Chapter 46:

Chapter 46: Letting it Go (Blake)

The Heir of the Dragon

The world spun around Blake as he hit the water, and the first thing that he recognized was pain. Deep greenish-blue light filled his eyes, and his leg burned as he kicked up, hands scrambling and clutching at mud and grass. He barely had any strength left, but he managed to pull himself out of the water, flinging himself onto the shore of a shallow bank.

“HAAAH! HAAAH!” He sucked in lungfulls of air as he tried to get his bearings. Everything was drowned out by the pounding of his heart at first, but as he settled down the pain returned with vengeance; it felt like everything hurt, but what was most agonizing was his stomach and his left leg. Just trying to move the limb sent a stab of pain through his body that made him yell out.

But he didn’t have time to lie here and cry about his pain. He pushed through it, turning over onto his side with a wince, and propped himself up with his arms. Leading with his good leg to stand up, he turned and looked for his opponent, but Trevan was nowhere to be-

“URAAAH!” Blake whirled to see Trevan throwing himself at him, fist raised. He hit Blake in the jaw, knocking him over.

Pain burst through Blake’s skull as his head slammed against the ground, and Trevan climbed on top of him, hissing and growling. He wrapped his strong hands around Blake’s throat, trying to choke him out.

“Die…” Trevan snarled, and Blake could feel his fingers tightening. It was getting harder and harder for Blake to breathe. Lights flashed before his eyes as his thoughts became blurred and dizzy, but no matter how much air he tried to suck in, he couldn’t.

I… will… not… die… here! His mana completely exhausted, Blake put all the strength he could into his good leg, driving it up into the center of the massive red stain on the Estvalian’s robes. The Estvalian howled in pain and his grip loosened, which was all the opportunity Blake needed. He smashed his fist into Trevan’s face, pain shooting through his fingers as he knocked the other boy off of him.

Blake’s vision was still blurry and he was choking on air, but he didn’t have the time to relax, he couldn’t give the Estvalian a chance to strike. Ignoring the pain in his leg he stood up, turning to where the other boy was kneeling, and slammed his knee down into Trevan’s wounds.

“AAAARGH!” Trevan screamed, his body slumping over. No time to think! Blake climbed on top of the Estvalian this time, pain shooting through him as he pulled back his fist and punched him in the jaw.

All Blake could see was red. Someone was yelling in the distance, but he didn’t care. It wasn’t until moments later that he realized it was his own voice he was hearing, cursing the Estvalian as he continued to punch him.

“You Estvalian SCUM!” Blake roared, ignoring the pain blossoming through his knuckles as he smashed the other boy’s face in. “WHY?! TELL ME! TELL ME! GIVE THEM BACK! GIVE! THEM! BAAACK!” Every blow landed with a triumphant “smack” as Blake felt the Estvalian’s face crack and sag beneath him. It wasn’t enough. No matter how much he groaned, no matter how much he cried, it WASN’T ENOUGH! This was NOTHING compared to what his family had gone through! What HE HAD GONE THROUGH! “GIVE THEM BACK TO MEEEE!

Blake’s fist trembled. He looked down at his foe, his vision blurring with tears.

The Estvalian’s face was bruised and swollen, blood obscuring his tan features. Blake could barely make out the dull green of his eyes through the mess. A wheezing gurgle of a groan escaped from his split lips, blood bubbling out. Blake’s hand was shaking, but he struck him again with as much strength as he could muster anyway.

Not enough… not enough… not enough… he hasn’t suffered enough… Blake’s head was pounding with rage as he took in the Estvalian’s broken form. A gleam of red caught the corner of his eye, and he saw Soulfire lying several feet away.

“This is it…” Blake whispered. He managed to pull his broken body off of Trevan and over to where his sword rested. He wrapped his fingers around the hilt and felt the power flood through him. “Yes… you feel the same way, don’t you?” He asked his sword. Soulfire unsheathed itself, burning with Blake’s hate.

Blake ignored the pain in his leg as he limped back to sprawled Estvalian, standing over Trevan and glaring contemptuously down at him. The other boy’s eyes were likewise filled with hate, but it was dulled with resignation. He lacked the strength to even sit up, much less put up any form of resistance. This was what he deserved, to lie here broken and defenseless, to taste Blake’s pain for himself as his life was taken from him.

“Now… vengeance…” Blake hissed, raising Soulfire above his head. His tears burned hot in his eyes as he pictured the faces of everything he had lost, everything he stood to lose. “For my father… for my mother… for my family and those children…”

“My fight…” Trevan gurgled out in reply, “…is now… over…” He closed his eyes in acceptance.

Blake swung, but his sword never struck. Pain blossomed through his skull with an agonizing crack, and he stumbled back, his busted leg giving out as he fell on his rear. He clutched his head, warmth and stickiness seeping through his fingers. His eyes shot up in shock to look for what had struck him, just in time to see a rock flying at his face. He shielded himself, wincing as it bounced off his arm.

“Ow! What the hell?!” Blake roared.

“Get away!” That voice! A child!? “Get away from Trevan you bully!”

Blake wiped the blood from his eyes and squinted. Standing several feet away was a child, an Estvalian boy, clutching a rock so tightly his tanned fingers were turning white.

Blake stared at the child in shock. The boy was angry, but his body was shaking like a leaf and there were tears in his eyes. He was clearly terrified out of his skull.

He wasn’t alone, either. Other kids, even younger than he was, were coming up to stand behind him. They looked even more terrified than the boy.

“What the hell do you know, you brat?!” Blake roared, trying to stand. But the pain in his leg kept him down as they pelted him with more rocks.

Why?! Why was this happening to him? All he had done was what he was supposed to do. Protect the dragon eggs, protect his children, and exterminate the Estvalians who threatened them. And he wasn’t going to let these children get in the way.

Blake squeezed Soulfire, sending his rage through the sword as he swung wildly, sending a burst of flames harmlessly into the air. The kids gasped and scrambled back, their fear overpowering the brief courage they’d managed to muster.

“No!” Trevan spat out, forcing himself up. Crawling in front of the cowering kids, he stared up at Blake with fear in his eyes. Real fear, just what Blake had been hoping to see. His voice came out a weak, pathetic whimper. “Pleashe,” he begged. “Don’d hurd dhem… juscht… end dhis wid me… pleashe…”

Blake didn’t understand. He should have been thrilled to strike down the Estvalian in front of him, but he wasn’t. He just felt miserable and frustrated. Where was the elation? The triumph? His foe had thrown himself at his feet and offered his life, and all Blake felt was more rage.

It disgusted him. Who did this Estvalian think he was? Offering his life like it was some noble act, like Blake would have actually killed those children? HE was the monster, not Blake!

“You…” Blake spat blood on the ground, clutching Soulfire as flames spurted up from the blade. “You think you have any words worth saying?! You tried to take my children from me, and now-?!”

“Gill be to sadisfy yourshelv…” Trevan pleaded, bloody tears rolling down his face. “Bud nod dhem… nod… dhem…”

“NO!” The oldest boy, the one who had thrown the first stone, threw himself onto Trevan and hugged him tightly, staring up at Blake with teary eyes filled with fear. “He’s our protector, please! Don’t kill him, please!”

“KI!” Trevan wailed in disbelief. “RUN! Ged away!”

“No!” The boy shouted, grabbing another rock and turning to Blake, his eyes wide. “I won’t let you!”

“GET OUT OF THE WAY!” Blake snarled, raising his sword to threaten the child again. But this time he wasn’t moving.

“Ki, get out of here!” Trevan shouted, his voice growing stronger as he got more terrified.

Damn it, damn it! Why won’t that brat just move?! Blake cursed, clutching Soulfire tightly as he glared down at the two Estvalians. He just wanted to kill that bastard, why was this child getting in the way?! Seeing red, Blake raised his sword over his head and drove it down with everything he had. Blake screamed.

Trevan screamed.

The boy screamed.

And as the boy’s screams caught Blake’s ears, he heard other screams in their place. The screams of Silverscale. The screams of death, mixed with his screams. Another boy, having everything violently and bloodily taken from him and being powerless to stop it.

With a final scream of his own, Blake closed his eyes plunged Soulfire into the dirt.

“WHY!?” Blake screamed, staring at the sword in front of him, the burning blade’s flames extinguished. “WHY DO I HAVE TO GO THROUGH THIS?!” Blake raised his head and stared at the two Estvalians in front of him, searching for answers. It didn’t make sense. It wasn’t fair! “TELL ME! I’m the one who had everything taken from him by Estvalians like you! YOU were the one who attacked ME! To take away MY CHILDREN! SO WHY?! Why are YOU the one, who gets to plead for that child’s life?! YOU don’t get to protect people! I’M the one! I’m the one protecting people from people like YOU! So why?! Why can’t I kill you?! Someone! TELL ME! Tell me why I can’t! I don’t… I don’t understand!”

Blake’s eyes danced around the field, desperately searching for someone, anyone, to tell him what he was supposed to do. He knew he was supposed to kill the Estvalian, but could he attack him through a child?! Was that the “right” thing to do?! Cut these children down to kill this criminal? “Please, someone, just tell me what I’m supposed to do,” he sobbed.

But everywhere he looked he saw nothing but tan faces looking at him with wide green eyes wearing stunned expressions. He found no answers there. All he found were pain and tears. They were looking back at him like he was the monster, like somehow HE was in the wrong here.

He just wanted to avenge his family. He wanted to protect his dragon eggs- now dragons. Why did he have to be responsible for this? Why did that mean having to cause so much pain?

He hated that Estvalian, he wanted to kill him so badly that it hurt! So why couldn’t he?!

“Someone, please… tell me…” Blake whimpered, falling to his knees and slumping against Soulfire in defeat. “Who am I supposed to hate for this…? What am I supposed to do with all this pain…? You Estvalians have taken everything from me… are you even going to take away my revenge?!”

“Is revenge all you can think of to ease your pain?” Blake’s eyes snapped open and his head shot up, searching for the owner of this new voice. Standing behind Trevan was the oldest man he had ever seen. His wrinkled and tanned face gave him the look of an aged tree. He gazed upon Blake with green eyes radiating a kindness that should be foreign to the monstrous Estvalians.

“Elder… Wormwood…” Trevan coughed out, lowering his head, shame crossing his face.

“Boy… you’re Saekorian, aren’t you?” The old Estvalian asked, not even sparing Trevan a glance. “That look in your eye… you’ve seen your share of pain.”

“What do you care, old man?” Blake hissed.

The elder sighed and shook his head, stroking his chin with withered fingers. “So young… it pains me to see children like you and Trevan, with eyes so clouded with anger and hate, so thirsty for blood.”

Blake had thought the flames of his rage had all but sputtered out, but this old man’s words were fanning them into an inferno again.

“Anger?! HATE?!” He roared. “You Estvalians… you destroyed my home, my family! And now you attack me, and when I fight back and win you come crying and pleading for mercy?! What right do you have to talk to me about being ‘thirsty for blood’?!”

Blake searched the old man’s eyes for answers, daring him to come to Trevan’s defense. But the old man said nothing. He just stared at Blake, the silence hanging over the both of them as Blake felt his frustration build and build.

When he finally spoke, it wasn’t to answer Blake’s accusations.

“Can you tell me your name?” He asked softly.

“Blake Harker… wait!” Blake was so stunned by the question that it just slipped out. “That doesn’t matter!”

“Of course it matters,” the elder sighed. “My name is Wormwood Lok-Vandir. I speak for this village.”

Village? Blake realized for the first time that beyond the lake he had landed in and the field upon which he now knelt, a whole village stood in the distance, nestled in this valley beneath the giant white tree.

“I don’t care about any of that!” Blake shouted, coming back to his senses. “You people-“

Trevan was the one who attacked you, and I make no excuse for him,” the Estvalian sharply corrected. “But ‘you people’? Tell me, what crime have I committed against you? Or these children, what of them?”

“That’s… I don’t care about them, I just want him!” Blake snarled.

The elder nodded, stroking his beard. “I see, I see, and so you’ll cut down the beloved protector of these children right in front of them, is that right?”

“That’s…” Blake gritted his teeth together, not sure what to say. “He deserves to die!”

“Does he? Why?” The elder demanded.

“He attacked me!” Blake shouted. “He tried to kill me!”

The elder raised his eyebrow. “And yet, you still live. So why kill him? Tell me.”

“I don’t… because he attacked me!” Blake repeated. This old man was really starting to piss him off. “He attacked me, he tried to take my dragons, turn them into weapons to destroy Saekoria, him and his friends hurt my classmates, they all…”

“What will killing him now do to change anything that’s happened?” The elder asked. “Has he killed anyone?”

Blake shook his head, no, for all the Estvalian had done, everyone was still alive. But… “If he took my children, he would have-!”

“What he ‘would’ have done no longer matters. He won’t be able to do it now,” the elder dismissed Blake’s words so easily it made Blake want to cut him down… but even then, he knew how wrong that would be. No better than cutting through that boy to get to Trevan before. “Right now, you just want to kill him out of a misplaced thirst for vengeance.”

“Misplaced-?! You Estvalians killed my-!”

“Was he the one who killed your family? Will killing him, in their name, bring them back to life? Lay them to rest?” The elder asked, shaking his head. “…Very well. If any Estvalian’s blood will do, then I gladly offer mine.”

“What?! Elder, you can’t!” Trevan shouted.

Blake stared in shock at what the old man had just offered.

“If this ends at the cost of a life, then let it be mine,” Elder Wormwood said, drumming his fingers along his walking stick. “I don’t have much life left of me anyways. Will that be satisfactory, Blake Harker of Saekoria?”

“I don’t want your life!” Blake shouted. “I want-“

His life? Because he attacked you, is that it?” The elder asked. He shook his head. “So that makes him a ‘worthy’ target for your vengeance? You said that Estvalians murdered your family, is that right?”

Blake clenched his jaw and nodded.

“The loss of loved ones breeds pain. If they are taken from you by another, that pain may turn into hate. You hate Estvalians for killing your parents… but Trevan has also experienced that pain.” Elder Wormwood glanced down at Trevan, before turning his eyes back to Blake. “This boy had his family put to death by Saekorians right before his eyes, did you know that?”

Blake didn’t reply, but in the fog of his memories that sounded like something he had heard spat out by the other boy.

“If it’s right for you to use that pain of yours to take vengeance on any and all Estvalians… why is it wrong for Trevan to take his pain, and try to take it out on you Saekorians?”

Blake couldn’t respond to that. The only answers he had to give were his pain and hatred.

“In my eyes… you both are wrong,” the elder answered his own question. “Rather than using your pain and anger to hurt the innocent… why not move past it?”

Move past his pain? But… no, he couldn’t do that! Not after he had come this far, not after everything he’d lost! He… he had to make someone hurt for this, didn’t he?!

“I will make this simple for you,” the elder declared. As weak as he looked, his voice was stronger than any Blake had ever heard. “I will not allow Trevan to die here. Killed by you in front of these children. That would only lead to more pain and hatred. So if you need blood to satisfy yourself, Blake Harker, then take mine and let this end.”

Blake clutched Soulfire tightly. Was he… was he going to do it? Kill this old man he barely knew, for… for what?

Why was he doing this? He didn’t understand why he felt this way, what was he supposed to do?

“Blake. It’s okay. You don’t have to keep fighting anymore. Just let it end.”

A soft voice like the ringing of a bell touched Blake’s ear, soothing the shadows in his heart with its gentle tone. Blake turned around in shock to see someone he had never expected to see here, of all places. How long had she been there? How long had she been watching?

“Reed…” Blake muttered numbly, his face lighting up with shame. What had he been showing to her this entire time? But Reed didn’t seem to mind. She gave him a smile and walked closer. Her eyes were tired and her clothes were ripped, and she looked rather worn-down, but her warmth remained the same.

“You’re fine, Blake,” she whispered, reaching down and placing her hand on his cheek. Her touch was as gentle as a feather. “Your dragons are fine. Everyone is fine. You don’t need to keep fighting anymore. We can go back together.”

“Reed… I…” The longer her hand rested on his face, the weaker and more tired he felt. His hands shook and his fingers slipped away from Soulfire, his arms hanging loosely at his sides. She held out her other hand to him and he took it, letting her help him to his feet.

Draping his arm around her shoulders, Reed let Blake rest against her. She took Soulfire from the ground, the blade sealing up, and handed it back to him. Then, she turned to the elder and snapped her fingers, a portal ripping open in the sky. Three unconscious bodies tumbled out of it, the other Estvalians who had ambushed them.

“These are your people,” Reed said in a solemn whisper. “I’ll return them to you.”

“…And what about us?” Elder Wormwood asked. “This place...”

Reed shook her head, giving him a thin smile. “I don’t care about that. About any of that. I just came here to help my friend. So long as you don’t turn your eyes towards them, it doesn’t matter to me.” She turned towards the portal to leave, but then stopped herself, looking back. “But one thing to remember, boy of Estval,” she said, turning her eyes towards Trevan. “If you want to keep thinking that all Saekorians are evil demons who spread pain and destruction… know that Blake and I both decided you could go.”

Blake didn’t have the strength to complain when Reed brought him through the portal and out of that painful village. For the first time, he didn’t feel sick.

He was surprised when he reached the other side. Reed hadn’t brought him to the rest area. While far from the white tree, they were still in the forest, a wide, straight path stretching out ahead of them.

“Why… why didn’t you take me back to…?” Blake glanced questioningly at her. Reed smiled back at him and adjusted her posture so he was leaning against her body a little more, using her for balance.

“Because before we return… I want to talk to you,” Reed said, beginning the walk out of the forest. Blake walked with her on his good leg, Soulfire still hot in his hands.

“…Talk?” Blake asked.

“Yes,” Reed said. Her smile was surprisingly serious, maybe even sad. “Blake… when you awoke… your eggs hatched. I know you must be aware of that.”

Blake swallowed the blood pooling in his mouth. With the battle over, the weight of his injuries were starting to bear down on him.

“Yeah,” he muttered. “I know.”

“It was one thing, to protect those eggs,” Reed murmured, reaching her hand up to stroke his shoulder. “I know why you acted the way you did. Defensive, protective, afraid that anyone could try to steal them. But now, those children… they are the first dragons to be born in over a hundred years. They’re more in danger now than ever before.”

Blake squeezed Soulfire tighter.

“When you think about those babies… how you’ll have to protect them… how does that make you feel?” Reed asked. “Are you still feeling that hate? That ruthlessness, that need for revenge?”

Blake’s voice caught in his throat and he coughed, pain surging through his ribs. “Reed, that’s…”

“I’m sure it won’t be easy. I’ve never felt… emotions as powerful as you must be feeling. Pain and hate that strong, it’s not something I can understand,” Reed admitted. “And it may be a long journey… before you can fully move past them. But those kids don’t need hatred and anger. They need love. Warmth. They’re a part of you, Blake, they’re yours. And that means you have to take care of them, and give them what they need, even if it’s hard. Even if you don’t know how at first.”

“…I know,” Blake whispered. Hearing her tell him what he already knew stung. He knew she didn’t mean to be cruel, but it still hurt to hear her rebuke him.

“Are you scared?” She asked softly, patting him gently on the back. “That’s alright, you know. This is a new life you’re starting here, as a caretaker to these children. It’s okay to be worried.”

“I… am,” Blake admitted. He wanted to say that it wouldn’t be a big deal, but Reed’s soothing voice made it impossible for him to lie. He was terrified. Taking care of the dragon eggs was frightening enough, but now they were alive. Five living, breathing dragons that he would have to watch over and protect.

He wasn’t ready for that, no one could be.

“Just remember, you’re not alone,” Reed said, her words catching him by surprise. He turned to her in disbelief.

“That’s… Reed, I don’t-“

“You were asleep, so you never saw how they fought, to protect each other, and to protect you. There are people you can rely on to share some of that burden, Blake. You don’t have to do everything yourself,” Reed assured him, her eyes shining with warmth. “Now, think about that while you rest up. We’re almost there.”

It wasn’t long before Reed emerged from the forest, Blake right at her side. At the edge of the rest area, everyone had been waiting anxiously for them to arrive. Blake tried to block out the chorus of cheering voices and the sea of relieved faces that came to greet them, but he found it impossible. He was too weak to say anything in return, overwhelmingly grateful that Reed was there to deflect all of them. She brought him through the crowd, and made way to the small pen at the edge of the rest area, where Professor Salamandra sat waiting.

And that’s when he saw them.

Elly knelt in the grass, her eyes lighting up at the sight of Blake. In her hands, she held a dragon the size of a kitten. Its body was covered in brown scales tipped with bronze, spreading out in points like a briar. Even its wings and thick tail were covered in the razor-sharp scales, and yet it sat peacefully in Elly’s arms like its hide was soft as silk. It cooed, stretching its four claws up towards the half-elf, turning its stubby muzzle in Blake’s direction, bronze eyes blinking as it yipped at him.

The next dragon was slimmer than the one Elly held, with scales colored a deep, rich crimson. As it waddled on its hind legs, Blake could see ripples of black in the crests along its spine rise up. It had two sets of leathery wings, the larger pair tipped in black claws that it used to help balance itself, while the smaller set flapped uselessly behind them for now. It peered up at Lancelus with a curious gaze in its golden eyes, its thin tail twitching behind it.

The first was large and the second was small, and the third was somewhere in the middle. The dragon had sleek black scales and crawled like a cat, wings tucked behind its body. It lacked the horns and protrusions of the other dragons; its skull, body, and long tail were smooth and shiny in the sun. Its behavior surprised Blake, because it was rubbing up against Eve Moonshadow, of all people. Bright orange eyes stared up at the blonde girl, who looked down on it with discomfort on her face.

Reed knelt down and picked one of the dragons up, and only then did Blake realize he’d been so enamored by the dragons he’d missed that he was standing on his own.

The dragon Reed petted was the color of the sky, with eyes of crystal blue; the smallest of them all, it was unique in that its white wings that were soft and feathery like a bird, and its thin tail likewise ended in a feathered tip. The gentle-featured dragon craned its slender neck to rub its smooth scales against the girl’s hand. It cooed a greeting that Reed returned, climbing up her arm with its two legs and nuzzling its face against her cheek as she giggled.

There was only one dragon left before him. A deep emerald that overshadowed the vibrant grass of Estval, the small dragon gazed up at Blake with bright golden eyes. It crawled close to him on four legs, golden speckles rolling over its scales in the sunlight. Its long neck reached out to him, displaying its green crest and golden horns proudly for him to see. It flapped its leathery wings as though trying to fly up to meet him, but it was far too young for that.

So Blake knelt down to meet it instead. No, not it, her. Soulfire dropped behind him, he took her in his hands and held her close.

“Blake,” Reed’s gentle voice whispered from beside him. He turned to her, her beautiful face beaming with encouragement. “Smile.

“Coooreor?” The green dragon cooed. He looked back at her, and she tilted her head to the side, reaching a tiny claw out to him. He felt her warmth, her love flowing through him. This new life he held in his hands, so precious and sweet. He pulled her to his chest and held her close, hugging her gently to his breast as he felt all his pain and hurt just wash away.

“Hello there, little one,” Blake whispered, smiling softly as tears rolled down his face. “Nice to finally meet you.”

Real Aire