Chapter 16:

Eyes in the Dark


After their conversation, Aurelia had flown Phos back to Terra, newfound determination exuding in every pump of her serpentine wings. She dropped Phos off some distance from his town, careful to avoid being spotted by humans. The dragoness had said nothing when he said goodbye to her, lost in thoughts undoubtedly as cold and colorless as the world around them. 

Phos walked with Lilia now, mulling over the information he’d been given and munching on roasted snow yams they had bought from a street vendor. The tubers were lightly salted, but still fragrant and flavorful despite the lack of available seasonings. It warmed his hands as he bit into it, watching snow lightly fall from the sky. 

Lilia hummed with delight, finishing her snack with frightening speed. A group of older men nearby spotted her and waved their greetings, amused by her antics. Phos immediately noted that they were all armed, carrying an assortment of weaponry ranging from long swords and war axes to crossbows and throwing spears. Each was of immaculate craftsmanship, steel engraved with swirling sigils that faintly glowed. 

Phos turned and spoke to Lilia. 

“Do you know these guys? They seem...”

“I think I’ve seen them around here before. Just without the armor and stuff. Why do you ask?” She snaked an arm around his shoulder, leaning in to whisper. “You’re curious, right big brother? Should we go say hi? Oh, I know! I could call them over, and...”

Phos scowled. “No, it’s alright— Hey!”

Lilia had taken the opportunity to sneakily snatch his snow yam away. He lunged, trying to catch it back, but she dodged and danced around him, managing to keep it away. In two gulps, it was gone, and her older brother cried out dramatically while she giggled. 

“... I bought those with my coins, you know?” Phos grumbled. “I only had one bite of it!”

“It was just soooo tasty, I couldn’t help myself! And besides, you’ve looked like something’ has been bothering you today.” Lilia said while she pat his back.

“That was supposed to cheer me up...?”

It can’t be helped. She’s trying on her own way to help. Honestly, this girl...

Phos sighed, following Lilia as they began to stroll through town again. The hustle and bustle of the streets was wearing him out, but it seemed intoxicating to his little sister. He doubt he’d ever understand how loud noises and crowds of people were appealing. Honestly speaking, Phos would rather be reading a book in his Uncle’s room or helping to flesh and tan animal skins. But Lilia had wanted to go out into town together with him... And he couldn’t refuse the earnest shine in her green eyes. The happiness she would gain from going out with him outweighed the discomfort he’d experience. 

A chilly breeze gust through the streets, carrying the promise of heavy snowfall. By the time the two siblings made it back home, the flakes were fat and rapidly accumulating on the ground, humming with magic. It was evening now, and the sky was rapidly darkening as the sun set, causing the temperature outdoors to plummet as the wind howled outside of their warm sanctuary. 

Lilia snuggled into a fluffy blanket by the fire, stifling a yawn with her hand. “Uncle isn’t here. Is he going to be okay?” she murmured. 

Phos pulled his own blanket over and sat down next to her before replying. “He’ll be fine. He wouldn’t be reckless enough to stay out in a storm like this.”

“You were, though.” Lilia sniffed. 

“I don’t always make the best choices. Uncle is, well... Uncle. He wouldn’t make a mistake like that. He’s most likely just meeting with the chief again.” 

Their Uncle had been offering his assistance and knowledge to the town council ever since the fall of Azmanthus. Most nights he came home late, and on some nights he didn’t come home at all. When he returned, his eyes were tired and crinkled with weariness. Tonight would be no different. 

Lilia nestled down deeper into her blanket. “I guess so… Something feels weird though, doesn’t it? Uncle has never been this busy before. And then there were those men with weird weapons, too.” 

Phos pat her head reassuringly, but he agreed with her. He too found it strange, and did not believe these things to be coincidences. If the city needed warriors with such exquisite weapons, as well as his Uncle’s wisdom on magic and dragons, then…

“… Dragons. They must be hunting dragons.” His eyes widened. How had he not realized instantly? 

Damn it. 

Lilia nodded sadly. “Yeah, I was starting to think the same thing, big bro,” her eyelids were flickering as she fought off the fog of sleep. “It’s always dragons… Mmrmm… Sometimes… I dream of them… Of being…Isn’t that funny…?” 

“You’re speaking nonsense now, Lilia,” Her elder brother chided. “Go to sleep!”

Moments later, she quieted and stilled, consciousness slipping into the world of dreams. Her form rose and fell with the rhythm of her breathing, and Phos found himself recalling what Aurelia had spoken to him about gifting dragon eggs. 

I would never have expected such a custom from dragons. But it sounds nice. If I had such a power, could I give Lilia happy dreams too?

He instantly banished the thought, embarrassed. 

No. She doesn’t need me to do that for her. She can deal with nightmares just fine. And she doesn’t get them that often anyways.

His Uncle always chastised him for spoiling Lilia. Phos knew he was too protective, too soft, but he couldn’t help himself. Lilia was his only biological family— Uncle was merely their adoptive guardian. They shared no blood ties to the old man, nor did they know anybody related to themselves. Their birth parents were a mystery that would never be solved, and Phos was perfectly happy with that. He had no desire to try to find them or learn their fates— which he suspected to be tragic, anyways. 

“Goodnight, Lilia.” He whispered, leaning back and settling down to calm his thoughts. It always took him a while to fall asleep. He occupied himself by listening to the howling wind, and counting the iridescent snowflakes falling outside their small window. 

One, two, three… Four, five, six… Twenty one, twenty two…

His eyes felt heavy, and his body began to relax as he concentrated. 

It was then that he saw a flicker of light outside. Two orbs floated, and slowly, they disappeared. Then immediately reappeared. 

They had blinked. 

They were eyes. And they were watching him.