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Authors: Brandon Charles West

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Scarlet and the Keepers of Light

BOOK: Scarlet and the Keepers of Light
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Scarlet and the Keepers of Light

 

Brandon Charles West

Copyright © 2012 by Brandon Charles West

All rights reserved.

Published by Manor Minor Press

 

No part of this publication may be reproduced in whole or part, or stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without written permission of Brandon Charles West.

 

Interior design by Krister Swartz

Set in Mountains of Christmas and Sabon 12 / 18

 

 

 

For my beautiful daughters
.

May your lives be filled with love and fantastic stories, your imaginations always wild and overactive.

 

Prologue

 

 

 

 

U
nfolding his glimmering wings, the little man flew cautiously toward the cave, the faint luminescence that clung to his body dimly lighting the dirt and roots around the entrance. It was a dismal place, the moonlight barely penetrating a foot inside. Its inhabitant had to squeeze into it by crouching and crawling, but it seemed immense to the little man, since he measured only six inches from head to foo
t.

Ten feet in, the den opened into a much larger space. With a wave of his hand the man projected a powerful beam in front of him and then played it over the stone walls of the cavern, which glistened as if damp but were dry to the touch. Two deep blue orbs glowed from a dark recess. The little man turned the light toward them, finally illuminating the creature he’d come to see.

“It’s been a long time.” The little man’s voice was surprisingly resonant, given his size, and rich with the timbre of wisdom.

“Yes, it has,” the creature answered in a deep rumble.

The little man alit near the creature and sat down on a stone, stretching out his wings the way an old man might stretch a stiff leg or back, taking his time. “Would you mind a little more light? It’s difficult for me to think in this darkness.”

The creature nodded.

The man held his hands in front of him, palms facing, and moved them in horizontal opposing circles as if he were rolling clay into a ball. A tiny point of light formed between them, steadily growing to the size of an apple. With a flick of his wrist, he sent the ball of light floating up toward the roof of the cavern, filling the space with a warm, comfortable glow.

“Now, that’s much better.” He took his first proper look at his host. “You’re showing your age.”

“As are you, Xavier. And you take a great risk, leaving the protection of your forest.”

“I doubt I’ll find an enemy who’d follow me into the home of the Lord of Wolves, Udd Lyall.”

The creature reflexively snarled at the mention of this name and title, which had not been spoken for some time. The litt
le man smiled and reached into his pocket, drawing out what looked like an emerald in the shape of a child’s top.

“I had hoped that the signs were only my imagination,” said Udd Lyall.

“No, old friend. I’m afraid not.”

Xavier held the top tightly in his palm, head bowed, searching for the right words.

“Are you absolutely sure?” Udd Lyall asked, before Xavier could begin.

“Yes, I’m sure.” Xavier’s voice was distant.

“I’d come to think that it would not take place in my lifetime.”

“That it did is one of the few things that gives me any real hope.”

After a long silence, Xavier opened his palm, and the top began to spin, sending flecks of intense green light whirling out across the cavern. Slowly the flecks converged on the farthest wall, and an image came into focus: a child, sleeping in a woman’s arms.

“She’s human?”

“Yes, and more vulnerable than I ever imagined.” Xavier closed his hand over the glowing top, and the image vanished. “She must be protected until she can begin her training.”

“How long do we have before he is powerful enough to challenge us?”

“Not long enough.”

“You have a plan?”

“I do.” Xavier smiled sadly. “Someone must watch over her until we can bring her to Illuminora.”

“Many have tried to cross over through the years, and failed. How do you plan to get someone to her?”

“It’s . . . complicated. It will require all my knowledge—and a very powerful friend. One as dedicated as I am, and willing to sacrifice much.”

Udd Lyall looked down at Xavier, studying his good friend for a long time. He trusted Xavier absolutely, though the winged man’s ways might be mysterious. “I know enough of the human world to know I would not fit in. There I’m the stuff of nightmares, not dreams.”

“That,” Xavier said solemnly, “is a crucial part of the plan.”

“Who is it? . . . The dark one.”

Xavier looked pained. “The prince of the Dorans.”

“The boy? Thanerbos? Surely not . . .” Udd Lyall trailed off, distressed. “He can’t be more than two years old.”

“I’m afraid so. His father, the king, has already banished him, much as it tore at his heart to do so.”

A long, quiet moment passed. “I saw the boy once, at the celebration of his birth,” Udd Lyall said finally.

“As did I.”

A
n unspoken grief passed between them, both for a life lost and for the trials to come. There was little else to be said
.

Xavier stood, and began making his way back to the opening.

“When do I leave?” Udd Lyall called out.

Xavier looked back with a somber smile.

“Soon, my friend. Soon.”

 

1

A Surprise Gift

 

Th
ough Charles Hopewell had first taken to the woods as energetically as the two-year-old black Lab bounding ahead of him, that didn’t last long. About two miles in, feeling a little out of shape—at least, for a firefighter and former soldier—and very old, he was regretting his decision to take the family dog out for a jog instead of kicking back with a soda and John Wayne. To make matters worse, it looked like the storm the local news channel had been talking about for days was coming in a little ahead of
schedule.

He was trying so hard not to think about his burning muscles that he didn’t notice Cricket’s leash going slack until a sudden backward jerk pulled his feet out from under him, and his behind hit the mud. He glared at the dog, who’d stopped to snuffle at a bush by the trail, then smiled ruefully. At least no one had witnessed his ignominious fall.

Climbing gingerly to his feet, Mr. Hopewell hobbled back to Cricket and patted her on the rump.

“Whatcha got there, girl?”

Cricket looked up at him with anxious brown eyes. He pulled her away and tried to look under the bush, but it was too dark to see much. He paused. No sound. Nothing moved. Just as he’d begun to straighten up, writing it off to a squirrel, he heard an unmistakable whine. Barking wildly, Cricket started pawing at the bush.

“Easy, girl.” Charles kneeled by the bush and reached in, touching soft fur. A damp tongue licked his hand. Carefully he pulled the little creature out of the bush: a skinny, dirty puppy with startling blue eyes, which Cricket immediately began to nuzzle.

Taking off his sweatshirt, Charles wrapped it snugly around the pup. He shook his head. Who’d be cruel enough to dump a puppy out here? If he hadn’t found it before the storm . . .

Cricket looked up at him, tail beating hard, clearly pleased with herself. “You’re a hero,” he told her, rubbing her fondly behind the ears.

Back at the house, Melody ran out to greet her father. “What’s that, Daddy?” she asked, tugging at his pant leg.

Charles smiled at his five-year-old daughter. “I’ll show you when we get inside.” He glanced anxiously at the darkening sky.

In the living room, he unwrapped his sweatshirt to reveal the pup as the whole family looked on. Both girls were enchanted. Within minutes Scarlet, their elder daughter, had uttered the inevitable magic words—“Can we keep him, Daddy? Can we?”

She held the little creature close to her chest, pressing her cheek to his. Charles glanced uneasily at his wife, who didn’t look quite as thrilled. Allie was a petite woman, with short blond hair and one of the most wonderful smiles Charles had ever seen. But she wasn’t smiling now.

***

“Charles, I don’t want to be the bad guy on this one.” Allie leaned back against the arm of the sofa and gazed at her husband, trying to look stern.

Finally it was quiet in the house, and the lamps glowed softly in the living room. By the time they’d settled the puppy into a makeshift bed, convinced the girls that he needed a little peace, and gone out to get some puppy food, it had been dinnertime, followed by the girls’ usual night routine. Scarlet had begged that she be allowed to keep the puppy in her room, and Allie finally gave in, making her promise to let him rest.

“You know we already have a dog.” Allie sighed. “And we know nothing about this puppy—where it came from, who might own it, why it’s here.”

“I know, honey, but I think it’d been lying under that bush awhile. I’m sure it’s been abandoned. I couldn’t just leave it out in the storm.”

“Still, we need to make sure no one’s looking for it.” Allie knew what a soft spot Charles had for his daughters, not to mention for helpless pups. It was part of what she liked about him, but with his easygoing attitude, the house might fall into chaos if she weren’t there to keep things grounded. “We don’t want Scarlet to get too attached before we know for sure.”

“You’re right. Strange, though, how quickly they seemed to hit it off. It just seems meant to be. Even Melody didn’t try to take him away.”

Allie’s face softened. “I know. But let’s make sure he doesn’t belong to someone else.” She glanced over at the framed family pictures on the mantel. “Cricket’s the family dog. Maybe Scarlet can have her own—learn a little about responsibility.”

“That might be going a little far. Scarlet is just a little girl.”

Allie smiled inwardly. Some part of her husband wanted that to be true, she knew. “She’s not our little baby anymore, Charles. Look at those pictures—she’s grown so much. She’ll be a young woman soon.”

“You’re right,” he said reluctantly, gazing up at the mantel. “I just can’t believe she’ll be fourteen next week.”

“And with age comes responsibility. . . . Charles, let’s give it a week to make sure the puppy doesn’t belong to someone else, and teach Scarlet how to take care of him. If all goes well, he’ll be her birthday present.”

***

Scarlet woke to the soft, wet nose of the puppy against her neck. She giggled as he licked her face.

“You’re going to need a name,” she said softly. “That is, if you get to stay.”

A week had gone by, and still no one had called the number on the notices her parents put up. No one had lost a puppy. Her parents had explained that she would have to prove she could take care of a dog on her own. It had been hard at first—she’d never realized how much work it was. She had to remember to feed him twice a day, make sure dog food was on the shopping list when necessary, take him out, and teach him to behave. That last part wouldn’t be hard, though—he already seemed to know how to act. Sometimes it even felt as if he was taking care of her, helping her prove that she could handle things. She’d made mistakes, but she thought she’d come a long way. Hopefully her parents felt the same way.

Setting the puppy down gently, she headed downstairs with a hopeful skip in her walk.

On the kitchen TV the weatherman was droning on about another storm.
Again
? The weather had been crazy lately.

Scarlet slid the glass patio door open to let the puppy out. Pulling her red hair absentmindedly into a ponytail, she watched the two dogs frolic in the yard. If she didn’t know better, she could have sworn the puppy was playing fetch. He’d grab the tennis ball and, using his tiny neck muscles, hurl it with surprising strength out into the yard, where Cricket would chase it down and bring it back.

Finally Scarlet turned and sat down at the breakfast table. Neither of her parents looked up. Her father was reading the paper, her mother filling out today’s sudoku.

“Good morning.” Scarlet grinned. Her parents loved this little act, year after year.

“Oh, I didn’t see you there.” Her father glanced up briefly. “Good morning.”

Her mother kept her eyes on her puzzle. “I was thinking we might run a few errands today, dear,” she said to her husband.

He grunted. “I could use a trip to the hardware store.”

Scarlet shook her head, but she didn’t mind her parents’ game. It was kind of a family tradition. To be honest, she’d miss it if they stopped.

This time, she thought, she’d play along. “I’ll go with, if you don’t mind. I need some school supplies.”

Both of her parents looked up simultaneously, surprised. Then, unable to keep straight faces any longer, they laughed and got up to hug their daughter.

“Happy birthday!” they exclaimed.

***

At Scarlet’s party that afternoon, the puppy played dutifully with her small cousins, never protesting at the occasional pulled ear. He never got underfoot while the guests milled around, playing party games and eating cake and ice cream. He sat, lay down, rolled over, let out his tiny bark, even shook hands, all at Scarlet’s father’s command.

Finally he sat dutifully beside her, watching with quiet interest as she unwrapped each gift—clothes, board games, and most of all, books. When all had been opened, her mother snuck out and returned with a small rectangular box.

“I know you already got your presents from us,” she said, handing Scarlet the box, “but we just couldn’t help ourselves. Here’s another one.”

Scarlet opened the box. Then she leaped from her chair and threw her arms around her mother’s neck. “Thank you, thank you, thank you, Mom!”

“You’re welcome,” her mother answered, her eyes misty. “Happy birthday.”

“And you too, Dad.” Scarlet hugged him and then picked up the puppy, who nuzzled her cheek.

Still clutched in her hand was a small red collar.

***

“Don’t worry, little one,” Scarlet whispered to the pup in her room that evening. “You’re home now.” He nestled himself into the crook of her arm, almost immediately falling asleep.

It was funny, though.

Just before he closed his eyes, she could almost swear he winked.

BOOK: Scarlet and the Keepers of Light
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