Orbs of light danced in your eyes as you adjusted to the level of brightness. The details were fuzzy, though you faintly remembered someone neutralizing you. An explosion, a cry for help, a refusal, and a scream: these were the only things you remembered before falling asleep. Beyond that, the dragons and your parents worked their way into your memories and returned to their proper places.
You remembered where you were now. You were kidnapped, trapped by people who didn’t address themselves as humans. Who were they?
“She’s waking,” a voice said.
“The spell’s wearing off,” another voice replied. “Now we can see if the process was a success.”
Your eyes were still adjusting to the level of brightness. First it was the shapes, then the colors. Finally, when everything was in place, you could see them. With your memories working the way they were, you couldn’t comprehend whether or not what you were experiencing was real or not. If you could see them, where was the dragon? It couldn’t have been them. They had told you they weren’t dragons.
Next, you looked around. Your vision followed. You looked down at your hands, the hands you had not gotten a close look at for as long as you could remember. You moved your index fingers, then your thumbs. Next, you clenched your fists. You could see all of this happening in front of your eyes. You could see.
“I think it works,” the taller one smiled. “Oi, human, can you see?”
The manner of speech was similar to the way Lukas might have called you. When you looked up and studied his features, you knew that the person speaking was far from resembling the Divine Keeper of the Sapphire Flames. His build was similar to Mathias’ in that he wasn’t lean or overly muscular, just right. What made his stand out most of all was his short hair parted in bangs; it was a color unlike that you had ever seen: a blazing bold red that reminded you of an angry fire or the color of Mathias’ cape. Unlike the dragons, this person had brilliant green eyes in the same shade of green as the new sprouts of spring.
Next to him was a contemptuous-looking fellow. He looked to be no taller than Lukas, but his hair was of a more golden shade than the familiar dragon—more golden, in fact, than any of the dragons you had seen. Like his companion, he also had green eyes, but these eyes were softer like an evergreen forest with their pine leaves rich in strength and poignancy in the early summer. Curiously enough, his hair was of equal messiness as Mathias’, but with his hair being significantly shorter, it lacked the same wild, erect locks that the dragon had.
All the same, you couldn’t understand how these people were not human. The dragons had their reasons for being able to take on human appearances; it was because they had originally taken on the form of their first vessels. However, if these people—or whatever they were—claimed to not be dragons, then you weren’t sure how they could appear so…so human-like.
“I can see you,” you said, your eyes still in a daze and your mind trying to comprehend how they were able to restore your sight.
“See?” the redhead grinned. “What’d I tell you?”
“I knew it would work, but the question was would she?*” the shorter one huffed.
“She did. She said it, herself.”
“Who are you?” you asked, your eyes still testing themselves out in their sockets as if you had been given sight for the very first time in your life.
The taller one spoke first. “I’m Allistor,” he said, “and this little one here is my little brother, Arthur.”
Allistor and Arthur. Something told you that it was important to remember their names.
“Why did you bring me here?” you asked. Perhaps it was because you were given the opportunity to properly read them, though whatever it was, you found it much easier to talk to them when your eyesight was restored.
“Because of the dragon you were traveling with,” Allistor answered.
“Mathias?” you blinked. “Do you know him?”
“You can say that…” the redhead vaguely replied. “But forget the stuff in between. The main reason we took you away is because no matter what happens, Mathias cannot—in any condition—be allowed to changed back into a dragon.”
“Of course he can’t,” you said. “That’s because he’s forgetting something—at least, that’s what he said.”
“No.” Arthur shook his head. “That’s not the case. It’s because he…” He stopped and looked at his older brother. “Allistor, do you want to be the one to tell it?”
His older brother sighed. “Aye, I’ll do it.” Then, he took a seat next to you and stared you straight in the eyes. Having been blind for so long, being able to make direct eye contact with someone was still unfamiliar.
“What I meant by saying Mathias cannot turn back into a dragon…I meant to say he should not turn back into a dragon.”
You furrowed your eyebrows. “Why not?”
“Because if he does…” Allistor swallowed. “…It will be the end of Eliatha as we know it.”
The reunion was not as glamorous and welcoming as one might have expected. Lukas’ tunic was completely torn, Emil was exhausted, and ~~~~~~~~’s hair was tangled and tousled from here to there as though she had just survived a blizzard.
“Leon. Yong Soo,” she greeted the two heads of the Red Caravan. “It’s nice to see you again. Sort of.”
Leon spoke first. “You look like you’ve seen better days. Don’t look much different than you did ten years ago, though.”
“How very like you,” the Dragonheart sneered. “But, yes, I have seen better.” She stopped to look around for her other dragon familiars. “Where are the others? Mathias and Berwald?”
“They’re under our ownership now,” the merchant told her. “They’re down payment until we either find out where in Eliatha _____________ ran off to, or when we get to the next town.”
“Down payment?” ~~~~~~~~~ repeated. “What’s going on here?”
While Lukas impatiently paced around the caravan and Emil hovered over him in close watch, Leon and Yong Soo took the time to explain their side of what had happened during Mathias’ party’s travels.
“Interesting,” Lukas mumbled when they had finished. “I never thought it was possible for a human to have the ability to solidify magic. That’s another one to be passed on.”
~~~~~~~~~ glared at her dragon. “You mean if we can pass it on,” she snapped. “If ______________’s missing, then that means Mathias and her parents are in trouble. Tino, too.”
“I never said they would be the ones to pass down the stor—Ngh!” Lukas flinched as the Dragonheart side-swiped his head with a sharp sweep.
“Enough about that, Lukas,” she growled. “I’ve gone through too much in the past few days to be dealing with your pessimism right now. We’ll find them, we’ll save everyone, and we’ll make sure they will be the ones to pass down these stories.”
Then, Leon piped up. “Hate to break it to you, but without _____________ and your other dragon soul, there’s nothing that says we can’t use Mathias and Berwald for our own purposes.”
“That’s ridiculous,” Emil muttered.
“It’s business,” the merchant said. “And anyway, they said they would be willing to go with us as long as we were able to take them to the eastern-most province. There’s definitely something over there that will help Mathias and _____________ get what they want. But, of course, _____________ had to go breaking the deal by getting kidnapped.”
“Hmm.” ~~~~~~~~ stopped to think. “So if we are able to find _____________ and Tino and bring them back here, then you’ll let Mathias and Berwald go?”
“Pretty much, yeah,” Leon replied.
“Okay then,” she said. “That’s easy enough.”
Lukas did a double-take. “~~~~~~~~, you can’t be serious,” he growled. “We just went through the equivalent of the far east’s Bone Forest, and you want to put us into more danger?”
“Good point, Lukas,” the Dragonheart nodded. “Even after everything we’ve been through, you were still able to find me. And you know what? If you’re so worried about getting into danger, I won’t force you.”
The Divine Keeper of the Sapphire Flames was no mind-reader. He could not detect her intentions lying underneath her thoughts.
Then, ~~~~~~~~~ turned back to the Red Caravan. “If we’re going to go off looking for _______________, then I propose you let us have Mathias and Berwald back. I’ll give you my word that we’ll return with her.”
“Not happening,” Yong Soo cut in. “The whole trip would’ve been for nothing if there’s nothing that doesn’t guarantee your return.”
“Then how about a dragon for a dragon?” she suggested, gesturing towards Lukas.
“~~~~~~~~…” Lukas’ normally pale complexion was now as white as the fallen snow. “No. You cannot be serious about this.”
“I am,” she said. “You’re going to be taking Berwald’s place.”
“The Golden Sentinel?” Lukas blinked. “If you’re taking him, then that means I’ll be stuck with that oaf of a dragon.”
“Yep. You’re sticking with Mathias. You said you didn’t want to put yourself into danger so I’m going to be doing just that. No offense against Mathias, but something tells me Berwald will be more useful on this mission than Mathias. Emil, too.”
“~~—” Lukas started, but he was cut off by Leon.
“Fantastic,” he grinned. “So we’ll get Fish-Eyes in exchange for Glasses.”
“Fish-Eyes?” Lukas repeated, his body nearly trembling with rage.
“That’s because your eyes are as dead as a fish’s,” Leon told him, hearing him from his post.
After some reluctant trading, words, and various other exchanges, Lukas unwillingly allowed himself to be restrained and put aside Mathias. The Blade of the Ruby Seas who was completely oblivious to the events, could only assume Lukas had somehow gotten himself caught.
“Lukas, ol’ buddy!” he laughed. “I thought you were coming to save us with ~~~~~~~~~! You ended up getting captured or something?"
“No. I. Did. NOT.” Lukas was seething. “It was an exchange. ~~~~~~~~ decided she needed the Golden Sentinel more than me so I took his place as insurance.” He sighed. “I honestly have no idea what she plans on doing. I figured if I asked you for details, you would only elaborate on your accomplishments.”
“I would not!” Mathias burst out. “You wanna know what happened when we split up? I’ll tell you! We’ve got plenty of time too kill!”
Lukas uttered a low groan. He would have buried his face into his hands, but he was tied and tethered. “I swear to the gods, if it weren’t for my brother and ~~~~~~~~, I’d kill myself right here, and right now…”
“There has to be some other way!” you cried, unable to accept what Allistor had just told you.
“If there was another way, then we would have put the plan into motion far before your time, vessel,” he responded. “In the end, you will have to choose between Mathias and you and your parents’ lives. If not you, it will be someone else. Mathias will always be able to lengthen the amount of time he has in this world by borrowing from another human. And you know which human he will most likely pick next.”
You swallowed a hard lump in your throat. “The Dragonheart,” you barely whispered.
Allistor nodded. “That’s right. And when that happens, there is no telling what will happen to the world. If Mathias does not destroy it, then the Dragonheart holding the flames of the world in her heart surely will.”
You clenched your fists. “It’s not fair. Why would—Why did it have to be Mathias?”
“Because he’s stuck in a limbo between human and dragon,” the redhead further explained. “Because he had been holding in his potential energy for so long, we can only imagine that once he transforms back into a dragon, an enormous amount of magic and energy will be released—so much, in fact, that it will wipe out Eliatha as it stands.
“The reason his body is deteriorating right now is because the energy he is capping in his human form is starting to burst out. He cannot hold it. As you know, he has a time limit, and so do you. You both know that if you do not act, you will die.”
Then, Allistor pointed to your eyes. “In exchange for the portion of your soul that you offered him, he gave you more power than both of you had expected. That is why your powers enable you to solidify magic into a crystalline form. It is not the work of the dragon that resides in your heart.”
On that note, you warily looked down at your heart.
“…So if I were to expel my energy until it’s used up, then will that mean Tino will disappear, too?”
Arthur looked up at his brother. Allistor responded by pressing his lips together.
“Aye,” he said in a low voice. “He will.”
You cursed. It wasn’t fair. You thought it was easier than having to make sacrifices. It had sounded so simple when you had started on your journey: Mathias would become a dragon again, you would get your parents back and your sight restored, Tino would regain his body, and you would all live happily ever after. Perhaps that was why happy endings existed: to serve as a cushion for the bitter reality.
“So what happens now?” you asked. Honestly you didn’t want to know the answer, but there was no point in stopping the inevitable.
“We need to go further east,” Arthur told you. “There is a peak over there much like the one in Eldur Mountain. In fact, before the dragons in the east died out, it used to be something along the lines of their haven, too.
“From there, we will ascend to the top and you will be able to deposit your energy into the mountain without fear of disturbing the humans on ground level. When all of your energy is used up, Mathias will remain a permanent human, but at the very least, the threat of him expelling any excess energy will cease to exist."
“…And what about me? Am I really going to…?”
Allistor clicked his tongue. “There’s no easy way to put it. No matter what happens, you’re going to vanish. All the energy that you will have used will put an intense amount of strain on your body. Even if it existed, there’s a very small chance that you’ll survive. Judging from what could happen in the aftermath, I don’t think you want to be around to suffer the results.”
A cold shudder ran through your body. Allistor’s words chilled your blood. Just thinking about how unbearable the pain would be after you finished was something you didn’t want to imagine. If what you had been able to do at the pass and in the cavern were just small fractions of what you were holding inside, what was your entire potential capable of?
“Can I ask you one more thing before we get ready?” you spoke up.
“We’re listening,” Arthur replied.
“What are you?”
“Hey, Lukas…” Mathias mumbled.
“What?” the dragon snapped. “What more could you possibly say to make my life more miserable than it already is?”
“Gods,” the Blade of the Ruby Seas chuckled. “Someone sure is grumpy.”
“I’m not grumpy,” Lukas snorted. “I’m impatient. I don’t want to be kept breathing the same air you are for much longer. I should suspect your idiocy will infect me.”
Mathias laughed again. “Really, though. It’s a little important. I thought that if something happens…You know. Something big. If anything happens to me or ______________, I thought you should know about this.”
“I’d rather much listen to the sound of the winds outside,” the Divine Keeper of the Sapphire Flames huffed, but he was listening regardless.
Unsure of whether or not his friend was paying attention, Mathias kept quiet.
Then, Lukas tiled his head towards him. “Aren’t you going to go shooting your mouth off like you always do, you oaf?”
“So you were interested!” his friend laughed.
Lukas cursed and looked away. He loathed being outsmarted by someone as oblivious and unobservant as Mathias.
“Um, if we get out of this, promise you won’t tell anyone else,” Mathias then said.
“As if anything you have to say is of worth,” Lukas snorted. “I’ll end up promising by default.”
Mathias blinked. “So you promise?”
“Of course I promise, you fool!”
The Blade of the Ruby Seas smiled. “Alright. Then…I have to tell you that _____________ wasn’t the first person I gave Dragonsight to.”
Lukas scoffed. “Some secret. It was obvious, wasn’t it? No one else knew about it besides you.” Then, he turned to his friend. “But why is that important? Who did you give Dragonsight to?”
Mathias made a little smirk. “It’s been a while...” he chuckled. “I can’t remember how long, but it was a really long time ago…”
“Mathias,” Lukas growled, “if you don’t get your memories together right now, I’m going to strangle you with your restraints.”
“I remember, I remember!” he quickly laughed. “I was just seeing if you were curious.”
Lukas cursed again, this time a little louder. So Mathias had bested him once again.
“I’d never forget what he looked like,” Mathias sighed. “He was something else: a little bit of what I was and a little bit of what I wish I was.”
“Spit it out, you lug,” the sapphire-eyed dragon hissed. “Who was it?”
Mathias smiled. In that sudden moment, Lukas thought he felt something like envy. In the entire time he had known his friend, he thought he had been the closest to him—despite treating him as poorly as he did. No one else deserved that kind of smile from him. Whoever that person was had to have been important, and if Mathias was bringing this up right now, that person still was.
“Allistor,” he said. “His name was Allistor.”