Chapter 43:

Chapter 43: The Truth Revealed (Eve)

The Heir of the Dragon

Eve’s heart was on fire in her chest as the forest raced around her. Every breath she took was like a dagger slipped through her ribs. Every step made her legs ache.

If I get out of this alive… I’ll never skip out on Physical Training again… Eve silently promised, her words nearly drowned out by her pounding heartbeat. I just have to hope that these illusions are good enough to distract her.

While Eve’s body was under strain from running, it was nothing compared to the mental strain she was under. Making illusory copies of herself was an incredibly arduous task, especially this many. She needed to extend her sensory abilities over a wide space, selectively targeting each double in order to link her senses with theirs. This allowed her to perceive the surroundings of her illusions, so that she could influence them more convincingly.

This also meant that Eve could observe Reed Rivers catching up and disposing of her illusions one at a time. Through the eyes of her duplicate she saw Reed pop out of a portal hand extended, swiping through the clone and passing right through. Every time she did, Eve sped up just a little more.

“She’s catching up to you,” Sati’s warning hissed in Eve’s ear. “Be careful, or else you’ll-“

Sati never had the chance to finish her warning. A hand pressed against Eve’s back and her blood went cold.

“Caught you~” Reed hummed. She grabbed the back of Eve’s shirt and flung her to the ground.

“Aargh!” Eve grunted, her lungs exploding as she hit the ground hard. She had pushed herself to her physical limits, and had played all her tricks. She had no strength left to resist, no moves left to play. Shit. Shit. Master, I’m sorry… I don’t know what to do…

She pulled herself up onto her knees and stared up at Reed, the older girl staring down at her with a calm smile on her face. That smile was the last straw. That fucking smile, as if all of Eve’s struggles were meaningless. After all her hard work all these months, keeping an eye on Reed Rivers, trying to prevent any threats to Blake and his eggs, that smile was telling her it had all been for nothing.

Forgive me, master… I’ve failed… Eve began to tremble. It was not sadness she felt, knowing that she had failed her master for the first and last time. It was rage.

“What are you?!” Eve roared, clutching furiously at the grass. “What sort of monster are you, to stand there so brazenly, to threaten a child like this? That boy is trying to protect his family, his children! What sort of monster would try to take that from him?!”

Eve expected to hear some callous dismissal of her rebuke. Cruel laughter and scornful words, some puffed up speech about how Eve was just an idyllic child and there were things far more important than the happiness of some schoolboy. The sort of self-aggrandizing proclamations her master was often prone to when Eve questioned him.

What she didn’t expect was to see a look of confusion flash across the other girl’s face. Reed raised a quizzical eyebrow and lowered her hand, dispersing the portal she had conjured.

“’You… aren’t plotting against Blake Harker?” Reed asked. The surprise in her voice confused Eve for a moment, but she quickly composed herself.

“Ridiculous,” Eve spat. “I’m trying to protect him! What kind of accusation is that?! You’re the one plotting to gain something from him, you said it yourself! That’s why you’ve been trying to force your way into his life!”

“Yes, exactly!” Reed said, her face brightening with excitement. “Blake fascinated me at first, but now…” She let out a sigh, her smile growing solemn. “I don’t know how much you’re aware of House Harker, but the pain that boy has been through… he lost everything. His friends. His family. His home. All of it was taken from him. I looked at his eyes… at the pain in them, and I saw hate. Hatred at the world for everything he lost.”

Eve couldn’t understand why Reed was telling her this now. This was not the sort of speech she’d anticipated.

“Hatred at the world for abandoning you, is it?” Sati murmured from behind Eve. “That’s something you can relate to quite well, Eve.”

“Shut up,” Eve hissed, narrowing her eyes. Then she turned those words on Reed. “Shut up! What the hell is the matter with you, telling me all this?! Blake’s hatred, I know it all too well! I’m trying to stop him from losing himself to it, but you-!”

“Because I think that there might be a misunderstanding here, between what you and I want from him,” Reed quietly replied, staring at Eve with cold eyes. Then her gaze softened. “You see, I… I don’t understand anger that much,” she admitted. “Whenever I feel those things, I shake it off with a smile. So to see such pain in his eyes… When I spoke to Blake at first, it was out of curiosity. I didn’t want to believe that the last Harker, the heir of the dragon, had completely lost himself. I wanted to believe that there was something I could hold onto, that my idolization of House Harker and their dragons wouldn’t come to such a tragic end.”

To Eve’s shock, Reed’s expression shifted into a smile she had never seen before. So many of Reed’s smiles were lies, but this… her eyes were so bright, and the way her cheeks flushed… A purer joy than any Eve had seen before blossomed across Reed’s face, and she felt herself fall in love a little at the sight of it.

“But then, he told me that my dream… wasn’t crazy. He believed me, and he believed in me. I could see, then, that he hadn’t lost himself. That deep down inside, there was still that faintest spark of hope, flickering away in all that darkness,” Reed closed her eyes and placed her hand over her breast. “That was the reason I decided to reach out and become his friend, to try and bring a smile back to his face. I wanted to help that boy who had lost everything he loved… to find something he could love again. And until that happens, I won’t let anyone harm him.”

His friend. Eve couldn’t believe what she was hearing. Reed Rivers wanted to become Blake’s friend? Eve felt like she was going to throw up, and not out of exhaustion. Had she really been such an idiot? I… completely misunderstood everything.

Friendship had just been a tool for Eve. Her bonds had been formed to get closer to Blake, or to conceal herself from suspicion. So when she saw Reed with her fake smile, she had suspected she was just the same. But the smile on her face right now, that was a real smile.

When was the last time I ever smiled like that? Eve bitterly wondered. How pathetic. She had tried so hard to protect Blake from Reed all this time, when she should have been looking to the other girl as her greatest ally.

“An illusionist’s greatest enemy is limited thinking.” How many times had her master told her that?

Reed walked closer to Eve, staring down at her with eyes as warm as the smile on her face.

“When I saw the extent of your illusions, I feared that you had infiltrated the school to steal his eggs,” Reed admitted. “But the way you struggled… are you really trying to help him?”

“I just…” Eve’s cough interrupted her. Without the fear of death to keep her going, the abuse she’d put her body through was starting to catch up to her. “…Excuse me. I just wanted to keep his eggs from falling into the wrong hands.”

Reed’s smile was aimed squarely at Eve now. “I’m glad,” she said, holding out her hand towards Eve in a gesture of friendship.

Crap. I think I just fell in love a little, Eve winced. She reached out and took the other girl’s hand. But as their fingers touched, Eve sensed a burst of mana from far-off that nearly stopped her heart. It was in the same area that she felt Blake’s mana. She looked at Reed, and the way the girl’s eyes widened told Eve that she had felt it too.

“…I think we should set our differences aside,” Reed said, helping Eve to her feet and turning to the direction that the mana burst was coming from. “This is probably not the best time.”

Eve had to take a moment to process what she was seeing. When Reed’s portal opened and the two of them stepped out of it, a stunning sight lay before their eyes. Blake, Amy, and Ark were all badly injured and unconscious. Lancelus was still standing, but just barely, and Elly was sitting behind him, looking pretty battered herself.

What she found most shocking was Professor Saleigh. She wasn’t standing in defense of her students, she was standing at the side of their attacker, an Estvalian with a massive whitewood sword. Eve couldn’t believe it at first. She had always prided herself on her ability to see through others. She could sense Reed’s fake smiles so easily. But Professor Saleigh? She was the one her master warned her about? It didn’t seem real, she had only ever felt genuine warmth from the professor. But the evidence spoke for itself. The professor held Blake’s sword in her hand after all, and to Eve’s horror, the dragon eggs lay scattered on the ground.

If the sight of Reed’s mentor had given the older girl pause, it didn’t show. Eve was astounded at how fast Reed jumped into action, leaping into the air and swinging her leg at the Estvalian with a powerful kick that he just barely managed to block. She flipped back and landed on the ground, placing herself between the Estvalian and Elly’s barrier.

“Another one of you Saekorians?” The Estvalian snarled. “Where the hell did you come from?! There’s no way I could have missed sensing your approach!”

“I’m just here to come pay my dear friends a visit, that’s all,” Reed laughed, his glare sliding right off of her smiling face. But Eve could sense the rage in her voice.

“’Don’t understand anger that much’ my ass,” Eve mumbled under her breath.

“Reed, this has nothing to do with you,” Professor Saleigh sternly admonished the girl. Reed turned to the professor, flashing a beaming smile.

“Professor! Hello!” Reed greeted with a wave. “Would you mind explaining things? I’m a little confused. See, when I sensed that a large surge of mana was happening around my friends I came in to take a quick peek. But it looks like you’re attacking them!” She narrowed her eyes, her smile taking on a tinge of malice. “Now, that just can’t be true.”

“There are some things a child like you simply wouldn’t understand,” the professor scoffed, adjusting her glasses.

“…People I care about are bleeding on the ground, Rio,” Reed coldly replied. “I understand that quite well.”

“R-Reed…” Elly whispered. Her face was bright with hope at the sight of Reed standing before her, and Eve could see that Lancelus was relieved as well. He slumped back and fell to the ground beside his half-sister, clearly ready to leave things up to the older student. Eve agreed with his decision. From the look of the prince, if he kept fighting in that state he could die.

“Elly, you and the prince rest up and don’t worry,” Reed said, turning to the girl and flashing a reassuring smile. “I’ll send you back right now.”

“Not a chance,” Rio growled. “Dimension Cage!” Dropping Blake’s sword, the professor raised both hands, magic circles appearing before her palms. A large circle appeared on the ground, extending to surround them all. An array of light shot out to connect to a similar circle in the air, creating a barrier around the clearing.

Reed snapped her fingers, but the portal she tried to make fizzled out. She raised an eyebrow in muted surprise. “Oh, my my.”

“That magic of yours is rather inconvenient. I can’t have you go reporting this to the others,” Rio said, shrugging her shoulders. The twisted smirk on her face seemed incongruous with the kind persona Eve had always seen from her. She had really been so out of her depth.

“I see. Your spell disrupts my Sensory Magic, preventing me from getting a solid connection to any location past the barrier,” Reed noted. She snapped her fingers again, another portal appearing in front of her. “But as long as the portal connects in here, it can still work. I would have thought you would be more thorough, professor.”

Then Reed glanced in Eve’s direction and winked at her. Eve had been hiding back to recover her energy, hiding herself behind an illusion. But then her eyes fell to the sword that the professor had abandoned, and she quickly realized what it was that the other girl wanted.

“Enough of this,” the Estvalian shouted angrily. “I don’t care who the hell you think you are, but I’m not going to let you interfere!” Eve couldn’t believe it was possible to swing a sword that large, but the man certainly did it. And as he did, the trees sprang to life, spears and blades of wood flying at Reed from all directions.

But Reed wasn’t concerned, and neither was Eve. An attack of that caliber wouldn’t work on someone like Reed. With a snap of her fingers Reed disappeared into a portal, the Estvalian’s magic striking nothing but air.

Reed emerged behind the Estvalian, spells blazing. “Fireball!” She shouted, flinging a massive orb of flame at his back. But a wall of water blocked her spell.

“You’re strong, Reed, but do you honestly think you can take on the both of us?” Rio sneered, raising her hand and sending a blast of water Reed’s way. “You should have minded your own business.”

“Minding my own business? That’s just not my style, you know that,” Reed laughed. She conjured a portal in front of her, swallowing the water and flinging it at the Estvalian. While Reed engaged the two of them, Eve approached under the cover of her illusions.

Making it appear as if Soulfire was still on the ground, Eve picked the sword up and carried it away, approaching Elly’s barrier. She allowed the other girl to see her then, holding her finger to her lips as she held up the Sacred Arm.

Elly’s eyes bulged like saucers and she nodded, understanding immediately what Eve wanted. Eve passed her the sword through the barrier, and then turned back to the battle. She wanted to retrieve the dragon eggs next, but she realized that she wouldn’t have the time for that.

Reed was skilled, but so were her opponents. Not even someone at her level could engage two powerful Elemental Mages, it seemed. She could only make so many portals.

“Keep her at a distance,” Rio warned the Estvalian. “Her martial arts can do a lot of damage, but her offensive magic is limited.”

“That works just fine with me,” the Estvalian snarled, swinging his sword. Another wave of branches stretched towards Reed, countless blades extending towards her. Reed leapt back through a portal and appeared on the other side of the clearing, immediately following the portal with a fireball.

“A spell of that level won’t get through my water veil,” Rio scoffed. “Is that all you can do? I thought I trained you better than this!”

“Attacking with wood and defending with water,” Reed panted, wiping the sweat from her brow with her sleeve. “Quite a potent combination. And here I am, all by myself.”

The emphasis on her last words did not go unnoticed by Eve. She dispelled her illusion, holding a replica of Soulfire in her hand. “Professor Saleigh!” She loudly declared. “Is this what you were looking for?!”

Rio whirled her head around, eyes widening behind her glasses as she saw the sealed sword in Eve’s hand. She immediately looked behind her to see that her prize was indeed no long where it rested.

“You-!” Rio snarled, turning her attention towards Eve, just as Eve had intended. With another enemy to even the odds, Eve could make this much more of a fair fight.

“I’m surprised, why would you do something like step out so openly?” Sati asked, raising her eyebrow. “Not that I’m complaining about you getting your hands dirty, but aren’t you more used to sneaking up and attacking from behind?”

“Close-range stealth is a dangerous gambit against an Elemental Mage,” Eve replied. “I can’t convince a tidal wave I’m not standing in front of it, after all. Even if they have no idea where I am, a stray attack can still hit.”

“So better to give them a target to aim at, eh? Smart girl,” Sati grinned.

Eve nodded her head, smiling herself. Once the professor began unleashing her attacks, she had every intention of disorienting her with illusions.

“Another Saekorian,” the Estvalian growled, glaring at Rio. “This isn’t what I heard at all!”

“Don’t worry,” Rio assured him, her voice sounding nearly as enraged as his. “As far as my students go, she’s rather mediocre. Nothing you need to concern yourself with. You keep Reed occupied; I’ll take care of her quickly.”

“My, she could give Luci a run for her money with her arrogance,” Sati laughed. “She really doesn’t understand a thing, does she?”

Eve smirked. “That just goes to show how effective my act really was. So what do you think, Sati?”

“Hmm? About what?” Sati asked her. Eve flung the fake Soulfire aside and reached down to the pouch on her belt, unlatching it.

“About showing her what I’m really capable of,” Eve replied. This was the perfect opportunity to really close things off here and now. Neither one of her foes had any reason to suspect the nature of her magic. Which meant that she could unleash the full power of a master illusionist.

“…You aren’t playing with me, right?” Sati pleaded. Her scarlet face glowed as she burned with excitement at Eve’s proposal, just as Eve knew she would. “Oh, please, please Eve! Tell me this is for real?”

“You said I was mediocre, professor?” Eve shouted, flinging her hand to the side. Hot in her grasp was a ring of seven keys, forged from black iron and etched with enchantments. Just the sight of them should make the professor’s blood freeze in her veins.

The way the woman’s face went pale told Eve she’d made the intended impression. Rio took a step back, her eyes widening and her mouth falling open. She shook her head in disbelief, her expression of horror causing Eve’s internal smile to widen behind her mask of calm. It was working.

“…Impossible…” Rio’s voice sounded like a terrified child. “That… it can’t be!”

“The Seven Keys of Tartarus,” Eve coolly replied. “You’re the expert on magical artifacts, professor, so you should know full well what that means.”

The professor sputtered and spat, but she couldn’t deny the reality in front of her. Because these were the Seven Keys of Tartarus, a gift from her master. Eve was certain that a scholar of Rio’s level would be able to tell that, even at a distance.

She was counting on it.

“You… You can’t!” Rio finally summoned enough strength to push aside her shock and cry out. But Eve wasn’t interested in hearing her cries of protest. She was too busy relishing in the fear she saw stretched across the woman’s face.

“I certainly can,” Eve declared. She took one of the keys and held it up, pressing the sharpened edge of the metal to her palm. With a quick slice she cut her hand open, feeding it some of her blood. The first step of the ritual. She held the key up to the air, and began her summoning.

“Oh Sati, Demon Queen of Wrath, hear my words,” Eve chanted. Her blood dripped from the key and fell to the ground, a magic circle appearing at her feet.

“What the hell is she doing?!” The Estvalian demanded, unable to intercede due to a flurry of fireballs courtesy of Reed. Rio fell to her knees, eyes widening listlessly in shock.

“A demon summoning,” Rio muttered, tremors rolling over her. “She’s summoning… a demon…” Somehow, saying those words must have made something snap in her. “Are you insane?!” She roared. “Summoning Sati of the Seven Queens of Tartarus?! That’s madness! A failed ritual will cost you your life in an instant! Merely attempting to summon her is a crime punishable by 25 life sentences! You’ll never, succeed, never, there’s no way-!”

Rio continued to ramble, but Eve blocked her out. She had to get the summoning just right. Luckily for her, she had a great deal of experience with her master’s summons.

“I call upon thee now, you who rules over wrath.

Take this offering of blood and come to my side.

If that which I task of you is unable to slake your rage,

I shall offer you my own body in compensation!

Accept this pact and let the Gate of Tartarus be opened!

Sati the Wrathful, I invoke you! Come to me, my dear!”

Eve finished the ritual. At her back, a massive door rose up to tower over her, the ancient black stone it was made from glowing in the ominous light of the magic circle. Glowing symbols from the demon’s tongue etched themselves into the surface of the door, which began to rumble and shake. Parting down the center the doors to Tartarus opened wide, and Sati stepped forth for all to see.

The Demon Queen of Wrath always made an imposing entrance. With burning skin redder than blood and pointed horns like a goat beneath her dark shock of hair, no one could see her as anything but a demon. Her crimson eyes crackled with anger; the air around her seemed to burn with demonic energy, dark flames rolling off of her like sweat. She was clad in the finest robes of Tartarus, black and red and displaying the bulging muscles of her hulking figure. She stepped forth on her cloven hooves and threw her head back, roaring triumphantly at her arrival as her sharp tail danced round her.

Eve stepped aside and allowed Sati to take the stage for herself.

“What is that thing?!” Elly exclaimed, Eve shooting her a concerned look. The girl was doing an admirable job of keeping her shield up. But Eve was more interested in the prince. Lancelus seemed to be defeated, lying on the ground, but one look at his eyes told a different story. He was shielding one of the dragon eggs, but he wasn’t resigned to just protecting.

Those eyes were looking for an opening to strike. Half-dead, and he was still trying to fight. Eve smiled, grateful that he wouldn’t have to.

“What have you done?” Rio asked, shaking her head in horror. “Summoning that thing here… you’ve killed us all, you foolish girl!”

“So long as you go first,” Eve replied.

Eve had nothing to fear. True, summoning one of the Demon Queens, or any demon at all, really, often came at great cost to an inexperienced summoner. It was why the practice was forbidden. Sati in particular had a very harsh condition on her contract, even if it was a simple one.

When summoned, she would unleash her wrath on everything that was before her, demolishing her summoner’s enemies with her overwhelmingly destructive power. But if her rage hadn’t been sated by the time her foes were destroyed, she would then turn that rage upon the summoner themselves. Few had the skill to withstand her wrath. Such was the punishment for losing oneself to wrath and summoning a demon whose strength was not warranted.

But Eve had not truly summoned the demon; there was no such contract between them. The Sati standing before her, the ritual itself, these were all just illusions. Her familiarity with the Demon Queen and her master had allowed her to replicate it perfectly, however, and thus the professor was perfectly fooled. She would not know that the blows unleashed upon her were specters of the mind, and with Eve’s Real Illusion Magic her body would be broken just the same as if Eve had truly invoked the demon’s wrath.

Sati herself, of course, was loving the opportunity to go wild.


“Sati, after the one with the sword,” Eve ordered.

“AS YOU COMMAND!” Sati roared, pulling her fist back. Midnight-colored flames gathered around her, and with a single punch she unleashed a devastating wave of black fire that swallowed the Estvalian whole.

“Aaargh!” Rio leapt out of the way just in time, but her legs were badly burned. The Estvalian, however, had no-doubt been reduced to ashes.

“IS THAT ALL!?” Sati bellowed, throwing her head back as her booming laughter echoed across the forest. As expected, her black flames were spreading like wildfire, threatening to burn all of Estval to the ground. “HOW DISAPPOINTING! I MUST TURN TO THE OTHER NEXT!”

“No…” Rio mumbled, scrambling away from her, her face the color of ash. She curled up into a tiny ball, trembling in fear. “NO! PLEASE!”


“What on earth was that supposed to be?”

Eve flinched, whirling around to see the Estvalian standing among the flames. Not burned to cinders like she had imagined, but staring suspiciously at the demon.

“How-?!” Rio gasped in shock.

“SO YOU ARE NOT SO MEAGER! THAT IS VERY GOOD!” Sati cackled, turning and stomping back towards him. “I LOOK FORWARD TO TAKING OUT EVERYTHING I HAVE ON YOU!”

Eve was not as confident. She had seen Sati’s flames burn entire mountains. The only way that boy could still be standing was if he, like Reed, did not have even the slightest belief that Sati was there.

And indeed, when Sati punched him directly this time, her fist sailed harmlessly through him, much to Rio’s surprise.

“It… but that’s… what?” Rio shook her head in confusion.

“I don’t know what you think you’re playing at,” the Estvalian said, turning to Eve, his green eyes glimmering with coldness, “but this is rather irritating.”

“You… HOW?!” Eve demanded. “That… Sati should have-!”

“It was rather odd,” the Estvalian said, narrowing her eyes. “You went through all that trouble, summoning this hulking monstrosity… my eyes, ears, everything is telling me that it’s right there, ready to strike. And yet not one tree in the forest can feel anything but air in front of me. How curious.”

“The… trees?!” Eve sputtered.

“DO YOU DOUBT MY STRENGTH?!” Sati roared, hulking herself up to look bigger and meaner in the hope of intimidating the Estvalian. But Eve could see it was pointless. Those eyes would never believe an illusion, no matter how convincing she made it.

“I am connected to Eldrasil, to all of Estval,” the Estvalian growled, raising his sword and pointing it at Eve. “The trees are my eyes and ears, and you can’t fool them! This is nothing more than a cheap lie!” He swung his sword, the blade passing right through Sati. As he did, the ground beneath Eve opened up, and a spike of wood shot out.

I… can’t believe… it… Eve was reeling. Her greatest trick, undone by something as pedestrian as this? That shock struck her harder than the pain in her side. She rolled across the ground and hit her head against a tree, her concentration snapping like a twig. In a blink of an eye, it all vanished. The roaring Sati, the burning forest, the doorway to Tartarus, even the fake Soulfire, all her illusions were dispelled, leaving nothing more than a bleeding, broken girl.

I can’t… do anything more than this… She admitted to herself.

“Don’t worry.”

Eve gasped, raising her head to see Reed standing beside her, holding one of the dragon eggs in her hand. She gave Eve a reassuring smile.

“You did well. I will… try to handle the rest,” she assured the illusionist, dropping the egg into Eve’s lap. “Keep that safe,” she called over her shoulder as she ran forward, conjuring fireballs from magical circles.

Eve clutched the egg to her chest and watched Reed. She had barely done anything at all.

“That illusionist bitch!” Rio roared, rising to her feet. Her leg was still burned, even though she had learned that the flames had been illusions. Eve had to hope that would be enough.

Reed clearly saw the injured teacher as the weaker link. She ran towards Rio, raising her fist, and dropping it through a small portal. Her fist came out behind Rio, hitting her burned leg. The professor let out a cry of pain, and fell to her knees.

“Aaargh! You-!” She rasped, clutching her leg. Rio sprung up, preparing to kick the professor from above, but a thick branch stretched out to block the blow. Reed jumped off the branch before the Estvalian could tangle her up, disappearing through a portal and appearing behind Rio, a magic circle already prepared.

“Lightning Bolt!” Reed snarled, releasing a blast of electricity from her magic circle that hit Rio in the back, electrocuting her.

To Eve’s horror, that wasn’t enough to bring the teacher down.

“Water Blade!” Rio shouted, turning and swinging a blade of water at Reed, forcing her to jump back. Eve could see that the problem was Reed had to deal with two opponents at once. Not only was she trying to finish Rio off, but she had to dodge the Estvalian’s attacks.

Eve grit her teeth and clutched the egg tighter to her chest. If only she had gone after Rio first.

“Slippery brat,” Rio growled, managing to stand to her feet. Eve was astounded, she knew the damage that Sati’s flames could do, Rio was lucky to still have that leg! The professor raised her hand, creating another sword of water. She swung at Reed, who ducked under, throwing a punch.

Rio leapt back, avoiding the punch. “Haven’t I always told you that your range is too poor, Reed? You should have listened. You need a weapon, or else you can’t get in close to a vigilant opponent!” She snarled.

Eve saw a flicker of sadness in Reed’s smile. “Now, Lancelus!” A portal appeared in front of her fist.

A silver spear shot from the portal and pierced Rio through the chest. The professor coughed out blood, her blade raining in droplets upon the ground. Eve turned in shock towards Elly and Lancelus. The prince was sitting upright, his hand thrusting a spear through the portal.

“I have a weapon, professor,” Reed quietly said, turning her attention to the Estvalian.

“Useless,” the Estvalian scowled, shaking his head as he stared at Rio, the professor falling to the ground and beginning to bleed out. “Every last one of you, useless!”

“With this, I think the time has come to take our leave,” Reed said, and Eve realized that with Rio’s defeat the barrier hemming them in was gone. Reed raised her hand and a portal opened, one of the dragon eggs falling through it. The sky blue egg. That just left the last of them, the green one, at the Estvalian’s feet.

“If you think you can run, then run,” the Estvalian snarled, picking the egg from the ground and holding it up for Reed to see. Her smile faded from her face. “But if I can’t have my full prize… then at least, I will deny you Saekorians… one of these dragons…”

He tightened his grip, and Eve saw what he was about to do. He was going to smash the egg! No! He couldn’t!

“Stop!” Eve coughed out.

“You give that back!” Reed shouted, lunging at the Estvalian. But of course it was a trick. Eve had seen it coming, and she knew Reed had seen it too. The egg had just been a ploy to draw the girl in, of course. But Reed… the girl had cared too much about the egg’s safety, far more than her own.

The Estvalian’s eyes flashed with triumph and he flung the egg aside.

To Eve, it looked like Reed was moving on reflex. She jumped for the egg, conjuring a portal, and brought it safely into her grasp. But in saving the egg, her attention had shifted from where it absolutely needed to be. Eve watched in resignation. The Estvalian brought that massive sword up into the girl’s stomach with a sickening *THWOMP*, the force of the blow flinging her across the clearing.

“Reed!” Elly wailed, and Eve winced in sympathy for the older girl. Reed smashed into Elly’s barrier and bounced off it, hitting the ground hard. She had curled into a ball, shielding both of the eggs with her body.

Elly dropped the barrier and scrambled to Reed’s side, the dazed blonde letting out a cough. Eve knew that blow must have done some serious damage. “Reed! Reed!” Elly shouted, trying to rouse her.

Eve shook her head. How had they fallen? Ark and Lancelus, Blake, Amy, Elly, all of them defeated. Even she and Reed hadn’t been able to put up much more of a fight. The dragon egg in her hands burned hot and for a second she thought she heard it hissing in anger. She couldn’t blame it if it had.

Her frustration made her want to scream. The Estvalian stalked towards the cluster of students, raising his sword to finish them off. Eve closed her eyes, not wanting to see them die, knowing she would be soon to follow.

Her hands were growing hotter and hotter, and she focused on that pain rather than the anguish that was soon to come at the end of the Estvalian’s blade.

Then Eve’s ears were filled with the sounds of something cracking.

Real Aire