Feedback wanted!

So from my last post, I sent the book in to Amazon’s Createspace.com website for an evaluation.  It was a really positive experience, both from getting good feedback about the novel and about changes I can make to make it better.  I am struggling with one piece of feedback, not that it was bad, but as far as what to do with it.  Here it is and then I’ll add more…

 

The title is a nice familiar reference to the 1963 film Jason and the Argonauts. Since the teenagers do not SPOILERS!!! until Chapter 15, this title creates a strong sense of curiosity and anticipation in the reader. However, you might consider possibly changing the title of the novel to Jason and Dragonauts. While the term draconaut has a nice ring to it, it might be more appropriate to alter the term to dragonaut; this would make the connection to dragons a little bit more clear, and this term sounds more similar to argonaut. 

 

Some friends of mine have agreed with me that it is kind of like changing your child’s name.  My obvious goal is to make this book as good as it can be, but does that include making a minor change to the title itself?  I really would love some feedback on this.  What do you all think?

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Editorial Evaluation

The editorial evaluation is back!  Got some really good and encouraging feedback.  Have a lot more NEW work to do, but I definitely see a Kickstarter for this thing in the future.  Please stay tuned!

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A new cover

Hey everyone, I know it’s been a while, but I’ve been taking a breather, sending the book out for some feedback, and looking at some publishing options.  But, I’ve been working on creating a (rudimentary) book cover.  It features artwork by Chris Pousser, Jim Wetekamp and myself.  What do you think?

Cover copy

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Chapter 34 – the FINAL chapter! (or is it?)

“You just flew back?  That was it?”

Jason heard Tiffany  grumble the question in their odd dimension-within-a-mirror.  The room looked like the bathroom in his house, but they all knew what it really was; magically created pocket dimension. A dimension that only came to consciousness when the four figures on the other side of the mirror, the side in real time and space, looked at their own reflections.

Petros, Tonare, Procella, and Calor all sat in the actual Hewes upstairs bathroom and positioned themselves in front of the mirror.  As had happened since the spell was cast in the forest those many weeks ago, their reflections came to life and then could converse with the young humans with which they shared a body.  The four teenagers, trapped in a mirror reality, and the four dragons, trapped in human bodies, were finally able to speak face-to-face.

“Well, yeah,” Jason shrugged, “You know, we said stuff here and there.  It was loud from all of the wind and all, and I was tried so it was hard to talk.  Mainly, we just flew.”

Tiffany narrowed here eyes, “You just spent hours with a storm dragon and this Order of the Scale person, and you didn’t say anything, didn’t talk to them or find out more about who they are or where they come from?!?”  Jason looked to Marcus for support, who gave him a ‘you’re on your own’ look.  Jason just shook his head in the negative.  Tiffany rolled her eyes and folded her arms, “You are SUCH a guy!”

It was the morning after the fateful trip into Billings.  Calor and Procella had arrived early the previous day at the farm via the magic portal, and Jason had returned towards dusk.  Nymbus and his rider veered off and bid him a farewell as they approached the county limits, and Jason continued on to the glade of trees where he landed, reverted back to his human form, and then let Petros walk back to the house.  It wasn’t until nearly midnight that Tonare made his entrance into the homestead.  He had gotten lost trying to get out of the city and took until nightfall to make his way back to the Rims, turn back to his dragon form, and let Marcus fly back to Malta.

They paused in their conversation as they heard the porch door fly open and foot falls run toward the staircase.  George flew up the stairs and took in the sight of the four of them crowded in the bathroom, talking to their reflections.  He blurted, “So what happened?!?  Did you find Norm?  Did he fix everything?”

From the other side of the mirrored glass, Jason answered, “George, we’re still talking to ourselves in the mirror.  How do you think it went?”

“Oh,” he paused, “Right…umm…sorry, what happened?”

Procella took the time to recount the events, and George was slack jawed by the end of the story.  He stammered, “It…it was all over the news.  They said it was some kind of gang forming and trying to disrupt the crisis going on downtown, but that everyone was apprehended.  Y…you guys are the gang?”

Tiffany shrugged, “Yep, that’s us.  We’re pretty scary looking, aren’t we?  The beauty queen here looks like she can take out two or three policemen with one high heel, doesn’t she?”

Kinaari folded her arms in anger, “HEY!  That was unnecessary!”

They started to bicker as a chime sounded on George’s phone.  He casually looked at it, and his face immediately sunk.  Petros saw his change in demeanor and asked, “Squire George, what is it?”

George swallowed hard, “Umm, it’s one of my RSS news feeds,” He started to read, “To complicate the matters of the odd and somewhat violent string of events that took place in downtown Billings yesterday, eyewitnesses report seeing what is described as a large, winged creature leaping from the top of the First Interstate Center and fly beyond the city limits, eventually disappearing into the Rimrocks. Officials are not substantiating any of the claims, but one witness said it looked like a prehistoric pterodactyl, while yet another even more outrageously claimed it was a dragon.  No one knows the truth or how this staggering report even relates to the incident that occurred downtown, but investigations will continue and look for anything that may link these two stories together.”

They paused in silence after George finished reading.  Jason finally said, “Oops.”

Everyone turned to scowl at him as George scolded, “ ‘Oops’?!?  That’s the best you have?”

“What do you want me to say, George?  I know why Petros went all dragon in the middle of the city.  It was best choice; get captured, turn into street pizza, or risk being seen.  We went with risk being seen.”

Petros whispered to Tonare, “What is this ‘street pizza’?  It is the second time I have heard it mentioned.”

Tonare shrugged and whispered back, “It must be some sort of dark magic since one transforms into it under adverse circumstances.”

Marcus stepped in, “No sense gettin’ all worked up about it, Georgie.  It’s done, you can’t fix it.  Just deal with it and move on.”

Kinaari added, “You worry way too much, George.  It’s not good for your aura.”

Tiffany rolled her eyes at the last statement and said matter-of-factly, “There’s no way they are going to trace us up here.  Jason disappeared into the Rims and that was it.  We’ll be fine.”

All but George nodded in agreement and sat in their thought for several moments.  Jason broke the silence again, “So, what are we going to do now?”

“Breakfast?” Marcus asked sheepishly.

“No,” Jason chided, “I don’t mean right this second.  I mean, what are we going to do?  We’re stuck this way, we don’t have a Norm or any other mage, you all have to get back home, and we’re being pursued by an ancient order of dragon haters who want nothing but our impending doom.”

“Thanks for that last picker-upper there,” Tiffany grumbled.

“AND school starts in a couple of weeks,” Kinaari added.

Calor picked up her head, “School?  Education?  No one told us about that.  I cannot be confined to a building with hoards of children for hours on end.”

Tiffany glared back at her own face, “You ARE one of those children now, Calor.”

Calor’s shoulders slumped in frustration as Procella spoke, “We do the only thing we can do; adapt.  We have no other choice, do we?”

“Nope,” Jason answered, shaking his head, “We need to face it; this is the new normal.  No mage to turn us back…nothing.  We have to get used to living each other’s lives; work, school, family, everything.”

They were silent for several moments before Petros stated, “Come, three of you have long journeys ahead.  George will still keep us connected, but the elder Hewes will be returning home soon and, as difficult as it may be, we have to maintain the ruse that all is well.  We have a great deal to learn.”

 

 

Dusk was creeping over the wide skies of Montana as the four Draconauts and George stood at the tree line in their now-familiar small glade to the north of the Hewes property.  The high clouds were taking on fiery shades as the sun began to complete its westward descent.  A cool breeze kept the temperatures in the mid sixties, and the five simply stood in silence as their hair flowed and faces cooled with the wind.  The air carried a palpable bite of the soon-arriving autumn, a reflection of the changes that had happened in recent months.

Tonare was the first to step away.  He faced them and stated, “It is time.  My journey is longest and I may have stretched the patience of Marcus’ parents.  They are remarkable for humans, you know.  They have many children, and all are polite, respectful, and behaved.”

Petros smiled and laid his hand on his cousin’s tall shoulder, “Fly well.  Be safe.  We will be in contact.”

Tonare gave a reassuring nod and grasped the scale around his neck.  The familiar burst of light followed and Marcus in his thunder dragon form stood before them.  “Not sure I’ll ever get used to that.  You all gonna be good?  This could get weird, especially with those Wyrmkil lookin’ for us.  Make sure you let me know if anyone needs help, ‘kay?  I can get away from the family pretty easily.”

Petros smiled, “You are valiant, good Marcus; brave of the heart and level of the head.  Please use that to teach young Tonare responsibility.  He needs lessons of life to ground him.”

“And you keep an eye on Jason, got it?”  With that, Marcus deftly took to the air and they watched as he soared into the clouds.

Calor stepped out next, “I believe I should be the next to take my leave.”

“Have you discussed with Tiffany where you will go?” Procella asked.

She nodded, “Yes, be she still swears me to secrecy.”

Petros frowned, “I do not like this, Calor.  You only exacerbate her dysfunction.”

Calor held up her hands, “Petros, you need to trust me.  The fire that burns within her is formidable, but that which fuels the fire is unstable.  I must help her balance her past with her present.”

George shook his head, “I don’t like it.”

“As is true to your nature,” Procella countered, “But I have grown to see the wisdom and experience our heat dragon cousin possesses.  I think we should let her handle the situation as she sees fit.”

Petros gave a resigned look as Calor stepped back and transformed to her dragon form.  Tiffany asked, “Did she explain everything to you?”

“Yes and no.  I have concern for your well being, young one.”

She smiled, “I’m a dragon now, and it probably for the first time in a long time, I’m happy with who I am. Calor will keep me on the straight and narrow, so don’t worry.”  Before anyone could respond, she took to the air and flew off toward the setting sun.

Procella smirked, “Caring for the girl is tempering her nature.  Calor is thinking and acting with thought and purpose; very usual for any fire dragon.”

Petros sighed deeply, “I do not know if that is by chance or design but, yes, I cannot ignore the change I see in her.”

“My time, unfortunately, has come as well.  Kinaari’s family will grow suspicious soon.  They are very protective of her.”

Petros said, “You have been a voice of reason in all of this chaos, Procella.  The deep wisdom of the water dragons lives strongly in you.”

Procella approached Petros and George and gave them each a soft kiss on the cheek.  Petros looked confused, buy George’s eyes went wide and he held his hand over his cheek.  Procella asked, “A human sign of affection is it not?”

George nodded enthusiastically as his face flushed.  Procella transformed to her water dragon body and Kinaari looked oddly at the speechless George, “George, what’s wrong?  You look like you’ve just seen a ghost.”

Petros chuckled, “Far from it, Kinaari.  It would seem George is not accustomed to certain kinds of human interactions.”

“Well, I’m not sure what that means, but I guess you two have it all under control.  I’ve gotta get going; my parents around going to have kittens if I’m not home on time.”

Petros nodded, “Fly well, Kinaari.  Take advantage of the wisdom of your counterpart.”

“I will!” She smiled as she took a running start and leapt into the air.  With a few beats of her wings, she was soaring over the Montana countryside on her way home.

George’s voice cracked as he tried to shout, “Bye, Kinaari!” but he blushed even more deeply at the sound.  “Dang it!  I can’t even talk to a girl when she is in the body of a dragon!”

Petros laughed out loud and he put one arm around George’s shoulder and began to lead him back to the house, “Come, Squire George.  Put aside your embarrassment and teach me about this thing called ‘High School’!  I believe this may indeed be the greatest challenge of my life.”

 

………………………

 

A gurney flanked by four EMT’s was wheeled out of the immense and opulent office at the top of the AlansCo tower.  The shape lying on the wheeled table was encased in a large, black bag zippered closed from one end to the other.  The jackets of the EMT’s bore the logo of AlansCo.

An impeccably dressed woman gracefully shut the office door, as the seven foot tall hooded figure stepped away from the windows at the far end of the room.  The woman wore a form fitting, navy blue business suit, and her raven black hair was done up in a tight and perfect bun.  She took the glasses from top of her head and neatly rested them on the bridge of her nose as she looked down at the tablet computer she cradled on her forearm.

She confidently spoke to the hooded figure, “How should we handle the follow up with Mr. Reigles family?”

The figure walked over to the sea eagle and gently stroked the feathers on the bird’s head.  It lowered its beak and welcomed the affection of its master.  “How would I even need to concern myself with a detail like that, Ms. Moore?”

Veronica Moore nodded, “Very well; the autopsy will reveal a congenital heart defect that was undiagnosed in a man as young and healthy as Mr. Reigles.  Steve Alans will send a personalized letter and make a donation to the family double the amount of his company life insurance policy.”

“Fifty percent.  Do not be so generous.”

She didn’t blink at the correction, “Very well, fifty percent.” She tapped the screen of the tablet as she made the adjustments.

“Are you up to the task of replacing that failure, Ms. Moore?  I will not announce you to the public until I am sure you will not act with the reticence our Mr. Reigles did.”

She looked at him without emotion, “My lord, Mr. Reigles wore his heart on his sleeve.  This is business; you tell me what to do and I do it.  No questions asked.  You have obviously been…governing…far longer than anyone I am aware and therefore that depth of knowledge and experience leaves little unanswered.”

She could see the hood nodding, “A most wise answer.  Tell me where we stand on the location of the artifact.”

“Very well, progress has been made in this area.  We have located the artifact, but extracting it from its resting place is proving most difficult, both from a practical and political point of view.”

“Why do we not just wrest it from where it lays?”

She looked over her glasses at him, “It this another test, my lord?  You know as well as I do the political implications of such as act.  Governments will be set at odds and our entire operation could be compromised.”

A brief chuckle came from beneath the hood, “Very good, Ms. Moore.  How long before the artifact is secure?”

She tapped the tablet a few more times, “I would estimate another month to go through the proper channels, file the appropriate paperwork, and distribute the bribes.  I have already coordinated with our, shall I say, specialists, and they will begin their work as soon as the item is in hand.”

“And what of the wyrm and these children that possess their abilities?”

She gave a non-chalant shrug of her shoulders, “Sadly Mr. Reigles did not research this thoroughly.  I cannot continue work that was not started in the first place.  The answer seems to lie with the mage who, at the present time, remains missing.  Mr. Reigles acted too quickly to secure the wizard and summarily frightened him into hiding.  Our agents are working on the problem now.”

The figure inhaled sharply and rose to his full height, “You know that is an answer that does not please me.”

No emotion showed on her face, “I am sorry you are displeased, my lord, but the truth is the truth.  Would you prefer that I lie to you, only to have you discover the truth at a later time and incur your wrath all the more?”

There was long pause, “Carry on, Ms. Moore.  I will summon you at a later time.”  She nodded in acknowledgement and left the room without a word.  The imposing figure put a finger under the beak of the sea eagle and lifted its head to meet his eyes, “Yes, she will do just fine.”

 

…………………………

 

Nymbus and his rider sat in their subterranean cavern under one of the Bears Paw Mountains.  The rider’s helmet was sitting on a rock as she tied her blond hair on top of her head again, “That helmet makes this impossible.  How am I supposed to be a vanguard for all dragon-kind and manage my split ends at the same time?”

Nymbus shook his massive head, “I fail to understand thy humor.”

She shrugged, “We’ve been at this for a few years now.  You should know me by now.”

“I bore thy predecessor for decades; him I knew well.”

Her mood instantly soured, “Yeah, well, that didn’t work out too well for either of us, did it?”

Nymbus gave a conciliatory bow, “My apologies.”

“It’s nothing,” she said, waving him off.

The water of the connecting lake began to stir and bubble, and Nymbus came to attention as his rider put her helmet back on as she said, “Showtime,”

Two large horns were the first to break the surface, and were quickly followed by the tan scaled, draconic head they were attached to.  The body of a grown heat dragon emerged from the depths and stood on the shore of the grotto.  Nymbus and the rider approached the dragon, as the rider said, “I didn’t think you were going to follow through with this.”

Tiffany answered, “Why not?  I’ve got nowhere else to go.”

“You have a family, right?”

She shrugged her dragon shoulders, “Not really.  Not a real family.”

Nymbus looked over his snout at her, “And thou art prepared to commit to this endeavor?”

She nodded, “One hundred percent.  Teach me how to be part of the Order.”

 

…………………………..

 

Petros laid in Jason’s bed, deep in sleep.  His eyes darted back and forth beneath his eyelids as dreams filled his subconscious.

Images of dragons soaring through the air filled his mind’s eye as breath weapons both powerful and terrible blasted through the skies.  He was witnessing an epic battle as other winged creatures, none of which he could identify, lanced to and fro amidst the battling dragons.  Feathers mixed with flying scales and blood whirled about in the chaos, as Petros strained to make out any meaningful detail.

Soon, nothing but the death cries of dragons could be heard as his kin began to fall from the skies, some torn limb from limb.  But the cries began to fade as a new sound arose.  A deep, sinister laugh began to drown out the cries of dying dragons, and eventually everything.  The laugh echoed through Petros’ head as, in his dream, he began to scream, “Enough!  Enough! ENOUGH!”  From the darkness, a hooded face rushed up and swallowed him whole.

He awoke with a start as sweat dripped down his face and back.  He was breathing deeply and rapidly, and his heart pounded with fear.  He swallowed hard and uttered one word;

 

“Karura”

 

 

The End

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Chapter 33

Captain Kevin Weyman of the Billings Police Department stood impatiently inside the barricade of the restricted area of the city.  Officers swarmed around him as they compared city maps and communicated vital information about the unprecedented situation that engulfed such a large portion of their city.  Weyman paced back and forth, his face red and temper fuming as he waited.  Finally, an officer approached him carrying a laptop and set it down on the hood of one of the city cruisers.

“I finally have him.  He insisted on video chat,” the flustered officer said.

Weyman swore under his breath then stepped in front of the laptop.  Tate Reigles image filled the screen as Weyman shouted, “What have you gotten us into here, Reigles?  We said we’d help you with your operation; you said it would be no more than an hour disruption!  Now I’ve got the facades of entire buildings exploding, teenagers throwing our people around like they’re softballs, and kids just disappearing into thin air!”

Reigles face showed no emotion, “Yes, well these events were completely unforeseen.  But, not to worry, everything is under control.”

Weyman could no longer contain himself, “UNDER CONTROL?!?  This is like something right out of a comic book, Reigles!  These kids look like they have…I don’t know…super powers for Pete’s sake!  One of ‘em just said one word…ONE WORD…and threw a dozen of our men AND THEIR VEHICLES around like they were nothing!  And now I have over two dozen men chasing some skinny punk up the stairwell of the First Interstate Center!  What is going on here?!?”

Tate Reigles face finally showed concern, “Yes, well, no one had predicted any of this.”

Weyman was about to chew him out some more when another officer approached, “Sir, I…”

Weymen whirled to the officer, “WHAT IS IT?!?”

The officer swallowed hard, “The youth…he just jumped off the roof…”

……………………..

For a brief moment, Petros was flying again, and he relished the feeling.  There was nothing between him and the earth below, the wind was blowing in his face, the sound of wind was rushing in his ears.  He remembered, even for a fraction of a second, what it was like to be a dragon; it had been a very long time since he had felt that way.

He closed his eyes and his hand went to the scale around his neck, and he gripped it tightly as he focused his will into the object.   Brilliant, white light engulfed his body and grew in size until it faded again and the form of a mighty stone dragon was in its place.  Jason’s eyes were closed as he began to talk, “Okay, what have you gotten un into noOOOOOAHHAAA!”  He opened his eyes and saw he was in mid air and the ground was quickly rushing toward him.  “OHMANOHMANOHMANOHMAN!” he bellowed as his wings opened on instinct and he began flapping madly.  His body continued to plummet to the pavement below as he flapped for all he was worth.  Panic turned to fear as he wondered if even a dragon would die of a fall from this height.  But in his alarm, some instinct he never knew he had began to manifest.  His wings began to work together, coordinated, in rhythm.   To his surprise, they extended simultaneously and caught the air.  His body righted and his fall slowed and finally stopped as Jason began to ride the winds and actually soar away from the tower.  A wide smile came over his face when he realized what was happening.  He beat his wings once, then a second time.  His speed increased, he controlled the direction of his flight.  Tears began to flow from his dragon eyes as he shouted, “I…I’M FLYING.  LOOKIT ME…I’M FLYING!”

Jason quickly realized he was over the downtown area of Billings, and although his didn’t know why, he knew he was exposed and had to get out of town.  He banked hard and began to head for the Rims and hopefully get on the correct vector back to Malta.  He said to himself, “Jeez, Petros, not exactly the best time to give me a do or die lesson in flying.”  He shook his head, “Man, even as a dragon I STILL talk to myself.  At least I’m not walking in circles.  Hey, I’m not walking at all; I’m flying!”

An odd sound behind him brought his head around as he saw over a dozen small, black shapes rising from the city and taking flight behind him.  Some were the black motorcycles of the Wyrmkil riders, their wheels split in two along their circumference and splayed out as they sped through the skies.  The three wheeled vehicles had taken to the air as well; the front wheels having rotated to face downward and the third, rear wheel now facing backwards.  Finally, the treaded ATV’s soared through the skies with their front wheels and rear treads tucked underneath the machines’ frames.  Helmeted, black clad riders piloted each of the flying devices and were in hot pursuit of the dragon.

“What the…” Jason said aloud as he began to beat his wings harder, accelerating and putting more space between him and the mysterious vehicles.  But the motorcycles proved to be the quickest of the three as they darted through the air and rapidly came alongside Jason as he tried to flee.  The riders pointed much larger versions of their tasers at Jason and pulled the trigger, launching a small black cartridge that somehow stuck to his armored hide.  A massive current was released into his body by the cartridges, but to Jason, they felt like a minor skin irritation.  As he tried to shake the devices off of his body, each rider pointed an automatic weapon at him and unleashed a hail of armor-piercing rounds.  The bullets bounced off of his scales, but he grimaced in pain as they impacted the membranes of his wings and passed straight through the more fragile flesh.

“Ooooh, no you don’t,” he growled as he banked to one side and, on the beat of his wing, battered three of the riders with the huge appendage.  Two were thrown off of the vehicles and fell to the earth below and one spun out of control and fell far behind.  With two powerful flaps, he pulled ahead of the two riders on his other side and batted them out of the sky with a brutal swipe of his tail.

Jason smirked and muttered to himself, “It’s kinda cool being a dragon.”  But the smile left his face when he felt a blistering pain above his left flank.  He banked hard to the right as he saw a burst of green energy lance by under his wing.  He turned his head to see the three wheeled vehicles spitting the emerald bursts of power from their headlight area.  His eyes went wide at the unusual attacks and began to zig zag his flight pattern in attempts to dodge this new threat.  Jason was able to avoid many of the green bursts, but several still impacted his armored hide, each sending a pain-filled wave through his entire form.

Jason tried to think of what to do, and quickly formulated a strategy.  All at once, he turned his wings sideways and brought his body to a vertical position.  His wings caught the air and slowed him instantly, catching his pursuers off guard and causing them to rocket by him.  As they passed, Jason deftly grabbed one of them in each of his front claws and violently cast them to either side.  He was surprised that he was actually able to accomplish such a feat, but theorized his dragon reflexes must be much better than those of his human body.  He poured on the speed again and caught up to the rest of the riders.  He balled up one claw into a fist and shattered one vehicle with a brutal punch.  Another went careening out of control with a tail swipe, while the last he actually caught in his jaws and bit cleanly in half.  He watched the rider and the front half of the three-wheeler plummet to the ground as he spat the second half after it.

He was reveling in his handiwork when a brutal force slammed into the side of his head and sent him spinning out of control.  He tumbled head over tail and he fell to towards ground, fighting hard to regain control of his dragon body.  He saw the last of the Rimrocks pass below as he tumbled out of control and finally slammed into the Montana countryside.  As he flipped head over tail, some dragon instinct took over and he push forward with his forelegs and down with his wings and immediately righted himself, digging his talons into the earth as he brought himself skidding to a stop.

He marveled at his agility as he said, “Cool!” and then quickly turned his attention to the rest of the riders chasing him.  Several of the four-wheeled vehicles barreled down at him as one released a burst of red energy, which struck him cleanly in the chest and knocked him off balance with its pure force.  “What the…” Jason muttered as two more of the crimson energy spheres lanced his way.  Now knowing the power they carried, he quickly sidestepped them, and watched as the vehicles pulled back up and began to come around for another run.

Anger began to well up in Jason’s chest; he was getting tired of this fight.  The vehicles completed their final arc before they began another attack, and Jason sneered, “Not this time!”  Some unknown part of his mind told him to dig his claws into the earth, and with his very essence, reach down to the core of the planet for strength.  Bright veins of light flowed up his legs, across his chest, and into his wings where they made the membranes appear to glow.  A look of conviction washed over his face as the felt the power permeate his body.  He turned his attention back to the black riders as they unleashed their powered weapons at him again.  One of the energy bursts hit the ground next to him, leaving a small crater, but a second took a trajectory toward Jason’s chest.  He swept one of his wings at the red force and batted it into the fields around him.  Another was about to hit his head, but he swatted it with his other wing and sent it back toward one of the flying vehicles.  The energy slammed into the machine, shattering it and sending the rider flailing through the Montana sky.

Jason felt invincible.  The power of the earth cascaded through his body and it seemed as if nothing could harm him.  Two more Wyrmkil vehicles streaked toward him, and with a mighty roar, Jason unleashed a torrent of glowing, orange cubes.  His breath weapon fully engulfed the two targets and their momentum carried them past Jason and plunged into the ground,  having been transformed into solid stone.  As he sought out his last targets, his vision began to blur and a buzzing washed into the back of his skull.  His concentration rapidly broke, and the light flowed back from his body and into the soil in which his claws were tightly clenched.  The strength left his body and he felt his legs quiver from the sudden weakness that replaced it    He began to panic at the feeling, and then remembered what had happed to Petros those many weeks ago when he did the same thing; a depleted, weakened dragon that could barely fly.  Three more flying riders remained, and the combined, red bursts from their vehicles sent Jason sprawling.  He was down, and he didn’t know if he had the strength to get up.

Jason craned his neck around and saw the riders landing.  Their wheels and treads slid back out from under the bodies of the ATV’s and took the correct positions at the sides as they touched down in the field.  He could see the three black riders dismount and draw large guns from the backs of their mechanical mounts; each gun fitted with a very wicked looking blade under the barrel.  He feared this was the end; he didn’t know how much more his dragon body could take.  He tried to muster the strength for a burst of his breath weapon, but only ended coughing up random sparks of dull orange.  They took a position on his left flank and aimed their weapons at his head.  He lowered his neck to the ground, closed his eyes and waited for the end.  Jason saw a large shadow pass over him; a portent of his impending doom.

To his surprise, he heard a small thud, as if something landed nearby.  He opened one eye and saw a fourth figure standing behind the three Wyrmkil riders.  It was shorter then them, clad in blue and gray padded armor with lightning bolt accents across the chest.  The figure wore a motorcycle helmet, adorned with a yellow dragon’s head and the visor completely obscured its face.  In the figure’s right hand was a double bladed weapon taller that the armored figure itself, and it spun the blades deftly over its head and cut one of the riders down with a single swipe.  The remaining two black figures turned to face this new arrival, but it crouched and spun on one foot, kicking out with the other and sweeping the legs of a second rider out from under it.  The black figure fell clumsily to the grass, as Nymbus’ agile rider cartwheeled back to its feet and swept its weapon up, cutting off the barrel of the third rider’s weapon.  The member of the Order of the Scale twirled its dual bladed spear above its head again, and with a swift cut, removed the third rider’s head from its shoulders.  Gray ash cascaded from the wounds of the fallen Wyrmkil as both of the fallen riders’ leather uniforms collapsed into emptiness.

The Order warrior wasted no time in turning its attention to the second rider as it began to lumber back to its feet.  An upsweeping cut took the black rider’s legs out from under it, and a final downward stab pinned the figure to the ground; gray ash poured out and blew away on the breeze.  The warrior paused for a moment to survey its surroundings and, confirming it was safe, turned to Jason, “That was a foolish thing to do; tap the power of the earth when you have multiple targets.”

Jason was trying not to be dumbfounded at the arrival of the warrior, but spoke as casually as he could, “I…felt I had no other option.”

The figure yanked it’s dual spear out of the ground, “You don’t need to pretend with me.  I know you’re a kid inside there.  I’ve spoken to Petros before.”

Jason couldn’t hide his surprise, “I…how…?”

“It’s my job to know these things.  Get up slowly; that power channeling thing you do is potent as all get out, but it comes with a cost.  You can’t summon up that much raw energy without weakening yourself afterward.  Even a dragon’s body can’t handle that kind of power for long.”

Jason nodded, “I wish he would have told me that.”

“He who?”

“Petros; I watched him use it when he fought…” His voice trailed off.

“When he fought Nymbus and me.  You can say it; I was there.”

Jason smiled, “How did you know to be here, in Billings, today?  I mean, no one contacted you.”

“Like I said before, it’s my job to know these things.”

“That’s really getting annoying.” Jason grumbled.

“I know,” The figure answered, “But you’re tough; you can take it.”

Jason inhaled deeply and pushed himself to his feet, “You…say that…as if you know me.”

“Sounds that way, doesn’t it?” it replied.

He shook his head, “Look, I get the whole motorcycle helmet mysterious figure thing.  But it isn’t exactly fair that you know all about me and I know nothing about you.”

The warrior was lifting one of the weapons of the fallen Wyrmkil to examine it.  “Well, get used to disappointment.”

Jason furrowed his eye ridges, “Yeah yeah yeah, I saw the Princess Bride too.  You can kick butt, AND you watch cool movies.  Way to make a guy feel inadequate.”

The figure whirled to face him, “Says the teenager in the body of a mythological creature.”

Jason inhaled preparing to give a sharp retort, but instead acknowledged, “Touché.”

He watched the armored figure walk over to the three ATV’s parked on the field.  It examined them closely before gesturing to Jason, “Come check this out.”

Jason wearily stepped over to the vehicles and asked, “What am I looking at?”

“They are linked to their riders, probably more of this technomancy we have been suspecting.  The drones turn to ash, and now look at their rides…”  She pointed to the engine of one ATV.  Jason could see that spots of rust had formed, and were now growing at a visible rate.  Similar corrosions were appearing all over the machine and spreading rapidly.  “They will be nothing but piles of rust in minutes.”

“What do you mean by ‘drones’?” Jason asked.

Without looking away from the decaying vehicles, the warrior responded, “The riders; they aren’t human.  Some sort of automaton.  They walk like humans, move like humans, and have some human weaknesses, but there is nothing alive about them.  That’s why I had no problem slicing them into puppy chow back there.”

“How do you KNOW all of this?” He asked, throwing up his forelegs in frustration, “And don’t tell me ‘It’s your job’!”

The figure shrugged its armored shoulders, “Then I don’t have an answer for you.  As part of the Order of the Scale, I have to know as much as it takes to protect dragon-kind.  The Order made a pact centuries ago with the dragons, and the more I know, the better I can do my part to fulfill the oath.”

A shadow crossed over both of them again as Nymbus swooped down out of the clouds and landed deftly next to his rider.  He looked Jason up and down, “I have not seen thee since our battle all those many a week ago.  It hast been at least a fortnight, has it not?”

Jason shrugged, “Yeah, about that, except…”

Nymbus cut him off, “Except there was a different consciousness in thy mind, was there not?”  Jason nodded and the storm dragon continued, “Thou hast summoned the power of the earth to thine aid again.  Art thou able to fly back to the farm after such an exertion?”

Jason paused, “I would feel embarrassed not to try.”

Nymbus nodded, “A noble response.  We will accompany you and bear thee up should thou falter.”

Nymbus and Jason walked away from the ATVs as the Order warrior watched their final collapse.  Jason took advantage of being alone with Nymbus, “Can I ask you a question?”

The mighty storm dragon nodded, “Aye.”

He gestured back with his head, “Who is he?”

Nymbus looked askance at Jason, “He who?”

“The guy in the armor, your rider, he seems all official and all that, and he can definitely swing that Darth Maul style blade of his.  But he talks like he’s close to my age.  It’s really weird.”

Nymbus paused, “Thou assumes a great many things, draconaut.”

“What, you mean he’s older than he sounds?”

The dragon smirked with another dramatic pause, “Mayhaps.”

“Jeepers, you Oder of the Scale folks must have to take lessons in being all dark and mysterious.  I can’t figure you two out.”

“Alas, it is the way I prefer things, young one.”

“Well, its frustrating,” Jason stated as the rider rejoined them.

“Aww, look at you two bonding and all that.  Gives me warm feelings in my heart,” the rider teased.

Jason looked at Nymbus, “See what I mean.”

Nymbus glowered at his rider, “Yes, well the term ‘frustrating’ oft applies to this one, I must say.”

Jason wished he could see the rider’s reaction, but all it did was climb into the saddle on Nymbus’ back.  “Let’s get to the sky.  There’s nothing left to see here and it will be dark by the time we get near Malta.  Don’t want anyone getting lost on their way back.”  With that, the two dragons took to the skies; Nymbus without any effort, and Jason showing signs of fatigue from the battle with the Wyrmkil.

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Chapter 33 AND 34 Update

I have the edited copy of Chapter 33 back from my wife and it should be up in a day or two.

More importantly, Chapter 34 is done, which is the LAST CHAPTER.  Yes, you read that right!  It’s almost over…but hopefully that “The End” will truly be a new beginning.

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More Updates

Chapter 33 is done and off to my wife, plus I have a very small start on Chapter 34, which may just be the last chapter (I say that hesitantly, but excitedly as well).  Maybe I will get the first draft of this thing done in 2012 (the Year of the Dragon).  Here’s hoping…

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