I took my first big adventure while still an adolescent. My sister, Sharra, and I dove the depths of the Mediterranean Sea. Abernathy told us many stories of a dragon living along the sea floor. If we found him we could claim a wish, anything we desired, and the dragon would grant it. For weeks we searched, and were about to give up when we found a cave entrance along the sea floor. It sloped downward. A dim blue-green light glowed, begging us to see what secrets it held.
Hands clasped together we went down, using our wings to push us further, deeper. After a long time we arrived at the center of a cavern made completely of salt. Inside, the sea dragon lay curled in a scaly ball. He was sleeping (not a big shocker given dragons are lazy). Two blue eyes, the color of midnight, peered at us.
"I suppose you're here for a wish, little vampires." He shook his stark white mane, making it dance in the water.
"Yes we are," I said.
"Very well. What is it?" He swam closer, and we noticed he had fins instead of feet. His scales were the color of pearls, and he had a very long fin for a tail.
When we'd decided to search for the dragon, Sharra and I had long, sometimes hostile, discussions about our wish. So, without hesitation, I looked directly at the dragon and said, "We wish to see our parents." We'd never met our parents. My first memories were of Sharra and I taking care of each other. We'd watched the other creatures have children, saw the way they cared for their infants, and knew we must have been born of parents as well.
When the dragon's face loomed in front of us, he asked, "Are you sure that is your wish?"
"It is," we said together.
"So be it."
The cavern turned black, as though we swam in ink instead of water. I couldn't see my hands in front of my face.
"I don't know."
A clicking sound started from a ways off, and grew louder and louder. Sharra and I clung to each other.
I tried to calm her, stroking her hair. "Shhh, it's okay. You're safe." I was terrified as well, but I didn't dare move. I had no idea where to go, or how to get back the way we'd come.
When the clicking sound got so close I thought it would run us through, a bright light flashed, startling me. Two large sets of eyes, so beautiful and yet so chilling, peered at us. Light radiated and swirled around their bodies, like a lightning storm. Their forms, even now, are hard to explain. They were like all creatures and none at all. A swirling unknown entity one second, and corporeal the next.
When Sharra and I talked about the experience later, neither of us ever could decide what we saw.
But Sharra, normally the shy one, asked, "Are you our parents?"
"We are, and ever will be." The voice was like liquid, neither male nor female, and seemed to reach me to my very core.
"Why didn't you stay with us? Why do we drink blood? Why are we so different from all other creatures?" Sharra asked, moving out of my arms.
It surprised me she was suddenly so bold, especially in the presence of creatures I didn't understand.
"Dear ones, you are the sum of all other magical creatures-the beginning. Blood is your sustenance because magic is strongest there. And we saw no purpose in staying. When we created you, we provided you with each other."
They turned, swimming away, taking their strange light with them. We were again plunged in darkness. The clicking sound, which Sharra and I guessed came from our parents, got further and further away. Blue-green light filled the salty cavern. The sea dragon was gone too. We were alone.
I forced back my tears, knowing they wouldn't make a difference.
From that moment on, Sharra and I became more than sisters, more than girls related to one another.
And I promised to protect her, always be there for her. I became the parents she never had.
That was several lifetimes ago.
Since then I've been in hundreds of caves and every single time I think of Sharra and the tears she shed for our non-parents.
Standing on the precipice of another, while Titan's ugly troll face scanned mine, Sharra's image crossed my mind.
The beginning of the end, I thought sadly.
... "Snow's eyelashes fluttered. Did you see them?"
"Whatever is going on inside of her, I think it's almost at an end. Look at her skin. Completely back too normal. It shouldn't be much longer."
"You don't think... she isn't... dying, is she, Pops?"
"I'm not sure, Dorian. I hope not. For her sake, Gabe's... well, all our sakes. She's got to live."
"You hear that, Snow? We aren't giving you a choice. Come back."
"Welcome to my secret fortress, Silindra," Titan said.
I grunted my response, walking past him to the doorway in the mountain, its entry bursting with light. The surface my feet touched was smooth and hard, like polished rock. But it wasn't rock. It was some kind of iron. It swayed slightly, and I grabbed hold of the rails.
This is incredible, Snow White said.
I agreed wholeheartedly. Metal catwalks crisscrossed each other, reminding me of a spider's web. Tall beams rose to the ceiling where millions of lights shone. It was as though Titan harnessed a portion of the sun, and somehow held its ray's captive within.
In the center of the mountain, and vertical, reaching the top and I guessed touching the bottom, was a thick grated tube. Inside the tube were two sets of stairs. One used to walk up, and the other for down. A steady flow of occupants used them; exiting through archways onto walkways like the one I was on. The walkways led to large, cylinder-shaped holes carved into the mountain.
Cautious, I glanced over the side and felt my throat drop into my stomach. A seemingly endless amount of walkways weaved from the center stairs, and downward.
I took a deep breath, noting the tang of something sour, like curdled milk. The voices of thousands echoed as trolls, fairies, gremlins, and other magical creatures busily rushed around. Like a strange city.
"What is this place," I finally asked.
"This is Varden. The place where all the scientific magic happens," he responded, pushing his bulky body past me, walking briskly along the path. The metal shuddered under his weight, and I held my breath. Snow let out a tiny scream.
I tried to calm my nerves and Snow's.