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First pages

2021, The Orphanage

The sound of sweet laughter sang through the halls of the orphanage, and it was contagious. Outside, groups of children sat on the grass in the warm sun and enjoyed the smell of honeysuckle that grew wild in the yard. One group listened to a story that was being told in exaggerated tones by one of the older girls. Another group had laid out a blanket and was working on rebuilding a remote control car that had been completely dismantled into the smallest possible pieces. Yet another group sat in a line, with pads of paper on their laps, and created pictures of the mountainous landscape with broken pieces of chalk. This was now a normal day at the orphanage; every face wore a smile.

The ever-present clouds of fallout seemed thinner than ever since Karina and her friends faced off against Malocchia, in Skull Mountain, about one year ago. The weather was still somewhat random, but the sun broke through the clouds more often now. It would shine on the orphanage and transform the brick to bright, vibrant reds. It gave off deep, contrasting shadows as it shined through the gothic arches, and it glistened off the crystal clean windows that decorated all sides of the beautiful building.

The landscaping was still overgrown, but now it was green and lush with new growth. Ironically, it was Rae, the gifted girl with the power to pull the life from living things, who decided to take advantage of the weather and start the orchards. She had polished the extremities of her gift to the point that she could now “grow” living things at a much faster rate than normal. She sat with each new seedling that the orphans planted, and she used her gift to nourish the plants until they were tall, strong, and baring fruit. Consequently, the orphanage was now surrounded by acres of trees growing apples, pears, oranges, and a variety of other fruits.

The fields were maintained by the children and this was just one of their many jobs. They all enjoyed working together on these important tasks. Unlike the days when Malocchia, Miss Di, and Billy Zubob ran the orphanage, Clickety Clack, an old friend of Karina’s grandmother and a rather impressive fighter and alchemist, believed that the children should take ownership of the orphanage. He thought that they should make it their “home”. To do this, he said that they needed to be the decision makers and the ones to be in charge of the upkeep and development of the grounds. Of course, he guided them because he was wise and you just can’t have sweets for every meal, as many of the children would have chosen. But he stayed back as much as possible while the children took more and more pride in this once run-down building.

Besides farming, there were plenty of other jobs. The children established a fair cleaning routine in which they basically took care of their individual messes. Building repairs were handled by some of the children who were interested in things like plumbing and carpentry. Bernice, Karina’s former roommate and the biggest bully in the orphanage, was in charge of the kitchen staff, which was comprised of girls and boys who all loved to cook. Some kids were traders, who would go into the nearby towns for much needed supplies. Others were caregivers who tended to the needs of the youngest orphans. There were hunters, nurses, teachers, and there were those who looked after the animals, the pigs and goats.

The most sought after job, which had only been established for two months, belonged to the ‘Moles’. They were the children who were in charge of exploring and mapping the hidden passages of the orphanage. So far, they had discovered forty-three passages and nine new rooms throughout the house. Three of the nine rooms had already been converted into bedrooms for some of the older kids; two were being used as classrooms; one was a nurses’ station; two were still in the process of being thoroughly examined; and the last one was a massive armory. Evilyn, Karina’s best friend who happened to be of goblin decent, was the most experienced with the hidden passages, and was therefore appointed the position of Head Mole.

The armory was Harris Christies’ favorite room in the house. Harris was a cocky older boy who was a gifted fighter. He was able to use any ordinary object as a weapon, with deadly precision. With an actual weapon in his hand, Harris was nearly unstoppable. The armory was filled with ancient weapons: swords, spears, daggers, staffs, and slings. It almost appeared to be a museum dedicated to weaponry, but Harris was having the time of his life experimenting and discovering how to use each item in the room. He hoped to teach a self-defense with weapons class when he finished his experimentation.

As Clickety Clack had hoped for, the orphanage had become more than just a place to stay, more than a roof over the children’s heads, more than some familiar faces, and more than a meal in their bellies. It had become more than the sum of its parts. In fact, it had become a home to all the children.

Karina and Seth sat outside with books in hand, leaning against Mazzo who was sleeping in the warm sun, producing a puddle of drool big enough to swim in. He was Karina’s pet, which she had originally created by accident, when she first learned that she had a special gift that allowed her drawings to come to life. He had been killed when he heroically protected Karina from the deadly touch of Rae, who had been misled by Malocchia. Now, however, Mazzo was stronger than ever. Karina had recreated him using some of the items in her treasured trunk: a bottle of ink, which was made from the ashes of half of a very special twig, and a seemingly simple feather, which she used as a quill.

Mazzo was the last creation of Karina’s. She had decided that she should learn more about her gift before she used it again. Therefore, she had dedicated herself to reading the hidden words within her sketchbook, with the help of a magical looking-stone that she also found in her trunk. She hoped there would be more explanation of how to use the sketchbook, the trunk, and the items within it, but, so far, she had little luck.

Karina had discovered, however, that her mother was part of a group of witches and wizards called the Coven. Her grandmother was also part of the Coven, but she was a Watcher, the most powerful of them all. Finally, Karina had learned that she too was a witch and, quite possibly, a Watcher. Therefore, despite the fact that Karina was not creating new creatures, she had been expanding her powers.

One of the items within her trunk was the other half of the very special twig. It was taken, long ago, from the Goblin Shrub, which was made to be a safeguard against a very powerful Guardian, created by the three original tribes. She was finding that she could use the twig in a way that allowed her to do many remarkable things.

As she read her sketchbook, she held the twig with her fingertips and gently flicked it up and down. In front of her danced a flock of flower petals, about a foot from the ground, in unison with her flicks. When she twirled the twig, as though she was stirring the air, the petals aligned as they spiraled higher off the ground.

In addition to levitating small objects, Karina had learned to stop spells, at the request of Clickety Clack. This was a precaution, in case an attempted spell went bad. Finally, she also learned to use the twig to cast the ‘Illuminare’ spell. With this, she could produce orbs of light that would float nearby and last for several minutes. This came in handy as she read her sketchbook at night, because the orb would fade out soon after she would fall asleep.

Seth didn’t need an excuse to read. He loved it, and he consumed books with a ravenous appetite. He could remember every detail of everything he read, which only enhanced his problem solving ability. This was his gift, to analyze a situation with incredible clarity, and apply that analysis to solve problems. It proved to be an invaluable gift when they battled Malocchia’s goblins, and Seth proved to be a master general.

Although Seth never quite got the hang of firearms, he was able to hold his own in hand-to-hand combat. Throughout the battles with the goblins, he used a battle-axe with impressive success. However, after Karina defeated Malocchia, the Goblin Shrub seemed to give him a staff made out of the same gnarled wood as the shrub. Over the last year, when he was not reading, he was practicing with the staff. It was light and strong, and he could wield it as if it was part of his body. Most importantly, Seth figured out that, when he concentrated, he could generate remarkable force from the staff. This had become his weapon of choice, and it never left his side.

A gust of wind broke Seth and Karina from their books and woke Mazzo from his slumber. It was caused by Notch, Seth’s dragon, who had flown dangerously close and at a high rate of speed. Notch was another of Karina’s creations, but he had taken to Seth right from the start. He seemed small for a dragon, about nine feet tall at the shoulders, but then, who was to say how big a dragon should be? His low fly-by signaled to Seth and Karina that it was training time.

Seth hopped to his feet and said to Karina, “Beat ya there!” Grabbing his staff and leaving his book on the ground, he positioned himself in the open and waited for Notch to fly by again. Notch had circled around and was approaching quickly. Seth turned and ran in the same direction and jumped up and to the side as Notch neared. Notch was flying inches above the ground. He adjusted his head only slightly to the side to be in the perfect position to catch Seth in midair. Seth grabbed on tight and Notch immediately shot straight upward. Seth shouted out a “whoop” of delight as the two flew gracefully to the open field that they had designated for their new training area. They had moved it out of the large gymnasium located within the orphanage. Now that it was known to all that “gifted” children existed, there was no need to hide it.

Karina had no interest in racing Seth to the training field. She lazily stood up and nudged Mazzo with her foot. Mazzo, who was enjoying basking in the sun, was in no more of a hurry than Karina was. She picked up Seth’s book along with her own and began to walk to the field. Mazzo shook off his slumber with a big stretch and a gaping yawn that showed the sharp teeth in the back of his mouth. Then he scampered alongside Karina like an excited puppy. A few minutes later, as they approached Seth and Notch, who were now standing at the edge of the field, they could see the children that were wrapping up their training session.

There were two, a boy and a girl, both about twelve years old. They were standing together and appeared to be taking aim at a large boulder that sat on the far end of the field. As Karina approached, Seth looked over his shoulder and said, “Check out Quinn. He’s really getting his accuracy dialed in!”

Just then, the boy pushed out his hands towards the boulder. With that motion, a small stream of something that looked like fire shot from his palm. It rolled through the air and nearly hit the boulder, landing just a few feet short. Although the field had been cleared of all vegetation, the ground erupted in flames. The little girl followed that up by dropping to her knees and placing her palms flat on the ground, and then she closed her eyes in a look of deep concentration. In a moment, the dirt around the flame began to quiver. The quiver turned into a ripple, the ripple into a wave. Then the earth rose up around the fire and plunged on top of the burning ground. It quickly smothered and extinguished the flame, leaving nothing but a cloud of billowing dust in its wake.

Karina’s eyes widened, and she said, “Wow! It looks like Alisa is getting pretty good too!”

Seth looked back at her with his jaw hanging and the same, wide-eyed look on his face. “I guess so!” he said as they waited for Quinn and Alisa to notice them.

Quinn was an excitable, outgoing boy who loved to talk. He was what the kids called a “chemist,” one who could manipulate the elemental properties around him, resulting in some sort of chemical reaction. In his case, he could create a reaction similar to spontaneous combustion. He had a toothy, ear-to-ear smile, which appeared whenever he began to share a story. Once he started, he would just keep on talking until somebody would simply tell him to stop for a while. Clickety Clack, who was quite excitable himself, and who often accompanied the gifted children to the training field to give them advice in developing and controlling their powers, once made it a rule that Quinn was not allowed to tell any stories on their walk to the field. Quinn adjusted to the rule by asking a barrage of questions. Clickety responded by asking if his gift was “talking people to death.” Quinn somehow smiled bigger and continued with the questions.

Alisa was just the opposite. She was so soft spoken that one might have considered her to be almost withdrawn if it wasn’t for the fact that she loved to be around other people. She was a pretty girl, tall and thin, and she always made sure that she was presentable before she left her room. She spent most of her time practicing her gift, which had something to do with warping the natural frequencies of the world around her. Her constant practicing was clearly paying off.

Quinn and Alisa had lived in the orphanage for two years, but neither of them realized that they were gifted until months after Malocchia was gone. They both stumbled across their talents: Alisa, when she accidently caused a small tremor in the dining room during breakfast one morning; and Quinn, when he set one of Rae’s prized apple trees ablaze, after becoming extremely excited about a story he was telling during a morning harvest.

There were five other orphans who were living in the house under Malocchia, who had since discovered that they too had gifts. In addition, six more with gifts found their way to the orphanage after her departure. Consequently, the training field got a lot of use.

“Nice job you guys,” Seth said to Quinn and Alisa as they left the field.

Alisa just smiled in passing while Quinn broke into a story. “Thanks! You should have seen this one shot! I p…”

Seth wisely cut him off by saying, “Tell me about it later, okay?”

Quinn replied with a toothy smile and a shake of the head as Alisa led him away.

The training field was huge, nearly forty acres of a rocky hillside. The terrain was rough in places and flat in others. The area was bordered by cliffs and large rock formations that resembled bleachers around a stadium. It was once covered in sagebrush and tumbleweeds, but Clickety and the children cleared it all away for the sake of safety. All that remained were several massive boulders that seemed to have been randomly placed.

Karina was anxious to begin. “I read about this freeze spell that grandma would cast. I can’t wait to try it out!”

Seth was excited for her. “Like, you can make things really cold?” he asked.

“No,” she responded as she held the looking stone to her eye and fingered through the sketchbook. “Here it is. It’s more like slowing things down so that they can barely move. Grandma mentioned it here. She called it the…” Karina awkwardly sounded it out, “para… paralizzare spell.” Upon saying the word aloud, Karina’s twig vibrated softly. She smiled up at Seth who smiled back in anticipation. Karina set the looking stone and the sketchbook to the side and held the twig with her fingertips. Turning towards one of the random boulders, she repeated the word as she flicked her wrist. “Paralizzare!” she commanded. The twig vibrated with more intensity, but nothing else happened.

“Did it work?” asked Seth.

Karina looked at her target with a gaping mouth and answered, “Oh my god! Yes, it worked!”

Seth got excited and began to run to her. “How do you know?” he asked with sincere curiosity.

She smirked at him and sarcastically said, “The boulder isn’t moving! It must be frozen!” Then she giggled a little.

He stopped running and his excitement turned into a headshake, suggesting that he did not approve of her joke, but his smile suggested that he actually did. “You’re such a punk,” he said.

She shrugged her shoulders as if to agree, sat down on a small, nearby boulder, and said, “Let’s see what you got.”

Seth choked up on his staff and continued to walk towards the boulder, which stood as tall as he did. “I’m gonna crack this thing today,” he said confidently as he gripped the staff with his other hand and raised it above his head. With a mighty swing, he brought the full force of his weapon down upon the boulder! Clank! Seth dropped his staff. “Ouch!” he yelled while rubbing his forehead.

“What happened?” asked Karina trying in vain not to laugh.

“It bounced off that stupid rock and hit me right in the head,” he said as he started to laugh.

“You need to concentrate more. Try imagining yourself hitting through the boulder,” advised Karina, still laughing.

“Okay,” Seth said while picking up his staff. “Concentrate,” he muttered, “Imagine.” He gripped his staff tighter and closed his eyes while still muttering, “Concentrate, imagine.” While he mumbled the staff started to change, tendrils grew out of the staff and formed around his hands, twisting and tightening until they drew blood. The tendrils then dove into Seth’s skin, burrowing under all the way to his elbows.

“Oh my god! Seth, what’s happening?” shrieked Karina. But Seth didn’t seem to hear her. He didn’t even seem concerned with the tendrils. He just opened his eyes, ran to the boulder and brought his staff down. Crack! The boulder shattered into small chunks and tiny slivers.

Seth stepped back as the dust settled. Then, just as quickly as the tendrils appeared, they disappeared, slithering up and out of his arms, retreating into the staff, leaving no sign that they were ever there.

Dumbfounded, Seth just stood and stared at the spot where a boulder once sat, breaking his gaze to look at his staff, and then looking back at the former boulder. Karina stared at Seth with the same, dumbfounded expression. Finally, Seth turned towards her. As if she had asked a question like, “How did you do that?” he shrugged his shoulders as if to respond, “I have no idea.” They both let out a short, fake, and nervous laugh. Karina finally broke the silence and said, “Let’s, let’s head back and tell Clickety about this. Okay?” Seth maintained his silence and his look of surprise as he shook his head to agree with her suggestion.

Karina grabbed her twig and the books and stood up. “Come on, let’s go,” she said.

“Okay,” Seth grumbled, and they walked back to the orphanage.

On their way back, the weather shifted. The thin clouds began to thicken and billow, and the temperature dropped slightly. The light breeze, that earlier carried the smell of honeysuckle, had disappeared. Large snowflakes began to fall, but with the absence of wind, they drifted lazily to the ground. Soon, the snow was sticking and forming a thin, white blanket over the path that lead back to the orphanage. It was also beginning to stick to the wings of Mazzo and Notch, prompting them to hurry home.

Knowing that it wouldn’t last, Seth and Karina welcomed the snow. They walked with their faces up and their arms outstretched. For several minutes, they let the snowflakes land and melt on their skin before they became too cold and wet. The random weather was so common that they always prepared for it. So they unwrapped thin coats they had tied around their waists and slipped them over their shoulders.

Karina asked Seth as the white blanket grew denser, “Is this going to freeze the crops?”

“It shouldn’t last,” he replied dismissively as he dragged his feet through the powder. “You know what it’s like around here; it’ll probably melt away in ten minutes.” He didn’t notice the clump of snow she was packing into a ball.

“Hey,” Karina said jokingly, “maybe class will be cancelled!” Then she blasted him in the shoulder with the snowball and started running up the path.

“Punk!” he yelled with a surprised laugh. He scooped up his own clump of snow and began to pack it as he started after her. “Get back here!” The snow crunched with every step, and, within moments, he caught up to her. He tried to smash the snowball onto her head, she tried her best to fend off his retaliation, and they both laughed hysterically the whole time.

When they finally stopped laughing, they stood for a moment to catch their breath. And when their breathing calmed they noticed a deep silence. This was strange because they were near enough to the orphanage now, that they should have heard children playing. In a snowfall like this, they should have heard the ruckus of other snowball fights and the laughter of children building snowmen. To the contrary, the silence was so deep that they could almost hear the flakes as they landed.

With a puzzled scowl, Karina asked, “What’s wrong? It’s too quiet, right?”

“Yeah,” Seth said as he surveyed the area, “way too quiet. Come on.” He ran the remainder of the way to the orphanage, and Karina followed with her much smaller stride. When she rounded the last turn of the path, from which the forest opened to the huge yard that surrounded their home, Seth was standing with his own scowl of confusion. He held out a hand to stop her. When she did, he pointed to the side of the building that faced them.

Behind the tall windows, the children crowded. Wide-eyed and clearly terrified, they jockeyed for position, and they pointed urgently in the direction of the apple orchard, as if they were trying to give a warning to Seth and Karina.

“Karina,” said Seth in a whisper, “look.” He pointed to the ground by her feet.

Karina’s eyes followed his gesture to find a trail, resembling footprints, in the deepening snow. With that, she quickly realized the cause of everyone’s concern. These prints were massive and spaced so far apart that she would not be able to jump from one to the next if she tried. If it weren’t for the repeated stepping pattern, made so clear by the snow, leading all the way to the orchard, neither Karina nor Seth would have even recognized them as footprints. But, if these were, in fact, footprints, Karina and Seth understood why all of the children were hiding in the house, because whatever created them must have been quite scary.

Unlike the other children, the two followed the trail to the orchard. Leaves and broken twigs were scattered within and around each of the huge prints. Upon entering the orchard, the prints meandered back and forth, and weaved between trees. Occasionally, a cluster of prints would accompany fallen apples at the base of a tree, but they eventually continued to the thickest part of the orchard.

Karina and Seth maintained silence as they tracked the source of the prints, although they had no idea what they were looking for and no idea what they would do if they found it. Their instinct was to follow the tracks, to protect the children within the orphanage, but now they were second-guessing that decision. They had never willingly faced a dangerous situation without their friends, without Karina’s trunk, and without Mazzo and Notch. Seth held tight to his staff hoping for the same reaction he received at the training field, but nothing of the sort happened. Karina gripped her twig in her fingertips, but she had no idea what she would do if she had to use it. Nervously, they continued.

There was a place in the orchard where Rae liked to spend time alone; it had become her sanctuary. There, she had nurtured the trees more than any other place. They towered above the rest of the orchard to a height that was unnatural for apple trees. They grew in a large circle, planted so tightly together that their trunks created a nearly solid wall, yet they were thick and sturdy. She left one large gap for an entrance, where she reared the trunks to grow into a beautiful arch, twelve feet tall at its peak. High above, their dense canopies twisted together to form a living dome. Below the dome, little light could enter, and when it snowed, no flakes could reach the ground. At the edge of the circle of trees, where the blanket of snow ended, the trail of footprints naturally disappeared.

Following the trail, Seth’s curiosity had blinded his common sense, and he walked recklessly into the circle of trees without giving it a second thought. Karina followed reluctantly, but stayed close for protection.

He studied the ground as he said, “Without the snow, I can’t make out any more prints. The light’s to dim, I can’t tell if…”

“Seth,” she interrupted as they neared the center of the circle, “shouldn’t we wait for back up?”

In the faint light that barely reached him, Seth looked surprised, like someone who had just awoken from a deep sleep. “Yeah, I guess we should have,” he said apologetically. “Let’s get out.”

But, as they began to turn for the entrance, a low, whale-like moan froze them in their tracks. They looked at each other’s shadowy faces, wide-eyed, and uncertain of what to do. The area near the entrance was lit, but most of the room was cast in darkness. If they had time to allow their eyes to adjust, they might have been able to see, but they were used to the brightness of the snow, so the adjustment to the dark was sluggish. There was something in there; they could hear it but couldn’t see it. They were sitting ducks; trapped in a room with only one exit, and with no idea of what they were facing.

Slowly Karina lifted her twig, twirled it in a circle, and whispered, “Illuminare.” Gradually, a soft, swirling glow arose from the end of the twig, slowly taking the shape of a small, luminescent bird. When it fully formed, it leapt from its perch, spread its wings, and began to circle the room. With every flap, it left floating sparks in its undulating path.

“Whoa,” Seth whispered in amazement as his eyes followed the flight of the bird. “That’s a step up from your glowing orbs. When did you learn to do that?”

Karina was just as amazed. “Just now,” she said. “It just kinda happened.”

They were both tempted to marvel at the source of light; it was amusing, like watching fireworks, but they had something more pressing to deal with. So, as the room gradually filled with light, Karina and Seth stood back to back, scanning the room for whatever it was they had just heard, for what had created those enormous footprints in the snow. They both anticipated that they would catch a glimpse of something monstrous just before it would leap out unexpectedly, but they saw nothing. With every circle the bird made, the room grew brighter, they grew tenser, yet they still saw nothing.

Then Seth tapped Karina’s shoulder and pointed downward. They had both been looking up, scanning the walls for a towering beast, and hadn’t realized that the light in the room was allowing them to see the ground. Now, even without the snow, the footprints in the dirt and twigs became clear. They led to the wall of trees nearly straight across from the entrance. There, they stopped abruptly, as though the beast suddenly vanished, or, more likely, went directly through the wall.

This seemed possible to Karina; the trees were sturdy, but they were still somewhat flexible. Something big enough and strong enough could have parted the trees and simply stepped through to the other side. She sighed in relief and walked forward to investigate the probable exit point.

Seth, meanwhile, was deep in analysis of the situation. He saw the disturbance of the ground that formed the footprints, and realized that they seemed to have turned around at the wall, which meant that the beast would have needed to step through backwards. Then he considered what would happen if the abnormal apple trees were parted. The canopies were so intertwined that branches and limbs would have snapped, yet there were no signs of this; no obvious splintering of tree limbs, no fallen branches, twigs, or apples beyond the normal amount that had fallen naturally and evenly upon the entire base of the dome. These observations lead Seth to process two disturbing facts: first, the trees where the footprints ended stood noticeably forward and had a different bark than the surrounding trees, and second, Karina was walking directly towards them. He concluded that whatever created those enormous footprints never left, and, with terror, that the out-of-place trees were not trees at all! “Stop!” he shouted urgently.

She froze and looked back at Seth, the wide-eyed expression returning to her face.

He grabbed his staff with two hands and said, “Get back over here, now.”

His command was followed by a loud, creaking sound and the distinct rustling of leaves. Somehow, Karina’s eyes, which were still locked on Seth, grew even wider. Perhaps they were reflecting his own alarmed eyes, which were no longer locked on Karina, but had shifted to something above her. Without wanting to do so, her gaze followed his. As she turned, she felt a hot breath of wind and heard a heavy exhale. When she completed her turn, she found herself staring straight up and into a pair of enormous eyes, each of which was as big as her entire head. She reacted just as one might expect a heroic girl, who had once saved the world from the forces of evil, to react, with a high-pitched, ear-splitting shriek.

Karina’s shriek was answered with a bellow so loud that it literally blew her backwards and knocked her off her feet. The bellow continued while the creature that owned the enormous eyes leaned forward, only inches from Karina. When it stopped, the creature stood back, and Seth flew forward, with his staff in hand, placing himself between Karina and the beast.

The moment was tense and nobody uttered a sound. Karina remained frozen with shock, and Seth’s mind was racing with how he could possibly fight the thing that stood before him. Now, with it upright, he could see it clearly. It must have been fifteen feet tall. There were humanoid features that were now obvious, two eyes, a mouth, and two legs. Besides that, this thing looked exactly like a tree.

Seth stood protectively, but it was impossible to read the creature’s body language. He could not tell if it was ready to attack or ready to run, it just stood there. Despite the fact that he realized he needed to be the aggressor to survive a fight with this behemoth, he too was hesitant. His staff was still not reacting as it had in the training field, so he knew he would be no match for the creature. Yet, his instinct to protect Karina was unshakable. “Just make a move,” he thought aloud, frustrated with his own indecision. But the only move it made was a slight tilting of what must have been its head. To Seth, it seemed like a submissive gesture, similar to the way a puppy tips its head when it is playful and curious.

From behind, Karina spoke softly, finally recovering from the initial shock. “Seth,” she said cautiously, “I don’t think it wants to hurt anyone. I think it’s a giant.” They had only seen two giants before, the Protectors of the Goblin Shrub, and that was a year ago. One was a tree giant and the other was a rock giant. Besides the fact that this creature resembled a tree, it still bore little resemblance to the tree giant they had previously encountered. Though it was massive, it was much smaller than the Protectors were, and its features were more tree-like than human-like.

“Are you sure?” asked Seth.

“Not at all, but I have a feeling,” Karina answered.

Seth exhaled nervously and said, “Okay. Here it goes.” Slowly, he began to lower his staff. As he did, the creature seemed to relax. “I think you’re right, it’s peaceful.”

Suddenly, the ground beneath the dome began to quiver. The quiver turned into a ripple, the ripple into a wave that was moving toward the creature. Seth and Karina recognized the disturbance immediately; this was not an earthquake, it was Alisa! “No!” yelled Seth as he spun around toward the entrance.

Alisa was kneeling down with her palms flat on the ground, but she did not hear Seth. His command was drowned out by a massive roar from the startled creature. The situation quickly worsened. Harris jumped over Alisa, flinging a large battle-axe at the bellowing beast. It sliced through several vine like appendages, which were reaching from the creature toward the entrance, before falling to the ground. The creature roared in pain while Harris pulled out two small daggers and continued to charge. Rae and Eve ran in last; also ready to defend Seth and Karina.

Karina, who was desperate to stop this quickly escalating battle, gripped the twig tightly and jumped to her feet. She swiped it like a sword, cutting through everyone and everything in the fight, and angrily yelled, “Paralizzare!” A low sound of bass boomed once to her command.

The heaving ground calmed and then stopped. The creatures roar faded away to silence. It and everyone under the dome, with the exception of Seth and Karina, briefly moved in slow motion before coming to a complete stop, frozen in mid attack. They all looked like perfectly crafted statues. The only movement in the room was a gentle downpour of leaves, wafting from the dome.

Seth looked at Karina, who stood, stunned at the results of her spell, and said, “I… guess it worked.”


About me

I’m the dad of a fourteen year old boy evil genius, and a seventeen year old, man-boy, rock star, skate punk. I’m the step dad of a thirteen year old girl, hellion, athlete, and I’m the husband of a beautiful, fiery, Italian woman. I'm in my seventeenth year of teaching elementary school, and this is the fourth book I've written and illustrated. I love good music, shirt-off weather, summertime pool parties, and dinner and wine with friends and family.

Q. When did you decide to become a writer?
I actually intended my first book to be a wordless, picture book, when I was loving post-modern, David Wiesner, Anthony Browne, and Chris Van Allsburg. I started the illustrations in 2011 or 12, but I couldn’t quite deliver the message without the narration. It was then that I stumbled into writing.
Q. Where did the idea for this book come from?
I’ve, personally, always loved to draw monsters, and I’ve always secretly wished they’d come alive and do my bidding. I know that it’s dark, but how awesome would that be? This story was an excuse for me to create my own beasts and unleash them onto anyone who ever wronged me.
Q. Tell us about the cover and the inspiration for it.
It was inspired by the song Black Sabbath, which describes a dark figure with, “eyes of fire.” I want my readers to experience the haunted, disturbed feeling that this song elicits. The full bleed places the reader face to face with the demon as it rises from the black splatter of swarming flies.

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Vampires, Werewolves & true love Forevermore!
A Trail of Embers
Memories flicker, fanning a trail of embers.
On Trial
Friendships are supposed to last forever.