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Adventure.... mission - Rebecca and Michael scarcely had time to digest these words before the door connecting their carriage and the next one opened and in came one of the tiniest little men the brother and sister had ever seen.
He couldn't have been more than 18 inches high, but was obviously of some considerable age as his face was wrinkled and his hands were gnarled.
On one of his fingers he wore a giant ring that sparkled and flashed with light. He looked round the room as if searching for something and then, apparently satisfied that it wasn't there, he looked at Michael and Rebecca who were still clutching each other in fear.
When he spoke it was in a squeeky and well educated voice.
"Well now, well now, look who we have here. Dear me. Come on you two no need to be afraid, no there's no need to be afraid.
"Let me introduce myself. My name is Singro and I will be your guide during our journey. We have so much to do and so many places to visit. Our journey will be beset with danger and it's not going to be easy to sort things out. No it's not going to be easy at all. My my."
"Where are we and what are we doing here/" asked Michael
"All in good time my boy, all in good time. Just remember we are your friends on this train and while you are here you will not be in any danger. But when you leave the train you could be, yes you could be then."
Having said that Singro took off the immense ring form his finger and gave it to Michael.
"Here Michael, take this. It will help you if you get into trouble. If you rub the ring it will conjure up a magic elf. The only problem is the ring was never completed. The magician that made it never completed it. Because of that you never know whether you are conjuring up a helpful or an evil elf. That you will have to find out. All I can say is that usually for every one bad elf there are usually ten good ones. Put it on your finger. I think you will find that it fits you."
Michael did as he was told and felt a surge of energy run through his body.
"But let me explain a bit," continued the elf. "My name as I said is Singro. I am a prince of elves, a royal elf, invested with certain powers that we won't go into. I have been choosen to help you in your task. But I cannot help unless you allow me to. I hope we are going to be friends because we have a lot of work to do before the morning, which as you know is Christmas Day."
"But isn't it Christmas morning already. We seem to have been on this train for some time and it was quite late when we went to bed," said Rebecca.
"Ah well there's a funny thing," said Singro. "While you are on this train time stands still. It's still Christmas Eve and there is still an hour to go before Christmas Day. In the lands that we will travel to time moves very slowly, yes very slowly indeed. In fact I have known it to stop altogether when we feel it is necessary. So you see there's plenty of time before Christmas morning. But we have to work fast. We have so much to do and so many places to go."
So saying the little elf moved to the blue chair.
"Tut tut. The leg of the chair's broken again. Tell me did either of you sit on this chair when you ate your food?"
"Yes I did, but it was pulled from under me," said Rebecca.
"And I had my glass pulled away when I was pouring out the orange juice," added Michael.
"Hm I thought so," replied Singro. "It's that naughty animal again. Please accept my apologies. The leader seems to have taken a liking to this hare. The trouble is the animal is invisible at night and he likes to play jokes on people, particularly human children. We call him hare, there and everywhere because he's always running all over the place creating mischief. He will have knocked the chair away and the glass. If I ever get my hands on him I don't know what I'll do. But there's not much chance of that. He hides away during the day and nobody can see him at night."
At this point Singro took out from his red waistcoat what looked like a watch.
"well we've travelled about 10,000 miles so far. We're well on time. Whoops excuse me, of course time stands still in here."
"But how can we have travelled 10,000 miles when the train has scarcely been moving and only started off a short while ago?" Michael asked.
"My dear Michael you are not on just any old train. This is the ghost steam special. It can travel across continents, it can travel across time. Listen I had better tell you a little about our journey, where we will be going and what we will be seeing and what you will have to do. I think you had better all sit down. As you say it's going to be a long long night.