Below is a full copy of chapter one from the debut novel, yours to read, free. Please click one of the “Buy the Book” links on the right side of the page to purchase the full digital version; or follow the same links to read the first 20% of the novel, also free, before you decide!
Diana’s Dragons: The Awaited
By J.R. Schumaker
Diana took the back stairs two at a time. Bombs and lasers from her brother’s video game chased her out the kitchen door and into the yard. Only where the lawn gave way to wild canyon grass did birdsong begin to replace the ring of explosions in her ears. She ran up the hill through the low brush, zig-zagging as usual to avoid beating a path to her hideaway. She clutched the crystal around her neck. It felt warm, like a breath on her throat. Her heart raced as she lifted the cord, holding the amulet up to the sun. A smoky haze swirled within. Only one thing could awaken the mistcrystal: the dragons. They were back.
Her mistcrystal pulled her onward. She rounded the hill and spotted the oak that sheltered the front of her hideaway. The cave faced a gully full of stones and brush that for part of the year also contained a trickling stream. It had been a wet spring, so the rivulet was deep enough to soak her purple high-tops. She avoided the water and the budding branches and then pulled the elucifier, an odd but invaluable object, from one of her many pockets. She shook it gently until it emitted its strange wavelength. She shined the light into the dark entrance, giving the chasm a ginger-white glow, like an impossible layer of daylight spreading over night. The entrance was low, so she had to duck to enter. A grown dragon—the size of a condor—could enter with ease.
Diana’s stomach fluttered as fast as her heartbeat. She aimed the beam at the ground as she entered the cavern. It was all she could do to move slowly. She was sure they were here. But were they her dragons? Well, any dragons were welcome. As the splay of light reached the far end of the cave, Diana clamped her hand over her mouth, stifling the urge to cry out. A form was perched on the earthen shelf. She steadied herself against the cave wall and released a sigh she had held for two years, since the day her father and Clarin gave her the crystal and disappeared.
Careful not to shine the light near its head, she ran the beam up and down the body. The sleeping dragon was unmistakable now, even in its present slump. The slick blue told her it was a sea. It slept with its head in a tuck. A rock shifted under Diana’s feet and the creature startled, moving enough to reveal a second creature in the wake of the elucifier’s light. A pair! Diana thought her heart would fly out of her chest. Her hand shook so much the ‘luce rattled. She advanced slowly and trained the light on the second dragon, a terra, golden brown and shining, with its head, too, in a tuck.
Diana sucked in her breath. It could not be a coincidence. A sea and a terra…a sea and a terra…the words skipped around her mind. Her mistcrystal was fully awake now. It felt like a second, irregular pulse on Diana’s throat. Raising the crystal again to her eyes, she watched the amber fog continue its dance, the mist curling like smoke inside the quivering stone. She blinked back tears. Time stopped as she sat with the sleeping dragons and gripped her pendant, everything that mattered contained in its uneven tempo of hope.
Diana shook herself back to the present. Were these really her dragons? Could this be Clarin and her mate? How could they not be? She did not dare wake them. Who knew what had driven dragons to sleep during daylight?
Diana checked her watch: 9:00 a.m. There was no way to know when they would awaken. She backed out of the cave with ginger steps, squinting in the sunlight. Instinctively, she grasped the mistcrystal, feeling it cool a bit as she exited the cave. Pacing between the entrance and a huge boulder, she pulled out her phone and dialed her best friend.
“Hi Diana,” Nicki answered the phone quietly. She always managed to sound like she was in a library. “How’s it go—?”
Diana broke in before Nicki could finish her sentence. Diana’s words buzzed through the phone, “They’re back—two of them!”
Nicki gasped, “Oh, my gosh! Which ones? Where are you?”
“At the hideaway—how fast can you get over here?”
“I’ll come right now—what do they need? What are they doing?”
“They’re asleep. I’m sure they’ll be hungry. Oh, and hang by the entrance—what if we are strangers? We don’t want to scare them.”
“OK, no problem. I’ve got walnuts and bananas. Worms, hmmm…I’ll check the compost bin. I’ll be there in 15 minutes,” Nicki said. Her tone softened. “What about your dad?”
“No, no sign of him,” Diana replied, a slight shake in her voice. They fell silent. Diana felt a lump in her throat. She took a step away from the mouth of the cave and continued, her vocal chords giving away her emotion, “But I don’t even know what’s going on at all yet. I don’t even know if it’s Clarin and Shay, let alone anything about my dad.”
“Yeah, oh, wow. Well…” Nicki’s voice trailed off to almost nothing.
“I’m gonna call my mom, then I’m going back inside until they wake up.” The best friends hung up.
Diana took a deep breath before calling home. Her mom answered after the three longest rings ever.
“Mom, they’re back,” Diana gasped in a choked whisper. “The dragons. They made it!”
“Oh my gosh! I can’t believe it. Oh my goodness! Where are they? Are they alright?” Her mom’s voice rang out an octave higher than usual.
“They’re at the hideaway. They seem fine. They’re asleep.” Diana instinctively bent and peeked into the cave, though it was pointless to try to see through the black.
Her mother sighed and then continued, “And your father—anything?”
“No…no…sorry, Mom,” Diana’s voice cracked. “No sign.”
“OK,” her mother was barely audible. Then she perked up, “How many are there? Is it them?”
Diana whispered, “Two of them–a terra and a sea. It has to be…I mean…I bet it’s them…” she paused, “but I can’t tell yet. And I can’t wake them up.”
“It must be them,” her mother sounded wistful. Silence filled the line. She knew her mom was thinking of Dad. Diana had no words. Then her mother spoke up again, “I’ll be right there—”
“Not yet, Mom,” Diana answered, “Nicki is on the way with some food. We’re OK.”
“All right, honey; yes, yes, the two of you are plenty right now. Those poor dragons…” her voice shrank, “what must they have gone through?” She sounded very far away to Diana. Then the familiar focus came back into her mom’s voice, “Well, let me know the second you know anything. And check in soon, OK?”
“I will, Mom.” Diana was about to hang up, then burst out with the plea, “Mom! Don’t tell Brody yet!”
Linda Santos chuckled, “I gave your brother extra time on his video game; if he looks up, I promise, not a word.”
Diana double-checked that her phone was on vibrate and stooped back into the cave. As she moved toward the back, she felt a tell-tale increase in heat and motion on her throat. Her heart told her this was Clarin. Why else would the mistcrystal enliven so much when she was near? After all, it was Clarin’s very first breath captured in the stone.
Diana swept at some dust on the low stool she kept in the hideaway. She sat watching the dragons for a few minutes. She thought back to the time when her father had first found her in here, alone and crying, after the raven she had tried to nurse to health had died. She hadn’t even gotten in trouble for running off, though her father insisted on rules and precautions for her cave occupancy from then on. She slid the edge of the elucifier beam along the sea’s body. She couldn’t get a good look at the dragon from the position in which he slept, and she didn’t dare disturb him.
Diana pulled out her phone; Nicki was texting her. She had the food and wanted to know if she should stop at Diana’s house and bring a carrier. Diana texted back: “Yes, thanks. Don’t let my brother see.” What a time to have to be patient. Diana sat motionless. She flicked her wrist to turn off the ‘luce, then shook it right back on. The darkness was too dark. She held the beam beneath the two dragons and sat for one sixty-second eternity after another. Finally, she saw movement.
It was the terra. Diana could barely contain herself. Just chill! she told herself. She leaned past the sleeping sea, gazing at the terra, who was slowly raising her head. The mistcrystal had never been so active. Diana wanted to make sure it was the first thing the dragon saw, in case it was not Clarin, though any terra would feel the presence of the mistcrystal before seeing it. Diana had the kind of butterflies she got on Christmas Eve when she was little, when she had been ninety-nine percent positive what she most wished for was under the tree. The brown dragon opened its eyes. As if it had already seen Diana behind closed lids, their gazes met at once. Diana’s heart leapt and her smile felt too wide to be contained in the small space. It was Clarin! Her tawny eyes reached for Diana. Dragons smile with the shape of their eyes, and Diana was drawn into Clarin’s, feeling two tiny suns beaming at her. She came close and reached out to touch Clarin’s snout. Diana dared not speak, for fear of awakening the sea, who, she was sure now, was Clarin’s lifelong mate, Shay.
Diana scooted a little closer, kneeling past Shay to touch Clarin’s talon. Clarin responded by pressing her snout to Diana’s hand. The dragon’s touch felt like a summer day condensed into a moment. Diana whispered, “How are you? I missed you so much.” Clarin continued to smile, but her thoughts remained silent. Diana followed with the elucifier beam as Clarin bent her head toward a grassy mound between her and her sleeping mate. Diana leaned forward and directed the barest glimmer of light at the grass. Through the nest of brown and green, she caught a tiny glimpse of iridescence. It took only a moment to register: “You laid eggs!” Diana burst out. She pulled the light off the pile; it was a gut reaction—the ‘luce couldn’t hurt the eggs.
Clarin’s whole body sat up taller, her eyes shone. Diana sucked in her breath, then managed to tumble out, “Oh wow, wow…” while daring, with Clarin’s approving nods, to brush away a little bit of grass until she saw the radiant shells in four pulsating colors: a nest full of eggs of the four natures of dragon.
The eggs were a little bigger than golf balls and nearly as round. The shells of all but one kind were extraordinarily hard, their surfaces pearly and luminescent. The nature of the dragonling within was foretold by the color of its shell—terra: deep shining gold encased in patches of rich brown, like polished gold ore still surrounded by earth; sea: cerulean blue with shimmering, silvery waves; sun: deep rose with fiery yellow swirls; and ghost: pure, ethereal white. Ghost shells were the thinnest. In the dark, their translucence revealed the glowing outline of the growing hatchling.
A wave of disbelief overtook Diana. It was all hitting her at once. She hunched down on the stool and placed her face in her hands, feeling at any second she would either laugh or cry. The sound of movement on the ledge snapped her out of her reverie, and she looked up to see Shay looking at her, his eyes smiling through his exhaustion. From Clarin’s mistcrystal flooded strange, warm feelings; Diana suddenly knew Shay like she’d known him forever. They looked at one another for what seemed like minutes, Diana taking in Shay’s deep eyes, feeling as if she’d grown up seeing them her whole life, and at the same time wondering how blue could be so blue. She reached for his snout and his warm nuzzle sank into her skin, as the reality that the dragons were home sank into her heart.
Shay turned toward the nest. With great effort, he drew himself up as if to present the eggs. Diana smiled knowingly and told the proud father, “Yes, I’ve seen. They’re beautiful, Shay.” Then the dragon father slumped back, giving in to his fatigue.
A text from Nicki buzzed from the phone in Diana’s pocket. She was outside the cave. Diana told the dragons, “Nicki’s here with some food for you. Be right back.” Both dragons nodded and their eyes showed relief. Diana sighed. They would eat. They would be safe. It was all going to be OK. They were home.
Click now to purchase the full digital version for 5.99;
or follow the same link to read chapters two and three, also free, before you decide!