Everything between the time you had blacked out and the time you woke up in a cold, dark room was a blur. You couldn’t remember what you were supposed to be doing or why you were even here in the first place. Why hadn’t you just stayed behind that day back at the castle and slept in? It would have been much better than having to feed the dragons their daily helpings of food and clean up after them. The smaller one wouldn’t have grown attached to you, and the larger one wouldn’t have…
You buried your face into your hands.
The dragon you had journeyed with so far up until now was really gone. There wasn’t even any climatic suspense leading up to his ultimate demise; it just happened like that. In a blink of an eye, he had left you behind to wherever it is dragons go to when they die. You had never bothered to ask. There had been many questions you had wanted to ask him. Now, you’d never get the chance again. All the things that could have been, everything that might have happened…
Lukas hadn’t exactly gone too far into details about what he had planned to do in the future now that you thought about it. Perhaps he didn’t want to make you look forward to seeing him after your journey was over. He nearly succeeded in pushing you away from him, too—nearly.
On that thought, your fingers glided over your chapped lips.
That damned Lukas! How dare he do that to you! How dare he break your heart upon his last breath!
Ever since the first day he began speaking to you, there had been absolutely no hint, no sliver of a possibility that Lukas would ever harbor intimate feelings for you. H-How dare he kiss you!
“A haughty prick to the very end,” you frowned.
You just wanted to die. It would have been much easier than having to live with an aching, broken heart. What were the chances that you, alone, would be able to rescue Emil? Was he even alive? You hadn’t been able to speak with him since the caravan merchants had captured you.
Yes. Perhaps disappearing from this world altogether would be a better option. There would be no more suffering, no more grieving for a dragon who, up until this point, didn’t even express any feelings for you other than contempt and loathing.
“Why would you do that to me, Lukas?” you whispered.
You were too tired to cry, too exhausted to look at your surroundings. The air was cold but not cold enough to hide a peculiar stench you had failed to notice until now.
The smell was familiar. In fact, you remembered smelling something similar to this somewhere along your journey, but trying to remember would only bring back the memories of the times you had spent with Lukas. You just wanted to bury those memories deep within your head and lock them away, never to touch them.
But forgetting was going to have to wait because somewhere deep inside the same room you were moping around in, there was a wet noise that had begun to echo throughout the room. It was subtle at first, but then the noise began to multiply in amplitude, and soon, you could make out the sounds of squishing, slurping, and slithering all in one.
What in Eliatha…?
Did you dare move from your spot? You were torn between running into a different part of the lightless space far from the sounds, staying where you were, or even pulling a foolish act of your brain and venturing towards the very spot where the sounds where coming from.
In the end, you decided to wait for your eyes to adjust to the darkness before doing something as stupid as running in a direction you couldn’t even see. There didn’t seem to be any light where you were so it was incredibly hard to make out anything specific, but you could still see the bulky shapes of…something lying around the floor like garbage. Perhaps those men had thought you held no value and threw you among the rest of the rubbish. How very civil of them to do that even after knocking you out. They might as well have just left you to freeze to death out in the snow.
After a few more minutes, your eyes were able to recognize a series of supporting beams shooting up to the ceiling. The scheme was rather grand for a garbage dump, you thought. Not even the castle had something like this, though you could understand why they didn’t. It was beyond eerie, and the air was moist and oddly still. On top of all of that, there was that irritable squishing noise that never sounded as though it were getting closer but never getting farther, either.
Then, a new series of sound came—one much louder. The first noise sounded like a sharp slithering noise. A series of objects clicked and clacked as if the maker of the noise was pushing objects out of the way. Then, you heard a low growling noise moving towards the softer squishing noises. In a chorus of chatters, the smaller “things” squeaked and moved out of the way, their voices getting softer as the deeper-sounding creature moved to the spot.
If you squinted your eyes enough, you could make out the faint outline of something large and dark standing atop a large pile of misshapen objects. It had long, ungainly limbs and what appeared to be a rather large mouth. Perhaps it was a wolf, and the other things were mice. What sort of garbage dump would have a wolf, though?
Suddenly, instead of the soft slurping and squishing noises that the smaller creatures had made, the larger one made a loud crunch as it lowered its head and appeared to bite into something. It was too dark to see what it was, but something told you to steer clear from the area.
Never mind dying. If you died here, then everything would have been in vain: Emil disappearing, Mathias’ arm almost getting chewed off, the businessman’s caravan being destroyed, the sea serpent’s death…and…Lukas…
Maybe it was fear that drove you to suddenly get to your feet and slowly tiptoe away from the area, but whatever it truly was, you only knew that you had to find a way out of here and fast. There was nothing for you to do around here except rotting away and being eaten by whatever strange creatures those shadows actually were.
But, before you could venture off, there was a loud metallic screeching noise. Curious, you began to look around for the source of the noise in every direction swiveling your head back and forth and even so much as looking on the ground. When you thought the noise was something short of your imagination, however, a thin ray of light appeared from the top of the ceiling like a trapdoor. Some voices began to pour into the once darkened room, but you were too focused on what was about to be dumped inside to think of your surroundings.
There, falling down from the high ceiling of this forsaken dumpster, was a corpse. It wasn’t just any corpse, though. This corpse had fair blonde hair and close to flawless skin. Even though it looked thin and frail with a gaping wound torn at the left side of its chest, you knew who the corpse belonged to.
“Lukas…” you breathed.
As the body fell onto the pile of other objects, the light quickly vanished as it had appeared. In a frantic, you began to clamber over the obscured objects kicking up smaller items and trudging through soft, and moist things on the way. You didn’t dare to look back. Even if you couldn’t see, your eyes were transfixed at the very spot where Lukas’ body had fallen. It had become too real. If his body had made its way to this place, then there was no doubt about it: Lukas was really dead.
“Lukas…I’m coming,” you whispered. Nothing else mattered. You stumbled and tripped a few times thanks to your unhealed ankle. You heard the chattering returning and even the low growl of the larger creature. You could smell something foul coming from the body of the fallen dragon you were approaching, but none of it mattered. The only word ringing inside your head was “Lukas.”
“Lukas…” you said. “Lukas…Lukas…”
When you did reach his body, you were shocked to find it unnaturally cold. Of course, that was because he was dead, but after growing accustomed to his normal dragon’s heat, it didn't feel right. Your hand crept up to his face. Perhaps it was for the best that it was so dark. You didn’t think you could bear to see what Lukas’ face would look like in its deathly state. He had been staring into nothingness when the first waves of realization began to hit you. What would he have looked like now?
“Oh, Lukas…” you sniffed.
No. You couldn’t afford to be weak here. You couldn't show how weak you were still in front of him. Not like this.
Oddly enough, you began to notice how unusually dry Lukas was. When the arrow had struck him in his heart, blood seemed to pour out of his wound like no tomorrow. Now, however, there wasn’t a trace of blood to be found. Curious, your hand began to move towards his heart where his fatal had killed him.
Nothing. There was a cavity where his heart should have been.
You felt sick. You wanted to scream, to relieve yourself of this maddening fate. Someone, as low and disgusting as it was, had removed his heart. Perhaps they even had his blood drained while they were at it. At least it would explain why he was so pale.
“Oh, gods…” you whimpered.
Who would do this? Who would do something so evil as to steal the heart of a dragon? And also—
Your stomach lurched. It was all you could do to clamp your mouth over your hand to prevent anything from coming out. It was hard to make out his image in the nearly nonexistent light, but you could still see it. Where Lukas’ lovely sapphire blue eyes should have been were two empty sockets. The bastards had taken the dragon’s eyes, too.
Gods…! you screamed in your head.
Tears began to leak out of your own eyes. It was too much. Whoever did this to Lukas was more than wicked; he—or she—was pure evil. What could anyone possibly do with eyes? Such beautiful blue eyes…
Lukas wouldn’t have wanted this to happen. He would have fought to the very end if someone were about to take his eyes let alone his heart and his dragon’s blood. Alas, he had already died before the process. At the very least, he wouldn’t have to suffer through it. It was a good thing Emil wasn’t here to see this, either.
Thinking about Emil… you thought. Where is he?
You looked up at your surroundings. If Lukas’ body had ended up in here, then there could have been a slight possibility that Emil’s body might have ended up here, too. The very thought of seeing that precious dragon being dumped here with his heart and eyes torn out of his very body made you sick to your stomach. Then you reminded yourself that it was impossible for Emil to have been truly dead. You had been able to speak to the dragons through thoughts and as their true forms for such a long time. You were still a Dragonheart.
Some Dragonheart I turned out to be… you miserably thought. Someone must have made a terrible mistake. You were no Dragonheart. You were a fraud, a fake, unworthy of such a title only given to the heroes of legends. You were a girl, a weak, dull-minded girl with no supernatural powers aside communication. How could anyone have thought you were cut out to do great things?
Mathias and Berwald had thought you were special. They had said it, themselves. Lukas had been doubtful.
There was a faint squeaking in the background. Your lips trembled still sick from seeing what had happened to Lukas’ body. Now what was about to happen? Were the creatures coming back? And what about that wolf thing?
Gods help me, you thought clutching your pounding heart. You weren’t going to die in here. Weak or not, Lukas had sacrificed himself for you as did all of the other dragons. You couldn’t stop here. There had to be a way out of this wretched dark hole.
You froze. There was that low growling noise again. Where was it coming from? The squeaking noise didn’t bother you very much, but you feared the creatures would come to Lukas’ body and devour it like they probably were the other objects on the ground. Thank the gods you didn’t look down to see what you were stepping on when Lukas fell here.
A fuming curse left your mouth. You couldn’t see anything. The elements of surprise and darkness were in the creatures’ favors. You highly doubted there would be a place to even hide or run to if they attacked you. So how exactly were you supposed to get out of this situation?
Then, as if providing an answer to your mental question, something struck you straight on the face. You yelped in surprise and fell on your bottom holding your hand to your face. Whatever had just attacked you felt sharp and thin like a whip or something. It stung.
Whatever was in the room with you was no mouse or wolf.
Think, __________, think! you shouted in your head. Your eyes were darting around the space, but it didn’t do much to help you since you couldn’t see very well.
As you were about to get to your feet, you felt something poking at your boots like a stick but softer. By reflex, you kicked out to the thing poking at you sending it flying with a quick jab with your foot—or so you thought. Instead of sailing away, the thing latched onto your boot and began to climb up your leg.
Dammit! you gasped and wildly flailed your foot around. Get off! Get off! Get off!
“Get off, damn you!” you cried. Your panicked voice echoed throughout the dark room like a beacon cutting through the black night. It bounced off walls and shot back at you in haunted vocals. Just how big was this place?
Underneath your echoing voice, you heard more squishing noises coming from different parts of the room. Lukas hadn’t been kidding when he had said you attracted bad luck wherever you went.
“Oh, Lukas, where are you when I actually need you?” you whimpered. Lukas was right by your feet, but what was left of anything intelligent and snarky was long gone from his body. All that remained was a carcass, a corpse.
While you were thinking, you heard something squeak from behind you. Something had gotten to Lukas’ body.
“Don’t you dare touch him!” you shouted and went over to the fallen dragon’s body. With a powerful swing, you struck something soft and slimy away from you. Unlike the thing that was still clinging onto your leg, this creature went flying away. You couldn’t tell how far you had hit it, but you weren’t about to let it come back and take more parts of Lukas away than the evil men already had.
“Get away!” you shouted swinging blindly in all directions hoping to make whatever it was that was getting closer to you waver. Unfortunately, that proved to be a fatal mistake. All the blind attacks you were doing did no harm to the creatures surrounding you as you couldn’t see them. Not only that but you were getting exhausted. You couldn’t remember the last time you had a proper rest since starting your journey, and your nutritional state of body had dramatically diminished. Now, all of the physical and mental fatigue was starting to take its toll on you. In an instant after swinging your arms, you tripped on some unseen object and fell flat on your stomach.
“Ouch!” you cried in pain. The ground was unleveled, and you had landed rather uncomfortably on certain parts of your body.
Get up, ___________! you frantically told yourself. Even in this cold room, you were panting. How did it get so hot all of a sudden? Was this what it felt like to know you were really going to die? If so, you could only imagine how Lukas must’ve felt in his last moments.
“Lukas…” you sniffed. “Dammit, why did you have to die?”
Behind you, the dragon’s body remained silent.
While you tried to get up, the thing around your leg had crawled to your thigh, the annoying little pest. In your rage, you went straight for the thing and tugged at it. The thing hung on like a stubborn slug to the very end, its limbs or feelers or claws or whatever it had tried to desperately cling onto your pants until you squeezed tightly around its body.
“Wretched worm!” you yelled and threw it on the ground. Without a second thought, your hands scrambled to find the nearest object you could reach and pick up. When you found something conveniently sized, you lifted it into the air and brought it down on the creature. There was a shrill squeak as you felt your weapon contact something soft.
I’ve got it now! you triumphantly thought, and you continued to bring repetitive blows down upon the creature until the squeaking had stopped.
“Loathsome maggot…” you panted. By the time you realized you had killed the creature, you were nearly out of breath. Even when you had been in the hot spring with the dragons, you had never felt so hot before. Perhaps it was humid in the room?
To your inconvenience, you heard more chattering in the darkness. Maybe the creatures were upset you killed their friend. It served them right for wanting to take Lukas away from you.
Just then, a different sound rose. It was coming from the beast that you had thought to be a wolf not too long ago. Something crunched and squished beneath the creature’s limbs as it began to approach you. What now?
I’m not letting you take Lukas away! you thought. Though, you caught yourself. Lukas would have been downright furious if he saw you defending a dead body. What good would it do? He might have hit you on the head had he been alive. You might have responded, “Well, what would you do if it was your body?”
He might have laughed and said a body was merely a body.
You thought he would have had a point.
Lukas… you thought and looked back to where the dragon’s body was still lying. At this point, you could see some wriggling shapes crawling into his ribcage. Disgusted, you looked away. Body or not, that thing was still what was left of Lukas.
“Gods…” you breathed.
Now, you were sure there had to be a fire somewhere above you. If not, then why in Eliatha was it so hot? In fact, it had become such a bother that you took off your cloak. There was no point in dragging it around if it was going to slow you down in this place.
At this point, the growling had risen into a crescendo. It sounded like there were more of the beasts lying in wait in the darkness. If only you had a light. The light may have exposed you to the creatures and scared you out of your wits, but it might have been worth risking your sanity if you could find a way out of this place.
I have to have a light somewhere… you thought and began to rummage through your pockets. Maybe on a stroke of luck, you would have kept the flint rocks you had used back where you were on the caravan.
Nope. Nothing. You cursed.
“Damn! I need a light!”
Suddenly, as if out of nowhere but from your very demand, a faint light began to glow from somewhere around your body.
“What…!” you gasped and backed away. The light followed.
You looked around. The creatures were clearly visible now. You remembered Emil had told you stories about nightcrawlers and bloodsnares that lurked around in the Bone Forest. You weren’t exactly sure how these creatures made their way into this dark place, but by the looks of their appearances, you could make out the cowering shapes of the squirming little bloodsnares and the massive hulking nightcrawlers hiding in the shadows just out of the light’s reach.
You frowned and looked around you. The ceiling wasn’t open, and there wasn’t a single fire in sight. If there had been, then you were sure you would have been devoured already. Emil had mentioned that the nightcrawlers were drawn to heat while fearing the sunlight. So why then, would these creatures be afraid of this unnatural light that surrounded you?
Thinking it was strange, you began looking around in circles. To your realization, the light was coming from you. It didn’t feel hot or frighten you. In fact, it felt rather…welcoming. Looking back, it was almost like the time you had slept underneath the dragon’s keep back at the castle. The dragons had always given off a warm aura that made you feel safe even if you hadn’t spoken to them at the time. What was this?
Whatever it was, the nightcrawlers and the bloodsnares sure didn’t like it. Whenever you stepped closer to them, they moved away. It wasn’t so much that the light hurt them; rather, it frightened them. As you moved around, you felt braver, and the light grew brighter. Eventually, the light began to take on a familiar color. You had grown to miss the color all too quickly. It was color of a familiar friend’s scales, the color of the tunic you had stolen for him, and the lovely color of his eyes, Lukas’ iconic color: sapphire blue.
Even as the light grew into powerful burst, tears began streaming down your cheeks. You had completely forgotten about the story after Lukas had died. It had been foolish for you to think that the kiss had been purely out of his feelings for you. He had been cold and calculating to his last breath.
Lukas had given you the Sapphire Flames.