“We shouldn’t be here,” Kukull whispered. “I’m going to get caught. They’re going to kill me-”
Only if you keep yelling down the corridor, the ghost hissed back inside their head. Keep moving. There is an entrance to the Cave of Gems in this mountain, and we are going to find it.
Kukull wandered through hallway after hallway at the ghost’s instructions, ducking into side rooms and large cracks in the walls whenever noises echoed from elsewhere. They’d never had to keep time without the sky before, but they felt certain that it must be night by now. The emptiness in their stomach confirmed it. They slowed.
Talking is dangerous here, Kukull. I’ve told you before; think, and I will hear you.
Kukull held in a sigh. This place is a labyrinth! I don’t know how I’m going to get out of here, let alone to the Cave of Gems!
We can’t turn back now. We’re close, we have to be. If we keep going, I’m sure we will-
I have to go home! I have to get back to my family, and to my friends! They’re going to worry; I don’t have time to-
Quiet! Pay attention; others are near.
A voice drifted down the corridor from a doorway ahead of them. Kukull hesitated.
They tiptoed forward and peeked into the room. Several dragons sat clustered around a roaring fire, heads hung low. Three of them wore crimson gems that glowed more from an internal light than that of the flames, presumably to help them burn. The air smelled of burning wood, but also of something acrid and foul, the incineration of something Kukull did not recognize. On a pedestal above the pyre stood the source of the voice, and on the wall behind him was the image of the Great Dragoness and Her children.
“...may you be joined with your fellow wielders of fire, may the first Fire Master Ruby welcome you with open wings, and may the Great Dragoness recognize you for the mark you have left on this world. Burn bright, Basquiat, and let your Power guide you to your final home.”
“Burn bright, Basquiat, and let your Power guide you to your final home,” echoed the gathered dragons.
This… Is this a funeral? Kukull asked. They go to such lengths for their dead?
“Mother! Mother, I’m here to help!”
The older dragoness turned her head, eyes wild. “Ammolite!? What are you doing!? I told you to stay where it’s safe!”
“But I want-”
Her mother screeched as a huge, skeletal dragon rammed into her side. Another one lunged for Ammolite. Claws raked down her back and tore up her wings. She shrieked and thrashed until her attacker lost his grip, then scrambled towards her mother, who was pinned to the ground.
“Mother, I’ll save you!”
“Ammolite, stay back-”
She lept and grabbed the dragon’s bony head, claws aimed for his eyes. He reared up, stumbled backwards. Her mother screamed her name. Then teeth dug into her sides, claws tightened around her neck, and everything brightened for a moment with pain before going cold and black.
Her siblings huddled over her mother’s body and sobbed.
“Why did they do this?”
“Mother, come back! Wake up! Please!”
“She can’t be gone, she can’t be, she can’t…”
“What will we do?”
What about me? She cries to their deaf ears. I died, too! Where is my body? Why don’t you mourn me?
Soon, her mother’s ghost would come. She would be seen and heard and beloved. She would fill the world with magic and be remembered for eternity.
And she would pay no mind to her eldest daughter, her true daughter, her favorite daughter. She would let her sit and watch and wait as her existence was wiped from memory.
Hello? Are you there? Is something wrong? Kukull wished for dirt to work between their claws. Where did you go? What-
These dragons are irrelevant. Watching them is a waste of time. Follow the tunnel; we are close now. I can feel it.
They bit back another sigh. If you say so…
Kukull snuck further down the corridor. They were indeed close, and soon, even a Powerless one such as them would be able to sense the Cave’s magic. In the meantime, the ghost sent her focus elsewhere, to texts known by no one but herself.
“Can you hear me? I’ve been waiting for you, across the universe. Don’t bring me down. God knows I’m good; she shook me cold. The next day, love is lost. All saints move on. No one calls. I can’t explain. Tonight, we shall come to town, new angels of promise. It’s gonna be me, dancing in the street as the world falls down.”