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Free: Book Review and Excerpt!

Today is an exciting day in the bookish world!

I had the pleasure of being on the launch team for Careena Campbell’s debut novel, Free.

If you’re looking for an adventure on the high seas, full of hope and the promise of true freedom, this YA Christian historical fiction novel is the perfect book for you!

Read my full review below, and get swept up in the adventure for yourself in a special excerpt of the story 😊

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Very few books allow you to encounter freedom, and Free is certainly one of them.

As the book opens, readers are introduced to a young woman named Ruth, who is forced into service on a merchant ship. Fearful and confused, she still manages to bring a pure heart and joyful spirit to every trial and adventure she faces on the high seas.

Still, despite her abundance of both kindness and patience, the men remain resistant, confused by her unwavering faith and uncommon humility towards those who have treated her so unfairly.

But freedom can come to the hardest of hearts, and hope remains that, one day, Ruth will find herself in the company of those who know they are wholeheartedly free.

Careena Campbell has penned an exceptional tale, full of adventure, high stakes on storm-tossed waves, and, above all, the longing for freedom and a place to belong.

With characters rich in faith, internal struggles, perseverance, and humility, Careena has crafted a book perfectly suited to lovers of YA historical fiction, and, at the same time, produced that rare thing: a story that leaves readers with hearts wide open to the miraculous and full of faith that they, too, can be free.

Read an excerpt from Free below:

Ruth limped the few short steps to the edge of the ship. Her hands floated up to the railing as she gazed upwards. The night sky was encrusted with millions of brilliant stars, each twinkling one after the other. They stretched out all the way to the horizon, where they cast their reflections over the ocean. The sea, like a great blue blanket covered with shining sapphires, rocked back and forth as the wind gently caressed its water. The waves seemed to sigh in contentment, as if they were settling down to sleep, as they softly swooshed over each other.

Ruth’s heart beat fast as she was overtaken with the beauty and the majesty of God’s creation. She could not resist praising and thanking the Creator of this breathtaking scene, and her awe bubbled over in soft song. 

“This is my Father’s world, 

and to my list’ning ears,

All nature sings and round me rings

 The music of the spheres…”

The nearby sailors turned, surprised to hear the gentle strains of a song floating from the ship’s edge. 

  “…This is my Father’s world, 

I rest me in the thought,

  Of rocks and trees of skies and seas—

  His hand the wonders wrought…”

For a moment, they watched the maiden fairly sing. Why was she so calm? Didn’t she understand the danger they were facing? 

But Ruth, for once, did not even notice them. She was swept up in the beauty of God’s peace. 

She reflected on her own situation as she sang the final verse:

  “This is my Father’s world; 

O let me ne’er forget

  That though the wrong seems oft so strong,

  God is the ruler yet. 

  “This is my Father’s world! 

The battle is not done!

  Jesus who died shall be satisfied, 

  And earth and heav’n be one.

“Yes,” Ruth thought. “The battle is not done. God isn’t finished with me, and He’s not finished with the sailors, either. I will press on. I know He is still working!” 

Ruth’s heart swelled with joy and contentment. Leaning out over the ship’s railing, she folded her hands to pray. “Lord,” she whispered, “please bless the sailors and help them to come to know You. And help me to be brave even when things aren’t this peaceful. Amen.” 

Ruth straightened up and smiled as she returned to her room for the night. Now she felt she could face her future, for God had reminded her of His presence. 

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Free releases this Thursday, March 11th! You can help Careena celebrate release day by pre-ordering Free and adding it on Goodreads!

You can learn more about Careena and connect with her on The Anchored Writer.

And don’t miss my interview with Careena this Thursday!

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Lots of exciting new things are beginning on 21:25 Books! Watch for announcements on Instagram 📖🌹

Wishing you happy reads,

Alexandria

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Anelthalien: An Excerpt

Have you ever longed for a family?

I’m thrilled to share an excerpt from Anelthalien by H.A. Pruitt, a young adult Christian fantasy.

Read on as Kindle struggles to come to terms with this longing and begins to understand that family can look quite different than we might expect.

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“Kindle, what’s on your mind? Something is bothering you.”

Kindle took longer than necessary to swallow her bite before she peered sideways at Naam. She hadn’t intended to answer, but everything about the mother who was smiling down at her baby was so caring and inviting that she divulged, “I just… I dunno. It’s like I’m not ever gunna see my family again, and then all you guys start to feel like my family, and everything gets okay, but now I have to leave you guys too. It just doesn’t feel fair, you know? Like I don’t ever get to have a family now.” Kindle stopped and stared into her mush. She hoped Naam would have a way to fix everything or at least say she could stay, but Naam didn’t say a word. “You know what I mean? Like, I don’t sound stupid or weird, do I?” Kindle asked in sudden embarrassment.

Naam turned her warm brown eyes to her. “No, Kindle. I can see why you’re upset, and it is completely understandable. Everyone wants a family.”

“So… so can I…,” Kindle began to ask but forsook her request and simply turned pleading eyes to Naam.

“Can you stay?” Naam finished, and Kindle enthusiastically nodded until Naam shook her head and sighed, “No, Kindle, I’m sorry, but you cannot stay here. Listen, you do have a family somewhere waiting to see you again. And you will see them, don’t worry over that. I know Azildor said it will be a long time until then, but you can’t look at that time as a loss of family. You have to see it as a gaining of one.”

“But you said I couldn’t stay here.”

“Yes, you’re right. The family I’m talking about isn’t this one; it is Ella, Andrew, and Tad.”

“Oh,” Kindle groaned, deflated again.

Naam gave her a sympathetic smile. “The four of you have a long road ahead, and you must be a family if you want to make it past our doorstep.”

“Yeah, I know. I didn’t mean to sound all whiney,” Kindle apologized. “It’s just, like, not the same, you know? I mean, a family’s like a mom and dad and kids like you guys, not… us.”

“Kindle,” Naam whispered kindly but seriously, “family is not always who your blood links you to but is always who you choose to tie yourself to. Those necklaces you four wear have tied you all.”

“Does that mean I don’t get a choice? Like I have to let them be my family?”

“No Kindle, you do have a choice. The makers of Anelthalien have extended to you the gift of joining hteir family, and you may deny it, but if you do, know that Ella, Andrew, and Tad will be incomplete along with the entire story of Anelthalien. Your choice to leave us and to go on this journey that you have been chosen to take affects many more than you or I will ever know. You are part of a family and a plan larger than you can imagine, Kindle, but if you stay here and try to hold onto this family not meant for you, you will miss out on everything ahead of you.”

*

Anelthalien is available on Bookshop, Amazon, and other bookseller sites.

Grab your copy and soak in the adventure before the sequel, Earth Quaking, releases this summer! You can join the launch team here.

You’ll get sneak peeks at Earth Quaking, learn all about writing and publishing, and be entered to win fun giveaways each month!

Learn more about H.A. Pruitt by following her writing adventures on Instagram or by heading to her website.

Once you’ve read Anelthalien, please leave a review on Goodreads! Reviews are the best way to help support authors, and it will make their day!

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Next week, I’ll be sharing an interview with Careena Campbell, author of Free.

And don’t miss an exciting announcement next Tuesday! Winter is losing its grip, and a young rabbit named Chip is waiting for you to join him in Everleaf Forest.

Best not to keep him waiting 😉

Happy Reading,

Alexandria

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Installment Two: Penelope Grace and the Winter Carousel

Prepare yourself, dear reader, for a curious tale of deep-sea rescue in this week’s installment of Penelope Grace’s adventures.

The fight for wonder is just beginning…

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Join the Fight for Wonder

For 3.99/month, you’ll receive four installments of Penelope Grace and the Winter Carousel, all of the illustrations that accompany the tale, and a chance to win an exciting gift in the coming weeks! I hope you’ll join us for the adventure!

Chip and the Book of Rose Leaves: Installment Twelve

Welcome to the second to last installment of Chip’s adventures! This was one of my favorite installments to write! I hope you enjoy it.

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Abaline.

Chip gazed up at the curiously enchanting structure in the oak tree rising above them, finding himself unexpectedly reluctant to move forward now that they had finally arrived. He had been anticipating this moment for so long, and Chip wondered if what came of it would be all he had hoped for.

He longed for a purpose, but what if he didn’t have one?

He craved reassurance that his prayers were heard, but he feared discovering that just the opposite was true.

Perhaps, it was better to leave these stones unturned. After all, if he did, he never need fear disappointment.

He almost turned back.

But then, a sudden breeze blew past him, and Chip found that it was shaking loose all his fearful thoughts, casting them to the ground like so many fallen leaves.

The clearing around them was all deep green and golden splendor, but nothing compared to the oak tree itself. Light shimmered through the bark and across the sprawling branches and trees, as if gold filigree ran through root and limb.

Full of wonder, Chip ventured forward. Though he knew that he was already in a land that was utterly different from his home, this place felt like a world all its own.

Oh, let this be the place where I come closer to You.

The words came unbidden, seemingly of their own accord, yet Chip knew at once that they expressed the truest longing of his heart.

Come closer to me.

As the prayer left him, a golden light, high above in the wooden dwelling that nestled in the oak, caught Chip’s eye.

“I think we’re meant to go there,” Chip said softly.

“I do believe you’re right, Chip,” Alfeus replied.

Chip looked over at the chipmunk and was surprised to find that tears were filling his eyes. But, of course, Alfeus had always longed to see Abaline face to face and had long regretted missing the opportunity to do so with Leah. This moment meant just as much to Alfeus as it did to Chip.

All three together now, they moved forward, noticing for the first time the ladder that led up to Abaline’s home. Instantly, Chip was dismayed. He could never climb such a thing, and Abaline felt suddenly and horribly out of reach.

But then, “Over here, young Chip! Don’t despair.”

It was Beauregard, who had wandered over to the right and discovered a contraption altogether more unusual than the ladder. Alfeus looked on from his perch on the ladder, waiting with admirable patience for his friends to follow.

Chip hopped closer to the beaver, who might have looked the slightest bit pleased with himself for solving Chip’s dilemma. Nestled in the plush grass was a wooden bucket. Looped through its handle and disappearing into the tree’s branches was a thick rope, which Beauregard had already taken hold of.

“Hop in, my friend,” Beauregard said.

Chip did so, but then hurriedly called for the beaver to wait. “What about you, Beauregard?”

“Don’t trouble yourself about me, Chip.”

“But then you won’t meet Abaline!”

Beauregard leaned close. “Who’s to say I haven’t already,” he whispered, and then, with a smile and a wink, he took the rope in his mouth and hauled Chip up to the platform.

The height might have troubled Chip if he hadn’t been so captivated by the glimmering dragonflies and fireflies that swirled all about him, as if they were celebrating along with him that he had reached Abaline at last. Chip had never seen their like. They were the most radiant blues and greens he’d ever seen, and a trailing golden dust fell away beneath their twirling path.

But what waited above was more glorious still.

A sheltering canopy of leaves trailed down, filtering the light of the golden sun and leaving Chip with the sensation of having entered a hidden world.

Tangles of branches and cascading foliage left the structure Chip had seen from far below partially hidden, so that it was difficult to know where the oak ended and Abaline’s home began.

Chip hopped out of the bucket onto a sturdy wooden platform. Alfeus was standing at the open door, and Chip joined him. The chipmunk didn’t seem to register his friend’s arrival (or Beauregard’s absence), so fixed was his attention on the entrance and all that might wait within.

“I can’t believe we’re really here,” Alfeus whispered.

They looked at the entryway a moment more before Chip asked, “Shall we go in?”

The chipmunk nodded, took Chip’s paw in his own, and together, they entered.

There were many rooms within – many more than ought to have fit in a house so small – but they both instinctively knew where they were meant to go. It was a room at the heart of the house, and both Chip and Alfeus understood that inside, all the questions stirred up over the course of their journey would be answered and come to rest.

As they passed beneath the doorway, the pair were drawn in different directions. Alfeus wandered off to the left-hand side of the spacious room, while Chip’s attention was immediately arrested by the tawny owl observing him from her perch directly in front of him.

He knew her for who she was without giving it a moment’s thought.

Abaline.

But she was unlike any tawny owl Chip had ever seen.

She was unassuming in size, though she managed to be imposing nevertheless.

She gazed back at Chip with the most astonishing amber eyes he had ever seen, and he found himself dumbstruck in her presence.

“Hello, Chip.” She spoke, and her voice was smooth and kind.

Her feathers ruffled and flared as she left her perch behind, and Chip gasped as the light caught them. They were beautiful to begin with, with their amber and cream hues, but when the sunlight shimmered across them, their edges glinted brilliantly, as if someone had delicately edged them with gold.

Abaline rested before Chip, and, at last, words returned to him. “You know my name? Did you know I was coming?”

“I am forewarned of all who seek to find me, so that I might know whether to safeguard their coming or defend against it.”

Chip’s brow furrowed. “Why would you need to defend against someone finding you?”

“Many seek to destroy what I guard.”

This didn’t quite make sense to Chip, but he plowed ahead all the same and asked the questions he had stored up inside. “Please, I’ve come such a long way to find you, Abaline. Will you tell me what my purpose is? And if my prayers matter at all?”

She looked at him kindly. “Chip, the answers you’re looking for will never be found in me.”

“But that doesn’t make sense!” Chip cried, instantly distraught that his journey had been for nothing. “Everyone’s told me to come looking for you, and I have, and you just have to tell me what I’ve been wanting to know. You just have…”

But Chip trailed off and desperation brought his head low as he softly cried, “Please, help me.”

“Chip,” Alfeus shouted, fairly jumping up and down at the other end of the room. “Chip, come quickly now!”

Our young rabbit looked first to Abaline, who nodded her encouragement. “Go and see.”

And he did.

Standing before Alfeus was a low, wooden table, and on it, rested the most magnificent book Chip would ever have the pleasure of seeing.

The pages were filled with golden lettering, and the words were startlingly familiar, for they were his own. As both he and Alfeus watched, a rose petal fell – from no place, in particular – and came to rest on the open book.

Just as petal brushed paper, Chip’s plea, Please, help me, appeared in brilliant gold filigree on pages that seemed ancient and new at the same time.

And Chip knew, in the sudden way that understanding sometimes comes, that, at the same instant, a diamond had fallen in the underground, only to become the most pleasing aroma rising through the air.

Tears of joy flooded Chip’s eyes as he turned around. The room was full of Light, all rose-gold splendor and joy – and Abaline stood in the midst of its radiance, waiting.

“What is this?” Chip asked, and she knew what he meant.

Her brilliant eyes met his. “It is His book of remembrance.”

He looked back at the book one last time, closed his eyes, and whispered, “Thank You.”

A pair of rose leaves fell as the two friends turned away, for Alfeus’ prayer had echoed Chip’s own.

Abaline led them to the entry of her home, and they followed silently, still in awe of what they’d been given to see.

At the threshold, both Chip and Alfeus turned back to Abaline.

“Very few are given the chance to see this with their own eyes,” she said. “Be careful what you do with this gift.”

Both nodded, though they did not yet understand, and then Abaline was gone, returned to the inner room, where a truth worth treasuring lay.

Saying nothing, for silence seemed important just now, Alfeus returned down the ladder and Chip to the bucket. Before he knew it or could quite comprehend all he’d seen, Beauregard was lowering the bucket, and Chip was twirling down through golden light, back to Beauregard, the land of Almea, and home.

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Only one installment to go, friends! I can’t wait to share the conclusion of Chip’s adventure with you all.

Until then,

Alexandria

Chip and the Book of Rose Leaves: Installment Ten

Writing this installment was one of my greatest joys. I hope you enjoy it!

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Chip was dreaming.

He was in a dark place, deep within the earth. All the shadows in the world seemed intent on suffocating him. He looked around, anxiously trying to catch sight of Alfeus or Beauregard, but the darkness was all-encompassing.

Chip shivered from the damp and the cold, shivered from how very alone he felt.

But then, a clink sounded behind him, the twinge in his left ear faded away, and Chip turned.

Barely a foot away, a diamond was laying on the cool rock, shimmering as if in defiance of the dark.

Chip huddled close to the jewel, comforted by its cool light, but no sooner had he nestled against it than the light began to fade.

The twinge in his left ear returned in full force as his paws scrambled clumsily to keep hold of the diamond. So frantic were his movements, though, that the now dimly glowing jewel skittered across the rock floor.

Its light much too faint by now to allow the rabbit to find it once again, Chip just sat there, watching the diamond’s radiance succumb to the dark, never thinking to simply ask the light to stay.

*

He woke with a start, unsettled and discouraged by the dream. Chip saw no reason to dampen the others’ spirits, though, so he kept the dream to himself.

They had stopped to rest underground, Chip and Alfeus feeling spent after their many adventures, and Beauregard always agreeable to a nap. The moth rested nearby, but Chip could see its pale wings fluttering softly, as if it were eager for them to be on their way.

Much like the underground path they had visited not long ago, the walls of this tunnel were encrusted with jewels of various kinds, though not as many as he’d found in the fire lizards’ dwelling.

He shuddered, hoping that none of the lizards’ tunnels connected to this one. Ready for adventure as he was, Chip wasn’t sure he could bear another encounter with the fiery creatures.

Shaking loose any lingering thoughts of the lizards, the young rabbit returned to looking around the tunnel, and he wondered again at the presence of the jewels.

What were they doing here?

But a loud snort from the waking Beauregard woke Alfeus with a start, sent the moth flying, and put a stop to all Chip’s wonderings.

Distracted by the excitement of continuing on their way to Abaline, the many jewels became, for the time being, nothing more than brilliant sparks of light in the darkness.

But I believe, and I think you do, too, that they’re something a little bit more.

*

It wasn’t long before matters took an unexpected turn. The further the small group of adventurers travelled, the more they realized that this part of the underground was quite unlike any other.

Near the underground river, it had been abundantly clear that the fire lizards ruled; no other creatures dared to make their homes in those tunnels and caves.

Here, however, just the opposite was true. Small glow worms made their meandering way across the rocks in search of cool earth to sink into. Toads hopped along the slick stone paths, seemingly oblivious to Chip and his companions, before disappearing beneath lily pads that covered the small pools they called home.

Fluttering about Chip’s ears almost playfully were insects with the most intricately designed wings he had ever seen. They moved so swiftly, though, that after only the one clear sight of them, they seemed to disappear, and the only thing that betrayed their graceful flight was the pale luminescence of their wings.

Chip breathed in and out slowly, savoring the richness of the air. Moss and lichen covered the ground until only small patches of bare rock could be seen, and it gave the tunnel an earthy smell that Chip loved.

He looked all around in wonder as countless creatures hopped and flew past jewel-encrusted walls, water softly splashed, and the tunnel filled with the sounds and smells of it all. This felt like a wonderfully secret place, and our small rabbit friend felt entirely content to remain there.

They all remained quiet through this part of their journey, unwilling to interrupt the peacefulness of this place.

That is, of course, until Alfeus’ paw became hopelessly stuck in a thick patch of moss.

“Now, now, Alfy, stay still,” Beauregard said.

The chipmunk gave him a long-suffering look. “There is nothing but mud beneath my foot. If I stay still, Beauregard, I shall sink into the mire and be lost forever.”

Chip chuckled, earning himself a withering stare.

“You always did have a touch of the dramatic in you, Alfeus,” the beaver replied with a fond look that was not returned. “Now, stay still and hand me your paw.”

“Do you listen to yourself?” was the exasperated answer. “How one is supposed to stay still and move at the same time, I would very much like to know!”

All the same, Alfeus held out his paw.

It seemed to all that the amusing incident would end right there, until, when Beauregard gave Alfeus’ paw a good tug, the chipmunk did not budge.

A hint of panic crept into Alfeus’ voice. “Put a little more effort into it, Beauregard! I do not wish to become a part of the scenery.”

“I’m sure one more tug ought to do it, Alfy, never you fear.”

Alas, one more tug did not do it, and before Alfeus could protest (as he surely would have), Beauregard wrapped him in a giant bear hug. With a great heave, the beaver tried to free his friend. Just as he did, though, an ominous rumble filled the tunnel, and as all the small creatures nearby scurried away, the ground beneath them crumbled, and Beauregard and Alfeus disappeared from sight.

“Alfeus! Beauregard!” Chip cried, truly frightened now. Quick as he could, he hopped to the edge of the gaping hole his friends had fallen into.

He was just about to jump in after them, heedless of the danger, when the great rumble filled the space once more and the rock shifted back into place. In seconds, the tunnel’s floor was whole once more and the moss was creeping back over the rock, as if the giant hole had never been.

Chip stared in disbelief, unwilling to believe that his friends were gone and the most obvious path back to them was barred. But just then, a deep boom set the tunnel shaking and rocks clattering.

Chip didn’t think.

He just ran, heedless of the direction he took through the branching tunnels and the sudden darkness surrounding him.

When next he stopped, heart racing, body shaking, Chip knew he was lost. Still, he was poised to flee at the slightest sound, and when it came, he bolted.

Down the nearest tunnel he flew, never considering the dank, musty smell stealing away the good, clean air.

Looming shapes rose suddenly all around him. Chip gasped in surprise, veering away from one only to nearly collide with another.

Whichever way he turned, it made no difference. He was hemmed in on all sides, and, at long last, Chip stopped short, heart pounding more powerfully than he had thought it capable of.

Thick darkness still surrounded him. So frightened he could hardly move, Chip curled himself into a ball. He closed his eyes, his whole body aching for fear and the longing to not be alone.

A few moments passed before Chip noticed the light.

Tentatively, he opened his eyes and saw that, though still a good distance off, something was illuminating the tunnel. He rose slowly. Fear still clamored for his attention, but the rabbit felt its hold shaking loose. He could see now the strange, looming forms that had frightened him so.

Countless toadstools of all shapes, sizes, and varieties filled the tunnel. Chip stared up in awe at the tangled forest surrounding him, some of the toadstools rising close to the tunnel’s ceiling, others remaining near to the ground, but all of them impossibly vibrant.

He was as entranced by this underground wonder as he had been by the vivid wildflowers in the forest clearing. This, however, was a sight all its own. Whether it was deepest green, richest purple, or impossibly bold red, color was everywhere, and all the while, the light led him on, lending a brilliance to everything it touched.

Yet, when he reached its source, it wasn’t at all what Chip expected.

A solitary diamond lay on the rock just as it had in his dream, only this time, there was no sign of the light fading. The jewel lay at the entrance of a new tunnel, which branched to the left and down. If it led deeper underground, Chip thought, perhaps he would find Alfeus and Beauregard. He could see specks of light further down the path, and he suspected that they came from more jewels.

With no further hesitation, Chip continued on, no longer afraid, for, though he had not consciously thought it, some piece of him understood that when fear had kept him from speaking, his desperate need had been a prayer, and it had been heard.

*

Until next time,

Alexandria

Chip and the Book of Rose Leaves: Installment Seven

This week, Chip and Alfeus brave a hidden cavern that’s beautiful, but not altogether safe…

*

They rested for a time there, near the entrance to the cavern. Chip took a long drink of cool, clear water from the small spring that trickled down into the cavern’s depths. Feeling refreshed now, he balanced carefully on his hind legs as he sniffed the air.

It was pleasantly cool, just what you might expect from a mysterious, hidden place like this one.

And yet…

There was something unusual about the smell the longer Chip sniffed, but he couldn’t quite place it. Something almost smoky.

“Whatever is your nose quivering about now?” Alfeus asked, and Chip frowned, for his friend almost sounded nervous.

“What’s wrong, Alfeus?”

The chipmunk, rubbing his snout in distracted agitation, answered briskly, “I’m not altogether fond of some of the underground residents, if you must know.”

“Why? Who lives here?”

“Fire lizards,” Alfeus said. “They’re changeable creatures, by all accounts, and were no great help when the forest stood at odds.”

“So, they’re dangerous?”

“Well, I wouldn’t exactly call them enemies,” the chipmunk offered, shifting uncertainly. “I wouldn’t exactly call them friends, either.”

“And you’re certain that the cavern is the only way to reach Abaline?” Chip asked, feeling the warning twinge of danger, which made his left ear start twitching, as he spoke.

“Yes. If you try to go past the waterfall and stay aboveground, Abaline is nowhere to be found. You go through, or you go nowhere at all.”

He knew Alfeus was right. Still, Chip felt compelled to point out, “You might have mentioned the fire lizards earlier.”

“I’m hoping they keep to themselves,” the chipmunk said, choosing to ignore the pointed comment. “They only venture out at high noon to soak up what heat they can before returning to the Obsidian Lizard.”

Chip, who had just begun to hop further into the cavern, stopped short. “Obsidian Lizard?”

“Yes, yes, that’s what I said! There’s no reason to get your fur ruffled about it. He only leaves the underground during the peak of summer, and that’s a ways off yet. Until then, his fellow lizards soak up heat to warm him. Somehow, it keeps the fire within him aflame.”

At this, Chip muttered something about the chipmunk’s words being less than reassuring.

“Better informed with a little healthy fear than ignorant and foolhardy because of it. Besides, only heat draws them out, and we won’t have any flame to attract them. I’m certain we’ll make it through without incident.”

“So, you managed it safely with Leah?”

“Well, no…” Alfeus confessed, his voice trailing off. “I only went as far as the cavern’s mouth. She insisted that it was something she must do alone. But I’ve always regretted not going with her all the way to Abaline.”

Chip offered an encouraging smile, for he could sense Alfeus’ discomfort, and he was truly grateful to have a friend along on this journey. “Well then, it’s a good thing you have another chance now.”

With that, they began to make their way through the luminous underground. Both Chip and Alfeus stared above and around them at the glittering walls, mouths agape.

Thousands upon thousands of gems and crystals were encrusted in the dark gray stone, but it seemed more than happenstance to Chip, as if someone had lovingly chosen just the spot from which each gem could best send out its own radiant glow.

He could not help but continue to stare in wonder; in fact, so enraptured was he that he nearly stumbled into the widening stream.

But can you blame him, reader?

After all, of the many things that Chip might have anticipated encountering, he had never expected to come face to face with a radiance such as this beneath the earth where no familiar rays of light might reach them.

What is this place? Chip silently pondered as they continued to follow the water’s meandering path.

“Where is the light coming from, I wonder?” said Alfeus in a whisper, which seemed only right in a place like this.

Once the question was voiced aloud, Chip naturally felt that he must investigate further. He hopped over to the wall on their left, placing a paw against the stone before jerking it back just as quickly when it proved to be quite warm.

When he mentioned this to Alfeus, the chipmunk did not look terribly surprised. “That’ll be the fire lizards. There are so many of them, they’re bound to heat the very walls themselves.”

Chip heard Alfeus, but did not reply. He had caught sight of movement in a nearby gem. Oh, how he wished Romulus were there to teach him their names, for he was sure to know them all.

There it was again!

Something darted to the right past a jewel, carnation pink in color, and Chip was sure the movement came from the other side of the wall, rather than from the reflection of the gem’s smooth surface.

“Alfeus, did you see that? I think there’s a passage on the other side of this wall!”

“Well, if there is, it’s the fire lizards who use it, and I’m not inclined to wait and see,” Alfeus said before marching resolutely forward.

Reluctantly, the young rabbit followed. Much as he might long to uncover the mysteries of the fire lizards’ dwelling, he knew Abaline was more important. They followed the flowing stream to their right, Chip admiring the way the stone shimmered beneath the perfectly clear water. He had expected to feel tense and afraid after learning of the fire lizards, but there was something altogether pure and comforting about this underground haven, and the rabbit found that he felt free to explore every crevice and nook, much to Alfeus’ consternation.

At last, they reached the back of the cavern. Before them, looking as if they had been there since time began, were three gaping tunnel entrances. The stream flowed merrily down the middle path, and Chip was tempted to simply follow it, but instead looked at Alfeus expectantly. “Which one do we take to Abaline?”

The chipmunk was silent, staring fixedly from one tunnel to the next.

“Alfeus?” Chip prompted.

He jumped a bit before replying, “Well, I can’t say that I know, Chip. I imagine that’s something that each seeker of Abaline’s treasure has to uncover for themselves.”

At the end of this lofty pronouncement, Alfeus looked away rather sheepishly, for after all, he truly did want to be useful and was bothered when he felt he was not.

“That’s all right, Alfeus,” Chip said, noticing his friend’s embarrassment. “We’ll figure it out.”

He hopped forward to the tunnel on the left and sniffed, immediately scrunching up his nose in distaste. It smelled damp and unfriendly, and something in the heavy staleness of it warned Chip against taking that path.

“Alfeus, what does the tunnel on the right smell like to you?”

Hurriedly, the chipmunk scampered over, taking a good and proper whiff before sighing with delight at the scent that greeted him. “Hazelnuts, Chip,” he breathed. “Mountains and mountains of them!”

Alfeus was several feet past the entrance before Chip managed to stop him. But then, all of a sudden, the headiest sensation swept over him, enveloping him in the scent of lilac, just as if he were back in his grandmother’s burrow beneath the grandest lilac bush that Everleaf Forest had ever seen.

Alfeus continued to mutter about hazelnuts as Chip turned to stare down the tunnel, breathing in his favorite smell. He was just about to make his way closer to it when his left ear twitched violently.

For one pivotal moment, Chip’s mind cleared, and he was struck by the pungent wave of rot rising up from the tunnel’s depths. He pushed the hazelnut-crazed chipmunk out of the tunnel until they were far back enough for the smells to fade.

Though Alfeus had, at first, been overtaken by indignant hysterics, only a few minutes passed before he returned to his own, rather persnickety self. “Confound it all! What sort of depraved mind makes false promises of hazelnuts?”

“At least you didn’t get a whiff of what was really coming from that tunnel,” Chip choked out, still nearly gagging from the unrelenting stench of it. Still, he managed a smile at Alfeus’ dramatics.

The chipmunk was yet to be appeased. “I refuse to tolerate such deceitfulness! Such foul play! One nice, wholesome adventure is all a chipmunk asks for in life, and if anyone else comes to muck it up, it’s me they’ll have to answer to!”

It was then that a roar sounded, so terrible and deep that it made the very walls around them tremble.

Chip looked at Alfeus. “You were saying?”

*

Any guesses on where (or who) the roar is coming from? Share your ideas using #bookofroseleaves

Until next week,

Alexandria