Chapter 41:

Chapter 41: A Chilling Betrayal (Blake)

The Heir of the Dragon

Blake’s instinctive response to pull Elly out of the way of the incoming branch had nearly cost him his balance. He stumbled backwards, looking around wildly. His heart surging in his chest. His head was spinning.

Damn, that tea… Blake hadn’t expected the effects to be so strong. He’d never had tea until yesterday, and while it had been soothing and helped him fall asleep, when he woken up this morning he felt unbelievably tired, like there was a cloud over his eyes and a blurriness in his thoughts.

He had slogged through the earlier hike somehow, tired as he might have been. But right now, in the middle of the havoc that was ensuing, he could barely gather his wits together to concentrate.

“Blake! Don’t just stand there!” Blake whirled his head around to see Lancelus stumble up to him, an arrow jutting through his shoulder. Lancelus grabbed him by the arm, and shook him. “We’re being attacked! By Estvalians!”

That caused Blake to snap out of his fugue. He whirled around and pulled Soulfire from his back, the blade unsealing itself as he set it ablaze, clutching it tightly with both hands as he looked around for the Estvalians.

The six of them had gathered together in a circle beside the riverbank. With the benefit of Elly’s barrier, Lancelus was the only one injured, everyone else was luckily on their feet. But Blake didn’t have time to give a damn about the fucking prince.

They were being attacked by Estvalians… Like some twisted joke, Blake’s worst nightmare had come to life. He couldn’t allow this.

“Show yourselves, you Estvalian bastards!” Blake roared, his flames throbbing and growing in size. “Show yourselves before I burn this whole forest to the ground!”

“Well look at this… the renowned Saekoria disdain…” An acidic voice drew Blake’s attention to the giant white tree beside them, and from within its roots emerged a boy who looked no older than Blake.

For the first time, Blake got a good look at an Estvalian. He was just as Miss Esterwind had described. Skin a deep tan like the bark of a tree, with eyes as green as grass and shiny black hair, he wore long brown robes held up by a thick sash, and tucked into the sash was a long white stick carved in a thin approximation of a sword.

“Estvalian…” Blake snarled, narrowing his eyes into a glare. Elly shouted at him to stop but he ignored her, stepping through the barrier and lifting Soulfire, swinging it with all he had. The flames burst free and surged towards the Estvalian, but to Blake’s shock and horror, they sputtered and died.

The Estvalian smirked. He reached to his waist and drew his thin white blade, which began to glow with green light. As he raised it over his head, the blade stretched and grew, transforming into a sword larger than any Blake had seen. It towered over him, longer than the Estvalian himself and as thick as a tree; the blade was blunt, but Blake had no doubt that one swing could devastate. And when that swing came, it brought the forest down with it.

Wood spears shot out from the branches and battered the barrier at all sides. Elly managed to extend her shield enough to wrap around Blake again, and her defensive magic was holding up remarkably well. But she couldn’t take the strain forever. Blake could already see cracks starting to form along the shield’s shimmering surface.

“That won’t be enough,” Ark said coldly. He raised his hand and the temperature sharply dropped. “Ice Barrier.”

A massive glacier appeared around Elly’s barrier, nearly freezing the Estvalian. Blake could see the boy jump out of the way in time, much to his chagrin, but the ice had gotten to everything else around them. The branches, the trees, even parts of the river had all been flash-frozen, putting a massive wall between them and whoever else was trying to get to them.

“Remarkable as ever, Ark,” Professor Saleigh mused, studying the ice that encased them as Elly’s shield dropped.

“Shit, who the fuck was that bastard?” Lancelus groaned. The arrow was still digging through his shoulder. Elly quickly rushed to his side to tend to the wounds, but Blake was more focused on getting out of here and getting to those Estvalians than on first aid.

“What… What are we going to do?!” Amy wailed. Her face was stricken with fear and she was shaking. “Those are… Estvalians… my sister told me horrifying stories about them and what they do to Saekorians that they catch… Why are they attacking us? The war’s over, right?”

“They’re probably terrorists,” Lancelus muttered. “Leftovers from the war. Did you see how young that guy was? They’ve probably been indoctrinated to see us as the enemy from childhood. Arrgh! Ouch!”

“Who cares why they’re attacking us?” Blake snarled. “They’re Estvalians, that’s what they-“

“Blake!” Elly snapped, stunning Blake by how sharp her voice was. He shut up and turned in her direction, that “schllick” sound had been her pulling the arrow out of her half-brother’s arm. “I need your fire to sear the wound closed.”

“Um, are you sure that’s-“

“NOW!” She shouted. Blake quickly ran over and pressed Soulfire against the prince’s shoulder. He would be lying if he said he hadn’t found a bit of satisfaction in Lancelus’s cries of pain.

“You’re… rather skilled at this…” Blake said, surprised.

“I… read a lot about treating wounds,” Elly muttered, her face clouding over. Blake didn’t ask further, there were more pressing issues to care about. He turned to on Ark, the black-haired boy staring out through the ice at the forest beyond.

“Hey! Ark!” Blake snapped. “Instead of hiding away in here, why not go out and fight them, huh? With that magic of yours-”

“Until we know their numbers and position, random flashy attacks will just be a worthless expenditure of mana,” Ark replied, glaring back at Blake. “Perhaps if you thought more carefully instead of rushing headfirst into confrontation, you would be able to see that.”

“It doesn’t matter,” Lancelus grunted. The prince had recovered from his wound mostly, but there were still serious burns over the hole. “Did no one listen to the safety procedures?” He turned to the professor. “Professor Saleigh, you have an orica that will let you communicate with the other teachers! Quickly, we can contact them and they can call the authorities!”

“Absolutely,” Professor Saleigh nodded, reaching into her coat pocket and lifting out the small orica. She studied it for a second… and then turned and tossed it into the section of river left unfrozen within the ice barrier, Blake gasping in muted surprise. “But that would ruin the time I’ve spent preparing for this ambush.”

Blake had seconds to process this before the river behind her rose up and slammed into him, filling the small ice bubble with water. Blake struggled to breathe, scrambling through the water as he stared at the professor in shock. Flailing around, he felt himself get dizzier and dizzier, unable to gather his focus. He barely noticed Ark dispel the ice, the water flooding down and freeing them.

“Professor…” Elly’s stunned voice helped bring Blake back to consciousness. She looked up at Professor Saleigh with horror on her face. “Why… what?”

The professor removed her glasses, her normally gentle smile twisting into a cold smirk. “I am sorry, children.” She spoke with a voice that contained no trace of remorse. “But this was necessary to get my hands on what I truly wanted. She walked towards Blake, staring down at him. Blake looked back up at her. Those green eyes that had seemed so warm were now devoid of kindness. This was the real face of Rio Saleigh.

“Y-You…” Blake stuttered. “That tea…”

“I gave you a special sedative that would numb your body and mind temporarily, and within twenty-four hours you would find it difficult to manipulate mana for a period of time,” she explained, kneeling down next to him and ripping Soulfire from his weakening grip. The blade resealed itself, but she didn’t seem to care. She gazed upon it with a sickening lust in her eye. “Ah… when my patron told me that not only would there be a student with a Sacred Arm coming to this school, but that he would be kin to the man who took everything from me… I had no idea that victory would feel this satisfying…”

She looked down at Blake and smirked. “I did warn you to try and make some good memories, Blake Harker. Was the hike good for you?”

While Rio mocked him, Ark managed to get his bearings the fastest.

“Get away from him,” the other boy demanded. Ark raised his arms and a blast of ice flew towards Rio, but the treacherous professor had clearly anticipated that. With a wave of her hand a wall of water roared up around her, deflecting the ice.

“As one of your teachers, I always though you needed more experience with Elemental Magic,” Rio chastised Ark. “You may be Ice, but I’m Water. You won’t beat me with unsophisticated magic like that. I’ve always despised geniuses like you. Resting on your laurels rather than putting in the effort to excel…”

She turned back from smirking villain to concerned professor so fast Blake wondered for a moment if her drug was making him hallucinate. Then the smirk returned, and she added “and you could also use a bit more experience on watching your surroundings… a boy genius with no practical knowledge of fighting won’t get very far in the real world, dear.”

“Rock Fist!” A voice roared from the trees. A hulking figure with a body made of rock charged through the brush and swung a stony fist at Ark, smashing him in the head. Ark tumbled over and blood spurted out. Through the fog, Blake vaguely thought he heard Elly scream.

It was getting harder and harder for Blake to keep his grip on consciousness. Everything was swirling around him and his legs were numb. His body wanted nothing more than to sleep, even as he filled with rage, and he cursed his own helplessness. He couldn’t even muster the mana for a single fireball, damn it!

Can’t sleep, can’t sleep, sleep and you’re dead, he forced his brain to stay active by reminding him of that, but it seemed a futile endeavor.

Then, he felt someone lift him from the ground. Forcing clarity through the foggy haze, he saw Lancelus had lifted him up onto his good shoulder, his face filled with a mixture of fury and panic.

“Lancelus…” Blake muttered dumbly, the prince turning and glaring at him.

“Now isn’t the time for sleeping!” He shouted. “Ark! Are you-“

Ark leapt up off the ground and raised his hands, the hulking rock man turning into a chunk of ice.

“Ice Sheet!” Ark roared, slamming both hands onto the ground. A wave of ice shot over the forest floor, creeping up the trees and freezing everything around him. The students were safe, but everything else in the area was frozen solid.

“…Okay?” Lancelus muttered out.

“Fucking Saekorian!” A voice shouted from among the frozen trees.

“Most concerning.” Another voice, this one female, came from above.

Blake looked up and saw what looked like an Estavlian woman perched above him in a tree, but it was hard to tell with her mask. And she was less “perched” as much as she was frozen to the thing. The ice continued to spread, and she was soon iced over completely.

Blake found that fortunate, but to his frustration, the boy with the large sword had not been frozen like the other Estvalians. Before Ark’s ice had struck, he had covered himself with a shroud of tree branches that had taken the blow for him, and bent them away to step forward, whole and hale and glaring angrily at them.

Rio had done something similar with her water, the two Elemental Mages the only survivors of Ark’s assault.

“Perhaps you are a tad more stubborn than I gave you credit for,” Rio admitted. Ark said nothing, he just raised his hand and wiped the blood from his forehead.

“Jayon I understand,” the Estvalian said, nodding to the frozen boy made of rock, “but Jorn and Keela as well? That’s quite a feat. So this is what you Saekorians are capable of? Well, I’m not impressed. A little ice won’t be enough to defeat the forest of Estval.”

“Why are you doing this?!” Elly shouted at the boy. There were tears in her eyes. “Why are you attacking us?! What did we ever do to you?!”

“What did you ever do to me?!” The Estvalian turned to Elly with a murderous rage in his eyes. “You Saekorians plunged our nation into chaos, and then forced yourselves upon our people! You violate our forest, enslave our citizens in work camps in the districts where they scrounge for scraps of food, step upon everything we hold sacred, our people, our culture, our forest and Eldrasil herself! You stand there, kinsmen of those who murdered my parents, and YOU ASK WHAT YOU’VE DONE TO ME?!

“That… that wasn’t… I didn’t…” Elly stuttered, beginning to shake. Blake was having none of that though.

“Don’t listen to that Estvalian bastard!” Blake snapped, pushing himself off of Lancelus, his anger giving him the strength to stand on his own. “He’s just a violent monster! Green-eyes like him don’t need a reason to hurt people.”

“You FUCKING CLOUD-FUCKER!” The Estvalian roared. He swung his sword at Elly and Blake, and the frozen trees around them shook and cracked, ripping free from their icy bonds and lunging at the girl from every side. But Ark was right there. He jumped back and created a wall of ice to protect the two of them, but it was much smaller than the one he previously rose. Blake panicked, wondering if Ark was starting to run out of mana.

“Shit, shit,” Lancelus cursed from behind them. “We don’t have time for this crap! We need to… AMY!”

Lancelus turned upon Amy, the girl curled up on the ground, petrified in fear. She looked shakily up at him.

“Wh-What?” Amy stuttered out. Lancelus must have seen how terrified she was because his voice immediately softened.

“Amy, listen, I need you to go and get help,” he gently urged. “Please. You’re the fastest one here. With your speed, you can get back to the rest area in a flash and get help from the teachers.”

“R-Right, I can do that,” Amy nodded, standing up. Her face was brighter. “No one can catch me! High Dash!”

Amy’s legs began to glow, and she turned, running at top speed out of the clearing.

“Shit!” Rio cursed, Amy too far from the water for her to do anything. “She’s getting away!”

The Estvalian oozed a contemptuous smirk and raised his sword. “It doesn’t matter how fast that Saekorian bitch can run. There’s nowhere to go. All of Estval stands with me!”

A green light flashed from his white sword, and Amy’s scream echoed from the distance.

“Amy!” Elly cried. Then, Blake saw her. Amy, vines wrapped tightly around her legs, was flung into the sky and dragged back towards them, shrieking and yelling as she thrashed helplessly in the air. The Estvalian swung his sword and the vines suddenly jerked, flinging her away.

Amy slammed into a tree and her legs made a sickening crack. Her screams echoed through forest as her broken body crumpled to the ground.

“No more running for that one,” the Estvalian coldly declared, turning his attention to Blake. Blake could feel the hate in those green eyes, and returned it with a glare of his own.

Elly and Lancelus had run to Amy, leaving only Ark standing with Blake. And Ark wasn’t looking too good himself, he looked at woozy as Blake felt. That blow to the head must have done some serious damage.

“It’s time to get to business,” the Estvalian growled, approaching Blake. The energy of the forest seemed to surge around that massive sword.

Without Soulfire in his hands, Blake felt his anger was woefully unequipped to handle a foe of this magnitude.

“You… Estvalian scum…” Blake spat. “Is this fun for you? Hurting people who’ve done nothing?! Attacking us just because we’re Saekorian? This is why you Estvalians are so-!”

“Like you’re one to talk, you Saekorian demon,” the Estvalian retorted. “I see that look in your eye… it’s the look Saekorians always have when they see one of us, someone just trying to live their life as best they can. Your people started this war, we’re the ones who are ending it.”

“It is ended!” Blake snarled. “Your war ended years ago!”

Not while I’m here!” The Estvalian swung his sword at Blake, though he was far too distant for the blade to connect. But that was clearly not the intent of the stroke. From below the ground a tree sprung to life, hitting Blake in the stomach and knocking him into the air. As he fell, Blake suddenly felt a lot lighter... and gasped in horror as he realized why.

The Estvalian’s attack had torn the strap of Blake’s duffel bag, and now it was being carried away by the vines of the newly-grown tree.

“GIVE THAT BACK!” Blake roared, scrambling to his feet. But before he could get to the Estvalian he was buffeted by a wave of water from Rio.

“That’s how it goes, Blake,” Rio said, shrugging her shoulders. “That was the deal. I would help him against you children, and take Soulfire as my prize. And in return, he gets a fine prize of his own.”

The vines set the bag down at the Estvalian’s feet, and to Blake’s horror he set aside his blade and reached inside, bringing one of Blake’s precious eggs out into the light. The green scales of the egg glistened in the afternoon sun, but Blake had no time to care for its beauty.

“Those… children… are mine!” Blake shouted, but a vine flung down and wrapped itself around his throat. He found himself hoisted up and he struggled to breathe, clutching at the tendril choking him.

“When I was a child, I heard stories about dragons,” the Estvalian murmured, admiring it. “Their destructive power was the reason that Estval was forced to bow before the Saekorians all those centuries ago. But now… now it’s our turn. Five dragon eggs… weapons of even greater power than Eldrasil herself.”

Blake couldn’t believe the madness he was hearing.

“Those children…” He managed to get out a strangled gasp. “Are not… weapons!”

“Oh, but they can be,” the Estvalian snarled, staring up at Blake with a disgusting look of victory on his wretched face. “The will be. We’ll train them into the strongest force Saekoria has ever known. Your family rode upon dragons once upon a time. You know the carnage they will wreak. First, the capital, then wherever else Saekorians might hide from our righteous fire!”

“You… fucking… monster…” Blake spat out. He could feel his anger burning, his yearning need to destroy the Estvalian in front of him! If only he had Soulfire… All that time spent training to get stronger, to keep those Estvalian monsters from taking everything he cared about again… and what had he done? Blake felt his rage building, not just at the trash he saw before him, but at his own pitiful self as well.

“Monster?” The Estvalian said the word like a curse, narrowing his eyes. All joy was gone, replaced by a loathsome glare that no doubt resembled Blake’s own. “YOU would call me monster? This is justice! Vengeance for Estval! You people, and your abuses, with these dragons we will finally give you a taste of the suffering that you’ve inflicted upon us for centuries! Every island scorched, your people reduced to ash, and then you can have a taste of all that you’ve done to Estval!”

Blake could feel a surge of hatred burst through the vines that choked him, their grip tightening like the fingers of the Estvalian himself. Black spots began to burst before his eyes and he felt his chest burn with the need for air, air that would never come.

“BLAKE!” A whizzing sound passed over Blake’s head and he saw the glint of a sword pierce the tree he was hanging from. Suddenly the force holding him aloft was gone, and air flooded his lungs with relief as he fell to freedom. He landed hard on the ground, but the rush of breath ignited the flames in his chest, his rage not letting something like pain get the better of him.

Blake saw Lancelus lower his arm, but he didn’t have time to thank the prince for his rescue. He needed to get back his children!

I will burn this forest to the ground before I let that happen!” Blake roared, and flames burst from his hands. He ran towards the Estvalian, a magic circle appearing in front of him. “FIREBALL!”

Flames converged in a massive blast that Blake fired at the Estvalian, scarcely noticing the wall of ice that Ark raised to block Rio’s attempt to smother the spell. But to his horror, he was quick to realize that she needn’t have bothered.

The Estvalian shifted the egg to one hand as his other grabbed his sword, ripping it from the dirt and unsealing it. Green light covered his body and a tree rose out of the ground to intercept the fireball, and to Blake’s stunned surprise the glowing green wood didn’t even burn. His flames sputtered and meekly died, unable to fuel itself with anything but mana and rage.

“With the blessings of Eldrasil, not even flame can harm this forest,” the Estvalian smugly declared. “As long as I stand, Estval will burn no more!”

Blake cursed the Estvalian and prepared another fireball, but before he could get out the words a massive spike of pain shot through his gut and he crumpled, his mana sputtering out at his fingertips. As the strength drained from his body he looked down and saw a large branch had ripped out of the ground and pierced through his stomach, his blood seeping out onto the wood.

“Your hatred and contempt have brought you nothing,” the Estvalian hissed, walking closer to Blake. He waved his hand and the wooden spike retreated into the ground. Blake coughed up blood and collapsed, falling into grass as blood oozed out of his wound.

“The… eggs…” he choked out, reaching desperately towards the egg in the Estvalian’s hands. He didn’t care about attacking, he didn’t care about his hatred for Estval, he just wanted them back. “Give… them… back…”

“You struggle to the very end… but now, here you fall,” the Estvalian said, crouching down beside Blake and staring him in the eye. So much hatred Blake saw there… “Farewell, Saekorian Demon. Know that your miserable life ends at the hand of Trevan Wud-Shannah and rest in regret for your sins.” He reached out and slid his hand over Blake’s eyes, and Blake felt them slide closed. “Your fight is now over.”

Blake didn’t even have the strength left to open them. As the warmth drained from his body and the taste of blood filled his mouth, he silently cursed his own failure. He had failed to grow up from that boy who had lost everything, and now here he was, his life come to an end, once more unable to prevent Estval from taking everything he loved from him.

Real Aire