The Heir of the Dragon
The light of the sun streamed down upon the forest, illuminating the large leaves and brightening the forest floor. Trevan couldn’t see the light of the sun, but he could feel the energy rejuvenating the life of the forest. Not only did the sunlight warm his tanned skin through his light tunic, but it provided the forest with the nourishment it needed to grow even grander.
Trevan concentrated on the forest a little more, and pondered the concept of awakening with the forest, the magic he was training to master. He could already hear the breathing of the forest; feel the life coursing all the way to Eldrasil, the Sacred Tree. The breathing of the trees was moving in time with his own breath. He built up mana within his body and extended it out to the trees, focusing and connecting his mana with each of them. With a thought, his connection to the magic of the forest would allow him to control the trees and move their leaves and branches and even the trunks themselves however he wished. But that wasn’t enough. It wasn’t what he was training for. But no matter how hard he tried, he couldn’t control the forest the way the stories said he could. This was just Elemental Magic. He hadn’t awakened yet.
Trevan severed his connection to the trees and opened his eyes, slowly rising to his feet. He could still feel the call of the forest tugging at his mana, but he didn’t reach out to it.
“Done so soon?”
“What a pity.”
“We were so hopeful…”
A swirl of voices wrapped around Trevan, and he turned to see four figures emerge from the cradle of trees surrounding the clearing. Four gorgeous women, clad in dresses made of leaves that wrapped around their curvy forms and reached down to where their hips would be, their soft fleshy bodies blended into rough bark, long curving trunks that extended out from the trees. The lilting laughter of the dryads rang in Trevan’s ears as they approached him, echoing through the clearing with a unified voice.
“Trevalyn,” Val, the incarnation of Spring, called his name sweetly. The smile on her pink cheeks glimmered with life, her curly hair of vibrant green was decorated with a rainbow of flowers and cascaded behind her, blending with the leaves of her dress, her deep emerald eyes flashing.
“Are,” Soma, the incarnation of Summer, spoke next with heat and passion, the warmth of her voice beaming on him like the sun, her short golden hair curling around her chin and reflecting the light like the leaves that covered her, her eyes twin pools of blue standing out against her bronzed flesh.
“You,” Hest, the incarnation of Autumn, continued her sisters’ sentence with a throaty laugh that made the reds, browns, and oranges streaking through her wild hair shake, mixing with the colors of her dress in a whirlwind of vitality that stood out against her dusky skin, her scarlet eyes joyfully burning at him.
“Finished?” Vinta, the incarnation of Winter, finished the question with a softness nearly unheard over the others. She had hair the same color as the bark of the woods, cut short on her head. Her eyes were the milky white of winter snow and her pale flesh glowed against the brown leaves of her dress.
“Your elemental magic is so strong,” Val said, bringing her body down from the canopy of branches until she was looking him in the eye. “Is that not enough?”
“Your connection with the forest…”
“We can feel it so warmly…”
Soma and Hest spoke in unison, rising higher while their sister descended, holding their hands over their breasts and sighing contently.
“So why do you need more?” Vinta spoke in a hushed whisper that tickled his ear, and Trevan felt her ghostly hands brushing through his dark curls. Her coldness might be unnerving to some, but he relished in her touch, just another facet of the great forest and the Sacred Tree.
“Because it isn’t enough,” Trevan said. “I still haven’t awakened it. The way you described it, to feel the forest entirely, it’s… it’s different from Elemental Magic, isn’t it?”
“Awakening Magic connects you to the forest beyond the physical bonds of mana,” Val agreed.
“You become the forest, and the forest becomes you,” Soma explained.
“Just like us,” Hest added.
“You breathe with us, think with us, move with us, with a single thought.” Vinta finished.
Trevan ground his teeth together in frustration.
“How?” He asked, for what must have been the millionth time. “How can I learn Awakening Magic? Why won’t you ever tell me anything?”
The dryads circled around him, giggling.
“We have told you, it can’t be taught, only learned.” Those were the words they had first spoken to him when he asked them half a lifetime ago to show him how to use the Awakening Magic that his elders spoke of in the stories.
The continent of Estval was an island larger than most, covered entirely in the greenery of the forest. So close to the sea you could sometimes make out the blue on especially clear days, the rains and falls from the islands above nurtured a cradle of life that held more vibrancy than any other island in the sky. Mana practically oozed from the trees, seeped into the ground, it was everywhere. And per the legend, one who could master Awakening Magic could make that power of life, the very forest themselves, their own. Trees growing with each breath, branches and vines moving with but a thought. Magic without mana… If even one person had been able to use it in the days of the resistance, the Estvalians would be a sovereign people again, as they had once been.
Trevan had been too young. He had trained to master this power, letting his hatred for the people of Saekoria nourish his every waking moment. It had led him to become the strongest Wood Elemental Mage in Estval, if not the sky, but it was still not enough to bring him what he wanted most.
“Eldrasil breathes with you,” the dryads murmured. “Awakening must come from within. Feel the forest, and learn for yourself.”
Trevan looked at the Sisters of the Seasons.
“Thank you,” he said begrudgingly, wishing their advice were a tad more helpful. And yet, he knew he would return again, ask again, and receive the same answer. But he would ask a thousand times more, if that was what it took.
“Of course, our dear forest child,” the sisters giggled, parting from him and rising up into the air, slowly drawing back to blend into the canopy. The clearing fell silent once more, the gentle breeze carrying a hint of laughter in the rustle of the leaves.
Trevan moved as silently as possible as he walked through the forest, working to conceal his presence. This forest, all of Estval, was part of Saekoria. Per the “peace” established with the kingdom, every Estavlian’s travel was restricted, and he was no exception.
“Well now, what’s this?”
“Turn around slowly and keep your hands where we can see them.”
Trevan raised his hands and slowly turned to face the men calling out to him. There were three of them, each wearing armor of the Estvalian Patrol. Trevan felt a growl well up in his throat at the very thought of Saekorians treading on their sacred land. But here they were, just like everywhere else, polluting his beloved forest. He thought he was being cautious, but he should have connected his mana to the forest again to sense if he was being followed.
“Tan skin and green eyes. He’s an Estvalian.” The largest of the men approached him, wearing an arrogant smirk on his ruddy face. He probably saw Trevan as just another Estvalian brat sneaking around where he wasn’t supposed to be, not one of the strongest Elemental Mages on the island.
“What are you doing here, kid?” The large man asked. “You should know better than to be in these woods unaccompanied. Estvalians aren’t allowed to leave their designated areas. What district are you from?”
“District 6,” Trevan lied without missing a beat. It was the closest district to where they were. Hopefully it would be a convincing enough excuse. Though he suspected this probably wouldn’t end with him being let off with a warning.
“Then let’s see your identification card, and we’ll head on off to District 6 then,” the large man stepped closer, looming over him. He cricked his neck to the side and began cracking his knuckles. “First, we’ve got to administer some punishment so you won’t sneak out of your district again, okay?”
The man spat on Trevan’s face, and Trevan decided enough was enough. He wiped his face, and focused his mana into the trees around them, preparing to strike.
Before Trevan could attack, a sweet-smelling aroma passed under his nose and his eyes widened in realization. He dropped his arms and let the mana around him disperse, stepping back from the armored patrolman.
“Huh… that smell, what…” the man mumbled, rubbing his eyes. He stumbled back, yawning, his compatriots looking around and sniffing the air, just as confused and drowsy. In seconds, they were sprawled on the forest floor, snoring away.
“You didn’t need to do that,” Trevan said, waving his hand in front of his nose to clear the air, lest he join the Saekorians in the dream world.
“It was the smart thing to do,” his friend Keela jumped down from the branches, landing beside him. She brushed her dark hair out from her eyes, and knelt next to the large man. She drew a few purple flowers from within the front of her tightly wrapped short brown robe, pulling down the mask from her lips. She blew on the flower, pollen covering the man, and then set the flowers down next to him. “You would have killed them.”
“They’re Saekorians, they deserve what’s coming to them,” Trevan scowled.
“Bodies will lead to investigations, and investigations will lead to a war,” Keela reminded him, going over and placing some flowers beside the other two men as well. “My pollen will have them hallucinating for a few hours, and then they’ll wake up thinking they walked into the wrong patch of wildflowers. We’re not ready to start a war yet.”
Trevan didn’t say anything, his old friend’s stern words leaving him unable to disagree. As much as he might have wanted to take out his anger on the Saekorians, it wasn’t worth it. Instead he leaned over and spat on the large patrolman, following Keela out of the clearing.
At the heart of Estval was the Sacred Tree Eldrasil, the location of the so-called “Ruins of Eldrasil” where the Estvalian Resistance made their home right under their noses. The way the Saekorians called them “ruins” was a spit on Estavalian pride. It would be more accurate to describe the long and intricate maze formed from the massive roots of the great tree as the heart of the tree herself. The Saekorians who knew nothing of their culture called them “ruins” like they knew anything about Estvalian history and it filled Trevan with disgust.
The trunk of the Sacred Tree was so wide, that standing at her base left you unable to see anything past it. She stretched out in either direction like a giant wall of aged whitewood. The massive roots, far thicker than any normal tree, thrust into the ground and tunneled deep into the heart of the loamy soil, forming pathways and chambers from the twists and raises of the gnarled foundation. Looking up was sure to fill one with awe. Where normally the sky could always be seen, when one stood before the Sacred Tree, they saw the tower of white stretching towards the heavens, vanishing into the clouds and stretching yet further beyond. So great was she that Trevan had not seen the leaves on her branches, nor the branches themselves, in his lifetime.
Trevan placed his hand on one of the smooth roots and closed his eyes, feeling the power of life and strength surging through the Sacred Tree. Eldrasil hummed with mana in a greeting to him.
I’m home, he replied, smiling up at her.
“…Do you two need some time alone?” Keela asked, raising her eyebrow. Trevan scowled at her, but her face was inscrutable behind her mask. She just walked past him and into the maze of forest-like roots ahead.
The mana within the Sacred Tree was beyond compare, but by connecting to her, she let him bend her roots to his will, twisting apart the walls of the maze to form their own path. The deeper they descended into the heart of Eldrasil, the brighter it became. Her mana flowed through her roots and into the ground, nourishing the soil with an abundance of life. Large orica grew along the floor, shining with a gentle green light that beckoned them home. The warmth of Eldrasil bathed over them as the last of the roots parted, and they finally arrived.
Nestled within the heart of Eldrasil, deep below the ground and protected by her cradle of roots, was a village hidden away in the depths of Estval. The secret village was located in a wide, deep canyon and surrounded on all sides by sheer cliffs, making traditional entry a near-impossibility even if its location were discovered. The only path down was to walk along a narrow ridge that wound down the side of the bowl, the path barely wide enough to allow a single person to pass. Trevan and Keela descended down the pass, the massive orica lining the canyon walls bathing the village in a warm light. For many of the children of the village, it was the closest thing to the sun they’d ever experienced. And yet, that didn’t stop them from having fun in the way that only kids know how. Trevan could hear the sounds of their laughter as they neared the village below.
When they arrived at the basin, Trevan was greeted with a familiar face. It had been only a handful of hours since he had last seen Jayon’s smiling face, but it still filled him with comfort. Home at last.
“How’d your training go?” The large boy asked, opening the gate for them.
“As can be expected,” Trevan sighed, entering the village.
“He got spotted,” Keela outed him, hot on his heels. “He was about to attack three patrolmen who caught him, but I was able to get there in time.”
“I warned you, Trevan!” Jayon groaned, shutting the gate and turning back with a scowl on his face. “They’ve been increasing the number of patrols recently, we can’t just go out casually. We can only leave the village when it’s essential!”
Keela nodded in agreement.
“If you need me to step in and save you, that puts us all at risk.”
“This is essential!” Trevan insisted. “If I can master Awakening Magic, then we’ll finally have the power we need to really bring the fight to them!”
“I still don’t see why you have to go out all the time,” the taller boy sighed, scratching his hair in confusion. “It would be better for all of us if you just trained here. I mean, isn’t the place closest to the heart of Estval right here in Eldrasil Village?”
“That’s what I’ve been trying to tell him,” Keela chimed in.
“Go grow some flowers, Keela,” Trevan hissed. She raised two fingers at him in response. Grumbling, Trevan ignored the obscene gesture and kept explaining.
“It’s not that simple. Even if I can connect to the forest and the Sacred Tree in a mana hotspot like here, I need to be able to use my magic anywhere! The Sisters of the Seasons don’t come to the village, and I need their guidance. You don’t understand.”
“…Well, you’re the Elemental Mage,” Jayon admitted, lowering his head in resignation. “Still, it would make a lot of us feel better if you wouldn’t go out so often, or at least be a little more cautious when you do, okay?”
“If I have to step in and save you every time, they’re going to catch us eventually,” Keela stated coldly. “If it’s possible for you to do your training while in the village, we need you to try.”
“So I’m a prisoner now?”
“No, she didn’t say that-“
“This is our forest!” Trevan shouted. Were they seriously saying that he needed to stay here? That he couldn’t go outside anymore? Why? Because he’d gotten caught? It was the first time he’d gotten caught in months!
“It’s not safe right now!” Jayon snapped. “Didn’t you hear me? The patrols are getting closer and closer to the Sacred Tree, and they’re getting more and more frequent! If you’re not careful, then you’ll get caught and that’ll be the end for all of us!”
“If I get caught, then I’ll take care of it!”
“And if you kill someone, that’ll be even worse! No one’s looking for us yet! But if someone’s found dead, or even goes missing, then they’re going to know we’re out there, and what then? Then we ARE trapped!”
“I know that, but what? Are you telling me that we should just stay here? Trapped? Forever? This is our forest, Jayon! Estval is our home, not theirs, and yet they still act like we’re intruders on our own land! And you’re siding with them, don’t you see that? If we want to go, then we should be able to! It’s bad enough that we have to be careful right now, but if can’t even leave our own homes to walk through the forest when we want, then how are we living any better than our brothers and sisters trapped in their districts, huh?! We might as well just be prisoners like them!” The words he’d wanted to say were out, there was no taking them back now.
Jayon stared at him, surprised. “You know it’s not like that!”
Trevan looked away, unable to meet their glares. The words had been poisonous to say even as he’d spit them out. He knew that living here wasn’t nearly the same as being on the registry.
It was Keela who stepped up to cool them both down.
“Trevan. Jayon. We’ll talk about this later, okay? Trevan, we can hold a meeting to discuss your status tonight. For now, let’s just be calm. Getting upset won’t help anything.”
Trevan sighed, and nodded. Keela was right.
“Sorry, Jay. I didn’t mean what I said.”
“That’s fine. I was a little hot too, and just got kind of upset. I’m trying to keep everyone safe here and I just sort of… you know.”
“Yeah, I get it,” Trevan agreed. “Don’t worry.”
He knew that Jayon and Keela were right to be cautious. But at the same time… it was hard to hear that he had to stay quiet and just let the Saekorians trample all over their forest. Those two might be able to use magic, but they didn’t have the same connection to Eldrasil that he did. They didn’t hear her voice, feel her warmth. Eldrasil, all of Estval, was alive. And it was his responsibility to protect her.
“I’m going to go for a walk,” Trevan said. Maybe it was because they could tell that he was still irritated, but neither one said a word to stop him. He appreciated that.
“I’ll be checking on my garden, then,” Keela said. “See you tonight.”
Trevan nodded, and headed down the path leading into the heart of the village.
“Welcome back,” Jayon called after him.
Trevan raised his hand in a lazy wave, but his mind was already elsewhere, thinking about what he would do tomorrow. He was planning to go out again. He needed to master his Awakening Magic even if he had to sneak out to do it.