A preview of the last volume of the Brood Chronicles series…
The Isle of Squawk
The winter sun filtered through the bare trees. Fresh snow lay on the ground. Already it was disturbed by the footprints of a young woman and dragon.
Connor and Jerry walked side by side to the gate. This was it. It was time to face Lancaster and his army. Her job was to dismantle the border, opening Manchester up to whomever wanted to start a rumble. However, it was necessary if over five thousand wood folk were to teleport at the same time to the Isle of Squawk.
At the border she saw two of the Amazonian Ninja still standing guard. They both nodded to her, then they disappeared into the forest. Connor stepped forward, her hands held out so she could feel the invisible wall.
“It’s here,” Jerry said.
Connor looked up. His right hand was pressed flat against nothing. He reached for her wrist and guided her to the wall. She felt the cold, smooth surface. It was vibrating.
“All right,” she said, and reached back. She plunged her fist into the border with the full intent of smashing it in one blow. Her knuckles connected and bounced off. Pain radiated through her hand, down her wrist, and throughout her forearm. Her eyes clenched shut and she swore.
“You weren’t focusing hard enough, were you?” Jerry said, in his usual doleful voice.
Connor released another string of vulgarities. She shook off the pain and tried to focus again. She rammed her fist into the wall and it bounced off again. It never even cracked. A scream of anger erupted from her.
“When you’re done,” Jerry said, “you wanna tell me what’s wrong?”
“Is it not obvious?” she snapped. “There’s every chance Lancaster set up some sort of spying spell, or just a spy, to keep an eye on this area. Soon as I break that wall, they’re gonna alert Lancaster and he’s gonna send a bunch of people in here to try to sabotage us.”
“How do you know that?” Jerry said.
“Because it’s what I’d do,” Connor said.
Jerry sat back on his haunches and thought for a minute. “You have a point. But can I add this?”
He stroked his beard. “Lancaster probably thinks the same as you. But he looks at you as an inferior, so if he thinks you would do A, he’ll want to do anything but A, because it’s something he attributes to you.”
Connor considered his point. “That makes sense,” she said. “But what if he decides to be petty, anyway?”
Jerry gave her a reproachful look. “There’s no one out there, Connor. And if someone did suddenly show up, I can eat them. And if I don’t eat them, Brenda’s kids will. Or they’ll barbecue them, anyway.”
Connor could easily picture Jerry’s sister’s hatchlings breathing fire on the possible invading hordes. She felt a little better about breaking the wall. She focused her will and started to reach back.
“Do you have to break it with so much force?” Jerry asked her.
She looked up at him. “Yes?”
Jerry shook his head. “You don’t always have to throw all of yourself into something. Save some energy for the real battles. You know, like the one we’re about to face.”
Connor looked back at her left hand, still pressed flat against the wall. She put her right hand up as well and gave a hard push, willing the wall to break. She felt it bend a little before there was a great shattering sound. She closed her eyes and braced herself for shards of something to fall on them. Nothing happened. She opened her eyes and saw the hibernating forest. There was no evidence that a wall of any sort had ever existed.
“Well done,” Jerry said. He turned to face west and pressed himself to the ground. “Let’s go.”
Connor pulled on her flight goggles and climbed into the seat of Jerry’s harness. He rose up and stretched his wings. He gave another deafening roar as his wings began to beat the air around them. Leaves and twigs and a very frightened squirrel were disturbed by the great wind Jerry’s wings created. Soon he and Connor were rising above the ground and he began flying westward.
Connor trusted Jerry’s navigation instincts, so very little was said between them. Several other dragons were flying in the same direction. Connor never expected flight traffic from dragons. Most were flying solo. The few who bore riders nodded to her as they passed each other. At one point she could have sworn she saw a dragon carrying both a terrified-looking wizard and a rather excited man in a flowered shirt. The man grinned and waved gleefully while the wizard yelled at him to keep his hands on the dragon. Connor waved back. Jerry and the dragon exchanged a few words in their draconian tongue and the other dragon headed northwest.
About an hour into their flight Jerry began lowering altitude to avoid the clouds that blanketed the sky. Connor heard thunder and started to panic until she remembered the charms Kenton had added to her armour. Soon Jerry was dropping altitude again. Below them she saw the tiny island they were headed for.
“Next stop, Isle of Squawk,” Jerry called to her over the wind. “Hold on!”
It was the smoothest landing he had performed yet. Connor barely felt the bump when his feet touched the ground.
“We’re in the very middle of the island,” he told her. “Looks about the same as the last time I was here.”
Connor looked around. The island was mostly grassy plains. To the north she saw a long hill that stretched across perhaps the entire island. It sloped down to the field where she and Jerry were, and all the way to smaller hills some distance away. The salty ocean breeze blew through her hair. She shivered a little.
“We have no cover,” Jerry said. “The only trees are near the beach.”
“Kinda reminds me of Simethicone Valley,” Connor said. “Only I can hear seabirds and waves crashing.”
Jerry nodded. “Kinda peaceful, isn’t it?”
“And we’re about to fuck all that up with a war,” she added softly.
Jerry sighed and turned to the north. Connor instinctively pressed herself to his back as he took off again. He took them over the hill and down to a small copse. There he landed and lowered himself so she could dismount.
“I guess this is it,” she said, and she touched one of the trees. “I want to apologise for what’s about to happen,” she told it. “I wish it didn’t have to happen.”
“What? Eh? Who are you? What’s going on?” the tree responded.
Connor tried to quickly explain who she was and that a rather nasty battle was about to happen. The tree kept interrupting her. Annoyed, she moved away and asked Jerry to give it a go.
“I’ll be back in a minute,” she said, and closed her eyes. She searched the cosmos for Kenton’s energy and found it immediately. She locked on to it and willed herself to his side.
The wind stopped and she felt Jeremy’s hand touch her shoulder. “Are you ready?” he asked.
She shook her head. “Never,” she replied, shrugging off her jacket. “But I can take you there.”
The remaining members of the English Legione each put a hand on Connor’s hands or arms. Lucas had to reach over Kenton to put his hand on her head. She closed her eyes, found Jerry’s energy, and willed them all to his side.
The wind was back. The others released her and she opened her eyes. Jerry was still trying to talk to the trees about what was happening. She heard him pause and groan.
“Okay, you know what? Don’t worry about it,” he said. “Go back to sleep. You probably won’t even see the battle.”
“You tried to warn the trees?” Layton said.
Connor shrugged. “Figured they might want to know why people were out here screaming.”
There were murmurs of agreement, then they all teleported away. A moment later they were back with a handful of warriors each. They looked around for a second, then they too teleported back. The process repeated until all five thousand warriors had been brought to the island.
“Form up!” Jeremy barked, and every single person fell into their battalion formation. Meanwhile, Jerry was at the top of the hill signaling to Brenda. Connor joined him and looked to the south. She felt Kenton come to stand by her side.
“Can you see them?” he asked.
“No,” she said, squinting. “It’s nearly one now.”
“It’s one on the dot,” Jeremy said as he too came to stand with them.
Brenda landed and gave Jerry a sisterly nuzzle. Jeremy produced a pair of binoculars so he could scan the horizon. For a minute or so he said nothing and Connor tried to calm her pounding heart.
Maybe they’ll back out at the last second, she hoped.
“Ah, there they are,” Jeremy said softly. “They used a portal. Have a look.”
Connor accepted the proffered binoculars. When she looked through them she was confused at first. It looked as if part of the forest surrounding Rickmansworth had been teleported to the island.
“They opened a portal?” Kenton snorted. “They must be desperate for proper sorcerers.”
“I know, right?” Jeremy chuckled. “That’s a great way to open your base up to invading forces. That’s what I’d do, anyway: try to invade while they’ve got a doorway open, especially one that big. So of course Lancaster won’t try it.”
Connor lowered the binoculars and shook her head. “I am so not cut out for leadership,” she said.
“Well, you’ll learn,” Jeremy assured her.
She shook her head and glanced through the binoculars again. She searched for Lancaster and was shocked to find him riding astride a bastigre. The rumours were true, then; some of them had been persuaded to join him. She lowered the binoculars and sighed.
“I guess it’s now or never,” she said, handing them back to Jeremy. “Let’s do this.”
Jeremy put away the binoculars and swiveled around to shout, “Company, MARCH!”
Behind them Connor heard the sound of five thousand warriors stomping up the hill. She drew her sword and advanced as well, with Kenton and Jerry on either side. They stopped at the bottom and Jeremy ordered the troops to halt as well.
“Should I even try to talk him out of this?” Connor muttered to no one in particular.
“He won’t listen,” Kenton said. “And to be honest, I want vengeance for my siblings.”
“As you wish,” Connor said, and glanced to Jeremy. Father and child exchanged a knowing look, and he cried out to the troops.
And Connor raised her weapon to follow her father’s order.