The Heir of the Dragon
Nights in Eldrasil Village weren’t very dark with the light of the orica always overhead.
But this night felt dark to Trevan.
Elder Wormwood had called a town meeting, and all the adults of the village had gathered in the town square. All 43 of them, gathered around the fire pit for warmth. The issue at hand wasn’t suitable for the children, who were asleep in their beds.
Things were starting to get restless in this village, the way they always did this time of year. People were complaining to the elders about the rations, about repairs, and the most common complaint of all, the safety of the village itself. Trevan had had to reassure three people this week that they would not be found by the vigilant patrols increasing in size and frequency right above their heads.
“I understand that many of you are uncomfortable with our current circumstances, but we have to put up with it. Food is short in fall and winter. We have to rely on our holdings.” Elder Wormwood had been speaking for nearly all of the two hours the meeting had lasted, and he still hadn’t said anything hopeful.
“How long do we have to put up with it?” One of the women demanded, rising from her seat. “My Ki keeps asking if he can go out into the forest when he turns ten, what do I say to him?”
The elder cleared his throat. “Ten is far too young, when he’s a little older-“
“He’s not the only one!” Another woman interrupted, standing up as well. “A lot of the children want to see the world beyond the gates! They aren’t ready! They have no idea how dangerous things are out there, and we can’t tell them!”
More people spoke out in agreement, and the elder began to fidget as he lost control of the audience.
“Let me speak!”
Jorn’s voice was the one that seized the crowd. Among Trevan’s friends, Jorn stood out the least. He wasn’t very tall or short, and he wasn’t too muscular or too slim. He wore his long hair in a traditional hunter’s braid, simple and ordinary. There was nothing about him that was special. Except when he spoke.
His voice wasn’t very loud. But it was how he talked, the confident way he spoke to everyone, like he understood their concerns, that was something Trevan envied. Jorn was only a few years older than him, but he talked with the elders like an equal. When Jorn spoke, the villagers listened. Everyone took their seats, listening to what Jorn had to say.
“Everyone, we’ve all been through hard times,” Jorn said, his green eyes running over the crowd. Trevan felt them land on him. That was another thing about Jorn, it felt like he was talking to you. To Trevan, it was like Jorn’s words were for him, and him alone. “And sometimes we feel like this home of ours is enough. Now, you know that Trevan and I have both been trying our best to keep you safe. And as long as that gate stands, you will be, we can promise you that. But elder, safety isn’t enough!”
Trevan wished he had the confidence to talk to Elder Wormwood like that.
“The people of the village want their freedom,” Jorn pleaded, sadness and need in his voice. “They don’t want to spend a lifetime trapped behind the gates! Elder Wormwood, I respect you for advising patience, truly, I do. But what are we waiting for? More of… this? Only a handful of people have stepped foot outside the gates in the last three years!”
“Jorn, I know how concerned you are, and believe me, I’m concerned too,” Elder Wormwood tried to assure Jorn, but Trevan felt the tiredness in his voice. “What would you have us do? Any one of us caught on the surface above would doom the rest. We must remain here where it is safe, until-“
“Until we’re free?” Jorn demanded angrily.
“…Until the situation above improves,” the elder calmly finished. “The other elders and I all agree that patience is the best approach right now.”
“Not all of them, sir,” Jorn said, his eyes flashing in the fire light. Elder Wormwood’s face twisted in surprise at the bold statement. Trevan looked at the other village elders, seeing the discomfort in their eyes. Some avoided Elder Wormwood’s gaze as he looked their way.
Jorn continued, “I know you think I’m just a child, that I don’t know any better. And yes, my memories of the world we once lived in are old. I’ve spent most of my life behind these gates. But there are people here who remember what it was like to live in freedom, rather than hide while our people are trapped in the districts. We want to pass through the gates! Live normal lives, in our forest, without fearing that a patrol might capture us!”
Jorn turned away from the elder, holding his arms out wide. “Have you seen the districts for yourselves? Any of you? They’re not like they were back when the war was still going strong, when our people still had a chance to win. There’s no hope there! The people living there, they’re broken! Miserable! They waste away, mining for orica to trade for scraps of food, going about their lives behind a steel fence with arrows pointed at their backs!” His voice seemed filled with their pain, and Trevan nodded in agreement.
“Are they injured?” Elder Wormwood demanded, seizing strength from somewhere Trevan couldn’t see. “Are they suffering? Abused? Dying? Is life there so heinous that death would be preferable to them? I can’t believe that!”
Jorn’s face hardened. “That… is beside the point,” he hissed. Trevan agreed. The Saekorians may not have been killing the Estvalians in the districts, but the lives they lived were still ones that Trevan wouldn’t wish on anyone. Unable to walk through their own forest, forbidden from using magic… unable to connect to Eldrasil? It was a terrifying thought.
“No one is saying that the districts are a good thing, but it’s better than death!” The elder looked at the others, searching for support. His eyes were desperate. “What would you do? Attack the districts? Free them? And then what bring them here? We can barely sustain ourselves!”
Murmurs of agreement spread out.
“I would have them fight!” Jorn replied angrily. “All we have here are farmers, we need warriors! We need to free our kin and drive the Saekorians out!”
“We can’t fight the Saekorians!” Elder Wormwood exclaimed. “Doing that would bring more pain down upon us all! The Saekorians can be made to see reason, I promise you! They’re not brutal monsters who revel in pain, they’re people like the rest of us!”
“They’re the ones who don’t treat us like people,” Jorn glowered at him. “We’re like animals to them! Is that what we’re waiting for? When a rabbit is caught in a snare, it doesn’t pray for the mercy of the hunter, it tries to escape! The Saekorians have never shown us mercy, only a fool would believe it would ever be different! We drive them out, and we keep them out!”
A few people cheered in agreement, and Trevan was one of them.
Elder Wormwood sighed, raising his hand to caress his temple. Trevan felt bad for him. The elder was only doing what he thought was right. But couldn’t he see that what the best thing to do wasn’t to stay here, cut off from the forest, but to walk within it? Make it their home again? Protect it from the people who would defile it?
“I knew a man, many years ago, during the war,” the elder finally spoke, his voice weak and feeble. He couldn’t stand up to Jorn’s passion. “He was Saekorian. A good man, who saw himself equal to any man of Estval. He married an Estvalian, and took her daughter in as his own. Can’t you see? That’s what they are. People. There can be good and bad among any of us. Estvalians who are wicked and cruel, Saekorians who are generous and compassionate. Must you damn them all, for the crimes of only a few? Is it a sin to be born a Saekorian? If you believe that, how are you any different from those who think of us as mindless savages?”
Jorn said nothing in response. The fire cast shadows across his face as stared into the flames for a long time. Trevan thought about Elder Wormwood’s words. Perhaps he had a point. Perhaps there were Saekorians who were good. But did that really matter? Whether good or evil, the Saekorians held them prisoner in their own lands. If nothing else, Trevan knew that was wrong.
When Jorn finally spoke it was not to mock Elder Wormwood as a delusional fool, but to calmly ask a question.
“What happened to this man? This Saekorian who treated us like equals? What became of him and his family?”
Elder Wormwood’s shoulders drooped, and his head lowered. Trevan could see the defeat in his eyes.
“…I don’t know. His village was razed by the Saekorians.”
Jorn’s eyes burned in the glow of the fire and his face lit up with triumph. “You see? In the end, it’s the same! Our villages burning, our forests burning, our loved ones burning! The Saekorians destroy all that we hold sacred for their paltry magic rocks! Perhaps you’re too weak, or perhaps you’ve forgotten, but me? I see the faces of my parents every time I close my eyes. And when I think about who it was that took them from me, I can only think of one thing to do. And that’s fight.”
Trevan closed his eyes himself and saw his mother and father. His father’s warm hand on his head in congratulations for catching a rabbit with his first snare. His mother’s kind laugh as she taught him to carve wood. So many memories of the last time he’d felt real peace and happiness, peace and happiness that had been ripped from him at the point of a sword.
It was late when the meeting ended and Trevan began his walk back to his hut.
“Trevan.” Trevan turned back to see Jorn, the passion in his eyes not having dimmed slightly.
“It’s late,” Trevan sighed. “Can we speak in the morning?”
“I was surprised you didn’t speak tonight,” Jorn said, his tone an accusation. “Usually, you’re right there agreeing with me, that the Saekorian Devils must be driven out. Don’t tell me the old man’s words of peace and patience actually swayed you?”
“You should speak to the elder with more respect. He may be wrong, but he cares for his people as much as we do,” Trevan softly replied.
“So you agree he’s wrong, then,” Jorn said, clapping his hand on Trevan’s back. “Excellent. Then you agree, something has to be done.”
“I said, we can speak in the morning, it’s far too late for this,” Trevan muttered.
Jorn jumped in front of Trevan, his eyes like shining daggers of green in the night.
“Waiting until morning will be too late.” That encouraging voice again. “Come with me, my friend. If you love your people, you’ll listen to what I have to say.”
Trevan couldn’t resist his alluring words. He nodded his head and followed Jorn along the river, to the rushing waterfall and the spring beneath it. At its bank he saw the solemn faces of two more figures.
“Keela, Jayon, what is this?” Trevan asked in confusion.
“We’re going above,” Jorn said excitedly, nodding at the waterfall. “Just the four of us, before anyone notices we’re gone.”
Trevan looked at Keela, stunned that she’d agree. “But the patrols, what if they catch us?”
“They won’t,” Jorn mysteriously replied, his smirk widening. “Come. Your magic will make this easier.”
Trevan turned and looked up at Eldrasil. He closed his eyes and raised his hand, bidding the forest rise up around them. Roots shot out from the base of the cliff, curling together and hardening into a path leading up to the ground above. As he climbed, he thought about the meeting, and couldn’t help but wonder what Eldrasil wanted him to do. The Sacred Tree was old and patient and kind, caring for everyone beneath her branches. The more he thought about her, he felt his prior doubts began to resurface. He knew that fighting back and driving away the Saekorians was the right thing to do. It was all they could do. And yet he couldn’t help but feel uneasy.
He saw his parent’s faces again. The smiles, the warmth, the happy memories. Then he forced himself to think of the painful memories. Watching from the bushes and feeling Keela in his arms, hand tightly over her mouth to keep her from crying out. The sight of his mother, already dead on the ground while the Saekorians lined the survivors up. His father pleading to deaf ears for his life as the sword swung down.
The anger in his chest pushed away the feelings of uncertainty. Jorn was right. So what if there were good Saekorians? They were the enemy. The suffering they’d inflicted would not go unavenged. The blood of his people filled the forest floor, and Trevan wouldn’t rest until the Saekorians felt that pain for themselves.
The waterfall that sustained their village did not fall from the lip of the cliff. Rather, it drained from a long chain of pools, forming a series of steps up to the ground. Trevan, Keel, and Jayon climbed the steep path up to the roots, where the river greeted them warmly. Jorn followed seconds behind them. He was walking funny and clutching his side, a long bulge in his robe. Before Trevan could ask him about it, something else caught his attention.
There was someone standing among the roots of Eldrasil. It wasn’t a patroller, there would never be just one. But whoever it was, they were an intruder, and Trevan’s mana surged to strike at them before Jorn stepped in the way. Trevan looked at him, confused. What was he doing?!
The intruder stepped into light of the orica, not that there was much apparent to the eye. The figure wore a long black cloak with a hood up over their head, black cloth obscuring their face from sight. It wasn’t until they spoke that Trevan recognized it was a woman.
“You’re late,” the dark figure warned.
“The meeting ran longer than anticipated,” Jorn said, his reverent tone a rarity to Trevan’s ear. “We beg your apologies, Lady Witch.”
Trevan gasped. So this was the witch that Keela and Jorn spoke about! Their supporter in the shadows. This was his first time meeting her.
“And what were the results of that meeting?” The Black Witch inquired. Jorn frowned.
“It was as you suspected. The villagers want to fight, but Elder Wormwood was able to convince them otherwise. But don’t worry. Given time and assurance of our victory, they’ll agree that war is the only way!”
So they were really doing this. They were really going to war. Trevan couldn’t hold these doubts any longer. He needed to master his Awakening Magic. How could they win without it?
The Witch’s response was a brief one. “Good,” she nodded. “Did you bring it?”
“Yes. Right here.” Jorn reached into his robe, and pulled out what he had been hiding. It was long, and the glow of the water illuminated its white surface. Trevan gasped, his blood going cold.
“Jorn!” He hissed, nearly pushing Keela into the water to get to his friend. “How dare you take that?!”
Eldrasil’s sword was a part of her. Jorn was giving it to this witch?! No. Absolutely not. The Saekorians needed to be defeated. But it would NOT be at the cost of the heart and soul of the forest itself!
“Trevan, what are you doing?!” Jorn shouted, struggling against him as Trevan clutched at the hilt of the wooden sword. The two tumbled into the water and Trevan broke onto the surface, clutching his prize to his chest as he stumbled to the shore, shivering in the cold.
Keela and Jayon helped Jorn out of the water. Jorn pulled his braid away from his eyes and yelled at Trevan, “don’t you see? This is the only way!”
“Not this way!” Trevan angrily declared. He ignored the cold air and the cries of his friend, turning to the witch and pointing the tip of the sword at her. He felt the mana of Eldrasil flow through him, her voice urging him forward. He was going to drive out the intruder, even if she claimed to be an ally.
“It seems you are all mistaken. I have no intention of taking that stick.” The witch’s laugh was muffled behind her mask. Her gloved hand emerged from the cloak and she pointed a finger at Eldrasil. “This is why I had your friend bring you here in the first place. Because I knew that out of all of you, it would have to be you, Trevan Wud-Shannah.”
Trevan had no idea what she was talking about. All he felt was the pulse of life of the sword in his hand, the heartbeat of Eldrasil as she sung to him. Before he could strike, the world around him began to fall away, even the witch herself. All that remained was the forest.
“Hello, Trevan. Can you hear me?”
“Eldrasil.” The words didn’t leave his lips, but sang out from his heart.
“We have spoken many times, my old friend,” she sang back to him, her voice a tender relief to the pain he felt. “And now here you are. Taking me up in your hands. I know the depth of your devotion my friend, I only ask… do you have the strength to become part of me? To accept my power as your own?”
What sort of question was that? His heart responded the only way he could.
“Of course I do, old friend. From the day I was born I have been yours, even before I met you. So tell me, what is it you need from me? Ask and I shall do it!”
“I only ask for you to decide,” Eldrasil kindly replied. “Decide what path you will take forward. What will you do with my power?”
“I’ll protect you of course!” Trevan screamed from the depths of his soul, and the forest around him began to shake.
“Then accept all of me, my friend,” Eldrasil said, and Trevan imagined a smile for the briefest of seconds. Then, the world was returned to him.
The sword in Trevan’s hands began to shake. Before his very eyes, the thin whitewood blade twisted and stretched, tearing itself apart as the wood warped and bulged. It was astounding, the blade, which had been no longer than a branch, now stood raised a foot thick, taller than he was. A sword so large he could not imagine swinging it, and yet in his hands it felt no heavier than it had been before its transformation.
“The Sacred Arm Eldrasil is unsealed,” the witch cackled from somewhere in the distance as Trevan looked upon the sword with awe. “And with it, so too has your path to freedom opened before you, children. All you need do is take it.”
Trevan felt all of the forest in one heartbeat. Eldrasil’s mana was a part of him in a way it had never been before. Awakening Magic was forgotten to him now. Yes… with this… With this, we can finally be free.