Chapter Five

A MINIATURE WORLD

The cage door was opened, and Shadow approached the opening warily. At the door he paused, unsure if he wanted to get out of the cage, or if something worse was outside.

"Just go," said Prometheus.

"How do you know it's safe?" Shadow asked.

The other bat shrugged. "Every other time it's been all right."

Still not completely at ease, Shadow stuck his head out of the cage slowly. He was met with a surprising scene: all around were trees, but there was no sign of the mountains he'd seen earlier.

Reassured by the trees, Shadow brought the rest of his body outside. He spread his wings and flew to a tree, roosting on a branch.

Shadow looked up and saw stars in the sky. He could see the sky, so that must mean he was outside.

A few seconds, later, Shadow was joined by Prometheus. "Like the view, huh?"

"Yeah."

"Well, you better like it," said Prometheus. "Because that's all you're going to get: a view."

"What're you talking about?" asked Shadow. "There's the moon, the stars, everything. Those are really there."

Prometheus smiled sadly. "And a ceiling is really there too."

Ceiling? How could there be a ceiling in the sky? Shadow took off from the tree and flew up, higher than the trees, toward the stars.

And then he hit the glass.

It felt like an explosion took place in Shadow's head, but most of all, he was confused. He looked up again. There were the stars twinkling and the moon shining. If what Prometheus had said was true, then how could he still see the sky?

"You found out the hard way," commented Prometheus.

"Hard…way…?" asked Shadow, head still hurting.

Prometheus nodded matter-of-factly. "Not everyone can just believe that they've been imprisoned by humans and put in a building."

"And we have?" Shadow said despairingly.

"Yes. Every time, a few of us try to bust through the glass like you did," said Prometheus. He led Shadow back down to a tree, and they hung from a branch. "And every time, there are a few headaches, too," he added.

"You keep saying 'every time'," said Shadow. "What do you mean by that?"

The other bat shook his head, chuckling. "You really are inexperienced, aren't you?"

Shadow bristled. "I've had adventures, if that's what you mean! I helped the race of boobook owls escape from humans!"

"You'll have to tell me that story sometime," said Prometheus. "But I really meant that you yourself have never been captured by humans, right? So you're inexperienced in their ways."

"Oh," said Shadow.

"The humans like to move us around from place to place," Prometheus explained. "In four years I've been to about…hmm…twelve or thirteen human places like this."

Shadow was amazed by at this large sum. "Twelve or thirteen?" No wonder Prometheus wasn't jumpy or anything. He'd pretty much seen it all.

"Yeah, they like to move us around," said the other bat. "It looks like we're in a forest, but it's indoors." He looked around. "I've been in places like this before. It's probably not too large, either. Maybe a hundred wingbeats long."

Prometheus saw Shadow start to open his wings and said, "You haven't had much rest. Right now you should sleep."

"But — " began Shadow.

"Trust me," Prometheus said firmly. "We should sleep."

Shadow watched as the other bat closed his eyes and was soon fast asleep.

There was no way Shadow would be able to sleep. He silently lighted from his branch, careful not to wake Prometheus, and flew through the trees.

How could this forest be inside a building? Everything felt right for the woods, yet…there had been a ceiling, and as far as Shadow knew, there were not ceilings above outdoor forests.

He looked up at the moon and stars. Were they really there, up in the sky, or were they some trick by humans as well? The stars were twinkling, and he could see familiar constellations, so Shadow assumed they were real.

Shadow was so lost in thought that it took him a few seconds to realize he was flying over open land.

He braked in midair, coming to an immediate halt. So the whole place was not forest, and it was more than one hundred wingbeats long. Shadow felt it was his duty to tell Prometheus, and he turned around and flew back into the trees.

The bat was so intent on getting back that he wasn't paying much attention to his path.

That is how Shadow suddenly ran into a wall of fur, and looking up, he beheld the largest bat he'd ever seen in his life.

Shadow's first and foremost instinct was to turn tail and fly away from this gigantic creature. But there was a confused, almost helpless look in the other bat's eyes that made him stop.

"I think I'm lost," blurted the huge bat. "But I don't know where I'm going anyway, so I'm not sure."

"Who are you?" Shadow asked. He saw that the other was having a hard time breathing, and the bat's fur was matted with sand.

"My name is Cronus," the other bat said raggedly. "I'm a gigantic flying fox." He looked around at the leafy trees. "I used to live in the tropics, until they brought me here…" The flying fox shuddered involuntarily.

"The humans?" asked Shadow, aghast. How many bats' lives had been messed up by these humans?

Cronus nodded miserably, and Shadow tried to think clearly. "I'm Shadow," he said, unable to come up with a plan of action. Then he had an idea. "Come on," he said. "I'll take you to Prometheus. He can tell you what you need to know."

"Thank you," said Cronus gratefully, and he spread his wings. Shadow gasped. The flying fox's wings must have been six feet from tip to tip! That would have been a huge wingspan for a bird, much less for a bat.

Shadow led the large bat to where Prometheus was. The sight of the burned little brown reassured Shadow. Here was someone who knew something.

"Hey, Prometheus," said Shadow, landing beside the other bat and nudging him awake. "I've brought someone who needs your help."

Prometheus's eyes opened and he stared at Cronus. "That," he said bluntly, "is one big bat."

"His name is Cronus. He's a gigantic flying fox."

"The gigantic part is right!" said Prometheus.

"Look, big or not, he needs your help," Shadow said.

Prometheus looked at Cronus helplessly. "What am I supposed to tell him? We're in a forest inside a building, and that's all there is to it."

Shadow remembered the hills he'd seen earlier. "It's not just a forest. I went out earlier to explore the forest, and I got to the edge of the trees, and there were fields. And I didn't see an end."

"There isn't an end," said Cronus. "At least, not for a very long time. I came from that way."

The two little brown bats looked at each other. What was this, some sort of miniature world?

"It's never been like this," Prometheus muttered. "Never. A few minutes' flying, and you'd crash into the wall."

Cronus shook his head. "It's not like that now. Beyond those fields is a desert. And beyond that, a jungle. I was in the jungle before I came here."

Shadow's eyes grew big, and he glanced at Prometheus. A desert? And then a jungle? This was new. But, then again, he'd been hearing a lot of new things lately, so maybe he shouldn't have been too surprised.

"I…don't know what's going on…" said Prometheus, looking truly worried for the first time. "This is so different from all the other times…It's never been this large before…never…"

"So, what should we do?" asked Shadow.

"What is there to do?" Prometheus muse. "Think about it. This was made by humans. They have all these little secrets in making things that only they know; you can't escape from anything they've made."

"I have," Shadow said.

Prometheus looked at him doubtfully. "I thought you'd never been captured by humans before…"

"Well, I have — once. It was when I was traveling with Hala, trying to free the boobook owls. But it's not really important…It was nothing like this."

"Still, why didn't you tell me before?" demanded Prometheus.

With a wry grin on his face, Shadow replied, "You never asked."

Opening his mouth, about to say something, Prometheus stopped in mid-thought, shaking his head. "O.K., forget it."

Cronus spoke up. "Once when I was in the jungle area, some bats came. They spoke about a door at the very end of this building — a means of escape."

Interested, Shadow asked, "Escape? So there is a way!"

"You think you can open a human door?" asked Prometheus disbelievingly.

"Somehow, there's got to be a way," said Shadow, optimistic. "What happened to the bats who talked about the door?" he asked Cronus.

"They were shunned, kept away from the jungle by some of the bats who had been living there longer. The leaders of the jungle claimed that these bats were 'an unnecessary disturbance and a good riddance'. I didn't think that, and I agreed with what they said. I was kicked out of the jungle for the very same reasons they were. Unfortunately, it was after these other bats had left, and I didn't know which way to travel. There isn't a door down on this end, by any chance?" he asked hopefully.

"Nope," said Prometheus. "It must be the other way they were talking about."

"So, let's go!" said Shadow.

"What are you talking about?" said Prometheus. "Where is there to go to?"

"The door! We've got to get out of here!"

"No," said Prometheus flatly. "I am not going to travel across this little world just to find that I can't open that human door."

"So you're just going to stay here," said Shadow. "Doing nothing, wasting time, being bored. Is that what you want?"

Cronus nodded his head at the smaller bat. "I agree with him." He said to Shadow, "I'm coming with you."

"So the question is now: are you coming?" Shadow asked Prometheus. "Come on, you've been captured by humans before; you'd be really helpful to us!"

"Don't you want to be free?" asked Cronus.

Shrugging, Prometheus replied, "I don't know…I don't really care. I'm a banished bat, and I wouldn't be let back in the colony like you were, Shadow. You didn't almost burn down the forest."

"No, but I broke a rule too," said Shadow, "and to the leaders, one almost as important as the one you broke."

"Well, the way you put it…there's nothing better to do, I guess." Prometheus sighed. "That's a yes."

Shadow smiled, relieved to have Prometheus on his side. "Good! So, when can we leave?"

"Maybe we should plan this out first," said Cronus.

"Yes…" agreed Prometheus. Seeing Shadow look immensely disappointed, he said, "But we'll leave as soon as we can."

"All right!" an excited Shadow said. "Soon I'll be out of here!" he thought eagerly. "And then I'll get to go home..."