Falling from the Moon

After Otto and Jay magnetise an army's compasses, they run away into the night and meet Lodello, the Vaguely Magnetic Armadillo who promises them the adventures they seek. Riding on his back, they fall asleep and awaken to a world that they never knew existed.


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1. Heading South (Although Not Entirely On Purpose)

 

The man who had named Quiopunimaeiou had done so for the sole purpose that the name was confusing enough to stop anyone trying to invade, and it had worked so well that the country did not need an army. In tandem with the law he had created; that anyone who was not born in the country could not enter unless they could pronounce the name, Quiopunimaeiou remained unbothered by everyone and forgotten by most.

However, Quiopunimaeiou did have an army, and even after two months of trekking through forests and over hills Otto and Jay couldn’t figure out why. They suspected it was because people thought it would be good fun - after all, the only thing that the army actually did was have campfires and sing songs while marching around the country. But if this was the case, no one would own up to it. And so it became the kind of riddle that no one really cared about because they were too busy roasting marshmallows or stepping in puddles.

But Otto and Jay cared about it, because Otto and Jay didn’t want to be in the army. Otto and Jay wanted to be at home reading a book about adventures (the army was too busy marching to have adventures), and seeing each other once in a while when they felt like socialising, but generally remaining alone. It was because of this dissatisfaction that Otto had planned the act of sabotage that he was about to carry out.

“Shh!” Jay hissed as Otto tripped over a tree root.

“You shh! You’re making more noise than I am by shh-ing me!”

“If you would watch where you were going, I wouldn’t need to shh you.”

“If you would stop telling me to hurry up I wouldn’t have tripped in the first place!”

The hissed exchange ended as they reached the front of the Captain’s tent. From his pocket, Otto pulled out a small lump of metal and, handing it to Jay, stepped closer to the tent door and started to untie the knots that held the entrance closed.

Jay eyed the metal with undisguised interest. “Are you sure it’s actually magnetic?”

“Yeah! I got the person in the shop to test it in front of me and everything. It really works.”

Otto undid the last of the knots and held the tent door open while Jay crept inside. As he was reaching for the Captain’s rucksack, the stocky, heavyset man mumbled in his sleep. Jay froze, but the man settled down again. He eased the bag over the man’s head and deposited it outside the tent door.

Otto opened the front pocket and pulled out a tub of buttons and a ball of string, but he couldn’t find what he was looking for. “I don’t think it’s in here,” he hissed to Jay.

“Check under his pillow.”

“Are you insane?! He’ll murder me if he wakes up! And what makes you think it would be under there, anyway?”

“The Captain’s compass is really important to him, right? It makes sense that he would put it in a safe place while he sleeps.”

“And he has put it in a safe place,” Otto retorted. “It’s incredibly safe, because if it’s underneath his head there’s no chance of me getting it out without waking him! And if I do wake him, he’ll…he’ll chop off my head or something! And then I’ll be headless. And you’ll feel bad. You get it.”

At that moment, by chance or design, the Captain rolled over in his sleep, leaving half of the pillow empty. Jay saw his chance and darted forwards. He stuck his hand underneath the pillow and pulled the compass out, grinning triumphantly at Otto.

“I win.”

The compass was delicate and silver. The front was the same as any other compass, but the back had been gilded in places to form a detailed golden dragon, with a ruby as its eye. It was far more ornate than their own, but it still had the compartment in the back where you could store things, and that was all that really mattered. Jay stroked his finger over the raised letters: N, E, S, W. They wouldn’t be much use soon.

“Whatever,” Otto grumbled. Jay handed it to him and he prised the back of the compass off with his fingernails. Inside the back compartment was a folded up letter and a small round coin. Further inspection revealed the letter was from his wife (“His name is Richard,” Otto had remarked. “It never even crossed my mind that he had a first name.”) and the small coin was nothing either of them recognised. Otto dropped it into his pocket without a second thought, and replaced it with the small lump of metal. The hands of the compass spun around until they settled into a different position, and Jay grinned as Otto replaced the back cover and replaced it under the pillow. Just a second later, the Captain rolled back over and sighed in his sleep. Jay and Otto returned the rucksack, retied the tent door, retrieved their rucksacks from their tent, and stole off into the night like thieves.

*

It had been around midnight when they had left the camp, and Jay supposed that they had been walking for around two hours now. The full moon hung heavy in the sky, its light casting a dim glow through the spaces in the leaves, which were growing sparser. Otto had busied himself with obsessively checking the compass at two minute intervals and navigating a clear way through the undergrowth, and Jay trudged behind, already a bit bored with their great escape. His legs ached from the accumulation of all the walking he had done over the last couple of weeks, and he wished that Otto would talk so that he could distract himself from the sleepiness that was beginning to emerge. Although he was sure that he was imagining things, he had also been hearing little rustling sounds behind them, since around a mile back. He supposed that it was a mixture of tiredness, a worry of getting caught and a slightly overactive imagination, and he wasn’t too worried anyway. As far as Otto and Jay knew, these woods were completely safe.

Jay started to entertain himself by seeing if he could recognise any features of the forest that they were travelling through. To his consternation, he didn’t recognise a thing. The army’s marches were usually a long march one way and then a long march back the other, following exactly the same route, and this was the plan that Otto and Jay had decided on for that night - following the exact same way back that they had originally come so that they would notice that they were lost sooner or later instead of walking for days.

In this case, it was later, and Jay didn’t realise until they came to a large rock with a flat top, almost like a table, or, to Jay’s slightly-darker-than-average mind, a sacrificial stone.

“Otto, I think we’d better stop.”

Otto looked up from his compass, which he had been studying intently as if he had to commit every last nanometre of it to memory. “What’s the problem?”

“Are you sure that we’re going the right way?”

He brandished the compass as if it were a Powerful Magical Object and said dramatically, “This will lead us to our destination!” He made to keep on walking, but Jay stopped him.

“We’re lost.”

“Don’t be stupid. Of course we’re not! I’m leading.”

“Do you recognise this stone?”

“Why would I?” Otto retorted, annoyed that his path-finding skills had been challenged. “It’s just a rock.”

“It’s hardly just a rock. It’s massive.”

“Like you.”

“Shut up. Maybe we should stop for a while and get our bearings.”

“Worry wart. But sure. I’m kind of tired, anyway. And we can eat.”

Jay swore that he heard a twig breaking from the shadow of the trees as he moved closer to the rock, but he expelled any worries in his tired yawn straight after.

Contrary to what Otto had said, it was not just a rock. It was a rock to end all rocks, the Rock King. It was majestic, and Jay could imagine it ruling over its dominion in the Rock Kingdom, leading the little pebble soldiers to war against their enemies and bringing down every foe in battle, crushing them to pieces underneath its immense weight. He would hold command over his land until, weather-worn and older than any other living being in the world, he eventually gave up the kingdom to his rock children, who would split it among themselves. The land would thrive under their peaceful jurisdiction, and long after men had fought themselves to extinction, battling needless wars for petty causes, the monarch rocks would live on in their power and glory. This rock would watch over them until the end of his days, proud to have made a change to this world, and would die surrounded by the ones he loved. It was obviously not here by circumstance.

Into the top of the rock were carved little symbols, visible only because of the lack of the trees above - the rock itself was in a little clearing. They seemed to glow faintly blue in the pale light and Jay traced his index finger over them, wondering what they meant.

Otto wandered over and glanced at the shapes before dumping his bag on top of the stone. For a second, Jay felt a rush of anger (how dare he do such a disrespectful thing?) but it disappeared just as fast as it had come, and he dismissed it as fatigue. Otto placed the compass back in his pocket and clambered somewhat untidily onto the stone before leaning back to gaze at the stars. Jay leaned back too, and for a few minutes they lost themselves in the night sky. The longer they looked, the more stars they could see, and Jay found himself wondering idly if stars were magnetic. If so, he pondered, could you bring them down to the ground with a strong enough magnet?

And then he realised.

“Otto,” Jay began. “When you carried the magnet around, where did you keep it?”

“In my pocket, of course,” Otto answered, giving him a strange look.

“In your pocket…with your compass?”

He didn’t catch on at first. “Yeah, they were both in there. Why are you asking?”

“You kept the magnet and the compass together?” Jay pressed.

Otto froze, and his face took on a pained expression as he realised what Jay was saying. “I might have done, yes.”

“And do you remember what magnets do to compasses?”

“Oh Lord.” But he clung to hope like a particularly tenacious limpet. “Would it have any lasting effects?”

“Have you recognised where we’ve been walking for the last two and a half hours?!”

“Maybe we’re only slightly off-course.”

“You thick-headed log!” Jay wasn’t too good with insults, but he still managed to convey his anger. “We’ve been heading in completely the wrong direction since we started! Of course we’re not only a little way out. Magnets switch the North and South poles of the compass; we’ve been getting farther and farther away from our destination since we took our first step!” He had stood up during his tirade, and now he slid down his knees and rested his head on the rock, closing his eyes. “You idiot.”

“Now, don’t be harsh,” said a voice that was definitely not Otto’s. It sounded like the moon, low and deep, yet melodic and melancholy at the same time. At least, Jay had never heard the moon speak, but that was how he would have imagined it. “You didn’t notice until just now either.”

Jay sat up rapidly, swivelling his head around so fast it was at risk of flying off his shoulders and into the trees beyond. Otto had sat up at the voice as well, and Jay followed Otto’s astonished eyes to where he was staring, surprised and a little awestruck, at the larger-than-average armadillo that had emerged from the darkness of the trees.

 

 

Author's Note: If you enjoyed this (or if you didn't, more importantly) please review. If you are going to give criticism, please make it constructive criticism. Keep the faith, Chez.

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