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The Horn of Moran

M. L. Forman

  © 2011 Mark L. Forman.

  All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any means without permission in writing from the publisher, Shadow Mountain®. The views expressed herein are the responsibility of the author and do not necessarily represent the position of Shadow Mountain.

  Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

  Forman, Mark, 1964–

  The Horn of Moran / M.L. Forman.

  p. cm.— (Adventurers wanted ; bk. 2)

  Summary: Sixteen-year-old wizard-in-training Alex Taylor and his band of fellow adventurers battle a goblin army, navigate an enchanted forest, and try to solve the sphinx’s riddle in their quest to find the lost Horn of Moran and return it to Alusia before the nation erupts in war.

  ISBN 978-1-60641-226-8 (hardbound : alk. paper)

  [1. Fantasy. 2. Adventure and adventurers—Fiction. 3. Wizards—Fiction. 4. Magic—Fiction. 5. Orphans—Fiction.] I. Title.

  PZ7.F7653Ho 2011

  [Fic]—dc22 2010037531

  Printed in the United States of America

  R. R. Donnelley, Crawfordsville, IN

  10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1

  For Daniel, who makes every day an adventure

  Table of Contents


  Wizard in Training

  The Adventure Begins



  Two Weddings

  The Second Bag

  Goblins and Elf Blades



  Centaurs’ Woods

  The First Gate

  The Tower of the Moon



  Otho’s Wish


  Back to the Wall

  The Horn of Moran

  A Wizard’s Staff

  A New Beginning

  Reading Guide


  There are a lot of people who deserve special thanks for making this story happen, especially the fans who insisted that it be published and who sent me letters and e-mails and posted on my blog. My thanks to you all.

  Also, I want to thank my friends at Shadow Mountain who worked long and hard to make this book happen.

  First on the list is Lisa Mangum, my editor. She’s the one who makes me look like I know what I’m doing when I write. She keeps the story on track even when I wander off and basically cleans up the many little messes that I make. I may go crazy when I first see the edits, but I’m always glad that Lisa is there to fix things.

  Special thanks to Chris Schoebinger, my go-to guy at Shadow Mountain. I’m sure he has a fancy job title, but in the end he’s the guy who gets things done and makes all of this possible. Thanks to him for all the time and energy he’s put into this story.

  Credit should also be given to illustrator Brandon Dorman, whose outstanding work creates a face for the story and helps bring the words to life.

  Special credit goes to Richard Erickson, Art Director. He puts it all together and helps makes the book shine. I’m not sure how he does it, but I’m glad he does.

  And to those I’ve missed mentioning, know that I remember you in my heart.

  And finally, a few words of motivation from Sir Winston Churchill that have helped keep me going when, from time to time, it all seemed hopeless:

  “Never give up. Never, never give up.”

  Chapter One

  Wizard in Training

  A cool breeze stirred the curtain by the open window. Alex watched the slow, swaying movement of the cloth for a moment before forcing his tired mind to focus. Standing up with some difficulty, he stretched, then turned off the lamp on the table he used as a desk. It had been a long day, but as tired as he was, Alex didn’t want to sleep.

  “Foolish,” Alex said as he moved toward his bed.

  It was foolish not to sleep, foolish not to let his body rest. There was nothing to fear, not here at home. He knew his dreams—even his nightmares—might be important, but he didn’t know what, if anything, they meant.

  “The dreams won’t come tonight,” Alex told himself as he dropped onto his bed.

  He only half-believed his own words. The dreams had been random, waking him at least once a week. The last one had been only three days before, and Alex hoped for an uneventful night. Reaching out, Alex turned off the light beside his bed. He let himself relax, clearing his mind of worries, and slowly let sleep take him.

  Almost immediately, Alex found himself walking along a familiar, narrow, dark corridor. Shadows danced in the flickering light of the few torches that were hanging from the walls, creating the illusion of movement. For a moment Alex felt that he was inside some living thing, the walls moving around him like some giant creature was breathing. But the dream was entirely silent, and that troubled him.

  He knew where he was—this dimly lit corridor had haunted his dreams for months—and he knew where he had to go. Slowly Alex started forward, following the line of torches deeper into the unknown. He walked for what felt like hours, and with each step the silence pressed a little closer, making it harder for him to breathe.

  Eventually, a chamber appeared in front of him just as it always did, empty except for an enormous mirror in the center of the room. Reluctantly Alex moved toward the mirror, afraid of what it would show him yet knowing he would look anyway. A reflection appeared slowly, as if it, too, was afraid to look out of the mirror.

  This time, though, it wasn’t a single image that appeared in front of him, but two. Alex’s breath caught in his throat, and he had to force himself to breathe. The two images were both of him, but one image was true, reflecting him as he was, while the other image was different, an older version of Alex. After a moment the two reflections separated, the older to the left side of the mirror, the younger disappearing to the right, out of his line of sight.

  Alex stepped closer to the mirror, trying to see where the images had gone, but the surface was blank. He lifted his hand, and as he touched the mirror, the glass rippled like water under his fingers. Without thinking he pushed himself through the liquid surface of the mirror. As he stepped through, he discovered that the mirror was still in front of him, but now he was surrounded by other mirrors as well.

  Panic clawed at the back of Alex’s mind, but he couldn’t run, he could only turn and look into the mirrors around him. Most were empty, reflecting only darkness back at him, but two mirrors held images of himself. On his left, the older Alex walked slowly away. To his right, his true reflection looked back at him.

  Alex faced his true reflection and reached out to touch the mirror. His hand passed through the watery surface, and at his touch all the mirrors around him collapsed, the water dropping to the stone floor and vanishing into the cracks.

  Doors appeared on either side of the chamber, and a large double door seemed to emerge out of the floor at the far end.

  Alex moved to the middle of the room. Standing with his eyes partly closed, he listened for any sound, anything that would help him understand why he was there or know what to do next. A cold breeze blew across his face. It came from the direction of the double doors, and he took it as a sign. He moved to the doorway, reaching out for the glimmering, gold doorknob. Then he stopped, his hand shaking slightly. He could feel evil and hate waiting behind the doors. Not just waiting, waiting for him.

  Alex froze. He didn’t want to know what was behind those doors, and yet a sudden need filled him, an urgency and the knowledge that time was running out. He feared whatever was waiting for him behind the doors, but something in his mind told him that he had to face his fears. He had to confront the evil that was waiting for him. If he turned back now—if he gave in to his fear�
�then his future would vanish like the water from the mirrors. It took all the strength he had to lift his hand and push open the doors.

  Everything went dark as he moved through the doorway, and his feet found only emptiness. Alex tumbled into the darkness, his voice screaming that it wasn’t fair, anger and frustration racing through his mind. Laughter answered his protests, a laughter that filled his mind with rage and his bones with ice. There were no answers here; there was only the laughter and the endless falling into darkness.

  Alex woke with a start.

  For a moment he was lost, and then he had to fight to get free of his blankets. Alex fumbled with the lamp beside his bed, knocking things over in his hurry to turn on the light. Finally, feeling panicked that he was really still asleep, the light came on.

  Rubbing his eyes, Alex twisted around and sat on the edge of his bed. He glanced at the clock on the wall and saw that it was 4:30 a.m. For a minute he sat there, looking around the room, making sure that he wasn’t in another dream.

  Staggering to his feet, Alex moved to his desk. He dropped into the swivel chair, turned on the lamp, and pulled a large notepad toward him. Checking his calendar, he scribbled the date on the notepad, followed by the time. For a long moment he paused, and then he slowly started to write everything he could remember about the nightmare he’d just had.

  * * *

  Alexander Taylor was not what he appeared to be. Most people thought Alex was a normal sixteen-year-old boy, but they were wrong. Alex was—among other things—an adventurer.

  Six months ago, Alex had indeed been what people expected him to be: normal. But that had all changed when he had accidentally wandered into the adventure shop belonging to Mr. Cornelius Clutter. After entering Mr. Clutter’s shop, Alex had become part of a great adventure, and that experience had changed everything he thought he knew. While on his adventure he had learned all kinds of new things, but perhaps the strangest thing of all was that he had learned he was an untrained wizard.

  When Alex had come home from his first adventure—on the same afternoon that he had left—he was shocked to learn that his stepfather, Mr. Roberts, knew all about adventures and magic. Not only that, but Mr. Roberts told Alex that his father had been an adventurer as well.

  That had been six long months ago, and almost everything in Alex’s life had changed. His stepbrother, Todd, had gone off to college, and Alex no longer had to wash dishes or help in the kitchen, or even clean up once the customers at the tavern had left. In fact, the only things Alex really had to do were study and practice magic.

  Learning magic sometimes required open spaces in order to keep things from getting out of hand. Alex smiled as he remembered the first time he’d tried to summon a magical wind. He’d ended up blowing everything in his old bedroom into a giant mess. To make things easier for Alex, and to help prevent problems like the mess in his bedroom, Mr. Roberts had cleared the third floor of the tavern and given the space entirely to his stepson.

  This morning Alex was grateful for the privacy. He leaned back in his chair and reviewed the details he had written down about his dream. His teacher, Whalen Vankin, had told Alex that the dreams he was having might be warnings. “Dreams are often more than they appear to be,” Whalen had said in his letters. “As your power grows, you will have many dreams, and many nightmares. You would be wise to pay attention to both.”

  Alex wondered when he would be able to meet the great wizard face to face. Whalen was perhaps the greatest wizard alive, and he had agreed to take Alex as his apprentice. Unfortunately, Whalen was currently on an adventure of his own, so Alex was stuck at home waiting, learning magic by magical mail.

  Whalen had sent Alex several books about magic—some of which could only be read by moonlight—and several small magical objects as well. He had also sent a letter instructing Alex about what he should do and what he should try to learn. Whalen had warned him not to join any more adventures, at least not until they had met in person.

  Alex was learning a lot, but he hated waiting for a new adventure. It was hard for him to imagine what was taking Whalen so long. And apart from waiting, there were other things that annoyed him. Though his first adventure had taken a year and a half, he’d come home as his fifteen-year-old self. He wasn’t as strong as he remembered being, or as tall, or anything else. He felt trapped in his own small, weak body.

  Being smaller and weaker than he remembered wasn’t the worst thing about being home. What really annoyed him was the way people treated him. On his adventure, Alex had been treated as an equal. His fellow adventurers were always willing to listen to his opinions and ideas. Here, at home, there were few people who even pretended to listen to a sixteen-year-old. Some people would smile politely and nod, but if anything that was more frustrating than the people who simply ignored him.

  Alex tried hard to push his frustrations away, but it wasn’t always easy. He often found himself becoming angry for almost no reason at all. Whalen had warned him it would be hard to control his emotions—anger most of all—and Alex was working hard to keep his emotions from running away with him.

  Sighing, Alex realized he wasn’t going to be able to go back to sleep. At least not for a while. Pushing aside the notepad, he reached for his magic bag and whispered into the top. As soon as he had finished speaking, a second magic bag appeared in his hand, a bag that had once belonged to his father. Setting his own bag aside, he whispered the password that would allow him to enter his father’s bag.

  After returning home from his first adventure, Alex had spent a lot of time searching the bag and, with Mr. Roberts to answer his questions, he felt like he was finally getting to know his father.

  There were the things he’d expected to find in his father’s bag: stored food, a bedroom, clothes, a treasure room that was at least as large as his own, and lots of other things that adventurers would find helpful or useful. But then there were the things he had not expected to find. His father had a surprisingly large library, sculptures of different creatures, maps of places Alex had never heard of or even read about, a kitchen big enough to cook for a hundred people, and a room that was set up like a blacksmith shop.

  “Your father was a gifted smith,” Mr. Roberts had said when Alex had questioned him about the workroom. “He won lots of awards for the weapons and armor he made. He also made all kinds of jewelry—rings, necklaces, brooches, and such. Never sold any of it as far as I know; he used to give the pretty things away to friends, or sometimes to people who helped him on an adventure.”

  Once inside the bag, Alex headed directly for the workroom. Whalen had suggested, more than once, that he find a hobby; something to take his mind off waiting. Something that had nothing at all to do with magic. Making things with his hands, not with magic, seemed like a perfect hobby. There were plenty of books in the workroom to get him started, as well as piles of his father’s notes.

  Alex was walking past the large stone dragon statue that stood next to the workroom door, when he noticed something he was sure he had never seen before. A golden chain was dangling from the dragon’s mouth.

  Curious, he looked at the chain for a minute, wondering where it had come from. He could feel magic near the dragon’s head, an old spell with little power. He’d never felt magic like that before, so he carefully reached out and touched the chain. Nothing happened. He pulled gently on the chain, ready to let go of it if he felt the magic change, and he heard something move inside the dragon’s mouth. As the chain moved inch by inch, the mouth of the dragon slowly opened. A pendant attached to the chain dropped out of the dragon’s mouth where a rolled-up piece of paper now appeared.

  Slowly Alex reached for the paper, half afraid that the mouth would snap shut on his hand, or worse, close before he could get the paper out. The dragon’s jaws didn’t move, and the old magic he had felt was fading, its purpose fulfilled. Carefully unrolling the paper, his jaw dropped open as he started to read.

  My son,

  I cannot tell yo
u all that I would wish in this short note. I have left this pendant for you, not to wear, but to study. The ancient symbol on the pendant is an important one, with great meaning to those who know what it is. All I can say is that you may freely trust any person who wears this symbol or a pendant like this one. Do not wear this pendant yourself, but remember it. Do not ask questions about the symbol unless you meet a person who wears it. I hope, in time, that you will learn more and understand why I cannot explain more to you.