“Just as I thought.”
When Lukas touched the force field, unlike the times before when he had crashed into the invisible barrier, his hand went right through the surface. When you were looking at it up close, you noticed the force field wasn’t exactly invisible, rather it had been under the visible protection of the harsh winds and snow. From such a close distance, you were able to see that there was something of a color-changing film of faded purple and blue swirls dancing on the surface like a soap bubble.
“Whoever set this up doesn’t want dragons going in,” Lukas deduced after walking a few steps away from where he had placed you down.
“Would that mean it could also hold them in?” you asked wondering if when you managed to retrieve Emil, there would be a need to turn into dragons.
“That’s not entirely out of the question,” Lukas replied.
“Hey, maybe this thing is the reason I can’t sense Emil anymore,” you guessed.
“It’s a possibility. If it just cut you off, that means he shouldn’t be too far from us.”
You turned to the dragon. “Then what are we waiting for? Let’s go.”
Lukas sighed. “It would have been more convenient if you could walk on your own, but I’ll carry you for now.”
“Oh, no, I can manage on my own—oop!”
But, just like before, Lukas disregarded your protests and didn’t even bother to give you a heads up before lifting you onto his back and stared at the force field. Then, in a matter of seconds, he began walking through the translucent bubble to the other side.
Passing through the force field was a strange feeling; it felt somewhere along the lines of feeling a warm breeze blow past you, yet it also sent a mild electric tingle running through your spine. When the two of you made it across, a huge wave of nausea overcame you, and you began to feel faint and dizzy from the sudden sinking feeling in your stomach.
“Lukas…” you groaned. “Put me down.”
The dragon hesitated for a moment, but he eventually rested you flat on the snow.
“What’s the matter?” he asked.
The entire time, you had to resort to clutching your stomach to prevent the pain from spreading. You felt like your head was going to explode and your heart was going to burst inside your chest from the strange overwhelming sickness that coursed throughout your body.
“Lukas, it hurts,” you whimpered.
Immediately after your spoke, Lukas’ hand went to your forehead.
“You’re breaking out in a cold sweat,” he murmured. “Tell me everything that’s happening to you.”
“Headache, chest hurts…stomach…I want to throw up,” you groaned. The pain had suddenly become so unbearable that you had to resort to shutting your eyes. Something moist rolled down your cheeks. You wouldn’t have been surprised if you were crying.
“Is that all?” you heard Lukas’ voice ask. “Can you hear me clearly?”
You did your best to stop and listen. The sounds of the wind blowing through your hair were blocked out by a muffled high-pitched noise that sounded like a scream.
“Screaming,” you answered with pain ringing in your voice. “Fear, agony, pain…”
“Hey, stay with me, now,” Lukas growled and grabbed onto your shoulders. You could feel his sharp nails digging into your skin, but in your state, you welcomed such pain.
“__-___________...” You could tell Lukas had some trouble saying your name. “I need you to stay alert. We need to find my brother in this mess, and you’re the only one who can point out the right direction.”
It was hard. There were so many other voices ringing in your head. This very place beyond the barrier reeked of negative energy and something sinister worming around its depths. Even so, Lukas was right: he needed you to tell him where Emil might have been taken, and he needed you to accompany him all the way. If you died, Emil would die, too. You had to stay alive for both the dragons’ sakes.
After trying your best to calm your senses down, you curled up into a ball hoping the snow would cool off your body and distract you from the pulsating pain. Then, you closed your eyes once more and began to listen for the possibility of being able to catch Emil’s voice.
You stopped. Emil..?
Emil, where are you?
“Cold…It’s so cold…”
You made a face. That wasn’t Emil’s voice.
“I want to go home.”
“It’s so dark…”
You weren’t expecting Lukas to strike you across the face. At least it got you back to your senses. Suddenly, your head didn’t hurt anymore—except where Lukas hit you—and your body was at its normal condition. Still, you couldn’t get the sound of those voices outside of your head. They were all so…haunting.
For the first time since you had met him, there was a genuine look of concern on Lukas’ face. It was a different contrast than the usual contemptuous or loathsome expression he put on in front of you.
“You just stopped moving for a long time, and I thought maybe you—” He stopped and straightened out his face. “Never mind. You look fine to me.”
You rubbed the spot where Lukas’ palm had hit you right on your cheek. It was still stinging from the cold and the pain.
“You know, a little apology couldn’t hurt…” you grumbled under your breath.
The dragon huffed and turned up his nose.
“Instead of me apologizing, you should be thanking me. I stopped you from going into a catatonic mental breakdown, did I not?”
You scowled. “You know, I finally know why you’re always so pissy with me, but that doesn’t mean you have to drag that attitude on for the rest of my life!”
“I’m a dragon. I have the time to do that,” Lukas haughtily replied.
“Asshat,” you growled through your teeth. Interestingly enough, this got a rare reaction of Lukas demonstrating one of his elusive and creepy smiles.
“An old acquaintance of mine used to use that word,” he chuckled. “I didn’t think such a term would be used by the humans of today.”
Lukas looked away. “It’s nothing. Anyway, are you feeling alright? Is there any pain in your body anymore—aside from your ankle, that is?”
You shook your head in response. “I heard a lot of voices though. They all sounded like they were scared and suffering. It was similar to the feelings I felt when I thought we almost found Emil.”
The dragon blinked and grumbled something soft and incoherent to himself. Then, after exchanging some words to himself, he bent down and picked you right back up again.
“If you feel like you’re hurting, let me know, understand?” he asked.
“Mm, yes,” you said feeling embarrassed you couldn’t walk for yourself. Back when you had to follow after Lukas, you had never thought of the dragon actually picking you up and carrying you around; rather, you just wanted him to wait for you so you could travel alongside him, to perhaps get to know him better.
Having to be carried by Lukas as a human, however, was something completely different. As a dragon, he bore an uncanny, mystical warmth that stemmed from his very spirit and body being born of fire. His scales weren’t rough, but they lacked the contact comfort you were familiar with in other humans such as your mother when she had been alive. Also, since it was usually too cold, or maybe because there never was one, Lukas didn’t have a smell. Most of the people back at the castle carried around a familiar scent as they went about their daily routines: the guards and their sweat-encrusted armor, the cooks wit their peculiar aromas of boiled cabbage soup and spices, the stable boys with their musty odors of the animals and few scrounges of hay leftover from summers carried over long ago, and the nobles with their overly fragrant perfumes and bittersweet hiccups of spirits and fanciful sweets.
Lukas, as a human, had a very interesting smell. When you had stolen his clothes for him, you were sure you didn’t recognize any familiar smells on the clothes. Perhaps the dragon would have even complained if he smelled something on the things he had to wear. However, when you pressed your nose into Lukas’ tunic now, you could smell a subtle, but sharp aroma of burnt wood mixed with preserved sweet potatoes and a little mix of savory spices all blended together to create a pleasant scent.
While Lukas may have lacked the heated air that surrounded his body as a dragon, his very skin was just as warm to the touch. In fact, his skin was the softest you had ever felt, quite a surprising difference to his tough sapphire-blue scales. Even his hair was soft. While some of the servants’ hair you had brushed felt no better than coarse horse mane, Lukas’ hair was soft and fragrant like the silky drapes hanging on the castle windows and flowed as effortlessly as the softest snow whose path could easily be disturbed by the slightest wind. Even so, knowing that such a person was carrying you also made you feel uncomfortable. It didn’t feel right knowing someone with such a humble background could have the privilege of being carried by someone so downright beautiful.
“You’re awfully quiet back there,” Lukas suddenly spoke up making you flinch a little.
“Uh…I-I-I was just…just thinking!” you replied in a messy slew of words that just fell out of your mouth.
“What were you thinking about?” the dragon asked in a disinterested tone.
You pressed your face onto his back to hide yourself. It wouldn’t have even mattered since Lukas couldn’t turn around to see what you looked like anyway.
“___________?” Lukas spoke up. He used your name again. From the way he said it, it was obvious to you that he was trying.
Gods, why does he have to press it? you thought feeling the blood rush to your cheeks. There was something different about the few times Lukas said your name. Maybe it was because up until now, he hadn’t been saying it at all, maybe it was because you knew he wasn’t trying to spite you anymore, or maybe it was even because there was something special about hearing Lukas specifically sound out your name.
“Hey, idiot cow, did you hear me or not?” Lukas then asked with an edge to his voice completely ruining your image of his improvement.
Your face fell into a frown.
“I heard you loud and clear, Lukas,” you replied making sure he could hear his name, too.
“Then why didn’t you give me an answer?”
You swallowed. “Because…Because it wasn’t really important.”
“If it wasn’t important, then it shouldn’t have mattered if you told me what you were thinking about.”
“It might,” you said remembering the time when Emil had suggested you compliment his brother on his attractive appearances.
“If it matters, then it was important,” Lukas deduced.
“Maybe,” you responded.
“Then if it was important, it’s imperative that I know what you were thinking.”
You raised an eyebrow. “Are you saying that no matter how important my thoughts are, you have a right to know what I’m thinking?”
“Yes,” Lukas asked without cutting any corners to his one-worded answer.
“Who made you the boss of me?”
“Who is considerate enough to carry you because of your bad ankle?” the dragon threw back.
“Who is doing that because his brother will die if I’m not seen to?”
“Who is the one who had to be a Dragonheart?”
“Grrgh! You—! Who’s the one who’s always been giving me such a crappy attitude since the first day we talked to each other?!”
“Who’s the idiot who caused me to break my wing twice now?”
“It wasn’t twice! The second time happened without any of us knowing!”
“Ah, so you admit it was your fault the first time,” Lukas commented.
“I never said I didn’t!”
“You never apologized.”
“What about when you slapped me?”
“That was necessary.”
“God—Alright, alright! I was thinking about how handsome you were, but that doesn’t matter because your attitude equates to the ugliness of the ugliest person in Eliatha a thousand times over!”
Lukas stopped and dropped you right onto the snow. You landed on your bottom.
“Hey!” you cried. “What in Eliatha was that for?!”
All of a sudden, Lukas leaned forward and looked you straight in your eyes. You could visibly see your reflection in his enigmatic sapphire-blue irises.
“L-Lukas…?” you stammered.
“So you really think I’m handsome?” he asked in a deep velvety voice. There was something off about the way he was talking. It was almost like he was playing with you.
Your eyes darted left and right, but no matter where you looked, you could always catch a glimpse of Lukas’ hypnotic jewel-like orbs staring you down.
“So what if I do?” you threw back making sure your defenses wouldn’t break down.
“Tell you what, human,” Lukas spoke up, “if you keep your mouth shut for the rest of this trip unless I ask you to speak, I’ll give you a kiss.”
“A kiss,” Lukas repeated as if he was simply referring to giving you a stick for a children’s game of swordplay.
The dragon blinked. He looked confused. “Is that not what you humans do to express overly affectionate acts of kindness? And isn’t it amplified if the partner is of attractive visual qualities?”
“No!” you shouted. “That’s only when they love each other!”
“Then I will love it if you keep your mouth shut.”
“That’s ridiculous! It’s not the same!”
Lukas cocked his head to one side. He was still looking at you. Did he even care that your face was beet-red and ready to explode?
“I’ll leave it up to you to consider accepting the offer,” he said. It sounded like one of those deals the nobles discussed with the landlords during hall meetings except this was a matter of getting a kiss from a misinformed dragon.
You lowered your head to the ground unable to think clearly. Then you thought to distract your mind by asking a question. It couldn’t have hurt.
“Why did you have to place me on the ground when you brought this up?” you asked. Surely it couldn’t have been to break you down by forcing you to look full upon his angelic face, did it?
Much to your discontent, Lukas rolled his eyes like the answer was obvious.
“You were getting heavy so I dropped you,” he answered.