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       Firebolt, p.14

           Adrienne Woods
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  We stopped in front of a big yellow-beige horse with a soft creamy-orange colored mane and tail.

  “This is Ginger. Her mother was a gift from King Albert to my father,” he explained as he put a saddle on her back.

  “She’s really beautiful.” I wished I had the guts to stroke her.

  He crouched down to buckle the laces underneath her. Lastly, he put her reins on and made sure that everything was safe and secure before leading her outside.

  He climbed on her back and reached out for my hand. I smiled. I understood that we were going to ride together on one horse.

  I grabbed his hand, and he lifted me up without any effort.

  I felt a bit nervous but calmed down when I felt him right behind me. Ginger started to move, and there was nowhere to hold on to, so I grabbed one of his legs.

  “Sorry.” I giggled nervously.

  “Don't worry, Elena. I know the first time is usually nerve-wracking, but you’ll get used to it before we are done.” He took both reins in his left hand, while his other arm wrapped around my waist. He clicked his tongue, and she started to move forward. Her pace was extra slow, as if she sensed I was scared.

  We passed the stables down to the right of the Coliseum. My heart still pounded fast with every move she made.

  “How are your elbows feeling?” he whispered, and kissed me on my ear.

  “I'll live.” I smiled. I didn't want to complain around him, but had to admit they were really stinging underneath the sleeves of my jersey.

  “Collin’s an idiot, Elena. One kick and he’ll go down.”

  “He might be an idiot, but he’s a‘fast’ idiot. He doesn't even give me a chance to kick him,” I said in a sarcastic tone.

  “I’ll teach you the finer details about fighting,” he said, without giving it any thought.

  I liked the idea of spending more time with him. “I can understand why people from the other side are going mental. Subjects here are completely the opposite of what we’re used to. If they knew that we fight here with swords and axes and it is mandatory, they would think I’m nuts.”

  He shook behind me and I heard a soft snort.

  “I am glad I can't leave. I love everything about Paegeia. I can't imagine how dull it is without dragons or being able to fight without weapons.”

  “Thanks for offering me your help. Are you sure it's not going to be a problem?”

  “Elena,” he said with a surprised tone, “time with you will never be a problem.” His words made me feel like one of his gems, and my one hand slid over his arm that was holding me tight.

  I gasped when we reached our destination. It was on top of a hill, looking down on an immense landscape. A perfect spot for a picnic. The view took my breath away, and an urge to start painting again developed inside my gut. I used to be good at it, but I’d lost the passion a long time ago.

  He helped me down after he’d jumped off and chose the nearest flat rock for us to sit on. Gazing out over the expansive landscape,I couldn’t help but wonder that it was weird how no dragons were soaring in the sky like I thought they would.

  “So, how do things look on the other side?” he asked me, breaking the silence.

  “To be honest, I didn't know what to expect on my first trip to Elm. I imagined totally the opposite, thinking I would have to shop with dragons and that I’d have to dodge poop droppings.”

  He sniggered. “It is forbidden.”

  “What, the poop droppings”

  We both laughed.

  “This side looks exactly the same, except for the dragons and magic.”

  “What did you learn in school then?” he asked.

  “Almost the same as in Dragonia. Social studies and anatomy of different animal species. We had math too, but it’s much easier than Paegeia's. I hate it, and you can just imagine how much I love it on this side.”

  “Yeah, sometimes I have to scratch my head too. What was your favorite subject back home?”

  “Art, the drawing type.”

  He looked away, and when he turned back, a small smile was playing around the corner of his mouth.

  “You’re really funny. I love that part of you,” he said, and gave me his million-dollar smile.

  “Yeah, so Becky and Sammy keep telling me.”

  We started to talk about art in Tith. He told me about an amazing gallery that sold startling pieces and someday he promised he would take me there. I liked that part of someday because I knew Ariannadidn't get to him the way she’d gotten to me. We talked about different kinds of things for hours.

  “It made sense what you said before about the people going mental this side,” he said, and I had this huge question mark on my face. “I mean, when things look so normal to you guys but isn't really, I think it’s easier to lose your mind.”

  “I guess. So have you ascended yet?”

  “No, I'm still waiting for that part. To be honest, I barely qualified, otherwise I would have been known as one of the wannabe's, and my father would have to pay a crap-load of money so that I could attend Dragonia. My mark is barely noticeable, and I can relate to what it is you're going through a little. I had to work extra hard to prove to them that I truly belong here too. I guess it's one of the things we have in common, sort off. I take it by now that you know that you’re the only human with a dragon father that bears the mark of the Dragonians.”

  “That part still doesn’t make sense to me. I have read so many dragon stories and all of them that are born from a dragon parent can shift into dragons.”

  “They’re not dragons, Elena, they’re shape shifters. It’s a completely different thing.”

  “How’s that different?” I asked, confused again.

  “Shape shifting is a gift, just like the ones we will receive when we ascend. The only difference is that you're born a shape shifter. Turning into the form they shift into, now that is genetic.”

  I finally understood what he was saying.

  “Are there any shape shifters in Paegeia?”

  “There used to be a long time ago, but,like the dragons, most of them were hunted down and killed. I imagine the ones that are still left this side hide it because there haven’t been any sightings for a long time.”

  I sighed. “That's just wrong.” It was quiet for a while. “So what will happen if you don't ascend?”

  “Nothing. You make your own future.”

  “But how do you know what dragon to choose then?”

  “You can choose anyone. It just makes it harder without an ability. Three of the Metallic dragons don't even have abilities, and yet they are the most important dragons of war. Without them, the chances of winning are very slim.”

  “Most of the Metallic dragons don't own an ability?”

  “Yes, it's only the Fire-tail and the Swallow Annex that have them,” he said. “The rest have to rely on their speed and strength. Their exterior is much more advanced than the Chromatic dragons. They are the attackers and not scared to fly in and take out the enemy in close contact.”

  “Why do you fight?”

  “We fight for the same reason war starts on the other side; freedom, peace, love.” He smiled on the last word and stroked my back.

  He leaned in for a kiss, and I knew that it was my favorite thing in the entire world, kissing him.

  “We need to go, it is almost dinnertime,” he whispered as our noses touched. I looked at my watch and saw that it was half past five. I sulked which made him laugh.

  “I know I have been neglecting you this last couple of days, but I promise it’s going to change,” he said, and kissed me one more time.

  The ride back was too short. We ended up talking about him trying to claim Blake again.

  “Lucian, Becky told me the last time you got seriously hurt. Why do you keep on trying if he can kill you?”

  “Blake won't kill me and the girls are real drama queens. They make things sound twenty times worse than they are. I barely broke a rib.”

  I didn't
know if that was supposed to be a joke.

  “It's nice that you worry about me.”

  “Of course I worry,” I yelled, thinking what kind of a girlfriend I would be if I wasn't.

  “Are you ready to find out how it feels when Ginger runs,” he said, and I shrieked. “Fine, I will keep it at a gentle gallop.” He clicked his tongue again, and she started to walk a little faster and then turned into a smooth gallop.

  Arriving back at the stable, our ride ended, and I waited while he took the saddle off Ginger's back. My head felt much lighter, and I was amazed at the effect a horse could have on a human. They were so gentle. After the ride, my problems didn't seem quite so big anymore.

  “Thank you, Lucian, I really needed that.” I hugged him from behind.

  He turned around. “Everyone needs a break now and then. You will see everything is going to be fine.”

  We entered the cafeteria hand in hand, and my eyes caught Arianna’s. She glared at me, clearly pissed, as if he belonged to her or something. I looked away, ignoring her, and walked with him to the buffet line.

  The dinner conversation revolved around Becky complaining about George and how difficult he was making it not cooperating with her in class. I said goodnight to Lucian by the stairs and went to my room. I struggled to fall asleep, thinking about finals and Lucian. I didn’t want to fail.

  When I finally drifted away, I found myself standing alone in the forest once again.

  * * *

  When Becky's alarm woke me up, my head felt stuffed, and the effects of the horse ride had vanished.

  My first two periods of the day were Latin.

  “Elena, Master Longwei wants to see you in his office,” Sir Deisenberg said, and I packed away my books once more.

  Just like yesterday, I found him sitting behind his desk buried in a stack of papers.

  “Sit, Elena. I have spoken to a couple of the staff, and each gave me a name of their best student in all the subjects that you struggle with. Here is a list. They all agreed to help you.”

  I looked at the piece of paper with the names, times, and who was willing to tutor me. I froze when I looked at Monday and saw the name written next to Enchantments; it was Arianna's. History was on Tuesday and someone with the name of Cheng. I smiled as I saw Lucian's name on Wednesday right next to Art of War. My heart stopped on the name next to Latin that was on Thursday; Blake.

  Chapter Fifteen

  After I left Master Longwei’s office, it was time for lunch. I swiftly entered the cafeteria and found Becky's table. Lucian was not there yet.

  “Are you okay?” Becky asked as I sat down.

  “Just don’t make me think about anything.please,” I pleaded.

  “Elena?” They both wanted to know what was going on.

  “Hey, babes, you ready for sparring classes?” Lucian plunged down on the pillow right next to me, and I couldn't help but smile at him.

  “I probably don't have a choice.” I sulked and he chuckled.

  “It’s not that bad.”

  “Excuse me, you are a slave drivingdemon when it comes to fighting,” Becky snapped at him playfully.

  “It got you your dragon,” he countered.

  “Not the one I was hoping for.”

  “Sorry." I stood up. "I need to get something in my system before Professor Mia’s class. Collin’s probably going to kill me today."

  “He’s a push-over,” Becky said, using a singsong tone.

  “Give it a month, and he is going to be the one sulking,” Lucian promised and was right next to me. He gave me a side hug.

  * * *

  “Collin, enough!” I shrieked as he hit me with another blow that landed me flat on my butt. He laughed. Now I was sure that Lucian would deliver, because I was determined to kick Collin’s ass.

  “Elena, go to Constance. She can heal the cuts and bruises,” Professor Mia said in a concerned tone. Blood soaked through my sleeves and my elbows felt raw and painful. “You don't need to walk around in agony.” A small smile appeared at the corner of her mouth, and I nodded before running to the exit.

  Maybe it was all I needed, to see Constance's friendly face again. She somehow made me feel like I wasn’t an outcast. I knocked on the door, and she smiled, nodding for me to enter. “Look who’s here,” she sang, but her smile disappeared as she saw the agony on my face. “Come here.” Her arms were open and she hugged me tightly. Her arms felt so motherly, and she even gave me a soft kiss on my head.

  “It's so hard,” I sulked, and my mouth felt parched. She poured me a glass of water and handed it to me. “Just look at me.” I showed her my elbows.

  She took my arms softly and examined me.

  She's really beautiful.

  “It's going to be okay, Elena. Before you know it, everything is going to make sense and I'm sure with the help of Lucian, you’ll not have these anymore.” She gestured to my bruises.

  “Why didn't you tell me?” I whispered.

  She squinted and looked as if she was thinking really hard about what I was asking.

  “That you’re a dragon.”

  She giggled as her hands started to glow. I couldn't take my eyes off them.

  “At the time you had a lot to cope with.” She laid her hands on both my raw elbows and a warm tingling sensation started to emerge from her palms. It went deep into my skin and felt as if it reached the inside of my bones.

  “Why didn't you heal me the first time this way?”

  She smiled. “Because it would have freaked you out, and Master Longwei suggested that a natural healing process might be the best that time, considering we were trying to keep you sane.” She stroked my elbows as if she tried to wipe something away. “There, I'm sure that feels much better.”

  I looked at my scrapes and they were gone. Even the blue around them had vanished.

  “Wow.” I laughed nervously. “Thank you so much.” I hugged her without thinking, and she tapped me softly on the back.

  “Go, you’ll see. It's all going to be fine.” She winked and I left feeling mildly better.

  * * *

  Monday couldn't have come faster. I was so not looking forward to spending time with Arianna. But if she was the best at charms and spells then I had no choice. I needed her.

  “Elena, you need to concentrate and for crying out loud, learn to speak Latin,” she snapped at me, sounding extremely irritated.

  “It’s not my fault everything is in Latin!” I yelled back, already frustrated.

  “Who do you think you are yelling at, missy? I’m royalty and it’s princess to you. We used to hang commoners for back-biting. Again, Elena. What do you do when an enemy tries to attack, and you have nothing to defend yourself with?”

  “You try to shield yourself,” I whispered, feeling insecure.

  “Show me,” she ordered.

  “Arianna,” I said, and she gave me the eye. “Sorry, Princess Arianna, I don't know the spell that well.” I felt how my throat thickened and tears started welling up.

  “Aw, are we going to cry?” She mocked me in her animated voice.

  “I . . .” Nothing came out. I hated enchantments and knew I would never be able to learn any of it. Maybe I was stupid.

  She chanted some things in a different language while gripping the bridge of her nose. I knew it was the words to the spell and could hear the vibration of the invisible shield taking form around her.

  “It's a lot to take in. I don't even know what that means!”

  “Maybe if you pay more attention in class and stop daydreaming about guys that are way out of your league, you might learn something. I told Master Longwei teaching a dragon offspring was going to be a waste of my time.” She spat out the words as if they scorched her tongue.

  “You’re not really making it any easier for me. You don't even want to be here.”

  “You got that right.”

  “I really need your help, Arianna. Why are you so mean?”

  “Isn't it obvious? Y
ou don't belong here; maybe that's why you don't get it.”

  “I didn't ask to be here.” I was pissed off with her attitude. “You know what, go to hell!” I was done with her and turned to walk away when she spoke another incantation. I suddenly felt my air supply being cut off. My heart felt as if I was busy running the hundred meters. I fell on my knees as I tried to breathe, but there was no air. It was as if my lungs had collapsed and were no longer working.

  Water poured out of my mouth as if I had swallowed a gallon. I started to panic as my breath disappeared and began hitting my chest as everything faded.

  Far away, I could hear Lucian's voice rambling a couple of foreign words. I felt his hands on my chest as air filled my lungs and started coughing violently. “Are you insane? Arianna, you could've killed her.”

  “Oh, please. I only tried to teach her a lesson,” she said, flipping her strawberry curls over her shoulder.

  “What’s wrong with you?” He sounded pissed off and helped me up. My lungs burned as if they were on fire.

  “Come on, Lucian. It’s not like you haven't done it before.”

  “That was different. It was an exam,” he roared. He shook his head and led me away from her. “I’m so sorry, are you okay?” His tone was full of concern, and he held me tight. I felt good in his arms and I started to cry.

  “This is my fault,” he whispered. “I promise I’ll handle this, Elena. She won't do that ever again.”

  I was glad that there wasn’t an audience to witness my tears. It wasn’t the first time I playedon death's porch, but it didn’t mean that I was used to it either. It was weird how in the movies your whole life played out in slow motion. It was nothing like that.

  It felt horrible.

  I stumbled up the stairs as if my limbs were made from paper. I felt Lucian’s one arm behind me legs, and he lifted me up. Becky's smile vanished the minute we entered the room. Her face turned pale as if she had just seen a ghost.

  “What the f--” She shrieked, and she helped Lucian get me onto the couch. Not that he needed it. “What happened?”

  “Arianna used a moon spell on her.”

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