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Photo by reneerobynphotography.com

Photo by reneerobynphotography.com

I’m currently working on the fourth book of the Fifth Dragon series, and I thought people might like a peek at a work in progress. Following is a draft of the first chapter. - D Kane

FIFTH DRAGON, BOOK IV - draft

By D Kane

Chapter 1

“Magic beans, my ass!” I grumbled and poked at a pot filled with bare soil. After five days, there still wasn’t a leaf to be seen. The wrinkly-faced gnome, after pocketing my money, had assured me they’d sprout within a few days. Since it’s hard to tell when you’re being hoodwinked on the floating island of Cumulos, I shouldn’t have been surprised to discover they were duds. They’d be more useful in soup.

A loud knock startled me, and after a final glance at the pot, I went to the door, still scowling at my agricultural failure. I was surprised at the knock since most of my visitors arrive via the balcony of my tenth-floor apartment. Magical people have no need of elevators.

As I peeked through the peep-hole, I saw a woman with shaggy red hair, thick glasses, and a nervous tic. Adjusting my view to the side, I saw a ten-year-old who was the spitting image of the woman. Crap! Reg and his mother. I searched my memory for her name. It sounded like cloth . . . something. Clotty? Clot? Oh, right – Clothilde Clugg. Who the hell would name their kid “Clothilde”? How did one even pronounce it?

Perhaps I was being condescending. After all, my magical name is White Raven, and some might find that a bit odd. My human mother named me Cheryl James in order to help me fit into a world that would forever remain a puzzle to me. Don’t get me wrong, I can function perfectly well within it, I just don’t understand why anyone would want to.

Reg was a ten-year-old fester in my side. Like his mother, he had unruly red hair and thick glasses. He was round like humpty dumpty and constantly filling his face with crap that was putting him on the road to obesity and diabetes. The kid was certain I was a witch, and his fondest dream was to prove it to the world. As a result, he often lurked outside my apartment with a cheap camera. I groaned, sighed, and opened the door.

 “Good morning, Clothilde,” I said with a fake smile, hoping I’d pronounced her name correctly. Reg licked protruding teeth as he scowled at me through thick glasses.

The woman smiled. “I’m sorry to bother you, Miss James, but I wonder if you’d help me with something?”

I’m suspicious of people who ask if I’ll help them with something before identifying the request. “Sure. What do you need?”

Clothilde put a hand on Reg’s shoulder. “I don’t know if you’re aware, but my son, Reg, has gotten it into his head that you’re a witch. Perhaps it’s because you have such long black hair.”

My hair grew fast and was currently nearing my thighs. I should’ve cut it sooner. I raised my brows. “Really?”

“I know how silly this sounds, but mothers need to nip these sorts of fantastical beliefs in the bud. Who knows what damage they could cause him in the future?”

I slid my gaze to the kid. In my opinion, he had bigger problems than believing his neighbour was a witch. I turned back to the woman. “I understand. How can I help?”

“His therapist thought it might be helpful if he spent time with you, so he could realize how silly such ideas are.”

I’m pretty sure I blanched at that point. “Eh?”

“I hope it’s not too much of an imposition, and I’d be happy to pay for your time,” she said. “It’s just that it’s been going on for nearly a year, and he hasn’t outgrown this fixation.”

If she only knew how much I wished he’d outgrow his fixation too, but the little bloodhound was onto the fact I actually was a magical person. I had all kinds of powers that I struggled to understand. Unfortunately for me, Reg had witnessed some of my more spectacular failures and had made it his goal in life to expose me as a witch.

Reg stared up at his mother. “She is a witch, Mom! How do you know she won’t shove me in an oven?”

Clothilde flushed. “You see what I mean? I’m at my wit’s end.”

I sent an irritated look into the olive-green eyes of the monster and turned back to his mother. “What did you have in mind?”

“Could he spend a couple of hours with you? I realize we don’t know each other that well, but you’ve been my neighbour for nearly ten years, and you seem to be stable.”

Clothilde and Reg lived in the apartment below mine. I guess the fact that I was quiet made me a good person, but I could be quietly cutting up bodies for all she knew. “I don’t know much about kids,” I said. “I was an only child myself.”

“There you go! The two of you have something in common.” She pushed Reg at me. “I’ll be home all afternoon. If you have any problems, call me.” She handed me a card with a phone number scrawled on it and turned to Reg. “Now, you behave yourself, Reg. I’ve had about enough of this ‘witch’ nonsense!” Then she trotted down the hall towards the elevator.

“Mooooom!” wailed Reg. As the elevator doors closed behind Clothilde, he turned to glare up at me. “So, what are you gonna do, eat me?”

“Don’t be silly, Reg. You eat too much crap to be any good.” I stepped aside. “Let’s see if we can manage to survive a quiet couple of hours. If you’d just tell your mom I’m not a witch, we could put all this behind us.”

Reg peered through the door before stepping into my kitchen. I motioned to a stool next to the breakfast counter. “Have a seat, Reg. Would you like something to eat?” He glanced at my broom parked in an umbrella stand next to the balcony door. “Keep in mind, if you touch my broom, I might have to beat you with it.”

“It’s against the law to assault people.”

The kid was going to make a great lawyer someday. “Don’t worry, Reg. I’d never take a chance on breaking it.”

Reg hoisted himself onto a seat and watched me put a kettle on the stove. “Do you have soda?”

“Reg, only idiots drink soda. I have water and . . .” I looked in the fridge. “I have fruit juice which isn’t much better. I might have a cup of sugar somewhere with the same nutritional value.”

“I like soda,” he said.

“You’ll have to live a couple of hours without it.” I plunked a box of fake strawberry juice on the counter. I didn’t normally have such a thing in my apartment, but a childhood friend had stopped by earlier in the week and brought some to mix with the bottle of vodka in her purse.

I found organic bread in the freezer, popped a couple of slices in the toaster, and dug out butter, cheese, lettuce, and cucumbers. At Reg’s look of horror, I said, “It’s called real food, Reg. You should try it.”

“Don’t you have pizza?”

Perish the thought. I’d found my magical abilities were affected when I ate other an organic – and not in a good way. “Pizza isn’t on the menu. Sandwiches are. You can eat them or not.”

He pursed his lips. “You don’t know much about kids.”

“I told your mother I didn’t. Don’t expect this visit to be a picnic, Reg. Maybe you shouldn’t have told her I was a witch.”

“But you are a witch!”

“No, Reg, I’m not. There are other magical beings besides witches. You should read more.”

“What are you then?”

Maybe it was time to shut up. “I’m your neighbour Reg, and I live here like everybody else.”

I was half-way through building cucumber sandwiches when I heard a scraping sound. I glanced into the living room and my heart stopped – at least it felt like it. Green vines squirmed out of the pot in the corner – the magic beans that had so far refused to sprout. Son-of-a . . . why the hell did they have to choose this exact moment to grow?

In a panic to keep Reg from noticing, I piled the remaining ingredients on the bread, added a top slice, and smooshed them together. I slapped the sandwich onto a plate and opened the patio doors. “Bring your juice, Reg. We’ll sit on the balcony and talk about how I’m not a witch.”

After ensuring Reg was faced away from the room, I handed him a sandwich that looked like it had been made by a five-year-old. “Here you go.” Sliced cucumbers were sliding out, chunks of cheese hung from the side, and the lettuce leaves were too big. As the kettle whistled, I told a skeptical Reg to eat while I made tea.

As I skidded into the kitchen, I was horror-struck to see vines already two feet tall. Some climbed the trellis I’d sunk into the soil as others crawled over the edge of the pot for adventures of their own. How long could I hide this? Reg might be an unpleasant little sod, but he was as sharp as a tack.

I shot a glance at the kid, but he was struggling to catch the pieces of food that kept falling into his lap. As I gathered tea things, I muttered incantations under my breath. The enhanced growth spell I’d used seemed to have worked at last. Now the plants were going nuts. My living room would be a solid wall of vines before nightfall.

Worst-case-scenario, I could call one of my magical friends to rescue me yet again, but I hated doing that. They already felt sorry enough for me as it was. Having grown up in British Columbia, Canada, I hadn’t been instructed in the use of my magical abilities as a child. Now, I was playing catch-up. Hence, my effort to grow magic beans in my living room.

I muttered something I’d learned from one of the magical books in the Cumulos library. It had had something to do with plants. The vines turned yellow, then blue, a fluorescent red, and back to green. Then they rotated through different colours. Shit! I’d made it worse!

I shot a look at Reg. He was occupied with the sandwich, but I was running out of time. What if I changed the soil into rock? I’d done that a time or two. I scribed a magical sigil in the air with my fingers. Maybe I could kill it that way.

As the soil hardened, the vines whipped in a frenzy. Now they were coloured, growing insanely fast, and thrashing around like they were in a tornado. “I’ll be right out, Reg,” I called. “Have another sandwich!”

In a panic, I threw spells around in an frantic effort to find one that would work. Somehow, the colours stopped flashing, and the vines slowed their thrashing as the soil reverted. But they were still growing at a crazy rate. Tendrils were growing over the back of the couch and into the cushions. I had to get Reg out of there.

“Um . . . Reg,” I said as I stepped onto the balcony, “tomorrow would be a better day for you to visit. I just remembered I was supposed to meet a friend this afternoon, and I’ll be late if I don’t get going. Could you run down and tell your mother?”

Reg looked at me as he brushed crumbs from his striped tee shirt. “Can I take my juice?”

“Yes. Tell your mom I’m sorry, but we’ll have to do this another time.”

Reg slid off his chair and stepped into the living room. I kept my body between him and the twisting vines and held my breath. He glanced at my broom but didn’t try to pick it up. He’d seen me fly on it on more than one occasion and knew what it was for. He just couldn’t prove it – yet.

As I reached around him to open the door, he stopped dead. I ground my teeth when I saw where he was looking. “Hey! That plant wasn’t here before!”

I got a sinking feeling in my stomach, but I tried to salvage the situation. “Before what, Reg?”

“That plant wasn’t here before!” he repeated. “Where did it come from?”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about, Reg. That plant’s always been there.”

Before I could catch him, Reg darted into the living room and grabbed a vine. As he examined it, there was a flash of movement, and a thick creeper sucked onto his leg. Another caught his wrist and pulled tight. In seconds, Reg was screaming at the top of his lungs. The more he struggled, the more the vines were attracted to the motion.

In seconds, he was on the floor squealing like a pig, and if I didn’t do something fast, somebody would call the police. I pulled a spell out of my repertoire that sucked the life force from of living things. If I aimed carefully at the root, it should make the plant weak enough to let go of Reg.

I tried to ignore the kid’s frantic thrashing as I pulled into myself to focus on the spell. I was relieved when sparkling lights drifted from my fingertips. As the lights gathered over the pot, the vines gradually went limp. With a sigh of exasperation, I helped Reg to his feet. How in hell was I going to explain this?

Reg was in a full-on panic. I grabbed him by the shoulders to keep him turned away from the pot as the vines shrank then pulled back into the soil. I almost felt sorry for the kid even though his stated life goal was to expose me to the government.

“Reg! Reg! Look at me!” When I finally got him to stand still, his eyes were wild. “Calm down, Reg. What are you doing? What happened?”

Reg pushed me away and turned to look at the empty pot. “Where . . . where are the vines? That plant grabbed me! You saw it!”

I glanced at the pot. “What plant would that be, Reg? You just fell to the floor screaming.” I would’ve felt bad for him if he wasn’t constantly trying to have me arrested by secret government agents.

His eyes darted between me and the pot, and I could see the realization take hold that he’d lost the battle. The wicked witch had won – again.

“You know, Reg,” I said, “we could be friends if you’d stop telling people I was an evil witch.”

“But you are!”

I sighed. “No, I’m not, Reg. There are lots of kinds of magic. Maybe you should study some books instead of demonizing people.”

“But, that plant tried to kill me!” He stared at the pot. “And what does ‘demonize’ mean?”

“It means you believe I’m evil without finding out if it’s true.”

“All witches are evil.”

“I suppose your mother told you that.”

“Everybody knows that.”

I sighed again. “You should go home, Reg. Obviously, something in my apartment scares you.”

I opened the door for him. “Have a nice day, Reg. We should do this again sometime.”

As Reg walked by me, he turned once more to look at the plant pot. Unfortunately, at that moment, the vines recovered from my spell and shot out of the soil to wave in the air.

Reg screamed and tore down the hallway towards the stairs. I shook my head as I closed and double-locked the door. Maybe his mother wouldn’t bring him back.

Perhaps it was time for me to return to Cumulos. Hiding in my apartment in Denver wasn’t going to resolve my confusion between the two men in my life. King Dorian, my friend and newly-crowned king of the magical world of Altaria, was being pressured to take a queen, and I was in the running. But there was Valgren. As a magical Rider of Gaia, he exuded magic and sensuality as naturally as breathing – but he’d never be mine in the sense of a permanent mate. Although I like to think of myself as a modern woman, I find myself strangely adrift with that concept.

Anyway, to make a long story shorter, I’d returned to Denver to give myself time to think and to sort out my feelings. It’d been more than a month, and I was no closer to resolving the question than when I’d arrived. I might as well return to Cumulos and thrash through my issues. Besides, I needed Valgren to teach me how to use my Rider skills before I did serious damage to myself or others.

I glanced at the twisting vines that already covered my couch, sighed, and hoped I could neutralize the magic beans before the vegetation took over my apartment.

  

END OF CHAPTER 1