Jake gave Sarah his word that he would wait for them to return. He wanted to stay at her grandmother’s house, to make sure Axin came back for him, but that was too much for Sarah to agree to. So he offered to stay in the car, outside, and watch the house in case his mother sent someone after her.
He was sure she would know by now that he had failed in capturing Sarah and that she would send more people after the elderly woman. Axin agreed with him, to her surprise, and as she watched Jake climb in the car, she reached out for Axin’s hand.
She didn’t look at him.
“God, I hope I’m right about this.”
He pulled her closer to him, and lifted her chin with his free hand, forcing her gaze to his.
“I will send Raz to watch Jake. He will stay behind the veil, but he will be close enough that if Jake tries anything, Raz can grab your grandmother and get her out of here.”
“Who is Raz?”
“Raztus. He’s a good friend of mine. He’s also on my team. I trust him with my life.”
She nodded, trying to calm her racing heart.
Axin’s hand moved from her chin to her cheek, the rough pad of his thumb stroking her lightly.
“This will work. I know I didn’t believe it before, but I have a lot of reasons to hate Jake. But I saw it in his eyes. He’s scared. I don’t think he understands what his mother is. What she’s done. It’s too easy for her to blame everything on me and Nilu, especially to a child she is raising to be her soldier. If this works, then we have a real shot at taking her down, once and for all.”
“Is she really as powerful as Jake said she is?”
He nodded. “Yes. Nilu used a massive amount of his magic to create and sustain the shadow world. It drains him every day just to keep the lights on. He can’t fight her alone. But if Jake is willing to help us, then he will have someone to draw on. Jake has no idea how powerful he is. He’s not just a witch. He’s Dragon too. It’s a potent combination.”
“What about us?”
The question stunned Axin for a moment. He recovered, giving her hand a soft squeeze. “That’s a longer conversation. We need to go see Nilu. We can talk about it later, okay?”
The urgency of the situation hit Sarah and she nodded.
Axin closed the tiny space between them, wrapping his free arm around her back and pulling her into him. She loved the warm, safe feeling it brought her. Dark smoke swirled around them, blocking out the street lights. A cool chill ran over her skin and she closed her eyes.
A moment later, the warmth of the sun heated her skin and she opened her eyes to find they stood in the same field as before. The cottage at the bottom of the valley, and lush green grass stretching as far as the eye can see.
Axin kept hold of her, staring down into her eyes. She didn’t move either. Her left hand was still intertwined with his, and his other arm around her back. She had her right hand resting on his chest, and she felt the beat of his heart in her palm.
“We need to go,” Axin whispered but didn’t let her go. His soft red eyes watched her, the fire in them dancing with calm red flames.
“I know,” she said with a breathless whisper.
He grinned, making her heart leap in her chest.
Sarah bit her lip, her gaze darting to his mouth for a second, then back to his eyes.
Axin’s breathing grew faster. He swallowed, his tongue flicking out to swipe over his bottom lip.
A throat clearing behind Sarah made her jump. She turned to find a tall, muscular man with piercing green eyes and long white hair standing behind her. He’d crossed his arms with a small grin on his face.
“You’re timing sucks, Raz!” Axin grumbled, but the man chuckled.
“Nilu wants to see you.” His gaze moved to Sarah and his smile fell. “Both of you.”
Axin let out a frustrated sigh, releasing her back. He still held her hand as he took a step back.
“We’ll get back to that later.” He winked at her and walked towards the other man. Sarah followed behind him. Her heart still raced at how close she came to kissing him. How much she wanted to. At that moment, her mind, body, and her very soul craved to be skin to skin with him. To get as close as two people can get.
She shook her head, trying to push those thoughts out of her mind as they led her to a large black SUV parked on the other side of the cottage. That took her by surprise.
Axin and Raz faced her with frowns.
“What did you expect?”
“I… don't really know.”
Axin chuckled. “We have cars, phones.” He leaned in closer to her ear. “We even have Netflix.”
“Don’t be an ass.” She smiled, feeling a little silly at assuming they just flew around the sky in dragon form all day.
“Come on.” He chuckled, pulling her to the back seats of the car. They climbed in, and Raz took the wheel.
Sarah turned to Axin. “Are there cities here as well?”
“No. A few villages where some of the warriors live with their families. But nothing like New York.”
“Families? I thought-”
“Not here. The shadow world is not like Purgatory which is meant to be a prison of sorts. Or at least thats what its become. Here, things are a little more normal. Many warriors have kids and wives or husbands.”
She frowned at him, her mind working.
“What is it?” Axin asked, twisting in his seat to look at her.
“Tell me, please.”
“It’s silly. Never mind.”
“Please. You can ask me anything, Sarah. I won’t lie to you or think it’s stupid, I promise.”
She chewed her lip for a moment, wondering if she should ask, but figured there was no other way to get the answers she wanted. “Promise you won’t laugh.”
“Where is the shadow world? I know you said it’s right next to the living world, but is it… another planet or something?”
She watched him try to hide his smile before he answered.
“It’s just below the surface of yours. It’s exactly the same as your world, with a few differences. For example, this is New York in your world.” He gestured to the window for her to look out. They drove down an open country field, the ocean in the distance. Thick vegetation and trees grew closer as they approached, and on the left, she saw high mountains with snow-covered peaks.
“This is what it looked like before it became the city you know. A few thousand years ago.”
She turned back to him with a smile. “It’s beautiful.”
They drove for a short while further, the mountains in the distance growing larger as they approached.
When the car stopped, Axin jumped out and held his hand out to Sarah to help her. She took it with a smile and scooted off the seat. Raz led them towards a stone building at the base of a tall mountain. He paused by the door, giving Axin a grin, then pushed it open. He stepped out of the way as Axin led her into the darkness beyond.
When she entered the room, fire torches lined the walls of a long passage leading into the mountain. The stone walls gave the hall a cooler feeling, and Sarah shivered from the change in temperature.
“What is this place?” Her voice echoed on the walls, sounding much louder than she intended.
“It’s the entrance to our command center. Nilu lives here as well, with his wife.”
She nodded, and let Axin take her down the passage. If not for him, she would be scared of the ominous, dark feeling of this place. Like a medieval dungeon.
They reached the end of the passage and the walls opened into a massive cave-like space, with ceilings as high as forty feet in the center. An enormous fire burned in the center of the room, reminding Sarah of last year’s bonfire over Halloween. The source of the fuel for the inferno wasn’t clear to Sarah as she stared at the bright red and yellow flames. Even from over sixty feet away, she felt the heat on her skin.
More torches lined the walls of dark stone all the way around. In the far end, behind the fire, she spotted a long table with people standing around it. She couldn’t hear what they said, only the incomprehensible chatter of many people speaking at once.
Axin tugged on her arm and moved towards the fire pit in the center. She wasn’t sure about getting any closer to it. The heat already made her face warm, and they were still a good distance away from it.
Axin didn’t stop or slow as he pulled her ever closer to the inferno. Sarah expected to feel a burn on her skin from being this close to it, but only a gentle warmth caressed her skin. Axin stopped a foot away from the towering flames and turned to her with a smile.
She gawked at it. From a distance, it looked like normal fire, but from closer, there were blue streaks in the flames.
“Why am I not crispy?”
He chuckled, “It won’t burn you. Do you trust me?”
She took a second to think about his question. All the things she heard about him ran through her mind. He didn’t deny any of it. He killed thousands of people. Yet Sarah still held his hand, her heart filled with an emotion that scared her, and her mind screaming to do just that. Trust him!
“Yes.” Her quiet whisper made Axin smile wider, and he took one final step to the base of the flames. She followed, her heart racing at being this close.
Axin reached out his hand, the one holding hers, and moved it towards the fire.
She jerked her hand out of his grip and shook her head, “Are you crazy? Don’t burn me!”
He sighed, “Do you believe me when I say that I would never let anything happen to you?”
“Do you believe that I care about you more than I do about my own life?”
Her heart leaped in her chest. She nodded.
“Then trust me.”
He held out his hand to her.
Sarah liked to think that she had always been a rational person. Thought things through before she did them. Took the time to learn about something she didn’t understand. She even had a hard time trying new foods without at least reading up on what’s in it. But as she stared at Axin’s outstretched hand, all reason fled from her mind.
She reached out and took it.
He pulled her closer to the fire and eased her hand towards the flames again. She shut her eyes, waiting for the burn to begin.
A sudden rush of waves, like water running over her hand, made her eyes shoot open. Her hand was inside the flames, all the way to her wrist.
Her mouth fell open and she gawked at Axin.
He laughed, “Dragon fire. The most destructive, potent thing ever created.”
“Why is it not burning me?”
Axin’s hand released hers and dropped to his side. She moved her hand through the flames, loving how soft it felt.
“You have a piece of my heart in you, Sarah. I can’t burn from my own flames. Neither can you.”
Her head whipped around to meet his eyes. “So it’s true then? I do have your heart?”
He smiled at her slight misswording. “In every way.”