A low gurgling noise began to sound out from your stomach. Embarrassed, you clutched onto your abdomen hoping Emil wouldn’t be able to hear the noise. Unfortunately, your dragon slowed his pacing down and turned in your direction.
“___________, are you hungry?” he asked.
You shook your head. “No, no, not at all,” you replied remembering the trouble you had caused the last time you had said you were hungry.
Emil blinked. “Are you sure? If you aren’t feeling completely rejuvenated, we can always take a rest.”
“No!” you protested. “Lukas’ life remains in our hands! We can’t stop just because one of us is feeling hungry!”
“If you insist…” the dragon mumbled looking unconvinced. “On another note, we’re almost there. He pointed to the horizon. “You see that small line of smoke coming out from the forest line?”
“Uh-huh,” you nodded.
“That’s one of the smoke towers in the fortress,” Emil told you.
You furrowed your eyebrows. “Why would anyone want to waste energy by burning wood in a large tower? If we can see the smoke from here, then wouldn’t that mean there’s a huge fire?”
Emil grimaced. “It’s not wood they’re burning, ___________—it’s dragon parts.”
Your stomach and heart sank. Emil had to grab onto your arm to keep you from buckling to the ground.
“And just when I thought they couldn’t be more cruel…” your voice trembled.
“It depends on how you look at it, _____________. With the dragons’ soul already being extracted, there’s no need for their bodies any longer. What isn’t used for meat, blood, or the other important parts becomes fuel for the fires. Dragons are highly resistant to flames so they will burn for a very long time. In doing so, the remains give off a sweet smell—”
“Don’t,” you interrupted him. “Don’t tell me these things.”
Emil paused. He buried his nose into your hair and squeezed your hand.
“I’m sorry,” he whispered. “I can feel your uneasiness. I should have noticed it sooner.”
“It’s not your fault,” you said. “I just find it hard to believe that there are humans that would do such terrible things to such beautiful and powerful creatures.”
Emil pressed his lips together. “It’s not so much that all humans are like this, rather, they are unaware of the intelligence dragons hold. Then again, it could also be because of the shadow taking over the previous human vessels.”
You perked your head up suddenly feeling the hunger drain from your stomach and mind.
“Emil, I think I’m good to go.”
“You sure?” your dragon asked.
You nodded; thus the two of you continued on your way.
“If it’s not too much trouble, do you think you could tell me a bit about how the shadow works?” you asked. “I’m getting the feeling that it isn’t natural, but at the same time, I can’t imagine where it might have come from.”
Emil sighed. “You know just as much as I do that there are dragons who disagree with the thought of coexisting alongside humans, do you not?”
“Yeah…” you replied recalling how hostile Lukas had treated you when he had first spoken with you.
The dragon rubbed his head. “When the shadow was inside my head, I was able to hear its thoughts and feel what it felt. It had known a long history of human violence, how humans were the plague of Eliatha. They reap without replacement, pillage without mercy. Regardless of the fact that they exist, in reality, there are very few people like you, __________, those with honest intentions and good hearts.”
“So I’ve been made aware of,” you sighed.
“Such a hatred for the humans turned into an entity of pure malice and utter loathing towards them. We had the basic foundation of the reasons behind Dragonfall correct: whoever caused the curse wanted the human race to die out.”
“But…” you piped up. “If the shadowy being wants to get rid of the human race, then won’t the dragons be without human vessels?”
Emil shook his head. “That’s partially where the flames of the world come into play. After absorbing so many souls, the darkness will be able to renew its lifespan over and over again. It will not have to fear death so as long as it possesses the flames. It does not necessarily care what happens to the dragons, either. It merely wants to destroy the humans and take control of Eliatha. It is without reason. It only knows how to hate and destroy. We are no match for it so as long as it holds the force field up. We will not be able to escape without destroying it. That is why we must find my brother.”
You tightened your grip on Emil’s hand.
“Emil, I’m scared,” you shuddered.
You had expected the dragon to give you some comfort, but from the look on his face, you couldn’t be sure if he could offer you such a thing.
“Forgive me, ___________,” he said, “but I cannot guarantee that I will be able to protect you if the situation arises where the shadow arises to search for you. It would take my mind over again. I have already told you to flee from me if that happens.”
“Yes, I remember,” you frowned gripping the palm on his hand even tighter than before.
“Until then, though, I will protect you with my life, ____________,” Emil said. “Your life is far more important than my own. Unlike me, you will be able to live through the emotional trauma if I happen to really die just as you could when my brother left this world.”
Emil slowly and cautiously brought his hand up to his cheek as though he had detected blood running down his pale, creamy skin. There wasn’t any blood, but there was an angry red mark that the palm of your hand had left.
“Don’t. Talk. To me. Like that. Ever. Again,” you sniffed.
“___-___________...?” Emil stuttered.
“Emil, did you hear me?” you growled. “Don’t talk like that. Don’t play the role of a noble knight in shining opalescent armor. Don’t go sacrificing yourself for me.”
“I don’t want to hear it!” you screeched catching your dragon by surprise. “You have been with me on this journey every step of the way just like Lukas has. To heck with your ‘you will be able to live through the emotional trauma’ rubbish! No matter what, Emil, you’re going to stay alive and see through to this until the very end with Lukas and me!”
Noticing your hand had unconsciously seized Emil’s blanket around his neck, you released it and looked away with hot tears threatening to spill from your eyes.
“Emil, when this is over…” You shook your head. “I haven’t thought about it too much, but when we find a way to end Dragonfall, when we restore Lukas’ body and go back to Mathias and Tino and Berwald, we’ll…we’ll…”
You sighed and looked deep into the dragon’s lavender eyes.
“When it’s all over, I don’t know what Lukas plans to do, but I’m not going to listen to him. Even if he drives me away, I’m going to live with you.”
You threw him a dark look that made him flinch.
“What? Are you saying you don’t want to live with me?”
“Th-That’s not it!” Emil quickly said. “I just didn’t think you would have taken something like that to heart!”
“What nonsense are you talking about?! I’m your Dragonheart! Of course I want to be with you! That stupid blue lizard can hit me all his wants, but I’ll stay with you!”
“In that case, expect a lot of jealousy from my brother, then,” Emil nervously laughed. “Mathias won’t always be around to protect you, you know.”
You snorted and crossed your arms. “I’ve already taken that into consideration. There’s no need to point that out to me.”
“Of course,” Emil smiled and rubbed the place where you had slapped him. You hadn’t meant to hurt him (what with him being a dragon and all). Now you just felt plain rotten. It looked like it actually hurt.
“Oh, Emil…” you breathed. “I-I didn’t mean to…I didn’t hurt you, did I?”
“No, I’m fine,” your dragon reassured you with a soft smile. “I’m just unfamiliar with the feeling of being struck on the face by a human, let alone a young lady.”
You could only blush and bow your head.
“It’s quite alright,” Emil insisted. “But…if you really want to live with us when the journey’s over, what do you plan on doing?”
You shrugged. “I don’t know. Bathe in hot springs and eat Dragonarian all day long?”
“You can’t stay in Eldur Mountain forever!” Emil laughed. “Most dragons have to leave the nest. We’re no exceptions.”
“Then how about we travel together once Dragonfall ends?” you suggested. “It will be easier to fly around on your back, won’t it? And the weather should finally clear up so we will finally be able to see something other than this ugly white blizzard everywhere.”
“Perhaps,” your dragon smiled. “I think it could be a lot of fun.”
“Also, if we fly, I think it would be better if I flew on your back. I don’t think Lukas trusts me after breaking his wing twice—er—one of those times was my fault. The other one was an accident.”
You giggled. “Do you think Lukas will get jealous?”
“I would think so,” Emil chuckled. “Don’t you think it would be pretty gut-wrenching if he saw us together? Me, his dear little brother, and you, his particular human interest?”
“Hey! I thought you wouldn’t talk about that anymore!” you snapped.
“I wasn’t. I was talking about my brother’s feelings, not yours,” Emil justified.
A bemused smile cracked on Emil’s lips.
“The thing is, ____________, I can’t be sure if the proper way for my brother to transfer the Sapphire Flames to you was by kissing you,” he said. “For all we know, he could have done that as a parting gesture. He didn’t know if he’d be able to come back or not.”
With nothing smart to counter that statement with, you twisted your mouth in a forced frown and shied away from your dragon’s gaze.
“When he comes back, we’ll ask him together. How does that sound?”
You flinched. “There’s no need to!”
“Then you’ll never know.”
“Maybe I don’t want to know.”
“You’re afraid he’ll break your heart?”
Even if Emil wasn’t reading your mind, he knew exactly how you were feeling on the inside. It could get rather annoying.
“Before we can do any of those things, we have to get our initial tasks out of the way,” you reminded him. “There’s no point in looking at the future if we cannot accomplish what’s in front of us in the present.”
“True,” Emil agreed, “but it’s nice to have something to look forward to when you’re done with your current tasks. Otherwise, what would be the point of investing all of that energy without any goals?”
You laughed. “Maybe people like Mathias would be able to answer that question. That guy never thinks before acting.”
“You’re right about that.”
“Hey, maybe Mathias can come along with us,” you thought aloud.
“Uh…” Emil hesitated.
“It’ll be fun,” you beamed. “There will never be a dull moment, with him around, and—oh! Maybe he will be able to turn back into a dragon when Dragonfall ends?”
Emil raised an eyebrow. “Where’d you get an idea like that?”
You shrugged. “I thought it would just be convenient if that happened, that’s all.”
“I suppose it’s a possibility.”
Just then, you began to wrinkle your nose. There was an unfamiliar smell in the air.
“Emil, do you smell that?” you asked. There was something odd about the odor; it wasn’t foul, but the memories it brought back made your lower jaw tremble like you wanted to vomit. The further you walked, the more you noticed the faint traces of black ashes getting darker and darker around the once pure-white snow.
Your travelling companion frowned and held tightly onto your hand. Then, he looked up at the sky. You did the same.
Ashes. Nothing but ashes drifting into the sky blotting out any visible traces of white. Even Emil’s once fine snow-colored hair was showing a few flecks of gray specks.
You remembered this smell now. You had smelled it back at Eldur Mountain when Mathias had offered you that strange fruit. You had smelled it on Lukas’ lips just before his life had slipped away from his human body as his beating heart grew still. A sweet smell. The smell of blood. Dragon’s blood.
“We’re here,” said Emil.