We stood on a grassy, outdoor terrace of verdant greens brightened by the afternoon sun. It stretched about twenty feet in
width and ran all around the mountain. On our left was a grass-covered mountainside with the same vegetation growing
beneath our feet. The terraces below were even wider, some growing fruit trees, others crops. They stretched out in an
endless stream of green, and several levels below, stood cattle grazing on the grass.
My breath caught. The landscape reminded me a little of home, but instead of an expanse of fields and forests stretching for
leagues, we were on the side of a mountain in full view of the surrounding scrubland.
‘This is level one of Mount Fornax’. He pointed upwards. ‘The reception building is a level up.’
It was difficult to see the surface of the mountain from where we stood, although I did catch glimpses of tree branches.
Phoenix strode ahead, gesturing to the left wall. ‘Each dragon has their own spacious stall, and everyone gets a good view of
the skies. The stalls also link to a communal area in the hollow of the mountain.’
I continued after him and stopped at a giant opening in the wall. A crocodile-green dragon lounged deep within a cavern,
resting its head on folded arms. Shadows obscured most of its features except for a thick, serpentine scale adorned with
‘What a lovely dragon.’ I reached my hand out, only to meet an invisible barrier. ‘Ouch!’
The tip of its tail flicked at me, and I hurried away.
We continued over the terrace. ‘How many dragons live in Mount Fornax?’
Phoenix rubbed the back of his head. ‘That depends on how you define a dragon. Including eggs and cocoons, I suppose we
have about seven hundred.’
I was about to ask what he meant about cocoons, but an ear-piercing roar shook me to the marrow. My head snapped to the
side, and I stared into another stall. The dragon lying inside widened slitted, scarlet eyes that seemed to reach into my soul.
Each eye was as big as my head, and the dragonâs head was as high as I was tall. My breath caught, and I stilled, not
taking my eyes off the massive predator.
‘How friendly!’ said Ivan from up ahead.
This dragon looked nothing like Aunt Cendrillaâs steed, Fogo. Its face was shaped like that of a lion, with a regal snout
and emerald green scales instead of fur. Where there would have been a mane, scale-covered horns, each as long as my legs,
curved back from the top of its head. Olive-colored horns protruded from its lower jaw.
When the dragon rose to its feet, it did so with the grace of a giant cat, but its body reminded me of the iguanas that dwelled
on the tropical forest region of Bluebeard Mountain. It stood on thick, muscular legs with forearm-length claws splayed out
‘Ah,’ replied Phoenix. ‘That’s the dragon I caught lurking around the courtyard.’
‘The..’Words caught in my throat. I coughed. ‘The one who killed Mr. Jankin?’
‘No one else could have done it.’ Phoenix walked back and stood next to Ivan.
‘Madam Maritimus’ security witches accounted for the whereabouts of all the others.’
I shook my head. Although whatever caused the fire was hot enough to turn a man and his desk into char, something still
didn’t add up. ‘This dragon could never have fit through the hallways, let alone the doors.’
The green dragon tilted its head to the side, its eyes seeming to track our every word.
‘Jankinâs office had a skylight,’ replied Phoenix.
Ivan nodded. ‘That makes sense. The dragon could have blasted poor Mr. Jankin from above.’
Phoenix didnât reply for a long time, then he raised a shoulder. ‘I wouldnât exactly describe Jankin in such sympathetic
terms, but I suppose even he didn’t deserve a fiery death.’
A rush of anger filled my chest and seared my cheeks. How unfeeling! I was about to comment, when a female voice filled
my ears. ‘I’m innocent!’