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INFIDELA LOST BOOK
By TED DEKKER
Thomas NelsonCopyright © 2007 Ted Dekker
All right reserved.
Chapter OneThe night went long, and the celebration was far more than Johnis could handle. The line of proud well-wishers who came by to shake their hands and speak words of encouragement seemed to never end.
And he was pulled into more than a few dances with young women who suddenly thought he was the moon itself. Billos ate it all up. Darsal took it all in stride. But Johnis and Silvie were the quiet ones, and the attention was overwhelming for them.
Still, he was rather proud, he supposed. They had done well.
The celebration had finally wound down, and the fires were put out. Soon dawn would gray the eastern sky. But there was still business to be done. As agreed, the four stole away and met in one of the gazebos by the lake-to get their story straight.
Johnis pulled out the two books he'd stashed under the bench and set them on the table.
For a moment, they just stared at the Books of History. Red twine still bound their leather covers. It was the first time any of the others had laid eyes on the books since Johnis had retrieved them from Teeleh's lair.
"This ... is what it's all about," Johnis said. His words fell like stones, heavy after the night's celebration.
Silvie stepped forward and touched the leather cover of the book that had come from Teeleh. "All of what we went through, for these books? We nearly gave our lives for them. What would happen if we opened one?"
"We can't!" Johnis said. He still hadn't told them of his horrific visions-too dangerous. He wasn't convinced they were just visions. "The power is terrible."
"There are five more books," Darsal said.
"I don't see how we can find five more books, if the last few days are any measure," Billos said.
Johnis looked up at him. "Do we have a choice?"
"You always have a choice," a voice said on their right.
There on the railing perched Michal, the leader of the large, fuzzy, batlike creatures they called Roush. Gabil, his humorous friend, floated in on wide, white wings and landed delicately on the rail beside Michal.
"Hello, friends," he said. "Care for a karate lesson?"
"Honestly, Gabil," Billos said, grinning. "Your moves are made for flying bats. Unless you can teach us to fly, we're at a loss."
"Really? Well, maybe I can teach you to fly. It might cause a few bumps and bruises, though. And I can't promise you that you ever will actually fly, but you must learn my karate. If that's the only way-"
"Please, forgive my friend's eagerness," Michal said. "Now, I suggest you get your story straight and prepare to go after the next book. Gabil, we should get back. We still have wounded to care for."
Gabil fluttered off. "Practice your moves!" he cried. "I'll test you soon."
"Oh," Michal said turning back. He withdrew something from his belt and set it on the railing. A silver ring. "I almost forgot this. We found it in the desert with a piece of cloth. It was placed there today."
Then he whooshed into the darkness.
Johnis stepped forward and lifted the ring. He recognized it immediately. "My mother's ring!"
"Your mother's?" Silvie asked. "Michal wanted you to know that the Horde took it?"
But Johnis didn't think that was what Michal had meant by leaving the ring. Sweat beaded on his forehead. "She's alive."
"I thought she was killed months ago," Billos said.
"They never recovered her body."
"You ... you mean she's a Scab now?"
The possibilities swirled through Johnis's mind. Scab or not, she was his mother, and the thought that she was, at this moment, alive was almost too much to bear.
Mother was alive ...
Johnis lay on his bed, near dawn, unable to sleep for the voice that haunted his mind. His mother's voice.
I love you, Johnis. You are my life, Johnis.
He opened his eyes and stared at the reed thatchwork in the ceiling. The house was built out of timbers and had carved planks. The inside was mostly flattened reed walls that flexed easily when pushed. A wood dresser and the bed he lay on made up the room's furniture. Simple, but perfectly functional.
His fingers rubbed the silver ring in his tunic pocket. Mother's ring. Rosa's ring. She'd been killed by the Horde months ago, leaving him in utter despair; his father, Ramos, a widower; and his sister, Kiella, motherless. Or so he'd come to believe.
His mother was alive.
Johnis stared at the soft dawn light that filtered through the window and rehearsed the events that had led up to this moment, still not sure if he could truly believe it all.
It had started with the Council's decision to invite all sixteen-and seventeen-year-olds worth their salt to join the Forest Guard. A thousand had been chosen. And by some impossible turn of events, Johnis had found himself leading a band of three other unlikely heroes who were sent on a final test: Billos, who was seventeen; Darsal, also seventeen; and Silvie, who was sixteen like Johnis.
Together they had struck out to the forest's edge to recover four Catalina cacti and return by nightfall as ordered by the supreme commander. But it was not to be. Disaster had changed their course. They'd been to hell and survived, and then returned to a great many cheers and a celebration that had ended just a few hours ago.
But they had also returned with a terrible secret that had to stay among the four. Not a word to anyone else, Michal had said. The eyes of the chosen four had been opened to see the unseen forests and deserts as they really were, populated by beings from the legends-the evil Shataiki bats from the deep desert and the furry white Roush who lived in the trees.
Not a word to anyone, Michal had said. Not a word about the Shataiki or the Roush or their mission to find the seven Books of History.
And now this business of his mother's ring.
Someone from the Horde army had left it after they'd been foiled and retreated into the desert, which could mean that his mother hadn't been killed by the Horde as Johnis had thought. Why else had Michal brought him the ring? No, she'd been captured, and now she had succumbed to the disease and was Horde!
A distant rooster crowed.
Johnis flung his blanket off and threw his feet to the bare floor. His mother was alive, but a Scab, covered by the scaly disease that the Horde lived with. Her mind was steeped in deception without a care to return to the forests.
Johnis felt panic boil through his blood.
The two Books of History they'd recovered only days ago were wrapped in cloth and under his bed. He pulled them out. Carefully, in case there was any blood on his fingers to trigger the power of the books, he peeled back the cloth and stared at them.
Ancient, dark, leather-bound volumes, tied shut by red twine with the same title etched in each: The Stories of History.
He suppressed an awful temptation to pull back just the corner of one cover to see what lay inside, but Michal had been clear: never open the books. Judging by the dark visions he'd had when his blood had come in contact with the skin of the book in his hand, he wouldn't be surprised if actually opening one would kill whoever held it.
None of the other three knew of the books' power yet. He wasn't sure he could trust them with this secret. If there was any hope in finding his mother, the power of these books would lead him, wouldn't it?
He quickly wrapped the books in the cloth and shoved them back into hiding under his bed. His mother had been captured by the Horde because she'd gone to the desert to find medicine for him. He owed her his life.
Johnis stood, pulled on his boots, suddenly sure of what he would do. What he must do. His mother was with the Horde army, he was certain. And at this very moment the Horde army had been spotted heading into the western desert. Away from the forest.
Time wasn't on his side.
He grabbed his sword and sneaked down the hall, wincing with the house's creaking.
"Where you going?" a voice whispered.
His sister, Kiella, stood at the door to her bedroom, nightgown flowing around her ankles. She was short even for her ten years. Delicate, like a flower, Mother had always said.
Johnis lifted his finger to his mouth. "Don't wake Father."
"Where you going?" she repeated.
"I'm a Forest Guard now," he said. "I have things to do that no one else knows about."
She stared at him without blinking. "You're going to kill more Horde?"
"No! Shhh. Stay here with Father. Tell him I'm on an errand. Don't worry."
He turned to leave, but she hurried over to him, put her arms around his waist, and hugged him close. "I'm so proud of you, Johnis. I always knew you were a hero."
"Everyone says you are."
"They're wrong." He bent and kissed her blonde head. "Be good."
He hurried into the cool morning air before she could stall him further.
The village, at the center of the middle forest, arched around the front side of the lake in which they all bathed daily to keep the disease away. Elyon's gift, everyone said, though secretly many thought the water simply had medicinal qualities that healed the skin. But Johnis knew the truth: the waters were beyond the natural.
He hurried down the side path that ran behind the main village, eager to find Silvie at the barracks without meeting too many people on the way. Blossoming flowers spilled from vines around most of the rock pathways that led up to the houses. Thomas of Hunter, or Thomas Hunter as he preferred to be called, had brought some fantastic ideas to them-supposedly from his dreams of another world as rumor had it. From the histories themselves.
Whether or not their leader's special knowledge came from another place or from Elyon or by whatever means, Johnis, like the rest of the Forest Dwellers, had no problem making good use of the metals they used for their weapons or the hinges on their doors or the many other innovations that bettered their lives.
"Johnis," a woman on his left, whom he didn't know, said. "Thank you, son. Thank you for your heroism."
He dipped his head. He didn't feel like a hero. If they only knew what had really happened in the desert, they might not be so sure of his worth.
Overhead, forest larks chirped. They could be Shataiki for all he cared. Nothing that had happened in the last week measured up to the terrible desperation that continued to build in his heart.
Silvie had said that he was worthy to lead because he thought with his heart. At the moment his heart was too bound up to think at all.
Johnis ran into the barracks, past the main hall, and took two steps into the women's wing before stopping to reconsider.
He couldn't just barge into a room full of sleeping women. As was customary, Silvie, Darsal, Billos, and Johnis would be given their own homes to honor their promotions, but having traveled from the southern forest, Silvie and the others would stay in the barracks until they decided which forest they would serve in.
He slipped into her room, passed several double bunks, and found her sleeping soundly in full battle dress. He reached out to shake her.
Silvie grabbed his wrist and pulled him down, knife at his neck. They were nose to nose, nearly mouth to mouth.
She held him for a moment, longer than she needed to, he thought, then pushed him back. "What on earth has gotten into you?"
"I need you to come with me, Silvie. Quiet. Hurry." Then he turned and walked out, knowing that she would follow.
She emerged from the barracks, short blonde hair tangled; but otherwise she looked flawless. Even with the marks where strong claws had held her neck too tight, she looked stunning in the graying dawn.
Her eyes sparkled like jewels. "What time is it? I've hardly slept a wink."
"We have to hurry," he said, running toward the lake. "Bathe."
"Hurry where? What's going on?"
"My mother," he said. "I have an idea."
"Bathe," he said, pointing to the right, where large boulders hid a bathhouse reserved for the female fighters. Johnis broke left without waiting for her to respond and ran into another bathhouse.
Kicking off his boots and dropping his tunic to the ground, he splashed water from a large basin on his torso, quickly wetting his skin. Three days without this water and any Forest Dweller would be consumed by the graying Scab disease, which cracked and grayed the skin.
Both emerged from the lake houses with damp clothes. Johnis veered toward the forest before she could speak.
"Hold on, for the sake of Elyon!" she cried.
"Please, Silvie. Time is running out. Please, follow me."
He ran into the trees, crossed one well-worn path that led to a stream of drinking water, and headed deeper into the forest. The last time he'd asked her to follow him, they'd nearly lost their lives.
"Run!" he cried. Deeper, still deeper he led her. Then, when he thought they'd gone sufficiently far so as not to be heard, he pulled up, catching his breath.
"What is it?" she demanded, bending over her knees.
"We have to speak to the Roush." He stood tall, cupped his hands around his mouth, and screamed at the top of his lungs.
"Michaaaaal!" Then again. "Michaaaaal!"
"What are you doing? They can't hear you."
He ignored her and cried again. "Michal! Any Roush! Please ..."
A flap in the foliage to their right answered, followed by the beating wings of a white Roush that Johnis hadn't yet met. Then again, he'd only met two: Michal, the stately one, and Gabil, the spirited one.
"You'll look like a fool screaming to the sky," the Roush said, settling on the ground. He stood two feet tall, with spindly chicken legs, a furry white body, and wide batlike wings. Face like a possum crossed with an owl.
"Hunter at your service. You called?"
"That's what I said. Hunter. You like it?"
"Never mind. I need to talk to Michal," Johnis said. "Immediately."
"That's delightful," the Roush said. "Unfortunately, Michal isn't here."
"Then take me to him."
"Do you fly?"
"Do I look like I can fly?" Johnis asked.
The Roush raised its brow. "Touché. You really can see me, can't you?"
"You're a fuzzy white bat-creature standing right in front of me," Johnis said.
"Amazing. It's strange to be seen by a human after all this time. And why only you four can see us, only Elyon knows." He turned away. "You'd better get your horses. It's a long run to the Roush trees."
Excerpted from INFIDEL by TED DEKKER Copyright © 2007 by Ted Dekker . Excerpted by permission.
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