"If you're going on an adventure." said Rocky, "Its very important to remember to save."
With these wise words, the boy opened the door to his pet frog's cage. It was worn out from its own most recent adventure - almost being cooked accidentally by the school chef – and so it was sitting quite still by the side of its pond.
"Out you come, Savey!" he said, putting his hand next to the door. Savey looked at him with two beady, unblinking eyes.
"Ribbit." said Savey, before jumping in the opposite direction.
"Oh, come on, Savey, you LOVE saving!" Rocky scratched his head, "Maybe I've not been feeding him right. Save frogs need different food to normal frogs, you know."
"Its okay, I'll use the phone."
"Hmph. Phones!" Rocky sniffed, "Everyone knows its a frog at the other end of the phone anyway. Say, Tony... do you want to borrow Savey?"
"He hasn't been on an adventure before. It'll be his first chance to prove himself as a save frog!" explained Rocky, locking the door of the cage again and picking it up, "You don't know how many chances to save you'll find along the way. Mister Brick Road says lots of cheap, shoddy dungeons that aren't made by him don't have a phone booth that works. If you have your own save frog, you can save anywhere!"
"Um... thank you." said Tony, "But are you sure he'll be safe?"
"A save frog needs to learn how to cope with danger!" said Rocky, "One day he'll be some famous adventurer's save frog and help them on the ultimate quest to overcome evil! Not just some kid's pet! I want you to come back victorious from your quest to set a good example to Savey! Do you promise?"
"And remember to save as often as possible!"
Aeolia's reaction was very different to that of Rocky.
"Dakotas!" she said, clinging to Tony's arm and looking up at him with pleading eyes. He tried to pull himself free of her grip but she pulled him back, refusing to let him out of the doorway. She wasn't that strong but she knew that he would never fight back very hard for fear of being too rough with her. Girls were evil like that.
"Don't worry, I'll be fine." he assured her.
"Boing!" she protested, shaking her head.
"Savey's with me." he told her, "Its okay whatever happens to me if I can save, right?"
"Zoom." she said. Then she pulled him to the window. The night sky was a deep blue with a few wisps of dark clouds and a light patter of rain. Tony thought he saw a UFO-shaped silhouette flicker past the broad, silvery full moon.
"Is something wrong?" he asked, "Do you know something I don't?"
Aeolia just sat watching the moon, her brow furrowed in concentration and suspicion. Then she almost leapt from her seat, pulled him through the doorway, down the corridor and into his room, where Moor Ecivres was waiting, watching the clock with a look of dread on his face.
"Boing!" she announced.
"I think she says she'll only let us go if she can come with us." explained Tony.
"W... well, the more the merrier." said the delivery boy, standing up, "Is that a f... frog?"
"A save frog."
"I don't know if you can s... save in the w... warp."
"What's the warp?"
"AAAGH! I d... didn't mean to s... say... that's a t... trade secret!" he said.
"Its okay. We can keep secrets. Can't we, Aeolia?"
"W... well, I guess we are going there, so you'll f... find out anyway. Just s... stand still a moment..."
Moor Ecivres stood up and picked up his large white mailbag. He walked over to the window, pulled up one sleeve to expose what looked like a small white watch, then placed the clock face to it. The surface of the window seemed to shimmer and glow with a pale blue light, a phenomena that Aeolia watched with rapt interest.
"Grab my hand." he told them. Frog cage under one arm, Aeolia clutching the other, Tony just grabbed the other boy's hand without dropping the frog. The mirror rippled like a pool of water when Moor Ecivres jumped into it. Tony followed him. It felt as it looked, like plunging into a deep, dark, icy pool of water. Seconds later, he felt himself land on his feet again, dry and unscathed. In fact, he could barely feel any sensations at all – it was a little like being in a dream. The frog croaked irritably. Opening his eyes, he saw that he was somewhere dark, a formless void through which he could make out shapes that looked like pathways, tunnels and arches, except that every time he looked away, they shifted to somewhere slightly different.
"The Warp." explained Moor Ecivres, "A place that connects everywhere to everywhere else. Its how Escargot Express manage to deliver items so fast to places on the other side of Eagleland, and how we manage to access places safely that no delivery man should be able to access."
Tony had to admit that he had always wondered about that. He was always sending things to Jeff via Escargot Express and they always arrived, no matter where he said he was.
"So..." he said, "Where are we going?"
The boy dug around in his bag and retrieved a map that showed an intricate network of lines and different coloured nodes.
"We're around here." he said, pointing to one of a cluster of blue nodes around the word 'Winters', before adding, "I think. And this is where we're going."
The destination he pointed to was a small pink node in the middle of a much larger cluster entitled 'Twoson'. Tony had hoped he would be going somewhere a little more exotic, like Dalaam or Scarabia, but Twoson was still exciting – it was a big city, enormous compared to the tiny community of Winters! Maybe he would see one of the big accounting firm buildings... he could even take a bus to Fourside...
"We can do it in ten nodes." said the boy confidently, "That'll definitely take us there in time. Right... now to find out which direction we're heading in..."
He looked at the machine on his wrist, muttered to himself for a while, turning his arm in different directions, before deciding upon one. Tony followed him.
The Warp proved difficult to walk through. It was as chaotic as it looked. Bridges, arches, platforms and valleys literally formed or disappeared under his feet. Some of the shapes looked downright geometrically impossible. Aeolia seemed to have no trouble at all. She hummed to herself as she jumped from nook to cranny as if it was a new game. In the end, he gave her the frog's cage as she bounced it about less than him. They could only walk as fast as Moor Ecivres, however. Tony couldn't tell one direction from the other. It was only the boy's map and the device on his wrist that gave them any indication as to where they were going.
After an immeasurable length of time, the boy put his arm out for them to stop. Tony was about to open his mouth to ask why but Moor Ecivres put his fingers to his lips and indicated for them to get down onto the floor. Through the sudden silence, Tony heard a noise like an animal call, but dull and flat.
"Its the call of the Beast!" whispered Moor Ecivres.
"Are you sure?" asked Tony, "It sounds like a duck."
"Do not mock the Beast! That sound means certain death to any who hear it! Quickly, we must flee!"
Springing to his feet, the delivery boy took a quick glance at his watch, then darted off in another direction. Tony ran after him. He could hear the quacking – the call of the Beast, he corrected himself - grow louder. He thought he saw a pair of crimson eyes burning in the darkness. Then Aeolia screamed as the ground dipped sharply underneath them as if it was melting away. Grabbing hold of Aeolia, Tony lost his footing. He tried to brace himself for the fall. Then the ground reappeared under his feet again. He was now balanced on a tiny ledge, one of a series that jutted out from the floor of the basin, twenty feet below. The landscape was still shifting, ledges cropping up and disappearing again. He clung on to the sides of the ledge and prayed that it wouldn't disappear.
Then he saw them. They were all around him. Glowing with pale blue auras, their feathers white, their bills golden, their menacing quacks deafening.