Sands of nezza, p.1
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       Sands of Nezza, p.1
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           M. L. Forman
Sands of Nezza


  Adventurers Wanted, Book 4: Sands of Nezza

  M. L. Forman

  © 2013 Forman, M. L..

  All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any means without permission in writing from the publisher, Shadow Mountain®. The views expressed herein are the responsibility of the author and do not necessarily represent the position of Shadow Mountain.

  All characters in this book are fictitious, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

  Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

  Forman, Mark, 1964– author

  The sands of Nezza / M. L. Forman.

  pages cm.—(Adventurers wanted, book 4)

  Summary: When Alexander Taylor, wizard and warrior, is summoned to the land of Nezza in order to save a friend in need, he finds a country where war is a part of daily life, where adventurers are imprisoned by the Brotherhood, and where all magic is believed to be black.

  ISBN 978-1-60907-329-9 (hardbound : alk. paper)

  1. Fantasy fiction, American. [1. Friendship—Fiction 2. Wizards—Fiction.

  3. Adventure and adventurers—Fiction. 4. Magic—Fiction. 5. Freedom—Fiction.] I. Title.

  PZ7.F7653San 2013

  [Fic]—dc23 2012048126

  Printed in the United States of America

  R. R. Donnelley, Crawfordsville, IN

  10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1

  To Scott—brother, friend, and mentor.

  Thanks for always pushing.

  Table of Contents

  Acknowledgments

  An Unexpected Message

  The Road Is Closed

  The Hermit

  Stoics

  The Dungeons of Karmus

  The Escape

  Many Meetings

  The Empty River

  The Red Lands

  Tempe

  The Flight North

  Thomas the Healer

  The Castle of Lord Talbot

  Lord Talbot

  A Journey and a Promise

  The Gathering Storm

  The First Battle

  Caftan and Shelnor

  Shadows and Mist

  The Dragon of Ossbo

  The King of Nezza

  The Black Guard

  Magnus and Rallian

  Home Again

  Discussion Questions

  Acknowledgments

  There are so many people who help out and work on a new book that it’s difficult to thank them all. I’m sure I don’t know them all or even what they all do, but I do know that their work is important to making this book come alive. So for all of you hardworking people who remain behind the scenes of not only my books but so many others as well, thank you for all that you do. You know who you are.

  Special thanks to Chris Schoebinger, the mystery man behind Shadow Mountain. To those of us who know him, though, his hard work is not a mystery. He has helped me so much, and I want to thank him for pointing out the problems that were still in the book even though I thought it was done. Thanks, Chris—you are the man.

  Many, many thanks to my editor, Lisa Mangum. Lisa is the brains, the one who makes it all look good and who fixes my writing so that you all can read it without stopping to say, “What?” I know Lisa loves her work as an editor, but I sometimes wonder if I don’t test her resolve and make her work a love/hate relationship.

  Thanks to Brandon Dorman, the illustrator. Brandon gives the story a face, and he always seems to know exactly what face the story should have.

  Thanks also to Richard Erickson, the art director at Shadow Mountain. I still haven’t met Richard face-to-face, but I am grateful for all the work he puts into making everything look just right.

  And finally a big thank-you to you, the readers. I couldn’t do this without you, and I hope that the stories I tell will always make you happy. You are the biggest reason that these stories are told.

  Chapter One

  An Unexpected Message

  The sun shone brightly on the grasslands of Alusia, and the wind rushed through Alex’s hair. The openness of the country and the speed of his horse, Dar Losh, were made for each other. He loosened the reins so the horse could run freely. He wasn’t worried about where they would go or how they would get back. There was no need to worry because Alusia was now his home. Alex laughed as the wind whistled past him, pulling at his hair and clothes.

  Alexander Taylor looked like any other seventeen-year-old boy. The truth was, however, that he was different from not only the other boys his age but from almost everyone else as well. Alex was an adventurer. Not just any adventurer, either. He was an adventurer and a wizard, and perhaps something more.

  It had been little more than a year ago when he’d first seen the magic sign in the window of Mr. Clutter’s old bookshop. A year in the home he had always known, but nearly five years in the distant lands that most people in his world would never see. Time was different depending on which side of the adventure shop door he was on, and though this difference in time had been difficult for him to understand at first, now he hardly even thought about it.

  His new adventurer friends had told him that no matter how long he was on his adventure, he would always be able to return home at almost the exact moment he’d left. At the time, Alex thought they must be mad, but he soon learned the truth of their words and did, indeed, return home from his first adventure at the same moment—and at the same age—as when he’d left. Alex knew that was a good thing, because he didn’t have to explain how he’d aged more than a year in less than a second. But somebody did notice he’d been on an adventure—somebody he would never have expected.

  Alex’s stepfather, Mr. Roberts, knew instantly about Alex’s adventure when he saw the leather bag that Alex was carrying over his shoulder. It was a magic bag that Alex had bought at the beginning of his first adventure, a bag that allowed him to carry a great many things in a small and easy-to-conceal place. Alex was shocked to find out that Mr. Roberts knew all about magic bags and adventures. Mr. Roberts, however, had once been an adventurer as well, and told Alex that he had suspected that Alex might find his way into an adventure of his own someday.

  Alex’s mind was pulled back to Alusia as he reined in his horse on a hilltop. The sun had started to sink in the west, and Alex took a moment to look across the landscape. At first he saw only the open grasslands with a few groves of oak trees dotted here and there between the hills, but then Alex’s vision seemed to shift. Darkness filled the world around him, and he could see things moving in that darkness.

  Shadowy armies marched toward unknown battles. Massive unknown creatures of evil stalked the land, destroying everything in their paths. Burning forests, ruined villages, and broken cities appeared before his eyes as death and destruction flowed like water into the known lands.

  The darkness lifted slowly from his vision, and the grasslands of Alusia returned, but Alex felt that what he had seen was a true vision. Darkness, evil, and war were moving into the known lands, and, as a wizard, it was his duty to stop them.

  Rubbing his eyes, Alex spoke a few quiet words to his horse. It was time for him to return to his new home. He had to prepare for what he knew was coming, even if he had no idea when it would come.

  Dar Losh raced the winds that blew across the Alusian hills until Alex reined him in. He looked down at his house with its tall tower and the flowing stream next to it. This was home, and even though he missed his stepfather and stepbrother, he did not want to go back to the life he had lived before.

  “Go, my friend,” Alex said to Dar Losh after he had removed his saddle and bridle. “Go and run free. I will call you when I need you.”

  The beautiful palomino whinnied in reply and then nuzzled Alex
s shoulder before heading back into the open grassland. Seeing the pale golden horse run made Alex feel hopeful, and he watched until the horse was out of sight.

  Closing the front door behind him, Alex heard a sudden, familiar honking noise. He turned to find a strange bowling-pin-shaped creature standing on a single birdlike leg, waiting for him on the table. The creature was a bottle-necked geeb, a messenger that traveled between the magical lands.

  “Do you have a message for me?” Alex asked. He hadn’t been expecting anything.

  “Ding,” the geeb answered, its head taking the shape of a small bell.

  “May I have it, please?”

  “Ding,” the geeb answered again, producing a piece of paper from the large mouth in the middle of its body.

  Taking the paper from the geeb, Alex noticed that it was worn and dirty. The edges were uneven, as if it had been torn or ripped from a larger page. Just holding the message in his hand, Alex could tell something was wrong.

  His thoughts returned to the dark images he had seen out on the Alusian plains. Monsters, war, destruction, and who knew what other dark things were already in the known lands. The grubby bit of paper the geeb had brought made him feel cold inside.

  “Have you been paid?” Alex asked the geeb. He turned the message over in his hand, delaying the moment when he would have to unfold it.

  “Honk,” the geeb responded, its head taking the shape of a small bicycle horn.

  “Hang on a minute, then,” said Alex, taking a seat behind the long wooden table that he often used as a desk. He turned the paper over once more. Trying to ignore his worries, Alex unfolded the paper and began to read.

  Alex,

  Need your help. Come as soon as you can to the city of Karmus, in the land of Nezza. Come on foot. Don’t let anyone know what you are.

  Skeld

  Alex read the note, looked at the geeb, and then read the note again. It seemed strange, and, for a minute, Alex wondered if his friend Skeld was playing some kind of joke on him. But the urgent tone to the note didn’t sound like one of Skeld’s jokes, and that worried him. Alex noticed that the note was written with what looked like charcoal, which was not something Skeld would do. His friend must really be in some kind of trouble. Skeld was a good fighter and could take care of himself, so if he was asking for help, something had to be very wrong.

  “Can you take a message back to my friend Skeld?” Alex asked the geeb.

  “Honk.”

  The answer surprised and worried Alex even more than the message did. He had never had a geeb refuse to take a message to anyone.

  “Is Skeld still alive?” asked Alex, more to himself than the geeb.

  “Ding.”

  “Is it too dangerous for you to take a message back?”

  “Ding.”

  “Very well. Here is your payment for delivering the message.”

  Alex took a small diamond from the table and tossed it toward the geeb. The geeb bounced up, catching the stone in midair, and then dropped onto the tabletop. With another ding and a small popping noise, the geeb vanished.

  Alex looked at the message again. “‘Don’t let anyone know what you are,’” he read out loud, wondering what Skeld meant. It was a warning, but Alex wasn’t sure what his friend was trying to say. On previous journeys, letting people know he was an adventurer hadn’t mattered; in fact, it had been helpful. Perhaps Skeld meant he should not let people know he was a wizard. But that didn’t make any sense either, as wizards were generally welcome and respected in all of the known lands.

  Alex let his thoughts roll around his mind as he read the message a third time. Skeld wanted him to come on foot, which seemed almost as odd as not telling people he was an adventurer and a wizard. Nothing in the note made any sense, and after several minutes of thinking, Alex decided that there was only one thing he could do. He would go to Nezza, on foot, as Skeld had asked.

  Alex folded the note from Skeld and slipped it into his pocket. He wondered if he should tell his teacher and fellow wizard Whalen Vankin where he was going. Whalen always seemed to know what to do and when to do it. Alex knew, however, that Whalen was on an adventure of his own, and he didn’t want to wait for an answer that might take days to arrive. Skeld’s message sounded desperate, and Alex wanted to get to his friend as fast he could. He would simply have to send Whalen a message when he reached Nezza and let him know what was happening.

  As Alex locked the front door of his house with a magical spell, he knew there wasn’t time to reach the great arch by horse. There was only one way he could quickly reach the magical portal that would take him to the land of Nezza: he would have to change his shape into something fast, something that could reach the arch before night grew old.

  Stepping away from his home, Alex changed himself into the shape of an eagle and rose into the evening sky. There was a strong breeze blowing from the south, and, in his eagle shape, Alex soon had the wind under his wings, rising higher into the sky. He sped north, following the main road that led to the great arch, his mind racing with unanswerable questions.

  Alex arrived at the great arch before dawn. He dropped down and returned to his own shape in front of it. Whalen had taught him how to use the arch to move between lands directly, and, for a moment, he thought he would go straight to Nezza. Whalen had also taught him the importance of gaining knowledge, and Alex knew that rushing off to Nezza without finding out what might be happening there would be both dangerous and foolish. No, first he would stop at the adventure shop of Mr. Cornelius Clutter. Mr. Clutter organized adventures after all, and if Skeld was on an adventure and in trouble, Mr. Clutter might know why.

  Alex worked the magic that opened the arch in seconds, then changed and took flight as an eagle once more. As fast as his wings would carry him, Alex sped to the village of Telous. He flew past Telous just as the first rays of sunlight were reaching across the land, but instead of landing in the town itself, he flew to a large green field outside of Telous. He transformed back to his own shape on the soft grass, taking a moment to get his bearings and shake off the freedom of flight.

  Raising his staff, Alex knocked three times on the empty space in front of him, then stepped back. A silver line appeared out of thin air exactly where Alex had knocked and quickly took the shape of a door. As he watched, the door swung toward him, and he could see Mr. Clutter’s office on the opposite side.

  “Oh my,” cried Mr. Clutter as Alex stepped through the doorway. “How did you manage to open the back door?”

  “I need to get to Nezza as soon as possible,” said Alex, ignoring Mr. Clutter’s question. “I’ve received a note from a friend of mine who is in trouble there.”

  “No doubt, no doubt,” said Mr. Clutter, nodding. “Lots of troubles in Nezza these days, I don’t mind telling you.”

  “What kind of trouble?”

  “Well, Nezza has never been a great place for adventures, as you may know,” Mr. Clutter said. “Too many wars have made it a hard place for adventures to happen, if you follow me.”

  “I know there are several small kingdoms in Nezza,” said Alex. “Are they at war often?”

  Mr. Clutter nodded. “It seems that at least two or more kingdoms are always at war. It would be a grand place for adventures, if only there was a single true king in Nezza once more. Or if the kingdoms could reach an agreement about the land rule, things might improve. As things are, well . . .”

  “And you say there is more trouble in Nezza than normal?”

  “Things have become worse over the past few months,” Mr. Clutter answered. “There’s talk that some of the kingdoms have outlawed magic and adventurers altogether.”

  “Why would they do that?” Alex asked, finally understanding why Skeld had told him to conceal his identity.

  “I don’t know,” said Mr. Clutter. “I would guess that some of the kings don’t like the idea of adventurers helping their rivals, or of having magic used against them.”

  “Be that as it
may, I need to get to Nezza as soon as possible,” said Alex. “My friend Skeld sent me a note, asking for my help.”

  “Skeld?” Mr. Clutter asked. “Skeld from Norsland?”

  “Yes.”

  “Ah, yes,” said Mr. Clutter thoughtfully. “He joined an adventure to Nezza a month or six weeks ago.”

  “Can you tell me anything about his adventure?” Alex asked hopefully.

  “No details,” said Mr. Clutter, the smile fading from his face. “I was only partly involved with setting it up, so I can’t say much about it. Even if I knew all the details, you know I’m not allowed to tell anyone, not even a wizard. I can say that he went with five other adventurers, all with excellent records.”

  “Five others,” Alex repeated. “Do I know any of them besides Skeld?”

  “I don’t believe you do,” said Mr. Clutter. “I wish I could tell you more, but the rules of the adventure shop . . .” He cleared his throat, and his hopeful tone returned. “You might be able to find a few people in Telous who have been to Nezza recently.”

  “Perhaps,” Alex agreed. “But I don’t have time to search for someone who might know something. Skeld could be in real trouble, and I don’t have time to waste.”

 
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