The Adventurers Guild


By Zack Loran Clark

By Nick Eliopulos

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In one of the last cities standing after the world fell to monsters, best friends Zed Kagari and Brock Dunderfel have high hopes for the future. Zed desperately wishes to join the ranks of the Mages Guild, where his status as Freestone’s only half elf might finally be an asset. Brock, the roguishly handsome son of merchants, is confident he’ll be welcomed into the ranks of the Merchants Guild.

But just as it seems the boys’ dreams have come true, their lives take a startling turn . . . and they find themselves members of the perilous Adventurers Guild. And when the boys uncover a conspiracy that threatens all of Freestone, Zed, Brock, and their new allies-Liza, a fierce noble, and Jett, a brave dwarf-must prove their worth once and for all.

“The perfect mix of suspense, Princess Bride humor, and engaging characters…A dazzling adventure sure to become a classic.” — Kirkus, starred review

Also available in the series: Twilight of the Elves
Night of Dangers


Copyright © 2017 by Zack Loran Clark and Nick Eliopulos

Cover art © 2017 by Manuel Sumberac

Cover design by Phil Caminiti

All rights reserved. Published by Disney • Hyperion, an imprint of Disney Book Group. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without written permission from the publisher. For information address New York, New York 10023.

ISBN 978-1-4847-9854-6


For Mom, Dad, and Matt—none of whom are elves.

You still filled my life with magic.


For my parents, and for Jason and Lindsay—

my first and favorite guildmates.


Though the world had ended long before Zed was born, this was still the scariest day of his young life.

He stood in Freestone’s marketplace—a vibrant hash of stalls and tents crushed between the city’s wealthy intown and its outtown slums. Many of the shops were stacked on top of one another into colorful jumbles like painted blocks, piling as high as the city would allow.

The market itself seemed nervous that morning. At this early hour, the air usually thrummed with merchants greeting one another and the busy chatter of servants haggling with grocers.

Not today. Today the market was quiet. Only the sounds of hammers pounding in the distance echoed across the square.

Freestone was preparing for its Guildculling.

Brock, Zed’s best friend, stood beside him. The two boys were staring at a large purple tent, on which a wooden sign hung above the entrance flap, with script carved in a careful hand.

Makiva’s Fortunes and Charms

Old Makiva was a self-described mystic, though some called her a witch. She sold charms for everything. There were charms for weddings, and dog bites, and protection from bad omens. There were even charms for cleaner laundry.

Half the peasantry of Freestone had one of her talismans tucked away into a pocket or hanging under their shirts. They said plenty of the nobles did, too, though none of them admitted it openly.

One of Makiva’s most popular items was the Guildculling charm—a lucky token meant to guide its bearer to their proper destiny. It was also one of her most expensive.

“I’ll bet she’s not really so scary,” Brock whispered. “Jett says she’s a fake. His mother bought a fresh-air charm to keep his father from breaking wind in the night, and now the smell is twice as bad. Besides, if Makiva were really magic, she’d be with the Silverglows.”

At Zed’s look, Brock winced.

“All I mean is,” he continued carefully, “she won’t curse you. Probably.”

“Do you think I’m wasting the coin?” Zed asked. He pulled a small silver piece from his pocket and felt his ears warm at the thought of what his mother could do with the extra money.

Brock looked down at the silver, then back up at Zed. “If it gives you some peace, it’s not wasted.”

Zed smiled wanly. Brock never worried. But then, things tended to work out for him. His parents were both members of the Merchants Guild, one of the four High Guilds. They weren’t nobles, exactly, but they weren’t far off. And Brock was practically guaranteed a spot with the Merchants.

Brock was also the most generous person Zed had ever met. He had been the one to get Zed the silver piece, after weeks of complaining to his father that he needed new shoes for the Guildculling. He planned on telling his parents that the coin had been stolen.

As far back as Zed could remember, he’d been anticipating and dreading this day, when Freestone’s children who came of age were claimed by one of the city’s many craft unions. For most of Zed’s friends, the event would be a formality, a rite of passage. Like Brock, they’d been learning their parents’ trades since they were small, and they would now officially become apprentices in their families’ guilds.

But there were always some surprises. Especially when it came to the High Guilds.

“It won’t be long before people start arriving,” Brock said, gazing around at the muted square. Beyond it, Freestone’s high wall towered over the city, visible from every point within. “I expected there to be more already.”

Zed nodded, pocketing the coin again. “In other words,” he said, “hurry up.” He took a deep breath, smiled at his friend, and strode forward, opening the tent flap with both hands.

He was immediately surprised by how dark it was inside. The tent was made of deep purple cloth—a garish color for a non-noble—but even so, he’d expected it to let more light in. Most traders kept their stalls neat and sunny, to better display their goods. This tent seemed designed to create a gloomy atmosphere.

As his eyes adjusted, Zed discovered he was surrounded by the strangest and most fantastic wares he’d ever seen in a shop, made all the more unnerving in the shadows. There was a basket filled with watches and clocks—all broken. Working timepieces were so rare that only nobles could afford them. He saw some that were made of metal and wood, though a few particularly bewildering examples appeared to be set into carved bones.

Bowls of incense smoldered in every corner. Their burning leaves and powders filled the top of the tent with a cloud of rotten-sweet smoke. The skeletons of small creatures lined the canopies. Most were of animals that Zed had never seen before.

But what truly filled the space were the charms. Everywhere Zed looked, tiny wooden tokens hung from bits of strand, dangling from hooks along the walls and lying in knots on the tables.

Most were suspended from the roof of the tent, hanging from the lavender clouds, just within reach of an outstretched hand. Zed was reminded of spiders that used filaments of sticky thread to ensnare their prey, yanking their unfortunate meals into hidden burrows.

The charms were all wooden, carved into small icons. Many were animals, though a few more abstract examples stood out among the bunch: a hook, a grinning skull, a hand with an eye in its palm.

The charm seller herself sat in the center of the space, behind a narrow divining table.

Before today, Zed had only ever seen the woman in glimpses. As a younger boy, he and his friends had once spent an entire evening staking out her tent from a distance, hoping to get a better look at Old Makiva when she retired from the market.

One by one, Zed’s friends had been called home that night, until only he and Brock remained. But as the lamps in the stalls were all snuffed out, and the square fell into a yawning gloom, they too had finally given up their watch.

For all Zed knew, the mystic had never emerged from her tent.

She was younger than Zed had expected of a woman everyone called Old Makiva. Her dark brown skin was smooth and pretty.

Hundreds of years ago, Freestone had been a central trade city, filled with pilgrims, merchants, and dignitaries from all over the world. Such journeys were impossible now, but the city retained its diversity. No two of Zed’s friends seemed to share the exact same heritage; they were a patchwork quilt of colors and patterns. His own fawn-colored skin and small features looked quite different from Brock’s pale face and broad smile.

But Zed’s background was still more complicated than most.

The charm seller lifted her eyes and watched him in silence for a long moment. Zed opened his mouth to say something, but found his earlier gumption had abandoned him, along with his voice.

He was about to retreat—fling the tent’s flap aside and run—when the woman’s eyes flicked to the wooden stool sitting opposite her. “You’re the first this morning,” she said, in a warm, not-at-all-frightening voice. “Good for you. Diligence is a kind of charm all its own.”

Zed swallowed, but the lump remained in his throat. He approached the table and slowly took a seat.

As he did, he noticed that Old Makiva was in the process of carving a new charm from a piece of wood. The knife she used was curved and graceful looking, the metal gleaming green in the darkness somehow.

“You’re here for a Guildculling charm,” she said.

It wasn’t a question, but Zed nodded anyway.

“I haven’t seen an elf-blooded child in the culling in many years.”

Zed felt his ears prickle at that, a sure signal that they were turning bright red. He’d been raised by his mother since birth, and, having inherited the majority of her features, he looked essentially human. But his high, peaked ears gave him away as elf-blooded—the only elf-blooded person in Freestone, as far as he knew. Most of the other kids had given up making fun of his ears years ago, though Zed still recognized the surprised look of an adult noticing them for the first time.

“So tell me, elf-blooded child,” Makiva continued. “Which guild are you hoping for?”

“My mom’s in the Servants Guild,” Zed croaked. He cleared his throat. “She takes pride in her work, but says my best chance for a comfortable life is a skilled craft. She’s put every bit of coin she could spare into teaching me to read and write.”

The woman nodded, though she was no longer looking at Zed. Her eyes were on the charm she was carving, moving the knife fluidly between deft fingers. “So your mother hopes the Scribes will take you. But I’ve never met a boy your age who didn’t dream of being claimed by one of the High Guilds.” She flashed Zed a quick smile before returning her attention to her work. “What guild are you wishing for, Zed?”

Zed startled. He didn’t remember telling the mystic his name. He licked his lips and spoke in an embarrassed whisper. “The Silverglows. I’ve got a bit of mana already, I think. I hear it takes most wizards a while to develop theirs. It’s ’cause I’m a…Well, I figured it must be from my father. So I wrote to them, to let them know about it, but I couldn’t find anyone to sponsor or vouch for me. I never heard back.”

Zed took a deep breath, slowly shaking his head. “I know I’m being foolish. If the Scribes claim me, it’ll still be the luckiest thing that’s ever happened to me. But joining the Mages Guild would change my mother’s life. The money could buy her a real home, and the title…” Zed shifted in his seat. “Well, maybe people wouldn’t look down on us so much if I were Magus Zed Kagari.”

Makiva made a low noise of sympathy. “People, I’m afraid, have always found inventive ways of looking down, regardless of their elevation. But I don’t believe it’s foolish to dream. The Mages Guild—”

Suddenly the harsh noise of a horse’s whinnying cut through the tent.

“Uh, pardon, Messere,” Brock’s voice called loudly from outside. “There’s someone in there al—”

“Get out of my way,” said a young voice, taut with contempt. “I’ll tell you once.”

Zed turned in his stool. There was a moment of quiet, followed by the reluctant pit-pat of Brock stepping aside.

The tent flap was thrown open, and in the blinding glare of the morning sun, Zed could just make out a suit of gleaming armor.

A noble’s armor.

He scrambled to his feet and backed away against the far side of the tent, setting the charms there rattling. The noble stepped farther in, and Zed was surprised to see a boy his own age. He must have come for a Guildculling charm, too. But why? He wouldn’t need luck. The nobles always made it into the best guilds.

Zed quickly glanced out the open flap before it billowed closed. Brock shot him a panicked expression, and then the tent fell again into darkness.

The noble boy peered around the space with a look of disgust, pausing on Zed for only as long as he did any of the other curios that surrounded them. He was olive-skinned and handsome and strong, everything the girls in Zed’s quarter expected a noble would be. He also looked mean, which was what Zed expected them to be.

Makiva spoke first. “Hello, young Messere,” she said. “I’m afraid I’m with another customer right now. Perhaps you wouldn’t mind waiting outside?”

The boy’s sneer deepened. He shot a hostile look at Zed. Zed bowed his head immediately, as his mother had taught him. “It’s no trouble, Messere! You can have my spot.”

“What’s wrong with your ears?” the young lord asked, in a tone that betrayed a blatant lack of curiosity.

Zed’s ears grew hot, then his face. When the silence stretched from a pause into a moment, he realized the noble actually expected a response.

“I’m…elf…” Zed was too flustered to trust himself to speak further. If Brock were here, he’d have a snappy response ready. But servants’ sons didn’t get away with snappy responses.

“The boy has kindly offered you his seat, Messere,” Makiva said, indicating with her hand. “Zed, would you like to wait outside for now?”

“This won’t take long,” the noble said, rolling his eyes. “I’ll be gone before he finally chokes out that sentence.” He glanced at the stool he’d been offered before nudging it away with his foot. Apparently he preferred to stand.

Makiva leaned back. She set the charm she’d been carving down on the table, but kept her knife in hand. “So,” she said. “What guild are you hoping for, my lord?”

The noble stared at her for a moment with a single eyebrow raised. He swept his hand over the grand suit of armor he was currently wearing. “The Bakers Guild, clearly.”

“The knights it is, then,” Makiva sighed. The woman stood with a groan. She reached up and began pawing at the charms hanging from the ceiling, which clicked together with a sound like a rainy evening. “But I don’t know why you’d need a charm from me. By the way you wear that armor, young Lord Micah Guerra”—Makiva announced the boy’s name almost absently—“I’d expect you were an obvious choice for the Stone Sons.”

Zed shuffled uncomfortably on his feet. He’d heard of the Guerras, of course, but knew very little about them. The nobles lived in the center of the city, in Freestone’s stately intown. It was a district preoccupied with expansive family lines and shifting titles.

Zed’s mother served at an elegant manor, but the two of them lived together in the bustle of the outtown tenement houses. They may as well have lived in a different city altogether. Zed himself had only ever seen the nobles’ rooftops from afar.

The young lord swiveled his shoulders beneath their pauldrons. “So you can see through this muck after all.”

“Any first- or second-born noble is all but guaranteed a spot in the more prestigious guilds,” Makiva continued, searching through her charms, which jounced in waves above their heads. “As a boy, you’re permitted to compete for a place among the knights. But, failing that, you’d still be welcomed by the Stewards Guild, to govern our fair city.”

Makiva put a hand to her neck, cracking it from side to side. “But that’s only the first two children, isn’t it?”

Lord Micah Guerra narrowed his eyes. “Are you honestly still talking?”

Makiva nodded demurely. “Apologies, Messere.”

Zed realized what the mystic had been hinting at now. If a family in Freestone had more than two children, the third-born and beyond were automatically claimed by the Golden Way Temple—the Healers Guild. The Golden Way was one of the four High Guilds, with the Mages, Knights, and Merchants. The healers were revered by Freestone, but they were also a monastic order. Guild members took a sacred vow to live by the Golden Way, as monks and nuns. They renounced their names and titles—and could never have families of their own.

This was one of the ways that Freestone controlled its growing population. The walls could only hold so many and still protect them from the Dangers outside.

If Micah Guerra was one of those unlucky third children, then he would join the temple as a novice today—unless the Knights Guild or Mages Guild claimed him first. The two had priority.

“Ah!” Makiva chirruped with delight. “Here we are.” She yanked a strand of twine from the ceiling and the charm came loose, then she handed it over to Guerra.

The young lord eyed the carving suspiciously. “It’s…What is it?”

“It’s called a badger,” Makiva said. “They lived outside the wall once. Perhaps they still do. Surprisingly nasty when provoked, but very dedicated to family. That will be three silver, if you please.”

Zed started to sweat when he heard the price. Brock had sworn it would be one silver.

Micah Guerra pulled three gleaming coins from a pouch at his waist and tossed them onto the divining table. Then he swept out of the tent without another word, his eyes on his wooden charm.

As the tent flap closed, Zed felt the breath he’d been holding burst out. His shoulders slumped.

“Well, that was…bracing,” Makiva said. She sat down on her pillowed seat behind the divining table, then held out a hand to the stool Lord Guerra had pushed away. “Where were we?” she asked, as she resumed her carving.

“I can’t remember a thing before the lord entered,” Zed replied with a nervous laugh. He found his ears still burned as he set the stool right. Zed hesitated, hovering over the table uncertainly. “Only,” he began, “the thing is, I should probably go. Three silver is more than I’ve got.”

“The young messere got the special noble rate,” the mystic said with a wink. “I have no doubt that you and I can come to an agreement of our own.” She waved again at the stool, her gaze insistent. Zed sat down with a grateful smile. “Since you were interrupted,” Makiva continued, “and quite rudely, I might add—I am going to offer you a challenge, Zed.”

Zed frowned. “What sort of challenge?”

Makiva waved her dagger in a wide arc around the tent. “If you can pick out which charm is yours, you can have it for free.”

Zed’s mouth fell open. He looked up and gazed across a sea of wooden tokens, all hanging from bits of twine. There must have been hundreds of them in the murky tent. Perhaps more.

“And what if I can’t?” he asked nervously. In the stories, a witch’s challenge always came with a dire cost for losing.

“Oh, it’s nothing. A trifle, really.” Makiva’s voice fell to a whisper. “You must only…give me a piece of your soul.”

Zed gasped, his eyes falling back to the charm seller.

The mystic burst into a fit of laughter, resting the dagger on her stomach—a little dangerously, Zed thought.

“Peasants are so easy to scare,” she said. “No, no. If you guess incorrectly, then you’ll just have to pay the full price. One silver piece. But you get only one guess.”

Zed nodded, breaking into a nervous grin. He glanced at the ceiling again for a long moment, thinking. There were as many charms here as there were stars. Picking one out was impossible. Finally he looked back down at Makiva.

“Is that it?” he said, pointing to the charm in the mystic’s hand—the one she was currently carving.

The woman looked up from her work, and her mouth spread into a wide smile.

“Why, yes, it is,” she said softly. She set the charm down on the table and pushed it across to him.

Zed couldn’t believe it. It had been a wild guess. He picked up the charm and held it close to his face. A small creature was carved from the wood, its bushy tail wrapped around its body. A loop had been whittled into the top of the charm, so a length of twine or string could be pulled through.

“This one is called a fox,” the charm seller said. “Clever and agile, with vivid red fur. Foxes are nervous but playful little creatures. A bit like you, I think. People once believed they had magical gifts.”

Zed looked up at Makiva. “It’s lovely,” he said. “Are you sure?”

The charm seller nodded. “We’ll say the generous young Lord Guerra paid for you.”

Zed tucked the charm into his trousers. He must have been grinning like a loon. “Thank you so much,” he said.

“I have something else for you,” Makiva added, searching beneath the tablecloth. “An extra prize for your clever guess.” She withdrew her hand and held it out over the table, her fingers clasped tightly around something inside. Slowly, she unfurled her palm.

Resting there was a length of silvery chain. Even in the dim space, the cord glistened with a light all its own—more jewel than metal. Every link was a tiny work of art, joined together into a spiraling string of masterpieces.

“It’s…” Zed started. But to call it beautiful wouldn’t do the thing justice. There was something about the chain that spoke to him. It was unlike anything he’d ever seen, and yet it filled him with a familiar sense of yearning.

His eyes rose from the glittering cord to Makiva. “It must be worth a fortune.”

“It’s priceless, in fact,” Makiva said. “Though I’m sure the Merchants Guild would give it their best try. You remind me of its last owner, Zed. How long ago was it that the elves sent rangers to our city?”

“It was…it was twelve years ago,” Zed answered softly.

“So it was,” Makiva agreed with a slow smile.

There were no elves in Freestone. No full-blooded elves, anyway. They had their own city—Llethanyl—with their own walls and customs and guilds, or whatever elves called them.

Zed glanced once more at the chain, cupped in the charm seller’s dark hand like the moon reflected in a midnight pool.

“I can’t take this,” he said. “It’s too much.”

Makiva smiled a bit coyly. “You’re the one person in this city who should have it, I think. The chain is made of a metal called mythril—a favorite of the elves. It’s less delicate than it looks, I promise. But if it will convince you, then I’ll accept a delayed payment. Once you’ve made your way, we can speak again.”

Zed considered the offer. “Thank you,” he said, taking the cord from Makiva’s outstretched hand. He slipped the end through the loop in the fox charm and was pleased with how the wooden pendant looked on such a fine chain.

Outside, the first bell struck from the Golden Way Temple, signaling the official start of the morning.

“I should get going,” Zed said. “My mom’ll worry if she can’t find me in the square. And I’m sure you’ve got more people waiting.”

Makiva sighed in mock exasperation. “I’m sure. Good-bye, Zed. Keep your chin up today and your ears held high.”

Zed laughed and nodded, then swept out of the tent to go find his destiny.

Brock had promised his father that he’d stay out of trouble on this of all mornings. As his parents never tired of reminding him, the Guildculling was the most important day of a young person’s life. He’d worked hard to prove himself worthy of the Merchants Guild—lost countless summer days to sorting applications from fur traders, leatherworkers, and smiths. Worse were the long nights spent solving math problems by candlelight, until the ache in his eyes matched the ache in his fingers. Yet even after all that, there were no guarantees.

So after breakfast his father had held out a silver coin, and when Brock reached for it his father had gripped his hand, pressing the silver to Brock’s palm and holding tight.

“No fights,” he’d said. “No trouble. No mischief.”

Brock had pointed at himself with his free hand as if to say, Who, me?

“Ah, yes. The portrait of the dutiful son.” His father glowered. “I want to hear you say it: No mischief.” He shrugged. “Or no coin.”

Brock had been learning from merchant lords long enough to recognize a bad deal when he heard one. But then he thought of his best friend, Zed, and the promise he’d made him.

He resolved to stop making promises. Right after this one.

“No mischief,” he told his father. “You have a deal.”

Now, standing outside the charm seller’s tent, that promise weighed on him like an iron breastplate. Because someone needed to teach little Lord Micah Guerra a lesson.


  • A Kirkus Reviews Best Middle Grade Book
    A Junior Library Guild Selection
  • *"This tale is a page-turner that has the perfect mix of suspense, Princess Bride humor, and engaging characters, one that's definitely earned the sequel to come. A dazzling adventure sure to become a classic, if not a movie."—Kirkus, starred review
  • "The Adventurers Guild stands out within the fantasy genre, displaying a wonderfully diverse cast of characters... Simply great fun to read... A rough-and-tumble adventure story with monsters, intrigue and a heart of gold."—p.p1 {margin: 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px; font: 10.0px Arial; color: #111111}Shelf Awareness
  • "If you're someone who likes a thrilling adventure with a surprise on every page, this book is for you."—p.p1 {margin: 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px; font: 10.0px Arial; color: #111111}Time for Kids
  • "Clark and Eliopulos... establish a strong core of interesting male and female characters and thrust them into action, while setting up relationships, conflicts, and mysteries to explore in later volumes. With its quick pace and likable heroes, this fantasy adventure will readily find a following."—p.p1 {margin: 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px; font: 10.0px Arial; color: #111111}Booklist
  • "Fast-paced adventure. The diverse group of friends... works solidly as a team, but secrets and divided loyalties create enough tension to keep things interesting...A cliffhanger of an ending sets up a larger conflict for the next volume, and readers will be eager to join the guild for their further adventures."—p.p1 {margin: 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px; font: 10.0px Arial; color: #111111}BCCB
  • "A solidly constructed world, endearing characters, and lots of fantasy-based adventure with fast-paced action."—p.p1 {margin: 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px; font: 10.0px Arial; color: #111111}School Library Journal
  • "Hazards, betrayals, and quick-witted banter abound in this gripping series opener... Clark and Eliopulos weave a thread of post-apocalyptic adventure into a classic questing saga, replete with spells, enchanted weaponry, and mythological beings--elves, kobolds, gelatinous goo, and more."—p.p1 {margin: 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px; font: 10.0px Arial; color: #111111}Publishers Weekly

On Sale
Oct 2, 2018
Page Count
352 pages

Zack Loran Clark

About the Author

Zack Loran Clark and Nick Eliopulos are best friends living in New York. They have been playing Dungeons & Dragons together every week for more than a decade. Zack secretly wishes that he were an elf; Nick publicly denies that he is a dragon. You can learn more about The Adventurers Guild trilogy at

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