Read The Dragon Tree Online

Authors: AC Kavich

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The Dragon Tree

The Dragon Tree

Book One of the Dragon Tree Chronicles

 

By AC Kavich

PROLOGUE

 

              It was dusk as the hulking dragon soared over the choppy ocean. His nostrils flaring, he sacrificed altitude and swung low. Foam tickled his belly as he dipped his long tail into the crest of a wave, spread his leather wings and pivoted toward the coastline. Cold air stung his wide black eyes but the dragon had to keep pumping.

             
The gash in his back was bleeding profusely.

             
Tall black cliffs rose from the surf and beckoned the weary dragon onward. His muscular legs dropped down and clutched the windswept rocks. He folded his wings and drew heavy breaths. He lowered his heavy skull to the rocky plateau with a thud. He flexed his long spine like a feline and coiled his thick tail.

At last, he could close his eyes and sleep.

              From behind his thick eyelids, the injured dragon could not see the parting of the gray sky overhead. He could not see two red beasts – long and thin – carve their way through the clouds while their beating wings held them silently aloft. He could not see them tuck their wings and dive toward their unsuspecting prey.

             
Slashing claws and snapping teeth ripped the dragon from his slumber. After mere seconds of screeching assault, his flesh hung in ribbons. He crawled to the edge of the cliff and tried to spread his wings to take off, but the vile red predators had torn both appendages and rendered them useless. They crawled after him, jaws wide and tongues swinging. They cackled as they leapt onto his back and tore loose chunks from his flesh. As they soared away with their trophies, the fatally wounded dragon tumbled over the precipice and cartwheeled down the steep cliff wall.

             
The dragon landed awkwardly on a rocky shelf, hidden behind a curtain of rock halfway between the plateau and the frothing water below. He looked up at the gray sky and watched his assailants fly off with pieces of his body in their talons.

With no strength left in his broken body, he drew his final breaths.

And the blood from his dying body seeped into the ground.

CHAPTER ONE

 

Fifteen-year-old Billy Rasmussen strolled out of the Hudson High School parking lot with a wry grin on his face. It was barely 3 o’clock and school was still in session, but he was done for the day... for longer than that, after his eventful stop at the principal’s office. He surveyed the empty school grounds for a few moments before he spotted a handmade sign for a track meet at neighboring Alpine. With a derisive snort, he ripped the sign off the bulletin board.

He walked to the city bus stop where he took the first eastbound bus. Just outside Alpine, he disembarked to arrange for some refreshments.

He strolled into the convenience store and tried to look casual. No easy task since he was broad-shouldered and just under six-feet-tall. Feeling the clerk’s eyes on him, he whistled strangely as he perused various items he had no intention of buying. When an old woman distracted the clerk by paying for her gas with a bag of coins, Billy
borrowed
a big plastic thermos and a bottle of bottom-shelf gin and took his leave.

Billy hoofed the last two miles to Alpine High School and used the time wisely: to transfer the gin to the thermos. He finished the maneuver just as he slipped into the crowd gathered for the cross-country meet.

Great idea, coming here, Billy. This is going to be
unreal
boring.

The sight of the female runners in their short shorts gave Billy a small charge of excitement, as did the sound of the starter pistol to begin the first race. But once the runners disappeared around the first bend, Billy was instantly bored out of his mind.

He endured the twenty-minute long race by sipping from the thermos, drinking from the thermos and chugging from the thermos. The gin tasted like sewage, but it made his insides feel nice and toasty. As the race at last reached its conclusion and the runners neared the finish line, Billy guzzled from his thermos, ran his fingers through his short blond hair and started screaming at the top of his lungs. “Alpine sucks! Alpine sucks! ALPINE SUCKS!”

He didn’t realize he was surrounded by Alpine fans until they started staring at him. It put a smile on his face. He ignored the sudden soreness of his throat and pushed through the crowd to get closer to the finish line tape.

“ALPINE SUCKS!”

Three teenage boys in blue letterman jackets closed in on him fast. He felt hands clutching his arms and dragging him away from the track.

“Where are we going? I wanna watch the race,” said Billy with a gurgle.

The leader of the boys was a few inches taller than Billy, clean cut and smiling a thousand dollar smile. He recoiled at Billy’s breath then sniffed Billy’s thermos. “This idiot is drunk at 4 o’clock in the afternoon.”

“No I am!” Billy protested. “I mean, no I’m
not
. It’s apple juice, bro.”

“Uh-huh,” said the leader’s lanky friend. “Say Alpine sucks one more time.”

“Yeah,” chimed in the stocky third member of the Alpine trio. “Say it again. I want you to.”

Billy laughed. “Get your heads out of your asses. It’s not my fault your stupid school sucks.”

Billy blew the stocky guy a kiss, then shoved the lanky guy and sent him tumbling into a cluster of parents. He bowled them over, but sprung back to his feet quickly and charged straight at Billy. The leader of the trio and the stocky guy were both wrestling with Billy and the rest of the crowd was distracted enough by the scuffle to look away from the race.

“You think you can come here and make a scene? In our house?” The leader drove his fist under Billy’s ribs and doubled him over. “Not in
our
house, dickhead.”


I’m
the dickhead?” Billy gasped. “You spilled my apple juice!”

Billy kneed the leader between the legs. He howled and stumbled away.

“All Alpine guys have crabs!” yelled Billy as all four boys got tangled and went stumbling onto the track. “And Alpine girls have herpes, just like their mothers!”

 

Eva Diaz was running faster than she had ever run before.

Her raven ponytail floated on air as she tucked her arms and pumped her legs. Sweat glued her blue and gold uniform to her slim body as her sneakers drove into the forest dirt and pushed her closer to the girl who led the pack. Eva was racing for the pride of Alpine High School, while the race leader wore the crimson and gray uniform of archrival Hudson.

After a winding run through the five-kilometer course, they were the only two girls with a shot at winning. The last leg of the race was always a sprint, and Eva had saved enough energy this time to make a final push.

I’m going to win. I’m going to win. I’m going to win.

As she followed her rival around the final corner of the course and burst out of the woods, she saw the crowd waiting for them. Eva caught a glimpse of her mother Rosa calmly clapping encouragement, her hair perfectly curled and her dress way too formal for a cross-country race. Her portly father Salvadore was at his wife’s side, paying more attention to the ground at his feet than the track itself. Her younger sisters Anita and Myra were in the crowd as well, clapping at the exact same speed as their mother. It was eerie how much the twins took after Rosa. Compensation for Eva taking after Salvadore, she supposed.

But where’s Aidan?
she thought.

And then she saw him. At least, she
thought
it was Aidan. But it couldn’t be her boyfriend who was stumbling onto the track in his blue letterman jacket, shoving a boy she didn’t recognize. And that couldn’t be his dopey friends Dudley and Gabe right behind him, hands balled into fists.

But it was them, of course.

Uh oh
.

 

Hiroki Tanaka watched through his viewfinder as Eva closed the gap on Hudson’s star runner. He resisted the urge to lower his camera and watch the end of the race with his own eyes. He kept his finger on the camera trigger, snapping shot after shot as the action unfolded. His camera drifted down to Eva’s tan legs – permanently tan thanks to her enviable Latino genes – but he caught himself after only a few shots and framed up his pictures properly.

Be professional, Hiro. Get the shot.

He wore skinny jeans, a tight black t-shirt and a tweed jacket he bought at a thrift store. His black hair was gelled so heavily it stood up like the crest of a rooster. He was pretty sure he had mastered the correct look for a photographer. At least until he could grow a beard to complete the look. At sixteen-years-old, he might have to wait awhile.

Eva was right on the heels of the Hudson runner! With fifty yards to go, this race was sure to provide a photo finish. And Hiroki was ready. The crowd was cheering so loudly, Hiroki couldn’t hear the ruckus developing at the finish line.

Eva slowed to a stop on the track well short of the finish line. Hiroki snapped a few shots of her before he finally realized something was wrong. The other runners had caught up and were passing her on both sides, but Eva just stared at the finish line.

He lowered his camera and turned to see Eva’s boyfriend Aidan and a couple of his football team friends ganging up on another teen he didn’t recognize.

Hiroki wasn’t sure what to do, so he lifted his camera and resumed taking photos.

 

A dozen parents were screaming at the fighting boys to get out of the way, but the bundle of flailing arms and legs didn’t hear them. Aidan, Gabe and Dudley had already subdued Billy. Now Aidan took up position on top of him, sitting on his chest like a bull rider. He pulled back one fist, ready to smash Billy’s head into the pavement.

“Aidan, no!”

Aidan turned to see Eva skidding to a halt and held his fist mid-air.

The Hudson runner was as startled as Eva but kept running. She took a few sideways steps to avoid the brawling boys and burst through the tape.

Eva finally remembered her legs and rushed forward. Aidan jumped to his feet and wrapped his arms around her to hold her out of the fray.

“This kid is hammered and picking fights. It’s okay.
I’m
okay,” said Aidan as he flashed his brilliant smile. He tried to steer Eva away from the fight, but she slipped out of his arms and jumped right in. “Eva, hey—”

“Get off of him, Gabe! Dudley, stop hitting him!”

Aidan’s friends finally eased off of Billy and rose to their feet. They were both rubbing their knuckles and wincing, but it was clear that the guy on the ground got the worst of the fight.

“Don’t touch him, Eva. He’s not from here,” said Gabe with a snicker.

“What’s that supposed to mean?” asked Eva with an edge in her voice. She was on her knees now beside Billy, holding down his arms as he sputtered a bit of blood. The crowd had turned their attention back to the race as all the other girls crossed the finish line ahead of Eva. No one seemed particularly concerned about the bleeding teen on the ground. “You didn’t have to hurt him.”

“He’s fine,” Aidan scoffed.

Eva ignored Aidan and brushed the hair from the Billy’s forehead. He looked up at her and smiled despite his pain.

             
“You go to Alpine?” Billy asked, his voice still store from all his hollering.

             
“Don’t talk,” said Eva. “Just lay here until the medic comes.”

             
Billy nodded, his eyes still locked on Eva’s. Then he placed his hand behind Eva’s head and pulled her down. While Aidan and his friends watched, Billy smashed his busted lips against Eva’s in a sloppy kiss.

             
“What the hell?!” Aidan pulled Eva away roughly, then stepped past her and socked Billy one last time to wipe the grin off his face. “Keep your disgusting face off my girlfriend!”

As she backed away from Billy, Eva was dumbstruck.

Billy was moaning and laughing at the same time. “Alpine SUCKS!”

 

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