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Authors: Lee French

Backyard Dragons

BOOK: Backyard Dragons
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Backyard Dragons

Spirit Knights #2

by Lee French

Acknowledgments

This book would not be what it is without Tom’s help. He took a pile of crap and punched it in the face, just like Claire would. I also must thank Josh, Rex, David, and Bob for their continued efforts at morale and attitude improvement. Tricia has proven an invaluable ally against the forces of madness.

The usual suspects have also all been their usual incredible selves: Connie, Gwen, Anastasia, Mom, Dad, my sprouts, and Jeff.

 

Table of Contents

Chapter 1
Chapter 2
Chapter 3
Chapter 4
Chapter 5
Chapter 6
Chapter 7
Chapter 8
Chapter 9
Chapter 10
Chapter 11
Chapter 12
Chapter 13
Chapter 14
Chapter 15
Chapter 16
Chapter 17
Chapter 18
Chapter 19
Chapter 20
Chapter 21
Chapter 22
Chapter 23
Chapter 24
Chapter 25
Chapter 26
Chapter 27
Chapter 28
Chapter 29
Chapter 30
Chapter 31
Chapter 32
Chapter 33
Chapter 34
Chapter 35
Chapter 36
Chapter 37
Chapter 38
Chapter 39
Chapter 40

Chapter 1

Claire

 

Claire’s well-worn combat boots carried her over fall leaves blanketing the damp ground of rural Vancouver, Washington, as she jogged in Justin’s wake. She liked this part of her training. Concentrating on his movements through the woods to avoid tripping over gnarled roots and mossy deadfall kept her thoughts focused on her feet and nothing else.

She had a lot on her mind. Between having dealt with her father’s ghost, worrying about other Spirit Knights who’d rejected her for her gender, and starting over at yet another high school, she’d spent half of the past month wishing she could crawl into a hole. But for the other half, she couldn’t help feeling happy about her new family. Her adoptive parents, Justin and Marie, treated her like a younger sister, and their two little girls, Missy and Lisa, adored her.

Justin threw a balled-up sock over his shoulder for the sixth time during this jog. This one bumped Claire in the face. No longer really surprised by the random interruptions, she tried and failed to catch it without slowing. With a sigh, she stopped and backed up to scoop it off the ground. Justin’s tall, muscular form kept barreling through the trees, though, leaving her behind.

“Keep up, Claire,” Justin called to her.

She harrumphed and let him go, leaning against a tree to catch her breath. “I’ll catch up in a minute!” She heard his retreating footfalls slow and guessed he’d decided to come back for her and deliver a motivational speech. The ability to run long distances, so he’d pointed out a million times already, could save her life. With that to look forward to, she took deep breaths and hoped to recover enough to get moving before he could open his mouth.

As she caught a flash of his emerald green cloak, something hit her in the lower back with an ear-splitting crack. Her vision flared white. Every nerve in her body screamed in shock. Up suddenly felt like down, then sideways, then inside out. The heart-shaped locket under her shirt burned, searing her flesh.

“Claire? Wake up, Claire.”

She blinked until her sight resolved into a dark figure leaning over her, the overcast sky and skeletal trees framing him. “What happened?” The longer she stared, the more detail the silhouette gained, until she recognized Justin’s worried face.

“You fell over.” He pressed a bare hand to her forehead, his sword-fighting callouses scraping her skin. “Maybe we went a little too hard today.”

She accepted his help sitting up, having no idea how all that happened without her now feeling even a tiny ache. “I don’t know. I was just standing there, and I thought a bolt of lightning hit me.”

“Really?” Justin raised an eyebrow and glanced around the trees. “Because that’s exactly how I felt when I ran across Tariel. But I don’t see a horse, motorcycle, or car anywhere around here, so I don’t know what your sprite might be.”

Claire’s stomach fluttered at the thought of finally getting her soul-bonded companion. Justin’s horse gave him so much more than transportation—she served as his best, most capable, smartest friend. Though Claire had been eagerly awaiting the arrival of her own sprite over the past few weeks, doubt had lately crept in.

Peering all around, she spotted a sliver of something shiny buried in the leaves and pointed to it. “What’s that?”

Justin left her side. He crouched next to the silver lump and brushed away leaves. After a long pause, he said, “It’s a dragon.”

“There are dragons?” Enchanted by the idea, Claire crawled eagerly to him. Instead of a fearsome beast of legend, she found a tiny, squirrel-sized creature lying unconscious on the ground. Sleek and smooth, he had no scales. Aside from a crest of horns flaring out from his head, he seemed harmless. Those tiny teeth and claws wouldn’t cause much damage.

“Sure,” Justin said, “but I thought they were bigger.” He stared for a few moments, then shrugged. “He’s your partner, so it’s up to you to take care of him.”

“That means he won’t hurt me, right? I mean, if I startle him, he’s not going to bite my finger off. Right?”

Justin chuckled. “Yeah. He won’t hurt you. I doubt such a tiny creature could actually do much anyway.”

Mad joy surged through Claire. No one could accuse her of being a fake Spirit Knight anymore. No matter what form her sprite had taken, she had one. She scooped him up with both hands and brushed his limp body against her cheek. “He’s soft and warm.”

“Let’s get him home.” Justin stood and offered her a hand up.

Claire rolled the dragon into the palm of one hand and wrapped her fingers around him. “What do I even do to take care of him?”

“He’ll tell you when he wakes up.” Justin helped Claire to her feet and walked with her. “Until then, do whatever seems right.”

“Do you think Rondy might know what to do?”

“Maybe.” Justin stopped her before they’d gone more than a few steps. “It’s a little concerning he’s not awake yet. With the bond between you already forged, he should heal as fast as you do.”

Claire pulled out her locket and pressed it against the dragon’s small body. Though she hated having the pendant in plain view, she thought it might help to put her sprite together with the vessel holding the power that kept her alive. As a toddler, she’d been attacked by a corrupted spirit. Her father had forged the locket in the magical domain of the Spirit Knights to save her. In her mind, it made sense the dragon might have bonded more to the locket than to her.

When nothing happened, Justin tugged on her arm. “How about we take him home and make sure he’s clean? If he hasn’t woken up by then, we’ll take him to the Palace and find Rondy.”

“Sounds good to me.” Claire kept pace with Justin, her head spinning. She couldn’t wait to show Djembe she finally had a sprite. Because only men had ever been Spirit Knights, he’d accused her of witchcraft and almost convinced a bunch of other Knights to execute her. She still didn’t understand why he’d said and done those things. Maybe once he saw the sprite, he’d finally accept her and explain.

They stepped out of the woods and into the clearing Justin used for chopping wood and training. A wide circle of bare dirt surrounded an old stump with a shelter for firewood to one side and two tidy gravel paths. One led to the right, where a large farmhouse perched at the end of a driveway. They hurried down the left path, past an already-harvested vegetable garden, to the front door of a green cottage with dingy white trim. A few defiant orange flowers still bloomed among the brown, shriveled plants despite the previous night’s frost.

Justin held the screen door open for Claire. They left their muddy boots behind in the entry and moved into the warmth of the small house. Drew sat at the kitchen table, doing his homework. He’d been Claire’s friend almost the entire six years she’d spent in foster care and now lived with Marie’s parents in the farmhouse on the other side of the property. Despite Grandma and Grandpa fostering him, they had busy lives, and he spent most of his time here in the cottage.

Marie—tall, blonde, and perfect—stood at the stove making dinner. Missy and Lisa played with dolls and stuffed animals on the other side of the aging leather couch separating the tiny kitchen from the living room.

Before anyone could comment about the mud on Claire’s purple tights, green skirt, and faded blue sweater, she hurried to the bathroom. She ran the water in the sink until it turned warm, then swished the dragon through the stream to clean smears of mud off his skin.

The dragon stirred with a tiny, birdlike trill. Claire turned off the water and gently wrapped him in a washcloth. He blinked several times and finally locked his gaze onto her with two smooth silver eyes that matched his skin.

“Where?” he asked. His high, chirpy voice reminded Claire of cartoon animals summoned by singing princesses.

“You’re safe at the Brady farm.”

He rubbed his tiny cheek against her thumb. “Who?”

“I’m Claire. A Spirit Knight. You’re kind of accidentally my sprite. What’s your name?”

“Enion.”

“Onion?”

“No.” He smiled, showing sharp teeth too tiny to be fearsome. “Ehn-yun.”

“Nice to meet you, Enion. Are you hurt?”

“No. Tired. Fly too long.”

Though she hadn’t lived with Justin’s family for long, this conversation reminded Claire of talking to Missy, the three-year-old. “Why were you flying for so long?”

“Escaped.” Enion wriggled out of the washcloth and climbed onto her hand, where he stretched his wings. “Calling broke magic.”

“Escaped? Wait. We need Justin’s help.” She hurried out of the bathroom.

Chapter 2

Justin

 

With Claire gone, Justin tried to gauge his wife’s mood. She worked at the kitchen counter, giving him a good view of her back. With her hair up in a folded ponytail, he let his eyes rove over the line of her neck and decided she didn’t seem tense or irritated. Leaving her to her thoughts seemed best. “How’s the homework coming, Drew?” he asked the boy sitting at the kitchen table.

The red-headed, freckle-faced seventeen-year-old pushed his black-framed glasses up his nose and scribbled in his notebook. “Almost done.” Textbooks for physics, AP English, AP History, and French sat stacked beside him. His calculus textbook lay open to a page of exercises.

“Glad to hear it.” Having scraped through high school by the skin of his teeth six years ago, Justin had no help or advice to offer for any of those subjects. He thumped the skinny boy on the back, taking care not to hurt him, and crossed the room to set the table for dinner.

“Anne finally committed for Thanksgiving,” Marie said. “Can you go to the store and get a bottle of that Merlot she likes? While you’re there, we also need milk and butter.”

Whatever happened with Claire’s new dragon, Justin felt confident it would need his attention tonight. “I’ll go tomorrow while the kids are at school.”

“Don’t forget you’re watching Missy tomorrow because my job is starting up again.”

“Right. I remember.” Justin breathed a sigh of relief. With Missy outgrowing something almost every other week and Lisa eating like a bottomless pit lately, their budget had gotten tight. Marie’s Christmas job would tide them over until he could get back to handling odd jobs in the spring. He could even afford to get Tariel her favorite chocolate bar, a treat she demanded as payment every time he rode her to the store.

Claire raced into the room, the dragon cradled in her hands. “He woke up! He says he escaped something, so he needs help.”

Justin nodded, unsurprised. He gave the tiny dragon a critical once-over and saw the weary droop of its head and shoulders. For now, questions needed to be kept to a minimum. “Where did you escape from?” Though he’d never understand the dragon speaking like Claire could, he knew all sprites had enough intelligence to be questioned directly.

Claire listened to the dragon chirping and squawking, the sounds reminding Justin of a bird. “Enion says he’s part of a family of dragons, and there’s a witch who’s done a magic thing to bind them. He got called to be my sprite, which broke the binding, and wound up here. He’s not sure where here is compared to there, just that his home and family are south.”

“Here’s hoping it’s in Portland and not farther away.” Justin scratched his cheek, considering his options. “Is your family in danger of being harmed within the next day or two?”

The dragon frowned and nodded slowly.

“Okay.” Justin avoided glancing at his wife, knowing she wouldn’t like what he had to say next. “We’ll have to find this witch and convince her to let the dragons go, one way or another.” He raised a finger when Claire nodded eagerly. “But we’re not doing that until you’re armed. I’m not taking you into another potentially dangerous situation without a weapon. Not having a sword nearly got you killed. Let’s not do that again.”

BOOK: Backyard Dragons
11.86Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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