The landscape changed and the change was a bit too drastic. Past several other volcanoes and geysers was a clear margin. Frozen ice frosted the ground while the heat from the Fire Country’s ground melted any of the frost that tried to form over a certain line. We were in Ice country now, judging from the coldness that hung in the air. The land was barren, only with a few cliffs and alcoves to be seen; otherwise I would have mistaken the Ice Country for a large skating ground. There was no sign of grass or any plants, only occasional flecks of thawed ground as well as holes dug into the ground for fishing purposes. A few glints in the landscape below hinted the presence of an Ice dragon, their scales perfectly camouflaging with the arctic-like landscape—the everlasting carpet of snow that had formed over the years. On closer inspection, almost everything was the color of ice, even up to their wingtips and their eye color. Over the horizon was a wonderful display of Northern lights, with a palace jutting out of the landscape.
“Just right in front is the Ice Palace, located right below the Northern Lights. The ice dragons live in giant igloos and they occasionally dig fishing holes to hunt.” Kerstran noted.
“It snows more often than ever, so make sure that you are covered up all properly to prevent frostbite. Also, make sure you don’t bring any fire or flame into the palace. Ice Dragons’ scales melt when there is fire around. We’ll be reaching there soon, just make sure you don’t trip or fall. Your skin might get stuck to the ice and consequences would be rather painful. Beware of the hail storms, especially the really terrible ones.” Kerstriar landed onto the snow and we got off, shivering from head to toe. She handed me the Dragon’s Fire to be put into the box. I squelched my way through the snow that was thawing lightly and left the box in Sird’s care while we headed for the ice palace. We entered the door made of ice and turned into a hallway carved through ice. Directions carved on ice showed us the way through the endless hallways illuminated by shards of glowing rock or ice. Sunlight that seeped through the thick ice panes was not warm at all, only lighting up the passages. At last we reached a large room, with carved sculptures of dragons and a long feasting table. At the far back was a throne of ice, a majestic Ice dragon sitting on the throne. No dragons attended to her, unlike Queen Magma and no other dragons were in the throne room, unlike Queen Gaia. Just Queen Frost, with her scales glimmering brightly in the sunlight. Ice crystals formed by the walkway to the throne. On closer inspection, it was a frozen stream.
“Welcome, human. I am Queen Frost. Is there anything you seek?” She asked, beckoning us closer.
“We would like to seek permission to obtain the Dragon’s tooth from the Glacier of Jagged Teeth in order to unlock the third Soul Fragment.” This time, Nyra was the first to ask. Queen Frost stared at her, admiration in her eyes.
“Your efforts for your quest will not be hindered, human. Permission is granted.” Queen Frost spoke in a manner that indicated her possible age.
“Thank you.” Nyra bowed once again.
“Is there any questions that you might ask? Do not worry, for this is not high court. Be free to speak your thoughts.” Queen Frost prompted, rising from her throne. No one spoke.
“If it is the presence of dragons you are worried about, today happens to be the Great Fishing day, a day dedicated to fish, for enjoyment as well as food.” She continued, letting her eyes wander to a perfectly preserved Rainbow Trout on the wall.
“The finest hunting trophy in years. Never has such a large one been caught before.” She remarked, running her claw carefully through the scales. Then she ran her claws through the fur of a preserved Arctic Hare.
“This one was caught years ago. Hares are rare too. So are wild seals. A full-grown seal can last us for a few days or even a week. We rear Harp seals for both food and as pets. Here, take this pup as a gift from me. I am terribly sorry for the absence of my court. I hope you enjoy your stay here.” Queen Frost smiled. I couldn’t help but smile back.
“Visitors are rare, you know that? No dragon loves to visit our land, since it is so cold.” So that was the reason why. She handed us a small seal pup that was the size of an average twelve-year olds elbow. Almost immediately it nuzzled my chest and I rejoiced at the warmth of blubber in my arms.
“You’ll be Harpy, okay?” Finnian said to the pup, grinning widely as he stroked its fur. We exited the palace happily and Kerstriar stared at the pup in my hands once we got out.
“My, that is rare!” Kerstran remarked as the pup clapped its fins together in a comedic fashion.
“We’ll be reaching the Glacier of Jagged Teeth in no time. All on board!” Kerstriar reminded us, though her smile was still etched onto her face. The pup nuzzled even closer to Nyra’s chest as we took off, a slow whine coming from it. It reminded me of Garfield somehow. I looked down and saw a large lake, where lots of dragons had gathered. It had to be the fishing spot. I saw a few specks of wet scales and a few splotches of grey. They were quite successful. Kerstriar glanced at Kerstran.
“It’s been a long time since we ate fish, huh?” She asked Kerstran, who nodded eagerly.
“Let’s try to fish for some near the Glacier, okay?” He suggested, eyes shining. Kerstriar nodded. They sped up and the landscape changed from smooth snow-covered land to jagged mountains covered entirely with snow rising from the barren land. I could hear the beating of Kerstriar’s strong wings against the wind. Snowflakes drifted down from the wispy clouds, covering us head to toe with light flaky powder that was actually snowflakes. We were nearing the Glacier, I could tell as Kerstriar made a gradual dip towards land.
“How was Queen Frost?” Kerstran asked as we landed.
“Quite nice. She showed us some of their hunting trophies and gave us this pup.” Nyra answered, smiling a little.
“The queen before her, Queen Berg, was not that kind. She was not really liked by majority of the Ice Dragons as she did everything on impulse. Her mood swings were drastic, so one moment she could be all happy and the next she would be storming. Nevertheless, a new Queen was picked only after her death. The Ice Dragons still respect their rulers and tradition, no matter what.” Kerstriar told us as we landed on the glacier. The glacier had magnificent ice crystals growing on it, making them resemble jagged teeth of dragons, thus the name. A single tooth, slightly resembling a saber tooth, lay in the middle of the glacier.
“Legend says that there was once a greedy dragon, who feasted on fruit all day. One day, there was a sudden pain in his tooth and in his pain, he begged the Queen at that time to take him to this glacier, wanting to seek refuge to nurse his tooth without the interference of others. He had learned his lesson of greed but still, his tooth would not heal. In the very end, he was forced to pluck his bad tooth on this very glacier, leaving it behind as a grim reminder for future dragons.” Kerstriar commented, looking playfully at Kerstran.
“I know, that was the story that Ma told us when I ate too much fruit back in Ground Country. Sure brings back memories, huh?” Kerstran replied a claw already over to his snout, as if he was nursing a bad tooth. I obtained the said tooth and placed it in the box, next to the Dragon’s Fire. Harpy purred a little as Finnian stroked under its furry chin.
“Next on to the Poison Country!” Kerstriar announced as we clambered back onto its back.
“A few years back, I remember Poison Country being just nothing but land, set over an archipelago with whirlpools and treacherous waves. It is amazing though, the number of rogue dragons and rogue tribes in the Country, as well as the number of Destiny Dragons. “Sird commented, smiling a little.
“It isn’t exactly full of poisons though. Poison is a common element that all the dragons in the country can use, though. It can be related to Ground Country, with its vast forests, though the climate there is geographical. One island can be cold while a neighboring one can be prone to frequent volcanic eruptions. The palace is suspended in the air and Treasure Cove is quite near there, just past Whirlpool strait. The Cove of Deadly Poisons is also very near to the strait, though actually not a cove but a cave only accessible during low tide. The cave is home to various types of fungi, some rumored to be poisonous. The challenging part of entering the cove during high tide is that whirlpools tend to occur near the entrance, making it hard to just fly in. The palace itself is located behind a waterfall, making it hard to attack though easy to defend.” Sird noted as the first sights of the blue ocean became visible. White specks indicating giant whirlpools appeared, so did islands after a few minutes of flying. Kerstriar flew past several, some with volcanoes, others with lush forests and even some with ice-capped mountains. Only when we neared the largest island did she start to descend, spiraling over the land.
“The large waterfall is where the palace is located. The cove will be located a bit further. We’ll have to stop, you know. Night is nearing and it has been a day since we last rested.” Kerstriar commented as she landed onto the island. We quickly found a cave and the twins went out hunting as we rested in the cave, listening to the ambient sounds that the cave provided us with. We thought back to the past days’ adventures, flying over large distances, often losing track of time. We had visited three different lands, all with different dragons and climate. Nyra set Harpy into a pool of water by a few stalactites. A few other pools contained cave pearls as well as some shrimps and amphipods. We caught some crayfish as well as a few shrimps and set a fire using some twigs Sird had gathered from outside and a handy lighter in our device. The meal was a quick one, barely filling our stomachs with the crayfishes that were the size of two little fingers. The shrimps were even smaller, barely the size of a coin. Kerstriar and Kerstran came back, bringing some fish along.
“Thought that you’d be hungry. Here, eat up. Give some to the seal too, they don’t live off air alone.” Kerstriar remarked as they set the fish down.
“We’ve already eaten enough, so don’t worry.” Kerstran assured us as we stuck the fish on sticks and started roasting them after we had removed gutted them and the scales were removed. Even Harpy got a plump fish. It tasted really good and the flavor seemed to melt in my mouth the moment I bit into the fish. It was salmon. I would probably never forget the experience. Finally, after gruesome months of training, my fish gutting skills had finally come to use. We made sure to fully dispose the offal after eating. Finnian washed the blood-covered Harpy after his meal in the ocean. We headed back to the cave and this time, Kerstran blew a fireball and we slept by the bonfire, surrounded by sounds of the cave. We were chilled awake by the dew that had formed overnight and cleared the fire. Just to hydrate Harpy, I created a water shield around him just in case we might not be able to stop near water sources. The sight that greeted us outside was indeed amazing. Dragons with scales a myriad of colors were roaming the land, some in flight and others swimming. We headed for the waterfall immediately after we were securely on the dragon twins’ backs.
“Down, everyone!” Kerstriar yelled as we neared the waterfall. A few moments later, we emerged at the palace entrance, slightly drenched.
“That was close!” Finnian remarked as Harpy nuzzled against his chest. I got off Kerstriar’s back and muttered a word of thanks before heading for the palace. The palace was unusually deserted, though its stone walls were lavishly decorated. It was larger than I thought, judging from how big the entrance was. It was a maze and quite thankfully, we didn’t get lost thanks to the directory carved onto the walls that led us straight to the throne room. The hallways were illuminated by glowing plants as well as glowworms in small lamp holders formed by the erosion of stalactites over time. The throne room had a limestone door, salt weathered, it had exotic patterns in it, letting one see in. Gingerly, I pushed open the door and without a sound, it opened. On the far end of the room, sat the Queen. She had black scales, just like the dragon twins, but had amber eyes, unlike their ice blue ones.
“Welcome. I have heard a lot of you from Kerstriar and Kerstran. You seek the permission to obtain the Dragon Claw from the Cove of Deadly Poisons, am I right?” She enquired, rising from her throne.
“I shall not hinder you, but a grim reminder; Kerstra is rumored to be near the Cove of Deadly Poisons. Do you want to know how he looks like?” A flick of her claw sent a hologram appearing. Kerstra had purple eyes, a long scar along his snout, revealing flesh as well as three black stripes along his back. There was also a scar on his belly, as well as light spots resembling stars on his wings.
“So… this is Kerstra.” Nyra mouthed, eyeing the gruesome scars and scratches that dotted his entire figure. They were battle scars.
“He won many battles. Most were bloody, some of his comrades even losing body parts in them. The rare purple eye that he was born with indicates that a great destiny to follow. A dragon’s destiny can be gaged his eye color. Most destiny dragons can change their eye color to escape from those hunting for them, with the exception of purple-eyed dragons. Watch out for that.” Queen Miasma stated, running her claw lovingly over the scales of the hologram.
“He was such a dragon, destined for a great doing and future. None of us would expect things to turn that way, even though I had a gut feeling from the start.” She sighed, and I could hear the disappointment in her voice.
She had probably never expected it from her son, who had such a glorious road before him. He probably had reasons to do so. He probably had lost his light, lost in the darkness. I could almost see Kerstra, the real Kerstra, trapped in ice, a dark silhouette leaning against the ice coffin. All the decisions that went through his head. If I was to ever battle him, even if I were to kill him, I would bring back his light. After all, no matter how cold the world may be, there will still be warmth, perhaps in our memories. He had probably given up on ever changing things, though there were dragons out there willing to help him. His siblings. Those destined to be with him from the start, to watch him grow, day by day. I could sense the soul of Kerstra, almost see it. A brave soul, a courageous soul, which would shine. Shine so bright, bright enough to save many. Especially himself. There would be a time for that, I knew from the depths of my heart. The time where I will shine a light onto his path; to let him see numerous sunsets and the warmth in the world. With a heavy heart, I climbed onto the back of Kerstriar, who took off under the caring gaze of their mother. I could see the pride in their eyes, especially Queen Miasma’s. The dragons she had worked so hard to raise had grown… The seeds she had toiled so much to sow had blossomed. There was warmth in this world, after all. No matter how cold it was. I could feel Harpy nuzzle against me. Somehow during the conversation, Finnian had slipped it into my hands. My fingers lovingly caressed the fur and I nuzzled noses with it. Kerstriar turned back and smiled before flying even higher. I could see the blue-black ocean beneath, with its giant whirlpools and numerous islands. Kerstriar took a dive and we found ourselves at a cove. Fortunately for us, it was low tide but in the darkness that already had started to befall upon us; I could make out mere amethysts in the fog. Purple eyes belonging to a dragon. It had snake-like pupils in them, hinting that they were not tricks of light. A purple-eyed dragon was around. Perhaps Kerstra. I just couldn’t shake off the feeling that we were being followed. Kerstriar followed us into the Cove and very quickly we retrieved the Dragon Claw.
“Due to this cove being only recently discovered, not much of it has been mentioned in legends, though one thing is certain for the Dragon Claw to be here. The claws of Poison-using dragons are most often used for attacking the opponent, thus having the dragon claw in such a place.” Kerstran noted, turning his head to check the surroundings. He was spooked, all right. A branch cracked and the scraping of dragon claws on stone caused us to look straight ahead at where the sound came from. A dark figure was rising from the calm lake that surrounded the depths of the cove. Before I could even react, a beam of energy slashed through the air and squinting my eyes against the light, I barely made out the silhouette of a dragon with purple eyes and a long scar running across his snout. Kerstra.
I turned back. Behind me, a crystal turned to stone as the last beam hit it, missing my elbow by mere inches. Beside me, was nothing but stone figures. The petrified form of Nyra, Finnian and Sird. Kerstran was slowly turning to stone, the process more than three quarters complete. A single tear rolled down his eye. Nyra had pushed a container capsule out of harm’s way. Even Harpy was nothing but a stone figure of a Harp seal. Tears were welling in my eyes as my vision blurred. Black spots were appearing in my vision and I roared, tears escaping from my eyes. Almost instantly I summoned my scythe and drove it through Kerstra. It didn’t work. I was left panting heavily, all hope lost. He turned away and took flight, heading to the narrow straits. But there was hesitation reflected in his purple eyes as he flew into the storm clouds above. I fell to my knees, my tears splashing onto the floor. I had failed them. I had made them take a gamble, thinking I would win. I had dragged them into my own troubles. I was selfish to do so. Tears welled up once again in my eyes. I was selfish all along, bringing them along to make myself believe that everything was alright. I had lied, to everyone and most importantly, to myself. They had been willing to believe in a failure like me. I had dragged them into this matter thinking that I had nothing to lose. I was too reckless for my own good. I knew that I wouldn’t make it without the help of others. But I was too reckless, not even considering their opinions before I did anything. They trusted me, but I had let them down. I could not be their savior, the one they thought I would be. I never was wise or even knowledgeable, simply plain naïve. I did what I believed was right, never stopping to regard their feelings. I had let them down. I had promised that I wouldn’t mess up. But I always did, making the ones around me worry. I… had failed them. There was simply no way to rewind. The cheerful Finnian would never come back. Never would Nyra come back from her petrified state. Sird would never be here to guide me. All the times we had spent, the memories we treasure. The world was cruel, cold. But there was always warmth. I picked myself up and gasped when I heard a raspy voice. Kerstriar.
“You okay, Silver? Don’t worry, we’ll be fine… Head to the Treasure Cove. I believe you can do it. I believe in you. Go on, I know that you can do it! Go!” The petrification process was almost half completed, her glimmering scales turning into stone each passing second. Even Harpy would never come back. He would simply be an innocent soul, dragged into this matter by my recklessness. I trudged near the water but I collapsed onto the ground, tears rolling continuously down my cheeks. I could not bear to look behind, but I had to. Finnian was smiling. ‘I believe in you.’ Thank you… I hugged him, a single tear dripping onto the pillar. Thank you, for believing in me. I could almost see him smile, the pride in his teal eyes. I could not bear to face Queen Miasma. She had entrusted me with her remaining two children. Now they were gone. Wounds heal, but scars don’t. I could not bear to face even myself. I had let my comrades down… They would never come back. I would never dare to look Gertrude in the eye anymore… There was no way to undo the petrification.
There is. With emotions and overwhelming bonds, it can be undone. I said it, didn’t I? I believe in you, Silver. Kerstriar’s voice echoed in my mind. I had let her down…
Why don’t you try? Open your eyes, Silver. Believe in me. Just say it. I had to believe in her, the way Finnian had believed in me.
“I… believe in you.” I said out loud, my voice cracking as tears rolled down onto the cold stone surface, “ I believe that anything can be done with this faith!” I felt a ripple pass through the cold stone surface.
One last thing. The petrification can only be truly undone when you unlock the third Soul Fragment. Upon unlocking the third Fragment, all the fragments will be liberated to retrieve all the lost souls. The final form of the three liberated fragments combined will be a moonstone. Good luck, Silver! Kerstriar’s voice came again. I opened my eyes and looked down. There was Harpy, with his petrification undone. I picked him out and then noticed Nyra’s container capsule on the ground, not even a bit petrified. I picked it up and released the creature inside. Buzzy. Thanks, Nyra.
I’m sorry for what happened. Can I take you anywhere? Buzzy’s voice came into my mind.
“Yeah. You know this place? Take me to Treasure Cove.” Buzzy nodded.
I came here before with Sird, so no worries. All onboard! I clambered onto its back and almost instantly it took off. We flew through Whirlpool Strait, me nuzzling Harpy. The warmth that it gave me was indeed welcoming and comforting as the wind tussled my hair. I didn’t really know that it had reached shoulder-length until now. Buzzy landed onto Treasure Cove and I headed for the giant statue of a Destiny Dragon in flight, the only form of building on the barren island. At its plaque were four holes, molded to contain the four items I had collected. One by one, I slotted them in. Memories of us obtaining the various items flickered in my mind, as clear as the images in a memory lighter. Upon the insertion of the last item, a clinking sound was heard from the box. The flapping of wings made my head turn towards the direction of the ocean. It wasn’t Kerstriar or Kerstran. It was Kerstra. What could he be doing here?
He approached me warily; the shyness in his step indicated his guilt for his doings.
“Thank you. Thank you for showing me the way.” He nuzzled his head on my shoulder. That moment, I saw two ice coffins breaking, at the same time. The red-haired boy was now free and so was the true Kerstra. I looked deep into his purple eyes. There was warmth and kindness in them.
“Thank you…” He nodded and took off. But at the last moment, he glanced behind.
“I’ll be at Queen Miasma’s court from now on!” He shouted before spreading open large wings and flying across the horizon. The flapping of wings came again. This time, it was Kerstran and Kerstriar with Nyra, Finnian and Sird.
“Kerstra’s fine now, huh?” Sird asked, smiling towards the horizon.
“He’s going to be in Queen Miasma’s court; where he truly belongs.” Kerstran smiles.
“We’ll get to the combination unlocking business now. Any idea what word it is?” Nyra asked, pointing to the combination puzzle lock.
“We’ll have Silver to guess then.” There came Serge’s voice.
“Sergio! How did you come here?” Finnian asked, waving to Serge.
“It’s a long story though…” Serge scratched the back of his head and I resisted the urge to bawl.
“Why don’t we form a circle by holding hands after I unlock this thing? I think I know what the word is…” I suggested and they nodded, though I could see the flapping of wings from across the horizon.
“The word is…” My fingers shifted through the alphabets.
“Faith.” A clink was heard and the third Soul Fragment tumbled out. I placed the three of them into the box and placed it in the middle of the island, right beside the statue. The Fragments glimmered though there wasn’t any light shining onto them. One red, one blue, one green. Ruby, Sapphire, Emerald. I could hear all the dragons gather around the island, holding claws, the four Queens on the front. With them was Kerstra. Almost immediately the three fragments started to glow and light seemed to swallow the entire cove whole…
“Silver, I told you, didn’t I?” There came Pa’s voice.
“We’d be out there, somewhere. Somewhere in the stars!” Ma continued from where Pa left off. I could see broken families being reunited. At last, my family, even those of Granny Chive’s side, was reunited. I looked in the crowd and spotted Granny Chive with the triplets.
That moment, my heart felt whole…
I felt… human.
Even when the whole world was to be frozen solid, there’ll still be warmth, the eternal flame of life. So look up, wherever you may be, for the warmth, might be somewhere in the stars, as the fire will be burning. Till the end of time.