The middle tunnel of the cave was different from the others.
It was completely dark, with no calming, glowing embers that made whoever looked at them want to open up their soul to others.
Ren had nothing but the torch in his hand to light up his path up ahead.
His labored breathing echoed through the narrow walls as a reminder that this is probably the same scary feeling Emma felt when she ran in.
The path was rocky from everywhere, and he dreaded every time he stepped over a loose pebble— it could be an indication that the top of the cave was unsteady and could fall down on anyone at any time, or that there was a hole on the ground nearby, or worse, it could not be a pebble at all, but maybe it was a body—
No, he shouldn’t think like that.
Calm yourself, Ren.
This might be the darkest path, but there’s no bats in here. It’s unlikely the one she was chasing ran through this tunnel.
For all I know, one of the others already found her.
Yeah, that’s probably it.
He was looking up ahead, hoping to see a glimpse of her—any evidence that she either had or hadn’t been through this path.
He wanted to yell her name, but he didn’t want to risk waking up any animals that could still be inside.
It was frustrating.
His mind started to wander, thinking of the time when they met, back when they were five years old.
Emma was crying, holding a crayon the wrong way, wondering why hers was ‘broken’. Ren turned it around for her, and she immediately beamed him the biggest smile.
After using it the right way for a second, she flipped it around again.
Eh? Why did you flip it? You’re using it upside down…
I like it better this way, actually!
…Even though it made you cry?
He couldn’t understand her at all.
And back then, he couldn’t understand his own feelings, either.
It was a few years later when he realized what he felt for her wasn’t going away.
Ren forgot his umbrella during a downpour and was waiting for it to slow down before going home when Emma suddenly stood next to him with a grin.
Did you forget your umbrella?
Wanna borrow mine?
Then she pulled out a cardboard cutout of an umbrella, the size of a playing card, and handed it to Ren.
It’s my lucky charm! It can stop the rain! I didn’t want to stop it today because I wanted to play in the puddles, but I’ll let you use it if you want!
Aren’t you too old to play in puddles? More importantly, there’s no way this charm can stop the rain.
Of course it can! I can prove it to you! Was it raining yesterday?
Right!? Because I used this charm! …Last month!
So the effect happens a month later? That’s a really long margin of error.
Hehe. It works! So, use it, yeah!?
And just as she said she would, she left to play in the rain, catching a nasty cold the next day.
But Ren knew he’d found the most positive, warm person in the world, and that no matter where he looked he’d never find anyone like her.
If anything happened to her today, from right under his nose, he’d never forgive himself.
Suddenly in the distance, he saw something on the walls.
Glowing embers of some sort, flashing languidly and slowly, glittering like stars.
When he reached them, he realized the rest of the tunnel was illuminated the same way.
It wasn’t fire, and it wasn’t insects. It was something unexplained—ethereal and warm, with no real form to touch and examine.
As the cave got deeper, the embers could be found in higher concentrations, clustered together, making the tunnel brighter.
Even Ren, who had nothing in his mind but worries over his childhood friend couldn’t help but be fascinated by this phenomenon.
It took his breath away for a moment, and he reached to grasp one of them that was glowing in a slow pattern, only to open his hand and find it completely gone.
He had an idea of what—or who could be behind this, but the last thing he wanted was to assume the rest of his life was going to be a series of events orchestrated by a cherub.
Then again, the ‘rest of his life’ could mean nothing but a day from now.
The path carried on with more and more embers until they were so bright he didn’t need the torch anymore.
Eventually, he could see the end of the tunnel.
He stopped in his tracks before taking another step.
A blinding white light awaited him on the other side—so incredibly bright he couldn’t see anything past it.
The warmth of the embers, once inviting and calm, felt nothing but ominous now.
Although he couldn’t quite remember the accident or how he got to heaven, there was something oddly familiar about this scene.
His heart sank.
Perhaps this was it.
Maybe one of the others finally got the targets to fall for them, and this was Cupid’s way of telling him it was time to go.
The fact that Emma disappeared without a trace, no footsteps, no voice… maybe she was taken first.
If that was the case, then…
He muttered quietly.
His trembling hand gripped the now useless torch with all his might.
He took in a breath.
Back then, if that was the last time they spoke…
If that was the last time he saw her…
If he couldn’t save her…
Was there any point to anything?
He exhaled, and repeated her name again with sorrow.
mustering what little energy he had left, and knowing he had no other choice, he slowly closed his eyes, then stepped into the brightness—into the unknown.
"Emma… wait for me."