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Three teenagers from very different worlds--Score, a streetwise New Yorker; Renald, who prepares for a medieval battle; and Pixel, who is confined to the one-room world of Virtual Reality--are kidnapped and plunged into a perilous odyssey as they seek to unlock the secrets of the Diadem. Original.
"synopsis" may belong to another edition of this title.
John Peel was born in 1954 in Nottingham, England. He attended Nottingham University and began his writing career as the editorial assistant for England's Apparel Production and Marketing. He later worked as a comic-strip writer for Marvel Comics in London, and was until recently the overseas television critic for England's Starburst magazine. Since immigrating to the U.S.A. in 1981, John Peel has worked as a contributing writer and editor for numerous media-based magazines. He now writes novels full-time from his home on Long Island, where he resides with his wife, Nan, their wirehair fox terrier, Dashiell, their orange, spotted tabby, Amika, and their miniature pinschers, Loki (aptly named after the Norse god of mischief and destruction), Bartleby, Shadow, Reggie, Tievel, Rocky, Anubis Princess and Lady Penelope.
He has just sold his first film script, Haunting Adrian, which is expected to commence shooting in the near future.
p r o l o g u e
The Shadows wereout hunting, far
from home. In a pack, they moved
through the spaces between the many
worlds, seeking their prey. It couldn't just
be anyone. It had to be the right victim.
The correct sacrifice. They all anticipated
the thrill of the hunt and the final
taking. This was not merely their job. It
was their sport. It was their pleasure.
They enjoyed finding their targets, and
they felt a genuine thrill as their victim
was dragged off to its fate.
The Shadows' not-quite-faces seemed to wrinkle
with laughter and pleasure. As they closed in on one
small, green-and-blue planet, they could feel that this
was the one. Here they would find their next victim.
Here, on a small, backward, off-the-beaten-path
planet named Earth.
Here the right prey lived-for the moment. Sliding
unseen and unsuspected into the atmosphere of the
planet, they began to close in on their chosen target.
They left a trail of chilled air behind them, like the
contrails of a jet aircraft, as they spiraled down, down,
down toward the waiting land below.
All their senses felt as if they were on fire. Over
the ocean they sped, zeroing in on one small island.
A tiny place called Manhattan, perched on a small
rock above the surface of the Atlantic Ocean. There
they would find the right person. There the sacrifice
They were ready and eager. Soon, very soon, they
could take their prey . . .
Score was scared. It was the one emotion
he knew really well. He'd lived with
it for most of his short life. He reckoned
he must have been born scared, because
he couldn't ever recall spending a single
day when he wasn't afraid.
It had been his father, mostly, who
had scared Score. Tony Caruso was a
mean, tough guy, and, even on the
streets, the word had been out that
nobody messed with Tony Caruso and
lived to brag about it. His was a name that, even whispered,
scared gang members, mobsters, and even cops
all over Lower Manhattan. Tony Caruso was Bad, and
the capital letter was there as a warning.
Then, just two weeks ago, everything had changed.
Bad Tony had done something wrong, again, but this
time the police took him away. Usually, he managed
to pay off someone or to get away from the police
somehow. But not this time. He'd slipped up, and the
police had solid evidence on him. Score didn't much
care, as long as they kept his father away from him for
a long, long time.
Score found himself alone, going through everything
in their small apartment. He managed to find
some money that Bad Tony had hidden. Then, behind
a loose board in Bad Tony's bedroom, he found a letter
that had never been mailed. On the front was his
name and address. Puzzled, he stared at it. The handwriting
looked familiar, but it wasn't his father's . . .
It was his mother's! She'd been dead for three years,
but Score remembered her well. She'd been another
of Bad Tony's victims, another reason to hate his
father. Excitement mounted in Score as he opened
the envelope and took out the sheet of paper within.
Unfolding it, he began to read.
It made no sense to him whatsoever. Some of it
seemed to make sense, but really didn't. "Treen is the
start," for example. Who or what was Treen? And what
was he, she, or it the start of? Score simply didn't understand.
Why would his mother want him to have something
like this, something he couldn't understand? She
must have hidden it for him to find one day. If she felt
it was important, maybe he'd figure out what it meant
somehow. He carefully folded it and slipped it into the
wallet of money he had found. With the money, he
planned to start a new, improved life . . .
Then the police had taken Score, as well.
Not under arrest. Well, they hadn't called it that,
but he had been taken in front of a judge, who'd
placed him in the custody of the Children's Services
people. It wasn't arrest because they claimed to be
doing everything for his own good-including locking
him up when he had tried to escape. But this time,
he'd not only tried, he'd succeeded.
So, now he was back where he belonged, on the
Bowery, in New York City. Score was scared here, too,
but at least he knew the streets and the dangers. There
were gangs to watch out for, and other people might
hold his father's actions against him. But at least he
had a chance, since he was on his own turf.
There was another thing that was scaring him, and
one he had no control over. For the past week, he'd
been having a recurring dream. It confused and worried
him, because it made absolutely no sense. He
would hear, over and over again, a repeated tune. It
wasn't anything he'd ever heard before, or anything
he'd ever choose to listen to. It was slow and kind of
mournful, the kind of music you might hear at a funeral
-like at his mother's funeral. He couldn't get the
tune out of his mind.
The dream always ended in a flash of green light,
pulsing slightly, drawing him toward it. The light
was like a promise, a beacon. Score always reached
for it, wanting it so that he could be rich and happy
forever. But when he touched it, he felt an abrupt
shock. He would immediately wake up, shaking and
Why was he having this dream over and over? Was
he sick? Or was it maybe some kind of warning? He
didn't really believe in dreams being able to warn you,
but this bothered him. Maybe it was a warning. But
His stomach growled, reminding him that he needed
food. He had a few dollars left from the money he'd
managed to scrape together, but he'd need a lot more
to survive on his own. There was no point in going
back to the crummy apartment he'd lived in until two
weeks ago. Too many bad memories hung over that
place. There were probably other people living there
now, and, besides, the police would be bound to look
for him there. He had no place to call home anymore.
He needed money, and that meant only one possibility.
There was one thing that Score was really good at-
scamming the scam artists. They worked the streets,
picking on tourists, and trying to get money away from
them. Score's favorite was the old three-card monte.
The scam artist would have three cards, facedown. One
was always the queen of spades. To win money, the
tourist had to guess which card was the queen. They
never managed it, of course, because usually the scammer
palmed the card and replaced it with a different
one. Somehow, though, that never happened with
Score. He always managed to pick the right card. As a
result, he could win money, but he had to be careful
never to hit the same street dealer twice.
Luck was with him. He found a tall, hyperactive
hustler working one of the streets on the edge of
Chinatown, keeping up a stream of patter, jokes, and
wide grins as he shuffled and twisted his three cards on
a small table. "C'mon," he begged the passing tourists.
"It's easy, don't ya see? Just pick the queen, and I give
you twenty dollars. Only five dollars to try. C'mon,
you can do it . . ."
"I can," Score said, confidently taking out his last
five and placing it on the table.
"All right!" the dealer exclaimed, obviously figuring
he was reeling in a sucker. "Here ya go, my man.
Watch the cards carefully."
Score didn't bother. He didn't need to try and follow
those flying fingers as they shuffled the three cards. A
couple of curious tourists stopped to watch, smiling at
him from behind their cameras.
"Now, which one is it?" the dealer asked, grinning.
Everyone watched as Score paused.
It was mostly for show. Score knew which card it
was. He didn't know how; he just knew. "This one," he
said, seeing the momentary flare of triumph in his
opponent's eyes, knowing Score was wrong.
Score turned over the queen of spades.
The wide grin vanished. "Huh?"
"Twenty dollars," Score said, holding out the card to
the startled cheat. The man looked like he was going
to complain, but the tourists were laughing and
encouraging Score. The dealer couldn't afford to alienate
"Well done, my man," he said, trying to put on a
good face. He peeled a bill from a roll in his pocket
and handed it across. He was still obviously unsure
how Score had done what he'd done. "Want to try
again, double or quits?"
"Sure," agreed Score. The growing crowd laughed
and encouraged him.
The dealer's hands flew like lightning this time, but
not fast enough to confuse Score.
"That one," Score said, confidently. He reached for
the card he'd indicated, but the dealer beat him to it
this time, eyes grinning as he flipped over the card he
knew couldn't be-
The queen of spades!
The crowd had held its breath, and now started to
applaud. The dealer looked stunned, and then ready
to kill. But he had no option since everyone was
watching. He peeled off another bill and handed it
"Again?" Score jeered.
The man wanted to refuse. He didn't understand
what was happening here. Neither did the crowd, which
was now about twenty strong. But they were on the side
of the underdog, the kid who was winning at the game.
And if the dealer backed down, he might as well go
home. He'd get no money from them. But if he agreed,
and somehow, impossibly, Score won again . . .
"How are you doing it, kid?" he asked, playing for
"Luck," Score suggested.
A new voice, mellow and amused, came from over
It is not luck, but skill, my friend
That leads to winning in the end.
"Huh?" Score turned around to see who was speaking
in rhymes to him. His eyes opened wide at the
sight of the tall man. He was dressed entirely in
black-shirt, trousers, boots. His hair was black, and
his pale skin seemed to . . . flicker.
"Who are you?" Score asked. The man looked outrageous,
and yet . . . yet there was something somehow
familiar about him. Like he'd met the man before.
Maybe he was an "associate" of Bad Tony.
Call me LeCora if you will
And I'll explain your special skill.
The weird man reached over to the table where the
monte dealer's cards were. He turned to look Score
carefully in the face.
There is one thing I must reveal
The gift you have is very real,
The black queen goes just where you choose
With magic you can never lose.
As he spoke, he turned over all the cards on the
They were all the queen of spades.
Nobody watching understood what was going on,
least of all Score. How could that be? He only picked
one card . . . LeCora saw his astonishment, and
The power to change things in small ways
Will be with you for all your days.
Score began to understand, despite the man's rather
roundabout way of explaining things. He didn't have
the power to pick where the card was-he had the ability
to change any card he picked into the queen of
"Hey," the dealer growled angrily. "You been ripping
me off, kid!" He lunged for Score and the money.
Score's fingers clutched his forty-five dollars and he
whirled and ran for his life, dodging through the
crowd. The dealer, yelling furiously, tried to follow.
But he was larger, and the crowd didn't part for him.
Once Score was sure he'd escaped the monte dealer,
he slowed down and then stood, panting in a side
street. That had been close, but he was free again-and
now with money in his pocket! Score still didn't understand
what had happened-the appearance of the
flickering man, the business with the cards . . .
Was it possible that the stranger was right? That
somehow Score had the power to change small things?
He didn't know, but there was one real easy way to find
out. His fingers closed in on the five-dollar bill in his
pocket. If he could change an ace to the queen of
spades, then this should be just as easy. Unsure of what
to do, Score simply closed his eyes and concentrated,
and then withdrew the five-dollar bill from his pocket.
He crumpled it, and then stared down at it.
Ben Franklin's face stared back at him . . . All right!
Score felt excited, confused, and a bit scared. He'd
changed a five-dollar bill into a hundred just by thinking
about it. How, he had no idea. But he had done it
once-and could do it again, whenever he felt like it.
Score felt like a winner, at last . . .
Above Score, unseen in the air, the Shadows hovered.
There was their victim, ready and waiting, and all
Together, they laughed and then plunged earthward,
seeking out host bodies. This far from the center,
they were invisible. They needed other people to
do their work for them. Still, that was no real problem.
It had been planned, after all . . . There, in the next
block over, was a gang of street thugs, showing off
their knives. It took mere seconds for the Shadows to
slip within their bodies and their minds. Then they
informed their unwitting hosts about the presence of
one small, weedy boy with money just a block away . . .
The gang began to move without a word.
Score grinned to himself as he turned the two twenties
into hundred-dollar bills. Not a bad salary, for ten seconds
of work. Five dollars into three hundred, just like
that. No more scrimping and begging and stealing for
him. Just . . .
He suddenly realized he was not alone. The street he
was in was narrow, with sky-high buildings cramped
together on either side. Trash cans, bags of half-open
garbage, and abandoned boxes littered the street. And
at the far end, a gang of seven young men suddenly
appeared. There were glints of silver that were obviously
knives, and Score realized he was in serious trouble.
The boys belonged to the Zaps, one of the most
dangerous of the street gangs in this area. Score didn't
belong to any gangs. For one thing, he was too young
to join them. For another, they scared him. But not
belonging to a gang meant you were fair game if one of
them caught you on their turf.
Like these Zaps had just caught him.
"Uh, hey," Score said weakly. The gang members
said nothing, just moved slowly, purposefully, toward
There was something wrong with their eyes. They
looked entirely black, as if someone had spilled paint
into them. And their faces were expressionless,
which made it even scarier. Normally, they would be
laughing and taunting their victim before jumping
They'd steal whatever he had that was worth their
while-his three hundred dollars!-and then rough
him up a bit.
But their faces were all wrong, their weapons held
too ready for that. These punks weren't going to rob
him. They were going to kill him.
There was no choice left for him. Score whirled
around and ran for his life. The gang members raced
after him in concentrat...
"About this title" may belong to another edition of this title.
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