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       Firebolt, p.22

           Adrienne Woods
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  “You're safe here, you won't be alone,” he said again as if I didn't hear him the first time.

  “Will we be together?”

  He shrugged. “We don't know which team we'll be divided into. That decision is left up to the Viden.”

  I jumped from my pillow. “They're relying on a woman that sucks everything out of her thumb?” It angered me that everyone thought so highly of what she had to say.

  “Calm down, Elena.” Lucian got up too and gave me another hug. “It's going to be fine. I promise nobody will hurt you.”

  I sighedI’d never felt so scared in my entire life, and believe me, I had been through some pretty frightening things with Dad, always running away from place to place.

  I struggled to fall asleep that night, tossing and turning before finally dozing off around three a.m.

  * * *

  A dozen or so white sheets were tacked on the announcement board the following morning. Students stormed to the wall in a wave. All the students of Dragonia would be divided into five groups, with two on a team, and about forty teams in a group, if not more. Lucian's explanation was thorough. There had to be guards at all the main entry points of Dragonia, as well as around the school. It sounded scary thinking that we had to watch for any kind of danger. This wasn't really my cup of tea. With my luck, I would end up with someone like Tabitha, who would flee at every sound.

  One girl glared at me as she stormed off in the direction of the main building. I didn't pay attention to her until a couple of other girls did the same. Some even started to point in my direction. For the love of blueberries, what now?

  I was about to ask Lucian if I was imagining things, but he saw it already.

  “What's going on?”

  “I don't know. I'll go find out,” he said, and ran to the wall. He came back after fifteen minutes.

  “Sammy, you're with Dean and in Lionel's group,” he said.

  She pulled her mouth in a snarl and started to complain about being in Lionel's group.

  “Becky, you and George are in mine.” He didn't say anything about me.

  “I'm not in yours!” I asked.

  “Calm down. You'll be fine. You're in Blake's group.”

  “With who, Lucian?”

  He looked away.

  “Lucian, with who?”

  “You're with Blake.”

  We were all speechless for a couple of seconds as we digested this new information.

  “She's with Blake?” Becky asked skeptically.

  “I can't be with him in a group!”

  “Elena, it's not going to help to protest. The Viden makes the decisions. You're wasting your time if you think Master Longwei is going to listen to you.”

  “I can't be on guard with Blake!” I could feel my voice rising.

  “You have no choice. You're safe with him.”

  “Who's with you?”

  “Tabitha,” he said through clenched teeth.

  “The Snow dragon.” I pursed my lips together as a picture of the two of them together jumped inside my head.

  Lucian chuckled. “Are you jealous?”


  “Come here?” He grabbed my shirt and pulled me closer. “Does it help if I told you that I don't even like her?”

  It worked. I smiled. “I don't want to be in stupid Blake's group or have him as my guarding partner.”

  “Well, I don’t think it's fair that Tabitha is in mine either.” He smiled as he pressed his forehead to mine.

  “There's something wrong with the Viden, I swear it,” I growled.

  Master Longwei's voice came through the school's system. We quickly dispersed as he ordered us to go to our rooms and wait for further instructions.

  * * *

  They declared school was out until further notice. We were all stuck on guard duty until the sword was found.

  The ambience around the school changed drastically during the next two days. Lucian's group was first. I was worried sick about him, because they were assigned to guard the main gate during the night. Blake chose the exact same spot when it was our turn on the third night. Lucian explained that he was most alert during the night, choosing the best post to guard. As if the enemy was going to attack the main entrance.

  I slept most of the day when my turn came up. Lucian came with me. He walked me to the main gate and said goodbye while Master Longwei was talking to Blake, who was already waiting at his post. I hated that spot.

  Lucian's watch beeped, and I knew it was nine. I was so not looking forward to this at all. To stay awake for nine hours when you're supposed to be asleep was not cool. Not to mention I had to do it with Blake.

  “Just relax. Blake's one of the best dragons in Paegeia, not just Dragonia," Lucian warned me. "And if he transforms, don't freak out.”

  I’d only seen a Rubicon in the museum, and he was huge. I couldn't imagine what Blake’s dragon form looked like for real.

  He kissed me as Master Longwei passed. He teased Lucian and me, and I blushed a deep scarlet.

  A knot formed in my throat as Lucian winked and let go of my hand. We looked at each other until the door closed. The click of the lock made my heart beat a bit faster, and I sulked to my post where Blake waited.

  “Hey,” I greeted him.

  He didn't say anything, as he stared intently into the night.

  I made myself comfortable by a small fire in front of the stone dragons. I remembered Cheng telling me in one of his lessons how they would come to life in times of danger. The idea still crept me out, but at the moment, I didn't care. I felt safer here than on the edge, looking down on the forest and part of Elm.

  All sorts of things flew through my mind as I stared into the embers. My biggest concern was what they would do if the sword was destroyed. If its existence could destroy an evil sorcerer like Goran, then that sword was mighty powerful and our only hope of keeping Paegeia peaceful. Skyscrapers burning down and tumbling to the ground, turning Paegeia into ruins, took the sword’s place. The picture wasn't a beautiful one, and I couldn't see myself living in a world like that.

  My other concern revolved around Goran's power. Cheng told me in one of his lectures that his magic was advanced, which made him one of the best sorcerers that ever lived. What if Becky was right, and he knew how to destroy the wall? What would happen then? Humans would know that dragons existed.

  That couldn't happen. Deep down in my heart I was begging for that siren to go off, announcing the sword's safe return.

  As I sat there thinking, Blake spoke for the first time. “There's coffee in the flask when you feel tired.”

  I looked at my watch. It was just after ten. “No thanks, I'm fine.” I stared into the night too. A million stars sparkled in the sky above our heads.

  “It's the perfect night to watch,” he said. “I hope you don't mind me choosing this time.”

  As if I had a choice. I rolled my eyes at the thought.

  I fell on my arms. If I didn't know any better, I could’ve sworn that he tried to make some sort of conversation. I looked at him from underneath my pathetic excuse for eyelashes, and my heart started to beat a little faster. Why did he have to be so beautiful?

  “I guess I understand why you chose it.” I cleared my throat. “Your senses are most alert at night, right?” I decided to be nice and make the best of the terrible situation.

  “Something like that,” he mumbled, and smiled. He should smile more. It fell silent again, and the stone dragon started to freak me out again. I didn't know if it was just me, but I could swear that I saw them move. “Will they wake?” I asked.

  “Who, the stone dragons? They've got no reason to. To be honest, I think it's just an old wives tale told to get naughty children to go to sleep.”

  “With the sword missing, they've got all the reason in the world to be awake.”

  He huffed and shrugged at the same time, as if standing guard or finding the sword wasn't of any importance. He glanced over his shoulder and t
ook a packet out his pocket.

  “You smoke!” I shrieked.

  “Shhh, Elena,” he snapped back, and blew gently over the tip of the cigarette.

  I gasped as his breath set it on fire. He took a drag, and the end changed from orange to burning red coal. He puffed the smoke in my direction. I coughed while fanning the smoke away with my one hand. It smelled disgusting, and I glared daggers at him.

  The next couple of hours were boring. Blake stopped speaking but kept on smoking. I didn't like it, because it made me think about worst case scenarios. My worries grew as my thoughts kept circling. It was the fourth day, and the sword was still missing. What chance do they have of finding its location? The only excitement I had was around three, as I tried my best to stay awake. My eyes burned painfully, and I felt as if I hadn't slept for two days.

  Around six, Master Longwei came with the next shift to relieve us. It was two guys from James' group; at least I thought that was his name. I didn't even say good morning or goodbye, and went straight to my dorm and crawled into bed.

  I slept till about two and went to the cafeteria for lunch. Lucian was waiting for me with a strong cup of coffee. He was so perfect.

  “So how was last night?” Concern in his tone made his voice break at the end, and I saw him swallow hard.

  What did he think? That something miraculous would happen, and I would be BFF's with Blake now?

  “Nothing much. I now understand the meaning of grave shift, and can tell you that I hated every minute of it. It's so boring.”

  “I know what you mean. You’re lucky you don’t have a nagging partner that wants to flee at every stupid little sound.”

  I giggled. “Did they find anything while I was asleep?”

  “Nothing yet,” he said in a dull tone.

  I sighed as the image of a flaming city jumped into my mind again.

  “Hey, come here?” He pulled me closer and hugged me tightly. “I told you nothing will ever happen to you.”

  “Lucian, what if─”

  `He put his index finger over my lips, silencing me. “Don't, Elena. Let me worry about the‘what if's’, okay.”

  I nodded carefully.

  He tried so hard to put me at ease but failed miserably. The sword was the only thing I could think of.

  The rest of the week went fast. Around the sixth day, they still had no leads as to where the sword might be hidden. It freaked me out. I didn't like how my mind worked when I was nervous, and one thing constantly dwelled on my mind: the Sacred Cavern.

  * * *

  “The Royal Council is never going to find it, Becky,” Sammy said in a terrifying tone one morning at breakfast. “They don't even know where to look.”

  I was glad that Lucian had guarded the entrance last night and was still in bed. He didn't like to talk about the“what if's”.

  The thought about the Sacred Cavern still lingered in my mind, but the strange part about it this time was that it didn't scare me anymore. The scary part vanished the minute my foretelling found a way into all this mess.

  The Viden did say that I had to make a choice. What if this was that choice? I got a warm fussy feeling inside my heart encouraging me,and somehow I knew I was on the right track. This was what she meant. I was sure of it. The only thing that still confused me was the truth part, but something told me it was about my father being a dragon, and that the offspring of a dragon can’t be worthy of the Dragonian mark.

  Finding the King of Lion sword would prove that, as well as change the Viden's mind about me forever. Not that I wanted anything to do with her anyway. The choice wasn't an easy one to make and I could feel how the corners of my lips twitched slightly as I pondered my choices.

  The more I thought about it, the clearer it became. This was my destiny. The only way to find the location of the sword was to go to the Sacred Cavern.

  Chapter Twenty-Five

  I must find a way to complete whatever obstacles were hiding inside the cavern, to get the reward: a look into the magical mill pond. Cheng did say that it could reveal our inner most wishes and desires, whether present, past,or future. I would find the sword's location, even though I didn’t know for certain if it still existed.

  I remembered that only five people, mostly women, made it out alive. That part kept me from running straight to the Cavern that very instant. Not knowing what hid inside the caves scared the living hell out of me. I knew it wouldn't be easy, but then again, when did I ever have things easy,and it wasn’t about to change anytime soon. The thing was that nobody else did anything besides guard the Academy.

  I thought again about what Goran would do once he broke out of Etan. If he destroyed Paegeia and the wall, the humans would come, and the dragons wouldn't stand a chance. It would end in a war and be the end of my new home. With that thought imprinted on my mind, death didn't sound like such a big sacrifice anymore. I would rather die than watch my biggest fear come to life.

  For the next couple of days, I read up on everything that had to do with the Sacred Cavern. Cheng must have found his information in these books and articles,so I kept looking. Most of the stories said that it was impossible to make it out of the Cavern, but the Queen and four other women had. I thought about her again. Could this be why she’d appeared inside my dreams? Could she have been pointing to the Sacred Cavern?

  For some reason,everything was starting to make sense. Why I dreamt about the Queen, and what the Viden’s words meant. This was my destiny. I was the one meant to find the sword.

  I read through the article again, waiting for something else to pop inside my head. The word “young women” caught my eye. Why were there only young women who made it out alive? I researched everything I could find on young women and ended up reading about maidens. In those times, maidens held a different meaning than they did today. Paegeia's dictionary read, “Maiden: a woman with her virtue still intact”.

  A virgin? For the love of blueberries, the ones that made it out were all virgins!

  Something Becky said to me the first time she discovered that I was still intact jumped to my mind. It was about Brian. My fingers flashed across the keys, and I hit the search button the minute the word “Fire-Burst” was typed.

  Articles about Fire-Bursts appeared on pages and pages in front of me. It contained everything I needed to know about these dragons. Sites of how bad they really were hit my attention, and I clicked on the link. Pictures of young girls staked against a pole, naked with a Fire-Burst leaning over them, all held fear on their faces. The scene jolted through me and I shivered. I got a funny feeling that a Fire-Burst guarded the millpond. It made sense why others didn't make it out. It had to be it. I found a map how to get to the Sacred Cavern on another site. It didn't look that far, but then again, I was no expert when it came to reading maps. My other concern was how to get there. They had bus schedules, but that cost money, money I didn't have.

  On the eleventh day, I went back to searching more about the Sacred Cavern. I found a couple of really good books, and it took me a couple of hours paging through all of them.

  I took the book that contained the most information about the Sacred Cavern and went back to my room. Cheng really did have good theories. I laid the book over my chest after reading the last paragraph and closed my eyes. There were still a couple of things I needed before I could even think of leaving Dragonia. Things I had no idea where to get.

  I made up my mind that I would take Ginger. I rode her once, well, with Lucian on the trails, but how difficult could riding a horse be? It would have to be on a horse. I really needed a couple of bucks, but whom to ask?Master Longwei would want a valid explanation. Lucian was the other source of income, but he would ask exactly the same thing. I didn't know a single person that wouldn’t question my intent. I was screwed.

  My head pounded as I laid out my plans.

  “Elena, what are you doing with that book?” Becky snatched it from my chest. I hadn’t even heard the two of them come in. She read from t
he open pages and her eyes suddenly filled with concern.

  “Nothing, I just wanted to read up on something,” I said in a high-pitched tone as I cleared my throat.

  She raised one eyebrow as if she could see right through me.

  “The Sacred Cavern? What on earth is going on in that mind of yours? Why are you reading this?”

  My upper lip twitched upwards slightly. I really sucked at lying.

  She flipped the book closed and her eyes widened. She gasped and froze as understanding washed over her face. “Have you lost your mind?”

  “Becky, it's almost two weeks. They haven't found the sword yet. Think about it, the Sacred Cavern holds the only thing that can make us see anything we want to,” I said.

  “Elena, people disappear in that cave.”

  “Five didn't.” I showed her with my fingers and motioned for her to give me the book back. “Look.” I pointed with my index finger at the five women that made it out alive.

  “These people were raised in Paegeia. No, let the council find the sword,” she yelled with finality.

  “Becky, are you blind?”I snapped back.“They're not going to find it. They don't even have any clue about where it might be.”

  “Elena, you're only sixteen, think, please.” She was adamant, but so was I.

  “No, I've made up my mind.”

  “What’s wrong with you, Elena? Have you really lost your marbles? What are we supposed to do if you don't come back?” Sammy chirped, her eyes sparkling with tears.

  “What are you afraid off?” I yelled at both of them, shaking my head in disbelief.

  “Elena, you don't know how dangerous it is.” Becky tried to get through to me and pleaded this time in a softer voice.

  “I don't care, Becky. Something tells me if we don't find the sword, things will get a lot worse.”

  “Then you don’t give me much of a choice,” she said, and left. I ran after her, thinking of what a coward she was being by bringing Master Longwei into this, but when she changed her course and headed toward the cafeteria, I frowned.

  “Where are you going?”

  She ignored my question. I followed her into the library and saw her heading straight to where Lucian sat, quietly reading.

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