Sure enough, in accordance to Emil’s instructions, you did manage to find a small trapdoor tucked at the far end of the room. You were completely exhausted having walked for so long over bones and other unspeakable things to the point where you couldn't even talk aloud anymore. All of your thoughts revolved around wondering what might have gone wrong with Emil since the last time you had spoken to him. There were at least a hundred possibilities with each guess getting more farfetched than the last.
However, as much as you thought about what had happened to Emil, the dragon had never bothered to respond to any of these thoughts. Somewhere after the fortieth guess, you assumed that he must have broken away from your thoughts just like you could with other dragons.
Upon coming to the trapdoor, the first thing that instantly came to your mind was the fact that it was completely locked with a large padlock. Who in Eliatha would have had the brains to lock the place from the inside of the garbage heap? It just didn’t make any sense.
“Stupid designs…” you mumbled and looked around for something that could have helped you try to break the padlock. Surely after years of exposure to humidity and fluctuating temperatures, you would be able to break the padlock without much effort.
There has to be some sort of stick lying around somewhere… you thought to yourself. After looking for a while, the only useful things you were able to find were long bones too long to have belonged to humans.
Would bones work? you wondered. It was worth a shot no matter how you looked at it so you grabbed the sturdiest looking one you could find and returned to the locked trapdoor.
Once you reached the padlock, you wedged the bone between the hole that looped around the door and began to push down on the bone like a lever. The bone was stronger than you had thought since you were able to exert your full weight on the bone—with no prospect of being able to open it.
“Rrrrgh!” you grunted, panting and wheezing from jumping up and down and pushing down as hard as you could. It was no use. The padlock was still too strong for you to break.
Great… you thought after stopping to take a rest. I’ve found the way out, but it’s not giving in…
In your frustration, you began to kick at the trapdoor. It was just one of those spur-of-the-moment ideas you had that was supposed to have relieved some stress after everything that had happened to you, but to your startled surprise, when your foot made contact with the trapdoor, an incredibly loud bang echoed throughout the garbage heap.
You jumped back in shock. You hadn’t expected to make so much noise just by kicking the trapdoor. After cursing yourself for being such a coward, you crawled back to the trapdoor and examined it.
“What in Eliatha…?” you murmured.
There was a dent at the place where you had kicked the trapdoor. Was the metal composing the door really that weak? Or perhaps your newfound abilities of the Sapphire Flames had given you inhuman strength. You would have liked to think it was the Sapphire Flames aiding you. It sounded better.
Then perhaps if I give this thing a few more kicks, it should do the trick… you thought. So, you tried again.
Just the like the last time, the entire room echoed with a metallic ring that made bones shake and creatures squeak and chirp. You looked back at the trapdoor. The dent had grown even larger. Just a little bit more, and it was sure to break. And, once again, you continued to kick at the trapdoor.
Bang! Clang! Clang! Clunk! BANG!
And just like that, the door had blown completely off. It didn’t even hurt your foot. You were starting to enjoy having the privileges of being the new flame bearer—even if it meant doing it at the expense of Lukas’ life.
“Alright, then,” you breathed. “I’m coming, Emil.”
The path behind the trapdoor led to a small, narrow tunnel dugout with dirt compacted over the walls. It was a narrow squeeze, but you managed to fit your body into the small space and start crawling through. The one thing that really bothered you about going into the tunnel, however, was the fact that because it was so small, you weren’t able to turn around and look back. You couldn’t be sure if the blue light was still shining from behind you, but if it wasn’t, then there was nothing you could do about the bloodsnares. The nightcrawlers, on the other hand, were too big to come through.
No, don’t think about that, ___________, you told yourself. Just keep looking at the path ahead. You’ve been doing fine this entire time. You can do it for a little longer.
Indeed, you had gone through some tough times before. Even though they had all been things you hadn’t expected to come out of your life, you still continued to move on. It was the least you could do after nearly being eaten by a netiss, being captured by a band of dragon hunters, and almost getting drowned or devoured by a rare sea serpent. The dragons had brought a lot of interesting memories into your once humble and quiet little life.
The further you went, the dimmer the blue light around you became, but in its place was a brilliant white light only getting bright and brighter. It had to be the sun.
Almost there…! you thought, your heart beating faster with your growing anticipation.
At long last, the tunnel gave way to a wide expanse of space. The temperature began to drop, and the air didn’t feel so humid anymore. By the time you were able to hear the faint sound of the blizzard winds blowing, you were able to stand up and begin walking to the exit.
Before completely leaving the little room, you turned around to look behind you. The little tunnel was extremely insignificant. One would have almost missed it if they hadn’t looked closely. Even if the bloodsnares had managed to get through, you felt that it wasn’t necessary for you to find a way to seal off the entrance since they feared the sunlight and the cold. With that thought in mind, you continued to move forward until you came to a worn-out ladder.
“Huh. I would have thought they would’ve used this thing as firewood by now…” you murmured.
Back at the castle, ladders were things of scarcity. Most of the townsfolk in the perimeter of the castle all shared a small handful of ladders to repair their roofs, and the ladders at the castle were placed at the most convenient spots possible. All of the other ladders had been used as firewood some point in time so seeing one placed at such a forgettable spot came as quite odd. Yet, there was no reason to complain. There could have been no ladder at all.
Might as well be grateful for what I have, you decided and gripped the rungs in your hands. Before putting your full weight on the ladder, you tested out the first step. The wood looked worn and old, and there was a thin sheet of ice formed on top of the finish. Sure enough, as soon as you stepped onto the ladder, the entire rung collapsed making you slip and roll backwards.
Startled, you cursed and scrambled back to your feet. It was then that you had realized that your ankle didn’t hurt so much anymore. Curious, you rolled your foot on the ground and leaned on your bad ankle. There was nothing wrong.
Hmm, so being able to heal quickly comes with the package.
But there was still the problem of ascending the ladder. There was a long way to go since the ceiling back at the garbage heap had been so high. It would be a shame for your journey to end here after coming so far.
“Okay, what to do…?” you mumbled. The first thing that came into mind was to try out the second rung. So you did.
Just like the first step you had taken, the second one fell apart as soon as you leaned your full weight onto the worn-out stick of wood. This was no good.
Damn! you cursed. What am I supposed to do now?
Frustrated, you looked up to the sky. It was still bright outside. You could see the small circle of daylight from above. A few flecks of snow fell down from the heavens and tickled your rosy cheeks with their icy kisses. At your feet, there was already a fanciful layer of snow at your feet from the snow that had made its way into this desolate place.
“Maybe if I just climbed really fast, I’d be able to get out before anything happens,” you thought aloud. It was worth a shot. The worst that could happen was falling close to the top and plummeting to your death and letting everyone in all of Eliatha down.
What have I got to lose? you shrugged and looked back up at the exit. You began to count. At least fifty steps give or take. It was a long ladder, after all.
You took a deep breath. If you were really going to scale the ladder and hope for the best, then you had to be fast. Incredibly fast.
Is there another way? you wondered.
“Do you see any other option?” a familiar voice asked.
“Emil!” you gasped nearly jumping out of your skin. “You scared me!”
“How typical of your kind,” Emil seemed to snort. “So you have made it to the ladder.”
Yes, you answered in your thoughts.
“Then what are you waiting for? Climb.”
Easier said than done, Emil, you grumbled in your thoughts. Once again, the voice had left your head and you found yourself completely alone at the bottom of a tunnel.
Well, no time like the present!
You were afraid of hesitating if you stopped. Even the slightest second of pulling yourself back would make you want to stop yourself and remain immobilized. Emil was right. You had to climb.
Immediately after your hand gripped onto the ladder, you thrust your foot onto the third rung and put your other foot on the fourth. You could hear the ice and wood cracking under your weight, but you continued to hoist your body higher and higher with each step. Since you were moving so quickly, your footing would occasionally falter and making your stomach shoot into your throat. The sensation of falling was not a good thing to experience. You had experienced plenty of falls when journeying with the dragons.
Almost there! you screamed in your head, the white sky above you. Just a little more.
Suddenly, something made you lose your footing and caused you to slip from your grip. Such was your ill luck.
“Gungh!” you gasped. When you looked above at the ladder, you noticed that there had been a missing rung. Without noticing it on time, you had miscalculated the distance your foot had to plant itself onto the ladder and began to slip from your place.
“No!” you shrieked. Everything was happening in slow motion. You were falling. The ground was getting closer. No matter how large the possibility, you knew you were going to severely injure yourself when you hit the ground. You had failed once again. And now—
At the last second before completely falling off the ladder, someone had grabbed onto your outstretched hand. A lungful of air escaped your lips. You nearly heaved when your freely swinging body hit the edge of the wall.
“Ouch!” you cried as your back hit the dirt. Some of the snow that had been disturbed by the surface showered down on your head and crept into the back of your neck shooting a stinging sensation of shivers down your spine.
“I knew you’d never be able to survive without one of us in tow,” a voice said from above. Right after speaking, the person who had caught you easily pulled you up to the surface. He had to be fairly strong considering he was doing it one-handed.
“Th-Thank you...” you breathed and flopped down on the snow.
The person didn’t even let you rest before turning you around and placing his hand straight onto your chest.
“Hey!” you screeched. “What in Eliatha—?! Do you mind?!”
“Not here…” It was Emil. He looked rather dashing in his human form if it wasn’t for the nasty scowl visibly ruining his darkened expression. At the very least, he had clothes. But his hand was still on your chest.
You growled and slapped his hand away. Then you pushed him off. The pale dragon put up no resistance as his body fell back first into the snow. With the upper hand on your side, you marched over to him and seized him by his…blanket? At least, it sure looked like he was wearing a blanket.
“Alright, Emil, you’ve got some explaining to do!” you snarled. “I don’t know what happened to you after I last spoke to you, but I want you to tell me everything! You hear me? Everything!”
The young dragon wore a blank expression. With such a beautiful face, he didn’t look like he was capable of throwing such biting words at you, but looks could be deceiving.
“Emil, are you listening to me?” you fumed. You thought to look in his head if possible.
Answer me, damn you!
Emil’s voice drifted into your head. “The flames…”
Yes? What about them?
Just then, Emil seemed to regain his senses and quickly tugged his blanket away from your hand. As strange as it was, he didn’t look like he was mad at you; rather, he was embarrassed that you had dominated him like that. Shortly after, he stood up and brushed the snow off his body.
“_______________, the journey’s not over yet,” he said. Odd. He used your name.
You raised an eyebrow. “Emil? Hey, are you feeling alright?”
Emil turned around and gave you a quick look before shying away and walking through the snow. You followed after him.
“I’m fine, __________,” he mumbled. “But something’s wrong.”
You snorted. “If you mean wrong, then why not giving me an explanation about what happened to your tone? You were so rude about forty seconds ago, and now you expect me to believe you’re normal again?”
“I’ll get around to explaining that later, ____________,” Emil sighed, “but right now, there’s something we still have to take care of.”
“The thing that’s preventing this journey from being over?” you guessed. You were looking at your surroundings. The air held something eerie, and you weren’t sure if it was your imagination or not, but the dark looming shapes of tall buildings gave off an incredibly negative aura. Just looking in that direction made you sick.
“____________, stay me with, here,” Emil quickly said. “It pains me to tell you this, but—”
“There’s no need to tell me…” you interrupted him sadly shaking your head.
Emil stopped and looked back at you. “Excuse me?”
“Your brother…” you muttered looking into your dragon’s lavender eyes. “He’s dead. I know that. I don’t deny it any more.”
Emil didn’t say anything for a long time. His eyes had lost their light like a dark storm cloud that cloaked Eliatha with its never-ending blizzard. Finally, after what seemed like a small eternity later, he spoke.
“So I’ve heard,” he sighed. “I wish I hadn’t been such a burden for you two.”
“Emil…” you breathed. “What’s going on?”
“First thing’s first, ___________,” the dragon said walking up to you again. Without a word, he unveiled a hand from his blanket and pointed to where your heart is.
“____________, I don’t exactly know what happened the day my brother died, but I can be sure of one thing and one thing only.”
“And what would that be?” you asked.
Emil pressed his lips together. He looked troubled. This was the modest dragon you knew.
“_____________, I’m sorry to tell you this, but as it stands, against the other side, you are not actually carrying the flames of the world in your heart.”