The Unseen Chronicles Book 1
Essie Brightsday has never heard a rock basilisk scream. She has never worn magical armor, stood up to a queen, or run from dragons. Instead, Essie, her sarcastic cat Tigrabum, (just call him “Tig”), and her secretive family struggle to survive on their small farm nestled against the forbidding cliffs of the Valley of Fire.
But all that is about to change when a rebellion against the cruel interim ruler is sparked. Forced to flee for their lives, Essie and Tig lose themselves in the twisting labyrinth of the ancient lava flow. When Essie finds proof that the missing King Mactogonii may be alive, she is given the opportunity to help restore stability to the kingdom. But the course of her journey will force her to face her deepest fears and unravel the mystery behind her own blindness…if Essie can survive the encounter.
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You have an important part to play in this world of color, Essie,” Mom whispers in my ear.
I try to hold her. To keep her here, but Uncle Cagney and Dad peel me away.
I try to think of something to say that will make them stay, but my parents’ footsteps die away as they hurry down the dry dirt lane. It is the pathway that spills into the valley road, the one that connects our farm with the rest of the Kingdom of Mar—and the labor camps.
Uncle Cagney gives my hand a squeeze. I have no tears. Just emptiness. I hold my breath as long as I can, to listen to the crunch of their feet on the road.
Then they are gone.
My lungs demand air, and I gasp. Uncle Cagney tugs on my hand, walking me back up to our empty home. Only the front door hasn’t been boarded up, and that’s to be secured when Uncle Cagney and I leave. Inside the small front room he sets me on the chest that holds our family’s treasures: Mom’s red dress, Dad’s insignia from his days as Kingdom Champion. I curl into a ball and try to understand what is happening. Tig hops up, tucks in next to my head, and starts to purr. Not because he is pleased, but because he knows it comforts me.
I can’t make sense of the chaos. Nothing fits. So I go back to before. Just a few hours ago. I walk through it again. Life was routine.
Tig and I were walking the rusty, suspended pipeline from the River Mar to our fields, checking for leaks by finding damp spots on the ground.
This part of the pipeline is one of the closest points to the Valley of Fire. Here the ancient lava flow pushed out farthest into the valley. Now all that’s left is a sharp tangle of deep red shards reaching hundreds of feet high. At least, that’s what I’ve been told by Tig and Mom and Dad. If you listen to the whispers in town, the lava cliffs do more than provide the rich dirt our realm flourishes on. It’s an impassible fortress that bottles up the top of our kingdom and harbors deadly creatures. That’s why no one else farms up here. Talk like this used to scare me a little, but I rarely think about it now.
Of course, we never get closer than a few hundred yards to the base of the jagged walls pushing their way out of the ground like the teeth of some enormous monster, intent on devouring our whole valley.
Tig and I complained about the drought, which is normal. Everyone has complained about the drought for as long as I can remember.
We argued about last night’s hunt. Which is also normal. At least, it’s as normal as it gets for a one-of-a-kind talking cat training a girl how to stalk prey in the dark.
Then we crested the low ridge between our house and the river.
That’s when I noticed something different. As we walked down the ridge toward the house I could taste the difference in the air. Hear it float on the breeze. Visitors are rare this far up the valley, this close to the lava flow.
It was Uncle Cagney, and for one more moment the world stayed unbroken. Uncle Cagney’s calloused warrior hands caught me and spun me through the air. He forgets that I’m twelve already. He called me by the pet name he has for me, “Lady Ess,” and told me to rub the top of his head, “the shiny,” for good luck.
Then a crack started. It was in Dad’s voice. “Cagney, we don’t have time.” It was strained and anxious—not completely unusual—but also a new kind of sharp and commanding.
In the whirlwind of activity that happened next I caught only snatches: Fabricated taxes. Brogan’s mercenaries forcing hundreds to the labor camps. Uncle Cagney just ahead of them.
I had no solid place to stand in the crumbling. Mom and Dad would turn themselves in. Mom explained that hopefully this would keep the hired thugs from burning our farm and from taking me, too. Not even criminals want to come this close to the Valley of Fire—not if they can help it. Uncle Cagney and I would get the animals to neighbors over the next week, and then I would leave with him.
“Later, we might have something left,” Mom said. It meant now we have nothing. Not even each other. Dad didn’t hug me. He put his hand on my arm, and I could feel the usual tension and awkwardness in his whole body.
Then he squeezed my shoulder. “Be brave, Brightstar.” That’s the most physical affection I’d received from Dad in a long time, and only he calls me “Brightstar.” But I pushed away from him. I wanted him to hold me, to never let me go, and all he could do was barely touch my arm. I turned toward Mom and found her wearing her roughest dress. I buried my face in the folds. I heard the low rumble of voices between Dad and Uncle Cagney, and felt Mom’s hands brushing my hair. Tig curled around my feet.
Then they were leaving, and the rest of the shattering under me gave way to nothingness.
Curled in a ball on top of the trunk I stop trying to understand what happened, but I can’t avoid the scenes running through my mind over and over. Tig continues his rumbling purr next to my head. I want to tell him thank you, but there is too much in the way to make the words move from my heart to my tongue.
Long before today, my world was one of darkness and isolation. Not because I have descended to the burning World Core where the great explorer Tangerine Menalo said the darkness is so complete it even makes the fire black.
I am blind.
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About the Author:
About the author, P.S. Broaddus, by the author P.S. Broaddus (Now you know it’s biased!)
I was born in 1986 but I don’t remember much about all that. Somewhere thereafter I decided stories were important in my life. I wanted to breathe adventure and live to write about it. Adventuring or writing. Not much has changed.
I grew up with my brother on a cattle ranch in Southwestern New Mexico and we built and defended several forts from monsters. We found and claimed a junkyard with a particularly rusted classic truck, which we spent long hours sitting in hoping it would move. Unfortunately, it didn’t run on hope.
Eventually the pack rats that lived in the truck kicked us out and we decided to drive a golf cart instead. I don’t know who left the keys in that golf cart but I want to thank them. It was an exciting few seconds for a six-year-old.
We were home schooled so everything was a field trip and milking the cows counted for PE. When it rained the dirt tank would fill with muddy water so we built a raft, floated to the middle and promptly sank.
I went to military boarding school for high school not because I was being kicked out of the house or refused to do my chores (like climbing hay stacks, riding bareback or teasing cats), but because I was mesmerized by the shiny buttons on the uniforms.
I heard a lot of rules. I wasn’t allowed to put my hands in my pockets or to stare at the sky and daydream—two of my favorite pastimes. Nevertheless, Tom Cruise looked cool in Top Gun so I decided I would be cool too. I decided to follow the rules all the way to the Naval Academy at Annapolis. But the application was longish. So I went to a small classical liberal arts college outside Washington D.C. instead. They encouraged my love for the classics and daydreaming.
I met a wood nymph from the foothills of the Smokey Mountains in North Carolina and soon thereafter asked her to marry me. She slipped and said “yes” and we have been adventuring ever since. Now we have three happy and endlessly curious boys who make us laugh every day.
I have several C.S. Lewis books on my shelf and read J.R.R. Tolkien at every opportunity. I love whimsical Mole and Rat and wise Badger in Wind in the Willows. John R. Erickson, Brandon Mull, and Andrew Peterson are great writers with excellent books.
Now you know a little more about the author. Not everything. Because you don’t know about my first dog Toby, me having the top bunk or about the time I ran away from home with a red wagon (I got hungry and came back at suppertime). I didn’t even mention Indiana Jones or being adopted or that wonder and imagination can be fed by good stories. Maybe next time.