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~Chapter 44~

“Funny…” Emil coughed. “It hurts more than I remembered…”

“No!” you wailed. “No, no, no, no no! Emil, don’t do this to me! What about all the things we were going to do when this was over?!”

“It—” Emil sputtered. A few specks of purple blood scattered onto your face.  “It is over, _____________. The shadow is gone.”

You frantically shook your head back and forth. “No, it’s not. Emil, it’s not…We’ll take you home. We’ll get out of this alive together. We’ll…we’ll make it!”

“____________...”

A gentle hand reached out and touched your cheek. You took and it pressed it against your face with tears pouring down your cheeks in a flood. Emil was dying.

“____________, I’m sorry I wasn’t strong enough for you,” Emil whispered in a hoarse voice. “I’m sorry I couldn’t be there for you when you needed me.”

You bit your lips together hoping it would stop the shaky tremor in your voice but to no avail.

“D-D-Don’t s-say that, you stammered. “You’re going to be with us until the end. We’ll go home—the three of us.”

Emil’s breathing was getting harder and harder now. His chest looked like it was going to collapse in on itself with the sharp blade of glass protruding from his delicate pale skin like the arrow that had pierced his brother’s heart.

Yet, despite the obvious amount of pain he was in, your dragon managed to smile for you.

“I would have liked that, ____________,” he whispered. “Being with you would until the end would have made me very happy.”

“Then go with us!” you pleaded. “Emil, don’t leave me!” You began to desperately search for the right words, but your thoughts were in utter ruins.

“We can do what Lukas did! We’ll split up flames, and we’ll…we’ll…” You hopelessly shook your head. “Gods…I don’t know what I’m saying anymore. Just don’t go, Emil.”

“_____________.”

Lukas. He was still inside your heart.

“Lu-Lukas…?”

There was a pause.

“Stop pleading with my brother. Do not make him cheat death twice. He’s already suffering from struggling to remain in this world just to speak with you.”

Suddenly, you felt angry.

“How can you say that?!” you yelled. “Emil is your brother! He’s my dragon! W-Without him, what am I supposed to do? Where will I go?”

“Do not be so selfish!” Lukas barked. Your heart was hurting. Emil’s life was really slipping away. You knew that he wasn’t here anymore, yet you continued to believe so—you continued to hope for the impossible.

“My brother is doing the best he can as it is. The shadow still remains. It is being repressed by the very sheer will of his soul protecting you. As long as my brother’s soul remains tethered to this world, the shadow still lives. Do you understand?”

You stubbornly shook your head.

“Stupid girl…”

“No,” you sniffed. “No, I don’t understand. It wasn’t supposed to happen like this. We were all going to come out of this together. What will Mathias and the others say when they find out that we didn’t bring Emil back?!”

“Dragonfall is over, _______________,” Lukas growled. Judging from the twisting feeling in your chest, you could tell he was upset, too. “The eternal winter is gone. The shadow is so close to being defeated. The flames of the world have found a new holder.”

“Emil was going to be the new holder…”

“No. My brother cannot. _______________, you have a heart pure enough to—”

“Shut up!” you shouted. “Shut up, Lukas! Don’t tell me that!”

“Stop running away from the truth!”

But you couldn’t hear him any longer. A different feeling was beginning to emerge in your heart. It wasn’t pain, nor sadness, nor joy or regret or anything in between. There were no words for the emotions that flooded your heart. On one side, of your emotions, you wanted to smile and laugh in relief for reasons unspoken of. On the other, you wanted to cry.

“_____________...” Emil groaned.

You fought back your tears and grasped onto your dragon’s cold hand. You had to be strong for him and for the sake of Eliatha.

“I’m listening, Emil.”

“D-Don’t…” Emil gasped. He was doing the best he could. “Don’t cry for me. Live on. It will be alright.”

Stupid. Telling you to not cry made you want to cry.

“Easier said than done,” you hiccupped.

“_____________, promise me. Please…”

“Oh, Emil…” you whimpered. “I…I…”

His eyes were closing. His strength was at its limits. He was right. You had to be strong for him, for Eliatha.

“I promise, Emil,” you said. “You can be sure I’ll keep the flames burning for everyone. You don’t have to worry.”

“Thank you, _______________,” the Wings of the Opal Skies smiled, and with a last shuddering breath, he closed his eyes for the last time.

Lukas cursed.

“He couldn’t even bother to call me Big Brother even after everything…”

-----

Emil’s body along with the shadow had vanished when his soul departed. You didn’t feel the same after coming out of the fortress. The air was different, and your steps were beginning to cave in like there was a weight you hadn’t taken care of.

“The flames of the world are a great burden, ____________,” Lukas said in response to your thoughts. “But don’t worry. I have faith in your strength. You are a worthy Dragonheart, after all.”

You shook your head. “I’m not a Dragonheart, Lukas, don’t you remember? Emil is…he’s really gone. If I had powers from him, I sure don’t have them now.”

Lukas paused for a moment to let your words sink in.

“You do have a point,” he seemed to sigh. Even though his words sounded light, that didn’t prevent you from being able to look into his soul and feel the emotions he was trying to hide. He was hurting just as much as you were. Realizing that Emil had truly died was one thing, but having to witness it through your eyes was another. The two of you had both shared a special bond with Emil, and that fact would always remain true.

Then, as you opened the large door to the world outside, you noticed something different. The sky had stopped snowing. Small specks of blue were beginning to crack open from beyond the clouds letting in rays of glorious sunlight. It was the first time you had seen such a thing. The reflection of the light on the snow was nearly enough to damage your eyes if you looked at the wrong angle. The dragons were right: Dragonfall had ended.

“Hey, Lukas…?” you suddenly spoke up.

“…What is it, _____________?”

For some reason, a smile cracked on your lips. “Do you feel like crying?”

“Don’t say such foolish things. Why would I want to cry?”

A large tear rolled down your cheek. You didn’t bother to wipe it away.

“No reason.”

“Idiot.”

You just laughed and cried in his place. Dragons were prideful creatures, after all.

-----

The journey back to Eldur Mountain was long and arduous. Without Emil’s help, you had no chances of calling any of the dragons to give you a ride. As a result, you were stuck listening to nothing but Lukas’ complaints the entire way consisting of why you took so long, why you had allowed yourself to nearly go insane, and why you had so foolishly allowed his heart and eyes to be soiled.

You sure have a lot of pride in a useless sack of meat and bones, Lukas, you grumpily thought while scaling the mountain. With the flames of the world and the Divine Keeper of the Sapphire Flames’ powers residing in your heart, hoisting your body up the rocks took no time at all when compared to coming here with Emil.

Lukas snorted. “To think that there are humans out there who would do such things to dragons. Tell you what: when we go to the east, we’ll burn their villages to the ground.”

Stop thinking such morbid thoughts! you snapped. It’s bad enough you disliked me to begin with!

“Ha! ‘To begin with?’ I still don’t like you!”

What?! After all that we’ve done?!

“An eternity with an idiot is still an eternity with an idiot!”

Stupid lizard!

“Dim-witted worm!”

Stuck-up snake!

“Weak-minded human!”


“Mountain-climbing Dragonheart!”

You looked up. Mathias was waiting for you at the top. After travelling for such a long time, you figured he had plenty of time for his arm to heal. In fact, it looked just as it did when you first met him at the foot of the mountain many weeks ago.

“Mathias, you good-for-nothing buffoon!” you spat. “If you could see me, then why didn’t you tell one of the others to give me a lift?! Do you have any idea how heavy the flames of the world are?!”

“Er, no,” the Blade of the Ruby Seas grimaced, “but I thought it would be a good opportunity for you to test out your endurance and stuff, you know. You need more muscles on that scrawny body—Wait a minute…Where’s Lukas and Emil?”

You mentally cursed to yourself. Not now…

“Hang on,” you grunted. “Let me finish this before someone decides to take over my body and give you a good smacking.”

Mathias stupidly blinked. “Why would anyone want to do that?”

“As clueless as ever,” Lukas growled. “Had it been up to me, I would have swapped him with my brother’s place in a heartbeat.”

“It’s a long story, Mathias,” you sighed and began to slide down the inner walls of the dragon sanctuary. “I’ll get to it when I finish.”

“Finish what?”

You and Lukas both sighed.

As expected, the Eye of the Topaz Blizzard and the Golden Sentinel were waiting for you to return with Lukas and Emil in tow. Your heart nearly sank along with your knees when you saw the shocked looks on their faces.

“Oh, ____________...” Tino breathed. “Don’t tell me that…”

You sadly shook your head. “I’m sorry, everyone,” you apologized. “I wasn’t strong enough.”

There was a deathly silence in the crater. Even Mathias—a dragon who was normally never able to read the mood—looked sullen.

“But…” you continued. “I’m going to make sure something like this never happens again. I will guard the flames with my life.”

The dragons gasped.

“The flames of the world?!” Mathias cried. “But how?! That’s only for dragons to carry around!”

You made a face. You had mentioned to him that you were carrying them when you first saw him at the edge of the crater.

Berwald blinked his golden eyes. “There was one case where a Dragonheart took the flames at some point…”

“Then what brings you here, ______________?” Tino asked.

“Lukas is inside my heart,” you explained. “I’ll get to explaining it when he returns to his true form.”

You sighed and gave them all a sad smile.

“After he leaves my heart, I won’t be able to understand you as dragons anymore. My dragon powers are only here thanks to Lukas.”

Again, the dragons looked stunned.

“B-But…” Mathias stammered. “Then that would mean…”

You held up a hand to silence him. You didn’t want to hear it again. You didn’t want to have to go through the pain of mourning for your own dragon once more.

“I think Lukas will be able to explain it better than me,” you said as you walked to the pit of fire where you had once resurrected Emil. The dragons didn’t say anything when you arrived at the edge and bent down.

“Alright, Lukas,” you whispered, holding out your chest, “this is it.”

“I can’t say that was the most pleasant journey I’ve had, but it wasn’t the worst, either,” Lukas’ voice spoke as you felt your chest getting lighter.

A blinding blue light began to fill the crater. The flames began to bubble and cough, and a chorus of noises and roars began to grow into a crescendo. The light became too bright to a point where you couldn’t open your eyes any longer. As you shut your eyes, your body began to lighten up like a series of heavy stones strapped to your limbs had just been taken off. You felt that you could even fly if you wished for it hard enough.

And then, in a deafening loud explosion, the light faded leaving behind a vanishing darkness and the soft sound of lava bubbling in veins.

“____________, open your eyes!” Mathias’ voice excitedly told you. “Hurry! It’s amazing!”

When you opened your eyes, the first thing you noticed was the deep blue sky above you. The snow clouds had completely been swept away as if by magic—even though it technically was magic—and all traces of ice had vanished from the heavens. You wanted to see what it looked like from beyond the walls…but that would have to wait.

“So you are the Dragonheart he told us so much about,” an unfamiliar voice spoke.

“What? Who said tha—Holy gods of Eliatha!

Instead of the familiar blue scales of the Divine Keeper of the Sapphire Flames standing in front of you, a large dragon with reddish-purple scales was towering over your small height. This was definitely not Lukas.

“The Wings of the Opal Skies did say she was a little jumpy,” a younger-sounding voice said from another end of the crater. This one was a small light blue dragon even smaller than Emil.

“Huh?” you gaped. “What’s going on?”

There were hundreds of dragons now flooding Eldur Mountain—so much so that some of them even had to lean on the edges of the crater to get a glimpse of you.

You rubbed your eyes to see if this was real or not. “I don’t…What is this? Where did all of these dragons come from?”

“You were carrying them all of this time, ______________,” a strikingly familiar voice said from behind a large group of dragons. You could hear footsteps—human footsteps.

You couldn’t believe it.

“The gods of Eliatha be damned…”

Before you could open your mouth, Mathias patted your back. You choked and began to cough.

“Ha ha ha! I knew you guys were going to be all right!”

Upon seeing them in full view, you cursed and hid your beet-red face underneath Mathias’ similarly colored red cape.

“For crying out loud! Put some clothes on, you two! You’re naked!”
Everything is moving along as I wanted it to.

Axis Powers: Hetalia and its characters belong to Himaruya Hidekazu.
This story and picture belong to me, *GydroZMaa.

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~Chapter 40~

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.”

Slap!

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.”

“Eh?”

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.

“Sorry, Emil.”

“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.”

“Oh.”

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.

“Gah—! You—!”

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?”

Gods!

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.
Forty chapters?! Why in the world is this story so long?! I didn't mean for it to be long! I just wanted to make an adventure that doesn't feel rushed! Look what it turned into...T^T

But anyway, thank you for sticking with me this entire way, readers. It's fun having more than one person tagging along this ride.

Axis Powers: Hetalia and its characters belong to Himaruya Hidekazu.
This story and picture belong to me, *GydroZMaa.

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~Chapter 35~

Lukas was still at the spot where you had left him. There was no turning back after everything he had done for you even if you hadn't realized it until it was too late.

Now that you were able to see, you were able to get a grasp of what exactly this place was. In short, it was both a garbage heap and a graveyard for whatever the people above didn’t want to deal with. The clacking sounds you had heard earlier had been the bones of small animals, unfortunate humans, and even a few strange skeletal structures you did not fully recognize.

Thanks to the Sapphire Flames, as you so called them in tribute to Lukas’ formal title, the nightcrawlers and bloodsnares had steered clear of your path. You could occasionally hear them chattering in the darkness, but for the most part, they remained unseen.

With the flames of the world now residing safely in your heart, you had one final task to take care of: find Emil and if possible, rescue him.

You had tried reaching Emil a few times while you were walking around the cavernous garbage heap, but the only thing you were able to hear was the chorus of dark-loving creatures. Until you could find him, you decided to continue walking. It was a good thing you had that meal with the other dragons before coming here or you might have collapsed of starvation.

After much debate, you thought it was best not to have the other dragons get involved. It had been enough when Tino and Berwald had come searching for you, but Mathias was a dragon all on his own. He had come to your aid without you even telling him to. If he found out Lukas, his friend, was dead, then he most likely wouldn’t have hesitated to storm whatever this place was for revenge—assuming he was that noble or shallow-minded.

As for Emil, on the other hand, you thought it would be best to tell him and the others once you were sure they were all safe—if you even managed to reach him.

At this point in time, your mind was a complete blur of thoughts swirling in your brain like soup. You had absolutely no direction and no concept of time. There wasn’t any natural lighting coming through the ceiling after Lukas had been dropped, and you didn’t even know where you were.

How were you supposed to find your way out of this place if you didn’t even have defense against enemies or a way to escape? Even if you managed to find Emil, he wouldn’t be able to fly with the force field up. If the force field hadn’t been up, Lukas might have remained a dragon the entire time. You wouldn’t have had to go through all of those other bumps in the road before finally winding up in this place with Lukas dead.

He’s really dead… you thought.

It was hard to believe. You had to save your tears for later, but not crying made it feel worse. If you didn’t cry, you feared that you weren’t feeling enough guilt for the dragon’s death. Lukas would have scolded you and told you to pull yourself together if he was here.

The pest…Even when he claimed to try to distance himself away from you, it made you oddly attracted to him even more. You weren’t sure why you had felt that way, but whenever Lukas had tried to barricade himself from intimacy, you had found yourself trying to break down his defenses even harder. Maybe if the arrogant dragon had admitted to wanting friends, things would have turned out differently, but whether it would have been for the better or for the worst was something you wouldn’t be able to predict.

The time you had been looking for Mathias and Lukas downstream on the river had been the only real time you hadn’t been with any of the dragons—that and when Emil had been captured. Until now, you always had a sense of direction: follow Lukas or stay close to him and everything would be alright.

While arming himself with a sharp tongue and even sharper teeth, Lukas had always been the one thing that kept you moving. Even when he had left you behind during the earlier walking portions of your journey, he had made sure to prepare a resting spot ahead for you to come to. Even in the Bone Forest, he had made sure that your survival was the only thing that mattered—even if that meant only looking after his brother. And at the end of it all, he had taken a big gamble.

What if your heart hadn’t been pure? What would have happened? Would the world really have frozen over? Would your heart really have burn up and spontaneously combusted against your will?

The more you thought about it, you weren’t even sure if Lukas knew what he had been doing when he gave you the Sapphire Flames. Before dying, he had made a point of being unsure as to whether or not your heart was even pure. He had implied that the main reason he had wanted to keep the flames from you was to ensure that you wouldn’t throw Emil and yourself into oblivion.

Neither of you had expected Lukas to die so unnaturally, though. Lukas had hoped that if you managed to find other dragons, one of them would be able to take the flames in his stead. Either way, if Lukas had died with the flames in his heart, then the entire world would have been destroyed according to his story. Giving you the flames could very well have been a last-resort decision. There was a high chance that he didn’t even care about you, too.

But there was that lingering question that was making your heart flutter: was the kiss necessary? Surely when the other Dragonheart had taken the flames, his dragon hadn’t kissed him, had he? Well, Lukas never said anything about that, so it was still open to debate.

“Damn you, Lukas!” you screamed kicking a small animal skull away from your path.

Outrageous! Preposterous! Ridiculous! It was downright rude of him to do that! After teasing you and lying to you for so long and finally leaving your side with a parting act like that was completely unpredictable! It wasn’t like him! Had he meant to tease you to the very end and play with your emotions? Damn him!

“No! Hold it together, ____________!” you cried out, your voice rising above the soft murmurs of the bloodsnares. “Lukas, if you can hear me from wherever it is you’re watching me from—if that place even exists—then know that you haven’t gotten the best of me! No, you haven’t!”

Silence.

“Right,” you sighed. “It was stupid of me to think that you would answer me. You’re…dead, after all…”

The last thing that was still keeping you from breaking down completely was trying to stay angry with Lukas. It had kept you sane when he had been alive so maybe it would be able to keep you sane while he was dead. It didn’t hurt anyone. He wouldn’t hit you or scold you if you cursed his names to his grave—not that he had one, of course.

“Confounded dragon!” you growled and matched onward. You could see your breath condensing as you exhaled in fuming huffs.

“Lukas, y-you were right! You did your job! I don’t miss you! I don’t! Nope! You were a high-class snotty, overgrown, shape-shifting lizard to the very end! Even your looks didn’t matter! I told you this already, but your attitude cancels everything about you that made you attractive! Beautiful on the outside, ugly on the inside and all the way to your core! No wonder the flames didn’t last long! I bet…” You took a moment to catch your breath. “I bet you were the real reason Dragonfall happened in the first place! It never was a curse, was it?!”

No answer.

“Ungrateful beast…” you wheezed. “Even after I took good care of your brother, you never thanked me. Not once. Even when I thanked you, you didn’t think twice about blowing my gratitude away. I don’t miss you in the slightest! Okay, so I might have cried, but that’s what happens when I get a little shaken up and see a mangled corpse. It’s not very pleasant. It’s not.

“Gods, Lukas, if you could see yourself right now…” You caught yourself. “On second thought, maybe that’s not a good idea. You’d come back as an ethereal being or something and go around haunting this place, and that’s that last thing I want: you coming back to haunt me.”

At this point, you finally found a wall. It was about time. Your eyes wide open and alert, you continued to march onward.

“I don’t miss your cocky attitude, your stupid jokes, how you would always blame me for everything that went wrong…even though everything was pretty much my fault…But still! That didn’t mean you didn’t have to act like a gentleman! I thought your first vessel was a prince! Couldn’t you have picked up some noble qualities instead of his damn high-and-mighty attitude?”

The wall felt solid and cool along your fingertips as you moved alongside it. You continued to pass more supporting beams.

“I...” you sighed. “Oh, gods, Lukas, why did you have to be like that? Why did you have to be such a irritable fool? Why couldn’t you have been like Mathias? I’m not saying I want you to be exactly like Mathias, but it would have been nice to see you smile in a not-so-creepy kind of way. You were so creepy…”

You shuddered just thinking about the memories of Lukas’ dry, sarcastic laughter and his mischievous smirks. It was one thing to see him look like a stiff all of the time; it was another to see him genuinely amused. Whatever humor he had, it always had to do with things going his way. What a cheeky bastard he had been! How in Eliatha would you have missed such qualities from such an ungrateful dragon?

“And that part about being able to love!” you burst out of nowhere in particular. “You said you were able to love, but never have I seen a more conceited person or dragon such as you.”

“That’s not to say I’ve actually known too many dragons in my lifetime,” you added.

If anything, besides the concern he had expressed for his brother, Lukas hadn’t cared too much about anyone but himself. Even if he did have feelings for others or even for Mathias in particular, he never admitted it. What did it matter that it was the type of person that he was? He had been awful! The kiss must have been nothing more than an action to pass on the Sapphire Flames to you, after all!

“Scheming wretch!” you shouted into the garbage heap.

You must have been putting on quite the show for the bloodsnares and nightcrawlers. It was best not to look directly at them, however. The light may have frightened them, but you weren’t sure if it was because it was physically harming them or because they were unfamiliar with the color. If they decided to attack you, there was no possible way to defend yourself. The most you were able to get out of the Sapphire Flames’ power was making the room a bright blue color. That was it.

At least you cold see where you were going, and thank goodness you had gotten used to seeing twisted sights. There were some ungainly things lying about the floors. Interestingly enough, for a garbage heap, the place didn’t really seem to have a lot of real garbage, just several remnants of living things tossed somewhere in the brink of time’s journey.

Thinking about journeys, I wonder if I’m making any progression in my own, you thought.

Perhaps it was time to try communicating with Emil again.

Emil… you thought. Emil, can you hear me? Are you still alive? Wait, what are you thinking, ___________? If he was alive, then of course, he could hear me.

You wanted to stop and shut your eyes for maximum concentration, but the fear of leaving yourself exposed to the predators of the darkness made you continue walking along the wall.

Emil? you thought again. Emil…Emiiiilllll…………EMIL!!!

Still nothing.

You sighed. It was worth a shot. What if the poor guy really isn’t alive? I’ve been talking to the dragons in their human forms, after all. Maybe he died somewhere along the way? No, but then how am I able to hold the Sapphire Flames in my heart? Magic? I wish Lukas would have taught me how to use magic. He never even told me what sort of magic he could do. He said it was useless magic. Pointless magic.

“Woo! Magic makes the world go ‘round!” you yelled in a singsong voice tossing your hands up in the air. Perhaps you had gone mad in solitude, after all. Getting mad at a deceased dragon didn’t save your sanity.

“Oh, and maybe I’ll wander here forever! There are no stairs, not ladders, no door of holy light guiding me to a sacred place above. It’s all darkness and bones, and soon, I will perish and join them in their bare bony states! And the world keeps turning!*”

Dead silence.

“I, ____________, a Dragonheart, will die here! I could have the will of a thousand men fighting for their lives and still be stuck here! There is no escape from this deathly place! The darkness calls to me!”

Silence.

“What’s that? You don’t think I’m going to make it? Oh, well you might be right! You might be absolutely right!”

And then you stopped walking.

“Oh, Lukas…Who am I fooling? Come back…Come back, I need you…You can scold me and hit me all you want. Just don’t kill me. But you won’t kill me because I’m connected to your brother with a magical bond so if I die, he dies—at least that’s what I remember Berwald telling me.”

You looked up to the black ceiling.

“Lukas, come back!” you wailed.

There was only silence. You thought to turn around and go back to where Lukas’ body was, but that would only have been a big waste of time. You weren’t even sure how far it was. Maybe if you really couldn’t find a way out of this place, you would try seeing if you could find his skeleton. Being the semi-mad freak you had become, you thought of even saving of piece of his remains to keep him in your memories.

…On second thought, Lukas wouldn’t have liked it. Had he been alive, he would have shouted at you for doing something so stupid as keeping a piece of his remains. Then again, maybe you would do it just to spite his vengeful spirit.

Ha! Take that, Divine Keeper of the Sapphire Flames! Oh, but since I have the Sapphire Flames, then I guess that makes me the Divine Keeper of the Sapphire Flames now! Ha ha!

And then…

“By all that is holy in Eliatha, would you please shut up?!”
Oops. I actually forgot to update. :P

*Reference to a line said by Denmark in Gutters, an emotional story and one of the best Hetalia fan-fiction works I've read. [link] (Sorry for using it at such an inappropriate time...)

Axis Powers: Hetalia and its characters belong to Himaruya Hidekazu.
This story and picture belong to me, *GydroZMaa.

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~Chapter 30~

While you refilled your once empty stomach with some roasted birds Mathias had caught (“Just call me a hunting expert!” he had said), the dragons took the liberty of catching up with what had happened in the time they had been separated.

“I was right about you bringing bad luck wherever you go,” Lukas snorted, giving you an icy glare. By now, you had gotten so used to it (or perhaps you were just too hungry to care) that it didn’t even bother you.

“Finding a lockpick was easier than expected,” Berwald said.

“Wouldn’t finding a lockpick mean you’d have to know where humans would be keeping one?” Mathias asked. He, too, was eating a thoroughly cooked bird alongside you. Lukas was sitting on your other side with Tino and Berwald sitting across from you in their human forms.

Berwald’s human form was rather intimidating when you first saw it. At the time when you first met up with him and Lukas, you had been in such a daze that you didn’t even bother to react to seeing it. Now, however, whenever you stole a quick glance in his direction, he always seemed to be staring down at you with an intimidating glare that pierced into your very soul. It was rather unnerving, to say the least.

Mathias had managed to laugh despite the tense mood poking fun at how much of a stiff he was even as a human: his towering height made you feel insignificantly small, and it didn’t help that the blonde’s eyes were an icy blue that rivaled even Tino’s irises. You had yet to see him smile, but something told you that if he did, it wouldn’t be very pleasant to look at.

The one thing you were truly grateful for, however, was the fact that he, like Tino, was clothed. He sported a dark outfit with a jet-black cloak. The most interesting feature of his human outfit was the pair of spectacles on his head. You would have thought that dragons would have perfect eyesight from the experiences you had in the past, but perhaps Berwald’s human form had an exception.

“We did happen to find some humans,” Lukas said. “There was a group of men just outside the perimeter of the force field who happened to be going off to eat or something trivial like that. We took the opportunity to rummage through their bags and came across a small piece of metal the Golden Sentinel claimed to be a lockpick.”

“It was a lockpick,” Berwald confirmed.

“Just like that?” Mathias gaped.

The Divine Keeper of the Sapphire Flames sighed and ran his hand through his hair. “I can’t say if it’s a coincidence or not, but my luck seemed to have improved when I wasn’t around you, hu—_____________,” he said.

You frowned and silently swallowed a mouthful of meat.

“I’m sure it wasn’t completely bad,” Tino forced a smile looking to find some optimism to contradict Lukas’ remark.

Lukas only raised his eyebrows. “Is that so, Eye of the Topaz Blizzard? Then what would you call getting your wing broken not once, but twice, nearly getting eaten by a netiss, getting covered with the same dead netiss’ fat, having your brother getting kidnapped, hitting a force field at full flying speed, being captured by dragon-hunting merchants, nearly drowning in a freezing river, and almost getting eaten by a sea serpent—which, by the way, wasn’t even supposed to have existed anymore?”

“Ah…with luck like that, I guess you have a point,” Tino nervously laughed.

“Indeed, I do,” the haughty dragon snorted.

“Stupid Lukas…” you mumbled.

After finishing up the catch, Tino took some time to examine Mathias’ injured arm.

“I thought I told you not to overwork yourself,” he frowned looking upon the Blade of the Ruby Sea’s bruised arm. Underneath the layers of bandages and stained cloth, there was still some matted dragon’s blood clinging to his clothes.

Mathias winced when Tino began to rub a cold, wet cloth over his skin.

“I couldn't help it,” he chuckled. “Sometimes you’ve gotta do what you gotta do.”

Lukas made a face. “If you mean getting yourself into more trouble than you’re worth, then I’d expect no less of you.”

“You two are the same as ever,” you groaned. “Now if you don’t mind, I’m going to get some air.”

“Where’re you going, ____________?” Mathias asked as you walked away from the dragons.

“Just to have some alone time,” you replied not bothering to look back. “I’ve been around men for too long.”

Tino spoke up. “Divine Keeper of the Sapphire Flames, do you think you could—”

“No need to tell me,” Lukas interrupted. “I’ll make sure nothing happens.” You then started to hear footsteps trudging after you through the snow.

“You don’t have to make sure I’m alright,” you said feeling his presence catch up to your side. “I just want some time to think for myself.”

The dragon scoffed. “Knowing how bad your luck is, I’ve learned to keep my guard up whenever I travel with you.”

You made a face and looked in the other direction. “It’s not like I can help it.”

“No, I can’t say it’s your fault,” he admitted.

“Since when did you get so friendly around me?” you asked feeling a smile creeping up on your lips.

“Pardon?”

“The way you talk,” you pointed out. “You used to always call me names and refused to call me by my real name.”

Now it was Lukas’ turn to look in the other direction. “Weren’t you the one who threatened to look into my head if I didn’t do that?”

You laughed. “I thought you’d say, ‘No human can tell a dragon what to do!’ or something like that.”

“I’d prefer to choose the latter and stick with you not searching through my head.”

“Why? Are you afraid I’ll find something embarrassing in there?”

“N-Not necessarily,” Lukas replied rather unconvincingly. He could be hard to read. You sighed.

“Hey, Lukas?”

“Yes?”

“When I thought Emil might have been dead…” You squeezed your chest. “…I’m pretty sure that was false.”

“What makes you think that?”

You swallowed. “When I looked into the sea serpent’s thoughts while it was dying, there was so much going on inside its head…what was happening at that moment, what sort of things it had planned on doing, what it had seen in its lifetime…It was all so sad. I really felt, for a second, that I was going to die, too.”

Just then, a hand placed itself on your shoulder. When you looked over to your side, you saw Lukas extending his arm in an unusual act of comfort.

“Then let’s make sure you don’t feel like that again,” he said.

“Lukas…” you breathed. Suddenly, your image of a noble Lukas was shattered when you saw a sly smile creep across his face.

“After all, we don’t want anything happening to my brother, do we?”

“Th—! Lukas, you—!”

Much to your irritated surprise, the dragon amusingly rolled his eyes.

“You’re as predictable as ever,” he sighed. “I thought travelling with me might have changed something of you, too, as it has my brother and me.”

You furrowed your eyebrows. “I’m not sure I quite follow you. You look the same to me.”

“You’re such an ignorant wench,” the dragon mumbled, shaking his head.

“Excuse me for covering my hide all of the time!” you burst out.

“I wasn’t talking about our physical appearances, ____________,” Lukas said. “I was talking about our personalities, our very way of being.”

You were still having trouble understanding. After all, you hadn’t known what sort of person Emil had been like before entering your heart.

“Before my brother was tainted by your—let me start over,” Lukas quickly said, catching himself. “Before my brother took refuge in your heart, he was always very cold, no different than me. I believed that it didn’t matter so as long as he remained reliant on me. I felt that I was important because of him, that it was the only thing that mattered so as long as I had a purpose.”

“To be there for your brother?”

Lukas nodded.

“I believe I’ve told you this on several occasions and you’ve heard it to no end, but I was shocked when my brother chose a girl. Aside being jealous, I thought that something inside him had grown soft. I still think this, but I believe his soul isn’t as hard as it was before meeting you.”

“Hey!” you butted in. “How is that—”

“Let me finish!” Lukas snapped. When he saw you flinch, however, he held himself back and crossed his fingers into his hands with a sigh.

“Sorry,” he apologized; it was still hard to tell whether or not he was.

“It’s…okay,” you bashfully replied.

Lukas cleared his throat. “Shall I continue?”

“Go ahead.”

“My brother was always someone who wouldn’t admit it, but he’s always been reliant on others. He is naturally frail, and as his older brother, I’ve always been inclined to fulfill my role.

“Throughout our journey, when I saw the way you behaved, despite everything that had happened, I was beginning to wonder what sort of soul my brother would possess. Needless to say, I didn’t want to admit it, but I felt that with your spirit, he wouldn’t need me anymore.”

“Oh, Lukas, how could you think that?”

“It’s probably true,” Lukas said. “Imagine my surprise when I found out you were a Dragonheart. All the times I’ve spent with my brother would mean nothing when compared to the connection a Dragonheart and her dragon would share. I felt insignificant. I felt like I had lost my brother.”

He let out a dry laugh.

“In a way, I already have. As of now, my brother’s fate still remains unknown. Even if he isn’t dead, there’s no telling whether or not he can be saved.”

“Don’t say things like that,” you frowned. “It just makes things worse.”

“Ever the optimist like a certain fool I know,” Lukas muttered.

You decided it was best not to say anything on that topic.

“And what about you, Lukas? How have you changed?”

The dragon made a low grunting noise like he was reluctant to share.

“Come on, Lukas! After everything we’ve been through, you can’t even tell me?”

Lukas still remained silent. You responded by pointing a finger at him.

“Lukas, if you don’t tell me, I’ll find out for myself,” you warned.

“Loathsome Dragonheart,” Lukas grumbled. “Very well, I’ll tell you.”

Ha! you thought triumphantly.

“Do you remember what that businessman said when I was captured?”

You nodded. “He was saying how you dragons use humans for your gain, and you went on about saying how worthless most of us are.”

“I did say most of you,” Lukas emphasized that key word. “I do know that not all of you are worthless.”

“How about that?” you sarcastically laughed.

“_____________...” Lukas growled making you clamp your mouth shut. He then continued speaking.

“To be honest, you are one of those humans,” he said.

You picked your ears up.

One of them? There were others?”

“Of course,” Lukas said. “Had you been the first, you wouldn’t have lasted this long so be grateful.”

“Well, I never…!” you exclaimed.

“But in all seriousness, ____________, after seeing how far you’ve come, I think I’ve become accustomed to you.”

You shrugged. “Hey, if being accustomed to me means making bad jokes and poking fun at me, then I’m sure you could do better.”

The dragon scrunched his face. “There’s more, but I don’t really know if I want to say it yet…”

“What’s wrong with telling me now?”

“It’s just not time,” Lukas simply answered.

“You’re not hiding anything, are you?”

“I’m not hiding it,” the dragon insisted. “I’m just waiting for the right time.”

“And how long will that be?”

Now it was the dragon’s turn to shrug. “I honestly don’t know,” he admitted. “Maybe never.”

“Then how will I ever know?!”

“You could be able to find out for yourself. It might be blatantly obvious right now, or it may completely fly over your head. It really depends on your intelligence, though after being with you for so long, I have a feeling you won’t understand.” On that note, he turned around and began walking back to the other dragons but not before grabbing your hand and dragging you with him.

“Hey! What the heck!” you growled.

“I think you’ve had enough time alone,” he said.

“Time alone?!” you repeated. “You were always with me!”

“You could have pretended I wasn’t there.”

“How could I do that? You were talking to me the entire time!”

“I could say the same to you, ____________,” Lukas huffed. “You could have chosen not to listen.”

“Th-That’s impossible!”

“Ooh, why would that be? Do you find my human voice soothing to hear?”

Damn it all, he’s teasing me! you angrily thought.

“I—I do not!” you lied. His deep velvety voice really was nice on the ears. On top of that, his hands were rather soft and warm.

“You find it irritating? Very well. I will continue to talk if it annoys you so.”

“Why do you insist on making my life so miserable?”

“I’ve told you before: so you won’t want to do anything with my brother or me when we find him,” Lukas answered as-a-matter-of-factly. By now, the other dragons were within hearing distance. Mathias, of course, was the first to open his mouth.

“Ha ha ha!” he laughed. “_____________, don’t listen to him. The real reason why he teases you so much is because he doesn’t want you to—Gck! Ow, ow, ow! No, I’ll shut up!”

“Idiot…” Lukas hissed and released your hand after hitting Mathias. Your knuckles hurt after hitting Mathias on the head alongside Lukas' combined power. The dragons weren't kidding when they said he had a thick skull.
I just wanted to say thank you so much for those of you who have stuck with me and read this far. :iconhappytearsplz:

When I first began this series, I had no idea how far it would take me or where it would go. I started out as much in the dark as all of you. The plot built itself along the way, but by doing so, I was able to go on the adventure with everyone else. It's been really fun thus far. :aww:

Here's to thirty chapters, everyone. :icondingdingdingplz:

Axis Powers: Hetalia and its characters belong to Himaruya Hidekazu.
This story and picture belong to me, *GydroZMaa.

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~Chapter 34~

Everything between the time you had blacked out and the time you woke up in a cold, dark room was a blur. You couldn’t remember what you were supposed to be doing or why you were even here in the first place. Why hadn’t you just stayed behind that day back at the castle and slept in? It would have been much better than having to feed the dragons their daily helpings of food and clean up after them. The smaller one wouldn’t have grown attached to you, and the larger one wouldn’t have…

You buried your face into your hands.

“Lukas…”

The dragon you had journeyed with so far up until now was really gone. There wasn’t even any climatic suspense leading up to his ultimate demise; it just happened like that. In a blink of an eye, he had left you behind to wherever it is dragons go to when they die. You had never bothered to ask. There had been many questions you had wanted to ask him. Now, you’d never get the chance again. All the things that could have been, everything that might have happened…

Lukas hadn’t exactly gone too far into details about what he had planned to do in the future now that you thought about it. Perhaps he didn’t want to make you look forward to seeing him after your journey was over. He nearly succeeded in pushing you away from him, too—nearly.

On that thought, your fingers glided over your chapped lips.

That damned Lukas! How dare he do that to you! How dare he break your heart upon his last breath!

Ever since the first day he began speaking to you, there had been absolutely no hint, no sliver of a possibility that Lukas would ever harbor intimate feelings for you. H-How dare he kiss you!  

“A haughty prick to the very end,” you frowned.

Still…

You just wanted to die. It would have been much easier than having to live with an aching, broken heart. What were the chances that you, alone, would be able to rescue Emil? Was he even alive? You hadn’t been able to speak with him since the caravan merchants had captured you.

Yes. Perhaps disappearing from this world altogether would be a better option. There would be no more suffering, no more grieving for a dragon who, up until this point, didn’t even express any feelings for you other than contempt and loathing.

“Why would you do that to me, Lukas?” you whispered.

You were too tired to cry, too exhausted to look at your surroundings. The air was cold but not cold enough to hide a peculiar stench you had failed to notice until now.

The smell was familiar. In fact, you remembered smelling something similar to this somewhere along your journey, but trying to remember would only bring back the memories of the times you had spent with Lukas. You just wanted to bury those memories deep within your head and lock them away, never to touch them.

But forgetting was going to have to wait because somewhere deep inside the same room you were moping around in, there was a wet noise that had begun to echo throughout the room. It was subtle at first, but then the noise began to multiply in amplitude, and soon, you could make out the sounds of squishing, slurping, and slithering all in one.

What in Eliatha…?

Did you dare move from your spot? You were torn between running into a different part of the lightless space far from the sounds, staying where you were, or even pulling a foolish act of your brain and venturing towards the very spot where the sounds where coming from.

In the end, you decided to wait for your eyes to adjust to the darkness before doing something as stupid as running in a direction you couldn’t even see. There didn’t seem to be any light where you were so it was incredibly hard to make out anything specific, but you could still see the bulky shapes of…something lying around the floor like garbage. Perhaps those men had thought you held no value and threw you among the rest of the rubbish. How very civil of them to do that even after knocking you out. They might as well have just left you to freeze to death out in the snow.

After a few more minutes, your eyes were able to recognize a series of supporting beams shooting up to the ceiling. The scheme was rather grand for a garbage dump, you thought. Not even the castle had something like this, though you could understand why they didn’t. It was beyond eerie, and the air was moist and oddly still. On top of all of that, there was that irritable squishing noise that never sounded as though it were getting closer but never getting farther, either.

Then, a new series of sound came—one much louder. The first noise sounded like a sharp slithering noise. A series of objects clicked and clacked as if the maker of the noise was pushing objects out of the way. Then, you heard a low growling noise moving towards the softer squishing noises. In a chorus of chatters, the smaller “things” squeaked and moved out of the way, their voices getting softer as the deeper-sounding creature moved to the spot.

If you squinted your eyes enough, you could make out the faint outline of something large and dark standing atop a large pile of misshapen objects. It had long, ungainly limbs and what appeared to be a rather large mouth. Perhaps it was a wolf, and the other things were mice. What sort of garbage dump would have a wolf, though?

Suddenly, instead of the soft slurping and squishing noises that the smaller creatures had made, the larger one made a loud crunch as it lowered its head and appeared to bite into something. It was too dark to see what it was, but something told you to steer clear from the area.

Never mind dying. If you died here, then everything would have been in vain: Emil disappearing, Mathias’ arm almost getting chewed off, the businessman’s caravan being destroyed, the sea serpent’s death…and…Lukas…

Maybe it was fear that drove you to suddenly get to your feet and slowly tiptoe away from the area, but whatever it truly was, you only knew that you had to find a way out of here and fast. There was nothing for you to do around here except rotting away and being eaten by whatever strange creatures those shadows actually were.

But, before you could venture off, there was a loud metallic screeching noise. Curious, you began to look around for the source of the noise in every direction swiveling your head back and forth and even so much as looking on the ground. When you thought the noise was something short of your imagination, however, a thin ray of light appeared from the top of the ceiling like a trapdoor. Some voices began to pour into the once darkened room, but you were too focused on what was about to be dumped inside to think of your surroundings.

There, falling down from the high ceiling of this forsaken dumpster, was a corpse. It wasn’t just any corpse, though. This corpse had fair blonde hair and close to flawless skin. Even though it looked thin and frail with a gaping wound torn at the left side of its chest, you knew who the corpse belonged to.

“Lukas…” you breathed.

As the body fell onto the pile of other objects, the light quickly vanished as it had appeared. In a frantic, you began to clamber over the obscured objects kicking up smaller items and trudging through soft, and moist things on the way. You didn’t dare to look back. Even if you couldn’t see, your eyes were transfixed at the very spot where Lukas’ body had fallen. It had become too real. If his body had made its way to this place, then there was no doubt about it: Lukas was really dead.

“Lukas…I’m coming,” you whispered. Nothing else mattered. You stumbled and tripped a few times thanks to your unhealed ankle. You heard the chattering returning and even the low growl of the larger creature. You could smell something foul coming from the body of the fallen dragon you were approaching, but none of it mattered. The only word ringing inside your head was “Lukas.”

“Lukas…” you said. “Lukas…Lukas…”

When you did reach his body, you were shocked to find it unnaturally cold. Of course, that was because he was dead, but after growing accustomed to his normal dragon’s heat, it didn't feel right. Your hand crept up to his face. Perhaps it was for the best that it was so dark. You didn’t think you could bear to see what Lukas’ face would look like in its deathly state. He had been staring into nothingness when the first waves of realization began to hit you. What would he have looked like now?

“Oh, Lukas…” you sniffed.

No. You couldn’t afford to be weak here. You couldn't show how weak you were still in front of him. Not like this.

Oddly enough, you began to notice how unusually dry Lukas was. When the arrow had struck him in his heart, blood seemed to pour out of his wound like no tomorrow. Now, however, there wasn’t a trace of blood to be found. Curious, your hand began to move towards his heart where his fatal had killed him.

Nothing. There was a cavity where his heart should have been.

You felt sick. You wanted to scream, to relieve yourself of this maddening fate. Someone, as low and disgusting as it was, had removed his heart. Perhaps they even had his blood drained while they were at it. At least it would explain why he was so pale.

“Oh, gods…” you whimpered.

Who would do this? Who would do something so evil as to steal the heart of a dragon? And also—

Your stomach lurched. It was all you could do to clamp your mouth over your hand to prevent anything from coming out. It was hard to make out his image in the nearly nonexistent light, but you could still see it. Where Lukas’ lovely sapphire blue eyes should have been were two empty sockets. The bastards had taken the dragon’s eyes, too.

Gods…! you screamed in your head.

Tears began to leak out of your own eyes. It was too much. Whoever did this to Lukas was more than wicked; he—or she—was pure evil. What could anyone possibly do with eyes? Such beautiful blue eyes…

Lukas wouldn’t have wanted this to happen. He would have fought to the very end if someone were about to take his eyes let alone his heart and his dragon’s blood. Alas, he had already died before the process. At the very least, he wouldn’t have to suffer through it. It was a good thing Emil wasn’t here to see this, either.

Thinking about Emil… you thought. Where is he?

You looked up at your surroundings. If Lukas’ body had ended up in here, then there could have been a slight possibility that Emil’s body might have ended up here, too. The very thought of seeing that precious dragon being dumped here with his heart and eyes torn out of his very body made you sick to your stomach. Then you reminded yourself that it was impossible for Emil to have been truly dead. You had been able to speak to the dragons through thoughts and as their true forms for such a long time. You were still a Dragonheart.

Some Dragonheart I turned out to be… you miserably thought. Someone must have made a terrible mistake. You were no Dragonheart. You were a fraud, a fake, unworthy of such a title only given to the heroes of legends. You were a girl, a weak, dull-minded girl with no supernatural powers aside communication. How could anyone have thought you were cut out to do great things?

Mathias and Berwald had thought you were special. They had said it, themselves. Lukas had been doubtful.

Stupid Lukas…

There was a faint squeaking in the background. Your lips trembled still sick from seeing what had happened to Lukas’ body. Now what was about to happen? Were the creatures coming back? And what about that wolf thing?

Gods help me, you thought clutching your pounding heart. You weren’t going to die in here. Weak or not, Lukas had sacrificed himself for you as did all of the other dragons. You couldn’t stop here. There had to be a way out of this wretched dark hole.

Rrrgh…

You froze. There was that low growling noise again. Where was it coming from? The squeaking noise didn’t bother you very much, but you feared the creatures would come to Lukas’ body and devour it like they probably were the other objects on the ground. Thank the gods you didn’t look down to see what you were stepping on when Lukas fell here.

A fuming curse left your mouth. You couldn’t see anything. The elements of surprise and darkness were in the creatures’ favors. You highly doubted there would be a place to even hide or run to if they attacked you. So how exactly were you supposed to get out of this situation?

Then, as if providing an answer to your mental question, something struck you straight on the face. You yelped in surprise and fell on your bottom holding your hand to your face. Whatever had just attacked you felt sharp and thin like a whip or something. It stung.

Whatever was in the room with you was no mouse or wolf.

Think, __________, think! you shouted in your head. Your eyes were darting around the space, but it didn’t do much to help you since you couldn’t see very well.

As you were about to get to your feet, you felt something poking at your boots like a stick but softer. By reflex, you kicked out to the thing poking at you sending it flying with a quick jab with your foot—or so you thought. Instead of sailing away, the thing latched onto your boot and began to climb up your leg.

Dammit! you gasped and wildly flailed your foot around. Get off! Get off! Get off!

“Get off, damn you!” you cried. Your panicked voice echoed throughout the dark room like a beacon cutting through the black night. It bounced off walls and shot back at you in haunted vocals. Just how big was this place?

Underneath your echoing voice, you heard more squishing noises coming from different parts of the room. Lukas hadn’t been kidding when he had said you attracted bad luck wherever you went.

“Oh, Lukas, where are you when I actually need you?” you whimpered. Lukas was right by your feet, but what was left of anything intelligent and snarky was long gone from his body. All that remained was a carcass, a corpse.

While you were thinking, you heard something squeak from behind you. Something had gotten to Lukas’ body.

“Don’t you dare touch him!” you shouted and went over to the fallen dragon’s body. With a powerful swing, you struck something soft and slimy away from you. Unlike the thing that was still clinging onto your leg, this creature went flying away. You couldn’t tell how far you had hit it, but you weren’t about to let it come back and take more parts of Lukas away than the evil men already had.

“Get away!” you shouted swinging blindly in all directions hoping to make whatever it was that was getting closer to you waver. Unfortunately, that proved to be a fatal mistake. All the blind attacks you were doing did no harm to the creatures surrounding you as you couldn’t see them. Not only that but you were getting exhausted. You couldn’t remember the last time you had a proper rest since starting your journey, and your nutritional state of body had dramatically diminished. Now, all of the physical and mental fatigue was starting to take its toll on you. In an instant after swinging your arms, you tripped on some unseen object and fell flat on your stomach.

“Ouch!” you cried in pain. The ground was unleveled, and you had landed rather uncomfortably on certain parts of your body.

Get up, ___________! you frantically told yourself. Even in this cold room, you were panting. How did it get so hot all of a sudden? Was this what it felt like to know you were really going to die? If so, you could only imagine how Lukas must’ve felt in his last moments.

“Lukas…” you sniffed. “Dammit, why did you have to die?”

Behind you, the dragon’s body remained silent.

While you tried to get up, the thing around your leg had crawled to your thigh, the annoying little pest. In your rage, you went straight for the thing and tugged at it. The thing hung on like a stubborn slug to the very end, its limbs or feelers or claws or whatever it had tried to desperately cling onto your pants until you squeezed tightly around its body.

“Wretched worm!” you yelled and threw it on the ground. Without a second thought, your hands scrambled to find the nearest object you could reach and pick up. When you found something conveniently sized, you lifted it into the air and brought it down on the creature. There was a shrill squeak as you felt your weapon contact something soft.

I’ve got it now! you triumphantly thought, and you continued to bring repetitive blows down upon the creature until the squeaking had stopped.

“Loathsome maggot…” you panted. By the time you realized you had killed the creature, you were nearly out of breath. Even when you had been in the hot spring with the dragons, you had never felt so hot before. Perhaps it was humid in the room?

To your inconvenience, you heard more chattering in the darkness. Maybe the creatures were upset you killed their friend. It served them right for wanting to take Lukas away from you.

Just then, a different sound rose. It was coming from the beast that you had thought to be a wolf not too long ago. Something crunched and squished beneath the creature’s limbs as it began to approach you. What now?

I’m not letting you take Lukas away! you thought. Though, you caught yourself. Lukas would have been downright furious if he saw you defending a dead body. What good would it do? He might have hit you on the head had he been alive. You might have responded, “Well, what would you do if it was your body?”

He might have laughed and said a body was merely a body.

You thought he would have had a point.

Lukas… you thought and looked back to where the dragon’s body was still lying. At this point, you could see some wriggling shapes crawling into his ribcage. Disgusted, you looked away. Body or not, that thing was still what was left of Lukas.

“Gods…” you breathed.

Now, you were sure there had to be a fire somewhere above you. If not, then why in Eliatha was it so hot? In fact, it had become such a bother that you took off your cloak. There was no point in dragging it around if it was going to slow you down in this place.

At this point, the growling had risen into a crescendo. It sounded like there were more of the beasts lying in wait in the darkness. If only you had a light. The light may have exposed you to the creatures and scared you out of your wits, but it might have been worth risking your sanity if you could find a way out of this place.

I have to have a light somewhere… you thought and began to rummage through your pockets. Maybe on a stroke of luck, you would have kept the flint rocks you had used back where you were on the caravan.

Nope. Nothing. You cursed.

“Damn! I need a light!”

Suddenly, as if out of nowhere but from your very demand, a faint light began to glow from somewhere around your body.

“What…!” you gasped and backed away. The light followed.

This is…

You looked around. The creatures were clearly visible now. You remembered Emil had told you stories about nightcrawlers and bloodsnares that lurked around in the Bone Forest. You weren’t exactly sure how these creatures made their way into this dark place, but by the looks of their appearances, you could make out the cowering shapes of the squirming little bloodsnares and the massive hulking nightcrawlers hiding in the shadows just out of the light’s reach.

You frowned and looked around you. The ceiling wasn’t open, and there wasn’t a single fire in sight. If there had been, then you were sure you would have been devoured already. Emil had mentioned that the nightcrawlers were drawn to heat while fearing the sunlight. So why then, would these creatures be afraid of this unnatural light that surrounded you?

Thinking it was strange, you began looking around in circles. To your realization, the light was coming from you. It didn’t feel hot or frighten you. In fact, it felt rather…welcoming. Looking back, it was almost like the time you had slept underneath the dragon’s keep back at the castle. The dragons had always given off a warm aura that made you feel safe even if you hadn’t spoken to them at the time. What was this?

Whatever it was, the nightcrawlers and the bloodsnares sure didn’t like it. Whenever you stepped closer to them, they moved away. It wasn’t so much that the light hurt them; rather, it frightened them. As you moved around, you felt braver, and the light grew brighter. Eventually, the light began to take on a familiar color. You had grown to miss the color all too quickly. It was color of a familiar friend’s scales, the color of the tunic you had stolen for him, and the lovely color of his eyes, Lukas’ iconic color: sapphire blue.

Even as the light grew into powerful burst, tears began streaming down your cheeks. You had completely forgotten about the story after Lukas had died. It had been foolish for you to think that the kiss had been purely out of his feelings for you. He had been cold and calculating to his last breath.

Lukas had given you the Sapphire Flames.
It hits harder than you'd think.

EDIT: Please, please, please do NOT tell me what to do with this story. While I have an ending in mind, the story's is still in its developmental stages. I have no idea how I'm going to get to the ending. With all of these comments telling me what to do, I keep feeling that I might make some people unhappy with my current decisions so do NOT tell me how to tinker with the characters. Please, just don't do it.

Axis Powers: Hetalia and its characters belong to Himaruya Hidekazu.
This story and picture belong to me, *GydroZMaa.

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~Chapter 27~

“I didn’t even know they still existed…” Lukas breathed. That’s when he looked over to where you and Mathias had fallen across the river and saw your bleeding temple.

“Mathias, get her out of here!” he barked to the Blade of the Ruby Seas.

Mathias didn’t need to be told twice. Whatever that thing was, it didn’t look like the dragons were capable of fighting such a large creature while the force field was still up. Still…

How is that thing able to stay in that form if he’s a dragon? you wondered. Shouldn't the force field prevent him from coming inside?

“____________, we have to get off the ice,” Mathias told you and picked you up from your hand. While you knew you needed to get off the ice as soon as possible, doing so proved to be harder than expected. In your state of panic, keeping your footing with such a lack of friction was nearly impossible.

“Mathias!” you squealed when your foot slipped bringing back the previous pain your ankle had experienced when you had fallen off of Emil’s back.

“____________!” the dragons exclaimed.

“They’re small…but food is food,” you heard someone say. From the amount of information you gathered together, you guessed that the voice you had been hearing belonged to this…water-residing dragon. However, unlike Lukas and Mathias, this dragon appeared to lack the basic civilized qualities as if it was no more than an animal. It was difficult to make out its full size when you were trying to get off the ice, but you were able to catch a short glimpse of the look in its ravage bloodshot eyes. There was no trace of reason or conscious within this dragon’s soul—only the basic animal instincts of a predator ready to lunch on his prey.

“The red one…” the dragon then said directing its eyes straight onto the Blade of the Ruby Sea’s cape.

“Wha—No! Mathias, duck!” you screamed and tugged onto his cape causing him to slip onto the ice.

“Gah!” Mathias cried out in surprise just as he narrowly missed the water dragon’s fangs. At that given instant, your stomach nearly hurled again if it hadn’t been emptied the evening before. The dragon was frustrated.

“Missed.”

Wh-Why are you doing this? you thought. These are my friends! Stop this!

“Who is that?”

I’m ____________, you replied to the dragon’s thoughts. I am communicating with you through your thoughts.

“Impossible.”

It’s very possible.

“It’s annoying. The food is annoying…”


“No!” you cried aloud.

The long snake-like dragon’s thoughts had dropped out of existence for a brief moment when you saw it lunge for Mathias’ bright red cape. This was no time to think, either. Just before the dragon dove back into the ice, you gave Mathias’ cape a hard tug and pulled him out of the way just in time.

“Damn, that was close!” Mathias breathed. The ice was completely full of holes now. When you looked back at where Lukas was, the ice had broken up so badly that progressing any further down the frozen river would be impossible. The only thing that mattered now was getting out of the river and away from the water dragon beast.

“Missed,” you heard the dragon say. “Try again from below.”

“It’s going to resurface!” you told the dragons.

Lukas was baffled. “You can hear its thoughts, _____________?”

“Yes, I can—”

“The blue one…”

“Lukas, it’s coming for you!” you shouted, but by the time you warned him, it was too late. Lukas’ body went sailing into the air when the dragon pushed its snout above the breaking ice. In his helpless human form, the Divine Keeper of the Sapphire Flames looked no more than a mouse being tossed up by a playful cat ready to lunch on its prey when it was done being amused.

Your heart was racing. With the given rush you were feeling from sharing the water dragon’s emotions, you felt a limitless amount of energy ready to fuel your actions—if only there was a place to gain footing on the ice.

“Lukas!” Mathias cried when he saw his friend dropping into the open mouth of the creature.

To your amazement, just before Lukas dropped into the dragons’ mouth, he tilted his body to the side and fell upon the dragon’s face. Then, he used the cursed chains he was still shackled to and pulled back at the dragon’s upper jaw much like a horse with a bridle.

“It hurts!” the dragon roared in your thoughts. “Annoying pest! Off! Off!”

There was a sense of rage boiling up in your stomach. You felt angry, upset, yet not at the brink of fear. Lukas was hanging on for dear life, but if he dropped from such a height, there were only three places he could go: the river, the ice, or the dragon’s mouth.

“Get off, get off, get off!”

If you promise not to eat my friend, then he will let go!
you told the dragon.

It was pointless for the dragon to listen to reason, however. From the sound of its voice, it wanted nothing more than to find something to eat. Desperate to get Lukas to release his chains and drop him into his mouth, the dragon went berserk, smashing the remaining traces of ice to and fro down the river.

Mathias cursed. “I don’t know if it’s a good thing that it’s not looking at us anymore, but we’ve still got to help Lukas.”

“Right, but how?” you asked.

“You’ve got me,” Mathias replied scratching his head. The ice downstream was completely destroyed so there was no preferable method of following the dragon.

“What is that thing, anyway?” you asked.

“That’s a sea serpent,” Mathias answered. “It’s a type of dragon that can’t fly but swims very well in the water—freshwater or seawater. I’m surprised they’re still around. They were supposedly the first kinds of dragons to die out.”

“B-But…rare dragon or not we can’t just let him eat Lukas.”

“No, we can’t,” the dragon agreed. “So he’s not listening to words?”

You sadly shook your head.

“Fine,” Mathias grunted. “Then he’s going to have to listen to force.”

You blinked. “How are you going to catch up with it?”

"You got me there."

While the two of you were thinking, you heard something that sounded like a hollow thump right below you. When the two of you looked down, you saw a familiar color of bright red wood from the caravan that had once served as your prison when you had been with the merchants.

“Oh, hey, look at that,” Mathias noticed. “Looks like the caravan finally caught up with us.” Just then, a large chunk of the bright red wood floated out from under the ice and onto the edge of the freezing water. With its slightly curved shape and strong frame, it looked like it could be perfect for using as a boat.

“Mathias, we can use this to get to Lukas!” you beamed.

“Mm, if you say so…” Mathis mumbled looking like he had second thoughts about getting insi—

“Alright, ___________! Let’s get in!”

You had never been inside a real boat before. Back at the castle, you had seen tapestries of the days when men would venture out to sea on large boats in search for suitable land to live on. They never did come back. Now, after laying your eyes on the sea serpent, you wondered if perhaps the men had been eaten by such ferocious beasts or fell victim to some other unfortunate element.

The boat was considerably unstable when compared to resting on Lukas’ back or riding in the caravan on land. Since it wasn’t built for travelling on the water, the sides wobbled from side to side hitting rocks that were too close to its bottom and threatening to capsize.

You swallowed. Mathias would be alright, but if you fell into the river, you were sure to die of hypothermia from the freezing temperature. Even if you didn’t die from freezing to death, there was still the question of whether or not the sea serpent would come back and gobble you up.

“What an adventure this has turned out to be, eh, __________?” Mathias chuckled despite the grim circumstances.

“How can you be thinking so positively at a time like this?”

“Sometimes thinking about something good makes you want to keep going,” the dragon answered with a wistful tone in his voice, his wild sandy blonde hair blowing in the wind as the current carried the makeshift boat further downstream.

You couldn’t help but smile even with all of the worry weighing down on your heart.

“I’ll bet if Lukas were here, he’d say something like, ‘Thinking about something good can also get you killed, you thick-headed idiot.’ Something like that?”

“Hey, that sounds just like him!” Mathias laughed, oblivious to realizing it was an insult.

You mean you’ve been listening to him all of this time? you wondered. It’s amazing how you can just blow off insults like that. I wonder if it has to do with getting Lukas to grow on you…

“Oh, whoa! __________, I think I see them!”

Sure enough, when you squinted your eyes to block out the snowfall, you could see the large shape of the sea serpent still diving back and forth in the river as Lukas was still hanging onto its upper jaw.

“Off! Off! Off! This prey isn’t worth it!”

“It’s getting upset,” you said summarizing the sea serpents thoughts to Mathias.

“I’d be annoyed if someone was riding me like a mad horse, too,” Mathias chuckled and readied his sword.

“Wh-What are you going to do?” you asked feeling a sudden sense of dread going through your gut.

“Easy: I’m going to kill it!”

Kill it?

“What else would I do to save Lukas?”

“I-I don’t know, but doesn’t that seem wrong? It’s a dragon, too, isn’t it?”

“Hey, when someone important to you is in trouble, wouldn’t you want to do everything in your power to protect him?”

“I—”

Splash!

In a fit of rage, the sea serpent dove down in the water again hoping to shake Lukas off.

Oh, Lukas, please hang on…

“What in Eliatha is this…?” you suddenly heard Mathias murmur. When you looked down, you saw that a small jar had rolled off from one of the built-in drawers and tapped the end of his heel.

“It’s not a bomb or a firework, unfortunately,” you sighed bending down to examine it as the boat drew nearer to the sea serpent splashing in the distance. While you turned it in your hand, you examined the murky yellow and purple colors of the strange contents. It looked rather familiar, now that you thought about it, but where had you seen this before?

“Ugh, it’s bigger up close,” Mathias grimaced getting his sword into a ready stance.

You looked up. “Will you even be able to last very long? Your arm is damaged, and there’s only so much a sword can do on the water.”

“You have any better ideas?”

“Uh…” You looked down at the jar again.

Think, ___________, think! you frantically thought. Come on, where have you seen this before?

“I’m guessing you don’t have anything better to think of?” Mathias piped up.

“Wait!” you suddenly said. “Mathias, I’ve got it!”

“Eh?” The dragon raised his eyebrows.

“I-It’s a long shot, but if you get the chance, I want you to pour this stuff down the sea serpent’s throat.”

“What the heck is it?”

“If it’s what I think it is, then it should be netiss fat.”

Mathias made a disgusted face. “Gee, I thought gutting its throat was bad, but netiss fat? Isn’t that a little cruel?”

“You’re the one who said if someone important to you was in trouble, you’d do everything in your power to protect him. Lukas is important to me just like he’s important to you, so are you going to do it or not?”

“I like your guts, _____________,” Mathias chuckled and took the jar. Just to make sure it was the real thing, he opened it up at the last minute to give it a quick sniff.

Bleugh—Gah—For gods’ sake! It reeks!” he gagged.

“It must be the real thing, then,” you murmured and returned your attention over to the sea serpent.

“Okay, Mathias, when it gets close enough, pop the top and pour it in, okay?”

“You don’t need to tell me twice, ___________,” Mathias grinned.

In a matter of seconds, the sea serpent had spotted your little caravan boat and stopped.

“You…” it thought. “You will make better prey.”

“It’s going to come, Mathias,” you said relaying the sea serpent’s thoughts back to him.

“Got it,” Mathias replied.

“I’ll attack the prey. Smash them. Destroy them. Devour them.”

The sea serpent was getting closer, but as it approached, it dove deeper into the water with Lukas already wet and coughing from the multiple times he had submerged already.

“Hang on, Lukas…” you whispered.

“They’re above…” the sea serpent’s voice said.

“It’s going to attack from below…” you breathed. That was one element you had forgotten about. If it destroyed the boat, you would be done for without a doubt.

“Don’t worry, ____________,” Mathias assured you. “Just leave it to me—”

CRASH!!!!

“Mathias!” you screamed when the makeshift boat broke in half as the sea serpent came rising out of the river in an explosion of ice, sound, and scales. You were clinging onto your piece for dear life, but when you looked down, you noticed the ground was getting farther and farther away from you. The sea serpent had taken your half of the boat in its mouth.

“_____________!” Lukas and Mathias both cried.

“Mathias!” you shouted. “The jar! Give it to me!”

Without saying a word, Mathias brought back the jar in his good arm and hurled it as hard as he could while making sure he didn’t fall into the water. The jar was flying at you, but you were ascending rather fast, yourself.

“Ngh!” you grunted reaching out your hand to make out the small shiny shape of glass getting closer and closer…!

“Got it!” you exclaimed, and just in time, too.

“You are going first, human,” the sea serpent thought and brought you as high as its long body could.

I don’t think so!

Holding onto the wood with one arm, you brought your legs together to hold the jar in place as your free hand unscrewed the lid. Sure enough, a foul smell began to rise up from the container bringing back memories from the time you had travelled through the Bone Forest.

Bottoms up!

And just like that, the moment the sea serpent’s large, cavernous mouth came into view—tongue, teeth, and all—you threw the entire opened jar inside his throat hoping the effects would work up before you became the next thing that dropped into its stomach.

“Ggh! Gggyaarrrgghhhh!”

“It worked!” you exclaimed.

“____________, grab onto my hand!” Lukas suddenly cried out from the top of the sea serpent’s snout. He still had his chains wrapped around its jaw, but from the way the creature was wildly thrashing about, you knew he wouldn’t last for long.

“L-Lukas, I can’t!” you shouted. It was hard enough trying to hang onto the wood, but having to jump and hope that you would grab Lukas’ hand was something else.

“You’re going to have to trust me!” the dragon hissed. He was losing patience, and the two of you were losing time.

You swallowed. It’s now or never…!

“Rrrgh!”

With a powerful thrust, you kicked off the wood and stretched your hand out to grab Lukas’ extended hand. Looking at the way the sea serpent was thrashing, there would just be enough time to fall straight for his snout—

“Got you!” Lukas breathed and wrapped his hand around yours. “Don’t let go until I tell you, whatever happens!”

“Y-Yeah…” you whimpered trying your best not to look down. Lukas was holding onto the chains with one hand and holding your hand with the other. At this point, you were dangling like a limp doll on top of a wild and enraged sea serpent.

“I’m pretty sure it’s going to dive sooner or later,” Lukas grunted. “When that happens, I’m going to let go of the chains. That’s when we drop."

“Right,” you nodded.

“Vile, foul, beyond taste! Disgusting! Disgusting! Disgusting!” the sea serpent roared. “Vicious taste that has tainted my tongue! Begone!”

Just then, you began to experience a sharp downward motion. The sea serpent was going to dive.

“Get ready…” Lukas said.  

“Mm-hmm.”

“And…NOW!”

Something went wrong. Why the sea serpent decided to throw its head back at the last second before hitting the water, you’ll never know, but the point being instead of hitting the water, you and Lukas ended up flying straight for the sky before you had a chance to let go.

“Lukas!” you screamed.

“Grrgh! Stupid beast!” Lukas growled. “____________, hang on!”

“Lukas, we’re going to die!”

The dragon didn’t say anything. His face was completely expressionless, and his eyes burned with an unreadable light. You couldn’t see Mathias or the river anymore. The sea serpent had tossed your far past the snow flurries near the ground. You didn’t even know how high you were at this point. Your hair was still whipping in the upward direction, but you knew that in a matter of seconds, the two of you would drop down to the ground again. Even if you managed to fall in the river, there was no way you were going to survive the impact or the freezing temperature.

Then it came: the drop.

“Lukas…” you whimpered.

“__-__________...” the dragon murmured. He was at a loss for words. Then again, what could he have possibly said to make you feel better? “At least it will be quick?” That would be rather typical of him.

But, much to your amazement, you never did hit the ground. Heck, you never even saw it. Did you die in the air? You weren’t moving anymore—at least, not in the downward or upward direction.

“___________, open your eyes,” you heard Lukas say. “We’re fine.”

“Did we die?” you stupidly asked. All that blood you had lost from your head was making you think weird things.

“No, no, you’re very much alive,” a voice said from above. You had heard that voice before. It seemed like such a long time ago, but its familiarity brought some relief to your shaken spirits.

“Golden Sentinel, do you think you could take one of them?” the Eye of the Topaz Blizzard asked. “They’re getting to be quite heavy.”
I found out how to end this series. It might take a while, but as long as I know how it's going to end, I'll be able to make up the rest of the journey as I update.

*Squeals* I'm rather excited. >w<

Axis Powers: Hetalia and its characters belong to Himaruya Hidekazu.
This story and picture belong to me, *GydroZMaa.

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~Chapter 39~

“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.”

“Still…”

“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.

“Er, Emil?”

“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.

“What’s it?”

“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.”

Emil blinked.

“____________, 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.

“You do.”

“No!”

“Stop denying it.”

“If I’m telling the truth, there’s nothing to deny!”

“I can still sense what you’re feeling. Stop lying.”

“I’m not!”

“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?”

“Huh?”

“I can’t prevent you from feeling what I’m feeling?”

“No—Wait, does this mean you aren’t denying it any longer?”

“No!”

“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?”

What?!

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.”

“Oh, you—!”

“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.
Too tired to think of a witty description.

Axis Powers: Hetalia and its characters belong to Himaruya Hidekazu.
This story and picture belong to me, *GydroZMaa.

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~Filler~

“___________, did you know in the nature of dragons, there does exist an act of courtship?” Emil brought up one day while on a typical day of travelling.

Really? I thought you dragons weren’t into stuff like love, you responded.

“While we may not start out knowing what love is, such an element isn’t necessary when it comes to reproduction,” Emil responded. “You don’t really think mere pests such as mice think about love when it comes to bearing young, do you?”

You made a face. Hmm. You have a point there. Well, know that you’ve piqued my curiosity, what’s the courtship process like?

“As you know,” Emil began to explain, “dragons are prideful creatures. It is actually the males and females who go about conducting in their own practices to finding out who is the best partner suitable for mating together. The males fight amongst each other, and the females judge their physical appearance such as the luster of their scales and their wing patterns. When the winners are chosen, they conduct a particular flight pattern and put on a fire show.”

Oh, that sounds nice. So…in a way, only the best male and female get a chance to…you know…have an offspring together?

“That’s pretty much how it goes, but from there, the tiers go down: the best mate with the best, the secondary partners mate with each other, and the weak mate with the weak. It’s done like this so not only do we ensure the continuation of the strong, but the continuation of our species as a whole—that is…until the dragons started disappearing, of course.”

This is me just being more curious, but what rank would you say your parents were? you asked.

“The best, naturally,” Emil answered with a bit of pride in his voice. “My brother doesn’t have an empty reason to feel so highly of himself, after all.”

You couldn’t help but roll your eyes when you heard the dragon’s answer. Of course, you two would be. That aside, in the case that two dragons really loved each other, how would that work out?

There was a strange feeling tugging in your heart that gave you the strange impression that Emil was shrugging.

“It makes the experience more satisfying, I guess? In contrast to humans, the process of mating isn’t very enjoyable to us dragons, so I’ve heard. Our human bodies, on the other hand, are supposed to experience the same feelings of pleasure as you are supposed to. That being said, I personally never experienced either form of mating.”

At this, your face grew steamy and red. “That doesn’t mean I’ve actually experienced that myself, either.”

“Did you say something, human?”

Your heart nearly burst out of your chest when you heard Lukas speak up. It wasn’t until you saw his face in full view that you realized you had spoken aloud.

“I-It was nothing…” you bashfully answered the dragon and kept your eyes to the ground.

The Divine Keeper of the Sapphire Flames blinked. “Sometimes I wonder what sorts of lies and balderdash you’re feeding my brother.”

“I’m not feeding him any lies!” you protested. “I—He—We were talking about—!” You stopped.

Lukas raised an eyebrow. “About what?”

“Uh…”

I don’t know! Emil, what am I supposed to say?

“Simple,” Emil replied. “We were talking about the act in which dragons go about courting one another.”

It’s not that simple to say!

Now, the dragon was getting impatient.

“Just what exactly are you talking to my brother about? Why is it so hard to tell me? Unless you have something to hide from me?”

Ggh—! Fine, fine! Emil brought up how dragons go about courting one another! Happy?”

Lukas blinked again. “So that’s what you were talking about? Did you know that mating is considered to be very uncomfortable for dragons? You’re a little on the small side, but I’d be happy to try it on you just for the pure pleasure of watching you suffer.”

You could only stare at the dragon in shock.

Emil, he’s not serious, is he?

“Why don’t you find out for yourself?”

“Uh, Lukas, are you—”

“I’m joking.”

Lukas brushed back some of his blonde bangs, narrowed his eyes at you, and pursed his lips together like he was trying to hold himself from bursting into laughter. Now that would have been a real treat to see and hear.

“Y-You are?” you stupidly asked with a dumbfounded expression.

Lukas rolled his sapphire eyes. “Do you honestly believe I’d give you the privilege of being my first partner? Not to mention it wouldn’t exactly be the best experience for my brother considering he’d have a front-row seat.”

“R-Right…” was all you managed to say.

Then, the dragon scoffed. “Come on. We’ve lost precious time, human.”

It took a few seconds, but you managed to get your feet moving again and your head thinking straight. All the while, you kept your thoughts to yourself wondering why in the world Emil’s brother would say such things to you. It wasn’t just the thought of reproduction that made “mating” important to humans; it was also supposed to be a special bond shared by two people who loved one another.

Hearing your thoughts, Emil thought to respond.

“You know something interesting, ____________? When I was a hatchling, I used to hear tales of dragons falling in love with humans.”

Were they true? you asked.

“I don’t know. None of the elders back at the mountain ever said anything about knowing a dragon like that. We always thought they were just stories to make sure dragons never fell in love with humans.”

Can you tell me one of the stories?

“My brother tells them better. You should ask him, instead,” Emil suggested.

You wrinkled your nose. “I’d rather mate with a dragon than hear a love story from your foul-tongued snob of a brother.”

“What’s that about mating and love stories?” Lukas asked stopping in his tracks.

“Nothing!” you lied again mentally cursing yourself for speaking aloud once more. “Just pretend you didn’t hear anything!”

Lukas remained unmoved. “I bet you’re saying something about how wonderful it is for humans to mate with one another, aren’t you?”

“Why do you say it like it’s nothing?!” you burst out. “How could you be so calm about saying that word?!”

“What word?” Lukas innocently asked.

“Th-That word!”

“You mean ‘mate?’ What’s wrong with saying that word?”

“It’s weird!”

“I disagree.”

“Now might not be a good time to ask him about that story,” Emil then brought up.

You clenched your teeth together and hissed. You know, what, Emil? I think you’re right.

“Shut your mouth, have you?” Lukas noticed. “What ill conversations are you having with my brother now?”

“None,” you growled. “I can honestly say that much.”

“Is that all?”

“What do you think?” you snapped.

For a moment, you were expecting Lukas to give you a scolding with his sharp tongue, but instead, he snorted and turned around once again.

“You know something, human?” he said while continuing on his way. “Sometimes I feel as though there’s a higher force trying to make something more of our fragile relationship than there needs to be.”

“I’m afraid I don’t follow,” you frowned.

“It’s too difficult to explain to someone with a limited amount of intelligence such as yourself,” Lukas said dismissively. “Pretend you didn’t hear what I just said.”

Feeling like there was nothing more to touch upon on the matter, you simply listened to the dragon and kept your mouth shut letting the entire conversation completely drop. You would have to remind yourself to ask Lukas about the love story another time.
Since it's around Valentine's Day, I decided to write up a little something for the readers. By context, this filler takes place before Iceland...well, you should know. It doesn't exactly tie in with the real plot. Not exactly.

I'm going to be very busy this week, however, so I don't think the daily updates are guaranteed to continue just yet. I'll have to see...

Axis Powers: Hetalia and its characters belong to Himaruya Hidekazu.
This story and picture belong to me, *GydroZMaa.

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~Chapter 32~

At first, all you could do was stand there with your mouth wide open.

“What…? Wait—What?! How could—Ow! Why’d you hit me?”

Lukas didn’t even look sorry. “I had hoped you would have made the connection between the flame bearers and my title, but I guess once you’re a stupid human, you’re always a stupid human.”

“H-Hey, that doesn’t mean you had to hit me! What if you broke my head?”

“It’s already broken!”

“How rude!”

“Manners are the last thing on my mind!”

“Well, if you’re the one carrying the flames, why don’t you just try giving them to me since you hate me so much?!”

“Because—!”

“Because what?!”

“Because we still haven’t found my brother, and because—” Lukas cursed and spat like an angry cat. The entire time he was throwing his fit, he had refused to look at you.

Divine Keeper of the Sapphire Flames, do not make me look in your head for the answers!”

“I’m getting to it!” Lukas barked. He was fuming. You waited for him to take a few breaths before he finally down enough to talk.

“You’re misunderstanding me,” he said.  “It’s not that I hate you, ___________...”

“L-Luka—”

“Don’t!” Lukas snapped jabbing a warning finger at you. “Don’t make me take that back!”

You pouted and clamped your mouth together.

The dragon let out a heavy sigh. “If I were to give you the flames, I wouldn’t be able to turn into a dragon anymore. I would be without flight. I would be practically helpless—ageless, but helpless. That aside, if your heart did happen to be impure, then not only would you burn into a crisp and my brother would die of heartbreak, but Eliatha would fail to exist as we’d know it. The Golden Sentinel and Mathias are past the state for inheriting the flames, and the Eye of the Topaz Blizzard is nearly the same age as me so he wouldn’t be able to take the flames, either. Once I die, that will be the end.”

“So what then?” you asked.

Lukas pursed his lips. “You said you heard voices, did you not?”

“Voices?”

“The voices of other dragons.”

“Ah, yes, I did.”

“Then, there might be a chance to save them,” Lukas said. “One of them has to be able to take the flames in my place. It’s our only other option if you don’t happen to be up to taking them. You have to understand that I’ve been thinking about this ever since our journey started.”

“Then why would you keep something so important from me all of this time?!” you burst out shouting. “Did the others know about this?!”

“They did,” Lukas simply replied in a gruff voice.

“What, even Mathias couldn’t tell me? Mathias, the dragon who can’t even keep his mouth shut about being able to jump over a fallen tree better than I can?”

“Of course not!” Lukas snapped. “What in Eliatha did you think we were talking about when you and my brother went down to the foot of the mountain?”

You tossed your hands up in the air. “How was I supposed to know? You never told me!”

“And for a good reason! Just like everyone else, he knows very well what might happen if the flames were to die! It was his own way of making sure he didn’t get close to me in the case something did happen.”

“I-I don’t get it…”

“As expected of someone with such a closed mind,” the dragon spat. “I’m not dense, but neither is he. He knows that he has no role to play, and so he chose to look past that.” Lukas’ eyes appeared to glaze over. “He chose to treat me as a normal friend, not as someone who has a high probability of dying.”

You couldn’t say anything to that. Even after all of the hurtful words Lukas had thrown at Mathias, the carefree-looking dragon had managed to look past all of that and treat Lukas as anyone would treat a friend. Oblivious or not, that was something Lukas had to at least be grateful for.

“Lukas, have you, in any way, considered Mathias to be a friend?” you asked. “I know you’ve denied it at times…”

The Divine Keeper of the Sapphire Flames sighed.

“I don’t want to admit it even if it is true,” he confessed. “If I said it aloud, then it would only confirm what’s already obvious.”

“But that would make Mathias happy.”

“It would make him happy, but it would just make things worse for both of us in the end,” the dragon frowned.

Before you could speak out, he continued to talk as if he had predicted a question to pop out of your mouth.

“From the moment I accepted the role as the next flame bearer, I knew that somewhere down the line, I might have to prepare myself for the worst possible scenario, and that scenario would be my untimely death.”

Lukas…

“Having a brother was bad enough. When I found out I had a brother, I wanted to forget everything all together. If something happened to me, then there wouldn’t be anyone left to look after him.” Lukas took a moment to collect his thoughts. While full of life in appearance, the tone in his voice sounded drained and tired of everything that had happened.

“I shouldn’t have been so protective of him. I knew there were few dragons left, but I didn’t realize how few. At the very least, I wanted to give him something to remember me by so I wouldn’t have to live with the guilt of never being a brother to him to begin with.”

He chuckled.

“It’s selfish, I know. It was even more cruel of me to push Mathias away.” The dragon hopelessly shook his head.

“The real reason I wanted to remain cold to you as much as possible was so you wouldn't care about me.”

“Lukas—”

“The flames are eating away at my body as we speak, ____________,” Lukas said. “It’s only a matter of time before I perish. Even if the flames manage to get passed along, I do not know how long I will last after that. At the very least, I had hoped that by distancing myself from others would have caused you to do the same.”

He cursed. “But that damn Mathias. That stubborn fool never gave in even after all the times I treated him like trash. I had hoped that if I failed to harbor the flames, then I would at least make sure no one got close to me. My brother can take care of himself. He’s known from the very beginning that the flames inside my body would eat away at me. He has prepared himself for the day that I might disappear.”

“You’re setting yourself up for a really depressing death, Lukas.”

To your surprise, Lukas burst out laughing. There was something genuinely eerie about hearing him laugh.  

“I suppose I have to agree with you on that, ___________,” he smiled. “I’d blame my poor choice of a vessel, but perhaps it’s also a matter of being a stubborn and arrogant being.”

Well, at least you admitted you’re stubborn and arrogant, you thought.

“The point was, I didn’t want to be missed,” Lukas said after calming down. “I wanted to disappear without upsetting anyone. For the longest time, everything was fine. Of course, that was until my brother and I were captured and discovered that there were little to no dragons left in the world.

“Aside that, however, wouldn't you be surprised? Mathias comes walking back into my life after I had worked so hard to push him away. And then there was you, a most ungrateful little human girl who had to be appointed the dragonkeeper. If it weren’t for your heart, I wouldn’t have…”

Lukas’ voice trailed off.

“You wouldn’t have what, Lukas?” you softly asked.

“Nothing,” Lukas quickly replied. “It’s nothing, ___________.”

You puffed your cheeks up. “It couldn’t be just nothing, Lukas,” you fumed. “After everything we’ve been through and all of those names later, you can’t even tell me what else is wrong with me?”

The dragon grunted. “It’s not that, _____________. What I had meant to say to you wouldn’t change anything.”

“You never know,” you pushed. Of course, being the overly stubborn dragon that he was, Lukas refused to open his mouth. You wanted to look into his head, but something told you he wouldn’t forgive you for doing that.

“Fine!” you pouted. “You can keep your thoughts to yourself just like you have been with Mathias. I’ve seen the way you two talk to each other. I’m not as stupid as you think—okay, so maybe I’ve tripped up in my thoughts here and there, but that doesn’t mean I can’t recognize two friends when I see them.”

“_____________...” Lukas muttered.

“Even after you hit him and nearly chewed his arm off, he still smiles around you,” you continued.

“_____________,” Lukas said a little louder.

“And haven’t you heard him when he’s being saying you’re his friend? He still calls you that even when you deny it.”

“_____________.”

“Why do you continue to deny it? Do you really think it’ll save other people the trouble of not having to grieve over you when the time comes? Do you really think we’re just going to let everything go and pretend we never cared about you?”

“_____________, would you—”

“Emil cares about you, too, you know. I’ve always felt it when he was inside my heart. When he talked about you, he never said awful things about you. He was never upset, sad, or angry. No matter how early you told him about your burden, I think he’d still miss you if the time came.”

“_____________, please just—”

“You know something, Lukas? I would miss you. I’d—there! I said it! I would miss you, too!”

“_____________—”

“Call me masochistic, but I’d miss it when you wouldn’t call me names anymore or hit me. I’d miss it when you would walk too fast for me to catch up or throw me all of those death glares you shoot at me.”

“Death glares…?” Lukas mumbled. “___________, listen to me, I—”

“And, damn it all, I’d miss…!” Your lips trembled as you looked away. “I’d just miss having you around in general. I don’t know why…I—I just would!”

“That makes two of us,” Lukas sighed.

“What was that?”

“Nothing.”

“You’re lying.”

“Oh, you saw right through me,” the dragon sarcastically replied.

“Lukas, stop it!” you growled.

“I said that makes two of us,” Lukas then told you without a second thought. “_____________, if you would just please—”

“That’s a first,” you snorted. “You, the Divine Keeper of the Sapphire Flames, a dragon would miss me! Is it because you wouldn’t have anyone left to make fun of and treat as trash?”

“No, that’s not why—”

“Then what?”

Lukas looked like he was about to explode. He even had a deep flush of red visibly showing on his cheeks.

“I know I’m going to regret saying this or even thinking this…” he sighed. “I don’t think you deserve to know this, either.”

“Just spit it out!” you snapped. “You said it wouldn’t change anything!”

Lukas clicked his tongue and bit his lower lip. “______________, I said something earlier about…No, that’s not the right way to say it.” He took a deep breath. “I’ve been debating on whether or not it was real, but I’ve been meaning to say that—Damn!”

“Lu—What—? Rgh!

The once silent field of snow and trees suddenly burst into a holler of inhuman whooping and shouts. Before getting your face buried halfway in the snow, you felt Lukas grab onto your shoulders and pull you behind him.

Where’s Lukas now? you thought, your mind still in shambles from the sudden rush of movement and cold.

However, when you looked behind you, the fresh snow falling off your hair, your hand touched something warm and…wet.

You gasped.

Purple.

The color of dragon’s blood.

Lukas’ blood.

Your eyes went to the wound where the richly colored blood was spewing out. There, like a sharp blade piercing into your very own body, was an arrow embedded deep within Lukas’ heart, the tip poignant and as true as the realization of the life-shattering sight that lay before you.
I've already decided which route I was going to take at this time. I am still satisfied with the outcome.

Axis Powers: Hetalia and its characters belong to Himaruya Hidekazu.
This story and picture belong to me, *GydroZMaa.

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~Chapter 41~

From afar, the dragon hunters’ fortress looked nothing more than a humble shadow of a mountain with smoke rising from its high peaks. Now, however, the sheer size of the building was more intimidating than you had imagined. The sky was pitch black even though only a few minutes ago, the sky had been a bright white from the sun shining past the snowy clouds. Black and dark purple ashes were scattered everywhere, and a sickly sweet smelled filled the air as you and Emil approached the side entrance to the fortress.

“I don’t like this place,” you whispered to your dragon as you clung onto his blanket like a guiding rope.

“I don’t like it either, ___________,” Emil replied in the same volume of your voice. “I can sense a great amount of negative energy coming from inside this place. We’re going to have to be very careful.”

“I understand,” you said.

“__________, remember what I said about me not being myself anymore—”

“I know, I know,” you sighed. “If something happens, I have to run. I got it, Emil. You don’t have to tell me that. I’ve heard it enough times from you.”

“I keep telling you that because it’s important,” your fair-skinned dragon hissed. “If the dark being gets you, then it will be the end of Eliatha as we know it.”

You rolled your eyes. “If it’s so important that I remain free from capture, then shouldn’t you do this on your own?”

Emil sighed. “If it were up to me, I think I would fall victim to the shadow sooner than you’d think. I’m not safe from it, __________, but as long as you remain careful, then you will be.”

“Ah, I see,” you then said. “Let’s get going.”

“Let’s,” your dragon agreed.

Before long, the two of you had made your way deep inside the fortress. The outside of the building was constructed of strong carved stones just like the walls of the castle you had once lived inside. While the outside had a similar construction, the vibe the inside of the fortress gave off was completely different; the air was heavy with ashes, heat, and the heavy, sweet smell of dragons’ blood, the halls were alight with an unearthly glow amidst the generously lit corridors, and the eerie silence made you question whether or not you were going deaf within these deathly walls.

All the while, as the two of you stuck close to the shadows, you held tightly onto Emil’s hand as if you would be lost to the darkness forever if you let go.

“How come I don’t see anyone?” you whispered as loudly as you dared into Emil’s ear.

Emil shrugged his shoulders. “Perhaps we just got lucky.”

You narrowed your eyes to try adjusting to the darkness. “I don’t like this place.”

“Neither do I, but my brother has to be somewhere around here.”

“I know…” you breathed and looked around. All of the halls looked the same. The place was practically void of life save for the two of you pinning yourself along a wall. At the very least, you would have thought that if someone was walking down these large halls, you would be able to hear them well before they would have a chance to spot you.

“_____________, do you think you can get a location of where my brother’s heart could be?” Emil asked.

You blinked. “I can’t. I lost his presence the moment he left his human body.”

“It was worth a try,” Emil sighed and turned his attention back on the empty halls. “If I remember correctly, while I was being possessed, I passed by a room that appeared to have a lot of blood trailing out from the corridors. That might be where they butchered the dragons up.”

“Oh, gods, don’t tell me that stuff, Emil,” you groaned and clamped your hand over your mouth. “I think I’m going to be sick.”

Your dragon squeezed your other hand. “____________, stay strong,” he said. “Once we rescue my brother, we’ll never have to come back here ever again, okay?”

You slowly nodded and allowed Emil to lead you towards that dreaded place.

The entire time you were twisting and turning down the aisles, you were afraid someone would pop out from one of the corners as you turned and capture you and Emil…but it never happened. The very emptiness of the fortress was starting to play a deadly role in draining your sanity. You could never be sure if someone was following you or not.

Occasionally, a flame would flicker from a sealed pocket of gas and make dancing shadows on the walls. During these times, you would jump and cling onto Emil’s back to keep you safe. Other times, the blistery winds outside would create noticeable wear on the doors and wooden structures supporting the insides of the fortress. Parts of the fortress’ foundation would groan under the weight of the stone, and doors would creak. Any wind that made its way inside through drafts whistled and moaned in such haunting notes that it would make the hairs on your spine tingle in fright.

“Emil, I can’t take this anymore…” you whimpered.

“Shh,” Emil hushed you with a light tap on your lips. “Just bear with me a little longer, _________. We’re almost there.”

You gripped onto his blanket and buried your face inside as if it would drown out the howling winds and flickering lights.

“That’s what you said seven minutes ago,” you groaned.

Emil sighed and rubbed your back to comfort you. “I’m telling the truth. We’re almost there. Just a little more.”

You weren’t completely ready to continue on your way just yet. It was a good thing Emil was more patient with you than Lukas because he had to wait for you to ease your breathing before summoning enough courage to start walking again.

“Right,” you exhaled after taking a deep breath. “I think I’m ready to go.”

Emil gave you a warm smile that helped calm your nervous wreck even more. “Let’s continue, then.”

“Mm-hmm,” you nodded and squeezed his hand.

True to your dragon’s words, the two of you were getting closer to the room he had referred to. The smell of sweet, rotting Dragonarian fruit (at least, that was what you predicted rotting Dragonarian fruit would smell like) grew stronger and stronger the further you walked. In contrast to the increasing concentration of the odor, the temperature began to dramatically drop like you were walking outside again. At this point, you couldn’t decided whether or not you preferred the subtle smell of dragons’ flesh and blood in a hot, dark hall or a butcher room, with a strong smell and a refreshing cold temperature. Both were quite awful in their own regards.

“I think this is it,” Emil said bringing you up to a sealed door. Already, you could see that the ground was littered with strange pieces of purple flesh and dark black stains of aged dragons’ blood. From your assumptions, the only source of the smell had to be coming from Lukas. There was no other dragon that you could have thought of that would have fallen into the hands of the dragon hunters.

Oh, Lukas… you miserably thought.

“I’m going to go first, alright?” Emil said pushing you back. “If the coast is clear, then we can both go inside.”

“Okay,” you agreed and allowed him to release your hand so he could open the door.

As Emil pulled open the heavy wooden door, you held your breath. You couldn’t imagine what sorts of smells would be emerging from that room. Just the thought of seeing all that purple would make your sanity shatter. As the door gave way and opened, a rush of cold air came flooding out chilling your bones to the core. You were stilling holding your breath.

Then, to your mild relief, Emil gave you a quick reassuring nod and beckoned you to come inside.

“I don’t know…” you squeaked, your hand pinching your nose.

“It’s not as bad as you think, __________,” Emil hastily said. “The temperature makes the smell bearable.”

Yes, but what about the images? you wondered. Nevertheless, you gathered up what little courage you had left and inched your way to the open room.

Oddly enough, the scales were familiar, but not from the dragon you had known—of course Lukas had died as a human so there wouldn’t be any possibility of the butchered dragon lying on the large stone table being him.

“It’s the sea serpent Tino killed…” you whispered in shock.

The once large and magnificent sea serpent had already been reduced to nothing but segmented pieces of flesh and bones. There were some discarded scales lying in a pile in the corner, and there was purple blood everywhere you looked. Even so, you didn’t think you would be able to forget the light blue-green color of the sea serpent’s shimmering scales. You wondered how much people would be willing to pay for the scales of such a rare—and most likely extinct—dragon.

“So they’ve already brought it here…” Emil mumbled. “I was hoping we could find some traces of my brother still around.”

“Maybe…” you muttered unsure if you felt the same way as your dragon.

“We might as well look around while we’re here,” Emil suggested and began turning over frozen chunks of meat and kicking some scales around.

Your lips twisted into a frown. It didn’t look like there was anything interesting in this place except for a few amounts of frozen-over mounds of flesh and sea serpent scales. None of this looked like it could have belonged to Lukas’ body.

Oh well, you thought. Might as well see if we can find anything before moving on.

After a few minutes of searching, though, you were beginning to lose hope. Whatever might have been worth salvaging was probably no longer here.

“Emil, this is a waste of time,” you frowned and threw down a handful of large scales.

“I figured as much,” he sighed. “I didn’t find anything.” He looked past your shoulder. “Did you check that crate over there?”

You furrowed your eyebrows. “Crate?”

True to Emil’s observations, when you looked to where he was pointing at, there was a hidden create buried among piles of flesh in a lone corner. There was so much frost already accumulated over the pile that you would have missed it completely if Emil hadn’t pointed it out to you.

“Oh, I didn’t see this here,” you said and went over to the crate. Fortunately, with the powers of the Sapphire Flames in your heart, you were able to easily pry open the frozen mounds of flesh and pop open the crate’s top. What you weren’t strong enough for, however, was what you saw inside.

“_____________...?” Emil said walking over to you. He must have been worried. You had been frozen in the same spot for at least a good minute. When he did walk over to you, he nearly flinched at what he was looking at.

At the sound of Emil’s voice, your body began to shift in place, and your hands and lips trembled. The insides of your mouth had gone dry from dread, and your eyes couldn’t tear themselves away from the spellbinding sight.

The other contents of the crate were insignificant, but the one thing that caught your attention, the thing that stood out most of all, was a small sealed jar that had nearly fogged over from condensation. You were able to make out the shapes bobbing up and down the sickly colored green liquid that must have been brine or some other liquid preservatives.

Floating inside the jar where two round orbs staring wide open at you with their clouded sapphire blue irises. You knew whose eyes those were. They belonged to Lukas.
I think I ate too many Oreos and got a headache. Oreo hangover before night classes...:iconsweatdropplz:

Axis Powers: Hetalia and its characters belong to Himaruya Hidekazu.
This story and picture belong to me, *GydroZMaa.

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