Chapter One: Night Messages
Bones that crack.
In dim light
Don’t dare to come where demons run.
They fear the light, but in their home they rule the night.
So stay away from shades of black where light grows old and spirits bold.
Dreadmoor temple holds them fast, unless a promise taken back.
The vile is cracked.
Will soon be loose.
Light grows thin when it begins.
They search for children of the wind to break the curse that held them in.
Nightmares learn to rule the day and each one steals a life away.
Guard your heart and use the book to seal the promises they took.
Hillary lay on her bed playing with the magic Zipper pouch. She smiled at the memory of the three wizards who gave it to her and her stepbrother in their last adventure. Would she ever travel in her dreams back to the mysterious world of Gabendoor, she wondered?
The small blue pouch hovered motionless in midair above her, floating by itself. Hillary knew that her stepfather, Bill or Trish, her mother, would be calling "lights out" any minute." She poked at the brass zipper and the bag drifted sideways towards her lamp on the nightstand beside her bed. She smiled and rolled to her side. With one finger, she pressed gently on the bag and it lowered until it rested next to a plastic water bottle by the lamp base.
"Bed time, Hillary. You too, Windslow," her stepfather’s voice called from down the hall.
Hillary sighed and switched off the light. In the dark she thought about how she missed dream-slipping to Gabendoor and the friends she and Windslow had made there. School would be over for the summer in a few weeks, ending eighth grade. She felt both bored and frustrated. She began thinking about the book that had suddenly appeared in her stepbrother’s lap two weeks ago. It was a large thick book, twin to the Book of Second Chances and covered with the same brown leather. The only difference was the strap that held the book closed. It had no lock and she and Windslow hadn’t been able to get the book open.
"It has to open somehow," Hillary said softly to herself as she adjusted her pillows. Both she and her brother were certain the book had appeared for a reason, and that it probably was an important reason. She couldn’t understand why they weren’t traveling to Gabendoor in their dreams. "Why aren’t we getting any clues?" Hillary muttered and gave her pillows one last punch. Her thoughts about the mysterious Book of Broken Promises faded as she fell asleep.
Long past midnight, the neighborhood rested. Outside, the crescent moon dozed. Only the stars stayed awake to twinkle secret messages back and forth across the night sky. Inside the Summerfield house, Bill, Trish, Windslow and Hillary slept. Inside Hillary’s bedroom, the pouch by the water bottle moved.
Weaving through the giant trees of Shadow-bark forest in Gabendoor, a faded orange hooded-cloak hid Bitterbrun’s chubby figure as he hurried along with short quick steps. With even shorter steps, a small armored animal scurried behind him, trying to keep pace.
"Yes, your smartness. No, your grandness," Bitterbrun said, grumbling to his pet as he walked. "All I was to Fistlock was a servant."
The animal gave a snort, as if agreeing. About twice the size of a rat, the armygello looked like a cross between an armadillo and an anteater. Thick, bony, gray plates covered its body from the top of its head to its long pointed tail. Its hairy snout stretched out nearly a foot and curved to the ground where it sniffed at twigs and leaves as it waddled along.
"Fetch me this. Quick, check the dungeon. Fix me dinner." Bitterbrun stopped, picked up a stick and threw it against the nearest tree. "You never wanted my advice, Fistlock! I could have helped. We could have beaten the Children of the Summer Wind."
Giant ferns bent and danced when a strong breeze found its way through the massive trees. As if taunting him, the quick moving air snatched at Bitterbrun’s cloak as it rushed past him. "Go away!" he yelled, spinning around. "I hate wind!"
The armygello stopped. Tucking its snout underneath its chest, the armored beast rolled up into a protective ball.
"I’m not yelling at you, Army," Bitterbrun said and bent down to the armygello. "Did daddy Bitterbrun scare you?" His marshmallow face peeked out from behind his hood. Bitterbrun’s long thin nose seemed to point like a stubby finger in the direction it wanted his squinting eyes to look. Small lips completed a set of features that looked spaced too close together for the size of his face. Under his cloak white buttons strained to hold his shirt closed. The yellow cloth stretched wearily across a belly that flowed up over the top of orange pants that matched his cloak. There was too much man and not enough cloth.
"There, there, Army," he said, as he petted the creature. "Come up on daddy Bitterbrun’s shoulder."
After Bitterbrun stood, the armygello unrolled. A small seam appeared down the center of its back. Suddenly, two long sections of plating lifted, like hard shells covering a gigantic beetle. The plates clacked together, pointing straight up along the length of the armygello’s spine, exposing three pairs of black laced cellophane wings. The fly-like wings blurred and hummed as the armygello lifted its snout and took flight. Without much grace, the large creature bumped into the back of Bitterbrun’s head, backed up, eased forward and settled on its master’s shoulder. With a wiz and a click, the wings folded and the plates clacked down to cover them.
After giving Army a pat, Fistlock’s ex-chamberlain turned and gathered his cloak tighter around himself. Still grumbling, but not loud enough to be heard, he scurried behind a tree with an extra large trunk that bulged in the center just like him.
Bitterbrun felt carefully along the bark. His hands stopped. A click sounded and a section of the trunk swung open revealing a hollow space and set of steps that led downward. After stepping inside, Bitterbrun turned around and grabbed the door. "Well, Gabendoor," he said as he scanned the forest. "Get ready to be ruled by King Bitterbrun. I couldn’t save all of Fistlock’s magic contraptions when those wretched children destroyed Crystal Mountain. But I do have the most powerful ones."
Satisfied that no one was around to spot his secret hideaway, Bitterbrun slammed the door and hurried down the wooden stars to this laboratory and living quarters. "Hmm…" he said glancing at Army. "Before I get rid of those stupid wizards I better check on that magic vial to see if my little trick is working. Fistlock never could get it open and I bet there’s something powerful inside."
Army turned around and gave a snort when the wind rattled the door.
"Don’t worry," Bitterbrun said. "If those awful Children of the Summer Wind show up again, my trap will eliminate them forever."
The pouch on Hillary’s nightstand lifted, twisted, and shifted. The brass zipper glowed as the pull moved. Zzzzip, it sounded as the zipper-pull moved an inch. Still asleep, Hillary turned to her side. The zipper pull fell limp and waited until Hillary’s breathing settled back into a long even rhythm. Silently, the bag grew longer, until the edge pushed against the water bottle next to it. The brass tab lifted and with a longer zzzzip moved slowly until the bag was fully open. Something moved inside, making the blue cloth bulge and puff. The brass zipper edges spread and a wrinkled thumb and finger pushed out, holding a small piece of folded parchment sealed with a glob of red wax embossed with the letter H.
Hillary mumbled in her sleep and the fingers gave a flip as they let go of the parchment, letting it fall to the floor. The fingers bumped the water bottle making it teeter on the nightstand. With a quick zip, the bag closed, shrunk and settled back down, giving the bottle one last small nudge.
Hillary sat up when she heard the bottle fall. Grabbing a flashlight from under her pillow she swept the yellow beam of light around her room. Still searching with the light, she reached over and turned on her nightstand lamp. "I must have been dreaming," she said and put the flashlight back under her pillow. "It was a lot more fun when we used to dream-slip."
Hillary reached for her water bottle. When she realized it wasn’t there, she sat up straight and held her breath as she listened for anything that sounded out of the ordinary. Cautiously, she pulled back her covers, stepped into her slippers and moved to her door. After peeking down the hallway, she shrugged, closed her door, and walked back to bed. She didn’t notice when her slipper kicked the small piece of paper, sending it out of sight under her bed. She did see the water bottle and picked it up. After taking a sip, Hillary put the bottle back on her night stand, this time farther away from the edge. She pulled her blankets up tight around her neck and wiggled her head against her pillow until it felt comfortable. Soon, she drifted back into a dreamless sleep.
The three old wizards walked single file along the white sandy beach of Lake Shimmerdawn until they came to the path that led through the woods to Larkstone’s cottage.
"Did it work?" Haggerwolf, the senior wizard, asked. He pushed his belt-length beard aside and tucked his magic wand back inside his vest.
"I think so," Larkstone answered as he rolled his shirtsleeve back down. "I had a bit of trouble finding the connection between my magic closet and the pouch we gave to Hillary, but I delivered the note. I hope she and her brother read it and get here soon."
"They had better," Fernbark said to his friends. "The future of Gabendoor depends on it."
"Are you sure something else didn’t cause this?" Haggerwolf asked, turning up the narrow footpath into the forest. "Something other than Gristle-tooth?" He held his long robe open as he walked. Dyed a deep blue, almost black, the shiny but worn fabric showed outlines of forest animals embroidered in pale blue thread. The embroidery glowed. Stitching down the sides of his pants and along the bottom of his vest looked normal.
Fernbark paused along the path, where giant green pepperwort fronds hung peacefully in the shade cast by the stout and age-wrinkled limbs of a flute-bean tree. An afternoon breeze played quietly with the oblong leaves and long brown seed pods that gave the tree its name. He gently stroked his hand along one if the beans dangling from a lower branch. "I can feel it in the plants. The sprit of Gristle-tooth is stirring. Why else would our clothes be glowing? Your aunt sewed all of them. It must be the warning she told you about." Similar in style to Fernbark’s clothes, but green, the embroidered outlines of forest plants in Fernbark’s clothes had the same faint glow.
"I could feel it in the water down at the lake," Larkstone said. As he walked his cloak spread apart with each step, revealing the glowing embroidered fish and seashell patterns in the ocean-blue cloth.
"I was hoping we were wrong," Fernbark said. He pushed a flute-bean aside and continued up the path. "Once Gristle-tooth’s spirit breaks free, nothing will be able to save Gabendoor from its curse. I almost wish Fistlock hadn’t been in Crystal Mountain when Hillary and Windslow melted it."
Haggerwolf looked back over his shoulder as he rounded a small bend in the path. "Fistlock was an evil ruler, but he did let most people live. I don’t think I’d want him back, but he was the only wizard who had enough skill to stop Gristle-tooth. We sure don’t."
Just ahead, Larkstone’s cottage came into view. Its short stone walls and high, mounded, thatched roof helped it blend into the greens and browns of the surrounding forest. A small curl of smoke from the chimney carried the faint smell of bacon and warm bread that drifted toward the wizards.
Larkstone sighed and looked back as he held the door open for his friends. "There’s nothing we can do but wait for Windslow and Hillary to get here. The Oracle promised us that magic would dream-slip both of them here if we ever needed them again."
"That might be part of the problem," Haggerwolf said as he stepped inside. "If Gristle-tooth is breaking free, then a lot of promises are about to be broken or already are."
Windslow tossed and turned in his sleep, caught in a bad dream. He saw images of Fistlock and Crystal Mountain melting and exploding, mixed with images of his Gabendoor friends, Molly, Tilley, and Nelly Sallyforth. Windslow called out softly with mumbled words when he saw the triplets disappear into the well in Fistlock’s dungeon. Book after book floated past him in his dream, their pages full of letters that leapt off the pages and piled on the ground to block his wheelchair. He watched himself fall off the roof of his house and land into the bushes under the front window; the accident that kept him from walking. His body relaxed when he saw himself walking in Gabendoor.
Sweat beaded on his forehead and the back of his neck, soaking into the collar of his pajama top. He relived sitting in his wheelchair outside school when the Sallyforth sisters drove away with Mrs. Christensen-Forth, their new mother in this world. He lurched and pushed his blankets off when the Book of Broken Promises appeared from nowhere, landing in his lap in his dream, just as it had after school that day.
The images swirled and mixed like a TV picture out of control. In his sleep, Windslow saw glimpses of Molly in the scramble of his memories from Gabendoor. Her gerbil like eyes stared at him and the image steadied. Her mouth moved, but he couldn’t hear her. He focused on her lips and tried to make out the words. A spasm in his leg kicked his foot against the handle of his wheelchair waiting for him at the side of his bed.
The noise startled him and Windslow lurched upright. "Molly!" he cried and looked around his room, sleep haze still clouding his senses. "Molly’s in danger."