By Sabrina RG Raven and Mitchell Tierney
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BOOK ONE: THE DARKENING
Prologue: Everdark Beginnings
When the isle of Amitav was new and still part of the mainland, the Ancients of the races there lived in harmony. They fashioned the diverse landscapes of their homes, and imbued the lands with their own magic and guardians.
The Ancients, of course, were just that – ancient. They witnessed many things in their time, but most sacred of all was the Everdark Alignment.
Every sixty years, a cosmic alignment of stars was pierced with a blue comet known as Everdark.
It was discovered by the Ancients, living much longer than any other creature on Amitav, that this alignment shone its sacred blue light upon the children who would aspire to greatness. No one could discern how Everdark knew who would be the best leader for their people, but the chosen ones were always gifted whether anyone realised it or not.
As the races grew, the land of Amitav grew with them, splitting from the mainland. Some left the island almost entirely, leaving only a few of their kind to wander and mix with the main races of the land; some travelled to the far corners of Amitav, to the lands that suited them best. The Luna Lukkos journeyed to the canyons, the Aistríonians to the forest, the Sapphyrians from their palaces in the south and forced to tunnels below, the Jishakus roaming the land and eventually inhabiting the Tendril Valley, the Aquillians expanding their underwater kingdom off the coast, and the Illumiens to their lofty tower.
Peace reigned for many generations. Traditions were born and legends were made. Four of the races kept the Everdark Alignment sacred, using the mighty power to select their new leaders.
Nevertheless, peace does not last forever. Soft words turned bitter and spiteful, and for many years war raged between the races. Times of peace became fewer and further apart until eventually the lands became a war zone and it was dangerous for even the brave to leave their homes. Fear began to confine all but the wild creatures and the few traders willing to risk travelling. Blame was laid by all, on everyone else and never on themselves, becoming a part of life with every person ready to fight even if the conflict was, in essence, only kept alive by the mob mentality their history had created.
By chance, circumstance or perhaps something more, there was a meeting of three children of Amitav, moons before the Alignment, and though they had all pressed the occasion from their memory, knowing it would be frowned upon, in their hearts they wanted something to come from it, they wanted the peace they had shown to each other for all the people of Amitav. A life without fear.
Now, once more, it is the legendary coming of the Everdark Alignment and the finding of leaders new. A selected few would gather, all hoping to be chosen as leader. They would unite under the eyes of their ancestral kin. At their own sites of sacred power, the Everdark Alignment would shine and illuminate the leader of nature’s choosing.
That is the ritual of the Everdark as it should be, but not all is well in the land of Amitav…
The Luna Lukkos: The Curse of the Calaveras
Chapter One: A Not-so Family Portrait
In the family tree of the Mantilla’s, Saboo would be somewhere near the bottom… and a little to the side. It wasn’t that his parents didn’t love him; he was born eighth out of sixteen children and often got lost in the throng of family members when they had a reunion. In the picture over his mother’s stove you could see only his left ear, broad and round as a dinner plate… and that was it. Saboo would tell you that you could see some of his whiskers if you squinted and got really close to the portrait.
Saboo was a Luna Lukkos, a tribe of tree dwelling natives that thrived on adventure and fun. He could often be found swinging from branch to branch, catching animals in his traps or just playing a local game called hide-and-come-find. Saboo’s fourteenth birthday had come and gone recently and with little fuss. He received a small apple, picked from a far away orchard which he had never been to; a new hunting rope, which had been cut in half so his parents had something to give him for his next birthday; and small sack of beetleberries, which he was allergic to. His parents often forgot he was allergic to them, but they couldn’t be blamed; they had sixteen children to buy gifts for.
Saboo was small for his age; all his brothers towered above him and often mocked his short stature. His coat was a sun-kissed reddish-brown, whereas his brothers’ coats were just brown, better for hiding in trees and less visible. Saboo had one other abnormality that made him different from his siblings; his tail was shorter. It was severed at the tip after a run in with a lepordconda as a child while playing hide-and-come-find with his brothers. His brother thought it would be funny to hide the rock in the lepordconda’s nest just after it had laid its eggs – talk about an over protective mother – and the dangerous animal had bitten the tip of Saboo’s tail off. The end was now a small, fleshy stump, a frayed fuzz of fur around it. Saboo looked at the portrait, his large, brown eyes reflected back at him, when suddenly his mother yelled for him.
‘Right here, Mum,’ he said, standing right beside her.
‘Always disappearing… one day you’ll turn invisible and we’ll never find you.’
‘Mum,’ he protested, ‘I’ve been here all along.’
‘Go get all your brothers and sisters, it’s dinner time.’
The pot over the stove was huge. Saboo had once used it as a hiding spot when they played hide-and-come-find. His mother had not been impressed.
Dinner time at the Mantilla’s was always chaos. Hand over paw reaching for spices and juice; tails sneaking extra dessert and after dinner sweets.
The family had been gathered around the table, basking in the afterglow of a home cooked meal, when Uncle Bajool opened his big mouth about Everdark.
‘So Taboo, are you going to try out for the contest?’
Taboo was the tallest of the Mantilla clan. His shoulders were broad and his muscles were well built and structured. His hair was grey on the top, a feature thought highly of in the Luna Lukkos community.
‘Well, you know me, Uncle. Not only will I try out, but I will get in and win… and when I’m leader, you can come over to my palace for supper.’
All the other children rolled their eyes.
‘I’m gonna try out too, Uncle Bajool,’ came a voice from the far end of the table, slightly around the corner and into the lounge room. Everyone craned their necks to see where the peep had come from.
‘Saboo?’ his sister Shiloo said.
‘I didn’t even know he was here,’ his older sibling Masoo answered.
Uncle Bajool laughed while holding his bulbous stomach. His long beard bounced up and down.
‘You, enter the contest, Saboo? I think not.’
‘Leave him alone,’ his mother cried out, slapping Bajool on the arm.
‘Saboo is… well… a runt,’ he said, waving his arms in the air like he was juggling.
‘A runt?’ Saboo echoed, taking offence. ‘I’ll have you know, Uncle Bajool, that I have climbed the Gargantuan Tree twice!’
‘That means nothing,’ his uncle snapped, even though everyone knew that it was indeed a mighty feat.
‘You can’t even see the top of the Gargantuan Tree, Bajool, it’s out of sight!’ his mother said, passing yet another bowl of food down the procession of Mantillas.
‘It took me four days. Up and down.’
In his anger Saboo picked up his mashed Poa-Poa Yam and tossed it right at Bajool’s ugly face. It struck him square in the forehead, knocking his head back. The other fifteen children burst out laughing.
‘Saboo… to your room,’ his mother said quite solemnly, although Saboo thought she may have been stifling a laugh.
‘Mum?’ he whined.
‘Come on, Mum,’ Masoo said. ‘Bajool deserved it!’
Bajool wiped his face. The creamy goo was in his hair and his mouth; some was on his ear and a little was up his nose which had blushed as red as his face. He slammed his fist down so hard on the table that drinks toppled over.
Saboo’s mother shot up from her seat. Her eyes were warm when they wanted to be and stern when they had to be; today they looked fierce. Everything stopped when they saw her face.
‘Saboo… to your room. Bajool, it’s time for you to take your drunken tail home.’ They both looked like they were going to question her, but thought better of it.
Saboo sat on the edge of his parents’ balcony. The stars were brighter than usual, shining down with delightful intensity. Saboo looked up and let out a long sigh. He ran his filthy fingers through his long hair and huffed as Lazarus, his pet lizard, crawled up beside him and gave him a nudge, nearly setting him off balance.
‘Hey, boy,’ Saboo said. ‘Wow, you really are getting big, almost as long as me now.’ Lazarus nudged him again in agreement and almost knocked Saboo off the city.
‘Whoa, boy… steady there, it’s a long way down.’
The city of Monkish was hundreds of metres off the canyon floor. From up close it looked like a massive cubby-house. Panelling and antennas sticking up from various places. From a distance the shrubbery covered most of the framework, and the canyon hid the rest.
They both peered down to the canyon floor below. In the darkness they could just make out the guards of the Monkish City chasing glow-wasps, instead of being at their posts.
‘I don’t wanna end up some ground-dwelling guard, Lazarus… I wanna be… something,’ he said, patting the giant lizard’s head. Lazarus gurgled slightly.
‘Saboo,’ came the soft voice of his sister Shiloo.
Saboo turned around. She had snuck him some dessert from the dinner table – a small round plate covered with little purple cakes slathered with rich dark sauce. She handed it to him with a smile.
‘I don’t blame you for what you did; Uncle Bajool can go too far sometimes.’
Saboo nodded and threw Lazarus a cake.
‘If you give him too many he’ll leave mess around the house again and mum will seriously kick your –’
‘Look at that!’ Saboo shouted. Above them a falling star exploded and descended towards them, burning away in a fiery glow.
‘The first signs of the Everdark,’ she said, crossing her arms to protect herself from the cold breeze her tail tucked in beside her.
‘Do you think I have a chance of getting in?’ Saboo asked.
‘If Taboo can get in, I’m sure you can… when you see the Elder, just pick your words carefully.’
Saboo thought about this for a moment.
‘I wanna show everyone that I can be a leader, that I am not a chimp anymore. If you could just see me out there.’ He waved his hands towards the dark, dense jungle. ‘I can swing higher than anyone I know. I’ve invented new traps to catch the pot-belly twisterpigs. I’ve created new weapons and learned moves that Taboo doesn’t even know about!’ He put his cake down, too distressed to eat, which was odd for a young Luna Lukkos.
‘It’s more than that, Saboo. It’s here,’ Shiloo said, as she touched his chest with her finger, ‘in your heart… and here.’ She pointed to his head. Saboo nodded.
‘Your heart will tell you what to do and your brain will tell you how to do it, and these will make it happen,’ she said lifting her paws up to the afterglow of the falling star. Saboo looked at his hands. He had the feeling that if he was going to get in, he would have to push himself beyond the limits of anything he had ever done before.
When Saboo awoke, his head was pounding, his eyes dreary. He shifted his legs and kicked something hard in his bed.
‘Ouch,’ he cried, lifting his sheets to see what intruder was in his bed.
A filthy, oddly shaped rock lay near his throbbing toes.
‘What the?’ He lifted it up.
The window beside him let in the cool morning air. He looked through the window to see a few younger kids arguing outside.
‘Hey!’ he yelled as they looked up. ‘Who put this in my bed?’
One of the small children, whose name was Razzy, slapped his forehead.
‘Saboo!’ he hollered out. ‘That was the best hiding spot I could find!’
The kid next to him whipped his tail back and forth. He had seen the rock, making him the winner.
The rules of hide-and-come-find were simple: one person hid the rock and the other person had two days to find it. If the first person didn’t find it, they had to do a dare. If they did find it the other person had to do the dare.
‘Thanks a lot, Saboo!’ Razzy said. ‘He would have never found it up there!’
‘Go play hide-and-come-find someplace else!’ Saboo said, tossing the rock down to the now irritated adolescent. He limped into the kitchen where Taboo was flexing his muscles. No one noticed Saboo pulling up a chair and wiping the sleep from his eyes.
‘…and then what will you say?’ his father asked Taboo.
Taboo scratched his chin and thought for some time. Saboo almost fell asleep again.
‘…Oh yeah! I’ll say how my family is one of the original ancestors that helped build the Monkish City…’
‘…and…’ his father pressured him on.
‘…and we helped set the traps around the borders and we make up a large number of the voting tally for next year’s Mayoral elections!’
His father dropped his head and shook it from side to side. The Everdark comet had been seen soaring through the sky late in the evenings, and everyone was getting nervous that it was so close. They thought the Elder would announce the contest any day, so some early practice was in session, but none knew exactly when it would be called.
‘What?’ Taboo asked.
‘What about honour and the skills needed to bring this city into the new era?’ Saboo said nonchalantly.
Everyone turned and looked at him in stunned amazement.
‘Saboo?’ said one of his sisters.
‘How long have you been there for?’
‘Saboo,’ his mother told him. ‘Go check the traps for meat, we’ll need to celebrate if either of you get in to see the Elder.’
Saboo nodded and yawned again.
‘Have two brothers ever been in the contest, dad?’ Taboo asked.
Their father was a large man whose shoulders arched forward, his back was curved and sore from years of building and construction.
‘When the last Everdark Alignment occurred, I was only a toddler. I can barely remember it,’ he laughed heartily. ‘All I can remember is that the ones chosen to receive the clues and start the contest are very brave. They have something inside them that only the Elder can see.’
Saboo’s mother wrapped her arms around him and hugged him close.
‘They are excellent in battle,’ their father continued, ’and swift on their feet. They don’t need the local markets and canteens in the city to survive. They can live off the forest and canyon floors.’
Their mother rolled her eyes and patted Saboo on the shoulder.
‘Now, Saboo, before we all have to start eating off the floors, go get meat from the traps.’
As Saboo dragged himself off the chair and went to his room to get his utility belt, Razzy was climbing back through his window with the hide-and-come-find rock.
‘Razz!’ Saboo shouted.
‘Saboo?’ he said guiltily, having been caught red pawed.
‘You can’t hide it here. I don’t want the entire population of Monkish searching my room for it.’
‘But I wanna be the hide-and-come-find champion!’
Saboo picked up his utility belt and strapped it to his waist. It was full of pockets and compartments. It was packed with smoke-cluster bombs, wire, trip-string, scent-disguise pellets and knock-out throwing discs. He grabbed his spear, which was compacted down to a foot long, metal rod. A button was positioned in the middle, so with just one touch, it extended to full length. He put it in a pouch that was flung over his back.
‘Give me the rock,’ Saboo finally gave in. Razzy’s eyes lit up.
‘You’ll hide it for me?’ he said.
‘Sure I will,’ Saboo replied.
‘Great! They’ll never find it!’
‘Ok, good, now go… I’ve got work to do.’
Once Saboo had left the gates, the guards went back to their normal sleeping positions, spears left lying on the ground and empty, fermented juice bottles by their feet. It had been a while since anyone had dared attack the city; but visitors were still common as Monkish was one of the only mixed race city’s left as far as Saboo knew, although most the population were Luna Lukkos like himself.
I would hate to know what would happen if we were ever really under attack, Saboo thought. The guards are more like baby sitters for the iron doors, making sure they don’t get too rusty.
He continued on his path. After some time he came to a deep valley. The trees angled down towards the bottom of it, almost pointing the way. Saboo could smell the rotting meat. He knew there would be no animal in this one, but he better take a look anyway. He grabbed onto a branch and lifted himself high, swinging between the branches. He leapt off a huge, thick tree arm and soared through the air, gracefully snatching a hanging vine and landing on his feet on the valley floor. He walked over to the middle. The trap was near invisible. Just where his feet were, was a stinking heap of grey meat, tempting to any wandering animal. He bent down. A thin piece of wire hovered gently over the rancid mess. He dared not even breathe near it, or it would send several razor sharp spears into him before he could blink twice. Saboo stood up, grabbed the vine and climbed it. This was the first of many that he had to check.
The Luna Lukkos were excellent inventors. They loved setting traps on the ground as well as up in the trees. They preferred the trees because they disliked being on the ground for long periods of time. It felt unnatural to them. They favoured their homes high in the trees. It felt as if they were being pushed up and away from danger, and the water. The Monkish hated the water, in fact they dreaded it. The city was the farthest place they could find that was away from any water. Many lived in caves and tunnels on mountain ranges, but most lived in the City of Monkish, high in the trees, connected by cables and flying-foxes, lifts and conveyer belts. Once up in the city you forgot the fact that you were up so high. The ground was level and covered many, many acres of sky. Sometimes the height of the city scared some of the visitors, but once they were up in the city they forgot all about the ground far below. As the city grew and grew, more outsiders came to investigate and ended up staying. Now the Monkish City was a bustle of different races and creatures, but most were still the Luna Lukkos.
The day moved on with dismal slowness. The heat stuck to the bottom of the forest like a fog. It was thick and difficult to walk through. Not many animals were out hunting, preferring to stay in their caverns and holes and sleep the hot day away. The green moss turned yellow, as it sometimes did when rain was days away. The air above the canopy was cool and welcoming on Saboo’s face. He knew he couldn’t spend all day jumping from tree to tree, he would have to, at some point, check his ground traps.
As he landed his stomach grumbled for food. His eyes still felt puffy from only being awake a few hours. He reached into his bag and pulled out a compass. He flipped it open and several small dials whirled to life, buzzing as electronics calculated his position. The circular screen lit up and a little red arrow spun around and around, finally resting to his left. He looked up into the trees. There, hidden among a mimica bird’s nest and a vine, was his mark: a yellow paw print to remind him where he had set the trap. He closed his compass and placed it back in its compartment. One of the first things he noticed was an absence of smell. That meant one of two things: the trap hadn’t gone off, letting an animal have a free feed, or meat for a feast!
Saboo walked into the thicket, pushing large plant leaves out of the way. He got closer to the trap and could see his make shift vine ropes had released the cage. He ran the last few feet without fear of getting caught in the trap himself. An upside down bowl-shaped cage made of branches and wires sat where he had set the trap. Inside the cage, carved spear heads chewed down on the back of an animal. As Saboo poked his head through the bars of the cage he could see it was a gawk-antelope, a slow moving animal that ate ants, scraps of meat and dead leaves. They often got lost from their herds and wandered over this side of the island in search of food or a dry spot to lay eggs.
Saboo ran to the nearest tree and pulled a lever he had made from his mother’s old clothes-line retractor. The spears squished as they were slowly pulled out of the gawk’s skin, the cage withdrawing back up into the leafy awning. The gawk was slightly bigger than the ones that had wandered here in the past. Saboo picked it up and heaved it onto his back, thinking it was good luck finding some meat before it got too dark. The forest could be quite scary after the suns went down.
The body being so heavy, it would put a little strain on swinging home, so he opted to walk it.
The gawk’s head, flopped over his shoulder, looked almost mummified. He stopped and examined it some more. Teeth marks were located on the outside of its face and neck. That’s strange, Saboo thought, I knew they were stupid, but how could it bite itself there?
A deep rumbling growl echoed around him. Suddenly, the forest was deathly quiet. The heat had intensified. The rumbling noise of a beast rattled the twigs and shifted the dead leaves. Saboo dropped the gawk and stood dead still. Something had killed this animal before his trap had a chance to. Now it was here, and he was the meat.
Out from the dark shadows of the forest trees came a silhouette of a huge creature. As it came closer, Saboo could see the redness of its eyes, the stringy hair on its back and the huge paws… a crimson wolf. Due to their hypersensitive eyes being very distracted by the light of day, they usually only hunted at night.
Saboo circled the crimson wolf. Its fangs were like picket spikes; not made of bone or flesh, but wood as hard as rock. Its eyes were sunken back into its head like pits of flaming red anvils. The crimson wolf’s eyes never left Saboo’s.
‘Okay wolf,’ he told it. ‘Let’s do this the easy way… you take my meat and I’ll starve.’
The wolf bared its teeth. Hundreds of dark, splintered stakes spread across its mouth. Its hind legs compressed, lowering it to the ground. Saboo knew the crimson wolf breed; they could pounce hundreds of feet into the air, coming down on their victims with such force it left craters in the ground, being able to pinpoint its prey’s future location with alarming ease. He had seconds to think of what to do but that was more than enough.
He reached into the utility belt that hung low around his hips and pulled out a black cube, no bigger than a die. His eyes shot down at it at lightning fast speed. He flipped the safety switch off. When he looked back, the wolf was gone.
Damn, he thought. Rule one with crimson wolves: never take your eyes off them. He knew it was above him, claws extended and seconds away from landing on him. He threw the cube down and green smoke spewed all around him. The wolf thundered into the ground, the smoke throwing him off target. Nearby trees shook violently, sending birds and animals scurrying for cover. The wolf was frantic, tearing at the smoke, gnashing its teeth, its jaws snapping open and shut. Pieces of the ground were sent into the air. Then it stopped suddenly. The green fog floated gently around its black fur, the wolf’s red eyes glowing through the mist. Breathing heavily, its rib cage heaved in and out.
‘Pssst… wolfie. Up here!’ Saboo sat up high in a very tall tree, holding the gawk over his shoulder. His tail was wrapped around the branch.
The wolf went berserk, racing up the tree with the speed of an arrow. Saboo gulped. He had forgotten the crimson wolf had the ability to hunt prey in the tallest of tree tops. He swung down, his tail catching his weight and catapulting him into the next tree. He gripped a branch with his spare hand, continuing his motion, swinging to the next. It was not easy with the weight of the gawk over his shoulder. The wolf followed, biting branches clean in half. Splinters showered down and leaves fell to the ground. Its breath was beating on Saboo’s neck.
Saboo moved horizontally through the foliage, behind him the deadly creature gaining momentum. Saboo leaped high into the air, standing out in the suns’ rays. He reached over his back into his pack and pulled out a small staff. It was the size of his forearm and brown in colour, with silver patterns engraved up the handle. In midair Saboo turned, dropping through the trees like a heavy stone. Twigs slapped his back and face, cutting him under his eyes. The huge wolf followed him, bearing down on him from the tops of the trees. It was just feet away, its paws extended, massive talons bared, ready to tear flesh.
Saboo’s tail was curled up beside him, guarding it from the wolf’s blood-thirsty mouth. He aimed the spear at the wolf. Its huge body flew through the air, hair in waves behind it. Its eyes were a scrub-fire red, burning with the hunger for fresh meat. Saboo pushed the button, at the same moment that his arm smashed into a stray branch. The spear head shot out, whizzing through the air and tearing through the crimson wolf’s ear, ripping it in two. The wolf let out a howl of anger. His aim would have been a bullseye if the branch hadn’t redirected it.
The spear was attached to the handle by a single strand of wire, tough enough to hold ten gargar-moths. He fell faster and faster, smashing against large branches. The spear tip zoomed up into the air; the small barbs attached to the sides ripped a giant hole in the leafy canopy. The ground was coming closer and closer. He could almost feel his body smashing against the hard surface, shattering all his bones. The blue sky flashed in his eyes for a split second, the white clouds formed images of the Elder looking down at him, displeased. He looked at the wolf’s open maw. Saliva poured from its mouth. Saboo reached for his kill and threw it at the wolf. It rocketed through the air and straight into the wolf’s mouth – much to its surprise. Saboo used both his arms to yank the spear back towards him. The spear head turned in mid air and plummeted back towards earth. The barbs struck the wolf’s back, digging into its hair and skin.
Saboo could now smell the dust of the forest floor. The wolf looked up, the kill still wedged in its mouth, and it saw the spear sticking into its back. With its attention diverted it lost track of its fall and plummeted into the fork of a tree, crashing into instant death. The spear wire twanged as it was stretched tighter than a drum skin. Saboo closed his eyes and tightened his grip as he prepared for the slack to catch up. His fall stopped dead quick, sending him jerking into the air and dropping the last few feet onto the hard ground. Wham!
The wind shot from his lungs, he gasped for breath. A large dust cloud puffed around him from where he landed. The staff handle swung idly just above his head. Far, far up in the trees the massive wolf was nothing but a mangled mess of skin, bones and teeth. He sucked in air quickly, filling his lungs once more. His breathing returned to normal, his head hurt a little and his tail felt bruised. He wiped his brow.
All of this for meat? he thought. If getting meat was this hard, maybe I’m not cut out for the Everdark contest.
Out of the tree the gawk-antelope dropped and landed on his head.