Here is where I will discover if I am able to follow my own directions! Welcome to chapter 12 of Skeleton key, our Round Robin Blogvel. What is THAT, you ask? Well, let me tell you! I was not originally scheduled to write a chapter in the middle, but a participant had to bow out, and I decided to write the chapter rather than rearranging the entire schedule. Also, I am loving the story so much I couldn’t resist the chance to write an extra chapter. I am very self-indulgent that way.
And the blogvel has been one of the highlights of my summer–which could mean that my summer is lame, but which I believe means the blogvel is awesome! If you have been hiding under a rock and have missed Skeleton Key up until now, you can read the first chapter here. Last week’s chapter can be found at Words from the Woods. And now, drumroll please . . .
Skeleton Key, Chapter 12
My eyes flew open when Ax’s claws dug into my waist. I barely had time to panic before the world exploded. Heat tore through me, every joint and muscle and bone an inferno of agony. I opened my mouth to scream.
Flames jetted from between my lips.
I was so startled I fell on my ass. Except my huge, scaled, blue tail stopped me from falling.
I looked down at myself. Yep. I was a freakin’ dragon. And so was Ax, and he was diving at me, mouth open, claws extended.
I snapped. He’d HURT me! Before I could think about it, I tackled him. He fought back, and I got a sharp, stinging swipe across my cheek before I pinned him under me. I froze in shock.
Ax-the-dragon stopped roaring. His eyes–still the same beautiful amber as always–gazed up at me, wide and unblinking. Smoke curled in leisurely spirals from between his huge teeth. My heart, bigger and heavier now, strained against my chest, and I felt his under me, beating just as fast. All the tension left his body, but I didn’t let him go.
I wasn’t sure I knew how, come to think of it.
I’m sorry Rebecca.
Oh hell no. No no no no no, that was not Ax’s voice in my head–
Sorry, but I’m afraid it is.
What the fuck, Ax?
It’s a dragon thing.
I’d never heard Ax sound apologetic before. Usually he sounded smug, or angry, or condescending. But the tone of his thoughts weaving through mine was very, very contrite.
How do I change back?! I thought at him, and a thicker puff of smoke emitted from his snout as he made a wheezy sound that I assumed was a dragon chuckle.
Just try to relax, and you should shift back without thinking about it.
Sure. Relax, no problem.
He wheeze-laughed again. Stupid dragon mindmeld. I held up one claw in an unmistakable gesture, and Ax laughed harder, a jet of flame spouting into the air. Then he closed his eyes and started to hum.
I’d felt his hum as a human, but apparently I was much more sensitive to it now. The vibrations thrummed through me, and I closed my eyes and let the tension flow away.
Unfortunately the humming also kicked my libido up to dragon-sized proportions. This was ridiculous. And what was I going to tell Dex? So, it seems I’m some kind of shape-shifter. I’m going to have to cancel our date on Saturday night. Because I met this dragon and he says I’m his mate and . . . well, let’s just say I never shape-shifted into a newt-collecting Trekkie from kissing you, so I figure that this thing with Mr. Hot and Scaley is more . . . significant?
Yeah, that’d go over big.
He’ll get over you, Ax’s mental voice reassured me.
I made a sound that definitely couldn’t come from human me.
He is not worthy of you. He does not arouse your passions.
Are you sorting through my memories? That is NOT okay.
Ax! Cut it out!
I will teach you how to read my memories, he said. Someday when this is all over. Now, try to relax.
I breathed deep and let the thrumming soothe me again, letting my mind go blank.
Becoming human again wasn’t like exploding. It was like getting a really intense shiatsu massage, everything pushed and poked back into place. When I opened my eyes, my skin looked like it usually did, and Ax was standing in front of me, back in his human form.
“Well, that was something,” he said, and I was surprised at how happy I was to hear his human voice.
I was even happier to see him back in his human skin. Of course I also really, really wanted to smack him, but I was afraid that would make him sprout scales again.
“I should thank you,” he continued. “Not many things can stop a dragon from losing control like that.”
I waved a nonchalant hand. “No problem. I morph into a dragon to snap my boyfriends out of violent fits of scaliness all the time.”
My phone rang. Good to know technology survived the transformation, even if my mother was the last person I wanted to talk to. I put the phone back in my pocket.
“So what do we do now?” I asked.
My cell rang again. Mom never was one to give up. I groaned and answered the phone.
“Hey mom,” I said, forcing myself to sound casual.
“Beck? I’ve been trying to reach your sister for hours, have you heard from her?”
“I saw her earlier,” I said. “I know she had a big photo shoot today. She probably got tied up.” And tortured. And interrogated.
“Ashley never turns off her phone.”
“She was fine when I saw her. Look, this is a bad time. I’m getting ready to go out.”
I paused just a little too long before I said, “Yeah, with Dex.”
“Rebecca Nadine Winthrop, what aren’t you telling me?”
Anger flashed through me. Was it the shape shifting making me so volatile, or my unsatisfied hormones?
“Nothing compared to what you haven’t been telling me all of my life,” I said, my voice low and trembling.
Ax stepped closer, placing a hand on my shoulder. His humming was as restful as waves on a beach. My life was not what I’d thought it was this morning.
“What do you mean?” my mom finally asked.
“Oh, come on, mom. Don’t play dumb.”
She sighed, and I heard the rush of a faucet turning on, the clink of dishes. My mom always started cleaning when she got stressed out or nervous.
“Okay, you’re adopted. Is that what you wanted?”
“Ashley and I are adopted?”
She sighed again, and the clink-slosh of dish washing grew louder.
“We found you on the doorstep in the middle of the night. We had just moved into the neighborhood; we hadn’t even unpacked our boxes yet.”
“Ashley and I are adopted?” I said again, but she ignored me.
“You looked so different then. You had all this black hair and big, brown eyes. You couldn’t have been more than a year old, and you were so sweet. It was so late at night, we decided not to call the police until morning.”
“We both had blonde hair, mom–I’ve seen the pictures.”
“Ashley was sound asleep when we put you in her crib. By dawn the two of you were snuggled up close–and all your hair had turned blonde and wispy just like Ashley’s. We decided not to notify the authorities. We didn’t want them doing awful things to you like they did in that E.T. movie, and Ashley adored you right away. You looked just like her within a week.”
She sniffed. I heard the squeak of a sponge moving against glass.
“We just acted like we’d always had twin girls, and no one ever questioned us. We had to fake some papers to get you into school, but you were worth the risk and the money.”
I couldn’t think of a response. I stood still with Ax’s hand on my shoulder and his hum lulling my body, but my mind raced around in denial and speculation until I finally settled on the detail that seemed most important.
“Ashley’s not my sister?”
“Of course she is, honey. It’s just, she’s human and you . . . well, you’re not.”
“And you didn’t think maybe I’d want to know about this?”
“You never exhibited any strange tendencies after that first night, and we didn’t want to damage your developing self-esteem by telling you you were some kind of freak.”
I thought of the words I’d spat at Ax. I’m normal. Not some freak.
“Mom I . . . I have to go. I can’t . . . I’ll call you later.”
I hung up, and took a long time programming my phone to direct my calls to voicemail. It kept me from having to look at Ax. If I blinked hard I could keep the tears from leaking out of my eyes.
“Rebecca.” His voice was gentle.
I shook my head. “Just about got this, hang on.”
He used the hand on my shoulder to pull me against him and wrapped his other arm around me.
“I’m not human.”
“That is not new information.”
“But my family IS human. They’re not like me.”
“I never believed they were. Even if Ashley was a chameleon, she would be nothing like you. No one is.”
I wiped my face surreptitiously on his shoulder before looking up at him. “We really have to save her now. And what was it you said about Skynjar?”
His body stiffened. Was he going to freak out and go all dragony again? But he breathed slowly and moved a hand up and down my back in a way that made me wonder when we’d have a chance to get to the mating part of being mates.
“I saw him. I think it was a projection of himself. But he said he’s been poisoned.”
“Was it Angelica?”
He shrugged, and caressed my hair. “I do not know if my brother has actually been harmed, or if it was an illusion produced by Angelica to distract us. But we do know that your sister is in danger, and has no weapons with which to fight. She is clearly our first priority.”
God help me, I was starting to find his stilted, formal English endearing.
“I don’t suppose your brother has a cell phone.”
“No. However . . . the owners of the restaurant in Iceland do. Perhaps they can check on him for me. I have given them messages for him before.”
They didn’t answer. Ax left a message. As he handed me the phone, my stomach growled. I couldn’t remember the last time I’d had anything to eat, or sleep that didn’t involve fainting.
“So . . . now what?” I asked him.
“Now we check the break room of this place for human food. You must eat. Then we rescue your sister, and wait to hear from Skynjar.”
We stepped past a lot of dead bodies to get to the break room. It was a sign of what kind of . . . day? Week? . . . I was having that they didn’t really cause much of a reaction anymore. Ax held my hand. I felt different now, more like a hero in this adventure than a sidekick. Also a little smug that I’d pinned Ax when we were both dragons.
We found some unopened frozen dinners in the freezer, and I put one in each of the two microwaves.
“How are we going to find Angelica?” I asked. “She could be anywhere in any number of dimensions.”
“We don’t have to find her. She’s not very good at torture–she hates to get messy. She’ll take Ashley to Damien; torturing is his specialty.”
“How do we find Damien?”
The microwave dinged, and I pulled out the tray, ripping back the plastic and stirring with a fork. The first bite was ambrosia–and I usually hated frozen dinners.
“I know where Damien is. He was exiled to Berger, Missouri. Population 201.”
“It was the worst place we could think of.”
I choked on my last bite of food.
He thumped my back. “There is one thing we must do before we go. Though Angelica cannot control the gate entirely, until you claim it, she can exert a certain amount of influence–like sending illusions to torment whoever is in the embassy. You still have the key?”
I touched the key in my pocket and nodded.
He held out his hand.
“I’ll show you,” he said. “And Rebecca? You’re going to have to be brave.”
Tune in next week, when Chelsea of Lucid Rose will take the reins! And thanks for reading.