Before Bobby Pendragon.
Before Saint Dane.
Before the war . . .
Every territory of Halla has a Traveler. They lived for yearsâ€”some even for decadesâ€”before learning of their true destiny. What was life like for Bobby Pendragon’s fellow Travelers before they joined him in the fight to save every time and place that has ever existed? What led up to their becoming the guardians of Halla? The answers are here!
In this first of three thrilling Pendragon prequels, read about Vo Spader’s death-defying adventures in the underwater world of Cloral, Gunny Van Dyke’s race to find a murderer in 1930′s Manhattan on First Earth, and the tough challenges Kasha faced on Eelong well before Bobby Pendragon arrived . . . .
Kasha smelled it before she saw it.
Kasha’s ears flattened against her head, and her mouth curled back in a silent snarl. She hated tangs. She had good reason: The vicious lizardlike creatures had killed her mother several years ago. Tangs threatened Kasha and the other klees’ lives whenever they left the city of Leeandra or ventured off the sky bridges and took to the jungle floor. Tangs were the reason klees built their cities on bridges and platforms in the enormous trees, high above the ground. She and her forage group risked a run-in with tangs every time they worked. Like today.
Now there was one nearby.
She dropped down to all fours and held still, her whiskers twitching. Although she usually stood on her hind legs, Kasha preferred hunkering down low to the ground to assess a situation. And she moved much faster using all four paws.
Tangs were tall, at least seven feet — but the fruit stalks were taller. All Kasha could see was the occasional flash of its bright green scaly tail thumping the ground.
The tang was holding still too. Kasha hoped that was because the tang hadn’t detected her presence. The green stalks didn’t camouflage her blue-black fur and dark tunic very well. But the whiff she’d gotten was the usual unpleasant tang stink, not the stench the two-legged monstrosities emitted when going after prey. Kasha intended to keep it that way.
Kasha swiftly slunk through the towering stalks, taking care not to disturb them. Any rustling or movement would be certain to attract the tang’s attention. She needed to get back to Boon and Durgen and warn them.
There were two forage groups out today, and the carts were positioned at opposite ends of the harvest area. Pale, furless gars were picking fruit between the two carts and radiating out from them. Gars were stationed with the carts as well, to receive the bags of fruit — and as first fodder for tangs if an attack took place.
Kasha had offered to check the northern plants to see if it would be worth including them in today’s forage. The weather had been difficult this growing season, and the fields were ripening at different rates. She’d refused to bring any gars with her for this part of the forage — they were too clumsy and dim-witted, and she feared they’d attract tangs with their noisy movements.
Durgen had protested and suggested they wait until the next flyover to make the determination about harvesting from the air, but Kasha had insisted. The last two forages had been disappointing. She felt it was her responsibility as a forager to ensure an adequate food supply. The entire population of Leeandra depended on the foragers.
Now she wished she hadn’t refused the escort.
How many tangs were there? Was this one monstrous creature out on its own, or was it an advance scout searching for food? Food like gars and klees.
She reached the outskirts of the picking area, and as far as she could tell, the tang hadn’t followed her. She might be able to get the gars to pack up their sacks and move on without having to face an attack.
Like the tangs, gars were two-legged creatures, but they were much smaller, much weaker. Gars were also smaller and less powerful than the klees; Kasha wasn’t sure if that was due to their living conditions or was just the way of their species. It didn’t matter really. Gars were what they were.
None of the gars glanced her way as they kept their heads down and their feeble minds on their work. That was good — she didn’t want to start a panic. She wanted to get as much of the fruit packed as she could.
Should they bring the cart closer to the gars, or get the gars moving faster toward the cart? In either case, she had to alert the other klees. If there was one tang, there might be more.
Kasha picked up her pace but resisted the urge to break into a full-out run. Her paws padded over the rough ground as she made swift and steady progress toward the cart.
She’d reached a cleared area. A stream of gars was bringing bulging sacks and loading them into the cart. Kasha’s friend, Boon, sat in the driver’s seat, keeping watch. Durgen, the forage group leader, was supervising the gars. The rest of the klees had gone into the fields with the gars to oversee the work.
Kasha’s fur bristled. She heard a rustling behind her. Her nose twitched, picking up the tang’s scent.
It was approaching. Time to run.
Her paws hit the ground hard, and she knew she was making more sound than she should, but she had to get to the cart before the tang noticed it.
She raced to the cart — and didn’t have to say a word.
“Which direction?” Durgen asked the moment he saw her.
“North,” Kasha panted, catching her breath.
“Then we go south!” Boon said, taking up the reins as Kasha leaped up onto the cart. The two zenzens pulling the cart stopped munching on dry grasses and lifted their large orange heads.
“Yah!” Boon shouted, flicking the reins. The zenzens responded with a quick trot, the extra joints in their legs helping them pick up speed quickly.
As soon as the nearby gars saw the cart move, they dropped their sacks and raced after it. They knew all too well what this kind of sudden movement meant.
“Hang on!” Boon exclaimed. He yanked the reins hard, forcing the zenzens into a sharp turn. Kasha slid across the cart while Durgen lunged for the bags of fruit, keeping them from falling out.
Kasha’s bones jarred as the cart landed with a jerk, then lurched forward.
“Sorry!” Boon called. He flicked the reins again and urged the zenzens to pick up their pace.
Kasha leaped up to stand, planting her feet wide to keep her balance, her keen eyes searching. “The tang! It spotted us!”
The horrible creature burst out of the stalks. It stood at the edge of the cleared area, its angry red eyes flashing in its reptilian head, and its long green hair tangled into the quivering stalks. Its green tongue flicked out as it hissed, revealing its multiple rows of teeth. Terrified gars scattered in all directions, desperate to escape.
“Go! Go! Go!” Kasha cried.
“I’m going!” Boon shouted back.
The tang’s head whipped back and forth. Kasha knew it was trying to decide who to take down. The gars were confusing it by running in so many directions. Of course, Kasha thought, none of them has any idea if there are more tangs out there. They might only be safe for a moment.
“We’re crushing the fields!” Kasha growled in frustration. She hated seeing all those dropped sacks and trampled stalks.
“We’re staying alive,” Durgen snapped.
The tang made its decision. Kasha turned away as it leaped onto a nearby gar. The gar’s agonized howl of pain made the zenzens pick up their pace. The cart rattled and shook, mowing down more stalks as it hurtled across the field.
“How are we doing?” Boon called back.
Kasha turned to look again. “The tang has a gar to keep it busy. That should give us enough time to get away. But we lost so much harvest!”
Kasha suddenly had an idea. She leaped from the moving cart, landing on all fours.
“What are you doing?” Durgen shouted at her. “Get back here!”
Kasha ignored him. She let out a roar to stop the fleeing gars. “Pick up those sacks now!”
“We are not waiting for you!” Durgen was standing in the cart, shouting after her.
“We’ll catch up!” Kasha shouted back.
She reached down and grabbed a sack and shoved it into a nearby gar’s chest. Startled, he took it from her. “Pick them up! And run!”
The gars did what they were told, as always. The tang was feeding and wouldn’t stop until it had finished. That bought them a little time.
Despite what Durgen had said, the cart slowed down. The gars ran to it and hurled in their sacks, then continued running. Kasha brought up the rear and threw in a sack herself before clambering back up.
“That was a very foolish thing to do,” Durgen scolded.
Kasha smirked. “But you’re glad I did it. We saved a good portion of that forage.”
“You take too many chances,” Durgen said.
“It was a calculated risk. For the good of Leeandra.”
“What do I do?” Boon asked, slowing the zenzen to a wary walk. “Do we stop here and continue to harvest, or do we warn Flor’s group?”
“That tang back there may still follow us,” Kasha said. “We should probably — ”
She stopped speaking when she saw a horde of frantic gars running toward them. From the opposite direction.
“Trouble,” Boon growled.
“If they’re running this way that must mean…”
Durgen nodded grimly. “Tangs. On the other side of the fields.”
“So we have at least one tang behind us,” Boon said, “and more in front of us.”
Kasha hissed in fury. “They’re not smart enough to have trapped us. It’s a fluke that we’re being boxed in.”
“Flor’s group is in trouble,” Durgen said.
“So are we!” Boon cried. The new group of gars joined the others and swarmed the cart, trying to climb in, spooking the zenzens. One of the animals reared, pulling the cart up with it. The sudden movement knocked Kasha off balance. She slammed into the side of the cart, the wind knocked out of her.
Durgen unsheathed his claws and slashed the pale, furless hands reaching into the cart. “Stay back!” he shouted. “Get to the main road! Go!”
“Get away!” Boon cried. “Get away from the zenzens! You’ll be crushed!”
Kasha pulled herself upright. Some of the gars listened to the orders and raced away. Others were either too frightened or too stupid to pay attention. They kept trying to get into the cart, but it was moving too quickly.
“We have to get to Flor,” Kasha said. “Those klees will need our help!”
“Up ahead!” Boon shouted.
Kasha saw a red-and-brown-striped klee standing in a cart. Flor. He was fending off two tangs. Two dead klees and five dead gars lay on the ground.
Boon pulled the cart to a stop. “How close should we get?”
“Two against one is no match,” Kasha said. “Not with tangs.”
Durgen pulled a flying disc from his pouch and grabbed a spear that hung on the side of the cart. He stood and aimed. “I can’t get a shot from here without hitting Flor,” he said, his fur bristling in frustration.
The terrible odor of hungry tangs filled the air. Gars were scattering, running everywhere. The chaos gave Kasha an idea.
“We have to attract the tangs’ attention,” Kasha said. “Divert them. At least one of them. Improve the odds.”
“Get closer!” Kasha instructed Boon.
“Do it,” Durgen agreed.
“Yah!” Boon got the zenzens moving again.
Kasha clambered onto the driver’s seat with Boon. She hunkered down on her haunches, preparing. With a burst of energy, she pushed off with her powerful back legs and leaped onto the back of one of the galloping zenzens. It let out a startled whinny and bucked, but she hung on. She crawled forward so she could sit up on its back in a proper riding position, clinging to the zenzen’s heaving flanks with her legs.
“Go left!” she cried.
Boon yanked the reins and the zenzen responded. Kasha twisted around to face the cart. “Throw me a spear!”
Durgen stood and flung her a weapon. Kasha caught it neatly and faced forward again. She flipped the spear around and used the handle to prod a nearby gar.
“Go!” she shouted at it. “Straight!” She began herding the gars closer to the tang. Despite their terror of the tangs, the thundering hooves and the snarling klee baring her teeth and claws made them obey.
“Hey!” Kasha shouted at the tangs. “Over here! Dinner!”
The tangs turned to look, just as Kasha had hoped.
“Gars!” she shouted. “Run away as fast as you can!” She swiped the air with the spear, sending half the group she’d corralled in one direction, and the other half the opposite way.
One of the tangs took off after a group of gars. It pounced on a stumbling gar, knocking it to the ground. It opened its drooling mouth wide, its second set of fangs glistening, and went to work on the gar.
The other tang paused for a moment, and its indecision gave Flor the opening he needed. He grabbed a spear and sent it deep into the tang’s flesh.
Kasha hurtled her flying disc at the tang. It sliced neatly into the back of its neck.
The tang jerked up and let out a howl. As it flung its head back to screech, Kasha flung another disc at it, this time slicing right into its throat.
Boon slowed the zenzens to a stop. Kasha brought her breathing back to normal as she dismounted.
“Any more?” Durgen called to Flor.
Flor shook his head, too winded to speak.
“Home?” Boon asked.
“I think we’re safe from here.” Durgen ordered the remaining gars to pick up the sacks and load the carts. They avoided looking at the dead as they went about their work.
“Thanks,” Flor called to Kasha.
“You would do the same for me,” she replied.
Kasha sat on the edge of the cart as it rumbled out of the field, heading back to Leeandra. Exhausted gars trundled alongside the cart, blood- and mud-spattered.
“You did well,” Durgen said to Kasha. He wasn’t one to give compliments, so Kasha knew she had particularly impressed him. “You saved Flor and much of the harvest.”
She shrugged. “If we don’t forage well, everyone suffers. Even the gars.”
“Your dedication is something to be proud of,” Durgen said. “You set a good example. Particularly for one so young. You are your father’s daughter.”
Kasha took in a deep breath and let it out again. More than anything, that last compliment was the one that pleased her.
Still, she kept her eyes firmly focused forward as they lumbered along the path to the main road through the dense jungle. She didn’t want to see the casualties. She knew it was the way of things — tangs attacked and klees had to use all weapons at hand to protect themselves and the harvest, even if that meant losing gars. Most of them got away, she reminded herself. The losses would have been greater if she hadn’t been so quick to act.
Much worse for everyone.
Copyright Â© 2009 by D. J. MacHale