If Emil could hear your thoughts and see what you saw, would that mean that he could also…?
You didn’t want to think about it. Just the thought of thinking that was more than embarrassing on your part. Emil had promised that he wouldn’t look, but you couldn’t be sure that a dragon’s soul could just close its eyes if it didn’t have any. Still, it wasn’t as hard to bathe as you thought it would be. There was no need for Lukas to make such a fuss over you.
“He’s just worried you might miss something and get his shiny scales all dirty again,” Emil explained. “My brother may have some strange methods, but he means well.”
“I certainly hope he does,” you grumbled aloud. “And what’s up with the other dragon, anyway? Why is he so…?”
“Different?” Emil guessed.
“Mathias—he prefers it if we address him with his human name—has spent a long time with humans. It started out with the way he chose his vessel. In case you haven’t noticed, he’s a bit of a hot-headed loud mouth.”
“Oh, I’ve noticed.”
“His first vessel was something of a hero—loyal, yet boisterous and quite obnoxious. He never minded getting the attention and sought it at all times—such is the result of our friend’s behavior.”
“I actually think it’s a refreshing change from your brother’s snide remarks and turns of the nose,” you stated.
“Perhaps it is for you, but it’s something my brother has a hard time accepting,” Emil said. “While dragons are not exceptionally sociable, they do have relationships with one another. My brother and Mathias have had a relationship somewhat close to being friends—that is, until Mathias found his first vessel.
“You see, even though it’s a tedious process to have to have our souls be embedded inside humans, Mathias was a curious sort of dragon who enjoyed being with humans. He was always fascinated with their customs and remarkable ability to adapt and innovate despite their meek physical strength so he found himself interacting with them a lot. However, my brother and I were dragons that weren’t close to humans so you could see how we often get off on the wrong foot.”
“That makes sense. It might also explain why Mathias is unusually friendly.”
“Hey, __________!” Mathias’ loud voice suddenly called out to you. “Are you done yet? Or maybe we can join you!”
“You fool!” you then heard Lukas hiss followed by a noise that sounded like a slap.
After deciding Mathias was unharmed, you sighed and began to wade towards your clothes.
“I’m done,” you answered back to the dragons who had to occupy themselves by catching up on what had happened in the past fifty years since your travelling companions had been captured by the humans. After putting on your clothes, you waited for the dragons to step inside the hot spring before taking a peek at how they interacted.
“You know far out into the east they have this new weapon called a bomb?” Mathias asked Lukas while you were watching them bathe—avoiding their lower regions respectfully.
“I could care less about human inventions,” Lukas huffed and began to rub the netiss fat off his arm.
“No, but this invention uses something called gunpowder,” Mathias continued. “It’s small, but it’s really powerful. They can light it up with fire and use it to destroy rocks with only a handful of the stuff.”
“How wonderful,” the Divine Keeper murmured. It wasn’t hard to tell he was being sarcastic, but Mathias continued speaking as if he didn’t catch how uninterested his friend was with his explanation.
“Anyway, when you use a bomb, you cram it with these funny powders and the gunpowder, and when you light it up, it makes a huge explosion like BOOM!”
That’s when you remembered something.
“Mathias, does the bomb look like a small round object with a little string attached to an end?” you asked looking past a rock over to the dragon.
“Yeah!” he beamed. “You’ve seen one?”
You nodded. “It’s the kind of weapon a team of travelling merchants were using to destroy a netiss that nearly ate Lukas.”
“Ha ha ha!” Mathias laughed. “Divine Guy, you really got caught by a netiss?! How’d you let something like that happen to you? Oh, but then again, you did get captured by huma—Ow! Ouch!”
While you didn’t particularly enjoy being looked down on or occasionally kicked or prodded by Lukas, there was something genuinely fascinating about watching the Divine Keeper of the Sapphire Flames hitting the Blade of the Ruby Seas.
“What’s up with the weird names?” you asked Emil aloud. “Is Lukas more lenient with Mathias when it comes to his title?”
“My brother just gave up on him after a few decades of receiving his title,” Emil answered.
“A few decades?” you frowned. “So I’d have to call your brother ‘Lukas’ for the rest of my life before he’s fine with me using his human name?”
“Perhaps it will happen a little less with Mathias around,” Emil pointed out.
You shrugged. “It’s worth a shot.”
For the next couple of minutes or so, you waited for Lukas to become completely clean and clothed before meeting up with him again. Meanwhile, Mathias took some time to immerse himself in the scorching water before leaping straight out and showing his bare self.
“You dragons have no shame!” you screamed and covered your eyes.
“I never understood why you humans always like to wear clothes,” Mathias grunted while stretching his arms. “I mean, doesn’t it feel better to have a breeze running through your human skin?”
“Please don’t justify why you don’t have clothes…” you whimpered. “Just…don’t.”
Lukas sighed and turned to his friend. “If you really don’t have any clothes, does that mean you…you know…fixed it?”
You were confused. “Fixed what?”
“Nope,” Mathias said shaking his head. “I just happened to be in the area and wanted to take a dip. Imagine my surprise when I heard your voice, Lukas.”
Oh. Mathias calls him by his human name, too, you thought.
“Yes. It’s something my brother gave up on, too,” Emil sighed.
After you heard Mathias leave to grab his clothes that he had hidden atop a rock, you opened your eyes and focused your attention back to Lukas.
“Lukas, what were you talking about when you asked Mathias about fixing something?”
Divine Guy sighed. “It’s pointless. There’s no need to correct you if I’m not going to correct him.” Then, the dragon looked up at where his friend had gone to retrieve his clothes. “You see, Mathias isn’t able to revert back to his true form.”
You blinked. “So he can’t become a dragon anymore?”
“It might have something to do with the fact that he frequently transforms into a human to interact with them,” Emil explained. “As a result, it would seem that he’s forgotten how to change back or maybe the effects have been permanent. However, his lifespan appears to be unchanged for the most part. Still, because he’s a human, he is unable to fly to Eldur Mountain and is shamed by most of the other dragons.”
“How terrible…” you breathed. Then, you noticed Mathias had returned with a casual traveler’s outfit with a trailing dark-red cape. He looked very charismatic.
“It’s not as bad as you’d think,” he said straightening out his cape. “I mean, sure, I can’t breathe fire or fly anymore, but it’s not so bad. It let’s you see the world in a different way and see how the humans get around. And anyway, I don’t need a vessel when I’m like this because I’ve got my human body.”
You frowned. “But you’ve had to have a vessel before, right? Why don’t you need one now?”
“Because I’m a human,” Mathias explained. “Hey, it’s happened before: a dragon spends too long as a human and doesn’t change back. You’d be surprised at how many dragons have gone out that way—not because they were hunted, but because they couldn’t change back.” Then he looked at Lukas.
“Hey, Lukas, have you told her about these things?”
“She doesn’t need to know,” Lukas huffed. “She’s just a vessel.”
Mathias laughed. “I never thought Emil would choose a girl.”
“We were running out of options,” Lukas merely replied.
“Wait, wait, wait,” you blurted out. “What’s the deal with needing a vessel if you’re a dragon but not needing one as a human?”
Lukas rolled his eyes. “You’re going to bring this up another time, I know it,” he grumbled and began to answer your question. “A dragon’s body doesn’t last forever. Just like your body, it will perish if not properly renewed at Eldur Mountain. To slow down the process, our souls migrate into humans’ hearts to be used as vessels until we reach Eldur Mountain. Those who fail to do this every so often will die in their dragon bodies if they do not find a proper vessel within a certain amount of time.
“As humans, on the other hand, the process apparently takes an incredibly long time. Perhaps it’s because the body doesn’t need much sustaining or perhaps that’s because the dragon’s soul dies out with its flame, but as a perfect example, Mathias, here, hasn’t needed a vessel since…well, his first.”
You furrowed your eyebrows. “And how long ago was that?”
“Give or take three centuries or so,” Lukas casually answered.
“What?” you cried. “I had a feeling dragons were old, but I didn’t think they were that old.”
“They are,” Lukas replied in a similar casual voice.
You turned to Mathias. “And how long have you remained a human?”
The dragon shrugged. “Maybe two of those three centuries?”
“That would be enough time for the transformation to remain permanent,” Lukas mumbled.
“There’s another thing I’m confused about…” you pointed out. “Emil told me dragons usually don’t associate with other dragons, but the two of you are brothers so there’s always going to be two of you.”
Lukas raised an eyebrow. “Your point?”
“You’re here to help us fly to Eldur Mountain when needed, but what about the other dragons? How do they go about getting their vessels to the peak?”
“Ha ha ha!” Mathias laughed. “You mean you haven’t told her that, either, Lukas?”
You were confused. “Tell me what?”
“There was never a relevant time to talk about that,” Lukas growled and struck the Blade of the Ruby Seas on the head. Then he sighed. “The reason why my brother and I are always together is because without each other’s support, we are unable to get our vessels to complete the journey to Eldur Mountain.”
“Why is that?”
Lukas pointed to your heart. “You feel as normal as ever, correct? You do not have any abilities to perform feats outside of your normal human strength.”
You flopped your hands to your sides. “I’m as normal as ever.”
The dragon frowned. “That’s because my brother doesn’t have the ability to transfer his full energy to his vessel.”
“When a dragon’s soul fuses with a human’s heart, that human is supposed to be able to obtain its power, too,” Mathias jumped in to explain. “They get all these amazing things: inhumane strength, nightvision, high heat tolerance, breakneck speed, unlimited energy…” He gestured towards you. “Emil, on the other hand, was never able to do that for some reason. He found that out when Lukas, here, was watching his vessel try to make the journey alone. It was impossible so from then on, Lukas had to make sure his little brother could survive the journey to Eldur Mountain. Even as a human, Emil doesn't have anything special going on so he wouldn't last long anyway.”
“I’m sorry for not telling you, __________,” Emil apologized. “It’s just that after hearing all your wishful thinking, I thought it best not to get your hopes let down because of my inconvenience.”
“It would be more convenient if my brother stayed a human, but that’s his choice,” Lukas said. “I’m not about to go against his decisions.”
“It’s fine, Lukas,” Mathias grinned. “Even if Emil leaves the nest, I’m still here.”
The Divine Keeper of the Sapphire Flames narrowed his eyes. “Really? And where were you when we were chained up and captured to look like fools on a public display?”
“Hey, I thought you just left and disappeared,” Mathias said holding up his hands in defense. “I had no idea you two could get captured so easily.”
“You always were an idiot,” Lukas growled under his breath.
“So you guys are going to head for the peak now?” Mathias asked out of context.
“Yes, we are,” Lukas answered. “Although we can’t head over there right away since someone caused me to tear my wing.” You turned away and began to grumble to yourself while the dragons’ conversation continued.
“Really? What a shame…Wait. How long have you got before your wing heals?”
“Oh, well, then I’ve got something neat to tell you!” Mathias beamed. Lukas had a look playing in his eyes like he wasn’t going to like what his friend was going to tell him.
“The reason the wing takes so long to heal is because it needs to repair the ripped seams, right?” he said. “There’s a faster way to hold the wing together: you sew it.”
“Sew?” you repeated.
Mathias nodded. “It’s easy. All you need is a needle and some string. I’m sure the nearest village will have some, and it only takes two days to get there.”
“I’d rather try to avoid human interaction,” Lukas frowned. “We are technically escaped fugitives from a castle, after all.”
“Nah, don’t worry, they know my face. I’ll be able to convince them for you,” the dragon smiled.
“I don’t really trust you after all of that time you spent with the humans,” Lukas mumbled.
“It’s better than waiting around here,” you said. “Why scale the mountain if we could fly there anyway?”
“See? __________ agrees with me.”
You rolled your eyes. “You also call me by my name—unlike someone I’ve been travelling with.”
“It’s irrelevant,” Lukas grumbled.
“Ah, he just doesn’t want to say it because he’s shy,” Mathias chuckled and slung his arm around your shoulder. “Come on, you three—since I’m pretty sure Emil’s in on this, too—we can catch up on things until we get there.”
“Emil, what do you think?” you asked aloud.
“If it can get us to where we’re going faster, then I don’t mind either way,” Emil answered.
“Emil doesn’t mind,” you reported back to the dragons. “I’m all for following Mathias.”
“Great,” Lukas grumbled. “It looks like I’ll have to stay stuck as a human for a little while longer…”
“But it could mean I’ll have to put up with you less,” you huffed.
“You two make a good human couple!” Mathias grinned. Much to your disbelief, he didn’t laugh—in fact, he sounded completely serious.
“We do not!” you and Lukas shouted at him in unison.