Queen of shadowthorn, p.1
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       Queen of Shadowthorn, p.1

           Tony Abbott
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Queen of Shadowthorn


  Title Page

  Dedication

  1: Eric, Plain and … What?

  2: Take Two!

  3: Her Again

  4: Up the Stairs

  5: A Mesh in Pesh

  6: Through Billowing Curtains

  7: There and Back Again

  8: Journey of the Landboat

  9: Goo-Goo-Gethwing!

  10: Eric, Plain and … Tall

  The Adventure Continues …

  Also Available

  Copyright

  Even before he crossed the street, Eric Hinkle could see his friends Neal and Julie waving at him excitedly from the library steps.

  As the town librarian, Neal’s mother, Mrs. Kroger, had asked the children to help with the grand opening of the library’s rare books room.

  “Hurry up, Eric!” said Julie. “We’ve got news!”

  “I can just guess,” Eric grumbled to himself, looking each way before stepping into the road. “I bet they both dreamed about Droon, and we’ll go there, and everyone will know what happened to me.”

  Droon was the magical world Eric and his friends had discovered under his basement one day. It was a land of great friends like Princess Keeah and Galen the wizard. It was also a place of dangerous enemies like the bull-headed beast, Emperor Ko, and his second-in-command, the moon dragon, Gethwing.

  Before they discovered Droon, Eric, Neal, and Julie were ordinary, normal kids like their friends. But since finding the rainbow stairs in Eric’s basement, they had developed powerful magical abilities.

  Julie could fly like a bird and change her shape whenever she wanted.

  Neal had become a famous time-traveling genie named Zabilac.

  Eric himself had been swiftly becoming a full-fledged wizard with many magical powers. He had dreams about Droon, saw visions, understood all sorts of old languages, and cast complicated spells. He had hoped to be as great as Galen himself one day.

  Except …

  Except that on their last visit to Droon, Eric had lost his powers. Lost them. All of them.

  In order to defeat a powerful foe, as well as to help his friends and save Droon, Eric had used the magical staff of thorns that belonged to the mysterious Princess Salamandra.

  Eric knew Salamandra was a thief of magic. She came originally from an ancient empire called Shadowthorn and traveled to different times and places through her magnificent Portal of Ages. When she told Eric that there would be a price to pay for using her staff, it didn’t matter. He had to save his friends, and that’s all there was to it.

  But the moment he did, his powers vanished. They were sucked away into Salamandra’s staff. Eric could no longer do what he used to do.

  He was normal and ordinary again.

  He was … plain.

  Eric hadn’t told anyone yet. He couldn’t bear to imagine how Julie and Neal would look at him. He felt bad enough already. But judging by his friends’ excitement as he trotted up the library steps, he knew they’d soon be going back to Droon.

  And then everyone would know.

  “Let me guess,” he said to them, “you both had dreams about Droon last night.”

  “We totally did,” said Neal, laughing. “And that means we’re going back. Today.”

  “What did you dream about?” Julie asked.

  Eric frowned. “Tell me yours first?”

  “Mine was weird,” said Neal. “First I was looking at a beautiful blue sky. Then all of a sudden, this stream of smoke rises up. It’s like a nutty dark finger or something. The way it wiggled, it looked like it was pointing at me and calling me over!”

  “A finger of smoke pointed at you? Because you’re a genie?” Eric asked.

  “I think so,” said Neal. “Anyway, it was very Droonian. Unless, of course, I was dreaming about the hot dog I grilled for breakfast yesterday. That smoked a lot, too.”

  Julie pulled open the library doors. The main room was already filled with people waiting for the rare books room to open.

  “Our library is so cool,” said Neal. “Plus, it’s where all the books are!”

  “Okay, now my turn,” said Julie, passing through the crowd. “You know how they always say, ‘Where there’s smoke, there’s fire’? Well, that’s what I saw. Fire, moving like a giant finger over the land. It was a scary procession of torches.”

  Fingers. Fingers! thought Eric. What’s with all the fingers? I used to be able to shoot blasts of light from my fingers. But not anymore!

  “Interesting,” he said. “I dreamed about a finger, too. It was pretty much the same.”

  “Was it smoke or fire?” asked Julie.

  “Uh … water,” said Eric.

  He didn’t want his friends asking him why he no longer had powers. He couldn’t think of a way to tell them that didn’t sound as if it were all his fault.

  “Children, this way,” called Mrs. Kroger from across the room. “One last look around before we open the doors. Take a peek.”

  It was quiet and cool inside the rare books room. On the floor stood several glass-topped display cases draped in cloths to shield the expensive books from the light.

  “The prize of our collection is this book here,” Mrs. Kroger said. She lifted the cloth from one case where a leather book lay open, revealing two yellowed pages dense with inky handwriting and tiny drawings.

  “It was donated to the library anonymously,” she said. “We believe it’s over five hundred years old. But there are others.”

  While Mrs. Kroger went over to one of the other cases, the children read the gold letters at the top of the page.

  “Sombraspina,” Julie whispered. “Eric, what does it mean? You know languages.”

  Not anymore! he thought. “Hmm. Let me think about that….”

  “Well, I’ve taken a little bit of Spanish,” Julie said, “and I think spina might mean ‘spine’ or ‘back.’ Sombra probably means ‘sleep.’”

  “Maybe it means ‘Go Back to Sleep,’” said Neal, “which is what my brain says whenever my alarm clock goes off.”

  “Don’t I know it!” Mrs. Kroger chuckled.

  All of a sudden, a yell came from outside the room. “Hey, everyone, look at that!”

  “What’s going on?” asked Julie.

  When they ran back into the main room, they saw the crowd rushing outside. A woman was pointing across the lawn.

  There, in the center of a perfectly blue sky, rose a narrow wisp of black smoke.

  It looked exactly like a finger pointing.

  “Holy crow!” gasped Neal. “My dream! I hope it doesn’t call me over!”

  Eric stood on his toes and saw the smoke rising behind the apple trees in his yard. “Guys, I think it’s calling us all over. It’s coming from my house….”

  A siren shrieked nearby, and the children raced away from the library. They cut through backyards until they saw two fire trucks screeching to a halt in front of Eric’s house.

  “Everyone, stay back!” yelled a firefighter, jumping down from one of the trucks. He motioned the gathering crowd away.

  “Smoke filled the kitchen!” said Mrs. Hinkle, who was out on the front lawn. “It just came out of nowhere!”

  “Oh, no! No … no …” said Eric. He ran to his mother. “Mom, I’m glad you’re all right.”

  “I didn’t see fire,” she said. “Just smoke.”

  A trio of firefighters pulled a long hose across the lawn toward the kitchen door, while two others attached the far end to the nearest fire hydrant.

  “Follow me,” whispered Julie, pulling Eric by the arm. “We have to check out your basement.”

  Edging away from Mrs. Hinkle, the three friends scurried into the neighboring yard and peered through the hedge at Eric’s small basement w
indow.

  “I can’t see anything,” said Neal.

  “Let’s get closer,” said Julie.

  Eric said nothing. He slipped under the hedge on his stomach, crawled to the basement window, and peered in. Smoke was streaming under the door of the closet under the stairs. It slithered like a snake across the basement floor and up to the kitchen.

  “It’s coming from Droon!” said Neal.

  They heard men yelling and doors slamming on the far side of the house.

  “The firefighters are in the kitchen,” said Julie. “The second they see where the smoke is coming from, they’ll find the closet. And the rainbow stairs. We need to get there first!”

  “Okay,” said Eric. Hands trembling, he pried up the basement window, slid onto his father’s workbench, then jumped to the floor. Julie and Neal followed him. The room itself was not smoky.

  “This isn’t normal,” said Julie, stepping over the stream of smoke and opening the closet door. “It’s magic. It means something.”

  They switched on the light and entered the closet, careful not to step into the smoke moving across the floor. They closed the door behind them and turned off the light.

  At once — whoosh! — the floor beneath them vanished and a long staircase appeared in its place. The usually bright steps were dulled by the smoke pouring up them.

  “This is bad, people,” said Neal. “Let’s get down through the clouds as fast as we can.”

  But no sooner had they descended through the pink clouds than they froze in terror.

  Ashes whirled everywhere. Through a storm of smoke, they saw Droon’s pink-walled capital, Jaffa City — its towers, its fountains, the fabulous palace itself — completely swallowed by flames.

  “No, no, no!” cried Eric.

  A dark force of thousands of beasts, each bearing a blazing torch, circled about the city, laying siege to the walls.

  “The torches in my dream!” gasped Julie.

  Amid the torches were two tall spouts of green flame. They were twin fires from the horns of the bull-headed Emperor Ko!

  All at once, they heard the distant cries of many people. Running toward the children, waving his wooden staff in excitement, was the wizard Galen, his blue cloak flying.

  Behind him, Queen Relna, King Zello, Princess Keeah, and Max the spider troll were leading the entire population of Jaffa City up the stairs to safety.

  “The worst has happened!” Max shouted to the children. “Fire! Destruction! From sea to sea — our beloved Droon is ablaze!”

  Suddenly, the magnificent royal capital of Droon exploded in flames, then quaked and crashed to the ground.

  No sooner had the children watched the royal city crumble than — whoosh! — a fierce wind blew across the staircase. It pushed Eric into Julie and nearly toppled Neal off the steps altogether.

  “Hold on!” yelled Julie. “Grab the rail!”

  Bracing himself, Eric squinted down to see the black smoke scattering to ribbons.

  “Hey, wait!” he gasped. “Look —”

  The smoke billowed over the three friends like an ocean wave, then dissolved to nothing.

  The city they saw below them now was as pink and blue as ever. Its great wall stood firm and stout, the main square bustled with life, and the dome of the royal palace glittered in the sun. As always, the meadows outside the city were waving with bright, tall grass.

  Most important, Galen, Zello, Relna, Keeah, Max, and the frightened crowd stampeding up the stairs were nowhere in sight. No trace of the terror they had just witnessed was visible.

  “Uh … wait,” said Julie. “We all saw that fire, didn’t we? Because I saw it. I felt it!”

  Neal sniffed his turban. “Except that my turban smells like my room at home. There’s no smell of smoke. What just happened? Did we imagine that fire?”

  The sound of flutes and harps broke upon their ears. The king and queen entered the palace square to loud cheering. They bowed and began to dance.

  “They’re having a party?” said Julie.

  “And didn’t invite us?” said Neal. “Let’s get down there. They probably have food!”

  Neal and Julie quickly descended the steps to the bottom. Eric didn’t.

  “This isn’t right,” he said to himself. “None of this is right. My house …” He looked back to the top of the stairs and wondered if everything was all right at home.

  He turned back to his friends, about to follow them down the stairs, when he saw a small object on the step at his feet.

  He picked it up. He breathed deeply.

  It was narrow, three inches long, polished brown, and had a needle-sharp point.

  It was a thorn.

  “Salamandra!” said Eric, his heart thudding in his chest. “It was you!”

  He caught up with his friends in the main square just as Keeah ran to greet them all.

  “You’re right on time,” she cried. “We’re celebrating our return from Jabar-Loo!”

  “And we’ve just begun!” boomed King Zello, twirling Queen Relna in his arms.

  Keeah tried to draw Eric into the dancing crowd, but he broke away.

  “Stop!” he yelled. “Everyone, stop!”

  The princess raised her hand, and the music ceased. “What’s wrong?” she asked.

  “We just saw …” Eric tried to find the right words. “It was …”

  “Jaffa City was on fire,” said Julie. “We saw Ko’s horns shooting green flames. It was horrible. He was burning the city to the ground. You were fleeing up the stairs to our world.”

  Queen Relna looked from one child to the other. “Did you all see this?”

  Neal nodded. “We did. But then the vision vanished. None of it was real.”

  “Except for this …” said Eric. He opened his palm. “I found this thorn on the stairs. It means Salamandra the thorn princess was here. She likes visions. She made us see this terrible one.”

  Zello drew a large, knotted club from his waist. “Vision or no, if there is any chance Ko will attack Jaffa City, we’ll give him a welcome he shall long remember! Guards, come! Jaffa City shall not burn!”

  The king stormed off with a troop of soldiers. The blare of trumpets replaced the music of flutes and harps, and an alarm echoed throughout the city.

  “If you had a vision of the future, we may yet have time to change it,” said Keeah. “We have to tell Galen. He’s in his tower.”

  Keeah quickly led Eric, Neal, and Julie to the wizard’s tall tower inside a petrified tree.

  The large, round chamber at the tower’s summit was filled with books, maps, crystal balls, racks of weapons and wands, and shelves of wizard hats in several styles. To one side was a hazy-faced mirror on an ornate stand. It was the magical mirror that showed what was happening all over Droon.

  Galen stood in the center of everything, leaning over a map of Droon. When the children entered, he looked up and smiled.

  “Friends, welcome —”

  The expressions on their faces stopped him. “Something serious. Tell me at once.”

  As the children explained their dreams and their vision of the fire, and Eric showed the thorn he had found, Galen’s face darkened. “A fiery vision of the future, was it? From our old friend Salamandra. I must call Max home from his gizzleberry festival. We need him.”

  Galen waved his hands and — zzt-zzzt! — the magic mirror awoke with a sizzling sound. A moment later, the surface cleared, and there was Max, standing on a mountaintop that shimmered pink in the sunlight.

  “My little friend,” said Galen to the mirror. “We need you here at once —”

  “Ha!” chirped Max. “Not as much as I need you here at once!”

  “What’s happening?” asked Keeah.

  The spider troll smiled. “I was passing the lovely Pink Mountains of Saleef when I spotted a rare starfox crying in distress among the crags.”

  “And being Max …” said Julie.

  Max laughed. “And being me, I scrambled up t
he rocks to help him, only to find a tunnel cut deep into the mountain and the ancient symbols of Goll carved everywhere! Friends, I have discovered nothing less than the lair of Emperor Ko! He has secretly moved out of the Dark Lands and into Droon.”

  Eric had known it was only a matter of time before the evil emperor returned. For a while, the black-hearted leader of the beasts and his lieutenant, the moon dragon Gethwing, had been quiet. But now that Ko was in the vision of the attack on Jaffa City, and Max had found the emperor’s lair, it was clear that Ko was on the move.

  “And the rare starfox?” asked Galen.

  “Perfectly fine,” said Max, scooping up the silver-furred creature. “I found this stuck in his paw!”

  He held up a long thorn.

  “It’s her again!” Eric gasped. “Salamandra!”

  Eerrrrr! The silvery starfox sent up a loud wail.

  “Salamandra —” Neal said.

  Eerrrrr! the fox wailed.

  “Salamandra —” Neal repeated.

  Eerrrrr! Eerrrrr!

  Galen laughed. “So our little starfox knows the Princess of Shadowthorn, too! Coincidence? I think not. Max, I suspect Salamandra led you to Ko’s lair for a reason. Do not enter until we arrive. And I have just the thing to make our trip a quick one!”

  Galen waved one hand over the mirror, and Max’s image faded. Then the wizard leaned down, grabbed hold of the carpet under everyone’s feet, and gave a sharp tug.

  Flooop! The carpet — a large piece of woven fabric fringed in gold — flattened out in the air and moved slowly toward the open window.

  “Yes! The Pasha express!” said Keeah.

  Flying rugs made by the magic-weaver Pasha were among the most priceless of all the enchanted objects in Droon. The friends piled onto the carpet and held on tight.

  “And … fly!” said Galen.

  Whoooosh! The carpet lurched out the window, and the five friends soared over Droon’s sun-drenched countryside.

  Before long, the fabulous peaks of the Mountains of Saleef came into view. They glistened rosy and pink in the sunlight.

  From high up in the air, the children could just make out Max’s bright orange hair as he waved up at them. Keeah landed the carpet on a peak near him and the starfox.

 
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