“Lukas!” you cried.
First Emil, now his brother. You didn’t know what Yao was planning to do with him, but you knew that you couldn’t survive and rescue Emil on your own. Without a moment to lose, you reached for the bowl you had used to scoop the snow into the pot and raised it into the air to strike the businessman.
“I wouldn’t do that if I were you,” a calm voice said from behind. Suddenly, your arms couldn’t move anymore, and your wrists were held fast by a pair of hands.
“Let go!” you growled and brought your foot back to kick the person restraining you, but your clumsy footing only made you slip and nearly fall onto the snow if it wasn’t for the person holding you back.
“Cheng, do you think you can hold her still while I check to see if he’s really a dragon?” Yao calmly said.
“Of course,” the person behind you replied. If his name was Cheng, then he had to be the tallest one in the caravan. In the short time you had known him, he had been extremely polite before. Now, you could only clench your teeth in disbelief as you helplessly watched Yao bring out a small dagger to Lukas’ face.
“Don’t hurt him!” you pleaded.
“It’s fine,” Cheng said. “He’s just going to make him spill a little blood.”
“L-Lukas…” you sniffed.
Sure enough, Yao made a small cut on Lukas’ cheek causing a thin trail of purple liquid to ooze out. You noticed that like Mathias, the color was the same leading you to believe all dragons had the same strange color of blood.
“He’s the real thing,” he said.
“Lukas, get up!” you pleaded hoping the dragon would be able to break free from the mysterious businessman’s grasp before it was too late.
“Stupid girl, don’t you think I would have done so already?” Lukas growled.
Then, Yao looked over to you.
“So you knew he was a dragon all along, ___________?”
You pressed your lips together. There was no way you were going to give anything away about the dragons, not when Emil’s life was at stake.
“She knows nothing,” Lukas hissed.
Yao raised his eyebrows. “So you were telling the truth about being a noble? Were you really just hiding as a human this entire time?”
“I don’t have to answer to you, you filthy human!” the dragon barked.
“Wh-What are you going to do to him?” you reluctantly asked.
The businessman pocketed his dagger before answering your question.
“Dragons are hard to come by nowadays,” he said with a smile. “It’s hard to catch them when they have the ability to change back into their true forms so I’d say we got lucky since we found you in the force field. Of course, because they’re so rare, they fetch high prices on the right markets for their blood alone. Their souls are entirely different matters.”
You frowned. “Souls?”
“That’s right,” Yao nodded. “Dragons have special souls that can give mortals amazing powers when fused with their hearts.”
Well, you knew that much, but you weren’t about to share your knowledge with them. However, the bit about the dragons’ souls fusing with mortal hearts bothered you. In time, weren’t the dragon souls supposed to catch fire and extinguish altogether? If so, that would mean the dragons would eventually die. So was this where all of the other dragons who turned into humans went?
For now, though, you decided it was better to feign ignorance and pretend you didn’t know anything.
Just then, Lukas made a low grunting noise.
“If it’s me you want, what are you planning to do with ___________?” he asked.
“Considering you’ve managed to bear her presence for so long, she must have her sentimental worth to you, does she not?” Yao asked.
To this, Lukas made no answer. You couldn’t be sure if he was just trying to stay ambiguous or really didn’t feel anything for you in particular. Then again, you had to remind yourself that the only thing that made you mean something to Lukas was the fact that his brother could die if you perished—that and the fact that you were a Dragonheart.
“It’s quite alright, ___________,” Cheng said to you. “We may be taking your friend with us, but that doesn’t mean we’re uncivilized people. As long as the dragon behaves, we won’t do anything bad to you on our way to the gate. It would be cruel to let you perish in this harsh climate when you are injured like this.”
“Foul beasts,” Lukas spat through his bared teeth.
“Look who’s talking?” Yao huffed. “You dragons have long used humans for your own gain, and refuse to regard us as equals even though you and I both known you can’t survive without us.”
“That’s because aside the few who are worthy to become our vessels, there’s little use for you humans,” the dragon growled. “It’s even your own kind’s fault that you will all perish because of this winter.”
“Silence, snake!” a different voice demanded from behind you. When you looked around, you saw the second tallest person speaking. From the hot-headed temperament in his voice, you guessed that he was Yong Soo. He had been the one who was eager to teach you a lesson or two about stealing from his family’s caravan.
“Yong Soo, there’s no need to try to provoke the dragon,” Cheng calmly told him.
The energetic merchant snorted. “He steals our food, and now he thinks he can get away with calling us names? Doesn’t he know he’s immobilized and his friend is at our mercy?”
“Need I remind you that dragons are prideful creatures?” Cheng replied.
I’ve been reminded of that quality far too often, you thought miserably as you watched Yao grab Lukas’ paralyzed body and carry him off to the caravan.
“You know,” Cheng said while waiting for Yong Soo to bind your arms and legs, “if your friend didn’t act so rashly like that, we would have been able to become friends for a while before reaching the gate.”
You swallowed a lump in your throat. “What really lies beyond the gate? What are you planning on doing with Lukas?”
“Like we’ve said earlier, the gate opens the way to our home,” Cheng answered as calmly as ever. “It’s also where an extensive amount of knowledge of dragons awaits, much larger than the kingdoms over here.” He took a moment to pause. “As for your friend, most likely we’re going to sell him to the right buyer. It’s very rare to come by a dragon nowadays so the money we get will be able to support of family for many years to come, I’d assume.”
And then there was the remaining question you dreaded to ask, the one that made you drag Emil and Lukas into your mind.
“What about me?” you quietly asked in a shaky voice.
Cheng didn’t answer this question right away. You weren’t sure if it was because he really didn’t know or because he was trying to think of a way to lie to you. Maybe it was even because it was something he knew you wouldn’t want to hear.
“We’ll just have to see what becomes of you when we get there,” he finally said. “But for now, since you are still recovering, you can spend you time resting in the caravan. The money we will earn from Lukas’ soul will be far more than enough to pay off the dumplings you ate.”
Your face fell. Paying off the dumplings was one of the last things on your mind. There had been ways to prevent these unfortunate events from happening. You could have just lied about saying you were hungry and continue on your way like Lukas would have wanted. Now, you were on the brink of costing the lives of two dragons. What would the others back at the mountain think of you then?
Because even Lukas’ human body was resistant to extreme temperatures, he was placed on top of the caravan’s roof like a discarded sack of supplies to ensure that he would remain close to the caravan as possible without taking up any space. His body was strapped in heavy metals much like the ones you had seen him enchained in back at the castle. After hearing what Emil had said about the ropes preventing him from breathing fire or transforming, you assumed these chains had some sort of spell on them, too.
You, on the other hand, had been taken back inside the caravan while the others prepared a quick, hot meal before continuing on their journey to their home.
This is bad, you thought. At this rate, Emil will be killed before we can save him. This is all my fault…
Just then, you heard the sound of cloth rustling, and you saw Mei stick her head inside the cozy living space.
“Um, ___________, I brought you some soup,” she quietly said. Judging from the soft tone in her voice, you got the impression that she truly meant no harm to you whatsoever and just wanted to give you something to eat. However, with the way things were going, your stomach was far from hungry.
“I’m not hungry,” you miserably replied with a muttered voice. From the corner of your eye, you noticed Mei biting on her lower lip in apprehension.
“You really should eat something,” she insisted. “We won’t be stopping like this until far after it’s dark. I know this sudden treatment must come as a shock, but I, nor any of the others, want you to be so unhappy.”
Then, you threw her a defiant look.
“If you don’t want me to be so unhappy, then why would you do this to the dragons?!” you asked hearing your voice rise. “I know just as much as you that the dragons are disappearing from this world. Before…Before I even knew Lukas was a dragon, I didn’t even know they existed anymore, and you expect me to allow to you to simply kill off someone who might be the last one?”
At your harsh words, Mei, flinched, but otherwise, she remained unmoved.
“It’s not up to us to decide what the buyers do with the dragons, __________,” she replied after some thought. “What happens after the dragons are sold depends on the ones who purchase them.”
“So you’re saying you’ve done this before?” you asked, your voice now shaking. “How could you do that to them?”
“That’s not for me to decide, ____________,” Mei said. It was when she spoke that you noticed how shiny her eyes were against the faint light in the caravan. She didn’t want this to happen, either.
“I’m sorry, ___________,” Mei quietly spoke. “If there was something I could do for you and your friend, then I wouldn’t hesitate to do it, but my family and their well-being comes first before anything or anyone else. I hope you can understand that much.”
You let out a heavy sigh and looked away. After travelling with Lukas for so long, you knew far too well how important the bonds of family could mean to someone—even if that someone happened to be a dragon. Lukas, while not the best travelling companion in the world, had dearly cared for his brother. Mei, as well as her family, must have felt the same way they did for each other. The single life of a dragon did not mean anything when compared to the bonds their family must have meant.
“I’m sorry, too,” you mumbled. “Right now, Lukas and Emil are the only ones I have left. I might not share what you and your family have together, but they mean something important to me, too.”
Mei narrowed her dark brown eyes. “If you’re planning something funny, I don’t recommend doing it while we’re all here,” she suggested. “Cheng and Kiku are often composed, but Yong Soo and Leon won’t be so kind to you or Lukas.”
“I figured as much,” you sighed.
After a brief moment of silence, Mei left you alone so you could eat in peace. Once you finished your soup (which was tastier than you would have wanted to admit aloud), you decided that the first thing you had to absolutely do in your situation was to tell Emil of what had happened. The least you could do was be honest with him in the case that something happened to the three of you.
So, taking a few deep breaths, you calmed your emotions down and closed your eyes to help you concentrate. In your case of distress, you knew it wasn’t going to be easy to focus your mind straight onto Emil, but you had to try.
Focus, ___________, you told yourself. You could do it when Lukas was badmouthing you through a snowstorm, so it shouldn’t be hard to do it while you’re alone inside a cozy caravan.
“___________? ___________, can you hear me?”
You breathed in relief. You had managed to reach him.
“____________, have you found the place I was telling you about?” you heard Emil ask.
No, Emil, we haven’t, you answered.
At the sound of your words, your heart began to stir with a glowing warmth. Emil must have been relieved to hear your voice. You could only imagine what your heart was going to feel when you delivered the bad news to your dragon.
Listen…Emil? you piped up.
“Yes, ___________?” Emil answered.
You pursed your lips together into a frown.
I have some good news and some bad news for you. I’m going to start with the good news, okay?
For a moment, Emil didn’t respond. You thought you had lost him, but then a slight wave of nausea swept over you much like it had when you began to hear all of those voices. Emil must have been worried.
“You can tell me whenever you’re ready,” you heard Emil’s voice suddenly speak up. “I’ll be listening.”
Okay, you responded. Well, the good news is that we’re on our way over to the place right now. We have a direct path to where we’re going and should be there in no more than two days or so.
“That’s a relief,” your dragon said. “And the bad news?”
You made a face and braced yourself for any negative emotions that were going to overwhelm your heart once you told him of his brother’s predicament.
The thing is—
But before you could even finish speaking. Your stomach nearly heaved when a powerful pulse of nausea flooded your body making you writhe on the caravan floor in pain and unbearable agony.
Emil, what’s going on?! you shouted to him in your thoughts.
“____________!” Emil screamed. His voice was on the brink of losing its composure in pure fear. “___________, they’re coming for me!”
What? Who’s coming for you? you desperately asked. Emil, hurry and tell me!
“____________! _____________, help me!!”
The sheer urgency and fright in the dragon’s voice alone was enough to break your heart. Having to share the same fear and desperation that he felt could have broken your spirit if you hadn’t continued to try to stay connected with him.
Emil! Hang on! you pleaded. Emil, whatever’s happening, don’t—
Then, like a knife cutting through a thin thread, all of your connections spanning to Emil’s soul disappeared just like that. The fear, the desperation, the struggle to cling onto the hope that you would come and save him…all were lost. There was nothing left except for the lingering weight of sadness bringing your heart and the rest of your body sinking to the ground. You had lost him again, and this time, it might have been for good.
“Emil…?” you whispered, your voice surprisingly high and hoarse. “Emil, you can’t be…”
But try as you could, you could bring yourself to concentrate enough to reach him; your emotions were too unstable.
At first you thought the thing that had brushed your cheek was a simple loose strand of hair getting in your way, but you soon realized that your vision was getting cloudy and your eyes were getting puffy. Pretty soon, you had broken into a torrent of tears as the empty feeling in your heart continued to consume you entirely.