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A year has passed since the Tournament. Fletcher and Ignatius have been locked away in Pelt's dungeons, but now they must face trial at the hands of the Inquisition, a powerful institution controlled by those who would delight in Fletcher's downfall.
The trial is haunted by ghosts from the past with shocking revelations about Fletcher's origins, but he has little time to dwell on them; the graduating students of Vocans are to be sent deep into the orc jungles to complete a dangerous mission for the king and his council. If they fail, the orcish armies will rise to power beyond anything the Empire has ever seen.
The Stakes: Higher than you can imagine. Like life-and-death. Welcome to the revolution. And get ready to run.
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Summoner Book 2
By Taran Matharu
Feiwel and FriendsCopyright © 2016 Taran Matharu, Ltd
All rights reserved.
"Fletcher, wake up!"
Othello's green eyes looked down at him, matching the canopy above.
"Malik and his team have left without us."
Fletcher sat up, Athena's memory still vivid in his mind.
"Why?" he mumbled.
"They left a note, said they decided to make the most of the sunlight and leave early. They didn't want to wake us."
"Fine with me." Sylva yawned, stretching her arms. "If there's trouble ahead, they'll run into it before we do."
Seraph and his team were packing up. They had their demons out, and Fletcher was pleased to see that Rory now had a second Mite, smaller than Malachi with a yellow shell.
Still, it was Atilla's demon that most surprised him, a dove-white bird with long tail feathers, perched on the young dwarf's shoulder. It was a Caladrius, a level-six demon with the ability to heal wounds by laying its feathers over them.
The demon was one of four rare, equally powerful avian cousins, including the fire-born Phoenix, the icy Polarion and lightning-powered Halcyon, with red, blue and yellow plumage respectively. He had a sneaky suspicion that it was not just Arcturus who had received a gifted demon from King Harold. Fletcher bet it was an apology to the Thorsagers for what had happened to Othello. He wondered what demon Atilla had before, and if he still had it in his roster.
"We should follow their example," Seraph called, distracting Fletcher from his thoughts. "We're heading off in a minute, with or without you."
Sacharissa was already nosing the ground, eager to lead her team in the direction of the river. She whined as Fletcher hesitated, indicating that Arcturus wanted them to stay together.
It did not take long for Fletcher's team to get ready, the biggest delay being Cress, who did not take kindly to being woken at such an early hour.
"Can't you get Solomon to carry me, Othello?" Cress groaned, heaving her heavy satchel onto her shoulders.
"Carry you? Shouldn't it be the other way around?" Fletcher laughed.
"Actually, Fletcher, he probably could," Othello said, flushing with pride.
He pulled a roll of leather from the side pocket of his satchel and laid it on the ground. Then, with a touch of his fingers, the Golem materialized in a flash of violet light.
Solomon had grown. He was as tall as Othello himself now, but wider and thicker-limbed. As soon as he caught sight of Fletcher, the craggy face split into a smile. The Golem surged forward with his arms open wide, and Fletcher had to skip back to avoid the bone-crushing hug.
"Solomon, no!" Othello remonstrated, then rolled his eyes as the demon hung his head in shame. "He doesn't know his own strength yet."
"So much has changed in a year. He'll be my height soon enough," Fletcher marveled.
"Aye, that he will. But let's not hang about, they're off." Othello nodded at the forest behind Fletcher, where Seraph's team was already on its way out of the swamp and into the thicker jungle.
"We'll look like the lazy ones if we're not careful," Sylva said, tugging Othello forward.
She nodded at Lysander, who was tactfully looking up at the sky. "Remember, the world is watching. This is more than just a mission."
Othello and Sylva hurried after the others, leaving Cress and Fletcher to trail behind them. Lysander walked sedately at their side, somehow managing to avoid the tangled undergrowth with feline grace. In contrast, Athena leaped from tree branch to tree branch above, showering Fletcher with leaves and dislodged insects. He did not mind, for he could sense the demon was missing the ether. After all, she had spent the past seventeen years there.
Fletcher's thoughts turned to his parents. He had spent so many years searching faces in Pelt, wondering what they looked like. Now he knew. He had his father's thick black hair, and the man's hazel eyes were just like his own. But he had the same pale skin and straight-edged nose of his mother.
He had been loved, once. He had felt it in that dream, so strongly that it made his heart clench with joy. But it had all been brutally torn away from him.
Soon the world turned dim as the canopy grew thicker, the sun just managing to filter through the leaves for a darker shade of green.
The path was clear, for the thicker plants had been torn asunder by the Wendigo and then trampled underfoot by Malik's team. For now, the going was easy, and they fell into a comfortable pace that ate up the ground.
As they walked, Fletcher tried to commit his parent's faces to his memory, but he cursed himself as they blurred in his mind. It had all happened so fast.
"So ... is this the first time you've seen a dwarven girl?" Cress asked, noticing the awkward silence. "Properly, I mean."
"I saw Othello's mother once," Fletcher replied.
He paused, unsure of what else to say. His mind was still on Athena's memory.
"Are we pretty?" she asked, grinning as Fletcher reddened. She was teasing him.
"As much as any other girl," he replied, and as he looked into her smiling face he realized it was true. In fact, now that he had spent more time with her, Cress was beginning to grow on him. She reminded him a little of Seraph — blunt, even a little coarse, but charming in her own way.
"The dwarven boys tend to agree with you." Cress laughed, after a moment's thought. "It's not unknown for a young dwarven lad to run away with a human. I bet Atilla is worried I might do the same."
She winked at him, and Fletcher couldn't help but laugh at her forwardness. Her eyes twinkled with merriment and he felt the weight on his shoulders lift.
"Would that be so bad?" Fletcher asked. He realized he knew very little about romance between the races.
"Well, it's taboo, on both sides," Cress said, shaking her head. "Unseemly, so they say. It happens, though, and it's the kids who have it the worst. Some get away with being short humans for a while, but people always find out, especially if they follow the dwarven customs. Shunned by both races, the families travel to the lands across the Akhad Desert, or sail the Vesanian Sea to Swazulu."
"I'd heard of half elves, but never half dwarves," Fletcher murmured.
"It's even worse for the half elves, though it's rarer to come across one of them — the elves are very against mixing even between the castes of high elves and wood elves. Half elves' ears aren't as long as Sylva's, but they stay pointy."
"You seem to know a lot about this kind of thing," Fletcher said. "I've never even thought about it before. I'm kind of ashamed, actually."
"Don't be. I take a special interest in this stuff. My brother ..." She looked away for a moment. "He ran away from home to be with a human woman. I'm the only one in the community who will talk to him now."
The pace ahead quickened as the morning turned to noon, and their conversation was cut short, replaced by heavy breathing as they jogged through the undergrowth. This time the silence was comfortable, even if the atmosphere wasn't. At the swamp it had been hot but bearable. Now, it was sweltering, despite the breathable fabric of the jacket.
Even the sounds had changed. Above the chorus of whining insects, the flutey mating calls of birds filtered down through the trees.
"Shall we let our demons stretch their legs?" Cress asked, slipping a satchel strap from her shoulder and clutching it to her chest. "It'll give me a chance to test out the battle gauntlet Athol made for me."
"Battle gauntlet?" Fletcher asked, intrigued.
She rummaged within the satchel as they walked and pulled out a leather glove. The back had been armored with bands of steel, extending down to the wrist, but that was not what made it stand out. The palm and finger pads had been branded with the same marks that were tattooed on Fletcher's hand.
"I'm not a fan of needles, so no tattoo for me." She winked. "I'm surprised these haven't come into fashion yet! Guess most summoners are stuck in their ways."
Tugging on the glove, she pointed the pentacle at the ground ahead of her. To Fletcher's amazement, there was a flash of violet and a demon tumbled into existence.
It appeared much like a cross between a raccoon and a squirrel, with dark blue fur speckled with jagged dashes of teal. The demon's round yellow eyes focused on Fletcher as soon as it materialized, and the bushy tail whipped back and forth with excitement. Despite all of his studies, Fletcher had absolutely no idea what it was.
"It's a Raiju," Cress said, patting her shoulder. The demon had padded fingers and hooked nails for climbing, allowing it to scamper onto the proffered perch with two languid leaps.
"Almost as rare as your Salamander, or so I'm told," Cress said, laughing at Fletcher's mesmerized expression. "Level five too. Tosk can blast lightning from his tail like a storm cloud, so mind you avoid touching it. It can give you quite a shock."
"That's amazing! I don't think I could have snuck that gauntlet into the tournament, though. How did you get such a rare demon?" Fletcher asked as the Raiju preened his whiskers at him almost flirtatiously.
"King Harold. He's quite the collector, being such a high level and all. When he heard two more dwarves were heading to the academy, he offered his Caladrius and Raiju to us. He really is on our side."
Before Fletcher could pry further, there was a cry of excitement from ahead of them, and the group came to a halt. The jungle had opened up, and from the sound of rushing water, Fletcher could tell why.
The waters from the swamp and a dozen other streams beyond had come together into a network of inlets that poured out over a waterfall. Far below, water crashed and exploded in a haze of white mist that extended for miles around, until a great, snaking river emerged in the distance, carving its way through twin valleys on either side. At the very edge of their site, a triangular hump of dull yellow revealed their destination. The pyramid.
"So how are we going to get down?" Othello wondered aloud.
There was a steep climb to the ground on either side of the falls, but Fletcher was glad that he did not have to cross the river at this point, for the multiple streams that fed the waterfall looked daunting, with thin patches of soggy land between them.
"I guess Malik's and Isadora's teams have already crossed," Seraph said with a hint of disappointment. "I'd have liked to watch them wade through that mess."
"Well, let's hope our crossing is as easy as theirs," Fletcher replied.
They surveyed the land before them and it was soon clear that there were two ways down. One was a rocky path beside the waterfall itself, while the other was a thin forest trail that curved toward a hilly region to the east.
"Well," Fletcher announced, slapping Seraph on the back. "This is where we leave you."CHAPTER 2
Fletcher shielded his eyes, gazing at the setting sun as its last light filtered through the tangled branches. He was glad they had chosen to make camp before it grew dark, for the moon was barely more than a slit in the sky and wyrdlights would attract too much attention.
Dusk's arrival was heralded by the gruff bellows of howler monkeys, echoing through the forest in the canopy above. The team settled down for their first night alone in enemy territory, choosing a clearing a safe distance from the forest trail.
As Ignatius scampered onto his neck and began to doze, Fletcher reflected on their journey so far. The natural trail had diverged toward the river on several occasions, but they made sure to head uphill, curving away from the water. Despite the incline, they had made good progress, and Fletcher felt confident they would reach their rendezvous at the pyramid in two days' time.
Sariel and Lysander had acted as rear guard the entire day's journey, watching for an ambush. Athena worked the canopy, occasionally fluttering above the tree line so Fletcher could make sure they were on course using his scrying crystal. Meanwhile, Ignatius and Tosk protected their flanks, slipping through the thicker undergrowth with barely more than a rustle. It was Solomon who was left out, for he was too slow and clumsy. Instead, he became their pack mule, carrying their supplies on his stony shoulders when the weight became too much for them.
"Now that it's just four of us, it's more real," Sylva said, prodding their unlit campfire with a stick. "I felt like we could take on an army when we were all together."
"I don't know," Fletcher said, tugging Ignatius from his neck. "I think we're a pretty formidable team. We have two tournament winners, and two runners-up. If we encounter an orc patrol, I reckon we could take them."
Ignatius mewled with annoyance at being woken and, after some mental cajoling, reluctantly spat a ball of fire at the pile of wood.
"It's not beating them that I'm worried about," Sylva said, shielding her face as the sticks burst into flames. "It's about one of them getting away during the battle. If they raise the alarm, then the mission is over."
"Well, Sariel and Lysander can chase them down," Othello said, groaning as he removed his boots and socks. "Because this great lump isn't going to be catching anyone any time soon."
He rubbed Solomon affectionately on the head, and the demon rumbled with happiness. Just as he had back in the shed outside of Corcillum, the Golem dutifully held Othello's socks up to the flames. For the first time in what felt like years, Fletcher felt contented.
"So how's everybody feeling?" he asked, opening his pack and removing a wrap of dried venison. He spitted a piece onto a nearby twig and held it to the flames.
"About as good as I smell," Othello said, and grimaced. "Which isn't great. This heat doesn't agree with me, or you lot for that matter."
"You can say that again." Cress laughed, holding her nose. "The orcs can probably smell us from miles around."
She rummaged around her pack for her own food, then paused.
"Hey! I'm missing some bolts from my crossbow."
Cress frowned and showed them the quiver strapped to her satchel. It was no longer full, leaving the quarrels to rattle loosely within.
"Same here," Sylva said, brandishing her own quiver. The fletching on her arrows, as well as Fletcher's and Cress's bolts, had been dyed blue, the team's color. They were beautifully made and the points were slimmer and sharper than Fletcher's own, better than even his best efforts when he had fletched his own arrows in Pelt.
"Maybe they fell out?" Fletcher suggested.
He ran his fingers over his own quiver, but all the arrows seemed to be there.
Cress shrugged and laid the quiver back down.
"Still plenty left, but let's be careful. Orcs don't use arrows — if they find one on the ground they'll know we're out here."
Sariel and Lysander, who had been patrolling around the camp, returned and lay behind the fire, their broad backs making a comfortable pillow for the others. In fact, Fletcher saw that all but one demon had returned, with Tosk settling on Cress's navel, curled up like a dog.
Fletcher strapped his scrying glass to his eye so he could see where Athena was, her view appearing as a pink-tinged overlay of half his vision.
Athena was standing vigil on a high branch, her owlish eyes able to see through the orange sunset as clear as day. Every few seconds she swiveled her head, like a sentinel standing guard. Fletcher urged the Gryphowl to come down with a thought, but sensed her desire to remain.
"Well, looks like we don't need to arrange a night-watch schedule," Fletcher said. "Athena intends to stay there all night."
"Good." Sylva yawned. "I don't think I'd be able to keep my eyes open."
They lay there in comfortable silence, allowing the campfire's heat to seep the ache from their muscles. The night sounds of the jungle had already begun, with the chirps of crickets adding a dull buzz to the quiet, interspersed with the occasional call of nocturnal birds. It was strangely soothing, reminding Fletcher of the sounds of Pelt's nearby forests.
Jeffrey, who had been silent for most of the journey, spoke up for the first time that night.
"I don't know why I'm here," he sobbed, the fear in his voice cutting through the cozy crackle of their campfire. "All I have is the short sword Uhtred gave me. We're not going to run into any dead demons out here and when the raid begins, dissecting one will be the last thing on my mind."
"I'd take you as a guide over any of the others," Sylva said generously. "We're barely hungry with all the fruit and vegetables you gathered as we were hiking, and we've refilled our water flasks from those vines all day. We don't need a navigator with that great big pyramid marking the way, and we have a map of their camp. Just make sure you hang back when the fighting starts and we'll deal with the orcs."
Excerpted from The Inquisition by Taran Matharu. Copyright © 2016 Taran Matharu, Ltd. Excerpted by permission of Feiwel and Friends.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Read the Magican first.
Didn't even read it. They are chapters from the middle of the story. Why ruin it by starting in the middle of the story.