Which Way would you follow?
When Laz, a young wombat, goes from playing a game with his friend Kita in their idyllic tribal village to witnessing the nightmare of a Tasmanian devil attack, he reacts in the only way he can: he fights back. He accidentally kills a devil while trying to save his sister, but his sister is still taken captive. To make matters worse, the tribal elders banish Laz, Kita and Zeeg—the three youths who fought back—for failing to follow the way of the wombat.
Frustrated and adrift, the three friends embark on a quest through red rocky deserts and deep eucalyptus jungles to discover their own way. With a cheerful koala warrior as a guide and a wise platypus as their trainer, they hope to survive long enough to find a legendary weapon that could save their tribe and Laz’s sister from the devils. But danger lurks around every tree…
The screeches of the devils were terrible. The screams of Laz’s wombat tribe were even worse. And now Laz could see the dark, furry shapes streaking around him and down into burrows, where fresh screams soon arose. The devils’ black fur blended with the darkness. Their sharp white teeth shined in their snarling jaws, and their beady eyes glinted.
Then came the torches, carried by the devils to blind his night vision. Laz froze in fear, his pounding heart muffling the screams, like he was underwater and could do nothing but watch the invasion through the fire-streaked darkness. The devils waved the torches and thrust the burning ends at fleeing wombats, or tossed them down into dens, where smoke and more wombats soon came pouring out. Their attackers seemed to be following the Way of Fire in the most literal sense. The torches made it hard enough to see, but then the acrid smell of smoke clogged the air and Laz’s nose, masking the telltale scents of his family and friends.
A devil swiped at Laz with a torch in passing, breaking his stare. The flames missed him by less than a claw-length, but the devil didn’t chase him. It didn’t matter. All thought of fighting back, of being a wombat warrior, fled from Laz.
And then he was fleeing too. He couldn’t think. He only ran. The wombats all around him, usually so recognizable, were panicked blurs in the night. Where were his parents? Or his sister, Sura? Even Kita, who had been right next to him, had vanished in the chaos.
When he ran straight into a large body, the sound that left his mouth was more like a frightened squeal than a defensive snarl.
The familiar, answering cry was not what he expected: “Laz!”
Relief flooded Laz at the sight of his father. Laz clung to him, gripping pawfuls of his fur. His father’s broad shoulders were steady, while Laz was shaking. His father exhaled in relief to see him too, but his gaze immediately rose above Laz’s head to scan the besieged village.
“Where is your sister?” his father demanded.
Over his father’s shoulder, Laz could see his mother pacing at the edge of the acacia bushes. His parents had been gathering grass there earlier. Now his mother hugged herself and bit her lip, her eyes wide and shining in the flickering torchlight with fright and unshed tears. Wombats were scattering into the underbrush behind her, but she wasn’t running for safety.
Sura was nowhere to be seen.
“I… I don’t know,” Laz stammered. Shame followed his relief just as quickly. “She was with me earlier, but…”
His father wasted no time. “Where? When?”
“Near Elder Tola’s den. Sura, Kita and I were playing…” He didn’t dare mention what they had been playing. It wasn’t a game anymore; it was real. The devils were overtaking their village. Screams rose and fell around them, echoing in Laz’s ears, and he smelled burning grass—and worse, burnt fur.
And yet, his father launched himself toward the worst of the commotion. “Stay here!” he shouted back at Laz. “I’ll find Sura. Hide with your mother in the bushes. Run if you have to!”
Suddenly, Laz didn’t want to run. He wanted to go with his father and help him. Laz was still terrified, but the sight of his father dashing back into danger was even more terrifying.
About the Author
AdriAnne Strickland was a bibliophile who wanted to be an author before she knew what either of those words meant. She shares a home base in Alaska with her husband, but has spent two cumulative years living abroad in Africa, Asia, and Europe. While writing occupies most of her time, she commercial fishes every summer in Bristol Bay, because she can’t seem to stop. Her debut YA sci-fi/fantasy, WORDLESS, launched in 2014 from Flux Books. THE WAY OF THE WOMBAT is her first foray into the world of middle grade fantasy adventure.
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