Islands of Glass and Steel - Opening pages



Islands of Glass and Steel

Morgan’s Knot – A Serial Fantasy

Episode IV

Adrian followed the twins out the front door of The House of the Four Seasons into a frigid fog shrouding the island in a syrupy mist. They sauntered past the garden, overflowing with vegetables and flowers, along the path beneath an allee of arched oaks to the gate. The haze muted the brilliant reds and yellows of autumn and the tops of the trees dissolved into low rolling clouds but the hush of the morning was disrupted by a chorus of deep ‘caws’ from deep in the forest along the ridge.

“Crows are so obnoxious!” laughed Molly.

“The calls we hear around the island are rowdy but those sounds are gloomy and haunting,” replied Adrian, as Brandy bounded out of the haze and trotted up to the children.

“It’s nice to see you doing something normal, like going to school. At least I won’t have to look after you!”

Adrian knelt down to hug the red dog, “I’m glad to see you. I guess I have to agree, after all we’ve been through in the past few months, going to school isn’t so bad!”

“Everything seems so calm on Morgan’s Knot, let’s hope it stays that way!”

“Right you are,” smiled Molly. “We’ve had enough excitement for a while!”

Presently, the gleaming orbs of the bus blared through the fog just ahead of steaming tires screeching to a stop on the path outside the gate. The strange vehicle resembled a real bright yellow school bus with red orbs flashing around the roof but, like every other vehicle on the island, it was unique. Giant wheels lifted the rear end above smaller wheels in front, which made it appear to lean forward, ready for speed. There was no engine compartment but Cappy, the bus driver, sat in a narrow booth thrust out from the body of the vehicle like a vulture’s beak. He grinned at Adrian and the twins through the window and reached up to pull a cord that made the horn sound a loud ‘Aaauuuggga!’

The driver opened the door and laughed, “Lovely morning, isn’t it?”

“A bit damp, don’t you think?” giggled Megan as she climbed the steps.

“Perhaps,” laughed Cappy, slamming the door. The old man wore a neatly trimmed white goatee and his green eyes sparkled through old-fashioned pilot’s goggles that flared around a rather bulbous red nose. A long rainbow scarf coiled around his neck and his bony hands gripped the steering wheel, eager to leap from a starting line, but he waited until his newest charges found their places. He loved providing a truly memorable diversion for the children on their way to and from the old school and they all responded by treating him with kindness and respect.

They found seats at the back with Morgan, Josh, Ian, and Kelly. Morgan turned to Adrian and smirked, “I’m surprised you don’t just transport yourself to school through the vectors!”

“Alius and I have been banned from riding the vectors without permission. After meeting Zepallo, my Mother cornered the Professor and demanded that we not be allowed to use our powers unless it’s absolutely necessary.”

Morgan smiled, “I can see her point. We all worry about you, especially when you’re on one of your missions.”

“I know but flying through the vectors sure is fun!” mumbled Adrian, turning to stare out the window. The bus turned west and rumbled up the twisting path through the forest. Everything beyond the trees lining the road melted into liquid shadows.

Although he was ready for Mrs. Green’s geometry exam, he dreaded tests and wished he could have slipped out through the kitchen door into summer. He reached up to wipe the moisture condensing on the window with his sleeve and looked out through the hole to spy a tall figure dressed in black robes at the edge of the road. A pale face, with intense blue eyes gleaming from the shadow of a black cowl, smiled and a slender white hand waved. In an instant, they passed around a curve and Adrian wondered whether he had imagined a mirage in the mist. A chill ran up his spine and crashed into the base of his skull, Zepallo?”

Suddenly, the geometry exam seemed irrelevant and he needed to talk with Alius before classes started.

The strange bus lumbered into a clearing in front of the stone buildings housing the Upper and Lower divisions of the School. The children often wondered whether the same person, who created the funhouse, had designed the school. The heavy stone exteriors were punctuated by dozens of oddly shaped windows fashioned into stars, diamonds, triangles, circles, ellipses, and weird amoeba forms, none of which lined up. No two rooms were the same size or shape and no hallway traversed a straight line. Massive stone stairways curled in spirals and landings appeared at odd levels under arched ceilings painted with intricate murals of plants and trees, that grew and withered with the seasons, inhabited by animated animals from mythological tales.

All of the children, from both sides of the island, were attending school together and the two buildings overflowed with young charges. The first week of school found new students wandering aimlessly through the buildings with no idea of how to find their way to the next class.

Adrian jumped out of his seat, pushed through the door, and ran into the Upper School, searching for Alius, who was loading her book bag into a wooden locker next to Mrs. Green’s room, “I have to talk with you!”

Alius looked up, “Good morning to you too! What’s so important?”

“I just saw Zepallo standing beside the path through the forest!” panted Adrian.

“Are you sure you’re not just imaging things?”

“No, I’m sure. He smiled and waved at me!”

“You’re sure?”

“I have no doubt that he’s here on the island…or, at least, he was.”

“We have to tell the Professor but he’s not here today. I’ll bet he’s at the observatory.”

“I have to go,” whispered Adrian.

“But we have a test next hour, you can’t miss that!”

“This is more important.”

“We’ve been banned from using the vectors.”

“As I said, this is more important,” snapped Adrian, striding along the hallway and down the stairs to the nearest door to the schoolyard.

“I’m coming with you,” sighed Alius reluctantly, slamming the door to her locker in frustration. She followed Adrian out into the fog to a blind spot behind the building, where no one could see them. “We’re going to get into so much trouble, I can’t believe it!”

“I know,” said Adrian quietly, “but the Professor needs to know about Zepallo.”

“Alright. One for all and all for one!”

They joined hands and closed their eyes. The vibrations from the vectors were very strong around the school. A moment later, they vanished.

The colors flew past in a blur but the deep tone of the positive vectors was interrupted by the whine of the dark energies. The two tones grated against each other like a cello and a saxophone playing dissonant notes. The sound made Adrian’s teeth itch and he glanced at Alius, who could not mask the panic in her eyes.

They were aiming for the path in front of the observatory. Instead, they landed in the barren pasture to the south of the black column in an opaque cloud swirling into a menacing ghoul crawling through the meadow.

Alius stammered, “What just happened?”

“I don’t know. We’ve never missed our mark before!”

A deep voice growled through the haze, “I wanted to talk with you two in private.”

They spun around to find Zepallo standing on a rock beside the path. A large black raven sat on his shoulder. “What are you doing here?”

“I’m recruiting seers.”

“You already know our answer. We believe in the Balance,” replied Alius, her voice seething.

“My dear, the world is changing and my time is coming. I just wanted to invite the two of you to join me in charting the future. I’ve already talked with your friend Raffe.”

“Leave him alone!” insisted Adrian.

“Raffe has a thirst for knowledge that verges on obsession. I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone so hungry for information and insight. He’s intrigued with the Dark Powers,” smiled the Dark Lord, “and I’ll be pleased to guide him.”

“I know about the lure of the Black Crystals and I also learned that the truth in the Light is far stronger than anything you can create from the dark side.”

“You have no idea of what I am proposing.”

“It doesn’t matter,” said Adrian. “We won’t follow you.”

“I thought I was being more than polite by extending my offer again,” sighed Zepallo. Wisps of his cold gray aura wafted closer, probing, “I could have taken you while you were traveling along the vectors!”

“You could kidnap us but we won’t join your cause,” replied Alius.

“Just think what we could accomplish together. The world needs leadership and you two certainly have the talents to become powerful and famous. I’ll show you the way.”

The young seers glanced at each other before Alius replied, “We’ve already given you our answer. Now go away!”

“As you can see, not all the natural creatures believe in the Balance,” smiled the Dark Lord, as he stroked the raven on his shoulder. The black bird’s tawny eyes blazed, as it let out an angry guttural “Caw!” that tore through the fog like a dull scythe.

“I’ll take my leave but, rest assured, I’ll return to this lovely island, it seems so comfortable and inviting, with such wonderful people. In the meantime, ponder the options. My offer stands, consider it at your leisure. I am a patient man, within reasonable limits, but I will not allow you to stand in my way. Now, if you’ll excuse me, the faithful await my pronouncements.” With that, he bowed his head and disappeared.

Alius wrapped her arms around Adrian’s neck, her whole body shaking, “We’re not finished with him.”

“Nor he with us but I’m glad we’re together. We have to get to Raffe before he does something stupid. Let’s go to the Professor’s.”

They trudged along the path through the fog to the observatory and climbed the steps. The old wooden door opened with a creak and warm light from the parlor spilled out into the fog with an inviting glow. Ester peeked around the edge of the door and cried, “What are you two doing here?”

Adrian stammered, “We have to see the Professor.”

“You’re supposed to be in school and how did you get here? You’re not supposed to ride the vectors without permission!”

“We know but this is an emergency,” replied Alius.

Ester made that ‘tut-tutting’ sound and opened the door just enough for them to enter, then closed it firmly against the chill. “He’s down in his workshop.”

Adrian and Alius walked through the parlor and the dining room to the carved doors of the elevator and descended to the white chamber where the Golden Crystal turned. The light was overwhelming and it took a moment for their eyes to adjust before they marched along the passageway to the door of the workshop. They found Ponte at his bench working on an egg-shaped contraption that looked as if a tangle of wires, switches, and tiny glowing crystals had hatched out of the top of the battered metal case.

The Professor turned and stared at the two seers, “What are you doing here?”

“We just had an encounter with Zepallo in the field to the south of the observatory.”

“Zepallo?”

“Yes, he wants us to join him,” said Adrian. “And he said that he’d already talked with Raffe!”

The Professor put down his tools, “Tell me what happened.”

Adrian explained seeing Zepallo on the path through the forest and their decision to use the vectors, “He asked us to join him again and said that he’d already spoken with Raffe. Evidently, Raffe’s intrigued with the power of the Dark Crystals. We’re supposed to be taking a geometry exam but we both felt that it was more important to tell you what happened.”

The Professor adjusted his glasses and peered down his nose, frowned, and sighed impatiently, “This is why we’ve asked you not to ride the vectors. I’m sure that your parents will not be pleased!”

Adrian stammered, “But Zepallo was here on Morgan’s Knot!”

“I understand and this is the third time that he’s approached you. Each time, it’s been the result of your journeys. Just as Simian has the ability to see along the vectors, Zepallo has found a way of sensing when you are traveling and, today, he tricked you into using the vectors to travel to him.”

The two young seers bowed their heads.

“We might assume that he wants to add your powers to his and, if that is the case, then it’s possible that he does not possess the strength to execute his plan for world domination. He needs you and the only way we can assure your safety is to ban you from traveling on the vectors.”

“What about Raffe,” asked Alius?

“Raffe, Mary, Gabrielle, and Dadeus will be here in a few days and we’ll have a chance to talk with him when he arrives. In the meantime, leave this to the adults.”

Frustrated, Adrian replied, “Alright, we’ll wait until he gets here but I think someone ought to warn them about the vectors.”

“I’ll be in touch with them this evening and I’ll tell Dadeus what happened. If you two will promise me that you won’t use the vectors again without consulting me, I’ll take you back to school and inform Mrs. Green that you were assisting me. I’m sure I can convince her to allow you to make up the geometry test that you’ve missed,” smiled Ponte. “Do we have an agreement?”

“Alright,” sighed Adrian. “What’s this you’re working on?”

The Professor turned back to his egg, “I’ve been thinking about Simian’s ability to see along the vectors and I began to wonder whether a mechanical device might be able to travel along the paths as a scout, somewhat like a drone aircraft that flies without a pilot.”

Alius grinned, “We’re being replaced!”

Ponte and the children laughed for a moment before the smile disappeared from the Professor’s face, “Alright, let’s get to you two back to school.

~

The children clutched the arms of the wingback chair, as the Professor raced into the twisting turns meandering through the misty forest along the ridge at top speed in his crazy trolley. He braked hard to land precisely in front of the side entrance of the Upper School. Adrian noticed a large raven sitting in an ancient twisted hemlock tree. It cawed as they climbed out of the vehicle, swooped over their heads, and disappeared into the fog.

Ponte led the two seers into the building, escorted the pair to the door of their classroom, where he deposited them, while he spoke with Mrs. Green.

Classes in the Upper School were much more demanding than anything Adrian encountered at Heritage Academy but he felt confident as he finished the geometry exam during the last hour. Alius handed her paper to Mrs. Green and stood, waiting impatiently for the lecture that was sure to come as soon as Adrian completed the test.

The math teacher’s brown curls hung limp over dark eyes and her tone was stern, “I could not deny Professor Ponte’s request that I allow you two to be excused from class earlier in the day but you will not let this happen again or you’ll receive zeros! Is that understood?”

“Yes, Ma’am!” replied the two seers, staring at the floor.

“You are excused!”

“I’ll see you tomorrow,” said Adrian, racing for Cappy’s bus.

“Let’s hope it’s not as exciting as this day has been,” smirked Alius.

“We didn’t ask for it, it just happened,” said the boy, stopping in mid-stride, “I keep hoping things will settle down to something normal but I guess that’s asking a bit much!”

“I can’t wait to see Raffe and the elders from La Isle de los Ninas. We have to talk with that boy before Zepallo gets to him again.”

The “aarruuugghhhaaa” sounded from the bus. “I guess we’ll find out what happened in the next couple of days.”

“See you tomorrow!”

Adrian greeted Cappy, as he climbed on and settled into a seat next to the window in the back. Morgan sat down next to him.

“I thought you’d been banned from using the vectors?” she whispered.

“I know, I know,” sighed Adrian, as he leaned back in the seat.

“What happened?”

“You don’t want to know.”

Morgan leaned close, “Actually, yes, I do. I worry about you.”

Adrian cupped his hand to whisper, “I saw Zepallo standing next to the path, as the bus was about to enter the school yard this morning. I had to tell Ponte.”

“And…?”

“Alius and I went to the Professor’s but we didn’t make it all the way. We landed in the field south of the observatory and Zepallo was waiting for us.”

“What happened?”

“He wants us to join him,” said Adrian, staring into Morgan’s beautiful green eyes.

“I take it, you said, ‘no’?”

“Obviously, but he said that he’d already talked with Raffe and Raffe was curious about the Dark Powers!”

Morgan frowned, “Raffe’s smarter than that!”

“I don’t know. He and the elders are coming to the island in the next couple of days, so I guess we’ll find out.”

“If he doesn’t understand, just let me know. I’ll kick some sense into him!”

Adrian started laughing hysterically, seeing an image of Morgan wrestling Raffe to the ground in his mind. What struck him as funny was that, in spite of Raffe’s strength and coordination, she would probably win! He turned to the window and noticed another raven sitting in a tree beside the path, as the bus descended down the switchbacks through the mist on the west side of the ridge.

Cappy always followed the same route, turning west from the school down along the coast of the island, around the southern tip and then back up the east side, depositing children along the way. Molly, Megan, and Adrian were the last to be picked up in the morning and last to be dropped off in the afternoon.

Where the eastern side of the island was swathed with open fields, the jagged coast dropped off into the sea. Little cottages dotted the bluffs, nestled among the trees of the forest, and the warm glow of lights inside the windows burned like beacons in the gray fog stacked up against the ridge.

The bus discharged students at several stops, before dropping onto the path that snaked along the coast. Immense breakers charged the rocky shore and exploded across the trail. Cappy cackled, anticipating each succeeding wave, as he hit the brakes and then the accelerator. The children shrieked with laughter, tossed about the inside of the cabin, as enormous waves crashed in front and behind.

When the bus reached Morgan’s stop, she grabbed Adrian’s hand, “You will stay out of trouble until I see you tomorrow, won’t you?”

Adrian replied, bashfully, “I’ll try.”

Morgan smiled, “Sometimes you worry me!” She stood and followed Kelly, Josh, and Ian through the yellow door and disappeared into the mist as the bus rumbled north.

Cappy laughed as Molly and Megan stepped off the bus and called to Adrian, “I’ll be happy to take you wherever you need to go. You just let me know!”

“I’ll remember that,” smiled Adrian, as he patted the old man on the back. “I’ll see you tomorrow.”

Cappy closed the door and the strange bus roared off into the fog. Adrian looked up into the old oak trees and noticed several ravens staring down through the branches. Their electric amber eyes produced the same chill he felt when Zepallo was near.

He followed the girls up the stairs, through the front door, and turned into the warmth of the kitchen. His mother and Elsie had hot cocoa and freshly baked blueberry muffins waiting on the table and the children sat down for a small feast.

“How was you test?” asked Sara.

“I think it went fairly well. I knew the material and answered every question.”

“Good,” replied his mother, with that look, leaving no doubt that she expected a private conversation in short order.

A little while later, he was lying on his bed reading Beowulf and wondering why any student had to struggle through the long tale. His mother knocked gently at the door and walked over to sit next to him.

“I didn’t ask you earlier…but how was the rest of your day?”

Adrian looked into her beautiful blue eyes. They were not smiling and he knew she was aware of his adventure. “It was a strange day,” he replied softly.

“The school called to see whether you and Alius had both come down with the same bug on the same day.”

Adrian bowed his head in disgrace.

“Tell me what happened,” demanded his mother.

“I saw Zepallo on the path just outside the school yard. We decided we had to tell the Ponte, so we rode the vectors to the observatory.”

“You’re not telling me all of it,” said Sara with pursed lips and a piercing look.

“We didn’t make it to the Professor’s. Instead, we landed in the field south of the house and Zepallo was waiting for us. He asked us to join him and we turned him down, again. He had a giant raven on his shoulder and I’ve seen several more since I left school this afternoon. I don’t know whether they’re watching us or it’s just a coincidence.”

“Ravens are not common on the island.”

“Then, they’re probably his spies,” replied Adrian. “They have weird blazing eyes.”

“I thought we had an agreement about using the vectors?” inquired his mother with a stern expression.

“I know. I just thought the Professor needed to know as soon as possible.”

“Adrian, we worry about you when you’re riding the vectors or off on one of your missions. We can’t help it, we’re your parents. You’ve done some incredible things and shown great maturity in your decisions and your bravery, but you’re still a boy and this is dangerous.”

Adrian stared at her shoes.

“I know you thought this was the responsible action but I have to be able to believe your promises. I don’t want to punish you, I just want your word of honor that this won’t happen again.”

“Alright,” said Adrian quietly.

“Zepallo wants or, perhaps, needs your powers. You’re vulnerable when you’re in the vectors and the only way we can be sure that you’re safe is when you’re here on Morgan’s Knot.”

“I’m not really sure I’m safe here. He pointed out that he could have taken us at any time and said he’d be back.”

His mother’s expression thawed from anger to concern, wrapping her arms around her son, “I love you and can’t help worrying about you. I know that you are mature in many ways but you’re still a boy and I want to watch you grow to be a man. Just be honest with me.”

“Okay,” whispered Adrian burying his head in her shoulder. “Sometimes, I’m not sure where I fit in…I feel like a boy, inside, but I’ve been asked to do so many things that other boys wouldn’t attempt. I didn’t ask for this gift as a seer but I can only do what I think is right.”

His mother laughed quietly, “I guess you could blame me. I was the one who passed those talents to you and I pray it’s not a curse.”

Adrian grinned, “It’s all your fault!”

His mother stood and ran a hand through his blond hair, “Alright, we have an agreement. You will not take any unnecessary chances and you’ll let me know what’s happening before you take off on one of your missions.”

“I agree.”

“Dinner will be ready in about twenty minutes,” she said, as she slipped through the door.

Adrian turned back to his reading but Molly and Megan peeked around the edge of the door.

“We didn’t tell,” exclaimed Megan.

“I know. The school called to see if I was sick.”

“You didn’t tell us what happened,” smirked Molly.

“No, I guess I didn’t. Sorry,” smiled Adrian, as the girls plopped on his bed. “I saw Zepallo, standing by the path, on the way to school this morning. He smiled and waved at me. I decided that the Professor needed to know and Alius came along with me. Unfortunately, we didn’t make it all the way to the observatory and Zepallo was waiting for us. He wants us to join him.”

The two girls glanced at each other, “He’s trying to draft you!”

“Sorta’, we told him to go away but he said that he’d already talked with Raffe. Evidently, our friend’s thirst for knowledge includes the dark secrets.”

“If he was here, I’d make him understand!” said Molly emphatically, holding up her fists.

“Well, he and the elders are supposed to be coming for a visit in the next couple of days, so maybe you’ll get your chance. I think you’ll have to stand in line behind Morgan, she’s already said that she was going to knock some sense into him!”

“Great, all the girls can gang up on Raffe!” laughed Megan.

“This I want to see!” replied Adrian with a grin.

“Oh, you will…right after we beat you up for being so stupid. You agreed not to ride the vectors for this very reason.”

“I know, I know. I’ve already had two lectures on this subject today and I’ve promised to be good.”

“You’d better or you’ll have to answer to the two of us!”

“I’m scared,” laughed Adrian, as the two girls pounced, beating him with pillows.

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