Read The Changeling Online

Authors: Jerry B. Jenkins,Chris Fabry

Tags: #JUVENILE FICTION / Religious / Christian, #JUVENILE FICTION / Religious / Christian

The Changeling

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The Wormling III: The Changeling

Copyright © 2007 by Jerry B. Jenkins. All rights reserved.

Cover illustration © 2007 by Tim Jessell. All rights reserved.

Designed by Ron Kaufmann

Edited by Lorie Popp

Published in association with the literary agency of Alive Communications, Inc., 7680 Goddard Street, Suite 200, Colorado Springs, CO 80920.

This novel is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the authors' imaginations or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, organizations, or persons living or dead is entirely coincidental and beyond the intent of either the authors or publisher.

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Jenkins, Jerry B.

The Wormling III : the Changeling / Jerry B. Jenkins ; Chris Fabry.

p. cm.

Summary: The Wormling, Owen Reeder, in his continued search for the Son, seeks advice from the Scribe, but along the way is constantly plagued by the Changeling, who can change shapes instantaneously, and is sent by the evil Dragon.

ISBN 978-1-4143-0157-0 (softcover)

[1. Good and evil—Fiction. 2. Conduct of life—Fiction. 3. Dragons—Fiction. 4. Adventure and adventurers—Fiction.] I. Fabry, Chris, date. II. Title. III. Title: Wormling three. IV. Title: Changeling.

PZ7.J4138Wot 2007

[Fic]—dc22 2006103300

For Jamie

“The world is a dangerous place to live; not because of the people who are evil, but because of the people who don't do anything about it.”

Albert Einstein

“An utterly fearless man is a far more dangerous comrade than a coward.”

Herman Melville,
Moby Dick

“Life is either a daring adventure or nothing.”

Helen Keller

Table of Contents

1: Lair Conversation

2: Nicodemus

3: Lair Liar

4: Watcher

5: Awakening

6: Mordecai's Vision

7: Changeling

8: Decisions

9: Questions in the Night

10: More Questions

11: Unpleasant Reunion

12: In the Tent

13: Call to Arms

14: Taken

15: Decision

16: The Village

17: The Conversation

18: Drushka's Story

19: The Scar

20: The Stable

21: The Iskek

22: Watcher's Memory

23: Aftermath

24: The Horn

25: Names

26: Yodom

27: The Scribe

28: Sock Soup

29: In Mind

30: Rachel's Story

31: Plans

32: Argument

33: Daagn's Hopes

34: Owen's Fight

35: Cold

36: Words

37: Holed up

38: Progress

39: Power

40: Burden

41: Under the Cart

42: The Worst Dream

43: Hot Breath

44: Company

45: Neodim

46: New Fighters

47: The Great Hall

48: Diversion

49: Connor's Wife

50: Trapped

51: Back to Yodom

52: Reunion

53: The Quest

54: A Sad Visitor

55: Running

56: The Panther

57: The Cave

58: Memories

59: Chocolate Darkness

60: The Report

61: Pondering

62: Desperate Questions

63: A View from the Interrogation Room

64: Subdued

65: The Barn

66: Presentation

67: The Meeting

68: Surprise Guest

69: Whispered Messages

70: Hard Questions

71: Empty

72: Certainty

73: The King

74: Caught

About the Authors

Imagine—if you dare—the most hideous, spine-tingling music—screeching violins and long, ominous bass notes that shake the ground. A cacophony of horror is perfect for the scene we are about to describe. For in the darkness of a pungent room, though high and far from what we call earth, sits a being so revolting and gruesome that some have wished we would leave him out of our story. They urge us to shy away from scenes like this, but what would a story be without a villain? How could we measure the good of one character unless we compared it to the bad of another?

Without the being before us, we would not understand the meaning of
putrid
,
malevolent
,
wicked
, or even
appalling
. No, here lies the very heart of our tale, for it is our hero's duty to defeat this foe, to utterly cleanse the world (both the visible and the invisible) of this powerful beast.

At the moment, all we can see is his scaly back, along with his twitching tail. His head bobs at something. Is he eating the flesh of an enemy? Might he be devouring our hero even now? Or picking meat from the bones of some trusted friend of our hero? Or more awful still, could he be torturing someone, trying to pry the whereabouts of our hero from him or her?

As we move into the lantern light in the corner, we clearly see the Dragon's pointed ears encrusted with wax, his long snout with nostrils dripping a gelatinous green substance. The Dragon sniffs it back, and the tongue darts in and out. The moving lips reveal stained, jagged teeth that could snap you in two. Reptilian eyes with dark slits in the centers glow with what seems like fascination or anticipation. And the massive jaw is working.

The body exudes evil power, and it is all we can do to stay in his presence—but stay we must. For he is not chewing or singing or talking to himself or doing anything superfluous. No, he is reading. But these are not words he can truly comprehend, as they are written for someone with a heart, with compassion.

The Dragon shudders and mutters, “The Son, the Son, the Son. That's all you write about, isn't it?” He clears his throat, and a squeak of fire escapes but does not damage the book.

“‘The Son shall have power and dominion'?” he chortles. “No. Your prophecies will
not
come true, for your Son is gone, a coward cowering in some corner. He will never be all you want him to be.”

The Dragon snarls at a knock behind him and flips another page with a sharpened talon, trying in vain to tear a hole in the book. “What is it?”

Enter RHM, Reginald Handler Mephistopheles (or right-hand man, if you prefer), who would usurp this stinky throne if he could. The two converse in hushed tones, the gist of the vile talk and innuendo concerning our hero and that “We had him right where we wanted him!”

RHM bows his head. “Somehow he defeated your demon vipers and eluded you. But we still have the book—”

“He is getting stronger,” the Dragon roars, caring nothing for letting his underling finish a sentence. “Each time he eludes us he becomes more confident.”

“Not so strong that he could defeat you, sire.”

“Of course not. But if he comes to
believe
he can defeat me, he can harm our plan, all we've worked so hard to accomplish, all we mean to destroy.” The Dragon turns back to the book. “These words speak of a new day, countering the rise of
my
kingdom. They suggest a model of the world under the Son's rule.”

“Such words would instill a false hope in the people,” RHM says. “That is why you have so wisely kept words from them.”

“The fact is,
he
found this. The Wormling read it, and the words became part of him. He read far enough to breach the portal; we know that. It's to our advantage that the Son has no idea who he is.”

“He can't be far from the castle,” RHM says. He draws a circle on an aged map on the wall. “We think he is somewhere within this area, but this Watcher of his alerts him to our flyers, and the tracking device—”

“Has been destroyed. I know.” The Dragon flips to the back of the book, brow furrowed as if struggling to grasp the meaning. “It says here—” he taps the page—“that their world will be cleansed by fire.”

“Your plan all along, sire.”

“Yes,” he purrs. “Truly perfect. They will welcome this cleansing as for their own good, and we will strike them down.” He turns a furtive eye toward his underling. “It also says that these beings are vulnerable to temptation.”

RHM chuckles. “Right you are, sire.”

The Dragon growls, and something flashes in his eyes. “Bring the Changeling. I have an important mission for him.”

Now imagine music that changes suddenly, like darkness giving way to sunrise. Beautiful strings announce the light, and French horns welcome the new day.

Nicodemus, a guardian of the light, sits among the tall pines—not that he has to rest or sleep or do anything humans must do, but he chooses to relax and enjoy the pine scent wafting along the hillside and the babble of a stream filled with brown trout. What a stark contrast to the Dragon is this good being, chosen to shadow our hero and guard him.

From the time Nicodemus was first assigned to Owen Reeder (he did not know the boy would turn out to be the Wormling), the tall being has kept the boy in view, seen him discover his identity and grow in strength and knowledge. With each new challenge, Nicodemus has sensed a growing confidence in the lad.

Other invisibles stalking Owen have called Nicodemus out, challenging him as they have the boy. Ever wise and obedient, Nicodemus has held back. Not that it was easy to listen to the taunts of the sniveling invisibles. But Nicodemus has a higher calling.

“Still following the loser?” one would taunt.

“The Dragon will fry him for breakfast,” another said. “And you with him.”

They made fun of Owen's name, his friends, and even that he carried the magical worm that could breach the portals.

Because these beings knew Nicodemus was following Owen and were themselves seeking the life of his charge, Nicodemus stayed far enough away to throw them off. He withstood the taunts, believing with every ounce of strength in his being that his King would one day win the battle.

When something moved in the treetops, Nicodemus sat up. A streak of light crossed the sky and landed near him. It was Rushalla, one of the King's most trusted messengers.

“What brings you?” Nicodemus said.

The normally pleasant Rushalla gave a grim smile and handed him a parchment. “A message from the King.”

“Directly from the Sovereign?”

Rushalla looked away.

Nicodemus scanned the message. “There is no question that this is the King's own hand. But how—?”

“You have sworn to uphold the King's wishes,” Rushalla said.

“Did I say I wouldn't?” Nicodemus snapped.

“You look troubled.”

“Wouldn't you be? After spending all this time and energy, after literally saving the Wormling's life, I am to pull my protection? pull my watch care?”

“You're implying that
you
are directing his steps?” Rushalla said. “You are the one who has guided him this far?”

“I-I am merely a helper sent by the Sovereign. I have no power beyond that which he gives.”

“Or that which he takes away,” Rushalla said.

“But what if the Dragon discovers the Wormling's whereabouts? Or if his minions threaten the Wormling's life? Even now a force is massing on the plain.”

“Do you suddenly mistrust the Sovereign?”

“Of course not. But in watching this young man, I have picked up some of his ways. I see how he walks through the possibilities of what
might
happen and what
could
happen before he makes a decision.”

“You do not think the Sovereign has your charge's best interests at heart?”

“I fear what might happen to him without me.”

“The lad has the Watcher. And he has his good heart.”

“And he has the entire invisible kingdom arrayed against him,” Nicodemus spat. “You know what happened when the Dragon
himself
came after him.”

“You think the Sovereign doesn't care?”

Nicodemus hung his head and shuddered. When he could speak, he said, “I'm not worthy. I've disgraced my Sovereign.”

“Doubting is not cause for dismissal,” Rushalla said. “The Sovereign knows you care. These are only his wishes.”

“But to leave the Wormling . . .” He looked at his orders again. “And to watch
this
man . . . by all accounts his situation is hopeless. He is without a Wormling mind. Without much of a mind at all. I am to go there and just wait and hope . . . ?”

“You cannot predict what the Sovereign will do. No one knows his ways or his plans. We simply carry out his wishes.”

“I know,” Nicodemus muttered. “But this?”

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