Now this was just fantastic. Like a whimsical shooting star flying over yonder and dropping an unexpected guest onto your doorstep—or your rooftop—Mathias was as physically present as he could get. His sudden unannounced drop in had generated quite a bit of excitement in the darkening snowstorm.
“What the—Who in the world is that?” you heard one of the merchants ask from a good distance away from the dragon’s impact point.
“Uh oh,” you gulped and tried to leap off the caravan only to remember that your limbs were still shackled to the wall.
“Well, it’s good to see you’re up and kicking, Lukas, and I see __________’s here, too,” Mathias said rather calmly. “It looks like you two are in a jam.”
“Did it honestly take you that long to figure that out?” Lukas hissed. “And do you mind? You’re heavy!”
“Ah, sorry about that,” the wild-haired dragon chuckled and moved off of Lukas’ back.
“Hey, where the heck did that guy come from?” you heard Yong Soo’s voice shout.
“I don’t know, but if he’s, like, after the dragon, we can’t let him leave this place alive,” you heard a rare voice say. From the sassy tinge in the way he spoke, you assumed it was Leon.
“No, don’t,” you heard Yao say with a note of caution in his voice.
“Y-Yao?” you heard Mei stutter.
“He might be a dragon, too.”
Your heart leapt to your throat. He knew. If Mathias was captured, too, then that would be three dragons lost because of you.
“Mathias, get Lukas out of here!” you shouted to the Blade of the Ruby Seas.
From above, you heard the sound of Mathias grunting.
“I’m trying, but the chains are unusually tough,” he said with a strain in his voice.
Your spirits fell. If Mathias wasn’t able to break the chains, then what were you supposed to do…?
Just then, you felt the entire caravan shake. From the wobbling movement, you guessed that someone must have jumped on top of the roof and was trying to detain Mathias as well.
“Mathias, watch out!” you shouted from below.
“No worries, ___________,” you heard the overly confident dragon say. Before you could say anything else, you saw a dark shadow flash past the small window. When you clumsily got to your feet, you saw that Mathias had drawn the sword he had been carrying in the scabbard on his belt. If you squinted your eyes carefully enough, you could make out the silhouetted images of Leon, Yong Soo, and Kiku. Three against one was hardly fair—even if their opponent happened to be a dragon. You weren’t sure how long Mathias would be able to last, but you knew that they must have had some hidden skills if they were able to incapacitate Lukas so easily.
With not a second of time to waste, you began to frantically search for something that could get your wrists and ankles free from the chains. But where were you supposed to look first? There were so many tiny drawers all looking identical.
Forget all of that. You couldn’t afford to waste anymore time when Mathias was trying to fend off the merchants on his own.
Hang on, Mathias! you hastily thought in your head. You then began to rummage through all of the drawers not caring if you were making a mess on the floor as spools of thread and strange bottles of ingredients began flying all over the caravan. From inside the wooden walls, you heard the sharp clang of metal as weapons collided with one another in foul harmony. From above, you could even hear Lukas grunting as he desperately tried to free himself from the chains while the others were distracted.
“Ha!” you heard Mathias say. “Is that all you’ve got?!”
“He’s annoying—much like someone I know,” you then heard Leon say with an irritated voice.
“I have a good idea of who you might be referring to,” Cheng said rather calmly from the sidelines. He, along with Yao and Mei, hadn’t moved a millimeter from where they had been standing. Apparently, they had confidence that three men would be enough to take on a dragon in his human form—not that Mathias could change back into his true form, anyway.
Between searching for something to free your wrists and ankles, you occasionally took looks outside of the frosted window to see how Mathias was faring. The merchants were fast, but where they had agility, Mathias had stamina and endurance. He didn’t look like he was getting fatigued in the slightest, and from the slight smirk stretching across his lips, it looked he was having fun.
I wonder what Lukas would think about the way you fight… you thought to yourself before ducking back down to look through the drawers.
Then, after going through one of the lower drawers, something caught your eye. While this small object didn’t have any use for getting you free, something suddenly struck you in the nerves. Perhaps there was a small window of hope for you after all.
You were going out on a limb here, but that little conversation you had with your “conscious” a little while ago couldn’t have been a mere loss of your sanity.
Focus, __________, you thought. This is a matter of life and death!
“Eh? ___________?” you heard Mathias say from outside.
He heard me! you thought in relief. Uh—Mathias, talk in your head!
“Like this?” Mathias’ voice asked.
Yes, so no one else can hear what we’re saying, you thought. Mathias, do you still have that firework with you?
“Sure do, ____________,” Mathias answered. “Augh. Move over to the left, and—Arg! Stupid daggers! Stupid arm…”
That’s right, I can hear your thoughts, too, you thought. Oh, but, Mathias, listen to me.
I want you to get close to the caravan as possible, you instructed. When you do, I’m going to light the firework up with some flint rocks, okay? Once it’s lit, throw it at the caravan.
“At the caravan?!”
You heard me.
“B-But—What about you and Lukas—Whoa, that was close!”
We’ll be fine! you told him. Just have the firework ready, okay?
“Got it, _____________,” Mathias finally agreed.
Alright, I’ll be waiting.
Your heart felt like it was about to burst. The anticipation of making sure you didn’t mess anything up wasn’t able to make it beat this fast alone. You must have gotten some of the adrenaline Mathias was feeling in the heat of battle. So his emotions transferred to you, too.
Then, after some quick footwork, you noticed Mathias was getting closer and closer to the caravan. You were clutching the pair of small black rocks tightly in your hand hoping everything would go as planned. If you were going to properly light the fuse, he would have to do everything in his power to make sure none of the merchants interfered with him while you were lighting the firework. Then there was the question of what would exactly happen after the firework would explode. From what you had seen back at the Bone Forest, there was a lot of power in the tiny bombs. You could only imagine what Mathias’ large firework would be able to do.
“___________!” Mathias’ voice suddenly said, notifying you that he was close enough. Without another word, you quickly leaned out of the caravan as much as you could and began to feverishly strike the rocks together.
Come on…! you hastily thought as tiny sparks began to light up. Light up!
“I got it!” you breathed as a single spark flew on the fuse at just the right spot. In an instant, the fuse ignited into a shower of sparks and lights, making a cackling sizzling noise as it approached the main body of the firework.
“Wait, do I put it inside or outside of the caravan?” Mathias quickly asked.
“Outside!” you shouted above the crescendo of sparks.
The dragon promptly obeyed, narrowly dodging a small, shiny object that could have grazed his eye if he hadn’t moved quickly enough.
“Yao, he’s got fire!” you heard Yong Soo shout to the businessman.
“Eh, it’s just a firework,” Yao dismissively replied. “There’s nothing to worry about.”
Nothing to worry about? Won’t the firework explode?
There was no way to take back any of your spontaneous actions now. Mathias was too busy fighting with the merchants outside, Lukas was still chained, and you hadn’t found anything else of use around the caravan. But never mind that. If the firework really exploded regardless of what Yao had said, then you had to find some shelter. The chains binding you were just long enough for you to crawl under the sleeping space on the lowest level. From the window, you could see the light outside getting smaller as it entered the main body of the firework. With nothing else you could do, you clamped your hands on your ears and closed your eyes waiting for the caravan to blow into bits.
Any second now…
How many seconds had passed? How close was Mathias to the firework? Would Lukas be alright? He was outside, but his body was supposedly immune to fire so he was going to be fine, wouldn’t he?
You were about to find out.
Without warning, there was a sharp jerk on the side of the caravan coming from the place where the firework had been placed. When you squinted open one of your eyes, you saw that there was the powerful display of colorful lights going on outside the caravan followed by an extremely loud whistling noise that rivaled any of the winter winds you had ever heard in your life.
Considering the large proportions of the firework in comparison to the size of the bombs Leon had used back at Bone Forest, you had expected the entire caravan to go flying or at least have a piece of the side get blown off, but nothing happened—well, that was to say, something unexpected did happen.
Instead of feeling the caravan explode, you felt the entire cart move forward much like the motion you had felt when the caravan was travelling at a normal pace, but the speed was much faster. This was…
“Hey, what the heck?!” you heard Mathias’ voice getting softer and softer. “Wait for me!”
“Oh no…” you groaned and crawled out of the sleeping space and poked your head outside. Apparently, the firework was still going since there were blinding lights going off in the background, but the caravan was moving too fast for Mathias to catch up with you.
“Mathias!” you shouted to the dragon who was sprinting for the caravan.
“You idiots!” you heard Lukas shout from the roof. “What stupid idea did you come up with this time?!”
“Uh—I—” you babbled. Well, at least you seemed to have gotten away from the merchants. From the looks of things, it would have seemed that they had gotten blinded or distracted by the lights long enough for Mathias to get a head start. However, the horses must have been spooked by the lights which caused them to break into a gallop, and they were going faster than Mathias could hope to run.
“Stop! Hey, wait up!” Mathias shouted, his feet carrying him as fast as they could through the snow. While you knew that Lukas had been able to last a long time walking through the snow, you had never exactly seen him run. The speed of a dragon was hardly any better than a human’s in the snow; dragons just had more energy.
“Mathias, hang on!” you called back to him, but there was no way of telling if the caravan was going to stop or not. There wasn’t anyone controlling the reins, nor was there anyone capable of grabbing them. This wasn’t going to end well.
Sure enough, to your predictions, the caravan suddenly began to spin out of control like there was no grip on ground.
“Wha—Lukas, what’s happening?!” you asked to the dragon above you.
“It’s ice!” Lukas shouted. “We’ve reached the river!”
The river? Then that meant the gate wasn’t far away.
That didn’t matter for the moment. What was important was that you and Lukas needed to get free as fast as possible before the merchants caught up with you. All the while as the caravan continued to spin around and around, you could hear the horses whinnying in fear and surprise as their hooves failed to gain footing on the frictionless frozen water. It was only a matter of time before something got even worse—
Right on cue… you miserably thought. The ice was beginning to cave in with all the applied weight.
“I swear, human, you’re like a walking disaster attractor!” Lukas screeched. “Why in the world do bad things always have to happen to me when I’m around you?!”
You made a confused face like you weren’t sure you knew what you were thinking about. “Maybe because it makes the plot more intense?”
“Don’t pull that rubbish on me!” the Divine Keeper of the Sapphire Flames roared. “I’m the only one who can make outer plot references in this story!”
“Well excuse me for answering your question!”
“______________! Lukas!” a familiar voice shouted. Mathias had caught up.
“Mathias, over here!” you shouted. “Watch your—”
“Ah, gods!” Mathias yelped when you saw him nearly slip on his face when his boot touched the icy.
“Mathias, hurry! The ice is breaking!”
“I’m…Oh, whoa! I’m coming, ___________!”
“Would you hurry up, you slug?!” Lukas hissed.
That got Mathias to get moving. Within a matter of seconds, he had managed to reach the spinning caravan that had lost most of its rotational momentum thanks to the horses being frozen in fright.
“Okay, you first, ___________,” Mathias grunted and grabbed onto the chains around your ankles. With a feat of inhuman strength, the chains came apart as if they were no stronger than flimsy clumps of dried grass threaded together. After freeing your wrists, he hurried and helped you out of the caravan before climbing the top to see if he could get Lukas free.
“Thanks, Mathias,” you breathed in relief and did your best to balance your footing on the ice.
“Don’t mention it,” Mathias smiled as he hoisted himself on the roof.
“There they are!” you heard a voice say.
When you whipped your head around, you saw Yao and the rest of his family standing at the edge of the river.
“Yao, the river is breaking apart,” you heard Cheng say. “Are you sure you don’t want to just give up the chase?”
“No way!” Yong Soo protested. “There are two dragons, and the caravan’s over there!”
“Like, you’d better make up your mind quickly, Yao,” Leon piped up.
“____________...” Mei softly said.
Yao had a concentrated look on his face. He wasn’t about to risk any of his family’s lives nor did he want to lose just about everything they had. But whatever he was going to think of, he had to act quickly. The ice was starting to groan and creak under pressure. Mathias had to hurry up, as well.
“Mathias, the ice!” you shouted.
“I know, but these stupid things won’t give!” Mathias responded, his teeth clenched in frustration. If wouldn’t be long before the ice would give way and drag everyone beneath the deadly icy currents.
Crr-cckk! Crack! Crack!
You stepped back in shock. Before, you had only been able to make out the sounds of the ice weakening. Now, however, you could clearly see visible cracks forming around the frozen river’s surface. It was only a matter of time before it was too late.
Dammit! What to do? you hastily thought.
Everything that happened after that was too sudden for you to remember in complete details. One of the shards had crept underneath your feet completely sinking into the water like a lever and tossed you sailing into the air. By the time you landed on your bottom, more cracks had formed a spider web pattern all around the caravan and began to give way one by one dragging the entire vehicle, the horses, and the dragons into the current below.
“Lukas! Mathias!” you screamed in utter horror when the last of the dragons had completely vanished from sight.
No, no, no, this can’t be happening, you thought in a weak voice. Not like this…Not after Emil…
You gasped. M-Mathias?
“Dammit—uh, look, ____________, we’re going to be fine. We can hold our breaths for a long time, but that doesn’t mean we can hold it forever. Try to see if you can find us downstream. Lukas and I will figure something out.”
B-But…Are you sure?
“I’m sure. I’ve been through worse,” Mathias assured you in his normally casual voice. “Just make sure those other guys don’t follow you.”
Then, you looked up to see what had happened to the merchants. The river had collapsed more than you had imagined. An entire section of the river had broken off, and with the cliffs surrounding it being too high to climb, going downstream would be impossible for them. You, on the other hand, had fortunately landed on the side opposite of them. You wouldn’t have to worry about them for a while if ever again.
I’ll see if I can find you, you thought and slowly got to your feet—only to slip on your bottom again.
“Alright, _____________,” Mathias chuckled. “We’ll try not to be too long.”
Same goes for me, you frowned as you slipped once again. At this point, you decided it was easier to drag your body across the ice by sliding on your belly. It was embarrassing, but if it got you to where you were going faster than on foot, you didn’t have any reason to complain.
“Okay, be seeing you, ___________.”
And just like that, you no longer heard Mathias’ voice anymore. You had to give it to the dragon: even though he had a hard time reading the mood, his cheerful demeanor made everything a little better. If he hadn’t been there to reassure you, you would have definitely been driven to the brink of your mind. Now all you had to do was see if you could find the dragons somewhere downstream however long that would have taken, and if you were feeling unsure, you could always hear their voices again in your thoughts. You made a reminder to ask the dragons about being able to speak to them in your thoughts once—or if—you would see them again.