Chapter 38:

Chapter 38: Something to Lose (Blake)

The Heir of the Dragon

The spicy scent of firegrass touched Blake’s nose as he walked through the fields of Silverscale, his hand tight and warm in his mother’s hand.

The nostalgic aroma reminded him he was home, he was safe beside his mother. It also made him sneeze.

“Don’t worry my darling,” Marea assured him with a gentle laugh. Blake glanced up at his mother, her red eyes twinkling kindly down at him. “You’ll get used to it soon enough.”

Blake sniffled. Firegrass smelled great, but it just made him sneeze so much!

But it was part of his home. So he would grow to love it-- no, he already loved it, sneezes and all.

“Take a look back, my little dragon, that’s our home. Silverscale,” Marea urged him. Blake turned and glanced over his shoulder, and gasped in shock.

Silverscale was burning. Smoke rose from massive holes punched into the stone walls, and the defensive dome had crumpled inward, letting the screams and shouts free. An explosion from within shook the castle, and one of Silverscale’s five towers collapsed, raining bricks down upon the path.

Blake was horrified. “Mother!” He cried, running towards the crumbling castle, but he couldn’t get far. His arm jerked back, his hand still in the grip of his mother. He turned back towards her, stunned by the calm smile he saw on her face.

“It’s wonderful, don’t you agree?” Marea sighed wistfully, as though she wasn’t looking at the destruction of their home. Blake cried at her, begging her to understand.

“They’re dying!” Blake wailed, pulling against her hand. But her grip was as tight as iron and he found it impossible to break free. He looked desperately at the castle as it slowly collapsed, wishing there was something, anything he could do.

“Someday, this will all be yours,” Marea’s whispers touched his ears. “Silverscale…”

“Moth-!” Blake turned back to Marea, and gasped in horror as he saw her. She was still smiling at him the same as before, but red had begun to seep its way into her hair, rolling down her face and seeping into scarlet dress. “Mother, your face!”

“My face? What about it, dear?” Marea asked, giving Blake a confused look even as more blood began to pour from her, her body beginning to come apart right before his eyes.

MOTHER!” Blake shouted.

“Blake?” A soft voice gently called out to him.

Hearing his name, Blake shot awake and lunged lashed out, fists swinging wildly. Where?! Where are they?! Where are those Estvalian bastards?!

“Blake!” Something pushed against his chest and slammed him down, Blake’s back hitting his seat. His head was spinning and he came out of his dazed state, stunned and confused. Everything slowly began to come back into focus.

The first thing he could make out was that Lancelus was standing over him, face twisted with rage. Elly sat behind the prince, face pale and eyes wide with shock. That’s right… it was all coming back to him now. He wasn’t at Silverscale. He was in a passenger compartment of a sky train, traveling towards Estval for their field trip. Their “reward” for winning the Chess Games.

“What the hell was that?!” Lancelus snarled. “Elly was just trying to see if you were okay, because you were groaning and thrashing in your sleep, and you just attack her like that?!”

That’s right… Silverscale had already fallen. His mother was already dead. He’d just been dreaming.

“It’s okay, Lance,” Elly told the prince, but her face still wore lines of worry. “I’m fine.”

“Hey, come on, guys, let’s just calm down, okay?” Amy asked, sitting up from her seat and putting a hand on the prince’s shoulder. “We don’t want to start our trip to Estval with all of us fighting, right?”

Amy was the fourth member of their travel group, and Ark rounded out the crowd at five. Blake scowled up at the prince. How was it that he had been placed in the same group as this pompous ass?

“Nice to see you two are getting along so well,” Blake growled, standing up. He grabbed his bag and slung it over his shoulder as he left the compartment.

This whole trip was ridiculous. He had fought in the Chess Games to test his strength, and now, here he was, traveling to the last place in the sky he ever wanted to go. The Celestials certainly had a sick sense of humor.

A trip to Estval, of all places… no wonder I’m having bad dreams… Blake walked into the washroom of the train, setting down his bag and finally having some privacy allowing him to himself to relax. Being around the others was a strain, especially Elly. She’d been trying to talk to him all morning, and it just wasn’t getting through to her that he was ignoring her for a reason.

Blake wetted a washcloth and began to wipe the sweat from his face. The dream was still with him. He could still smell the firegrass, the screams of Silverscale still rang in his ears. Calm down… you need to calm down. It was just a—

“Blake?” A knock on the door pulled Blake from his thoughts. He thought to ignore it, but when he recognized the voice he couldn’t.

“Yes, what is it?” He sighed.

“It’s me, Professor Saleigh,” Professor Saleigh told him. “I saw you rush out of your compartment looking rather flustered and I wondered if you were okay.”

“I’m fine,” Blake snapped. He stormed out of the compartment, glaring at the teacher. Professor Saleigh’s eyes only reflected concern back onto him.

“I understand that this must be a difficult time for you,” the professor said softly. “Your feelings for Estval are rather complex, I would imagine. And while we might not be close, I’m still your group’s chaperone for this trip and I would like to help you, if possible.”

“I said I’m fine,” Blake repeated, growing more upset at the teacher. Why couldn’t she just leave him alone? “I don’t need-“

“Blake! Professor!” Blake flinched, his head jerking in the direction he’d heard Reed’s voice coming from. He’d been trying to forget it, but Reed was one of the third year students who had been allowed on this trip as one of the student guides, as part of her duties as a Sky Crest Scholar. There she was now, in the closest compartment to the washroom, blonde head peaking out and colorful eyes sparkling.

“Ah, Reed, how are you enjoying the trip?” Professor Saleigh asked, smiling.

“I’m having a blast!” Reed laughed. “Blake! Come sit with us!”

Reed on her own was bad enough. The fact that she was filling in the empty slot of the four-person group of Sabine, Mindy, Jasmine, and Eve? Worse.

“Actually, I was talking about something important with the professor,” Blake quickly deflected her offer. “Sorry.”

Reed simply smiled and nodded her head. “Good luck with that!” She chirped, ducking back into her compartment.

Blake sighed with relief. Now, to find a quiet place on the train where he could just-

“Shall we go then?” Professor Saleigh ased, flashing a bright smile.

Oh. Right. Blake was about to open his mouth to reply, but the professor shushed him.

“Faculty get our own compartments,” the professor said. “If you’re in the mood for some privacy, it’s perhaps the best place.”

Blake sighed. It would have to do.

When the professor had mentioned a private compartment, Blake had envisioned something like the one he had stayed in while heading for the Rem Magic Academy. But that train was of significantly higher quality than this one. So he found himself squeezed into a room barely bigger than a closet, just enough for two people, but cramped if any others decided to stop by.

“Do you like tea? I’ll brew you some,” the professor said, holding her hands over the water and swirling it with her magic. “It’s not the same as if it was hot, but with Water Elemental Magic you can still extract much from the tea leaves.”

She turned and set two cups down on the table that took up a large amount of the compartment, her eyes shining sheepishly behind her glasses. “Sorry, this is the best I can do.”

“It’s fine,” Blake muttered. He wasn’t much one for tea anyway. He took a sip, and then another. “Oh! It’s good!”

“Is it? I’m glad. A friend of mine told me that chamomile tea with lavender is good for soothing nerves and getting a good night’s sleep,” the professor laughed, taking a sip of her own. “I thought you could use some.”

Blake scowled at her and set the cup down. “I don’t need tea, I’m-“

“Yes, yes, you’re fine, I know,” Professor Saleigh sighed, continuing to sip from her own glass. “You’ll forgive me if I don’t believe you, seeing how flustered you were earlier.”

Blake felt his face heat up. “I wasn’t…”

“Yes, you were,” she said. “Go on, drink.” She gave him a conspiratorial smile. “I won’t tell anyone, I promise.”

Blake glanced down at the cup in front of him. He could already feel himself start to calm down and relax, apparently the tea was working quite fast. Deciding that there was no harm in it, he took another sip. The sweet, flowery taste of apples reminded him of Reed; it burst across his tongue and washed away the spiciness of his memories.

“Feeling better?” Professor Saleigh asked, flashing a knowing smile. “I take a cup every night to help me sleep. It keeps the bad dreams away.”

Blake was never someone to pry, but with the soothing effects of the tea coursing through his system he asked her, “you have nightmares?”

“I used to,” the professor nodded, swirling the tea in her cup. “So many bad dreams…” She glanced up at him, a solemn look on her face. “Do you? Have nightmares?”

Blake winced at the question, he needed more tea. But his cup was empty. How had that happened? He glanced down and saw that more was already being poured, the tea rising from the kettle and dripping into his cup. He looked up at the professor in amazement, and she gave him a wink.

“Professor, that’s-!”

“Rio,” Professor Saleigh quietly murmured. “You can call me Rio.”

“Y-Yes,” Blake nodded, taking another sip of the chilled tea. “Thank you, Rio.”

“Now, what was that you said? Nightmares?” Rio asked.

“I don’t have any nightmares,” Blake lied. It was an obvious lie, and one the professor clearly picked up on. But she didn’t call him a liar. She took another sit of tea instead.

“It’s alright if you do,” she said gently. “I know what you’ve lost. Going back to Estval… anyone would have nightmares about that, being in your condition.”

“That’s… I don’t,” Blake said, shaking his head. What was in that tea? It was making him feel so… vulnerable.

“I’m glad I got to talk to you, Blake,” Rio said, her warm voice heating up the tea on his lips. “You were the reason I chose to chaperone your group, did you know that?”

“Really?” Blake asked, surprised.

“I thought it would be better for you, to have someone you could talk to,” the professor said, taking another sip. “Someone who’s experienced the same pain that you have.”

“Did you lose your parents too?” A small voice came from Blake’s lips, a voice so vulnerable he couldn’t believe it had come from him.

“I never knew my parents,” Rio confessed. “But… I had a brother. A little brother, the sweetest boy in the world. We grew up together, did everything together… and I lost him.”

“I’m sorry to hear that,” Blake whispered, his heart aching with sympathy.

Rio shook her head. “It’s in the past. That pain… it’s shaped me into who I am now. That’s what the past is, Blake. Memories and records and artifacts, testaments that remind us of who we once were, so that we may learn from them and not repeat those same mistakes.” She looked up at Blake. “Like what you’re doing.”

With the tea making him feel so warm and foggy inside, Blake wasn’t quite sure what the professor meant. “…What am I doing?” He asked.

“Pushing others away so you won’t lose them,” Rio said quietly, her deep green eyes staring into his. “The pain you felt, losing your home, your family, you never want to feel it again. So when someone tries to get close to you, rather than let them in, you try to find some way to keep them out. Isn’t that right?”

She reached out and pressed a finger against his chest.

“I know, because I’m the same way.” Rio’s voice cracked and she tried to hide it with another sip, but even as listless as Blake felt he could still catch the sadness in her words. She continued, “when I wasn’t much older than you, I was the happiest I’d ever been. I had a brother who adored me, friends who cared for me, and a man who I was certain I was going to marry. And then it all fell apart.”

“What… what happened?” Blake asked, hiccupping a little from the tea. He knew it was a rude thing to ask, but somehow he felt like his professor wanted him to ask. A sad smile spread across her lips, confirming that was so.

“My little brother died… because the man I loved made a choice. He decided in the heat of the moment that my life was more important than my brother’s, and saved me, even as I pleaded otherwise.” Rio’s words fell on Blake’s shoulders like iron shackles, the tension in the air weighing down on him. He could hear her voice fill with pain, and felt it mixing with his own. She looked at him, and her eyes were teary. “What do you do, when one man you love kills the other for you?”

His mouth filled with tea, but Blake’s throat still felt dry. He couldn’t begin to answer her, he could never find comforting words she’d need.

“Part of me died with Maro that day. I closed myself off, pushed everyone away, knowing… knowing that anyone else I cared for could be lost as well…” Her voice trailed off and she stared at her teacup for so long that Blake began to drift to sleep, but her voice brought him back to consciousness. “It’s the same for you, isn’t it?”

Blake found himself nodding. He could not remember when he had last cried, but Rio’s words brought memories of his own loss, and he felt like crying for both of them. “My parents… my home… everyone… they’re all…”

He couldn’t continue those thoughts. They were too painful. He pushed them down, back to where he had buried them. “…You’re right,” he admitted instead. “I have nightmares too.”

“The tea will help with that,” Rio said. “Here, I’ll pour another.”

Blake looked down at his cup. It was empty again.

“Now, tell me about Silverscale,” Rio gently urged him. “Your home. Ignore the pain. Focus… on the good memories. There must be some.”

Blake couldn’t find them. They had to be there, but… the bad memories had ruined them all. He shook his head.

“…I see,” Rio said, smiling sadly. “I’m glad we could have this talk, Blake.”

Blake glanced at her, confused by more than just the tea. All they’d talked of were sad things.

Rio’s smile brightened, perhaps at seeing how confused he was. “I said before, that I wanted to be your chaperone, Blake, because I could see that you needed my help. This trip… it’s going to be painful for you. It looks like it already is. So, as your teacher and your chaperone, I’m going to give you a job for our field trip, and you have to do it. Understand?”

Blake took another sip of tea and nodded.

“Get along with the others,” she said. Her words were more of a plea than an instruction. “I know for people like us… we’re afraid of gaining things, because we’re afraid we might lose them. But we can’t be afraid of that. Because that’s when we really lose everything.”

“If I… get close to people… and I lose them…” Blake numbly echoed her words, his heart already hurting in anticipation. “I don’t want to feel that pain again, I can’t…”

Rio shook her head.

“That pain is terrible,” she agreed. “We think ‘I don’t want to lose anything, it’s better to have nothing’, but we can’t survive with that loneliness. When that happens, we lose a part of ourselves. And that’s the worst thing someone can lose.”

Blake didn’t have an answer to that. His head was swimming with tea and he felt like he wanted to go back to sleep.

Rio helped him to his feet. “Let’s get you back to the others, so you can lie down.” Blake nodded dumbly. She slid his bag onto his back and whispered soothingly in his ear, “I want this trip to be good for you, Blake. Don’t deny yourself happiness out of fear of loss. Try to enjoy yourself, try to make friends. I don’t want you to have any regrets about things you should or shouldn’t have done, like I do.”

He knew it was the tea talking, but he found himself nodding again. “Yeah, I… I can try.”

“There’s a good boy,” Rio smiled, patting him on the cheek. “We’re here.”

Blake had been so dazed, he didn’t realize they were already back at the compartment. He stepped inside, and saw everyone gathered beside the window.

“Blake!” Elly said, looking back at him, a bright smile on her face. “Come check this out! You can see Amy’s home island from here!”

“Yeah, come on, dude!” Amy cheered, waving her hand frantically to call him over. “It’s so cool, you just gotta see it!”

Blake nodded obediently and walked over to the window to join his group.

Real Aire