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The Search for the Red Dragon

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The Search for the Red Dragon

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Author: James A. Owen
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2008
Series: The Chronicles of the Imaginarium Geographica: Book 2

1. Here, There Be Dragons
2. The Search for the Red Dragon

Book Type: Novel
Genre: Fantasy
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Synopsis

"'The Crusade has begun'...

"There's an old myth in the Archipelago," he went on softly, shaking his head. "A legend, really... I recall it mentioned a Crusade, but those events happened seven centuries ago. We always thought it was only a story."

It has been nine years since John, Jack, and Charles had their great adventure in the Archipelago of Dreams and became the Caretakers of the Imaginarium Geographica. Now they have been brought together again to solve a mystery: Someone is kidnapping the children of the Archipelago. And their only clue is a mysterious message delivered by a strange girl with artificial wings: "The Crusade has begun." Worse, they discover that all of the legendary Dragonships have disappeared as well.

The only chance they have to save the world from a centuries-old plot is to seek out the last of the Dragonships -- the Red Dragon -- in a spectacular journey that takes them from Sir James Barrie's Kensington Gardens to the Underneath of the Greek Titans of myth. With friends both familiar and new, they will travel through an extraordinary landscape where history, myth, and fable blend together to tell the oldest story in the world. And along the way, the Caretakers of the Geographica will discover that great deeds alone do not make heroes, and that growing up may be unavoidable... but growing old doesn't have to be.


Excerpt

Prologue

It was not the soothing notes of a lullaby that lured the children from their beds, but it was a song nonetheless. Their parents never heard it, for the tune had not been intended for them.

It was a song played for children; and when they heard it, the children came.

Half-asleep and barefoot, still in their nightshirts, the children climbed from their beds and through windows that had been opened, unknowingly, to let in the cool breezes of evening.

They walked, entranced, down winding lanes that converged into a single path that none of them had ever seen before, but that had always been there.

It had many names, for it was only ever walked by children, and children have a fondness for naming things. But each child, as they passed, knew it for what it truly was -- the Road to Paradise. They knew this, because the song they heard told them so.

The notes of the music seemed to emanate from all around them, played everywhere and nowhere all at once, and the music maker, when they glimpsed him in the twilight air, seemed to change shape in time with the music.

His flickering, ghostlike form was sometimes a grown-up, and other times a child like themselves. And sometimes he seemed not to be human at all. The music told them his name: the King of Crickets. And none of them could resist the song he played.

None, save for one.

She had been cautioned that one day the King of Crickets would come, and that unless she was prepared, she would not be able to resist his song. No children could, unless they were crippled, and could not follow, or were unable to hear the tune and fall under its spell.

The beeswax she put into her ears, as the dream had told her to do, kept out enough of the music for her to resist its lure -- but not so completely that she couldn't feel the desire, nor hold back the tears that streamed onto her pillow as she finally slept, still dreaming of Paradise.

For some children, the path ended at a great mountain face that split open to embrace them, and closed as they passed through. For others, it ended at a great precipice, which they stepped over, willingly, because the song told them they could fly. But for most, it led them to the Men of Iron, and the great ships that departed with the dawn.

In the light of morning, the path would again vanish, but it would have a new name: the Sorrow Road.

As they awoke to find the beds of their sons and daughters empty, the mothers and fathers in the towns and villages would feel bewilderment, then fear, and then terror. And they would name the path with their cries.

But it was too late. Much, much too late.

The children were already gone.

CHAPTER ONE
The Angel in the Garden

John rarely dreamed, and it was even more seldom that he could recall what he dreamed about. But as of late, he had had dreams every night, and he remembered them all -- because when he dreamed, he dreamed of Giants.

Massive continents of bone and sinew, creating their own topographies as they strode across the landscapes, giving little notice to the awed creatures watching from below. The Giants were so great it seemed they had both gravity and weightlessness; as if the next thundering step would suddenly launch them into space, to join with the gods and Titans among the constellations.

Standing with the populace of his dream world (all of whom, strangely, seemed to be children), John watched in mute wonder as the Giants strode past with geological slowness. Then, as in each of the dreams, one of the Giants turned and looked down, directly at John. Shifting its weight, it bent and reached for him with a hand the size of a barn as the children around him began shrieking....

The train whistle was shrill in the afternoon air, startling John out of his troubled reverie. He stood and quickly scanned the crowd departing the train that had just come in from London. The station at Oxford was not large, but the afternoon schedules were always full of both comings and goings, and he didn't want to miss the person for whom he was waiting.

He realized with a rising thrill that he was far more excited to see his old friend than he'd expected to be. They had, in point of fact, spent only a few weeks together a number of years before -- but the events of those days were enough to make them closer than mere colleagues. And so when the thin, nervous-looking man with the high forehead and round spectacles finally emerged from the train onto the platform, John rushed forward and greeted him like a brother.

"Charles!" he exclaimed joyfully. "I say, it's terribly good to see you!"

"I'm very pleased to see you, too, John," said Charles, clapping his friend on the back. "It's odd -- as I got closer and closer to Oxford, I kept feeling as if I was coming home. But it wasn't because of the place -- rather because I knew I was going to be seeing you and Jack. Does that sound strange to you?"

"Yes," replied John, chuckling, "but in all the right ways. Come on -- let me help you with your bags."

As they loaded Charles's belongings into John's vehicle, Charles looked around nervously and leaned closer to his friend. "I wanted to ask," he said in a conspiratorial whisper, "do you, ah, do you, you know, have, ah, 'it' with you?"

"Of course," said John, pointing to a bundle of books and papers on the rear seat. "It's there in the middle somewhere."

Charles's eyes widened in shock. "Here? Out in the open?" he exclaimed. "Not locked away or anything? John, are you out of your mind? That's, that's..." He lowered his voice again. "That's the Imaginarium Geographica. The single most valuable book on Earth. Don't you think it's a bit, ah, risky?"

"Not at all," John said with a trace of smugness. "Take a look at the lecture on top of the pile."

Charles adjusted his spectacles and peered more closely at the document. "It says, 'A proposal for syllabus reform as regards the study of Ancient Icelandic.' And the rest appear to be notes on courses in Comparative Philologies."

He climbed into the seat next to John and gave his friend a puzzled look. "Don't take this the wrong way, but how many people, even at Oxford, would care about such things?"

"Precisely my thinking," said John as he started up the car. "I have a hard enough time getting the undergraduates to pay any attention to Anglo-Saxon, much less Old Icelandic. What better protection for the Geographica than to bury it amongst manuscripts that no one else will care about?"

It had been nine years to the day since John and Charles had met each other in London. Nine years since they and the companion they were going to see had gone on the most extraordinary expedition of their lives.

Exceptional circumstances had brought the three young men together at the scene of a murder. The dead man, John's mentor, Professor Sigurdsson, had been one of the Caretakers of the Imaginarium Geographica.

The Geographica was an atlas of maps of a place called the Archipelago of Dreams -- a great chain of islands that had been coexisting with our own world since time began and had influenced many of the great men and women of history.

But not all of those influenced by the Archipelago were influenced for the better.

A man called the Winter King tried to use the Geographica and the knowledge found within to conquer the Archipelago. Another Caretaker, Bert, enlisted John and his two friends to travel into the Archipelago to try to stop the Winter King. And somehow, despite terrible odds, they managed to do it.

The Winter King lost, and fell to his death over the edge of an endless waterfall. A new order was established in the Archipelago, under a new king and queen. And the Geographica now had three new Caretakers: John, Charles, and the youngest of the three friends, Jack.

But there had been prices paid for their victory. Allies were lost. Mistakes were made. And although there had been a measure of redemption, there were some events that would never be far from their thoughts.

Events in the Archipelago resonate with those in our world -- which was then still in the midst of World War I. John resumed his service in the military just as Jack began his. Only Charles was spared, due to his general nervous nature and age. And when finally, the war ended, they all resumed their lives as if the war, and their adventure in the Archipelago, had been imaginary aberrations, or dreams.

And perhaps John could have convinced himself that it all had been a dream, if it were not for the great leatherbound book that he still possessed. He had not had so much as a message from Bert since the old tatterdemalion had returned them to London aboard the White Dragon -- one of the great living Dragonships that were able to cross the boundary between our world and the Archipelago.

At least, John mused, there hadn't been any more murders. Or another war. He didn't think the planet could survive a second war on the scale of the one they'd come through. But then again, much of the responsibility for those events could be attributed to the Winter King -- and he had been dealt with.

John had been working in his study at Oxford when the messenger boy arrived with the note from Jack's brother Warren that requested he come to see Jack immediately. As he was reading it, the telephone rang. John picked it up and was happily surprised to find Charles on the other end, having just received a telegram of his own. In short order, arrangements were made for Charles to travel to Oxford, where he and John could meet and then go together to see Jack.

When they had parted ways in London years earlier, they had made a pact to never contact one another except in the event of a situation arising that involved the care of the Geographica, or the Archipelago, or in case of another extreme emergency. It was, they decided, the only way to protect t... --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Copyright © 2008 by James A. Owen


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