It’s both fun a little terrifying returning to a story you haven’t touched for a couple of years. It’s like running into a best friend from elementary school. It’s great to see them and brings back lots of fun memories. On the other hand, you know both of you have changed. Can I recapture those characters? Can I get back into the flow of the story? My readers are three years older too. Do they still care?
So thanks for all the awesome e-mails I have received from many of you. I’m so glad you are enjoying what you have read so far. If you are reading along, take a second when you get done and let me know what you think. Is it working? Does it feel like the Marcus and Kyja of old? Any predictions on where you think things are heading? Let me know. You don’t even have to do the word verification to post.
(On a funny side note, you don’t realize how many new words you have created until you get a new laptop and the (non-customized) dictionary marks them all.)
And just a reminder that the book and e-book comes out in February, along with the paperbacks of books 1 and 2.
Chapter 3 Dropping IN
“This is a really, really, really, bad idea,” Riph Raph said, his voice cracking.
“I told you—you don’t have to come,” Kyja whispered back. The two of them crept slowly down the tower stairs, keeping an eye out for wizards, who were unlikely to be moving around at that time of night, and guards, who were quite likely to be about.
“Oh, that makes it much better. Maybe Turnip Head would let you go sneaking around the castle by yourself. But I won’t.”
“I told you to stop calling him that.” Kyja paused at the corner where the staircase intersected the level she needed to reach. She peeked around a corner, spotting a guard resplendent in full battle armor, trying to get the last drops out of his water skin. “Besides, Marcus would be far more likely to do this kind of thing than either of us. Now, do you want to stand here talking all night, or do something about that guard?”
The skyte poked one large yellow eye around the wall. “What I should do is shout, ‘Hey, you big galoot. Get that thing out of your mouth and keep this girl out of more trouble than she’s already in!’”
Kyja stuck out her tongue. “Do, and I’ll tell everyone we meet that you’re my pet flying lizard.”
Riph Raph shot an evil look in her direction. There was nothing he hated more than being called a lizard. “All right. But don’t blame me if you get caught anyway. We skytes are known for our good looks and winning personalities. Not our stealth.”
Kyja pointed silently to a spot just above the guard’s head. Riph Raph gulped, his Adam’s apple bobbing, and launched himself into the air. Flapping his small wings as silently as he could, he flew around the corner and into the landing.
The guard, with his head tilted straight up, never noticed the skyte.
I probably could have walked up to him and pinched him on the behind without him seeing me, Kyja thought.
It wasn’t until a tiny ball of blue flame bounced off the guard’s helm, that the water skin dropped from his hand and he grabbed the hilt of his sword.
With the guard’s attention focused on him, Riph Raph darted toward the window. Unfortunately, the guard stepped directly into his flight path, long sword flashing. Narrowly avoiding the blade, the skyte looped in the air, bounced off the ceiling, screeched in surprise, and shot out another fireball.
“Help!” the guard shouted. He swung his sword wildly back and forth as Riph Raph dodged and circled.
Kyja, unsure whether she should continue sneaking past the guard or come to Riph Raph’s aid, stood halfway between the stairs and the hall, completely unnoticed. She could hear the guards’ armor clanking as they raced up the stairs, but she couldn’t leave her friend alone. It wasn’t until the skyte made an awkward circle, ricocheted off the wall, and flew straight out the window that she hurried out of sight.
As she sneaked down the hallway, she heard the guard shout to his companions something about two, possibly three, full-size dragons.
Kyja placed a hand over her mouth, stifling a laugh. Reaching the end of the corridor, she rushed to where Riph Raph sat preening on a window sill. “Are you all right?” she asked, searching his wings for any nicks or cuts.
Riph Raph tossed back his head and flapped his ears. “Are you joking? That fool might as well have been using a dust mop instead of a sword. Skytes are known in the animal world as the kings of the sky.”
Kyja grinned. “I thought you were known for your good looks and personalities.”
“As well as for our superb acrobatic flying skills. And daring.”
Kyja rubbed the skyte’s back scales and listened to him purr. “But maybe not for your humility. Now come on. Let’s finish what we came here for together, before your head gets too big to fit through the doorway.”
“Speaking of that,” Riph Raph said, hopping from the window sill to her shoulder. “Could you please explain again exactly what it is we’re doing? Other than sneaking around and nearly getting ourselves thrown in the dungeon?”
Kyja sighed. “I knew you weren’t listening before. Now pay attention. It’s obvious that the note on my bed was left by someone who wants Marcus to get back to Farworld.”
“Like all those people trying to kill him?”
“Of course not.” Kyja reached a spot where two hallways joined, checked to make sure all four directions were clear, and turned right. A stone gargoyle statue watched her go past with sleepy eyes. “Why would someone who wanted to kill Marcus help us?”
Riph Raph blinked, clearly not convinced.
Kyja tiptoed past a slightly open door through which came a loud, wet snoring sound. “Whoever gave us that note was also giving us a clue for how to get Marcus safely through the realm of shadows.”
“That’s where I’m unclear,” the skyte said. “How does a riddle get Marcus past the shadow creatures? Even Master Therapass hasn’t found a way to do that.”
“I’ll tell you when I know for sure. But first we need to make sure Marcus is okay.” Kyja stopped outside a familiar door; Riph Raph stiffened on her shoulder.
“And how do you mean to do that?”
Ever so gently, Kyja pushed open the door to Master Therapass’s study. She peered through the opening to where a large gray wolf lay sleeping in front of the fireplace. His yellow eyes were cracked open just enough that they reflected the glow of the embers. But Kyja knew that was how the wizard slept. “That’s where you come in.”
Riph Raph immediately leaped off of her shoulder and flapped away to a chandelier lit with magical flames halfway down the corridor. During the day, the flames were bright yellow, but at night they dimmed to a deep blue. “No. No, no, no. I said I’d help you get here. But I am not breaking into that wolf’s den so you can steal his aptura discerna. Have you seen those jaws? He could eat a dozen of me in one sitting and not be full.”
Kyja eased the door shut and caught up with him. “Master Therapass wouldn’t eat you. And we aren’t breaking in. You saw for yourself—the door isn’t even locked. And it’s not stealing, it’s just . . . borrowing.”
“Then we can go back to our room, sleep—which you don’t seem to be doing enough of lately—and in the morning, ask Master Therapass to borrow it.”
Kyja stomped her foot. The skyte could be so infuriating at times. “You know very well he won’t give me permission. Besides, I need to check on Marcus tonight. There has to be a reason we got that note when we did. Are you going to help me or not?”
“Not,” Riph Raph said at once, refusing to budge from his perch.
“Fine.” Kyja turned around and started down the hall.
“At last she sees reason.” The skyte flew to her shoulder. “Trust me. You’ll feel much better about this in the morning.”
“I will feel better,” Kyja said, easing the wizard’s door open. “Because I’ll have checked on Marcus. If I see anything suspicious at all, I’ll bring him to Farworld at once.”
“How are you going to do that?” Riph Raph dug his talons into Kyja’s shoulder, clearly upset. “The aptura discerna is at the top of the wall—nearly to the ceiling.”
Kyja winced as the skyte’s talons bit into her flesh. “Then it’s a good thing I can climb.” She stretched her arms over her head and stared up at the aptura discerna glowing dimly in the dark room as she toed off her slippers.
Riph Raph looked from her face to the circle on the wall. “Stop,” he hissed softly when it was clear she meant to go through with her plan. “Let’s talk about this some more.”
“I’m finished talking,” Kyja whispered. “Keep an eye on the wizard and let me know if he wakes up.” She tiptoed into the study, watching for traps and alarms.
“You’ll know if he wakes up, because he’ll be crunching our bones for a midnight snack,” the skyte said, waiting just outside the door.
The good thing about being immune to magic was that there were almost no traps that worked on Kyja. Motion or heat-sensing alarms, on the other hand, were another thing completely. The best of those had been stolen when the wizard was locked in the dungeon, and he hadn’t gotten around to replacing them yet. But Kyja knew of at least two that were still active.
The first sensor looked like an ordinary teapot—unless you noticed the way the spout rotated 360 degrees, checking for anyone other than the wizard in the room. If it spotted an intruder, steam shot out of the spout in an ear-splitting whistle. Kyja might never have figured it out if it hadn’t been for the fact that Master Therapass despised tea.
The trick to avoiding the teapot was staying low enough to keep out of its line of sight and sticking close to large objects that tended to throw it off. Kyja slithered across the room—stomach pressed against the cool stone floor—until she was just below the pot. Then, when it was looking in the other direction, she jumped up and slipped a blue wool tea cozy over it.
“You won’t be doing any tattling tonight,” she whispered.
The second alarm, a magical flying cookie tin, though far more obvious, was not nearly as easy to trick. It swooped around the room on tiny silver wings, watching for anything airborne. Had Riph Raph not been such a coward, the tin would have spotted him flying in the room at once. Getting up to the aptura discerna would put Kyja right in its sights, setting off a raucous clanging and rattling, which would immediately wake the sleeping wolf.
Fortunately Kyja had come prepared. She reached into her robe pocket and pulled out a thick brown bar wrapped in cloth. Careful not to let the cookie bar touch her skin or clothing, she unwrapped the cloth and waited for the tin to swoop into range. When the flying spy was almost directly over her head, she tossed the cookie into the air.
Instantly, the tin swooped down, opened its lid, and chomped the molasses treat. Gooey brown liquid oozed onto the lid, gluing it shut. Eventually the tin would dislodge the cookie, but by then Kyja would be gone, and hopefully Master Therapass would assume his scout had been indulging in a late-night kitchen run.
She looked over her shoulder and smirked at Riph Raph. Teach him to underestimate her. The skyte rolled his eyes and flapped his wings, urging her to hurry up.
Now that the alarms were disabled, the trick was reaching the window itself. Despite her earlier claim, Kyja wasn’t sure she could climb up to it. The stone wall had a few cracks and crannies she could lodge her fingers and toes into, but looking from the floor to the top of the wall, she couldn’t find a clear path all the way up.
A tall set of shelves provided a way to get nearly as high as she needed, but from the highest shelf, she’d have to stretch almost two arm lengths sideways. She’d made tougher climbs, exploring nearby cliffs as a little girl, but back then, she’d had ropes and climbing hooks. And a sleeping wizard hadn’t been nearly at her feet, ready to wake up at the first noise.
It wasn’t like the aptura discerna would come to her, though. The longer she waited, the better the chance of Master Therapass waking up. As though warning her of that very thing, the wolf yawned—his dagger-like teeth glittering—and shifted a little closer to the fire.
Riph Raph let out a strangled squawk; Kyja pressed a finger to her lips.
Taking a deep breath, she gripped a shelf at eye level and pulled herself up. Her toes found the ledge of a shelf below, and she began climbing. Working her way up was like scaling an avalanche-prone ravine. Bottles and knick-knacks balanced precariously close to her hands. She found herself watching the unstable trinkets, checking on Master Therapass, and trying to ignore Riph Raph’s anxious signals, all while scaling high enough that a fall would not only wake the wolf, but quite possibly cause her serious harm.
When at last she pulled herself onto the top shelf—securing a glass owl with her right foot and blowing on a precariously tilted scroll to keep it from rolling off—she released a relieved breath and tried not to look down.
Outside the door, Riph Raph hopped from one foot to the other, his ears flapping nervously. Kyja vowed that the next time she attempted something like this, she’d bring a less high-strung companion.
She eyed the glowing circle, so temptingly close, yet just far enough away that reaching it would require her to lean farther out than was safe. Clamping the side of the bookshelf between her knees, she stretched until her shoulder felt ready to pop from its socket. Her fingers were so close to the aptura discerna that its colors reflected on the back of her hand, but not quite far enough
Holding her breath, she moved one leg a few inches away from the shelf. Her body wavered on the edge of losing its balance. The shelf groaned. With a desperate lunge, she grabbed for the edge of the circle. As her fingers closed around it, something slammed into the back of her head.
Kyja turned to see the cookie tin circling around for another attack. The bookshelf shifted under her weight, and then she was falling. With a cry of dismay, she spun and grabbed for support. But she was too far out; there was nothing to hold. Her arms flailed as the hard stone floor raced to meet her.
At the sound of her voice, the wolf’s yellow eyes flew open. Silently, it bent it legs and leaped across the room. In midair it transformed into a human. With incredible grace for a man his age, Master Therapass leaned forward and wrapped his arms around Kyja right before she hit the ground.
The wizard’s stern eyes darkened and his lips drew tight as he spotted the colored circle in Kyja’s hand.
Riph Raph backed slowly away from the door, his ears nearly disappearing under his chin. “Er,” he squeaked, “he’s awake.”