[WARNING:  This starts out pretty tame, but it'll become graphic in later chapters.  Just a friendly warning.]

Bound Secrets

By:  Mark J. Hadley

CHAPTER 1

            All was quiet at the clubhouse, save for the soft "*Zu-zu-zu*…" of Snoozer, lying up on his little alcove above.  The other Ham-Hams came in through the front door, with Hamtaro in the lead, holding a little ball in his paws.  "That was great!" he exclaimed to the others.  "So that's volleyball, Stan?"

            "Uh-huh," Stan nodded.  "It's a great sport, but…well, I usually do better than I did out there."

            "Aw, quit complainin'," Boss said, sitting down at the table and smiling triumphantly.  "Just 'cause our team won…"

            Stan shook his head, "Nah, it was a close game either way.  I just felt like I didn't play as well as I usually do, that's all."  He took a seat at the table to rest, as did the others.

            "It was fun, but I'm all sore now," Dexter complained.  "Did you have to spike the ball on me so hard that one time, Howdy?"

            Howdy shrugged, "I did it to get yer attention; you were spendin' all yer time lookin' at Pashmina.  Our team got the point there, but I was hopin' you'd got the point too!"  He laughed at his own joke, but his laughter quickly died out as he realized that no one else was laughing at it.

            Bijou smiled over at Hamtaro and said, "I am glad we were able to be on ze same team, even if we did not win…we had fun playing ze game anyway."

            "I'll have to read up about volleyball some more," Maxwell said.  "Maybe I can come up with some strategies for our next game."

            "That'd be great!" Hamtaro nodded, rubbing his head, "*Kushi-kushi*…"

            Maxwell got up from the table and headed off upstairs, to his little library.  All of his best books were stored there, as well as a large collection of books he hadn't even read yet.  One of these has to have some strategies for volleyball, he thought, as he browsed through the titles on the shelves.  Unfortunately, he couldn't find hardly any books on sports, and those that he did find didn't contain info about volleyball.

            Time to check out my older stash of books, he thought.  Going under the bookshelves, he pulled out a small box and opened it up.  A cloud of dust rose from it, and he waved it away, coughing.  I've been meaning to go through this box anyway.  All these books belonged to my grandfather…

            Maxwell sifted through the titles, but couldn't find much that grabbed his attention.  They were mostly old cookbooks, a few storybooks, and what looked like two volumes of an encyclopedia, but none of them were what he was looking for.  Still, some looked interesting, and he knew he'd have to come back and read them.

            As he moved one book aside, he spotted something underneath.  It was a very old-looking book…he carefully lifted it out of the box, and blew the dust from its cover to examine it better.  It was a thick book, with a heavy binding…the title read, 'Magus Liber,' which was unfamiliar to him.  It looked like it could be in another language.  Flipping open the book, he found that it was indeed another language…the writing inside definitely wasn't English.

            It looks like Latin, Maxwell thought to himself.  I've heard of it, but I haven't learned how to read it.  I don't think I have any books that can translate it, either…  He went through the first pages, which looked like an index and possibly a story after that.  Around page twelve, though, the format shifted.  Now, instead, there were separate lines of text, followed by sets of indented words surrounded by quotation marks.  He continued through them, and noticed that some of them were short, only one or two words long, but others were very long, the quoted text going for pages.  He wasn't sure what to make of it…

            "Whatcha got there?" came Panda's voice from behind him, startling him.  As he turned around, Panda looked apologetic and said, "Whoops, sorry…didn't mean to scare you there…"

            "It's okay…" Maxwell nodded.  He looked back at the book and said, "I just found this old book that belonged to my grandfather.  It looks really, really old, though, like way older than he was.  I wonder if it belonged to his grandfather?"

            Panda looked over at it and asked, "What's it about?"

            "I don't know, it's in Latin," Maxwell answered.  "I can't read it…"

            "Maybe you should go try to find the Elder Ham," Panda suggested.  "He might know it, if it's a really old language."

            Maxwell thought about this for a moment, then said, "Maybe…well, we'll have to see.  I'll go show it to him tomorrow, I guess…"  He closed the book and set it aside on the shelf, then continued to go through the box's contents…

*          *            *

            That evening, after everyone's humans had gone to sleep, the Ham-Hams gathered again at the clubhouse…even though it was late, they thought it would be a good evening to get together and have a late-night party under the full moon.  Everyone was enjoying themselves, and as they gathered around a campfire and watched the stars.  "Such a clear sky," Bijou remarked.  "Zis is like a romantic evening back in France, yes?"

            Before Hamtaro, or anyone else, could answer, Boss blushed and scratched the side of his head idily, "Well, heheh, I guess only you could know about that…I'd like to visit France someday myself, you know…"

            Oxnard was wedging a small sunflower seed on the end of a stick, and held it out over the campfire, "Roasted sunflower seeds…mmm, I know this is gonna be good!"

            "Hey, I have a cool idea," Sandy said, looking over at Maxwell.  "Why don't you go get one of your storybooks and read a story for everyone?"  There were sounds of approval from everyone at the idea.

            "Sure!  I'd love to," Maxwell agreed, standing up.  "I'll be right back, okay?"  With that, he ran off into the clubhouse, "*Badda-badda-badda-badda*…" to head up to his library and pick out a story for everyone.

            While he went across his selection of books, he stopped as he reached the Magus Liber, sitting on the shelf where he had put it.  Curiosity was getting the better of him, and he pulled the book out, heading over to a small table to look at it more closely under the light.  It definitely was old…the cover was worn, and the pages were brittle around the edges; he had to be careful not to damage them.  Plus, there was something odd about the cover itself, and the ink that was used on the pages, although he couldn't put his finger on it…

            The Latin phrases were still as undecipherable as always, though he glanced over them just the same.  It was obvious to tell that English was eventually derived from it, because there were a few similar words.  He looked at one particular phrase, contained in quotes, and read it aloud, "Incendia exuro…Hmm, that almost sounds li—…"

            Abruptly, the table he was at suddenly caught on fire.  This surprised him, and he leapt back away from it…glancing around quickly, he found a dust cloth and tossed it over the fire to smother it.  Once the fire was out, he breathed a sigh of relief, then pulled the book off of the table, inspecting it and finding it undamaged.

            That was weird, he thought.  The word 'incendia' sounds a lot like 'incendiary', which relates to fire…hmm, I wonder…  He flipped to the next page in the book and ran his paw down the list, stopping on another phrase.  Shrugging, he thought, I feel silly, but…hey, why not…

            Clearing his throat, he read the line aloud, "Volaticus veneficus!"  He waited, but nothing seemed to happen, although he felt a slight tremble in the book…it could have been just his imagination, though.  "Ah well," he said, and turned to head back for the bookcase to put the book back.

            It took him a moment to realize that his feet weren't touching the ground.  Looking down in surprise, he waved his feet in the air, confirming that he was indeed hovering off the ground.  He panicked a little, and finally grabbed hold of the wall.  He clung to it, and stammered, "Wh-what the…?  This is impossible!"  Still, there he was, in the air, so he realized that whatever it was, it was really happening.

            A minute later, he felt gravity pulling on him again, and carefully climbed down from the wall, settling his feet unsteadily on the ground.  Looking again at the title of the book, he studied it more closely.  It's called the 'Magus Liber', he thought…Well, 'Liber' sounds a lot like 'Library', so it could mean 'Book'…and as for 'Magus'

            He wondered if he had somehow stumbled upon a real book of magic…a spellbook.  That was crazy, though…all his logic told him that such things only existed in stories, and that it couldn't possibly be what he had right there in his hands.  Maybe if I tried reading another one, he thought, just to be sure…I wish I knew what these meant.  Those other lines could be descriptions or something.  Oh well…here goes…  He looked back down at the page and read another passage aloud, "Prodigium, maleficus et infectus, advoco!"

            Absolutely nothing happened.  He looked back and forth to make sure that nothing had changed, then examined the phrase again, wondering if he had maybe mispronounced it.  Or maybe, he thought, this is all just my imagination to begin with…

            He suddenly remembered that he had promised to bring a story down to read everyone.  Hastily closing the Magus Liber and putting it back on the shelf, he looked over his storybooks and chose one.  He left the room in a hurry, to head back outside and join the others by the campfire.

            Maxwell was in such a hurry that he didn't even notice the floor: strange black lines spread across it in a circular, complex pattern, forming a design, and for just a moment, the lines glowed a faint red.  A foggy red mist filled the room for a brief moment, then the design on the floor vanished, and the mist seemed to vanish with it.  But whatever it was hadn't gone entirely, because in the next moment, there was a soft laugh that seemed to echo within the confines of the room, although there was no one around to hear it…

TO BE CONTINUED…