The Heir of the Dragon
Damien didn’t know what compelled him to join the other teachers for drinks in the teacher’s lounge; perhaps a temporary madness had seized him. Alcohol and Aria never went well. But someone had to keep an eye on Drana and make sure she wasn’t causing problems.
So that’s how he found himself drinking in the lounge sandwiched between a red-nosed Drana and the thankfully-sober Rio, as Aria carried on.
“You shoulda seen ‘em,” Aria cackled. “Reed Rivers was scooping ‘em up like bugs! Your Stars were pretty underwhelming!”
“Ms. Rivers is quite talented,” Damien calmly replied. “Today in class she helped out a lot with Fireball practice.”
“Hey, where are Sima and Luna?” Rio asked, looking around. “Shouldn’t you have invited them, as well?”
“Sima doesn’t drink, so I didn’t bother,” Aria said, as though you needed to be a lush to have a good time. “Luna said she was busy going over the herbs she was going to use next week. So it’s just the five of us. Well, four, and one guy not sayin’ all that much.”
She glanced at Arthur, who was sitting back in his chair and staring off pensively, nursing a drink of dark ale without actually sipping from it. Part of Damien wished he could pull off antisocial so well.
“So how have classes been going with the rest of you?” Damien asked, changing the subject. “Like I was saying, we just got started practicing Fireball. Midterms are coming up in a few weeks, so I’m hoping they’ll all be able to get used to at least one form of combat magic by then.”
“We’ve just been going over the basics of creatures and artifacts so far, the first term is such a bore, sadly…” Rio sighed, taking a sip of her sweet wine.
“Well, the kids love the magic creatures, that goes without saying,” her co-teacher Drana sniffed. “Of course, I can imagine their eyes start glazing over when you go on and on about those dusty old relics of yours, Rio.”
The two women glared at each other, and Damien had the misfortune to be caught in the center. He tried to stay on topic, glancing at Aria. She wore a big beaming smile.
“Dang, you even gotta ask? Things are going to be great. Movin’ those brats up to some real combat practice next week, get their hands on some swords. Should be fun.”
The way Aria’s face lit up as she talked about kids violently attacking each other was a good refresher on why Damien didn’t get along with her.
“You lot are quite lucky,” Arthur said, catching Damien by surprise. He wasn’t used to the quiet man having much to say outside of class. The professor swirled his drink for a second and took a deep sip, setting down his glass and leaning in to join in the conversation. “The students love practical classes, I’ve found. History lessons are much less engaging for most. Of course, some students can be testaments to history in and of themselves”
His eyes landed on Damien, and for a second Damien wondered if the other professor knew about his connection with Blake. Then he realized that Arthur was actually looking past him, toward the door, and the knocking sound coming from behind it.
Damien stood up, grateful to have the excuse to get away from Drana and Rio. As he did, he felt a little lightheaded. He must have had more to drink than he’d thought. He walked to the door, making sure to keep his balance. He was surprised at who he saw.
“Ms. Moonshadow, what are you doing here at this hour?” He asked. Eve Moonshadow was one of the more withdrawn members of his cohort, he didn’t expect her to be coming to the teacher’s lounge on a Friday night.
“I’m looking for Professor Reycom,” she explained. “I had a question about our upcoming test, and I wanted some help before the weekend.”
“Well professor, looks like you got at least one fan of History and Magic Law,” Aria threw back her head and laughed, slapping the back of the couch she was spread over.
“Yes, well,” the professor cleared his throat, clutching his cane and raising himself up, limping to the door. “Come Ms. Moonshadow, we’ll discuss in the hall.”
Damien sat down when Arthur had been sitting, freeing himself from the two feuding professors. “Now, what were we talking about before…?”
“Right, I was telling you guys all about the sword fighting,” Aria laughed. “Gotta say, there are definitely some promising ones. “Damien, the prince and the Angelique girl are definitely who I’m expecting from your cohort, and Rio, you’ve got Lyder and… what’s the other one’s name? The twin.”
“Tyler or Taylor?” Rio asked, raising her eyebrow.
“Taylor, the girl. Yeah, she’s definitely got a lot of promise. Real killer instinct that one.”
“Her fine magic control was also pretty good,” Damien remembered, the twins being among the most talented from the Sun cohort. “Though her brother was a little more skilled in that area.”
“Yes, they’re both quite something,” Rio laughed.
“Definitely looking forward to her performance,” Aria agreed, nodding her head. “But the one I’m really looking forward to is that Harker kid, you know the one.”
“Blake Harker,” Rio said, nodding slowly. Damien caught her glancing at him for a second. “I’ve been meaning to speak with him myself; actually, you think he has promise? His grades in our class aren’t anything special.”
“He spends more time studying that bag of his than he does the Compendium,” Drana said, taking a big gulp of sour wine. “Really disappointing, I was hoping he’d be something special, you know, being a Harker and all. Maybe if I talk about dragons for a lecture it might help him open up…” While Drana was considering that, Damien turned his attention back to Aria.
“So what’s this about Blake?” He asked, trying to keep things casual. “You said he has some potential with a sword, or something? Wouldn’t you need to see him actually practice with a sword first?”
“Nah, that’s not what I meant,” Aria said, waving her hand. “No, what I mean is that kid’s got a real good eye for scrapping. There’s some real anger in there just waiting to burst out.”
Damien frowned. He didn’t like the way she’d said that.
“See, some kids might have talent, but they don’t have the drive,” Aria continued. “For them, Physical Training is just some dump class where they put in the bare minimum because they have to, and don’t really apply themselves.”
“Well you can’t blame them for that,” Rio replied. “They come here to learn magic, not sword fighting.”
“Sword fighting and other weapons are a big part of some types of combat magic,” Aria defended. “But anyway, Blake, that kid’s not like that, I can see it in his eyes. There’s some real fight in that kid, and I want to bring it out of him. He can be a real soldier, if you ask me.”
“Well, no one did,” Damien snapped. His head was swimming with alcohol, and Aria’s words had brought back memories of the first time he had met his nephew. It had been nearly a year ago, when he’d gone out to that farmhouse in the Gulchwood Elms.
“…So you’re him, eh?” Blake’s uncle muttered, staring at Damien. Norand was significantly older than Damien, a balding man approaching the fifty who’s sun-baked, wrinkled skin put him closer to seventy. He eyed Damien with a wariness that wasn’t unexpected given the circumstances, stroking his chin.
“I’m Damien Darkflame,” Damien confirmed. “I’m here to see Blake.”
He hadn’t come in person until he knew for a fact that his nephew was here. Damien wasn’t sure what to say to him. He’d spent the long train ride out to this farming island by the border, and he hadn’t been able to come up with a single word. Maybe he’d know what to say when he was finally face to face, but if his years as a teacher taught him anything it was that preparedness was key. And he wasn’t prepared.
“He’s out by the barn,” Norand muttered, waving his hand out towards a building off in the distance. “Maybe you can talk some sense into him… Celestials know I can’t.”
Without even offering to let Damien come inside for a rest, Norand slammed the door in his face. Damien sighed and headed in the direction of the barn. As he began the long walk, he found himself worrying about the state of mind of a boy who’d gone through everything that Blake had.
“Uraaah! Haah!” The sounds of shouting and wood slapping against wood grew louder as Damien drew closer to the barn. He soon discovered why.
A brown-haired boy held a shoddily-carved wooden sword in his hands, swinging it at a propped-up dummy with everything he had. His form was awful; he attacked with little thought at all. Just mindlessly taking out his aggression on the helpless dummy.
Damien watched for a few minutes. So this was Blake. He was so focused on what could charitably called “practice” that he didn’t even notice he had an audience. Damien began to worry again. Everything about the boy was radiating anger. Damien didn’t blame him for his rage, but he did find it concerning.
“What are you doing there?” Damien called. Blake jumped, whirling around and pointing his sword, a wild look in his eye. He calmed down a second later, but the fury in that gaze stuck with Damien, sending a shiver down his spine.
“…I’m practicing,” Blake said.
“Practicing fighting straw dolls?” Damien asked, raising his eyebrow. Blake narrowed his eyes, and that fury returned.
“Fighting people,” Blake replied.
Damien frowned. “That right?”
“Who are you, mister?” Blake growled, taking a cautious step forward. “Does my uncle know you’re here?”
“My name is Damien Darkflame,” Damien replied. “I’m a teacher at the Rem Magic Academy.”
Blake didn’t say anything to that, and he didn’t lower his sword, either.
“You’re Blake Harker,” Damien added. Blake’s eyes widened and he lunged forward, swinging the practice sword at Damien.
Damien hadn’t expected the sudden show of aggression. He stepped to the side and brought his arm down on Blake’s back, knocking the boy into the grass. Blake scrambled up and lunged at him again. Damien grabbed the wooden sword this time and yanked it out of Blake’s hands.
“I know who you are,” Damien said, holding his hand up. He saw Blake was about to lunge again, even though he had no weapon. “Your parents were… friends of mine.”
Blake blinked, calming down a hair. But he was still tense.
“Why are you practicing ‘fighting people’?” Damien asked. “I can’t imagine that a farmer has many people to fight against.”
He prayed the answer wasn’t vengeance.
Blake took a moment to think, staring at Damien all the while. “I have something I need to protect,” he finally replied.
“…I see,” Damien nodded. A thin smile came to his lips. He held up his hand. “Do you know of magic?”
Flames lit up from Damien’s palm, and Blake gasped in surprise, falling back. With a wave of his hand, Damien dispersed the fire.
“Magic is something far more useful for protecting things you care about than anything you could gain from wildly swinging a sword at some straw,” Damien said, walking over to the boy and offering his hand. Blake brushed it away and stood up on his own, but his eyes had lost the cold menace, now studying Damien curiously. “I could teach you. Come study under me at the Rem Magic Academy. I can recommend you. Learn magic. I promise, it will change the way you see things. It will open up a brand-new world for you.”
Blake glanced down at a worn bag by his feet and swallowed, looking up at Damien.
“Can I… really become stronger?”
Damien had hoped that this new environment would help his nephew open up, get rid of some of that aggression building up in him. But unfortunately he seemed to be only getting more antisocial. Damien took another drink, it helped numb his discomfort.
“Damien, you all there?” Aria asked, snapping Damien out of his reminiscing. He glanced up to see that everyone was staring at him.
“…Sorry, I think I may have had a bit too much to drink,” he mumbled, rising to his feet. The room was spinning, and so were his thoughts. “I’ll get some fresh air.”
Damien headed out onto the balcony, staring out into the night. The air was rich with mana by the blessings of the faeries, and it soothed his heart and cleared his mind. He was in a much better state when Rio came up beside him, leaning against the railing and peering into the darkness, not saying a word.
“Too much to drink for you as well?” Damien asked, a pathetic attempt to start a conversation. Once upon a time, he and Rio were close enough that they knew what the other was thinking without having to say a word. But that time had long passed.
“No, I thought you might like the company,” Rio said, glancing back at him, her green eyes sparkling in the night. “You seemed to have a lot on your mind, out here brooding by yourself.”
“I wasn’t brooding.”
“Sure you were. Your shoulders were doing that slumping thing they do when you’re brooding,” Rio laughed, slapping him on the back. Damien rolled his eyes.
“Alcohol doesn’t agree with me,” Damien replied. “And neither does Aria.”
“That stuff she was saying earlier… about your nephew… that was just her talking, you know,” Rio said. “She doesn’t know, or she would have been a little more tactful.”
Damien gave her a pointed look, and she sighed sheepishly, shrugging her shoulders. “Tactful” wasn’t a word in Aria’s dictionary.
“How are things going between the two of you?” Rio asked, sipping her wine. “He’s been here for a few weeks now, are you getting along okay?”
“It’s fine,” Damien said, not wanting to bring up the issues that were currently bothering him. Rio must have noticed, because she changed the subject.
“If you don’t mind, I was thinking of speaking with him myself,” Rio said, glancing back out to stare at the sky. “Given what you told me… he has it, doesn’t he? Soulfire. The treasured sword of the Harker family.”
“Anything to get your hands on another relic, huh?” Damien dryly replied with a chuckle, Rio swatting him again.
“I’m curious, is all,” Rio said. “I mean, the way I hear it, Alaine Harker found that sword and brought it home, and the same night Silverscale gets attacked by terrorists? The sword was never recovered, and now we know it was because Blake escaped with it.”
“Rio,” Damien snapped, glaring at her. He didn’t like thinking about that night.
“…Sorry,” Rio muttered. “I just thought it might be fate. You don’t think it could be, right? That he’s the one? Soulfire’s wielder?”
Damien sighed. Rio’s obsession with ancient relics and artifacts caused her to go down some odd lines of thought. He wasn’t going to be that optimistic.
“If you want to talk to him about it, go ahead,” Damien told her. “It might do him some good. Opening up with someone, finding some common ground… lord knows that boy needs it. I wish I could do more for him, but… I’m just me.”
Damien shook his head, staring at Rio. Rio paused, and nodded her head.
“You always get more sentimental when you drink, Damien,” she said, taking another drink. “Some things never change.”
Damien stared up at her, beautiful in the moonlight. He had loved her, once. And now she was as distant from him as the stars. He fought back the pain in his breast, but couldn’t keep the words from his tongue.
“Listen Rio, I’ve been thinking about this for a long time,” he said, his eyes glazing over as the alcohol overcame his better judgment. “I need to tell you how sorry I am, about Nevermore.”
“Are you still trying to have this conversation?” She asked, laughing in disbelief. “We’ve talked about this already, are you a sentimentalist now that your nephew’s here?”
“Rio, you lost him because of me, and I know that what happened was-“ Damien was fumbling for words, his brain slowing as the effects of the alcohol disoriented him. He wasn’t sure why he was bringing it up again, after all this time. But he needed to reach out, to find something to grasp onto, his heart could only hold so much pain, and his regret of that day was overwhelming.
“Damien, we’ve had this conversation before, just forget it,” she chuckled, shaking her head. The smile slid from Rio’s face as she straightened up, looking at him with different eyes. Cold eyes that stabbed him like daggers. “And right now you’re just spitting words at the night. You can say whatever you want, and it wouldn’t change a thing, Damien.”
Damien winced at the coldness in her voice. Her words were a rebuke that was more than deserved.
“Rio, I just-“
“I will never forgive you for what happened, Damien, do you understand?” Rio asked, her voice quiet with solemnity. “Never. So just forget it.”
It was forgotten, the conversation ended. But his heart would never forget the pain. And he knew full well that neither would hers.