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A LOST BOOK
By TED DEKKER Thomas Nelson
Copyright © 2008
All right reserved.
Chapter One Billos swung his leg over the stallion and dropped to the ground. The sun was blazing above the clearing, birds chirping in the trees. His horse snorted and lowered its head to feed on the grass.
He had to work fast. Knowing Johnis, the self-appointed leader would be coming with Darsal and Silvie soon. Johnis, this newly anointed major who could do no wrong. Not that he disagreed with the verdict-Johnis was a worthy leader of men. But the boy was holding something back, something about the books they'd each sworn to find.
Billos threw the saddlebag open, reached inside for the three books, and hurried to the boulder at the clearing's center. He didn't know what power came with having all seven books. Nor with opening a single book. In fact, he wasn't sure he had the courage to find out just yet.
What he did have was an insatiable need to feel the same surge of power that he'd felt the first time he'd touched one of the books with his blood.
He set the books on the stone, pulled out his knife, and ran the back of a trembling hand across the sweat that ran down his right cheek. The blue leather book on top stared up at him, beckoning, demanding, begging.
Touch me, Billos. Show me your blood, and I'll show you a new world.
He sliced his finger, wincing because he'd gone deeper than he'd meant to. Blood swelled. Dripped.
The sound of pounding hooves reached him.
Panicked that he might be discovered too early, he thrust his finger against the ancient leather cover. In the space of one quick breath the clearing vanished, replaced by the same darkness he'd seen before.
The power was still here! There is more raw energy than I felt a week ago when I attempted the same with the others, he thought. Or was it just the anticipation of what he intended next?
A distorted hole erupted before him, and from the darkness emerged the figure of the man dressed in black.
This could be Teeleh. Or the Dark Priest.
The man's long arm reached out for Billos, fingernails beckoning. A moan filled Billos's ears, so loud he thought the sound might be coming from his own throat, louder than the thumping of his heart, which crashed like an avalanche of boulders cut from the Natalga Gap.
Then the vortex opened to another place, not as dark. A six-foot hole in this world stood right in front of him, ringed in rippling blackness. A translucent barrier distorted what lay behind.
He reached out and touched the hole with his finger. Pushed it through. His finger went beyond the veil into a place that was warmer than the clearing.
Billos could feel his bones shaking, but his fear didn't dim his desire. He inched forward.
Someone was calling his name.
He closed his eyes, took one last deep breath, and stepped past the barrier.
Johnis led the charge to the clearing with sinking hopes of finding Billos before it was too late.
He saw the stallion through the trees. And past the stallion, Billos standing at the rock.
Johnis broke from the trees and pulled up hard. Billos stood over the boulder, hand extended to one of the Books of History bound in leather. His finger was pressed against it. Blood pooled on the cover around a deep cut. The boy shook in his boots, like a goat hit by lightning.
Silvie and Darsal pulled their horses to a stop beside Johnis, eyes glued to the scene.
"Billos!" Johnis cried.
And then Billos disappeared, leaving behind a single flash of light that followed him into oblivion. And a bare boulder.
The birds were chirping; the horses were stamping; the breeze was blowing.
Billos and the books were simply gone.
Johnis, Silvie, and Darsal sat on their horses and stared, completely dumbstruck.
Silvie was the first to find her voice. "He's gone."
"They're gone," Johnis said.
Chapter Two For a long moment Darsal couldn't bring her mind to focus on what her eyes had just seen. One moment Billos had been standing over the books, finger extended, and the next he'd vanished in a flash of light.
And with him the books. But it wasn't the books that Darsal cared about now.
Her voice sounded hollow in the empty clearing. She dropped to the ground and ran toward the rock, eyes scanning the trees for sight of him. Surely he hadn't actually disappeared into thin air!
"Billos! Answer me, for the sake of Elyon! This isn't funny!"
"He's gone," Johnis said. "I told you the books were dangerous. Now Billos has gone and done it, that fool!"
Darsal swung around and screamed at him, as much out of frustration at Billos as anger directed toward Johnis. "Shut up!"
Johnis swung down and approached, followed by Silvie. Both held her in a steady gaze. The improbable events forced upon us over the last few weeks have changed us, Darsal thought.
"Take it easy, Darsal," Johnis said. "Do I look like the enemy to you?"
"Take it easy? What do you suggest now, that I follow you to hell once again? Just head out into the desert and find Billos? He vanished before our eyes!"
"I'm not the enemy. Is that so difficult to understand? The books are gone because Billos is a fool-focus your anger at him, not me."
"Where did that imp go?" Silvie asked, blinking at the trees.
Darsal wanted to slap the girl, if for no other reason than she seemed so smug in her newfound confidence by Johnis's side. She had her man, this unlikely leader of warriors who didn't seem to know the meaning of the word quit. Not that Darsal resented Johnis or thought less of him than he deserved, but she felt that any attack on Billos was an attack on her.
If they knew what Billos had done for her all these years, they would understand. If Johnis was Silvie's man, then Billos was hers. In fact, much more so than these two who'd known each other less than a month. Billos was her savior, the only love she'd ever known, her life.
And now Billos was gone.
Darsal paced up to the boulder, ran her hand over the rough stone where the books had rested only a minute earlier. The surface was warm, by the books or by the sun she wasn't sure.
Johnis spit to one side. "What did I tell you? I should have taken them from him in the desert and kept them out of sight. Show Billos one ounce of trust and look what it's earned us!"
"You care more for books made of paper than you do for flesh and blood?" Darsal demanded.
"If they were just paper, Billos would still be standing here with a bloody finger on their covers."
He was right, of course. But that didn't change the fact that Billos wasn't standing here.
Johnis continued as if he'd read her thoughts. "I know you and Billos were ... are ... close. For that matter, I've risked my own life for him-"
"And he for you," she said.
"Yes, I suppose so. But you have to remember that the books must come first. We've all risked our necks for those three books, and we still have four to find."
Darsal paced, trying her best to remain calm. "For all you know, Billos has just taken the next step to find those blasted books! I can't believe you're taking this so lightly!"
Johnis started to nod.
"Were you the only one chosen, or was Billos also chosen?"
"All of us."
"Then quit pretending that the books are more important than he is!"
"Stop it!" Silvie cried.
Here they stood, three new recruits to the Forest Guard-Silvie and Johnis just sixteen; Darsal seventeen-chosen for this mission that no amount of fighting or wit could accomplish.
Silvie was wearing a white cotton dress, an oddity for the fighter with short, tangled, blonde hair, who typically walked about in battle dress. She preferred to have knives strapped to her thighs.
Johnis had cleaned up as well, draped in a tunic as if he were as much a part of the council as the elder members. Even Darsal had attended the council meeting, from which all four had just come, dressed in a frock. Only Billos had turned up in battle dress.
Here they stood in a small clearing a ten-minute gallop beyond the outskirts of Middle Village, faced with a predicament that was more important than any could know-any of the hundred thousand or so Forest Dwellers who lived in the seven forests, now busying themselves with a meal or a dance or the sharpening of swords.
Or any of the millions of Horde who lived in the desert, cursing the forests and their dwellers, eating wheat cakes while they sipped wheat wine to ease the pain of their cracking skin.
Darsal walked around the stone, eyeing the bare surface. For as long as she'd known him, Billos had always been an impetuous little bulldog, getting them into as much trouble as he saved them from. She loved him; she was bound to him; she would die for him. But at the moment, she would just as soon strangle him.
His capture by the Horde had been beyond his control. But this time he'd run off without her. He'd abandoned her. She couldn't live with being abandoned by Billos. In fact, she wasn't sure she could live without him at all.
"You're right," she snapped, unable to stem her anger. "He may be a fool. But he's a fool whom I love." She rushed on, not eager to explain herself. "We have to find him! These books, this fate-of-the-world nonsense-yes, of course-but we have to find Billos!"
Johnis touched the stone and drew his hand back, rubbing his fingers. His eyes on her. "How do you search for someone who's left no tracks or scent?"
Silvie studied Darsal. "He did leave a scent. The smell of ambition-isn't that right, Darsal? He went into the books because of his thirst for power."
"And you wouldn't do the same to satisfy your thirst for revenge?"
They all knew Silvie's passion to avenge the death of her parents, who'd been killed by the Horde. She'd joined the Forest Guard as much to slay Scabs as save the forests.
"None of us is without blame," Johnis said. To Darsal: "You have my word, I'll track him to the ends of the desert if need be."
"Then you know there's only one way," she said.
Silvie frowned. "Say how?"
"Forbidden or not, dangerous as you might think, we have to match Billos's ambition or folly or whatever caused him to step past the barrier."
"Follow him?" Johnis said.
Darsal came closer, using her hands to express urgency. "You can't follow him into the desert, Johnis, because Billos didn't go into the desert. He went into the books! We have to find a book and follow him before it's too late."
"Too late for what?"
"Don't tell me you didn't see the Dark One the last time we touched the books."
"Teeleh," Silvie said, speaking about the leader of the Shataiki bats. "Or Alucard, his general."
"Or Witch," said Johnis. The Horde high priest. "But we can't just throw ourselves in because Billos did."
"Why not? You demanded that we follow you. And I doubt very much that Billos just disappeared from here to reappear with Teeleh or Witch. He's not in the desert; he's in another place altogether." She stomped for her horse, her mind clouded by her own need to find Billos. "We're wasting time!"
"Slow down," he snapped. "Even if we did agree to throw ourselves into the hole the way Billos did, we don't have a book. You can't just pluck one off the nearest 'original Books of History' tree."
Darsal spun back, started to tell him exactly what she thought of his cocky wit, then clamped her mouth and let her face grow red instead.
"He's right," Silvie said. "We have to continue the mission as if this hadn't happened. Find the books, find Billos."
"We can't just continue the mission!"
"We have to drop everything and go after another book," Darsal cried.
"Exactly," Johnis said. "That is the mission."
"Yes, now. That's what we're doing. We're trying to get past all this emotion of yours so that we can calmly discuss the most logical next step."
"And that's what you did to find your mother?" Darsal demanded.
"Fine, why don't we deceive a fighting group and get them slaughtered to find the next book. Is that the level of your commitment to Billos?"
"Enough!" Silvie stepped up, breaking their line of sight. "Both of you. You're both right: we have to find a book, and we have to do it now, but we can't run off into the desert without a plan. Think!"
She scowled at Darsal, then returned her attention to the center of the clearing. She walked around the rock.
"I can't believe they all just vanished like that. It's so ..."
"Unnatural," Johnis said, joining her.
"Everything else we've experienced-the Roush, Teeleh, the Horde-it's all been the unseen becoming seen. But this ..."
Johnis drew both hands through his dark hair. He was a good-looking boy with fine features and smooth skin, a poet and a writer before he'd been roped into serving with the Guard.
Billos, on the other hand, was covered in scars and had the muscle of two Johnises. A ruggedly handsome man. A true fighter who would take what was his and protect his own without so much talk.
For the moment Darsal paced and let Johnis and Silvie talk. A rustle in the trees drew her attention. She saw the fleeting white of a Roush, then the red eyes of a Shataiki bat that fled into the darkness beyond the branches.
"We see those two even though no one else can," Johnis said, looking up at the trees, "but we can't see what lies beyond the books."
"And who can see beyond?" Darsal demanded.
"Michal." Johnis nodded toward the west where Michal, one of the wise ones among the Roush, lived in the treetop village they'd visited a week earlier.
"Michal's the one who told us not to touch the books with blood," Darsal snapped.
Johnis faced her with a scowl. "You think he would lead us astray? If we go to him now?"
"There's someone else who knows even more about what is beyond what we can see." The idea came to Darsal only a moment before she spoke.
"Someone who may have actually gone where Billos is now."
She turned for her horse and had her foot in the stirrup before Johnis caught on.
"Thomas? That's rumor."
"And this talking won't amount to bird droppings," she snapped, swinging into her saddle.
Johnis hurried forward. "It's forbidden to tell anyone about the books! You have no idea what harm that will bring! You can't talk to Thomas about Billos!"
"No? Watch me."
Darsal kicked her mount and galloped into the forest.
Excerpted from RENEGADE by TED DEKKER Copyright © 2008 by Ted Dekker. Excerpted by permission.
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