It was dark. Very dark.
As if on cue Ronin opened his mouth near the cave entrance and brought fire to the back of his throat, creating enough light for Dally to move forward.
The small space inside cave entrance had been used to make a fire, but not recently. At the back of the space was a small hole, just large enough for a man wearing armor to crawl through. Dally heard Kazane and Celia enter the cave behind her and turned and pointed at the entrance. Celia shook her head vigorously, and Kazane gave her a scolding look. Dally crouched down and looked in the passage. It was about 4 meters long and she saw light at the end of it. She slowly crawled through, trying not to think irrationally of bugs and snakes, and looked up at the hole in the roof of the large area at the end of the tunnel as she stood. Then she looked to her right.
A skeleton, in full Samurai armor, sat in the closest thing to a corner of the room, arms folded across its midsection, sword on its lap. Dally sighed. She heard a rustle behind her then a gasp.
“Is that him?” she asked.
“Yes,” Kazane whispered.
Dally swore under her breath. “How should we get him out of here? I don’t want him falling apart if we drag him back through the cave.” She looked at Kazane, who was tearfully lost in her own thoughts. She looked up at the hole in the cave ceiling. It seemed big enough to hoist the remains out. She crawled back through the tunnel and looked out at Celia.
“There’s a cave back there with a hole in the roof that leads out. Can you find it for me and throw down a rope or something?” she asked.
Celia nodded. “I take it you found him,” she whispered. Dally nodded. “Ok, go back in and call out to me so I can follow your voice to find you.” Dally nodded and crawled backwards through the tunnel. Celia patted Ronin on his jaw and said, “That’s enough boy. We need to go find a hole.”
Dally stood up and brushed off her knees. Kazane was kneeling beside her uncle’s remains. Dally knelt next to her and put an arm around her shoulders. “What is his name?” she asked softly.
Kazane sniffled. “Katsuo.”
Dally gave Kazane a squeeze. “We will get him out of here and give him a proper burial. I promise.” Kazane nodded. They felt the cave shake, then Ronan’s mournful cry. Celia poked her head into the cave through the hole. “Well, that was much easier than I thought it would be. Big boy knew just where to go!”
Dally smiled and walked over to her. “Can you toss down a blanket? Then make a harness and we’ll have you hoist Katsuo up.”
Celia nodded. “Sure thing.” She disappeared back into the light and a moment later threw the blanket to Dally. Dally walked over and handed the blanket to Kazane, and they both carefully wrapped Katsuo’s remains. When Celia lowered the makeshift harness, they placed the blanket inside and Celia slowly pulled it to the surface. Celia then lowered the rope again and brought the women to the surface.
Ronin was lying next to the blanket, sniffing it. Dally went over and carefully unwrapped the fallen rider. Ronin stood and roared with pain and anguish. He laid back down, refusing to leave his friend again. Dally walked over to him and wrapped her arms around his neck.
“We are going to give him a proper burial,” she whispered. “The one he deserves. I know you love him, Ronin, and he loved you. But I love you too. You’re a good dragon. Honorable. Loyal. You deserve to have a good life too. He would have wanted that for you.”
Celia cleared her throat. “If I may, I think I have the perfect place for him.”
Dally looked at Kazane, who nodded.
Celia sighed. “Well, let’s get him wrapped up and on Ronin and we’ll head west.”
“What is west?” Kazane asked.
Celia smiled. “Home.”