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       Moonbeam, p.22

           Adrienne Woods
 

  I’d broken my silence and sent him a crow about Pluggs. I’d thought he would at least send condolences. But who had I been kidding? He hadn’t even bothered to find Pluggs after the press conference. No reply came. I didn’t know why it even bothered me anymore.

  He only had feelings for his Ice Queen now. She had turned him into an Ice King.

  I hated him. I never thought it would ever be possible, but I did. I didn’t want to start the new school year at Dragonia in a few short months.

  I tried to get out of it, but my father put his foot down. Mom couldn’t help this time.

  A knock came at my door. Mom’s voice called from the hall, “Elena, our guests are here.”

  “Fine, give me a minute,” I grunted and she left.

  I’d really missed Lucian. I figured I should make the best of his visit. After all, it was Christmas.

  I combed my hair, which I’d cut into a scruffy bob. Mom even let me go a shade lighter, which really brought out my eyes. It was one of her attempts to lift my mood, but nothing could.

  I was almost sixteen. She was getting seriously worried. The piano had been working overtime again lately.

  She’d caught Lee in my room a few nights before Pluggs’s murder. So humiliating. I was technically grounded. If only she knew what Lee really was to me, she wouldn’t worry so much.

  She wasn’t ready for me to go to Dragonia Academy, and neither was I. Once there, I would have to pick the date of the claiming. I didn’t even know if I wanted him as my dragon anymore.

  I pulled on my jeans and a loose sweater, and went downstairs.

  I found them in the lounge having eggnog. My father wore the horrible Christmas sweater he loved, the one with reindeer and elves all over it. His face lit up as I walked in. He was the very picture of Christmas cheer.

  “Elena.” Queen Margerite got up first to kiss me. I greeted all of them. Desi was pregnant with her second baby.

  Her eyes grew when she saw me.

  “I love that hair,” she said, kissing me on each cheek.

  “I’ll give you the name of my hairstylist,” I said.

  “You’d better.”

  I said Merry Christmas to King Helmut and then found Lucian behind me.

  He looked surprised to see me. “Whoa, is that really you?”

  “Oh, c’mon! You saw me six months ago,” I said and gave him a hug.

  The way he hugged me back was awkward, almost…nah, surely not. What the hell was he doing? He was my best friend, for crying out loud, or one of them anyhow.

  “You trained?”

  “Yes, I have,” I said. We ended up chatting about the Art of War the entire night. If there was one thing Lucian was good at, it was Art of War.

  There was even a time that I thought he was flirting with me, which was awkward in the beginning, but I quickly got used to it. Real quick.

  It turned into the best Christmas I’d had in a long time.

  King Helmut started bragging about Lucian and how good he was at Art of War. Lucian blushed.

  My father finished off another eggnog. “You want to put a wager on that, old friend?”

  “Albert,” my mother scolded.

  “Against whom?” King Helmut laughed.

  “Elena, of course.”

  “Stop this!” Mom sounded angry.

  “I’m up for it if you are,” I teased. I loved a challenge.

  Lucian laughed. “I don’t want to hurt you, Elena.”

  “Aww, scared I’m going to beat your ass?”

  “Elena,” my mom said. “Language.”

  “Fine, let’s do this, big mouth,” Lucian said with his face really close to mine. I thought he would kiss me. Instead, he blushed even harder, spun, and stalked to the table for another drink.

  My mother just stared at him with huge eyes. Dad laughed.

  I went to my room and dressed in slacks. I pulled on my vest. It was a stunner. The best technology money could buy. When I came back downstairs, everyone had gathered in my training room.

  Lucian’s eyes boggled at the sight of my vest. “What the hell is this?”

  “Oh, impressive right? Dad pulled some strings. It’s the newest on the market. People don’t even know about it yet.”

  “What is it?”

  “The Samurai 3000.”

  “Nice.” He knocked on my vest and then looked at his own—top of the line from last year. “Where’s mine?” Lucian asked his father, who was sitting on one of the benches that bordered my training room.

  “Soon!” King Helmut cried.

  We started to spar. We fought with shields and blunt weapons. I danced circles around Lucian. He was fast, but not as fast as me. Whenever he thought he had me in his grip, I easily wriggled out of it, throwing him on the floor and taunting him.

  Nothing made him angry, though. He had a sloppy grin on his face the whole time.

  The two queens put a stop to it after an hour. We were hardly out of breath.

  Lucian hugged me. Awe was written on his face. “What the hell, Elena?”

  “Told you,” I said with a smirk.

  “Okay, you two,” my mother said. “Showers. And not the same one.”

  “Mom!” I yelled, but Lucian just laughed.

  It was getting late. The McKenzies planned on spending the night. Watching Elena and Lucian all night had awakened another fear, and not just with me, but with Maggie, too.

  Albert and that stupid wager.

  Elena had kicked Lucian’s ass. She was so fast she scared me a little—and made me proud. I wondered if I would be able to take her on and win. She was getting so good at this.

  The familiar way they spoke to one another, their jokes…I knew where this was leading. He wanted to touch her. What was he thinking? Was he really not afraid of what Blake might do?

  She’d turned into a beaut, and Lucian only confirmed it tonight when he saw her. She’d become this young lady who lit up everyone’s faces overnight. It was the haircut and the fact that she was allowed to wear makeup now. Still, I didn’t think Lucian would actually make a move.

  I was watching them swim in the indoor pool from behind the curtains like a peeping tom.

  Albert’s voice startled me. “First Lee, now Lucian. Woman, you are driving me insane.”

  “This isn’t good, Albert,” I said without taking my eyes off them.

  “Well, if you hadn’t kept those letters away from Blake and Elena, none of this would’ve happened.”

  I sighed. “Would you stop with that? You know how bad I feel.”

  “Let it go. They’re old enough to sort out their own problems,” Albert said in a sleepy tone.

  “Go to bed and let me be,” I snapped. In the pool, Lucian and Elena were drawing closer to one another.

  Suddenly, Lucian pulled away. My jaw hung on the floor. Not even a peck on the lips. Well, I definitely didn’t expect that! How much more rejection was this girl going to handle?

  “Forget about it. Don’t worry, okay?” I pleaded. I’d misread the signs again and almost ruined it with Lucian, too. I’d just tried to kiss him. My cheeks burned with shame as I clambered out of the pool.

  “Elena, wait!” He climbed out after me.

  “Seriously, I’m fine.” I still didn’t look at him. “Really. It was stupid if I think about it.”

  His voice was gentle. “So you get why?”

  No, I didn’t get why. Was he gay?

  “If you weren’t Blake’s rider, I would’ve gone for that. Totally.” He hugged me, forcing me to face him.

  I chuckled ruefully. He’d rejected me for Blake. Still, I didn’t argue. I was tired of having fights because of Blake.

  “He’s not going to know what to do with himself when he sees you. You’ve turned into a fox, Elena.”

  “Don’t stop,” I joked.

  He put his arm around my neck and we made our way to the castle. “Still that awesome sense of humor. Care for a nightcap in the treehouse?” He waggled his eyebro
ws.

  I pursed my lips. “I haven’t been up in the treehouse since my birthday. Sure, why not?” I sneaked down to the wine cellar for a bottle of liquor. When I returned, I found Lucian waiting in the treehouse.

  We passed the bottle and started to talk. He told me about who he had in mind for claiming. It was this was Sun-Blast who had the uncanny ability to speak about himself in the third person. He was one of Blake’s closest friends at Dragonia, or as close as one could get.

  Lucian hadn’t ascended yet, which was sad. He had been born with the mark, but it was hardly visible. He was starting to doubt that he would ever ascend. He would, though. He was just a late bloomer—something the two of us apparently had in common.

  An awkward silence descended as we exhausted that subject. “So, um, why did you cry tonight? I mean before I got here.”

  I shifted. “What?”

  “I saw the bloodshot eyes, Elena. No amount of makeup could hide that.”

  As if on cue, thoughts of Pluggs rose and my eyes filled up.

  “Please don’t tell me it’s because of that ass.” Blake, he meant.

  I shook my head. “No, it’s Pluggs. We found him a couple days ago.” I wiped away my tears. “My father didn’t want to make a fuss about it, but I think it’s the reason he invited you over for Christmas—to speak to yours about it.”

  “What happened, Elena?”

  “The Wyverns left my dad a message. They used…they used Pluggs as the ink.”

  His eyes bugged out. I took a huge pull from the bottle.

  “What?”

  “Pluggs is dead, Lucian. I found him, murdered, on the porch two days ago. Sir Robert almost canceled their trip to China. He was scared. But my father told him to go. I don’t know what the message said. My dad refuses to tell anyone, and I can’t read Wyvic. Tonight is the first night my father has been himself.”

  He pulled me in for a hug. “I’m so sorry, Elena.”

  “I’ll be fine. I’ve lost two friends now.” My voice cracked.

  “He’s an asshole,” Lucian exclaimed fiercely. “He will eventually return to you. I mean, you are part of a Dent, Elena.”

  I huffed. “You ever wonder what the Dent is really about?”

  “I know it’s awesome.”

  “What if it isn’t? Blake wants absolutely nothing to do with me,” I said. “It’s never going to change.”

  His arms tightened and then he released me. “Don’t say that.”

  “What if it’s a spell?”

  “Not the Dent. It’s much cooler than that.”

  I smiled without mirth. I wasn’t so sure about that anymore.

  “What happened between the two of you, anyway?”

  I shook my head. “It’s stupid. And my own fault.”

  “What, you kissed him?” I could tell it was a joke, but when I didn’t deny it, Lucian gaped at me.

  “When?”

  “The night of my fourteenth birthday. Stupid, I know.”

  “Elena…”

  I crossed my arms over my chest. “It’s fine. He didn’t share my affection. He ignored me after that.”

  “Because of a kiss?”

  “Yes, lame. I didn’t think that I would ever put Blake and lame in the same sentence, but he did. I sent him so many crows. He never replied. Not once.”

  Shock was written all over his face. “I never thought he was that type of guy.”

  I shrugged. “It’s in the past. We can’t go back and change it. It was my mistake.”

  He touched my arm. “Sorry about that.”

  “It’s okay. I got over it.” I tried to sound flippant.

  “He was your best friend, Elena. I don’t know if I would ever be able to get over something like that.”

  “Okay, seriously, change the topic,” I said. He laughed. We moved on to Desi and the new baby.

  The conversation surprised me when it turned toward Arianna. Lucian didn’t know if he wanted to be with her romantically. She’d kissed him a few days ago, and part of him liked it.

  We laughed as I gave him a look. It was Arianna.

  “What? She is royalty, and has been a great friend.”

  “Makes sense. So what, your theory is that all good friends end up together?”

  He smiled. “Yeah, even the dark ass ones who want nothing to do with their riders.”

  Christmas was over.

  I flew straight from China through the Wall to avoid the elevators. I wanted to land because of Tabitha; she wasn’t used to the limelight. But when I saw so many camera flashes, my eyes zoomed in and I realized the royal family, the Malones, were nearby.

  So I flew straight to Dragonia Academy.

  A day later Tabitha caught up with me at Dragonia. She immediately chided me for my behavior. “You just left us there! You know how I feel about them.”

  “They don’t bite,” I said. “Well, not yet.”

  She laughed and climbed onto my bed. “She gave me such a hateful look. As if I’m the problem between you two.”

  Elena was there? “Who are you talking about?”

  “Queen Catherine. She does not like me much. It’s all because of her spoiled little brat who doesn’t get what she wants.”

  I chuckled. “She was there?”

  “No, why would she be?” Tabitha asked.

  I spread my hands. “Just curious.”

  The door opened and Lucian sauntered in. “Welcome back. How was China?”

  “An ego booster from hell.”

  Lucian laughed. “Tabitha,” he said in greeting.

  “Hi, Lucian.” She smiled.

  He put his bag on the bed. A huge grin was fixed on his face. Why was he always so happy? It pissed me off.

  That night I sat in bed with my laptop. I surfed the net for Elena. Thousands of results popped up. Most of the images were kind of old, back when she was fourteen and younger. There were plenty of a figure hiding under her hoodie. I smiled at the one where she was flipping them off. I missed her spunk.

  I could just imagine what she’d gone through with her mom and dad.

  Many of the clippings covered how she was training heavily. They came from far and wide to instruct her. I couldn’t find any recent pictures. What was she doing? Hiding, like usual.

  “Why didn’t you send her something?” Lucian asked. I stopped, surprised; I had thought he was already asleep.

  “What are you talking about?” I tried to sound nonchalant.

  He sat up on his bed. “I saw her at Christmas, and man…”

  I looked up. A huge grin was plastered on his face.

  “Man, what?”

  “She isn’t the fourteen-year-old who kissed you that night.”

  I froze. “How do you know about that?”

  “She told me, Blake. So she kissed you, just get over it. It’s not the end of the fucking world. But to ignore her like that…”

  “Ignore her like that?” It felt as if someone bowled me over. I started to laugh. This was fresh.

  He didn’t think it was funny. I still wanted to know what he meant with that “Man” comment.

  “Blake, Mr. Pluggs died.”

  My entire heart shriveled. I knew how much she loved Mr. Pluggs. “What?”

  “Two days before Christmas. They found him. She tried to cover up her blotchy eyes, but no amount of makeup could. She’s had a really hard time. Your father didn’t tell you?”

  So that was why he was always on his phone.

  I shook my head. “What happened?”

  “Wyverns. They left a message for her father using Pluggs’s blood. She found him on the porch.”

  “That’s why my father wanted to cancel the trip,” I spoke softly. I got up and grabbed a sheet of paper. I’d promised myself never to do this again. I had to, though.

  Sorry about Mr. Pluggs. I know how much he meant to you. Just speak to me, please. I miss you.

  I folded it up, put it in a pouch, and went to the window. I called the crow with a
low, rumbling whistle. In a few minutes, he landed on the sill with a ruffle of his strong black wings.

  I connected the pouch to the bird, stroked his bony head, and gave him a treat. He took off.

  I looked at Lucian who just stared at me. “I never ignored her. If I told you how many crows I sent…I know it was just a kiss, Lucian. She was fourteen and probably felt that I was abandoning her,” I trailed off.

  “Then why aren’t you guys talking?”

  “Because she never answers any of my letters. I begged. I begged her to come when I turned dark.” I waved my arms to take in the room, the castle, the school campus. “You see her here?” It was still a sore subject.

  “No, Blake. She told me how many letters she sent you. She never got a reply.”

  Something didn’t add up, but I was too tired to think about it anymore. “Just leave it, okay?” I put on my earphones. My tears welled up. Mr. Pluggs wasn’t in her life anymore. He had been her twelfth birthday present from me, and now he was gone. I had no more connection to her.

  How did things get so wrong? From a kiss, that was how.

  Another crow came. The first in a long time. Elena was busy training with one of her tutors. He was crazy fast and I watched how they trained. She loved Art of War; it was in her blood.

  Albert saw the crow and stood, blocking the doorway. “I’m begging you, Catherine, just give it to her,” Albert said.

  “I can’t. How?”

  He threw up his hands. “Just put it in her room and tell her the crow came when she was out.”

  “He said he misses her. They’re going to talk.”

  “Then let them talk. Please. Don’t let her think he didn’t care about Pluggs.” His face was hard now; his patience with me was slipping. “He loved that monkey as much as she did.”

  He gave me a pleading look and left for his three o’clock meeting.

  How the hell was I going to do this? I knew my daughter. She was going to be livid.

  Blake would be around again. I wasn’t ready to love him yet. To forgive him for that night, the way he’d rejected her, for that letter that had started all of this. It was hurtful. He was the dragon who was never supposed to hurt her, ever.

 
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