Book of Signs (Diadem: A Fantasy Mystery, No. 2)

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9780590059480: Book of Signs (Diadem: A Fantasy Mystery, No. 2)
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As they draw ever closer to the heart of the Diadem, Score, Renald, and Pixel must track down a shapeshifting magician with uncertain motives before they can unlock the secrets of an ever-increasing evil. Original.

"synopsis" may belong to another edition of this title.

About the Author:

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.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

p r o l o g u e

"So, they have managed
to kill Aranak."

The wizard looked up from her
scrying pool and glanced at her familiar.
He was, as usual, perched on his
little padded tower and apparently
asleep. "They're more dangerous than
I thought." Winding a strand of hair
around her finger thoughtfully, she
added, "It might help if you actually
woke up and did some work for a
change."

The red panda opened one eye and regarded her for
a moment. "I am awake," he answered, with a yawn.
He rearranged his long, fluffy tail and closed his eye
again. "I just haven't been paying attention."

The wizard snorted. Blink and she had a stormy
relationship at best. She, the Wizard Shanara, was a
whirlwind of activity. Blink spent ninety-five percent
of his time sleeping or trying to sleep. "Well, pay
attention," she snapped. "Those three children have
killed Aranak, and they may be after me next. In
which case, you'd starve."

With a sigh, Blink opened both eyes. Heaving himself
reluctantly into a seated position, he started to
groom himself. "Very well," he answered, as if she'd
just condemned an innocent man to death. "Tell me
about it."

Shanara counted to ten to keep her temper. If she
didn't need Blink's help, she had plenty of ideas on what
to do with him. Most of them meant he wouldn't live
very long. "There are three youngsters," she said.
"There's one named Score. He's some kind of street
urchin from Earth. There's one called Renald, from a
world called Ordin. She disguised herself as a boy, which
fooled some people, but not me. And the last one's
Pixel, from Calomir. The three of them were taken by
Bestials to Treen. There they were taught magic by
Aranak. In a showdown, they managed to defeat and
kill him before coming through the Portal that leads
them here. They're now on Rawn. I've been observing
them in my scrying pool for the past hour while you
slept. They have the pages that they discovered, and
they may even know that I have one more. At any rate,
it looks like they're going to be on their way here."

"Oh, dear," Blink yawned. "That sounds too much
like work to me."

"Yes," she agreed. "That's just what it is. We have to
slow them down and give me a chance to come up
with a plan to defeat them."

"Where are they?" asked Blink.

"In the Jagged Mountains," Shanara answered, studying
their images in her pool.

"Well, then, you probably don't have to bother worrying
about them," the panda answered. "Considering
what's in there with them."

"They're more powerful than they look," the wizard
countered. "I'd be a fool to rely on the dangers of those
mountains alone to stop them. No, I'm going to have
to take an active hand in this one."

"Ouch," grumbled Blink. "And I know that means
work."

"Yes," Shanara agreed. "But it will eliminate a
potential threat. If the mountains don't get those kids,
then we shall." With a faint smile, she returned to
studying her pool. Blink sighed again and wondered
about his chances of catching forty more winks before
he actually had to-shudder!-work . . .

1
Score stared all around, alternately
fascinated and appalled. He, Renald-
no, Helaine!, he had to get used to her
being female-and Pixel had emerged
from the Portal ready, or so they had
thought, for anything. Mostly, they
had expected to be either attacked or
captured. Instead, there was nobody
waiting for them at all.

And they had emerged on the edge
of a precipice.

All around them were mountains shaped like jagged
teeth. They were obviously high up, with a very chill
wind whipping about them, as if it were trying to push
them over the edge. Score swallowed hard. He was a
city boy, born and raised in New York. He wasn't used
to wilderness, and he certainly wasn't used to mountains.
And he was pretty sure he hated being stuck on
the side of one.

Behind them was a blink of light, but it was just the
Portal closing down, its job done.

"Well," Score said heavily. "That's it. We're stuck
here now."

"I don't like it," Pixel admitted, stepping back slightly
from the edge of the drop. "It looks dangerous. What
do you think, Renald?"

"It is dangerous," Helaine said, a little of her old temper
showing through. She seemed to have grown to like
Score and Pixel a little, but she was still impatient with
them from time to time. Score supposed it came from
being brought up as a spoiled daughter of a wealthy lord
and also as a warrior. She was the only one of the three
who could fight properly, and this had a tendency to
make her arrogant and short-tempered. She was, however,
trying to control it. "And call me Helaine, please.
I prefer my real name, now that you know who I am."

"Well, I prefer my street name," Score commented,
shivering. "It's cold, and I'm not exactly dressed for
mountaineering."

"None of us is," Pixel agreed, his teeth starting to
chatter. "We'd better get out of this wind and make
plans."

Score glanced around, trying not to get sick when
he saw how precarious their perch was. Above them,
low clouds clung to the peak of the mountain, obscuring
the view. He gestured down the narrow path they
were standing on. "There's a cave down there," he
said. "Let's get inside it. Then we can whip up a fire to
get warm."

"Good idea," Helaine conceded. She moved past
him to lead the way down. Score was about to object,
but decided not to. It wasn't worth fighting over. And
if anyone fell, it would be her and not him. Cautiously,
they all followed the narrow path down the side of the
mountain. Finally, they all stumbled into the small
cave he'd seen.

It was about ten feet deep and, after a narrow
entrance where they had to stoop, it was about eight
feet tall. It was also, thankfully, empty of other life.
Once inside, the bitter chill of the wind was gone. It
was still very cold, though.

Score concentrated on a loose rock on the floor. He
visualized a flame in his mind, one that would warm
them up, and heat the rock through. Then he focused
this image on the rock. "Shriker Kula prior," he murmured,
using the incantation to create fire.

A sheet of flame leaped up, almost singeing Helaine.
With a curse, she stumbled back. "That wasn't funny!"
she snapped.

"I wasn't trying anything," Score protested, amazed.
The flame died down a little, but burned brightly and
warmly in the small cave. "I was just trying to start a
small fire. Not a volcano."

"It's because we've crossed from the Outer Worlds
to the Middle Circuit," Pixel said quickly. "Remember
what Aranak told us? That the closer we get to the
center of the Diadem, the stronger the magic grows?
Obviously, a spell that would cause a small fire on
Treen can cause a larger one here."

Helaine studied the flames thoughtfully. "And
probably a forest fire if we get any closer to the center
of the web of worlds," she suggested. "We're going to
have to be very careful about using our powers here,
until we can be sure we know what effect they'll
have."

"If we can tell what effect they'll have," Score pointed
out. "Don't forget, something is messing up the
source of magic and sending spells all wrong."

"I'm not forgetting," Helaine answered. "But since
it's unpredictable, we just have to deal with it as it
happens." She warmed her hands at the fire. "Well,
I'm feeling better now. It might be an idea to take
stock of what we've got, and see how much sense we
can make of it. Let's pool our resources."

Score glared at her. "Will you stop always taking
command?" he complained. "I think we should vote
for a leader, not just allow you to take over the role."
Helaine snorted. "And we'd all vote for ourselves,"
she pointed out. "That's a dumb suggestion. Look, I'm
just the best person for the job. I'm used to giving
orders and making plans."

"So?" Score snapped back. "Just because you were a
royal pain in the butt on your world doesn't mean a
thing here. I'm really bad at taking orders, especially
from a girl."

She moved her hand to the hilt of her weapon. "A
girl with a sword," she said softly.

"Hold it, guys!" protested Pixel, moving between
them. "Arguing like this isn't going to get us anywhere.
We've got to learn to work together, remember? That's
what Oracle told us."

Score took a deep breath. "You're right," he agreed
reluctantly. "We won't solve anything behaving like
this." Then he scowled again. "But I still say we have no
reason to trust Oracle. He claims to be helping us, but
he's sure managed to get us into a lot of trouble."

The mysterious, flickering character had betrayed
Score to a street gang on Earth, and the other two on
their worlds also. He claimed to be on their side, but
spent all his time spouting silly rhymes and avoiding
direct answers to any of their questions.

Pixel nodded. "I'm not sure I trust him, either," he
admitted. "But he may be able to help us here. Surely,
it can't hurt to ask him?"

"I don't know," Helaine said. "He gives me a
headache." Then she shrugged. "But we do need to
know where we are, and what we should do here. And
if there's anything to watch out for. I guess summoning
him and asking him can't hurt that much."

"Right." Score decided it was time for him to take
command, before Helaine could do it again. "We know
we can call him up by focusing on his name and image.
And then reciting his name backward for the calling
spell. Together, then." He closed his eyes and concentrated.
Oracle . . . in his pure black costume . .
.
I hear your call and I obey
To see what you require today.

Score opened his eyes, and there was Oracle, standing
opposite them, a wide grin on his handsome face,
and spouting his silly verses again. He claimed he had
no option but to speak like that. Score wondered if he
was telling the truth, or if he was doing it just to irritate
them. "I'll tell you what we require," Score
growled. "Information. Where are we? What's going
on? And how do we get down off this stupid mountain?"
Oracle glanced around, and then stooped to peer
out of the cave. His lips quirked again with a smile.

A raging wind, a fearful blast
Could tear you down from here quite fast.

He gestured with his hand, indicating someone
dropping over the edge like a rock.

This world is known as Rawn, young friends,
Delightful, once the mountain ends.
But humans are not welcomed here
And danger to you soon will steer.

"Well, like I needed to hear that," complained Score.
"Danger. Why am I not surprised?"

"What kind of danger?" asked Helaine, rather more
practically.

At mountain's base the goblin race
Assert their rule upon this place.

"Goblins?" echoed Pixel. "Marvelous. Goblins! And
nasty ones, too, I imagine." He sighed. "So, we can't
stay here, or we'll freeze and starve to death. But if we
go down the mountain, there's a band of goblins that
will attack us." He eyed Oracle with outright anger.

"Do you have any good news for us at all?"
Oracle shrugged.

The news I give is true, not made,
But at least you have me for an aid.

Helaine snorted. "Why doesn't that make me feel
any better?" she asked. Turning to Pixel and Score, she
said, "Right, it's time to take stock of what we've got
from Treen. Empty your pockets."

A few moments later, they had a very small pile
indeed. There was Aranak's book of spells, which they
hadn't yet had a chance to examine. There was the
loose page that Score had brought from Earth, and the
one they had found in Aranak's study. Both pages
seemed to be written in either some unknown language
or code that they couldn't read.

Another page you soon will find
If you keep the crown in mind.

Oracle's comment might be useful to consider, in
good time. Right now, though, they continued with
their inventory. The last item was a small pouch that
the Bestials had given them. Helaine picked it up,
undid the strings, and emptied the contents onto the
ground in front of them.

They all stared in amazement. Glittering in the
light from the flames were three almost impossibly
large gemstones. There was a large ruby, as red as
blood; an emerald, greener than any meadow in the
spring; and a sapphire so blue it put the sky to shame.
Score's fingers twitched, and he reached out for the
emerald, which seemed to be calling to him. He
remembered the dreams he'd been having, and the
giant gemstone that had seemed to speak to him.

"This must be worth a fortune," he breathed, thinking
how much it might fetch if sold to the right person in
New York. But that was just a reflex, a shadow of the
old Score speaking. He knew, somehow, that this was
more than just a precious stone. It felt as if there was
a gem-shaped hole in his soul into which this happened
to fit perfectly.

"More than that," Helaine replied, reverently picking
up the sapphire and cupping it in her hands. For
once, she seemed to be overcome by an emotion that
wasn't anger.

"Yeah," was all Pixel could manage as his hands gingerly
clasped the ruby and brought it up to where he
could study the dancing reflections of firelight within
the gem. This made Score gaze at the emerald.
He remembered the greenish light of his dreams.
Could they somehow be connected?

"I can hear a noise," Pixel said suddenly. "It sounds
as if it's coming from inside the wall over there."

"Inside?" Helaine frowned. "But that's stupid. How
could anything be inside solid rock? Oracle?" She
turned to ask Oracle a question, then sighed in exasperation.

"He's gone again."

"Figures," Score muttered. He tried concentrating
on the rock wall ahead of them, and gingerly reached
out to touch it. There was a dull shaking that ran
through his fingertips. "Hey!" he exclaimed. "There is
something going on here! I can feel some sort of
vibration."

"Stand back," Helaine ordered, drawing her sword.

"Oracle's right-I can feel some kind of attack on its
way. I'm the best to face it first."

Though her tone irritated Score, he managed to
force his anger down. She was right, of course. She was
certainly the better fighter. But he was more powerful
when it came to magic.

A moment later, there was a loud cracking sound
and the entire back wall of the cave exploded outward.
Flying chips and lumps of rock sent the three companions
reeling, as they tried to protect their faces. Dust in
the air made Score cough, and he couldn't see anything
for several seconds. But he could hear. There was
a loud, raucous chorus of jubilant voices, all of them
squeaky and grating. "We did it!" "Ha! There they
are!" And, "Get 'em, lads! Now!"

Out of the hole in the wall poured a wave of what
had to be goblins.

"About this title" may belong to another edition of this title.

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