Saturday, May 31, 2008

DragonLight by Donita K. Paul



It is June FIRST, time for the FIRST Blog Tour! (Join our alliance! Click the button!) The FIRST day of every month we will feature an author and his/her latest book's FIRST chapter!





The feature author is:



and her book:


DragonLight
WaterBrook Press (June 17, 2008)



ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Donita K. Paul is a retired teacher and award-winning author of seven novels, including DragonSpell, DragonQuest, DragonKnight, and DragonFire. When not writing, she is often engaged in mentoring writers of all ages. Donita lives in Colorado Springs, Colorado where she is learning to paint–walls and furniture! Visit her website at www.dragonkeeper.us.

The Books of the DragonKeeper Series:

DragonSpell
DragonQuest
DragonKnight
DragonFire
DragonLight

Visit her website.

AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER:

Castle Passages

Kale wrinkled her nose at the dank air drifting up from the stone staircase. Below, utter darkness created a formidable barrier.

Toopka stood close to her knee. Sparks skittered across the doneel child’s furry hand where she clasped the flowing, soft material of Kale’s wizard robe. Kale frowned down at her ward. The little doneel spent too much time attached to her skirts to be captivated by the light show. Instead, Toopka glowered into the forbidding corridor. “What’s down
there?”

Kale sighed. “I’m not sure.”

“Is it the dungeon?”

“I don’t think we have a dungeon.”

Toopka furrowed her brow in confusion. “Don’t you know? It’s your castle.”

“A castle built by committee.” Kale’s face grimaced at the memory of weeks of creative chaos. She put her hand on Toopka’s soft head.

The doneel dragged her gaze away from the stairway, tilted her head back, and frowned at her guardian. “What’s ‘by committee’?”

“You remember, don’t you? It was just five years ago.”

“I remember the wizards coming and the pretty tents in the meadow.” Toopka pursed her lips. “And shouting. I remember shouting.” “They were shouting because no one was listening. Twenty-one wizards came for the castle raising. Each had their own idea about what we needed. So they each constructed their fragment of the castle structure according to their whims.”

Toopka giggled.

“I don’t think it’s funny. The chunks of castle were erected, juxtaposed with the others, but not as a whole unit. I thank Wulder that at least my parents had some sense. My mother and father connected the tads, bits, and smidgens together with steps and short halls. When nothing else would work, they formed gateways from one portion to another.”

The little doneel laughed out loud and hid her face in Kale’s silky wizard’s robe. Miniature lightning flashes enveloped Toopka’s head and cascaded down her neck, over her back, and onto the floor like a waterfall of sparks.

Kale cut off the flow of energy and placed a hand on the doneel’s shoulder. “Surely you remember this, Toopka.”

She looked up, her face growing serious. “I was very young then.”

Kale narrowed her eyes and examined the child’s innocent face. “As long as I have known you, you’ve appeared to be the same age. Are you ever going to grow up?”

Toopka shrugged, then the typical smile of a doneel spread across her face. Her thin black lips stretched, almost reaching from ear to ear. “I’m growing up as fast as I can, but I don’t think I’m the one in charge. If I were in charge, I would be big enough to have my own dragon, instead of searching for yours.”

The statement pulled Kale back to her original purpose. No doubt she had been manipulated yet again by the tiny doneel, but dropping the subject of Toopka’s age for the time being seemed prudent.

Kale rubbed the top of Toopka’s head. The shorter fur between her ears felt softer than the hair on the child’s arms. Kale always found it soothing to stroke Toopka’s head, and the doneel liked it as well.

Kale let her hand fall to her side and pursued their mission. “Gally and Mince have been missing for a day and a half. We must find them. Taylaminkadot said she heard an odd noise when she came down to the storeroom.” Kale squared her shoulders and took a step down into the dark, dank stairwell. “Gally and Mince may be down here, and they may be in trouble.”

“How can you know who’s missing?” Toopka tugged on Kale’s robe, letting loose a spray of sparkles. “You have hundreds of minor dragons in the castle and more big dragons in the fields.”

“I know.” Kale put her hand in front of her, and a globe of light appeared, resting on her palm. “I’m a Dragon Keeper. I know when any of my dragons have missed a meal or two.” She stepped through the doorway.

Toopka tugged on Kale’s gown. “May I have a light too?”

“Of course.” She handed the globe to the doneel. The light flickered. Kale tapped it, and the glow steadied. She produced another light to sit in her own hand and proceeded down the steps.

Toopka followed, clutching the sparkling cloth of Kale’s robe in one hand and the light in the other. “I think we should take a dozen guards with us.”

“I don’t think there’s anything scary down here, Toopka. After all, as you reminded me, this is our castle, and we certainly haven’t invited anything nasty to live with us.”

“It’s the things that come uninvited that worry me.”

“All right. Just a moment.” Kale turned to face the archway at the top of the stairs, a few steps up from where they stood.

She reached with her mind to the nearest band of minor dragons. Soon chittering dragon voices, a rainbow vision of soft, flapping, leathery wings, and a ripple of excitement swept through her senses. She heard Artross, the leader of this watch, call for his band to mind their manners, listen to orders, and calm themselves.

Kale smiled her greeting as they entered the stairway and circled above her. She turned to Toopka, pleased with her solution, but Toopka scowled. Obviously, the doneel was not impressed with the arrival of a courageous escort.

Kale opened her mouth to inform Toopka that a watch of dragons provides sentries, scouts, and fighters. And Bardon had seen to their training. But the doneel child knew this.

Each watch formed without a Dragon Keeper’s instigation. Usually eleven to fifteen minor dragons developed camaraderie, and a leader emerged. A social structure developed within each watch. Kale marveled at the process. Even though she didn’t always understand the choices, she did nothing to alter the natural way of establishing the hierarchy and respectfully worked with what was in place.

Artross, a milky white dragon who glowed in the dark, had caught Kale’s affections. She sent a warm greeting to the serious-minded leader and received a curt acknowledgment. The straight-laced young dragon with his tiny, mottled white body tickled her. Although they didn’t look alike in the least, Artross’s behavior reminded Kale of her husband’s personality.

Kale nodded at Toopka and winked. “Now we have defenders.”

“I think,” said the doneel, letting go of Kale’s robe and stepping down a stair, “it would be better if they were bigger and carried swords.”

Kale smiled as one of the younger dragons landed on her shoulder. He pushed his violet head against her chin, rubbing with soft scales circling between small bumps that looked like stunted horns. Toopka skipped ahead with the other minor dragons flying just above her head.

“Hello, Crain,” said Kale, using a fingertip to stroke his pink belly. She’d been at his hatching a week before. The little dragon chirred his contentment. “With your love of learning, I’m surprised you’re not in the library with Librettowit.”

A scene emerged in Kale’s mind from the small dragon’s thoughts. She hid a smile. “I’m sorry you got thrown out, but you must not bring your snacks into Librettowit’s reading rooms. A tumanhofer usually likes a morsel of food to tide him over, but not when the treat threatens to smudge the pages of his precious books.” She felt the small beast shudder at the memory of the librarian’s angry voice. “It’s all right, Crain. He’ll forgive you and let you come back into his bookish sanctum. And he’ll delight in helping you find all sorts of wonderful facts.”

Toopka came scurrying back. She’d deserted her lead position in the company of intrepid dragons. The tiny doneel dodged behind Kale and once more clutched the sparkling robe. Kale shifted her attention to a commotion ahead and sought out the thoughts of the leader Artross. “What’s wrong?” asked Kale, but her answer came as she tuned in to the leader of the dragon watch.

Artross trilled orders to his subordinates. Kale saw the enemy through the eyes of this friend.

An anvilhead snake slid over the stone floor of a room stacked high with large kegs. His long black body stretched out from a nook between two barrels. With the tail of the serpent hidden, she had no way of knowing its size. These reptiles’ heads outweighed their bodies. The muscled section behind the base of the jaws could be as much as six inches wide. But the length of the snake could be from three feet to thirty.

Kale shuddered but took another step down the passage.

Artross looked around the room and spotted another section of ropelike body against the opposite wall. Kegs hid most of the snake.

Kale grimaced. Another snake? Or the end of the one threatening my dragons?

The viper’s heavy head advanced, and the distant portion moved with the same speed.

One snake.

“Toopka, stay here,” she ordered and ran down the remaining steps. She tossed the globe from her right hand to her left and pulled her sword from its hiding place beneath her robe. Nothing appeared to be in her hand, but Kale felt the leather-bound hilt secure in her grip. The old sword had been given to her by her mother, and Kale knew
how to use the invisible blade with deadly precision.

“Don’t let him get away,” she called as she increased her speed through the narrow corridor.

The wizard robe dissolved as she rushed to join her guard. Her long dress of azure and plum reformed itself into leggings and a tunic. The color drained away and returned as a pink that would rival a stunning sunset. When she reached the cold, dark room, she cast her globe into the air. Floating in the middle of the room, it tripled in size and gave off a brighter light.

The dragons circled above the snake, spitting their caustic saliva with great accuracy. Kale’s skin crawled at the sight of the coiling reptile. More and more of the serpentine body emerged from the shadowy protection of the stacked kegs. Obviously, the snake did not fear these intruders.

Even covered with splotches of brightly colored spit, the creature looked like the loathsome killer it was. Kale’s two missing dragons could have been dinner for the serpent. She searched the room with the talent Wulder had bestowed upon her and concluded the little ones still lived.

The reptile hissed at her, raised its massive head, and swayed in a threatening posture. The creature slithered toward her, propelled by the elongated body still on the floor. Just out of reach of Kale’s sword, the beast stopped, pulled its head back for the strike, and let out a slow, menacing hiss. The snake lunged, and Kale swung her invisible weapon. The severed head sailed across the room and slammed against the stone wall.

Kale eyed the writhing body for a moment. “You won’t be eating any more small animals.” She turned her attention to the missing dragons and pointed her sword hand at a barrel at the top of one stack. “There. Gally and Mince are in that keg.”

Several dragons landed on the wooden staves, and a brown dragon examined the cask to determine how best to open it. Toopka ran into the room and over to the barrel. “I’ll help.”

Kale tilted her head. “There is also a nest of snake eggs.” She consulted the dragon most likely to know facts about anvilhead vipers. Crain landed on her shoulder and poured out all he knew in a combination of chittering and thoughts.

The odd reptiles preferred eating young farm animals, grain, and feed. They did nothing to combat the population of rats, insects, and vermin. No farmer allowed the snakes on his property if he could help it. “Find the nest,” Kale ordered. “Destroy them all.”

The watch of dragons took flight again, zooming into lightrockilluminated passages leading off from this central room. Kale waited until a small group raised an alarm. Four minor dragons had found the nest.

She plunged down a dim passage, sending a plume of light ahead and calling for the dispersed dragons to join her. Eleven came from the other corridors, and nine flew in a V formation in front of her. Gally and Mince landed on her shoulders.

“You’re all right. I’m so glad.”

They scooted next to her neck, shivering. From their minds she deciphered the details of their ordeal. A game of hide-and-seek had led them into the depths of the castle. When the snake surprised them, they’d flown under the off-center lid of the barrel. As Mince dove into the narrow opening, he knocked the top just enough for it to rattle down into place. This successfully kept the serpent out, but also trapped them within.

Kale offered sympathy, and they cuddled against her, rubbing their heads on her chin as she whisked through the underground tunnel in pursuit of the other dragons.

Numerous rooms jutted off the main hallway, each stacked with boxes, crates, barrels, and huge burlap bags. Kale had no idea this vast amount of storage lay beneath the castle. Taylaminkadot, their efficient housekeeper and wife to Librettowit, probably had a tally sheet listing each item. Kale and the dragons passed rooms that contained fewer and fewer supplies until the stores dwindled to nothing.

How long does this hallway continue on? She slowed to creep along and tiptoed over the stone floor, noticing the rougher texture under her feet. Approaching a corner, she detected the four minor dragons destroying the snake’s nest in the next room. Her escort of flying dragons veered off into the room, and she followed. The small dragons swooped over the nest, grabbed an egg, then flew to the beamed roof of the storage room. They hurled the eggs to the floor, and most broke open on contact. Some had more rubbery shells, a sign that they would soon hatch. The minor dragons attacked these eggs with tooth and claw. Once each shell gave way, the content was pulled out and examined. No
hatchling snake survived.

The smell alone halted Kale in her tracks and sent her back a pace. She screwed up her face, but no amount of pinching her nose muscles cut off the odor of raw eggs and the bodies of unborn snakes. She produced a square of moonbeam material from her pocket and covered the lower half of her face. The properties of the handkerchief filtered the unpleasant aroma.

Her gaze fell on the scene of annihilation. Usually, Kale found infant animals to be endearing, attractive in a gangly way. But the small snake bodies looked more like huge blackened worms than babies.

Toopka raced up behind her and came to a skidding stop when she reached the doorway. “Ew!” She buried her face in the hem of Kale’s tunic, then peeked out with her nose still covered.

The minor dragons continued to destroy the huge nest. Kale estimated over a hundred snake eggs must have been deposited in the old shallow basket. The woven edges sagged where the weight of the female snake had broken the reeds. Kale shuddered at the thought of all those snakes hatching and occupying the lowest level of the castle, her home. The urge to be above ground, in the light, and with her loved ones compelled her out of the room.

Good work, she commended the dragons as she backed into the passage. Artross, be sure that no egg is left unshattered.

She received his assurance, thanked him, then turned about and ran. She must find Bardon.

“Wait for me!” Toopka called. Her tiny, booted feet pounded the stone floor in a frantic effort to catch up.

Personal Review: I thoroughly enjoyed this book. Another great addition to the DragonKeeper series, and sadly the last. I wish I had some of my own minor dragons, they rock! Mrs. Paul will take you on another adventure through Amara, through the eyes of our Dragon Keeper and her husband, Bardon. There are some unexpected twists and pleasant surprises. Enjoy!

Monday, May 19, 2008

The House of Dark Shadows by Robert Liparulo




It's May 21st, time for the Teen FIRST blog tour!(Join our alliance! Click the button!) Every 21st, we will feature an author and his/her latest Teen fiction book's FIRST chapter!


and his book:



Thomas Nelson (May 6, 2008)




ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Robert Liparulo is an award-winning author of over a thousand published articles and short stories. He is currently a contributing editor for New Man magazine. His work has appeared in Reader's Digest, Travel & Leisure, Modern Bride, Consumers Digest, Chief Executive, and The Arizona Daily Star, among other publications. In addition, he previously worked as a celebrity journalist, interviewing Stephen King, Tom Clancy, Charlton Heston, and others for magazines such as Rocky Road, Preview, and L.A. Weekly. He has sold or optioned three screenplays.

Robert is an avid scuba diver, swimmer, reader, traveler, and a law enforcement and military enthusiast. He lives in Colorado with his wife and four children.

Here are some of his titles:

Comes a Horseman

Germ

Deadfall




AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER:

Personal review: This book is REALLY COOL, y'all! It gave me chills and left me sleeping with my light on! I read this book in one day, which is unusual for me (I was home all day anyway, so it worked out great). This book has fantasy, thrills, and a history lesson all rolled into one action-packed book that will leave you on the edge of your seats and begging for more - especially when you get to the end. ENJOY!



“A house of which one knows every room isn't worth living in.”

—Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa






Prologue


Thirty years ago

The walls of the house absorbed the woman’s screams, until they felt to her as muffled and pointless as yelling underwater. Still, her lungs kept pushing out cries for help. Her attacker carried her over his shoulder. The stench of his sweat filled her nostrils. He paid no heed to her frantic writhing, or the pounding of her fists on his back, or even her fingernails, which dug furrows into his flesh. He simply lumbered, as steadily as a freight train, through the corridors of the big house.

She knew where they were heading, but not where she would end up. In this house, nothing was normal, nothing as it appeared. So while she knew in advance the turns her attacker would take, which hallways and doors he would traverse, their destination was as unknowable as a faraway galaxy. And that meant her taking would be untraceable. She would be unreachable to searchers. To would-be rescuers. To her family— and that realization terrified her more than being grabbed out of her bed. More than the flashes of imagined cruelty she would suffer away from the protection of the people who loved her. More than death.

But then she saw something more terrifying: her children, scrambling to catch up, to help. Their eyes were wide, streaming. They stumbled up the narrow staircase behind her attacker, seeming far below, rising to meet her. The thought of them following her into the chasm of her fate was more than she could stand.

“Go back,” she said, but by this time her throat was raw, her voice weak.

The man reached the landing and turned into another corridor.

Temporarily out of sight, her son yelled, “Mom!” His seven-year-old voice was almost lost in the shrillness of his panic. He appeared on the landing. His socked feet slipped on the hardwood floor and he went down. Behind him, his little sister stopped. She was frightened and confused, too young to do anything more than follow her brother. He clambered up and started to run again.

A hand gripped his shoulder, jarring him back.

The boy’s father had something in his fist: the lamp from his nightstand! He past the boy in the hallway. His bare feet gave him traction.

Thank God, she thought.

He reached her in seconds. With the lamp raised over his head, he grabbed her wrist. He pulled, tried to anchor himself to the floor, to the carpeted runner now covering the wood planks. But the brute under her walked on, tugging him with them. The man yanked on her arm. Pain flared in her shoulder. He might as well have tried pulling her from a car as it sped passed.

She caught a glimpse of the bizarrely shaped light fixtures on the corridor walls—mostly carved faces with glowing eyes. The bulbs flickered in time with her racing heart. She could not remember any of the lights doing that before. It was as though the electrical current running through the wires was responding to a disruption in the way things were supposed to be, a glitch in reality.

“Henry,” she said, pleading, hopeful.

His grip tightened as he stumbled along behind them. He brought the lamp’s heavy base down on her assailant. If the man carrying her flinched, she did not feel it. If he grunted or yelled out, she did not hear it.

What he did was stop. He spun around so quickly, the woman’s husband lost his grip on her. And now facing the other direction, she lost sight of him. Being suddenly denied her husband’s visage felt like getting the wind knocked out of her. She realized he was face to face with the man who’d taken her, and that felt like watching him step off a cliff.

“Nooo!” she screamed, her voice finding some volume. “Henry!”

His hand gripped her ankle, then broke free. The man under her moved in a violent dance, jostling her wildly. He spun again and her head struck the wall.

The lights went out completely . . . . but no, not the lights . . . her consciousness. It came back to her slowly, like the warmth of fire on a blistery day.

She tasted blood. She’d bitten her tongue. She opened her eyes. Henry was crumpled on the floor, receding as she was carried away. The children stood over him, touching him, calling him. Her son’s eyes found hers again. Determination hardened his jaw, pushed away the fear . . . at least a measure of it. He stepped over his father’s legs, coming to her rescue. Henry raised his head, weary, stunned. He reached for the boy, but missed.

Over the huffing breath of the man, the soft patter of her son’s feet reached her ears. How she’d loved that sound, knowing it was bringing him to her. Now she wanted it to carry him away, away from this danger. Her husband called to him in a croaking, strained voice. The boy kept coming.

She spread her arms. Her left hand clutched at open air, but the right one touched a wall. She clawed at it. Her nails snagged the wallpaper. One nail peeled back from her finger and snapped off.

Her assailant turned again, into a room—one of the small antechambers, like a mud room before the real room. He strode straight toward the next threshold.

Her son reached the first door, catching it as it was closing.

“Mom!” Panic etched old-man lines into his young face. His eyes appeared as wide as his mouth. He banged his shoulder on the jamb, trying to hurry in.

“Stay!” she said. She showed him her palms in a “stop” gesture, hoping he would understand, hoping he would obey. She took in his face, as a diver takes in a deep breath before plunging into the depths. He was fully in the antechamber now, reaching for her with both arms, but her captor had already opened the second door and was stepping through. The door was swinging shut behind him.

The light they were stepping into was bright. It swept around her, through the opening, and made pinpoints of the boy’s irises. His blue eyes dazzled. His cheeks glistened with tears. He wore his favorite pajamas—little R2D2s and C3P0s all over them, becoming threadbare and too small for him.

“I—“ she started, meaning to say she loved him, but the brute bounded downward, driving his shoulder into her stomach. Air rushed from her, unformed by vocal chords, tongue, lips. Just air.

“Moooom!” her son screamed. Full of despair. Reaching. Almost to the door.
“Mo—“

The door closed, separating her from her family forever.




1


Now

Saturday, 4:55 P.M.

“Nothing but trees,” the bear said in Xander’s voice. It repeated itself: “Nothing but trees.”

Xander King turned away from the car window and stared into the smiling furry face, with its shiny half-bead eyes and stitched-on nose. He said, “I mean it, Toria. Get that thing out of my face. And turn it off.”

His sister’s hands moved quickly over the teddy bear’s paws, all the while keeping it suspended three inches in front of Xander. The bear said, “I mean it, Toria. Get that—”

At fifteen years old, Xander was too old to be messing around with little-kid toys. He seized the bear, squeezing the paw that silenced it.

“Mom!” Toria yelled. ”Make him give Wuzzy back!” She grabbed for it.

Xander turned away from her, tucking Wuzzy between his body and the car door. Outside his window, nothing but trees—as he had said and Wuzzy had agreed. It reminded him of a movie, as almost everything did. This time, it was The Edge, about a bear intent on eating Anthony Hopkins. An opening shot of the wilderness where it was filmed showed miles and miles of lush forest. Nothing but trees.

A month ago, his dad had announced that he had accepted a position as principal of a school six hundred miles away, and the whole King family had to move from the only home Xander had ever known. It was a place he had never even heard of: Pinedale, almost straight north from their home in Pasadena. Still in California, but barely. Pinedale. The name itself said “hick,” “small,” and “If you don’t die here, you’ll wish you had.” Of course, he had screamed, begged, sulked, and threatened to run away. But in the end here he was, wedged in the back seat with his nine-year-old sister and twelve-year-old brother.

The longer they drove, the thicker the woods grew and the more miserable he became. It was bad enough, leaving his friends, his school—everything!—but to be leaving them for hicksville, in the middle of nowhere, was a stake through his heart.

“Mom!” Toria yelled again, reaching for the bear.

Xander squeezed closer to the door, away from her. He must have put pressure on the bear in the wrong place: It began chanting in Toria’s whiny voice: “Mom! Mom! Mom!”

He frantically squeezed Wuzzy’s paws, but could not make it stop.

“Mom! Mom! Mom!”

The controls in the bear’s arms weren’t working. Frustrated by its continuous one-word poking at his brain—and a little concerned he had broken it and would have to buy her a new one—he looked to his sister for help.

She wasn’t grabbing for it anymore. Just grinning. One of those see-what-happens-when-you-mess-with-me smiles.

“Mom! Mom! Mom!”

Xander was about to show her what happened when you messed with him—the possibilities ranged from a display of his superior vocal volume to ripping Mr. Wuzzy’s arms right off—when the absurdity of it struck him. He cracked up.

“I mean it,” he laughed. “This thing is driving me crazy.” He shook the bear at her. It continued yelling for their mother.

His brother David, who was sitting on the other side of Toria and who had been doing a good job of staying out of the fight, started laughing too. He mimicked the bear, who was mimicking their sister: “Mom! Mom! Mom!”

Mrs. King shifted around in the front passenger seat. She was smiling, but her eyes were curious.

“Xander broke Wuzzy!” Toria whined. “He won’t turn off.” She pulled the bear out of Xander’s hands.

The furry beast stopped talking: “Mo—” Then, blessed silence.

Toria looked from brother to brother and they laugh again.

Xander shrugged. “I guess he just doesn’t like me.”

“He only likes me,” Toria said, hugging it.

“Oh, brother,” David said. He went back to the PSP game that had kept him occupied most of the drive.

Mom raised her eyebrows at Xander and said, “Be nice.”

Xander rolled his eyes. He adjusted his shoulders and wiggled his behind, nudging Toria. “It’s too cramped back here. It may be an SUV, but it isn’t big enough for us anymore.”

“Don’t start that,” his father warned from behind the wheel. He angled the rearview mirror to see his son.

“What?” Xander said, acting innocent.

“I did the same thing with my father,” Dad said. “The car’s too small . . . it uses too much gas . . . it’s too run down . . . ”

Xander smiled. “Well, it is.”

“And if we get a new car, what should we do with this one?”

“Well . . . .” Xander said. “You know. It’d be a safe car for me.” A ten-year-old Toyota 4Runner wasn’t his idea of cool wheels, but it was transportation.

Dad nodded. “Getting you a car is something we can talk about, okay? Let’s see how you do.”

“I have my driver’s permit. You know I’m a good driver.”

“He is,” Toria chimed in.

David added, “And then he can drive us to school.”

“I didn’t mean just the driving,” Dad said. He paused, catching Xander’s eyes in the mirror. “I mean with all of this, the move and everything.”

Xander stared out the window again. He mumbled, “Guess I’ll never get a car, then.”

“Xander?” Dad said. “I didn’t hear that.”

“Nothing.”

“He said he’ll never get a car,” Toria said.

Silence. David’s thumbs clicked furiously over the PSP buttons. Xander was aware of his mom watching him. If he looked, her eyes would be all sad-like, and she would be frowning in sympathy for him. He thought maybe his dad was looking too, but only for an opportunity to explain himself again. Xander didn’t want to hear it. Nothing his old man said would make this okay, would make ripping him out of his world less awful than it was.

“Dad, is the school’s soccer team good? Did they place?” David asked. Xander knew his brother wasn’t happy about the move either, but jumping right into the sport he was so obsessed about went a long way toward making the change something he could handle. Maybe Xander was like that three years ago, just rolling with the punches. He couldn’t remember. But now he had things in his life David didn’t: friends who truly mattered, ones he thought he’d spend the rest of his life with. Kids didn’t think that way. Friends could come and go and they adjusted. True, Xander had known his current friends for years, but they hadn’t become like blood until the last year or so.

That got him thinking about Danielle. He pulled his mobile phone from his shirt pocket and checked it. No text messages from her. No calls. She hadn’t replied to the last text he’d sent. He keyed in another: “Forget me already? JK.” But he wasn’t Just Kidding. He knew the score: Out of sight, out of mind. She had said all the right things, like We’ll talk on the phone all the time; You come down and see me and I’ll come up to see you, okay? and I’ll wait for you.

Yeah, sure you will, he thought. Even during the past week, he’d sensed a coldness in her, an emotional distancing. When he’d told his best friend, Dean had shrugged. Trying to sound world-wise, he’d said, “Forget her, dude. She’s a hot young babe. She’s gotta move on. You too. Not like you’re married, right?” Dean had never liked Danielle.

Xander tried to convince himself she was just another friend he was forced to leave behind. But there was a different kind of ache in his chest when he thought about her. A heavy weight in his stomach.

Stop it! he told himself. He flipped his phone closed.

On his mental list of the reasons to hate the move to Pinedale, he moved on to the one titled “career.” He had just started making short films with his buddies, and was pretty sure it was something he would eventually do for a living. They weren’t much, just short skits he and his friends acted out. He and Dean wrote the scripts, did the filming, used computer software to edit an hour of video into five-minute films, and laid music over them. They had six already on YouTube—with an average rating of four-and-a-half stars and a boatload of praise. Xander had dreams of getting a short film into the festival circuit, which of course would lead to offers to do music videos and commercials, probably an Oscar and onto feature movies starring Russell Crowe and Jim Carrey. Pasadena was right next to Hollywood, a twenty-minute drive. You couldn’t ask for a better place to live if you were the next Steven Spielberg. What in God’s creation would he find to film in Pinedale? Trees, he thought glumly, watching them fly past his window.

Dad, addressing David’s soccer concern, said, “We’ll talk about it later.”

Mom reached through the seatbacks to shake Xander’s knee. “It’ll work out,” she whispered.

“Wait a minute,” David said, understanding Dad-talk as well as Xander did. “Are you saying they suck—or that they don’t have a soccer team? You told me they did!”

“I said later, Dae.” His nickname came from Toria’s inability as a toddler to say David. She had also called Xander Xan, but it hadn’t stuck.

David slumped down in his seat.

Xander let the full extent of his misery show on his face for his mother.

She gave his knee a shake, sharing his misery. She was good that way. “Give it some time,” she whispered. “You’ll make new friends and find new things to do. Wait and see.”

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Finding Hollywod Nobody by Lisa Samson



It is May FIRST, time for the FIRST Blog Tour! (Join our alliance! Click the button!) The FIRST day of every month we will feature an author and his/her latest book's FIRST chapter!





Today's feature author is:


and her book:


Finding Hollywood Nobody


Navpress Publishing Group (February 15, 2008)


ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Lisa Samson is the author of twenty books, including the Christy Award-winning Songbird. Apples of Gold was her first novel for teens

These days, she's working on Quaker Summer, volunteering at Kentucky Refugee Ministries, raising children and trying to be supportive of a husband in seminary. (Trying . . . some days she's downright awful. It's a good thing he's such a fabulous cook!) She can tell you one thing, it's never dull around there.

Other Novels by Lisa:

Hollywood Nobody, Straight Up, Club Sandwich, Songbird, Tiger Lillie, The Church Ladies, Women's Intuition: A Novel, Songbird, The Living End

Visit her at her website.

Personal review: I thoroughly enjoyed this book! I still have not read the first one, Hollywood Nobody, but I hope I get the opportunity to soon. This book is filled with humor and beauty, and is spiritually uplifting. If you want something light to read, something that's easy to curl up with in your favorite chair or your bed, I'd recommend this book!

AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER:


Chapter One

Hollywood Nobody: Sunday, June 4

Well, Nobodies, it's a wrap! Jeremy's latest film, yet another remake of The Great Gatsby, now titled Green Light, has shipped out from location and will be going into postproduction. Look for it next spring in theaters. It may just be his most widely distributed film yet with Annette Bening on board. Toledo Island will never be the same after that wacky bunch filled in their shores.

Today's Hottie Watch: Seth Haas has moved to Hollywood. An obscure film he did in college, Catching Regina's Heels (a five-star film in my opinion), was mentioned on the Today show last week. He was interviewed on NPR's Fresh Air. Hmm. Could it be he'll receive the widespread acclaim he deserves before the release of Green Light? For his sake and the film's, I hope so.

Rehab Alert: I've never hidden the fact that I don't care for bratty actress Karissa Bonano, but she just checked into rehab for a cocaine addiction. Her maternal grandfather, Doug Fairmore, famous in the forties for swashbuckling and digging up clues, made a public statement declaring the Royal Family of Hollywood was "indeed throwing all of our love, support, and prayers behind Karissa." The man must be a thousand years old by now. This isn't Ms. Bonano's first stint in rehab, but let's hope it's her last. Even I'm not too catty to wish her well in this battle. But I'm as skeptical as the next person. In Hollywood, rehab is mostly just a fad.

Today's Quote: "It's a scientific fact. For every year a person lives in Hollywood, they lose two points of their IQ." Truman Capote

Today's Rant: SWAG, or Party Favors. Folks, do you ever wonder what's inside those SWAG bags the stars get? Items which, if sold, could feed a third-world country for a week! And have you noticed how the people who can afford to buy this stuff seem to get it for free? I'm just sayin'. So here's my idea, stars: Refuse to take these high-priced bags o' stuff and gently suggest the advertisers give to a charitable organization on behalf of the movie, the stars, the whoever. Like you need another cell phone.

Today's Kudo: Violette Dillinger will be appearing on the MTV Video Music Awards in August. She told Hollywood Nobody she's going to prove to this crowd you can be young, elegant, decent, and still rock out. Go Violette!

Summer calls. Later!

Monday, September 15, 4:00 a.m.

Maybe I'm looking for the wrong thing in a parent.

I turn over in bed at the insistence of Charley's forefinger poking me in the shoulder. "Please tell me you've MapQuested this jaunt, Charley."

She shakes her tousled head, silhouetted by the yellow light emanating from the RV's bathroom. "You're kidding me right?" She slides off the dinette seat. Charley's been overflowing with relief since she told me the truth about our life: that she's not really my mother, but my grandmother, that somebody's chasing us for way too good of a reason, that my life isn't as boring as I thought. We're still being chased, but Charley can at least breathe more freely in her home on the road now that I know the truth.

Home in this case happens to be a brand-spanking-new Trailmaster RV, a huge step forward from the ancient Travco we used to have, the ancient Travco with a rainbow Charley spread in bright colors over its nose.

"Where to?" Having set my vintage cat glasses, love 'em, on my nose, I scramble my hair into its signature ponytail: messy, curly, and frightening. I can so picture myself in the Thriller video.

"Marshall, Texas."

"East Texas?"

"I guess."

"It is." I shake my head. Charley. I love her, I really do, but when it comes to geography, despite the fact that we've traveled all over the country going to her gigs ever since I can remember, she's about as intelligent as a bottle of mustard. And boy do I know a lot about bottles of mustard. But that was my last adventure.

"If you knew, then why did you ask?" She flips the left side of her long, blonde hair, straighter than Russell Crowe, over her shoulder. Charley's beautiful. Silvery blonde (she uses a cheap rinse to cover up the gray), thin (she's vegan), and a little airy (she's frightened of a lot and tries not to think about anything else that may scare her), she wears all sorts of embroidered vests and large skirts and painted blue jeans. And they're all the real deal, because Charley's an environmentalist and wouldn't dream of buying something she didn't need when what she's got is wearing perfectly well. She calls my penchant for vintage clothing "recycling," and I don't disagree.

"Is this really a gig, Charley, or are we escaping again?"

She shakes her head. "No phone call. I really do have a job."

I feel the thrill of fear inside me, though there's no need right now. Biker Guy almost got me back on Toledo Island. (Yeah, he looks like a grizzled old biker.) To call the guy rough around the edges would be like saying Pam Anderson has had "a little work done."

I've been looking over my shoulder ever since.

But more on that later. We need to get on the road. And I need to get on with my life. I'm so sick of thinking about how things aren't nearly what I'd like them to be.

I mean, do you ever get tired of hearing yourself complain?

I flip up my laptop, log on to the satellite Internet I installed (yes, I am that geeky) and Google directions to Marshall, Texas, from where we are in Theta, Tennesseeóactually, on the farm of one of Charley's old art-school friends who gave her some work in advertising for the summer. Charley's a food stylist, which means she makes food look good for the camera. Still cameras, motion picture cameras, video, it doesn't matter. Charley can do it all.

"Oh, we've got plenty of time, Charley. Five hundred and fifty miles and . . . we have to go through Memphis . . ."

My verbal drop-off is a dead giveaway.

"Oh, no, Scotty, we're not going to Graceland again."

The kitsch that is Graceland speaks to me. What can I say?

And you've got to admit, it's starting to look vintage. Now ten years ago . . .

I cross my arms. "Do you have cooking to do on the way?"

Yes, highly illegal to cook in a rolling camper.

"Yeah, I do."

"And do you expect me, an unlicensed sixteen-year-old, to drive?" Again, highly illegal, but Charley's a free spirit. However, she refuses to copy CDs and DVDs, so in that regard, she's more moral than most people. I guess it evens up in the end.

"Uh-huh."

"Then I think I deserve a trip through the Jungle Room."

She rolls her eyes, reaches down to the floor, and throws me my robe. "Oh, all right. Just don't take too long."

"I'll try. So." I look at the screen. "65 to route 40 west. Let's hit it. And we'll have time to stop for breakfast."

Charley shakes her head and plops down on the tan dinette bench. The interior of this whole RV is a nice sandy tan with botanical accents. Tasteful and so much better than the old Travco that looked like a cross between a genie's bottle and the Unabomber cabin. "You're going to eat cheese. Aren't you?"

"I sure am."

And Charley can't say anything, because months ago she told me this was a decision I could make on my own.

Freedom!

"I've rethought the cheese moratorium, baby. I know you're not going to like this, but three months of cheese is enough. I can't imagine what your arteries look like. I think it's time to stop."

"What?" Cheese is my life. "Charley! You can't do this to me."

"It's for your own good."

"Are you serious?"

"Yeah, I am."

"Why?"

"Because summer's over, baby, and we've got to get back to a better way of life."

I could continue to argue, but it won't do any good. Charley acts all hippie and egalitarian, but when push comes to shove, she's the boss. However, I'm great at hiding my cheese . . . and . . . I'm going to convince her eventually.

But still.

"This isn't right, Charley, and you know it. But it's too early to argue. And might I add, you have no idea what it's like to have a teen with real teen issues. You ought to be on your knees thanking God I'm not drinking, smoking, pregnant, or"óI was going to say sneaking out at night, but I've done that, just to get some spaceó"or writing suicidal poetry on the Internet!"

We stare at each other, then burst into laughter.

"Just humor me this time, baby," she says. "We'll come back to it soon, I promise."

I don't believe her, but I hop into the driver's seat, pull up the brake, throw the TrailMama into drive, and we are off.

Six hours later

I pull through Graceland's gatehouse at ten a.m., park near the back of the compound's cracked, tired parking lot, and change into some crazy seventies striped bell-bottoms, a poet shirt, and Charley's old crocheted, granny-square vest. Normally I go further back in my vintage-wear, but I'm trying to go with the groove that is Graceland.

I kiss Charley's cheek. "I'll be back by noon."

"When will that put us in Marshall?"

"By six thirty."

"Because I'm not sure where the shoot is."

"Please. Marshall's small. Jeremy and company will make a big splash no matter where they set up. Besides, growing up around this, I have a nose for it."

She awards me one of her big smiles. "You're somethin', baby. I forget that sometimes." She puts her arms around me, squeezes, pulls back, then smacks me lightly on my behind. "Tell Elvis I said hello."

"Oh, I will. He's one of the groundskeepers now, you know."

I've seen computer-generated pictures of what he would look like now, in his seventies. Scary.

I jump down from the RV, head across the parking lot, over the small bridge leading into the ticketing complex and walk by Elvis's jets, including the Lisa Marie. Gotta love anything with that name. Don't know why. Just has a nice ring to it.

Banners proclaim, "Elvis Is."

Is what? Dead? A legend? What? Because he isn't "izzing" as far as I'm concerned. Present tense, people! If the person's not alive, "is" can only be followed by a few options: Buried up in the memorial garden. Rotting in his casket. Missed by his family and friends. Not exactly banner copy, mind you.

Still, you've got to admit the name Elvis wreaks of cool. Perhaps the sign should read, "Elvis Is . . . A Really Cool Name."

But it's not nearly as cool as my name. You see, my real mother loved the writer F. Scott Fitzgerald. And that's my name: Francis Scott Fitzgerald Dawn. Only Dawn's not my actual last name. I don't know what my real last name is. My real first name is Ariana. Being on the run, Charley renamed us to protect our identity. So she honored my mother by naming me after Mom's favorite novelist. More on that later too.

It sounds fun, traveling on the road from film shoot to film shoot, never settling down in one place for too long, but honestly, it's very sad.

I always knew Charley lived with a sadness down deep, and when I found out why this spring, her sadness became mine. See, my dad is dead and my mother, Charley's daughter Babette, is too. Or we think she must be, because she disappeared under questionable circumstances and never came back. Learn that when you're fifteen and see where you land.

When I thought Charley was my mother, I had such high hopes for who my father might be. Al Pacino was number one in the ranking. Don't ask.

Okay, Elvis, here we go. Let's you and me be "taking care of business."

I hand over my money to the lady behind the reservations counter. I called thirty minutes ago on my cell phone, compliments of my mother's friend Jeremy, and reserved a spot.

"You'll be on the first tour."

Yes! More time amid the shag carpeting and the gold records. And the jumpsuits. Can't forget the jumpsuits. I want a cape too.

The gift shop calls to me. Confession: I love gift shops. They even smell sparkly. Key chains dangling, saying, "You can take me with you wherever you go!" Mugs with the Saint Louis Gateway Arch or the Grand Ole Opry promising an even better cup of coffee. Earrings that advertise you've been somewhere. That's exactly what I choose while I wait for the tour, a little pair of dangly red guitars with the words Elvis Presley in gold script on the bodies, and how in the world they put that on so small is beyond me. See, gift shops can even be miraculous if you take your time and look.

A voice over the loudspeaker announces my tour number, so I stand in line. By myself. Just me in a group of twenty or so.

Okay, here is where it gets hard to be me. I know I should be thankful for my free-spirited life. But especially now that I know my parents are dead, it feels empty all of a sudden. I shouldn't be standing in line at Graceland alone. My mother and I should be giggling behind our hands at the man nearby who's actually grown a glorious pair o' mutton-chop sideburns, slicked back his salt-and-pepper curls, and shrugged his broad shoulders into a leather jacket. Really, right? My father, who was an FBI agent the mob shot right in a warehouse in Baltimore, would shake his head like a dad in a sixties TV show and laugh at his girls.

We'd get on the bus like I'm doing now, each of us putting on our tour headphones and hanging the little blue recorders around our necks in anticipation of the glory that is Elvis.

The driver welcomes us as he shuts the hydraulic doors of the little tour bus with its clean blue upholstery, a bus in which an assisted-living home might haul its residents to the mall.

It smells new in here, and my gross-out antennae aren't vibrating in the least like they do when I go into an old burger joint and the orange melamine booth hasn't been scrubbed since the place opened in 1987.

In my fantasy, my dad would sit beside me. And Mom, just across the aisle, holding onto the seatback in front of her, would look at me as we pass through those famed musical gates, because she would have introduced me to Elvis music. According to Charley, my vintage sentimentalism comes from my mom. I've learned a little about her this summer.

Charley said, "She'd wear my cousin's old poodle skirt and listen to Love Me Tender over and over again while writing in her diary." She became a respected journalist, loved books as much as I do. I pat my book in my backpack, looking forward to tonight when I can cuddle into my loft and get into one of Fitzgerald's glittering worlds. "She was different from me, Scotty. I tried to change the world through protest. Your mother wanted to build something completely different and much better." She sighed. "All my generation could do, I guess, was tear apart. It's going to take our children to put the pieces back together. Babette was a very careful person. Very purposeful."

If it drove my freewheeling grandmother crazy, she doesn't let on.

"I could try to describe how much she loved you, baby. But I don't think I could begin to do her devotion to you justice. I was so proud of her, for how much she loved and gave away. She was amazing."

So in May I found out she existed, the same day I found out she is dead, or most likely dead. And now I'm going into Graceland alone, truly an orphan. Who wants to be an orphan?

We disembark from the busóme, Elvis Lite, some folks from a Spanish-speaking country, and a lot of older people. I miss Grammie and Grampie right now. More later on them, too. And you'll get to meet them. Like the waters of the Gulf Stream, we seem to travel in the same general direction. I spent a week with them this summer in Tennessee. Yeah, we did Nashville right. They're loaded.

Standing beneath the front porch, my gaze skates up and down the soaring white pillars and comes to rest on the stone lions that guard the steps. My father was a lion. That's why he ended up with a bullet in his chest. Speaking in very broad terms, the story goes as follows:

Dad, undercover, worked his way into a portion of the mob, or mafia if you prefer, that was heavily financing the campaign of a Maryland gubernatorial candidate. When they discovered him, they shot him on site, in a warehouse in the Canton neighborhood of downtown Baltimore. My mother watched, gasped, and a chase ensued. She hid in a friend's gallery, called Charley and told her to keep watching me. (Charley had kept me the night before because my mom and dad had some glamorous function to attend.) And then she disappeared.

The Graceland tour recorder tells me to look to my right into the beautiful white living room with peacock stained-glass windows leading into the music room. This room really isn't so bad, I've got to admit. A picture of Elvis's dad hangs on the wall. He really loved his parents.

I've toured this house at least seven times before, and I'll tell you this, Elvis's love for his family soaked into the walls. A girl that lives in a camper, has dead parents, and is being chased by someone from the mob who knows my grandmother knows what went down, well, she can feel these things.

Charley thinks someone's trying to kill us. This guy is always trying to find us, but Charley's really great at evasion. She said the politician who won the governor's seat all those years ago just announced his candidacy for president andóoh, GREAT!óhe's probably trying to make sure nothing comes back to haunt him and sent Biker Guy to finish off the entire matter.

The thing is, he seems to be after me too. And what in the world would I have to do with all of that?

I'll bet Charley's back in that camper shaking in her shoes because I'm over here by myself; I'll bet she's figuring out more ways to be utterly and overly protective of me. I wouldn't be surprised if she's wondering whether locking a kid in an RV is child abuse.

But I love Charley. I really do. I know she's scared back there, and despite the fact that I would be no real help if Biker Guy caught us, I can't leave her there so frightened and alone for long.

Elvis dear, I can only stay a little while. So love me tender, love me sweet, and for the sake of all that's decent, don't step on my blue suede shoes.

I hurry past the bedroom of Elvis's parents, decorated in shades of ivory and purple, very nice, and through the dining roomóa little seventies tackiness I'll admitóinto the kitchen with dark brown cabinetry and the ghosts of a million grilled peanut butter and banana sandwiches, then on down into the basement. Okay, I admit, I've got to just stand for a second in the TV room and admire the man's ability to watch three TVs at once on that huge yellow couch with the sparkly pillows.

I shoot through the billiard room, which is, honestly, truly beautiful with its fabric-lined walls and ceiling, up the back steps and into the Jungle Room, probably Graceland's most famous room. Green shag carpet overlays the floor and the ceiling, and heavily carved, Polynesian-style furniture is arranged around a rock-wall waterfall at the end of the room. It really defies the imagination, folks. Google Jungle Room Graceland and see what I mean.

The second floor of Graceland is closed off to the public because Elvis died up there. On the toilet. Wise decision on the part of Priscilla I'd say.

Out the door, into the office building, down to the trophy hall, I whiz through all the gold and platinum records, the costumes, the awards, and even a wall full of checks he'd written for charity. According to my recorder, Elvis was an active community member in Memphis. And he obviously didn't care what race or religion people were. He supported Jewish organizations, Catholic, Baptist. Pretty cool.

Of course, this recorder isn't going to tell of the dark side of the man. But Elvis Isn't, despite what the banners say. So why drag a dead man through the mud?

I hurry through the racquetball court, more gold records, the infamous jumpsuits, back outside to the pool and memorial garden where Elvis has been laid to rest.

An older lady cries into a handkerchief. I don't ask why.

Good-bye Elvis. Thanks for the tour. Maybe one day I'll do something great too.

A few minutes later . . .

Chosen by Ted Dekker



It's April 21st, time for the Teen FIRST blog tour!(Join our alliance! Click the button!) Every 21st, we will feature an author and his/her latest Teen fiction book's FIRST chapter!



and his book:

Thomas Nelson (January 1, 2008)


ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Ted is the son of missionaries John and Helen Dekker, whose incredible story of life among headhunters in Indonesia has been told in several books. Surrounded by the vivid colors of the jungle and a myriad of cultures, each steeped in their own interpretation of life and faith, Dekker received a first-class education on human nature and behavior. This, he believes, is the foundation of his writing.

After graduating from a multi-cultural high school, he took up permanent residence in the United States to study Religion and Philosophy. After earning his Bachelor's Degree, Dekker entered the corporate world in management for a large healthcare company in California. Dekker was quickly recognized as a talent in the field of marketing and was soon promoted to Director of Marketing. This experience gave him a background which enabled him to eventually form his own company and steadily climb the corporate ladder.

Since 1997, Dekker has written full-time. He states that each time he writes, he finds his understanding of life and love just a little clearer and his expression of that understanding a little more vivid. To see a complete list of Dekker's work, visit The Works section of TedDekker.com.

Here are some of his latest titles:

Adam

Black: The Birth of Evil (The Circle Trilogy Graphic Novels, Book 1)

Saint



AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER:


beginnings

Our story begins in a world totally like our own, yet completely different. What once happened here in our own history seems to be repeating itself thousands of years from now,
some time beyond the year 4000 AD.

But this time the future belongs to those who see opportunity before it becomes obvious. To the young, to the warriors, to the lovers. To those who can follow hidden clues and find a great
treasure that will unlock the mysteries of life and wealth.

Thirteen years have passed since the lush, colored forests were turned to desert by Teeleh, the enemy of Elyon and the vilest of all creatures. Evil now rules the land and shows itself as a painful, scaly disease that covers the flesh of the Horde, a people who live in the desert.

The powerful green waters, once precious to Elyon, have vanished from the earth except in seven small forests surrounding seven small lakes. Those few who have chosen to follow the ways of Elyon now live in these forests, bathing once daily in the powerful waters to cleanse their skin of the disease.

The number of their sworn enemy, the Horde, has grown in thirteen years and, fearing the green waters above all else, these desert dwellers have sworn to wipe all traces of the forests from
the earth.

Only the Forest Guard stands in their way. Ten thousand elite fighters against an army of nearly four hundred thousand Horde. But the Forest Guard is starting to crumble.

one

Day One

Qurong, general of the Horde, stood on the tall dune five miles west of the green forest, ignoring the fly that buzzed around his left eye.

His flesh was nearly white, covered with a paste that kept his skin from itching too badly. His long hair was pulled back and woven into dreadlocks, then tucked beneath the leather body armor
cinched tightly around his massive chest.

ìDo you think they know?î the young major beside him asked.

Qurongís milky white horse, chosen for its ability to blend with the desert, stamped and snorted.

The general spit to one side. ìThey know what we want them to know,î he said. ìThat we are gathering for war. And that we will march from the east in four days.î

ìIt seems risky,î the major said. His right cheek twitched, sending three flies to flight.
ìTheir forces are half what they once were. As long as they think we are coming from the east, we will smother them from the west.î

ìThe traitor insists that they are building their forces,î the major said.

ìWith young pups!î Qurong scoffed.

ìThe young can be crafty.î

ìAnd Iím not? They know nothing about the traitor. This time we will kill them all.î

Qurong turned back to the valley behind him. The tents of his third division, the largest of all Horde armies, which numbered well over three hundred thousand of the most experienced warriors, stretched out nearly as far as he could see.

ìWe march in four days,î Qurong said. ìWe will slaughter them from the west.î