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       Moonbeam, p.14

           Adrienne Woods
I followed her to the nursery and stood by the door as Tanya picked her up and bounced her up and down to calm her.

  Her little arms reached out for me. My heart fluttered like a girl who’d just fallen in love.

  I took her from Tanya and held her close. She finally stopped crying. For the first time, I was the one she wanted.

  Tanya smiled and said goodnight. She kissed Elena on the head and left.

  After that, well, it was a downhill battle. She would fall asleep in her crib and wake up between Al and me.

  She’d gotten really fond of her dad, but Jako was still the number one guy in her heart.

  Around the six-month mark of her return, she called me Momma for the very first time. I lost my voice, and let out a silent scream of excitement. The feeling that I felt was one of pure happiness. My little girl acknowledged me as her mother, the woman who carried her for nine months, the one who had sent her away to be safe, the one who killed the man who was going to betray us, so she could come home. She knew I was her mother. I couldn’t wait to hear her say that word again, ‘Momma.’

  Still, Jako and Tanya were always around. She loved Jako dearly. I wondered if she could ever feel that way for her own father. Eventually she went to Albert instead of Jako, and we knew the transition was complete.

  We could finally be her parents.

  Jako would always be welcome at the castle. He was a big part of Elena’s life. We named him and Tanya her godparents. Isabel and Blake also visited regularly.

  If it were up to me, I wouldn’t allow it. Not that I was mean…it was just that I would never forget how close they were that night. They were so in touch with one another, they could hear each other’s thoughts. It scared me a lot.

  She cried each and every time she saw Blake. He got annoyed with her and ended up in the garden playing with his cousin, Annie. This left Elena, Isabel, and me on our blanket of disliking the Rubicon.

  Albert thought it was funny that I was never going to make peace with this. To him, Elena was Blake’s, not the other way around.

  I knew he only said it to drive me mad, but I always scolded him, rambling about how I’d carried her for nine months, I’d had to let her go, I’d protected her, and now I was her mother and she was mine.

  Years ticked by fast. Before we knew it, Elena’s third birthday was coming up.

  She grew into a living doll as she shed her baby fat and became a smiley toddler. Her hair bounced on her shoulders and framed her cherubic face. She was gorgeous.

  We spared no expense in her education, and by the age of three, Latin was her strongest language. Perhaps because of her fluency in the language of magic, she got used to Samantha—Isabel’s daughter and Blake’s sister—fast. Sammy still hadn’t taken her human form, but Elena didn’t seem to mind. Sammy had the most beautiful face a dragon could ever have. Like all Fire-Tails, she was gentle. I suspected those two were going to be lifelong friends.

  We planned an extravagant party for her, even though she was just turning three. Maggie went the extra mile. She was so good at planning events.

  A reporter or two showed up, along with over two hundred family friends.

  It was at her third party where Elena faced her fears and stood up to Blake for the first time.

  Not that he was worth standing up to. In fact, he was a bit of a wuss. Annie always got the better of him. She already had her human form. Blake was still a dragon; it worried Bob and Isabel that he hadn’t yet morphed into his human form. They were only a few months apart.

  But this time when he pounced on his sister and she yelped for help, Elena was at her side, pushing him off with all the strength she had.

  Isabel was dumbfounded, but started to laugh as she ran after him, after he hightailed it out of there.

  Elena, as small as she was, helped Samantha up. Sir Robert kissed Sammy’s booboos. Elena ran as fast as her little legs could carry her toward me.

  “High five, pumpkin,” I said and she jumped to hit my palm.

  Al roared with laughter as I wrapped my arms around her.

  After that Blake and Elena started to become friends. It progressed way too fast for my taste.

  Elena’s Latin was better than her English at times. It was the only way she communicated with Samantha, and now it was the only way she communicated with Blake.

  At least they couldn’t hear each other’s thoughts. Yet. Thank heavens for that.

  Even though it was silly, I tried to make her dislike him just a little. At times I thought I had when he ended up hurting her, but the next time she saw him, all was forgiven and they just picked up where they’d left off in their games. In her eyes, the Rubicon could do no harm.

  I knew it was innocent, but it wasn’t going to stay innocent for long. Their bond was already growing. One day, it would be so strong that none of this would even matter.

  I didn’t think that I would ever be ready for that. I couldn’t bear the thought of losing my baby girl all over again.

  Time marched on. Elena was a precocious five-year-old and Blake was almost nine. He still hadn’t shown his human form, and to call Sir Robert and Isabel “anxious” would have been the understatement of the year.

  “Just take it easy,” said Al one crisp fall afternoon as we lounged in the great hall by a crackling fire. “He will get his human form when he is ready.” Al was trying to put Bob at ease.

  Scientists had performed so many tests on him that he was terrified when his aunt forgot to take her doctor’s coat off. He would run every time he saw a person with a doctor’s coat.

  Elena was a cheeky five-year-old. She tried to protect him from their visits, but it always ended up upsetting her more than it did Blake.

  She cried every time they took Blake to yet another appointment. We couldn’t handle it anymore. Each instance, we had to get Isabel and Bob to bring Blake after the test, so that Elena could see that he was fine.

  She would make a nest for him on the floor. He would curl up next to her bed. They would speak in Latin and then fall asleep.

  I didn’t like it, not one bit. But Albert would always wrap me in his arms and say their bond was extra beautiful, extra special, and that I had to get used to it. Make peace with it.

  She was only five years old. Not fifteen.

  Only the night before, Albert had laughed at me when I voiced my worry. “It’s not like that, woman. They are children. It’s innocent.”

  “I know,” I grumbled. “But it’s so intense.”

  “No, it’s not. You are making it intense.”

  I tried to make peace with it, but it was not as easy as he thought.

  But now, as the fire light flickered and danced on the crystal vases on the mantle and the kids played together outside under the watchful eyes of Tanya, Al and I begged Bob and Issy to stop with the tests. He would get his human form when he was ready.

  “What if…” Issy started.

  “He will. I saw him, Issy. He will. Just be patient.”

  She nodded.

  The door opened then and Elena ran in. Horror filled her eyes, making them as huge as orbs.

  “Mommy, Mommy, come!” she screamed.

  “What happened?” I shouted. As one, all four of us shot up from our chairs by the hearth and ran after Elena. The only thing I could figure was that something had happened with Blake.

  This can’t be. We’d just spoken about it.

  Elena was really fast. Her pink scarf flapped behind her as her little legs pumped down the hall and out onto the lawn. We followed her toward the lake where they always played.

  Sammy stood at the tree, apart from the commotion. Her red beanie hat was askew and her auburn hair a tangled mess. She got her human form a few months ago. Lucian and Arianna, Caleb’s daughter, were hovering over someone on the ground, while Tanya spoke to him softly in Latin.

  A naked boy lay there, trembling from the chill or shock, or both. When I saw him I froze. He had light brown skin and raven-dark hair.

“Issy, it happened,” I said softly to her. She rushed to his side.

  Bob took his mantle off his back and pulled it over Blake’s shivering body.

  He’d gotten his human form. The image of him as an adult flashed through my mind again. This boy would grow up into that handsome man.

  Elena had no idea what was happening. She hadn’t witnessed the transformation. She was scared, hugging my leg.

  Good, I thought.

  Albert hunched in front of her.

  “Baby, don’t be scared. Remember how Daddy told you that Blake would get his human form? That is him.”

  She shook her head fast. Blonde curls whipped her cheeks.

  I couldn’t help it. A feeling of happiness rose inside me.

  “It’s going to be fine.” He picked her up.

  “No! Where is my dragon?” she yelled, full-on tantrum.

  Her dragon?

  Al and I shared a look. We’d never told the kids Elena would be Blake’s rider.

  “He’s right there,” Al said, quickly recovering from her statement.

  Sure, it was plastered in tabloids time and time again, but it was doubtful that she could’ve discovered that at the age of five.

  “No!” she yelled “It’s not him. Where is Blake? I want Blake.”

  Blake’s peacock eyes stared at Elena. He felt sorry for her as she buried her face in Albert’s neck and cried her little heart out.

  I could hear Isabel explaining to Blake in Latin why she was crying. And then he just had to act on it.

  He morphed back into a dragon. We all stared at him with gaped mouths. No dragon had ever transformed so fast after receiving their human form.

  “Elena,” he called her in Latin. “I’m right here.”

  She tore herself out of Albert’s arms and ran to him. She hugged him around his neck.

  “Where were you?” she asked in Latin.

  “I found my human form.”

  “That was really, truly, you?”

  He nodded and that was it. She didn’t argue, nothing.

  I gaped at them and found Albert trying to suppress his laughter.

  “It’s not funny,” I muttered to him. Impotent anger rushed through me. I was mad. Blake could tell her to jump in the river even if she couldn’t swim and she would do it. She would drown for him.

  Their bond was already intense, this connection they shared. And I was the only one who wasn’t blind to it.

  What was I going to do?

  “What do you mean you don’t know?” I asked Blake. We lay inside my treehouse looking up at the wooden ceiling. It was the second treehouse I’d known. Blake had had the hiccups once before he’d gotten his human form when we were smaller…and burned the whole thing down. I’d taken the blame. Said it was a lantern accident.

  “I don’t know. It’s just how I feel.” He took a drag of his cigarette. His dad was so going to kill him if he found out.

  “It’s Arianna, Blake,” I teased.

  “So?” he asked.

  “Seriously, how can this be such a surprise to you, you never saw how she looked at you, how she acted when you are around?” I persisted. “Blake and Arianna sitting in a tree, K-I-S-S-I-N-G!”

  “Seriously,” he grunted.

  I was twelve, Blake was sixteen. He was like my big brother. He hadn’t found anybody he liked. It was strange. My dad said it was because I was his rider. Eww.

  Sure, the guy was cute. But I’d grown up with him.

  He was going to start at Dragonia Academy a year earlier. I wouldn’t see him as much. I sure was going to miss him a lot.

  “It will happen when it happens, okay? Just don’t spread the word around that Arianna likes me.”

  “You scared that you might like her back?” I goaded.

  “NO!” He always seemed annoyed lately.

  It was silent for a few minutes. I turned serious. “So, you feel it yet?”

  Blake shifted on the floor. “Feel what?”

  “You know, what everybody is talking about. The darkness.”


  I wanted to turn and look at him, but I left my gaze on the ceiling. “What do you mean, sometimes?”

  “I don’t know,” he grumbled. “I don’t feel it now. My mom thinks it’s because of you.”

  “Me!” I laughed.

  “Yes, you. A little annoying brat…” he teased.

  I hit him as hard as I could on the chest and he pretended it hurt, which made both of us laugh.

  When we subsided, I ordered, “Promise you will write.”

  “Your dad still hasn’t gotten you a Cammy?”

  “No.” I sulked. I wanted one of those awesome phones that allowed face-to-face hologram calls. “It’s my mother. I’m sure of it.”

  He shook his head. “Fine, I’ll write.”

  “Awesome. Now, one poem about your day.”

  Blake scoffed. “Seriously?”

  “What, you going to stop with them now?”

  “I don’t know. I haven’t felt like a poet the last few weeks.”

  I couldn’t help it. I rolled over to watch him. “Because of the darkness?”

  His face went emotionless as he stared fixedly at the ceiling. “I don’t know,” he said. He released a huge breath. “It scares me.”

  “Then let me know when it becomes unbearable and I’ll ask Dad to bring me. I’ll help you feel normal again.” So farfetched, but yeah, why not? They all said we were going to be the greatest dragon–rider team everyone had ever laid eyes on.

  His lips curved at the corners.

  I barreled on. “Just promise me one thing, okay?”

  “Fine. Anything for you to stop talking.” His annoyed tone was back.

  “Don’t stop playing, Blake. Your band is really good. I mean seriously good.” He gave me a sideways look.

  “Please don’t tell me you played my song to anyone, Elena.”

  Guilt washed over my face. “It was just Phoebe.”

  “Phoebe? That girl is like a walking Paegeian Times,” he huffed and got up.

  “It’s not that bad. Don’t be such a baby.”

  “I’m not the one who is twelve years old, Elena.” He jumped out of my tree house and walked toward the castle.

  I sighed and cussed. Yes, twelve year olds did need to cuss sometimes.

  He would get over it, just like he got over everything.

  But he didn’t get over it. He stayed mad. He fumed all the way up to the day he left for Dragonia. Today we said goodbye to Blake and Annie. They were headed to the school in the sky. Next year Lucian would go; his birthday was late in the year and Blake’s was in the beginning. Lucian was the Prince of Tith and Blake’s best friend. And the Master of Dragonia Academy thought it was best to enroll Blake now, hoping it would help with the darkness in him.

  I couldn’t wait to go there myself. Dad took me to Dragonia once. I couldn’t fathom how an entire school could stay up in the air. He was the founder of the place. The minute he discovered that humans born with the mark of the riders could gain an ability at the age of seventeen, a process known as Ascending, he’d erected a school just for them.

  He’d built it a long time ago with one of his best friends, Goran, who had died in an ambush. They never talked about that. Goran had been my parents’ best friend and King Helmut’s twin. All I knew was that the Wyvern King had wanted to kill my parents. Why? Because that was what Wyverns did. They couldn’t be trusted. Not one bit.

  We hardly spoke about Goran, but I knew he was one of the best Dragonians-slash-sorcerers this world had ever seen. Sometimes I secretly wished he was still alive.

  My father and mother didn’t like talking about him. I think they missed him too much.

  Dragonia was huge, and seeing it made me even more confused about how it just hovered above, in between the clouds.

  It was an awesome place. The dragon statues moved, and they had a lake where the students who didn’t go home on a weekly basis could s
wim. A young, female doctor was on campus. And Chong Longwei was the headmaster.

  Master Longwei was a Fin-Tail dragon, my favorite kind in the whole world. He was majestic, gold in color with fur around his paws. Annie, a Sun-Blast dragon, was his granddaughter and Blake’s cousin. Isabel and Constance were twins. Constance, who was married to General Lee, Master Longwei’s song, was the head of the Health Department and on my father’s council. Okay, it wasn’t really my father’s council, but he was sort of running it as Paegeia was ours. King Helmut and King Caleb were just his helpers.

  I saw all of them on a regular basis; the castle was never closed during the day with meetings upon meetings. So boring. Sometimes I felt sorry for my father.

  I waved at Blake as he rested his head against the window of the carriage.

  He looked away.

  Seriously? It was just Phoebe, and she is not a walking newspaper! I yelled in my head.

  “Don’t worry. I’ll speak to Plucky,” Annie said. We both laughed at the nickname. He was so not going to get rid of that name.

  “See you soon!” I shouted. My mother stood beside me, watching me like a hawk like always.

  “See you,” Annie said.

  Sammy draped her arm around my neck. “What did you two fight about?” she asked. I gave her the eye; my mom was inches from us.

  Mom heard and gave me a piercing stare. Nothing new. She had, like, this enhanced hearing, literally. Tanya, my godmother and her dragon, had given it to her.

  “Nothing that can’t be sorted out.”

  Mom squinted at me. I returned the look with interest.

  I walked back to my room with Sammy on my heels.

  “Don’t get me wrong. I love my mother,” I muttered. “But she makes my life miserable.” She forbade me from going to sleepovers outside the castle. If I wanted to catch a movie with friends, she said no. It was the only answer she knew.

  Even if I told her Blake was going to be there, she still refused. In fact, she acted like that piece of information made it final.

  Sometimes I got the feeling she didn’t like Blake very much. Well, not as much as my father did.

  But there were times that I totally adored her, like when we went shopping. She was like my best friend then. The stores usually closed down when the two of us arrived. A spree straight out of heaven.

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