Read a chapter of Ambril's Tale
Riding the Cursed Shoots or
Return of the Dullaith-Book 1

An Uplifting Adventure

Ambril coasted into the schoolyard the next morning and noticed Ygg fidgeting on the steps. “Mrs. Twid knows,” he said, before she could say hello.

Ambril stiffened. This was big. Mrs. Twid was Ygg’s guardian. A few months ago, they had saved the town from a mass poisoning by replacing Mrs. Twid’s foul Sunset Tea with a remedy. If she suspected Ygg had interfered with her plans, she would throw him out. Instead of finishing school, Ygg would be forced to go home to Chert and down the Mines. “How do you know? There haven’t been any complaints, have there?” Ambril plopped down beside him.

“Nought complaints, that’s the problem. The old people be doing better than ever. She’s madder than a rabid gryphon about it.”

“How is that a problem? The remedy tea is working and she’s making money, right?”

“I can’t rightly figure it out, but she be looking at me suspicious-like.” Ygg worried a hole in his jeans. “It’s almost as if she be wanting her friends to suffer and be blaming me because they aren’t.”

“Getting away from Twid wouldn’t be the worst thing.” Sully plunked down on the other side of Ygg. “I’m serious about us needing help on the farm. You can bunk at our house anytime.”

The playground was getting noisy so Ygg raised his voice. “Last night she accidentally locked me in the cellar all night. I be thinking she spotted one of the gnomes—”

“SHHH!” Sully pointed her chin at some kids who looked their way. “Let’s meet at the gazebo after school. I have something that might work better than hollering for Hendoeth.”

Nearby, Riley hunched over an old book. It’s pages looked brittle with age. Ambril wondered if it had come from the Archives. Lately, Ambril had spent too many afternoons pouring over old books like that one, researching Moroz and where he might be imprisoned. But she had come up empty. What was Riley studying?

As Riley turned a yellowed page, a curly haired boy tried peering over his shoulder, probably wondering the same thing. But Riley fiercely snapped the book shut before he could see anything, and stood up so fast that the boy lost his balance and sprawled backward onto the playground. Riley didn’t appear to notice. He walked away briskly, leaving the smell of garbage behind.

Sully wrinkled her nose. “Riley’s changed these past few weeks. He‘s always angry and you don’t want to stand downwind of him.”

Ambril’s face flushed as they started up the stairs. “Don’t make fun of him, he has enough to deal with.”

Sully looked surprised, “Sorry, but it’s true. He smells awful.”

Ygg nodded, “She be right, Ambril. Lately, Riley be smelling too much like a dumpster.”

“Is that his fault? It’s his stupid brother who tosses him in the trash every other day.”

Ambril fingered the flower Riley had carved for her, which she wore on a leather band around her wrist. She had to admit she had a soft spot for him. Lately he’d been too busy to notice her. Tiana Twee sashayed by and winked at Ygg. Ygg squirmed, but he didn’t seem to mind. Ambril sighed. It always made her day when Riley looked her way. But that happened less and less.

It rained until just after school. Though it was early spring, it still felt like winter. At the gazebo, they polished off Mrs. Sweetgum’s homemade bread, wedges of cheese and cookies. Ambril leaned back and admired the well tended garden. There were still rough spots where wilderness raged, but parts of it looked quite genteel, thanks to the gnomes. A cool breeze made Ambril draw her sweatshirt close; more thunderclouds were forming over the mountains. “What’s the big surprise, Sully?”

Looking like a three year old on Christmas morning, Sully whipped out a clear plastic box. “We need to find Hendoeth so I found a remedy in the Astarte and came up with this.” The box was full of a grainy, gray powder.

“Yeah, so?” Ygg squinted at it dubiously.

Looking a little deflated, Sully opened the box and held it out, “look again.” When Ambril looked closer, she noticed hundreds of tiny sparks exploding on its surface, like miniature solar flares.

“It’s flying powder.”

Ambril was impressed. “How’d you make it?”

“You know those mad scientist labs in old horror movies, the kind with bubbling goo connected with curling tubes and stuff?”

“Yeah!?”

Sully blew up her bangs. “It wasn’t anything like that. It was just a lot of grinding and pounding.” She preened like a proud mom at a talent show. “If we fly over the forest, we can spot Fowlclun and not have to fight off a single demon.”

It was Ambril’s turn to look dubious. Sully’s last experiment had turned Ygg’s face blue, and had made her hair spark for an entire week. “But we’ll be spotted.”

Sully grinned, “Relax. When we’re ready, we’ll slip over the Wall by the lake, where no one except your sea monster will see us.” Sully was making fun of the time Ambril had bumped into a sea monster in the Derwyn Lake and had set a new world’s record for fastest dog paddle. “We’ll just float around the gazebo today.”

“You tested it, right?” Ygg asked.

“It’s safer than training wheels. Take your shoes off.” Sully’s smile faded when she saw them hesitate. “If you don’t want to try it, you can just watch.”

That did it for Ambril. Who ever wanted to just sit and watch? “I’m in.” She took her shoes off.

“Earth-kind want to be keeping their feet on the ground.” Ygg frowned, but he took his shoes off anyway.

Sully ladled a heaping spoonful of gray powder into each shoe. “I thought if we put it inside our shoes instead of on top, like the book says, it might last longer.” A sharp gust of wind made Sully pause before putting the powder in the last shoe. “This is what you need for a sprightly sail.”

“That’s what the Astarte be saying?” Ygg peered into his shoe.

“Do you really think I could make that up?”

They put on their shoes again, though Ygg left his laces untied. As they stood up, Ambril braced for what was to happen, because usually things went wrong at that point. They waited, and waited. After five minutes, Sully’s face had gone from elation to dejection. “Maybe we didn’t use enough.”

As Sully sprinkled more powder on their shoes, Ambril’s toes started to tingle. She was just beginning to hope things might not go sideways, when a wild gust of wind came through, blew most of the powder out of the box and swirled it around them. It got up their noses, in their eyes and made their clothes itchy.

“Too much, Sully!” Ygg sneezed.

“As if I meant this to happen!” Sully rubbed her eyes.

Then things really got going.

“I—I be feeling funny.” Ygg took a step then amazingly jetted off the steps and bumped into the top of the gazebo. He was anything but pleased. “Ouch!”

Ambril was sneezing too hard to notice. The tingling stopped and she felt lighter, all of a sudden, like a dust mote on a summer afternoon. She couldn’t keep the smile from her face when her toes lifted off the ground. Sully hovered next her, grinning hugely.

As often happens, the wondrous moment whirled to an end. “Isn’t this incredible? I feel like dandelion fluff—” Sully began, but the wind cut her off. It howled around the gazebo like a hungry wolf, sweeping Ambril and Sully away with it. Ygg grabbed a vine, but it broke in his hands, and he too was blown across the lake after them.

Ambril gained a healthy respect for dust motes as she tumbled, in a dizzying whirl, and screamed herself hoarse. When the nausea hit her, she curled into a ball.

“Cross your legs!” still tumbling, Ambril looked over and saw Sully sitting on the wind as if it were a magic carpet. “Only go slow, no sudden moves.”

Ambril stuck her feet straight out and found herself rocketing backward until she rammed into Ygg.

He grabbed her and held on tight. “Thanks, I would have lost me lunch in another half second.”

Ambril wasn’t about to say how close she’d come to that too. “Sully said to cross your legs!” Ambril yelled and took her own advice. Ygg tried but ended up with his feet pointing straight down. They rocketed upward. “No, like you’re in kindergarten, sitting on the floor!” Ambril worried they might end up on the moon or tunneling down to China before he got it right. After shooting off to the side, plummeting downward, and spiraling sideways, Ygg managed to cross his legs.

They now floated high above Trelawnyd. The ground looked to be a long, painful way down. Birds flew below, eyeing them suspiciously. Ambril looped her arm firmly through Ygg’s so they wouldn’t lose each other if they jetted off sideways again.

Ygg shut his eyes. “Let me know when we be on the ground.”

Sully bobbed up next to them and linked with Ygg’s other arm. “Here, I’ll tow you back.” She tilted one of her shoes slightly, to one side, until all three were moving sedately through the sky. Trelawnyd lay below them. Ambril could see the stately, sloping roof of the library, and the stores along Main Street. Betula’s roof had several gables, whereas Dogwood Market’s roof was so flat, someone had even set out a lawn chair. The town looked entirely different from above. Fortunately, no one thought to look up at them.

Sully pointed out something below. “There’s the school. Look how big it is, especially the front corner near the entrance—see?”

Ambril did see. The front corner had been squared off with brick, but a rounded dome poked through the top, disguised by a fake roof. It all looked perfectly normal from the ground as the dome could only be seen from the air. “Isn’t that where the janitor’s closet is?”

“Well I’ll be fried up and served with sprouts, you be right.” Ygg’s curiosity had forced him to open one eye. “There might be something special about that room after all.”

“I’ll believe that when I see it. I’m hoping I don’t because that’ll be just before they haul us off to jail. Very touchy security on that room.” Sully frowned. “Isn’t that Breccia?”

A woman marched across the parking lot like a battleship on its way to war. There was no mistaking her stride. Ms. Breccia plowed between the cars to the dumpster where she stopped and looked around. Deputy Skarn stepped out from behind a towering stack of soon-to-be recycled spelling tests and they began talking.

“We have to get closer to hear this.”

“Does it mean we be getting closer to the ground?” Ygg asked, before shutting his eyes.

“Don’t get your hopes up, it’s only temporary. We still have to find Hendoeth.”

Ambril hesitated. She felt too exposed. They’d be lassoed and hauled off to their execution if Breccia happened to glanced up.

Sully seemed to hear her thoughts, “Relax, We’ll hide behind that tree.”

Ygg groaned as they steadily descended until they hovered behind a magnificent redwood tree near the dumpster. An old crow flapped onto a nearby branch and eyed them with interest.

Sounds of cows in distress stampeded through her brain. This is madness. You know I can’t help you if you come down anywhere outside the Wall. A depression in the air near her shoulder twitched.

As if I want to do that. I’ve heard stories about that forest.

Because I told them to you. fLit snorted, then he streaked off.

It turned out they didn’t need to get any closer. Ms. Breccia boomed loud enough to be heard in the next town, “That doesn’t do me any good. Who cares if he wears plaid boxers and listens to jazz? I wear them myself!” Then she continued in a low voice, “I need real dirt to fix him. Now, if you had told me he puts on a tutu and dances every full moon, then—”

Skarn shook his head. “Sorry M’am, I haven’t found out anything I can prove. You do have to prove it, right?”

Ms. Breccia looked as if she was on the fence about this. “Keep digging. Pinwydden is in the way. We have to shove him aside so a true order can be put in place.”

It sounded as if Breccia was planning a coup at the school so she could put her more creative forms of punishment to work.

“What makes you think they’ll pick you to replace him?”

Ms. Breccia smiled like a tiger that had just finished off a couple of antelopes. “Several members of the school board owe me favors.”

Skarn nodded appreciatively.

“Now go find something I can use to get Pinny fired! Remember, you help me and I’ll help you.” Ms. Breccia’s helmet-like hair didn’t budge when she nodded.

Then everything got a little too quiet. Ambril knew they were pressing their luck. “Let’s get out of here.”

Sully dutifully engineered a gentle getaway over the school roof. They had almost cleared it when Breccia turned. Ambril believed the redwood tree must still have camouflaged most of them, but Breccia must have caught sight of something odd. She bellowed, “what the—”

Several things happened at once. The crow, which had watched them all with interest, suddenly took a fancy to Breccia’s shiny hair. It launched itself, talons extended, straight at her Breccia’s head. Then it tried lifting the crazed teacher up by the scalp. Breccia screeched like a barn owl and batted the black bird with her fleshy palms. But the bird hung on. Skarn ran to her aid but only succeeded in tipping a pile of spelling tests over them both.

The commotion forced Ygg to open his eyes. His eyes boggled when he saw how far off the ground they were and went rigid with his legs out straight in front of him. The three of them rocketed backward. Ambril watched the Wall whiz by as she and Sully tried unsuccessfully to re-cross Ygg’s legs. They got one leg tucked, just to have the other shoot out in another direction. Finally, they managed to pry his shoes off and came to a stop, but not until they were miles into the forest and hadn’t the slightest idea which direction they had come from. Everything looked strange.

Ygg sagged between them. Sully yanked his arm. “This flying thing is tough enough without you going critical. There are so many variables: wind currents, air temperature, rain...”

Ygg was staring at something above them. “What happens when things get wet?”

“According to the Astarte, Flying Powder stops working when it gets wet.”

Ambril froze. A monster thundercloud loomed over them. “I think we’re about to be hit by a monster variable. Let’s get out of here!”

But it was too late. The cloud was already upon them. It engulfed them in a freezing, whirling blanket of rain.

“Hang on!” Sully sounded flat, as if she was yelling into a pillow.

In seconds, Ambril’s sweatshirt was soaked by sleet and rain. She shivered. Mist swirled around them, making it hard to tell up from down. She gritted her teeth to keep them from chattering as a bolt of lightning snaked under her nose and was followed by an ominous thunderclap. The hair on the back of her neck prickled.

“I be getting a sinking feeling this nought be ending well.” Ygg said, as another bolt of lightning zinged past them.

Ambril discovered they really were sinking. Slowly at first, but seconds later, they fell out of the sky like short-circuited missiles.

“It’s gonna be rough!” shouted Ygg.

The wind whooshed past them as they entered the forest canopy. Slick branches whipped past Ambril as she tumbled and flipped, end over end. Fortunately, the branches broke her fall. She reached out to grab one but it slipped through her fingers, so she grabbed for another and then another. When she finally came to a stop, she was surprised to be alive.

“Sully? Ygg?” She was hoarse, probably from the screaming she hadn’t known she’d been doing. Her hands were raw from grabbing at the branches. She found she was halfway up a giant redwood tree. Fortunately, its ladder-like limbs made it easy to slip from branch to branch to the ground. She thumped down on a mound of redwood needles and found herself looking into Ygg’s upside down face.

“I be killing her if she nought be dead already,” he said with conviction. “Help me?”

He was tightly tangled in a vine, hanging from a branch like a spider’s bedtime snack. Ambril found a sharp stone and sawed through the vines until Ygg slipped to the ground.

He got shakily to his feet, looking like he hurt all over. Ambril could relate to that.

“You know where we be, don’t ya?” Ygg groused as he looked around. “We be outside the Wall.”

Ambril’s hand went to the Ledrith Glain around her neck. Inside the Trelawnyd Wall, she felt almost safe. But out beyond the Wall, she wondered if her medallion might become a homing beacon to all dark magic creatures. If so, it was only a question of time before she’d become some creature’s catch of the day.

Ygg seemed to feel the same way about the forest as he studied the gloom around them. “We be having to get back to Trelawnyd, right quick.”

“Where’s Sully? We can’t leave without her.”

Ygg grunted, as if he blamed Sully for their disastrous afternoon, which, of course, he had a right to do. “SULLY!” they yelled in unison. The soft sigh of the wind was the only response.

A predator screeched eerily above them. “Where are you?” They stumbled away from the redwood tree, calling as they went. Then Ygg cocked his head. “Hear that? it be from over there.” Ygg pointed toward a bright spot through the trees.

“Over here!” Ambril heard the faint reply. Relieved, they limped over and found a clearing. Sully stumbled toward them. As they left the shadowy forest, shafts of sunlight made the spring grass dance, which made them all feel better.

Sully’s pants were ripped and her forehead was scratched. “I bounced off a redwood, slid down a eucalyptus, then rolled until I hit something hard with this.” Sully patted her head gingerly. “Where the heck are we?”

Ygg growled, “We be in a magical forest, which be filled with critters who are nought too picky about who they be eating for supper. This be all your fault!”

“My fault? If you hadn’t lost your cool we would have been fine!”

While Ygg and Sully argued about whose fault it was that they were lost in a forest where the Jabberwocky might actually roam, Ambril tried to figure out their next move. Standing in the clearing, she felt like she was wearing an EAT ME, EAT ME sign. First off, they needed to take cover.

Ambril grabbed her friends and tugged them toward the trees. “Guys, right now we have to find a place to hide.” Still arguing, Sully and Ygg let her drag them to safety. But it didn’t take long for the forest to live up to its reputation. Half way across the clearing, they felt, rather than heard, the distant thump of something large moving through the forest. It sounded like a hungry, hairy predator was on the move. Above them, a gigantic hawk circled. Ambril didn’t give it much thought until a frizz of magic made her realize the hawk was no ordinary raptor. She knew her day had gone critical when she reached for her Ashera, but came up empty. Without it, her medallion was useless, as she had no way of controlling it. Her only means of protection was tucked in her backpack back at the gazebo. So when a stabbing cold flooded Ambril with pain, she could only double over and let a blizzard-like fog blot out everything in her mind.

A pair of gray, cruel eyes blinked into focus. You owe me, came a voice as cruel as the eyes. You took them and you must pay. The giant hawk screeched through her mind, as well as over the forest. She fought against it and lurched to her feet.

“Ambril?” Sully was shaking her.

With effort, she said hoarsely, “Run! get under those trees. It’s your only chance!” She stumbled forward, knowing they were easy pickings for the demonic bird. Worse, heavy thumps and snapping branches signaled that another huge beast was coming for them.

Bigger than a tow truck, the bird broke into a dead man’s dive, overhead. Its beak reached out, as it drew in its wings and gathered speed. Cold blanketed Ambril once more, fuzzing her mind and making it hard to think. The other beast’s thumping footsteps were on top of her now. As had happened many times recently, Ambril thought this would be the end. But the giant foot, which boomed down inches from her, was actually of the chicken variety. A familiar caw rolled through the forest like a tsunami.

Ambril looked up, in time to see the hawk ram into Fowlclun’s chimney. “You git back to whar you belong!” came a scrappy voice. “If it warn’t for my trick elbow, I’d take ya over my knee, you flea bitten old crow!” Hendoeth hooted, then said in a more normal tone, “Err—sorry, Sid, no offense.”

“None taken.”

“Vamoose, ya yellow bellied old coot! You’ve no business here!”

An injured screech was followed by a snap of light. Ambril felt the predator slip away sideways. Feathers floated around her as Ygg and Sully raced up.

“Yowza, even I could feel how much that hawk hated you.” Sully’s eyes were wide.

Fowlclun squatted over his yellow chicken feet and brought his house shaped body to the ground. Hendoeth, her many braids flapping in the breeze, stood astride her front porch, decked out in a big grin and red cowboy boots. “My, there ain’t nothing like sparring with an old enemy to git the blood flowing agin!” She crowed, then she put her hands on her hips and glared. “Just whatcha doin’ out here? Didn’t I tell you to stay inside the Wall?”

Ambril shrugged. “Something’s wrong. We had to find you. We tried hollering, but it didn’t work.”

“We were taking care of some unpleasantness out past Chert. That’s probably why we didn’t hear ya.” Hendoeth still looked like a hurricane about to happen, but after looking them up and down she softened. “We better get you outta here, right quick. We’ll talk while Fowlclun takes you back home.” She turned to the door, but halted in front of a pile of beaming junk, which blocked the doorway.

“We came as soon as we could.” Quill piped up, quivering her feathers. Her eyes beamed from her glossy body, shaped like a pen.

“And lost another tea cup along the way.” Brolly rattled his umbrella ribs and shook his parrot head handle.

“At least this time we saw some action.” Jute, a piece of string, had knotted himself into a face splitting grin.

Parch, short for Parchment, had folded himself into an origami hawk, in honor of the occasion, but he had gotten too excited and didn’t look where he was going. He missed the door opening, crashed into the doorframe and crumpled. Jute quickly knotted into two hands and clapped wildly.

“Give our guests some room now,” groused Hendoeth. Brolly and Quill pegged off while Parch hastily refolded himself into a paper airplane with Jute attached to a wing, knotted into a spyglass.

“We’re going out to investigate.”

“No ya don’t. We have to git these youngsters back home, pronto.” Parch’s paper wings crinkled, but he obediently banked and glided back into the living house. Jute made loud farting noises to show his displeasure. Hendoeth ignored them as she smoothed her wildly colored skirt and strode inside. A fire burned brightly under a burbling kettle as Ambril sank gratefully into an overstuffed chair.

Sully smiled nervously at the rafters. “You clean up well, Fowlclun.”

It dawned on Ambril that Sully and Ygg had only seen Fowlclun, the one and only chicken legged house, in his haunted house costume. His feathery walls were back to buttery yellow and his hearth had been scrubbed until it shone. Hendoeth read her mind. “It sure took a lot of elbow grease.” She jerked her thumb at Jute. “It’s a lucky thing Jute’s so handy.”

Jute knotted himself into sixteen hands and made sixteen rude gestures. “Isn’t it?”

Sid, a tall Indian man with a hooked nose nodded. “I’ll be off then, back to the Archives.” He slid through the door, and was away, before Ambril could say goodbye.

Hendoeth smirked, “You should thank him someday. He helped sound the alarm that you’d gone over the Wall.”

“How’d he know?” Ambril asked. “We didn’t tell anyone.”

Hendoeth winked. “Sid’s got a lot more to him than shows.”