Kakane immediately reached for the flower but Serena quickly pulled him back.
“Don’t you remember what I told you!?” she scolded. “The frost breath iris has the power to kill anyone who touches it! Don’t haphazardly reach for it!”
“Sorry,” Kakane muttered. He sighed, running a hand through his hair. “This cold is making me grumpy and I just really wanna get off of this stupid mountain.”
“Yes. This weather is really bothering me,” Serena agreed, rubbing her shoulders. “Well, let’s get this over with.”
Serena cautiously stepped up to the frost breath iris, beckoning Rean over to come with her. It crouched beside the flower, watching as magic swirled around Serena’s hands. The spell to make the frost breath iris transportable was simple enough, but it took time. Once she began casting it, it would take at least fifteen minutes for her to complete the charm. Serena had just begun the inverbal incantation when the entire room began shaking.
Kakane drew his sword, the gift from King Kai, and Rean jumped up to protect Serena. The white-haired girl grit her teeth and continued to cast her spell. She wasn’t going to stop now, not when their goal was in reach. Not for Kakane’s sake. Rean and Kakane looked around cautiously just as the room began to shake again. A loud, booming roar reverberated through the air, causing the clumps of snow in the corners to lose their structure.
“It sounds close. Be on guard,” Kakane told Rean, who nodded.
The scarred boy’s eyes darted around. If the one who roared truly was a dragon, then all he had to do was reveal himself. Surely the dragon would listen to the one who would one day become its king. He was the son of the last queen of the Draconids. He had her golden scales. If this truly was a survivor of the genocide, then it would know who its former queen’s only child was.
Rean pointed to the ceiling and Kakane looked up. Looming over the sky hole was a monstrously huge figure that he didn’t recognize. It was vaguely humanoid in shape, with two stout arms and legs and a head on top of broad shoulders. But it was far too vast and big to be a person. Kakane could make out fierce, pointed, fanged teeth clenched together in an angry growl. The figure roared again and jumped into the cavern.
Serena shrieked as snow fell and rocks tumbled down the walls. Kakane felt his heart sink into his stomach and Rean blinked rapidly, arms flailing.
This was no ice dragon.
It was an abomination of dirty white fur stained rust-red with old blood. It had exactly three eyes, and all of them were scarlet red and bloodshot. Human bones, clothes, and rotting flesh were tangled in its long, matted hair. On top of its hunched back were glowing blue ice crystals gathered in clumps. At the end of its long, dirty fingers were sharp claws that measured several knife lengths long. Huge horns curved and spiked upwards from its small head and long exposed ribs covered its chest. Its breath came out in short angry puffs and as it beat its chest, it roared again. Kakane turned to Serena.
“Do you know what this thing is!?” he yelled.
“N-No! I’ve never read about… Anything like this!” she gasped. “Watch out! It’s attacking!”
Rean flailed, but managed to expertly dodge the monster’s first strike. It seemed terrified, and its fear only amplified when it saw the massive crater that the monster’s fist had left behind. The puppet pointed to the dent in the ground in disbelief, looking at Kakane. But Kakane was fearless and rushed the monster. He swiftly bypassed its long arm, jumped up, and slashed it. The monster’s skin was tough; his sword shattered immediately. Clicking his tongue, Kakane blasted its with fire instead.
The monster roared, batting away the flames from its face as Kakane quickly ducked, rolled, and took cover on the ground. He had set the monster’s long ugly fur alight, and it was quickly burning away at skin, hair, and teeth. Growling furiously, the monster howled and let out a massive blizzard from its mouth, covering the cavern in snow, wind, and ice.
Kakane hissed as ice shards picked at his eyes, shivering from the sheer cold. Rean managed to remain standing, but it was virtually a popsicle when the blizzard subsided. Luckily, it was able to smash away the ice, though it seemed completely freaked out.
“I’m not going to let our hard work go to waste!” Serena yelled. “Keep it distracted; I’ll get the flower. I’ll get it no matter what! I’ll make sure you have your chance, Kakane! I’ll make sure your dreams become reality!”
“Serena… Thank you.” He nodded. “Don’t chicken out now,” he said to Rean. The puppet nodded, taking up a fighting stance. Kakane was proud to see that it was guarding its torso properly.
The monster finally put out the flames, and Kakane was disgusted to see that its true face was nothing more than slimy black skin. Though that could have also been because it was completely burnt. The monster roared in fury, beating its chest. Ice crystals formed in its breath as it panted, growling at Kakane and Rean.
Kakane began aiming for the monster’s torso, trying to burn any fur he could get his hands on. It had proved to be very flammable, so his best bet was creating an opening for Rean to get a few solid hits in. Unfortunately, the previous blizzard the monster conjured up had dampened its fur so much that when Kakane punched it, his flames were snuffed out immediately. He narrowly dodged a swipe from the monster’s claws, but this let Rean jump up and kick one of its horns.
The thin appendage snapped immediately. The monster howled in pain, staggering back and holding its head. Kakane grinned at his puppet companion, who seemed pleased with itself. Confidence bolstered, Rean prepared to strike again when the monster roared.
Condensing heat in his arms, Kakane formed blades of fire on his forearms, slicing at the monster. It hissed and spat globs of snow at the scarred boy. Rean came in and kicked the blobs away, allowing Kakane to get up close. His plan wasn’t to burn the monster to high hell and back, it was to evaporate as much water as he could so his following attacks would actually do something.
The heat from his flames seared at the monster’s skin, causing it to growl. It became distracted, allowing Rean to nail it in the face. The monster shrieked, slapping down Rean, who quickly recovered. It growled as Kakane danced away from it, forming snow in its palms and slamming it onto the floor. The monster straightened up just as Rean landed an uppercut on its chest. Kakane went around the monster and sliced open its back with his fire blades. It was so satisfying, feeling the flesh part beneath his arms and watching blood spurt everywhere. Kakane imagined that it was Enjo Hononen being cut up and his pleasure increased tenfold. Steam rose up from the monster’s body as dark blue blood dripped onto the floor. Kakane grinned in smugness just as Rean broke off the monster’s other horn.
The monster roared again, but something was different this time. Fire blades dissipating, Kakane watched with bated breath to see what it would do. It couldn’t be anything he and Rean couldn’t handle. Icy cold energy gathered in the monster’s mouth and Kakane’s eyes bulged before he let out a yell. A frozen beam of magic blasted the wall and ceiling of the cavern, synced with the monster’s shriek.
Rocks and boulders tumbled off the walls, covered in ice and snow. Kakane and Rean frantically avoided the falling debris, with some stones coming way too close for comfort. Kakane realized with a start that if the monster had been aiming for them and hit them with its magic, he or Rean would have surely died. They were lucky the monster wasn’t very smart and was rampaging mindlessly. Although, Kakane wasn’t sure if that was truly lucky or not.
Still reeling from the magical attack, Kakane had no time to relax as the monster roared again. This time, magic was gathering in its fists. Looking around wildly for a place to hide, Kakane screamed in a panic as the monster struck the floor and created deadly sharp spires of ice all around it. As they were skirting along the edge of the cavern wall, Kakane and Rean barely managed to avoid getting skewered. Kakane gulped, a sharp piece of ice nearly pressing against his throat. Rean was shivering, eyes blank from the panic consuming it.
The ice magic had caused the temperature to plummet, and now Kakane’s breath was coming out in bated, frosty puffs. He was feeling more sluggish despite all the moving around that he did. When he tried using his fire magic, the flames weakly petered out from the moisture in the air and the sheer cold of the cavern. Rean noticed this and began to panic even more, knowing that Kakane’s fire magic was the best weapon they had. Now it was gone.
To make matters worse, neither Kakane or Rean could get close to the monster without trying to cross the sea of ice spears it had made for itself. If they tried destroying the ice, they would consume too much energy. But trying to go over and on top of them would mean fighting on the monster’s territory. If they wanted to make it out of the Yukishi Mountain alive, they would have to kill this monster. But how?
The answer evaded Kakane no matter how hard he thought. He was a king dammit, a situation such as this should be simple for him to solve! He couldn’t use any more big spells; that fire blade magic had drained most of his mana. Anything more of that caliber would leave him a sitting duck. But what if Rean broke a path through the spires? Just a straight rampage to the dead center; would that work? Looking at his puppet companion, Kakane doubted it could pull it off. Rean was shaking with absolute terror; all these new, dangerous experiences were taking their toll.
Was there nothing he could do?
“Serena!?” Kakane croaked. “Serena, stay away from that thing! I’ll think of something!”
There was no response. Instead, a beam of light shot up from the corner of the cavern, where Serena and the frost breath iris were. Kakane swallowed hard, trying to skirt around the deadly spires of ice to reach her. What was Serena planning!? It wasn’t like her to be reckless!
But the ice jutted out farther than Kakane thought, ramming into the wall in crystal-like formations. It blocked his way and he couldn’t continue without destroying it. Gritting his teeth, Kakane blasted fire into the ice. It was too thick; he couldn’t melt it quickly enough. It wouldn’t blow up into bits either. Feeling his mana quickly leave him, Kakane collapsed and fell to his knees, gasping.
Serena’s light soon spread to the entirety of the ice spires. Kakane’s eyes widened and he could hear the monster grunt in surprise. The ice folded in on itself and changed shape. It became thin, separating from itself into thick oval-shaped ringlets. Some of the ice planted itself onto the ceiling and ground, transforming into anchors. The ice wrapped itself around the monster, holding its legs, arms, and torso tightly in place. Transmutation magic, Kakane realized, or the power to alter the shape and form of a material using magic.
The monster roared, trying to break free of its ice chain prison. Kakane was impressed; transmuting an object of this size took a lot of effort and skill to pull off. But it also used up a lot of mana. In the corner, Kakane saw Serena breathing heavily, magic sparks dancing around her. She looked weak, feeble, and cold. He felt dread seep through him as Serena stumbled on her feet and fell onto the floor.
“Serena…? Serena!” She didn’t respond, didn’t even move. Panic flared within Kakane and he raced over to her. He fell down onto his knees and lifted up her head, staring into her half-open eyes. “Hey! Serena, speak to me! Serena!!”
To his horror, Kakane saw a strange blue color reminiscent of ice slowly creeping up from Serena’s neck and onto her cheeks. When he touched it, it was chillingly cold, colder than anything he had encountered on the Yukishi Mountain. Colder than anything he had ever experienced. How far down her body did this strange blue spread? Kakane realized with a terrified start that Serena’s body was turning into ice.
Serena blinked, and Kakane saw that her lashes had turned whiter than her snow-white hair. Her gorgeous dark pink eyes faded into blue, blue the color of a dark wintry night sky. Her hair had become hard and thin like needles of ice, stunningly beautiful like that of an ice princess. Her lips had glossed over like icicles melting from the eves of a building where the first rays of sun hit. Slowly, but surely, Serena was turning into the most gorgeous ice statue Kakane had ever seen. It terrified him.
Yet she was smiling. Serena was smiling that same damn serene, calm smile. It was always that smile. The smile he had seen during the roc attack on Atlantis. The smile that he had wished to see after it. The smile that took on a form like that of a sunny day when she laughed. It was the smile that brought him joy and comfort. But it was also the smile that was terrifying him half to death.
“Kakane…” Serena whispered. “The flower… You can touch it now.”
He looked up to see that the frost breath iris was now surrounded by a strange pink aura reminiscent of a vase. It was still glittering in all of its icy beauty but within its jar, a strange blue miasma had formed. Most likely, it was the strange magic that killed all who went near it.
“But what about you?” Kakane asked. Serena shook her head.
“I’ll be fine… You ought to leave me here.”
“What!? No! I would never!”
“Listen, Kakane, you’re probably going to hate me for this, but I… The thermal spell I was using to keep us both warm… I only used it on you.”
“I know… how much you hate the cold… I assumed that being a Draconid made you similar to reptiles… so I did everything I could to prevent you from going into hibernation… I forced myself… to take the full brunt of the cold… for your sake…”
“You idiot! You should have used that spell on yourself! I would have been fine!” Tears pricked at Kakane’s eyes, but they froze to his eyelids and refused to fall.
“No, between the two of us, you’re… the one who needs to survive.” Serena took a deep breath. “There are only two times… I can think of… that I ever acted remotely selfish. And that was when I forced you to help me build Rean… and when I left my village to complete it.”
“I chose to help you,” Kakane argued. “I may not have wanted to do that at first, but I stuck around out of my own will. Please, Serena, just stop talking. Save your strength.” She shook her head.
“After Rean was done, I… I didn’t really have any other goals. But after seeing and hearing about your ambitions… your goal to restore Draconia, your home, it inspired me… to take on your will as my own. I wanted… I wanted to make your dreams a reality.” Frozen tears were falling down Serena’s cheeks, yet she was still smiling. “I’m sorry, Kakane, but… it looks like I went too far again. Please… go and take the frost breath iris. As long as you promise to kill Enjo Hononen and fulfill your goals…” Serena closed her eyes, still smiling her calm, beautiful smile. “I can die happy.”
She felt so cold, so cold and weak in Kakane arms. He… He did this to her. She was slowly turning to ice, yet he didn’t even notice… He was too busy listening for a dragon that didn’t even exist. Because of that, he… He ignored his comrades and now one of them was about to die.
Die because of his foolishness. Again.
Serena was going to die. And it was all his fault.
He let her down.
He had failed her as a king.
His own foolishness was going to cost Serena her life, again. How could he not have realized? He wasn’t a king, not even a prince, just an utter fool. His scar was aching, knowing that another person would be added on to the list of dead people Kakane would be forced to mourn for the rest of his days. Alongside his mother and father would be Serena Bly, the girl who sacrificed herself twice for him.
By now, Rean had crawled over to them, eyes widening when it saw Serena. It touched her arm, jostling her a bit. Its eyes bulged when it realized that Serena was not moving. The puppet looked up at Kakane pleadingly, only to see frozen tears falling from the scarred boy’s eyes. Tears that were breaking into a million pieces but dripping down his face all the same.
Kakane roared and was consumed with fire and light. Rean jumped, only to see a king rising from the ashes.