The Legend of Greg
A boy discovers his destiny could totally stink in this riotously funny fantasy-adventure
Risk-averse Greg Belmont is content with being ordinary. He's got a friend--that's right, just one--at his fancy prep school, and a pretty cool dad (even if he is obsessed with organic soaps that smell like a mix of salted pork and Icelandic bog). The problem is, Greg isn't ordinary . . . he's actually an honest-to-goodness, fantastical Dwarf!
He discovers the truth the day his dad brings home a gross new tea--one that awakens bizarre abilities in Greg. Then a murderous Bro-Troll kidnaps his dad and Greg is whisked away to the Underground, where Dwarves have lived for centuries right beneath the streets of Chicago.
With the help of some awesome new friends and a talking ax, Greg learns all about the history of the Dwarves, which has been marked with tales of epic failure since the dawn of time. However, the return of the magic they once wielded means big changes are afoot, escalating tensions with the Dwarves' sworn enemy: the Elves.
Brimming with humor and action, Chris Rylander's The Legend of Greg turns dwarf lore on its head, delivering an adventure readers won't be able to resist.
Excerpt from The Legend of Greg
Flaming Lady Beards, Man-Eating Monsters, and Head-Exploding Rock Allergies
It should come as no surprise that the day I almost got my face clawed off by a vicious monster was a Thursday.
Since pretty much the beginning of time (according to my dad and his dad and his dad’s dad and his dad’s dad’s dad, etc.), bad things have happened to my family on Thursdays. A few examples:
• Great-Aunt Millie’s legendary beard caught fire on a Thursday. Once the flawless envy of every Belmont (man or woman), it sadly never quite grew back the same again.
• Second Midwestern Bank repossessed the old Belmont family farm on a Thursday way back in 1929, dooming the family henceforth to dreary city life. Ever since, all my aunts and uncles call it a slimy Pointer bank. Nobody will tell me what that means, but it’s almost certainly a curse word since it’s precisely what Aunt Millie screamed the moment she realized her beard was on fire.
• My cousin Phin lost his brand-new car on a Thursday. To this day we have no idea where it went. He parked it on a street in the city, but then simply forgot where. After looking for over an hour, he gave up and took the bus home. If you say it’s impossible to just lose a midsize sedan, I’ll show you a Belmont on a Thursday.
There are so many more, but the point is: I shouldn’t have been surprised to nearly get torn limb from limb on a Thursday. I certainly expected something bad to happen, since it nearly always did. Just not something so drastic. I thought maybe I’d get gum stuck in my hair. Or perhaps Perry would try to stuff me into the toilet in the fourth stall of the boys’ locker room again—which was actually almost as bad as getting attacked by a monster since this particular toilet was so notorious it even had its own name: the Souper Bowl. The Souper Bowl hadn’t been flushed since 1954 due to some superstitious school tradition that ran so deep even the city’s top health inspector (a former student) overlooked it. I can’t even describe to you the horrible sights I’ve seen inside that stall—and the smell shall never be mentioned again.
But I’m certainly not complaining about Thursdays. They’re just part of being a Belmont. Some kids are born rich, some are born poor; some are born with eight toes, some are born with blond hair; and others just happen to have been born with a Thursday curse.
Luckily, my whole family was pretty good at coping with it. We even had a saying: Thursdays are why every other day seems so great! Okay, so maybe it’s not very catchy, but it worked. The other days of the week truly felt like a holiday compared to Thursdays.
That particular Thursday started out simply enough: with a supposedly harmless school field trip to the Lincoln Park Zoo.
The Isaacson Preparatory Empowerment Establishment (I dare you to try saying you go to a school called I-PEE with a straight face) is one of the fanciest and most prestigious private schools in the country. They had enough money to buy their own zoo if they wanted. But instead they sent us on “cultural enrichment” trips once a month to places like the Shedd Aquarium, or a local apple orchard, or another, much poorer school on the west side so my classmates could see firsthand just how much better their lives were than other kids’.
That Thursday, a convoy of luxury charter buses drove the entire school up Lake Shore Drive toward the zoo. Lake Michigan flanked us on the right, looking like an ocean with a sparkling blue surface that stretched on forever.
My first goal, after stepping off the bus at the entrance to the Lincoln Park Zoo, was to find Edwin.
That was the good part about Field Trip Thursdays: getting to hang out with my best friend all day.
Edwin was easily the most popular kid at the PEE, and perhaps also the richest. And maybe that’s not a coincidence?
Not that being wealthy was rare for the PEE’s students (I was one of the few exceptions). Of the school’s 440 students, only 45 of us paid reduced tuition. The rest came from families wealthy enough to afford $43,000 a year for something they could have gotten for free.
But Edwin’s family was like a whole other level (or two, or forty) of being completely loaded. I spent my summers working at my dad’s organic health goods store, whereas Edwin spent his summers jetting all across the world on his parents’ fleet of private luxury planes. Yeah, that’s planes—as in they owned more than one private jet. I didn’t even know what exactly Edwin’s parents did for a living. They worked downtown doing something vague and financey—like CEO of a Money Management Investment Firm, or Executive Commodities Director, or Market Analyst Portfolio Broker Financial President Administrator.
But the point is: despite us coming from two different worlds, Edwin and I had been best friends from the moment we met three years ago.
I found him in the crowd that Thursday surrounded by a flock of pretty eighth-grade girls. They collectively made a face as I joined the group. I assumed it was partly because I smelled like a mixture of salted pork shank and Icelandic bog (yeah, so my dad made his own organic soaps and forced me to use them). Either way, I ignored the girls’ annoyed stares as they dispersed—like they always did when I showed up.
“Hey, Greg,” Edwin said with a huge grin. “Did your dad find anything cool on his trip? Any extinct Norwegian tree saps? Or a new strain of peat moss? Maybe he finally tracked down the rare and elusive Arconian button mushroom?”
Part of my dad’s job as an artisanal craftsman (his words, not mine) involved traveling all over the world in search of new ingredients to use in his soaps and teas and other natural health products.
He’d been in Norway all week on the hunt.
“I don’t know, he gets back tomorrow,” I said. “Why? Are you really that anxious to try his newest tea?”
Edwin looked at me like I had asked him to put his finger in my left nostril.
“Uh, not after last time,” he said with a laugh. “His last batch of tea almost caused my face to explode, remember?”
“To be fair, he had no idea you were allergic to shale,” I reminded him.
“That’s because shale is rock,” Edwin said, grinning. “I never ate it before, because, generally speaking, people don’t eat rocks.”
“Hey, you’re the one who asked him for a sample. My dad never makes you try anything. I’m usually the guinea pig.”
“I know, but I can’t help it, I really like your dad,” Edwin said. “He makes me laugh. Guy is hilarious.”
“I’m glad one of us finds him funny,” I muttered.
Deep down I also loved my dad’s quirks, but I hated to show it.
“Anyway,” Edwin said with a cheesy smile, “are you ready for the breathtaking world of the Lincoln Park Zoo?”
I rolled my eyes.
That was the thing about being as rich as Edwin: when you could afford to do literally anything you wanted, most normal things became boring. Just last winter his parents flew him in a helicopter over a Siberian nature reserve in eastern Russia— there was no way a trip to the zoo could live up to that. That was probably why he loved my dad so much: one of the few things money couldn’t buy you was a kooky, eccentric, and (debatably) hilarious father.
“Hey, you never know,” I said. “Maybe watching depressed animals lay around in a cage is more exciting than it sounds?”
Edwin laughed. He got a kick out of my bizarrely gloomy optimism. I blamed my dad for that trait.
“Don’t be such a gwint,” he said.
Edwin called me a gwint when he thought I was being too pessimistic. I had no idea what gwint meant, but it’d always seemed oddly fitting. Edwin had a knack for making up strangely appropriate nicknames. Like Hot Sauce, for example. He was one of the PEE’s English teachers and field trip chaperones. His real name was Mr. Worchestenshire, and of course we all knew that Worcestershire sauce wasn’t technically hot sauce, but when Edwin coined the nickname, he didn’t know exactly what kind of sauce Worcestershire was. Plus, Hot Sauce was just a way better nickname than Miscellaneous Food Condiment. So it stuck.
“Whatever,” I said. “It’s your move, by the way. Or are you stalling, hoping that I will forget what my Master Plan is?”
Edwin scoffed and took out his phone.
One of the things we realized we had in common right away was chess. Not many kids played chess. In fact, I’d only met one other kid who played chess: Danny Ipsento. He used to live down the street from me. Turned out, in addition to playing chess, his other hobbies included starting fires and throwing shoes at pigeons. So we never really became friends—I was too unlucky to have a friend with such dangerous hobbies—it’d be hazardous to my health.
But the point was: the rarity of chess players made it seem almost too perfect the first time I saw Edwin open the Chess With Friends app on his phone. I only started playing because my dad was obsessed with the game and taught me when I was three. My dad never stopped talking about chess’s perfections: how ancient it was, how it was the only game in existence where luck played absolutely no factor, and how you completely controlled your own destiny. Every move, every win, every loss was entirely in your own hands, something that life never offered (especially to Belmonts). Which was also why I grew to love it, despite the fact that I rarely won. Every new game, the possibility of success was limited only by my own actions. Which was immensely comforting for someone from a family cursed with terrible luck.
I was still nowhere near as good as my dad. Or even Edwin, for that matter. I beat Edwin probably once every ten or fifteen games, and even then I figured he only let me win to keep me interested. He loved chess partially for the same reason as me: he grew up learning. His dad, in addition to being obscenely wealthy, also happened to be a former world chess champion. And Edwin had always idolized his dad, so much that he used to try to emulate his movements so he would one day walk and talk and act just like him. But Edwin also loved chess on an even deeper level, maybe for the same reason he was able to make so many friends: he loved deciphering people’s inner thoughts.
Edwin finally made his move as Hot Sauce, our chaperone, led our group down a concrete path.
“Oh, man, I don’t even want to know what you’re up to,” I said.
I didn’t have a phone myself (a long story). So I’d have to wait to see his move until later when I could get to the computer lab.
“Try not to worry about it too much,” Edwin taunted. “Just enjoy this spectacular trip that the PEE has arranged for our delights and amusements.”
We started the tour with the Big Bears Exhibit—as if there was any other kind of bear. We entered an area surrounded on three sides by European buckthorn trees (yeah, so I kind of have a thing for trees) and low wooden fences. In front of us, a thick pane of clear viewing glass separated the zoo patrons from this portion of the bear exhibit. It consisted of a sloping stone cliff scattered with rocks. Several massive polar bears lounged on the rocky slope in front of us.
The other kids oohed and aahed as the giant bear heads turned to stare at us.
The hairs on my arms stood on end as the largest of all the bears locked eyes with me. He let out a roar so intense we could all hear it through multiple layers of safety glass.
I’d never really been much of an animal person. Other people’s pets usually avoided me like I was diseased. Which was embarrassing since dogs had literally evolved over thousands of years to love human beings.
But as I stood there and stared in shock at the large bear roaring at me inside the Lincoln Park Zoo, this felt entirely different from dogs and cats not liking me. It’s hard to explain, but I definitely knew something was off right away. It was clear in that moment that the bear hated me more than anything else in the world.
Everybody watched in awed silence as the polar bear took a few steps toward us. On two legs, he was easily three times my height. With paws large enough to hack off my whole face in a single swipe.
The bear’s lips parted into another snarl.
Then he bent over and picked up a boulder with his front paws. The other kids gasped. A few laughed as the bear shuffled closer toward us with the giant rock squeezed between his claws.
“Dude, did that bear really just pick up a boulder?” Edwin asked.
A young employee with a name tag (Lexi) stepped in front of our group of stunned students.
“There’s no need to be alarmed,” Lexi said with a proud smile. “Wilbur and several of the other adult bears love playing with the rocks. They do it all the time. Bears, like dogs and cats, can be surprisingly playful animals.”
Wilbur let out another savage roar.
Lexi was still smiling, but her eyes flicked nervously back toward the bears. Wilbur took a few more steps forward, the boulder in his grasp. He was now directly on the other side of the viewing glass.
And still staring right at me.
The polar bear raised the rock and smashed it into the safety glass.
The crowd gasped and took a collective step backward as the pane vibrated. But it did not break, or even crack. Lexi’s smile was gone, but she was doing her best to reassure us that everything was okay.
“There are five separate panes of reinforced laminated safety glass,” she said, her voice shaking. “No need to worry.”
Wilbur let out another roar and smashed the rock into the glass again.
The innermost pane of the glass splintered like a spiderweb. The crowd’s nervous murmurs turned into something much closer to panic.
Bears do not shatter unbreakable safety glass.
I knew that as much as I knew that Goblins did not exist and my dad’s soap really did smell terrible—they were facts. Yet all I could do was watch in horror as this particular bear, worked into an unearthly rage by my presence, smashed the thick viewing glass yet again with the boulder.
Shards of glass fell around the bear inside the pen. He’d just easily shattered several more layers of the viewing glass. The crowd backed up steadily. Some people were already running away. Any traces of calm that had remained on Lexi’s face were gone as she spoke rapidly into a walkie-talkie.
Wilbur the polar bear reared back with the rock and then thrust it forward a final time.
The final two layers of glass shattered, spilling onto the floor in a million little pieces.
Kids and other zoo patrons screamed as they dove for cover. Wilbur rushed past them as if they weren’t even there. He had a very specific target in mind and nothing would get in his way.
Wilbur the twelve-foot-tall polar bear was charging right toward me.