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       Frostbite, p.19

           Adrienne Woods
 

  “She’s going to put two and two together when I go to see her tomorrow, Cheng.”

  “Then lie to her. But she cannot know.”

  I nodded. “Okay.”

  Y MEETING WITH Queen Margerite was scheduled at a very high-end coffee shop. The minute I walked in I got that First Wives Club vibe. It was just women in suits and had that business feel to it.

  The lady by the door looked up from behind her desk. A broad smile spread over her clean face.

  “Hello, Elena. The queen is waiting, follow me,” she said and led me through a couple of round tables of women enjoying their tea, scones, and cake.

  I found Lucian’s mom at the back of the room. The table was facing the most beautiful view of the ocean and when we reached it she got up and planted two kisses on both my cheeks. “I take it you didn’t struggle finding this place?”

  “Not at all, once I told the cab driver where I wanted to go, he knew I was going to have tea with you.” I sighed. “It’s so weird.”

  “What is?”

  “A year ago, nobody even knew who I was, and now everyone just knows who I am.”

  She laughed. “It comes with the territory of dating the prince, even if he is gone.”

  I touched her hand softly. “I miss him so much. I wish this all had a different outcome.”

  “You and me both,” she said softly.

  “He should’ve never been there that day. He would still be alive if not for me.”

  She dabbed at a tear. “And what, let Paul kill you instead? He would’ve been a living corpse if he wasn’t with you Elena. Losing you would’ve meant his death, so the way I see it, he would’ve died no matter what.”

  “How can you be so nice to me? He was your only son. I was responsible…”

  “Shhhh, you forget. I might be a mother, but I’m the queen of Tith too. We have to make sacrifices for the people. His mission was for Blake and we all made a vow when Blake was little that we would do anything in our power to save him from turning evil. Lucian was my sacrifice.”

  “But his death had nothing to do with Blake.”

  “I don’t know about that Elena, maybe it did. I’ve been thinking about that lately, but it’s not a discussion for today. We are here because I need to ask you a few questions, well actually just one.”

  I looked at her with surprise.

  “Are you going where I think you are going?”

  Lie to her Elena! Cheng’s voice yelled in my head, but she’d given up so much and she deserved the truth. I nodded. “He found something, I know he did. I have to find out what it was.” I couldn’t tell her about my dreams. It would be weird and she would just think that I was insane.

  She huffed with a slight smile. “I knew that journal would make a bit of sense to you. It drove Helmut crazy as there was nothing other than his foretelling.”

  “It’s got nothing to do with Blake’s date. It’s a link to Blake but not the way we thought.” I told her what we found and that Tanya left on the 23rd of August seventeen years ago.

  The queen frowned.

  “Lucian was right to search for her, she knows something and that is why I believe he knew exactly what could claim Blake. I have to go and find out.”

  She took a deep breath and took out a thick

  envelope. “Please, take this. Keep it safe. I don’t want you guys to run into trouble and not have enough money. Pay them off if you need to but make sure you get out of that forest, Elena.”

  I took the thick envelope and knew exactly what was inside. “I can’t.”

  “Please, do it for Lucian. I won’t be able to forgive myself if anything happens to you.”

  I sighed and nodded. “Thank you.” I put the envelope inside my backpack and had a light lunch with the queen. We talked about everything. My foretelling, and how King Helmut was doing. Losing Nora when she was literally inside his grasp made him more determined than ever to find her.

  I said goodbye around three as she had a meeting to attend to.

  “Take care of yourself, and I hope you find what it is you are looking for Elena. Phone me the minute you are back.”

  I gave her a hug and breathed in her fragrance without making her uncomfortable. “Thank you so much for all your help.”

  “You’re so welcome. Stay safe.”

  Jeeves walked up to our table.

  “Jeeves will take you home, and good luck, Elena.” She gave me two more kisses on both my cheeks and another tight hug before she let me go.

  The drive to the Academy was silent. Jeeves didn’t say anything to me just a ‘good luck with the mission’ as he dropped me off at the Academy.

  I disrobed behind a tree and flew up. I wasn’t going to tell Cheng about the money and would use it like she’d instructed me. Only when it was needed; hopefully it wouldn’t come to that.

  N FRIDAY MORNING, the day of our departure, I found Emanuel in the lobby. He gave me a set of keys. Cheng’s eyes grew in alarm and I shrugged slightly, trying to hide the fact that I had no idea what was going on. When we left the academy and exited the woods, we found Lucian’s Range Rover. Cheng’s eyes sparkled and he couldn’t take them away from the SUV.

  “Don’t scratch it,” Emanuel ordered us both and I handed the keys to Cheng.

  “I’ll try my best.” Cheng smiled.

  I gave him a hug, well a waist hug. He was huge, but then again he was the King’s dragon.

  “Thank you, Emanuel.”

  “Take care, Elena.” He smiled. “If you need anything, let me know, okay,” he said as he took my Cammy and paired it with his. He walked toward another SUV and turned around as he opened the door. “Take care of her,” he yelled at Cheng.

  “Which one, the Rover or the girl?”

  “Both.”

  Cheng laughed.

  Constance and Master Longwei together with Becky, Sammy and the guys went down with us. Cheng repacked our luggage from a tiny car over to the Range Rover. George and Dean helped. When they were finally done, we started to say goodbye.

  Constance was first. “Just come back, please,” she whispered into my ear. “Take care,” she said out loud.

  “I will,” I said with a soft smile.

  Master Longwei was still speaking to Cheng in Latin as I grabbed Becky next. Her grip was extra tight and she didn’t want to let me go.

  “I’ll come back, even if I have to set their asses on fire. I promise.”

  She giggled into my shoulder. “You better.”

  Sammy didn’t say anything, she just grabbed me around the neck. I knew she was thankful for the things I was about to do for her brother. George gave me a hug. It was the first time he’d hugged me of his own will, the other times were to keep me from killing someone. “Take care, Elena. Please come back for Becky and Blake’s sake.”

  I giggled. “I’m not planning to die in there.”

  “Good girl.”

  Dean was like Sammy, he said nothing but I could feel his worry and concern behind his hug. The two of them made a perfect couple.

  I climbed in as Master Longwei handed something to Cheng. He came around to my window and stuck his head into the car. “Don’t think that I don’t know what this is all about, Elena. You can thank me later when you come back,” he said and pulled his face back out the window.

  “What no goodbye?” I joked.

  “I don’t believe in them. I’ll see you later.”

  “Later it is then,” I yelled as Cheng turned on the engine.

  I closed my eyes and lay with my head against the back of the chair. The last time I’d been in this SUV was with Lucian. It was that day at the gallery, the day that he played me that song of Blake’s. The one that spoke to my soul.

  He still hadn’t appeared to me after the last time, and it felt like it had been forever.

  Cheng honked again and I looked back and saw all the people I cared for waving one last time.

  At least they would be safe from whatever was out there. I pic
ked up the heart charm that dangled from my necklace and brought it to my mouth. My lips touched the rough edges. Please, don’t let me go through this alone. I said a small prayer and hoped that Lucian and God could hear it.

  HENG BLEW OUT a huge gush of air. “This looks like a good place to stay over for the night. Tomorrow we can find a way to enter the Acker Woods.”

  We’d been driving straight for a shit ton of hours. My legs felt numb and I really needed to stretch them. “Is it still far?”

  “No, Elena, but I need my rest, and so do you. We’ve been driving for the past 20 hours straight. We both could do with a bath as well.”

  “Hey, are you trying to tell me something?”

  “Yes, you smell,” he joked and I threw an empty can of soda in his direction.

  We walked over to the small guest house. A funny feeling had rested inside my gut for the past day. I didn’t know what or where it would lead to, but something was going to happen.

  Cheng opened the door and we walked into an old tavern type of place. It had wooden tables and a podium which I assumed was used to play live music. It felt as if I’d stepped back into the seventeenth century. Everything screamed ancient. The tapestry and even the faint lantern that lit up a front desk.

  A young man slept behind the desk in a chair. He jumped when Cheng touched his shoulder and barely caught the table as his chair started to fall backward.

  “Sorry, we just wanted to know if you have a room for us.”

  “Jeepers, sir,” he said and I gave him a look.

  That voice, it couldn’t be. It sounded just like the guy inside the Sacred Cavern. How was this possible?

  “Can I help you miss?” He looked at me after he gave Cheng two room keys.

  “No,” I said and followed Cheng up the stairs.

  He laughed. “You look like you saw a ghost.”

  I gave a huff and smiled slightly. “Something like that. Is it just me or does this place feel a bit out of date?”

  “Elena, it’s fine. We’ll be fine.”

  I nodded as we ascended to the top floor. “Here, you can have 301, I’ll take 300. If you need anything, just yell. I’m sure the walls are thin enough.”

  “You sure?”

  We both laughed.

  “Goodnight, Elena.”

  “Night Cheng.”

  I opened the door and walked into this old room with white walls covered in flowery wallpaper.

  Everything else was wood. It was cold and I pulled off the blanket after I lit the lantern with my breath. Ever since I’d seen Sammy do it, I’d wanted to try it. The lights didn’t work at all, but at least the water in the bathroom was hot.

  A knock on the door made me jump. When I opened it I found nobody but my luggage. This place was getting creepier by the minute.

  I took a long bath after I made sure the door was locked and just wished for all of this to be over. I had no idea what I was going to do if I couldn’t go back to Dragonia. Worse, what am I going to do if they send me back to the other side?

  To never be able to come back. How was I going to hide my dragon form? All these questions stayed with me, because I knew there was no way I would be able to find what could claim Blake and what my foretelling meant.

  I needed to find a way for the council to never find me again. To hide, like an outcast the way Tanya had been sounded like my only option. But what about Cheng? I should’ve never dragged his dragon ass on this mission with me.

  The bath warmed me up. It was weird how hot George and Blake always felt, but how cold I was.

  There were a lot of things that didn’t make any sense but then again, it could be the differences between male and female dragons. I still knew so little about them.

  When I got out, I dressed myself in the warmest pajamas I owned. I pulled on four pairs of socks because my feet took forever to warm up, and slipped them into a soft pair of wool slippers.

  I grabbed the blanket again when I stepped out of the hot bathroom and into the cold room. There was a fire place, but what I knew of starting a fire was dangerous and this guest house was doing everything in its power not to crash down to the ground as it was.

  The bed was big, cold and hard. It made a squeaky sound as I climbed in and I read Lucian’s foretelling again. Why couldn’t he have just written the answer in here, then none of this would’ve happened?

  I finally managed to fall asleep and woke up the next day to the smell of fresh bread. I got dressed and found Cheng at one of the wooden tables downstairs. He was having a huge breakfast and my stomach growled as I took a seat in front of him.

  “Sleep well?”

  “Yeah, just cold.”

  He frowned. “You’re a Rubicon dragon, Elena.”

  “Tell me about it.”

  He chuckled.

  Around nine we handed back our keys and left the tavern. The drive wasn’t that long but it took us about four hours to get to where we wanted to be.

  We parked the Range Rover at a safe place and grabbed our tents and backpacks as if we were going on a hike.

  The detour to the Acker Woods was long and we needed to be prepared for anything. We passed a couple of meadows and took another path that led through tall grass. I flinched a bit because I could hear things crashing through the brush a couple of paces away from us.

  “Just walk, Elena. They can sense we are dragons. I promise you they won’t attack.”

  I took a deep breath and wanted to kiss the ground when we exited the path.

  As we approached a steep mountain of a hill, the expression on my face told Cheng I was so not looking forward to this. He just chuckled and handed me a bottle of water.

  We had to stop a couple of times and shake off our backpacks to catch our breath, but I had to admit the scenery was beautiful.

  “How much further?” I said, out of breath.

  “We’re almost there,” Cheng said from ahead as he paused and waited for me to catch up. “Here have a drink. It’s just over that hill and then we’re there.”

  “You think Lucian took this same route?”

  “It’s the only path that leads to the Acker Woods, so yeah, he took exactly this same path.”

  I looked around again and closed my eyes. My footsteps were taking the same path his had a couple of months ago.

  I looked at the end of the hill again and took a big sip. Then something else flashed through my head. The view was different but it was the same. I coughed and water flew out everywhere as I realized where I was.

  “Elena are you okay? You should swallow.” He tapped my back hard and the coughing stopped. “What is it?” He followed my gaze.

  “Nothing, it’s just, I know this place.” I sounded like a crazy person.

  “How could you, you’ve never been here?”

  “Weird,” I looked at Cheng. “Right.”

  I picked up my backpack again and carried on walking. I couldn’t stop thinking about whether or not it was the right place. I kept looking over my shoulder trying to make sense of it, but I knew it was the hill from my dream. It felt like déjà vu the closer I came to the top and my heart pounded because I knew who used to wait for me at the other side of this hill. Would she be there this time? I hoped not because Cheng would definitely have a heart attack which would mean that I would have to carry on alone.

  My feet slipped on some loose turf and Cheng helped me to climb further. He reached the top first and pulled me up with him.

  I took in the view before me of row upon row of tall trees. They were big and nasty. In my dreams they had suffocated me so many times and here I was in real life. This wasn’t a dream anymore and there was no turning back or waking up this time.

  Why on earth did Queen Catherine want me to come here?

  “Elena, you okay?”

  “Huh?” I snapped out of it.

  “You look like you’ve seen a ghost.” He laughed. “I know it’s intimidating, especially with those tall trees.” He smiled again and started ru
nning down the steep hill and toward the forest.

  I followed him and skidded off on my bum. My shoe got caught on a rock and I tumbled over and landed flat on my face.

  Cheng laughed again as he tried to help me get up. “You seriously are the worst Rubicon I’ve ever seen.”

  I laughed with him. “Tell me about it.” I sighed again. “I just don’t know about this, Cheng,” I finally admitted as I stood up.

  “Elena, we’ll get out. I promise.”

  I nodded. Then I remembered what Lucian said that night. When I told him about George and Becky going on this trip. He got upset that it wasn’t me, implying that I should be the one to do this.

  What was inside that forest that both these ghosts wanted me to find?

  E FOUND A path and I couldn’t stop watching the top of the trees swaying high above my head. I felt tiny, like a fairy with these gigantic trees surrounding me. I was waiting for a huge animal to run into our path any minute, but nothing came.

  Huge roots forced the two of us to climb like one would on a wall, and as we climbed the more the forest welcomed us, and I had to admit, it was beautiful.

  Cheng found a tree and stopped.

  “You think that’s wise?” I asked.

  He smiled. “We found the tree, Elena.”

  “What tree?”

  “The tree that looks like an old lady’s face. See.” He showed me and I looked up at the entire picture. It sure did resemble the face of an old lady. An old ugly lady.

  “Now what?”

  “Now we wait for a while, until the sun reaches her nose. Master Longwei said it will show us the way to go.” He took out a map. “The rest is easy to follow.”

  “You’ve got a map?”

  “Master Longwei gave it to me before we left.”

  “Why didn’t you tell me?”

  “He said not to, until it was time.”

  I shook my head softly and shook off my backpack. It landed with a thud on the ground. I sank down next to it and took the map from Cheng. It didn’t look like the kind of maps I was used to. It had funny dots and marks on it that I didn’t understand. I handed it back to him. “Even the maps are Greek.”

 
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