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The Testament of Youth

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An ancient mountain dragon envied the souls who lived above his abode. For millennia of dormant slumber, they had one-sidedly told him countless tales about the earth’s beauty and reformations. How did it feel to stand among a peach blossom forest and stretch out his hands to catch the falling petals? Why would some claim that sunset made them sorrowful while the rest say it was calming? What was the truth behind the moon that constantly changed its shape every few days?

Sometimes, he wished he hadn’t understood their languages so he wouldn’t have known rage over his inability to perceive what they saw. Desperate spirit’s yearning, however, was stronger than the back scales that had sustained a considerable mound of rocks and dirt. He moved his shoulders, shaking the forests surrounding his body. He lifted his tail, scaring the birds that crossed the mountain peaks. Even in his helpless state, he still bore enough awareness that all his doings would only intimidate other beings.

What price must one pay for the power of sight and freedom? He couldn’t help but cry. He wondered if being rescued by someone was the most senseless dream a bound dragon could have, but he repeated those words over and over again—throughout the days and nights, for weeks that felt like it had consumed half of his lifetime. Then suddenly, two firm footsteps marched toward where his head had rested and stopped beside where his ear had molded with the ground.

“The Dragon King of Nantianmen,” a deep, gentle voice called him. “The power of sight and freedom can be exchanged with protecting my people instead of frightening them. Will you come to an agreement with the Lord of Geo himself?”

The Lord of Geo. The Lord of Rock. Morax. The ruler of those who have spoken about the enchanting four seasons that he longs to witness. He always imagined that this moment would eventually come, so he exhaled a breath that thrust the pebbles and dust away. “I will,” he decided.

With that, Morax shattered the ground and urged him to rise. He managed to follow his order, albeit unsteadily since it was his first time standing on his legs. All at once, the void became a burst of lights—or what others would call colors, but he didn’t know if they were blue, green, red, or a mix between them. A figure blocked his vision; the divinity who had granted him his never-ending prayer. He couldn’t describe the feature because he had never known anything else before. Was it how men should look like, or was the form designated only for gods?

“Do you have a name?” Morax asked.

“No,” he answered.

“Then, I shall give you one,” Morax paused for a while. “Azhdaha. In an epic tale from another world, the name means a magnificent dragon. It suits you.”

“Azhdaha,” he repeated, watching every little shift on Morax’s face to remember how a person must be when they were thinking and making up their mind. “Thank you very much, Lord.”

“You may call me Morax. After all, you must be thousands of years older than me,” Morax said before turning around. “Come with me.”

Morax led Azhdaha down the mountains, and Azhdaha sauntered slowly because he was too immersed in the landscape of the place that had trapped him for eternity. He could tell the sky and the ground from listening to others, but didn’t they have several colors? The sky would be blue if it was morning, darker if it was night, and deep amber if it was in between. He wasn’t sure which one was happening now. The ground would turn black if water touched it. From the sound and dryness, he was sure it wasn’t raining.

“Azhdaha. Take a look at yourself.” Morax stopped when they reached a wet surface that was almost as wide as his body. He went closer and gazed at it. There, he saw himself for the first time and got surprised by how different the two of them looked. He must be what they called a “dragon”, but he didn’t know where the title of “the Dragon King” had originated from. It was all very hazy for a being who couldn’t even remember how he had come into existence.

“How many dragons are out there besides me? Why did you call me ‘the Dragon King’?” Azhdaha asked.

“There are too many dragons to count, but I believe you’re the oldest and most brilliant one we have in this land, hence why I let you out. You’re our Dragon King who’s become my new ally,” Morax explained before glancing at Azhdaha. “This is a lake of pure spring water. It looks blue, but it’s actually colorless. It only absorbs the colors that touch it. Let’s not overthink and try to have some, Azhdaha.”

Azhdaha was thankful that Morax could grasp his lack of information without him uttering a thing, but such intuition should be anticipated from someone who held a noble position like the Lord of Geo. Once again, he obeyed the command and brought his face closer to the lake, smelling a scent that was milder than what he had back in the mountains. It must be an instinct that taught him how to stick out his tongue and drink the water that tasted considerably better than the rain that had kept him alive.

“Did you like it?” Morax asked after Azhdaha straightened up his back.

“Yes. Very much,” Azhdaha said.

“Good.” Azhdaha was curious if what crossed Morax’s face was what those people regarded as being delightful. “You must not know enough about this world. Let me tell you various things on our way to your new home.”

Throughout their journey, Morax pointed at everything he could possibly think about and spelled out their names. The sky is blue, and those are some white clouds. The weather is cool and pleasant. It’s a lovely morning to be out and about. We’re stepping on grey gravel roads. The trees are green. You’ll see plenty of them everywhere, and some might change colors depending on the season. A few times, he even patted Azhdaha’s skin and vividly elucidated him. Your arms are brown. Your horns are golden, almost the same color as my amber eyes.

“Amber? Are your eyes similar to the late afternoon sky?” Azhdaha interrupted. Morax raised his eyebrows and slightly opened his mouth—two things that Azhdaha could tell apart from examining the lord’s face and combining it with his own knowledge.

“You’ll figure it out by yourself in a few hours. Just be a bit more patient,” Morax replied. It was his first sentence that Azhdaha found to be quite hilarious because they weren’t running out of time like mortals.

“Right now… Is it spring or summer?” Azhdaha proceeded with another question.

“We’re entering the second month of spring.”

“Ah. A perfect time to watch the peach blossoms.”

Morax smiled—another expression that Azhdaha solely picked up from observing every emotion portrayed on Morax’s face, and he felt like he had done something right for his savior. Without responding any further, Morax continued to educate him; the types of birds they encountered by accident, the wildflowers and plants that herbalists would pick from time to time, the differences between heights and weights, and even the specific name for each of his finger.

Before long, they arrived at the end of the cliff, just under a giant tree that was finally taller than the dragon. Below their feet was a greener land which Morax had illustrated as “a bountiful region with thousands of stone houses and several paddy fields enough to feed everyone”. Azhdaha needed to be closer to those tiny people to make some accurate remarks about them, but even with the significant distance between them, he could still tell that they were shaped just like Morax.

“As per our agreement, what lies ahead is Guili Plains, my city, and the people who you must protect with all your might,” Morax reminded Azhdaha. “Remember this well. If you break your oath, I won’t think twice to bury you back under the mountains.”

“Of course, Morax. I’ll never forget,” Azhdaha solemnly said.

“Stay here. I’ll send people to provide you with food and water.”

“You’re leaving?”

“Yes. There are important things that I must do. I’ll come to see you again in two days or less.”

Azhdaha wanted Morax to promise him, but it would be too many demands in a day. He was well aware that he was serving the man, not the other way around. After muttering “take care” and “thank you”, he slumped down under the enormous tree to shield himself from the growing heat. His eyes never left Morax, who headed to the edge of the cliff and jumped down, back into those who needed the leader more than a dragon who had hundreds of things to amuse his new sense.

Barely thirty minutes later, three ladies and two guys visited him while carrying several baskets in their hands. They didn’t seem terrified by his presence as they placed everything they had in front of him. It was only then when he realized that Morax looked finer than them. Morax’s skin was cleaner, his eyes were sharper, his nose and jaw were more defined, his lips were redder—everything that Morax had, these five people had them less. Right at the moment, he knew the best word to describe Morax was “majestic”.

“Hold on. Who are you? Did Morax tell you to come?” he asked when the people finished their job,

“We’re just the Lord of Geo’s servants. Yes, he ordered us to bring you some food and drinks,” one of the ladies answered on everyone’s behalf, but none of them dared to meet his eyes. Did he make them feel uneasy? Was it because they knew that he was the Dragon King? What had Morax told them about him?”

“Did he say something else?” he added.

“Yes. We’ll come again in the evening. If there’s something that you like, please tell us so we can send you more.”

“Is there anything else?”

“No…” The lady shook her head. “I’m afraid not.”

“Is he taking care of another dragon, or something similar to me, in Guili Plains?”

The lady fell silent before shaking her head again. “No. You’re the first one that our Lord has brought back home.”

The tightness in Azhdaha’s chest dissipated. Unlike Morax’s appearance, Azhdaha couldn’t find the right way to express what he was feeling. Was it happiness? Appreciativeness? Once everyone left him alone, he checked the basket full of something quite soft and pale red. They smelled awful, but Morax wouldn’t hurt him on purpose, so he tried them. They weren’t bad, but they weren’t as good as the basket of sweet juicy yellow orbs. He only knew flavors because people had accidentally spilled all kinds of liquids on his mountains.

Everything was boring without Morax’s explanation about what just got into his mouth. Quickly, he stood up and went back to the forests behind him to enjoy the scenery, being very careful not to do anything dangerous and cause turmoil. The small animals entertained him until he was stopped when the sky started losing its blue tint. He waited and waited, and his heart thumped with excitement when the color amber appeared and, indeed, resembled Morax’s eyes.

“Beautiful,” he declared, wondering if his strength and loyalty were enough to repay someone who had shown him the world.