They would dance this Dragonyule. Felicia had been all too happy to agree. The entire castle was abuzz with ideas for the festivities. Outside the smithwyrms hammered dutifully away at the space around the newly erected Yuletree. The surrounding townsfolk would be invited. It would be her biggest performance since her village festival. She ran to the Dragon Roost, clutching at her skirts. Since recovering from his wounds, Phantom had taken up one of the farthest nests from the entrance. He lurked there, hidden by the shadows of the eyrie. Felicia, like the young prince, wandered in without fear.
“Dragonyule…” murmured Phantom. It had been some time since he had lived in this world, and it took him a bit to recall its customs sometimes. “A human festival, is it not?”
“Oh, yes,” said Felicia, remembering herself. She’d shown him the beginnings of the lace veil she’d intended to wear to the festivities. “They’ve been trying more and more to incorporate sylvan traditions. I thought it would be nice to introduce them to some of village’s dances. Since, ah, I may be the last one to know them…”
Her face fell, just a little. Thinking of her village often left her distant. Phantom carefully lifted his foreleg to hang his wing over her in a shielding motion, to give her some privacy. It was a gesture he’d learned she took comfort in, she perked up considerably in the shadow of it, laying a fearless hand against his propped forearm.
“It’s all right, isn’t it?” she asked, moving her hand in an absent circle, as though his slick hide weren’t something that once made generals shudder.
“If it brings you joy to dance again I am happy for you, Felicia.”
“Phantom…” Felicia started. She stopped, twitched her ears and then, with as much confidence as she could muster looked up. “Will you be there?”
Phantom’s second set of jaws clacked in surprise.
“Don’t be shy,” laughed Felicia. “Dragonyule celebrates dragons, too. Jeanne goes. So can you.”
“I do not believe mine is a visage that is cause for celebration.”
“I think so,” said Felicia. She reached faster than he expected, resting her hands against his outerjaw. Her ears swiveled forward. She laughed. He nearly butted his head against her as he heard the sound. “I’ll celebrate with you. Come dance with me, Phantom. We’ll have a wonderful time together.”
But Phantom lifted his head. She lost her grip and rocked back onto her heels.
“I would scare away your audience.”
He swung around and slithered into the darker parts of the roost, where his shape could be made out only by the glowing flesh beneath his scales.
Felicia started after him. “No you wouldn’t. If they knew you--”
“I don’t care to know them,” said Phantom. Felicia froze.
“I...see,” she said. “I’m sorry. I just assumed.”
The dragon’s voice softened to a lower rumble. “....your dance should be witnessed by all, Felicia. I would never keep you from those you wish to see.”
True to his name, Phantom melted into the shadows. Felicia held out a hand after him -- but she stopped herself, cheeks red. Then, curling her hands into fists, she called into the darkness.
“But Phantom,” she said, “You’re one of the ones I wish to see!”
No answer, just the sound of shifting scales, and scraping stone.
“...but I’m sorry to have upset you,” she said, finally. “Please think about it at least?”
Then, echoing from the darkness: “To know you are doing what brings you joy is all that I require, Felicia. Do what you love.”
“But that’s not all that I…” But here, finally, her courage failed her. She stared off into the indistinct shadows for a minute or two, trying to work the words out, but they didn’t come. She shook her head and turned down the long stairs to the Halidom proper, taking them two at a time, a dancer’s graceful stride.
When the sylvan was gone, and the sun had set, Phantom took flight.
He waited until the moon was hidden by the clouds, so no one would look up and jump in surprise. He kept himself angled carefully over the trees, so no one would hear him and start. He grabbed the edge of the high burning mountain spire closest to the castle, making sure to crawl his way up the far end, so no one would by chance see him winding up it like some horrible dark snake.
She would pick out a space with the clearest view of the prince’s quarters.
Brunhilda wasn’t watching the castle at that moment. She was preoccupied with a more immediate concern.
“I was framed, I tell ya,” squeaked Hikage, struggling under the cage of talons she’d sunk into the crystal around him. The red dragon applied little more than the barest of pressures, but Hikage could do nothing but squirm helplessly against her. “Framed. I know what ol’ Roc says, but I’ve turned over a new leaf. Honest as the day. Promise.”
The little dragon’s voice hit a particularly plaintive squeal on that last note.
“A new leaf,” remarked Brunhilda, her eyes flickered like hot coals, “That new leaf looks an awful lot like one of my scales. Insolent brat. I’ve been saving those for my darling. Didn’t you know?”
“Oh-oh-ohh really? Had no idea! Gosh, that’s thoughtful isn’t it? I was just thinking, I could bring them to him for ya. Yeah, that’s why I was here! Dragons can be Saint Starfall, too!”
“Can they? Aren’t you sweet. Why don’t we ask Roc how sweet you are,” said Brunhilda, showing teeth. Heat pulsed around them.
“Nooooow let’s not get hasty--”
“Flamewyrm,” called Phantom.
Brunhilda lifted her head. The black dragon perched at the edge of her eyrie, his slick armored spines reflecting the flames licking at Hikage’s horns. He lashed his club-like tail. Hikage began to shriek and flap desperately at the sight of him. His shadow on the walls was almost as vicious looking as Phantom himself.
“Am I interrupting?”
“No!” cried Hikage.
“Yes,” said Brunhilda. “But do you care?”
“Not particularly,” said Phantom. “But we have business, Flamewyrm.”
Brunhilda narrowed her eyes. She shifted onto her hind legs. Freed of the weight holding him, Hikage lay panting for a stunned moment, before darting out through the eyrie entrance with a defiant squeak. He almost clipped Phantom’s horn. Phantom gave a bored roll of his shoulder and sent Hikage spirallingoff into the night.
“Happy Dragonyule~~” he cried as he went.
Brunhilda lay back across a swell in her horde, fanning herself idly with her wing. Not to dampen the flames around her, oh no. They rose higher with the extra air on them.
“I didn’t expect you to call on me,” she said, “I’ve wanted to rain hellfire on that little scoundrel for weeks. This had better be good.”
Phantom tilted his head back and made a choking noise. A damp gold circlet rolled across the eyrie floor. It was crafted from otherworld ore, shaped by dragon fire. It reflected a million colors in the firelight.
“For me?” asked Brunhilda. Phantom said nothing, just sat, his tail thunking impatiently next to him. “Ah, but it would look wonderful in my darling’s hair. Why would you part with it?”
“I have a request,” said Phantom, with as much dignity as he could muster.
Felicia had never known humans could put on such a show.
The entirety of the castle’s adjacent towns must have come. It was easily the biggest audience she’d ever had, both human and sizeable amount of sylvan families arriving from the woods. Yet between the lights, Orsem and Luther’s enthusiasm, Vixel with his orchestra, and Lucretia’s voice, Felicia found herself floating on the energy of it all. It didn’t hurt at all to do her turns and leaps. The memories were there, they always would be, but she found it didn’t take away the sheer rush of it all.
Luther began to lead the villagers into their own dances, and Felicia followed with joy.
“Oh, what fun this is,” she said, “I had no idea.”
“That’s the spirit,” Luther winked.
At which point a glamorous woman in red, wearing a little bell and holly around her neck for the occasion, came noodling her way out from the onlookers.
“Felicia,” called Mym, with a bit of a slur. She spotted Felicia down the line and her mouth split into a toothy, far more than human grin. She tossed the empty milk bottle over her shoulder. “Felicia! You must do me!”
“What?” Felicia looked up, a bit alarmed to see the tall woman advance on her with a heated intent. But Mym only extended her arms and threw herself forward.
“Spin me,” she cried, as Felicia caught her, swaying slightly but holding firm. Mym giggled and let their momentum throw them into a whirl.
“Are you sure it’s alright?” asked Felicia. The other dancers stepped quickly out of their way as they went careening to the far end of the courtyard. Last time she’d tried to show Mym how to dance, Mym had thrown out her back.
“It’s fine, I’m very limber,” said Mym, drunkenly. “Very limber. Jointed like a snake. See?”
She tried to arch herself backwards. Felicia quickly threw her hand behind her back to turn it into a dip, before she spilled herself backwards.
“My hero,” purred Mym. She put her arms around her. “You are such a love, Felicia. Now, let’s fly.”
“Fly?!” Felicia half expected Mym to transform right then and there, but Mym only meant it in terms of her human frame, because she reversed their positions, gripped Felicia’s arms, and spun until they were both dizzy. At the apex of the spin, she let go. It sent Felicia carening outwards into another spin, this one solo. Felicia barely had time to throw her arms out.
“Less force next time,” cried Felicia, despite herself. She nearly went into the crowd. Someone stuck an arm. Felicia felt her back ease against it with relief, her vision still spinning. She held on to stay standing.
“Oh, I’m so sorry.” The stranger didn’t say anything. Felicia looked up at him. A tall sylvan man, wearing a black hood and a tattered cloak. He was a long, raggedy lop, not unlike her. His shiny black ears hung out of the folds of his hood, ending in jagged tufts. The hood left most of his face in shadow.
“Thank you,” said Felicia, peering up into his hood, she could just make out the tiny dots of glowing violet -- oh. “Have we met?”
The stranger coughed uncomfortably and stepped back into the crowd.
“Wait--” Felicia lunged after him. The villagers parted for her. Dashing, she caught up to him just past the circus tents. Her hand closed on the back of his cloak. “Please, stop. Phantom!”
The sylvan froze. She ran straight into his back and threw her arms around his waist, to make doubly sure he wouldn’t escape. His body in this form was painfully thin under all the sheets of fabric.
“Damn you, Flamewyrm,” he muttered, in that familiar scratchy voice, though it lacked the boom of his second throat. “She said you would not know me.”
“Of course I’d know you,” said Felicia, hanging on tight. She pressed her face against his back. “And why wouldn’t I want to recognize you? You actually came.”
She sat that last part with such a giggle in her voice that Phantom’s arms fell to his side. He gave a long, defeated sigh. “Yes.”
“I didn’t even know you could do this.”
“I cannot,” grumbled Phantom. “This form can only go so far, especially when not borrowed. I am still quite loathsome, Felicia. You should not too close.”
“Nonsense,” said Felicia. “Your eyes are always so warm. Can I see?”
She eased backwards. Reluctantly, Phantom turned in her arms. She peered up through the hood. The lights hanging in the shadows there were mostly the eyes of a dragon, slitted and glowing. The rest of his features remained bare and indistinct. Felicia reached up to touch his undefined cheek. She did it first with one hand, and then the other, pulling his face down until it was nearly even with hers.
“You look dashing,” she assured him. She ran her hand down one of his ragged ears. The violet eyes flickered shut. “Dance with me?”
“You’ve gone through all this trouble. It’s the least I can do. I can show you. It will be fun.” And then, a bit more quietly. “And it would make me very happy.”
Phantom held out his bandaged hands. She curled hers over them. Slowly, like he was just learning to walk, he let her pull him back into the circle.