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Killmaiden's Compendium
Killmaiden’s Compendium of Uncommon Occurrences Excerpt
Book One, Chapter 1: Father & Son

Alexander Drake hung upside down on his mountain climbing ropes and saw what no one else in the Wide World had ever seen before. He pointed his finger towards the blue flowers that grew out of the rock one thousand feet above the Tanzaran desert. As he did, the petals changed color to bright red.

“Can you see them?” his father, Explorer Benson Drake, called down.

“They’re changing color!” Alex shouted back. “There really are chameleon flowers.”

“Don’t you want to take the shot and come up now?” his father asked.

The wind rustled Alex’s sandy brown hair, which was pointing straight down at the earth below. He spread his arms wide and laughed.

“The brave don’t live forever…” Alex said

“…but the timid never really live at all,” Mr. Drake finished. “Yes, I know, Alexander. I taught you that. But you’re only twelve and you have a lot more living to do. So why don’t you hurry up and record the chameleon flowers. Make sure to film all the important parts.”

Alex trained his eyes on the flowers and saw how their color was darkest in the center and fainter at the edges of the petals. He made a mental note of it for what he hoped would be the official report of his mission.

“Do you think this is good enough for an Entry in the Compendium?” he asked his father.

“I’m sure it is,” Mr. Drake said. “This is a tremendous discovery. But you know what else it is? It’s dangerous. You’re getting big, and my arms are getting tired. I suggest you film the flowers doing their thing and get back up here immediately.”

Alex knew his father was right. The blood had rushed to his head from being upside down for so long. He had to finish the job before he passed out. He unlatched a pouch on his vest and withdrew a small film recorder that was only entrusted to members of the Ancient Order of Explorers. It was brand new technology, and no one else on the planet had anything like it. His dad had lent the recorder to him for the mission. Alex flipped a switch and the film in the recorder spooled. He reached a finger from his other hand towards the flowers again, and this time they changed from red to a grassy green that was similar to his eyes. He did it once more and they shifted back to their original blue. The camera recorded every second.

“I’ve got the shot,” Alex called to his father. “Bring me up.”

The ropes pulled Alex’s harness tight against him, and the rock scraped his stomach as he slid back over the mountain ledge. When he reached the top, his dad removed his floppy brimmed hat and dusted him off with it.

“Well done, Alexander. This will be your second Entry in the Compendium for sure. Your mother would have been so proud.”

Alex smiled, but not wide enough to show his teeth.

“It’s just in the Flora Department,” Alex said. “It’s not in Supernatural or Combat like you, Dad. When can I get out of Flora and into something real?”

“Don’t diminish this accomplishment,” Mr. Drake said. “It’s a moment of true discovery. That’s something rare and beautiful in this world. Killmaiden’s Compendium of Uncommon Occurrences has reported flowers that shoot needles, flowers that eat small insects and flowers that smell like skunks. But no one has ever filmed a chameleon flower. I bet they change color to scare off animals that might eat them. To birds, red means poison, and to some insects, green means beware. This must be the flowers’ defense mechanism. Truly fascinating.

Truly. Your sister will want a full report as soon as we get back to Capitol City. So will Victoria.”

Alex removed his harness, and bundled up the climbing cords.

“Charlotte’s only nine,” he said. “Of course she’ll be excited. But if Victoria even raises an eyebrow I’ll be surprised.”

Mr. Drake removed the stabilizing spikes from the ground and stuffed them into a weathered canvas duffle bag with brown leather trim. He stowed the bag in the standard desert jeep Killmaiden’s Compendium issued, which Explorers had nicknamed the Mongoose after the determined little animal that never gave up a fight. Then Alex heard the backpack phone in the Mongoose ring. A phone that worked on radio waves caught by a three foot antenna was still new machinery. But Alex knew the Compendium spared no expense on its Explorers, and his father was one of the most respected adventurers they had.

“Ben Drake here,” his father said into the chunky receiver.

Alex approached, but couldn’t hear the voice on the other end.

“Of course I’ll hold for Lord Killmaiden’s aide,” Mr. Drake said.

Then Mr. Drake’s eyes grew wide.

“For Lord Killmaiden himself?” he asked. “Of course.”

Alex couldn’t believe it. Lord Jupiter Killmaiden was calling his father. The Killmaiden family had founded the Compendium over five hundred years prior. Lord Killmaiden wasn’t just the owner and publisher, but had been one of the most famous Explorers before the accident that left him in a wheelchair. He still retained the title of Explorer-General.

“Hello, Lord Killmaiden,” Mr. Drake said. “Yes, things are well. I think my son just got himself another Entry. He can’t wait to return to Capitol City to get the Wordsmiths working on the language for it.”

Alex made a face that was supposed to keep his father from embarrassing him, but Mr. Drake just waved him away. Alex moved off, but not far.

“Really?” his father said into the phone.

Alex tried to listen in, but couldn’t hear anything Lord Killmaiden said. He did notice his father’s usually pleasant face go taught.

“Absolutely, sir,” Mr. Drake said. “Capitol City can wait. We’ll come straight to Kingston. The Tanzara airfield is a four hour drive from here. We’ll leave straight away.”

His father hung up, and replaced the phone into the mechanical backpack. Then he looked at Alex.

“That was really J.P. Killmaiden?” Alex asked.

“It was.”

“How many times has he called you directly?”

Mr. Drake looked off into the distance. The Tanzaran sun dipped towards the horizon.

“I’ve been at Killmaiden’s Compendium my entire adult life,” Mr. Drake said. “I’ve worked with Lord Killmaiden many times. But in all these years he’s called me himself only once. Today.”

“What does he want?” Alex said.

His father didn’t answer him; he just stared out past a knot of acacia trees where elephants grazed on the swaying grass. Alex wondered what Lord Killmaiden had said to make his father so quiet.

“We’re not going back to Westerly right now,” Mr. Drake finally said. “We’re going to Anglia, to Kingston proper.”

Alex’s eyes lit up.

“You mean Compendium Headquarters?” he practically shouted. “We’re going to Compendium Headquarters!”

“We’ll fly out as soon as we hit the airfield,” Mr. Drake said. “It’s due south from here. If you can tell me which way due south is with only the objects on you right now, then I’ll let you take the controls once we’re in the air.”

Alex loved to fly, but he loved his father’s tests even more. Alex and Mr. Drake rarely threw a ball around in the backyard; instead, they traded adventure techniques. It wasn’t your average father-son relationship, but they were Drakes, and Alex wouldn’t have had it any other way. He quickly inventoried what he was carrying. He had a small knife, a canteen and he wore a Scout merit pin on his shirt. Those would all be useful. He examined the ground around him for his final necessary tools and picked up an acacia leaf.

“This would have been a lot easier if you kept a compass on you,” Mr. Drake said.

“I had one,” Alex said. “But it fell out of my pocket at a thousand feet. Anyway, I’ve got a plan.”

“Lord help us when you’ve got a plan,” his father joked.

Alex used his knife to scoop out a small hole in the ground about eight inches wide and three inches deep. He poured water from his canteen into the hole and set the acacia leaf afloat in the water.

“Hmm,” his father said. “Did they teach you this in Scout classes or are you making this up as you go along?”

“I like to call it improvising,” Alex said. “And sometimes my improvising even works.”

Alex removed his Scout merit badge and snapped off the little iron bar that had pinned it through his shirt. He took the bar and rubbed it rapidly back and forth against his hair.

“Hoping to stimulate it with brain power?”

“Laugh all you want, but I’m going to get to fly,” Alex replied.

Alex kept rubbing the small iron bar against his hair until he finally felt static electricity on his fingertips. Then he placed the bar on top of the leaf in the water. The leaf started spinning in the little pool.

“Very interesting,” Mr. Drake said. “The static electricity magnetized the iron bar.”

“So the leaf will point along the magnetic north-south line,” Alex said. “I should be able to rule out which way’s north from where the sun is in the sky. Then I’ll know the opposite direction is due south, the direction of the airfield.”

The leaf stopped spinning. Alex looked at the leaf, then looked at the sky and smiled.

“We need to go that way,” Alex said while he pointed due south.

Mr. Drake covered his cheeks with his hands in mock dismay.

“Looks like you’re going to take the plane controls for a while,” he said. “Under those circumstances, I’m not sure we’ll ever make it to the Compendium.”

Book One, Chapter 2: If It’s in this World, It’s in this Book

Alex Drake and his father stepped out of the black cab into the chill mist that made the Kingston natives grimace. The desert of Tanzara had been baking hot, but Anglia was gray and drizzly. Alex hardly noticed. His eyes were focused on the ornate limestone building that filled the entire block between Wellington Street and Marlborough Close. It was seven stories tall and had been built long ago as the world headquarters of Killmaiden’s Compendium of Uncommon Occurrences. For centuries Explorers, Wordsmiths, administrative employees and visitors had walked beneath the arched doorway that contained the Compendium’s famous motto: ‘If it’s in this World, it’s in this Book.’ Alex had only been here once before, and that was a long time ago when his mother was still alive. But he had always dreamed of returning, and now it was for a meeting his father had with the owner of it all, Lord Killmaiden himself.

“Slow down,” his father said, putting a gentle hand on Alex’s shoulder. “This is a meeting, not a mission. Remember, we’re not in the field anymore. Here we act like gentlemen.”

Alex slowed his pace to match his father’s as they approached the two uniformed guards at the door of the headquarters.

“Good morning, Explorer Drake,” the taller guard said to his father.

“You must be Alex,” the shorter one said. “First time to the Kingston HQ?”

“Second,” Alex said. “Last time I only sat in the lobby while my parents met with the Wordsmiths. But it was great.”

The guards nodded to each other.

“An old pro, he is,” the smaller one said.

“A world class Scout,” the taller one said. “Some day an Explorer for sure.”

Alex felt the flush of embarrassment, but his father looked on proudly.

“Gentlemen,” Mr. Drake said, “I have a meeting with Lord Killmaiden.”

“Of course, sir, it’s on the list. Go in to the front desk and they’ll direct you.”

The guards held open the double doors, and the Drakes stepped into the building. Alex’s pulse immediately raced. This was the center of the Compendium empire. It buzzed like a Saracen beehive he had once poked with a stick. Young men in pin-striped suits strode purposefully through the lobby, their hard leather heels slapping the ancient marble floors. Women in smart outfits hustled by rows of portraits of past Explorers. In the pictures, as in real life, the Explorers wore khaki jungle uniforms with the sky blue patch of Killmaiden’s Compendium on their shoulders. At the bottom of the patch was written the Explorers’ creed Lux et Discoverus in old Aurelian, which Alex knew meant Light and Discovery in modern Anglian. A fire roared in the fireplace to the left of the front desk, and it gave off the scent of exotic woods. Alex immediately thought of the Atolls rainforest, or maybe the Arias Coast.

“Welcome,” the woman at the front desk said to Alex’s father. “Explorer Drake, Lord Killmaiden has said you are to go to his office immediately upon your arrival. Alone. Alexander, I’ve got someone to take you on a tour while your father’s busy.”

“I can’t go with you, Dad?” Alex asked.

“You heard the lady,” his father said. “Lord Killmaiden needs to see me in private. It’s important. Go tour the Compendium. There isn’t a kid anywhere in the Wide World who wouldn’t want to be where you are right now.”

Alex looked around and knew his father was right. He saw the twin globes in the atrium that were as big as boulders. They were lined with markings representing the travels of centuries of Explorers. He looked at the glass cases filled with rare gems, extinct stuffed animals and manuscripts that had been thought lost in the sands of time. This was a miraculous place, and he wanted to explore it. Just then a very handsome young man with blonde hair and a manicured mustache approached.

“I’m Billy Quisling,” the young man said. “I’m to be your guide, Alexander.”

“Go ahead, Alex,” his father coaxed. “I’ll come get you when my meeting’s over.”

Mr. Drake headed for the elevator. A uniformed operator slid the elevator cage closed behind him and pushed the button. Alex watched his father ascend out of sight.

“I understand,” Quisling said, placing a hand on his shoulder. “You feel like you’re going to miss the real action. You have an Explorer’s heart just like your father. Just like all the Drakes. But don’t worry. I’ll show you plenty of action. Where do you want to go first? The Leads Room? The Wordsmith’s Studio? The Explorer’s Lounge?”

“Surprise me,” Alex said. “At the Capitol City Bureau all we have is boring old offices.”

“You’ll get a lot more than offices here,” Quisling said.

Quisling led Alex past the front desk and down a hallway. Alex noticed a sign that said Leads Room, and an arrow that pointed down. They descended a spiral staircase, and Alex fought the urge to slide down the polished wood banister. They kept walking until Alex was certain they must be in a deep basement. He figured it would be a cramped and nasty space, but when they reached the bottom Alex realized how wrong he’d been.

“It’s gigantic,” he said. “And loud.”

The room stretched for longer than three football fields. People with determined faces bustled everywhere. Hundreds of clear glass tubes ran along the walls and ceiling. The tubes were interrupted every dozen feet by stations manned by men and women with their sleeves rolled up. Metal capsules zipped inside the tubes until they came to a station and were removed from the chambers with a loud pop.

“It all starts here,” Quisling said, raising his voice over the din. “The sources for our missions, or Leads as you and I call them, come in from the four corners of the globe. These men and women read the Leads, determine their reliability, and if the information is dependable enough, decide which Department gets the Lead.”

Alex and Quisling approached a woman who was opening a capsule.

“A man in Fingle says he sighted the Black Lake Beast while doing his daily washing,” she said. “Should I route it to Fauna or Supernatural, Mr. Quisling? Sometimes it’s hard to tell.”

“Depends on the credibility of the Lead,” Quisling said. “But for now, I’d stick with Fauna. It’s probably just a large eel.”

Another capsule popped out of the tube and the woman examined it.

“Looks like this one is for Technology,” she said. “It says scientists in Panzer may have created planes that can fly without propellers.”

“Without propellers?” Quisling said. “What makes them move then?”

“They’re calling their design jet engines,” she read. “They supposedly fly by combustion that causes propulsion. Wouldn’t that be amazing? I guess I’ll pass it along to Tech.”

Alex and Quisling left the woman to her job, and wandered through the room. Capsules zipped in the tubes over their heads, and employees called out departments where they were sending the Leads.

“Of course, you know what happens once the Leads are sent to the appropriate Departments,” Quisling said.

“The Compendium sends Explorers like my dad on missions to investigate the Leads,” Alex said.

“Actually, first the Department does a lot of planning before a mission is undertaken,” Quisling said.

Alex shrugged.

“My dad plans everything very carefully,” he said. “But I tend to fly by the seat of my pants. I improvise. Of course, they only send Scouts like me when the missions aren’t that important, so it doesn’t matter too much.”

Quisling frowned, distorting the handsome features of his face.

“Don’t say they’re unimportant, Alex. I’m still just a Scout, too, even though I’m a lot older than you. Being in the Ancient Order of Explorers is one of the highest honors a person can achieve. It takes time and training, and Scout missions are a big part of that. You’re a perfect example. Sometimes your missions turn into real Entries in the Compendium.”

“I bet you’re a good example, too,” Alex said. “How many Entries do you have?”

Alex noticed Quisling fidget for a moment before he answered.

“None,” Quisling finally admitted. “But I’ll have one soon. And the Wordsmiths will draft it into some of the most beautiful language in any book anywhere.”

Alex thought Quisling might actually burst he seemed so hopeful about getting a good Entry.

“I never met the Wordsmith who wrote my Entry,” Alex said. “He made it sound as if he was right there with me when I found the Hectare Vines.”

“That’s the purpose of the Wordsmiths,” Quisling said. “Explorers find things, and Wordsmiths make our readers feel as if they discovered these things for themselves. Why don’t we look around a little longer and then I’ll show you the Wordsmith’s Studio?”

Alex and Quisling wandered the Leads Room for a while, and then Alex followed him around a corner into an elevator. Quisling slid the cage door behind them and pressed a button. The lift chugged out of the basement and up several stories. When the door opened, Alex had to squint as shafts of gray light filtered in from the gigantic arched windows. When his eyes adjusted, he stared out at a room filled with desks and lively people who clacked away at the black typewriters in front of them.

“Behold!” Quisling said. “This is where all the successful missions of the Explorers and Scouts get turned into Entries in the Compendium. We have a stable of the best writers from thirty-two countries. We put the Compendium out in every language known to man.”

Just then an older Wordsmith in a bulky cardigan sweater looked towards the two of them. Quisling waved him over. The man shuffled up and appraised Alex with a knowing eye.

“What have you got here, Quisling? A Scout?”

“Not just any Scout, Mr. Fowler,” Quisling said. “This is Alexander Drake.”

“Ah,” Fowler said. “The boy who’s himself in the Compendium as the youngest Scout to ever record an Entry? Tremendous to meet you, lad. Wish I had written your Entry myself. I didn’t, of course. I think Clemmons wrote that one, or perhaps Roth. But, it’s terrific to meet such a brave young soul. I myself prefer to sit behind a desk and write about the results of others’ bravery. I find it more conducive to relaxation and regular meals. But I do love my Explorers.”

Instead of the hand shake Alex expected, Fowler stepped forward and enveloped him in a gigantic bear hug. Alex’s face was smothered in Fowler’s old sweater.

“I guess you do,” Alex said through the muffled clothing. “Do you always write for the same Explorers?”

“Yes,” Fowler said. “It’s Compendium tradition. The Explorer-Wordsmith relationship is sacred. A lot can happen out in the field that doesn’t show up on the video recorder, and up until a few years ago, we didn’t even have the recorders. For a while we just had cameras that could snap a picture or two, and before that Explorers had nothing but pen and paper to jot down what they saw. So, throughout time, the Wordsmiths and Explorers had to truly understand each other. They had to know instinctively what the other thought, felt, and sensed but couldn’t express. The Explorer-Wordsmith bond is necessary in order to make a compelling Entry, an Entry that people all over the Wide World can read and identify with.”

“That makes sense,” Alex said. “I wonder if I’ll find a Wordsmith who understands me. No one else seems to.”

Fowler patted him on the shoulder.

“You will, lad, you will,” he said. “And you’ll know it the moment it happens. You’ll hear his words and know they are the truth. Because that’s what the Compendium is, Alexander. It’s the absolute truth concerning everything in the world. That’s why there’s not a household that doesn’t have a copy of the Compendium placed with honor upon its shelves. And that’s why the Compendium is one of the most important forces on the planet. We’re as influential as governments and more powerful than armies. We are the truth, Alexander, and there is no hiding from the truth.”

“Or from your father,” a voice called.

Alex turned and saw Explorer Drake descending a flight of stairs. His face was grim, but he attempted a smile.

“I’m sorry to cut this tour short,” he said. “But I’ve been looking for you, Alexander. We’ve got to go.”

“Right now?” Alex said. “I didn’t even get to see the Explorer’s Lounge.”

“Yes, now,” his father said. “I’ve got a mission from Lord Killmaiden. And please try to contain yourself for a moment, I’m doing some thinking.”

Alex didn’t notice Quisling’s eyes narrow, but he did see old Mr. Fowler’s look of surprise. Mr. Drake shook both men’s hands and brought Alex away. When they were in the elevator, Alex couldn’t wait any longer. The prospect of a mission directly from Lord Killmaiden was too much for him to be quiet about.

“Where’s our mission?” Alex asked.

“Unfortunately, Alexander, it’s not our mission, it’s just mine this time.”

Alex didn’t know what to say. He’d been on almost every one of his father’s missions since his mother had died three years before. Alex wondered why Lord Killmaiden was sending his father into the field alone.

“Where are you going?” Alex asked.

“For now we’re going back home to Westerly,” his father said. “You’re going to stay in Capitol City with Charlotte and Victoria. I’ll be packing up and moving on shortly. I can’t tell you where I’m going.”

“How come?”

“Because this is the most secret and dangerous mission I’ve ever been assigned,” his father said. “Now please, let me think. A lot depends upon it.”