Chapter 22:

Chapter 22: Soulfire Awakens (Blake)

The Heir of the Dragon

“Come in!”

Blake swallowed his tension at the door of Professor Saleigh’s office, but he couldn’t drown out the pounding of his heart. His duffel bag felt hot on his back.

“It’s okay, Blake. Professor Saleigh knows all there is to know on ancient relics.” Reed’s hand on his shoulder was a strangely comforting sensation. The encouraging smile she wore helped relax him a hair, but he still didn’t feel sure.

What he saw when he entered was a surprise. In class, Professor Saleigh was composed and reserved, a thoughtful person who took careful consideration and emphasized attention to detail when studying relics and artifacts. Her office did not convey this fact. Large though it may have been, it was packed floor to ceiling with stacks of books, boxes upon boxes filled with all sorts of strange objects crammed into every corner. Papers were strewn about on ever open surface, many written in languages Blake didn’t recognize. The first thing that came to Blake’s mind was that the professor’s interior decorator had been replaced by a tornado, it reminded him of when a storm had struck his uncle’s farm.

“Reed! Mr. Harker! Welcome!” Emerging from the mountain of clutter like a faerie rising from a garbage heap was Rio Saleigh, her pleasant smile out of place in this labyrinth of antiquity. “Shall we go?”

Blake turned to Reed and she nodded encouragingly, following the professor deeper into the office. They passed through another door, nearly impossible to see through the dust and décor, stepping into a back room.

This was closer to what Blake had expected from the professor. The room was significantly smaller, but immaculate. The sole thing of interest and what drew Blake’s attention was a pool of water dug deep in the floor, no larger than a bathtub. The clear water was shining from a source he couldn’t identify, releasing an eerie glow that seemed to draw him in.

“Mr. Harker, when I heard from Reed that you wanted me to assess that sword of yours, Soulfire, I was overjoyed” Professor Saleigh warmly said, walking around the pool, her auburn hair illuminated by the glow of the water. “I’ve been studying everything about it that I could. Now, come, would you like to bring it out?”

Blake paused, not sure if he could trust her or not. He swallowed, and knew that he had no choice. He needed to become stronger. Seeing what had happened to Elly had surprisingly angered him a lot more than he’d expected. More than losing to the prince in their spar, the thought that someone he knew had gotten so brutalized made him begin questioning a lot. Certainly, he was more talented than Elly, the weak half-elf barely being able to cast a spell.

But he wasn’t stronger than Reed. He wasn’t stronger than a lot of people.

And if he wanted to make sure he could protect his dragon eggs, the memories of his family, he would need as much strength as he could get.

Blake set down the duffel bag and opened it, his hand passing the eggs to wrap around something nearly as hot. The rough hide clung to his palm as he pulled the sword free, holding it up to the light. At first glance, someone might not even realize it was a sword. It was long, certainly, but what gleamed in the water’s glow was not the steel of a broadsword, but the smooth and wide head of an axe, colored deep crimson. But Soulfire was no axe; the wicked blade was a guard for the handle, curving up to point at the true blade, shrouded tightly in crimson. Blake had tried to unravel it many times. But the glowing runes etched into the cloth sheathe prevented it. A sealed sword that couldn’t cut.

He may never have swung it, but holding it in his hand felt natural. His fingers curved around the grip perfectly, the sword balanced at the perfect weight. Many times he had wondered how it could feel so right for him, and yet not show itself?

“May I?” Professor Saleigh asked, extending her hand. For a moment he thought against it, not willing to part with his family’s sword. But he reached across the water and handed it to her, the professor gently holding the wrapped blade as she ran her fingers along the warding.

“Marvelous,” the professor breathed in awe, holding the sword in front of her like an offering to the Celestials. “Truly marvelous, a symbol of our history, right in my hands…”

She closed her eyes and the water in the pool rose up to greet her, barely making a splash as it wrapped around the ancient sword, its light touching a deep red. Professor Saleigh let out a long, deep sigh, and Blake wondered what she was doing. Moments later the odd ritual came to an end, the water silently dropping back into place as the professor awoke from her trance.

Professor Saleigh didn’t return the sword, in fact, she pulled it closer. Reaching into the sleeve of her robes she took a pair of glasses and slipped them over her green eyes, studying the symbols with a smile.

“The genuine article. I never thought I’d get the chance to see one, let alone study it this close,” the professor murmured, running her hand up and down the length of the blade. “One of the Sacred Arms, in my own hands…”

“Sacred Arms?” Blake asked.

“You don’t know?” Professor Saleigh gasped, raising her eyebrow in surprise. “My, what is that foolish Arthur teaching you students? Have you learned nothing about our history?”

She turned towards the only other thing of import in the room, a table holding a single book. She beckoned for Blake to approach and he did, noticing the book was already open. An elegantly drawn sword a mirror of the one he’d brought stood out on the yellowed paper, but unlike the real thing the blade of this sword was uncovered. Two trails of cloth danced around a thick shaft, and Blake could practically see the sharp glint captured in ink.

“The Sacred Arms were 12 swords forged in the time of Roland the Great Unifier,” Professor Saleigh explained, reverence touching her voice. She showed him other pages, containing swords of different shapes and sizes, some barely looking like swords at all. “Each wielded by one of the heroes of the Unification, they each reflected the magical elements. Of all the relics and magic tools of the past, there are none more treasured, more powerful, than the Sacred Arms. Including your Soulfire, embodying the Fire Element’s Consumption. It was said that its blade would glow scarlet with the fire of its wielder’s soul, growing in strength the stronger their emotions.”

Blake stared at the wrapped up blade in the professor’s hand, noticing the way the surface of the curved guard shimmered in the light. Something tickled his ear, a voice, calling his name from far in the distance. He glanced back at Reed, but the girl smiled cluelessly.

“The Heroes of the Sky were wary of the temptation that such strength presented,” the professor continued, returning to the page depicting Soulfire, “so they each enchanted a blade with the strongest enchantment magic possible, sealing the swords into forms where they would be rendered useless to all but those who were chosen to wield them.”

Blake gasped, tearing his eyes away from the sword to look back at Rio in shock. The second the elusive red gleam escaped his gaze, the voice disappeared. “Chosen? What do you mean?”

“The Sacred Arms are no ordinary weapons,” Professor Saleigh laughed, eyes sparkling jovially. “They possess intelligence, a will endowed in them by their creators. They judge the hearts of those who hold them, and only when they find the person destined to wield them do they reveal their true forms and their true power.”

She laughed sheepishly. “At least, that’s what the legends say, anyway. I’ve never seen it myself, personally.”

A will… Blake kept finding his eyes drawn to the sword. The longer he stared at it, the louder the voice called out to him, and before he knew it he had reached out and taken the sword in his hand, warmth and power surging through him. Professor Saleigh stepped back, adjusting her glasses, her face twisting in surprise as her eyes widened with curiosity. Then she faded from Blake’s sight. The only thing in his world now was the sword. The room was ablaze with flames, but they never touched a thing, swirling harmlessly through the air as the blade howled, shaking in his hand.

“Blake! I’m here!” The voice called, a distant echo of familiarity that he couldn’t place. “Can you hear me?”

Trying to reply, Blake found his words trapped in his throat. But he screamed out in his mind, “yes! I can hear you!”

“It’s been so many years… I’ve been at your side, waiting for this day, for you to come and take me, ready to accept your place in my arms! Or… is that me, in your arms? The flames, the flames, the neverending fire burning inside of you! Feed it to me partner, awaken me and claim my majesty!” Soulfire roared in his head, waves of heat roiling off it. It was all Blake could do to hold the sword, not sure if it was testing him.

“How?” He cried out. “How do I awaken you?”

“Take my flame into you,” the sword sung. “And tell me truthfully, if I reveal myself to you, if I grant you my power, what will you do with it?”

Blake closed his eyes, seeing the dragon eggs burned in his mind. The smooth scales of the blue egg, soft and cool as a cloudy sky, the sleek shimmer of the black egg, and how it surged with energy in each burst, the rough and sharp brown egg, with its firm, strong resilient gleam, the burning red egg crackling and thrumming with heated passion, and his favorite, the glimmering green and golden egg, throbbing with warm love whenever he touched it.

“I’ll protect the things that are important to me,” he promised, his heart burning with conviction. The flames danced around him, growing hotter and hotter, but the voice remained silent.

“I have heard your answer, Blake. Thank you for the flames of your soul! I shall stand at your side for eternity, partner!”

And with that, the heat of the fire stopped burning him, the flames retreating into Soulfire and causing it to glow, illuminating the symbols and filling the room with light. It was no trick of the mind this time, no, the ancient cloth began to unwind itself, revealing the scarlet sword that lay beneath, heat warping across the brilliant surface of the blade.

“It’s magnificent!” Professor Saleigh’s voice seemed to call out from far away.

“Amazing, Blake! Simply amazing!” Reed’s cheer rang.

As the flames died down Blake felt a wave of numbness wash over his body, making it hard for him to keep standing. Drained of all his energy he nearly fell over before being stopped, his face pressed into Reed’s chest as she wrapped him in a tight and far-too-intimate hug.

“I can’t believe I got to see it with my own eyes,” Reed sang out in joy, ignoring Blake’s frantic attempts to pull free and spare himself the embarrassment. “That was one of the coolest things I’ve ever seen, so that’s Soulfire!”

Blake finally managed to free himself from the hug, sucking air back into his lungs as he regained his balance, the heat of the blade in his hand helping call him back to the world of the living.

“Reed, I do believe the poor boy needs some time to rest,” Professor Saleigh laughed, Blake nodding in agreement. Reed tucked herself under his arm and helped him into the other room, sitting him down on a chair so he could take a moment to recover from an experience he hadn’t expected to be so stimulating.

“So how was it?” Professor Saleigh asked, her eyes shining eagerly. Blake groaned, at least give him time to catch his breath!

“You were beautiful,” Reed smiled, handing him his duffel bag and the dragon eggs. It was a kind gesture of hers to go retrieve it, and he accepted it gratefully. “Although, don’t you think that an astounding feet like awakening the true form of Soulfire is something that maybe you should be smiling about?”

Blake shot her a dirty look but it rolled off her like water. What did she know? This was an important step forward in growing strong enough to protect his precious eggs! It was a serious affair, not something to smile like a fool over!

That was when he realized that he no longer felt the heat of Soulfire in his hand. He gasped, reinvigorated, springing up from his chair, only to be pushed back down by Reed. “Hush,” she urged him. “Just rest. Don’t worry.”

“My sword,” Blake growled, anger surging through him in its absence. “It’s-“

“Right here, don’t worry,” Professor Saleigh said, stepping back into sight, holding up Soulfire and presenting it to him. Blake stared at it in shock, the cloth had sealed itself around the blade again!

“How-?” Blake gasped, snatching the sword from the professor. “It… but I just awakened it! So how can it have reverted to-?” He raised his head and glared at Professor Saleigh, snarling angrily. She had done something to it, sealed it away, he just knew she had!

“Wait, hold on,” the professor raised her hands, startled. “Listen, that’s just what the Sacred Arms do! If someone other than the chosen wielder holds it, then it reverts to its sealed state, that’s all. It will only show its true nature while in your hand.”

Blake looked back down at the sword, feeling the heat of the blade through the magical cloth. He seized it by the handle and sent his mana into it again, and just like before, the seal unwound itself, revealing the crimson shine beneath. Blake sighed in relief and released his mana concentration, resealing his sword.

“I’m happy for you, Blake,” Reed smiled warmly. “That sword, it’s magnificent. Of course, you’re still going to need to know how to fight with it.”

Blake ignored her, he knew how to swing a sword. He sighed, and turned to Professor Saleigh, putting Reed out of his mind for the time being. “Thank you for your help, professor. Awakening Soulfire… you don’t know what this means to me.”

“I was happy to help,” Professor Saleigh smiled kindly at him. “This was a momentous occasion. Getting to see one of the Sacred Arms awakening was a reward in and of itself. Artifacts such as that… they are a beacon to our history, a past we all share.”

The professor’s eyes were glassy, tearing up as she stared at some far-off memory of the past, it appeared. “The past… so often we forget about what’s most important.” Professor Saleigh removed her glasses and wiped her eyes. “I’m glad I was able to help you.

Blake thanked her, hiding Soulfire in his duffel bag once more. Hopefully this would be the last time. Starting tomorrow, he would wear it with pride.

“Hey, Blake, wait up!”

Now, if only he could shake the annoyance that was Reed Rivers.

“I already told you, I know how to fight with a sword,” Blake grumbled.

“That’s not what your grades say,” Reed said, Blake scowling at her.

“Well… fine! So what are you suggesting I do, then?” He snapped angrily.

Reed grinned. “There are two things that sword is built for. Fighting, and flames. I was thinking that you and I could go to the library and learn more about what it can do in our time off! And in the meantime, you’ll be learning how to fight with your sword. Real sword practice, not just the stuff you’re learning in Physical Training.”

Blake stared at her suspiciously. So far, she’d been nothing but nice and considerate. He waited for the other shoe to drop.

“We can ask Professor Esterwind to train you, personally!” Reed suggested.

Ah. There it was.

Real Aire