‘I’m at Dragamas,’ Sammy whispered to himself. He leaned over and picked up his new possessions. He picked up the egg last, half expecting something terrible to happen. What if he dropped it, he thought, not that he was careless, just curious, like most boys his age.
‘Kyrillan huh,’ Sammy said to the egg, thinking that the others probably had normal coloured eggs with normal names and, he thought, who gave eggs names anyway.
He stroked the surface of the green egg. It wasn’t quite rough and wasn’t quite smooth, a bit like used sandpaper he decided.
‘Keye-rillan, Kiri-lan, Ky-rill-aaan,’ the name was growing on him.
‘Ky-rill-an,’ said Sammy, trying out the name for the fifth time, and then it happened. The egg stirred in his lap. A large crack split down the left hand side.
‘Oh no,’ whispered Sammy. ‘Just what I need on my first day.’
He pressed his fingers against the egg to try and stop the crack from widening. To his horror, it had the opposite effect and a piece of the egg came away in his hand. A dark green liquid oozed from inside the egg.
Sammy stared. He had absolutely no idea what to do. Through a chink in his curtain, he could see that the other curtains were drawn. A faint snore came from Darius’s direction and he was fairly sure that everyone was asleep.
Resigned to the fact that the egg was going to hatch anyway, Sammy poked the green goo.
‘Come on then, open sesame,’ he muttered pulling at the eggshell to let more of the goo out.
As the second piece of shell came away, the egg let out a high pitched scream and burst open. Pieces of slime and shell flew up and hit Sammy in the face.
‘Euggh!’ Sammy wiped the slime with his arm and stared at the sheer amount of green goo in his lap. He got his second shock that morning when the goo wriggled and a pair of large black beaded eyes swung round and stared straight back at him.
Sammy screwed up his nose. As well as covering him in a green slime, the egg stank. He guessed it was a deterrent to predators. Sammy looked up and saw four wide eyed, open mouthed faces peering at him.
‘That’s amazing,’ said Darius.
‘How come mine hasn’t hatched,’ said one of the dark haired boys that Sammy thought was probably Gavin.
‘Awesome,’ said Toby.
‘Amazing? Awesome? It’s my first day, I’ll be in trouble, get sent home or something,’ said Sammy, staring at the green slime.
The boys burst out laughing.
‘It’s really rare,’ said Darius. ‘You must have bonded straight away. Most eggs don’t hatch for at least a week and that’s only with lots of petting and stroking.’ Darius leaned closer to look at the goo, ‘he must really like you.’
‘Kyrillan,’ said Toby. ‘That’s an awesome name.’
Sammy smiled, wishing he knew what he had done and what Kyrillan meant. The boys were obviously impressed. He put the Kyrillan goo on top of his chest of drawers and swung back his curtain.
‘Hey, you’ve got five years too,’ said Gavin pointing to the plaque at the bottom of Sammy’s bed.
Sammy looked down, where his plaque had read “Samuel R. Rambles” it now read:
Samuel R. Rambles
‘Five years?’ asked Sammy. ‘What does that mean?’
‘It’s your year plaque,’ explained Darius. ‘It says how long you’ll be at the school.’
‘Oh,’ said Sammy looking at the other plaques. Both Gavin and Toby’s plaques read five years, Amos’s read one year and Darius’s read forty five.
‘I’m going to teach here,’ said Darius. ‘It says so in my letter.’
Sammy looked at Amos.
‘I don’t know what it means,’ said Amos as if some dark shadow of shame hung over him.
‘Perhaps it’s a mistake,’ suggested Sammy.
Amos shrugged. ‘Who knows,’ he muttered and left the room.
‘Don’t worry Sammy,’ said Toby. ‘It’s pretty much the worst thing that can happen, to be chucked out.’
‘Perhaps he’ll die here,’ said Gavin ominously. ‘Like that other one…’
‘Oh,’ said Sammy looking closely at Gavin. ‘Are you twins?’
‘No,’ said Gavin, giggling at him.
‘Oh,’ Sammy screwed up his nose. ‘You look alike.’
‘Don’t worry about it,’ said Gavin. ‘We get it all the time.’
‘But…’ said Sammy looking first at Gavin then Toby.
‘We are really,’ said Toby ruffling Gavin’s hair. ‘It’s a joke, we do it to everyone.’
‘Bunch of freaks,’ said Amos who had come back in.
‘Are you sure they didn’t get your plaque right?’ snapped Gavin, giving Amos a dark look.
Ignoring Gavin, Amos turned towards Sammy and Darius. ‘I met Professor Burlay on the stairs. He said breakfast is in the Main Hall in ten minutes.’
Darius, Gavin and Toby huddled round muttering about Amos. Sammy left them to it remembering the Rat Catchers at his old school. He had learnt quickly to wait before choosing friends, “be slow in choosing and slower in changing” his father had told him. Just thinking about his parents gave him a jolt in his stomach. They would probably be in Switzerland by now. He grinned, if they could see him with his green gunk – a dragon charmer – that’s what he was going to be, if he had read the letter right.
‘So what’s your family like?’
Sammy looked up, ‘I’m, um…’ He paused, the more he tried to remember the harder it was. ‘My parents and me, we met Sir Ragnarok and he said I could come.’
‘Wow!’ said Darius. ‘You’ve met Sir Ragnarok?’
Sammy nodded. ‘Then we came here…’
‘Cool! That’s…’ started Toby.
But they didn’t get a chance to hear what Toby was about to say as a loud bell rang from outside the tower room door.
‘Breakfast!’ shouted Gavin. ‘Any idea where to go?’
‘Follow me,’ snapped Amos.
‘Do I take this?’ asked Sammy pointing to the green goo.
‘Leave him,’ said Toby. ‘Ours might hatch too. He won’t be lonely.’
Sammy stared at the green goo as he left the room, not quite ready to treat Kyrillan as a pet.
‘Come on,’ shouted Gavin. ‘I’m hungry!’
Professor Burlay met Sammy, Darius, Gavin, Toby and Amos in the common room and led them to the Main Hall. The other first years were already there with the other professors that had met them last night.
‘Right,’ said Professor Burlay, counting heads. ‘Thirty nine and forty.’
‘Five boys and five girls in each house,’ said Sammy, staring at the high ceilinged rectangular room.
‘In each year too and only by invitation,’ said Professor Burlay as he led the North students to one of four long wooden tables aligned vertically down the room. The tables were covered in thick tablecloths with different colours for the different houses.
Each side of the tables was a row of high backed wooden chairs with the Dragamas ‘D’ carefully carved into the wooden backs. In front of each chair was a place laid at the table with a shiny silver plate rimmed in gold and bordered by shiny silver cutlery; five pronged forks and knives that finished in the shape of a crescent moon.
‘Be seated,’ said Professor Burlay waving his arm towards the green clothed table.
Sammy shuffled forward. Toby and Gavin were already sitting down. Dixie was sitting next to a girl with platinum blonde hair.
‘Hi,’ he said nervously.
‘Hi Sammy!’ said Dixie enthusiastically. ‘You’re here, next to Milly.’
Sammy took a closer look at Milly recognising her from the night before. She was wafer thin with a small pointed face, the brightest of blue eyes and a scattering of freckles on her nose. She had a light dusting of glitter in her hair and to Sammy, she looked like some kind of an angel.
Milly was deep in conversation with the girl on her right. When she paused for breath, she grinned mischievously at Sammy.
‘Come on Sammy, she won’t bite,’ Dixie grinned at him. ‘Sit here.’
Sammy pulled out the chair nervously and sat down next to Milly, opposite Darius. He picked up his knife and fork getting his second shock that morning as the plate glowed a translucent green.
He watched in horror as food began to materialise on the plate giving a loud “popping” sound as sausages, bacon, eggs, fried bread, a full English breakfast exploded in front of him.
‘You’re supposed to wait for the professors,’ Darius hissed across the table.
‘Not to worry.’ Milly giggled and picked up her own five pronged fork and crescent shaped knife. ‘Let’s start!’
Dixie, Gavin and Toby picked up their knives and forks. Toby nudged Darius who, with a frown, picked up his own knife and fork, screwing up his eyes as the “popping” got louder and louder.
Amos stayed still, a small smile on his thin lips as the raven haired professor strode up to the North table.
‘Von star from Rambles, Reed, Reed, Deane, Brooks and Murphy,’ barked the woman, pulling a wooden stick from the sleeve of her teaching robes.
Sammy watched, his eyes glued open, as six black clouds of star shaped smoke flew from the tip of the stick and clung to a large noticeboard at the back of the Main Hall behind a central table that faced the four house tables lengthways.
‘Simone, is that fair? It’s their first day,’ said Professor Burlay, his voice fading under a ferocious stare that the woman trained on him.
‘Professor Burlay,’ snapped the woman. ‘May I remind you of two things. One, that gold and silver stars are awarded for good behaviour and classroom achievements, taken away with the black stars when the rules are broken.’
Professor Burlay lowered his head.
‘And two, my name is Professor Sanchez in front of the students.’
Sammy caught, ‘if you know what’s good for you,’ muttered under Professor Sanchez’s breath as she flounced towards the central table and sat down next to the two professors from the South and West houses.
Professor Burlay followed Professor Sanchez to the teachers’ table. He sat next to an empty chair leaving as much space between himself and Professor Sanchez as possible.
The room hushed as Sir Ragnarok, Dragamas headmaster, entered the room. The four professors stood up as Sir Ragnarok walked behind them and pulled out the empty chair.
Sir Ragnarok was dressed in the same dusty black robes Sammy had seen him wearing outside St. Elderberries High School. He lifted his head, sniffed the air and consulted a gold disc he pulled out of a pocket inside his robe.
From the North table, Sammy had the bizarre sensation that he was being watched. He looked down at his plate at the fried breakfast then back to the teachers’ table.
‘Good morning,’ said Sir Ragnarok, putting away the gold disc. ‘I see you have already started our feast. Let us enjoy the food while it is hot and then I shall introduce you to Dragamas. Not in the usual way of course, but today it seems, is a most unusual day.’
Sir Ragnarok sat down and picked up a gold five pronged fork and gold crescent shaped knife.
Sammy jumped at the explosion on the table at the front. Sir Ragnarok’s plate glowed not green, nor red, nor blue nor yellow, but a unique blend of all colours that turned his plate into a rainbow, filling itself with a tower of sausages, fried bread, bacon and eggs, but no mushrooms or tomatoes Sammy noticed pushing his to the side of his plate.
Sammy had eaten probably more than he should have when Sir Ragnarok put down his knife and fork and stood up.
‘First years,’ said Sir Ragnarok, his voice filling the hall. ‘Welcome to Dragamas.’ He looked around the room, making sure he had the attention of every student. A sea of forty faces looked up at him, listening with bated breath.
‘You are each here today because you have been chosen.’ Sir Ragnarok paused to let this sink in. ‘You are here to learn and master skills that others will never dream possible. Some of you will do well…’ Sammy felt Sir Ragnarok look him straight in the eyes.
‘…and some of you will not. Enjoy your time here as you choose. Study hard and you will be rewarded with your skills, practice often to perfect your technique and play hard to keep the balance.’ Sir Ragnarok smiled at them. ‘This is your first official day to collect your books and learn your way around. Tomorrow the rest of the school will return from their field trip and term will begin.’
The professors stood up clapping as Sir Ragnarok nodded and walked out of the room.
‘Work hard, play hard,’ said Darius. ‘That sounds fair.’
‘Play hard sounds better,’ said Gavin.
‘Wonder what sports they have here,’ said Toby.
Professor Burlay came over to the North table, casting nervous glances at Professor Sanchez as she stood at the top of the East table.
‘Your timetables are under your plates,’ whispered Professor Burlay. ‘Pick them up and follow me.’
Sammy lifted his plate. Sure enough there was a withered sheet of yellow parchment with charcoal grey handwriting on one side accompanied by short lines separating the days of the week.
‘Alchemistry, Astronomics,’ said Sammy, wondering when Maths and English lessons would take place, or even if they would take place at all.
‘Saturday lessons,’ he grumbled looking at the sixth column on the paper. ‘We won’t be able to look forward to Friday afternoons.’
Professor Burlay led the ten North students back to their common room, pointing for them to sit down in a circle on beanbags and giant cushions.
‘Any questions?’ he asked looking round the circle.
Dixie put up her hand, whisking past Sammy’s ear.
‘Will we be able to go to the Floating Circus when it comes?’ asked Dixie, her eyes shining.
Sammy turned to her and stared. He had only been to the circus once and it certainly hadn’t been a floating one. As he half expected, Professor Burlay was hesitant in answering. Sammy had the impression that he got pushed around by the students and picked on by the teachers. He looked again at his timetable and seeing the name next to the Astronomics lessons, decided that Professor Burlay must be very good at it to stay at the school.
‘The Floating Circus Dixie, it may be possible…no promises. Sir Ragnarok will decide when the time comes.’
Sammy desperately wanted to know more and raised his hand. Professor Burlay waved for Sammy to put his hand down, apparently he’d had enough of answering questions and instead, he chose to explain more about the school.
‘Dragamas,’ began Professor Burlay as if reading from a history book, ‘was founded in 1605, when some of the greatest wizards and sorcerers of the time had the money and the resources to build an educational establishment, a school, that would teach and train young men to perform various things that at the time were considered to be magical and witchcraft.’
Dixie threw up her hand. ‘Did the school take women?’
‘Not initially,’ said Professor Burlay. ‘However there was pressure, considerable pressure on both sides, from both sexes, equally arguing why and why not men and women could and could not train together. It’s quite a modern concept and Dragamas has only taken female students since the end of the 18th century. A terrible waste, if you ask me. We might have had more Morgana Montehues or Mercedes Menzies, fine female sorcerers.’
Sammy raised his hand again, hundreds of questions burning in his throat. He didn’t know which to ask first.
‘Yes Sammy?’ Professor Burlay sounded annoyed to be stopped mid-flow.
‘Please could you explain a bit about our lessons and show us how to get to the classrooms?’
Professor Burlay nodded. ‘The classrooms of course, they may be moved this time next year, but for now look on the back of your timetables.’
Following the other students, Sammy turned over his timetable. Thin black lines criss-crossed the paper, showing the classrooms. Each room had a label and a doorway. Some of them had secret passageways. It looked really exciting.
‘The lessons, I’m afraid, will have to be explained in more detail when you get there. However, I can tell you that this, your first year, will be your best year,’ said Professor Burlay. ‘This is the time to make friends that you will keep for life, the time to learn without pressure to get things right and the time to enjoy learning new skills.’
It sounded to Sammy like a summary of Sir Ragnarok’s speech. ‘What about our books?’ he interrupted. ‘Sir Ragnarok mentioned books.’
‘All taken care of,’ said Professor Burlay infuriatingly quashing Sammy’s question without a proper reply. ‘Let’s move on and have some morning tea.’
Professor Burlay reached inside his suit sleeve and pulled out a wooden stick, longer than Professor Sanchez’s, about three feet in length. He tapped the staff on the ground and eleven mugs of steaming hot chocolate appeared from nowhere. He tapped the staff again and produced a plate of golden biscuits that he passed around.
Copying Gavin, Sammy took four, not to be greedy, just that he couldn’t tell from the timetable when they would stop for lunch.
As more students asked questions, Sammy quickly learnt that he had a lot to learn. He was the only North boy not to know anything about dragons. Even Amos, who still hadn’t said more than two words to anyone, apparently had parents who rode fully grown dragons to work. Only Helana and Naomi were finding things as strange as he was.
He learnt more about the strange dragon egg that had hatched in his tower room and how he would learn various incantations and use crystals to solve everyday problems. Professor Burlay also explained more about the wooden staffs that the professors carried and the different spells that they could be used for.
‘You’ll find out for yourself soon enough,’ Professor Burlay reassured them. ‘Now I have some business to attend to and will be back shortly. Lunch will be in a few hours, beforehand I believe you will be shown the grounds.’ He stood up and, using his staff, generated a golden mist that when it dispersed, Professor Burlay was nowhere to be seen.
‘What do we do now?’ asked Sammy.
‘I’ve got some Dragon Dice,’ said Milly. ‘Anyone want to play?’
‘That’s a girl’s game,’ scoffed Gavin. ‘A handful of dice can’t predict the future.’
‘They can,’ said Milly.
‘Shall we play Dragonball?’ asked Toby, ‘I brought my Excelsior Sports Draconis Plus set.’
‘You’ve got a Draconis Plus set?’ asked Amos suddenly interested.
‘Well, they’re the best aren’t they?’ said Amos. ‘Really expensive.’
‘Will someone tell me what’s going on?’ asked Sammy a little louder than he had intended suddenly aware that everyone was looking at him.
There was a hushed silence that Dixie broke. ‘You really don’t know, do you?’ she whispered.
‘Just the greatest game in the world, well it will be once we have full grown dragons to play with.’
‘Someone, please tell me what it is!’
‘Dragonball,’ said Milly a little irately. ‘It’s a thugs game. A set of coloured balls that get blasted out of the sky by fire breathing dragons. It’s not just dangerous to play, there’s always people getting hit miles away from the game.’
‘Wow,’ said Sammy trying to picture it in his mind. ‘Tell me more!’
‘Well,’ said Gavin ignoring Milly’s tutting. ‘You start with anywhere up to fifty players…’
‘But they don’t all finish the game,’ added Toby. ‘One time, forty eight players got injured and nobody won.’
‘The keepers can’t score,’ said Dixie, who seemed to be very knowledgeable on the subject. Sammy had the feeling she was a bit of a tomboy, the exact opposite of Milly.
‘So, can we play it indoors?’
‘Kind of,’ said Toby. ‘It should really be played outside and without our own dragons, we’ll have to play on the ground.’
‘Ok, so are we going to play?’ demanded Gavin.
‘I’ll get my set,’ said Toby. ‘Back in a minute.’
Toby returned in under a minute, without the Dragonball set. ‘Hey Sammy guess what!’ he shouted. ‘Mine has hatched too.’
‘Cool,’ said Gavin enviously. ‘Let’s have a look.’
They raced up the stairs to the boys’ tower. Designed for five, the tower room was cramped with ten people packed inside.
‘It’s just like our tower,’ said Dixie sitting down in the middle of Sammy’s bed. ‘Yours has hatched right out Sammy,’ she said poking the green jelly like creature.
‘Hey! Don’t touch it,’ said Sammy, trying to work out if he was more annoyed that she was sitting on his bed and touching his dragon, or with himself for forgetting about Kyrillan in the excitement of breakfast.
‘It won’t hurt it,’ said Dixie. ‘Mine hatched this morning too.’
‘Really?’ said Sammy. ‘That’s supposed to be really rare, isn’t it.’
Dixie looked at him with respect. ‘Yes it is. His name’s Kiridor,’ she added proudly.
They stood up and took a closer look at Toby’s dragon goo.
‘Sammy, meet Puttee,’ said Toby picking up the goo in both hands. ‘It’s hard to believe that one day, this will be bigger than me and will be able to fly.’
Toby put the grey-green goo back on to his chest of drawers. It squelched into a semi circle, almost motionless, its jelly like body rising and falling with tiny dragon breaths.
‘Now can we play Dragonball?’ asked Gavin impatiently.
Toby pulled a silver briefcase with a gold dragon motif from under his bed. Sammy made a mental note to ask for one for Christmas, not that he thought his parents would have any idea where to find Excelsior Sports, let alone identify the Draconis Plus set.
Sammy soon discovered why Milly had described Dragonball as a “thugs game.” Far from being organised like football or basketball, he found himself barged this way and that, trying to catch and kick the black leather balls.
Gavin, Toby and Dixie seemed to be very good at it and he found himself wondering where and how often they played.
He ducked as Dixie shunted one of the balls over his head towards Toby. The ball knocked Toby over backwards and landed straight into the back of the makeshift goal they had put together using beanbags.
‘Three all,’ shouted Dixie, offering Toby a hand to help him up.
‘It is not,’ spluttered Gavin. ‘That was too rough for indoors, are you ok Toby?’
‘Yeah, let her have it,’ said Toby taking Dixie’s hand.
‘No way,’ said Dixie, ‘I’m not having you saying later that you would have won. We’ll play, fair and square.’
Dixie seemed to take the matter personally and wove in and out of the players. She put two more goals past Toby and one past Gavin.
Sammy found once he got the hang of the game, he was actually quite good at it. He put two goals past Milly, who despite herself, had put aside the Dragon Dice and joined in.
Darius played the best shot, wildly kicking two balls at once, whizzing them over Dixie’s head and into the goal with a thump as they struck the common room wall. As they celebrated the goal Professor Burlay returned, wearing a thick winter coat and gloves.
‘Great shot Darius,’ said Professor Burlay clapping his hands.
Sammy froze, sure that there were rules about not playing Dragonball indoors. To his relief, Professor Burlay was smiling.
‘I’m sure you’ll make a fine Dragonball player one day Darius,’ said Professor Burlay. ‘Now, if you could fetch your coats, we will be joining the other first years to take a tour of the school. It should take no longer than three to four hours and some of you…’ Professor Burlay looked in particular at Milly, ‘may wish to bring a hat, scarf or some gloves. It’s a little brisk out,’ he nodded to himself.
Sammy thundered back up the tower stairs helping Toby carry the Dragonball set. He returned dressed in his bulky winter coat, his hands tucked firmly into his pockets.
In the main entrance, they met the first years from the other houses dressed as warmly as they were.
‘Right,’ said Professor Sanchez. ‘We shall go for our tour of the school. The whole school,’ she added ominously. Sammy wondered if her students knew the tour might be up to four hours long.
She marched through the door out into the castle courtyard. ‘We shall go round anticlockwise, widdershins they call it. Keep up at the back.’
Sammy kept close to Gavin and Toby as they walked down the gravel road towards the school gate. As they got closer to the cattle grid separating the school from the road, Sammy could see the edges of the gold mist he had seen with his parents. It seemed to be a large pearlescent bubble covering the whole school.
They didn’t cross the cattle grid into the outside world, but stopped for a second as a farmer drove two or three dozen sheep down the narrow country lane, blissfully unaware that through the bubble, he was being watched by forty four pairs of eyes.
True to her word, Professor Sanchez led them anticlockwise away from the gate, then through a thicket of trees and tall bushes.
‘This is the teachers’ garden,’ announced Professor Sanchez, pointing towards a carefully tended garden with picnic tables scattered amongst flowerbeds brimming with flowers of every size, colour and shape. A shoulder high stone wall protected the garden and there was an atmosphere of absolute stillness and calm as they walked between two pillars into the garden.
‘Other than this tour, no student may enter the garden, unless they are in mortal danger,’ said Professor Sanchez. ‘It is protected by a password.’
Sammy stared at Dixie. ‘Mortal danger?’
Dixie grinned at him. ‘Wonder what really goes on in there. Did you see the grill. I bet they have the same kind of bubble that goes over the school.’
Sammy stared harder, making a mental note to be very careful where he stepped.
Sure enough, as they left the garden, they stepped over a second grill. Sammy looked back and although he could see the garden, it was empty apart from the flowers and the picnic benches. As he watched, students filed between the pillars and came back into view.
‘They can see out, but we can’t see in,’ whispered Dixie.
‘Invisibility,’ said Sammy, his head spinning uncomfortably.
‘Merely an illusion,’ said a voice behind them.
Sammy looked round. The tall, sandy haired professor of the South house was behind him.
‘Trust me, you will be able to do this and much more when I’ve finished with you,’ he said, smiling warmly at them.
Professor Sanchez slowed down as she led them back towards the castle, carving a giant V as she swung up to the courtyard and back down towards some buildings at the end of the path.
‘The Gymnasium and changing rooms,’ said Professor Sanchez, loudly enough to be heard by the stragglers at the back. ‘State of the art. It is a fine place to keep fit and to practice the games.’
‘Dragonball,’ Toby whispered into Sammy’s ear. ‘Look!’
Sammy followed Toby’s outstretched hand. Beyond the Gymnasium was a large playing field, about the size of four football pitches, with a gold Dragonball crest in the centre matching the gold motif on Toby’s briefcase. A stadium of wooden benches semi-circled the pitch and floodlights on tall metal poles towered above them.
Professor Sanchez’s tour took them diagonally across the Dragonball pitch. Sammy stopped for a second by the golden dragon lying flat on the grass. He was sure the coal black eyes blinked and a faint wisp of smoke trickled from its mouth. After the things he had seen in the last twenty-four hours, he was sure that nothing could surprise him.
By walking almost to the far edge of the school grounds and back to the castle, Sammy guessed that they were walking in a star shape. He wondered if it was Professor Burlay’s idea since he seemed to know about stars. “Astro,” Sammy knew for a fact was to do with the sky and the night stars.
He was right as Professor Burlay took over from Professor Sanchez and led the students away from the castle and towards the most peculiar house that Sammy had seen in his entire life.
As they got closer, Sammy saw that it was an old fashioned bungalow with ivy trailing between two windows either side of a green front door. A further two windows peeked out from under the thatched roof and it looked like something out of a fairy tale, a gingerbread house or somewhere for Snow White or the three bears to live. Sammy spotted a letterbox on the front door and had trouble believing a postman would consider delivering mail inside a school with fire breathing dragons, even if he could see the house through the bubble.
What really caught his eye was the well in the corner of the cottage garden. The round wall was half covered with moss and ivy that ran up the wooden supports to a slate tiled roof designed to keep out the worst of the weather. The students gathered round the well taking it in turns to be at the front.
‘Make a wish children,’ a voice cackled behind them.
They spun round and saw the strangest looking woman coming out of the cottage. She wore a long velvet robe in patchwork colours of blues and oranges, reds and purples. She had a kind face, weathered with age and had strands of greying hair peeking from under a purple velvet bonnet. She was as tall as Sammy and was dwarfed by the professors.
‘Meet Mrs Grock,’ said Professor Burlay, resting a hand on the woman’s shoulder, ‘our school secretary and nurse. She can cure any ailment in the world,’ he added proudly.
‘Providing you live long enough to reach her,’ said Professor Sanchez, scowling darkly at them.
‘Ooch, go on with you John,’ Mrs Grock giggled. ‘You don’t want to frighten the little children, and I canna cure any illness, just the ones medicine canna fix. Here,’ she pulled a handful of shiny coins from her pocket, ‘make a wish in my well.’
‘Your well?’ asked Sammy wishing he hadn’t spoken out loud as Mrs Grock sidled up to him, her breath in need of some peppermints.
‘Ahh yes,’ she muttered, standing too close for Sammy’s liking. ‘What have we here? A young Dragon Knight perhaps?’
Sammy stepped back, aware that everyone was looking at him.
Mrs Grock pressed a coin into his hand. ‘Make a wish child and it will come true.’
Under pressure to make the first wish, Sammy stepped up to the well, the coin burning in his hand, ‘I wish…’
‘Hush child,’ interrupted Mrs Grock, ‘hush, or it will not be so.’
‘Uh,’ said Sammy, wishing he could have gone second or third. He wasn’t worried about making a wish; he’d done it often enough with his parents at posh restaurants. None of his wishes had ever come true.
‘Put wrongs to right,’ he said inside his head, letting go of the coin, ‘and a Dragonball set.’
Sammy counted to twenty seven before the coin splashed into the water. As he waited, he found himself wondering what would happen when the well was full of coins.
‘Pure in spirit,’ sighed Mrs Grock. She turned to Dixie and jumped slightly as she noticed Dixie’s green hair. Mrs Grock gave Dixie a coin and moved on to hand out one coin per student.
Sammy backed away to let Dixie take her wish. He bumped into Professor Sanchez who looked keenly at him.
‘A good wish Sammy,’ said Professor Sanchez. ‘Twenty seven seconds to fall means twenty seven minutes. Then it will be time to see what you have unleashed.’ Professor Sanchez backed away to watch her students drop their coins.
‘What did she mean?’ asked Sammy, glad to be surrounded by Dixie, Darius and Milly.
‘She’s lost it,’ said Dixie.
‘My parents say wishing wells are cheap entertainment,’ said Milly.
‘Don’t be too sure,’ said Darius holding up a large bar of chocolate. ‘You should be careful what you wish for.’
Milly looked at the chocolate and laughed, ‘I just wished to be…’
‘Shh,’ said Dixie. ‘Unless it wasn’t what you wanted, don’t tell us.’
‘She said it would be twenty seven minutes.’ Sammy looked at his watch.
‘Well as long as you didn’t wish for snow, I’ll be happy,’ said Darius. ‘It’s getting cold, isn’t it.’
‘Twenty seven minutes,’ Sammy muttered to no one in particular.
The professor from the South house took the lead from Professor Burlay and walked them away from Mrs Grock’s cottage towards a wooded area filled with birch and beech trees, covered from top to bottom in fiery yellow and orange autumn leaves. Although it was only the middle of the afternoon, dense clouds were drawing in overhead and it was starting to get dark.
‘Just what did you wish for, eh Sammy?’ asked Professor Burlay. ‘Not an early Christmas I hope.’
‘No sir,’ said Sammy, not daring to say more. He could feel the staring eyes of the other students bearing into his back, desperate to know what he had wished for.
They followed a narrow soil path, surrounded each side with long, prickly grasses, through the trees into a clearing. The professor from the South house stopped to mutter to Professor Burlay.
‘What did he wish for?’ Sammy caught as they huddled together. ‘Is it safe to go on? The weather has changed. Things are not as they should be.’
Professor Burlay looked up at the sky. ‘I see no sign.’
‘Gentlemen,’ said Professor Sanchez, ‘may we continue the tour of the school? Commander Altair, I believe you have their wands to prepare?’
The professor from the South house glared at Professor Sanchez, his blue eyes blazing. ‘Witches have wands,’ he snapped, ‘Dragon Knights have staffs,’ he turned to the huddle of students, ‘and don’t let anyone tell you any different.’
They walked on in silence, the wood closing in behind them. Sammy felt a pang of fear. Supposing they couldn’t get out, got lost, or worse. He had noticed tracks here and there showing signs of recent activity, but the forest was quiet except for the rhythmic step-crunch, step-crunch of their feet on the fallen autumn leaves.
Commander Altair, professor of the South house, led them in the growing dusk for another ten minutes by Sammy’s watch, through to another clearing where he stopped and beckoned for the forty students to gather round.
He took a solid wooden cane from inside his coat. It was the size of a walking stick but three times thicker. At the top was a perfectly formed quartz crystal ball shining like a diamond in the dim light.
He held the middle of the staff and pointed the crystal to the ground and shouted ‘Fire!’
Sammy leapt backwards as a red spark burst from the crystal. As the spark touched the ground it turned into a bright orange flame that shot ten feet into the air. He watched open mouthed as the flame shrunk into a small fire that crackled merrily at the Commander Altair’s feet. It was so unreal, so completely different from his old school.
‘I have brought you here to choose your staff,’ said Commander Altair. ‘Do not wander far from the fire. There are plenty of young trees to choose a staff that feels right, not too heavy and not too light.’
The students scattered amongst the trees just beyond the clearing. Sammy stayed close to Dixie and Darius going up to the trees and trying branches for size.
‘The staff should be between two feet, six inches and six feet in length. How you treat it will determine its performance,’ said Commander Altair. ‘Staffs are used to complement spells and charms. It must not,’ he thundered, ‘be used in anger against any fellow student. Not in my class, nor in any other.’
As Darius helped Dixie to reach a branch in an old oak tree, Sammy spotted a branch, perfect in shape and size, on the ground behind a tree stump. From nature lessons at Ratisbury, Sammy knew it was a branch from a horse chestnut tree and looked as though it came from what looked like the oldest tree in the forest. The branch was perfectly shaped with a bulge at one end ready to support a crystal.
Sammy tiptoed over to the branch, aware that he was out of sight of the fire. He picked up the branch and it felt alive in his hands, even though it could have fallen days, weeks or even years ago. It was perfect, the perfect height, the perfect weight and he desperately wanted to try it out.
‘Fire,’ whispered Sammy as he pointed the bulging end to the ground. ‘Fire!’ he said a little louder and then it happened. A huge bolt of red flame shot from the branch and set fire to the tree stump. In the light, Sammy saw something that made his blood freeze. He screamed. Out of the darkness he saw a circle of hooded figures surrounding him, chanting, drawing closer with every step.
Within seconds, Dixie and Darius were with him. Dixie seemed to run through the hooded figures and they melted away into the darkness. She put her arm around him.
‘Ssshapes,’ stuttered Sammy. ‘Hooded figures.’
‘I can’t see anything,’ said Darius. ‘Are you sure you’re not imagining things?’ Darius walked around the fire, tapping trees with his branch.
‘I believe you,’ whispered Dixie. ‘I saw them too. The Shape, my brothers told me to stay close to the group on my first day. Now I know why.’
‘Is that why you’re good at Dragonball?’ whispered Sammy staring at Dixie’s green hair.
‘Yeah,’ said Dixie her cheeks turning crimson. ‘Serberon, Jason and Mikhael. They taught me things most girls don’t know. Milly’s the daughter my parents wanted.’
Sammy looked again at Dixie’s hair.
‘Genetic,’ muttered Dixie. ‘Jason’s got a ponytail like mine.’
‘I like it,’ Sammy grinned at her. ‘So, how come you saw the figures? It looked like you jumped right through them.
‘It’s the only way,’ said Dixie, as if she was repeating something she had learnt by heart. ‘Show no fear and they dissolve.’
‘At that moment, Dixie cared more for your life than for her own.’
Sammy jumped, Commander Altair was behind them.
‘I told you to stay close to the…fire.’ Commander Altair stopped mid sentence and looked at the fire on the tree stump. ‘How did…’
‘It was me,’ said Sammy, ‘my staff…’ he tailed into silence as he saw the outline of Professor Sanchez looking more terrifying than she had at breakfast.
‘My, my,’ she whispered. ‘We are full of surprises.’
She pointed her staff at the fire and without a word the fire fizzled out, spitting and crackling until it disappeared from sight.
Professor Sanchez took Sammy’s shoulder in an iron grip. ‘Let us get back to the group,’ she hissed, pushing him on to the path.
Dixie and Darius followed with Commander Altair close behind them, back to Professor Burlay and the rest of the first years.
In the clearing, Professor Burlay was staring at the sky, pointing with his staff at clusters of stars. Two girls were collecting leftovers from lunch that Sammy realised he, Dixie and Darius had missed.
They started walking deeper into the woodland. Sammy moved closer to thank Dixie.
‘Who knows what would have happened if you hadn’t,’ he whispered.
‘It’s ok, really,’ said Dixie. ‘Does it make us friends?’
‘Of course,’ said Sammy without thinking. ‘Best friends.’
‘Sammy’s got a girlfriend!’ Gavin chanted as they bunched up.
‘Better watch it Gavin,’ said Dixie. ‘Sammy’s staff can do fire like the Commander’s.’
‘You need crystals for that,’ said Gavin.
‘It does,’ said Darius.
‘Show us,’ said Toby.
‘Not now,’ said Sammy. ‘I’ve got into enough trouble already today.’
Professor Sanchez took the lead and led a quick march through the forest.
Professor Burlay caught up with Sammy’s group. ‘This is the Forgotten Forest,’ he said, dramatically.
‘Why is it called that?’ asked Sammy.
‘I can’t remember!’ laughed Professor Burlay, shrinking as Professor Sanchez glared at him.
‘It is called the Forgotten Forest,’ snapped Professor Sanchez, ‘because people were put here to be forgotten. The lost souls of the men and women who wandered in, they got lost and never found their way out.’
Sammy thought back to the hooded figures he had seen. They had seemed real enough, until they vanished when Dixie ran though them. But if she said she had seen them too, they had to be real.
‘It was named the Forgotten Forest of Karmandor after the King of the Dark Ages, King Serberon’s dragon, Karmandor, who was lured in by a wicked witch,’ added Professor Sanchez.
‘Karmandor,’ said Sammy thoughtfully. ‘That sounds a bit like my dragon Kyrillan.’
‘They could be related,’ said Professor Sanchez. ‘Some students have said their dragons have come from a historic past, a famous family tree. You may find out more in your Dragon Studies lessons.’
‘Cool,’ said Sammy, checking his watch. In the excitement of creating fire and seeing the hooded figures, he had almost forgotten his wish at Mrs Grock’s.
‘Five minutes…’ Professor Sanchez whispered so quietly Sammy thought he had imagined it.
As the light disappeared completely, Commander Altair produced three storm lanterns lit by orange candles and passed them round. Sammy knew he hadn’t been watching closely, but even so, it looked as though the lanterns had been created from rocks by the side of the path.
Sammy stayed close to Commander Altair and his lantern as they climbed down some ragged steps into a place where the trees where thinly scattered and a rock face towered above them. In the warm orange light Sammy could see milk white stones peeking through layer upon layer of fallen leaves at his feet.
Commander Altair tapped his staff against his lantern and it grew brighter, lighting up the clearing.
As the light flashed around, Sammy gasped. Straight ahead and nearly ten feet up, was a huge opening in the rock face, like a giant mouth, large enough to swallow Professor Burlay’s minibus.
Roughly hewn rock steps led from where they were standing to a wide ledge and into the darkness. Along the ledge ran a row of pointed stones in the same milk white stone that was scattered on the ground.
‘The Dragon’s Lair,’ said Commander Altair, ‘guarded by the Dragon’s Teeth.’
‘The walkway to the stars,’ said Dixie pointing at a mist swirling above the lair. ‘I thought my brothers made it up.’
Split between listening to Commander Altair and looking at the mist, Sammy looked up to where Dixie was pointing. The night sky was pitch black with a sprinkling of stars dancing in a pearlescent column of mist.
Commander Altair stood on the bottom step resting against his staff, the lantern swinging in his free hand.
‘This lair belonged to Karmandor.’
Sammy leaned forward, his attention piqued having learnt that his dragon, Kyrillan, might be a distant relation to Karmandor.
‘Dragon of King Serberon,’ continued Commander Altair, ‘King of the Dark Ages who lived in our castle, long before it became a school.’ He climbed to the top of the steps. ‘They say his dragon still lives in this cave. That Karmandor is a prisoner, enchanted by an evil witch who lured the dragon into the forest then put curses on the trees, moving them, changing their shape, so it would never find its way out.
Sammy stared at the cave, the home of Karmandor the dragon if he had heard correctly.
‘Tell them about the wicked witch of the west,’ a voice came from the back of the group. Sammy spun round to see the professor of the West house waving her staff.
Professor Sanchez towered next to her, glaring first at the woman then at her staff.
‘I know what you think Professor Sanchez, that nothing good comes from the sea but fish.’
‘Fish, sea?’ said Sammy. ‘What’s that about?’
‘The West house,’ whispered Dixie, ‘is associated with water. That’s why they wear blue.’
‘Oh,’ said Sammy, touching his green tie and looking at the blue, yellow and red worn by his new classmates. ‘Green for trees, red for fire,’ he said thinking out loud.
Dixie stared at him and burst out laughing. ‘Green for trees, wait until I tell my brothers. They’ll love that!’
‘Oh,’ said Sammy a little embarrassed.
‘Green for the earth,’ said Dixie, still giggling. ‘Trees as well.’
‘What’s Professor Sanchez’s house?’
‘The East house is yellow and belongs to the air, the power of thought,’ said Professor Sanchez kindly.
‘That figures,’ said Sammy, looking at the students with yellow on their uniform. ‘How does she do that, keep coming up behind me whenever I have a question about her.’
‘The tricks of the trade,’ said Professor Sanchez tossing her dark hair back as she laughed. ‘I see we shall get along, yes?’
Sammy nodded and was glad when Professor Sanchez whisked herself to the front of the group.
‘Well done Sammy,’ said Darius. ‘You just made friends with the wicked witch of the East.’
Sammy grinned and took one last look at the dark hole in the rock as they left the clearing. The professor from the West house was leading them back to the castle. Sammy overheard Professor Burlay tell Gavin and Toby that she was Dr Margarite Lithoman, their Gemology professor, who would teach them more about the onyx stone they had been given as well as many other stones and crystals.
There was a rumbling behind them. Sammy stopped and looked back. The pearlescent tube was swaying from side to side, shimmering and vibrating, creating an electric humming sound overhead. The humming grew louder and louder. Sammy pressed his hands against his ears to block the noise.
‘They come,’ said Professor Sanchez, pointing at the tube.
‘Early,’ said Commander Altair.
Sammy noticed the four professors had taken out their staffs. They were holding them at arms length, all pointing towards the Dragon’s Lair.
Over Gavin’s shoulder, Sammy saw silvery shapes rocket down the pearlescent tube and disappear inside the hilltop. As the shapes fell into the rock, the humming stopped and the tube stopped swaying. The four professors climbed to the top of the steps, poised, ready to fire on anything, or anyone, coming out of the darkness.
In the lantern light, a tuft of green hair appeared at the mouth of the Dragon’s Lair. Dr Lithoman shot a bolt of red lightning from her staff. It hit the cave wall, shattering the rock and lighting up the inside of the Dragon’s Lair. Sammy couldn’t see clearly but he thought that he had seen the faces of two green haired boys in the shadows.
Beside him, Dixie was shrieking, even with his hands over his ears he could hear her. ‘It’s Serberon and Mikhael! The rest of the school are returning!’
Inside the Dragon’s Lair came a scream of pain. It sounded like one of the boys had been hit.
As quickly as they had drawn their staffs, the professors put them away. Commander Altair and Professor Burlay ran forward.
Dixie ran up the steps after them. ‘Serb are you hurt?’ she screamed.
Commander Altair held Dixie back as more faces appeared at the entrance to the Dragon’s Lair. Boys and girls of all ages, shapes and sizes spilled out of the cave and ran down the steps. Sammy counted three green haired boys, ‘Jason, Mikhael and Serberon,’ he whispered to himself.
‘Dr Lithoman,’ Commander Altair shouted above the noise the students were making, ‘take the students back to the castle.’
‘Take him to Mrs Grock’s,’ Professor Sanchez said to Professor Burlay, pointing at the green haired boy.
‘Let me go too,’ said Dixie. ‘He’s my brother.’
Sammy looked at Serberon. The green haired boy had a line of blood dribbling from a gash in his cheek. He was dragging his left leg behind him and Sammy could see a dark stain running from Serberon’s knee to his ankle.
‘Very well,’ said Professor Sanchez. ‘You and you,’ she pointed to Sammy and Dixie, ‘may go with him.’
Sammy helped Professor Burlay to carry Dixie’s brother back along the narrow path. Dixie walked ahead, holding the lantern and pulling up her coat collar to keep out the cold.
Serberon wriggled in Sammy’s hands. ‘You’ll miss the welcome feast,’ he croaked.
Sammy stared at Serberon’s green hair.
‘Genetic,’ said Serberon.
Dixie turned round and grinned at them. ‘He knows.’
‘Come on kids, if you keep up the pace we might make dessert,’ said Professor Burlay, puffing slightly.
Sammy’s stomach grumbled. He’d had nothing but biscuits since breakfast and he was getting hungry.
‘Don’t know what Sir Ragnarok will make of it, you lot coming back early,’ Professor Burlay said to Serberon.
Serberon didn’t reply and Sammy shook him gently. His eyes stayed closed. ‘Unconscious,’ muttered Professor Burlay. ‘Hope we’re not too late.’