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Samurai

By Cynthia West,2014-11-04 20:17
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Samurai

The Saint of Dragons Volume II

Samurai

Jason Hightman

For my family

    Contents

    Chapter 1: The Heat of Battle Chapter 2: Fields of Fire Chapter 3: Of Serpents and Samurai Chapter 4: The Dragonhunter’s Home Life Chapter 5: A Home Life Destroyed Chapter 6: How a Dragon Tracks Its Prey Chapter 7: Hunting a Master of Dragons Chapter 8: The Ice Dragon Chapter 9: The Loneliness of a Great Ship Chapter 10: The Tiger Dragon Chapter 11: Showdown at Sea Chapter 12: The Contents of One Abandoned Dragonship Chapter 13: The Unknown St. George Chapter 14: The Dragon of Japan Chapter 15: How the Other Half Lives Chapter 16: Culture Clash Chapter 17: A Traveler to the Orient Chapter 18: Light Without Heat Chapter 19: Heat Without Light Chapter 20: Never Go to Tokyo Without a Sword Chapter 21: Beware of Falling Serpents Chapter 22: The Doctor Is Out Chapter 23: Bullets on a Bullet Train Chapter 24: Tricks of the Trade Chapter 25: Fire That Can Hide Chapter 26: Where Tigers Lurk Chapter 27: A Tiger’s Eyes Chapter 28: City of a Billion Wonders Chapter 29: Secrets of Bombay Chapter 30: Cornered Beast Chapter 31: Enemies and Allies Chapter 32: Where There’s Smoke Chapter 33: No Suicide Missions Chapter 34: Dragontrapping Chapter 35: Chamber of Horrors Chapter 36: The Way a Fire Dies Chapter 37: Small Sacrifices Epilogue: The Dying Embers of the Day ? Extras Acknowledgments

    About the Author Credits Copyright About the Publisher

    Chapter 1

    THE HEAT OF BATTLE

    THERE IS ONE THING YOU can count on with evil. Evil will do things you never counted on. SimonSt. George hated that fact as much as he detested the African sun. The heat in Kenya wasunbearable, and the shadows the sun cast on the trail were hatefully dark, making it difficultto see if a Serpent was ready to leap out of the tall grasses.

    And they were hunting Serpent. The possibility of a fiery death was always with him, and Simonfound it sickening rather than exciting. His father was quite the opposite. Riding tall in hissaddle ahead, Aldric St. George steered his horse with a stern energy, a quiet thrill that afight could come at any moment.

    Aldric insisted on the two of them going on horseback, for ease of movement on the roughterrain, but, looking back jealously at the car in his wake, Simon cursed his old-fashionedways and yearned for air conditioning.

    Behind him, the battered Jeep spit rocks from its wheels, slowly rolling through the raggedcountry—a neglected dirt road amid long yellow grasses. Beside the worried Kenyan driver satAlaythia Moore, the beautiful New York artist who lately looked a bit awestruck by the wilds ofAfrica.

    Simon squinted back at her, the dirt on the windows making her nothing but a pretty shadow. Herode up alongside his father. “You think she’d rather be out here with us?”

    Aldric focused his eyes on the trail. “Simon, keep your mind on the task at hand.”

    “We’re miles from the African Dragons,” said Simon. “We still have to get past the next twovillages. I just thought she might be lonely in there.”

    “It’s so hot in the sun. Why the devil would she want to be out here?”

    “For the company,” said Simon, unhappily. Unless he was lecturing him, his British father wasnever much good at conversation. Simon wondered how Aldric and Alaythia spent their time alone.He figured they must always be planning strategy, going over the old scrolls and Books of St.George, learning the Serpentine language better, or designing new weaponry. Alaythia’s skillsas a Magician had grown tremendously over the past few months.

    Simon turned as the Jeep pulled around them and Alaythia looked out. “You have to be sick ofthe sun by now,” she said to Aldric. “Why don’t you tether the horses to the back and getsome shade in the Jeep?”

    Aldric smiled at her. “You mean step into the modern world?”

    “Yes,” she said with exasperation. “You should’ve left the horses back at the ship.”

    Alaythia, Simon thought, had just a touch of what he now recognized as New York attitude, withthe slight hint of expectation that rich people carry around, which she had yet to completelylose (her grandmother had left her a fair amount of money from a Manhattan real estate fortune,which had soon dwindled away on bad investments and charity giveaways). She leaned out more,her odd beaded necklace clanging on the Jeep’s door. “Come on,” she prompted again. “Quitbeing the angry Warrior and take a break in here.”

    “We’ll see what you say when that jalopy gets a flat tire, or the transmission goes out,”said Aldric. “We do things the St. George way. We’re not going to drop traditions that havebeen handed down for centuries.”

    Simon watched the two of them, surprised to see his father looking relaxed for a moment. Thatmust have been the fifth time he’d smiled in the past two days—a record. Alaythia could bring

     he thought.that out in anyone,

    “We’re coming up on the next village,” she said.

    “This isn’t the way I remember it,” said the African driver and translator, as he sloweddown and let the horses pass, staring at the settlement. “There should be more people out. It

was a busy little place…”

    Aldric looked alarmed as they neared the town, a sorry set of flat, boxy, falling-apartbuildings in faded colors. A very old Ford sat in the high grass, ruined by time and hardrains, proof of Aldric’s claim that this was no place for motorcars.

    And then, beyond the junked car, a human skeleton lay in the grass.

    “Halt,” Aldric said to his horse, Valsephany.

    Simon stopped behind him, having a bit more difficulty with Norayiss, his own stallion.

    The skeleton was clean and white, left out in the sun for a long time. Flies scarcely botheredwith it. Simon noted with some disgust that an arm had been lost, most likely by scavengers,jackals, perhaps. He’d seen death before, but hadn’t quite gotten used to it.

    The skull gleamed, a horror made ordinary by the afternoon sun.

    “What does it mean?” he asked his father.

    “I’m not sure,” Aldric answered.

    Aldric pulled a crossbow closer to him in the saddle, as did Simon. Alaythia had a rifle, itswooden stock covered in runic symbols. She held it closer, leaning out of the Jeep as thedriver reluctantly drove it forward.

    More death greeted them. Skeletons lined the twisting road, looking as if the people had fallenthere in some attempt to escape the tiny town, and no one had bothered to bury them. It was astrange sight, and Simon felt queasy.

    The path to the village became yet more riddled with skeletons and bones, and the horses’hooves crunched over them, as it was impossible to get around them. Large boulders sat on eachside of the road, and Simon noted with alarm that one of the huge rocks was smeared with blood.

    Blood?

    Two young boys ran toward the St. Georges as they arrived. They were shouting something, terrorin their eyes.

    “Disease,” said the translator from the Jeep. “They’re yelling about disease. It is someterrible death let loose here.”

    “What kind of disease?” Simon asked, suddenly wanting to turn and ride away.

    “They don’t know,” said the translator. “Many diseases in Africa. This one works fast, theysay. Many days at work. Many people dead. Many dying.”

    “How many days?” Aldric asked.

    “They want medicine,” the translator said. “They expect medicine from us.”

    Simon looked at the African boys, feeling terrible, sensing the fear that swirled around them.

    “We don’t have any medicine,” barked Aldric, sounding angry, and Simon recognized it as theway he always reacted when he couldn’t help. His father moved his horse onward as the two boysran alongside, pleading. “I need to know how many days since the sickness came,” he repeatedto their driver.

    The translator tried to get an answer. “They don’t know. They are children. They lost trackof time…”

    “Have there been any fires here?” asked Aldric.

    The African translated their responses. “No. No fires. Just a fire in the heart. Sickness offire.”

    Simon trailed behind Aldric, with the Jeep coming up behind them. The translator was becomingmore agitated. “This sickness is not normal,” he said. “This death works too quickly. Theyshould’ve gotten word to the last town we were in. No one did.”

    Aldric kept moving.

    “This is not right,” the translator yelled after him. “We should not go farther, this is notright.”

     right…” said Aldric, “for what we’re looking for.”is“It

    Alaythia offered the boys a rune-covered canteen of special water. “Drink, splash it on you,”she advised them. “It will protect you.”

    Seeing they did not understand her, the translator took the canteen and sprinkled some of thewater on himself, passing it to the children with a few hopeful words.

    Simon looked back. The boys seemed skeptical of her, but they splashed the water on their skinsand drank deeply all the same.

    “There’s not enough water,” Aldric complained.

    “It’s something,” Alaythia said, sounding annoyed. “The mixture is weakening in the sun,but it’ll help them if they aren’t already sick. Let them have it.”

    “There’s not enough,” repeated Aldric in a grim tone, for they had reached the center oftown. He was staring ahead. Amid old, broken-down cars and trucks, there was a group of low,flat buildings. Through the open doors, Simon could see many people lying in beds. He stoppedhis horse and surveyed his surroundings.

    The people were choking and gasping for air. Some men lay in doorways, lifting their armsweakly. And then Simon realized that every single person there had lost all their hair. The manin the doorway, the women gathering water at the well, the sick he could see in the beds—allwere completely bald. It was jolting. The boys who led them in had shaven heads, or so he hadthought, but now he could tell that several of the other villagers, many of them children, hadlost their hair as well.

    “How long has this sickness been here?” Aldric demanded. “Ask this man.”

    The translator got out of the car, keeping his distance as he questioned a man in a doorway.“Six days,” the translator reported. “One boy arrived in town and grew ill, and from thesecond day, it spread to everyone. Weakness overtakes you. You have no desire to live, nostrength. There is…only one mercy. There are five deaths every hour,” the translator chokedon the words. “In another day, the entire town will be gone.”

    Simon swallowed hard. He looked at Aldric, whose eyes burned with anger. Alaythia got out ofthe Jeep and moved toward the man, bringing him the last canteen.

    “Alaythia, please,” Aldric said quietly. “You can still catch this disease. Let Simon helphim, his blood is stronger than yours.”

    Simon took the canteen from Alaythia, who moved back, looking helpless and angry. The boy gavethe man a drink from the canteen.

    “It won’t do much good now,” said Alaythia, and she looked at the translator. “But tell himit’s strong medicine. He may believe it. It may help.” And indeed, the man’s eyes brightenedas he took the drink.

    “Now ask him if there has been anything else unusual,” Aldric ordered.

    The man told them there had been thousands of vultures gathered on the veldt outside the townbefore the disease struck.

    “Thousands?” asked Aldric.

    “And jackals as well,” the translator explained. “Many scores of them.”

    “Where did they gather?” asked Simon. He knew, as his father did, that where there wereripples in nature, there were Dragons.

    “I know the place,” said one of the boys who’d led them here. “You bring some of thatmedicine to my mother, I will show you where the scavengers settled, miles up the road.”

    Aldric looked to Simon, who held the canteen.

    “No, not him,” said the boy, pointing to Simon. “The woman must bring it. My mother will notbe seen by men in her state.”

    As the translation came, Aldric nodded in understanding. Alaythia needed no prodding; she tookthe canteen from Simon and followed the boy past some buildings to the first of several largecanvas tents on the edge of town. The tents were leftovers from an old U.N. operation, and hadbeen set up as a quarantine early on, the boy explained through the translator, who had hurriedto keep up with Alaythia.

    Vultures and jackals stood waiting a few yards away.

    They had been hidden by the buildings. Their eyes followed her with interest.

    Alaythia took one look back at Aldric and Simon, and entered the tent behind the boy. She heardthe translator follow her with a rustle of the tent flap.

    Inside, decorated blankets lay on the floor. Masks were hanging on the walls, while the sweetsmell of incense filled the tent. Two old women lay in cots on either side of the tent, andtheir eyes begged for mercy.

    A teenage boy knelt between the cots, and he greeted the first boy with a weary nod. Thetranslator stood back at the entryway, seeming to apologize for disturbing the elderly women.

    “I have medicine,” said Alaythia, but she did not move closer to the women.

    The translator helped them exchange words:

    “What do you ask in return?” asked the second boy, suspicious.

    “We’re looking for something,” Alaythia answered. “We need a guide. But you can have themedicine even if you don’t help us.”

    “You are looking for the Unseen,” said the boy, fearful.

    “The vultures and jackals outside,” Alaythia asked. “We want to know where they came from.There was a place they gathered on the first day…and there would have been fire near there…Doyou know it?”

    “What is there if you find it?”

    “We are looking for two beasts. They are brothers, and they work together. Very unusual. Theyare Serpents but they look like men. They brought the disease to you…. They like to seesuffering; they feed on it.”

    One of the old women shifted in her bed and propped herself up on one elbow to look atAlaythia. But Alaythia’s own eyes were drawn to the flies that had gathered on the floor,rivers of them, hundreds, easing up from between the rugs. She began to tremble.

    Outside, Simon had a bad feeling and began moving his horse toward the tent. Aldric followed.As his eyes fell upon the masses of jackals and vultures gathering, Aldric said, “Thebrothers. They’re here.”

    Simon and Aldric spurred their horses toward the tent.

    If they did not move quickly, there would be a new skeleton in the African sun.

    Chapter 2

    FIELDS OF FIRE

    INSIDE THE TENT, ALAYTHIA stared at the two old women muttering at her in an unfamiliarlanguage, and she saw the healing fluid in her canteen bubbling over, boiling. She dropped itas the metal burned her hand. The translator tried to catch it, but burned his own fingers. Heyelped and fled from the tent, cradling his hand.

    “Uncareful Magician,” said one old woman, hissing in English. “We have long awaited you—”

    “Moritam kettisem sedosica,” cried Alaythia, spell-chanting. “Do not cast your fire,

    Dragon—I have taken the power of your skin, you will not be armored against the flame.”

    “Lies!” cried the other woman, her eyes wild.

    “You will burn with me,” warned Alaythia.

    The two old women lunged at her, lashing their claws as they transformed into African TallDragons, twelve feet of fury, each of them. Alaythia fell back and lifted a huge wooden maskfor a shield, as the first Dragon, Matiki, sank his claws into it.

    The two boys had already darted away and now they ran directly into Simon and Aldric, still onhorseback.

    Alaythia scrambled out of the tent as the first Dragon, the fearsome black-and-brown beastcalled Matiki, pounced upon her, sinking its teeth into her armored back, flinging his long,black braided mane.

    Aldric fired his crossbow into its head. It did no harm.

    But Matiki dropped Alaythia, who rolled free, as the Dragon’s twin, Savagi, lurched from thetent, scrambling toward her on all fours. Simon and Aldric both shot at the beasts, landingarrows in the Dragons’ arms and necks. The Dragons roared in pain, and turned to assault theriders.

    Perfect, Simon thought. We drew them from Alaythia.

    But his joy was quickly lost as Savagi leapt into the air and landed upon his horse, clingingto its neck. A huge snout stared him in the eye, and if the Serpent hadn’t wasted time roaringin anger, Simon might’ve been crunched in its fangs. But his crossbow had one bolt left—andhe shot it into the monster’s throat.

    Savagi screeched and tumbled back, somersaulting to land a few feet away.

    Simon’s horse jostled backward in the dust.

    Matiki had turned on Aldric, and risen, man-like, to his full height. He slashed his long,muscular arms, trying to get at the Knight who kept his horse moving and stabbed back at thebeast with his sword.

    From his mount, Simon looked into Savagi’s terrible yellow eyes, and knew what was coming. TheSerpent reared its head back, its black throat swelling up. It was about to throw fire.

    “NOOO!” cried Matiki, and yelled at his brother in the Dragontongue.

    “Listen to your brother,” cried Alaythia, “I’ve cursed your armor; you cannot burn your wayout—”

    Alaythia understood their words: “We have kept our magic from raging,” cried Matiki to hisbrother. “We have come too far. We need no fire to kill these swine—”

    But Savagi’s rage was too much. Fire shot from his jaws.

    Simon ducked and turned his horse, but the blast of black-yellow flames burned his shieldedback, scorched his hair, and singed his horse’s mane. The animal screamed and gave in to fear,riding them away from the threat.

    The flames roared over Simon and met the ground, flaring up in the yellow grass like a match tokerosene.

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