has no respect for other eagles.

Second eagle: Grrr… What? We are his soldiers and we work for him. You better watch your beak or you will be in the lake next.

First eagle: I'm not worried because I'm going to quit this job and become a feather stylist.

               Second eagle: Eh? What is that strange job? Anyway, I don’t think Solar will let you.

First eagle: I am not a strong soldier and Solar knows that. So I had this idea the other day. Most eagles take no care of their feathers. Look, yours are very messy. But if you arranged them like mine... spread them out around your neck... fluff them up around your chest... a little bees wax on the tuft on your head. Then the other eagles would take you much more seriously.

Second eagle: Hmph. Good luck for your future with such a silly woolly job.

First eagle: You'll see. I’ll be a famous stylist… more famous than any King or Queen in Alease.

Second eagle: Ha! Famous as the eagle with the silliest feathers perhaps...

They fly away, still arguing. After they have long gone, Croft goes to the lake edge to investigate. The eagle they threw in is still alive and trying to get out! This eagle has grey feathers but his feathers are all wet and some have fallen off his body. Croft feels very sorry for him but he remembers what he has been told. He thinks

“If I rescue him, will he eat me? But this eagle is in a very poor condition [I can't just leave him like this]. I shouldn’t think too hard about it. In the end there are bad eagles and good eagles. Not all animals are the same”

Croft grabs his wing and helps pull him out of the lake. The eagle looks injured. Croft gently asks him,

               Croft: Are you alright, Mister?

The eagle is breathing heavily and answers very slowly.

The eagle: I… have… been tortured by those guards. Lu…ckily they did not know I was… still alive…

Croft: Wait a moment I have some medicine. It can heal your wounds.

The eagle: Ouch… ouch… Thank you. What’s your name?

Croft: Little Croft, but call me Croft. And your name is…?

The eagle: I am… Len…

Croft takes out his medicine book and starts to read. He finds a suitable healing recipe and realises he has collected the ingredients already. He bruises and mixes the herbs into a paste and applies the mixture onto Len’s wings and body.

Len: Thank you, that feels… better. I… am real…ly thirsty. Do… you have… any… water?

Croft: Of course! I should have thought of that. Please here, take my water.

About half an hour passes and Len is getting better.

Croft: It’s not safe here. We need to go somewhere else. Can you walk at all? Don’t worry, I’ll help you.

Len: I don’t think I have the strength to walk on my own. There is a cave near here that nobody knows. I’ll show you the way.

Croft: Please put your wing over my neck and we’ll walk there together.

Len: Go straight here and turn to your right at the river. It’s hidden under some bushes near a large rock.

Finally they reach the cave. It is some distance away from the lake and well hidden from any more eagle soldiers. After a while, Len is settled so Croft decides to leave the cave to look for some water and food.

Croft: Please, wait here. I’ll get some water and food. I’ll be back soon.

Len: Be careful about the guards.

Croft: I will.

After a short while searching, Croft finds some fruit and fresh water and returns to the cave. Len takes the water from Croft. After a long rest, Len feels much better but he is starting to get hungry.

               Croft: Len, you must be hungry. Please take these fruit, I picked them in the forest.

               Len: Thanks but I don’t like fruit. I am fine, not hungry yet!

               Croft: So tell me what happened?

Len: It’s a long and complicated story. I’ll tell you later. It is getting dark here. We need to light up a fire.

Croft: Sure, I’ll go and get some dried leaves, woods and some different food for you. Stay here, I’ll be back soon…

Croft manages to collect a few herbs, nuts, grains and a lot of wood. He comes back and lights up a fire. In the warm atmosphere, Len starts to tell Croft his story:

“My country is called Kalan. It is a strong and wealthy country. We have a powerful army and an established government. My King is very kind but quite weak. His name is Erlic and I am his favourite servant. Erlic gave his nephew, Solar, the most important position in the country, just below Erlic. Solar is married to my sister, Mayar. Solar has a great deal of power but still he is not satisfied. He wants to be the King himself. He and his wife tried to persuade me to poison the King. Of course I strongly disagreed at first. However, they promised me so many things. They said that I had no future being just a servant, but if I helped them, they would give me many lands, treasures and a beautiful wife. However, I still didn’t want to kill Erlic so I came up with an idea. I would put some sleeping powder into Erlic’s food and we would put him in prison for life. Solar and Mayar were happy with this idea and we were successful. King Erlic was captured and put in prison. Unfortunately, Solar and Maya betrayed me, they broke their promises and gave me nothing. Instead they tortured me until I nearly died. Now I am full of regret because I put my trust in the wrong place and imprisoned Erlic, who is such a good King”.

               Croft: So the soldiers think you’re dead.

               Len: Yes, it’s lucky I met you or perhaps I would be.

               Croft: So, what are you planning now, Len?

Len: Rescue the King first I think. I must repair the damage I have done. Could you give me some help?

Croft thinks that this adventure is just fun and doesn’t think about the dangers.  He is so curious about Len’s story and wonders if he could learn anything by helping out. He is excited about who he will meet and what might happen. So without thinking he decides to help Len.

               Croft: Sure, I’ll help you but how?

Len: Don’t worry, I’ll come up with a plan. But it’s late now I think we need to get some sleep first.

Croft: You’re right! However, aren’t you hungry? Here, please take these nuts and grains. Please give them a try.

Len: Thanks!

After Len eats the food, he still feels quite hungry but says nothing about it. He starts to look at Croft in a strange way. His eyes look sharp and very mean indeed. After all he is still an eagle. After a long day of travelling, Croft falls into a deep sleep. Len also pretends to yawn and close his eyes. When Croft is sleeping, Len suddenly opens his eyes and thinks to himself:

               “I am so hungry, my favourite food is right in front of me. I can kill this rat and eat it”.

He was about to flap over Croft. But luckily, the sound of footsteps and voices come from outside. Len quickly covers the fire and while waiting for the sound to pass, he thinks:

“Whew!!! Lucky those guards went past if not I would have already done a nasty thing. I shouldn’t kill Croft, he rescued me earlier. Anyway I still need his help to rescue the King”.

Len goes slowly and quietly to sleep and ignores his hunger. After a long night, Croft gets up before Len. He thinks:

“Len possibly doesn’t eat the same food as me. He probably eats some kind of meat. I know! I’ll go to a lake or river nearby and get some fish for him”.

First, Croft goes out to get some materials to make a fishog[5] . He goes down to the nearby river in the forest and quite soon he catches a really big beautiful fish with shiny rainbow scales. The fish’s eyes are very big, shiny and twinkling!

Fish: Oh, my handsome Lord. Please release me. Don’t eat me please. I have heard that rats only eat cheese and don’t eat meat. Why don’t you try some seaweed instead? It’s veggy and great for your digestion, Sir.

               Croft: Ah, I am so sorry, this is not for me. My friend is very hungry and not vegetarian.

               Fish: So what kind of creature is your friend?

               Croft: An eagle.

Fish: Oh dear… Look I am too old. My meat is not very tasty and your friend will be very disappointed. I know, why don’t you get some honey for your friend? It’s excellent for energy. I know where there is a huge honeycomb near here.

Croft: That’s good idea, but just one question. You’re just a fish. Why do you know so much?

Fish: You know. I have been living here so many years. There is not a thing that I wouldn’t know.

               Croft: And you're not afraid to show off about it, eh? OK, I’ll let you go.

Fish: Thank you, Sir. You’re such a nice guy! What’s your name?

Croft: Little Croft, but call me Croft.

               Fish: I am Fisy. Bye bye, Mr. Croft. Please call me if you ever need my help.

Croft releases the Fisy and searches for the honey that he was told about. After a while, he finds it. He holds a stick in his front claws and climbs up the tree. He hides behind a thick branch and uses the stick to remove the bees from the honeycomb. After that, he collects the honeycomb and goes back to the cave. He makes some flot[6] with honey for Len. Len wakes up just as Croft has finished the cooking.

Croft: You are lucky I have just made some flot for you.

               Len: What is it?

               Croft: It’s a cake. Well known in my country. It’s delicious with honey.

               Len: Really!!!?

Croft: Here, please take it. See if you like it.

Len takes it down in one gulp. So fast that there are bits of honey and flot stuck to his beak. He is really hungry and seems to really enjoy the flot. After all Croft’s help, he feels extremely guilty about his horrible actions last night.

Len: Oh!!! It’s delicious, Croft!!! Could I have some more?

Croft: There is plenty here. Please help yourself.

Len: Thanks. How did you know how to make this? And the pan, what is it? It looks like you have made it from a coco[7] shell.

Croft: Yes, you are right. I did make it from a coco shell, it gives extra flavour to the food. As for the cakes, I got the recipe from my mum.

After second helpings, Len feels really grateful for what Croft has done. And now his mind is on his next plan of action. He isn’t thinking about eating Croft now.

Len: Oh! I am so full. Thank you, Croft. I have been thinking about a plan to rescue the King. Are you sure you want to help me?

               Croft: Yes, I want to help. What is your plan?

Len: There is a prison inside the palace. There are many guards in there. Are you good at fighting? And can you use a sword?

Croft: Well, I can fight just about, but I don’t know much about sword techniques.

               Len: Ok, I’ll teach you some kung-fu and sword techniques.

               Croft: Kung-fu? What’s that?

Len: Special fighting moves used to attack or defend. I use both wings and claws for fighting but I think l can teach you to fight with your paws. 

               Croft: Oh great!!!

Len and Croft spend a few days practicing kung-fu and sword fighting. Len attaches a sword to his wing tip – he can reach a long way, but he is quite slow. However, Croft uses his paw and although his reach is short, he is very, very quick. They spend most of the time in the cave to avoid the guards patrolling the area. Croft really focuses on learning these new techniques and he picks up many things from Len’s lessons after only a few days. So soon he has become a reasonable fighter, although of course he is not as good as Len. However, how can they get past the guards and into the eagle’s prison when there are only two of them?

               Croft: Can we get past the guards and rescue Erlic with only us two?

               Len: No, we need to come up with a good plan.

               Croft: I know. I can make some sleeping powder. Somehow we get them to drink it.

Len: That’s great! You should have told me you could make potions before. Ah! We can pretend to be coco sellers. Coco juice is very popular in this country.

               Croft: So we need to disguise ourselves somehow.

Len: Yes, we need some clothes and cover ourselves so they can’t recognize me, or see that you are a rat. You don't want to be eaten!

Croft: OK, let’s do it then!

Len: No wait, the guards inside are trickier. They won’t fall in our trap so easily. However, there aren’t many guards in there. Maybe we can fight them directly.

               Croft: How do we get out if the guards outside wake up?

               Len: I know a secret way out from the back of the prison. Nobody knows this way.

               Croft: So why don’t we go into the prison through this secret way?

               Len: Unfortunately the door can only be opened from the inside.

They continue to discuss the details of the plan until late into the night...

Rescuing Erlic

While Len and Croft are planning how to rescue the King, inside the prison the guards drag in a dirty, ugly and scabby rat. They put him in the same cell with the King. This rat is just a little bit taller than Croft. His body is very thin and he looks like he has been starved for many days. He is looking very tired with his tail lying flat on the floor like a dead rat. His body smells of alcohol and wet mud, and his fur is all black and wet.

Dirty Rat: umm… umm… uck… uck… let me out… I…am… only... drunk… why... did… y…o…u pu...t me uck… uck… he…re.

King Erlic: Are you alright, Sir?

               Dirty Rat: Who’s… that?

King Erlic is silent.

Dirty Rat: Dammmit, it’s a…a…an Eagle. You are not planning to eat me, are you? My meat is infected!!! Not tasty for you. I am… tell…ing you!

               King Erlic: Don’t worry, I am vegetarian. What’s your name? And why are you here?

               Rat: My name is… Flex. I ju...st don’t know uck… uck… why I am here.

               Guard: Shut up you two. No making friends in this prison!

               Flex: Gi…ve me some uck… water.

               The guard: No water for such a dirty rat like you. You’re lucky that you’re too dirty to eat!

               King Erlic: Please take my water and go to sleep. I’ll talk to you more tomorrow…

               Guard: You’re in the prison but still trying to be nice, eh?

Flex takes Erlic’s water and goes to sleep. A few hours later, Erlic also goes to sleep. Next morning, Flex and Erlic get up very early. The guards are still sleeping. Flex sees Erlic clearly for the first time. He is an elegant looking bird. His feathers are shiny brown and his beak is also brown. However, his body is very thin and looks weak. He is wearing fine-looking red robes with yellow lace around the neck, although his clothes are rather dirty after being in the prison.

Flex: Hey, thanks for the water last night. I suppose you are wondering what a rat is doing in eagle country? I am from Dallon. My wife has kicked me out of the house. Probably because I am drunk all day and don’t clean myself so often. I don’t remember exactly how I arrived here. I just remember that I walked away from my house drinking a nice bottle of wine I found in my bag. Then I woke up and those eagle guards had me. What about you? Who are you and what’s your story?

Erlic: I am Erlic and I was the King of this country. My relatives have betrayed me and put me in this prison.

Flex: No surprise! You look so posh and kind. Maybe your story is true. I guess you eat luxury foods all the time. That’s why you refused to eat me!

Erlic: I already told you last night. I am vegetarian. You were possibly too drunk to remember.

               Flex: Really?... Ah yeah! I do slightly remember you said that.

While Erlic and Flex are talking in the eagle’s prison, back at the cave Len and Croft go out to find some coco. They find many coco trees near their cave and are able to pick about fifty coco, just enough for a small bucket of coco juice.

               Croft: Where can we get clothes to disguise ourselves?

Len: Wait here. There's a town nearby, I'll sneak past the guards and try to borrow some clothes there…

After about thirty minutes, Len comes back with some clothes and materials. They wrap themselves heavily, like travelling salesmen often do in Kalan, so only their forehead and eyes are visible. Len takes the lead, so the guards won’t spot Croft. They leave the cave and go head toward the castle. They walk quite far to reach the castle. It is a long walk for a rat. Eagles would normally fly but this time Len walks as well. The forest they are in is huge and surrounds the castle. They find a quiet route to the back of the caste, avoiding any guards in the forest.

The castle is called Donran and is built inside a high mountain. There are many rough cave-like passages all around the sides of the mountain. The passages on the top level are linked into the centre of the palace. In the other passages there are guard-rooms. On the bottom level, there are several passages that are all linked into the prison. On the inside of the castle, there are stairs that link all the tunnels of the castle. There are no stairs on the outside because the eagles can fly into any passage. The castle is surrounded by a wide open grassy area, with the forest around that. The main prison entrance has a heavy wooden gate. Outside the gate there are many guards.

Croft: Wow, that’s a huge and impressive castle, how can we get in.

Len: Don’t worry, the guards are usually tired and will be very happy when we bring them this coco juice. I think we can get inside.

Len and Croft approach the guards at the gate. The guards raise their swords and look angry.

Guards: Who are you?

Len: Coco juice, Sir. Would you like to try some? Today it’s free! It’s a special offer because this is my first day selling coco juice.

Croft: Yes, Sir. You should try some. We just picked the coco from the tree. It’s so refreshing for a tired guard!!!

               The Guard: Free? OK? Let me try some...

               Len: Here you are. Please help yourself, Sir.

               The Guard: Uc… uc… uc… Oh! That’s really tasty. C'mon, my friends. There’s a lot here. Get it while it’s free!

Very soon all the guards are enjoying the coco juice. And not long after that, they have all fallen asleep. Croft and Len lift up the guards and put them by the gate, so they look like they are still guarding. Then they take their keys and quietly sneak inside the lower passages towards the prison. Inside the lower rooms of the castle there are many storerooms, with barrels of wine and strings of meats hanging from the roof. Many of the rooms are like caves, damp, cold and dark. However, Len knows the way. Just as they enter one of the bottom level tunnels, a guard sees them and calls out.

               The Guard: Stop there!!!! How did you get in here?

Len: We’re handing out free coco juice. The guards outside just enjoyed it and they want you to have some too. So they let me in.

               The Guard: Really? Why are you giving it away free?

               Len: My first day of business.

               The Guard: Hmm… OK. I’m quite thirsty. Let me try it.

This guard falls for the same trick and soon he is asleep too. Croft and Len run down the last few tunnels to the prison cells. There are only two guards, but they immediately draw their swords and start to fight. The guards have long red sharp beaks and they are much taller and fatter than Len. Croft is not afraid at his first battle, but he is very clumsy to begin with. First he punches one of the guards but his strike is very weak and it does nothing to the guard. The guard takes two swipes at Croft, but he is too fast and avoids them. And when Croft draws his sword the guard becomes more afraid. Croft is not very skillful, but he seems fearless. Croft swings at the guard and manages to injure the guard’s neck. However, Croft’s paws are shaking with excitement and fear and he cannot strike a finishing blow. Luckily, Len has just defeated the other guard and flaps over to Croft. Len quickly kicks the remaining guard very hard. The guard falls down and Len jumps over and kills him immediately. This was Croft’s first fight and the first time he has seen someone killed. He is trembling a little, excited and shocked. Len is a very good fighter and did most of the fighting, but Croft has learned quickly about the dangers his adventure can bring him.

Croft takes the keys from the guards and opens the cell door for the King. As the door creaks open, Croft is very surprised to see Flex. Croft and Flex lived in the same village so they know each other well. Croft always calls Flex "Mr. Drunken", maybe you can guess why...

Croft: Hey Mr. Drunken!! It’s Little Croft. Why are you here? No, don't tell me now, it's dangerous. C’mon come with us, we can talk later.

Flex: Oh!! Little Croft, what are you doing in here? Fighting and killing eagles! Oh my, I always thought you were a bit of a devil…

Croft: It's hard to explain, Mr. Drunken...

Erlic: What are you doing, Len? Why rescue me now?

               Len: I’ll explain everything later. Please come with us quickly!!

They quickly use the secret passage Len knows about, and before long they escape out of the prison. Croft is a little disappointed when they meet no more guards because he is getting a taste for danger! They reach the forest again from the back of the castle. From there they walk back to their safe cave.

The Plan

Croft: So, long time no see Mr. Drunken. I knew your wife kicked you out but how did you end up in this prison?

               Flex: I don’t know. I was drunk and next thing I knew I am in prison.              

               Croft: Typical you. Your wife has been worrying about you, you know.

               Flex: I know I know, Little Croft. I must go back and say sorry. But why are you here?

               Croft: I am on a journey exploring the world.

               Flex: I see, do your parents know about it?

               Croft: No, I ran away when they weren’t at home.

               Flex: Well, well, well. That’s not very good. What shall I do with you now, Little Croft?

               Croft: Well, how about nothing?

               Flex: You’re such a bad boy. Shall I go back and tell your parents about it?

               Croft: Oh!! Please don’t, Mr. Drunken. Let’s find you some drink instead, eh?!

Len: Your Highness, I feel really bad about what I did to you. You are the kindest King on Alease, but I betrayed you. I am so sorry. Solar is evil and I shouldn’t have trusted him. He treated me so horribly afterwards. If Croft hadn’t rescued me then I would be dead. Please forgive me, Your Highness!

Erlic: What you did was terrible but in the end you returned to fix your mistake. So your heart is in the right place. However, when all this is over I will have to decide what to do with you. But right now we must deal with Solar.

               Len: I don’t know how we can fight against Solar with only the four of us.

               Erlic: I have already thought of a plan:

“I know Lord Darken. He has a small army and he is very loyal to me. His camp is on the west coast. His army is strong, but too small to fight Solar so we also need to find my old friend, Professor Katelysor. She is a powerful sorceress and scientist. She lives deep in the forest near the east coast. With their help, we will have a good chance of defeating Solar and his soldiers. Professor Katelysor is a strange old bird and doesn’t trust strangers so I need to see her personally”.

Erlic turns to Len:

               Erlic: So Len, you must go and see Lord Darken.

               Len: After what I did to you, will Lord Darken believe me?

Erlic: I will write him a letter with my claw mark. I think if you show my letter he will believe you.

               Croft: I’ll go with you, Your Majesty. I’ll protect you!

Erlic: Thank you. We shall walk, because I think I'm too weak to fly after being in this prison for so long.

               Len: OK, let's go everyone!

Flex: Oh that’s very nice. Everyone leave me behind, why not? You know I might be drunk, dirty and scabby but I am very tough. Don’t underestimate my strength. You better watch out!

               Len: Errr….

               Flex: You don’t believe me, do you?

               Erlic: We believe you, calm down…

               Croft: Yes, of course, Mr. Drunken!!!! Sorry for the rush. Who do you want to go with?

Flex (looking at Len): That’s better. I’ll go with Croft and Erlic. Not with that grumpy old eagle!

               Len: Grrrrr, who are you calling grumpy? And old?!

               Croft: Don’t take him so seriously, Len.

               Erlic: Welcome to the team, Flex.

Many hours pass, and in the prison the guards eventually wake up. They quickly report to Solar. Solar has a well-built body and is much taller than Croft. He has black and some grey feathers. He also has a very long sharp beak. His eyes are very sharp and mean looking. And right now, he is very angry indeed.    

Soldiers: Sir, Erlic has escaped!

               Solar: Whaaaat!!? Escaped! How? Were you all asleep?

               Soldiers: Errr... well yes, they trapped us and we fell asleep… Sir.

Solar screeches in anger. He immediately swings his sword and kills the nearest soldier.

Solar: Useless all of you. You better chase after them and kill them or I’ll kill the rest of you.

After their discussion, Len flies to the West coast alone and Croft’s group goes to the East. They use a hidden path deep in the forest because they want to avoid any main roads. Solar's soldiers have no idea where Croft and the others are going. They check the nearby villages and roads, knocking at every door, looking in every shop, but of course they don't find them. Eventually the soldiers spread out and search the forest. Two soldiers see Croft's group, but Erlic and Len quickly defeat them before they can warn the others.

After many days, they reach a huge old tree, in the shadow of a great cliff. Tucked in amongst the roots at the bottom of the tree there is a small mysterious house. The door is dark brown, almost black. The handle of the door is a small deer antler.

               Erlic: This is Katelysor’s house.

               Croft: Great! Finally we’re here!

               Flex: Already strange from the outside. How did she manage to build a house like this?

Erlic: Katelysor is a scientist and a sorceress so everything about her is strange. Be careful what you say in here.

               Erlic: Anyway let me knock at the door and see if she is inside.

               Knock, knock, knock….

               Silent……

               Erlic: Hello Katelysor. Are you in there? It’s Erlic, the King of Kalan.

               Katelysor: Hee, hee, hee… Please come in…

They go inside the house. As they step in, there is a strong smell of herbs, flowers and plants. There is also the smell of strange medicines, which makes Croft a little dizzy. Inside it is damp and hot and the roof is so low that it is only just above the eagle’s heads. There are pots and pipes hanging everywhere and many strange colourful tubes containing some kind of magical potions. Scattered around the floor are various dead animals. Are they for experiments? It's a little bit creepy. Katelysor is standing behind a shelf. On the shelf, there are several large potion jars with a smoke coming out.

Katelysor is taller than all the eagles they have seen and towers over Croft and Flex. She is quite chubby, but also somehow elegant and a very beautiful looking old bird. She has light brown, almost white feathers dyed with black polka dots. She wears a pair of glasses with round lenses and a bone-white frame.

Katelysor: What brings you here, Your Majesty? Oh! Is that dinner you have brought for me? Well, I don't want the dirty one, but the other one looks quite tender...

Croft and Flex are shocked and move back towards the door.

Erlic: Wait! They are not dinner! They are my friends, they helped rescue me. Anyway you forgot that I am vegetarian. Let me introduce you. This is Mr. Croft and Flex. I need your help, Katelysor. Solar has taken over my country.

Katelysor: Ah!! Hee, hee, hee… So you need some powerful magic to fight back against him eh? You are lucky. I have just finished my ultimate potion. It might help you. You won't believe how powerful it is.

Croft and Flex are relieved that Katelysor seems to have forgotten about dinner now she is talking about her potions.

Erlic: So what does this “ultimate” potion do?

Katelysor: It’s an evolution potion. It transforms your body shape and improves your strength.

Erlic: Transforms your body shape? What do you mean by that?

Katelysor: You will become a monster with incredible strength.

               Erlic: But… who wants to become a monster?

Katelysor: As soon as the strength of the potion has run out, you will return back to your original form. I only have two jars of this particular potion and each person can only use the magic once. But the jars are large, so I think it will help you defeat Solar.

               Erlic: You are a great magician Katelysor. Could we have it? How do we use it?

Katelysor: Of course you can have it, here you are, Your Majesty. You can drink it, or pour it on your body. The effect is the same. One drop is enough for one person. However, I want this to be used effectively. So I’ll give one jar to you and one to Mr. Croft. I sense that his adventure will continue long after your battle with Solar. I think he will need all the help he can get. Lucky I didn't eat him actually...

Croft (embarrassed, excited and a little scared...): Err...Thanks, I’m sure it will be useful for my journey. And err… how do you know I am on an adventure?

Erlic: Yes, How did you know?

Katelysor: He is a rat in eagle country wearing adventuring clothes. I have deep insight you know…

While Katelysor is talking to Erlic, Flex turns to Croft

               Flex (whispering): I think she is Erlic’s secret lover. Don't you think?

But Katelysor hears Flex and becomes quite angry

               Katelysor: What did you just say?

Flex : Oh nothing!! I just said that I have never seen any bird as beautiful as you. That was all.

               Katelysor (still angry): Hmmm…

Flex: I think your potion is great but it's not what we need at the moment. We are really thirsty and tired. Why don’t you invite us to sit down, or offer us a cup of tea, coffee or cake. Or maybe some beer (he licks his whiskers).

               Croft: Oh shut up, Mr. Drunken.

Erlic: Don't mind Flex, Katelysor, he is always like this. But I think he is good at heart. What do you see in his future?

Katelysor: Hmmm… In the future... I sense the dirty rat will lie on a flat round surface… with some boiled vegetables and a knife and fork on each side!

Katelysor grabs a sharp knife and begins to take down a large pan from a shelf...

               Flex: Arghh! What!

Katelysor: Don’t be afraid. I am just joking. Hee… hee… hee… But seriously, I think Flex will have a test of heart in the adventure ahead…

               Flex (quietly): I am having a test of heart right now, with this crazy witch...

Erlic: Anyway... I am so sorry but I think we need to leave now. We have to meet up with Len and Darken.

               Katelysor: It’s ok, my boys. You can leave whenever you wish.

               Flex: How dare you call me a boy!? You are only a little older than me.

Croft: Never mind him. He hasn’t had anything to drink for a long time, Mr. Katelysor. That’s why he is grumpy.

               Erlic: We must leave. Let’s go!

Croft and the others leave Katelysor’s house and head back to the cave where they met.

Meanwhile, Len flies to Lord Darken’s home. On the way, he flies near some soldiers but has no problem overpowering them, he is also a master fighter in the air. After flying for many days, he finally reaches Lord Darken’s camp. Lord Darken stays on the coast surrounded by many cliffs. The weather is quite rough. When Len arrives, the soldiers are practicing their fighting techniques and climbing the cliffs. Len goes into their camp.

               Len: Please I would like to see Lord Darken

               Soldiers: Who are you?

Len: I am Len, his servant. The King told me to come here and see Lord Darken. Here is the King’s letter and claw mark

               Soldiers: Please wait here.

Some time passes while the soldiers show Lord Darken the King’s letter. He reads it and invites Len into his camp. They have a long discussion about Erlic’s plan. Darken agrees to bring his small army to help with Erlic’s plan. Next morning, Lord Darken and his soldiers fly back with Len. They return to the cave to meet up with Erlic’s team. When Croft, Erlic and Flex arrive, Len and the others have already been waiting for them.

               Erlic: Good to see you, Darken.

Darken: Your Highness. It is my duty to help you. My soldiers are ready for you at any time.

Erlic: Good. I have this magical potion from Katelysor and that will help us win this battle.

Darken: Whatever you say, Your Highness. We put our trust in you as always!

The War

Solar receives a message that there is an army outside his castle. Solar quickly gathers all the soldiers from the castle and areas nearby. He is eager to fight against Erlic.

               Solar: How many are there on their side?

               Soldiers: A few hundred, Sir.

Solar: They must be joking. Fight against me with a few hundred? We have thousands. Ha, ha, ha… They are dreaming. Soldiers, prepare for battle immediately…

               Soldiers: Yes, Sir!

               Hyne (Solar's secretary): Sir. Would you listen to my idea before rushing into battle, Sir?

               Solar: What is it now? I don’t have a lot of time. You better be quick.

Hyne: We can send our ambassador to Erlic and pretend to make peace with them. That will make them less ready for battle. Then we will attack them suddenly.

Solar: That sounds weak. But I’ll think about it.

Solar wants to fight Erlic immediately but his soldiers aren’t as well-trained as Darken’s soldiers, who are well-known for efficiency and for being very tough. Darken has just a small army and Solar thinks that he should win but he still has some doubts about his soldiers. So in the morning Solar thinks hard about his Hyne’s plan. Solar trusts his secretary because he always gives him good advice, so finally Solar decides to follow the secretary’s plan.

Solar: I trust you and we will follow your plan, Hyne. I think you should be the ambassador who goes to meet Erlic.

               Hyne: Thank you, Sir. I will bring a victory for you, Sir.

               Solar: I am not very patient. You can have half a day to carry out this plan.

               Hyne: Yes, Sir!

In the afternoon, Hyne goes alone to Erlic’s camp. The soldiers are very angry when they see him. They almost attack him and prevent him from going inside until he explains his reason for coming to their camp. It is a rule from ancient times that an ambassador cannot be attacked if he comes in peace. Hyne feels confident about his plan and ignores the anger around him.

               Soldiers: Hmmm. Who are you? And why do you come here?

               Hyne: I am the ambassador. I come here in peace. May I see the King?

               Soldiers: Wait here!

The soldiers go to the main camp and report it to Erlic. Erlic and the others are already planning for the battle ahead. They are surprised that Solar wants to make peace.

               Erlic: So what do you think?

               Flex: Well… may…be he… pre…fer to eat a wh...ole cake rath...er than… a broken cake.

               Croft: What do you mean, Mr. Drunken?

               Len: What he means is Solar wants to catch all of us without any effort.

               Croft: Ah I see!

               Darken:  Yes it is a trap, Your Highness.

               Erlic: Yes, I think it is. However, the rules of battle say that I must speak to Hyne.

Len:  Yes, we should ask Solar to resign.

               Erlic: That’s just what I think. Please bring the ambassador for me.              

The ambassador goes to the camp, feeling confident. He will use his charm and make Erlic think there will be no battle so Erlic's army will not be properly prepared. Then Solar’s army will attack them suddenly.

               Erlic: So you come here to make peace…

Hyne: Yes, Your Highness. We are all eagles, we should not battle each other. Many soldiers will get hurt and Kalan will become a weaker country because of the cost and damage. We should think carefully before fighting. We shouldn’t let power blind us.

Erlic: Fine words, but I think you should return and take this message to Solar. There will be no peace between us until he leaves the castle and returns the throne to me.

Hyne: We have thousands of soldiers and you have only a few hundred. You will be easily defeated. Surely it would be better to make peace.

Erlic: We will make peace when I am king again. There is no discussion before that.

Hyne is frustrated because his plan is not working. He thought Erlic was weak. Why is Erlic so confident?

Hyne: Ah... Then thank you for your time. I’ll report your words to my king.

Hyne returns and reports to Solar. Solar is eating his dinner. When he hears the news Solar is very angry and flaps his wings violently, smashing his cups and plates.

Solar: Good. No peace then. We will go to war tomorrow and show them our power.

Hyne: I am sorry, Sir, my plan did not work. Erlic is not as weak as we thought. I think he must have a secret plan if he will fight us with such a small army. We should be careful.

Solar: Careful? Ha! I have the strongest army and I will win. Now go away. Or your life will end. Soldiers, prepare for war. We will attack them early tomorrow morning.

 

The next morning, Solar’s soldiers march out to Erlic’s camp. Eagle armour is heavy, so most eagle battles are fought on the ground, but the stronger eagles might fight in the air. Erlic has already predicted Solar’s strategy. He has prepared for this battle for many days. While Solar's soldiers were arriving, Erlic gave everyone the potion apart from Flex. Flex refused to drink the potion because he was unsure if his body would return to normal. Erlic’s and Solar’s soldiers meet up. They face each other across a flat grassy area in front of the eagle’s castle. Both sides are prepared for the battle ahead. Both armies are confident that they will win.

               Erlic: Their army is large but don’t worry everyone. We have the potion and we will win!

               Darken: Everyone prepare for battle. We will defeat them!

Erlic: Trust in yourselves. Soon this potion will improve our strength and we will be unbeatable!

               Soldiers (all together): Yes, Sir! We will win!

Solar (hears them): Ha, ha, ha! How can that little army win? Two little rats and a few soldiers? Give up now or we will tear you into pieces. Soldiers, march forward and attack them now!

               Croft: Really? Attacking already! You watch and see our strength!!!!!

               Soldiers: Roaring and rumbling…

Croft, Len and Erlic take the lead and start marching slowly towards the other army. They expect to turn into monsters soon and then they will rush forwards. However, Flex stays back as he has refused to drink the potion.

The armies get closer and closer to battle, still there is no change in Croft and the other soldier’s bodies. They are puzzled and begin to worry as they see Solar's huge army approach them.

               Croft: Err… The potion doesn’t work, Your Majesty.

               Erlic: Maybe we missed something…Move back!                         

Solar: Ha! Retreating before the battle even begins!

While the others moved ahead, Flex was holding the potion. He suddenly sees some badly written instructions on the side of the potion jar. Flex runs ahead and tells the King.

               Flex: Your Majesty. There are instructions, you have to spit into the potion before using it!

               Erlic: Spit into it?! Are you sure? Let me have a look!

Erlic slowly reads Katelysors terrible handwriting. Solar's army is getting closer and closer, they can hear the clanking of their armour and swords. Erlic's soldiers start to look nervous…

Erlic: Ah, yes. I think you are right. We must get Katelysor some better glasses, we almost died because of this bad handwriting. OK, we need to spit in the potion.

               Flex: Let me do it!

               Croft and the others (scream out all together): Noooo…!! Don’t let him. His spit is poison!

               Erlic: I will do it!

Erlic spits into the jar and passes it to the other soldiers to drink…

               Croft and the others: Err… Ah well, I suppose it is King's spit...

After everyone has drunk the potion, Croft suddenly remembers:

Croft: Actually, didn't Katelysor say we could just rub it on our body? We didn't need to drink the spit...

There is a short pause, but before anyone can reply, Solar's army reaches them. Their wings are spread out with one sword on each wing tip. They all screech together and are about to rush in and attack. But suddenly, Croft’s legs transform into huge strong horse’s legs. The eagles’ legs transform into lion’s legs.

               Croft: Oh wow!!! My legs are huge and hairy. What am I turning into?

               Soldiers: Wow… This is magical!

Solar and his soldiers stop rushing forwards and begin to feel scared and worried. They slowly move backwards and begin to panic. A few try to fly away, but fall down with their heavy armour:

               Solar: What is this...? Move back everyone!

               Soldiers: Sir, they are … turning into … monsters!

Erlic's army is filled with confidence by their new strength. Croft chases Solar up a hill. Len, Erlic and his soldiers also chase after the enemy. And look! Croft’s body and head continue to transform into a giant bear. This bear has wings on his back. And the eagles have transformed into a giant lions also with wings on their back.

               Darken: Everyone charge! Chase the enemy down!

The monsters rush through the enemy massively and intensely. A few of Solar's better eagles fight, but cannot match the monsters' strength. Some are able to fly away, but Erlic himself, now a flying lion, catches them and takes them down. Meanwhile, Croft catches up with Solar at the top of the hill. Solar is strong enough to fly but Croft also flies up and catches him by his bear teeth. But just as he attacks Solar, his most loyal guards fly up and crowd around Croft. While Croft is busy attacking them, Solar flies away and escapes. Croft manages to kill some of the eagles and the rest scatter, but it is too late. He cannot see where Solar went.

The lions chase and fly after Solar’s remaining eagles, who are trying to escape in all directions. They catch all of the enemy and kill them. The battle is over after a couple of hours. Then gradually the bear and lions return back to their normal bodies.

Erlic returns to the castle which Solar had taken over. The people in the castle are cheering and happy to see Erlic return. Erlic is the King again. No-one will say Erlic is weak again after this victory. Croft and the others are so happy and glad for him.

               Erlic: Thank you everyone. I think we need to celebrate this victory.

               Flex: Yes that’s right!!! Well done everyone. Let's have a celebration

In the castle square they organise a huge feast. There is an enormous amount of food and drink, and lots of games and challenges. During the feast, Erlic stands on the table and makes a short but heartfelt speech:

               “My people! Our country is now at peace and I would like to say a special thank you to Mr. Croft for all his help. I know most of you see rats as a tasty snack, perhaps after this, eagles should think again about what they eat. I would also like to thank Darken and his soldiers for their support. I would like to forgive Len, who made a mistake, but returned to fix it. I am overjoyed to return as your King. I will try my best to make our country richer and stronger. I hope everyone will live a happy and peaceful life forever after”.

After the speech, everyone celebrates the victory by eating and drinking all day long. The next morning, Croft comes to the King and says goodbye. Erlic wants Croft to stay in his peaceful and wealthy country.

Erlic: So Mr. Croft, would you like to stay in this country to share all the fun and happiness with me and everyone here?

Croft: No thank you, Your Majesty. I have an ambition to be adventurer as you know. I have come to say goodbye to you and Len. I may come back and visit your country when I can but now I have to go.

Len: Please stay with us!

Croft: I have had a fantastic time and great experience by helping you guys. However there are a lot of places I still must explore.

Len: Well then please take this kung-fu book with you. It might help you with your journey.

Erlic: Yes, I also have something for you. They might also be useful for your journey. Here…

Croft: What are they, Your Majesty? They look like dried fruit.

Erlic: These are Halo[8] fruit. Our secret weapon. They improve your strength and stamina. Be    careful because they are very powerful. I think Solar gave some to his soldiers, so we only have a few left, but you can take them as a reward.

               Croft: Thank you. I really appreciate this!

               Len: Which direction are you going?

Croft: To the north I think. I will need a boat to travel across the ocean. I wonder if you have one that I could use?

Erlic: Yes of course, Mr. Croft. You can choose any boat from our harbour on the north coast.

Croft: I just need a simple and stable one. It is just enough for me.

Flex: What about me? I want to go with you!

Croft: Well… yes, you can come with me as long as you don't drink too much.

Flex: That's easily done.

Croft: Really?!

Flex: Yes, of course. I have never lied to you or anyone before. No, no, never...

Croft: Hmm... Not just today though. What about tomorrow?

Flex: Let me go with you, or I will tell your parents where you are.

Croft: Oh, you’re threatening me now, Mr. Drunken.

Flex: No, it is just a deal between you and me.

Croft: Hmmm, OK. I guess it will be good to have another rat with me. Let’s go…!

 

Chapter 3 – Across The Ocean

A Strange Friendship

Croft and Flex choose a sturdy little boat and travel across the ocean northwards for many days. In the middle of the open sea, they come near to a splashing group of dolphins. The dolphins have shiny blue green skin and large black eyes, very beautiful!!! They are very clever too. However, they are also rather silly. The dolphins are giggling and laughing at the rats. Their voices are high-pitched and cute. When they speak it sounds like children singing a song.

Dolphins: Look look two rats on a boat, two rats on a boat. Hi, hi, hi, where are you going my little friends?

               Croft: We are on a journey to the land to the north.

               Flex: Haven’t ….you seen rrrrrats travelling before?

Flex managed to bring some wine on the boat. "It will be a long journey, and we will be thirsty", he said.

Dolphin: Ha, ha, ha, one rat is angry already. But the other is nice and polite. You have to be careful my little friends. Lots of dangerous fish in the ocean. Not as nice as us. Look at us! Cute and kind and clever…

               Flex: And... show hic… offs… hic… as well!!!!!

               Croft: Where are the dangerous areas?

               Dolphins: To your left and to your right, everywhere, but especially up ahead.

Croft: So how can we find a safe route? Can you give us some directions or even some help if you don’t mind?

               Dolphins: We can help, we can help, but you have to feed us first!

               Croft: That’s easily done!

Flex: We… we hic… hic have only… enough food for… ourselves. You dolphins said… you... arrrre kind so why did you… just… ask for fo…od?

               Dolphins: Yes we are kind. Also we are really hungry.

Croft: Don’t take him seriously, he’s drunk. Here are some nuts. Unusual for dolphins, but maybe you will like them. Here take some!

Croft throws the nuts into the dolphins open mouths. He doesn't know what they will think.

Dolphins (chewing and crunching): Woooo, wooooo, this is very good, not like fish at all. Maybe we can climb a tree and get these nuts ourselves!

Croft: I hope you liked them. Now could you please lead the way?

               Dolphins: Delicious, yes. Please follow us.

The dolphins guide them safely across the sea. They swim happy alongside the boat. As they swim the dolphins jump and play with each other. While they are busy playing, some sharks appear out of nowhere and try to attack them. In Alease, sharks have a pointy heads many sharp teeth and a large fin. Their skin is smooth, shiny and dark blue. However, Alease sharks are also very slow and stupid. The sharks get close to Croft’s boat and try to use their heads to break a hole in the boat. But the dolphins swim quickly round and round the sharks, far too fast to catch. Together the dolphins scream loudly making a deafening high pitched noise.

Dolphins:  Eeeee, Eeeee, hear our song, stupid sharks.

               Sharks: Argh… Shut up. Oh my… my head is aching!

The sharks get dizzy and confused. They splash around in the water and then swim away. Croft and the others carry on their journey. They are thankful that they found these new friends. They feed the dolphins on the way and surprisingly the dolphins seem to like rat food. Or maybe all that playing makes them hungry for anything.

Many days go by, until they finally reach a new land far to the north. It is the time to say goodbye to the dolphins.

Croft: Thanks for your help. I think we need to say goodbye now. We have a few cakes left. Please take them!

               Dolphins: Thanks, it was our pleasure to help you. Take care and goodbye…

Flex: That that was… all our food. Why did hic…hic… you… give it… to… them?

Croft: It’s okay, we can find more. However, you better stop being rude if you want to continue the journey with me. And wash yourself, please. You smell like rotten fish!

Flex: Whaaaat! Stop being rude. You know a little bit of rudeness makes the world go round. And what did you say, wash myself? Impossible. You must be joking. Anyway, I'm a rat, I am supposed to smell like this.

Croft: I’m serious, you know.

Flex: Okay, master. I’ll wash myself later.

Croft: C’mon let’s go!

Dancing and Dragons

Croft and Flex walk across the beach they landed on until they reach the edge of a tropical forest that covers this part of the land. This country is much hotter than their home. The atmosphere in the forest is very humid although sometimes there is a gust of strong wind. The wind is pleasant in humid weather like this. There are many unusual fruits in the trees and strange herbs growing in the ground. Croft and Flex start to gather up some food for the journey ahead. Croft is very excited with all the unusual things that he can see.

Croft: Look at that, Mr. Drunken. All these fruits and herbs are unusual. I bet they taste very nice. I’ll look in my book to see if they are edible.

               Flex: Yes… kid. I was jus…t about to te…ll you to be… care…ful

Croft reads as he looks around the nearby forest, “Ah! There are some bana[9] fruit. This one can’t be eaten. Ah, but there’s an alviolet[10]. It’s rather delicious and has a refreshing sweet flavour. Oh there are more over there. That’s great I’ll pick these straight away. Look these trees are so low that anyone can reach. Oh! There are so many weird foods here! This strange rosmint[11] herb, it is supposed to enhance your breath with a floral smell. I think I need to secretly feed this to Flex. Wow! There are so many banana-like fruits. Let me see... Ah yeah! There’s apbana[12], passionbana[13], limbana[14] and goosebana[15]. All these are edible. I wonder what creatures live in this country? They must love bananas so much”.

               Flex: You… love food… so this… place… is right… up… your str...e…et…,  Little Croft?

Croft (carrying a large basket and sounding tired): Yes, but it would be better if you were sober so we could explore this area more. And you could help me to collect all the food instead of just sitting there.

               Flex: Are... there… …  any…thi...ngs… that… will… turn… in...to… alcohol?

Croft: Well done. You managed to say alcohol in one word, Mr. Drunken. Well let me see! Oh look!!! Here is a herb which can detox an alcohol addiction…

               Flex (jumps up): No, no, no, no way! I don’t want that!

               Croft: Ah! You are awake now, aren’t you, Mr. Drunken?

They walk through the forest for many hours gathering food as they go. Eventually, they come out of the forest into a wide open savannah. Just in front of them, in small rounded area, there are many monkeys. Guess what they are doing? Dancing! Yes there is a monkey ballroom right in front of their eyes. These monkeys are a tiny bit taller than Croft. They all have yellowy brown fur, but it is mostly hidden under their ballroom dancing clothes. The female monkeys wear fancy ball gowns. The males wear smart trousers with a white shirt and black jacket. All the monkeys have colourful ribbons tied around their tails.

Flex: Look, Croft! What is it that they are doing? I have never seen anything like it. Is it some kind of advanced technology or scientific movement skills?            

Croft: It’s weird. Don’t you think?

Croft and Flex have never seen anyone dancing before. Back in Dallon the rats stay at home most of the time and live their simple daily life.  Occasionally, they have a party but it is very rare. They celebrate by eating, drinking with some light music. That is all.

In the middle of the dancers there is an especially well-dressed monkey. It must be the King because he is sitting on a big throne. This throne is very big, almost as big as a sofa. Beside him is a female monkey feeding him some grapes. Croft and Flex approach the King and introduce themselves.

Croft: Hello, Your Majesty. I am Croft and this is my friend, Flex. We’re on an adventure and we have just entered your land. We would like to explore your country if you don’t mind. 

               The King: Oh don’t worry about it, explore all you like. I am Waric, the king of this country.

               Croft: Nice to… uh-oh… what’s that …!? Watch out!!!

Just as Croft is talking to Waric, a dragon suddenly flies down from above, roaring and spitting fire:

Dragon: All of you, all you small little things, where is my food? I came to the palace and there was nothing, not even any monkey servants. How dare you enjoy yourselves dancing here when I am hungry?

The dragon looks just like you would imagine. It is clearly a male dragon because it has a very large horn. His eyes are as large as tennis balls, with a fierce red colour and they look very angry. This dragon has red scales all over his body and a shiny pearl in the centre of his forehead, as big as a chicken’s egg. Alease dragons are four or five times bigger than other animals although it depends on their age. This one must be an adult dragon because it is very big.

Normally, the monkeys give the dragon food daily. The dragon lives in a mountain nearby, but despite his size he is quite lazy and doesn't like to fly far. So every day he comes to Monkidom's palace to eat. If the monkeys don't feed him, then he eats a monkey instead. But today they came out for a party and forgot their duty.

The dragon is circling above and becomes more and more angry. He breaths streams of fire out of his mouth and burns everything he can see. He smashes all the party furniture with his tail and attacks the monkeys with fire. The monkeys run around whooping and screeching, some with their fur on fire. Croft is knocked far away and when he lands on the ground, the jar of Katelysor’s potion falls out of his bag. Almost without any thinking, Croft pours on a few drops onto the monkey lying next to him. Almost immediately, the monkey's legs transform into huge hairy legs.

               The Monkey: What? What! What is happening?

Next the her body and head transform into a giant gorilla.

               Croft: Fight him!!! You have extra strength now. Use your power of this potion!

               The Monkey: Can I? Is it possible?

               Croft: Trust in yourself!

The dragon sees what is happening and swoops down towards Croft and the gorilla, breathing a jet of fire. Croft jumps to one side and only his tail is singed. The gorilla leaps high into the air over the fire and lands on the dragon’s back. The two have an intense fight, the gorilla hitting the dragon’s back and the dragon reaching its long neck around to bite at the gorilla. Eventually, the dragon shakes off the gorilla and flies further away. The gorilla lands on the slope of a mountain nearby. Straight away she throws a massive stone at the dragon. Yes! The stone hits the dragon. However, the dragon is strong and survives the blow but he drops nearer to the ground as he recovers. The gorilla jumps on the back of the dragon again as it come close. Guess what? The Gorilla’s head turns into a giant tiger’s head. This potion has surprises!

               Croft (shouts): Bite his neck, quickly!!!

The dragon shakes his body vigorously to shake off the gorilla. But this time the gorilla holds the dragon firmly and bites dragon’s neck. The dragon roars loudly and spits fire in all directions, but suddenly he is silent. The dragon’s head and body fall apart and tumble heavily out of the sky. The gorilla jumps off at the last minute, and lands near Croft and the other monkeys. Slowly and gradually, the monkey returns back to normal, she is panting and tired. All monkeys are thrilled. They have never seen anything like it.

               Monkeys: Woohoo!. He is dead. Well done, Rasel!!!

Rasel (the monkey who fought the dragon) looks proud, but she also looks worried, checking and scratching fur, ears and tail. She thinks part of her might still be a monster

Waric: Wow, the strength of a super female!!! But what happened everyone? Why did Rasel become a monster? Who did this magic?

               Rasel: It’s Mr. Croft. He poured something on me and that all started.

Waric: That was an amazing battle Rasel. You shall be rewarded. I think perhaps I will make you a general. And please tell me Croft, where do you get this magical potion? And how did you use it?

Croft: A great magician gave it to me for my adventure. You can drink it… well… it’s better if you pour it on your body. It’s very simple to use.

               Waric: Can you share this potion with us?

Croft: I am sorry I need it for my journey and I can’t give it to anyone. Also it could be dangerous if someone used it for the wrong reasons.

Waric: I understand. Ha, well, never mind. Thanks for your help anyway. If you hadn’t arrived just now we would be in big trouble by now.

Waric: So!! Let me introduce to you to our fine country. This is Monkidom, part of the Allen continent. There are some strange countries and creatures on this continent but my people are very friendly and helpful.

Waric: This is Lord Killy and Ms. Nokye. They are my closest servants.

Killy: Nice to meet you, Sir Croft.

Nokye: Welcome to our country, Mr. Croft.

Croft: Thank you. Nice to meet you all.

Waric: Killy is my Chancellor and he helps me manage the country. Nokye is my favourite servant, she understands my needs very well. The other monkeys here are my relatives and my servants. We came to this pleasant spot for a picnic and a party to celebrate my birthday.

Croft: Happy Birthday!!! Thank you for the introductions.

Flex: Why don’t you continue with the party?

Croft: Eh

Flex: So we can have fun as well. We were travelling across the ocean for a long time and we had nothing to do. I am very bored, you know? Being bored spoils my heroic aura.

Croft: What?! Your… heroic aura. But… you don’t have one. Maybe a dirty aura.

Killy is quite fat and tall. Even though monkeys walk around crouching, he is still much taller than Croft. He has a shifty look. His eyes don’t focus on anyone. Instead he seems to be looking at what they are carrying. His fur is mostly yellow with a little grey. He is wearing a white shirt tucked under a pair of loose trousers with a red robe outside. He is always smiling but somehow it doesn’t look genuine.

Nokye has very sharp looking eyes. She is not angry though. She has huge ears, and a very bushy tail, which is always swaying gently. She gives the impression of an honest but careful servant, satisfied with her life and work. She doesn’t seem to talk much, especially with strangers.

Waric (stands up and announces): Ladies and gentlemen, this is Mr. Croft. He is a hero, and a friend of Monkidom. Please give him a warm welcome!

All the monkeys start to cheer, jump up and down, shake their arms and bang their chests.

Croft: Thank you, Your Majesty but I don’t deserve this. I only did a small thing. The real hero is Rasel.

Waric: Please don’t be shy. You deserve it. Rasel will get her reward too. Anyway, did you say you want to explore our country? I’ll send someone to show you around.

Flex: What were you doing before the dragon came down, Your Majesty? All the monkeys were holding each other and their bodies were bending and moving strangely. What was it, Your Majesty?

               Waric: Ah yes. They were dancing.

               Flex and Croft: Dancing??

Croft: This word is new to us. We have never seen anything like dancing before. What does it do?

               Waric: We can teach you this dance if you want.

Flex: Err… no thanks, Your Majesty. But if you are feeling generous, maybe you could give this sub hero a small meal. You know it is very stressful and tiring supporting a hero. They are often very demanding and hard to please…

Croft: Don’t take him seriously, Your Majesty… He is just a moaner… Although, perhaps you could give him a meal to shut him up.

Croft: Anyway, it doesn’t hurt to learn new techniques, Mr. Drunken. I think your skinny body would be great for these special movements.

Flex: You might be right but my beautiful body is not designed for this bending and spinning around. Anyway, my dancing partner might find my delicate perfume so attractive that she falls instantly in love, and that could be trouble. As you know I already have a wife back at home

Croft: I think your stinky perfume is not the problem. I just think you don’t have the strength for this elegant dancing, right Mr. Drunken?

Waric: We can eat, drink and dance later. First let's return to the palace!

Waric continues to tell them about Monkidom as they walk. Monkidom is quite a large country but they are close to the town where Waric has his palace. There are many sturdy-looking buildings built from red stone and agarwood. They are very simple in architecture with only one floor but many rooms. Most buildings have agarwood branches sticking out from the walls, so the monkeys can swing or climb up on top of the roof. There are young monkeys playing on some of the roofs of the buildings, jumping from house to house or swinging around in fun. The wealthy-looking buildings have gardens, fountains and ponds where the adult monkeys like to relax. Rich monkeys like to display expensive-looking things in their house to show off their wealth.

Soon, they arrive at the palace, a tall elegant building with many monkey guards standing on both sides of the entrance. They walk through a courtyard garden planted with unusual looking fruit and vegetables. They climb some stairs that lead up to a high balcony, and when they look down from above they see the garden is arranged to look like picture of the palace. Next, they pass through a small tea-room for the royal family and enter the royal chambers. Inside there are many unusual artworks, from jade chess boards, to huge wooden sculptures. Finally they reach a massive room in the middle of the palace used for important meetings.

A Mysterious Invitation

               Killy: Please Your Highness, may I invite Sir Croft to visit my house for a welcome party?

               Waric: As you wish, Killy but later…

Waric: Please Noki, first take Mr. Croft and his friend to their guest rooms. It has been a long day. They need to rest.

               Nokye: Yes, Your Majesty!

Croft and Flex go to their rooms and Croft takes a shower. Soon after that they go to bed. They are very tired after travelling across oceans and through forests for many days. The next morning, they receive an invitation from Killy:

“Sir Croft, we wish to say thank you for your help and to welcome you to our country. So we would like to invite you to a small party at our house. Please come early tonight. Your presence would mean a lot to me and my family so I hope you will accept this invitation. Best regards, Lord Killy and family”.

               Flex: Why is he begging for you to come? Hmm I don’t trust this monkey.

               Croft: Yes, somehow I have the same feeling too.

               Flex: You better watch out kid! My nose is twitching. I smell big trouble!

Croft: Would you like to come with me, Mr. Drunken?

Flex: Drag me in whenever there is trouble eh?

Croft: Don’t be mean. You’re my friend, aren’t you?

Flex: Not after you insulted me in front of everyone yesterday.

Croft: Yesterday, what?!!!

Flex: You don’t remember. You said I am drunk all the time so I don’t have any strength for dancing

Croft: Oh right, it’s that… but it is true though. But if you want to sulk then I’ll go on my own!

 Flex: I’m just joking. Anyway, it’s a party so I’ m coming.

 Croft: Typical you!!

Flex: As long as you are with me you will be alright. Trust me I am a rat!

Croft: You sound just a little bit too confident, don’t you think. Anyway I’m a rat too!

Flex: Hmmm…

Croft spends his morning exploring the palace. It is huge but quite easy to explore. The architecture of the palace is simple but very beautiful. There are small gardens, bridges over scenic ponds and even a small funfair for the royal family to have fun. They grow many of those unusual banana trees, as well as many other unusual fruits, vegetables and flowers in their gardens. Everywhere he goes, in every corner of the palace, there are wooden sculptures and artworks. Each one is carefully carved with pictures of mountains, forests, flowers and animals. While Croft is looking around, Flex is already drinking with the servants. Time goes by and soon it is evening, Croft looks around for Flex so they can visit Killy together.

Croft: Oh c'mon Mr. Drunken you are drunk already!!!!?

Flex: Do…n’t wor…ry I am… am… am alright. I’ll go…. with you as I prom…ised.

Croft: No, you are drunk. You better stay here and rest.

Flex: No… I am going, Killy wants to meet us both.

Croft: Maybe he will change his mind when he meets you in this condition, but okay, it’s up to you.

After that, Croft goes to change into the clothes that a servant has prepared for him. Somehow the monkeys have found a blue shirt and denim black trousers in a size to fit a rat. He tries them on but he doesn’t like them. In the end, he wears his usual clothes. Croft leaves his bag in his room and only takes Katelysor's magical potion and some sleeping powder for any unexpected situations. They go to Lord Killy’s house, only a short walk from the palace. When Croft and Flex arrive, Killy is waiting for them right in front of his house. The entrance is a shiny dark red agarwood door. There are two massive, strange looking trees placed on both sides of the door. The branches of the trees have grown and crawled over the door like a work of art. There are many tiny purple flowers on each branch. It is very beautiful.

Croft: Hello, Lord Killy. How are you today?

Killy: Ah Sir Croft. Hello!!! I am very fine. How about you?

Croft: I am good too. Please don’t call me Sir!

Killy: Okay, Mr. Croft. Please come in!

Croft: Wow this door is very beautiful, Lord Killy!

Killy: Thank you, Mr. Croft.  Welcome to our little house!

Croft secretly thinks:

“This is not little, it’s a massive house almost as big as the King’s palace”

They go into a dinning room. There is a huge table piled high with many different foods and drinks. It has all been expertly cooked and prepared by someone. Croft has never seen many of the dishes before. There are nut roasts, spicy and sour crispy vegetables, tangy fruit and nut salads, exotic sautéed fruit, sweet popping nuts, caramelised root vegetable cake, apple cake, steamed herb puddings, crispy fried lettuce and nut cakes, various type of hot broth, sweet pudding soup, fizzy rose wine, mallow banana beer, candy and nut wine, spicy wheat beer... and many, many more.

Croft: This is far too much, Lord Killy. I can’t imagine how we could eat and drink all this. 

Killy: Just eat what you wish. It is my pleasure to treat you, Mr. Croft!

Flex: Have you… er… prepared... drrrink for us.

Killy: Of course Mr… (pause)… err… Flect…  no… err… ah yes, Mr. Flex!

Flex: You don’t errr… remember my errr… name, do you? I suppose I am… not the hero. Never mind… all I need is…sss drink.

Killy: Please take a seat and get started. I hope you find something that suits your taste. All these dishes are home-made. I asked my wife to prepare them, especially for you!

Croft: So where is your wife and everyone else, Lord Killy.

Killy: Just before you came, everyone went out on a trip to Cosear, to visit my wife’s parents.

Killy: Anyway, please get started before the food goes cold. I'm sure my wife will be eager to know what dish you liked most. We can chat later.

Flex jumps into a chair at the table and starts trying every one of the many drinks, one after another. After each gulp, he twitches his nose and whiskers while he tastes it, then swallows down the rest without tasting it anymore. However, Croft is more cautious. He puts a small glass of fruit juice near his nose and smells. He can smell a familiar fragrance that is similar to a drug he knows. What is it? He tries to figure it out:

“Ah yes, I remember it now. This smells like a kind of sleeping medicine”.

Croft: Stop!! Flex, it’s a trap!

Killy: Don’t be so cautious everything here is fine…

Flex: I am… am so… tir…ed... snore… snore…

It is too late. Flex has already eaten and drunk far too much. Croft stands up and points his stulf[16] at Killy. However, Killy quickly sneaks his hand into his pocket and takes out a huge pearl. It is the pearl from the dragon’s head. He took it secretly when everyone was cheering. Immediately, Killy puts the pearl against his forehead.

Killy jumps backward and laughs. His tail is swinging wildly and he is bobbing up and down and bending his furry arms with excitement.

               Killy: Ha, ha, ha… You know what this is?!

Croft is puzzled by Killy’s actions. Croft thinks: “What is so special about that pearl?”

               Croft: It’s just a pearl!

               Killy: No, it’s a dragon’s pearl. Look and learn!

The pearl seems to attach itself to Killy's head and starts to glow slowly. Killy breathes out a massive fire ball, which knocks Croft far across the room.

               Croft: Arrrgh…arrrrgh…

Croft is quite badly burned. He faints and falls to the floor. Killy swings over and makes sure that Croft and Flex are not awake. Then he checks Croft’s pockets and takes away Katelysor’s magical potion. Then Killy calls two monkey servants from the back.

               Killy: Servants, put these two rats in prison for me, now!

               Servant: Yes, Sir!

Killy goes to the back of his house, to his private room. From here he can see down a short corridor, into the prison where the servants put the sleeping rats. Killy is thrilled because he has found two powerful items in two days. Killy carefully closes all the doors and windows in the room then goes over to a metal door in the corner of the room. He enters a code into a small panel and the metal door slides open. There is a large room just behind the metal door, full of treasures. Killy hides both the potion and the pearl in this secret room. Killy is very careful to make sure no-one see him enter the code and use his secret room. But maybe he was not careful enough…

In the prison, Croft eventually wakes up. His whiskers and fur are burned and his tail is very sore. As he painfully gets up he checks his pockets.

               Croft: Ah… what? My… my potion... that thief!

               Croft: Mr. Drunken Mr. Drunken… Wake up… wake up.

He tries to wake Flex but it is a waste of time. Flex is so drunk that he doesn’t notice anything. So while Croft waits for Flex to wake up, he thinks very hard for a plan to escape and get back his potion. All night he doesn't sleep because he is so anxious to escape. In the early morning Flex finally wakes up. He is completely surprised by his surroundings…

Flex: What happened? Why are we here, Little Croft? I guess we were right. Killy is a bad guy, after all.

               Croft: Well guessed, Mr. Drunken!

               Flex:  But how did we get here? I don't... really remember...

Croft: He put some sleeping medicine in our food and drink. You fell for his trap but I was alerted and almost caught him. But somehow he used the dragon pearl and breathed fire. I fainted and then I suppose he put both of us in this prison. He took my magic potion. I think that's why he was so eager to meet me.

Flex: Whaaat? He took your magic potion. And did you say the dragon’s pearl. Is that the pearl from the dragon’s head?

Croft (In a low voice): Yes, he took it after the battle when no one was looking. Sssssh be quiet. Please come over here, Mr. Drunken. I have been waiting for you to wake up for a very long time. I didn’t sleep all night and I came up with a plan…

               Flex (In a low voice): What is it? Tell me.

“I know some kung-fu. Len taught me. You can pretend to have a stomach-ache as a decoy. I will hide over there and when the guards come I'll try to knock them out. However, you have to attract their attention first and bring them close to you. Then I can catch them from the back. I'm not really good enough to fight them if they see me”, said Croft.

Flex: That will get us out of this prison. But what about outside? I'm sure Killy has many servants and guards, and he was lying when he said everyone was away.

Croft: Don’t worry Mr. Drunken. I have plenty of sleeping mixture which I hid in the bottom of my shoes before we came to the party. I have a plan so we can catch everyone!   

Flex: Very good, Kid!

               Croft: C’mon Mr. Drunken. Let's get out of this prison!

               Flex (shouting): Argh… argh, urrr… urrr… ouch, ouch… Please help me!

               Guard: What is it… ? Little rat what is your problem now?

               Flex: Urrr… urrr, ouch, ouch! My aching stomach, my stomach! Please help me, please…

The Guard carefully unlocks the door and goes into prison cell to check on Flex.

               Guard: What now? Let me see!

               Guard (suddenly): Arrrrgh…

Croft knocks out the guard with a special move that Len showed him. He is quite suprised that it works, but he doesn't say so. They drag the guard into a dark corner and repeat the trick. The second guard hears Flex moaning and is also wondering why the first guard hasn't returned. He goes to check and…

               Second Guard: What is it… ? Have you sorted them out Koldan?

               Flex: Argh... Arrgh... Arrrgh…!

The guard goes into the cell and…

               Guard: Where are you Koldan? What's happening here? … Arrrrgh!

Croft and Flex quickly leave the prison. They carefully walk towards the front of the house, walking on the tips of their paws to make no sound. Just as they pass Killy's private room, they hear Killy’s laugh through the door. Killy sounds like he is right next to them, and they stop in shock. They look through the window. Because they are quite small, they can see through a little gap at the bottom of the window and by chance they see Killy entering the code and going into his secret room. Killy is so excited about the two powerful items he has stolen and he keeps going in and out of the secret room to look at them and laugh at his own cleverness…

               Croft: Ssssh! I saw the code. Now, we need to find the kitchen.

               Flex: What for?

               Croft: Trust me I’ve got a plan!

Flex: This house is huge, hard to find the kitchen. But I think my rat sense can find the way to the living room where we first arrived yesterday.

Croft: Ok, we go to the dining room and wait for the servants. Then, we follow them to the kitchen.

               Flex: Yes that’s good idea!

The dining room is at the other end of the house, but they think they know the way. The rooms in Killy’s house are linked together by many small passages, with two big gardens and two ponds in the centre. On the way they pass through living rooms, libraries, music rooms, games rooms and relaxation rooms. In every  room, Killy has put expensive vases, paintings and sculptures. He also hangs his medals everywhere. Killy is cleary very rich and loves to collect and show off his treasures.

Eventually, Croft and Flex reach the dining room and hide behind a large vase. Killy and others finished their breakfast a short while ago and the servants are clearing away the dirty dishes and taking them back to the kitchen. Quietly and carefully they follow one of the servants into the kitchen and wait in a dark corner again. Rats are excellent at sneaking around and hiding in dark corners, so the monkeys don’t notice them. A long time passes, and then, the chef begins to prepare lunch. They are still patiently waiting…

               Flex: What’s the plan. What do we do now?

Croft: Wait for that chef to go away and then we put this sleeping mixture into all their food. We will use Killy’s own trick to get him back!

Flex: There are a lot of people here so it will be very difficult to do that. And won’t they notice the smell like you did?

Croft: They will probably take a break after the meal preparations are complete. And they won’t recognise the smell. Rat noses are very sensitive. Anyway, my sleeping drug is advanced and has almost no smell.

Another long wait and finally everyone leaves the kitchen leaving the meal cooking away as Croft predicted.

Croft: C’mon Mr. Drunken it’s our time. Put all of it in, they will sleep like they never slept before!

               Flex: Yeah, I like it!

Croft and Flex put a heavy dose of the sleeping drug into all the pots and pans. After a short rest, everyone in Killy’s house has an early lunch. Croft and Flex follow and watch Killy closely. They want to make sure he is sleeping. Killy eats alone in the dining room. At the same time, all the servants have their lunch near the kitchen, and the guards sit down in the guard room for their meal. Shortly before everyone has finished their lunch, one guard goes to the prison to check on the other guards and bring their food. He sees the guards have been knocked out and is about to report to Killy. However, just at that time, the sleeping drug starts to work. Killy falls asleep in the dining room, his face falling into his food. The servants all start to snore near the kitchen, and the guards all yawn and fall asleep in the guard room. The guard running back to warn Killy is so sleepy he slips, falls down and goes straight to sleep on the floor.

               Flex: Woohoo…! They are all sleeping. That was quite a success, Little Croft?

               Croft: Come on. We better be quick before they wake up.

Croft and Flex go to Killy’s secret room. Croft types the code he saw earlier and they go inside. Wow! It is like a treasure room. Killy has stored gold, silver, jewels and pearls as well as many other valuable treasures. He has collected many powerful weapons such as swords, spears and axes of all different shapes and sizes. Croft searches the room for a while. Eventually, he finds his potion and the dragon pearl in a box on the coner of a shelf. Quickly, they go back to the elegant door where they first arrived the day before. They leave Killy’s house and go straight back to the palace to report back to Waric. They want to reveal Killy’s true face to the king.

               Waric: Really?! Are you sure it wasn’t just a misunderstanding?

Croft: No, Your Majesty. Killy is a bad guy. All he wants is to collect treasure and valuable items. He will do anything to get what he wants. He could be dangerous for you if you are not careful.

Waric: I’ll talk to him. I trust him. He has been working with me for many years. Monkeys are always eager to collect and show off their treasure so maybe he was just blinded by desire for your magic potion.

Croft: This potion is not a toy to put on a shelf, Your Majesty. It is powerful. Anyway, why is he collecting so many powerful weapons and magics?

               Waric: Hmmm, I don’t know. Soldiers, bring Killy to me immediately.

               Soldiers: Yes, Your Highness.

The soldiers go to Killy’s house. Everyone is still sleeping, but they bring Killy back to the King’s palace anyway.

               Soldiers: Your Highness, here he is. He is still asleep, Your Highness.

               Waric: Pour cold water on him!

               Soldiers: Yes, Your Highness!

               Killy: Arrr… what?! Where am I?

               Waric: You are in my palace, Killy. Are you awake now?

               Killy: Your… Your Highness. Why am I here?

Waric: Mr. Croft said you have stolen their potion and the dragon’s pearl and you have many powerful weapons. Are you planing to betray and overthrow me?

Killy: No! I am innocent, Your Highness. I have been loyal to you for all my life. Why do you believe these strangers?

Waric: He was heroic yesterday even though he did not know us, so surely his words must mean something. What is the reason for him to lie?

Croft: You could not control your greed when you saw my powerful potion. We are friends to the king, but you threw us in prison. Maybe your loyalty is not as strong as you say.

               Killy: Do you have any proof of what you say?

Croft: Yes! There is a secret room in your house. In there you keep many powerful weapons. I wonder if you also stole some of those treasures from the king himself?

               Killy: You are lying. I don’t have a secret room in my house. You can go and check.

               Croft: I’ll show you that room, Your Majesty. I know the code.

Killy looks shocked, he thought no-one knew about his room. How could they know the secret code?

               Waric: Soldiers, go there with Mr. Croft and report back to me immediately!

They go to Killy’s house and Croft shows the soldiers the secret room. They return to the palace again and report to the King:

Soldiers: Your Highness, Croft is correct, there is a secret room in Killy’s house with many powerful weapons and treasures. I recognise some of them, they were taken from your treasure rooms.

Waric: What!!!! Killy, I trusted you for years and all this time you have been stealing from me and my guests. Soldiers, fetter Killy and throw him in prison now. I will decide what do to with him tomorrow. And collect all the treasures from his house. Try to return everything to the real owners.

Killy: Please forgive me, Your Highness. I just love to collect treasure. I have never dared to think about betraying you. Please…

               Croft: Too late for regrets, Lord Killy.

               Flex: Now you know what happens when you are too greedy.

Waric: Thank you Mr. Croft and Flex. Twice you have helped us now. I think you both must be very tired. You should get some rest. I will have someone prepare food and new clothes for you.

               Croft: We were glad to help, Your Majesty.

               Flex: And don’t forget to prepare for us a comfortable bed as well, Your Majesty.

Croft: A comfortable bed?

Flex: Yes I need my beauty sleep so I will have the strength for later adventures.

               Croft: You are not the hero, you know.

Flex: Yes, I am not the hero. I am better and more important than the hero. I am the hero’s advisor.

               Croft: Well, shall we rest now advisor?

               Flex: Yes, I was just about to advise that...

Exploring Monkidom

Croft and Flex go back to their rooms and Croft takes a shower. They are very hungry and tired. After some dinner, they go straight to sleep. The next morning, they go back to meet the king. Waric has decided Lord Killy’s punishment. Killy and his family must sell their house and all their treasures to help the poor monkeys of Monkidom, then they must leave the country and never return. Croft thinks this punishment is suitable for such a greedy monkey.

After breakfast, it is time for Croft and Flex to say goodbye to Waric and his country.

               Waric: Did you eat well, Mr. Croft and Mr. Flex?

               Croft and Flex: Yes thank you, Your Majesty.

               Croft: But now it is time to say goodbye.

Waric: I am very glad to have met you, in just two days you have removed two great dangers from our country. Is there anything I can do for you? Perhaps you would like one of the treasures you have seen around the palace? You can pick anything, don’t be shy.

Croft: Well there is the dragon pearl we found in Killy’s treasure room.

               Waric: You can have it, Mr. Croft. It is your reward for helping us so much.

               Croft: Thank you very much, Your Majesty. I am sure it could be very helpful for my journey.

               Waric: Would you like anything else, Mr. Croft?

               Croft: Thank you but I think I have enough, Your Majesty.

Flex: Well, Your Majesty. Surely it’s time for a party now?

Waric: I suppose That can be done as long as you two stay for longer. I’ll get Nokye to show you around as I promised last time.

               Croft: Can we trust Nokye, Your Majesty? I sorry, but I have to ask...

Waric: Oh don’t worry!!! Ms. Nokye is such a nice monkey. I wouldn’t imagine how she could harm you. I promise you, she is nothing like Killy. But I’ll send some guards to go with you.

               Croft: Thank you, I’ll stay for two more days then.

               Flex: Great so do you have any speciality drinks in your country, Your Majesty?

Waric: We have our Pinenal[17] brew. It is one of our best drinks. You won’t find it anywhere else. Each household has their own special method of making this brew. So every time you drink it, it will taste different.

Flex: Wow that sounds great. I must go around the town and try this brew at each house!

Croft: Are you sure any family will let you in, when you look so dirty, Mr. Drunken? You haven't had a shower for...ever. Anyway it is great idea, Mr. Drunken. You can stay here as long as you like, drinking in every house, but I'm going to continue with my journey soon. I'll leave you behind if you haven't finished your drinking quest.

               Flex: Hmmm, so let's make a deal! Let's stay here  for a year then continue with the journey?

               Croft: Nope, two days only.

               Flex: Well then, how about one month.

               Croft: Nope.

               Flex: Surely one week is ok, isn’t it?

               Croft: Nope, two days only.

               Flex: Okay, two days is it then…

Waric: Servants, bring me some food and drink. And also bring a dance group right now. I want  Mr. Croft to have a good time.

               Croft: Thank you, Your Majesty but please keep it simple.

               Waric: Please don't refuse your reward after all you have done for our country.

               Flex: Yes, he is right. You should listen to him. Anyway it would be rude to refuse the king.

               Croft: Hmmm…

Waric: Please enjoy yourself, Mr. Croft. Servant, bring me some beautiful ladies for Mr. Croft to choose.

Croft: No, no, no, no, no, Your Majesty. Please I am okay with just food and drink and watching the dancing. That will be enough!

               Flex: Ha, ha, ha, oh dear! Remember he just a young rat, Your Majesty.

Waric: You should choose one our beautiful monkey maidens, Croft. You are old enough to get married. At your age I already had one child. It would be a great opportunity to bring our countries closer together.

Croft: I am sorry, Your Majesty. I am not thinking of getting married now. Errr... actually I feel a little bit tired and I think I have to go back to my room.

               Flex: Don’t run away kid.

               Croft (In a low voice): You can stay here but I am not.

               Waric: I promise, you will have a lots of fun.

               Croft: Really Your Majesty. I am really tired.

               Waric: You just woke up how can you be tired already?

               Croft: Well I got to prepare a few things for my next trip, Your Majesty.

               Flex: Excuses, excuses...

               Croft (quiet and angry voice): Shut up you!!!

               Croft: OK, I'll stay to watch the dancers then, Your Majesty.

               Waric: Very good!

Croft spends a couple of hours watching the dancing and enjoying the food and drink. In the end, he quite enjoys himself so maybe he shouldn't have been so reluctant. When the dancing is over, Croft goes back his room. He prepares the clothes and food that he will need to continue his trip. When everything is packed, he spends the rest of the day exploring some other areas of the palace. He visits the palace library. There are many books about their culture, lifestyle, dancing and magic tricks.

               Croft: These guys love their pleasure and relaxation. Do they ever work at all?

He also explores Waric’s clothes store. There are so many kinds of clothes. The monkeys seem to like clothes made from silk, trousers, blouses, shirts. For the colder months, they have many kinds of woolen suits and dresses. "I wonder where they get the wool from..." Croft thinks. Croft tries on some of the men's ballroom dancing clothes he saw earlier. He looks rather silly!!!

               Croft: Wow look at me in this silky ruffled shirt. I look rather grand!!! And silly as well.

Next morning, Nokye arrives at Croft’s room early in the morning. Flex is still sleeping. Croft tries to wake Flex up because he wants Flex to go with him.

               Croft: Mr. Drunken Mr. Drunken wake up wake up. Do you want to come with me?

               Flex: What? Where? I am… tir…ed. Lea…ve me alo…ne.

               Croft: There is still more to drink outside. C’mon are you getting up or not?

Flex: I drank… far… too… much... last night. If I drink... some more I am… possibly… going to… die.

               Croft: So you know that now? Anyway, I am going. See you later!

Croft goes to meet Nokye alone. Nokye has been patiently standing outside Croft’s room.

               Nokye: Hello Mr. Croft. Where is your friend?

Croft: Oh hello, Ms. Nokye. My friend is still sleeping. He drank far too much at the party yesterday.

               Nokye: I see. So are you ready to go with me?

               Croft: Yes, I am.

Nokye: Let me show you our beautiful country. We have pretty towns and villages, wonderful forests for climbing, and a relaxed social life. Everyone is very friendly... err… well... Mr Killy was an exception, but we are not all like him.

Croft: Well, I hope not. Please lead the way.

               Nokye: But first I must warn you about something.

               Croft: What is it now?

Nokye: Don’t worry, it is just a small thing. There are pickpockets around. Please just be careful with your bags and pockets.

               Croft: Oh no!!!

Croft thinks:  “I see, monkeys are friendly as long as you are not carrying anything valuable. Why did I come here? So much trouble. Luckily I put my belongings in a secure place this time”

               Nokye: What are you thinking, Mr. Croft?

               Croft: Oh no, nothing.

Nokye shows Croft many places just outside the palace. It is a pleasant country apart from the problem with pickpockets. Everywhere they go, they see monkeys screeching and waving their arms and chasing each other. The thieves seem to steal from each other most of all. However, all the monkeys are very friendly with Croft because of his heroics the other day. Whenever they see Croft, the monkeys crowd around him, chattering. Some monkeys want him to visit their home. Other monkeys give Croft food or other useful items for his journey. He feels like a celebrity here in Monkidom! Even Nokye gives Croft a secret weapon. It is some unusual looking fur called ichy[18].

At the end of the day, Nokye brings Croft back to the palace.

               Nokye: So what do you think of our country?

               Croft: It’s a beautiful country and everyone is so friendly… well, except the pickpockets.

               Nokye: Thanks. Would you like to stay longer?

Croft: I am sorry but I love travelling. Maybe in the future, I will return and get to know everyone better.

               Nokye: So when are you leaving?

               Croft: Tomorrow.

He secretly thinks, “I better leave here soon or someone else will try to steal all my potion. Who knows what will happen next? Maybe another Killy’”

               Nokye: Where will you go next?

               Croft: To the east, I think there is another country in that direction.

               Nokye: Oh! I think there are many dangerous animals in that direction too!

               Croft: Really? Well I enjoy the challenge of exploring…

               Nokye: Brave eh?

 

Chapter 4 – Danger in The Desert

Game On!

Croft and Flex leave the Monkidom early the following morning. Flex is very upset and uncomfortable. He doesn’t want leave.

Flex: Why are we leaving so early, Little Croft? I am still sleepy you know. It would be better if we could stay for just a couple days or more so we can recover from our tiring adventure here.

Croft: What do you mean, tiring adventure? You hardly did anything.

Flex: You have to understand. I am very old and my weak body cannot keep up with your energetic youth.

Croft: So why do you want to continue the journey with me? Why don’t you stay behind if you so weak?

               Flex: No no… Of course I’ll go with you, Little Croft. Please wait for me!

Croft: C’mon be quick, with your speed we probably won’t reach the next country until next year.

               Flex: Don’t exaggerate!!

They walk side by side through a few fields of grass and lavenros[19] flowers. Then they reach a thick forest that reminds them of home. Monkidom was very tropical and hot, but here the air is cooler and very pleasant. They begin to feel very comfortable and happy. Still Flex occasionally moans about how many days he hasn’t drunk any alcohol. A few days of walking and eventually they leave this pleasant forest and reach the edge of a wide desert. It becomes very hot again so they have to take their tops off. The hot weather makes everything shimmer, but they think in the far distance they can see some cactus-like animals.

               Croft: Look, Mr. Drunken. What are they?            

               Flex: I don’t know, very strange. Shall we go nearer and have a look?

They get closer and yes, these cactus creatures are half plant and half animal. They are green and spiny and look similar to a normal cactus. However, they are two metres high and can talk and walk like a human. They have arms and legs that are their branches and strange faces. Croft and Flex approach carefully, they have never seen any creatures like these before. However, Flex has heard about these creatures.

               Croft: Are they some kind of tree. Or are they animals like us?

Flex: I think they are both, but they look just like cactuses.

Croft: What is a cactus, Mr. Drunken?

               Flex: A kind of spiny plant that lives mostly in deserts.

               Croft: Wow but they walk just like us!

An Old Cactus: Who are you? We can understand you, you know? How dare you come here? What do you come here for?

               Croft: Oh wow! It can talk!

Croft is very excited and curious about these new creatures. This old cactus has thin eyes which look very sharp, like he is always judging to see what you are thinking. His mouth is also very thin, just like a line across his face. There is a female cactus next to him but she looks very different. She has circular eyes with long eyelashes. Her mouth is also like a circle. They both look quite old because their skin is very wrinkled. But behind them, there are many young cactuses. Their circular eyes and mouth are like the female cactus. All the girl cactuses have flowers stuck on one side of their head. Croft speaks to the old cactus.

Croft: Errr… Sir we are travelling around Alease…

               An Old Cactus: Travelling, what for?

               Croft: Errr… we like exploring…

               A Female Cactus: Oh darling, don’t be tough on these little kids.

               Flex: I am not little kid you know. Are you two husband and wife?

               A Female Cactus: Well guessed, my darling.

Old Cactus (sounds angry with Flex): And what is your problem?

               Flex (a little worried): I am sorry. It’s nothing, Sir!

               A Female Cactus: Oh darling! Don’t be rude. Be gentle on them.

               Young Cactus: Ha, ha, ha! These guys are having a tough time with our dad.

               Croft: Hello, sir. I am Croft and this is my friend, Flex. Nice to meet you, what is your name?

               An Old Cactus: My name is Cactur and my wife is Cacturs. These are our children.

Croft: Hello Mr. Cactur and Mrs. Cacturs. Hello children. Please can we visit your country?

               Cacturs: Of course you can, my young rat.

Cactur: This is the Moglai desert. There is nothing to explore.

               Croft: Well, can we please pass through your desert then?

               Cactur: You can pass through if you are stronger and faster than me.

               Croft: What!? What do you mean, Mr. Cactur?

Cactur: We shall have a competition between you and me. If you can beat me then you can travel through our land. If you lose, you must leave immediately.

               Croft: Errr… OK, sir. So what game will we play, Mr. Cactur?

               Cactur: First arm-wrestling, then running. And you have to win both to get past us.

               Croft: Okay. But could I have something to eat and drink first?

               Cactur: No, or I’ll change my mind.

Cacturs: Don’t be mean. Let him have some food and water before challenging you. He has been travelling for many days. He must be very tired.

               Cactur: Okay, but be quick…

Croft turns to one side and quickly eats a Halo[20] fruit. These are the special fruit that Erlic[21] gave him earlier. Normally, cactuses are famous for being strong and fast. No one ever beats them in their special games. However, after Croft eats the Halo fruit he suddenly becomes amazingly strong and full of energy. Maybe he can win…?

               Croft: So which game would you like to play first, Mr Cactur?

               Cactur: Arm-wrestling.

               Croft: Ok, let’s play…

Cactur kneels down and puts his elbow on a flat piece of rock. He reaches out one of his arm branches and leans the arm toward Croft. Croft grips it with his paw, being careful not to touch the spines. The game starts and Croft and Cactur push their arms hard against each other. Croft is very strong but Cactur is even stronger than him. Croft’s paw is pushed back and back, he is close to losing…

               Flex: C’mon, Little Croft. Try harder. Don’t make me disappointed

               Croft: Arrrggghhh…

               Cactur: Hrrrmmm….

The Halo fruit begins to work and Croft feels extra strength in his body. He pushes back against Cactur, and brings his paw slowly back upwards. Cactur is surprised and his branch begins to shake with the strain. Croft uses his last strength and pushes Cactur’s arm down onto the rock in one great effort. Victory!

Croft: Ha, ha, ha, I won!

Flex: Well done, Little Croft. You are strong for a little rat!

Croft: Thanks, Mr. Drunken. Shall we go straight on to the next game, Mr. Cactur? I am ready for it.

Cactur: Don’t be too confident, my young rat. I won’t be so easy on you this time. C’mon let’s go!

Croft: So how long is the race, Mr. Cactur?

Cactur: About one thousand metres.

Croft: One thousand metres!!! Okay then.

As we know Croft is quite small so the race is really quite long for him. But he wants to race straightaway while he has the power of the Halo fruit.

Cactur: We start here and that tall tree over there is the finish. Are you ready to go?             

Croft: Yes, why not?!

               Flex: Believe in your strength, Little Croft.

Cacturs: Three, two, one… Go!

Cacturs waves her arm and spins her flower to start the race. At first, Croft moves into the lead. He can run on all four legs when he wants to and is very fast. However, he is still very tired because he used much of his energy in the last game. Around half way, he begins to slow and Cactur takes his chance and runs faster. Cactur’s running is strange, bouncing back and forwards on his stiff branch legs, but he can move faster than you can imagine for a plant!

               Flex (shouting very loudly): Don’t let him win. Run faster, faster. C’mon!

With about one hundred metres left, once again Croft uses the strength of the Halo fruit. He stretches his legs and paws out as far as he can and uses every last bit of his energy. Slowly he catches up to Cactur with the finishing tree very close. Cactur looks over to see Croft almost next to him. While Cactur is distracted, Croft makes a final burst and pushes his nose out in front of Cactur. He wins!

Cactur:  Not bad young rat. I will let you carry on your journey now. In that direction, the next country you will reach is the land of the cats. They are very sneaky and clever so you must to be careful.

Croft (breathing heavily): Puff, puff, pant, pant, Thank you! Pant, pant…

Flex: What!? Land of the cats! Oh no, no, no, no! Cats are our all-time enemies. I don’t think I can go with you, Little Croft. I am really scared of those animals.

Flex is shaking and scared. He keeps pawing his whiskers and twitching his tail. Normally, he is always confident. Croft has never seen him like this.

               Croft: Don’t worry, Mr. Drunken. I’ll protect you!

Flex: No, no, no… I have to turn back. I can’t go there, no way, no, no... I’ll see you later, Little Croft. Bye bye…

               Croft: Wait, wait, wait, Mr. Drunken. It will be okay. Trust me!!

Flex turns around and runs away on all fours as fast as he can. Almost before anyone can blink, he is gone into the forest where they first came from. Nothing could stop Flex because all rats are scared of cats. And Flex had some horrible fights with cats in the past. However, Croft is too young and inexperienced to have the same fear.

Croft: Well, that was a surprise. Although he is dirty, I enjoyed travelling with another rat. I hope he gets home safely. But I won’t stop my journey. I’m not afraid of a few cats.

Cactur and Cacturs say goodbye to Croft. But first they ask him for a favor.

               Cactur: Excuse me, Mr. Croft. Could I ask you something?

               Croft: Sure, what is it?

Cactur: I have these seeds. They are our descendants. I wonder if you could plant them in the lands that you pass through. It will help spread us cactuses to far away lands, and it might be useful for you in the future. We would be very grateful if you could do this for us.

               Croft: Certainly, Mr. Cactur. You could have asked me that instead of racing with me…?

Cactur and Cacturs: Well, you know us cactuses always want to play games. Anyway thank you very much, Mr. Croft.

Croft: You’re most welcome, Mr. Cactur and Mrs Cacturs. I think now it’s time for me to carry on…

Cacturs: Be careful with those cats. However, we have seen that you are a strong rat, we think you will be okay.

               Cactur: However, they are very sneaky. Remember that!

               Croft: Yes, I will and thanks for the warning.

A Rat’s Biggest Enemy

Croft carries on with this journey alone. Many days later, he is still in the desert and begins to think he will never reach the end. Croft is desperate for some water because it is extremely hot and the sun is so strong. This desert is huge with just a few small hills and caves, some small bushes and very little water. The cats that Cactur warned about live a part of desert where there are several small caves close together. Inside the cats have some water from a spring and store meat from any animals they catch. This is the natural life of a cat, they don’t seem to build houses like most of other animals in Alease.

Anyway, soon Croft reaches a flat area in the desert and in the near distance he can see many cats. Some are lying and resting and others are playing with each other. The cats are as big as tigers but they look more like domestic cats. They can stand up just like humans but they prefer not to and usually walk on four legs. They have light brown fur streaked with yellow. Although, there is one female cat called Mellen, who looks quite different, she has white fur and a pink nose and a flower behind one ear. Croft continues to walk towards the cats, he thinks they don’t look too scary, and he will say hello. But when Croft reaches the cats, they surround him and start to hiss and attack.

               Cats: Hiss, how dare you come here, little rat.

               Croft: No need to be angry. I am just a traveller and I don’t want to be your enemy.

               Cats: That is foolish, cats and rats have always been enemies.

               Croft: Anything can change.

               Cats: But this cannot!!!

               Mellen: Let’s show him our sharp claws. We will eat rat tonight!

They creep slowly nearer to Croft and suddenly jump to attack him. Croft quickly dodges backward. He takes the dragon pearl and puts it against his head. Croft breaths a raging fire out of his mouth. He aims at the cats and guess what? All the cats are knocked backwards, their fur burned almost black.

Mellen: Oh, no! My… my… my beautiful fur is black. How can I go anywhere looking like this? And… and… and how can I meet anyone in this state boohoo… boohoo. Who will follow my style now?

Suddenly Mellen kneels down, slowly presses her front paws together, and shuts her eyes. The other cats are surprised.

               Cats: What are you doing?

               Mellen: I am praying!

               Cats: For what?

               Mellen: For my beautiful fur to return.

               Cats: Don’t be silly. Of course your fur will grow again.

Croft: Ha, ha, ha! If you attack me again. I’ll burn you even more, not just your fur. Next time you will be roast cats! Do you understand that?

Cats: Hisssss, run everyone... You might be laughing now, but we’ll get you back. Watch out little rat!

The cats are very angry. Spitting and hissing, they return to their home. They have a meeting and plan how they can catch Croft and avoid his fire. The cleverest one, Ancler comes up with an idea. They will dig some holes near the lake and put traps in them. Then they will disguise the holes with soft looking grass. They know Croft will find this lake soon and they are certain he will stop there to get some water because it is very hot in the desert. Croft has travelled for many days through the desert and will be very thirsty. He will certainly not notice their traps when he is so happy to see the lake.

Back to Croft, and yes, they are right. He is very tired and thirsty. He has been walking and walking through the desert, it feels like forever. Just as he feels completely lost and about to give up he sees a small lake at the bottom of a hill. So happy, he runs as fast as he can to the lake. Just before he reaches the lake and the sparkling water he slips and falls straight into a trap. The cats have been following Croft secretly as he approached the lake. They are thrilled when Croft is caught.

The cat: Ha, ha, ha, stupid rat. Caught in our trap. Where is your pearl? Give it to us now or we will kill you right away!

Croft: No way! Don’t even dream about it. Come near and I will burn you again. This is a dirty trick you have played on me.

Mellen: Are you jealous because we’ve got brains and you haven’t?!

Croft: So clever, but you can’t get me when I have the pearl, so what will you do?

The cat: You are tired and thirsty, we only need to wait until you fall asleep. Then you will be our dinner tonight.

               Croft: Let me out or you will regret it!

               Mellen: See you on the plate tonight, little rat!

Croft tries very hard to get out of the trap, but it has caught his back paw. He shakes it left and right but it doesn’t help. Croft cannot use the dragon pearl to burn the trap because he will burn himself. Anyway, he has fallen so deep into the trap and could not get out even if he escaped the trap.  Katelysor’s potion is no use because he has used it already, each person can only use it once. While he struggles to find a way to escape, all the cats crowd and stalk around the hole, excited with their catch.

The Meaning of Friendship

As he walks back through the forest, Flex feels very guilty because he left Croft alone. There are so many dangers on the journey and now Croft has to deal them by himself. At first, Flex was so scared about cats that he didn’t think about Croft, but now he is very concerned about him.

“Croft is so young he won’t be able to manage all by himself. Not without someone experienced like me. How will I explain to his parents if he is doesn’t come back? He is a nice kid and brave, but not very intelligent. I better go back and check on him. I just have to stop thinking about cats… ”, Flex thought.

Flex tries very hard to hide his fear of cats and decides to go back. On the way back, he meets Cactur and Cacturs again. He stops by and has a chat with them.

               Cacturs: Oh hello!!! You’ve come back for your friend, am I right?

               Flex: Yes, I am worried about him.

Cactur: You can’t go on your own. The cats are very dangerous and quite clever. We allowed Croft to carry on because he is very strong. But you seem very afraid of cats.

Flex: Croft seems strong but he is rather naive. That’s why I have come back to help him. I don’t know what I’ll do if I see any cats though, I had a bad experience with cats before…

Cactur: So we will help you through. These cats are afraid of cactuses, they hate getting our spines in their soft paws. So we will send our children to guide you through the cat’s desert. They won’t dare do anything against you.

               Flex: Thank you very much.

               Cacturs: You’re welcome!

               Cactur: Now go quick so you can catch up with Croft soon.

               Flex: OK!

               Cactur: C’mon kids go with him!

               Young cactuses: Yes, daddy!

Flex heads on with the young cactuses. There aren’t any cats around because they are all crowded by the lake. But after a few hours, Flex and the young cactuses reach the lake. Flex can see the cats from the far distance and realises what has happened. He approaches the lake.

               Mellen: Look, the stupid rat’s dirty friend is here with those nasty cactuses. Attack them!!!

They hiss and spit at the cactuses and try to claw at their flesh but the cactuses easily spike their paws with their needles. The cats meow and screech, then run away with the tails down. Flex pulls Croft out of the hole and helps him open the trap.  The cats are known as clever animals but this time they made a mistake. They took the other traps away that could have caught Flex and the cactuses.

Croft: Thank you very much, Mr. Drunken. You came back for me. I am so glad, although I thought you were afraid of cats…

Flex: Well, it’s my duty to look after you when your parents are not here. And these young cactuses helped with the cats as you saw.

Croft: We better get out of this desert as quickly as we can. We must be careful until we leave this cat country because they are quite clever.

Flex: Still not losing your passion for travelling, little kid. This should be a lesson for you, not to be too naïve…

Croft: You know me very well, Mr. Drunken. Well, I was very thirsty and wasn’t cautious enough. I’ll be more careful from now on.

Young cactuses: We will guide you through. When you leave cat country and we know you are safe then we will return to our home town.

               Croft and Flex: Thank you very much!!

But back at the cat’s cave, they are planning again. They don’t give up very easily.

Angry cat: What do we do now? Those silly cactuses are helping them so we can’t attack them. We can’t try to trap them again because they will be prepared for that.

Mellen: I could use my female charm and beauty to tempt them into a cave where we could trap them.

Ancler: That’s ridiculous we just attacked him he is not going to trust any of us. Anyway, your charm and beauty are not so strong now your fur is burned and you look like a black shoe brush.

Mellen cries and meows and licks her fur. Then she realises her fur tastes burnt and horrible and she meows some more…

Ancler: Anyway “maybe” isn’t good enough. We need a guaranteed plan. We should send our strongest and cleverest cat after them. He only needs to quietly follow those stupid rats and attack them when he has a chance, when the cactuses are away. Then he can bring back rats and the treasures we saw them carrying. If anything unexpected happens, he can come back here and report to us. Then we can decide what to do next. How about it?

               Mellen: Hmmm… I still think I could tempt them if I dyed my fur…

The other cats: No Mellen! Ancler has a brilliant idea. So who is the cat to do this? It must be you, Ancler as this is your plan.

Ancler: Yes, I will show you how a cat should catch rats. Trust me. I’ll bring back them back in no time!

               Mellen (sulking): Showing off as always…

 

Chapter 5 - Wedding Bells are Ringing

Beware?

The young cactuses guide Croft and Flex until they reach the border of the cat’s land. It looks safe with no cats around. The cactuses finally say goodbye to Croft and Flex. They leave and return to their home land.

Young cactuses: Yippee! Our parents will be so proud of us. Yippee, yippee… Let’s go home brothers and sisters.

               Croft: Thank you very much. I hope we will see each other again.

               Young cactuses: Bye bye…

Croft and Flex walk further. Then something attracts their attention. It is a warning sign.

               Croft: Oh look, Mr. Drunken. A strange sign…

               “DANGER: Ants, Angry Ants. Watch Out and Beware!”.

               Croft: What? A warning sign for ants? Who put this notice here? Are they really so angry?

               Flex: It must be those nasty cats who put it here. They must be scared of ants.

               Croft: Anyway let’s go on and see what we find. I’m not scared of ants even if the cats are.

               Flex: I thought you were going to be more careful, Little Croft.                    

               Croft: Well we don’t know what to be careful about if we don’t see it first, do we?

               Flex: Errr… right…

So Croft and Flex enter the ant’s country. It's a humid rainforest, with only a little breeze to cool the air. The weather is much better than the desert but it's still very hot, and wet too. Croft and Flex walk for many hours but meet nothing. They start to relax and think the sign was wrong.

               Croft: Nobody, Mr. Drunken. Maybe the ants here aren’t that bad after all.

               Flex: Well, we still haven’t met any yet. It is too early to know.

               Croft: I suppose you’re right, Mr. Drunken.

As they are talking, suddenly an army of ants swarms out of the bushes and trees and surrounds them. These are big ants, as big as Croft and Flex. In fact, there are various type of ant. Some crawl, but some can walk and some even fly. Some of the ants have round heads. Some have pointy heads. They are all controlled by a queen ant. The ants that have surrounded Croft and Flex stand upright and have bronze bodies. They look like soldiers. These soldier ants wear helmets and armor. They immediately begin to question Croft and Flex:

               Leader ant: Stop there! Who are you? Why do you come here?

               Croft: I am Croft and this is my friend – Flex. We are travelling.

Leader ant: In the Kingdom of Intala we don’t easily welcome travelers.

               Croft: We only want to visit your country as part of our journey.

Leader ant: Visitors are not allowed without the queen’s permission. Soldiers, check if they are carrying any weapons.

               Soldiers:  Yes, Sir!

The soldiers check Flex’s body and then Croft’s body. However, as they are checking, some of the ichy[22] fur falls out of Croft’s pocket and lands on one of the ants. The ant begins to giggle and laugh like it is crazy. It rubs its legs and antennae, and rolls around on the floor. It can’t control itself.

               The ant: Ha, ha, ha… I can’t stop laughing, what is this stuff? Ha, ha, ha…

Leader ant: What is this? Stop that at once and get back to your duty! What are you doing?

The ant: Ha, ha, ha… there is a tingling running through my legs and antennae but ha, ha, ha… it’s a warm and wonderful feeling ha, ha, ha…

The other ants investigate, but when they touch the laughing ant they are also affected. Soon all the ants, even the leader, are rolling around on the floor, snapping their pincers and clacking their legs, always laughing and laughing.

All the ants: Ha, ha, ha… Oh my… This is so good… Ha, ha, ha… can’t stop laughing… ha, ha, ha… help us please!!!

               Flex: When are they going to stop giggling and laughing?

               Croft: I don’t know, but let them have some fun. Then I’ll show you how to make it stop.

After a while, Croft brings out some water from his carlot[23] and pours it onto the ants. It seems to calm them down, but there is not enough. So he goes to a river nearby to get some more water. Eventually they stop laughing and are back to normal.

               Croft: See, Mr. Drunken? Water makes it stop.

Flex: Ah I see. Water solves the problem, but probably some wine would be better.

Croft: Narrow minded as always!

               Leader ant: Actually, that was great. Where do you get that stuff?

               Croft: It was a gift from a friend.

Leader ant: This rat is cool. We must take him to our Queen. She will be so happy. I think we might have found him…

               The other ants: Yeah, we think so too!

Croft and Flex are happy that the ants are now friendly, but are a little worried about what they mean when they say they “have found him”…

Fall in Love

The ants take Croft and Flex to their Queen. Meanwhile, Ancler has been following them, stalking quietly with his cat skill. He was about to catch the rats after the young cactuses left, but then the ants arrived. Now, he wants to find out what will happen next before returning to the other cats and carefully planning the next move. They are desperate to catch the rats after being beaten twice.

After a short walk through the forest, Croft and the others arrive at the Queen’s palace. The palace is built from coarse brown sand and small stones. From the outside the palace looks like a tower with a huge gate that looks like crystalised sugar. Inside it is made of many twisting, turning tunnels that the ants like to crawl through very fast. The ants store their food and valuable items in caves deep down in these tunnels. The upper levels of the palace are more open, with large impressive rooms like a normal palace. Croft notices that the ants seem to have a sweet tooth. Some walls, doors and windows are glazed with honey and the others are made with crystalised caramel. So from a distance the palace twinkles and looks very shiny!

They march into the centre of the palace and meet the Queen. Croft and Flex were expecting a grand older ant, but actually the Queen is a silly young ant. She has round head with a pointy top, and a long thin ant-like body. She also has big insect eyes with surprisingly long eyelashes. Her antennae have been carefully curled in a girly way. They are so curly they are almost like springs. But her lips are the most memorable feature on her face - they are huge and fat, not like an ant at all! The Queen ant is just a bit taller than Croft and she is wearing a pink cocktail dress with a long pink robe over the top. What Croft and Flex don’t know is that for a long time she has been feeling rather lonely and has been looking for someone to be her husband.

Soldier: Your Highness, we have caught these two rats entering our country. They are from a land far away. This young rat has some magical fur which made us start giggling and laughing uncontrollably when we touched it. Your Majesty, you have always been looking for someone to marry who can make you laugh. We think this rat is perfect for you.

The Queen: Move away and let me see him!

               Croft: What? What! I am not going to marry your Queen. I am just visiting…

               Flex: Uh, oh! Wedding bells are ringing!

The Queen: Oh look at that!! What a handsome rat!! His fur so beautiful!! Oh my darling, you are so, so handsome. You must be the husband that fate has chosen for me. You are the one that I have been waiting for all my life. Please come nearer and let me look at you more closely!

               Croft (moving slowly backwards): Oh, no! Oh no, no, no……Why is this happening to me?

Flex: Oh great! The love chemical has kicked in!

               The Queen: Oh my cutie sweetie darling, don’t be scared. What’s your name?

The Queen gets up out of her throne and tiptoes nearer to Croft. Croft is very scared but the Queen’s heart is bouncing and beating very fast indeed!

               Croft: I am… I am… I am Little Croft. Please don’t come nearer!

               The Queen: Little Croft! Oh, it’s such a cute name, just like you.

The Queen reaches Croft and uses her many legs to touch his whiskers, fur and tail. She presses her body close against him. Croft can feel her heart beating – she really is in love!

               Croft: Please leave me alone. You’re squeezing so close to me that I can barely breathe.

               The Queen: You are so cute and you are mine. Please let me kiss you!

The Queen pushes her head and lips toward Croft. Her antenna bounce around with excitement. She prepares to give Croft a really big kiss and pulls Croft’s head toward her face. Croft feels dizzy and suddenly he sees his future like a dream in front of his eyes…

“Croft and the Queen get married and have children. They are half rat and half ant. They have short legs and thin waving tails. Their necks are long and thin. They also have a pointy head with a ratty nose and whiskers, but with fat lips just like the Queen. What a nightmare! It is a terrible combination”.

Croft wakes up from his dream and pushes the Queen away. He jumps backward and just misses the Queen’s kiss.

The Queen:  My darling, why did you push me so hard? You almost broke my beautiful body, you know!

Croft: Please, Your Majesty. I honestly am not your handsome prince. I am a rat and I don’t really want to marry you. I am so sorry. Please find someone else…

The Queen: Who else can I find now I have seen you? There is no one in the world but you, my darling… my “honey bun”!

               Croft: Oh no. Don’t call me “honey bun“!  We have just met!

The Queen: It’s love at first sight, my sweetie. My heart was pounding when I first saw your little ratty face and that cute pointy nose and those wiggly whiskers and…

Croft: You don’t even know me. How do you know that you would be happy with me?

The Queen: I trust my feelings. And I feel you will make the most wonderful husband that anyone could hope for.

               Croft: Isn’t that just a little naive, Your Majesty?

               Flex (laughs): Naive, just like you. A match made in heaven.

               The Queen: You’re right. We are a perfect match!

               Croft: Shut up, Mr Drunken, you’re not helping…

               Croft: Your Majesty, I don’t even know your name. How can I possibly marry you so quickly?

The Queen: My name is Tingy. See, you want to know my name already and you’re thinking about marriage. Obviously you have the same feelings for me as I do for you.

Croft: No, Your Majesty. We can’t. I just can’t be your husband. I am still very young and have a passion for travelling.

Tingy: You can still travel after we are married. I’ll go with you as well. It will be our honeymoon. How about it?

               Croft: No, no, no, no, no… Who will control your kingdom?

Tingy: No more arguments. You will marry me in the next few days. I’ve decided that you will be my cutie sweetie husband. Soldier, take him to his room and prepare for my wedding immediately.

               The ants: Hooray, hooray! Our Queen is getting married…

               Flex: Oh yeah! Party, party… I love parties… Hooray!

Run, Run, Run

While Flex is happy for the chance to get drunk, Croft is deeply worried about this unexpected situation. After they go back to their room, Croft sits with his head in his paws. He tries to think of a plan to escape. Probably he needs to run away again, for the second time in his life.

               Flex: Why are you looking so worried? It’s a fun time for all of us.

               Croft: How could you understand?

Flex: I do understand of course. You don’t want to marry Tingy because you have only just met her, because she’s an ant and you’re a rat and you don’t love her, right?

               Croft: Yes, you got it all correct.

               Flex: So, what do you want to do now?

               Croft: I don’t know yet!

               Flex: You are not going to run away, are you?

               Croft: Well…

Flex: Tell me when you have a plan. I want to look around the palace and get to know everyone. It is boring staying in this room. Why don’t you come with me?

               Croft: No, I’d like to stay here for a while. See you later…

Croft sits there for many hours until finally he comes up with an idea:

“I know I’ll ask her to have an engagement party just before the wedding day. Everyone will be happy and careless. It will be easy for me to get out past the soldiers and guards.”

“However, how will I deal with Queen Tingy? I know! I’ll ask her to have an intimate meal with me. I am certain she will love that. Then I will use the sleeping drug, my favourite item. I’ll put it in her drink. Then I will be able to escape”.

Next morning, Croft goes directly to Tingy. He is happy and relieved because he is certain Tingy will agree with his idea.

               Croft: Good Morning, Your Majesty.

Tingy: Good Morning, my sweetie Darling. Why do you come here so early? Are you missing me already, my honey bun?

Croft: Umm… Your Majesty. I have an idea. Why don’t we have an engagement celebration for everyone here? It will be an announcement of our wedding. Everyone can enjoy the happy event together, and then in the evening, you can come to my room and we will have an intimate meal just us two. So we can get to know each other better.

Tingy: That sounds delightful. Oh my sweetie honey you are so thoughtful. See, I was right! You will make a wonderful husband.

Croft: Well… maybe... I think everyone should be invited to the party including all the guards and soldiers. There should be lots of food and drink for everyone. What do you think, Your Majesty?

Tingy: Of course, it’s the most important occasion of the year, my lovely darling, everyone must come. And remember, call me “Sweetie Tingy” not Your Majesty all the time.

               Croft: Yes, Yo…ur… sweetie Tingy. Should we start making preparations immediately?

Tingy: You sound so eager, my cutie bun. You can’t wait to be married, can you? Yes we will announce this immediately, my cutie bun.

               Croft: Great, Yo…ur… sweetie Tingy.

The news quickly spreads out to all the ants in land and everyone prepares for a huge celebration.  But meanwhile, in the cat’s cave, Ancler has returned and the cats are also planning something:

Ancler: Listen, I have been following those rats for the last few days. I was on the border of the ant’s kingdom and I heard that one of the rats and the ant Queen will get married after an engagement party. I think that’s the ideal time for us to attack them. What do you think?

               Mellen: Over confident as always!

The other cats: Yeah!!! Good idea, Ancler. Yes, we will attack them on the night of the engagement party. Everyone will be happy and careless. It will be easy for us to get in past the soldiers and guards…

The ants have decorated their houses with red berries and little jars of honey. Dried red maple leaves are hanging along the streets. The houses around the palace are mostly made from brown wood in an interesting style. From the outside, each house looks like a simple box but inside each one there are many floors and shelves. They are like makeup boxes. The ants are crawling in and out of their busy houses preparing everything for the Queen’s wedding day. Meanwhile, Tingy has chosen a shiny yellow long dress. Her crown is made from fresh flowers with some little red berries. The Queen sends a tailor to measure Croft for a suit.

The next day the party starts early and everyone lays out tables in the streets around the palace. Everyone is eating and drinking, with so much food that you couldn’t believe. There are honey and tamarind cakes, honey fruit jam cakes, honey glazed mixed vegetable cakes, sugarcane cakes, lemon and honey soup, sugarcane broth, tropical fruit juice, coconut beer and wine, sugarcane beer…etc. All the ants are drinking, dancing and singing. Groups of magicians walk around the streets playing funny games and doing magic tricks. There is a market selling unusual foods from around the country, and just outside the palace there is a massive funfair with slides and rides and games. Everywhere is busy and noisy and fun. And of course, right in front of the palace gates, there is a stage where the Queen and Croft go to make an announcement to all the ants. Tingy begins in a surprisingly loud voice:

“To all my ants. I am delighted to announce that Mr. Croft and I will be married in two days time. I would like you to share our happy moment and enjoy yourselves tonight. Please eat and drink as much as you like. May the party begin.”

               Tingy: Now it is your turn, my little gem.

Croft is completely surprised and doesn’t know what to say. He has never made a speech in front of a crowd before.

               Croft: What? Your announcement was enough. Why do I need to say anything?

Tingy: It is our wedding. So of course you must share your commitment with my people, my sweetie ruby.

               Croft (under his breath): I am not so sure about the commitment.

“Err… err... err… I am very happy and delighted. Umm… err… err… Please enjoy and share with us this wonderful… time. Thank you very much.", said Croft.

After the announcements, all the ants ask Croft and Tingy to show them a dance.

               Flex: Yeah, show off the dancing techniques you learnt, Little Croft!

               The ants: Yeah, Mr. Croft!

The ants:  Dance with our Queen, Please!

               Tingy: C’mon darling. Come here!

               Croft: I… I… I… don’t know… I can’t dance!!

               Flex: Oh little liar… C’mon you can’t get out of this now!

               Croft: Stop encouraging everyone, Mr. Drunken.

Croft and Tingy have a dance and Croft is very embarrassed, but he did learn some dancing in Monkidom so he manages to look quite confident and doesn’t fall over. Tingy is always squeezing Croft close and stroking his fur. Croft would blush, but rats can’t do that. The party continues all day, and when the night comes everyone is very tired and most of the soldiers and guards are really quite drunk. A perfect time to escape. They return to Croft’s room, where there is a meal prepared on a table by the window. Croft has also prepared a special drink for Tingy with a strong dose of sleeping powder. Although he has no idea if it will work on an ant…

Tingy: Oh, you have prepared everything for me. And in the moonlight too. This moment is so special to me, my wonderful darling.

               Croft: C’mon, sweetie Tingy. Let’s eat and drink first. We can talk later.

               Tingy: I will only eat if you feed me with all your love…

               Croft (embarrassed): Yes, I’ll feed you.

               Croft (in a quiet voice): But not with all my love though.

Tingy: Oh this meal is so delicious. This evening is so magical. I never thought this could happen to me.

               Croft: Well, it is happening and it will get even happier later on…

               Tingy: Oh what have you prepared for me next? Please tell me, don’t keep secrets from me.

Croft: Oh nothing, sweetie Tingy. What I meant was you will be happy spending time with me.

               Tingy: Well of course, my priceless gemstone!!

Tingy has started to sip from the special drink, but it doesn’t seem to be working straight away. Croft chats some more, hoping it will have an effect soon…

               Croft: So do you have any relatives, sweetie Tingy?

Tingy: I became the Queen of Intala when I was very young just after my parents died. I was an only child, no brothers or sisters. That’s why I have always felt very lonely even though I have the power of a queen and I can have anything I want.

               Croft: I see, I am so sorry, sweetie Tingy. I will help you out if you ever have any troubles.

               Tingy: Thank you, my darling!

Time passes and, Croft tells Tingy all about his journey, the enemies he faced, the dangers he had to deal with and all the friends that he met on the way.

He is worried that the sleeping powder isn’t working, but actually doesn’t mind chatting with Tingy so much. He feels a little sorry for her in fact.

Tingy tells Croft how she has managed the country and the difficulties she faces as a queen. She explains how she built up a strong army so the nearby countries don’t dare to invade her country. She is a silly young ant, thinks Croft, but also quite a serious queen.

Eventually, slowly and gradually she begins to fall asleep. When she is fast asleep, Croft gently leaves the room.

               Croft (quietly): I am sorry, Your Majesty. I cannot be your husband as you wish.

               Tingy: Snore, snore, snore….

Croft runs outside, and look! He meets Ancler and the cats in the hallway outside. They have crept into the palace while the guards are all dozing and were searching every room for Croft. The cats all hiss and laugh as they see Croft come out of the room right in front of them.

Ancler: Ha, ha, ha… He walks right into our trap. Who is protecting you now, little rat? Time to die, my friend!!

Croft takes out the dragon pearl and puts it to his head.

               Croft: Don’t be so confident. I will burn you to a crisp…

               The cats: Ha, ha, ha… Not this time! We have fireproof wax on our fur. You can’t burn us. Ha!

In Croft’s room, Tingy wakes up because of the loud noise outside. She looks around surprised because Croft is not in the room and wonders why she fell asleep. She scurries outside.

Tingy: Ah there you are, my Little Croft. What are you doing out here? And what are all these horrible cats doing here. Their fur is all slimy and smelly.

Mellen (quietly complaining): Yes, this fireproof wax has spoiled my beautiful fur again, meow…

Croft: These are the cats I met in my earlier travels. They have attacked me twice already. They want to kill me and steal my treasures... Of course! My potion!

Croft quickly pours a few drops of Katelysor’s potion onto Tingy.

               Ancler: Look out! Be careful everyone!

The cats have no idea about this potion but they are clever enough to realise it means trouble. Gradually, Tingy turns into a giant crocodile with electricity sparking out of her mouth.

               Tingy: Yikes! Oh, oh Croft! What have you done to me?!

Croft: Don’t worry. It’s only temporary. Attack them or they will kill us. C’mon, trust me, sweetie Tingy!

The cats hiss and spit at Tingy. They still want to fight. Tingy opens her crocodile mouth and shoots. Wow! She shoots an electric beam at the cats. The nearest cats are shocked, with their fur standing up straight from their bodies. All the cats are suddenly very scared indeed.

               Ancler: Clear off everyone. This is too dangerous.

The cats run off down the corridor. The shocked ones look quite wobbly as they run. When they are all gone, Tingy, who is now crawling around as a huge crocodile and snapping her jaws, starts to cry and moan about her appearance.

               Tingy: Will I stay like this forever? It is so ugly and horrible!

Croft has to stand back a little, because sparks keep flying out from Tingy’s mouth as she waddles around.

Croft: Don’t worry. You will become normal very soon. Then we will continue with our intimate party.

Tingy: I hope so…

After a while, Tingy slowly returns to her usual body. She is very happy and relieved.

Tingy: Look Croft. I am back to normal again. Woohoo! That is such a magical potion and you really are a brave adventurer. C’mon come back inside, let’s forget those horrible cats and continue where we left off.

Tingy is so excited about the potion that she forgets that she fell asleep for no reason just before the cats came. Tingy is very hungry and thirsty after fighting the cats, so she eats some more food and drinks some more sleeping potion. Croft feels very lucky that things seem to be going his way and waits for her to sleep again. Croft tells her about Katelysor the magician and her potion, and the eagle’s civil war. Soon, Tingy falls into a deep sleep again.

This time Croft searches around the palace trying to find Flex. Finally Croft finds him near a barrel of wine but he is in the deepest sleep. Even when Croft pours cold water on him, he doesn’t wake up.

Croft: Mr. Drunken Mr. Drunken. Oh, he is so drunk. I will have to carry him.

Croft lifts Flex onto his back and he is surprisingly light (“probably because he is not very healthy”, Croft thinks). Croft slips out of the palace. Almost everyone is asleep so Croft doesn’t need to worry about anyone seeing them. He walks carefully through the streets of the ants' town and takes a quiet road into the forest to continue his journey. After a night of carrying Flex, he is exhausted but he finally makes it out of the forest into a new land.

 

Chapter 6 – The Past Returns

They come out of the forest onto a long quiet straight road. There are still a few trees around, but they are palm trees, and it feels like they are close to the sea. The air is so cool with some gentle whistling music in the distance. Croft is very tired and puts Flex down on the side of the road. He remembers his promise with Cactur and plants a few seeds. Then he sits next to Flex and waits, relaxing in the calm atmosphere.

After a while, Flex wakes up.

               Flex: Where… are… we?

               Croft: Whew, whew, whew…

               Croft: I am… so tired. I have carried you all night.

               Flex: What… happened?

Croft: I ran… whew… whew… ran away from Tingy. I don’t want to marry to her. Are you sober yet, Mr. Drunken?

               Flex: I… guess so. Where are we?

               Croft: I don’t know, Mr. Drunken.

               Flex: Oh look over there, there is a board. Let’s see what it says.

               Croft: Good you’re alert now!

The sign reads “Welcome to our relaxing country. Hapi Land”.

               Flex: Hapi Land. I wonder what creatures live here.

               Croft: Let’s look around, Mr. Drunken. However, we should be careful this time.

               Flex: Good, kid. But we say that every time and still find trouble.

Croft: Well we have to look anyway. This is an adventure you know. Anyway do you have any other ideas?

               Flex: Nope!

               Croft: So let’s go!

They continue walking for a few hours until they reach a long and beautiful white sandy beach. The water is light green, the colour of jewels. It is so clean and clear that you can see the ocean floor. They can see many brightly-coloured fish swimming around in the shallows. Around the beach, there are many palm trees leaning out towards the sea. The atmosphere is so pleasantly cool with an occasional gentle breeze swaying the trees and rustling their leaves.

               Croft: It’s so pretty and relaxing, Mr. Drunken.

Flex: Yes, it is. This would be a great place to relax with a cocktail. Hey, look over there. There are some fat lumps lying on some kind of chairs.

               Croft: Where?

               Flex: There. Over there in that direction.

               Croft: Ah yeah! C’mon let’s head over there!

As they approach, they realize that the fat lumps are pigs. The pigs are sunbathing! They are wearing some kind of strange coloured sunglasses. The female pigs are wearing bikinis and the male pigs are wearing shorts. They just seem to be relaxing in the sun. There is some gentle music playing in the background.

               Croft: Hello guys. Is it okay for us to explore your country?

Pig: You are most welcome to explore. But first please take a seat and enjoy our wonderful beach. Why don’t you take your clothes off and sunbathe like us? There are drinks and snacks over there, help yourself. What could be better than relaxing with these simple pleasures?

Croft: Well, thank you. Although we would like look around first and maybe come back later.

While almost everyone is happy and cheerful, in one corner of the beach there is a young sad looking pig.  He is different from the other pigs, he is wearing a blue short sleeved shirt and a pair of dark red shorts. He is lying on the floor with his trotters on his head. Like he is thinking deeply and trying to figure something out. Croft sees him and immediately feels very sorry for him, so he goes over and starts to chat to him.

               Croft: Hello, sir? What’s up? Why are you looking so upset?

The young pig looks up at Croft…

               Young Pig: Ah!! Finally I found you, Mr. Rat.

               Croft: What! Do I know you? Why are you looking for me?

The pig begins to tell his story:

“My wife was stolen by an eagle right in front of my eyes a couple days ago. As the eagle flew away, it screeched at me and said I must find a young rat called Croft. He said I must capture this rat or he would kill my wife”.

Young Pig: I have been searching for you everywhere but there are no rats in this land. I had lost hope of rescuing my wife until now.

               Croft: It was an eagle?

               Young Pig: Yes, he looks nasty and angry.

               Croft: I see.

               Young Pig: Your name is Croft, right?

               Croft: Yes, and your name is…

               Young Pig: I am Deran and my wife is Susi.

               Croft: That is strange. Why does an eagle want to capture me?

               Deran: I don’t know.

               Flex: So you don’t know where they are now, right?

Deran: No, but the eagle said bring Mr. Croft to the bottom of the Haiken mountain. It is an hour’s walk to the north.

Croft: I think he must Solar who is trying to get revenge on me. Do you remember Solar, Mr. Drunken?

Flex: How could I forget? That was the eagle who tried to overthrow the king of Kalan – the eagle’s country. You almost killed him when you transformed into a bear.

               Croft: Yes, hmm... it's probably him although we can't be sure yet...

               Flex: So what do we do now?

Croft: We should find out where they are first.

But then the conversation is interrupted. Tingy, yes, Tingy appears with a group of soldier ants, rushing towards them from beyond the palm trees! Oh no! They have been followed! She grabs Croft and pulls him to her body and starts mumbling…

Tingy: Oh my cutie sweetie. I finally found you. Why did you leave me and run away? Am I so ugly or did I do something wrong? Come back with me now, sweetie pie!

Croft: No, Your Majesty. I decided it was not the right time for me to get married. I am too young. I can’t go back with you now. I must help this pig out.

Tingy: Oh you are such a kind rat, helping animals in trouble. I knew I wasn’t wrong to choose you. I’ll help you out and then we can get married afterward.

               Croft: Err…Thank you but afterwards I think will still be err… busy…

               Tingy: So what’s wrong with this pig?

Croft: An eagle has stolen his wife, but we don’t know exactly where they are. Somewhere near Haiken Mountain, probably.

               Tingy: My soldiers are very efficient. They can track anyone in no time at all.

Croft: Really?! That’s great. Can we rely on your soldiers to find this pig’s wife Your Majesty?

               Tingy: We will make you proud, my invaluable gem. And remember call me sweetie Tingy.

While the soldiers are searching, Croft reads more of the old book that he brought from his parent’s house. At first he reads just to pass the time but some way into the book he finds some methods to make different bombs. He is very interested and several ideas pop into his head. He quietly goes into the forest nearby and searches for the necessary ingredients.

The ant soldiers search everywhere, they crawl around in groups going over every corner of the land. Eventually, they find the eagle, in a cave deep in the forest just on the other side of the Haiken Mountain. And sure enough, Susi is the eagle’s prisoner. The soldiers come back and report to Croft and Tingy.

Soldiers: Your Highness. We have found the eagle. He is hiding in a cave in the back of Haiken Mountain.

               Tingy: Good job. Very well done. So what are we going to do now, my darling Croft?

Croft: I have a plan. For the last few hours I have been searching around and found these special plants.

               Tingy: What are they for, my cutie?

Croft: They are called Deadly Smell herbs. Be careful! Don’t touch them or you will smell terrible for weeks. We can use these to make stink bombs. If we throw these in the eagle’s cave, it will force him to come out. Then all your soldiers can surround her. If we are quick, she won’t have any chance to escape. What do you think, Your Majesty?

               Tingy: Excellent!! You are so clever, my honey darling!

               Flex: Good plan, Little Croft. Should we have a celebration after we rescue Susi?

Croft:  Another chance for you to get drunk again, Mr. Drunken. Right?

               Flex:  Oh man! You know me so well, Little Croft.

Tingy: Yes, it will be a good time to celebrate and we can have our wedding as well, my sweetie darling.

Croft: Errr… We can think about that later. We need to get on with this plan first before that eagle harms Susi.

Croft then searches for the other materials he needs for his stink bombs, coco shells, some pop-berries and sticky sap. After many hours of hard work he has made a few bombs. “That should be enough”, he thinks. They follow Tingy’s soldiers' directions to the eagle’s cave. They approach very quietly and wait outside. Croft throws a bomb inside, nothing happens, so he throws another, then another. Soon they hear coughing and flapping from inside the cave. The eagle can’t stand the heat and smell so he comes outside. He tries to fly away, but Tingy’s soldier ants are close to the cave with their sharp pincers pointing at the eagle, so he cannot escape. Realising he is trapped, the eagle turns around and suddenly, oh! The eagle is holding Susi with a sharp claw by Susi’s neck.

The eagle: Well, well, well! You finally came, Mr. Croft. You must think you’re clever with those stink bombs, but I still have this pig, ha!

Croft: I was right, it is you, Solar. So you want to get your revenge, right? But why kidnap Susi?

Solar: That's right, little stupid rat. I heard from some cats that you were coming in this direction, and I knew you would try and rescue this pig – always helping everywhere you go. Ha! Now, send those soldiers away or I will kill this pig.

Croft: So what do you want now?

Solar: I will Kill you and then get back my power.

Croft: If you kill me you still won't have any power.

Solar: Ha! One thing at a time, rat. I have more plans you know. Anyway, this is not a discussion, come over here now and exchange places with this greedy pig.

               Croft: Sure I will do that!

Everyone is surprised that Croft accepted so quickly!

               Tingy: Oh, no, no, no, my darling. She will kill you straight away!

               Flex: Don’t do that, Little Croft. We have other options.

However, Croft signals the others to stay behind and that he will be alright. He moves closer to Solar. Solar snaps his beak and begins to wave his sharp claws, surely Croft will be killed! But just as he reaches him, Croft suddenly throws some ichy[24] fur on his body. Solar starts giggling, dancing and laughing like crazy. While he is distracted, Croft quickly pulls Susi towards him and rescues her from the danger. The ant soldiers move in and easily capture Solar while she is still out of control.

Croft’s plan succeeded completely - he truly has become a great adventurer. Everyone is so delighted and grateful.

               Susi: Thank you for rescuing me, mister!

Croft: You’re welcome, it was my fault you were kidnapped, so I had to help. Anyway I am Little Croft but call me Croft.

Deran: Yes, thank you very much for rescuing my wife, Mr. Croft. You are a hero today. I don’t know how to thank you enough, but tomorrow please come to my house and we will celebrate.

Flex: Sure, I am coming!

Croft: He asked me!

Tingy: And let’s not forget our wedding as well, my cutie darling. You haven’t forgotten, have you, my darling?

Croft: I am so sorry, Your Majesty but honestly I am not thinking of getting married at the moment.

Tingy: How can you refuse me now after all my help? Don’t you have any feelings for me?

Croft: I am on an adventure. This is not the time to get married.

Tingy (sadly): OK, I will wait until you are ready, as long as it takes…

Tingy: I know! I will accompany you on your journey until you fall in love with me. My soldiers can help you out in dangerous situations. And you need a female touch. Perfect!

Croft: Errr… But who will manage your country?

Tingy: I’ll have one of my generals look after the country when I am away.

Croft: Oh, no… I mean, oh I see. Well let me think about it!

The next day Croft goes to Deran’s house. There is a small celebration with lots of food and drink. There is apple stew, multi-grain soup, mixed-fruit porridge, apple and kiwi broth, crispy caramelised apples, sour wheat beer and tangy fruit wine… Susi is waving her curly little tail happily and she moves closer to Croft to chat with him.

               Susi: Do you like the food and drink, Mr. Croft?

Croft is chewing some crispy nuts with his front sharp teeth and answers Susi in a jolly voice,

Croft: Yes, it is all very delicious, Mrs. Susi.

Deran trots nearer and joins the conversation.

               Deran: Please try everything and don’t be shy!

Flex is near the drinks, waving his tail and twitching his whiskers as he tries each one. In one paw he is holding a glass of beer and in the other he is holding a glass of wine. He is excited and joins in their conversation.

Flex: I love this country. It is so relaxing and the people are so friendly. I would like to stay here for longer. However my only problem is everyone and everything here are so clean and beautiful.

Croft: And your dirty body will spoil it, right?

Flex: My body has a mysterious fragrance that is not to everyone's taste. Only an expert can appreciate it.

Everyone: Ha ha ha…

Croft: Well I think the only one expert in Alease is you. Sorry we don’t appreciate wonderful fragrance so we'll leave it for you to enjoy.

Flex: That is sad, isn’t it? No one understands me… (Flex pretends to look very thoughtful)

Susi: Anyway, you are all welcome to stay!

Tingy is always close to Croft. Her antenna and legs are constantly reaching around Croft like she is trying to hug him.

Tingy: Yes, please stay here. This country is so near to mine.

Deran: What do you think, Mr. Croft?

Croft: Flex can stay, but I am sorry I feel I must continue my adventure.

Flex: Oh, c'mon! Always moving, never staying to relax.

Croft: Well, that’s how I am. Anyway let’s enjoy the party!

 

Chapter 7 – Time to Return Home

After the party, the pigs invite Croft, Flex and Tingy for a relaxing time on the beach, just a few minutes from their house. Sunbathing is something Croft, Flex and even Tingy have never tried before.

               Croft: So, why do you all wear these weird looking glasses? What are they?

Deran: They are telescope glasses. They protect your eyes from the sun. But you can also look far away, much further than you could imagine. You can use them to look across any wide open area, like the sea. From here you can see across the ocean to lands far away.

               Croft: Oh really!? Where did you get them?

Deran: We make them ourselves. Here, I’ll give you this pair. You should try them now!

               Croft: Oh! Thanks.

               Deran: You don’t need to thank me. I’m happy to give you these after all your help.

               Croft: I’ll try them now.

               Flex: Me too!

               Tingy: And me!

There is a long pause while Croft looks through the glasses.

Croft is amazed. He can see mountains and forests in far-off lands that he doesn’t even know. He looks left and right across the ocean until, far, far away, he sees a beach that seems familiar... He slowly recognises it as his own country. And then...

Croft sees his parents on a beach near their house. They are walking slowly side by side together. Serly, Croft’s mother, is holding a walking stick in her left paw. His father is walking by his mother on the right-hand side. He is guiding her along. They sit together on a bench on the beach. They sit there for a very long time. Their eyes are looking far away into the distance. They are looking very sad as though they are waiting for someone.       

Croft: Those are my… parents… but my mum… Her… eyes… She… is... blind…

               Flex: Yes, I can see them. They are on the beach… waiting for you

               Tingy: Yes, I see that too…

Croft (suddenly crying): Boohoo, boohoo… I think… boohoo they miss me so much and… boohoo… that’s why she is blind… It’s all my fault!!

Flex: Don’t blame yourself. I’m sure she didn’t lose her sight because of you. We still don’t know what has happened to her.

               Tingy: C’mon my darling. You have to be strong. You should go back and see your mum.

               Croft: Yes, I must return and help her immediately.

Tingy: Maybe, you can find a way to cure your mum’s eyes, my sweetie. I’ll go back to my country and hunt for something that might heal your mum’s eyes. Then we can celebrate with our wedding party.

               Flex: Yes, we will help you out, don’t worry Little Croft. I’ll come back home with you.

               Susi: We are always ready to help you too, Mr. Croft.

               Deran: Yes, you are such a kind guy. Everyone will help you and your mum will be alright.

               Croft: Thank you very much everyone. I really appreciate it!

Croft and Flex say goodbye to everyone. The pigs give them a boat and they set sail back to their home right away. Soon they have disappeared into the distance. Tingy has a tear in her eye…

 

Will Croft and Flex return to their country forever? Or do they have more adventures to come? Will Tingy ever find her love? What has happened to Croft’s parents and can his mum’s eyes be healed? Well that’s another story. Goodbye and good luck, Little Croft.

 

The End

 


Map

Alease World



[1] Adrop: is an alcoholic drink. It is made from fermented rice and a particular Dallon herb.

[2] Stulf: an extremely sharp short sword, similar to a dagger.

[3] Carlot: a pig stomach bag for keeping water. It is made from many fine threads and it is very strong.

[4] Ilis: is a pink reddish flower similar to a tree peony.

[5] Fishog: a fish-trap.

[6] Flot: is a kind of pancake which is made from rice. The rice is cooked in water and then it is shaped into individual lumps. Finally each lump is dry fried until crispy. It is great with honey.

[7] Coco: is a fruit which looks similar to our dried coconut.

[8] Halo: are a rare berries. They look like blackberries but they are much larger.

[9] Bana: looks like our banana, but has a red colour and it is poisonous!

[10] Alviolet: looks similar to our apple, but it is a violet colour. It tastes sweet and rather delicious!

[11] Rosmint: is a type of herb. It looks like a cross between a rose and mint. The leaves are shaped like rose petals and have pink colour. It makes your breath smells floral.

[12] Apbana: is a cross between a banana and an apple. It has a light green colour. It has the shape of an apple but it has a thick banana skin. It tastes sweet with a hint of sour as well. When it young, it smells like an apple but when it gets ripe it smells like a banana.

[13] (*)Passionbana: is a cross between a passion fruit and banana. It has rough purple passion fruit skin. However the skin is easy to peel like a banana and the texture is similar to a banana. There are surprisingly crunchy passion fruit seeds inside. Imagine you mixed a banana with a passion fruit together. You will get the texture and taste of a passionbana. Great for summer smoothies!!!

[14] Limbana: Again it is a cross between a lime and a banana. It has a shape like a lime and a texture similar to a banana. It's a mid-green colour. And what does the taste like? Well, very tart indeed!

[15] Goosebana: Easy to guess, it is a cross between a gooseberry and a banana. It is tiny like a gooseberry. Its flavour is sweet and sour at the same time. However, the skin is thin and easy to peel. Great for a snack!!!

 

[16] Stulf: His knife, remember - from chapter 1!

 

[17] Pinenal: is a cross between pineaple and apple. It only grows in Monkidom. It is round like an apple but has a crown like a pineapple. It has many eyes like a pineaple but it is not rough as pineaple, in fact it is rather smooth. It smells like a pineaple. However, it is very sweet and crunchy like an apple.

 

[18] Ichy: is from the tail of a rare and special monkey. It is a shiny light yellow colour. Anyone who touches this fur feels itchy and ticklish until they wash it off.

 

[19] Lavenros: It is a cross between lavender and rose with a long thin body similar to lavender. However, it has many rose buds. Each bud is purple.

 

[20] Halo Fruit: see chapter 2 for an explanation.

[21] Erlic: The King of Kalan in Chapter 2.

 

[22] Ichy: see chapter 3 for an explanation

[23] Carlot: see chapter 1 for an explanation.

 

[24] Ichy: see chapter 3 for an explanation.

 

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