War of Kings and Monsters by Christopher Keene. In a world beyond the reach of humans live the monstrous Melkai. But the spell that holds them back is weakening. In order to restore the barrier, Nathan embarks on a quest to find the missing piece of an ancient and powerful artifact…
Nathan sat at his bedroom desk, nosing through a heavy tome. At this stage of his studies, he knew most of what there was to know about first-circle Melkai, but given the wide variety of second-circle Melkai, he had to constantly brush up on them. The bloated tome depicted the stupidly large second-circle Melkai, matching the monsters from the other world with animals that inhabited his own.
Although supposedly above his reading level, at fifteen, Nathan found the book only mildly challenging, mostly because he took the wisdom it contained with a grain of salt. From his experience, men who wrote such large books got out from behind their walls as rarely as he did. The author seemed to be pulling descriptions out of his rear end. Even so, drawn in by the detailed pictures and colorful descriptions, Nathan took pleasure in being a voyeur into the dangers of the world outside the castle walls while still being safe and sound behind them.
Flipping back through the section showing the smaller and weaker first-circle Melkai, he saw that many of them were still much larger than his own, though he doubted any of them would be as loyal as Taiba, his little friend from that other world.
He stretched a hand out toward his bed. “Hey, come out here.”
A small blue reptile, no larger than a gecko, rushed out from his sheets, jumped onto his hand, then climbed into the folds of his hood. The Melkai deemed that part of him not only the best vantage point to observe their surroundings, but also the best place to nestle down in if he became too cold. After spending three years with the curious creature, Taiba had become his closest confidant, and he was fond of feeling his cool tail coil loosely around his neck above his chain necklace. He reached up absentmindedly to pat Taiba’s head in the place he knew his friend liked best.
There was a loud knock at the door, and they both jumped in surprise.
“Nathan, your presence is needed,” Master Morrow called from the other side.
“Don’t tell me another apprentice has tried to make a pact with a Melkai in his room again.”
“Worse. You have been summoned to the throne room. Best not keep the king waiting.”
Nathan squeezed his eyes shut and cursed under his breath. Although he often saw the king on his usual walks through the castle, Nathan had only been in the throne room a few times: once when he had first arrived and several times when he and the prince had gotten caught making trouble together as children, usually for exploring forbidden places in the castle.
His master continued with further knocking. “Nathan, hurry up now!”
“Okay, okay! I’m coming!”
He opened his door to find Morrow, the Master of Pacts, waiting for him in the sunlit hallway, a grave expression on his wizened, bearded face that belied his usual jovial nature.
“Come on.” Morrow strode down the hallway, his long robes billowing behind him.
Nathan hurried after him but glanced back at his bedroom door, yearning for his lost comfort. As had been his routine for the last four years, he’d stayed up late last night sitting through one of Morrow’s lectures and didn’t want to start yawning in front of the king.
“Being called on like this . . . it’s a bit unusual.” Nathan jogged to keep up with his teacher’s long gait. “Does this mean lectures are canceled for today?”
Morrow ignored his question. “Over the last several nights, our court astronomers have noticed a red hue on the moon’s horizon. Since then, that sliver of red has become a thin crescent. According to the Kairen texts, this is meant to signal a warning that one of the Kairen’s ancient spells is weakening. We have less than one month before it breaks entirely.”
I’ll take that as a no on today’s lectures.
Morrow didn’t answer him.
“Wait, you’re not talking about the barrier to the Melkairen, are you?”
The Melkairen was the world containing the Melkai. So long as they were trapped within that world, they were limited to their spirit forms until a caller bound them to a pact item. But if the barrier between the worlds were to go down, the Melkai would roam freely, endangering all they came across. If Morrow’s lessons were anything to go by, few if any were as friendly as Taiba.
Morrow gave an almost imperceptible nod but only said, “Best leave your questions for the king.”
A Bite of… Christopher Keene
(1) If someone fell into your world from our own, what advice would you give them?
Depends where you land. If you land in the eastern kingdom, pretend you’re a soldier. If you land in the western kingdom, pretend you’re foreign royalty.
(2) How has writing changed you?
(3) Coffee cake or chocolate cake and why?
Christopher Keene is the New Zealand author of the Dream State Saga, a five-book sci-fi series that’s part of the exploding LitRPG (Literary Role Playing Game) genre. He is also the author of The Midnight Queen, the conclusion to the Super Dungeon Series, and various other fantasy books inspired by ideas and media covered on his blog. You can also find him on Facebook and Twitter.