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       Frostbite, p.25

           Adrienne Woods
 

  Everything was silent and I opened my eyes to see where I was.

  I didn’t understand.

  The pink, orange and red flames belonging to the Rubicon were still around me. They engulfed me, but for some reason didn’t burn as much as I thought they would.

  The skin on my arms and legs showed a different picture.

  A horrible one with a mush of burned muscle and the white of my bones that were starting to turn black. My clothes were burned into my skin and still I didn’t feel the pain.

  My anger vanished like it’d never happened and my heart pounded like ten birds trapped in a cage made for one. I didn’t want to die, not like this.

  I watched my flesh pulling in all sorts of directions. The coils reduced until they were no more and the red and mush vanished as my skin pulled back over my body. My hoody even returned, but just enough to cover my boobs, and my jeans were reduced to really short pants.

  My boots, for some reason were the only things that weren’t scorched at all. It was as if someone pressed a rewind button and everything just went back in time, except for Blake’s flame.

  I only realized then that something else was horribly wrong. His flame didn’t move. It wasn’t alive, but frozen in time.

  I pushed myself up from the floor and came face to face with his ugly mutt. His eyes were red, scarlet as if he was some sort of a demon and his entire body resembled his flame, frozen in one spot. I walked out of Blake’s flame and found myself in a still picture. The people in the crowd all had fear and shock frozen on their faces. Constance and Julia were standing by the gate with Cheng and Arianna. All of the men that were supposed to get me out of this crazy plan devised by a Crown-Tail, were frozen.

  The look on Constance’s face jolted another emotion through my body. She was scared, petrified as she knew what the Pink Kiss meant and that I wouldn’t recover from it this time.

  Master Longwei and King Caleb’s faces both faced the flame where I had been a minute ago. Not one single person moved. My head cocked slightly to the side as I stared at King Caleb’s face. He wore a funny expression. A part of it showed anger, frustration about something, and another part was shocked. A giggle escaped my lips. I’d only then caught a glimpse of Lucian’s mom and dad.

  King Helmut resembled a bit of his old self, not the shell with no soul working day and night trying to find his son’s murderer. He looked as if he actually cared for another again. His wife cupped her mouth and tears lingered in her eyes. The rest of the people, I didn’t know. My eyes left the podium where all the royals and Master Longwei sat and scanned down to the bottom row that was filled with media. All of their cameras flashed at Blake’s flame.

  I shook my head in disgust. They would do anything just to get a story.

  I forced my gaze on the crowd and searched for a certain group. In less than five minutes I found Becky, Sammy, George and Dean. George hugged Becky as she covered her mouth, and Sammy didn’t want to watch. Her face was hidden in Dean’s chest.

  Something moved in the corner of my eye.

  It was only a split second and I scanned the crowd again. It was gone, no one moved. It must’ve been my mind playing tricks on me.

  I saw it this time through the corner of the other eye and my head snapped to that side of the crowd. My feet ran slowly in that direction as my eyes scanned the crowd like crazy but came back with nothing.

  It moved again a couple of rows below and it was gone, just like that.

  Something was coming for me and I was too slow to even comprehend what it was.

  For the next couple of minutes my head jumped from side to side as if I was watching a tennis match playing in slow motion.

  My heart raced a couple of beats faster every time my eye caught the movement and at last I saw its entire figure standing inside the ring, a couple of yards away from me.

  It was the Reaper. He wore a cloak with a hood blocking his entire face.

  He didn’t carry the long shackle but I was scared to death. I huffed at the irony of my last thought. Scared to death, I was dead and yet I still felt every emotion jolting through my body. A body I didn’t own anymore. My heart beat as if I still had one and something told me that it was my last bit of brain activity that was making this all real. I retreated slightly as he started to come near. He glided toward me and a million goose pimples and an ice cold finger ran up my spine.

  I couldn’t take my eyes off him as my body felt like it was turning into a block of ice, but somehow I was still retreating slowly from him. Running away might be in me somewhere, but then again nobody has ever outrun the Reaper. It was known that souls suffered dearly when they ran away from him, and after he was finally done with whatever punishment he would bestow on me, he would drag me to where I should be in the afterlife. Was I ready for this? What if I never saw Lucian or my father again?

  The inside of my mouth was dry and there was no spit to swallow but I somehow managed to gulp down this dry hard lump inside my throat as he came to a halt a couple of paces before me.

  I couldn’t see the face inside the hood but I knew it was something I really didn’t want to see either.

  White human hands went up to his hood and he slowly lifted it from his head.

  My face fell in shock and a gasp escaped my lips as I stared into the same colored eyes I saw every time I looked in the mirror.

  Y LEGS WOBBLED and I found myself resting on one knee. It was him, the greatest king that had ever lived, King Albert.

  My mind raced with questions, like why did they send him to fetch me? I didn’t know him, why couldn’t they send my father, or Lucian, someone I loved, who loved me.

  I felt his hands touching my shoulder and arms gently. “Sweetpea, you don’t need to bow before me.”

  I looked up and saw a soft, kind face staring down at me. Tears welled up in his eyes. “You have no idea how long I’ve been waiting for this moment.” His forehead rested gently on mine. My heart thumped as I kept staring at him.

  He frowned slightly. “Do you know who I am?”

  I nodded. “You’re King Albert.”

  His smile disappeared immediately, the laugh lines next to his eyes vanished. I could tell he struggled to breathe. He got up awkwardly and turned away from me, walking like a drunk man a couple of paces in the opposite direction.

  I found my strength again and rose onto both my feet. He fell to his knees and then sat on the floor. Then with one swift motion he yelled with his head up to the sky. I covered my ears as I didn’t understand any of this. I’d never heard a man yell like that before. It was a scream filled with sorrow, regret and something much worse that I couldn’t put a name to, but it brought me to tears as I could see he was in real pain.

  Then it stopped and he was out of breath. A couple of seconds later his body shook slightly and I could hear faint sobbing sounds. I knew I should go to him, but I couldn’t.

  I didn’t know him at all.

  When he finally turned his gaze back he stared at me with sad, red eyes, and my heart wanted to break. The only look on his face now was regret and betrayal.

  “I also know that you are my father.” It slipped out.

  He looked at me again. “When did you find that out?” He got up and came back to me.

  “Two days ago.”

  He clenched hard on his jaw muscles. He was angry. “Two days ago!” he roared which made me flinch. “You were supposed to know who we were from the beginning. What happened?” he asked in a softer tone and to my surprise I found a tear sliding down my cheek. I wiped it away with the back of my hand.

  “It doesn’t matter anymore. I know who I am now.” I tried to put him at ease. I couldn’t handle his outbursts. He always seemed so gentle and kind in the pictures I saw of him.

  “Where was Tanya, Elena?”

  “You know my name?”

  He smiled awkwardly. “Of course I know your name. Your mother gave it to you when you were born.”

  I nodded. “It doesn
t matter.”

  “Where was she?”

  “She left when I was two.” It came out in a sigh. I felt betrayal too.

  His left upper lip rose, showing his teeth, and he resembled pure anger. “I told your mother that this would happen.” He looked past me and stared into the crowd. His gaze locked on something and I turned my head to see what it was. I found Sir Robert. “I should’ve told him about you. He would’ve stayed.”

  “Dad…” It felt weird saying that. He looked at me with surprised but soft eyes. “Blake needed him more.”

  “You would’ve known who you were, Elena, if he was the one.” He pointed at his dragon. “And you wouldn’t have only found out two days ago,” he said through clenched teeth.

  “It doesn’t matter anymore, it’s over.”

  He looked at me, squinting. “What do you mean it’s over?”

  “All this, I haven’t ascended and I know why you came for me.”

  He started to grin which soon burst into laughter. “Elena, I’m not here for you. You are ascending right now. This,” he said as he waved his arm around in a sweeping gesture. “All of this is happening right now.”

  I looked around. “Wait, I’m not dead?”

  “Far from it. Tell me about your life. If Tanya left who raised you?”

  “Herbert Watkins,” I said and flinched again. “I mean Jako did.”

  “He forgave Tanya for what she’d done.” It was more of a statement than a question but I still felt the need to answer him.

  “I don’t think so, but he was never harsh to me one minute of his life. He protected me even though I didn’t know his reasons.”

  “Then I owe him everything.”

  I looked at him with huge eyes. “He’s not with you in the afterlife?”

  King Albert looked at me with questioning eyes. “He died?”

  “Before I came here, dragons attacked us and he saved my life. He’s got to be there with you Dad. He doesn’t deserve the other side.” I spoke so fast that I don’t think the king even heard me.

  His hands touched both of my arms. “Calm down, Elena. I’m sure he is there.”

  “You’re sure he is…you’re not certain?”

  He looked down and to the opposite side. He was hiding something. And then it hit me. I gasped. “You’re still alive!”

  “Elena, no. Don’t. Etan cannot be saved!” he said in a stern, fatherly tone. “Promise me you won’t ever try to accomplish that.”

  “If you’re alive—”

  “I said no!” he yelled. “Goran has summoned the Saadedine. You know what that is?”

  I nodded.

  “He will kill both you and Blake. The people that side must stay lost for the safety of Paegeia.”

  I shook my head. “No! I can’t promise that. It’s not my choice to make.”

  “He will do as he’s told.”

  “No! I’m not going to be like that.” I couldn’t believe that we were having our very first and last fight.

  “Elena.” He grabbed me in both of his arms and pulled me into his chest. “I can’t live in a world where I know you are not safe, or dead. I’m nothing that side anyway, it’s only a matter of time,” he said into my hair.

  “No, Dad, the people will fight if they know you are alive.”

  “You can’t tell them. My dragon will come if he knows I live and he won’t make it further than the Creepers. Don’t give Goran that satisfaction, Elena. He’s taken so much away from me, don’t let him take you away too.”

  “But you’re all I have. I have nothing, Dad.”

  “That’s not true. You have him,” he nudged his head towards Blake’s dragon figure. It wasn’t like that. In fact it was far from like that. “And in due time I promise you, you’ll have everything.”

  “It’s not enough. Everything I know about you and mom is through history. I want that chance. Please.”

  “Elena, I love you, and that is why you can’t free Etan. Paegeia will perish if Goran gets free. You don’t stand a chance against the Saadedine. He’s under Goran’s control and he will kill you before you get a chance to free me. Please promise me you won’t try to free the people of Etan. Promise!”

  “Dad! Please,” I whispered.

  “Promise.”

  I nodded my head in defeat. I didn’t want to fight with him anymore. “Fine, I promise.”

  “That’s my girl. Now let’s get your dragon.”

  “Wait, you’re going to help me?”

  “It’s my privilege. I’ll stay with you until the claim is made. You’ll hear my voice and you have to do exactly as I tell you. Do you feel what he feels yet?”

  I nodded. The anger was gone, the hatred for him was gone. I wanted to claim him.

  My father took a deep breath. “When reality turns back, you’ll feel it again. Don’t ignore my voice. This claim needs to be made before he turns evil, Elena. Otherwise he takes you with him. You can’t fight against it.”

  “I’m scared.”

  “I know, but I promise you everything will be okay.” He stroked my face gently with his thumb, gave me his super smile that he used to give the cameras, and pulled me in for another hug. It felt so good and so real. It reminded me of the man who’d raised me.

  “You need to step back into that flame again, Sweet pea, and no matter what, know that I’m always with you.”

  “Okay, if I say something evil, I don’t mean it.”

  “I know. I grew up with darkness. I’m used to it. I love you, sweetpea.”

  “I love you too, Dad.” I knew it sounded stupid, but a part of me did love him. It was as if I’d known all along who he was, I was just too scared to admit it to myself.

  I climbed back into Blake’s fire and waited. “Dad?”

  “I’m here, just listen to my voice.”

  “Don’t go away, please.”

  “I won’t. Can you do me a favor? Please tell my dragon I’m so sorry. I never doubted him.”

  I smiled. “I promise.”

  I closed my eyes and the first thing that came back was my hatred toward Blake. It consumed me.

  “Those are not your feelings Elena, they’re his,” my father’s voice said. “When everything comes back you have to move fast as they will try to interfere.”

  “He doesn’t deserve this.”

  “Hold on to who you are.” His voice was gentle, kind. I didn’t like that.

  “Why should I?”

  “This isn’t you, Elena. But it is who you’ll become if you don’t claim him.”

  At once all the noise and the burn and everything that went with it came back. A scream of pain left my mouth.

  “Now,” my father yelled.

  I got up from his flame and somehow blocked his fire with both my hands. With a slight push I threw it away like it was a ball. My eyes found his red evil ones.

  “Now, speak to him.”

  “He doesn’t understand me,” I answered my father and Blake’s red eyes just stared at me.

  “No, you are a dragon. This doesn’t count,” Blake yelled in perfect English. His dragon form had never spoken English before.

  “Speak to him Elena,” my father’s voice rang inside my head.

  “I’m not a dragon. It turns out that it was just the package I left Paegeia in seventeen years ago.”

  “When did you learn to speak Latin?”

  No idiot that was Engl… “I speak Latin?”

  “I don’t understand this,” Blake roared again.

  “Tell him who you are, Elena. He needs to know that you know,” my father’s voice said in my head.

  “Don’t play dumb, Blake. You knew exactly who I was the first time I set foot in Paegeia. I asked you that night if there was a way you could have a Dragonian and you told me that hope like that didn’t exist. Brian died! Which tells me you knew exactly who Paul was and that he lied about claiming to be my dragon. Lucian died!”

  “Elena take it easy,” my father said.

&nb
sp; I looked at my hand and I could see the pink flame consuming my entire arm. I closed my fist.

  “I had to kill Cara for you.”

  The entire crowd was silent. “She was the only one that truly knew me,” I yelled at him. “You don’t deserve to be claimed!”

  I threw the fire from my hand and it landed in a ball on the ground. I turned around and walked away.

  “Elena don’t do this, your mother died protecting you.”

  “No, Dad, she gave me away to protect herself,” I grunted at the direction his voice came from. “You both did.”

  “Coward!” Blake grunted and hit me with a lightning spark that pushed me onto the floor. I didn’t shake the way Becky had that day but the electricity did hurt for about a minute before it vanished to a soft hum. My head jolted back and I glared at him with a raised eyebrow. “You forgot, none of those abilities belong to you. They’re mine, they can’t hurt me.”

  I turned around and walked to the gate I’d entered a couple of minutes ago. My hands were already flamed with fire again. “Don’t mess with me Cheng, open the gate,” I said and he did as I ordered.

  A soft hum came from the crowd. I paused and turned around. It was the introduction to Lucian’s song. The song Arianna had used just a couple of hours ago, or was it minutes, it was all so confusing.

  More people started to join and it became clear that they were singing or were trying to mimic the intro, they even stomped their feet on the word ‘Thunder’.

  “Come on, Elena, don’t let Goran win because he will own you if you turn dark,” my father begged one more time.

  “You still here?”

  “Nothing you can say will make me leave until this is done. I know darkness, remember, you are not dark yet.”

  I looked back at Blake. His muscles jumped as he just stood there.

  “Show him whose power he is carrying, make him scared.”

  “You and I, let’s give them a claiming they’ve never seen before.”

  Blake started to laugh. “There will never be a ‘you and I’.” He blew pink fire my way and I dodged it. More followed, but my reflexes were so fast. I saw each and every single one of them pass me. It was a weird feeling, but I felt like a completely different person. Blake roared again and he used his telekinesis on me. I flew into the air like I weighed nothing.

 
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