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Authors: Bryan Davis

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Circles of Seven

Dragons in Our Midst, Volume 3

 

Circles of Seven

 

Bryan Davis

 

Circles of Seven

Copyright © 2005 by Bryan Davis

Living Ink Books, an imprint of AMG Publishers

All rights reserved. Except for brief quotations in printed reviews, no part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted in any form or by any means (printed, written, photocopied, visual electronic, audio, or otherwise) without the prior permission of the publisher.

Circles of Seven
is the third of four books in the youth fantasy fiction series,
Dragons in Our Midst
.

All Scripture quotations, unless otherwise noted, are taken from the NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE, copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977 by the Lockman Foundation. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Print ISBN: 978-0-89957-172-0

ePub ISBN: 978-1-61715-002-9

Mobi ISBN: 978-1-61715-031-9

DRAGONS IN OUR MIDST and ORACLES OF FIRE are registered trademarks of AMG Publishers.

First printing—April 2005

Cover designed by Daryle Beam, Market Street Design, Inc., Chattanooga, Tennessee

Interior design and typesetting by Reider Publishing Services, West Hollywood, California

Edited and proofread by Becky Miller, Dan Penwell, Sharon Neal, Susie Davis, and Warren Baker

All hail the true “Once and Future King,” the ever-present light we follow, whose blood is our ally in the great battle. As we rescue the enemy’s prisoners in our chircles, show us the light that will lead us safely home.

The Glastonbury Tor

Photo by Kevin Redpath, Glastonbury, England

Acknowledgments

To my faithful wife and best friend, Susie—without you, I would not know the meaning of “Welcome Home.”

To my AMG family—Dan Penwell, Warren Baker, Rick Steele, Dale Anderson, Trevor Overcash, Joe Suter, and all the staff—thank you for daring to be different. Your desire for excellence is unmatched.

To my editor, Becky Miller, thank you for hanging in there with me. Thank you for listening to the voice of the King.

Thank you to Lynne Stephenson, the talented young creator of the “Apollo” sketch, and Kevin Redpath, who provided the stunning photo of the Glastonbury tor.

A special thank you to Dr. Spiros Zodhiates for teaching me the meaning of
autarkeia.
(see 1 Tim. 6:6)

“Apollo”

A prototype sketch by Ashley Stalworth
 

Merlin’s Song

With sword and stone, the holy knight,

Darkness as his bane,

Will gather warriors in the light

Cast in heaven’s flame.

He comes to save a remnant band,

Searching with his maid,

But in a sea of sadness finds

His warriors lying splayed.

A valley deep, a valley long

Lay angels dry and dead

Now who can wake their cold, stone hearts

Their bones on table spread?

Like wine that flows in skins made new

The spirit pours out fresh

Can hymns of love bring forth the dead

And give them hearts of flesh?

O will you learn from words of faith

That sing in psalms from heaven

To valley floors where terrors lurk

In circles numbering seven?

Chapter 1

The Monogram

Danger!

Billy’s internal alarm blared. Something evil approached, creeping up slowly through one of the hallways of the huge English mansion. Sitting back in an easy chair, he closed his book and flicked off the floor lamp at his side. He waited, allowing his eyes to adjust to the dimness of the unfamiliar bedroom. Only a ray of moonlight seeped in from the window on the opposite wall, its yellowish white glow casting odd shadows across the oak floor.

He slowly rose to his feet, cringing at the sound of the creaking boards under his heels. He tiptoed to the door and pushed it silently closed, carefully releasing the knob and begging the latch not to click.

Icy dread crawled along his skin. The sense of danger grew in intensity with each creak from the bowels of the centuries-old house. Not able to sleep, he had decided to read a book of King Arthur lore borrowed from his teacher, Professor Hamilton. As he sat in the corner, he had thought the postmidnight noises were simply trees brushing the windows or maybe his host puttering around on the first floor. Now, as the clock on the wall ticked past 3:00 a.m., he knew better.

He glided across the room with long, quiet strides and snatched Excalibur’s scabbard from a belt hanging around the bedpost. Grasping the hilt, he slowly drew out the blade. The sound of metal sliding on metal drilled courage into his heart, and the sword’s illuminating glow chased the shadows from the room.

Holding the sword with his arms extended, he planted his feet and kept his body perfectly still . . . waiting . . . listening. The clock marked the seconds—tick . . . tick . . . tick. Cold sweat seeped through his pores, dampening his oversized T-shirt and raising goose bumps on his arms. The air in the bedroom felt heavy . . . suffocating, creating a sense of desperation, like being stuck in an underground cavern with a dying flashlight.

A stuttering creak sounded from the hallway. Was it a floorboard bending under a skulking footstep? The door hinges grating, ready to fly open at any second?

Billy’s eyes riveted on the door. The creaking stopped, but a spine-tingling alarm kept blaring in his mind. What could be lurking out there? Professor Hamilton was supposed to be sleeping in the next room. Had the approaching menace already paid him a deadly visit? With a dozen bedrooms lining the hall on this second-story wing, maybe it—whatever it was—had passed the professor by.

Billy licked his lips.
Should I call Prof? Should I go check on him?

The door creaked again. He regripped Excalibur’s hilt and tensed his arms. In the dimness, he could see no movement, only shifting light as the sword vibrated in his trembling hands. He didn’t feel scared—not much, anyway—mostly just cold in the spacious, drafty bedroom. His sweatpants and damp T-shirt weren’t enough to ward off the chill.

As he watched for a hint of movement, an unusual scent drifted past his nose, a sweet blossom of some kind, not pungent like perfume, more like the soft fragrance of gardenias or jasmine. It was pleasant, soothing, even peaceful.

Billy yawned. His eyelids drooped. His brain felt light . . . tired . . . sleepy. He backed up a few steps and bumped into his bed frame. It was the middle of the night, so why not just go to bed? That noise wasn’t really anything. This spooky old mansion probably creaked all the time.

A vague sense of danger still lurked in the back of his mind, but he shooed it away, yawning again. It was nothing; there was no danger. He sat down on the bed and breathed in the wonderful aroma, sweet flowers . . . so peaceful . . . so relaxing. He imagined lying in a bed of soft rose petals on a sunny day, a cool breeze caressing him to sleep. Was he really lying down now?

Yes, I must be. It’s so soft, so comfortable.

Consciousness began slipping away.

There’s that creaking noise again. But it’s nothing . . . just the wind blowing through this old house.

His sense of danger faded, vanishing in a whirlpool of images—his friends, Bonnie and Walter; the dragon Clefspeare; his mother—all mixing into a confused dream.

More creaking? Footsteps? Mom, is that you?

He felt a cool hand softly touch his neck. He smiled.
Okay, Mom. I’ll get up. I just have to—

A wild shout pierced his senses. “William!”

Billy shot upward, but a strong grip shoved him back to the bed, iron fingers squeezing his throat. He couldn’t breathe. A hooded form, a shadow in the dimness, pressed close to his face, almost eye to eye, as he straddled Billy’s body, choking his life away.

The dark figure suddenly lurched back, releasing its strangling grip. Wearing a long, black robe, his attacker looked like a specter flying away from his bed. Loud bumps erupted from the floor, and the professor’s voice shouted, “William! . . . I require . . . your assistance . . . immediately!”

Billy sat up, caressing his throat and blinking away the mind fog. The professor and the dark intruder rolled on the floor, their arms and legs intertwined, the professor’s white hair tossing wildly. Billy’s senses came roaring back, and he threw himself into the mix, punching the assailant with both fists, then gouging his hooded face with his fingers. It was no use. He seemed impenetrable.

The man pulled the professor into a bear hug, and his muscular arms squeezed the elderly teacher’s chest. The professor grunted. “The sword. . . . Use . . . the sword!”

Billy jumped up and searched for Excalibur. Where had he put it? He threw back the covers on the bed.
Ah! There it is!

He grabbed the hilt and summoned Excalibur’s transluminating beam, a laser-like shaft of radiance shooting out of the tip. Although he had practiced using it countless times, he wasn’t sure he could strike the intruder with the disintegrating ray without hurting the professor. One touch would send this dark burglar into oblivion, making him nothing but a holiday sparkler, but he didn’t want the professor to become part of the fireworks.

With a savage thrust of his bare foot, Billy kicked the hooded man in the ribs.

“Arrgh!” The man arched his back.

The professor pulled free and rolled away like a log on a steep hill. Rising to his knees the teacher called out, “Now, William! Now!”

Billy swung the sword’s beam, slamming it against the intruder’s torso. The shaft of light sizzled across his body, and sparks popped like water droplets on a hot frying pan. The man’s black robe absorbed the fiery light, framing his shadowy form with a flashing halo.

The intruder sprang to his feet and kicked the professor in the head with a heavy boot, sending him sprawling to the ground. The black hood slowly turned. Two eye slots rotated to the front with a hate-filled glare blazing through.

Billy stepped back, stunned. Blood oozed from the side of the professor’s head as he lay crumpled on the floor. Was he breathing? A hard lump grew in Billy’s throat. He couldn’t swallow it away.

The hooded man snorted. “Not so brave when your ultimate weapon fails, are you, Dragon Boy?” He blew on his hand with a mocking puff and laughed. “How about your fire breathing? Doesn’t it work? Why don’t you give it a try?”

Billy felt a good blast of fire growing in his belly. But should he use it? Excalibur’s beam didn’t work on this creep, and his challenge probably meant that fire wouldn’t faze him either. But what could it hurt?

He took a deep breath and hurled a stream of fire from his mouth. The orange tongue of flame splattered against the intruder, but he just spread his arms as though he were basking in sunshine, allowing the blaze to caress his black suit, making it glow like a heated stovetop coil. As the color faded to a dull orange, he crossed his arms and laughed. “I guess the mongrel’s bark is worse than his bite.”

Billy raised Excalibur to an attack position and bared his teeth. “I have not yet begun to bite.”

“Oh, that’s a good one,” the intruder scoffed. He pulled a sword from under his cloak. “Let’s see if your blade is as sharp as your wit.”

Billy pulled his sword back and charged. With a hard, two-handed sweep he lunged at the intruder’s neck. The man parried, blocking the swipe with his own silver blade. With a turn on his heel, Billy threw his body into a three-sixty spin, ducked low, and hacked at his opponent’s ankles. The man hopped deftly over the blade and chopped downward at Billy’s neck.

Billy lurched to the side and rolled away. The attacking blade sliced into the wood floor, wedging tightly.

As the intruder tugged on his hilt, Billy jumped to his feet and swung Excalibur like a baseball bat, aiming for the man’s waist. Still hanging onto his sword, the man slid his feet forward, facing upward and ducking under the deadly swing. After Excalibur swiped harmlessly above his face, the intruder sprang back to his feet with the help of his recoiling sword. He finally yanked the blade out of the floor and straightened his body, his feet set and arms flexed.

With sweat dripping from his hair, Billy stepped back and stared at his opponent’s fierce eyes, his chest heaving and his arms trembling. He gripped Excalibur tightly with both hands. Even if the beam wouldn’t disintegrate the intruder, he knew Excalibur had to give him an advantage. It was more than just a sword; it was a holy saber, generating its magnificent light energy only for certain people. It must have been guided by a greater power, an intelligence above and beyond his own.

The hooded man charged, his sword swinging. Billy blocked it with Excalibur, and when the two blades met, Excalibur’s glow burst into a glorious blaze, so bright he had to squint.

The intruder held out his hand to block the brilliant light. Fear and agony flooded his eyes. With a wild, one-handed swipe, he waved his sword high. Billy ducked just in time, feeling the blade swish above his head. The intruder dropped to his knees and swung again, this time aiming low. Billy jumped, and the razor edge passed under his bare feet like a chilling wind. The intruder slumped, his cloaked head drooping. He seemed drained, exhausted.

Billy leaped at the chance. He slammed Excalibur’s flat side against the man’s skull. A burst of electrostatic energy covered the intruder’s hood and ran across his black suit like a swarm of lightning bugs, buzzing and flashing in chaotic twinkles. His arms stiffened, and he toppled to the side, his head smacking the floor with a sickening thud. The black mass of body, cloak, and hood lay motionless at Billy’s feet.

The twinkling died away. Billy, his eyes wide, lowered Excalibur, letting its point rest on the floor. The sword’s light diminished, yet still retained enough radiance to illuminate much of the room.

He dashed to the professor’s side and dropped to his knees. He placed a cool hand on the old man’s wrinkled face and across his lips. The teacher’s shallow breaths warmed his fingers.
He’s alive!

Billy set Excalibur on the floor and gently patted the professor’s cheek. “Professor!” he called in a loud whisper. “Wake up!”

“Nonsense!” the professor replied, his eyes still closed. “There are no gardenias in these gardens. Roses and daffodils, yes, but no gardenias.”

Billy shook his teacher’s shoulder. “Professor. It’s me, Billy. You’re dreaming. Wake up.”

The professor’s eyelids fluttered open. “William!” His eyes darted around the room. “The assailant. Where is he?”

Billy gestured with his head. “On the floor over by the door. I think I knocked him out cold.”

The professor struggled to his feet and retied the sash on his gray terrycloth bathrobe. When he lifted his head, he seemed to be in a daze, and his body swayed.

Billy grabbed the professor’s forearm and steadied him. “That guy really gave you a hard lick with his boot.” He stepped into the bathroom, snatched a hand towel off the rod, and gave it to his teacher. “But it looks like the bleeding’s slowed down.”

The professor dabbed the wound gingerly and examined the splotch of red on the otherwise white towel. “Yes, William. I don’t believe I will require stitches.”

A bump sounded from somewhere in the house, then padded footsteps and whispered commands. The professor waved his arm at a dresser next to the door. “Block the entry! Hurry!”

Billy dashed to the door and pushed it closed. Then, with a quiet grunt, he shoved the waist-high dresser under the knob and pressed his ear against the door panel. “I hear noises, like people running on tiptoes.”

The professor knelt next to the intruder’s sprawled body and slid his hood off, revealing a young man with a wispy brown mustache and goatee. He pressed two fingers against the man’s neck, then looked up, his brow wrinkling. “He appears to be dead, William.”

“Dead? But I only hit him with the flat side! I didn’t even draw blood!”

The professor felt the intruder’s wrist and pressed his ear against his draped chest. He raised his head again. “Flat side or no, he is certainly dead.”

Billy picked up Excalibur and rushed to the professor’s side. “Have you ever seen him before?”

“No.” The professor lifted one of the intruder’s black-sleeved arms. “We must hurry. Help me get this cloak off.”

The professor rolled the burglar to one side while Billy tugged at a cloak sleeve, pulling it off the assailant’s arm. Repeating the motions, they slipped off the other sleeve and carefully slid the cloak out from under the man’s body.

When the professor rolled the intruder to his back, he paused and stared at the newly exposed forearm. He reached for Billy and pulled his arm, sword and all, toward the corpse. The sword’s light cast an iridescent glow across the man’s skin, changing its color to pale blue. The professor put his finger on a strange monogram, dark blue lines in the shape of the letter
M.

“William! He bears the mark!”

“The mark? It just looks like an
M
to me.”

“Exactly!” The professor guided Billy’s wrist, maneuvering the sword’s glow. As the light passed over the monogram, the outline of the
M
brightened to a phosphorescent purple. The professor kept his voice low. “It’s the mark of a New Table knight, your opposition. It can only be seen within a narrow range of light frequencies, and I suspected that Excalibur might emit such a frequency.”

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