Lukas was the first one to speak up.
“That couldn’t be…” he whispered. “There were so many of us. I know the humans have said that my brother and I were the only dragons left in the world, but only five of us…How is that possible?”
“There were many reasons,” Berwald said, “but I think you know which ones were the biggest.” That being said, he looked over to Mathias who was still on his friend’s back.
“I don’t understand,” Lukas growled. “Why would they choose being a human over staying as a dragon?”
Berwald shrugged. “It’s just their choice. Maybe they had an awakening moment and decided being human was better. That or they just forgot somewhere along the way.”
Mathias jumped in. “What about Peter? He was so young. He has to still be around.”
The golden dragon shook his head sadly. “The hunters got to him nearly forty years ago.”
Lukas cursed. “Humans, the wretched lot of them.”
“It’s worse than we thought,” Emil said. “But if there really aren’t any more of us, then that means this is it. There will not be any more dragons to exist—ever.”
You looked up at the opal-scaled dragon. “Does that mean all of you are male dragons?”
“Unfortunately so,” he sighed. “I never thought our kind would die out like this.”
“Divine Keeper of the Sapphire Flames, I know you are most upset about this, but doesn’t think of any rash decisions to get back at the humans,” Berwald advised.
“I still can’t believe this,” Lukas murmured.
“Then you should,” Berwald said. “It’s the truth, and it’s something you can’t run away from. The same thing has happened to the Blade of the Ruby Seas or Mathias as he clearly prefers.”
“I told you, I can change back whenever I want!” Mathias protested.
Berwald only stared hard at him with his cold blue eyes. “That’s what many of us have said, but that didn’t change anything. Their ability to change back was lost and their dragon powers with them. Pretty soon, you’ll become nothing more than a mere human, Mathias, and you will die as one.”
Mathias frowned. “Why do you put an emphasis on my name like that? It’s just a name.”
The golden dragon snorted. “Your title was given with a high level of honor. To think that you would abuse and abandon it so easily is unforgivable in dragon laws.”
Mathias could only grumble at Berwald’s words.
“Well there’s nothing we can do about it now,” Emil said. “For the moment, my focus is finding out how to end Dragonfall. Speaking of which, since there aren’t any other dragons besides us, do you know of any information regarding this strange winter?”
“It’s been said that Dragonfall resulted from a curse cast by a powerful sorcerer who felt that humans were the plague of the world,” Berwald answered. “No one knows who did it, but dead or alive, the curse still remains in place.”
“Is that all you’ve got?” Mathias asked. “What a letdown. And we were hoping someone here had something useful to say about the damnable winter season. It’s not fun, you know.”
“The curse was a foolish one,” Berwald agreed. “It’s not only the humans who suffer, but the rest of Eliatha suffers as well. Without food and the warm sun everything will die out eventually.”
“Then our main focus is to see if there is a way to stop this once and for all,” Emil said. “I have a feeling that ____________ becoming a Dragonheart during this dire time is no coincidence. I believe she is destined to accomplish great things, and I will accompany her until those tasks are done.”
You sure have a lot of faith in someone who can’t even last an entire night on her own, you thought grateful Emil couldn’t hear your thoughts any longer.
“If you do that, then I have to accompany you,” Lukas said to his brother. “As two of the last dragons, I must ensure that your survival remains in tact. I couldn’t imagine what I might do if I lost you.”
“You can say the same about me, can’t you?” Mathias piped up.
The Divine Keeper of the Sapphire Flames sneered. “You’re the last person I would think about.”
He said “person…” you thought catching Lukas’ keyword.
“The Eye of the Topaz Blizzard won’t be back for a while so I suggest you make yourselves comfortable until he returns,” Berwald advised.
“Will do,” Emil said and lowered his body so you could climb on. “____________, let’s go find a good place to rest. We’ll have to sort out where to go once he gets back.”
“Y-Yeah…” you nodded and got on his back. Once you were secured, Emil began to head towards the caves hollowed out in the mountain’s crater walls while Lukas, Mathias, and Berwald stayed behind to discuss things among themselves.
You pressed your lips together. “Emil, about what Berwald said about the other dragons…I’m sorry.”
“Don’t be,” the pearly dragon said shaking his head. “You had nothing to do with this. In fact, you were most likely not even born when the dragons started disappearing from this world. I just wish I knew it was this serious.”
“To be the last ones of your kind…It must be so lonely.”
“I must admit it is, but my brother and I have been lonely for quite some time. The dragonkeepers just came and went as they did, and until you came along, I never thought about much else besides being free again.”
“Mathias is his own case, but what do you think would have compelled dragons to stay as humans?”
Emil paused for a moment. “I’m not sure how to answer that, ___________,” he finally said. “I’ve never been close to humans, myself, so I have a different way of thinking than dragons like Mathias might.”
You sat up. “Speaking of humans, do you think I could see your human form?” you asked feeling curious ever since you saw Lukas transform.
The dragon craned his head close to his body as though he was trying to hide his face.
“I don’t know if you’d want to see it, ___________,” he said. “Like my brother, I never bothered using my human form enough to where I would need clothes.”
“Oh…” you blushed. “I-In that case, maybe it’s not such a good idea.”
Emil was still looking away. “If you’re really curious, I was thinking about taking a dip in one of the hot springs down by the foot of the mountain.”
You raised an eyebrow. “What’s wrong with the ones up here?”
“There are more nutrients at the lower hot springs,” Emil explained. “I haven’t had a proper bath for a long time, and I don’t think the time I spent inside your heart really counts.”
“No, I don’t think it does,” you agreed. You weren’t sure if it was the high temperature in the crater or not, but whatever it was, your face felt like it was on fire.
“Are you tired or hungry, ____________?” your dragon companion asked.
You shook your head.
Emil paused. “If you want, we can fly there right now.”
“Are you sure?” you asked. “You just got your old body back. I don’t want to put any strain on your wings if you’re not comfortable.”
“No, it’s fine,” Emil chuckled. “I’m quite used to it. The time I spent in your heart are like seconds in my long lifespan of a dragon.”
“Hmm, well in that case, I don’t mind going right now,” you replied.
Just then, you saw Emil’s lavender wings begin to stretch and expand like large fans much like his brother’s. Before taking off, you looked back to see if you could catch a glimpse of the other dragons past the steam and rosy lights.
“Shouldn’t we tell your brother and the others where we’re going first?” you asked.
“There’s no need to,” Emil casually answered. “I can take care of myself, and besides, if my brother found out where we were going, he’d want to follow us, too.”
“That makes sense.” You had only been in the hot springs once with Lukas and Mathias, and frankly, once was enough to last a lifetime. It was times like these that you wondered whether or not Emil was more sensitive to your privacy as opposed to Lukas’ shameless way of thinking.
“Are you ready, ___________?” the dragon asked looking back to make sure nothing was wrong.
“Yep,” you smiled and clung onto his long neck.
“Alright then. Hang on.” With that, Emil turned and faced an empty clearing similar to the place where his brother had landed barely an hour ago. Then, he began to kick up air from underneath his wings as he flapped harder and harder with his increasing speed. You lowered yourself with his head as he started to take off from the ground, the fiery air stinging your eyes and making them dry. In a matter of seconds, you couldn’t feel the ground beneath Emil’s feet anymore as he became fully airborne and began to ascend with the help of the hot air giving rise to his altitude. From below, you could still see the large dark blue and golden shapes of Lukas and Berwald with a tiny human of a dragon on the Divine Keeper of the Sapphire Flame’s back that was Mathias.
“They look so small from here,” you giggled as you hung onto Emil’s neck.
“Let’s just hope my brother and the Golden Sentinel don’t spot us in the air,” the pearly dragon said. “We don’t have to worry about Mathias because his eyes see as far as his ego is small.” You didn’t know if Emil was being serious or not, but you decided it was best not to ask.
The descent down Eldur Mountain was much faster than flying up with the aid of gravity. Emil hardly had to flap his wings, and for the most part, there was hardly any noise save for the few words you exchanged about what life was like on Eldur Mountain.
“Because it’s so warm up there, it’s the perfect place for dragons to take shelter and raise their young,” Emil explained. “The dragons usually only have one hatchling, but my brother and I were a rare case. I suppose that’s why you can say we’re closer than other dragons that might have lived in the past.”
“Even though Mathias claims he’s friends with your brother, it must be hard to keep a steady relationship when Lukas knows Mathias may never be able to change back.”
“Yes, I caught that part of the conversation,” Emil replied in a solemn voice. You noticed his flight pattern was getting slower as he opened up his wings to brake. From below, you could see steam rising from a small pool close to the edge of the mountain much like the one you had stopped by when meeting Mathias for the first time.
“Here’s a nice one,” Emil said. “It’s a little smaller than the one we stopped at last time, but it’s big enough for me as a dragon.”
You made a face. “I thought you were going to show me what you looked like as a human.”
“Mm, well, it’s nothing impressive,” Emil reluctantly confessed. “I’d rather much I had something to cover myself up with.”
“What’s wrong? Are you afraid I’m going to judge you the wrong way? Is your appearance not up to your brother’s standards?” You brought Lukas’ human appearance up since Emil could hear your thoughts about how handsome you thought Lukas was while he was in your heart.
“It’s not that,” Emil said. “It could be just that my human form doesn’t have anything interesting to offer.”
“I don’t understand.”
“Mathias is muscular, my brother isn’t too bad off himself, and even the Golden Sentinel is tall.”
“I’m sure it couldn't be that bad,” you smiled. “You took on the form of your first vessel. Whoever it was, I don’t think someone like you would have made a bad decision. You chose me, after all.”
“That I did,” Emil agreed.
After a few more flaps and finding a decent place to land, you and Emil had reached the ground. From there, you only had to walk a few paces to get to the hot springs where the dragon could finally take a bath in his own body. Once you reached the steaming pool of water, you looked around to see if there was a place you could sit at while Emil soaked himself. Upon finding a rock, you walked over and took a seat to watch the dragon immerse himself in the pool. Unfortunately, he must have underestimated his size because the water began to overfill as his large, heavy body took up nearly all of the space.
Emil was definitely smaller than Lukas, but that didn’t mean he was a small dragon—not that you had seen any others besides the three you had met. His body was at least a good seven meters long; it wasn’t nowhere near as strong-looking enough to support two people like you and Mathias, but it was enough to hold a full-grown adult at the very least.
“It looks like I’m going to have to do this in my human form after all,” Emil sighed disappointedly. He looked over to you and outstretched his neck until you could have reached out and touched his snout.
“____________, do you think you could spare me one of your layers?” he asked. “I don’t want you to get embarrassed if you see me without any clothes.”
“Sure thing, Emil,” you chuckled and took off your cloak to give to the dragon. The whole while, you were thinking that it wasn’t that you who was going to be embarrassed, rather it would be Emil. He was certainly different now that he had his own body back. Perhaps under the protection of his brother, he had grown accustomed to being shyer around others.
The Wings of the Opal Skies’ transformation was similar to the way the Divine Keeper of the Sapphire Flames transformed except instead of a blue light, this dragon glowed with a bright, pale purple light that was just as blinding and fascinating at the same time. When you were able to open your eyes again, you didn’t see anything at first save for your cloak floating above the hot spring’s surface. Then, a few seconds later, you saw bubbles come up, and a young man’s head with silvery white hair arose from the water.
After shaking off some of the water and properly putting on your cloak, Emil looked over to you with his body still immersed in the hot spring. Like his brother, he had fair creamy skin, and his eyes were the same shade of pale lavender like his wings and the purple hues on his scales as a dragon. He didn’t look anything like his brother, but you had to admit: Emil was his own exotic kind of beautiful.
“I must look ridiculous, mustn’t I?” he mumbled, his cheeks flushing with a rosy hue from the steam—at least, that’s what he would have likely justified the cause as.
“Not at all,” you said shaking your head. “Emil, you’re beautiful even as a human.”
Emil blinked his large eyes and sank his head even further into the hot spring.
“You reavvy fink sopphrr?” he asked, his speech being hindered by the bubbles he was making in the water.
“Yeah,” you smiled. “I think you chose a very nice vessel.”
“Mm, I don’t think my brother would have approved,” Emil said raising his lips above the surface so you could hear him speak clearly again.
“You shouldn’t be so humble,” you laughed. “I’ll bet every human who sets their eyes on you will agree with me.”
Emil’s head was too far into the water for you to visibly see his expression, but you were sure he was trying his best to remain composed in front of you. It was obvious that he hadn’t shown himself in his human form very often.
“I’ll just finish up real quick then so we can go back before my brother gets mad,” Emil mumbled and dove under the water.
Apparently dragons not only had a high heat and cold tolerance, but they had an ability to hold their breaths for long periods of time. You had lost track of how long it had been since you had last seen Emil’s face, but you were sure no human could have remained inside the water for this long. Or maybe…
You gasped. What if Emil drowned? you thought and immediately got to your feet. Oh, this isn’t good. Lukas will have a heart attack if something happens to Emil.
With not a moment to lose, you jumped into the steaming hot water and began to wade towards the spot where you had last seen Emil disappear from view. After searching around the spot, your hands felt something soft and smooth like human skin. Right after you touched it, something shot out of the water hitting you straight in the nose.
“Ggh!” you winced and clasped onto your nose.
“_____________!” Emil jumped. “You startled me! I-I-I didn’t know that was you! I’m sorry…! _____________, you’re bleeding.”
When you held your hands away from your nose, you saw that blood was dripping out of your nostrils like a fountain. To make matters worse, it was dripping into the water in dark red splashes.
“Oh, this isn’t good…” you groaned and began to back up. Emil did the same and followed you to the water’s edge.
“I’m really sorry, ____________,” he apologized again with a genuine look of worry on his face. “Are you going to be alright?”
“I think so,” you sniffed and looked up to the sky. “I should be the one who’s sorry. I shouldn’t have gone in the water and made you jump like that.”
The dragon shook his head. “I should have given you a heads up about dragons being able to remain submerged in the water for a long time. That’s why you went inside, wasn’t it?”
“Mm-hmm,” was all you could say since some of your blood was dripping onto your lips.
Emil frowned. “We should do something about that bleeding before we go back. I don’t want the Eye of the Topaz Blizzard going crazy over your condition.”
“The only thing we have to clean up the blood with is my clothes,” you sniffed.
“And you gave Mathias’ cape back to him back at the peak, didn’t you?” Emil sighed. “I don’t think any of us would have minded using that. It’s red anyway.”
“That’s true,” you chuckled with your head still hanging in the air. “You know what? I’ll just use my clothes. I can wash it off once I’m done.”
“Yes. We’re wasting time.”
“If you say so…”
While Emil waited for you to clean the blood off your nose, he began to dry himself off as a dragon since his warmer temperature allowed the water to evaporate faster.
“What do you think the others are talking about, Emil?” you asked the dragon.
“Mathias and the Golden Sentinel have always had a problem with one another,” Emil explained. “It’s not the same as with my brother and Mathias. Mathias actually wants to be acknowledged by my brother. The Golden Sentinel, on the other hand, doesn’t have any positive interactions so they always end up fighting. Most likely, my brother is acting as a mediator with Mathias throwing empty remarks at the Golden Sentinel.”
Your face fell. “So in other words, they aren’t talking about anything productive.”
“I highly doubt they are.”
“Are you finished?” he suddenly asked.
“Pretty much,” you answered.
“Right, then we should head back.” On that note, Emil lowered his body so you could climb on. Once you were clinging to his neck the dragon walked towards a clearing and started to run.
Only moments into the air, you saw something strange flying straight at you. It wasn’t an arrow because the width was far too wide to be a point, but by the time you realized what it was, it was too late. A large brown rope had wrapped itself around Emil’s neck and snagged onto his head changing his sense of direction straight back to the ground.
“Emil!” you screamed and clung on for dear life.
“Hold on, ____________!” Emil shouted and attempted to stay airborne by flapping his wings, but then another pair of ropes came out of hidden crevices in the rocks and lassoed around his wings causing the dragon to come crashing down on the mountain.
The fall had sent stars reeling to your brain, and little sparks of light began to dance around your eyes. There was a sharp sting running up your leg, but that didn’t matter now. When you regained your sense, you heard the voices of men shouting and scrambling in your direction.
“Emil,” you hastily said shaking the dragon by his head. “Emil, get up. Someone’s coming. Emil…! Emil!”
“_____________...?” Emil groaned. “Are you alright?”
“I’m fine,” you lied. The fall had caused you to twist your ankle, but you didn’t want to make the dragon worry. “Emil, can you get up?”
The dragon attempted to stand up and flap his wings, but the ropes remained anchored in place.
“Emil, change into a human!” you said quickly. “Please, they’re going to see you!”
“I can’t,” the dragon frowned after biting at the ropes. “It’s the same as the chains at the castle. There’s a charm on these ropes. ____________, I can’t change back. I can’t even breath fire.”
You blinked in disbelief. “What? No, that can’t be. Here, let me see if I can help.”
In your desperation, you tried to pry Emil’s wings from the ropes, but it was no use; your clumsy hands weren't steady or strong enough to break the ropes away. Then again, if a dragon’s fangs couldn't break the ropes, what could?
“_____________, you have to get away from here,” Emil hastily said. “I don’t want you to get hurt.”
“But…!” you protested.
“_____________, you’re a Dragonheart! Your safety comes before mine!”
“But you’re my dragon! You’re one of the only dragons left!” you reminded him and attempted to move to the rope around Emil’s neck, but you slipped thanks to your injured ankle.
Emil cursed and began to struggle. Nothing. He was stuck. The voices were getting louder. The humans couldn’t have been more than a few meters away.
“That’s it. I’m not going to risk it anymore,” Emil suddenly said and grabbed you in his jaws by your cloak.
“What are you doing, Emil?!” you screamed.
“Be quiet!” he hissed. Then, without saying another word or even saying farewell, he tossed you in the air sending you flying towards the hot spring you had been wading in only a few moments earlier. Right before you hit the water, you saw a group of rowdy-looking men with weapons and staves surround the beautiful pearl-scaled dragon and restrain him with even more ropes. It was a heartbreaking sight to see.