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Authors: Dina von Lowenkraft

Dragon Fire (4 page)

BOOK: Dragon Fire
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“We’re only supposed to find out if Jing Mei is Paaliaq. And trap her if she is.”

Dvara scoffed. “Scared of Mommy and Daddy? Or do you think Yarlung had Khotan give me back my rök but didn’t expect us to act independently and kill Paaliaq?”

Rakan didn’t answer. Dvara was impulsive and headstrong. She didn’t have the self-control it would take to set up a successful attack against a dragon as powerful, and experienced, as Paaliaq. Especially since they’d have to neutralize Haakaramanoth first.

“They’ve trained us to kill. And you know it,” Dvara continued. “Khotan is too old, and even when he was young he was no match for Paaliaq. He’s a strategist, not a warrior. He’d be dead before the fight started.”

Rakan agreed. And he wasn’t about to let his father fight Paaliaq. But what Dvara didn’t realize was that she wouldn’t last any longer than Khotan. She had no training in controlling her rök by herself and it would be easy for a more experienced dragon to take it if they morphed into their dragon forms. And they’d have to morph to kill Paaliaq. “Let’s go,” he said, impatient with the whole situation. He could feel the other two shapeshifting dragons nearby. And one was radiating so much energy it felt like a gong pounding across an open plain. He had never felt anything like it. Pure raw energy. It could only be the elusive Paaliaq.

“I’m ready, but you’re not,” Dvara said. “You forgot your colored contact lenses.”

* * *

Anna wasn’t surprised to see the schoolyard nearly empty. Most people went into one of the student lounges when it was below zero out. But June was outside, as usual. Anna smiled. June often acted more Norwegian than many of the students who had grown up in Tromso, and it was easy to forget that she was an exchange student from California. They were the same age and had quickly become friends even though June was in the third year and Anna in the second.

“I’m glad you’re back.” Anna gave her friend a hug. “Did you see the e-mail about the extra handball practice tonight?”

June turned and showed Anna her sport bag. “Wouldn’t miss it for the world.” She laughed and then paused. “I just wish Lysa was feeling better.”

Anna felt a pang of guilt and looked away. She hadn’t even tried to contact Lysa and probably should have. Because even though they’d had a falling out before the avalanche, Anna was sure that Lysa needed all the support she could get. Fritjof had been her boyfriend. “I’ll try to call her later.”

“She won’t answer. Her family thought she needed some more time. They won’t be back for another week or two.” June didn’t sound too happy about it, but then again, June was dating Lysa’s brother, Erling.

“I’ll leave a message.” Anna looked at her watch. “We should go – the bell’s about to ring.”

She turned to walk toward the main building, but pulled up short when she felt something touch her, as if the wind had grown hands. She backed up, but still felt it. Her palm tingled. “What…?”

June was staring across the schoolyard towards the entrance but snapped back to look at Anna. “You felt that?”

The feeling disappeared. “What was it?”

June didn’t answer. She was leaning against the wall, just as she had been before. Except that she was staring at the gate as if she expected someone to walk in. A little later two students Anna didn’t recognize walked into the schoolyard. They were lithe and graceful, even with their biker boots. They reminded her of black panthers. One male, one female.

Anna watched as they walked nonchalantly towards the main building and disappeared inside. She tried to put her finger on what made them look different. “They didn’t look cold,” she said, suddenly realizing that they hadn’t been wearing hats or gloves. Although the girl had a red scarf.

June laughed and hooked her arm through Anna’s. “No, I’m sure they weren’t.” They walked into the school and merged with the crowd. “See you later,” June said as they were about to separate on the second floor landing. “Oh, wait. I forgot to give you your Christmas present. It’s a Chinese good luck charm. Sorry I didn’t wrap it.” June dropped a small jade medallion in Anna’s hands and ran up to the third floor where the third year students had class.

Anna stopped to look at the delicate green medallion as the stairwell emptied. It was beautiful, and so detailed that the dragon looked like it should come alive. It looked a little like a serpent, except that it had four feet – each with five claws. Anna smiled, the emerald dragon’s ferocious face made it look like a protective guardian. She wrapped her hand around it. It felt alive, just like her stone used to feel. She sat on the stair and put it on her necklace with the golden heart that her father had given her when she was little. He had said it would keep her safe. And she had always wished she had given it to him when he had gone on his expedition. He had needed it more than she did.

“Oh, Anna – are you alright?” Mrs. Johansen, the school’s librarian-like secretary, came up the stairs followed by the two new kids. “You’re going to be late for class.”

Anna tucked her necklace back under her turtleneck and scrambled to her feet. “I’m on my way.” But she just stood there, watching.

The secretary turned to the dark-haired girl. “Dawa, this is Anna Strom. She’s also in the second year, but in the other homeroom. She plays on the Tromso handball team.”

Anna smiled and held out her hand, but Dawa averted her eyes.

“Anna, this is Dawa’s brother, Pemba Ngari,” continued Mrs. Johansen. “He’ll be in the third year.”

When Anna met Pemba’s gaze, she felt a tingle around her. As if invisible hands were trying to touch her. She looked around wondering where it was coming from and then focused back on Pemba. There was something familiar about him, but she was certain she had never seen him before. She would have remembered him with his dark-toned skin and pitch black hair that was pulled back from his face, showing off his high cheek bones and broad forehead. He had an animal-like quality that made him seem pulsingly alive. And she liked it.

“Can you take Dawa to her homeroom while I bring Pemba up to the third floor?” asked Mrs. Johansen. “And maybe you can show Dawa around during lunchtime – she was asking about handball. Alright, shall we?”

“What? Yes, of course,” Anna said, still staring into Pemba’s eyes. They were brown, like all Asians she had ever seen, but somehow on Pemba it looked wrong. She watched as Mrs. Johansen escorted Pemba upstairs, mesmerized by the slow movement of his long black braid that twitched like a tail. Finally she turned to Dawa, who was waiting patiently next to her.

“When did you arrive?” Anna asked as they walked down the second floor hall. She glanced at Dawa who had some of the same look as Pemba. But whereas Pemba felt like he was ready to fly into action, Dawa felt like a delicate flower.

“This morning,” said Dawa, her voice neutral.

“From Tibet?”

Dawa gave a faint nod that Anna couldn’t decipher.

“Did you play handball there?”

“Yes.”

“Well, we have practice this afternoon.” Anna wondered how Dawa could play handball if she was so shy. “You can come watch.”

“Can I play?”

“I don’t know,” Anna said, eyeing Dawa again. She knocked on the door to Dawa’s new homeroom and introduced her. “I’ll come pick you up for lunch,” she said and went across the hall to her own homeroom.

“Sorry I’m late,” she said to her teacher, Berit Knudsen, who was also the local team’s handball coach. “I was with the new girl who wants to join the team.”

“I didn’t know we were expecting any new students,” said Coach Knudsen. “Where was she playing before?”

“In Tibet. Somewhere.”

A couple of the other students laughed. Coach Knudsen raised her hand. “That’s enough. Anyone who wants to play is welcome. Remember that. Anna, take a seat.”

Anna took out her books, trying to imagine Dawa playing handball. But couldn’t. Gymnastics maybe. But not handball. Pemba, on the other hand, looked like he should play. He was as tall as her cousin Red, but not as massive. His movements had been fluid and powerful. Effortless, even. Like he could hang in the air as he was about to throw the ball… but there was something disconcerting about his eyes. They hadn’t seemed natural. Or maybe it was their hypnotic effect that made her want to run her hands up his chest and rip off his shirt… Anna’s heart raced as her thoughts caught her by surprise.

Anna wrapped her hand around the jade pendant and forced herself to focus, blocking everything – especially Pemba – out of her mind.

* * *

Rakan sat on the bleachers of the local sports hall with a group of boys from the high school, wondering just how far he could play with Jing Mei – or June as they called her here. Better to err on the safe side and keep his powers leashed. She had reacted immediately that morning when he let his mind wander over the school as clumsily as he could manage, pretending to be an untrained acolyte. But he still couldn’t understand her reaction. She had shielded the human next to her – who had actually reacted to his touch. But Paaliaq was ruthless. She didn’t even care about other dragons, so why would she care about a human? And even more puzzling, how could a human have felt him?

Rakan waved cheerfully to Dvara as she walked onto the court with Anna. He looked seriously at the human girl for the first time. The only thing he remembered about her was her hair that was so pale it looked almost white. And that she was taller than most humans. She had square shoulders and an open face that reflected all her emotions – which she didn’t even try to hide. And right now she was confused. Rakan watched her as she introduced his sister to the others and then started to warm up. She was agile and athletic and he found himself absorbed by her movements. Finally, she turned and returned his stare. He looked away, only to meet June’s eyes. He felt a heady rush of her power and wondered how he had let himself be caught off guard. He hadn’t even felt her come out of the locker room. At least it would help confirm the disguise that they were putting up of being untrained. He pushed his curiosity about Anna out of his mind. All they needed to know was why she was important to June. Nothing else.

The girls began a game and Rakan let his mind roam around the gym. He had already identified most of the people there from school, but there were a few others, including the couple that had brought June. He let his mind wander back to them. The guy had the bulky mass of an Old Dragon and Rakan had already checked him several times, but he didn’t have a rök or a Maii-a and his trail was typically human. Rakan turned away – they were involved in each other and totally unaware of his presence. Just like all the other humans. He let his mind wander even farther. He hadn’t felt the other dragon since they had arrived. It was as if he had vanished, leaving Jing Mei inexplicably alone.

Confused and frustrated by the male dragon’s disappearance, Rakan focused back on the handball practice. He could feel Dvara’s thrill as she played. Jing Mei – June, he reminded himself – was goalie and Dvara was attacking. Rakan smiled as his sister played, gently increasing the pressure of her attacks that June blocked easily. But then June began to let some balls slip by on purpose. She had backed off. Rakan sat up. If Jing Mei was Paaliaq she would never have allowed an apparent novice to think she could get by her defenses. Or was it part of her disguise?

Chapter 3
Questions

O
BLIVIOUS TO THE COLD, RAKAN SAT
perched in the open window of their apartment, watching the street below. He liked picking out each person’s scent from the many interwoven trails spread out everywhere. Tracing where they had been and where they went. It was a huge three dimensional maze that was in constant flux. And being so close to the center of it made the small arctic town seem like a living animal of pulsing threads.

“It doesn’t make sense,” Dvara said, interrupting his tracking. “Did you see her eyes? They’re blue. Cobalt blue. But Paaliaq is green.”

“Maybe she isn’t Paaliaq.” The thought had been nagging him all day.

“Don’t be stupid, Rakan.”

“Then she’s wearing contacts, like we do.”

“No. I checked when we were playing.”

“Then she’s changed color. Yarlung has.”

Dvara snorted. “Yarlung lost her color after Kraal died. It’s not the same thing. And Yarlung’s eyes haven’t really changed; they’ve just become cloudy with her blindness.”

“The only other possibility, if Jing Mei is Paaliaq, is that she’s found a way to change them while she was hiding. Just like she’s managed to make herself feel like a whelp.”

Dvara stared out the other window. Her frustration echoed his.

“If she is Paaliaq she’ll eventually let something slip,” Dvara said after a long pause. “Or we’ll have to find a way to make her slip up and give herself away.”

“Normally whelps love to play,” Rakan said. “So maybe we need to play in front of her and see how she reacts. We can do things like place triggers all over town for each other to set off or disarm.”

“And she’ll have to respond eventually since no whelp would ever resist playing for very long.” Dvara smiled. “And then I can hide a double layer of triggers that no whelp could disarm by herself – and if she doesn’t disarm them, they’ll explode.”

“Exactly.” Rakan felt the thrill of closing in. And then it disappeared. They looked at each other, and knew what they were both thinking, but didn’t want to admit. They had no idea where the other dragon was. Or if there really was only one dragon of her Cairn left. And any dragon linked to Paaliaq would come the moment she was in danger since she was a Kairök and the dragons whose röks she held would die with her unless she had time to release them. It was in their interest to protect her whether she commanded them to or not.

BOOK: Dragon Fire
10.48Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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