Getting three baby dragons back home was just the beginning. Now Jaxon is on a mission to help all magical creatures from Dragons in a Bag! But things in the magical realm are more complicated than they seem in the fourth book in the critically acclaimed series.
With their new special abilities, Jaxon and his friends are not the ordinary kids they used to be. No longer destined to become a witch, Jax finds himself caught up in a secret plan involving the Guardian of Palmara’s mysterious twin brother, Ol-Korrok. As the ambassador to the realm of magic, Jax must convince Sis that magical creatures should be free to return to the human world.
But to reach Palmara, Jax and his friends must cross Ol-Korrok’s enchanted bridge connecting the two realms. Is Ol-Korrok really the ally he pretends to be? Or has Jax set in motion a plan that will endanger both realms?
It takes strength to build a bridge. But sometimes even the strongest bridges must be burned.
About the authors
Born in Canada, Zetta Elliott moved to Brooklyn in 1994 to pursue her PhD in American Studies at NYU. Her poetry has been published in several anthologies, and her plays have been staged in New York, Chicago, and Cleveland. Her essays have appeared in Horn Book Magazine, School Library Journal, and The Huffington Post. Her first picture book, Bird, won the Honor Award in Lee & Low Books' New Voices Contest; it was named Best of 2008 by Kirkus Reviews, a 2009 ALA Notable Children's Book, and BIRD won the Paterson Prize for Books for Young Readers. Elliott's first young adult novel, A Wish After Midnight, has been called "gripping," "a revelation...vivid, violent and impressive history." Ship of Souls was published in February 2012; it was included in Booklist's Top Ten Sci-fi/Fantasy Titles for Youth and was a finalist for the 2013 Phillis Wheatley Award. Her latest novel, THE DEEP, was released in November 2013. She has published several illustrated books under her own imprint, Rosetta Press. She currently lives in Brooklyn.
Learn more at: http://www.zettaelliott.com/
Excerpt: The Enchanted Bridge (by (author) Zetta Elliott; illustrated by Cherise Harris)
With fire, there is light.
With fire, there is heat.
The fire within us is ancient.
It has burned for thousands of years.
Our flames can unmake what was formed from hate.
Our ashes allow life to triumph over death.
Those who covet our power will try to seize it for themselves.
Our power must be protected,
for our power will save this world.
Everything happens all at once. I am falling. I am flailing. I am mired in a pool of tar. I am soaring among the stars.
When time is linear, one thing happens after another. When it’s not, things get messy!
I brought us here. I wanted to be a leader and my friends followed me to Cloud Gate in downtown Chicago. I have been given an important mission by the Supreme Council. I used to have another job, but now I am the ambassador who will convince the Guardian of Palmara to open the portals linking her realm to ours. I am going to free the magical creatures being held against their will. I failed as a witch’s apprentice, but I won’t fail again. Will I?
These thoughts swirl in my mind like a tempest--who I was, who I am, who I will become. I hear the fear and panic in my friends’ voices as the mirrored surface of the bean-shaped sculpture presses us to the ground. We are being flattened against the pavement. We are being sucked into a sticky blackness that stifles our screams. We are floating weightless in a distant galaxy. It can’t be happening all at once and yet . . . it is!
I feel frightened. I feel angry. I feel guilty. I led my friends straight into this trap, and I can’t do anything to help them.
My stomach sinks with the weight of my shame. Then it lurches as the giant silver bean starts to spin! The treacherous wizard Ol-Korrok cackles as we clamor for help.
“Ah, dear guests, you have finally arrived! I have waited for this day for a thousand years. Let me say it again: you . . . are . . . welcome!”
Suddenly, there is silence. The spinning sensation stops. I try to breathe, but it feels like my mouth--my entire body--is smothered by feathers. I think my eyes are open, but all I can see is a blackness so complete that it’s impossible to tell which way is up. I can’t see or hear my friends anymore, but I sense that they are close by. I reach for them, but my fingers only feel the softness of feathers. Then I hear the gentle voice I have heard so many times before in my dreams.
“Be patient, my son. We’re nearly there.”
He is not my father, and I am not his son. Beware the crow. I should have listened to that warning when I had the chance.
I take a deep breath and reach out once more, hoping to grab hold of something. To my surprise and relief, I think I see stars sparkling overhead. The nauseating sensation of everything happening all at once recedes. The blanket of feathers thins, and I think I feel solid ground under my body. Before long I’m able to stand.
I am here. This is now.
With my sight restored, I realize that I am alone. I call out the names of my friends. “Vik? Kenny? Kavi?”
The silence frightens me more than the darkness. I remember the phoenix and reach inside the pocket of my hoodie to make sure that it’s okay. It opens its eyes and looks around, clearly curious. Then it lifts itself into the black sky and starts to grow! The tiny bird that could fit in the palm of my hand spreads its wings and burns so bright I have to shield my eyes with my arm. It’s like a small sun radiating intense light and heat. Then a gust of wind sends the phoenix tumbling through space.
I look over my shoulder and see Ol-Korrok grinning as the golden bird--my last ally--disappears in the distance. He is dressed in a simple black robe tied loosely at his waist with a white sash. The stars above ring his bald head like a crown, but as he gazes down at me, Ol-Korrok almost seems . . . humble. Nothing like the flamboyant figure I met in Chicago or the jeering wizard who trapped us inside the bean.
Seeing the suspicion in my eyes, the wizard holds up a finger, and I wait just a couple of seconds as he transforms into the small black-and-white bird from the trial. The crow perches on my shoulder and says, “Perhaps you prefer this form. You like birds, don’t you, Jaxon?” Before I can answer, the wizard shifts again and stands beside me in his monkish black robe. Where the crow’s talons dug into my shoulder, I now feel the pressure of Ol-Korrok’s long fingers.
“What have you done with my friends?” I demand angrily.
“They are unharmed,” Ol-Korrok assures me. “I merely sent them ahead with a gentle nudge--as I just did with your remarkable phoenix. We’ll catch up with them eventually.”
I peer into the darkness and realize we are standing on a narrow clear surface. I would call it a bridge except that it doesn’t seem to link anything. The first time I traveled to the realm of magic, Ma was with me and I couldn’t see anything from inside the guardhouse that served as our transporter. When things went wrong and we wound up traveling back in time instead, Ma was there to use her witch powers to make things right. The next time I stepped inside a transporter, my grandfather was there to make sure we reached the magical realm. Now Ma’s back in Chicago and Trub is missing. Until I find my friends, I’ll have to deal with this wizard by myself.
“Palmara didn’t look like this before,” I say warily, missing the massive baobab trees I saw on my first visit.
Ol-Korrok nods. “That’s because we aren’t there yet. First, we have to cross this remarkable bridge that I built with nothing but grit, dedication, and, of course, a little enchantment.” The proud wizard pauses, and I realize this is my cue to compliment him on his achievement but I refuse to flatter him. Ol-Korrok clears his throat and continues. “I do apologize for the bumpy ride--this is a prototype, really. It still needs a few tweaks here and there.”
Somehow his embarrassment helps me to relax a little, and I let Ol-Korrok guide me along the invisible bridge. It feels like we’re strolling through the Milky Way. I’m still upset about being separated from my friends, but my curiosity is getting the better of me. “Are we in outer space?” I ask.
The wizard raises his arm and sweeps his hand across the glittering expanse of stars. “This . . . is Source.”
He lowers his arm and smiles patiently. “Everything comes from something. You and I, your friends, your realm and mine . . . all of it came from this. I wanted you to experience it for yourself so you would know just what it is we’re fighting for. Magic mustn’t be reduced to card tricks and silly potions. This majesty is the root of all things magical, Jax. This is the root of life.”
It’s pretty hard to hide the awe I feel as I walk along the enchanted bridge with Ol-Korrok. The terror I felt when entering Cloud Gate starts to feel like a distant memory. There are many questions I’d like to ask the wily wizard, but I remind myself that I am not on vacation. I have to think about the others, too. I embarked on this journey with my friends, and they’re still nowhere to be seen.
I start to walk faster, but Ol-Korrok tightens his grip on my shoulder, forcing me to match his leisurely pace. “There’s no rush.”
“I need to find my friends,” I insist. “They’re probably worried about me.”
“I doubt they’ve even noticed you’re missing,” Ol-Korrok replies. “By the time we reach them, only a few seconds will have passed since you last saw your traveling companions.” I give him a doubtful look, but the wizard just winks and adds, “Time is rather elastic here.”
I watch as Ol-Korrok plucks a star from the sky. When he releases it, the star shoots across the blackness as if launched from a slingshot. I squint to see if I can spot my friends up ahead, but there seems to be no end to the darkness.
“They’re there,” Ol-Korrok assures me, “even if you can’t see them. You and your friends share a unique bond. You can feel that they’re close, can’t you?”
He’s right--I can. The wizard speaks softly and without all the dramatic gestures that marked his performance before the Supreme Council. “Why did you send them ahead?” I ask with a little less hostility.
“So I could speak privately with you, of course! Your friends would have asked endless questions, which I’m happy to answer. But I suspect they’d rather receive their guidance from you. Some people just have the innate qualities of a leader, and that’s why others are drawn to them. Your friends depend on you, Jax--you know that.” When the wizard realizes he can’t charm me, he tries a different approach. “I suppose, if I’m honest, I’d have to admit that I didn’t want to have to share you with them! I’ve waited for this moment for a very long time.”
“You talked to me in my dreams.”
“I did,” he admits. “I just wanted to introduce myself, really. But now that we’re finally together, we can get to know each other better.”
I hate to admit it, but I am curious about Sis’s mysterious twin. “Blue already told me what happened to you,” I tell him. “Why did you change your name?”
The wizard sighs. “It’s a strange feeling when your reputation precedes you. Especially when you have a reputation like mine.”
“Seems like you’re famous--in Palmara, at least.”
“Infamous--that’s not quite the same thing,” he says. “But I haven’t answered your question: why did I change my name? When my sister banished me to the Forgotten Tower, she stripped me of most of my powers. You have no doubt seen her shape-shift.”
I nod, remembering how frightening Sis was when she arrived in Brooklyn as a huge dragon. The wizard smiles ruefully and says, “I, too, could transform myself into the fiercest dragon. But I found when I traveled among the people that a less intimidating form allowed me to observe without instilling fear in others. My favorite form was the pied crow. My cousins here in North America are black all over, but I chose a bird with white feathers. The Maasai in East Africa call such crows ol-korrok, after the sound the birds make. Soon they began to call me that as well, and the name stuck.”
Mama always told me it was disrespectful to call someone out of their name. I wonder if the once-powerful wizard minded having his name taken away from him.
Ol-Korrok responds as if he just read my mind: “In a way, I was grateful to have a name other than Ranadahy, which bound me to my sister and her cruel sentence for my supposed crime. Have you ever felt like people made up their minds about you before they even met you?”
“Sure,” I say without hesitation. “For a long time, people felt sorry for me. I wasn’t Jaxon the geography whiz. I was that boy who lost his father in a stupid car crash. And sometimes when Mama and I go shopping, the security guard watches us like we must be up to no good just because we’re Black.”
Ol-Korrok shakes his head. “It’s so unfair! I knew you’d understand. You know, Jax, it’s been a long time since I’ve had a friend. The Forgotten Tower is probably the loneliest place on earth. My only company was the birds that occasionally came to my window, but I couldn’t unburden my heart to them. The loneliness sat in my chest like a boulder, aching endlessly.”
I already know that Ol-Korrok is a talented performer, but right now he seems sincere. I’m actually starting to feel sorry for him. “Did Sis ever visit you?”
“Not once in a thousand years,” he replies dejectedly. “Nor did anyone else. The Forgotten Tower is aptly named. It no longer appears on maps of Palmara, and none remain who might remember the treacherous route to its locked door.”
“So . . . how did you escape?” I ask.
The wizard shrugs. “I was not as friendless as I imagined myself to be. When word reached me that my sister was losing support, I decided I must act. Not out of a desire for vengeance but in order to save the creatures I have only ever sought to protect.”
“If that’s true . . . then why did Sis banish you?”
Ol-Korrok clasps his hands behind his back and sighs heavily. “Exile has changed me, Jax, and shown me the error of my ways. I see now that my sister was right to punish me for jeopardizing the creatures in our care. I don’t blame her, really--not anymore.”
I must look surprised, because he laughs and says, “I’ve had a thousand years to forgive my sister. Was I angry when she first imprisoned me? Of course. And I remained bitter for a long time. But I could not deny the charges made against me.”
The wizard points at the dark sky overhead, and suddenly the stars start to arrange themselves in shifting scenes just like an Etch A Sketch! I listen to Ol-Korrok but keep my eyes up above as the glittering diamonds bring his story to life.
“I accepted an offer from a deceitful king in your world who craved power more than peace. When his fine promises turned out to be false, I felt ashamed that I had let my trusting nature blind me. I apologized for forging such an unwise alliance and even fought alongside my sister to dethrone the scoundrel. But Ranabavy would not be appeased. I could have challenged her--demanded a trial by combat. But I knew I could never hurt my beloved twin. So I accepted my sentence and bid farewell to all I knew and loved.”
I want to ask a hundred questions, but it would be rude to interrupt the wizard, so I swallow my curiosity for now.
“In time, I came to understand how fear operates,” he tells me. “It’s a powerful force, Jax. Fear has shaped our world in astonishing ways.”
I think about all the wars fought just because one group of people feared another. “Fear makes people irrational--and mean,” I say.