Jealousy, greed, betrayal, danger-all these and more await those foolish enough to enter the land of the nightlings, and leave the human world behind.
The battle, for it was indeed to become a battle, began on Offering Night, when the moon was full, and the nightlings had the right to enter the village, and take the offering the villagers left on the Treaty Rock, and anything else left out and not locked up. Gemma and Dan made their offerings, and went back to their home, gathered buckets and other tools and walked into the forbidden forest.
Three years before, their father had gotten sick with the saku, a plague that caused confusion, wandering, and delusions. One night while the whole family was asleep, he'd quietly walked out, and they'd never seen him again. Their mother was now sick with the same disease, and convinced her husband was still alive. The sap of the taandu tree was the only chance she had left. They couldn't harvest the sap during the day-only adults were allowed in the forest, and they were only twelve and fourteen. The only time they could do it was Offering Night when all the villagers would be locked inside their homes, frightened of the nightlings that roamed their streets.
Gemma and Dan found a tree, inserted the taps, and sat down back to back to wait for the buckets to fill. They heard the voices of the nightlings that surrounded them-angry, frightened, and incomprehensible. But then the voices died away, and only one voice spoke to them, a voice like the most beautiful music in the world. Humans and nightling agreed to respect their covenant, and the nightling appeared out of the night. She had dark eyes, with hair and skin the color of buttercups. She explained to them that their father's best friend, their Uncle Banris, had traded the lives of all the villagers for the promise of immortality. But he'd been unable to give the nightlings' ruler, the Kai-Lord, everything he'd promised, and Lord Letrin was willing to make another bargain, this time with Gemma and Dan.
The ruler of the nightlings was no benevolent leader-his people were slaves, existing only to serve him-and he cheated when trying to strike a bargain. Gemma and Dan would have to be very careful, and listen closely to his words, to avoid being trapped. They had to refuse the impossible tasks he proposed, and accept only the bargain that was very difficult, but not impossible. And they also had to ask for the ruby key, the only object that could help guarantee their success. Then the nightlings who were tired of Letrin's cruel rule would help them complete their tasks, and remove Letrin from his throne. The way would not be easy, nor would it be swift. But if they were able to travel their road to its end, their friends, their families, and everyone in the village would be safe.
This booktalk was written by university professor, librarian and booktalking expert Joni Richards Bodart.