Almost twenty years ago, Jordan, Rachel, Maddy and Brittany were thrown onto a mysterious island of beauty, intrigue and treachery after finding a book buried in the desert sands. They met and freed their host, a man called Atrus, from the prison where he had been stranded by his sons. Several months later, they helped Atrus again by rescuing his wife, Catherine, from her prison on her home world ruled over by Atrus' father. Doing so allowed the four strangers to return home via the same path that brought the book to them originally.

Safely home, the four strangers thought that was the last they would see of Atrus and his books, until he turned up on their doorstep ten years later, inviting them to come and see the new home he had crafted for his people, the D'ni. Before they could, however, a man appeared in Atrus' new home and stole the book linking them to the new D'ni home world, Releeshahn. It was up to the strangers to recover the book from the hands of a vengeful, broken man.

With Atrus, Catherine and their new daughter Yeesha now living on the surface, not too far from the desert compound where Jordan and Rachel live, the four strangers were able to maintain a closer friendship with Atrus and Catherine. But ten years later, things were about to flare up again as old wounds reopened and threatened to create more chaos in their lives than ever before...


Prologue

Alone on the age written as a prison for the greedy, he stands. He's close now. It won't be long. A few days at most... less if he's lucky. And then... then it would be time. Time at last. A twenty year hiatus was not going to stop him... only make him more determined. He sat down and looked up at the sky.

"It's time, Father. It's time."


"What's cooking?"

Rachel turned around to see Maddy in the kitchen doorway. She smiled.

"Lasagne. Have a seat."

"Anything I can do to help?"

"Yeah." Rachel straightened up and smiled again. "You can have a seat. The last time you helped me cook, I had to buy a new oven."

Maddy grinned as she sat down. "Good times." She paused. "I can't believe Britt and Irvan have been going for two years now."

Rachel set the timer. "I can't believe she picked up a D'ni guy."

"I can't believe she picked up anyone."

"Oh, come on," replied Rachel. "Any guy would be lucky to have her."

"Then explain why she's been single for the entire twenty-five years I've known her, except the last two? There's playing hard to get, and then there's just being stubborn."

"Have you looked at the male population of this town? All the guys who are any good are taken."

"Like Jordan."

"Like Jordan. Thank you for acknowledging my good taste in men."

"You've dated literally two men in your entire life, one of whom you've been married to for nearly thirteen years. You've been dating for how long?"

"Since I was fifteen." Rachel paused, then continued somewhat defensively. "Yeah, well, I kinda fell for him. Best decision of my life to ask him out." She cleared her throat. "But as I was saying, most of the men that aren't taken aren't worth more than one date. And those that are fall apart when you get to – well, you know what I mean."

"Oh, come on."

"I'll prove it." Rachel sat down at the table. "How many men have you dated recently?"

"Recently? Like, in the past two years?"

"Okay, sure."

Maddy pasued, counting under her breath. "Seven."

"Okay. How many of those did you have more than one date with?"

Maddy paused again, counting. "Three."

"So presumably you thought that those three were reasonable prospects for a serious relationship."

"Well, yeah."

"And how many of those did you break off with after sleeping with them?"

Maddy blushed. "Three." She paused. "Okay, now I get what you're saying."

"Yeah." Rachel grinned cheekily.

The front door opened and Jane came barrelling into the kitchen, almost knocking Maddy off her chair. Not only was it Friday, it was the beginning of the summer holidays, and Jane, just like any ten-year-old at such a time, was not short of energy.

"Hi Mum hi Mad school was good Dad's coming see you," said Jane with one breath whilst still moving, and barrelled out the door, only to be stopped by her father catching her by the shoulder.

"Don't forget, Brittany and her boyfriend are coming for dinner tonight," said Jordan, smiling despite himself. Jane sighed.

"I know..."

"So you have to come out and eat with us."

"I know..."

"It's lasagne."

"I know..."

"I'm sure it'll mean a lot to Brittany."

"I know..."

"Did you give your mother a kiss?"

Jane paused. "Yes."

"No," weighed in Rachel. Jordan chuckled.

"Go on, get back in there."

Jordan and Jane entered the kitchen. Jane went quickly to Rachel, kissed her, and left the room in a hurry. Jordan stood by the door looking out until he heard the door close, then turned and came over to the table.

"Hi, Rach." He kissed her, then sat down. "Hey, Mop."

"Hello, dear," smiled Rachel. "How was work?"

"Well, you know... it's a sorting office... I sort letters."

"Sounds like a hoot," said Maddy, getting up. "Mind if I make a cup of tea?"

"I'll do it," said Jordan, getting up, "I could go for one myself."

"Sit down," replied Maddy with a wave, "I'll do it."

Jordan sat back down. Rachel looked at him with a slight smile, and Jordan shrugged. There was a knock at the front door.

"Come in," called Jordan. The front door opened; Brittany entered the lounge room and made her way to the kitchen.

"Ah, here she is. The lovebird," said Maddy with a devilish grin, making Brittany blush.

"So two years, Britt?" intervened Jordan. "You must have found yourself a keeper."

"I hope so," replied Brittany enthusiastically. "He's handsome, caring, quiet, good at listening..."

"Well endowed..." ventured Maddy.

"Gahro tiwah," shot back Brittany. "If you can't work out what that means there is something wrong with you."

There was another knock at the front door. Brittany got up to answer it. Jordan turned to Maddy.

"Be supportive, Mop. It's great that Britt has a steady boyfriend. You're her friend; you should be happy for her."

"I am," replied Maddy. "I just like teasing her. It's our routine."

The oven timer went off. Rachel got up to get the lasagne out. Jordan looked at his watch, then leant back on his chair and called out the kitchen door.

"Food's ready, you two!" There was a pause and some giggling. Jordan sighed. "Also, there's a time and place for everything and my lounge room is not the place!"

Brittany entered the kitchen again, this time accompanied by a tall, youngish man with pale blue eyes, light brown hair and goggles on his head. Jordan gestured for them to sit down with one hand whilst accepting a cup of tea from Maddy with the other.

"Hi, Irvan," said Rachel over her shoulder whilst cutting up lasagne. "How are you?"

"Not bad, thank you, Rachel," replied Irvan, pronouncing her name correctly as he had learnt to do but still with a rather heavy accent on the A. "How are you?"

"Dreading the impending school holidays," replied Rachel with the sigh of an already-tired mother. "Hopefully we can fob Jane off on Atrus and Catherine for a bit. They didn't mind too much last time..."


About an hour and a half later, after they had all eaten and were sitting talking in the lounge room (Jane somewhat reluctantly), Irvan stood and stretched.

"Well, I don't mean to be rude," he said with a sigh, "but I should probably get going. Thank you very much for the delicious dinner." He shook hands with Jordan, Rachel and Jane, tried to shake hands with Maddy but got roped into hugging her, kissed Brittany and turned back to Rachel.

"If it's not too much trouble... would you mind if I used your Eder B'lontahv linking book? I would go back to Britt's house and use hers, but it's already fifth gahrtahvo on Releeshahn and I need to be up early tomorrow."

"Oh! Of course," replied Rachel, and fetched the slightly worn book from its stand in the bedroom. She flicked it open to the last page and offered the panel to Irvan.

"Thank you." He patted himself down, in his characteristic way of making sure he hadn't left anything behind. "Oh! I almost forgot." He pulled an envelope out of his top pocket. "Atrus asked me to give you this." He handed the envelope to Jordan, who flicked his glasses onto the end of his nose and looked down at the envelope. It was neatly addressed in Atrus' handwriting to him, Rachel, Maddy and Brittany.

"Okay, thanks," said Jordan, and slit the envelope open.

"You're welcome," replied Irvan. There was a brief pause. "I should probably go in case that's private stuff. Bye."

"Yeah, see you later," said Maddy with a smile.

"Behave yourself," said Irvan to Brittany with a grin. He touched his right hand to the book held out by Rachel and was consumed by the air with a roar and rush of wind.

"So come on, Jordan," said Brittany, "read the letter."


My friends,

Please accept my apologies for not being able to attend your dinner today. Catherine and I have been distracted by other matters of late. I am, however, writing to ask you a favour.

Twenty years ago you freed me from my prison in K'veer and helped me to save Catherine and imprison my father for good. For that alone I can never thank you enough. And then, ten years later you helped Catherine and I start our new life in Tomahna and restore the D'ni civilization by rescuing the Releeshahn book from Saavedro. I will never be able to thank you enough for that. And yet, I must ask more of you. But first, I must make a confession.

You see, my friends, for the last twenty years I've harboured a secret. People – the D'ni, people of other ages, even Catherine – talk about my sons, and the evil things they did to my ages and their inhabitants. But I have always remained silent on this subject. I do not talk about those events, or the rage that filled me as I burned the two books that had ensnared them.

You never asked me about those books. I should have told you then, but I foolishly remained silent. You see, some people believe my sons were killed in those fires. But the truth is, they were not.

My friends, there is much more to this story, but I must tell you myself rather than in a letter. You are the only ones I can possibly confide in. So I need you to come to Tomahna tomorrow morning. There are things I must tell you about my sons.

Your indebted friend, Atrus.


As Jordan finished reading the letter, there was silence in the room. Finally, Jane spoke up.

"So we're going to Tomahna tomorrow?"

"Looks like it," replied Rachel.

"Well, we'll be here bright and early in the morning, then," sighed Maddy. "Loving the early starts on Saturday morning."