Chapter 24

They were in the meeting room again, only this time there were less people and everyone looked grim. Marleena rested her head on the table, listening to everyone bicker about what to do next. They argued over who sent who out, how it could have happened, what they should have done to prevent it. It was just so exhausting to hear. Elara and Travis were alive, but they still were out cold. The doctors said they seemed to be in a coma. Marleena raised her head to look across the table at Ray. She could see the guilt and pain in his eyes. He had picked Elara and Travis to go.

Their arguing will help no one.

Marleena sighed and stood abruptly from her chair. The chair fell back to the floor and everyone stopped to look at her. She shook her head, "This is a waste of time. It happened. Kinkade has the rest of the dragons and we don't know enough about him to do anything about it." She threw her hands up in the air and walked out of the room. That was the truth. They didn't know anything about Kinkade and he just continued to best them every time they met him. First, he was able to compel her. Then he almost ripped Araina from her body. Now, he had taken two of their own.

You are right. We do not know enough about him. I thought he would be the Wizard, but it is not him. His power is the same.

"You guys couldn't beat him before. He's probably more powerful now. I don't know why you think it will change."

He caught us by surprise before. We did not know what was happening until it was too late.

She sounded defensive and Marleena said a soft sorry to her dragon. "You know," Marleena said quietly, "Siva showed me that this was going to happen."

"That what was going to happen?" Marleena looked up from where she had been leaning against the wall. Ray looked at her questioningly, his arms crossed over his chest. Marleena had not shared with anyone what she had seen from Siva all those weeks back. She hadn't wanted to share seeing everyone die. She had felt her father's fingers disappear through her own… it had been to hard to relive. She wasn't even sure how much of it Araina had seen. The white dragon had left it alone all these weeks. She could feel how terrified Marleena had been during the entire vision.

"It doesn't matter." Marleena pushed from the wall and turned to leave. Ray grabbed her wrist, keeping her from leaving. It wasn't hard like it had been in the past. His touch was gentle and when she turned to his face, there was something in his face that she had not seen before. She couldn't place what it was, but she didn't try to pull away. It had been the first time he had willingly spoken to her, much less touch her. Marleena sighed, "Siva showed me a future where you all had your dragons taken away by Kinkade."

Ray let go of her wrist and slowly nodded, almost thinking over what she said. "Was there anything else?"

Marleena looked to the floor, "People died." She said it quietly, saying it for the first time out loud almost made it more real. "Travis, Cody… my dad…" Marleena raised her gaze to meet his, "… and you."

"Then it's only partially true. Travis isn't dead." He turned around to head back into he meeting, "We could really use Araina's input in here."

"She doesn't have anything to add. She doesn't know anything about Kinkade. You, Terisa, and Cody are the only ones who know him. I can't avoid his compulsion, only the three of you can."

"That's why he is trying to get rid of us." He opened the door and glanced back, "You should see if Araina can do something to help Elara and Travis. I-" He hesitated, "I would appreciate it if she would take the time to do it…"

Marleena felt Araina approval and nodded towards Ray before he closed the door again. "Do you think looking them over will help us find something?"

I do not know. It might.

Marleena felt her vision blur for a second and steadied herself on the wall. She took a few breaths to steady herself and made her way to the hospital wing. She had yet to rest from Araina being forced out of being in control of her body. She was doing her best to stay strong. They all had more important things to worry about. It was the least she could do…

She found Elara's room easily. A nurse was checking her vitals and smiled at Marleena as she came in. "No changes." The nurse said before checking a few things off on a clip board and heading out of the room.

"So…" Marleena looked at Elara. She looked like she was sleeping peacefully, "… what should we do?"

I had reached out earlier, but I had been looking for their dragons. I had not taken the time to see how their hosts faired.

Marleena felt Araina move into place. Marleena was used to transitioning now and it felt easier every time. She heard Araina speak through her own mouth. "I am going to push my power through them. It will put a strain on you."

That's fine, Araina.

Marleena felt herself smile for a moment before steading herself. She took a deep breath and as she let out the air, her power reached out to Elara. It filled her body, reaching into what used to be a dragon. There was a hole in her spirit. Araina was puzzled for a moment. There was something wrong. Marleena could feel their power being pulled into the void. Araina tried to pulled back, but something grasped onto them. Araina wasn't panicking, but Marleena was in a panic. Araina pushed her power into the void instead, attempting to overwhelm whatever it was that kept them from being able to pull back. Their vision blurred and Araina tried to hang on, gripping the edge of the hospital bed. Elara gasped, her eyes shooting open. The heart monitor beeped frantically as power was pushed through her whole body. "I… can't-" Marleena felt Araina begin to fade. Marleena tried to take back control, but it was like they were stuck. Panic set in and Marleena screamed for Araina. She felt them both fade into darkness, slowly spiraling into the pleasant void.

Voices. So many voices. She felt people lift her and felt something soft beneath her back. She couldn't make out what they were saying. There was a ringing in her ears… then another voice grew louder. She felt cold and would have shivered if she had been able to. This was a voice she had never wanted to hear again. The fear welled up in the darkness as a chuckle filled her ears. In the darkness was a faint light with a small table and three chairs. Kinkade sat in one of the chairs, chuckling while he held a cup of tea in his hands. "You are far too predictable, Marleena… Araina." Marleena gasped as she saw Araina in her original human form next to her. Araina's hair was pure white and so long that it brushed the floor. Her eyes were a dark red, startling against her pale skin. She was a little smaller than Marleena, but by no means small in power. It radiated from her as a Queen should. Her posture was straight and her shoulders slightly back. Her cheekbones were painted delicately on her face and there was a small dimple on her chin. She moved with grace, almost floating as she walked to one of the chairs that Kinkade gestured to. "Don't worry, I am not here to harm you… for now." Araina wore what looked like a silk gown. It was a pale blue, but it was hard to say that it was pale when her skin was so light. She was barefoot and the gown brushed against the top of her feet as she moved. Marleena followed her and sat in the other chair, feeling small compared to the other two.

"Mr. Kinkade." Araina nodded gracefully to him. "Pleasure to finally meet you."

Kinkade smiled and it almost seemed genuine… if you could ignore the fact that it never reached his eyes. "Same to you. I have heard stories of the Queen of Dragons, but never thought I would ever have the opportunity to meet her, much less gaze on her true human form." His gaze turned to Marleena, "Nice to see you again, Marleena. I see that you have been quite busy. I have missed seeing you at school." Marleena glared at him and he only laughed. "Your papers say that you are being homeschool instead. Tell me…" He leaned in, "How is it? Are you learning a bunch about the Dragons and their history?"

"Why have you brought us here?" Araina interrupted. Kinkade set down the tea cup and poured them both some. "You obviously pulled us in for a reason."

"Ah, yes, but of course. I did know that you would try to explore Elara or Travis when they returned. It is why I did not immediately kill him. I do have to say that I was surprised you managed to break my connection with Elara. I had to act fast or else I would have lost this opportunity. It won't be so easy to do it again with Travis." He smirked, "I was curious who you would try first. Tell me, who chose to see Elara first? Was it you, Araina? Or you, Marleena?"

"What do you mean? Why can't we save Travis too?" Marleena finally chimed in.

Kinkade chuckled, "Oh dear, Araina hasn't told you? I guess I separated you before you could hear her thoughts. Should I tell her, Araina?"

Marleena looked over at Araina and she couldn't read her white dragon's expression. It was calm, almost cold. "If we try it again, he will pull us both in permanently. We will be just like Elara and Travis."

"You left out the best part!" He was almost jumping out of his seat with excitement. "I almost caught her, Marleena. You see, I was going to pull her through that void in Elara's soul."

"So, it was a trap?"

"Now she is catching on!" He chastised Marleena. "You are far too weak for Araina to use all of her powers now. If she tries to save your dear Travis, your soul will shatter and I will have Araina added to my collection. You will be nothing but an empty shell, Marleena."

Marleena looked at Araina and saw the first hint of sadness touch her face. "Is this true Araina?"

Araina's red eyes flicked to Marleena and then to the floor. "Yes. I noticed it when I reached out with my power before. It is why I used my dragons to help spread my power's reach. I had hoped that their help would lessen the stress on your body."

"But I interrupted it. You see, Marleena, she cannot defeat me with you as her host. You are going to die and when she looks for a new host, I will be there to take her. Did you know that a dragon is at its most vulnerable state when transitioning to a new host? All I have to do is continue to collect the last three dragons and then… she will be mine."

"I don't understand. I thought we merged properly?" Marleena didn't understand. Her mother had lived for years. Why wasn't she able to handle Araina's power?

"Tsk, tsk, Araina. You have kept much from your host." Araina continued to stay silent, but Kinkade was more than happy to continue. "You see, your mother wasn't supposed to have lived long enough to bear a child. Araina went to you as a new host because she wouldn't become vulnerable while you were still in the womb. She essentially saved herself at the expense of your mother's life… and now yours." He chuckled again. "This is why I hadn't bothered attacking you while at that silly facility of yours. I just had to wait… that's all I have to do…"

"Araina… is this true?" Marleena stood from her chair, "Say something! Anything!"

"It is true." Araina said softly.

Marleena collapsed in the chair in disbelief. "This whole time… I wasn't supposed to be your host… wasn't supposed to be born?"

"It is a miracle that your mother survived as long as she did. And during the pregnancy? Araina was so careful! I actually stumbled across your mother, Sandra early in her life. I could see the dormant white dragon in her, but she was lucky… I was not strong enough to take her then. So, I watched… watched as your mother grew up and then fell in love. I saw the first time Araina awoke in her. Watched her wither as the years went on. Your father had a lot to do with her living for so long. Why, Araina, I would say you actually had a heart… well… almost." He took a sip of his tea for a moment. "When I stumbled upon Ray, I was so excited for you Araina. Samil, reborn finally! I had searched for him first. Had hoped to coax you out with him in my hand." He almost pouted, "But then I saw Marleena. Saw that you were within. It seemed too good to pass up the opportunity to watch it unfold. Tell me, Araina, what was it like when you first saw Samil? Did it hurt to see that Samil had not awaken?"

"You know it did. I do not see why you need to ask. You knew it would hurt me. You purposefully called the dragons to this area in the hopes that I would come back as well. You have spent a lifetime planning this…" She crossed her legs and leaned back in the chair. She looked like she owned it, despite the situation they were in. "Did you enjoy toying with Marleena and Ray? Was it for your amusement? Or was there a greater purpose?"

Kinkade shrugged, "No greater purpose, my queen. I merely wanted to watch it play out. Besides, it was only fair that you felt the same pain that I did." Araina sent him a questioning look, "Whops! I've said far too much." He glanced up into the darkness. "Ah, our time grows short. Here is my proposition, Marleena. I will spare your life and the life of your loved ones if you come to me willingly. Give me Araina and the other dragons and I will leave you all alone. You can continue to live as a normal girl… I'll even erase your memories of this if that is what you wish." He leaned forward, closer to Marleena, "I could erase all the pain of what you have seen. Surely you don't want to remember seeing your father die."

Marleena swallowed, unable to hide the fear on her face. "A-and if I don't?"

"Then what you saw in your vision will come true. I will make sure I finish what I have started…"

Marleena didn't have the chance to answer. She felt both of them pulled back, ripped out of the reality they were in. She heard Kinkade's voice mockingly say, "See you soon!" Marleena heard her father's voice calling for her. She couldn't force her eyes open yet. It was like her whole body was heavy and it hurt. The muscles were sore and she winced, breathing in some air.

"She's coming around!" Charles said, smoothing back Marleena's hair from her face. "You're going to be okay, just breathe slowly." Marleena opened her eyes and the bright lights made her close them again. She felt the light dim behind her eyelids and slowly attempted to open them again. She could see her dad peering down at her, still smoothing her hair back with one hand. The other was in her own, grasping it firmly. "You gave us a scare there, sweetie." He kissed her gently on the forehead. As he pulled back, Marleena could see a few nurses and the doctor… beyond them was… Elara! She was standing with Ray, a worried expression on her face. It slowly turned to relief as Marleena did her best to give a small smile.

"Elara… you're alright!" Marleena said softly.

"Thanks to you and Araina." She came forward and Charles moved out of the way so she could give Marleena a small hug. Marleena winced. "Oh, I'm sorry! Are you hurt?"

"A little." Marleena gave her a reassuring smile. The doctor pulled Marleena's dad to the side and spoke to him in low voices. Ray came up to stand beside Elara.

"Thanks," He said softly.

"For what?" Marleena looked at him.

"For waking Elara up. I don't know how you both did it, but I know it cost you a lot." That expression crossed Ray's face for a moment, the same one that she had seen in the hall. She didn't recognize it yet on his face. She had been able to read almost every expression since meeting him, but this one… this one she couldn't place. Marleena suddenly paused. She couldn't hear Araina. A look of panic crossed her face, "What? What is it?"

"Araina… she isn't here. I can't hear her." Marleena almost whispered it.

Ray put his hand above Marleena's skin and she felt him push his power into her for a moment. It startled her, but he sighed in relief. "She's still there. It's almost as if she has gone dormant again." He looked deep in thought, "Maybe it really drained her?" Marleena bit her lower lip. Should she tell them about Kinkade? "Nonetheless, I am guessing you won't be able to help Travis any time soon. Still, this does mean that there is hope for them. Maybe even Elara and I can try-"

"No!" Marleena interrupted, loud enough that the doctor and her dad looked at her. "I mean, we don't know what went wrong. I don't want to anyone else when we just made some progress. Maybe we just need some rest."

Her dad came back and patted her arm with care, "Yes, you should definitely rest." He cleared his throat and motioned to the door. Elara and Ray looked at each other for a moment before leaving the room. "Marleena…" Her dad started, "If Araina uses her abilities again, the doctor doesn't think you will recover from it." He looked away for a second and Marleena could see multiple emotions fill his face.

She reached out and touched her dad's hand. "I hear you, Dad. With Ray and the others, I don't think she'll need to do anything. We'll find a way."

Her dad smiled softly, but it didn't quite wash away the worry on his face. "You sound just like your mother." He closed his eyes for a moment, "She said the same thing to me right before you were born. Araina managed to keep from using her abilities for the last two trimesters of her pregnancy. I know it is a lot to ask of Araina, especially when we are so close, but-" His voice cracked and Marleena felt her eyes water. She had never seen this much emotion from her father before. He had never openly spoken about her mother. "I can't lose you too, Marleena." She watched a tear roll down her father's face. "Promise me, Marleena. Promise me that I won't lose you too."

Marleena reached her arms out and he bent down to hug her. Marleena didn't know what to do. She couldn't speak to Araina… the white dragon was dormant again. If she went to Kinkade, he promised that everyone would live. She would live. No one else had to suffer. It meant betraying everyone here, everyone that had worked so hard to collect all of the dragons. Was there any other way? Marleena didn't know what she was going to do, but she did know one thing; in this moment she could only do one thing. "I promise."