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       Frostbite, p.23

           Adrienne Woods

  Cheng was dragged at the speed of light into the woods as Cara landed perfectly on the ground.

  Through the corner of both my eyes I saw a couple of guards run fiercely toward me. My head snapped back and a snarl I’d never even known was in me growled their way. It blew them a couple of yards back. The ones attacking from the left found the soles of Cara’s feet as she stepped on two of them. The crushing of metal didn’t even hurt my paws as I thought it would. The sound of a weapon going off hurt my ears and I flinched. The bolt of the electricity came next as it connected with my scales.

  It didn’t harm my body as they’d hoped and two more guards felt Cara’s wrath as my core and throat lit up once again.

  I searched fiercely for Cheng and saw them pulling him with a device to load him onto the back of a truck. He was still speaking Latin and fighting against them with all his might.

  The earth shook as I ran back into the forest and trees fell around me like dead bodies.

  Every war has its casualties, Paul’s favorite sentence jumped into my head.

  The outline of a spear was loaded at the back of the truck. A human figure was making his way behind the spear as they finally managed to slide Cheng’s huge dragon form on board. The sound of the spear releasing was way slower than the actual speed and it connected with my body. Cara gave a small grunting sound but I refused to let it slow me down and I pushed forward. I wasn’t going to lose another friend because of this stupid foretelling. Not this time.

  We moved faster and I could feel a nearby tree connecting with the side with the spear lodged in my body and the pain of the weapon breaking in half was ten times worse than when it’d hit us.

  When we were free from whatever the spear was connected to, Cara let out another furious growl and my head jolted up into the guy that’d climbed in behind the spear. Cara opened her mouth again and zapped his ass with lightning. I watched in horror as he fell back and shook as voltage stung him over and over again.

  The earth shook with every step we took and the truck carrying Cheng’s dragon body came closer. Cara released chlorine gas and the entire area filled with green smoke. For the next couple of minutes we heard men coughing like crazy and then all sound died down.

  I took a deep breath and the chlorine pulled back into my lungs. The burning sensation felt like euphoria and I wanted more, but the reality of the danger we were still in brought me back and I opened my eyes. Bodies lay everywhere, and the only one that was still coughing was an enormous heap lying on the back of the truck. I knew I had to get him out of here and back to the sky where he could fill his lungs with fresh air.

  The crushing of bodies under my feet as I tried to get to the truck didn’t even bother me. These men were evil, and they shouldn’t have tried to trap my friend tonight and drag him back to their lair. What was going through their minds? They knew what I was, what I could do, did they really think I would let them take my friend?

  I ripped off the net that clung to Cheng’s body like a spider’s web around a fly. It wasn’t hard to snap it in two and with a couple of bites Cheng was finally free.

  “We need to move fast,” Cara’s voice said in my mind. “More are coming. I can hear them.”

  I looked up and felt their footsteps on the ground.

  “I can hear them too,” I thought back and looked down at Cheng still lying in the same spot. “We’ve got to move,” I yelled at him.

  He spoke Latin and I couldn’t understand one single word. Then he tried to lift up his wing and I figured out what the problem was. He was hurt.

  Shit. “Don’t worry, just hold onto my back.”

  “Elena,” he said my name in a protesting tone, but my claws were already around his body and with one flick I threw him onto my back. He landed with a thud and an ‘oomph’ escaped his lips.

  “Just hold on, Cheng.”

  I ran toward the edge of the forest. The minute no tree tops were hovering over us, I took flight. The spear in my torso ached but I could feel Cara’s strength pushing through all the pain. We jolted up into the air as if our lives depended on it.

  “Our lives do depend on it,” Cara thought and I added my strength just as hers was fading.

  “Elena, I can’t hold on anymore.”

  “We are almost there Cara, please, just a little bit longer. If we can just get the spear—”

  “No, this is exactly what should be done. It’s time. I can’t let both of us die. So many people sacrificed their lives to keep you safe.”

  A jolt of emotion, pain, and anger attacked my heart as she said those words. She was giving up. “I don’t care,” I said through gritted teeth. “You just hold on, you hear me. You are not going anywhere. I don’t care,” I said again.

  “But I do, Sugar. We sometimes have to make decisions we don’t want to. I gave my life so that an amazing princess could live. It’s time to be reunited with my dad.”

  “Cara, don’t leave me,” I choked as my tears flowed. “There has to be another way.”

  “There is no other way,” she said in a weak voice. “You’ve got to let me go. I’ve done what I had to do and you gave me one last amazing flight.”

  A dragon wail left my mouth.

  “Don’t make that awful sound. I should’ve never woke up but your need for me was too strong. You are stronger now, and you know what must be done.”

  “I can’t do that. I won’t do that,” I yelled at her. “You are my dragon, and that is final.”

  “I’m not your dragon and I’m not going to fight with you. I don’t want that to be my last memory of you, Elena. I want it to be a peaceful one. You will be fine. You are stronger now, it’s time to let me go.”

  Silence filled the air leaving us both with only the flapping sound of our wings.

  “Can I ask you one favor though?”

  I nodded.

  “Can you please try and get me to see the stars?” Her voice came out a whisper, even the glimpses of the stars she was thinking of was weak. “I want to see them one last time.”

  “Cara, I can’t do this. I don’t know how to, I love you so much.”

  “I love you too, Baby, but no need for both of us to die. You were made for so much more, you need to save the people of Etan. It was both our home. You are an amazing girl Elena, and I can see great things in your future. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.”

  I knew it was a lost cause to try and talk her out of this. She’d made up her mind and she was exactly like Dad. When they made up their minds it was final. I swallowed my anger and the ache in my torso and used all my strength to climb into the sky. We entered a thick blanket of clouds and when we passed it we found the most beautiful sky filled with diamonds. There were so many that I started to lose myself in their beauty.

  Cheng finally woke up as if the stars had given him extra strength and I could feel his weight dissipating from my body. He let out a soft wailing sound too. We might not understand one another in dragon form, and he might not be able to hear Cara’s thoughts, but that wail said enough. He knew what was happening and the only way he could show me his sympathy was the noise he’d made a couple of seconds ago.

  “Isn’t this beautiful?” Cara said.

  I’d taken the potion from him before I’d changed. If Cara was going to die, it would be through love.

  “It’s time, Sugar, I’m ready.”

  I chucked the potion, bottle and all, into my mouth and crushed the glass with my jaw. A hot lava-like liquid ran down my throat and I could feel it burn into my stomach. I screamed and another shrieking sound that pierced both our ears filled the night. The poison of that bottle ran through my veins and I could feel my dragon body turning ice cold, as if I’d swallowed liquid nitrogen.

  “I will always watch over you,” Cara’s voice was faint and then it disappeared. I could feel my body shrinking, shifting back into a human. My heart was thumping in my chest as Cheng’s dragon form flashed by me as I fell back down to earth. It was beating faster
and louder. I saw my arm and hand with fingers and saw in slow motion how Cheng darted back down to me. My heart’s rhythm beat slower and slower and then beat its last.

  T WAS DARK, cold and the feeling of being utterly alone was all I had left. There was no more Lucian, no more Cara, there was nothing.

  A jolt ran up my body, right through my core, and I couldn’t breathe for a couple of seconds as pain I’d never felt before ran its course. Then stopped. A couple of seconds of darkness and loneliness filled the space around me again before another jolt of pain emerged.

  What the hell is this?

  “Elena?” The voice sounded far away, and hollow. I could feel my chest expanding and then there were three pushes. The cycle repeated a couple of times.

  I heard my name again, it was a voice I knew. Not my father’s and not Lucian’s. It was … Cheng.

  With a hard and burning gasp my lungs filled with air. My eyes flew open and Cheng lifted me into an embrace. “I thought I’d lost you. Tanya didn’t mention anything like this,” he said into my hair.

  I started to cry as I knew what I’d just done. I’d killed a part of me; I’d killed Cara.

  “Shhhh,” Cheng cried too. “It had to be done, Elena. She served her purpose. We have to get back to Dragonia before it’s too late.”

  I nodded even though I didn’t want to. How on earth was I going to be able to claim any dragon without Cara? How was I going to claim Blake when I felt so defeated, so weak?

  He opened his backpack and took out a pair of jeans and t-shirt with a hoody. I only then realized that I was shaking from the cold.

  We were stranded on a couple of rocks and the only light came from the full moon emerging slightly from a blanket of clouds.

  Cheng helped me into the clothes that were way too big for me as I struggled to breathe. I didn’t know if it was the effect of losing Cara or finally being exposed to Mother Nature’s wrath.

  When I was properly clothed Cheng rubbed his hands hard on my back trying to bring a little more heat into my frozen body.

  “I’m fine, feeling much better, thank you.”

  He gave me a soft smile. “It’s times like these I wish I was a freaking fire breather.”

  I managed to give a small chuckle but the feeling of losing my best friend was still gripping me hard.

  “Okay, let’s go,” he said as he changed back into his dragon and picked me up with his front paw. He pulled me closer to his torso and I could hear the beating of his heart. He smelled like the forest and ocean mixed in one. His soft leathery skin warmed my body until I didn’t feel the cold anymore.

  My eyes felt itchy and heavy but for some reason my mind refused to let me sleep. I couldn’t get over the horrible act I’d just committed, on someone I actually loved. I was wrong about this time being different. I’d lost another friend. I’d lost a part of myself I would never get back. I felt exactly the same as the day Lucian had died. He stayed in my mind as I didn’t want to think about Cara anymore. It hurt more than thinking about Lucian.

  How many more people am I going to lose like this?

  The flight felt like hours, but the minute the legs that held me against his torso opened up I knew we were close to where he wanted to be.

  He opened his paw for me to climb out and I saw Lucian’s Range Rover.

  My body was drained and my knees gave in the minute I got up. Cheng changed in seconds and I could feel his warm hands grabbing me around the waist and underneath my legs. He carried me to the SUV and the hot air that crept through the venting system immediately started to warm my body. I fell into an exhausted doze as he drove us away at speed.

  I woke as he picked me up and walked with me into the tavern and this time I didn’t protest. I was too tired to say anything.

  He knocked on the door and the man who was on night duty finally opened up. “Is she okay?”

  “She’s fine. Can you please make her something to eat and bring it up to her room? I’ll pay extra.”

  I didn’t hear what he said as I buried my face in Cheng’s chest but the fast departure of his footsteps told me that he would do what Cheng asked.

  By the rhythm of Cheng’s walk and the sound of the wood creaking I knew more or less where I was. I heard a key slide into a lock and the soft bed against my skin felt amazing. I would have given anything to just close my eyes and sleep, but my demons weren’t going to let me this time.

  Cheng ran around in my room like a mouse looking for an escape route. I could see a faint light behind my eyelids, and the crackling of a new fire filled the room before the heat from the flames followed. His weight dented my bed and he pulled the covers over me. After I was tucked in he rubbed my body again.

  “You feeling warm yet?” he asked, concern lacing his tone.

  I didn’t answer, I couldn’t and I tried really hard not to cry but when my body started to shake I knew there was no way to make it stop.

  “Elena, it wasn’t your fault. She had to go.”

  Cheng stayed with me until I was calm. When the food came he begged me to eat, but the nauseous feeling inside the pit of my stomach made it impossible to think about food. He left after he finished his sandwich and glass of milk.

  I closed my eyes when the fire started to die, and looked at the clock next to my bed which read three.

  I dozed off and my eyes shot open again as my bed dented with someone else’s weight. I hadn’t even heard the door open. I froze knowing that Cheng was inside my room. I didn’t mind before as he’d wanted to make sure that I was fine, but whatever it was he wanted this time, I sure didn’t feel the same for him.

  I turned around when his arm wrapped around my waist to tell him exactly how I felt and found Lucian.

  Without thinking, my arms grabbed him around the neck and my lips found his. The tears flowed again. I’d missed him so much; I missed Cara and the emptiness inside of me was unbearable. My body shook again and I broke the kiss, trying my best to swallow my stupid tears. Who knows how long we had this time?

  “Shhhh,” he said into my hair. “I take it that you finally found all your answers.”

  I forgot about that. I forgot who I was and I forgot what it was I had to do. The image of Blake filled my mind. How much I hated him right now. “I can’t claim him Lucian.”

  “Elena, you have no choice.”

  “He wants nothing to do with me, and to be honest neither do I.”

  “That’s not true and you know it. He’s not the type to show his true feelings Elena. He guards them, now even more than when we were younger. Did you know that he woke up the exact moment you entered Paegeia?”

  “Yes, he said it was my dragon.”

  “He’s lying. If he wanted nothing to do with you, he would never have saved your life, twice. Just think about that.”

  “It will never be like that.”

  Lucian chuckled. “Don’t fool yourself, Elena. It will be exactly like that. You’re made for one another. Your love has been foretold for centuries…” A sadness filled his eyes.

  Foretold for centuries….what the hell is he talking about?The first foretelling, the one on the very first page of the Book of Shadows.

  “I’m glad I died.”

  I shot him a glare. “You don’t mean that.”

  “Oh, but I do princess. I told you before, the Blake I know will love you better than any human ever could, including me.”

  “I don’t love him.”

  “You will, more than you ever loved me.”

  “That can never be.”

  “Shhh, I’ve made peace with that. I would die a thousand deaths for you. I don’t regret anything that happened, because I know what I died for. You will free the people of Etan and Paegeia will finally live in peace because the two of you will fight for it. I struggled with that, but now I can see clearly.”

  “You met my mom?”

  He laughed. “You’re a lot like her, Elena. She begged me to tell you how much she loved you.”

; I shook my head. “Everyone is saying that, but it’s not how I feel.”

  “I know, it’s hard to understand. Maybe one day when you have a little one of your own, you will grasp how hard it was for her to give you up.” He kissed me on the forehead and I buried my face in his chest again. His cologne filled my nostrils, but I knew it didn’t matter how many sniffs I took, I would never be able to hold on to it. It would disappear the minute I woke up. “You need to claim Blake. I promise you, you won’t regret it. I love you, princess.”

  I woke up and found myself hugging my pillow.

  He didn’t understand how much I hated Blake. I said I would find a way to help someone else claim him, now it turned out that I was that someone. It was so unfair, and what the hell did he mean by “foretold for centuries.”

  HE NEXT I found Cheng by the breakfast table downstairs. Two other groups of men wearing hunting gear sat at a huge table a couple of rows in front of us. They were loud and annoying.

  A woman wearing tavern clothes placed a plate filled with eggs, bacon, hash browns and toast in front of me. I wasn’t hungry, but at the same time I was starving.

  “Eat, you’re going to need it,” Cheng said.

  “For what?”

  “Elena, you know what needs to be done.”

  “I told you I can’t do that. I won’t claim him,” I hissed at him.

  “You’ve got no choice.”

  “You’re wrong. You always have a choice.”

  “Elena they’ll force you.”

  I stared at him for a while. Glaring was more like it. “I thought you were my friend. I saved your life. She saved your life.”

  “And I’m super grateful for that. Just remember one thing: if I hadn’t been there, you would’ve been dead. My debt is paid.”

  I started to laugh. “That’s your answer? I can’t believe you’re going to trade me in.” All laughter was gone and if I still had Cara I would’ve incinerated his ass on the spot.

  I got up and left.

  “Pack, we need to leave soon.”

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