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       Firebolt, p.24

           Adrienne Woods
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  Chapter Twenty-Seven

  Queen Catherine appeared in my dreams again, and I noticed that the woods she pointed at looked similar to where we were. I knew now why I'd been dreaming about her. She had prepared me for the decision I had to make. The dream changed from her to the Book of Shadows. I saw my foretelling, and the words were red.

  The smell of a strong woody and sweet essence filled my nostrils, and I opened my eyes. Lucian just smiled as I looked at him. He looked so beautiful when he woke up. Not like me, hair a mess and eyes thick from sleep. The tent was barely lit. When we crawled out, I saw the sun had finally begun to set. We found four rows of small skinless animals spiked on sticks, roasting over an open fire. I gawked at the amazing survival skills these guys had.

  When the meat was done, we all ate in silence. I didn't think that they were very happy to be here, but I knew it wasn't for nothing. I needed to know whether the sword still existed, and if so, where it was hidden.

  After dinner, Lucian took me to wash up by a nearby river. I grasped his hand to steady myself on the moss-covered rocks that lined the riverbed. Away from the campfire light made it difficult to find my way around, and I had to rely only on my sense of touch. When I gathered enough courage to jump into the inky depths, the water felt like ice cubes, but it was just what I needed.

  On our way back to the camp, we saw a dark figure heading our way.

  “We need to talk about what it is we are going to do.” Blake's voice was right in front of us. I lost my balance and slipped on the smooth rocks.

  “We take it as it comes,” Lucian said simply, catching me before I tumbled in again.

  “Excuse me.”

  “We don't know the rules on this one, Blake. What do you want to go over?” he snapped back.

  “You bring me here only to tell me we have to wing it.”

  “I didn't bring anyone here. You wanted to come,”Lucian said as he passed him, shoving his shoulder roughly into Blake’s.

  Lucian held out his hand for mine. I took it without looking at Blake. Back at camp, we packed the water bottles and snacks we needed for the trip. Lucian's watch beeped, and a small electronic voice said it was eight.

  “It's about an hour's walk to the Sacred Cavern. I suggest we get a move on,” Blake said, and took a backpack from Tabitha, who glared daggers at me.

  “Would Brian do me the honor?” George said, and held out a manmade torch in Brian's direction. Brian blew on it, and the torch set on fire instantly. He lit two more and gave one to Blake, who took the lead.

  “Your highness,” Brian joked, and handed Lucian one too.

  “Ha ha,” Lucian said with a tone drenched in sarcasm.

  Brian winked at me and ran to catch up with Blake at the front of the group.

  Small animals made noises in the brush as they ran from our heavy footsteps. I jumped and shrieked every time.

  “You're scared of things in the woods? Unbelievable.” Arianna passed us and shook her head.

  “Ignore her, Elena. I think what you’re doing is pretty brave,” Lucian said in a soft tone, rubbing my back gently.

  “Why did she have to be here?”

  “Why?” Arianna whipped around at my words and looked at me with a ferocious expression on her face. “Because what you are doing, Elena, isn't brave at all.” She looked at Lucian. “It's stupid.” Then back at me. “And if any of us die tonight, it's on your head.”

  I hadn’t thought about that and swallowed hard.

  “Arianna, you begged to come with us tonight, so shut your pie whole,” Lucian snapped back.

  “You guys, enough,” Blake yelled. “Nobody was forced into coming tonight, Arianna, but I agree with you, this is a suicide mission. There's nothing we can do about it now, so all of you shut your traps.”

  The dragons all stood with Blake, except for Sammy. She stood right next to Becky and looked everywhere but in my direction.

  She's pissed off with me too?

  The rest of the trip felt long. Arianna's words weighed like a ton of bricks on my mind. What if somebody dies? It will be on my head.

  Sammy whispered something to Becky, and she put her arm around Sammy. It frustrated me so much that I couldn't hear what they were talking about.

  Lucian squeezed my hand a little tighter every time I looked at the two of them.

  We exited the woods and ended up in front of a towering mountain that had a stone staircase winding up into the fog surrounding it. I'd seen it in small-scale at the museum, but never did I imagine that it would be this colossal.

  “Welcome to the Sacred Cavern,” Blake yelled in a theatrical tone. Tabitha and Arianna giggled. We reached the stairs, and Lucian let me go first, a true gentleman.

  The climb took everything out of me,and my muscles felt as if I’d spent an entire day at the gym doing leg lifts. I was glad that Lucian drilled me every morning, otherwise my lungs would’ve collapsed, or worse, Lucian would've had to carry me.

  “Becky will speak to you again, Elena,” Lucian said, trying to cheer me up.

  “You sure about that? I said some pretty mean things to her.”

  “They were the truth. She'll only become part of the Royal Council if she gets a bit more of what you have.” He tried to boost my ego.

  “You make it sound as if I'm not scared at all. I'm shaking in my shoes, literally.”

  He smiled. “But you're here. Which means you’re as much of a knight as any of these guys here with you?”

  “A stupid knight.”

  “Not so stupid to me. I admit, it sounded crazy the first time you explained it, but it makes sense. Once you said those words about the wall coming down, it scared the living crap out of me too. You're right. Goran will get tired after taking over Paegeia, and then he'll do whatever he can to take down the wall. If he's smart enough to find a way to exit Etan, he's powerful enough to find a way to break through to the other side.”

  “Thank you.”

  “For what?” He had a questioning look on his face.

  “For being the first to join me in this crazy mission,” I said. “Do you think that they'll look for us?”

  “You mean Master Longwei?” he asked with a mysterious smile, and I nodded. “It will take them about a day to reach us, and you saw how tired the dragons are after a flight like the one we just took. So they won't catch up if that's what you mean. Besides, they don't know which direction we went. Everyone that knows about this is here.”

  “They can ask Cheng. He's smart and will put two and two together. He's the one that told me about this place.” I was afraid of what Master Longwei would do if he found out that I was behind this mission.

  “Elena, you worry too much about little things. They must first discover that we are gone.”

  Suddenly, gasps came from up ahead on the trail. Something told me they had reached the top. I heard backpacks falling to the ground, and when Blake came into sight, he was drinking water out of a bottle.

  The steps stopped, and I had to hoist myself up the last ledge. My eyes caught Blake's, and his beauty made my stomach fell queasy. He reached down and gave me his hand.

  I grabbed it and looked away quickly so he wouldn’t see my blush. I didn't like the way he made me feel whenever our eyes met. He lifted me up with one pull and helped Lucian after me.

  I inhaled sharply. In front of me were two eighty-foot-tall wooden doors.

  “So what's the plan, big shot?” Blake asked while he thrust a water bottle into Lucian's hand.

  He took a couple of gulps and handed it over to me.

  “We all go and face whatever comes our way together,” Lucian said with more confidence than I felt.

  We all looked at one another. Becky still didn't look my way.

  “All of you agree?” Blake asked everyone. We all nodded. Tabitha was the only one that looked like she wanted to make a run for it.

  “Tabitha?” Blake asked in a sweet tone. She didn't answer or look up. “Babes, are you in?” he
asked again.

  There were tears in her eyes. “I can't do this, Blake.”

  Some of the guys and Arianna sighed heavily.

  “Just leave her here, I doubt anything will happen, and if there is any danger she can fly away,” Arianna snapped harshly.

  “Arianna take a hike.” Blake sounded furious, and Lucian stepped in.

  “We can't afford to fight. We need Arianna inside. She's the best at enchantments, Blake. Use your head.”

  “Fine, but you stay as far away from me as possible. Get that.”

  Arianna shrugged, rolled her eyes and raised her upper lip with sarcasm, before turning her back to him.

  We took a minute to gather our strength and walked over to the door. Just as we were about to reach for one of the doors, a huge dragon came out of nowhere, landed with a thud, and stopped us. The spikes on his head looked like a crown and two long whiskers ran down his mouth. His scales were a dark auburn and his snout was long and pointy.

  He roared something in Latin that I didn't understand and I felt my knees shake with every syllable.

  Blake bowed down, and we all followed his example. My heart pounded so fast and loud that I struggled to hear what Blake was saying. Some sort of introduction happened, and I only caught the word “Rubicon” and all of our names. I didn't dare to look up.

  Words like“unseen”and“millpond” were the only ones that I did understand, thanks to a couple of Blake's lessons. I hated not being able to speak or understand this stupid language.

  The dragon said something, and I listened closely, but it was no use; I didn't understand enough words to follow the conversation.

  “What's he saying?” I whispered to Lucian.

  “He said there are no we, only one. Blake's trying to find out what the rules are and how to decide who to choose, but he hasn’t answered yet.”

  The dragon spoke again. “Call me when you have made your choice,” Lucian translated, “no dragons.”

  The dragon flew away, and we got up slowly.

  “This was a waste of time, Lucian,” Blake snapped.

  ‘We just have to choose one person,” Lucian bit back.

  “Yeah, who's going to do it? You heard what he said, no dragons.” Blake sounded really pissed off.

  My heartbeat went up a notch as I remembered my list, my calculations quickly added up of how many of us could enter. Lucian wouldn't make it out, and it was between me, Becky, and Arianna.

  “I'll go. There's no other choice,” Lucian said.

  “You can't.” I stopped him with my hand.

  “What?’ Blake and Lucian asked the same time. The others just stared at me.

  “No man has made it back. It was only women,” I said simply.

  Blake laughed. “So what you’re saying is that men can't do this?”

  “Yes,” I snapped at him, anything just to make that grin on his face disappear. It worked.

  “Elena, you don't know that,” Sammy said, and her voice trembled a little.

  “I did my research. Five made it out. They were all women.”

  That gave them all something to think about, and it was quiet for a moment. Blake cussed loudly in the silence.

  “So you want to tell me it's between Arianna and Becky.”

  “And me, Lucian.”

  His face hardened at once. “No, Elena,” he said. “I meant to say that you don't have nearly enough training to face anything behind these doors.”

  “I'll go.” Becky stepped forward. George pushed her back and started to speak in Latin.

  “Becky, are you still . . . intact?” I interrupted George, whispering the last part.

  “What does that have to do with anything?”She pushed George aside, and gave me a look that almost made me regret that I’d asked her.

  “Everything. You have to be a maiden.” I blurted it out, and all of them froze.

  “Becky?” George demanded for her to answer. It was written all over her face. "You got to be fucking kidding me."

  My heart pounded as I tried to change the subject. Just another reason for her to hate me.

  “They were all maidens, which only means somewhere in there is a Sun-Blast,” I said.

  Brian smiled.

  Saying it out loud made me not want to do this anymore. I looked at Arianna and hoped by some miracle that she might still be a virgin.

  “Well, Arianna, that means you are screwed.” Blake chuckled with Brian behind him.

  She flipped them off with a sarcastic curled up lip.

  George still argued with Becky.

  “Oh come on! It was a onetime thing, and a huge mistake,” she yelled.

  “George, not now,” Blake said through a grin. He was a dickhead and probably loved every minute of the two of them fighting.

  George grunted.

  You would think that he was a Sun-Blast and not a Moon-Bolt.

  “So what you're saying is that only you can enter through these doors?” Blake asked me, not sounding hopeful.

  “No, we tried. You can't go through those doors.” Lucian begged me to listen.

  “We can't back out now. We're so close,” I shrieked.

  “Elena, I don't know what's behind those doors,” he started to speak fast. “If you don't finish in a certain time, you'll never come back.”

  “I know that.”

  “What if there is a dragon that you have to fight. You don't have enough training. This is crazy.”

  “Please don't start. I need to do this.” I wiped off a tear that had made its way onto my cheek. “If there's a dragon, then I'll fight.” I showed him the queen’s axes that were safely in a harness tied around my waist.

  “Elena! You don't know what you're saying.” He had tears in his eyes, pleading with me to listen.

  “I'm the only one that has a chance of making it out. Please, have a little faith in me.” My hands cupped his face as I used my words to try to soothe him.

  “I promised that nothing would happen to you,” he whispered.

  I closed my eyes and tried to stop them from tearing up. “And nothing will.” I sounded confident as if I knew exactly what waited for me in that cave.

  Blake spoke to him in Latin. I just sighed, as I couldn't make out one word.

  “You better come out, you hear me? Otherwise I'll blow this cavern apart,” Lucian said with tears in his eyes.

  I nodded.

  He grabbed me and buried his face in my neck. We stood like that for a long time.

  “Come back,” he said again.

  I could feel my eyes started to sting, but I swallowed it fast and nodded.

  It was difficult for both of us to let go. Sammy was next. “Be safe.” Tears lurked in the corner of her eyes.

  “You're a cool chick, Sammy, I mean, dragon.”

  She giggled and quickly wiped away the tear that rolled over her cheek.

  “Don't change anything and have faith, okay?”

  She grabbed me tightly around my neck. “Just come back, please.”

  “Good luck, Elena.” George grunted. He still sounded pissed.

  I gave him a soft smile. “Take care of my girl, okay?”

  Becky turned her back to me.

  “It is going to take a miracle for you to make it out alive,” Blake said, and sighed. “But if you do, you'll have my respect.”

  I was stunned by his words and huffed.

  “I guess Brian will see how right Master Longwei was about Elena's mark.” Brian chuckled.

  I smiled and shook my head.

  “You're one crazy chick for doing this, and it's driving Brian nuts,” Brian said.

  “Brian!” Lucian and Blake scolded him.

  “What, it's the truth.”

  I just stared at him. Guess I would never know how bad he really wanted my virginity.

  “Good Luck,” Tabitha and Arianna grunted.

  Blake called the dragon back, and we bowed again as he landed. He boomed in Latin, but I still could not understand a sing
le word.

  Blake asked him something and the dragon kept quiet for a brief period. Then the strangest thing happened; the next time the dragon spoke, it was in English.

  “Did you understand him, Elena?” Blake asked carefully.

  I nodded slowly, not sure what was happening.

  “Thank you, great keeper,” Blake said.

  Lucian tapped me on the bum, and as I looked at him, he was staring up at the dragon with tears in his eyes. It was my cue to get up.

  “What's your name?” the dragon asked me.

  “Elena Watkins.”

  “Elena Watkins, are you ready to face the consequences if you fail to complete what the Cavern holds.”

  “Yes.” A shiver ran up my spine. For the love of blueberries, I might be stuck in there forever.

  “Good, let the games begin.” He flew away.

  A big shudder that felt like an earthquake made all of us lose our balance. When it stopped, one of the wooden doors was halfway open.

  Lucian hugged me again before he let me go. “Come back to me,” he whispered fervently in my ear.

  We shared a passionate kiss, and I had to break away, biting my lip to keep my tears from cascading down my cheeks.

  Well, Elena, you wanted this. So move your ass.

  I reached the door in what felt like a heartbeat.

  Don't look back.

  “Elena, wait!” Becky shouted as I went to slip through the opening.

  Her eyes sparkled with tears. “You know I would do this if I could, right?”

  I nodded and fresh tears wanted to emerge. Stay strong.

  She grabbed me around my neck. “You kick some ass, and you come back to us. I'm so sorry about earlier.”

  “It's okay, Becky. I'm sorry too.”

  She held on a little longer before letting me go.

  I slipped through quickly. “Wait for me two days, please. If I'm not out by then, go home,” I said as the door closed behind me with finality. Lucian yelled something, but I didn't hear what it was.

  “Please, just get me through this,” I begged out loud inthe darkness. I didn't know if it was to God or the Queen, but she’d appeared in my dreams, so she’d better be listening too.

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