Authors: Daniel Blackaby
Tags: #Fiction, #Action & Adventure, #Christian, #YA, #Fantasy, #Christian fiction
Cody recapped all that had transpired since the raid. He briefly shared of Tiana’s sudden attitude shift, but Randilin shrugged. “Can’t blame her. My stubby left, big toe has more charm with the ladies than you.”
Ignoring the slight, Cody explained El Dorado’s capture of Lilley and the retreat to Flore Gub. Finally, he stated his decision to rescue Jade and the Queen’s surprisingly easy accommodation.
Randilin’s head tilted like a curious mutt. “Odd,” he muttered, half to himself, “it’s not consistent with her character. She holds the ruddy
glory of Atlantis
in higher regard than her own privileged life. For her to just send the city’s only hope on a suicide mission and risk surrendering
to the Golden King…it doesn’t feel right.”
“Maybe she has faith in my ability…” Cody began but stopped, realizing the absurdity of that claim.
Randilin shook his head. “
don’t even have faith in your ability. Nor ruddy well should you.
. It doesn’t make any sense, unless…”
Cody pressed his head between the prison bars. “Unless what, Randilin?”
“Unless…she’s not actually sending you to rescue Jade. The Queen’s dogmatic, but she’s no simpleton. If she’s sending you on this reckless quest, then she must have her reasons for doing so. And the longer I think about it, the more I conclude that none of those reasons have your best interest in mind.”
A Veiled Romance
CIA PEERED OUT HER WINDOW. Atlantis rested in its nightly hibernation, with only the flickering of torchlight to illuminate the thatched rooftops. The lighting glimmered off her ice blue gown. The Queen left the window and retreated into her chambers where a table was positioned and polished silverware precisely placed. A vase of brilliantly colored blooms served as an elegant centerpiece. The wait was excruciating.
Why does he always make me wait?
She slowed her breathing, allowing her thoughts to drift elsewhere.
Would my father have made the same decision?
Only time would tell; she had no other choice but to wait patiently.
All I ever do is wait
, she thought, glancing again to the door. On cue, the doorknob twisted and her heart jumped
She smoothed her dress against her slender body, double-checking one more time that the table was properly arranged. The visitor’s familiar scent infiltrated the room.
Cia turned to face the man. “I’ve been anticipating your arrival,” she greeted softly.
“As have I,” the man replied. “Your presence is always a prize worth waiting for.” He removed his hat and gave a slight bow. “As always, you look lovely.” Cia’s face flushed; she fought to block the sensation.
“And, as always, you are the perfect gentleman. Please, come in.”
Complying with the invitation, the man entered. Reaching the Queen, he placed his hands gently on her curved hips. Leaning forward, he pressed a soft kiss against her forehead. “I look forward to our dinner together, my beautiful Queen.”
Cia could no longer control the blush that overtook her powdered cheeks. She gazed into the man’s eyes.
“As do I, my noble Dunstan.”
Forming The Company
SIXTEEN EYES PEERED IMPATIENTLY as Cody emerged into the immense room. He scurried across the Great Hall toward the assembly, the rows of majestic pillars flanking his path like a forest of redwoods.
Queen Cia perched on the simple wooden throne, her powdered face taut with a frown. Joining her were Kantan, Levenworth, Dace, Tat, and Sli Silkian, who looked slimy and smug as ever. Cody’s eyes bulged; rounding out the group were the last two people he expected to see—Lamgorious Stalkton, who sat merrily in a wooden wheelbarrow swinging his stubbed legs like a child on a swing set and Xerx, who held the wheelbarrow with a spiteful glare as though daring Cody to make jest of the situation.
“Let us begin,” Cia said calmly as Cody arrived. The beautiful Queen stood. “This quest balances on the furthermost edge of lunacy, with a myriad of dangers and opportunities to fail. Do you maintain your unwavering decision to proceed?”
Cody nodded without hesitation. “I do.”
Cia stroked her thin bottom lip. “Very well.” She motioned to Levenworth. The husky General plopped a tattered scroll onto a circular table, allowing it to unroll and dangle over the edges.
“A map of Under-Earth.” Levenworth dropped his heavy index finger onto a red star marking Atlantis. “In better days, the logical route would be to go south and follow the river to Azelc’s Parish, the Ruins of Sal-Gazta, and then Flore Gub.” He traced the path as he spoke. “However, time is short and necessity demands a more direct route.” His finger returned to the Atlantis emblem. “A straight course to Redtown, circling the northern perimeter of the Fiery Plains to Du-Morgar, Flore Gub and through the Labyrinth Mountains to El Dorado. The journey will be perilous, but it’s the fate we’ve been given.”
Cia touched Cody’s chin and tilted his face toward her own. “I will not risk the Champion of Atlantis undergoing this journey alone.”
“I pledge my sword to the Book Keeper!” proclaimed Dace, kneeling and presenting his sword in outstretched hands. “For three generations this blade has protected Atlantis and has never been bested in combat. I will protect the Book Keeper to my death.”
Cody felt an immense sense of relief; the unfolding scene was like a fragile dream that he had dared not voice for fear it might be snatched away.
“Elegantly spoken, Captain,” Levenworth replied. “But your collateral trail of judgment lapses is undeniable. You are young and rash. A mission like this is no place for noble ideals; it is one for wise action.”
“As it happens,” said Kantan, speaking for the first time and silencing the room, “unreliable or not, Captain Dace is the greatest swordsman in Under-Earth. His skill equals that of ten seasoned soldiers.” Kantan nodded to Dace. “I will hold you to your oath. From this moment forth, you are the Book Keeper’s blood protector.”
“So be it,” Levenworth uttered, clearly displeased but lacking any notion of a grudge. “Select the five most capable, trustworthy soldiers in your legion to accompany you.”
Queen Cia circled around Cody, tracing her index finger across his back. “The Company is now seven strong. However, the wastelands of Under-Earth are expansive. You lack a guide.”
Tat Shunbickle cleared his throat. “I’ve completed fourteen successful covert missions in all four corners of Under-Earth and have spent two seasons studying under the legendary map-maker, Zilar Dask. I can escort The Company as far as Flore Gub. From there I will then report back to Captain Talgu—and my family….” A violent inferno smoldered in his eyes. Despite his disciplined demeanor, it was clear to everyone that an emotional dam was ready to burst.
Cia peered at him like a maddeningly indecipherable painting before finally relenting. “Offer accepted—The Company is eight.”
The excruciating noise of off-pitched humming sliced through the swelling tension in the room. All eyes turned to Stalkton, who was looking absently to the ceiling while swaying back and forth. Sensing the stares, the pale priest smiled. “Does anyone else
that song!? Such a heart-wrenching waltz of romance and tragedy! The three-legged horse truly loved that blind spider. True passion, heartbreakingly, never to be realized.”
“Touching,” uttered Kantan in disgust. The priest took a deep breath, preparing to dive into the second verse but, to the relief of all, Cia spoke first.
“High Priest, what wisdom do you impart to these questers?” Stalkton glanced around the room for a moment before his face lit up. “Golly, is it somebody’s birthday! How splendid! I do hope there’s cake.” With a flushed face, Xerx leaned forward and whispered into the priest’s ear. Stalkton’s face drooped; now reminded of the actual occasion for the gathering. Gone was any jubilant hope of cake. He sighed. “The Book Keeper’s ability remains
amateur. If we are to cling to our cloud of hope, he must continue his training. If not here, then on the journey.”
“Wise Master!” Cia cried. “You are in no condition to accompany Cody…”
Stalkton chuckled. “How ridiculous! I haven’t quested in ages! Not since the time I awoke in an uncharted cave, naked, holding a cooking spoon, and with the distinct smell of animal dung on my fingers….” The crowd waited impatiently as the rest of the nauseating story played in his head. “No, no, no. I’m not leaving my Monastery.” The crowd exhaled a collective sigh of relief. “I will remain here and send Xerx in my place.”
“What!” yelled Cody and Xerx in unison.
“With the Brotherhood purged, Xerx is the most versed in the High Language. The final stage in his training can only be achieved through the teaching of others.” Cody’s eyes locked with Xerx’s, who shared his dread.
“The Company is nine.”
A low cough rattled as Silkian slithered before the Queen. “Ten…I will be sending my own pupil, Llyi Chazic as AREA representative.” Silkian spoke with firm authority; and although Cia and Kantan’s faces exposed clear opposition, neither voiced a challenge.
“Ten it shall be,” Cia concluded.
Cody dropped his eyes to the floor. “I request that Randilin accompany me as well. He has been…” His voice trailed off, realizing his breath was being wasted.
Kantan sneered. “Request denied. The last time Randilin journeyed to El Dorado, it was as a heartless traitor; to sell out his people and rip away what was most precious to them. He will stay in his cell and rot.” Cody saw the Prince’s jaw clamp tight.
Cia stepped forward to douse the escalating flames. “Agreed; it is too risky. This war will prosper or crumble on the outcome of this quest. We can trust no one else. You shall depart tonight under veil of nightfall. Upon the ten men of this Company does hope rest.”
!” shouted Tiana from across the Great Hall. Before anyone from the surprised audience could respond, she vanished.
From Dust to Dust
IT WAS UNBEARABLE. Like the leisurely change of the seasons, the evening slogged along too slowly. Cody picked at his long-since pillaged fingernails and gazed out his bedroom window, impatient for the vibrant daylight to disappear. A thin, stone tablet on the nightstand caught his attention. Brushing aside the ruby pocket watch, he retrieved the object. His eyes ran over the smooth calligraphy:
The Power of Full Divinity,
Rests EnCoded Within Earthly Trinity.
Where Sacrifice of the Pure Angel Who Fell,
Is the Way to Retrieve the Pearl Within the Shell.
With Humble Heart and Golden Key,
The Universe’s Most Powerful Force Is Revealed to Thee.
He had long since abandoned pursuit of the tablet’s prize; in part due to his mistrust of its giver, Dunstan, but also because of his dismal lack of talent with riddles. He exchanged the slab for the worn leather Book, allowing the energy to swim through his veins and revive his fatigue. Confirming that his door was locked, Cody pressed his palm against the Book’s cover.
Thousands of dust granules began sweeping across the floor from all corners of the room like an army of tiny insects ambushing an unsuspecting picnic. Colliding in the room’s center, the dust stacked like bricks, climbing higher and higher toward the roof. Then the room was still.
Standing before him, like a phantom, was Jade. The dust incarnation took a stride toward him, grime sprinkling down with its every movement. The apparition of Jade pointed her finger and narrowed her eyes. Cody began to tremble. Her finger pivoted until it was fixated on the Book. No words were needed; Cody understood perfectly. “I’m sorry. I should’ve chosen you,” he whispered.
“How long are you going to blame yourself for a decision you can’t undo?” asked a stranger’s voice from the corner of the room.
Gai di gasme
!” The silhouette of Jade crashed to the floor. Standing in the frame of the window were two men garmented in black robes, both of which were embroidered with a crest and a solitary word: CROSS.
Dangling from the speaker’s hips were two polished, circular blades. The second man towered above the first, standing at least seven feet tall. A bushy beard billowed from the shadows of the hood and two elongated, pure silver pistols were tucked into his belt.
“You!” spat Cody in an accusatory tone, “where’s Dunstan?”
“Your importance in the unfolding events is significant, but you are far from our only concern. As it happens, Dunstan is…otherwise occupied.” The speaker rested against the windowsill; however, the silent giant remained unmoved, his thick fingers resting uncomfortably close to his large pistols. Cody could feel the man’s intense stare digging a grave into his forehead.
“Dunstan sends his regards—and a message.”
Cody sat up attentively. “Go on….”
The man motioned toward the stone tablet on Cody’s nightstand. “He says that your appointed journey will lead to your desired location, but away from your destiny. The answer to questions not yet asked waits at
the place where it was discovered
. Find the northern caves where The Thirteenth dwells; there you will receive understanding.”
Cody ran his fingers through his shaggy hair. “What on earth does Dunstan expect me to do with all that mumbo-jumbo? What’s in the caves? What’s The Thirteenth? And why should I trust you? I don’t even know your name.”
At this the shorter man chuckled. “What is a name? A name represents individuality—a vice I’ve long since forsaken for the greater cause. I am Agent Two, no less and no more. My associate,” he motioned to the seven-foot behemoth, “is Agent Four. That will be sufficient.” He turned to face the window. “The time has come.” With that, everything went black and the Orb’s light extinguished behind the metallic eye of the Sanctuary.