In this sequel to The Voyage to Magical North, Brine, Peter, Cassie and crew return for another swashbuckling adventure on the high seas.
Reaching the edge of the world can't stop the crew of the Onion! It's westward ho in search of dragons, no matter the obstacles. And there are obstacles. Flesh-eating vines, violent locals, and mischievous maginot to mention Marfak West's ghostmeet the pirates when they land on the Western Island, where a volcano threatens to end them all. Together, Brine and Peter might just be able to save the crew, the island, and themselves. Or they might all go up in flames. It really could go either way.
About the Author
Claire Fayers is the author of The Voyage to Magical North and its sequel, The Journey to Dragon Island. She lives in South Wales with her husband and as many cats as she can get away with.
Read an Excerpt
The Journey to Dragon Island
By Claire Fayers
Henry Holt and CompanyCopyright © 2017 Claire Fayers
All rights reserved.
Dragon eggs absorb magic. We know this — for centuries, magicians have collected the discarded shards, not knowing what they are. They call them starshell and use them for spellcasting. This uses up some of the magic in the world, but stories suggest that dragons themselves use much, much more. Yet dragons, with one exception, are extinct.
So, what happens to all the spare magic?
(from THOMAS GIRLING'S BOOK OF PIRATING ADVENTURES)
Brine Seaborne was bored. She shouldn't be — she was sunbathing on the deck of a pirate ship with a dragon in her lap. But after two months of sailing with a good wind, calm seas, and nobody attacking them, she was beginning to wish something would happen.
"Are you still keeping notes about our journey?" she asked Tom.
Tom looked up from his notebook. "Of course I am. Mum said it was important to keep accurate records so we can separate out the truth from the stories."
He'd grown taller in the past months, and the constant sunshine had tanned his skin an even brown. He still kept his dark brown hair long, and he wore his knee-length librarian's robe belted over his trousers. He said he needed it because of all the pockets, but Brine suspected he wore it because it reminded him of home in the underground libraries of Barnard's Reach.
"How much longer do you think it'll take us to find Dragon Island?" asked Brine. They'd passed the island of Auriga last week, which was the farthest west anyone had ever sailed before, so they must be getting close. Unless the people of Auriga were right, and if you carried on west, you'd sail off the edge of the world — which was nonsense, of course. Nowadays, everyone knew the world wasn't a bowl full of the sea, but a ball that had no edge or end.
"It'll take about an hour less than the last time you asked," said Peter, his shadow falling across her. The young magician sat down between Brine and Tom.
While Tom's skin had tanned in the sun, Peter's had developed pink patches, and his hair, which used to be dust-beige, had become the dirty yellow of dried sea-cabbage. He reached out to stroke Boswell's warm scales. The dragon let out a contented puff of flame and rolled over to let Peter scratch his belly where his scales were still pure silver. Over the past month, he'd been shedding, and the scales that grew back were the green of a stormy sea.
"Do you think we'll really find dragons on the Western Island?" asked Peter.
The rest of the crew didn't think so. Maybe there were dragons in the west once, but they were probably all extinct now — that was what pirate captain Cassie O'Pia and first mate Ewan Hughes said. And Tim Burre, who came from Auriga, was sure they'd fall off the edge of the world long before they found anything.
As far as most of the crew was concerned, they were sailing west in search of adventure and Brine's home — a home she still couldn't remember. Just because some of the books from Barnard's Reach talked about dragons, it didn't mean they'd find any. Brine knew that stories were usually made up out of a pinch of fact and several buckets of exaggeration, but even so, she couldn't help hoping.
"We better find dragons," said Tom. "My calculations show —"
"Yes, we know about your calculations." Peter grinned. "I'm telling you, the absence of dragons is not making the world fill up with magic. Excess magic burns off into the sky — it's how we get storms and the Stella Borealis. Everyone knows that."
"Then everyone is wrong," said Tom. "Some magic burns off, but not all of it. Dragons were supposedly the biggest consumer of magic in all of the eight oceans, but dragons have been extinct for so long that most people think they're just stories. Also, we've just lost Marfak West, and he used a lot of magic. So we've got a whole load of magical energy just hanging about the world, and increased magic means increased strangeness."
Brine started as Boswell gave a fiery snort, singeing her trousers. "I haven't noticed anything strange," she said, rubbing at the burnt fabric.
"Anyway, magic corrodes," said Peter. "That's why dragons build their nests out of gold and jewels, because they're the only things that don't disintegrate. Too much magic would make things fall apart. I'm a magician — I should know."
"You're a magician with a splinter of starshell in your hand," said Tom, raising his eyebrows. "But your hand hasn't fallen off yet."
"That's because the splinter is too small to make any difference." Peter sighed.
"What about this ship, then?" said Tom, patting the scuffed wooden deck of the Onion. "It's full of magic, and it hasn't fallen apart. And these" — he took his glasses off — "they belonged to Boswell the explorer, so how come they're exactly right for me?"
"Coincidence?" suggested Brine.
"Or maybe, the huge levels of magical energy concentrated at Magical North reshaped them to be what I needed," Tom argued. "Magic changes the world."
"Well, magic or not, right now I'd like the world to change to be a little more exciting," said Brine, shading her eyes as she peered at the featureless ocean. "In a good way, please — not with evil magicians trying to kill us."
Neither Tom nor Peter answered. Good — she'd finally gotten them off the subject of magic. Then she noticed how still they'd become.
"Umm ...," said Peter.
Something skittered on the deck behind them.
And then Cassie O'Pia shouted, "Giant spiders! Why is my ship full of giant spiders?" Boswell fell off Brine's lap. Brine sat up in a hurry and put her hand back, straight through something that was warm and squished horribly. She shrieked.
"Don't just sit there screaming!" shouted Cassie. "All hands on spiders!"
Brine jumped up, shaking congealed spider off her hand. The rest of the gray-green spider lay behind her, a handprint through its crumpled body.
"That's gross," said Peter, his face matching the green of Boswell's scales.
"I know it's gross." Brine scrubbed her hand on her trousers. "Do something!"
Everywhere, pirates scrambled for weapons. More spiders came crawling over the deck rail. Brine counted at least twenty in a single glance. They were exactly the worst size imaginable. Big enough that you could count their eyes and see the slime hanging from their jaws. But small enough that they could scuttle straight up your body and cling to your face. Brine jumped back as a spider dropped from the rigging in front of Boswell. The little dragon toasted it with an enthusiastic belch of flame.
"They look like sea-spiders," said Tom with fascination, "though I've never seen a sea-spider that big before. Peter, did you magic them?" "Of course I didn't!" Peter put a hand over his mouth.
His eyes bulged as if he was going to be sick. "Why would I make giant spiders? I haven't done any magic since ..."
Since Marfak West had captured him and made him do all sorts of terrible things, Brine thought. She shuddered.
Cassie rushed past, her long hair flying and her emerald pendant flashing against her bronze skin. Ewan Hughes was right behind her, as usual. Meanwhile, Trudi, the ship's cook, was trying to squash spiders with a frying pan.
"Remind me to scrub that before she uses it for cooking again," muttered Peter.
Never mind scrubbing it, Brine thought: She was going to throw it overboard.
An arrow hit the deck at her feet and she looked up to see Tim Burre in the crow's nest, waving a bow.
"Sorry!" he called cheerfully.
"They're only sea-spiders," Tom called back. "They're not dangerous!" He lifted his feet out of the way of one of them. "Just a million times bigger than they should be," he added uncertainly.
Cassie hacked down a sheet of green web from the mast. "Tom, you're supposed to be killing them, not studying them. Squash them with a book or something."
Brine winced at the thought of Tom using a book as a weapon. She drew her sword and thrust it through a spider. The creature made a noise like wet leaves squishing underfoot, waved six of its eight legs at her, and died.
"Yuck," said Tom.
Boswell bounded across the deck on the heels of another spider. Did spiders have heels? Brine wondered. The dragon let off a burst of flame that missed the spider and set fire to a bucket.
"Nice job, Boswell," said Peter, running to grab him.
There were hardly any spiders left now, anyway. And then, after a few more minutes, there was only one, running in terrified circles. Cassie cut it in half and then threw the pieces into the sea.
"Well," she said, wiping slime off her cutlass, "that could have been worse."
Ewan Hughes clapped a hand on Peter's shoulder. "Peter, no one's blaming you for anything, but those creatures didn't look quite natural. Are you sure —"
"Yes, I'm sure," snapped Peter, adjusting his grip on Boswell and shrugging Ewan's hand aside. "Why does everyone keep blaming me?"
Because everyone was waiting for him to do something magical again, Brine thought. Magic was part of him. Peter giving up magic would be like Tom giving up books, or Cassie giving up the Onion. It simply couldn't be done. And it really didn't help that the pirates kept going on about magic when they knew Peter could be a bit touchy about the subject.
"He said he didn't do it," Brine said angrily as she kicked some dismembered spider legs into the ocean. "Leave him alone."
Peter turned on her. "I'm not a baby, and I don't need you looking after me." He dumped Boswell into her arms and stamped away to the ladder that led belowdecks.
Brine watched him go, a ball of hurt forming inside her. Peter wasn't just touchy, he was downright thorny, she thought. Like a hedgehog wrapped up in spinewood — with extra brambles.
Cassie rubbed at a dark patch of spider on her shirt. "He didn't mean it."
Deep down — very, very deep down — Brine knew that Cassie was right.
She set Boswell back on the deck, trying to look as if she weren't worried. In a way, it had been easier, when she and Peter had hated each other. She'd known the rules then — they made each other's lives as miserable as possible and they blamed each other for everything that went wrong. Now they were friends and she wanted to help him, but she didn't know how.
Ewan folded his arms. "So if Peter didn't do this, who did?"
"Maybe the sea-spiders are bigger out west," said Bill Lightning. He grinned and sheathed his sword. "I'm glad they were small giant spiders. Last time we fought spiders, they were as big as camels and had eighteen legs each. Terrifying."
"But we're pirates," added Rob Grosse. "We laugh in the face of terror."
The crew immediately started comparing stories of all the giant spiders they'd fought. Brine stayed silent. She didn't believe Bill had fought spiders of any size before. She wanted to go after Peter, but she was afraid it would only make things worse. She picked up a broom from the side of the deck and started sweeping spider legs into the sea.
Tom came to help her. "Good idea. Let's get rid of them before Trudi starts wondering how to make eight-legged casserole," he whispered. Then he paused, frowning at the hairy remains scattered across the deck. "Sea-spiders eat wood, right? A hundred times their own weight in an hour."
Bill Lighting paused halfway through a story about how he'd defeated a swarm of giant scorpions single-handedly. "Right. They lay their eggs on rafts made of spiderweb, then the web attaches to the next ship that comes along, and the eggs hatch. The spiders eat for a while then spin another raft and lay more eggs. They're a nuisance, but generally nothing to worry about. Giant scorpions, on the other hand ..."
"But what if the sea-spiders weren't eating just any old wood?" interrupted Tom. "Think about it. The old Onion was an ordinary pirate ship. ..." "There was nothing ordinary about her," growled Cassie.
Tom flushed pink. "I know. I mean she was made of ordinary wood. But the new Onion was moored at Magical North for a hundred years. It changed her into something magical, and just because she's settled down into a pirate ship now — it doesn't mean the magic has gone. Her wood is full of it. What do you think would happen to a spider if it ate a hundred times its own weight in magic?"
Cassie twisted the emerald around her neck. "I suppose the spider might grow," she admitted. She walked to the side of the deck and stared down at the sea, as if wondering what else might emerge.
"Is this what you meant?" Brine asked Tom. "When you said that without dragons, there's too much magic in the world — and increased magic means increased strangeness?" She hadn't really believed him before, but if this was what magic did to something as tiny as a sea-spider, maybe Tom was right after all.
Tom tucked his hair behind his ears and nodded. "The books I've read say dragons consume magic, so as there haven't been any sightings of dragons for hundreds of years, well ... apart from Boswell" — he gestured at the dragon who was locked in a tug-of-war over a spider leg with the ship's cat, Zen —"then the amount of excess magic must have been going up all this time. We could be reaching an unsustainable level."
Ewan Hughes frowned. "We're pirates, not scientists. Can you use smaller words?"
"He means giant spiders are the least of our worries," said Brine. "Unless we do something to reduce the level of magic in the world, this sort of thing is just going to happen more often."
"More spiders," said Tom. "And strange weather, and magical creatures ... Remember the fish-birds and snow bears from Magical North? Things like that, popping up all over the eight oceans."
"Right," said Cassie uncertainly. "So either we find a load more magicians and get them casting spells, or we find more dragons."
"Dragons," said Ewan Hughes. "Let's find dragons. I hate magicians." He caught Brine's glare. "All magicians except Peter, I mean."CHAPTER 2
Take several giant sea-spiders — as many as you can fit in a frying pan. Fry gently with lots of onions and a whole tub of curry powder until you start to choke on the smoke, then fill the pan up with water. Simmer for an hour then serve or throw away.
(from COOKING UP A STORME — THE RECIPES OF A GOURMET PIRATE)
Everybody was so used to Peter needing time on his own that when he climbed down the ladder to the lower level of the ship, nobody commented. That was the best thing about being a magician, he thought. You could do what you liked, and everyone assumed you were busy with secret magicky things.
Of course, being a magician had its disadvantages. Such as everyone's assumption that if something strange happened, it had to be your fault. And the way the crew kept trying extra hard to be nice to him. As if they thought Peter was on the edge of a mental breakdown and had to be handled as carefully as starshell — in case he cracked and turned them all into worms, like he'd done to the Mother Keeper of Barnard's Reach. The crew didn't know Peter still had nightmares about it. He kept telling himself it hadn't been his fault, but it didn't make any difference. Because of him, the Mother Keeper was living in a jar, eating leaves, and Tom's mother was in charge of Barnard's Reach.
Peter paused at the bottom of the steps in case Brine was planning on following him. Thank goodness she was as irritating as ever. Peter needed that because it felt normal, and right now he didn't think anything else was ever going to be normal again.
He still wasn't quite used to the feel of the new Onion. The old Onion had two levels belowdecks, but this ship only had one. Cassie had taken the captain's cabin at the prow end. Then there was Trudi's galley, a small workroom, and the sleeping quarters where the pirates took it in turns to occupy the hammocks because there weren't quite enough of them. And, finally, right at the back, a storage area where wooden crates were stacked up right to the ceiling.
Zen, the ship's cat, slunk past Peter's ankles, a well-chewed spider's leg dangling mustache-like from his mouth. Tom's messenger seagull opened its eyes, decided that Peter was boring, and then went back to sleep. Peter picked up a lantern and made his way past the hammocks and discarded piles of stripy socks and underpants to the back of the ship. He'd found out that if you squeezed between the third and fourth storage crate — you had to be small to do it — you'd end up in a narrow gap where no one could see you.
Excerpted from The Journey to Dragon Island by Claire Fayers. Copyright © 2017 Claire Fayers. Excerpted by permission of Henry Holt and Company.
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