The object which shielded Demona for centuries is broken, the Path is fading, and the Guardians are in hiding.
When Ria finds her way to this new world of music and magyc by helping the Guardian Cedar Jal escape his prison between worlds, she is drawn into his struggle, and discovers she may be the answer the Guardians need.
Cedar doesn’t want Ria to be the one named and fated to die in the Prophecy, but what if she is their only hope to defeat the Sorcerer, rekindle the Path, and save Demona?
Fans of J. R. R. Tolkien, Christopher Paolini, and Terry Brooks will enjoy this epic fantasy saga!
Targeted Age Group:: 12+
Heat/Violence Level: Heat Level 2 – PG
What Inspired You to Write Your Book?
I love fantasy – the first book I ever read was the Enchanted Wood by Enid Blyton. I was inspired to write this particular fantasy tale while I was visiting a friend's apartment, and as I was walking through the hallway of the building, I heard music from somewhere up ahead. Thus, Ria and the Guardians' story was born.
How Did You Come up With Your Characters?
I started with the idea of a somewhat lonely girl who finds solace in music, and the mysterious man she meets when she hears this beautiful song coming through the walls of her apartment building. The other Guardians all just appeared in my mind – I don't think they match anyone in my life. The princess, the Witch, and the assassin are all named after three Italian women I knew, but their personalities are their own.
The fights always started the same way; a sudden chill, a soft rumbling and then an explosion like a late-summer thunderstorm. They were at it again.
Twelve-year-old Ria tried to ignore them, concentrating instead on the book in front of her and the music coming through her headphones.
Deep, deep down in the place Ria only visited in dreams, she knew something was wrong, and if she could only find some way to pull everything together and put it back where it belonged, things would be right again. Maybe they would stop fighting about what they always ended up fighting about, even if it wasn’t what they’d started fighting about. Namely, Ria.
Through the chorus of Picking Up the Pieces by City of Light, Ria could hear them.
“…that’s twice she’s refused to go to the session this week, Richard. It isn’t healthy to be so alone all the time…”
That wasn’t true. She had friends at school, Billy Friedman and Miranda Orlo. She ate lunch with them every day, did science projects and art assignments with them. There was the elderly Italian gentleman in 182 she visited every Saturday – he would make foods he called spaghettini alla puttanesca and fettuccine verde con mascarpone and she would read the newspaper to him. And there was always her dad. Ria knew he tried so hard.
It wasn’t that she was being difficult on purpose, it was just that sometimes it was hard to manage her two skins. One was the person they wanted her to be and the other was who she really was. The first was just too tight to fit into comfortably, and made Ria feel as though she were suffocating. Ria hoped that one day they would all believe her when she told them that she wasn’t lonely, it was just better for her to be alone. Yes, she missed her mother; no, she didn’t dwell on death. Her father believed her, Ria knew, but there was always someone else, the step-mother, the school counselor, even the well-meaning lady with the shrill voice in number 196.
One day they’ll believe me.
Ria sat on her bed with her headphones on, a book filled with the tales of wizards and valiant warriors lying on her lap, and she squinted at the paragraph blurring in front of her. She swiped the back of her hand across her eyes and focused on the page. The Queen’s handmaiden was about to reveal the truth and the secret of her powers to the young prince.
Something thudded against the wall behind Ria and despite her resolve she jumped. She closed the book with a snap and tossed it on her pillow. The fate of the prince was going to have to wait. Turning up the volume of the music had proved to be just as futile as trying to read. Ria sighed. The air in the apartment was stale and charged with negative energy. It was time for her to leave. Some fresh air would do her good.
She pulled on the pair of shoes that sat under her bed for easy grabbing and stuffed her iPod into the pocket of her jeans. Walking to the bedroom door, Ria held her breath as she grabbed the handle as though it might bite her and turned it. She pulled the door open a crack and peered through with one eye.
Through the dying notes of the song she could hear shouting. She wished the band would hurry up with the outro and get on with the next song. She crept down the short hallway, pointedly turning her head from the light pouring out of the kitchen. Still, Ria couldn’t help but see her father and step-mother out of the corner of her eye, anger twisting their faces into people she did not recognize, their words punctuated with sweeping gestures and curses.
Ria grabbed her purple jacket from the hook behind the door and let herself out of the apartment. She dismissed the idea of leaving a note before it had fully formed. It wasn’t as if they would even notice. The thought was bitter, and it left a similar taste in the back of her throat as she closed the door behind her. The tarnished 192 on the door glared down at her, seeming to admonish her for the uncharitable thought.
Smelling of litter box and cigarette smoke, with water spots adorning the ceiling like old bruises and the too-narrow carpet worn through, the hallway was in no better shape than the apartment. Ria tapped her fingers along the pitted wall in time to the music as she walked. At the top of the dark stairway in the middle of the hall Ria paused and decided she didn’t really feel like going outside after all.
She continued down the hallway to the very end, which was dim and stuffy. Passing the last door, she took several more steps and settled down in the corner under a window which had not been cleaned in some time. The layer of grime blocked most of the light and gave the little that managed to slip through a thick, sticky quality that blunted the corners of everything it touched, making the world soft and distant.
Ria liked that. It was quiet and no one would come here to disturb her. Drawing her knees up to her chest, she closed her eyes and let her head fall back. The wall was hard and unyielding, comfortably solid behind her back. As she sang along under her breath, her troubles melted away into the music. It made her feel better when she sang and her head moved a little in time to the song, one of the Silver Knockers originals called Trapped Between Worlds. In the safe space marked by the boundaries of sound, Ria let her thoughts wander.
They wandered down a familiar path, well worn by their little thought-feet. What would life be like if her mother hadn’t died? Would it be different now, more like it was then, not lacking some basic necessity which had no name yet was as vital as oxygen to a beating heart? It was always at this point that Ria reached the constant impasse, her thoughts faltering and freezing up as she tried to puzzle out what it was that was missing, her mental feet stuck in a sucking morass which she couldn’t move beyond. Tears welled up behind her eyelids as she fought to get free of the consuming thought.
Little by little, Ria became aware of something else, something which pulled her thoughts out and into the real world again. Holy Fire by Demons in Disguise syncopated through her headphones, but it was only in the silence after the song ended that she heard the foreign melody that vibrated through her.
Ria listened hard, cocking her head to better pinpoint where the sound was coming from. When the next song on her iPod started with a crash of drums and power-chords Ria almost fainted with fright. She ripped the headphones from her ears and sat in the dimness, her heart pounding, the song a faint buzz coming from her lap. She slowly turned the volume down and listened again. In the emptiness, Ria realized she had heard nothing. Instead, the melody was there, flowing around and through her soundlessly.
Ria stood and clutched her headphones tightly as she looked around. The thin walls of the apartment building made it painfully easy to hear anything and everything, and to know exactly where it was coming from. The sounds of yelling and fists being slammed on tables coming from the direction of number 192 intruded in a rude manner and Ria felt her concentration slip.
The music seemed to come from directly around or maybe a little above Ria’s own head, which did not help her pinpoint the source of the ethereal strains of the song. She was distracted again, this time by what appeared to be a door which floated in front of her eyes, but disappeared the instant she focused on it.
Only after squinting for several moments at the spot where it had been did Ria see the shape of a door in front of her where there certainly was not supposed to be a door. The door moved back and forth, moving closer and then farther away. It looked old. No, it felt old, as though countless thousands had come through to what awaited on the other side. Ria’s skin tingled.
The door was as difficult to place as the music. It looked to be in the wall, but not part of it, or it could have been behind the wall and visible through it. When Ria reached out to touch it, all she came into contact with was the rough, pitted and slightly greasy wall of the apartment building, but at the exact moment that her fingers brushed the wall, the door gave an excited little jump towards her.
For the briefest second, the door came into focus; a pattern of gilded leaves ran down the left side, shining against the warm wood, the grain making mysterious shapes and faces, the ornate golden handle pleading to be turned.
The instant Ria withdrew her hand, however, the door fell back to its semi-there state, floating somewhere it could be seen but not touched. Ria bit her lip. This is precisely the type of thing which gets people into trouble and mixed up with things that they should never be involved with, she thought. At least in books.
But, Ria reasoned, everything turns out alright for them.
Things like that don’t happen here anymore, a prudent voice said meanly. Nothing turns out alright here.
Ria ignored the advice and put her hand against the wall. The door leapt forward again. She willed it closer and, like a shape rising from the depths of the ocean, it began to solidify out of the wall.
Most of those shapes have teeth, prudence warned and the door sank back a little into the shadows.
Shut up, Ria thought. “You don’t have to be so negative all the time,” she added aloud.
The door responded immediately to the sound of her voice and surged forward. Whatever had been holding it back fell away like a blanket being flung off but the door refused to come all the way. Ria had the distinct impression that it could sense her fear.
“Come on come on come on come-on-come-on, a little bit more,” Ria coaxed the door. She used the same voice that she used on the shy rabbits which hid in the bushes along the path outside, and just like one of the creatures, the door crept forward.
Pulling it out felt like dragging a wagon with no wheels uphill and Ria stood tense, every muscle in her body trembling, sweat beading on her temple, oblivious to all else but the door. A last heave sent Ria falling back to crash against the wall behind her. In the opposite wall the door now stood, firmly there and beckoning her to open it. At last, Ria could pinpoint the source of the music. Haunting notes slipped from behind the door, flowing like fresh water, painting the world in silver and diamond.
Her chest heaving, Ria gazed at the door wide-eyed and slowly righted herself. The door looked as though it had come out of a fairytale. The wood of the door was polished to a golden gleam, and it did not belong with the other chipped, pale green doors in the apartment hall. She touched it lightly, delighting in the soft warmth under her hand. She thought that her hand should leave an imprint, but when she pulled away, there was nothing.
Ria hesitated for a long moment, debating with herself as the music tugged at her. One part of her said that she should walk away and leave it, another part knew that it was right to surrender to that beautiful melody. Ria swayed to the music, her fingers tapping the rhythm on her thigh. She looked down the corridor once, her eyes flicking past the door of the apartment she had fled, and the song made up her mind.
Biting her lip, the melody resonating pleasantly in her chest, Ria knocked, a sharp rap with her knuckles that sounded too loud in the empty corridor. Immediately the melody ceased, the silence shattering the fragile veneer the melody had given the world into a thousand crystal shards. It made Ria feel strangely lost. From behind the door came sounds of scurrying, a series of bumps, and then silence.
Ria waited and as the silence grew, she became impatient. She knocked again, then reached out and turned the handle. The door swung outward. Ria took an automatic step back, and looked up to find a man staring down at her with a quizzical expression in his startling eyes.
A slim man of slightly greater than average height, he leaned with one hand against the frame as he looked down at her without moving. A strange blue light from the room behind him bent around his frame in soft rays. Midnight hair stood haphazardly in oiled spikes atop his head and gold eyes gazed at her with unveiled curiosity. He wore a black shirt, unbuttoned at the throat, along with dark grey slacks and a black leather belt with a gold buckle. Shiny Italian-looking shoes adorned his feet. His full lips twitched in a half-smile as he regarded her for a long moment before speaking.
“May I help you?” he asked with a courtesy practiced only by storybook knights and well-bred young men in English romances.
Ria didn’t have any sort of plan in mind after knocking; she had not really been expecting anyone to answer.
“I…I…” she stammered as she groped for a place to begin an explanation.
Her eyes darted to the room behind him, through the odd blue light and to something in the corner. An ornate acoustic guitar leaned against the arm of a reddish sofa that sat against the wall.
“You were the one playing!” Ria exclaimed, her eyes lighting up as they devoured the curves of the instrument.
The man’s extraordinary eyes flicked over his shoulder to the guitar, and his smile widened.
“So you did feel me playing?” he asked, straightening with a jerk. “I wondered. Did you bring the Door?”
“I’m not sure,” she answered.
Something was strange about what he’d said, but Ria couldn’t put her finger on it. The guitar was beautiful, gleaming chocolate, bronze and silver. Ria fancied she could still hear crystal notes dancing through the air, but that was impossible because no one was playing the guitar.
“So you didn’t call the Door?”
“No,” Ria said. “No, I don’t think so.”
“I see.” The look he gave her pierced deep into layers Ria kept hidden from sight. “Won’t you come in then?”
“No, I don’t think so,” she said again, all training about strangers making her cautious.
“Of course,” he said, looking disappointed. He put his hand in his pocket and nodded at the wires in her hand. Very faint strains of a rock song came from the headphones. “What are you listening to?”
She looked down. The white wire was almost invisible against her clenched hand, and though the song was faint, it was so familiar she knew it instantly. “Um…this is Supernatural Eyes by Castaway.”
He looked nonplussed.
“They’re an Indie band,” she said and shrugged a little self-consciously.
Something about him made Ria need to perform her best and be of use. Why she wanted his approval, Ria couldn’t say. He nodded, but Ria had the feeling it was only because he had no idea what else to do and not because she had provided information he needed. Her shoulders sagged, his disappointment infecting her.
“You like music?” he asked.
She nodded, perking up. Music helped her to forget her troubles and sometimes, at least in her mind, it seemed as though it could do more, if only she knew how to use it. Ria had never voiced this thought to anyone and she certainly was not going to tell a stranger she’d just met, but something in the man’s eyes made her think perhaps he knew nonetheless. Ria couldn’t help smiling at him and he smiled back, his eyes thoughtful and far away. Then he looked straight at her, his gaze as piercing as a sunbeam.
He must have seen something in her eyes, because he gave a sharp nod of his head and asked, “Would you tell me please, if there is anyone else about?”
Ria looked up the hallway. It was deserted. Looking back at him, she shook her head.
“I really think you’d better come in. It’s quite important.” He smiled as he spoke.
She looked down the hallway again and her eyes gravitated to the door of her apartment. Shadows moved in the square of light under the door and she could still hear them faintly. A sort of helpless sadness infused her. In its wake rose a reckless desire to leave her horribly topsy-turvy life all behind.
“Alright,” she said, steeling her twelve-year-old nerves and gathering all the courage she could muster.
He stood aside as she walked in. He smelled good, clean and fresh like soap and a spring morning.
“Won’t you close the Door behind you?” he asked.
She did. The door closed with a soft click, and the blue light in the room flickered and disappeared.
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