Day 20 – 4212 words, and a total of 34 103 words! I know, I can’t believe it either!

 

The others all gaped at Stikky’s statement, and turned to see if it was true.

“How do you make that out?” Stib asked, scratching his head.

“Well, you can see the lake out there, right?” Stikky explained, carefully pointing with a finger. “That’s almost directly at the centre of the island. Now, there are three rivers that flow into it. Each of those comes directly from the sea; they’re all salt water. So, although there isn’t much of a gap between them, there are three different islands here!”

Leddy nodded as Stikky explained, but one little thought still nagged him. “But how did it get like that?” he asked. “Would it have always been like that, or…”

Steik answered his question. “If you removed the rivers altogether, it would be possible to slot the three back into place exactly, with almost no holes. My guess is that an earthquake happened here once, the island split into three, and seawater flowed in to fill the hole, making the three rivers and the lake!”

The twins shrugged, yawning together. “Whatever,” Stib replied, scratching behind his ear, and receiving a reprimanding glare from Stikky.

“He doesn’t mean it like that,” Stif protested, winking at Stikky cheekily. “What he means is: it’s cool and all, but we’re all kind of tired, I think we need to get some rest…”

Nodding in agreement, they all set to work making themselves as comfortable as possible on the soft grass—none of them felt like sleeping in old abandoned houses in beds that might break under them.

“Goodnight!” Leddy called, relaxing down on the grass and trying to get his head as comfortable as possible while using his pack as a pillow.

“Goodnight,” Stikky answered, staring up at the night sky as he heard the others giving their replies, each one fainter than the last. He felt his eyelids drooping, and before he knew it, he was asleep.

 

The five stickmen awoke refreshed the next morning, each finding that somehow their comfortable beds had managed to transform into hard, lumpy ground.

Stretching his stiff back, Stikky groaned as he looked around him. The village didn’t seem half so bad in the daytime—but nighttime was different. Stikky shuddered as he remembered what had happened; the joy of finally realising they were not alone, and then having their hopes dashed to pieces when they discovered the truth.

Kneeling down beside his pack, he opened it, took a drink of cool, refreshing water, pulled out a banana, peeled it, and ate it with four quick bites.

Heaving it back onto his back, he waited impatiently for the others to finish their breakfasts and pack up, before setting off out of the village to continue exploring.

“So, are we going back to the castle yet?” Leddy enquired, pulling out his sword and twirling the blade around his head for fun.

Stikky looked at him in surprise. “Are you saying you’re getting bored of exploring? I thought you loved it!”

Leddy held up a hand. “Sorry, I didn’t mean it like that. What I’m saying-” he paused for a moment as the twins sidled up alongside him, Steik directly behind. “Is that it’s not boring, but I think we should be getting back to the castle soon, just in case something else happens while we’re away.”

The others nodded in agreement. “We’re almost done,” Stikky said comfortingly. “We just need to get an idea of what the valley between this circle of hills is like, and what’s in it; then we can go back to the castle and map it out.”

As they emerged out the other side of the village and looked down into the valley, they saw that inside the circle of hills lay a lush, green valley filled with trees. At its centre was a large, greeny-blue lake.

“It would’ve been a better idea to build their village down there,” Leddy remarked, looking down into the valley with the others. “It wouldn’t have had so much rough treatment from the winds and rain.”

As the five hurried down the hill to explore the valley, Stif, who was at the back of the group, caught his fought on a sticking-up piece of rock and tripped, rolling over and over down the hill until he collided with the others, knocking them over and bringing them down with him.

Groaning as they reached the bottom of the hill, the four glared at Stif, until someone began laughing, breaking the tension.

Picking themselves up, they set off into the valley, excitement filling them at the hope of what they might discover.

The lake, they discovered, was alive with fish of all shapes, sizes, and colours.

Bending down, Stikky dipped his hand into the water, watching as ripples spread in all directions, causing the nearby fish to swim away in fright.

“If we had some fishing rods, or a net,” Stikky said in disappointment. “We could catch some of these and take them back. We haven’t had fish for ages…”

The others nodded in agreement. “We can always come back another time,” Steik reminded him. “With some others, and probably a cart or two as well.”

Splash!

A large fish burst out of the water nearby, hovering for a moment in mid-air before landing back in the lake with a splash, showering the five stickmen with spray.

“What was that?!” Steik exclaimed, peering into the water as the fish circled back around and leaped out of the water once more.

“Flying fish?” Stif asked in confusion, scratching his head as he held up a hand to shield himself from the spray as the fish submerged once more.

“But fish can’t fly!” his twin retorted, stepping back as the splashing increased; there were now two fish doing it now.

Leddy looked at him, his eyes growing wide. “Or can they?” he asked, grinning in excitement as three brightly-coloured fish simultaneously leaped out of the water, almost-flying for a few seconds before returning into the lake.

“We’d better get out of here,” Stikky decided, stepping back as another fish splashed down into the water. “Before we get soaked… or worse!”

Hurrying away from the lake, they turned to explore the group of closely growing trees on the northwest side of the valley.

They looked like some sort of pine tree—thick, slightly prickly, and tall, with the branches close together.

Picking up a pine cone from the leaves covering the grassy floor of the forest, Stikky examined it for a moment; it was still quite fresh.

Shrugging, he chucked over his shoulder, wincing as he heard it bounce off someone’s head and land on the ground some distance away.

“Hey!” he heard Stif shout, and turned around just in time to duck a returning shot, which hit Leddy instead.

In a moment the forest was transformed into a battleground, the five stickmen picking up, flinging, and ducking pine cones as they flew in all directions.

Hiding behind a tree as a volley of brown projectiles narrowly avoided him, Stikky collected a handful of pine cones and then abandoned his hiding spot, yelling at the top of his voice as he charged out into the open, flinging the brown missiles in all directions.

Thunk!

Something large thudded into his back, and he fell to the ground in a laughing heap, his pine cones spilling in all directions as Stif and Stib stood over him triumphantly, both ready to strike.

Whack!

The twins fell as two missiles hit them in the head, changing their expressions from that of triumph to confusion and pain, revealing Leddy and Steik.

The two glared down cheekily at Stikky, stepping over the twins as they lifted their arms, pine cones at the ready.

Beginning to laugh, Stikky lifted his arms in surrender as he shook his head in amusement, then, grabbing his final missile in a lightning-quick movement, he flung it as hard as he could, catching Steik in the chest and knocking him over in surprise.

Leddy looked first down at Stikky, and then back at his comrade, who was trying to figure out what had happened, while polishing his glasses at the same time.

“Okay,” Stikky said, grinning as he got his breath back. “You guys win. Uh… are you guys okay?”

He looked at Stif and Stib as he spoke, who were now on their feet, trying to glaring at Stikky as they attempted to clean off their dirty clothes.

“Nah, we’re fine,” Stif replied, turning to look frostily at Leddy and Steik. “Oh, and you two, try not to sneak up on people and get them from behind, okay?”

Everyone stared at him for a moment, then they all began to laugh.

“Come on,” Stikky decided eventually, his grin disappearing. “Let’s get this forest explored, then we can go back to the castle; I don’t think I fancy spending another night out here in the dark.”

The others agreed, and they set off once more through the pine forest, chucking away the remaining pine cones they had hidden in their pockets.

Looking up as the few rays of light that were penetrating through the thick branches, Leddy sighed. “Looks like we will be… it’ll take more than a day to get all the way back to the castle from here.”

Stikky patted him on the back. “Don’t worry, if we do, we’ll be together; that’s better than being alone!”

Leddy was about to reply when Steik gave a shout.

“I say guys, look! There’s a clearing ahead!” he called, pointing somewhere northwards. “Are we going to check it out?”

Looking in the direction Steik was pointing, Stikky could see the trees began to thin, no doubt the beginning of a clearing.

He nodded. “Absolutely!”

Turning sharply to the right, the five stickmen hurried off towards the light, trepidation as to what awaited them filling their minds.

Emerging into the clearing, the first thing they did was blink in the bright light of the sun, shielding their eyes with a hand. The next thing they did—when they had gotten used to the light—was look around, expecting to see something unusual, but the clearing was completely empty.

“Well,” Steik said after a moment, breaking the building silence. “I suppose it’s not going to be interesting every time…”

Walking out into the clearing, Leddy looked around, his eyes narrowed. “You’d think there’d be at least something…”

“Look out!” Stikky yelled, pulling his friend back just in time to stop him from falling as the ground gave way beneath him. A moment later, as the five ran for their lives, the entire clearing collapsed, leaving a black, gaping hole.

Stopping just out of range, the five stickmen looked around in shock and horror, not daring to move in case it began again. Thankfully, it did not.

Cautiously moving forward, Stikky held onto a tree for balance and looked down in shock at the hole, trying to make out what lay at the bottom of the hole.

“It’s not very deep!” he called, turning as the others gathered cautiously around him, ready to jump back at a moment’s notice.

“What’s down there?” Stif asked, scratching his head as he stepped forward. But he had misjudged how close he was to the hole, and a moment later disappeared down into it with a scream.

“Stif!” Stib yelled in panic, peering over into the pit. “Are you okay?”

The sound of quiet laughter came from below them. “This grass is like a trampoline; it’s really springy—and quite comfortable too!”

The others looked down in confusion, and then began to laugh too.

“Actually,” Stif added, looking up at them from the bottom of the hole. “You guys might want to come and have a look at this… does any of this look familiar?”

Sliding down the almost-vertical side of the pit, the four stickmen landed on the layer of springy grass that had hidden the hole from view, bouncing up and down slightly as they made their way over to Stif.

Looking around, Stikky scratched his head as he tried to work out how the grass had been used as a covering. “I think this hole must have been dug ages ago,” he decided after a moment. “And over however-many years it’s grown back over it again…”

Stif watched him impatiently. “Okay, thanks, but now that we’ve got that one hundred percent useless fact established, can you come and have a look at this?”

Turning around, Stikky hurried over to where Stif and Stib were standing, looking down a dark tunnel paved with large stone bricks.

Peering closer, he stared at the bricks. Where had he seen them before?

“Is it just me…” he said slowly. “Or are those the same bricks used on the castle and the tunnels?”

Stif nodded. “Yep, I recognised them as soon as I saw this place. They’ve been laid the same way too, and they look almost the same age.”

“Which means,” interrupted Stib. “That either this was built by the same guys who made the castle, or else it joins up to it, or both.”

Leddy looked around in excitement. “Does this mean we can just take this tunnel to go home?” he asked hopefully.

Stikky nodded. “Though I think we’ll need some kind of light,” he decided, turning around completely as if he might find something nearby. “I don’t think it’ll be a very good idea to go in there while it’s pitch black.”

The twins looked at each other as if it was obvious. “We need to get a fire started then!” they exclaimed in unison. “There are unlit lanterns in there already, we just need something to light them with…”

“Actually,” Steik added, taking off his glasses and popping one of the lenses out into his hand, much to everyone’s surprise. “I might be able to do something about that.”

Kneeling down beside a pile of wood the twins quickly collected, Steik aligned the lense with the sun, adjusting it slightly until he had focused the ray of light on the smallest spot possible, and waited. A moment later, a small tendril of smoke began to rise into the air, a small flame appeared.

Looking up triumphantly into the bewildered faces of the others, Steik grinned at them. “What?” he asked defensively. “They’re very modified glasses, okay?”

Shrugging, Stikky knelt down and blew on the flame gently until it became a proper blaze, roaring up as it began to engulf the rest of the sticks.

Retrieving a dead branch before it became too hot to hold, he turned and walked a few metres into the tunnel, found an unlit lantern, put the burning tip of the stick to the oil, and stepped back as it flared up in bright flame.

Giving the branch to Leddy, he and Steik quickly stamped out the fire, waited a few minutes to make sure it would not flare up again, and set off down the tunnel, the others trailing close behind.

Following the passageway’s bends, dips, and rises, while lighting each lantern they came across at the same time, the five stickmen made quick progress through the tunnel.

They walked along in silence, Stikky holding a lantern, and Leddy holding the smouldering stick, pausing every few seconds to remove a lamp from its peg on the wall, light it, and hang it back up.

Time soon began to passed uneventfully, and after anywhere from forty-five minutes to several hours Stikky began to look around, unsure. Turning to Steik, he gave him a questioning look.

“Do you think we should turn back?” he asked, the confidence fading from his voice.

Steik shrugged wearily, removing his glasses quickly to polish them. “We’ve gone such a long way; I don’t know if we’re closer to our destination, or if it’d be better to go back and make our way across the island.”

Stopping to catch his breath, Stikky looked first down the dark tunnel before them—the lanterns lining its walls not yet lit—and then back down the way they had come.

“What do you guys think?” he asked, turning to Stif, Stib, and Leddy. “Should we keep going, or turn around and go back; maybe try and retrace our footsteps all the way back?”

Stif and Stib shook their heads. “I think we should keep going,” Stib decided, turning to look down the tunnel. “We’ve come such a long way, it’d be pointless to just go back.”

Leddy wasn’t listening, but was staring down into the darkness as hard as he could. “Hey guys?” he said eventually, causing the others to turn and listen. “Is that… a light?”

Spinning around, Stikky searched the dim passageway, finally picking out the small speck of light far off in the distance.

“Let’s go check it out!” he decided in a cautious voice. “But be careful, we don’t know what it is yet.”

Hurrying down the passageway, sword in hand, Stikky crept forward, the others sticking close behind him.

As they drew closer, it soon became apparent that the light was coming from around a corner, and to see what it was, they would have to look around the corner…

Shaking the thought from his head, he beckoned for the others to follow him, flattened himself against the wall, and began to creep slowly along the wall towards the corner.

Taking a deep breath, Stikky slowly edged himself forward until he could just peer around the corner. There was no one there.

Breathing a sigh of relief, he stepped almost-casually into the passageway as he started to laugh to himself.

Shaking his head in something like amusement, he turned to see where the light was coming from as the others gathered around him.

A little way ahead of them the tunnel had completely caved in, their path blocked by a pile of rocks, dirt, and broken bricks.

A small sliver of light was visible at the very top of the rockfall where the dirt did not quite reach the ceiling.

Clambering up the steep slope, Stikky peered through the crack, letting out a shout of joy as he realised what he was looking at.

“What is it?” Leddy called, hurrying up to him.

“It’s one of those passages we explored a couple days ago!” Stikky exclaimed excitedly. “The one that we thought ended in a dead end!”

Leaning back, he turned and was about to grin triumphantly at the others when the ground gave way beneath him and he slid down in an undignified heap.

“That’s great and all,” Steik replied, helping Stikky to his feet. “But how are we going to get through?”

Stikky’s face fell. “Um… well…” he mused, but he was out of ideas.

Leddy examined the hole. “That’s just about the right size for me,” he decided, looking at the others as an idea began to form. “Stif or Stib could, but they’ve been eating too much lately…”

The twins glared at him as he winked cheekily. “We could say the same about you,” Stif retorted, folding his arms across his chest. “It’s not our fault there’s been more food than normal!”

Rolling his eyes, Leddy scrambled up the heap, wriggled through the hole, and disappeared. A moment later his head showed on the other side, and he waved a hand.

“I’ll go and find some help!” he called. “Then we’ll come and dig you out!”

Spinning around, Leddy slid down the other side of the heap and hurried down the tunnel, grabbing a lantern of the wall as he did so.

Turning the corner sharply, he got his bearings, remembered what tunnel he was in, and set off in the direction of the kitchens where McRhoddy was most likely to be.

Bursting through a set of roughly fashioned doors—they must have been added recently, Leddy didn’t remember seeing them before—he hurried into the kitchens, almost bumping directly into McRhoddy, who was just taking a tray of steaming muffins out of the oven.

The old stickman beamed in surprise. “Welcome back, m’lad!” he exclaimed, throwing his arms wide. “I thought you were still all out explorin’!

Leddy held up a hand as he tried to get his breath back. “Back in the tunnel-” he gasped, leaning on a benchtop for support. “There’s a cave in! The others are stuck behind it- we need to dig them out!”

McRhoddy took in the situation quickly. “Righto, m’laddie!” he exclaimed, taking off his apron and placing it on the counter. “You; there!” He ordered, turning to the other stickmen helping in the kitchen, pointing a wrinkled finger to the nearest one. “Mind these ovens for me! The rest of you: come with me! We’ve got some diggin’ to do!”

Hurrying to a storage room—McRhoddy leading the way, and Leddy right beside him—the group of stickmen collected a cart and a set of spades and set off through the tunnels for the cave in.

Heaving a spade over his shoulder, Leddy ran ahead of the group, rounding the corner first.

Clambering up the side of the heap, he put his head to the crack, grinning triumphantly as the voices of the others stopped.

“I’ve brought some backup!” he called, winking cheekily as he held his spade up for them to see, then set to work as the others caught up with him.

Together, along with six other stickmen, Leddy shoveled a heap of small rocks and dirt up onto his spade, turned carefully around, tipped his load into the cart, and started the process from the start.

Starting from the top of the mound, it began to slowly disappear, and long before it was finished Stikky, Steik, and the twins had hurried into the tunnel, happy grins on their faces as they too joined the digging team.

In a few minutes the entire pile of rubble had been moved into the cart, and with the help of a few extra hands, they moved it through the passages and tipped it out in a corner of the castle courtyard.

McRhoddy grinned as he wiped the sweat from his forehead with his dirty hands, making it even worse.

“Well, it’s good to see all you lads,” the old man announced. “But aren’t you a little hungry?”

Stikky felt his stomach rumble. “Well, you fed us pretty well, but now that you mention it…”

Stif and Stib nodded. “To put it straight: we need food!”

Hurrying down the passageway behind the old stickman, the five hungry friends made their way into the kitchen, where McRhoddy proceeded to feed them until they were stuffed full.

“Mhhmmmm…” Stikky sighed, leaning back in a chair as he removed his pack and laid it on the ground beside him as he was handed a flask of water and a hot pasty. “I must say, you’re an amazing cook!”

McRhoddy shrugged modestly as he leaned back against the wall. “It wasn’t all me, y’know. But anyways, let’s get to what you’ve discovered! How’d ya get in that tunnel? Did ya find anything interesting out?”

Stikky lifted a pad out of his pack, grabbing a pencil at the same time.

“So…” he explained, beginning by sketching a rough outline of the shape of the island. “The island is actually three-islands-in-one; each one separated by a river that flow from the sea and join at a lake at the centre.”

“How about we start by naming the lake?” Leddy suggested, pointing to the rough sketch Stikky had scribbled at the centre of the island.

“What about Meetingplace Lake?” Steik suggested.

Stikky nodded, writing the name neatly in the middle of the lake.

“So, the island is split into three different areas. The one we’re in is a forest area… with a the mountain rising out of it…”

“Fruitful Forest?” Leddy suggested, creating a name off the top of his head.

Writing it down, Stikky continued. “The second region is essentially a desert, filled with cacti and sand geysers. It’s extremely hot and dry; the few minutes we spent exploring it was like being inside an oven-”

“Dehydration Desert!” Stif burst out, looking around in excitement as Stikky nodded, grinning as he wrote the name down.

“The third is very green,” he explained. “It has a low temperature, and is best described as a group of flatlands surrounding a ring of hills that surround a lake.”

“The Abandoned Hills…” Steik said softly, his eyes softening as they remembered their disappointment all over again.

“So…” Stikky muttered, quickly sketching in a few more details. “What should we call it?”

“Actually-” McRhoddy put up a hand. “While you lads were away I was tryin’ to tidy up that observatory of yours. So, while I was doin’ that, I came across a set of parchments in good condition. They tell all about the history of the island, and what it’s name was. It was called Tri-formed Island, if I’m rememberin’ correctly. I think you lads’d like to look at them, they’re quite interesting… and they talk about a battle!”

Stikky finished adding in the trees around the mountain, scribbled Tri-formed Island at the top of the paper, stuffed the pad back into his pack, and set off at a run for the observatory, excitement filling him as he prepared himself to learn about the island’s history.