Peter and I stumbled out of the vortex. I glanced around, taking in my new surroundings: just clover, dirt, and more clover.
“Where are we?” I breathed.
“Pamel,” Peter told me in an awed voice. “I can’t believe I’m finally here! My whole life I’ve wanted to see the city . . . and now I’m here . . .”
I coughed. “So, um, what do we do now, Peter?”
She stared at me blankly. “I . . . I’m not really sure,” she admitted sheepishly. “The Gatekeepers told me that the hero of prophecy — you, Devin — would know what to do . . .”
I groaned and held my head. We had come all this way, and now Peter was telling me she didn’t know how to find the Treasure of Pamel?
“But I can show you where the prophecy was written,” Peter offered. “Maybe it will jump start your hero/treasure hunter sense or whatever.”
She pointed at a patch of dirt.
“This great prophecy was written in a little circle of dirt?” I scoffed, nevertheless stepping forward.
“The hut the poet lived in was burned down. Duh,” she said, like it was obvious.
“How do you know this stuff?” I inquired. “I thought you’d never been to Pamel before.”
“It just comes with being a Gatekeeper,” she explained. Then Peter wandered off a few feet, to give me some room.
I had no idea what to do. I didn’t feel like a great hero of prophecy — just a scared girl who was in danger of losing her home.
Mom, I thought longingly, I wish you were here.
Suddenly, I could hear my Mom’s cheery voice in my head, like she was right there beside me: Remember the saying in the East family? When in doubt, go east!
It was a dumb saying, but since I had nothing else, I turned my head east. And that’s when a glimmer of hope returned to me. Because I’d spotted something, a structure sitting in a huge, age-old tree. An ancient tree house.
“Peter, over there!” I shouted, pointing.
We sprinted to the tree house.
Peter placed her hand on an old, fraying rope ladder. It trembled beneath the slight weight of her hand. “This is the only way up,” she observed.
“Are you sure that will hold us?” I asked skeptically.
She grinned at me. “Only one way to find out.”
She stared to climb, laboriously heaving herself up one rung at a time. “Come on, Devin!” she called down to me.
Groaning, I tentatively wrapped my hand around one of the ropes. I stepped onto the bottom rung and began to climb.
Several minutes later, Peter and I, huffing, dragged ourselves into the tree house.
We glanced around. Moss-covered boards, dead leaves littering the ground, and several sun-bleached cushions in one corner.
I nodded my head at the cushions and raised an eyebrow.
“It was a little girl’s tree house,” Peter explained. “I guess she wanted a comfortable place to sit.
“So,” she continued, “do you know where the Treasure is? Your hero sense kicking in yet?”
I glanced around the tree house. There, a glare in the corner of my eye — I turned my head. Wedged into the bark of the tree trunk was the sparkling shape of something blue.
We dashed over to the tree.
Peter made a brace out of her fingers, and I stepped onto her hands, trying to pull myself up onto a low branch. I, unfortunately, didn’t have much experience climbing trees, so it was a bit harder than expected.
“Hurry up,” Peter grunted, her hands shaking under my weight. “I can’t hold you much longer.”
With a final grunt, I hauled myself onto the rough branch.
The blue thing was still a little ways over my head, so I had to shimmy up the trunk to reach it. My exhausted limbs were screaming in protest as I climbed, but I persevered, my fingers groping for the Treasure. Finally, in one last desperate lunge, I leapt up and jerked the Treasure from where it was wedged into the bark.
And promptly lost my grip on the tree and plummeted down.
I smacked against the tree house floor, the wind knocked out of me. As I lay there, struggling to get a breath, Peter knelt over me.
“Devin, get up!” she cried. “Oh, please . . . come on, get up . . .”
Weakly, I lifted my hand, uncurled my fingers, and showed her the Treasure. “I got it . . .” I wheezed.
I heard her gasp.
Peter helped me into a seated position, with my back against the tree. I handed her the Treasure, and she cupped it delicately in her hands.
“Wow,” she murmured, awed.
I grunted in agreement.
The Treasure of Pamel was an arctic-blue jewel, about the size of my fist. It glittered in the sunlight.
“This is worth . . . well, I don’t really know — it’s priceless,” Peter told me in a hushed voice. “You could literally buy the whole world with this thing. If it fell into the wrong hands, the results could be catastrophic.”
“Luckily, just little Devin East was the hero of the prophecy, not some scheming mastermind,” I joked.
She shot me a look, and I realized that this was not something to joke about.
We stood, and Peter pressed the jewel into my palm.
“You can save your home, Devin. You and your mom can live together in that apartment. Or you could buy a mansion; it’s up to you.
“But you need to keep the jewel safe, OK? Promise me.”
I swallowed. “I promise.”
Peter and I scrambled down the ladder. We raced back to the lost city of Pamel, where a vortex of light was waiting: a portal.
“Take us to Lemap!” Peter boomed at the portal.
It shone brighter, so bright that I had to shield my eyes. Peter took my hand, and, once again, we leapt into the light.
I thought you might like to know that I reached my word count goal on NaNoWriMo. :D 15,000 words!