“What was that?!” exclaimed Jamie.
“I think we have hit the tabletop of a plateau,” said Jasmine.
“What plateau?” asked Gorge.
“Let us get down,” said Jasmine.
As they descended from the cloud to the plateau, they could see a steep mountain towering behind them. It had stalactite like growths. The ground was rocky, multi-colored, purple, green and gold. The sky above them was dyed a reddish gold with the rays of the setting sun. At a distance, the sea stretched out reflecting the colors of the sky. They could see a small black boat on the sea. Below was a lush green forest. It was beautiful.
They all stretched and Jamie sighed with relief. The group started looking around. They moved towards the ledges of the tabletop. JaJa was jumping. Jamie lingered behind the others and looked vary.
“How peaceful and lovely,” said Jolyn.
“We are at the portals of magicland,” said Jasmine.
Suddenly, Jamie, who was standing apart shouted, “Help!”He had been captured by a masked man who was holding him at gunpoint.There were about six masked figures surrounding the group. Each was pointing a gun at them and dressed like ninja soldiers in black.
Jasmine’s group stood frozen. Jamie was struggling and grunting.
“How dare you enter the domain of Dr Doom without permission!” boomed a loud fierce voice.
JaJa ran to Jasmine for shelter. She was beginning to whimper with fear.
A few more masked men popped out from behind the rocks. As the situation grew more desperate and the others cowered behind Gorge and Jasmine, another floating cloud came to rest near them. About twenty men in pale blue uniforms stepped out. They were holding weapons too but of a different kind. At the back of their shirts were written MIND POLICE in bold black.
“ Hand them over to us now,” said the leader of the group.
“ No,” said the person who seemed to be the chief of the masked bandits. “You need to meet Dr Doom first and settle the payments. None of your mind weapons will work here nor your tranquillizing gun or exterminator. This area has spells to immobilise all weapons except the ones made by us.”
“Our chief will come and settle that in a short while. Meanwhile, hand over the captives.”
“No,” came the sharp response.
The mind police tried shooting the tranquillizer and realized the weapons were truly non-functional. One of the police ran towards one of Dr Doom’s crew and a tussle between the two ensued. Another of Dr Doom’s men shot a mind police member. He fell injured. The tussle grew more violent. The man holding Jamie turned to defend himself.
Jamie stumbled out of his grasp and ran to his own group.
Jasmine said, “Follow me. I know this terrain.”
The others ran with her while the two teams of captors struggled with each other. They slipped into a narrow crevice. A long passage lay ahead. Suddenly, they heard a shot and voices shouting, “The captives have fled.”
Jasmine put her fingers to her mouth,“ Shhh!” She motioned them to follow her. They all filed down a narrow passage and came to a part where the tunnel forked into four paths. The voices had receded but they could hear the search was on. They took the tunnel that seemed to have lain unused for sometime. It had delicate spiders’ webs all over. They ran down the narrow passage till they came to a red and gold door. They could hear voices in the tunnel now. They pushed the door. It opened. Inside was a huge red and gold serpent like dragon with gold wings. It breathed fire on seeing them.
The group moved to the farthest end away from the dragon, taking care to close the door behind them. They were terrified. And then, the dragon started to talk!
“And where do you think you are going?” asked the dragon in a sibilant whisper. “Do you not know I roast humans and have them for dinner if they infringe on my territory?”
Jasmine whispered back, “Please save us. We are running away from Dr Doom’s men and the mind police. They both want to capture us.”
“If you are Dr Doom’s enemies, I am your friend but it had better be the truth,” said the dragon.
There were voices drawing closer. Jasmine folded her hands in prayer and mouthed, “ Please.”
The dragon nodded his head and motioned them to hide behind him.
As the group crouched behind his huge body, they heard voices. “If they were stupid enough to enter the dragon’s lair, they are roast meat by now.”
Another said, “Are you sure?”
“No one has emerged alive from the dragon’s door ever. Why should they? Still if you are apprehensive, let us set guard against them at the fork in the tunnel and at the mouth of the crevice.”
“That sounds good,” replied the first voice. “ Our counsellors will be furious if we do not capture or kill Jasmine and erase the other’s memories or destroy them as well.”
Then the footsteps and voices faded and all grew quiet outside.
“So you are really hunted down,” said the dragon. “ You can shelter here till you find help.”
“ Thanks,” said Jasmine. “ You are very kind.”
“ I used to be a good prince, long ago, till Dr Doom turned me into this. My magic prevented him from killing me. It is rare anyone calls me kind. Most just fear me.”
“This sounds like out of a fairy story,” said Jacinth.
“So, who said fairy stories can’t be real?” asked the dragon. “In magicland anything is possible.”
“I am coming to believe anything is possible anywhere,” said Gorge.
“I still find the whole situation strange and unreal. I keep thinking I will wake up from a strange dream,” said Jamie. “ I am scared. I never wanted to be a part of an adventure.”
“But you are and there is nothing you can do. You cannot escape back to your own dimension either,” said Gorge.
Jamie did not look happy. He looked resigned and troubled.
“Are you all hungry?” asked the dragon.
The group nodded.
“Here!” Said the dragon with a swish of his tail. A table laden with burgers, chicken legs, cakes, candies, water and milk appeared out of nowhere. They feasted on the food. JaJa who felt rejuvenated after gorging on candy started to sing. Jasmine silenced her. Everyone was tired.
“Beds for you!” said the dragon with another swish of his tail, the lair grew in size and rooms with beds and attached washrooms appeared from nowhere. They all thanked the dragon profusely, washed and rinsed and turned in for the night.
The next morning, they woke to the twittering of birds. The cave seemed to have expanded into a huge home under a vibrant blue sky of it’s own. The dragon had worked his magic and created a mini-world for them.
The little group assembled in what seemed to be the garden, where the dragon sat guard.
“This is unusual magic indeed,” said Jasmine.
“I could do more in my hey days. I was the prince of magicland. Dr Doom was my court inventor. I liked him to make things for the benefit of mankind. But, somehow, he got attracted to black magic. I did not approve of his fascination for the black magic. He wanted power and wealth of unreasonable proportions. He also wanted to marry my sister, the princess Keiya. I was against the match. One day, he tricked me unawares. He told me that he wanted me to check out one of his gadgets, a spellbinder, a gadget that would hold any creature bound in it’s spell for all times. When I entered it, he pulled a lever and I was trapped in this dragon’s body in this part of the mountain. He had cast a spell on me. Then he passed me off as an evil dragon who had swallowed up the prince and he trapped me in this liar. He took away my kingdom, my sister. My family and subjects believed him. He painted himself a hero and everyone believed him. My sister even married him. As he became more entrenched in black magic, he exposed himself. He wreaked havoc till the others rebelled against his oppression and wicked ways. The good magicians combined forces till he was ejected from his throne and entrapped in these mountains. But he still tries to rule from here, I know,”concluded the dragon with a sigh.
“Oh God! I got carried away telling my story. You all must be hungry. Let’s have some breakfast!” added the dragon prince. Again the magic table with plenty for everybody appeared. They all had breakfast.
Then Jasmine asked, “Your highness, can we help you in some way?”
“You all are running away from Doom yourselves. How can you help?”
“Perhaps, we will find a way… Let’s see. But, right now, I need to get in touch with Jacaranda,” said Jasmine.
“Why do you think of others here? Please do not leave. Stay here. I will create a wonderful world for all of us with my magic,” replied the dragon.
“Jacaranda could be in mortal danger as could my other selves be in different dimensions. The mind police want to destroy all of us because I wanted to create a multi-dimensional world. I am from the creators’ dimension and the counsellors are angry with me. They want to kill me and destroy my other selves as they see me as a rebel for not conforming to boundaries of dimensions created by them. Please help us. Help me get in touch with Jacaranda while the others stay here with you. This could be our safe house. What do you all think?” asked Jasmine turning to the others in the group.
“Might be a good idea,” said Gorge. “But I would like to help more if I can.”
“Sounds like a gilded cage to me,”said Jacinth . “But do we have a choice?”
“If the dragon helps us and does not hurt us and gives us good food, I do not care,” said Jamie.
“I have been so lonely that I would love to be understood and have company,” said the dragon. “But I need sometime to think how to get in touch with Jacaranda. I have to meditate on thought waves.”
And he fell into a quite slumber…
“Should we make a run for it while he sleeps?” whispered Jacinth to Jasmine.
“I do not think so. We should really stick with him. He seems to be a good and kind creature,” said Jasmine.
Jacinth acquiesced, looking a bit uncomfortable. She sat down on the grass,took out a little diary and began to scribble .
All this while, JaJa had been jumping with delight and chasing a butterfly from flower to flower in the beautiful garden of the palace.
Jamie shrugged,lay down on the grass at a little distance and dozed off again. Gorge and Jolyn went off by themselves to explore the garden further. Jasmine sat patiently by the dragon and waited. She gazed at a gnarled tree with hollows that made it look like a human face.