“I have to thank you for your courage and determination, Dragonheart,” Emil’s body spoke. Gone was the lovely silvery shimmer of his white hair; his eyes and face were beyond recognition with nothing but darkness clambering over a hazy, writhing shadow. His voice had been altered to a point where you could not fathom that speaking to him had once offered you comfort and solace in a place where you would have otherwise gone mad. Then again, if there was a proper time to be going mad, now was the time.
The shadow had a large sweeping tongue that slithered over its enormous mouth lines to clean up any excess blood it might have failed to pick up. Lukas’ heart was gone. There was no hope now. The flames of the world were consumed along with your friend’s soul.
“Lukas, Emil…” you sobbed. “Forgive me…”
The shadow bent its formless shape towards you.
“Why should they forgive you?” it hissed in a strange note of strangulated amusement. “They should be the ones asking you for forgiveness. They did not realize the potentials you held.”
An eerily wide grin snaked across the demon’s pitch-black face. “But of course. You, a mere human, would have the fortune of being both fit to inheriting a dragon’s soul and fit for carrying the burden of the true flames of the world.”
You furrowed your eyebrows. The shadow could read your thoughts. It didn’t matter, though. You couldn’t move. Everything hurt. Everything was blue.
I thought I was only carrying the Sapphire Flames.
A thin forked tongue slithered out of the demon’s mouth.
“Up until a certain point,” it replied in a low hiss. “That dragon thought he could stop me from getting the flames by splitting them into two: one part that was the Sapphire Flames that you had carried and the other part he had protected in his own heart.” A sharp hiss flew out of its hollow form. “He could not have imagined that your very feelings for him and your genuinely pure heart would ultimately lead to the biggest mistake of his last breath.”
You coughed. It was becoming difficult to breathe.
“Had you stayed away from him, the flames would not have been made whole, and the seal he had placed on his heart would not have been broken.” Then, the demon made a wet, wheezing sound that might have served as an ear-splitting laugh.
“I should also be grateful that his brother was not strong enough to protect you. I should be grateful to all of you. Because of the three of you, the flames of the world will soon be mine.”
So that’s what it feels like… you groaned.
The weight of the world was resting in your heart. This is what Lukas had to go through on a daily basis. This was the pain and suffering he had to endure while holding the flames. To think that Emil would have gladly done the same to keep Eliatha turning for just a little longer was too…
“And now that you are here, Dragonheart, I will gladly take the flames from you.”
You didn’t even want to ask how it was going to do that. Would it eat your heart just as it did Lukas’? Would it burrow into your mind and swallow you up like it had Emil? Or would you simply perish with the rest of the humans once Dragonfall froze Eliatha over in eternal ice?
It doesn’t matter anymore, you hopelessly thought. This is it. There’s nothing more for me. I want to die.
The darkness was eating you. The maddening blue visions you saw were fading away into a shroud of pure black. It was cold. It was hot. Your body was struggling between a limbo of temperatures, emotions, and remorse chewing away at what was left of your sanity. You had failed. You had to accept it.
“Giving up so soon? I thought you were better than that, ________________.”
In a sudden burst of light and sound, the darkness peeled away from your eyes and opened up to the large chamber you were still inside. The voices in your head grew louder, and yet your chest felt light and full of life.
“Damn dragons!” the shadow screeched in a howling rage. It cowered back from the white light shining from your body, the flames in the room no longer a sapphire blue color. The pain throbbing in your heart wasn’t hurting anymore. You felt rejuvenated—alive.
Someone was helping you.
“Who…?” You looked around for the sign of another life form. “Who’s there?”
“You mean to tell me that after travelling with me for so long, you’ve already forgotten my voice?” a familiar voice seemed to sigh. “I figured as much from you, ___________.”
“It took you long enough.”
“Let’s just say, I’m greatly disturbed you managed to carry my eyes around for so long.”
Curious, you quickly looked back at the place you had dropped the jar that had been carrying Lukas’ eyes up until you touched his heart. The jar had shattered and spilled its contents all over the cold floor. When you looked closely, you saw that the deep shade of sapphire blue had faded from Lukas’ eyes. Emil and the shadow had been wrong. Lukas’ soul hadn't been in his heart; it had been in his eyes.
Now that his soul no longer remained in his eyes, however, your stomach started to do flips from wondering how in Eliatha you had managed to carry such vile contents around the fortress for such a long period of time.
“You can worry about that later, ___________!” Lukas barked. “Our top priority is getting you out of here before the blasted demon takes the flames!”
“R-Right!” you hastily responded and staggered to your feet. All the while as you sprinted out of the door, your thoughts triggered small flickers of lights in your brain.
Lukas is alive. I need to save Emil. The shadow is chasing us. I have to escape. The flames cannot be taken...!
“____________, don’t stop running!” Lukas screamed into your head. It was strange knowing he was actually inside your heart. “If you fall, get back up. Do. Not. Let. It. Catch. You.”
“You don’t need to tell me twice!” you panted.
This was even faster than when you had first come down to this awful place. Your heart was fluttering in short quick bursts like an excited bird breaking into flight. The ashes and the smell returned, but compared to the thought of being caught again, nothing mattered. Lukas was with you this time, and you could only hope that if you escaped, then everything would be fine. It was a cowardly path, but you would have to settle with the fool’s route for now.
“Foul, rotten human!” a blood-curdling voice wailed from behind you. The wet sloshing sounds of the trailing darkness sounded like it was right on your heels. You couldn’t afford to stop or look back.
“I’ll kill you! I kill all of you filthy humans! The flames will be mine!”
“Don’t stop,” Lukas said. “Keep going. I know you can do it.”
“I’m trying my best, Lukas!” you breathed.
“You will not escape! I won’t allow it!”
Then, out of nowhere, a tall dark wall blocked your path. You had to dig your heels into the shrewd rug to prevent your face from crashing straight into it.
Lukas cursed from inside your heart. “Fantastic,” he growled. “Turn around—quickly. There has to be another way out.”
You promptly obeyed and went back in the same direction hoping you could find an alternate path you had overlooked. A turn. Here was a way.
“You can’t run forever, Dragonheart!”
“Lukas…” you whimpered.
“Shut up and keep going!” the dragon snapped.
How typical of him to be so caustic even in such a tense situation. However, you were sure that if he hadn’t been there for you, even if you had the mobility to escape, you would have stumbled long ago and succumbed to the darkness.
Behind you, the booming thuds of clambering footsteps and stones shattering and collapsing were tearing over from behind you. The demon couldn’t be too far from you now. You wanted this to end. You could only run so fast and for so long. There were still so many paths to take, and the string that had once led you to Lukas’ heart wasn’t pulling you anymore. You were running away blind.
Lukas, I don’t know if I can do this.
“You can, _____________,” Lukas insisted. “You are the bravest human I have ever known and one worthy of being a Dragonheart and my vessel. Do not make me regret that decision.”
What decisions could you possibly make as a set of eyeballs?!
“Not very many,” Lukas reluctantly admitted, “but I still have the capability of making them.”
Stop saying such ridiculous things while we’re being chased! you screamed in your head.
“I can hear you!” the monster screeched from behind.
Oh gods… you whimpered. Oh gods, oh gods, oh gods…
“Gods help me!” you cried.
The black walls continued to corner you. When you thought you were safe, another wall barred your path forcing you to turn away. Again and again, around and around. The beast was closing you in, trapping you. Pretty soon, you would have no place to run.
Lukas, what do I do? you frantically thought. You had reached a dead end. Desperate for a path to find, for movement, you began to furiously claw at the stone making the tips of your dry fingers bleed. There was no way out.
“We fight,” Lukas merely said.
Your heart made a jolt. Fight?! But what about Emil?! What about the other dragon souls in its body?!
“That thing is not my brother any more!” Lukas barked in such an angry voice that it made you jump. “____________, listen to me: sometimes you can’t let your emotions get the better of you. Think logically. Would my brother really want you to give up the flames of the world without a fight? Do you think he wants to see your heart get ripped out of his body just as it had happened to him?!”
The world stopped.
The shadow was getting closer.
“Lukas, what did you say?”
Infuriated, you began to physically claw at your chest until you threatened to tear open your clothes and sink your nails into your own heart.
“Lukas, answer me!” you screamed. “What happened to Emil?!”
“He’s dead! My brother is dead!” Lukas screeched, his voice ringing with the sound of pure defeat and heartbreak. The shadow was going to come at any moment now.
Your arms dropped to your sides. “When? How?”
“______________, we need to focus on the task at hand—”
“Tell me, gods damn you!”
“It must have been when we were captured!” Lukas answered in a painful voice. Your heart wanted to break.
“…His body was being used as bait the entire time. Those images you thought were my real brother…They were all fake. The shadow was reconstructing your memories of him and using his body like a puppet; it projected them out in a perfect replication of him—”
“Lies, lies, lies!” you screamed. “Emil was there! He caught me when I was about to fall! We cried together! I told him I was going to live with you two! He was there with me the entire way! He’s not dead! He’s not!”
“Then how would you explain his erratic behavior? Why weren’t you able to sense his presence, and why did he not want you to look into his head when after so long, he was always there to talk to you?!”
“Because he’s alive!” you insisted. You were in complete denial. “You’re wrong, Lukas! He’s alive! How could you not think your own brother is alive?! He’s not! He’s right there!”
“Indeed, I am,” the shadow laughed.
You froze in place. You wanted to fall onto the floor and die right there, but you couldn’t tear your eyes away from the false reality that lay in front of you. You could look away from Emil.
“___________, whatever it says, that’s not my brother,” Lukas tried to say. “Do not be fooled—”
“Emil…” you breathed. “Is that really you?”
The person that looked just like Emil was smiling. He was completely naked. He must have lost his blanket while searching for you.
“Emil, I’m here,” you breathed slowly walking closer to your dragon.
“_____________, no!” Lukas screamed. “That’s not my brother! My brother is dead! Don’t be fooled! You knew it, yourself! If he didn’t have his blanket on, then he wasn’t himself! ____________, listen to me!”
Your feet stopped moving. How annoying. Lukas had taken control of your body. He was trying to prevent you from getting closer to Emil.
Let go, you demanded moving your leg to unglue it from the ground.
“Never,” Lukas snarled.
He was wrong. The oh-so-great Divine Keeper of the Sapphire Flames was wrong. Why wouldn’t he be caring about his brother? Didn’t he care more about him than anyone else in the world? There was no possibility in the course of your lifetime that he would give up so easily. Emil was right there.
How pathetic. The Divine Keeper of the Sapphire Flames was pleading with you? Who was this false Lukas that lay in your heart? And if he was the real thing, why didn’t he use his powers to get you out of this mess? It had to all be a lie.
“_______________,” Emil softly spoke, his hand extending out towards you. “Take my hand. We’ll get out of this place together. When Dragonfall is over, we can fly around Eliatha—just the two of us. If you want, we can bring my brother and Mathias along.”
“Shut up, Lukas,” you whispered and, despite Lukas’ attempts to pin you in place, you placed your hand and trust into Emil’s tender, delicate hand. The moment your fingers wrapped around his palm, your dragon pulled you close to his bare chest in a tight embrace. He was warm, and a faint smell of hay much like the stables back at the castle wafted into your nostrils. This was your Emil. He couldn’t have been anyone else.
“______________...” Emil murmured, his voice as soft as the first snow of the warmest seasons.
“Yes, Emil…?” you whispered.
The Wings of the Opal Skies hugged you even tighter. His palm was caressing the back of your head in an intimate gesture as if everything would be perfectly fine. You lazily closed your eyes to savor the moment. You wished it could have lasted forever. You even failed to see the small, sharp shard of glass raising from behind your back ready to strike into its target. Lukas screamed out your name—your real name.
Then, as fleeting as the moment lasted, so, too, did Emil look you straight into your eyes for a fraction of a second, a strange look of quivering resolve reflecting back at you in pale lavender orbs.
“I’m sorry,” he said, and before you or Lukas could react, he took the glass weapon in both of his hands, trapped you in between his arms, and plunged the shard straight into his heart.