The Pendulum World Chronicles

I've finished the first novel! Book 1 is called "The Nightmare Plague", set in a dystopian world of steampunk and sorcery. It came in at 58,000 words - a good length I'm told for a Young Adult book. Here's the quick rundown, with the prologue and first chapter following. Enjoy, and hopefully my efforts to get it published will come to fruition.

After their father, the village’s master alchemist, disappears without a trace, Jarick and Janthine Grimes are left alone to face a deadly plague and those responsible for its inception. Bramblemoor has always been a quiet, isolated village. That changes when a horrific epidemic appears among the townsfolk, trapping them in a world of never-ending nightmares that cause them to turn on each other. Now is the chance for the fledgling alchemists to prove that they can follow in their father’s footsteps.

One old book in their father’s library contains a possible cure. When they find it’s been stolen, the two undertake a journey to recover it. They are totally unprepared for what they find; the culprits are a secret order of sorcerers who need the book to harness a vast demonic power that’s about to be unleashed.

The children discover that the sinister order is also behind their father’s mysterious disappearance. Now they must battle the powerful magic-users while trying to learn the answers they’re seeking.  But they know – there’s little time to recover the remedy to the plague before they return home to a village of corpses.

Book 1
The Nightmare Plague


Errand of Deceit

Alchemy was Randel Grimes’ life blood. Discovering the marvelous properties concealed within a mundane looking leaf, wing of an insect or fragment of rock was a siren call he could seldom resist. Even when the pursuit of it took him to the most precarious of places - like now.
The crumbling path that brought him far underground ended at the entranceway of an immense, dank smelling cavern.  He held his torch at arm’s length and strained to see into the gloom. The sight of blackened bone fragments and rusted weapons caused him to hesitate, but only for a moment. He set his shoulders and ventured inside. It would take more than the remains of a long-ago battle to discourage him from his task.
The flickering light chased shadows from the recesses and revealed an ancient cathedral built by what must’ve surely been a mad architect. Rows of oddly-angled pillars supported arches that met at haphazard crossings. The overhead domes looked fractured by ribbing that splayed out in irrational angles. Enigmatic patterns left snake-like trails over every surface. He couldn’t imagine why anyone would carve such a structure so deeply entombed within the earth. What filled him with foreboding, though, was something his torch could not illuminate. A brooding presence. It lurked just beyond his mind’s grasp and sent a cold prickle down his neck. The urge to turn and slip quietly from the place nearly overcame him, but he resisted.  He had a job to do.  Someone was counting on him.
The disjointed architecture looked as if the slightest disturbance would send it crashing down. He walked gingerly, barely daring to breathe, until he found himself in the heart of the temple. A short flight of steps led up to...
His breath caught in his throat.
At first he thought it was a man standing perfectly still on a dais, one arm stretched out towards him. But when the figure didn’t react to Grimes’ presence, the man exhaled slowly in relief. It was the most exquisitely carved statue Randel had ever set eyes on. The subject’s features were thin, angular and stern, and the eyes, even in stone, were hawkish and piercing. It had been draped in a cloth robe, perhaps to complete the illusion of a living man. At least, it looked like cloth. The workmanship was of such quality that Randel determined to touch it before he was convinced that the robe wasn’t stone as well. He ascended the steps and slowly reached out to touch it. The fabric crumbled to dust under his fingertips. It still did not detract from the magnificent skill that had been worked upon the statue. If anything, the details were even more remarkable up close - delicate lines creased the corners of the eyes, the bump of a mole on the right temple, even the faint line of a scar cutting across the severe jaw line. Astounding. It wasn’t what he came for, but such a work of art should not be left...
A thick cloud, blacker than the shadows, sprang up from behind it. Randel stumbled backwards. The miasma fanned out like a wave cut by the prow of a ship, lending the appearance that the statue had sprouted obsidian wings. Randel was about to turn and run when a force slammed like a fist into his chest, knocking him down. The edges of the cloud coalesced into thick roots that radiated outward like lightening. One of them whisked around his neck and lifted him from the floor. Randel tried to pull it away, but his hands could find nothing solid to grab. They passed ineffectually through the murk.
A disembodied voice filled the space between Randel and the black, roiling cloud.
“Do you know why you’ve come?”
“I’m sorry,” Randel rasped. “I didn’t mean to intrude. I’ve only come gather some plants.”
 “No, you haven’t. You’ve been sold for the price of a book. You are mine. And you shall aid me. You see the figure before you? My body, subjected to a concoction that petrified my flesh in a few moments’ time. The work of my old friend Thrannynn. Alchemy’s foul art rendered me in such a powerless state, and alchemy will restore me. A thousand years I have been forced to wait, my ambitions halted. This world was granted a reprieve, but soon my armies will awake, and I must lead them. You will play an historic part by rejuvenating me; a great honor.”
“I will you,” Randel choked out the words.
It chuckled. “You have no choice. Over time, I learned how to free my soul from that stone prison, and now it shall possess your form. Your knowledge, your skills will remain intact, but my will shall command them.”
The darting tendrils bent towards him and began to encircle him, penetrate his arms, chest, head. The voice continued.
“Together we will seek out Thrannynn’s laboratory and learn his petrifying secret. You will discover how to undo what’s been done.”
Randel felt an oppressive, suffocating presence encircle his mind. He tried to resist, but his strength was like gauze against an unstoppable pressure. It was seeping through frighteningly fast. His own free will had but moments left. If he was going to stop this monster, he had to act now.  He stole a desperate look around and noticed a support pillar nearby rising into the shadows to meet the arched ceiling.  It was precariously cracked.  His hand crossed to a pouch that hung at his side.  Inside the pouch, he felt his way over the contents; vials, bottles and tiny bulging bags.  His hand found what he was searching for and closed upon it.  Slowly he drew it out – a clay orb, faceted like a dull jewel.    He knew what he had to do, and the thought pierced him with a sharp sadness.  “Goodbye, my Andalaina,” he whispered.  “Goodbye children.  Be good.”
With a smile he lifted the gray globe. The black mass hesitated in confusion, its invasion into Randel’s mind picking up trace thoughts that it could not believe. Would he really...
            Randel’s arm came down with a snap and the orb flew at the pillar.  The flint chips embedded in the sphere’s surface sparked as they struck the rock. A sharp explosion finished the crack in the column.  It gave way under the tremendous weight.  An ethereal, hate-filled roar filled the cathedral as the vaulted domes collapsed, burying everything within under massive stone blocks.  The tomb was closed.

Chapter 1
An Unsettling Forecast

It was too good to be true.
Janthine crawled on her stomach toward the bank of a rocky stream and slipped her hands into the tall weeds to push them apart.  Hopefully, the bubbling and slapping sound of the flowing water would cover any noise that might warn her prey.  Through the space in the grass she caught sight of it sunning itself on a large flat stone.  She would have to be quick. If the thing spotted her and dove into the stream, there would be no catching it. With a head and front legs like a frog and back half like an eel, the noadeec was made for slippery escapes.
Luckily, she didn’t have to actually capture it.  All she was after were the tiny beads that clung to its back fin and shimmered like dewdrops in the sunlight. Simple.
If she was ever going to become a full-fledged alchemist, there was one formula she needed to create; the Silver Spectacles – and the glistening growths of the noadeec were the key ingredient. Janthine managed to crawl within two feet of it and still it hadn’t noticed her.  Today would be the day she would finally be able to collect a few of the rare and elusive noadeec pearls.  She smiled as she cautiously reached out her hand…
From out of the air a rock landed in the stream with a great splash, drenching her head and frightening the creature.  It immediately bounded towards the water.
“No!” yelled the girl as she pitched herself forward in a vain attempt to grab it.  The noadeec cut through the water like a knife and was quickly gone, leaving her up to her elbows in the frigid water, fuming.  From behind a tree came a rascally laugh.  One that she knew very well.
“Jarick!” she yelled, scrambling out of the water.  “You kludmoch!  Do you know what you’ve just done?”
Her brother’s face appeared around the side of the tree, a stupid grin flung across it. Janthine got to her feet and shook water from her thick black hair. With a deadly glint in her eyes, she charged at his hiding place.  Right now she didn’t care if he was a year older and six inches taller, she was determined to teach him a lesson for interfering.  Her reckless assault pushed him right to the stream’s edge, where he tottered as he tried to grab hold of her flailing arms.
“Whoa, hey! What’s your problem? Afraid of a little water?” he laughed.
“I was sneaking up on a noadeec!” she grated through clenched teeth.  “You know how hard it is to get their pearls?  I was working on a formula from one of Dad’s old books, and that was the last ingredient!”  She slammed a shoulder into his chest, forcing him a step backward into the stream.
“I had no idea what you were doing! What formula could possibly use those?” He snagged her with a vice-like hug and began dragging her over the water. She slipped free, almost as nimble as a noadeec herself.
“The Silver Spectacles,” she shot back, driving both arms at his chest like twin battering rams. He twisted sideways to avoid them, almost losing his balance in the process.
“I didn’t see the noadeec! “
“Well, now you’re going to go find it.  Here, let me help you!”  A firm push sent his already teetering form up to his knees in the water.
“Oh, we’ll see about that!” Jarick grabbed her arm, only as a reflex to keep himself from falling all the way in, and succeeded in pulling her in to his depth. “They wouldn’t have done you any good anyways. The Silver Spectacles are one of those fairy tale formulas - you’d have better luck transmuting lead into gold.”
Janthine fought free and took a step back, panting hard. “Oh, yeah? Just because you’ve never tried it doesn’t mean it can’t be done. And they’re much more real than the weave wings you tried to fly with last year – and almost broke both your legs!”
Jarick leveled a dangerous look at her, made more intense by the slate-gray color of his eyes, and sprang forward. She met the attack with a bristle of fingernails. He managed to snag her wrists before the delicate talons found his flesh. They wrestled in the shallows, each trying to keep their footing on the wet rocks. Jarick was stronger, but Janthine’s ferocity brought it to an equal match. He finally succeeded in pinning her arms to her side when a voice rang out and brought their scuffle to a halt.
“Jarick and Janthine Grimes!  Come here at once!”
No matter where you were in the village, or in the surrounding area for that matter, their mother’s voice always had a way of being heard.  And there was no use ignoring the call, either.  The two children knew that if they pretended not to hear it, or not hastily beat a path for home, was to invite a dire consequence.  By silent agreement, they released their mutual grips and sprinted for the village.  Like fleeting deer, they wove between trees and bounded over rocks.
As they cleared the woods, their village came into view.  In spite of resting on the spot for over a hundred years, Bramblemoor had never managed to grow beyond the size of some two-dozen humble houses. The village was dotted with a few cobblestone structures such as the blacksmith’s shop and a meeting hall, but the rest had been fashioned with dark brown timbers now mostly weathered to a gray color.  Their house was no exception.  The only feature that made it stand out from the others was a large signboard above the front door that read ‘Grimes Apothecana’.  Their mother stood underneath it, hands on her hips.  She glared at them as they burst through the front gate and halted, puffing and breathless.
“What is wrong with the cat?”  she demanded.  Their eyes immediately dropped to the orange colored tabby at her feet.  He seemed to be intent on capturing something just behind him.  But it couldn’t have been his tail. All that remained of that was the slightest trace of a nub.  After a tense moment of stalking and readying himself, the cat pounced, flipped and tumbled over.  It regained his feet and started the curious routine all over again.
“Well,” Jarick began slowly.  “Tourmaline couldn’t stop sneezing. After an hour we started feeling sorry for him. So we gave him a potion for his nose.”
“With a secret ingredient!” Janthine added.  “It worked.  He’s not sneezing anymore.”
“True,” their mother replied. “But now he can’t stop chasing his tail.”
The two children stood, looking puzzled. “He doesn’t have a tail.”
“Exactly.”  Their mother replied coldly.
“It got taken off by the well pulley.”
“Right again.”
Perplexed, the brother and sister stared at the bizarre sight, until Janthine’s index finger shot straight up.  “We can fix that!” she announced.  The two darted around either side of their mother and headed for the door, but were stopped short as she wheeled about and snagged the back of their collars.
“Oh, no.  You’ve done enough!  I’m sure whatever you’ve given the cat will wear off in due time.  I’m not going to let you feed it some new experiment.  Instead, I have a more worthwhile task you can put your energies toward.”  They were afraid that this would happen, but it seemed unavoidable.  Turning them by their shoulders, she steered them back toward the front gate.
“Farmer Elrood gave us permission to gather some of the wheat in his fields.  I want you two to go there and collect as much as he lets you.  Heaven knows we’ll need the surplus for this coming winter.”
So it was a chore, after all. Janthine saw Jarick’s face crunch down in thought, trying to formulate an escape plan. He swept a calculating gaze across the village, from the darkly wooded hills that bordered the north to the wide farmlands on the south. His eyes lit up. Janthine spied the thing that caught his attention. On the horizon, some thin, dark clouds were pushing their way towards them.
“But mother, it might rain this afternoon.  Look,” he remarked.
“Of course it’s not going to rain today,” Mrs. Grimes replied.  Her voice trailed off as she spotted the ominous formations herself.  They were odd, not piled up thick like rain clouds, but more like smudges across the clear sky – grimy, tattered strips of cloth carried on the wind.  She frowned at them.
“Those aren’t rain clouds, and you’re not going to get out of this.  So off you two go.”  With a final nudge, they went reluctantly through the front gate.  Mrs. Grimes watched them go, and then turned to study the clouds again.  She noticed something very peculiar; they were not moving with the wind.  She could see by the gentle swaying of the distant treetops that the wind was blowing from the west, but these clouds were definitely moving north, on a course that would take them over their village.  Something about them didn’t sit well with her. They were too dark to be so thin, resisting the sunlight that should have easily penetrated them. The shadowy folds tempted her to play the child’s game of guessing their shapes. Trying, she could almost distinguish strange features within them, but they would shift and change before she could recognize what they were. Part of her was content that she couldn’t. She had a feeling what she would have seen wouldn’t have been pleasant. How could mere clouds make her feel so uneasy? There was no logical explanation, but there had to be a reason for their movement, though.  Perhaps they were higher up, being pushed by a different current. That had to be it. She headed back inside to her own duties, but not before glancing skyward with a distrustful eye one more time.

Jarick and Janthine trudged down a dirt road that ran through the village and led to the farmlands beyond.  The Elrood farm occupied a place on the northeastern side, which the children arrived at far too quickly for their liking.   Farmer Elrood stood at the entrance of the barn, a harness draped over his shoulder. He noticed their approach and waved. A tightly clamped pipe jutted from his lined and prickly face. Not a man of many words, he outfitted the two with hand scythes and directed them to the edges of the farmland where clumps of wheat still stood above the stubble of newly cut fields.  They stumped off into the field.
They had only been working for about an hour when a familiar voice called out.  “Collecting ingredients for a new wheat-based formula?”  They looked up to see Lorna VanRandt, a village girl slightly older than Jarick.  She had situated herself on a stout fence that separated the field from the road, elbows hooked over the top rail. Her auburn hair snaked out from beneath the bonnet that her mother always made her wear.  She would have said that she hated wearing bonnets, but her mother had strictly instructed her ‘We don’t say ‘hate’, we say ‘strongly dislike’.  She strongly disliked her bonnet.  She pushed it further back on her head. “Don’t tell me,” she waved her hands before her face like a stage conjurer.  “You’re working on a recipe for an enchanted bread.  One bite will enable you to lift bodily from the ground.  Or better yet,” she widened her eyes dramatically.  “cause you to vanish without a trace!”
Jarick narrowed his eyes back in response.  “Any chance you could vanish without a trace?”
“Oh, don’t mind him,” said Janthine.  “He’s just grumpy about being here.  He’d rather throw rocks at my head.”
Lorna shifted an inquisitive glance at Jarick, who ignored both the comment and the look. She shrugged her shoulders. “Don’t like harvesting, huh?”
“Just not anything as boring as wheat,” Jarick replied, pinching one of the grains between his fingers and examining it with a dubious eye.  “Nothing special about it.  No unique properties.”
“You’ve obviously never tasted one of my mother’s wheat cakes, then.”  Lorna sniffed.  Hopping down from the fence, she announced, “I must be off.  Working on a case, you know.”
At the hope of a momentary diversion more interesting than cutting wheat, both children stopped. “What case?” asked Janthine.
Lorna VanRandt had taken it upon herself to be the village sleuth.  Someone had to do it, she said. She claimed that every mystery, every unexplained occurrence, had a logical, simple explanation.  It sounded smart, but proving it was difficult, only because very few mysteries actually occurred in Bramblemoor.  In a farming community, the typical trouble was to locate a missing cow or pig that had broken out of its stall and wandered off.  The most scandalous incident involved a rock that had been thrown through a glass window, but when she discovered that the rock had a faint odor of onions clinging to it, the case was easily solved, since ‘Stinky’ Stinson was the only boy in town well known for his habit of snacking on that particularly pungent vegetable. She cleared her throat and arched an eyebrow.
“Mister Alston can’t find his new axe.  He was using it to cut down trees in the Northwood two days ago.  Either he left it there, or it’s been stolen.  I’m headed there now to investigate.  With any luck, it won’t be there, and I’ll have a true crime to solve!”  She stopped as something across the field caught her eye.  “Um, what’s wrong with Farmer Elrood?  Is something chasing him?”
Jarick and Janthine turned in the direction Lorna was looking.  Over by the horse stalls, Farmer Elrood was staggering along the fence.  Every few steps he turned to look behind him and swung his arm as if trying to beat something away.  He seemed to be on the verge of a full panic.  Then he stumbled and dropped from their view.  The children took off running in his direction.  “Be careful!” Janthine yelled out.  “There could be bees after him!”
They found him propped up on one elbow, his arm raised defensively in front of his face.  There were no bees about; in fact there was nothing dangerous that they could see.  They kneeled around him, but he didn’t seem to notice their presence.  His eyes, wide with fear, darted about like frightened rabbits.  His voice came out in a choked whisper.
“Do you see it?”
“See what?” asked Jarick.
He shook his head.  “There, hiding in the darkness. Must get away!”
Out of reflex, Janthine looked behind them again.  There was no movement from inside the barn. If there were something there, the horses would’ve reacted anyways. All around them the same gentle autumn day smiled back.  “Okay, he’s spooking me now.”
Jarick took his shoulders.  “There’s nothing there.”
Farmer Elrood continued to look past him.  He nodded his head in quick, spastic motions.  “Yes, there in the darkness…stay away! Have to run…my feet, feel so heavy though.”
“What do you see?” Lorna yelled.
“Can’t get away! It’s coming…coming for me!”  He crumpled. His skin had turned ashen-colored and his face was beaded with sweat.
“He’s feverish,” Jarick said.  “Let’s get him to our house.  I’m sure we have something there that will help him.”
Jarick and Lorna got beneath his arms to pick him up, expecting a struggle, but he went easily as if his strength had been drained.  They made their way through the village as the trembling man continued to throw panicked glances in every direction.
Mrs. Darnam was standing on her front step, sprinkling dried corn through her knobbed hands for the chickens that were gathered around her feet. She looked up, startled. “Is he sick, too?”
Jarick turned his head with a questioning gaze. “What do you mean? Who else is sick?”
She tossed the rest of the corn and wiped off her hands. “Vills just came by here a few minutes ago with his wife. She didn’t look too healthy. They’re probably at your house now.”
“Thanks for the warning. We’ll find out what’s going on.”
“And do let me know first if there’s something going around,” she called at the backs. “I have to keep up my reputation among the chat circles.”
When they arrived, Janthine burst through the front door.  The tiny bell above the door chimed merrily in spite of the rough bashing. As they hefted Mr. Elrood through the doorway, their mother’s worried face met them.
“Thank goodness you’re back.  I was just about to send for you. What’s happening?” she asked.  Jarick looked beyond her.
Long ago, their father had converted the front room of their house into a shop with counters, cabinets and a large window that looked out on the village.  Against one wall a long bench had been placed for waiting customers. Sitting there, anxious family members were trying in vain to console two huddled forms.  Mr. Vills held his wife, her body visibly shivering, apparently held in the grip of some unseen terror. Next to them sat the Dacys. Waron, a young man of eighteen years, cowered with upturned hands shielding his face while his parents, sitting on either side, were working to calm him down.
Jarick eased the man down onto the bench. “We don’t know.  Farmer Elrood started acting strangely and seems to be feverish.  What’s wrong with the others?”
“I don’t know,” she replied. “They say they’re seeing things, but it makes no sense.”
“The same here,” Jarick said.  “He keeps insisting that some fearsome thing in the dark is coming for him. It’s got to be a hallucination. I don’t know what we can do about that, but we have something that can at least treat the fever.”
He started for the cabinets until Mrs. Grimes held her hand up to stop him. She looked down the length of the bench, and then motioned to the children. “Come over here.” They followed here around behind the counter.
“A hallucination that’s contagious?” their mother asked in a hushed tone. “Have you ever heard of anything like that?”
A disturbed line etched Jarick’s brow. “Well, no…”
“But it can’t be something spreading,” Lorna cut in. “Examine the facts…”
“Oh, will you stop playing detective!” Jarick said, rolling his eyes. The sour reaction didn’t deter Lorna from pressing on.
“Look where they’ve gotten sick. Mrs. Vills lives in the center of town. Waron is two houses down from you and Mr. Elrood is way over on the east side. And it seems like they all came down with this around the same time. I didn’t think spreading sicknesses worked that way.”
“They don’t,” replied Jarick.
Janthine spoke up.  “Hold on…I remember reading something like this.  There’s a book in Dad’s library that had a page describing something that causes a feeling of horror to attack its victims.  Like a nightmare, but you’re not asleep.”
“A nightmare you can’t wake up from,” Mrs. Grimes whispered.
“How ghastly,” replied Lorna.
“And I think it said something about not ending well.”
Jarick pointed at his sister.  “Go get that book.  If it explains the sickness maybe it also contains a remedy.  I’ll start working on the mixture to treat the fever.”
“I remember what the book looked like,” Janthine said as she headed for a door at the rear of the shop.  “It was bound in leather and had the letters ‘CN’ engraved on the cover, with a large crooked ‘X’ beneath them.”
Jarick went behind the counter and opened a glass cabinet. Jars of all shapes and colors filled the interior.  Pushing through them, he found the ones he sought and handed them to Lorna, who placed them on the counter.  He pulled the stopper out of a bottle and upended it over an empty bowl.  He began to tap out some white powder when Janthine reappeared, her hands empty.
“Where’s the book?” Lorna asked.
“I can’t find it.  It’s gone.”


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