S&C presents an excerpt from Portsmouth author Tom Harris‘ new novel, The Amber Moon, Part 1: Of Shadows & Dragons, the third book in his Wings, Wands and Weird Worlds series for young adults. The official Portsmouth book launch of The Amber Moon is at Blackwells Portsmouth on 8th September.
A MESSAGE IN RED
Nothing in Year 10 on the school curriculum had prepared North to deal with an arranged marriage to a fairy. Especially when the matchmaker slash wedding planner was an ancient treasure hunter intent on universal domination, who through the power of a magical book could kill you with a single thought if you disobeyed him.
Tan was cranky like that.
The sharp point of an amber sword in his back snapped him from his trance of church bells and madness as the faceless assassins in their freakish white doctor’s coats, ushered him along the deck of the amber ship.
‘So, this is Mataquin…?’ he mumbled, his blood-red Thief Trials hoodie deflecting the ocean breeze as he was forced onto the creaky wooden gangplank that sloped down to the jetty.
This was Rosie’s world. Rosie Boots; a fairy, his best friend in the whole weird world and soon to be his wife. She was born here. In a land where wisps of black cirrus veiled a horizon dominated by an Amber Moon, which was setting like a sun, as if submerging into the crimson ocean. This same moon was also the portal that had sucked them into Mataquin. North was not in Perrow anymore.
The fading amber light drew memories of dusk and a chemical smell hung in the air, like the changing rooms at Perrow’s indoor swimming pool.
Another slap of sword upon his shoulder blade pushed him off balance as they dropped to the jetty. North turned on his haunches, snapping at the Shadows like a wild dog.
‘How did you get like this?’ he paused, anger rising. ‘Say something!? Who are you?’ he cried, rubbing his closely cropped hair, as if attempting to massage these answers into his brain.
As ever there was no response from Tan’s silent, faceless guards.
Tan’s Shadow soldiers had slain his guardian, his friend, Javotte, only a matter of hours ago, so North fought his instincts to lash out at what their kind had done, as his thoughts turned to escape.
The Shadows were slow, but armed with only Rosie’s stories and no knowledge of the landscape of this strange new world, escape was futile and would surely end in death. If not his, then that of someone he loved.
Thanks to that duplicitous whale, Cachalot, Tan now had The End Book, and with it the power to end any life he chose with just a single thought. If he was in close enough proximity to a source of amber, Tan’s control was absolute over North, Rosie, the Ange Gardien and all who opposed him. His ambition to restore the Amber Room was more certain than ever.
The calm ruby sea lapped gently against the jetty and the rainbow of boats that filled the harbour. Did these mighty vessels belong to other treasure hunters? Did they have to kidnap their Thief Trial contestants, too? Or, maybe everyone on Mataquin owned enormous cruise ships, like people who lived in Monaco. Perhaps it was so normal that Rosie had left that bit out when recounting the tales of her world.
A hand reached out from behind him and pulled his hood over his head. Fists clenched and ready to fight, North froze, finding an amber blade at his neck.
‘I can dress myself!’ he snapped. ‘If you need to be off killing or maiming, I’ll find my own way around,’ he poked back, as they neared the end of the jetty.
A pungent fishy perfume carried on the sea breeze, hitting the back of North’s throat, forcing him to gag. He coughed hard, until becalmed by the deathly silence. No birds soared and screamed in the coastal sky. Not a soul paddled in the shallows, or walked barefoot along the shore in the haze of an amber twilight. This place was abandoned…No, evacuated.
Huge dunes with fields of bending blue grasses stretched across the horizon. The sand sparkled as if dotted with black diamonds, like a posh vanilla ice cream. His armoured trainers sunk deep, leaving prints in the dunes, before the Shadows rounded on him, as if he had already strayed too far from their plan.
‘Where can I run to? If you told me what to do, you wouldn’t have to keep prodding me with those things!’ he said, wiping the merest hint of claret from a tiny snick in his neck.
North’s breath was heavy with rage, as the thud of falling water cut the quiet.
Rosie was not exaggerating.
A raindrop the size of a tennis ball landed on his head with a thump, forcing him to recoil. The Shadows fussed around him like he was a child, checking his hood and pulling at his sleeves, so they covered his hands. Satisfied that North was fully covered, the Shadows raised their white coat collars and sunk their hands deep into their pockets, as balls of rain struck the back of North’s head, like he was being hit by a flurry of punches.
The unrelenting spheres of red water fizzed as they struck the sand, like aspirin dissolving in water. His eyes widened in shock as the skin of the faceless Shadows began to sizzle and burn. The chemical smell deepened, as the bruising rain forced him down on one knee, head bowed, holding his breath until it relented.
Rosie had told him of this, acid rain, and it had left its mark on the Shadows, melting their hair and skin; leaving blistered pockmarks where eyes and mouths should have sat upon their faces.
‘You knew that was coming?’ he asked. ‘Why did you protect me? What the hell is this thing made of?’ His red hoodie and tight, black sweatpants smoked and steamed like early morning grass after a storm, but the material featuring the intricate embroidery of moons, stars and planets had been unscathed by the acid rain. ‘Thanks,’ he mumbled, as a mighty splash beside the ship returned his focus to the crimson sea.
North flinched, fearing more rain, but this splash had been caused by something far different, and it sucked the very breath from his lungs.
A huge amber whale breached and crashed down hard into the harbour waters. The slap of its mighty tail washed red waves across the decks of the multi-coloured fleet anchored in the harbour.
‘Cachalot?’ called North, leaping back onto the jetty, pursued by the sluggish Shadows. ‘You double crossing mass of blubber! We thought we could trust you!?’
His armoured trainers were so light and springy against the black wooden boards, that North reached the end of the jetty, as the giant surfaced, as if it had returned to bask in its deception.
‘You promised the book would be safe. You, you scummy bag of blubber!’
The creature released a heavy sigh of air as if offended and spurted a fountain of frothy ambergris and water from its blowhole, which landed just short of the jetty.
‘You came all this way to vomit on me? If I was a billion stone heavier and a stronger swimmer, I’d…I’d dive in and kick your arse!’ North cried, his fury paralysed, as the flotsam slowly dissipated, leaving two perfectly formed letters bobbing on the surface of the ocean.
The letters were clear, even if their meaning was not.
‘D.O?’ North mumbled, as the Shadows forced him down onto the jetty, like they were ready to handcuff him. ‘D.O? What does that even mean?’
As the whale breached, its sad, pale eyes landed on North and suddenly this creature didn’t look at all like Cachalot. There was something very different about this beast compared to the magical amber giant North and Rosie discovered in the caves of Chateau D’Elf.
Held in the creature’s gaze, the whistle and spray of a hundred amber arrows rained down on it from the bow of Tan’s ship. The whale did not flee. It knew it did not stand a chance. The cluster of arrows struck their target, leaving an oily slick of amber on the crimson water.
‘Welcome to Mataquin,’ muttered North, his stomach as hollow as an empty wedding chapel.
Find out more about Tom Harris and his writing over at his website, and follow him on Facebook and Twitter.