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Neopia's Fill in the Blank News Source | 27th day of Awakening, Yr 23
The Neopian Times Week 126 > Continuing Series > Dark Flame: Part Eighteen

Dark Flame: Part Eighteen

by child_dragon

Single Candle

The dancing lasted long into the night. I finally retired to a tent that had been set aside for me and my friends. Melody was already there along with Netsuko, Sakuko, and MoonFall. I found a spot near them and covered myself up with the blankets. Sleep came instantly that night.

     "Shi'tri!" I called, once again sensing that this was more than a dream, "Where are you?"

     "Right here," he said coldly.

     "Elemental Forge, eh?" I said, watching for a reaction.

     There was none. His face remained as impassive as ever.

     "You know, it's not just me that wants you to turn back," he said. "All the elements want it. It's just only I can contact you in this manner."

     "So? I want my pet back and I'm not giving up until I have him."

     "You can't have him. For your sake… just give up."

     "I won't. We've been over this before. I must ask though: what is up with your shaman?"

     Shi'tri sniffed in disgust.

     "Oh. Him. A rather poor choice in my mind but he was all that was available. We try and keep tabs on the Infernals due to their proximity to the Forge."

     "Well, tell your shaman that if he so much as looks at me wrong he'll be finding out what the afterlife is like firsthand."

     The element looked at me sadly.

     "See, this is why I don't want you to come to the Forge. I'm rather fond of you, you know."

     "You are? Even after I beat you up in the Shadow realm?"

     He nodded, a ghost of a smile on his face.

     "Yes. Even though you defeated me before. But your sheer determination will get you to the Forge and from there we can only see how events fall out. I want you to know that whatever happens is not because I dislike you. It is out of necessity."

     "And what will happen at the Forge?" I whispered.

     "We're all rather fond of you. You've been very good at upholding your responsibilities as Essence. But… it's a pity this has to be this way."

     "What? What are you talking about?"

     He merely vanished from sight though and I drifted back into normal sleep.

     I was woken the next morning by one of Un-eairkagh's admirers from the previous night. She ushered us outside and to a small campfire where we found breakfast waiting for us.

     "I hate mushrooms," Sabreur said, staring at his bowl in dismay.

     "Quit whining," Terraile retorted.

     "I miss MoonFall's cooking."

     The Uni eyed him appreciatively.

     "I never thought I'd hear you say that, Sabreur."

     He looked at her mournfully.

     "I miss decent food. I miss the lab. And I miss being out in the open as opposed to being stuck in these dingy tunnels."

     "How do you think I feel?" Un-eairkagh snapped, "I'm the one who suffers from claustrophobia here!"

     "You've done fine," I said wearily, not wanting everyone to start moaning so close to the end of our journey, "You've all done fine."

     Raitos approached us then.

     "When you are ready, we will take you to the Forge."

     Everyone made as to leave, reaching for weapons, but the Kougra shook his furless head.

     "No, only the girl may go. The path is closed for the rest of you."

     "How come?" Sakuko and Nestuko demanded as one.

     "There are two ways to the Elemental Forge. One does not take you all the way there. That is the one the shamans take. The other can only be traveled through water. It is entirely submerged."

     There was silence.

     "Well," I said, trying to put a note of cheerfulness in my voice, "I guess it'll just be me then."

     "Don't act so happy," Melody said dubiously, "I know your phobia."

     I gulped and Un-eairkagh turned to me in excitement.

     "You have a phobia other than spiders?"

     "Yes," I muttered, "I don't like water where I can't see the bottom. And I don't like underground lakes, streams, rivers, whatever. They scare me. Badly."

     Raitos looked at me strangely and growled.

     "There is no other way. Either master your fear or fail."

     And he turned to walk off towards the lake. I watched him go and then reluctantly stood, picking up my Elemental Spear.

     "Well, that's it then," I said awkwardly, "I'm off."

     Everyone rose also. I hugged them each in turn, accepting their wishes of good luck. And this time I did not forget to tell anyone that I loved them.

     The Kougra chieftain was waiting by the lakeside. A Infernal Peophin was also there. He was pale and furless as all Infernals are; with one exception. He had a mane of stringy and knotted hair. Bits of stone were tied up in it. He regarded me with large pale eyes and then flipped back into the water. I could dimly see his pale outline just under the water's surface.

     "Mikohs will guide you," the Kougra said evenly, "as far as he can. From there it is up to you."

     "Thank you."

     "It is a fool's quest you are on and I doubt I will ever see you again. But so be it."

     I nodded and stepped out into the lake. The water was only mildly cold, hinting at some volcanic activity deeper below the earth. The Infernals had mentioned the Forge being too hot to survive in. I imagined the place would be some lava pool deep under the earth. But to get there through water… what kind of place was the Forge?

     I was about to dive underwater when a call stopped me. It was my brother. He glanced at me awkwardly then tossed me a metal sphere.

     "For you. Just in case you need it."

     And then he trotted off to rejoin the rest of my group. I carefully clasped the improved firebomb to my belt and dove underwater. I could see fine and breath fine, thanks to my gills. Mikohs twisted around to ensure I was ready and then took off through the lake. We dove deeper and deeper until there was no light. I summoned a small sphere of light magic to guide us. Up ahead was a tunnel in the cavern wall. We made for it. I hesitated for a moment, staring at the yawning black mouth before me. For Aldrai. I braced myself and followed.

     We swam for what seemed like hours. Eventually the current starting picking up and I heard the sound of rushing water. That meant air had to be nearby. Sure enough, Mikohs vanished onto a surface above us. I broke through and took a deep breath of slightly stale air before pulling myself out of the river and onto the slick stone floor in the cave. It was a tiny room with barely enough space for two of us. As it was, both our tails hung in the water and we were squashed uncomfortably close.

     "This is as far as I can take you," the Peophin said jerkily. "You'll have to go on yourself. The current picks up too hard to turn back pretty soon. Just follow the river. It'll take you straight to the Elemental Forge."

     "Thank you," I said softly.

     "There is nothing to thank me for. I am leading you towards death."

     I was about to reply but the Peophin had already leaped into the water and was heading back up the way we had came. I watched him go and then felt an abrupt wave of loneliness and fear. It was just me and whatever lay in the Forge. I leapt back into the water and let the current carry me.

To be continued...

Previous Episodes

Dark Flame: Part One

Dark Flame: Part Two

Dark Flame: Part Three

Dark Flame: Part Four

Dark Flame: Part Five

Dark Flame: Part Six

Dark Flame: Part Seven

Dark Flame: Part Eight

Dark Flame: Part Nine

Dark Flame: Part Ten

Dark Flame: Part Eleven

Dark Flame: Part Twelve

Dark Flame: Part Thirteen

Dark Flame: Part Fourteen

Dark Flame: Part Fifiteen

Dark Flame: Part Sixteen

Dark Flame: Part Seventeen

Dark Flame: Part Nineteen

Dark Flame: Part Twenty

Dark Flame: Part Twenty One

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