FOUR

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AIR WHOOSHED through Ravenna's hair

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AIR WHOOSHED through Ravenna's hair. The long strands to whipped around her face and caught in her eyelashes, in her mouth. Her eyes remained scrunched shut. The last thing that she wanted to see was the countryside speeding past her dangling feet.

The claws that gripped her shoulders tightened. She squirmed like a fish out of water. Her hands gripped at the massive talons, fighting them. Ice swirled around her fingertips. "You put me down!"

A harrumph sounded from overhead, hardly loud enough to pierce the wind. "As you wish."

Ravenna's stomach leaped through her throat as the grip on her shoulders vanished. The talons slipped through her fingertips. A different kind of air whipped her hair around, her cloak. Her mouth opened in a silent scream as she plummeted down, down, down. Blurs of color raced up to greet her. A hand managed to lift to shield her face.

An explosion of ice shot out. It struck a blurred object and expanded. Through squinted eyes, she saw a beam of white lash out. It encompassed her in a tornado of cold.

The air stopped. Her head sank into a heavy layer of snow, wet crystals clinging to her skin. She rolled over into her back and watched, panting, as the dragon slowly descended. He watched her with unimpressed eyes. His feet disappeared within the layer of snow, and then his knee. He looked around in slight disgust. "Gracious. A little snow to cushion your fall. And mortals will blame me for this outrageous blizzard."

Ravenna glanced around. Clouds churned overhead, sheets of snow beating against the ground. She slowly eased up into a seated position and picked up a handful of snow. "It is your fault," she told the dragon with a heated glare. "You dropped me."

"You told me to put you down, and I did."

A frustrated noise escaped her. She climbed to her feet and pulled her hood over her head. The dragon melted, contracting back into its original lizard-like size. It peered at her from the branches of another tree and then spread its wings, flying from one branch to another. "Hurry up," he grouched. "We are almost there."

"Where are you taking me?" Ravenna refused to move. She crossed her arms over her chest and scowled at the dragon. "Are you going to teach me or not?"

The dragon paused and glanced back at her. Its dark eyes sharpened. "Foolish girl. How else can I possibly make it more obvious?"

She clamped her mouth shut. Her hands clenched into fists. "I'm not foolish. I don't trust you. Now tell me where you plan to take me, and answer my question."

"You really are that dimwitted," the dragon said. It heaved a heavy sigh and rolled its eyes toward the sky. "I intend to teach you. But not here. Not out in the open, where mortals like to hunt with their pointy swords and arrows. I'd rather not be tonight's feast."

Ravenna's shoulders sagged. Her annoyance started to fade, and she dropped her hands to her sides. The dragon shot her an irritated look. "There. Satisfied?"

"Hardly," she responded.

The dragon continued on, moving through the trees in a manner that seemed more squirrel like than lizard. She followed with her skirts in her hands, trekking through the blizzard that she had created. It didn't take long to reach their destination: a small hut located in the crevice of a cave. The rotten wood welcomed her with the stench of mold and mildew. The dragon leaped from a tree branch to the door handle, effectively opening it.

"This is mine," it told her as she entered.

Ravenna nodded absently, absorbing the hobble. It was a fairly large space with a fireplace situated in one corner and a bed pressed against the other. A stringy rope rug covered the dirt floor. To her immediate right sat a table, filled with strange jars and worn leather books. Unfamiliar roots and weeds littered the tabletop, along with a single rose blossom.

A flurry of movement called her attention back to the dragon. She watched in muted awe as a strange light enveloped the dragon. The light expanded and warped, a mixture of blurred movements and colors. When it faded, a humanoid creature stood in the dragon's place. Long hair curled around his shoulder and fell toward the floor, gleaming in the firelight like a raven's wing. His eyes were piercing, the same darkness that rooted her to the floor.

"You are full of surprises," Ravenna remarked as her gaze scanned over the dragon's new form.

The dragon smirked. The expression startled her. It looked completely natural on the unnatural being's new face. It made the hairs on the back of her neck straighten. She warily watched as the dragon pulled his hair back and tied it away from his face with twine. A few shorter strands fell loose, framing his face. The dragon then gestured around him. "Make yourself comfortable. We are forced to remain inside until your blizzard wears out."

She made a face and glanced back over her shoulder. The door had closed behind her, blocking her view of the outside world, but a small window sat just beside it. Through the glass plane, snow plummeted to the ground in heavy sheets of alabaster, covering the earth.

A sigh escaped her. She returned her attention to the room around her. "What is this place?"

The dragon had moved. He now stood several feet away, in front of the table. A book laid open in front of him and he held a pinch of rose petals in one hand. His back was turned toward her. "I told you. It is mine."

Ravenna found a chair situated in front of the fireplace and gingerly sat down. Flames flickered in front of her. Warmth encompassed her. She rested her head against the back of the chair, gaze focused on the dragon. "You said that earlier. I know that it's yours. Is this your home?"

"It can be called that," he responded.

"How come you are a human now?"

He glanced back at her, an eyebrow arched. Another chill raced through her. The expression looked so natural, so human. "Would you prefer that I remain in my original form? You didn't seem too fond of it. Especially when I attempted to relocate you here."

Ravenna scowled at him. "No. I just wanted to know why you looked more human now. You seemed to loathe humans earlier."

"As much as I despise mortals, their hands are quite useful," the dragon answered, lifting a handful of leafy clovers into the air. He made a show of dropping it into a wooden bowl. "And since neither my small nor large dragon form has opposable thumbs, I am forced to retain a humanoid form while I work."

The warmth of the flames reached out to her again. It danced across her skin in a gentle caress. "What is it that you are working on, exactly?"

"A simple spell," the dragon answered simply.

Ravenna frowned. She positioned her arm in between the back of the chair and her head, using it as a pillow. A muddled sense of confusion flooded through her. Even though she shouldn't feel tired, a wave of exhaustion battled her eyelids. The dragon continued to work quietly at his table. His hair trailed down his back, moving as he moved. As his form blurred into a mixture of blacks and tans, Ravenna told him, "I don't trust you."

"You shouldn't," he answered.

Then she drifted off to sleep.

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