The Heir of the Dragon
It was a lovely day, but Damien felt uneasy for some reason. He couldn’t put his finger on it, but staring at the majestic forest of Estval standing in front of him made him feel that there was something he needed to do. It was a nagging feeling, like the sensation that he got when he was supposed to be at a meeting somewhere but had forgotten.
He paced along the edge of the rest area outside of the Estvalian Forest, his eyes scanning the tree line. What he was looking for, he wasn’t sure.
“Are you okay, Dami?” Drana asked, walking up to him. The concern reflected in her sky blue eyes was a familiar and welcome sight. Damien gave her a reassuring smile, and nodded his head.
“Yes, I’m just thinking about Estval,” he lied. He didn’t see any sense in worrying Drana, she was already a bit prone to overreactions as it was. “And I’m also feeling relieved that Aria isn’t one of the chaperones on this trip.”
Drana winced at that, and Damien also felt a little bad for what he’d said.
“Aria isn’t so bad,” Drana said, laughing a little. The forced tone in her voice made Damien wince in sympathy for his absent colleague. “She’s just… passionate.”
“Passionate in her hatred for Estval,” Damien muttered under his breath, glancing back at the forest. The Physical Training Instructor had gone on record with the faculty about her objections to the students traveling to Estval, not to mention the drunken rants on the topic she’d made at Damien’s door at all hours of the night.
Damien was glad this trip was almost over, so he wouldn’t have to put up with her pestering and complaining anymore.
Damien turned back to his compatriot, when he noticed a tense look on her own face. It only lasted a second, but it was noticeable. “What about you?” He asked Drana. “Are you feeling alright?”
Drana let out a sigh and shook her head. “Sorry, Dami,” she replied solemnly. “I’m just thinking of my little ones, back home. Especially my diamond-tusk cats, if I don’t feed them at 8 hour intervals, then-“
Damien sighed, “Drana, your menagerie will be fine. That’s what your caretaking staff is for; they’ll take care of your babies.”
“But I should be there,” Drana scowled, kicking at the dirt. “Some of them I’m the only one that they’ll let get close to, the other caretakers-“
“Drana, the way you act, I have a hard time believing that you’re actually an adult sometimes, do you know that?” Damien laughed. Drana shot him a dirty look and slapped his chest with the back of her hand. It sent him sprawling on his back. The sky spun around him for a second as his eyes caught up with the rest of him.
“Aah!” Drana gasped, rushing over to his side and helping Damien back up to her feet. “Sorry sorry sorry!”
“No, it’s my fault,” Damien said, brushing himself off. “I shouldn’t have teased you like that. Next time, be more careful with that super strength of yours.”
“Damien, Drana, if you two are done flirting, I could use some help over here,” Nurse Leilandry called to the two teachers.
“We are NOT flirting,” Drana growled at the elf. Damien rolled his eyes at the nurse’s comments and walked over to where she was setting up cots in the shade of the overhang they’d erected.
“Do you really think we’ll have this many people injured?” Damien asked, surprised. The nurse had set up ten cots already, and was working on unfolding an eleventh.
“Rolled ankles, skinned knees, fractured wrists, nature hikes in rough terrain like this can have lots of injuries, no matter how minor,” Leilandry explained. “And we want to be prepared for it. I can only be in so many places at once, so I’ve also brought a supply of medicine and bandages and whatever else we might need.”
“…Well, you’re certainly prepared,” Damien said, finding the nurse’s dedication to taking care of the students admirable. “I’m glad those kids are in such skilled hands.”
“Hopefully it won’t be necessary,” Leilandry sighed, checking the fluffiness of a pillow. “But you can never be certain.”
She raised her eyes towards Damien, and a concerned expression crossed her face. “You both look very anxious. Is something wrong?”
Damien shook his head. There was something nagging at him that he couldn’t explain. “It’s nothing, don’t worry about it. Drana, what do you think?” He turned back to Drana, and gasped in shock at what he saw.
Drana had collapsed.
“DRANA!” Damien shouted, running to her side with Leilandry right at his side. Drana was lying in the grass, her body shaking and twitching. She thrashed around, heavy groans coming from deep in her belly as sweat rolled across her rapidly-flushing skin.
This was a problem. Damien knelt down next to her and cradled her head up, feeling her spasms. “Drana, are you okay?! What’s the matter?!”
“She looks like she’s having a seizure,” Leilandry said, crouching down on the other side. Her hands were already glowing with healing magic.
“Wait, Leilandry, don’t, she isn’t-“
“NO!” Drana shouted, springing up into an upright position. Her shout was punctuated by an outburst of raw mana that slammed into Damien and the nurse like a wall, pushing them both backwards.
“Drana?! What’s… what?” Leilandry looked at Damien questioningly, but he didn’t have any answers he could give her.
Drana seemed to be ignoring them both. She turned her head to gaze up at the sky, her eyes burning with fire.
“Drana?” Damien asked quietly. She looked half-crazed. With her strength, if she went on a rampage…
Nurse Leilandry would certainly need more cots.
“Impossible…” Drana breathed, her voice soft and gentle. She lowered her head and stared pensively off into the distance. A small smile curled across her face, like something wonderful had crossed her mind. Then she gave the sky one final glance before turning back to Damien. To his relief, her eyes looked much clearer and brighter.
“Drana? Are you okay?” Damien asked cautiously.
Drana’s smile spread wider and she nodded.
“Five dragons… have just been born,” she whispered.
Damien gasped, stunned by her words. Leilandry’s expression of shock was no-doubt a reflection of his own.
“That… how can that be?” Leilandry asked, shaking her head in disbelief. Damien was about to ask the same, when something occurred that completely took their mind off of Drana’s outburst.
The air before them twisted and cracked, splitting open in a massive portal. From within the depths of the chasm, Rio Saleigh and a handful of students emerged, their bodies covered in grievous wounds and soaked with blood.
Drana gasped in horror and Nurse Leilandry immediately sprang into action. But Damien’s attention was focused elsewhere.
“Reed Rivers,” he whispered, staring at the woman who had no-doubt conjured the portal, the only one still in good enough condition to be standing, in spite of her wounds.
In her arms she held the remains of two dragon eggs, and two small, squealing infant dragons within them, taking their first breaths.
Things were quite frantic in the minutes that ensued after the students’ appearance. Leilandry did her job admirably, treating the injuries of the poor students. To Damien’s relief, they looked to be in much worse shape than they actually were. Elly and Eve were in the best condition, with Reed stating that she didn’t need any treatment at all. The nurse disagreed, but she still prioritized Ark and Amy, the two students who had taken the most damage.
But there were two things that concerned Damien the most. The fact that per Elly’s and Reed’s reports, not only were the students of Rio’s group ambushed by Estvalians, but Rio Saleigh herself, who until this point had been one of the most highly-respected professors at the academy, had facilitated the ambush and taken part in attacking her students as well!
It didn’t sound real to Damien; he couldn’t believe that his oldest friend, his former lover, had done such a horrendous thing. But Rio was in no state to explain herself, and Damien had the safety of the other students to prioritize. He sent out a warning beacon through his emergency orica, ordering all the groups to return to the meeting area as soon as possible.
With that solved, next came the other pressing issue.
Blake had been among the students of Rio’s group. The presence of five newborn dragons spoke to his presence, but not his absence.
“Blake was fighting against the Estvalian when I left him,” Reed said, her smiling face clearly masking a look of concern. “He bought time for all of us to get away. I need to go back and get him.”
Damien shook his head. “No, you can’t go. I don’t care what you say, you’re too injured.”
Reed’s eyes widened in surprise. “But sir, with my transportation magic, I can get there in moments.”
“Yes, I know,” Damien said. “So you’ll open a portal, and then I’ll go in and rescue Blake. But you stay here and get treated, understood?”
Reed nodded her head.
Now we just need the firepower. Damien turned in the direction of Drana, appointed temporary-caretaker of the baby dragons, and called out to her. “Drana! We need your help, this is an emergency! One of our students is fighting an Estvalian terrorist, I need you to come with me to rescue him!”
Drana looked up at him, confused.
“What do you mean, Dami?” She asked. “How are you gonna get there?”
“Reed said that she would open a-“ Damien turned back to Reed, but her smiling face was no longer in front of him. He swung his head to look around the rest area-turned-field hospital, but she was nowhere to be seen.
That reckless girl! Damien clenched his fists in disbelief. He just wanted to scream.
Damien cursed under his breath. He only had one option left now, and it was a terrible one. He stormed over to Drana’s side. He was surprised at the sound of his own voice, worry for his nephew’s sake filling his words with far more emotion than he was used to expressing.
“Drana, please, I need your help,” he begged. “I know you hate it, I know it’s… dangerous. But please, I need you to bring me to Eldrasil, so I can rescue my nephew. Please, Drana!”
Drana looked up at him. Any other day, it was likely that a request like that would cause her eyes to fill with panic, or worry, or just plain raw fear. But rather than the bitter sympathy he expected to see when she refused him, he saw warmth.
“It’s okay, Dami,” she said, shaking her head. “Sit.”
“I can’t sit!” Damien exclaimed. What was she talking about? Sitting? This was an emergency, and he was the professor in charge. “I have to be…”
“What?” Drana blinked. “Have to be what? You can’t help Nurse Leilandry any further with taking care of the students, you can’t question Rio since she’s still unconscious. You’ve already sent out the emergency signal, right? Unless you plan to walk to Eldrasil by foot, you can calm down and take a seat for a little while, right?”
Damien’s mouth opened and closed, but he realized she was right. “…Sorry. But in situations like this…”
“You always want to be the one to solve every problem, Dami,” Drana said, shaking her head. “If you think you should be doing something you just can’t relax. I’m sure the nurse would agree that too much of that can stress you out.”
Sometimes Damien hated how well Drana knew him.
“Since when are you the mature one?” He grumbled, sitting down in front of her.
“I am older than you, after all,” Drana chuckled. “By a considerable amount.”
Damien winced, and Drana’s face tightened up.
“Sorry, this isn’t the time for laughing,” she admitted. “I know you’re worried about your nephew. But don’t be. Look at these little ones. What do you see?”
Drana gestured down at the baby dragons. Finally, Damien could take a moment to admire them. He’d seen baby dragons before, of course, but only pictures. There hadn’t been a dragon born in the sky for many times his lifetime. They were a mix of shapes and colors. Horns and teeth, leathery wings and feathers, scales and tails and beady little eyes that looked around curiously.
Drana picked up the green one and held it up, the small creature letting out a squeaky coo like the chirp of a bird as it raised its long neck to look at her, nipping closely.
“Dragons imprint when they’re hatched, did you know that?” Drana asked. Damien was sure he must have known that once upon a time. “This one, she’s so calm. Even though your nephew is in such a perilous state. Why do you think that is?”
Damien shook his head. He had no idea. He might have been a member of House Harker once upon a time, but Drana was the expert in magical creatures, and dragons in particular.
Drana gave him a reassuring smile. “If Blake was in trouble, no matter where he was, this little one would be able to sense it. She would be going wild, thrashing about, but look at her. As docile as a rainbow lizard.” She set down the baby dragon and reached out to Damien, placing her hands over his.
“Blake will be fine,” she assured him. “And right now, you have more pressing issues to deal with. You’re the one in charge here. That means that it’s up to you to keep order when the other students and professors come here asking what’s wrong. And you can’t do that if you’re going crazy with worry, now can you?”
Damien nodded, she was completely correct.
“You’re right, of course,” he sighed, standing up.
Blake and Reed still hadn’t returned, and it had been hours now. Other groups were starting to return, including a very confused Luna Lunark and her group that was two people short. While Damien explained the situation to the other groups, the worry for the two students still missing gnawed away at him.
Damien walked under the overhang where Nurse Leilandry worked, desperate for some positive news to ease his worries. “How are they doing?” He asked.
“Ark and Amelia are the most seriously injured,” Leilandry said, wiping her brow while her other hand hovered over Amy’s legs, set back into place. “It will take time and multiple treatments, but they should make a full recovery.”
“And the others?” Damien asked.
“Some burns, bruises, and broken bones, but nothing too serious,” Leilandry assured him. “They’re resting off the healing magic right now, and then they should be fine to let their bodies handle the rest naturally.”
“That’s a relief,” Damien sighed, although there was nothing relieving about the situation in front of him. Ark was covered in bandages, and Amy’s legs would probably take months to recover. “I was worried that things would be difficult for you.”
“Unfortunately, healing magic isn’t something just anyone can master,” Leilandry sighed. “And bad healing magic is worse than none at all. Otherwise, I could have brought a few staff members here with me.” She paused, walking over and changing the damp towel on Ark’s forehead. “Actually, I was impressed. Elly did a very good job of patching up Lancelus’s injuries, as well as treating her own. The splints she made for Amelia’s legs were rather fine as well, even if unpolished. It certainly saved me a lot of work.”
“And what about… your other patient?” Damien asked cautiously. Leilandry’s face hardened, and she glanced up at him.
“She’s in the other tent,” she replied, her voice barely avoiding sounding like a growl. Damien nodded, and headed to the tent set up beside the overhang. “And tell Luna I need a mana potion as soon as she can brew one! I’m running low!” Leilandry called after him.
Damien stood outside the tent flap, and took a deep breath. A million thoughts raced through his mind as he thought about Rio, all of them centering around one question in particular.
For all he knew of the woman, for all she’d gone through, none of this made any sense to him. His heart hurt when he thought about what this meant for her. Why would she do this?
Damien shook those thoughts from his head and gritted his teeth, hardening his heart and shifting his face into a stern and cold visage. He couldn’t go in there with weakness. He needed to see the truth for himself. He stepped into the tent and looked at his former friend.
Rio Saleigh looked like she was in rough shape. Her glasses were cracked and hung crookedly on her face, and her shirt had been stripped off for a wrapping of bandages that covered her wounded stomach. Her hand was chained to the cot, an enchantment ensuring that she would be casting no spells in her present state, if she even could under the effects of healing magic.
“Well, look who it is,” Rio spat, “Damien Darkflame. Or should I call you ‘Damien Harker’?” She stared up at him with contemptuous eyes that looked hollow and empty. They weren’t Rio’s eyes. He didn’t know who they belonged to, but it wasn’t the woman he had once loved.
“Rio,” Damien whispered, his voice far softer than he’d intended. He cleared his throat and glared at her. “What in the sky have you done?”
“Quite a few things, old friend,” she answered, the words sounding like poison on her lips. “Conspiring with terrorists, turning my magic on a student, attempted theft, attempted murder, and that’s just what you’re aware of.”
The casual way she described her crimes was shocking. Her voice, her face, they were all Rio, but she was saying things Rio would never say, wearing a cruel and bitter smile that Rio would never wear. Where was his friend? He couldn’t find her anywhere inside this woman.
“I have nothing more to say,” Rio spat, glaring at him. “Not to the school not to the inquisitors, and certainly not to you.”
Damien was desperate to understand, he couldn’t accept that. “Please, Rio, tell me, why? Why would you do this?”
Emotion filled Rio’s face, a hateful rage that he’d never seen. The force of her glare was so strong Damien stepped back warily, as though she might attack him somehow, even bound and injured as she was.
“I could give you a reason, but not one you’d understand,” Rio cackled angrily. “To take Soulfire from your nephew? To aid in the overthrow of Saekoria, or the liberation of Estval? To seize the dragon eggs for myself? Which reason would you like?”
“The truth,” Damien said, stunned at how weak he sounded against Rio’s harsh words.
Rio let out a broken chuckle and shook her head. “The truth. Do you want to know the truth? Why I did this, why this attack happened?” She raised her head and glared at Damien. Her eyes were filled with hate. “Because you let Maro die.”
Damien had nothing to say to that. He couldn’t stand the sight of her any longer, and he didn’t doubt that the feeling was mutual. He lowered his head and turned away, departing with a heavy heart as he awaited his nephew’s return.
Please, Blake, he pleaded. Please be safe.