With her brother’s departure behind her, Elly was happy to play with the dragons. The cute creatures and the soothing atmosphere made helped her relax, which was definitely necessary after the tension that she’d just seen.
Elly didn’t like that things were so hostile between her brother and Blake. She was still getting to know both of them, but from what she’d seen so far she knew that they were both decent guys. If only they could get along, things would be so much better. Lance was clearly making an effort, but Blake, well… Blake was clearly the kind of guy who held a grudge.
It made her feel a little happy that he was holding a grudge for her sake, but she really wanted them to get along.
“Come on, Blake, don’t be such a sourpuss!” Reed was still pestering Blake about going to the capital. She pressed her fingers to the sides of her lips, and pushed them up into a smile. “What have we been working on, remember? S-m-i-l-e!”
Blake clearly wasn’t in the mood for smiling.
Elly herself was feeling similarly about the invitation, but for different reasons. It wasn’t that she was bothered by the fact that she hadn’t gotten acknowledgment for her help with the Estval situation (although it did sting) but more that it made her realize something about her own break plans.
After all, even if she didn’t have an audience with the king, she would still be finding herself on the sky train back to Stormstar, and the royal palace that she’d grown up in. Her home.
Suddenly, she could feel the old Elly start to tug at the corners of her mind.
“Everything okay, Elly?”
Elly blinked, returning back to the present. Reed’s face was right in front of her, and those color-streaked grey eyes of hers were looking into Elly’s like she could read her thoughts if she stared hard enough. Elly stepped back, a little unnerved by her friend.
“Yeah, just a little worried,” Elly said. “Well, I mean, no! Not worried! I’m not worried at all, hah!” She laughed, flashing a smile.
“Elly, just because you’ve grown more confident, that doesn’t mean you can’t be worried,” Reed laughed, patting Elly on the head. “You don’t need to put up a tough face all the time, you know! Like I told you before, even I have moments of doubt myself!”
Elly sighed, deflating a little. “Am I really that easy to read?”
Reed let out another laugh. “Let’s just say I have a knack for recognizing when someone’s hiding their feelings. But don’t worry! Like I said, it’s normal. So, what’s up?”
Elly felt a little relieved knowing that it wasn’t wrong for her to be nervous about going back home. She glanced at Professor Salamandra warily, and the woman took the hint.
“Right, a professor shouldn’t be eavesdropping on her students,” the professor smiled, excusing herself.
Elly turned back to Reed and Blake, and walked over to one of the logs on the ground. She sat down, and as she did the brown dragon crawled up beside her. She absentmindedly ran her fingers against his scales, the spines tickling her palm as she explained her worries.
“Blake, I get why you don’t want to follow the king’s summons,” Elly said. “I have… my own worries, too. But if it’s for my sake-“
“It’s not about that,” Blake said, shaking his head. “It’s not that I like how you’re being treated, Elly, but even I’m not hard-headed enough to turn down a summons from the king just because of that.”
“I beg to differ~” Reed chirped. Blake shot her a look. Elly giggled, she liked how Reed was able to get under Blake’s skin like that.
“Then what’s the problem?” Elly asked. She was being a little more direct than she was used to, especially considering how private Blake usually was, but she couldn’t help her curiosity.
“It’s the dragons,” he said, glancing down at the small dragon in his hands. “They just hatched. It’s my job to keep them safe. And they’re going to be a lot safer on my uncle’s farm for the next few weeks than they would be wandering around the royal palace,” he explained.
Elly nodded. He raised a pretty good point. “Well, I’m sorry to hear that we won’t be spending the break together,” she offered.
Blake raised his eyebrow. “Really? I can’t imagine I’m very good company.”
He wasn’t wrong, but then Elly wasn’t very good company either. “It’s okay,” she shrugged. “I’m… not a very talkative person myself, so it’s not a big deal. And even if we aren’t really friends, I guess…” Ugh, why couldn’t she say it? Elly should be able to say something that simple.
“I guess it would be a little comforting if there was someone else I knew staying at the palace, you know?” Elly explained. “You know, if you want.”
Blake gave her an odd look that she didn’t quite understand. It seemed like a pretty reasonable question?
A high whistle pierced the air, from Reed’s lips. She gave a coy smile.
“Wow, Elly, I knew you were working on your confidence, but I never expected you to be so bold!” Reed laughed. “Inviting a boy you barely know on a romantic trip to the capital? To stay in your home and keep you company? My, my!”
Blake’s cheek’s flushed and a scowl stretched across his face as he glared daggers at Reed. Elly realized what she was insinuating, and her blood went cold. OH, NO. That was NOT what she had meant to say!
“No, no, no!” Elly said, shaking her head frantically. “No, I didn’t mean-! No, Blake, I swear, I am NOT thinking that way, I swear! I’m not that kind of girl, I wouldn’t think-! I only meant as, like, a friend, you know? Well, I mean, we’re not friends, but we could be, I mean, if you want to, but, like, if you don’t, I totally understand, I really just meant that I could use the company!”
Babbling, she was babbling. Elly hated babbling but her stupid mouth just wasn’t listening to her!
“Look, it’s fine, I don’t care about stuff like that,” Blake assured her, which finally made Elly shut her mouth. She let out a sigh of relief. That was good, the last thing she wanted was for Blake to think that she had feelings for him. Things between them were awkward enough already.
“And besides, Elly, even if grumpy old Blake doesn’t want to go to the royal palace, you can bet I’m gonna be there!” Reed dropped down next to Elly and wrapped her arm around Elly’s shoulder, rubbing her cheek up against hers. “It’ll be great, we can hang out as long as you want, talking about dragons, seeing the sites, enjoying the festival…”
The two girls stared up at Blake, and Blake rolled his eyes at them.
Elly smiled. Spending time with Reed was a wonderful idea, but the other girl was definitely a lot to handle. Still, she found herself dreading the return home a little less now that Reed was here. And like Reed said, they might even go to the Unification Festival for the first time in years.
“Oh! The festival!” Elly gasped. “I almost forgot!”
Reed laughed. “Wow, really? I can’t believe you would forget!”
“Wait, what’s this about a festival?” Blake asked, confused.
“You mean you don’t know?” Reed asked raising her eyebrow. Her smile fell away to reveal a look of shock. “You. Blake Harker.”
“What? I grew up on a farm!” Blake protested. “I didn’t… I don’t know what sort of crazy events happen in the capital!”
“But… you do know about Unification Day, right?” Elly asked. She knew that it was a stupid question since even babies knew about Unification Day, but with Blake she just couldn’t be sure.
“Yeah, I know about Unification Day,” Blake said, rolling his eyes. “We learned about it this term, remember? It’s the day that every nation in the sky united under Saekoria, we celebrate it every winter. And yes, even on my uncle’s little dingy farm.”
Reed blinked. She turned to Elly wearing a look of amazement that seemed a little too real. “So! He does study, after all!”
Elly joined Reed in another giggle.
“Leave me alone,” Blake griped. He sat down on a rock across from the two of them. “So fine, what’s this Unification Festival about, anyway?”
“It’s… well…” Elly fumbled for words to describe the Unification Festival, but it had been so long since the last time she’d had the courage to go she couldn’t think of anything. All her memories were of watching it from the distance of her bedroom window. She cleared her throat. Just the basics, then. “So, every year, on the night before Unification Day, the capital of Stormstar holds a special festival,” Elly explained. “It starts at dusk, and goes all the way until the dawn of Unification Day. And, well, people celebrate, like, the history of Saekoria, and I guess, um… there’s shows, and stands, and a lot of food, and… well, I mean, it’s fun, you know? …Yeah, fun. There’s a lot of stuff to do, sights to see, and it’s really… fun.”
She shifted uncomfortably on the log as Blake stared at her with a blank expression on his face.
“Wow, it’s like I’m there,” he said, his voice oozing with sarcasm.
“Let me, Elly, I go every year,” Reed said, stepping in to save Elly. “So get this! They call it the Unification Festival? But it’s really waaaaay cooler than that! Really, another way to think of it is that it’s a Harker Festival!”
That caught Blake’s attention. He sat up a little taller on his rock, his eyes focused now. Elly mentally slapped herself, why didn’t she think of that?
“See, the thing about Unification Day, is that’s it about more than just celebrating the royal family or Roland the Unifier,” Reed explained. “Without Marlowe Harker and Maeven the Silverflame, Unification Day would have never happened, right? See, cause back then-“
“Yes, yes, I know all about that, you can spare me the history lesson,” Blake said, raising his hand to shush her. Elly pouted, she loved a good story. But Blake did have a point, if they didn’t cut Reed of now she’d be going on for another few hours.
Reed made a huffy sound but skipped ahead. “So, not long after Unification Day first started getting celebrated, Stormstar began holding the Unification Day festival, where people from all across the sky could come and celebrate together. Of course, when the nations separated during the Great Divide, it sort of lost that draw, and became more about celebrating the royal family and Saekoria instead.”
Blake nodded in agreement, “yeah, my uncle always said that Unification Day was about paying respects to the sacrifices of our ancestors and to give thanks to the king for protecting us.”
“Definitely, right?” Reed nodded. “But then there was a movement a few years back, after House Harker… well… you know.”
Elly glanced at Blake worriedly. Reed had avoided actually saying it was after House Harker had been destroyed, but Blake clearly could understand her meaning. He shadow crossed his face for a moment and then he regained his calm expression.
Reed cleared her throat and continued. “After the dragons went extinct there was a big movement in the capital to make Unification Day into a celebration of how much they had done,” she explained. “Those majestic beasts whose strength united the sky, they were all gone now. And the people wanted something to remember them by. So Unification Day became a celebration of the dragons as well as the royal family. And when House Harker fell… the festival sorta became all about them. A memorial, you know?”
That hard look returned, and Elly wondered if Blake was okay. She saw him lock his jaw, pulling the green dragon closer to his chest.
“There’s a lot of stuff they do to celebrate House Harker!” Reed’s voice raised higher in excitement, like she was trying to pull Blake out of his bad mood. “They have foods from the region, traditional garb and decorations, and best of all, actual, TRADITIONAL dragon dancing! Oh, you would just LOVE the dragon dancing! Oh, Blake, you just have to go! You have to! It’s all about House Harker, it’s your… well, not your legacy, but it’s your culture! You were raised on a farm since you were a kid, don’t you want to see some of those traditions with your own eyes?”
Blake was nodding, and the thinnest of smiles touched his lips. Elly wondered if maybe, just maybe, Reed’s argument was convincing him to go after all.
Elly was getting a little excited herself now. She’d never seen the dragon dancers up close before, but she’d always heard about how amazing they were. Using fans lit with flame to symbolize the wings of a dragon, it was a gorgeous display of elegance and danger as the women would dance with the fire burning around them like dragon dancers of old.
Things were turning around. Maybe this year, Elly would get a chance to see them herself.
“And that’s not even the best part!” Reed said, standing up and setting down her baby dragon so she could grab Blake by the hands. “Guess who’s going to be part of the performance this year?”
She gave him a wink. Elly gasped in astonishment.
“You?! You’re a-“
“I’ve trained for three years now,” Reed said, straightening up and holding her hand proudly over her chest. “They certified me to perform for the festival this year, and- OH! I can show you, if you like!” She reached up and began hastily unbuttoning her jacket. She flung it aside and rolled up her sleeves, bearing her arms to the two of them.
Elly was stunned. An intricate black pattern traced its way down Reed’s arms, stopping about halfway to her elbow. “Are… are those… real?”
“Yep!” Reed chirped. She patted her shoulder. “They go all the way to my back! A lot of the girls just get theirs done with temporary ink, but…” she let out a sigh, “…what can I say? They’re just gorgeous! If you want to see the rest-“
“No, no, that’s quite enough,” Blake said, averting his eyes and holding his hand up to stop her. Just in time, too, Reed had started working on the buttons of her shirt next.
“Reed, um… maybe don’t…” Elly suggested, a little flustered herself.
Reed had a confused look on her face, like she didn’t get what the big deal was. Then she must have figured it out because her eyes lit up wide and she gasped, her face flushing a little. “Ehehe…” Reed laughed, sheepishly scratching her head. “Guess I wasn’t thinking! Tooootally forgot!”
She smirked. “But I wouldn’t have thought our cool and stoic Lord Harker to be so flustered by the thought of seeing a girl’s body.”
Blake finally looked back at her to level a glare in her direction. Reed shrugged, still smiling, and picked her coat off the ground, lazily flinging it over her shoulder as she sat back. She didn’t seem to be particularly bothered by what just happened, it felt like Elly was the more flustered and embarrassed out of the two.
“Well, think of that as some incentive then,” Reed laughed, giving Blake a wink. “If you want to see the whole thing, I guess you’ll just have to come to the festival yourself, whattya say?”
“Please, like anyone would want to see that,” Blake replied. Elly gasped, surprised he could say something so rude to his friend. Reed may be a rather laid-back person with her smiling face and cool attitude, but she still had feelings! Elly knew that if Blake had said something like that about her, it would have hurt!
…He wouldn’t have been WRONG to say it, but it still probably would have hurt. But Reed, well… there were a lot more things than just magical skill Elly envied about her friend.
“Ah, that’s my Blake, always knows how to make a girl feel special,” Reed laughed. “Why am I not surprised you still have zero friends?”
Ouch. Reed could clearly give it back as good as she got it. Elly winced in sympathy for Blake, that had been a pretty low blow.
Elly was grateful that Blake let things end there, before they got even more tense. She’d come here to relax with her friend and some cute dragons, not watch the two of them trade barbs.
Finally, Blake ended the awkward silence with a long sigh.
“Look,” he said, his shoulders drooping. “I’ll… I’ll consider it, okay?”
Reed’s face lit up and she opened her mouth, about to say something, when Blake quickly cut her off. “And no, not because I want to see your tattoos, don’t be weird.” She closed her mouth into a smirk, and wiggled her eyebrows.
Blake responded by turning his attention to Elly, which she found surprising. Blake had barely even acknowledged she was there.
“It’s not the summons from the king, either,” he clarified. “It’s… my family.” His expression turned solemn and he looked down at the dragon in his hands. “When I think about House Harker and my family… I can’t help but think about how little I really know. Everything, it’s all… stuff I read in books, or really, really old memories from when I was a kid. The dragons and Soulfire, they’re my House’s heritage, and yet…”
He let out another sigh.
“I don’t know the first thing about them. I’m not sure if I can explain it properly, but I feel like if I go to this festival, well, maybe it’ll be a chance to get a good look at what my family celebrated, you know? I don’t…” His voice broke, and Elly thought she could see tears in his eyes. A few blinks, and they were gone. “I don’t even remember what my mom did to celebrate Unification Day, you know? So I guess… I guess it’s something I want to see for myself. I don’t know if that makes any sense, but…”
“I think it makes PERFECT sense!” Reed exclaimed, leaping up and throwing her arms around Blake in a big hug that startled him. He let the green dragon slip down onto his lap to try and push the clingy girl off.
Elly found herself nodding in agreement. She thought it made perfect sense herself. “I-I agree with Reed, I think that’s a lovely thought.”
Blake looked her way, his eyes wide with surprise.
“What, really?” He asked. He must not have been expecting his little speech to speak to them as much as it did.
“Yeah, really,” Elly said, nodding. She smiled shyly. “See, I mean… you know that I’m, well… half elf?” She pointed up at her ears. “And, like, I’ve read about elves before, in books and stuff, but I don’t really know any, you know? Except, well, my mom, and Nurse Leilandry. But… it’s part of my culture, you know? So like, I get how you feel. It’s like there’s a part of me that’s just… missing. So if there was some sort of elf festival, I would definitely want to go.”
“Yaaaay!” Reed cheered, standing up. “So it’s decided!”
She took Blake’s hand in hers, and grabbed Elly’s hand as well, raising them both into the air. “All three of us are going to spend Unification Break together! With the dragons! This is going to be the best break ever!”
Blake and Elly shared a look of mutual wariness, mixed with a bit of bemusement. Elly was probably a little bit more on the wariness side of things, though. Six weeks in Stormstar with Blake and Reed? It could be either a really fun break, or an absolute mess.
Elly was normally one to lean toward the “mess” end, but this time she was holding out hope for “fun”.