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       Firebolt, p.8

           Adrienne Woods

  When the bell chimed nine times, we returned to our dorms. We said goodbye to Lucian by the stairs and I wished him a lovely weekend. I sure viewed things differently after our talk. A fuzzy feeling inside my chest rose whenever he jumped inside my mind, especially his brilliant smile.

  I still had one lingering question on my mind as the three of us sat down on Sammy's bed. “Do any of the humans ever get hurt during a claim?”

  “Oh yes, the Chromatic dragons don't give up easily,” Sammy said.

  “Then claiming a dragon can kill you?” I was suddenly afraid for Lucian, since he had just explained to me that he was planning a third attempt to claim Blake.

  “There’s always one of the professors nearby, Elena,”Becky said in an assuring tone.“So when the going gets too rough they jump in.”

  I was just glad they didn't go poof.

  The subject soon changed away from the claiming to their capital city, Etan. Sammy said that creepers had consumed the entire city, along with the nearby villages and farms, on the night of King Albert and Queen Catherine’s death. For the past fifteen years, brave Dragonians had tried to find a way through the creepers. But when they got too close, the creepers became wild and alive, tearing apart everything in their reach. Every year, scientists checked the creepers to measure their growth, but they had yet to find a single one dead. The way the two of them explained it made me think about Jack and the Beanstalk. Becky had her own opinion and believed the Council was wasting their time with science. She believed that only Blake and his true Dragonian would be able to pass, like the Viden had prophesied when Blake's egg hatched. But since his true Dragonian didn't exist, Etan was lost forever.

  The Viden predicted when Blake's egg hatched, that his Dragonian would be from King Albert and Queen Catherine's bloodline.

  “They died before producing an heir and with that, my brother's only chance at getting claimed.”

  “Oh, Sammy, you can't say that,” Becky said, giving her a side hug as Sammy's eyes sparkled with tears.

  She sighed and wiped her eyes with the back of her hand. “The Viden has never been wrong, Becky,” she said in a soft, sad tone.

  Trying to lighten the mood the conversation changed to the Viden. She was three hundred years-old, but her human body was still relatively young. The boys attending Dragonia Academy drooled over her. Sammy explained to me how vain she was and how the Viden had a fondness for only her famous fore-tellings, like Blake. He saw her at least twice a week.

  When the clock chimed eleven, we called it a night.

  I struggled to go to sleep even though I was so exhausted my cells hurt. I wasn’t sure if it was all the information my mind was trying to processor the new bed. I shivered, thinking of what the other side would do if they discovered that dragons were real. Humans had the tendency to destroy everything they didn't understand. They wouldn’t even consider a truce

  I hoped Constance was right about the wall and that it would never lose its power, otherwise Paegeia could be in serious danger. I said a small prayer to keep us safe as I drifted off to sleep.

  Chapter Nine

  The next day I had the pleasure of discovering just how much Becky loved her alarm clock. She hit the snooze button at least a million times until it fell off the nightstand and crashed to the floor.

  Sammy jumped on Becky. “Wake up sleepy head, or else we're leaving without you!”

  Becky growled, but reluctantly got out of bed. I laughed as she struggled to wake up even as we were leaving our room.

  We found Master Longwei at the main entrance. He was busy unlocking the gate.

  The gate I love and hate all at the same time.

  “He really needs help with his fashion choices. Those ankle shorts are so last season. Not to mention his ancient Hawaiian shirt,” Becky said, critically as if she was the fifth member of Fashion Police.

  “It's not so bad,” Sammy said.

  Becky rolled her eyes. “Sammy, no offense, but if I didn't tell you what to wear every day, you'd be dressed like a circus clown.”

  “My choices aren't that bad, I just love color.”

  I smiled, feeling at home with these girls. Dad jumped into my mind again, and a lump rose in my throat as I thought about how many of their mannerisms aligned with his.

  “Good morning girls.” Master Longwei greeted us as he swung the gate open. “How did your first day go, Elena?”

  “I’m still alive.” I swallowed hard, trying to hide my fear. I looked around and found the sky and clouds where buildings and trees should've been.

  “I heard about George. I’m deeply sorry about his behavior and I assure you it will never happen again.”

  “No hassle.” I waved in the air, hoping to change the subject. “Why didn't you tell me you're a dragon?”

  The expression on his face told me he hadn’t expected that question. “I should have known Becky would enlighten you as to what I am.”

  “See it as a little payback. Do you have any idea how hard we had to work to keep Elena from running away?” Becky chirped.

  We all laughed.

  “Are you comfortable with having a dragon for a head master?” he asked hesitantly.

  “It's okay. If it's not too personal, can I ask you another question? How old are you?”

  He grinned. “I'm scared you'll run away screaming. But Elm with all the historic buildings and museums is a good place to stumble onto something like that.”

  “Screaming my head off while running away is so yesterday's news,” I said, injecting more confidence into my voice than I felt.

  He chuckled and watched me carefully as he spoke. “I will be celebrating my four thousand, three hundred, and sixteenth birthday next month.”

  To my surprise, running for the hills didn't pop into my head. I guess the girls’ crash course had worked.

  “That young?” A smile turned up the corners of my mouth.

  My smile soon vanished as I remembered why he was unlocking the gate. My heart started to thump inside my throat and my knees trembled softly as the edge, just a couple of meters past the gate, caught my eye.

  “Close your eyes, Elena,” he said.

  I did as he told me and an image of him transforming into a dragon flashed into my mind.

  My eyes flew open when my feet bumped against a small step.

  “You are such a whuz,” Becky said, already in her seat.

  I found myself standing on the step of a modern carriage with leather couches. A strong lemon aroma hung in the air around us.

  I felt like a 21st-century Cinderella. The windows were tinted; not that I had an urge to look outside anyway. I took a seat next to Sammy as I struggled to tear my eyes away from the finer details of the carriage. Someone had hand-stitched the black couches and the soft dark brown velvet that bedecked the walls gave the carriage a warm ambience.

  Master Longwei took a seat right next to Becky. Our eyes met as mine wandered to the ceiling.

  “So, I heard that you solved the Chef's riddle last night.”

  I nodded and let out a tiny shriek as the carriage lifted off the ground. I grabbed the safety belt and buckled up.

  “Do you like riddles?” He tried to take my mind off the turbulence, but my hands still tightened up into fists.

  "Not really," I spoke fast as the carriage started to stabilize itself once again.

  I took a deep breath but didn't unclench my fists.

  “She got the answer on the first try. We were complaining about the horrible food when she just blurted out the answer,” Becky said.

  “Speak for yourself, I like Chef's cooking,” Sammy snapped.

  “You mean those disgusting leaves you're always eating?”

  “Vegetarian is a life choice.”

  “Sammy, you're the first dragon I know that's a vegetarian.”

  Sammy stuck out her tongue at Becky.

  “My intuition tells me Chef is going to make a lot of junk food,” Master Longwei said.

  I just smiled nervously.

  As the turbulence returned I began to wish the ride would end. I closed my eyes tight. Elm had better be worth this horrible ride. A soft nudge in my rib cage made my eyes fly open. I saw Sammy nodding earnestly toward the exit.

  Becky crouched in front of me and shook her head as she prepared to disembark.

  We landed in the woods near a narrow path. My eyes automatically searched for what had pulled the carriage. I should've known I would find: two big-ass dragons.

  I quickly followed the others down the path to a small village. We didn't have to wait long before a tram came into sight. "You have normal transport too?" I asked half mockingly.

  Sammy giggled, and Becky ushered me onto the tram. The conductor greeted Master Longwei with a firm handshake, and they started to talk. For the first ten minutes I tried to figure out whether the conductor was a dragon or not, but curiosity vanished the minute we entered the city.

  It reminded me of New York mixed with Venice. People walked on the sidewalks with dogs, and a few even drove around in little mobile carts. We passed a fountain where a couple was tossing in loose coins. Next to the fountain, an artist worked his magic on an easel, reproducing the beautiful scenes around him.

  Shops started flashing by, and the streets buzzed with more and more people. As the road narrowed, I was surprised to see more conventional transport: bicycles and motorcycles. A touch of home.

  The tram came to a halt in front of a big mall with coffee shops dominating the area around it. People drinking coffee and reading newspapers occupied the sidewalk tables. When others greeted Master Longwei ubiquitously, he simply nodded and smiled back politely.

  “Give,” Becky said, hand open and her palm facing up.

  “Oh no, I am not going to be fooled this time, young lady. Here is money. My credit card isn't safe between the two of you,” he said. I sensed this wasn't the first time he'd asked Becky to run errands for him. He gave her paper money that had horizontal patterns printed on them. “I will meet you by the carriage at three o'clock. Three o'clock, Rebecca.” He gave her a knowing stare with his eyebrow arched, letting us know he meant it. “Good luck, Elena.” He smiled and then walked toward one of the coffee shops.

  Becky grabbed my wrist and pulled me towards the store with the same name that was on the label of my jeans: Twiggs.

  “If you buy from Twiggs you will never be out of fashion,” Sammy explained excitedly. “Lucky for you, Becky has a good eye for what goes together and what doesn't.”

  “Thank you girl.” Becky glowed from Sammy's compliment as we entered through a revolving door.

  Inside the store was a nightmare. I had never changed so many times in one day, but I have to admit, Becky did have an eye for fashion.

  As the pile of clothes on the counter grew, I began to worry whether we had enough cash or not, but the three bills offered to the cashier seemed to do the trick.

  Sammy carried most of the bags, which looked so unnatural.

  I thought we were done and was walking back toward the coffee shops, when Becky pulled me into another store. “Weatherly's and Co.” was written in big green letters above the door.

  “This is Lucian's favorite store,” Becky said, and her smile made me wonder if she didn't have a thing for him. Not that I blamed her.

  Inside, the sight took my breath away. Swords, axes, fighting hammers, whips—even the one with the long chain and ball at the end—and a variety of shields were displayed on rows of shelves that made my mouth drop.

  Plenty of little boys admired the swords, with their little hands tucked behind their backs. They made me smile as I realized it didn't matter where you grew up, every boy dreamt about being a knight.

  We walked past two boys sparring playfully. One of the boys pretended to be a knight, the other one a dragon, and not just any dragon─ the Rubicon.

  Becky, thankfully, took me straight to the vest section.

  “Rebecca Johnson, how is your mother doing?” the clerk asked.

  While she gave me her famous eye roll, she flashed the clerk her beautiful smile. “Oh, she's fine. I'm looking for a vest for my friend. Her name is Elena.”

  The clerk's shoulder-to-hip scrutiny made me uncomfortable.

  He turned around and disappeared into the back.

  “He has a thing for my mom.” Her lack of excitement was obvious.

  “What does your father think about that?”

  “He died when I was really little,” she said nonchalantly.

  “I'm so sorry, Becky.” I always say the wrong stuff.

  “It's cool, Elena. Besides I never knew him.”

  I thanked my lucky stars when the bearded man returned with a small black disk and handed it to me for inspection. I turned to Becky and scrunched up my face with confusion. Reaching out for the small disc she pressed the small green gem located in the center and put it back on the counter. In five seconds, the disk was gone, and in its place was an impressive black vest.

  I picked it up and stared at it. The vest was light with quilted padding on the inside and a rock-hard exterior.

  “What is it?” Becky asked, leaning over my shoulder to take a better look.

  “It's the Samurai Three Thousand. Nice, huh?”

  I glided my fingers over the engravings that decorated the shell-like exterior.

  Becky glanced at the price tag. “This is way too expensive.” She grabbed the vest from my hands and shoved it back at the clerk.

  He disappeared again and returned with another. This disk was more of an oval shape with a delicate blue stone in the shape of a lightning bolt. I cautiously touched the gem and flinched as the new vest appeared in my arms. It didn't resemble the Samurai Three Thousand, but it still looked pretty awesome. The name “Black Bolt” and the number five were engraved on top of the vest's surface.

  “Try it on,” Becky said after she glanced at the tag.

  The vest fitted perfectly, covering all the important areas, and didn't smell like stale sweat, like the one I'd practiced in yesterday.

  Sammy ─ who'd been on her own mission ─ found us as I was adjusting the straps. “That's really nice, Elena.”

  “How does it fit?” Becky asked.

  “I actually feel safe.”

  They both giggled.

  “We'll take it. Can I drop off mine in three weeks for a cleaning?” Becky asked. The clerk assured her it would be fine.

  As he disappeared, something behind Becky caught my eye.

  I gasped.

  “Cool huh?” Becky stood right beside me.

  “I'm going to check the latest gear,” Sammy said, and squeezed past us.

  “Is this armor for dragons?” I asked as we investigated the racks further.

  “Yes,” Becky said. “This section is for the Night Villains. They have to make the armor with special steel because of the acid they breathe. That one at the top is vereautiful. If I had a Night Villain I would buy him that.” She pointed at a shiny silver torso and head armor hanging above our heads.

  We were so engrossed we ended up walking the entire section.

  There was gear for Moon-Bolts, Sun-Blasts and even Snow dragons. By the size of the harness, the Snow dragon was indeed not as big as the others. They came in all the colors of the rainbow and were a variety of different designs. We found Sammy by the Fire-Tail section purring over a black number with silver spiky studs.

  “This would look freaky with my brass color, right?” Sammy looked at Becky for approval.

  “For the first time you might be right, Sammy.”

  We paid for the vest, which was transformed back into the oval disc shape object, and I picked up a pack of playing cards from a small basket by the register. Becky grabbed a pack, winked at me, and tossed it in with the vest.

  I glanced at my watch: five to three. Jeez, time flew when you shopped with friends.

  We caught the tram and reached the woods a couple minutes after three.

  “I sa
id three, Rebecca Johnson.”

  “Oh you can be glad that it's a couple of minutes and not half an hour. Six hours was hardly enough.”

  He grinned. “Did you enjoy your shopping?”

  “Yes, thank you, Master,” I said, and climbed into the carriage. Words couldn't have described how I felt at that moment. I pulled the safety belt over my shoulder, feeling a bit drained from our trip, but giddy from my new purchases.

  I felt sorry for Master Longwei. He had no choice but to listen to Becky babbling about shopping. She even tried to throw in a couple of fashion tips, which made me and Sammy have tosuppress our laughter so we wouldn’t offend.

  I fell on my bed when we finally made it back to our room, immobile.

  Becky opened the pack of cards and handed me one. “It's all the famous people throughout the years. A lot of the young boys and girls collect them.”

  Sammy mumbled something as she picked at a packet of crisps, and delft into it as if she hadn’t seen food for days.

  On one card was a picture of a guy named Theodore Verona, whoever that was. I turned it around and all his stats were listed on the back, like a baseball card. He’d lived in the thirteenth century and wore the title of a knight. They had his number of kills with his victories at the Annual Games. He had slain one thousand and five dragons.

  Becky handed me a second card. It depicted a woman by the name of Delilah. She was a Fire-Tail dragon and must've been the oldest of them all because she celebrated her fourteen thousandth birthday nineteen years-ago. It said King Albert had thrown her a huge party. A third card depicted Sir Chan Wei-Ling, also a dragon, and the General of King Albert's court.

  I froze as I stared blankly at the last one and my mouth fell open. “Are you serious?” I showed Sammy a card of her brother.

  “He's the Rubicon, Elena. That card is extremely rare. You can exchange it for at least ten cards.”

  I guess I still didn't get how famous Blake was.

  “He hates going to town, it's a big mess,” she explained.


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