Chapter 13: Changes
A strong pain followed the return of the flood of sensations in Little Flame’s new body as the raging, hot swirls of dark gray energy dissipated. The hound’s blood, coupled with the various wounds that were riddling the body of the former dragon, formed crimson liquid rivers that were dripping to the ground where they were forming red stains on the grass.
The pain however wasn’t due to her own injuries, neither was it induced by the stream of scarlet tears erupting from the void replacing her left eye.
Moving away from the dog’s carcass beneath her, she made her way to the heavily wounded elf who had suffered much more than her.
Little Flame’s heart really broke when she saw the strained smile on Eldrin’s face as she was approaching him on her unsteady legs, having yet to get used to walk on two legs instead of four, and that heart shattered when she realized that he was trying to comfort her instead of being concerned over his own wounds.
“Is that you Little Flame? You’ve done enough now.”
A grievous whimper fled her bloody lips. Eldrin was dying right in front of her and the elf still fretted about the dragon rather than caring about the lack of sensations coming from his lower body, his probable imminent death.
Another tide ran down Little Fame’s small nose, and she cried for the first time in her life, even though she had no idea what shedding tears represented. Using what was formerly her front paws, she clutched the remains of the sky blue robe in her hands, tearing through the fabric with the mix of claws and nails at the tip of her fingers, and despaired over the elf caught in death’s fangs.
“Don’t cry! You’re a good girl.”
The heart-rending agony Little Flame was experiencing was a world apart from the ache of some flesh wounds or even the loss of an eye. A smile plastered on his lips, Eldrin closed his eyes and stopped pronouncing words.
The distraught creature collapsed on top of the elf and the bitter sobbing turned into loud screams of sadness and anguish. She was covering herself and the mortally-injured elf with her now smaller wings and coiled her tail around the both of them. She knew that his end was her fault, her friend had warned her about the greed of humans for dragons, and the conversation between him and the human party before the fight had shed some more light on their motives.
And now Eldrin was about to die because he had chosen to protect her, leaving Little Flame behind to bear all the guilt, and cope with a bottomless hole in her very being.
The boiling and revolving energy from before or the intensity of the pain were nothing compared to the feeling of misery she felt confronted with the loss of a dear companion, and she wished for nothing but the elf coming back to life, to her.
Given the chance, she would offer everything for his restoration.
Eldrin had never asked about her circumstances, or treated her badly and even the Nibbles nickname he had used to tease her didn’t feel too bad anymore. Whatever question Little Flame asked, he had always been willing to indulge in her selfishness and explained everything until she understood. Teaching her all sorts of things and helping her comprehend her own powers better, although he had to treat the unconscious maids.
The memory of the healing spell she had casted on the two maids ignited a tinge of desperate hope inside her, and she immediately attempted to channel her dark mana the way Eldrin had instructed her.
Unfortunately her power had vanished after the transformation, and only a slight shimmering shade flowed over the ghastly lacerations on Eldrin’s waist.
Refusing to give up, Little Flame strained herself more and more, sobbing again, and quenching every last bit of energy she held into him.
As she was about to pass out, a soft voice reached her ears and someone laid a palm on her back.
“Don’t be so sad, little one. Tell me, what happened here?”
Unable to see clearly through the veil of her tears, the gentle unknown female voice took Little Flame by surprise. Usually she would have been able to sense anyone with a shred of aura or mana from far away, but the person behind her had no existence at all in the reduced scope of her vision.
Her sense of smell had also failed her, but the panic that was crushing her as she looked at Eldrin made her unable to think things through and she just cried to the sudden presence, blurting some unintelligible words in the adventurer’s tongue.
“They attacked us … injured my friend! All because of me! Help him … please, I don’t know what … to do … to save him!”
The sheer sorrow contained in that sentence must have moved the mysterious stranger, since she leaned over Little Flame and hugged the tearful girl, gently rocking her back and forth while patting her head.
“There, there. Don’t cry, we’ll lend you a hand, right, Bael?”
With a tender voice the unknown woman announced the presence of yet another individual Little Flame was unable to perceive, however that one phrase was enough to ignite a little flame of hope in her chest, a chance to save Eldrin!
However the reply of the second person poured a bucket of cold water over that small warm flare.
“You know the rules, Gabriel. You can’t just interfere like this. If you must do it, I will have to think of a request for her.”
The woman holding the former dragon in her arms turned her hugging material around and kindly wiped the two mismatched currents of tears from her cheeks and pushed her back into her embrace.
“Sorry, little one. I do want to save him for you, but my sister will ask you for something rather important from you. We don’t want to hurt you either, but the request will have to match the extent of the reward. Do you still want me to heal him?”
“Yes ! Please do! Whatever it takes … do it, I beg you!”
Without a moment of hesitation, Little Flame pleaded for the two mysterious women to help Eldrin in between her sobs. The price of his life was nothing compared to anything they could take from her.
Logically speaking, she shouldn’t feel such a strong sense of loss at the prospect of being deprived of Eldrin, a person she had known for no more than a little over a week, and that she had only seen one or two times before; or agree with a suspicious offer from two strangers she had no way to identify or estimate their strength.
Little Flame should also have questioned the changes in her body: she walked on two legs, had two arms, and no more troubles speaking the adventurer’s tongue.
The destroyed eyeball was another thing the crying girl should worry about, yet the only thing that mattered to her was to redeem Eldrin from his demise, he couldn’t pass away yet and leave her behind.
She didn’t give the means she would have to use in order to achieve his well-being a second thought.
Considering Little Flame’s immediate decisions, the woman who was confining the tiny disheveled creature in her bountiful chest answered with a sad smile and reached past her to touch Eldrin’s upper body.
“You really like him, don’t you? Alright, you’ve made your choice.”
Without a visible shred of mana or aura light, the elf’s soon-to-be-corpse began to pull itself together and heal. The blood on the ground slowly faded as the bleeding stopped, although his figure was still almost bisected at the waist line.
Seeing Eldrin getting better and not in immediate danger of death filled Little Flame with so much joy that she couldn’t come to explain it, and freed herself of the tightening arms to make sure that the elf was as healthy as he seemed.
Putting a hand on his heart, she felt its beat, and almost broke down out of relief, but Little Flame steeled herself and turned around to closely inspect the two superior beings and managed to stop sobbing.
To her astonishment, the two of them were people she had met previously, they resembled the injured maids she had treated together with Eldrin, but the colour of their hair was particular, the one called Gabriel had bright green mane and the one apparently named Bael was carrying a cascade of deep purple hair, instead of the blonde heads they had before; and they both had a deep bright gray gaze.
Nevertheless, she had promised to offer them something for restoring Eldrin’s life, so it didn’t matter if they truly were the two maids who had been resting in the house so far, nor was it her place to ask why their aura and mana had vanished.
“You said you can heal him, what do you need from me in return?”
The question seemed to amuse the two sisters according to their giggles, and the one with the purple hair stopped to keep her distance and sat down besides Little Flame and the other person.
“Aren’t you curious why I need to ask something from you, when it is Gabriel who is going to heal your friend?
Or why we look so similar to humans you know?
And most importantly, why you don’t look like yourself anymore?
If you don’t have any questions at all, how about you tell me the full story about today’s events?”
Confused by Bael’s attempt to continue the conversation instead of making her demands, the little girl pondered and realized that she indeed was curious about what had happened, yet she also didn’t expect them to be able to quench her curiosity.
Unsure on what to make of this, Little Flame responded in a cautious tone, telling her story, starting with departing from the [Dragon’s Den] to clarify some of the tale’s points, and ended with her fight against the hound in front of her new acquaintance’s mansion, where they found her. After finishing her narrative, she addressed the two strange persons once again.
“Of course I’d like to know what had exactly happened here, but as long as you heal Eldrin nothing else matters to me.
You agreed to fulfill my wish, so please tell me now what you need me to give you to fix my … friend.”
Resolute to do whatever they would ask of her, she swallowed her questions for the time being and prepared herself for the requests Bael and Gabriel were going to ask of her, but their actual reaction took her by surprise.
“Aren’t you a charming little girl”
Bael bent down and this time, it was her who pulled Little Flame into a hug.
“You see, I do need to take something from you, but I also want to explain you why.
We’re not really the owners of these two bodies and only borrowed them for a moment.
I’m the goddess of death, Bael, and I watch over this land together with my sister Gabriel, the goddess of life.
Interfering with mortal affairs is something we’re not actually allowed to do, but there are exceptions.
Every god is allowed to create a quest every once in awhile and reward the mortal who fulfills it with a prize proportional to the difficulty of the task.
This law mustn’t be broken, so I need to take something from you equal to the life of your friend Eldrin here.
Do you understand?”
The short speech of the one calling herself goddess of death dumbfounded Little Flame for a second, and even though she was still contemplating on some of the words’ meaning, the gist of the offer was clear. A trade for Eldrin’s life because of a rule. However there was still a question open, and since they encouraged her to ask about the things she didn’t understand, she helped herself.
“Why are you here? And why are you helping us? I’m really thankful that you did, I just don’t understand why.”
Faced with the defenseless and perplex expression on the little girl’s face, Bael only held her tighter and Gabriel answered.
“To be completely honest, we didn’t know what took place here and only happened to be in the area when we noticed an unique energy. After taking over the bodies of these girls, I fixed their internal organs and together we looked for the form of energy that had piqued our interest in this area.
When we left the house, the last remaining traces of this energy evaporated from your body and we approached you.
It has been a long time since anything managed to surprise and intrigue us, so I stopped your companion’s death, while Bael was explaining your options to you.
Sadly I can’t just do it for free, so Bael will need to take something as a compensation from you.
Seeing as you described yourself as a dragon, my guess is that the special power you exhibited earlier has had an influence on your body to change it partly into that of an elf species, turning you into a being half-dragon and half-elf. It’s not unheard for a monster or beast to be able to transform into a humanoid form after reaching a higher realm of power, but you’re too young and I don’t feel any aura or mana coming from you, so I think that the transformation couldn’t end due to a lack of power, but I’m not too sure.”
The flood of information was a bit hard to comprehend at once for Little Flame, but she did her best to keep it all in mind, and didn’t even question their identities as goddesses as she would have wished to do; they had kept their word and paused Eldrin’s death, so they could be anything, they would stay gods in her heart forever.
“Alright, I understand. Now tell me what you need from me, I’m ready.”
The purple-haired beauty looked her up and down, evaluating her new shape.
A head full of mixed red and black strands of short, chick-like hair, a single golden dragon eye, pale red lips and scales lining the temples and eyebrows.
A short stature, slender limbs with hands and legs clad in a mix of red and black scales in a chaotic way.
Even though she wasn’t wearing any clothing, the little girl wasn’t exposed since all the sensitive pieces of skin were covered by a layer of scales. She was looking adorable, slightly tanned skin showing in between these scaly patches.
Wiping away the last trails of tears on her cheek, Little Flame sat cross legged in Gabriel’s lap after being released from Bael’s hug, seemingly extremely adorable to the two of them.
Looking at the helpless bundle of cuteness, an idea seemed to bloom in the purple-haired woman’s mind.
“I’ve thought of something entertaining, I’ll have you make your choice now.
For choice number one, Gabriel will help me return your original appearance, that of a dragon and help you return to your [Dragon’s Den]. If you chose yourself, I’ll gift you with my blessing, however Eldrin and your memories of each other will be taken from you and you’ll never see each other again.
Shh, let me finish.”
Looking at Little Flame who was about to cry out, Bael raised a finger and put it on the girl’s trembling lips.
“The second option is more to your liking, I think.
You’re allowed to stay with him, but in return you’re forbidden from talking about our agreement to him or reveal our existence.
Your task will be to stay with him, you’re not allowed to leave anymore. I’ll seal away your remaining eye with a spell of mine, and if you leave this place and Eldrin, the seal will break and you can use your eye again. However he will then die.
What will you chose, your eyesight or your freedom?”
“Isn’t that a bit harsh Bael? I mean, she told us she has siblings back at her home. Can’t we reward her for protecting someone else from a monster way above her own rank?”
“No Gabriel, it’s alright. My siblings are strong like me and can take care of themselves. And isn’t it just my eye? Without Eldrin, I’d be enslaved by now, so this choice isn’t hard at all. Please let me stay with him.”
Having expected that reply somewhat, Bael smiled wryly as Gabriel tightened her embrace once again, which filled Little Flame with her warmth, and looked at her sister a bit unhappily. After several seconds of staring contest, Gabriel sighed.
“Alright, I understand. Let’s do it this way.”
Placing her hand on the little girls empty eye socket, a pleasant sensation spread from the palm of the goddess, slowly reducing the awful wound. Unable to see it otherwise than from her own perspective, Little Flame obediently sat still while Gabriel was casting the spell. Invisible to her, a white raven appeared briefly on the restored closed eyelid.
“Your turn, Bael.”
The mild feeling was still lingering when the cold touch of the other goddess shook her up, but Little Flame didn’t shrink back or try to evade the hand that was going to claim her eye and rob her of her vision, although she was shaking from fear.
Even if she had chose to do this to save her precious benefactor, the prospect of losing her eyesight for good was scary, and if she had been less panicked she might have had a harder time performing this sacrifice.
Once again, Little Flame was unable to see the black raven appear on top of her closed eye, sealing it and plunging her into a world of darkness.
When the world turned pitch black, the little girl tried her best to remain impassive, but the terrifying blindness struck her harder than she expected. She clasped her new hands around herself so tight that the nails dug into her flanks, small lines of blood snaked down her skin, as Little Flame wasn’t used to the absence of scales and couldn’t regulate her strength.
“You will heal him now, right? You promised me!”
The terror she felt was showing through her voice, shaking slightly and giving off a panicked feeling, as she was trying to convince herself that this had been the right choice, for her friend Eldrin’s sake.
Gabriel carefully moved the short wings and the tail the frightened child was using to cover herself out of the way and embraced her with her strong and securing arms, doing her best to calm her down.
“Yes little one, it’s alright now. You can rest now and recover from your unpleasant experiences. When you wake up, he’ll be completely fine and you will be able to talk to him again.
Don’t worry, you made a promise with the goddess of death, no one will take him from you, so you can fall asleep without any worries.”
So different from the cruel action of taking her sight away, the gentle voice of Bael seemed to have a strange nuance at the moment, dissipating all of the girl’s doubts, and Little Flame suddenly felt safe enough to do as Bael suggested, and drifted off in a deep sleep in Gabriel’s grasp.