Sometimes, you forgot how cold the winds of Dragonfall could be after having the luxury of being able to bathe in the heated air and warm waters of the hot spring back at Eldur Mountain. The further you went down, the colder it got and the fiercer the winds blew. Lukas had no clothes to offer you, but Mathias was kind enough to lend you his cape to protect your ears from freezing off.
“You know, it’s been getting worse lately,” Mathias said by your ear since your hearing and sight had been reduced to a full minimum capability. Then, he looked back at Lukas.
“Hey, Lukas, what do you think the humans attempted to accomplish when they captured you and Emil, anyway? I mean, you guys didn’t do anything, right? Why would be think you could end Dragonfall on your own?”
“You’re so clueless, Mathias,” Lukas grumbled unfazed by the cold. “It’s because of that king’s son. I don’t know what he was thinking, but he somehow got it in his head that just because we were warm we could make the rest of Eliatha warm again.”
“Speaking of that, didn’t you say you were going to help me find a way to end Dragonfall?” you reminded the dragon.
“That is my brother’s task,” Lukas replied making sure you were right behind him so you wouldn’t get lost in the flurries. “He is tasked with carrying out a contribution to aid the humans after obtaining his true body. Finding a way to Dragonfall is a big enough contribution, don’t you think so?”
“It would be nice to see the end of this winter,” you agreed. You could only dream of what spring looked like because you were born in the middle of the cursed winter days. Even the oldest people in the castle hadn’t remembered what the days before the curse took over. It was almost like those seasons were a myth just like the Dragonhearts.
You sniffed. “Mathias, how much longer?”
“The village should be straight ahead,” Mathias said taking the lead through the snowstorm. “There should be a sign somewhere…”
“It wouldn’t be surprise me if you learned how to read after spending so much time as a human,” Lukas commented.
“I did!” Mathias answered in his usual cheerful manner. Sometimes you wished Emil had at least transferred his abilities to resist the cold to you.
“That’s something I can’t change,” Emil replied to your thoughts.
“Hold on…” Mathias began leaned his upper body forward to get a better view. “I think…Yes! It’s over here!”
“You found it?” you piped up hoping this could be over with so you could get out of this cold.
“Yep! The sign is over here!” Then, the dragon broke into a run going a small distance ahead of you. Sure enough, when you were able to get close enough, you saw a makeshift wooden sign with boards missing and faded carved letters cut into whatever wood was left.
“They tore off most of the signs pointing to the roads for wood,” Mathias explained.
“How resourceful,” Lukas commented. You couldn’t tell if he was being sarcastic or not.
You batted your eyelashes and rubbed the crystals out of your eyes. “Speaking of resources, we don’t have any money to purchase a needle and thread, Mathias. I’m not planning on stealing. Once was enough, and it cost us a few lives.”
“Oh, that’s fine,” Mathias said. “The humans have this weird monetary system going on so I carry around some pocket change when I’m not feeling up to hunting. It’s been getting scarce, anyway.”
For the most part, the town was in a slightly worse-off condition than the town back at your castle. The streets were close to deserted, and there were little to no lights coming from behind the frosty glass windowpanes. While walking through the small town, you saw a passerby or two, but other than that, there wasn’t a single soul to be seen.
That’s strange, you thought as you and Lukas followed Mathias through the desolate town. I would have thought that with this town being closer to Eldur Mountain that they’d be somewhat better off than my area.
“Perhaps there is more to this town than meets the eye,” Emil replied.
Suddenly, you heard a low metal clink pushing on a heavy wooden door and a small chorus of young voices pouring out of a house. In a few moments after searching, your eyes fell upon a single girl looking through a crack outside of what you assumed to be her house.
“It’s Mathias!” she cried and dashed out of the doorway to the dragon. When she wrapped her small arms around his tall legs, you caught Lukas wincing like he had been the one who was hugged. Mathias, on the other hand, just laughed and bent down to greet the girl.
“Hey, how have you been?” he smiled and squeezed her cheeks with his gloved hands. “Did you grow a little taller since the last time I saw you?”
“Uh-huh!” the girl nodded. Then she noticed you and Lukas who were just standing there unsure of what to make of the dragon’s warm regards towards the little human.
“Who are those people?” she asked pointing to Lukas in particular. “Is she your fiancée?”
Lukas made a face. “Fiancée?” he mumbled softly to himself as if he was unfamiliar with the word.
You could help but stifle a giggle. The more you thought about it, Lukas did have feminine features. Perhaps from above, he could have been mistaken for a girl. Still, you weren’t sure you wanted to spare the prideful dragon the details—especially if he was being mistaken for Mathias’ betrothed.
Mathias had a crooked smile like he was struggling from keeping a straight face and trying not to laugh. He wasn’t going a very good job of staying serious. “Oh, no, this is my friend. His name is Lukas, and this girl over here is ___________.”
The girl blinked in confusion. “So he’s a guy?”
The Dungheap Kale Snowball Fistpump scowled.
“Are you implying that you thought I was a woman?” he asked with his caustic voice burning with a rising fury.
“Uh…well…” The girl cowered behind Mathias. “Your face is so beautiful that I mistook you for a woman. I’m sorry. I didn’t mean it.”
Despite hearing the girl apologize, you could have sworn you could visibly see steam flaring out of the dragon’s nostrils and rising out of his very body. Then again, his soul was made of fire.
“Well, that’s the single-handedly most amusing thing I’ve heard my brother be mistaken for,” Emil laughed.
Mathias only laughed. “Now that you mention it, my friend does look like a girl, doesn’t he?”
“Uh…” the girl hesitated unsure of how to respond to that question.
“Mathias, you aren’t helping the situation,” you muttered under your breath hoping the clueless dragon could hear you before he set off Lukas’ fuse. Apparently he was terrible at reading the mood among other things.
“S-So…What did you bring your friends here for?” the girl asked hoping changing the subject would take Lukas’ mind off of the unintended insult.
“Oh, yeah, I almost forgot,” Mathias straightened up. “Do you know where we can get a needle and some string?”
“My mother might have some,” the girl timidly answered.
“Do you think we can buy some from you? We just need one needle and one spool of thread.” Before he could have a reply, he already slipped a shiny gold piece into the girl’s hand. You had only seen nobles and high-ranked guards carry such pieces. Mathias must’ve had his resources.
“Wait here,” the girl said and dashed back into the house. When you looked up, you noticed several people looking at you through their windows. There was something strange about the way they were so cautious of coming outside, but perhaps it was because you had two dragons to keep you warm and safe that you felt fine staying with staying outside.
“Is the town always like this?” Lukas asked narrowing his sapphire blue eyes as though he was ready for a fight.
“It was livelier the last time I came here,” Mathias said. “I think it must be the cold. There might not be a point for people to go outside anymore and waste their energy and time.”
You nodded. “Just a few days before the journey started, Dragonfall suddenly got even worse. Emil’s sacrifice didn’t mean anything.”
“Not to the humans, anyway,” Lukas added. “In order for a dragon soul to be released, the dragon’s physical body must first die. It was perfect timing on their part that the king decided to sacrifice one of us, and it was even better that it was my brother because his body was about to expire.”
“But if he didn’t find a better vessel, then would you still have allowed them to sacrifice Emil so easily?” you asked.
Lukas shrugged. “We might have had to try to make the journey by ourselves, though I highly doubt my brother would have been able to make it in time.”
“I’ve got it!” the girl piped up holding a small spool of dark black thread and a small, but shiny needle.
Lukas frowned. “Black isn’t really my color,” he said under his breath.
You rolled your eyes. “Then what is? Red?”
“May the gods forbid that my preferred color is red,” Lukas sneered glancing over at Mathias.
Oh, thinking about that, what does Mathias look like as a dragon, Emil?
“As his name suggests, he is a very fine dragon with ruby-red scales,” Emil answered. “Every ratio of his body is structured for combat purposes, a different take to his flimflam and clueless persona, isn’t it?”
You chuckled. I couldn’t agree more.
“Thank you,” Mathias smiled at the girl and patted her head. “This is very important for my friend, so I’m very glad you could help.”
“You’re welcome, Mathias,” the girl giggled.
“You should go back inside now,” the dragon suggested. “I don’t want you getting a cold.”
“What about you?”
Mathias laughed. “Nah, are you kidding? I’m tough and strong like a dragon! The cold doesn’t bother me!”
“Oh brother,” Lukas groaned.
“Are you going to come back again?” the girl asked.
Mathias nodded. “When Dragonfall ends, I’ll come back and see how everyone is doing. Then I can show you all the best places to pick firenuts, okay?”
“Okay!” the girl nodded and began to back into her house. “Bye, Mathias and Mathias’ friends!”
“Bye,” you said and gave her a small wave before she disappeared into her house.
For a dragon, Mathias is pretty good with kids, isn’t he? you thought.
“As long as you stay on his good side, he can be likable even if my brother doesn’t want to admit it,” Emil added.
“Now that we’ve got the needle and thread, let’s get out of here,” Lukas said with his eyes darting left and right. “I don’t like the way these townsfolk are looking at us.”
“Alright, hold onto your skin, Lukas,” Mathias dismissively said and began to lead you to a solitary location. After you walked towards the edge of town (taking notice at the people peering through their windows), Lukas began to talk again.
“Why do you allow yourself to be so close to the humans?” he asked his friend. “You do realize that even if many of us have forgotten how to change back, dragon hunters still claimed many of our numbers.”
Mathias shrugged. “They’re not all bad. There are good ones, too. It could be just that there’s always been a communication gap between us.”
Lukas snorted. “Regardless of how kind the humans may seem, don’t forget that their greed is bottomless. They carry the smell of blood wherever they go, and I do not always mean that in a poetic way.”
You stepped forward and walked in front of Lukas. “We’re not all like that. What about the rest of the dragonkeepers? What about me? I never dreamed of doing anything bad to you, and I took care of you two when you were all chained up to the castle.”
“A human is still a human,” Lukas huffed and turned up his nose like the overzealous dragon that he was.
Arrogant twit! you wanted to scream aloud, but you bit your tongue down so you wouldn’t draw attention to yourself.
“Even when you were dragons, Emil was able to open up to me. Why couldn’t you do the same?”
“I’ve no need of such relationships between humans and my keepers,” Lukas said. “Do you think I enjoyed being displayed like that for so long? No. So there is your reason.”
“Gee, Lukas, you’ve been really bitter since I last saw you,” Mathias commented.
The Blue Flame Dragon Guy raised his eyebrows at his wild-haired friend.
“It’s about time you noticed something, Blade of the Ruby Seas,” he said without taking a breath.
Mathias made a slight scowl. “Hey, I thought I told you not to call me by that name.”
“I don’t see why you would give up your official title,” Lukas threw back. “You worked hard to earn that title so I can’t understand why you would throw it away like that. Is it because of the humans? Have they poisoned your head into thinking so close-mindedly?”
“No, it’s just who I am.”
“If Mathias wants to be called Mathias, then I don’t see why it’s a problem,” you piped up.
Lukas whipped his head around and threw you an icy glare. “You would respect Mathias’ preferences, but you won’t respect mine? How many times have I told you that you are to address me as Divine Keeper of the Sapphire Flames?”
“How many times have you said my name?” you countered. “And I wouldn’t have a problem calling Mathias by his title. It’s shorter than your mouthful of a name.”
“Insolent wench!” the Douchebag of the Kingdom of Sarcastic Flaunters hissed.
You were fuming. “I’ve just had it up to here (you raised your hand above your head) with you and your disregards to the fact that I’m carrying your brother around. Even after I took care of you, gave your brother a better-than-most vessel, and went along with your stupid plan which cost me my position and home, you still treat me like filth! Not only that but—what the heck is that?”
In response to your sudden interrupting question, Lukas and Mathias turned around in time to see a bright red wooden box with wheels and dozens of bells and trinkets hanging off the sides roll up to the side of the road.
“It’s a caravan,” Mathias said. “Those are from the east.”
“Caravan?” you repeated. “It’s red, too…Oh! Maybe it belongs to those people who saved us in the Bone Forest!”
“Just perfect,” Lukas sarcastically groaned. Just then, a group of people came out and began to stretch. You recognized the one who had spoken to you after the netiss had exploded.
“Oh! It’s you two!” he beamed giving three of you a bright smile. “I see you made it safely out of the Bone Forest thanks to the netiss fat, am I right?”
“As much as I hate to admit it, we did arrive out in one piece,” Lukas answered.
“Oh, this is amazing!” Mathias beamed and began to walk circles around the caravan and its horses. “I’ve never seen an actual caravan from the east before! So this is what they look like!”
Your face fell into a confused frown. You leaned towards Lukas.
“I thought he said he saw one before,” you whispered into the ear.
Lukas rolled his eyes. “Like most things, he usually lies about getting firsthand experience. Most of the things he’s been saying were through word-of-mouth conversations or eavesdropping.”
“Is that so?”
“Since you’re here can I interest you in some fine products?” the travelling businessman asked. “Maybe a lucky foot of a three-haired bigfoot hare or the eyeballs of a lotus-eating water nymph? It’s good for mumps in your throat. Or how about some more netiss fat if you’re going back through the Bone Forest? I see you’ve washed it off since the last time we met.”
You frowned. “I don’t even know what half those things you listed were,” you confessed. “But I don’t think we’ll be needing any of them.”
Lukas looked suspicious. “Do you by chance have any dragon-related items on you? Maybe some powders created by the scales or even some eyes in a jar?”
You gave the dragon a light nudge. “Lukas…” you muttered under your breath.
The businessman blinked. “Oh, you need special connections to get a hold of those, but if you really want those, I’m sure we can work something out.”
Lukas raised his eyebrow. “What sort of deal would we have to make?” he asked.
Then, Mathias, catching wind of the conversation, leaned towards his friend. “Lukas, he means he wants you to give him a forward payment,” he whispered.
“Is that how you go about conducting business? Well, then I’ll pass,” Lukas replied. “I still don’t have any money on me.”
“I do! I do!” Mathias burst out causing Lukas to flinch and curse to himself. “Hey, do you guys still have anymore of those bombs? I want one!”
“That idiot!” Lukas hissed and slapped his hand on his face.
“I’m afraid we don’t sell those kinds of devices to normal people,” the businessman said. “But may I interest you in a safer, colorful alternative?”
Then, like magic, the caravan threw itself open like a whimsical puzzle box. Out popped endless shelves after shelves of odd trinkets, little paper bottles and colorful shapes complete with tiny strings attached. It was like the kind of vendor you would expect to see during the king’s birthday in the middle of the castle town before Dragonfall became worse.
“We use the same kind of gunpowder as the bombs you are most likely referring to, but these will not explode in the same way—although I highly recommend you don’t point these at people,” the businessman advised.
What in Eliatha is this…?
“I want the closest thing that can give us the most bang!” Mathias said to the businessman scanning over the different gunpowder-filled objects like a mother buying textiles at the market. After being with Lukas with so long, you found it rather strange that a dragon could adapt himself so well with human customs.
“If you want something with the most noise and light, then I suggest this one,” the eccentric businessman said holding up a large log-shaped object with brightly colored paper wrapped around its shell.
“How much is it?” Mathias asked.
“Four gold pieces.”
You swallowed. That was more than you would have made in a year. Mathias said he only carried around a little bit of change here and there, didn’t he?
“Sold!” Mathias grinned and handed the businessman four gold pieces.
“What?!” you and Lukas cried.
“A dra—uh, I mean—a man can live a little every once in a while, can’t he?” Mathias smiled and claimed his large…whatchamacallit. “By the way, what is this?”
You and Lukas could only shake your heads.