© James Pyles
“Dragons roared and children picked up musical instruments and played. Many alighted to the ground to dance, and the singers clung to tree branches like birds. It was a moment of grandeur and promise. But as bright as it was in the city of Vovin, the city of dragons and children, a dark night was coming.
The ancient dragon Gerliliam reclined in his favorite chair in front of the fireplace in his library, and slowly closed the book he had been reading.
“What do you mean ‘the end,’ Gerliliam? That can’t be the end. What about the Grey God? How are the kids supposed to get home? Does that mean the demons are going to come for us, too?” The excitable and feisty sparrow hopped annoyingly back and forth from one of the dragon’s shoulders to the other. In ages past the dragon would have simply swatted him with one of his wings, but then, that was ages past.
“Excuse me, but I think he’s right. You can’t stop reading now. There’s so much more to tell.” Mr. Covingham, a brightly colored garter snake, was comfortably curled on a pillow set on the floor, not too close to the fireplace, but not too far, either.
“But that’s what it says, my friends, ‘the end.’ That rather means there is no more to read.”
Kiyohira Arita was the only one in the lifeboat when he regained consciousness. What had happened? The eleven-year-old student had been on a ferry, the Shiun Maru. Yes, that was it. He was with his class on a school field trip crossing the Seto Inland Sea. The fog was so terrible. He and some of the other boys were on desk. He was trying to be brave, but he’d been freezing. Then he heard something, a horn of some kind. Then the world tore itself apart.
Now it was sunny and warm. Kiyohira had to take off his jacket because it was hot, like a summer day in the tropics though he knew it was only the beginning of May. Where was everybody? There must have been a crash, a collision. He looked in the water. No debris or wreckage. He looked further. Kiyohira knew she should be able to see land. They’d been in the middle of their transit so he shouldn’t be more than fifteen or twenty kilometers at most from the shore and even closer to one of the islands. They’d be impossible to miss on a day like this. Not a cloud in the sky.
But it was like he was in the middle of the ocean. He’d never been on the ocean before but he’d read books. Somehow he was put on a lifeboat after the collision and floated out to sea.
No, that was insane but how else could he have gotten here?
© Sue Vincent
The bridge between the exile of the Dark Hills and the tree city of the dragons Vovin was massive and ancient. Even the dragons and the elves had no name for it, nor did they know how it was built. It was wide enough to admit six golden dragons the size of Shay and Kaleen standing side-by-side, which was fortunate, since he was escorting his still weak and limping wife back toward home.
Danijel and Aidan were walking between them, the former feeling nearly as wounded and exhausted as her mentor.
Behind the dragons were the five Davidson children, and behind them was the Royal Vizier of Direhaven, Wynjeon, alongside the Mage Raibyr. In turn they were leading a troop of twenty elven warriors, the remains of Sergeant Petran’s meager forces replenished by hand-picked soldiers from the army’s main body.
“I can’t believe we made it.” Mandy was talking more to herself than anyone else. For months, they had fought the most deadly of foes, suffered immeasurably, and yet the five children were here, alive, and for the most part well.
Mandy wouldn’t tell anyone, not yet. The gift of healing was nothing short of miraculous, and she still didn’t know how she acquired it, but the healing came at a price. She was trying to hide her limp, the same one Shay suffered from, doing her best to conceal her fatigue, and the nausea that plagued her.
© Sue Vincent
“Archers! At the ready!” Petran gave the command to his meager squad of elven soldiers as they formed a perimeter around the five Davidson children and the magician Raibyr. Nine-year-old Taylor was at the center with his siblings when he remembered he also had his bow and arrows.
The wind was frigid and fierce, which fortunately made the attacking Beelzebub horde uncertain in the air, but would also make accuracy with the bow extremely difficult.
The sense of the warrior Azzorh within Taylor came over him, and he nocked his first arrow.
The bat-winged demons were in as tight a formation as possible given the storm that was tracking toward the party from the west; a massive cloud of swollen, sickly green flies whose home was sewage, and whose taste was for blood.
Beelzebub – Found at weebly, pinterest, and multiple other sources – no available image credit
Lethargy had come upon five-year-old Zooey so suddenly that she was hardly able to stand, and the mouse Sapplehenning was unconscious and barely breathing. Mandy was holding her sister close to her, as the elves of Direhaven finished constructing the enormous flatbed cart with which they would transport the disabled dragon Shay.
“I must say Jake, that your dreams are very creative, and I mean that in more than one manner.” The Vizier Wynjeon, consort to Janellize, the Queen of their people clapped a hand on the boy’s shoulder.
“When I found out that Shay couldn’t walk, I thought the wagon would just, well, happen. When it didn’t, I drew a picture in the dirt of what I’d dreamed.”
A hundred sturdy soldiers brave and hardy struggled mightily to assist the great golden dragon onto the hastily manufactured conveyance, as Mandy murmured into Zooey’s ear. “I should never have permitted you to stay, and I’m not waiting anymore. We’re leaving with some of the soldiers and going to Vovin right now.”
“No. I want to stay with Shay.”
© Sue Vincent
The afternoon sunlight, which had been shining dimly through the mist and overhanging trees, flickered and threatened to extinguish, as if a giant was blowing out a candle.
“They came! They heard me and they came!” In spite of their dire circumstances, trapped between an army of demons on one side and a strangely alien Shay accompanied by the resurrected Sakhr on the other, little Zooey was jumping up and down with excitement. Coming in from high above and crossing the sun was an unprecedented legion of vultures. It was impossible to tell the birds apart as the vast flock began its dive toward the demonic forces, but the girl knew that Gyffus was at the lead. She took the single feather he had left behind, held it up and waved.
The rest of them looked up and then back again at the wounded golden dragon and her companion, Dani’s shadowy reflection, who seemed no worse for wear after having been impaled on the dragonrider’s sword.
“Sakhr! I killed you!” Dani’s right hand ached as she tightly gripped Witherbrand’s hilt. The blade felt heavy, threatening to pull her arm downward, lowering her guard.
© Sue Vincent
The little girl had picked up the carrion bird’s feather, the only remains of her connection to the griffon vulture who had delivered the dire news of the Great Gray God, and tucked it in her pocket. For a few short minutes when their minds met, she had seen through his eyes, had seen the world from six miles up, flown through clouds and smoke, and witnessed the falling of a god to a vast army of demons. Zooey was only five years old, but in the space of a few weeks, she had seen so much of life and death.
“The Quag Lands.”
Dani stopped them at the edge of some unseen boundary. It was mid-morning and they had been walking through a grassy marsh since just after dawn. For the past hour of their journey, the grasses had become darker and the tree branches more twisted. The air was humid and thick with the smell of the dying, not that there weren’t living birds and animals here, but somehow that life didn’t belong solely in their bodies.
“It’s what I saw.” Jake was standing next to the dragonrider. She knew the way into this stinking pit because it was the one area of the Exile she had always been taught to avoid. The seven-year-old also knew by the dubious virtue of his dreams, both waking and sleeping.
“It gets darker ahead. She’s in there, Dani. Shay’s almost dead.”
They all turned as Paris shrieked. She had walked off to the edge of the trail and was gazing into a shallow pool when she saw it. Taylor was the first to reach her.
© Sue Vincent
After Dani attached the leather leg band containing the message to her brother Aidan, Zooey whispered into the crow’s ear and released him into the air. The ebony bird took wing and flew up and northward, disappearing into the midnight blue sky.
Sapplehenning finally poked his head above Zooey’s shirt collar. He had refused to come out while the crow was around, knowing of the bird’s taste for mice.
“Yeah, but why a crow and not a homing pigeon?” Even with the grim task facing them, Taylor still could tease his youngest sister a little.
“Because crows are really smart, unlike you smartypants.” Zooey stuck her tongue out at the nine-year-old just like in the old days before they came to this Exile, and before the demons had tried to kill her. “Besides, homing pigeons don’t work the way you think they do.”
“You’re sure the bird knows where Vovin is?” It had never occurred to Dani to send a message home before, but that’s because she thought Shay was watching over them. Now they were alone, and if there was any hope of saving the dragon, it was with them.
Image found at “Mindlovemisery’s Menagerie.” No image credit listed.
It was a dream come true. Somehow, along with all of the children, a library had been brought from her world into the dragon city in the trees. Nine-year-old Paris walked inside with a solemnness usually reserved for a holy place, like the synagogue her parents took her to in Prague when she was six.
The library had merged with the forest. Trees were growing inside and bursting through the ceiling, and grasses were taking over the floorboards. She wondered where and when it came from. The globe in the corner didn’t look modern, but most of the books she could see seemed recent.
Then she realized only some of them were in English, and about only half were written in any human language.
© Sue Vincent
“No, I don’t want you to try to heal it. I want the imp weak and helpless.”
It had been several days since Dani and Paris found the tiny demon unconscious in a nearby wooded avenue. Thanks to Paris’s book and Dani’s tutoring, Mandy’s knowledge of how to use the local tree bark, roots, and other parts of medicinal plants was steadily growing, and the children felt well enough to resume their journey very soon.
“He’s hardly regained consciousness since you brought him back to camp. What if he dies?”
“Then it dies. It’s a demon. It, and thousands of others just like it, tried to kill us, and they did kill four dragons, or have you forgotten that?” The dragon rider was furious, not so much at Mandy, but at the loss of her four friends, as well as the horrible revelation that Shay had been taken by the demon horde. It added to the plague of the visions and dreams where she saw herself murdering the other teenager and her brothers and sisters.
“I’m just trying to help.” Mandy might have been afraid of Dani if she’d faced her anger when their relationship was new, but now she understood that the dragonrider was in pain, tormented by guilt at what she saw as her failures.