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       Frostbite, p.20

           Adrienne Woods
 

  He chuckled again. “It’s a very old map, at least 300 years old. Master Longwei said there are only two in this world. He’s got one, and the other one is somewhere on the other side of the Wall.”

  “Just tell me you know how to read it.”

  “I can read it, Sort of.”

  “Sort of?”

  “I’m joking with you, Elena.” He laughed. “That look is priceless though.”

  “Urgh!” I slapped him playfully. “My nerves are already shot. I don’t know what we are going to find there. Lucian didn’t even want to tell me.”

  “Lucian communicated with you? How? Phones don’t work inside here.”

  I took out my Cammy and it was dead. “Yes, he did,” I said as I kept staring at the Cammy inside my hand. “Lucian might not have had an extra ability, but he sure was special.”

  “He mastered one of the transmission spells, didn’t he?”

  “What is a transmission spell?”

  “You can communicate with someone without the use of stupid towers or bars on your Cammy.”

  I nodded.

  “Which one?”

  “I don’t know what they are called, but he appeared to me. He felt so real.”

  Cheng’s eyes grew. “He mastered the dimperius spell?”

  “The dim what?”

  “A dimperius.” He looked at the ground. “Not many can. He sure was one hell of a guy.”

  “Now he’s no more,” I said softly.

  “Elena, it’s not your fault.”

  “Cheng, don’t. I trusted Paul when I shouldn’t. I should’ve listened to you.”

  “I had my doubts after a while too, Elena. He was really good at fooling everyone.”

  I laid my head back against the tree’s bark and listened to the birds chirping high in the branches. I closed my eyes and let their cries transport me back to when he was still alive. It started to ache deep inside and I took a deep breath. “What if Lucian was my rider?”

  “Don’t think like that. It would only drive you crazy. Besides, a dragon always knows, Elena. There is no what ifs with us.”

  “How do you know? What does it feel like?”

  “I don’t know how to explain it, it just is. It’s like when you know that the sky is blue and the ocean green. It’s not pink and it’s not red. You just know.”

  I got what he was saying. So Lucian couldn’t have been my rider. Then who was?

  He tapped my leg and I saw him looking up at the old lady’s nose. A light fell onto the path to the left of us and we picked up our bags.

  Cheng walked with a map in one hand and a compass in the other as we walked through huge plants that made funny hissing noises. It really freaked me out and I walked as close to Cheng as I could. He just chuckled and shook his head slightly.

  Yeah, I get it. I’m supposed to be a freakin’ Rubicon.

  “Just slap them if they get in your personal space.”

  “Who, the plants?”

  “Yes, the plants. They’re very curious.”

  I giggled at the image in my head, and somehow it made my fear of them disappear.

  The path we took wasn’t worn like most were, and it made it really hard to see where we were supposed to go.

  I kept bumping into Cheng when he would stop dead in his tracks. Once he confirmed where we were on the map we carried on walking.

  “So what, your tracking ability isn’t that good?” I teased him after the tenth time we paused for him to look at the map.

  “Not all dragons are born with that ability.” He kept looking at the map with a hint of a smile on his face. He looked at the compass then. “Master Longwei said this would happen.” He looked at his watch.

  “What would happen?”

  “It’s getting late, we need to go back until the compass can show us north again. It’s not safe to set up camp.”

  We turned around and walked back for about half an hour, Cheng went a couple of miles further, just to be safe. He made a huge red marking on one of the trees and then took a different direction. He found a huge hollow tree. “Would you do the honors?” he said as we peeked inside.

  I lit up my hand like Blake showed me and the fire lit up everything in front of us. The inside was massive but creepy too.

  The first thing we made was a fire and then we set up our tents inside the tree. Cheng took out tinned food and we each had a can of soup. I couldn’t help but think of my dreams again. Why had Queen Catherine wanted me to come here?

  “What’s on your mind, Elena?”

  I shook my head and saw him frowning because he kept staring at me. “I might as well tell you. I dreamt of this place.”

  “What?” He looked at me, surprised. “When?”

  “Ever since I came to Paegeia.”

  “I thought it might be something like that. You came up with that plan of Becky dreaming about Tanya way too fast.” He smiled. “What happens in the dream?”

  I wanted to tell him about Queen Catherine but for some reason I had a feeling that Cheng was much safer not knowing. “Not much. I keep waking up when the trees try to pull me in.”

  He smiled. “It means then that you are on the right path, maybe we can go home after all of this.”

  “I’m not going to chase my foretelling, Cheng. People around me keep dying when I do. I can’t lose you.”

  “Elena, you don’t need to worry about me. I can look out for myself and I don’t believe in that kind of destiny. You shouldn’t need to get punished for the wrong choices you make, well not like the way you do. I can’t tell you what to do, but answer this, would you rather go back to the other side? What if we could never come back?”

  “I thought that is what you wanted?”

  “We are different from the humans, Elena. We don’t age like they do and we would be on the move every couple of years or so.”

  I smiled. “I like the ‘we’, it means that I don’t have to face whatever is waiting for us alone.”

  “I’ll miss Andreas,” he said in a soft voice.

  I’d never thought about that and what it was he would have to give up. “I’m sorry Cheng. I should’ve never mentioned your name in that meeting.”

  “Are you insane? You wouldn’t have been able to do this by yourself. I’m happy to be here. It makes me feel important, as if I’m finally going to be part of something big.”

  I huffed and smiled. “Guess you weren’t wrong about seeing my name inside that museum,” I joked and we both laughed. “Thank you, Cheng.”

  “You’re very welcome. So what exactly did that foretelling say? ‘A day will come and a day will go…”

  “A choice I’ll have to make, otherwise the truth will never be known.”

  “Any speculations to what it might be?”

  I shook my head. “First time I thought it had to do with finding the sword, proving to everyone that dragon offspring can be worthy of the mark. Turns out the Viden was right. It was only a birth defect.”

  “You can’t say that, Elena.”

  “I’m a dragon, Cheng.”

  “I think I know your reason the second time: it had to do with Paul. That’s why you were so angry with me, wasn’t it?”

  I nodded.

  “I’m so sorry, Elena.” He blew a gush of air out. “To have something that big in the Book of Shadows, not knowing what it means, it can’t be easy.”

  “It’s a curse. I don’t know why everyone wanted theirs to appear inside that book. I never wanted it.”

  “The ones that usually don’t want one, are the ones worthy enough to handle it. You will find what it means, Elena. I’ll help you, even if…”

  “Don’t say those words.” I stopped him before he could say it. “Lucian said the same before he came here, and it turned out to be exactly the last thing he did. I can’t lose more friends, Cheng. Not like that.”

  He nodded. “We should try to get some sleep. I’ll take the first shift.”

  T WAS HARD to fall asleep. I j
umped at every noise in the forest. At twelve I heard a huge growl and it woke me up. Cheng was peeking out of the tree.

  “What was that?” I whispered.

  “Don’t know,” he said, still looking outside. “Master Longwei said that there are really dangerous creatures here at night, that was why I had to turn around. Go back to sleep. I’m sure whatever that was is way too big to get into this tree.”

  Easier said than done, but somehow I dozed off.

  Cheng woke me up around three. I sat at the entrance of the tree with the orange coals that were all that was left of the fire.

  Outside looked creepy. The trees all had these huge dark shadows and I could see a couple of blinking eyes from the animals that roamed the night. I kept thinking I heard someone close by. I guess it was because of the growl I heard at twelve.

  My heart would accelerate and I had to keep telling myself it was just my imagination. If Cara came out, it would be disastrous.

  I must have dozed off because when I opened my eyes again, light started to pour into the entrance of the tree; I went outside and the picture of the sun’s rays seeping through the forest was breathtaking.

  Some of the plants that curled up for the night, unwound into gigantic plants and it almost looked like all the trees were stretching out. I smiled as I looked up at them all. There weren’t a lot of animals because it was still cold. But the forest did block most of the breeze and winter away.

  Cheng woke up around six-thirty and we had bacon and eggs for breakfast. I’d really started to like this camping thing as we had everything we could possibly need. We checked out the map that Master Longwei had given us and we knew more or less which way to go to find the tree with Cheng’s red marking.

  Around seven-thirty we were all packed up and ready to move on.

  Cheng put the compass away the minute we found the tree with the mark he’d made yesterday.

  “Whatever happens from this point on, just let it happen, Elena. They won’t kill us. They are very curious people, some of them have never been outside these woods. I can promise you that.”

  I nodded, but it was scary as I didn’t know what they would do once they found us.

  For the next two hours my senses were on high alert. I could smell every change in the forest and I could feel danger as it crept near. We passed a beautiful waterfall and Cheng looked at the map again. He turned his head in the waterfall’s direction and then to the left.

  “What is it?”

  “We made it to the waterfall. Master Longwei said that it’s a marker. If we got this far, they haven’t detected us yet.”

  “Who, the forest people?”

  He grinned. “You make them sound as if they are savages, Elena. They’re not. Some of them are the smartest people in Paegeia. They don’t live in a village, it’s a city made in the heart of the forest. I can’t tell you what it looks like, as most never make it back out, but I can tell you that it’s not what you think it is. We’re close.” He started to walk forward again.

  I closed my eyes for a second and thought about Lucian again. Did he get this far?

  “So, what am I going to face with these people?”

  “They’re very private and they will not like that we are here one bit. But Master Longwei said the leader has a deep fascination for dragons. That is why I believe Tanya Le Frey is here.”

  “How does Master Longwei…whoa.” Something tight trapped my angle and before I could spell my name I was dangling upside down. “What the hell!”

  “Relax, Elena.” Cheng hung next to me. “It’s only a matter of time before they get here.”

  “I don’t like this Cheng.”

  “Don’t bring her out, Elena. We are safe. This needs to happen. Remember. We’re going to be fine.”

  I could feel the blood rushing to my head and I looked down to the ground. My cammy, change and gum that had been inside my pockets were lying on the floor, next to Cheng’s cammy and a couple of loose change, but only for a second. I watched as the earth opened up slightly and swallowed it. Guess I know now where people got that saying from.

  “Cheng?” I whispered.

  “What?”

  “The earth just swallowed our Cammies.”

  “Guess it needs it more than we do?”

  “It’s not funny. How are we going to phone Master Longwei, and explain to me how can the ground open up and…”

  “Elena it’s Paegeia. A lot of things don’t make sense.” He cut me off

  I blew out a deep breath. How long were we going to hang here? Then noises filled the area close by. It was a horrible hooting sound, a lot like Native Americans chanting around a fire, but worse. My skin crawled and I knew I shouldn’t be afraid. I was a Rubicon for crying out loud, but something in their tone made me believe that Master Longwei had no idea who these people were.

  “We come in peace,” Cheng said and I tried to look at who he was speaking to. I found a brown and white painted face with huge earrings in the ears and nose. “I thought they weren’t primitive?” I whispered.

  “I never said that. I said they weren’t savages.”

  More appeared and they started poking at us with long spears. “Hey stop that,” I yelled. I looked at Cheng. “You sure about that last part?”

  “Elena, don’t infuriate them.”

  “No they shouldn’t infuriate me,” I grunted back.

  Suddenly, I crashed to the floor without warning and my back and arm ached. I didn’t think anything was broken but I must have strained a muscle or something. The men circled us and all pointed their spears into our faces.

  “Remember why we’re here, Elena. We need to be taken, so lift up your hands and surrender.”

  I didn’t like this one bit but I did what Cheng said without taking my gaze from them.

  The tallest one said something in a different language and another one wearing a skimpy animal skin that only covered his private parts took both my hands and tied them up really fast. They did the same with Cheng and pushed us from behind to move forward.

  I had to endure a lot of shoves from behind and needed to keep counting to ten to stop myself from lighting their asses on fire, or burning these stupid ropes from my wrists. They could thank their lucky stars that Cheng was with me otherwise they would’ve been little heaps of ashes.

  We walked deeper into the forest for what felt like hours. I couldn’t stop thinking about Lucian. He’d had to do this all alone.

  The men at the front gave another order and I could hear a huge boulder moving in the distance. We followed them again and I saw an entrance appear through the mountain. When I looked up a figure looked down at me, but vanished from sight when it saw me staring.

  The entrance was dark but the tight grip on my arm guided – shoved me in the right direction until light came up ahead.

  When we exited the passage, I found myself in a beautiful place. It was inside the mountain and was so light that I would’ve thought that I’d died and gone to heaven. Vines ranked against the hard edges of the walls and trees as huge as the ones we’d just spent the night in, were used to build houses high up their branches. Tiny windows and little porches with ladders were all around the houses. I could make out a palace made of rocks way at the back. It was majestic and overpowered all of the trees.

  A small trail close to the wall of the mountain led deeper into the city.

  My feet skidded on a couple of small rocks and I was thankful that Cheng walked in front of me to block me from skidding down this trail.

  The tree houses and palace disappeared as we descended and I couldn’t stop looking at all the fauna and flora around me. Huge purple flowers with roots that moved and lots of green leaves and vines wrapped all around the trees. Birds chirped and I jumped as a huge yellow bird with a long tail took flight. I watched it soar to the top of the mountain and leave through a large opening.

  We finally reached the edge of the trail and came to a beautiful manmade lake. Women were grabbing childr
en when they saw us and I looked at the way they climbed like little monkeys up the ladders and into their homes.

  It made me feel as if I was the savage.

  An animal roared near me and I jumped in the opposite direction. My eyes fell on a black as night puma, growling inches away from me.

  The men that led us here started to laugh.

  “It’s not a real puma,” Cheng whispered. “It’s a shifter.”

  “I thought they were dead?”

  “Apparently not,” he said. “These people crave the gifted. You should by no means show them what you are and what you can do. They will not let you go if they know you are a Rubicon,” Cheng whispered.

  “Why are you telling me this now? Can they understand you?”

  “No, they can’t. Only the leader can speak English, and of course, Tanya Le Frey.”

  “Master Longwei tell you that too?” My tone sounded sarcastic.

  We reached a cable car before Cheng could answer and we were shoved into it, followed by most of the men. It descended down into another part of the city. This time modern buildings and houses on top of each other passed us by. I tried to take it all in. “Not so primitive after all.”

  Cheng suppressed his smile. He really wasn’t scared at all.

  The cable car came to a halt and we stopped with a jerk. It opened onto another passage where the men handed us over to guards who were fully clothed. Each one carried a huge gun.

  They had a short conversation with the four men still aiming their spears at us and when one of the guards took out a bag stuffed with something, they gave us over to them. I looked at Cheng who for the first time looked worried too.

  The new guards shoved us into the halls of what I imagined was the palace, or with my luck, the dungeon.

  They led us past more dark halls and stopped right in front of a door. When two of the men opened the doors, a light coming from the other side blinded both Cheng and I. It took a couple of minutes for our eyes to adjust. The guards shoved us again from behind and I almost fell into a huge throne room.

  I looked at the man sitting on the throne in front of me. He didn’t look very impressed that we were there. At least Master Longwei had been right about something.

  A dark hatred danced in his eyes. This was a cruel man. I could feel it inside my dragon bones and Cheng had been wrong: we weren’t going to come out of this alive. That man looked as if he was going to execute us at any moment.

 
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