The Heir of the Dragon
The echo of his feet was the only thing keeping Damien company as he walked down the hall, feeling himself finally start to relax. Another year, another cohort. This one was more interesting than most, at least. There were a number of students in his cohort that we would categorize as remarkable, but the one who he was most interested in was, of course, his nephew, Blake Harker. It had been ten years since the death of his sister, and many years since he had been cast out of his family and stripped of his name for the mantle of “Darkflame”.
Damien turned to see a familiar face approaching him, feeling a rare smile creep across his lips.
Fellow professor Drana Salamandra stepped into the corridor, smiling at him. An expert on magic beasts and responsible for caretaking the school’s menagerie, it was a rarity to see her black hair brushed or her overalls not covered in mud or fur. She must have been working on her lesson plan.
“Are finished with your cohort?” She asked him.
“Finally. Are you done with your class preparation?”
“This is why I dislike the first term,” she sighed, joining the professor in his walk back to the faculty’s quarters. “Working with that woman is-“
“My, speaking so openly about your coworkers?”
Drana nearly jumped out of her clothes, whirling around to see Rio Saleigh standing behind her, the auburn-haired woman smiling cheerily.
“She’s right,” Damien agreed. “Drana, it’s unprofessional for you to act that way. You’ve been working here for how many years now?”
“Think nothing of it,” Rio said, dismissing the issue with a wave of her hand. “I’m in a rather good mood at the moment, regardless. This crop of first years was rather pleasing. Although I can’t say I’m entirely certain the classes were balanced properly…”
“Are you questioning the decision of the Muses?” Damien asked.
“Not at all, I’m simply stating that this term’s Chess Matches may be a trifle unbalanced,” she chuckled. “What a pity, I was hoping that my cohort would be going on the first year expedition.”
“You never know,” Damien replied. “Anything is possible, after all.”
“Just make sure you don’t teach your kids anything off the books,” Rio said, shooting a suspicious look his way. “I don’t want any signs of favoritism, especially where certain students may be involved.”
Favoritism? Damien didn’t plan on showing his nephew any favoritism. He wasn’t even sure what that would entail. Until this point, his relationship with Blake had been that of a distant patron, keeping an eye out for him while he lived on his uncle’s farm. They didn’t have a relationship.
“Damien is an excellent teacher, now who’s the one acting unprofessional?” Drana asked.
“No, she’s right to be concerned,” Damien said. “To be honest, there are some things that I am worried about. While my cohort may have a lot of talented individuals, as a group, there… is room for improvement.”
“There always is,” Rio agreed. “…How do you feel about it, though?”
“Feel about what?” Damien asked.
“Your nephew being here? I would have thought that having your own family… wouldn’t it be nice?” Rio asked. “After all… you thought he was dead, didn’t you? Everyone did. Your whole family, wiped out in a single night… and then suddenly, years later, one of them walks right in through the front door, whole and hale? If that had happened to me… you’re quite lucky, Damien.”
“We aren’t family,” Damien coldly replied. “Haven’t you known me long enough by now?”
“Yes, and that’s how I know you would say something like that,” Rio said.
Damien’s frown deepened. He didn’t like her pretending she had this great insight into his thoughts, even if it was true that his feelings on his nephew and his family were more complicated than he liked admitting in public.
“The love for one’s family, I know that all too well,” Rio said, her eyes watering with nostalgia. “He’s alive. He’s your only family left. Old issues don’t matter right now. You should take your time to really get to build a relationship with him. I know that if I had that opportunity, I would take it in a second. Think about it, okay?”
Rio stopped outside of her chambers, and said farewell to her coworkers.
“…She’s wrong, you know,” Drana whispered. Damien looked past her and walked down the hall.
“She just doesn’t get it,” Drana tried again after catching up to him. “She doesn’t know that your relationship with your family is-“
“Drana… it’s fine,” Damien assured her. Drana slumped like a sad puppy. Damien let out a sigh, and patted her on the head. Sometimes it was hard to believe she was older than him with the way she acted.
“I mean, actually…”
Damien studied her. In spite of Drana’s usual perkiness, right now she looked troubled.
“What is it?”
“I kind of… I think I agree with Rio,” Drana replied. “Blake, he… he is your nephew, so… I know that things are complicated, but I still think you could reach out to him.”
“…I’ll think about it,” Damien found himself saying. He wasn’t sure if he really meant what he just said, but the sparkle of relief in his friend’s blue eyes was worth the words, anyway.
“Well, good then,” Drana sighed in relief. “Are you heading off to bed, then?”
“I’ll stay up a little longer then, maybe go out for a walk,” Drana stretched her arms, yawning. “In the meantime, take care of yourself.”
Drana said goodbye, heading down one turn in the hall while Damien headed down the other, retiring to his quarters for the night.
Damien stripped out of his outer robes and leaned back on his bed, staring up at the shadows dancing across the ceiling. He thought of his nephew, and the way he had carried himself. Blake… it was clear that the boy wasn’t good at interacting with his peers. He seemed to have no interest in making friends. While Damien could understand that desire, he also knew that it wasn’t a good path forward.
For a brief moment, Damien wondered… what if? What if he let Blake know the truth, told him that he wasn’t alone, that he had someone else to carry on the name of Harker?
…No. Blake had never even been told his mother had any siblings. To meet him now, like this… wouldn’t he just end up despising him?
He was brought out of his thoughts by a knock on the door. Sitting up from bed, confused at who would be calling at this hour, he walked over to the door and opened it.
“Hey, Damien! What’s up?”
Aria Esterwind was standing before him with a big smile on her face, dressed not as a professional should be, but in plain trousers and a shirt. He was similarly dressed, but he was in the privacy of his room, not strolling the halls where a student or coworker could see.
“What do you want at this hour?” Damien asked.
“I just came to celebrate, obviously,” Aria said, holding up a large bottle of sour wine. The slight flush on her cheeks told him that she had already started ahead of him, which was to be expected.
“We have classes tomorrow, I can’t believe you’re an educator,” Damien said, pinching the bridge of his nose.
“It’s a time for celebratin’!” Aria crowed, stepping past him and setting the bottle down on his desk, spreading out on his couch. “Come on, you can share a drink with a buddy, can’t you? Call in Rio and Argent, too, we should all be excited for classes tomorrow!”
“They’ve turned in for the night, as I was about to.”
Aria wasn’t listening to him, having already sprung off of the couch and headed over to one of his cabinets, pulling out some cups and tucking them under her other arm. Damien sighed, closing the door. The woman was stubborn, if nothing else. What a combination - youth and stubbornness.
“I’ll keep you company, but I’m not interested in drinking.”
Aria gave him a sour look, uncorking the bottle.
“You’ll regret it, you know. This is some of the finest wine from East and Down. Right from the vines of my own home island. Real strong red.”
“I’ve never really had much a taste for wine,” Damien admitted. “I find I can make bad enough decisions just fine on my own.”
“It’s a shame, you really are missing out.” Aria took another swig, setting her glass down and kicking up her legs on the end table, disrespectful as usual. “Hey, if you wouldn’t mind, can you be a little strict with the kids in my cohort tomorrow? Really put ‘em to the grindstone, they’re in need of a good whipping into shape if you ask me!”
“…You’re not going to ask me about your sister?”
Aria stopped laughing and set her glass down.
“Amy? What about her?”
“I thought you would have something to say, considering she’s in my cohort.”
“What’s there to say?” Aria scoffed, shrugging.
“…But she’s your sister, isn’t she? Wouldn’t you have wanted her to be in your cohort, so you could look out for her? Make sure she wasn’t getting into trouble?”
“Nah. I’m not her babysitter. We’re family. And since we’re family, I’m gonna leave her to do her own thing. So long as she’s running forward, she doesn’t need me to lend a hand. After all, I don’t have any to spare!” As usual, Aria punctuated her serious thoughts with a joke, though her laughter carried a bitter tone, unsurprisingly.
“…I trust that girl to make her own choices, izzall,” she said, taking another slug of wine. “Ain’t no reason she gotta have me breathing down her neck and putting pressure on her. I’m more ‘an ten years older than ‘er, our relationship ain’t exactly what you’d call all close and sisterly, y’know?”
Aria’s words struck a chord with Damien, even if he found one part to be a little surprising.
So you’re aware you can be overbearing, and yet you still choose to intrude on my private time like this? Damien held his tongue; there was nothing to be gained from that. He just hoped that when she wouldn’t get too sloshed.
“It’s getting late, don’t you have lessons in the morning?” Damien reminded her.
“Feh, you always gotta be so damn professional, Darkflame. Don’t you ever relax?”
“I find work to be relaxing,” he replied. “I have to go over the records of the students in my cohort in order to adapt lessons to them.”
So I don’t have time to spend on keeping you company, he silently added.
“You’ve got some interesting ones in your cohort, that’s for sure. Wish I could’ve gotten my hands on a prince or a prodigy. Even that sleepy girl with the huge reserves of mana woulda been interesting. You know, if it’s too much of a handful for you to look after those talented little kiddos, you can always send one or two of ‘em over my way, whatya think?”
Aria raised her eyebrow and grinned at him. Damien shook his head.
“…Worth a shot, anyway. Still, there’re two students of yours that I’m particularly curious about. There’s that Harker kid, everyone’s talking about him, of course, but what about that missing one?”
“You mean Sora Black?”
“So there is one! I thought it was strange that you had just 29 students in your cohort!”
“There are certain considerations,” was all Damien chose to say. This wasn’t an issue he had any interest in discussing.
“Eh, how boring. You aren’t keeping her as a secret weapon for the Chess Matches or something, right?”
“No, Aria. I just know better than to discuss the personal circumstances of my students as idle gossip.”
“She’s my student too, let me remind you. Your cohorts are in my Physical Training class like all the others. If there’s going to be something that interferes with my lessons I’d like to know.”
“Well, if you had bothered to read your syllabus-“
Damien silenced her objections with a glare.
“Then you’d know that Sora will be under special care. If you have an issue with that, you can always raise it with the Chancellor.”
He shared a silent stare with Aria for a few moments, before she relaxed and shrugged her shoulders.
“Hey, like you said, she’s a student in your cohort. If you’re fine with her situation, no skin off my nose. Just one less brat I have to take care of, after all.”
“It still astounds me that you would choose to go into teaching.”
Aria glared at him and drained her glass, slamming it down onto the table and then wiping her lips off on her sleeve.
“Well what do you expect, hunh?” Aria growled. “The fuck was I supposed to do? Not like the army has any use for a combat mage with one fucking arm. Fighting’s all I know how to do, at least here I can put it to use.”
Damien said nothing as Aria went off, he’d heard it all before. Better to just let the anger run its course.
Aria clutched the stump of her arm and muttered as she went red in the face.
“…Those fucking tree-fuckers and their fucking rebellion…”
Damien ignored the slurs. Aria’s scars from the war with Estval were far from healed.
“Can you believe they’re actually talking about letting those bark-eaters enroll here next year?” Aria scowled. “They’re the fucking enemy, fuck, what then? Are we opening our doors to demons next? I swear, the day they let one of those Estvallian tree-fuckers set their dirty feet on this campus is the day I fucking… fuck, it’s just not even fucking happening!”
“They’re citizens, Aria,” Damien reminded her. “The war has been over for five years. They’re just as much a part of the kingdom as anyone else. Let the past-”
“You don’t fucking know,” Aria growled. “I don’t remember seeing you in the forests with the rest of us! Mr. Professor, too busy studying magic to use it to fight for the people of his country! The only thing you know about Estval is what you read in a textbook! You ain’t from East and Down! They’re a bunch of fucking savages, no sense in the lot of ‘em! You’re just talking about forgiveness without knowing a damn! You ain’t lost a damn thing to those bastards, so don’t stand there and tell me you know how it is!”
Damien dug his nails into his palm to fight back the urge to curse her out. She had no idea how much he had lost.
“You want to talk about fucking loss? Go talk to that kid, what’s his name? The Harker brat. You want to talk about how tree-fuckers are people and deserve the same rights as the rest of us? Then go tell that kid how he’ll be walking the halls with the same tree-fuckers that slaughtered his whole entire family!”
Damien winced at her harsh words, but couldn’t repudiate them. He couldn’t deny what Blake had lost, and whatever rage the boy must be feeling, he couldn’t deny that he felt it, too. Whatever his issues with his family may have been, even if he had been cast out, they were still his family, and they had still been killed by terrorists. He wouldn’t deny his hatred of them, but he also had sense enough to keep that hatred contained to those who deserved it, and not cast it upon those who didn’t share in their sin. He could only hope that Blake was capable of seeing things the same way.
“I can’t believe that you’re the one looking after that kid,” Aria said, shaking her head. “Someone like you who actually sympathizes with the people who-? It won’t end well, I’ll promise you that.”
“You don’t know anything,” Damien muttered. Aria was far too inebriated to have any sort of coherent conversation with at this point.
“The hell I don’t, I only lost my arm! You think that brat, after getting his whole family slaughtered-“
“Aria, I think you should leave,” Damien narrowed his eyes into as cold a glare as he could, hoping that it would be enough to get the incensed mage to shut up and leave him in peace.
“…Yeah, maybe I should,” Aria scowled, rising to her feet and grabbing her bottle of wine, taking a swig. “Clearly you don’t understand the fuck what you’re talking about.”
“The war is over, Aria. It’s time for you to move on.” Damien was done being nice. Aria may have been hurting, but there wasn’t any point in holding onto her rage. If she couldn’t see that it was destroying her, there was nothing Damien could do to help her. Hopefully the students at least would be spared her toxicity.
Aria snorted in response, tucking her bottle under the crook of her severed left arm. She rubbed the stump of her arm.
“The war is over? Fuck that fucking peace. We had peace last time, and they still fucking rebelled. They don’t know any better, they’re just gonna wait until the next opportunity, you fucking idiot. They’re a bunch of savage tree-fuckers who don’t give a damn for anything but hurting people who are just trying to live their lives. And you think we can have a peace with people like that.”
“It’s done, Aria. Go home. All you’re doing is clinging onto meaningless hatred and bitterness.”
“Yeah, maybe I am,” Aria growled. “But you can be damn sure that the tree-fuckers over there are clinging to it same as I am. If you think your fucking peace means a damn fucking thing, you’re as big a fucking fool as I said.”