The Heir of the Dragon
Damien took in a deep breath of fresh air, staring out at the students of the Stars Cohort gathered together on the Magic Training Field. A wide range of flatland covered in magic-resistant cobblestones, it was the perfect area for students to practice their magic without risking injuring other people or accidentally blowing up the school. It wouldn’t be able to protect the students themselves, but it was better than nothing.
He felt the urge to smile as he looked at their faces, so bright and eager. Most of them, anyway. After all, today would be the first lesson in “practical application” of magic. Certainly, most of the students here were already experienced in magic, whether through prior teaching or natural skill. With this crowd, almost all of them having at least some experience with magic, one would expect to see dull faces filled with boredom instead of the eager excitement of students itching to try out magic in front of their classmates.
It was that spark of excitement, turning something that they experienced every day into something that they could truly look forward to that made him love his job as a teacher. But then his eyes fell on Blake Harker and it withered away. That boy… the look in his eyes was so hollow and empty.
It’s no surprise, Damien reminded himself, shaking his head. After what he’s gone through.
“Now then!” Damien cleared his throat. “As promised, today you’ll have your first opportunity to use magic in class. Before we start, I’d like to introduce you all to Reed Rivers, one of our academy’s renowned Sky Crest Scholars. You’ll be working on your own today, so if I’m busy helping other students she’ll be able to lend a hand.” He turned and gestured to the sharply-dressed older student standing beside him, who waved at the class with a smile. Beside her sat a box of equipment that the students would be using.
“For our lesson today I’m going to show you how to use the basic Conjuration ‘Fireball’. Before I do, can anybody tell me what a ‘Conjuration’ is, first?”
A sea of hands shot up. Damien called on one of his more eager students, a freckle-faced girl with curly brown hair and glasses named Wendy.
“A Conjuration,” Wendy began, standing up a little taller and adjusting her glasses, “is one of the basic forms of magic. It involves a mage taking their mana and creating, or ‘conjuring’, something physical out of it.”
“Exactly correct,” Damien nodded. “The majority of spells are Conjurations. As she said, a Conjuration is mana given physical form. There are two elements to a Conjuration, the mage’s mana, and the spellcraft itself. When a mage attempts a Conjuration, they take their mana and shape it through the spellcraft into the form they want. Today, we will be molding our mana into a fireball. Like so.”
Damien held up his hand, and moved his mana into the shape of a fireball. A magical circle appeared above his palm, and in its center a flame leapt up and began to dance, swirling in place as it used his mana to feed itself. The students gasped with excitement and some of them leaned in, entranced by the glowing orb.
“The magic circle in my hand is what turns my mana into a spell. Weaving the spellcraft, I can create an array like this and direct my mana into it, and the result is a fireball. That’s the fundamental process of a Conjuration. And then…” Damien turned and swung his hand, sending the fireball flying from his palm. The orb arced across the field and landed on the far end, exploding in a blast of light. “…I can release it.”
After a moment’s pause a chorus of excited voices rang up and he had to silence the class by raising his voice slightly. “You’ll all be throwing fireballs of your own at the end of the day, don’t worry. Now, before we move onto the next activity, are there any questions about the process itself? Yes, Mr. Florett?” He addressed the short, fair-haired boy staring nervously up at him.
“Um, professor… I don’t know the spellcraft for Fireball,” Ein Florett said.
“Yeah, I don’t either,” another student agreed.
“Does that even really matter anyway? It’s just a fireball, who needs spellcraft?!” That was Rafe Eriksson, and going off of his performance in class Damien was not at all surprised by his dismissal of procedure.
“As I said, today you’ll be learning how to use the Fireball spell,” Damien assured his students. “Learning a new spell can be a tricky process, but there are several methods you can use to smooth it along. Today, we’ll be using one of those methods. Reed? If you would?”
“Yes, professor,” Reed chirped, kneeling down and picking up the box. She walked over to the younger students and dug through the box, pulling out long, cylindrical objects that she passed out to the class.
“Those wands Reed is handing out are tools that you can use to direct your mana into a spell,” Damien explained, holding up one that he had taken for himself. “If you look closely, you’ll see that right on the handle of the wand is an orica.” He indicated to the small red crystal embedded in the wand. “That orica contains the spellcraft for the Fireball spell. Now, can anybody tell me why that might be important?”
A significantly fewer number of hands rose up for this question.
“Yes, Mr. Greenland?” Damien said, calling on the one student he knew for sure would be able to properly answer the question, having answered it correctly on the initial assessment test some weeks earlier.
“Every spellcraft has a distinctive wavelength that sets it apart from other spells,” Ark explained. “When performing a Conjuration, a mage weaves their mana into the appropriate spellcraft for a spell. Orica can absorb and store mana, but they’re also capable of storing the spellcraft for a spell itself. If a wand, or any orica, contains the spellcraft for a Fireball spell, then rather than mold their mana through the spellcraft a mage can simply direct their mana into the orica, which will sculpt it for them into the desired spell.”
Ark’s explanation was perfect, but a lot of the students still looked lost. That was fine, Damien hadn’t planned to teach them the basics of spellcraft and orica for a while yet.
“Correct, Mr. Greenland,” Damien nodded. “Can anyone explain to me what your classmate was telling us?”
A few students raised their hands tentatively, but only Wendy looked sure that she could.
Wendy cleared her throat and adjust her glasses again, suddenly looking a lot less sure now that everyone’s eyes were turned her way. “Y-Yes, uhum, um, so basically what Ark was saying, is that normally when you use a spell, you have to shape your mana a certain way. But these wands will do that for us, right? So we just send our mana in, and point the wand, and we cast a Fireball!”
A few more students were starting to get that simplified version.
“Yes, that’s correct,” Damien nodded. “The hardest part of a Conjuration, of any spell, is that a mage must develop familiarity with the spellcraft. The more familiar a mage is with a spell, the more useful it is to them. We’ll be going over the different methods of familiarizing ourselves with spellcraft later in the term, but for now, keep in mind that the purpose of these wands is to get used to the spell itself. Let me demonstrate.”
Damien concentrated his mana and raised his hand, focusing it on the ground. The cobblestones began to shake, and then a large square slab of stone ripped up from out of the edge of the field like a blade pushing through flesh, casting a deep shadow over the training grounds.
“Was… was that Ground Elemental Magic?!” One of the students gasped.
Damien shook his head. “No, it’s a part of this training field. The ground around you is specially-enchanted to be resistant to magic damage, and that includes the wall you see before you. It’s designed so when mana is sent through the spellcraft around the field, it presents targets for people to practice their magic on.”
“That’s so cool!” The sandy-haired student gasped, adjusting his glasses. He turned to the professor, his eyes shining. He wasn’t the only student impressed; other kids were talking with each other, a chorus of murmurs rising up among the crowd of bright-eyed pupils.
Damien cleared his throat again to call everyone’s attention, and proceeded with the demonstration.
“Now watch. First, you focus your mana into the wand itself.” Damien raised his hand and pictured the energy in his body directing into the crimson stone embedded in the wand, hot against his skin. He turned and pointed the wand so its head was aimed directly at the large wall in front of him. “Then, aim your wand at the target and direct your mana forward. This part can be tricky. Do not release your mana until you make sure the tip is pointed away from anyone else, understood?”
He turned to look at the students, narrowing his eyes. He was well-aware that his stern features could be intimidating, and judging by the nervous looks on some of the student’s faces, it worked.
“Then, you release. Your wands are designed to release the mana when you say the name of the spell. Fireball!” As he spoke, the spellcraft in the wand sprang to life, and a magic circle spun itself at the tip. A fireball appeared in the center of it, leaping from the wand and striking the wall, exploding in a blast of orange and red sparks. The wall itself remained unscarred.
Cheers and applause rose up from the crowd, and Damien could feel how excited everyone was. Part of him wanted to let them get started on their spells right now with how eager they all were, but he had to hold off. There was something else he needed to explain.
“Would anyone like a chance to try for yourselves?” Damien asked, turning to the crowd and running his eyes over the students. A wave of hands rose up and he looked for someone who would be good for demonstrating to the class. Not a genius like Ark, he needed a student more…
“Ms. Leiber, would you care to try?”
“M-Me?” Melody Leiber squeaked, her pale face going even whiter and her green eyes widening. She hadn’t even been raising her hand that high, so she must have been surprised to be called on. But Damien could see in her eyes that her eagerness was being held back by wariness, which was part of what was necessary for this particular demonstration.
“Yes, it’s fine,” he assured her, beckoning her to step up with his hand. Her face was filled with nervousness as she looked around at her classmates, who were all staring back at her. Finally summoning up courage from somewhere she walked up to stand in front of the class, but her shoulders still shook.
“Now, do just as I did,” he said, trying to sound as gentle and encouraging as possible. It was one of the parts of being a teacher that he still hadn’t mastered. “Do you remember the first step?”
“I focus my mana into the wand, right?” Melody asked, looking to the professor for confirmation. He nodded and she smiled a little, clutching her wand tightly in her fingers to hold it steady. “Like… this?”
There was no change in the wand or Melody herself, but Damien could feel the flow of mana shifting. He nodded, “yes, exactly.”
“Now, I… I point it at the wall…” Melody muttered to herself as she pointed the wand. “And I release by saying… Fireball!”
A circle of light sprang up at the tip of her wand, a fireball appearing in the center of it. The fireball leapt forward, flying towards the wall, but unlike Damien’s spell it never made it there. It flickered and shook as it flew, the flames trembling as the fireball sputtered out about halfway.
“It… I didn’t…?” Melody turned and looked up at Damien, her face twisted up in confusion.
“Melody just showed you something important,” Damien said, turning to the other students. “When practicing, you need to put in enough mana for the spell. If you don’t send enough mana into the spell, then your spell will fizzle out, like you just saw here. It’s not about just sending in some mana and pointing the wand, it’s important to have some fine mana control as well, understand? Now, Melody, try again, but put in some more mana, okay?”
Melody looked up at the professor, and he could see the uncertainty on her face. “What… what if I put in too much and it blows up?”
“Don’t worry about that,” the professor assured her. “The spellcraft was designed so that it can only channel a limited amount of mana for the spell.”
“…Okay,” Melody nodded. “I’ll put in as much as I can, I guess.” Melody turned back to the wall and raised her wand again, taking a little bit longer to channel her mana than last time. “Fireball!”
Melody fired another fireball, this one considerably larger and more stable than the previous one. It was still shaking erratically, which was normal for a beginner’s spell, but it manage to make it all the way to the wall, even if it only skidded off the edge.
“Whoa!” Wendy gasped, applauding. Several other people cheered, but it looked like no one was more in awe than Melody herself, who was staring at the wall with her mouth wide open, her arm falling slack.
“Now then,” Damien declared a little louder than necessary to snap everyone out of it. “Ms. Leiber just demonstrated a successful use of the Fireball spell. You’ll all get a chance to practice your Fireball spells as well, I think three walls should suffice, don’t you, Ms. Rivers?”
“Definitely,” Reed nodded, holding up her hands. The ground began shaking and two more large walls rose up several feet away from the first, each wide enough for at least ten people to practice their spells.
“Now, are there any other questions before we start?” Damien asked. No one raised a hand, or spoke out, but he could see there was still some unease on the faces of a few of them. He tried to assuage those worries. “Everyone should be able to successfully cast a spell by the end of the day. Ms. Rivers and I will be going around and helping you out, I’ll be keeping an eye out to assess each one of you. Are you ready?”
A few nods and “yes”s confirmed that the class was as itching to get practice going as he expected. He nodded, and dismissed everyone to split up and get started on practicing their magic.
About half of the students didn’t actually go over to one of the walls though. A few of them, like Sabine Scarlet and her friends, took a moment to gather together and start talking, showing their wands to each other.
One student in particular caught his eye. Elaindra. She stuck out in class ironically because she made such an effort to avoid the attention of others. Today was no exception. While the students were staring at each other’s wands and waving them around, showing them off, Elaindra wasn’t even looking at hers, her eyes fixed on the ground.
“Wow! That was amazing, Lance! You did it perfectly!” Rafe’s loud cheer caught the professor’s attention just as Damien was about to go speak with Elaindra. Turning to look, he saw that a crowd had gathered around one of the walls, with Prince Lancelus at the center of it. It was no great surprise, the prince was certainly a celebrity in the classroom. He walked over to get a closer look.
“Would you mind trying again so I can observe, Mr. Eldaria?” Damien asked. He wasn’t going to defer to royalty. The only titles that mattered in his classroom were the titles “Professor” and “Student”.
“Certainly, sir,” Lancelus nodded. Damien smiled at that look in his eye. That was a real glimmer of passion right there. While most of the class was excited at the moment, that excitement would fade in time. But the students like him, who had that fire to do better and keep practicing, those students were always his favorites.
Lancelus turned and held his wand up. “Fireball,” he commanded, a magic circle tracing itself in the air. A nearly as large as his head fireball fired from the wand. The fireball was a little rough, but for a newly-learned spell it was superb work. It hit the wall hard and exploded. The small circle of students cheered, but interestingly, Lancelus himself didn’t seem particularly excited. His face was hard and cold, and the praises aimed his way seemed to have no effect on warming him.
“Whoa, look over there!”
“That’s Ark, right?”
A few students were murmuring and attention quickly shifted from the prince towards another student a few feet away at a different practice wall, the dark-haired Ark. He wore a look of composure as he pointed his wand that Damien had to admire, the air of cold professionalism giving the impression that he’d already mastered the spell. Then again, perhaps he had. Ark’s grades were at the top of the class, and a Fireball was by no means advanced. It wouldn’t be at all a surprise if more students already had some experience with it.
“Fireball,” Ark commanded his voice as cold and emotionless as his eyes. From the tip of his wand sprung the most stellar example of a fireball that Damien had ever seen. Not only sized correctly, the focused blaze roared at just the right intensity to make it clear how great Ark’s control over his mana was. With a flick of his wrist the fire flew in a perfect arc through the sky, maintaining its composition right up until it hit the target, exploding in a burst of flame at the center of the wall.
Damien found no fault in the spell; Ark had performed it perfectly on his very first try. It was the sort of performance that even he would be lucky to replicate, and he had cast the spell more times than could be counted. While the watching students applauded, Damien shook his head and smiled slightly, cursing the notion of geniuses with a bitter respect.
The professor was shaken from his grudging admiration by the sight of the prince turning back to the practicing wall out of the corner of his eye. Damien turned his way, and saw a glimmer of… frustration, flash across the prince’s stern features? Yes, judging by the look in Lancelus’s eye he was definitely vexed by the fact that his peer had performed such a flawless spell right in front of him. Damien resisted the urge to smile. That competitive fire was an excellent motivator to improve one’s skill at magic.
The other students, inspired by the displays of their peers, quickly spread out to begin practicing again, and Damien left them to their work while he turned to look for the ones who hadn’t gotten started yet.
At this point, they were only a handful. Sabine Scarlet, and her friends Jasmine and Mindy, were surrounding Elaindra, who had lowered her head and shrunk down. With the way she was trembling, the professor didn’t have to hear the girls’ words to know that Elaindra was being picked on.
“Ladies?” Damien said sternly, quickly closing the distance between them. Sabine Scarlet flinched, but when she turned to face him he couldn’t see any trace of guilt or shame on her face, only a mild irritation at being interrupted. In contrast Elaindra’s face was pale with fright. “Don’t you have magic that you should be practicing?” He warned instead.
“I can already use the Fireball, professor,” Sabine replied, crossing her arms and thrusting her chin out, a proud smile on her face. “The girls and I were just helping Elly with her spellcraft, since her mana levels make it hard for her to use magic as well as the rest of us. We were just helping her get a hang of things, right girls?”
“Yeah, totally!” Mindy said, her blonde locks bobbing up and down as she nodded rapidly.
“Yes, sir,” Jasmine gruffly replied.
“Right, Elly?” Sabine asked, turning back towards Elaindra, her face twisting in a sweet smile. Elaindra nodded her head, unable to meet Damien’s eye.
“Y-Yes, sir,” she murmured.
Damien glared at the girls.
“Elaindra is perfectly capable of practicing on her own,” Damien coldly stated. “You three go off and start working on your own spells.”
“Yes, sir,” the three girls said in chorus, Sabine flanked by Jasmine and Mindy as she flounced off.
With those three gone, Damien turned his attention back to Elaindra, who looked like she might fall over if someone breathed on her.
“Elaindra.” Just speaking her name made the girl practically spring out of her shoes. She stared up at him with wide eyes, shaking like a leaf. He sighed. Some students needed a gentle hand, and that was far from his specialty. He softened his voice, and took a step closer to her. “Is everything okay?”
She glanced away from him.
“E-Everything is fine…” Elaindra replied. “They… Sabine was… sh-she was j-just helping me learn the spell, that’s all.”
The poor thing was terrified, that much was obvious. Damien sighed. “Can I help?”
“Um, n-no!” Elaindra gasped. “Y-You don’t need to waste time with someone like me, there are definitely… other students who need your help… more…”
Damien wasn’t sure what to do. She pretty clearly needed his help, at performing the spell, at least, if not the issues she had with her classmates, but he couldn’t exactly force her. He looked past her and scratched his head, not sure what to do, when his eyes landed on two students looking their way. Wendy and Melody. He thought he saw worry on their faces, which quickly turned to surprise and guilt as they saw him looking, turning quickly away. Damien remembered seeing them speak with Elaindra a few times in previous classes. They might not have stood up for her against the other girls, but they were her friends, right?
“Elaindra,” he said, trying to sound gentler.
“Um! S-Sir…” Elaindra stuttered, peeking up at him through those messy bangs of hers, “if… if possible… if you wouldn’t mind…”
Her voice was going fainter and fainter, almost a mumble, and her eyes rolled around like marbles she was so nervous.
“I-I would prefer… could you… call me ‘Elly’ please? M-My name is…”
Oh. Damien hadn’t even considered that. Elaindra- err, Elly’s status as a half-elf was previously something known to the faculty, but a few weeks ago it had come out to the cohort, and now everybody knew. But he hadn’t thought of how that would make her feel, to continually address her by an obviously elven name.
He still had a lot to learn as a teacher.
“Yes, as you wish,” he nodded. Elly sighed in relief. “Now, as I was saying, it looks like Melody and Wendy are practicing over there, would you care to join them?”
Damien couldn’t be quite sure, but it looked like Elly’s face brightened up hearing that.
“Y-Yes, sir,” she said, going over to the other two girls, who greeted her with smiles. That was a relief; at least she wasn’t totally isolated in the cohort.
Unlike his most troubling student.
Damien continued to look at the performances of the students as he walked through the courtyard. Most of them were starting to get a hang of it. There were more fireballs making it to the wall intact than there were ones puttering out, which was definitely something to be pleased with.
The students themselves were enjoying themselves, too. For every Chloe Bellajean casually casting astoundingly-sized fireballs with her eyes closed, there was a Sabine Scarlet making a huge show of herself.
“Wow, Sabine, how do you get it to look so red?” Mindy gushed.
“Simple talent, of course,” Sabine scoffed, flicking her crimson hair. “A fireball suited to my tastes would need to be of this caliber! It’s only fitting!”
“Nicely done,” Jasmine murmured, both girls applauding while Sabine lauded praises on herself for what Damien had to admit was a well-performed spell. Her confidence was certainly not unwarranted; Sabine Scarlet had an affinity for fire-based magic.
Other students were trying to show off as well, though no one came close to the level of skill that Ark, Lancelus, Chloe, or Sabine displayed. One glance at Elly told Damien all he needed to know about the students at the bottom of the class as well. She could barely get out a fireball bigger than her fist, flying meekly for a few feet before sputtering into sparks. She would definitely be one of the students he would recommend for further practicing after the class session ended.
And finally, there was the problem child.
Blake Harker, his nephew. At a distance, one might have thought that Blake was getting some lessons from the teacher’s assistant, but as he got closer he realized that was far from the case.
“Oh, come on, just one little peek after classes end?” Reed begged. “I’ll show you how to do the spell perfectly if you do!”
“You’re already supposed to be doing that,” Damien sternly reminded her. Reed turned back smoothly, not a trace of shame for her dereliction to be found on her smiling face.
“Ah, professor, Blake says he doesn’t see any point in performing a spell like this, so we were just talking about-“
“I’ll talk with him. Go. Other students might need your help.” Damien jutted a thumb in Elly’s direction, staring at Reed until she got the message. She shrugged with a smile.
“As you wish, sir. Good luck Blake! I’ll see you again after class!” She winked at him and headed off to where Elly was practicing. Damien rolled her eyes. While he wasn’t thrilled with the student’s… personality quirks, he couldn’t deny her skill. Unfortunately, Blake didn’t seem to have any interest in learning from her.
“It’s good etiquette to accept favors when they’re being offered,” Damien said to the dour boy glaring up at him. Blake’s look soured even more, if that was somehow possible.
“I don’t trust her,” he muttered, turning back to the wall.
“Not everyone is out to hurt you, Blake,” Damien whispered, keeping his voice low to prevent people from overhearing. He didn’t know where Blake got such a distrustful attitude from. It wasn’t like life on his uncle’s farm had been so dangerous, at least not as far as Damien was made aware. And yet the boy seemed to cast a jaundiced eye upon everyone he met. It had taken months since Damien first met his estranged nephew to get to the shaky trust they had now.
I suppose carrying the burden of protecting such a treasure all alone for such a long time would weigh down on everyone… Damien sighed, staring at Blake’s back. It seemed so heavy. Even now, that bag of his was sitting there, brought to class by a boy who refused to let it out of his sight.
Damien felt for his nephew, he really did. He may not have met the boy until recently, but he still felt a bond of blood with him, even if that bond wasn’t reciprocated. Seeing him shut himself off from the rest of his cohort was a painful thing. “Maybe she’s just trying to be your friend, have you considered that? You could use a friend. What about the students in the cohort? You’ll be together for the next five years, it would help to-”
“Thank you for your concern, professor, but I don’t care about things like that,” Blake interrupted, not even turning back. “You recommended that I come here to learn magic, and that’s what I intend to do. Real magic, not some beginner spell like this.”
Blake gave Damien a questioning look. “Can making friends help me become a better mage, professor?”
To a man with few friends like Damien Darkflame, the question stung. But Damien continued on.
“There are things that you can’t learn all on your own, Blake. No one can do everything by himself.” As true as those words might have been, even Damien had to admit it was a hollow platitude. But he didn’t know what words he should say to make his young nephew understand. In the first place, making friends wasn’t something Damien had ever had the talent for, he was far better at losing them.
“Thank you for your wise words, professor…” Blake muttered out a reply, lifting up his wand. He turned back to the wall and pointed the wand, crafting a fireball and releasing it. The spell was far from the best Damien had seen, but still better than anyone would expect from a boy that had never used magic before. How fitting that the Harker Heir has an affinity for fire.
Blake turned back to Damien, and for a second Damien thought he saw a hint of surprise in those eyes of his. But after a moment all that was left was coldness.
“…But it looks like magic isn’t one of those things.”