Of Dragon Blood (7)

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Morning came slowly. I wasn’t able to sleep at all through the night and it was already starting to wear on me. I dragged myself out of bed and threw on a pair of loose pants and a cloth shirt. I started walking, combing my fingers through my hair.

The kitchen was filled with people young and old. A few I recognized, but the majority were new faces. Small bags were strapped to people’s backs that reminded me of when I first came to Shaleter and what little I had with me. The crowd seemed to be in a line but I couldn’t see where it led to. I continued walking through the crowd, trying to find the rhyme or reason to it. Eventually, I ended up at the back door. I laced up my boots and escaped the din of the house and into the quiet of the forest.

Birds chirped out a lovely tune and a creek ran by the edge of the meadow. I sat down on my signature rock sticking out a few inches into the water. The creek splashed up around my feet while I concentrated. When I’m alone, I try to control the first ability I discovered. The fire seemed to come and go as it pleased, only occasionally coming when I called. In one hand I held a pine stick and the other was bare. A few minutes of concentration and nothing came to my fingertips. Just before I was about to give up, a new sensation spread over my limbs. This new feeling was especially strong on my fingertips. It was like a blanket of coldness was laid on my body, but it wasn’t cold. More like if tranquility had a physical feeling.

Slowly, my eyes opened again. Dancing on my arms were electric blue flames. They sparkled and crackled with heat.  I sat there for a time, wide-eyed and curious. I tried to transfer the fire to the stick. But as soon as I moved my hand and willed the transfer, the fire fizzled out as quickly as it came, almost sounding like a laugh as it faded. I groaned and laid down on my rock. No matter how hard I tried, the fire would not respond to me. Swirling my hand in the water below, I tried to catch up on some sleep. Apparently, sleep was another ability that refused to listen to me.

I watched the sky for hours, watching the sun rise from behind the mountains to straight above me. The heat beating down was becoming unbearable, so I retreated into the forest. Familiar shrubs press against my legs as I begin running. The fresh air of trees always refreshed my senses. Weaving in and out of tall bushes and trees, I ran to the tallest tree. It stood out so tall that it could easily be seen by people miles out. Climbing it was another one of my hobbies.

My running head start propelled me into the tree and high enough so I could grab the first branch. It didn’t take me long to climb above the tree line, having months of practice behind me. I climb even higher, higher than I usually do. Pretty soon, I can see the whole forest. I wasn’t quite at the top, but my breath was coming in short gasps. It felt so free to be up here, away from civilization and expectations. Sometimes I just want to stay here for days, breathing the fresh air and memorizing cloud patterns. What keeps me from staying longer is the scorch marks my back is rested on.

My moment of relaxation is shattered as I scan the tree around me. Burn marks stretch across the trunk and the limbs. They were clearly new because I could smell the burnt wood. Slowly and a little panicked, I climbed down. Taking one leap at a time, I neared the ground. Before I ducked below the tree line, an enormous sound screamed across the leaves. Birds flew from the forest and I immediately looked toward Shaleter’s clearing. All that was there was a sunburst of red and orange. Screams echoed as I scrambled down the rest of the tree and hit the ground running back to the flaming meadow.

People were running in all directions, most in the direction of the roads. The house was still on fire, though the initial explosion was done. I didn’t care for my own safety and charged in. Jumping through a shattered window, I hastily look back and forth. I charged forward, past splintered beams and burning wood. I ran into the kitchen and saw the frozen box and the floor. White sparks crackled and sputtered. I pushed past and looked for any remaining people. I heard coughing from the next and immediately sprinted to whoever it was.

When I dropped to a knee beside the victim, I realized who it was. Shaleter lay on the floor, coughing up blood and dust.

In the softest voice I’ve ever heard, he spoke, “Airainne, please, rebuild this place. Make it a home to those who lost theirs.”

With the forced smile, no matter how small it was, I said, “You speak like you’re on your death bed.” He tried to laugh but coughed instead. He clenched his stomach and I looked to see what was hurting him.

“Shaleter, no. No, no, no. Please, you can’t leave me!” Tears begin streaming down my cheeks, washing away streaks of ash on my face. He never responded and his body went limp in my arms. I let the tears fall more and laid down. At that moment, I didn’t care that I was in a burning house and I stayed there for several hours, long after the last flames were put out by a storm.

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