Chapter 4

The Crystal Cave

Jane's class was going on a field trip to a cave! The bus ride to the cave would take several hours so Jane brought a book to read. The students were all told to bring a flashlight. This was the best part because Jane's father had dozens of different flashlights and Jane got to try them all out. She decided to bring a big ultra-bright flashlight and a small one as backup just-in-case.

Jane read a book about fossils on the way to the cave. When the class arrived Jane was delighted to see some fossils in the cave's building's gift shop. Maybe there were fossils in the cave!

The cave guide ladies told Jane's class the Cave Rules which where (1) Don't touch anything and (2) Stay on the path. Then they asked if everyone had a flashlight. Some of Jane's classmates forgot to bring a flashlight but the cave guide ladies had extras that they lent out.

Then it was a short walk outside to the cave. Jane was surprised to see that it had a door! The cave guide ladies explained that because the cave was open to the public the air inside had to be carefully managed. If the cave got too hot or too cold, or too wet or too dry, then all the interesting stuff in the cave, like the stalactites and stalagmites, would start to rot away.

Just inside the door was a chamber and on the stone walls were some fossils! Jane went over to the fossils and tried to figure out what they were. She could hear the rest of the class start to go out on the path. Jane didn't mind being last. She thought it was too bad that the cave guide ladies didn't have something interesting to say about the fossils.

Jane was peering at a fossil when the section of the cave wall she was looking at receded and opened backwards like a door! Inside was a little man with a long beard! The little man said, “Are you Princess Jane?”

Now Jane wasn't sure how to answer this question. Up in the Cloudtop Kingdom she is Her Royal Highness Princess Jane but down in the Ground Below she's just Jane. Jane thought the distinction was important but it was awkward to try to explain this to someone quickly, so Jane simply replied, “Yes.”

Your must catch up with the rest of your group, Your Highness,” said the little man. Then the rock door shut, the cave wall seemed to quiver a little, and everything went back to normal.

Jane!” said Jane's teacher. “Stop dawdling and join the class!”

Jane followed her class. Jane thought the fossils at the entrance were interesting but she had to admit that the deeper they got into the cave there were other things just as interesting.

The cave was lit by cleverly placed lights and the cave walls seemed to get brighter as the group advanced. Then it seemed like the cave walls were starting to glow. Then not only were the cave walls glowing but they started to become translucent. You could start to see inside them a little bit.

Jane's class now got all bunched together because the cave guide ladies, who were leading, had stopped. Jane excused her way to front and saw that ahead of them was a large room made of colored glass. Lights danced and twinkled inside the ceiling, the walls, and the floor. Jane looked behind her and saw that the cave and the path had disappeared. The crystalline room wasn't ahead of them, they were inside it!

A door opened and several little men with long beards marched out. They were holding pikes and made two lines in front of the door. Then another little man with a long beard came out. He looked older than others and was wearing a crown.

I seek an audience with Her Royal Highness, Princess Jane of Cloudtop,” said the little man with the crown.

Who are you?” shouted Jane's teacher. “What is this place? I am responsible for these children! I demand you return us to the cave at once!”

Jane's teacher started towards the little man with the crown but the little men with pikes pointed their pikes at her and forced her up against a wall.

I mean no one any harm, said the little man with the crown. “I only seek the council of Her Royal Highness. Which of you is she?”

Jane stepped forward and said, “I am Princess Jane.”

Jane!” said Jane's teacher. “Don't talk to him!”

Princess Jane turned to her teacher and said, “Ms. Shah, an authority higher than you, in this place, has already said that he means us no harm.”

Princess Jane then turned to the little man with the crown and said, “Your Majesty, I presume?”

Correct, your Highness!” said the King. “I am the King of the Dwarfs and I beg your assistance in a most troubling matter. My Kingdom is about to be destroyed.”

Now Jane's class was not usually a quiet bunch. They were all as smart as whips and there was always some kind of interesting discussion going on. But the sight of their teacher being menaced by dwarfs with pikes, and one of their classmates being addressed as “Her Royal Highness,” and speaking to a dwarf who claimed to a King had them gobsmacked. They didn't make a peep. Their teacher was more amazed by this than anything else.

Please continue, Your Majesty,” said Princess Jane.

Some days ago a magic vampire bat pierced our defenses and entered the Underground Kingdom. It bit all the dwarfs it found and turned them into vampire bats. When we realized what had happened we partitioned the area containing the vampire bats but that is only temporary. The power of the vampire bats increases as they get hungrier for blood. It is only a matter of time before they break through our defenses again, more numerous and more powerful than before.”

The King of the Dwarfs continued, “All the vampire bats but the magic one used to be my loyal subjects. We have a potion that can turn them back into dwarfs. Your Highness, you are renowned as a warrior. I ask you to kill or capture the magic vampire bat and to help me restore my loyal subjects. My Generals have advised me that our best chance is to enlist the aid a Great Champion.”

The King then pleaded, “Save us Princess Jane of Cloudtop, you're our only hope.”

The last time Princess Jane went to war she had an army, a Dragon, and a Giant. This time she had her classmates, their teacher, and the cave guide ladies.

OK,” said Princess Jane. “Tell me more about the vampire bats.”

The King replied, “See how this room glows with crystalline light? This is part of the Magic of the Dwarfs. All of the Underground Kingdom glows like this, to our pleasure. Part of the power of the vampire bats is that they suck away any magic light around them. Bats don't like the light. The area of my Kingdom now infested with vampire bats is as black as the bottom of an undiscovered cave.”

Where is the infested area?” asked Princess Jane. “How would one get there?”

We Dwarfs of the Masters of the Underground,” said the King. “We can create doors through the rock anywhere. This is how my squire came to you at the mouth of your cave and how you and your companions were brought here.”

OK,” said Princess Jane. “Please let me think for a bit.”

Princess Jane already had half of a plan. The problem was the other half. Princess Jane couldn't wait for the vampire bats to come to her, she had to go to them.

There were very few people of whom Jane was willing to ask a silly question. So many people assumed that asking a silly question meant that one was being silly. But sometimes a silly question turned out not to be silly at all. So Princess Jane asked her teacher, “Ms. Shah, can people fly?”

No, Jane,” said Ms. Shah. “It's one of the consequences of the Law of Gravitation.”

But laws are like rules, aren't they?” asked Princess Jane. “It's a rule that I have to go to bed at nine o'clock but I can stay up later if I have permission.”

Princess Jane continued, “Ms. Shah, may we have permission to fly?”

You have my permission, for all the good it will do you,” said Ms. Shah. “But I'm that's not way it works. I'm sorry.”

I'm sorry too Ms. Shah,” said Princess Jane as she and her classmates started to float off the floor. “But, here, in this place, that's the way it does work.”

All of you practice flying,” said Princess Jane to her classmates. “I need to confer with His Majesty.”

Jane's classmates started zooming around the crystalline room while Jane spoke with the King of the Dwarfs.

You will need an iron cage to trap the magic vampire bat when I capture it,” said Princess Jane.

You know of the effects of iron on magic?” asked the King.

I imprisoned an enemy in an iron cage once,” replied Princess Jane.

Princess Jane could say things that hardly anyone else could say.

You will need to create a door through the rock to the infested area,” said Princess Jane. “When the vampire bats see the door they will come through it and the magic lights here will go out. But my classmates and I brought flashlights that aren't magical so they should still work.”

You must bring the iron cage and the potion here. Ms. Shah and the cave guide ladies will use their flashlights to light up what's going on on the floor. My classmates and I will fly up to the vampire bats and shine our flashlights into their eyes to blind them. When they fall to the floor you must capture them and give them the potion. If one of the vampire bats doesn't change back into a dwarf then you must force it into the iron cage, because it will be the magic vampire bat.”

I will have an iron cage and the potion brought here at once, Your Highness!” said the King.

Princess Jane turned away from the King and addressed the air. “All of you! Come back down here and listen!” yelled Princess Jane to her flying classmates.

All of the class came down except one boy who kept flying.

Sebastian!” yelled Princess Jane. “Come down here!”

Sebastian landed neatly at the front of the crowd.

OK, here's what's going to happen and what we're going to do,” said Princess Jane. “Shortly a door will open and the lights will go out. You'll need to turn on your flashlights. Then a whole bunch of big vampire bats will come through the door. Our job is fly up to the bats and shine our flashlights into their eyes to make them fall to the floor. The dwarfs will capture the fallen bats. Ms. Shah and the guide ladies will use their flashlights so that the dwarfs can see what they're doing.”

Try not to get bitten,” finished Princess Jane.

Princess Jane was counting on her classmates not to freak out if one of them was bitten and turned into a vampire bat. She was counting on them to understand that they or their classmate could be restored.

Then Princess Jane, knowing her classmates, wondered if some of them would think, “Cool! I could become a vampire bat for a little while! I wonder what it's like!” And allow themselves to be bitten.

But there was no time for wondering because a door appeared on one of the crystalline walls. The door opened, the lights went out, and everyone's flashlight turned on. Princess Jane and her classmates were still on the floor. “Everybody fly!” yelled Princess Jane.

Flying in the dark was so different from flying in the light! Everyone had a flashlight but they were all pointing in different directions and all moving around! It took a little while for Princess Jane and her classmates to learn to keep their flashlights aimed in the direction they were flying, so that they could see what they were about to run into, and to use the lights on the floor, held by Ms. Shah and the cave guide ladies, as a reference point to their position.

The vampire bats were black in the darkness and hard to see but they were also horribly confused. Instead of finding a bunch of blind dwarfs on the floor, easy pickings, they had a bunch of bigger things with lights flying around, shining their painful lights on everything, and sometimes running into them.

It took a little while before the first vampire bat was brought to the floor but when it finally happened the dwarfs grabbed it, injected it with potion, and the vampire bat turned back into a dwarf. Then more and more vampire bats fell to the floor as Princess Jane and her classmates became accustomed to the surreal environment and started targeting individual vampire bats and shining their flashlights into the vampire bats' eyes.

Actually, Princes Jane wasn't trying to bring down any of the vampire bats. She had to pay attention to the door-through-the-rock, to make sure that no new new vampire bats came through it, and she had to guard the people on the floor to make sure that the vampire bats didn't start attacking them.

Then there was the voice of the King, “Your Highness, all of my subjects have been restored!”

But Jane's classmates were still flying around trying to get something.

There's still one more!” Princess Jane heard someone exclaim. “But it's too fast!”

Princess Jane knew it must be the magic vampire bat. She flew to the center of the room and turned off her flashlight.

Everyone!” ordered Princess Jane. “Fly to the walls and shine your flashlights at the floor!” Princess Jane knew that the magic vampire bat would avoid sources of light (her classmates) and things that were lit up (everyone on the floor). This left one thing for the magic vampire bat to home in on: Princess Jane herself floating in the middle of the room.

Princess Jane heard the magic vampire bat approach and turned on her ultra-bright flashlight! The magic vampire bat was coming right at her! She shined the light into its eyes and it dove down.

Oh, no you don't,” thought Princess Jane. “I'm not falling for that trick.” Princess Jane knew that as long as the magic vampire bat's face was away from her, her flashlight wasn't shining in its eyes.

So Princess Jane flew down to the magic vampire bat, climbed onto its back, wrapped one arm around its neck, and shined the flashlight into its eyes with the other.

Now the magic vampire bat was truly blind. It plummeted down to the floor.

But Princess Jane was able to fly it! By twisting her body she glided the magic vampire bat almost right into the iron cage! As the magic vampire bat hit the floor Princess Jane jumped off and some dwarfs grabbed it, threw it into the iron cage, and slammed the door shut.

The vampire bat's evil magic was neutralized and the magic lights of the crystalline room came on again. Princess Jane could see her classmates hovering around the walls of the room holding their flashlights.

We've won!” cried Princess Jane. “The battle is over and we are victorious! Come on down!”

All of Princess Jane's classmates came down except for one boy who kept on flying

Sebastian,” said Princess Jane. “Don't make me come up there to get you!”

Sebastian flew down and joined the rest of the group.

Your Royal Highness,” said the King. “You are a Mighty Warrior indeed and the Underground Kingdom owes you all a great debt. Please allow me to offer you and your cohorts some small tokens in acknowledgment of that debt.”

A dwarf carrying a tray covered with black rings approached.

These are magic rings carved from magnetite. Magnetite exists in both the magic and technological worlds and acts as a bridge between them, like the Giant Beanstalk with which Your Highness is familiar. There is a magic ring for you, Your Highness, one of each of your cohorts, and rings for your teacher and the keepers of the cave.”

The King of the Dwarfs presented a magic ring to Princess Jane and then directed the tray-carrying dwarf to give rings to everyone else.

The King announced, “On the Ground Above these rings have the power to summon the nearest dwarf. If you are ever lost or in danger, then rub your ring and a door will appear bringing you help from the Underground Kingdom.”

As Jane's classmates tried on their new rings the King took Princess Jane aside for a private conversation.

All of the magic rings except yours have another quality, a charm of mystery. When your cohorts return to the cave what happened here will seem like a dream. They'll accept the fact that they each now have a magic ring but not worry about how it came about. If they need to make use of the ring, they'll remember what to do. Your ring, of course, has no such charm, and I'm not sure it would work on you even if it did.”

The King and Princess Jane returned to the crowd of dwarfs and classmates. The King announced, “Cohorts of Princess Jane and their teacher! The Underground Kingdom owes you a great debt and I propose to discharge another minuscule fraction of that debt by returning you to the cave so that its keepers here can continue to show you its secrets! And do not worry about the length of time you've spent here in my Kingdom. When you return to the Ground Above you will discover that no time has passed there!”

I used a trick to bring you all here, changing your context slowly so you would not stop moving. Now you can return quickly through a single door.”

A door appeared on the far wall. Jane's teacher and the cave guide ladies opened it and peered through. Jane's teacher then announced, “Everyone line up to return to the cave!”

Thank you, Your Royal Highness,” said the King of the Dwarfs. “The Underground Kingdom owes you a debt of incalculable magnitude.”

You are most welcome, Your Majesty,” replied Princess Jane.

Princess Jane followed her classmates through the door and found herself back on the cave path. When Jane looked behind her the door was gone.

The walk through the cave got better and better but the best part, Jane thought, was towards the end when the cave guide ladies said, “This chamber is full of fossils.” and then proceeded to point out all the really good ones.

Jane finished her book about fossils during the long bus ride home but she didn't get bored because she had much to think about.

In the Underground Kingdom, Jane's teacher gave her permission to fly. This doesn't mean anything on the Ground Above (or Below), but Jane's teacher didn't revoke the permission either.

Jane knew that the next time she went to the Cloudtop Kingdom she'd be able to fly.

Won't that surprise Jack!