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.
“I’ve got light green, dark green, three kinds of green that ain’t even green…”
– Ranko Whelan
South Barrotog Claim
Three miles northwest of Berrypatch Grove
“I’m not going down there! There’s no telling what might be in that tunnel!”
“Ranko, it’s five feet away!” Shannon replied. “Just get one of those coins. You’re faster than us.”
“If it’s so safe, why don’t you go?” Ranko asked.
“Because that tunnel is made for short people like you,” Shannon replied, putting her hands on her hips.
“Alright, that’s enough,” Alanna said. “Cici, go get one of those little coins and bring it right back. And don’t go any further into the tunnel.”
Cici lit up like a light bulb factory at being chosen for something important by Alanna. She scrambled down the waterlogged wooden stairs to the muddy base of the tunnel. The girls had gathered on the east edge of the barley field, under a line of thin willow trees. Talitha had already remarked on the fact the tunnel had to be artificially made, since it was square in shape, with clearly defined corners and edges. It also had a wooden trap door almost covering the entrance, which at least partially explained why it wasn’t completely full of water from the rainstorm.
“Hurry up, Little Bit!” Ranko urged. Cici knelt and picked a handful of the smaller coins out of the mud and even snagged the big one before she clambered back up the stairs. She dumped them in the grass and all the girls gathered around to look.
“They look heavy,” Jessica said, picking one up and turning it over. “Ooh looky! They have little crowns on them.”
“Is that the same language as the book?” Alanna asked, indicating the lettering on the largest coin. Talitha shook her head.
“These look like copper,” Jessica muttered.
“They make coins out of copper here?” Shannon asked.
“I guess,” Jessica replied. “We got one mama coin and eight little baby coins.”
“I told you we found treasure-land,” Ranko said. “There’s probably a lot more in the part of the tunnel we can’t see. We have to explore the rest of it!”
“I am not crawling around in that muddy tunnel!” Shannon said.
“Even if it means we can find more coins?” Jessica asked with a smile. “Come on! We can pretend we’re explorers and we’ll be rich after we find buried treasure!”
“You be an explorer. I’m going to stay right here where there’s no mud in my hair.”
“If there’s a lot of these little coins, we’re going to need something to carry them in. Little Bit, go back to the barn and get one of those bags you found,” Ranko said. “Hurry quick.”
Cici bolted. The older girls knew she would treat the request like she was competing for gold in the 4×100 relay, so it wouldn’t be long before she got back.
“You’re going in there?” Shannon asked in an incredulous tone.
“Yep. If there’s a monster in there that eats copper coins, I’d rather find out about it during the day,” Ranko replied.
“There’s a monster in there!?” Jessica’s voice became more than a little squeaky.
“Oh, my goodness,” Talitha whispered.
“If there is, it’s six against one. Well, five and a half,” Ranko replied as Cici ran up with two of the dingy cloth bags. Ranko took one and threaded it through the thin belt in her jeans.
“We’re going to regret this,” Shannon said as Ranko slipped down the wooden stairs and crouched.
“Leave the trap door open for light!” the red-haired girl said as she ventured into the tunnel.
Jessica looked around at the other girls. They were all watching the tunnel entrance expectantly. “I’m going with her,” she finally announced.
“What?” Shannon asked. “Are you crazy?”
“What if she needs help? I’m going.” Jessica gingerly navigated down the stairs and disappeared into the tunnel.
Ranko stopped when she noticed the passageway was getting brighter. She looked back and saw Jessica.
“The boss wasn’t kidding when she said you were glowing, was she?”
Jessica shook her head and smiled.
“I guess we won’t need a torch then. Come on.”
“It smells like moldy pond water in here,” Jessica said. “Yucky.”
It wasn’t long before the tunnel opened up considerably. Ranko slid down a muddy ramp of sorts and found she could stand without having to hunch over. When Jessica arrived, the low-ceiling room was illuminated well enough to see an upright wooden door was installed in a stone wall at the opposite end of the chamber. In this part of the tunnel the floor looked completely dry.
“That’s a sconce.”
“That!” Jessica was pointing at a black metal frame of sorts attached to the wall next to the door. “You put torches in them so you can see.”
“Okay, Miss Smarty, riddle me this. Remember how the boss said the tunnel should have a bunch of water in it?”
“The water would run down that passageway and in here. Where did it go? This room should be waist deep from all that rain yesterday!”
“Okay, but look at this!” Jessica hunched and made her way across to the opposite corner and crouched. “There’s a drain here, like the one at the place my dad gets our car fixed. Maybe the water did run down the tunnel and into here and then drained away.”
“I know Miss Shannon said no spooky talk, but this place is getting really weird.” Ranko’s voice lowered to a whisper. “This is all too perfect. Someone had to have built all this. Someone has to be living here!”
“Let’s open that door and find out!” Jessica whispered back.
“Nope. We take all this back to the boss. We need a plan, and we can do better than ‘the redhead and the goofball charge through the weird door in the monster cave.’”
“But where do you think the rest of the treasure went?”
“It’s probably all behind that door with the monsters. Let’s go.”
As they climbed back towards the wooden stairs, Jessica looked back to make sure Ranko was kidding about the monsters. The two girls finally emerged from the trap door. Ranko closed it and sat on top to make sure nothing escaped from the tunnel.
“There’s a door down there. It’s not just a muddy passageway, and Goofy saw a sconce where they might put a torch.”
“Great. Let’s put a big rock on the trap door and call it even,” Shannon said, folding her arms. “Sounds like we weren’t invited anyway.”
“Why would they dig a tunnel under a farm?” Cici asked.
“It’s the last place anyone would look,” Alanna muttered. Then she snapped her fingers. “A hideout! Enken did say this farm was abandoned. Maybe this is an underground hideout of some kind?”
“That makes sense. They must be storing all their stolen coins down there,” Ranko said.
“Yeah, but who is storing stolen coins?” Alanna added.
“These are stolen!?” Jessica exclaimed. “Then we gotta give ‘em back!”
“To who?” Shannon asked. “The chickens?”
“Whom,” Talitha said quietly.
“No, silly! Whoever the hideout people stole them from!” Jessica replied. “If I lost a bunch of baby copper coins and a big mama coin I’d want someone to bring them back to me. Wouldn’t you?”
“So what’s your plan, Doofus? A frontal assault or do we sneak in there by dark of night and try to pick the lock?” Ranko asked with a sarcastic look.
Jessica shrugged and made a sound like “idunno.”
“I say we get one of those big shovels and smash the door with it!” Cici announced.
“Okay, we’ll all go to lunch and you let us know how that works out,” Ranko replied.
“No! You’re supposed to go with me!” Cici said with a big smile. “I’m just a little kid!”
“Nah, I’d rather go out for pizza. You can be the too-short shovel guard,” Ranko said, reclining on the door and pretending to yawn and go to sleep. Cici ran over and punched her shoulder. Ranko playfully grabbed at the younger girl’s ankles as she danced out of reach.
“I have a better plan,” Alanna said with a confident smile.
Dawnsong: The Last Skyblade is available now at the Palace in the Sky Bookstore!