Atlantis lost, p.9
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       Atlantis Lost, p.9

           T.A. Barron
 
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  “Then whose fault was it? Everything I did that day has led to disaster!”

  “Not everythin’,” declared Shangri. She glanced affectionately at Lorno. “At least one person who arrived on that ship was s’posed to come here. I’m certain o’ that.”

  Just then, Promi noticed the gleaming ring on her finger. Pointing to it, he asked, “Is that what I think it is?”

  Shangri nodded. “’Twas my ma’s, long ago.”

  “And now,” Promi said gladly, “it’s yours.” Both he and Atlanta beamed at their friend.

  “It’s been yer gift to us, Promi.”

  “Happy to hear that,” he replied. “Just as I was to hear your prayer.”

  Shangri’s eyes sparkled. “An’ I was jest as pleased to hear yer reply.”

  He raised an eyebrow.

  “Yes indeed, I heard it jest before I fell asleep.”

  Promi nodded, thinking, Good work, Theosor.

  “Well now,” said Graybeard, his voice sultry and soothing. “It seems that everyone here knows everyone else except for me.”

  He bowed politely to Atlanta, which made the knives in his coat clink subtly against each other. “People call me Graybeard. And you must be . . .”

  He paused, as if savoring the name. “Atlanta.”

  “That’s right,” she replied, indicating the faery on her collar. “And this is my friend Quiggley.”

  To Atlanta’s surprise, the faery emitted a feeling of caution. But she wasn’t quite sure. Maybe she’d just misunderstood.

  The young man beside her stepped forward. “My name is Promi.” He gave Atlanta a brief look. “I’m . . . a visitor.”

  “Who doesn’t come often enough,” she added firmly.

  Facing Promi, Graybeard gave him a rather stilted bow. It was clear that, for some reason, he was not pleased to have any more company.

  “Now that we’ve all been introduced,” said Atlanta, “what are we going to do about that monster?”

  “An’ the mines,” added Shangri. “We still have to stop Reocoles.”

  Promi nodded grimly. “They’re not the only troubles we have to deal with.”

  “What do ye mean?” asked Shangri.

  “I mean,” he explained, “that we—”

  At that instant, a sudden noise rushed through the forest. Trees all around waved their branches, creaking and snapping furiously, as if struck by a powerful gust of wind. The great willow shook its dangling tresses and twisted its trunk, making a painful moan. It seemed that the entire forest had been shaken by a terrible storm.

  Except . . . there was no storm. There wasn’t even any wind.

  Promi concentrated, trying to listen to whatever the trees might be saying. He started to pick up the first hint of meaning in all the cacophony—when Atlanta shouted.

  “Danger!” she cried, grabbing his wrist. “They’re warning us of intruders from the spirit realm!”

  Quiggley instantly leaped into the air. He sent Atlanta a wave of feeling that combined sheer terror with the sorrow of having lost his whole family to just that kind of intruder. In a flash of blue wings, he disappeared into the forest.

  That very second, the trees fell silent. Everything hushed; not even a single leaf on the willow tree stirred.

  Then, from a grove of spruces nearby, several dark forms emerged, gliding like deathly shadows. With them came the ominous sound of crackling sparks that burned whatever they touched.

  CHAPTER 18

  Attack

  Mistwraiths!

  Six of them approached the group gathered on Moss Island. Eerily floating over the ground, these living blots of darkness crackled viciously, spraying black sparks in their wakes. Whenever a spark hit a trunk or root of the surrounding spruces, it sizzled loudly, like the hiss of a poisonous snake.

  Above the companions, the great willow shook its leafy tresses as if telling them to flee. But Atlanta, Promi, and the others stood rigid on the moss, frozen by the mistwraiths’ spell of terror.

  Promi was the first to break free of the spell. “Atlanta,” he barked, “they’ve come for the Starstone!”

  “Right,” she agreed, shaking herself as if waking from a nightmare. “What do we do? How can we stop them?”

  The mistwraiths slid closer. Their shadowy folds rippled with satisfaction, and they released another shower of sparks.

  Grabbing Atlanta’s arm, Promi said, “We can’t stop them. So you must take it out of its hiding place! Quick, before they get here!”

  She hesitated, peering at him quizzically.

  “Listen,” he urged, “they’ll find it when they get here. They can smell magic—which they devour as food.” He shook her. “Our only hope is to get it first and try to escape!”

  Understanding, Atlanta instantly swung around and kneeled by the willow tree’s roots. Passing her hands over one especially gnarled root, she whispered urgently in the willow’s language, making rhythmic and swishing sounds.

  The great tree shuddered, as if protesting. Its long tresses swished loudly.

  “Please,” begged Atlanta. Again she whispered in the tree’s language.

  Suddenly, Shangri shouted in alarm. “The trees! On fire!”

  Glancing over her shoulder, Atlanta saw that some of the attackers’ sparks had ignited a spruce branch. The spruce’s resins swiftly fed the flame. In seconds, the whole tree roared in flames. Beside it, another spruce started to catch fire.

  All the while, the mistwraiths moved closer. Crackling angrily, they shot sparks in all directions.

  Seeing all this, Graybeard silently stepped backward to the other side of the island. Without a word to his companions, he turned, crossed the stream, and slunk into the forest.

  Lorno, meanwhile, stepped in front of Shangri. “I’ll never let them touch you,” he promised.

  She shook her head. “But they’ll kill ye too. We’ve got to do somethin’ to stop them!”

  Her gaze shifted to Promi. “Isn’t there anythin’ at all ye can do?”

  Mind racing, Promi felt heat prickling his chest. Quickly, he glanced over at Atlanta, who was still trying to coax the willow to give up the Starstone. He knew that only seconds remained before the mistwraiths reached them—and then all would be lost.

  What can I do? he thought urgently. He couldn’t do what he did to that mistwraith at Narkazan’s lair—too many of them. And if he used any magic, they’d simply devour it!

  Another spruce tree erupted in flames. Columns of thick, dark smoke rose skyward. All the while, the mistwraiths advanced, coming closer and closer.

  Suddenly an idea struck Promi. There’s one thing I can do that doesn’t need any magic. Just good aim. It won’t stop them . . . but it might slow them down.

  Drawing his dagger from its sheath, he hefted the gleaming, translucent weapon in his left hand. Planting his feet firmly in the moss, he drew a steady breath. At the same time, the silver string wrapped securely around his wrist.

  Behind him, Atlanta waved her hands furiously over the root. Shangri and Lorno glanced from Promi to the mistwraiths and back again, even as more branches erupted in flames.

  Just as the first mistwraith reached the stream, Promi hurled the dagger. It struck one of the burning branches right at its base, slicing clean through the wood. The branch fell downward—but not before Promi, with a sharp twist, tangled it in the silver string. He gave a powerful tug, pulling the flaming branch right on top of the mistwraiths.

  Surprised, the dark warriors shrieked and turned around to see who had attacked them from behind. The mistwraith who had been just about to cross the stream released a fountain of sparks and raced back to the flaming spruces, ready for battle against this new threat.

  Promi, meanwhile, flicked his arm to free his dagger. The string retracted, drawing the blade back to him. Watching th
e confused mistwraiths, he slipped the dagger back into its sheath. But he felt only the slightest satisfaction. That ruse had bought them a few more seconds—but it wouldn’t work a second time.

  He turned back to Atlanta. “Hurry!” he called.

  “Now,” she pleaded to the willow. “I need it now!”

  Meanwhile, the mistwraiths regrouped. Knowing they’d been tricked, they darkened like thunderclouds before a violent storm. Faster than before, they advanced on the island, crackling wrathfully.

  Atlanta placed her hands on the gnarled root. “I beg of you, my friend. For the sake of our forest home, for the lives of all the creatures we love, please give it to me.”

  The willow tree twisted, moaning sorrowfully. All at once, the root trembled and then burst out of the ground, clasping the Starstone. The crystal glowed with pure, pulsing light.

  Atlanta pulled the crystal free, feeling a sudden rush of magic that made her feel immensely stronger. Just then, the band of mistwraiths reached the stream. Springing to her feet, she started to slip the crystal into the pocket of her gown—when a mistwraith’s spark landed on her arm.

  “No!” she cried, jerking her arm to get rid of the spark. Fortunately, it had burned through the woven vines of her sleeve but not yet touched her skin. But the jerking motion sent the Starstone flying. It landed on the moss by Shangri’s feet.

  Instantly, seeing the priceless treasure, the mistwraiths changed course and converged on Shangri. She picked it up, unable to resist marveling at its beauty.

  “To me!” shouted Promi, opening his hands wide.

  A split second before the first mistwraith reached Shangri, she threw the crystal to Promi. The dark being hissed with frustration and instantly spun around to pursue Promi.

  “Run, all of you!” he called. “I’ll lead them off.”

  “Not without me, you won’t!” cried Atlanta, running to his side.

  Shangri and Lorno did the same. Now all four of them stood together, facing the attackers. Tasting their imminent triumph, the mistwraiths slowed their assault. Crackling with supreme satisfaction, they formed a solid wall of darkness and slid slowly toward their prey, scorching the moss beneath them.

  Cradling the Starstone, Promi felt it magnify his magic. But that magic was worthless! If he used it to fight these beings, they would only swallow it and continue unimpeded. What then could he do?

  As the line of mistwraiths advanced, the companions backed away slowly. Promi’s mind whirled. But he couldn’t think of anything. When he and the others reached the edge of the stream, he traded dismal glances with Atlanta. Both of them knew that even if they turned and leaped over the stream and dashed into the woods, the mistwraiths would swiftly hunt them down. Their lives—and the Starstone—would be lost.

  The mistwraiths crackled noisily, their shadowy folds rippling with anticipation. Soon, they knew, they would triumph completely. Even if they had to restrain themselves from destroying the son of Sammelvar as their master had commanded, they would certainly capture him . . . as well as the Starstone. And the others? They could kill those mortals with agonizing slowness just for the pleasure of it.

  In unison, the mistwraiths advanced. Promi, Atlanta, Shangri, and Lorno stood bravely, but they knew only a few seconds remained. Not only were they about to lose the Starstone, they would also surely lose their lives, their worlds, and all they loved.

  The mistwraiths released a huge volley of sparks that landed on the moss right in front of the companions’ feet, sizzling viciously. The attackers’ forms darkened even more. It was time, at last, to move in for the kill!

  Just then a loud roar made the mistwraiths halt. Turning upstream, where the sound was coming from, they saw a lone faery leading an enormous, roaring wall of water. And the water was bearing down on the island like a liquid avalanche.

  “Quiggley,” shouted Atlanta. “You came back!”

  “With help,” added Promi.

  Powerful help, indeed. For the faery had gone to find the river god himself. Angrier than he’d been in ages to learn that invaders from the spirit realm had dared to come near his beloved waters, Bopaparrúplio whipped up a flash flood with the force of a hundred waterfalls.

  Seeing the towering wall of water racing toward them, the mistwraiths screeched in panic. Because this was not magic, just the sheer force of moving water, they couldn’t do anything to stop it. They were helpless!

  The instant the flood reached the island, it veered out of the stream and narrowed to a highly concentrated jet of water. That jet slammed straight into the mistwraiths, carrying all six of them away. Then the flood rejoined the channel, rushing downstream, bearing the flailing attackers.

  Soaked from the spray, the companions cheered and hugged each other in joyful disbelief. Promi, peering downstream at the disappearing torrent, stroked the hilt of his dagger and said quietly, “Thank you, river god.”

  Beside him, Atlanta nodded in agreement. As Quiggley settled on her shoulder and shook the water off his wings, she smiled at him, adding “And thank you, little friend.”

  Quiggley shrugged his tiny shoulders modestly. But there was no missing the look of true satisfaction on his face.

  Turning back to Promi, Atlanta said warily, “They’ll come back, of course.”

  “Sure,” he replied with a wink. “But not before we—and the Starstone—are long gone.”

  CHAPTER 19

  Plans

  Where exactly,” Atlanta asked Promi, “do you think we should go?”

  Drenched from the river god’s rescue, she squeezed a handful of her hair that was dripping down her neck, wringing some water out of it—being careful, of course, not to give Quiggley another shower. The faery, perched on her shoulder, nodded in approval. Then he removed the hollow berries that served as his shoes, dumping a few drops of water out of each.

  Meanwhile, Shangri wrung the water out of her kerchief and tied it again around her frazzled hair, while Lorno inspected the pastries in his pocket to see if they were too soggy to eat. He tasted a hunk of blueberry crumble and smiled, concluding that it tasted every bit as good (and maybe even better) in its moistened state.

  The only one of the companions who wasn’t doing anything about being soaked was Promi. He was too busy thinking about Atlanta’s question. His gaze wandered to the great willow, whose tresses sparkled with spray, studying the gnarled root that had held the magical crystal. That very crystal now rested in his hand, sparkling like a rain-washed star.

  At last, he turned back to Atlanta. “I have an answer for you. But,” he added with a look of uncertainty, “you might not like it.”

  She raised an eyebrow. “You’ve got my attention.”

  “Well,” he began, “I think it’s best to get the Starstone away from here. Far away.”

  “The spirit realm?”

  “Right. As long as it’s here on Atlantis, this whole forest—this whole world—will be in danger.” His voice fell to a whisper. “And so will you.”

  Atlanta bent down, plucked a sprig of sweetstalk fern from the moss, and chewed on the sprig as she considered his idea. Shangri, Lorno, and Quiggley stopped their efforts to dry off, listening closely to the conversation.

  “If I take it back to the spirit realm,” Promi explained, “your forest home will be less exposed to attackers, at least for a while. Right now, the dangers are everywhere—whether from those mistwraiths or that monster from the mines.”

  At the mention of that beast, Shangri stiffened. Though her face was unaccustomed to frowning, she did now. “Everythin’ on Atlantis is in danger as long as that thing be loose.”

  “True,” agreed Promi, “but let’s deal with one threat at a time.”

  “Who knows what that monster’s doin’ now?” muttered Shangri. “Let’s be quick about makin’ plans, then go do our best to stop it.”

 
And Reocoles,” added Lorno.

  Atlanta nodded. “We will. But first, the Starstone.” Peering at Promi, she said, “If you take it away, the forest is less threatened. But also . . . less magical.”

  “Just for a while, Atlanta. I’ll bring it back here as soon as this war with Narkazan is over.”

  Heaving a sigh, she replied, “All right. I’ll agree to your plan. But only on one condition.”

  “Which is?” asked Promi.

  She stepped closer, putting her face so close that their noses nearly touched. “That you’ll come back.”

  “I promise I will.”

  “Good,” she declared. “And don’t wait so long that I’ll be twice as old as you.”

  He grinned. “I promise.”

  Carefully, he placed the Starstone in his pocket. Remembering something, his expression darkened. “While I’m gone,” he told her, “don’t let that prophecy from Haldor come true! We need Atlantis to survive. And I need you to survive.”

  “What prophecy?” asked Shangri and Lorno in unison.

  “That this entire island will be destroyed,” said Atlanta grimly. “In what he called a terrible day and night of destruction.”

  “Maybe,” said Shangri worriedly, “that’s what the monster’s all about.”

  “We don’t know enough to say,” answered Atlanta. “But I know who just might.”

  She glanced at the faery on her shoulder. “Little friend, would you—”

  Before she could finish, Quiggley leaped into the air, his luminous wings abuzz, and hovered before her face. He sent her a wave of agreement. For he knew, as she did, that no one understood the events of the forest or its surroundings better than his fellow faeries.

  “Thanks,” she told him. “Find out whatever you can from your friends that might help us stop this thing.”

  Instantly, Quiggley flew off. He veered around the old willow like a shot of blue light and disappeared into the woods.

  Still anxious, Shangri said, “We can’t jest wait here fer him to bring us news.”

 
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