Authors: Daniel Blackaby
Tags: #Fiction, #Action & Adventure, #Christian, #YA, #Fantasy, #Christian fiction
Mustering all her strength she managed to raise her head in the man’s direction. He wore a long black coat and a matching rimmed hat that covered much of his face. Two calculating blue eyes peered down at her. On his chest was an unfamiliar emblem with the word: CROSS.
“Goodnight,” he whispered in a strange accent. Then he was gone.
“I will do everything in my power to have your friends pardoned and released. You have my word.” Hansi’s voice was rich and sounded genuine.
“What a saint,” Cody snarled under his breath. Releasing Dace and the others would do nothing to resurrect Xerx. Cody glared at the Prince as though it had been his own sword that had delivered the killing blow.
“However, it will take some time to assure their discharge. In the meantime, there’s something I’ve wanted to show you.” As he spoke his eyes were fixed firmly on Jade. Cody shifted uncomfortably. The Prince motioned toward him. “You are welcome to come as well, of course.”
Cody returned his stare with defiance.
The trio traversed the city toward the eastern quarter. Although they had not yet explored this particular area of the city, it quickly became apparent that they hadn’t missed much. The landscape was identical to all other parts of the city, down to the last detail. The painstaking symmetry was mindboggling.
Hansi led the way with Jade by his side, while Cody took up the rear several paces behind. Cody’s eyes cast darts into the back of the Prince’s head. He smirked and put an arm over his mouth, pretending to cough. “Cough—Dastanda—cough.” A small patch of ground in front of Hansi became soft like sinking sand. The Prince’s foot sank into the dip causing him to lose his balance and tumble to the ground.
Cody snickered softly. “Must be something to do with that air-density….” Jade’s fiery green eyes shot toward him. He shrugged defensively. “
Jade shook her head. “You can be such a child sometimes.” She helped Hansi to his feet. Grabbing his hand and intertwining their fingers, she led him forward without looking back.
Cody kicked himself; his short moment of satisfaction extinguished. Jade was right. He was acting like a total jerk.
What am I doing? Why can’t I just be happy for her?
He took a deep breath;
it’s time to man up
. Happy with his new resolve, he jogged to catch up to Jade and Hansi. As he did, his foot slipped into the hole of sinking sand sending him face-first to the ground.
In front of the trio was a towering cluster of giant, lush-green trees; their trunks were thicker than even the majestic pillars of the Great Hall. The dense forest seemed to be surrounded by a cobblestoned wall, although foliage engrossed most of the wall’s surface.
Standing in front of a thick bolted gate, Hansi turned to them. “You are about to enter into the most sacred place in El Dorado. Few have had the privilege to cast their eyes on what you are about to see.”
He motioned to the guards, flashing his royal seal. The gate slowly pulled open. As they entered into the jungle the gate closed behind them.
The dense shrubbery suddenly opened up into a peaceful glen. In the center of the clearing was a large stone table. Vines and shrubbery had slithered up and swallowed its surface. Surrounding the circular table were a dozen stone chairs. Cody counted them. “The Twelve?”
Hansi nodded. “The Twelve renowned founders of Under-Earth once sat around this very table. It was
they debated the division of the land between Atlantis and El Dorado following the separation of the two Kings. It would be the final time the Twelve would gather in one place.”
Cody began circling the table. The back of each throne had intricate engravings, worn by the ravages of time. He traced his finger along the markings of the first chair. The crude carving was of a rushing river. Crested above the picture was the letter ‘
.’ Cody felt a chill tickle his skin:
Cody continued to circle the table to examine the chairs. To the left of the King’s throne was one marked with an
‘N.’ The King’s wife?
It occurred to Cody that the Queen had never once been mentioned by the royal family. However, before his thoughts could stray down that un-trekked path, he was caught off guard by the chair on the other side of the King’s. The throne had the image of a budding plant and was crested with an
‘R.’ Randilin sat at the right hand of the King?
Coming to the next set of chairs, he felt his stomach clench. The engraving was of a mountain. The letter was ‘W’—Wesley. His wife Sadria’s chair was beside it. The face of the elderly Book Keeper appeared in Cody’s mind. Without a word the face slowly began to shift, as though moving backwards through time. The face continued to grow younger until it was no longer Wesley at all. It was Xerx. Cody stepped away from the chair, withdrawing his hand.
How many in that line will die because of me?
Cody moved on. There was a chair marked with two crisscrossed swords and an ‘L,’ another with the engraving of an opened book and a ‘T.’ He came to the final seat. The image was a simple circle. He was not sure how he knew, but immediately he realized it once belonged to the Golden King. He rubbed his hand along the rough surface above the etching but, to Cody’s disappointment, the letter had been roughly chipped away.
Jade looked at him from across the table. “Can you imagine what it must have been like to see them all gathered together?” Cody scanned the table. He would have given anything to see that moment.
It was then he first noticed an unusually large gap between two chairs, breaking the perfect symmetry of the circle. The space was overrun with foliage. Reaching the spot, Cody pushed at the overrun bushes with his feet revealing the dirt below. In it were four deep gouges—the size of four chair legs.
There was another chair here…a Thirteenth founder.
Cody stared at the spot in wonder. He thought of the ancient man they had discovered in the Caves of Revelation. Randilin had called him
. Had he been here, too? Had he been a Founder of Under-Earth? Who was he? More importantly:
Why has someone gone to such lengths to have him removed?
The Price of a Good Story
TIANA DIDN’T KNOW WHERE she was heading. She didn’t care; as long as it was as far away from where she was as possible.
I deserve this
. Since she was a young girl she had casually played with fire and now she had to deal with the scorching burn. This understanding did nothing to lessen the pain.
She had watched Cody leave with Jade and the Prince. He had not asked her to accompany them, nor did she expect him to. She was not fooled by his silly, impulsive actions at the banquet. The user had become the used. Cody was using her to spark jealousy in Jade. Their time spent together on route to El Dorado seemed a lifetime ago.
She turned a blind corner and continued aimlessly down the lengthy alley. She yearned to be back in Atlantis in the comforting solitude of her rooftop dwelling, back where she could do as she pleased and be left alone. Before anyone cared about her; more importantly, before she cared about anyone.
She reached the end of the dreary passage and stepped out into a part of the city she had never seen before.
Where am I?
She glanced around. There was something unusual about it. A cluster of strange buildings with triangle rooftops had replaced the open-walled houses. The structures had four walls, but no apparent windows or doors. The night air was quiet, as though it hadn’t been disturbed in a long time.
But the silence didn’t last long. She detected whispered voices approaching, almost inaudible despite the placid air. She stepped back into the alley and crouched low. An instant later a silent procession passed noiselessly by the backstreet several feet from her hiding place.
The men were all concealed in dark robes, although the golden platelets fused into their hands exposed them to be soldiers. Several carried flickering lanterns dangling from large poles. The lantern light revealed two familiar men straggling in the middle of the parade: Hoin and Koin, the two
from the banquet.
The procession disappeared from Tiana’s view. Peeking around the corner, she watched as they marched straight toward the city’s stone wall. Then, in the blink of an eye, they were gone.
Tiana jumped out from her hiding.
What on earth?
Looking both ways, she jogged toward the wall. There was no exit anywhere in sight.
Where did they go?
She reached out and pressed against the wall. It was solid stone.
It doesn’t make any sense.
She traced her hand across the wall. Then, without warning, her support was gone and she collapsed.
She was outside. The damp Under-Earth air filled her nose. She glanced behind her at the seemingly solid stone wall. From her position on the ground she could just make out the outline of a door. The opening was built on a slant and reflective mirrors were positioned on either side. As she stood the outline once again seemed to fade and disappear into the wall.
Off in the distance the faint lights of the procession ventured farther away from the city. Tiana pulled her hood over her head and scurried after them.
Reaching the top of the mound, Tiana looked into the yawning mouth of a dark cave. Torchlight bounced off the tunnel walls. As the lights faded around the corner, Tiana scampered into the cave in pursuit. She pressed her back against the wall and peered cautiously around the corner to where the group had congregated.
were shoved to the cold floor. Their mouths had been melded shut with a gold platelet fused into their skin over their lips.
The hooded men with the torches encircled the two prisoners. The leader of the parade stepped forward and removed his hood—Prince Foz.
Tiana inched back into the shadows and held her breath. The Prince knelt beside the twins. “That was an impressive story at the banquet,” he said coldly. “Admirably brave…but reckless.” Foz grabbed Koin’s cheek and pulled his face toward him. “The first one to give me names is free to go.”
The storytellers didn’t budge an inch, staring defiantly at the Prince. Foz’s face hardened. He grabbed Hoin by the hair and shoved his face against the dirt. “I asked you a simple question.”
, Foz.” Another of the hooded men stepped forward. “They’ve made their choice.” Tiana leaned in; the voice was familiar. Foz stood to face the speaker.
“I will not be bullied by you, Hansi.” El Dorado’s Prince removed his hood, revealing his powerful eyes. For a moment the two Princes stared steadily at each other.
There was a rumble from deeper within the cave. All heads turned toward the sound. The faces of Hoin and Koin went ghostly pale. “So be it.” Foz said at last.
Tiana sunk low into the shadows as the convoy retreated past her and out of the cave, leaving the two
behind. As the men turned around the cave went pitch dark.