The following is a free chapter from the first book in my LadyStar™ fantasy adventure series Dawnsong: The Last Skyblade, available now at the Palace in the Sky Bookstore.
“If you want to beat Talitha Casey in a fight, it’s really simple. Just make sure you’re in the middle of a ten-acre asphalt parking lot. Trust me, if there’s so much as a dandelion nearby, you’re going to be real unhappy in a real hurry.”
– Shannon O’Keene
When the young man saw Jessica he stepped inside quickly, took her by both hands and lifted her to her feet.
“I knew you would come to help us.”
Jessica looked into his eyes and saw the same earnest sincerity. He held her hands by his heart, just like in her dream. That smile.
“Whoa whoa whoa,” Ranko said, taking the taller boy by the arm and pulling him back a step. “Slow down there, Stretch. Help who?” The boy was dressed in a damp brown shirt, brown leggings, boots and a crimson cloak.
“The people of Aventar.”
By now all the girls except Talitha had gotten to their feet. They surrounded the boy and watched him carefully. He was roughly the same height as the two tallest girls Alanna and Shannon.
“What’s Aventar?” Shannon asked.
The boy looked confused. “It is where you are. Where we all are.”
“Who’s ‘we,’ kemosabe?” Ranko asked. “You came in to our shack, remember?”
“Forgive me, I have been remiss in my courtesies. I am Enken, Chamberlain of the First House of Thesia.” He performed a gallant formal gesture. The girls glanced at each other uncomfortably.
“I know you have traveled a long distance and you must be weary. I trust you will be grateful for the hospitality of the Barrotog Stead, such as it is. I’m afraid it has been recently abandoned.”
“Why?” Shannon asked.
“The villagers say it is haunted.”
“Perfect,” Shannon said with a sarcastic gesture. “That does it. I’m out of here.” She started for the door. A low howl sounded outside as the wind whipped past the nearby stables. Shannon’s eyes widened and she froze with her hand on the door handle. Enken ducked down. He nodded, gesturing to the girls to follow his example. Alanna, Ranko and Jessica glanced at each other again and knelt on the wooden floor. Finally Shannon joined them. Cici decided the huge book was more interesting than the weird tall guy, so she sat next to Talitha, trying to understand the strange writing.
“You shouldn’t venture outside until dark,” he said.
“And why not?”
“Because my benefactress will be looking for us.”
“Say again?” Ranko said. “Bene-who?”
“Reina is Vicereine of the King’s Province of Kulnas. Dawnsong belongs to the Thesian First House.”
“Dawnsong?” Jessica asked.
Jessica glanced at her hand for a moment, then at the other girls. She leaned forward using her fists for support until she was nose to nose with Enken.
“Are you going to tell us what’s going on?”
Enken ran his hand through his sandy damp hair sheepishly. “The ring isn’t exactly mine.”
“You stole it,” Alanna said.
“In a manner of speaking.”
“Then why didn’t you just wear it yourself?” Jessica asked. Talitha turned to page ten.
“It’s too small.” The looks on the girls’ faces told Enken they were not amused.
“And who is this Vicereine again?” Alanna asked.
“She is the ruler of Aventar’s northern province and a Scribe Arcanist of the First Order. The common folk call her kind ‘Witchkin.’”
“This gets better and better, doesn’t it?” Shannon said in an annoyed tone.
“What’s a Scribe Arcanist?” Jessica asked.
“They are members of an ancient guild. Scribe Arcanists study sigils, glyphs and sorcery. Her Excellency was allowed to join because of her knowledge of alchemy. She is a renowned teacher,” Enken replied. “I believe she served the betrayed King of Ajanel as Royal Mediciner long ago, but some dispute her claim to her royal title.”
“Then why don’t we just give her the ring and call it even?” Ranko said.
“So help me, if you give us one more piece of bad news I’m going to thump you over the head,” Shannon growled.
“Aventar is–” Enken paused and took a deep breath. “The land has been corrupted. Our wisest scholars cannot tell us how or why. I suspect one of the factions bound to the Iron Compact may have broken away, and if that is true, time is short. Dawnsong is our only link to Ajanel’s greatest powers.” The boy turned his attention to Jessica. “Unless you can discover the secrets of this weapon, there will be none to turn away this evil.”
Jessica glanced at her ring again. Its golden wings sparkled, even in the gloom. “How did we get here?” she asked with a sincere look. “We’ve never seen a place like this before.”
“Dawnsong contains a map of the Lockvern. Of that much Aventar’s scholars are certain. I’ve seen it myself. One of its many paths may have led you from your world to this place.”
“But it looks like home. I mean it’s different, but not like–”
“I am neither a scribe nor a scholar, but if your journey through the Lockvern was a short one, it is possible your world and ours are linked somehow. There are much stranger places in the astral realm. They are all accessible through the Lockvern’s many gateways, but they require much longer journeys. Some astral expeditions can last for centuries, at least by our reckoning of time here in Aventar.”
“Okay,” Ranko said cautiously, looking at Alanna for help.
“So we can get home the same way we got here?” Shannon asked. “Why don’t we just start picking gateways one by one until we find the right one?”
“No, you mustn’t do that!” Enken’s sharp tone startled Jessica. “The Lockvern is ancient, and we know very little about it. Even scribes as wise as her Excellency have cautioned us to avoid it unless we are familiar with the gateway we plan to use. The astral pathways were not built by men, but by powerful beings from unseen worlds. Mortals were not meant to understand it, and we were certainly never meant to use it for our own purposes. If you step through the wrong Lockvern gate you could all be lost or worse, open a doorway for something unspeakably evil to enter this world.”
“But as long as we use the right gateways, we’re okay, right?” Jessica asked.
Enken nodded. “The portal that brought you to Aventar is called the Makoce Gate. Its companion leads back to your world. If you are insightful and courageous, I believe Dawnsong’s enchantments will help you find a safe path home.”
“Mah-ko-chay,” Cici repeated. “That’s neat.”
“Why did you give that ring to Jessica?” Alanna asked.
“Because I see in her what this world lacks,” Enken replied, holding Jessica’s gaze.
“A goofball with a ponytail?” Shannon offered.
Dawnsong: The Last Skyblade is available now at the Palace in the Sky Bookstore!