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by Cindy Davis, John Richters
Category: Young Adult
Description: A magical boy's coming of age journey evolved into a dangerous quest to defeat an evil mage. Blessed with the gift of magic, when Narle turned fifteen he followed tradition and for one turn of the moon ventured into the desert on his own to learn, grow, and explore his magical talent. His simple journey took a dangerous turn when Narle and his horse Storm stumbled onto a horrible scene--the burning remnants of a caravan, with one lone survivor under attack by a flock of hungry Doomflyers. Narle joined the bloody battle and together they defeated the creatures, though he was injured in the process. He discovered the other teen also possessed a natural gift when Laan healed his wounds. He also discovered the reason for the marauder's attack--a small piece of cargo that Laan's parents had kept hidden. The two teens set out to rescue Laan's parents and the other caravan members, but the prospect of facing the Misty Mauraders wasn't their only obstacle. Constantly pursued by a strange, destructive force, their greatest challenge lay ahead. Could the pair harness enough of their own magic to defeat a powerful, evil mage?
eBook Publisher: L&L Dreamspell/L&L Dreamspell, 2009 Spring, Texas
eBookwise Release Date: February 2009
5 Reader Ratings:
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [437 KB]
Reading time: 264-369 min.
The air reeked of death. Narle's ring pulsed a needless warning; he peered ahead, frowning at the pillar of smoke spiraling into the clear desert sky. The frown became a scowl when a doomflyer's hunting call pierced the afternoon stillness. A half dozen of the vicious birds separated from a flock soaring high overhead and plunged downward, vanishing beyond the next dune. The acrid plume wafted nearer, bringing the sting of burning wood to his eyes. A pair of agitated starflies wobbled past, chittering about bad magic.
Narle nudged Storm into a gallop. Ears back, muscles rippling, his horse raced across the sand. Narle's heart thundered against trembling ribs in time with Storm's thudding hooves. He reined her to a halt at the crest of the hill, aching with opposing thoughts: one, helping whatever the birds hunted; the other, turning and racing for home.
His tongue passed over suddenly cold lips. Rubbing the jade ring usually brought comfort. Now the action did nothing to calm his churning stomach. He watched a pair of birds dive toward a flaming wagon, missing a wheel and tilted to one side. Storm bared her teeth, ready, as always, for action. Doomflyers only ate live meat, meaning: Something's alive down there! Run, his brain said. Stay, his heart argued.
Narle inched his bow from behind the saddle, his dark eyes never leaving the group of cruel hunters. He nocked an arrow and watched the two birds disappear behind the wagon. One soared up and back into the still-circling flock, screeching like a frightened baby. The second never reappeared. Another killer left the circle and lunged downward. A piercing shriek ripped the air. It rose again, wings beating wildly. The starflies scattered.
Narle shook off a tremor and urged Storm onward. Her breath came in short puffs, her ribs expanding and contracting beneath him, preventing accurate aim. He tried again, sighted on the nearest bird and let the arrow fly, groaning when it glanced harmlessly off the doomflyer's hooked bill. The bird's angry screech drew the attention of others. Narle clenched his jaw and readied a second arrow. Several flyers zoomed toward him. Their breath bore the tang of black oil and copper. Enormous beating wings ruffled his hair. Narle tracked one bird's path with the arrow tip, pulled the bowstring taut and let go. The arrow sank into the doomflyer's belly. It wailed and pinwheeled to the sand.
The next bird was close enough to see the sun glinting off greasy feathers, its shadow blocking out the sky above. Narle took a breath, held it, aimed and fired. His arrow thumped home.
The bird dropped toward him like a stone. Narle ducked against Storm's neck--too slowly. A passing talon sliced his temple. "Yow." The impact knocked him sideways, drawing one foot from the stirrup. He gasped at the searing pain and grabbed Storm's mane, forcing himself upright. The flyer gurgled and flopped to the ground, pinned there with the arrow quivering in its malevolent eye.
He readied another.
Something moved on the far side of the wagon. Narle swung the arrow tip that way, pulling back on the bow, fingers tense, shoulder muscles steady. A boy about Narle's age, wearing a bulky green shirt and brown trousers, swung the flaming spoke of a wheel like a mace. The weapon thunked into a diving flyer with a dull crunch.
Narle let out his breath and released the pressure on the bow.
A hesitant second passed before he aimed upward into the flock of predators, taking one down with a shot through its gut. Green blood and bird innards peppered the air as the body splatted on the ground. A wounded flyer lunged at Narle's foot. Storm reared up and kicked it away.
A river of blood oozed into his left eye; he wiped it away with a sweaty forearm. Storm pounded to a stop beside the wagon. The air was thick with screeches of ravenous birds. Storm whinnied and sidestepped a swooping attack. Narle threw himself to the sand.
The boy gritted his teeth and swung the spoke again, missing his intended victim. He muttered something and scowled at Narle through a damp mat of black hair before turning back to his attackers, yelling over his shoulder, "Don't lie there like a jackass! Do something."
"I am!" Narle pushed back the folds of his cloak and got to his feet.
The remaining flyers, now tightly packed, began a coordinated descent. The air churned with the sound of beating wings and high-pitched squawks.
"We need a better way," Narle mumbled, knowing what he had to do and hoping he had the power. The jade ring's intricate runes reflected the sun's brightness in tiny spirals of green fire. Fear and doubt clutched at him, but he stabbed his white-knuckled ring finger toward the mass of doomflyers overhead, shouting a single word: "HALT!"
The glittering jade ring vibrated, slowly at first, then faster and faster, adding its magic to Narle's own. His arm shook, then his shoulder, then his entire body. He dropped the bow and grasped the ringed hand with his other, steadying it in the air. Power streamed from somewhere deep inside, carving a path down his arm and out from his body. The air darkened and expanded into a hazy cone surrounding the flyers. The flock's vigorous wing strokes slowed to flutters. Their shrieks turned querulous, their movements erratic. One bird spiraled into the side of the wagon and thumped to the sand. Two more slammed the ground at Storm's feet. She gave an enraged squeal and stamped them to pieces with her sharp hooves.
The boy raised his weapon with a grunt and backhanded it into a tumbling flyer. Its head burst open and it flopped onto the sand. He swore at the dead bird, mashing it into pulp on the ground before him.
Then, as one, the remaining flyers turned and escaped toward the open desert.
Narle blew out a relieved sigh and slipped an arrow back into the almost-empty quiver. His ring hand throbbed. He rubbed it on his pants leg to ease the sensation and wiped the other arm across his bleeding brow, brushing a strand of red-gold hair from his eyes.
"It worked," he whispered.
Narle sagged against the wagon, pride in his accomplishment overshadowed by relief that the ordeal was over. His breath came in ragged gasps and his legs felt like jelly. His arm still tingled from the surge of magic energy. What would it be like when he was mature, his powers fully developed? Like his father.
Narle's legs wobbled as he walked toward the boy, whose tight, dark-skinned face mirrored both anger and fear. Ignoring Narle, he raised the scorched spoke in two hands over his head, and brought it violently down over and over, beating the bird's carcass into an unrecognizable mass. "...I'll show you ... dare you ... my family."
"It's dead, you know."
The pair stood silent, viewing the gory remains around the wagon. Storm edged up behind Narle and leaned her face on his shoulder. He grabbed handfuls of her mane to steady himself. He wiped blood from his eyes and flung a respectful look at the disheveled figure holding the makeshift weapon. "What's a boy like you doing alone in the desert?"
The dark-haired stranger's brows furrowed. "Boy?" He looked down at his clothes. His brows relaxed as he smiled and waved an arm at the now empty sky. "What was all that?"
Narle pressed damp palms on his pants and leaned against the wagon for support. "Doomflyers. Nasty disgusting killers."
"I know about them. What did you do?"
"Magic. A spell my father taught me. Of course, if he cast it, those things would flash freeze and shatter into a million pieces. Someday it'll happen for me, too, I hope." Narle rubbed his head with the back of one hand, pretended unconcern at the blood, wiped a palm on his pants and stretched it out to his new friend. They shook. "Anyway, I'm Narle, and this is Storm. I raised her from a filly."
At the sound of her name, Storm lifted her head from Narle's shoulder and fixed her soulful brown eyes on his. Her coat's slick blackness was flecked with tiny gray whorls that glimmered in the sunshine. Narle ran his fingers along her silky mane, the simple gesture making him suddenly weak. He slumped to his knees. The desert came alive and spun about him; feathery tingles caressed his arms. His body felt light enough to float up and into the sky. His eyes closed.
Narle dropped face down onto the sun-scorched sand.
* * * *
"You're hurt!" Laan, who, whatever Narle believed, was definitely not a boy, peered down at him, eyes widening as they followed the trail of blood. She ran a hand through her short-cropped thatch of hair and knelt beside her rescuer.
Putting one hand behind Narle's head and the other under his chest, she turned him over, mumbling, "So much blood. Too much." She touched a finger to the wound caused by the doomflyer's talon and winced. "No!" she said, speaking as if to the sky. "No! I can't."
Laan rose, paced two steps, and kicked a doomflyer carcass. Green blood peppered a leather moccasin. "Stinking birds! Now I have to.... "She scowled over her shoulder at Narle's inert form, gave a seething look at the dead bird and went to kneel beside him.
"Narle, is that your name? Well, whatever it is, wake up! Please." She touched tentative fingers to his shoulder and gently shook him.
Narle's eyes fluttered open.
"You all right?" Laan put her face against his and shook again, harder. For one fleeting moment, Narle's eyes, dark as a moonless night, fastened on hers before rolling back in their sockets.
"Don't die. I need you. You have to help me." She got up and began pacing the hot sand, muttering, "No, I can't ... you have to ... no, there's no time!" The horse leaned over Narle and nuzzled him. Watching Storm lick blood from his nose, Laan wished her own job could be so simple and pleasant. She cracked her knuckles and placed a knee on the sand next to him. The horse bared its teeth. Laan jumped away and spread her arms wide. "It's okay, girl. I'll try to help him if you let me." The tone of her voice must have registered, because Storm moved just enough to let Laan near Narle. The horse's eyes, though, glimmered brightly with more than equine intelligence. Could it have understood? No, that was impossible.
Laan shrugged, knelt back down, and clenched her fists together on Narle's chest; the knuckles turned red and then white. "Just do it, Laan! Get it over with." She brushed away sweaty hair and gripped her lower lip in her teeth. "Okay, I'll try." Taking a quick breath, she pressed a palm solidly against the gash on his head.
His eyes flew open. He gasped and tried to jerk away. "Wha--" he spit out, feebly pushing at her hands. A growl started deep in Storm's throat. She put her head down just inches from Laan's face and bared straight yellow teeth.
"I'm doing the best I can," Laan said to the horse. She pried Narle's fingers from her wrists. "Hold still."
She watched him swallow hard and clamp his teeth together. Probably trying not to cry. Placing her hands on either side of his face, she put all of her hundred pounds into the task at hand. Laan closed her eyes and concentrated, sending energy pouring from her body into the wound. She imagined an icy waterfall rushing over Narle, reducing pain, smoothing and renewing flesh. Minutes passed. A final surge of energy from somewhere deep within finished the job.
Weak and sapped, Laan forced back the tremendous need to sleep. She released the pressure and peeked under her hands. A smile pulled at the corners of her mouth. She sat back on her heels. "Did it really happen?" She leaned forward to examine his head a second time, drawing a blunt-nailed finger across the new skin. "It worked!" she announced, adding under her breath in mixed satisfaction and frustration, "Just as Mother said it would, blast her."
For a long time Laan stared at her hands as if they belonged to someone else. She glanced at Narle and Storm, wondering at their timely arrival. Was it chance, or something else? Narle seemed to believe she was male so for once Laan decided to take her father's advice and keep up the pretense. Chuckling at the real boy dozing by the wagon, she tightened her trousers and loosened her shirt. Finally she flopped down next to Narle and, forgetting about doomflyers, hot-breathed horses and magical boys, dozed.