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       Firebolt, p.3

           Adrienne Woods

  I took a deep breath and climbed out of the shower. Goose pimples broke out over my flesh as the cool air made contact with my warm body. I quickly grabbed a large, white towel positioned on a hook next to the shower and tried to retain some of the shower’s warmth.

  “Elena, you okay?” Constance knocked softly on the door.

  “Just give me a minute,” I yelled as I towel-dried my long hair. The shower had felt great and the clothes that Master Longwei had given me fit like a glove.

  A quick glance at the price tags, before ripping them off, revealed the name “Twigs” written in big bold letters. Master Longwei had dropped them off last night when he’d come to check on me. The jeans were the kind I always wanted: it had the effect of being washed too many times, which made it look really old. The emerald-green tee went well with the color of my eyes, and the flip-flops were the perfect size.

  How had he known what size to get? With his fashion sense, I was lucky to receive an outfit this hip.

  Dad had never bought me the things I really wanted. It was always in and out of stores with him, too quickly to try anything on so my clothes always ended up being too small or too large. My throat tightened up at the memory. I swallowed my tears, pushing him to the back of my mind. I was done with crying.

  I pulled my almost dry hair back into a high ponytail, and took another deep breath before opening the door.

  “Don't you look beautiful.” Constance's echo bounced off the walls around me. Next to her stood Julia, a striking woman who put even Constance’s ethereal beauty to shame. She was all bronzed skin and soft curves, accented by a mane of long, wavy brown hair and large almond-shaped eyes. When she saw me, Julia gasped with joy, giving me the confidence I needed to leave the bathroom. I knew I looked pretty good considering the circumstances of my arrival and, of course, the bruises.

  “Are you ready?” Constance asked.

  “As ready as I’ll ever be,” I mused. “Besides, I will go nuts if I have to stay here another day.”

  Constance pulled me into a tight hug, crushing me against her stethoscope. “If you need anything, I’m right here,” she said, whispering softly into my ear. “Please don't be a stranger.”

  “And she doesn't mean by breaking a leg,” Julia said with a mischievous glint in her eye.

  “I could still end up losing my mind, and then you’ll be stuck with me forever,” I countered.

  “Nonsense, you’re a tough cookie.” Constance smiled warmly.

  “I’m going to miss you,” I said, feeling the emotions beginning to clog in my throat.

  Julia leaned closer and grabbed me around the neck. “Believe it or not, I’m going to miss you too. It's too quiet here sometimes.”

  A soft knock came from the door and we all turned and found Master Longwei waiting patiently.

  Constance nodded once and he entered our small gathering.

  I saw them nod back and forth a couple of times. It was as if he asked her for permission or something. Then the clothes popped into my head. “Thank you, Master, it all fits perfectly.”

  “You’re welcome, Elena. Tomorrow we can go to Elm and buy more,” he said, seemingly satisfied with my reaction.


  “A city close by the students would call awesome.”

  We laughed at the way he wrinkled his face when he said it. He even got the rock and roll sign right; I had to give him credit for that.

  “You ready?” he asked timidly. I assumed that he didn't want to tear me away too quickly from the familiar.

  The corners of my mouth twitched slightly upwards, and I played with my ponytail as I moved slowly towards the door. Constance and Julia looked at me with anticipation. They were probably scared that a dragon would swoop down and fly away with me to its nest or something.

  Master Longwei whispered something to them. I hoped he alleviated their worries, but it only made me more nervous.

  The first step I took was blinding. When my eyes finally adjusted, I found myself standing on a huge wooden deck. The smell of fresh paint burned my nostrils.

  I turned back and waved to my friends as I tried to process my surrounding.

  Taking the first step off the porch made my throat dry and I swallowed hard. For the love of blueberries, I prayed I wouldn’t see any dragons soaring through the sky!

  “You all right, Elena?” Master Longwei stood next to me with his arms folded behind his back.

  I felt unsure. Forcing myself to look away from the sky, I saw a big brass statue of a man. It stood right in the middle of a courtyard surrounded by cobblestone pathways that formed a wagon wheel with many intersections. We followed the paths through a small grove of oak trees and a gigantic castle rose majestically in the distance.

  Master Longwei stopped in front of the statue, launching into teaching mode. “This statue is of the founder of Dragonia and the Greatest King that ever lived, King Albert. Who knows where we would be if it wasn’t for him.” He tapped the feet of the statue a couple times.

  We turned off the main path, and took one of the smaller trails that led towards the entrance of the castle. As we walked, birds chirped from high up in the branches. The grass was a bright green color; unlike any green I had ever seen. It made me think of magic again. I never believed in its existence until now.

  Rising in on the horizon, I finally came face to face with the hulking castle. It was built out of a dark grey stone that looked weathered with age. The entrance of the academy reminded me of a painting I once saw of a sixteenth century castle: three towers were connected to the main building, soaring up into the sky like New York skyscrapers. Two of them had a million windows right to the top. The third one reminded me of Rapunzel's tower, except this one had an entrance at the bottom. Climbing up the walls were bright green vines, providing a touch of color with small violet blooms.

  The academy looked definitely elite, the kind that probably had board members and a few sororities. A bird launched itself from a branch above my head, flapped its wings in my direction and flew away. My head jerked up again, searching the sky once more. Still no dragons. I breathed a sigh of relief at this small comfort.

  I looked back down, catching Master Longwei searching the skies too. He grinned broadly as he caught me staring at him. I looked away and my eyes caught a giant gate to our far left, rooted in place. I stared at it for a brief second. My eyes closed, and I prayed that somehow they were playing tricks on me. When I opened them, it was still there. So much for that.

  “Is the school built on air?”

  Master Longwei roared with laughter. “Sorry, Elena. That look on your face is priceless. Yes, and we're safe up here.”

  “What is holding it up?” I whispered, still too stunned and confused to comprehend fully what he was saying.

  “Magic.” He said with a soft voice.

  “Magic?” My right eyebrow arched slightly. Magic doesn’t exist.

  “This is Paegeia, Elena. You are going to learn strange things here that science cannot explain. You need to have an open mind, and try to accept it.”

  I glared at the gate again. Roses and vines woven into the beams didn't hide the fact that there were clouds gliding by. The effect made it impossible to think of any plausible reason for an entire academy to rise above the air.

  “What if we fall?” I asked, fear lacing my words.

  “We haven't for the past hundred years.”

  I took a deep breath, trying to move my thoughts away from the academy-stuck-in-the-sky thing. I looked up one last time just to make sure that there were still no dragons.

  Master Longwei glanced at his watch. “Elena, we need to get going. Class will start soon.” He picked up his pace and entered a door triple my height.

  We picked up my schedule from the woman seated at the reception desk. Horned rimmed glasses rested haphazardly on the tip of her nose. She greeted me with a welcoming tone, encouraging me with words meant to instill confidence. Yeah right, she probably never had bee
n to the other side where things were normal, what did she know.

  I had to run to keep up with Master Longwei as he quickened down a long passage. The narrowed hall held that old dusty smell often found in basements. A golden statue of a dragon with its head bowed stood sentry at the end of the passage.

  We walked into a spacious lobby, with two set of staircases leading to what I assumed, were separate wings of the castle. Paintings of dragons and armored statues were stacked meticulously against the wall. The students that passed us greeted Master Longwei with chirpy “hi's”; followed with soft whispers and pointed fingers as they laid their eyes on me. It was first day of school all over again, and heaven knew I had my fair share of that.

  I almost lost Master Longwei in the throng of students as he ran up the staircase to the left.

  We entered a wooden door with a woman embracing a dragon engraved on it. It led to more stairs.

  “This place is really big,” I mumbled annoyingly, knowing I would never learn my way around all the staircases and passages.

  “It has to be. Where do you think everybody stays? This is the girls' dormitories, boys are on the right.” he explained, and we entered the new space.

  We walked up three separate staircases, and by the time we reached the fourth set, my lungs felt ready to burst. He finally stopped at the door with the gold number four, while I silently suggested the construction of an elevator.

  Placing his hand against the door, he pushed, and it opened slowly into a cul-de-sac with three doors. He knocked on the first one. We waited.

  “Good morning, Master Longwei,” a girl said in a chirpy tone, her toothbrush still in her hand. Her cropped black hair and big brown eyes lit up when she saw me.

  “Good morning, Becky, may we come in?” he asked politely.

  “Yeah sure, where's my manners.” She took a step back, encouraging us to enter.

  We entered a room with three gigantic posted beds, two facing one. They were stunning with white lace hanging from the top and cascading down to the floor.

  The floor was carpeted in plain, dark brown shag so lush my flip-flops almost disappeared as I took my first step into the room. A fancy chandelier was hanging from the ceiling, casting a majestic glow. If magic existed in this world, I knew it was somehow responsible for this magnificent bedroom.

  “Becky? I want you to meet Elena,” Master Longwei said as he began the introductions.

  “Hi, Elena, and welcome to Dragonia.” She sounded like she had ten Red Bull's for breakfast.

  I smiled at her nervously and my greeting barely came out.

  “Just show her around, and please don't let her get lost. There are still a lot of things she doesn't know. Try to tell her as much as you can,” he explained diligently.

  “Master Longwei, you always do this to me,” Becky intoned, a whine slowly emerging to replace the hyperactivity.

  “I thought talking to someone her age would help her to understand it better. I’m much too old for this, and don't know how to be hip and cool about stuff. You two speak the same language, Becky,” Master Longwei said.

  “Fine, I’ll try. Thank heavens she knows about the dragons.” She raised both her eyebrows and took a long, deep breath.

  “Good luck, Elena, and if you need anything, don't hesitate to come and see me. I will see you tomorrow morning for some shopping.”

  Becky gasped. “Are you going to Elm?”

  “Yes, and if you manage not to freak her out today, you can come too,” he said.

  She bounced up and down, barely able to contain her excitement.

  I really liked her, she reminded me of a pixie rushing on adrenaline. “This is your room, Elena, I hope you like it. Enjoy your day girls.” Master Longwei disappeared back through the door we had just come through.

  This is my room.

  I repeated the thought over in my head a million times and waited for it to finally sink in. Becky closed the door, and my eye caught the small lounge with a big screen T.V. hidden in the corner.

  “Here's your bed, Elena, I will help you with the linen. I know they are huge, but there’s a reason for that.” She led me towards the empty bed.

  “Where’s the other girl?” I referred to the other bed that had already been occupied.

  “Sammy is an early riser and you’ve got Vicky’s spot. She's on a self-discovery quest,” she said, as if I was supposed to know what that meant. “I have a bit of a problem with the first, second, and third time my alarm goes off. I love the snooze button way too much." Her nose wrinkled up. “So, I bet you have a lot of questions huh?”

  “I did, but my mind went blank.”

  “Yeah, I know the feeling.”

  I was glad that she offered to help with the bed. I didn't know how I would've managed it all by myself.

  “I heard that you have a very dark mark.” She lifted up her sleeve, showing me the light brown stain on her arm. “You can barely see mine.” She promptly waited for me to show her mine.

  “Mine is above my knee.” I gestured to my newly acquired jeans.

  Her smile dropped instantly.

  “Can I show you tonight?”

  She nodded, and her smile went all the way up to her eyes. “So, your dad was really a Copper-horn?”

  “Yes,” I said in a soft whisper.

  She gave me a one-sided smile. “I'm sorry that he died, Copper-horns are extremely lovable and I can't imagine who would want to hurt one, not to mention kill one.”

  Tears formed in my eyes, and I wiped them away quickly before she could see. “Did you know my dad?”

  “No, he must have left when King Albert died. A lot of them left when he died,” she explained sadly.

  “King Albert …he’s the guy that built this school, right?” I tucked one of the corners of the linen underneath the heavy mattress.

  “Yes, he was also the true ruler of Paegeia, and the best king that ever lived. He was betrayed by his best friend. Nobody likes to talk about it.”

  We finished and fell, breathless, on top of the freshly made bed.

  She looked at her watch and jumped up. “Yikes, is that the time?” She grabbed her backpack with her one hand and my arm with the other.

  I literally flew out the room, through the main door and down the stairs. My feet skidded off the steps, and I prayed that I wouldn't fall on my face, or worse, break my neck.

  “We are so late. Master Longwei is going to kill me,” she said, panting with exertion.

  We ran into the reception area, and I gave her a hand with the door.

  We managed to open it wide enough for the both of us to squeeze through. More buildings appeared on the other side, which made the castle begin to look like a school.

  She darted around the first corner, down another hallway and stopped. She turned around. “You ready?” She opened the door, and ushered me into a hall filled with other students. I felt like I was being thrown to the sharks. Good thing I was a fast swimmer.

  Chapter Four

  The hall was filled with students and the lecture had already begun. Becky and I crouched and walked to the second row, while the teacher scribbled on the blackboard facing away from the rows of students. As soon as we reached the row, we slipped into the only two empty chairs next to each other.

  The other students chuckled softly at our stealthy plan.

  "Late again, Ms. Johnson?" the teacher asked in a brisk Irish accent.

  “Thanks, you guys,” Becky said to the chortling students. Turning to look at me, she rolled her eyes dramatically.

  “Welcome, Elena,” the teacher said, and turned around with a grin not meant to be ignored. I gave him a small smile back. “My name is Sir Edward. In this class you will learn Paegeia's mysteries,” he said, and the whole class sighed. It felt as if the entire room was deflating with their obvious displeasure.

  The teacher appeared much too young to be a professor, with honey-colored eyes and golden blonde hair. He wore a pair of faded jeans and a bla
ck T-shirt with a tribal print design. “Now, where were we?”

  “You were telling us about the King of Lion sword,” one of the boys with bulgy eyes and dark brown hair reminded him.

  “Thank you, Trevor,” Sir Edward said. “The King of Lion sword is the only sword that can slay evil too strong for non-magical weapons, especially dragons.”

  I gasped.

  “Not all dragons are good,” Becky whispered at my apparent discomfort.

  “Why only this sword, Becky?” Sir Edward asked, and she shrunk in her chair.

  “It's the only sword blessed by King William, a thousand years ago.” She clearly sucked the answer out of her thumb.

  “Yes, and how did the sword get blessed?” he asked, still grilling her.

  “Holy water,” she answered, and everyone laughed. Sir Edward smiled too.

  “No. Try to pay more attention, Ms. Johnson. Riley,” he called on a girl in the third row who's hand reached the highest.

  She flipped her hair and gave Becky an I'm-smarter-than-you-are smile. “No one knows for sure, but there are plenty of ideas.”

  “She's a big know-it-all. A real toothache, if you ask me,” Becky whispered as Riley gave a breakdown of a million possibilities.

  “Correct, Riley,” Sir Edward said.

  “So we shouldn't rule out holy water,” Becky chirped. The class broke out in laughter.

  “No, Becky, that one has been tested,” he said, ignoring her curled lip. “Who can tell me what the Japanese call it?”

  The know-it-all, Riley, was the only one who knew the answer this time.


  “Shishiwo,” she said.

  Becky was doing an accurate impersonation of Riley, and I had to suppress my laughter in order not to draw any more attention to us.

  “Here, you deserve it.” Sir Edward tossed Riley a chocolate bar.

  “Who can tell me how many King of Lion weapons we have?” he asked. This time everyone's hands went up, except for mine.

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