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The Saint of Dragons
 

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The Saint of Dragons


  The Saint of Dragons

  Jason Hightman

  For my mother and father

  Contents

  Introduction

  Chapter One: Simon St. George

  Chapter Two: The Original Dragonhunter

  Chapter Three: The School in the Lighthouse

  Chapter Four: St. George, the Elder

  Chapter Five: A Brief History of Dragons

  Chapter Six: The Family Business

  Chapter Seven: A Manhattan Dragon

  Chapter Eight: The Woman Who Fell in Love with a Dragon

  Chapter Nine: The Battle with the White Dragon

  Chapter Ten: Something to Chill Your Bones

  Chapter Eleven: A Hidden Evil

  Chapter Twelve: A Ship Made for One

  Chapter Thirteen: The Mystery of the Medallion

  Chapter Fourteen: Sunny with a Chance of Hurricanes

  Chapter Fifteen: A Serpent’s House

  Chapter Sixteen: Things That Go Splash in the Dark

  Chapter Seventeen: We Need a Weapon

  Chapter Eighteen: The Dragon of Paris

  Chapter Nineteen: Icy Ventures

  Chapter Twenty: Secrets

  Chapter Twenty-One: A Crash Course in Predators

  Chapter Twenty-Two: Graveyard of Dragons

  Chapter Twenty-Three: The Russian Dragon

  Chapter Twenty-Four: The Fury of Fire

  Chapter Twenty-Five: Elements of Destruction

  Chapter Twenty-Six: Two Against the World

  Chapter Twenty-Seven: The Lair of the Peking Beast

  Chapter Twenty-Eight: The Black Dragon

  Chapter Twenty-Nine: A Chinese Dragon’s Sailing Ship

  Chapter Thirty: Separate Journeys

  Chapter Thirty-One: Friendship with a Dragon

  Chapter Thirty-Two: Unwelcome Guests

  Chapter Thirty-Three: Heroes in Need of Heroes

  Chapter Thirty-Four: The Honor of Dragons

  Chapter Thirty-Five: The Queen of Serpents

  Epilogue: The World Needs Its Knights

  Acknowledgments

  About the Author

  Credits

  Copyright

  About the Publisher

  INTRODUCTION

  You’ve been taught to believe they are dead. Figments of an ancient imagination. But one lonely schoolboy at the Lighthouse School for Boys, who has never known his family, and who has never known adventure, is about to have a rude awakening.

  Dragons are real.

  And they have…evolved.

  They exist in the world today and are every bit as evil as they ever were. It is only their appearance that has changed. Their eight-foot bodies now resemble men much more than before. With their reptilian faces hidden in a cloak and hood, you wouldn’t look twice at one crossing the street hunched over, perhaps pretending to be a homeless man pushing a grocery cart. But make no mistake: these Dragonmen are highly dangerous.

  They still have scales for skin, slithery tongues, lizard tails, sharpened faces—and they are secretly responsible for most of the worst fires you hear about, using their wicked magic for no reason, burning buildings just for sport.

  They live hidden away, in luxurious apartments in New York, London, or Paris, underground in Beijing, or beneath the sands of Egypt, in boats anchored in Venice or Tokyo, or in homes built inside water caves in Africa or South America. They back organized crime, military dictatorships, and cruel multinational companies, or they act as lone killers, secluded and hermitlike in mountains or deserts. Their exact number is not known. No two of them are alike. But they are powerful. And it will take all the strength the human world can muster to end their reign.

  It is a time of opportunity for them. All the magicians are dead, and people no longer believe in magic. Spirits are low. To make matters worse, the Dragons have the ability to cloud people’s minds so that they don’t see them in their true form.

  You might see a little old lady or an expensively dressed businessman, but the person standing next to you could be, in reality, a monstrous beast. At certain times, people can see through this magic. For a moment you might glimpse the flash of Serpent eyes behind the steam of a coffee cup in a local café—but it’s like a mirage. The next moment, it’s gone. Their trickery is rampant.

  They sometimes move among us in ordinary ways. It is impossible for the average person to know for certain where they are. But there are signs, both large and small.

  The modern Dragon is that person at school or in the workplace who hides his true self, who secretly speaks badly of others, who can’t be trusted, who brings misery to those around them, who delights in the failure of friends. The modern Dragon is not content to be rich, but wants others to be poor. Beneath this person’s outward appearance, there is very likely Serpent skin. And a vast desire to do harm.

  Few people realize these dark forces surround us.

  But the numbers of those who know the truth are about to grow.

  Chapter One

  SIMON ST. GEORGE

  IT WAS AUTUMN. OCTOBER. It was the edge of a wicked season, and Christmas was a far-off thought. The amber-crimson colors of fall, and its pumpkin-spice smells, surrounded Simon St. George like a vast, bewitching fire. There had never been an October that felt so perfectly suited to Halloween.

  There was a chill in the air that was worse than normal for this time of year, and a fog hung around the Bay, and the houses in the Bay, with a cruel persistence. The trees seemed to hunch over in sadness and wish for their leaves back to keep them warm. All the pumpkins in Ebony Hollow’s fields seemed rotten, and to ache from their own rottenness. The factory smoke from over the hill swept down into town, and the gray daylight seemed to give way after only a few hours to a deep, intense nightfall. No one wanted to be out much. And no one could sleep.

  Simon St. George had only the faintest sense of all this. The idea that something wasn’t quite right just skittered over his mind between thoughts of tomorrow’s Halloween masquerade and a girl in town whose name he did not know.

  For him, Halloween was more than just fun and games. The masquerade was something everyone had to go to at his school, a tradition, and everyone had to be in costume. Simon wasn’t sure why he needed a costume; he seemed to disappear in a crowd easily enough without one.

  No matter what he did, no one seemed to notice him or take him very seriously. He was an average kid, a bit smallish, which made him easy to ignore. He had an upturned pug-nose, and blond, wiry, slept-in hair that made him look even younger. But he often kept his head down, so you never got a really good look at him; to the other boys, if they thought of him at all, he was something of a mystery.

  Simon went to an elite academy that was called the Lighthouse School for Boys, because it was just for boys and it was made from a giant old lighthouse. It was a boarding school, where children slept and ate and lived, at least for most of the year. It was perfect if your parents wanted you to be strong and independent, or if they didn’t have time for you. Simon St. George had parents who didn’t have time for him. They paid for his school, but he didn’t know who they were, hadn’t seen them since he was two years old, and he didn’t like to talk about it, if it was all the same to you.

  At this moment, it was hard to see the Lighthouse School. There was just its shining light, laboring to cut through the mist. On most days the Lighthouse School could be seen from almost anywhere in town, because it was on a high promontory cliff and it was huge. In this same way, the school had dominated Simon’s life. It was the only home he had ever known.

  He stood at the corner of the misty street and stared at the little novelty shop on the opposite corner. He could just make out the shop window filled with stra
nge, hand-painted masks, and the daughter of the shop owner at the counter. Simon had hardly ever said a word to her, but she kept his secret, that he liked to collect toys and marbles, because her shop was where he bought them. He was thirteen. She was maybe two years older.

  Simon watched the girl adjust the masks hanging in the window. He gathered up his nerve and stepped off to cross the street.

  As he did, the foghorn bellowed at the edge of the bay with a low moan. And something else happened.

  Simon turned to look for traffic, and saw at the next corner, crossing the street going the other way, a very tall figure, hunched over as if from a deformity or sickness. He wore a long trench coat with the collar pulled up tight around his neck and an old hat pulled down close, so none of his face could be seen. It was just a quick moment, but as Simon looked, the wind picked up and blew the man’s coat open. Although the man quickly tightened it around him, Simon could swear he saw a clawlike foot and a thick tail slapping the ground, a tail like the largest snake on earth.

  It was hard for Simon to get a good look through the fog. The man was no more than a shadowy profile. In the next second, the figure had moved on, around a corner, and couldn’t be seen, and the idea that some sort of creature was roaming the streets of Ebony Hollow was too ridiculous to investigate.

  So Simon caught his breath and went inside the novelty shop, feeling around in his pocket for money and feeling around in his head for something to say to the girl behind the counter. He stood at the doorway and managed to catch her gaze for about a second, and that was it.

  His eyes scanned a glass case that held a series of tiny knight figures made of metal, a kind Simon collected. He didn’t know why he liked them, but he did. No one else his age ever wanted these.

  He bought a little black knight and a Halloween mask that matched it, and he was just starting to talk to the girl about the masquerade when he was interrupted.

  With a bang the shop door opened, and a group of boys from his school herded in, noisily, arrogantly pushing Simon aside as they argued over costumes. The girl almost instantly forgot about him, and after trying to be heard over their voices, Simon left the boys and the shop behind. Today just wasn’t his day.

  It was a relief to get out. His face was burning red from embarrassment at having the knight toy in his hand with the other kids around him. He didn’t dare glance at the girl, for fear she was looking at him like he was an overgrown little boy.

  The fog had gotten worse since he’d gone into the shop. Cars crawled along like wounded soldiers on a battlefield. The streetlamps were nearly useless, their pale light illuminating nothing except more fog.

  Going home to the Lighthouse alone did not seem like such a wonderful idea in this mess, Simon was thinking. The morning had taken a turn for the stranger. Simon saw a German shepherd bounding up over trash cans and working its way to the roof of a store. All over town dogs had retreated up to the rooftops, howling. He could see their forms dimly in the fog. Something had scared them beyond belief.

  Then something shuddered in the air, the sound of flapping wings. A torrent of white shapes flashed by, white bats, descending to land at the town clock.

  Simon eased back into the space between two buildings. Watching them. The bats seemed to stare down at him.

  Before anything else could happen, the other boys clanged out of the novelty shop.

  “It’s gotten cold out here,” one of them said. Simon fell in behind them, hiking his jacket collar up against the weirdly icy breeze. He thought he heard the bats shuffling in the distance. He didn’t have the nerve to look back.

  He was about to ask the others if they’d seen the bats, but it was a rare thing for him to be part of a group, and the boys shot him unfriendly glances before he could even speak. Feeling unwelcome, he trailed back, letting them go on without him.

  They were stuck-up kids, the richest of the rich, and they tended to torture Simon with constant questions about the St. George family. Simon never had any answers.

  At the Lighthouse School, kids knew every branch of their entire family tree, going back to their great-grandfathers and great-great-grandfathers, and before that. These were boys from families with histories to be proud of, and futures all mapped out for them. If your dad was a doctor, you’d be a doctor; if he was a banker, that was your lot. There was a sureness to this that made the boys feel strong and at ease. There were not many of them who questioned what was laid out for them.

  Simon had no past and no certain future. There was a blankness all around him. At his age, you’re supposed to have some idea of what you want to do in life. Supposedly.

  He finally glanced back at the strange white bats, but the town clock was nearly buried in the pearly air.

  He followed the boys down a familiar sloping street, a street that sank down a hill to an old streetcar stop. The boys stomped through the gloomy day, slapping the poles, kicking down trash cans, and doing anything they could to keep from thinking about how creepy the weather had become.

  Simon stood apart from them, waiting in the cold for the streetcar. Even though the boys knew it was coming, when they heard it deep in the fog, approaching with a clang and a rattle, everyone jumped. It was that kind of day.

  Simon started to join them at the trolley stop, but something stopped him.

  The boys. They were staring, the looks on their faces changing from curiosity to a kind of horror. For an instant, Simon thought it might be a stupid trick, but then he saw they were looking at his feet. Looking down, Simon saw beetles flooding the street in the pale light, flowing down the hill, swarming around them!

  Behind him the streetcar tore out of the fog with a clang.

  The first boy stepped back in surprise. All over the metal car, more beetles were swarming. Hundreds and hundreds of tiny white beetles. There were so many they were tumbling off the roof and scattering about their shoes. The boys were so stunned all they could do was stare.

  “Get inside!” someone shouted. They rushed aboard, pushing through the rain of beetles, and the door closed behind them.

  They were safe. The car was warm, very warm. It was like stepping into a greenhouse on a June day. The lights inside flickered strangely. The boys noticed that lights in the nearby buildings were flickering on and off as well.

  Simon was the last to board the streetcar. As he got on, he could swear he heard the roar of some tremendous animal far off in the gloom.

  It was the strangest thing.

  It sounded familiar.

  Chapter Two

  THE ORIGINAL DRAGONHUNTER

  DAYS BEFORE THIS, IN an old suburban town near Chicago, Illinois, far from the Lighthouse School for Boys, five men rode their horses down a street frosted with autumn leaves. The sight would have been a strange one had anyone bothered to look out their window. No one did. It was a quiet part of town. Quiet folks lived there, mostly old people, and they minded their own business. It was as if a spell kept them half asleep most of the time.

  But if anyone had bothered to look out their window, they would have seen that it wasn’t just the arrival of horses that was strange. The riders were dressed in dull, iron-colored armor with ornate writing carved into the metal, a runic writing so old and so secret no one would have recognized it.

  The man in the middle was tall and strong, though not as stocky as the others. He had the beginnings of a beard that would have been gray if he’d let it go further. His hair was black and gray, and long and greasy, and he kept it swept back, out of his way. His face was handsomely chiseled, if you could see it under the dirt and the occasional scars. He had not washed for days. He had been on the road a long time.

  “This is it,” he said to the other men. “The time is now.” His voice was deep and painted with an English accent.

  He looked to a taller Englishman, who nodded. The tall one gave the others a grave smile and said, “Aldric is right. Let’s not give the wretch time to think.”

  The men put on their h
elmets. They were now covered head to toe in armor.

  Each helmet was an angular box with tiny slits for the eyes, in the Crusader style. They were marked with a small symbol looking like a cross mixed with the fleur-de-lis; every warrior’s symbol was a different color.

  The horses were in an awful state of agitation. They fidgeted backward and side to side, preparing themselves for the fight ahead.

  Ahead of them lay a stone wall and a wrought-iron gate, and a stone house taller than the others nearby. The place looked haunted. It had two round turrets with long windows, though the curtains were always pulled shut. Rarely did sunlight enter this home.

  The trees in the yard were dead and rotting. Beetles swarmed around their exposed roots. The twisted branches were home to the skeletal remains of many birds that had died in them as soon as they landed. The house itself smelled rancid, and whoever did the gardening, such as it was, constantly replanted perennials to cover the stink, but these flowers always died.

  The riders moved forward, and the lead man pulled at his horse so that it reared up with its huge front legs and smashed open the front gate. There was no point in being silent. A surprise attack was virtually impossible. The thing at the heart of the house would have known they were coming no matter what. Its teeth would have started to ache the moment the men came within a hundred yards. It could sense them closing in.

  The horses clomped across the dead yellow grass. It was getting hot now. The men were sweating in their armor. They each carried a long metal lance, which they now raised into position.

  The lead horseman pushed open the front door with his lance and urged his horse forward. The others followed close behind.

 
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