The Heir of the Dragon
It was dark when Blake slipped out of his room and headed to the dining hall, and it was deserted when he got there. It was a rather odd feeling, being in such a large hall without a soul around, the staff being the sole exception. The hall could hold hundreds, and yet the only sound he could hear was the echo of his footsteps on the stone floor. Unnerving and calming.
He walked to the counter to order. Luckily the kitchen was still open, and would be for another half-hour. Blake was going this late so he could eat his dinner without running into his cohort, who had already eaten. He preferred his solitude. In spite of what the professor had told him, he didn’t see any need for making friends.
Which was why, after getting his food and sitting down, the sight of Reed Rivers made his stomach sink. She’d been pestering him all day, and he finally thought he’d managed to get away from her. He let out a sigh as she came right for his table, not even getting food first.
“Why the long face, Blake?” Reed asked, flashing him a smile. He averted his eyes, the way she smiled was… disarming. She had such a calming atmosphere about her, her relaxing voice actually quite soothing to listen to. If he wasn’t careful he might lower his guard around her.
“Why are you here?” He muttered, feeling his heart start to race. Being alone with her made him wary. He wasn’t sure why he felt so uncomfortable when she spoke to him, but that tense feeling in his chest made it difficult to trust that smiling face. It might have helped if she wasn’t so insistent about seeing his dragon eggs. He needed to be cautious.
“To see you, of course,” Reed giggled. “I went to your room, but your roommate said you had gone to eat, so I came by! Oh, that reminds me!”
She turned and walked over to the food counter and Blake began tearing into his meal. The faster he was done the faster he could get out of here.
“My, you really are hungry!” Reed’s laugh came from behind him and he jumped, turning back to see her slide down next to him. The scent of apples tickled his nose and he scooted a little further down, wanting to put as much distance between the two of them as he could. The closer she was, the harder it was to think.
“Come now, I won’t bite,” she laughed. This was another thing about her that made him uncomfortable. Everyone else got the hint sooner or later that Blake wasn’t interested in making friends. Even the kind Elly and the outgoing Amy had eventually stopped talking with him more than necessary when they realized he wasn’t interested. But no matter what he did he couldn’t get this girl to just leave him alone. He turned back to his food, trying to eat while ignoring the feeling of her eyes on him.
“So Blake, about the dragon eggs-“
“Will you just stop?!” He snapped, a little louder than he intended to. Her eyes widened and her he mouth opened, a look of surprise he’d never seen before crossing her face. His own face heated up and he suddenly felt very embarrassed, making an outburst like that like a little kid. Not sure what else to say he just stared at her.
Reed’s smile returned to her face, and that was almost a relief. She sniffed the air and raised her finger. “One moment,” she said, and slipped from her seat, the clack of her shoes filling the awkward silence as he watched her depart. Given the space to think for a moment, he wondered why he was so relieved she wasn’t upset at his outburst. Before he could answer she had returned, a tray in hand, the crisp odor of sweet sugar and apple wafting off her. Whatever the baked pastry was, and the smell of it was starting to make him drool.
Reed took a deep whiff and she actually swooned.
“Nothing like a good apple pie!” She let out a throaty sigh, sitting down beside him once more. He was too distracted by the food to scoot away again.
Pie… with apples in it? That was odd, to say the least. He must have been staring a little too closely, because Reed spoke to him.
“You like apple pie?” She asked.
“Oh, um… no, nothing,” Blake said, shaking his head. He suddenly felt sheepish. “It was just surprising; I’ve never seen it before.”
“You’ve never had apple pie?!” She exclaimed, making that shocked face again. “But it’s the most wonderful thing in the world!” She popped a piece into her mouth to emphasize, her face lighting up with joy.
That might have been the case, but apples didn’t grow in the Gulchwood Elms.
“Well, we’ll take care of that,” Reed said through forkfuls, turning back to the kitchen counter and raising her hand. “Hache! One for my friend, and another for me!”
Blake’s winced. Friend? She actually thought that? Reed must have noticed his tension, because the next thing she said was “so, you don’t like the idea of my friendship? I’m hurt, Blake, you’ve wounded me.”
He found that hard to believe, considering the smile hadn’t slipped from her face.
“I’m not interested in friends,” he muttered. She stared at him for a while, and the look in her eyes made him uncomfortable. He turned back to his food and tried to eat, but it was difficult with the feeling of being studied. He glanced at his duffel bag, tucked under the table, keeping his attention focused there, instead.
“You’re so vigilant of them,” Reed said. “Those eggs of yours. Can’t I just-“
“Please stop talking about them.” Blake glared at her. He just wanted her to leave him alone! But unlike his cohort, she didn’t seem bothered by his withering look.
“Do you honestly think I would steal something so precious from you?” Reed asked, her voice lacking the playful tinge that he’d grown used to. There was a question in her smile, like she was searching his face for something. “Isn’t there anything I can say to make you trust me, Blake?”
Blake’s heart fluttered and he tensed up. Don’t let her get to you.
“These children are my responsibility…” he said. Intensity seeped into his voice as he continued, “please, just leave me alone. We aren’t friends, and we aren’t going to be friends. I don’t need any friends and I don’t want anything to do with you, don’t you get that?!”
Blake pulled back to get a grip on his anger, turning back to his bag. He thought that getting his discomfort off of his chest would make it go away, but now he just felt worse for yelling at her. He glanced up out of the corner of his eye to see Reed staring at him, her eyebrow raised and her smile, for once, gone.
“You’ve never smiled.”
“Wh-What?” He was lost at what to do.
“Not ever, not once, not around me. You’ve always got that cold look on your face, I don’t think I’ve ever seen you smile.”
“What is that supposed to mean?” Blake demanded.
“A smile, silly,” Reed said, showing a big beaming one and pointing at her face. “Like this. Give it a try.”
“Shut it.” Blake had no interest in humoring the girl.
“If you’re happy with what you’re doing, looking after those dragon eggs all by your lonesome, then why don’t you smile?” She asked.
That was ridiculous. It was his duty to protect his family’s legacy; happiness had nothing to do with it. His eggs made him happy enough; he didn’t need smiles to prove it to anyone.
He opened his mouth condemn her, but she startled him by suddenly rising from her seat.
“Our pie is done,” she replied, like nothing was wrong. With her departure, Blake found himself thinking clearly once more. And he knew he didn’t want to be around her a second longer. Instead of confused and uneasy he just felt sick. He rose to leave but the hand she placed on his shoulder froze him in place. She was already back.
“Leave after dessert, okay?” She asked in that soft voice of hers, and he found himself tempted to stay. The pie did smell good, and-
“No, I-I have to go,” he snapped, shaking himself free. But even as he said them the words felt weak, like he was just protesting to protest, he didn’t know if he actually wanted to go. He couldn’t explain it, the more time he spent around this odd girl the more confused and anxious he got. He didn’t want to be near her, so why couldn’t he bring himself to leave?
“Let’s talk for a little,” Reed suggested, setting down her tray and patting the bench where he’d been sitting. “And I promise that after tonight, I’ll never bother you again, okay?”
The depth in her colorful eyes was surprising, and he found himself sitting down beside her without even realizing it. This… yeah, he was just going to listen to what she had to say, and then he wouldn’t have to deal with her anymore.
“…Fine,” he sighed. “What is it you want to talk about?” Like it would be anything other than the dragon eggs.
“For starters, how is it that you’ve never had apple pie?” Reed asked, sliding one of the plates over to him. That… had not been what he expected.
“You know when you’re confused, your mouth kinda flops open like an idiot?” Reed laughed, pointing at Blake’s face. He quickly shut his mouth. Suddenly finding it incredibly embarrassing to meet her eyes, Blake studied the apple pie.
He dug his fork in and took a bite, and he couldn’t believe his tongue. It was warm and gooey and delicious, practically melting in his mouth. There was a crunchiness to it he’d never felt before, the crackling of crust and fruit. One bite wasn’t enough, he took another and another.
“My, looks like you like it quite a bit.”
Blake’s fork froze in midair, and he quickly set it down. Certain he’d just made himself look like a gluttonous fool, he felt himself blush with shame.
“You’re right, though, it’s better when it’s warm,” Reed said, biting into hers. She finished it off in seconds, staring at his next. “You going to finish that?”
Blake’s stomach was doing flip-flops but he also wasn’t about to give up one of the best delicacies he’d ever tasted, so he forced himself to take another bite.
Reed leaned back and rubbed her stomach, stretching. “So Blake, are you ready to talk about the dragon eggs?”
Blake finished the pie with a sigh. Might as well get it over with.
“I’m not letting you look at them, or touch them. Are we done?”
“I think it’s admirable, that you’re looking after them,” Reed said. “Oh, I just hope they’ll hatch soon, don’t you?”
“They’ve been like this for hundreds of years,” Blake coldly informed her. “They won’t hatch. Ever.” It hurt him to say it, but he wasn’t delusional like she was, no matter how badly he wanted to believe it.
“You don’t really mean that,” Reed said, shaking her head. “You can’t.”
“H-How did you-?” Startled for a second, Blake quickly regained his composure. It angered him that this girl was able to get under his skin so easily.
“I’ve seen the way you look at them,” Reed said, staring longingly at the bag beneath the table. “The way you treasure them, I just know that you believe it too! They are going to hatch, I just know it!”
She sighed, her fluttery voice almost tempting Blake into agreeing with her.
“The sky filled with dragons again… oh, I just can’t wait.” Reed’s head jerked to look at him as she snapped out of her reverie. “You want to see it too, don’t you?”
Blake found himself nodding along with her. She flashed him a coy smirk that seemed to say “knew it”.
“To see another dragon… it would be like a dream,” Reed murmured, turning her gaze towards the night sky outside.
Another dragon. She’d seen a dragon before?
Impossible. Dragons were extinct.
“What are you talking about?” Blake demanded. He hadn’t meant to sound so forceful, but he wasn’t interested in tact.
“…Huh? Sorry, what?” Reed looked like she was coming out of a deep sleep, turning back to him. “Sorry, I was… thinking.”
“You said ‘see another dragon’ like you’ve seen a dragon before,” Blake said. Did she honestly expect him to believe that? “But the dragons… they’re all extinct?”
He’d meant to state it as fact, but that tiny thread of hope in his chest had tugged at the end of his sentence and morphed it into a question.
Reed looked around, as though the deserted dining hall was filled with spies. She lowered her voice, her eyes uncharacteristically serious.
“I’ve seen one before,” she said, so matter-of-factly that for an instant Blake believed it was true.
Reed raised her hand, a portal opening in front of it. She reached in and withdrew a large book Blake recognized well. The cover couldn’t be mistaken. It was a memory from his childhood. He looked up at Reed in amazement.
“House Harker and Dragons of Saekoria,” Reed said, moving their plates aside and setting the tome down. As she flipped through the pages, Blake noticed they were old and worn from years of use. “Here it is.”
She jammed her finger against one of the pictures, looking insistently at Blake. It was a picture of a Rainbow Dragon. A long body like a snake with feathered wings and four clawed legs, and at the tip of its tail, smaller feathers spread out in a fan. There was no color in the image, but Blake knew the entry by heart, describing how its feathers and scales glowed with the colors of the rainbow in the sunlight.
Reed reached up to her ear and removed the feather tucked behind it, playing with it in her fingers. As she turned it over, it caught the overhead light of the orica and reflected a myriad of colors.
“When I was very young, I saw one,” Reed murmured, her eyes glassy as she stared at the glittering feather. “A dragon, flying through the sky. It passed right over my favorite tree while I was reading, and dropped this for me. The blessing of a Rainbow Dragon’s tail feather.” She looked up at Blake, staring into his eyes.
Blake wasn’t sure what to make of her story. The suspicious part of him didn’t want to believe it. She knew about him and his family. If she were making up a story to get close to him, this was the perfect one. She’d seen a dragon? Even though they’d been extinct for centuries? Only a fool would believe something like that.
…Which must have made him quite the fool. Because as much as he wanted to doubt her, he could see the truth of it in her eyes. Just in the way she looked at that picture, the longing way she caressed that feather…
Reed had asked him earlier if there was anything that would make him trust her. And while he might not have trusted her with his eggs, he was almost sure he could trust her about this. Blake had few things in this world that he treasured, but his devotion to them was unmatched. And he could see that same devotion on her face. She truly believed she had seen a dragon. And that made Blake want to believe it too.
I wonder… when did I stop believing that dragons were still hiding in the sky somewhere?
“You know that dragons have been extinct for hundreds of years?” Blake asked. Just seeing the way her smile faltered, her eyes dimmed, that was enough to confirm it to him.
“…I see,” Reed said, setting the feather down. “Yeah, that… that’s what everyone says, right? Dragons are extinct, so I must have made it up, or maybe I saw some big bird. Don’t worry; I’ve heard it all before.”
Her sad smile was a dagger in the heart.
“I believe you,” he said. “You really saw a Rainbow Dragon? You’re certain?”
Reed’s eyes brightened. “I swear I did, I swear.”
“When I was a kid, I believed dragons were in hiding, not dead.” Blake didn’t know why he was telling her this, but he couldn’t keep his mouth shut. The words just came spilling out. “I wanted to become an explorer and find them someday… If you really did see one, that means they’re still out there, right? Somewhere? There have to still be dragons in the sky!”
While part of him knew it had to be fake, a stronger part of him wanted to cling onto the hope that she’d given him. For once, that was the side of his heart he chose to listen to.
The air around Reed seemed to change in the blink of an eye. The casual smile she always wore was a pale imitation of the way her face now lit up with joy.
“That’s exactly what I’m saying!” She practically shouted. “Dragons are still out there, I just know it! Even… even if it’s just one, even if it’s just the last one, it’s out there. He’s great at hiding, but he’s not going to be able to hide himself from me! If it takes my whole life, if it takes all my mana, I’ll transport myself to every island in the sky and search until I-“
Reed caught herself, her cheeks turning pink. She laughed an airy laugh and scratched her hair.
“Sorry, I got a little carried away,” she said. “It’s just… no one’s ever believed me before, you know? Not even my mom, nobody. People just looked at me like I was a crazy person…”
For the first time, Blake didn’t feel like she was such a bother.
“So it really means a lot, that you believe me.” Reed beamed at him. “I just knew you would. Since you’re, you know. Since your family loves dragons so much, I knew you’d believe me.”
Blake still felt uncomfortable. The way she smiled at him, he didn’t know what to feel.
She laughed. “It’s settled then, you’re the one! You wanted to see where they’re hiding? Well, when I find my dragon, you’re coming with me! We’ll find it together!”
Now she was getting carried away. This little talk had done a lot to make him more comfortable talking to her, but that was a far cry from going on an expedition to find a dragon that had been hiding since before his grandparents had been born.
“Didn’t you say you’d leave me alone after today?” Blake questioned. Reed’s eyes widened.
“That’s… but that was before you said… oh, darn it,” she pouted. “Let’s forget about that? Please? You’re the first person to believe me!”
Against his better judgment, Blake almost began to feel attached to this girl. Maybe it was the fact that she spoke about dragons with so much love in her voice, or maybe he was just too tired to resist after a long day of her wearing him down.
His eyes landed on the feather resting on the table and he realized what it was.
Reed had given him something to believe in - a hope from his childhood that the dragons hadn’t died off. Having lost home and family, with nothing to cling to but relics from the past, the thought that there was a dragon in the sky brought a warmth to his heart that felt unfamiliar after such a long time.
Looking into her pleading eyes, he wondered if that warmness would still be there in the morning.
“Thank you, Reed.”
“Hmm?” Reed tilted her head questioningly. “For what?”
“Never mind,” he said, shaking his head.
“You should really smile if you’re going to thank someone,” Reed informed him. “Come on, one smile?”
Blake had another idea. It wasn’t one he was particularly sure of, but he would feel miserable if he didn’t repay her. Now it was his turn to look around the room, like the walls had eyes. He had to be sure. He couldn’t let anyone see.
“What? What’s up?” Reed asked, catching his suspicion. Unable to look her in the eye and thank her, he leaned down and began digging under the table. He sat up, his heart pounding in his chest as he showed her a sky-blue egg as big as her head.
Reed’s eyes lit up. Her hand reached towards it but she caught herself, and Blake met her gaze. Seeing her caught so off-guard with wonder almost made the gesture worth it by itself. She’d been playing with him for weeks, and he’d finally seized the upper hand.
“Do you want to hold it? Just for a little while.”
She obviously did, her eyes were shooting back and forth between him and the egg so fast he was getting dizzy just watching. But she didn’t take it.
“A goodbye present, huh?” Reed sighed, staring longingly at the egg. “I would… rather just talk about dragons again, if I could choose.”
Blake didn’t know what to say. He’d expected her to snatch it right up. She wanted to talk to him more, instead.
“You’re sure?” She clarified. “I thought you didn’t trust me.”
“If you want me to trust you, giving it back when you’re done is a start,” Blake said. He didn’t know his voice could sound so gentle. It didn’t sound like him at all.
She glanced at it again, squirming with obvious desperation. It made Blake want to amuse himself.
“Well, if you don’t want to, I can put it back-“
“NO!” Reed exclaimed. “Err… sorry, just… aargh I didn’t think you’d actually let me, so I’m a little flustered.”
This could go on for a while. It was starting to get late. The dining hall would be closing any moment now.
“Listen, Reed, if you want, we can meet up again,” Blake said.
Reed was stunned. “But I thought you wanted me to leave you alone?”
Part of him did want that. But he had found himself actually enjoying talking about dragons with Reed, as crazy as that sounded.
“I don’t mind it as much,” he admitted. She’d worn him down. “But look, no popping into my room at all hours of the night, no bugging me when I’m busy, or pestering me about the dragon eggs, and absolutely none of those portals, okay? If you can do that, then… we can meet up sometimes, I guess. Just getting dinner and talking. But otherwise, leave me alone, okay? I don’t want you coming by and playing around like I’m one of your friends.”
“Oh, yeah, definitely!” Reed said. “I can do all that stuff! And don’t worry, I don’t have any friends, so to play around with you like that? Don’t know how!”
She didn’t have any friends? Why was he not surprised?
“And if I agree, then… we can talk about dragons again?” Reed asked hopefully. “I really don’t ever get to.”
“Then can… can I…” He could see how badly she wanted it, she couldn’t take her eyes away!
“…Yeah, go ahead,” Blake said, handing it over to her. As their hands touched and he passed it to her, her smile turned into one of loving tenderness. She gently cradled the egg, running her fingers across the surface.
Blake didn’t trust Reed just yet. He was ready to blast her with a fireball if she tried to run or portal or whatever. But the way she held it made him feel like he could get to trust her.