City in the clouds, p.1
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       City in the Clouds, p.1

           Tony Abbott
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City in the Clouds


  Title Page

  Dedication

  1: A Spell Returns

  2: The Silver Ship

  3: The Flying City of Ro

  4: Into the Palace

  5: The Guardians of Droon

  6: Working for Lord Sparr

  7: Written in Stone

  8: Neal and Company

  9: Mountains of Diamonds!

  10: The Sorcerer’s Power

  The Adventure Continues …

  Also Available

  Copyright

  School was over for the day.

  Eric Hinkle and his two best friends, Neal and Julie, climbed onto the bus home.

  “It’s been two whole weeks since we’ve been to you-know-where,” Julie whispered as they squeezed into a seat together.

  Eric smiled. Of course he knew where.

  Droon, the totally secret and magical world of adventure that they had found under his basement.

  “It’s so strange,” Eric said when the bus started up. “We have all these amazing new friends and we can’t even talk about them.”

  “Enemies, too, don’t forget,” Neal added.

  That was true. Since their first adventure in Droon, they had met Galen Longbeard, an old and powerful wizard, and his spidery helper, Max. Khan, king of the pillow-shaped purple Lumpies, had helped them, too.

  But their special friend was Princess Keeah, a junior wizard who was trying to keep the wicked Lord Sparr and his red-faced Ninns from taking over her world.

  “I wonder what Keeah is up to,” Eric said. “I’m itching to go back.”

  “And I’m just itching!” Neal groaned, bending over suddenly to scratch his legs. “In fact, I’ve been doing weird stuff all day. Not to mention the tiny little voices I keep hearing …”

  That’s when it happened.

  Pop!

  “Whoa!” Eric gasped, looking under the seat. “Look at that!” He pointed at Neal’s sneaker.

  Neal bent down. His shoelaces stretched and broke, one after another. The toe burst open and something brown and shiny popped out.

  “Neal,” said Julie, “what’s with your sneaker? Is that the stuffing coming out?”

  Eric gasped. “No, that’s his foot coming out!”

  “That’s not my foot,” said Neal. “It looks like a bug … a bug…. Wait. That is my foot! I’ve got a bug foot! Oh, no! I’m a bug again!”

  The other kids on the bus turned and laughed.

  Julie dropped her backpack over Neal’s shoe before anyone saw it.

  “Holy cow!” Eric whispered. “I know what’s going on! Neal, brace yourself. It’s back.”

  Neal frowned. “What’s back?”

  “The bug spell,” he said.

  “What?” Neal moaned. “I thought that spell was over!”

  “It looks like it just came back,” said Julie.

  On their last adventure in Droon, a magic spell had gone wrong and accidently Neal had been turned into a bug.

  A baby bug, with a hard brown shell, six legs, and feelers on his head that curled and twitched.

  And now it was happening again.

  Errr! The bus stopped, and the doors swung open.

  “There’s only one place to go,” Eric said, grabbing Neal and pulling him off the bus. “To my basement. Hurry. We need to go back to Droon.”

  Together, they ran across the yard to Eric’s house.

  “The spell’s not finished somehow,” Julie said, frowning. “But don’t worry, Neal. Droon is the most magical place ever. We’ll find the cure.”

  “This is not going to last forever,” Eric added.

  “Forever?” Neal squealed. “Yikes!”

  They hurried to the side door and opened it. Eric put his finger to his lips. “Nobody can see you like this, Neal.” He paused to listen.

  Julie nodded. “Let’s be as quiet as —”

  “A bug?” Neal said. “I can do that.”

  Eric listened to the clacking of a computer keyboard. “My mom’s working.” Then he called out. “Mom, I’m home. Neal and Julie are with me. We’re going downstairs! Bye!”

  They rushed through the kitchen.

  On the way, Neal wiped some crumbs off the table, then licked his palm. “Sorry,” he said. “Crumbs suddenly seem tasty to me.”

  Eric was worried. “I don’t like this,” he said. “Nothing magical has ever happened outside my basement … until now.”

  “Let’s think about that after Neal’s cured,” said Julie. She shut the door behind them. They hustled downstairs.

  “Now,” she said, “did anybody dream of Droon?”

  Eric shook his head.

  Usually, a dream would call the kids to Droon.

  Or the soccer ball in Eric’s basement would turn into a globe of Droon. Princess Keeah had put a charm on it.

  But the magic soccer ball was lying as usual on the workbench. It was just a ball.

  “No dreams,” Neal said. “Unless you count the one where I thought a lizard would eat me.”

  Julie shot Eric a worried look. “That’s good enough. Come on.”

  They went to a door under the basement stairs.

  Eric quickly opened the door and turned on the light. Everyone piled into a small room. He closed the door behind them.

  “Ready?” he asked.

  Neal held up his right hand. His fingers had started to form a claw. “I don’t know about you, but I am!”

  Julie flicked off the light.

  Whoosh! The floor vanished instantly and the magic stairs appeared. Without wasting another moment, Eric darted down the steps.

  Each time he and his friends had gone to Droon, the stairs had taken them somewhere different. He wondered where the stairs would lead this time.

  “I see clouds!” Julie said. “We’re in the air!”

  Rrrr. A rumbling sound came from the clouds.

  “Sounds like something is coming,” Neal said.

  Suddenly, the clouds parted. A round silver shape passed slowly under the bottom step.

  “Whoa! It’s some kind of huge flying thing,” Julie said. The rainbow-colored stairs began to ripple under them.

  “As usual, the stairway is fading too soon,” Eric said. “We’d better jump.” Then he gripped his friends’ hands firmly.

  Together, they jumped.

  Plink! Plonk! Plunk! They landed on the ship.

  “There’s a hatch over there!” Julie shouted.

  Freezing wind blew over them as they crawled across the silver surface to a small door.

  Eric tried to open the hatch. “It’s locked!”

  Neal leaned over. He gripped a corner of the hatch with his clawed hand and twisted.

  Krrnch! The little door sprang open to reveal a metal ladder running down inside the ship.

  “At least being a bug makes me strong!” Neal said. “Let’s go!”

  One by one, the three friends went down into the strange flying ship.

  Eric reached up, grabbed the twisted hatch, and pulled it down over them. “Okay, we’re on a flying ship. But whose flying ship? And where is it going?”

  They looked around. They were in a narrow corridor. The walls were made of the same shiny metal as the outside of the ship.

  “My bug senses are returning,” said Neal. Then he pointed ahead of them. “I hear voices this way. But I can’t tell who.”

  “Let’s find out,” said Julie.

  Carefully, they crept along the corridor. Neal’s bug foot clomped on the floor. Eric followed behind.

  They rounded a corner in the narrow hall.

  Julie stopped. “Uh-oh …”

  Hanging on the wall ahead of them was a row of shiny black armor, glinting in the light.

  “That’s Ninn armor!
” Eric said. “There are Ninns on board! Maybe even Lord Sparr!”

  “We’re in enemy territory, folks,” Neal added.

  The ship rumbled noisily around them. It seemed to be changing direction.

  The three friends quietly inched their way to a large metal door with a wheel on it.

  “A Ninn-sized hatch,” Eric whispered. “Here goes nothing.” He turned the wheel and opened the hatch slightly.

  They peered into a large circular cabin filled with Ninn warriors. The Ninns were working the giant ship’s controls.

  Eric shivered. His friends huddled closer.

  One Ninn stepped over to a red chair. The kids couldn’t see who was in the chair.

  “King Zello and his daughter are heading for the city of Ro, my lord,” the Ninn grunted. “What shall we do?”

  “Set course for the valley!” snarled a familiar voice.

  “It’s Lord Sparr!” Eric whispered.

  “Soon we shall have the magic diamonds — millions of them,” the Ninn grunted happily.

  “The diamonds will be useful,” Sparr said. “But what I really seek in the city of Ro is a single word….”

  Eric frowned. A word? What word?

  The pink clouds thinned as the giant ship began to slip down through them. The cabin windshield showed a world of white mountains. Here and there were slithering silver rivers. A broad, flat valley directly ahead was circled by forests of violet and blue trees.

  The world of Droon.

  Pop! Neal’s other sneaker began to split.

  “Oh, man!” Neal moaned loudly. Too loudly.

  Sparr bolted up from his throne and turned around. His dark eyes flashed when he saw the children. “Spies! Seize them!”

  Instantly, three large Ninns rushed over and grabbed the children.

  The red guards’ grips were like steel.

  “Let us go, Sparr!” Julie exclaimed.

  Sparr laughed. “That’s exactly what I intend to do! Ninns, take them to the platform!”

  The sorcerer’s bald head gleamed as if it had been polished. And small dark fins grew behind each ear.

  “Do you expect us to talk?” Eric asked.

  “No, I expect you to … fly!” Sparr replied.

  Without another word, the big red warriors hustled them roughly into the corridor.

  “Where are you taking us?” Neal asked.

  “You’ll find out!” one Ninn laughed. He pressed a button on the corridor wall and — whoosh! — a door in the side of the ship opened.

  The children found themselves on a small metal plank jutting out from the ship.

  The wind howled around them.

  “Okay,” said Eric, “I’m guessing that this platform is not a good thing.”

  “We call it the tossing platform!” one of the guards said with a grunting sort of laugh. His black eyes seemed like tiny marbles in his puffy red face.

  “We toss, you fly!” another Ninn said.

  “And what if we can’t fly?” Julie asked.

  “Splat!” The third Ninn laughed.

  The kids all looked at one another.

  “Okay, now I’m worried,” Neal said.

  “And you weren’t up till now?” Julie cried.

  Suddenly — zzzzzz-blam! — the ship rocked.

  Ka-blam! Boom! The sky lit up with sparkling blue beams. Dozens of plump purple ships swooped out of the clouds.

  The ships were small and round and very fast. Two wings stuck out on each side of a clear bubble.

  “The Lumpies!” Julie shouted.

  The Ninns grunted and ran inside. The iron door closed behind them. The kids were trapped outside the ship.

  “Now I’m really worried!” Neal said. “We really are going to go splat!”

  Suddenly, one of the purple planes swept underneath the platform. It pulled up sharply. Its cockpit bubble opened. There were two figures inside. “Jump! Quickly!” yelled the pilot.

  They did. “Oomph! — whoa! — yeow!”

  The ship circled up and away into the pink clouds as the kids tumbled onto soft purple pillows. They landed right next to a small purple creature who looked like a chubby pillow himself.

  The creature’s cheeks bulged like bubblegum bubbles.

  “Khan!” Eric cried.

  “King of the Lumpies, at your service!” Khan said, his short arms flying over the controls.

  Zzzz — blam! The back end of the little ship roared with the sound of blasting. A helmeted creature behind them leaned over a strange gun.

  Sparkling blue beams of light burst on the giant silver ship below. Sparr’s airship changed direction and veered away.

  “Lumpies one, Sparr zero!” Khan cheered.

  “Nice blasting from your helper back there,” Julie said to Khan. “Amazing, whoever that is!”

  “She ought to be,” Khan said with a twinkle in his eye. “That’s Princess Keeah!”

  Princess Keeah tore off her helmet. Her long blond hair tumbled to her shoulders. “I’m so glad to see you!” she said. “We were on our way to meet my father when Sparr attacked us. But why are you here?”

  Neal held up his claw. “The spell from last time sort of … came back.”

  “Oh, my!” the princess gasped.

  “Plus,” Eric added, “then we heard that Sparr plans to steal diamonds from a place called Ro!”

  Keeah glanced at the Lumpy leader.

  “We have no time to waste,” Khan muttered. He pulled on the lever and they soared up into the pink clouds.

  “What’s going on?” Julie asked.

  Keeah turned to her friends. “My father and I were supposed to meet Galen and Max at the city of Ro to find out where my mother is.”

  Eric nodded. On one of their previous journeys, they had learned that Keeah’s mother, Queen Relna, was not dead as everyone had thought. A witch had told them she was alive.

  “Where is this city of Ro?” Julie asked.

  “Everywhere!” Keeah answered. “Ro is a flying city. It flies constantly over all of Droon.”

  “Cool!” Neal said, scratching his neck.

  “Very cool, as you say,” Khan said. “And on any other day Sparr would not be able to attack it.”

  “Why is today so important?” Eric asked.

  Khan pulled the purple ship higher. “Ro hides itself under a spell of invisibility.”

  “Except,” said Keeah, “that one day each year Ro becomes visible. It lands in the Kalahar Valley to collect diamonds. The magic jewels hold the power of invisibility.”

  “Those are the diamonds Sparr is after,” Julie said.

  Eric was drawn to the small ship’s front windscreen, where a large white bird soared along with the purple ship.

  “The white falcon!” he said. He remembered all the times he’d seen it before in Droon.

  Keeah smiled. “The falcon is always nearby, watching over what we do.” Then she turned.

  “Neal, I’m sorry the spell came back,” she said. “But you’re in luck. The Guardians live in Ro. They are very old and very wise. They know more than anyone about, well, anything! They can help you.”

  Khan sniffed. “But we must hurry. At midnight, Ro vanishes again. Once it does, it will be impossible to leave for a whole year!”

  The small winged craft shot over a range of snowy mountains and dipped to a desert plain.

  A few moments later, Khan landed on the outside of a ring of tall hills.

  “The Kalahar Valley is beyond these hills,” Keeah said, stepping from the ship. “Come.”

  As the sun lowered into afternoon, the small band crept through a narrow pass in the hills.

  “Oh, my gosh!” Julie exclaimed as they tramped out to a ledge on the other side.

  The valley below teemed with hundreds of Ninn warriors. They were armed with bows and arrows and swords. With them were dozens of winged lizards called groggles.

  Suddenly, a great cry rose up from the red warriors. They looked skyward to see Sparr’s
silver airship circling the valley.

  But that was nothing compared to what happened next.

  On the far side of the valley, the drifting pink clouds slowly parted.

  Over the hills came a giant city. It looked as if it had been uprooted from the earth. Slowly, it floated downward into the center of the valley.

  “Ro!” Keeah whispered excitedly. “I hope my father made it there safely. And Galen and Max, too.”

  “It’s awesome,” Eric exclaimed, looking up.

  The city was built on an enormous floating disk that seemed to stretch for miles across.

  Strangely shaped towers spiraled to the sky. Bridges soared from one side of the city to the other. Domes of green, pink, and blue topped buildings of every shape and size.

  And the lights! The whole city gleamed and sparkled as if every inch of it were lit!

  “Ro is a city of peace, ruled over by the wisest of people, the Guardians,” Khan said.

  “But now Sparr is waiting for it,” Keeah said with a shiver.

  The city finally rumbled to the ground, nestling into the valley as if it had always been there.

  As soon as it landed, a white ray of light shot from the city to the valley floor.

  “They are drilling for the diamonds,” Khan whispered.

  A moment later, millions of tiny glittering rocks flowed back through the light to the city.

  “They’re drilling with light,” said Neal.

  “How can we get in?” Eric asked. “There’s an army of Ninns between us and the city.”

  The Lumpy king sniffed suddenly. The kids remembered that Lumpies were expert sniffers.

  “We’re in luck,” the purple king said. “I smell a flock of wild groggles roosting nearby. And the Ninns don’t know about them.”

  “Groggles?” Neal muttered. “Those flying lizards eat bugs like me. Anyone have a Plan B?”

  “But Khan’s a groggle whisperer!” Keeah said.

  “A what?” asked Eric.

  “I talk softly to them,” Khan said with a chuckle. “And the groggles listen. The wild ones who live in the mountains are actually quite nice.”

  The five friends crept slowly up to a flock of groggles nesting on the edge of the valley.

  In the sky above, Sparr’s silver airship circled the giant city and swooped down into it. As if this were a signal, the Ninns jumped onto their own groggles. A moment later, Sparr’s flying army swarmed up from the valley floor.

 
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