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.
“The mind that is without fear is a weapon with a diamond’s edge.”
In the Bristlebarrow
Two miles south of Songbird Wick
All six girls were gathered around the main table looking at Talitha’s book. Not long after the girls “moved in” so to speak, Alanna had organized a cleaning detail. The search for furniture to dust led to the discovery of more than fifteen rooms, some of which were furnished, some of which seemed to have been once set aside for storage. Ranko and Talitha made the beds as best they could using what linens they could scrounge up.
During the exploration party, Shannon had discovered a collection of partially used candles each mounted on a pot metal holder. After considerable effort had been invested in figuring out a way to get a fire started during a driving rainstorm, Jessica discovered a metal box containing several broken pieces of flint. With Talitha’s help, the girls assembled a small nest of straw in the fireplace and managed to get it to light by striking the flint against a metal cup Alanna found in the water barrel. Moments later they had light in the farm house. The scent from the candle helped dispel the musty air. It even seemed a little warmer.
“We should keep one candle lit all the time, huh?” Jessica said.
“Especially at night, otherwise we won’t be able to see at all. This place is going to be pitch black after dark,” Shannon added.
“How come it makes sparks like that when you hit those rocks together?” Cici asked, playing with the little pieces of flint.
“It’s ‘cause of iron!” Jessica exclaimed. “I remember when me and Talitha were in the Dandelion Guides and went on the nature tour! We learned how to make campfires and torches and lots of stuff. If you take something real hard and hit it against a piece of iron, it makes sparks fly because iron burns in the air!”
Talitha nodded, confirming Jessica’s explanation.
“You know we could use a torch or two if we’re going exploring,” Alanna said.
“Except we’re not going out there at night,” Shannon replied.
“Okay, I have to ask, Professor. What is the deal with that book? Where did you find it?” Ranko asked, leaning against the big table’s surface with both hands.
Talitha turned the page. She hadn’t spoken more than six words since they got inside.
“There it is,” she said, pointing at a strange, ethereal symbol printed on the elaborately illuminated page. “That’s the symbol I touched on the red globe.”
“The one from my ring?” Jessica asked. Talitha nodded.
“Was it part of the map?” Alanna asked as she and the other girls stood to get a better look.
“Not the dot that I touched?” Ranko asked.
“This symbol was next to it,” Talitha replied. “I saw an enormous library. Some of the books were so big I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to lift them. I had just picked this one up. Then I saw you all and ran with you to the shack.”
“Maybe that symbol means ‘Makoce’ or something,” Jessica said. “Like Enken said.”
“Yeah, but look at these words here.” Ranko pointed at the opposite page, which was covered in handwritten script. “I can’t read this, can you?”
“That doesn’t look like any language I’ve ever seen,” Shannon said.
“It looks like cursive writing!” Cici said. “I learned that in school last year!”
“But it’s not English,” Alanna noted. “And you’ve read almost 40 pages so far.”
“It’s indexed,” Talitha replied, straightening her glasses and turning to the back of the book. “Here. This appendix has a primer that describes the phonetics, grammar and symbol syntax. It’s also illustrated after a fashion, so it explains some of the verbs and gives examples. The structure of this language isn’t all that different from our own, except none of the individual sentences seem to have objects. Only subjects. They have to be combined to make complex phrases. At least that’s what I’ve figured out so far. I think this book was written to help teach the language it was written in. It recounts historical events I think the authors wanted to preserve. It might even be some kind of children’s book. Some of the chapters are written in verse.”
“Verse?” Alanna asked.
“Like a poem.”
“Like fairy tales or something?” Jessica asked.
“I feel like I just got beat up by my English homework,” Ranko said.
“What about this symbol?” Jessica asked. “What does it say?”
“The only word I can find that references it is ‘Lockvern.’”
“That’s what that weird guy was talking about!” Shannon said.
“Wait a second! Hold it!” Ranko exclaimed. “If all the books are written in fairy tale language, how is it that guy was speaking English?”
“Well? Do you know?” Ranko asked Talitha. The bespectacled girl shrugged.
“Do you know?”
Jessica shook her head.
“Well who knows!?” Ranko gestured with both hands.
Alanna shrugged. Ranko threw a piece of flint over her shoulder and collapsed into one of the wooden chairs.
“We’ve got a lot to figure out. We’ll have to start taking notes,” Alanna said. “Who wants to volunteer?”
“Meeee!” Jessica exclaimed, jumping up and down. “Talitha helped me with all my homework this year, so we work super-good together!”
“Super-well,” Talitha said quietly as she turned the pages.
“We have to find some notebooks!” Cici said. “And pencils and pens! And crayons so we can color them!” Alanna helped the younger girl up on her lap so she could see better.
“Okay, so you’ve got a handle on the written language. What have you learned from this thing so far?” Shannon asked.
Talitha turned back to the beginning of the book. The first page was decorated with an elaborate illuminated painting in red with gold ornaments. At its center was an enormous symbol. “This book was written by someone calling themselves ‘Devao.’ My best guess so far is that could be a name for a race of people instead of someone’s personal name. A crude translation of the title is “The Devao Book of Music-Stories.” Talitha turned pages as she spoke. “It seems a collected history passed down from generation to generation. Most of the chapters I’ve read apparently started out as metered lyrics. Someone took the time to write them down one by one, and then they were all compiled in this binding. Some of them are about Jessica’s ring.”
Ranko stood up, pulled out one of the wooden chairs, sat right next to Talitha, folded her hands on the table and looked directly into the bespectacled girl’s eyes. “Talk to me.”
Talitha turned to a spot near the beginning of the book where a painted illustration of a magnificent hand-and-a-half longsword filled the page. “I think this is what that boy was talking about. It is a weapon, but it’s disguised. Jessica’s ring is one form of an enchanted sword. Its blade is made of celestium, which is a very rare mineral that can only be found here in Aventar. Both the ring’s and the sword’s powers are based on light and fire.”
Alanna and Jessica glanced at each other.
“What.” Ranko asked.
“I’m glowing. Or, I was glowing. At least sometimes.” Jessica smiled and let her chin rest on her folded hands as she leaned her elbows on the table.
“She’s right. We saw it when we first came in here,” Alanna said. “There’s this golden light that fills the air around her. You can see it from a distance. It even shows up on the floor and walls. We also found out that ring disappears if she tries to give it to someone else.”
“And then it appears back on my hand like only a second after. It likes me.”
Ranko made a face and shoved Jessica’s shoulder. “Pssh. It ‘likes’ me,” she said sarcastically. Jessica closed her eyes and kept smiling contentedly.
“There’s more,” Talitha said. “Whoever wrote this book theorized quite a bit about Dawnsong’s powers. Ring and sword are the same object, and the Devao believe Dawnsong can take as many as three forms. We’ve only seen the ring so far.”
“How do we get the sword one?” Jessica asked.
“That’s the confusing part,” Talitha replied, turning ahead in the book several dozen more pages.
“Okay, if the Professor is confused, we’re sunk,” Ranko said. The other girls leaned closer to see what Talitha was pointing at.
“This part of the book speaks of more abstract concepts like honor and courage. That’s one of the things that is making it so hard to read. The sentence structure in this language is like a storybook for small children, so when it tries to describe more advanced concepts, it gets very choppy and hard to understand. What I’m pretty sure of, though, is that Dawnsong responds to honor.”
“What does that mean?” Shannon asked.
“This is just a guess, but I think the ring and sword become more powerful when they are wielded by an honest, courageous person. I think they lose their powers if they are wielded by a wicked person. In fact, I don’t think an evil person could even touch the ring or the sword without some kind of reaction, possibly a dangerous one.”
“Whoa,” Ranko said. “That little thing is dangerous?”
“Well, only if you’re evil,” Jessica replied. “Are you?”
“If winning and looking good doing it are evil, then I’m a super-villain!” Ranko boasted.
“How sensitive is it?” Alanna asked. “I mean, I don’t think any of us are going to trip the evil alarm, but what if Jessica does something not quite evil but not exactly good either?”
“I’m not going to do anything evil!” She closed her eyes to emphasize her self-assurance. “I’m a nice girl.”
“I don’t know for sure, but I would expect it would become less powerful if Jessica did something less than honest. On the other hand, if she is dedicated and follows a virtuous path, there’s no telling how powerful it might become.”
“Okay, then. Goofball is our secret weapon. If we run into something haunted, like evil scarecrows, she goes first,” Ranko said.
“Seconded,” Shannon added.
“What? You’re glowing, you’ve got a sword and you’ll never tell a lie or steal my lunch. You should march right out there and ‘chop chop.’ No more haunted scarecrow,” Ranko said. Shannon and Alanna smiled.
“I liked it better when it was just glowing,” Jessica said, folding her arms and pouting.
“There are seven other rings,” Talitha said.
Ranko snapped around. “Say again?”
Dawnsong: The Last Skyblade is available now at the Palace in the Sky Bookstore!