Chapter 9:

Chapter 9: Open Smiles, Hidden Truths (Blake)

The Heir of the Dragon

For lunch, Blake walked out into the quad so he could get some time to himself. He’d managed to find some privacy for breakfast, but since all the students were heading to lunch at the same time, he wouldn’t be able to avoid sitting with his classmates. It wasn’t that he had anything against his cohort. He liked people like Elly and Ark enough, as long as they didn’t pry into his affairs. But people like Amy wore him out. She was a nice girl, but he found her to be too friendly. And nosy.Bookmark here

His duffel bag over his shoulder and his tray in hand, he noted that several students had similar thoughts. They were spread out across the large quad, some sitting on blankets on the lawn, others at tables in the outdoor patio. He found a table at the edge, nearly around the side of the building, giving him a nice look at the large tree in the center of the quad, and more importantly, affording him some much-needed privacy.Bookmark here

Maybe next time I’ll invite Elly to sit here, Blake considered. He may not desire the company but he pitied the poor girl, being targeted by Sabine, at least here she could hide away. He set the tray down and gently laid his duffel bag beside the bench, preparing to dig into the roasted slab of meat squeezed between two buns. It was a “burger”, a dish popular in the capital and other notable island cities, but not anything that he had ever tried before. It was steaming and dripping with juices, and he felt himself drooling at the scent of it. But before he could bite into it, he found his vision suddenly blocked by darkness.Bookmark here

“Guess who~?” A silky voice purred in his ear, the scent of apples mixing with the aroma of the burger.Bookmark here

“What… huh?”Bookmark here

His world brightened again as the hands were pulled away from his eyes.Bookmark here

“No, it’s me!”Bookmark here

Reed Rivers slid around the table and into the bench across from him, a coy smile on her gorgeous face. She leaned in and rested her chin on her hands, batting those beautiful colored eyes. Her smile reminded Blake of a particularly playful tabby back on the farm.Bookmark here

“What do you want?” Blake growled, glancing cautiously at his duffel bag. This was the second time in as many days this girl had bothered him while he was eating, and he wasn’t about to let her lay one finger on his eggs.Bookmark here

“I smelled you on the wind, and thought I’d say hi,” Reed replied. “Would you mind if I joined you for lunch?”Bookmark here

Blake raised his eyebrow. She didn’t have any food with her.Bookmark here

“I came here to be alone,” he hinted.Bookmark here

“Great!” Reed looked around and gave him a big smile. “No one else is around; we can be as alone as you want!”Bookmark here

Blake sighed. It was clear that whatever this girl wanted, she wasn’t being honest with him.Bookmark here

“Why did you do that yesterday?”Bookmark here

“Say hello? Because you intrigued me.”Bookmark here

“Why did you take my egg?” Blake asked, resisting the urge to shout at her. “And show it to everyone? Do you know how much trouble you caused me? The others were asking all sorts of questions about it, and I was trying to keep it a secret!”Bookmark here

“Oh, I’m sorry,” Reed said, and the way her face twisted made Blake actually believe that she meant it. “I was just excited, your duffel bag,” she paused and inhaled, “smells of such rich mana.”Bookmark here

“You can smell mana?” Blake asked. He’d never heard of something like that, but he supposed that when it came to magic, anything was possible.Bookmark here

“No?” Reed said, tilting her head to the side. “I don’t think that’s really possible.”Bookmark here

Now he was just confused.Bookmark here

“It’s more like… the way you smell, it gives all sorts of… eh, what are you making me say? Kids these days!” Reed giggled, cradling her chin and fidgeting. Blake just wanted to leave. This girl was odd, and he didn’t really want to spend any more time around her than he had to. He decided to ignore her, and went back to the burger he had been distracted from. It was starting to get cold. He bit down into it, feeling the juices roll down his throat. It was delicious.Bookmark here

“Delicious, right?” Reed’s ringing voice distracted him. He glanced up and took another bite, keeping his eyes on her.Bookmark here

“I prefer the potato slices myself,” Reed said, reaching out and snatching a shard of potato from his plate, popping it into her mouth. “All the food here is so good!”Bookmark here

“Are you done?” Blake asked.Bookmark here

“You’re so cold,” Reed sighed. “I’m trying to be friendly, Blake Harker!”Bookmark here

“I have enough friends,” Blake replied through bites of burger, finishing it off.Bookmark here

“Well I don’t,” Reed grinned. “So whatya say?”Bookmark here

“Why?” Blake asked, beginning to eat the potato slices. Reed had already made a sizeable dent in them with her snacking. “From what I hear, you’re quite a star here. Why do you need to be eating lunch alone with someone like me, ‘Reed Rivers of the Sky Crest’?”Bookmark here

“Because I wanted to get closer to you and your eggs of course,” Reed automatically replied. Blake nearly choked in surprise at her candor.Bookmark here

“Ooh, need some water?” Reed blinked. She handed him a cup of water that she had apparently pulled out of nowhere. Blake swallowed it, coughing, looking back at her.Bookmark here

“You can’t have my eggs,” he snarled. “They’re mine, they-“Bookmark here

“They’re the last dragon eggs, right?” Reed asked. Her bright eyes were sparkling with excitement.Bookmark here

She clearly knew they were, so there wasn’t any use denying it. Blake nodded his head reluctantly.Bookmark here

“Can I… can I see them? I saw one, but do you have more? Ooh, how many?” The restrained, mature air around her had disappeared. Reed was a big bundle of energy now, looking hopefully at him.Bookmark here

“What? No, you can’t see them!” Blake snapped, looking around to make sure no one else had heard what she just said, in case they were interested in the dragon eggs as well.Bookmark here

“What? But why not?” Reed asked. She clasped her hands together, begging him.Bookmark here

“Because they’re… they’re private!” Blake cried. He reached down and grabbed the duffel bag, holding it tightly to his chest. “I can’t just take them out, certainly not around you! You might, I don’t know…”Bookmark here

“I don’t want to steal them,” Reed pouted. “I would never do that!”Bookmark here

“I don’t trust you,” Blake replied, eyeing her suspiciously. Nothing about this girl was trustworthy, so why wasn’t he more cautious around her? He should have stormed off, already, her presence was causing him to feel all sorts of discomfort, and yet he couldn’t bring himself to leave. “I don’t know you. Maybe you wouldn’t take them from me. Or maybe you’re just trying to get a closer look at them, so that you’ll be able to get closer to me and eventually steal them from me.”Bookmark here

Reed blinked. She looked honestly surprised. Maybe she didn’t have bad intentions. But maybe she was a skilled actor.Bookmark here

“I only wanted to learn more about them,” she said, still pouting. “Dragons are amazing!”Bookmark here

“I’m sorry, but I don’t know you,” he repeated. “Maybe you mean everything you say. But these children are my responsibility. They’re the last hope of my family. I can’t just take them out where everyone can see them. And I certainly won’t show them off to you after last night.”Bookmark here

“…I see,” Reed said, nodding. Her eyes looked sad, even behind that smiling face of hers, but Blake didn’t let her disappointment get under his skin. He couldn’t trust the sadness of a smiling face.Bookmark here

“Then if we’re done here, do you mind if I leave?” Blake asked. He stood up, not waiting for a reply.Bookmark here

Blake reached down and slung the duffel over his shoulder, picking up his tray. He went to go put it away in the cafeteria, leaving Reed behind. When he left the cafeteria, though, she was waiting for him in the hall.Bookmark here

“What… how-?”Bookmark here

Reed snapped her fingers and the space under her feet twisted, and she slipped from his sight into a black pit in the floor, which quickly snapped back into place. The ceiling twisted open and she fell through the hole, landing on her feet.Bookmark here

Blake had nearly forgotten about her bizarre transportation magic.Bookmark here

“Leave me alone,” he grumbled, walking around her. All he wanted was to get back to the classroom. His next class was Physical Training, and he wanted to conserve his energy, not spend it being bugged by this girl. He couldn’t think clearly with her around.Bookmark here

“But you see? If I wanted to take your eggs, then I could just, well, you know!” She snapped her fingers to prove her point. “So you can trust me! Just let me see them! Even just the blue one again, that one was soooo pretty!”Bookmark here

“I have to get to class.” Blake didn’t even look back at her.Bookmark here

“Oh, no need!” Reed’s voice rang out behind him. “First year class for the Stars Cohort, right?”Bookmark here

Blake felt a sinking feeling in his gut, realizing what she was going to do a second before she-Bookmark here

The ground disappeared from beneath his feet, and he tumbled into the darkness. He fell flat on his face in the front of classroom an instant later, Reed landing next to him.Bookmark here

“Don’t DO that!” Blake hissed, picking himself up. He looked around. About half the students had made it back to the classroom, and they were all staring at the two of them.Bookmark here

“What? It’s not like the dragon eggs would break or anything, right?”Bookmark here

“That isn’t the point,” Blake grumbled. He stormed back to his desk, his face hot and his head down, annoyed at once again being the center of attention when he just wanted to be left alone. Annoyingly, he could hear the clack of Reed’s shoes as she followed him down the aisle. As he passed Elly, he saw that her mouth was agape and she didn’t appear to be moving, just staring past him with wide eyes. Bookmark here

“So this is your cohort, huh?” Reed asked. “They look pretty cool, I gotta say. Hey, Blake-“Bookmark here

“Actually,” a stern voice interrupted her, “this is my cohort.”Bookmark here

Blake glanced behind him. Professor Darkflame had grabbed Reed by the shoulder, startling her.Bookmark here

“Professor Darkflame!” Reed greeted, though her voice was a little shaky.Bookmark here

“Ms. Rivers, I believe you’ve been spoken to about transportations on campus?” The professor’s tone carried a threat to it that made Blake wince.Bookmark here

“Yeah, sorry, sorry,” Reed laughed, scratching her head sheepishly. “I was kinda excited and forgot!”Bookmark here

“Don’t you have your own classroom to get back to?”Bookmark here

Reed nodded and winked, skipping out of the classroom (actually using the door this time). Blake let out a sigh, slumping down into his seat.Bookmark here

“Let’s talk about dragons later, Blake!” Reed called, sticking her head back into the room. Blake sighed again. The girl just wouldn’t leave him alone! She was even worse than the people in his cohort, whose curiosity about the dragon eggs and his family led to them asking questions he didn’t even want to begin to answer.Bookmark here

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Once everyone had returned to the classroom, the professor informed them that their Physical Training class would be taking place out on the athletics field. There were a few questions raised about why they had come back to the classroom after lunch in the first place then, and the professor shrugged his shoulders and asked them why they thought they needed to. That caused more grumbling. Bookmark here

Everyone else left their things behind in the classroom, but Blake wasn’t about to leave his bag where anyone could steal the precious eggs inside.Bookmark here

As the cohort walked down the hall and out into the courtyard, Blake was stopped by a hand on his shoulder. He turned to see the piercing blue eyes of Prince Lancelus staring at him. They hadn’t spoken since their confrontation on the train. For once, he was without the Malkin and the blonde, accosting Blake alone.Bookmark here

“So your name is Harker,” the prince said.Bookmark here

“That matters to you, does it?” Blake asked. The prince nodded his headed.Bookmark here

“I can understand why you were so private before. With what happened to your family… I can forgive a little hostility.”Bookmark here

How condescending. Blake kept his face even. “How generous of you.”Bookmark here

“I realized that we got off on the wrong foot. Your family and mine have been allies since the time of Roland the Great Unifier.” The prince held his hand out to Blake. “I’m Lancelus. You don’t need to call me ‘prince’, just Lancelus. Or Lance, if you prefer.”Bookmark here

Blake stared at his hand. It seemed odd, now, to be offered friendship where previously he had been shown hostility. He looked up to meet the prince’s gaze, studying him. Those blue eyes of his looked rather clear, if fierce. They reminded him of his Uncle Norand’s eyes, an honest light with a gleam of diligence. His uncle was a hard worker, and Blake found it surprising to see eyes like his on a prince.Bookmark here

“I’m not interested in making friends,” Blake replied. Nothing he wanted to accomplish at this school required him to make nice with the prince and his entourage. The fewer people who were close to him, the fewer opportunities they would have to steal his eggs.Bookmark here

“…Well then,” the prince murmured, withdrawing his hand, his voice turning colder, “that works out fine as well. If you want to mind your business, then be my guest. I’ll ask you to please leave Elly alone, then. I don’t want you speaking with her.”Bookmark here

Blake studied his stony glare. He’d spent the morning quite close to Elly, and though she hid her face behind those bangs, he had gotten more than just a few good looks. He hadn’t noticed it before, but a close look at the prince’s eyes, sharp deep blue which sparkled with gold in such a distinct way, and he knew.Bookmark here

“You want me to leave her alone?” Blake whispered. “Your sister?”Bookmark here

The way the prince’s expression hardened and his shoulders stiffened, the pallor spreading across his face, it answered Blake’s question far better than words ever could have.Bookmark here

Lancelus lunged forward and grabbed Blake by the collar, his face flushed with rage. “If you say that again-!”Bookmark here

Blake was having none of it. It didn’t matter that the boy was a prince. Blake’s fist hit his jaw the same as it would any farm boy, knocking him to the stone floor.Bookmark here

Lancelus picked himself up off the ground, that earnest look of his tainted with fury. He wiped blood from his lip, curling his hands into fists. The two stared at each other for another few moments. Blake raised his hands and prepared to retaliate if the prince came at him, but no punch was thrown. The prince lowered his hands.Bookmark here

“If you don’t want people bothering your sister,” Blake growled out, the irritation on the prince’s face goading him on further, “then I suggest you start with those girls bullying her. Better be careful though, Sabine throws a meaner punch than I do.”Bookmark here

The prince growled at his taunts but didn’t reply, storming past Blake and shoving him aside.Bookmark here

Blake and Lancelus walked into the changing room behind the other students, stripping out of their uniforms and into the shirts and shorts they’d been provided for their Physical Training class. When they walked out onto the training field, the other students had already been assembled into a line in front of the one-armed teacher dressed in the same clothes as the students.Bookmark here

“What took you two so long, huh?” Miss Esterwind’s loud voice rang out across the grass as they approached the rest of their cohort. “Is it that the young prince doesn’t see fit to arrive at the same time as the common folk? Or was Lord Harker more concerned with his luggage than my class schedule?”Bookmark here

The two boys gave terse apologies and stood at the end of the line in silence.Bookmark here

“Hey, what happened to your face, Lance?” Rafe asked. Blake glanced at Lancelus’s cheek, which was starting to bruise.Bookmark here

“Nothing,” was his only reply, turning his eyes on Blake once again in a harsh glare.Bookmark here

“Now that the prince and his bag boy have deigned to grace us with their presence,” Miss Esterwind began, her lack of royal piety not going unappreciated by Blake, “we can begin with our schedule for the day. Unlike your professors and their droning lessons and complicated books, I think you’ll find that this class will be refreshingly simple.”Bookmark here

A smile spread across her tanned face and her green eyes laughed at something no one could see.Bookmark here

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Miss Esterwind was honest with them; their day of Physical Training was simple. Running. A lot of running. This had raised complaints from some of the other students, not surprising considering how many of them were nobles who had spent more time running their mouths than they had running on their legs.Bookmark here

“What does running have to do with being a mage?” Sabine whined, other students nodding in agreement. Blake smirked in spite of himself. In his memories, Sabine had always been a girl with a personality as fiery as her hair. They had wrestled and raced up and down the courtyard of Silverscale, and tried to climb the high stone walls, falling and getting scraped up more than once. Those days grew more distant with each passing moment; the redhead was now unrecognizable, all priss and pompousness. A suggestion to go digging around in the mud would now likely be met with outrage and scorn rather than the eagerness of a child. He was half-tempted to shove her into the dirt just to see if she would actually scream.Bookmark here

Miss Esterwind ignored their objections, telling them to bring it up with the Chancellor and the School Council if they had any problems. That shut Sabine up quickly. And after going through their stretches, they found themselves running circles across a dirt ring laid out in the center of the athletic field.Bookmark here

Having spent most of his life working on a farm, Blake found himself with endurance that many others didn’t. Still, he was surprised that he was far from the head of the pack. The Malkin Rafe was faster than he was, and so was Jasmine, the tall brunette that hung around Sabine. Some other boys were keeping pace with him as well, but the athletic ball of energy named Amy ran so far ahead of them all that it had to be seen to be believed. She was half the ring ahead of everyone else without even looking winded, and when she passed Blake for a second time she even gave him a hearty “hello!”Bookmark here

Each time Blake rounded the last turn of the track and passed by their instructor, his eyes moved past her to look at the duffel he had left on the grass, making sure it was still there. It wasn’t exactly like he could run with it, after all. Bookmark here

Blake turned his eyes ahead to see the stragglers. Sabine’s hair was flapping behind her and he could see it shining with sweat even as far away as he was. Elly’s frail body was barely even running, more like walking. For some bizarre reason, she was still wearing that heavy hood, which must have made this feel like a nightmare. And at the very end, only getting closer as she was barely moving forward, was the blue-haired Chloe Bellajean. As he passed her, he saw, much to his shock, that her eyes were closed and her head was bobbing in time with her slow pace… was she jogging in her sleep?Bookmark here

Blake wiped the sweat from his brow as the laps continued, wondering how long they had been running, and how much longer they would be running for. Even he was starting to tire. And ahead of him were two girls in particular who looked like they would collapse at any moment Elly and Sabine were practically neck and neck, and neither one seemed like they could keep this pace much longer. They had slowed to a jog that was probably not as fast as if they were just walking.Bookmark here

“What’s the matter, Sabine?” Blake taunted her. “You seem to have gotten a lot slower since you were a kid.”Bookmark here

“Shut… shut up!” She panted. “This… unbelievable!”Bookmark here

Although her face looked reinvigorated with frustration, her steps were only getting slower. Elly soon pulled ahead of her. Just as Blake turned to look ahead, he heard a squeal from behind him and pulled to a stop, whirling around. It looked like in her desperation Sabine had fallen while lunging forward and had grabbed onto Elly’s cloak, bringing both girls down into the dirt. It may have been out of spite, or clumsiness, but Blake leaned closer to spite. He turned and ran back over to the two.Bookmark here

“Ugh, fucking clumsy little… My fucking hair is dirty, that fucking-!”Bookmark here

Sabine sat up cursing and fuming, rising to her feet and looming over the girl.Bookmark here

“What the hell was that?!” She shouted, as though it hadn’t been her fault in the first place, “dragging me down into the dirt like a commoner, you little-?!”Bookmark here

Her tirade ended in a gasp, and Blake saw what it was that had finally shut her up. What a surprise, it wasn’t concern for Elly’s face flushed with heat, or her gasping for breath. No, when Elly had fallen, her hood had come loose, and now her brown hair was strewn across her face, revealing two long, pointed ears sticking out of the sides of her head. A defining trait of elves, recognizable at a glance. No wonder she wore a hood.Bookmark here

“She’s a-!”Bookmark here

“Sabine!” Blake growled at the redhead, who shut her mouth and turned his way, those emerald eyes of hers wide. Blake didn’t give her another moment’s thought and knelt beside Elly, pulling her hood back in place. He shook her and tried to coax her awake, but she wasn’t responding. Other students had slowed down to look at what was happening. Lancelus was all the way on the other side of the track, and Blake wasn’t sure how he would respond to what had happened.Bookmark here

“What’s going on here?!” Miss Esterwind bellowed, crossing the grass in quick strides, pushing through the students.Bookmark here

“Elly collapsed,” a girl he knew was named Wendy explained.Bookmark here

“Of course she did, the fuck was she thinking running in a cloak like that?” Miss Esterwind fumed. “I told her to take the damn thing off, and now look what happened!”Bookmark here

“It’s heatstroke,” Blake informed her.Bookmark here

“Heat… huh?” Elly’s voice was tired, her eyes fluttering up at them.Bookmark here

“She’s conscious,” Blake sighed in relief. “How are you feeling?”Bookmark here

Elly turned her head and threw up in the dirt. Sabine and some other girls shouted out “ew”s and backed away from her, the crowd scattering. Blake didn’t mind it though; there were bigger concerns at hand. “She’s not in bad shape; I can take her to the infirmary.”Bookmark here

The teacher paused at this, before nodding her head. Blake helped the woozy Elly up, draping her arm over his shoulder. For a moment he was surprised at how light she was, but then he remembered that she was an elf.Bookmark here

“Let me help.”Bookmark here

Blake turned to see a mountain of a boy with dark skin and a shaved head break through the crowd. He recognized him as the boy who sat beside Elly.Bookmark here

“No, that’s fine,” Blake said. In spite of his insistence, the boy took Elly’s other arm anyway.Bookmark here

“You don’t want to leave that bag of yours behind, right?” He whispered into Blake’s ear. Blake blinked in surprise. Letting the other boy take some of Elly’s weight, he was able to grab his duffel bag as they took the girl to the infirmary.Bookmark here

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“What are you standing around for? Back to running!” Miss Esterwind’s voice called out from behind them, groans rising up among the other students.Bookmark here

Real Aire
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