The Four Guardians

The Four Guardians

by Matt Laney

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Overview


Mystery, magic, and action-packed adventure converge in this high-stakes sequel to the unforgettable middle grade fantasy The Spinner Prince—for Bravelands and Warriors fans.

When Prince Leo’s devious cousin seizes control of Singara, Leo is forced to escape into enemy territory until he can return and claim the throne. Trapped among his enemies, Leo discovers they know a lot more about him than he knows about himself. With some guidance from unlikely allies, Leo is poised to fulfill a destiny greater than he ever imagined.

Can Leo harness his power, stop a war, and prevent a monstrous demon from escaping and destroying the world? In this thrilling second book in the Pride Wars series, Leo's identity as a Spinner, once thought to be his greatest curse, may just become his greatest weapon.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781328707383
Publisher: HMH Books
Publication date: 07/02/2019
Series: Pride Wars Series
Pages: 368
Sales rank: 804,598
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.30(h) x 1.40(d)
Age Range: 10 - 12 Years

About the Author


Matt Laney is an ordained minister with a lifelong interest in world religion, folklore, wisdom traditions, martial arts, and big cats. Matt lives with his wife and two children who love to read. www.pridewars.com
 

Read an Excerpt

CHAPTER 1

Journey far enough into the unknown and you will eventually encounter yourself.
Sayings of the Ancients

I AM LEO, the rightful Kahn of Singara, and I am about to die.
      Time of death: any minute now.
      Cause of death: Maguar attack.
      At the moment, I’m picking my way through a twisting tunnel with my quadron-mates: Anjali, Stick, and Zoya. This secret tunnel goes under the Great Wall to enemy territory. Torch light sparkles on the damp walls. Only a few meters of trail are visible before fading into darkness.
      For the last hour, the tunnel has slanted downward.
      Unexpectedly, the path gently rises.
      “The trail is sloping up,” I announce to my companions.
      “That means we’ve gone under the Great Wall,” Anjali concludes. “Welcome to Maguar territory.”
      That might be funny if death was not waiting on the other end. The Maguar are not known for friendly welcomes. They are known for ripping our kind to shreds without a second thought.
      We’ve seen the enemy only once, back at the Royal Academy of War Science. Wajid had been a prisoner at the Academy since the Great War twenty-five years ago. He was huge and monstrous. If all Maguars are like him, we’re done for.
      A blood-chilling roar blasts through this cramped passageway.
      We freeze in our tracks.
      “What was that?” Stick is in the lead position, carrying the torch. He’d be the first to face whatever beast is lurking up ahead. “Don’t tell me that was a Maguar!”
      “Unlikely,” Anjali says. “Whatever made that noise is way bigger. Keep moving.”
      “Keep moving toward the big scary noise?” Stick protests.
      “It’s coming from aboveground,” she argues, “not in the cave,” as if that resolves the issue.
      Anjali is our captain and leader. At sixteen, she’s the oldest and the most experienced in the Science of War. She’s smart, fearless, and fierce. Except for Kaydan, a general of the Singa Royal Army, there’s no one else I’d want at my side.
      Why are we leaving the safety of our homeland to enter enemy territory?
      I need to get away from my older cousin Tamir, who made himself supreme military commander last night. The same night my grandfather, the Singa-Kahn and our true leader, died.
      Grief claws at my heart. Losing him is like losing the sun and the moon.
      What’s more, Grandfather’s death means I should be the Singa-Kahn. That’s exactly why Tamir and his many followers want me dead. The land of our enemies is the best place to hide. Not even Tamir would dare search for me there.
      “This place is darker than snake guts at midnight,” Stick says, squinting deeper into the black throat of the cave. “And it’s getting darker by the second.”
      “That’s because your torch is dying, brick brain,” Zoya retorts.
      Zoya is Stick’s sister. She’s the largest of our group and also the quietest. But when she has something to say, it’s usually worth hearing.
      Then there’s me.
      I’m like most any other Singa, only shorter.
      To look at me, you wouldn’t know I conjure creatures from another world without trying, without even wanting it to happen.
      I’ve kept this power hidden for most of my life . . . with good reason. Those who speak fiction are known as Spinners and are severely punished if caught. In my case, it’s much worse. When fiction strikes, strange visions follow and powerful beings get stuck in our world.
      Then I met Shanti, an old shepherd. He taught me that I’m not afflicted but gifted. He says I’m a door between two worlds. Such a gift, he said, is very rare. Even among Spinners.
      “I see light up ahead,” Stick reports.
      It’s true. And just in time. Our torch is little more than a glowing ember.
      Ahead, a distant pinprick of light winks at us like the first star in the night sky. Our pace quickens, and the glimmer becomes a long golden finger pointing to the way out.
      The roar returns. Louder this time. And stronger.
      Stick stops, forcing us to bunch up behind him. “This is a suicide mission,” he groans.
      “We can’t go back to Singara,” I say. “At least I can’t.”
      “None of us can,” Anjali states. “We all know too much, beginning with this secret cave. If we go back, Tamir will do whatever he can to extract information from us about Leo and his whereabouts. Trust me. You’re better off dead.”
      “And the Maguar will treat us better?” Stick complains.
      “They didn’t kill my mother,” I say. “She’s lived there ever since I was born.”
      Stick isn’t convinced, but he won’t get two steps past Anjali if he decides to turn tail.
      He shrugs. “Okay, let’s do this.”
      We trudge up the final stretch of cave and huddle under an opening. It’s no bigger than the seat of a chair, but it beams like the sun itself in this dark underworld. When my eyes adjust, I see leaves dancing before a pale blue sky.
      “Lift me up, Zoya,” I say. “I’m going to look around.”
      Zoya hunches over and I climb onto her shoulders. She stands and my head pokes through the opening. I scan the landscape with eyes and ears, expecting to find the source of the terrifying roar, or maybe a horde of bloodthirsty Maguars closing in. But there are only chirping birds and the scents of pine, earth, and pollen riding on the breeze.
      “All clear,” I say, and hoist myself up.
      In a few moments, we’re all standing in a small field surrounded by trees, warming our fur in the sun.
      The hole to the cave is hidden by tall grass and low-lying shrubs, practically invisible. I hope we can find it again when the time comes.
      “What’s that on your back, Leo?” Stick says uneasily.
      Zoya moves behind me to see for herself.
      “Strange,” she murmurs, brushing the fur on my shoulder blades as if she’s trying to wipe something off.
      “What?” I ask. “What’s there?”
      “Let me see,” Anjali says.
      I twist, keeping my eyes on Anjali. Her brow furrows.
      “Tell me what it is!” I demand.
      “You have markings on your fur,” Anjali explains. “I thought it was just dirt when we were in the cave, but it’s not coming off. And they’re not random marks. It’s like a drawing of a firewing bird with outstretched wings.”
      I crane my neck. I can see only the wingtips of the firewing on my shoulder blades, set in dark brown marks. I touch the fur there. It feels normal enough.
      “That’s not normal,” Stick declares.
      “It must have happened when the Great Firewing rested his head on you,” Anjali concludes, observant as ever. “I don’t remember seeing it before that.”
      The Great Firewing appeared right before we left Singara. He said I need to follow the path before me and find out who I am. He didn’t say anything about bizarre marks on my fur.
      “Maybe it will wear off?” I suggest.
      Anjali studies my back and sniffs. “Not likely.”
      “That could be a problem for the Maguar,” Stick warns.
      “It might help,” Zoya adds. “Don’t they worship the Great Firewing?”
      Stick scowls. “If you think they’re going to worship an enemy Singa with a cave painting on his back, you’re as dumb as a bag of hammers.”
      “Stick has a point,” Anjali concedes. “A Singa with a firewing mark could spook the Maguar. Best to be cautious for now. Stick, give Leo your torso cover.”
      “This is the only one I have!” Stick protests. “And it’s too big for Leo.”
      “Do it, soldier!” Anjali orders. “The Singa-Kahn needs it. You can steal one from the enemy later.”
      Stick got his name for having the sticky hands of a thief.
      “I bet the Maguar don’t even wear clothes,” Stick grouses as he removes his cover and hands it to me.
      The torso cover is big, but it does the job.
      Zoya raises a meaty arm and points. “Look.”
      Through a break in the tree line, perhaps five hundred meters away, we see the Great Wall of Singara rising like a mighty wave of stone. On the other side of the wall is our home and everything we hold dear.
      Behind us, deeper in Maguar territory, the fur-raising roar sounds off again, like the blast of a giant horn. We whirl around to face a massive four-legged creature, barreling toward us from the woods.
      “Back in the tunnel!” Anjali barks.
      Stick slips down the hole before Anjali finishes speaking.
      The beast’s head is like a boulder. Two massive horns jut out from its mouth, flanking a long thick nose that resembles a fifth leg. Its body is covered by a copper-colored hide. The eyes are pure white, staring at nothing. Directed by something beyond sight, it plows forward, swiftly closing the gap between us.
      Zoya grabs my arm. “Come on, Leo!”
      I’m mesmerized. The creature is unlike anything I’ve ever seen. It looks deranged and not fully in control of itself.
      Anjali shoves me toward the hole. “Get down there now!”
      We drop underground as the beast thunders overhead, dislodging earth onto our pelts.
      Stick shudders. “What was that thing?”
      “A Jin,” I say, “a creature that came through fiction.”
      “So there are Spinners here, too?” Stick laments. “Powerful ones, like you. That’s all we need.”
      “That Jin was different,” I reflect. “It seemed sick.”
      “Sick or not, it’s heading straight for Singara,” Zoya notes.
      “It won’t get past the Great Wall,” Anjali assures us. “Our soldiers have huge crossbows on the top of the wall designed to kill monsters like that.”
      Zoya cocks her head. “Really?”
      “So the wall isn’t only for keeping the Maguar out,” Stick concludes, “but other creatures as well?”
      “That’s what Grandfather told me,” I say.
      Anjali nods. “Haven’t you wondered why we need a wall that huge? The Maguar aren’t the only threat around here. You three would have learned that if you had made it through your first year at the Royal Academy of War Science.”
      “Great,” Stick grumbles. “Just great.”
      We climb out of the cave for the second time.
      “What now, Captain?” Zoya asks.
      “We head deeper into Maguar territory, avoid more sick Jin, and wait to be captured,” Anjali says matter-of-factly.
      Stick’s tail lashes. “Wait to be captured?”
      “It’s unavoidable,” I say. “The Maguar are probably watching us right now.”
      “When they choose to reveal themselves, and if we get the chance,” Anjali says, getting nose to nose with Stick, “I will do the talking. You say nothing. Absolutely nothing. Is that clear?”
      Stick shrugs. “Fine by me. I don’t speak Maguar.”
      “And under no circumstances do we reveal that Leo is the prince—or, rather, the Singa-Kahn. And, Leo,” Anjali adds, “we also won’t mention anything about your mother. Not right away. If she is viewed negatively by the Maguar, it could make things worse in a hurry.”
      “Finding my mother is the whole point of coming here!” I argue, tail lashing. “That and stopping an unnecessary war.”
      “I know, Leo,” Anjali replies curtly. “But we have to find out what we are dealing with here.”
      “Wouldn’t your mother be on the lookout for us?” Stick says. “Her note sounded like she would meet you as soon as you arrived.”
      Last night Galil, Singara’s chief scientist, shared a note from my mother instructing me to leave Singara before my thirteenth birthday.
      “Galil didn’t deliver the note on time,” I remind him. “I was supposed to be here weeks ago. Now we have to find her.
      “If we don’t mention Leo’s mother,” Zoya asks Anjali, “what will you say when the Maguar ask what we are doing in their territory?”
      “I will say we have an important message for their high command,” Anjali reveals, “about the demon in the mountain.”
      Hasatamara is the fabled sea demon who was drawn onto land by the salty scent of blood spilled in a prehistoric war, long before the Age of Leos. He rose up with a mighty wave and flooded much of the earth. According to ancient legend, the demon was imprisoned in the Great Mountain of Singara by Alayah, the Maguar’s god.
      We learned all this last night from Shanti.
      Shanti also told us that Hasatamara nearly gained enough strength from the blood shed during the Great War to escape his prison.
      “We’re not even going to try to stay hidden,” Anjali says. “And remember, when the Maguar appear, I do the talking.” Her eyebrows lift until we all nod our agreement. Satisfied, she points east. “Quadron formation.”
      We take our assigned quadron positions as a diamond: Anjali at the rear, Zoya and I just ahead to her left and right, Stick in the lead. We travel in silence for nearly an hour.
      Just as I’m admiring Stick for keeping quiet this long, he pipes up. “Do you smell that?” We’re in the center of a field surrounded by woods.
      Anjali tastes the air. We’ve all witnessed Stick’s superior senses often enough to know he might be on to something.
      “Another demented Jin?” Zoya supposes.
      Stick’s fur fluffs up. “No. I thought I scented . . . slaycon!
      Anjali scans the clearing. “Where?”
      “In front of us, maybe in those trees,” Stick hisses. “When the breeze shifts a bit, you can— Wait! There it is again!”
      “I smell it,” Zoya rumbles.
      “Me too,” I say.
      Slaycons are horrible creatures with razor-sharp claws, a venomous bite, and a clublike tail. They live to kill.
      We all had to hunt a slaycon in one of the Border Zones that lie near the Great Wall to prove ourselves worthy of training at the Royal Academy of War Science. It’s a day we would prefer to forget, except maybe Anjali, who killed her slaycon in record time.
      Anjali looks to her right. “Run for those trees across the clearing. Go!”
      Stick takes off at full speed, forsaking our training that we stay together. On the other hand, he’s forcing us to keep up, which is probably a good thing. If a wild slaycon attacks when we have no weapons, the best course is to scurry up a tree. Slaycons are vicious fighters, but they can’t climb trees.
      Stick slows to a trot, nose lifted, head shifting this way and that.
      Anjali glides to his side. “What is it?”
      “The scent. Now it’s coming from the trees in front of us.”
      “It must have moved to head us off,” I huff.
      “Maybe, but the scent is still over there, too!”
      “There are two of them?” I say.
      “At least.”
      “Battle formation!” Anjali instructs. “Prepare to engage multiple attackers!”

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