About the Author
Recently named one of Fashionista's 50 Most Influential People in Fashion, Wassner is also a member of the CFDA Advisory Board and a mentor for the CFI Incubator program, an advisory board member of Fordham Law School’s Fashion Law Institute, as well as a member of Senator Gillibrand’s Fashion Industry Working Group and a passionate supporter of the Save the Garment Center movement and all causes related to supporting the fashion industry in NYC. In addition to being a force in the fashion industry, he is a well-respected fiction writer and children’s book author. His GemQuest series, The Twins, The Awakening, The Shards, and The Revenge of the Elves, is popular among science fiction and fantasy readers. The fifth and final book in the GemQuest series, When Monsters Call Out the Names of Men, was released in 2013. One of his children’s books, The Mystery of the Jubilee Emerald, published by Mondo Publishing, is available everywhere. The second two books in that series were published in January of 2013, The Candle Rock Mystery and The Mystery of the Presidential Papers. Last year he published Isabella Cucharella, Fashion Designer Extraordinaire, a picture book for budding young fashion stars, 50 percent of the proceeds of which he donated to the CFDA Fashion Incubator. Wassner resides in New York with his wife Cathy and his extended family.
Read an Excerpt
GemQuest: Book One
By Gary Alan Wassner
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 2007 Gary Wassner
All rights reserved.
The rock surface still seemed real. To any observer from the outside, a casual glance would reveal only a large, gray boulder. Unfortunately, though, Mira's ability to maintain this illusion was growing weaker by the hour. The young man in her arms was sound asleep, and she had made sure that he would sleep for quite some time. He had no idea just how much effort was being expended on his behalf. But, surely he was worth it; if anything or anyone was, he was! Just how much longer she could continue to support the environment she had created to keep them alive, she did not know.
The space inside their shelter was cramped and dark. She knew that the small light she suspended in the corner was a waste of her waning power. But, it eased the boy during his waking hours and was therefore infinitely worthwhile. Mira allowed it to remain even now, to lend a bit of warmth to the sad atmosphere. Fatigued as she was, she meticulously brushed a long strand of her brown hair from her face and tucked it into the loosening braid that hung down the middle of her back. Her green, almondshaped eyes sparkled with love as she gazed upon the inert youth, and the contemplation of his calm face soothed her momentarily.
Still, her strength was ebbing and mental fatigue was setting in. The two of them had gone so many days without sleep, surviving on two Lalas leaves every twenty-four hours, with no easing of the tension or the exertion. And now the leaves were almost gone. Mira had at best two day's supply left, and only if she barely used any for her own sustenance and devoted the majority to the boy. Even then, it would be just enough to keep him alive.
The boy would last a few days after Mira's passing and then he too would fade, too young to defend himself against an enemy of this magnitude, and tragically, still unschooled. The rock shelter would dissolve, and the enemy outside would find him and rejoice in its final victory. Mira knew that whatever it cost her, she could not let this happen.
With the passing of this young man went the only heir to the throne of Gwendolen. The great and noble line would forever disappear from the planet, its foretold destiny unrealized. He was the last. Mira shuddered as she recalled the horrid demise of his parents and sister Lara. Her weakened state allowed the tears to well up in her tired eyes unbidden. It was tragic enough when the boy's twin died as his life was just beginning, two tiels and two years ago.
Queen Lewellyn so wanted the two boys. It broke her heart that at his birth he had to be removed from the grounds to die alone and bereft of a nurturing hand and companionship, but the illness he was born with was incurable and it could have infected his brother if he were not taken from the palace immediately. The risk was too great, so he was left to die in the Spiritwood, near the Lalas, hopefully to be reclaimed by the trees when his own life force passed from his body. Sometimes, the fabric of life weaves of its own will, and there's nothing anyone can do to alter the design or prevent it. Yet, each new thread subtly affects all the succeeding ones and incontrovertibly changes the patterns.
No one but those few attending the birth itself, Mira, Fiona, the midwife who died shortly thereafter and the King and Queen, ever knew that he even existed. They did not want their surviving son to bear this sad knowledge throughout his lifetime. Superstitious as the common folk were, the family was concerned that the people may have blamed the fit child for the ill one's demise, for he, not the healthy sibling, was the elder one if only by mere minutes, and would have been the true heir as the law decreed.
Tragedy seemed always to mark this beautiful and good family's life. It was only due to Mira's sharp wits and forethought that she was able to spirit the remaining heir out of the castle these many years later, as the shields came down and the black hordes of the enemy swarmed inside the fortress.
In her lifetime she thought it would never happen. Their lives should have been so perfect. Never had they all experienced such joy as at the birth of the beautiful child, his sister Lara. And the marriage between Queen Llewellyn and King Garold was so inspiring. But, there were signs that they should have recognized. The warnings were there, but the advisors to the King kept him veiled and apart from the truth.
Were they part of the conspiracy? Did they really think the enemy would protect them afterward? Those fools! Such treachery, and such a beautiful family, she recalled.
Wiping a salty tear from her cheek, she thought of all that was lost. Stop! she chided herself. Don't t squander what energy remains on regret. The shields must be maintained. If I weaken even for a moment, they may be able to sense our presence.
Mira cast her mind vision outside the shelter and scanned the surrounding hill top. Nothing! Not even a bird was flying. Surely they were coming. What else could frighten away every sign of life from the area? She would preserve the boy as long as she could, and in the final moments she still had one option: If she had the strength, and she must if the time came, she could cast him. With the limited energy she had left, Mira knew not where the casting would leave him. More than likely he would die of exposure to the elements while still unconscious, or worse, he would fall into the hands of the enemy. Fortunately for him, her spells were woven well, and he would not awaken in either event. Courageous as she was, she consoled herself with that thought, at least, since all of the other possibilities were so much more grim and painful to contemplate.
Mira removed her loden cloak, embroidered with the crest of Gwendolen, and tenderly wrapped the boy in it. She knew she would have no further use for it, and perhaps it would keep him warm just a bit longer and ease his discomfort somewhat.
Fate has a cruel heart, she thought as she folded the ends of the fabric securely around him.
Mira had reconciled herself to the fact that when the time came she would use the last moments of her life to attempt to save him. At least there would be a chance someone would find him and help him if she was incapable of casting him where she hoped she could, or perhaps someone or something would be there when the moment arose to guide him on his journey if she failed. She would not despair and give up hope. Not now! Not after she had come this far.
There were still some enclaves of safety at the far reaches of the countryside. If her memory served her well, far to the north, over the Thorndar mountains was a protected area still watched over by the Lalas. It was always said that the northern reaches would forever be safe from the gathering clouds. The air was too thin to support the minions of the Black Lord. It was too cool for their fur-less hides. All of the tales told to the children of the kingdom since the beginning of time, referred to the safety in the north. In the back of everyone's mind all believed that they could flee to the north if the enemy swarmed the borders. But, when things appeared to be going so well, they all forgot about the danger. They grew complacent and thereby sealed their own fate.
The King's sorceress was able to keep the skies blue despite the growing darkness encroaching upon the countryside. So much time and energy were spent on maintaining the image of safety that the people started to believe that they were truly safe. Even the King, wise as he was, was persuaded to let his guard down. No one except Mira expected the deceit and treachery that befell the kingdom. Mira knew. She knew!!! She pleaded with Queen Lewellyn to be careful—to retreat to the safe rooms of the castle, and clear her mind of the fog that the sorceress was spreading over everyone. There were still some areas that were not infiltrated and reduced by the sorceress.
Trialla was her name. "Trialla the Ugly" the children used to call her. She was ancient and unbearably ugly, but her magic soon made her appear learned and sweet natured, and even the children forgot what she was really like. Mira ranted and raved, but all of her warnings fell upon deaf ears. Everyone seemed to see beauty in Trialla where Mira saw ugliness. The children who at one time feared and taunted her, overlooked their concerns and flocked to her side. Soon enough, Trialla appeared as the savior and Mira the outcast. She despaired but she knew the truth, and the truth kept her alive. The truth would protect and inspire her. She would never give in to the powers that engulfed her beloved homeland.
The seduction of the city was so obvious to her, yet to no one else, and the frustration therefrom was unbearable. Eventually, she forewent trying to warn the people and she began to set down her plans for her escape when the proper time came. She did whatever she could for the young boy. From the time of his birth until now, she had been his protectress and teacher. She imparted whatever knowledge to him that she could, and she hoped against hope that some of what she taught him would be absorbed, never really knowing how much time she had left.
Mira grieved for the others. It hurt her so to face them, to be so helpless. Yet, they had practically driven her out of the inner circle. Fortunately, Mira always maintained access to the royal child, and she guarded and guided him as best as she could. She had hoped to maintain her closeness with him and continue to oversee his growth until his formal training could begin. She made herself as inconspicuous as possible; humble and silent. Mira moved about the palace like a shadow, caped and hooded, ducking into corners whenever the enemy was present. By the age of thirteen the boy was certainly ready, but her time with him was becoming restricted despite her efforts, and Mira feared that she would shortly be forbidden to see him at all.
As time passed, her premonitions grew stronger. The end was drawing near. Dreams and visions plagued her at night, and she awoke often, choking on her sorrow and regret. Trialla had isolated her and kept her separate from all of the court decisions. She was too strong to combat by herself and all of the others were already under her spell. The sources from which she drew her powers were seemingly endless. Whatever Mira did was fruitless, and she feared that her continued efforts to warn the royal family would jeopardize what little time she still had with the boy. The spells cast upon the city were so well spun that the people of Cinmarra barely heard Mira's admonitions, as they fell upon deaf ears time and time again. Trialla wove her evil plans so well that the fabric of illusion she created mesmerized even the smartest of the Kingdom's citizens. Fortunately, she did not feel the threat of time passing.
Trialla was comfortable with her successes, and she basked fawningly in the glory of her works. Her hubris, Mira hoped, would serve to be the weak spot in the old witch's plan. It gave Mira time to prepare. The people of the kingdom who had at one time revered and loved Mira, did not resent her now. They simply ignored everything she said, and like puppets, they smiled and said, 'Hush. Hush. You worry too much.'. Trialla believed that Mira would seethe from such behavior, but in fact, she reconciled herself to it and learned to use it to her and the boy's advantage. She was left alone to do what she felt she had to do; plan for her and the heir's escape.
By the age of nine the boy manifested a clear and distinct awareness of his power, extraordinary at so young an age, but his ability to use it consciously was severely limited. He was still young and far too innocent. Time marches on nonetheless, regardless of whether or not one is prepared for what is to come. And, how could an innocent child ever be prepared for what Mira feared might be in store for this boy? She wept openly now, and frequently, but not in the child's presence. No, never in front of him. Mira would spare him from her misery at least. She still had time to plan.
As the years passed, Mira did what she could, a valiant effort nonetheless, but not nearly enough, as she dreaded. At fourteen, the young man was strong, surely, and heading in the right direction, certainly, but he was still no closer to understanding and controlling his powers than an untrained animal, no matter its brute, physical strength or instinct.
The time was growing near now. Mira would try her best to save the heir. She hoped that she could cast him as far north as she needed to.
Preserve your strength! she silently rebuked herself. Concentrate. The moment is almost upon us.
The boy slept peacefully. He knew nothing. Mira watched his chest rise and fall with his breath, totally unaware of the grave danger surrounding him. She wove a powerful spell over him, hastily yet perfectly. It would insure that he slept. Even if the worst were to happen, Mira would be able to spare him the pain of knowledge, of awareness. He would sleep forever, if need be, until the precise words of power were spoken. The First willing, whoever found him if her casting went astray would not recognize him, and he would pass from this world innocent and unaware, never to awaken again. Come what may, he would be spared the agony of being at the mercy of the enemy, even if that meant that he may never be brought back to consciousness, that his destiny would remain eternally unfulfilled. That was the best she could do for him now, and the prospect of this deed sat comfortably, if sadly, upon her soul.
She removed a thin, woven chain from her wrist and secured it around the boy's limp arm. It was made of a substance that carried no lasting scent, and it could not be used to help an enemy identify wherefrom he came should he fall into the wrong hands, but he would recognize it if and when he awoke. It would comfort him to have it, she believed, and she had no further need for ornaments.
Despite her vigilance, without a warning, her senses reeled. It seemed as if she had been slapped in the face, and she recoiled violently from the evil touch. They were approaching, and the horrifying power she felt was overwhelming. Mira knew it was inevitable, and yet she had hoped for a little more time; just a tiny bit more. All she wanted was to rock the boy in her arms and say goodbye in the proper fashion. There was no time now for that. If she had any expectations of casting him to safety, the process would have to begin immediately. Her mind sight told her that she had only moments left, that she must act quickly before her emotions distorted her actions. Mira lifted the inert young man in her arms, and she struggled under the dead weight of a physically mature adolescent. Maintaining the rock illusion for a little longer was essential.
She began to hum. With one part of her mind focused on the facade surrounding them, she began to relax her body. The casting spell had to be done properly or who knows where the boy would end up. Her teachers told her countless years ago that all you needed to do was form a picture, however obscure, of the destination in your mind, concentrate your energy upon the image of the person at the other end, and force the power from within to blend with the image. As the power flowed into the image, a feeling of warmth arose in her abdomen. Mira knew that it was beginning to work. The moment in which the power and image became one together would just about be her last. Of that she was sure. She would have no strength left afterwards to protect herself further. But, if she could only reach that moment her life would have been worthwhile.
The image of the northern reaches grew brighter in her mind's eye until she felt as if she had to squint in order not to go blind, even as the dead weight of the boy made her legs crumble beneath her. The strong features of the face of the noble man she sought to cast the heir to began to sharpen before her, surrounded by an ephemeral image of a mighty castle. Suddenly she felt a tugging at her arms. The boy was fading slowly, being drawn into the light that was now filling the entire rock shelter that served as their home for these past weeks. Mira was reluctant to release him, and yet she knew she must. She was tempted to hold on more tightly, to keep him with her.
Excerpted from The Twins by Gary Alan Wassner. Copyright © 2007 Gary Wassner. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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