The thrilling conclusion to the Crystal Doors trilogy finds cousins Gwen and Vic and their three friends forging the magical Ring of Might and defending all the worlds beyond the crystal doors in their final battle against the dark sage, Azric. When their friend Sharif is called back home by his father, the Sultan, Gwen, Vic and their companions travel to the flying city of Irrakesh only to find that the Sultan is dying, with Sharif the next in line to the throne.Before he can choose between duty and destiny, Irrakesh is attacked and the city is taken hostage by the dark wizard's monstrous winged army. In their previous battles, the companions faced Azric by land and sea; now they take to the skies for the climactic showdown with the evil wizard and all of his dark forces.
Kevin J. Anderson has teamed up with his wife Rebecca Moesta to create a magical world quite unlike anything you’ve read. All you have to do is open the door… – Steven Savile
A FRESH OCEAN BREEZE blew through Gwen Pierce's baby-fine blond hair. In the distance below, the ocean surrounding Elantya sparkled a deep turquoise blue. Beneath her, the wondrous island city bustled with activity, as it had for the past week since she and her fellow apprentices had escaped captivity in the merlon king's undersea city. Up here in the sky, with buttery sunlight warming her skin, she felt safe. A few months ago she might have found the experience of riding a magic carpet unnerving, with nothing between her and a long drop to certain death, other than a rectangle of purple cloth and a good friend. But she had changed.
Sharif had let her sit in front of him on the flying carpet today and, although it wasn't completely necessary, he kept one arm loosely around her waist to ensure that she would not fall. The billowing sleeves of the dark haired prince's spotless white shirt rippled as he sailed his embroidered rug high above the harbor. Elantyan ships were anchored at intervals around the island, reinforcing its magical defenses.
Sharif leaned forward, pointing toward the horizon. "A storm is gathering far out at sea." From the corner of her eye, Gwen could see the prince's nymph djinni hovering above his shoulder in her eggsphere, shedding an electric green glow of anxiety on the dusky skin of his face.
"Piri does not think it is a magical storm," Sharif explained, "but she is not sure."
Looking out at the cluster of dark clouds, Gwen wished that she had no responsibilities and could stay in the air in peace and quiet all day long. But the wish lasted only for a moment. Suck it up, Pierce, she mentally scolded herself. Let's see what you've got. To Sharif, she said, "We should let the sages know about that bad weather."
o o o o o
VIC LOWERED HIS SCROLL and wiped away the sweat that streamed down his face. His throat felt raw. Beside him, Lyssandra kept reading aloud, though her voice came out in barely a whisper. They had been reciting spells for hours, standing together at the rail of the Sea Child, down the coast from the Elantyan harbor. The ship's deck moved beneath their feet. The hot sun beat down on them, warming the deck planks, reflecting off the waves, and making Vic's head throb with an ache that seemed to have gone on for days now. Pushing her long, coppery hair back from her elfin face, the petite girl unstoppered the vial of magically replenishing liquid she wore on a chain around her neck. She drank some of the healing greenstepe and offered it to Vic. He took several gulps and the throbbing in his head eased.
All around the ship, everyone with magical training—from novs to sages—also recited from various spell scrolls assigned to them by master sages. Each spell provided some measure of protection for the island, either in the form of a shield or a booby trap. Vic's spell temporarily disoriented any creature that ventured into the limited area it covered. Lyssandra's spell formed a swatch of invisible mesh. Ever since Vic and his fellow apprentices had escaped from the underwater city of Oo'regl a week ago, the entire island of Elantya had been a hub of frenetic activity. Students from the Citadel, regardless of their levels of competence, had been drafted by the sages to assist in reading spell scrolls. The work was time-consuming and exhausting, since the process had to be repeated again and again at hundreds of locations around the island. At least the leg wound Vic had gotten during their underwater escape no longer plagued him. Strong medical spells, administered first on the rescue ship and later in the Hall of Healers, had already returned him to full strength.
But the merlons were coming back, and the island had to be protected.
Sage Rubicas remained back in his laboratory, still working on expanding a shield spell that he hoped could eventually protect the entire island. The Pentumvirate put great faith in the snowy-bearded wizard—whose skills were a fusion of magic and science—and had recently named Rubicas the island's Ven Sage, the most powerful and respected bright sage in all Elantya. Entrusting the development of innovative armaments and protections to the workforce in the Ven Sage's chambers, the council of five leaders focused on directing the ongoing efforts to enhance security around the island. Vic's father, Cap Pierce, devoted most of his time to coordinating the various defense projects in Rubicas's lab. The rest of the former archaeology professor's waking hours were consumed with plans to rescue his wife—Vic's mother—from the ice coral cave in which the dark sage Azric had imprisoned her.
Alongside the ship, Tiaret, the girl from Afirik, surfaced from the depths and expertly blew water out of her lungs through her mouth and gills. When Rubicas's apprentices were kidnapped by the merlons, Azric's immortal henchman Orpheon had worked a spell to give all five of them gills. Because of this, Vic, Gwen, and their friends could still breathe underwater without assistance.
Steadying herself with her bare feet against the hull boards, Tiaret climbed a rope up to the deck. The dark-skinned girl was tall—almost as tall as Vic. Seawater sparkled on the lashes around her golden eyes and on the decorative bangles bound into the long, twisted strands of her dark brown hair. "Sage Polup reports that the removal of lavaja bombs from beneath the island is proceeding well, though more slowly than our anemonite friends had hoped." She unslung the teaching staff from her back. "Are we ready to move the ship to our next position?"
"Yup, just about," Vic said. "As soon as they get here." He pointed to the sky where a fluttering purple carpet descended toward the ship. The magic carpet carrying Sharif and Gwen swooped down to settle on the open deck. As soon as Vic's willowy cousin and the young man from Irrakesh jumped off, Sharif rolled the swatch of patterned purple fabric into a tidy cylinder, tucked it under his arm, and walked over to the closest sage to give a weather report.
"What's up, Doc?" Vic asked Gwen, using the name he had called his brainy cousin since they were kids.
"There's a storm as dark as blackstepe brewing out at sea." Gwen's dramatic violet eyes met her cousin's aquamarine gaze.
"Magical?" Vic asked raising one eyebrow. "Merlon sorcery?"
"Piri does not think so," Sharif answered, returning from speaking to the sage. "But as my people say, 'No event is certain until it occurs.'"
Tiaret thumped the round end of her teaching staff on the wooden deck. "That is why a story may not be entered in the Great Epic until after the events are complete."
"In other words, histories are more accurate than prophecies," Gwen said.
Vic glanced at Lyssandra, knowing that the girl's prophetic dreams rarely allowed her to sleep well. The petite telepath had dark circles beneath her cobalt-blue eyes.
She gave them all a wan smile. "It is precisely what I do not know that makes my visions so disturbing. Whether prophecies come in dreams or in words, they never seem to mean what they appear to say."
"The merlons had prophecies, too," Vic pointed out.
"Something about rage and merlon victory. I think they were interpreting them wrong—at least, I hope so—but I think Azric is behind that." Sweat prickled the scalp beneath his straight brown hair. He scratched his head. "Remind me again—why are merlons so set on destroying Elantya?"
Patiently, Lyssandra explained, "Because when the family of the dark sage Azric came through the crystal door to this world thousands of years ago, they were bent on conquering all worlds. After Azric betrayed and murdered his parents, he built up armies of immortal warriors in seven worlds. Bright sages from a dozen worlds joined together to create the island of Elantya at the center of all the doors, in order to prevent the dark sages and their followers from taking over."
"Although the merlons in this world did not grant their permission for this, neither did they object," Tiaret added.
Sharif's olive-green eyes were serious as he continued the tale. "After that, Azric's sister Aennia and the bright sage Qelsyn performed a great magic to seal the crystal doors to all worlds that held those immortal armies, but the magic was so strong that many other doors were sealed as well. Regrettably, Azric was not trapped behind any of the doors in the Great Closure. Since then, he has traveled from world to world finding new followers to replace his lost armies."
"Fortunately for us, those new followers are not indestructible," Tiaret said.
Sharif's expression darkened. "Years ago Azric came in disguise to Irrakesh. My brother Hashim succeeded in exposing him and saving my people, but the dark sage killed him."
"For thousands of years after the Great Closing, Elantyans had no contact with merlons," Lyssandra said. "But all the while, Azric secretly gathered new supporters."
"And since he's come back to this world," Vic concluded, "the merlons suddenly want to murder every land-living creature. Coincidence? I think not." He thought of all the people he knew of who had been lost to Azric's insatiable desire to conquer.
"No coincidence, Taz," Gwen agreed, calling her cousin by the cartoon-inspired nickname she had given him when they were in kindergarten. "Azric wants the merlons to hate Elantya. He had no problems killing his own parents, and mine, and Sharif's brother—and who knows how many other thousands or millions of people who were in his way." Her violet eyes flashed with anger as she mentioned the dark sage. "And if everyone who can stop Azric is wiped out, he'll have all the time he needs to break the seals on those crystal doors."
"For that, he needs more than time, Doc. He needs us," Vic pointed out. He hesitated for a moment, then added, "Or my mom." Not only were Gwen and Vic the subjects of ancient prophecies about "Chosen Ones" and being "born beneath the selfsame moon," the cousins had inherited the rare gift of seal breaking from their mothers.
"What I do not understand," Lyssandra said, "is why the merlons hate people they do not know. It makes no sense to despise us simply because we live on land—or because Azric told them to hate us."
Just then, Piri hovered over the edge of the deck rail, blinking orange with alarm.
The apprentices looked down at the water and went silent with shock as something lithe and vaguely humanoid broke the surface just far enough away that it was not affected by the Elantyan protective spells. At the center of its forehead pulsed a pair of circular membranes. Fine green scales covered the creature's body and huge, oily dark eyes flashed from the wide face. A lookout called from the tall mast. Others shouted, passing on the warning, and soon all magic users and sailors aboard crowded to the deck rail. Everyone on the ship knew exactly what they were seeing.
Tiaret brandished her teaching staff. Sages scrambled to find their most powerful spell scrolls. Burly sailors hauled out long harpoons.
The ugly thing in the water held up its webbed hands in a pacifying gesture. Without making a move toward the Sea Child, it looked up at the apprentices and made the loud garbled sounds of merlon speech.
Tiaret eyed the merlon warily, even though it seemed to be alone and unarmed.
"What did it say?" Vic asked Lyssandra, who could understand the speech of the aquatic race.
The telepathic girl looked at her friends in confusion. "He says his name is Ulbar. He asks that we take him to see our leaders."