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About the Author
C. Toni Graham is a master storyteller and author of the award-winning Crossroads and the Himalayan Crystals. The first installment of the epic Crossroads fantasy series received the Readers Favorite International Book Award for Excellence in Writing and an Honorable Mention Award from the Los Angeles Book Festival for Young Adult Fiction. "Crossroads and the Dominion of Four" is an excellent follow-up in the fantasy series. "A fast-paced adventure for the YA fantasy lovers."
Toni lives in beautiful l Northern California surrounded by family, an oversized golden retriever and a few mischievous fairies. To learn more, visit her website at www.ctonigraham.com.
Read an Excerpt
Person of Interest
Yellow crime-scene tape surrounded the deserted high school. Brigara scowled at the absurdity of the flimsy barrier. "As if this would stop me!" She spat at the ground before stepping over the tape and then scanned the parking lot one last time. Once she was certain no one was watching, she began her march toward the administration building. She was determined to claim her belongings, and nothing in the mortal realm was going to stop her. She focused on the coveted fireproof box; it called to her from inside the principal's office.
The fire investigators had recovered it in the rubble and added it to the inventory as one of the few salvageable items. The box had no distinct markings and appeared to be a simple lockbox. After several failed attempts to open it, the police had decided it wasn't worth the hassle of pursuing a court order. They'd written in their report that it was irrelevant to their investigation and left the box with the school administration. Brigara scoffed at their ignorance in not recognizing the simple spell that kept the box securely closed. She had remained close enough to view the police and arson investigators to track the movement of the lockbox, but she was pleased when it appeared no one had shown much interest.
"What an inept assembly of simpletons!" Brigara mumbled. "So completely dense, the lot of them! They don't even know that lead box is merely a mask for holding the greatest record of power anyone has ever known."
Their priority was finding Ms. Bridget, the science teacher. She was the main person of interest in the explosion, since she'd been the last one seen leaving the science wing prior to its incineration. The entire community was on heightened alert. Brigara found the ordeal amusing. The police investigators had no idea that her position as a teacher was just a role like that of a tragic Shakespearean character — a hoax of sorts. She believed the joke was on them — all mortals. She had calculatingly assumed the name Ms. Bridget to exact her plan. She mimicked daily rituals by reciting countless lesson plans to classrooms filled with inferior adolescents and each day left the school grumbling about the pointless routine. She scoffed at the mortal students and cursed them for being oblivious to the existence of anything beyond their own dull realm. The police were among the highest of the incompetents, and she was convinced they posed no real threat. Their investigation was just a nuisance, and as a result, she was forced to wait it out in the shadows.
Brigara calmed her angst by reminding herself that her job as teacher had come to an end, along with a great portion of the school's science building. The smoldering rubble emitted a smell that was almost sweet as she fanned away the ashes that drifted past her wrinkled nose. No longer would she have to endure playing the part of the dutiful instructor for sniveling teenagers. She had only tolerated the role in order to execute her plan of returning to her true home: the Otherworld. Her attempt had failed, but she considered it a challenge. It was fuel for her rage. The setback had not thwarted her mission; instead, she fixated on fighting to the end. Her triumphant return came into being before her eyes, and she could almost hear the cheers and screams of fear.
She grimaced as the last police car drove from the parking lot and cruised out of sight.
"Finally!" she said, her voice cracking in a harsh tone. As she pulled her dusty cloak closed, she cringed from a jolt of pain that radiated through her injured shoulder.
She eased around the tree that had camouflaged her presence. Her tall, skeletal frame stalked briskly across the lawn. Her disheveled cloak fanned out and hovered in the wind like a menacing phantom as the lampposts cast her shadow eerily across the administration building. She jogged around the corner toward the side entrance, the closest door to where the fire had started.
She had only one goal: retrieve the box. Brigara had been calculatingly clever in acquiring it. Only a few knew of its existence, and no one suspected she possessed it. It was one of the essential keys needed to gain everything she sought: power, respect, and the destruction of all that stood in her way.
She maneuvered silently down the dark halls. She blended into the darkness with only the soft corridor lights giving signs of her presence. Once inside the administrative offices, she pulled down the hood of her cloak. She groaned at the flickering fluorescent lights and the effect they had on her eyes, but she resisted the urge to shatter them. Brigara squinted from the glare they cast on the highly varnished veneer-paneled walls. The place reeked of potent pine-scented cleaner, a wasted substance that only masked the true culprit and source of the germs. She scoffed at the cleaning staff. They were prone to spread the disinfectant about haphazardly and failed to actually decontaminate the common areas. After the classes let out for the day, they would incompetently wipe away the grime. "To what end?" she would grouse. The task was useless and ineffective. She had observed that the same filthy students would mindlessly pollute it again, day after day. The cleaning staff should have eliminated the root of the problem: the vile students!
She thought about the most wretched ones, those who collided haplessly into each other daily like blind mice in a maze. Their practice of passing contagions back and forth — the exaggerated hugging, the constant hand slapping, and the ridiculous action of bumping fists together — made her stomach turn. She often thought about trapping them in the school's unsanitary conditions and watching them stumble and then collapse one by one into a germ-infested heap. Thinking about that and other means for their demise was one of Brigara's favorite pastimes.
Seeing cluttered desks, mounds of papers piled across the counters, outdated articles on the bulletin board, and unopened boxes crammed in the corners reminded her of the days she'd had to bear the administration's stupidity and limited thinking. She longed to show them that she was no ordinary mortal teacher. Their pathetic ways were beneath her, and she'd only tolerated it long enough to execute her plan. Returning to a mundane classroom and teaching mediocre minds was so far beneath her that she scoffed at the mere thought, but she was not there to reminisce. There was only one purpose for being there.
She closed her dark eyes and focused on the familiar vibration she could detect when it was near. Her breathing quickened as she sensed the box's presence. She dashed to the corner office and shoved the door open with more force than needed. The doorknob smashed into the wall and created a deep divot. Plaster crumbled onto the dingy green shag carpet.
Brigara scanned the office. She slinked to the principal's old walnut desk, which was cluttered with picture frames holding nondescript photos taken at common mortal vacation destinations. She grimaced when she noticed each face had the same staged grin. With a slight swipe of her hand, she sent the frames crashing to the floor.
The bottom drawer was illuminated around the edges. She opened it and lifted the lockbox for a close examination. Though the authorities had tried their hardest to open it, the surface bore not a single scratch. She recited the charm to release the latch, and the lid opened to reveal the contents. Seeing it again, she smiled at her cleverness in its acquisition. The source of such abundant power made her heart thump with excitement. She hesitated for a moment before slowly and gently touching it with the tip of her finger. It glowed at her touch. The sensation warmed her to the core; her posture straightened, and she raised her chin. Brigara closed the box and secured it under her arm.
Shattered glass crunched under her feet as she exited the office without bothering to close the door. She paused momentarily when she saw a janitorial cart. It was left unattended in the hall, sticking out of an alcove. She heard faint whistling coming from one of the classrooms and the splash of a mop being dunked into a bucket. The scent of pine was undeniable. She cringed in irritation.
"Imbeciles!" she snapped as she drew back her cloak.
She extended her hand, allowing a blue-fire sphere to form. Without pause, she flicked it at the cart. In a mere second, the cart was entirely engulfed in flames. The smoke alarms screeched, and sprinklers hissed into action. She laughed wildly at the chain reaction of explosions. The janitor rushed into the hall, still gripping his mop tightly. He was a stout elderly man with limited mobility. He made a futile attempt to swipe the flames with the mop before realizing it was nothing more than kindling. His hand was scorched just before he let go and backed away in fear. He turned to run but found Brigara standing in his way. He was startled but realized the magnitude of the situation.
"We've got to get out of here!" he screamed. "This place is burning like crazy!"
"I can see that," she said flatly. "You should run along and get help."
"Yeah, help! Let's go!"
Brigara stepped aside to allow him to pass. She watched over her shoulder as he stumbled slightly before making his way through the door. She sneered as she watched the fire spread up the corridor walls. A wave of delight washed over her as the accelerating flames engulfed the hallway floor. She turned on her heel and headed to the exit.
"No need to worry about sanitizing after tonight!" Brigara announced when she saw the distraught janitor.
He had a cell phone pressed to his ear and shuddered when he saw her approaching. She had overheard his declaration of being positive about who had set the fire — the very teacher everyone was looking for. He walked farther away from her and continued to describe the magnitude of the flames that were swiftly consuming the administration building and all others in close proximity.
Brigara raised her hand, and a blue spark flickered at her fingertip. Her eyes narrowed, and her lips tightened. The lockbox beneath her arm rattled, and she gave it a slight pat as she realized she had other matters that needed her attention. She scampered away from the campus and vanished into the dark woods.
Jake, Seneca, Conner, and Shayna were four teens trapped in the Otherworld. They'd never known the mysterious realm existed, but there they were. They had chosen the side of mythical creatures and elemental beings with a yearning to live in tranquility. Peace within the realm was not a desire shared by all. There was Brigara, a dark force looming within the human realm. She was a powerful druid who had been ousted from the Otherworld for practicing forbidden magic. She was intent on returning and terminating all who stood in her way.
"The first thing I'm going to do when we get to wherever we're going is clean off my boots," said Shayna. "They've taken a real beating." She brushed away a clump of dried leaves that clung to the heel of her leather Doc Martin boots. She flipped her thick, wavy hair over her shoulder before dusting her hands across her denim jeans. She longed for a fresh gel manicure but shook off the image. It was a luxury she was not likely to experience again.
"How we look and what we're wearing shouldn't be at the top of the list," said Jake.
"Hey, but we are the Dominion of Four — maybe we should look the part," said Conner. "Do you think we'll get uniforms?"
"If we do, I am most definitely going to have a say," said Shayna. "It has to fit perfectly, be the right color, and look good too!"
"Ha! You two are nuts. I seriously doubt that clothing is at the top of the list — I'm sure it's the last thing anyone is thinking about," said Jake. He wasn't sure who would be making the decision, but he'd been willing to wager that uniforms were not high on the agenda.
"What do you think?" Shayna shouted back to Seneca, who trailed several yards behind them. "Do you think we'll get matching outfits so we look authentic?"
"Costumes?" she replied. "I don't know. That seems like a bit of a waste. I think learning how to use our powers is at the top of the list."
"You're no fun, Seneca! We've got to have costumes."
"I said uniforms, not costumes!" Conner blurted out in frustration. "No way am I wearing a costume."
"Costumes, uniforms — what's the difference?" asked Jake. He shook his head at the direction the conversation was drifting. "There's so much we need to worry about, like whether or not we are going to die or something close to that."
"I say talk of costumes wins over death talk," said Shayna.
"A helluva cool cape would make the difference! No, wait — that would make it a costume," said Conner. "Glad I caught that. I need to think about this some more." He rubbed the edge of his chin as he pondered the matter.
"I'm going to mention it just as soon as we get to wherever the heck this place is," Shayna moaned. Her legs were getting tired, and she couldn't ignore the feeling of being watched. "Seneca, I think you'd look great in white with your blonde hair and complexion." She wanted to keep talking. She felt more at ease when she was breaking the eerie silence.
"White would probably get dirty. Take a look at where we are," Seneca answered.
"You're too practical!" Shayna huffed. "No fun at all."
Seneca tried picturing herself clad in white with her wings in full spread and a shimmery crest on her bodice. She liked the idea of it, but it seemed trivial. The Dominion of Four sounded way too much like a group of comic book characters. Theme songs from popular movies with superheroes played in Seneca's head. She smiled as she thought about Shayna in her boots. In her opinion, Shayna was already dressed for the part as a lead crime fighter. She giggled out loud at the image.
"What's so funny?" asked Shayna.
"You've already shown that you can kick some major butt without a fancy cape or spandex," said Seneca. "You probably don't need to worry about your ensemble." She was proud of her friend and didn't mind saying it.
"Seneca's right," replied Shayna. "I did kick some major Brigara butt! Next time I will send her into oblivion!" She beamed from the acknowledgment.
"She didn't see it coming at all! Classic fake-out." Conner snorted, punching the air to simulate a combination of boxing jabs and hook shots.
"Yup, totally clueless. I'm sure being fooled has made her even more dangerous," added Jake. He tried not to focus on what they had just experienced, but it was too fresh and ingrained in his mind to ignore.
Seneca had only caught the tail end of Jake's comment. She trotted up to close the gap between them. "I heard you say something about Brigara," she said. "She was furious! Especially when she realized we were blocking her from getting back to the Otherworld."
The image of Brigara's mangled face was seared in her mind. It was an image she would not soon forget. She was able to clearly picture Shayna's illuminated sword crashing down on the portal in perfect precision. Brigara's piercing screams rang loudly as her attempt to cross through to the Otherworld was foiled. Seneca thought about possible headlines with a full-page picture of Shayna posing in her boots. The headlines would read: "Evil Druid Stopped by Heroic Teen." Knowing someone so brave made her smile.
"We came pretty close to her busting through all right," said Jake. "I'm just glad Shayna figured out what to do in time."
He pulled Shayna close and wrapped her in a hug. Conner immediately joined in and then grabbed Seneca to force her under his arm. She felt smothered. Her head was buried in his armpit and pinned to his side, but she didn't budge. She reached out with her free arm and pulled Shayna in for a group hug.
"Thanks, guys, but this isn't a safe spot for us to stop," said Shayna. She wiggled free and smoothed her wavy dark hair. "We're surrounded by those thorny, poisonous plants we were warned about." She pointed at the menacing shrubs as she moved carefully out of reach.
"Oh yeah, the deadly blackthorns," replied Seneca. "We're surrounded by them, so we'd better stay on the trail." She recalled how she had become entangled in them before. The branches had reacted fiercely when she fell into them; they had swatted her hard in the back and sent her stumbling. She definitely wanted to avoid that again. Seneca eased into the center of the path and pulled her arms in close.
"Shayna's on alert!" Jake teased. "Help us! Please rescue us from the thorns."
"That's not funny. I just don't want to die out here," said Shayna.
Excerpted from "Crossroads and the Dominion of Four"
Copyright © 2013 Toni Graham.
Excerpted by permission of Balboa Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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