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       Firebolt, p.26

           Adrienne Woods
 
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  Lucian was next. I had given him my word, but I felt so sleepy. I couldn't think about riddles anymore.

  My mind went blank for a long time. When it rebooted, I thought about my mom. All I had was that picture and deep inside me, I knew that I would never find her.

  I would never know who she was. Somehow, the Bible and God crept into my thoughts as well. The riddle was linked to Him. What is greater than God?

  Could it be a dragon?

  A dragon might be more evil than the devil, but how could the rich need a dragon and the poor have a dragon? The last part didn’t make sense. It wasn't a dragon.

  I folded my arms around my legs and rested my head on my knees, contemplating everything for hours. I gave up, thinking I would never see Lucian again. If Paegeia was destroyed, would they find all of the maidens and the dragon here?

  I must have passed out from sheer exhaustion, and when I woke up an hour later, I started to freak out. How could I have fallen asleep, there was so much at stake? For the love of blueberries,if I don’t get this riddle’s answer, I will stay here forever, with a rainbow dragon that has a yellow and purple head. My mind rambled and didn’t stop for a long time.

  I felt as though I had dragged everyone into this for nothing. I’d given it my all, only to draw a blank now. It wasn't fair.

  I saw the maidens again. They weren't so curious about me anymore.

  My father jumped into my head, reading from the Bible after he'd tucked me in. Knowing now what he really was made it sound ridiculous. A dragon reading from the Bible. He used to tell me that nothing was greater than God or more evil than the devil.

  My heart felt as if it stopped for an instant. Then it continued beating faster and faster. Could the answer be nothing? The poor have nothing and the rich need nothing, and if you eat nothing, you will die.

  I jumped up overwhelmed with a sense of both shock and euphoria as I was sure that nothing was the answer. The maidens in the garden froze as I rejoiced. I looked at them, and then they started screaming hysterically. I spun around with my axe in my hand, but found nothing behind me. Alertness made my heart bounce like crazy and my arm ached, the nerve endings pulsating. I stared at absolutely nothing out of the ordinary. The earth rumbled and I fell down. The dragon appeared inches from me.

  “You’ve got the answer!” he roared.

  “Yes,” I whimpered.

  All the friendliness he’d shown before was gone. “What is it?”

  “Nothing.”

  Twin jets of flame twenty feet long shot out of his nostrils. He looked like a two-year-old throwing a temper tantrum, as I watched at the frustrated dragon shrieked and kicked a few boulders around.

  I crawled in fatal position and covered my head with my good arm. When he calmed down, the entire garden was engulfed in flames. I just looked at it, not believing that he’d just scorched everything.

  “It has been a long time since anybody has gotten one of my riddles. But a deal is a deal.” He grabbed my body with his front talons and started to fly.

  I closed my eyes. I just completed what the Cavern holds, and I still don’t have the stomach to deal with heights.

  He took me up another mountain and dropped me as he swooped down, before he landed himself. I fell and rolled over a couple of times before stopping. Was he trying to break my neck?

  I lay there for a while just listening to the sound of my heartbeat. Then I lifted my head. Tall threes with a small path to the right greeted me, as I inhaled the smell of the grass. I got to my feet, and I watched the dragon folded his paws under his huge body and lay down like a cat. He made a soft purring sound that made me feel some sort of serenity.

  “That path leads to a waterfall,” he said in a calm tone. “You have one hour to ask one question. Make it clear, otherwise you might not like what you see. Remember, it can be anything you want to know; past, present, or future.”

  I nodded and walked straight down the path he’d pointed to. It had a mystical ambience. The ground was foggy, but not as much as the lake in front of the dragon's lair. I had never seen anything quite like it before. Trees bearing fruit were growing everywhere. It looked so delicious, but I didn't dare to eat anything. I don't want to be stuck here just because of my grumbling belly.

  I followed the drizzle of the waterfall, and when it came into view, a feeling of tranquility swept over me.

  So beautiful.

  I crouched down and rested up on my knees. The reflection in the pond didn't look anything like me. Her face held all the questions. Would my friends still be waiting if I got outside? I started to think about my question. I needed to make it clear. Today's date was Friday the eleventh. I would ask where the sword is tonight, Friday the eleventh of May. If it showed me nothing, I’d know it didn't exist anymore and we could go home.

  I sighed. For the love of blueberries, please exist.

  "Where is the King of Lion sword on Friday evening, the eleventh of May, tonight?" I said loud and clear.

  At first nothing happened, but then the water rippled and turned into a movie screen. My heart leapt with joy as I saw it tied up in a cloth and bound with strings. It zoomed out after a couple of seconds, showing the inside of a jacket. Three seconds later, it showed me a man in his forties with a crooked nose, as if it had been broken way too many times. He had grey streaks mixed with his dark brown hair. The sun was starting to set. He flew on top of a dragon, a Sun-Blast. I saw the scenery from the sky above, and I knew it wasn't the way we’d come. They landed carefully on top of another mountain. When his dragon let him slide off his wing, he took a small rocky path surrounded by bushes and trees.

  He carried on walking towards the volcano. Nothing made sense until I saw that he was in a trance. Cheng mentioned that Goran liked to compel his subjects, and I could easy make the connection. He entered the volcano and didn't seem to mind that his skin started to melt off his body.

  My stomach turned at the sight, and I covered my mouth. I saw his hand as it pushed away his jacket and took out the parcel. He untied the strings. The flesh on his hand and face bubbled from the heat. His face held no emotion and the scene made my skin crawl. The strings and garment wrapped around the sword turned into ash before it hit the floor. The sword was next, and I watched while it disappeared into the lava. Last, it was the Dragonian, melting away into a pool of goo.

  It stopped, and I had gotten what I came for. I reached the rainbow dragon that was cleaning his huge claws with his teeth.

  He froze in midair, with his talon still in his mouth, and yanked them out. He tucked them back under his body. “Sorry,” he mumbled. “We need to talk, Elena.”

  “Sure,” I said, trying my best not to smile at his little moment. A jolt of pain jabbed through my shoulder again.

  “Are you sure I can't fix that for you,” he asked one more time.

  I shook my head.

  “As you wish. I will take you back to the entrance. I am sorry about my behavior earlier. It’s rare that I get a maiden that is worthy of the fourth task. I don't part easily with maidens, so you can imagine how hard it is for me to part ways with you.” He spoke to me as if I was the love of his life. Creepy.

  “You will sign a book. The Keeper carries it with him. Look at it as a treaty and you must never tell anyone what you saw in here, otherwise,I will claim your first born. Your name in the book seals the deal. You may tell others what it is you have seen in the pond, if that is your wish, but nothing more. What you’ve seen in the Sacred Cavern must stay with you until the day you die.”

  “I promise.” I understood now why not one of the women that made it out alive ever broke it, especially the Queen.

  “You can't tell them about the treaty either. Nothing, Elena.” He made double sure that I didn't forget that. “Not even hints. I can use the pond at anytime and will know when you have broken the treaty.”

  I nodded, showing my understanding.

  He got up and stretched. I couldn't hold back my laughter when
he arched his back like a cat. I could swear he grinned, but didn't know what a grinning dragon looked like. His wings unfolded, and he grabbed me the same way he had earlier. It was so embarrassing to be carried that way, and I was glad that I couldn't say anything about what happened here to anyone.

  He took me back the same way I came. Wind blew my hair back and I struggled to breath. I waited for him to hit something, but he never did. He landed gently and put me down. “You sure you don't want me to heal that shoulder of yours.”

  I shook my head, as I took huge breaths to calm my beating heart.

  Lucian.

  Suddenly, he turned into a man, a really beautiful man with a glint of the rainbow in his eyes and auburn hair. His body was to die for. He asked me the same question in a seductive voice, making me swallow hard as I looked down.

  I shook my head one last time.

  “Well then. Farewell, my fair maiden,” he said, and bowed his head. The cave rumbled again and the door opened. I just hoped everyone was still waiting for me outside.

  Tears filled my eyes as I knew in just a few seconds I would see Lucian's face again. It was only a crack in width, and I huffed.

  Really. He wasn't kidding with parting ways. I squeezed myself through the opening, crying out in pain as my shoulder felt worse. The first person that grabbed me was Becky.

  I yelled, and she let go as if I was a hot potato.

  “What happened?” She looked at me with huge brown eyes.

  “My shoulder.”

  “You got hurt?”

  I nodded.

  “And they let you out?” she yelled, surprised, and pulled me away from the doors. All of them froze and stared at me with huge eyes.

  “No! I had to finish.”

  What the hell is going on here?

  “You finished?”

  “Elena, you just went in a minute ago.” Blake found his voice next.

  “What?” My voice broke. I realized that it was still night time.

  Lucian got himself free from whatever held him to the ground and grabbed me just as Becky had done.

  “Ouch!” I cried again.

  A minute? I knew that I hadn’t been in there for a minute. I saw the freaking sun come up.

  “You dislocated your shoulder, how?”

  I shook my head.

  He sighed and started to kiss me all over my face. “We must push yourshoulder back.”

  “Wait, you said you finished?” Arianna asked in her bitchy tone.

  “Yes, I know where to find the sword.”

  “It still exists?” half of the crowd asked in unison.

  “You really finished?” Lucian asked with a glint of a smile, and I nodded.

  The wind started to blow hard and it was followed by a loud thud. The keeper came back, and we all bowed down again. He stopped me with one of his front paws. “Not you.” He bowed his head. He stayed like that for a short moment and got back up. “Well done, Elena Watkins.”

  A book appeared out of nowhere, and he held it out to me. I swallowed hard, knowing what that book was, because the rainbow dragon had explained it so beautifully. I took it from him, forcing myself to let go of my other arm.

  It wasn't a big or thick book, it looked really ordinary. I opened the page and saw the five names of the five women that had made it out. I hit my pockets, searching for a pen.

  “Does anyone have a pen?” I asked.

  We all chuckled as none of us had brought a stupid pen.

  “You don't need a pen, Elena,” the keeper said. “Give me your hand.”

  It was shaking a little in his big claw which felt like ice. He slashed my wrist open. Blood oozed from the cut, and I thought that this was it. There was no way I would survive this. The blood squirted on the blank pages, destroying the other five names and he closed the book. He took my wrist and sealed my wound with something that looked like a small laser burning out of his claw. It left a small scar, but it didn't burn at all. I looked at it a long time and knew that it was some sort of magic. He showed me the book one more time, and the stain my blood should have made was gone. In its place stood my name, Elena Watkins, and the date written in small beautiful red letters.

  I saw the one above mine.

  Catherine Squire and the date were 1768. He shut the book and bowed one more time before he took off into the night.

  Lucian was the first one to reach me and gave me a long kiss. He then looked at my wrist and stroked my scar with gentle fingers.

  “We need to move,” Blake said quickly.

  “She's hurt, Blake,” Lucian and Becky said at the same time. I was glad she was back in my corner again.

  “We have to get it now or this will all be for nothing.”

  Lucian was really pissed at his tone, and the two of them were instantly in each other's personal space.

  “Don't fight, it's no use,” I yelled at both of them. They always fight, I'm so sick of it.

  “What do you mean,it’s no use?” Blake asked.

  “I don't know where it is right now,” I snapped.

  “Then when, Elena?” He had a stern look on his face that made my blood sizzle.

  I held my ground. “Tomorrow night.”

  “We have to wait a whole night!” He turned around with arms flapping in the air.

  “Deal with it,” Lucian growled, and lifted me up in his arms. He carried me down the steps.

  We reached camp in no time, and the others helped to make fire and brew coffee. Lucian and George tried to push my shoulder back into place. He gave me his belt to bite on. It hurt like hell with his hand on my shoulder pushing hard, and I screamed and tear-up. Then I felt the click. Lucian put my armin a sling he’d made out of his leather belt and pulled me on top of his lap.

  I’d never felt so safe and so exhausted all at the same time.

  It dawned on me what had transpired tonight. I’d accomplished something only five women had and I was the only one alive that knew what happened behind those doors, but I’d promised on the life of my first born not to reveal any of it to anyone else.

  I fell asleep as Lucian's rocking started to become more than just soothing. I could feel myself being moved as he took me inside the tent and laid me down on the sleeping bag.

  Then everything fell into blissful silence.

  Chapter Thirty

  I woke up suddenly, drenched in sweat. It was quiet accept for the sound of a fire dying, and water babbling in a nearby stream.

  A faint light emerged from an electric lamp inside the tent. Lucian slept next to me. He looked so peaceful, and I reached out to stroke his cheek.

  A deep growl emerged from my stomach, telling me I desperately needed food. I tried to slide out from beneath Lucian's grasp, but when he flinched, I stopped. He went back to sleep, and I waited another five minutes. Crickets chirped like crazy and the singing sound rang in my ears. I decided another attempt to get free. This time I managed and made sure that the pillow I slept on was tucked underneath his arm, just in case.

  I just needed some time, alone, without his constant worrying.

  The“zip” noise sounded as if it would wake up the entire campsite, but once I was out of the tent, I realized it was still quiet. I stared at the bit of glowing coals that must have been a huge fire a couple of hours ago. There was no food.

  Not one bite? I picked up a log and chucked it in the fire. Orange coal dust rose into the sky. I jumped when I saw Blake leaning against a tree in the distance. My heart beat fast, and I took deep breaths to calm my nerves.

  Blake guarded the entrance of the campsite and the moon lit up his face, making him look extra mysterious.

  I swallowed hard.

  Crap! Why do I feel like this around him? I shook my head. Every girl feels like this in Blake's presence. I tried to assure myself.

  He was writing in a small journal but stopped suddenly. I stared at Blake. He looked up as if he was searching for something in the sky, and then he went back to writing in the journal. I
assumed by the cloudless night, he was stargazing.

  He didn't look at me when I reached him, but he buried his journal under his ass.

  “Do you mind?”

  “Sure, whatever,” he mumbled.

  His promise jumped into my mind; the one where he would give me his respect if I made it out alive. It’s so not going to happen, Elena.

  I sat down opposite of him, resting my back against one of the trees.

  I don't think Blake likes anyone much, except his precious Tabitha.

  “It was really brave what you did tonight,” he said.

  'What? Was that a compliment?'

  “I guess anyone in my position would have tried their best,” I said, shrugging it off.

  He huffed, and the corner of his mouth twitched. “How's the arm?”

  “Hurts like hell.”

  He gave a lopsided smile and stared into the night again.

  What does he hear?

  The crickets started to work on my nerves again. I sighed and decided that maybe it was time to go back to the tent.

  “You're wrong about everyone being able to do what you did.”

  “Blake, please. I did what I said I would do.” I didn't want to talk about it. It might be his way of trying to find out what I saw inside the cave.

  I can't break my promise.

  It was already hard enough not being able to tell them anything. I was dying to know a couple of things myself. Like, who were those ladies playing in the dragon’s garden?

  “That's exactly my point. What people say they'll do and what they do are two different things, Elena. I learned that the hard way.”

  I felt sorry for him again, but knew exactly what he meant. Dad also said things and instead did the opposite so many times. “I always do what I say I will.”

  “You don’t get it.”He chuckled.“You could have asked to see anything.”

  “And your point is?”

  “You have no idea why your dad died? Or why that dragon was after you? The pond would've even shown you where your mom is?”He looked away the minute he’d mentioned Mom.

 
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