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Diamond Lake
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ISBN-10: 1-77115-371-7
ISBN-13: 
Genre: Fantasy/SF/Fiction/Adventure
eBook Length: 330 Pages
Published: June 2017

From inside the flap

A stubborn peasant girl who speaks her mind, Kyleigh spends her strenuous days keeping house and caring for her uncle’s ten children. Although she bears the gift of foresight, she foresees no end to her life of poverty and drudgery. When an elven seer from afar tells Kyleigh she is the girl destined to save the elves from impending war with the Banished, Kyleigh is stunned into disbelief. Nevertheless, she accepts this daunting quest and undergoes intense training in hopes of preventing the enemy from finding a lost-long divine artifact—the life-granting diamond Lyn’Athai.

Captivated by an alluring elven woodsman she meets in the forest, Kyleigh renews her determination to become a powerful seer so she can try to save his people. Her failure to prevent the Banished from gaining a terrifying weapon—one with the potential to create an army of flesh-eating blood revenants—sends Kyleigh and her companions on a desperate hunt to track it down. Should the Banished find Lyn’Athai, all hope is lost—not only for the elves, but for all of Ethyn.

Diamond Lake (Excerpt)


Prologue

The elves were singing. Some sang high while others sang low, and their chords blended together like individual strands of a stunning tapestry. Horn blasts, long and lingering, pierced through their song from one tower to the next. Down below, scattered along the torch-lit flagstones, elven soldiers in flashing silver sparred with foreign warriors donned in muted black. Their blades were long and curved, their helms a grotesque mimicry of bony skulls with gaping eyes.

The boy did not like that at all.

He peered through the white marble rails of his balcony. From this height, he could see the roofs, streets, and gardens of Ethynwen. It was night, and the elves' harmonious singing had woken him from a deep sleep. Curious, he had grabbed his soft blue blanket, slipped out of bed, and crept across his nursery to the glass door leading out to his balcony. Naturally, he had heard singing before, but never from so many people at once, and never in the middle of the night.

The boy lived with his family in Ethynwen's grandest and tallest structure, a beautiful white palace of stone and glass with towers that reached to the sky. Much of the palace facade was blanketed in lush green vines blossoming with all sorts of bright colors-lavender, pink, yellow, orange, white-and the flowers never died, even in winter.

A lot of other people lived there in the palace, too, important people who consulted his parents about important things, people who helped cook and clean and sew and sing and write, and people who took care of him when his parents were busy.

His nurse, especially, seemed to be with him just about all the time. She would come into his nursery every morning after he had slipped out of bed to play with his wooden horses and ivory building blocks, then lead him to the table where he would eat his breakfast of apples, bread, cheese, and cold milk.

Then, teachers would come and bring scrolls of parchment, sharp pencils, brightly colored paint, wooden alphabet blocks, beads for adding and subtracting, and harps for strumming. Loremasters would narrate ancient stories of his people, exciting tales recorded in swirling script thousands of years ago. Priests would ask him to open his hefty copy of the Great Book and read aloud stories of Athai and His angels. Then the priests would recount over and over the tale of Lyn'Athai, the exquisite fist-sized diamond that Athai had given His people long ago, an artifact crafted by the loving Creator Himself.

During the boy's studies, his mother would come and listen to his poetry recitation. Whenever he was forced to sit and endure a lesson on history's important events, his aunt and uncle would come and tell their side of the story, recounting their own personal witness, adding flavor and color. Even the boy's father, who was especially busy, would come and sit while the boy plucked nursery songs on his harp under guidance of his music teacher.

Every night, his nurse would settle him into bed, pull his blanket up under his chin, help him recite his bedtime prayer, and kiss his cheek good night. He would drift off to sleep, thoughts and memories of the day swimming on the dark ceiling above his bed.

But tonight he had been woken abruptly, and his nurse had not yet come to tell him everything would be alright. Perhaps he should go back inside and wait for her. Perhaps she would walk into his nursery, find him out on his balcony, and scold him for getting out of bed.

No, he decided. Watching this swordplay and listening to that pretty singing was worth the risk of getting into trouble. It was not every day there was a big exciting show outside-in the middle of the night, no less. The boy settled down on the hard stone to watch the scene.

Perhaps the elves were holding a great festival, and they were play-acting a battle of long ago. He had seen reenactments down in the courtyard where grown-ups and children alike would dress in fancy, vibrant costumes and pretend to be heroes of long ago. But after peering more closely, he realized that many of the elven warriors were falling down in the street, while the visitors were silently skulking around, maybe looking for more soldiers to fight. Dark puddles grew under each fallen soldier, and the boy thought that was odd.

The beautiful singing continued, but now there were new sounds, as well-shattering glass, booming explosions of magic, yelling and howling from down each alley and around every corner.

After a few minutes, it seemed to him that the number of black-armored visitors grew at the same rate as fallen elven soldiers. Unlike other reenactments he had watched, this did not make him laugh with amusement. Instead, this made him sad and uneasy. He was not enjoying this extravaganza at all.

Then the boy saw new people down in the streets-elves wearing flowing white robes that flapped around their legs as they ran, and elves floating and zipping through the air and casting great streams of intensely bright fire and sparkling white frost and sizzling green acid and crackling blue lightning. Priests and mages, he realized, invoking the power of Athai and reciting ancient words to mold magic. Never before had he witnessed so many priests and mages together, casting and creating such a display. And always, that underlying singing wafted throughout Ethynwen, thrumming in his ears like a pulsing lullaby that kept going and going, insisting on lulling him to sleep.

Suddenly, a cold wind blew across his balcony, lifting his soft black curls and sending them dancing. Shivering, he drew his blanket over his shoulders. His bottom was sore from sitting so long on the stone. He still had not seen or heard his nurse, nor anyone else he recognized. Even though he had eaten a good filling dinner, his belly began to rumble with hunger. He wondered if somebody would bring him a late-night snack. He remembered once, a long time ago, he had been really sick and had stayed awake all night, and his nurse had given him toast with butter and strawberry jam. It had been scrumptious, and the hem of his blanket had gotten sticky from rubbing against jam around his mouth.

But nobody came, and the pageant down in the streets was getting louder. Mages and priests were still running about, but some had fallen and curled themselves up, knees to nose, all the while groaning and moaning. It sounded awful and made the boy's toes curl. This charade was getting worse, and its happy ending was long-overdue. He wished his nurse-or his mother-would come hug him and carry him back to bed.

Suddenly there came a crash behind him in his nursery. It startled him so much that he jumped, and his first reaction was to scrunch up his nose and cry. He needed to be brave, though, and so he crept over on his hands and knees and peeked through the doorway. He saw two shadowy figures sneaking across his darkened room. One figure whispered something in a harsh, heavy voice, but the boy could not make out what he said. It sounded like the stranger had choked on his words. The second figure answered the same way, then both stopped and began looking around. The first man stepped over to the little boy's bed and ripped away his sheets, tossing them into a heap on the floor. The second delved into his wooden toy chest and angrily threw toys and storybooks around the room.

Even though it was dark inside, the boy could just make out loose black cloaks and full-faced masks. One of the strangers suddenly whirled around and flung a rocking horse, and the boy caught a glimpse of his eyes. They were pure silver crowned with snowy lashes, like little full moons hidden within a thick haze. Tiny shivers crackled along the boy's back, as if bugs were crawling all over him.

He waited patiently while the strangers searched through his things, carelessly flinging them around the room. He hoped he would not get into trouble for the mess; his nurse would most likely make him pick it all up again. She always scolded him for not putting his toys away before bed.

After a while, the two people started talking again. They seemed pretty angry about something. And then the boy heard one of them say "Lyn'Athai."

He knew that word. He had been taught the story every day of his life, and now he knew it by heart-how Athai had gifted the elves with this priceless artifact, how it was a conduit to Athai's powers of love, health, life, peace, and joy, how He had entrusted it to the boy's ancestors to keep safe, how a thousand years ago an army of bad people had brought a dead dragon to try to steal it, and how the elves had made the enemy run away, never again to return.

Perhaps these foreigners were searching for Lyn'Athai. Did they think it was kept here, in his nursery? He frowned in bewilderment. Why would they think that? Lyn'Athai was a great relic, a gift from the Creator Himself. It would be silly to find such a thing in the toy chest of a little boy.

Knowing exactly where Lyn'Athai was kept, he thought that maybe he would go see if it was still there.

His parents, his nurse, his teachers-they had instilled in him every day of his life how important the diamond was and how it must, by any means possible, be kept safe. These strangers had uttered its name, and he did not think that was a good sign.

Eventually the men grumbled in frustration and left. The boy slowly stood from his hiding spot, his joints aching and cold from sitting too long. His nursery was very dark, so he had to be careful not to step on all the things the men had scattered about.

Seeing no one out in the hall, the boy tip-toed down the abandoned corridor. From in here, he could no longer hear singing and sword-clashing and magic-shattering, and he was glad for the silence. It was still eerie, though, wandering around the palace at night. He felt the thrill of doing something forbidden, something different. Wrapping his blanket around his shivering shoulders, he slipped down the halls. Four times, he hid between the wall and a marble column as a black-cloaked figure rushed past. Groups of them sprinted here and there, scuttling like cockroaches and calling to each other; and all the while, the boy remained unnoticed.

He wondered why he did not see anyone he recognized. Where had everyone gone?

He kept sneaking down hallways and stairs, from one part of the palace to the next. He had a mission, and he would not let these strangers stop him. They had no right to talk about Lyn'Athai, anyway.

The boy eventually came to a large wooden door gilded with sweeping designs of gleaming mithreel. Although this door was usually kept shut, he saw that it was now open just a crack. Gently, he pushed it open a little farther and stepped through into the royal chapel. He noticed a priestess sitting with her back to him in one of the wooden pews. Glad to finally see someone he recognized, he scooted up the aisle to talk to her. When he saw her face, though, he stopped short-her white robes were stained with blood and her glassy eyes were fixed at the front of the chapel. She sat very still, perhaps not even breathing. The boy pondered the priestess for a moment, thinking to ask what had happened, but decided it best to move on.

Hanging on the far wall was a tapestry of two noble priests holding aloft a glittering fist-sized diamond. Pulling away the tapestry's edge, the boy found a wall of polished white marble blocks. He pushed one in particular and it slid inward with a grinding sound, revealing a narrow passage beyond.

He had wandered down here occasionally while coming to see his father, for there were many things the boy had contemplated that only his father would understand, like why leaves turned red and gold in autumn, or why silver owls sang only at night under the stars, or why snow seemed blue in moonlight. His father was very knowledgeable and always had an answer for everything. He also kept apples in a little basket on his steward's desk, and the boy thought of his hungry belly and hoped those apples were still there.

He quickly closed the secret door behind him and trotted down the passage. As he approached the spiral staircase winding down, he heard a stifled cry from below and an angry response in the foreigners' ugly speech. The boy crept on his tip-toes down the stairs, going around and around. If the strangers were indeed trying to find Lyn'Athai, they were very close to succeeding. His parents had told him over and over again that it was paramount to keep the diamond from falling into the wrong hands. It absolutely had to stay safely hidden away, and since the boy had not seen anyone else rushing to protect the artifact, he knew it was up to him.

He knew the diamond was very, very powerful. He did not know everything it could do, but he had seen his mother use it to bring sick people back to health. Once, she had even held it over a man who had just died, and he had come back to life. Maybe, the boy thought, the visitors wanted to do the same thing to their own dead people outside. Whatever they wanted the diamond for, he would stop them.

He hurried down the winding stone steps. Beside him, the flickering glow of torchlight danced across the curving marble walls. He was glad for their light, since it would have been tricky to run downstairs in the dark, but he also knew that there was a good chance of being seen.

Sure enough, he suddenly heard two people talking. He stopped and leaned against the wall, trying his best to blend in. The voices came closer, and he could tell they were downstairs in the steward's room. He guessed he could make it to the closet at the bottom of the stairs before the men discovered him, but only if he ran. He raced down the last few steps and slipped into the closet just as three black-cloaked figures skulked past. One of them spat a string of incomprehensible words, and the boy drew a sharp breath when the man emphasized "Lyn'Athai." The voices grew fainter as they retreated back upstairs, and the boy hoped they had not yet found the artifact.

When he was sure they were gone, he slowly opened the closet door and peeked into the steward's room. It was almost too dark to see; either the men had extinguished the lanterns before they left, or they could see in the dark like a cat, as they had when they had ransacked his nursery. The boy felt his way over to the desk where his father's steward always sat. The boy's rumbling belly reminded him of the apples, and he searched the desk for the basket. Alas, it was missing, and he almost cried out in disappointment. He sternly reminded himself that he was on an important mission and must remain strong and silent, even if it meant he could not have his late-night snack.

He knelt down upon the stone floor, and as he searched for the lever under the desk, his fingers suddenly brushed against a warm body sitting in the steward's chair. The boy's hand recoiled and he froze in fear-he had not thought anyone was here. Whoever it was, though, seemed not to have noticed him. It would most likely be the steward, so the boy thought it best to ask if he was all right and if he wanted the lamps relit.

"Steward?" he whispered as loudly as he dared.

The man did not reply, and so the boy reached out again, mindful of whomever sat nearby. He found the lever under the desk and pulled, as he had done in play so many times before. He heard a faint click from below and carefully removed the stone plate, laying it as gently as he could off to the side. Though he tried to be very careful, a soft grate of stone upon stone echoed throughout the room.

He stood up and leaned close to the silent man in the chair. "Do not fear, Steward," the boy whispered in what he guessed was the man's ear. "I promise to look after Lyn'Athai. You can trust me to keep it safe."

Stuffing his blanket under his armpit, the boy sat and dangled his legs over the edge of the hole in the floor. He grasped the ladder's top rung and lowered himself down, but then he heard a faint footfall over by the stairs. A raspy voice suddenly cried out in alarm. What sounded like a whole lot of people hurried over to the steward's desk, and the boy scooted down as quickly as he could into a lower tunnel. He dropped to his bare feet with a soft thud. Around him rose the natural stone of the palace's very foundation, lit by a dim magical glow. He was pretty far down below the palace, now, and he ran through the winding tunnel to what appeared to be a simple dead-end. He had played down here with his father, though, and knew the words to speak.

"Old sun sets, new moon rises, and Lyn'Athai protects us forever!" he whispered hurriedly, ears straining for sounds of his pursuers.

Hoping they could not find the hole in the floor under the steward's desk, the boy watched as the dead-end's illusion faded, revealing a plain wooden door with no handle. Narrowing his eyes, he commanded the door to open, as it always did for one with royal blood. He stepped into a small chamber and knelt in homage before a glowing, green crysteel box poised atop an elegant glass pedestal. He prayed an ancient prayer he had been taught since before he could remember, then reached out.

Stiffly, he hesitated. Would he be scolded for taking the diamond from its hiding place? Would he be punished for such a heretical act? Only grown-ups were allowed in here-his parents, his aunt and uncle, and those who worked for them and who served as priests of Athai.

He was just a little boy.

No, he decided; these were most certainly special circumstances, and it was his duty to protect the most treasured artifact of his people. Pursing his lips in determination, he lifted the crysteel box from its resting place. Hearing angry footfalls coming from the tunnel behind him, he knew he must act fast.

Pushing down lightly on the pedestal, he watched as it sunk into the stone floor. He had been told it would but had never actually had the chance to try it himself. Once the pedestal was completely embedded in the floor, a shimmering magical gate opened before him. Without hesitation, he stepped through.

Feeling damp leaves under his bare feet, the boy quickly wrapped his blanket around the box and nestled it in the crook of his arm. As he turned to watch the gate close, he caught a glimpse of several black-cloaked figures slithering up the tunnel like angry snakes, and he even thought he saw a gleaming pair of silver eyes just before the gate closed.

The boy was now alone in the woods. All around him, crickets sang and leafy branches whispered in the breeze. He could not see Ethynwen from here, but he could just barely make out the elven song wafting gently from the valley.

When his eyes had adjusted to the moonlit forest, he looked around and scanned the rocks and trees and little hills for a good place to hide the artifact. Just in case the strangers back at the palace found a way to open the magical gate, he thought it best to hide the sacred relic somewhere far from this place. He hurried along through the woods, stubbing his toe once on a hidden root. Swallowing a cry of pain, he kept running until he eventually found a small hillock crowned with a ring of firs.

He crawled under the lowest branches of the largest tree, unwrapped the box from his blanket, and began to dig. The ground was wet and cold and his fingers ached, but he dug and dug until he had a good-sized hole. He lovingly set the crysteel box within and covered it, piling on dirt and pine needles and leaves as best he could.

Satisfied, the boy stood up and brushed the dirt from his hands. Mud and tiny bits of leaves were stuck under his nails, but his fingers hurt too much to try to scrape it all away. He decided to try to find his way back toward Ethynwen where he could watch the goings on safely from a distance. He would wait patiently, all night if he had to, until the elves made the intruders go away and returned everything back to normal.

After a short while, he came to a grassy hill where he could see the skyline. There stood the palace with its gleaming gold and glass towers. Beyond rose the mountains-an empty black landscape under a deep velvety sky flickering with thousands of twinkling stars.

It suddenly occurred to him that the strains of music had ended and the city down in the valley lay silent, other than the occasional echoes of metal on metal or bouts of yelling and hollering. His ears had grown used to that soothing choral singing, and he had assumed it would always be there. But with its loss came the troubling idea that perhaps he would not be able to go home-that perhaps the black-clad foreigners with the skull-faced helms were there to stay.

Or worse, that they would kill everyone in Ethynwen.

For by now, he had figured out that everything happening tonight was probably not just for show, that this was not simply a reenactment. He could not be certain, but he guessed that if the strangers were after Lyn'Athai, their reason for coming to Ethynwen was not a good one. Besides, the boy had not seen his mother or father at all, and that worried him the most. He wondered where they were. Being heroic leaders, they would most likely be out directing the elven soldiers. His mother knew how to invoke Athai's wrath, when necessary, and his father was a legendary warrior with a magical suit of armor and an ancient sword that had been in the family forever.

The boy decided to settle in here on the hillside and wait until it was safe to look for his parents. They would be proud to know he had protected Lyn'Athai and that the intruders would not be able to find it.

Then a horrendously loud horn blast screeched out from Ethynwen. Though he covered his ears, its blare drove into his very being. Two more times it sounded, and each one sent his bones rattling. Then a new song began, a song of utter cacophony and distress. Its painful discord was almost unbearable-clattering noise, chaotic scrapes and screeches, waves of angry rumbles, and high-pitched shrieks. It was absolute torture.

Straining against the urge to shut his eyes, the boy faithfully watched his city. With his elven sight, he could just make out the far-off rolling green lawn at the foot of the palace. Dark figures mulled about, cheering. A great bonfire suddenly leapt up into the night sky, sending billows of inky black smoke to blot out the stars. Then a scream of torment unlike anything he had ever heard rose above the grating waves of cacophony, and he saw someone in the crowd dragging along a bare-chested man. He must have had something shiny on his head, for the boy could see it winking with firelight.

A helm? No, too small . . .

He gasped. A crown.

The captive-it was his own father.