THERE IS MAGICK

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in the night when pumpkins glow by moonlight 🎃

Source: THERE IS MAGICK

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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.

Valley of Fear Chapter 4. Bones

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Chapter 4. Bones

“Come in,” Clark motioned with his hand to the inside of a large office with topographical maps framed on two of the big walls, and a large desk at one end, piled high with folders. A table by a large window was a miniature monument to an earlier age in the area.

Professor Ng looked it over, and took out a laser pointer.

“Three-guardians, Bald, Whitewater canyon complex.” Ng shined the laser on the diorama, naming off the peaks and valleys. “This model is of this area.”

“Yes, you have looked at a map once or twice, professor.” Clark nodded. “But there has been a change that is not on that model.”

“What is that?”

“As for what it looks like, I don’t know.” Clark answered. “Not yet. That is why I asked for you all to come here. First of all, your lives were in danger.”

“First?” Andre asked. “How did you even know we were out there?”

“Well, young warrior, sit down in that chair right there” Clark pointed. “And let me teach you how it’s done.”

They all sat and the tribal elder walked to the end of the office and tapped a wall that silently opened to reveal a small alcove with a bar on one side and computer controls on another.

“Each of you are over the drinking age, is there anything you would like?” Clark asked and took count of the requests, serving the instructor and the students before sitting down himself with a tumbler glass of a dark amber fluid.

“A little later, I will go on a vision quest, this will help.” Clark nodded. “Anyone who wishes to join me, let me explain the situation at hand.”

Picking up some broken bones, he began to explain.

“Here, this is a leg-bone of an eagle, the claw of a large bear, skull of a raven and the jawbone of a lion, a leg bone of a coyote.” He held up the claw. “This has been DNA tested for age. This claw came from a short-faced bear, the jawbone still also has trace in the teeth, but I didn’t want to subject the spirit to the insult of the white-man technology. But, the shape and size is that of the American Cave Lion.”

“Clark, that is all interesting. But what does that have to do with us?” The Professor asked.

“Well, please notice, something broke all the bones. These all contained the spirits of selected ancestors.” Carl said quietly. “You see, this tribe has been given the Covenant to care for all these lands by Quilxka Nupika, the Supreme Creator. After the Creator trapped Monster of the Mountain under the earth.”

He took a long sniff of his iced drink.

“In the days before our times, the Kootenai river flowed into Columbia lake, a large monster from the sea made trouble in Columbia lake. The Monster led the Bear, Eagle and Fox on a merry chase around the mountains until the Chief of the Animals, a giant pushed over a mountain top and blocked the southern entrance into the lake by the Kootenai river. The gods trapped the monster of the sea under a mountain, hidden away from all of humanity forever. Using only the wood from an immortal tree and holy stones with sacred writing on them.”

Taking another drink, he took a breath.

“Someone broke the seal of the immortal wood. The stones have gone missing, the monster is loose and that power has broken the bones of my ancestors. Bones that my passed down from father to son since before the writing of the history of the world.” Clark said as he looked over the top of the glass, contemplating the fluid that swirled around the ice cubes. “In this glass is rye whiskey, it was found in a cabin in California. The collection of the bottles were sold at auction. It is old, over a hundred-years.”

They looked at him, listening.

“I never drink it, but I like the smell.” He smiled, then frowned. “In any event. Something has happened, that has not been foreseen.”

Doctor Clark gave a heavy sigh and put his glass down.

“The monster has escaped.”

“Doctor.” Professor Ng said slowly. “These are legends, but I know that legends all have seed of truth. What is the monster?”

“It came from the sea, according to legend. But in my point of view? It falls into a few categories.”

He stood up and walked over to the diorama.

“First, it could have been no more than an earthquake or a series of earthquakes that formed the Rockies. Second, it could be something volcanic, possibly related to the first, but with lethal gasses, it could kill without being seen.”

“But Doctor,” Gil asked. “There are no volcanos for hundreds of miles of here.”

“Correct. That brings me to the third part. It could be something more metaphysical. A true demon.” Clark said. “Something with a long life, something that can control or kill animals. The beasts of the forest knew this and left, en mass.”

“Yes, we witnessed at least part of that.” Reedah shook her head. “It was the most amazing thing I ever saw.”

“It won’t be the last time you say that.” Clark said.

“And fifth, there is one more thing.” He paused. “There is a possibility that what was buried so long ago is alien. Or perhaps, alien technology.”

“Where would this be buried?”

“No one knows. My grandfather’s father died at the hands of the French soldiers before he passed on the knowledge to his son. I have the bones, but only a vague knowledge where the cave of the monster is. I only know that at least one of the stones that is set in the immortal wood is what my father called Sky-Stone.”

The students looked at each other.

“Iron meteorite.” Andre said.

“I agree.” Professor Ng said.

“If you have a ferrous metal geometric shape in an insulator.” Gil said to Andre and Reedah.

“Induced power can set up a magnetic field.” Reedah whispered back.

“Magnetic and electric dead zone, if they set the stones with the same stones everywhere inside, they could make a kind of Faraday Cage.” Andre said.

“But fragile. Or in the words of those who believe.” Clark looked from one to the other. “Sacred.”

“So someone broke the cage, and what is immortal wood?” Reedah asked.

“Yes, and the world has no clue what has awakened.” Clark answered grimly.

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.

Excerpt: Children of Fury, Chapter 20. Old School Medicine

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(Setup: Beli O’Danu, shot with an arrow and is bleeding to death. The knowledge of the Draoithe (Irish Druid) are what stands between him and death.)

20. Old School Medicine

Donal continued to help his old friend down the path to the river. Conn with his father’s arm around his neck helped to partly carry and partly drag the elder O’Danu to where the two men directed.

“Here! Put me down, here.” Beli grunted painfully, as they came to a clearing.

Beli’s shirt was sticky with clotted blood and matted with a paste of moss and herbs he had smeared on his own chest. Putting the poultice where the arrow protruded, the herbs had slowed the bleeding.

“Conn, collect some wide-flat rocks and build a small fire.” Said Donal as he went down to the riverside and began selecting plants with a critical eye. “Clean and heat the rocks over the fire until the water cooks off.” The High-Priest directed while he searched for those plants needed to save his friend’s life.

Beli wheezed out orders to Conn on what rocks to look for. Donal returned with an armful of roots, twigs and herbs with fleshy leaves, setting them down on the ground, he began to wash his hands in the clear water of the stream, cleaning the mud off his fingers.

Conn collected several large, flat rocks, about the size of his two spread hands, he cleaned them well with clean water and placed them near the pile of twigs and leaves.

While Donal was sweating from his exertions of grinding the leaves and the moisture from the herbs had mixed with the bark that he had collected in a small mortar and pestle into a smooth dough like texture. Time was short and his friend’s life hung in the balance. The longer they took, the weaker Beli was getting.

Conn started the fire with the use of flints, gently blew on the ember that he had been able to spark. With the growing fire. Conn began to wash two stones near the stream, cleaning the stones with a soapwort rub, then washed with water until it was clear. Then, with the fire burning hotly, Conn put the two stones near the flames to dry.

Conn’s father-in-law made himself as comfortable as possible, kneeling near the fire, putting a collection of bark and herbs on one of the rocks that had a concave surface, then began to press the medicines together with a small well used silver rolling-pin.

As Donal pressed the juices from the succulent greens he had just picked, chosen with an expert eye, Conn watched closely as the elder Draoi crushed and mixed the ingredients with the experience that would let him watch for the proper texture and color of ingredients.

Placing more herbs, Donal continued to grind the organic bits together on the hot rock, the mixture sizzled and put off a strong smoke that made him blink and cough.

“It is better at an alter, the smoke does not drift into my face so I can use it for bandages and not choke or blind me.” Donal coughed again. His voice quavered slightly and he cleared his throat, getting back to his task.

Conn suspected, however, that not all the tears were from the smoke.

Conn helped Donal by slowly pouring water over the tops of the rocks with a small silver cup that the elder Draoi handed him. While Donal tore a leaf apart and began to mix it with water, heating it until it bubbled.

Donal touched a branch taken from a willow tree to the mixture, the thick, hot viscous liquor coated it cooled on the smoothed carved twig.

Beli, who had been watching this turned his eyes down the path, Gael, Conn’s mother and teacher walked towards them from the ocean where they had taken refuge from the advancing armies of Parliament.

Several of the women burst out in tears at the sight of the wounded Beli laying on his back, only to have the Gael silence them with a wave of her hand.

“Time now is not for tears! Now is the time to repair and save a life. We need the finest, clean linen that anyone has.”

Gael invoked her title as a High Priestess, the Ard-Draoi. The Baker family who were Druid Priests and Priestesses of the Scots, the name of Baker had a huge influence wherever they walked and Gael was not to trifle with when it came to her knowledge of the Draoithe.

From within a pouch she carried at all times, Gael produced smaller bags of salts and knelt by Donal who looked up and nodded. Taking several small bags laid them next to the fresh herbs that Donal had collected.

Niamh, Conn’s mother-in-law and High Priestess in her own right, directed the women to gather strips of clothing to prepare for dressings. Setting down her own bag of collected medicinal herbs that exceeded Gael’s in the form of infection control herbs.

Niamh took a handful of linen from Anne MacNamara, who had grabbed anything she could while running from the advancing troops. The clothing was the best she had, giving it up to the priestess who had the intense look and a sense of urgency not seen before. Anne was not about to cross Niamh the healer.

Walking with the armful of dresses, Niamh stopped and pulled up some roots of a nearby plant. At the stream, tearing strips out of the clothing that Anne had given her, Niamh began to wash the makeshift bandages in the clear water of the river while she ordered the other women to build a fire nearby.

Gael nodded to herself as she directed what kinds of plants to use for the fire. The three Draoi worked together with intensity to save the life of their friend and mate, for what was about to come was the hardest and most difficult part for them to do.

Beating the strips furiously with a stick over one of the rocks that Conn had gathered, the plants and cloth formed a thick lather that Niamh instructed the helping women, including her friend Gael to rinse out in the flowing clear water for some minutes until all the water flowed clear of the strips. One after another Gael and Niamh inspected the linen strips carefully. Those that passed inspection were hung to dry in the smoke of the slow fire that they built using bundles of incense gathered by the remaining women and children. The smoke of the herbs, they explained, prevented infection later.

These treated linens Gael handed Conn, instructing her son to hold them by the corners and not to interrupt her while she was explaining how to do what he needed to do.

Detached from the activities that would save his life, Beli laughed silently, no matter how old her son was, he was still Gael’s child and would follow her directions.

Conn, used to giving orders and being in charge  bowed to his mothers sharp tongue and the father-in-law’s orders of what to do and how to do it.

As Beli lay on the ground, weakly moving his hands as if to guide the operation. A dozen of the villagers that had found refuge among the bluffs of the shore worked furiously to gather herbs under the directions of Donal and the Priestesses. Few had time to stand and watch, praying for the injured elder while they foraged for the needed herbs. So many had died that day, no one wanted to watch another one of their own also pass at the hands of the Parliament’s Agents.

“By the stones!” Beli wheezed out, his agitation growing with the pain. “This is beginning to seriously hurt!”

“It is going to hurt more before it gets better old friend, “Donal knelt next to Beli, “this might have been easier if I had the Spoon of Diokles with me, but that all burned with the village.”

Beli tried to interrupt but Donal shushed him.

“Yes, I have the Saultis Ominus nearly ready. Yes, our wives have the dressings nearly dry over the fire and clear of bad airs. Yes, we have the proper herbs.” Donal pressed a finger to the wounded man’s lips. “Shut up and rest.” There was no appeal to Donal’s command.

Then Donal’s tone softened as he touched his friend on the shoulder.

“Beli, to take this spike out of your chest will be difficult and the wound is deep.”

“I have made it this far,” Beli looked slowly around at the mountains and then the sky. “I’m ready to do this. This is hurting more with each breath. But I am not coughing up blood, my fingers are not white at the nails, if it has caused a hole where the blood flows, it is plugging it up now. When you pull it out, it will unplug the hole like a bung from a barrel. Then I would be dead before you could stop the bleeding.” Beli wheezed painfully.

“Beli,” Donal said softly.

“I know…” Grimacing against the pain he interrupted as he grabbed at his old friend’s chest, “I cannot live with this in and every moment it is in me, the more damage and the more pain it causes. It must come out, one way or another. It is good that it is you, you have the best knowledge to do this. You have pulled these out of men before during battles.”

Donal nodded, mixing the dried and powdered herbal potion with the smallest amount of water to mix a paste on the cleaned linens. Conn brought some powdered leaf over on the warm rock with the willow branch, now cut by Gael who carefully heated the twig over the fire until it turned color, she was careful as not to burn the wood as it would be ruined, and Gael did not have time to prepare a new branch.

Taking the remaining uncooked paste, Donal smeared the pungent mixture over his hands. Donal who wrinkled his nose at the smell.

“It tingles my hands and burns my nose — Aye, it is a strong mix. This will either cure you or kill you old friend!”

“Where is my bite rag?” Beli groaned. “Be good and sure it has the medicine in it.”

Conn brought the linen pouches that they made up for the procedure. One, moist but light in weight and green, the other that was heavier but dry and colored tan. Careful to kneel next to his mother as he held them out to Gael on a cleaned rock, who took the light one and handed the larger, heavier tan wrap to Donal who set it along on the edge of the heated rock.

Donal nodded at Gael and Beli, everything was ready.

“Put it in your mouth. Beli, bite down a few times.”. Gael gave no room for debate as she looked down at her husband, holding the thumb sized green rag to his lips.

“I know what to do!” Said Beli, with his voice muffled by the green linen bag.

“Shush and chew, husband.” She kissed his forehead. “Before I thump you.” The threat was without weight of malice. The only emotion she let be obvious, sharp she might be, he was the love of her life.

Donal looked at Conn, “I will need you to pack the wound with the flat of the willow-branch there. Scoop up the powder and dump it in and around the hole after I remove the spike until the bleeding stops or there is a pile over it. If he bleeds too much, your father will not stand a chance. But I venture an opinion that it has missed his vitals.”

One last breath Donal braced himself, wrapping his hand around the iron neck of the arrow-bolt, he held it for a moment, looking into the eyes of his friend and son-in-law’s father. Beli had become quiet. He had a familiar, dreamy look on his face and an odd glazed look in his eye that showed that he was already in an induced sleep.

“No pulsations from the shaft, this is a promising sign. Okay, straight out and easy.” Donal said quietly.

“Niamh, Conn hold on to his arms. Gael, keep him calm.” Drawing a deep breath, he looked at his old friend. “Beli, see you on the other side my brother.”

A gentle pull and Beli became wide-eyed with a grunt as the pain exploded through him. Gripping the green grass underneath him tightly.

“Keegan! Keegan! Tá brón orm! Fill ar ais go dom mo garmhac! Tar ar ais chugam!*” Beli screamed.

(*Keegan! Keegan! I am sorry! Return to me my grandson! Come back to me!)

Gael, kneeling at Beli’s head squeezed red juice from a cloth with bark and berries into her husband’s mouth, the extra plant extract calming him further. Taking care that Beli would not stop breathing under the narcotic effects of the herbal medicines, the effects were rapid and predictable.

Donal kept pulling, not letting up and not letting go for worry that it would do more damage as it returned to its resting place. But, if he pulled too hard it would cause a suction that could kill his patient.

Moments passed and the shaft did not move. Then slowly as Donal applied a little more pull on the arrow, it began to back out. Imperceptibly at first as sweat beaded on Donal’s forehead, then the arrow shaft started to move steadily backwards out of the chest of his best friend and family member.

It was out the length of a fingernail. Dried blood on the shaft was the marker how deep it had been.

“Pour some powder around the base of the shaft.” Donal told Conn.

“Keep him from moving his head as much, he flexes his muscles here and in his back when he moves. It is making it difficult and more painful.” Donal admonished Gael as he kept the tension on the shaft.

Width of a finger out.

The dart began to slide out of the wound more easily, the tapered shaft, Donal thanked the Gods it was not a broad head. Built with socket-fitted tip on the wooden arrow.  They forged the tip to penetrate armor and then wedge in the metal skin with the wood fibers, made for piercing armor and disabling but it was not efficient at killing.

Wisdom held that it took more men of the enemy to remove the wounded from the field of battle than to tend the dead. Those that were left then would have the archers come down and the killing would be done with knife, sword or ax on the battlefield.

Two fingers width of arrow withdrawn.

“More powder, get the cloth ready to staunch the bleeding.” A small trickle of blood was visible. Donal had one hand on the patients chest, pushing while the other hand pulled on the iron neck of the arrowhead.

With a wet sucking sound, the needle sharp arrowhead came out of Beli’s chest.

“Now, pour some powder in the hole and cover it up with the cloth and press firmly, until I tell you to stop.” Donal told Conn, “Not TO hard! Don’t break your father’s ribs. He won’t like that.”

His hand firmly over the hole and watching the blood soak into the cloth as he pressed directly on the wound, Conn was now sure that the old man was going to live. Donal carefully put down the blood-slicked spike. It was well made, fortune was with them, no barbs or splinters anywhere on the edges and no bleeding salts had been on the shaft. Donal did not cause more damage with the removal. The arrow did all the insult to the body at the moment when it entered his chest.

Turning back, “You can take your hand away,” Donal covered Conn’s hands and smiled. “apprentice, you have done well! You teach us how to build ships, we will teach you, yet, about herbs, medicines and how to heal.” Donal said as he dressed the wound with the bandages prepared by the women.

Conn chuckled, it had been a long time since anyone dared call him an apprentice, but here? Here he was well outside of his normal circles. Looking at his mother, she smiled at him, making him feel young again.

“You did well, Conn.” Croaked Beli, “Don’t you agree, Gael?”

“Shush, you old shoe.” Gael looked down at him. “You made me a near widow, when you are fit I will make you fear me more than death, enough to step away from any arrow. I will not do this again with you! I’ll find me a handsome young man and toss you out!”

Tears were in her eyes as she spoke, there was no conviction in the words. He might be an old shoe, but he was hers and she took care of all her belongings. She was the queen of collecting in the family and her family was her prize collection, Conn her only child and Beli her only mate. They taught and treated together many children and people, every day it was another family that needed to help a child born into the world or a negotiation between clans. Gael’s family was her soul.

Donal opened a pouch withdrew a couple of stones, setting one aside, then another.

“No, wrong effect. This one is wrong, too. There! This one.” Then with a skilled touch, Donal began to grind a small chip into a powder.

Conn looked and recognized a few of the stones in the pouch, many he did not.

“Bloodstone, feldspar, rubháid bairestone. What is this?”

“That, my son, is ‘Sruthfola’, it can cause severe bleeding. Only used in scant amounts to keep blood thin to promote healing on some injuries.” Beli whispered, “Or stuck into someone to cause them bleed for a long, long time without stopping.”

Conn looked at his father, he was still glassy-eyed from the herbal cloth that Gael pushed into his mouth, but he was still awake and able to talk.

“Dittany, is a plant that stops bleeding and promotes healing. I’ll be well enough in a day.” Moaned Beli, his voice a bit stronger now.

“NO! Beli! I will thump you!” Growled Gael, pulling her husband of so many seasons down to his back by an ear. “You will heal and rest.”

“She’s right. No herb or magic can take the place of healing. Magic can fix the problem, but the body must go back in balance.” Donal said to Beli, he would not dare oppose Gael now in any case.

“Then catch up with my son. He is walking with that look in his eye again. He is thinking of something.”

Dragon Master University Chapter 27. Jona hates Logs

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Chapter 27. Jona Hates Logs

Every one, dragon and human, male or female dragged in after six hours to eat lunch.

The Green Wizard stood in the door with his arms crossed, having watched the chaos that was the effort to put the logs in the holes.

They had pushed, pulled, used ropes and the water dragon- twice the size of a normal full grown male human and named after his ancestor, Kraken- used knots to keep the ropes from slipping.

Big levers made from saplings the students rolled, dragged, sledged, wedged the logs into place.

Each one of the students were tired to their core, on the eating tables behind the Green Wizard, piles of mashed potatos, vegetables that steamed with fresh salted butter sitting in bowls, large meat-plates with fish and roast-beast.

“Stop!” The green leaves in his beard trembled with the force of his command. “You have failed the test. Only six of twelve I see are in place as directed.”

“But sir,” Jona spoke. “They are larger than all of us.”

Jona spoke the truth. One log was so large across that he could stand at the cut end and rest his chin on the bark, and his toes would barely be at the ground.

And for a human, Jona grew into a tall youth. The tree, the Wizard alluded that it was a branch off the main trunk in his lectures, was enormous.

And yet, the Green Man tapped his leaf-sprouting staff on the ground, and the succulent foods… vanished.

Replaced with pitchers of ice water, weak teas and bread. Cheeses on plates, but only just enough.

In the glen, each log lifted out of their respective holes and floated up to the landing on the hill above and neatly stacked themselves.

The old man did not need them to do the work, it was a test, as he said.

“I instructed each of you to work as a team, to use your strengths. And yet?” He looked to each and every one of the small class of students. “You spend all your time crawling around in the mud like children, getting aches and pains, covered in slime, bugs, fungus.”

The Wizard plucked a mushroom out of the hair of a human girl, Zeva, and sniffed it.

“Death’s head mushroom. Very deadly. But not ready for class. That’s next week.” He said, tossing it to the earth, where it walked back to where it came from.

“Precocious young fruit, that was. Rather persnickety.” Then looking back at the class. “You will eat what is on your plates and no more. Then return to the hill again. There will be a six-hour test again, no breaks. Twelve logs, one in to each hole. Then you can eat the meals of champions, but not until you have finished to my satisfaction.”

The eyes of the Green Wizard passed over each grimy and exhausted face of the students.

“But mister Wizard, the day has been long now.”

“Then go home. You wish to learn about each other, every dragon lives on the wish of human, every human lives as long as a dragon wills it. No one can live without the other in this world, some humans have taken upon themselves to rid the world of dragon-kind. They will kill other humans in the hunt for dragon. You must find a way to work together. “ He looked around “Go eat. I will lecture while you are in there.”

They all filed in. The bread was fresh and warm with a crackly crust of herbs and salt crystals. A woman came in and carried plates of bread, putting a large slice on each plate in front of the humans and dragons. Two large slices for the larger dragons, a whole loaf for Kraken, the largest of the students.

While they ate, the Green Wizard, the wise man of the mountain began to walk along the tables.

“You all dragged the logs down that hill.” He looked around. “Koan, why did you use ropes to drag?”

“Sir, we could not roll them all the way, there is no room to do so, we would flatten the entire forest.”

“Aye, that would be true. What options did you have?”

“We could have carried them.”

“Ach! No!” The grandfatherly eyes beneath the white eyebrows got big. “One of you slip, the log comes down and I have no more class.”

“We cannot make them float as you do.” Jona said.

“No?” The old man stroked his beard. “I must be teaching wrongly. I thought I taught medicine and critical thinking.”

“Sir.” Kraken spoke up after stuffing a loaf of bread with the scant, cold meat that was on his plate. “We pushed and tried to lift.”

“Did you?” He stroked his beard again. “Did you try to lift it together?”

“That was dangerous, like you said.” Jona said.

“Aye,” The old man nodded. “But you have both ropes and some of you have wings?”

The entire room went quiet.

The Green Wizard smiled softly.

“A dragon has lifting power well beyond what even they know. That small dragon on your shoulder, Jona, could lift you off your feet if she had to.”

“I think Sprite is male.” Jona corrected.

“Oh. Well, still the truth is there.” The old man nodded. “How many flyers of your size or larger is in this room?”

Again, the room went silent.

“You have six hours.” The mentor said and stood in the room. “By my calculations, if you do it correctly, you will finish in less than one-hour. The food you saw before, will be waiting for you and the day finished. You will be free for the next two days.”

Never had Jona eaten so quickly, and still he was not the first to finish as dragons and humans gathered outside to plan their mission.

As predicted by their mentor, they were done in less than an hour.

Dear Universe: Chapter 2. Be Continued

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2. Be Continued

Smoke was heavy as the ‟helo” came in for a landing on the mountaintop. Winds were unpredictable, but the hand crew deployed quickly as they expertly handed out the tools of their trade.

Brush hooks – a kind of curve-bladed ax that looks like a shepard’s staff with a razor’s edge that they used to cut and drag brush out of the fire break

Pulaski grubbing tools – An ax on one side and a trenching and grubbing tool on the other. Looks like a cousin to a pick.

McLeod – a hoe and rake combination built on the toughest proportions. Probably the least favorite tool that the crews used, but the most useful.

The R-5 Fire shovel. A short-handled round nose shovel with a sharpened edge for cutting through roots and digging quickly. Used for scraping ground and throwing dirt on fire for direct suppression. Often used to do final clean up by the firefighter crew and are last in line of a firefight often called the drag shovel.

Firefighter bodies were ready for this. Trained, hardened by repeated morning abuse called ‟Physical Training”. The team of men and woman would perform a series of stretches and aerobic exercises that ended with a five-mile run. All before sunrise and breakfast.

All summer, they would sweat more before breakfast than most people did all day. Polishing and sharpening their tools, checking equipment, then a half hour after breakfast they would load up and head to scheduled  projects for inspection or maintenance of brush clearing on roadways in the back-country. Gloves and hard-hats worn, they would test or inspect construction areas. There was little area of the mountainous terrain that they did not step foot in, a thousand square-miles that they protected with their brethren of other operational bases or centers. Dad often called her “Princess” and told her of things he did during the days he was away in his letters.

‟Continuing: It is twelve-hours later, we have cut almost five-kilometers of line in an area that is too hazardous for bulldozers. I’m seriously tired, but we need to eat here in a bit, the sun has gone down and we are now in a parking lot-sized area where the helicopters land. I see a comfy rock that we are going to sleep on in a little while. In the meantime, my meal is cooking in a can. Someone brought some spam (Yes, I know, but when you are hungry and tired, everything is a banquet!) and we are cooking it over a candle powered stove in its own can.”

‟We need to eat and then get back to the line, we are to join up with another crew that is cutting towards us. The fire is about two miles off.. probably you use metric when you are reading this so that would be a little over three kilometers and moving in our direction. We are cutting this line below the ridge top and backfiring as we go. (That is, we are burning it up to the ridge.) Food! Be back later. Don’t go away.”

She laughed. Writing on paper and he puts her on hold. ‟Don’t go away.” Once again, reminded that he was always next to her in her heart.

She remembered and loved his sense of humor.

‟Back! It is now another ten-hours later, I’m making a hike out with the rest of the crew. We had crews airlifted in, but we were out of position to get a ride, so… While we are on a break from our walk out I need to catch you up, quick. We cut a line around this old hill and hooked up with the Pine Mountaineers crew, your mom’s old party station. My crew, Iron Canyon Kings were with them when the USFS did a backfire that became a giant operation. It was not planned. (HAHAHA!) the small backfire kinda backfired. But it stopped the main front in the end. It was USFS’s game plan, but the vegetation was dryer than predicted and a bit of an uphill wind did more than expected. No one was hurt, but I don’t think the US Forest Ranger will handle a drip-torch like that again. HAHA! The backfire flared a bit more than planned and there were a few moments of a significant pucker-factor.”

She laughed. His stories of the fireline were always an adventure.

‟Anyway, we’re hiking again. We have three hours of steady walking to go, after that? I get on a bus and head back to the deployment area. We have been out here for two-weeks now and I expect the fire  will be fully contained by the end of our down-time. Three days before this all started, your mom said we were expecting you to join us in less than a year. This is simply awesome! Anyway. Not much to write as far as a letter goes. This little bit o’paper will get stuffed into a file somewhere along with many others I hope to write. Anyway. Love you, (baby boy or baby girl!) Dad.

PS. Need to get used to that now, don’t I?”

She missed him, wherever he was. The advertisement in the magazine for wildland firefighters to go to a third world country that was suffering from a severe drought and fires that were threatening to devastate the ecology and economy.

The large salary offered was too tempting to pass up. So Dad went when it was winter in the northern hemisphere to fight fires at the bottom of the world for six months.

And never came home.

A year later, a the government sent a half-dozen boxes back. The helicopter transporting firefighters crashed with only one broken radio call for help. The helicopter identifier called with ‟Mayday!” then silence. Destruction of the air transport was complete, some of the local war-clans had stripped the damaged aircraft and burned the rest without thought of reporting or even admission of involvement.

Of a dozen-firefighters and two pilots in the flight, the charred remains of the only ones that could be identified were in coffins.

The search and rescue reported that the area around the Blackhawk transport was:

‟Complete combustion of airframe and personnel.”

Official speak for nothing was left.

So she stood with a file folder of hand-written letters tucked into a handwritten book of spells, looking over the rail of the bridge and the (now empty) jar of ashes that an investigator liaison had collected at the scene and sent to the families. Five years since the helicopter went down, mom still talked as if he were just about to walk through the door. 

When she was younger, it made an odd sense of being closer to him and she was wishing she was a witch practicing “white magic” and had said a spell over a few hairs she had recovered from his bristle brush he used and some glitter that she scraped from the family portrait frame he made years ago. She and mom had a huge fight over that.

It was disrespectful, mom said through her tears.

It was the last time she tried any kind of magic, until now.  Now it was in the water, the final act of the complex spell.  She had one last thing to do, it was an immature effort, perhaps, but it was all she had.

Cassiopeia O’Danu dropped a yellow rose into the waters as they flowed out into the Pacific ocean with the second part of the complex spell spoken in Old Irish.

While Cassi watched the rose of remembrance float away to its destination. She included one wish after she finished with the spell she had read from the pages of her book. 

The wish? She had said it before, but anything to help increase the force of the spell of return.

‟Dad, come home.”

Dear Universe: letters from the past

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Dear Universe:

Letters from the past

Dash McCallen

1. A Letter From Dad

I don’t know yet if you are a boy or a girl, but WELCOME to the family. I apologize right now for all the mistakes I will do– You don’t have an instruction book. I have asked your grampa a few things and all he has done is laugh that I will find out!”

She read on, the words written in business like block lettering with a pen on a notebook that looked as if it had been written on a vibrating surface of the helicopter that he rode in.

Right now, we are flying into the back country for a fire spotted by a mountain lookout. I am in a helicopter with eleven other firefighters, the person next to me is Linda Martinho and she says “Hi from the past!”. A nice lady, quite, pretty and tough as they come. (A secret, she is tough, but smallish, about the size of your gramma Ida). We are flying in to the fire lines, we have to cut lines around a big burn and… Will have to finish this later, we are landing now.”

The smell of smoke was still on the paper that was also stained with his perspiration after riding in his pocket for an unknown amount of time.

She held the paper to her nose and close her eyes. Imagining her dad young and strong. Appearing as he did in the pictures. Broad shouldered, smiling, soot covered. He was handsome as they could come. Her mom always talked about how he looked in the cut-off jeans he wore in lieu of swim trunks, she almost always blushed and giggled like she must have when she was only eighteen.

Tall and red-headed. Her dad often told her stories about the history of their family with the joy of the legends of the O’Danu family dancing in the glittering green eyes. As she grew, his red hair became laced with white.  There was no middle ground with her personal hero.  Like him the hair would not find an in-between color of fading red. It was red — or white.

2. be Continued

Smoke was heavy as the “heelo” came in for a landing on the mountaintop. Winds were unpredictable but the hand crew deployed quickly as they expertly handed out the tools of their trade.

Brush hooks – a kind of ax that looks like a shepard’s staff with a razor’s edge that they used to cut and drag brush out of the fire break

Pulaski grubbing tools – An ax on one side and a trenching and grubbing tool on the other. Looks like a cousin to a pick.

McLeod – a hoe and rake combination built on the toughest proportions. Probably the least favorite tool that the crews used, but the most useful.

The R-5 Fire shovel. A short-handled round nose shovel with a sharpened edge for cutting through roots and digging quickly. Used for scraping ground and throwing dirt on fire for direct suppression. Often used to do final clean up by the firefighter crew and are last in line of a firefight often called the drag shovel.

Firefighter bodies trained, hardened by repeated morning abuse called “Physical Training”. The team of men and woman would perform a series of stretches and aerobic exercises that ended with a five-mile run. All before sunrise and breakfast.

All summer, they would sweat more before breakfast than most people did all day. Polishing and sharpening their tools, checking equipment, then a half hour after breakfast they would load up and head to scheduled  projects for inspection or maintenance of brush clearing on roadways in the back-country. Gloves and hard-hats worn, and test or inspect construction areas. There was little area that they did not step foot in, a thousand square-miles that they protected with their brothers of other stations. Dad often called her “Princess” and tell her of things he did during the days he was away.

Continuing: It is twelve-hours later, we have cut almost five-kilometers of line in an area that is too hazardous for bulldozers. I’m seriously tired, but we have to eat here in a bit. I see a comfy rock that we are going to sleep on in a little while. In the meantime, my meal is cooking in a can. Someone brought some spam (Yes, I know, but when you are hungry and tired, everything is a banquet!) and we are cooking it over a candle powered stove in its own can.”

Cassie made a face at the thought of can-poached spam.

We have to eat and then get back to the line, we are to join up with another crew that is cutting towards us. The fire is about two miles off.. probably you use metric when you are reading this so that would be a little over three kilometers and moving in our direction. We are cutting this line below the ridge top and backfiring as we go. (That is, we are burning it up to the ridge.) Food! Be back later. Don’t go away.”

She laughed. Writing on paper and he puts her on hold. “Don’t go away.” She remembered his sense of humor.

Back! It is now another ten-hours later, I am on a hike out. We had crews airlifted in, but we were out of position to get a ride, so… While we are on a break from our walk out I had to catch you up. We cut a line around this old hill and hooked up with the Pine Mountaineers crew. Your mom’s old party station. My crew, Iron Canyon Kings and the Blue Mountain Forest Rangers did a backfire that did not go as planned. (HAHAHA!) The small backfire kinda backfired. But it stopped the main front in the end. It was USFS’s game plan, but the vegetation was dryer than predicted and a bit of an uphill wind did more than expected. No one was hurt, but I don’t think the US Forest Ranger will handle a drip-torch like that again. HAHA! The backfire flared a bit more than planned and there were a few moments of a significant pucker factor.”

She laughed. His stories of the line were always of adventure.

Anyway, I have to get hiking again. We have fifteen miles to go, after that? I get on a bus and head back to the deployment area. We have been out here for two-weeks now and I expect the fire  will be fully contained by the end of our down-time. Three days before this all started your mom said we were expecting you to join us in less than a year. This is simply awesome! Anyway. Not much to write as far as a letter goes. This little bit o’paper will get stuffed into a file somewhere along with many others I hope. Anyway. Love you, (baby boy or baby girl!) Dad.

PS. Have to get used to that now, don’t I?”

She missed him, wherever he was. The advertisement in the magazine for wildland firefighters to go to a third world country that was suffering from a severe drought and fires that were threatening to devastate the ecology and economy.

The salary offered was too good to pass up. So Dad went when it was winter in the northern hemisphere to fight fires at the bottom of the world for six months.

And never came home.

A year later, a the government sent a half-dozen boxes back. The helicopter transporting firefighters crashed with only one broken radio call for help. The pilot called the identifier with “Mayday!” then silence. Destruction of the air transport was complete and some of the local war-clans had stripped the aircraft and burned the rest. Of a dozen-firefighters and two pilots in the flight, the charred remains of the only ones that could be identified were in coffins.

The search and rescue reported that the area around the Blackhawk transport was:

Complete combustion of airframe and personnel.”

Official speak for nothing was left.

So she sat there with a file folder of hand-written letters, looking over the rail of the bridge and a jar of ashes that a fire liaison had collected at the scene and sent to the remaining six families.Five years since the crash, mom still talked as if he were just about to walk through the door.  When she was fifteen, it made an odd sense of being closer to him and she was wishing she was a witch practicing “white magic” and had said a spell over a few hairs she had recovered from a brush he used and some glitter that they used to make a family portrait frame years ago. She and mom had a huge fight over that, it was disrespectful mom said.

It was the last time she tried any kind of magic, until now.  Now it was in the water, the final act of the spell.  She had one last thing to do, it was an immature effort, perhaps.

Cassiopeia O’Danu dropped a yellow rose into the waters as they flowed out into the Pacific ocean with the wish.

Dad, come home.”

3. Dad’s Next Letter

“Hello and good morning!  My first day home and I’m up before the sun. Ugh!  Your mom is still in bed and I am making some chamomile tea and sitting on the back porch.  The only one else that is up in the house is the dog.  Cats barely moved out of my way when I got up.  But I was too tired to sleep from so many days on the fire line that I could not sleep. I am still so tired I can’t think straight, so a letter to you while everything is quiet. It is a Saturday and your mom will not roll out of bed until noon. Here I am, stuck on the porch with the dog looking at me like I am about to throw the pen across the yard. Oh! Just a moment!  Tea is ready.  Don’t go away.”

She smiled. He even drew time notations in his letter in the form of an hourglass going empty.  Her dad was creative, she had to give him that.

Somewhere in the world was a red- going white- haired man that she needed to find.

“Back, some diphenhydramine (an antihistamine known to make me sleepy) and chamomile tea.  I’ll write this until the tea is gone and I go to bed.  Again.”

He drew a frowning face. It was a glimpse into the part that she remembered as a little girl. Sometimes he sat on the back porch alone and looking unhappy.  She would go up to him then, and he would always smile.  Sometimes, she got the feeling that he was very sad.

One time Cassie asked the great god of her life.

“Why are you sad, daddy?”

He had smiled, hugged her tightly.

“I miss some people.  Friends who were in a plane crash.”

“Okay baby girl or baby boy.  I’m going back to bed.  I think Buzz the dog even has gotten tired of my tossing the stick so early in the AM. For a puppy, he goes until he is pooped.  He does not sleep– he recharges.”

She had not thought of the Irish Wolfhound in a long time. He lived until he was ten-years old — for a Wolfhound, that was ancient.  She still loved that old dog.

She packed up her letters.  The teenage spell completed, but with the lack of hope of a cynical adult.  She knew it was a wasted effort.

Maybe. The wish in the back of her mind tickled annoyingly.

4. Leaving (and written) on a Jet Plane

Dear Princess! Last few months I have done all this training to go to a country to help with wild fires they are having. The entire country is smaller than Texas they say, and half of it is burning. They have had a tremendous drought there, so now we go to the country of eastern Quo Rhea. Their national bird is a Rhea, I think that is interesting. It would be like the United States Calling itself United Eagle or some such. Britain could be Bulldog Kingdom. Anyway. I’m sitting in the plane, if I look hard, I think I can see you waving. I will be missing your fifteenth birthday, I apologize. When I come back, we will have a belated party, just you and I. You have your diving license now, so maybe a dive in Lake Tahoe? Or a week in Hawaii and dive there. Such a birthday it would be. What do you think of that?

Anyway. Plane is now rolling, I have twenty hours of flight with a stopover in Australia. We have two-hundred firefighters on board, every one of us in uniform, and another hundred in support staff I think. It looks like a weird kind of convention.

Odd don’t you think that while the glaciers have begun to spread again, that there is a fire disaster in a tropical jungle? You will have to explain that one to me when I come back. They allow us in the country no longer than ninety-days. When I come home, we will have another six weeks before they call me up again for the fire season at home. I will be home a lot more often, there is a change in schedules coming. I will take the best one. Tuesday through Thursday and every other Friday. Not counting working fires of course. So you and mom have me every weekend. Like it or not. (Hahah!)

That’s it for now. I’ll write more tomorrow, we land in twenty hours, so I am not sure I will have much to write about, so I might write after I get situated at the fire base.

Just know I love you, Cassie.

Dad”

The tears crept down her cheeks. He never wrote again, it was his last letter. Catching a whiff, a long ago spill of his favorite drink. Water with lemon. Dad never drank his rum when even close to being at work.

5. Government Fail

Cassie was driving home when the phone ran. Tapping her wireless earphone her mother’s voice filled her ear.

Cassie, I have a letter from the government. I think it says I owe back taxes because your dad is not dead and I have received survivor’s benefits.”

Mom, what?”

I have a letter. Your dad is not dead, according to the letter. We need to get him declared dead I guess.”

Mom, I’m fifteen-minutes away in my car. I’m coming over to look at this letter.”

She broke the line and tapped the button again.

Dial Union lawyer” She was going to get this snafu taken care of right away.

She almost thought that the mobile phone had dropped carrier when it was quiet for so long until the most annoying voice in the world came on and the pre-recorded greeting gave her a dozen selections for languages, if she wanted to hear the latest news, inquiries for contract negotiations. Upcoming elections in the union.

I’ll drive there faster! Sheesh!”

Then the-most-annoying-voice announced the option that she wanted.

Checking her mirrors and all around for any law enforcement, she glanced down and pushed the number to select.

And a motorcycle officer pulled up behind with his lights flashing.

Cassie’s heart fell, until he drove around her with his siren blaring and shifting gears as he accelerated away.

Holy crap, that was close.” Cassie broke out in a nervous laugh. “Damn non-voice activated automated voice menu systems.”

A voice email of Tyson Reddit said he was not in and to leave a message.

Hi Tyson, it’s Cassiopeia O’Danu. My dad was one of the firefighters that went down on the helicopter? Anyway, I’m heading to my mom’s house right now. The government has sent her a notice that she has unpaid taxes because my dad is not dead? They are the ones that said there was no survivors in the crash.”

She broke the connection and turned right at the next corner towards her childhood home.

6. Bluetooth Insanity

The phone rang and she tapped her earphone.

May I speak to Cassiopeia O’Danu?”

Speaking. Hi Tyson.”

Hi Cassie. I have spoken to several people today. You are not the only ones to have received the letter. I have been on the phone most of the morning with the tax rep at the IRS. We have some serious information that we need. We have…” The earphone was unintelligible…” meeting in the case of that helicopter crash.”

What? You broke. Say that again.”

There has been a development. The radio that the pilot used while flying – their identifier. They were Fire-Crew Two? Someone used that identifier again to talk with air traffic control.”

WHEN?! How? Who?” She had too many questions and the bluetooth headset was not responding.

Tyson, hold on. I’m pulling in front of my mom’s house now.”

Trading the wireless headset for the phone, she turned off the engine of her car.

Now, what are you talking about.”

The United States base in T’Sett got a radio contact on an emergency channel with the pilots call sign, he was calling a mayday and that they were on foot. The signal was lost then.”

Who is ‘they’?”

The people I have talked with don’t know. The signal was lost, whoever was speaking turned off the radio.”

When was this? We need to start a search in the area.”

There was silence on the phone for a heartbeat.

It was, um…” the sounds of papers being moved around. “February of last year.”

Cassie was about to scream in fury.

EIGHT MONTHS AGO? Tyson, I want someone’s ass!” Cassie said. “That is… that is… just wrong!”

Cassie. It’s worse than that.”

How could it be worse?”

It was not LAST February, it was a year ago last February. February of LAST year.”

It was Cassie’s turn to go silent.

Quietly, she said into the phone when she could think again.

I am getting my mom and we will come down to your office right now.”

Bring the letter you mom has, there are other families here, we will meet and I will tell you all what I know.”

Thank you I will. Have you spoke with my mom, yet?”

No. You are the first one of your family I have talked with.”

How long have you known this development, Tyson?”

About an hour. The phone calls started yesterday afternoon.”

7. Speechless in Stress

Cassie almost ran up the steps to the door of her mom’s house. Opening the door with her key, she yelled for her mom immediately.

Cassie! Why are you rushing so? It is a letter, no one is here.”

Mom… Mom…” She could not get it out. Looking around, nearly five years had gone past since dad was here last. His clutter he left, mom had picked up but his chair was still there. His laptop was gone, stored somewhere but now hopelessly out of date. “Mom…get the letter, we are going to the union office to meet with Tyson Reddit now. There has been someone down in that country that called on the fire radio.”

What? What country? What radio? Cassie, you are not making any sense.”

Mom, just get the letter, I’ll tell you in the car.”

They rode for the first two blocks in silence.

Cassie?”

Mom.” She realized she was crying. “They got radio contact with someone from dad’s fire team. Maybe the pilot.”

Mom gasped as the thought sank in.

Mom. It was almost two years ago!” Cassie almost screamed the news. “They heard and never let us know. Now the IRS tells us he’s alive in a back-handed way.”

He’s alive?”

I don’t know. But if they have not started any rescue teams, it is way too late now.”

They pulled into the union parking lot, it was exceptionally crowded and dozens of people were standing around outside the door.

Are you waiting to see Tyson?” Cassie asked the woman who stood near the door. The woman looked familiar.

Then she remembered! Suzanne Riley, the sharp-eyed woman who had her husband only two years before he went on the fire fighting job. She had immigrated from South Africa to avoid apartheid. Although she was ten years older than Cassie, they looked the same age. Her skin still glowed with the smiles she carried within, but her children were now walking.

Did you get a letter too?”

Suzanne almost burst out crying.

They say I owe all the money back, because August is still alive. I have to prove he is dead, and I have no body. They never brought anything back. No funeral, no flag. All I have are papers that said he was missing.”

Several others gathered around. One Cassie recognized as being the son of one of the firefighters, he was easy to recognize. Same eyes and build, it was not hard to tell that the seed did not fall far from the tree.

Tyson finally walked out to the lobby.

Folks, if you please walk with me, we have a room set up for you and I will explain this serious issue.”

A serious issue? Thought Cassie. This is getting better all the time.

8. The Meeting Room

Take a seat, please. Every one in? Good, good. Okay…” Tyson started, he was wringing his hands in a slow cycle. He was not nervous, but looked like a man who had a big secret to tell.

Tyson.” A voice came from the door. “Phone call, you need to take this.” An young man with thinning hair stood behind Tyson.

Folks, excuse me.”

Cassie was fidgeting and then opened the file and pulled out another letter dated six-months before she was born.

Dear baby-bump.

Training day! Pain in my knees! Dang, we are hill-humping hose packs up mountains with tools, I’m on lead shovel at the moment. I usually do lead hook, but we have some new folks that need to train in that position. I am training others on how to throw dirt and how to clean up those things that the pulaski’s leave behind. There is very little with my crew. HAHA! Still, after so many seasons, I am getting aches in places I did not know I had places. Still, the competition for fire crews is a month off. We need to have everyone up to speed. Cross training on engines and in hand-crews is tough. But we won the golden-nozzle two years ago and the golden-shovel three years in a row, but we missed last year. We came in sixth. We were just were tired from a long spike and then we had to travel overnight to get there. We just were too tired to make a line fast enough, our tools and chain-saws were dull. I needed a bottle of aspirin, a bottle of rum and about five days sleep. Oh well, this year will be better!

Okay, we are on the move again Baby-bump! I’ll write later. We have a doctor’s appointment when I am off duty next week. We’ll get a sonogram and find if I start buying pink or blue. I want to buy hunter-green and black paints (for shadows) and paint a forest in your room, but mom has already crushed that idea.

Love you!

Dad

PS. When you grow up? Do not do what I do! Be a doctor! I don’t care in what. Doctor of Law, a veterinary, dentist! I want you home, always. Being in my business would not let that happen.”

Tyson walked back in and sat at a table with a laptop that he plugged in a cable.

Sorry about this old-school connection to the monitor behind me. But I do not want this being picked up by any snoops outside the office. I have just had this sent to me. It is a transcript and one other thing that has been found. Using an Earth-veiwing software.

First the transcript. I will preface this as it is not verified who it is.

Tyson tapped a few buttons and a .pdf file opened on the screen.

Unknown source: Any station any station. Fire-crew strike team two. Mayday mayday. Any station any station. Mayday mayday mayday. Fire-crew strike team two out of Iridium Fire Base calling any station. Mayday.

Remy Radio Control: This is Remy Naval Station on emergency channel. Go ahead with your Mayday traffic.”

Unknown Source: Remy Station, Fire-Crew Two…

Remy Radio Control: Fire-Crew two, go ahead with your emergency traffic.

Remy Radio Control: Fire-Crew Two, go ahead with your emergency traffic.

Remy Radio Control: Fire-Crew Two. This is Remy Station, do you copy?

Remy Radio Control: Negative Contact. Remy Radio Control clear of emergency channel 1506 hours local time.”

Tyson stood up and pointed out the timestamps on the file. “From the first call of ‘mayday’ to when contact attempt ended was five-minutes. We do not know precisely who it was. They ran the voice through some-sort of secret systems and still can not tell who it was. I have asked to have the recording released to us so we can identify the voice. But I have had no calls back on that note yet. I have worked on these things in the last eighteen hours. Mr. Yount, you called and left the first message at about quarter to five. I started making calls the minute I got the message. About five minutes later. No one was in at that time, I stayed until midnight last night and emailed everyone I could think of. Ninety-minutes ago, I got this file when I took that call. Officially we do not have this transcript.”

Who is keeping it? Who is saying we do not have the right to know anything?” It was Reberto Emba. The father of the Captain of the fire crew.

I do not know specifically – yet. I can’t tell you if it is military, cia, nsa ..or any of the -ia things. All I know so far, is it seems that the IRS knows more than we do. I have a couple calls in to different people. This is why I need your letters. Stanford will be coming around and collecting your letters to make copies, I’ll have your originals returned to you. I might be able to find someone in the IRS to do two things.” Tyson smiled. “ONE. Get your taxes deferred or eliminated and TWO! We will find out more information on your missing family that the government is not providing. The IRS is not overly secretive, they want their money. If we work with the IRS, they can get their money and we get information on where these missing firefighters are.”

A hand raised up. “Question?”

Mrs. Yount. Yes.”

First, my name was Baker. Kate Baker, my husband worked in Yountville.” Tyson had the look of a man shot in the face with a horse tranquilizer. “Now my question: my husband was in a box that I put in the ground three-and-a-half years ago. I remarried and I am four-months pregnant with my new husbands child. You are telling me that my dead husband is – maybe – not dead? One other thing, there were twelve crew on that ship plus a pilot and co-pilot. I count twelve families here.”

Everybody went quiet at the implication. The IRS sent letters to every family that was there.

And one other thing!” Kate Baker’s temper was rising. “WHO the FUCK DID I BURY?”

Tyson, obviously without the information he had, now also got angry.

Mrs.” He stopped. “What is your married name now?”

Castro.”

Mrs. Castro, I will find out. We will use the IRS to crack open this problem. What do they know about your loved ones. You have that right under the tax laws. They cannot tax you without cause, so what is the cause? They have to tell us what they know or scrub the amount you owe. They will not let money go without a fight and there are very few people who can push the IRS around. Not even the President of the USA.”

Can we make a class action with all of us to sue for the information?”

Tyson nodded. “We can sue anyone for this. The most difficult is finding which of the government is involved who we want to address. We can drag the feds in and win, but they would shrug shoulders and say “We don’t know” to the demands of the judge. But there is something more.”

He tapped on a world view software, bringing in to focus the island nation.

This was found by my assistant last night. We cannot be the only ones to see this.”

As he zoomed in on the southern most end of the island, the closer he got, there appeared numbers cut into the forest near a community. Tyson moved the mouse around and zoomed in on one number, 4440 then 4488 then another number 2500.

Gasps all around. The lines cut in the jungle were unit and station designator number, someone had cut the numbers into the forest along strangely appearing fire breaks.

What is the date on those images.” A uniformed man asked. “My wife was among those not found.”

“The dates on these images are,” Tyson looked at the copyright date. “two years ago.”

The families exploded in anger with Tyson holding hs hand up for deflection of the attacks.

Please! Please! Don’t kill the messenger. I am sharing what I know at the moment. We will know more in a day or so. I need to email more people tonight and call more in the Internal Revenue Service. I will need all your email addresses. Leave them with my assistant, he is moving around taking down the emails as we speak. Us finding anything useful out tonight is unlikely. Please return home and check emails often. Also if you can, please make sure I have your current phone numbers. Please call tomorrow, or I will call you by one o’clock in the afternoon. It  will be a conference call. You won’t have to come down here, there is more to this to discover if each family received a letter from the IRS.”

Kate Baker spoke again as they headed out. “Tyson, you have done us well. You get this taken care of, please.” Her eyes glittered with anger.

Cassie was in tears, biting her lip. The number 4440 was well-known even outside the area that used it. One of the chiefs that used those numbers was famous outside of his own ranger unit until his death in an accident when he was off-duty. Struck by a car on a dark night in winter, a fractured skull and other severe injuries, Chief 4440 never woke up.

Her dad had nothing but great things to say about the chief.

Subtle and striking, if the firefighters those numbers…

If? Who else would cut such lines? Without anyone knowing, it would take great skill and speed to cut eighty-foot long numbers in a jungle. Cassie knew this well. Golden Shovel crew can do such a thing in an hour.

IF IT WAS THEM Cassie’s mind yelled at her.

10. Hope

During the ride home mom became animated and talking like a child loaded up on soda and candy on Christmas eve.

We have to get the house cleaned up. I need to dust his chair off. He won’t like it if it is in the wrong spot. I need to go on a diet. Cassie, do you think he would miss the oak tree I had taken out after it broke the main branch? We need to go to the store and buy his brand of ale. He never liked those little yellow beers. OH! And rum! Remember that, Cassie. Rum.”

Mom, slow down. Dad is not coming home tomorrow. We have some information that makes it look like that someone of their team is alive. It has been five years, mom…

Mom- Beulah Kate Archi O’Danu was not listening, she kept talking. Deaf to her daughter’s words. In her mind, her best friend inthe world, the only man she had ever loved was alive and coming home!

“MOM! Calm DOWN. Take a deep breath. Dad is not coming home today.”

CASSIOPEIA GRANUAILE O’DANU! You do NOT talk to me like that. Your father said he was coming back, he is late, but he keeps his promises! And I am your mother and…”

And high-priestess of the women’s druid society, yes, I know.”

Mom’s eyes got glass-hard and she turned away. Saying nothing for the rest of the ride home.

Mom, what I mean is we have not yet found dad. The information they have is almost two-years old. Why they have not done a rescue? Why, oh my god why did they not tell us?” Cassie’s voice broke into sobs so deep she had to pull over.

Mom never turned her head or said a word.

11. Night Life

The expensive German luxury car was weaving too much to remain unobserved by law enforcement. Intersection cameras designed to catch red-light violations photographed a car driving through the traffic light at speed. Even midnight, it was illegal to go through controlled intersection. The traffic citation generated was mailed within a few minutes.

By the time the company processed the citation, law enforcement pulled in behind the weaving car and attempted to pull it over, although not going fast, the import’s erratic moment was getting progressively worse. Illuminating the interior of the car with the intense spotlight of the patrol car, the two officers saw the head come up and the expensive go-fast car pulled over, climbing up the sidewalk and destroying part of a picket fence. The officers called for backup in the event the stop turned into a chase.

The driver’s door opened and the driver leaned out the car, commands shouted to stay in the car by the officers, until the driver got out on his hands and knees – covered in blood.

We need medics at our location code 3, we have a man down and bleeding. Looks like a throat cut.”

Tyson Redditt went into cardiac arrest before the arrival of the paramedic unit, even with the early attempts to stop the bleeding by the EMT certified officers, his heart could not be restarted despite the best efforts of Medic-27 and the fire department.

The investigation that followed video camera’s back to the parking lot showed Tyson had worked late this night and then stopped at a convenience store where he bought a coffee, small bag of ice, the most expensive single-malt scotch in the cheap store and a large bag of pretzels. Outside of the store, two men with hoods over hats approached Tyson as he got into his car, it appeared that one of the assailants punched Tyson in the head and then the two figures ran off.

Tyson drove out of the parking lot and stopped at the next red light before proceeding through. One minute later,three-quarters of a mile down the road, his image of him driving and running a red-light was taken. The image showed that Tyson was driving with both hands on the wheel but was bleeding down the front of his shirt, looking as if he did not know that his throat was cut just under his left ear.

12. Morning Call

Cassie called the union in the morning. Tyson’s line kept going to voice mail, so Cassie called the receptionist.

O’Danu for Mr. Redditt? Yes, ma’am, please hold.”

Hello, Mrs. O’Danu?” It was not Tyson, this voice was more clipped and slightly deeper. “This is Detective Todogs. What is your business with Tyson Redditt?”

He was getting some information regarding my father. We had a phone meeting arranged this morning.”

Yes, well, when did you happen to see Mr. Redditt last?”

About four-thirty yesterday with all the different families.” She paused then asked.“What is going on officer? Is Tyson in trouble?”

“Someone killed him last night in what appears like a robbery and assault, someone cut his throat after he left the office.”

They spoke further for a few minutes and he confirmed her address with the one that the secretary gave him.

We have a couple of detectives driving to everyone’s home now, you are available for a few minutes to do an interview?”

Yes. Oh god, am I a suspect?”

Should you be?”

No, and I take offense to the question.” Cassie said coldly.

Well, then you have nothing to worry about.” The voice was unapologetic.

I will be here with my mom.” She broke the connection. “MOM! Oh my god, MOM!”