“Let me do it, Father...”

“Here you go,” He lifted her up to the rock from which the crystal orchid was suspended. She reached up and placed the crystal orchid in the crystal bowl. There was a faint humming sound. Slowly, the tall trees began to sway. The thick vines parted and shrank into the ground, letting the sunlight in. The dampness of the rainforest evaporated.

Two wing-shaped branches parted gently and revealed a stone pathway leading to a town square. There was a large crystal paradise bird in the middle of a pond. It stood on one leg, its feathers spread and beak pointing upwards, about to take flight.

As far as the eyes could see, there was a wall of tall trees encircling Twitterland and its cottages, which looked like upturned nests made of interwoven twigs. Some cottages with little windows were double-storied like two upturned nests placed one above the other.

A couple of okapis – marble-white creatures resembling a horse with black stripes on their thighs and rear – trotted around. A single cloud hung low above Twitterland, drifting slowly, and taking different forms. The air was thick with fragrances of flowering and fruiting trees. At a distance, streams pooled together in a lake with emerald waters. Its placid surface reflected the green blanket of plants and trees that encircled its shores.

“The Mystic Mist has taken the form of a tossing boat today,” observed a bearded, bony man sitting on a bench in the town square and gazing at the single cloud overhead. He turned towards the father and daughter. “Where have you been, Heron? On another outing with Iora?”

“That’s right, Kookaburra.”

“Don’t you think it’s a bit early to teach her about the jungle? Doesn’t Gurukul hold any importance for you?”

“I hold Gurukul in very high esteem. This is just a little prelude.” Heron smiled at the man.

“Oh, we had such a thrilling experience when...” started Iora.

“Little one, you can narrate that later. Grandpa must be waiting,” said Heron.

Heron and Iora bid farewell to Kookaburra and went towards a cottage situated near the lake.

“Most Twitters don’t pay any heed to our Bird Angel’s gift to us – the Mystic Mist. But you always must, Iora. This premonition cloud predicts an event in the future. Maybe someday you can make out what it’s warning us about.”

“Another training adventure, huh?” chirped a flame-backed woodpecker, sitting on the roof of their house, as they approached it. A spotless white okapi grazed in the front garden. He curtsied with a gentle dip, and Heron patted him on the back as he and Iora passed by.

“You wouldn’t believe...” started Iora but the woodpecker cut in.

“Yes, I wouldn’t believe you, alright. What do you expect with your father training you recklessly at this age? I was such a talented bird, but my parents didn’t take me out flying when I was two days old! Oh...I had to be the family bird of this crazy family.”

“I am not two days old! I am eleven years old,” Iora retorted to the ranting woodpecker.

“Oh, come now, Madame Flameback,” interrupted Heron.

“Care to have a nice hot coffee?”

“I don’t want to drink coffee, but yes, some coffee beans would be fine.” Madame Flameback followed them inside their cottage with a flick of her wings. A stunted tree stood in the middle of the kitchen. Its branches spread throughout the house. A fat wooden face smiled from its trunk.

“Did you get coffee beans from the forest? Old Cockatoo is fuming,” it said, moving its branches to arrange the table.

“Here you are, Bungee Banyan.” Heron took out a leaf packet from his bag.

Sitting on a wooden armchair in the hall overlooking the emerald lake was an old man. He wore a fluffy bathrobe and an unyielding expression.

“I was wondering how long you are going to make an old man wait for his coffee.”

Iora and the Quest of Five

Excerpted with permission from Iora and the Quest of Five, Arefa Tehsin, Crimson Dragon Publishing.