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       Venom, p.5

           Adrienne Woods
 
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  “How can you eat that stuff?” Becky said with a nasally twang as she held her nose.

  “I’m a dragon. Besides, George loves it too.”

  “Just brush your teeth before you kiss me again.” She looked over at George with a questionable expression but he just raised his eyes at me with a huge grin plastered on his face. However, his smile soon turned to a glare as he looked over Blake’s shoulder to see what he was reading. The two of them started a conversation in Latin and I could see Becky rolling her eyes at them in exasperation.

  “Boys and their toys,” she mouthed at me before she shoved a forkful of eggs into her mouth.

  After breakfast we decided to go back home to Lucille. We said goodbye to Isabel and I thanked her for the chance to stay over at Sammy’s last night and the amazing hot cocoa.

  Sammy went back with us. When I entered my room, I decided to take a bath hoping the water would soothe the headache that had begun after reading the news this morning.

  As I sunk into the warm water and let the bubbles wash my aches away, I began to think about last night and the room next to Sammy’s. I couldn’t believe that he just did that with Tabitha, and under the same roof as his father.

  I knew he wasn’t a saint. Blake was really far from it, but I had to admit even though I couldn’t stop laughing last night at Sammy’s hilarious attempts to get her brother to stop, I didn’t like that he slept with Tabitha. It was weird because I didn’t have a secret crush on him or anything. I used to, I think. Could I? No, that part was gone. I thought as I corrected my inner thoughts. Those feelings had completely died away as soon as I started to get to know him better. Not to mention, I was with one of the most awesome guys living inside Paegeia. It was just that Blake had a kind of mystery lingering around him. A presence that pulled people toward him and chucked them away when they get too close. It made me curious and I couldn’t help but try and figure him out. “Yes, I thought to myself, I was curious about Blake Leaf, and no, I wasn’t jealous, not even a little bit. Was I?

  N SATURDAY, it was so hot that we spent the entire day at the swimming pool in Becky’s backyard. It was fun as we splashed and just baked in the sun. On Sunday, it was pouring with rain, and Sammy and I watched movies in my room as George and Becky did who knows what in hers.

  On Monday, Sammy received a call from Dean asking her out on a date. Understandably, the customary girl shrieking was in order and we all ran up in a flurry to Becky’s room

  Becky barged in first like she always did leaving the door swinging wildly as we followed close behind. She and George were going on a double date with Sammy and Dean and we needed to figure out what Sammy was going to wear.

  “Are you sure you don’t want to join us?” Sammy asked.

  “No, I’ll pass. I don’t want to be a fifth wheel.”

  “And yet, they are the most important wheel in a car,” Becky left her two cents in the conversation.

  “Especially the way you drive,” Sammy mumbled under her breath.

  “Haha, funny. Elena, just come with us. I can't leave you here by yourself.” Becky’s pout rose slightly.

  “No, go. Sammy can’t give up another evening with Dean.”

  Sammy gave me the eye.

  “I'm fine, besides I'm not alone. Lucille is here and I happen to love her company,” I said, happy to stay in and leave the excitement to the two of them.

  “You sure?” Sammy put her arm around my shoulder.

  “Yes, get ready.”

  Unwrapping herself from around me, Sammy walked over to Becky’s closet to decide. She settled on a pair of skinnies, that she was finally able to get into after a very comical dance around the room. I honestly didn’t know if she would have the strength to pull them off again later that night. It went nicely with a pair of black wedges that tied around her ankles, a white lace top and a black jacket Becky lent her as well. She looked absolutely stunning.

  “Dean isn’t going to know what hit him,” I complimented her and she blushed.

  “You sure you don't want to come?” Becky tried one last time.

  “Seriously, can you guys drop it? I’m happy right here. Besides Rosa said that there’s something very educational on TV tonight,” I said laughing at both their expressions when I mentioned the word “educational”.

  “Urgh!” Becky pulled her lips and revealed her teeth as if I had just said a very nasty word.

  “What?”

  “Today is also the day that the creepers consumed Etan sixteen years ago,” Sammy said guessing what show was going to be captivating my attention tonight.

  “They have re-runs of it every year, making everyone depressed,” Becky added.

  “Humph. That’s kind of educational. Thanks for the heads up.”

  When they were both finished getting ready, I gave them each a hug goodbye as George started to honk impatiently outside.

  Lucille, Rosa and I waved to them. Lucille had her hand on my shoulder and squeezed it as we watched the bright lights disappear down the drive.

  “You sure about not going?” she asked with concern.

  “That is a date I really don't want to be on.”

  “Come,” Rosa said and clapped her hands together once to show her excitement. “It's time for the Oldies.”

  “I'll get the popcorn,” Lucille seconded and we all piled back inside.

  I loved the oldies in Paegeia. They were funny and different from the ones we had back home.

  At nine, one of the movies was suddenly interrupted and the picture on the screen began to change.

  “When are they going to stop with this?” Rosa grumbled and got up. She bid us goodnight and left.

  Lucille plunged herself on the seat next to me. “Sixteen years ago, creepers came out of nowhere and consumed the entire capital,” a loud voice boomed from the set. Lucille leaned over and whispered, “Isabel told me that if it hadn’t been for King Albert ordering Sir Robert away from him, he would've been trapped too. They make a tradition of it by reminding us on a yearly basis what happened.”

  I remembered the first time I had heard the story of how Sir Robert had simply left his rider defenseless, left to fight alone. I had a hard time reconciling my thoughts that day.

  The first program they featured was about the capital itself. It began with footage of an enormous library that panned over to a port with wooden decks and plenty of yachts bobbing in the water. The image reminded me of a picture I once saw of a resort in Monaco. In a whirlwind, images began flickering rapidly on the screen, giving me little time to process the amazing scene before it flashed to another. A museum, banks, a park with people walking their pets, and a mall with plenty of coffee shops was almost too much to take in. These scenes were followed by neighborhoods and expansive farms with workers busy collecting fruits and working the land. Finally, the camera began showcasing corporate companies and tall buildings reaching high into the clouds with people wearing suits and carrying leather cases milling about.

  Becky had told me that they had everything; I just hadn’t imagined it was so vast. My eyes felt as if they were glued onto the big screen in front of me when the images were interrupted by a news report. The reporter was a middle age woman with perfectly styled red hair. White letters zipping by just below her face read, “Matilda Grey-hard.” She was the woman who had covered the destruction of Etan and I felt Lucille stiffen as she began to narrate the disaster that happened so many years ago. Buildings were lit up in flames as if a giant bonfire had been set off in the middle of town. Debris rained down behind the reporter as everyone around her ran in every direction. It appeared to be complete chaos. Lucille stroked my back softly as I gasped when a look of pure horror grew on the reporter’s face as she tried to listen to the message that came from the device hidden in her ear. She had just announced the death of Queen Catherine with tears glistening in her eyes. Just as quickly as it had begun, the picture started to turn fuzzy with interference and disappeared completely.

&nb
sp; A hollow ache clung around my heart as I processed what I had just seen. The next part of the program was home footage of huge, thick creepers sprouting out of the earth spraying dirt in a million different directions. The camera shook for what seemed like a good ten minutes as the creepers emerged from the ground, grew thicker right before our eyes and engulfed Etan. The shaking finally stopped as more and more footage appeared.

  The people that tried to go through the creepers to the other side were ripped apart by ghastly demon-like roots. Lucille flinched visibly as their haunting screams filled the living room.

  An impressive Swallow Annex made the most terrible thrashing sound as a couple of dragons held it back from running straight into the creepers. It wouldn’t give up and it took three tranquilizer darts before it collapsed hard on the ground sending dirt and debris high into the air. The camera zoomed in on the expression on the dragon’s face and I felt a surge of anger as they recorded the dragon’s anguish. I loathed the paparazzi; they had no respect and as long as they got their footage, they were happy. I wiped a tear that had escaped onto my cheek and I looked over at Lucille. Her eyes glistened with tears. “We don't have to watch this if you don't want to.”

  She looked at me with sorrow in her eyes but shook her head with a soft smile. “It's fine, Elena. I just haven't watched this in a long time. She lost everything that day.”

  “Who?” I looked back at the TV that was still focused on the dragon’s anguished face. “The dragon?”

  “It's Constance. She used to live in a small village on the border of Etan. She’d been attending a conference in Elm when the creepers took the place. She lost her three year-old Sun-Blast and her husband. She doesn't even know what her little girl’s human form looks like, if she’s still alive.”

  My stomach twisted and a feeling of heartbreak lay heavy on my chest. Why hadn’t she told me about her daughter or husband? “Do you think they’re dead?”

  “The creepers are quite close to the border. I doubt the village still exists. What’s left of Etan, we will never see again.”

  “That sucks so much,” I spoke softly. What else could I say? The final footage showed what I assumed was a couple of days later. Humans and dragons gathered from all over Paegeia to say goodbye. Tears pricked in the back of my eyes as I imagined what they must have gone through in those terrifying days.

  They stood behind a yellow line that was drawn a couple of yards from the creepers. They were crying on each other’s shoulders, while the dragons made a whale-like, moaning sound. The humans carried candles while others wielded their abilities to create a soft glow in their palms as a sign of respect for Etan. It looked like a thousand fireflies winking in the night.

  Bouquets of flowers in every shape imaginable lay a few yards away from the creepers intermingled with photos of the King and Queen.

  I froze when the image changed to a huge picture of Queen Catherine. She had a soft face, a beautiful smile and she looked extremely happy as she rested her head on King Albert’s chest. She’d haunted my dreams for a good couple of months, leading me toward my mission and explaining what it was I had to do. Thinking back on our time in that dizzying dream world, a small part of me missed her.

  The King had a friendly face, handsome too and again I mused on how the museum had done a terrible job copying both of them. They had the type of faces that made you wonder where you’d seen them before. I hadn’t fully grasped how much the people of Paegeia really loved them until now and my thoughts went back to Isabel and Sir Robert.

  “The Leafs lost everything that night,” Lucille said as if she read my mind. “I didn’t know them so well then but Ettienne and Will had great admiration for the King and his dragon. Losing his rider on top of that was another big blow in Sir Robert’s life. They prosecuted him, thinking that he had something to do with King Albert’s death. Ettienne used to tell me about their bond. That it was hard to think they didn’t share the brotherhood of a dent. He would’ve died for King Albert. That I know with certainty.” She shook her head. “If Blake wasn't their son, I don’t know where they would be today.”

  “Now I understand why Blake doesn't like the royals so much.”

  “He is the only one that can speak to them like that. Issy doesn’t like it very much. She confided in me so many times in the past couple of months since we became friends. She said it reflects badly on their family whenever Blake bad mouths the royals like that.”

  “They deserve it.”

  “They don’t always, Elena. You’ve just gotten to know the bad side of them. King Caleb has changed a lot over the past couple of years, I’ve got to admit, but Lucian’s father has always been a great ruler.”

  Silence filled the room as Lucians name rolled off her lips. King Caleb had a dark, twisted side to him. Lucille told me so many times that Ettienne, her husband, used to knock heads with him on a weekly basis before he joined King Helmut’s court. According to Lucille, King Caleb wasn’t as noble as everyone thought and didn’t deserve the title of King.

  “I'm glad that you are friends with Becky and Sammy.”

  “I'm the one that's glad. They are the best.”

  Lucille gave me a one armed hug before she got up and said goodnight.

  I tried to watch a movie afterwards but Constance’s wailing was imprinted on my mind making it hard to concentrate. She had lost everything and I couldn’t imagine how she must still feel, not knowing what her daughter looked like or whether they were still alive. I tried to calculate how old she must be and reached the age of nineteen. She was the same age as Lucian and Blake.

  I struggled to sleep that night. Sammy wasn’t back yet and when I finally dozed off I woke up with her scurrying around the room trying to find something.

  “Sorry, did I wake you?” Sammy apologized when she heard me stir. She’d slept over tonight as it would be easier not to wake up her entire house hold. Not that Blake bothered with it.

  “It's fine. How was the date?”

  She sighed and I was suddenly wide awake.

  “Spill…”

  “He kissed me.” She sounded as if she was still somewhere on cloud-nine. I listened to how Dean had transformed into her knight in shining armor. When she finished she had this huge grin on her face and I couldn’t help by smile too. They had gone for drinks at Longbottoms and my mouth gaped when she told me about how they had seen Arianna and Blake kissing each other fiercely in one of the corner booths.

  “Arianna and Blake? Where was Tabitha?”

  “They probably had another fight, or she passed out somewhere. I told you my brother only has one thing on his mind. Whenever Tabitha isn’t available, or he wants to punish her for something, they hook up.”

  “Arianna is mental if she thinks Lucian will marry her.”

  “Tell me about it.”

  I tried to imagine Blake and Arianna together. Guess being a Princess had its perks.

  When she finally settled down I was able to fall back asleep. That night I dreamed about giant beanstalks covering me, followed by a voice saying my name. It was taunting me with its honey tone and I woke the second the creepy feeling turned into fear.

  “Elena?” The voice was still there and I lifted up my head. It was far off though. I heard another smack against my window and saw Sammy opening up the balcony’s door.

  My heart beat a thousand beats per minute. “What do you want?” She yelled softly.

  “I need to speak to, Elena.” I could hear a voice saying a bit too loud and then laughter came.

  Blake?

  “Blake, you’re drunk. Go home.”

  “No, just send Elena out. Please.”

  “To hell I’m going to do that. Leave or I will phone Dad to drag your ass back home.”

  “Elena,” he yelled again softly.

  What the hell does he want?

  “Dammit, Blake. Go home. You had enough fun with Arianna tonight. Elena isn’t that type of girl.”

  I blushed and buried my he
ad into the pillow. He seriously expected me …

  “I only want to speak to her, Sammy.”

  “Oh, please, you can’t even speak properly. Speak to her in the morning. Go.” Sammy closed the door, locked it and moved my huge dresser in front of the door as if it was made out of a cardboard box and instead of heavy oak wood. I could still hear Blake begging me through the closed door to come out.

  “If you know what is good for you, ignore him.”

  “What’s wrong with him?”

  “Seriously, Elena. You are driving his Sun-Blast crazy.”

  “Thank you for that picture,” I said and hit my head hard on the pillow again. I started to laugh as Blake kept yelling for me to come out.

  Sammy stormed out of the bed once more. Opened the window this time and yelled softly again. “Go home, Blake, before Lucille wakes up.”

  He mumbled something with a lot of cussing in between but all I could make out was Sammy’s full name and then it was quiet.

  “Whatever,” Sammy grunted as she fell onto my bed again.

  I started to giggle as the thought about what he wanted from me crept into my mind again.

  “It’s not funny, Elena.”

  I couldn’t stop laughing as the laughter kept bubbling up inside of me.

  “Just go back to dreaming about Lucian or something. I’m so glad we are here and not at my place. Just think what—”

  “Seriously? You think I would do that? Your brother despises me.”

  “Oh, believe me; my brother has his ways of getting what he wants. I swear if I wasn’t his sister, he’d try to hump me too. He does messed up shit when he’s drunk.”

  We both laughed at her remark and went back to sleep.

  Blake and me? It sounded crazy just thinking about it, not to mention saying it out loud.

  ROUND TEN, FRIDAY morning we were packed for the weekend. We were all going to go camping at some lake nearby. Lucille loved the outdoors, and I was super excited to know that Sammy and George were coming with. What I didn’t bargain on was that the entire Leaf family would be there too. Don’t get me wrong, I loved Isabel and Sir Robert, but spending an entire weekend with Blake and Tabitha was not my idea of fun. When we got to the site, Sir Robert and Blake had already started to set up the tents right in front of a huge old RV.

 
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