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Darkbeam part i, p.7
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       Darkbeam Part I, p.7

           Adrienne Woods
 

  I tried to leave. Hell, Mom and Sammy weren’t here. But I couldn’t leave. I grunted. My bones felt like they were going to shatter. I collapsed.

  And then just like that, the pain was gone. I took huge breaths.

  The door opened and I saw the hem of his white trousers and bare feet approaching me on the perfectly manicured lawn. He stopped right next to me, his big toe inches from my eyes.

  “Do you always have to put up such a big fight, Ruby?” Samuel said in his thick Spanish accent.

  My gaze lifted to him. I hated him.

  I got up and prepared to rip off his head—when I froze solid.

  I couldn’t move. It hurt like hell.

  I found a filthy-looking thug staring at me. He had long, dark hair, pale blue eyes, and tattoos from head to toe.

  His lips were moving so fast, I couldn’t make out the words he was saying, though his voice filled the air around me. It increased the pressure on my body.

  Still I fought. Harder. Magic didn’t work on dragons, but here I was feeling every bit of it.

  Samuel laughed. “Ruby, give it up. You can’t beat me. I need this, this fire, this passion. I need it in the ring. If you comply, I promise, your mother and sister will go home unharmed.”

  “Where are they?” I grunted.

  “You don’t believe me?” He touched my face. His hands felt like they might scorch the skin off my face. He nodded over his shoulder. Two water orbs appeared.

  They wobbled in midair. Then they took form. One was my mother. The other, Samantha.

  I knew what this was. This sort of magic was an ancient incantation. Only a formidable sorcerer could pull this off.

  Where had Samuel found such a powerful sorcerer?

  My eyes fell on the guy with dirty hair and tattoos. Is it him?

  The magic—the ability to show my mom and sister like this—required the DNA of the hosts. Samuel had my family.

  Where my father fit into all this, I had no idea.

  “Fight, and I will let them go.”

  I capitulated. “You have a deal. Now release them. Please.”

  He laughed again. “Not so fast, Ruby. You see, I don’t trust you. We have that in common, you and I.”

  I was nothing like him. But he had my family and I wasn’t going to egg him on. I was useless against this magic anyway.

  “I’ll call for you soon. We’ll sign a contract, the kind dragons are compelled to obey.”

  I didn’t like how he said that. A blood contract. He was going to revoke my free will.

  “Now go.”

  “Samuel!” I roared. “If you hurt them!” A strong gust of air blew me back. I struggled to control it. To gain my strength over whatever spell and magic I was up against. I had to find a way to save my mother and sister without selling my soul to the devil himself.

  But it was no use. The magic was too strong.

  When the wind stopped blowing, I found myself in my room. On my bed. I looked around. Lucian’s bed was still empty.

  Was that a dream?

  I got out of bed and without thinking jumped out my window. Dragon limbs replaced my human ones and in two flaps, I was in the air.

  I needed to go home, to Mom. I needed to find her and Sammy safe in their beds. I flapped like I’d never flapped before and pushed forward harder.

  The sun came up as I was en route.

  Eventually the old house came into view. I tuned in. No sounds came from the house, not a peep.

  I landed and transformed back as I raced up the steps in my human form, buck naked and not giving a damn. I flung open the door.

  “Mom! Sammy!” I yelled. No answer came.

  I yelled again.

  “Blake.” Phil. I threw myself at him, ready to strangle him, but the minute I touched his neck, my hands disappeared into his flesh.

  A hologram.

  I grunted.

  Phil laughed. “I warned you. Don’t fuck this up, Ruby. Your sister and mother are depending on you.”

  “Where?”

  “Be patient. I’ll send word with my sister.”

  I growled as his hologram disappeared. I was going to kill my father if anything happened to them. That was my dragon oath.

  The next morning, Monday, Tabitha showed up in my doorway. She still wasn’t happy that I’d never returned that weekend. Without a word, she finally dropped my bag of clothes from that weekend on the floor.

  I was furious with her, with Phil. If I didn’t know her, Phil would’ve never met me.

  “My brother wants you to call him.” She handed me her Cammy. “What does he want, Blake?” She sounded sincere.

  “Don’t. The less you know, the better,” I mumbled. I couldn’t help thinking that she was just the unlucky egg that had been laid in their family.

  She handed me her phone. “Be careful. I love him to bits, but he is really not good company to keep.”

  I took her phone and grunted a thank you. Phil’s contact was easy to find. I dialed his number.

  “Where?” I said as his hologram appeared. His expression changed real fast when he saw it was me.

  “Nine. Tonight at the docks. Don’t be late, Blake. And don’t ever threaten Samuel like that again.”

  I almost choked. Threaten him! He was the one who had captured my family and was holding them hostage.

  The beast inside me acted weird. It should be angry that Samuel had taken his family, but it wasn’t. It loved the idea around me killing dragons.

  I, on the other hand, was livid.

  As crazy as that sounded. I truly felt sometimes like I carried two entities in my body.

  I put the phone down. Phil’s hologram disappeared. I handed the Cammy back to Tabitha. She didn’t say a thing, just put the Cammy in her bag and left.

  I felt bad that she was in the middle of all this. She wasn’t a bad dragon; I just didn’t care as much as she did.

  Nine. Tonight at the docks. I couldn’t be late.

  I left Dragonia around eight. The flight to the docks was a bit of a push, but I landed at five-to-nine near the water’s edge.

  As I pulled on the clothes I’d packed in my pouch, I saw a black limo parked in a shadowy corner.

  Phil climbed out. “You’re late.”

  “Sue me.” I climbed into the limo.

  Samuel was sitting in the backseat and right next to him was the same guy who had wielded dark magic the other night.

  “Where are my mother and sister?”

  “You will see them soon.” Samuel took out a folder.

  I could feel the magic vibrating off the papers. I didn’t like it one bit.

  Samuel grabbed me behind my neck and pulled me toward him. Our faces were inches apart. His breath, which smelled of champagne, tickled my cheek.

  Easy. I calmed myself down.

  “You know I don’t like to wait, Blake,” he grunted.

  “I got here as fast as I could. Technically, I’m on time, you know. I have people watching me,” I said through gritted teeth.

  He let me go.

  He had no idea who he was dealing with. He should be careful. If he didn’t have the only two people I cared about in his custody, that would’ve been his last touch.

  “This is Dimi, short for Dimitri Ramakof.”

  Ramakof... I’d heard that name before. He was a sorcerer. Not as good as Goran, but he loved to tamper with the dark arts. I looked away; letting people know that you are wary of them isn’t always a good thing.

  “As you know by now, Dimi is a master of more than simple spells, Blake. One of them can make you pass as a human if you do your part.”

  “My part?” I asked. “You do know that I’m a dragon, right? We don’t have magic strong enough to enchant things and protect ourselves with spells.”

  “It’s just a small dose of magic,” Samuel said. “One that dragons can master after taking one of Dimi’s potions.”

  “A potion?”

  “One that will bind your other gifts
, Blake. You must choose one right now and stick with that one. During the fights, you will only be able to harness that one ability.”

  I started to chuckle. “You can bind my abilities?”

  “Just for a few hours. We can’t allow anyone to figure out your identity. If they do, well, let’s just say you don’t want them to find out.”

  I nodded. I didn’t want to die. “If I do this, you’ll allow my mother and sister to go free?”

  “Sign the contract and it will be as if this never happened.”

  I squinted. “What do you mean?”

  “They won’t remember a thing. We’ll make sure nobody remembers a thing. And to toss in a freebie, we’ll take your father’s addiction away, give a little bit of him back to your mother and sister. But he won’t remember what he’s done, Blake.”

  A forgetting spell. Heaven knew I wanted just a bit of the old Sir Robert back. I hated the dragon my father had become. I would never trust him again. But my mother and sister needed him.

  I nodded.

  “I never wanted it to turn out this way, Blake,” Samuel said. “Believe it or not, I actually like you—and I don’t like many people. You should’ve just said yes the first time and that would’ve been it. Indeed, you might have even achieved a better bargain than just paying off your father’s debt and protecting your mother and sister. See what stubbornness gets you?”

  I didn’t answer.

  “I want them released tonight. And if you ever come near them…”

  “Sign the contract and I won’t be able to come near them.”

  Dragon magic. This guy was an idiot.

  He handed me the papers and a pen with a razor-sharp end. It was the kind fashioned to slice skin so you could dip the pen in dragon’s blood straight from the veins. I did it. Without even wincing, I dabbed the point of the pen into the blood that formed in the palm of my hand.

  I signed the first page and initialed everywhere he pointed.

  I could feel the magic of this contract binding me to his tournament. To fight for this asshole and to do my best at slaying my own kind. It hurt to write, and it hurt even more to think about. I stopped reading and just signed where I was told.

  When it was done, I grunted.

  The pain that came with it was unbearable. When the deal was sealed with his blood, the pain vanished.

  He picked up his Cammy. A hologram of one of his men appeared. He gave a signal and dropped the Cammy.

  “Arrive at my mansion on Saturday morning. Nine sharp. Dimi has a lot of work to do to hide all of that,” he sneered.

  “Fine. Anything else?”

  He nodded at Dimi. He dug into his back pocket and handed me a slip of paper. “Recite this over and over until it becomes like breathing. All of our lives depend on you not revealing yourself.”

  I took the piece of paper. “Got it.”

  The door opened and I climbed out. I hated everything about that limo.

  Samuel had another thing coming if he thought he owned the Rubicon. Nobody owns the Rubicon. He would’ve found out tonight if I hadn’t needed to negotiate for my mother and sister’s release.

  I hated this feeling. I was bound to magic, to the terms that monster wielded on that contract. It was going to last until the dark magic ran out.

  The limo drove off. The minute Samuel was out of sight, I jumped into the air, transformed, and flew as fast as I could back home.

  I needed to make sure that my family was there. My father, my mother, and my sister. I finally reached the house and hovered high in the air. I tuned in.

  My father’s laughter pierced through the kitchen.

  “Dad, what is that? It looks like some sort of rodent,” Sammy asked.

  “Is it a bunny?” my mother asked in her high-pitched English accent.

  Dad laughed again.

  They were playing a game.

  It sounded like the old Sir Robert. The pathetic Robert was gone. My family finally had some of him back.

  As scaly as Samuel was, I had to give it to him. He was a man of his word.

  I didn’t want to stay, so I turned around and flew back to the Academy.

  For the rest of the week I said those words over and over again.

  I found a book in the restricted area explaining how to use this certain spell. It was exceedingly dangerous. They’d used it in the olden days to interrogate dragons. It was right after they’d discovered we had human forms.

  The potion bound their abilities and then they would do horrendous things to dragons to study them.

  I closed the book.

  I was the Rubicon. I had to be stronger than this.

  But I’d heard things about Dimitri Ramakof. He was as evil and as scaly as they came, putting Samuel in a completely different type of dangerous category.

  Still, I wasn’t scared of him. I needed to be more careful, though. He could become the cage that cost me my freedom.

  I kept saying the words over and over in my mind until they became a part of me.

  Every ounce of my human body told me not to do this, but I needed it. It was what the beast wanted. I had to satisfy its needs at least somewhat, so I could hold on longer.

  Saturday came faster than I thought possible.

  I reached Samuel’s house around half past eight and found Dimitri already busy with the potion.

  Samuel acted the opposite of the night in the limo. He was friendly again. He patted my cheek and brought my head closer to his. “I love punctuality, Blake,” he said, his Spanish accent sharpening the consonants. “You know the spell?”

  I recited it word for word in perfect Latin.

  “Music to my ears.”

  “So when are we going to do this? What time is the fight?”

  Samuel laughed. “That eager? I like.”

  Everyone laughed, Phil included.

  I saw a couple girls passed out on the couch. They were high; white powder dusted the tips of their noses. It didn’t surprise me anymore, but a part of me felt sorry for them.

  I knew the feeling. I’d tasted it once. The high was amazing, the low not so much.

  “When?” I asked again.

  “Your first fight is at three.”

  I frowned. “How many fights do I have today?”

  “Easy, Blake.” Phil got off the couch.

  “Are we having a problem, Blake?” Samuel asked.

  This guy was starting to piss me off. “No, just wanted to know how many times you want me to kill my own fucking kind.”

  His eye twitched. “Okay,” he said. “Five times. Today is an entrance for you. Five times and that is it.”

  I nodded. “That’s all I want to know. Now where do we begin?”

  It took Dimitri five hours to get me ready, to hide from the world who I was.

  The guy looking back in the mirror wasn’t me, but he did everything I did. He had blonde hair and dark eyes that looked evil. His body was covered in tattoos. My birthmark was even gone.

  The stuff Dimi gave me to drink was disgusting and broke my body, or at least that was how it felt.

  I only had access to my acid. The other abilities were bound tight.

  The Mark of the Dragonians was plastered on my lower left abdomen. I hated that mark with a passion because of what it represented.

  “You look ready, Hansel.”

  “You going to go with that?” I looked at Samuel in the mirror.

  “You look like a Hansel. Don’t disappoint me, Blake.”

  “You too,” I spoke back to him. It wasn’t just his ass on the line, it was my ass too. And something told me that not even royalty could get me out of this if things went south.

  Especially since no one knew I was here.

  The arena was deep in the Abysmal. It was where thugs and lowlife scum hung out. My eyes caught on a little girl—five, maybe six—scraping for food in a garbage can.

  Dimi’s eyes were on me. He grunted. I didn’t want him to know that I had a weakness for the poor.
He already knew about my weakness for my family.

  The limo drove into what looked like a sprawling storage facility. Inside was a parking lot.

  We were directed to a private parking zone and parked among other cars—Ferraris, Porsches, and SUVs—that cost more than our home.

  Samuel handed Phil papers that I assumed were forged and probably carried the name of Hansel Borgendorf—my false identity for the tournament.

  Dimitri came with us. Phil went to register me.

  I was taken the area where competitors’ identities and qualifications were vetted. Dimitri was close by and I was surprised that they picked up a strong heartbeat and human anatomy in me.

  He was that good.

  Then we went to the fighting rooms.

  There were athletes of all shapes and sizes. Some shorter than me and some even bigger.

  The hair on my body stood on end; I could tell they truly hated dragons.

  These people never wanted a treaty with the dragons. They’d never wanted to rule alongside them. This was the sort of place King Albert and my father tried to burn down to the ground.

  The black market wasn’t far from here. My scales, the Rubicon scales, were worth more than some of these cars. Yet I wouldn’t trade them for anything. Every spell they were used for if removed from me would reverberate through my being. It was my curse; I would never sell a single scale or the tiniest slice of my organs to the black market.

  My leg started to tap fast as I got dressed and waited for the next part. I looked at my watch. It was a quarter to three. My first fight was at three.

  A part of me was scared. I only had my acid to rely on. I couldn’t even transform.

  Who knew what Dimi had put into that potion. I didn’t want to think about it.

  The time ticked off slowly as the Dragonians or the ones meant to slay dragons chanted and got each other worked up.

  I looked at Phil, who was sitting next to me, staring at them. He didn’t like it any more than I did.

  But I was human now, for all they knew. I had to act human. I could hear a human screaming outside. The crowd went crazy.

  Something told me that the dragons were exactly like the bunch of idiots in front of me. They hated every ounce of humans too.

 
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