“Have you seen err, a human boy? He’s about this tall,” Aurelia gestured with a paw to a part of her leg, slightly above her ankle. “He has bright purple eyes, and really fluffy hair. Like a baby griffin.”
The drake she was talking to had an awkward expression on his face. “Uhh… No. I haven’t seen a human here. Why would there be one?”
“Well, err… He’s my friend?” She said.
“… Okay then. I hope you find him soon… Can I leave now?” The drake was utterly exasperated, but kept a patient and helpful tone. No doubt he thought Aurelia was crazy, or just pulling a prank on him.
Damn. I really suck at this. She thought to herself, watching the drake leave. Phos’s scent trail had been diluted by too many other ones, and as a result, Aurelia was no longer able to track him. That left his exact location to be a mystery, and like the great detective she was, Aurelia had resorted to asking the locals.
It worked about as well as she’d expected. After four days, all the information she had gathered was useless. But she refused to give up.
Later in the day, Aurelia found herself attracted to a wide river, snaking around a steep hill. The gorgeous water smelled crisp and delicious, a welcome refreshment. She drank deeply, and while planning her next course of action, a head peeked out of the waves.
“Hello! Who are you?” He asked, spitting out a large fish he’d held in his mouth. It flopped weakly on the sand bank, blood bubbling from the punctures near its gills.
“Aurelia, Daughter of Veskar. Is this for me?” She asked, ears perked at the scent of blood. Fish wasn’t her favorite type of meat, but she didn’t dislike it enough to turn her nose up at it. The drake rose from the river, water cascading off his wings like an umbrella. Aurelia could tell he was quite young.
“I’m Veld, son of Pnenome. And sure, you can have it! I can always catch more,” he puffed out his chest, trying his best to appear impressive. It was an endearing sight— young drakes were always so eager to impress a dragoness. They were even born more colorful and vibrant than their female counterparts. “I haven’t seen you here before, Aurelia. A lot of strange dragons have shown up in Cirr. I swear, they all manage to find their way to my river!”
Veld chattered away while Aurelia popped the fish into her mouth, crunching the brittle bones as easily as twigs underfoot. The meat was oily, and had a typical robust fishy flavor, but it was filled with nutrients.
“… A human even fell into the river! Well, I pushed him by accident. But he didn’t get out of the way, so that’s his fault, don’t you think?”
“Mmh—WHAT??” Aurelia roared, coughing as she choked on a fish bone. “A human? A human boy? Where was he? Where did he go?” She grabbed Veld’s shoulders, shaking him.
“Woah, woah, calm down! I don’t know where he went afterwards, but he left with Tsuki.” Veld stammered, sighing when Aurelia released him. “Sheesh. Why are you even asking, Aurelia? He’s just a dragon shifted into human form, so you can’t eat him. Don’t get your hopes up.”
Excitement pumped through her blood, filling her with energy. “I wouldn’t eat him! Phos is my friend.”
Aurelia thought it was odd that Veld had mistaken Phos for a shifted dragon. But she didn’t want to correct him. It was safer if Veld believed Phos wasn’t human. “Where can I find this dragon named Tsuki?”
Veld hopped to his feet, grinning. “Dunno! But Phos comes here every day to play with me. If you wait a while, he might show up.”
“Fine.” Aurelia begrudgingly agreed, settling herself down in the sand. A pleasant breeze passed by, and she sneezed when granules from the ground tickled her nose. Veld busied himself with fishing, popping out from the river every once in a while to toss a fish into his growing pile. Aurelia could tell he was attuned to the element of water, by both his love for it, as well as his skill. Water would never penetrate through the scales of a dragon with an affinity for it, and this allowed Veld to swim without chilling himself in the cold.
Eventually, evening was upon them. The skies had grown cloudy, promising either rain or snow, depending on the temperature. Aurelia had curled up in a heap, napping in the sun that beat down on her scales. It warmed her body in a delectable way, improving her mood despite her impatience.
Soon enough, she fell asleep. And in doing so, she failed to notice the two dragons arriving. A bright yellow dragoness with green eyes and an unusually large black drake approached her cautiously.
“… Big brother, is this…?”
“No way…! Lilia, this is…!”
A force shoved into Aurelia, waking her with a start. The black drake had wrapped his arms around her, in a bone-crushing hug. “Aurelia! I can’t believe it!” he roared. Aurelia struggled in his grip, hissing threateningly before she gained her senses.
Huh…? That’s… Phos’s smell!
“Phos?!” She choked out, letting her body go limp in his arms. “I-I’m happy to see you too, but let me go!”
Phos let her go immediately, not looking the least bit regretful as Aurelia shot him a grouchy glare. “I’ve looked everywhere for you. Where did you go? And why are you a dragon…?”
“It’s a long story,” he said. “I’ll tell you later. For now, I’m just happy to meet you once again.”
“He’s been really mopey,” the yellow dragoness quipped. “When he says he missed you, he really means it!”
Aurelia approached her, giving her a curious sniff. The yellow dragoness smelled like the sun, bright and filled with happiness. She liked it. Veld slid out from the river to join them all, flapping his wings in excitement. “Hey, Phos! Good to see you. And your sister, too. Want a fish? We’ve got plenty to spare.”
Phos shook his head, but Lilia took him up on his offer. She pranced over to the fish pile with Veld, chattering away with him as he showed her which fish she was allowed to consume. Aurelia found herself in an extremely confusing situation now that she was alone with Phos— who was most definitely not a human like she had believed. Not once had she suspected him to be a shifted dragon. It made no sense, but…
… I did sense a link from him, one time. In that cave, when our eyes met for the first time. I was sure I had imagined it. But now that I’m looking back, it was definitely a mental link. Which means…
She concentrated, blocking out the cacophony of noise from the environment surrounding her. Delicately, she extended her consciousness to the ebony dragon next to her, who was smiling. Her mind was openly inviting his to connect, to form a link, but she received no reply, nor any indication Phos had even noticed.
Weird. She closed her mind off once more, then sized Phos up.
He was the same size as her, if not a tad larger. That irritated her, for a reason she didn’t understand — drakes weren’t supposed to be larger than dragonesses. He was the same age as she was, so why the size difference? It was insultingly unnatural.
Ignoring that, he was quite a fine drake. His scales were jet black, but had an iridescent sheen of purple to them when one looked closer, matching his violet eyes. His horns were straight, and thicker in their width than Aurelia’s, which were shaped like deadly icicles. Muscles rippled underneath his scales, but his body was still lighter and lankier than her own.
As it should be! She thought. And I’m sure I’ll outgrow him too. I’m not the largest dragoness around, but a drake being taller than me? What a joke!
Phos bent his neck to sniff her, breaking her out of her brooding, and she batted his head away with her paw. He retaliated by batting back at her, and the two of them bickered like angry kittens until they gave up, and broke down in laughter.
“Ahhh… That was fun. But I’m out of energy now,” Phos said, yawning. He looked as if he could barely stay awake now. “Hold on a second.”
He stepped back, allowing his body to become engulfed in light. Without a sound, his body had returned to the human form Aurelia was used to. Seeing him like this was comforting, and she chirred. Lilia shifted back too, equally drained and leaning against Phos for support.
“Shifting… Is still… As exhausting as ever… Big brother.” She groaned. Phos nodded, and let out another, even deeper yawn. He felt as if his entire body had been through a marathon in the snow, then dipped in warm honey. His limbs tingled in an uncomfortable way, and his mind was urging him to go to sleep and recover his strength.
Tsuki had been teaching Phos and Lilia how to control their magic over the week, but the two of them had only recently been able to shift at will. Phos only did so when he went out to explore Cirr, since he couldn’t traverse most of the island without flying, nor could he read human books; it just felt weird to him. Lilia, however, spent as much time as she could in her dragon form, already making new friends among the dragons of Cirr. It made Phos uneasy… What had happened to her bonds with other humans, like Smith Corder, Uncle, and the friends her age in Lotor? It was almost like she had forgotten, even though she was so distraught when Phos chose to accompany Silvermere to Aether. He didn’t understand.
Veld wiggled his tail, looking up at the sky. The clouds were darkening, heavy with rain now that the temperature had risen. Dragons could always tell. The scent of incoming rain was iconic and unmistakable, a scent so distinct you could even taste it.
“You three should go home now,” Veld said. “Rain’s coming. It shouldn’t storm, but you guys aren’t protected from the water like I am. You do look funny when you’re soaking wet though, Phos!”
“Heeeh, you think so…?” Phos murmured, barely keeping himself awake. Lilia was already asleep, and her weight pushing against his side threatened to topple him. He looked up at Aurelia with his large, pleading human eyes. “Aurelia, can you carry us… Please? Just back to the bottom of the Spires?”
“I’m not a horse,” she growled halfheartedly. “But since I’m h-happy to see you again, I’ll let you both ride me this time….”
She lowered herself to the ground, allowing Phos to shake Lilia awake and clamber clumsily up her side. There was a crook between her wings that made a perfect space for the two siblings to hunker down safely. Phos sat behind Lilia, so he could keep her steady in case she fell asleep once again,
As the first droplets of cold rain fell down from the darkening sky, Aurelia took flight, carrying her precious cargo to shelter.
All the dragons who passed by all noticed the smile on her face, despite her best efforts to hide it.