[Chapter Twenty Three]
After a heated morning, it was all Olivia could think about as evening set in, layering the sky with different hues of pinks and oranges. She laid on her side, facing away from the dying fire as Rykal came walking in. For some reason, Olivia was annoyed, she felt so irritated that anything and everything got on her last nerve. It was too hot so Olivia took off her sweater, then felt irritated with the grass tickling her arms and laid on the sweater instead. Then she felt cold and the agitated girl threw on her sweater again. Afterward, she felt tired so she laid next to the fire, but it only made her face glisten with sweat and the girl rolled over, taking off her sweater again. She tried falling asleep, but the clenches told her otherwise and Olivia was beyond annoyed and swallowed down the rest of the brew medicine, followed by the remaining water in one bottle. She didn’t bother filling it up and laid down again. Olivia felt exhausted and groggy and tried going to sleep. It didn’t work as much as she hoped when Rykal walked in.
“You seem annoyed,” Rykal stated.
Olivia only grumbled as an answer and curled into a ball. He wasn’t wrong, but he also annoyed her by disturbing her hopeless sleep.
“Are you hungry?” Rykal asked.
“I don’t want fish and I don’t want squirrel,” Olivia muttered, screwing her eyes shut.
She could feel his perplexed gaze fall on her but she ignored it.
“You females have more extreme mood changes than a bipolar male,” Rykal mused.
The girl’s eyes snapped open and she twisted her head back at him. A cold look set in her expression. “Do you have a problem with that?”
Rykal put his hands up in a surrender gesture. “I meant nothing by it,”
Olivia narrowed her eyes at the dragon shifter, skeptical, and decided to leave him be. Laying down again, Olivia got into a comfortable position and closed her eyes. She continued to be as relaxed as she could and breathed out heavily. Though, she wasn’t a wink tired even as she felt exhausted. A growl left her lips and Olivia sat up, glaring into the smoking black wood.
“Are you trying to fall asleep?” Rykal asked.
“What does it matter? I’m not going to sleep any time soon,” the girl grumbled under her breath.
She caught Rykal’s gaze shifting from concern to stern. With a sigh, he walked over to her. Olivia watched him curiously as Rykal crouched down to her level. He moved his hand behind her neck and the girl opened her mouth to ask what he was doing when he squeezed her neck with two fingers. Before she knew it, Olivia was overwhelmed with tiredness; darkness circling as her eyes closed.
Olivia tossed and turned and finally, her eyes cracked open. Through her blurry vision, the fire was burning its last embers. A cold breeze blew against her cheek as she realized it was night. Sleeping near the far wall was the dragon shifter with his wings lazily spread across the ground as he slept on his stomach using his arm as a pillow. Olivia gazed at him, taking in how peaceful he appeared as he slept.
Groggily, the girl stood and decided to get more wood for the fire. She yawned and stretched her arms high above her, a groan of satisfaction leaving her throat. Brushing her overgrown bangs to the sides of her face, Olivia lazily walked her way out of the cave, feeling the cold winter night collide with her sleeping warmth. Small clouds of warm air exhaled from her lips and Olivia rubbed her hands together. She walked near the forest, collecting twigs buried in the snow and snapping of decent-sized sticks from trees. She did it for a little bit before having gathered a good amount in her arms. Though, she thought to stay out for a little longer; her gaze lifted her head up to the cloudy sky and the crescent moon shone as bright as it could through the grey clouds. A peaceful silence drifted in the air, delicate snowflakes began falling from the sky as the first landed in the bunch of sticks Olivia held. She glanced at it as another landed in her hair, melting onto her scalp.
Olivia couldn’t help but smile and look toward the sky again, embracing the beauty of winter as it slowly fell around her. She hoped it would still be snowing in the morning as she walked back to the cave. She threw the sticks inside and grabbed onto the rocks she’d usually use to climb up. As she did, she heard a hiss behind her. Her sense buzzed in her leg and Olivia stilled. Slowly, she looked down and saw a green snake slithering out from the forest. Its yellow eyes seem to glow as they zeroed in on Olivia. Her eyes widened and Olivia squealed in fright. The snake slithered closer to her and Olivia scrambled up the rocks, staggering into the cave. It wasn’t quick enough as the snake slithered into the cave, poking it’s forked tongue silently.
“Rykal! Rykal, wake up!” Olivia shouted.
The snake hissed at her and Olivia continued to stagger back. Her foot tripped over the sack and she fell. A whine escaped her from the throbbing in her leg. She crawled back, grabbing her leg as the snake slithered its head over her foot. Terror spread fast through her body, her heart racing and clouding her better judgment. Behind her, Rykal began growling softly, stirring himself awake.
“Rykal, please, wake up! Rykal!” tears glistened her eyes as Olivia crawled backward until her back throbbed painfully against the wall.
She was trapped and couldn’t make a run for the forest when the snake was already curled around her uninjured leg. Despite her fear, she recognized it as the same snake from a week ago in the first enchanted cave. Olivia couldn’t understand how it survived when she watched it burst into flames, nothing but ash and scales remained. Her lip trembled and a tear trickled down her cheek. The snake hissed louder and it was so loud Olivia would’ve guessed it was right beside her ear. Her guess wasn’t far off, the snake had coiled around her abdomen and down and its head was raised to her eye level. Her heart jumped into her throat and Olivia tried swallowing down the lump. It didn’t work.
A ruthless growl echoed the cave and rang down her ears. The girl couldn’t stop the tears as a sob left her trembling lips. The dragon shifter stood fully awake and he didn’t look happy as a glare burned through his cold blue eyes.
“Rykal,” she whispered, feeling relieve rush through her.
The snake hissed and turned it’s head to Rykal. It lunged toward him, it’s body spinning around Olivia’s body as it lept at the dragon shifter. Rykal only rolled his eyes and caught the snake by its head. The snake squirmed its body in the air that no longer was wrapped around Olivia. She quickly scrambled to her feet and breathed heavily. Rykal growled at the snake as it hissed back at him. Then the snake opened its mouth and spat in Rykal’s eyes. Immediately, the dragon shifter roared and dropped the snake that slithered back to Olivia. She squealed and staggered back as Rykal roared again, the walls vibrating as he threw himself back against it. He held his eyes that were screwed shut and spun in all directions.
“Rykal!” Olivia shouted.
Rykal snapped his head in her direction and Olivia gasped in horror. His eyes were tightly shut, purple venom sticking against his eyelids and dripping down his cheeks. A dark snarl bared his growing fangs and his nails grew into long claws. She ran for him, dodging the snake’s grasp and grabbed the sack in the process. Rykal let out a vicious growl as Olivia slammed herself into him, throwing the sack outside. She went behind him, wrapping her arms around his torso and pulled him back. Rykal growled as his wings remained in the air, trembling violently.
The snake hissed, narrowing its eyes at Olivia and she only narrowed hers. When they were near the small edge, Olivia cupped Rykal’s burning cheeks and he whimpered. Olivia’s heart weighed in sorrow and she whispered to him. He nodded stiffly. Olivia glanced at the snake as it lept into the air, her sense buzzing wildly in her cheeks.
“Now! In front of you!” she yelled.
Rykal roared, breathing out angry blue flames. The snake hissed and somehow it dodged Rykal’s attack and spat at him again. The purple venom landed on his eyes, adding to the venom and Rykal shouted in pain, clutching his eyes and thrashing himself against the wall again. The cave shook and rocks fell from the ceiling. Rykal roared in agony, stumbling over his tail as his wings falpped and flung himself against the opposite wall.
“Curse the demons, it burns!” he cried, thrashing his wings in the air. He shouted and screamed, furiously scratching at his eyes and cheeks with his palms. “Argh, it burns!”
Olivia’s sense tingled through her arm and the snake shot up to her. The girl gasped and quickly stumbled back. Rykal growled but it was quickly drowned with a whimper and Olivia ran to the back of the cave, an idea forming in her head.
“Rykal!” she called.
Rykal responded with a growl and turned his head in her direction. The snake hissed at Olivia, fastly slithering toward her. She sucked in her breath and as the snake was near her feet, she shouted at Rykal and he sent out a wave to blue fire in all directions of the cave. Olivia scrambled to the side, ducking her head and scurried along the wall toward Rykal. A screech deafened Olivia’s ears and she knew the snake was dead. Her sense suddenly buzzed frantically as Olivia stood, not having much time to react as she screamed. Lingering blue fire was sent in her direction, and Olivia shielded her face with her hands. White-hot pain shot through her as the flesh on her hands burned and singed. Olivia wailed in pain and fell to her knees, whimpers, and sobs ripped past her throat. The fire had been like nothing she felt in her life. She had her fair share of burns, but nothing compared to the burn that scorched right through her flesh and quivered her bones.
Rykal spun in all directions, not knowing where to go as he stumbled backward and forward. He cried out, panic spreading the tremble in his voice, “Olivia? Olivia, where are you!”
Olivia jammed her mouth shut, keeping the whimpers at bay. She held her stinging hands close to her heart and allowed her tears to flow freely down her cheeks. Her lip trembled. Unbearable pain stung through her hands and couldn’t stop them from quivering. She glanced at them, seeing her skin red and raw, blood prickling through the singed flesh. She kept as quiet as she could through the blistering heat traveling through her nerves, threatening to make her crack.
“Olivia, please, where are you? Answer me!” Rykal called desperately.
He staggered into the fire, his eyes screwed tightly shut by the purple venom with a clenched jaw. She still didn’t answer him. She didn’t want him to know she had gotten hurt otherwise he would never forgive him. Through a clenched jaw, Olivia slowly rose to her feet. She breathed out shakily to calm herself down and kept her hands in front of her.
“I’m here, Rykal,” she answered but couldn’t keep the strain from her voice. She cleared her throat. “I’m okay. Just blacked out for a bit,”
Rykal spun around, trying to figure out where she was and Olivia bravely reached out to him with her trembling hand. She grabbed his hand and she had to bite on her tongue from screaming as he held it tightly. Warm tears ran down her reddened cheeks as she silently guided him to the waterfall, hoping he couldn’t hear the whimpers that escaped her throat.
They managed to jump into the snow together and Rykal whined. Olivia’s heart ached and she told him to sit down. He did so and whimpered when Olivia slowly lowered his face into the river, right beside the waterfall. She cupped water in her hands, feeling the cold sink into the burns, bringing her a moment of relief. She quickly washed the blood off her hands and splashed water onto Rykal’s face, mainly concentrating on his eyes. Gently, as he winced and screwed his face in pain, she wiped the purple venom from his cheeks first and made her way to his eyes.
The tension in Rykal’s body slowly began loosening. Olivia kept cleaning the purple venom from his eyes, finding it was a little more stubborn than her hands could tolerate. Soft winces kept escaping her and Olivia swallowed hard. She hoped Rykal couldn’t hear her. Once she’d done, Olivia spotted the sack and hesitated when she reached out for it. She glanced at her angry red skin and decided to get up and kick it over. She did so carefully and reached inside, pulling a bottle reading snake infections and poisons. Olivia was thankful she grabbed it and poured a decent amount of her hands. The thick cream was warm against her hands and Olivia gently rubbed it against Rykal’s irritated skin when she lifted him from the river. She then wrapped his eyes in bandages and fastened it with a pin.
“How are you feeling?” she asked.
Rykal, turning his head in different directions and twitching his nose, reached for her. Olivia watched as he touched her arm and moved his hand down to her hand. Olivia bit her lip when he touched the sensitive burns and Rykal frowned. “Why are your hands so hot?”
Olivia pulled her stinging hand from Rykal and lied, “It’s from the cream,”
Rykal frowned. “Your hand is hot, Olivia, the cream is cold. Answer the question,”
Olivia started thinking of a good lie to tell Rykal so he wouldn’t worry about her, though something told her he wasn’t going to buy any of it. She remained quiet and Rykal reached for her, finding her thigh. He skimmed his hand up her body and landed on the back of her neck. Olivia tensed when he pulled her forward, resting his forehead on hers.
“What happened, Olivia?”
Olivia gulped, staring at the white bandages covering his eyes but she could feel his sharp gaze burning through her. She gritted her teeth when she had to use her hands to push away from him. He didn’t budge and his nose twitched. Olivia froze.
“Did. . . Did I burn you?” the echo in his voice left her widening her eyes.
Slowly, Olivia sat down between his legs. She sat sideways with her legs over one of his. Rykal was stiff to the bone and Olivia leaned her body against his warm one. Her head rested on his chest and her gaze lead her inside the cave. Rykal slowly moved his arm around her, folding his legs in, and leaned his head into hers.
Olivia closed her eyes. “It’ll heal,” Rykal’s arms twitched and Olivia only nudged his chest with her elbow in reassurance. “Rykal, if you think I’m going to run because of a few burns, then stop it. I’m not going anywhere. If anything, I feel safer knowing that you’re near me,”
The last part slipped through her mouth without her holding it back. She knew it was too soon to start developing feelings, but Olivia couldn’t help it. She felt ways toward Rykal that she’d never even heard of. The more she stayed with Rykal, the more the small part of her that liked being near him grew.