Azhdaha hadn’t thought about the stars as much as the seasons and sun, perhaps because humans rarely appeared in his place when it was dark. Now he wondered if Morax would have come by if he had asked him to be there when he saw the night sky for the first time. Standing on the ground where Morax had last stepped on, Azhdaha could do nothing but split his focus between a million white sparks above his head and the brilliant yellow lights that pervaded Guili Plains below. Wouldn’t it have been better if Morax had been here to unfold the happenings around him?
Shortly after he gave up trying to count the stars and went back to sit under his tree, the servants from before visited him with different kinds of food. He hadn’t forgotten the message about telling them what he liked so they would bring him more of those, so he brought up the yellow fruits as soon as they dropped their new baskets. It might be unnecessary to say it because the servants should be able to tell from how only the yellow fruits were entirely devoured while the others were almost untouched.
“I didn’t expect the Dragon King to be fond of fruits instead of meats!” one of the men stated with a laugh.
“Meat?” Azhdaha asked.
“Yes. This is wild boar meat.” The man lifted the basket of the soft pale stuff that Azhdaha couldn’t bring himself to sniff again. “We thought you might enjoy this the most, but please don’t worry. We’ve acknowledged your preference.”
Much to Azhdaha’s merriment, the servant proceeded to explain that the yellow fruits were local golden berries that were abundant in the wild. He was happy because it meant he could have them when he was out of the city. As the rest of them left with the leftover baskets, two female servants stayed to peel round fruits they called persimmons for him. They were ten times bigger than the golden berries, and their color was deeper. A little touch of brown would make them akin to Morax’s eyes, but anything had reminded him of the lord.
Over the past few hours of playing with animals, Azhdaha had missed meeting new people he could talk to. He should be grateful for having two lovely companions by his side before the day ended. He should be excited listening to their explanation about apples and grapes and how silly it was for dragons not to choose meat, but he didn’t have as much fun as what happened when Morax was there with him. The women lacked enthusiasm and emphases—two things that made it difficult for him to look away from Morax.
“I like the persimmons more than the golden berries,” Azhdaha finally spoke, even though it was unrelated to their lecture about dried fruits.
“Oh. All right. I’ll keep that in mind,” responded the woman who sat the closest to him.
“Persimmons are our Geo Lord’s favorite as well,” added the other woman. She was the braver one for daring to glance up directly at him.
“Really?” At last, there was a matter that caught Azhdaha’s interest. “Can you also tell me what Morax does every day?”
“One night won’t be sufficient to go through what the Lord of Geo must do in a day. He meets with people, signs many papers, commands the adepti or human generals who work alongside him, and more. Even with the help from our other ruler, Lady Guizhong, the Goddess of Dust, he still doesn’t have enough free time to relax.”
Azhdaha had heard about the army of mythical beings called adepti, who were devoted to Morax, while Guizhong was a god who held the same position as him in the eyes of their people. Other than their titles, he didn’t know much. The people who went to his mountains didn’t speak a lot about them and tended to worry more about reaching the summit or heading down the tricky slopes. It was a good sign because he would have things to discuss with Morax the next time they met.
“What does Morax do during his free time?” Azhdaha asked.
“He loves reading literature and watching opera,” the servant answered concisely.
Reading and watching. Half a day hadn’t passed since Azhdaha could see, so those two terms were still outlandish for him. “How long will it take to learn how to read?” Funnily enough, he was persistent about it.
“Reading? Hmm… Our language is hard to master. I suppose it depends on how fast you are to learn, so it may require months to years. I’m sorry, but I really can’t tell,” the servant said.
Feeling despondent, Azhdaha stopped blabbering and finished his persimmons. When it was his turn to sleep, he couldn’t bring his mind to peace. At first, the servant’s words didn’t bother him, but when the environment was tranquil and the crickets didn’t even create any sound, he began recalling everything the servant had said Morax. He still doesn’t have enough free time to relax. Surely, finding an anxious dragon was also part of his job because he had to leave for two days. Azhdaha should present himself to be smarter than a great dragon if he wanted to spend more time with Morax.
For an immortal who had been dormant for thousands of years, he was very impatient during his wait. Morax didn’t say if it would be two days or two afternoons, and none of the servants could answer his question. As usual, Azhdaha distracted himself by walking around the forest, a little further every time, but he knew of the lake he mustn’t cross in case some unkind gods would steal him away from Morax’s side. He was aware of his giant figure that could be seen from miles away.
One more lap would be fine, he told himself as he strolled along the lake bank after his second dinner. Just like what he did with Morax yesterday morning, he watched his reflection on the water before slumping down on the damp ground. The coldness was pleasant, but it felt very lonely doing this alone. He looked up to watch the stars that seemed to have increased in numbers. Would Morax come to see him the following day? There were too many questions that he wanted to ask.
Azhdaha squinted when opening his eyes because the sunlight was too piercing. It took him a few seconds and blinks before he saw Morax standing in front of his face. He stood up with a squeak, legs trembling from ascending too quickly when he needed some time to gain his composure and consciousness. Although it was too sudden, he couldn’t ask for a better second meeting; between Morax and the blue sky that seemed endless behind him, Azhdaha couldn’t decide which one was more prepossessing.
“Azhdaha,” Morax called Azhdaha’s name again. What a lovely tune it was for the dragon’s ears. “Why did you sleep out there? There are many unkind things that could hurt you. I’m sure you can protect yourself, but it’s better to be careful, don’t you think?”
“Morax, I’m sorry. I must have been too exhausted. Please forgive me.” Azhdaha sounded remorseful because he genuinely was. The last thing he wanted was to disappoint the god.
“Your apology is unnecessary. You haven’t done anything wrong,” Morax said before heading toward one of the fruit trees nearby. They grew everywhere, but Azhdaha never knew their name. Morax raised both hands and plucked two of the reddish fruits. He went back to the lake and washed them before thrusting them to Azhdaha’s face.
“Yes?” Azhdaha was confused. He had no clue what he was meant to do.
“We don’t have time to walk back and ask the servants to feed you. Have these sunsettias for now,” Morax said, unintentionally giving away the fruits’ name.
“Are we going somewhere so early, Morax? Where will you bring—” Azhdaha couldn’t finish his sentence when Morax threw the fruits inside his mouth, silencing him completely.
“The servants told me that you adore sweet and tangy fruits. Who would have thought of that?” Morax chuckled. “Your taste buds are peculiar, but that makes you even more special.”
He is special? Azhdaha had a hard time swallowing the sunsettias, and it wasn’t because there were some pits that he spitted out on the opposite side of Morax so as not to dirty him. “They’re okay, but I like persimmons more,” he remarked afterward. Why was he feeling so strange about this whole interaction? Was it supposed to happen because he had been dreaming of seeing Morax again?
“I like persimmons too.” Morax smiled gently, folding his hands and heading to the left, away from the lake. “Did you sleep well, Azhdaha?”
“Yes. How about you?” Azhdaha asked back, obediently trailing behind Morax.
“Gods don’t require sleep. Since you were born a dragon, your body must be working differently than us.” Morax went quiet for a moment. “Now I wonder if it would be the same if you took a human form.”
“Having a human form? Is that possible for me?”
Morax looked over his shoulder to meet Azhdaha’s eyes and nodded. “Of course.”
Can you make me as one? I, too, am curious about how I should be if I were to look like you and those kind servants, Azhdaha was about to say but once again thought it was too much when it had only been two days after receiving his sight. Morax was wise, so he should be the one to decide if Azhdaha was ready for the next step of living with his people. With the solid agreement between them, Azhdaha trusted Morax completely, so he must not ask for more than what he needed.
“Morax, if our destination is far, then do you want to ride on my back?” Instead, Azhdaha talked about something else to lighten up his mood.
“Hmm?” Morax turned around, dropping the long hair that rested on his left shoulder. “That’s a nice idea that’ll save us a lot of time. Sadly, doing so will hurt me. You have plenty of spikes on your back.”
“Oh?” Azhdaha was dumbfounded and slightly ashamed. He didn’t know what was going on behind there because the water couldn’t show it to him.
“Don’t worry too much. I’m not fragile,” Morax, who always seemed to know what Azhdaha was thinking, said. “We’re going to the other side of the mountains. I’ll explain everything to you once we’re there.”
As expected by Azhdaha, their journey was filled with Morax’s storytelling—one thing that Azhdaha was dying to experience again. Azhdaha hadn’t brought up the other gods, adepti, and Guizhong when Morax told him that he had informed them about gaining a new force to guard Guili Plains. Soon, Morax would bring Azhdaha to meet with everyone or the other way around, but his people were a bit busy, and he wanted to give Azhdaha his first task before handling something less important.
Most of the time, Morax asked about what Azhdaha had been doing for the last two days. It wasn’t fair when he didn’t give a clear answer when Azhdaha gave him the same question, but of course, Azhdaha didn’t try pushing Morax’s boundaries for his own pleasure. To think of it, Azhdaha had only openly lived for two days, compared to Morax’s thousands of years of affairs. It was understandable if Morax’s mind always looked for every outcome of sharing secrets with the dragon he just met.
“Azhdaha, a war has broken out for a couple of years now. I’m not sure when it will hit us, but it eventually will,” Morax said once they stood on a ridge, looking out over the iron mountains that didn’t have as many greens as the other areas in the land. “What you see right now is a place full of valuable minerals that belong to you. They’re your mountains. You need to protect your body from two things; humans’ greed and the impending war. Can you do that for your own sake?”
“What kind of war is it?” Azhdaha must ask for the most crucial subject among them all.
“That… even I’m not too sure,” Morax muttered before sighing. “This is your task, Azhdaha. I’ve advised people to mine somewhere else, so if they still come to this area, don’t be afraid to chase them out.”
“Is that it, Morax? My first task is to protect my own mountains? To protect myself and not you or your people?” Azhdaha asked again.
“Yes. At least for now,” Morax said. “All right. I have to go back. Do you want to stay here?”
The strange feeling hit Azhdaha again, so he looked down at Morax, someone who appeared as tiny as his limb but had a presence that was bigger than the world itself. “I’ll do anything for you, Morax. I don’t mind starting my duty right at this moment, but when will I see you again?”
“I can’t promise you. Probably tomorrow?” Morax estimated, bringing one hand up to stroke his chin. “If you intend to stay here, please come back to the cliff at noon and before sunset to have your meal. I’ll make sure that you don’t lack accommodation. If you need anything, don’t feel bad to tell the servants or me.”
“I want to learn how to read and write.”
Morax lifted his brows, seemingly surprised by the request. “You want to learn how to read and write?”
“Yes. At least for now,” Azhdaha copied Morax’s previous response, causing the god to snicker.
“I can arrange that.” Morax smiled widely, and Azhdaha knew that it must be what people considered as being proud of someone else’s achievement. Morax was proud of him, and the inexplicable sensation resurfaced within him.