This third book in the Forest People series has been the second hardest book I’ve ever tackled. Part of it is because of the timing. The last two years have been especially challenging for me for lots of reasons, and I’ve had many distractions with people I care deeply about needing my assistance. The other reason it’s been hard, is that the first two books of the series were actually written as one very long book when I conceived it. Fortunately, my beta readers and my editor told me it needed to be cut with two-thirds in the first book and one-third in the second and then more added to finish the second. In any case, it is now finally finished and with my editor. So, you will be seeing it in March.
So, here is a sneak peek of how the new book begins. And, if you haven’t seen the wonderful cover, take it in. I love it! How my cover designer can create such magic is always amazing to me. Enjoy!
Chapter 1 – The Cloud Forest
Camryn leaned against the gateway tree, ready to be as far away from the Boha’a camp as possible. Today was her seventeenth birthday, but she didn’t feel like celebrating.
Koska and Mykah approached her, carrying a piece of cloth between them. The graduated colors featured blues and greens on one end and then transformed to browns and beiges on the other.
“I stitched your mother’s dreamcatcher into one end.” Koska said as she wrapped the cloth around Camryn’s neck. “She’d cast a protection spell for you when you were a newborn.”
“And I strung a pearl at the center.” Mykah pointed to a web of stitching where an iridescent pearl glowed with a small flame inside.
Camryn stared at the flame as it flickered. Then before her eyes the pearl changed from pure white to cerulean blue, and then to the gold of sunshine before returning to its original cast. “It is as if I am looking into Dagger’s eyes.”
Koska hugged her. “If he is alive, the flame will guide you to him. Put the pearl near your heart as you fall to sleep, it will bind you if he is searching.”
Words were insufficient for this gift from her friends. She swallowed and closed her eyes. Today was not a day of tears. It was a day of new beginnings.
Two months ago, Dagger had disappeared from her dreams. She was frantic to find him. Though she had no actual proof he was alive, she had to believe. The one thing that gave her hope was Qadir, Dagger’s thunder dragon. A thunder dragon’s life force was bound to its rider. If the rider died, the thunder dragon entered the void forever.
Tiamandra, Camryn’s bound thunder dragon, told her that Qadir was more often in the Zwischen—the Void—than anywhere else in the network. Camryn believed Qadir was searching too. The dragons understood the power of the void and the fluidity of existence. They understood how the intersection of life and death flowed through the river of time.
When the first week passed without Dagger entering a single dream with Camryn, she thought perhaps it was stress that kept him away. She was always so tired at the end of the day. Between pulling mutated lichen from the ground and trying to force herself to use her powers, she was dropping into bed half dead. Perhaps she was too tired to dream.
At the end of the second week, panic set in. Since she’d first turned Dagger into ash, he’d come to her every night for twelve weeks and taken her into the void. Every night they swam together in the clear pool at the base of Arach Falls. Every night they reveled in their lack of magical power. They delighted in the absence of war between the light and dark inside them. Every morning Camryn awoke with his kiss on her lips and his promise that he would find a way back to her.
Then, in the thirteenth week, he disappeared—even from her dreams.
After a month had passed, Camryn was convinced Dagger was trapped in the ninth dimension at Arach Falls. Desperate, she traveled there herself though she had never done so alone before. She searched for him for a week, but never found even a trace of him. And without being able to use her powers to reach out and feel his essential spirit, she’d felt lost and alone. So lost that she barely found her way back to the Boha’a camp and could have been trapped in the ninth dimension.
Koska and Mykah stepped to one side as Abrani Daj shuffled toward the three of them. Her gnarled fingers traced the swirling tattoos on Camryn’s face that had begun to transform her into what Abrani Daj called her true self. “Beautiful. You are the first to be blessed with two elemental spirits,” she said.
At Abrani’s touch, the dotted white circles cascaded from Camryn’s face tattoos down to her arms and began to pulse in the rhythm of the wind in the trees.
“It is the summoning,” Abrani Daj said. “You powers are now only half of what they must become. You now wield some control of water and earth. You must join with wind and fire to make your final transformation. When the four elements become one within your soul, you will have the power to travel the void and reunite your true self with the love of others. Then the prophecy begins. Then you will save the People.”
Camryn held her breath, hoping that the old woman was seeing true. Abrani Daj had been there at the beginning of her Kintala, and she returned after Camryn had turned Dagger to ash. She brought hope for love, but her words were so convoluted Camryn was never sure exactly what was the actual promise she offered.
Abrani Daj grabbed both of Camryn’s hands and turned them over. A transparent white circle pulsed at the center of Camryn’s left hand and an opaque shadowy darkness pulsed at the center of her right hand. “I see you have not united your two halves,” Abrani pronounced. “They are further apart than ever before.”
Camryn bit her lower lip and drew it further into her mouth. “I am afraid,” she said.
She didn’t doubt Abrani’s observation. Camryn refused to entertain any darkness ever again. It was her loss of control that turned Dagger into ashes scattered among the dimensions. She did not believe the two sides must unite. Instead, she’d vowed to obliterate the darkness from her soul forever. The Abaddon had not been seen since she destroyed Starlight Center and most of the west coast from Eureka to Coos Bay. The Abbadon had not been seen since she destroyed Dagger.
Yet she felt the darkness continuing to seep into the trees, scarring the earth as it broke down the veil between the Agnoses and the Forest People.
“It is time.” Abrani Daj pushed Camryn back against the tree. “It is time for you to take sanctuary in the cloud forest, to rise from the earth and become one with the canopy, to seek the power of the elementals and complete your journey.”
Camryn bowed her head. “I accept the transformation. I call the lichen to me.”
Since she’d banished the Abaddon, the lichen’s passage was no longer as violent for her. It was not a taking, but a melding. She easily merged with the gateway tree. First her legs disappeared, then her torso. She reached toward the high branches and her arms became one with the leaves. She smiled and her true self pulsed with satisfaction in the final transformation.
As the lichen pushed her cells into the void, her eyes widened and she stared with confidence into the array of lights and colors speeding her through the tree network. Camryn gasped for air again when the lichen released her into the air of the cloud forest. She scrambled to grab at a branch and stop her freefall from the canopy to the ground.
“Whoa.” She hung precariously about eighty feet above the ground. She rallied strength to swing her legs above her head and wrap them around a strong branch. On the third try she caught the top of the branch with a heel and wrapped one leg securely around the bough. The other leg followed and she crab crawled toward the trunk.
“Not nice to drop me so far from the trunk,” Camryn said, as if the lichen actually listened to her transport needs.
A few more feet and she reached the trunk where the branches spread welcoming arms below her. Cautiously, she lowered one leg to test the weight of a branch below. It was strong. When she could finally stand again, she lowered her other leg and blew out a held breath. She silently thanked the tree for the support of a strong branch below her. Using her hands to balance, she walked the branch like a trainee on a tightrope.
“Good recovery.” She heard a high soprano voice in front of her, but she could see no one. Was it her imagination?
“Look with your heart, not your eyes,” the voice spoke again.
She ignored the advice and whipped her face from one side to the other, surveying all she could see of the tree and the branches nearby.
“Show yourself,” Camryn ordered. “I do not like games.”
“Then you are not the Chameleon the prophecy promises.”
This time the voice sounded as if it was hopping from branch to branch. “Are you not seventeen? Are you not in love? Are you so jaded your heart no longer sees?”
Now she was being challenged, questioned by an invisible spirit? She looked inside and called forth the water elemental within to search for truth.
The leaves on the tree cascaded small waterfalls until the mist revealed the outline of a miniature child with gossamer wings.
The child flapped her wings to rid them of rain and then flew in great swoops and dives, laughing as she dipped and swerved like a free bird calling to a mate. Finally, she settled on a branch in the crook of the tree, just below where Camryn sat.
The child contracted her wings so that only the smallest hint of them was in view. “It is not difficult to cause the trees to cry in a cloud forest,” she said. “It is their natural state. In this forest everything seeks balance. By forcing the tree to cry you now make more water than needed on the forest floor, and that will drown an insect which would normally be food for another. If one part of the ecosystem is disrupted it disrupts all other parts.”
Camryn had been mistaken, the sprite may look like a child but she must be older. “I apologize,” Camryn said with a bowed head.
“You must learn to assess not only your own need but also that of others before calling and elemental to do your bidding.”
Camryn nodded her understanding. “Please forgive me.”
“You are forgiven,” the sprite said as if it was no big deal after all. “You did not grow up with the People, but you still must study. I see the power within you is strong but uncontrolled. Abrani Daj was wise to send you here.”
Then the sprite flew straight into the sky until Camryn could no longer see her above the canopy. Just as quickly she streaked back toward the ground, head down, wings tucked in as if she knew the earth would open and let her pass unharmed through its core and to the other side of the world.
Within less than a meter she came to a halt and righted herself, her tiny wings creating the slightest breeze to keep her afloat. It was enough to barely caress Camryn’s hair. A giggle spilled from the sprites mouth, sounding like the tinkling of a tiny bell.
“I must apologize, I’m showing off and that is not polite. That is not the way to be a good teacher. Let me begin again.” Her miniature frame bowed formally while suspended in air. “I am Aura, a child of Wihnd.”
Camryn nodded. “And I am—”
“I already know,” Aura inserted, clapping her hands. “You are Wynbune, the Chameleon. Everyone knows you. Come, I will take you to your home.”
Aura floated ahead on an unseen breeze as Camryn trudged below. Tethered to the earth, she followed the wind spirit, forging a narrow trail through the jungle of plants and flowers. Acidic bog-like soils drenched with moisture were all around her, making it difficult to navigate without sinking into the loam.
Aura flew ahead and then back several times as if she was herding Camryn toward the destination.
Steep slopes of laurel trees and ridges of majestic oaks lined the valley she walked. Green, glowing gardens of bromeliads, ferns, orchids, and mosses decorated the wet landscape. Camryn would have liked to linger a little, but Aura seemed determined to get to this new home quickly.
“Welcome, welcome,” Aura sang and flew at top speed suddenly circling a copse of thick bamboo stilts.
As if Camryn was expected, the people of the Cloud Forest had already set aside a home for her. Aura flew ahead on a breeze then dropped to the ground and suddenly transformed into a normal-sized young woman. She pointed upward to a home made primarily of bamboo—from the stilt support posts to the round hut walls deep within the forest. The opening was accessed via an uneven wooden rung stepladder.
After climbing carefully to the open doorway, Camryn found a somewhat barren open room with wooden floors, three windows looking in different directions, and a truss and rafter system that provided structure for the grass roof.
A hammock hung from the rafters with bedding and mosquito netting all around it. A long bench sat off to one side, the only seating in the hut. A large wooden table stood opposite the bed. As there were no chairs or benches nearby, Camryn assumed it was only used for preparing food. Nearby, gourds, bows, arrows, and a long length of snakeskin also hung from rafters.
“Everything a native would need for a life in the forest,” Aura said. “And look.” She pointed toward the grass roof where millions of little holes pierced the covering. “When dawn comes, the sun falls off the earth to come behind the roof and give light to the stars.”
Camryn nodded but had no words. Overwhelmed with even imagining how she would live here for any length of time, she wondered why she hadn’t planned better. Certainly, she could easily travel the trees and bring things back. However, if she spent all of her days in transit she would have no time to learn how to control the elements and bring Dagger back to her side.
Aura cocked her head and frowned. “Do you not like it? It is the former house of an ancient king.”
Sitting on the bench, Camryn forced herself to smile. “It’s beautiful.” She looked toward the door wistfully. “I just realized I have no idea how to live here. I simply came because that is what Abrani Daj said I must do. I didn’t think beyond that.” She paused and took a deep breath and let it out slowly. “I am grateful.”
Aura fluttered her wings and a breeze kicked up in the room, pushing out the dirt. “The trees know your needs. Speak to them and they will deliver what you want.
Camryn stared at Aura. “I don’t understand. A tree can’t fetch me a bed or my clothing.”
Aura’s voice filled with a tinkling laughter that sounded like light rain on a tin roof. “Of course not, silly.”
“Abrani Daj, of course.” Aura tilted her head to one side and creased a brow.
Camryn still didn’t understand. The Cloud Forest was thousands of miles away from the Boha’a camp.
“You really don’t know?” Aura asked. “Abrani Daj is Earth. Gaia! She’s ancient. She talks to trees all day and all night. She listens to them constantly. Cloud Forest trees are different than Boha’a trees. They sense your needs. Do not be surprised if things start arriving soon.”
Camryn concentrated on closing her open mouth. She’d never questioned Abrani Daj’s wisdom about traveling the trees or the use of healing plants. But she also never thought of her as an elemental spirit—or the human incarnation of a goddess.