The Spider Gem

Taff Lovesey

The Spider Gem

Fantasy, Young Adult
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Description

What the book is about

Portalia south, north, east and west
To ease the travel on any quest,
The knot, the peaks and the old oak tree,
Servant chains amount to three.
A ring to trigger a call to home,
Returns all three to their Runestone
A stone-made key makes up the set,
Unlocking the paths of the portal net.

Accidentally invoking the power of a magical portal network, three teenagers, Ashley from Oregon, USA and two Welsh boys, Rhys and Michael, are pulled into Portalia, a fantastical world of sword and sorcery.

Befriended by centaurs, the trio find themselves at the forefront of a perilous quest to thwart the efforts of an evil warlock intent on world domination.

In possession of The Spider Gem, the warlock commands an enormous army of spiders as well as a throng of fearsome and unfeeling lava rock creatures, the Graav.

As the teenagers become attuned to their new world they develop unique skills of their own and soon join forces with the citizens of the world to form an alliance of good.

A mighty battle is inevitable as the alliance of elves, humans, dwarves, centaurs and magical fire eagles, rush headlong towards confrontation.


The Spider Gem is the first book of the Portal Chronicles.


Excerpt

A look inside the book

The boys quickly finished their snack and removed the torches and helmets from the backpack, storing the remainder of their food. They tested the torches once more and checked that the miner's lamps were working and secured firmly to their helmets.

"Okay, let's go!" Michael said as he entered the cave, closely followed by Rhys who was still struggling with his backpack and had one strap on and one off.

"Hold up a minute Mike," he called out and with that flicked his shoulders to adjust the weight evenly across his back. Now more balanced he strode forward. "Okay, let's go!"

At the entrance the floor was formed from soft wet sand, surrounded by damp dark rock on either side. The occasional rock bed broke through the sand and sometimes formed a small rock pool. The walls were worn smooth on both sides by the tide. Michael and Rhys looked in the rock pools that lined the sides of the cave where the sandy floor met the rock wall. Here the sea had formed overhangs and clinging beneath they saw numerous starfish; yellows, oranges and even the odd purple one. Michael managed to gently prise one off the rock and the boys both looked closely at it, fascinated by thousands of tiny legs. Rhys was always amazed by how hard they felt. After looking at it a while, he gently placed it back under the ledge and the boys continued into the cave.

Fifty yards or so further in, the sandy floor gave way to solid rock, rising gently in a soft incline towards the rear of the cave. The going here was a little trickier due to the damp rock which was almost as smooth as glass in places. As the boys made their way into the cave the rocky floor continued to rise slowly and the light became less and less. Their eyes adjusted however and there was still enough glow to allow them to continue their progress without the use of any of their artificial light.

When the rocky floor had risen three feet or so above the original sandy floor of the cave, the boys stopped.

Michael looked at Rhys and said, "Listen to this." With that he put his hands to his mouth and gave a short sharp shout "HELLO!"

Hello! Hello! Hello! Hello! Hello! Ello! Llo! Lo!

Michael's voice came back to them in a multitude of echoes.

"Cool!" Rhys grinned from ear to ear as the sound reverberated around the cavern.

The boys spent the next ten minutes shouting various exclamations, as well as the occasional obscenity, and the cave dutifully cloned their words and shouted them back a hundred times.

Rhys turned to Michael. "It's started to get really dark now so we should use our torches from this point on."

The boys flicked the switches on their handheld torches and helmets and once more, made their way across the rock. They walked another thirty yards or so and came to a step in the floor which ran the entire width of the cave. It was ten feet high but riddled with foot holds, so the boys had no difficulties in clambering their way up. When they were on top the boys looked back towards the entrance.

Michael spoke first. "It looks like the floor has given way at some point and dropped to form this higher ledge. I don't remember seeing this with Dad when we came in here so we must be further in than I've been before."

"That would make sense. I don't think you could have come this far in without light." Rhys replied. "Let's turn off our torches and see how dark it is." Michael agreed and on the count of three they turned off all of their lights.

Although they could still make out the entrance of the cave, a beam of sunlight in the distance, the cave suddenly seemed a large, dark and ominous place. Without light their hearing became more acute and the sounds of the cave and the wind whistling through the passage made goose-bumps rise on their skin.

Michael spoke, his voice quivering slightly. "Yep, I think that's pretty dark, dark enough for me anyway, how about you Rhys?"

"Oh, I'd agree that this is just about dark enough." With that they both turned on their torches, flooding the cavern with artificial light once more.

"Excellent!" they both exclaimed in school-boy bravado, although neither of them offered up the suggestion of turning the lights off again.

They made their way further into the cavern, coming across another step, this time only six feet high, they scampered up it and paused for breath.

Rhys shivered. "It's cold in here." He removed his backpack and took out a red woollen sweater that his Aunt had insisted he take with him, despite his objections. Michael did likewise awkwardly slipped a dark green woollen sweater over his head. Glancing down he made an observation.

"Hey Rhys look. The ground is dry above this ledge, the tide must not come higher than this."

Rhys bent down to look. "You're right, that should make it easier to walk, no slippery rock to worry about."

Now dressed a little warmer, the boys continued into the cave, "I must admit that I'm a little disappointed," said Rhys. "I hoped that we'd see stalagmites and stalactites."

Michael looked around. "I think it's because of sea erosion, although now we are above the high tide point we may see more interesting shapes. Since that last ledge have you noticed how the floor is sloping upwards? If you look back you can't see the cave entrance. The walls and roof have closed in too."

Rhys looked and saw that the roof was now only some ten feet high at this point "It's like we're in a tunnel, I wonder how much further it goes, we must hit the end soon." He peered into the darkness.

The fact that they could no longer see the cave entrance made Rhys a little nervous and he clutched his torch a little tighter. "Do you fancy some chocolate? I took some out when we put our sweaters on back there."

Michael smacked his lips, "Mmm, yes, please. I'll share my bar with you later."

Rhys took out the chocolate bar and broke it in half. Nibbling on the treat the boys continued into the cave, somehow, things never seemed so bad when you were munching chocolate. The footing on the dry rock face was much easier now. Suddenly Rhys who had taken the lead, stopped dead in his tracks.

Michael bumped into him. "What's up, why have you stopped?"

"I think we've made it," Rhys pointed towards the back of the cave where a large rock wall rose all the way to the roof.

Michael walked to the wall and tapped it. "I think you're right. This is solid, we've reached the end of the cavern."

Rhys turned back towards the entrance but could only see darkness. "How far in do you think it is, Mike?"

"I'm not sure. We must have walked close to a mile though. Mind you I've read that distances can seem further in the dark so it may not be as far as we think."

Rhys gave a half hearted smile. "No, I reckon you are just about right. I know what you mean about walking in the dark though. It feels like we've come more like five miles. I'm starving again too. Let's eat the rest of our lunch."

Once again the two boys unpacked their lunch. They sat and ate the peanut butter sandwiches and cake and finished off their lemonade drinks.

Rhys glanced at Michael, his eyes glazed over, lost in thought. "Mike, you know back there, when we turned off the torches? Were you scared just a little bit?"

"Well maybe just a little, how about you?"

"Yeah, me too, just a little bit. Even so, do you know what I was thinking?"

Michael's gaze narrowed as he nibbled on his bottom lip. "No, but I think I can guess. Does it have to do with trying it again?"

Rhys flashed a wicked grin. "Well, when we did it back there we could still see the entrance so it wasn't really completely dark. Now that we can't see the entrance it would be pitch black! I know it is going to scare us stiff but shall we give it a try?"

Michael shifted his weight where he sat. The last thing he wanted was to be the one who backed down on this dare, "Well okay, we'll turn them off, count to thirty and then turn them back on again. Will that do?"

Rhys agreed and they both turned off their lamps and reached for their torches.

"Okay Mike, on the count of three we'll turn off the torches, one-two-three!"

The cave was plunged into utter darkness. Both boys could hear their hearts pounding as they counted to thirty in their heads. Michael strained his eyes fruitlessly trying to make out anything in the gloom. Without the lights, the temperature appeared to drop even further, he shivered and goose bumps appeared once again on his skin and the hairs on the back of his neck stood up in fear. When he reached twenty five seconds he started to count out loud, "twenty-six, twenty-seven, twenty-eight, twenty-nine...."

"WAIT! Do you see that?"

Michael suddenly realised that he had his eyes tight shut, he opened them but could see nothing in the darkness. "Do I see what? I can't see a thing!"

"There above our heads on the back wall of the cave. Can you see that dull glow?"

Michael turned and looked up. At first he saw nothing, but as he moved his head he noticed something out of the corner of his eye. Turning towards it he saw precisely what Rhys referred to. A few feet up and slightly to the right of where they sat, a pale blue glow spilled from the cave wall.

"What on earth is it?" Michael hissed.

"I have no idea, but let's find out. The glow is very weak so I don't think we'd see it with the torches turned on. You keep an eye on it and point to where it's coming from and I'll get us some light. "

Michael squinted into the gloom at the strange glow, raised his arm and pointed his finger at it.

Rhys reached for his torch and after checking that Michael was ready, he turned it back on. He followed the line from Michael's arm to the rock face and in his mind marked the spot. "Okay, I've got it, you can take your arm down now."

Michael lowered his arm and reached for his torch.

Rhys had already made his way closer to the base of the wall, directly under the point where they had seen the glow. "I can't quite make it out from here. It looks like there may be a ledge up there. I'd have to climb up to be sure though. It's a bit further up than I first thought but still reachable if you give me a bunk up!"

The boys packed their things away again, including Rhys' torch which would be too cumbersome to carry as he climbed. "Okay, I'll go first," said Rhys.

Michael held his hands out and Rhys placed his foot in them so that Michael could lift him. Rhys grabbed the edge of the ledge and was able to pull himself up until he was safely seated on the edge.

Before him, at the back of the ledge, was a tunnel. Now that he was close to it he could just make out the dull blue glow. The tunnel was about five feet high and three feet wide and appeared to continue to slope upwards.

Rhys squinted into the tunnel but could not see the end so had no way of knowing how deep it was. "You see, I knew that the climb up here would be worth it. The tunnel continues into the cave so we've still got some exploring to do."

Rhys peered into the darkness and could easily make out the blue glow emanating from deeper within. His thoughts returned to the strange small box that he had found in the attic. There was something about this scene that reminded him of that picture on the box lid.

"Oi Rhys, you gonna pull me up or what?"

Rhys looked down at Michael, then at the cavern floor below and then back at the tunnel. The dull glow seemed to pulse brighter for a moment, refuelling the adventurer in Rhys. He shrugged off his sudden fear and stretched down to pull Michael up next to him on the ledge.

Rhys glanced at the tunnel entrance. "Look the tunnel is that way and is large enough for us to walk through if we lower our heads a little."

Michael turned and looked. There was a definite bluish glow, this must be from sunlight. His spirits picked up considerably, suspecting that they had discovered another exit from the cave. He unhooked the radio from his belt and handed it back to Rhys. "Come on then let's explore!"

Rhys picked up his backpack, turned on his torch and helmet light and followed Michael down the tunnel.

They had covered about thirty yards when Michael stopped. "Listen! Can you hear something?"

Rhys stood still and listened. At first nothing, but then a soft rustling sound much like the wind blowing through dried leaves, very faint but clearly coming from the direction they were walking.

"What the heck is that?"

"I'm not sure. Maybe it's the wind. Just in case though I think we should move quietly until we can make out what it is."

The boys continued along the passage, moving stealthily. The bluish glow became brighter with each step they took and the passage started to angle steeply upwards. It became smaller and narrower until they could only move in single file and had to crouch in order to continue.

Michael was now moving very slowly and was taking short, sharp breaths as a panic started to rise. He was ready to suggest they turn around when he noticed that a short way ahead the passage changed shape.

"Look! It's opening out again," he said, grabbing onto Rhys in his excitement and relief.

Rhys grinned and returned Michael's grasp. "It does. Have you noticed how bright it is. I don't think we even need the torches on anymore."

Rhys was right, the boys turned them off. They could still see clearly enough to make their way. The tunnel opened out and the light intensified. The curious rustling sound became louder and was now accompanied by a strange clicking.

Rhys whispered to his friend. "Mike, let's crawl quietly to the end of the tunnel, I have a bad feeling about this. I'm not sure what that noise is but I know I don't like it and I want to be sure of what we're walking into before we go blundering into someone, or something, that may not like us snooping around."

The boys dropped to the ground and leopard-crawled up the last few yards. The tunnel opened out high up the wall of a large natural amphitheatre with a dome roof forty feet above their heads. A path led off to the left and wound its way around the wall to the floor, some twenty feet below. Michael and Rhys looked over the edge. As one they drew in a sharp breath as the colour drained from their faces.

In the centre of this amphitheatre stood a small creature next to an arch of light. This was the source of the blue glow. The air beneath the arch looked like liquid and seemed to change hue and tone as if it was flowing, still retaining its shape as it did so. From around the cavern, through a multitude of cracks and crevices, emerged a mass of spiders, forming a carpet of black. Rhys' thoughts were immediately drawn back to the strange happenings in his bedroom the night before.

"My god, look at all those spiders!" he whispered more to himself than to Michael.

Michael's eyes widened. He wanted to run but was frozen to the spot. "Sp-sp-sp-spiders?" his voice trembled. "There must be thousands of them!"

Spiders scurried and ran to the archway only to seemingly disappear into thin air as they entered the light. There were spiders of all types; small, large, fat, thin, hairy, black, brown, red and a few that Rhys had never seen before. He turned his attention to the strange creature that stood next to the archway. He stood about four feet tall. His skin was pallid, pale, almost white and sickly, with a large white beard and crop of untidy white hair. His eyes, unnerving, appeared almost yellow punctuated by glistening white pupils with dark black centres. The creature wore white leather clothes and carried a large black axe tucked into a white belt. Rhys could not help but shiver when he looked into the eyes of this creature.

Michael kept his voice pitched low. "It's a bloody dwarf! A bloody albino dwarf!"

Rhys looked at Michael and then back at the dwarf, Michael was right.

Around his neck the creature wore a metal pendant. In his left hand, he held a staff made of a dark wood. On the top of the staff was a large red gem in the shape of a spider which pulsated with a red light.

"Rhys, do you think that the staff is drawing the spiders?"

"Maybe, but this is just too weird to put any logic too, it's like we're living in a fairy tale or something. What do you think is happening to the spiders? Do you think he's killing them?"

Michael shuffled his position to get closer to the edge "The spiders are coming from everywhere and heading straight for the light. I don't think they're dying though, I think that the archway is a portal of some kind and this dwarf is sending the spiders somewhere."

Wide eyed and with sweaty palms, Rhys shuffled to get a closer look by moving towards the edge of the ledge. As he shifted his weight the earth below his hands gave way and Rhys toppled over, sliding down the slope towards the creatures below.

Rhys screamed and heard Michael shouting his name as he tried to grab him. The noise they made reverberated around the cavern walls.

Rhys hit the cavern floor with a thump, rolling to prevent any serious damage. He glanced down. A decent amount of spiders had been crushed by his fall. Standing, he turned towards the albino dwarf who by now was screaming and shouting at him. The sight of the dwarf ranting and raving, red in the face and jumping up and down on the spot was so comical that Rhys soon lost any fear that he felt. He decided to throw caution to the winds, drew himself up tall, looked directly at the dwarf and spoke. "Who are you and what are you doing with these spiders?"

The dwarf stopped and stared at Rhys. He glanced up the slope at Michael, let out one high pitched scream and jumped into the archway. He immediately disappeared and the portal closed behind him with a small popping sound. The cavern was thrown into darkness.

Rhys froze unable to see. He had dropped his torch and helmet as he fell. He shook wondering what the spiders were doing in the darkness. It seemed like he had been there for a long time before a beam of light lit the cavern and he heard Michael calling his name.

"Rhys, are you okay? Rhys! Rhys!"

"Yeah! I'm here! I'm okay! But I've lost my torch and helmet, can you point the light down here so I can find them."

Michael did as he was asked and Rhys easily found the dropped items. Both had broken in the fall and would never be used again. Rhys surveyed the chamber. There were now only a few spiders around and no sign of the dwarf, other than a few footprints left in the sand. It appeared that with the disappearance of the dwarf the spiders had returned to normal behaviour and were already scuttling away, returning to their webs through the cracks and crevices.

Michael was making his way down the path to the cavern floor.

"So what the heck have we stumbled onto here then Mike?" Rhys asked looking around the cavern. A quick survey confirmed that there was no other way out. The domed cavern was completely sealed, other than the tunnel by which they had entered. Apart from the size it was fairly unremarkable.

Michael shouted back. "Well making an educated guess I'd say it was an 'evil albino spider stealing dwarf from another dimension'! Sort of an everyday occurrence in Wales this time of year!" The boys both laughed, grateful for some humour to lighten the moment.

"It looks like you were right with your gateway theory," Rhys observed.

"Maybe," replied Michael. "I wonder where the gateway led, not that I'd want to find out first hand mind you. Do you think that the dwarf will come back again? He didn't look too happy when we disturbed him."

Rhys walked over to where the dwarf had stood and shrugged . "Dunno! Maybe we should get out of here just in case. If he does then he may come back with help. There doesn't appear to be another exit so we'll have to retrace our path back out of the cave. We won't be able to call Aunt Glenys either, the radio's bust!" Rhys pointed to the broken walkie-talkie on the floor.

"Come on then, let's go!!" Michael turned, eager to be away from this place. As he started back up the path his foot caught against something in the sand and he almost tripped. Swearing in frustration he looked down expecting to see a stone. Instead, poking out of the sand, he saw a small wooden box.

"What the bloody hell is this?" Michael scrabbled at the sand and picked the box up. It was made from a plain light wood with no exterior decoration. The lid was hinged at the rear and was secured by a small bronze hook and eye. Michael flicked the hook and lifted the lid. Inside was a small handwritten note and another smaller box. Michael took the note and read out loud.

Portalia south, north, east and west,
To ease the travel on any quest,
The knot, the peaks and the old oak tree,
Servant chains amount to three.
A ring to trigger a call to home,
Returns all three to their Runestone.
A stone-made key makes up the set,
Unlocking the paths of the portal net.

Rhys and Michael looked at each other and shrugged.

"Check out the box," prompted Rhys.

Michael removed his miner's hat and placed it on the floor to offer better illumination before he leant to open the smaller box. Inside was a gold ring. Ornate decoration had been etched around the band of the ring. The gold had been flattened on one end to form a small round area. In the centre of this area was a raised equilateral triangle with the same etched pattern once again adorning the face of the triangle.

Rhys stared and suddenly recognised what he was looking at. "Mike, that pattern is a Celtic knot, it looks familiar." He reached inside his sweater to pull out the pendant. The boys compared the two motifs.

Not only were the knot designs identical, but the raised triangle of the ring was exactly the same size and shape as the indent in the pendant.

"Rhys, it looks as though the ring would fit almost perfectly," he said.

Michael held the ring next to the pendant. Rhys moved his pendant onto the ring.

There was a soft popping sound.


***

Rhys felt sick with fear and could feel his stomach churning as panic started to rise within him.

One minute he was in the cave, the next he was engulfed in a blue haze which oozed and flowed all around him. None of his senses gave him any clue as to where he was. He could not hear, smell or taste anything. All he could see was the blue haze and all he could feel was a slight pressure all around him as if he was underwater. Fear tightened about his heart as if an iron band had been locked in place.

Had the cave filled with water? Was he drowning? Rhys was suddenly aware of the pendant around his neck, it felt warm and tingly against his body and somehow it reassured him. The tension eased, lulled by the comfort of the pendant.

His fear now under control, Rhys began to think straight and realised that he was breathing normally and appeared to be in no immediate danger. Not water. He tried to call out for Michael but no sound came from his mouth. He tried to move but it seemed that for every effort that he made, the force exerted on his body increased, pinning him to where he was.

Was he dead? Would he be trapped here forever? Had the evil looking albino dwarf caused this? Once again he felt the panic rising only for the warmth of the pendant to ease it once more. He tried to call out again but to no avail. He floated there, his thoughts on Michael. Was he also in this predicament?

After a few minutes Rhys noticed that the blue glow was beginning to fade and that the pressure on his body was decreasing. With another popping sound he suddenly felt solid ground beneath his feet again, the blue haze vanished and he was free to move.

He stood on a large triangular platform in the centre of a chamber. Beneath his feet the platform had been adorned with a large Celtic knot. In front of him at the centre stood a pedestal about three feet tall. The light emanating from the chamber was from this pedestal, which gave off a dull bluish white glow. Rhys remembered the dwarf and looked around to see if he was there, but the chamber appeared to be completely empty.

A popping sound to his right and two more to his left, all three in quick succession caught his attention. The two to his left were accompanied by a loud scream as first Michael, and then a teenage girl, appeared out of thin air. To his right a third figure appeared but quickly hustled off into the darkness. In the short time that the figure was in the light, Rhys caught a glimpse of an old bedraggled man, dressed in rags, unshaven and unkempt. Rhys' nostrils suddenly burst into awareness as from the direction of the old man came the fetid odour of sweat and decay. He wrinkled his nose in disgust and turned to Michael and the girl. Michael stood completely still, staring at Rhys and the surroundings. The girl looked frightened and when she saw the boys and immediately withdrew from them, her back pushed against the central pedestal.

"Are you okay?" Rhys asked Michael, his brow furrowed with concern.

"Uh, yes, I guess so. What happened? Where are we?" replied Michael shakily.

"Your guess is as good as mine," he paused before continuing. "I wonder who the girl is? She looks as surprised and confused as us."

At the sound of their voices the girl stopped whimpering. Michael and Rhys walked over to her.

"Are you okay?" Rhys asked.

The girl looked puzzled but clearly relaxed as she sensed that the boys were friendly. "I'm fine, just a little confused. Where are we and how did we get here and what was that blue stuff?"

Rhys smiled at her trying to reassure her despite his own fears, "We're not sure, but we don't seem to be hurt or in any real danger." He chose not to mention the appearance of the old man, not knowing if he would turn out to be friendly or otherwise and Rhys did not want to alarm the girl further. "Here, let me help you up, there is no need to be afraid. I'm Rhys and this is Mike, what's your name?"

She took a deep breath and looked Rhys straight in the eyes, "My name is Ashley Rees-Jenkins. You can call me Ash."




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