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Authors: Lisa McMann

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BOOK: Island of Dragons
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Alex spoke up, anxious to get to the point. “Pan,” he said, “our healer, Henry, believes he has something that will help Karkinos. He'll travel to the Island of Legends on Spike's back. We're deciding who else to send with him now, and they'll be on their way shortly.”

“I will accompany them to Karkinos,” Pan said, “to make sure they arrive safely. There is danger everywhere.”

Henry's eyes widened. Now he had two very large creatures to spend time with, and he had no idea what to expect from the dragon or if she was safe. He shot a pleading glance at Florence.

Florence looked up at the dragon. “You're aware we killed the sea eel, of course?”

“I am also aware of other eels,” said Pan.

“Ah, so therrre
is
morrre than one,” said Simber, eyes narrowing. “That concerrrns me grrreatly.”

“Yes,” said Pan. “As I said before, I am in the business of hiding. Do not fear for your boy and your whale with me.”

Alex looked up at the dragon's face. “Thank you . . . for the information. We'll need a little time to organize.”

The dragon nodded once. She turned and glided into the water, her tail swirling constantly, making shapes in the air.

Alex turned to Henry. “Find Aaron and Sky and ask them to quickly construct a seat for you that we can strap to Spike.”

“Right,” said Henry. He dashed into the mansion.

Alex looked at Simber and Florence. “I'd feel more comfortable if we sent someone with Henry.”

Pan stopped in the water and swung her head back toward them, her plume of scales shimmering. “I do not wish to pry, but is there a reason you don't want to go, Florence? I would have thought you'd be the first to volunteer. But perhaps your feelings for Talon have changed. If so, he should be told.”

Florence looked up. “Oh no,” she said. “That's not it at all. It's just—I'm carved of ebony, too heavy for Spike to carry at full speed. And speed is of the essence now, I'm afraid.” She hesitated. “My heart belongs to Talon. If you wish to tell him that, I'd be grateful. . . .” She looked down, embarrassed and sad all over again.

Pan's tail weaved through the water as she floated a short distance from shore. “You might slow down a whale,” she said, “but nothing can slow down a dragon. If your presence here can be spared, you must ride on my back and tell him yourself.”

Strange Company

A
short time later Spike sat in the lagoon, waiting to depart. Sky came flying out of the mansion with Aaron right behind, carrying a makeshift cocoonlike chair-bed that they'd weaved from strips of lightweight but sturdy cloth. A harness was attached.

Sky swam with it to Spike and hoisted the chair onto the whale's back. As she secured the harness around the great whale, Henry and Alex exited the mansion carrying a waterproof crate of supplies to attach to it, and Samheed and Lani came walking toward the shore from the new land of Quill.

“What's going on?” Lani asked, watching Alex and Henry head into the water.

Aaron turned. “Henry is going to Karkinos with medicine, so Sky and I made a chair for him.” He'd never met the crab island or any of its inhabitants, but he knew that much about what was happening.

“He's doing what?” Lani asked. “I'll go with him.”

Samheed nodded. “Me too.”

“Um,” Aaron said, “I guess there's something about having to leave immediately, and too much weight will slow Spike down . . . or something.” He still felt apprehensive about talking with his former classmates, especially Samheed, who'd had a special hatred for Aaron.

Samheed frowned. “Hey, Al!” he shouted. “Lani and I want to go too.”

Alex glanced over his shoulder as he and Henry climbed on Spike's back with the crate.

“Nope,” Alex said, attaching the crate to the cocoon harness. “We're all set.”

Samheed scowled. “Too late again,” he said.

Lani slumped. “We're losing our touch, Burkesh,” she said.

Sky waded to shore with Alex and Henry not far behind her. Henry ran up to his sister and gave her a quick wet hug. “Bye,” he said.

“How long will you be gone?” she asked.

“I don't know. I'll need to stay long enough to make sure Karkinos is healing properly. He's floating west toward the waterfall—did you hear?”

Lani's eyes widened in fear. “Oh no! Do you think you can save them?”

Henry gave his sister a solemn look. “I don't know. But I'm going to try.”

“Be careful,” Lani said, ruffling his hair.

As Alex joined them, Sky pointed out over the water. “Look,” she said. The coiled water dragon emerged from under the water and floated quickly into the lagoon.

“Yikes,” said Lani. “That thing is huge. Is that the water dragon you met?”

Sky nodded. “Her name is Pan.”

Henry patted his component vest, making sure he had his seaweed and other spells. When the mansion door opened and Simber and Florence filed out, Henry took a deep breath. “Time to go,” he said.

“Stay safe,” said Alex, giving Henry a hug and a clap on his back. “I thought about sending Charlie with you, but neither you nor Florence speaks sign language, so he wouldn't be much use. He'd probably just get seasick, anyway.” He handed Henry a painted pebble. “But here's this in case you need to send a seek spell. And I put a few extra sacks of components in the crate, just in case you need them.”

“If I need a few sacks' worth, I'll be in big trouble.” Henry took the pebble and slid it into his pocket, then waved awkwardly at Samheed, Aaron, and Lani, and headed out to Spike's back.

“You be safe too,” Alex told Florence, and hugged her.

Florence couldn't stop smiling. “I will,” she said. She scratched Simber's stony head, and then she waded into the water toward Pan.

“Wait. Florence is going too?” Lani said, incredulous. She looked at Aaron. “I thought you said something about too much weight.”

Aaron shrugged. “Don't ask me. I'm not in charge here.” He watched the strange-looking entourage as Florence mounted the dragon's back.

Pan spoke quietly to Alex. “Once I've delivered them, I'll check in on them from time to time to see if they are ready to go home.”

“Oh,” said Alex, concerned. “You won't be staying with them?”

“I'm afraid I cannot,” Pan said. “I have other things to attend to.” She gave a wistful glance in the direction of the cylindrical island.

“I hope everything is all right,” Alex said, remembering for the first time in months her request for wings.

“It has to be,” said the dragon. With a regal nod to the Artiméans, Pan called for Spike to lead the way at her top speed, and she would match it.

Spike set off with Henry, and soon Pan and Florence, propelled by Pan's extraordinary tail, pulled up beside the whale in the sea, heading west at an astounding clip.

Talking Dragons

W
hen Henry and Florence and their unusual rides were growing small in the distance, Alex, Sky, and Aaron sat on the lawn to contemplate the fate of the giant crab island. Soon Samheed and Lani joined them, and Kaylee meandered over as well.

They talked for a while about Pan, and Alex and Sky relayed the whole story of how they first met her at the cylindrical island to the east of Artimé.

“Who do you think she was catching fish for?” Sky asked Alex. “She doesn't live on that island, does she?”

“I don't know if she lives anywhere,” Alex mused. “She's a water creature who rules the sea. I wouldn't think she lives on land at all. Maybe someone helpless lives on top of the island and she provides food for him.”

“Could that be the one she wants the wings for?” asked Lani. “I mean, what kind of wings does she need?”

Samheed raised an eyebrow. “Are you sure the wings aren't for her?”

Alex shrugged. “She said she was asking for someone else. Besides, I don't think it would be possible to make wings for a dragon. Dragons are real creatures.”

Kaylee cleared her throat. “Um, news flash, Mr. Head Mage: No, they're not. Not in my world anyway.”

“What a boring world,” Samheed remarked. Aaron frowned at him, and Lani poked him with her elbow.

“You really have no idea what you're talking about, Samheed,” Kaylee said lightly.

“That's very likely true,” Samheed admitted.

“I mean that dragons are born,” Alex went on, “like people and nonmagical animals. “They're not created out of materials, or sculptures brought to life.”

“So?” asked Lani. “Does that matter?”

Alex knit his brow, trying to figure out how to explain what he meant. “It's like with you, Lani. Say you decided you just couldn't live another moment without a third arm. Could I make a human arm for you and attach it and have it become part of you?”

Lani frowned. “Why would I want a third arm?”

“That's not the point,” said Alex.

“Why would
anyone
want a third arm?” Lani went on. “Where would you put it? On your back? You'd always be uncomfortable sleeping, and I doubt it would be all that useful.”

“Ms. Octavia makes it work with eight,” Kaylee said. “She's very efficient.”

“But she's not human shaped,” Lani said. She thought for a moment. “I wonder how she sleeps? With all the arms splayed out, do you think?”

Alex sighed. He glanced at Aaron, who was lying on his back looking at the sky, content to listen to the conversation. Aaron noticed Alex looking at him and winked.

“The point is,” Samheed said, “you don't know what or who Pan wants wings for. That cylinder could be an island filled with statues just like ours. Mr. Today probably had a whole secret world next door that he never bothered to mention to anybody.”

Aaron turned his head and glanced at the jungle. “Like that one?” he almost said. But he wasn't sure Alex and the others knew about all the creatures in the jungle. Some of them must have seen Panther coming from it firsthand. Had none of them ever tried to go there? He doubted it, because the rock certainly would have mentioned it the other day when Aaron had paid them a visit.

“I wonder what other business Pan has to attend to that would force her to come back here so soon,” said Sky. “Maybe the wingless inhabitant of the cylindrical island is dependent on her. After all, she was feeding him.”

Alex nodded, then stared out over the water, lost in thought. “Is it even possible?” he mused after a bit. “The wings?”

Aaron had been thinking about that as well. Attaching wings to a creature and making them come alive couldn't be all that different from turning a vine into a tail. “Sure it is,” he said softly.

Alex looked curiously at his brother. Aaron seemed so confident—it was almost disconcerting. “How do you know?” Alex asked.

“Yes,” added Lani. “How would you know?”

Aaron sat up on his elbows, but remained silent for a time. “It's just . . . it's logical,” he said, sounding a bit off. “I could make wings work.” The others just looked at him.

“You're so sure,” prodded Alex. “But you're not answering the question. How do you know? Because I admit I don't.”

Aaron flashed Alex a quizzical glance. “Well, how do you
not
know?” he asked. “I try things, and they just . . . happen. But you should know—you're the head mage. You can do anything.”

“That's not exactly how it works,” Alex said, sounding defensive. “I mean, obviously things come more naturally to you. Like—like accidentally turning a scatterclip into a lethal weapon and nearly killing me with it, remember that one? Or being able to see out of the secret hallway from the moment you first stepped into it. Or killing Gondoleery when none of us could do it, or putting Simber back together from a giant pile of sand . . .” He trailed off. Impatiently he batted at a lock of hair that had fallen into his face. “But apparently the rest of us have to actually learn things, okay? From instructors and books. Or by experimenting. And we don't get it right every time.”

BOOK: Island of Dragons
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