Author's Note: It's an update! Finally, right? *ducks rotten tomatoes* Seriously, though, sorry for the long wait, hopefully I'll be able to get the next one out sooner.
Chapter Five: Facing Fears
"You know, Dave, your food isn't going to sprout legs and walk off the table. Although, with you, that's certainly a possibility."
As his mother's voice penetrated the haze that had surrounded him all morning, Dave looked up at her, his fork frozen halfway to his mouth.
"What?" he asked, and Kathleen smiled fondly at the confused expression on his face.
"You can slow down," she told him, nodding at the pancakes on the plate in front of him. "The food isn't going to disappear."
"Sorry," Dave muttered, sheepishly. "I guess I'm just nervous."
"Nervous about what?" Kathleen asked. "I thought you liked school."
"I do," Dave protested, quickly. "It's just-"
"Just what, sweetie?" Kathleen prompted, when he fell silent.
"It's my first day back at school since I found out about my magic last Friday," Dave mumbled, quietly.
"Scared?" Kathleen guessed, sympathetically.
"Terrified," Dave told her. "I mean, what if I mess up? What if I turn someone into a toad, or something?"
"I can think of a few people who might benefit from turning into toads," Kathleen muttered, startling a laugh out of her son.
"I'm serious," Dave protested, through his chuckling.
"I thought you and Balthazar had this whole issue sorted out," Kathleen reminded him. "The dragon is going to stay off your hand while you're at school, and there shouldn't be any accidents."
"Yeah," Dave said, hesitantly, "but I was reading the Incantus, last night, and it said that I'm supposed to be able to use my magic without the ring, someday. And, it's just, I don't want to screw up."
The dragon trilled, sharply, before Kathleen could say anything, breaking off from where it was flying around Tank's head, teasing the dog, to land on the table in front of Dave. Stalking across the table to crawl up his arm, the dragon clambered on top of his head, leaning down to look him in the eye. Then, with another piercing trill, the dragon leaned down far enough to bite him on the nose.
"Ow," Dave protested, reaching up and swatting irritably at the dragon.
The dragon let out a sound like a throaty chuckle and flew away, evading his hand. Dave grabbed a napkin from the middle of the table and held it over his nose. After he'd figured that the bleeding had stopped, he pulled the napkin away and glared at the pinprick spots of blood that decorated the white tissue.
"What was that for?" he demanded, glaring at the dragon.
"I think it was telling you not to worry about losing control of your magic," Kathleen told him, with a smile. "Although," she added, pointedly looking over at the dragon which had gone back to circling around Tank's head, "maybe next time you could be a little gentler about it?"
"Yeah," Dave muttered, irritably. "Now, I don't feel guilty about having to leave you in my backpack all day."
"Is that what this is about?" Kathleen asked, with a small smile. "Give me a second."
Dave watched, slightly confused, as she disappeared down the hall in the direction of her bedroom. He was about to follow her, but then he was distracted by Tank, who had managed to grab the dragon's tail between his teeth. The dragon trilled in indignation, doubling back on itself to bat its wings at Tank's nose, making the puppy growl, even though he stubbornly refused to let go.
"Tank, knock it off," Dave snapped, moving forward to separate the squabbling pair. "You, too," he scolded the dragon, catching it with his free hand and managing to work its tail out of Tank's grip. "And, to think, Balthazar said that you weren't going to be any trouble."
The dragon ignored him to scramble out of his hand and up on his shoulder, shrieking insults at Tank from his perch. Tank leapt into the air, trying to reach the dragon, and he slammed clumsily into Dave's legs, making him stagger backward from the impact.
"Tank, lay down," Kathleen barked out, sharply, snapping her fingers and making the puppy drop to the floor. "And, you, stop that noise," she added, to the dragon. "We don't need the neighbors complaining."
When the dragon fell silent, Dave looked at his mother in surprise.
"Wow," he remarked. "I didn't think it was going to listen to anyone."
"You just have to know how to talk to it," Kathleen told him. "Oh, here."
She held out her hand, and Dave automatically caught the chain that she dropped into his hand. Holding it up for closer inspection, he saw that what looked like a simple chain was actually a trio of braided strands of metal, twisted to form a rope.
"What's this for?" Dave asked, curiously.
"Put it on," Kathleen encouraged him, instead of answering.
Dave fastened the chain around his neck, and then he laughed when the dragon scrambled down his arm to wrap its tail around the chain. Tucking its wings tight against its sides, the dragon hung motionless from the end of the chain, its amber eyes reflecting the sunlight that came through the windows.
"This way," Kathleen told him, as she reached out to adjust the necklace where it lay on his chest, "you'll be able to keep an eye on the dragon, all day."
"Thanks," Dave said, brushing a finger lightly over the dragon's smooth scales.
"Have a good day at school," Kathleen told him, then her eyes widened when she glanced over his shoulder at the clock on the wall. "Pick up the pace, kiddo, or you're going to be late for school."
Grumbling under his breath, Dave ran into the front room and grabbed his shoes from where they were sitting beside the door, hopping as he shoved his feet inside. He snagged his jacket out of midair as his mother tossed it to him, shrugging into the coat and slinging his backpack over his shoulders. Then, after giving his mother a quick hug, he ran out the door.
Bypassing the elevator for the stairs, he jogged the five flights down, sprinting through the lobby and out to the sidewalk. Then, he groaned, his shoulders slumping, as he stepped outside just in time to see the bus disappearing in a cloud of dust.
Dave huffed a sigh, trying to consider his options. Walking was out of the question; same with catching the subway. If he tried either of those options on his own, his mother would certainly kill him, if some creepy stranger didn't. He could go back upstairs and tell his mom about missing the bus. But, they didn't have a car of their own, so if he went upstairs, his mom would have to either walk with him to school, or take him there on the subway, which would make her late for work. And he knew that they couldn't afford that.
"I don't suppose you know some sort of spell that I can use to just teleport myself to school?" he asked, the dragon, ruefully.
To his surprise, the dragon let out a sharp, trilling whistle before falling silent, again.
"What the heck was that?" Dave asked, incredulously.
He'd just turned back toward the apartment building, resigned to going inside and giving his mom the bad news, when he heard the sound of a horn honking behind him. He turned, a huge smile spreading across his face when he saw Balthazar's car parked in front of his building.
"You're not just going to stand there all day, are you?" Balthazar called out, as the passenger side window rolled down. "Come on, get in."
"How'd you even know I needed your help?" Dave asked, as he climbed into the car and put his backpack in the back seat.
"Sorcerer, remember?" Balthazar teased him. "The dragon called me."
"You got here really quickly," Dave remarked.
Balthazar just gave him an enigmatic smile, and Dave had the feeling that he wasn't going to be getting the answer to that puzzle any time soon.
They drove to school with Balthazar's usual disregard for traffic laws, or the laws of physics, for that matter, and Dave white-knuckled it the entire way there. They arrived at his school right as his bus was pulling in, and Dave shot the older sorcerer a disbelieving look.
"Remind me to never take driving lessons from you," he said, pointedly, as he reached back to grab his backpack.
"You're going to have to be a lot older before I let you drive this car," Balthazar retorted, dryly. "Both of you, behave," he added, looking at both Dave and the dragon. "I don't want to have to hear that you burned the school down."
"I'm not going to burn the school down," Dave scoffed, and then he shot Balthazar a worried look. "I can't burn the school down, right? I mean, I don't have that kind of power."
"Just be careful," was all Balthazar told him.
Only slightly mollified, Dave climbed out of the car, but he stopped when Balthazar called out to him.
"What time do you get out of school?" Balthazar asked.
"About three, why?" Dave asked.
"I'll meet you, here, when you get out of class," Balthazar told him. "I think it's time to start your practical lessons."
"You mean I get to use magic?" Dave asked, excitedly, breaking out into a huge grin when Balthazar nodded.
"Have a good day," the older man wished him, and then he drove off, leaving Dave standing alone on the sidewalk.
Dave sighed, turning around and looking at the brick building that hadn't looked nearly so imposing last Friday. But, then, he hadn't had the ability to light things on fire just by looking at them the wrong way, then. He knew he shouldn't be scared, not with the dragon looking out for him, but the thought of making a mistake practically paralyzed him with fear.
For just a second, he contemplated skipping school and just finding someplace isolated to hang out until three. But, he just as quickly dismissed the idea. Both his mother and Balthazar would probably kill him for it.
"I might as well just go inside, right?" he muttered, and the dragon surprised him by hooking its talons into the front of his shirt and climbing up until it could nuzzle his cheek.
"You're right," he said, with a sigh. "I can't duck my fears, forever."
The dragon trilled softly in agreement, making him laugh. Then, he heaved a heavy sigh, looking toward the school building, again.
"Here goes nothing," he declared, and then he joined the crush of kids moving toward the entrance.