Dragon Zoo: Apocalypse - Exclusive Free Sample Chapter


by Martyn Perry and Simon Carter

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Dragon Zoo: Apocalypse

Fear had frozen the kids where they stood, their faces pointed grimly forwards at the terrifying sight in front of them. The attack, when it came, was from the trees to their left. Intentionally or not, the large Prowler had diverted the kids' attention and left them vulnerable to an ambush. Two small Prowlers stalked slowly from out of the shadows of the foliage, Aasim saw that even if he had given the trees his full attention he would have struggled to see these two, their dark scales and low slung bodies perfect for stealth. Aasim's heart sank further when he then saw three more small dragons jumping out from behind, snapping their jaws eagerly. Two of the lively looking Prowlers were the rough size of a German Shepherd, accompanied by a smaller, younger looking creature that seemed a little more hesitant of the startling sunlight. All five dragons were the likes of which frequented the shadows of London, hunting in packs at night. But right now these five young Prowlers approached the group regardless of their well-known preference to avoid daylight.

It didn't look good, they must be hungry.

Aasim's job was to protect the left flank and the fact that there were now five small hungry Prowlers approaching was of no consequence, if Rake had handled five by himself in that garden attack then so could he. Before he even consciously realised it, the tip of the crowbar was swinging in his hands, catching the sun and glinting almost playfully before smashing down onto the head of the first Prowler in front of him.

Camouflage or not, I can see you now, and you're in trouble.

The creature collapsed to the floor in a heap, the sharp end of the crowbar deeply impaled into the dragon's skull, the wound oozing a sticky purple gloop. Aasim didn't waste any time in trying to retrieve the crowbar, he would get it once the rest of the Prowlers were dead. Reaching over his shoulder he pulled the baseball bat off the side of his bag, just in time to smash a full swing into the head of a second Prowler which had sprung into the air towards him. As Aasim's bat collided mid-air with the beast's jaw, a long jet of flame spat out harmlessly from its throat, a large arc of fire blasting into the sky above like a rainbow of flames as the creature's head was spun around.

At the front of the crew, Rake had been watching events unfold like a spectator at some gruesome sporting event. The surprise attack had left him motionless, standing with his mouth ajar as Aasim was sinking his crowbar into the head of the first dragon. The crunch of metal on the young beast's thankfully thin skull had acted like a smack around the face to Rake and he turned to join the fight. In the few seconds that it had taken Aasim to pull out his baseball bat and smash a scorching home run on the second Prowler's head, the Alpha-Prowler had made its move on Rake. The beast had leapt forwards from a standing jump, its powerful hind legs catapulting it high into the air, wings outstretched. The back of Rake's head burst in pain as the creature's large front claws smashed down onto it from high above, knocking him to the floor.

The attack had come from behind and he'd left himself defenceless. He'd turned his back on the enemy. Idiot. Do you want to get yourself killed? Shooting pains were blasting from the backs of his eyeballs straight down to the bottom of his spine. As he lay there he tried to gather his aching thoughts through the pain, but he could barely move. Prowlers weren't supposed to do this, they weren't supposed to be out in the day, they should be sticking to the shadows and waiting for dusk to attack. That's what gave him the advantage, that's how all of the kids could stay alive. If the Prowlers stopped playing by those rules, as they were now, Rake knew they'd all be dead. They didn't stand a chance.

Whack. The Alpha-Prowler's front legs came thundering down again from above like the wrath of God. It had just stomped its front legs on top of him again, using him like some sort of human trampoline. Was it playing with him? He could be killed at any second, burnt, clawed, bitten, crushed. Why wasn't he dead already? Rake had to move, he couldn't stay on the floor, either way he'd surely be dead or forever unable to walk with one more bone crushing jump on his back. He blinked away the stars from his vision so that the paving slabs swam into sharp focus, millimetres from his watering eyes. A bright white circle of flattened, weather worn bubble gum was right under his nose. Whack. Another smash, this time to the back of his head. His face hit the pavement as a result of the sickening blow, his ears screamed angrily and his nose exploded with pain as it collided hard with the paving slab. Droplets of bright red blood started to pepper the white gum on the ground. His mind was racing but his body wasn't moving. Any ideas of how to survive this now had vanished, escaping the Alpha-Prowler was impossible, all his friends had left him to die. They'd all deserted him. Would he have done the same faced with impossible odds? Face down on the pavement, surely about to be beaten again by the Prowler or finished off for good, all Rake could think of was how much the colours of his red blood dripping onto the white gum reminded him of the Arsenal.

-

Kat was at the back of the crew where she had just watched Aasim rush fearlessly into the pack of small Prowlers, surrendering his crowbar to the skull of that first snarling dragon before it could think about unleashing an attack. At least one of the beasts was incapacitated, Aasim was grabbing for his second weapon, his baseball bat, still charging forwards. She quickly turned her attention away from Aasim just in time to see the Alpha-Prowler's sickening contact with the back of Rake's head. That must have hurt. The Prowler was fighting dirty, it was a complete sucker punch and Rake hadn't stood a chance. Was he still alive? His body had immediately crumpled onto the street when the bulk of the large dragon came crashing down to the ground. Rake was now completely still, pinned beneath its body. Before she could move forwards it had sprung into the air again, like a kid on a bike popping a wheelie, its front legs hitting back down on top of Rake again, the dragon's huge wings spreading wide, jaws snapping wildly in mid-air as it moved. Rake didn't look like he was still alive. But she had to try and distract the beast. Give him a chance just in case. She couldn't just watch Rake get killed. Or had she already? She rushed forwards, her hunting knife un-sheathed.

'Mac, Paul, stay back. Stay by the river.' She yelled over her shoulder as she sprinted past the two smaller lads who were already standing well away from the attacking dragons, next to the riverside railings, both looking terrified. She tried not to show how shit scared she was too. By the time she was near enough to the towering Alpha-Prowler the bastard creature had hit Rake again. The same pattern, springing into the air with its front legs and smashing back down again on Rake's back. The dragon was just playing with him, that much was obvious. If it wanted to kill Rake it could do so in a millisecond with any choice of weapon at its disposal, but instead it simply chose to use Rake as a plaything, possibly keeping him alive long enough for the younger Prowlers to get their kill. She wouldn't let it hit Rake again, no matter what the consequences.

Kat attacked from the side of the Alpha-Prowler, the creature thankfully oblivious to her presence as it was focussing on the small pack of Prowlers under attack from Aasim and Rake's motionless body beneath its front legs. Kat ducked, avoiding its large flapping left wing, managing to get close enough to the creature to thrust her knife quickly through the air and straight towards its exposed chest, impaling the dragon as hard as she could. The Prowler barely moved, other than to turn away from watching the fight between Aasim and its smaller kin and to eye Kat with mild interest in its glowing pink eyes. The dragon reared on its hind legs, letting out a long deep howl which reached an almost ear splitting crescendo. Again she drew the knife back and stabbed it at the beast's scale covered chest, harder this time, with every ounce of energy she could muster. Nothing. The scales were just too thick.

Whack.

The dragon hadn't even looked back at her, thumping its front legs onto Rake's unmoving body. She swatted with the knife again, trying to the aim the sharp steel blade to the edge of one of the large scales that covered the creature's body, desperately trying to find a gap, a weakness in the scaly defences. Still nothing. No reaction from the dragon, seemingly no pain caused at all. It just stood there, swishing its wings backwards and forwards with frustration, not even bothering to look at her. She felt as useful as a wasp without its sting. What could she do?

Rake was out cold now, the side of his face making firm friends with the concrete. Kat couldn't understand it, why wasn't the knife hurting it? The tip of her blade didn't even have blood on it! No time for standing around. She ducked just as the oncoming left wing of the huge Prowler whooshed millimetres above her head. The beast wobbled slightly from the force of its missed swing, anger flashing in its face now, still atop of Rake, glaring down at Kat. Suddenly to her left the air was filled with a scream from Aasim. She had to help him. But she also had to help defenceless Rake. She had to protect Mac and Paul. There wasn't time for all three.

-

Mac had stood there long enough, he knew he only had a torch but he had to do something. Anything. Why hadn't Paul helped out, he was the one with the pocket knife. What good were their crew if only three of them were actual fighters? The situation scared him, there were only six Prowlers and already they were in deep trouble. What if there had been more? Rake was out cold, he could even already be dead, and Kat wasn't even slowing down that gigantic adult Prowler, she'd surely be finished in seconds too if she stayed so close to the creature. Looking across the opposite side of the street he saw Aasim just get slashed badly down his arm by one of the increasingly agitated smaller dragons. He had to make his move.

Mac ran forward, past the un-moving dragon's body with the crowbar attachment and past the other Prowler who had seemingly just regained consciousness, slowly trying to get back onto its feet following the greeting with Aasim's baseball bat. Aasim was in front of him, swiping in the air at three of the pack of Prowlers at the same time, two of the dragons were jumping and snarling back at him with long blood covered claws and smoking nostrils. The smallest dragon at the back was doing its best to catch Aasim off-guard again, sneaking in under the leaping dragons, snapping at his ankles, one set of claws on its right leg still had the grisly decoration from Aasim's forearm.

Mac had to give Aasim a fighting chance, to help him even the odds. The smallest dragon at the back of the pack looked like the best target as it was clearly the weakest and probably the youngest, he would be the easiest to handle alone. Mac skirted around Aasim who was still swinging away with his bat at the leaping Prowlers, fending away their claws, keeping the snapping jaws and swinging tails at bay.

Only the dragon at the back of the pack reacted to Mac, this creature was closest to the protective shadows of the foliage at the edge of the street. Immediately with Mac's presence the small Prowler stopped attacking Aasim and turned to face its target, wings spread as wide as they'd go, trying to make its slender frame look more imposing. It worked. The dragon sprung suddenly at Mac with astonishing speed, but he was equal to it, jumping into the air as high as he could over and above the small creature, bringing the steel handle of his torch down on top of the small Prowler's head. A satisfying crunching sound emanated from the forceful impact, the dragon falling clumsily to the ground on its back, wings and legs flailing aimlessly. As Mac landed he had to duck down quickly to avoid Aasim's baseball bat swinging wildly over his head, it wouldn't help matters if his own mate took him out! He ducked further forwards, out of swinging distance and towards the downed Prowler, hitting it again with his torch, kicking it with his feet, moving away from Aasim and the two dragons still fighting. It was working, his dragon was too weak to fight back, too young, too small. Mac could win. He knew he could do it.

-

Slick didn't know what to do. He'd frozen. He always froze. He had only come good that one time when he hadn't had any other choice, when those countless dragons had sniffed him out and flooded across Wimbledon Common towards him. He'd hotwired that car, he'd driven it as best he could and he'd gotten away from that pack of marauding Prowlers sprinting and flying towards him. Without that car he'd have been torn to pieces, no doubt. But that day the car had saved his life, outpacing the hungry pack of dragons, driving the car all the way to Westminster before the thing ran out of fuel. He'd done it all alone, all by himself, with no help and no weapons. When the last of the fuel had been ignited and exhausted he'd found himself by the Houses of Parliament. He was lucky, he might not have stopped otherwise. The car had forced his hand and had inadvertently stranded him to safety. An elderly survivor who used to be an MP and a plump middle aged woman had found him near the entrance and dragged him inside, to warmth, to food, to a home, to a new life with a new name. He was Slick, not Paul. Slick at the wheel and Slick on the street.

The street.

That's what he should be doing. Looking at the street! As he looked about he saw Mac handing it to the small Prowler at the back of the road, his torch literally flashing through the air as he smacked it countless times around the head. The dragon's nostrils were smoking dangerously, Mac clearly intent on killing it before the young beast realised how to use its inbuilt flamethrower.

Aasim also looked to be gradually getting the better of the two other Prowlers but was in desperate need of his crowbar back to finish the deal. Both of the creatures were also smoking at the nostrils, steam coming out in bursts from the backs of their throats as they jumped and snapped and bit at the bat and his friend. They too were worryingly close to chargrilling his friend. Kat and Rake were both in real trouble, there was no doubt about it. Kat had run away from the Alpha-Prowler and was now at the top of the slope that lead down to the small pier by the Thames below, she was screaming, forcing the large lumbering adult Prowler to stalk towards her, leaving Rake behind. Clever, but not too clever. She was trapping herself by the Thames, pinning herself between the danger of the Prowler and the river. She was doing it, getting the creature as far away as possible from the pastel faced Rake who still wasn't moving, but at her own expense, risking everything. Luckily for her, the Prowlers slowed down the larger they grew in size, the Alpha-Prowler knew it had won, it wasn't in any rush to close down Kat, to close down its prey.

Slick's eyes darted to the rest of his surroundings, and that's when he spotted it, the best car in the street, it was only just a little further on down the road, half mounted on the pavement just behind Kat at the top of the slope. There were countless vehicles about but Slick knew most were useless, besides the ones that were burnt out or completely exploded from dragon attacks, most that were technically still drivable would have no juice left in the batteries. He knew from experience that it wasn't so much fuel that was the issue, but the batteries all going flat. Years without running a car can do that easily, hell, even one frosty night used to knock his Dad's old car out.

He tried not to think of his parents who were both long since missing, instead focussing on the old car ahead of him, looking for a safe path through the melee of dragons and fighting to the best vehicle in the street that wasn't likely to have an immobiliser or alarm. The older cars stood more chance of having batteries with life left in them to get the engine turning. Forget Mercedes, BMWs, Fords and even Porsches, what Slick needed was staring at him right in the face. An old, knackered VW Polo hatchback. K-Reg. That made it...what? At least twenty years old, probably more. With no alarm system, no fancy CD player or anything else to suck at the battery life, he knew he stood a chance of getting the thing started.

-

Kat was in tears now. Her emotions betraying her but not clouding her thoughts. Back down on the road Aasim had just taken down one of the two Prowlers for what looked like the final time. That left him with just one remaining attacker. Unfortunately it looked like it had plenty of fight left in it, shooting a scorching jet of flame that the big lad was lucky to avoid, hitting the deck and rolling under the flames just in time. Mac was literally running in circles now around the young dragon that he had been fighting, its head was a mess of blood, spit, and hanging flaps of loose scales, beaten into a puffy mess by the torch handle. But the creature was still fighting fiercely, intent on trying to kill Mac, jaws snapping and wings still flapping, albeit sluggishly. It now looked like Mac was trying to tie the thing up with a network cable that he must have plucked from his rucksack; that kid was crazy, but it seemed to be working. The dragon was howling at the top of its lungs in an eerie high pitch almost like a wolf or dog, completely incapacitated as its wings were pinned down to its sides by the ever tightening cable, legs and claws thrashing about aimlessly as Mac ran laps around the small beast.

Paul on the other hand had just jumped into life and legged it past her below on the street, he seemed to be headed to what looked like the worst piece of junk car on the entire street. What was he thinking? If it was a car he was after they'd walked past a bloody Subaru Impreza opposite Cleopatra's needle, why hadn't he headed straight for that if he was going to be crazy enough to try and make his famous hotwiring fairy-tales a reality? Below her Rake seemed to be stirring which looked promising, but he needed to hurry, the dragon that Aasim had taken down with his baseball swing at the start of the fight seemed to have given up trying to get back onto its feet and was now crawling towards him hungrily, leaving a thick stream of saliva behind it like a snail trail. The beast looked to have a broken back leg, probably when it smashed down to the ground awkwardly after Aasim's home run. But again, just like Mac's adversary, it wasn't giving up, it would fight to the end, resigned to getting its meal by crawling ever closer to its prey, towards Rake's concussed and beaten body. At least he wasn't dead. Yet.

The hulking Alpha-Prowler was fully focused on Kat now, her plan had worked but her stomach was spinning with nerves, threatening to immobilise her. She wanted the adult dragon's full attention to try and save Rake but simultaneously not wanting the creature anywhere near her at all. But she had to try and save her friends. It steadily continued walking towards her, narrow pink eyes menacing, unblinking, focussed. Each measured step towards her emanating a clicking sound from the long sharp claws on the concrete. Its head was hung low like a panther ready to pounce, a constant, rumbling, guttural snarl emitting as it preyed upon her. She knew it wasn't trying, not really. But why? When the beast had missed her earlier with its swiping wing, momentarily losing its balance, it was just enough to save her life. She had managed to run past the creature, hurdling its thrashing tail and sprinting her way up the slope. But it could have killed her at any time, why hadn't it toasted her as she ran? Why was it intent on toying with her? As long as it was hesitating as it did with Rake, she had a chance.

So far she'd been pretty successful in getting the thing away from Rake, but not that successful in figuring out what to do next. The Alpha-Prowler paused at the sound of the howls of Mac's tied up dragon, its neck craning around to observe the commotion back on the street. It jumped back on its rear legs, head thrusting in the air emitting a howl of blood curdling anger, frustration which ended with a massive jet of blue-ish flames, soaring tens of metres high into the sky, the small pier shaking beneath her feet as the creature dropped back down onto all fours, head snapping back around to focus on Kat once more.

After seeing its awesome display of power, Kat looked down at her only weapon, her knife, it had done pretty much nothing to the adult Prowler up to now. Scarily, even her hardest thrusts and stabs had been ineffective, all she'd done is left a big scratch mark down the right hand side of one of the creature's scales. And the creature hadn't even cared. She didn't think she'd get a chance to get close to the creature again, at least not if she was going to remain alive, and if she did, what good would it do?

Without warning one of the abandoned cars in the street exploded with a deafening, glass shattering ball of flames, she looked up in time to see Aasim getting back to his feet, evidently having dived to safety just in time. Aasim's small Prowler had gotten to grips with shooting fire it seemed.

'Come on!' she yelled loudly at the adult Prowler, forcing it to look back in her direction. 'Come on!'

Her knife was ready in her hands. If she couldn't stop or hurt the Alpha-Prowler, she could at least slow it down.

-

He'd done it, the small dragon could hardly move, Mac was stood right in front of it, close enough to smell the horrid stench that the small creature pervaded the atmosphere with, that mixture of animalistic sweat and propane gas. The creature's wings and legs were completely immobile thanks to that fifteen metre network cable he'd had to sacrifice from his rucksack. He'd only bought the cable in case Rake's theory was right, in case they may actually find a building with power that contained a working PC in need of networking. But all of that now seemed futile, silly, even juvenile. Survival was much more adult, and far more important. Thankfully though the cable had done a job, and he was still alive. For now. At that moment, just as it all seemed to be getting back under his control, the dragon tipped forwards, eyes wide and mouth open. Mac was too slow to realise what the dragon had in mind, too slow to realise the inevitable.

The Prowler fell upon him, dead weight, knocking both of them crashing to the street. The creature's scaly, smashed up, stinking face with a mouth filled with rows of sharp, needle-like black teeth was just millimetres above his own. The dragon couldn't move apart from opening and closing its mouth eagerly, desperately trying to bite him, Mac's arms pushing as hard as they could against the dragon's chest, desperately trying to keep the teeth at bay.

From just behind him his world shook as a car in the street exploded. His ears ringing, his vision blurred, a blast of scorching hot air stinging his skin. That was close, too close. As he came back to his senses, regaining focus in his eyes, he almost wished he'd been closer to the exploding vehicle. Ending it all. The world was now lost from his vision, all he could see was thrashing black teeth just millimetres from his face, if there could be a sight more worrying than that he was surely now seeing it, thin wisps of black smoke were beginning to build in the back of the creature's stinking throat.

'Come on!' Kat yelled loudly from behind him. 'Come on!'

-

Aasim had done it, these Prowlers were really tough, both of them bigger and stronger than the small dragon that Mac had taken care of. That said, the smallest Prowler was completely tied up now, Mac had done a good job. With one of his Prowler's finally lifeless following a skull shattering connection with his baseball bat he only had one more to go which was still jumping and snapping at him, but his arms were getting tired, he felt like he'd been swinging for hours, like he'd played about ten baseball games in a row and he was the only batter. Behind him he'd become aware of the remaining Prowler with the broken leg that was now crawling towards Rake, he would have to be quick. Rake was groaning now though, coming back around. He wasn't dead! He'd just rolled over onto his back, groaning loudly. It was a good sign but he couldn't count on Rake to look after himself, he needed to ensure that the injured dragon that was crawling ever closer stayed away and ended up like its lifeless mate. He swung again at the angry young Prowler's head in front of him with renewed vigour, but it kept jumping, kept coming for him.

He didn't have time to be scared, he couldn't let tiredness overcome him. He had to finish this now.

-

Rake could only see the sky. It looked beautiful, clear and blue with no clouds in sight. He couldn't remember rolling onto his back but he must have done. Arsenal had gone and was replaced with horrible Man City. All around him he could still hear the struggles of his crew, still smell the stench of the Prowlers in their midst. He needed to get up but his head felt like it was stuffed with cotton wool, everything was muffled and he felt sick. His back felt crushed, shooting pains down his spine made it a minor miracle that he could still move his toes and just about move his legs. He wondered if this is what it felt like to drown, only blue, all you can see is blue with nothing but muffled screams. Lungs filling with water, can't breathe. Can't hear. Suddenly he was pulled from the water, someone was pulling his hair, they were saving him! He would live! But something wasn't right, he noticed that the fingers were long, blackened claws, covered in blood, he wasn't wet either. He wasn't drowning, whatever it was wasn't pulling him out of anywhere, it was pulling themselves closer.

An explosion, marbles of glass and bits of hot metal falling on him like rain, the sky momentarily a burst of orange before thick black clouds rolled in. So much for the nice weather, a storm was coming.

'Come on!' Kat yelled loudly from what sounded like somewhere above him. 'Come on!'

-

Slick was inside the car now. He had dived through the broken driver's side window in what he imagined was the style of an action hero, but after bumping his head on the hand brake he wondered why he hadn't just opened the damn door. The interior was in pretty good shape which boosted Slick's confidence, he might just be able to get this thing started and save all of his friends. This wasn't Hollywood unfortunately, and the usual car key hiding places he checked; the glove box, under the sun visor, the foot wells, all yielded no results. He quickly attacked the ignition mechanism with his pocket knife and before long he had managed to expose some wires. Now just to figure out which wire needed to spark off which.

A massive bang. At first Slick thought he'd blown himself up, then he saw the flames in front of him through the windscreen, Rake on the floor, Aasim on the floor, Mac on the floor, he couldn't see Kat. It looked like hell on earth. One of the Prowler's had fired a jet of flame and caught one of the fuel tanks of a nearby car in the street. Sending metal, glass and flames in all directions.

'Come on!' Kat yelled. 'Come on!'

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