The Heir of the Dragon
Over the course of the day, Blake had started getting to know this curious girl named Elly. He had been surprised at first when she burst into his room like a mouse fleeing some cats, and it had been an even bigger surprise when he discovered that the “cats” she had been fleeing were actually the prince and his friends.
It wasn’t any of his business what was going on there, so he didn’t ask. It seemed like she wasn’t interested in talking about it. She wasn’t interested in talking about much, actually. The way she acted it was like she was scared. She really did remind him of a small animal, with the way she seemed to shrink away and look down. Now that he thought about it, she was more like a cat than a mouse.
She reminded him of one cat on his farm in particular, who would peer at him from around the corner and would scurry away whenever he got close. She was like a frightened animal, so he was sure to treat her tenderly so she wouldn’t get too skittish.
He might not have been interested in making friends, but he didn’t want to make things worse for her either. He wasn’t sociable, but as host to this odd girl he felt like he should at least be courteous to her.
Okay, but how do I talk to girls? If Elly was nervous and uncomfortable around him, he wasn’t much better. Growing up on his uncle’s farm, he hadn’t talked one on one to that many girls his age. How was he supposed to start a conversation? Was there something he was supposed to do, or say? And even worse, he didn’t know if he would say something that would get her to act all flustered again, and clam up.
Blake didn’t mind letting her stay in his room, but if she kept acting so silent and shy it would make him rather uncomfortable. Since it didn’t appear that she was interested in talking, he decided he might as well not bother. It was definitely preferable to asinine conversations about things he didn’t care about. He retrieved his book from where he had discarded it on the bed, leaning back against the wall and beginning to read. It was another hour before the girl finally spoke to him again.
“…Um, what are you reading?”
Blake’s eyes slid up from the page, staring at Elly. The girl was looking at him with curious blue eyes hidden behind her bangs, her face flustered with embarrassment. It looked like asking him that question had taken all the courage she had.
“A novel,” Blake said, closing the book and showing her the cover.
“You… do you like reading?” Elly asked, scooting a little closer.
“Ever since I was a kid,” Blake replied. “Or is that odd? Farmers aren’t exactly known for being avid readers.”
“No! I think it’s great!” Elly said, bobbing her head excitedly. “That’s a stereotype anyway! Thanks to the education reforms, more and more commoners are getting a full education, and…”
Her voice trailed off and she lowered her head, glancing shyly away from him.
“Err, I mean… sorry I called you a commoner, I didn’t mean…”
Blake rolled his eyes and dismissed her concerns with a wave of his hand.
“You don’t need to feel bad about something like that,” he assured her. She didn’t need to know that he wasn’t exactly a commoner, either.
“So, um, the novel…” Elly looked up at him, her eyes hidden by that messy tangle of brown she called hair. “What’s it about?”
“It’s a fantasy story,” Blake explained. “It’s a story imagining if dragons were still alive. The main character is a dragon rider, and he rescues a princess from the demons of Eldenwald.”
“Wow, dragons?!” Elly gasped. Blake was surprised at her excited reaction.
“You like dragons?”
“Oh, I love fantasy!” Elly said, nodding. “Back home, I would often go to the library and read books for hours, dreaming of fantastical creatures like dragons and fairies, brilliant angels and scary demons, all sorts of tales! I actually-“
Elly cut herself off, pressing her hands against her mouth and letting out a “yeep” in surprise.
“You really like books, huh?” Blake observed.
“W-well, I mean… when I read fantasy I get to pretend like I’m somewhere else, someone else…” she explained, twisting a lock of hair between her fingers. “I can be a powerful wizard or a mysterious witch, or a brave knight, or even a dragon rider… I can do anything with a book. At least, well… that’s what I believe, anyway…”
“I understand,” Blake agreed. “Sometimes you just wish you could be someone else, you know?”
“Right?” Elly nodded.
“I could even be a dragon rider, like you were saying,” Blake mused, raising his head and staring out the compartment window, watching the clouds and the islands fly past. “Even though in this world, dragons might be extinct, I can still pretend like they’re real between the pages. I can pretend to be one of the House Harker’s Dragon Knights, flying through the sky like I was the one on wings… I’ve read countless stories, but I can’t even imagine what it must have been like.”
“I wish I was alive back then,” Elly agreed. “I wouldn’t even need to ride a dragon… Just to see one with my own eyes, I’m sure it would be amazing.”
“But now the dragons are all dead. House Harker is dead.” Blake coldly tore that wistful discussion to shreds, resisting the burning rage starting to grow in his chest. “Time moved forward and the dragons were left behind.”
With that note of bitterness hanging in the air, the conversation dried up. Blake appreciated that. Talking with Elly had been an amusing distraction, but with his mind on dragons, he was enjoying spending some time thinking to himself.
The next morning, Blake awoke with a sharp pain in his back. He let out a sigh, sitting up, rubbing the soreness in his spine. Sleeping on the floor wasn’t fun, no matter what he had said the night before. The fact that he had been using his heavy duffel bag as a pillow hadn’t helped a lot, either. He turned and looked up at the bed, where Elly was peacefully snoring away. He resisted the urge to laugh. For someone so cautious she was surprisingly defenseless. Either that or she was a remarkable judge of character. She was lucky that it was him, and not someone else who would take advantage of her. Blake rose to his feet and glanced out the window, staring at the rising sun on the horizon. His eyes widened.
“Hey, you might want to take a look at this,” Blake called, forgetting for a moment that the girl was still sleeping.
“Hmung… wha-?” Elly blinked, sitting up and rubbing her bleary eyes. “Where’m I… what?”
“Oh, sorry,” Blake said. “Just… take a look.”
Elly blinked, staring at him for a few seconds, and then sunk back into bed, snoring away once more.
Oh, well. They had stayed up late talking about books, so she clearly needed to get some rest. Blake turned back to stare out the window again, and the large island off in the distance, getting bigger as the train got closer. He thought that she might have appreciated the sight. Blake wasn’t really sure if he did.
Sure, it might have been stunning. One of the largest islands Blake had ever seen, in fact. The lush forests and tall mountains were bathed in the golden-red glow of the morning light, large rivers of water could be seen coursing off the edges, cascading down into long falls that broke through the clouds and disappeared off into the distant sea below. The sunlight glistened off the sky falls, casting countless colors across the curtains of white. It was a sight that Blake could admire the beauty of, but to him it was like observing the details of a painting without actually being touched by it. At the end of the day it was just scenery, after all. He winced, feeling a little moved in spite of himself. That’s not important. Focus on what actually matters. Sightseeing is for tourists.
The train flew over the edge of the island and soon was soaring above the treetops, getting closer and closer to the spiraling ivory towers of the Rem Magic Academy, just a blip in the distance at first but now larger and larger. The train soared over a large crystal-blue lake, slowing down as it approached. Blake swallowed his anxiety and locked his jaw. A loud, high whistle sounded out across the train, and Elly flew up, startled.
“What? Huh?!” She gasped, looking around frantically.
“Sleep well?” Blake asked, raising his eyebrow.
Alongside the whistle, an amplified voice rang out over the train: “The train will arrive at the Rem Magic Academy in five minutes. Please gather your belongings and prepare to debark.”
“We’re here,” Elly murmured, fidgeting nervously. “We’re really here, this is really happening…”
“We’re here,” Blake echoed. He reached down and picked a large, bulky duffel bag off the ground.
“What, uh… what’s that?” Elly asked, staring at the bag.
“Luggage,” Blake replied. The rest of his luggage had been given to the porter, but this was something important. Something that he wasn’t going to trust in the hands of someone else.
Elly seemed a little intimidated by his coldness, but now that they were getting off he didn’t have to play courteous host. She nodded her head meekly, pulling her cloak a little tighter over her uniform. He led her out into the hall, joining the crowd of students heading towards the closest exits off the train.
“Stay close,” Blake warned, slightly worried that the shy girl might end up getting swallowed by the excited students. He felt her clinging to his shirt as people jostled against them, before finally stepping out the door to greet the morning sun.
“Wow…” He barely heard Elly’s gasp over the murmurs shouts of the crowd around them, and he knew now wasn’t the time to stay gawking at the large castle before their eyes. Ignoring the awestruck students he finished climbing down the steps, lugging that heavy duffel bag with him.
No longer being pushed at by the crowd, Blake glanced around and saw that they were standing in a large stone plaza, the train waiting at the edge of the cliff. A large clump of students were standing a few feet away near the center of the square. Other, taller students were ignoring them, walking towards the castle with a purpose that Blake and the other first years lacked.
“First years!” A woman with short black hair and a loud voice was standing in the front of the crowd, a large sign reading “orientation” floating above her head, presumably through the aid of magic. She was tall and the fact that her left arm ended at the elbow didn’t make her seem any less imposing as she glared at the train, or more likely, the students still gathered around it. “Over here, brats!”
Blake was on his way to join the other students, when he saw a flash of movement out of the corner of his eye. Something was coming his way, fast!
“Move, move, outta the way!” A loud voice cried from the direction of the approaching blur. Blake turned his head and raised his arm for a moment, preparing to guard the bag at his side against whatever it was that was coming, freezing up when he realized that it wasn’t a wild animal or an attack from a thief, but a girl.
This realization occurred a fraction of a second before she slammed headfirst into him with a yelp, the two tumbling onto the ground and taking Elly down with them. Blake hit the ground hard, his duffel slipping from his fingers and landing with a thud.
“Ow…” Blake grunted out, the pain in his back returning with a vengeance.
“Oh! Oh, oh, oh!” The voice from earlier wailed out above him. Blake looked up, squinting at a silhouette standing over him.
“Are you two okay?!” The silhouette asked. “I’m so sorry! I was running over to the others and I couldn’t get out of the way in time! I hope I didn’t hurt you guys…”
“Owiee…” Elly’s pained whimper came from behind Blake. The girl stepped past him and helped her up, Blake turning his head to get a good look at her for the first time. She was tall, as tall as he was, with tan skin and dark locks of hair cut short and curling around a smiling face.
“Hiya! I’m Amy! What’s your name?” Clearly this girl was the cheery, peppy sort of girl that Blake didn’t get along well with. He had too much to think about to put up with that much happy.
“I’m… Elly…” Elly said.
“Hey Elly! Name’s Amy! Wait, but did I already tell you that? Ah, it’s okay. Oh! Sorry, I forgot about your friend! He’s the one I bumped into after all! What about you, bud? You good?”
Amy’s sparkling green eyes were turned to him next, offering him a friendly smile and an extended hand. He didn’t take it, standing up himself and turning to his duffel bag. No! One of the flaps of the bag had slipped open. He forgot all about the girl and knelt down beside the bag, digging into it. One… two… three… four…
One of the eggs was gone!
Blake’s head shot up and he swung his eyes around at the crowd of people before they landed on one girl in particular. She was standing a few feet away from him, piercing blue eyes staring directly into his. She had blonde hair that glistened like gold, reaching down to her shoulders and framing a face locked in a stern expression. In her hand she held a large egg colored midnight black with swirls of orange running through it. He opened his mouth to let out a shout, about to lunge for her when she cut him off.
“You dropped this,” the girl tersely declared, taking a few steps closer to him.
“…Thank you,” Blake muttered, taking the egg from the blonde girl. As he did, she let out a hiss, pulling her hand back. “…Are you okay?”
“Just… no, nothing,” the girl said, looking at her hand before shaking her head. Without sparing him another look she turned and headed in the direction of the other students.
“Blake, um… what is that?”
Reminded of Elly’s presence, Blake turned to her, not sure how to explain the egg in his hands. It wasn’t like he could come right out and tell her that it was a dragon egg, that was a secret of the Harker family, something that he was keeping very close to his heart.
“Whoa, it’s so cool!” Amy popped in, reaching for it. Blake instinctively pulled it back, holding the warm egg close to his chest. For a second he feared that she might be trying to steal it, but she pulled back and looked at him with confusion.
“Is it… a private thing?” Elly asked. “Then, um… sorry for… for prying…”
She looked down bashfully. Blake sighed, kneeling down, and slid the egg into the duffel bag, nestling it in along with the other eggs. They were all back now.
“It’s… don’t worry about it.”
A loud voice drew the attention of the group of three. A quick look around and Blake realized that they were standing alone, all the other first year students having gathered together a few feet away. And they were all looking at the three of them, a sea of eyes that made even Blake feel a little embarrassed.
“Amy, if you and your little friends done chatting, do you mind if we head off to orientation now?” The loud woman asked, raising her eyebrow.
“Err… sorry… hehe…” the tall girl laughed, scratching her tangled hair sheepishly, her tan skin flushing. A glance between the two clued Blake in to the resemblance between Amy and the older woman.
Amy skipped forward as Blake followed behind her, Elly right beside him, her pale face a deep crimson of shame. Blake felt a little bad for her. She’d told him earlier that she was trying to keep her head down and not draw attention to herself, and due to that little run-in there was little chance of that happening now. As they joined the crowd, Blake only hoped that the egg had gone unseen, or at least unrecognized. It would be easier to blend in that way. It would nice if Elly could blend in, too, at least for her sake.
“Okay, all of you kids!” The loud woman barked. “My name is Aria Esterwind, and I’m your guide today. You will know me as “Miss Esterwind”. And nothing else. Now, today is orientation! I don’t know if any of you know what that means, but it means that you’re going to get a nice and close look at the way things work around here! Learn the rules, meet your fellow students, and most importantly, figure out what cohort you’ll be placed in. Are there any questions before we head to the main assembly?”
There were questions, several of them. The teacher ignored the wave of raised hands and turned on her heel, storming down towards the large castle towering over them.
“That’s it?” Elly meekly asked.
“What are you brats waiting for?!” The woman demanded, whirling back around, her eyes burning. “It’s this way!”
Blake was having a hard time believing this woman was really a teacher here, let alone that she was the one in charge of their orientation.
“She’s really scary…” Elly murmured. Blake was following the flow of the crowd, handing back near the edge with the shy girl so they wouldn’t draw any more attention to themselves.
“I really hope I don’t end up in her class,” Blake agreed. She seemed like she could make his next five years here miserable.
“Yeah, she’s a real handful.”
Surprised at the new voice, Blake glanced over to see Amy standing next to him, wearing a look that could be called apologetic if not for the big beaming smile.
“I thought you two looked similar, is she your mother?” Elly asked. Apparently she had also picked up on the family resemblance.
“What? No, she’s my older sister,” Amy said. Their faces must have looked surprised, because she followed with “like, really older, there’s a pretty big age gap between us.”
“I can’t imagine what having a sister like that would be like,” Elly sighed.
“Yeah, she’s a real surly type, I’m surprised they actually hired her,” Amy nodded in agreement.
“She reminds me of my uncle,” Blake said.
“What, was he like a drill sergeant in the military or something?”
“Worse. A farmer.” Blake still resented those early-morning manure scrapings.
“You lived on a farm? Dude that’s totally cool!” Amy gushed. “What about you, Elly? Where are you from?”
“Oh, um, nowhere in particular.”
The crowd of students followed Miss Esterwind out of the plaza, already talking among themselves. Blake didn’t involve himself with any of the gossip, tuning out the two girls as he walked along with the others, scanning the students for the blonde girl he had encountered. The girl who had found the dragon egg. Hopefully, she didn’t know what it was. If she did, well…
“Here we are!” Miss Esterwind called, turning around to face the crowd of students. She stood in front of a large set of double doors, at the end of a large grassy courtyard framed by wings of the building on either side. It felt like they were nestled right in the heart of campus, the air around them rich with mana and a sweet odor from the mountain flowers.
Blake glanced at the girls beside him, two contrasts in preparedness. Amy’s eyes were already wide with excitement, while the timid Elly had her head lowered and was whispering something really quickly.
“From this moment forward, when you step through these doors, your lives will never be the same,” Miss Esterwind declared, looking out over them. The crowd fell silent. She smiled and nodded.
“That’s what I like to see.” She raised her hand and snapped her fingers, the doors swinging open behind her. She strolled into the building, rubbing her other arm as she led the kids inside.