A lungful of air whooshed out of your mouth condensing into icy wisps floating on the cold air. You breathed in again. Out. In. Silence. Listening.
Your eye twitched.
“Where are you?”
“And my brother?"
He’s here. Just hang on. We’re coming, Emil.
“I’ll be waiting.”
When you opened your eyes again, you saw that the temperature dramatically decreased, and the winds began to cut through your clothes. Lukas was waiting for you staring at you the entire time.
“Well?” he spoke up. “Did you reach him?”
You nodded. “I was able to speak to him for a little bit, but it didn’t last for very long.”
“Did you learn anything?”
You frowned and shook your head. “I lost him before I could ask. I told him that you’re with me, though.”
Lukas sighed. “Hopefully that will give him some comfort,” he murmured. The he stood up and extended his hand out to you. “Come on. We need to get moving. If you were able to focus your connection straight onto him, then that means he couldn’t be too far now.”
“I don’t know, Lukas,” you groaned and rubbed your temples. “That took a lot out of me.”
The dragon rolled his deep blue eyes. “Is it so bad that you can’t move?”
“No, but I don’t know if I’ll be able to do that again for a while.”
“I’m still going to carry you.”
You sighed. “I know.”
For the entire morning, Lukas had been trying to teach you how to focus onto your heart and try to communicate with Emil rather than just reaching out to find his emotions. The procedure, he pointed out, required an immense amount of concentration that involved closing your mind to the outside world and only focusing on your dragon’s soul.
When Emil had been inside your heart, Lukas had explained, the entire process of communication was exactly the same as when you were trying to communicate with him from a longer distance. However, that was the problem: the greater the distance, the harder it was to remain holding the connection in place. It wasn’t like either of you were going to die from being separated, but that meant your inability to sense where he was would increase with the passing of time. If you didn’t move fast enough, your connection with Emil would gradually weaken to the point of nonexistence.
While walking, Lukas would periodically ask you how your condition was.
“Do you feel anything?” he would ask. “Any signs of my brother? Any change in your emotions?”
You scrunched your face. “I’m trying,” you said. “It’s hard to concentrate with you always asking me every other minute.”
“Will it be easier for you to concentrate if I kept quiet?”
“It’s worth a try,” you shrugged.
And just like that, Lukas clamped his mouth while he kept walking. Now you knew what they meant by “silence is deafening.” Without any noises coming out of your familiar dragon’s mouth, there was an eerie atmosphere that made you shiver just by trying to listen for a noise. Of course, there was the snow crunching beneath Lukas’ bare feet (as you didn’t bother to steal shoes for him), but other than that, there wasn’t much else to listen to.
It was, to say the least, very unsettling.
“Um, hey, Lukas, I’m sorry to ask, but do you think you could start talking again?” you asked in a meek voice. “It’s actually hard to concentrate when you’re not throwing insults at me left and right.”
The dragon snorted. “First you tell me to help you, then you tell me you have a problem with me carrying you, then you tell me to keep my mouth shut, now you tell me to open it again. What more do you want from me?”
“There, that’s good,” you smiled. “Just keep it up.”
While you tried to focus on reaching out to Emil’s soul, you could hear Lukas grumbling in the background about how intolerable and useless you were—not to mention you considered his words of “wisdom” to be background noise.
As if you have any advice to offer me, you thought as you shut out the rest of the outer world and closed your eyes to help you narrow down your vision.
Deep inside of your heart, you felt a fuzzy warmth similar to when Emil had laughed when you had been his vessel. There was a different kind of inviting warmth that made you feel as if you connected with this soul. Was it relief, perhaps?
“____________...? Is that you?”
Emil! you exclaimed in your head. Where are you? Lukas and I are looking for you.
“I don’t knew where I am,” Emil confessed with a tinge of guilt in his voice. “It’s cold and dark. I can’t see anything. I can’t fly, I can’t transform, I can’t breathe fire…”
Are you positive you don’t know where you are?
“I remember someone mentioning something about a gate and a river, but that’s it.”
Hmm, we’ll do the best we can until we find you. Just hang in there, Emil, okay?
You tried again.
Emil, are you still there?
After trying to focus again and again, you decided that there was not point trying anymore. Instead, you thought it was best to tell Lukas of what you learned.
“I reached Emil,” you said leaning over his shoulder so you could see his eyes.
“Did you ask him where he was this time?” the dragon asked.
“Mm-hmm,” you nodded. “He said it was dark, but he heard someone say something about a gate and a river.”
Lukas frowned. “Those things aren’t specific enough. There are several frozen rivers and gates scattered throughout Eliatha.”
“Maybe there’s a specific one inside the force field?” you guessed.
“We’ll have to go off of those things then,” Lukas sighed. “On another note, I’m surprised you were able to reach my brother in such a short amount of time.”
“It wasn’t easy,” you moaned. The aftereffects took a while, but apparently after telepathically communicating with Emil, your head would feel episodic pounding and a cold chill on your forehead. Your chest would occasionally convulse, and your stomach your also churn, but it was nothing compared to when you heard all those voices. Speaking of which, you never really told Lukas about that part.
“…Hey, Lukas,” you spoke up, "back when I first entered the force field, when I was in pain, I heard a bunch of other voices talking in my head.”
Lukas lifted his head up. “Really? What were they saying?”
“Things similar to what Emil told me,” you answered. “They were scared, asking for help, feeling cold…” You shivered. “It was horrible."
“I have to admit I’ve never heard of such things,” the dragon murmured. “Once we get there, maybe we’ll get some answers.”
“We’re going in blind,” you frowned. “Emil didn’t know anything. I don’t think he could see where he was being taken. And what about us? It’s too risky to fly, and there’s no one around to ask for help.”
“We just have to keep going,” Lukas said.
“What about food?” you brought up. Ever since that Dargonarian fruit you had eaten back at Eldur Mountain, you hadn’t gotten a chance to eat. Emil had mentioned something about dragons being able to survive for ten days, but your stomach was beginning to growl. Maybe it wasn’t just the mysterious voices that was making your stomach sick.
“Erm, Lukas? I’m hungry,” you sheepishly confessed.
The dragon made a low growl. “Really? My brother could be getting restrained and butchered or put up for another fancy display, and all you can think about right now is food?”
“It’s been a while since I’ve eaten anything. It’s been even longer for you, hasn’t it?”
Lukas didn’t respond right away. Since he didn’t say anything to you, you thought it was a good idea to keep your mouth shut. All the while, after Lukas carried you through the snow, you began to hear your stomach growl even through the Dragonfall winds.
“I fear if we don’t find some food soon, your stomach will give us away before my dragon form does,” Lukas groaned and set you down at the base of a pine tree.
“Stay here,” he instructed. “I’ll get us some food.”
“Thanks, Lukas…” you murmured as Lukas walked out of hearing range. It was pretty pathetic how you had to just resort to waiting around for food to come to you like some helpless little girl. Had you grown up in the wild, you would have definitely been old enough to take care of yourself. Then again, how often did you hear about dragons taking care of humans? There mustn’t have been too many dragon’s brother getting kidnapped and forced to accompany a Dragonheart in dragon history.
After what felt like a good ten minutes or so, you heard the sound of footsteps. When you turned around to look past the base of the tree, you saw Lukas holding a curious item that appeared to be a steaming white ball of dough.
“Eh?” you blinked. “What in the world is that?”
“I don’t know,” Lukas answered in a muffled voice as he bit into one of the curious steaming objects himself, “but I found them just lying around in a pot so I stole them.”
“You stole them?!” you cried. Before you could cry out any more curses about how immoral stealing was (though you had stolen clothes for Lukas in the past), the dragon shoved the white object in your face rendering you speechless.
“Just shut up and eat,” he said. “I have to admit while I’m not fond of cooked human food, this isn’t bad.”
Unable to contain your hunger any longer, you snatched the steaming dough out of the dragon’s hand and bit heartily into it. A wide variety of earthy and spiced meats began to melt into your mouth upon the first bite past the steamed dough. There were even some bits of chopped up cabbage mixed in with the mysterious meat and bread creation. You couldn’t question Lukas about enjoying this food. It was delicious.
After wolfing down the bun, you stopped and thought for a moment.
“Hold on…if you were able to steal this from a pot, doesn’t that mean there were humans around?” you asked the dragon. He had finished his bun long before you had.
Lukas shrugged. “There wasn’t anyone around so it was easy to take them,” he said. “It’s almost like they were asking to be taken.”
You furrowed your eyebrows. “Still, it’s not right to steal such delicious food in such harsh conditions.”
“Look who’s talking,” Lukas dryly laughed. “You’re the one who stole me my clothes.”
“Th-That’s because you would have been walking around naked if I didn’t!” you reminded him not wanting to bring back the image of seeing the dragon’s bare human form (however beautiful it was).
“Stealing is still stealing,” the dragon casually said. “Now let’s get going. That thing should have been enough to satiate your hunger for now.”
“R-Right…” you sighed still feeling the effects of knowing you had eaten stolen food.
Don’t feel bad, ___________, you tried to tell yourself. It’s not like you would have had anything to offer the people anyway. And besides, if you die of starvation, Emil will die, too. Yes. That’s a good enough justification.
But before Lukas could take one step, the two of you were surrounded by masked men with dark hoods and long sleeves draped over their bodies. Each one of them was carrying a sharp weapon.
“We’ve got you now, thieves!” one of the shorter ones barked.
“Pay up or die!” another one demanded.
You looked in all directions hoping to find a way out. It was no use. You were trapped. Even if you weren’t, how far could the two of you get while Lukas was carrying you? Given that you were inside the force field, even if he could turn into a dragon, he might have had to resort to killing everyone, and that was the last thing you wanted—next to getting killed yourself, of course.
“Great,” Lukas growled. “It looks like I’m going to have to use force for this situation.”
“Lukas, no!” you hissed in the dragon’s ear. “These are people! Just…uh…bribe them or something!”
The dragon only rolled his eyes. “Oh, they’re people. Well, fine. I can be civilized. I can bribe them—with their lives, that is.”
In your desperation, you latched your arms around Lukas’ neck in a chokehold like manner. The masked men surrounding you backed up as if confused about deciding between attacking you or standing by to watch this unusual spectacle.
“You idiot!” Lukas snapped. “You’re getting in my way!”
“I’m not going to let any murders happen on my watch!” you shot back. In an attempt to pry you off, Lukas rolled backwards, but he misjudged your weight and fell back onto the snow landing right on top of your stomach. It hurt. Badly. By now, you had released your grip on the stubborn dragon's neck.
Suddenly, you heard a loud voice shout at the back of the circle. When you lifted your head up, you saw that there was a familiar-looking man storming over to the middle where you and Lukas were.
“Alright! Who’s responsible for stealing my dumplings?!” he cried.
After blinking a few times to get the stars out of your head, you were able to recognize the oddly familiar person you had met on your travels.
“Well, what do you know!” he exclaimed, his hostile voice suddenly becoming friendly. “It’s the couple that was covered in netiss fat in the Bone Forest!”