Authors: M. L. Forman
Tags: #Teen, #Youth, #Adventurers Wanted Series, #Adventure, #Fiction
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Forman, Mark, 1964– author
The sands of Nezza / M. L. Forman.
pages cm.—(Adventurers wanted, book 4)
Summary: When Alexander Taylor, wizard and warrior, is summoned to the land of Nezza in order to save a friend in need, he finds a country where war is a part of daily life, where adventurers are imprisoned by the Brotherhood, and where all magic is believed to be black.
ISBN 978-1-60907-329-9 (hardbound : alk. paper)
1. Fantasy fiction, American. [1. Friendship—Fiction 2. Wizards—Fiction.
3. Adventure and adventurers—Fiction. 4. Magic—Fiction. 5. Freedom—Fiction.] I. Title.
Printed in the United States of America
R. R. Donnelley, Crawfordsville, IN
10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1
To Scott—brother, friend, and mentor.
Thanks for always pushing.
There are so many people who help out and work on a new book that it’s difficult to thank them all. I’m sure I don’t know them all or even what they all do, but I do know that their work is important to making this book come alive. So for all of you hardworking people who remain behind the scenes of not only my books but so many others as well, thank you for all that you do. You know who you are.
Special thanks to Chris Schoebinger, the mystery man behind Shadow Mountain. To those of us who know him, though, his hard work is not a mystery. He has helped me so much, and I want to thank him for pointing out the problems that were still in the book even though I thought it was done. Thanks, Chris—you are the man.
Many, many thanks to my editor, Lisa Mangum. Lisa is the brains, the one who makes it all look good and who fixes my writing so that you all can read it without stopping to say, “What?” I know Lisa loves her work as an editor, but I sometimes wonder if I don’t test her resolve and make her work a love/hate relationship.
Thanks to Brandon Dorman, the illustrator. Brandon gives the story a face, and he always seems to know exactly what face the story should have.
Thanks also to Richard Erickson, the art director at Shadow Mountain. I still haven’t met Richard face-to-face, but I am grateful for all the work he puts into making everything look just right.
And finally a big thank-you to you, the readers. I couldn’t do this without you, and I hope that the stories I tell will always make you happy. You are the biggest reason that these stories are told.
An Unexpected Message
The sun shone brightly on the grasslands of Alusia, and the wind rushed through Alex’s hair. The openness of the country and the speed of his horse, Dar Losh, were made for each other. He loosened the reins so the horse could run freely. He wasn’t worried about where they would go or how they would get back. There was no need to worry because Alusia was now his home. Alex laughed as the wind whistled past him, pulling at his hair and clothes.
Alexander Taylor looked like any other seventeen-year-old boy. The truth was, however, that he was different from not only the other boys his age but from almost everyone else as well. Alex was an adventurer. Not just any adventurer, either. He was an adventurer and a wizard, and perhaps something more.
It had been little more than a year ago when he’d first seen the magic sign in the window of Mr. Clutter’s old bookshop. A year in the home he had always known, but nearly five years in the distant lands that most people in his world would never see. Time was different depending on which side of the adventure shop door he was on, and though this difference in time had been difficult for him to understand at first, now he hardly even thought about it.
His new adventurer friends had told him that no matter how long he was on his adventure, he would always be able to return home at almost the exact moment he’d left. At the time, Alex thought they must be mad, but he soon learned the truth of their words and did, indeed, return home from his first adventure at the same moment—and at the same age—as when he’d left. Alex knew that was a good thing, because he didn’t have to explain how he’d aged more than a year in less than a second. But somebody did notice he’d been on an adventure—somebody he would never have expected.
Alex’s stepfather, Mr. Roberts, knew instantly about Alex’s adventure when he saw the leather bag that Alex was carrying over his shoulder. It was a magic bag that Alex had bought at the beginning of his first adventure, a bag that allowed him to carry a great many things in a small and easy-to-conceal place. Alex was shocked to find out that Mr. Roberts knew all about magic bags and adventures. Mr. Roberts, however, had once been an adventurer as well, and told Alex that he had suspected that Alex might find his way into an adventure of his own someday.
Alex’s mind was pulled back to Alusia as he reined in his horse on a hilltop. The sun had started to sink in the west, and Alex took a moment to look across the landscape. At first he saw only the open grasslands with a few groves of oak trees dotted here and there between the hills, but then Alex’s vision seemed to shift. Darkness filled the world around him, and he could see things moving in that darkness.
Shadowy armies marched toward unknown battles. Massive unknown creatures of evil stalked the land, destroying everything in their paths. Burning forests, ruined villages, and broken cities appeared before his eyes as death and destruction flowed like water into the known lands.
The darkness lifted slowly from his vision, and the grasslands of Alusia returned, but Alex felt that what he had seen was a true vision. Darkness, evil, and war were moving into the known lands, and, as a wizard, it was his duty to stop them.
Rubbing his eyes, Alex spoke a few quiet words to his horse. It was time for him to return to his new home. He had to prepare for what he knew was coming, even if he had no idea when it would come.
Dar Losh raced the winds that blew across the Alusian hills until Alex reined him in. He looked down at his house with its tall tower and the flowing stream next to it. This was home, and even though he missed his stepfather and stepbrother, he did not want to go back to the life he had lived before.
“Go, my friend,” Alex said to Dar Losh after he had removed his saddle and bridle. “Go and run free. I will call you when I need you.”
The beautiful palomino whinnied in reply and then nuzzled Alex’s shoulder before heading back into the open grassland. Seeing the pale golden horse run made Alex feel hopeful, and he watched until the horse was out of sight.
Closing the front door behind him, Alex heard a sudden, familiar honking noise. He turned to find a strange bowling-pin-shaped creature standing on a single birdlike leg, waiting for him on the table. The creature was a bottle-necked geeb, a messenger that traveled between the magical lands.
“Do you have a message for me?” Alex asked. He hadn’t been expecting anything.
“Ding,” the geeb answered, its head taking the shape of a small bell.
“May I have it, please?”
“Ding,” the geeb answered again, producing a piece of paper from the large mouth in the middle of its body.
Taking the paper from the geeb, Alex noticed that it was worn and dirty. The edges were uneven, as if it had been torn or ripped from a larger page. Just holding the message in his hand, Alex could tell something was wrong.
His thoughts returned to the dark images he had seen out on the Alusian plains. Monsters, war, destruction, and who knew what other dark things were already in the known lands. The grubby bit of paper the geeb had brought made him feel cold inside.
“Have you been paid?” Alex asked the geeb. He turned the message over in his hand, delaying the moment when he would have to unfold it.
“Honk,” the geeb responded, its head taking the shape of a small bicycle horn.
“Hang on a minute, then,” said Alex, taking a seat behind the long wooden table that he often used as a desk. He turned the paper over once more. Trying to ignore his worries, Alex unfolded the paper and began to read.