Crown of wizards, p.1
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       Crown of Wizards, p.1

           Tony Abbott
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Crown of Wizards


  Title Page

  Dedication

  1: What’s in a Name?

  2: What’s in a Face?

  3: Island Stronghold

  4: Seeing Things

  5: Tapestry of Evil

  6: A Tale of Two Cities

  7: Sunken Treasure

  8: Taking Sides

  9: The Battle of Lubalunda

  10: The Impossible Riddle

  11: The Jewels in the Crown

  12: What’s to Become of the Boy?

  The Adventure Continues …

  Also Available

  Copyright

  “Hush now,” whispered the dragon. “We are trespassing on terribly evil ground. We shall learn a thing or two here.”

  The boy in purple robes followed the creature carefully among the tumbled stones, trying not to make a sound. But as a cold wind blew across the dark sand, he couldn’t refrain from asking one question.

  “Aren’t we evil enough already?”

  The winged beast halted between two massive, half-broken columns that loomed out of the darkness. “I am ever so evil,” he rasped. “You are still learning. And so. We are here!”

  The boy gazed at the giant stones scattered across the sand and wondered what had happened there.

  “What did you say this place was?” he asked. “Messy Matzoh?”

  The dragon shot him a look. “Meshka-mat!”

  “Whatev,” said the boy.

  “Meshka-mat was one of the greatest cities of ancient Goll,” said the dragon. “Sandstorms and war destroyed it centuries ago. These ruins are all that is left. Or … not quite all. Some of its powerful magic lies hidden here still. Now stand back until I call for you!”

  The boy watched the dragon clear away a thick layer of sand with a flap of his four massive wings. Underneath lay a maze of black and white tiles.

  Muttering to himself, the dragon stepped carefully only on the white tiles, winding his way to the center of the maze. Once there, he crouched before a single green tile and touched it with his claw.

  Suddenly, the sand shook, and a small pyramid of green stones rose from the maze’s center. The dragon chanted several words, and the pyramid burst into flame.

  Green flame.

  The boy sighed. Magic. He had seen it before. For the last two days, he and the dragon had stopped here and there across the desert, doing pretty much the same thing.

  Find the maze, say the words, look into the green flame.

  The sky above was still dark, but he knew it would soon give way to morning. A very special morning, the dragon had promised. The boy would finally get to command a huge army of evil creatures. He would lead them to take over the whole world!

  If they ever got where they were going.

  Meshky-matsky wasn’t even their final destination, just a boring stop on a boring journey of sand and stones and no fun and sand.

  Plus sand.

  Another cold wind blew across the stones. The boy shielded his face, then noticed his reflection in his armor and studied it.

  He beheld a boy dressed completely in purple, with a shiny breastplate, long purple cloak, and high boots. He was medium tall, and he had stirring blue-gray eyes and brown hair that was slicked back over a high forehead. He liked what he saw, but there was a problem.

  As hard as he tried, he found he could remember very little before a few hours ago. He knew he had fought someone, a boy as old as himself, but he couldn’t remember the boy’s name or what he looked like. And then there was some girl. But the one whose face stuck most in his mind was an old man with a white beard. Who was he?

  “Prince Ungast?” said the dragon. “Come. Look deeply into this fire. See the ancient magic of Goll rise from the past!”

  Right, the boy thought as he tiptoed through the maze toward the dragon. Ungast. That was his name. He knew that much. He was Prince Ungast. Dark wizard. Boy of awesome power. That was cool.

  But it was pretty much all he knew.

  “Prince Ungast!” said the dragon.

  “I’m coming,” said the boy.

  The dragon called himself Gethwing. He was a moon dragon and very powerful.

  Since yesterday, Gethwing had made a river freeze to halt a convoy of ships. He had conjured a storm just by moving his claws and had turned back an army by creating a wall of fire.

  The dragon was also very old, having been — as he told the boy often — the most powerful dragon in the ancient empire of Goll.

  Prince Ungast stood next to Gethwing, watching the fire burning in the stone pyramid. “I guess I’ll have a cheeseburger, please. Medium.”

  The dark-scaled dragon’s four wings bristled. “I am about to bestow the power of the ages on you, I who was the most powerful dragon in the ancient empire of Goll, and you say … cheeseburger?”

  What ’s behind that weird look? Ungast wondered. It ’s as if he doesn’t really like me. Or trust me. I wonder why.

  Gethwing had talked nonstop since they’d begun their journey. He’d given Ungast scrolls to read and memorize. He’d said they were going somewhere, a special place called … Banglebell … or something, where he, the boy, would be crowned “for real.”

  But Prince Ungast wasn’t sure he trusted Gethwing.

  Maybe it was the thorny spikes on his head.

  Maybe it was his many long fangs.

  Maybe it was the fiery red flash of his eyes when he was angry.

  Maybe it was all of the above.

  Gethwing made him nervous. He frightened him. He made him cautious.

  “Look here!” said the dragon as the smoke began to assume shapes in the air. “I have asked the ancient forces a question … and now they answer.”

  Out of the smoke appeared large blue expanses that looked like seas. Tiny shapes — birds! — flapped across a miniature sky. Cities appeared on the ground below. Herds of minuscule animals zigzagged across the plains.

  “A living map?” said Ungast.

  “I have asked the magic how to find something I seek,” said Gethwing. “It has told me first to go there. Right there. To that island!”

  The boy looked at the island, but remembered something else.

  Three trees. Where are they?

  He bent closer and searched the map, looking for them. “Where are the trees?”

  “Trees?” asked the dragon. “What trees?”

  “Three trees in a bunch. Apple trees. On a hill. I don’t see them.”

  “Never mind trees,” said Gethwing. “You don’t need trees.”

  “I like to climb,” the boy said. “Don’t I?”

  The dragon squinted, as if he were pondering something. Finally, he said, “Have you ever heard of someone named Eric Hinkle?”

  The prince shook his head. “No.”

  “Good,” said Gethwing. “He is no one —”

  “And yet,” the boy said. “Hinkle. Hinkle. Maybe I have heard the name before. Of course, my memory is so very … short.”

  “True,” said Gethwing, studying the map again. “Very true.”

  There was a reason the boy’s memory was so short.

  Ungast, young prince, dark wizard, possessor of magic few Droonians could dream of, was exactly two days old.

  * * *

  Not so far away, in the Upper World, three children — Julie Rubin, Neal Kroger, and Princess Keeah of Droon — sat at breakfast in their friend Eric Hinkle’s house.

  If Keeah had seen the boy among the ruined stones at that very moment, she would have said he was Eric Hinkle.

  And she would have been right.

  Ungast actually was Eric.

  The boy in purple was Eric’s evil opposite. He was Eric’s dark twin, the evil side of him.

  As Keeah waited for Mrs. Hinkle to finis
h making pancakes, she recalled the terrible day that Eric had become Ungast.

  It began with a prophecy that said the wizard sons of Queen Zara would gather in a single place, and that one of them would fall.

  Fall.

  As in … die.

  And so it happened that two of Zara’s sons, Galen Longbeard and Lord Sparr, together battled Emperor Ko, leader of the dark beasts.

  The eldest of the three brothers, however, the wizard Urik, had not appeared. Instead there was only a man known as the Prince of Stars.

  But that hadn’t mattered to Ko.

  When his poisoned ice daggers flew at the three men, Eric leaped to protect Galen.

  While he managed to save the old wizard, Eric was wounded. Infected by the dagger’s ancient poison, Eric fell into a deep sleep.

  Using the powerful Dream Crown of Samarindo, Gethwing returned from the dreaded Underworld and drew the dark side of Eric from his sickbed in Jaffa City.

  After a fierce battle in the Samarindo streets, Eric’s dark side, the increasingly powerful Prince Ungast, defeated Eric and took his place. That was two days ago.

  Eric’s parents didn’t even know.

  And the reason they didn’t know was that Keeah was pretending to be Eric.

  As she’d climbed up the magic staircase that led from Droon to Eric’s basement, she’d murmured a changing spell, and by the time she had reached the kitchen, her long blond hair was short and brown. Her royal-blue tunic had reshaped itself into a T-shirt and jeans. And her pretty features had morphed into Eric’s face, with a pair of glasses sitting atop his boy nose.

  “Breakfast, Eric?” asked Mrs. Hinkle, sliding a plate of steaming pancakes onto the table in front of Keeah.

  “Thanks … Mom,” she said.

  * * *

  As green smoke drifted into the sky over the ruined city, Ungast wondered if there was something more he should know about this Eric Hinkle person.

  He had heard the name before. He was sure of it. But when? And where? Eric Hinkle wasn’t the face with the beard, but he was from before. Was Eric the boy he’d fought in that crazy dream city? It all seemed so foggy now.

  Why did we fight? Did I win? Did he lose? Why doesn’t Gethwing want me to remember him?

  “Best to let it go,” said the dragon, watching the boy’s face. “You must keep your mind fresh for more important things.”

  “Fine,” said the boy. “It gives me a headache anyway. But when do we get to Bumblebee? I’m so ready to lead my army.”

  “Barrowbork!” said the dragon. “It’s my hideout in the Dark Lands. And it wouldn’t be a hideout if it were easy to get to!”

  “But I need an army,” said the boy impatiently. “Right now I feel like a fish.”

  “A … fish?” said the dragon.

  “You know, a fish out of water,” said Ungast. “Like I don’t fit in with the whole evil prince thing until I lead a big army —”

  “And you shall lead your army. But first, I have a mission for you,” Gethwing said. “A very important mission.”

  “Really? A mission?” Ungast liked the sound of that. “What do I do?”

  The dragon thrust a claw into the flames, then pulled it out. It burned with a single green flame. “Touch this. It will not hurt you.”

  Ungast touched the burning claw.

  His veins suddenly chilled. His heart raced. What is that? he wondered.

  Gethwing answered his thought. “You feel the power of Goll in you now, do you not?”

  “I do.”

  “Then I want you to find this.” The dragon waved his claw over the fire again, and a shape appeared.

  “It looks like a piece of junk,” said the boy.

  “I want you to find it, then steal it. You will make it new again in my secret hideout of —”

  “Butterball?”

  “Barrowbork!” snarled Gethwing.

  Ungast looked at the object, and his heart began to pound. Even though the thing he was to steal appeared very broken, he could sense magic in it. He wanted it.

  He wanted, he realized, everything!

  “You’ll need a way to get to the island,” said the dragon. “For your first real spell, why not create a way to get there … and back again?”

  Ungast grinned. With the magic of Goll coursing through his veins, he felt huge, dark, and powerful. He felt as if he could do great things. Terrible things. He could rule the world if he wanted to.

  And yet …

  There was still the face with the white beard. Was the old guy talking to him? Who was he?

  Ungast shook his head. “How about this?”

  He opened his palms. From them poured a ribbon of black smoke. It blossomed in the air and formed a sleek purple balloon, with a purple basket hanging below it.

  “My balloon can be invisible, too,” said the boy. “For an easy escape.”

  “Perfect. You like purple, don’t you, Prince Ungast?” asked Gethwing.

  “I think it’s my color,” the boy said. “And I’d like some purple guys to help me. It’s my first mission, after all.”

  Gethwing’s eyes widened.

  Ungast thought that made him look odd, but he knew it was supposed to show that the dragon was pleased.

  “And here they are,” the dragon said, waving his claw over the smoke a third time. Suddenly, three figures appeared beyond the broken stone columns that surrounded them. They were rough-skinned, wiry creatures with long arms and slender fingers. They wore long cloaks and purple helmets that obscured their faces. Each was sitting on the back of a winged lizard known as a groggle.

  “They look scary,” Ungast said approvingly.

  “These three warriors are from the Kindu tribe,” Gethwing said. “Besides helping you, they are part of another mission. You don’t need to know about it.”

  So, thought Ungast. Gethwing is keeping secrets already? Doesn’t he trust me? Why not? Could I go bad? Or … good?

  Time will tell. Until then, I’ll play along.

  “I’m ready to go,” Ungast said.

  “And when you return,” said the moon dragon, “your true army will be waiting for you.”

  “Excellent! In Baggle —”

  “Barrowbork!” said the dragon. “Today is a day that shall go down in Droon’s history. But there is much to do first. Go. Put my dark plan into action!”

  With that, Ungast climbed into the basket of the purple balloon, while the three dark warriors nudged their groggles.

  In a flash, the quartet took to the air.

  Keeping his eyes on them to the very last, Gethwing snuffed out the fire and soared to the east, leaving the ruined city as empty and lost as it had been before.

  At that very moment, Princess Keeah felt like a fish out of water, too.

  Of course, she was anxious to return to Droon and help Eric. Julie and Neal were, too. Julie had even taken to bringing the magic soccer ball wherever she went, hoping for a message from Galen.

  But just then, Keeah was most worried about being discovered by someone who knew Eric far better than anyone.

  His mother.

  “Eric, are you all right?” Mrs. Hinkle asked. “You look worried about —”

  “I’m fine!” said Keeah excitedly. “No problem here. I love you, Mom. I love everyone! What a nice day! Hey, this breakfast is great!”

  Take it down a notch, Julie said to Keeah, using the silent language Galen had taught them in Droon. You’re too excited.

  Eric’s mother blinked. “Do you like the pancakes?”

  Keeah cleared her throat. “Um … sure. They kind of remind me of gizzleberry cakes.”

  Mrs. Hinkle frowned. “Gizzlewhat?”

  Neal nudged Keeah’s foot under the table.

  “I mean … some other kind of cakes,” she said quickly. “I just love cake, don’t you?”

  All of a sudden, the soccer ball on the floor next to Julie bounded straight up into the air and floated over the table. Galen was calling the
kids back to Droon!

  “Yikes!” Mrs. Hinkle dropped her fork.

  “Look at my cool trick!” shouted Neal. He stuck his finger under the ball and spun it quickly to obscure the words forming on its surface. “Pretty neat, huh, Mrs. H?”

  “Neal!” said Eric’s mother. “This is not the place. If you want to play soccer —”

  “Right! Soccer!” said Julie, grabbing the ball. “To the basement!”

  Mrs. Hinkle stood. “The basement? But Mr. Hinkle has just mowed the backyard.”

  “Basement soccer,” said Neal, pulling Julie along with him. “It’s the best kind!”

  “Let’s go, Eric,” said Julie.

  “Me, too!” said Keeah, jumping up.

  Mrs. Hinkle frowned. “You three seem … different today.”

  “We feel different, Mrs. Hinkle,” said Keeah. “I mean … Mom!”

  As the basement door slammed behind them, Mrs. Hinkle called out, “Eric?”

  The friends raced down the stairs together.

  “Oh, man, oh, man!” said Julie, as they dove into the closet under the stairs and closed the door behind them.

  “I’m so sorry, guys,” said Keeah. In moments, she was herself again. “I really am.”

  Her heart pounded, and she felt tears coming. “For the last two days, I’ve thought of nothing but Eric. I won’t believe he’s just … gone. I messed up. It’s all my fault.”

  “No, it’s not,” said Neal, tugging his genie turban from his pocket, unfolding it to its full enormous size, and setting it firmly on his head. Some time ago, Neal had been revealed as the First Genie of the Dove, but he was still learning the extent of his genie magic.

  “We’re all a little crazy,” he said. “We miss Eric. But the sooner we answer Galen’s call and get to Droon, the sooner we can help bring him back!”

  All at once, they heard footsteps cross the basement floor and stop in front of the closet.

  “Eric?” said Mrs. Hinkle, tapping on the door. “Are you inside the closet? I have to talk to you. Eric?”

  Hurry! Keeah said silently. The light!

  Mrs. Hinkle tapped on the door again. “Eric?”

  Julie tugged the cord, and the light went out. Whoosh! The floor vanished, and a set of rainbow-colored stairs appeared.

  Without a sound, the children hurried down the stairs, away from the Upper World.

 
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