Now that Wendell has accepted the role of 'hero', the old wizard Morphiophelius (a.k.a. Chuck), decides it's time for a little education. What's better than a simple field trip? A little fun, a little food, a little culture…
The "Black Market" turns out to be a whole lot more.
“Wait! Don’t go!” I call out, but she keeps running. She drops the purple light into the pouch flung across her shoulder. Her curls bounce across her tunic as she quickly disappears around the corner. The sudden darkness nearly swallows me. I’m forced to slow down until my eyes can adjust. The light from the scattered torches are barely enough to tell me what I can already smell—it’s damp and dusty down here, and it’s making the stone floor slippery.
I need to hurry. The cellar is a veritable maze. She’ll loose me if I’m not careful…so I sprint after her.
We’re taking a beating in the battle outside. The impacts of boulders smashing into the castle proves it. The enemy’s trebuchet are relentless, the bombardment echoing through the corridors. Dust, dirt and pebbles fall from the mortar onto my head and shoulders, get in my eyes and I have to blink through the coughs. The foundation shudders under the soles of my feet.
Rounding the corner, I call out again, “Please! Let me help you!”
When I catch up, she’s cowering at a juncture in the tunnels. Her wild eyes widen like a cornered rabbit and she screams. It’s then that I notice the robed figure emerging from the blackness—hunched over, the tattered cloth hanging from the boney figure beneath. The air has a pungent smell of rotten meat so strong, I gag.
A flash of movement catches my attention and I’m taken back.
Hundreds of insects—cockroaches, flies, earwigs and things I can’t identify, scatter across the tiles—left behind with each step the figure takes. Footsteps of decay.
It hisses, arms outstretched towards the girl.
She recoils, screaming.
My reaction is instantaneous. My hands reach out to grip the air in front of me, looking to the torches on either side of the hallway. White light flares from my chest, glowing beneath my tunic and the fire leaps from the wall sconces. The flame expands and swirls, splitting, forming giant fingers. Clapping my hands together, the burning extensions of my will snatch the robe, holding it fast. Shrieks scrape at my ears and spine. The creature shakes violently, trying to escape, but I hold it fast, squeezing my palms together. Smoke rolls along the ceiling in all directions until there’s nothing left but falling ash.
The Wendellizer has saved the day. Oh yeah. With self-assured bravado, I roll my shoulders back as I stand upright. Smiling to myself, I turn to the girl and just about lose it. Her features are finally revealed to me in the torch light and my heart skips a beat.
*sigh* Make that two.
A rumpled mane of long curls frame the gentle curves of her face.
“You saved me!” she coos, batting her doe-eyes. She avoids the pile of ash upon the ground and draws close to me. Her full lips part in an intoxicating smile and I, um, can’t remember…. What am I doing?
Oh. Right. Being cool.
I smile back, “Yeah,…I mean, yes, I did.”
That’s good. I sound confident.
She reaches over and squeezes my hand. My knees go weak—but I keep it together. Her touch is so soft, her skin warm—even in this dank cellar.
I just smile…because I have no idea what to do next.
“Thank you,” she whispers.
She steps closer and wraps her arms around me. Wow, oh wow. She lays her head on my chest. I bite my lip. Hard. She’s so close I can feel her breathing and I’m all too aware of her against me. It takes all the willpower I have not to panic. My body can’t decide whether to collapse…or melt under her warm touch.
Luckily, the decision is made for me.
She looks up into my eyes, reaches her hand around my neck and firmly pulls me closer. Leaning in, she closes her eyes and gently presses her soft lips to mine.
It only takes me a fraction of a millisecond to decide how to respond. I wrap my arms around her waist. My whole world starts spinning and I can feel my heart pounding out a new rhythm.
Oh, please let this moment last forever!
A hiss from behind tears us apart.
She pushes away quickly, her face contorted with terror. I can still taste the salt on my lips as she stumbles back against the wall.
“No!” she cries, “Don’t let them get me! PLEASE!!”
Hair rises on the back of my neck. Maybe it’s her expression…but the scraping sound, echoing behind me like animal claws against stone, causes me to shudder. Turning, I see two more of the ghastly robes and I almost fall over in retreat.
The hoods are empty!
Hollow, vacant holes where faces should be. The shredded sleeves in place of hands of flesh, reach out. Like specters, they move slowly towards us, crawling on all four limbs, prowling along…the walls!
“Jussst a boy. Jussst a CHILD.”
They pause…as if considering, swaying in the shadows. Watching me. The tops of the hoods roll forward, bend—skinless brows frowning at me. Arching their backs, they change their positions, like beasts ready to pounce upon their prey.
“Go home or ssshe will SSSUFFER!”
The shout echoes in my mind and I stumble. My hand reaches out to the wall to steady myself, legs feeling weak. She’ll suffer?….I am…..Wait. How can it be talking to me? I look deeply into the gaping hoods. They’re still crouched, swaying.
Get out of my mind!!
Shaking off unsettled doubt, I jump to her side and quickly look around me.
The hallway is blocked by the vile specters. We’re cornered.
Wait—we were at a juncture a moment ago…weren’t we?
Focus. Useless shelf to my right, two wood crates and three full gunny sacks—probably grain, a pile of someones forgotten laundry. No help there. To my left, a stained glass window.
Window? What’s a window doing in a cellar??
Taking hold of the girl around her waist with one arm, I hold her head against my shoulder with the other, to protect her face and neck.
The creatures launch themselves, claws outstretched.
“Hold tight!” I yell, but she can’t hear me as I plunge through the glass.
The cold wind stings my flesh, the glass shards tear my cheek and forearm.
I’m all alone…and plummeting to my death.
The waves of the sea beckon as the rocky shore rushes up to meet me.
….and I didn’t even get her name.
Paul Mackart, Goodreads
WHAT A GREAT WAY TO START A BOOK!
...Ok, I'm new to Goodreads, so I'll try not to create any spoilers here.
Putting these out in sections is a great idea! I don't have to wait for more laughs and adventures. Just so you know--if you wanted to learn more about that old wizard, Chuck--this will have you doubling over in laughter. That old man is a HOOT!
The book starts strong and get's better from there. It's about 50 pages I think, maybe a little more, but worth the dollar I paid.
Wendell is still my favorite character--Chuck placing a strong second.
Way to GO Buckley!!
I've been eagerly awaiting this book! Prelude to a Hero was great but it was ... well, a prelude. I was excited to get this installment and start reading the next book!
Even if it is only a start, it's been a good one. "I laughed, I cried... It moved me, Bob!" (Larry - Veggie Tales)
I don't know if I should recommend the installment or the book, but since they're basically one and the same, I'll recommend both! -- I await this book with much anticipation.
Liv Ray, Goodreads
It's been a while since I read Prelude to a Hero, and I would normally refresh myself with the story, but the opportunity presented itself and I got right to reading this installment.
It was easier than I thought picking up where things left off, with a fresh awakening to this world of new-to-me life.
Though I wish I could be a more helpful critique, I don't have a complaint (so far...), and I simply love the story line, characters, and writing style of this book!
I like to follow things, through to the end, and I'm sticking with this story for sure!