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       Firebolt, p.2

           Adrienne Woods
 

  C'mon! I kicked three, four times, but it only left long cracks in the glass. Watching the copper dragon trudge toward the pickup through the jagged cracks made the scene before me look even more terrifying. The copper dragon stopped right in front of the pickup. Our eyes locked, and I could see the vertical pupil inside a pair of dark rich brown irises. My heart thumped wildly inside my chest as he hooked one of his talons gently into the shield and ripped it off.

  He paused, stared at me for what seemed like an eternity, took a few steps back, and nodded in my direction.

  He wants me to get out? You’re imagining things, Elena. Dragon’s aren’t real.

  I didn't act. I couldn’t. The dragon started to shrink. His wings and legs dwindled into a smaller size until they disappeared. His big head and horns shrunk into nothing. I watched as the dragon's huge figure melted away. The heap transform into the figure of a human crouching low to the ground. The figure lifted up its face, and huge cuts with blood seeping from it ran down his face. It felt as if somebody had squeezed all the air out of my lungs. I’d finally found my father─ without a shred of clothing.

  Chapter Two

  “Dad? What the─” I couldn’t find a way to put into words what had just happened or what I’d just seen in front of me.

  He staggered towards the pickup and I closed my eyes. I would be scarred for the rest of my life after seeing him naked. My mind went crazy with words like “dragon”, and “Dad”, and “dragon” again; thoughts that I feared would land me in the nut house if spoken out loud.

  The zip of his army bag pierced the silence. I could hear him struggling to get into his pants. How did I not know Dad was a dragon?

  “You can open your eyes, Elena.” His voice came from the direction of the windshield.

  “Dad, why didn’t─”

  “I didn't want you to find out this way. I'm so sorry.” He cleaned the cuts on his face with a cloth. Our eyes met, and he looked at me with a clenched jaw. All the traces of the copper beast were gone. He held out his hand for mine, his other hand kept aloft in mock surrender. I took it, and he helped me out through the opening where the windshield should’ve been. My hands trembled, and the cut on my head stung fiercely.

  My hoody and jeans hooked on pieces of broken glass, tearing them, but my gaze didn’t leave Dad as I climbed through the jagged gap. When I was free from the truck, I watched him pour some clean water from a bottle onto a shirt. He lifted the shirt to my head.

  “Ouch!”

  “Hold still,” he said, and patted my forehead softly with the cool, wet shirt. I ground my teeth. It felt as if someone had hit me with a sledgehammer.

  I didn't know what to say, and a horrible silence filled the air between us while he put a Band-Aid on my face.

  “I need to make a call.”

  “Dad?” I grabbed his sweaty arm, and he turned back around to face me. “Are more dragons coming for us?”

  “I don't know, Bear.” He caressed my cheek gently with his thumb. He dialled a number and held the phone carefully to his ear. His eyes searched everywhere, his face illuminated by the soft glow of the phone. “Matt, Herbert here. We got attacked by dragons…no, I told you, not over the phone. We are stuck on Interstate 40, just meet us and please hurry, I don't know if more are coming.” Dad switched off the phone and placed it back into the pocket of his pants.

  “Elena, I need to tell you something. Believe me when I say this wasn't how I planned on doing this.” He sniffed hard and wiped his nose with his index finger and thumb. “I wanted to take you out for a nice dinner and maybe ease into things, but...” He sighed, blinked a couple of times, and looked away. “Bear.” He looked back at me with tears in his eyes. “I love you more than life itself, and I would never let anything happen to you. You need to understand that.”

  I nodded, but struggled to wrap my head around the fact that Dad could morph into a dragon whenever he wanted.

  He swallowed hard and lowered his gaze.

  What is he not telling me?

  A screeching sound that pierced the darkness made both of us jump.

  “Elena, just run.” Dad screamed, and pointed in the direction I needed to follow. “As fast as you can. Matt is on his way, go, now!”

  I heard the sound of ripping jeans, and when I swung back around, Dad had turned back into a dragon. I didn’t even have time to say goodbye or I love you back. All I could do was what he asked, and I started to run.

  Tears blurred my vision, and I wiped them away vigorously. Not that it helped; everything was coal-dark and I couldn't see a thing in front of me. I fell down hard on the turf, but got back up and kept running. I didn't look back as I silently prayed for the motel to come into sight. Another screeching sound made me stumble again. This time fire lit up the entire road. I look back and saw the outline of the dragon, the one with the beautiful face. A shiver ran up my spine as I remembered the evil emanating from him.

  Where is my father? I'm going to die. Don't give up, Elena. Get up! I did what the voice in my head told me and kept running, while the dragon, lurking in the darkness, followed my trail. A predator that I could not see was stalking me, but each new shiver told me he was there.

  I shrieked as something hard pressed into my ribbed cage. One moment my feet were touching the ground, and the next, I soared through the air. His talons pressed hard into my flesh, and I was sure if he pressed any harder, he would snapped me in two.

  The sound of his wings flapped loudly in my ear and he reeked of sulphur. I started to cough uncontrollably as the strong smell crept into my lungs. My eyes started to burn, and it felt as if my head were going to explode.

  My whole body shook when the dragon collided with something hard. I felt the dragon’s weight being thrown back, and his grip around my torso vanished.

  I fell and tumbled in the air. A vague picture of another dragon snapping at the red dragon came into view. The red dragon breathed fire that lit up the sky. The two dragons became smaller as I descended. My heart beat so fast it felt as if it was inside my throat. Then everything went black and all became silent.

  * * *

  Dull voices spoke quietly in the background. At first, I couldn't make out what they were saying. It sounded hollow as if they were speaking into a tin can. One question dwelled in my mind: Was Dad okay?

  Sight came back in shadows, first the light, then a bit of grey. Four figures stood over me, but I couldn’t tell whether they were male or female.

  “Constance?” A man's voice, with a strong Asian accent spoke clearly.

  “Not now, Master Longwei,” a woman admonished with a British accent.

  I tried to lift my hands from my sides. Why can't I move?

  The British woman barked a breakdown of medical stuff to someone, and one of the figures disappeared.

  “There's something else you need to know,” a masculine voice that sounded vaguely American said to my right. “She has the mark. It’s a dark one too.”

  Mark? That doesn't sound good. When people speak of marks and signs, it usually means a freak. I'm a freak! My heart rate rose again, and it felt as if something heavy sat on my chest.

  “But you said that her father was a dragon,” the Asian man said, sounding confused.

  “How is this possible, Matt?” the British woman asked.

  “I don’t know, Constance. I told you everything I know.”

  Matt? Where’s my Dad?

  While the strangers were carrying on their conversation, my sight began to come back. I saw the three figures leaning over me. The British woman wore a long, white lab coat and had a stethoscope draped around her neck. She had the strangest silver glow in her hair, and she seemed to exude confidence. The Asian man was short, middle-aged, and wore the ugliest Hawaiian shirt I had ever seen. The American, whom I assumed was Matt, was somewhere in his fifty's, with golden blonde hair and a huge nose.

  “You did well, Matt.” The Asian man patted him on the shoulder with praise.

 
“I just wish that I’d gotten there sooner,” Matt said, with a darkness returning to his eyes. My heart beat faster.

  The doctor turned her attention back to me. “Do you know her name?”

  “I think he said it was Eloise or Elena. I think it's Elena,” Matt said.

  “Elena, can you hear me?” she asked, shining the light thingy into my eyes. Dark spots danced across my sight, which blinded me for a short period. I hate that.

  The woman repeated my name. Each time she became more anxious.

  “Constance?”

  “No, Master Longwei,” the doctor said. “I’m not giving up. She's too young and she has barely lived. I will—”

  “You can’t save them, Constance. Their minds don't perceive our reality. She needs─”

  “No! I won't give her the serum. Her mark is dark; we should try to get her back! Elena, please?” She had tears in her eyes as she pleaded with my immobile body. “Just one blink. It’s all you have to do.”

  Blink, Elena, the voice in my head demanded. I didn't want any serum, but for the love of blueberries, I couldn't blink.

  She waited a couple of minutes and then she yelled my name.

  The Asian gawked at her, stunned by the sudden outburst.

  I finally blinked. I did it multiple times, afraid that they hadn’t seen.

  The doctor started to laugh as she wiped the tears from her face with the back of her hand.

  Matt took a deep breath.

  “What can I do, Constance?” asked the Asian, who I assumed was the Master.

  “Nothing at the moment just let her rest. She's been through enough for one day.”

  * * *

  My eyes opened, and I found myself lying on a small bed in an infirmary. Every limb in my body worked again, except my arms. They moved without my control as they clawed and pulled at the IV bulging from under my skin. Liquid squirted everywhere. The machine connected to the syringe made a crazy pitching sound.

  As I looked around I noticed that the rest of the beds were empty. I sat up straight as I desperately searched for Dad. Haven't they found him?

  “Everything is going to be okay.” The doctor's voice came from right next to me. It made me jump. Our eyes met, and I ended up staring like an idiot. Her light gray eyes, with dark spots inside the iris, started to calm my nerves.

  Her warm hands pressed gently against the back of my jaw. Next, I felt the cold metal disk of her stethoscope. Goose pimples blossomed everywhere on my skin, as she moved the metal disk around to my back.

  “Breathe,” she ordered, authority filling her voice.

  I took a deep breath. The question of my father's fate scorched the tip of my tongue as I struggled to take another breath. Tears lurked in the corner of my eyes as different scenarios played around in my mind. The stethoscope went back around her neck when she finished.

  “Where's my dad?”

  The corners of her mouth dropped and tears filled her eyes.

  I knew with what had happened last night that the chances of him being alive were slim. “Is he . . . dead?” It scarcely came out as my chest contracted with barely contained emotion.

  She nodded.

  “No,” I said in a soft whisper, and a tear rolled down my cheek, landing on the white linens of my bed. My throat closed up, and I struggled to breathe. Constance carefully helped me into a sitting position, dangling my bare feet over the edge of the bed. She put an oxygen mask over my face and air filled my lungs once more as she ordered me to take deep breaths.

  A shattering pain went through my heart, breaking it into a million pieces. I couldn't hold back the tears anymore, and I let them run angrily across my flushed face.

  “Sweetheart?” The doctor cupped my face in her hands and crouched in front of me. She hugged me and waited for me to calm down. It was only when my sobs turned into heaves that she spoke again. “My name is Constance. You came to us two days ago. Do you remember?”

  Two days ago? I nodded as my teeth dented the inside of my mouth. My jaw muscles tightened. “How did he die?”

  “The dragons killed him,” Constance said.

  My lower lip quivered, and I tried to force back more tears.

  I listened to how Matt caught me right before I hit the ground. It must have been Matt who collided with the red dragon. One of his co-workers went to look for any survivors, but they had found none. Every dragon was registered, except for us. Her explanation raised more questions than it gave answers. Questions I couldn't answer.

  She poured a glass full of water. “Elena, why were the dragons after your father?”

  “I don’t know. I didn’t even know he was a dragon!” I said honestly as I took the glass from her hand.

  “When did you find out?” she asked slowly.

  “The night on Interstate 40.” It sounded like a title of a bad love song.

  My last conversation with Dad suddenly jumped into my head.

  “Where am I?” I asked.

  “You're inside Paegeia. It's a world─”

  “I know about Paegeia,” I said, not knowing what to make of it.

  “He told you about our world?” she exclaimed, stunned.

  I nodded as deeply as my bruised neck would allow.

  “Then I'm sure that you know that no human can leave after going past the wall.”

  I sighed. The stories were foggy. The Bermuda Triangle was the only word that occupied my mind. I struggled to remember more details. Tears welled up in my eyes again. I succumbed, buried my face in my palms, and sobbed again.

  She hugged me tightly against her chest and murmured words of comfort into my hair. When the bawling reduced to dry heaves yet again, Constance spoke cautiously. “I'm sorry to ask you this, Elena, but did your father ever mention the mark of the Dragonians?”

  My head snapped up, and I stared at Constance with huge eyes. “The what?”

  “Your mark is of true significance on this side,” she continued. “One as dark as yours, well, let's just say that dragon children don't bear something that special.”

  A freak you mean. I shook my head.

  Everything twirled inside my mind, making me dizzy. Touching my cheeks, and sliding my hands to the back of my neck, I leaned against the pillow. I stared at the ceiling with a fan spinning really fast until it blurred out, into nothing. Dad's gone. I’ll never see him again. “I shouldn't have left him that night.” I spoke to the ceiling until I broke down again. I didn’t even say goodbye.

  “Don't blame yourself, Elena.” Constance said, offering me only comfort; no words could erase the pain and guilt.

  She caressed my arm and waited patiently for me to finish processing.

  “Wait, if Dad was a dragon, am I—” I said in a panic, attempting to push myself back up to a sitting position.

  “No.” She giggled, and helped me back down onto the bed. Sorry, Constance mouthed and took a deep breath. “You should've known by now if you were a dragon. I think that’s enough for one night, don't you?”

  I glanced at the clock on the wall. The arms showed three o'clock and by the silence of everything, I guessed it was a.m.

  I nodded slowly, positioning my head back onto the soft pillow. Our conversation had ended.

  Chapter Three

  I pressed the green button near my head, and warm soft pink water came splashing from the metal nozzle. It smelled like roses, and a sense of calm washed over me.

  I had never been in a shower quite like this one, until a couple of days ago. Grecian marble seats lined the walls with mosaic tiles placed in delicate and intricate patterns on the floor. The water cleared and rinsed my body mentally and physically. A more potent aroma of roses and water, softer than before, caressed my skin, creating small waves across my still-bruised flesh. My skin had begun to flush in the heat making my now greenish, yellow bruises darker and more pronounced.

  The tension in my muscles and the pounding inside my head started to evaporate as the heat and smells enveloped me. At the moment
these showers were the highlight of every day.

  I got lost in the string of thoughts, swirling inside my head like an unrelenting vortex.

  I’d always wondered about Dad’s stories and if Peageia was really located inside the Bermuda Triangle. A part of me always felt that Dad’s stories could be real. I just never imagined it was this real. One of the things I do remember that Paegeia was a realm hidden from the human world behind an enchanted wall; a realm where Dragons and magic existed.

  Constance explained that they’d had to conjure the wall to protect magic from people; dark, selfish people who wanted to harness and abuse the magic for themselves. It was only after the wall was erected that they realized just the dragons could cross it. Once a human entered Paegeia, they could never leave. I looked at it like buying a one-way ticket to Neverland. The only thing that worried me was that Dad must have told me about this, but why I couldn't remember it raised more questions.

  As the water continued to rush over me, I struggled to accept Dad's death. A small part of me still felt responsible for it. His death, and the reality that dragons were real, was the reason I had spent nearly five days sequestered inside this infirmary.

  I hated hospitals, more than I hated moving, but Constance was really kind. She and Julia, her assistant, had been my only company ever since I arrived here. Master Longwei, the headmaster of Dragonia, which this infirmary was located, also popped in from time to time to check on my recovery.

  His wise advice: If I wanted to keep my sanity, I had to face whatever was out there. Today, I decided reluctantly to take that step.

  I didn't want to end up in the loony bin just because I couldn't accept what was real, even though magic and dragons belonged only in Fairy tales.

  Fortunately, there was a silver lining around this dark cloud. My birthmark.

  Back home, a mark like mine was common. A lot of people had them. Doctors diagnosed these marks as pigment defects.

  My version was an ugly dark splat above my knee that kept me from wearing shorts even in the height of summer. In Paegeia, it was something significant. The people saw it as an honor and, according to Julia, most humans would kill for one as dark as mine. What it really meant, I still hadn’t figured out, but it was my ticket straight into Dragonia Academy.

 
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