The Moon Stealers and the Quest for the Silver Bough

The Yorkshire town of Parsley Bottom has a problem…

Peter Crisp, a boy with an unusual gift of being able to see things that others cannot, goes missing after spending the night in a graveyard. Two of Peter's school friends, join forces with a Knight of King Arthur to attempt to find him but come across some mysterious engravings which propel them on an adventure beyond their imagination.

Meanwhile MI6 operative Steven Knight is sent from London to investigate a meteor landing site, but Steven is advised by his own boss not to trust the puppeteers that hold the strings to his investigation. Within the core of the meteor is an alien bacteria that evolves at an alarming rate that not only puts Steven's life at risk, but the entire human race.

By unravelling ancient codes and riddles the children journey within the bowels of Edinburgh Castle as they attempt to find the key to Peter’s disappearance. The children not only need to save Peter, they need to save the world while they’re at

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18. The Escape Tunnel

Edgar led the children along the passageway, all the time listening to the sticky and wet sound that was coming from behind. Scarlet could feel the air inside the tunnel getting colder as it sloped down and away from the castle. Max wondered if Edgar knew where they were going and kept nervously looking over his shoulder to see if he could see what was following them, but every time he turned round he seemed to stumble. The paleness of his skin seemed to shine in the torchlight like the warm wax from a candle whilst the sound of his shaky and nervous breathing bounced loud and echoey in the enclosed tunnel.

Edgar flashed the torch rapidly from side to side, looking for alternative tunnels to dodge down, but all he could see was damp stone of endless tunnel. He didn’t know when or where it would end, if it actually did, but all he could do was to keep running away from the sound behind them and try to lead the children to safety.

Suddenly they found the tunnel was blocked as they all ran directly into another iron gate. The torch fell from Edgar’s hand and landed on the ground rolling forward beneath the gate and into the tunnel on the other side. As its beam of light spun round and round, it finally came to rest facing the ceiling above Edgar and the children. A light crumble of stone became dislodged from the wall the gate was bolted to and fell to their feet.

The noise continued to come behind them and very soon it would be on top of them.

‘What do we do now!’, shouted Scarlet panicking.

‘It’s like the other gate we got through,’ said Joe rapidly as he noticed the rusted metal hinges that had absorbed the moisture from the rock. ‘If we push it hard enough we should be able to get through.’ With that he sat on the ground and began kicking at the rusted hinges as hard as he could.

The little light that shone in their direction, gave Edgar just enough visibility to be able to examine the lock. He took his penknife from his pocket and slid it into the keyhole of the lock, wiggling it around a little trying to release the catch.

Nothing happened.

Behind them the bubbling sound seemed to be getting louder.

Max closed his eyes, not wanting to see what was coming towards them, whilst Joe continued to kick at the hinges, his head darting around as he kept glancing at Edgar’s progress as well.

One of the hinges suddenly buckled under Joe’s persistence, the brown and crumbly rust of the hinge twisting and snapping. Spurred on by Joe’s success, Scarlet now joined him as he concentrated all effort on the second hinge.

Edgar tried twisting the knife slightly inside the lock as if it was a key, but it stayed closed. Frantically he wriggled it some more until finally there was a click, but he quickly realised that the click had come from the blade of the knife which had snapped and was now wedged inside the lock. There was no way the lock was going to be opened now, even if he had the key. Edgar turned away from the lock and started to concentrate on the hinges fixed on the wall.

‘Joe! Edgar!’ shouted Max as he began to see the outline of a dark shape coming towards them from further down the tunnel.

With one huge effort Edgar slammed his shoulder into the gate forcing the remaining screws to fall to the floor and the gate to spring back against the wall on the other side of the tunnel.

They all desperately scrambled through just as the dark shape emerged into the beam of torchlight that reflected off the tunnel walls.

Edgar leapt for the gate and pushed it back into position then forced his broken pen knife through one of the empty screw holes and into the stone wall with the heel of his hand until it was wedged stuck.

As soon as he withdrew his hand a blackened shapeless body slammed into the gate with a wet gurgling noise. The penknife stayed in position holding the gate and preventing the creature from getting through. In the limited light they could make out a single cloudy white eye reflecting the limited light and staring back at them all through the iron bars. The creature let out a loud gurgling sound which sounded like air being forced through a wet tube.

Scarlet screamed, startled by the noise. She shuffled backwards on the floor trying to get as far away from the creature as possible.

Despite feeling scared, curiosity caused them all to remain sat on the floor on the other side of the gate staring at the unknown creature, amazed at what it actually was, but also feeling safer knowing there was a gate between them and it. It was a bit like looking at an animal in a zoo.

‘We need to keep moving, the penknife won’t hold it for long,’ said Edgar as he brushed the dirt from his trousers and retrieved the torch from the floor. He then started walking away from the gate.

‘What is it?’, asked Max as he gulped in air to help calm him down. There was even a little bit of colour coming back to his face.

‘I don’t know what it’s called,’ answered Edgar, ‘but I think creatures similar to this were in the graveyard the night Peter stayed there. Now come on, we need to get out of here.’ Edgar continued to encourage the children to leave, but they seemed transfixed by the creature.

‘Look at the slime its releasing,’ said Joe, ’It’s like the slimy trail on the floor inside the church.’

Max took a step forward to take a better look at the black creature.

‘Don’t get too close,’ shouted Edgar urgently to Max and pulled him backwards towards the rest of them.

‘I’ve never seen anything like it before,’ said Max. ‘Is this a creature from the Unseen world?’

‘No. Let’s get out of here.’

‘Maybe it’s from the moon?’, said Max jokingly. ‘The eye certainly looks like a moon.’

Whilst they had been talking, the creature had done nothing but stare back at them. The long thin arms of the creature had extended from its body and the claw like fingers wrapped themselves around the bars of the gate. There were two extra long skeleton fingers at the end of each bony arm covered by a thin black skin stretched tight to the horny hook at the end. The creature poked a finger through the bars testing to see if it could reach any of the children, but all it did was claw at thin air.

‘What’s that smell?’, asked Joe, raising his hand to shield his mouth.

Edgar noticed it at the same time and automatically covered his mouth and nose with the fabric of his jacket. There was now a sharp harsh smell in the tunnel that made the back of their throats sting. There was also a brown coloured smoke starting to appear around the creature where it pressed itself up against the gate.

‘It’s acid!’ said Edgar. ‘Come on, we have to keep moving. If the tunnel fills up with this gas it could kill us. This creature must be using acid to get through the gate. Come on, hurry!’

Panic set in once again and the children began running along the passageway trying to get as far away from the creature as possible.

The darkness swallowed them up once again as they headed into an unknown tunnel not knowing what would be front of them, but at least they now knew what it was that was following them. After several minutes of running in silence Edgar noticed that there was no sound of anything following them, so he slowed down to a quick walk, allowing the children chance to rest slightly.

‘Where does this tunnel go?’, Max asked the question everyone was thinking.

‘I’m not entirely sure, but we’ve been moving constantly down hill and away from the castle. This could be one of the escape routes built into the castle rock in case it came under siege. Remember we went through that junction where three tunnels came together? Above it was the Royal Palace. Royalty could leave the castle undetected via underground passages. If this is one of them, it could lead to somewhere outside and below the castle’

Behind them a loud clang of metal echoed again and again off the sides of the tunnel walls. They all froze to the spot, realising that the creature had managed to get through the gate and was now inside the tunnel with them.

They started to run again.

Suddenly the passage came to a dead end. They were faced with a solid wall of stone with nowhere to go except back the way they had just come and straight into the path of the creature. Edgar frantically swung the torch light around them trying to find an exit, but they were trapped.

‘There!’ shouted Scarlet who had noticed that there no longer appeared to be a ceiling above their heads, ‘we need to go upwards.’ Edgar shone the light into a narrow tunnel that went upwards and into dark preventing them seeing to the top. There was a metal ladder fixed to one side of the tunnel. It was their only option.

‘We have to climb,’ Edgar said as he picked up Scarlet so that she could reach the bottom rung of the ladder, ‘and we have to climb quickly. Go!’

As soon as one of the children had gone up several rungs of the ladder Edgar lifted another to start immediately after until there was just himself left in the tunnel alone. Once again he became aware of the damp bubbling sound in the tunnel getting closer and closer to him. The last of the children had cleared the bottom of the ladder so Edgar put the torch in between his teeth and put his hands on the bottom bar of the ladder and lifted himself up. He started to climb as quickly as he could and soon came to the feet of Max who was directly in front of him.

‘Come on, keep moving as fast as you can,’ Edgar said encouraging them on. He swung the torch up to shine above where the Scarlet was climbing at the front of the line. Above her, Edgar could see where the ladder finished and it looked like there was night sky above them.

‘Keep going. Look above you. This takes us outside. I know your arms are probably hurting but we’re almost there.’

He swung the torch back down beneath his feet and saw that the creature had now arrived at the dead end of the passageway. It looked up at the torch light then something very peculiar happened. It spread its arms out and a thin flap of skin unfolded from beneath its armpits like fine wings. It flapped hard pushing air beneath its body in swirls of dust, allowing it to rise off the ground.

‘It’s got wings!’ said Edgar in surprise. He watched as the creature tried to fly up the tunnel, but it was too narrow, its wings kept hitting the side of the tunnel and causing it to slip back down. At one attempt, though, as it fell backwards it managed to hook one long finger onto a rung of the ladder and hold on. Now it began pulling its body up the tunnel at an alarming speed.

Scarlet had now reached the top. She pushed her shoulder against a grate that covered the hole and lifted her weary body out onto wet grass. Joe followed closely behind her and they both sat there panting for breath as the head of Max also appeared above the hole.

Edgar’s progress was delayed as he waited for the children to get out of the hole before him, but the creature had rapidly gained on them. Edgar shone the light back down the tunnel to see how far away the creature was and he realised that it had reached a part of the ladder that was only two rungs below his feet. He saw a thin clawed hand begin to reach up for his foot but as the light from the torch shone directly into its eye it seemed to retract back and almost squint in an attempt to shield its eye from the bright light. Edgar didn’t need to wait for a better opportunity than this; he pulled one foot off a rung of the ladder and slammed it into the head area of the creature which then fell backwards down the tunnel.

Above him he noticed that Max had now managed to pull himself out of the tunnel allowing Edgar freedom to climb the rest of the ladder and lift his body out onto the grass beside the children. Never before had it felt so good to be lying on wet grass under a cold starry sky beneath the castle wall.

‘Where are we now?’, asked Joe.

‘It looks like we have come up through the Castle Rock and this is probably Princess Street Gardens,’ answered Edgar.

‘There’s no moon tonight,’ said Scarlet as she stared up at the sky.

‘Maybe that creature’s eye really is the moon,’ replied Max who lay beside Scarlet staring up into space, ‘maybe it stole it from the sky. We could call it a Moon Stealer.’

The smile on his face soon turned to horror as a thin fingered hand reached up out of the tunnel hole and gripped Max around his ankle like a spider's legs contracting together. He was pulled with amazing strength towards the hole, despite Max clawing and grabbing at the slippery grass with his hands.

Suddenly there was a flash of brilliant white light that sliced through the air and separated the creatures arm from its body. Holding his sword firmly in both hands Edgar then leapt to the tunnel entrance and thrust it deep into the tunnel and into the eye of the Moon Stealer.

 ‘Quick, take off your trousers,’ shouted Edgar to Max. Coloured acidic smoke had begun to drift from where the creature’s hand remained frozen around Max’s ankle.

Max seemed to be in shock and continued to stare at the creature’s black skeletal hand that was still attached to him. Joe pulled at Max’s shoes, prizing them from his feet then began rolling his trousers down. Using the fabric of the trousers to protect his hands he began prizing the creature’s fingers apart whilst pulling at the trousers at the same time. Eventually it became looser and Max’s ankle was free.

Edgar examined Max’s ankle. Apart from the red marks where the fingers had been digging into his flesh, the material from his trousers appeared to have protected his skin from the acidic touch of the creature.

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