Below you’ll find a sneak peek of the first chapter of The Gatekeeper of Pericael. Thanks for reading!
The glow of Porter’s spell ring faded from the iron-gray dirt beneath his Nikes. He took a deep breath and snuck a glance at his watch. What were the chances that today’s lesson would actually end on time?
Mimoosh tapped her mossy boulder perch with her cane. “Now, try calling the spirits.”
Porter leaned on his tattooed staff. Make those chances slim to none. “But I’ve already cast three spells today.”
He wiped his slick brow and looked around for more excuses. The sun burrowed into the tangled jungle in the west, and Nishira, the first moon, peeked over the ocean waves to spy on the stilted beach huts. The fishermen tossed long nets from their raised dwellings, preparing for the night tide to bring its bounty.
“And it’s almost dark already.”
“Pshaw.” Mimoosh waved her hand dismissively. “You have plenty of time still, and your last two summonings were pigeon scat.” Mimoosh actually said his last two summonings were ‘prentiya par,’ but the Darlisk phrase didn’t have a literal translation in English.
Porter threw his hands up. “That’s because I’m tired. I had soccer practice after school and—”
“Playing games when you should have been practicing your rings!” Mimoosh smacked her cane on the boulder and clucked her tongue like a ruffled chicken. “Go on, go on. You will have to be fast if you insist on wasting time.”
Porter scowled and slammed the pointed end of his staff into the loose dirt. He swiveled to draw a circle around himself. “What do you want me to ask them?”
The stooped shaman tapped her walking stick into her age-spotted hand and stared into the twisted thicket of jungle that crowded the coral beach. “Ask for news of the Raspurn.”
The word raised goosebumps underneath the layer of damp that slicked Porter’s skin. He gritted his teeth and scratched Darlisk runes into the circle.
“This isn’t going to work,” he said in a low voice he only half wanted Mimoosh to hear. “The spirits only come when my mom calls with me.”
“That’s because your mother actually wants to speak with the spirits.” Mimoosh wagged a finger at him, her dark eyes barely visible beneath her wrinkles. “If you embrace their presence, the spirits will come to you.”
Porter grunted but didn’t deny it. The ball of dread weighing in his belly had already swelled at the thought of calling the unnatural beings. There were lots of Darlisk stories of spirits possessing or haunting people like something out of a horror movie—heads spinning backward, hallucinations, voices, the whole bit.
Just like when Frentis had… No. Don’t think about Frentis.
Porter shook his head to clear away the dark thoughts and focused on his spell ring. They won’t come. They never come when I call.
With a deep breath, he drew the last glyph in the coral-speckled ground. To anyone back on Earth, on the other side of the Universe Gate, it would just look like a circle filled with an intricate pattern, or maybe a different language.
But here in Pericael, nearly all would recognize it as a spell ring. The grooves in the dirt took on a luminous silver glow in the gathering shadows. Porter’s ranja, his energy, flowed from his muscles and into the ring at his feet. With a sigh, he sat down in the circle and crossed his legs, laying his staff across his lap.
“You have to actually want to speak with them,” Mimoosh said again.
Porter scowled and closed his eyes. But I hate the creepy spirits and this creepy place. Then again, if he disobeyed Mimoosh and his mom found out, he’d have to forfeit a soccer practice, and the playoffs were next week—too risky.
He gripped his staff and spoke the Darlisk words Mimoosh had taught him years ago: “Hear me, spirits, the Kotalla kan asks for your wisdom.”
A bead of sweat tickled his temple, and he opened his eyes. His gaze flicked from left to right. Mimoosh cocked her head as though listening. Although they pervaded nearly all things in Pericael, most people couldn’t see or hear spirits without a spell ring. But some, especially shaman chiefs like Mimoosh, were sensitive to their movements. The seconds stretched into a minute, then two.
With a sigh of relief, Porter let his shoulders relax. “They’re not coming, Mimoosh.”
He unfolded his legs with a barely suppressed smirk.
“Wait.” Mimoosh pointed a crooked finger into the weave of vines and trees. “There.”
Porter paled as he followed her finger into the Pericaelian wilderness, home to countless dangers, horrors, and evil bred by the spirits and their magic in this world. Sure enough, an orb of light emerged from the growing darkness under the canopy. Then a second, and a third. As they neared, the small orbs grew heads, arms, and legs.
Spirits could take on any form they wished, but Mimoosh maintained that the forms held some significance to their message. Porter’s mother thought it just depended on the personality of the spirit. Porter thought it was all a waste of time.
The little light people stopped at the edge of his circle and looked at him expectantly.
Porter’s heart raced in his chest and all thoughts flew from his head. “Uhh…”
Mimoosh craned her head forward. “Ask them about the Raspurn.”
“R-right.” Porter’s knuckles turned white around the staff in his lap. “Do you know anything about the Raspurn?”
“A warning,” one of them whispered, the voice high and childish.
“He seeks the unblessed,” said the second, bending its head so far to the right that it melded into its shoulder.
“His fingers spread far.” The third bulged like a bullfrog as its words cut through the air.
“Uh… okay…” Porter shifted uncomfortably in the sand. How was he supposed to respond to that? His mother was usually the one that did the talking.
“What did they say, Por-ba?” Mimoosh asked, the Darlisk term of endearment slipping into his name.
“They want to warn us that the Raspurn is seeking the unblessed, and his fingers spread far?” Porter didn’t hide his confusion, but his eyes never left the creatures in front of him. His muscles strained taut with the tension of holding the ring. “But the Raspurn rules on the other side of the jungle.” He waved at the impenetrable mass of green.
Mimoosh bowed her head, a stray lock of gray hair falling against her cheek. “Ask them if he knows of the Gate.” Her voice shook. “Ask if he’s coming here.”
Porter repeated her questions. For a moment, the spirits just stared at him. Had he got the words wrong?
“You’ve been warned.”
“It grows late.”
As the spirits gave their messages, one by one, they turned and left the way they had come. With a sigh of relief, Porter collapsed onto his back with his arms spread wide and let the ranja drain from his circle. He relayed the messages to Mimoosh while the glow of the ring faded away, erasing any trace of his runes within.
Mimoosh nearly fell off her boulder. “They left already?”
“I told you I’m no good at calling spirits.” Porter stood and brushed off the blue and white soccer uniform he still wore from practice.
Mimoosh stroked her chin as if she hadn’t even heard him. “Still… poor tidings. Poor tidings indeed.”
Porter straightened and looked toward the village where the glow of the second moon had slipped over the water. His eyes practically bulged out of his head. “Mimoosh! The tide’s coming in, and Tisara is already rising. We have to hurry!” He grabbed the old woman’s thin arms and almost yanked her off her rock.
“Ach!” She shook her staff at him. “I’m coming as fast as I can, Por-ba. These old bones can only move so fast!”
He pulled her along despite her protests. He had to get Mimoosh to her hut before he could head toward the Gate, and no one stayed out past dark in Pericael. There was a reason they called Tisara the blood moon.
Shadows loomed in the thick dusk on the beach. Porter jumped back, brandishing his short staff in front of them.
“It’s just us, Kotalla kan,” said a soft voice. Porter relaxed as he recognized Mimoosh’s daughter and her husband. “We’ll take Mama home. It’s getting late. Perhaps you should stay with us tonight.” The muted urgency in her voice only quickened Porter’s already racing heart.
He pushed his fists together in front of his chest in the Darlisk sign of gratitude. “Thank you, Fa Noma, but my mom is expecting me.”
“But the spirit’s warning, Por-ba—”
“Sorry, Mimoosh, gotta run!” With an absent-minded wave, Porter turned and ran toward the darkening jungle.
He paused right before the tangled mass. Even though this was a path he took almost every day, the jungle always seemed to grow wilder overnight. He briefly reconsidered Noma’s offer to stay the night in their hut, protected by the tide and the high stilts. But then his mother would blame him for staying too late, and he’d miss his science test in the morning. Not to mention, he much preferred to sleep in his nice, safe, air-conditioned bedroom.
The suffocating hot air wrapped around Porter like a blanket. Sweat slipped down his spine and beaded on his arms and legs. Porter chewed his lip, wasting precious seconds.
The night predators would be out soon. A few of them resembled Earth-like creatures, like the chauca, some kind of mix between a boar and jaguar. Or the kapanas, the sand-pythons. But by far the most terrifying, were the terzi, the Chupacabra-like apes that hunted in packs.
His mother thought that many of the fantastical creatures of Earth’s imagination had come out of parallel universes like Pericael or been glimpsed through an open portal. If that was the case, Pericael must have gotten all the worst monsters.
Porter shook his head. Stop stalling. It’s only 400 yards. He glanced back toward the sea. Tisara rested on the horizon, readying to chase her sister moon, Nishira, across the waves.
The creatures rustled as they awakened in the jungle, calling and shrieking to one another. Should I run? No, running would mark him as prey for sure. He would have to slink, like the killers.
Before he could change his mind, he parted the brush with his staff and slid into the jungle. Swiftly, he padded along the tiny rabbit trail generations of Gatekeepers had cut into the jungle’s mossy floor. Porter’s gaze shifted from side-to-side, his staff testing the footing ahead. Shadows moved high above in the trees around him, and smaller creatures skittered away from his creeping Nikes. The light from the two moons glinted off of the watching eyes in the darkness.
And those were just the flesh and blood creatures. The spirits of the jungle hung thick in the air. He couldn’t see or hear the spirits without a spell ring, but he could feel their closeness from his years of summoning.
Tree and beast spirits swirled around him curiously. Sometimes he even thought he heard them whispering to each other. Most spirits didn’t interfere with the physical world, but there were plenty that loved to meddle in helpful or mischievous ways. In fact, Darlisk didn’t even have a word for unlucky, only the phrase ‘kachua jamae’—despised by the spirits.
The shadows shifted behind Porter, and he picked up his pace, his breath coming fast and much louder than he’d like. A guttural moan rattled distantly to his left, and what felt like a light breeze pressed against his back.
“Faster, faster, faster,” the spirits seemed to whisper.
Another growl echoed closer on Porter’s left, and with a frightened lurch, he broke out into a sprint, losing all pretense of stealth. Branches and thorns grabbed at his jersey and legs. The dull thuds of his pounding feet echoed in his ears.
He ran so fast he almost crashed straight into the Gate—a moss-covered door wedged in the crux of two bent trees. He dug his staff into the jungle floor and swiveled in a quick circle. The snarls had grown into howls ringing through the air. Sweat stung Porter’s eyes as he scratched out the unlocking symbols.
He poured his ranja into the ring. “Unlock, unlock, unlock, unlock.”
Heavy, slow breaths rattled behind Porter, soaking the air with the smell of sour meat.
He yanked on the Gate handle and lifted his gaze back to the jungle. The glow of symbols illuminated the undergrowth just long enough to make out the hunched figure of a terzi, its long fangs dripping with thick yellow strands of drool. Its huge round eyes bulged from a nearly human head with wrinkled gray skin, and its long, clawed fingers reached out as it stalked closer.
The door clicked open behind Porter, but he stood frozen with fear, transfixed by those luminous eyes.
A dead branch crashed down from the canopy above, tearing the terzi’s gaze upward. The trance broken, Porter yanked open the Gate and slid inside. He slammed the door just as two more terzi leapt toward it.
Porter bolted the door as it shuddered with the impact of the monsters’ bodies. A barrage of nails scratched furiously at the wood while Porter grabbed the marker they kept next to the doorway. He hastily drew a circle on the trembling oak and two squiggly interlocking symbols within.
He placed his shaking hand on the ring. “Lock.”
The circle glowed white, and there was another click, as if an unseen key turned. The light faded, taking all trace of the spell ring with it. Heart still racing, Porter edged away from the door until his back leaned against the opposite wall. He sank down onto the plush carpet. The scratching faded away to the familiar chirp of crickets, punctuated with pots clanging from the kitchen upstairs.
“Porter, is that you?” his dad called. “Your mom just pulled up. Come set the table, please.”
“Okay!” Porter yelled, his voice cracking. He rested his clammy hands on his knees. “Stupid Pericael.”
Why had he frozen? If that branch hadn’t fallen, he would’ve been terzi meat. He winced as he thought about how lucky he had been… but Darlisk didn’t have a word for luck.
I hope you enjoyed the first chapter of The Gatekeeper of Pericael. Advance Reader Copies are currently available in mobi (compatible with kindle), epub, and pdf formats. If you’d like to request one, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thanks so much for your support!