Sigrid Sanders
The starcatcher
Page 6 of 8

Emma and the puff clouds left the Cloud Kingdom in haste and flew down to the earth to look for the Silver Lining. It wasn't as easy to find as Emma had thought it would be. The puff clouds didn't fly nearly as fast or as straight as the Starcatcher, so it took a long time just to get to her little brick house on the farm. But they flew much faster than puff clouds usually do. They flew over dark oceans and across desert sands. They flew over mountain tops and over valleys. They flew over quiet city rooftops and over the sleeping countryside. Finally, they reached Emma's house, and she pointed out the treetops in the east where she had seen the Silver Lining.

Sure enough, it was there. It was caught in the branches of a tall oak tree, and it was tangled up good. Emma and the little puff clouds had to get on all sides of it and pull and pull. At last, it came off.

They looked at it sadly. The splendid Silver Lining was full of holes. The tree branches had torn it.

"We can't take it back to the Cloud Prince like this," said the puff clouds.

"But we have to," said Emma. "I don't know how to fix it, do you?"

The little puff clouds twittered and shook.

"Besides," Emma said, "I'm sure the Cloud Prince will be glad to have it back, even if it is a little torn."

"You don't know the Cloud Prince," moaned a puff cloud.

But they didn't have any better suggestions - little puff clouds are very nice and playful, but they really aren't too good at solving problems - so they all flew back to the Cloud Kingdom.

They found the Cloud Prince draped across the arm of his throne in the silky shape of a pearl-gray tiger-striped cat. He was asleep, and purring, but as soon as Emma spoke, he sprang awake and glared at them all with yellow cat eyes.

"We found your Silver Lining," Emma said.

She held it out in her arms. "I'm afraid the tree branches tore it some, but I'm sure it can be fixed."

When the Cloud Prince saw the holes in his magnificent Silver Lining, he exploded. He swelled and he grew and he hissed and he spit like a cat, and he was so angry that he hovered in between different shapes, not quite one and not yet another. The skies shook, and all the clouds in his kingdom scurried away in ragged fright - all except the little puff clouds, who knew they ought to stay with Emma. Shivering in fear but bravely standing by her, they crouched behind her legs.

"How dare you?" the Cloud Prince shrieked. "How dare you bring my Silver Lining back to me all full of holes!"

He swelled and he grew and he spit and he hissed and he twisted furiously around and around until he became a whirling, screaming funnel of black winds hissing and spitting out lightning and thunder. He blew the little puff clouds out of the way, and two big ugly metal-gray clouds swept Emma off her feet.

"Where are you taking me?" she cried, very much afraid. But their only answer was a howling wind. Emma felt herself being blown through the air like a sail. Ahead of her, she saw the ominous mushroom shape of a towering Storm Cloud Castle. Lurid green lightning flashed all around it, and when they flew into its wall of freezing rain and hail, blackness closed in around her.

She could feel the rain and the hail raking her face like pieces of broken glass, but she couldn't see where they were going, and she couldn't hear anything but the howling wind. Something hard struck her outstretched arm, and when the green lightning flashed, she caught glimpses of things hurtling past her in the storm - leaves, pinecones, branches, frogs, little birds, and one wet and bedraggled looking seagull.

The wind became so hard that it almost took Emma's breath away, and it rose to such a screaming whine that she thought her eardrums would burst - then, she felt herself tossed into space, where she tumbled around but did not fall. The wind had stopped. She floated like an astronaut in a spaceship, weightless, gently turning upside down and sideways, but not really knowing which way was up and which way was down.

Everything was still so dark she couldn't see a thing - until she saw the Silver Lining flung toward her and beginning to float weightlessly just as she was. The Silver Lining glowed with a dim, phosphorescent kind of light, barely enough for Emma to see that she had been thrown into a hole in the middle of the Storm Cloud Castle. It was like the eye of a hurricane, except there was no sunshine. All around her, in every direction, the freezing rain continued to blow and the wind continued to howl and the green lightning flashed. But right in the middle where she and the Silver Lining were, the air was utterly still.

Then the thundering voice of the Cloud Prince rumbled the air like the surface of a drum and shattered the lightning like green splintered glass. Goose bumps raced all over Emma's skin, and her knees shook like jelly. "You cannot escape from the Storm Cloud Castle! You will stay in the awful darkness, surrounded by the storm - you will not see the sunlight of day or the starlight of night - until my Silver Lining is repaired!"

Emma tried to call out, "But - "

"Don't waste my time!" boomed the Cloud Prince, and in a burst of sulfurous lightning he was gone.

Emma broke into tears. It was so unfair, and so unreasonable! She cried hard for a minute - until she looked up and saw that all of her tears were hanging around her in little droplets, reflecting the sad, pale light of the Silver Lining. In spite of her predicament, Emma laughed at her silly-looking tears.

"But what in the world will I do now?" she said aloud. "I'm all alone."

The Silver Lining - droopy, limp and dejected - floated closer to her.

"Except for you," Emma said. "And you're no help at all."

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