For those of you new to the blog, Shadow Mountain and I recently reached agreement on a contract for the last three books of the Farworld series: Air Keep, Fire Keep, and Shadow Keep. Since Air Keep doesn’t come out until February of 2013, we thought it would be fun to share one chapter a month until the book comes out.
In April, I posted the first Chapter, Interlude 1. Here, is Chapter 1. In the next couple of weeks I will post chapter 2 here. Thanks again for all of your support. Without you, this series would not have been finished.
Flick. Snap. Crunch.
Flick. Snap. Crunch.
“Would you stop that?” Kyja swept away the pile of maps in front of her and scowled into the dark corner of the underground room.
Riph Raph spotted another of the eight-legged water beetles that had come here to avoid the blistering heat outside. His tongue flicked, and he snapped the red-shelled insect into his mouth then crunched it with his beak. “Did you say something?”
“Ohhh!” Kyja slammed a fist on the big wooden table. “You are so annoying.”
The skyte flapped his stubby, teal-blue wings and hopped up to where Kyja had been studying stacks of maps and books for hours on end. “Pardon me,” he said in a tone anything but apologetic. He looked around, found a beetle hiding in the shadow of a thick book, and speared it with one talon. “Here,” he said, the creature wriggling. “I wouldn’t have hogged them all if I’d known you wanted one.”
“I don’t,” Kyja said, tried of his jokes. “I want you to let me think.”
Riph Raph ate the beetle then licked his beak with a long tongue stained the same bright red as the insects he’d been catching. “I didn’t realize my trying to eat enough to stay alive while you keep us locked in this dungeon was bothering you.”
Kyja wiped a dusty hand across her face. Riph Raph was right. She’d been at this so long she’d lost track of time as she tried to locate any mention of air elementals and where they might be found. Plenty of people had searched for them, each with a different theory of where Air Keep was located. But as far as she could tell, none of them had discovered so much as a single clue to the elusive creatures’ whereabouts.
She’d worked straight through dinner, and if the candle, burned down nearly to its holder, was any clue, she’d probably missed breakfast as well. Keeping track of time was impossible in these rooms deep beneath the tower. This area, area used for storing documents too old or unreliable to be worth keeping upstairs in the library, wasn’t actually in the dungeon, but it wasn’t far from it.
“I’m sorry,” she said. “I’m just frustrated. Water Keep wasn’t that hard to find, and we at least had rumors of where Land Keep was located. But I can’t find a single theory on Air Keep that isn’t based on a dream or a story someone made up. Then there’s that stupid poem. See the Lords of Air—Above the clouds they creep. How am I supposed to above the clouds? I can’t fly!” She pounded her fist on the table, causing Riph Raph to jump.
“What’s making you angry is the turnip head,” Riph Raph said.
“What?” Kyja looked up sharply from the table.
The skyte shook his floppy ears. “You’re blaming maps and books, but what’s really frustrating you is that the wizard won’t let you bring your boyfriend with the turnip-shaped head back to Farworld. He’s all you think about.”
Kyja felt her face redden. “Marcus is not my boyfriend. And he isn’t all I think about. I’ve been practicing fencing and archery. I’ve been searching for Air Keep. I’ve been helping the wizards try to discover what’s causing the ground to shake and what’s causing the drought. Until you brought him up, I hadn’t thought about Marcus in . . . weeks!”
Riph Raph nodded as though considering her argument. “Then I guess you won’t want to check on how the wizard’s doing with his search for a way to protect Turnip Head from the realm of shadows.”
Kyja clenched her fists. What she wanted to do was give Riph Raph a hard whack on the head with one of these big dusty books. But that would just convince him all the more that he was right. In a tight voice she said, “Marcus does not have a turnip-shaped head. And I am not going to check on how Master Therapass is coming with his research on the shadow realm.”
The skyte crunched on a bit of beetle.
At last Kyja licked her fingers and pinched out the candle. Except for the flickering light of a torch in the hallway, the room went completely dark. “As it turns out, I do need to speak with the wizard. But only to update him on my search for Air Keep. It has nothing to do with Turni—I mean, Marcus.”
Riph Raph made a sound that might have been caused by a piece of insect shell caught in his throat. Or it might have been a laugh.
* * *
Five minutes later, Kyja raced through the kitchen, where Bella, the tower cook, was blustering up a storm at a red-faced guard.
“How am I supposed to bake anything when there’s no milk because the cows have dried up and you give me only a half barrel of water to last an entire week?” the stout woman shouted, waving her large wooden spoon. “You do realize I’m trying to feed an entire tower, don’t you?”
“Don’t blame me. I’m not the one who stopped the rain and dried up the river. The high lord says that’s all there is,” the guard said with a grunt. “Another week, and there won’t even be that if we don’t get some rain.” He eyed the barrel, licking his parched lips. “You think maybe I could get a tiny . . .” He mimed drinking from a ladle and Bella hit him on the top of his head with her spoon.
“Get out!” she hollered. “And tell the high lord he can expect stringy beef with hard carrots and no biscuits for dinner.”
As Kyja started toward spiral staircase leading to the tower, Bella noticed her. “Come here child,” the cook whispered.
“No time,” Kyja said. “I have to talk to—”
Bella cut her off, taking her arm with fingers strengthened from hours of cutting vegetables and rolling dough, and led her to a corner cupboard. After checking to make sure no one was watching, she pulled out a small clay jug.
“There’s no more than a swallow or two,” Bella said. “But it’s the last there is.” She pulled the cork from the jug, and the heavenly smell of apple cider wafted through the air.
“No, I couldn’t,” Kyja said, although her stomach gurgled with desire at the smell. “Drink it yourself. Or give it to one of the children. I’m fine.”
“You’re not fine.” Bella pulled down one of Kyja’s lower eye lids. “When did you last have anything to drink?”
Kyja couldn’t remember. Ten or twelve hours? A day, maybe? She’d meant to drink her ration yesterday morning—a half cup of warm, brackish liquid. But then she’d seen a boy crying in the street, so thirsty his eyes couldn’t even form tears, and she’d given the cup to him instead.
“That’s what I thought,” Bella said. The cook put the jug to Kyja’s lips. “Go on. Another day, and it will turn sour anyway.” Kyja gulped down the few swallows gratefully. She hadn’t realized how dry her mouth was until her tongue tasted the sweet liquid. She poured the last trickle into her hand and fed it to Riph Raph.
As the skyte lapped the final drops from her palm, the tower floor began to shake. Bella reached for a counter, and the jug slipped from her hand, crashing to the floor with a jangle of broken pottery. That wasn’t the only crash. From around the kitchen, anything not firmly held down or locked away rattled and shook. Although anything breakable had been placed at the backs of the shelves, two dishes and a bowl still managed to rattle off and crash to the floor.
Kyja clung to Bella, waiting out the quake.
“If this keeps up, there won’t be a cup or bowl left whole in the whole town,” Bella said when the shaking finally stopped. “Of course, that won’t matter if there’s nothing left to eat or drink.” She looked down at Kyja as though realizing the girl was still there. “Didn’t you say you had somewhere to go?”
“Yes!” Kyja ran to the doorway, and Riph Raph flew out the window. At the base of the staircase, she stopped and turned to Bella. “The water will come back. Cascade won’t let us starve.”
Bella nodded, her double chins wobbling. “I hope so, child. I hope so.”
As Kyja hurried up to the tower, she remembered climbing this same staircase on her way to magic lessons. It had been only a little more than a year ago, but it seemed much longer. Back then she’d been convinced that with enough practice, she could learn to cast spells and use potions like every other kid her age. She hadn’t known she was really from a place called Earth, where no one cast spells. She hadn’t known she was destined to save that world—and Farworld—by creating a doorway called a drift between the two. Elementals had been something from a children’s poem.
And she hadn’t known about . . . Marcus.
Kyja swallowed and increased her pace, steps blurring as she leaped up them. For the last six months, she’d concentrated on her studies and weapons practice, trying not to think about Marcus. But how could she, when, for all she knew, he was in the hands of the Thrathkin S’Bae—the Dark Circle’s evil wizards—or worse? Master Therapass wouldn’t even let her check on Marcus with his aptura discerna, saying that using it would only make it that much harder not to pull Marcus back to Farworld.
But what could possibly be taking the old wizard so long? He’d said it would be a few weeks at most before he found a way to bring Marcus safely through the gray place between their worlds, the shadow realm. He’d said Marcus was fine. But what if he wasn’t? What if Master Therapass was lying to keep her from using her one power? Once, Bonesplinter had nearly gotten Marcus by turning into a huge, black snake. If Kyja hadn’t discovered her ability to pull Marcus to Farworld at just that moment—
Riph Raph waited on the windowsill as Kyja reached the level near Master Therapass’s study. Bits of brown mud clumped on the skyte’s beak. He must have stopped by the Two Prongs River before flying up to meet her.
Kyja skidded to a stop, panting. “Is there any water at all?”
“Nothing. What I wouldn’t give for a long drink and a succulent fish.” The skyte flapped his ears. “You’re in an awfully big hurry to tell the wizard that you haven’t learned anything.”
“I was . . .” She couldn’t think of any reason to explain her running and had to satisfy herself with waving a hand at him. “Just be quiet.”
Ignoring the skyte, she waited long enough to catch her breath before entering the wizard’s study. As she did, she was struck again by the clutter. Powders and potions were spread across the room—on tables, shelves, in boxes and bottles. Scrolls, some open, some rolled tight, covered every surface. Trinkets and charms, skulls, wings, and talons, cloaks, crystals, and cabinets were scattered like a child’s toys.
The room had been cluttered enough when she first started coming to practice magic. But when the Master had been thrown in prison by the Zentan, leader of the Keepers, many of the other wizards had decided that his belongings were theirs to take. Now, bit by bit, he was gathering his things back—and putting them any old place. Surprisingly, nothing appeared to have been broken by the quakes. She guessed it was because of some sort of magic.
What drew her attention most was what appeared to be an ordinary stained-glass window high on the wall—the aptura discerna, a window that looked inward instead of outward. In Kyja’s case, it allowed her to see Marcus’s world. It was one of the only magical items that worked for Kyja because, as the wizard explained it, the aptura discerna didn’t try to change people or affect them in any way. It was merely a window into what they cared about most.
If she could just get a little peek . . .
“I’d let you use it if I thought it would help.”
Kyja turned toward the voice and smiled at the sight of a large gray wolf with a pair of silver spectacles balanced on its nose, leaning over a scroll. The wolf waved its paw and changed into an old man in a long blue robe. He took the glasses off and polished them on his sleeve. “Wolves’ eyes are sharper than a man’s. But even wolves get old.”
Kyja glanced at Riph Raph, who was perched high on a shelf. The skyte was never completely comfortable here, although Kyja wasn’t sure whether it was the wolf or the magic that bothered him more. She turned back to the wizard. “I, um, just came to tell you that I’ve been studying some old maps.”
The wizard put his glasses back on. “And?”
“I didn’t find anything about the location of Air Keep,” Kyja admitted. “I might as well be looking for a three-headed dragon.”
“Now that I could help you with,” Master Therapass said. “Unfortunately, I’m not surprised with your lack of success. Of all the elementals, air is possibly the most elusive. Other than the fact that they control the skies and are said to have a rather unique sense of humor, precious little is known about them.”
“Then how are we supposed to get their help?” Kyja grabbed a cane-backed chair and held on before sitting. Items in Master Therapass’s study tended to move about without warning, and Kyja had gone to sit on a chair more than once, only to have it run across the room, dumping her rudely on the ground.
The wizard tugged at the tip of his long beard. “Perhaps when Marcus gets here, we will figure that out.”
Kyja gave Riph Raph a see-I-didn’t-bring-it-up look and casually said, “Speaking of Marcus, have you made any progress?”
“Magic is not a science of progress as much as it is one of discovery,” the wizard said. It was just like him to answer without giving any information.
“What have you discovered then?” Kyja asked, knowing she sounded cranky.
The wizard glanced at a murky gray liquid bubbling in a glass tube and chuckled. “I have discovered many things. But no protection from the realm of shadows just yet.”
Kyja gave an exasperated huff. “Then there’s no point in waiting any longer. Let me bring him here.”
“On the contrary—we have all the more reason to wait. When one discovers that one drawer is locked, the logical answer is to try opening another drawer. Or one could look for a key. A key could very well unlock both drawers, assuming the second was locked as well. Of course, it might have a different lock entirely. In which case, one might need two keys.”
“Who cares about keys?” Kyja shouted. “Can’t you at least let me check to make sure he’s all right?”
Master Therapass studied Kyja. “You seem out of sorts. When did you last have something to eat?” The next thing Kyja knew, the wizard was shuffling her out of his study. “I’ll tell you as soon as I’ve discovered anything, child. Trust me; the boy is fine. Now go down and have some of Bella’s cornbread and gravy. Oh, and the bacon is especially good today. You could bring me back a slice or two if you are so inclined.”
“There is no cornbread or gravy. Bella doesn’t have enough water to make it. And I don’t want any bacon,” Kyja muttered under her breath as she walked down the hall. She couldn’t believe the wizard was worried about filling his belly when he should be trying to find a way to bring Marcus to Farworld safely.
When Kyja started up the staircase again, Riph Raph said, “I thought we were heading to the kitchen.”
“I’m going to my room,” she snapped.
“What about the bacon?”
“Get it yourself. Food is all any of you seems to think about anyway.” She stomped up the stairs until she reached a small wooden door that led to an even smaller room. Since the Goodnuffs’ farm had been destroyed, this was her new home. It was stiflingly hot in the summer and drafty in the winter—and barely big enough to hold a bed, a chair, and dresser. The only thing good about it was the tiny balcony that overlooked nearly all of Terra ne Staric.
But Kyja didn’t care about the view now. All she wanted to do was go to sleep and forget about the fact that as far as she could tell, she was the only person in the entire city who cared about Marcus.
As she dropped onto the bed, something crinkled under her back. Curious, she sat up and pulled out a piece of parchment that must have been lying on her blanket. Where had it come from? It hadn’t been here when she left. Four lines were written in a small, neat handwriting.
Pursue me and I flee
Run from me, and I follow
At morn and afternoon I am here
At darkest night and brightest day, I disappear
There was no signature of any kind. She turned the parchment over. Nothing on the back either. Who was it from? What did it mean? It seemed to be a riddle. For the moment, at least, her thoughts were pulled away from worrying about Marcus as she focused on the riddle.
What disappeared at night? The sun. It was there in the morning and afternoon. And depending on which way you walked, it could appear to follow you or go away. But it definitely didn’t disappear at the brightest part of the day.
What else came in the morning and afternoon? Hunger, if you asked Riph Raph. But hunger couldn’t follow you or run away. A person could follow you or run away. But what kind of person disappeared in the middle of the day and at night?
Trying to work out the puzzle, she looked at the floor, where sunlight shined through the balcony. There was the answer, on the floor in front of her. Something that ran if you chased it and followed you wherever you went. It disappeared at night when the sun was gone and also when the sun was directly overhead.A shadow.