Eldur Mountain was quite the sight to behold. While Lukas had claimed that your destination would have been sighted within only two days of travelling, the thick wind and snow had obscured your vision to only a few meters in front of you. Now, after many days of travelling and trudging through the snow with netiss fat still stuck to your cloak and hair, the mountain was poking up from beyond the treetops at a grand distance.
Beyond the bowled valley of trees melding into the rocky terrain, an ominous peak lay rising above the clouds buried away from the snow. It was much closer than you had expected since you hadn't been able to see it as early as Lukas had predicted. Still, there was the problem of how you were going to go about scaling the mountain without Lukas' wings.
"Hey, Lukas, you said we were going to have to fly to Eldur Mountain eventually, right?" you asked while the two of you were taking a rest per your request.
Lukas remained silent. You rolled your eyes.
"Divine Keeper of the Sapphire Flames, I—you know what? I know I have a tendency to call you 'Lukas,' but I wouldn't mind calling you by your real title if it wasn't so long. How about I give you a nickname for your title? Like Divine Keeper or Sapphire Flames or even D.K.S.F.?...On second thought…that last one didn't sound very enticing."
"There is no room for cutting corners in my title as I have worked hard to earn it," D.K.S.F. huffed.
"Rrgh! I give up!" you sighed. "Fine. Divine Keeper of the Sapphire Flames, how long do we have to wait before your wing heals?"
Lukas—or rather, D.K.S.F.—glanced behind his back and rubbed one of his shoulders.
"Perhaps a little more than a week," he answered.
"And what are we supposed to do until then?"
"Gain as much distance as possible," the dragon then replied as-a-matter-of-factly.
"Once we reach the foot of Eldur Mountain, it will be smooth sailing from there," Emil suddenly butted in.
And why is that? you wondered.
"The temperatures around the mountain are extremely hostile so only the hardiest or most formidable creatures reside there."
You frowned. How would that make things easier?
"Humans are among those who do not take up residence at the foot of the mountain," Emil explained. "As such, dragons make the mountain their refuge. My brother will be able to remain as a dragon over there, and he will have no troubles protecting you until his wing heals."
I see. Finishing on that thought, you stared at Eldur Mountain not too far off into the distance.
"Do you think we'll be able to reach the mountain in time?" you asked Lukas.
"I believe we will," he answered. Then, he turned to you, his dark-blue sapphire eyes observing your profile.
"You aren't feeling exceptionally hot, are you?" he asked.
You shook your head. The air around you was just as cold as ever, and your body temperature continued to circulate at the same rate as when you had been the dragonkeeper.
"Then there should be nothing to worry about," Lukas said. "If your heart was impure, my brother's soul would have started to burn away at your heart by now."
"Mm…I suppose I'm grateful," you mumbled relieved at the report. Suddenly, Lukas kicked at your backside making you stand up in surprise.
"What was that for?!" you growled.
"If your mouth is working, it might as well be your feet, human," Lukas responded. "We've stopped long enough so let's get to moving again."
Stupid snide snake… you thought darkly to yourself—although Sapphire Flame's brother was able to hear you loud and clear.
"Just bear with him a little longer, __________," Emil said. "It won't be long before we reach the mountain's base."
I look forward to that, you thought and began to start after Lukas again.
Travelling with a dragon couldn't have been more than a bore. In comparison to the grand beings, humans had considerably short lifespans and couldn't afford the comfort of letting the days pass on like slow-aging dragons. As a result, you had noticed how the people back at the castle would try to make the best out of things despite the harsh times of Dragonfall. The dragons, on the other hand, were too keen on observations of the pointless and, often times, boring.
When the D.K.—Divine Keeper—bothered to tell you about his "intriguing stories," you found them to be quite dull; he would go into details about how he had been a guide for humans, going into voyages to collect Plant A to give to the Person B in order to access Thing C. It wasn't that you didn't get enough rest or that the cold was getting to you, but if it was possible to fall asleep while in the middle of walking through the snow, the Dragon Bookkeeper of the Stale Folktales was able to make that happen.
"Stay alert, ___________. How often does a human get a chance to learn of the past through a dragon's point of view?"
I'll admit: not very often, but that might be for a good cause. I don't think any human would care about the pond weed that saved an archer's life so he could strike down the assassin who would have killed the general of an army who is long gone.
"You mustn't be very tolerable of history, then," Emil observed.
You think? you sarcastically thought.
"Keep in mind, ___________, that all stories have to originate from somewhere. Even if you had someone to tell you bedtime stories, I'm sure they were meant for a purpose and carried a lesson learned from a real event long ago. It would do to be able to know where those sources came from."
And am I to assume that you enjoy hearing your brother talk? you asked.
"Well…no, I don't," Emil bluntly admitted.
There you have it. What point is there in defending Lukas' intentions if you are going to act like a hypocrite?
You groaned aloud. Maybe my heart is turning your soul funny.
"I hope for the better," the dragon's soul laughed filling your heart with a fuzzy pulsing feeling.
Nevertheless, after many days of travelling, eating small woodland creatures, resting on Lukas' dragon back, and hearing more useless stories every now and then, the two of you and Emil's soul finally reached the foot of the long-awaited Eldur Mountain. Needless to say, it was quite tall. Even when you craned your neck towards the sky, you couldn't see the top. No wonder Lukas said you were going to have to fly there either way.
"We're finally here," you heard Lukas sigh and begin to glow. In an instant, he had reverted to his true dragon form—sapphire blue scales, large wings, and all—and began to stretch.
"The terrain becomes difficult from here, so I'll need you to ride on my back until we find a place to settle down," he said lowering his legs so you could easily climb on.
It had been a while since you had actually ridden on the dragon's back while completely being able to see what was going on. Before this, it had already been dark so you weren't sure of how high the ground was from your feet. Now, in the broad red light shining from the clouds above, you were able to see that Lukas' back was quite high. It was definitely higher than being on a horse.
"Do you have an idea of where we're going?" you asked.
Lukas snorted which might have equated to a scoff if he was human.
"I've flown through here many times. I know the way," he answered. "Since we are without the element of flight, our first priority is to rid ourselves of this forsaken netiss fat."
"And how are we going to do that?"
"By bathing," Lukas said.
You made a face. Bathing? How were you going to do that in the middle of a place covered in rocks? And not to mention you had never bathed before in your life. It was a privilege only granted to the nobles at the castle.
"You've never bathed before, ___________?" Emil asked. "Well then, you'll be in for a treat. It's a lavishing experience."
While Lukas was scaling a rocky level, you heard him snort. "I'll bet my brother is excited to be able to bathe. He's always enjoyed a good bath."
"Indeed, I do," Emil confirmed.
Eldur Mountain was composed of levels upon levels of rocks. The further you climbed, the hotter the air seemed to get. At first you thought it was because your heart was failing, but Emil reassured you that it was because the center of the mountain had a pit of lava—a substance that could be considered liquid fire—that emerged at the top. The air began to grow thick with ashes, and every now and then you would hear a loud, low rumbling coming from the earth.
First snow, then bones, now fire? you thought. What a way to travel…
"It's just around here," Lukas said. "We're almost there."
"How exciting," you heard Emil say with an eager edge to his voice. It really sounded like he was looking forward to this.
Soon enough, you began to hear something that sounded like bubbles just like the buckets of melted snow and soap when you had been working as the floor-scrubber in the castle. When you craned your neck to get a better view, you saw something that looked like a large steaming pool of water situated in the middle of the rocky terrain.
"It's a hot spring," Lukas told you kneeling down so you could get off. "It's a natural reservoir of water that is heated by the lava running beneath the mountain's veins. Dragons often take dips in these things to ease up any aches beneath our scales." Then, you watched as he began to walk towards the steaming water and slowly sank inside the pool and completely submerged his body inside.
"Huh. The hot spring must be deep then," you said aloud.
But in answer to Emil's skepticism, when Lukas emerged, he wasn't a dragon anymore—he was a human—a handsome, steaming, wet, naked human.
"Ggh—! L-Lukas, your clothes!"
The dragon paid no heed to your embarrassment and casually threw his tunic and pants on a nearby rock. You could only watch in horror as he stepped out and began to walk towards you with a give-me-a-break look on his face.
"It's easier to wash off the fat with a smaller surface area as a human," he said and tugged at your arm. "Need I remind you that you're covered in the foul stuff, too? I won't have you riding on my back until you're completely clean. Now come inside."
"N-No!" you stammered shutting your eyes as hard as you dared. "C-Can't I just wait until you're done so I can try going by myself?"
"That would mean wasting time and clean water, now stop being ridiculous and get in the damn hot spring."
"Come on, ____________, my brother doesn't bite—much," Emil piped up.
"Stay out of this, Emil!" you shouted out loud. Then, all of a sudden, your legs began to move forward, and your arms shot out and lunged towards Lukas' neck. By the time either or you knew what was happening, you and Lukas plummeted into the steaming hot water.
"Gyyyyauugh!" you screamed and flailed your arms away from the dragon.
"Do you really have to scream?" Lukas hissed, his cold blue eyes burning with irritation. When you gathered yourself together, you noticed the water was cloudy enough that you couldn't see anything that needed to be covered up. Not only that, but the water was invitingly warm, much warmer than even the heat that came off of the dragon's body. So, doing your best to ignore the fact that there was a naked dragon in a human's body in front of you, you sank yourself into the water and closed your eyes allowing the tension in your muscles to relax.
"See? It's not so bad now, is it?" Emil asked. From the sound of his voice, you assumed he was enjoying this just as much as you were.
Lukas sighed and continued to stare at you. "Even before the blasted thing exploded on us, you smelled wretched. Tell me, human: have you ever bathed before?"
You clamped your lips together. Confessing things to Emil was easy since he could read your thoughts regardless, but confessing to someone as prideful as Lukas was an entirely different experience. What were you supposed to say to someone as beautiful as him—even when he had netiss fat sticking to almost every part of his unclothed body?
But your silence gave your status away.
"I knew it," the dragon sighed. "You've never bathed in your life, have you?"
"…There was never a need to," you mumbled.
"Well, there's a perfectly good reason for you to do that now," Lukas said. "You stink, and you're gross. And since you've never taken a bath before, you don't know how to properly cleanse yourself, am I right?"
"…Yes…" you shamefully admitted.
Lukas frowned. "I thought so. Take off your clothes, human."
Your eyes grew to the size of large chicken eggs. "Have you no shame, Lukas?!"
"I have pride," Lukas quickly threw back, "now stop wasting time so I can teach you how to cleanse yourself properlySt—Stop moving! Stupid wretch! Stay—Stay still!"
All the while, you were trying to get away from the dragon's grip as he easily grabbed ahold of you and began to tug at your clothes.
"Don't I have a say in this?!" you screamed. "Why can't you let Emil teach me?!"
"Because he doesn't have a body to show you!" Lukas snapped. "Even if he bathes for you, I will not have my brother defiling a female human!"
"You won't let him, but you don't have any problems doing it yourself?!"
"Stop being so stubborn!"
"Stop trying to defile me!"
"I'm not! I'm just trying to get you to strip so you can properly bathe!"
"No matter how you word that, it will always sound filthy and filled with ill intentions!"
"You stupid pig!"
When you and Lukas emerged from the large wave of hot water soaking you both wet, you noticed there was a new person in the hot spring with you. He, too, was fully unclothed.
"Oh, gods, I've had enough for one day!" you screamed and curled up into a ball and slapped your hands over your eyes.
"Aw, gee, I was hoping I'd impress the little thing," the newcomer's voice said.
"You idiot," Lukas hissed. "Why did you come here at a time like this? Now we have to leave her in the hot spring alone. There's no way she'll feel comfortable bathing with two of us here."
"Well that's a new way to greet an old acquaintance," the other voice chuckled.
"Oh. I was wondering if he was still around," Emil piped up from in your heart.
"Wh-What?" you stammered. "You two know this guy?"
Lukas sighed. "Yes. He's a dragon just like us."
"What is this? A new vessel?"
"This time it's for my brother." You had a problem with the way Lukas referred to you as an "it."
"Oh! Well, no need to pass over the formalities!"
Suddenly, a large hand grabbed your shoulder and turned you around revealing a tall, lively, attractive young man with unusually spiked sandy blonde hair and beaming bright blue eyes.
"It's nice to meet Emil's new vessel!" the dragon said with a wide grin. "I'm the Blade of the Ruby Seas, but that name's too long and lame. Just call me Mathias."