Here’s a sneak peak of Chapter 1 of A Cat’s Guide to Questing for Treasure, the sequel to A Cat’s Guide to Saving the Kingdom and the fourth book in the Dragoncat series.
You can pre-order the book from Amazon by clicking on the link at the bottom of this page.
Chapter 1: The Great Barrier
It was to be our final day of “peace” when I sat nestled between the two rows of Salanraja’s spikes, silken clouds streaming by below us. She had two rows of these spikes, forming a corridor that looked a little like an inverted rib cage of an elephant tusks protruding out of the red scales on her back. The air smelled of the ozone deposited by the thick raincloud that we chased towards the horizon. The sun shone through the droplets it left behind, casting a rich double rainbow.
Especially on the longer flights, I couldn’t get over the nausea and the excruciating stiffness in my legs. Not to mention the burning hunger. There wasn’t any food up on my dragon’s back, despite my demands that my dragon rider kin should install a snack bowl with food fit for a mighty Bengal cat. A few crunchy bites might have helped settle my stomach somewhat.
This time, we weren’t alone. In fact, we were on a “field trip”. A special event for the humans, it seemed. In other words, a pointless moment in their lives that meant nothing to cats like me.
The Great Driars Yila, Lonamm, Brigel – the three elder dragon riders who ran Dragonsbond Academy – led the way. From here, I could hear the swishing of their dragons’ wings, ever so exaggerated, as if they wanted to communicate to the other dragons exactly who was in charge. Our old mentor, Driar Aleam, flew on his massive white dragon, Olan, directly behind them.
A good hundred students on their dragons followed in their wake. It was only the first-year students, mind. The second years, including High Prefect Lars, Prefect Asinda, and Prefect Calin were back at the academy studying for their pre-graduation exams.
We’d been flying for a good two hours from Dragonsbond Academy, without any dangers. Since I’d defeated Astravar a few months ago, life had been quiet. The remaining six warlocks had signed a treaty at Cimlean Palace, promising that they’d keep their magical creatures at home in the Darklands and not cause any more trouble. Just to be sure, King Garmin had summoned his White Mages on their unicorns to create a massive magical barrier between Illumine Kingdom and the Wastelands.
Only the warlocks could pass through, as the treaty still allowed them to gather magical crystals from the Versta Caverns in the Crystal Mountains, which they needed for their work. But King Garmin’s Dragon Corps always accompanied the warlocks on such journeys, and ensured they never gathered more than they needed.
“There it is,” Salanraja said, rudely interrupting me from my daydream. “Isn’t it beautiful, Bengie?”
I growled back at her. “I thought we agreed you were to start calling me Ben…”
“I’m sorry… Old habits die hard.”
“Well, Salamander, you’re going to have to break them.”
Salanraja whipped her head back to glare at me. “How many times have I told you I hate being compared to a tiny lizard.”
“Salamanders aren’t lizards… Lizards don’t swim in ponds.” In all honesty, I’d never seen a lizard, but the two Savannah cats back home had told me plenty about them.
“I don’t care what they are. Stop calling me one.”
“No,” I said. “Not until you learn your lesson.”
“Or maybe I’ll eat you first,” Salanraja said. “Come to think of it, I’ve never tried cat before…”
“You do that, and our bond will be broken, and it will be ever so terrible for you, remember.”
“I’m not sure what can be more terrible than your incessant whining. Anyway, your negativity is spoiling the view…”
She turned her head back towards the barrier. I looked up to get a glimpse at what Salanraja seemed so impressed by. It was nothing special. Just the sky seemed a bit darker above the horizon, and streaks of white light occasionally flickered across it. It emitted a low and annoying humming sound, that reminded me of those loud and noisy electrical fans that my master and mistress liked to use during hot summers back in South Wales.
This was the Great Barrier, and it was exactly what we were flying to see today. “To remind you,” Driar Yila had said in our last assembly, “what exactly you are all training for. Times of peace don’t last forever, you know, and this is our first line of defence if the warlocks ever decide to break the treaty. Because every adult in Illumine Kingdom knows that one day they will.”
As often happens with endeavours that humans like to get all excited about, I failed to see the point. Still Salanraja seemed to be looking forward to it. She’d told me that this work of magic was the greatest thing the King’s White Mages had ever created, and we should be proud of what those funny men in their white cloaks on their unicorns had magicked up.
It wasn’t that I didn’t trust the White Mages, but I certainly didn’t trust the unicorns. Humans seemed to think they were so pure and so innocent, but I saw them for what they were – over glorified horses.
We cats had a creed, you see. Never trust a horse. If you got in front of one, they might trample, or bite you, and if you got behind them, they might kick you in the face. The old Savannah cats in my neighbourhood told me this applied to zebras as well, and – I would tell them when I finally saw them again – unicorns too.
“We’ve come here to see this?” I asked.
“What’s wrong with it?”
“It’s not that there’s anything wrong with it. There’s just not anything particularly special about it.”
Plumes of smoke rose from Salanraja’s nostrils in front of me. “Do you know how many White Mages it takes to keep this going?”
“I…” I tried to recall the figure from Driar Lonamm’s lessons, but I think I might have been asleep when she stated it.
“One-thousand and fifty-three,” Salanraja said. “Posted at strategic intervals along the length of the barrier.”
I growled. Numbers didn’t impress me much. I never had the head for them. “Do you know how many salmon are in the Atlantic Ocean?”
“More than enough to feed all the cats in the Fourth Dimension. I also hear they leap up waterfalls. Now that would be something I’d love to see. As long as someone caught some and roasted me some on a campfire later.”
“Do you always have to make this about you and your stomach, Bengie? Can’t you just appreciate the view.”
“Ben,” I said, and both Salanraja and I said no more.
Rather she lifted her head slightly and wheeled down towards some smoke coming out from a copse of birch trees below. All the dragons around us had started to descend, almost leaving Salanraja behind.
We could see the Great Barrier much closer now. Close enough that it almost looked solid, like a sheet of blue glass that someone had stretched across the horizon. It reached so high that it seemed to vanish into the haze. It kept the dark magic out of from the Wastelands beyond and, apparently, kept us all safe.
I peered over the edge of Salanraja’s back to see what we were descending towards. That’s when I saw him. They’d warned us that he would be leading this field trip. Prince Arran, the king’s nephew and pompous leader of the King’s Dragon Corps stood warming his hands by the fire.
He didn’t hold my attention for long, though, because there was something even more alarming down there.
My gaze shot over to another figure sitting not far away from the fire, beating its tail against the ground, its long tongue hanging out of its mouth. Its wide eyes seemed to portray innocence. They made it look as if it was offering its loyalty to every human and dragon about to land. No doubt that ‘loyalty’ extended to Prince Arran too.
But I knew such creatures were even worse than horses. Every cat’s mother taught it to her litter, and mine had repeated it every day so we wouldn’t forget it.
“If there’s one thing you learn to never trust,” she’d said. “Make sure it’s a dog.”