“There is a dark evil looking for the flames of the world,” was the first thing Emil said after the two of you had dried your tears and continued on your way.
You narrowed your eyes. “When you say it like that, does it have something to do with the way you were talking to me when I was in the garbage heap?”
The dragon sighed. “I believe so. I think it was only due to the power of the flames that kept it at bay. I don’t know how long I’ll be able to hold it off before it consumes me entirely.”
“Consumes you?!” you gasped.
“Yes,” Emil answered with a dark tone. “I have a feeling that the evil has claimed nearly all of the souls of the missing dragons and their previous vessels—hence the large number of dragon hunters existing even today.”
“Why would it do something like that?” you whispered stunned that such a thing would happen. “Are the flames really worth that much?”
“Yes,” Emil answered. “In the wrong hands, Eliatha will be under complete control of whoever possesses it. It told you things, didn’t it? It was telling you about wanting to steal the flames from you.”
“Mm-hmm,” you nodded.
“But the evil being didn’t know that you didn’t have the real flames,” Emil said. “Seeing that you didn’t have them, it disappeared and left me.” He shuddered. “But if it has been able to enter my head, then I have no doubt that it will be able to do so again.”
With that, he stopped and looked straight into your eyes.
“___________,” he said, “the moment you sense something is truly wrong with me, I want you to run. Do not look back, and do not—under any circumstances—look into my head. Do I make myself clear?”
“Y-Yes,” you answered in a quavering voice. A feeling of dread was starting to envelop you. “But Emil, what will happen if the evil demon shadow…thing consumes you? Will something happen to me, as well?”
“It was easier for it to look into your memories when I was under its control,” your dragon said. “But it may have also been a result of your desire to speak to someone. In any case, do not allow yourself to be caught. You are very important and crucial to keeping the flames alive—”
“And you,” you reminded him.
Emil made a quick smile. “And me,” he chuckled.
“That reminds me: Emil, I’ve been hearing other voices when I was looking for you.”
“Those must have been the dragons,” Emil assumed. “Their bodies are long gone, and their souls have been absorbed by the shadowy being.”
You made a face. “What happened to the bodies? Were they disposed of just like Lukas’?”
“I would think so,” Emil said in a low voice. “Those who were killed as dragons had their body parts sold off long ago. The ones who were killed as humans had their blood drained out and their hearts and eyes taken.”
You felt sick. “Why would anyone do something like that?”
“In the east, dragon parts have always been sought after for medicinal properties,” Emil explained. “The same goes for the blood, the heart, and the eyes. The blood may be used for rites, and if fermented, is supposed o be used to achieve longevity. The heart and eyes, on the other hand, are believed to contain the dragons’ spirits so that humans may be safe from evils.”
He let out dry laugh similar to his brother’s.
“What’s most ironic of all is that it’s a great evil to even kill a dragon—human or not. The humans who support such actions are no better than the evil spirits they so believe to ward off.”
“It’s so cruel…” you murmured. “They did that to Lukas. If I had to see you go through that, too, I don’t think I’d be able to take it.”
Emil gave your hand a gentle squeeze. “You won’t have to worry about that, _____________,” he assured you. “The evil knows that if I die, you will die, and ultimately, my brother will die and the flames with him.”
“I think that might be the reason that I’m alive at this very moment,” Emil sighed. “It wasn’t so much that I was able to escape anything; rather, instead of absorbing me, the shadow practically used me as a vessel so that I might find you and my brother easily.”
This made you have second thoughts.
“If this thing was able to possess you before and you said it could possess you again, then how would I know if you’re the real Emil right now? I can’t even look inside your head.”
Emil’s voice grew silent in thought. Even so, the two of you continued on your way to the fortress he had talked about.
“Emil?” you whispered wondering if something had gone wrong with your dragon.
Just then, he blinked his pale lavender eyes. “Sorry if I scared you, __________,” he apologized. “I was thinking about something that can confirm that I’m the real me without having to expose you to the shadow.”
You skeptically raised an eyebrow. “And? Have you thought of anything?”
“I…” Interestingly enough, Emil, began to blush.
“I think I know of something, but it’s very vulgar and shouldn’t be done unless absolutely necessary.”
Vulgar? you wondered. What in Eliatha would be too vulgar for Emil to share with me?
“Come on, Emil.” You forced a smile. “I’m your Dragonheart. You can tell me anything.”
“Mmm…” Emil hesitated.
Impatient, you swiped your hand away from him and placed your hands on your hips in a defiant gesture.
“Wings of the Opal Skies, you are going to tell me how I’ll be able to know you’re the real thing right now, or I’m going to look for Lukas on my own.”
Emil rolled his eyes. “Don’t be silly, __________. You and I both know that even with the Sapphire Flames in your heart, you won’t be able to stand a chance at retrieving the flames on your own.”
“But what’s so hard about telling me your idea?” you huffed.
The dragon’s lips quivered like he had been caught peeping at something he wasn’t supposed to see. Curious, you quickly looked down to see if there was anything wrong with you, but your body was completely unharmed and unexposed.
“Alright, Emil, that’s it!” you snapped. “Spill it, or the blanket comes off!”
“That’s it!” Emil cried, his face riddled with a flustered expression.
You were confused.
“Th-The blanket…” Emil stuttered. “If something goes wrong with me, I don’t think I would mind if you took my blanket off.” He clutched his loose garment tightly in his fist. “I’m completely naked underneath.”
“Yes, I figured as much,” you grimaced with a mildly bemused look on your face. “So you would mind if I took it off right now?”
“V-Very much…” the dragon timidly answered.
“Alright, Emil,” you laughed. “I promise I won’t unless it’s absolutely necessary.”
“Good,” Emil breathed in relief. “There’s nothing impressive to show you, anyway.”
You couldn’t help but make an amused expression. “Emil, since when do I care about what you look like?”
The dragon shyly turned away. “When we were travelling with my brother, you were always thinking about how beautiful he looked, and how strong he was despite being so moderately framed.”
“But you’re beautiful, too, Emil,” you piped up. “I’ve never seen someone as exotic as you.”
“I look ridiculous,” the dragon muttered under his breath.
“You’re too modest,” you chuckled. “No matter what, I’ll always think you two are handsome—far more handsome than any of the knights back at the castle and far more noble. Although…I’m a little skeptical about your brother. He isn’t very elegant.”
“You talk as if he’s still with us,” Emil noticed.
“That’s because his soul is still around, right?” you said. “Now that I know that there might be a chance to save him, I don’t want to think about what it would be like if he was really dead. I think Lukas would even get mad at me and hit me when he came back.”
“____________, did you ever consider the possibility that you might be in love with my brother?”
An electric jolt shot up your spine. The phrases “you,” “in love with,” and “my brother” (which technically registered as “Lukas”), swirled around in your head like a mathematical formula coming together in a catastrophic equation.
“Me in love with your brother?” you laughed a little too loudly. “You can’t be talking about that stuck-up idiot who always hits me and calls me names! H-He always tells me to hurry my slow butt up and forces me to call him by his full title, Divine Keeper of the Sapphire Flames! I deserve that title now since he gave me the flames that grants him his powers so…so…there!”
“What are you even saying?” Emil quietly asked. From the way he was talking, it looked like he was talking to himself instead of directly to your face.
“I mean, sure, your brother is handsome, but he’s nowhere near as beautiful as you, Emil,” you quickly added. “There are plenty of blonde-haired, sapphire blue-eyed men out there, but I’ve never seen someone with snow-white hair on such a young face and the loveliest pair of purple eyes. You’re much cuter!”
“Cuter?” Emil reluctantly repeated.
“Yes, cuter!” you confirmed. “And besides, if I was in love with your brother, then my attention for the two of you would be split both ways: that of my affection for you as my dragon and that of that overgrown blue lizard you call a brother—though I mean no offense by pointing out his relations to you, Emil.”
“None taken,” Emil said.
“Lukas is beyond rude!” At this point, it sounded like you were helplessly trying to convince yourself of a false truth. Justifying Lukas’ flaws wasn’t helping your image. “He’s a pompous dragon who thinks nothing more of anything or anyone other than himself! And he—”
“Was he a good kisser?”
“Th—What?! Emil, how could you—Why would you ask me something like that?!”
“Because he kissed you, didn’t he?”
“But that was right before he died!” you shouted as if the louder you enunciated your pointless justifications, the truer they would sound.
“So? You could still be in love with someone after they pass away.”
“The kiss was awful, too! It tasted like blood!”
“You’ve never tasted dragon’s blood before, though,” Emil reminded you. “That was your first time. With a human’s taste palette, it must’ve tasted sweet, right?”
“That doesn’t change anything! It was still bloody!”
Emil hopelessly shook his head. “____________, there’s no need to hide your true feelings. Did you forget that I can feel what you’re feeling?”
“N-No!” you hastily answered.
“You’re lying about that,” Emil sighed. “Just face it, ____________: you love my brother. You love Lukas.”
“I do not!” you denied.
“Stop denying it.”
“If I’m telling the truth, there’s nothing to deny!”
“I can still sense what you’re feeling. Stop lying.”
“You’re still denying it…”
“Why do you think I’m denying it?!”
“I already told you: it’s because I can feel what you’re feeling.”
“There isn’t a way to turn that off?”
“I can’t prevent you from feeling what I’m feeling?”
“No—Wait, does this mean you aren’t denying it any longer?”
“Ah. It doesn’t really matter. I know the truth. We can tell my brother when he gets his body back.”
“We don’t have to because it’s not true!”
Emil rolled his eyes. “You know I was joking, right?”
Like older brother, like little brother!
“You should have seen the look on your face,” Emil chuckled and led you through the snow.
“I thought only Lukas said things like that!” you huffed. “I never thought you would have picked it up from him!”
Emil still had a smirk playing on his face.
“Now I know why my brother enjoys teasing you so much; it’s fun to see you get so flustered.”
“I’m sorry,” your dragon apologized. “I won’t pester you like that anymore. For now, let’s just focus on getting to our next destination.”
“Let’s,” you grumbled cantankerously under your breath. The further you walked, however, the more Emil’s question began to bother you. Once Lukas came back, what then? What was this strange feeling stirring in your heart that fluttered in your insides as a fleeting bird that would burst into feathers?
You had hoped to find the answer on your lips, the lingering sensation of Lukas’ kiss still buzzing on your skin like an unearthed memory begging you to remember what you had felt at that very last moment. The answers would come soon enough. They could wait until another time, sometime later, tomorrow, the day after, or even until Eliatha would be lost in Dragonfall’s winter.