【 Chapter Fourteen 】
The stormy stairs in such a grey, heavy atmosphere led to a complete contrast in setting, the lightning sparking back to life and striking the air dancing violently above the entrance as soon as Cressela and Amber made their way down, the electricity tickling the hairs at the back of Amber’s neck. She thought about what she’d learnt about electricity in science at school - the balloon rubbing against your clothes and staying there because of something to do with protons and electrons.
Did that count here?
What did count here?
“This is the Mystic Manor, Level Four. We’re getting closer now.”
Amber nodded slowly, taking in the stunning room they walked into as the staircase spread wide open and split into two, leading them down to the flooring that looked completely clear, like glass, but where she trod, reds and deep oranges and smouldering yellows awakened suddenly underneath her feet, like a thermal imager. She jumped in surprise, and Cressela glanced at the ground with a slight smile.
“Rubie must be nearby...”
“Rubie?” Amber repeated, glancing around the seemingly empty large hallway, massive poles bulging out of the rococo walls, spaced precisely and evenly between each other. But the poles and walls were transparent too, and large, thick flames spat embers at the barriers around them, jerking and twisting gently from where they started, the brilliant, flickering colours highlighting the girls’ faces.
Amber walked up to one of the poles in awe, her eyes dropping to the ground beneath the fire, but she couldn’t make it out. Just the constant burning and soft, muffled crackles sounding rhythmically from them.
The air was toasty around them, and the glorious chandelier which hung above their heads - nothing attached to it to hold it up from the ceiling - carried dozens of candles with dripping, crimson wax, the flames bobbing about on the wicks and then tugging at them impatiently, as if they could escape from their clutch.
At the end of the hall, there were large double doors with handles firmly intertwined with each other, the ends bending inwards stubbornly, the raw material too pale to be metal.
“It’s amazing,” Amber breathed, not knowing what else to say. She almost felt like crying, seeing so much twisted beauty that was so surreal, it was hard to believe it was there, and so was she, standing amongst them. With a girl from a different species, who she’d promised to help free the rest of the species. From the designer of this Mystic Manor.
Amber’s golden eyes widened at the calm new voice, and she spun around to see a girl sitting in the centre of the spacious room, the colours beneath her so bold and bright it was a wonder they didn’t crack the material. She wore a deep red hooded cape and a black bodice under it, with tiger orange neon strips running up the sides, sliding smoothly down at the middle to make a delicate symbol of fire. A short, black ruffle skirt was splayed out on the ground around her, the ends glittering yellow that dyed into crimson a few inches up. On her feet were knee-high lace-up boots, flames crawling up the jet black material.
Her eyes were firey like the rest of her, but her pupils were a deep navy shade, tanned skin flushed, her flowing red hair like a halo around her head to her shoulders, orange and yellow tufts like strings of fire fluttering about her head. Her eyes glided from Cressela to Amber, and a smile tugged at her rosy lips.
“Hi,” Amber responded in uncertainty, trying not to stare too much at her appearance. “Um... wow.”
Rubie’s smile grew. “It’s not every day a human gets to meet an Elemental, is it?”
Amber opened her mouth, then closed it, shaking her head silently with wide eyes.
“Hello, Cressela,” Rubie greeted her with a nod, hands sliding against the ground and into her lap. “Come for a visit?”
“Not exactly,” Cressela replied steadily, sitting opposite her, at the edges of the heat blossoming under the firey girl. “I found Amber- well, Amber found me. To get us out of this place.”
Rubie nodded, her gaze landing on Amber again as Amber tentatively sat beside Cressela. She stared at her for a long moment, then leant back slightly in newfound interest.
Amber’s brows twitched into a small frown of confusion. “What’s bright?”
“Your eyes,” Rubie said, as if it were obvious. “They’re bright. Like ours.”
Amber shrugged with a half-smile. “I was born like it...”
“Hm.” Rubie’s hand disappeared under the fabric of her cloak and came back with a golden chain dangling from her fingers, holding an indescribably celestial pendant.
It was the size of a small glass jar, a round, crystal clear sphere with thin golden streaks curling below and crowning its top, connecting it to the chain. Inside the sphere was swirls of red-orange energy, lava bubbling and frothing at the bottom and dainty, powerful wisps of flames sliding down the material it was kept in. Amber could feel the heat oozing off it as she sat watching in disbelief a few feet away, her amber eyes lit up by the sight.
"You wanted adventure," Rubie said to Amber knowingly, burning eyes searching hers. "I can see it in you. I do too. I can't get enough of it. So who am I to stop you?"
Then Rubie picked herself up off the floor and headed for the grand double doors, Amber watching after her and then quickly getting up too as Cressela nudged her expectantly.
"You're- you aren't going to stop us? Aren't you supposed-"
"Of course I am," Rubie said distractedly, her fingers tracing the handles before she lifted the necklace to her eyes. "But I won't. Because it's you. And it's Cressela."
"But... you don't even know me," Amber said lightly, and Rubie smiled again, glancing over her shoulder at her.
"I plan to."
Then she dangled the pendant over the handles, and within moments the strong material making up the barricades were melting and dripping onto the floor, snakes of heat immediately rising to the surface underneath it; not in gorgeous reds, but bold blues.
"The inner core of a flame is always blue," Rubie informed them in satisfaction, stepping back to admire her work as she tucked the necklace back into the inner material of the cloak, giving the doors a gentle shove. They swung open with ease, and a cooler breeze hit Amber and Cressela's faces as a dimly-lit hallway was revealed and a smaller looking room beyond it, with a young woman's figure sitting calmly inside, long creamy covering the sides of her face like curtains.
"The symbolism of fire is passion and energy. Controllable by me. But when it's left uncontrolled... well. It's human nature against mother nature, isn't it?"