It was ten past three on a sunny August afternoon and two boys and a girl were sitting in a red and white spotted mushroom shaped treehouse situated halfway up an old oak tree.
‘Dr Lithoman was really called Eliza Elungwen,’ said a dark skinned, dark haired boy as he poured lemonade out of a plastic orange jug into a glass, ‘who would have thought it?’
‘That’s all you’ve said Darius since your parents dropped you off ten minutes ago,’ said the small, green eyed, green haired girl, grinning at him. She held out three glasses for him to fill with a hand unsteady from laughing.
‘I know,’ said the dark haired boy. ‘But it’s just so weird. She’s a teacher and my parents said I must respect the teachers, but why should we when all she was doing was threatening to kill all our dragons and close the school?’
‘Dragamas,’ said the second boy. He had dirty blond hair and pale blue eyes that were sparkling. ‘I can’t wait to be back there, uh, not that it hasn’t been nice staying here,’ he added quickly as the green haired girl looked indignantly at him. ‘Dixie, you know I’ve loved staying here while my parents are in Switzerland, but I’m ready to go back. We get to play Dragonball and Firesticks properly this year, with our dragons.’
‘Like you haven’t played it enough, Sammy, you and that dragon of yours,’ said Darius, shaking his head. ‘Anyone would think you’re playing professionally, flying round the pitch on Kyrillan all the time.’
The boy with dirty blond hair looked out of the tree house window. He could see six long shapes lying side by side on the grass below. Each of the shapes was a live dragon, hatched from an egg that each student received on their first day at Dragamas School for Dragon Charming, the only school in Britain that encouraged dragon breeding and allowed its pupils to learn unusual skills.
The shimmering blue-green dragon at the far end was Sammy’s dragon, Kyrillan, whose name he had discovered meant “strong and wise”.
‘He’s awake,’ said Sammy as the shimmering blue-green dragon shook its tail. ‘I can’t believe how much Kyrillan has grown.’
‘All dragons grow,’ said Dixie matter of factly. ‘At six feet, they’re only half grown.’
‘Swot,’ said Sammy, grinning at her.
‘Me?’ asked Dixie indignantly. ‘What about you Mr Medal of Bravery?’
‘Cross,’ corrected Sammy, touching the metal Celtic-like cross he wore on a black cord around his neck. It had been his reward at the end of term last year for helping raise the ransom and saving the school from closing. ‘Hopefully Eliza Elungwen, has told Sir Ragnarok who else is in the Shape as well as her.’
‘Yeah,’ said Darius. ‘Then we can all go back to school in peace.’
‘After last year I need a bit of peace,’ said Sammy.
‘You nearly came home in pieces!’ giggled Dixie and they all laughed.
‘There are only two more days of holiday,’ said Sammy, checking their homemade calendar on the curved treehouse wall. ‘That’s enough time for three games of Dragonball, maybe some Firesticks, packing our cases, then we go back to school.’
‘If I hear another word about Dragonball, I’ll ask Sir Ragnarok to make you give your Excelsior Dragonball set back,’ said Darius.
Sir Ragnarok was the headmaster at Dragamas, an ancient man with grey hair, bright blue eyes and a quick thinking mind that was fair in judgment. At the end of the summer term, he had granted Sammy’s wish and given him a silver briefcase containing brand new equipment to play the popular sport called Dragonball, which people with dragons play all over the country.
‘I thought you said you didn’t like school anyway,’ said Dixie. ‘You said you were glad to get home each afternoon.’
Sammy looked at her, his eyes wide open. ‘You really don’t understand, do you? Dragamas is completely different. It’s a boarding school and there aren’t any people like the Shape out to get me.’
‘I’d rather have those Rat Catchers you said about after me than the Shape,’ said Darius, a worried look in his eyes. ‘At least at your old school you weren’t going to die.’
Sammy shrugged. ‘I’ll find out who else is in the Shape this year,’ he said firmly. ‘If any of them try anything,’ he added, picking up his staff, a long wooden stick with a glossy black onyx gemstone at the top. He waved it high above his head in a long sweeping movement.
As he waved the staff, a handful of green sparks flew from the onyx and fizzed and crackled in the air.
Sammy leapt back in surprise. He had no idea his staff could do that.
Darius burst out laughing. ‘That’s a new one. The Shape will be terrified of that!’
Dixie looked thoughtful. ‘I’ve seen green sparks before. My brothers use them sometimes. How about trying just one big green spark Sammy? Open the window first though.’
‘Ok,’ said Sammy. He moved the chairs, unhitched the latch and pushed the window wide open. ‘Stand back.’
‘On three,’ said Darius, holding up his hand with his fingers outstretched. ‘One…two…three.’
On “three”, Sammy held his staff tightly and threw his arm forward.
There was a loud BANG and a huge green flame spurted from the onyx followed by a jet stream of tiny green candle sized flames that followed the green fireball out of the window, across the sleeping dragons and into the field behind Dixie’s house.
‘Wow!’ shouted Darius. ‘That was amazing.’
Sammy leaned out of the window and drew a deep breath. He turned to face Dixie and Darius, grinning broadly at them. ‘I think it’s landed in the field.’
‘Let’s go and find it,’ said Dixie. She opened the tree house door, swung herself on to the rope ladder and climbed down out of sight.
Darius went next, climbing hand over hand until he reached the bottom.
As Sammy took his turn, he was glad he’d asked his parents to buy the sturdy new ladder, replacing the old ladder with its broken rungs, as a thank you present to Mrs Deane for having him to stay. She had refused to take any money but, knowing they would go up into the tree house whether the ladder was safe or not, she had accepted the ladder, preferring to know that they were safe.
It was very safe. It didn’t budge when Sammy swung himself on to the strong wooden rungs, holding on to the knotted rope to guide him down on to the muddy circle below.
Even though Dixie and her triplet older brothers, Serberon, Mikhael and Jason hadn’t used the mushroom shaped tree house built by their father shortly before he disappeared four years ago, the grass refused to grow. Mrs Deane joked that it hadn’t grown because it knew the tree house would be used again and it couldn’t be bothered to try.
‘It’s over there!’ shouted Darius, standing with Dixie in a gap in the high, overgrown, brambly hedge separating the row of houses from the training grounds of the Woodland Ranchers, the local Firesticks team some of the pupils at Dragamas supported. A keen Firesticks supporter herself, Dixie even had a poster of Nitron Dark, the captain of the Nitromen Firesticks team, on her bedroom wall.
‘Look Sammy!’ shouted Dixie. ‘It’s exploded! There’s bits of green flames everywhere.
‘Where?’ demanded Sammy. He ran to the hedged bank at the end of Dixie’s garden and leapt up beside Dixie and Darius. ‘Oh no,’ he said, looking at the hundred or so dancing flames, each no bigger than a candle flame, spread out across the neatly mown Dragonball and Firesticks pitch.