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       Firebolt, p.4

           Adrienne Woods
 

  “Charlie?” He pointed to a boy in the first row.

  “One,” the boy said. “Now where’s my candy?”

  Sir Edward chuckled and tossed him one too.

  “So if something happens to the King of Lion, we're basically screwed?" another boy asked.

  “Don't think of it that way. Hope is always near to those who believe. Besides, the sword is well protected in the city of Elm.” He started to walk my way and when he passed our row, he dropped a handbook on my desk. “Please, if you can open to page sixty-seven.”

  On the page was a picture of the sword with the King of Lion written in small letters at the bottom.

  An image of Excalibur popped in my head. It had a golden hilt that curled up the divine blade with a lion’s head emblazoned on the hilt. The text below the image explained that Richard the Lion Heart once possessed the sword.

  “The story we're going to cover is the recovering of the Kings of Lion. The year 1320 BTW.”

  I looked at Becky. “Before the wall,” she whispered without taking her gaze from the book.

  “A Japanese folk tale of danger, love, sacrifice, and adventure in the Daki islands,” Sir Edward started telling us the story. “Once upon a time around 1320, a samurai named Kalibi Shima got banished by a chief tan Hio Tukituki. They exiled him to a small island called Yamasaki, of the Oki islands. Kalibi had an eighteen-year-old daughter, Kayatan, whom he loved very much.”

  I got lost in his tale of a brave Kayatan who saved her father and slayed a dragon that had tortured the villagers. In return, the town gave her the King of Lion Sword. The story reminded me of the stories Dad used to tell me, but I just couldn’t seem to recall the detail. Then my thoughts shifted to Dad saving my life. I could never do what Kayatan did. My eyes welled up again. I should have never left him.

  I jumped out of my seat as the bell rang and the students began packing up their books. Becky left her pack open for my handbook and I placed it gently in with the rest of hers.

  “On Monday we'll discuss the other Japanese legend, Yorimasa the Dragon slayer.” Sir Edward's voice echoed over the racket the students made as they exited the lecture hall.

  “Come on, it's time for Art of War,” Becky said, gripping my arm. Thank heavens she didn't make a big fuss over my tears. She must have seen me wiping them away, again.

  Back out in the hallway, students overpowered the narrow space, rushing and pushing against one another to get to their next class. On our way, we passed the cafeteria and ran to another door.

  I squeezed through as Becky struggled to keep the door open. Instead of more lecturing halls, in front of me stood acres of land with mountains rising in the distance. The view was breath taking. My awe only lasted a minute though before I remembered the dragons and looked to the skies. Becky looked up too.

  I sighed. So what if I found a dragon soaring through the sky? The faster I accept that dragons exist the better off I will be.

  Lowering my gaze,I caught sight of students walking to a coliseum similar to the one in Rome; except this one hadn’t been left in ruins. Becky grabbed my arm and pulled me in the opposite direction toward a smaller, domed building.

  Two huge stone dragons stood guard at the entrance. Inside, the domed building looked similar to a sports arena, but instead of a basketball court or a running track, there were rows and rows of targets, with shields stacked against the right wall. There was a big wooden oak cupboard in the corner and bleachers were stacked up at the back.

  The left wall held giant axes and spears, taller than I was, with thousands of helmets stacked underneath. Something Becky said suddenly hit me. For the love of blueberries, I hoped this wasn't what I thought it was.

  “When you said Art of War, you didn't mean it literally, did you?”

  She looked at me, confused. “Did you think I'd refer to theories? That's so boring!”

  “We're going to fight? I can't fight!” I scrambled toward the door, trying to make my exit from the building.

  She pulled me back. “Relax Elena, it's just for practice.”

  “The closest I ever came to wielding a weapon was the steak knife at the dinner table.” My hands trembled, and I folded my arms to hide them from Becky.

  She laughed. “You're funny.”

  I looked up again, still thinking of dragons, while we waited for our practice session to begin.

  “What are you looking at?” Becky looked up at the ceiling too.

  “Nothing.” I whispered, thinking about how strange I must be acting.

  “You're so weird. Let's go.” She led me to a small group of students.

  “Elena,” a young girl greeted me.

  “Hi, Professor Mia.” Becky said to the girl, who couldn't have been much older than her students. She was stunning, with auburn hair and big blue eyes. Her smile lit up the room. I froze as I saw her swinging a real sword in her left hand. She reminded me so much of Xena, the Warrior Princess.

  “Elena has bit of stage fright. I don't think they have classes like this on the other side,” Becky explained.

  “You think?” the professor said with a sarcastic tone. “Not to worry, Elena. We're not going to throw you into the deep end just yet. We'll just take it one step at a time, okay?”

  The corner of my mouth twitched. I tried desperately to hide my doubts that anything good was going to come out of me holding a weapon. Silently, I resigned myself to the reality that I was going to suck with a sword and would probably fail this class.

  “Becky,” Professor Mia said, “go get her armor. We'll take it from there.”

  Becky gripped my arm again and pulled me over to the cupboard. We found an old safety vest. I barely caught it when Becky tossed the thing to me. It reeked of old sweat, and I made involuntary gagging sounds. It smelled worse when I tried to pull it over my head. I found Becky leaning against the cupboard with criss-crossed legs, laughing in total hysterics.

  She regained control of herself and wiped away her tears. “Don't worry, we'll find you one tomorrow in Elm that will fit,” she said, without looking at me.

  The thing was double my size, and I knew I looked ridiculous. So much for first impressions.

  Now I know how a stuffed animal feels.

  “Becky, is it going to be today?” Professor Mia yelled, irritation lacing her voice.

  Becky burst into laughter again, which was starting to annoy me. It got even worse when the class joined her.

  “Comedy hour is finished. Get back to practice,” Professor Mia ordered, and Becky stopped.

  I trembled as I listened to steel slamming against steel. It looked like total war out there.

  I'm so not cut out for this.

  I didn't even have to try it once; I knew I was going to be absolutely terrible.

  “Is there any way I can drop this class?” I whispered to Becky, pleading with my eyes for any way out of this situation.

  She snorted and tried desperately not to break out into laughter again. “Sorry.” She worked hard to keep a straight face. “No, it's mandatory. Besides how are you going to protect yourself, Elena?”

  “From what?” I asked, but before Becky could burst out laughing again, I realized the answer. They were huge, had wings, and breathed fire. A typical David and Goliath story, only ten times worse.

  “Give it a try, who knows, you might love it.” She suggested it as if there was an alternative.

  We reached Professor Mia slowly, who methodically made her way around the small room, wielding her sword with unbelievable precision. After a short and not very informative lesson from Becky, she placed the sword in my hand. It made me tip over like a bowling pin. I stared at it like an idiot. My eyes grew larger as I took in the metal blade.

  “Becky, go spar with Collin,” Professor Mia ordered.

  Becky left my side for the first time since we’d left our room.

  “Elena, here.” Professor Mia touched my chin and turned my face to look into hers. “The first rule of combat is ne
ver to take your eyes off your opponent.”

  * * *

  Class was excruciating. In ten minutes, every muscle and joint in my body was inflamed. Right before I thought I was going to pass out, Professor Mia mercifully stopped. She had made a mistake when she said that I would get better. I knew it, she knew it, and the unrelenting laughter emanating from the other students knew it. The second half of class, I rested on the bleachers. I hardly had the strength to take off my vest.

  I watched the other students as they trained around the room. Becky was good. I felt sorry for her opponent. She even threw in a kick or two between the blows of her sword. I understood now why they called wielding a weapon the art of dueling.

  Thankfully, a bell rang in the distance and everyone stopped on Professor Mia's command. The students walked with high spirits toward the wall to return their equipment. I tried to get up, but my body ached, and I fell back onto the bleachers in a huff.

  I'm going to regret this in the morning.

  Becky put her shield, helmet against the wall, and walked over to the cupboard to put away the sword. She ran over to me. “Are you okay?”

  “I'll live,” I said, sulking.

  “You'll see. It’s going to be your favorite class too. I don't think there's a student here who hates Art of War.” She lent me a hand up.

  “Well, then I'm going to be the first. I'm definitely a lover, not a fighter.” I said, honesty coating every syllable.

  She giggled, pulled me toward the exit, and back to the main building.

  “Can I ask you something?”

  She nodded, carrying her sweaty vest over her shoulder.

  “What happens if someone gets hurt?”

  “Swallow-Annex's are good at healing cuts and bruises,” Becky said simply as if that offered any real explanation.

  Swallow-Annex? The term sounded Greek and dangerous. I decided against asking for a translation. My legs burned as I climbed the stairs, each step sending a biting pain into my knees. To make matters worse, they didn't want to bend properly, turning my balance to a big fat zero.

  “What's that?” I pointed to a huge structure straight out of Ancient Rome.

  “The coliseum.”

  “Do they fight there too?”

  She huffed. “You can say that.”

  “What do they call the one we were just in?”

  “The Parthenon Dome.”

  “Does everything in this country start with a P?”

  She snorted and hit me playfully with her sweaty vest.

  We went up to the room, so I could take a quick shower before lunch.

  When we got back to the cafeteria, most of the tables outside were already occupied.

  I slouched behind Becky as we made our way to the buffet line stationed outside, being guarded by a man dressed in a chef's uniform. He had a huge stomach. I remembered how Dad had always said nobody trusts a skinny chef. His hair had the same copper glint as Dad's had and his food made my mouth water.

  “Hi, Chef, the new girl Elena,” Becky introduced.

  “Elena, I was wondering when you were going to join the living,” he teased.

  “So, what are we having today?” she asked.

  “Rice and fresh vegetables with a lovely roast beef.” He sighed in satisfaction.

  “Urgh! Nobody got the riddle yesterday?” she mumbled.

  “No, have you seen today's?” he asked playfully.

  She waved it away. “It's too difficult anyway.”

  He laughed at her apparent frustration and turned his gaze on me. “Are you good at riddles, Elena?”

  I shook my head. “Sorry.”

  “Not to worry, Riley will have to choose your menu then.”

  “Miss-know-it-all gets most of the riddles right, and then we get pasta, pasta, and oh, what's that other thing she likes so much?” Becky asked the chef.

  “Pasta!” they both replied in unison. I smiled at their bickering, and started to miss Dad horrible.

  After we dished up we said goodbye.

  "Let me get this straight. Whoever solves the riddle can choose what we have to eat?" I asked, as we tried to find an empty table outside.

  "Yeah, every day a new one gets posted on the board. Occasionally, one of the other kids guesses right, and then we get burgers and fries, or hot dogs and pizza."

  Awesome. I tried to imagine what kind of a pizza this chef could create. My mouth started watering just by thinking about it, and I couldn't wait to dig in.

  To our left, two guys stood up from a table, and Becky made a run for it.

  As we slipped into the chairs, my eyes locked on a guy sitting four tables away from us. Something inside my stomach twirled as I gawked at him playing absentmindedly with a soda can. He sat with a group of six other guys, though he clearly stood out. His coal black hair was in perfect accord with his sun-kissed skin. A strange feeling that I had never felt before began to boil inside my gut. I would soon learn that staring at him was the biggest mistake of my life.

  Chapter Five

  Carefully, I released my lower lip when I realized I was chewing on it.

  He looked up, spoke to the guy opposite him and then smiled. My heart skipped a beat. He had the same smile as Dad; a smile that lit up his face and reached all the way to his eyes, creating vertical dimples in his cheeks. The one I loved and missed so much. His peacock blue eyes made me feel as if I was falling straight into a rabbit hole─ one that I could never find my way out of, not that I would want to.

  Suddenly, a middle finger jumped right in front of his face, blocking my view. It belonged to a girl with short snow-white hair. She was a stunner with light blue eyes and a long oval face. It was no miracle how they had ended up together.

  Becky laughed as she saw who I was staring at. “Don't pay her any attention, she's a bitch. You're not the only one who stares at him with googly eyes and a drooling mouth.”

  “Who's he?”

  “His name is Blake Leaf.” She left out a small lustful sigh. “He's verautiful, but such a dick.” She started picking at her vegetables again.

  “Verautiful?”

  “Mixture between very and beautiful.”

  I giggled.

  “The girl's Tabitha. She’s always had a thing for Blake. I'm still not sure if they're an item or not. Blake has this phobia of being spoken for,” she explained.

  “He doesn’t want a girlfriend?” I asked, stunned.

  She shrugged. “Something along those lines.”

  I looked up at the sky once more. I must have done it a million times today and saw Becky following my gaze.

  “Elena, what is with you? Why do you keep looking up at the sky?”

  “It's stupid, you'll laugh.” I nervously tried to make her drop the subject.

  “I might, but I can't help it. You're hilarious.

  “I keep waiting to see ... a dragon.”

  She looked at me with a raised eyebrow as if I was crazy.

  “Forget it,” I said when an extremely loud laugh pierced my ears. I glanced over my shoulder. A girl with long auburn hair and hazelnut eyes plummeted onto the seat right next to me. “She's hilarious!”

  “I know, right,” Becky said, in an agreeing tone.

  I wished for the earth to open up and swallow me whole.

  “How many times has she looked up today?”

  “Like a million.”

  I felt stupid as they made jokes.

  “Elena, this is Sammy.” Becky introduced me to the girl.

  “Short for Samantha.” She reached out her hand for a shake. “I'm one of the roomies.” She was a tiny little thing, even more petite than I was. Her dimples were definitely her main attraction.

  I took her hand and shook it gently.

  “She really doesn't know?”

  “I don't think so. Master Longwei asked me to give her the crash course.”

  “May I?” she pleaded.

  Becky nodded and looked at me with a huge smile on her face.
r />   “What are you doing?” My heart thumped painfully. The last time I felt like this, Dad had transformed into a dragon.

  “Relax, Elena. Sammy just wants to introduce you to a dragon.”

  “A dragon! Where?” I shrieked and everyone outside fell into an utter silence. This was so not cool. A couple of students laughed, while others shook their heads in disgust. I covered my face with my palms. In one millisecond I had killed the only chance of ever finding a social life.

  “Oh shut up,” Becky said. “Eat your food.”

  “Sammy, you should take her to Constance for the serum, before she goes mental,” the girl with the white hair sang, and everyone, including Blake, laughed.

  Sammy flipped her amiddle finger she’d thrown me a couple of minutes ago. “Suck on that biatch.”

  The girl, whose name I’d forgotten, darted into the air, ready to attack.

  Blake carefully pushed her back into her seat. I heard her protesting and saw him leaning in closer to her. He whispered something into her ear. Her sweet smile appeared, revealing perfect white pearls.

  “You're going to get your ass kicked one day, Sammy,” Becky warned her.

  “By Tabitha? She wishes,” Sammy said.

  I tried to picture this tiny girl with a sword and wondered what she could do with one.

  “We need to tell her, Becky.”

  “Go ahead. You were busy anyway.”

  “Elena, promise you won't freak out.” Sammy took my hand between her small ones.

  I closed my eyes and cringed.

  “Promise!” she said in an ordering tone.

  “Fine, I promise.”

  “My name is Sammy Leaf.”

  I looked at Becky, who arched her left eyebrow with a slight twitch in the corner of her mouth.

  “Are you related to Blake?”

  “She hardly started her first day, and she already knows who my brother is?” Sammy said.

  Becky laughed.

  “Sammy, everyone knows your brother.” Another dreamy guy walked over to our table and sat down next to Becky. He was the total opposite of Blake, although their eyes were the same color. He was tall and slender, with blonde cropped hair and fair skin. His smile made my heart skip a beat.

 
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