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Jennifer Scales and the Messenger of Light

MaryJanice Davidson

  “A truly wonderful read…this is one series that earns its place in any keeper shelf.”

  —ParaNormal Romance Reviews

  “A book to ignite the senses…The plot is original, the characters charming, and the dialogue enchanting and engaging…If you like dragons, mystical creatures, secret societies, and reading about the things that go bump in the night, this is definitely a book for you.”

  —Romance Reviews Today

  “Amazing!…Wonderful…The characters are well crafted and believable…You will love the witty dialogue.”

  —Roundtable Reviews

  “Lighthearted…with a regular laundry list of preternatural creatures…strong story line and humorous touches.

  —Monsters and Critics

  “The writing…rolls right along, interesting and imaginative. The dialogue is witty and sharp, and the characters and world setup are great to read. Fun for all ages, this writing duo has hooked me into this series.”

  —The Romance Reader’s Connection

  Praise for

  Jennifer Scales and the Ancient Furnace

  “A wonderfully funny read!…A thoroughly engaging and captivating story.”

  —ParaNormal Romance Reviews

  “A good, entertaining story filled with some intriguing turns and surprises…giv[es] off a Buffyesque vibe. Jennifer is a good, strong character with a lot of potential, and I look forward to future offerings in this series.”

  —SF Site


  The Silver Moon Elm

  Titles by MaryJanice Davidson

  Undead and Unwed

  Undead and Unemployed

  Undead and Unappreciated

  Undead and Unreturnable

  Undead and Unpopular

  Undead and Uneasy

  Derik’s Bane

  Sleeping with the Fishes


  Cravings (with Laurell K. Hamilton, Rebecca York, and Eileen Wilks)

  Bite (with Laurell K. Hamilton, Charlaine Harris, Angela Knight, and Vickie Taylor)

  Dead and Loving It

  Mysteria (with P. C. Cast, Gena Showalter, and Susan Grant)

  Demon’s Delight (with Emma Holly, Vickie Taylor, and Catherine Spangler)


  by MaryJanice Davidson and Anthony Alongi

  Jennifer Scales and the Ancient Furnace

  Jennifer Scales and the Messenger of Light

  The Silver Moon Elm: A Jennifer Scales Novel

  Jennifer Scales and the Messenger of Light

  MaryJanice Davidson and Anthony Alongi


  Published by the Penguin Group

  Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

  375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014, USA

  Penguin Group (Canada), 90 Eglinton Avenue East, Suite 700, Toronto, Ontario M4P 2Y3, Canada

  (a division of Pearson Penguin Canada Inc.)

  Penguin Books Ltd., 80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England

  Penguin Group Ireland, 25 St. Stephen’s Green, Dublin 2, Ireland (a division of Penguin Books Ltd.)

  Penguin Group (Australia), 250 Camberwell Road, Camberwell, Victoria 3124, Australia

  (a division of Pearson Australia Group Pty. Ltd.)

  Penguin Books India Pvt. Ltd., 11 Community Centre, Panchsheel Park, New Delhi—110 017, India

  Penguin Group (NZ), 67 Apollo Drive, Rosedale, North Shore 0745, Auckland, New Zealand

  (a division of Pearson New Zealand Ltd.)

  Penguin Books (South Africa) (Pty.) Ltd., 24 Sturdee Avenue, Rosebank, Johannesburg 2196, South Africa

  Penguin Books Ltd., Registered Offices: 80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England

  This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the authors’ imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental. The publisher does not have any control over and does not assume any responsibility for author or third-party websites or their content.


  An Ace Book / published by arrangement with the authors

  Copyright © 2006 by MaryJanice Davidson Alongi and Anthony Alongi.

  Cover art by Keith Birdsong.

  Cover design by Lesley Worrell.

  All rights reserved.

  No part of this book may be reproduced, scanned, or distributed in any printed or electronic form without permission. Please do not participate in or encourage piracy of copyrighted materials in violation of the author’s rights. Purchase only authorized editions.

  For information, address: The Berkley Publishing Group,

  a division of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.,

  375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014.

  ISBN: 978-1-1012-0860-1


  Ace Books are published by The Berkley Publishing Group,

  a division of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.,

  375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014.

  ACE and the “A” design are trademarks belonging to Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

  For Liam,

  who is always nice to his sister.





  The Return from Crescent Valley


  The Best Man’s Funeral


  Aunt Tavia


  Catherine’s First Hunt


  A Blaze of Dragons


  Logic Puzzles


  Another Dimension’s Child


  The Elder’s Funeral


  The Beaststalker Trial




  The Halloween Dance




  Evangelos and the Beaststalker






  No Love


  Evangelos Exposed


  Sibling Rivalry


  The Return to Crescent Valley





  The entire subterranean town of Coober Pedy was dark and quiet when the monster came.

  Coober Pedy, self-described opal capital of the world, was a unique place in the world. This opal mining community in south-central Australia evolved partly underground so that the original miners would be sheltered from the brutal elements of the outback desert. With many homes, churches, and even shops underground, the township drew a modest number of tourists every year.

  But there was no one near, above or below ground, when the portal opened. It was evening, and too far from town for anyone to see.

  Near the Dog Fence built long ago by European settlers to keep dingoes at bay, an unusually bright crescent moon shone down upon the vast expanse of rocky plains. High above this otherworldly, cracked-stone landscape, a fiery rift appeared in midair with a sizzle. The tear gaped for a moment, revealing a world beyond far darker than the twilit sky. Then the beast emerged.

  Blackness surrounded its head and body. Only six spindly legs and two long, narrow, tattered wings pierced the darkness. The limbs str
etched and clawed at the air outside the portal it had created, and then pulled the rest of the shadow through. A tail with a scythelike tip slipped through the rift, and then the portal snapped shut soundlessly.

  There was no one around for miles, the thing realized as it hovered in midair. Was this the right place?

  It was close. Without sight, sound, or even scent, it could nevertheless feel the beginning of everything. It was just a short flight away.

  Once it found the trail, it would be able to pull in more thoughts and memories. Not just those twisted inside its own mind—but of others across time and space. It had taught itself this skill where it grew up. Where you learned quickly or died.

  It had been alone when it was younger, and easy prey. Now it was still alone, but as a hunter.

  Tattered wings flapped, and the shadow rose to eclipse the moon. It followed the trail of memory north, wings and limbs raging against the thick air of this world. From unseen jaws, a silent howl let loose in a strange tongue, a single word that no one else could hear or understand.



  The Return from Crescent Valley

  “That place is so amazing!”

  “I’m glad you like it, ace.”

  Jennifer Scales flew over the surface of the lake on bright blue dragon wings, letting a hind claw skim the water’s surface. The crescent moon slipped away under the horizon and gave way to the morning sun. “I can’t wait to go back again!”

  Jonathan Scales chuckled at his daughter’s enthusiasm, silver eyes aglow and indigo features proud. “That’s the third time you’ve been there in the past two months! It may be a while before we can find time to get there again, with school starting and all.”

  “I suppose. Soccer season’s already—”

  “Uh-oh.” They were coming up to the shore of the lake now, and could make out the large cabin and farm where Jennifer’s grandfather lived. But it was not Crawford Thomas Scales waiting for them alone on the north lawn.

  It was a beaststalker. Beaststalkers were the mortal enemies of weredragons like Jennifer, Jonathan, and Crawford. Unlike weredragons, they did not change shape every crescent moon, but kept their skills and prowess with lethal weapons poised each and every day.

  This beaststalker had its sword out and stared at the two dragons with an inscrutable expression as they increased their speed to meet her. Blonde hair swept over cold emerald eyes and a tight frown.

  “Your mother looks pretty annoyed.”

  “You didn’t tell her again?” Jennifer could not hide the dismay in her voice. “You said you had asked her if we could go!”

  “Well…technically…she wasn’t around when I asked. So I left her a note.”

  “Daaad! That never works! She doesn’t just get angry at you, you know.”

  “Easy, ace.” Her father grinned. “It’ll burn off fast once we’re back. Just let me handle this.”

  They reached the shore and touched gently upon the ground. Jonathan strode right up to his wife on his hind legs, stretched his wings out in a welcoming hug, and began to speak.

  “Liz, honey…”

  Before he could get another word out, Dr. Elizabeth Georges-Scales stepped past her husband with lightning speed and shoved him over her leg. With a gasp of smoke the winged beast found himself flat on his back, breath knocked out of him.

  “I’ll deal with you later. You.” She pointed right at Jennifer and spoke in calm but clipped tones. “You should know better. I expect this sort of stunt from this idiot. But not you.”

  “Mom, he told me—”

  “Oh, he tells me stuff every day! ‘I mowed the lawn, honey!’ ‘My dirty socks aren’t strewn all over the living room floor, honey!’ ‘I have a brain, honey!’ I still double-check. And so should you. If you haven’t learned that about him after fifteen years, you’re not as bright as your teachers insist you are.”

  “Okay, Mom. But there’s still time this weekend for beaststalker training!”

  Elizabeth raised her voice. “You had all last year to practice flipping your tail and flapping your wings…”

  “—you know it’s more than—”

  “…I asked for just one thing from you this year. Focus! That’s all. Focus!”

  “That’s all?”

  “And instead, you go off to your secret hideaway, on the moon or wherever. As if I’d know, because your father won’t even tell me…”

  “—we’re not allowed to—”

  “…and of all the weekends to go! I had planned a surprise for you!” The harsh, clipped tones were gone now. Jennifer could see her mother straining to keep her composure. Dr. Georges-Scales almost never cried—the only time she had done so was last spring, when her family had been in severe danger. But her jade eyes betrayed a bit of moisture.

  Although she still felt most—if not all—of the mess was her dad’s doing, Jennifer instantly gave in at the sight of those watery eyes. “I’m sorry, Mom.” Deflated, she flexed her muscles and shifted back into human form, a teenaged girl with platinum blonde hair, gray eyes, and wiry limbs. As the new incarnation of the legendary Ancient Furnace, she was the only weredragon anyone knew who could change back and forth at will. “No more dragon shape, until next crescent moon. I promise.”

  After a short sniffle, Elizabeth allowed a tight smile. “Thank you. We should have a short training session this morning, assuming you’re up for it. Then, I’d like to give you your birthday present.”

  “My present? But September just started. My birthday’s not for another seventeen days!”

  “I received it earlier than expected. I wanted to surprise you. You know, do something nice for you, if your father has no objection.”

  She delivered this last line with a fierce kick to the pale belly of the miserable creature at her feet. With a short oomph, Jonathan rolled over and sputtered, “Sorry, Elizabeth darling…”

  “Not yet, you’re not. Jennifer dear, go on inside. Your father and I will finish this conversation in private.”

  “No, Jennifer…don’t go…” Jonathan reached out weakly with a wing claw as his daughter callously abandoned him on the crisp lawn. He was torn between pain and laughter. “Oh, you ungrateful wretch…it’s the beaststalker in you! That’s it—you’re grounded!”

  “Don’t stomp your foot, dear. This isn’t like pulling a rattlesnake out of the ground.”

  “I know, Mom.”

  “You’ve ‘known’ for months. But that hasn’t helped. Perhaps another trip to your little dragon theme park would help? Or perhaps not…”

  “Get off my back!”

  “Okay, sure. I’ll get off your back. And you can fight your battles with a swarm of hapless pygmy owls for the rest of your days.”

  “Oh, for crying out—”

  “It will be stuff of legends. The Ancient Furnace and her trusty band of miniraptors. All field mice will know and fear your name—”

  “Okay, Mom, I get it.”

  Jennifer glared at her mother with fierce gray eyes. Elizabeth returned an even, emerald gaze. Neither of them moved for several moments.

  Jonathan, back in human form now with the end of the crescent moon, watched from the safety of the deck chair on the backyard porch. He cradled Geddy, Jennifer’s pet gecko, in his left palm while stroking the lizard’s green and red markings with his right thumb. Phoebe, the family’s black collie-shepherd mix, lolled by his feet. Like both animals, he kept his mouth shut.

  Jennifer finally adjusted her tanned leather jerkin, raised a rusty, secondhand sword from her mom’s college days, and attempted a deep breath.

  “Tighter grip.”

  Jennifer gritted her teeth, but the point of her sword came up a bit.

  “Deeper breath.”

  The resulting hiss was a bit heavier than necessary.


  Jennifer spun around and made a circle high in the air with the point of her sword. It began to glow dimly. In a single, practiced mo
ve, she flipped the sword point-down and jammed the tip into the earth right in front of her.

  Out of the dirt popped a black-and-gray spotted pygmy owl. It gave a hoot, fluttered over to the backyard porch, and settled down on the railing—at the end of a long line of tiny owls just like it, except all snowy white.

  “Well,” sighed Elizabeth, “at least you got a different color.”

  “I hate this!” Jennifer plunged her sword hilt-deep into the cool turf.

  “Don’t do that, it’s bad for the bl—”

  “Why don’t we just go inside already? I’ll never get it right.”

  “Honey, birdcalling is not an easy—”

  “That bird sucks! The other birds suck! This sword sucks! I suck!”

  “Jennifer, that’s simply not true.”

  “Which one?”

  Elizabeth paused. “Well, you certainly do not suck. The rest is up for debate.”

  Her daughter seized the opportunity. “It’s this sword!” She kicked the hilt where it stuck out of the ground. “This thing’s a disaster! What did you do, leave it in the rain the whole time you attended medical school?”

  “The sword is fine for training purposes.”

  Even Elizabeth herself didn’t seem entirely convinced by that, but Jennifer was ignoring her anyway. “And why do I have to learn all this stuff, anyway? I can fight like a dragon when I need to fight! See?”

  In less than a second, she was back in her dragon shape, a shimmering blue-winged lizard with silver accents, a severe nose horn, and a long spike at the end of her double-pronged tail. She continued her rant.

  “This stuff, I’m good at! I can breathe fire! I can disappear with camouflage! I can tear stuff with my claws! I can shock things with my tail!” She pounded the ground with her tail, sending bits of turf sailing. “But best of all—” She finished by punctuating her words with stomps of a heavy hind claw. “—I can summon any…lizard…I…want!”