About the book…
Trustan and Veri have been best friends for as long as they can remember. They both grew up within working families living within enormous Lakesdawn Castle, the home of the Empress of Falonir. While enjoying their favorite hobby – sneaking around the castle’s many hidden passageways – they discover a pair of colorful river rocks that stick together like magnets. But these are no ordinary stones; the two learn that amazing powers are unleashed depending on what colors on the stones are clicked together. Before they know it, Trustan and Veri are swept into the adventure of a lifetime with the fate of the entire empire in the balance.
CHAPTER 1 ~ Wallways
My Grandpa Ruman always said there was truth in the old Bard’s Tales, that they actually meant something, but he didn’t tell me that I would be in a Bard’s Tale of my own. In his defense, how could he have? Every kid dreams of having magical powers and having amazing adventures just like in all of those old songs, but every kid also knows that they’re just stories made up for fun. Things like that can’t happen in real life.
Well, it happened to me! No one would have guessed that, with the help of some magic stones, I would help save the country, prevent the second Great Eastern War, and earn the thanks of the Empress herself… all before I was twelve Summers old.
I got my first girlfriend, too. Then lost her just as fast. Grandpa Ruman hadn’t prepared me for that either!
Toward the end of Winter season the ice on Lake Oro finally disappeared, and even the coldest hidden passageways in Lakesdawn Castle became comfortable as long you wore enough layers. My best friend Veri hated being cold, so getting nearer to Spring always triggered our next round of adventures.
“You’re not gonna believe this new wallway I found, Trustan,” she said in my ear, long brown curls bouncing with excitement. We both wore dark clothing as always on our sneaking nights, helping us stay hidden in the dim castle halls, but it was bright enough for me to see her light-brown face beaming as we crept down an empty corridor throne room. She led the way through a small door and into the castle guards’ ready room, then disappeared into the dark bathroom at its far end. I hurried after her in the shadowy gloom, the only light coming from a marsh-oil ceiling torch hanging outside the door.
“Do we have to use this one again?” I asked quietly, grimacing. The castle’s grown-up guards were way worse than any of my friends when it came to being clean. “The maids haven’t been in this place for a month.”
“I thought boys weren’t bothered by stinky toilets,” Veri whispered. “Ignore it! I told you we were gonna find great stuff in this wallway, and I was right. That’s why they hid the door in this gross bathroom. The new passage goes to the left long before you get to the throne room.”
We squeezed into the last stall in total darkness. The snaps of Veri opening her hip-pack echoed across the privy. Then, with a flash, a single match burned in her fingers. By its light, she felt along the cracks in the dark gray stone down near the floor behind the really nasty toilet.
“We really need to find another way into this wallway,” I grumbled.
A soft click came from the wall next to her and the stones next to us silently swung open into the blackness of the hidden passage. Veri had started calling them “wallways” years ago when we first found one in the castle kitchens. One day while bored to death on kitchen duty, she had discovered what looked like a loose piece of mortar between bricks in the back of the big main pantry. Pulling on it opened a tiny door into a dusty passage inside the wall itself. Ever since then we snuck out to explore the wallways every chance we could.
Veri shimmied through in a flash, but I had to squeeze my bigger body through the one-foot wide opening.
Shaking out her match, Veri waited for me to close the secret door behind us. Then I lay my hand on her shoulder, and we set off down the pitch black, cramped secret tunnel. She breathed out the count of her steps as usual, and I counted along with her as I held her shoulder tight to keep from running into her. At twelve steps, I felt her move around the big, fallen brick that blocked the right side of the wallway. At fifteen steps, we stepped over the pot-hole gap in the floor that had made me sprain my ankle the first time we’d explored the passage. Then we usually kept going until the right turn at thirty-seven steps. That marked the place where we could spy on the throne room. But not this time. Veri stopped at step twenty-two.
Reaching up to her shoulder, she tapped my fingers twice then drew a circle and a left-arrow on the back of my hand. That meant the new discovery was here and on the left. Stone scraped on stone, then a muffled click sounded. Another door creaked open in the darkness.
“Wow!” I breathed.
She led the way into the new, musty passage. Puffs of dust and invisible cobwebs brushed my face, raising my biggest fear; one sneeze and we might be netted by some castle guard.
Veri stopped at thirty-one steps, then drew a zig-zag pattern on the back of my hand from pinky to thumb knuckle. That meant a staircase heading down, so we both plopped down onto our bottoms to butt-slide down like toddlers just learning to walk.
At the bottom of the stairs we went seventeen steps then stopped. Veri drew on the back of my hand again, a circle and an arrow pointing dead ahead, telling me we faced another door. Another click, and suddenly my eyes widened as a narrow beam of stunningly bright moonlight slowly fanned into a full shaft of glittering silver. A stiff cold breeze stung my cheeks and brought the grassy, green smell of lake water to my nose.
I followed Veri out onto a narrow beach of smooth sand. It sloped down to Lake Oro, tucked between two tall stone walls about twenty-feet apart on our left and right. The moon was high overhead and full, lighting the clear blue lake like a slowly rolling mirror.
“I told you it was worth it,” Veri whispered, grinning her bright smile as I stood with my mouth hanging open. Her tan face glowed in the moonlight, her eyes wide.
“Lakes alive!” I said.
“We have a secret way out of Lakesdawn, Trustan!” Veri continued. “I haven’t gone any further than this, and it’s gonna take a ton of sneaking around to find out where we are and what guards are near, but this will take our adventures to a whole new level!”
“We’re gonna have to be careful, though,” I said. “We get caught or locked out, or hurt or something… and we’re lake-floaters.”
“Yeah, yeah, I know. But we’re gonna explore this whole part of the beach, and who knows what other wallways might open from this new one?” She pointed back at the open stone portal behind us. Then she crept over to the right side barrier wall and headed for the water. I followed, staying low, until our toes touched the water’s edge.
“I think we’re safe,” I said, looking back and all around. Lakesdawn Castle loomed above us, but I saw no guard stations or windows from this angle—just lots of giant stone walls, peaked towers, and the huge battlements stair-stepped along the city-like building. “Whoever put this passage here wanted it to stay hidden.”
But Veri wasn’t listening. She was down on her knees in the sand staring at two smooth, colorful river rocks under an inch of slowly lapping lake water. She picked one up, but both rocks emerge as if connected.
“I think they’re magnets,” she said. She pulled hard, and, sure enough, the two oval stone discs separated. They gleamed like the polished granite countertops in the Lakesdawn kitchens, each small enough to fit in my palm. Their colors were amazing; they each had the exact same pattern of white around the rim, black on the flat top and bottom, then areas of light and dark blue, purple, and gold all around in between. One spot on each rock seemed to swirl with different colors all mixed together, but that might have been a trick of the moonlight.
“Let me see,” I said, taking the rocks. One rock slid between my fingers like it was oiled, but I caught it at the last second.
“Careful!” Veri chided. “They feel fragile, like glass.”
I brought the colorful stones together, but just like magnets they pushed each other away. Turning them, they suddenly jerked together with a solid click with their light-blue spots touching.
“It’s the colors,” I said. They held so strongly I had to strain to pull them apart again. “Only matching colors stick together. These are not normal magnets.” I handed them back to Veri.
“Who goes there!” came a loud, deep voice from somewhere behind us. I nearly jumped out of my skin as I spun around, but the guard wasn’t in sight. “Stay where you are and identify!”
“Nightwings!” Veri cursed under her breath as we ran for the still-open wallway door. I got there first and slid into the passage. Light flashed behind me. I turned to pull the secret door closed behind Veri, even though I was sure the guard had already seen us.
But the light was gone. And so was Veri.
I blinked hard, then poked my head back out of the wallway. No sign of her.
“Veri! Where are you?!”
“Show yourselves!” the guard bellowed. His heavy footsteps pounded the sand, growing closer to the dividing walls that kept me hidden.
With my heart in my throat I pulled the wallway door closed. I stood like a statue in the darkness, not even daring to breathe, I didn’t know if I should run or cry or call for help. So, I just stood there, cold and unbelievably afraid.