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       Firebolt, p.6

           Adrienne Woods
 

  “Elena, are you okay?” Becky's voice came from the other side of the door as she knocked softly.

  “Yeah,” I yelled back, and splashed cold water over my face before I opened the door.

  Reaching out, she hugged me again. “I'm so sorry about what happened.”

  As I struggled to control my quivering lower lip, Becky piloted me to the couch. “Here, sit.” She ran over to the fridge.

  I buried my face in between my legs and took long, deep breaths.

  “The sugar will help,” she said, and thrust a soda into my hands.

  I frowned at the word Coca-Cola twirled in white letters all over the can.

  “How's this possible?” I asked, perplexed.

  “Oh, they're so fast in between morphing. They need five seconds at the most,” she explained with a Coke clutched in her hands as well.

  “No Becky, this?” I held the Coke can out for her inspection.

  She frowned.

  “Apart from the dragons and unexplainable things like a school built on air, you guys live a normal life with things I'm familiar with from the other side. How is it possible that you guys got Coke and know stuff like pizza and burgers?”

  A small grin played around the corners of her mouth. “We have cell phones too.” She took out a phone. It looked like a smart phone. “They're way more advanced, or so I've heard.” She settled herself in the chair next to me, sliding the cover of the phone open. “It is called a Cam-phone.”

  The top didn't have a screen, just a small red, blinking button.

  “Watch this!” She turned the phone upside down and spoke with a soft voice to the rubber part on the back corner of the cell. “Lucian McKenzie.” She turned the phone back again. After the tenth beeping sound she started to tap her thumbs impatiently. A holograph in the shape of Lucian's face appeared before us.

  “I'm not losing another Cammy, Becky,” he grunted in a whisper.

  “Sorry, I'm showing Elena our cool toys,” she spoke, putting the phone on her lap.

  “She okay?” he asked quietly.

  “She's a tough girl; I don't think she's going to the wacky-bin.”

  Lucian shook his head. “Bye.” The 3D picture of his face disappeared with a small flash.

  “You can send text messages too, but we don't type. We say what we want to, and the phone transforms the voice recording into writing. Then you can send it by speaking the person's name. They'll read the text the same way Lucian's face appeared. It comes with so many apps, like silent mode, homework app, but you have to be careful of it. Sometimes it gives you the wrong answers. My favorite is the what-looks-good-on me? app. Just to name a few. Cool, huh?”

  I nodded, still impressed by the talking hologram.

  “The dragons still do business on the other side. We have the currencies of every country in the whole world, right here in the bank of Paegeia.” She took a sip of her Coke. “I mean honestly, Elena, who do you think invents most of the technology?”

  “Dragons?” I asked tentatively.

  She nodded, touching the bottom of my can and lifting it to my mouth, encouraging me on to drink more.

  I took a couple of gulps. The sugar helped, and I could feel the knots in my stomach starting to loosen. “Why didn't I see any of the Dragons?” I was still trying to take it all in.

  “You couldn't. They're very good at disguising themselves. But, if the Council thinks they won't be able to contain their true form, especially the Chromatic dragons, they won't grant them a pass. They’re not allowed to invent anything on the other side of the wall, because they could draw too much attention to themselves. On that side they're only allowed to give the humans ideas, and it's usually enough for the humans to fill in the missing pieces.”

  “Why does the law forbid them?”

  “They're filled with the essence of life, which means they age differently than humans. Most of the Metallic dragons can age up to twelve thousand years.”

  “Twelve thousand years?” I exclaimed, stunned.

  “The coolest part is if their bond is strong with their Dragonians, they can grant them a part of their essence.”

  “How?”

  “I'm not a hundred percent sure, but they say it's rare, the same as the dent thing. A normal dragon bond isn't thatstrong, but King Albert had the essence from his dragon. King Albert celebrated his two-hundred-and-fiftieth birthday the year he died.”

  “Wow. How do you know if you're part of a dent?” I asked.

  “We have a Viden. She's a Moon-Bolt dragon. They have the ability to foretell the future, but they don’t predict it in a way for us to understand. Our Viden lives in the tower behind the boy's dormitories and everyone is required to see her at least once a month. You will too. If she picks up a Dragonian in one of the sessions she has with a dragon, they mostly end up in a brother-hood or sister-hood. She even feels something when it's time for one of her predictions to be fulfilled. That part is amazing, but most of the time she sucks predictions out of her thumb.” She laughed. “Sammy's version is easy; she says the Viden speaks a lot of shit.”

  “How will I know whether she speaks the truth then?”

  “Believe me, you'll know. It's best to wait until you see her.”

  All this new information swirled around in my head and ascending was on my mind again. “So do you know what ability you'll get?” I asked,hoping one day I wouldn’t have to be constantly asking questions.

  “No but I have a feeling I'm a Fire Wielder. When that happens, Sammy and I will team up.”

  “You're going to claim Sammy?”

  “No, the Metallic dragons don't throw tantrums the same way as the Chromatic ones. They usually decide they want to be your dragon and surrender, but there is still a lot of paperwork that is just as painful. You need to register with the Council and give them a statement of intent. Lately, we have to ask the Council permission for everything. That's where I envy Blake. He gets away with everything, especially when it comes to the Council. I think it's because he has so many abilities,” she said matter-of-factly.

  “Wait, if he's both, why doesn't he just surrender?” I asked, placing my empty soda can on the coffee table. "I mean, if he needs a Dragonian, and he's half Metallic, why doesn't he choose?"

  “Elena, not every story ends with good overcoming evil. In Blake's case, only his Dragonian can keep him from turning."

  "But you said his Dragonian doesn't exist.”

  She inhaled deeply.

  “I'm asking way too─”

  “It's not that. Blake can get claimed, but whoever is going to claim him needs a miracle. Arianna, the princess of Tith has tried once and Lucian twice now. He almost had him the last time, but he got a surprise blow from an ability none of us knew Blake had. The problem with a claim like his, and this might sound crazy to you.” She sounded nervous. She put her feet on the couch and hugged her knees to her chest. “There's ways to keep the Chromatic dragons, that don't dent, from becoming evil─”

  “What ways?” I asked, intrigued.

  “Beating the evil out of them,” she said and shrank into the chair.

  “What!” I could feel the nausea beginning to return at the thought.

  “I know, sounds pretty awful, but it's the only thing that works.”

  “So whoever will claim Blake has to beat the living crap out of him so he won’t become evil?” I said skeptically.

  “Pretty much.”

  “Lucian knows this?”I asked, though I still couldn’t believe it.

  “Yes, Elena. He says it’s a sacrifice he is willing to make in order not to lose the Rubicon this time.”

  I struggled to wrap my mind around the beating thing, while thinking about the fact that Lucian was okay with doing that. Any attraction I had once felt disappeared in a flash. I didn't fancy him so much anymore.

  “Told you it sounds nuts, but I take my hat off to the ones who want to claim a Chromatic dragon if they're not dents. They said when the Chromatic is go
od they'll do anything for their Dragonian. No matter how crazy the task is.”

  “So basically they let their Dragonians abuse them and then let them take advantage of them after the fact. Sounds like a match made in heaven.”

  “Elena, you make it sound so . . . evil.”

  “Becky, it is!”I could feel my voice rising, though I wasn’t really upset with her.

  “No, it's not. Look, they don't get beaten on a daily basis. Only when they really need to control their evil selves, and on this side, we grow up knowing that Dragonians don't always get the ability they want. If fate messed up and we get the ability that matches one of the Chromatic dragons, we know what needs to be done. They'll let their Dragonian know when the dark in them becomes too much to control.” She was trying to get me to understand the situation from her view.

  “I don't understand,” I said solemnly, refusing even to consider the situation as anything other than abuse.

  “Dragons know what it takes to stay good. Why do you think Sammy has different classes than us? She learns other stuff.”

  “So the dragons want their Dragonians to beat them?”

  “Only the Chromatic dragons, and yes, they truly love their Dragonians for helping them stay good. It's not a cruel game, nor do we enjoy it. So please, don't go start a group against dragon abuse.”

  “They really beg their Dragonians?”

  “It's not that difficult to grasp, Elena, believe me, the Dragonian hurts more than the dragon.”

  “The Dragonians don't like beating them?”

  “No, unless they're psychos.”

  I still couldn’t come to terms with the abuse, but I decided I would do as Becky asked. I told her I wouldn't say anything bad about the beatings or bring them up ever again.

  The bell rang and we both jumped. "You ready to go back to class or do you want to stay here?"

  “No, let's go back,” I said, thinking my problems weren't as bad in comparison to some of the others. I would even face another dragon if I had to, but running away was part of my past now. Heaven knows I'd had enough of that.

  Chapter Seven

  I took a deep breath, let it out slowly, and opened the classroom door an inch, peering inside. Becky came up behind me and opened the door wide, nudging me softly in the back to go in. I expected the stares, but a boy in the third row had the nerve to snicker audibly. Becky gave him a sharp glare as she dragged me to the last row. We slipped into the only two chairs available and I sunk inside my seat, wishing I could disappear.

  The tutor at the front of the room paged through his textbook. His youthful appearance reminded me of Professor Mia and Sir Edward.

  Becky leaned in to whisper. “Professor Gregory graduated a couple of years ago from Dragonia. He's one of the smartest humans ever.”

  “Welcome to Anatomy, Elena,” Professor Gregory said. You okay he mouthed, and I nodded carefully, not appreciating the extra attention he directed my way.

  “If I ever catch anyone pulling the stunt George did earlier this afternoon, I swear, you'll wish you'd never hatched.”

  The air was sucked from the room as the class went silent.

  Hatched? I frowned at his word choice.

  “Open your books to page three fifteen,” he said.

  The sound of pages turning carried on for ten seconds. A picture of a dragon standing next to a human took up the whole page. For the love of blueberries, the ratio between them was way off and it looked terribly unrealistic.

  Run, Forest, Run. I bit the inside of my mouth and stifled a laugh.

  “Dragons come in different sizes and colors. They start out as eggs, which can be anywhere between one to four feet in length.” Professor Gregory picked up a huge egg with a gritty, rocky surface. The harsh lights of the hall cast an eerie glow creating a funny greenish shine. He handedit to the blonde girl in the front row to pass around when she'd finished with her inspection. I didn’t want to be anywhere near that thing.

  “Sammy came from an egg?” I asked Becky in a whisper.

  “Yup.”

  “A dragon's wingspan can reach up to 170 feet.”Professor Gregory’s voice echoed through the lecturing hall. “A dragon's eye has a large iris and a vertical pupil, just like a cat's eye. Can anyone tell me why?”

  “I'm sure Riley knows,” Becky whispered.

  I knew cats because I had fed a lot of strays during our life on the run; it was easier than making friends I would just have to keep leaving. I lifted my hand tentatively. Becky and Professor Gregory looked surprised.

  “Elena?”

  The entire class turned around and stared at me. You could have heard a pin drop, it was so quiet.

  “Well, if it's the same as cat's eyes, then the pupils can open wider to admit more light,” I said, not quite sure of my answer.

  He smiled. “You're right. Well done.” He threw a candy bar in my direction.

  “He's lecturing with chocolate bars too,” Becky said.

  “The white of a human’s eye is often a different color than a dragon's. It can be yellow, gold, green, orange, red or even silver. It's protected by a leathery outer eyelid and three smooth inner eyelids. The innermost membrane is crystal clear and protects the eye from damage while the dragon flies.” He drew a picture of an eye on the blackboard and pointed to the various parts. “The other two eyelids mainly serve to keep the eye clean. They're not as thick or clear as the innermost membrane. A dragon can use these inner lids to protect its eyes from sudden flashes of bright light.”

  The chalk made a screeching noise on the black board, and everybody cringed.

  Professor Gregory chucked the chalk into the trashcan and grabbed another one. “Sorry,” he said, and pulled a face.

  The class laughed.

  We covered dragon eyes over the next hour. I had never enjoyed a class this much before. Whenever I gave Becky the huh-look her whispered answer got me back on track again.

  The bell rang and everyone jumped out of their chairs. Becky grabbed my books and put them in her backpack. “The first thing we're going to get you tomorrow is a backpack.” She threw the strap over her shoulder.

  “Sorry, do you want me to carry that?” I asked, seeing her struggle slightly under the weight.

  She waved me off. “I don't want you to pull another muscle.”

  Everything in my body still ached. I complained as I looked at the steps that led to the dorms.

  She laughed and started to push me. If I thought Becky didn’t notice my soreness I’m sure she did by the time we got to our room.

  As we entered, we found Sammy lying on her bed. She had a sour pout on her face and didn't look very happy.

  I fell on top of mine,while Becky headed for the bathroom. I wasn’t very good at starting conversations, other than bickering with Dad. He must have missed Paegeia so much. I lay on my bed, staring at the patterns on the ceiling until Sammy broke the silence.

  “Elena, I'm so sorry about what George did,” Sammy apologized, getting up from her bed, and coming over to mine. She looked at me and sighed. I could see the guilt weighing heavily on her shoulders.

  I nodded my head the way Constance used to with Master Longwei.

  She sat softly on top of my bed.

  “Hey, don't blame yourself, Sammy,” I said, letting her off the hook.

  She shook her head, looking at the pillow clutched tightly in her arms. “He gives us dragons a crappy name. Not all of us are like him, honest.”

  “I know and I'm fine. I have to admit, I came close to a heart attack, but Becky made me feel better.”

  “Do you understand now why we call my brother a jerk?”

  “Wait, your brother asked him to do that?” I remembered someone had whistled before the dragon ran away.

  “I heard Toby, a boy in my class, giving Blake the credit. He's so mean and I'm terrified of what's going to happen if nobody claims him.” Tears welled up in her eyes.

  “Hey, I only learned about all this Dragon stuff t
oday but I know you need to have faith. Everything will work out the way it's supposed to happen.”I wasn’t sure what to say so I gave her Dad's advice; I only wish it had worked out better for him.

  The corner of her mouth curved slightly, and then she grabbed me around my neck, pulling me to her chest. When she released me her dimples showed. “We can be BFF. But Becky comes with the package, no exceptions.”

  “I like Becky, and thank you for trying to tell me everything in an hour. The two of you have a mean crash course.”

  She giggled. “We just wanted to get you up-to-date with everything in Paegeia. Tomorrow, I'm sure you'll learn more. The city of Elm is full of stories,” she said cryptically.

  Becky came out of the bathroom and sat down on the bed next to us. “Are you ready? Sammy and I want to show you a special spot.”

  I was tentative to leave my room again, but my curiosity won out. They took me back to the steps, which took us a decade to descend because of my stiff knees.

  A dozen students carrying suitcases chatted loudly with each other in the lobby.

  “Spoiled brats,” Sammy said. “I don't think they've ever spent a weekend in Dragonia.”

  “They're going home?”

  “Only for the weekend.”

  Becky struggled with the wooden door again. “A little help, please.”

  “Hold on, drama queen, before you end up losing an arm,” Sammy said, and pulled the door open without effort.

  She's strong, must be a dragon thing. My conscience shrugged internally, as if the dragon facts didn't bother us anymore.

  We slipped through the opening and entered the school grounds.

  Sammy went back to being playful and bumped Becky softly. I'm glad she didn't feel bad anymore. I loved how fast she got over things.

  We ran into Blake next to the stairs. He was making out with Tabitha, and they made no effort to hide what they had been doing.

  Sammy turned into a ferocious beast when she saw them, stalked up to her brother, and pushed him away, interrupting their make-out session. “You're such an asshole, Blake.”

  He just laughed, which made my legs wobble.

 
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