The Heir of the Dragon
Stepping through the doors of the auditorium, Blake paused for a moment to take in the large room. In the deepest recesses of his memory, he had thoughts of the warm fireplace of the dining hall of Silverscale Castle, where his family had lived. This room was even larger, with high marble walls lit bright with magic torches shining the colors of the rainbow. Upon the floor of the large hall sat old wooden chairs arranged in ten rows, split down the center into two sections. Blake counted six chairs in each row, for a total of one hundred and twenty - enough for each of them. Each chair faced a large raised dais at the end of the room, and the large oak table sitting upon it. Four people sat the table, with a fifth chair at the end notably empty. Blake squinted closely at them, barely able to make out their stern faces.
Miss Esterwind walked directly to the dais and the stepped onto it. She lowered her head and addressed the elderly man seated at the center of the table.
“I’ve brought the first years, Chancellor Markov.”
The white-haired man she’d called Chancellor nodded his head.
“You may be seated, Aria.”
The woman nodded her head and took the empty seat at the end of the table. With her out of the way, the Chancellor rose from his seat and addressed the students huddled together at the back of the hall.
“Please, be seated.” His voice boomed, and yet it carried a softness to it that washed over the room. Blake felt himself relaxing at the soothing words. The students stepped further into the room and began to fill up the rows of seats.
A loud hiss caught his attention, and he spotted Amy and Elly in the furthest row, Amy eagerly patting an empty seat. It wasn’t like he had anywhere else to sit, so he took it.
“Oh, man, I’m so nervous! Aren’t you nervous? I’m nervous.”
Blake glanced past Amy and looked at Elly, who seemed considerably more nervous than the fast-talking girl sitting between them claimed to be.
“Man, my heart is totally pounding, I can’t sit still! I can’t believe anyone can! Look at her, can you imagine being that relaxed?” Blake followed Amy’s finger to the girl seated on the other side of him in the aisle seat, whose legs he had inadvertently stepped over. She had hair oddly colored a sky blue tied in a long braid that draped over her shoulder, and her eyes were shut tightly as she leaned her head against the rest of her chair, peacefully snoring away. Apparently the Chancellor’s voice was more soothing to some than others.
When all the students had found their seats, the Chancellor spoke again.
“Thank you. Today is a busy day, so I will make this as brief as I can. Today, you will be assigned to your cohorts. This is an important moment, and one that we do not take lightly here.”
Cohort. The other teacher had used that word, too. It wasn’t a word he was familiar with.
“What’s a ‘cohort’?” Blake whispered to Amy.
“Shush!” She shushed him. Blake blinked. She shushed him. This girl was one of the loudest people he’d ever met, and she’d actually shushed him.
“Should all go well, your tenure at this school will last five years. In those five years, you will hopefully learn a great many things, and meet a great many people. But none will be more important than the classmates in your cohort. You will attend your common core classes together. Live together. Work together to help each other become the mages you are meant to be.
He cleared his throat.
“Your cohort,” he continued, “is like your family.”
Blake clenched his jaw. That word felt like a slap in the face.
“Although we hope your time here will be a pleasant one, it cannot be denied that the study of magic is hard. At times you may feel lost or alone. That is when you can look to those in your cohort for support. Together, you can help one another, guide one another, and learn from one another. That was the guiding idea upon which this prestigious academy was founded countless years ago. Remember…”
To punctuate his statement, the Chancellor raised a single finger.
“One finger can push a stone forward.”
He paused, his head turning to look across the room. Blake saw a flash of silver and briefly met the man’s eyes.
“But with the help of others, it forms a hand that can carry that stone anywhere it might need to go.”
Blake let those words sink in. The meaning was clear, but the analogy itself, well… his confusion was clearly shared with others, he noticed puzzled looks among the students in his row. This was what he had meant by brief? The silence was broken by Amy’s snickering. Two sources of laughter could be heard, in fact. The sisters were similar in their sense of humor, Miss Esterwind sharing in the joke. The Chancellor turned his gaze upon the teacher, and she quickly sobered up.
“Ahem,” the Chancellor cleared his throat again, reclaiming the attention of the room. He turned back to the students, pushing through the momentary awkwardness. “As I said, your cohort is your source of strength and stability in the years to come. You will hopefully find friends there that will last you a lifetime. And so we do not select these cohorts lightly. There are four cohorts each year, the Stars, the Sun, the Moon, and the Clouds. Each is chosen with great care, taking into consideration every factor about you. The Rem Magic Academy is the greatest institution of magic in the sky, and we wish to do our best for each one of you to prove ourselves worthy of that honor. And so to that end… we leave it to those better suited than I or anyone here.”
With a raised hand, the Chancellor gestured to a large object sitting before him on the table, wrapped in a white cloth. A collective gasp rose up among the crowd, Blake’s voice joining the chorus. There had been nothing on the table before now, and yet it was sitting right there, plain as day. He hadn’t seen anyone place it there, and it hadn’t seemed like it had popped into existence. It was just… there. Like it always had been, and it was just that none of them had noticed until now.
The Chancellor took the cloth in his hands and tore it away, revealing what was lying beneath, and eliciting another wave of gasps among the students. The cloth had hidden a crystal filled with mana, an orica larger than any Blake had ever seen. It branched out like a tree in various directions, a multitude of colors reflecting in its shimmering surface. Even at this distance, Blake could feel the mana radiating out of the orica, the room was positively glowing with energy.
Then, a gust of wind shot through the room from sources unknown, the torch lights flickering along with it. But this was no fall breeze, this was wind of a magic variety, and colors swirled through the air, carried down rivers of mana that threaded throughout the room with an energizing hum. A starburst of red and gold shot past Blake’s eyes and exploded over his head, showers of sparkles raining down on him. He flinched; expecting it to hurt, but the wind was all he felt, nothing else.
“They’re here, they’re here!” A tiny voice sang out.
“It’s our favorite time of year!” Another voice called.
The swirls of color continued to pulse and grow until the air above their heads had mixed into a rainbow tornado casting the white walls and ceiling aglow. And in the center of the light, Blake watched with the same rapt attention as the others students, just barely making out tiny figures moving within the current
It was Elly who identified them first.
“Faeries!” She gasped, and the figures flew closer, dancing above the students’ heads. Blake could count nine of them, each no larger than his hand.
The tiny figures had not just emerged from the rainbow, they were a rainbow themselves, androgynous pixies in gossamer dresses of different colors, reds and blues and golds and silvers, each glowing so brightly their fair features could barely be made out. The first-year class let out a chorus of “ooh”s and “ah”s as the faeries’ dance drew closer, one passing right through their row with a flash of green before flying towards the crystal tree, where the others were gathering. They circled the orica like bees around a hive, their colors reflecting onto the shining surface of the crystal and making it glow even brighter. But the brightest glow of all was at the center of the storm, coming from a faerie who was radiating a stunning white. The dance lasted the briefest of seconds, and then the whirling rainbow disappeared as suddenly as it had appeared, leaving the shining faeries perched atop the massive crystal.
In a voice louder than her size, the white faerie addressed the students.
“We are… the Muses. And we shall read your path forward. You needn’t be surprised of us, my dears. Just believe in yourselves, and we shall do the rest.”
Her melodious voice sent a wave of murmurs through the students. It seemed that the nervousness was starting to disperse, and the interest in what was going on had increased.
The Chancellor cleared his throat again, lifting a long, rolled piece of parchment up from below the table and unrolling it.
“When I call your name, please, step forward,” the Chancellor declared, the white faerie nodding to him.
Blake watched with the rest of the students as a girl with silver hair rose from her seat, the rattle of a sword ringing out across the room as she stepped out into the aisle. She was beautiful, her hair pulled back into a ghostly ponytail that swayed behind her as she walked up onto the dais, standing before the teachers and the faeries.
“Is that a sword?” Amy whispered. “Why does she have one of those?”
“She’s a noble,” Blake guessed, recognizing her family’s name.
“Greetings, honored professors,” the girl, Audrey, addressed the faculty first. She held her arm across her waist and lowered her head in a bow. She then turned and did the same to the fae. “And greetings to you, as well.”
“Oh me oh my, such a polite little thing,” the white faerie murmured, beckoning the silver-haired girl forward. “Come closer child.”
Audrey approached as she was bid to. She looked the picture of dignity with her austere features, but as she walked towards the tree her foot turned and she nearly tripped. She managed to keep her balance and never lost her composure, but the secret was out. She was as anxious as any of them, maybe more so.
“What should I do?” Audrey asked.
“Place your hand upon the orica, child,” the faerie instructed, flittering up to the silver-haired girl on gossamer wings. “And release your mana into it as though you were casting a spell.”
Audrey nodded and leaned forward, laying her hand on the crystal’s surface. She turned and looked at the faerie.
“How much should I-“
“It matters not.”
The orica began to pulse with mana, the colors weaving through it growing brighter and more vibrant. Rainbow light rose up from the surface of the crystal like the Ice Barrier’s auroras, mixing and shifting into shapes and then symbols, and finally forming the numbers 1, 7, 5, and 2.
Audrey gasped, surprised.
“We see, we see…” the faeries hummed in chorus, flitting about the orica and Audrey. “Your mana level, 1752.”
“Mana level?” Blake asked.
“It’s the amount of mana a person naturally has inside them,” Elly whispered. Blake glanced at her, surprised to hear her so talkative. Especially when he saw the pallor of her face and the terror in her widened eyes. He didn’t have time to concern himself over her though, and pressed on.
“Is that high?”
“It is,” Amy answered for Elly, who looked away.
“Those numbers, so high,” one faerie echoed, their voices blending together.
“Look at her eyes, such a beautiful red,” another giggled, or perhaps the same one, Blake couldn’t tell.
“What do they see? What do they see?”
Audrey remained silent as the faeries inspected her carefully.
“Eyes that watch the future, many roads, many skies,” a faerie sang. “It can be so clear, so easy to see. I think she has a road laid bright like a sun.”
“Or perhaps a drifting cloud,” another spoke.
“No,” the white faerie declared, her voice drowning out the others. “Stars, bright, countless. This shall be your cohort, Audrey Angelique with the red eyes.”
“It is said,” the faeries echoed in a torrent of voices that blended into one. “It is said.”
Audrey lowered her head, and bowed to them.
“I thank you for your grace, wise Muses.”
The faeries responded to her gratitude with a chorus of giggles, apparently amused by her words. The girl nodded one final time, turned, and stepped down from the dais, returning to her seat. A few students clapped tentatively as the teachers and chancellor did, and the crowd soon broke out into applause.
“The Stars Cohort, huh?” Amy said, scratching her chin.
“Is that a good one?” Blake asked. Amy shrugged.
“I know it’s lead by Professor Darkflame,” Amy replied. “That’s all. I’d be cool with it. As long as I’m not in the Clouds Cohort.”
Amy glanced at her sister, and Blake suspected why she didn’t want that cohort.
“Calum Arslow,” the Chancellor read the next name from the list. A large boy with tan skin and shiny blonde hair rose from his seat, striding up to the dais with a confident look on his face.
“The Clouds!” The faerie’s voices cheered. “The Clouds! It is said. It is said.”
The blonde boy nodded, a smile on his face.
More names were called, more students stepped up, and more numbers appeared above the orica. Each time a number was displayed, the Chancellor wrote something beside the scroll. Blake watched the procession with a vigilant eye. Most of the students had numbers in the high triple digits or low quadruple digits. The silver-haired girl, Audrey, was clearly an exception among the other students. A few got close, but no one had a higher number than her yet.
“Chloe Bellajean,” the Chancellor read out next.
Unlike the other times, no one rose to the name.
The Chancellor stood silent for a moment, before clearing his throat, speaking a little louder.
“Chloe Bellajean?” He asked again, scanning the room.
Still, no one left their seat. The students began to get restless, looking at one another as murmurs began to rise. Even the faeries looked puzzled.
“They can’t have gotten a name wrong,” Amy wondered.
Blake glanced beside him at the blue-haired girl who was still snoring away.
It couldn’t be…
Blake placed his hand on her shoulder and gently shook it.
“Mmrghm… hm?” The slumbering girl was roused from her sleep. She blinked and turned her head to look around, yawning.
“Are you… is your name Chloe?”
The girl’s amethyst eyes looked at him with a tired glassiness. She yawned.
“Chloe Bellajean?” The Chancellor tried a third time, his tone growing exasperated.
“Ho?” The sleepy-eyed girl perked up slightly, turning her head to the dais curiously.
“Go up there!” Amy hissed at her.
“Mmr,” she mumbled, nodding her head. She walked up to the front of the room, rubbing her eyes and swaying slightly.
What’s the matter with this girl? Blake wondered.
“So rested,” one of the faeries cooed when the girl, Chloe, stood in front of them.
“Her hair, her eyes,” another said. “Dyed in mana, so rich!”
“A feast, a feast,” the faeries echoed.
“Place your hand here,” the white faerie requested.
With a nod, the girl yawned, and then placed her hand on the side of the orica. The crystal began glowing with a deep bluish-violet light that drowned out the other colors.
The numbers were…
Blake’s jaw dropped. A chorus of gasps joined him at the sight of those numbers, far higher than Audrey’s had been, over twice as high.
“Oh me oh my!” The white faerie gasped. The other faeries circled around the girl.
“Her mana, so high!”
“It leaks out of her, seeping right into the roots!”
“But so tired, so sleepy.”
“Dreamy girl, dreaming of things to come.”
“What future can the dreamy girl dream? Dreams of sunny days or moonlit nights? Fluffy clouds wrapped in a blanket around her?”
The white faerie was silent as the others gushed over Chloe, before finally making her decision.
“It is said,” the faeries giggled. “It is said.”
With a shaky hand, the Chancellor wrote down something on the parchment. He seemed nearly as surprised as the students were.
“Go now, dream girl,” the faeries murmured. “Dream more dreams.”
Chloe stumbled off the dais and returned to her seat, asleep before her butt even hit the chair.
The names continued to be listed. More students were assigned to the Star cohort along with the others, and as the list reached the E’s, a student that Blake recognized was announced next.
“Lancelus vi Eldaria… The Fourth,” the Chancellor read out, a hush falling over the crowd. The black-haired prince rose from his seat and did a little bow, the two boys on either side of him clapping.
“Is that the prince?” One of the girls sitting in front of Blake whispered to another. They both giggled.
The prince wore a cocky smirk on his face as he strode down the aisle, waving to the students.
“A prince, how regal!” The faeries cooed.
“His eyes, such ferocity!”
He gave them a smile, and placed his hand on the orica.
It was high, higher than Audrey, but still dwarfed by the immense power that Chloe had displayed. A lot of people had tried since then, but Blake had a suspicion that no one would even come close to her number.
“What a high score!”
“As expected of a prince!”
“Such a strong will, so composed, like tempered steel!”
The prince stood a little taller, clearly basking in the praise.
“But he stands on his own, not with others,” one faerie said, the others murmuring in agreement. The prince turned his head to see which of them had said it, but to Blake it seemed impossible to find one voice out of the chorus.
“Needs to be respected, needs to work with others, no king is alone,” the faeries said more and more.
“For one with such talent, in need of others, the Stars, the Stars,” the faeries chanted. “It is said. It is said.”
There were some murmurs of discontent at that declaration. That made three exceptional mana levels assigned to the Stars Cohort.
“I wish I’d been assigned there,” one guy who’d been placed in the Clouds Cohort muttered. Blake glanced his way.
“Yeah, gotta be easier to have classes with geniuses to help you.” Another boy agreed.
“They have a point,” Amy agreed. “I guess the faeries think that they’ll help each other grow, maybe?”
Blake glanced at the sleeping girl next to him. He didn’t think that she was going to be of much help to anybody.
The list continued. Blake noticed that with each name called; Amy was starting to fidget a little bit more in her seat. With her last name being “Esterwind”, she was going to be called soon. He had no idea when he or Elly would be called, but Elly was clearly in bad shape too. She looked even paler than before.
The malkin from before headed up to the dais, and was named to the Stars Cohort as well. The prince nodded as he sat down beside him.
By this point Amy had her eyes closed and her fingers crossed, not even paying attention to the ceremony.
A few more names were called, and finally…
Amy gulped, standing up shakily. Her fingers were still crossed. As she stepped over the duffel bag at Blake’s feet, he could hear her whispering “please not the Clouds Cohort, please not the Clouds Cohort.”
She stood before the orica and the faeries, her fingers still crossed at her sides. Blake saw her sister leaning forward intently.
“Your hand?” The white faerie asked sweetly. Amy gave a jerky nod and reached out her hand, placing it on the orica. It began to thrum, and the faeries began to sing.
“Such a light heart! Such spirit!” They giggled, Amy’s number of 876 appearing in the light. “For such a girl, running so fast, so bright…”
“…The Stars!” The white faerie declared, and Blake could see Amy’s anxiety drain away just in the way her body stopped tensing.
“It is said, it is said.”
Amy’s pace back up the aisle was a lot faster than it had been going down. She walked with a spring in her step, sitting down between Blake and Elly.
“You seem to be happy,” Blake commented.
“I don’t have to be in my sister’s cohort,” Amy sighed in relief, a big smile on her face. “That would be hard…”
“So your sister runs one of the cohorts?” Blake asked.
“She’s the supervising teacher of the Clouds Cohort for this year,” Amy explained, making a sour face. “I don’t want to know what that would be like.”
“The Stars Cohort is better?”
“Damien Darkflame? Yeah, he’s pretty stern but really cool,” Amy said. “He was one of the youngest mages to secure a teaching position here, didya know?”
Blake didn’t. He turned his head to glance at the dark-haired man sitting at the table with the other teachers, knowing the stern look on his face by heart. His teaching record wasn’t what Blake was interested in.
A student with a mana level of 1893 was assigned to the Moon Cohort and two students with levels in the high 1600s were assigned to the Sun Cohort, so the overall attitude in the room had relaxed. While no one matched the astounding score of Chloe Bellajean, it was clear that the Stars Cohort was not hogging the exceptional students. But when the next name was announced, the crowd went silent.
A young man with black hair rose from his seat. His skin was pale, even paler than Elly’s, and when he turned Blake could see the flash of his sharp blue eyes.
“Who is that guy? Do you know?” Blake asked Amy, curious about the reaction to him.
“He’s Ark Greenland,” Amy whispered back. “I heard some rumors on the train that he’s from really high up in the sky, one of the islands where it’s really, really cold, like, right at the border. And they say he’s a genius! Like, he can already do all kinds of magic. So people are wondering what cohort he’s gonna be in.”
“A genius, huh? Then what’s he doing here?”
The genius’s score was high. 2436, beating out the prince’s mana level, the highest so far besides Chloe’s.
“Hmm… you seem so cold.”
“Such cold mana.”
“Like you’re better than others.”
“A genius needs challenge.”
“The Stars,” the white faerie decided.
“It is said, it is said.”
The grumbles from the students in other cohorts rose up again. Blake didn’t see what the big deal was.
A few names later and they had gone through the G’s, moving on to the H’s.
“The next name,” the Chancellor said, glancing down the list. “Blake…”
Blake’s blood went cold. In that fraction of a second, he recalled countless names of noble households who it could be. The Harolds, the Handlers, the Havengrounds. Another Blake, it must be. Anything but that name, please don’t say-