Hope. It’s a strange emotion. Drawn to the one who looked past defeat, and beyond the negative feeling of impossibility. It was the same emotion that had me sprinting across the obsidian bridge despite the heat burning my feet. I probably should’ve thanked Hades and Hekate for lighting the flicker of hope that had extinguished only moments before. Still, all I could think of at the moment was getting across to the Eternal Flame.
The ground beneath my feet shook from the vibrations as molten earth roiled around the bridge. Selene followed behind me, moving cautiously, her feet firm on the wavy deck. Another rumble echoed from the innards of the mountain, causing dust and stalactites to rain down. We ducked for cover, hands over our head. They hurtled into the simmering lava beneath the bridge, the boom ringing in our ears. Thick hot magma sliced the air, sending up wisps of gray-white steam, the heat burning our skin. Streams of sweat ran down my neck and back, soaking my outfit.
“Akti, we have to hurry. This bridge is not going to hold long,” Selene shouted, her hands arching over her mouth, her voice echoing amidst the volcano’s roar.
I turned to look at her and nodded. We continued to the other side, avoiding the scorching terrain of the edges. After what seemed like hours, but in reality was only a few minutes, we reached the opposite end of the bridge. Finally, we were at Everheim—the resting place of the Eternal Flame.
Advancing through an arched gateway, we entered the core of the active volcano. The gravity of the terrain shifted, and an undeniable pressure weighed heavily over us. Moving ahead required effort. The pungent scent of scorched earth, sulphur, and steam flared in our nostrils. Wiping my nose with the back of my hand, I looked at the center and towards the Golden Spindle.
Inching closer on all fours, I examined the expansive gold form of the Spindle that stretched from the earth’s core piercing miles above into the mountain. The top-end, shaped like a claw, was decorated with an ornament made of obsidian. At the center, encircled by an elaborate brazier, stood the Eternal Flame, radiating magical energies. Now and then, a jet of flame extended from it, like releasing pressure from a cooker. Molten lava swirled at the base of the Spindle.
Despite the blistering heat, I sat there marveling at the wonder of the Eternal Flame. Gaia’s gift to mankind and a testament, a mere shimmer of her divine powers. The source of magic that gave life to mystical beasts like dragons and phoenix and powered the heart of our planet.
A loud rumbling woke me from my trance, and I looked over my shoulder at Selene. She took a few steps forward, coming closer to the Spindle. I motioned for her to stop. “Back away, Seli. This islet is near collapse.”
“Hurry up, Akti. The damn volcano looks ready to detonate!” she said, looking at the cracks that were slowly forming on the bridge, walls, and ceiling.
As though responding to Selene’s comment, the ground shifted, sending vibrations all over. A thick jet of flame extended from the brazier. Standing up, I raised the nautilus shell over the fire, trying to trap it inside. The ground beneath my feet moved again. I fell hard, the shell almost slipping from my hands.
“Seli…to the bridge. NOW!” I yelled as a thick gust of steam burst from a geyser that sprayed open. We didn’t have much time left. Within minutes, the mountain would explode, spewing viscous crimson lava into the sky, incinerating everything on the island
“We have to go, Akti, come on,” Selene shouted from the base of the obsidian bridge Hades and Hekate built for us. Molten magma slowly seeped through the cracks in the deck. “The bridge is near collapse, hurry,” Selene pleaded.
Another geyser burst open, sending acrid smelling steam into the air. I raised myself, planting my feet firmly on the ground. Once again, a streak of flame sprayed out of the Spindle. This time I caught it with the nautilus shell, successfully trapping a large amount inside.
And then all hell broke loose.
Reacting to the flame’s loss, several geysers burst open at once, raising the temperature within to melting point. Thunder and rumbling reverberated off the walls. Cracks grew across the bridge and the ceiling as liquid earth simmered and roiled around us.
I cut the red wire of the volcano when I collected the flame. Now, she was ready to explode, taking us with her.
We ran. Pushing our bodies to their limits as the ground behind us rose and fell. Selene was first to cross the bridge.
“Seli…” I called. She turned to look at me. “Catch!” I said, throwing the nautilus shell towards her. She caught it with both hands. The bridge split in the center, separating us on either side.
“Keep going, don’t stop! Run across the cave towards the tunnel, back to the main island,” I said, looking into her steel-gray eyes.
Selene shook her head, eyes shining. “Not without you,” she said firmly. Selene climbed back on to the wobbly bridge, walking towards the center where the bridge split.
“Seli, no! Take the flame back to Sayeh, please,” I begged, but she wouldn’t listen.
From the edge, she extended her arm. “I am NOT going anywhere without you. Now, get to the edge and give me your hand.” I knew arguing was futile. There was no way she would leave me. If I were in her place, I’d do the same.
Despite the situation, I smiled and jogged to the edge of my end of the bridge. I reached for Selene’s outstretched hand, knowing it was too far to grab. She inched closer to the side as did I, but it did nothing to help our situation. I pulled out my bow from my shoulder and extended it to her, hoping she would reach it, and her Titan strength would be enough to pull me closer for a jump. Yet, it fell short by a few meters.
“Seli, please, GO!” I pleaded again.
She shook her head, angry that I was even suggesting it. “Either we go home, or we go down together. All three of us,” she said, her determination ironclad.
A flash of blinding light splashed across the cave, quickly followed by a booming sound, sending shock waves through the lava river. A fist of orange, red flame punched its way out of the crater in a mild explosion. The waves pushed at the debris, grating it against each other, and cracking the bridge into smaller fragments. I was now floating on one of the smaller chunks. A larger portion from behind grated against mine, moving it closer to the bank.
A calculated jump should get me to the opposite end. Selene rushed towards the bank from the bridge. With the ever-shifting gravity, my chances of making it safely across were not too high. Taking a deep breath, I centered my energy onto my legs. I kept my eyes focused on Selene, took a few steps back to gain momentum, and made a run for it. I landed at the bank with a thud. Selene grabbed me by my waist just as I was slipping off the edge. She staggered behind, pulling me with her. I wrapped my arms around her neck. We stood there in that moment, our breathing heavy, gathering our next step.
“Let’s get out of here before the next explosion takes us with it,” I said. Laughing, Selene nodded and grabbed my hand and we ran out of the cave towards the tunnel that would take us back to the main island.
Behind us, Everheim ignited in a fiery ball of yellowish-red flames, billowing outwards, filling the crater, and escaping through various cavities. The noise reverberated over the entire island as multiple thunderclaps. Geysers of hot ash and molten rock spouted upward. At the same time, red-hot debris landed over the island and the turquoise sea surrounding the landmass.
Crossing the tunnel, we watched the fireworks displayed by Everheim Volcanic Island from the safety of Dolbriand Haven.