Chapter 31:

Chapter 31: What's Most Important (Blake)

The Heir of the Dragon

The sound of sword hitting sword echoed across the training field at dawn.

“Better!” Aria barked, swinging her blade at Blake, who stepped back and raised Soulfire to parry the attack. “But don’t retreat! Parry and advance!”

Blake narrowed his eyes and stepped forward, swinging his sword at her left side. Aria smiled and stepped to the side, raising her sword up to counter.

“Smart! Target the opponent’s weak point!” Aria nodded, her eyes shining with excitement. “But be careful!”

While blocking his swing, she raised her leg and kicked him in the side. Blake sucked in air as pain shot through his chest, keeping his balance and pushing forward. Flames burst around Soulfire’s blade, forcing his teacher to jump back as the sword struck the cobblestones with a loud clang.

“You’re doing well, being that aggressive,” Aria noted with pride in her voice. But her face darkened. “But you’re still a little off. What, that rage of yours abating because your half-elf friend is doing better?”

Blake’s anger flared up at the mention of Elly. “Elly isn’t my friend.”

“Ho. But I remember you coming at me with such brutality after she got burned,” Aria said, narrowing her eyes as a thin smile spread across her face.

Blake held his ground. Angry as he was, he knew when he was being baited. That didn’t make her wrong, though. Somehow, he’d grown to be protective of Elly. Maybe even as far back as when she’d hidden in his compartment. And when he heard she’d gotten injured, his first instinct was to attack the person responsible. But he’d held back, turning that anger inwards, at himself. If he had been there, he could have protected her, damn it!

“’If I was there I could have protected her’ is that what you’re thinking?” Aria laughed. “You’re an easy read.”

Blake glared at her, irritated that she’d seen through him.

“Yeah, so what?” He growled.

“You’re exactly right, you know. If you were there, you could have helped, but you weren’t. And that’s precisely the problem,” Aria shrugged, twirling her sword in her hands. “We can’t always be around to protect the things we care about, so we keep them close to us.” She charged at him suddenly, swinging her sword at his shoulder. “So if you don’t want to lose someone, protect them!”

Blake blocked the blow, just barely. He was irritated she’d caught him off guard.

“Or…” She continued, following up with another strike, “cut them off completely and stop caring about them. Pick one.”

Blake blocked the blow with a scowl, knowing full well his teacher was right. That was exactly the conclusion he’d arrived to. “It’s fine. Elly and I are done. I’m not going to bother with her anymore. I have… more important things that need protecting.”

Aria nodded thoughtfully, and Blake could feel her eyes studying him. “That easy, huh, you brat?”

Blake glared back at her. Yes, it WAS that easy. He charged, swinging his blazing sword. “I told you I’m done talking about her.”

She smirked and parried the blow. “Fair enough! Forget the girl! You can do better than that! Show me that real rage of yours, Harker! That hatred for Estval, for everything those Estvalians have done to you, have done to me, have done to ALL of us!”

Pushing Elly out of his mind, Blake let the anger inside of him take control, feeling the pain he’d lived with all these years surge forward and swirl around him like a pillar of fire. He channeled that hatred towards the opponent in front of him, no longer seeing Aria as a teacher but as just another Estvalian murderer, one of the monsters that had stolen everything from him.

Letting his hatred of Estval guide him, he let out a savage shout and swung Soulfire again, harder than before. The Estvalian raised her swords and sparks flew out when the blades hit each other, flames spitting harmlessly into the air. She moved to kick him again but he wasn’t about to let some Estvalian bitch get the better of him! He turned his hip and dodged the strike, gritting his teeth and staring venomously at those green eyes shining back at him.

She was smiling. The fucking bitch was smiling! He was going to wipe that smile off of her fucking face!

This is for my mother! This is for my father! This is for taking EVERYTHING FROM ME! I WON’T LET YOU TAKE ANYTHING ELSE FROM ANYONE, EVER AGAIN! His thoughts were burning as he tapped into reserves he didn’t even know he had.

URRAARKGH!!” Blake roared, and Soulfire roared with him. He pushed against her and he could feel her start to give, the flames of his sword growing hotter and hotter as he let himself hate her more and more. She fell down to one knee and he knew she was done. One more strike and she’d be dead!

Once those thoughts passed his mind he pulled back, panting, the flames sputtering and dying. He gasped in shock, rubbing his sweat-drenched forehead as he felt that anger burning in his blood slowly start to fade. Right… right… Miss Esterwind wasn’t an Estvalian. She was a victim just like he was. It was getting harder and harder for him to see that.

Aria herself didn’t seem to mind, though. Rising to her feet, she wore a broad smile on her face, beaming from ear to ear.

“That was excellent, Harker, you’re really coming along!” She said, sliding her sword into the scabbard on her waist. “That last stroke of yours was magnificent. The intensity of those flames… fucking perfect. I can’t wait to see what you’ll be like in real combat!”

Real combat… Blake hoped it would never happen. If he had his way, he would never need these techniques to protect his dragon eggs. But he had learned as a child that no matter how safe he might think he was, there was always a chance that something could happen and his safety could come crashing down.

It wouldn’t happen again. He would be prepared. He would never lose anything again.

Aria threw back her head and laughed, her harsh voice stinging his ears. “That look in your eyes! That’s the real look of a warrior right there! I can’t wait for the Chess Games, you’re gonna give my kids a real run for their money! Ha!” She kept laughing, and Blake stared at her in confusion.

Chess Games? What?

Aria sobered up, shielding her eyes from the early morning light as she looked past Blake. “Well, I think it’s about time we call our practice for today, Harker. I’ve got some preparations to do, and it looks like you’ve got someone waiting on ya.”

Blake looked over his shoulder and squinted, seeing the vague outline of Reed standing at the gate. Aria walked past him and clapped him on the back, Reed walking around her and waving at him. She has a small smile on her face.

Blake sighed in exhaustion.

“Magic practice right after sword practice, this is going to be the death of me,” he griped. He slipped Soulfire onto his back and sealed it, the sealing cloth wrapping around his chest to fasten the blade to his back. It was one of the many tricks he’d discovered his sword was capable of.

“Come now, you’re doing fine,” Reed chuckled, rubbing his back. “But I must say, that was some attack at the end there. You looked really intense.” He pulled back from her and turned to see a smiling face, but her voice sounded strained.

“I don’t need you to give me… backrubs,” Blake scowled. He hated how handsy she could get sometimes. She was just helping him study, he didn’t like her being so touchy. “We’re not friends. Boundaries.”

“We could be friends,” Reed said, her eyes shining at him. But he didn’t want friendship from her. Talking about dragons with her did make him feel better, but that wasn’t friendship.

“But we aren’t,” Blake coldly replied. He wasn’t about to let anyone get close to him, especially not someone as clingy as this. She made him feel weird and frustrated too often to invite more of that.

“Well, let’s move on from that,” Reed clapped her hands together, apparently undaunted by his rejection of her friendship. “How has your progress been with Elemental Magic?”

Blake was grateful that they were getting down to business. Didn’t she understand this was how their relationship worked best? He stepped away from her and held his hand up. “Fireball.”

The spell was as simple as breathing to him now, and he conjured the spellcraft with a word. The fireball danced in his hand and he held it out in front of him. Reed was already applauding even though he hadn’t done anything, she was apparently easily impressed.

Blake flung the fireball into the air, and began to focus his mana. Because he had conjured the fireball himself, that made it easier for him to attune to it. He felt the fireball’s mana, and held it in the air.

“Oooh!” Reed gasped. “Nicely done!”

“I’ve been working on this the last few days,” Blake said with pride. “I can control it with my mana now. It’s just some rudimentary stuff, but it’s a good start, I think.”

He moved his hand and the fireball moved with it, dancing through the sky. He turned and flung it against the ground, sending sparks everywhere.

“It’s an excellent start, considering you’ve only been practicing for a few months,” Reed said, her tone encouraging. “You know, you can smile if you’re happy!”

Blake was getting really tired of her telling him to smile all the time. Why wasn’t she taking this seriously? Magic wasn’t a game, and it wasn’t a joke. Her easygoing attitude was really starting to piss him off.

“Okay, let’s try to see what else you can do,” Reed said, taking his glare in stride. “So, I was thinking, you know how Soulfire creates flames itself? What if, instead of making a fireball, you focus on-“

“Actually,” Blake interrupted her, “instead I was wondering if we could talk.”

Reed’s face lit up and she opened her mouth again, but Blake cut her off for a second time. “And no, it’s not about dragons.”

“Oh. Foo.” Reed pouted. She walked off the training yard to the shady tree where Blake had rested his eggs, sitting down next to them and beckoning him over. “Well, if not magic, we can chat?”

Blake joined her on the bench, which was rather awkward to sit on with the sword on his back. He fidgeted, turning red with frustration.

“So what did you want to talk about?” Reed asked him, her eyes clear and eager.

Blake had wanted to talk about something specific, but right now, he was curious about something entirely different, and asking about that would be a lot more difficult after he told her what he wanted to say.

“When we were training, Miss Esterwind mentioned something about ‘Chess Games’. I don’t play chess. What’s that about?” Blake asked.

Coyness slipped its way into Reed’s smile as her eyes narrowed. “Oh, it is that time of year after all, isn’t it?” Blake didn’t like the mysterious way she said that.

“Come on, seriously?” He complained. “Are you seriously teasing me about this, too?!” He caught himself before he got too upset. Apparently, the anger he’d felt earlier hadn’t fully left him yet.

“Okay, okay, I’ll tell,” Reed laughed. “But only because you’re so cute when you get worked up!”

Blake glared at her. She was still teasing.

“Yikes, that face. Okay, so, the Chess Games are sort of like a school event, for the first year students,” Reed explained. “It’s a bonding activity for the cohorts.”

Great, Blake hated it already. Bonding activities were the last thing on his mind. Sounded like he was giving this a pass.

“Is this mandatory participation?” Blake groaned.

“Actually? No!” Reed chirped, patting him on the shoulder. “See, each cohort chooses 16 of their students to participate. You know? Just like a game of chess! And just like with chess, the goal is to capture the King!”

“Wait, so it’s like a 16 on 16 magic battle?” Blake asked. He was starting to see the appeal now. It could be good to test his abilities.”

“Sort of, yeah. It’s more like a sport, though,” Reed said. She narrowed her eyes at him in suspicion. “They do have ‘sports’ where you came from, right?”

Yes, we have sports,” Blake growled. Teasing again. Why the hell did she love messing with him so much?

“Well, you guys don’t have apple pie, so how am I supposed to know-“


“Sorry! Sorry!” Reed doubled over laughing. “Where was I? Oh, right! Sports! So the way the game works, is each cohort chooses 16 members for their team. The goal is to use magic to defeat the other team in battle! There’s two ways you can do that, either through points, or by capturing the King! Because it’s chess, you’ve got the King and the Queen, of course, and then there are the two Rooks, the two Bishops, the two Knights, and the eight Pawns! …You have seen a chessboard, right? These words mean something?”

Blake informed her as politely as he could that yes, just like how they had sports in the Gulchwood Elms, they had chess, too. Blake had just never played it himself.

“So as I was saying, there are a bunch of different roles that you can be assigned,” Reed continued, Blake grateful she was no longer joking around and just explaining things clearly, like a teacher. “I mentioned before about ‘points’ right? Well, those are one of the ways you can win. Each Chess Piece has their own rules. The King, of course, loses when they get captured. So the goal is to protect your King. Then there’s the Queen. Whenever the Queen defeats an opponent piece, or ‘captures’ them, your team gets 4 points. Each team only gets one King and Queen, they’re really good.”

“Okay, so if the Queen gets 4 points for every piece, how many points do you need to get to win?” Blake asked. The rules were less interesting to him than just fighting and winning. It sounded like the Queen would get to do a lot of that. It sounded like a good role for him. The King, on the other hand? Absolutely not.

“That’s the right question!” Reed snapped her fingers and winked at him. “If neither side’s King has been captured, when a team gets 30 points, then they win!”

Blake did some quick math. If the Queen got 4 points, then that would mean she’d have to capture 8 pieces to win. Even though he had gotten a lot stronger over the last few months, that still sounded like a challenge; that would be half the opposing team! “I’m assuming there are other ways you can get points, then?”

Reed winked a second time. “Right again! The King might not be able to get any points, but the other pieces can get points too! Next up is the Bishop! Like the Queen, the Bishop gets 4 points for each piece they capture! But-“

“Huh? Then what’s so special about the Queen?” Blake protested. So much for being the Queen, everybody was getting those 4 point bonuses!

Reed took a deep breath, and for a second Blake thought she was frustrated with his interruption. That was a nice thought. She deserved it, the way she frustrated him sometimes. She continued, her smile not shaken at all. “The Bishop has a downside, that I was getting to. Those 4 points only apply if the Bishop captures a Queen, a Knight, a Rook, or another Bishop. For every Pawn the Bishop captures, their team loses 2 points!”

That sounded like a dumb rule. “Then why would a Bishop ever attack a Pawn in the first place?”

Reed raised her eyebrows in a challenging smirk. “Well, how would you know? It’s not like your opponent is just going to advertise what piece they are, right? Unlike real chess, only the King and Queen are identified at the start of the Chess Games.”

“So a Bishop could be fighting someone thinking they were a Knight or another Bishop, but if it turns out they defeat a Pawn then they lose points instead of gaining them?” Blake confirmed, frowning. “That doesn’t seem fair. So it’s all just luck?”

If Blake was going to play, he was really hoping he didn’t have to be a Bishop.

“Not exactly,” Reed said, shaking her head. “See, the Knights have the ability to determine which pieces everyone is! A Knight only gets 2 points for each opponent they defeat, but they can identify the identity of any Chess Piece that’s within 25 meters of them! So a Knight and a Bishop working together is a really strong combo!”

Blake nodded. Okay, that was sounding a little more fair. “So what about the other pieces, then? I’m assuming the Knight is the only one who can find out people’s roles?”

“Basically,” Reed nodded in confirmation. “Rooks can sense whenever another piece is within 50 meters of them, but they aren’t able to identify what that piece is. And because Rooks don’t get any points for capturing enemy pieces, they’re often used to protect the King, since they know when enemies are getting close. They have a special ability, too! They can teleport to the King’s side in an emergency.”

“Okay, so Rooks defend the King, and then Bishops and Knights are attackers and scouts,” Blake reasoned, thinking about how Reed described each of the roles. “So what about Pawns, then?”

“Fodder,” Reed stated plainly. Blake nearly choked on her candor.


Reed nodded. “Fodder. You’ve got eight of ‘em after all! The only rule with Pawns is that they get 2 points for each piece they capture. Pretty bad rate. But they make up half your team! A good chess player knows that while Pawns might be fodder, you shouldn’t waste them. How you use your Pawns often decides how a match goes. Some use them for defense, some for offense, some as bait, it all depends on the King’s decisions, since he’s basically team captain. So, what do you think?”

“…It’s okay.” Blake thought it sounded like a very interesting game, but more importantly, an excellent way to test his strength. But he still wasn’t sure if he would participate. It sounded like playing would involve a lot of interaction with his cohort. But if he did, he would probably want to be the Queen, or maybe a Bishop. Something where he’d really get to fight. A Rook was too defensive.

“Anything else you want to know?” Reed asked, her eyes bright and shiny. She was really enjoying their conversation, it seemed, which made Blake feel a little guilty about what he was going to ask her next.

“Actually, um… I had something else I wanted to talk to you about,” Blake said. He made sure to look her straight in the eye, because this was serious. Reed seemed to sense that, her playful smile dimming as she sat up straight.

“Yeah? What is it?” She asked, her eyes studying him curiously.

Blake hadn’t thought it would be this difficult. With how Reed Rivers irritated him, saying it should have come easily. But now that he was here, sitting face to face with her, he found it a lot harder to bring himself to tell her. But he had to.

“I was thinking it would be better if you stopped joining me for practice,” Blake quietly said. He had been spending way too much time around her these last few months, and it was beginning to bother him how much she was acting like they were friends. He didn’t want her to keep trying to get close to him like this. “I’m grateful for everything you’ve shown me, but I’ve got a grasp on Fire Elemental Magic now and I don’t think we need to be practicing every day. I can keep training on my own.”

Reed blinked. Her eyes looked sad, but she was still smiling. “Oh. I see.”

“Sorry, but we’ve both got better things to do with our time,” Blake said. “Plus, we’ve got finals coming up next month.”

“I could help you study!” Reed suggested, her tone just a little bit desperate. But Blake was adamant. He needed less time around her, not more. This conversation itself had been proof of that. He’d asked for information, but had gotten swept up in her flow, becoming too engaged with what she was saying. He couldn’t keep going like that, he was wasting valuable training time.

“No, I don’t think that’ll be a good idea,” he said. “I’m sorry.”

“Can… Can we still talk about dragons, though?” She asked hopefully.

Damn it. Fuck. She was getting to him. That smiling face of hers and those pretty eyes, the way her voice chimed when she was happy, he was getting attached to someone again. Elly had been bad enough. He hadn’t thought her injuries would bother him so much, but they had. And now he had to distance himself from Reed the same way he was going to do with Elly.

“No. Sorry. So just stop coming around and talking about the dragon eggs. I need some time to myself,” Blake kept his voice cold and angry. He found it easier than he thought. He was feeling plenty angry about the situation right now. He didn’t like it, but if he got attached to Reed or Elly then he wouldn’t have as much time to train, and protect the things that did matter.

“…For now,” he added. He wasn’t sure why. He intended this to be the end of it. Maybe he just didn’t want to see the girl cry in front of him.

But for all his concern, Reed took it remarkably well. She sat there staring silently at him for a little before sucking in some air and letting out a long sigh, rising to her feet.

“Oh, well. I guess it can’t be helped,” she said, stretching her arms above her head and turning back to him. She was still smiling in spite of everything he’d said.

“I’m sorry, it’s just… stuff,” Blake halfheartedly muttered, not sure what he was even trying to say.

“It’s okay, these things happen,” Reed laughed. “I’m not going to get sad over something like this.” She pointed at her face. “After all, it’s always better to keep smiling, even if you think you’re gonna cry. That’s what my mom always said!”

And with that, Reed turned and strolled away with a smile on her face, leaving Blake behind as the one feeling miserable. With nothing but his dragon eggs as company, he wondered why he felt so angry.

This was the right thing to do. So why does it piss me off so much?

Real Aire