I hope you guys like this episode. I had to get up early to take the pictures and go outside into the thirty degree morning with nothing to keep me warm except for a gray sweatshirt. My fingers went numb.
I freaked out after that before I realized that it was just a cracked, abandoned road. It certainly didn’t look like it was hiding a fantastical ancient city.
“So, Peter, where’s this lost city?” I asked my guide, looking around. The road was surrounded by vast plains of grass that stretched to the horizon. As far as I could tell, the city wasn’t anywhere close.
Turns out, you can only get into the city at a certain time of day. How convenient! We had all the time in the world just to sit around and wait. With nothing else to do, I lied back on the ground and got some much-needed sleep, baking in the autumn sun.
Sometime later, Peter shook me awake. She pointed at the road, which was crisscrossed with shadows. “It’s time.”
She scampered over to the one of the fence posts that lined the path. Peter shoved a rock at its base aside with her foot. The rock had covered a hole; she reached into it and pulled out a sword. The blade was silver, with bronze and gold accents on the handle.
Gripping the sword tightly, she strode back to me and faced the road with a grim expression. “Arm yourself,” she advised, “and step carefully.”
I grabbed a pointed piece of wood, simply because I was afraid of what Peter might do with that sword she was waving around. She started down the road, but I called out to her, “Peter. Tell me.”
It was weird enough that she knew about my family’s situation, and where we could eat on our journey to the Road — but knowing that it had to be a specific time of day to enter the city? And having a weapon hidden on the side of a neglected street? I’d put up with her mysterious behavior for long enough, and now I needed to know what was going on.
Peter stopped and glanced back at me. “What?” she asked innocently, but worry was etched across her face.
“How do you know so much about Pamel?” I demanded, marching up to her with my stick raised. “How do you know?”
She shook her head, staring at the ground. Then she continued walking along. I had no choice but to follow her.
She slowed down as she neared the first shadow that was cast on the path. “Beware the Marks,” she murmured to herself. Her fingers tighten around the handle of the sword and she regarded the shadow with a wary expression. Then she stepped directly into the darkness.
A monster appeared out of nowhere. It had cracked skin the color of eggnog, but the skin on its feet and face were black and reptilian.
I screamed as it charged at us like a bull. “What is that thing?!” I shrieked as I dodged out of the beast’s way.
“It’s an ianua!” she shouted back. (Pronounced i-AN-u-a) “One of the gatekeepers of Pamel.”
“Well, your ianu-whatever is going to kill both of us if we don’t do something soon!” I hollered, dashing to the left as the ianua threw itself at me again.
Peter leaped at the monster and slammed the butt of her sword into its stomach. It cried out in pain — a horrid, raspy sound — and swiped its hand at my guide. They tussled while I danced around them and called the ianua names.
The beast raked its claws across Peter’s shoulder, and she caught its arm with her blade. They went back and forth like that until Peter decided she’d had enough.
With one powerful blow, she shoved the pommel of her sword into the ianua’s gut and sent it flying. It crashed into the fence bordering the path and slumped against the post. As we watched, its reptilian face started disintegrating into dust. Soon the ferocious monster was nothing but a pile of beige powder, being whisked away by the wind.
Once my heartbeat began to return to normal, I studied Peter. She was pretty beat up, with scratches and bruises and a stream of blood trickling from her temple, but she didn’t look like she was in pain. She simply smeared the blood on her forehead and said, “Let’s keep going.”
I gazed wearily at the road. Were there going to be more monsters, more beasts trying to end us? I really hoped not, but with my luck, there probably was.
“Are there more ianuas?” I asked.
Peter gestured at the shadows on the road. “You see that, Devin? Each and every one of those shadows has a monster hiding in it. The shadows, they’re called the Marks, and the monsters are gatekeepers. Their job is to keep people away from Pamel. Since the city fell, no one has stepped inside. But we — we, Devin East, you and I, we’re going to.”
She had a way with words, I thought, as we hesitantly approached the second Mark. Gripping my makeshift sword so hard that my knuckles turned white, I set one foot inside the shadow. Peter mimicked my movements, and, waiting for the gatekeeper to appear, her words flashed through my brain: But we — we, Devin East, you and I, we’re going to. And it was then that I knew we were going to find Pamel’s treasure, I knew that my mom and I would be OK, and I knew that Peter had my back.
No one had ever had my back before.
I’d be lying if I said it didn’t feel nice.
An olive-green snake flickered to life before us. It wasn’t an ordinary snake, of course: it had to be colossal, its head bigger than my hand. The serpent’s nasty forked tongue slid out of it’s mouth, and it hissed at us.
I hate snakes. I’d found the slippery things hiding in the corners of musty apartments more than once, and seeing a giant form of one of my worst fears was simply terrifying. It could probably taste my fear, so I tried not to think about it, but it slithered toward me anyway.
I was frozen in fear. The snake grinned at me — a horrible smile, with the remains of past victims stuck in its razor-sharp teeth — and its tail crawled up my leg. The serpent’s tail continued to climb up my body until it had wrapped itself around my leg and and the hand that was clutching my stick.
“Do something,” I rasped, petrified.
Peter exploded into action, swiping at its tail with her sword. Hissing, the snake released me and wriggled toward Peter.
Although I knew it was a stupid idea, I yelled at the giant snake to get its attention. Its head snapped back toward me, and, while the monster was preoccupied, Peter launched herself at it and grabbed it, right below the head. The snake thrashed around in pain, trying to throw Peter off, but she held on, and after a few more seconds, the serpent, like the ianua, dissolved.
I rubbed my hand where the the snake’s scaly skin had touched it. A bright red, itchy rash was forming there.
We fought in silence as we traveled down the road. As Peter had told me, each Mark was booby-trapped with a monster: ianuas, huge snakes, and other frightening beasts.
Hours later, an ianua, much larger than the rest, turned into dust at our feet. I instinctively headed for the next Mark, but I found no more shadows; we had traveled down the Road to Pamel without being killed.
I turned to Peter. “Now what?” I said.
She was studying the design on her sword’s handle. “Devin,” she started cautiously. “I have something to tell you.”
“My . . . my last name isn’t Marsley. It’s Gates. I’m a Gatekeeper. My family has been guarding Pamel since the day it fell. You know the prophecy?
The streets of Pamel, in darkness they lay,
Will be discovered again one day.
A young hero, a lonely soul,
Will find the light within the walls of old.
That prophecy — it’s about you, Devin! You are the hero. And together, we’re going to find the treasure and bring life back to Pamel.”
I stared at her blankly. Peter was a Gatekeeper . . . I was the hero the legend talked about . . . I felt like my head was going to explode. It was way too much to take in.
Thankfully, I didn’t have to say anything. Peter faced the fence and raised her arms above her head, like she was waving at someone. “Gatekeepers!” she intoned. “The day has come. Open the gates!”
The section of fence in front of us turned into a swirling vortex of white light. Peter grabbed my hand and we jumped into it.