The Phantoms’ Secret #2
The second novel in a fiction series based on the popular online game, Animal Jam, enjoyed by over 65 million users! The brave and intrepid animals' adventures continue as they protect their natural habitat, Jamaa.
Something’s going on in Jamaa. Plants are dying, the water is murky, and animals are spooked. Are the Phantoms back? Some of the Alphas investigate a suspicious volcano while others are hot on the trail of another lead. Can the Alphas work together to face the newest threat? It will take all of them save Jamaa…and time is running out.
Fans of the popular Animal Jam game (as well as newcomers) are sure to love this book that expands the online world. And readers will be given exclusive access to new online adventures through a special code in the text!
Excerpt from The Phantoms’ Secret #2
“This is even better than I thought it would be!” Peck said, her purple bunny ears twitching with excitement.
“I know!” Katie the deer said, walking over to join Peck at the dessert table. “It’s my first bonfire! I’m so excited!”
Night was beginning to fall in Sarepia Forest, and the party of the year was just getting started. The normally quiet forest was abuzz with activity. Raccoons danced the cha-cha and clapped while a polar bear wearing a sparkly vest beat a hand drum. Toucans swooped down with fragrant flower wreaths, dropping them on the heads of delighted foxes and deer. Penguins were struggling to carry platters of sandwiches and fruit kebabs to tables that were already filled with food. And in the center of it all, a giant bonfire blazed and crackled.
“It looks like a painting!” Peck clasped her paws together. “I want to freeze this in my mind forever!” Tonight was one of the most special events of the year—the annual Jamaa bonfire to celebrate the summer solstice, the day when the sun would reach its highest peak in the sky. The solstice was two days away, and the animals of Jamaa had been planning the festivities for weeks. As one of the six Alphas, Peck had been responsible for arranging the music and decorations.
“You don’t have to worry about remembering it.” Katie popped a chocolate chip cookie into her mouth. “Just ask Liza for a picture. She’s been taking them all night.”
“Oh!” Peck replied. “That reminds me, I need to ask her about something.” Peck looked around and spotted Graham, the inquisitive monkey Alpha, adjusting a string of lights in the trees. Nearby at the bonfire, Sir Gilbert, the regal tiger Alpha, was getting ready to tell a story. And not too far off, sure enough, there was Liza! The friendly panda Alpha was snapping photos of a group of energetic animals with garlands of brightly colored orchids around their necks.
Peck waved goodbye to Katie and zoomed through the crowd, weaving in and out between the dancing and singing animals.
“Okay, everyone. If the giraffes can just stand in the back and let the pigs scoot up front, that’s going to be absolutely perfect.” Liza was holding up her lens to frame the shot. “And there’s still enough light for me to shoot without using my flash.”
“Liza! Hey!” Peck skidded to a stop next to the panda Alpha’s side. “I’ve got to talk to you. It’s, um, kind of urgent.” She shot an apologetic glance over at the pigs. “Sorry to interrupt the moment, guys.”
Click. Liza took a quick picture and put her camera down. “What’s the matter, Peck? Is everything okay?” Her dark eyes filled with concern. “If you’re worried about the party, it looks like everyone is having a blast.”
Peck shook her head quickly. “No, no, that’s not it. I need to tell you something. Privately.” She took Liza’s arm and ushered her away from the curious crowd.
Peck’s voice was low. “I went over to Bunny Burrow earlier today to make sure everybody knew what time the festivities were starting tonight.” She took a gulp of air. “But nobody was in a party mood. The fields where the bunnies grow all the vegetables? Zilch. Zippo. Nothing.”
Liza frowned. “I don’t understand.”
“Me either,” Peck said. “The bunnies planted the usual—carrots, lettuce, broccoli, peppers—but no luck. All the plants are wilting and dying!”
“Hmmm. Are the plants getting enough water?” Liza asked. “It has been very warm lately—and we’re only two days away from the solstice.”
Peck nodded impatiently. “The head farmer told me the bunnies have been watering twice a day and fertilizing, just like always. Something’s not right.” Out of the corner of her eye, Liza noticed Cosmo walking by. She waved him over. “Hey, Cosmo, come here!” Cosmo was the koala Alpha—and an expert on plants.
Cosmo ambled over to his Alpha friends, balancing a plate of cheese and crackers in one paw and holding his ever-present wooden staff in the other. He listened closely as the bunny Alpha repeated her story. “So that’s it,” Peck said breathlessly. “What do you think?”
The candle on top of Cosmo’s staff flickered. “Hmm, that’s very interesting. If you like, the three of us could go over to Bunny Burrow tomorrow and check it out,” he told Peck and Liza. “Seeing the problem is the first step to solving the problem.”
“That would be awesome!” Peck said, breaking out into a relieved smile.
“Thank you, Cosmo. If anyone can figure out what’s going on with the bunnies’ crops, it’s you,” Liza added.
Cosmo smiled. “Hot windy days can cause havoc with some plants. And if the bunnies are overwatering, soil drainage could be an issue. We’ll sort it out.” He bopped his head to the distant drumbeat and headed off toward the party. “Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got a solstice to celebrate!”
Hot summer sun? Dry winds? Peck hoped that was all it was. Because what she hadn’t said aloud—what she’d been afraid to even think—was that the problem with the bunnies’ crops was far more worrisome than something a little water—or lack thereof—could solve.
“Gather round, gather round.” Sir Gilbert’s deep voice boomed across the bonfire. A group of younger animals had assembled around the large orange tiger, perched on logs and tree stumps, transfixed by his commanding presence. “On an occasion such as this, on an evening such as this, it is important for us to remember where we came from, and how our beautiful Jamaa was once almost lost forever.”
A shiver of excitement went through the crowd. Everyone was up for a good story. And Sir Gilbert was one of the best storytellers in all of Jamaa.
“It was a dark period in our world’s past,” Sir Gilbert said quietly. “Animals had stopped trusting one another. Friends became enemies. Communities grew divided. Communication broke down. Species took their Heartstones—the special jewels that held the essence and secrets of each species given to them by Mira and Zios, the guardian spirits of Jamaa—and hid them away. And it was then, during this time of division and fear, that the dark Phantoms first appeared.”
“I’m scared,” whispered a little sloth, burying his face in his sloth friend’s shoulder.
“As you should be,” Sir Gilbert admonished. “Wherever the Phantoms went, destruction followed. They destroyed villages and corrupted our land. They began to capture the Heartstones, and with that, entire species disappeared from Jamaa. Soon there were only six species left: monkeys, koalas, pandas, bunnies, wolves, and—”
“Tigers!” a young tiger piped up eagerly. “Tell us about the battles, Sir Gilbert!” the cub pleaded. “Did you come face-to-face with the Phantom Queen?”
Sir Gilbert held up his paw, his metal cuff glinting in the firelight. “All in good time, young sir. All in good time. Now, Mira and Zios saw that in order to save Jamaa, they would need to find leaders of these species to come together to battle the Phantoms. And that is when Graham, Cosmo, Liza, Peck, Greely, and myself were chosen as the Alphas. Mira and Zios entrusted the Alpha Stones to our care and gave us a charge to unite Jamaa in its darkest hour and to help save the land!”
The regal tiger held his chin high as the animals stopped eating, hanging on his every word. “The battle was epic. For we were fighting not just for ourselves, but for the promise of what Jamaa had been and could be once again. Every animal in Jamaa joined our crusade, and victory was in sight as the cowardly Phantoms fled into their dark portals. Yet just as the last of the Phantoms were retreating, the Phantom Queen overtook Zios and vanished with him into a portal. The courageous Mira dove in after them. And it was then”—Sir Gilbert paused, his voice heavy with emotion—“that Mira called out to me, bequeathing upon me the important mission of finding her.”
The animals bowed their heads. For although many years had passed since the great battle Sir Gilbert spoke of, Mira and Zios were still out there, missing.
When Sir Gilbert finished his speech, he inspected the dessert table. Young animals followed him and peppered him with questions. As the tiger Alpha took a bite of cake and started to expound on details of the battle, he noticed Greely, the mysterious wolf Alpha, standing by himself in the shadows. A couple of chattering foxes walked by, startling when they realized Greely was there. The foxes scurried off. No one ever wanted to be in Greely’s way.
“Excuse me,” Sir Gilbert said to the animals. Then he walked over to Greely. “Have you tried the chocolate cake, Greely? It’s simply delicious.”
Greely didn’t respond. Instead, he looked out at the party, studying it.
“Now, you know, Greely, this is a party,” Sir Gilbert chided. “If you tried to mingle, you might actually surprise yourself and have a little fun.”
Sir Gilbert sighed. “Obviously you’re having quite a good time standing over here by yourself in the dark. How are the shadows treating you? Any nefarious deeds I should be aware of?”
Greely remained silent, but something in his expression shifted.
Sir Gilbert studied him. “If there is something wrong, Greely, you should share it. Mira and Zios always wanted us to work together as a team.”
Greely turned to him, his yellow eyes glowing and calculating. The mention of the guardian spirits’ names had the effect on the wolf that Sir Gilbert had hoped for. “There may be something . . . ” the wolf said slowly, finally breaking the silence. “One of my sources saw something strange appear in Coral Canyons.”
“Something strange? What was it?” Sir Gilbert asked, meeting Greely’s gaze. The two Alphas began to walk deeper into the woods for privacy. “And is your source a reliable one?”
“Ivan the eagle. He said he saw a large crystal clear pool there,” Greely answered, his voice void of any emotion. His dark purple cloak rippled in the night breeze.
A look of confusion furrowed Sir Gilbert’s brow. “A crystal clear pool? In Coral Canyons?” Sir Gilbert repeated. “Well that doesn’t make much sense.”
Coral Canyons was a place of rocky trails and red rock mesas. It was a beautiful land, but it was a desert. Everyone knew where to find the occasional stream, but if Ivan the eagle had seen an undiscovered pool there, it was something strange, indeed.
“And there’s something else,” Greely said, his narrow-set eyes shifting in the dark. “Ivan said there was a statue in the middle of the pool . . . a statue with a remarkable resemblance to Mira.”
Sir Gilbert rose on his haunches and came face-to-face with Greely. “A statue shaped like Mira? We must go there at once!” His excitement was palpable. “This may be the sign I’ve been looking for. The sign that can bring Mira home at last!”
Greely was silent for a moment, appearing to weigh the tiger’s words over. “I will speak with Ivan and gather more information.”
“We will speak with Ivan,” Sir Gilbert corrected, feeling a flicker of annoyance at Greely’s stubborn independence. “You know as well as I that we need to work together if we want to succeed.”
Greely’s eyes narrowed, his white tufted eyebrows forming a V.
“Greely—” the tiger started, but before he could finish, Greely held up a paw.
“We leave tomorrow.” He sighed. “At sunrise.” And without another word, the mysterious gray wolf vanished into the night.
Last night’s bonfire was a smoldering pile of ash by the time Sir Gilbert woke up. After the festivities were over, the Alphas had decided they would all sleep at Alphas Hollow. The Hollow was a secluded spot, hidden inside a massive tree—a place that not even the animals of Jamaa knew about. It was here that the Alphas could talk freely and work together to keep Jamaa safe.
Sir Gilbert yawned, blinking in the predawn light, and stretched on the cushion he’d slept on. Maybe he would have something to eat, or possibly a cup of hot tea, before he set out. He looked at the corner where Greely usually slept, but the wolf wasn’t there. Instead, Greely was already waiting for him by the door.
“You slept late,” Greely remarked before turning to walk outside. Sir Gilbert followed and was startled when the wolf lifted up his head and let out a long, wailing howl. The sound echoed through the trees and across the mountaintops of Jamaa.
They had planned to meet at sunrise and the sun hadn’t risen yet, but Sir Gilbert decided not to correct Greely. “Good morning to you as well,” Sir Gilbert said, his tone brusque. There was no point wasting time arguing.
Sir Gilbert knew that the howl was more than just a morning ritual for the wolf Alpha—it acted as a signal to other animals. Sure enough, Sir Gilbert soon heard the sound of wings flapping. A majestic eagle appeared in the bright blue sky above them. Ivan’s powerful wing beats had him gliding onto the ground in front of the Alphas in seconds.
“Greely. Sir Gilbert.” Ivan nodded respectfully.
“Greetings,” Sir Gilbert said, nodding back. “Beautiful morning for a flight. Fascinating how you—”
“Ivan, please share with us what you saw the other day,” Greely interrupted, getting straight to the point.
“Ah, yes.” Sir Gilbert straightened his spine and looked at the eagle attentively.
The eagle’s golden eyes blinked. “I was out on a morning flight a few days ago—the sun was out, and I was able to catch a warm, rising current. I let it take me over Jamaa and to the outskirts of Coral Canyons. It’s one of my favorite places to fly.”
“And what did you see there?” Greely asked, sitting back on his haunches.
Ivan continued. “The usual. Rocky trails and the red rock mesas. All the things that I normally see when I fly over the desert. But then, I saw something very strange. I saw . . . a pool.”
“A pool?” Sir Gilbert repeated. “Are you sure?”
Ivan nodded his head. “An eagle’s eyes never lie. It was a perfectly round blue pool of water, sitting in the middle of Coral Canyons.” He looked from Sir Gilbert to Greely. “And what was even stranger was that there was a statue of Mira in the middle of the pool.”
“But how can you be sure?” Sir Gilbert demanded. Greely had told him all this the night before, but now that Sir Gilbert was hearing it from the source, he grew anxious.
“An eagle’s vision is one of his strongest traits,” Greely cut him off. “If Ivan says it was a statue of Mira, then that’s what it was.”
Sir Gilbert paced back and forth, his claws digging into the dewy morning grass. “There is no doubt, then. This is a sign from Mira. She is trying to tell us something. We have to figure out what it is.” He wanted Greely to agree with him, but as usual, the wolf Alpha was impossible to read—his expression revealed nothing and his rigid stance betrayed no emotion.
“Coral Canyons is a gigantic place,” Ivan said. “If you like, I can take you to where I saw the pool.”
“Yes. We must go. Right, Greely?” But when Sir Gilbert turned to him for confirmation, he was surprised to see that he was alone. Greely was already walking down the path toward the desert.
“There’s no time to waste.” Greely’s voice cut back through the forest. “If Mira is sending us a message, we need to find out what it is.”
“I didn’t sleep very well last night,” Peck confessed later that morning as she, Cosmo, and Liza walked through Sarepia Forest on their way to Bunny Burrow. She and Cosmo were doing their best to keep up with Liza’s long strides. The air was cool and crisp; birds chirped happily from their nest above, and sunlight filtered through the giant trees. “I couldn’t stop thinking about the crops.”
“Me too,” admitted Liza, stepping over a fallen branch. “What do you think’s going on, Cosmo?”
The thoughtful koala Alpha had stopped next to a large flowering bush. He tilted his head, as if he was listening to someone speak. “That’s very interesting,” he murmured to himself, nodding. Then he caught up to Peck and Liza. “This part of the forest has had plenty of sunshine and rain.”
“Which makes the bunnies’ problem a mystery,” Peck said, her paws on her hips.
When the Alphas arrived at Bunny Burrow, a group of bunnies hurried out from their dens to greet them. “We’re so glad you’re here. We’re really worried,” a bunny with tiny front teeth said anxiously. “Please, follow us.” The group went straight to the fields. There were hundreds of rows of plants . . . and all of them were dying. The carrot leaves were covered with spots. Rows of lettuce were wilted and yellow. And the cucumber vines were withered.
“I’ve been planting vegetables for years and I’ve never seen anything like this,” said a tall bunny named Joe. He snapped a sad-looking cucumber off the vine and held it up. “We didn’t want to jump to any conclusions . . . but there’s been some talk if, maybe, the Phantoms are behind this?”
Everyone exchanged uneasy glances. Joe had said exactly what Peck had been thinking. It had taken years to restore all of the destruction the Phantoms had caused when they first came to Jamaa. If they were behind the dying crops, that could mean they were trying to once again claim Jamaa as their own.
“It could be many things. Let me see what I can find out,” Cosmo said, reassuringly. Then he walked down a narrow dirt path filled with tomato plants and crouched down to their level.
“What’s he doing?” a bunny named Maria asked, trying to get a better look.
“Plants tell him things,” Peck explained, feeling a rush of hope that maybe Cosmo would be able to solve the problem. She hopped down the row to join him, the worried bunnies following her. The tomato plants were drooping, and rotten tomatoes covered the ground.
Cosmo carefully lifted a sick-looking branch and held it up to his ear, whispering softly. The bunnies looked from Cosmo to the plants and then back at Cosmo again. “What is he—”
“Shhh!” Peck said, putting her paw to her mouth. “Wait.”
A few seconds later, Cosmo gently put the plant back down on the ground and stood up, looking concerned. “The tomatoes are so weak that it’s hard to hear them, but from what I gathered, there seems to be something wrong with their water.”
“Are they not getting enough?” Liza wondered.
The bunnies all shook their heads. “We’ve had a lot of rain and we make sure to water the plants, too,” Maria said as the other bunnies nodded.
Cosmo tapped his chin. “No . . . they’re getting enough . . . but there’s something wrong with it.” He bent down to listen again. “Something, erm, dangerous.”
“Like poison?” Peck wondered aloud. The bunnies covered their mouths in alarm.
“Tough to say. Could be some type of virus or bacteria,” Cosmo answered. “Whatever it is, it’s hurting the plants.”
“Does that mean they’re going to die?” Liza asked, her eyes wide with concern.
Cosmo looked grim. “If we don’t figure out what it is, yes. And if the water’s polluted, it’s not just bad for the plants, it’s devastating for all of Jamaa. The streams flow into the waters of Crystal Sands—”
“And that’s the water that flows into the ocean,” Peck finished, the urgency of the situation clear.
“So if there’s a problem here, there could be a much bigger problem for all of us,” Liza said solemnly. The bunnies looked at one another, frightened.
Peck’s mind was spinning. “But before we jump to conclusions, we need to be absolutely sure the water is polluted.”
Cosmo nodded. “We should test it.”
“But how are you going to do that?” Joe the bunny asked, pulling worriedly on his whiskers.
Peck’s face brightened. “Meet me at the stream. I’m going to find Graham,” she exclaimed. The monkey Alpha had zillions of inventions.
“Great idea, Peck,” Liza said. “If anyone has a gizmo to find out if our water is polluted or not, it’s Graham!”