Smart Bomb Chapter 3. Salvation Army

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Chapter 3. Salvation Army

It was cooler than yesterday, making Steve shiver while he walked down the road. Although he was able to charge his power reserves to capacity the day before, he was using energy at an unprecedented rate.

The humans might call it “Full”, he had the opportunity to experience more of the generous spirit of the American south.

During the storm the day before, power went out, leaving the café in the dark. The owner fretted about the melting sweets in the freezer and prohibited anyone from opening the doors without reason, finally succumbing to the alternatives to throw out meats as the walk-in began to push the legal limit of the health codes.

The owner, Pete Durham, chose the option to cook the meats, slow smoking some with a wood-fired smoker overnight. Late into the night Pete and James cooked. Ice cream threatened to melt and spoil.

The Android could convert the butterfat and sugar confection to electrical power easily, and ate far more than his system required.

They fed truckers, news crews, passers-by and Steve for what was customers only felt they could give. Even giving Steve a wrapped five-pound wood-fire cooked roast when he left.

“We can’t put it in storage.” The owner smiled. “And it will be ready for you to eat anytime down the road.” Pete said when Steve left Lugs Cafe.

Quick calculations, and the android, programmed to call himself Steve Aldin, tried to give Pete a fifty-dollar bill. Pete shook his head at first, then tore the bill in half.

“Come back this way and eat in our dining room when everything is working like it’s supposed to, bring a friend and I’ll take that other half of a bill.” He offered to shake Steve’s hand. “Then we’ll call it even.”

Steve shook his hand, a western habit. But deep in his programming, he felt revulsion of touching an unclean person such as this.

But the man washed, cooked, worked hard, drank only bottles of water.

Pure water. It seemed to show there were more errors in his database.

According to the enlightened leader and the programmers who followed the priest. Anyone who did not follow the law in each step and facet he declared as unclean was unworthy to walk the earth. He prohibited any unclean people inside the holy of holies where he planned the destruction of idols and idol worshippers in America.

But.

The curse of a fuzzy logic, sometimes the third leg of coding got in the way. In many ways, the binary coding of the twentieth century was well suited to so many things. Zero or one. Yes or no.

Steve Aldin, android of the one true religion had a “Maybe” coding. Zero, one, two.

And he retained it, the adaptive programming kept him from being caught, unlike the previous versions that the Russian government caught. Either the earlier versions became confused or lost when the expected targets moved or the humans spotted his predecessors, who then self-destructed before travelling far.

He was the most advanced, and the most powerful disciple built by the engineers and programmers underneath the holy sanctuary where only the true believers could enter.

The most powerful that I know of he corrected himself. Core processors predicted a near certainty that others were under construction with a fifty-percent probability for  the next versions to deploy in the next twelve months.

The snow threatened to put him into danger once again. His walk down the road began to leave footsteps pressed into the slushy, frozen water on the white-coated asphalt.

A snowplow trundled past, heading to some assignment on a main road, the flashing lights triggered the recent memory of stopping for a meal.

Several minutes later, a sedan pulled up with a light bar and the siren chirped. programming alerted to the law enforcement agent wanted him to approach.

If he had a confrontation, he would be arrested and no scans would pick up his fingerprints.

He would be an enigma to the database for citizens in the country. Alternatively, killing the officer would flag his location and his mission would be compromised. 

Shifting quickly, he looked like a younger teenage youth, and the cop shook his head and rubbed his eyes while he looked through the slush covered glass of the window. In a blink of an eye, he reconfigured the identity chip to match his appearance and the security number.

“Son, where are you going?” The officer asked with an open look, he had no suspicions of this soaked-to-the-skin youth who walked on the road. The android had reduced the flow of all fluids to the dermis, making his skin pale when he approached the police officer who got out of the patrol car.

“Sir,” He used a squeaky voice of a late-blooming teen as he approached the front of the car and held his hands over the hood for warmth. “I’m on a mission to walk the lower forty-eight states to raise money for homeless.”

“Impressive. May I see your ident-chip?” The officer nodded. Not suspicious, but not quite smiling, his neutral stance remained unconvinced. “You are traveling rather light for the cold weather. Mister Aldin.”

“That would be my fault. I tried to jump a train a few miles back because it was getting cold, I put my pack in a train car’s door. When I bent down to get  my other bags, the train closed it’s doors and began to move. But I was too far to grab the door. When I tried to chase it, the security chased me off their property.”

This made the officer laugh.

“Well, you were trespassing.” He pulled at his chin, then clicked on his microphone at his shoulder. “Patrol One-seven-one.”

He waited for the response.

The sound was barely audible from where the android stood and waited. The officers earphone keeping the sound below human perception, but with his electronic sensors he could hear the dispatcher acknowledge him.

“Is the chaplain around? I have a lost sheep for him.”

Steve looked around, the term sheep was known, but the application was non-sequitur.

Then Steve realized it was he who the officer considered lost.

“Wait right here.” The officer said and sat in his car, he typed on a computer display and sent off a message.

“Officer, can I sit in the car?” His core processors were registering the heat loss. “I’m cold.”

Pausing for a moment, the officer nodded and then out of habit, patted Steve down and removed the small nylon day-pack, looked inside, satisfied, he put it in the front seat and turned back to Steve.

“Have a seat in the back, I’ll keep the heater on.” He said. Steve sat in the rear of the patrol car, behind a solid shield between the front and rear of the car.

“The chaplain will be here soon.” The officer smiled at him, looking up, another patrol car pulled in behind them.

Another officer got out with more stripes and wearing a white shirt, while the officer wore a navy-blue shirt.

The officers thought they were out of earshot, but the enhanced hearing, Steve listened in.

“You have him sitting in the prisoner area. Is he cuffed?”

“No, sir, he is just cold.” The officer shrugged. “I  wanted him to limit access to the weapons and electronics, so I just sat him in the back.”

“Protocol, if he is in back, he wears cuffs.” The watch commander said. “That is the rules.” 

“I don’t want him in front, I have not had reason to run his identity past his ID chip.” The patrolman said.

“I’ll run it. You have the scan of it?” He held up his tablet and tapped a few times.

“Cuff him if you keep him in the unit, and you’re right, he’s not allowed up front.” The supervisor said. “Or he stands away from the vehicle.”

“I can’t detain him, I don’t have any cause.”

“Find cause. He is not a local, so figure how to process him. Was he walking in the road?” The officer looked back at the footprints that were filling in. “He might have crossed over the line back there.”

“Sam, he is just cold, a youngster.” He told his superior officer.

The cops continued their conversation while Steve listened in. The situation was untenable, and he couldn’t get out of the car unless the officer opened in from the outside.

He could not allow them to run his DNA. Two police officers were no threat to him, out in the middle of a highway, but the news of his presence after attacking the officers would put him under a microscope that he couldn’t get away from.

Then.

A blessing from god, another car pulled in, the chaplain had arrived.

The first officer in blue walked to the back of the car, followed by a middle-aged man who looked in better shape than the officer.

“Mr. Aldin, this is our chaplain, Reverend Carl Bonswell. He will take care of you.” The officer nodded the civilian clothed male and walked away.

The officer talking to himself,  pleased to avoiding the need to cuff the young man or otherwise have to process him like he was little more than a criminal, when his actions indicated nothing.

“Mr. Aldin, son, would you like to come to my car with me? I have a place for food and a roof, tonight’s weather is going to be cold and wet. The winter season has settled in somewhat early.”

“Call me Steve.” He used the same squeaky voice. “And thank you, I would like that.”

“Okay, Steve. We have a shelter, it’s rarely used right now. We don’t get much call for homeless or transient people this time of the year.” The reverend said as they got in his car. “As such, the county has it closed now. So, you will be staying with my family tonight. Is this all you have?”

“Oh no, the officer took my knapsack, it’s in the front seat of his patrol car.” Steve said and opened the door to get out.

“No no! Stay here, get warm, I’ll get it.” Getting out, he stopped to talk to the patrolman and nodded.

Steve listened in, the chaplain only asked if the officer had patted down the youth and if he found any contraband.

“No. No weapons, interior sensors did not pick up even a trace of drugs. But, he’s soaked.” The officer smiled at the chaplain.

Satisfied, Carl gathered up the knapsack and returned it to Steve.

“Socks, t-shirt, and what else do you have in there?

“Some money my mom gave me. I’m supposed to walk for a cause, but I have lost my list, my clothes, my pack.” He gave the full pitiful story.

Carl smiled and handed Steve his worldly possessions, attached his seat belt, pulled the car into gear and took Steve with him to his home.

The reverend’s home was warm, smells included apple and peach, in a crock-pot.

“Carl, who is this? A new friend?” The woman was not a classic beauty. She was tall, broad-shouldered, her arms looked like some men’s legs, she looked like she could have taken on both officers out on the highway in a battle.  And win. 

Quick assessment of her movements showed she was naturally built like this. The woman shook his hand and smiled.  She towered over him, standing six-feet tall, broad shoulders, narrow waist and a flare to her hips. She appeared as an athlete, but he could not figure out her sport.  However she moved as graceful as tiger he once saw.

She was taller than Carl, but doted on him. Bringing Carl and Steve carefully ladled cups of the spiced peach-apple cider out of the crock-pot.

“I thought you would put me in the shelter tonight.” Steve accessed social protocol files. “Thank you”

“No thanks needed.” The woman smiled and sat with them. “This is the best place for you, tonight, hun. You have the guest bedroom, a shower is in the room and there are clean towels.”

Carl nodded as she continued.

“This is not a free stay, in the morning, we start at six o’clock. Breakfast is served at six-thirty, we have sandbags to deliver to the community center for homeowners. This storm is going to stay for some time before it gets cold enough to snow.” She said while she sipped her drink.

Steve drank his virgin “Papple” cider and at a small square of dark chocolate “it is good for your health” . He converted the carbohydrates converting into heat and electricity.

He recorded and learned more about this society of decadent, and morally corrupt people. There were police who argued that a good deed for a cold citizen could be cause for investigation.

Another recorded event A Christian man and his wife who open their home to him and not follow the rules and put him in a dorm-style bed that had thin mattresses and thinner blankets.

They bent the rules and let him sleep under thick blankets, eat their food and drink a drink while sitting in their house.

The woman who took care of her lover and husband was another oddity. She was not an obese, idol worshiping, world hating people.

She was a raven-haired woman with deep-set, searching eyes that showed her native heritage.

A kindness in her that extended to her husband, while he read from a well-worn bible.

No drugs, the odors in the house of cooking, crock-pot cider, smoke from the fireplace.

After a shower, core temperatures were in optimum operations, tissue repairs from hypothermia damage to his extremities were in full operation.

The experiences he had, the accepted view of the picture of the infidel American’s once again altered to fit the reality.

Tomorrow, he needed to donate his time to strangers.

This would be another first.

For the first time, the walking bomb looked forward to learning something new.

Steve, the God’s Punisher, was exceeding his programming in ways the creator never expected.

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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.

Smart Bomb Chapter 1. Migration North

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Chapter 1. Migration North

He stepped off the hypersonic transport. The snow-white hair of the elderly man glinted in the Florida sunshine.  Dark skinned, but of ambiguous heritage, he did not attract any attention from the transportation officers.

His ID chip said his name was Steve Aldin, his real name?

He had no family, while his brown eyes glinted with good humor, he had no emotion. Though the lines in his face were only a few hours old, they looked like each line and wrinkle earned by hard work and each crease was a story, a crooked nose attested to some long-ago punch or kick that he had suffered.

Although he was average looking, and the step he took was in good shape for someone his age, Steve Aldin was not what he appeared.

Ironically, despite appearances, he wasn’t even human.

Stepping into the men’s room, he locked himself into a stall and stood there for a moment. Then he sat quietly on the toilet and closed his eyes.

A mild shudder ran through his body, as if he had a chill.  Rapidly the skin on his face and arms tightened, the wrinkles smoothed out.

When he stood, he was four inches taller, shoulders were much broader and his hair, instead of white and thinning, he had a head full of curly, raven-colored hair, the once crooked nose was gone. Now he sported an aquiline nose,  undamaged and pristine. Deep-set piercing blue eyes stared out from under the bushy eyebrows.

A quick smile, the young man drew the eye of a few college girls coming back from holiday, on route to the University.

A young man who women would say “Easy on the eyes”, he walked out and strolled to the taxi stand and paid for a ride to the underground Vactrain with his credit-chip.

The taxi never made it to the destination. The taxi company that owned the vehicle reported it and the driver missing six-hours after the scheduled shift was supposed to end.

Police found taxi 141 north of town, a flat tire that looked to have hit an object and cut the sidewall lay next to the driver. While he attempted to change with the spare, when the car fell from the jack stand and pinned the driver to the guard rail. The impact, crushing the father of four with thousand of pounds of steel and glass.

The victim, unseen by passing motorists, no one had called in the car with the flashing hazard lights.

She walked into the nearby bus station, a medium-sized female, wearing an oversized t-shirt and jeans opened a locker with a key found under a rock in a blind spot outside.

Taking out a black-cloth shopping bag, the woman turned and walked out to the blind area she found the key at and stood in the shadows. Unobserved, the body stretched to a tall man of Nordic descent. His grey eyes sparkled above sun-kissed cheeks. The winning smile of the American with a mid-west accent.

Moving ever north, he did not need to sleep, the foods he ate came from different organic sources. His energy needs were simple. Carbon based organic material converted into electricity and powered his circuitry.

“Hello.” A voice behind him drew his attention while he picked a handful of high carbohydrate energy fruits, called dates, from a palm tree. His central processing core indicated that the material was easily processed to energy.

He turned and a small dark-haired girl of Cuban descent looked at him, wearing a pink Hello Kitty t-shirt and jeans. She was no threat.

“Hello, I was just getting a couple of these to snack on.” He used a Danish accent, should there be a legal problem. “Are these yours?”

“No, but you are picking bad ones. You should go to the other side of the tree, the sweet ones are there.” She pointed to a spot on the tree almost directly opposite from where he was.

A bite into the dates on the side she pointed to, compared to the opposite side was new knowledge, there was much more sugar in the side the little girl pointed out.

“Thank you.” He smiled.

“You don’t belong around here.” She said. “You are going to have trouble if you don’t get out of here.”

“Thank you, where can I get a ride?” He said as he stepped backwards against the tree.

“I don’t know.” Her eyes were without guile, but it was obvious that she did not go anywhere or very far without her mother or father.

“Do you live around here?” He asked.

“Just there.” She pointed to a house.

“Would your mom or dad give me a ride somewhere?” Already his heuristic programming conceiving of killing the adults if they were a threat and he would steal the car.

“Mom’s at work, my brother is watching me. We have to stay home until mom comes back.”

He nodded, an action he discovered humans did in this part of the world, he knelt and looked the girl in the eye. Studying her iris, she was not aware that the android imaged her retina and transmitted all the information on an encrypted carrier wave to his creator.

“What is your name?” He asked.

“Anna.”

“Thank you Anna.” He stood and walked away. Looking over his shoulder, Anna the little girl had gone back to her yard and was yelling in the door to someone inside about a white man walking down the street.

By the time he reached the corner, the blond Nordic stranger was a shorter, black-haired Cuban looking youth.

He caught a bus at the corner and headed out of the neighborhood.

In twelve-hours he crossed the Florida state line into Georgia as an Irishman with brown curly hair.

Steve Aldin, known by his creators as the Justice of The Religion, was a  morphing android, walking north, blending in to the populace.

He was built and programmed to learn then transmit all he could.  At his destination he would detonate. , Inside his chest, was an antimatter bomb the size of a grain of sand. He was programmed to blow up the top-secret James Madison Micro-Nuclear Power Plant on the Jefferson River, only a kilometer from the Capitol of the United States.

The size of a single-family house, the four-thousand kilowatt plant was a dedicated power source for the halls of government, even the neighboring businesses did not know that a plant was in their midst.

Once he arrived at the plant, his programming directed him to make entry with any means possible.

He would leave a crater a quarter-mile across. The equivalent of more than four-tons of TNT.

Those that lived through the initial blast, would succumb to the melt-down radiation leaks from the destroyed power plant. 

He was the weapon of choice, he could learn about the weakness of the American society for other androids to follow.  The American’s would never guess that they were under attack.

Or by what.

Tykon rocked in a chair and cackled. Even if the American’s knew there was a danger, they could never find the android.  He gave no radiation signature, the antimatter in his chest was inert, only becoming a danger once it was released from it’s magnetic containment and contacted the walls of the normal matter capsule.

And like humans, he could learn.  And he would learn at a string of military bases.  He would learn how to get in and blow up the war machines of the United States.  Other androids would follow.

There was no stopping the crippling of America.

Tykon loved death to visit.  And Death would visit America seven times.  And seven times that, if he had anything to do with it.

Tykon and his team had built the ultimate smart bomb. The American’s didn’t know it, but they were going to be given a lesson on following the path of the righteous.

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

MbM
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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.”

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.

Little Monster Girl by my fave non-text artist!

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Keep an eye out for this lady, she might do some book covers for me, if she is interested. 😀

Now, click on this and be entertained!

Zela zhe Zwims zwimmingly looking zexy! Ze Octopuz doez thingz but tastez good.

http://lmgcomic.com/comic/chapter-5-comic-15/

 

Steel Gardens of Anid-Sta: Prologue

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I don’t often write BACKWARDS, but in this case, after writing “Generation 1.” The back story came to me.  I don’t like doing it this way, but ladies and gents, it is what happens when I give you my soul to the dozen (plus or minus) of you who read what I post. Sometimes it is out of order.  I’ll catch it next time on the edit and put it to order.

For now, I give you (First draft, so it is crap, sorry, final draft may not even be close to this.):

Steel Gardens  of Anid-Sta: Prologue 

In the year 2,952 After Niska, the leader and founder of the planet colony that grew in the nearly three-thousand years to one-hundred six billion citizens, the Csu, a religious sect founded by the prophet of the Lord Qat-Csu developed the political system that began at the remote corners of the planet the century before.

Missionaries moved through villages of farmers promising that the Lord Qat-Csu would bring sufficient rains for the colonies in the back country. In the years that followed, a small and dedicated group of followers preached to anyone, anywhere giving testimony to the power and glory of the Lord of rain and plentiful harvest. Qat-Csu brought rain and plenty to all those that followed. The true followers of Qat-Csu were required to have the small fingers of the left hand amputated and their DNA modified so that offspring would be born without the appendage. Failure to do so, marked one as not a true follower and suffered denials of rain and good harvest.

Those that received good rains but were not true followers would be found guilty of heresy and have all the harvest taken on the word of the ruling Cahir, the high priests of the church of Qat-Csu.

In the generations that followed, resistance grew as the word of Qat-Csu, interpreted by corrupt Cahir of the religion caused a rift. The rift grew between the factions, each claiming to follow the true path commanded by Qat-Csu.

Claiming that the growing splinter group were apostates, calling themselves simply Csu and they did not believe that amputations of fingers as an answer to anything.

The Cahir of the Qat-Csu enlisted a fanatical genius who bio-engineered a virus to target carriers of five-finger DNA and delivered by missiles and drones to the centers of populations of the un-enlightened and the apostates. A disillusioned scientist stole samples of the virus and leaked information to the intended victims at the cost of his life.

DNA bioengineers for the splinter-group of the Csu modified the virus genetic coding to target four-fingered mutations.

The following war was a biologic nightmare. Missiles passed each other in mid-flight. A blow for each of their gods and included the non-combatants in collateral damage.

No one came away unaffected, in the struggle to dominate as the only religion, they contaminated an entire world six-times the diameter of the earth with a fraction of the density.

In the attack, the virus was more successful than Grey D’Gran the biologist that mutated the fragments of genes imagined in his darkest dreams.

Ninety-seven percent of the population died outright in fever-induced seizures. After a year, the ravages of the fever, fewer than ten-thousand survived out of more than a hundred billion.

The religion of death survived until the end, when the last remaining Cahir walked down the path explaining the prophet of no name died of his own hand.

Looking into the eyes of his Hukis, students of the religion of Qat-Csu, he spoke haltingly as a man with a broken soul.

“The Lord Qat-Csu that speaks only to the prophet.” The hazel eyes of a farmer-come-priest wept. “Is a machine a… computer programmed by a man.”

Called a blasphemer by his adepts murdered him with a golden candlestick. They burned the Cahir’s body and threw his bones into a river.

One by one, the remaining followers turned on each other, the final three finding their demise in one evening as they fought over how to bless the last meal of the day.

Peace settled on the dead planet, but life assumed to be extinct, found a way.

 The machines of war, lined up at the ready before the biologic attack, now sat with the patience of machines. Machines that waited in this world of corrosion resistant metal and ceramic when life took hold.

The steel gardens, lived.

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.”

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.

Incognito

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Incognito

You could call him old, his hair long gone white, but to call him elderly would be a mistake. Powerfully built, even if his waistline had shaped him more like a pear from too many indulgences.

He was heavy, his weight had yo-yo’d over the years, however never had it gotten to a dangerous level. He still could do more things than men that looked decades younger than him, including to the great smiles of his long supportive spouse. Married long ago to the same lady, often they worked without a break and she never looked back. He often brought her a present coming home from the “work shop”, as he referred to his company’s office. It had been a long time since he worked alone, now having thousands of his “Worker Elves” he would call them in the quiet evenings at home.

The stranger was enjoying his day out, walking along the edge of the ocean, the boardwalk was alive with sounds of summer and it made him smile.

Watching the people was a thing with him. It was how he ran his life and his business. It was all public relations, something he was good at- Making people feel good. Spying a pier that jutted out into the water, the gentleman walked out to enjoy the sun and sea, his eyes stinging from the strong sun that reflected off of the water.

The boards creaked under his steps. His keen eyes saw that the weathered wood was still sturdy for a few more years. He exchanged his glasses for the arctic snow-spec ones kept in his breast pocket glasses case. The titanium-nickel alloy — memory metal — wireframes were fitting comfortably.

He sighed heavily. The weather was so very nice, global warming? It felt good at the moment. A long harsh winter had battered his soul.

As head and CEO of the company he had sought to fix troubles in a world’s economy that was nearly as harsh as the weather had been. No one was happy, many had resorted to crime just to put food on the table.

Poachers, they would be called, and in some cases the Fish and Game officials looked the other way, family elders needing to keep families fed was more important than some laws.

Others — when only hunting for the pleasure, it became a case of exacting applications of the law, using the glory-poachers as examples to those that felt hunting for fun, leaving the dead and dying to rot in the sun, as justified.

“Economy and weather, the two are closely related,” Adjusting his hat. “After all.” He chuckled to himself in sad sighing tones.

Many a relief package, complete with food and, on occasion, items to help rebuild homes had kept him busy.

He even did the deliveries, with much anticipation. Saintly or wicked, when the people knew he was en route, they all anticipated his arrival with the wished for, needed and desired items.

The wicked were often disappointed when he lectured them or left a note, email or when he really needed to make a point, an empty delivery box.

On occasion he left a much undesired inventory.

One naughty American president had received a pen and his initials in a gold monogram embossed book of synonyms of the word “resignation”.

Still, this year seemed so rough and the misery dragged on, (And people would say he had it easy!) he enjoyed his job.

Walking along the pier, his hat pulled low to protect from the sun. It did seem more harsh than he recalled, but it was just days after the vernal equinox. The warmth of the sea and the sounds of the gulls overhead were much more soul warming than the icy-efficiency of the office that he hardly ever left.

No one to trust it to, no one was as willing to do what he did for what he charged governments and civilians alike — ZERO. It was a price that boggled most of the avarice and greedy companies, but always they wanted to have the same respect. No one was willing to do what his organization did, but everyone anticipated his involvement with great hope. When things were at their worst, it was known that his corps of workers did things that no one else in the world could do. The wishes of governments and people were sometimes unfulfilled, but most felt satisfied when the world was at its darkest.

And it was exhausting, the accountants were not happy — the outgo had far exceeded income to date. This year, disaster after disaster — Letters and emails of plea. He had to assign an entire department to triage the requests in order of need and worthiness. The request of the dictator and the other from the drug kingpin, placed at the bottom of the pile.

“More Money”… Seriously? For all the other requests that they deemed as having the greatest need, everyone broke their hump pulling their weight and twice that when they had to.

Management meetings that lasted far into nights as they hammered plans out for the following delivery schedules.

The arguments were epic, even the dark-haired manager from the south, Josh, who spoke with a soft voice that made his accent that much more difficult to understand to the old Celt, had raised his voice during one of the planning sessions.

A peaceable man Joshua, he had grown a beard like the CEO, but his facial hair was sparse and dark as opposed to the older leader’s once red – now white – hair.

He liked Josh, a funny man on occasion. Liked his wine a bit too much, however, and had a tendency to wear sandals to office parties. His obvious scars, long healed over, earned from an episode with fasteners that scarred his upper and lower appendages.

Always was organizing toga parties. For a kindly person he did like his parties. “TOGA! TOGA!” The soft-spoken ex-carpenter would often chant.

It made the old man laugh.

But now it was over for a while. Meetings were not scheduled for the foreseeable future, so using his RHIP (Rank Has It’s Privileges) he told the managers to hold down the fort. He was going for a rare holiday.

Looking about… THERE! The perfect spot to rest while the missus was getting her nails done. After that she was getting her “colors” done at some place called “Serge’s”. Not sure what that all entailed, but for a thousand U.S. Dollars, she had better sparkle.

“She always sparkles.” He laughed to himself as he stepped towards the weathered bench. “Oh! This does look like a great spot.”

Hard wood of a bench never felt so good. No one to call him on his mobile phone. (Left it in the office.) No one but a boy-child near him that was looking over the water with a pay-to-view binocular. His older brother had just given him several quarters when the youth wanted to watch a regatta out on the water, the multi-colored sails looked like so many exotic birds.

Naming off the different boats, the older brother laughed and ran to the next telescope stand. Betting with his brother with yells on the favorite boat, it was a good sound.

A great sound while he sat in the sun.

The warm sun. Oh the sun!  It relaxed him like he had not felt in months, and he felt himself nodding off. Dreams of the season to come.  But that was going to be different — calmer he hoped.

If only the Einstein Time Dilation Device had not malfunctioned last year — without the ETDD life was much more difficult that time. However, the department in charge was promising that life would be far better this year.

He hoped so. It was imperative to have the boss happy.

Vaguely aware of a clicking sound, he knew someone had taken his picture. But he ignored it and slept on, he had missed the sun like a flower might in the dead of winter. It had been so long since he had just relaxed and let the vitamin-D generate in his skin. Nothing was going to bother him now.

Because, for the first of June?

Santa was on vacation.
©2015 Dash McCallen all rights reserved

The Pirate Kingdom Facet 11. Escape

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Facet 11. Escape

The Doctor demanded to know what was happening as he and several nurses joined the rush as they all ran down the hall with half the black clad group in front and the balance covering their escape when the Doctor finally got his question answered.

“Star Empire has attacked the station. There were news releases that the vaccine is a genocide poison against their people.” The redheaded leader of the group answered. “We arrived here to meet with the science and medical teams to show the vaccine was not toxic and meet with investigators of the merchantman attack. Those people who arrived are soldiers, not doctors or scientists. Three Buccaneer ships intercepted the attacking ships, but the Empire ships outnumbered them and they have fallen back to the far side of the planet. The soldiers have made it into the station and have taken control of elevator command center.”

“They caught my fleet in the ambush when the hidden ships set off anti-matter charges.” He shook his head. “I have word that Captain P’ak Sitron was fast enough to change the vector and headed out into deep space to stop the fleet safely. But that will make it two or three hours before they can regroup and return, ready for battle. By then, the Empire will be in place, barricaded and in control.”

Blasters came out as they made a corner. One of the black group pulled out a baseball sized object and rolled it down the hallway.

“Close your eyes.” The warrior said to her rolling a glittering, round crystal around the corner into the corridor, then called “Fire in the hole!”

Phoenix closed her eyes just as a silent flash in rapid sequence illuminated so brightly that her eyes were able to see shadow through her eyelids and she would later swear that she could see the bones in her hands that covered her eyes.

A strong hand grabbed her shoulder and propelled her past the point where several people were laying on the ground vomiting and holding their eyes.

“What kind of bomb was that?” She asked no one in particular as they ran down the hallway, explosions followed by a gust of wind in their faces.

“Breach! Hull breach!” Called an obvious human. Of African descent like the doctor, this warrior was shorter than Phoenix but powerfully built, he grabbed the others and dragged them through a doorway and slammed his hand down on an emergency close button and the shrieking wind stopped with everyone’s ears popping.

Through the clear door, Phoenix could see several people sucked around the corner of the last intersection hallway and out of sight.

“That will work against the strike force, they brought that issue on themselves, the Empire has violated every treaty possible just now.” Said the red-headed leader.

“Sir! We can’t get to the transport. We have to find another way off the port.” Phoenix saw on the chest of the man who had pulled her through the hatch wore a name tag “Garr-id”.

“Escape through the utility access. Rhea! Take the civilians to the ship.”

Rhea, a slightly wolfish looking woman with pointed ears interrupted him.

“I can’t leave you, Sir!” She argued.

“You have your orders, now go, these people are non-combatants and do not need to suffer through this. We will meet you at the ship and give you cover, when you are in we will join you.”

A growl like that which Phoenix had never heard from someone before nearly made her laugh, it might have been even comical in another time and circumstance, but now all she did was stare.

Through a small hatch that was quickly sealed behind them and by the sound of debris piled over the access port, hidden.

Rhea and the half-dozen doctors, nurses and former patients ran, crawled, climbed and balanced carefully on pipes as they made their way down the access tunnel towards a destination that Phoenix did not know.

Through the conduits and ventilation systems, sounds of gunfire and high-pitched whine of energy weapons and people screaming dug into Phoenix’s brain.

Rhea held a finger up to her lips as she stopped the group, a low hum from the pipes made their skin tingle. She pressed her ear up against a hatch that looked much like any other, then nodded. Pulling a small flat rectangle out of her belt she pulled a cord from the small palmtop electronic equipment and plugged it into a port next to the hatch.

Phoenix and the others watched as Rhea tapped the screen a few times then a holographic projection appeared over the top of the device showing a hangar door and the hallway was clear. A few more touches and she explained about recording the empty hallway for a few seconds worth.

Rhea smiled and put her hand against the lever of the service hatch and pushed it open and pointed the device at the video sensor.

“Out! OUT! Everyone.” She said in a loud whisper. “Through that door and step to the left and wait for me.”

When the last of the medical team was through the door, Rhea took a bound step and was through the hangar door.

“That last was the most hazardous.” Rhea explained to the group. “They could have seen us, but I blinded the camera for a moment. Okay, to the ship. Quietly, single file behind me.”

The ship was slightly silver-blue in color, Phoenix touched the hull as she walked and it felt like nothing she had ever touched, almost plastic or an oily covering, her fingers came back clean, but they tingled slightly as if from an electric current.

Rhea motioned the people inside and got them seated as she communicated quietly on her headset.

“We are in. Hallway was clear, video camera disabled.” She reported.

“We are already here.” Said the Redhead as the second group appeared from around the corner and through the door. “You are getting slow in your old age.”

The other men half-dragged both the leader and two others who had injuries. It was obvious they had a rough go of it. The smaller ship rocked on the deck as the space port experienced to another impact of heavy weapons fire, only this time red lights lit up and began to flash rapidly.

“Someone finally got the defense systems working.” Thought Phoenix.

In the back of the small ship, Garr-id started pulling at the RedHead’s cloak and armor. “Get this off you, Sir, I have to view your wounds.”

“I’m okay.” RedHead groaned, “It’s a bruise, nothing got through. Next time
someone make sure I’m standing next to a softer wall? Take care of Lieutenant Muir, we have to get this crate launched and out of here to safety, that’s the priority now. We don’t get out of here, your skills with inflicting pain while fixing us will be moot.”

Standing up, the chest had a darkening bruise over the right shoulder. On his back, a large tattoo that was partly hidden by the undershirt, but what Phoenix could see was similar to the markings on all the armor, a bruise growing over his right shoulder-blade. Whatever had knocked this leader down had taken a toll through the armor.

“Sir,” Doctor Concord stood up, “I have had combat medical experience. I am a trauma surgeon, I can help.”

Garr-id looked at the doctor with a quick eye and smiled, “Thanks Doc, I can use you, come here and….” the voices trailed off to the back of the ship as they assessed the other team members condition.

“Rhea, pre-flight emergency launch checks. Let’s get the hell out of here asap. But do it quietly with minimal use of power until the last moment. We don’t want to alert them that we are here. Change the ship markings to that of something more general, a merchant or something.”

Phoenix raised her hand and spoke up.

“Excuse me, but the port defense systems are up— the red emergency lights are up and flashing.”

RedHead looked out the window.

“Good! Thanks! The strike team would not want those systems up, that means one of the control rooms are still in control of the facility. They are fighting back.”

Pressing a few illuminated panels and tapping in a sequence on the panel and a video display came up.

“Foenicks! Good to see you are in control of things.” RedHead laughed into the display. “I’ll keep this short- you look like you are a bit busy.”

“Your gift for understatement would be funny at another time. But we have them contained for the moment. The captain of the transport had called ahead and alerted us that something was up, we just did not know where. We assumed they headed towards the planet.” Fenicks, a tiger-striped face that was bleeding out his nose and one eye was swollen but not shut. “Boru- they are demanding where you are from those that they grab. We have video of them abandoning hallways to follow your direction of travel until they lost you. You are their target Your Majesty.”

“All the more reason to get out of here. Can you give a hand on that?” Boru asked quietly.

“We have decompression problems all over the station, we might have a control problem on hangar door number-5. Yes, yes, I think the controls are overloading and we might have an explosive decompression. Anything in there will be sucked out into space towards the planet.”

“Copy that, Commander Foenicks. We will watch for signs of decompression in about a minute.”

Phoenix looked around and out the ports, no single digit numbers were on any of the doors. There were 21 through 26.

Rhea spoke up. “Pre-flight checks done. We are ready to launch. All power is routed through shielded circuitry.”

“Okay everyone, get your restraints clipped and hold on, we are doing an explosive launch through door two-six.” Boru said. “Rhea, when we move use thrusters only, just keep us from hitting the edges. Let’er drift for a bit once we clear the cloud. No power to the engines, life support or any lights until the last minute.” Turning around and looking at the ex-patients and medical providers, “Folks, it’s going to get bumpy and cold! You civilians will find blankets over your head.  If you get cold? Don’t hesitate to use them, but wait until after we finish bouncing around if possible.”

A shockwave slightly rocked the small ship as door “two-six” blew off it’s track and the atmosphere blew it out. Debris, another small ship slid towards the breach, airtight doors closed around the hangar.

Rhea gently tapped the thruster controls and just gave enough spin to the ship so it rotated out the door directly at the planet appearing to have no control.

The smaller unmanned ship hit the side of the hangar door and split off the starboard engine. Spilling fuel and atmosphere it gained speed and rotation, angling towards the escapees’ ship.

“EVADE!” called Boru as he jumped into the pilot seat next to Rhea. “Z-minus one-hundred. Let’s see if we can keep our cover that was not much of a move.”

Using thrusters only, the ship just sidestepped the spinning debris.

“Passive sensor’s have picked up– SIRE! We’ve been painted with target beacons. We have multiple bogies at multiple vectors coming in from all upper altitudes.” The one with the name badge Timate called out.

Phoenix heard the term, it piqued her curiosity.

“Thems not bogies— thems bandits! Okay, cover’s blown! Cloak the ship, let them lose us in the debris.”

Negative G-forces pulled upward on Phoenix, the only thing holding her down was the multi-point restraints that automatically tightened slightly holding her in place as the ship dropped sharply into the cloud of blown out debris. The ship shook with a concussion.

“They have us! Four Titan A6-T’s” A blond warrior with a at a weapons console that Phoenix did not get the name of.

“Emergency dive! Into the atmosphere. Target the lead ship with pulse cannon.” Boru ordered.

The ship rattled with cannon’s rapid fire. Bolts of particle energy struck the first attacker who dissolved into photons and sparks.

“Three more, we are in the atmosphere boundary, we will be visible!” Garr-id yelled.

“Keep going, we’re outgunned up by the spaceport.” Boru looked up and then at the his displays, “Prepare to abandon ship!”

The outside the ship began to heat by the entry into the surrounding atmosphere of Aquila Nova as they sailed at hypersonic speeds into the atmosphere below.

“Drop the cloak, SIre?” Called Rhea

“No no, we need to fake them out a bit longer. Prepare to jettison empty escape pods two through six in half second intervals. Then the rest of you take the last of the pods and abandon ship. I’ll take the ship back up into space while still cloaked. They will think we broke up on reëntry for a moment or two, long enough for you folks to get away.” Rhea started to protest but Boru held up a finger, “You are the Captain, but I outrank you, the civilians will need you to fend for them, until I am able to draw the Empire ships off.”

Rhea grumbled acceptance and went back to the controls and primed the empty pods for jettison without shielding as the ship rocked with more hits.

“We are visible!” Garr-id called. “Shields are holding, cloak is disabled.”

Phoenix terrified at the thought that she was about to die.

“Jettison pods two through six!” Boru yelled from his pilot seat. “Everyone in escape pods seven through twelve and deploy on my mark.”

Rhea directed the Doctor back to the seat next to Phoenix, a sudden jerk and the seats backed up an arm’s length and a door slid over the void left by their movement.

“Oh damn, I had forgotten how much I hate this.” Doctor Concord growled. “If I live through this, remind me to schedule that pirate to get his colon scoped with a reamer.”

“Pirate?” She asked.

“Yes, don’t you know? That’s why they are after him– he is Boru U’Maille, the Pirate King. He and his father drove them back in the last wars and forced the peace treaty” Dr. Concord tried to force a smile. “He is a thorn in their side. A big one.”

“THAT is the Pirate King? It must be a mistaaaaaaAAAA…..” Phoenix’s scream mixed with Dr. Concord’s as the ship made a violent roll and ejected the escape pod out at an angle, they did an arc instead of straight line and the motion was enough for Phoenix’s stomach to rise in her throat. She thought she was about to dump her churning stomach on the Doctor.

The autopilot of the pod took over and they rapidly slowed down, banked into a steep angle. Several lights lit up on panels.

An artificial male voice announced: “Vector stabilized, pod is cloaked, programmed destination arrival ETA is four-minutes.”

“Four minutes to arrive where?” Phoenix asked.

“Don’t bother asking, the computer is not interactive, it is just telling us where we are going.” Dr. Concord said. “They will have all the escape pods land close to each other.”

The Doctor did not lie, the pods had landed and the cloaking shimmered and faded as the escapee’s exited and took account of each other.

Rhea looked around as others came out of the trees where a couple of the pods missed the landing area by a few dozen yards.

“King U’Maille is not here.”

Timate, Phoenix could see him well now, an older warrior with stripes on his shoulders as he walked towards Rhea. “He will be here when he can. The bandits were still trying to stalk the pods. I don’t think they were fully convinced that the ship broke up on reentry.””We are near enough to go to the meeting place, besides, I am hungry.”

“I want to sit someplace that doesn’t move,” One of the wounded warriors limped up on his feet. “Or have someone shooting at me.”

The group agreed and walked into the village.

 

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.

The cat in the glass door.

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I sit here working on a chapter with dragons and humans, cross species hybrids and the dog is sleeping, snoring like a helicopter taking off and I hear a tap on the door to my little corner of the world.

Now, let me set this up, into my little work area is a nice corner where I can look out a glass door into the back yard.  Often it’s a sigh of “Gotta go out and cut the grass, but then, I get to sit and admire the yard. A copper (real copper!) kettle that serves as a fire pit, gas-powered grill, concrete patio. A pleasant little setup.

to the other end, we have 4 doors leading in.  Two doors from the area of the house I call the “Great Room” The single largest room in the house.  One door is open, allowing traffic in and out.  The other door, normally is open.  It’s about twenty-five feet from the first door mentioned.

Spike the cat, sits at the French Door, at the bottom pane of glass and meows, and meows, …and meows.  To be let in.

Now, I am not one to say my pets are not the brightest bulb in the box, I try to get him to go around.

But he tells me he is STARVING.  And dying of thirst!  He needs out of the room to get to his food and water.

After about twenty minutes of this and me telling him (Like he really understands English) to go around, I get up and open the door.

“THANK YOU THANK YOU! It was a close one, sir.  I nearly starved to death!”

Yeah, right. Okay.

I could feel the breeze blowing through the house as soon as I opened the door, it clicked shut before I had taken my seat again.

Sitting down and typing away about dragons and university, a banging sound comes from the closed glass door.

Spike the cat, once again, was on the wrong side and wanted OUT of the Great Room.

Telling him to go around was a fail. I poked my head through the open door and he trotted over to me.

“Thank you! You are brilliant!”

“Good, now you know the way out.”

Five  minutes later, he is back at the wrong side of the door begging me to let  him out.

I didn’t bother to yell at him, I got up and opened the door and he saunters in, tail up, nodding to the other cat.

Then it dawns on me.

WHO is the one being trained here?

Yeah…

That’s what I thought, too. So I opened the door all the way.

One well-trained human with illusions of being in charge, it is just what the cats want you to think.

Oh well, back to writing, a dark chocolate square about one inch square (about 2.5 cm and 99% cocoa) and bourbon for the evening snack.

Uh, excuse me, I have to let the cat into the kitchen now. (even though it has two doors and one  is open…) I’ll train the cat someday.

Maybe.

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.

Dragonmaster University Chapter 33. After Metal shop

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(Note, this is a rewrite.  There was a missing chunk out of the last third.  So I leave this non-repost for your repast, re-read, review and reply if you care. So this non-repost will replace a non-reblog of the re-imaged rewrite. )

Chapter 33. After Metal Shop

 

Holy crap!

Metallurgical class from the autumn semester was not easy, but this semester, they put to action the chapters they had read out of the Book of Smites and the workbook “Alloy Allies”, written by some hammer-slinging maniac named Hephaestus.

Jona came back to the dorms on the Emerald floor covered in soot and sore to the bones, going straight to the showers, he barely had the strength to take off his clothes and stand there in the hot water as it cascaded over his shoulders.

He hurt so bad, even swear words were not enough to describe the all-day torture. Several minutes passed before he was able to scrub with a sponge that grew on a stick and struggled with that when he saw that the oversized pool of water that served as a bath for larger swimming dragons and thought that it would be enjoyable to just sit in the warm waters.

But it was so far to walk on his sore legs. Professor Vuul, the fire-drake from the south had him pumping the bellows for the forge for the last two hours— after he had swung a hammer on different metals that he learned to heat from barely able to hold it in his hand, to sparkling white-hot.

He shook his head, he had to fill the great tub and even with the massive-multiple faucet, it would take longer than he wanted to wait, and he had hot water now.

With the hot water running over his shoulders and cascading down his body, he felt a great deal better.

He was standing there with his eyes closed, letting the water do the magic of bringing a soul back to the comfort zone when he felt a soft hand slide over his left shoulder.

It was Kolo, the teaching assistant to Professor Vale.

“Let me wash your back. You look like you are in pain.”

Jona covered up as much as he could, yipping like a startled puppy.

“You… I mean… me… I’m…”

“You are naked, yes, and so am I. But relax, I was watching you and you need someone to wash you. We are on the same team, right? We take care of each other.” She smiled, her tail slowly sliding over his hip while the girl dragon rubbed his back with a fibrous sponge that a dragon-team harvested from halfway around the world.

Kona’s hands, covered in human like skin on the palm, had a slightly coarse texture, like the paw of a cat. It was very sensual, but Jona was not ready for sensual.

He was in too much pain with overused muscles that he never thought he had, understanding now, more than ever, why his dad was so strong.

Even with her ministrations of creams and perfect pressure of her fingers, Jona’s body punished him with cramps and heavy, aching arms that could not shut the water off to the shower, his fingers didn’t want to close tightly enough without cramping.

“Jona, you need a cuddle for the night.” Kolo said matter-of-factly as she turned the hammered-bronze and emerald water control to “off” and draped a large towel around his shoulders and tied the belt at his waist, creating a large tunic of soft brushed cloth against his skin.

“What? Are you trying to get me in your bed?”

“You can keep your clothes on, but you should know by now, dragons like to touch and be touched. I will let you sleep in my arms, it will be a help heal your muscles and you can go back to class.” She smiled, her eyes sparkled like nothing else. Kolo did not have faceted eyes like full-blooded dragons, but she had the glint that stopped conversations. “Besides, the cloth in that robe you wear has medicines in the fibers, they do the most work. I will just help you sleep.”

“Aw, I can’t do that, Sprite would not understand with another body in the bed.”

“Sprite is a dragon.” She smiled. “This is what she will desire most as she grows, the more the better in her mind. Dragons sleep together.”

Jona hurt in all his muscles. The thought of having the gentle touch of this dragon that he had a crush on sleeping with her arms and tail around him was beyond his dreams of desire.

“And I have a special nightshirt to wear to bed.” Jona said. “My mom made it for me.”

“Sprite has told me she loves cuddling with you and that shirt a great deal. It’s made of the finest fibers that could be found of Honeytree thread.” Kolo nodded. “When I was little, I had a sleep-ball made of Honeytree thread.

“Honeytree thread?” Jona blinked, it was the first time he had heard of the name.

“It grows in a valley two days’ flight from here. Think of the fur of a long-haired kitten, only as long as your arm and twice as soft.”

“How? I mean…” Jona stuttered.

“I have studied a great deal. I am still learning every day.” Kolo said softly, sitting on his bed, pulling him to her arms.

She was absolutely correct. His aching muscles needed to rest, the girl dragon laying with him, with her arms around him. The three of them lay in her huge bed, Sprite against his chest, Kolo spooned to his back, it was nothing like what he expected, it was like being in a giant kitten hug, without being overheated.

For all their scales, dragons were able to give an immersive sleep. And Jona slept without dreams, in the medicated toga, Kolo’s healing touch, Sprite’s love, his body healed far more quickly than if he slept alone.

Kolo watched the Jona sleep, her parents would fart flames to have a daughter curled up with a first-year student, and not wait until he was ready to graduate.

But he made her smile widely. For all his flaws for being a young human, he had the  pheromones of a dragon, the brilliant mind of the best of humans and the heart of a master.

She just had to mentor him into being what he could be. She had to talk with the Green Man.

For now, however, Kolo the youngest, of the water clan of swimming dragons, closed all three eyelids on both her eyes and slept with the human in her arms who slept against her chest in a wonderful, warm snore.

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 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 15. Delivery and Dance (AKA Going Gaga)

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Chapter XV. Delivery and Dance. (AKA Going Gaga)

Walking into the core of the volcano, Jona was cooling down, even getting a little chilled standing in the forest meadow, as he heard cheering and whistles from the entry, a few laughing roars of dragons echoed from the landing cave.

A half-dozen large four-winged dragons stood at the corners of a big lozenge-shaped container as other dragons gathered around and began to off load the container, many human men moved about, as they cataloged the items being moved out under the scrutiny of a familiar raven-haired lady who walked about in her green armor.

“I know her! She was at the harbor with the black ship! They were taking on all kinds of things. Ingots were one thing I remember.” Jona said.

“They are a kind of pirate. Freemen and women that work on the ship in a fleet that comes and brings us supplies.” Kolo nodded, ‟The Headmaster of the Dragons, Professor Komodo and the Human Headmaster Narmer deal with them exclusivly, the black ship is not ever in any danger, the sea dragons protect the ship. Although I hear that they have no need of very much protection. Their ship, the Orca, is a predator that other Empire ships avoid. They pick no fights, according to the crew that sail her. and they’re all alumnus from here. Poets, bards and such.” Kolo smiled. “And they are also dancers. They come to give shows to the school now and again.”

“Come on Kolo! Let’s get a good spot! They are going to sing on the rocks!” A blond haird student, several years older than Jona, called as she walked by.

“Okay! Jona, come on! You will see how ladies go gaga over these guys.” Kolo dragged Jona by his hand.

“But my class!” Jona protested “I’ll be late.”

“No you won’t, your professor is over there talking with the captain. This will be a short day.” Kolo laughed and pulled him along.

The dancing and music went on until the lunch hour, Jona looked around and the red-haired captain spoke with dragon and human professor’s alike, trading papers and nodding back and forth. Jona had done business enough to know that they were making more orders for food and supplies for the school so high in the mountains and the captain was negotiating prices and times for delivery.

“Why doesn’t the captain sing and dance?” Jona asked, leaning over to Kolo.

Kolo shrugged, “I don’t know, I would like to see him dance, he has good grace, but someone said he has had a bad romance in his life and will not perform because of it.”

Applause exploded as the dancer’s finished their show and broke for lunch. Too soon after talking with students and sharing meals, the sailor’s and free folk headed back to the now empty pirate ship. The gleaming smooth obsidian dragons now well rested, food and drink for the dragons had been ample for them as well, nodded as the door closed and the blood-haired captain gave an order and they lifted into the air, the dragons moving together as a team as they disappeared out of sight into the clouds.

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 11. Introducing Dragons

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XI. Introducing Dragons

In the center of the school, a large open rotunda, taller than the tallest dragons that stood under the polished stone cupola, a soft rain that fell from the mouth of extinct volcano, guided off the roof and channeled to giant cisterns the shape of beer tankards sold in pubs throughout the world.

The students stood in a circle around the instructors and professors. Each professor standing on a level of a circular stage, looking outwards from the center, appearing like decorations on a cake.

Several of the professors were missing Jona noted. Looking around, all the dragon professors were missing. Then the voice of the professor that Jona had met a few weeks earlier, Melian Jewell began to speak from the middle of the circle. Standing on a platform higher than the rest, she addressed the newest students. Several of the older students had stopped and watched.

“Students, your journey begins here, learning what you have before, you must put behind you. You have all been appointed, have applied or been chosen. From now on your home is this university, here you will learn to go past the legends and mythology, to know the relationship between earth and sky, of water and air, you will know that the family that has raised you is larger and more complex than anything you have ever imagine. Here you will learn how to teach a dragon the most basic parts of survival, how to hide.” She took a breath. “here you will learn how to mentor and be mentored by Dragon Masters.”

At the last, a dozen dragon professors soared down from niches in the sides of the neck of the volcano and landed, encircling the human and elf teachers facing the students with their wings outstretched and tip to tip, the dragons of all sizes looked down on the screaming students. Keva stood behind Jona and buried her face in his back.

“These are your mentors!” Her voice boomed around the school center, “You will know them all in time. Ice, fire, air, water, earth. I bid you all, welcome to Dragon Master University of Higher Learning.”

“Who are the Dragon Masters? Us or them?” A dark-eyed girl whose eyes seemed as big as saucers as she looked up at a dragon that stood three times her height.

“Everyone who graduates here is a master. Some are Dragons, some are elves, some are humans. All are masters and will guide the survival of all the races.” A familiar and beautiful voice sounded behind Jona.

Kolo was smiling as she was handing out room assignments.

“Your bags are already being moved as we speak. Jona you are in Garnet Dorms, your first year mentor has been a special request by our own Professor Vale. You will meet him later at the dorm common room. You will find the room number assignments from him.”

Kolo reached up and tickled sprite under the wings while it clicked happily at the touch of the female dragon.

Trying to think of something to say, Jona flogged his brain.

Finally, it seemed like weeks he stood there asked Kolo “Did you do something to your hair? It looks nice.”

Kolo laughed and walked away.

“Silly boy, dragons don’t have hair, these are feathers and no, nothing has changed. You will have to try better than that.”

Jona turned away and cursed himself.

“Stupid, stupid, stupid. Next time think of something intelligent…”

Walking along the path to the Garnet House, Jona approached the dragon that he had met weeks before, the old professor.

“Do you know where I might find Professor Vale?” Jona inquired, “I need to meet him for a room assignment.”

The dragon looked at Jona and chuckled, “Yes, I know where Professor Vale is, he is very close by.” The dragon leaned close “He is me, I am Professor Vale.”

“Oh, I’m sorry, I did not remember your name. I’m told to report to you for a room assignment in the Garnet house?”

“New student, go through the door, turn right, go down the stairs, room fifty-six, it has your name on it.” the Professor nodded without even looking, turning to an older student “Sixth floor, room nineteen. You know the drill, you have a good room this year, your mentor will have easy access to you for early training. Just a warning: Do not fall off.”

The student left and Jona followed the other boy, as they entered the Garnet House, a Purple Dragon statue stood out front. Orange eyes and wings extended, it looked much like the one that gave him a ride to the school the first time.

Reading the plaque at the base of the statue, “Skittles the seeker” on the surface of the plaque, the rest of the writing was in a language he could not understand.

“Jona!” It was Rameses, “You are in Garnet? that is a good house to start in. They follow the lead of Skittles, the best student they have ever had. He was a great seeker of knowledge about humans and dragons.”

“Oh! Thanks! I could not read it past the name.” Jona said

“There will be a test later. ” Rameses said as he left “Gotta go, I have to move into my room, see ya!”

“Bye!” Jona walked in and turned right, walking down a circular-staircase covered with a luxurious a maroon carpet. Down he went, light for the stairs came from a tube of light that hung from the ceiling and down the core of the circular stairway. At the bottom of the stairs, Jona walked along the wide polished floor of snowflake obsidian while Jona shuffled with dozens of other students who read the gold plates on all the doors.

Finally room fifty-eight, Jona Samhain, Spirat Oillín, Kola Dragoneye, Sam Sam were the names engraved in the gold plate.

Walking into the darkened room, Jona paused for a few minutes until it was light enough to see.

“Touch the wall to get some illumination.” A voice from the darkness sounded, “But be gentle.”

Jona touched the wall and the ceiling began to glow.

“Sun tubes.” A man-sized dragon sat on a chair that looked like polished stone. “They store and use the light down here. We are the bottom of the pile.”

“I’m Jona”, he said. Looking at the blue tiger-striped dragon reclining on the seat. “It’s my first day.”

“I’m Sam, It is my second year, but I bombed badly last year so I have a do-over. Never did turn in my work on time after I got assignments. I did it, but kept forgetting it.” Sam looked down and sighed. “My Gram about gave birth to a polar bear when she got the report. Now I am back down here.”

“It is not bad down here. We’ll be protected from bad weather.” Jona tried to look at the bright side.

“Hardly, summer is too hot down here, spring it is humid, best times are now and winter.” Sam said and added, “Have you got your class assignments yet?”

“No, I just got here.” Jona was looking into separate rooms as Sam watched him move around.

“You better find your home-room teacher and get the schedule. Some instructors are evil. There is one elven chap that does Dragon Lore– you do not want to get him on your trail. His sister is a Bowheart and he really hates anyone who fails to measure up to her.”

“Bowheart?” Jona asked. “What is a Bowheart?”

“You are new at this! You need to get studying history and read last year’s story.” Sam said. “But no matter, you need to get your schedule, I will help you along. But you have to get the studies down. This place can be savage with no one to have your back. That is why they roomed us together.”

“Where would I find the home-room teacher?” Jona asked.

“Office is main floor, you will have to look hard for your name. They try to write them in your native language for the fresh faces that come every year. Then switch to the common language that we all talk, but you have that down already. You are one of the few humans I know that already have skills in understanding of common language of all the students” Sam smiled. “It’s good to have that advantage.”

‟Let’s go get your stuff in your room or you will get your bed taken.” Sam said, jumping up.

Running up the stairs after putting his clothes away, he donned his leather vest that had silver rivets but no rosettes like some of the other older students. Even Sam had an iron rosette at each leather joint of his vest.

“What do the rosettes on your vest mean?” Jona asked Sam as they climbed the stairs. “I have seen some that are gold, some are silver, some look rusty or even made of wood.”

“Classes they have passed.” Sam grinned, “I did the triathlon ride last year. So I got an iron rosette. You will get them as you get along in your schooling. There are so many I don’t know what they all are made of or what they are for. There is gold, silver, copper, bronze, iron, emerald, diamond and other gem types, many of silk, some of a white marble, others of black. Just depends on what you do.”

“Wow, well, let’s see what classes I have. Then I will try to get some on my rivets.” Jona laughed.

‟Good luck, first year. You might also get used to being called an egg or hatchling.” Sam nodded The scales of his head glistened in the light, like the polished walls of the school.

”You won’t get respect this year, no matter what you do.” Sam snorted a secretive laugh. ‟Just so you know.”

Dragon Master University Chapter 10. The First Days

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X. The First Days

Once again, in the wicker basket, Jona was heading to school for the beginning of the term at the autumn equinox. A pretty girl from the eastern isles, her hair the color of a sunrise.

“I’m Keva, my parents are both Dragon Masters and they appointed me after my folks talked to the council of professors.” She smiled at the group of other kids as they raced along the clouds.

A giant frost wyvern, related to dragons but with no front legs, only two wings and two hind legs carried them along.

A gentle landing, easily as good as the first ride, Jona laughed as a student who was first out of the giant wicker basket and hugged the ground whispering “Never-never-ever-never-never again! I do not want to ride in those!”

Jona laughed as the boy had stood up and stopped being terrified. He had held on to the edge of the wicker basket, his belt latch had drawn so tight that he had trouble breathing. He had gone the full length of the braided cord, and then some.

“It’s my third year here, I do that every time. I hate riding in those things. If people were meant to fly, we would have wings like the dragons. You know that, if the dragon slipped? That is a long ways to the ground. Never do I want to leave earth. My feet belong on the land or in the water. Not the air.”

“He makes that speech every year, I’m told.” Keva whispered into Jona’s ear after the boy’s panicked speach.

“They call me Screaming Eagle to my face, a great warrior’s name, but they whisper behind my back they say ‟Screams like a Baby” when I come home.” He said quietly as he wiped his hand over his forehead. “But, no one will ride in the basket, no one chosen of my family will come to learn about the world.”

“Well at least you don’t have a baby dragon that thinks you are its mother.” Jona said as sprite landed on top of his head and clicked a happy familiar sound to the returning Jona after the family had visited a few weeks before and had left the small dragon with the pretty swimmer-dragon, Kolo, the university secretary of admissions.

All the students gathered in the central part of the old volcano, Newest students surrounded the teachers in the center as the more senior students passed by and continued onto their dorms and home rooms.

Jona looked around, Screams Like a Baby, reminding himself the boy’s name is Screaming Eagle, headed off into the dorms of Water Dragons, the great Green Spire dominated by the a great statue of the water dragon’s queen.

Jona wondered what his mom and dad did on their first day, making note to ask them.

Not for the first time in recent days, Jona laughed at the ordinary and mundane life he left at  the old school.

Dragon Master University Chapter 9. Tour of the University

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IX. Tour of the University

Jona’s mother gave him the lecture about behaving around pretty girls, especially around those that he had no idea what they really were.
“She is a dragon and probably older than all of us put together.” Aed laughed, “Still, she was pretty. I remember her when I first came. She went steady with the champion racer at the time. Most of us were in love with her.”
“Most of you boys,” Dearbhail interrupted, “were in love with her, she has no affect on females.”
Aed whispered to Jona when his mother stopped to talk to a professor and ask directions to the dorms and library.
“The girls are also affected, mostly as jealousy. Kolo is one of the most beautiful of her species, but they are all pretty. I dated one of her sisters, Soisal. We had a good time until I met your mother, then it was all history then.” Aed chuckled. “I loved your mum from the day I met her.”
“This way” She led her family to the dormitory area. Along the way, the red dragon Jona had seen before was basking in a shaft of sunlight, his size was smaller than Jona remembered, but they were in shadows and Jona had looked around.
“Professor.” Dearbhail said gently, “I would like you to meet Jona, my son. You remember Aed, my husband?”
The dragon opened an eye. Where many of the eyes of dragons were cat-like with slits, or like an owl’s that where wide and bright, taking in everything. This dragon had eyes like a human, deep blue, with the look of someone who has had seen and taught much, with a touch of sadness in his eyes.
But those sad eyes crinkled into a smile– as much as a dragon can smile.
“Why yes!” His voice sounded strangely like a cross between a human and a thunder-clap echoing backwards. “I remember you Aed! You had a knack for using hammers to make art out of metal. I still have the chain you made for me as an end of school present. A great treasure of my personal cache.”
Jona cringed slightly as the tusked face turned to him.
“You will be attending here then in the next cycle? You will like it, there is the renew festival in the autumn, where all the spirits of the year come to greet us. It becomes a trick or treat week of fun and spooks.” Winking at Jona as if it were a secret.
“We make it all month though. Always fun. We also have visiting wizards and witches now and again during that time.”
“I would like to attend here. My dad says you were once human?” Jona reached out and touched the nose dragon lightly.
“Yes, but one must recite the words and said exactly and with passion. I cannot repeat them as the same magic that made me as I am does not allow a dragon to speak such words of reversal. How I came to be like this was to save the most precious treasure I have ever had in my possession or held in my hands.” With a slow nod, the dragon finished his thought. “That treasure was, is and remains my best treasure, my wife. I will see you in class, Young Jona, you will be how dragons think and feel. And you can check with my scales anytime.”
Looking at Aed and Dearbhail, the big dragon took a deep breath. An intense look filled the eyes of the red-dragon.
“His touch is that of a healer, I have seen into his mind’s eye. Aed, Dearbhail, he has the soul of a teacher and a smiter, but most– he is a healer if we can get him past his play.”
“And do not stare so much at Kolo, she might think you like her.” The red dragon chuckled. The sound was if someone had struck a large drum. Then the old wizard dragon closed his eyes and sighed as the the pleasant feeling of the sun shining on his body and warming his scales.
They got a ride on a tram that rode on wheels of wrought iron, pulled by a young dragon that wore a sign on the side of one of his horns. It was in a language that Jona could not read.
“What does that say?” he asked his mother.
“Public service for failing class. All donations to this tram go to the university’s charity for delinquent dragons.” His mother read. “Not much has changed since we attended here. I wonder if they still make humans do the same thing?”
Aed shook his head and shrugged.
“I would’nt be surprised, I spent more than one school week pulling people haulers for not doing my work on time or getting caught in a bad situation. I always got dragons that wanted rides, too.”
“I never had to do that.” Dearbhail laughed lightly as she put her arms around her husband and kissed him on the cheek. “Thank you for that, too. I would have hated to have pulled a wheeled cab for my friends when they were going out and I was doing penance.”
Jona looked at his mom “You were going to be punished?”
“No” Aed said, “I would not let that happen, so I took the blame.”
“I had to marry your father after that, he was such my hero, very gallant.” She blushed slightly and kissed Aed again, no longer the finger waving, loud voiced matriarch that shook the earth with her stomps, but looked more like a caught school girl.
“I hung all the boy’s underwear between the buildings. We raided their rooms when they were in the showers.”
“You took the blame for that?” Jona looked at his father incredulously.
“Got me the nickname of ‘Odd Aed’ for awhile. But it was worth it, they figured it out in time, but the debt had been paid.”
His small dragon woke and started crawling around the inside of his tunic and Jona wiggled around then complained loudly that the small creature just pulled out what little chest hair he had. Finally getting free, the small creature flew around in circles over his head before landing on the edge of the tram and watched the world go by.
“This happens often?” Jona asked
“Only with chosen ones. I was not chosen,” his father said. “Your grandfather had a run in with a dragon and a Dragon Master came to arbitrate, the result was the dragon apologized with the agreement I came here to study. One of the best agreements we ever did as a clan.”
Jona looked at his mum “What about you?” with a quirked look.
“I was chosen, I had a small dragon follow me home, my parents were always trying to kill it until a Dragon Master came and spoke with them. You have no idea how much of a dragon hater your Grandfather was. He resented it, your grandma— she secretly liked the idea I could save things that lived in and over the earth. But your grandpa, if he had the chance, he would hunt dragons to the ends of the earth without a thought.”
“Is that why we lived so far away from Grandpa and grandma?” Jona asked
“Yes, partly due to that, but also because he did not like your father much. Because I had met him here, your grandpa did not want to even talk to him.” His mother shook her head sadly. “But what he did not know was that your Grandma is also a Dragon Master. She has never told him.”
Once again, his life shook. Schools end, he was free and knew it all, now he found that all he learned in school— was how to learn.
The tram rumbled on, the farther they went, the larger the school looked. “Everything is school here?” he asked while looking out.
“Yes, last count I remember that they had almost forty- thousand students of all kinds. A large city. They will all live here, away from dragon hunters, kings that look to have a prize on the castle or a name as King Dragon Killer or some stupid thing.” Aed said unhappily. “The best part, however is that the dragon council pays for it all. Humans only get in if chosen, arbitrated or otherwise selected carefully. All dragons come here no matter what.”
“All dragons? Do they all live here?” Jona asked as they stopped in front of a very tall spire.
“OUT!” The dragon called in front, his voice was very small for his size, until Jona realized it was a girl dragon, and that he had a lot to learn of how to tell gender from male and female dragons. Except for Kolo, she still danced in his recent memory with the swish of the tail and move of her legs.
A slap on the back of his head again as his mother brought him back to the here and now.
“Jona, you need to look around. There are different dorms. Many are houses that have a brotherhood of dragon and masters. The girls have a sorority but can and do also belong to the fraternity of Dragon Masters. That is where the tattoo’s come from. Only those that achieve that status can have the never ending knot of dragons on their arms.” She reminded him.
A small dragon of a pale blue— white hue walked up to him. “I am Ramases, I will guide you around the dormitory, this is the house of the Frost Dragons, you may find that it is a bit cold in some area’s. But we study hard to keep warm. Do you like to ski?”
“Um, no.” Jona said as they mounted gilt stairs up to the upper floors. The slim dragon bounded on two legs while giving occasional flaps.
“I’m in my second year here, they have moved me into the guide status because my grades are so high. I already speak most human languages.” Ramases laughed as he stepped up the stairs.
Jona looked at the guide as the three Samhain’s followed, “Do all dragons come in different sizes or will he grow to be like some of the big ones that are flying outside?”
Aed shook his head “Most dragons are of adult size in one or two years. By the time they get here, they are done growing, after that, they just age. Like Kolo, she will never get any bigger– even though she looks like she might have gained a little weight.”
Dearbhail shook her head, “She has matured, the vamp.” Jona’s mother shook her head. ‟Dragon girls never seem to get dumpy. Look at Professor Olly. She looks as if she was still a bride when she got married. That was when I was a student here!” Jona’s mother sighed, “and she has four children!”
Aed leaned over, “That’s because you don’t have scale-armored boobs like they do.” And tried to kiss Dearbhail while Jona complained.
“Stop it dad! That’s just … ugh.” Jona walked further ahead rolling his eyes while Ramases laughed quietly.
The young dragon and the human boy began to talk as the parents laughed behind them at Jona’s discomfort.
“Parents.” Jona rolled his eyes.
“Yeah, I have troubles with mine, too. My dad is a desert dragon, mom is from the far north. They are always wrapping tails around each other— it’s gross. I have ten brothers and sisters, I’m the youngest.” Ramases said, “The smartest, too. I can’t get any bigger, I’m kind of the runt of the nest.”
“That must have been hard.” Jona said, “I have a friend that has a few bigger brothers. One brother captured a lúchorpáin and made it give them a bottle of youth. One drop would make you one year younger. “
“Oh very nice, they would have gotten rich off that!” Ramases smiled.
“Not really, they gave Boru ten drops and he was only nine! They made him minus one!”
Ramases laughed, “Pour kid!”
“He had to repeat basic school until the potion wore off the next spring.” Jona added, “I’m an only kid. I just have sprite here that is my dragon I guess.”
“Ooh, he is not yours— you are his, he chose you.” Ramases corrected him. “He looks to be an orphan, must have just hatched very close to you.”
Ramases snorted something, then growled. Sprite just looked at him a few times, then Ramases puckered up and whistled low with some clicking, the little dragon clicked back.
“Said he has spent the last two weeks alone, all the other eggs were smashed, no sign of mother. You are his mother now.”
“Here we are. These are sample rooms, no one lives in these, but it gives you an idea on what you might have available.” Opening the door, Ramases stepped back and let Jona step in. His parents just looked in.
“Do you not want to see the rooms?” Ramases asked Aed.
“I have lived in these rooms with the Fire Dragon fraternity. They are much the same.”
“OH! You are alumnus! Is Jona second or third generation or more?”
“Jona is actually fifth generation candidate, but I have no doubts he will make a fine teacher and, maybe a healer.” Dearbhail said.
“My father was no Dragon Master, but I think my grandfather was. But my father and grandfather did not speak much to each other.” Aed said.
Walls of polished obsidian stone made up the walls of the room, Jona had never seen the like of such a grand room.
“I get a room like this?” Jona gaped.
“Not alone, you would share this size of room with five others.” Ramases nodded.
‟Five? I don’t get to be alone?”
‟No first years do.” Aed said. ‟That is tradition.”
‟I’m going to hate the first year.”
‟You,” His mother pinned him with a deadly look that Jona knew well. ‟Young man, will learn. Study or I will come and teach you in each and every class.”
If Jona thought it was cold when he walked into the dorms, the chill that came from his mother could have cracked ice.

Dragon Master University Chapter 8. The DragonMaster University

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VIII. The DragonMaster University

Jona looked at the lady, she had beautiful eyes, her ears were elegant with a slight point to them, elf for sure! Jona had never met an elf, but he was sure this was one. She was not nearly as old as his parents.

“Professor, this is our son, Jona, he has been chosen by the dragons, one follows him still.” Mother Samhain said softly. “Jona, this is Professor Melian Jewell, she is one of the senior teachers here in the university. She teaches dragon language, the only person I know that speaks all the known dialects of dragons, including the dead languages that no one speaks even now.

“She, I mean, you ma’am speak all dragon languages?” Jona followed his mothers finger as she pointed to the professor, to who he was to address the question.

“I was around when the dragons first encountered men, I helped set up the school, many winters ago.” Melian stated with an air of simple fact. Jona was getting the ongoing feeling that his school back home might be over, learning how many bushels would fit in a cart to today of dragons, elves, snow. His education was about to start. All that he had learned before was to practice for what was going to come now.

Professor Jewell looked up and down at Jona and nodded, “You have a dragon upon your person now, he is sleeping in the fold of your cloak. You may name him if you like because his real name would take you years to learn how to say it correctly.”

The professor was correct, the little dragon had found a loose fold in his sweater and was no longer moving, instead, it had warmed up and gone to sleep against the skin of Jona’s arm. If Jona did not know any better, it felt like the little dragon was purring.

The professor nodded curtly and excused herself as the Samhain family walked to the office, men and women walked by in many kinds of armor, many were gold, some were obviously a gray metal of iron. Dozens of beings, of humans and species that Jona had never dreamed of that existed passed him wearing laminated leather and metal decorations passed by every minute.

Jona began to notice that there was a subtle meaning to all the different types of decorations all over the leather that in many cases was a heavy weave of strips held in place by the metal rivets engraved into various flower shapes, then gilded with different colors.

He assumed that each color and shape meant something. Flowers, hands, what looked like ropes, crossed knives and either feathers or leaves, Jona could not tell which, embellished the shoulders and chests of humans, elves and— someone who looked like human, but was not.

Jona walked behind his parents looking about when a larger youth with raven-black hair collided with him, knocking Jona sideways and making Jona stumble and bump into another student who was gazing at the sky.

“You be careful! I am a DragonMaster.” The youth shoved back and growled at Jona.

The color of the jerkin was thin and worn, well used or poorly made, Jona could not decide. The aggressive stand of the student, however, flamed anger in Jona.

“Stop killing people for once, do not pull out your gutting knife just now. Let him live and come with me, please.” Aed turned and called to Jona. Shocking the other youth with the deadly reputation that the older generation recognized.

The other boy stood wide-eyed and looked on as Jona walked to his father, smiling to himself and in a way that no one else, but his father could see.

A wink the elder gave his son as the boy caught up and they walked off together.

“Thanks, Da'” Jona whewed quietly, “He’s bigger than I am. I did not want to have a fight so soon after getting here.”

“A father’s skill, I got you out of a fight without needing to raise my voice or get involved directly. But, be warned, it may just have put off what you will need to do later. He’ll want to test you.” Aed told him. “I recognize the forged flower on the leather vest he has on. A good family that has fallen on hard times. His own father suffered an attack by a dire wolf and nearly died. That boy’s father is now touched. Sometimes I find him in my shop wondering over common items. They live on the coast and are good people.”

‟Does the pirate king know him?”

‟Oh yes. Keegan O’Danu has gone out of his way to take care of the family. That is why the boy is here. The O’Danu scholarship, designed just for him. No one else can qualify, all Kacra had to do was apply”

‟Kacra?”

‟That’s the boy I warned you not to kill.”

‟Oh.” Jona thought about Kacra’s father wandering around the countryside.

From the coast to the shop would be at least a full days ride, two days to walk. How would Jona’s father get him home?

“Wagon mostly, and using an apprentice. Sometimes, I have given him a ride home on the dragon.” Aed leaned in whispering “I think that is why he keeps coming back.”

“So he takes it out on me?” Jona asked “I will have to avoid him or beat him.”

His mother shook her head at the her men talking.

“You will teach him how to teach dragons. By teaching you will learn, by learning from each other, you will teach.” She said.

”I do not want you to be fighting, I will be sorely upset if you get in trouble and I have to come by way of dragon— and I will come by fast dragon— to get you out of trouble from the school.” Her eyes flashed, “Then you will be in trouble with ME!”

Jona shuddered, somehow trouble with his mother, against the trouble in school? He feared his mother far more than anything the school might throw at him, including dragons.

Walking by a large door, several staff were moving bucket of fish in front of a large door to one of the dragon’s rooms. Barely they had time to get the door open when a tongue snaked out and wrapped itself around the leg of one of the faculty. Screaming for help, several of the bucket movers fought with the tongue until it let loose and returned inside the room— but only for a moment.

Out snaked the tongue again, finding the bucket, it dragged the container inside the room where a sound of sloshing could be heard.

Then the heavy bucket was airborn out and bounced off the door with a loud BONG. Jona could make out the shape of an armored dog, more than twice his height, possibly bigger than even the dragon that had brought them here.

Jona shook down to his bones when the bucket, big as ten men standing shoulder to shoulder, bounced as if it was the ball that Jona had seen the red-headed merchant had thrown for his son, Dana.

Jona looked up, it seemed like spires of a castle towered overhead on the inside of the old volcano, the heat and smoke that came from the bottom of the hole warmed the buildings, the fires were great stones that were heated by fire-breathing dragons that were being taught how to use their powers without burning things down. Jona was not sure who were teachers or who were students.

It seemed as if there were dragons that were professors as they ambled by with great medallions around their neck and others would bow to the dragons.

“The Dragons teach?” Jona could not stop his mouth from echoing his thoughts.

Aed chuckled and nodded, “Yes, you don’t find many students that daydream in those classes.”

Jona gaped at a red dragon that sat before an old lady professor. Her hair was blood-red, salted with white hair. Around the neck of the graceful, scaled neck of the dragon hung a medallion, battered and scarred, was a medallion engraved with runes around its edge, dwarfed by the size of the dragon, it seemed to be meant for someone of a different size. The dragon bowed it’s great head, as the professor kissed the scaled head and hugged (as much as she could wrap her arms around the huge head) the dragon.

Dearbhail looked at her son as he looked at the odd couple while they walked.

“Careful you will bump into a column.” She laughed quietly, “Those are the two most senior professors here. She is a witch, half-elf and her husband is a powerful wizard that gave up his human form to save her life, once upon a time during a battle with invading barbarians. But he did it in a way that no one can ever turn him back to his old shape. Someone has to say the proper spell, the proper ways with the proper words. No one knows how he did it and he cannot say how it was. He speaks rough human language, but not enough to undo the spell he made.”

Jona thought about this as they walked on, looking around. “Is this a castle?”

He looked around. “It is so large!”

“No, this is a village,” Aed laughed. ‟Really, a collection of schools that have banded together to make a more protected place to teach. This old volcano is long stopped being a danger, the only heat comes from deep underground or the dragons themselves.”

“We lived here a long time before you were born.” His mother added.

“Hatched, is better said. We found you under a rock.” his dad laughed as they walked. “Watch it!”

Jona nearly walked into a tree trunk sized leg as he was looking around, the dragon looked down and sounded like it snorted angrily at him while it moved past.

“She apologized,” Dearbhail translated for him. “This school was built inside the this old volcano, it can storm outside with a blizzard and all you will get in here is a soft rain.”

“Unless he has a class in the outside area” Aed added. “You will need to learn how to ride on dragons as well. It takes practice and a bit of luck— and a lot of understanding on how a dragon moves, thinks and lives.”

“This way,” his mother said as they turned into a beautiful building. A column of dragon images, each with a name under it.

“Puff?” Jona read, “What kind of name is that for a dragon? That seem silly.”

“Heh,” His dad laughed softly. ‟He was a legendary dragon that made one of the first contacts with humans that did not end in one or the other being killed.” Aed nodded, “It was the beginning of understanding between dragons and other creatures of the world.”

“Where do we go from here?” Jona asked

“Inside, come.” His parents escorted him in and he met the second smallest dragon he had seen so far.

Jona watched her as she moved around, she had a short tail, and she was in a same moment, color shifting from sky blue to forest green, performing complex paperwork quickly as she concentrated. She was so pretty that the young man nearly forgot to breathe.

Jona’s mom smacked him in back of the head and brought him out of his own little world of fantasy as the girl sized dragon smiled and looked down at her work.

“Happens all the time with new students.” She said with a musical voice. “It happens with dragons, elves and humans all the same.” She sighed and went back to a folder and opened it, pulling out several documents.

‟Clan Samhain, one child, Jona” She looked up at the gape-mouthed teenager “That must be you.”

Aed chuckled as his mom hid her face in the palm of her hand as she tried to stifle a laugh. Jona continued to stare, compared to the other dragons he had seen in the school, there was nothing like her.

“My name is Kolo and you can stop staring now, I am here to help you get through your first years, I will be your mentor and teacher of language arts of the first order. I also teach sports, I am a swimming dragon, but I also can fly. Do you swim?” Kolo looked at Jona with a soft smile and a wink.

Jona only made a momentary sound and then Kolo tapped him on the forehead.

“Are you okay? Did you eat a sleep berry?” Kolo giggled, “Here, just give these to you folks and then come back when you have your brain in your head instead of my shirt.”

Walking away Kolo looked over her shoulder at Jona who was being led out of the room by his father as they went to the desks to fill out the proper paperwork.

Dragon Master University Chapter 6. Cold

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VI. COLD

Higher they flew, the dragon giving slow, steady beats, the winds generated did not seem as severe as when they were first lifting off. Into the clouds they flew, even birds fell behind as the tail of the dragon slowly began to clear of the stowaway passengers that sat on the dragon’s tail.

“Birds sit on dragons all the time?” Jona asked, finally having enough wits about him to ask.

“Often they do, birds help clean in between the scales and folds of the wings. The dragon in turn keeps predators at bay. Few things hunt dragons.” his mother said softly.

“Uh, ‘few things’? What hunts dragons?” Jona asked, then thought “Besides men.”

Aed turned and looked out the window, the shutter was held back with a gold hook. “There are things far darker and more dangerous than a dragon, even the most short-tempered and wild of dragons have things to fear, you will learn these things of the world at the school. You will do well.” Turning back, Aed was back to his smiling and proud self as they flew on in the wicker coach of the gathering light of the day.

Breaking out of the low clouds, into the bright sunlight, Jona unbuttoned his overcoat in the warmth. “Why do I have to wear this?”

“You’re warm now, but just wait.” Aed said as he motioned ahead of them to a dark line of clouds that towered high into the air. “That for instance!”

Jona looked at the clouds and down to the ground, they were already so far up that not even villages were visible and the edge of the world seemed curved.

“Higher we go!” his mother smiled, “Now it gets cold, you will want to keep your hat on, there are ear flaps on the inside– and button up your coat for your health! Have I not taught you anything?”

Jona chuckled, he had been in the cold back home, once even the lake nearby had frozen almost completely over. He knew what cold was, they had gone swimming in that icy lake that year.

As soon as he finished that thought, he noticed his breath was coming out in fog puffs and his ears popped, looked as though his dad was smoking like the old man who lived down the road when he sat on his stump with a pipe. Jona pulled his hat down over his head, the ear flaps, lined with fur that was far warmer than he would have believed.

As his ears warmed, he realized that he had a slight headache from the cold wind pressing in on his face.

Jona looked around, both of his parents had buttoned up tight, with the collars turned up, all he could see of their faces were the eyes showing through slits in the leather and fur, their eyes glittering as they had more fun than Jona had thought possible in an over-sized wicker basket, that was hanging from the claws of a creature that until just last night he thought was only in stories.

Something cold hit Jona right in the nose, then another, as they skirted along the edge of the high cloud, the sky was full of this white soft stuff.

“Snow.” Aed laughed. “There will be more of it before we land.” His words were cut off by a clap of thunder that made Jona’s heart stop for a moment. The dragon snorted with a sonorous voice, that his dad nodded to and answered in the same snoring sound and closed the roof of the basket.

“She said that she is going to go back to the north a little bit, the lightning is too dangerous for us. It is no danger to the dragon, but us? We would be charred to bones in a moment.”

The glittering tiger striped dragon banked to the left and got away from the thunder cloud, finding clear air as they moved into slightly warmer air and away from the storm line.

“If she understands human talk, can she speak in human?” Jona asked his mother, moving close. For in the first time in years, Jona felt very small and needed to hold his ma’s hand. His mother pulled him close, putting her arms around her only child.

“YES.” the voice was as deep as the clap of thunder, but understandable, even kindly sounding even if it was so loud as to make him jump while in Dearbhail’s arms.

Jona had never been so cold as he was right now, even in the arms of his parents, bundled in layers of clothing- except for the over pants his mom had set in the corner, slowly his eyes closed, for the first time in years, he slept in his mom’s arms, no longer a man out of school of eighteen summers, but a child of his mother.

His dreams were exciting and saturated with colorful dragons and adventure.

Excited, even in his dreams.

Dragon Master University Chapter 5. The Ride

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Chapter 5. The Ride

 

“This insulated armor is for harsh environments, you better be getting yours on, too. You will stick out like a wart if you don’t wear the proper garments.” chuckled Aed.

Watching closely as his father picked up the over sized knife, his father looked him in the eye and then hit the side of his leg with the cruel cutting edge of the sword. Not so much as a dent in the material was left by the cutting edge. Smiling at his son at the strength of the armor that he had kept quiet for lo’ the many years that the son had come to join them. He helped Jona dress in his student armor.

Jona dressed, the leather smelled newly tanned, the touch of it made him feel like a warrior of his own, slightly taller than his auburn haired mother, his jerkin fit him perfectly, as if it was known that he would be wearing it.

“Come, son! Time to get going!” Dearbhail said. Her strong will reasserting itself once again. The family hiked out into a meadow outside of the village, past the Crannog used since as long as anyone could remember, should the wild men of the sea invade.

In the middle of the field, dimly lit by the two torches carried by the adults, Jona had the dubious task of carrying the heavy gold griddle, stood a large wicker basket, enough to carry perhaps as many as ten people and all their food, bedding and still have room left over for any animals they might want to bring.

The wicker was tightly woven, enclosed but for shuttered holes that served as windows to the outside. Aed opened the stout, side door and Jona could see the reclining seats inside. Just sitting there, Jona looked around for the cart or wagon that had brought it. Not quite understanding, he looked for a place to put down the bag that carried the heavy, gold cookware.

“What is this?” Jona asked, learning not to make comments, because the truth of the last few days made his wildest imagination pale in comparison.

“This, Jona, is our way to get to the school, we ride in it.” Aed said as he and Dearbhail climbed in. “Get comfortable, you will find your first lesson in dragons.”

Opening the top of the basket with a lever that telescoped the apex of the basket back to the sides so they could see out, his dad made a sound like he did when he was snoring, Aed seemed to make a whole sentence from the snorting and snoring sound.

Jona began to laugh at his dad, when there was the sound wind coming from the sky, no clouds, but as Jona looked up, the something blotted out the stars.  It… He could not believe it… It was the biggest flying thing that Jona had ever put his eyes on.

Jona squealed like a cat with its tail stepped on and he fell over backwards when he craned his neck to look up, great orange eyes looked down on them from the sky and wings that went from edge to edge of his vision he had to turn his head to see all the wingspan of the huge dragon that hovered over them as it sat down on the grass as lightly at a bird.

His face and eyes twitching as the lips of his mouth formed a big “O” without a sound when great orange eyes looked down on them from the sky and wings that went from edge to edge of his vision, he had to turn his head to see all the wingspan of the huge dragon that hovered over them as it sat down on the grass as lightly at a bird.

His face and eyes twitching as the lips of his mouth formed a big “O” without a sound.

After a few minutes, the only sound he heard was the rush of blood in his ears and a small funny sounding squeak like a squirrel made when caught in the claws of a hawk, only to come and realize that the squeak was coming from his own mouth, echoing laughter from far away was his own mother and father.

Aed stood over his spasm-riddled son and looked down with laughter as his wife roared with laughter, all the first time students that had seen their first full-sized dragon had same reactions— normally they passed out or ran away in panic.

“Jona, you did better than most kids! You at least stood your ground the first time you met the transport, even if you did a very good apoplexy dance before you fell, were you frozen or did you find it curious?” Aed laughed as he spoke to his son.

“Wahh-wahh-wahh-wahh-wahh…” Jona repeated for several minutes, until finally he complained that the weight of the gold platter was holding him down.

“Let go, son, let the bag go.” Dearbhail said, “It is not holding you down, you are holding yourself back from standing up.”

Jona suddenly realized he had a death grip on the bag that held the heavy gold platter to his shoulder, releasing it, he stood up with his eyes still fixed on the winged beast that sat quietly in front of him, A thought that struck Jona in his mind and he turned to his father with eyes as big as dinner plates.

“Y-y-y-y-” his voice faded away and he cleared his throat.

“Spit it out!” smiled Aed, “What are you trying to say, son?”

Jona looked around, the sun was breaking over the horizon, coloring the clouds crimson putting the dark, shimmering dragon that looked down at him with a bemused expression, its orange eyes still glowed in the early light.

“You speak dragon!?” Jona finally got out.

Aed chuckled as his mother rocked back and forth on the edge of the giant wicker basket.

“Of course we do. Yes! Both of us speak dragon, all two – hundred dialects. Your grandpa spoke more, but many dragons have disappeared out of the world.” Aed said.

The great dragon overhead nodded slowly and sadly. Seemingly to understand human speech.

“IT understands our language?” Jona choked out. His eyes looking at the shimmering creature.

“She does, as most dragons do. It takes years for us to learn their language, but they know ours easily. I will explain as we go, now IN the basket with you, we are losing our cover.” his father said with a smile. ‟The reclining seats. Keep the fur blankets close at hand.”

“Jona, get this jacket on, you will catch your death of cold otherwise.” His mother reverted back to her concern about her only son. “Hat on, too.”

A small cap that seemed familiar, but could not recall just where, he pulled it on. It was the same kind as the hat both his mother and father wore, with the exception that theirs had feathers in it. His mother’s was a white feather, his father’s was shimmering green.

“What are we going to do in this basket?” as they sat on snug, tightly woven reclining seats with odd metal hook and eye fastened straps that wrapped around their waist. “What are these for?”

“My own addition, we have had a few people fall out of the chairs over the years, this is my answer and seems to have been a good one.” his father answered.

“How do they fall out? What are weeeeeeee……” Jona never finished his question as he instead screamed while the great drago took flight and latched its massive claws on the crossbar of the great wicker basket and took flight lifting them off the ground rapidly, going up into the sky.

The elder Samhain’s laughed and their eyes shined with excitement as they gained altitude, the dragon lifted them up into the air and into the clouds. Their hair flying behind them as they held hands and enjoyed the ride.

“If you are going to regurgitate your breakfast, son, please lean out the window. ” Aed said with a laugh.

“I did not bring any change of under clothes for you, so you better keep control of your bodily functions!” Dearbhail yelled as she slapped her husband as she pointed down over the edge of the open window.

Below the sun shown on the harbor, the black ship of the day before was still at dock– high tide was not due for several hours, the crew of the ship was seemingly gathered on the breakwater with many of the locals standing around them as they seemed to entertain the people in the early morning light.

“That Master O’Danu has his crew out again.” Aed said. “I always like listening to them when I have time.”

“W-what?” Jona asked as he peeked over the side at the group of men on the ground far below.

“The sailors on the ship are also poets and artists. Often the sing at dockside a cappella at the end and beginning of the day. Sailors work hard during the day, morning and night in the slack tides they have time to show their stuff. Here, this morning they are singing on the docks.

‟Is he a Dragon Master?” Jona asked as he looked over the edge. His knuckles white as he gripped the wicker rail tightly.

‟Captain O’Danu? Yes. He was a few years behind us. That son of his will have a great surprise on his own, like you.” Dad said. ‟They spend a great deal of time on the water, Captain O’Danu trains water-dragons, water horses, sea nymphs and mer-folk. He keeps all the pirates in the area away from our harbor and makes sure we are left alone.”

‟He keeps pirates away?” Jona shook his head in disbelief. ‟How?”

‟Son, you noticed they had the ship painted differently?”

‟Yes, it was all black with some white.”

‟Yes, that is the ship Orca. Captain O’Danu is the Pirate King on our side of the world.”

‟On our side of the world?” Jona blinked. He had seen the red-headed captain several times as he had grown up. Never thinking that the ship that he was on was a pirate ship, or the crew who sang and brought smiles to merchants were all pirates.

‟Well, not a pirate in the typical sense. The Empire that has hunted him and his crew for years has labeled him that. He took the title after his ship defeated a pirate fleet in a three-on-one disadvantaged battle, pirates in the area called him King. He takes tribute from all of them, a few gold pieces each, but there are many of those that ply their trade on seas. A good man to have on your side.”

‟What about his son, is… I think his name is odd. Dana I think.

‟Oh yes, his boy Dana is too young yet, I would say. Unless he understands how to train puppies and has an open mind. Some children and adults cannot wrap their minds around a school with dragons.” Mom said. ‟It’s an old story on both sides. Those with limited education are given to hate more. It is what we try to change as a Dragon Masters.”

‟Why are you called Dragon Master if you are teacher?” Jona asked as the big wings of the orange dragon as it took a now-rare flap of leathery wings. The blast of wind was shocking, but bearable.

‟We have mastered the subjects to teach the two worlds how to live together.”

Quaint?  Did he ever think of his mom and dad as quaint?

They flew in a covered basket carried by a huge dragon without blinking an eye.  This was…

Jona decided he had a lot to learn.

By a large margin.

This was nothing like school was over the last few years.

Dragon Master University Chatpter 4. Dragon Master

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IV. Dragon Master

His father, a Dragon Master, laughing as he took a seat on the mandrel that he used to bend large metal objects to shape that he had wanted, suddenly became serious.

“You will be going to a school in the fall, after you learn a few more things on how to teach that new puppy to behave.”

“Why the puppy?” Jona asked

“Puppy dogs and baby dragons are similar in attitudes, but dragons are much more intelligent as they grow. Kind of like human babies. We all start out as drooling little lumps, but we get a bit older and then we pass the puppies on what we can think of. Dragons are the same way.”

Jona gaped at his father, his dad kept it quiet all these years. He never knew that his dad would be such a quiet legend.

Aed laughed again, “You know, ’tis where I met your ma.” he chuckled with glee at his son’s gape and shock. For a father, he had a great deal of good humor when it came to making his son learn.

“M-ma? You met ma at this school where you became a DRAGON MASTER AT?” Jona’s voice was getting louder as he spoke. “Does she know what you where there for?”

“Shhh…. our society is a quiet one. Not all of humanity is willing to accept that there are Dragon Master’s that teach dragons how to keep a low profile– and YES, your mother is also a Dragon Master. She’s licensed to teach baby and adult Dragons, just like me.” Aed smiled and cleared his throat proudly “And soon, you will too!”

“Now close your mouth before you catch a moth and get packed.” Aed said to Jona who stood there with his mouth hanging open.

“Heh, Jona my son, tomorrow we take you to the new school to find out your class schedule. With the fact you already have a dragon looking up to you, you will probably get into the training cycle first, rather than starting with the classroom teachings. I hope you get Melian Jewell, she taught me long ago. Very good with hands on– if you can keep your fingers attached.”

Aed stood up, Jona’s mouth once again was hanging open like he had something that had numbed his brain.

“Oh.” Was all the noise the teen could make at his father. “Oh.”

Aed was out of earshot by the time that the mouth was catching up with his brain as he staggered back to the wagon and climbed up. While he sat in the seat holding the reins, Jona tried to think for a minute, the information that his father had just told him was making him dizzy still.

“Jona, go home, your mother will know what to do, just tell her what we just talked about. Get a move on son! You have a lot to do!” Aed laughed, “You have time to act like a turnip later!”

Jona rode down the street when the dumb ox snorted out both ends again. the smell of flatulence brought him out of his reverie as he drove the wagon back to the house. His mom met him out in the yard, and she was smiling. “I have heard your father had spoken to you?”

Jona boggled, not for the first time in the recent past.

“How, who..where?” At least now his mouth was functioning with his brain, even if only in single words.

“You will need some good boots, lucky we had some on order for you from the cobbler. That you are of age and out of basic life school, now you learn how to truly learn how to live in the world. To keep the animals in it, not to do as some have in the past, exterminated simply by the rage of man and weapons.” Dearbhail said.

She shocked Jona with  the tone and style his mother used.  She was reciting all of history of barbaric treatment of the earth. She was a teacher and Dragon Master.

‟Mom, you are a dragon mistress?” Jona was able to get his first coherent sentence out since his father talked to him.

‟Dragon Master. There was some question, years ago, that mistress seemed to subordinate what we are. The female teachers outrank the males, regardless of how the word sounds. Dragons cannot be subjugated, but you will learn these things, women are the leaders in the dragon world. So it is with humans in their eyes.”

Aed came home, a sumptuous meal, grilled over the fires outside, filled the house with mouth-watering smells. Aed poured Mead for everyone. Father toasted son as Jona’s mother, though not sad at her son moving out, showed signs of being a mom for a change. The hard spirit of the Queen Boudica that lived on in his mom had softened at the thought of her son now going to her old Alma Mater.

“I never knew you were a Dragon Master, ma, you have never taught any dragons, have you?” Jona asked between mouthfuls of potato, boiled and then roasted with sea salt. “You have never spoke of it.”

“Well, we never would, would we?” She laughed, rolling up her sleeve. Her a tattoo graced her upper arm where a torque normally resided, often she wore the copper band, so Jona had thought over the years it was the green that had rubbed off into her skin, now as she had pulled off the copper torc, the tattoo moved and glistened as if made from real dragon scales. It looked as if it were several dragons holding each other by the tail in a complex, never-ending knot that was so intricate that Jona could swear it was alive.

“Only the alumnus of the university wear such tattoo’s.” Aed said in admiration, while Jona was looking closely at his mother’s body-art, his father pulled out his arm and presented the son with a view of his own tattoo. The count and the kinds of dragons were different, and somewhat darker.

“Your mother earned better grades than I did, but I was in a more challenged class of dragons. We had the dragons that would be considered difficult to teach, males normally, fire breathers.”

Jona laughed for a moment, then paused as he though of a question.

“Is that how you took to being a metal worker?”

Aed nodded. “Your mother came up with that idea, it makes a good cover story for the burns I get now and again when I have to teach a short-tempered dragon how to keep in hiding and not burn a house down that annoys him for one reason or another.”

Jona’s mouth dropped open again. Many times his dad came home with singed hair and had blisters on his hands, complaining that he had to get new gloves for the shop. Little did he realize that it might even been due to a fire-breathing dragon that the patriarch of the family had to teach.

Looking at his mother. “Why did you wear copper then? I mean, with all that you were doing, you should wear a gold torc.”

The smiling auburn haired mother sat down and looked first at Jona, then at Aed then back to Jona.

“Our goal was never to bring that much attention to ourselves.” She said with a soft smile. ”Yes, I could wear gold, but it would never explain the tattoo underneath. This way the copper would cover the tattoo, I could take it off as I wished and when teaching, like now.”

Jona suddenly realized that his parents were more than the quaint old folks from another generation who had no idea how the youth of today thought. Young people had greater challenges, he thought, it was they who would take the world next and make it a better place. But his parents— His, the mind reeled with the thought of what kind of changes they have done in the world.

His ma and dad had changed the world, saving the dragons from dragon slayer’s and their weapons.

Jona went to bed that night with a numb mind, school was starting in a few months and the old folks were just going to sign him up.

In the morning, the sun had not even illuminated the sky in the east when his dad woke him in the dark.

“Up! We have a lot of traveling to do. Get your breakfast in, yer ma has eggs cooked with shredded ‘taters. Up boy. Time is wasting!”

Staggering up, he pulled on some clothes, his mother had a great breakfast of three eggs and a potato fried on a griddle he had never seen in the house before. Barely stained, the yellow pan looked like brass.

“Gold, Jona, this is the traditional breakfast for first time visitors to the university, gold is the dragon’s vanity and gift. One reason they have had such a time just trying to exist, for people covet the yellow metal as much as dragons do.” Mama Samhain said gently. “Our guide brought the griddle to us just this morning. You get one more after this, after that, you are back on iron cooking.” his mother laughed quietly. “They draw you in by making you feel special, then beat your brains until you learn the lessons for that time when you serve both man and dragon and save both from obliterating each other.”

“Ob…oob ..What?” Jona could not get the word out of his mouth.

“Obliterate. Just think of if your uncle Rón when he sat on you when you were but ten-years-old.” Aed said with a crooked grin.

“Ach! No! I understand now. That is the last thing I want.” Jona gasped.

The breakfast continued with animated discussions on different dragons, dangerous kinds, water dragons, air dragons, fire dragons. Jona was beginning to have a headache. Care and feeding of each dragon was far different from the next.

Finally they finished breakfast, Aed washed the griddle while Dearbhail washed the other plates separately. The discussion between them was rapid and animated, the pride in their son was obvious.

Jona, stunned at the clothing that his máthair put out for him. Leather jerkin with iron studs, heavy leather gauntlets with oddly shaped finger coverings, boots that came up to his knees with chaps that fitted on his legs and clipped to the top of the boots. There were other rings on the jerkin and boots he wanted to ask about, but his mother and father disappeared up the ladder to the loft to change clothes. The sound of a slap and a mild threat was more information than Jona wanted to know about what his dad might have done.

Climbing down, the two elder Samhain clan were clad in leather and metal armor, his mother’s was decorated in gold and green rivets, his fathers was in silver, yellow and red-gold engraved metal flowers over the tunic, with iron and leather scabbards that held two short swords that crossed on his back. His mothers weapons, shorter and slimmer, much more pointed to the touch, had handles made of some creature’s tusks, as they were bone-white.

Pulling one of her swords, the light reflected over the mirrored surface of the blade. The metal rippled like water in the light and the edge was wavy, like the edge of a leaf.

His father drew a sword and set it on the table next to his mothers’ blade. Longer, more massive in construction, a blade for smashing through heavy objects, while his mother’s was one that might cut through the smallest weakness of opposing armor.

“These are the tools of Dragon Masters. Sometimes one must have the skills to fight either man or dragon and earn the respect. These weapons have different designs, each has a specific use and need when called upon. Where your father’s are for one kind of warrior, mine is for another. But each is not perfect, the two blades cover each other’s shortcomings of design.”

Jona stood slack-jawed as he watched the two most mundane, boring, simple folk that he’d ever known. He could even call them “quaint” by the past years he knew them. Now, the arms of his father, from years of swinging a hammer, the sinuous arms of his mother stuck out of the leather and steel armor– he had no other thought but that one moment he had come to realize most about his “mundane, quaint” old folks were members of a group that Jona never dreamed they could belong.

Unbeatable in the normal sense, mysterious— he never, ever knew of their second life.

His father was pulling on leggings that shimmered like water in a stream, on closer inspection they were fine scales, interlocked like fingers of two hands.

Mom and dad— they were awesome!

They were warriors.

They were Dragon Masters.

Dragon Master University Chapter 3. The Road Home

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III. The Road Home

Rumbling back over the road, the sun was no longer right overhead, quartering behind him, his headache was gone, no longer the flatulent ox made his belly flip-flop in his throat, he had began to look around more. Often the look around at the small birds now that flew from tree to tree and wheeled overhead.

One bird, fell from a tree, landing on the ground and Jona laughed slightly feeling sorry for the bird, but had no time to deal with the plight of the flying critter.

Jona trundled past the young bird, it made an odd noise, but then took wing, and Jona saw its shape appeared like no other bird he had ever seen.

It disappeared into a tree once again, Jona shook his head at the ugly bird, it must have been the power of the distilled spirits still messing with his eyes as he rode on in the wagon, the smell of the peat as he bounced down the path no longer bothering him as much as the time wore on.

Jona was feeling more like a person instead of the underside of the ox-hoof and promised himself no more drinking before finding out what the next day would bring. His ma and pa were known to have had tremendous parties and had a whole next day to rest— but had planned it far in advance.

A touch of wisdom, Jona nodded and heard a familiar sound. Turning his head, he saw that oddly shaped bird again as it flitted by, but Jona lost it in the sun as the erratic flying creature zipped past as he approached the harbor where the black ship docked.

The red hair of the captain was visible as it poked out from under a feathered cap as the blond-headed boy was standing on a pallet of goods, the crews used pulley’s and rope lifted into the ship. Oxen and men pulled on lines as Dana was making sure that the materials where staying on the platform. A netting, used to secure all the crates, while the captain stood below with his arms crossed and shook his head as he spoke to the raven haired woman standing next to him. She had secured the delivery and supervised the lading of the ship.

Looking over his shoulder, freedom of the sea seemed that it was an outstanding life. Positive that the boy, Dana, knew more and saw more than Jona ever would, stuck here on land with no prospects but to tinker on the metals. Even if it was a successful business, suddenly he wanted another life where he could make a change, effect something! Jona wanted a life that was greater than his dad’s.

Flitting by, the tiny bird once again drew Jona’s attention. He was positive it was the same creature, it had a pendulous tail and curious wings, longish neck.

But was fast!

Extremely fast!

Again, Jona lost it in the glare of the sun, it seemed to fly in big circles around the peat loaded wagon.

“Probably the bugs that seem to follow the smell, it’s catching and eating them.” Jona thought to himself. “At least there would be fewer flies when I offload this at the smite shop.”

Suddenly a sound behind him made him turn around. Pulling up on the reins, he stopped the ox which took that moment to rattle out its backside again with gas. Stupid ox, it snorted as much out its backside as it did out the nose.

Turning to look closely at the bird, it had its back to him. It was oddly colored, almost a purple-black color. Abruptly, It turned and looked at him. It had a lizard kind of face. Cat eyes that looked at him curiously.

It was a tiny DRAGON!

Jona stumbled backwards and fell off of the wagon and down into a puddle where the ox had just finished urinating. “UGH!” Jona yelled, the urine smelled worse than the gas that the ox put out. The ox snorted as if it knew and was laughing in the way that only an ox could.

The little dragon gave a squawk and took back to the air, munching on a beetle it found in the peat and sped off behind a bush.

Jona shook his head, distracted now as he scrambled away, once an ox urinated, the other was coming soon and Jona wanted no part of that on him. The urine smell was bad enough as he stood on his feet and shook the moisture off his hands and looked around. The little dragon was gone. No longer visible to the blinking Jona. How was he going to explain what he had seen to his parents?

“Maybe I will just not say a word, they will send me off to talk with the Draoi of the village. Ugh.” Jona commented to himself.

The Draoi were known to cure people from visions and bless things like crops. But it would always take days, often consuming bitter herbs to cure anything from constipation to diarrhea to people with headaches to swelling of feet.

Clambering back into the wagons bench seat, Jona kept an eye out for the little dragon, seeing it every once in a while, it was not bothering the ox or him, precisely, but it was very definitely following him. It was not a chance meeting, the dragon was just a baby, it looked like, but was not near a mother.

“MOTHER!” He gasped in panic. Oh no, if the baby dragon had a mother, Jona was in dire trouble. All they might find of Jona and the ox would be charred bones or might not even find them at all. The boy began to look around rapidly for the telltale signs of impending attack. Birds taking wing or no sounds in the world as the lesser animals would hide from an attacking dragon.

Jona had never seen an attack, only in stories and legends were they told about. His dad, Aed would tell of how the dragons had nearly been driven into extinction by openly living with the humans who would hunt many for the actions of a few.

“Dragons are intelligent” Aed would tell Jona, “They learn and know, they are by and large, peaceful, like a raptor of the sky– they will eat fish or, in the cases of large dragons, oxen or whales of the sea. They had to learn to avoid humans, thus some needed teaching. It was humans that helped teach dragons of how humans lived and how they can see. These men and women became known as Dragon Masters.”

Jona once dreamed of being a Dragon Master, but in time grew up and figured out that all that his dad told him were stories to entertain a child. He had even stopped believing in dragons. But here, a small one was following his very steps as he made his way back home.

Jona took a moment and thought about heading back to the harbor and the black ship for protection, but that would have taken nearly as long as the remaining trip back home. Nowhere was there a sign of a mother dragon to follow the baby or make an attack. People worked in the fields, birds were flitting behind them, eating worms that would be tilled up or to eat the bugs on the grain.

As he entered the home village, he kept an eye out for the small dragon, he had not seen it for nearly an hour, the sun had angled down and the shadows were long. He could hear the hammer blows of his dad’s shop as he drew closer. Curly reddish hair, two bright blue eyes that looked out from a soot smeared face as Aed laughed as Jona made his way to the back of the shop. Always happy to see his son, the smiter directed the apprentices to continue the rough work of the current project.

“Da’, the seller says he owes you two more loads, it would be ready when you are to pick it up.” Jona told his father. “There was no problems, but ma was not in a good mood this morning, she woke me up too early”

The senior Samhain laughed, his hair shook with the good humor of a father with his only son learning how the world really works with the mother in charge.

“Okay, let’s off load the peat over there, Jona, I will send out the apprentices to help you, I have a gold torque to make for someone and I trust no one to do it, I have the idea what they want on the band.” Aed said as he turned away to go back into the shop.

A flit across the sky, Jona decided now was as good of a time as ever.

“Dad, I have seen something you need to know, I think it is serious.” Jona said loudly after his father.

Aed motioned to the junior apprentices who mounted the wagon and began offload bricks of the fuel and walked over to his son and sat down on a mandrel he had made years before. Motioning his son to sit, the elder no longer laughed, taking in his son’s look as a young man with something that was serious in his mind to tell his father.

“I am kind of afraid to tell you, but..” Jona trailed off.

“Spit it out boy, I have known you all your days, you never tell me to wait unless it is serious and important to your heart.” Suddenly a concerned father than a laughing friend.

“Dad, on the way back, I think I saw a dragon– a baby dragon. I’m worried that the stories you told me of the mother dragon that might attack for stealing her baby might come true.” Jona said quietly, he did not want to let the other boys hear him and laugh.

Aed looked at him for a moment, then with wide-eyed concern his father asked. “What did the dragon do?”

Jona, shocked that there was no question of whether he had even seen– just what the actions of the baby did.

“He, well, he ate some bugs as we traveled, took them out of the load of peat.” Jona said slowly.

Aed Samhain began to smile. “Jona, you may not know what this means, but by the good grace of fates, you are going to have a life that you never dreamed of! The dragon chose you to go to a school I once went to.”

Standing up and walking to a bucket of water, his father washed his arms clean of soot and sweat. cleaning the tattoos that entertained him as a boy were still in bright relief.

“These are the marks of a graduate of the school of dragon masters.” Aed told Jona who gaped at his dad’s words.

His father was a Dragon Master!

A teacher of dragons, a group of storied and legendary people who hid and protected dragons since the dawn of stories. Who had taught the dragons how to hide, how to tell the difference between those that would help and those who would harm or seek to harm any of their kind.

They were the go between’s of the world of dragons and the world of man.

“You?” Jona had trouble getting his thoughts to gather in one statement. “You? Taught? Dragons?”

He shook his head at the thought of his dad as a Dragon Master?

Wow.

Dragon Master University Chapter 2. The Road, The Sun, The Hangover

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Dragon Master University Chapter 2. The Road, The Sun, The Hangover

The rumbling cart wheels on the road did little made the demon in his belly trying to come out worse. After the fourth stop to expel his insides at the base of a bush, Jona swore that his mother did not love him anymore. Her love was only for children, now he was grown-up, he no longer qualified for her love.

The sour taste in his mouth and burning in his throat was only equaled by the throbbing in his head as the ox passed gas noisily one more time that made his stomach heave once more.

At least he did not vomit this time as he rumbled past Finn’s house. His brother-in-drinking games from the night before, swore fealty to each other over pints of ale and some of the uisce beatha from Finn’s parent’s stash. Jona could see Finn was working in the fields in the sun, not far from where the barley would grow for next year’s distilling.

Looking like he had just emptied his own stomach, the pale youth just waved weakly at the passing Jona, his own thoughts mirroring what Jona had also been thinking– Parents were the most evil creatures on earth that had no understanding on what life was like for the young.

As he passed the harbor on the way to the village where he was to pick up the peat, there was a ship tied up to the dock, one he recognized from stories.

Black and white, painted as if it was one of the great predators of the sea, a ship of trade, but also of legend. The ship carried warrior sailors and feared by empire and robbers of the sea equally. On the dock a crimson haired father played with a blond boy of about nine years of age, tossing a ball back and forth. The dad would put a spin on the ball so it would bounce oddly and the boy would laugh so loud that Jona stopped and watched carefully. Once, the ball rolled under the middle of the cart and the boy skidded up to get the ball.

“Hi! Can you move your wagon so I can get the ball! My dad throws strangely sometimes. I’m trying to teach him how to throw a ball.” laughed the blond-headed kid. “He is not getting it! He can captain the ship, but cannot throw a ball for his life!”

“He is your dad?” Jona asked as he waited for another cart to move out of the way.

“Yeah! That is Keegan O’Danu, my dad and Captain.” Dana said. “I am Dana O’Danu.”

“Dana! Hurry up! I’m getting forgetful, how did the ball get over there!” Yelled Captain Keegan from the far side of the dock.

A woman sitting on the edge of a loading dock,horses hitched to a wagon with the wheels that Jona recognized as being forged by his dad, was directing the lading of the wagon. “Lady DaLeo, your Captain wished to have the ingots first? He should supervise this, while we load here.”

DaLeo whose raven hair showed iridescent as a raven’s feather in the daylight, her eyes flashed as she stood up, the storekeeper backed away without so much as a word of the supply officer of the black ship and followed the first set of orders as she had previously told him.

Jona laughed as he rolled the cart forward and Dana retrieved the ball with a bright eyes and laughter, ran back to the game to teach his father how to throw the ball correctly. The laughter of the boy and father echoed down the vale and in Jona’s mind as he entered the building. Remembering how his own dad and he would play now and again, but that was when he was young and his parents loved him.

“Just wait until you turn eighteen, boy. Captain Keegan will not love you anymore.” mumbled Jona as he slipped back into his black mood of a hangover. Still his day had brightened slightly as the look of the lady back there had also made the shopkeeper feel low– and he had not been drinking the night before!

A pothole that rattled his brain in his head painfully brought him back to the focus on his guiding of the ox– who’s backside rattled again with a smell of partly digested grain and fermented cud made Jona gasp as his gorge rose again in the back of his throat. Wishing for all the while to sail with the merchant ship and the freedom of the sea.

She walked around the corner, a girl from his school, now just a page of his personal history with graduation of the senior students, Caoimhe smiled and waved up at him as he rumbled by in the wagon. Waving back, he managed to sit straight and put as much importance in the driving of the equipment as he could and stopped the wagon so he could say a few words with her.

“On my way to get important supplies for my pa’. He is depending on this delivery, wish I could stay and talk but I have to get it back to him by evening.” Jona said with as much importance as he could make it sound.

Caoimhe nodded and laughed, “You always are doing important things for your pa. See you later, Jona? What is your pet’s name?”

Jona shrugged and was out of sight before he could think of what she meant. She had never been to his house and did not know of any dogs that lived there. Jona did have a wolfhound but it had died the year before, only just now got a new puppy of the same breed for his birthday the month before.

His dad Aed was complaining that the new dog was more stupid than that of the ingots of iron, copper, silver and gold that he worked in the forge and anvils.

Jona would have hoped that the patriarch of the family was not so attached to the old dog before the old hound died quietly one night, he’d have accepted the pup more easily perhaps. But it mattered little, the old man was always petting the little dog when no one was looking in his direction, even sneaking the dog a scrap from his own meal at night.

Finally, arriving at the camp of the peat cutter, whose own son was looking as ill as Jona felt from the party the night before. Naomh’s father was far more harsh yelling at the boy to get the peat stacked in the wagon as the smiter’s son sat in the shade.

Offered water by Naomh’s mother, (Naomh who had drunk more than all of them the night before.) Jona took the cool drink with great thanks. Only minutes later he had felt a world better, though his belly kept trying to tie itself in knots, his head no longer hurt and he was not a walking ache. Twigs of white willow floated in the water making the drink more of a weak tea with the slight bitter taste, but it was refreshing and he felt better after he finished his drink.

Finally the wagon, loaded to groaning with blocks of peat was tightly stacked in place. Jona, now feeling like he would live through this day, and Naomh drove several staves into the pile to hold it steady for the trip back. Naoise, the peat seller, shook Jona’s hand, “Your father had paid me in trade for this already, I owe him for some work he has done for me. There are two more wagons of peat due him, let him know that I have it ready when he wishes to have it. Just come and get it.”

Jona nodded, thankful he did not have to count or sign anything, most of the merchants his father dealt with all did a trade in services and items. Sometimes when it was ingots, Aed Samhain would forge something of great beauty, keeping the metal for himself, but giving back the art for that merchant to sell. No money changed hands precisely, but all parties stayed satisfied with the dealings. It was a good business.

Jona could not believe his dad, the old man would often speak of how to teach, trying to teach Jona how to teach dogs to sit, to fetch and do tricks. Jona resented being taught to teach animals, his wish was to smite and create with fire. He could cut the leaves of a shamrock into a small bit of copper better than anyone, never getting the metal to crack or wasting the material. This was his wish to do, but his dad always taught him how to teach and somehow getting peat to lug back and forth was not what seemed, or the path he wanted to take.

Besides, what good was it to teach a puppy-dog how to do dumb tricks?

It was not like teachers ever did anything exciting. 

Dragon Master University Chapter 1. The Morning After

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Chapter 1. The Morning After

Oh how fun this was! Jona Samhain woke that morning after the headmaster of his school declared that the four years of higher learning was over.

The headmaster placed the scroll of vellum into his hand, Jona had passed!

Jona laughed, his late night of partying with the other new grads, coming home in the twilight before dawn and collapsed, fully dressed into his bed. It was a good night to start a great summer’s day as he stretched in a lazy sleepy way on his bed, curling up with his pillow.

A summer of fun was coming and his friends were all planning different things to enjoy the summer— All except Carrigan, she had already planned to spend the summer with the Red Witch over in the next valley. Rumors had circulated around that area of the lands of how the witch’s husband had changed himself into a red dragon to save her life during some ancient battle and was unable to change himself back, no one could. Not Jona’s idea of fun.

Not for him, so much school! His path lay with his father’s business. A great business that everyone respected. Last night, so much mead and wine, breads baked by the parents and friends. shredded pipe-leaf cured in honey and smoked rooms of wood chips. He was barely able to see straight as he rode his horse home. One girl named Rook- or something like that- she had gotten so that it sounded like she was talking in different languages that no one understood. The other girls of the bonfire held her hair out of the way as she vomited behind a bush.

Sitting up, Jona sat up into the shaft of light streaming through his window and the light suddenly sparked a blinding headache. The laugh in his heart suddenly turned to a moan of pain, followed by a more careful laugh at himself, perhaps maybe not so much mead later this summer was a better choice.

His family was well off. The elder Samhain was a smiter of iron. Axles, wheels, objects of art— the father was always making something and enjoyed the work. Often when he came home from the smite shop, a mark, once branded on his forearm in the shape of an egg with baby dragon hatching out of it would be obscured by the soot and his father would smell like smoke and metal before he climbed into a copper tub that he had hammered out of a large ingot that he negotiated for.

Often he would have rings shaped in dragon faces, a heart that he called “Dragon’s heart” he forged in such a way that the iron seemed to have scale and muscle on it. It was a good seller for men and women who came to the shop. With a gem for an eye in the heart, the words “A promise is forever” that Aed Samhain had tattooed in his other arm.

Jona lay quietly, smiling, despite his pounding head, his summer lay before him and his dad would let him slide into the business easily when, his mother’s voice rattled through the door of his room.

“JONA! GET UP!”

Pounding on the heavy door, one would think that Jona’s mother, Dearbhail, would have hands made from the iron that his dad hammered on at the shop on the other side of the village.

When he stood up, Jona realized that this was a mistake, no longer laughing, it was all he could do to keep from vomiting as he ran down the stairs outside to get fresh air. The normal smells of his mother’s cooking that would have brought him down with an appetite now just caused his stomach to flip dangerously and as he ran out with his hand over his mouth, Dearbhail laughed at him.

“Eighteen summers old and you think it is all you can do? Lay in bed all morning? Your papa needs someone to pick up peat and take it to him. The peat seller is over in the other village, now take the wagon and get it to your father, he has to forge a set of wagon wheels for the Boaire of the northern lands, his daughter is set to get married this summer.” Mother Samhain said in normal conversational voice, but it felt like drums in his head.

“Ma! My first day of summer! I am going to take it easy for the next few months until autumn!” Raising his voice to a plea as his mother shook her head and pointed to the wagon.

“But Ma!”

“Go! Your father needs the peat!”

“I won’t go! I am out of school! I will get the peat when I’m recovered from the party last night!” Jona said weakly as he trudged out to the miserable sun-lit day. 

It was so unfair.

Summer’s meant to be fun and free.