Home > The Dragon's Promise(6)

The Dragon's Promise(6)
Author: Elizabeth Lim

  “A ghost?”

  Over there. Kiki pointed with a shaky wing. It tried to speak to me.

  Darkness bathed the other end of the room, where the pearl’s light hadn’t reached.

  “Show me,” I commanded the pearl.

  With a hiss, the light bloomed brighter, illuminating a lone statue. And given the gurgling and mumbling sounds coming from its direction, a living statue.

  A boy, it turned out.

  He was stone from the neck down, but his head was still flesh. Uncommonly blue eyes, tan skin, and a shock of unruly black hair. It was hard to place where he was from, but he couldn’t have been older than twelve or thirteen. He looked like he’d been cursed in the middle of a grand throw. His right arm was extended in a dramatic flourish, his chin raised and left leg slightly lifted. His clothes were stone, along with the rest of him, but there was a bright splash of red silk over his mouth.

  My stomach curdled at the sight. What was a human child doing in the dragon realm, let alone practically turned to stone?

  “Kiki, help him. His mouth is gagged.”

  But he could be a ghost! Or worse, a sea demon.

  “Help him, all right?”

  Obediently, my bird flew to the statue and untied the gag over the boy’s mouth.

  He coughed and spluttered, then blew his hair out of his eyes with exaggerated gusto.

  “Firstly,” he said in crisp, accented Kiatan, “I’m not a ghost. Ghosts—but for a few exceptions—can’t touch objects in the physical world and would hardly be encased in stone, as I am.” His nose twitched. “Secondly, it took you long enough to wake up. I was starting to think all that throwing would be for nothing.”

  “You’re the one who woke me?” I said.

  “I had nothing else to do.”

  “How?”

  With a smug grin, the boy leaned his head back. “See these floating mirror shards? Their edges are sharper than they look, and they’ll cut you if you try to escape.” He turned his face so I could see the little gashes on his nose and cheeks. “Took me all week, but I managed to get their attention. When they came at me, I grabbed a couple and pitched them at you.”

  “You threw glass shards at my head?”

  “How else was I supposed to wake you?” he said. “Don’t worry, I sanded off the edges on my arm. Helps to be made of stone, I guess. Your cut’s already healed.”

  Cut? Well, that explained the pain in my temple.

  “It should have taken only a couple of tries,” continued the boy. “Usually I have excellent aim, but my right arm turned to stone in the middle of a throw. Luckily for you, my left arm had a little more time. I’m less precise with my left, though.”

  Lucky indeed, Kiki said, gaping at the boy. Both of his arms were solid granite, though the veins in his left hand were still pulsing.

  “Thank you,” I said gravely. “Is your face—”

  “Don’t worry about me. Either the cuts will heal or I’ll make a less attractive statue.”

  He sounds unnervingly cheerful about his predicament, Kiki muttered. Do we trust him or not? I vote not.

  I frowned, ignoring Kiki. “Did you say I’ve been here for a week?”

  “That’s what I counted.” The boy twisted his lips. “Time is so lugubriously slow when there’s nothing to read. Please tell me you have a book in that bag of yours.”

  I’d stopped listening. A whole week, lost! My chest went so tight I could hardly breathe. That was five months back home.

  I pursed my lips, trying to rein in my anger. It could be worse, I told myself. Five months—not five years. Not five centuries.

  “No books?” the boy was saying, misreading my horror. “That’s too bad. Well, at least I can practice my Kiatan. It’s ironic, you know. Kiata’s the last place I ever plan to visit. Never thought the language would be of any use.”

  My attention snapped back to him. “Careful. That’s my country you’re insulting.”

  “I don’t mean offense, only that Kiata’s a magic desert. A country without magic is hardly the place to make one’s reputation as a brilliant young sorcerer.”

  “Aren’t you a bit young for sorcery?”

  “They start us young,” explained the boy. “How else do you think I ended up in Ai’long?”

  “Maybe a dragon abducted you. It’s been known to happen.”

  “Abducted?” A sniff. “I’m an enchanter-in-training, not the sailor of some shrimping dinghy. You think it’s so easy to abduct someone who’s mastered the Four Forms of defensive magic?”

  He has the ego of an enchanter, Kiki remarked, curling her wing around the pearl.

  The boy eyed Kiki shrewdly, as if he understood. Then he flexed his fingers and winced—through the mirrors I saw that his knuckles had gone gray. “I guess I might never get a chance to live up to my potential.”

  “You can’t give up. There has to be a way out of this place.” I struggled against my shackles, but it was no use.

  “Don’t bother. I’ve spent weeks trying, and I have magic.”

  “I have magic too, you know.”

  “I’ve heard. You’re the bloodsake of Kiata. Impressive, how you made that paper bird come to life.” The boy cranked his head to the side. “But as the bloodsake, your main well of power comes from your homeland, and you’re quite a ways away.”

  I frowned. “How did you know that—the part about me drawing magic from Kiata?”

  He shrugged. “I read a lot,” he said quickly. But before I could interrogate him further, he added, “Didn’t help me here, though. Even if I could undo this curse, I’d drown once I made it past Ai’long’s borders.”

  “Why?”

  “Well, for one—my sangi would run out.”

  “Sangi?”

  “The tea that the dragons poured down your throat so you can breathe underwater.” The young sorcerer wrinkled his nose. “Awfully bitter brew, worse than Nandun’s Tears. Back to my point, the waters past the borders aren’t enchanted like they are here. I can’t just glide around like I’m dancing on a cloud. I’d have to actually swim to keep from sinking. And I never learned to swim.”

  Kiki slapped her head in disbelief. He can’t swim and he came into the dragon realm by choice?

  “Don’t give up,” I said. “My friend is a prince of Ai’long. He can help.”

  “Doubtful. He’s as much the Dragon King’s pawn as Lady Solzaya is.”

  At the name, the mirrors suspended in the water around us pivoted to regard the boy.

  “Lady Solzaya,” I repeated. “Who’s that?”

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