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The Merchant of Death (Pendragon Series #1) · Read more Lawhead, Stephen - Pendragon Cycle 01 - Taliesin. Read more. 1 Read what critics and fans have tosay about the Pendragon series "The nonstop plot developments keep the many pages turning and readers wanting more. The Lost City of Faar (Book 2 of Pendragon: Journey of an Adventure Through Time and Space)D.J. MacHaleJOURNAL OF AN.


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Pendragon has 21 entries in the series. Pendragon, Books Pendragon ( Series). D.J. MacHale Author (). cover image of The Merchant of Death. Throughout the Pendragon series, D.J. MacHale constantly shows examples of The concept of self identity was prominent throughout the Pendragon series. (Book 10 of Pendragon: Journey of an Adventure Through Time and Space) nephews grow into adults, produced a TV series, and saw the world change in.

Aja Killian and I stood together in the dark, subterranean room that held the flume on Veelox, not sure of what to say to each other.

Her normally well-kept blond hair was kind of a mess. I know that doesn't sound all that weird, but for somebody like Aja, who is all about being perfect, it was a huge statement. It was a tough moment because no matter how you cut it, we had lost. The Reality Bug had failed. No, worse than that. It had nearly killed every last person on Veelox. Calling it a failure is kind of an understatement.

The virtual-reality computer called Lifelight was back online and most everybody on Veelox had jumped back inside to live in their own personal fantasy worlds. There was nobody left in reality to 21 31 grow food, to maintain buildings, to uphold the law, or to do the million and one other basic things that a civilization needs to function. It would only be a matter of time before the territory itself began to fall apart.

Bottom line was, Saint Dane had won his first territory. I couldn't let him win another, so staying on Veelox wasn't an option. Good question. Maybe I was too tired. Maybe I was drained after having snatched defeat from the jaws of victory. I could even say that I was in too much of a hurry to find Gunny. All that was true. But as I think back, I believe the real reason was because I was too embarrassed to admit defeat. Especially to you guys.

I still don't know why I was chosen to be a Traveler, but I've been around the block enough times now to realize that whether I liked it or not, the job was mine. On Veelox, I had done a lousy job. I was angry, frustrated, and a little bit scared, because I didn't know what losing a territory was going to mean in the battle against Saint Dane.

My head was not in a good place. She took off her small, yellow glasses and cleaned them on her sleeve. Aja hated to admit defeat even more than I did. She was a brilliant computer scientist who never failed at anything she tried, until now. Too bad it had been the most important challenge of her life. When we fail, we fail together. I was as much to blame as Aja. Every time I had gone to a territory for the first time, I had another Traveler with me.

But it wouldn't have been right to take Aja away from Veelox. No, this time I had to fly solo. I was suddenly missing Uncle Press a whole bunch. Remember, this is about all of Halla, not just Veelox.

Saint Dane hasn't won yet. Anything can happen. To be honest, I wasn't sure about that at all. But I had to give Aja hope.

She grabbed me and hugged me close. It took me totally by surprise because Aja wasn't normally an affectionate person. But she held me so tight--it made me realize that telling her there was still hope was like throwing a lifeline to a drowning person.

She needed to hear that, whether it was the truth or not. I hugged back. I liked Aja. I felt bad that she was hurting. But I was hurting too.

Hugging her felt good. I guess misery loves company. She pulled back from me. I looked into her deep, blue eyes. They once again flashed with the confidence I remembered from when we first met. Aja wasn't the type to feel sorry for herself for long. She had too much brass for that.

Aja leaned forward and kissed me on the cheek. She held 23 33 her cheek against mine for a second longer and said, "I believe you. I have to admit, it felt kind of good. My time on Veelox was over. I was on the wrong territory. I backed away from Aja and took two steps into the mouth of the flume. As I stood there staring into the infinite black void, my thoughts went to what I might find next.

Truth was, I had no idea. Eelong was a total mystery. Gunny had left for Eelong only a few days before, in pursuit of Saint Dane. The plan was for him to get a quick look around and then meet me back on Veelox. He never returned. That could only mean trouble. So I had to flume to a new territory, alone, and be prepared to face whatever nastiness prevented Gunny from coming back.

I suddenly wanted to step back out of the flume and hug Aja again. But that would have blown whatever small bit of cool I had managed to build. The tunnel instantly came to life.

The stone walls cracked and groaned; a distant pin spot of light appeared and the sweet magical jumble of notes could faintly be heard.

They were coming to take me away. The stone walls of the tunnel began to dissolve to crystal as the light grew brighter and the music grew louder. But other than making Aja feel better, what I thought didn't matter. Veelox was then. The battle was moving to Eelong.

A second later I was lifted off my feet and launched through the flume. Next stop, Eelong. I still had no clue as to what a flume actually was, or why they were able to send Travelers through time and space, but the experience was awesome. It was like floating through space on a bed of light. It was the closest you could get to playing Superman. But this time something was different. It wasn't a physical difference. The ride felt the same as always.

The difference was with what I saw. I was surrounded by the usual star field, but there was something else. Something more. Beyond the crystal walls of the flume, I saw floating images. As I flew along, I'd see something far in the distance, then whip past it and watch it disappear behind me. The images were nearly transparent, which meant I could see the stars behind them like they were ghosts on the edge of becoming solid.

Some looked to be my size, others were so huge it took me a few seconds to move past them. Some I even recognized. I saw a Bedoowan knight from Denduron on horseback, galloping through space. I saw what looked to be a school of swimmers in green swimskins from the underwater city of Faar, moving in formation. I saw a tall building that could have been the Manhattan Tower Hotel and an aquaneer on a skimmer from Cloral, riding the sky.

Other images I didn't recognize. There were two giant men who looked like twins, running across the sky. They looked powerful, though somewhat stiff, as if they were mechanical. I saw a vast field of people wearing nothing but rags.

They were all raising their open hands into the air in some common gesture that looked like they were cheering. I also saw a huge, 25 35 spotted jungle cat charging across the field of stars. None of this was scary. In fact, it was kind of cool. It was like kicking back and watching a bunch of weird movies projected in space.

But the more I saw, the more it bothered me. Why was it happening? What had changed? What did the strange images mean? I couldn't help but think back to what Saint Dane had warned. He said that once the first territory fell, the rest would fall like dominos. I didn't want to be paranoid or anything, but since Saint Dane had finally toppled a territory, I worried that there might have been some grand, cosmic change in Halla.

I didn't get the chance to stress about it for long because the musical notes began to play quickly. I was at the end of my trip. My thoughts turned to Eelong. Was I about to be dumped into a pool of water, like on Cloral?

Would there be quigs waiting for me, licking their chops because the dinner bell had just rung? A few seconds later the flume gently deposited me on my feet. Nothing dramatic at all. That was the good news. Bad news was that I was instantly engulfed in a tangle of thick, sticky ropes. At least I thought they were ropes. For all I knew it was a massive web and the quigs on Eelong were hungry spiders. But I didn't want to believe the worst, so I pushed my way through the dense tangle of ropes.

I came out on the far side to find myself standing in a cave. A quick three-sixty showed me it was a grand, underground cavern with a high ceiling. Light leaked through random cracks high above. The ropes I had pushed through turned out to be a curtain of thick vines that cascaded down from the ceiling and covered the mouth of the flume. Roots were good. Way better than spiderweb. The cavern 26 36 was full of these long, green sticky roots that covered the rock walls. I took a few steps toward the center, still on high alert.

But there were no gangsters, no quigs, no pools of water, and no Saint Dane. So far, so good. I looked back to the flume to see it was hidden by the dense curtain of roots. I dug an arrow into the dirt floor with my heel, pointing to it. I wasn't taking any chances if I had to bolt out of there fast. In the dead center of the cavern was a large flat rock. Lying on it was something I wasn't happy to see.

It was a pile of clothing. As you know, acolytes put clothing at the flumes for visiting Travelers. According to the Traveler rules, I had to dress in these clothes. No problem, right? The clothing on this rock was nothing more than a pile of dirty rags. I'm not exaggerating. At first I thought that's what they were. But when I lifted one up, I saw that it was a crudely made pair of cloth pants.

It wasn't exactly soft, either. It felt like rough burlap. I picked up what looked like a shirt. I wasn't really sure at first, because I saw one sleeve and a hole that I thought would go around your neck, but the rest was in tatters. Not exactly something you'd find on the rack at the Gap. And they smelled, too. Like bad BO. Is there such a thing asgoodBO?

I also found some crude shoes made of cloth. I knew they were shoes because they were sort of foot-shaped with extra layers on the bottom.

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This was not good. I looked around, hoping there might be some other clothes that were a little less nasty, and saw something that made my heart jump.

Lying on the ground next to the rock, neatly folded, was a black suit with a white shirt and a large pair of leather shoes. These were the clothes he'd worn when he left me on Veelox. There was no mistake; I was in the right place in the 27 37 wrong clothes. I had to change. Those were the rules. I reluctantly took off my comfy green jumpsuit from Veelox and folded it next to Gunny's clothes. I then did something I absolutely hated, but didn't have a choice about.

I had to lose my boxer shorts. In the past, no matter what territory I visited, I kept on the boxers. I figured that if the future of Halla rested on my choice of underwear, it was beyond saving. But these Eelong clothes were so raggy and threadbare, my boxers would have shown! There was no way I could wear them without arousing suspicion. Or at least looking like a total dork. I wanted to scream. It was the final injustice.

I had to wear these rough, itchy, torn-up rags, without boxer protection. They were smelly, too. Did I mention that? I already felt like I was on Eelong for too long. I put on the rags as best as I could, but they hung on me like, well, like rags.

On the rock I spotted several strips of thin, braided vine about two feet long. I used them to tie up the cloth in places where it hung too loose. I used these vines on the cloth shoes, too, wrapping up both my feet to keep the ratty material on.

After a while I felt like a Thanksgiving turkey, all trussed and ready for the oven. It was awful. Compared to these putrid rags, the leather skins on Denduron were like soft pajamas. I must have mentioned that. Now that I was all dressed up or down the next step was to find the gate and get out of this cavern. I figured the way out must be hidden by the hanging roots. I walked to the side and stuck my arm out to brush aside the dangling vegetables. I walked along, pushing aside the vines, peering beyond to look for something that might be an exit.

I saw that the walls weren't entirely made of rock. There were thick sections of roots that had grown into and around the rock. I figured 28 38 there must be some serious vegetation on the surface. I had gotten more than halfway around the cavern when I started to worry that I might have missed it.

That's when I saw something. Beyond the thick curtain of hanging vines, there was a vertical crack in the rock wall. This had to be the way out. I took a step through the vines and immediately tripped on something. I stumbled forward, hit the wall, and face-planted into the dirt. When I opened my eyes, I was face-to-face with When I got the guts to look back, I nearly retched. Lying on the dirt floor in front of the crack in the wall was a pile of bones.

Human bones. I had seen enough horror movies to recognize people bones when I saw them. I couldn't tell how many victims these bones belonged to, and I wasn't about to do inventory, but I'm guessing they were the remains of about six poor souls.

They must have been there for a while, because there was nothing left of them but bones, and raggy clothes like I was wearing.

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Their clothes actually looked a little better than mine, but I wasn't about to make a swap. I began to question whether the opening in the rock was the way out, or the path to a gruesome death that would land me back on this pile. I saw crudely fashioned stairs, leading up. They looked to have been carved out of the root material that snaked through the rock. Better, I saw a faint hint of light coming from above.

Light was good. I decided to take my chances. I gingerly stepped over the bones because the idea of stepping on something and hearing acrackwould have pushed me over the edge into gak-dom.

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With a quick hop I was over, and slid through the opening in the rocks. The steps were narrow and steep and wound around like 29 39 a spiral staircase. I could smell fresh air coming from above, so my confidence grew.

I really, really wanted to be out of here. This place was starting to feel more like a crypt than a gate to the flumes. After climbing for a few minutes, I got to the top of the crude stairs and found myself in a dark space. I couldn't see the walls, and the ceiling was so low I couldn't stand.

What now?

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A few feet away I saw a thin sliver of light shining through what looked like more hanging vines. I stayed on my knees for fear of bonking my head and crawled toward the light. It was growing cooler, as if fresh air were only a few feet away. I found myself squeezing through a narrow passageway that at first gave me claustrophobia, but the urge to get the heck out was stronger. I picked up the pace, and a few seconds later the final veil of vegetation was pushed aside and I was hit with bright sunlight.

I was out! I squeezed myself through, ready to be free of the dark tunnel and get my first look at the territory of Eelong. I don't know what I expected, but it wasn't this. Eelong was totally, absolutely, beautiful. I found myself about twenty yards from the edge of a cliff, looking out over a green, tropical forest.

I don't think I've ever seen anything so awesome. I walked closer to the edge, on ground that was thick with grass so soft I probably didn't need the lame-o shoes. The view spread out before me was absolutely stunning. As far as I could see there was nothing but forest. The canopy of trees below was so dense, you couldn't see the ground.

There were no structures, no roads, no towers, no sign at all of civilization. Just forest. A flock of birds that looked like pelicans soared by beneath me.

They were bright yellow with brilliant red heads. As dramatic as this was, there was another sight that made the view even more spectacular. Eelong didn't have a sun. At 30 40 least not in the way we think of a sun. The sky was blue, just like at home. There were even clouds. But rather than a ball in the sky, there was a wide band of light, stretching from one horizon all the way across to the opposite, like a rainbow.

It was directly overhead, and I wondered if it would move across the sky as the day wore on. It was hot, too. Jungle hot. This band of brilliant light gave off heat like a tropical sun.

Looking to either side, I found myself on a wide outcropping that must have been at least a couple of hundred yards above the forest below. But it was hard to judge, since I couldn't see the ground through the dense trees. Far to my right I saw a waterfall shoot from near the top of the rock and cascade down through the tree canopy below. I couldn't see where it landed, though. The trees were too thick.

And the smell. It was sweet, but not icky sweet like when you walk into a flower shop. Whatever flowers grew on Eelong, they had a faint smell that reminded me of lemons. To my left I saw some low, scrubby trees that were covered with deep blue flowers.

I walked over to this bushy tree and took a deep whiff. Oh yeah, this is where the smell came from. One word came to mind as I surveyed Eelong: That was important because the little tunnel I had crawled through was the gate to the flume.

A quick look at my Traveler ring confirmed it. The gray stone in the center was glowing slightly. When in doubt, this ring would always lead me to the flume, so long as I was in the neighborhood. So I turned around to take a mental picture of where the gate was hidden. What I saw made me catch my breath.

I instantly knew that I wouldn't have any trouble finding the gate again. That's because looming up in front of me was thehugesttree I had 3l 41 ever seen. I'm not talking big. I mean immense. The trunk at the base must have been thirty yards across. Did you ever see a picture of those trees in California that have a tunnel cut through the base you could drive a car through? Well, if there were a tunnel cut into the base of this tree, you could drive a dozen eighteenwheelers through, side by side, and still have room for a couple of Hummers.

It was like a skyscraper covered with bark. Looking up, the branches didn't even begin for about fifty yards up. Then the tree spread out into a canopy that could shade Yankee Stadium. I don't know why, but being next to giant things like that makes my palms sweat, and they were definitely sweating. That's how awesome it was. I looked to the base of the tree and saw the small opening that I had crawled out of. It was so small compared to this monster tree that if I hadn't known it was there, I'd have missed it.

Sure enough, carved in the bark just above the opening was the star symbol that marked it as a gate to the flume. Now the hanging vines in the cavern below made sense. They were the root system of this immense tree. I walked along the base, running my hand across the rough bark. You could live in this tree I took a step back, looked up, and laughed.

The impossible kept proving itself to be possible.

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What was I going to see next? The answer came quickly, and it wasn't a good one.

I felt something hit the back of my leg. I looked down and instantly wished I hadn't, because lying on the ground next to my leg was an arm. A bloody, human arm. I quickly looked up to the direction it came from and felt like the wind was knocked out of me. If the big tree hadn't been there to catch me, I would have fallen back on my butt. It was like nothing I had ever seen before.

The first thing I thought of was It stood upright on two legs, with a long, thick tail that whipped back and forth angrily. It looked to be around seven feet tall, with powerful arms and hands that were three-finger talons.

Same with its feet. Its entire body was bright green, like a lizard, with scales covering it. But what I couldn't take my eyes off of was its head. It was reptilian with a snoutlike nose. It had bright green hair that swept back from its forehead and fell halfway down its back. But most hideous was its mouth. It looked like a shark mouth, with multiple rows of sharp teeth that were all about tearing flesh.

And that's exactly what it was doing, because clasped in its jaws was another human arm. Blood ran into the beast's mouth and down its chin. If I hadn't been so scared, I would have gotten sick. We held eye contact. I could feel this monster sizing me up.

Its eyes were red, and angry. Without looking away, it closed its jaws, crunching the arm like a dry twig. The sound made my stomach turn. The monster flipped out a green tongue and sucked the shattered arm into its mouth. One gulp later, the arm was gone. Bone and all. It turned back to me as its mouth twisted into a bloody grin.

I was next on the menu. Welcome to Eelong. It had to be. Every territory had its own quigs that prowled the flumes. They were somehow put there by Saint Dane, but I hadn't figured out how that worked yet. On Denduron they were prehistoric-looking bears.

On Cloral they were killer sharks. Zadaa had snakes, and Second Earth had vicious dogs. Veelox was strangely quig free, but I think that's because Saint Dane was already done with that territory by the time I showed up. Now it was looking like the quigs on Eelong were mutant, dinosaur-looking reptiles. I knew that's how it was looking, because I was looking at one.

One thing was certain--it was a meat eater. Human meat. The bloody arm at my feet was proof of that. I didn't want to know where the rest of the body might be. The beast locked its red eyes on me and drew back its lips, revealing yet another row of pointed teeth. Its long green hair spiked out, like an angry cat.

It hissed, and I got a whiff of something nasty. It was sending out a disgusting scent that smelled like rotten fish. This thing was going to pounce, and it was going to hurt. I was totally defenseless. Worse, the 34 44 giant tree was behind me. It was like being trapped in a dead end. I took a tentative step to my right.

The beast mirrored my move. I took a step back to my left. So did the beast. I felt like I was playing basketball and this monster was playing defense. Only it didn't want to steal the ball.

It wanted to steal my head. That's when I saw a flicker of movement to my left. I looked quickly, afraid that another quig might be circling in. But what I saw was my salvation. Poking its head out from the hole at the base of the tree was a person! At least I thought it was a person. The guy had straggly hair and a long beard. I only saw him for an instant, because he popped his head back into the hole like a scared turtle.

He must have poked his nose out, saw the quig, and changed his mind about coming out. Good thinking. I wished I had done the same. But seeing him reminded me that I had an escape route. The trick would be to get to the hole before the quig got to me. The two of us stood facing each other like gunslingers. I hoped he didn't realize that I didn't have a gun and wasn't prepared to sling anything.

I knew that if I bolted for the hole, the thing would leap at me and it would be all over except for the chewing. All I needed was a couple of seconds for a head start. But how? An idea came to me. A hideous idea. If I hadn't been so desperate, there was no way I would have been able to pull it off. But if there is one thing I've learned since becoming a Traveler, self-preservation is a pretty strong motivator.

Without taking another second to talk myself out of it, I slowly bent my knees and reached for the ground. I saw the hair on the back of the beast grow higher. It was waiting to see what I was going to do.

I cautiously picked up the bloody arm that lay at my feet. I know, how gross can you get? I grabbed it by the elbow trying not to think about what it was. When I 35 45 touched it, I almost gagged, because it was still warm. Whoever it belonged to had been using it not long before. I had to push that thought away or I'd have lost my lunch As soon as I picked up the arm, the rotten smell from the beast grew stronger. I think the sight of the bloody arm was getting it psyched, like blood in the water to a shark.

That was okay. It meant I had a chance. I slowly stood back up and held the dismembered arm out to my side. The beast's red eyes followed it like it was some tasty morsel. The next few seconds were critical. It was going to mean the difference between buying me the time I'd need to get to safety, and total failure, which meant it would eat me and then get the arm anyway.

It all depended on how stupid this quig was. I waved the arm, tantalizing it. The beast stayed focused on it. The horrible smell grew stronger. Oh yeah, it wanted the arm, all right. I reared back and flung it off to my right.

The beast went for it. The instant it moved, I bolted for the hole like a base runner stealing second when the pitcher went into his windup. I could only hope the quig would keep going for the arm and not decide I was more interesting.

I didn't stop to look back because every second counted. I ran for the hole and dove inside headfirst. I hit the ground and scrambled to crawl inside.

I thought I had made it, when I heard a bellowing howl from outside and felt a burning sensation on my leg. The beast was back and it had me by the ankle!

It was too big to follow me inside, but that wouldn't matter if it pulled me back out. I kicked for all I was worth and felt its sharp talons rake across my skin. But there was no way I was giving up. He was going to have to work for his supper. With one hard kick, I yanked my leg free of its grip. I was loose!

I tried to bend my leg and get it inside, but couldn't. A quick look back showed me that one of the quig's talons had caught in the braided twine that held my cloth boot on. It still had me!

I frantically wriggled my foot, trying to pull it out of the boot. I actually cursed myself for doing such a good job tying the twine with half hitches and square knots I learned in Boy Scouts. Why did I have to do such a good job? I expected to feel the pain of the monster's jaws clamp down on my leg at any second, biting me like some giant Buffalo wing.

But that didn't stop me from squirming to get away. Then suddenly I felt something snap. It wasn't my leg, I'm glad to say. The beast's claw must have severed the twine because my foot slipped out of the cloth shoe. I quickly tucked my knees up to my chest to keep my feet out of reach. Looking back, I saw the long, green scaly arm of the monster reaching inside the hole, groping to get at me. His sharp talons whipped back and forth blindly, finding nothing but air and a few dangling vines.

He was pretty charged up. The rotten-fish smell got so bad it made me gag. But he had lost. With a final bellow of frustration, the beast pulled his arm out and gave up. I suppose he went back and got the bloody arm as a consolation prize. I lay inside the dark space, breathing hard, trying to get my head back together. Now that I was safe, the reality of what had happened finally hit me.

I had picked up a human arm and used it as bait to save me from getting eaten. How disgusting was that? I looked down at my leg and saw three long scrapes that ran from my knee to my ankle. I gingerly touched them and found that, luckily, they weren't very deep. They would just sting for a while.

Eelong was shaping up to be a nasty place. I had to figure another way out of this tree. I wasn't about to stick my head out of that hole. For all I knew, Little Godzilla was waiting outside, munching his arm snack and 37 47 waiting me out. As much as I wanted to flume out of there, that wasn't an option either. I had to get away from this tree, away from the quigs, and find Gunny.

So I got on my hands and knees and started to crawl around, pushing my way through the dangling vines, looking for another escape route. I figured there had to be one. If not, where did the guy come from who poked his head out of the hole? He hadn't been down in the flume cavern when I was there. And for that matter, whowasthat guy? I passed by the hole that led down to the flume and continued crawling with one hand out in front in case I hit a dead end.

But that dead end never came. I kept crawling deeper and deeper into the tree. What I first thought was a small space was actually a tunnel that brought me into the very core of this behemoth tree. As I crawled along, I saw that it was actually getting lighter. Of course, that didn't make sense, but when did something silly like "making sense" matter? I soon felt confident enough that I no longer held my hand out in front of me.

Up ahead I saw light at the end of the tunnel. I hadn't been crawling for that long, so there was no way I had gone all the way through to the other side of the tree. It was way too big for that.

But I didn't stop to wonder what to expect; I'd see for myself soon enough. When I reached the mouth of the tunnel, I crawled out and stood up to view an incredible sight.

The tree was hollow. Or at least, this part of it was. I found myself in a huge space that had been carved out of the core of the immense tree. I was kidding before about being able to live in this tree along with cookie-making elves, but this room proved it was possible. The walls were made of, well, of wood. Light came in through cracks that ran up and down and all around, like veins. I'm not sure if the hollowing out was natural, or done 38 48 by hand.

If it was by hand, then it had to have been done a long time ago, because everything looked aged, with bits of green moss growing everywhere. Looking straight up was like looking into the mouth of the flume. There was no ceiling. For all I knew, this tree was hollow all the way to the top. I saw multiple levels and ledges that led to other tunnels, like the one I just crawled out of. I wasn't sure how you got from one level to the next. I suppose you could climb the vines that clung to the walls Now that I was safe from the quig outside, I began to wonder who the people of Eelong were.

Going by the look of that hairy guy who poked his head out of the hole, they didn't exactly seem to be a race of advanced mathematicians. I figured they were a primitive, tribal society who lived in these incredible trees. If they were more advanced than that, they certainly didn't prove it with the clothes they made.

Besides, I had yet to see any sign of tools or buildings or anything else you'd expect to see from a society that had advanced beyond the Stone Age. I was beginning to think I would have to deal with cavemen. Or treemen. I glanced around, trying to figure which tunnel I'd take to find another way out I spun quickly and came face-to-face with the guy who'd peeked out of the hole before.

He was short, probably no more than five feet tall. His hair was long and tangled. So was his beard. In fact, I think his head hair was tangled up in his beard hair. Not a good look. His skin was white and filthy, and he wore the same kind of rags that I had on. The guy was crouched down low and breathing heavily.

A line of drool ran 39 49 from his mouth and through his gnarly beard. He may have looked human, but he was acting more like a wild animal.

Iheld my hand out the way you hold your hand out to a dog that you want to show you're not a threat. Ilooked in surprise to see that a vine had been thrown around my arm like a lasso. Holding the other end was another person, looking just as hairy and gnarly as the first. Iopened my mouth to say something, when another lasso of vine was thrown around my shoulders from behind. It pulled snug around me, locking my arms onto my sides. I looked back to see a third guy yanking it tight.

Another vine whipped around my ankles. This one was pulled so hard it yanked my feet out from under me. I hit the ground square on my back. I wanted to use my powers of Traveler mind persuasion, but things were happening so fast, I couldn't think straight. I know, not exactly convincing, but what else could I say? There is a lot of credit to go around and I'd like to spread some of it here. As always, Debra Sfetsios and Victor Lee did an incredible job designing and creating an awesome cover.

Heidi Hellmich, ace copy editor, has once again done a miraculous job in making me look as if I actually know proper grammar.

And of course, my wife, Evangeline, continues to assure me that what I write each day is actually worth reading. Believe me, that is an invaluable service.

I've discovered that writing a continuing story spread out over several books is tricky. Even though each book contains a unique complete story, it's also a piece in a much larger puzzle.

Trouble is, not everybody will get the chance to read the books in order, and starting in the middle of a series can be confusing. That means every book has to be written as if it were the first and only book in the series. For everyone who has been with me since the beginning, you know that's no small task, because a lot of ground has been covered sinceThe Merchant of Death. So with each book, I try to sneak in enough back story to get new readers up to speed, but not so much that veteran readers will get bored.

If you're new to Pendragon, don't panic. As you go along, many of your questions as to what the heck is going on will be answered. If you're a veteran, try not to doze off when I remind you of what's happened in the past. I've spread it out all over the place, and if you're not paying attention, you might miss something new. That's a warning to keep you on your toes. Okay, that's all from me. For those of you who freaked after reading the cliffhanger in last chapter ofThe Reality Bug,your wait is over.

For those of you who are new to the series, welcome. You're about to enter a world of demons, heroes, and destiny. All you've got to do is take a breath, turn the page, and step into the flume. Hobey ho, D. That's what this was ail about. It was also about saving humanity from being crushed by a villainous demon named Saint Dane, but that was a little much for Mark Dimond and Courtney Chetwynde to tackle right off the bat. They figured becoming acolytes was the best way to ease into the whole universe-saving thing.

The two friends sat together on a musty old couch in a small New York City apartment. They were there to learn the mysterious ways of the acolytes. Not exactly dramatic surroundings, considering they were hearing words that would change their lives forever. It may be an easy job compared to what the Travelers do, but I think you'll agree it's an important one.

Yessir," Mark and Courtney assured him. Dorney turned to look out his window and frowned. He was an old guy with shortcropped gray hair and excellent posture. He was once a soldier.

Old habits die hard. Dorney sighed and said, "It's just a feeling. Saint Dane has finally had a victory, and there's no telling what's next. From this point on, I can't guarantee that the old rules still apply. Dorney's ominous warning was very much on their minds as they left his apartment and took the train back to Stony Brook, Connecticut. Just thinking ahead. Mark didn't argue. To prove it's real. That's what acolytes did. They supported the Travelers on their mission to protect Halla.

Courtney picked out a bunch of simple, functional things like jeans, T-shirts, a sweater, socks, hiking boots, and underwear.

She debated about bringing one of her bras, but figured that was overkill. Mark gathered up a bunch of clothes that were totally out of style. It wasn't like he had a choice. That's all he had. He found sweatshirts with logos that meant nothing, no-name jeans, and generic sneakers. Style was not something Mark concerned 2 12 himself with. He hoped the Travelers felt the same way. Mark brought one extra item, but hoped he wouldn't need it.

It was the sharp poker from his parents' fireplace. It was a woefully inadequate weapon to deal with an attacking quig-dog, but it was all he could find. Shortly after, Mark and Courtney met at the iron gates in front of the empty Sherwood house. They silently walked around to the side and climbed the tree to get over the high stone wall that surrounded the spooky, abandoned estate.

Once over, Mark held the fireplace poker out in front of him, ready to ward off a rampaging quig. Mark's hand was shaking like warm Jell-O, so Courtney gently took the weapon from him.

If either of them had a chance of fighting off a charging quig, it would be Courtney. Luckily they didn't run into any of the yellow-eyed beasts. They made it through the big empty mansion, down into the basement, and into the root cellar that held the newly created flume.

No problem. They emptied their backpacks and neatly folded the clothes in a pile. Courtney looked at some of the geek clothes Mark brought, and chuckled. When they were finished, they both gazed into the dark tunnel to the territories. The flume. You know what it's capable of, but have no idea what to do to make it go. Mark saw the terrified look on Courtney's face. She was looking past him, deeper into the flume.

Mark spun quickly and saw something he thought was impossible. The flume was coming to life. Mark jumped out of the tunnel and ran to Courtney. The two backed away toward the far wall of the root cellar, hugging each other in fear. The light appeared from the depths of the tunnel.

The musical notes were faint at first but quickly grew louder. The rocky walls began to crackle and groan. They had seen all this before, but only when the flume was activated by a Traveler. Never, ever had a flume been activated by a non-Traveler--until now. Courtney 4 14 held him tighter, ready to hold him back if he got pulled in by the power of the flume.

The gray walls of the tunnel melted into glorious crystal as the bright light and sound arrived at the mouth. Mark and Courtney didn't dare put their hands in front of their eyes because they were too busy hanging on to each other. But neither felt the tug of the flume, because someone was headed their way. Through the bright light they saw a tall, dark silhouette appear and step out of the tunnel.

Oddly, the sparkling light didn't go away. The jangle of music stayed too. This had never happened before, at least not that Mark or Courtney knew. But none of that mattered as much as the man who now stood facing them. It was Saint Dane. He had arrived on Second Earth. The two had never seen him before, but there was no mistaking the tall demon with the long gray hair, piercing blue eyes, and dark clothes.

The power that once was, will no longer be. It is a whole new game, with new rules. With a sudden burst of light from deep inside the flume, his hair caught fire! His long gray mane exploded in flames, burning right down to his skull. Mark and Courtney watched in horror as the flames reflected in his demonic eyes. Saint Dane laughed the whole while, as if enjoying it. Mark and Courtney didn't move, except to tremble.

The fire burned away all of Saint Dane's hair, leaving him completely bald, with angry red streaks that looked like inflamed veins running from the back of his head to his forehead.

His eyes had changed too. The steely blue color had gone nearly white. He tossed a dirty, cloth bag at their feet. With that, he began to transform. His body turned liquid as he leaned over to put his hands on the ground. At the same time his body mutated into that of a huge, jungle cat. It was the size of a lion. His coat was brown, but speckled with black spots. The big cat snarled at Mark and Courtney, and leaped into the flume.

An instant later the light swept him up and disappeared into the depths. The music faded, the crystal walls returned to stone, and the light shrank to a pin spot. But it didn't disappear entirely. Before Mark and Courtney could get their heads back together, the light began to grow again. The music became louder and the gray rock walls transformed back into crystal. A second later the bright light flashed at the mouth of the tunnel to deposit another passenger before returning to its normal, dormant state.

They ran to him and threw their arms around him in fear and relief. Mark and Courtney were both supercharged with adrenaline. It was horrible! Mark and Courtney sensed his tension. It sounded like he was scolding them. He was wearing rags. His feet were bare, his hair was a mess, and he had a coating of dirt all over his body. He didn't smell so hot either.

He was just as charged up as they were. Mark said, "Uh, I g-guess so. I said 'Eelong'--" "No! We can't control the flume. He's got his first territory. It's all about changing the nature of things. He ran back to the door of the root cellar and picked up the bag Saint Dane had thrown at them.

Bobby took it like it was the last thing in the world he wanted. He turned the rotten bag upside down, and something fell onto the floor.

Courtney screamed. Mark took a step back in shock. Bobby stood firm, staring at the floor, his jaw muscles clenching. Lying at his feet was a human hand. It was large and dark skinned. As gruesome as this was, there was something else about it that made it nearly unbearable to look at. On one finger, was a Traveler ring. Bobby took a brave breath, picked up the hand, and jammed it into the bag. He turned back and ran into the mouth of the flume, clutching the bag with Gunny's hand in it.

The flume sprang back to life. And whatever you do, donotactivate the flume. That's exactly what Saint Dane wants. It's not the way things were meant to be. It wasn't a very good beginning. Mark Dimond and Courtney Chetwynde had done exactly what Bobby told them to do. They stayed away from the flume and waited for the arrival of another journal. They waited. And waited. And waited some more.

Mark found himself staring at his ring, willing it to activate. He so desperately wanted a sign that being an acolyte meant more than sitting around like a load, pretending all was normal.

A few times he called Tom Dorney to see if he had gotten any messages from other acolytes. Dorney's answer was always the same: "Nope. No chitchat. Just "Nope. To Mark, he was a man ofoneword. He sat by himself for an entire day, reading them all, reliving the incredible journey that his best friend had been on for the last year and a half.

So much had changed since that winter night when Bobby left Stony Brook with his uncle Press to discover that he was a Traveler, and that his destiny was to protect the territories of Halla. Any record that they had ever existed disappeared right along with them.

More importantly, the curtain was pulled back on the incredible truth that the universe didn't function the way everyone thought. Bobby's journals explained how every time, every place, every person and every thing that had ever existed, still did exist. It was called Halla. Halla was made up of ten territories that were connected by tunnels called flumes that only the Travelers could use.

But the most frightening truth contained in the journals was that an evil Traveler named Saint Dane was doing his best to destroy Halla. Saint Dane would travel to a territory that was about to reach a critical point in its history, and do all that he could to push events the wrong way and send the territory into chaos.

It was up to Bobby and the other Travelers to stop him. They had been pretty successful, too. But then came Veelox. Veelox was a territory doomed to crumble because people chose to live in Lifelight, the wonderful, virtual-reality world created by a supercomputer, instead of in real life.

It marked Saint Dane's first victory over Bobby and the Travelers. Mark worried that the toppling of Veelox meant Saint Dane had even more power than before. He worried that the rules had changed and that the demon would now be more difficult to defeat.

He worried that the battle would soon come to Second Earth. He worried that this was the beginning of the end for Halla.

Mark worried a lot. He was good at it. And on top of it all, Mark and Courtney were now acolytes. Up to this point their job had been to read Bobby's journals and keep them safe. Basically they had been librarians. Now they were in it. Being acolytes meant they would support any 10 20 Travelers who came to Second Earth and help them blend in with the local culture.

They were psyched and ready for the challenge. Finally, they had the chance to take an active role in helping Bobby. But in spite of all these exciting and scary developments, it turned out that there was nothing for them to do.

Mark felt like an anxious racehorse stuck in a gate that wouldn't open. He'd walk through the halls of Davis Gregory High, where he was a sophomore, look at the other kids, and think,Do they know the danger we're all in? Do they have any clue that I'm one of the few people in Halla who is trying to protect them? The answer was, of course, no. To the other kids at school, Mark Dimond was nothing more than a nervous brainiac who ate too many carrots and didn't wash his unkempt, greasy black hair often enough.

Guys like Mark were like wallpaper Things weren't going much better for Courtney. Life had changed drastically for her since entering high school. Courtney had always been the girl who had it all going on. She was pretty, with waist-length brown hair and deep gray eyes. She had lots of friends and, most notably, kicked butt in every sport she played. Courtney was a legend. It didn't matter what sport either: soccer, volleyball, softball, track She even wanted to play football, but the rules wouldn't allow it.

But since coming to Davis Gregory High, things had changed. Courtney wasn't the best anymore. Maybe it was because the other girls caught up.

Maybe it was because she never had to try very hard, and it was paying off for those who did. Or maybe it was because she had lost something intangible. The spark. The magic. The result was that Courtney looked bad.

In soccer she was demoted from varsity to JV and then quit the team. That was big. Courtney never quit anything. But she quit soccer. She 11 21 sought refuge in volleyball, her favorite sport. But things weren't any better. Courtney didn't even make the team. She got cut. Courtney had never been cut. It was humiliating. At first the other kids were happy to see the queen dethroned, but after a while they started feeling bad for her.

Courtney didn't want pity. That was the worst. If there was one word you could use to describe Courtney Chetwynde, it was "confident. It affected the rest of her life too. Her grades took a nosedive; she stopped hanging with her best friends; and she fought with her parents. She hated their constant, worried looks that silently asked, "What's wrong with you? It was eating her up.

But Courtney wasn't totally self-absorbed. She knew her troubles were puny compared to the bigger dangers lurking about.

Bobby Pendragon, the guy she'd had a crush on since she was four years old, was flying around the universe battling an evil demon who wanted nothing less than the destruction of everything. Courtney realized that on a scale of one to ten where ten was the worst, getting cut from volleyball was around negative forty.

Knowing this, Courtney felt guilty when she worried about her own little problems. But she couldn't help it, which made her feel worse. She couldn't control events in Halla; she could only deal with her own life Mark and Courtney were an odd couple. Under normal circumstances they would never have been on each others' radar.

Shy nerds didn't hang with awesome jock girls. It was one of the realities of high school. But these two were joined by their friendship with Bobby. They knew Saint Dane had to be stopped and were prepared to do whatever it took to help their friend. But 12 22 after months of being acolytes, they hadn't done a single thing that had anything to do with life outside of boring old Stony Brook, Connecticut.

It was making them absolutely, totally crazy. The only thing that kept Mark from going off the deep end was the Sci-Clops science club at school.

The summer before, Mark had designed and built a battling robot for the state science fair. He won first prize and got an invitation to join the prestigious club.

Mark wasn't used to being rewarded for doing something that was usually considered geek territory, so he welcomed the chance. Mark found that Sci-Clops was full of brilliant students who shared his curiosity about the world around them.

A Sci-Clops meeting was a minivacation from the relentless social pressure of high school. It also helped get his mind off the imminent destruction of the universe. Four months to the day after they saw Bobby and Saint Dane at the flume, Mark anxiously watched the clock tick toward the end of the school day. Pike, the teacher who led Sci-Clops, promised that a special guest would be speaking that day, and Mark was dying to know who it might be. When the bell rang, he gathered his books and walked quickly toward the science wing.

He hurried across the student center, entered the science wing, and was halfway up the back stairwell when his day began to unravel. Standing on the landing, smoking a cigarette, was Andy Mitchell. The word "hate" shouldn't be used lightly. Mark hated Andy Mitchell.

From the time they were little, Mitchell bullied Mark. It was the classic scenario: smart nerd vs. Mark would stress over taking alternate routes around school to avoid crossing paths with him.

Encounters 13 23 invariably ended up with a punch in the arm, or an Indian burn or, as they got older, the threat of serious violence. Their relationship came to a head when Mitchell stole Bobby's Traveler journals. Mark and Courtney cleverly got them back and nearly got Mitchell arrested in the process. Having finally beaten Mitchell gave Mark a bit more confidence in dealing with the imbecile, but he still preferred not to.

Mark ignored Mitchell and walked past him up the stairs. He fully expected Mitchell to grab him for some obligatory noogie-type humiliation. Instead Mitchell stubbed out his cigarette and followed.

Mark stopped and whipped him a look. Mark could smell the cigarettes on his breath. He turned and started up the stairs again. Mitchell followed. Mark stopped and spun back. You gonna shove me in a locker or ask for money or On the list of answers Mark expected, this was below last.

It was so far from last, it was in another state. Mark stared in shock, waiting for a punch line that didn't come. We going to experiment on you? Had he heard right? Was the dreaded Andy Mitchell, professional ignoramus, truly asked to join the elite l4 24 science club?

Andy Mitchell was a moron, and that was paying him a compliment. Pike must have gotten Andy Mitchell mixed up with somebody else. Sci-Clops was made up of science brains who had dreams of attending MIT. Andy Mitchell was a lamebrain who dreamed about being old enough to buy beer and getting a tattoo.

Mark concluded that it had to be a mistake. Don't want to be late for your first meeting. The two continued up the stairs to the physics floor. Mark couldn't wait to see Mitchell's reaction when the mistake was discovered. Wishing total humiliation for someone wasn't exactly noble, but after the years of havoc Andy Mitchell rained down on the dweebs of Stony Brook, he deserved it. When they entered Mr. Pike's classroom, most of the SciClops members were already sitting and waiting to begin.

They were a precise bunch. Mark took a seat in the back of the room because he was still one of the newer members. Unlike the bus where the cool kids sat in back, in Sci-Clops the senior members sat right up front.

It was one of the many things Mark liked about the club. Andy Mitchell, on the other hand, chose a seat in the first row like he owned the place. Mark loved it. He couldn't wait until Mr. Pike called him out. It was every dweeb's dream come true. Twenty against one. An excellent nerd vs. Pike walked to the front of the class. He was a pleasant-looking guy who Mark figured was in his thirties, with longish hair that was starting to go gray.

Mark hoped he would have opened up by kicking Andy Mitchell's butt out of the room. But he was willing to wait. He knew it would only be a matter of time.

Mark wasn't exactly sure what that was. The only tensile he knew about was the kind you put on Christmas trees. Whenever Mark wasn't sure about something at a meeting, he'd nod and pretend to understand. That was okay; he liked learning new things. The trick was not to look like an idiot and try to figure it out as they went along.

So let's get right to it. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Andy Mitchell. They were too busy applauding. He watched in shock as Andy Mitchell stood in front of the group and started digging into his backpack. Mark's brain wouldn't accept this. He looked around, expecting to see some guy in a suit and tie jump out with a microphone and shout, "Surprise! Candid Camera! Mark nearly puked. Andy said, "I ain't great at giving speeches.

I only know what I know. He knows nothing! He's an idiot! We're cool here. Just be yourself. Most of the Sci-Clops members were juniors and seniors, so he figured they didn't know Andy Mitchell.

But they were going to get to know him real fast. Mark was sure this charade would end as quickly as it began. Pike announced, "Andy is a sophomore here, but he attends science classes in a special program at the University of Connecticut. You won't see me in any of your AP courses.

Mark squeezed the desk in anger. They liked him! They thought he was clever! This can't be happening! Andy Mitchell smart? Attending college science courses and researching subjects Mark never even heard of?

Bantering with the Sci-Clops crowd? Mark had heard people say: "I thought I was dreaming," but always thought it was just a saying. He never thought anyone could really think they were dreaming.

But right then, Mark seriously wondered if he was in dreamland. Andy Mitchell reached into his backpack and pulled out a small, soft silver bag that looked like the kind of bag his mother used to put things in the freezer. It ain't. The silver bag stretched out as wide as his arms would reach. The kids gasped. I could probably put a piano in here and it wouldn't break. His mind locked. His mouth hung open. If anybody looked at him, they'd call for an ambulance.

The kids of Sci-Clops applauded. Andy beamed. Mark didn't think he could take any more And that's when his ring started to twitch. He didn't react at first. He was too busy being stunned. But a second later, when the ring began to grow, he was yanked 17 27 back to reality. It was the bright light that started to flash from the gray stone that did it. It was a good thing he was sitting in the back of the room because nobody else saw it. He quickly clamped his hand over the ring.

Every one of the Sci-Clops members turned to look at Mark. Mark felt like he was in one of those dreams where you suddenly discovered you were only wearing underpants. I'm fine," Mark stammered.

He stood up, caught his foot on the leg of the desk, and nearly tumbled over. Pike asked. Mark could feel the ring growing on his finger. In a second everythingwouldn'tbe all right. He didn't care what he looked like. He had to get out of there. He sprinted down the hallway, gasping for breath, and blasted through the doors back to the stairway. It was too late to find anywhere more private. He pulled off his ring, put it on the floor and stepped back. It was already the size of a bracelet and still growing.

The gray stone shot out lights that lit up the stairway like a storm of sparklers. The ring grew to the size of a Frisbee. Mark saw the dark opening in the center that he knew was a portal to the territories. The light show was followed by the familiar jumble of musical notes that grew louder, as if they were coming closer. Because they were. A brilliant light flashed out of the hole that forced Mark to cover his eyes.

He had been through this before. He didn't have to see. A second later it was over. The music was gone, the lights stopped flashing, and the ring returned to normal. Mark looked at the floor. He was close to hyperventilating. In that moment, all l8 28 the waiting, all the frustration, all the anxiety of the last few months washed away. He didn't even care that Andy Mitchell was now addressing his beloved Sci-Clops.

That's because sitting on the floor next to his ring was a rolled-up piece of parchment paper tied with a piece of green, plantlike twine. Mark looked at it for a moment, just to make sure it was real. After what he had been through over the last few minutes, he wasn't sure anything was real. He reached into his backpack and pulled out the cell phone his parents had given him for the holidays. It was only supposed to be used in emergencies.

This qualified. He hit 1 on his speed dial and listened. After a few seconds Bobby Pendragon. I know, I've said that a million times before. But here on Eelong I'm faced with something that is way different than anything I've ever had to deal with.

As I'm writing this, I can honestly say I don't know what to do. This isn't about being afraid, or being confused about Traveler stuff or even about finding Saint Dane.

Finding him is the least of my worries. My problem is that, unlike Cloral or Denduron or Veelox or the Earth territories, the intelligent beings that inhabit the territory of Eelong aren't normal. I know what you're thinking: has anyone I've run into since leaving home even come close to being considered normal? Not really. But here on Eelong, the inhabitants may be a lot of things, but there is one thing they definitely are not.

Yeah, you read right. They're not human. I've got to figure out what the turning point is here and stop Saint Dane just like on the other territories, but how can I do that when I can't communicate with the very people I'm supposed to help? This is impossible! I've been on the run from the first moment I 20 30 landed here. I'm in constant danger, and the scariest part is that my biggest threat isn't Saint Dane--it's the inhabitants of Eelong. How wrong is that?

It gets worse. Saint Dane told you that the rules have changed, right? Well, I can't say for sure what that means, but I think he's right. From the moment I left Veelox, I felt as if things were different. In some ways, I'm starting over. It's not a good feeling. But I've got to calm down, take a breath, and write this journal. This may be the only chance I'll get.

I don't mean to sound dramatic, butI am really, really scared. Where to begin? It already seems like a lifetime ago that I was on Veelox with Aja Killian. I've lost all track of real time. Jumping between territories will do that. A day in one territory isn't always twenty-four hours in another.

What year is this? What month? What century? I'm totally lost. I gotta get a grip. Let me go back to where I finished my last journal and pick up my story from there. So much has happened, I hope I can remember all the details. Aja Killian and I stood together in the dark, subterranean room that held the flume on Veelox, not sure of what to say to each other.

Her normally well-kept blond hair was kind of a mess. I know that doesn't sound all that weird, but for somebody like Aja, who is all about being perfect, it was a huge statement. It was a tough moment because no matter how you cut it, we had lost. The Reality Bug had failed. No, worse than that. It had nearly killed every last person on Veelox. Calling it a failure is kind of an understatement. The virtual-reality computer called Lifelight was back online and most everybody on Veelox had jumped back inside to live in their own personal fantasy worlds.

There was nobody left in reality to 21 31 grow food, to maintain buildings, to uphold the law, or to do the million and one other basic things that a civilization needs to function. It would only be a matter of time before the territory itself began to fall apart.

Bottom line was, Saint Dane had won his first territory. I couldn't let him win another, so staying on Veelox wasn't an option. Good question. Maybe I was too tired. Maybe I was drained after having snatched defeat from the jaws of victory. I could even say that I was in too much of a hurry to find Gunny.

All that was true. But as I think back, I believe the real reason was because I was too embarrassed to admit defeat. Especially to you guys. I still don't know why I was chosen to be a Traveler, but I've been around the block enough times now to realize that whether I liked it or not, the job was mine.

On Veelox, I had done a lousy job. I was angry, frustrated, and a little bit scared, because I didn't know what losing a territory was going to mean in the battle against Saint Dane.

My head was not in a good place. She took off her small, yellow glasses and cleaned them on her sleeve. Aja hated to admit defeat even more than I did. She was a brilliant computer scientist who never failed at anything she tried, until now. Too bad it had been the most important challenge of her life. When we fail, we fail together. I was as much to blame as Aja. Every time I had gone to a territory for the first time, I had another Traveler with me.

But it wouldn't have been right to take Aja away from Veelox. No, this time I had to fly solo. I was suddenly missing Uncle Press a whole bunch.

Remember, this is about all of Halla, not just Veelox. Saint Dane hasn't won yet. Anything can happen. To be honest, I wasn't sure about that at all. But I had to give Aja hope. She grabbed me and hugged me close. It took me totally by surprise because Aja wasn't normally an affectionate person. But she held me so tight--it made me realize that telling her there was still hope was like throwing a lifeline to a drowning person.

She needed to hear that, whether it was the truth or not. I hugged back. I liked Aja. I felt bad that she was hurting. But I was hurting too. Hugging her felt good.

I guess misery loves company. She pulled back from me. I looked into her deep, blue eyes. They once again flashed with the confidence I remembered from when we first met. Aja wasn't the type to feel sorry for herself for long. She had too much brass for that. Aja leaned forward and kissed me on the cheek. She held 23 33 her cheek against mine for a second longer and said, "I believe you.

I have to admit, it felt kind of good. My time on Veelox was over. I was on the wrong territory. I backed away from Aja and took two steps into the mouth of the flume. As I stood there staring into the infinite black void, my thoughts went to what I might find next. Truth was, I had no idea. Eelong was a total mystery. Gunny had left for Eelong only a few days before, in pursuit of Saint Dane. The plan was for him to get a quick look around and then meet me back on Veelox.

He never returned. That could only mean trouble. So I had to flume to a new territory, alone, and be prepared to face whatever nastiness prevented Gunny from coming back. I suddenly wanted to step back out of the flume and hug Aja again. But that would have blown whatever small bit of cool I had managed to build.

The tunnel instantly came to life. The stone walls cracked and groaned; a distant pin spot of light appeared and the sweet magical jumble of notes could faintly be heard.As fast as this sled was pulling me, the quig was faster.

Finally it struck. When I 35 45 touched it, I almost gagged, because it was still warm. So was his beard. He won first prize and got an invitation to join the prestigious club.

I really, really wanted to be out of here. It hissed, and I got a whiff of something nasty. If they were more advanced than that, they certainly didn't prove it with the clothes they made.

KAYLEIGH from Florida
Also read my other articles. I have always been a very creative person and find it relaxing to indulge in model yachting. I relish reading books gladly .