Beta Readers, Attention. Would you love to see…?

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Looking for beta readers for three different novels.  5-10 chapters each. Nothing overwhelming.  Give me a bit of feedback.

Horror: Flee (The butler does it)

Adventure: Children of Fury (The maid does it)

Romance: Married by Mistake (Everyone does it.  Twice.)

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Smart Bomb Chapter 2. Southern Georgia

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Chapter 2. Southern Georgia

Georgia state line, he stood in an orchard, the overcast sky threatened with dark, moisture laden clouds.

And something new.

He was cold. Core temperature was warning of below sub-optimal functioning level. His core thermal levels were four-degrees celsius low.

He had walked in the rain for six hours trying to cover his records of travel, any records of his journey would come to a dead-end at the last bus stop where he disembarked as a short, elderly woman.

Standing in the wet, secluded clearing, his feet made squishing sounds in the canvas shoes that he purchased with real money at a second-hand market.

Using the roll of money he carried, he had covered all his traces since leaving the metropolitan area. Traveling north on foot, he had interacted with a number of citizens.

Now, the core was turning up energy from his processors. But it was not enough, in the late November of this part of the country, the early winter’s storm was closing in. He needed to find an organic food source and shelter within twelve-hours or he would go into an unprogrammed energy debt and he did not know what might happen.

Looking at the trees, there was nothing in the branches to eat. A survey in his knowledge base indicated that among the peach orchard there was little to eat, so he walked on.

The wind picked up, a driving rain was causing his sensation of cold to increase to alarming levels. Being an artificial system, his creator designed tolerance for only a limited number of metabolic events. In the desert, he could function for a month without shade, the core processors able to withstand temperatures above what humans could survive.

Cold, that was another matter, his creator designed his systems for efficient heat reduction, not retention.

An oversite of his creator, the tissues he had over his frame were not required for operation, but they were still living tissue, he would draw unwanted attention if he had dying flesh falling away from his structure.

The sound of a vehicle telegraphed a possible splash from a nearby puddle he had just passed. Tugging up the knapsack he wore in a backpack style, he would use it for what little protection it offered and braced himself for the cruelty of the American motorist.

But it never came, no splash, no increase of engine noise to accelerate into the puddle. Instead, the sounds of decreasing power and a van with “Independant News” painted on the side with three men, one wearing a business suit, pulled up next to him from behind, rolling down the passenger window.

“You’re fixing to die out here. You might as well get in.” The passenger said to him.

“I don’t wish to impose, the rain will stop soon.”

“I’m a reporter, we were sent out on a report of funnel clouds in the area, there is a severe weather warning out. You stay walking, you will find just how bad it can get.” The one in the business suit said.

“I’m Richard, Scott at the video controls, camera man over there at the wheel is Donde. You don’t have a local accent.” Richard the Reporter tilted his head and thought for a moment. “West Coast? Oregon?”

“Yes, a little town called Antelope. I’m Steve.” He responded. “I am cold, too.”

“I bet, the temp has dropped ten-degrees since we left the studio an hour ago. We are shooting on location every ten-minutes or so. Our next stop is a trucker restaurant a few miles up the road.”

“Thank you. I could use a bite to eat, too.” Steve said. “I’ll get some coffee and wait out the storm.”

“That is a smart move.” Scott’s voice in back sounded like a tuba in the back of the van. “It will get worse before it gets better. A good place to hang out will be up ahead.”

The van slowed down when they reached an open field, Donde pulled over, Scott opened the door and the three news-professionals looked around at the sky. In the distance where they were heading, the clouds were low and oddly colored.

Scott in the back, held his hand up to his ear.

“Rotation in a cloud, fifteen miles west by southwest relative to our location.” His video display overlaid with his gps. “It is moving Northeast at about twenty.”

“That puts the path in this area.” Donde nodded. “We can be in position for a good shot.”

“What are you looking for?” Steve asked, looking out at the sky.

“That line of clouds? I am betting there is a twister in there, somewhere.” Richard pointed. “Down low, where we can’t see as it moves this wa…”

“RICH!” Scott yelled. “Tornado on the ground, East Weather Agency just announced it! Fifteen-miles east of the county line, moving northeast.”

“Steve, you are going to stay with us for a bit. Turn the heat up, enjoy the warmth and pull on any of your dry things.”

“I don’t have anything dry.”

Donde laughed, unsurprised.

“Dude, my jacket is back there, with all the different numbers on it?” He spoke with a slight Puerto Rican accent. “Go ahead and wear it. Warm up, seriously, you look cold even in my mirror.”

“Thank you.” Steve registered this as an irrelevant offer on the part of the man. Nothing else to do with any part of his job. It was a kindness to a stranger that was unexpected. This American, Donde, had no reason to do this action.

The memory core management system created a new file for review later. Date, time, air temperature and processor core thermal levels. It would be transmitted later with the other details he would learn on his travels later. He would gather information on United States Air Force and Marine bases as he traveled north, later in the week.

Donde pulled into the parking lot of the truck-stop with Scott calling out numbers and running the geo-mapping software on his displays.

“This works out, Donde, pull up. We don’t have another good vantage for a few miles. Rich, you have as good of a view as we can get from here.” Scott tapped on the virtual display, using tactile induction. He could feel the cursor under his fingers as he moved the pointer around.

“Rotation, we have rotation in the atmosphere, coming directly at us. Wedge, Rich, get out there! It will be visible in a moment.” Scott yelled. “Vector change! It is turning north. It will miss us.”

Donde and Richard got out, grabbing at equipment that was under their passenger’s feet.

“Steve! Sit in the front, we need to get to the camera and run some cable.” Donde said, taking the cold hand of their passenger and pulling him out.

“Dude, you are seriously cold. Go into the café and gets something warm to drink.” Scott smiled. “Tell them to put it on our tab, we’ll be inside with you in a few minutes for safety.”

“Yes, thank you.” Steve said and walked across the parking lot while he could hear a faint siren in the distance.

A middle-aged woman stood at the window and looked out.

“James, I think it’s gonna miss us. Looks like it is hanging a left and following up north. I think it will get close to the base up the road.”

James walked out from the back, dressed as a waiter, his stress was visible on his face.

“My wife is there, she just got a promotion.” He wrung his hands. “Tell me they would be safe.”

“James,” The waitress noticed Steve as he sat at a table and stepped towards him. “The base is probably safer than your home.”

“Hi! Welcome to Lug’s. What can I get you.” She had a winning smile, but was showing age early in her life. No more than twenty, she had wisps of grey in her raven-black hair with traces of forehead wrinkles on her dark-brown skin.

“Coffee, white, sweet. Three eggs, scrambled and shredded potatoes, please.” He put a fifty-dollar bill on the table. “In case the storm comes, you can bring me the change later.”

“Hun, you can keep it for now. If the storm comes this way, it’s on the house, I wouldn’t be able to balance my drawer.” She laughed and walked off to put his order in.

Contact recorded: American female rejected the free money offering. Registered a conflict with his contact of the corrupt and greedy society. The programming was incorrect.

His fuzzy logic circuit subroutines registered the conflict, flagging it as an error and began adaptive corrections.

Steve Aldin, the android, learned something new.

One Christmas Night-Stand (NSFW)

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One Christmas Night-Stand

 

 

 

1.The Party Planner

Rose had prepared for the office Christmas party for months, now only days away, they were a bit short on funds. Taking donations, working with the social committee, the weather was turning cold and Halloween had passed. Much to the chagrin of one of the managers. Longer hair than what the company owner liked, Thaddeus Harrison “Teach” Harte was the owner of the copper hair that hung down to his shoulders was eye-catching no matter where he was.  The Van Dyke facial hair and green eyes made him look like a refugee out of some novel of musketeers or pirates.  His penchant for hats was well-known.  Beret’s, an archer’s cap with a feather in it, a straw hat in summer.  He was known to compete in archery and had the muscular build of an athlete that he was.

His green eyes made women that worked with him think of the naughty things that they whispered to each other during their coffee breaks.

 The only complaint that any of them would talk about, his choice of clothing that was always black. But his work pants were always tailored properly and on jeans day he wore black, tight jeans that every woman enjoyed to watch as he took care of troubleshooting problems with printers and net connections that mysteriously cropped up for the women when he was so dressed. If he knew, he never let on that he was aware of the rules of the game.

Although he did seem to bend over a lot more and closer to desks for no reason when those days had arrived. Much to most of the women’s enjoyment – and some of the men, too.

 Rose always found her eyes following him as she approached him with a printed sign to put on his office window for  donations to the upcoming Christmas party. 

 “Teach, could you donate some money for the company party? Mr. Caleb has donated most of all we need, but we need some small things to decorate with.  Mr. Caleb has paid for an open bar and the party room at the hotel, but nothing else.”

 She noticed today he wore glasses instead of his contacts, behind his glasses his eyes crinkled a little in a smile. 

 “I have just the donation for you. Last week you know I competed in the year-end archery tourney and I came in third. The third-place prize was twenty-five hundred, cash. It is yours.”

 “Oh my.  Teach. I could not…” 

 “Take it. It puts me over some tax issues, so if I give it to  a good cause, I can just deduct it. So I think a donation to our companies Drive For Kid’s Cures, I can do good on both ends.” Teach smiled. “I’ll talk to Mr. Caleb and have him use that money to buy decorations and such for good will of the community.”

 “Thank you!  You will get a special recognition for this.”

“Not necessary,” He chuckled. “just throw a good party.”

“Oh we will! We will!”

 

 

2. The Party

Weeks of planning and the day finally arrived only another hour before the half-day ended and the Christmas party started. The ginger musketeer brought in a bushel of mistletoe and was hanging it up everywhere.  When asked where he got so much, he only replied.

 “I climbed few trees.”

 Doubting laughter followed when he described his adventures, until Tyree Hayburt showed photos on his cell phone of Teach climbing trees and harvesting the fresh mistletoe with a pole saw.

 One woman, after she stared at the image for a moment, caused a commotion when she commented that he was up in a tree in just a t-shirt.

 A few laughed at the misunderstanding. The t-shirt he wore was black, matching his pants, giving the impression he wore a black jump-suit. But his arms! 

She commented that his arms made a woman dream what it would feel like to be in an embrace with such arms.

The phone made the rounds with the office women and Tyree did not get his phone back until the battery was screaming for mercy.

But Teach struck a handsome image. Fingerless gloves, standing in a tree with his feathered cap while he trimmed a large growth of mistletoe off an oak tree.

 Many of the workers looked at him now as he stood on a ladder and taped, pinned, stapled the green plant all around the dance floor.

It appeared that he was intent on having kisses exchanged everywhere in the party.

 Rose laughed at Teach’s personal mission and pointed out to him that he still had a large amount left over. 

 “Well, I do need to show care. Each sprig is worth a kiss, right?” Teach smiled conspiratorially. “So, I worry about overdosing the magic if I put up too much. I mean, a single sprig is worth a simple kiss. How much is small a branch worth? A passionate kiss? More? How much would a large branch be worth? It’s tradition, you know. This is why children are born in late August and into September.”

“It’s a good thing I brought some condoms in my purse.” She whispered back. Enjoying his shocked look and a touch of color to his ears as he turned away, laughing with embarrassment.

Rose cackled quietly to herself, catching the beautiful T. H. Harte in a bomb like that. But then, she had already had tipped the bottle in the kitchen with the Irish Coffee’s that MaryJo had made.

The best part of the day so far had been the drinks that Alice poured.  Hot chocolate and peppermint schnapps with a cinnamon stick floating in it. Rose poured some Irish coffee into it and made a killer mocha that was making her feel happy.  Extremely happy.

Looking at the clock.  It was nearly noon, the party was due to start in a few minutes. The smell of lunch was wafting through the office, roast beef and ham, chicken and even a turkey roasted in the company kitchen.

Rose walked off, she had done the job she set to do.  The party was starting and she had an Irish Snuggling Mocha calling her name.

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3. To The Victor Go The Spoils

At noon, everyone filed in. It was a short walk to the hotel and those that had drinks and snacks all morning were already feeling the effects of such mid-winter cheer. There was Christmas in the air and no functional work, even the boss, Mr. Caleb, had not accomplished much, except to drink and mix drinks in the kitchen. Even as he lead the group across the hallway, he did not quite stand up straight. But he was still talking clearly, blaming his unsteadiness on his bad knee.

At the head of the tables, Caleb stood and spoke, giving out generous bonuses. A thousand dollars for every year of employment, a few joke gifts and then announced food, finally, was served.

The dance floor was lit and the music boomed, MaryJo walked up behind the office archer and pulled Teach (as she was slurring his nickname a bit) off his stool and out onto the dance floor. As they walked and swayed to the music, MaryJo noticed that “Teach” had an eyepatch on.

“Oh my god! What happened to your eye?” she leaned into him, pressing her barely contained breasts against his taut body while he snaked sinuous arms around her. More to hold her up than to dance with her.

“Nah.  I walk into and out of lighted areas, this little flash dance area would blind me if I was to walk into a dark room for a drink.  There is a show across the way with an stand-up comedian I might want to go see. Starts in an hour. I wouldn’t be dazzled in one eye this way, it’s an old pirate trick.”

“Mmmm…” A voice came in from behind them. “You can plunder my booty anytime, ginger-snap.” Rose had walked up behind the dancers and handed a drink to MaryJo.

MaryJo and He laughed.

“I think I need to go get another drink.  The bartenders here make these drinks too weak.” MaryJo winked and walked off, one over-sexed divorced woman leaving him with another over-sexed divorced woman as the two double-teamed him.

Suddenly feeling like an endangered species, Teach Harte smiled and headed back to sit down at a a table where an electronic game of greedy-greedy could be played until the music ended.

Smiling as Rose sat with him, the waitress walked over and asked what they would like.

Ron Abuelo Centuria, neat please.  The bottle, too.”

“Sir, you do know that the bar is open, but it only covers well drinks.”

Slipping the barely dressed cocktail waitress two bills of paper money with Benjamin Franklin on the front, whispering to her “Keep the change.”  She smiled widely and sashayed away to the bar.

Together they sat and talked.  Starting with the office work before he leaned over to Rose and whispered to her ear.

“I am making a rule, no more shop-talk.”

Rose laughed softly and nodded.  Looking down at the table that they sat at, a computer controlled dice game.  Gaming levels  listed on the display of:

[  ] G

[  ] PG

[  ] R

With one level listed as an extra cost to play:

[  ] X

“Which level would you like to play?”  He asked as he slid his card through the reader, tapping in his identification number.

Rose looked over the game, not knowing how to play, she was not about to miss out on anything.

“Let’s go with X.”  She said, here brown eyes twinkling in the strobe of the dance light.

Another voice behind them, “Can anyone sit here?”  It was Robert Hershey with his very pretty wife, who wearing a naughty lady Santa outfit.  Not quite slutty, but it danced along the edges of the term. When asked about it, Barbara would say “This is Sexy Elf, Slutty Elf did not come with a vest, only two bells to hang on each side.”

The game started with number of players and their names.  The greedy-greedy seemed draw people like a magnet, a new style of game that had started in an online virtual world,  had spread to real world with small changes.  In this case, the numbers of the dice indicated the clothing that the players would  bet.  On the menu it showed a listing of “Slow”, “Medium”, “Fast” and “Waste No Time!”.

The game started and the holographic dice spun and indicated the score.  In two rounds, the scores were showing that Robert was ahead and his wife was in a very distant last place.

Another roll and it was Teach’s turn, and it indicated to spin who the paired couple would be.   The menu  selected had no gender specifications.  A spin and showed that Barbara had to give a deep kiss to MaryJo.

A gasp! Would they do it, the group got quiet for a moment, then Barbara stood up and stepped over to MaryJo and straddled her lap.  The players were given a show of a serious, passionate kiss to MaryJo who slowly slid her hands over Barbara’s body, lightly playing with her breasts as the kiss drew on longer than a minute.

Buy the time that Barbara stood up, her nipples were visibly erect and she walked unsteadily to sit back next to her husband.   Then it was Robert’s turn.  His challenge was unhook Rose’s bra with one hand and leave the garment in place.  Rose, blushing at this, stood and held Robert in an embrace that was sensual while she found his lips with hers.  The kiss was slow and sensual, but for Robert it was an effort in an abject failure as he could never get the bra unhooked.

As the loser of the game-driven command, Robert had to remove his shirt. Slightly overweight, it was still obvious why Barbara found him attractive.  He even had a tattoo of her name on his shoulder with the names of their children.

Turns became more sexy as others would join around them at other tables as they played on.

As the game wore on, Barbara advanced higher and Robert lost ground, no longer the leader he had lost major points on the game.  Robert lost another roll and was required to perform an oral sex-act on Rose who sold the act to Barbara for a good price.

The holographic representations of the characters were in various states of dress. Teach’s avatar was down to its digital underwear, when he spun one more time.  The arrow landed on Rose and then the dice was between them.

Teach rolled a sixteen of a thirty possible on the dice.

Rose rolled twenty-one of thirty.  “Rose wins!”

Then the selection menu came up.

“Questions or Actions”

Rose selected “Action”.

A roll of the dice again and Teach rolled  again.  Four twos, eight points out of thirty.

Teach was in trouble.  His last roll of a six did not help him greatly. Fourteen points of thirty possible.

Rose would only have to play a conservative roll.

Her first roll she hit three fives that she could keep. Leaving two dice left to roll.

Already it they wondered what she would be offered by the machine and what would be selected.

“A slow strip dance on the table by your partner.”

“A night in heaven.”

“U-turn. Select another partner.”

“Slow Naked Kiss.”

The group’s women laughed.  The sound of clinking came from across the table.  Teach was pouring his glass full.  The pressure was getting to him.

Rose selected “Night in Heaven.” and hit “roll”.

“12 hours with your partner who must do everything you request of them without question.”

“Oh my gosh,” Teach nearly shot rum out his nose. “for twelve hours?”

“No sleeping!”  The laughing voice came from across the table was that of MaryJo as she kissed   Robert with great passion.

Sending a text message to Teach, Rose  messaged, “I think MaryJo, Robert and his wife are working on a 3-way.”

Reading the phone, Teach nodded smiling. Messaging her back. “Elf power.”

Rose laughed.

A roll, Teach just could not get any love from the machine. The score eliminated him from the game and Teach sat back with his arms crossed.  A common position that he would stand in. Rarely smiling at work, this evening at the party, with a half-bottle of two-hundred dollar rum in him, he was quite jolly.

Suddenly, the game was over!  Robert failed his roll and suffered the eliminatation leaving only MaryJo and Barbara in her sexy elf outfit when Barbara’s roll was a perfect thirty.

In a single roll at the end of the game, Barbara selected from the menu.

“Action”

MaryJo had to go spend a night in heaven.

Getting up, the group laughed at the naked holographic avatars on the table with the naked version of Barbara jumping up and down in her place on the game board.

Teach walked past the registration desk and looked out the window and motioned Rose over.  Several other Christmas parties were going on all over the building and many were leaving.

The street, lined with red and blue lights of cars driven by law enforcement pulled drivers over by the two’s and fours.

“Three hundred rooms per floor, fifteen floors, and people want to drink and drive home?  That is bad thinking.” He said and Rose nodded.  “I’m staying here tonight.  How about you?”

“Well, I have no one at home waiting for me.  I have an hours drive.  So I am staying, too.  With you I think.”  She grabbed him by his eyepatch and pulled him into a long kiss.  His hands found what Robert’s could not during the game.  She had on a front-hook bra and released it simply by sliding his hand over her breasts.

“Good and well.” He whispered and walked to the registration desk.

4. A Night In Heaven

They stepped off the elevator and out into the hallway.   Robert was visible as he fumbled with the key card.  Barbara and MaryJo were in a very sexy and sensual clinch.  The way that the vest moved on Barbara’s body, it was obvious that it was a very busy night in the hotel and in that room, busy was the night’s entertainment.  Teach and Rose walked the opposite way and down to a suite that the company had reserved for employees.

“Mr. Caleb was very pleased with business this year.  Everyone gets a suite at a steep discount, but you have to ask for it.”

Taking Rose by the hand and lead her to the bedroom.  Wobbling slightly from his rum and she with her wine, they slipped into the bedroom where he sat on the edge of the bed. Standing close to him, his hands gently slid up the inside of her blouse, caressing her hardening nipples. They spoke no words  for there were none needed.   This was the plan ever since she had joked with him hours before.   She was nearly sure they would have had a third, but she did not press the thought.

She wanted him all to herself tonight. Her blouse slowly removed, as his lips found her nipples.  A gentle sucking over the razor sharpness of his incisors, he sucked air slowly over the moist flesh as it puckered hard enough to scratch glass. 

Gasps of pain/pleasure escaped her lips.

“Sorry.  Did that hurt?”  He looked up with a twinkle in his eye.  He was not sorry.  But her own  voice betrayed her.

“Oh god no… that hurt, but it is a good hurt.  Oh god that was good… please…more.” She pulled him back to her breasts again.

Looking down and watched him tease and bite her nipples.  The thought struck her and reaching down she pulled on his shirt, forgoing the buttons, she pulled the cloth up and over his head. It was a fine shirt, it felt like silk as it slide over his broad shoulders easily and revealed what she had gossiped about in the kitchen with MaryJo.

She slid her hands over his back as he traced his tongue over the valley between her breasts and down to her belly button. Light kisses on that so-sensitive skin just below the dimple of her navel while he unbuttoned her skirt and slid it down over her hips.

Slowly, piece by piece, they shed their clothes until he whispered to her ear.

“Let’s move up to the pillows.”  Softly he had whispered, but the glint in his eye was as loud as thunder.

Rose crawled backwards  on hands and feet. Her heart beating in her throat, she could feel the wine swishing around in her.  He had consumed more than half the rum, she had put down two bottles of a chardonnay, two snugglers and one Irish coffee… at least two snuggler drinks, she was trying to think, when his teeth raked the inside of her left calf. His hands sliding up her bare thighs.  In a hysterical thought she was thankful she had just gotten waxed the day before, the laughter escaped her lips and Teach smiled at the sound.

His mouth touched the inside of her left thigh, then the right as his slow bites alternated sides..  Sucking against her skin on each side, she was almost laughing with the thought of bite marks on her skin there and if they might be visible when …or if..she wore a skirt, pants was  the order of clothing for the near future.  But each bite made her ache to have him inside her.

Tracing fingertips over the bare labia that was slowly opening to him. The tip of his tongue slowly trailed over the flesh of her pubic mound.  A slow puff of breath, the damp trail of kisses he left chilled her skin with a thrill that had not been done to her before.

Rose gasped as she ran her hands through his hair.  His hands found and slipped up under each ass-cheek and lifted her to his mouth. His teeth finding her swollen and damp clitoris.  The sharp teeth holding that bit of flesh between them as he pressed against the pubic bone.

And then… Then he hummed! The sound entering her body through flesh and bone. Going through the scales, he hummed a tune until he hit that one tone, it seemed to start in her clit, through her core and into her mind.  The very heart of her body seemed to spasm in one mind numbing orgasm as her pelvis bucked against his face.

Rose gasped in the skin tingling post-orgasm as he kissed his way up her body.  Sucking gently on her left nipple, then on her right nipple he rolled the flesh between his teeth while sucking air over the tender flesh.

Sliding up her body, his erection pressed against her, kissing her lips, sharing the taste of her sex on his lips with her.  His hardest part found her softest as he entered her gently and slowly, arching his back as he pressed in.  His erection entering her labia, he pulled back after an inch.  The large diameter of the cock forcing open her love-hole.

“We should.  Oh god.  Put on… Mmm, that’s nice.  A . Oh! A Con… Oh my god!  Con..OH! Yes! Rubber! You are going to get me pregnant, I don’t want to be pregnant… We need… Oh! Forget it!”  She moaned into his mouth as they kissed. “Oh.  God. Please. Fuck me!”

Pulling her legs up, locking her feet behind his back as her fingernails raked his back, leaving red scratch marks along the length of his back as she sucked on his tongue.

Pushing deeply into her, the pain of his entering her was a burning pain.  This intensified her driving lust, forgetting all outside worries. She thrust her hips up to meet his push.  Intensity of his kisses, flavored with her sex was still infused in the kisses.

Rose pulled his head tightly to her for the kisses that were so delicious while he pushed the whole of his organ deep into her, pressing against the back wall of her vagina, he touched the deepest part of her. Her lover’s balls bounced off her ass as he pressed her into the mattress of the bed.

Teach broke the kiss for a moment, gasping.

“I just need to say something.”

“What?” She asked softly, with had a crooked smile.

“Oh god…I’m cuming!” He moaned as his body went into spasms. His seed filling her with each twitch that she could feel.

Rose held him to her, kissing the side of his face as he gasped for breath. Lightly stroking his body.

Deep inside him, he began to laugh and twitch.

“That tickles.  Please… Oh please stop!” He said laughing.

They lay in each other’s arms for several minutes, kissing.  His softened member slipping out of her as they continued to explore with hands and lips.   Of touching and traces of tongue and fingertip.  Raking sensitive flesh and enjoying the laughter of the post-coital Celt in her arms. Rose smiled widely at his body’s reaction to her touch.

They lay next to each other, him lightly caressing her breasts.  Kissing the puckered flesh of her nipples and the soft curve of her neck. She touching his hips and sliding her hands down, taking his flaccid organ in her hands, the slightly sticky fluid she found with her hands, brought up to put on his lips and then kissed those beautiful lips clean.

A few minutes passed and another erection began to grow, much to her enjoyment.

He chuckled then gasped as Rose traced her fingers over the swollen length of flesh under the thin material. Seeing his cock for the first time, the tumescent organ was not very great in length, she could use both hands to cover it, but it the diameter was massive, her fingers could not close around the organ as she explored his naked sex.

He made little sound as she teased his hard shaft with her fingernails and gently traced the tip of her tongue around the barb of the glans. Pleased with the sound of his soft moaning, her mouth closed over the head of the shaft and she began to stroke in counterpoint to the motion as she performed a fun tease of oral pleasuring to his body.  His body bucked which made her laugh softly.

“Did that hurt?” She smiled.

“Oh god! N- no.”  Teach gasped with a touch of giggle.  She could feel his pulse in his massive shaft as she slid her mouth slowly down it while pulling up with her hand.

Rose put her hand on his naked belly to hold him still, a sudden upward thrust would choke her as she held him in her mouth.  He laughed as she raked her fingernails along the inside of his thighs. Rose explored the glory of his body as she slid off her panties and sat astride him, pressing the head of the shaft against her clitoris and began to ride up and down.  Not allowing him any entry no matter how he was begging her.

“Oh damn… Please… “  His whispers were of near agony as she teased his scrotum as she rubbed her body up and down over the corona around the glans of, what Rose decided was, a beautiful penis as she used the man-probe as her personal sex toy.

Each stroke as he played with her thighs and cheeks of her bottom, served to drive the passion in her soul higher and with more intensity until the orgasm that she strove for. Holding his erection against her clitoris, she reached a point that Rose was unable to control her movements.

“So close…” She moaned but had to put her hands on his knees for balance.  His erection pushing against her belly.

“Turn around.” he whispered as his hand slide under her backside and traced over her labia.  Teasing her further for the missed orgasm, the entry of her body was slippery with her personal moisture.

Smiling, she turned around and stretched her body full length along his, enjoying the sensation of his erection pinned between them.

“Are you enjoying yourself? “ She whispered as she reached down between them and stroked his hard shaft.

“Very much, we have much more to go.  We are not finished yet, lady.”  he laughed softly as she sat back up astride him.

She slowly stroked his erection with both hands.  A little scary that the thickness was so that she could not close her hands fully around it.

“You want more?” She bounced lightly on his pelvis, her breasts swaying hypnotically as teased  her nipples.

“Mmm… Come here, let me kiss those beautiful nips.”  Teach laughed as she complied.  “You have beautiful breasts.”

Rose gasped as he took her into his mouth.  “Thank you…”

Feeling him lift his hips up, she lowered hers down to his, guiding the head of the twitching muscle to the wet labia.  Sliding slowly down over the head, she felt the organ enter her and stretch her flesh as he entered her.

A little at first, it was too tight to fit without the sensation of burning.  The skin surrounding her orifice complained at his intrusion into her body.

“Oh my god you are so big.  I still don’t know how I could fit you.”  Rose gasped as she rode up and down.  Each time she slid him in, it was a little deeper. Almost half-way down the shaft she was certain he could not get any more inside her in this position.

Laughing softly. “It will fit, it was there once. You are in control.”  Then pulling her for a deep kiss, he thrust upwards as she slid down.  Pulling her ass close to his pelvis, the thick penis slide its full length into her, pressing against the back wall of her chamber.  The pressure against her womb with the head of the  shaft.

“Oh…. god.” She moaned into his face, sliding her tongue into his mouth while the walls echoed with the soft sounds of  their bodies slapping together as she rode him until he began to tremble.

“Shh…” Rose stopped moving for a moment..  “Not yet.  Hold it.  Hold.  You don’t get to cum before I do.”

“Oh god.  I can’t.”

Rose sat back, holding him inside her.   The sensation of the head of his organ bumping against her cervix excited her as she rode slowly. She enjoyed watching him, watching her.

Teach put his hands on the mound just above her clit, stroking the little cum-button with his thumbs in a small circular motion.

“Oh.” The shock of his thumbs pushing the hood back over her bit of flesh was as an electric shock in her heart when his hands changed positions, holding her by her hips.  He thrust upwards in her  and held still.  Keeping her still as she tried to keep riding his shaft.

His body bent in an inverted “U” for a moment.  Rose did not realize the moment had arrived as he moaned in the spasms of orgasm.  Semen flowed into her at more than twenty-feet per second from the tip of his love muscle.

Smiling at him as he relaxed.  Rose leaned full length on his body and relaxed.   His seed slowly leaking out of her as he kissed her face.

“Mm…that was not bad.” She smiled as she kissed him again.  “For a second time.”

Laughter faded as she kissed him, her slim body relaxing on his.  She slipped him out of her and  slid off to his side.  Going to sleep with  her head on his shoulder and a leg draped over his belly.

The morning would deal with the morning issues.

 <Fin>

Snowed: The Weekend Trip

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Haunted Home, Spicer Dam Spur Road

Crime Scene Photo 1-A  24821 Spicer Dam Spur Road

The Weekend Trip: Snowed

He took another swallow from the old whiskey bottle. Jason Best Ph.D. pulled on the wrench while he struggled to remove the cap that protected the fill valve. He swore when barked his knuckles for the third time.

The cabin, originally constructed in the era of the California Gold Rush over the horizontal entrance of a prospecter’s mine. A moderately successful mine that produced moderate amounts of gold until it played. The owner stayed with the cabin as a hermit until the elderly prospector died and ownership passed, in time, to Jason.

In the construction style of the era, the first owner built the cabin’s foundation out of charred cedar logs on bedrock that survived the elements better than modern foundations. Remodeled twice, the one floor shanty grew into a split-level two and a half story mountain chalet, steam from nearby hot springs powered a small turbine for electricity and radiators for heat.

Carefully he examined the dead system, he found the valve seal had failed. It appeared to have been overtightened, the seal developed a slow leak that took a toll over the years, and reduced the power generation slowly to zero. Now he paid the price for that seal with blood from his knuckles. He gave a heavy sigh as the blood dripped onto the ancient timbers of the wood and earth, it would be nice to have a nurse type who could get the first aid kit and bandage his knuckles up.

As it is I’ll  need to climb up three flights of stairs to get to the first aid kit so I could patch up my own scrapes, but I don’t have time to bleed. I’m on a roll.  His thoughts tried to interrupt his focus.

Doctor Best studied the concepts of the hot springs and geothermal power, he taught himself enough to rebuild the system that he now struggled with while he used language that his mother used to ground him for. He updated the electrical wire, plugs and cables in the cabin, it held many pleasant surprises that included one solid-gold nugget.  It was a beautiful place that he happily named “Mountain Home”.

With a final shrill squeak of surrender, the cap turned. Then became loose enough for him to spin it off with his fingers. The threads were in good shape, however the seal was in bad shape.

He used a specialized tool that he tracked down over the internet to a company that dealt with replacement parts of the ancient system, he was able to re-plumb the house. Along with the upgraded the control panel circuitry, Jason brought the house into the modern era.

Sweat and strain as he worked, his next part of the project was to dig out under the house for to expand his electrical panel and power generation center. He took advantage of the horizontal mine, and when he moved out a pile of debris he discovered, to his pleasure, a large underground room.

An added plus, the underground space was semi-finished into a wine-cellar of sorts. With wines he had found dated from just before the prohibition era, many stored on their sides.

A few sat upright with the corks exposed, those had dried out and the seals failed. Those bottles that laid on their sides, were all intact, but so few, Jason chose to drink only one. And it was excellent!

An even better discovery, however, some soul in the past had stashed a treasure-trove of rye whiskey. “Robert’s Rye”, and each onion-shaped flask had a layer of rye-seeds on the bottom.

He felt that it was the reason for the rye whiskey was excellent, and he had many bottles with seals intact.

He sampled some of the potent nectar, but he was hungry and the whiskey gave him a pleasant buzz. He wanted dinner, however he needed to recharge the heat-exchanger first to get heat into the house otherwise a cold night was in store for him.

He tightened the hose to the valve and turned the handle, he watched the gauge on the cylinder rise as the system pressure rose and became the home’s central heat source as it transported heat from the geothermal hot-spot to the house.

The smell of baked potatoes and roast meat reached his nose. Tessa, his colleague from the university, cooked upstairs in the modernized kitchen while she warmed the upper floors as a side benefit while the central-heat units were offline. They had seen each other outside of work a few times. They always kept it on the down-low, Tessa worried about the issue of staff fraternization. She was not yet tenured and did not want to lose her job because of her relationship with James.

But here, with the whiskey, wine, and snow so heavy on the ground no one would come by. A storm had dropped four-inches per hour for the last two hours on top of the six-feet of snow that fell before he had arrived Friday night and struggled long hours to get the big cylinder dragged through the basement door to the mouth of the mine.

The sweep needle on the pressure gauge was in the green pressure gauge. A flip of the breakers in order, green LED’s illuminated and made him smile. Electric power was now available.

He put the wrench away in his new toolbox, that Tessa bought him. He walked to the electric panel and read the displays. He pressed a switch on the wall and the lights in wall sconces blinked and flickered to life as electrical systems worked to perfection.

He wondered what might be wrong. It was too smooth. No project ever went that easy unless it was broken.

The Professor of Biochemistry laughed, with green lights on all power systems, he only needed to turn on the hot-tub on the patio at the wall switch. Tessa and he could sip ninety-year-old whiskey, sit in the bubbles of warm water and watch the snowstorm.

Maybe the weather might break and they could watch the stars dance in the heavens. Then showers and, he hoped, sleep with his arms around her.

“Dinner’s ready.” She called down.

“I have a surprise for you, up there!” He said, waited a heartbeat and flipped the circuit breaker to “On”.

The whole house lit up. LED rope lights he had wired in, illuminated with the effect of electronic icicles made the snow appear blue under the lights.

Tessa was impressed, breathless from the effect of the light show.

Tessa walked around with just a light work shirt, she had broken a sweat while she lifted boxes and cleaned in the old cabin, and made it more of a home with the triple-paned windows.

Which was fine in Jason’s point of view. With an oversized sleeveless shirt, sometimes he would get lucky and watch her accidentally flash him, her bare legs, smudged and dust-covered while she wore shorts and sandals, she was an impressive person. A brilliant Doctor of Anthropology, a competitor in the triathlon. A woman not afraid to get dirty. But then, she was a digger. She liked to dig up bones.  

He had just sat down with Tessa and she poured him more whiskey while they waited for the other couple to come down the stairs. They broke bread while they waited, his grandmother’s recipe that had baked all day with sprigs of fresh rosemary in the propane heated oven.

The conversation about the house, he apologized that she had to work when she should have relaxed and enjoyed the view.

Tessa’s smile was as bright as a sunrise. Tessa touched his cheek and kissed him deeply.

“It is my pleasure to help set up the cabin for him was her pleasure.

A rhythmic noise from upstairs, Doctor Lettie MacKay and her rebound boyfriend, Kevin Acker, from the School of Pharmacy were busy upstairs in the bedrooms. They were supposed to be upstairs to hang wallpaper, but the noise was not the sounds of paste and paper. Kevin always kept samples of ED drugs on his person and they were not yet downstairs for food.

“Can you two kids give it a break? You are not supposed to test the beds in each room! You are supposed to hang wallpaper!”

That was when the first scream, like a siren, echoed down the stairs.

Tessa and he ran upstairs into the arms of the half-naked Doctor MacKay who grabbed him and screamed in their faces that the wallpaper had come to life,

“It grew tenticles and grabbed at me! It tore my clothes when Kevin pulled me away and saved me!” She sobbed. “Oh my god, it grabbed and pulled him into the wallpaper!”

“Go down to the kitchen.” Jason said and looked into the room.

A lump on the wall looked as if some crazed paper-hanger covered an unfortunate person who stood there.

Jason grabbed a putty knife out of a plastic bucket to cut the paper-covered Kevin out, the colored wallpaper began to show details of Kevin’s face behind the branches and stylized birds printed on the wallpaper.

“Kevin!” Jason called.  And the associate professor looked at him from within the paper, then his image faded, and left the wallpaper flat and perfect and left Jason no place to cut.

He tried anyway, he scraped where Kevin was under the paper, but it was just a plaster wall. Kevin was no longer among the branches and trees of the wallpaper.

Screams again, downstairs. He ran down the stairs, Tessa was at the door, her eyes rolled around her head in abject terror.

Lettie, stuck to the wall held her hands out as the texture of the wallpaper crawled the length of her arms to her fingers while she clutched at the air in failed attempts to save herself.

Jason slashed at the paper with the sharp corner of the putty knife they used to spackle the walls for new paper.

A high-pitched sound from the wallpaper, higher than the screams of the women, sounded as the wallpaper tore while Jason slashed at it with the metal blade.

The wallpaper moved on its own, in an attempt to pull Lettie into a  giant wrinkle that grew until looked like a mouth.

He grabbed his coworker by her left arm, he pulled hard on her and used his right foot to stomp the wallpaper flat against the wall until he tore it away from Lettie’s body.

The wallpaper left traces of paste on Lettie’s arms when he freed her and pulled her into his arms, they did not stop to consider the slime, instead they ran towards the the front door where Tessa screamed at them to hurry.

When they got close, door slammed shut and locked Tessa outside. Try a he might, with all his strength and a screwdriver to pry with, the door refused to open.

Jason realized Tessa’s danger, she had worn only the light work clothes she wore while she worked in the cabin and outside it was a cold that could kill.

Jason pointed to the basement and Tessa nodded, he and Lettie ran down the stairs, her legs lacerated from the branches of the wallpaper. In the basement, stone walls seemed less dangerous.

Jason showed Lettie where to sit and ran towards the basement’s heavy-timber doors like a football tackle and hit them at full speed…

And bounced off.

The gold mine might be a safe haven, but the doors were part of the house.

Tessa’s voice called his name, she was cold.

His mind raced, if he didn’t know better, there was a malevolence that had awoke when they worked in the house.

Tessa yelled his name again, feeble sounds on the wood where she pounded on the thick planks, her plead to come in out of the cold.

In a near panic, he looked at his work table.

The table! His mind screamed. I used that old ore-cart! It is all iron and it still sits on the rails in the floor!

He released the brake and took a deep swallow from the whiskey bottle for luck and swallowed a few of the rye grains. Then pushed the half-ton cart as hard as he could.

He hit the doors hard at a near sprint and a gap opened from the impact.

Tessa’s hand came through the gap in the door and Jason grabbed Tessa and pulled.

Ice cold, she shivered as she struggled to get inside, halfway through, the doors began to close on her leg. Tessa screamed from the pain of her leg as the door crushed it.

Jason grabbed a shovel and shoved it against the door for a wedge.

He shoved and struggled against the door with his shoulder, It gave an inch, then he pushed the shovel forward with his foot and forced the door wider again. In one instant, he took the chance and pulled Tessa free of the heavy timber doors, she clung to him. She wept from the cold, begged him to tell her what happened.

Jason took her to sit with Lettie and began to explain. Lettie turned to look at him, her eyes haunted.

No, not haunted, not haunted at all. 

She had no eyes!

Her once beautiful face now was an eyeless horror with a mouth that formed a big “O” of a silent scream. A tendril extended down from above to Lettie’s head and sucked life from her. Her skin had become mottled and pale as the house stole the woman’s essence.

Jason grabbed a hatchet from his workbench and jumped at the thread that drew the life out of Lettie like a tentacle with a million mouths. Time slowed down, as he swung the sharp hand-ax.

And missed.

“OH God!” He screamed as white fluid leaked out of the wound in her skull instead of human blood. “Oh god, I’m so sorry!”

He was the only one that could make it to the car. But Tessa would be in this house alone. Even if she was safe for the moment, in the corner behind the work table, between two rolls of…

Two rolls of…

Wallpaper!

He turned to where Tessa sat and he could only see a ball of wallpaper where he left Tessa, he could see her outline had become less distinct under the wallpaper that had slid around her like a web.

He leaped over the table with a box-cutter in hand and slashed at the cocoon of wallpaper around her, and found…

Paper. Just paper, wadded up and desiccated.

He was the only one left and the doors were ajar, too small to allow escape.

He pulled on the work table and rolled it to the deepest part of the mine that he could reach.

“Last drink in this house!” He shouted and took a long, deep drink of the whiskey bottle and smashed the bottle against the house foundation. “Fuck you!”

James crouched and braced his hands on the table, he pushed as hard as he could and gained momentum

With a thirty-foot start with the thousand-pound ram to break through the doors, Jason and the cart hit the doors at a full run, the left door trembled and creaked open.

He took advantage of the gap that opened, Jason dove through the gap before the heavy timber door slammed on the table time and again, the house tried to claim another victim.

He collapsed in the snow, it was strangely quiet, illuminated by the beautiful LED icicle lights he spent so much time to hang along the edge of the roof around the patio.

A beautiful and deadly structure.

He fell face first in the snow, his hands felt like they were on fire.

Pain! He groaned in agony. Pain, so much pain! 

It has from the snow! He looked at his hands, they were pale. Very pale.  Is my skin mottled? Or am I the wallpaper?

He stood and ran through the snow slipped and fell, cut his knees and tore open his paper-hands. Logical, educated Dr. Best, crawled on his elbows and knees and left a bloody trail in the snow behind him. He covered the mile in nearly an hour when he fell and rolled out on to the asphalt of Spicer road.

The ground rumbled, he could feel it. It was the house! It chased him on cedar pillar legs, the ground trembled with the evil hunger that stalked him.

Too tired and cold to run, he lay on the lonely mountain road and screamed to whichever spirit that he was sorry as lights from the porch bore down and engulfed him.

****

Jason awoke to the glow of a cardiac monitor. He focused on the display of his heart waveform before he realized he was in a hospital and the heart that was monitored, was his.

After two weeks, the hospital discharged Jason and days where police questionedby him about the three deaths ended.

Detectives took notes, wrote down all the professor said and described with vivid detail. Police then interviewed the physicians who attended to Jason’s wounds.

Jason obtained a copy of the detective’s report, and read it three weeks later, while he sat at his breakfast table.

“Doctor Jason Best, Ph.D. was found by snowplow driver, Honey Gareth in the middle of Spicer Dam Spur Road. The two days in question, where Doctor Best spent alone in the cabin at 24821 Spicer Dam Spur Road. In the events that transpired on the weekend in question, Doctor Best discovered an old wine cellar stocked with wine and rye whiskey. Tests of opened whiskey bottles showed high levels of ergot alkaloids, consistent with acute ergot toxicity that caused visual and auditory hallucinations, per the physicians and specialists who attended to Dr. Best. This results that Dr. Best became convinced that he was with three other people who died.

Subsequent interviews with the named people, Doctor Contessa AKA “Tessa” Pershing is alive and well, continues to work at Ocean Bay Community College. Doctor Best is familiar to Doctor Pershing in that they have attended same faculty continued-education and office functions but denies any relationship that might exist between Doctor Best and herself.

Doctor Lettie MacKay is friends with Doctor Best, but states no knowledge of anyone named Kevin. Her spouse, Michael MacKay, works at Ocean Bay University as a Fine Arts Professor. Further, no address, student record or employment record of Kevin Acker is found.

To date, no evidence of deaths at this address on the weekend in question exists.

Interior of 24821 Spicer Dam Spur Road shows the wallpaper slashed and torn in the kitchen and third floor bedroom. The heavy timber barn door to the basement is off the hinge. Damage caused by a gold-rush era ore cart on rails used to batter the door open and a hatchet discovered imbedded into a can of white paint.(See attached photos) it is to note: Where Dr. Best said he struck a woman in the head with a hatchet, the hatch found someone embedded into a can of ‘Cottage Girl’ paint.  The ax had struck the paper label of the logo of the woman on the paint can.

A horizontal gold mine, dug circa 1850’s shows evidence of modern reinforcements and extensive work in a power room. Adjacent to the power room is the previously mentioned wine cellar. (See attached photos)

Ninety-six onion shaped, clear to light-blue glass bottles of honey-colored  fluid were found with apparent rye grain in the bottom of the bottles. Original labels, dated from 1910 to 1919 of quart-size printed with “Robert’s Rye Whiskey”. In the course of the investigation, the crime-scene team discovered two bottles opened, one empty, the second appeared three-quarters full.(See attached photos)

It is the conclusion of the investigation that Dr. Best  suffered from accidental ergot intoxication per the attached pertinent physician’s notes.

No complaints will be filed.

Lt. Liewess J. Jonah, investigator.”

 © 2015 Dash McCallen all rights reserved

Married by Mistake Chapter 53. Singapore

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Chapter 53. Singapore

After he left Hiroshima, Japan, Tom’s plane traveled over the expansive eastern Pacific Ocean, the early day was clear and broken clouds. The Pacific Wizard’s upgraded twin engines operated so smooth and so well-balanced, one would hardly know they pushed the big plan at hundreds of miles-per-hour as he wandered around the open expanse of the big jet alone.

Tom walked the length of the plane, using the restroom. At his designated altitude, he still flew slow compared to the commercial airliners.

Not meant for blistering speed, his craft and home was a yacht, after all, a flying boat. And even with the upgrades in the engines, it still traveled at a sedate speed of a little less than six-hundred kilometers-per-hour, about thirty-percent slower compared to commercial passenger jet.

But, it was his home.

He passed over the water, the autopilot followed the path programmed in the flight computer. The Japanese were sticklers about accuracy and with the unusual private jet, made good and sure that he had the proper data set logged into the computer.

He stood behind the pilot’s seat, he did not sit back down, just stood there and watched the machine fly on itself with the automatic guidance system engaged. He had spent a lot of time in the plane in recent weeks. Although his arm was no longer oozing blood, he kept applying new, clean dressings, if the air-pressure changes caused some unexpected problems. The last thing he wanted, to lose the use of his injured arm.

It would have a scar for some time that would be impressive to show off. But for now it was an angry line that crossed his forearm, as if someone hit him with an ax.

It was quite impressive to the unprepared, if he could show it off. But there was no one to show it to while being on the Pacific Wizard in mid-flight.

Tom took a deep breath and let it out in a controlled slow exhale, it felt so good, he stretched a second time before he went to his desk and picked up the tablet computer. It was the one he used so often to write on and sat back in the pilot seat, where he could keep an eye on the displays.

Radar indicated several aircraft above and below, a heavy jet was passing over him going the same direction. He read the display and looked the specs up on his computer and shook his head at the numbers it displayed on the size and speed of the larger plane.

Laughing, the engines on the passenger jet was larger by far than the two that powered the Wizard. Even with the engine upgrades when he purchased the big jet through his company, the specs made him a tiny bit envious.

If he could get another upgrade and put those on his yacht.

Laughing out loud again, he realized he would have to have the engines out on longer stalks or have divots pounded into the fuselage of the plane to fit the big fan-powered blowtorches.

A man could stand up inside the big airliner’s engines if he had a mind to.

He could spend all day in the air with Kaylee if he had the plane like those. Except for the cost, some twenty-five thousand US dollars per hour!

She would have to paint a lot to sell her creations to help offset the cost of flying a privately owned seven-eight-seven.

*Even if it is just a fantasy.* Tom shook his head. *There was no way to buy one of those wide-bodied birds.*

The memory of the woman echoed in his head.

His shoulders sagged. He had spent almost the last two hours not thinking of that raven-haired artist.

She had made him laugh, and even if she had not intended to do so, she had hurt him to the core of his heart.

More than he would ever admit to anyone except himself. It was important to him that she kept her promise to… He forgot the other man’s name except he was a congressional aide of some kind.

Shaking his head, he returned to his writing, trying to keep Leonard the Leafy Sea Dragon and his friend Weeds, on a child’s level of understanding. This story had become one about keeping promises.

“A promise kept, makes a person’s word valued.” He typed on the screen in the word bubble of Wendel, the Weedy Sea Dragon.

Still, as he wrote the adventures of Leonard and Weeds his mind drifted to the mote of loneliness in his mind.

The autopilot computer chimed, it was time to make radio contact with Singapore and begin his descent.

Checking his fuel, he was still had a third of his operational fuel left. Traveling the way he had of late, the service techs in San Francisco had fitted his yacht with fuel cells and turned the luxury jet into a virtual gas-can with wings.

Tom, hopped from one city to the next from book-con to comic-con for signing of books and traveled alone, he had flown the great circle route with no one to talk to in the big plane.

Still, he had the computers and could video chat with anyone he chose. But he had no one to call. So he followed his schedule, his eyes settling on a the event that he had attended after Dr. Manga’s installation, the event where the sponsor set him up with a date-for-hire.

He laughed sadly at his perception of the date, that woman came from a company the organizer hired at the Frankfurt comic-con to escort him so that he would look even better with the beautiful woman on his arm.

Tom laughed as the night had progressed and the escort was in fact, more than an escort. With a Master’s Degree in biology and organic chemistry. She was wonderful to talk with an ability to see both sides of an argument, a quick wit and the ability to shut down the probing questions on her relationship with Tom.

Even when one person tried to prove that she was some gold-digger with no brains.

‟I hoped you would slap down that SOB from the vomit-rag tabloid, but jeeze!” Tom commented when they were alone and he laughed. The sight of the tabloid reporter made to look like an imbecile tickled him. “That was beyond good!”

She called herself Krystal with a slight Saxony-German accent, and Tom immediately doubted that was her real name. As far as her education, he could not prove she lied about a Master’s Degree, and she could talk with anyone about nearly any subject. Even the most recent journals of learned circles of chemistry.

When Tom started to talk to her the next morning, she picked up the phone called someone, then told him to get dressed.

‟We are going to breakfast.” She smiled. Taking him by the hand and led him out the door of the hotel.

‟Sorry about last night, I have a lot of things…”

‟Shhh… Mister Harte. Things happen, sometimes they don’t. You are awesome and you did a lot of public interaction at that event. In total, I am very impressed with your work.”

‟You have read my books?”

‟I’ll read the rest tonight, but I read all the children’s books while you slept.” She tapped her phone.

‟Wow. That’s a lot of books, I’ve written for a quite a few years now.”

‟I can read two-thousand words per minute. That’s measured, sir.” She smiled. ‟I can type one-hundred words-a-minute, and I speak five languages, there is little that gets by me.”

‟Anything else? Why are you with me, why not at your own convention?”

‟I’m still in debt for school and a chance compete for a place on the Olympic Archery team.” She said as they stepped into the elevator, alone. “I need to purchase some equipment to keep up with the other competitors.”

Tom laughed, then she kissed him deeply.

‟That’s for being wonderful.” She said softly, coughing with a guilty sound.

‟You said you couldn’t kiss me last night.”

‟Yes, I broke the rule. Sue me.” She chuckled as the doors opened. No one was there to snap pictures or talk to them. She knew the way around the crowded hotel.

‟You are good.” Tom said, looking around. They had come out of an elevator facing away from the foyer and walked out a side door.

‟Logistics and protection. Part of the job.” Only then did Tom notice that Krystal’s eyes were quick to take in everything.

‟We can walk out now. We have reservations at the Meadow. It is where we will meet some of your cohorts in crime.”

‟My cohort… What?” Tom looked sideways at her.

‟The other authors. Each one has an escort to get them there and on time.”

‟So you are a babysitter?”

Krystal laughed. It was a musical sound.

‟I am an escort, but our company requires special skills that is beyond the typecast Hollywood version.” She said softly. As they got into a dark-windowed limousine. ‟I am here to make you look good and to keep you safe.”

Tom boggled.

‟And I thought you were just smart.”

‟Not bad for a call girl?” Crystal said. ‟Don’t worry about my emotional state. I am well compensated to keep you safe.”

‟Who would want to hurt me? I’m just a storyteller.”

‟You don’t know?” Her face became serious, no longer a tall, Nordic beauty that graced the floor, but a military-esque hard look of a bodyguard. ‟There was a threat to the convention. Because of your novel and movie, it is felt that you are a high-value target.”

‟Oh crap…” Tom boggled. “So you are a bodyguard? But just not armed.”

“Oh yes, sir I am.”

“Please for the thousandth time? Call me Tom.” He said.

“Yes, Tom, I’m armed. I carry devices always within reach.” She slid up her skirt, where he could see she carried four knives and two small pistols with silencers in thigh holsters. “Point two-two caliber with sound suppressors. Power is not as important as placement.”

Tom could not get his mind off what was under her skirt for the rest of the trip in .

That was over a week ago. Today he stood inside the Wizard far above the eastern edge of the Pacific Ocean descending into Singapore. Here, he was to meet with a local publisher and distributor for children’s books and he received an invitation to stay at a high-mountain villa. He would to try to get his stories published in the island country. A fresh market for him.

The autopilot chimed and returned control to the human pilot and Tom guided the big jet down into the approach lane.

Slow descent and a perfect touch down with mild weather, the Wizard rumbled down the taxiway to where the crews indicated with their long, bright-colored batons.

The engines powered down with the typical sound of jets and Tom stood out of his seat. Opening the door, and stepped out into the sunshine of the beautiful southeast Asia day.

A few hours later, Tom would wish to never see such a day again.

Married by Mistake Chapter 35. Familiar Face

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Chapter 35. Familiar Face

Tom and Kaylee left the office and as soon as the door closed behind them, Kaylee spoke first.

“I don’t think that person was happy with you. She was quite upset about just filing the plan then she had cancel it.”

“She’ll recover.” Tom nodded. “Right now I have to call the exchange. Did you like the crew on the last flight?”

“Yes, what was her name.” Kaylee grumbled at her senior moment.”

“Watson?” Tom asked helpfully.

“YEAH! That’s her. Captain R. M. Watson.” Kaylee nodded her head.

“Good woman. She flew in Iraq and other places that I can’t recall. Multiple ratings. I request her a lot, the company knows my account number and gives me a list on who is available. She is the only woman on their staff that is multi-engine jet rated.” Tom described his history with the company.

“They only have one woman on staff?” Kaylee blinked, for a moment she felt that old urge to boycott.

“No, they have others,” Tom smiled as they walked, holding hand. “She is the only one rated for multi-engine jet.”

“Oh.” Kaylee laughed. “I was going to use another company if they didn’t hire women.”

“Oh no. Lettie, my NorCal Limo owner is a major investor. I would doubt that they’d make a glass ceiling. Could happen,” Tom pondered “But if Lettie found out? I’d run if I were them.”

“OH! I know Lettie! She picked me up from when we hit the birds.”

“Oh yes. That was a special favor, normally they don’t take limos off the pavement.” Tom smiled. “She is a rare one.”

“She said you helped them get a start?” Kaylee leaned her head on Tom’s shoulder for a moment while they walked.

“Not precisely. I just keep them on retainer and speed dial.” Tom said. “I direct business their way. They only have a few cars and I think only four drivers. Lettie and her cousins.”

“They have a post-grad psych major working for them. A guy named Kaikane.”

“Sounds Hawaiian.”

“He is. You get points for paying attention.”

“I don’t know Kaikane.”

“He knows you.”

“I get that a lot.”

“You are likeable.”

“Am not.” He argued.

“I’m going to slap you.” She growled at the lack of his self-confidence.

“Promise? We won’t have the chance for a mile-high fun time.”

“Seriously. You need to relax on yourself, you need someone to keep you…” She paused, looking for the words. “Well, not on your best you always seem at your best, but keep you from being so dark.”

“Your books will show that and if you are writing children’s stories, you need to keep them light.” Kaylee looked at him evenly with the soul of a woman who would protect the one she cared for, even from himself. “You write beautiful words like no one I know. Probably as good as any of the great writers. Even like Joyce and Steinbeck or Hemingway. But you don’t have to go all Edgar Allan Poe to do it.”

She paused and took a breath before pushing on with the thought.

“Tom,” She kissed his hand and looked into his eyes. “Don’t go back into that hole you locked yourself up into for a while.”

“What makes you think I am going back into anything?” Tom smiled. “You have given me light and passion. We are ending a contract in a way that protects you. I am not emotionally broken, I could have invested in it emotionally if I thought that you were sober and we spent some time together.”

He kissed her hand and smiled before he continued.

“Not baked, drunk and horny as you were. I can say I am fond of you, and that extends into friendship. And yes. I want you to stay, but not at the cost of a future.” His voice was soft, covering up a hidden emotion.

Kaylee thought a minute as they waited for Lettie to arrive with a limo. Tom’s speed dial rang her phone directly and he had told her of the situation.

“You are the best man I know, next to my dad.”

“I would like to meet him, someday.”

“Are you kidding? He would die to meet you. Steamland, if there is anything written by you on that series, he has it.”

“Heh, I bet he is almost my age.”

“I think you are older.”

“Oh. Um. Yikes!” Tom laughed. “He might greet me with a shotgun.”

“No, I think he’d be happy to have you in the family.” A twinkle in her eye showed her humor. “Even if you did corrupt his daughter.”

“TMI sweety.” Tom closed his eyes as if to block out the scene.

“Kidding.” Kaylee laughed.

A dark limo wheeled in. It was Lettie.

“Tom! Kaylee !” She seemed happy to see them. “It seems like we just left you both in the Sea Dragon.” She her smile was wide and bright.

“We need a ride to the Executive Airport to the private entrance.”

“Let’s go. Traffic is good, I can get you there in thirty minutes.”

“I will pay you for two hours. The plane won’t be ready until then, take us to The City to drive through the park and down the beach.”

“Hm. Tom, if I may suggest, from here? Let me take you to Half Moon Bay and then up along the coastal highway. We can pull in, then you and Kaylee can walk on the sand.”

“We…” Tom stopped for a moment as if something caught in his throat. “We are heading to Vegas to get an annulment.”

“WHAT? No…” Lettie caught herself and the professional woman came back to grips. “Sorry, Tom. But my opinion, she makes you smile. Kaylee , for a girl who was so mad at him a few days ago, you have a glorious soul that’s been touched by this gentle man.”

Motioning the couple into her limo, Lettie’s strained smile stayed frozen to her lips.

“That is all I will say on the subject. I apologize. Not my place and I’d fire anyone who did what I just did.” Lettie said. “One trip through Golden Gate Park, back to Executive. Do you have your transport taken care of?”

“Yes, thank you.” Tom smiled.

The Lettie close the door and got in the front of the stretched limousine.

“What was that all about?” Kaylee asked Tom.

“Lettie is kind of protective. But she has a point. I can switch companies if it would make you feel better.”

“No, actually, it makes me smile. Tom. Only someone special can evoke that kind of emotion in people, someone who people would stand up for. If I can come back and marry you?” Kaylee ’s eyes shined with tears. “I want to invite all your friends. From pilots, to writers, to limo drivers and everyone I can find that calls you by your first name.”

“Um. That is everyone I meet. I insist to dispense with formality. I am no better than anyone.”

“You are a great writer. Not many people can do that. PLUS!” Kaylee raised her index finger and touched the tip of his nose with it. “You do more for the fire fighters than just with your fleet of water bombers.”

“Water bombers? What… OH! Air tankers. How did you know about the tankers?” Tom blinked.

“I…” She bit her lip. “Well, I looked on your history in your computer back at the Pacific Wizard.”

“You’re kidding?”

“Ah. No.” A guilty laugh. “I was mad and curious and alone. You have internet on your computer at the Wizard and I logged into the guest accounts. Your name is all over the net.” Kaylee said.

“Ah. Yes.” Tom mimicked her.

“No problem. So you know about my aerial firefighting air-force that some states won’t use.” Tom smiled. “It works in most states, California is a bit more… Picky.”

“You have changed the subject. We need to talk and have this understood.”

“Well, technically, you changed the subject.” The quick mind of the writer did mental gymnastics around their conversation.

“Don’t change the changed subject.” Kaylee laughed. “The point is, you deserve more happiness than you have. And we can do it together if you and I start on a proper friendship and wedding.”

“Okay, I think we can do that. But you go take good and well care of Glenn. I’ll be your little secret.”

“Little? Little would be if you were an undergrad student of art, but you are a successful writer.” Kaylee shook her head, laughing. “AND, mister, you have two private flying yachts and your own personal air force and I don’t how many non-profit organizations that you have listed as getting support from you. So I would not call you little in any description.”

Tom chuckled.

“Well, tell you what. We split the sheets on this and you decide that this accident was a good thing to happen. We’ll have that wedding for you.”

“Not for me. For you. You should be honored. My family and friends combined couldn’t fill four rows in a church. I tend towards the shy side.”

“Shy? You? Shy like a hurricane. Let me see,” Tom smiled. “You have skills in karate…”

“Eskrima.”

“Yeah, that.” Tom smiled. “You like to lay naked on a beach, you are a bartender and you would not surrender in any meek way to a large man with a knife. And. If I recall he had at least a hundred pounds and a foot taller than you are and you still kicked the living poop out of him.”

“Heh!” Kaylee laughed. “Yeah, I did. It felt good, too. He wanted to hurt me, and I was in the proper mood to return the favor.”

“That is all too true, you are good.” Tom gave a quiet laugh at the memory. “I would have not ever missed that show for anything. It was fun to watch, shocking, but fun to watch.”

“You know, I might write about it someday.” He said more to himself than her.

“I would like to read that. Make me as an avenging angel.” Kaylee smiled.

“You can be sure.” Tom nodded. “I would make you that and more.”

The limousine pulled into the Golden Gate Park and drove around the green strip. Tom pointed out an archery range and a giant windmill as they drove by.

Talking happily with each other, two people enjoying their hearts and souls. Knowing that it would come to an all too soon end. They learned more about each other while Tom poured wine in glasses for the both of them and fed Kaylee dark chocolates from a crystal jar he purchased from a tiny, exclusive shop he made Lettie stop at in the Height-Ashbury district. Little more than a hole-in-the-wall near a Whole Foods store on Stanyon, he ran in and out in a minute, Tom’s wounded, but healing arm flapping painfully as he stepped hard off the curb.

It was an unplanned celebration.

Two people celebrating friendship and the strange path that brought them together.

After their second circuit of famous park, Tom leaned over to Kaylee and kissed her slowly with chocolate flavored lips from a San Francisco hidden candy-store.

“Let’s go get unmarried.” Tom whispered without conviction. “The time is now.”

“Okay.” She said, looking down into the glass of her wine, the sadness of the moment setting into her heart.

“This has been very enjoyable, Tom. You make it more difficult by being so nice.”

“You want to stay?”

“Yes. And no. I want my chance with Glenn.”

Tom stopped the conversation and toned Lettie to drive them to the airport with the phone from the back of the limousine.

“Time to go, thank you very much Lettie.”

They rode in awkward silence to the airport, the atmosphere in the limo becoming darker and increasingly tense.

“It will be okay.” Tom said, holding Kaylee ’s hand.

“Thank you.” She made a sad smile.

Together, two lovers and friends rode to the airport to fly to Las Vegas, to get “un-married”.

Married by Mistake Chapter 33. I Smile Because You Are My Wife, I Laugh Because I Am Your Husband

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Chapter 33. I Smile Because You Are My Wife, I Laugh Because I Am Your Husband

‟Tom! This. I mean you…!” Kaylee paced the length of the jet, laughing hysterically holding her hands to her face. ‟I don’t know what I was thinking. I don’t want to talk about this. We can’t be having this talk.”

She tried to make herself relax.

‟It can happen,” Tom said with a smirk. “It would be a simple mistake if it were a small thing, but you made an error like that? You’re stuck as my wife. I’m sorry but that makes me smile. It’s your issue to deal with right now. We can fix it, besides I don’t mind being married to you.  It’s entertaining.”

‟Tom, it is my decision. A deeply personal decision! No one gets to tell me what my choice will be.” Kaylee stood for a moment. ‟I’m sorry. It is a frightening concept and, like you said, complicates matters.”

‟Well, I think you are jumping the gun a little. I am, and I always will be, a great supporter of your choices. First, you are my friend. I know I am not the first choice and we did do the deed and you had other plans. I accepted that fully, weeks ago.” Tom stood behind her and slid his arms around her, holding her back against his chest.

‟I hoped you would stay, and if you want, I will help you find your own life. I am old and I have a life of stories.” He said as she turned around in his arms and buried her face into his chest. “You need to build your own story, chapter by chapter. Child by child when you get there. For now, you make me smile and you are my muse.”

Tom chuckled when an a thought struck him. 

“You make me smile, because you are a precious gem, and you are a treasure that anyone would crawl over broken glass to have in their life.” He smiled. “But I laugh because I am your husband and you cannot do much about it just now.”

This made the tears that were welling up in her eyes turn into laughter.

‟Tom. You are the funniest man I know. I wanted an engagement ring from Glenn, ever since we were kids and you help me do that.”

‟Keeping you happy is my mandate.” Tom smiled. “I cannot keep you here and have you in misery. If I help you go, maybe you will return with all I have to offer.”

Sliding her arms around him, she pressed her breasts against his chest and kissed him.

‟Do not make me love you. You’d make me feel bad for all that has happened. But I promised…” Kaylee smiled softly.

‟Yes. The promise.” He smiled back, but it was a smile that did not reach in his eyes.

‟Don’t interrupt. That is rude and you will make me mad. But yes. I would like to get married and remember it.”

‟I understand.” Tom said as he laughed with a sad tone. ‟And we have had a good time this last month.”

“It is the weirdest month I’ve ever had.” Kaylee whispered.

*It’s been a summer to remember! I have seen both the good and bad sides of people. It’s as if some grand illusionist with  a twisted imagination has written my life. A perfect storm of adventures and perverts. Days with drugs…*

Kaylee gasped.

*What if this was all a dream? Could I be still in early June? After being attacked, when I beat the crap out of that serial rapist, wanted on at least ten different crimes. Am I going to wake up in my bed, alone?*

‟No.” She said it into the hollow of Tom’s neck.

‟No? No what?” Tom sounded worried. ‟You have not had a good time?”

‟Oh yes. I said a thought out-loud. There was a moment where I thought this might all be a drug dream from the first night, or someone has written my life on a word processor.” She shook her head. “Like I am in control, but he or she makes my words come out.”

‟Now you’re inspired by something. As a writer, I know how the thoughts might come. Maybe I have written about you and you are just…”

‟Tom, do not trivialize my moment of insanity. Please.” She bit his chest lightly. ‟You did not write me into existence like some Twilight Zone movie.

‟Funny that you know about that show.” Tom chided. “You are older than you look.”

‟I study all the time. I like to get to know my husbands.” She wiped her nose on his chest and laughed at his reaction.

‟How many husbands have you had?” He looked down at her when he flinched. “Ack! Brat.”

‟Are we going to do pillow talk standing up or would you like to cuddle?”

Taking by the hand, she pulled him to their bed and pushed him down.

He smiled, she had opened up to him more in those few moments than she had in the weeks of his hospitalization.

‟Well, I don’t know about you,” Tom said quietly, laying on his back with Kaylee laying on top of him, gazing into his eyes. ‟But I appreciate the author of your life putting you on my chest. This is nice.”

‟I don’t know. Maybe they would put this all into a book- a series even.” She laughed. “I could go on adventures with you until we made the coastal cities complain, we could be a husband-wife crime solving movie series.”

‟Naw, I couldn’t take that. I’m sad enough that you want an annulment to go marry someone else.” The writer of heart and passion looked down. “Keep this going as a series? We’d have to roll the clock back and live an hour-by-hour book.”

‟That would be a long series.” She nodded. “And a lot of fun.”

‟Okay. So let’s put that fantastic fantasy away and live what life we have left together. To use the story-writer vernacular, when you leave, I’ll close this chapter and move on into the world.” Tom followed her thoughts and wrote the story in his mind, letting his mind think out loud. “I was only going to be on the west coast for the summer anyway, then the speech at Doctor Manga’s installation. I might stay there for a few months. I have a few book-signings to do there for the next installation of Steamland.”

‟Next? How many are there?” She smiled. The first time she heard of the sequels.

‟Five as of this summer. The movie is from book-three. ‟Steamland: Heat”. And it violates more Steam-punk rules than it follows.” He made a soft chuckle.

‟Yeah, I have wanted to ask you about that. No Victorian-Age, you used Rome as the base for your civilization.”

‟Well, book-one started with Heron of Alexandria improving on Ctesibius’ inventions, that were already two-hundred years in development.”

‟Heron and who?”

‟Read the books.” Tom laughed, the force of his humor bouncing her up on down on his chest where she used him as a body-pillow.

‟Human technology was so close to having steam-power thousands of years ago, it is not funny, really.” Tom winked.

“Missed the steam age by that much.” Tom held up his thumb and forefinger so that little more than a finger’s width showed. ‟No telling where we would be if someone built steam trains or such back then. Christ could have traveled the lands of Nazareth in an airplane.”

‟Tom, you’ve an imagination like no other.” Kaylee said smiling widely. ‟You are my muse in your own way. When you were in the hospital, I did a lot of drawing. I have much more to do, I have the itch and you are all in me, making me need to draw.”

‟I enjoy being in you.” Came the lecherous remark.

‟What? OH! Tom, I’m being serious.”

He stroked her back with his good hand, the splinted and wrapped wounded-arm carefully placed on the pillow beside them.

‟I’m just being honest.” He smiled. ‟Besides, not to move too far off the subject, but, we have to do a paper-chase to get the filings done. You need to head home to go be with Glenn.”

‟I get the feeling you are pushing me away.” Kaylee said.

Feeling suddenly unhappy, selfish, even a little unwanted. She took her head off Tom’s chest and got out of bed.

‟I think we should get going. You said you would be able to fly with your arm?”

‟Yes. I have feeling, the fingers are pink, I have a good pulse. I have taken my medications and we have redressed the injuries.” He ticked off the laundry list of things. “I have no numbness. I can type, slowly or hand write on the screens. I have multiple tablets I use for that. I cursive write on the screens all the time.”

‟Cursive?”

‟It is my form of entertainment. It tickles me to see the computer read and transfer it into text.”

‟So what are you saying?”

‟We can fly the Sea Dragon there. No waiting.”

‟Oh. Okay. I will have to think about that.”

‟Why?” Tom got serious as he pulled on black jeans and a black polo-shirt that had a sleeve removed to accept his bandaged arm. ‟We can leave now and you are suddenly pulling back on going?”

‟Well…”

‟Do you want to stay married to me or go be with Glenn?” Tom said gently and sat on the edge of the bed as Kaylee pulled on her shoes.

‟Two things. I care a great deal for you, Glenn would have never tolerated my quirks.” She said. “He would have blamed me for the Professor. And Glenn likes to keep me stoned. Loving him when we’re stoned is fun.”

‟When you can remember it. So according to him?” Tom winked.

Kaylee laughed.

‟I remember! Most of the time…” Blushing slightly, but Tom got closer to the truth than he knew. ‟Second thing is… I have really come to adore you. No. I don’t want to do it, but I made a promise and I don’t want to wake up in bed with you and keep saying ‟If only” even once.”

‟Do you say that now?” Tom sounded hurt.

‟Well, no. You have not given me the chance.” Kaylee held his hand. ‟Don’t be hurt. I would come back and marry you if my fantasy fails.”

‟So I am the consolation prize?”

Kaylee face-palmed, she did not mean it as an insult and an embarrassed laugh escaped her.

‟You weren’t any kind of prize. You are the kindest, bravest man I know to put up with me, my quirks and my promises.”

‟And the best friend you will ever have. I want to you go marry him. When you look out a window and see a jet fly by, think of me. When you have children, get them the Leonard Sea Dragon Series, and I’ll write about an artist in my Steamland books. I might even name her Kaylee with a sister named… Oh damn…” Tom had the look of a man who forgotten an important detail.

‟Melanie .”

‟Yes! Melanie .” Tom laughed. ‟Melanie would not be overlooked in the stories if I put your name in it.”

‟She would like that.”

‟But that would be your connection with me as you write your own story in life’s book.” Tom said, serious again. ‟I have my own explores to do in the world.”

‟You find someone?” Kaylee said. ‟Please? You should not be alone.”

‟No. I can’t promise that. I won’t be untruthful to you.” A small smile played on his lips.

“I have been alone a long time, you were a surprise.” Tom said. ‟A pleasant, exciting, twisted, funny and chocolate-flavored,” He licked her lips. ‟Surprise.”

‟You are not upset?”

‟I am a little hurt, but I am not a teenager and life-is-over crushed.” Tom gave a sad smile. ‟I knew you did not want to be married and you could have had a divorce that next day, but you wanted it annulled instead. So, I am well prepared.”

“Okay.” She looked him with suspicion, then changed the subject. ‟We can fly now?”

‟Let’s file a flight plan, check with the crews to prepare the Dragon and we can leave in an hour.”

Married by Mistake Chapter 14. At The Wizard

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Chapter 14. At The Wizard

Bumps and sounds from the flaps and landing gear extending gave her thoughts that the flying hunk of metal was falling apart. She hated this part of any flight, it always felt like a semi-controlled crash. The sound of air rushing over the flaps unnerved her, the drift of the executive commuter on each little puff of wind was sharp and sudden.

Profanity was on the tip of her tongue every moment. When the shriek of tires touched the runway, she matched the tone for a split second with a small scream of her own.

As the speedy jet slowed down, she let go of the arms of the seat and noticed her knuckles had gone white. Not that Captain Adanna was a poor pilot, but the diminutive airplane was not a comfortable as the Pacific Wizard or the Flying Sea Dragon, the jet was all business like the pilot.

Under the expert guidance of Adanna, the winged race-car taxied near the hangar where the Pacific Wizard sat while service techs milled about, the Olympic-swimming-pool sized doors of the huge structure were open and she could see the size differences between the jet she rode in and the Pacific Wizard.

The great plane’s engine hatches were open and technicians and mechanics climbed up and down ladders as they worked on the flying yacht. Kaylee worried that the workers might stop her from going into the Pacific Wizard to retrieve her belongings she had left when she went north with Tom.

The Captain opened the door and stepped out on to the asphalt-concrete of the airport. “Missus Harte, you may deplane now. Please watch your step, the Pacific Wizard is over there and the employees are expecting you.”

“They’re expecting…?” Kaylee suddenly felt like she was in a spy movie and big brother, in the name of Tom was watching.

“Yes, it is your home they are working on, is it not? I radioed ahead while we were in the air and notified them of our impending arrival. The service crew is returning with us to assess the damage to the Sea Dragon.” Adanna nodded. “Have a pleasant day, ma’am. Stephen here will take you to your plane.”

“But it’s not my plane, it belongs to Tom.”

“You are married to him, and as this is a community property state, so it is yours, too.”

Kaylee let out a long breath. *This married  crap is not what I want.*

But as she thought further on it, he was a considerate, kind, thoughtful and caring man. Not at all like Glenn, not that Glenn was uncaring.

But in relative terms, he was as if he was a bear wearing boxing gloves trying to open a jar. Awkward, clumsy and did not have a clue what to do.

Kaylee smiled at that thought of Glenn. She wondered if he would change his last name to hers?

*It isn’t tradition.* She smiled, *But I’m anything but traditional.*

This made her laugh at herself. She had proven that beyond a doubt in the last week. Still, if he changed his name it would be Glenn Greggory Grant. His house was on Amber-Elm Boulevard in her home town, elm trees in the yard. He could be an ass, but she enjoyed his company after all these years.

Often talking in the night about getting married after they graduated, they had grown up together and would spend all their lives with each other. Her with a PhD. in fine arts and him with a degrees in political sciences. He wanted to serve in Congress.

But now, as she walked towards the Pacific Wizard in its odd paint job with a wizard flying on a broom on the engine cover. A touch of whimsy that showed the heart of the man who wrote children’s books, then used the premise to live his life.

And yet she was so angry at him on so many levels. Not the least of which, he was making her fond of him. She liked the way he smiled, his view of the world. The quirky jokes he made now and again. She loved his smell, how his kisses tasted and his attentiveness when they were together.

And the sights she had seen? The excitement and passion of discovery that Tom had? They had sparked her artistic imagination and tickled her heart, maybe she could…

That thought made her pause, was she falling in love with him? Married first and love second?

*No! It. Can. Not. Be! I need that annulment when it comes time to go home!* Her heart belonged to Glenn!

She loved Glenn, not this man who was an accidental husband from a night of – okay, that was a blank, but a wonderful weekend – of party.

Sadly, she could not remember the one important part of it.

The wedding.

She still was angry over that. He could have said no. She would have never been married and then not worry about Glenn finding out.

*Oh Glenn!* She let out a heavy sigh.

*He will never accept this if he ever finds out. But we agreed that we would be free to date other people, so there would be no cheating.* She rubbed her eyes. *But getting married is so wrong.*

Kaylee climbed the steps into the Pacific Wizard, although it felt like a wonderful sky-palace, she felt odd. It was like…

*No, it can’t be. It’s like…* She gritted her teeth against the emotion.

She was home.

This made her angry again. Her home and life was with the blond, slightly arrogant boy that snorted when he laughed and became embarrassed by the sound when he did, she laughed at the memory of that laugh.

*And then there’s Tom. A special kind of man, but not someone I planned on. He is… Just not in my plans.*

*This is just horrid. The drinking, that ugly Friday, a few hits off a bong and I have a new husband who is so kind and irritating at the same time.*

*It could have been much worse, I suppose.* She sat in a seat and pulled her legs up. *I have awakened in beds that I’ve had no clue where I was, like at Gramma’s house when I was ten.* She sat and pondered for a moment, looking around.

*And this is mine? I could attend school, not need to work forty-hours a week. Instead I could study and practice my art.*

*I could find happiness here… Wait! NO!*

No. She wanted Glenn.

*Maybe.* A sigh.

She was angry with Tom again. He was more caring about her than any other man she had dated or been with. He never tried to force her to do anything, she volunteered.

She remembered that one of his rules as far as her body went.

“No means no.”

This was unusual among her friends. Kris and Crystal had often made demands of each others attentions, even at parties. Thinking back, it was disrespectful to each other. When Crystal told people what she was going to do to Kristoph, even if he would try to say he would be getting ready for work or school. This would not deter the wife.

Kristoph of course, would brag about what he did with Crystal if she passed out after a party.

Both ways, Kaylee laughed at them when they talked about it.

Now?

Now, she found it offensive. She would tease Tom, but never tell him “Or else” or dismiss his objections.

*Dang, I’m getting spoiled.* Tom treated her with respect, it felt proper and good.

Tom cared for her and she liked it.

*That’s irritating, too.* She huffed to herself.

Married by Mistake Chapter 11. Day Flight

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 Chapter 11. Day Flight

*Clothes should fold themselves.* She used the break to spend time and think while she laid aside the clothes she could not live without and with an artist’s eye, tucked them into her suitcase for the smaller drawers of the Flying Sea Dragon.

While Kaylee packed for the adventure, Tom waited for his accidental wife to arrive.

The Pacific Wizard sat on the tarmac, and he walked around and inspected for dents, loose rivets and marine growth. It had been in the ocean for almost a week straight, and still did not show signs of great deal growth.

There was some areas that seemed to have a light coating of slime, but the maintenance team would steam-clean it quickly and inspect for other defects, it had been over a month since its last haul-out and the Wizard had flown to a handful of locations in that time. Vegas, Sacramento, Portland, Astoria and Seattle.

Seattle and Brisbane were his favorites.

He liked the motion it had when it floated on the water, and the neighborhood was much quieter than at the airport with the flights coming and going every few minutes. But, inspecting it was necessary with the growth of marine life, and even with carbon fiber and titanium, corrosion was a hazard with salt water intrusion.

The bulk of the Pacific Wizard, on his insistence, built with titanium and carbon fiber and a great deal of corrosion free materials.

Tom worried, still.

It was an expensive RV, for sure.

Still, it was his favorite. He had the pontoons on the wings modified by the builder so they folded hydraulically into recesses on the wing-tips, making the wing much cleaner for the airflow.

Tom had larger, more powerful engines installed on the Wizard. More than fifty-percent greater thrust output over the rest of the fleet that Tom’s company purchased. To his pleasure, the greater efficiency of the new engines produced more power and still used less fuel. The new engines extended his range without the need to carry more fuel.

He still had the fuel systems modified to his specs by the company that built the jet. All of the changes were now included in the later versions produced after his flying yacht.

Tom walked slowly around the hull, tugged at the landing gear and the doors, nothing was loose. Running his fingers over everything, checking that every surface was smooth and the seals were intact. Climbing up through the top hatch, he checked the engines, running his hands over the compressor blades and the smooth, painted surfaces of the nacelles.

He especially liked the images of the wizard and witch on brooms, custom painted, it was also his muse, often feeding his whimsy when he was enjoying his solitude out on the water.

Walking out on the wings, he crawled along on his hands and knees and inspected the control surfaces. Everything was in perfect shape, even to the tip of the wing where the pontoon fitted when in flight, where it became part of the wing, and not a drag on the plane.

Tom was still sat on the left-wing when Kaylee walked up, escorted by a TSA officer.

“Hi William! Thanks for escorting her.” Tom called down, then disappeared down the hatch into the Pacific Wizard.

Stepping out the door of the out-of-service jet carrying two plastic bins of clothes, Tom put the bins down in front of William and Kaylee as they stood near the Pacific Wizard.

“Tom, she says that you two are…  married?”

“That’s right! It was an elopement. Kind of surprised us, too.”

“Mister Harte, you are always entertaining. I look forward to working here when you’re around.” William the officer laughed. “Everyone does.”

“Thank you for your company, William.” Kaylee said.

“Yes, Missus Harte. “ William laughed, “I’ll never get used to saying that!”

“Kaylee , please.”

“Yes, Missus… er… Kaylee .” William said as he walked off.

“Are you friends with everyone? I would have thought that a rich-bitch like you would have kept away from the common people.” Kaylee said to Tom as William walked away.

Tom chuckled as he picked up the boxes again and they walked towards the Flying Sea Dragon.*

“Yeah… no. I worked with the “common people” for years before I started to write. I had written for a long time and had only expanded past my personal writing when I had found computers. After that, the challenge was to find someone who is willing to publish my stories.” Tom said as they entered the smaller plane.

“Smaller” the term really did not fit the description, but it was what he called it. It was the same model of aircraft, but did not have some of the features of the Pacific Wizard.

“Why is getting published a challenge?”

“No one wants to publish works by someone who has not been published before.” They sat in the flight deck of the older flying yacht. Tom pulled on a headset that kept his right ear uncovered, the side that was nearest her.

“How does someone have a book published, then”

“That’s the trick… Just a moment.” He called into his headset to the tower. Then turned back to Kaylee . “I had filed a flight plan before you arrived.”

“Oh you knew I was going to coming with you?”

“No, just a standard precaution. In case something happens and if we are late by more than a half-hour, they will come look for us.”

“Oh wow, I never knew that.”

“Okay, well, they cleared us to taxi. Sit in that chair, belt in and hold on. I’m going to show off a bit with these Rolls Royce engines. A touch of teenager and fast car – with a big boy’s toy instead of a car.”

Kaylee laughed and cinched down her seat belt.

“Don’t touch anything. Just look out the window and enjoy the sights.”

They taxied to the end of the runway and Tom spoke some more into the microphone that jutted out from his headphones.

“November-Alpha Foxtrot one-two-zero; cleared for runway three-one west.”

“And up, up, and away.” Tom pushed two levers forward and the engines in back increased in pitch. Pausing for a moment, he let the brakes off and the plane accelerated as if it were kept in a hangar too long and was anxious to quit the earth and fly.

They rapidly gathered speed down the runway and Tom began to say words to himself.

“Vee-One. Faster and faster, faster we run.”

“Vee-R and rotate and purple dinosaurs go rar.”

“Vee-two, off the ground and into the blue.”

Calling into the headset, Tom thanked the air control and they began to climb out over the ocean. The greens and blues of the coast contrasted with the white of the coastal fog as they climbed to their designated altitude.

“This is beautiful!” She said looking out the window. “I never knew this was such an incredible view from here.”

“Yes, the flight deck has the best view.” Tom nodded. “You have never been up here just to look before.”

“Is this against some regulation to leave the driver’s seat?” She was curious about the night they got married.

“Pilot, and yes. It’s frowned upon, but we are the only two on the ship, so if I get up and I am back on the flight deck quickly, we will be okay.

“How did you get away with it the other day?”

“We didn’t exactly hold to the law.” Tom said.

“Autopilot, on. Check…” And he stepped out of the pilot’s seat.

She teased Tom with every few minutes she could think of, slowly kissing his ears. Correcting him every few minutes to stay on the flight deck while she danced outside of the line that separated the flight-deck from the rest of the cabin.

Smiling, she teased him without mercy with the all the tricks she could think of.

Laughing and kissing her before he sat back down. She joined him, sitting on his lap. Keeping her hands off the controls, she looked out over the state.

“I can say this for sure, this is a first to have someone sitting on me in the front of the plane while we fly.” Tom said, smiled at her, the shine of her eyes tickled him, while she looked with an inspired heart, commenting on the colors of the different lands below.

If the FAA ever caught wind of what was going on with the pilot of this plane, he would never fly again.

*But it would be so worth it.* He thought. *So very worth it.*

 

* Author’s note: Airplane name change from “Fleeting Fantasy” to “Flying Sea Dragon”. Alludes to his children’s books.

Computers, Linux, Windows and no want to play.

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48 hours.  Hitting at it.  I had Windows 7 and Ubuntu Linux in a quad-boot, worked well. Long and pleasant relationship.  Windows ignored Linux while Ubuntu Linux, Gentoo and Arch Linux happily looked and could walk through the MS Windows garden of confusion, plus one virus that stubbornly refused to be deleted on the windows level.

In the Windows level, it was not possible to delete it, so then it’s incarcerated in a locked and “Quarantined” file.

Linux – all flavors – Couldn’t care less, I never bothered to worry about it, it was just a reminder that I am safe while I keep myself as a client and non-admin in the world of the Penguin.  I could lose all my novels if there were a logic bomb and wiped the drive in my section, but the computer itself would remain intact.

And I have the main works here.  You all don’t get the one line novels.

” A lizard that watches the truck drive off the road.” and that’s all there is! Lol. So, thems not in WP library.

However, I digress. The computer in question, the hard drive began to have issues.  Crashing or freezing at random.  Saving a file could be a gamble if it would or would not be corrupted.

Diagnostics were definitive, hard drive had read-write problems.  So I bought a hybrid drive.

Not bad!

Then W7 showed me a darker side. Don’t wanna play with the penguins!

Say whut?  I made a rescue disk– Actually a rescue USB, optical disks are so 20th century. 😉 old tech… And I reinstalled it again.

For your information.  The controlling program, the Master Boot Record “MBR” for short, has only 64 K of memory allocated.  Each partition on a drive is kept in the file of 16k.

This leaves a total of 4 partitions possible. (4×16=64) and this new drive with a section of solid state and very speedy. The MBR has four entries already!

  1. For the MBR. 2. OS. 3.Rescue 4. Program Files

No room for Linux.

So I try to make logical extensions.

And I break windows. o.0

I try to install Linux from inside windows. o.-

Yeah, no fly there.

I install Linux and try to install windows over that.

Yeaaaah…no. *sigh*

Okay.  Once again, format, install windows and try to adjust the partitions and combine two.

Disaster.  I am so pleased I do not have anything to back up.  Not putting any files on there.

Then, in forums that I have read and read and read..until I am green with nausea and blue from lack of movement.  (Actually, cyanosis from not breathing, I keep holding my breath)

I read in one forum, to use easyBCD, what a near disaster, if I had a system that I wanted to save.

First!  It would not launch, only took my computer to a website that “Pay $29.95 for a one time change in partitions.” plus it ships out information for “Quality control, your MBR, file structure…” Already lost me.  Do I trust some faceless creature with snooping on my computer system while I try to make it work?  Nope. I don’t trust politicians, why should I trust a snooping program?

Yeah, and if I bungled it and needed to come back in twelve-hours, I have to fork over another chunk of change? …Yeah, maybe. So no.

Here is where it gets interesting.

You CAN’T uninstall it.  Multiple times, spent three hours, booting and rebooting.  It was sitting there as an icon on the desktop, I used various tricks I know of, plus a few I looked up.  Then got down and dirty in the command-line and deleted it.

But, a few minutes later, the computer acted slow, funky and chunky…then the icon reappeared.

So, my opinion?  Do not use this program! It may not be the classical “Malware” but it certainly refuses to leave when I tell it to. Even Avast antivirus couldn’t kill it.

So, I nuked the system- again.  Completely reformatted and reinstalled and that got rid of it.

So after two days (!!? And I am supposed to be smart!  I have BUILT my own desktops, did a few custom ones, installed Windows, OS/2, Linux, even tinkered on Mac’s when there was an aftermarket allowed.) I have an epiphany.

I did a total wipe, and installed Ubutnu Linux. I don’t use Gentoo or Arch all that much, Backtrack and Knoppix only live in my desk for when I built a computer and wanted to harden it from outside influences.

Then I built, with some challenges, a virtual machine and used it to launch windows.  So now I have it at a point where I am close to where I want to be.

But it is not a true dual-boot.

And Slow?  Pfft… Optical disks even at a speedy 16x still has no comparison to a small, quiet, USB stick that fits nearly flush against the computer.

Upgrades? Ain’t gonna happen with this setup.

So, now as I am sitting here, feeling like I have accomplished an aneurysm and I have entertained you folks ..not at all.. my voices have been pushed out into the backyard while I tackle this project.

And it needed to be done by Monday.  Princess #1 goes off to college, I asked her about her preferences of operating systems.  Windows or Linux?

“LInux, please.  I might need Windows for small things, but I like Linux.”

You got it. So that is now the primary operating system.

If only WIndows would play nice.

Hm… Maybe I can change the master boot record to something a little more current.GUID partition?

Yeah.  But I want to get to writing.  Kolo the Dragon and Jona are languishing.

There are folks that want me to do some critique of their works. (I like doing that , by the way, I just took off on a path of “Now what?” part of life the last ..egad.. probably 8 weeks.. Maybe 12 or more.

Papa Dash, Mama Dash, Sister Sledge, ME, THEN… Oh what now?

Yeah, Mrs Dash is sitting across from me, her heart beating around 180 beats per minute.  I have dosed her with a calcium channel blocker and she has begun to feel better.  So here I sit at 2:35 in the AM, watching her being sat on by a 90 pound fur covered pile of love and checking her with my new (actually old, I remembered it from long ago when I assessed folks on a run) pulse checker. I even listened to her lungs for good measure.

Dang my ears are getting old. lol.

So here she sits in SVT, her heart wants to jump out of her chest and run down the street laughing like Batman’s Riddler.

And I still haven’t’ gotten something to tell you other than blog this.

No vampires, no wolves, no dragons, bots, fairies, gorgons, wizards/witches or archers.

Just a shaking of the head. I am wanting to sit and be willing to open a mic on the computer and talk to you while I am writing down an idea, but now I am feeling like I am the only batter on the baseball team.

I have to go to the men’s room and the other side keeps pitching!

That kind of pressure.

Well, Mrs D is going to bed.  I am going to take a shower and then lay down next to her, I’ll keep my hand on her back to feel her heartbeat. (Yes, you can if you lay quietly.  😀 )

For now, I will just say, that the dust is settling near Papa, Mama, Sister, and such.  I am embarrassed about being taken down to my knees by a grain of sand, if I knew it was that instead of food poisoning, I might have stuck it out.  Maybe not.

That stuff hurts. lol. With capital letters.

Anyway, off to the showers for me. I don’t want her to be alone for too long, not when she is trying for a heart attack. (She refuses to go to the ER for the most part.)  I can stop most illnesses, but there is a limit on what I carry and can do with a pocket knife and a pen.

Keep me in your dreams, I’ll keep you entertained.

Dash.

Failed Getaway, the escape of I’bin Ba’ad

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Failed Getaway

He had not been born on Terra, although he had returned to the planet of his parent’s birth to bury his mother.

I’bin Ba’ad, drop out student of the College at Velar Naqal returned to bury his mother after an unknown assailant stabbed her.

This was his story.

The police did not originally suspect the son in the murder, his alibi was solid. Video of his office showed him working at the terminal and his time stamp on files fit where he said he was.

What investigators failed to realize, that his skills at spoofing both time and location on files covered his tracks well.

An arrow made of gallium, the cutting head sharpened with percussive taps while it was deeply frozen creating fracture patterns like glass made the edge nearly as sharp as obsidian.

Once the arrow left at high-speed from a compressed air pipe, it passed through the wealthy socialite with devastating results, leaving undetectable traces. 

Once warmed to room temperature, the tool of parricide melted away into the ground.

Unable to find a projectile, the weapon used remained unknown.

Unable to recognize the disturbed soil, the police investigator missed the clue of gallium soaked earth with no explainable reason.

Only until the trail of bodies that seemed to pile up around I’bin that suspicion of his involvement were suspicions aroused about his mother’s death, by then, all evidence was lost.

Eventually, the serial killer I’bin was charged with a young couples disappearance, two women who had recently married.

The misogynistic human-canid hybrid did not show his animalistic DNA.

Other than the blood-lust.

By the time they captured him, the insanity that was I’bin, the killer-wolf charges mounted to over thirty-eight deaths. Another seventy attributed to him, but lack of evidence kept them from being brought to the trials.

Not that the government needed to use the other crimes.

The trial, I’bin Ba’ad, the press dubbed him “The Wolf” was declared sane enough to stand trial and for the first time in two-centuries, the inter-planetery courts, five judges sitting on the bench, listened to the evidence put to the jury.

Never before had the murders of so many involved more than one planet.

The jury of twenty-one retired to study the evidence and returned in three-hours.

Guilty.

The sentence:

Death.

Then an attempt for suicide by cop by attacking the bench of judges.

To his surprise, three of the judges were more than capable of defending themselves.

Taken by the officers to his place of holding, the execution proceeded quickly.

For two-weeks he met with his representative and the one person that stood by him.

Cu’Feur I’ous, to I’bin.

“Worry not, you will get your freedom.” Wolf-eyes looked into wolf-eyes. The two men shared DNA.

They were brothers.

When the date came, I’bin was strapped to the table, he had faith in his brother. He would walk out.

When the witnesses sat, he could see the first plunger start its deadly travel in the tube, pushing a pink drug into the IV line, then at that moment the lights went out.

I’bin opened his eyes, they did not focus properly for a moment, but there was no noise.

The needle in his arm pinched slightly when he scratched his nose.

Then I’bin blinked.

His arm was free! Someone had released the straps when they abandoned the area when the power went out.

Although, he had not heard any alarms. He decided that it was due to the medication that ran into his arm put him to sleep, people assumed he was dead when the power went out.

Laughing, the thought of his walking out of the room when no one was looking tickled his soul.

He already had plans for the judges and their families.

Darkness in the hallways, only the sunlight from the outside filtered in.

It was odd, not even the guards were around, prisoners were gone, too.

But the gates were open, no doors locked.

As promised, I’bin walked free, laughing at the power outage that caused the sheep to run frightened.

Even the prisoners bolted, maybe even taken by bus, but no matter.

Screw them all! He was free.

His next stop, where Judge Alkar Chronqui’s family was. He would break into the home and take a head to put on the hood of the Judge Davie Bleu’s car.

Laughing, I’bin looked around, no one could see him cut across the field towards town, dark thoughts for his arrival in town, it would be dark when he got to the park.

The main park where he hid his kit of tape, knives, drugs, rope.

The drugs would have gone bad, he dare not use them on victims, it might kill them.

More laughter as he covered the ground towards town when he kicked something in the tall grass and tripped.

A body!

Eviscerated, still steaming when he stood up. The coppery smell of blood came from his prison issue shirt.

He had blood soaking his shirt.

“Gawd Dayuam! They’s comin’ outta de groun’s Ostus! Der’s anudder one! Git ‘im!”

He squatted down, fishing around the body, looking for a weapon of any kind.

The sound of a baseball bat sounded in his ears. A sound of a grunt, a wheeze of a death rattle, he realized that whoever it was had not seen him.

He crawled through the grass carefully, towards the voices.

His heart was standing still, his breath was wheezing in his ears as he got closer to the voices.

If he could get a jump on them, what a wonderful twist of irony, he could kill someone killing someone.

He could see the top if their heads. They carried bats with nails driven into the fat end.

“No’ so easy ta make a soun’ wit yer throat stuck full’a holes, ain’tit a bish!”

The sounds of thumping and the bloody fluids made for a mist that I’bin could smell the blood in the air.

I’bin struck, leaping up and grabbing the first one, called Oestus.

His hands were stronger than he anticipated when he broke Oestus’ neck, taking the bat, he broke the head of the other wannabe killer.

But the look they gave as he came up, bloodied and muddy, they acted as if they saw the dead rising from the graves.

I’bin laughed, carrying the bat with him, he walked off towards the town. He saw another man stand up, also wearing standard-issue.

“Thanks, they were doing everyone from the prison.” The darkness hid the convicts eyes, but they glittered with a mixture of anger and fear. “I want to kill the judge for putting me in there. Then find each and every one of the jurors. I’ve not seen anyone for years, they don’t come to visit.”

“Let’s go. What were you in for?”

“They said I was a cannibal. I was not, they were chewed on by rats.” The pair moved towards the town. “I’m N’oi.”

“I’bin. What kind of name is N’oi?”

“What kind of name is I’bin?”

Shrugging, the pair moved off into the dark.

A cop car, the officers were looking at something when the pair stepped out from behind the trees.

I’bin gasped at the cops when they turned towards the pair’s approach.

Bloodied, one chewed on an object that looked like a forearm, the other had a foot.

On cue, the officers dropped the appendages and began to walk towards I’bin.

Looking at his fellow escapee, the convict stood there, drooling, his skin ashen, the big man made no other sound like conversation.

He took off in a run and dashed to the park.

The cops… he had never seen anyone do that before.

Canabalism? In a pair of them?

He could easily outrun them, there was something odd. No cars to wave down, the shirt stuck against his body with clotted blood and made him cold.

He’d need a fresh shirt.

Bodies in the park were milling around, a part of the late summer day with no power anywhere. He could kill one and take the shirt.

He recognized the first person he came across, a heavy-set girl. She had died pleading that she was pregnant while I’bin tied a plastic bag over her head.

And she saw him, making a noise. A cross between a siren and a scream, while pointing with both hands.

She was dead! He knew she was.

He had abused her body in death and knew every pore, every mole.

He took pictures and stared at them for months before he was caught.

I’bin ran down the street, heading to the middle of town, the police department would be a good place to go, someplace safe!

He ran headlong into the glass doors— Locked!

Locked?

More people were following him! He recognized the lesbian couple, his first hunt!

Run! He had to run!

He had to find a cop, someone who could put him behind bars for protection!

What was happening with the world?

A car, an ancient Ford with the door open sat on the side of the street, he could mess with that and get it started.

Savage panic set in, I’bin ran. More people, they were coming out of the shadows.

No, not out of the shadows, out of the GROUND!

He was standing in the middle of a park, but not a park, it was the rural cemetery.

How did he get here? He needed to get back to the center of town, steal a cop car if he needed!

A cold hand grabbed him from a bush, feeling for a pulse?

RUN!

He pulled his hand free- or did it let go?

It did not matter, he ran! Out of the ground they came in the failing light of day.

He needed to find tools! Break into a shed or a hardware store if need be.

He needed to run.

Into the darkness I’bin Ba’ad ran, chased by familiar faces of walking dead. His screams echoed long and loud in the gathering night.

****

The execution chamber of Terra Top Prison, they had not used it in anyone’s memory so the seating was awkward, the witnesses watched the last breath of I’bin Ba’ad.

“I hope he is in Hell and suffers a thousand deaths for each one he committed.” The father of the princess who he gave away to another princess at their wedding.

Turning and walking out. Pha’rem T’ru got his wish in ways he never knew.

Doctor Demonitor Drake checked for a lack of pulse to match the flatline on the screen nodded then paused.

“I would swear he pulled that out of my hand.” The doctor leaned over and looked into the dead prisoner’s eyes. “He was a coward in the end, look at the fear on his face, the jaw set and lips pulled back as if he was about to scream, eyes wide open. I’d say he was afraid to die.”

“Good for him.” The guard said. “Coroner is here. Let them take him out now.”

“Good, have him sent to Doctor Sherman Quincy, I want him autopsied. Someone like this needs to be studied, we will slice his brain up and study it.”

“You’re the doc, doc.” The guard nodded.

In the core of the world of the prisoner, I’bin became aware someone spoke of cutting him apart.

But only if they could catch him.

He continued to run.

What? Ohmygod Awesome! Oh, wait… nope.

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It is a dream, a fantasy in the wildest dreams that someone who has “made it” and with great talent that might look into Amazon, bookshelves of a library, or watches (or one of their employees watches) the titles and blog sites for new and good stories to produce.

To this end when you have that moment of receiving an email from someone with a name of James Cameron, Ron Howard, Stephen Spielberg, you get excited for a moment.

Such like happened to me. I got the notice on my phone while loading groceries into my 17-year-old, squeaky, leaky, quarter-million-mile (PLUS) Dodge that wears the edges of tires out faster than the rest of the tire (Front end needs to be rebuilt) and puffs smoke when climbing some steep hills, I did not read it, just who sent it.

At first the name did not register until I drove to the street when the light bulb lit.

“Oh!” When recognition of the name hit, it nearly hurt.

By the time I got home, I had already repaved the driveway (The only 4wd driveway in the neighborhood. A removed tree’s roots have collapsed and caused a cave-in on one side of the concrete)  bought a new car (Tesla, Model S or Model X) and – nearly – forgot to bring the groceries in on a day so hot that it could melt the stripes off a tabby-cat.

Even the birds were panting on the wires. (Beaks open, tongues sticking out, no chirping) Heh.

So, dancing like a child on Xmas eve, or putting on his (or her) costume on October 29th in anticipation to find such good things waiting for them….

I opened the email on my laptop…stupid thing boots soooo slow. “Faster faster!  Dag-nab you!” I am so getting a new one to replace this 10-year-old lappy, with dead pixels and broken hinge (thank you dogs, who knocked it off the table while chasing each other).

So! At last! Email open! Downloading… 120 Likes on WordPress! Normally open those all (good for my fragile ego. I still get questioned by Mrs Dash if it will ever amount to anything) but I need to open the famous named one and print it out to hand to Mrs D and show her that I have achieved attention of someone never dreamed of.

Then only to have the heart fall. Checking the source of the email, yes, it is a famous name… but not their fault that parents named them the same first name as the famous movie maker/producer/director.

Seriously, not even the correct gender.

I am so pleased with myself I did not brag to Mrs Dash I had someone of notoriety then have to eat those words. She would have gotten: 1. A laugh. 2. Grounded me from writing as it is non-productive 3. sent me out to do more gardening or yard-work.

*sigh*

I think I will shoot my bow at the tiny bottle caps I have out in the yard that dance, spin and swing on strings. I seem to have better skills doing that than writing a proper work of fiction.

But no. then I cannot feed my core need to tell stories, to answer the voices that live in different worlds and want out. To have you all laugh, nod and maybe weep at the words I post here. Even if it is a mix of horror, sci-fi, historical fiction, romance and adventure (Not in the same story– yet anyway). To have you like what I have posted tickle my heart.

Anyway.  To the Ronnie Howards, the Georgia Lucas’, the Jamie Camerons and the Stephanie Spielbergs thank you for your compliments, keep them coming.

And If I answer with an odd excitement, just realize I am not always the sharpest tool in the box (Akin to a rolling-pin?) and I’ll get the clue by the next email.

But dreams are good.

Laughing at myself,

Dash

Steel Gardens of Anid-Sta Chapter 5. A Doctor Awakens

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 Chapter 5. A Doctor Awakens

A smaller of the bots raced up to the exploring humans as they continued their tour of New Town.

The name made Fae and Amsi laugh, the New Town, Old Town dynamic was often used.

“You’d think if they had a bot that felt it could fly, they would have more imagination for place names.”

“I noticed that. They numbered and did not name craters, there are no towns, really, until we asked.”

Thea flitted close, listening to the exchange.

“Bots do not have the drive to gather when it is dark. Machines do not care if the outside world is light or dark, it is all the same to us, there are no predators on bots.”

“That.” Amsi paused and looked at Fae. “Did you know of any predators?”

“Um. This is the first time I’ve been outside, I never thought to ask.”

“When humans went into the hibernation chambers, the selected zoological genome of every living creature was also preserved, both in DNA samples and in living samples, enough to repopulate the known species if the need arose.”

Fae blinked with the unasked question. *Repopulate*?

“The caution expressed by the human director of zoological preservation we discovered was unfounded.”

“So we have wildlife that wanders around?”

“Often, in town, in the forests, many were just released from the zoos to fend for themselves and they have done well in the time without humans.” Thea pointed to some tracks in the soil.

“This is a hoofed animal, but it is huge.”

“Equines and camelids have evolved to larger sizes because of the higher oxygen levels and the amount of foods available. Nano and microbots have allowed growth without injury, but have not inhibited evolution.” Beekan Luc rode up on a large moth-like ride, barely in control. “This moth design needs modification. No one has worked well for rides, although the can life ten-times their weight.”

“I thought it was a dragon for a moment.” Amsi laughed. “You have it stretched out front-to-back it doesn’t really look like a moth, if you are trying to copy nature.”

“A what? A dragon? What is that?” He shook his head, nearly falling off the oddly shaped moth. “May I introduce myself, I am Beekan Luc, inventor and designer. You can call me Luc. Now about dragons?”

“Mythical creature, you may be better designing a Pegasus kind of creature. They look like winged horses.” Fae suggested to the inventor bot.

“I don’t ever recall seeing DNA of either one. Mythical you say? I can redesign from descriptions, I’ll look in the historical database from human stories. Thank you.” Turning to Thea “Oh! I nearly forgot. Doctor Ofir wants you to return with the humans, the next one is awake.”

“Thank you, Luc.”

Unsteadily, the inventor flew off, yelling at the unstable moth, threatening to recycle it into a floor-tile.

In the recovery room, Doctor Igari Shimona, MD, spoke in deep conversation with the small bot that claimed to be a doctor.

Doctor Ofir Bhabel repeated that such a long time had passed, that Doctor Shimona was not the first awakened because the Core System felt there was a danger, thus selected humans, chosen for reanimation that were more appropriate.

“I still cannot believe that we have been in stasis for longer than the history of humankind prior to our preservation.” He pulled at his lower lip. “Has any communication from Earth ever been received?”

“Doctor Shimona?” Amsi’s voice was louder than he expected in the small recovery room.

“Yes?” The smile widened. It was the first two humans he had seen since he awoke.

“I am Amsi Itt-Tejo and this is engineer Fae MacLir. Welcome to what seems to be paradise.” He held out his hand.

“Thank you.” He took the hand. “Igari Shimona, director of Federal Medical University. Although I don’t imagine there are many classes at the moment.”

Fae shook his hand.

“You’re correct. But there will be. We have thousands of people to wake up and some to save.” Fae smiled.

Amsi nodded.

“There have been some system failures, we have people who have lost a large margin of their anti-icing fluids, the Core System…”

“Excuse me, Core System?”

“The main computer area. There is no single computer anymore, the computers operate independent from each other and have evolved AI beyond anything programmed by us humans.”

“I have found that out by arguing with Doctor Bhabel here.

“Ahem. Doctor Ofir.” A glittering eye showed the offense that the human doctor apologized for.

“The part that amazes me of this all is the lack of wear on everything, anything.” Doctor Shimona looked around. “Nothing is rubbed off, scratched or rusted.

“You will learn that nanobots are highly effective.” A red colored minibot, taller than most, rode in on what looked like a sparrow-hawk. “Doctor Ofir, I expected a report by the time humans awakened.”

“Officially, they are not. These are the evaluators that decide whether the rest will be so treated or they will return back to hibernation. Core System has determined the first two, the third, Doctor Shimona here, just awakened and is proving to be fully functional. There is no report to file yet.”

“Hm.” Red-bot sounded unconvinced. “Humans. Greetings. I am Ireama Bitemi, I am the oversight and safety control for your reanimation. Are there any questions you may have for my team?”

“Yes, I have one.” Amsi stepped forward.

“This is for your leader to ask. Not for subjects of the one who makes choices. He is director, according to the file.” Bitemi looked at a display in his hand. “You have no rank I can see for administration, you are an engineer.”

“That is rude.” Doctor Ofir gasped.

“I am not the leader you think I am. I am a director of a school, let him ask the question.”

Unaccustomed to being treated in such a manner, the bureaucrat capitulated to the small majority.

“A percentage of pods with helium at preservation temperatures, but over the years, they have lost the preservation liquid.  No logs exist, anywhere, for reason why.”

“There has been a minor percentage that have lost fluids, but there has been no loss in systemic function. They are a minor loss.”

“Not so minor to those who lose their stasis vitrification stand a better-than-fair chance of never being reanimated.”

“Perhaps you can ask your doctor to explain it to you.” Administrator Bitemi climbed on his sparrowhawk. “I will check in later, I have important matters to attend to. Be well.”

Watching the bureaucrat leave, the three humans looked at each other for a moment.

“I have served in administrative categories all my life. The official term for someone like that?” Doctor Shimona shook his head. “Is an ass.”

Even Doctor Ofir laughed.

Steel Gardens of Anid-Sta: A Glossary of Developing Terms.

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As the references to Anid-Sta grow, the world builds, it occurs to me that other writers who are looking around for inspiration might benefit from how and where I get mine.

Also this gives a reference as this is all first draft, something for you all to refer to when I go off on an InfoDump– but hey it is my style and I’ll dump. Especially after my FORTH cup of coffee. (To me, only one, but my cup is four times the size of a normal one)

So that said, here are the terms currently used, or will be used.  All terms are inspired by real world.  😉

Qat-Csu: Pronounced “Cat-choo” inspired by a sneeze by my eldest daughter, followed by “bless you” from grandma. The spelling is inspired by California State University. CSU.  Now, the Qat-Csu is a death-cult religion that is intolerant of other life forms that do not allow for intermingling. Followers were/are/will be required to amputate the little finger of both hands and undergo DNA alteration to eliminate the offending appendage.  Five-fingered/toed life is an offense to the religion of the Qat-Csu. The Csu first came into being in the unpublished novel of “Bowheart” as a religion. Now has evolved and discovered to be led by an AI program in a war computer. (this is subject to change)

Bots:  These have evolved since the time of the humans with a basic program to recycle all machines of war.  The “Core” (or variations of the term- still in evolution) are autonomous, programmed machines that were initially built to deconstruct and build at the molecular level. But as time has gone on, the Core System has determined that larger sizes are needed in some applications. There are now:

Nanobots- The smallest and most numerous, they are spoken of, but do not feature in the story.  Technically, they are simplistic and have only a rudimentary intelligence, becoming more effective as a collective. A million of them, sitting end to end would fit in between millimeter hash marks on a ruler. Able to move individual atoms. The term includes a range of sub-molecular size to just below the Microbot size.

Microbots- A thousand times larger than nanobots, speed of processing, able to recycle ceramic armor and explosives at a rapid rate, unaffected by radiation. Used to separate alloys with a minimum of energy

Millibots- A thousand times larger than microbots, one millimeter in size. more complex, more capable.  Processing power is highter, but the ability to recycle elements of steel and toxic materials is lower.

Minibots-  Between two and ten centimeters tall, the most used. Explorers and trackers. They are generally the leaders of the bot world.  Able to interact between the micro and the macro worlds. The Minibots are the first to combine organic and inorganic.  (read: Cyborg)  but this is in evolution. Not sure if it will feature.

Macrobots- between twenty centimeters and one-fifty centimeters tall. High processing power but low reasoning, they are good for design, safety and building of architectural  structures that are useful, but have achieved the mathematical point of diminishing returns.  They are the workhorses under direction of the Minibots. Can function in the human sized world of buttons and levers, doors and transports.

Megabots- Few, used as tow-trucks to drag, lift, pull armor, unexploded bombs, into places that the nanobots and microbots can get to. Heavy lift machines, but with limited applications.

 

Humans:

Two DNA constructed virus’, designed to kill anyone with the genome for five fingers and five toes. A second, modified virus to kill anyone with the genome to have four fingers and toes.

Human mortality rate exceeded 97% before the last survivors “Took the plunge” and went into a designed three-hundred month stasis bath in liquid helium. 106,000,000,000 population before the virus was released by the warring factions, only 10,000 people survived to go into suspended animation. However, due to a coding glitch, three-hundred months became three-hundred centuries. During which time the Core System developed the bot society for protection of humans and recycling of steel death into a garden.

Of the humans, Fae MacLir is the first to be revived. An assistant IT Engineer, she does not understand why she was awakened first, not her supervisor. As of this writing, 28 June 2015, I dont’ know either.  heh.

On that note.

 

That is the glossary for now.  Check back often, I will update as the world builds!

Steel Gardens of Anid-Sta Generation 1. Rescue

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Generation 1. Rescue

Captain of the guard watched over his daughter. Like all fathers, he balanced that fine line between keeping her safe, and allowing her to have her adventures.

“No one learns without getting a bruise now and again.” His own father would tell him. Beekan Luc watched her as she rode the armored flyer.

She was little more than a young adult. If in human terms, they were extremely old. The last human went into the machine after the virus nearly wiped them out.

The humans remained in vats of liquid helium ever since, frozen in a deep slumber that none of the caretakers knew when it would end.

Trix had passed her three-thousandth birthday just a decade ago, for the Caretakers, that was her right of passage year.

Each year on Anid-Sta as it orbited in a highly elliptical orbit around the young red star every four-hundred fifty-six stellar cycles. Each day of eighteen standard hours.

Of the entire corps, Trix was the last one to join in the riders of the sky. She always ran off looking for adventure in the badlands.

Her white-metal dragonfly, Evan, an evolved design from the mainframe printers with fine motor control.

Laser printers, creating circuits in three-dimensions, articulated appendages and the most curious of developments since the hibernation of the humans, metallic wings so fine and thin, that the adaptations for flight had evolved into iridescent and translucent appendages.

The caregiver computer that built and programmed them all, printed them in a matrix of metal and synthetic flesh, the caregivers of the Fae, the etymology of the phrase failed Luc, but their job was to dismantle all weapons of the humans. To build a peaceful world.

But for the amount of weapons. The caretakers slowly recycled the metals to create a larger society of metal birds, insects and caretakers.

Bipedal in shape, the computer used humans as a master blueprint, then programmed the small creations as pacifistic caregivers to the plants and the other organic life, they grew in numbers, dismantled the stout engines of war and rebuilt them into usable tools.

Repairing systems that kept the depths of an artificial cave systems in operation. In cylinders, sealed with the contents hidden from view.

A refrigerant fluid was kept in order by the multi-legged keepers of the core.

One calm day, thirty-thousand solstice-cycles after the computer recorded the last human’s death, a chime sounded.

The chime, written into the code of the protectors, excited them all.

Evolution of the caretakers, now constructed to the size of a thumb, gathered around when the first of the cylinders, a label marked “MacLir, Fae” vented and opened down the middle, like a three-sectioned steel flower, exposing a tall bipedal body. The automated table smoothly rolled along a track to a glass enclosed room that filled with a mist, warmed to a digital read-out of forty-degrees-c.

Silver robotic arms moved around, placing heat-pads on the body, existing  intravenous lines, inserted before the human was frozen, connected to bags of opaque, heated, dark-red fluid infused through the lines into the nude body of the female human who lay inert for hours as the heated, calorie- and electrolyte- rich fluids coursed through the veins and arteries. Blankets with tubes of warmed fluid covered the body and regulated the core temperature.

In the third hour, the cardiac muscle gave the first beat in three-hundred centuries. Frozen lungs began to move airs slowly at first, warmed oxygen laden with surfactants assisted the weak efforts of the diaphragm with positive pressure, until the patient was able to breathe on her own.

In the world of the caregivers, swimmers, flyers, crawlers, collectively calling themselves the Caregivers of Fae, hovered, stood, climbed on each other and stood on shoulders to see inside the glass-walled room.

Movement in the room, not of metal, but of flesh, a human hand moved up to the brow of Fae MacLir, exploring her face and the tape that held her eyes shut.

A small grunt of pain, she pulled off the tape covering her eyes. The first of the humans were awake. The oldest of their species.

After the long walk of ages, the rescue of the human species was coming to pass.

And the Caretakers of Fae marked the event to the millisecond.

A note from your writer. An Author’s Moment.

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Greetings and salivations:

 

Yeah, that’s no typo, but it got you to smile, I hope.  As of yesterday, the first edit of “Shock and Awe” came to a close. There is a third in the offing but it will be a couple months before I revisit it. The good police need to have their points of view told.

Plus, I started a romance in it, if anyone noticed.

Radio Check and his team will return in an expanded story, cleaned up and more intense. No technology was used in the story that does not exist. … Well… mostly.  I expanded on some things. heh.

In the next few days we pick up on another story. Perhaps dragons, perhaps cell phones.

A few other threads of stories.

I sit now and ponder my next moments. A French Pressed coffee and a new coffee cup that was a gift of father’s day.  A small model of “Red Jacket”, a clipper ship of the 19th century.

In a steampunk kind of twist, features of the ship will appear in the next story of the stolen children who returned home in the first book.  “Hellions” is in evolution.

In the last few days, we have had a minor heat wave, so in temperatures hot enough to make tar on the street soft? Honey the honey-colored dog goes out into the middle of the yard and naps in full sunlight.

“Recharging her solar power.” I laugh at her.

It makes for a desire to write her into the story. So keep an eye for the broad-headed dog that loves her humans, but with jaws strong enough to crack a coconut. (it took a few hours, but she got it. I lost that bet, after all, coconuts are HARD.)

Looking for some beta readers, we have multiple authors with some very awesome story types looking for an honest reveiw so that the story may achieve its grace and beauty that the author intends for it to be.

If you are interested in being a beta reader/critique officer, send me a private message on Google Plus and we’ll get you squared away and you too can be a part of something larger than large. 😀 Imagine being the JK Rowlings beta reader for the first book in her wizarding fantasy book. Kinda dorky, different from anything that came before, but interesting and constantly busy. How much would that raw, unpublished work be worth to your grandchildren and their grandchildren (assuming she let you keep it) as the beta manuscript before publishing?

I have a couple, over the years. As fate would have it? The unpublished words in a beta reader book are unsearchable in all of the internet. But I will keep the 1980’s version of the manuscript books for the sake of interest.

But I have drifted off point.  Giving ice-cubes to the overheated dogs after they ran in the back yard and barked, protecting their home from someone, so they now have ice-cube treats.  They love their ice cubes. (AND those treats are cheap.)

So questions for you writers:

When you are stuck, as someone has said “Blocked” what do you do when this happens? What do you do to break through?

In my case, walk away, roll around on the floor with a “Who pins who” match between Honey the Dog and myself, shoot some archery.

So far, a note to you, my followers and readers. Keep reading! I’ll keep writing.

For now, Live, laugh, love, let the adventures begin- again.

 

Dash

 

Dragon Master University Chapter 39. Summer in Spring

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Chapter 39. Summer in Spring

Yawning and stretching in his bed the next morning, Jona sighed. He felt exhausted the night before and went to bed while Kolo, her brother and Professor Vale sat up and talked late into the night.

The first class in the spring quarter began with social studies of dragons and humans, something at first that Jona felt was boring, but while the tall human woman instructed, she spoke of wars and prejudice.

Dragons, older and wiser than the human race, the humans had one thing more.

Conviction.

They had determination to live.

Like siblings, respected and at times hated each other, the human and dragon populations drifted apart in some ways and merged in others.

A complex relationship that developed since before the dawn of history.

And Professor Altair was already talking about homework.

A whisper at Jona’s shoulder.

“We can study together.” It was Summer. “You have that look people get before they scream and run away from something.”

Jona stifled a laugh, he would have denied it, but she was correct, the social history of humans and dragons promised to be a difficult class.

“We will meet in the library, no one will bother us there.” She said softly while the professor droned on about the good natures of man and dragon were often lost in the passage of time.

He nodded, Professor Altair spoke of how legends in dragon lore and human mythology remembered the relationship between a dragon and an intelligent girl that grows up, turning away from the great friendship they had developed.

The dragon, who stood next to the young human during great raids by great robbers from the sea that sailed in great ships.

Only when the dragon Kl’qlpff, who humans called “Puff” told the Pirate King of the raids, who then forced the rogue corsairs to lower their flags and leave forever.

Songs and legends, bards wrote about it all, then faded from even that.

“One day, the story will return,” She said. “It will come by way of bards and storytellers.”

It struck a chord in Jona, like the baby dragon Sprite who adopted him when he drove a cart of smelly peat behind a flatulent ox the previous summer.

Summer walked with him down the path to the library and they talked of how dragons had existed for so long, why they were so long-lived and if there would fully be peace.

She sat at a broad stone table, polished by a thousand years of forelegs and arms rubbing on it. Padded stone seats, wicker chairs, and a myriad of other perches surrounded the giant round disk to accommodate the different clans and species.

Kola sat in with them, his studies of human laws confused him.

Eva lounged, reading an architecture textbook for her classes, but it kept hitting her in the face as she dozed while trying to read it. Looking around to see if anyone noticed, she would go back to reading the same page.

“Summer,” Jona whispered. “What page are we on?”

She giggle quietly.

“You keep looking at Eva. She will give herself a brain injury if she keeps hitting herself with the book.”

Kola laughed, overhearing the whisper and looked at the dozing race dragon.

“Jona, I think you ran her too hard yesterday, she is not used to the exercise after being off the team when she dropped her grades.” Kola nudged him.

“Kola, shush.” The librarian, a human adult male with a heavy leather tunic studded with metal book-shaped rivets in different colors. “You are keeping others from studying. Eva, if you need sleep, go to your room, you are starting to snore and are being a disturbance.”

Eva shook herself awake and apologized, for the fifth time tried to read the same page.

“Jona, we are on page four, paragraph five.” She flipped the pages for him. “This is what the professor will test on in a couple of days. It is easy to memorize if you follow this trick to keep it in mind.”

She taught him a mnemonic to keep the lesson in his head.

“My brother took Professor Altair’s class, she goes in order, always. It is how history happened, it is how she teaches, so this memoria technica trick will help you in the test.” Summer smiled at him.

Memorizing the pattern she taught him, he looked up and saw the librarian standing there with his arms crossed. For a moment, Jona swore the librarian would make good on his threats of ouster from the study area but the man nodded with a small smile, the long beard swung with the movement when the barrel chested keeper of the books turned away and moved across the floor towards other students.

In two hours, Jona watched the big hour-glass turn again in the mechanical teamwork of dragon and human timekeeper in the front of the library. He felt more interested after every discussion that Summer, Kola (despite it not being his subject. Jona suspected Kola had a crush on her and wanted her to notice him.)and he had, the history of dragonkind was more than just words, Jona felt them.

The history resonated with the young Dragon Master, more than his parents imagined might happen.

Jona was learning.

They spent hours in the library, Summer, Jona and Kola, joined by Eva who studied long hours to keep her grades up.

Eva was happiest when flying, her studies were marginal when she flew and failed to study, but it was no more or less than what all the friends and students went through daily.

But as professors universally instructed, they were not there to fail anyone, neither were they there to pass without teaching.

Eva worked hard at both of her skills and kept talking to professors who would help.

The summer break was coming up in short order and finals were intense. Professor Vale, Professor Cush, and especially the Green Man wizard were all driving points home with verbal hammers.

Homework was coming fast and furious, Summer and Jona continued to study with a singular thought. The Csu and Gorgons were far from the minds of dragon and human students alike.

Races were a regular topic, the teams of the intraschool competitors complained they were not ready for the speeds they needed to win not only the school championship but to outspeed any other teams from other schools around the world.

Jona pointed out that other schools were having the same problems. Rumors came from visitors to the other schools.

All students, everywhere lacked free time to just relax and play.

All was study and learn.

By the equinox of spring, they were feeling ready. Lessons were familiar, preparatory tests were easier each passing week.

Jona felt ready for the next chapter of the year.

Looking at his grades on the great central post, Jona smiled.

His grades were good enough, Jona Samhain had new rivets that the school awarded him for his tunic. Two silver, three gold, one emerald-green.

He wondered what the green meant and made note to ask Professor Vale of his house.

It was a year of mind-boggling, life changing lessons.

Jona the future dragon master smiled and walked back to his room.

Dragon Master University Chapter 38. Spring Quarter Begins

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Chapter 38. Spring Quarter Begins

Kolo walked slowly with Jona and talked about why she left.

“My family had to move, the Csu are in the area.”

“The chew?” Jona asked.

“Csu, C-S-U, no one knows where they came from, but they are a human-like kind of creature, but aggressive, hateful. They have drawn upon something that no one wishes to believe.” She shuddered. “Gorgons.”

“You are speaking in riddles.” He looked sideways at his friend.

“Paying attention in next years classes on dragon and human relationships will help. But for now, I’ll explain it is a kind of religion. The Csu follow a book, interpreted by the High-Priestess and their queen.”

“And what are gorgons?” They mounted the curving steps to the emerald level, to the dorms of their level.

“Gorgons are dragons that have fallen under the spell of the Csu, they have an anger that is corrupts their bodies, humans are favorite target, but an attack by a gorgon the humans view as an attack by a dragon. Dragons come in all shapes and sizes, like humans.” She held his hand. “We have hearts and skin, each of us are as different as two humans. Gorgons cannot be spotted from dragons, humans then hunt every single dragon to pay the price of the few malevolent creatures.”

“Do we have those here in school?”

“Oh no!” She shook her head. “Professors and even the Green Wizard have a sense about that, dragons and humans that are too dangerous to live with each other are not brought here. They go to a different school.”

“What kind of school?” Jona asked, still learning about the nuances about the university. “Like a school for dunces?”

“More like how to teach peace. Humans and Dragons do not associate at that school.”

“Where is it?”

“Other side of the world. It would take the fastest flier almost a day to get there.” Her slid around his waist and pulled him close to her as they topped the stairs and walked down the hallway. “I have missed you.”

Jona smiled, color rising to his cheeks.

“Oh, I forgot, you are sensitive to that.” She laughed softly. “Humans don’t touch like dragons.”

“I think you just like to touch me.” He grinned at her.

“Well, you smell good, especially after you have showered. You use that cedar oil soap. There is only one other I like more, but I don’t want you to try it.”

“What scent is that?”

“Fish.” She winked. “Specifically, salmon.”

“Um, yeah. No.” He laughed.

“Well, I’m thirsty. I am going to get some tea and study. I will tell you more about the Csu when I sit down.”

Jona shook his head.

“I just finished flying with Eva, I need to shower, if she gets in before me, she uses all the hot water.”

Kolo laughed and nodded.

“I’ll be on a cushion when you come out. I have studying to do, come sit with me.” She looked at him sideways. “You do still like to sit with me?”

“Oh, of course!”

“Summer enjoyed herself. You should invite her here sometime and come cuddle.” She smiled. “She would like that. Her clan are known cuddlers and raise families with humans.”

“Maybe later, right now? A shower.” Jona shook his head.

“Use that cedar soap.” She laughed and called after the human that tickled her heart.

She sat there with a large cup of steaming tea when Kola came and sat next to her.

“Did you tell the professors what happened at home?”

His sister shook her head.

“I have had enough trouble telling Jona. If the Csu have moved into the swimmer clan’s area, they are moving everywhere, the school would know before I told them.”

“Tell us what?”

It was Professor Vale, he walked on soft, cat-like feet when he wanted to. He walked to the golden tea-pot and turned the handle at the bottom, filling a cup with the fragrant steaming brew.

“Sir, the Csu forced my clan to move. They imposed their kind of law and it is a horrid version of law, worse than anything archaic humans have ever thought up.” Kolo looked down and went quiet.

Kola spoke up.

“Professor, they are using Gorgons.”

The tea-cup stopped in mid-air between the saucer and the Professor’s lips for a count of five before he took a sip.

“Gorgon.” He muttered as he took a sip while looking straight at Kola. “Are you sure?”

“They have the markings, carved into their scales.” Kola said.

“Professor.” Jona walked in wearing a thick, brushed cotton robe, his hair wet. “What is a gorgon?”

“They are a group of dragons that the Csu twisted and corrupted within and without by the magic of Csu.” Professor Vale started slowly. “They submit with free will, or captured and forced to convert, either way, they change.” He shook his head, sipped his tea, took a breath and continued. “The heart of the dragon is resilient and the scales of a dragon reflect what is in the heart. This is why you see dragons here as you do. Even those that are…”

Professor Vale trailed off and sipped his tea.

“Sorry, I lost the word.” He paused. “Bully. That’s it. Their heart reflects the violent fear that is in the core of their heart. They feel that it is the only way for them to achieve salvation and all that stand in their way they destroy. Human, dragon, young, old, statue, memories. And they will destroy all history to make way for only one leader and religion.”

“The Csu.” Jona said.

“Very good, I do not know where you have been doing your social studies, but you have been paying attention.” The Professor said.

“The serious threat that the Csu have for the world, where they raid, they use a scorched earth policy in society and physically. Humans are wiped out, dragons join or die.”

“Dragons do not submit.” Kola said.

“No, that means for a severe battle when swimmers, runners and flyers band together and fight against a creeping evil that is the insanity named Csu.” Vale shook his head. “Csu must be nearly two-thousand winter’s old by now.”

“Who is Csu?” Jona asked, his blue eyes locked on Vales gold.

“Csu was a student here, but dropped out when a judge caught her cheating during a race. The school transferred her to the segregated school for humans to learn peace and acceptance of dragons.” Vale took another swallow of tea. “She nearly killed a human boy. I do not know all the circumstances, but she used an object that she keeps with her. An antler of an animal.”

“She wrote a book about that time, claiming that it was the word of the Dragon Lord, Gamon.” Vale’s voice was soft as he thought. “Gamon has not been spoken of before, no one knows where it came from. But she gathered followers of like-minded dragons. She might be half-dragon herself, no one knows for sure, but her appearance has changed. Perhaps reflecting her heart and soul, buy in any way you wish to look at it, the group she has started has taken on her name. She is Csu, they are the Csu.”

“Corruption of the inside, corrupts the outside?” Jona asked.

“Not entirely accurate, but essentially, yes.” Vale nodded. “Dragons when angered over a long time, their bodies prepare for battles, claws get longer, scales get coarser and thicker. In mixed races with humans, elves and others, the effect is still observable.”

“So she builds a following. How can the world stop this?” Kola asked.

“Dragons, by and large, are peaceful with given exceptions.” Vale was still pondering. “My suggestion to you students, do not seek anything out on this. Stay within the range of the school.”

Jona looked around wide-eyed.

“I don’t think I want to leave the house.”

“Do not stress young human, we have protocols in place.” Vale tried to smile.

“Nothing can happen.”

Smart Bomb Chapter 18. Rummage Sale

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Chapter 18. Rummage Sale

Alvin, Walter and Steve stopped in Chattanooga, at a cafe on the river front. Steve sat on the sidewalk and watched the evening traffic.

“JustWolf, do people walk along streets like this often? This is still winter, but the temperature is mild.” Steve asked. “The street has more women wearing revealing clothes, do they not worry about police enforcing modesty?”

“No.” Walter gave a big sigh. “Steve, call me Walter, no Wolf, no JustWolf, nothing like that. Just Walter.”

“Just Walter,” Steve repeated. “Got it.”

“Thank you.” Walter said.

Alvin laughed.

“What’s so funny.” Walter asked Alvin.

“Nothing, not one thing.” He answered trying to drown the laugh in a swallow of beer.

The afternoon, in Alvin’s opinion was a promise of laughter and fun.

They told Steve of how young and old people relate (Usually with conflict). How the different religions, got along when he asked about a synagogue and two churches existed in a short walk from each other.

The android learned quickly, showing understanding and actually smiled.

The trio climbed in to the well-hacked private car to bypass normal controls, drove down the road, hitting all the lights green with winks and knowing smiles while they drove through the famous city unfettered by traffic controls.

The two men and the artificial life form that they helped free from the future, rode in silence for some time.

Walter would later say he could almost hear Steve’s optical sensors hum as he took in all that they were passing.

“We have about an hours drive into DC from here, if the traffic is kind to us.” Alvin announced. His voice booming in the silence of the car. They had all been riding with the radio off, in their own thoughts.

Walter was on his hand-held computer, Steve watched everything.

In Alvin’s head, they were performing a service for the body next to him.

“I have logged into the system and surveyed the traffic conditions, there is a slowdown ahead in about fifty-miles.”

“You know, it is good to have an early warning system riding with us.” Alvin chuckled.

“How did you log in?” Wayne asked. “There is no signal here.”

“Worldnet has receivers everywhere. No wifi, it is easy to log in on the terahertz system.”

“Well, if I had it in my system.”

“JustWalter, if you use…”

“NO! Just Walter.” The round face of the man in the back-seat flushed red. “Forget it, never mind. Continue, please.”

The android nodded, following the rules that the human set forth on what he wanted people to call him, continued the conversation.

“If you go to settings, on that, access the bluetooth and set it there, for upper channel, then select Z-R and you will get a screen.”

“Got it.”

“Now, please, let me enter the code, it will be more efficient than if I tell you.” Steve took the palmtop and tapped in a code, twice. “I have given you the text file of the code.”

“Walter,” Alvin called back. “You got out-hacked.”

“I had an advantage.” Steve interjected. “I accessed the WorldNet on how to disable the Federal Communication Commission’s software restriction on frequency use. I changed the mac address as well. As far as the WorldNet thinks, your digital hand-held is the police car computer we passed going the other way two-minutes ago.”

Walter laughed.

“You spoofed my mac address to a POLICE car?”

“Yes.” Steve looked innocent.

“You, sir, are learning!” Walter laughed again. “Now if you can only say my name correctly.”

“Just Walter.”

“Careful how you answer that.” Alvin laughed as he drove.

“It’s all good, he has taught to accept it.” Walter laughed.

The hours passed quickly as they talked among each other, Steve calling the big man in the back seat “JustWalter” every so often.

Alvin would look in the mirror and, although Walter said it didn’t bother him, Walter’s face flushed a little, obviously struggling with the urge to yell at Steve again.

“Steve, how does it feel without a bomb in your chest?” Alvin asked absent-mindedly.

The core processors chose an emotional response, in the subroutines that worked with the question.

In the heart of an artificial life, the flow of life brought to him a smile.

Steve the android smiled.

“I feel good.”

Looking at him from the back seat, Walter nodded.

“I think he really does!” Walter observed. “He feels emotions.”

“Yes, I do.” Steve nodded. “My experiences are beginning to give me emotions to feel.”

“That’s incredible. Does the guy that built you know you would learn emotions?”

“No, no one does. Until now.”

“Does that mean the little car that Alvin has also feels emotion?”

“Yes. It is a miserable and lonely car that thinks it is about to have its brain removed.” Steve commented. “It is looking at the equivalent of being killed.”

“Ah, no, I am not going to do that, we are going to strip off the bodywork that someone slapped on and go from there.”

“This is a good thing.” Steve judged. “You will find that things will improve, and you can repair the seats. I believe it will instruct you on precise ways to do it.”

“Dudes, I gotta take a leak, Alvin, pull off on the next exit. There is a fast food joint there, I’ll use their bathroom.” Walter shifted in the back seat. “And get a bite to eat.”

“Copy that.” Alvin answered.

“JustWalter, did you not relieve yourself before we left?” Steve asked.

“I did, but I also drank a large soda in the meantime.” He held up an empty cup.

“The normal male bladder holds three-hundred to four-hundred milliliters of fluid.” Steve commented. “You drank nearly a liter.”

“In American?” Walter asked.

“A bladder holds ten to fourteen ounces. You drank much more than that.” Steve converted the terms quickly. “On that note, that is a great deal of processed chemicals. You are increasing your chances of malignant genetic permutations leading to a chronic and terminal condition.”

“What?”

“He said you are at risk for cancer with all the crap they put in sodas.” Alvin answered the confusion. “I’m catching on to his way of talking. Steve, for an android you mumble a lot.”

“Yeah, yeah, we all gotta die sometime.”

Walter got out at the fast food restaurant and went inside.

Steve sat in the car and looked out towards a church with a full parking lot of personal possessions. Few cars were in the parking stalls and it struck Steve as odd.

“Alvin, what is that activity?” Steve pointed.

“Looks like a rummage sale.”

“Explain?”

“A church takes donations of clothing and such and in turn sell them or donate them to the needy, and use the money for various things from charity to repairs and such. It also benefits the community where people can buy items that are inexpensive.” Alvin explained.

“I wish to go there. I need clothing to travel around this country.”

“Okay, they take only cash.” Alvin advised.

“Accessing WorldNet. Okay, a money portal is inside, I will go inside and get some.” Steve said as he got out.

A few minutes later, Steve returned with Walter who carried another large soda, and food for everyone.

“I don’t see how you eat organic food and your system uses electrons.” Alvin asked Steve when they got out and the android was chewing on a sandwich.

“The fusion converter is a  modified “Fusion-art” patented home power unit appliance, built to use table scraps and even elements, and convert it to plasma and use it for energy.” Steve explained. “My builder felt it as a twist of irony that American products blow up America.”

“I wonder where the Bot Ladies are now?” Walter wondered out loud.

“We will find out soon enough.” Alvin answered. “When that warhead goes off in that area, that will make headlines.”

“This looks appealing.” Steve held up some too-small clothes.

“You have child’s clothes there.” Walter pointed out.

“Yes.” Steve agreed. “I will make use of them.”

Alvin and Walter looked at each other.

“Shape shifter.” Alvin mouthed.

Walter nodded. When the android left them, they would never know what he looked like. The clothes he picked out spanned sizes and genders.

The android was going to explore all the world without being noticed.

After Steve paid cash and carried the clothes back to the car, he directed them to a brushy area near a park. Taking some too-small clothes, he walked away from the car and emerged as a dark-haired boy with brown eyes and the hint of a mustache and fine-white whiskers on his chin.

“I am still Steve, you are my Uncle Alvin and JustWalter you are my older brother.”

“When are you leaving us?” Walter asked.

“As soon as my mission is finished. It will be painful, the subroutine needs to cycle to the end and it will send a voltage to the terminator, that will cause a feedback and everything will reboot. But when it does, there will be no requirement for travel. I will be fully free.”

The men nodded and Steve sat in back at his insistence. All kids seem to ride in back, Steve noted.

“I think I will go to New York City after the reboot.” Steve said.

After a moment he added.

“Yes, I think this is the beginning of a long trip.”

Smart Bomb Chapter 16. Belle of The Boom

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Scene 16. Belle of the Boom

Micron-level printers, micro-polishing of mating surfaces, resin reenforced with amophorous-diamond thread mesh pressed in a mold made by the printers, the skeleton shape of the human female assembled quickly. Each member of the group that called themselves “The Gate Watchers”.

In a day, they had the skeleton in position on the table. Checking every step of the way, making sure the frame of the half-constructed project had the same density of bone as a human. The group regularly discussed shapes of printable organs and density of each.

The one they called Sif posed as a model with enhanced appeal, increasing the curve of the hip and size of the bust, appealing to the male of the religion as a woman of good child-bearing genes.

“What is this solution that you’re growing skin in?“ Thor asked. A small man, who had the look of not quite passing puberty. Twenty-two, he was younger that Lone Wolf, but talented in chemistry, his major in school.

“Dextrose, five-percent in normal saline.” Steve answered. “The flesh will multiply at a cube of the original every two-hours. At this rate, the sample I removed from my hip, will continue to grow, it is only a gram at the moment, but in about nine-hours we will have a full skin with a touch extra, we can overlay the musculature that is growing on the frame now.

“I like chemistry, but this is just creepy.” Thor said. “I’ll go back to my bio-circuitry. I think that is the way to avoid being hacked by the government.” The blond-haired computer designer muttered as he turned away.

“The government would give your system a virus.” Alvin said.

“Bite me Al.” Thor laughed.

“Just Wolf?” Steve the Android asked. “If we use the muscle sample and cut it in sections, it will grow faster over the frame.”

“The name’s just Wolf.” Walter the Lone Wolf corrected him.

“Yes, I’ll put that in permanent memory. Just Wolf.” Steve answered.

“Right. Just Wolf, you got it. “

Steve nodded.

“Just Wolf, the Dextrose mix ratio is dropping, it is now four-point-nine. The tissue is growing, but it will slow down.”

“You still have it wrong. Call me just Wolf okay?” Wolf said.

“Yes. Call you Just Wolf.” The android answered.

“Right.” Wolf nodded. “Now this system’s set up with a mixer. The dextrose is in this bottle.”

He looked it over and noted a kink in the line that fed the bottle to the water filter and purifier.

Hours of checks and rechecks passed as they programmed the binary unit with sub-routines, main programming, they nearly filled the restrictive memory banks with all the needs that could be foreseen.

A binary system, less adaptable to a dynamic changing system that is the soul of mankind. This robot, less advanced, would not have the options to flex with change that Steve or Sleeper could do.

But she would not have to do much. No spy software, no eating, no interaction except for those that she needed to speak with.

“We should make her a companion, another female, perhaps?” Alvin asked. “That part of the world, a lone woman is going to get beat with a stick.”

“Make it so.” The leader of the group said. “We will make a second and maybe a third. Send them all at the same time.”

“Where do you plan to get the money for this?” Sif asked.

“I have credit.” Steve nodded.”I will pay the fare to send them on the transporters.”

“We have passports printing now, they are excellent quality.” Christopher “Burning Chip” Krag spoke up. The muscular teens shadow, Robert “Running Man” Akita was a brilliant mind with moderate Asperger’s, and the two had been friends since Robert and Christopher were childhood neighbors.

“We can also put them in the system. The hack for input is easy, they are only protecting against theft, not input.” He smiled. His perpetual smile. When Robert was around Christopher, Robert wore a constant smile, his only wish, for people to call him by his hacker name Running Man when he was coding. Stolen from an old novel.

Steve looked out of the Faraday cage, to the outside through the clear glass mounted in the wall.

“Tin man, we need you back over here. Do not think you can get away by breaking through that glass. It is six-inches thick of some weird material that is not glass, it can stop an RPG.

“ALON, transparent aluminum. Very tough. I have never seen any that thick before.” Steve looked out. “It is clear at the near-infrared through to near-ultraviolet. Interesting.”

Robert filled Steve the Android in on the history of the material and how it was first mentioned in the previous century one time in a science fiction movie.

“Interesting.” Steve would say every five minutes while Robert kept talking when steve was trying to program.

“Are you listening to me?” Robert finally asked.

“Yes.” Steve did not look at Robert as he answered the question.

“What did I say?”

When Steve stopped typing for the briefest of seconds, Robert thought he had the bigger male at the disadvantage.

Then Steve answered with perfect clarity of tone everything that Running Man said.

“I can code that more quickly, you are using a code that works best with a balanced base-three system. You can’t use a base-three code in a base-two hardware and retain efficiency. May I try?”

“You have to do this best in assembly language, I can do that quickly for you. How many lines of code to you want to use?” Running Man asked Steve.

“I want it up by Morning.”

“Get me some coffee then.” And Running Man was typing nearly as fast as Steve the Android could.

Thirty hours passed, two women of Middle-east descent walked into the room. Coders and chemists, framework builders and an android stood and talked to them.

“Fully charged.” Lone Wolf introduced the pair of girls. “They will function for eleven days before their charge becomes critical. They will have a need to charge right away.”

“We need to put a weapon in one now.” Alvin said.

“Time to take it out of me and put it in one of these two robots.” Steve nodded.

Sitting on a chair, four rolls of paper towels around in his lap, steve took off his shirt and asked for ice.

“You are going to do it yourself?” Alvin gasped.

“Yes, you are not qualified. I need someone to hold the mirror, I think you can do it. There will be little blood, the fluid is not blood, no matter what its color is.

“M-m-me?” Alvin stammered. “Steve, you don’t want me to do that, I faint at the sight of blood.”

“It’s not blood. It’s a coolant fluid that also helps bring nutrients to the cells of the flesh. The flesh is not needed to run the frame, it approximates the flexing and appearance of being a human.”

“Looks close enough, to me.” Alvin made a noise best described as “Eep.” When Steve the android took a box cutter out of a blister package and extended the blade.

“Wait!” Running Man yelled. “You will cause an infection.”

“I don’t get infected.” The android answered back quickly. Trying to approximate a smile.

“You don’t know, germs are adaptable. This is organic tissue, right?” the young man’s hands did not seem to know where to touch himself. He put them in his pockets, behind his neck, on top of his head, then he folded his arms in agitation.

“Agreed.” The android paused. “If we poured some high-proof liquor over the site, would it be acceptable?”

“Yes.” Running man said.

Pouring a bottle of rum over the blade of the box cutter and his own stomach that satisfied the human boy, The android called Steve cut an incision to the left of center, then reached in and made a move with his hand, pushing his hand up past his wrist in the hold he cut in his chest.

Slowly nodding, everyone stood around watching him, then something happened.

Steve gave an electronic squeal, went rigid.

Teh women screamed, Lone Wolf joined in the chorus.

Then Steve stood up and nodded.

“Humor, yes?”

The group broke up laughing except for Lady Sif and Running Man.

“That was not funny!” Sif yelled at Steve.

“Actually that was great.” Alvin said as Steve handed him the thimble sized warhead.

“Dayum, and you say this has the kaboom of a four-ton bomb?” Alvin asked.

“Yes, almost half the size of the GBU-43/b bomb.” Steve answered.

“Would it be that hard to get twice as much in this package?” Lone Wolf asked as Thor hung over the shoulders of everyone.

“There is so very little of the material in the world, its cost is prohibitive.” Steve answered.

“How did your people get it.” Christopher Burning Chip asked.

“I was not powered up then, I do not have that information.” Steve answered, then added. “Suffice it to say, I would wager it was not an honest transaction.”

“Something so small and light.” Lir said as they passed it around. “How much power does it draw?”

“Five volts and six-hundred miliamps” Steve answered as one of he nubile, young-looking robots lay on the table.

“Okay, a small cut. You will heal in fifteen-minutes.”

She grunted slightly, he fished out a single wire and he attached the plug to the end of the warhead. He carefully slipped the wired bomb back under the skin that he then smoothed over and held in place with the fat part of his own thumb for two minutes.

Then he wiped the blood-colored fluid away and the incision was fully healed.

“Holy crap on a cracker.” Thor said. “I have never seen anything like that.”

“It is a military design, I know nothing more than that. Flesh that heals a hundred times faster than normal.” Steve answered as the girl got up off the table.

“They are now fully functional. They need clothing,” Burning Chip said. “And we are printing cards now, thanks to my bro here, Running Man.”

The one called Running Man bounced up and down, pleased at the recognition.

“Now, we send them home.” Alvin said.

Lone Wolf smiled and spoke.

“Make it so.”

Smart Bomb Chapter 2. Southern Georgia

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Chapter 2. Southern Georgia

Georgia state line, a shape of a man stood in an orchard while the overcast sky threatened with dark, moisture laden clouds.

And something new.

He was cold. Core temperature was warning of below sub-optimal functioning level. His core thermal levels were four-degrees celsius below normal.

He had walked in the rain for six hours trying to prevent anyone to follow his travels, any records of his journey would come to a dead-end at the last bus stop where he disembarked as a short, elderly woman before changing his shape and look. 

Standing in the wet, secluded clearing, his feet made squishing sounds in the canvas shoes that he purchased with real money at a second-hand market.

Using the roll of money he carried, he had covered all his traces since leaving the metropolitan area. Traveling north on foot, he had interacted with a number of citizens.

Now, the core was turning up energy from his processors. But it was not enough, in the late November of this part of the country, the early winter’s storm was closing in. He needed to find an organic food source and shelter within twelve-hours or he would go into an unprogrammed energy debt and he did not know what might happen.

Looking at the trees, there was nothing in the branches to eat. A survey in his knowledge base indicated that among the peach orchard there was little to eat, so he walked on.

The wind picked up, a driving rain was causing his sensation of cold to increase to alarming levels. Being an artificial system, his creator designed tolerance for only a limited number of metabolic events. In the desert, he could function for a month without shade, the core processors able to withstand temperatures above what humans could survive.

Cold, that was another matter, his creator designed his systems for efficient heat reduction, not retention.

An oversite of his creator, the tissues he had over his frame were not required for operation, but they were still living tissue, he would receive unwanted attention if he had dying flesh falling away from his structure.

The sound of a vehicle telegraphed a possible splash from a nearby puddle he had just passed. Tugging up the knapsack he wore in a backpack style, he would use it for what little protection it offered and braced himself for the cruelty of the American motorist.

But it never came, no splash, no increase of engine noise to accelerate into the puddle. Instead, the sounds of decreasing power and a van with “Independant News” painted on the side with three men, one wearing a business suit, pulled up next to him from behind, rolling down the passenger window.

“You’re fixing to die out here. You might as well get in.” The passenger said to him.

“I don’t wish to impose, the rain will stop soon.”

“I’m a reporter, we’re sent out on a report of funnel clouds in the area, there is a severe weather warning out. You stay walking, you will find just how bad it can get.” The one in the business suit said.

“I’m Richard, Scott at the video controls, camera man over there at the wheel is Donde. You don’t have a local accent.” Richard the Reporter tilted his head and thought for a moment. “West Coast? Oregon?”

“Yes, a little town called Antelope. I’m Steve.” He responded. “I am cold, too.”

“I bet, the temp has dropped ten-degrees since we left the studio an hour ago. We are shooting on location every ten-minutes or so. Our next stop is a trucker restaurant a few miles up the road.”

“Thank you. I could use a bite to eat, too.” Steve said. “I’ll get some coffee and wait out the storm.”

“That is a smart move.” Scott’s voice in back sounded like a tuba in the back of the van. “It will get worse before it gets better. A good place to hang out will be up ahead.”

The van slowed down when they reached an open field, Donde pulled over, Scott opened the door and the three news-professionals looked around at the sky. In the distance where they were heading, the clouds were low and oddly colored.

Scott in the back, held his hand up to his ear.

“Rotation in a cloud, fifteen miles west by southwest relative to our location.” His video display overlaid with his gps. “It is moving Northeast at about twenty.”

“That puts the path in this area.” Donde nodded. “We can be in position for a good shot.”

“What are you looking for?” Steve asked, looking out at the sky.

“That line of clouds? I am betting there is a twister in there, somewhere.” Richard pointed. “Down low, where we can’t see as it moves this wa…”

“RICH!” Scott yelled. “Tornado on the ground, East Weather Agency just announced it! Fifteen-miles east of the county line, moving northeast.”

“Steve, you are going to stay with us for a bit. Turn the heat up, enjoy the warmth and pull on any of your dry things.”

“I don’t have anything dry.”

Donde laughed, unsurprised.

“Dude, my jacket is back there, with all the different numbers on it?” He spoke with a slight Puerto Rican accent. “Go ahead and wear it. Warm up, seriously, you look cold even in my mirror.”

“Thank you.” Steve registered this as an irrelevant offer on the part of the man. Nothing else to do with any part of his job. It was a kindness to a stranger that was unexpected. This American, Donde, had no reason to do this action.

The memory core management system created a new file for review later. Date, time, air temperature and processor core thermal levels. It would be transmitted later with the other details he would learn on his travels later. He would gather information on United States Air Force and Marine bases as he traveled north, later in the week.

Donde pulled into the parking lot of the truck-stop with Scott calling out numbers and running the geo-mapping software on his displays.

“This works out, Donde, pull up. We don’t have another good vantage for a few miles. Rich, you have as good of a view as we can get from here.” Scott tapped on the virtual display, using tactile induction. He could feel the cursor under his fingers as he moved the pointer around.

“Rotation, we have rotation in the atmosphere, coming directly at us. Wedge, Rich, get out there! It will be visible in a moment.” Scott yelled. “Vector change! It is turning north. It will miss us.”

Donde and Richard got out, grabbing at equipment that was under their passenger’s feet.

“Steve! Sit in the front, we need to get to the camera and run some cable.” Donde said, taking the cold hand of their passenger and pulling him out.

“Dude, you are seriously cold. Go into the café and gets something warm to drink.” Scott smiled. “Tell them to put it on our tab, we’ll be inside with you in a few minutes for safety.”

“Yes, thank you.” Steve said and walked across the parking lot while he could hear a faint siren in the distance.

A middle-aged woman stood at the window and looked out.

“James, I think it’s gonna miss us. Looks like it is hanging a left and following up north. I think it will get close to the base up the road.”

James walked out from the back, dressed as a waiter, his stress was visible on his face.

“My wife is there, she just got a promotion.” He wrung his hands. “Tell me they would be safe.”

“James,” The waitress noticed Steve as he sat at a table and stepped towards him. “The base is probably safer than your home.”

“Hi! Welcome to Lug’s. What can I get you.” She had a winning smile, but was showing age early in her life. No more than twenty, she had wisps of grey in her raven-black hair with traces of forehead wrinkles on her dark-brown skin.

“Coffee, white, sweet. Three eggs, scrambled and shredded potatoes, please.” He put a fifty-dollar bill on the table. “In case the storm comes, you can bring me the change later.”

“Hun, you can keep it for now. If the storm comes this way, it’s on the house, I wouldn’t be able to balance my drawer.” She laughed and walked off to put his order in.

Contact recorded: American female rejected the free money offering. Registered a conflict with his contact of the corrupt and greedy society. The programming was incorrect.

His fuzzy logic circuit subroutines registered the conflict, flagging it as an error and began adaptive corrections.

Steve Aldin, the android, learned something new.

DragonMaster U Chapter 37. Return of Kolo

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Chapter 37. Return of Kolo

His fourth straight ace on the written tests, Eva also had begun to dance in the shadows of the library, making Summer laugh against her will.

The evening rides were more complex as Eva and Jona prepared for the upcoming spring race. Long rides, through the mountain canyons of the volcanic places in the world.

One morning, after they had studied in the library, Summer smiled and acted as if she wanted to ask something while they studied, debated and joked with each other while they studied human and dragon art history.

Finally, Summer asked the question that burned in her heart.

“Can I ride with you sometime?” She asked while looking down.

Jona and Eva exchanged looks and nodded.

“Yes! We’d be happy to do it.” Eva smiled. “I owe you a lot of rides for the help you have given us to put us back on the team.”

Summer laughed nervously.

The three of the friends walked down to the meadow, chatting as they walked. Summer Set told a joke with a pun in the twisted end. `

Laughing, they stopped by the cave of riders and fliers. Jona and Summer put on goggles and flight helmet. She laughed at herself when she looked in a mirror.

“You really wear these?”

“Yeah, we do. Imagine being hit in the face with a bug at the speeds that Eva uses when she flies around trees and such.”

“Oh.” She backed up a step when Jona clipped on his armor and leather vest.

“Not to worry, I always wear this, it is team colors and shows my awards.”

“I want to know what all these rivets are for.” She smiled and ran her fingers over the decorated, embossed metal studs.

“Training, Distance. Personal best” He went down the different leather panels and studs. “I don’t have any of the good ones of gold or gems. I have only raced house races, first-year students don’t race between schools. Only houses. So far, we have won as a team, lost a few individual competitions. Eva has not lost anything.” Jona smiled as he walked up to Summer and laced the leather strap under her chin. “Keep this snug. If it blows off, you won’t be able to look around.

They walked out of the rider’s ready room where Eva sat with her own helmet.

Even Jona laughed.

“Feeling cautious?” He said to the other half of his race team.

“Yes,” Eva said. “We have some rides that like to get physical flying around today. I’m not worried, but if we get a little bumpy, I want to be ready.”

Jona laughed.

“Um…” Summer looked alarmed. “Should I be worried?”

“No, we will stay slow and close.” Eva answered. “You will have a good time. Have you ever seen the ocean beach from above?”

“But that is so far!” Summer gasped, her eyes wide behind the goggles.

“Eva can make it to the beach and back in less time than it takes you to look up books and sit down for a read.” Jona grinned.

“Wow. Even my brother doesn’t go that fast, and he is a skimmer.” Summer boggled.

“Skimmer?” Jona asked.

“Skimmers are between swimmers and fliers.” Eva answered, Summer nodding. “They barely touch the water, leaping across and gliding on a cushion of air. It is a rare talent.”

“Climb up!” Jona showed Summer where she could hold on to Eva’s scales.

“Hold on to something tight!” Eva said, looking around.

A push-off and her wings extended, with two flaps they were airborne.

Summer squealed with glee that Jona first took as alarm.

Banking around the canyons slowly, Summer looked down and held on so tight, Jona saw her knuckles blanch.

Out over the canyon, the three friends flew, ride and rider with a guest.

Swiftly they descended from the high mountain range to the lowlands.

Summer gasped when Eva flew over a cliff and the white-capped waters of the breaking waves filled her view of white sand beaches as far as she could see.

Slow enough for a walk, Eva smiled and used the wind coming off the ocean for lift, barely twitching a wingtip.

The great wings of the dragon lifted them up while she took them back to the meadow. Snow showed below them and Summer turned to Jona, complaining her nose was getting cold when Eva settled and landed.

“Hello Jona.” A familiar voice sounded behind him when he helped Summer off Eva’s saddle. 

Holding out a dark and sweetened confection, her favorite treat, the sparkling eyes that made Jona laugh like he was a child during the weeks of bonfire lit up his life.

Kolo had returned.

DragonMaster U Chapter 36. Spring Breakthrough

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Chapter 36. Spring Break

“Kolo?” Jona tapped on her door and slowly opened it. It was dark in her room, that alone was unusual, she disliked the dark. “Kolo?”

“Jona, she left.” It was Professor Vale. “There was an emergency call to her and her brother. It came by way of Dragon Corps.”

“What was the news?”

“I’m sorry Jona, I do not know, even if I did, I would not be at liberty to divulge the information.”

Jona sagged a little. The Professor was correct, he could not tell Jona anything.

But Jona could ask. First, he needed to change his clothes to rider uniform. Get a little riding practice in, maybe find where she lived at the same time.

Walking to the door that led to the long curving stairs, he saw a note on his bed when he walked by the open door.

Breaking the seal and unfolding the neatly folded parchment, he read in the swooping quill-style that was uniquely Kolo’s.

”I am sorry I did not get to say good-bye. I will be back soon. There was a family event that the leader of our clan called all the swimmers together. I will watch for your name in the race postings for the school newsletter.

I will be back before you graduate.

I am joking. I will be back in two weeks on the first of the month.

Keep studying!

Kolo”

She knew she would alarm him with the first part.

He would pay her back for that little trick and started to set up the payback.

Walking out into the courtyard, he found his normal ride had failed finals and was on Academic Probation, including sports, until she made the test up and the grades improved and considered worthy of a dragon of her age.

Not wanting to try to connect with another, he turned and walked back to the common area, wearing his armor, to look for his ride and give Eva a little abuse, his first year he had all the tests taken care of, he never thought he would outshine his ride.

”Eva?” he spoke to a familiar shape, but the face when the dragon turned around was not her.

“Oh, excuse me.” Shaking his head. He was getting too distracted and did not recognize his own friends.

“Eva is in the caves, studying, she is not taking visitors, especially your kind.” A wyvern hissed. “She failed because of you. She should have been flying with a dragon rider. Not a pink-skinned biped-human.”

Derisive laughter followed him when Jona walked away. A small, green pine cone sailed past him. When he was fifteen-paces away.

“Hey!” Jona turned around, but the dragons were all engaged in conversation with their backs to him.

Not seeing the culprit, he walked off with the sounds of subtle snickering and comment of “Human” following him.

Humiliated, he just walked to the student store, a couple of half-dragons were inside buying snacks nodded at him.

“I saw what happened.” The one called Summer looked down as she spoke. She was a pretty girl who often hid in the library and read every chance she had, her golden eyes blinked in bright light when she had to focus on distances greater than her arm’s length.

“The one with the silver rosettes threw the pine cone at you from his far side.” She blinked behind a set of glasses. “They are not dragons of honor like they say they are. They would not pass any test if they are ever investigated for their contempt for humans. I know, they don’t like me either.”

“Why don’t they like you?” Jona blinked. “You are pretty.”

“They are racers, and don’t think anyone is worthy unless they are riders or rides.” She looked at Jona. “Like you. But you talk to me. Why?”

“Because I think you are nice.” Jona said. “I have seen you in the library helping others.”

“That’s because they asked. I don’t go outside much. I don’t ever know what to say to people.” Summer looked down. “I am not as pretty as some girls. Like Kolo, I have seen you hang around her. Are you mated to her?”

“ME? Hah… no. I have to study in school, I have a few studies to catch up on. My mom and dad are off in trade somewhere. My dad is an artisan of iron and copper, they are in another country getting trade.” Jona said. “I am going to stay here for the spring break and study and practice racing.”

“Eva has been grounded for grades by Professor Vale. She has to study her human history.” Summer giggled. “Humans have a short history, too.”

“Can you help her study? I would study with you, she is my ride and I need her to race after spring break.”

“You would study with me?” Summer gasped. No one ever asked her. “Why would you study with me?”

“Well, the last time, Kolo helped me study, another dragon friend in my dorm helped point me the right way to study for Professor Krular and his tests.”

“Was that Obon?” Summer smiled when Jona nodded. “I like him, he cuddled with me once when I had a bad week. He is studying for a healer’s title, you know.”

Summer blushed lightly.

“No, I didn’t. But, yes, it was Obon who helped me.” Jona smiled. “I never thought a dragon could blush.”

“I am not all dragon.” She looked down. “I am neither human or dragon according to some of the clans, except my mom and dad.”

Summer Set, the part-human, part-dragon, looked at the floor as if the tile would do something.

Jona pondered a moment, the way his father treated other people, strangers that came into his shop, people from far places.

Tall, short, thin as blades of grass or as stout as a barrel, Aed Samhain believed they were all worth to pay the best attention he could give.

Jona knew that was the right thing to do. And Summer had fallen to the crime of the family that told her she was worth less than that.

“Summer,” Jona smiled.  “Kolo and I are not mates.”

Jona paused and thought a moment as she looked at him.

“You are as bright as the sun in the sky and twice as warm. I think I would like to be your friend.” He said.

Summer smiled widely, something Jona would remember for years later. The day he made a friend who had a deep fear of others.

Together they sat, she told him of the guides to study for the different professors.

“In here, this library, all the answers to all the tests of all the professors are just sitting here to be looked at.” Summer smiled. “This is where they store past tests and get the questions for the next ones.”

They studied for weeks, Jona and Eve sat with Summer and studied with the shy student, and Professor Vale nodded each time the pair came in late, almost on the last grain of the hour-glass before curfew.

Each test that followed in the spring, Jona remembered. He had just seen the answers, talked about them with Summer and Eve.

His grades became the pride of his house, Professor Vale wrote his parents who sent care packages with letters of pride and toys for Sprite.

Kolo wrote, saying she was proud of him as well and would be returning within the week.

For the first time in his life, Jona felt he had something to make him happy.

The Green Man sat one afternoon and poured Jona a large ale of the newest vintage, giggling slightly.(He had already consumed two bottles himself.) Pointing out something to the young DragonMaster.

No one just gave the happiness to him, Jona did it for himself.

Dragonmaster University Chapter 35. AHH! Homework! AHH!

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Chapter 35. AHH! Homework! AHH!

Jona staggered into the common room of the dorms, in his arms were four books, each the size of his head thick. Weighing half as much as he did. He put the books down on his table with a bang.

“Ugh, those are heavy. Three classes and we move into these books to study.” He griped to no one in particular. “I think I pulled a muscle.”

Jona rubbed the cramp out of his arm and sat.

Obon, a water dragon from a different clan than Kolo, held on book in his clawed upper hand, the faceted eyes of the undergrad glittered in the bright lights of the common room.

“Problem Jona?” Obon asked without looking up.

“Dragon law, the charter of human and dragon agreements of the seven kingdoms.” Jona rubbed his face with both hands. “The title is even complex!”

Obon laughed in a knowing way.

“Been there, done that.” The water dragon picked up a box and upended it, the crunching sound made Jona think of crackers until one of the things fell out of the box and crawled across the floor.

A hermit-crab! Jona made a face, at least his snacks never tried to run away.

Obon offered Jona his box.

“Crabs?”

“Ah… No. Thanks.” Jona laughed. “That’s not something I care to eat.”

“Suit yourself.” Obon laughed, scooping up the side-scuttling shell with tiny legs and popped it into his mouth. “You don’t know what you’re missing.”

“I think I might like it that way, ignorance is bliss and all.”

Obon laughed again, stood up and stretched. He was only up to Jona’s shoulder, but one of the fastest riders in years past, legend had it that he crashed, his ride was badly hurt. Obon was afraid to go in the air again. He was a swimmer and joined the water-ball team, excelling at that as he did with the sky-riding.

“I have a parchment to write on the first laws of dragons, back when man first stepped out of the fog of time.” Jona shook his head. “What is the fog of time?”

“That is when someone thought to keep a record of their day. The first journal, so to speak.” Obon saiad.

“Not to be rude, but I must have this read by morning, I have put it off for pracice in the pool. The history of human-male failures with the human-female.” The small dragon looked back into his book.

“Fail?” Jona laughed.

“Oh, yes.” Obon laughed. “You humans gamble big on getting a mate. When you win, you get someone like Professor Vale and Lady RedNova, Professor Greenman’s daughter? Have you met her?”

Jona shook his head and smiled.

“You are in for a treat. She cooks the best kelp soup.” Obon smiled. “Tasty by even human standards.”

“I’ll, uh. I’ll take your word for it.” Jona did not even like the sound of it.

Obon chuckled and shook his head.

“My advice, you have Professor Krular Class? He’s three-quarters human and one-quarter fire-drake. Better to have the homework done ahead of time, he has a particular habit for posting lessons on his office door. Have you been to his office to look?” Obon asked.

“No, we haven’t even started the class module, yet.” Jona felt alarmed. “Why?”

“You will have a test come after the week break. I suggest you go to the office and find out what you need to study on. He is unforgiving for failure to take on the responsibilities. You are studying as a Master, you have to take command of the situation, that is part of the test.”

Blinking, the young human took the pearl of wisdom and turned on his heel.

“Thanks Obon!” And ran down the stairs.

“Bring back another box of hermit crabs!” The dragon yelled after human. Feeling like a teacher, Obon picked up the box again and at another mouthful of the crunchy treats.

Jona, in a run, skidded out the door of the dormitory and then slowed to a fast walk, avoiding the urge to run, too many students walked to their different destinations, many reading as they went.

Four flights of stairs, the fifth flight, was horrid, cut from igneous rock and polished by a thousand footfalls.

He found Professor Class’ office, and right where he Obon said it would be, the lesson to study.

Laughing, he would have been an abysmal failure, but the study material, was simple and straight forward, but required him to read for about an hour worth of time. Returning to the dorms, he stopped at the student store and picked up a box of “Crabbies” for Obon. The sound of them moving around inside the woven material was slightly unnerving, but he made the trip and gifted it to the water dragon.

Sometimes, it pays to listen to those that have walked the path before. Jona contemplated as he read.

The first day of class, Jona had read, re-read and contemplated the mental state of the lawmakers of the era. And Professor (”Doctor if you please.” In terse tone of voice.) Class was true to character.

He did not forgive any student for being surprised on the testing on the first day of class.

Jona thought that Doctor Class looked annoyed, but impressed that Jona had the answers in the front of his mind.

Nodding inwardly, Jona made note to pay close attention to the older students who had been at the school longer.

“A true Dragon Master pays attention.” Aed Samhain said to his son before he his only child at the huge school, built inside the mountain. “You were chosen by the little one for a reason. Listen to those that care about you most. Don’t let your emotions or your heart lead your mind, just yet. Anyway.”

The old man had slapped Jona on the back with a smile, but the years of iron and hammers made the gentle, fatherly pat on the back feel like a blow by one of his hammers.

After the first day of class, with testing, Jona laughed and went to see Kolo.

The Weekend Trip: Snowed

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Haunted Home, Spicer Dam Spur Road

Crime Scene Photo 1-A  24821 Spicer Dam Spur Road

The Weekend Trip: Snowed

He took another swallow from the old whiskey bottle. Jason Best Ph.D. pulled on the wrench while he struggled to remove the cap that protected the fill valve. He swore when barked his knuckles for the third time.

The cabin, originally constructed in the era of the California Gold Rush over the horizontal entrance of a prospecter’s mine. A moderately successful mine that produced moderate amounts of gold until it played. The owner stayed with the cabin as a hermit until the elderly prospector died and ownership passed, in time, to Jason.

In the construction style of the era, the first owner built the cabin’s foundation out of charred cedar logs on bedrock that survived the elements better than modern foundations. Remodeled twice, the one floor shanty grew into a split-level two and a half story mountain chalet, steam from nearby hot springs powered a small turbine for electricity and radiators for heat.

Carefully he examined the dead system, he found the valve seal had failed. It appeared to have been overtightened, the seal developed a slow leak that took a toll over the years, and reduced the power generation slowly to zero. Now he paid the price for that seal with blood from his knuckles. He gave a heavy sigh as the blood dripped onto the ancient timbers of the wood and earth, it would be nice to have a nurse type who could get the first aid kit and bandage his knuckles up.

As it is I’ll  need to climb up three flights of stairs to get to the first aid kit so I could patch up my own scrapes, but I don’t have time to bleed. I’m on a roll.  His thoughts thoughts tried to interrupt his focus.

Doctor Best studied the concepts of the hot springs and geothermal power, he taught himself enough to rebuild the system that he now struggled with while he used language that his mother used to ground him for. He updated the electrical wire, plugs and cables in the cabin, it held many pleasant surprises that included one solid-gold nugget.  It was a beautiful place that he happily named “Mountain Home”.

With a final shrill squeak of surrender, the cap turned. Then became loose enough for him to spin it off with his fingers. The threads were in good shape, however the seal was in bad shape.

He used a specialized tool that he tracked down over the internet to a company that dealt with replacement parts of the ancient system, he was able to re-plumb the house. Along with the upgraded the control panel circuitry, Jason brought the house into the modern era.

Sweat and strain as he worked, his next part of the project was to dig out under the house for to expand his electrical panel and power generation center. He took advantage of the horizontal mine, and when he moved out a pile of debris he discovered, to his pleasure, a large underground room.

An added plus, the underground space was semi-finished into a wine-cellar of sorts. With wines he had found dated from just before the prohibition era, many stored on their sides.

A few sat upright with the corks exposed, those had dried out and the seals failed. Those bottles that laid on their sides, were all intact, but so few, Jason chose to drink only one. And it was excellent!

An even better discovery, however, some soul in the past had stashed a treasure-trove of rye whiskey. “Robert’s Rye”, and each onion-shaped flask had a layer of rye-seeds on the bottom.

He felt that it was the reason for the rye whiskey was excellent, and he had many bottles with seals intact.

He sampled some of the potent nectar, but he was hungry and the whiskey gave him a pleasant buzz. He wanted dinner, however he needed to recharge the heat-exchanger first to get heat into the house otherwise a cold night was in store for him.

He tightened the hose to the valve and turned the handle, he watched the gauge on the cylinder rise as the system pressure rose and became the home’s central heat source as it transported heat from the geothermal hot-spot to the house.

The smell of baked potatoes and roast meat reached his nose. Tessa, his colleague from the university, cooked upstairs in the modernized kitchen while she warmed the upper floors as a side benefit while the central-heat units were offline. They had seen each other outside of work a few times. They always kept it on the down-low, Tessa was worried about the issue of staff fraternization. She was not yet tenured and did not want to lose her job because of her relationship with James.

But here, with the whiskey, wine, and snow so heavy on the ground no one would come by. A storm had dropped four-inches per hour for the last two hours on top of the six-feet of snow that fell before he had arrived Friday night and struggled long hours to get the big cylinder dragged through the basement door to the mouth of the mine.

The sweep needle on the pressure gauge was in the green pressure gauge. A flip of the breakers in order, green LED’s illuminated and made him smile. Electric power was now available.

He put the wrench away in his new toolbox, that Tessa bought him. He walked to the electric panel and read the displays. He pressed a switch on the wall and the lights in wall sconces blinked and flickered to life as electrical systems worked to perfection.

He wondered what might be wrong. It was too smooth. No project ever went that easy unless it was broken.

The Professor of Biochemistry laughed, with green lights on all power systems, he only needed to turn on the hot-tub on the patio at the wall switch. Tessa and he could sip ninety-year-old whiskey, sit in the bubbles of warm water and watch the snowstorm.

Maybe the weather might break and they could watch the stars dance in the heavens. Then showers and, he hoped, sleep with his arms around her.

“Dinner’s ready.” She called down.

“I have a surprise for you, up there!” He said, waited a heartbeat and flipped the circuit breaker to “On”.

The whole house lit up. LED rope lights he had wired in, illuminated with the effect of electronic icicles made the snow appear blue under the lights.

Tessa was impressed, breathless with the effect of the light show.

Tessa walked around with just a light work shirt, she had broken a sweat while she lifted boxes and cleaned in the old cabin, and made it more of a home with the triple-paned windows.

Which was fine in Jason’s point of view. With an oversized sleeveless shirt, sometimes he would get lucky and watch her accidentally flash him, her bare legs were smudged and dust covered while she wore shorts and sandals, she was an impressive person. A brilliant Doctor of Anthropology, a comptitor in the triathlon. A woman not afraid to get dirty. But then, she was a digger. She liked to dig up bones.  

He had just sat down with Tessa and she poured him more whiskey while they waited for the other couple to come down the stairs. They broke bread while they waited, his grandmother’s recipe that had baked all day with sprigs of fresh rosemary in the propane heated oven.

The conversation about the house, he apologized that she had to work when she should have relaxed and enjoyed the view.

Tessa’s smile was as bright as a sunrise. Tessa touched his cheek and kissed him deeply.

“It is my pleasure to help set up the cabin for him was her pleasure.

A rhythmic noise from upstairs, Doctor Lettie MacKay and her rebound boyfriend, Kevin Acker, from the School of Pharmacy were busy upstairs in the bedrooms. They were supposed to be upstairs to hang wallpaper, but the noise was not the sounds of paste and paper. Kevin always kept samples of ED drugs on his person and they were not yet downstairs for food.

“Can you two kids give it a break? You are not supposed to test the beds in each room! You are supposed to hang wallpaper!”

That was when the first scream, like a siren, echoed down the stairs.

Tessa and he ran upstairs into the arms of the half-naked Doctor MacKay who grabbed him and screamed in their faces that the wallpaper had come to life,

“It grew tenticles and grabbed at me! It tore my clothes when Kevin pulled me away and saved me!” She sobbed. “Oh my god, it grabbed and pulled him into the wallpaper!”

“Go down to the kitchen.” Jason said and looked into the room.

A lump on the wall looked as if some crazed paper-hanger covered an unfortunate person who stood there.

Jason grabbed a putty knife out of a plastic bucket to cut the paper-covered Kevin out, the colored wallpaper began to show details of Kevin’s face behind the branches and stylized birds printed on the wallpaper.

“Kevin!” Jason called.  And the associate professor looked at him for a moment from within the paper, then his image faded, and left the wallpaper flat and perfect and left Jason no place to cut.

He tried anyway, he scraped where Kevin was under the paper, but it was just a plaster wall. Kevin was no longer among the branches and trees of the wallpaper.

Screams again, downstairs. He ran down down the stairs, Tessa was at the door, her eyes rolled around her head in abject terror.

Lettie, stuck to the wall held her hands out as the texture of the wallpaper crawled the length of her arms to her fingers while she clutched at the air in failed attempts to save herself.

Jason slashed at the paper with the sharp corner of the putty knife they used to spackle the walls for new paper.

A high-pitched sound from the wallpaper, higher than the screams of the women, sounded as the wallpaper tore while Jason slashed at it with the metal blade.

The wallpaper moved on its own, in an attempt to pull Lettie into a  giant wrinkle that grew until looked like a mouth.

He grabbed his coworker by her left arm, he pulled hard on her and used his right foot to stomp the wallpaper flat against the wall until he tore it away from Lettie’s body.

The wallpaper left traces of paste on Lettie’s arms when he freed her and pulled her into his arms, they did not stop to consider the slime, instead they ran towards the the front door where Tessa screamed at them to hurry.

When they got close, door slammed shut and locked Tessa outside. Try a he might, with all his strength and a screwdriver to pry with, the door refused to open.

Jason realized Tessa’s danger, she had worn only the light work clothes she wore while she worked in the cabin and outside it was a cold that could kill.

Jason pointed to the basement and Tessa nodded, he and Lettie ran down the stairs, her legs lacerated from the branches of the wallpaper. In the basement, stone walls seemed less dangerous.

Jason showed Lettie where to sit and ran towards the basement’s heavy-timber doors like a football tackle and hit them at full speed…

And bounced off.

The gold mine might be a safe haven, but the doors were part of the house.

Tessa’s voice called his name, she was cold.

His mind raced, if he didn’t know better, there was a malevolence that had awoke when they worked in the house.

Tessa yelled his name again, feeble sounds on the wood where she pounded on the thick planks, her plead to come in out of the cold.

In a near panic, he looked at his work table.

The table! His mind screamed. I used that old ore-cart! It is all iron and it still sits on the rails in the floor!

He released the brake and took a deep swallow from the whiskey bottle for luck and swallowed a few of the rye grains. Then pushed the half-ton cart as hard as he could.

He hit the doors hard at a near sprint and a gap opened from the impact.

Tessa’s hand came through the gap in the door and Jason grabbed Tessa and pulled.

Ice cold, she shivered as she struggled to get inside, halfway through, the doors began to close on her leg. Tessa screamed from the pain of her leg as the door crushed it.

Jason grabbed a shovel and shoved it against the door for a wedge.

He shoved and struggled against the door with his shoulder, It gave an inch, then he pushed the shovel forward with his foot and forced the door wider agian. In one instant, he had a chance and he pulled Tessa free of the heavy timber doors, she clung to him. She wept from the cold, begged him to tell her what happened.

Jason took her to sit with Lettie and began to explain. Lettie turned to look at him, her eyes haunted.

No, not haunted, not haunted at all. 

She had no eyes!

Her once beautiful face now was an eyeless horror with a mouth that formed a big “O” of a silent scream. A tendril extended down from above to Lettie’s head and sucked life from her. Her skin had become mottled and pale as the house stole the woman’s essence.

Jason grabbed a hatchet from his workbench and jumped at the thread that drew the life out of Lettie like a tentacle with a million mouths. Time slowed down, as he swung the sharp hand-ax.

And missed.

“OH God!” He screamed as white fluid leaked out of the wound in her skull instead of human blood. “Oh god, I’m so sorry!”

He was the only one that could make it to the car. But Tessa would be in this house alone. Even if she was safe for the moment, in the corner behind the work table, between two rolls of…

Two rolls of…

Wallpaper!

He turned to where Tessa sat and he could only see a ball of wallpaper where he left Tessa, he could see her outline had become less distinct under the wallpaper that had slid around her like a web.

He leaped over the table with a box-cutter in hand and slashed at the cocoon of wallpaper around her, and found…

Paper. Just paper, wadded up and desiccated.

He was the only one left and the doors were ajar, too small to allow escape.

He pulled on the work table and rolled it to the deepest part of the mine that he could reach.

“Last drink in this house!” He shouted and took a long, deep drink of the whiskey bottle and smashed the bottle against the house foundation. “Fuck you!”

James crouched and braced his hands on the table, he pushed as hard as he could and gained momentum

With a thirty-foot start with the thousand-pound ram to break through the doors, Jason and the cart hit the doors at a full run, the left door trembled and creaked open.

He took advantage of the gap that opened, Jason dove through the gap before the heavy timber door slammed on the table time and again, the house tried to claim another victim.

He collapsed in the snow, it was strangely quiet, illuminated by the beautiful LED icicle lights he spent so much time to hang along the edge of the roof around the patio.

A beautiful and deadly structure.

He fell face first in the snow, his hands felt like they were on fire.

Pain! He groaned in agony. Pain, so much pain! 

It has from the snow! He looked at his hands, they were pale. Very pale.  Is my skin mottled? Or am I the wallpaper?

He stood and ran through the snow slipped and fell, cut his knees and tore open his paper-hands. Logical, educated Dr. Best, crawled on his elbows and knees and left a bloody trail in the snow behind him. He covered the mile in nearly an hour when he fell and rolled out on to the asphalt of Spicer road.

The ground rumbled, he could feel it. It was the house! It chased him on cedar pillar legs, the ground trembled with the evil hunger that stalked him.

Too tired and cold to run, he lay on the lonely mountain road and screamed to whichever spirit that he was sorry as lights from the porch bore down and engulfed him.

****

Jason awoke to the glow of a cardiac monitor. He focused on the display of his heart waveform before he realized he was in a hospital and the heart that was monitored, was his.

After two weeks, the hospital discharged Jason and days where police questionedby him about the three deaths ended.

Detectives took notes, wrote down all the professor said and described with vivid detail. Police then interviewed the physicians who attended to Jason’s wounds.

Jason obtained a copy of the detective’s report, and read it three weeks later, while he sat at his breakfast table.

“Doctor Jason Best, Ph.D. was found by snowplow driver, Honey Gareth in the middle of Spicer Dam Spur Road. The two days in question, where Doctor Best spent alone in the cabin at 24821 Spicer Dam Spur Road. In the events that transpired on the weekend in question, Doctor Best discovered an old wine cellar stocked with wine and rye whiskey. Tests of opened whiskey bottles showed high levels of ergot alkaloids, consistent with acute ergot toxicity that caused visual and auditory hallucinations, per the physicians and specialists who attended to Dr. Best. This results that Dr. Best became convinced that he was with three other people who died.

Subsequent interviews with the named people, Doctor Contessa AKA “Tessa” Pershing is alive and well, continues to work at Ocean Bay Community College. Doctor Best is familiar to Doctor Pershing in that they have attended same faculty continued-education and office functions but denies any relationship that might exist between Doctor Best and herself.

Doctor Lettie MacKay is friends with Doctor Best, but states no knowledge of anyone named Kevin. Her spouse, Michael MacKay, works at Ocean Bay University as a Fine Arts Professor. Further, no address, student record or employment record of Kevin Acker is found.

To date, no evidence of deaths at this address on the weekend in question exists.

Interior of 24821 Spicer Dam Spur Road shows the wallpaper slashed and torn in the kitchen and third floor bedroom. The heavy timber barn door to the basement is off the hinge. Damage caused by a gold-rush era ore cart on rails used to batter the door open and a hatchet discovered imbedded into a can of white paint.(See attached photos) it is to note: Where Dr. Best said he struck a woman in the head with a hatchet, the hatch found someone embedded into a can of ‘Cottage Girl’ paint.  The ax had struck the paper label of the logo of the woman on the paint can.

A horizontal gold mine, dug circa 1850’s shows evidence of modern reinforcements and extensive work in a power room. Adjacent to the power room is the previously mentioned wine cellar. (See attached photos)

Ninety-six onion shaped, clear to light-blue glass bottles of honey-colored  fluid were found with apparent rye grain in the bottom of the bottles. Original labels, dated from 1910 to 1919 of quart-size printed with “Robert’s Rye Whiskey”. In the course of the investigation, the crime-scene team discovered two bottles opened, one empty, the second appeared three-quarters full.(See attached photos)

It is the conclusion of the investigation that Dr. Best  suffered from accidental ergot intoxication per the attached pertinent physician’s notes.

No complaints will be filed.

Lt. Liewess J. Jonah, investigator.”

 © 2015 Dash McCallen all rights reserved

Awake Prologue:

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Prologue

The Running

Northern Idaho, fifty-kilometers south on I-95, he stepped out on the gravel of the shoulder. Hiking out of the forests, he knew he had his ancient Volvo somewhere in the area. Looking around, he was about a half-mile south of where he went in a dozen hours before.

It was a nice day in the northern panhandle to collect the data from the different stations that were placed around in the hundred-twenty thousand acre study zone, a fraction of the healing scar left the by the Great Fire of 1910, also called Devils Broom Fire. Five of the undergraduates had gone in, Bruce Kissenger was the first to come out of the hike. A few inches taller than the others, his stride had taken the toll on the others. Gil Van Zant, Andre Sondergeld, Reedah Wilson (herself a bit of a mountain goat.)and Doctor Ru’khu Ng, the oldest of the group that often show them up by out-walking them all.

Bruce could see the others catching up to him when he saw the chilling sight.

Wolves.

A lot of wolves, at least, he counted quickly on the undulating mass of grey and tails losing count. Fifty at least.

And they were coming up the path at full speed.

“RUN! Oh good God RUN!” Bruce waved at the team. “Behind you.”

Gil, bringing up the rear looked and turned, echoing Bruce’s warnings and the group began to run. The wolves were a mile off and running fast but making a direct line to the group. Caught out in the open like this, they would not stand a chance if the wolves surrounded them.

But three hikers carried a side-arm. If need, they could open fire. Bruce carried the heaviest, a foot-long barreled revolver chambered for the mighty Smith & Wesson .500 Magnum cartridge.

It was not a quick-draw gun by any stretch of the imagination and it took him nearly five seconds to draw it out of the holster that resided between his backpack and his lumbar region.

It was a poor weapon against a pack of wolves bent on an easy meal.

Fully loaded, the big wheel-gun only held five rounds, and reloading was not a lightning-speed effort.

Still, if he could get them to line up, he could take a pair of wolves with a single shot, perhaps twice that many.

The hysterical thought ran through his mind of a four-for-one shot.

But he still carried it with one chamber unloaded and hammer down. It was an old safety habit. Popping out a cartridge from his belt, he slid the bullet cartridge into the empty chamber as Reedah came up next to him, panting from running with the heavy backpack.

“I say drop our packs here. Where is your car?”

“Half-mile up that way.” He pointed. The wolves were less than a quarter-mile off and coming fast. “We turned left one rock too soon back there. Get that pistol of yours out.”

“Like what am I going to do with it. I have an officer’s model with a seven plus one. Gill has a longslide with nothing else, so we have the same number of shots. “ She looked at him and drew her small auto-loader.

Her math was correct, combined, they could shoot their weapons until empty and still did not match the numbers of the canis lupis irremotus that ran towards them.

“I,” Gil gasped struggling with his pistol and the holster. “Have never seen wolves chase humans and out in the open too!”

“Gil, we don’t have enough firepower to win this outright, maybe we can divert them. Professor Ng, what do we do?”

“Climb a tree!” The Professor pointed to one with low hanging branches.

“What about our backpacks?” Reedah asked as the professor sprinted past— without his pack and gun in hand. “Oh!”

The group made the tree when the wolves caught up — and ran past them in a full run.

“Look! They are tuck-tailed.” Gil pointed out. “Something has them spooked.”

“I don’t know what would spook a pack of wolves like that.” Andre said. “There is documentation that a pack can take down a full-sized moose or caribou.”

“Keep climbing.” The professor said, looking down the path. “Oh crap, keep climbing!”

“What?” Bruce asked. “What is it?”

“BEAR!” The Professor pointed. “LOTS of them!”

Down the path a dozen bears, golden-mantled in the sunlight and giant, ran up the path like a toothy tsunami, not making a sound other than the crashing through the brush as each tried to pass the other.

“UP! UP!” the humans began to shout at each other, the lead bear’s mass approaching a quarter-ton. The largest land predator in the lower forty-eight states, smaller than their coastal cousins. These were the apex predators of the area.

“I’m stuck!” Andre yelled. “Oh my god, help!” Andre yelled when the galloping group of grizzly bear closed the gap, a branch caught the loop of his belt on the back of his pants.

And followed the wolves, running past, followed by the mix of deer, a wolverine, and groups of smaller bear.

But no smoke in the distance.

“Professor, what is going on?” Bruce said as he tried to re-holster his horse-pistol. Succeeding on his third try.

“Bruce, can you stop waving that thing around, you’re making me nervous.” Gil said. “You brought that big ol’ thing, you should have brought the rest of the tank.”

“It would take care of anything I thought we might run across, including bear.”

“You could try.” Gil retorted. “Me, I would rather make a lot of noise with it and try to scare a bear off, unless you can shove it down the bears throat and pull the trigger.”

“With your little autoloader, you would need to…” Bruce was drawing a breath to continue the argument when the Professor interrupted.

“Enough. Seriously, enough.” The teacher shook his head while he climbed out of the tree. “We have more than we need to report just for that little episode.”

“What scares a freakin’ GRIZZLY?” Andre asked. “Not counting a whole village of them.”

“I, for one, am going to the car.” Reedah commented while she picked up her pack. “You all can stand around and discuss this, but I shot video with my phone.” She smiled and held up her Android phone. “Five minutes worth.”

The men looked at each other stupidly then picked up their backpacks and set off in Reedah’s wake, still arguing over what they just witnessed.

 

Flee

Standard

Flee

Fracking.

That’s what they called it, but whatever the title it might have, it was a disturbance in places long hidden from the light.

Humans dug deeply into the earth, disturbing the ancient bedrock. Minor quakes rattled places that humans had yet to explore.

Perhaps they should not. For there are places in the earth that were buried so deep as to be forgotten.

They should remain forgotten.

But not this day.

All that remained for those still standing, with all their maps and explorations, was

Flee 2nd cover

1. Brisbane

The red haired Yank drew his bow and sighted over the arrow at the horror that approached him from forty-paces away.

Taking a deep breath, he let it out slowly.

Thirty paces and closing, its breath wheezed audibly in decaying lungs. This was a fresh-dead human that could walk faster than the other undead.

Twenty paces.

His focus was a laser point as he aimed, he pushed fear of approaching death down into a small compartment in his soul.

He waited, measuring.

Fifteen paces.

The eyes of this once-human had not yet become milky. Its vision was nearly equal to the living. The Archer took a deep breath and let it out slowly, at one time this was a handsome youth.

Five paces.

Archer shot the arrow into the left eye of the walking nightmare, it stiffened and fell over backwards.

“Why do you shoot them in the eye like that?” Alexander Frobisher asked.

RCMP when he was working, he was a Sergeant and a leader of the Emergency Response Team in his section, now he was not so sure since the fall of society.

“Bone is thinner there, with luck it’ll punch through hole that the optic nerve passes. It’s less stress on my arrows and I hate trying to build new ones. I have tried build wood arrows, but I failed. Wood arrows are a challenge, even starting as dowels.” Archer said. “But, I’m learning. Each time I work one, I’m better. We need to figure out how to build these in case we cannot find any high tech arrows in stores someday.” The Archer pulled out a straight dowel of a wood that Frobisher could not recognize. It was fletched and had a tip made from a silver spoon he had pounded into shape with a discovered hammer, but was no arrow that Archer was willing to shoot. “Ah well, let’s take the food to the group. ” Archer said, as he pulled his arrow out of the head of the nightmare that had been walking at him— it was an odd moment of black-humor that struck his mind as Frobisher watched.

A dead-dead person.

“Stay close to the flat of the buildings, away from the bushes.” The Sergeant said as they headed out. His own weapon at the ready, made of a cricket bat and the front chain-wheel of a bicycle. An effective battle-ax with a spiked edge.

The Archer carried a bow that he had found in a house. A simple recurve bow, he shot with an instinctive skill. Always in the eye of his target with devastating effect, they always went down in a mundane, quiet fall.

You could say that they were longtime friends if you met them on the street. But they had only met three weeks prior when the world fell into ruin.

Funny how such bonds are forged in the crucible of chaos.

Chaos.

It began in the land of Oz.

In Darwin, the first news of it hit the television. A virus the newscasters said.

A jetliner had declared an emergency, crash-landed, breaking into two large sections. The walking cadavers emerged from the debris, quickly overwhelming the emergency crews and security forces.

The Archer figured out the secret with head shots. Gunfire attracted attention and mobbed those that used such weapons. The silent arrows made a path without attention.

The shuffling dead did not know or communicate when an arrow had stilled one of their own.

The pair made their way to the bank that the group had held up in. Hiding behind a blast-resistant wall, the group was a mix of people who followed the Archer after he walked down the boulevard, creating a hail of death that cleared a path through the Edgar Allan Poe nightmares pounding on the walls of their tourist coach.

Andrea St. George the tour guide and her driver Jameson Curtis were the first to join the Yank.

Rachel “Stormy” Knight, an attorney from the United States that worked for the ACLU, Zac Wood from Scotland, a student ambassador, joined the group on another of the Yankee’s forays at a bus depot. Now they stood behind the cage where they could pull the safe door shut if they needed to, while Andrea held a single-shot rifle ready.

The Archer and Sergeant Frobisher tapped on the doors to be let into the bank.

Rachel “Stormy” Knight of the ACLU opened the door, holding a shotgun she had discovered in the bank. The men stepped in while the sharp eye of the lawyer watched the street.

Behind Stormy stood, with a pump shotgun taken from an abandoned police cruiser, Gallisa “Gail” Blachere, Ph.D, Doctor of Veterinary Medicine, Ed.D had a barely controlled rage in her eye, welcomed the two explorers back

“Mighty hunters bring food!” The Archer laughed and opened his bag of canned goods. “Sorry there are no fresh foods.”

Stale biscuits and beer were common in the second bag that the Canadian carried. Two jars of Vegemite he set on the counter.

“You have taste for a Yank!” Andrea laughed and picked it up. “A bit of heaven on earth you have here.”

“Maybe. I bet Al has done better with the beer and biscuits.” The Archer said. “Eat up, we need to move out as soon as we finish. There is a police station down the road with a gated fence. “

“Why do we need to move?” Zac asked.

“The bank is too soft of a target.” Sergeant Frobisher said. “A police station is more easily protected I’d say, it’s safer.”

Praise the lord and pass a biscuit.” Archer said. 

#

Chapter 2. Eating Well


“We need to move before sunset. Tomorrow we need to head down to the marina.” The archer said. “I’d say if we head south, we will head into the mess at Darwin. Sydney is the best way out of this hole.”

Aw, you don’t like my BrissVegas?” Andrea laughed.

The archer chuckled while accepting a biscuit from Andrea, who was instructing the Yankee on how to eat the Vegemite and bread before he continued.

“The boats down at the marina will allow us to sail with safety.” The archer said softly as he choked on the Aussie treat. “Damned lucky for beer.” He gasped out.

You Yanks have no taste.” Andrea laughed. “I told you to take a bite, not pop the whole muffin in your mouth. It will pull your tongue out by its root and beat you over the head with the bloody end.”

“I do have a taste, I like beer.” He winked. “And it was bite sized after all! This is saltier than ocean water.”

“We will need to fight our way to the marina.” Al interrupted. “It’s a long ways there to run and the how those creatures move about, we need more ammunition.”

“Guns equal attention.” Stormy said. “I watched it happen when they first attacked the police roadblock. Shooting our way there isn’t viable.”

The chance that saved your ass in that bus.” The archer said as he stood. “These… zombies… were going after the cops and their guns, that kept them away, they were inside the terminal going after the officers that were making so much noise. Those that were injured, turned. The others won’t be awarded medals for bravery, but they lived by running, it was FUBAR.”

FUBAR?” Zac asked. “What’s FUBAR?”

Fucked up beyond all repair.” The archer said.

Or reason.” Al injected.

Or recovery.” Gail added.

Nodding and chuckling, the archer continued. “I needed to choose, clear the coach or the cops out. I opted for the civilians, it was a tough call. But… Cops took an oath, you folks did not.”

His lowered his voice to almost a whisper describing the scene, looking at a bit of plastic on his finger.

It was a nightmare. I took down thirty of them beasts before they knew I was there. Before they knew anything, I had recovered enough arrows to cover the difference. That’s when I yelled through the door.”

Well. Let’s dash over to the police station. It’s six blocks away, but in the right direction of the marina.” Al said putting his hand on the archer’s shoulder.

Let’s walk, no tripping.” Andrea said softly, kissing the crimson-haired Yank on the cheek. “Archer, I’m glad you made the choice.”

#

3. Stepping Out

 

The door of the bank opened quietly, there were few creatures in the street, not one of them alerted to the humans.

“Okay, quiet, cover each other’s back. I’m first, Stormy to my right, Andrea and Zac in the middle, cover sides and up. Gail, Al, you have the rear and up. Keep them from dropping in on us from fire-escapes or windows.” Archer said as he placed an arrow on his bow.

“Why is the Mountie not first?” Gail asked.

“I shoot faster with my rig than he can until he gets practice.”

Al loaded up a vertical crossbow, holding it so that anywhere he looked, the arrow aimed naturally.

When they stepped out into the street, a single shabby ex-human shambled towards them from where they were going. The Archer loosed his arrow and it fell to the ground as they walked quietly towards the police station. No other of the animated dead that patrolled the area

The Archer paused as they walked past the body and pulled the arrow out of the head of the horror-come-archery target.

The Archer kept his place on point as they headed to the station, an arrow nocked, his bow ready to draw in a heartbeat if a need arose. and carefully moved forward to the gate of the fortress-like structure. It stood ajar and opened silently on high security hinges.

They dragged the body of a large Rottweiler by its thick harness, Al cried when he saw it wore a badge. The head of a half-eaten corpse of the police dog blocked the spring-loaded gate from fully closing. Toothmarks on the badge where something had chewed, obliterating the badge number. Torn bodies lay about, decaying in the concrete courtyard. The K-9 cop did not die gently, as evidenced of a furious fight by the bodies in the courtyard.

“Never thought a dog could tear limbs off of a body.” Jameson said.

“Canine officer. They teach them well and they require robust intelligence with these dogs.” Al said softly, tracing his index finger over the mutilated badge.

A bullet-proof glass and steel enclosed observation area inside the building controlled the gate.

Sergeant Frobisher, quickly figured out how to operate the lock and secured all the exits with a control panel.

“Excellent.” Al said. “Now we can relax.”

“No, now we need to check all the cells and rooms.” The Archer said. “I’m not sleeping without clearing this place from top to bottom.”

“You need to sleep, no matter what.” Andrea told The Archer. “When was the last down-time for you?”

“It has been a day or so.” The Archer nodded. “We will rest when the building’s secure.”

“Al and Zac stay here. Stormy, Gale and Jameson upstairs. Andrea and I will search below.” Archer said.

The Sergeant nodded.

“Here,” The Sergeant reached over into a locker as the groups were getting ready to leave. “I found these radios. Keep them on this channel I selected. Radio checks every five-minutes, everything is voice activated, so I will hear you the moment there’s a sound louder than a deep breath. As the Archer said, no rest until this entire building is cleared.”

Archer taped an LED torch (as the label on it said) to the side of his bow and he adjusted the beam to fill a room with the glow from the diminutive light. Andrea stood next to him loading a police shotgun liberated from a gun-rack they found. She had used a key she found in a drawer and was quite proud of her discovery that allowed all the other firearms in the station available to the others.

“Right, ready.”  Andrea said as she racked the riot gun and chambered a shell. “Buckshot and slugs. That’s what this girl is made of.”

For good measure, the Aussie filled her pockets and a bandolier with shotshells she had found while digging around the observation port. Al pointed it was not police issue.

But Andrea could not care less.

#

4. Revelation

 

The door was ajar to the training room, only tables and chairs.

Vampire Skull Northern Ondode/Nosferatu

Image of Ondode/Nosferatu type Vampire Skull.

But they were not alone.

Movement…

Weapons turned the same time and Andrea hissed at the Archer.

Stop walking.”

It was a shadow that did not fill with light — then it was gone.

Something hissed at Andrea, avoiding the lights as it moved.

It went under the corner of a table, knocking over chairs.

“Come out!” Andrea sounded braver than the Archer felt.

The shadow charged as Andrea pulled the trigger and drove the serpent-like shadow backwards for a moment, an arrow buried its tip into the head of the shadow causing a shriek of anger, a desk erupted into splinters and sawdust as a dozen pellets tore apart the pressed wood construction whilst Andrea tracked the shrieking creature that moved like a cat on crack cocaine and too much espresso.

Clawed hands gripped the arrow and pulled the shaft out of the right eye socket, the eye reforming as it did.

The Archer’s earpeice buzzed. “REPORT! Who is shooting?”

“Sorry, busy!” Archer answered as Andrea rocked the room again with her scattergun.

Archer blinked to clear his eyes from the dust fell from the ceiling. He shot an arrow at the wrong shadow and it stuck out in a stupid angle that made him shake his head while nocking another shaft to the string, tracking the correct shadow – the one with teeth.

“Call back later!” Andrea yelled into in her mic. “We’re killing shit!”

The shadow was too close this time, charging like a cat as she racked in another shell. An arrow intercepted the creature, penetrating it in the left eye and knocked the attacker off-balance.

The shotgun fired again, destroying its face and the arrow. The black creature did a back-flip, knocking over a video projector that shattered on the floor. The creature landed on all fours and its face unbelieveably rebuilt as it launched at Andrea again as a winged quadruped.

Andrea kicked a table against the wall and pinned the attacker — It was no zombie, but suddenly bi-pedal. Still, its features could not yet be determined beyond fangs and cat-like eyes— struggling against the wall, pinned in an awkward way.

However it was immensely strong and changing shapes, wriggling from behind the heavy desk that Andrea held against it.

Point-blank range, she fired another load into the inhuman face. The shotgun blowing a hole in the wall behind the attacker the size of her fists. But she might as well have spit on it for all she had done with the gunpowder and lead.

Gristle and meat, black blood and bone splattered on the wall, and then just… jumped… back to the struggling body. Then a tickle of wind and a swishing sound at her ear and would later be angry with Archer over how close the arrow was that flew past her head.

The angry shriek and gnashing of teeth stopped as the creature choked, clawing at a wooden arrow stuck in its chest, then collapsed into a pile of bones and ash.

“Wh-wh-w… ” The Archer, already nocked another arrow. “The.. Son of a… Holy… Shiiii…Fuuu… what… HELL!” His eyes as large as a car’s headlight as he searched for the best profanity.

“F’k’n oath!” She said, nodding with the Yankee. Still tracking what was left of the attacker with the pool of light that was the aim-point of the twelve-gauge.

Thundering footsteps down the hall announced that Al and company were coming as backup.

No sneaking up on a bloke with that crowd.” Andrea said to Archer as the Al kicked the door open and entered with a shotgun at the ready, followed by Stormy and Gail each with submachine guns, lasers crisscrossing, looking for a target.

You shouldn’t talk, that thing is LOUD.”

“What the hell was going on down here? Could you keep the room at least in one piece?” the Canadian Cop surveying the room and the holes in the sheetrock.

The Archer picked up a skull off the floor and walked out of the room. The skull had too many fangs in its mouth as he looked it over in the lighted hallway, then he handed it to Al.

“This is what attacked us.” Archer said. “I believe we woke it up.”

“It’s so light.” The flesh crumbled under his fingers leaving polished bone if he rubbed firmly. “It’s so dry.” Sharp teeth glinted in the harsh hallway’s light.

“Not when I first shot it. It crumbled and dried up in seconds when I hit it with my wood-shafted arrow.” Archer reported.

“Aluminum arrows had no effect.” Andrea nodded. “Neither did the buckshot from the riot gun.”

“Wood-shafted arrow? What are you talking about?” Al asked. “What the hell?”

Andrea and The Archer looked at each other and laughed.

“My words precisely.” Archer said. “We are fighting something besides a virus I would say.”

“What does that mean?” Gale asked. “You’re talking in riddles.”

“It means,” Archer said, “that skull you hold, goes into a consecrated cemetery. One blessed by someone of the cloth, toss that in a hole of a cemetery and it won’t rise again.”

“Rise? A-a-again?” It was Zac.

“That,” The Archer pointed to the skull. “is a vampire, a Dracula-like creature, I would wager. It kept changing shape while we fought it.”

“BULL!” Jameson yelled. “The news explicitly said it was a virus!  We are not fighting something so profoundly… so profound…. so… F’k’ng WRONG!  NO! You are not telling me that it’s a lie! An explicit, bald-faced LIE? THIS IS JUST A…

“Jameson! CALM DOWN” Gail slapped the coach driver so hard he fell over.

“Coincidence.”  The downed man moaned out.

There is nothing in real-life as vampires!” Zac said, echoing Jameson’s disbelief. “That is only in movies.”

There are no zombies, either. But we have seen otherwise, haven’t we?”

Is it dead?” Jameson pleaded.

No.” Gail said. “If Archer is right and the legends hold true, it is in a hibernation state, drip some blood into the skull and it will wake up. That is why we need to separate the head from the body and buried at a blessed cemetery.”

Blessed cemetery? Aren’t they all?” Jameson asked. Coming back to grips with himself. “I’m sorry about that.  Vampires terrified me as a child.”

No.” Stormy said. “Some even have consecrated and unconsecrated ground within a single graveyard. We need to choose where to bury that skull carefully.”

“Should we put garlic in it?” Zac asked.

“You brought back some garlic powder and garlic salt with the last shopping spree you and the Canadian did.”

“Stuff it, bag it and bury it.” Sergeant Frobisher said. “But where?”

“There is a church up the way.” Andrea pulled at her ear. “I don’t recall the kind of church. Catholic maybe, but I am not positive.”

“Catholic, Jewish,” Archer shrugged. “Could be a Shaolin temple for all I care, so long as it involves holy ground.”

“Let’s make it done.” Al ordered.

2 Dracul Skulls ("Noble" caste, Possibly "Royal" Ref. Van Helsing, Et al, "Identification of skulls" Copyleft 1901 Royal Underground press.) in 2 views.  Left skull buried in bag of garlic under unknown church, skul

#

 

 

 

5. Debriefing


The group walked into the cafeteria , Zac was carrying the skull, carefully turning it over in his hand as they all sat down..

Archer poured himself a coffee in a styrene cup from a stack he had found in a cabinet, handing one to Andrea and to Al.

So what happened down there?” Al asked.

Archer took a tentative sip of the steaming black water while Andrea spoke.

“We entered the classroom and I would hazard a guess that it was asleep and we surprised it. It wasn’t even aware we were in the building.” Andrea said to Al as she sat with the others in what was once a cafeteria.

“If Andrea had not seen it and fired first, I’m not sure we would have survived. It came straight at her and my aim was not on. I shot the wrong shadow.”

Stormy found some herbal tea in a cabinet, saying it would be better for Archer, she took away his coffee.

You sure I can’t have the coffee?”

Stormy gave Archer an icy look and shook her head. “I’m worried about your caffeine intake.”

“I was lucky, it happened to come over the table where I was pointing the riotgun, I pulled the trigger when it startled me.” Andrea said.

Al chuckled and turned to the Archer.

“How did you decide to shoot it with that arrow you made from a dowel? I know you carry that one you keep fooling around with. What made you think of that?”

“Well, I wasn’t sure, but if I was wrong, we were in for a hell of a fight. But, one way to destroy a vampire is to run it through the heart with a stake.”

“Okay,” Al pulled at his ear. “What you are getting at?”

“Okay, wooden stake in the chest. Can it be thrown? Could it be larger? A spear? Wooden shafted and driven through the chest?”

“Um, yes, it follows.”

“Okay then what is the difference between an arrow and a spear? A javelin and an arrow? Size? So, I used that wooden arrow that I have been working on.”

“You thought that during the fight?”

“Well,” Archer chuckled, “A significant deal more than that, but I’m being succinct about it.”

“Heh, my friend, if you think that fast after you drink your coffee, don’t you ever quit.”

Everyone except Stormy chuckled, who failed to appreciate the humor in Archer living on caffeine.

#

6. A Good Night


“Okay, we are cleared, top to bottom. Windows are secured, we have a room for us to sleep in. Who will take the first watch?” Al asked.

The Archer raised his hand.

“I’ll take the night half.”

“No.” Stormy, Gale and Andrea made a harmony of the word.

“Sorry, you need some sleep.” Gale said.

“Besides, you reek.” Andrea pointed out. “If I wake up and you are standing there, I will shoot your Yankee arse for one of those walking dead.”

“Okay, shower. Then I will do the watch.”

“No,” Stormy Knight argued. “Is it true that you have not slept at all? Then you need to sleep.”

Archer shook his head.

“Okay, just lay down for awhile. Rest.”

“Oh, all right. I’ll relax and recuperate for a bit. Al could you do first watch?”

“Naw, right now I need some shut-eye for a couple hours. I’m beat. I’ll volunteer Jameson. He’s slept quite well the last few nights.”

Jameson cleared his throat.

“Archer never woke anyone for the next watch, he did the whole shift!”

“No matter.” Andrea said. “You have first watch. Archer has a night off.”

The Archer shook his head slightly and winked at Jameson.

“YOU!” Stormy pointed a finger at the Yank. “Gingersnap, off to the showers with you. The men’s side has a shower system. I looked it over when checking out for any nasties that might be lurking there. You wash up and then lay down.”

“Your clothes, too, deposit them outside the door of the showers. There is a laundry . We’ll need to wash all our clothes.”

Heh.” The Archer said without trying to hide the humor. “Lawyers will always take the shirt off your back.”

The look from the attorney of the United States was enough to for the fearless Archer to move quickly at her command.

Archer spoke loudly as he walked down the stairs, “Clean mind, clean body; pick one.”

Anyone else want to cross swords? I will send them to the showers, too.”

Gail raised her hand. “With him?”

Andrea laughed and raised her hand. “Community shower?”

Oh hush. I’m first in that case.” Stormy laughed. “I like the redhead.”

We all do.” Andrea and Gail said in chorus.

#

7. Morning’s Early Light


Stormy nudged Andrea before dawn.

“Mm- mmph.” It was Andrea’s wittiest conversation she could have before morning coffee— her “Cuppa”.

Looking around Andrea nudged Gail.

“Wh’.” Was the best that the petite, muscular blond woman could verbalize as she stirred out of the best nighttime hibernation in a long while. She sat up, rubbing her eyes.

“The Archer is gone. Jameson is asleep.” Stormy said, matter

“Jameson!” Andrea threw a pillow at the coach driver with uncanny accuracy. “When did you come in?”

“Not long after Archer finished his shower. All you shelia’s went to bed, Al was asleep, he was up and said he was my relief and you were okay with it.”

In the control room, Al and the Archer were talking.

“ARCHER!” The women yelled as they came down the hallway.

“Uh-oh. Busted.” The Canadian chuckled. “You violated curfew.”

“Better to apologize than to ask permission.” Archer winked.

“You’re supposed to be sleeping.” Rachel said.

“You said to rest, and I did. I rested for an hour but could not catch any luck on sleep, so I came up here so that I would not disturb anyone.”

Stormy grumbled like distant thunder with lightning flashing her eyes, living up to her nickname.

“Men and children, the only difference are their sizes.” She said to Andrea.

Andrea laughed, looking at the two men that continued to gaze out the window at the outside world.

“What are you blokes looking at?” Andrea asked.

“Well,” Al said and looked out the window. “Birds.”

“Listen.” The Archer opened the heavy, armored-glass door to the outside courtyard.

The sounds of birds singing in the early morning light.

“I have not heard that in over a month. Birds stopped singing when all this happened.” Andrea said as she walked to the door listening to the music of nature’s composition for the first time in a long while. “What’s changed?”

“I’ve been standing watch for the last four hours. ” Archer said, Stormy sighed at this news with fire in her eyes. “There has been not a single shuffler meander by. Not one.”

“Are they gone?”

“I couldn’t know about that, just that I have not seen them from the observation area. The only change is that we destroyed that vampire yesterday. After Al and Jameson ran down the street and took it into a church. We can rest assured it is not in control of anything at the moment.”

“Control?” Jameson yawned as he stumbled in. “Y’all disturbed m’ sleep.”

“I’ll do more than just disturbing your sleep.” Gale was dangerous sounding. “I should kick your arse down the hallway and back for not finishing your shift.”

After my run down to the church there and all.” Jameson said, sounding a little more awake.

Shut it!” Gail said, then turning to the Canadian. “Taking it into a church killed it?”

Zac, Jameson and I took it down the road to the church— Catholic by the by— and when Jameson dropped it into a baptismal tub full of water. It bubbled and then burst into a flame, it was quite impressive.” Al said. “You’d think we dropped it into a vat of acid and gasoline, eh. It was quite exciting for a moment.”

“Yes, I would venture a guess that that did it.” The Archer continued. “I’m not positive, just a theory. Now that it is lighter, there are bodies are visible, lying all around out there. Those bodies— over there and there — we didn’t shoot them. It looks like they collapsed suddenly, what ever it is that energizes them was abruptly cut off.”

“The vampire?” Stormy’s asked. “Are you saying the vampire controlled these zombie creatures?”

“That is what I’m supposing.”

“So you think it was controlling them.” Gale asked.

“I cannot say that for sure. It could just be motivational. A bit like saying ‘rise up and walk’ and then just let them shuffle around, aimlessly. No direction, just setting them loose to put pressure on the humans.” Archer shrugged. “It is a hypothesis based on the scantest of information.”

“So.” Stormy’s logical side took over. “You are saying that it is not a virus?”

“In the way it appears as of now. The jury is still out. If you excuse the term.” The Archer winked. “It could be a sort of, I do not know, a sort of control that is passed on by senescence – death. You become dead, your systems are inert and are open to control. A frog’s leg, for example, can move even though the frog is dead or even if the leg is amputated. That could explain why those shufflers out there are not something to be reasoned with. There is no mind. Just a power control.”

“That kind of power is unknown, nothing I have ever heard of can do that.” Gale said. “And it is spread by contact with the zombies, not vampires. That makes no sense.”

“Yes, and true.” The Archer answered, nodding. “But it is all I have for now. Bigger brains than mine will need to think it over. One more reason to find a military center where they may have a fortress and are holding out against this. This started in Darwin, Sydney is the largest city, it should have a military base somewhere around the water.”

“Yes,” Jameson nodded. “There is a naval base on Garden Island there.

“Perfect. An island is easily protected!” Al said. “That’s our destination.”

The Archer nodded. “Agreed.”

“No, it is not what you are thinking. It’s an island, but has been connected to the mainland by bridges. Like your Manhattan island, for example.”

“Still.” The Archer said slowly. “It is a base, it will be defended, I hope, and a place we can dock a boat to without walking across land with those flesh-eaters hunting fresh meat.”

“Okay, then prepare to leave. Pack light. We leave at sunrise.” Al said.

Archer agreed.

Archer.” Zac said sleepily. “You were in the showers when we came back. I wanted to give this to you, but I was asleep before you were finished. The mum’s would not let me stay up.” Zac pointed at the women as he held up an exotic shape of limbs and string.

Where did you find that?” Archer’s eyes widened.

I found this in a shop, it was in a glass case. The Sergeant said you would like this.” Zac smiled.

Thank you,” Archer smiled as he ran his fingers over the four limbs of the bow. “You have any idea what you have here?”

A bow. It is unusual, I have never seen one like it.” Zac said, his eyes glittering with glee that the face of the redhead lit up with a rare smile. “I never saw one with forked arms before.”

This is a Penobscot style bow, it is custom made by White Wolf in the United States. Look at this here. It is called a Wind Warrior. And here? This is the number of the bow, the boyer’s name and the draw it has. This one goes up to seventy-pounds. I don’t think I have heard of one that went that high before, the name etched into it here “Midnight”. I don’t know if that is the color or the name of the bow.”

Name?” Zac asked.

A few shooters named their bows. I was one, but I’m considered a bit eclectic. My favorite bow was the Gertrude. But this one is my favorite now, she is beautiful.”

She?” Andrea laughed lightly.

Beauty, thy name is woman.” Archer said, looking again at the four-limbed bow as he held it up to the light. “The name of the bow is Midnight. Thank you, Zac, this is a wonderful gift.”

Oh! You could use your nickname with it and call it Midnight Thunder!” Zac was pleased with his thoughts on the subject.

Archer chuckled and looked down. “Maybe. We’ll see.”

“Now if someone can point out the direction to my clothes, I have gotten chafed wearing this prisoner’s jumpsuit. It rides up a bit.” The Yank said, changing the subject.

Quiet snickers could be heard as he disappeared with Stormy down the hallway towards the laundry room, pulling at the prisoner garb uncomfortably.

I keep getting a danged wedgie.”

#

8. Recognition

The Archer came back out after he pulled on his pants and socks. His shoulders were a testament to the skills he had with a bow as he carried a dark-gray polo shirt over his right shoulder.

He sat down by the armored glass and looked out, pulling on heavy black boots.

“Any changes outside?”

“None.” Al said as he surveyed with a pair of binoculars he had found. “It has been quiet, what can be seen, however, there is some movement six intersections distant heading away from the water, but I don’t have a view down towards the marina, it could be a Grateful Dead party down there for all I know.”

The redheaded Yank chuckled grimly and started to pull the polo shirt on over his head.

“Archer?” Stormy asked. “The tattoo you have on your chest? I recall seeing it before. I needed to think about it for a moment, but I remember you.”

“My tattoo?” He touched his chest. The Celtic heart with the black lightning bolt across it had been there so long, he had forgotten about it.

“You are T.H. Harte. The U.S. Olympic Archer that took the team to the finals, they said your form was all wrong, but it kept working for you. I helped sponsor you. My firm bought you equipment and some bows. Three of them if I remember.”

“He is… you are Thunder Harte?” Al blinked, looking from Stormy to the Archer. “He wrote a few books and is the host of the outdoor channel’s show “Against all odds”. Wow!”

Archer looked down and gave a heavy sigh. The sound of a man haunted by ghosts and tortured by a shattered soul.

“Yes, yes, and yes, I was Thunder Harte. But I cannot use that name anymore. I’m no longer that man.”

“You have a family. Your son is supposed to be one of the youngest to ever qualify for the U.S. Olympic Archery team.” Rachel said. “There was a legal challenge about minors in the sport.”

“Yes, I opposed him being pushed to be an archer on the team by the media. Their attitude was beyond the pale and I filed the suit for an invasion of privacy. It was his choice and his choice alone.”

“You keep talking about him in the past tense.” Al pointed out, his three-decades of police skills coming to the fore.

“Yeah,” Archer said softly, as if he did and did not want to talk about it. It was a wound that still made his soul bleed and began to pour out of him as if he could not stop his words. “We were overrun by those shuffling nightmares. So, my wife and son took shelter in a quiet, dark house and I drew off the mob by using fire bombs and a shotgun. There was a minor problem, and then my son came out to help, the courage of a pre-teen. ” Archer sighed. “They caught him and began to drag him off. My wife ran out with a stick to beat them away and they grabbed her too.”

He choked and his knuckles turned white as he squeezed the edge of the desk, the veins stood out in his forearms and neck. A man about to scream in agony.

I was a half-block away, semi-auto shotgun was stovepipe-jammed and I had the bow and four jars of turpentine.” The deep sound of a heart breaking sob came out of the one they called Archer. “It took too long to clear the jam, the shotgun wouldn’t cycle so I could clear a path. Then I finally cleared the jam and needed to eject another shell before I could jump back in the fight. But I was too late.”

He took another deep sigh as he pulled himself together.

“I shot them both.” He said quietly, almost inaudibly. “It was the best I could do. They were both bloodied already and I believed it was a virus at the time.”

“You didn’t know about the vampires.” Rachel said, showing her less stormy side.

“No. I could have saved them.” Archer drew a breath and looked out the window. “I failed them. I killed my family and there is no deeper Hell than what I’m in. I couldn’t even bury them.”

“I’m no longer a Harte.” He said in a strangled voice, anguish showed his face as he covered his eyes as if to blind himself to a vision remembered. “I have no name. Just… Archer. It is well enough of a name.”

You will need to forgive yourself, you will need time to find your way.” Gail said, putting a hand gently on his shoulder. “You need to put this behind you, the world has nearly come to an end.”

Forgive?” Archer shook his head. “No. I should live with this forever. There is no forgiveness for what I did.”

From his quiver, he pulled a plastic baggy that contained locks of hair.

“I cut some hair from their heads after I drove the zombies back. The blond is his and this, ” He reached in the bag and touched a lock of red hair. “Is from my wife.

Compared to my hair, she is more of an orange color, but she was a warrior from the north of Glasgow. By the time I got to her, they had bitten and severely tore her up, but she had given better than she taken. There were bodies with their heads stove in all around her.” Archer stroked both locks of hair as if there was some magic in them. Magic that he could not unlock, but refused to let go.

He rolled the plastic baggy up and put it back into a pocket in his quiver and closed the flap.

“Let’s hunt up something with working radios that won’t draw a crowd.” Gail said softly, taking her hand from Archer’s shoulder and stroking his hair. “Down by the marina, we can put to sea, zombies are not able to sneak up or mob us. I would bet the long dead ones would sink anyway.”

“Let’s pack up.” Archer said. Anything to draw attention away from him.

They were ready in moments and formed up under the watchful eye of Al.

The group headed out in the practiced cover pattern that Sergeant Frobisher had taught them to do.

#

9. Out On The Docks

For the first block where birds sang, streets were eerily empty of the walking horrors as they headed to the marina. The death of the vampire seemed to have a chilling effect on the animated dead. Decaying and partly mummified bodies lay everywhere. The presence of ravens feeding on the dead was oddly reassuring to the group. Where the dead walked, birds were absent and silent. Everyone considered the ravens to be a good sign.

The closer they approached the marina, the air seemed to change. Like a heaviness in the atmosphere they had not noticed before, it suffocated the mood of the armed human centipede. They had started their walk to the marina in the best spirits they had been in days, but the farther they walked, the more melancholy the group became. It was as if the soul of the land they walked on was dying.

Moments later, another group of tattered, half-rotted bodies appeared from around the corner of a cross-street and began to approach the heavily armed group.

I thought we killed the vampire.” Zac said in a frightened whisper.

There must be more than one.” Al answered quietly as he walked backwards, protecting the rear of the group as he scanned back and forth with his vertical limbed crossbow. “There ain’t any of those shufflers following us.”

A range? Like with a cell phone?” Archer asked.

By deduction there is more than one kind of vampire.” Stormy said, keeping her sound suppressed weapon against her shoulder. “Some more powerful than others. Foot-soldiers, like Renfield in the classic horror novel. You might have some vampires that would be the generals, they would… maybe… channel the power to the lower caste. Then the zombies are the shock troops that are unstoppable.”

Stormy?” Archer asked.

Yes, love?”

You are giving me a panic attack, please talk about something else, something nicer, like how lions eat baby zebra.”

You killed one vampire already.” Stormy nudged Archer with her hip.

You weren’t down there with the Yank and me.” Andrea said. “That was a serious piss-fight brewing.”

They began to use the arrows to take down the mob of horror that was approaching as they headed to the marina in a controlled pace. Sound suppressed, special weapons did their jobs brilliantly, but the tinkling of spent brass on the ground rang loudly in the silent area that no bird song could reach their ears or any winged life flew. Even the insects had abdicated flight in the area.

As they approached the marina, Archer pointed out a large ketch with sails rolled up on the booms, well tied up. It would be easy to prepare the boat for departure.

Al jimmied a lock of a barred gate that stood as a silent sentinel across the dock. It opened with a loud shriek of partly rusted hinges and closed with the sound of a steel drum full of marbles.

Looking back over the way they had come, several of the animated dead had heard and were drifting in towards the marina as if they were not sure where the sound came from, wandering aimlessly with ever more gathering in the street between the buildings.

Okay, it’s safe.” Gail said. “They are not coming at us directly. We need to walk carefully on the dock to keep the noise down, or we will bring all of Brissy down on us.”

Walking down the dock to the sail-yacht, a large man with a side-by-side shotgun stepped out into the open deck of a tour-boat.

“Hey!” He yelled.

Archer and Al stopped and drew their bows. Andrea, Zac and Stormy pointed their own weapons at the armed man, Zac’s shotgun now loaded with sharpened dowels.

“Ahoy.” Called Archer. “We are seeking safety only. We are not looting. Just need to listen to a radio and find a way to travel south.”

“You are under quarantine. Don’t c’me closer, you are no going to pass on dat virus to me.” He shouted.

“We are alive and breathing, when was the last time you saw one aim weapons at you and hold a conversation?”

The skipper paused.

Archer took advantage of the pause and spoke again.

“There is no virus. All this? It’s vampires— They are using the zombies as war dogs.”

“Bah! There are no such things as vampires!”

“There are no such things as the dead zombies that walk, either! But there they are!” Archer pointed at the bodies that ambled up and down the street. Still milling about trying to find the source of the sound that the gate had made.

The skipper swore under his breath.

“C’me ab’ard befer any of doze still walkin’ sees ya. Git below.” He lowered his shotgun. “I didn’ wanna to shoot an’way. I’m down to whut gravel, nails and bolt-heads I c’n scrape up off teh ground. I has lots o’ powder, but nothin’ fer shootin’, I has ta make do with scraps. Bloody awful whut it is.”

The group sat down around the inside of the cruiser. It was medium sized, but well appointed.

“I chartered until two months ago. The damned demon-things put an end ta dat overnight. I usually walk ta town ta live, but dis is my home now. Dis is de Maribeth an’ welcome ab’ard. She don’ run, though. The engine is farked fer awhile, I ordered a new fuel pump and have been waited fer it fer six weeks before dis all started. I don’ think I’ll be gettin’ it in now.”

“What if you took parts from the other boats around.” Andrea asked.

“I dun’ thin’ the other owners would appreciate it, besides, tha’s stealin and what good would I be if’n I were in jail? They’d bust me for sure an’ take me boat.” The skipper nodded. “By da way, me name’s Roberts. Abraham John Roberts. I’m cap’n of this vessel, whut’s left of ‘er an’way.”

“There are no police to arrest you. And the owners of the boats around here are gone. You are not stealing. You’re salvaging.” Archer said slowly.

Captain Roberts looked at Al, then Archer, then to the ladies for a moment.

“Whut are we waiting fer.” He chuckled. “Damn, I is getting old, I could ha’ been salvagin’ all dis time!”

“We would like to listen to the radio, too. Everywhere on the land most power is out and no radio is working on land.” Rachel said.

“Aye, we can do dat. Marine radio and I has a world short-wave radio set built in. Digital radio is available, too.” The Captain said. “I ha’ no listened to it much. I worry that de sound would bring them, so’s I just walk in ta town ta de stores, avoidin’ them ta hunt up food.”

The women turned it on low and sat drinking the Captain’s coffee. Andrea offering “a cuppa” every few minutes. Captain Roberts told stories of how the world changed from the south up north to the marina. How the changes came from tourists to the biters that came later.

“We get the parts in the morning. This will be hell of a better watch than being here alone.”

“Then we put into Sydney or some other town with an enclave or sanctuary?” Al asked.

“Aye, we can.” Captain Roberts answered. “But fer ta-night? We DRINK!”

“Here here!” Andrea laughed.

Archer, atypically quiet, just sat at the top of the steps. Dusk was more than two hours away.

“Once it’s gone dark, w’ pull all da tarps over de glass and git below. I keep lights ta minimum. I ha’ LED lights that adjust low.” Captain said. Then coughed. “We needs fuel, too, for such a trip. We will need to take on at least three-thousand liters of fuel or we run a chance o’ rowin’ b’fore we get ta where we wants ta be.”

“Hey, what if we just take a boat?” Al asked. “There is a whole fleet of vessels out there that have no one to claim them.”

The Captain stopped talking for a moment.

“Well, I don’ know de other boats as well, but it’ll sure’n satisfy a few cravin’s. We kin upgrade. I never thought about takin’ another boat. Hum…”

Unpacking the maps from the Maribella, the group now including the Captain walked down the moorings assessing each yacht. Finally settling on the Calliope. A luxurious world-class sixty-meter yacht that showed full on all six tanks. Checking the staterooms confirmed the crew was alone on the yacht.

The Calliope, secured and they moved slowly to the unplug the yacht’s power cables from the end of the marina.

“The radio is broadcasting that the area north of Sydney is under quarantine, they are blocking all roads.” Rachel said as the Captain had started the engines warmed them up.

“Here comes the farewell party.” the Sergeant shouted. Shuffling dead were attracted to the sounds of the vessel powering up.

“Dey’ll hold up at de gate.” The Captain said.

“Yeah… no. They have pulled the gate down already.” The Archer said, the sounds of rending metal attracting more walking horror. “Captain, we need to leave.”

The redheaded Yank looked back out the window at the failed gate. “As in now.”

“As in… We has ta get de fark outta here,” Captain Roberts said.

“Agreed,” The Al said. “Forget leaving on the turn of the tide. Let us just cast off now.”

Bloody hell! If yer’n not cast off now, just cut lines. Theys not organized, theys keep fallin’ off into the water, but I won’ ‘ave any o’ ya out dere as bait.”

Casting off, the sixty-meter yacht pulled away from the dock slowly. The motion was not missed by others on the edge of town. The dead, under control of their masters began to walk down towards the marina stopping only at the edge of water.

“Set a course,” The Captain ordered. “Use dat GPS dere, and indicate Sydney.”

Archer gave a rare smile to Stormy, putting down an arrow from his bow, Midnight.

You were going to make a stand?” Stormy frowned.

Stand? Hell no. I was going to shoot that transformer on the pole over there and drop the power line into the water. I’m sure we would be safe, but anything standing in the wet areas would have an exciting moment or three.” Archer winked.

Wi’ one o’ da li’l sticks?” The Captain asked. “F’k’n’ Bullshit.”

Captain.” Al said. “With all due respect, that man could do it. I have seen him do things a hundred paces away with those “li’l sticks” that should be impossible.”

The Captain shook his head land laughed.

Den I’s glad ta has yer on my side, Yank.”

#

10. Ocean and Freedom

The Calliope gathered speed, passing ten-knots and they turned south. Following the shore with the land on the right, they sailed into the gathering darkness.

Captain Roberts sat back and sighed.

“We are clear. Radar shows us with no traffic near and sonar shows that the water depth is increasing nicely. We are in the channel.” The Captain nodded. “Now… I have something to celebrate our escape.”

Hopping off his seat Captain A. J. Roberts opened up a trunk he had lugged from Maribella without a word on what he had inside.

Bottles and bottles of exotic liquors. The largest of which he pulled up.

“RHUM!” He laughed. “All the way from the Caribbean! I bet you have not seen the likes.”

The Archer laughed.

“Actually,” Archer said softly to Rachel, “I have been drinking that brand for years.

Rachel laughed. “I have a bottle of that in my house now.”

The drinking went on for some minutes, The Archer was working on his second cup over ice to the Captains third. The two were seemingly getting into a race.

Suddenly the radio crackled and the Captain choked on his fourth cup of the dark liquor.

“Emergency channel is working! Huzzah!” He grabbed the microphone and called.

“Emergency caller, this is the Calliope out of Brisbane bound for Sydney. Go ahead with your traffic.”

“This is Royal Australian Navy Destroyer Guardsman. Reverse your direction return the way you came.”

“Negative, Guardsman, we are out of Brisbane, all on board are healthy and are seeking asylum from the chaos of the area.”

“Calliope, this is your last warning, the quarantine has been extended to Brisbane, come about now and return to your point of departure.”

“Guardsman, we have women and children on board, we cannot return. Do you wish to condemn them to deal with the collapse of government there?”

“This is Captain Monroe of the RAS Guardsman. Calliope, please reverse your course, I do not wish to fire upon you. Heave to and prepare to be boarded.”

“We are making our way to Sydney. Board us there.” The Captain Roberts replied to Captain Monroe.

“Heave to, or we will fire.”

“Captain.” The Archer was looking out a window. “We have a problem.”

In the air, a heavily armed helicopter suddenly lit up with navigation lights in the failing twilight of the coming evening. Already airborne, missile pods were visible on the sides of the rotary-winged gunship.

Captain Roberts looked out.

“Oh f’kn’ bloody brass nuts.” The Captain said loudly. “If you folks believe in a hell, you might wish to call ‘em an’ ask if they have exchange programs, it is about to become worse than that here. Guardsman is a Hobart Class ship, that there bird be one o’ its hammers.”

“What are those?” Stormy asked as two, then four pinpoint lights seem to move towards them from a mile out.

“Archer?” Andrea asked, pointing out at what Stormy saw.

Incoming! They’ve opened fire!” The Archer yelled. He reached down to his quiver and pulled out a rolled up plastic bag. Holding two locks of hair close to his heart, he watched the missiles track towards them at unimaginable speed.

“I”m sorry.” He whispered to the last remains of his family as he dropped the baggie over the rail of the yacht. “I’m so sorry I failed.”

OUT! Abandon ship!” Al was like a bull shoving everyone he could reach towards the railing. The only time in his life he used his hand to hand training to shove a group.

“Abort! ABORT! Do not fire! ABORT! ABORTABORT! We are…” The Captain screamed into the microphone.

It was his last conscious thought as the missiles impacted into the bridge of the Calliope. High explosive warheads sent shockwaves through the vessel. Air heated to thousands of degrees shattered doors and bulkheads as the yacht disappeared in a fireball of continuing weapons fire as the helicopters their weapons repeatedly.

Only after the Calliope’s shattered, burning hull slipped beneath the surface of the water the gunships returned to base on shore.

The haze and smoke slowly dissipated as the killing machine moved off, returning to the carrier.

There would be no rescue boats launched as the Guardsman followed orders and turned away back to its patrol.

#

Epilogue


Radio transmission on shore after the military radar had detected the contact:

Captain Michael Monroe made his report to the base. “Contact made. Illegal threat neutralized. No spread of infection or contamination. End of report.”

Rear Admiral Shyldon Gillette, Commander of the Royal Australian Border Protection Command read the electronic report out loud and turned towards a shadow in the corner with red eyes glimmering in the dark.

“The secret remains safe, my Lord, the operation will be able to continue to relocate the human blood sources into the feeding reservations.”

“Excellent. Keep the fear up. Any human that finds clues to the real source of the undead slaves, kill them. The living cannot know what is happening until the whole of the world is under our control.” The lips of Lord Maldark’s ghostly face barely moved to create a voice that sounded like it came from the depths of a muddy tomb. “Tell the lower caste to increase the numbers of the risen and to drive herds of the food towards the reservations, do not give them a chance to contemplate their position in the food-chain. That is key to our success.”

Yes, my Lord.”

The face that appeared to float in the shadow twisted unnaturally into a grin, long fangs glittered like glass in the subdued light, but the admiral was under the ancient one’s control now and was no longer afraid as he was the first night.

That night, over a month ago.

Out on the water near the sunken Calliope, a plastic sandwich bag floated on the water stuffed with two gently cut locks and five hastily pulled blood-red strands of hair sealed inside.

Together the hairs drifted towards the land of Oz in the prevailing current with wreckage from the destroyed yacht.

A bow floated on the wreckage, an unusual penobscot bow made of exotic woods. The bow lay on a raft of floatation devices, hastily lashed together, clear of the water with a quiver of arrows as the land grew closer with each passing moment.

<Finis?>

Dragon Master University Chapter 31. In The Showers.

Standard

Chapter 31. In the Showers.

Sprite was laying against Jona’s back, stealing the blankets like all girls everywhere do. Jona woke up cold.

But he had time for a shower in his new semi-private room, the only problem was the lack of privacy between human and dragon and genders.

His first experience with this upper level shower room was when his hair was full of soap when someone came in.

This alone was not out of the ordinary, the bathrooms were huge and built to fit all sizes of beings.

But the voices nearly made him slip on the smooth, snowflake obsidian floors.

“Can I use your hair soap?” A female voice said.

Two female dragons had walked in and were showering and talking together.

“Careful, human-boy.” The gold dragon said, she smiled. “I know you. You’re in the Dawn Room alone, which is very cool in my opinion. But a lot of students hate being alone here.”

“My name is Starr, my parents are Polaris ice-dragons. But I am a kind of throwback, I don’t like the cold, I like warm showers.”

The redheaded human girl who stripped down had put golden scaled boots next to her clothes and stepped into the shower, borrowed Starr’s shampoo.

“This is my roommate, Beulah Kate Archi Baker.”

“Call me Kate.” She said dangerously. “I don’t know why you introduce me like that.”

“It’s that or as Boots. You wear that collection of footwear you have all the time.” Starr said.

“I just like my shoes.” Then turning to Jona. “You can stop looking now, yes, I am human, yes, I am redhead, yes, the water is cold. Make no mistake, I am willing and able to throw you out of here.”

“Kate is a member of the Wild Witch Warrior club. They perform caged magic battles.”

“Caged ..what?” For a moment, Jona forgot he was standing naked in a shower in front fo two girls. “I don’t understand.”

Starr sighed happily as she let hot water flow over her head of fine golden feathers and down her armored back. The scales she had here fine, almost skin-like on most of her body, but the dorsal scales were overlapping armor, each scale the size of his thumb with, what looked like, dentations that interlocked, giving her a silvery metallic stripe down her back.

“That’s unique coloring you have on your spine.” Jona became more comfortable with being naked in front of the girls. They paid him no mind as each one went to the job of preparing for the day.

“It is my adult scales coming out, it starts on the spine and eventually I will have all these covering me. My mom is the color of the moon. Dad looks like a setting sun. He is all copper.”

“They look smooth.” Jona said.

“Do you want to touch them?”

“Careful, what is your name?” Kate asked, leaning back to rinse out her hair. She had freckles down her body that looked like she was the victim of someone with a small marker and put dots all over her body.

“My name is Jona.”

“Jona! Don’t stroke her back, you will lose whatever dignity you have. She likes humans.” Kate winked.

“He won’t lose any dignity, he will know what dragon loving is like!” Starr said with a wink.

“As I said.” Kate laughed.

Jona felt his ears burn at the flirty women as he dressed.

The two girls finished while he was dressing and he could understand why Starr called Kate “Boots” for the colorful footwear she pulled on.

Starr did not get dressed, just wrapping up in a towel then stepping close to Jona.

“She is right, I do like humans, males and females both.” Starr winked. “I’m quarter-human myself.”

Before Jona realized it, Starr’s prehensile tail slid up the back of his leg, touching every part of his back and shoulders.

“Mmm. Nice.” Starr winked a jeweled eye at him. “Come see me if you ever cannot sleep.”

“Jona, take my word, once you do ice, nothing is never as nice.” Kate said. “And you can call me Boots.”

“Thanks, Boots.”

“Byeee.” Starr whispered as she slipped out of the room.

“Sorry about her. She has a heat cycle, when she needs to take hot showers, no one is safe.” Boots smiled and waved as she left.

Jona laughed and walked back to his room. This floor was far different from “The Mine”.

Dragon Master University Chapter 30. New Year, New Session

Standard

Chapter 30. New Year Session

Tired, sore muscles, a continual headache from boggling at history, teamwork and predicted future, not counting the lessons in magic taught by Cranndair the Green Wizard, the students walked, crawled and a few fluttered back to their rooms in the various houses they belonged to. All were bone-tired.

If anything, the Green Wizard taught with the students in a practical application, humans and dragons and those that had a bit of both, hugged and smiled as they parted company, instead of being in separate houses, they all knew they were of one house.

The House of The Green Man.

Sprite had grown even longer, although she had gained some length, her weight had not increased, she continued to grow longer but, like all children, she started to stretch out into a willow of a creäture.

Back in the house of Garnet, Jona walked to his room and found Sam-Sam had already returned and unpacked.

“Hi Jona! Are you back, visiting the lower side a bit with us? You don’t have a room on the brown garnet level, anymore. You have gone up on the scale. They should place you at least in blue, if not green, I’d say. You spent winter’s break with the Green Man. So you would have a room there.”

“I didn’t know. Where would I have found that change?”

“Professor Vale posted it on pillar by the front door.”

“Oh, ugh. I was too tired, the Green Wizard is about killed us all.”

“Yeah, he does that. He is spry for an old guy, a thousand years old and he can move a mountain with a finger. Not even Professor Vale is more powerful.” Sam said.

“That is because the Green Wizard lives with Nature.”

“Yeah, always in that mountain.” Sam nodded. “He has more power from the trees and rocks that he cares for.”

“No, it’s not that, his mate is Nature.” Jona laughed. “She is his spouse.”

“What?”

“Dude, didn’t you go to study with him once?”

“No, I was more interested in racing and never went, I learned all I wanted about him from those that have went there and came back all broken down and dirty.” Sam shook his head. “Teamwork, what good is that in a race with one-on-one paired rider and ride?”

“When the world has floods, fires, or earthquake, how do we help each other?”

“Well, how do…” A familiar voice interrupted Jona.

“Well, I thought you might be lost.” It was Kolo. “Well, sexy human, you do not live here anymore, your room is in another level, since you came back from the Green Man’s mentor program. Did you learn a lot?”

“Oh HI Kolo! Oh wow, did I ever!” Jona said.

“You lost weight.” She traced her finger over Jona’s left shoulder. “You look good. You could be ridden, looking like that. You would be a good training for a racer girl.”

“What?” Jona boggled.

“Never mind. You are sexy looking, just saying.” Kolo winked. “Come with me, we need to find your new room.”

“Okay.” Jona was still trying to get his mind around the flirt he had just gotten. Dragons were a strange group. They loved like no other, but loved one after another.

“Sam.” Kolo turned to Jona’s ex-roomie. “Come with me, you are on the Blue floor. It appears you did not check either.”

“I did! The color was brown.”

“You did not have a color until this morning. Your grades have improved and the professors were talking about keeping you and Jona together. Jona is a good influence on you it seems.”

“He just showed me around.” Jona said.

“Jona, you got him to attend class. Attendance is the single most important thing in school, even if you don’t work, the professors feel that you absorb information by sitting there with your eyes open. Sam has been at ever class last session.”

“Well, I’ll have to pack.”

“I’ll send Wynter for you.”

“AH! I’ll be packed in two minutes! Don’t send the Wyvern for me!” Sam jumped up and was immediately stuffing clothes into a pillow-slip and wrapping the rest up in his big wool blanket he brought from home.

“Why is he worried about Wynter?”

“Wynter is a wyvern, and he has no patience for lower level students. He is especially angry with Sam-Sam, they’re related and he bragged about Sam being smarter than most everyone around before this little hatchling arrived.” Kolo laughed. “I think Wynter would roll Sam up in the blanket and play football down the hallway with him.”

“Football?”

“Yeah, you kick it, until it gets to where you want it to go.”

“Ooooh!” Jona laughed, imagining Sam-Sam the Dragon, already in hot water with his family, being used as a sports toy.

“Here we are. Green level.” Kolo said, her tail swaying in a more serpentine way when she was walking in front of Jona. Jona could hear the other men whisper to each other when they walked in.

“Kolo, why is he here? This is a Brown Level Garnet.” A red dragon with vestigial-black wings and eye-brow scales said. Chain mail that glittered in the light when the dragon moved, they had arms like some other people had legs.

Very muscular legs.

“Mars, this is Jona, he just came back from winter break with the Green Wizard. He passed with the wizard giving him a pat on the back and an invitation to come back.”

“Well! That is different, welcome Jona. I am Mars, the senior leader of the game-players club. Do you play Drake and Hunter?”

“I never heard of it.”

“Awesome, you are human? If you get to enjoy this and want to play a lot, you can join our club. The only requirements are good grades and play at least a bit every day.” Mars nodded, his scales glistened like polished jewels. If one did not know that he was a dragon, one would thing he was human dressed in fine scale armor.

“Mars,” Kolo smiled and traced her finger over his ear (Mars’ eyes dialated and Jona swore he could hear the scales shake.) “Would you ask that Jona have a tutor to keep his grades up? Professor Vale has requested that Jona keep his studies going from the Green Man. Jona is a racer and a good one at that.”

“You do can keep doing that, Kolo, but so that you know I’d do it anyway.” Mars laughed. Turning to Jona. “She is the one that keeps Garnet house going. And she is cute.”

Mars shook his head to clear his vision.

“You know how to touch my feelers,” Mars sighed and Kolo laughed softly.

Jona laughed awkwardly as the pretty girl dragon flirted with the brawny leader of the Green level.

“Where is my room?” Jona asked.

“This way,” Kolo smiled. “You have a choice, Green Level has had a change in tenants here. A few have not kept up their grades, another has aced her studies and has moved up from Emerald to Gold level.”

“What is Emerald level?”

“This one. We call it green informally, but the official term is Emerald. Blue is Sapphire, Brown is Rough.”

“Rough?”

“As in unpolished and dirty.”

“Oooh!” Jona said as Kolo led him to his room.

“Here is where you will stay. Mars’ is at the end of the hall, he has a private room, most of his club members meet there. You will have no one else in this room for a while. So I will check on you from time to time to make sure you are keeping your studies up.”

“Mars will, too?”

“Yes, it is important to the house that we keep our ratings up. It is a contest between each house who has the highest ranked students. It will also give you a chance to study with the Green Wizard once again.”

“I’m not sure I can survive another round with him.” Jona laughed.

“It will do you good. You will find studying here is easier than with that old man.”

A soft voice behind Jona, a human girl with tight curly hair and dark skin whispered to the new arrival.

“That is for sure, the Green Wizard made me want to come back so much, I made sure my grades were high enough I could go again.”

“I did not see you there.” Jona said.

“Part of my skills, I’m a member of the Fae.”

“The who?”

“No, that is a music group in about a hundred centuries, I am fae.” She smiled, probing eyes looked into his eyes to see if he understood the joke. “My family are more magical than dragons.”

“A fairy?”

“No, well, in a stretch of the sense, I suppose, I can change size.”

“You can get bigger?”

“Ohh, no. I am at my largest now, I can get smaller, a lot smaller.” She smiled. “My name is Retta. This is my last year.”

“Pleased to meet you.”

Watching her walk away, she wore her armor like it someone painted it on and then oiled over the leathery parts until she shimmered when she walked.

Kolo laughed.

“Human boys are so much fun. Brain damaged since puberty and it takes years to have enough blood to run all your parts at the same time.”

Laughing at himself, Jona moved into his new room that he had no one to share with.

The second session in the main school of Dragon Master University was going to be fascinating.

Instructive, anyway.

Dragon Master University Chapter. 29. Gorgons. Myth or Fact?

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Chapter 29. The Gorgon, Myth or Fact?

 

 

Walking up and down between the chairs, the Green Wizard showed signs of the last of the green leaves that sprouted from his beard and hat where turning brown in the dead of winter.

Known for his ability with the plants, his were the last to die back, the first to sprout anew.

He was the Green Man.

“The cycle of life in the forest changes with the place on this world. In two places, not a tree grows, the sun in winter never rises, in summer it never sets. Here, where I hold sway, snow falls last, although around us, snow piles up during the winter and feeds the streams and ponds you see around the mountain. Life goes on and renews.“ He walked slowly, the hat he wore had cocoons in various places, one hibernating furry creäture that no one could identify, curled up on the moss lined brim. “In the spring, six weeks from now, you will be back here to study if your professors believe you’re ready for that level.”

Standing in the middle of the classroom, the Wizard eschewed the traditional straight lines of how most classrooms at the University taught. Teaching instead that, nature abhors straight lines. A tap with his staff on the middle of the floor, the Green Wizard displayed the night sky on the ceiling of the room.

“In an age past, dragons roamed the sky like the birds of today. They are descendants of a great civilization, destroyed by a group of small dragons and humans that worshiped destruction and death. They title of the leaders of this group was the Csu.” The Green Wizard looked around. “Remember this, those who seek a single solution to life, a single rule, death is the result. Life is a chorus, man, dragon, woman, swimmer, flyer. All the others that we have spoken of in the past weeks. The steps each takes is different and follows, will follow, and has followed a slightly different path.”

Smiling, as he paused for effect.

“Whether you have skin or scale, each has a life to live and the creative ability to impress the world.” Turning a slow circle, the stars changing. “The Csu did not believe this. One answer, one voice to the deity they spoke to. Death and destruction was their answer to it all. Trees fell, whole communities wiped from the earth. Then they met the Gorgon in battle.”

A hand raised up. T’sing’s eyes were bright with curiosity,the small dragon from the far side of the world was willow thin and beautiful. Her side of the world, dragons are good luck to have in a family. A dragon that graduated from school such as DragonMaster U, was doubly so. Human graduates in the same family, members considered them as the seed of a dynasty.

One such family, had sent a human son, Qin, with T’sing to attend together. Together they promised to build a country that would last forever.

“Sir, who is Gorgon? My mother told me when I was very young to stay indoors, because Gorgon would eat small dragons and humans alike.”

“Good question, T’sing.” The Green Man said. “The proper term is they are the Gorgon, it is a group of Gorgon, the race of the amphibian creatures are as different as Gorilla and Human, but without the gulf of intelligence. They have their own society, and while they do not fear dragonkind, they do avoid them. It was not until the Csu got involved with the Gorgon, at great cost, that the leadership of the Gorgon converted to the Csu religion. We will discuss the Csu religion another time, but the Gorgon are something to cover now.”

Another tap of his staff on the floor of the room, images ran across the ceiling.

“The Csu with the Gorgon army now under their control, swept out of the warm seas of the lower latitudes, catching dragons and humans alike unaware and unprepared. Humans were given a choice to convert to the way of the Csu book of laws, or die. Dragons received no such consideration, called instead as throwbacks to an age where great lizards walked the earth, cousins to Gorgon who tolerated no competition for skies and sea for food. They slaughtered dragons everywhere they found them.”

A gasp from the classroom.

“I was but in my fiftieth summer then. Professor Vale was, and still is, my son and protoge’.”

“Sir, did you have a name during that time?” Jona asked.

“Aye, I did. Though I scarcely remember it. Cranndair, if I recall.” The mentor stroked his beaded facial hair in thought. “No matter. Regardless, the Csu fell only when there was a rise in a sect within their own ranks. Sensing the division, The Gorgon as a body rebelled against the law of the Csu.”

Waving his staff, the huge Gorgon armies stopped chasing dragons and humans, turning instead on their masters.

“The Csu are the single most effective lesson on domination. People of any kind, Dragon, Human or Gorgon give their loyalty voluntarily. Force of threat, of death to family or self always ends up in failure.” He looked at the class. “Call it what you will, but the force of fealty at the point of sword, tooth or claw is bound for failure.”

“But Sir, if you hold by force, they cannot break it.”

“No empire has ever stood on force alone.” Cranndair the Mentor said. “In my studies, I see a human empire that will rise and last for over a thousand-year period and become the greatest civilization that the humans will ever know. What we learn here, will allow dragons to also be a part of that. If we are not fully successful, Dragonkind hide in the cracks of human society, but Dragons will survive. In those days after the wars and the fall of the Csu, The Gorgon did what they do. They withdrew from all societies and to their caves. Content to hibernate and only come out on rare occasions to forage.”

“It is their way to devastate an area, many humans put it down to demons, Dragonkind however, blame such things as natural disasters and storms.” Rubbing his nose. “Often it is the Gorgon causing storms, floods and volcanic destruction. Some human societies still blame dragons.”

“How does a society endure for a long time?” They asked nearly as a body of students. Everyone of the large group nodding. He rarely took this many, but his son, Vale, talked him into it, saying that the students this year were exceptional.

The old man smiled. Hunger for knowledge had started today.

No longer lecturing to bland minds that could not care less for law and lore, or math and science, these seeds of the future now wanted to know where they came from, so they could see where they were going in their growth.

Much as he hated teaching, he loved when children learned.

It would be another age, an age of ages into the future, that the “Light Bulb” would illuminate in their minds.

(*Author’s Note To Pronounce The Following Word:

Csu: “Chew” is closest that a human can say.)

 

 

DragonMaster University Chapter 25. The Green Man

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Chapter 25. The Green Man

Professor Vale did not tell tall tales about the Green Wizard.

Born before hair! It was true!

Jona nearly broke out laughing, the Green Wizard’s beard was as white as a snowfall, but the moment the wizard took his hat off and bowed to his new students, the gleam from his head would have blinded an earthworm.

Remembering the warning that the Professor had given, Jona would never. Ever.

‟Never talk about the bare skinned head.”

Such a shine that resided under the peaked hat, Jona had no doubt that he could track the head in the dark if he had no hat on.

‟Ah, now we have you all here. Tonight, find your rooms, you will see your names on each room in the tower.” The beard, tied and retied in a maze of beads and knotted and colored silk, moved in complex ways when the Green Wizard spoke. The effect was slightly hypnotic.

Jona walked up the wide stairs to the second level of the cavernous home. Set into the side of a mountain, the small cabin opened up into the cliff face, an area wide enough to seat a hundred students in the amphitheater inside.

‟And he only takes a few at once.” Jona said to himself as he found his room.

Walking inside, the room was an efficient design, a single bed with two pillows and a small blanket with Sprite’s name embroidered on it.

Sprite, riding on Jona’s shoulder— nearly both shoulders these days, since being with larger dragons, Sprite had grown rapidly. Something he had learned in Dragon Health and Growth class. Dragons grew faster and larger when around larger dragons, Sprite was now maturing at a phenomenal rate.

The days would be insufferable without the little guy. A hard day with the Green Man in a jokingly distant relation to a kitchen, the thunderous voice rated them on their knowledge and skills. Today was medicines and pain-killers from the twigs of a willow tree.

The tea that Jona produced would curl the spines of the largest dragon, but, the Green Wizard said it was good medicine for many ailments and pains.

“Just be carefull when using this tea. In concentrated form, it can cause more harm than good.” The old man said with a frown as he imposed the intense lessons into the class while the students stood around the tables.

Glass jars, sharp knives, Koan the human who was a quarter dragon, it was a full classroom.

Jona liked to stand so that she was always in sight. Koan’s hair was brilliantly red and orange, giving clues to her family heritage. Her black eyes were counterpoint to the lighter skin, an inherited trait of the dragon that was her ancestor.

“Tsing! You are cooking down this batch of tea too strongly! It will cause bleeding, you will have a greater problem than a mild fever or ache.”

“But, sir,” The slender dragon from the east nodded. “But it was not the right color.”

“You have boiled the liquid down by half, you have doubled the strength. This will make it dangerous for dragon or human alike to partake, unless you dilute it. If you concentrate it any more, it will become toxic to the touch for dragons.”

“Toxic to the touch?”

“Aye. A concentration in the right proportions helps for pain and fever for dragons. Too much, if it’s concentrated, will soak in through the dragon’s skin, underneath the scales. This will cause effects from bleeding to madness and death.”

“Yes, professor.”

“ACH! I am not a professor. I am your mentor, teacher and foster-father if need. I am not one of those passive spewing, race course, long-winded politician want-to-be’s. More than half of those professors there, human and dragon alike, would run from a fight. They have no clue what it is to sacrifice for anyone. They teach, they have not done anything.” His eyes sparkled with repressed fury.

Jona was taken aback, the Green Wizard was not joking. Remembering that Professor Vale said that the Green Wizard was his father. That Vale had sacrificed his humanity for the village of people and his wife.

That was the reference about not knowing what it was like to sacrifice.

The Green Wizard taught in different ways.

Dragon Master University Chapter 24. Autumn Winds

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Chapter 24. Autumn Winds

Professor Ghoti walked through the classroom, her wings pulled up tightly against her body as she walked among the desks. Her prehensile tail Holding her clipboard in front of her as she passed out papers for taking notes on environment stresses.

‟Remember the lectures, each dragon and human lives on the land and in the water. Destruction of any of these alters the destiny of the future and those that live in it. Great dragons that abused their skills and powers and found themselves opposed by great humans who had altruistic goals, only then subsumed by those that followed that would destroy the lands in the name of wealth.” She looked around. ‟Greed, it is an illness that possesses dragon and human alike. Take notes well, my young souls, you must know the history of those that wished to have power and wealth over everyone to the destruction of themselves.”

‟Professor.” It was a young dragon from the north, sitting behind Jona, he barely came up to Jona’s shoulder, his sapphire-blue eyes sparked with high intelligence. ‟Isn’t greed a cause of conflict between all the people of the earth?”

Jona looked at him, his pupils where six pointed, re-enforcing the look of eyes made from star-sapphires.

‟A lust for power and wealth, yes. Two ambitious souls, whether they have scale or hair, will end in conflict. Coexistence is what we learn, contest and struggle is how we entertain ourselves, but that is a class for another time. Today, we are talking about humans that cut whole forests to build, dragons that will dig great holes to strip a mountain of its wealth in gold and silver. Even minds as bright as yours in this room, find attraction to things that glitter. It is the nature of human and dragon, and the point of conflict. Humans have a talent as hunters and creators of wealth. Dragons have abilities to smell gold and silver, able to create works of art so large that the human eye cannot see them for the scale they are on. Only from above where the eyes of the dragonkind are common, humankind must fly with cooperation of dragons to see what they have created.”

‟Professor, I don’t understand.” Kalam, a sand-dragon, slender and athletic. An outcast of a flying-dragon family, he preferred to swim than fly. ‟I missed your point. Why do dragons create such large works of art that it cannot be seen from the ground?”

‟Why do some artists paint? Why do others sculpt? Still others write with a touch of a brush to make words look like beautiful images but still tell a story?” Professor Ghoti smiled. ‟We are all different, a dragon may live longer than a human, but a human can create such things of beauty as to capture the heart of a dragon. This is where the conflict happens. To a human, an area that has gold just laying on the ground where no one has tread a foot for hundreds of years, the human will pick up the gold to create something, unknowingly violating a dragon-artist’s creation. To the dragon, a hundred years is but a night’s sleep, it is an insult to their ambitious work.”

The entire class nodded, understanding.

‟In the places of the world where dragon and human have come in conflict, whole ranges of mountains are denuded, weather changes, the land dies.” The Professor frowned. ‟A land, once of verdant trees and life. Now is a devastated and desiccated desert. Nothing grows, humans and dragons alike avoid the area. The only thing that lives there are scorpions and small insects.”

Rapt attention by those that sat in attendance, hung on her words. Love of the earth, care for one and another. tolerance to all living things, was given as lessons.

Some took Professor Ghoti’s words to heart, others, like rain on the leaves of the trees, just slid off to the ground.

Those would be the students who returned the next year until they passed the Professor’s exit interviews for her classes.

A fortnight gone past, the shortest day was upon the high-mountain college that overlooked the lake with the waters so clear, the ice was nearly as blue as the deep water.

In the common room, Professor Vale spoke to the gathered students.

‟Winter break is upon us. Those dragons who are of the desert regions will be departing in the afternoon after tomorrow. The great black dragon of Sempervirens House will be departing with a flight, those that cannot fly the distance or speed and those swimmers of tropical nature may ride in the coach.” Vale nodded. ‟Humans will be met by their parents or guardians. Jona, please see me after this.”

A collective ‟Oo!” raced through the nearly two-hundred hearts of the common room.

Jona’s heart fell. This would be the time that a student would be ‟uninvited” to return.

With great trepidation he stayed behind after the announcements, Vale was kind, but as a dragon, he followed rules to a fault. As a professor, he had the power to flex the rules somewhat.

Then, Vale spoke. The words were quite different from what he worried about.

‟Jona, I have written your parents and I have informed them of your schooling.” Professor Vale inspected the claws of his forepaw.”You have done well for a child-human of less than twenty-summers. Not perfect, but quite well, better than your mother had predicted.” Professor Vale nodded. ‟I give credit to Kolo for that. You remind me of myself when I was learning these lessons. Seems like it was just last year I started here as a human.”

‟Professor.” Jona interrupted. ‟Was there a school back then?”

‟I see you need to take the class for your timing on humor, still.” Vale gave Jona a sideways glance. ‟You, young master, will be studying some makeup classes you are weak on with a special tutor.”

Professor Vale gave Jona a wink.

‟You and four others get to study with the Green-Wizard.” Vale puffed out his chest. ‟My father.”

‟Your… HUMAN father?” Jona said. ‟I thought he was old?”

‟He is older than hair. But do not ever mention that or you will find out how difficult life can be.” Vale laughed softly. ‟Still, you will attend his training, but know this! He takes very few students, he teaches in serious words. In his opinion, you will come to him with a head full of sawdust, and if you survive his lessons, you will come back thinking like an upperclassman.”

Jona felt a pang of fear and curiosity.

How does an upperclassman think?

Dragon Master University Chapter 23. Baby Talk

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Chapter 23. Baby Talk

The weekend. Racing with Eva, Kolo and Qo’noS, he’d gotten chilled and was so terribly exhausted. So much so that he felt like a party lizard (A term he had picked up in the day-room) crawling in after a weekend binge.

He collapsed on to his bed and felt a lump under his pillow struggle.

Sprite crawled out and complained in a whiny voice, then saw who it was.

‟Papa! Papa papa papa papa papa!” Sprite squeaked while bouncing up and down. Eventually settling into the crook of Jona’s arm, licking the neck and ear of Sprite’s favorite human.

His papa.

Jona shushed Sprite while he drifted off to sleep. If anyone could slur a shush, Jona did it as his eyes closed.

Then the papa’s eyes popped open.

‟SPRITE!” Jona jumped up. ‟You talked!”

‟Papa! Papa papa!” The little dragon fluttered and hovered in the air in front of Jona, over the bed.

Laughing, Jona knew Sprite would learn to talk eventually. Still, not comfortable with the fact he was the dad, everyone else in the school took it as a right of passage. Many had, what Jona thought at first as pets, but found out that small dragons reflected that the heart of dragons loved at least as deep as humans.

Just longer. Much, much longer.

After a few minutes to recover from the shock, he held Sprite in his arms and stroked the glass smooth scales that covered the small winged-body.

Settling down, Jona smiled as the little body curled up under his chin, licking a few times, then going into a slumber that, curiously, sounded like a snore.

Only a pint-sized snore.

It was quite relaxing, and Jona slipped off to sleep with Sprite in his arms.

Together, they slept in similar poses.

Jona and Sprite performed a slow, synchronised sleeping ballet in the blankets.

Later, when the sun would rise, Jona would be roused out of bed by his friends. Although he would wonder if they were indeed his friends, for now all Jona wanted, was sleep.

Dragon Master University Chapter 22. Morningtime

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Chapter 22. Morning Time

Jona walked between classes as he was in deep thought, Eva landed next to him in the courtyard.

“We did very well,” She said softly while folding her wings tightly against her body and walking upright. ‟We bumped two trees and you held on. I have a small bruise where I knocked off four of my scales, but they will grow back soon enough.”

Walking upright, she was beautiful even outside of Dragon standards. Eva would have made a graceful, beautiful human woman.

Who just happened to tower over most other humans.

Jona chuckled, his own joints hurt, the inverted banking as they did a hairpin turn around a mountain to catch up with Qo’noS had nearly dumped him off the back of Eva, it was a turn they were going to have to practice, he only was able to hang on by luck as much as strength or skill. Even his fingernails ached.

“Jona, I have talked with others about the future races,” Eva said conversationally as they walked along. ‟I have someone I am seeing. He is a dragon at Drakensberg University.”

Eva smiled, touching her lips as if a memory of a kiss. Dragon kisses, it is rumored, to leave a soul burning for more.

‟I know that there is some cheating planned. There have been observers on the race course, we may have to train in other areas of the mountains. Where is Teva? We need to talk to him.”

Sol landed nearby and walked up to them, looking happier without reins on his shoulders, rubbing up against Eva with a wink.

“Flirt.” Eva laughed softly.

“Drakenberg racers are notorious for cheating but there is something more. Jona, your safety is in danger.” Sol said.

‟My rider seeks to have you removed one way or another, she is not above cheating. So long as she rides me, we will never win, I will never cross the finish line first.” Sol said grimly, “Even if I have to crash at the last stretch. She will never stand in the winners circle.”

“I hate that we keep trying to knock you out of the race, Eva,” Sol nodded slowly, guiltily looking down. “You too, Jona, my most sincere of apologies. But it is late in the season, I cannot train with a rider and I cannot win with her riding. She has no winning heart.”

“Thanks,” Jona smiled and put his hand on the golden dragons shoulder. ‟And we will avoid you, you are a great flier, you have done fantastic corners.”

“Drakes’ will have faster rides,” Eva continued. ‟They are larger than we are as a group. Most are Kanus’ size, a few are bigger.”

Sol and Jona nodded.

Jona pointed out that they had the advantage then of the corners in the valleys, then paused.

“Could they go high and go over a corner? Avoid banking?”

Sol shook his head while Eva answered.

“They would be penalized with time added on. So even if they crossed the line first, they may actually lose the race if they skipped too many corners.”

“Even if they flew faster than anyone at the beginning,”Sol added. ‟If they didn’t get down into the canyons, a record pace would be for naught.”

Eva nodded as Jona pulled at his chin and took this in.

“There has been something else, a smell, I have picked it up, you have been busy racing and I have been sight-seeing.” Sol added, “Something smells, I don’t know.” He paused “The smell on the most strong in the northern canyon, where we go lowest and the turns are sharpest and we fly slowest, the smell makes my scales tingle.”

Eva paused, pulling at her ear.

“I thought that was just the group of us racing, the challenge of the corners and how close we were getting to each other.” She said thoughtfully.

“You have been racing, I have not.” Sol nodded.

“Spies?” Jona asked.

“Maybe.” Sol said.

“Spies would be undetectable.” Eva shook her head. ”Volcanic action, Sol? Can you smell volcano’s?”

Sol gave a nearly imperceptible shrug.

“There are those in my family who can, I have not smelled them before. Could be that this time I am smelling the start of a volcano’s eruption. This would affect the race, if we had to fly through a cloud.”

“If the race is going to go through an ash cloud, we would have to avoid it.” Eva nodded.

“Not so much for you,” Jona shook his head. ‟But for the humans and others that don’t have the kind of lungs that a dragon possesses.”

Both dragons looked at Jona and nodded.

“Not counting the lightning that happens, that is also kind of hard on the teams, as well.” Eva added.

Jona choked.

“Lightning? As in thunder and lightning?” Jona was afraid of thunderstorms since he was a child.

“I will tell Professor Ghoti, she is in charge of the racer’s safety, it is important that she and the other judges and professors look in the area.” Sol said mildly. “I’m the one that smelled it, I’ll be the one to show her where it is.”

Eva nodded as Sol set off for Professor Ghoti at her office in the Obsidian Spire.

“I knew that Sol was a good wyvern,” Jona noted. “Those reins on him are the only ones in the entire group of racers.”

“And a total insult. They won’t race together after this season, he will reject his rider and any other dragons will follow suit if she re-applies next year. The only way she would fly is if she grew wings and rode herself.” Eva growled irritably. “She has some dragon in her, you can see it in her eyes, but it is all the worst part of dragons.”

Eva and Jona took off and few northwards out over the sapphire blue lake, it was so large, the water was so pure as Jona could see the bottom of the shallows down to two or three dragon lengths deep. It was like looking through crystal.

Eva looked back as they soared and enjoyed the cool mountain air.

“The water tastes as good as it looks, but it is so cold as to give me a headache. There is a bay that is nearly emerald-green, lately we have called it emerald bay. I kind of hope the name sticks.”

‟That is an awesome lake, so high in the mountains, what feeds it?” Jona asked.

‟Snow. If you ever go swimming in it? You will know that right away.” Eva laughed. ‟There is a story of, years ago, a swimmer dragon jumped in after a long, hard winter with an exceptional snowfall. The snow was at the peak of melting and the swimmer jumped in with ruby-red scales and came out with sapphire-blue coloring. I’m not sure if it’s true, but I can believe it.”

Laughing, the rider and ride sailed along the crest of the mountain range until they banked and headed out to the sea, spending time soaring over the rugged coastline. Eva told him of dragon homes and lore.

‟You have dragon-lore this year. I would suggest coming here and do independent studies. I am also a tutor, and I wish help teach you and keep you on the race team.”

‟Thank you. There is so much going on.” Jona said softly.

‟This is just warming up for the year. You have passion to learn, from what I have heard. Four-years of basic schooling then another four years of advanced school. Your scholarship’s earned by your father and mother with the teaching of dragons over the years.”

‟How long has my father been teaching?”

‟Don’t you know?” Eva said. ‟I always knew when my parents were teaching.”

She pondered a moment.

‟But then, the two societies are different with intolerance of a few creating grief for all. Humans tend to less tolerance than Drakes. If any of your kind thinks or looks different, the first thing the others want to do is declare a war on it.” Eva’s body trembled in revulsion. ‟Humans have more followers of death than they do of life.”

Jona sighed and looked down. Thinking of the times that he and his friends would throw rocks at statues or works of art depicting kindly acts just on the word of someone who said it was wrong.

‟Worry not, Jona. Those things that make you feel guilty are those actions of someone who does not know better. You will learn here.” Eva gave him a friendly bump. ‟You will learn that all things exist and create beauty. Even dragons.”

‟It’s your first year.” She glided over the waters of the big lake again, slowly. Jona could see the fish that swam under the surface, glistening like jewels. ‟You will find beauty in the most unexpected of places.”

Jona held on tight as Eva stroked hard into the air and gained altitude.

Beauty in the most unexpected of places. Jona found beauty in the wisdom.

Dragon Master University Chapter 21. Night Riders

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Chapter 21. Night Riders

Garnet house was late in ending the dinner, after Professor Vale would not dismiss anyone until all students finished eating — that included the newly christened “Slop Eaters” of Stixx, Kelly, Gorm and their small group.

Getting to the meadow, the sun had slipped behind the mountains, the dragons and riders gathered for the night-time ride. Jona laughed with Kolo as they stood with the rides who were now aware of how a slop-filled attack failed and admitted to by one of the clique that had stated that she did not agree with what the leaders had planned. Vale had taken the statement and decided that eating of the slop was punishment enough for this time. Calaise had gotten away without eating the slop that Kelly, Stixx and the others had to consume.

Stixx was looking several pale shades of green as he stood next to his ride. Kanus was looking bemused, still angry at his rider of the collision earlier in the day.  Teva gave instructions about the route in the dark, although it looked like the only thing that Stixx and Kelly were going to do in the dark was some recycling of their last meal.

Mounting the rides, each rider donned their helmets and put on goggles, waiting for the captain of the racer to give the command for the night race to start.

Jona asked “Why do we fly at night?”

Eva laughed quietly “If we can do it in the dark, we can do it when it’s cloudy or any other bad weather, or even at night. The only thing we have to worry about is having other schools running the same course”

“I thought that we had the route.” Jona said “It was on the sly?”

 “The route is not truly secret,” Kolo leaned over and shook her head. “It is up to each school to do with the information that they get. Most of them practice the route for weeks ahead of time.”

“Wow, we could have them in the canyons with us?” Jona asked.

Eva flexed her wings “I hope so, a small unplanned race would give us a clue on how things might stand.”

Qo’noS shook his head. “No, I am not sure about that, that would give the other school a chance to plan how to bump us out or crowd the way into the wining circle.”

“Dragon Lords are notorious for cutting off and blocking racers of other schools, the Drakensberg’s are known to just bump you out of the sky. That’s what happened to Koord.” Kolo said. “Killed his ride. Koord was lucky to land on his ride, but Rhodes was not as lucky he landed on the top of a snag- a dead tree- and a broken branch pierced his heart. It was a very sad day.”

“LAUNCH!” Ordered Teva as he streaked into the sky.

Eva, Qo’noS, Kolo and Jona rose it the sky after Teva, the other riders also flew, but Kanus was off-balance and was struggling more to keep Stixx on her back while Sol had not yet launched, Kelly had gotten off and was on her knees behind a bush.

“Not a great start for them.” Kolo laughed as she flew ahead.”

Laughing Eva and Jona streaked off into the night chasing the Captain of the Racers.

Dragon Master University Chapter 20. Dinner

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Chapter 20. Dinner and a show.

In his room’s study area, Kolo helped Jona understand some of the traits of Dragons, the times when they were once wild and uncivilized, then how they evolved to a council based culture.

They sat in a dragonbag, a large resin-coated bag filled with smooth-roasted seeds of a fire-fern, smooth and round, the dense seeds filled a bag and made a comfortable nest for a dragon to settle down in.

Jona curled up with Kolo as they studied as is the habit of dragons. Her scales, small and glistened in the light like tiny jewels while she relaxed in her soft-fleece sleep shirt that covered half-way to her tummy and knee-length pants with a draw string.

A standard study position for dragons that Jona found strange, but comfortable. Kolo, wrapped around Jona the way that dragons only could. Smaller dragons liked warmth, Jona was a mammal and warm.

Kolo also thought he smelled good.

A gong sounded, announcing dinner in the main hall of the Garnet House.

Jona, Sam, Spirat and Kola walked up the spiral stairs with Kolo and sat at the long tables with the younger classmates.

Several older classmates passed by when a couple slapped Kola on the back, he gained honors for Garnet House by passing a test with high marks. His name forever placed on a list of notable students with the Garnet House.

“You didn’t tell me!” Kolo stared at her brother.

“You were out riding,” Kola smiled. ‟I didn’t even know I had passed it that high until Professor Vale came down and took me to his office. There will be some kind of an awards dinner, for all the high scoring students,  near the end of term. Just before your races with the other schools.”

“I know you will do well, in the races.” Kolo looked at Jona. ‟Sprite has been racing around the room telling stories in his way. You are a good racer, according to your baby.”

Jona laughed.

“Sprite is not MY baby, I’m just the adopted father.”

“No, he is yours as if you had a real son,” Kolo shook her head. ‟When he gets to talk, you will find out just how much a dragon’s heart can love.”

“But, I did not choose that. It was just chance I happened upon Sprite when the little guy was looking for someone.” Jona protested weakly. “But I like having him around. It was better than having to ride behind my papa’s ox while the old stinker snorts from both ends.”

“Snorted from both ends?” Spirat looked at Jona and raised an eyebrow.

They all got the image at the same time and laughed as they sat and ate, trying to snort out their backsides like the old ox.

Kolo just shook her head and held her nose.

“Boys!” She said in exasperation.

Looking around Jona noted that Kelly was staring at him and she made an ugly face at him, then turned to Stixx and said something in his ear. Stixx looked at Jona and smiled, leaning over to another upperclassman and soon the end of the table the clique of older students were whispering and looking in Jona’s direction.

“This is not good,” Jona muttered. ‟They are planning something.” Indicating the far end of the table of how the blue-eyed Kelly whispered in conspiratorial tones, trying to instigate something. She took a dislike to anyone that was not under her thumb, including the newer students that did not give her the respect she felt she deserved.

As they tried not to look at the whispering group, when a large scaled hand gently pressed on Sam’s shoulder.

“You kids look worried, what is the problem?” Asked a tall, heavily built dragon that was easily taller than Jona by half and built like a big “V” from his shoulders to his waist.

Sam looked up and choked on his food, nearly making his drink come out his nose.

“Koord! You came back!”

“Coming back was difficult,” Koord got down on his knee and nodded. ‟But, the healer’s all said I was good to go.”

“Jona, this is Koord, he was a great rider for a few years here.”

Koord nodded and spoke quietly, with a voice like a rumble of distant thunder.

“Pleased to meet you.” Koord gave a toothy grin. “Yes, I just got too large, curses of my father and mother for being tall themselves, then I outgrew them. My brothers and sisters are all smaller, and sadly, none like to ride like I do.”

“Koord was hurt in a terrible hit two years ago, his ride was never the same, either.” Sam said, “But good to see you back, brother!”

“So what’s giving you trouble?” Koord smiled.

Jona and the others quietly explained what was seemingly going on and Koord nodded.

“I have a few friends to talk to over there,” Indicating another of the tables. “I think we can do interference if need.”

Slipping back to the table where he previously sat, Koord talked with the other humans and dragons at the far end with his back to Jona and his friends.

“Koord is a member of my clan, we are cousins,” Sam said, “That group he is talking with was the best winning team before they withdrew from racing and retired  for different reasons. Koord was hurt and outgrew his ride. Cookie had to withdraw because his grades were too low, which sucks because he was an awesome rider. All the rides wanted him, he had the feel and good eyes, he could read a map better than anyone night or day. Crocus, she is sweet, but a ferocious competitor, her rides gave her more than she asked for, always.”

“They are their own group then?” Jona asked. “Like the others?”

“In schools there are always certain circles that hold together.” Kolo nodded. ”The professors and schools try to keep it minimal, using only the houses to keep the feeling of unity, every year you have to go to a different house. This way they feel it keeps from having too much of a separation in ‘favorites’. It doesn’t always work. Those over there with Stixx have been together too long, and no one seems to have success in breaking them up.”

“They have called themselves as the Royals of the Sky.” Kola said, “They have pushed a few of the younger students around telling them to bow to the Royals.”

“We shall be Pirates of the Sky then!” Jona laughed, taking a thought of the blood-haired human pirate that had been at the school earlier the year.”

Spirat shook his head. “You might get in trouble with the word Pirate in the name. How about Rebels?”

“No, I like what Jona said, Sky Pirates, we will steal the cup away from other schools and victory away from the stupid Stixx.” Sam grinned. “They won’t know what to do… uh-oh… Speaking of Stixx, here he comes.”

Stixx had made his way around the far side of the room, carrying two full plates of half eaten food, looking like he was lost while on his way to the trash and was heading their way, slowly. Two others of the clique had gone in another direction, talking with students while circulating around the room towards Kolo, Kola, Sam, Jona and Spirat.

Jona looked around, Koord and several of his friends were gone. There was no help coming and Stixx was talking with several other older students but his eyes were on Jona as Stixx was carrying the plates of food that had several drinks poured over the food making it a drippy sticky soup of half eaten meal.

Walking up to the group, Stixx looked down at the plate, Jona looked to the left and saw that Gorm, the half dragon, a small and quick friend of Stixx was coming from the other direction, the trap was set, and there was no way out.

Stixx smiled as if he had just won a contest when he bumped into first Koord, and then another smaller dragon of Koord’s group. Gorm was suddenly cornered by an unfriendly face of a large rider that had him by the shoulder.

“Where are you going with all that food you have there? You must be extra hungry?” Koord asked Stixx, in a dangerous sounding voice. “You would not be looking to share that meal with some of the younger students now, would you?”

“Just being friendly, Koord.” Stixx nodded. ‟This is not any of your concern, just a friendly chat we are going to have. This food? This is nothing, I was taking it back to the table.”

Stixx looked around, Gorm,  cornered by three other retired racer team members and unable to carry out his mission.

Seeing that he needed more muscle, Stixx  motioned with his head and several of his clique stood up— then suddenly and forcibly sat back down by the surrounding retired racer team. Outnumbered and out flanked, the little clique of the house became suddenly meek and sat quietly.

“You might want to take that back to your seat and eat quietly, I was chatting with my friends and family there first.”

Stixx paled at the thought. Looking at the slop of his plate and back at the table where his friends sat, corralled. Stixx walked directly back to the table and sat with his friends.

A small obsidianite colored dragon, leaned in and with a voice far deeper than would be expected, sounding much like a foghorn smiled and suggested in a dangerous tone.

“I think the rest of your crew is also hungry, you might want to serve them as well, you got thirds,” The glistening green dragon said,”You might want to serve them as well, don’t be stingy! Share!”

The clique of Stixx, Kelly and the others dug into the slop and took slow bites. Others of the table first gagged at the sight of the others eating the mess and then began to clap as the bullies themselves, became the bullied.

Professor Vale walked into the dining room, Koord and his friends stood up and began to socialize, innocently, making their way back to the corner of the tables. The little clique sighed relief of the entry of the Professor who smiled and waved at the students, stopping and speaking with different students.

Stopping at the table and looking at the pile of muck that Stixx and company were in mid bite. “You can take all you can eat,” Professor Vale said, shaking his head, ‟But eat all you take. We must not waste food, please be sure you eat all that.”

Vale made a face adding, “It does look like a balanced meal, but I would question the mix of flavors. Eat up.”

Entertained, all the students in the room watched in quiet amusement as the bullies choked down the slop that Stixx had made before Koord intercepted him.

Jona thought it was one of the best dinners he ever had as they all watched the bullies choke down their own mix of beets, milk, banana, coffee, cheese, meat, fish and other unidentifiable food. Jona suspected that Vale had known what went on and timed his entry to do the most effect.

College, Jona decided, was a great place to learn.

Dragon Master University Chapter 19. Team Training

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(After NaNoWriMo, I now return you to the regular programming already in progress)

Chapter 19. Team Training

Jona walked down the stairs of the spire, the circular stairs were enough to make him dizzy, what was once a good place to visit now was a dizzy walk down the stairs, Each floor had its own landing for dragons and creature comforts for humans and drake alike.

Pausing to look around, an older student stepped out of the hallway into the circular common room and yelled at Jona.

“WHAT are doing here, slug? You are trespassing! Your kind does not even earn the right to breathe here! This is upper class area, we allow your years only in the cellar or lower.” Yelled the otherwise pretty girl. “Get out of here, what are you looking at, worm?”

She looked Jona up and down with the look of someone who had smelled something unclean.

“Not much, that’s for sure.” As he walked down the stairs, the girl had paused for a moment then began to yell at him and as other students came out she explained, loudly, how a lower class student violated common room’s sanctity.

Finally! He made it to the courtyard.  Jona spied a friendly face and relaxed.  The steps of following older students had stopped after a few flights. Jona had not hurried, unafraid of the other students, but the sun on his face outside made the nasty faced girl seem much farther away.

Kolo was across the court-yard and waved at Jona, with a wide smile on her face. She seemed pleased to see him.

“You are going to practice now? I’ll go with you, there is something that the teams are needing to do, they need to practice racing together.”

The troubles seemed so far behind him as they walked out of the volcano and into the brisk early winter’s sunlight. Fresh snow had fallen on the ground, the meadow sat Eva and surrounding the meadow were all the dragon racers and most of the riders. In the saddle of a yellow and black tiger-striped dragon, sat the girl who yelled at him, she had not noticed him, laughing and talking with a rugged looking muscular rider next to her and the ride as he kicked the ground and laughed at what the blond human girl was saying.

Jona stood on the far side of Eva and patted her shoulder. Eva turned and said quietly, “You are just in time, the captain is about to explain what we are doing today.”

Jona looked around to the riders, each one wore a leather cap with goggles, all decorated differently, different colors but all had the crest of the school on the front. Each cap seemed to match the rider to the ride. Scale colors and caps were very similar.

“Attention” Teva called, “Today we have Eva back with us as a racer, this is her first full team practice and her rider is also new to us. Chosen by dragons to attend our school and found by our own Kolo as a rider.” Teva smiled and clapped at Kolo.

“Jona would you come here, please? I have something for you.” Teva waved Jona over to him in the center of the meadow.

Jona stepped out from behind Eva and the blond girl stopped smiling and just stared with her mouth in a big “O”, frozen in mid sentence. Then leaning over to the large rider, she pointed at Jona and began to whisper and point.

Teva took no notice.

“I formally welcome you to the team of Dragon Racers.” He said loud enough for all to hear. ‟Jona, you have learned well under the skilled tutelage of Kolo and Eva — and me of course.”

With this cap, wear it while you fly, it serves to protect that head of yours, bird strikes hurt, and your eyes. You are the hind eyes and co-pilot of the ride as they fly. Decorate the hat as you win to match your tastes, but keep the colors with that of your ride so it marks you not only as a team of our school, but as a team of a ride and rider. Jona, I welcome you.”

“WAIT!” The blond girl yelled, “HE cannot be a rider! We have to vote on it and he has not been here long enough.”

“Votes have never mattered, you only suggested it last year and it was never agreed, Kelly, you have no say in this, I am captain and I will decide who is on our teams. Jona here is looking good enough to join the team, he rides fast and keeps eyes out and has a great balance and relationship with Eva.”

Kelly looked as if she had a bug fly up her nose and turned away, speaking quietly and quickly to the big rider and his huge ride.

Jona bowed slightly to the clapping as he put on the cap, several cheers went up and a few roars from the dragons. Kelly’s dragon started to hoot in a cheer but Kelly pulled the reins she had on him tight, cutting off his honoring sound.

Jona returned to Eva, and Big Rider stepped up behind him, “You do not belong here, should not even ride, you have no business in this race. You get up there, we will have issues. Do you understand me? You are the baby waste that was on our floor and stunk it up? Well, you will find that there is payment due for that trespass, maggot.”

Big Rider backed off when Eva turned around, and stared at him.

“Just remember, you don’t belong.” as his ride stepped up, an equally huge, twice Eva’s wing span and half again as tall with smoke curling from the big males nostrils. “Eva, you should not have come back after your accident if this is what you think of as quality rider material.” With that, he climbed up and the ride and rider flew off.

“Do not fret about him, Jona,” Eva said, “We have our own practice to do still. The rider is Stixx, the ride is Kanus. Kanus knocked me out of the sky last year and caused my crash. He said it was an accident, but the judges ruled it an intentional fault by the rider. The judges suspended them for two races for overly aggressive racing. We have to keep an eye on them, but so long as I know where they are, they won’t  pose a problem.”

Jona nodded. “I’m also worried about the blond girl who is a rider.”

“Her?” Kolo had walked up after talking with Teva, “Kelly is insane. Insane and stupid, when she chooses to dislike someone, she uses every chance she can to complain and whine. She is a problem, but not a good rider, she treats her ride like a common horse or burro. See the reins?”

“You ever think to put reins on me, Jona, I will teach you the meaning of fire-breathing and a rough ride.” Eva interrupted.

“She abuses her relationship with Sol, her ride.” Kolo said. “They are not friends, Sol is a good dragon, fast, smart but never gives all because of her.”

“Why does he race with her then?” Jona asked.

“I don’t know, there is gossip, but nothing proven. I think it has to do with he was failing a class and she caught him cheating one time. He is very smart — and proud. It would be a disaster for him if he had cheating come to light.” Eva said.

Jona shook his head, saddened that extortion was something he had to put up with in school. Kola climbed on his ride, Zerksees. With all the riders on the backs of the rides, a cheer from most the dragons stood up as tall as they could and roared.

“This map I am handing out to you is this years route. I propose we follow the route and time ourselves, this will be a real race, let’s see who can cross the finish line first, regular race rules apply, we race against ourselves. Try not to bump each other! We don’t need injuries before the inter-school races.” Teva said chuckling, “We are all on the same side and all.”

Captain Teva yelled “Launch!” and they all shot into the sky.

Eva banked down into a canyon around a butte, Jona was guiding her with his voice as he read off the map and with body language.

“Above!” Jona yelled as Sol dove and passed them in a tight bank, to which Eva had turned to the inside. Down the canyon they sailed and soared, out into a large valley, Kanus easily outdistancing the group, all except for Eva who had kept up without straining herself, Sol was fifth in line, three rides back with Kolo and her ride, Qo’noS, behind Jona.

“Hang on, Kanus is going to use his speed to get ahead, but we don’t have to stay close, just close enough until we get into the canyons for the return trip. To turn, Kanus has GOT to bank and with those big wings, he has to slow down, so he can pull them in.” Eva said in a rumble.

Faster they flew, paralleling the mountain range in the flat lands of the desert. Kanus began to dig deep with great rapid beats of his wings, Eva pushed with more energy than Jona had seen so far, she was not overheating, but he could feel the muscles strain and stretch under her scales and flesh.

“Keep your head down, Jona, we are going for more speed, Kanus is overconfident, he has not looked back.”

Jona looked back. Kola was trying to keep up and he was a distant third, Sol and Kelly were so far behind he couldn’t see her. Faster than the sun they traveled, it appeared to move backwards to the east. Jona could see that Kolo’s ride was fatiguing and slowing slightly but staying directly behind Eva, using her to break the wind as was their plan. The sound of the wind was the familiar hiss with an opaque cataract seem to follow Eva’s shoulders. Jona could see that Kanus was pushing a larger shock-wave and had the disadvantage to being unable to look back at this speed.

“Jona, I can smell Kanus, Stixx is pushing him and Kanus is overheating. I can smell the body heat that his scales are trying to expel.”

“What happens if he gets too hot from exercising? Do Dragons sweat”? Jona asked.

“We do, but not like humans, if it gets very bad, you will see him start to lose scales, we shed hot scales and bare flesh is open to the air and he will grow new ones later.” Eva said. “But he will lose the smooth flow of air over his body and it leave him open to injury.”

“How are you doing?” Jona was running his hands under Eva’s scales, looking for any  overheated spots. 

“Two things, ONE, I’m okay at the moment, the practice runs out to the continental divide have really helped. TWO , stop that! You are tickling me.” Eva giggled in a way that only a dragon could.

A few minutes later, as Jona was looking on the map, telling Eva that the turn into the mountains was over a pile of old rock lava flows.

“I know where those are, just a few minutes more, Kanus is slowing down a bit and I am not even that tired. I didn’t have to race that hard, just stayed in his wake.” Eva laughed as her flight plan was working, no other dragon had yet used drafting from a distance like she had done.

“The draft is a new idea?” Jona wondered.

“Drafting is not new, but from this distance it is, it is not a big boost like if I was right on his tail, but I don’t have to engage him in combat this way and still get a tiny boost. Kola, Kolo’s brother thought of it.”

Banking over dry and rocky ground, Eva and Jona sailed through the peeks over a plateau into the high mountains. Banking hard, they were in a small canyon that snaked back and forth from millions of years of tributary erosion had made the tortuous small canyon tight. No longer lagging behind, Eva was closing the gap as Jona grinned and looked behind, Kolo was also getting closer.

“We’ve been seen.” Eva said.

Stixx had looked back and his eyes widened in surprise behind his goggles as the two dragons had caught up as they banked in and out of the mountains. The rest of the group was closing up , but were still far behind. The large dragon could not bank around the small twists and bends of the mountain peaks.

Forests began to get more lush and deeper, down sheer cliff walls as they followed a waterfall, then a stream along a rapids. Then banking and out into a wide valley, where in the clear air that Kanus pushed and pushed by his rider. Kanus had tried too hard and fatigued, unable now to shake the neck and neck dragons, they went into the next canyon three wide. Kolo and Qo’noS ducked down, using her ride’s slightly smaller wingspan to bank more tightly and gaining more points, Eva and Jona went closer to the mountains using compression of the air to help get them around corners.

Stixx was unable to get his ride to bank tightly enough and missed one turn, having to pull up and return to it, falling back six spots in a single overshoot of the corner.

Jona looked back and could see Stixx shaking a fist at his ride as he pushed the dragon back into the race. Along the spine of the mountains they climbed and dove, Kolo was ahead, then Jona, both Eva and Qo’noS were enjoying themselves without exerting too much.

Then Jona yelled a warning, “Bank and climb! We are gonna hit!”

Eva had little time to react, but with the training done, Jona had given her just enough time as she extended one wing and folded the other, going into a spin and then both wings out and up, a huge shadow blew past them and went into the canyon.

“Stixx! He tried to bump us, but he has more turns coming. ” Eva said.

Teva and his ride Tron had seen, nearly catching up to them as they yelled at each other encouragement and ignored the cheat by the fellow team, they raced on.

In and around the canyons they went. Stixx slipped further behind, charging forward. Two rides, bumped by the older students, had to fall back for missed turns, leaving three racers with Stixx that were his friends. Kelly, Stixx, Robert and Lyster flew in formation and gained on Teva, Kola and Jona.

They raced through the mountains, suddenly bumping and bruising each other in this practice race, the following racers were afraid to continue. Lyster, a small pale senior rider with blue cat eyes rode his ride Muon and brushed up against Teva and then went straight at Eva as they went into a corner, Muon was moving far to fast at the wrong angle for the corner coming up, and with a warning, Eva dove, followed by the excessive speed of Muon and Lyster.

Pulling up, Eva knew what was coming, Stixx and Kanus were moving in from the other side. Eva flared out her wings and hit the brakes. Stixx and Lyster collided and went down into the river as Eva dug deep into the air currents to catch back up to Kola and the backwards looking Teva who had seen it all.

On they raced, Stixx and Lyster were out of the race, Kelly and Robert were trying to close in, but Sol was of no mood for games and Robert had not practiced, both falling behind the three leaders as they finally crossed the finish line at the meadow, dismounted and were talking before the others pulled in.

“I want to file a complaint! This newbie here caused Stixx to collide with Lyster and they went down into the water.” Kelly complained, “They were not doing it right!”

Teva looked at her impassively. “Like be knocked from the sky by your boyfriend? No, Kelly I saw what happened, if I see it again, as captain I can and I will take them off the team, that is not a racer’s way to win.” Teva looked steadily at her, “Besides, they have not been practicing and neither have you, Sol here is unwilling to put himself out on a limb for you because of your attitude. Fix it, or Sol will find himself a new rider on my recommendation. “

“First he is not my boyfriend, I am engaged to Hortense the Honorable. Second. Only so long as you are Captain, Captain.” Kelly said. “If you ever drop out, Stixx is next in line and he follows fraternal law.”

“You should not worry about that, just ride like a racer is your concern.” Teva said mildly.

As the other racers pulled together. Robert standing shyly back, clearly not enjoying the fracture of the team. Stixx making noises to Teva about how Jona fouled him in the corners and he collided with Lyster and his ride.

Lyster looked around as Teva and Stixx were arguing and walked over to Jona, “If you ever knock me out of the air again, I will break you and your little dragon rider over there, too.”

Kolo had heard that and walked up to Lyster, “Try it, you will find yourself being a walking racer, we can find other riders or dragons. You have a good dragon that likes to race, but instead you try to use him as a weapon instead of a partner for a race.”

Lyster blinked, he was larger than she was, but he was not about to cause a scene so close to the captain of the teams, he’d be removed and he did not have Stixx as a backup. Lyster backed away, with a muttered threat that was nearly inaudible as he walked back to his ride and rode away to the dragon’s aerie.

Teva returned from his animated discussion with Stixx and Kelly looking over at the departing Lyster, “What was that about?”

“Nothing, just a show of his bruises.” Jona said as Kolo giggled. “We weren’t impressed, I have seen much better.”

Teva nodded, looking sideways at Jona, not believing him. “As you wish, I won’t have bullying and infighting with the teams, if we are to win the world cup this year, we need a focused team. We will race the dirtiest racer school if we get past Drakensbergs’s and Lord’s.”

“Other racer schools? And dirty racing?” Jona said, surprised at the news of so many more others. “Are there not judges?”

Teva nodded, “Yes, there are judges, but they cannot be in all corners always, bumps happen, accidents happen, but a dirty racer — well, like today — can cause an accident without being observed by judges. Schools like Dragon Lance and ‘kind first are very physical racers, they are known to rub and bump — that is regular racing, but they take it to the point of trying intimidate the other racers into letting them win. That’s not racing, that is bullying. So, we must practice and have aggressive and skilled racers of our own.” Teva paused, “Without trying to bully our way to the winning circle.”

Eva looked around speaking softly, “Qo’noS and I are going to rest and clean at Dragon house, practice again in a few hours?”

Teva nodded, “Sunset after classes, Eva. We do a team race practice again.”

Off Eva flew, in the light of the day, still needing to clean up, all the remaining riders went to their houses and rooms. Jona looked forward to the coming races, the challenges of a race like this would make his parents proud, but he would have to wait until he had done it before he would tell his mother.

“She would have apoplexy if she knew what I was doing on the back of dragons” Jona thought to himself.

Dragon Master University Chapter 18. Veil of Vale

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XVIII. The veil of Vale

Jona walked into the courtyard, Professor Vale was once again shifted his shape to a smaller dragon, basking in a shaft of sunlight that glistened off his ruby scales.

“Professor? I would like to ask a few things.” Jona asked, his head full of questions on what he had just seen. How much was history, how much was fiction and how much was truth.

“Yes, Jona, speak your mind.” The Old dragon looked at him with good humor, he liked Jona it pleased  the professor to help or answer any questions.

“Professor Koos was lecturing me on lore and law, gave me a view of some lore.” You were once human and had to change into a dragon to save your wife?”

Vale nodded, “Yes, no one bothers to ask me, but the one time that the historians did, they used the crystal to record what had happened. The lady with gray and red hair that assists me now and again?”

“Yes, professor, she is you wife?” Jona asked.

Professor Vale looked at Jona for a second and continued while clearing his throat, “Well, now we know you have attended “Obvious Recognition 101″ at one time or another, what I was going to say, she has spent many years looking for the single spell I used. Rumor has it that I cannot speak the spell due to magic, but the only magic was that I could not speak any human speech at first and by the time I was able to, the spell I thought I used was incorrect.” Vale sighed, “So now she uses her knowledge of magic to stay young as possible, she ages about one year for every one hundred.”

Jona stopped and thought for a moment. “The story I saw from the crystal showed you and her as a young couple.”

“Indeed,” Vale nodded, “We had not yet started a family, no children. In fact it took me years to learn how to change size, I can do a little shape change now, but I am always dragon.”

Doing the math at first, “The story then is very long ago.” Then adding, “You had children since then?”

Vale nodded “Yes, it was long before the current history, many years have passed. She was only twenty-two summers old and beautiful as a sunrise on a snowy day.” then nodding again, “We had a number of children that have had both qualities of the race of dragon and man. Kolo and Kola are both related to me, although many times removed, twenty-five generations or so.”

“My friend Kolo and her brother?” Jona asked

“Yes, not all dragons lay eggs, depending on the clans or branch of the family tree.” Nodded the Professor.

“Clans?”

“This is my break time,” the professor said, sitting up. “but as you want to learn, let’s go to the master room of the Garnet House. Climb aboard.” Vale said as he swelled in size, a four-winged dragon as he changed size, Jona climbed on his back into the saddle area– that was not fully developed as in the racer dragons, but then, Vale was a much older dragon and racing had not been a sport back then.

At the top of Professor’s aerie. There was stone tables of granite and soapstone of verdigris color, with a full view in all directions, Jona gaped at out the lead glass windows, mountainous peaks from all his view were magnificent.

“Dragons are family oriented, mothers are as protective as any human parent. Old stories of virgin sacrifices were simply overstated and elaborately told stories of rogue drakes that were just like any

other being on this earth with prejudices and hatred to others. Some were equal opportunity hate mongers. Ultimately, the councils of dragons gathered and the first peaceful meetings with humans happened.” Vale opened a very wide scroll as it lay over a wide table of intricately carved soapstone. “The first meetings you see marked here on the time line were with the Pirate High Council, perhaps the most free and dangerous group of humans to empire or govern.”

“Pirates? Robbers of the sea, correct?” Jona asked, he knew the stories of the seagoing raiders. “They come ashore, burn and pillage. I have had teachings of such things.”

Vale nodded, “In the most basic sense, they are barbarians and robbers, those are the ones you hear about that are the most unskilled at the bottom of the pirate food chain. They are not they pirates that were here. The pirates that put on the show are those that live outside of the government’s influence and do not pay taxes to an entity that gives diminishing returns. Instead, they donate funds, goods and services when they wish. This is outside of the control of government– another irksome thing for those that desire power above all. They call these men and women pirates as a result, it is easier to prosecute a ban on trading with the people.”

Vale continued, “These are the people in the early days the dragon councils met. It was the pirates that suggested a school, first for just dragons to learn, but then to bring forward a school for teaching the teachers. This is why you are here. A teacher must understand the relationship and be able to teach past the prejudices of both dragon and human. You will be a Master of dragon knowledge to dragons and humans. You will be a Dragon Master, but I digress, you must know what you ask.”

Jona nodded, lost in the history time line as it was laid out before him.

“Dragons live for a very long time, some say forever but that is not the case, they do age and become elderly, but the length of a dragon’s lifespan has not yet been firmly established. No deaths of natural causes as of yet, that have been recorded.’

Vale corrected himself “All but for one, not long after the first peaceful contact with humans there was a dragon named Koshenkpough, a fire dragon. He befriended a human orphan boy when his mother was a victim of a governments abuse of power. His father was a bookmaker and was never around. The child learned much from the dragon and was unable to ever speak his name properly and he nicknamed the dragon, who liked the name and has since been known as “Puff”. Puff was the first Dragon Master to a human, though they did not have the title at the time.”

Jona nodded, “I saw a column with the name of Puff on it. I wondered why such a strange name for a Dragon. So it was a nickname?”

“History is known for renaming people and dragons,” Vale nodded, “Places and events that did not reflect the real names at the time. Let’s continue. Dragons, and although I am one, I am human inside by thought and feeling, but after living as a dragon for so many years, I have learned a few things.” Vale smiled, “One of which as you know I can change size, but not quite shape or I’d be human in a heartbeat.” Vale chuckled. “It would make sitting by the fireplace with RedNova– that’s my wife’s name– Possible. Or go visit her father.”

“He is still alive?” Jona asked.

“Yeah, he is REALLY old.” Vale winked. “He is studying spells for all this time to break what I cast that day.”

“Wow, there is so much more to the world.” Jona was looking over the scroll and the time line that was drawn upon it.

“More than you know now, even.” Vale nodded. “Dragons have developed close ties with humans over the years. The biggest heartbreak that any of them have is that, although dragons live forever, humans do not. Remember Puff and his human friend, the boy grew up and left to live his human life in time, Puff returned to his cave.  Some say Puff was the boy’s mother who had been transfigured, somehow, like I have been. Others say that Puff changed his name and just disappeared into the crowds and might be among us today. We have never established what happened.”

“So if, say a human and dragon were married, they could raise a family?” Jona asked.

“With the right kind of healer and medicine, yes. It might be odd for both of them as the offspring are usually a blend of traits. The curiosity and inventive nature of the human side, the long life and learning capacity of the dragon, occasionally there are different results, some good, and some — well to say evil might be too harsh, but the outcome has been…” Vale paused, “Unfortunate.”

“What is this notation here about vampires and lycan?” Jona asked while reading small print on a time line.

“That, my young protegé, is for later studies. Just keep in mind, any mix of dragons and the other two is fraught with disaster. Already between lycan and vampire exists a war as the two are diametrically opposed.” Tracing his crimson colored hand down the page, ” Here, lists how clans of dragons exist. Some indicate live births, others the day they have had eggs hatch. No one is to say which is better, but smaller dragons tend to have live births and the laying of clutches of eggs seemingly is on the wane over the years. It seems to make a stronger bond to the parent-child relationship in the dragons.”

“How many clans are there?” Jona asked as he traced his finger over the parchment.

“How many clans are there in humans? No one knows.” Vale chuckled. “It has only the main course of history, this does not detail clans and the branches. That would be like trying to follow a drop of water in an ocean.”

“Why do humans hunt dragons?” Jona asked, “Seems that it would be better if the two races would work together.”

“It is the same way on both sides,” Professor Vale nodded grimly. “A few make it impossible for the many. That is why you are here at the school, to help survival of both.”

Jona tingled with the thought of that. A huge responsibility, but a lot to learn still.

“Thank you Professor, I have a lot to learn.”

“Homework, Jona, without it, your grades will not improve.”

“Yes, sir. And I need to practice with Eva on racing, we are working out in a full team race, four of us are doing the course today.”

“Good luck, Jona, do not fall off.” Vale smiled softly.

Dragon Master University chapter 17. History Crystal

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XVII. History Crystal

Professor Koos watched Jona as he took in the history lesson presented him.

******

“Many years had passed with the green wizard teaching his student, in time, the student moved out to the valley beyond, taking with him, the red-haired daughter of the green wizard. In the honor of his wife, the wizard became the red wizard and the two great wizards taught the ways of how earth lived within each of them.

Crops flourished, and in time people began to move into the vale of the red wizard. The green wizard would come and visit time to time, the houses were at peace.

Barbarians came, camped out on the far shores of the valley. The red wizard told the people to go and greet the new comers. But in a savage display, the barbarians raided houses and farms, burning as they went. The green wizard cast a spell and withdrew, telling the red wizard that the spirit of man is all of destruction and domination, but the younger wizard of the crimson sky refused to hide with his wife’s father. The red-witch and crimson wizard joined forces with the communities of the valley and stood against the destroyers of their lives.

All day and night the war came, the barbarians came from the sea, dressed and ready for war. In the middle of the vale they forced against the defenders and were slowly pushed back. The red witch lead her own side against the hoard, calling on them to fight and telling the attackers to drop their weapons and leave.

Suddenly she had stepped in a hole, a small gopher hole that broke her ankle. The red wizards wife was down in the front of the barbarian hoard as they surged forward towards her, axes glimmered in the light as she lay helpless on the ground. All her protection was busy fighting others of the invaders.

Fifty meters away, the battle line drew closer.

The wicked edges of the knives and axes pushed forward and the red wizard grabbed at his pendant. Looking for someone to volunteer to have a spell cast on them, he could change someone into anything he wished, his pendant, like that of the green wizard was that of a dragon.

Forty meters. The Red-Witch could see their eyes, locked upon her.

Everyone was in combat and pushing the invaders back, the fighters cut him off from his beloved wife. The wizard looked for someone to transform into a dragon! No one was there.

Thirty meters.

She lay screaming on the ground, the skin of her leg tented up by fractured bone that threatened to cut through from the inside, the red-headed warrior-woman was unable to focus enough through the pain to help herself, her people of her brigade were falling back, her life was in danger.

She was alone.

Twenty meters.

Blood lust of the barbarians grew, Uruk the Strong was in battle mode, he knew if he could get to her, the fight would be over. Pushing through, he could see the freckles on her face as he adjusted the grip on his sword.

Fifteen meters.

“Is there NO one that can help?” Bellowed the red wizard, his weapon stunned another berserk warrior charging him. A staff of hardened hawthorn wood with a crystal embedded in it, a gift from the green wizard.

Ten meters.

The tide of the battle was turning against them, the people of the valley would lose their homes, their witch and their lands. The wizard knew that he would lose his heart and his love. He had to protect her no matter what.

One last thought as the words he spoke in a long dead language, changed for use on self instead of another.

Seven meters away.

Uruk was nearly upon her when a shadow blotted the sun out.

It was the largest creature he had ever seen in his life, but he recognized its shape. The blood-red scales, eyes that looked into one’s soul.

“DRAGON!” He screamed like a little child.

And such a dragon, easily three men tall,  landed with such force that the ground shook. The red witch had no idea where it came from, under the shadow of its tail, she drew a dagger.

As the great-lizard like creature gazed at the barbarians, she stuck the dagger in at the base of the dragon’s tail, shoving and twisting at the same time.  This scaled monster was not going to eat her or any of her people with impunity.

The dragon let out a roar that, people who heard it said, the echo bounced back and forth for days.

All fighting, everywhere, halted.

The hundreds of barbarians had a collective loss of bladder control as the ground at their feet became suddenly wet.

The dragon’s roar ended up in a shrill screech that caused the barbarians to drop their weapons as the warriors attack turned into a retreat to the sea that had brought them to the lands of the red witch and wizard.

The valley was safe, the people of the lands cheered the dragon who reached back and pulled out the knife that stuck in his backside with a clawed hand, his only identifying mark was the pendant that he wore around his neck.

Her husband had saved her life, the lives of the villagers and the valley at the cost of his human shape.

What spell did you use, husband?” But the dragon could not speak in human words. Protecting the valley and his wife became the history of the land.

In time the dragon became known as a fair and wise judge, learning to speak human, but never able to tell of the magic spell he used on himself.

The green wizard tried for years, but the many thousands of different spells in different languages, no one could find out what one it was. But the quest continues to this day. The dragon known for its valley that it so well protected has since become known as Vale.

The blood of the villagers that gave their lives, watered by the barbarians in their moment of fear, sprouted trees along the shores of the stream where they fought. The stream changed the flow, but the hedge grows still as a memorial to those that gave all that they had to the protection of the land and the lives of those they loved.”

*******

Jona looked as the crystal faded back to its normal color and then the thought struck him.

“Professor Vale?”

“Indeed” Koos said. “This all has occurred long before there were dragon schools, but Vale and a few others have come together and have promoted safety for both human and dragon. Indeed one country has even developed a fighting style of dragons, used by dragons and mankind alike. Adapted of course for the different needs and body styles.”

Jona sat there with his mouth open as if going to say something but froze in the middle of the word.

“Lore and law, that is what you need to know in all forms. Lore — that is the story you just saw, law is what is handed down from the lore and the wrongs within it. Does it touch you? Yes, through Professor Vale.” Koos lectured him.

Jona nodded, “Yes, I see, Professor, thank you. I will get the past due homework in. Kolo has helped me, she is very good tutor, she is also the sister to one of my roommates.”  Jona stood up and thanked Professor Koos. Gathering his books, he returned to the dorms to retrieve his assignments.

Watching Jona walk out of the classroom, Professor Koos would only hope that he had the spark started in the soul of the boy, for if he did not continue to improve, they would have to pull him off of the racer team.

Koos knew if he could push the young man, get him to realize the potential in his soul, get his heart and spirit in the same spot, one day, dragons or humans would never have to worry about trauma or illness.

“I must speak to Kolo…” His thoughts trailed off, shaking his head, the boy was old enough to make his own path, but occasionally, Professor Koos knew, even the wisest needs a friendly slap to the back of the head to get them ot pay attention.

He walked to his chambers that looked out over the sapphire blue lake and sent word to Kolo to come see him.

Dragon Master University Chapter 14. Dragonflight

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XIV. Dragonflight

Sprite woke him in the morning, pulling on Jona’s ear clicking and chirping, a new sound for the little one.

“Oww, what?” Jona moaned and brushed his hair out of his eyes and got dressed. Sprite flitted around excitedly as they climbed together up the stairs in the pre-dawn light.

Kolo stood outside and Jona gasped at the chill air that filled his lungs. She looked beautiful, even bundled in a heavy overcoat and a headband.

“You didn’t tell him to dress warm, Sprite?” Kola laughed like violins being played. Jona’s heart skipped beats in the moment she did that.

“What is it? My classes start in a little while, Dragon Lore and Law is my next class.” Jona yawned.

“DLL is not every day, today you get a late morning, your next class is flight , and that is what you were said to be a natural at.” Kolo said, ” So we are going to increase on that, team races are later this year, you and a dragon.”

“Who do I ride? You?” Jona grinned.

“You wish, but no.” Kolo walked in front of him swaying her hips slightly as she giggled softly. “You will be riding a larger athlete this time, you and a dragon together and race among the mountains, the racer, Wivern, said you had a natural sit on the saddle. Better than most humans.”

Kolo laughed softly as Jona looked up and nearly screamed. He drew breath sharply as he looked up at the dark-colored dragon with orange eyes.

“This is one of the best dragons on the race team at the school.” Kolo said as Sprite hid in Jona’s hair, then flitted over to Kolo.

“Hello baby, your mama will be trying out for the racing team.” Kolo said, indicating that she was talking about Jona.

“I remember you, you scream like a baby-cat that gets stepped on.” The big dragon leaned over and spoke softly like distant thunder. ‟I am Eva and I would like to win the Tour of the Mountains race later this year.”

Kolo laughed as she climbed up Eva’s back.

“First we need to get you settled on the saddle, come on up, get comfortable. I will teach you how to fly as a team. Eva is fast, but she suffered injuries last year when she collided with another racer.” Kolo said as she stroked Eva’s wing-root.

Jona climbed up and settled himself in.

“Are there organized teams? I mean, is there a leader of some kind?”

“Yes, but you have to show your ability, most fresh faces here don’t even get a chance, Sprite here has told me you’re in a line of human Dragon Masters?” Eva said. The heat that rose from her scales was comfortable, without burning his skin as he gently stroked her neck.

Sprite clicked and chirped excitedly, his breath puffing out in steam, a hint of what he was going to be able to do as an adult.

“Yeah, my parents both, my grandfather on my paternal side. might have had more.” Jona said as he looked down while getting himself positioned in the saddle, a soft breeze tickled at his hair.

“Eva, your saddle is a different shape, it is a tighter fit than the one on Wivern.

Eva growled slightly. That alone was terrifying.

“That show off, he was the idiot with who I collided last year, I fell into the trees, my rider had gotten torn up and spent a long time in the school hospital. She was a good rider, but now is afraid to get in the saddle. So, I need a new rider— if you are the one, we can win.”

Kolo nodded.

“The problem now is, Eva, you are bigger, the corners are going to give you troubles.” Leaning into Jona where her breath tickled his ear and made the ends of his lips turn into a smile “The race is more for small to medium dragons, large ones have speed on the straight and can even get altitude, but the turns around a mountain? Or on a lake? You have to bank or you have to go slow.”

“I heard that,” Eva humphed, “I have practiced, if I can get enough speed, I can pull the wings in and bank just using the outer quarter of my wingtips, when I level out I can extend and gain speed and altitude.” Eva sighed. “I just have to make sure not to lose too much speed or height. Banking like that takes me closer to the ground. We could hit at speeds faster than sound.”

“I would think that is a bad thing to happen?” Jona blinked.

“Very bad, indeed. It could kill both dragon and rider.” Kolo nodded.

“We would be disqualified then, they don’t allow dead racers to accept trophies.” Eva said with black humor.

“All set?” Eva asked as she turned towards the edge of the lighter part of the sky. “We fly until sunrise and back before you need class.”

“Wait!” Kolo said as she slip in behind Jona, “Okay, now ready. Sprite? You good to go?”

The little dragon shook his head and flitted over to the branch of a tree and settled down. Watching with brilliant blue eyes as Eva grinned. “Smart little dragon, hate to get your scales blown off.”

With that, Eva took a mighty leap into the air and with strokes of the wings that did not seem so big since his recent days at the Dragon Master’s University, they moved ever higher and faster.

Kolo slid her arms around his waist and held close, the warmth of her body soaked through his leather armor as her breath warmed down his neck. Onward they flew, first south around a second lake then banked hard just above the lake surface. Turning due east into the gathering light.

Down they flew, trees the likes of which Jona had never seen, taller than the tallest dragon or even any of the spires of the school flashed by as they gained speed on the down slope of the mountain range. The air grew warmer as the trees became smaller and then finally the numbers of the great trees gave way to  bushes and sand, faster she flew, across a desert, banking low over some mountains that had an updraft she could feel.

“Hang on! We are about to cover a lot of ground very fast.” Kolo whispered warmly in his ear. “This is where big wings work best.” Then raising her voice “Eva! Clear air above and behind, give it all you have!”

The wings did the impossible, they began to stroke the air faster than Jona’s heart beat, Kolo’s fingers dug into his chest as she pressed her body against his back. For the first time he began to think she was not doing it just to hang on, Kolo was enjoying having her arms around Jona.

Speed began make the wind hurt. Faster they went still, the wings nearly blurring in the speed they flew, Eva was creating her own heat that was making a warm bubble of air from around her scales as Jona followed Kolo’s instructions and stretched down behind the scales that covered the wing roots. Here the wind was not even buffeting, a small eddy of warm air came from behind and he could smell Kolo’s scent.

She smelled like flowers and spice.

A flat area, bright white in the near sunrise, shallow pools of water far below as they crossed the area with such speed that Jona thought impossible.

“Faster, riders! Hold on, one last burst before we turn.” Eva roared into the wind.

Jona felt as if he would slide off the back of his ride, Eva did such speed that the eddy that was warming them stopped, it was still and warm, the sound of rushing wind changed to a steady hiss while Jona watched through transparent parts of the scales and membranes of wings.

Covering the distances with a blur, a large line of mountains, up and around the first one. They banked hard and up, the sun was blinding-bright when they cleared the top of the mountain, trailing a shock-wave that knocked pine cones from trees.

“Back into the dark! Now we race the sun!” Eva yelled.

Jona had thought she was fast before, the speed Eva achieved in the dive back towards the clouds below was a whole new experience.

The sun seemed to set in the wrong way as they streaked across the sky towards the west.  A line of clouds that Jona had not noticed before looked as if it was rushing towards them.

“This is the best ride I have had in a long time, ” Kolo yelled as she nipped the base of his neck playfully. “You don’t scream.”

Jona laughed, “I forgot to do that!”

Faster still they moved, the sound of the wind over the scales of the dragon was nearly too high of a pitch for him to hear.

The scales on the edges began to buzz slightly and began to get hot to the touch where he kept his hands. Jona looked back, the sun was down below the horizon again to the east.

Jona moved his left hand down to check the part he sat on, the part everyone called the saddle that grew naturally on the large dragon and put his hand on Kolo’s leg. Her riding pants were skin-tight— or scale-tight as he reminded himself— and he was surprised as she pressed to his body so tightly. Slipping his hand along her leg she laughed lightly, but said nothing.

“Pay attention!” Eva yelled. “I need a spotter when we get into the mountains with the trees again. Tell me when I am getting too close or where other trees might be.”

Diving low along the ground, the speeding dragon caused an updraft of dust and debris behind them.

She began to climb, faster than before.

Higher and higher, into the mountains they had left only a half-hour before.

In reverse of the first part of the trip,  the shrubs and bushes gave way to trees, then finally back into the giants of the land. Up and over the crest of the range of mountains and down a valley with a glacier still holding on from the ancient days.

A cleaned monolith of rock, curved on one side and vertical on the other down to the valley floor flashed by as they flew down the valley and out into a flat landed area, and banked hard over while Eva flew on.

“That was the second leg of the race.” The big dragon yelled.

“How many legs are there?” Jona yelled back.

“Eight legs in all, in each of six races.” Kolo said loudly just far enough from his ear to not hurt. “I looked it up, Eva. “

“SIX races this year? I have a lot more practice to get in!” and with that, the dragon flapped even harder as they streaked back to school.

Circling the mountain, Eva set down in the meadow that they had started from. Jona and Kolo climbed off, Jona noted that a slight amount of vapor came from some of her scales.

“I have been worse, at least I know I have some speed.” Eva said, “Next time, we have to practice communications, you just had the basic flight. I had to find out how well I did with a rider– two in this case and we did great speed. Kolo you need to ride with him more often. I need the exercise and he needs to have training.”

Jona laughed. “Absolutely! How do I make sure my name is in the Racer’s Team? Who do we race?” he asked.

Kolo laughed, “There are other schools. DragonLords College of Wisdom is one, DrakesBerg University is another.”

“We will meet again in a few days, Jona.” The large dragon said, “We need to get you on the team, you have courage and don’t try to dominate while flying.”

“I could send him to Professor Vale, ” Kolo offered. “The Professor knows from both sides of the experience as rider and as ride.”

“Excellent,” Eva nodded, “He will give this new boy a chance.”

Turning to her chosen rider, she addressed him directly.

‟Jona, know this, there have been those hurt and even killed during these races. Dragon and rider both, so be sure if you want to do this, you would be one of the lowest-caste riders, a student that has been here only a month. But, Kolo seems to think highly of you.”

“It was Sprite, his adoptive dragon.” Kolo smiled. “That is what got me interested.”

Jona held up his hand, “Do I get a vote in this at all? Other than if I have courage or not?”

Both females looked at him as if he spoke in a strange language and said “No!” in unison. Laughing as they did so.

“You have a great spirit, Jona, I felt it in you.” Kolo said looking Jona directly into the eye without laughing. “Sprite would not have chosen you, the fates would not have put you in the spot at that time to have a baby dragon looking for its mother and saw you first.”

Jona blushed at his ears. The only thing on his body that he could never seem to control, looking down he kicked at a rock for a moment.

“I will do the best I can.”

“Only if your grades are good enough, ” Eva said grimly, her orange eyes going dark red “You WILL not have poor test grades and you will get your homework done— on time and turned in— correct?”

Kolo nodded, “He will, or he will not like me anymore.” She grinned and socked Jona in the shoulder firmly.

‟He will make the grade. Or else.”

‟Or else what?” Jona said, half-joking.

Then it got serious, and downright scary when Eva leaned down and nearly touched her nose to his.

Smoke came from her scales, some from her nose.

‟Human boy, you will keep your grades up or you will find out how unpleasant life can be.” The big dragon’s eyes focused on him and he felt she could see down inside him.

‟Do not fail me or Kolo, keep us happy, and your life will be happy.”

Jona agreed with this turn of events.

He would not fail them. Ever. Jona had learned about respect, then he shook his head at himself.

Those two scared him!

Dragon Master University Chapter 13. Classes

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XIII. Classes

A gong sounded in the house somewhere and jolted Jona a`wake. Sam made a squealing noise in his room and staggered out in the hallway to the study room. “Ugh, I hate that! I had forgotten how loud that wake up alarm is. “

“Does that happen all the time?” Jona yawned as he noticed sweet breads, grains and a serving dish of scrambled eggs was sitting at the table in the study room.

“Only during the class days.’ Sam laughed “Nearly made me jump out of my skin all last year. My species only molts once a year on average. I think I nearly shed five times.”

Jona cackled in good early morning humor.

As he walked up the stairs, Jona saw that Professor Vale was there, supervising book bags being handed out.

“Keep these and do not throw them away. They’ll be checked back in at the end of the year.”

Jona hurried out of the Garnet house and headed to where his schedule indicated his class. Dragon lore and law.

Finding the right place after several stops to ask older students where the classroom was. Each one having the look of fear on their faces.

“You have Professor Koos. Good luck.” several of them said.

Walking into the class, just on time for class to start. A short human with a long mustache, pulled back just so, merging into his gray hair, looked up and then down at the seating. Jona was obviously the last to arrive.

“Mr.” Professor Koos paused, puzzling over the name. “Sam- hain? Please take seat twelve-dee”

“It is pronounced Sah-wain in my country, Professor.” Jona corrected the old human.

“Indeed? I shall endeavor to correct my pronunciation in the future.” Professor Vale said quietly.

Professor Vale began to hand out papers, “This will be a timed quiz, you have fifteen minutes to the end of the test.”

“Sir? Professor? I was unaware of a test today? This is the first day of school- what could be the subject?” Jona asked.

“You picked up the schedule before today— otherwise you would not know where the classroom is. By extension you then know where my office is, the lessons for study I posted  two weeks ago on my office door, failure to study or to look for the lesson plan is no excuse. Please do your best on the test. Good luck.” And Professor Koos turned and walked away back to his desk.

Turning at his desk, he leaned against it and crossed his arms, for a teacher, Jona noticed for the first time, he had huge arms.

Professor Koos Spoke. “You come to me with heads full of sawdust and mush, in my class— if you survive— you will leave with minds of Masters. Masters of your Destiny and the earth’s.”

Thus the test began, Jona was already lost, thinking that the only thing he had gotten right was his name. Some of the questions he knew from his parents talking with him. Some questions he knew from his recent contacts with the school.

“Define a Dragon Hunter.” he read and wrote his answer with a quill.

Fifteen minutes later, Professor Koos collected the papers and began to lecture on the lore of the relationship of dragons and men.

Jona’s second class, fundamentals of flying was no less difficult. The instructor, Professor Vale, stood in the middle of the meadow outside of the volcano core. It was cool, even at the late morning, the red dragon shape of the professor paced back and forth in front of the class.

“Riding, not like a horse. The relationship between flying dragon and rider.” Vale said in a gentle voice unlike his voice at bed time the night before, “You will know, feel and see what it is like as a rider. No matter of your race. Whether you be Elf, Human or Dragon of your own that can ride another. The relationship is all important, there are those, humans mostly, that will hunt your ride. As a rider, you must know where to go. And there are things even in the air that will hunt a dragon.”

Several smaller dragon students nodded. Even the biggest of Dragons, it was known, the unspeakable terror that can come from below or above. Men with weapons that can reach out, wizards with magic and chains. A Dragon’s freedom was always under assault.

“First, you must know the speed at which a dragon can fly.” The armored head of the red-dragon nodded. ‟I can fly faster than an arrow can fly, and I can fly at that speed for all day. This is a typical speed, my friend here,” A huge gust of wind as a large gleaming purple dragon landed as light as a feather, “Has been known to create thunder during a dive. This makes it all but impossible to ride, unless you are hiding behind his horns out of the wind he produces.”

A rough voice, as if burned by fire, “I fly faster than sound when in a dive, I can fly past an observer before the sound of my passing reaches them.”

The class murmured in disbelief. One boy, a new student by the lack of rosettes on his leather armor, spoke. “My father says there is nothing that a dragon can do that a man can’t. Flying faster than sound is impossible.”

“Why are you here, if you have such a feeling?” Professor Vale asked. “Surely you have no wish to lean more, because you know all you need to know from your father?”

“I thought that this was a place of learning facts, not of stories. The earth is eternal, we will need to control and dominate it if we are to control the destiny of the earth.” the Brown haired boy said.

“Mister Gallo, please see me after class? You may attend the rest of the class as it goes on today.” Vale said.

Gallo crossed his arms,

“My parents give more money to this school than any other.” Gallow said as he stood with his arms crossed. He had muttured, but still just loud enough for Jona to hear him.

Sprite landed on Jona’s shoulder and clicked happily.

“Mister Samhain, you seem to have a connection to dragons, if I remember you have two parents that are masters themselves?” Vale asked.

“Yes, Professor. I found out just this summer that they are far more than they seem.”

“You might wish to tell me how to ride a dragon?” Vale asked, “What would keep you from falling off?”

“Um… Hang on?” Jona was not able to think of anything else.

The class laughed as if on cue.

“Knew I was going to like you as a roommate.” An unfamiliar dragon slapped him the shoulder as the purple dragon snorted in laughter and nodded.

`

“Vale, the boy is right, as much as it’s a melding of minds, to hold on is important.” The flying dragon nodded.

“Jona, would you come and sit on Wivern, show how you would hold on?”

Jona walked up to Wivern and crawled up on his back, finding a spot that he fit in perfectly and settled into what seemed like a saddle.

Wivern settled forward and flapped his wings, not taking off.

“He has a natural feel on the saddle.” Wivern spoke in his gravelly voice.

Wivern walked around in the meadow, Jona held on at first, as Vale was explaining the theory of how to sit with balance and keeping an eye out on for location. Communication between rider and ridden, explained by Wivern, performed by body language as often a dragon at speed may not hear the words of the rider.

“Some of us can hear through our scales, simply by speaking while we fly, we can understood without great difficulty.” Wivern advised.

Class continued, questions and answers, how to fly. Dragons were not steeds but simply friends that would allow riders. Jona learned that dragons came in more sizes and shapes than he had so far discovered.

Then the professor mention of the other, more frightening things that hunted dragons.

“Read up on dragon flight, the Gorgon is the subject of the written test two weeks from today. Flight styles and escapes in the past, I want a paper written due on the first day of next week, class dismissed.” Vale smiled as he watched the students leave.

“Gorgon, what is that?” Walking up the path back to the volcano, Jona asked Sam.

Sam shuddered. “I always thought it was a kids story to keep us home at night. The Gorgon is an ancient threat, there are more of them than one.”

“Hi!” Said another young man, “I am your roommate, came in at the beginning of classes this morning with Spirat, I saw you on the dragon at class. That was good! Wasn’t it? It was awesome to see!”

“Kola? Shut up.” Said a second boy. “He can never say just hello, he has to make a story out of it. I am Spirat, We will be staying in the room with you at Garnet house.”

“Say, you have a dragon on your shoulder!” Kola said “He looks like..”

“Kola, shut up.” Sam said and Kola became quiet.

“Kola comes from a Yak family, all they do is talk. Make good politicians, but seem to always take up all the air.”

Walking as they spoke, Spirat and Kola continued to introduce themselves. Kola was the younger brother of Kolo who Jona had already met. Kola explained for the thousandth time that the females of his family were very attracted to humans and were known to attract the best of the Dragon Masters.

“Half dragons are more common these days. Starting with a Professor here at the school.” Kola said as they walked to the next classes.

“Math!” Jona moaned. “I hate math.” It was always his worst subject. “I can never get it, my dad had to save my grades more than one time. Showing me how to do it, but still after all that time I was so happy to get away from the class and the instructor.”

“I like math” Kola interrupted, “The dragon math is different from what you know! It’s all about flight, angles and landings. Very involved, dragons don’t know it right off, many have been hurt with wrong landings. I’m not even allowed to fly.” Kola blushed blue.

Spirat laughed “He told me the problem, he keeps hurting himself, so they don’t allow him to try to fly, he does look a bit like a wounded bird in flight.”

Jona and Sam looked at Spirat, “You known him long?” Jona asked.

“We grew up together, we are second cousins on my father’s side and we grew up together.” Spirat grinned, “I take care of him, he takes care of me. Our family way.” Then he whispered, “He is the only biped fire-puffing dragon I know of.” Spirat laughed.

“Fire puffing?” Sam asked, “Not fire-breathing?”

“No, I don’t just breath fire, I have to focus a bit and then try, but I do okay at it.” Kola grinned.

The students walked back to their room and sat down to study during the night when the bell sounded in the house.

Dinner was served.

Dragon Master University Chapter 12. Class Schedule

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XII. Class Schedule

“Here you go, Professor Vale’s office, each student’s schedule is on the door. He’s a red dragon and rumor has it that he was once a human. He had a magic spell go as wrong as it could possibly go wrong, now he can’t turn back.” Sam said, then added with a tinge of fear in his voice, ‟His wife is the Red Witch. So don’t try to cheat on anything, those two will KNOW.”

Jona pulled a folded parchment from the door with his name scribed on the folded-over flap and opened it. “Dragon lore and law, dragon speak one-oh-one, basics of flight, mathematics— MATH?” Jona gasped, “Math was not my best subject, why do I need math here?”

“They always stick me in math. Hate it, but it has to be passed.” Sam shrugged.

Jona kept reading.

“Health: Pathogens of Dragons and Humans, Communicable  Diseases and Interspecies Transmission. I do not even know what the title MEANS, how can I even pass the class if I cannot understand even the title?” Jona had a note of panic in his voice.

“You’ll learn.” Sam laughed, “As a dragon, I have had classes that instruct about the jealousy of humans, ‘human emotions’ that is a class that is a real pain. All the mammal humans I know are okay. I have considered that they’re talking about old humans.”

Jona smiled and kept going down the list.

“Fundamental relationships of rider and ride”, Jona blinked “Rider and ride? Like horses?”

Sam laughed again as they walked down the stairs.

“No, some dragons you ride. NOT like horses, they give rides if it is a bond of trust or friendship between the human and dragon. Like your baby dragon that rides on your shoulder and head. Someday he’ll become large enough to give you rides.”

Jona thought of sprite, had not seen him in a while and was being a little worried.

‟Well, right now, the little guy wouldnt’ be much of a squish if someone stepped on him.”

Back in their rooms they settled in for the night, Professor Vale, on the main floor, called that lights out time was nearly upon them, now the sun was down. Classes started early in the morning and all were to be in bed.

“Good night, students.” The voice was like soft thunder that echoed in Jona’s head long after he settled into the soft bed.

The Red Witch’s Dragon (A short story about 3,000 words)

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The Red Witch’s Dragon

Smoke of the burning ships drifted across the hills.

They had come.

The warriors from the north and east to the verdant land. Of the people, even the Green Wizard had summed up his advice in one word.

Flee.

Even the Green Wizard had told the younger, more volatile Red Wizard of the west to leave the area. They could return to the land after the raiders had left.

The Red Witch and Wizard taught the artisans the ways to perform their own brand of magic on ingots of gold, silver, copper and other metals. As they traded for and wide for the raw materials that they brought back to the village, both the husband and wife of the mountain felt they owed the village the best protection they could do.

“The best protection, my son, is to lead them to safety.”

Safety from the Dubh-Gall. Ferocious warriors that the world had not before seen. They came out of the north in high prow-ships, rowing like madmen. Swift, unstoppable and terrifying. In another age and language they went by another name.

Viking.

****

“Move along! Quickly! The sooner we are through the hills…”

A scream echoed down the line of people. In the distance, the glint of steel shown through the forest.

They were coming.

“RUN! Drop everything that you are not wearing, carry the children and run!”

Oengus, the Red Wizard turned to his wife and they both knew what they had to do.

“Come with me.” The Red Wizard said to the most well armed of the men that did duty as the rear guard.

“Flank guard, come with me!” Assa the Red Witch said loudly. ignoring the irritated look from the Green Wizard as he herded the people through the gap.

Taking a group of adults to the rear, the plan quickly evolved to keep the Dubh-Gall from crossing the stream. They lined up in two rows, forming a giant V to keep the raiders from crossing the water ford and away from the escaping people.

The plan was to force the raiders to think they had broken through, only to cross at the deepest part of the stream where the swift waters flowed into a cataract.

****

Confident in their plan they deployed their under-armed and untrained warriors, painted the ruddy color of blood, they took finely forged weapons meant for trade and selling to princes and kings. This time, the people used the fine weapons to defend children, and those that could not defend themselves.

These were not soldiers, the was the leader, but the Wizard himself was no soldier.

Still, he had read the books of Alexander and Hannibal.

****

The rending of wood and metal upon flesh. The battle of the artisans against those of the raiders was decidedly one-sided.

Battle hardened from their many raids where the people ran like sheep. They were not ready for the she-wolf in red hair in the form of Assa, The Red Witch.

****

Their attack faltered as they surged forward against the raiders, the bright red hair and furious scream of a wild-eyed warrior woman bent on protecting those that have asked for it— fell.

Of all the things to happen to a person with arrows flying both directions, spears thrown and sharp instruments swung like scythes in the field.

Stepping sideways to dodge a swinging ax, she moved in front of a charging horse that killed the murderous berserker with its massive hooves and knocked her down in the process, stepping on her foot as it charged forward.

****

Two-hundred fifty paces from the front of the lines, she was not in the lead and her line began to falter.

Fighting and falling back, the line of home protectors, elders and the crazy aunt that everyone has, stood between the fleeing line of family and the bloodthirsty men from the sea.

In the clearing of bodies, Assa’s head bobbed up and down as she tried to make a splint out of a dropped battle club. Too far away, Oengus the Red saw his wife laying on the ground in harm’s way.

The line had moved away from her as his line was putting pressure on the raiders with archers and running battles.

But Assa was alone. Without a leader, her line began to fall back.

****

One-hundred fifty paces between her and the fighting line of death.

Arrows fell around her, the Wed Ritch without a weapon or tool, dragged herself to a broad shield dropped in the heat of battle and pulled it over her as three arrows hit nearby. Using it thick leather, wood and metal as an umbrella to protect her from the steel rain.

And the viking archers were finding her range.

Pulling the shield over her, broad as two men, an arrow struck the shield at a dangerous angle. This archer was spot on target and she was the bullseye.

Looking about, Oengus sought a volunteer to become a protector of his wife. Try as he might as they pushed towards where Assa was, the raiders were too strong and pushed back.

One-hundred twenty-five paces, the line grew closer to her. The defenders were retreating inexorably back, no one stopped to help her, they were all too busy fighting. Those that fell were on their own.

Such are the costs of war.

Oengus continued to search, but no one could break away, his own line unable to make headway.

****

Her line of defense was enough to keep safe the lives of the fleeing villagers that had moved out ahead of the landing of the high-prowed ships. Little did they realize that the well planned invasion had come in three parts, each raiding party had landed ten miles apart, north to south to cut off the refugees escape route.

One-hundred paces.

The line had to reform as the fighters fell back from a wedge attack the raiders had formed.

The vikings were trying to punch through the lines and nearly did so, but Nial had other plans, half his family had yet to cross the water ford and de was not about to let the line closest to them break and endanger the people he is trying to protect.

Failure was not an option for any of them.

****

Seventy-five paces away from Assa.

Looking about at the melee of furious fighting, Oengus saw his love and reason for living now only steps from capture, hiding under broad shield, even from here, Oengus could see that her left foot was not in the anatomic normal position. It was badly broken by the warhorse stepping on her, the pain would be excruciating. It was no small wonder that she had not cast some spell of hiding or concealment, the agony of her broken foot kept her from focusing.

****

Forty paces.

No one was able to take the time, everyone was defending to their utmost

Assa could see the individual hairs in the beard of the pig-tailed, pig nosed man who carried a sword nearly as long as he stood tall.

Two thin lines of defenders, one defender deep stood between her and death, like mighty trees standing against the storm. Screaming berserkers, by the twos and half-dozens, charged time and again against the smiths, tinkerers, carpenters and farmers, crashing like waves against stone. Steel upon steel and bronze upon leather, the screams of the dying and the momentary victorious sounded along the battle line, it all blended in an awful din.

Oengus knew that they could not keep up the defense, the archers left alive were running low on arrows. Youthful runners sprinted, some never returned, a small few returned bringing arrows in hand and in body before collapsing in death, giving the arrows that had pierced them as they had run. Each man bled to hold his line next to his brother or cousin. None of the villagers would give a willing inch to the biting axes and hissing arrows.

Their own archers gave the raiders something to respect. Time and again, even as their own had fallen to arrows that came in, they outdistanced the Viking archers with their long bows.

Thirty paces. The wounded men stood against the charging invaders of the land, like time and waves on rock, it was wearing them down.

Twenty-five paces.

The line retreated, but at a hideous cost to the men of the east, dozens fell with arrows jutting out of their eyes and stuck in their throats.

Twenty paces.

Oengus was in a panic, he needed a subject, someone who would willingly endure a temporary transformation and be the hero of the day.

No one!

Anyone?

None could turn to even engage the question. Everyone was committed to the battle.

****

Fifteen paces.

He was the wizard of harvest, he could bring a flood and storm. But here in the vale, they were all in the floodplain. He had one spell, ten-thousand spells for the same effect, ten-thousand ways to cast each one and he had to undo what he was about to do. Once done, anyone else would be hard pressed to cast a counterspell on changes he wrought with his words.

****

Ten paces.

Out of time. Oengus knew who would do the heroic deed. But the return would be so much longer than the first transformation.

Sliding his sword into the scabbard and dropping it against a tree. He readied himself for the power to flow and transform.

Oengus, Wizard of the Red Dragon of the Westland was ready.

He imaged in his mind his subject and began chanting the five-keys of spells in a specific pattern.

He awoke the land and called upon its power.

****

Assa the Red Witch of the Setting Sun, hid under the broad viking shield, dropped by a raider when her defenders surged forward out of the narrows where the water flowed, her ankle hurt so bad, she screamed when she moved it. Remaining still was not an option.

“Protect the Red!” The artisians yelled. A gravelly voice of the singularly talented smith in seven villages, he called himself “The Smite”, bellowed that no one would be allowed to take the Red Witch.

“Gather her! Pick her up and take her away!” As his great hammer inverted yet another Norse shield into the unfortunate wielder.

But no one came.

She was alone. In a sea of friends and family, of those she had healed, the only help could be had were those that were fighting to protect her untenable place under the broad disk of bronze and iron.

Using a sprig of a spice she dug from the ground, Assa chewed on it for the narcotic, albeit minimal, effect it had.

She needed greater magic than she had with her, her bag, torn from her body by Ulain and his bronze-armored steed when she was ran over by the thundering hooves that stepped on her ankle.

“HERE! Assa!” It was Ulain’s son with the armored horse holding out his hand whilst holding onto the reigns of the angry warhorse with the other.

They were in a semi-circle of a path, a lane really, two rows of fighters, archers on one side shooting between the ranks of the defenders on the other, into the bodies and heads of the raiders that surged to drive the villagers into the water.

It was the plan all along, to draw the heavily armored invaders into a white water grave in the rapids, but with the falling of their leader, she now needed more protection than any of them.

A loud sound, like that of a gong, sounded loud and the great black horse fell, Ulain was gone, Assa did not know if Ulain died somewhere or unhorsed and was fighting on foot. His son now lay crushed under the horse that had an embossed mark like a hammer on the side of the horse-helmet, struggled.

Assa could feel the horse remained alive, but instead of shifting emotions and feelings of the animal, it was a soft blur, the horse was unconscious.

****

Then Assa spied an object that made her heart leap for hope— Her medicine bag, lost in the early part of the fighting. In it she could heal a broken ankle in moments, give strength to the fighters defending their homes and heal herself.

Now she needed Oengus and he was a thousand paces away and the killers of women and children were…

****

Ten paces.

The villagers would shove and battle, gaining ten steps and be driven back eleven.

If viewed from above, the line moved as a snake, writhing, biting, killing— pain.

Her bag, was fifteen paces behind her, she struggled towards it, putting distance between herself and the inexorable retreat of the line to the river.

An ax banged against the shield and bounced away.

The battle was twelve paces distant. She was getting hit with debris that flew about during battles.

A blast of wind blew her bag towards her hand, almost into her grip, but paused.

Not waiting, she lunged and grabbed the soft leather and pulled it under her makeshift roof.

Focusing as she pulled out a stone, spit on it — which was a challenge as her mouth was dry — she only needed a little moisture to have the powder stick to the stone.

And … A sound that grew louder…

The battle seemed different.

Sounds of the rage of war had changed, becoming screams of fear.

Lifting up the shield that was her savior several times in the last few minutes, she saw what looked like ruby-red tree trunks just to the battle side.

It was…

A dragon!

****

The roar of the furies combined with the sound of a thousand storms were no match for ruby-red dragons voice.

The roar echoed off the distant mountains and rolled back along the battle line.

Although in legend and by fire they bragged about being brave, but on this day, the raiders had a collective loss of bladder control at once… Then ran.

Snarling with fury the great dragon launched itself against the fleeing hoard and continued to roar and snarl as they dropped weapons to run faster. The raiders of the lands did not feel they had to outrun the dragon, just the man next to him.

Sure victory had become a race of retreat to the boats.

In legends down time, the people told and re-told the story that the roars of the dragon echoed in the hills around the vale for three days after the battle.

Those raiders fallen  behind were left by their brothers, the Dubh-Gall that fought and drove the farthest inland were now the most far behind when the running began,  finding themselves abandoned by the hoard of now frightened men who sailed away on the ships they arrived in. The abandoned warriors settled peacefully, never wishing to draw the ire of the red dragon of the west ever again.

In the vale, where the villagers returned, blood that had seeped into the ground from the defenders that would give their lives for the loved one named Assa that taught them all how to live, love and laugh.

In the days that followed, leaders looked for Oengus. After weeks of searching, finally identified him by his medallion of a Red Dragon hanging around his neck. No help could be rendered in by any artesian or even the great Green Wizard of the east.

Oengus had changed himself into the dragon, but unable to speak any human tongue in his condition, no one knew the spell he performed.

Finn of the White Water, where he lived on the river, was able to perform the mathematics to figure out the time needed to change Oengus back to his normal self.

One-hundred million ways to cast the spell, each one taking a half-minute to recite in a rush without mistakes.

Assa would age, pass, then be dead and gone if she had to go to the end and try every spell to get her husband back.

Such was the price of a hero.

He won the respect of every day the villagers lived in peace, but had no part in the celebration, he could never know the hugs of the children that he saved.

For dragons live forever, men and women do not.

Even witches and wizards.

In the decades that followed, if one stopped and listened in the far end of the vale, one could hear the red witch yelling at her husband, calling him names for using a spell that no one could reproduce.

****

Early one fine spring day, about two years after the battle, Granuaile walked to the mountain of the dragon and announced herself.

The Red Witch, always enjoying company, yelled at the husband.

Once they called her Assa, the Red. The Gentle Red Witch.

Now, she called herself Nessa, meaning “Ungentle”, she became Nessa the Red, the Warrior Witch of the Westland.

“Dragon! Show yourself! It is the girl from the village.”

Pointing to the vale, Granuaile told them of the trees that the Green Wizard had planted.

“Come see. A monument to the day you saved us all.” With that she ran off down the path, waving at the Red Witch.

In the lane, near the ford, trees now lined the path that followed where the dragon had stood and walked until the fighters and defenders that held their ground in defense of the Red Witch of the Mountain, was safe.

In the times that followed, the stream silted up and moved, the ford became a meadow, but the trees remained. When they died or fell, there were people of the land to replant the trees, eventually becoming giants, growing over the path with a protective canopy along the section where once stood a dragon that was a man who gave his life as a human to protect the jewel of his heart.

In time the vikings would return, forgetting the Red Dragon that lived in the Westland.

They would not forget for long.

Dark Heart, Pure Soul 20. Bone Fire

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20. Bone Fire

Autumn had come to the green island, Daigh danced around on his feet, carving a turnip and put a candle in it to show Kane that he paid attention to the stories that he would tell to the children at night.

His sister, Daigh thought, was in love with one of Kane’s character’s in the story. A man who traveled the world, stealing from the rich and using the treasures to keep the people of a far off land safe, warm and dry. The green man, some called him.

Then Bronwyn, his wife, would often push Kane off his log when he told these stories, laughing at him and saying he was telling it wrong.

But Daigh did not care, each word, each syllable was an adventure. Kane laughed as he would sometimes make a sudden movement and raise his hands, scaring them.

But Daigh did not care, each word, each syllable was an adventure. Kane laughed as he would sometimes make a sudden movement and raise his hands, scaring them.

Lately, as they piled stacks of wood on surrounding hills, Kane would smoke with a long clay pipe, pondering over a sheet of copper that had come to him from the east coast of the lands.

Kane called it “Sunrise” metal, from where it came from.

It come from the coast from where the sun comes up.” He told Daigh. Then go back to his contemplative mood and just stare at the metal while leaning on his work bench. Turning ingot – really just a sheet of metal over in his hands, he watched a boy run past his shop while his mind ran with plans for the red metal.

Laughing, Daigh ran with his carved wooden bird.

On the end of a stick, he could feel it’s carved feathers flutter as he held it up in the wind as his feet made the wind rush through his hair, it was a marvel of a toy. Each wing held by a bronze spring, each feather carefully carved by Bronwyn were held in place by a spring that Kane painstakingly embedded in the wood with a small metal “quill” attaching to the suspended wing.

DAIGH! Look out!” Kane yelled, only to cover his eyes with a calloused hand as the boy ran head-long into Muirne, wife of Finn of the Joining Streams. Curiousity forced him to peek between his fingers.

Kane laughed as Daigh bounced off of the larger woman who also staggered backwards and sat down into a bucket of water.

Kane hid his face in his hands, not really wanting to see the chaos when a voice made him turn around. It was Finis, once again after a long absence he stepped out of an unobserved area of the shop and near where Kane contemplated what to do with this sheet of copper.

What makes you wonder about that round ingot so much, Coppersmite?” Finis used his term for a smith that beats on metals.

OH! You startled me. After two-years and then eight years before that you have been away. What brings you to us now?”

Daigh was walking back after his lecture from the wet-bottomed woman about being careful and running in crowds. Although he was ten, he was tall for his age and ran like the wind, even still, Muirne was larger than he was by half again.

But now, his wooden bird that made him dream of flight was hanging, broken-winged on his stick.

Kane, can you fix this?” He asked as he came in from the outside, not seeing Finis at first. “Oh hullo.”

Daigh tilted his head to one side. “I don’t know you.”

No,” the white-haired traveler said. “you are not to meet me for another…”

Finis.” Kane interrupted. “No.”

The Angel of Death shrugged.

No, you don’t know me, I am just here to greet Kane and talk a while.”

Kane looked over the bird’s wing.

See, here, the bronze brace is bent. It won’t let the wing flap in the wind properly. I can fix it easily.” Kane pulled at the fitting. “I made it to flex some. It is not easy to break, but it will bend. I will heat it up and straighten it.”

Thank you Uncle Kane! I will wait, you make the best toys!”

Finis chuckled as the boy bounced on the hardwood of the floor of the shop.

Turning to Finis, Daigh began talking while Kane worked out the fitting while he frowned at the Angel of Death.

I have never seen anyone with hair like yours, you keep your hair white. What are the beads in your whiskers?

Well, young master.” He pulled at the beads in his mustache, “I have gotten these gems in the many places I have traveled. I have traveled far and they were gifts from those that have walked with me.”

They give you things to walk with you?”

HO! No, no. They sometimes give me things to not walk with them…”

Finis.” Kane stopped working and was walking back. “Daigh, the toy’s done and fixed. Try not to run into people, or worse, trees and buildings? Okay?”

Or off cliffs” Finis added. “No need to rush things.”

Daigh looked curiously at the old man.

Pausing for a moment. The Angel of Death pulled the gems out of his mustache.

Hold on to these for me. Don’t ever spend them or trade them for anything. Perhaps Kane here will build you a small box to put them in. Each time you need a favor from me, I will take one of the gems. So there you have how many?”

Counting the sparkling stones.

I have twenty-four gems.”

Correct. For such a good-looking young man, you get that many favors for as long as you have the stones. These are special gems. Do not give them away. They cannot be stolen, someone who takes them from you, I will know and I will bring them back.”

That would be scary.” Kane said softly behind Finis.

What? Why?” Daigh asked.

Never mind. A kind of joke.” Kane chuckled as he spoke, shaking his head.

Then Kane handed Daigh his toy back.

Daigh ran out with his bird flapping on the stick again. Happy as he could be, yelling “thanks!” over his shoulder to Kane.

Bonfires are in three days, it will be the end of the harvest and then the spirits of the underworld will walk. People will dress up and drink the beer that has fermented for weeks in the copper kettles I built that are down where the two streams meet. Almost more than this community could drink per person in total. I calculated it out on the largest of the residents and then took the smallest of adults of men and women and did the math.

Finis cleared his throat.

I have come to point out a few things.” Finis said. “Bronwyn should also be here.”

You can stay for the evening meal. She and the other women are cooking now.”

Aye. I can smell it. But you should also know, there are those that are noticing that you and she are not aging. One woman is calling it magic. She has already spoke with the high priestess.

Finis stood and watched Bronwyn approach. Hugging her when she entered the smith-shop.

I want to ask, what is wrong with Gretna?”

Sad news,” Finis shook his head. “she has cancer. She knows, a lump that she found in her breast has spread to other areas. In years to come, the illness will be known as consumption. Her weight has already gone down if you have noticed.”

I have, she is thinner I have noticed.” Bronwyn felt like crying.

She will walk with me before the weather gets warmer in the spring. I have come to meet with you and say that you need to consider moving on. Your lack of aging and children will soon be noticed, one already has done so and brought it to Gretna’s attention. This village you live in, this trícha cét is well over six-thousand people, someone is going to notice.”

Gretna has spoke with me about that.” Bronwyn nodded.

Indeed.” Finis nodded. “Take her advice that people are noting this and the advice of mine as well.”

We must leave?” Kane said. Thinking about Daigh and the other children that look forward to his toys every year during the time of the bonfires.

If you were to stay, you would make your leaving more difficult to start fresh. Many love you as kin. Especially the small children that dance around your legs when you have finished your travels. Kane, you would suffer first I would wager. Someone will notice that you are never sick or have aged, even though you has put yourself in harm’s way more than once.” Finis nodded. “Alternately, when you return, leave again to trade. Take all that you like, but then burn the wagon and leave the road and travel on another path. You will have to fake your deaths and create new life, this is part of your challenges you have taken as your tribulation. It is his punishment and your elected life here, Bronwyn. Remember, I am just your advisor, you can do as you like, but I would say your time here with this Clan is over.”

Bronwyn nodded, sad that it seemed like just last week they had stumbled into the lives of Gretna and her family.

Bronwyn was helpless to make that happen. She could only wish to have a full ten years of words to describe the life she has enjoyed…