So far, my fiction publishing has been in the cyberpunk science fiction genre with both Dead Dwarves, Dirty Deeds and Dead Dwarves Don't Dance. I really enjoy writing about the genetically engineered dwarf mercenary Noose and his friends and enemies. And, don't worry, Noose will have more adventures.
However, I have also written a young adult action-adventure. Of course, since it's me, there is a lot of action in the story, but it starts off with mystery and skulking, as you can read in the first chapter.
I'll probably be using a different pen name when I publish this story, as it's a very different genre aimed at kids. I'll hopefully publish the book within two months.
So, here it is, the first THREE chapters of my YA novel, The Elemental Odyssey:
The Elemental Odyssey
From time to time he appeared, between the dark shadows cast by the strange moon. The silvery light glinted along his wide grin as his sensitive nose savored the sweet vanilla aroma of the trees. His eager eyes sparkled under a wide-brimmed hat and behind a dark mask. Tonight, his part in shaping the future truly began.
He darted across a two-lane road that cut through the rugged forest and found a path on the far side. To his left, unwavering light illuminated a granite mountain with a massive sculpted face. As he moved through the trees, three more stone likenesses came into view, each towering high above. For a moment he paused to gaze up at the majestic visages, shining like beacons.
The path grew brighter as he descended into a slender valley and came upon a narrow but vast amphitheatre, obviously designed to grant a spectacular view of the stone busts far above. He skulked in the shadows and observed hundreds of people listening to a woman as she spoke from the stage.
The prowler crept from tree to tree. He snuck around stone buildings and between distracted passersby. Behind the amphitheatre, he hurried across a paved trail and up into a rocky stand of trees. Leaping over a black metal railing, he scurried between tall stone pillars decorated with dozens of distinctive banners quivering in the feeble night breeze.
Leaving the avenue of flags behind, he padded through the Ponderosa pines, caressing them with his hands. The crumbling bark felt rough and dry, leaving his palms and fingertips feeling fresh and clean. The vanilla and butterscotch scent of the trees teased his sensitive nose. It had been a long time since he had enjoyed the soothing sights, smells, sounds, and textures of such a rich forest.
“Hold it right there!” someone ordered, and a bright beam of light blinded him.
He raised his hands to ward off the dazzle.
“What are you?” someone asked hesitantly.
“I could ask you the same question,” he responded, squinting into the glare.
The beam of light dropped away from his face. A man stepped out from behind a tree, clad in dark pants, a light-colored shirt, and a flat-brimmed hat. The beam of light shone from a thick rod in his left hand.
“I’m a park ranger,” the man said, pointing at a golden brooch on his chest. “And you…don’t look human.”
“I am called Bozabrozy. And if I am not human, what would I be?” He bowed, but kept his hat on. He watched as the ranger neared, noting a black object attached to his hip, obviously a weapon of some sort.
“Are you saying that’s a costume? It doesn’t look like a costume.”
Bozabrozy wore a dark, wide slouch hat. Beneath a short cloak he had wrapped several belts and bandoliers around his shoulders and waist. His shirt and pants were also dark, but he wore no shoes. Fur covered his feet and hands and head. His nose and mouth looked more like a snout and muzzle full of sharp teeth. He kept his ringed tail hidden behind him.
“In my home, it is customary to introduce yourself when you are gifted with the name of another.”
“Park Ranger John Five Eagles,” the man replied, stepping closer to Bozabrozy. “That’s no costume. If I didn’t know better, I’d say you were a spirit. Something my grandfather spins tales about.”
“Five Eagles,” Bozabrozy pondered. “That is a fine name. It speaks of the sky and, therefore, power and royalty. Your grandfather is proud of it, as is the rest of your family, no doubt. Mother, father, brother, and…sister?”
John Five Eagles ignored his question. “What are you doing, sneaking through the park?”
“You have nothing to fear from me, John Five Eagles,” Bozabrozy said, moving his hand to his chest and the pouch-laden bandoliers. “Just let me pass and all will be well.”
“That’s definitely no costume. You’re some kind of…animal man!” The ranger stepped forward. “You’re coming with me. Turn around and put your hands on your head.”
“I don’t have time for this. Great things are afoot. You must not interfere.”
The ranger pulled the black weapon from his belt and pointed it at Bozabrozy.
“Turn around. Now!”
Bozabrozy sighed and obeyed.
“That’s a tail!” Five Eagles gasped. “Hands on your head!”
Bozabrozy placed his hands on his head.
“This is not a very kind way to treat a guest.”
Five Eagles stepped up behind Bozabrozy, returning his weapon to his belt. He grabbed Bozabrozy’s wrist and pulled it down behind his back.
“No one is going to believe me if I don’t take you in,” he said. He noticed that Bozabrozy now had a small bottle in his left hand. “What’s that?”
“You won’t take me anywhere,” Bozabrozy said, spinning around. With the reckless agility of a cornered rodent, he squirmed free of the ranger’s grip and threw the bottle at his feet. Shimmering blue light erupted around them. The tree trunks gleamed like an undersea grotto. Bozabrozy leapt away as the ranger stumbled amidst a shower of sparkling snowflakes.
“What?” John Five Eagles steadied himself and pulled out his weapon again. “What is this?”
The snowflakes swirled and eddied around the man, then swelled into a furious flurry. The air grew much colder. Snow gathered on the ranger’s clothes and hair.
“This is what happens when you interfere in matters not your own,” Bozabrozy said.
“Make it stop!” Five Eagles demanded, waving his arms to ward off the growing blizzard. His frantic efforts had no effect on the frigid little storm. Hoarfrost appeared on his face and hands.
“It would be best not to struggle,” Bozabrozy warned.
Five Eagles raised his hand to point his weapon. “Stop it!” he said through chattering teeth.
Bozabrozy watched as the ranger froze in place, frost and rime covering his entire body, the ebbing blizzard coating him with a thick layer of snow and ice.
“It is stopped,” Bozabrozy told the motionless figure of the park ranger as it glimmered brightly in the moonlight. A final few snowflakes drifted peacefully to the ground.
Without another glance, Bozabrozy sped away into the darkness, crossing a wide road, delving into deep woods, up this ridge and down that valley. He turned left at this landmark, or right at that one, as he had been told.
Ahead, through the thick tree trunks, a light shone. Sensing his destination, he stole to the edge of a clearing. A cabin stood at the far tree line, quiet and serene, its windows lit up against the night. On the porch stood a four-foot tall wooden statue of a rearing bear, sporting a red cap.
Nodding to himself, Bozabrozy’s gaze rose to a second-story window.
“And this is a trilobite, also, but from the Cambrian period,” Jürgen explained, holding out another fossil to his friend.
Kyle took the rock, no bigger than a marble, and examined it. “It looks a lot like the other ones, just smaller.”
“Of course, they’re all trilobites. Same taxonomic class, just different orders.”
“And your dad is here to find more of these?”
“Not only trilobites,” Jürgen replied, squirming around on the floor to better position his bulky stomach. “The geologic formations around here have all sorts of fossils. Plants, fish, mammals, reptiles.”
“You really like this stuff?” Kyle picked up another fossil. To him, it wasn’t any different than the others, except for the size and color. It looked like a beetle made out of stone. “It’s just a bunch of rocks.”
“It’s okay. But my parents spend a lot of time at fossil sites. Places like the Messel Pit and another near Mauer. They tell me all about the prehistory. Jurassic, Cambrian, Cretaceous.”
“Sounds a lot like school to me. I’d rather spend my vacations having fun. Hiking, swimming, exploring. Stuff like that.”
“Actually, paleontology is a like that. We do a lot of hiking and exploring. We get to go into caves, also.”
“That’s fun! I can’t wait to do some of that on this trip!” Kyle glanced over at his backpack full of hiking and caving equipment. “We’re going to check out Wind and Jewel Caves. I’ve only been in Ape Cave by Mt. St. Helens. You’re lucky you get to do that so often.”
“I guess so, but only when they’re not spending hours dusting and chipping at rocks. That’s boring.”
“Do you have to do that a lot?”
“Not usually. My parents let me wander around the sites. And they did get me an Xbox to play in the hotel rooms.”
“Well, this time you don’t have to spend all your vacation watching them dig up old bones.” Kyle beamed. “We get to explore all the fun stuff around Mt. Rushmore.”
“I can’t wait,” Jürgen said. “Thanks so much for inviting me!”
“No problem. When you said you were coming over with your dad on a working vacation I knew my dad would agree to come here. We’ve always wanted to visit. Lots of hiking and other stuff to do, like the Reptile Gardens.”
“Too bad we didn’t get much done on the first day,” Jürgen lamented.
“Sorry about that,” Kyle apologized. “We didn’t have the money to fly over here so we had to drive. Seventeen hours on the road.”
“Unglaublich,” Jürgen said in German. “America is so big. Seventeen hours to drive halfway across. It only takes us six hours to drive all across Germany, from France to Poland.”
“We can get started doing stuff tomorrow,” Kyle said.
“You won’t be too tired?”
“Nope, I slept most of the trip. My dad says it’s one of the benefits of being twelve.”
Jürgen laughed as he sat up. “I slept on the plane, also.”
“Tomorrow morning, I say you make me some of the French toast you’re always bragging about.”
“Of course! I make the best French toast in Germany. My parents say so.” He stood up and grabbed his ample stomach. “How else do you think I get this fat?”
Kyle laughed. “Wiener schnitzel and bratwurst!”
“I see you were paying attention when I fragged you five to one in Halo.”
“That wasn’t a fair match! I was on a bad connection.” Kyle objected.
“You won’t have that excuse here.”
“Is that a challenge?” Kyle asked, stepping over to the corner to grab an Xbox controller.
“Yes, it…” Jürgen paused. “What’s that?”
Kyle held out a controller to his friend. “What’s what?”
“That,” Jürgen said, pointing. “In the window.”
Even though the reflection of the room’s lights made it difficult to see through the glass, there was definitely something out there. Peering closer, Kyle saw a black mask over a white face and dark eyes. “It’s a raccoon!”
“A raccoon?” Jürgen squinted. “You mean a…Waschbar?”
“A raccoon. You know, masked face and a ringed tail.”
“Yes, a Waschbar,” Jürgen nodded. “We have them in Germany, also. They climb onto houses and knock over garbage cans.”
“Same thing here.” Kyle kept watching the raccoon through the window. It stared back in at them, its face only inches from the window pane. “I saw one run across the steps of a building at the University of Washington. It was night, but I could still tell that it was huge. It must have been as big as a dog. My dad said they get pretty big in the city where there’s lots of food.”
“This one is very big, also.”
“Yeah, it is,” Kyle agreed, moving closer to the window to try and see through the glare.
The raccoon placed both its paws on the window.
“It’s trying to get in!” Jürgen exclaimed.
“Don’t worry, Jürgen. The window’s locked.”
“Good. It could have die Tollwut.”
“The Toll what?”
“Tollwut. The disease that makes the dogs foam at the mouth.”
“Oh,” Kyle said, “you mean rabies.”
“Jawohl, that’s it. Rabies. Raccoons can have rabies.”
“Don’t worry, it won’t get in. Unless it crashes through the window.”
As the boys watched, a hint of shimmering light played along the window and the glass melted away like thawing ice. In seconds the windowpane had dissolved completely. Kyle and Jürgen gaped in shock. The raccoon stared back as it leaned into the room.
The raccoon dropped nimbly to the floor and bared its fangs at the boys. Rising on its hind legs it stood nearly five feet tall. It held a wide slouch hat and wore a cloak!
“A giant raccoon!” Jürgen exclaimed, jumping back against the bunk beds on the far side of the room. He clambered up onto the top bunk.
“And it’s wearing clothes!” Kyle said, stumbling over game boxes and pressing against the far wall.
“I’m no raccoon!” it said.
“It talks!” the boys said in unison. “A giant raccoon that talks!”
The intruder raised its head. “I am not some mindless animal! I am a Zuran. More precisely, I am a rascan. And to be absolutely specific, I am Bozabrozy.” He bowed, stood upright, and put on his hat with a practiced flourish.
Jürgen trembled under his blankets on the bunk bed, and Kyle stood frozen against the wall. They stared at Bozabrozy in fear.
Bozabrozy smiled, his sharp fangs bright. “Yes, yes. I am stunning, am I not? Dashing. Heroic, even?” He laughed.
Kyle relaxed a bit. The creature wasn’t attacking. Its bared fangs weren’t a snarl. It was…smiling. Maybe it wasn’t dangerous.
Kyle finally got his mouth to work. “What are you?”
“I’m a rascan,” Bozabrozy repeated. “From Zura.”
Jürgen pulled the blanket from his face. “What is Zura?”
“Ah… Zura! It is a world of endless skies and wondrous sights.” The rascan waved his hands as he spoke, and began walking around the room. “Stone and sky and water and fire! All four providing protection, granting their magic to ensure law and order and prosperity! Zura is a world where magic reigns with a strict yet caring hand. At least that’s what the Emperor says.” He smirked as he stepped on a fossil.
Kyle shook his head in amazement. “What are you talking about?”
Bozabrozy picked up the trilobite, juggling it from hand to hand while he sniffed it. “Zura! Zura with its endless skies! The world where I was born. The realm I came from, to visit you here on Earth.”
“You’re not from Earth?” Jürgen asked in surprise and growing delight. He sat up on the bunk and tossed the blanket aside.
Bozabrozy snickered. “No, I am not. Have you ever seen a rascan before?” He deposited a few of the trilobites into one of the many pouches hanging from his belts.
“Hey! Those are mine!” Jürgen said, jumping off the bed, his fear dissipating as he witnessed the rascan steal his fossils.
“What? Oh, these?” Bozabrozy pulled the trilobites back out and handed them to Jürgen. “So sorry. I thought they were just stray rocks. Are they valuable?”
“Yes, of course they are!” Jürgen took the fossils and bent to collect the rest of his treasures still scattered across the floor.
“You can’t go around taking other people’s stuff,” Kyle chastised Bozabrozy, stepping forward.
The furry creature rubbed his white muzzle. “Is that how it works here? That is very good to know.” He picked up a flashlight from the bed. “But in my land, youngsters introduce themselves to their elders.”
“I’m Kyle Morgan.”
“My name is Jürgen Schmidt. I’m from Kaiserslautern. It’s in Germany.”
“I’m from Seattle. It’s here in America,” Kyle quickly added.
“Nice to meet you both.” He held out the flashlight. “What is this? A magic wand?”
“That’s a flashlight,” Kyle said. “Don’t you have those on Zura?”
“No, nothing like this.” He fiddled with the flashlight, finally pushing the switch. “Aha! I saw a park ranger use one of these. It will prove very useful on our quest.” He flipped the light off and put it in his largest pouch.
“That’s not yours, either,” Kyle objected.
“I know that. But I’ll just carry it for you in my pouch. Since you don’t have a pouch. You don’t have a pouch, do you?”
“We have these,” Jürgen said as he stuffed fossils into a pocket of his backpack. “They’re much better than your pouches.”
Bozabrozy moved to stand beside Jürgen as he zipped up the pocket. “Another magical wonder!” He pawed at the backpack, feeling the material, the straps, and the zippers. “Pockets sealed with metal teeth! Ha! Will wonders never cease?”
“Hey,” Jürgen said, “you have opposable thumbs!”
Bozabrozy’s eyes widened and he stepped back. “What is an opposable thumb?”
“Your thumbs. You have thumbs.”
The rascan held up his hands and wiggled his thumbs in the air. “Yes, so I do. Don’t you?”
“Raccoons don’t have opposable thumbs.”
“Now, now,” Bozabrozy said with a frown on his furry face, “I already told you I’m not a raccoon. There are many differences between the dumb animals and Zurans. One is ‘opposable’ thumbs.”
“Fret not, Jürgen. I’m sure you’ll get used to me before we’ve finished the quest.” He swished his ringed tail.
“What’s this quest you keep talking about?” Kyle asked.
The Zuran wandered over to the nightstand and opened the drawers, digging around in each. He pulled out t-shirts and pants and socks and underwear, tossing them on the floor. “The Zuran quest. That’s why I’m here. To enlist your aid.”
“Why do you need our help?” Jürgen asked.
“Your bear outside wears a hat like this.” Bozabrozy picked up Kyle’s Seattle Mariners baseball cap and donned it in place of his own. “I am new to your world. It is so vastly different from my own. Not enough sky, mostly. I feel pinched by all these mountains. So much stone. And I need to find some things.”
“What things?” Kyle asked.
Bozabrozy leaned forward and crooked a forefinger at the boys. When they drew close he whispered, “Elemental quintessence.”
“Come again?” said Kyle.
“The purest, most concentrated, and most valuable manifestation of the four elements of water, fire, stone, and sky.”
“Why do you want the stuff?” Kyle grabbed his cap from Bozabrozy’s head and put it on his own.
“Oh, it has many, many uses.” The rascan fiddled with the Velcro dartboard hanging on the door. “Each kind can do so many things. Even I do not know them all. But Savakala does. She’ll tell you, when you meet her.”
“Yes, she leads this quest. She is a powerful magus.”
“What’s a magus?”
“One who can do wondrous magic with quintessence.”
“You mean, like a wizard?” Jürgen wondered.
“No, not at all,” Bozabrozy said. “Or, maybe. I guess so.” He picked up paper and pencils from a small table.
“Where is she?” Kyle asked.
“She awaits us in the wilderness. She is trying to use her powers of foresight to aid us in the quest.” Bozabrozy scribbled on the note pad with a red pen. “Ah…a magic quill.”
“It’s not magic, it’s just a pen.”
“It matters not.” The Zuran slid the pen and paper into a pouch. He put his hat on, and stood with his hands on his hips. “Well, Kyle Morgan from America and Jürgen Schmidt from Germany, are you ready to embark on the adventure of a lifetime?”
“Um…no,” Kyle said. “Not before I get my dad. He’ll never believe in a talking racc– I mean a talking rascan.”
“Your sire is near?” Bozabrozy crouched and glanced about like a hunted animal.
“Both our dads are downstairs,” Jürgen said. “Our mothers aren’t here. This is a man’s vacation.” He smiled proudly, hands on his hips, posing like a daring explorer.
“Let’s take Bozabrozy and introduce them. My dad will never believe it.”
“Mine won’t, also!”
Bozabrozy backed up toward the melted window. “I don’t think that is wise.”
“No doubt your parents will beat you for speaking to me. And, sky knows, they would do far worse to me.”
“My father doesn’t beat me!” Jürgen objected.
Bozabrozy shook his head. “Not even when you are bad, or don’t do your chores? What about when they are angry at you for stealing the porridge? All the old tales start with the foster parents beating the orphaned children.”
“We’re not orphans.”
“You’re not?” Bozabrozy looked shocked. “That’s most odd. Were your parents not eaten by beasts long ago?”
Kyle grimaced. “No, they weren’t.”
“They must mistreat you, then. Make you dig for tubers? Sleep in caves? Starve you?” Bozabrozy looked at Jürgen. “Well, obviously they don’t starve you. Maybe they force you to eat too much foul gruel?”
“Hey,” Kyle said, “leave him alone.”
The rascan frowned, his whiskers hanging down beside his white muzzle. “Even if you aren’t mistreated by your parents, you’d still better come with me to escape your poverty.”
“We aren’t poor.”
“Then perhaps you should leave before your disease leaves you all patchy and covered in sores.”
“What are you talking about now?”
“That sickness you were lamenting before I came in,” Bozabrozy said.
“You mean rabies?” Kyle asked. “We don’t have rabies.”
Bozabrozy looked at Jürgen. “You don’t have it either?”
Jürgen shook his head.
“Thank sky!” Bozabrozy clapped and rubbed his hands. “I arrived just in time. Let us make haste so we can avoid any other diseases.”
“There aren’t any diseases here,” Kyle said.
“There aren’t?” The rascan looked at the ceiling. “That doesn’t seem right. Well, if your parents aren’t beating you, and you aren’t orphaned or poor or sick…” He pulled a stick out of a pouch, broke it, and threw it out the window. “The heroes in the old tales always have problems before the stories even start! Most of them are motherless and fatherless, of course, their parents eaten by fiends, furious or foul.”
Jürgen stared at the Zuran in confusion and then looked at his friend.
Kyle sighed and walked to the door. “I’m going downstairs to tell my dad you’re here.”
Bozabrozy rushed over and held the door shut. “We don’t have time for that. You are in great peril every moment you stay here.”
“Are you always this much of a liar?” Kyle stared at him.
“I didn’t want to tell you this,” Bozabrozy bent down and whispered, “because you are so young and no doubt it will frighten you. But…other Zurans are here looking for the quintessence. They are not as kind as me, or even Savakala. They would use pain and torture to get you to aid them.”
Jürgen eyes widened. “Why didn’t you tell us this first? We should call the police!”
Kyle grabbed his friend’s shoulder and tried to calm him. “Don’t believe him, Jürgen. He’s making all this stuff up to try and get us to go with him. Aren’t you, Bozabrozy?”
“No, absolutely not! Okay, well, yes. I did make up the parts about mean parents and diseases. But I only did that to get you to come with me before the others find you. That part was true.”
Kyle scowled. “Why should we believe you? You’re a thief and a liar. I’m going to get my dad.” He tried to pull the door open, but Bozabrozy leaned against it to hold it shut.
“I speak the truth!” the rascan said. “You are in danger! At any moment the others could burst in and wreak havoc on you and your parents!”
Kyle opened his mouth to reply when a tremendous crash shook the cabin. At the same time, a bellowing roar thundered from beyond the door.