The Heir of the Dragon
The sun shining on the horizon made Elly’s heart race. She forced down the anxiety that threatened to burst out and swallow her whole.
Today was the day she would leave behind the life that she despised. She wouldn’t have to put up with the cold, loathsome gazes of outsiders, or the lack of attention from the stranger she couldn’t call father. She’d escape from pain in her mother’s eyes whenever she would smile and tell her that it was all okay, that she didn’t have to worry.
Elly had spent her 15 years of life keeping her head down and her face hidden, trying not to draw attention to herself. Normally, attending the Rem Magic Academy, the most prestigious school of magic in Saekoria, was something to hold her head up about, something to be proud of. Those were things that she had never felt comfortable doing.
She stood on the edge of the island and looked out at the sky below her in anticipation of the coming train. Even in the center of a crowd of like-minded students she still felt as alone as always. She looked around cautiously, peeking out from behind her brown bangs as she searched the crowd of people for a familiar face…
…To hide from it.
Elly wasn’t eager to see any of her soon-to-be peers. And they certainly wouldn’t want to see her. And that worked out nicely for everybody. If she had her way, she would be alone in the library right now, enjoying some of her mother’s tea, curled up with a history book of maybe one of those stories about faeries and their tricks, or if she was feeling particularly brave, maybe even one of those dragon thrillers that always sent a shiver down her spine!
Who was she fooling? She was no mage. She didn’t have any skill with magic, her one trick was next to useless. She never would have dreamed of it if not for her father. He never said more than three words to her, but he’d sent for her. Elly was shocked when said he would be sending her off to the academy. If she so desired, of course.
She hadn’t desired. But that look on her mother’s face, that smile of hers…
Elly couldn’t bring herself to turn the offer down after seeing that.
So now, here she was- trapped on a platform with the other students leaving from Stormstar, the capital city of Saekoria, headed towards an uncertain future with an ache in her breast and a shiver down her spine. She shifted her weight from one leg to the other, anxiously awaiting… what, exactly? She didn’t know what to hope, or expect, all she knew was-
She heard a shrill whistle from above and raised her head towards the sky. What a sight! The train slithered through the clouds like a snake, flying majestically towards the island. The lacquered black boxes of the cars were traced in gold, with large feathered wings holding them aloft. Their powerful flaps propelled it forwards, bring the mighty thing to bear upon them.
“It’s here!” Someone cried from the crowd.
“It’s so amazing!”
Elly gulped. It really was amazing. She had seen the sky trains from her window many times, but she had never seen one this close. The size of those wings! They were enormous, far larger than any bird. They would have to be to carry such heavy-looking cars, no matter how much magic they used.
The train made its turn to pull into the station, spewing steam like a hose. Another flap sent a gust of wind up through the crowd, nearly blowing over the students who had crossed platform line for a closer look. Elly was buffeted and nearly lost her cloak. She held on, pulling it further over her face to avoid being seen. Her other hand clutched her bag tightly, afraid of making a fool of herself in front of everyone. They would point and laugh at her, and that would be how she started her first year at her new school, labeled as the clumsy girl who had caused a ruckus on the platform like she had never seen a train up close before. Which she hadn’t.
Although, she bitterly reminded herself, that would still be better than being-
The sharp whistle cut off her darkening thoughts. The train landed on the platform with a loud “thud” and its wings tucked in. The doors slid open with a hiss.
This is it, Elly told herself, swallowing her unease as she watched the steps unroll. I’m really going…
She wasn’t ready. She wouldn’t be ready in another five years, or ten, or fifteen. She didn’t want to go. She looked over her shoulder, hoping against hope to catch a look at her mother’s face, to see something, anything, that would tell her it was alright to stay. A look of worry for Elly’s safety, a tinge of fear, even a tear in the eye, any hint of reassurance that she didn’t have to go.
But of course she didn’t see anything. Her mother wasn’t even there to see her off. She’d had to work, leaving Elly to walk to the station all by herself.
No, mom is just working hard for my sake! She would be here if she could! But she can’t!
It tore her up inside, seeing the other students saying goodbye to their families. Most of the children from Stormstar going to the academy were nobles from the capital. Of course those parents could take the time for a proper sendoff. But a lowly maid’s bastard wouldn’t be so lucky.
Elly knew she couldn’t blame her mother for her absence. But it still cut a hole in her heart.
She handed her luggage off to the porter and climbed aboard.
With the other kids busy with their goodbyes, Elly hoped to go unnoticed. There were quite a few students on the train already. Some were around her age; many others were older than her. But they all seemed to be enjoying themselves more than she was. As she scanned the aisles cautiously, she tried to make herself seem as small and unnoticeable as ever.
“You’re going to love the academy, I’m certain of it!” Her mother’s voice echoed. “You’ll be able to meet so many people from all through the sky; I’m sure a sweet girl like you will make many friends!”
Friends? That was a laugh. Elly would be happy to get through her first term without making any enemies. She’d been an outcast her entire life, why would school be any better? From what she’d read, teenagers were cruel to those who were different. And it was hard to be more different than her.
But she kept imagining her mother’s sad face when she’d return home for the winter, telling her that she hadn’t made any friends. Her mother had been so hopeful, she… she could at least try to make some friends, right?
She glanced to her left and spotted a group of girls in a compartment. There were four seats inside, and three of them were filled. The empty spot was beside a particularly gorgeous girl with flawless skin flushed with life and the reddest hair that Elly had ever seen, cascading down her back like a stream of ruby silk.
The two girl seated across from her were a cold-looking girl with dark colored hair and a tanned blonde with shiny blue eyes. They all wore the same uniform as Elly did, and since their blouses and black skirts were so shiny and new she guessed they were first years too.
Elly opened her mouth to ask “is this seat taken” but before she could say a word she caught the redhead’s eyes.
People always showed what they felt in their eyes. It was all in how they looked at you. That was something Elly had learned since she was a little girl. When people saw her, she could see the repudiations, the mockery, and the disgust. It was how she avoided the worst of the bullies. And right now, those piecing green eyes were narrowed into a glare that seemed to say “don’t even think about it.”
Elly shut her mouth and lowered her head, turning red in shame. She had almost made an enormous fool out of herself! Too embarrassed to remain any longer, she quickly shuffled past the compartments and towards the next car. She wasn’t fast enough to avoid catching the words uttered behind her.
“Ugh, can you believe that? That little mouse of a girl thought she could actually sit with us?” Elly didn’t see who that haughty, harsh voice belonged to, but she imagined it was the redhead.
“I know, right? That’s the huge bummer about not having a private room. Like, Sabine, what’s with that?” Another voice, the blonde?
“Daddy said that he wanted me to mingle with the other nobles, and so he only rented a compartment. That’s certainly better than someone like me slumming in the aisle seats, but even so, a compartment? The Scarlet name would be smeared if I was caught chatting it up with a girl like that.”
Elly’s face only grew hotter. She picked up her pace, desperate to get out of earshot from those cruel girls.
She was so focused on beating a quick escape that she didn’t see where she was going, and bumped into what felt like a wall. But no, was just a boy. She looked up at him, preparing a frantic apology, when her blood went cold.
“Well, look who it is.”
Elly gulped. Rafe!
Rafe Erikson wasn’t the worst bully to tease her. But as a Malkin he always seemed like he was trying to “prove himself” to his human friends by being particularly cruel. Even now the look in those shiny gold eyes was like that of a wolf who’d finally cornered a lone sheep. His ears twitched above his head and his tail began swishing back and forth with excitement.
“Hey, you were looking for Elly, right?” Rafe called past her. “Well she just ran into me a second ago, want me to bring her over?”
No, no, no, not now, she didn’t want to see him now! Not so soon! Those girls were awful, but if she had to spend this trip in their company, that would be even worse! With a burst of energy that surprised her, Elly jumped to her feet and pushed past Rafe. The Malkin boy stumbled back, thrown off of his balance by the surprising move.
Elly ran into the next car. Her heart danced wildly as she passed row after row of shocked and confused students. Elly barely saw them fly by, only focused on getting as far away as possible. She knew it was pointless to try running away on a train, she couldn’t stop her feet from moving as she headed on to the next car, looking for whatever way she could avoid-
A door! She didn’t know where it went or why it was open, but it was the first thing to catch her eye. She turned on her heel and dove inside, slamming it shut behind her. She slumped back and slid to the floor, exhausted.
As Elly calmed down she took stock of her surroundings. She had ducked into one of the private rooms reserved by those who could afford a little extra for the luxury, and to her embarrassment she was NOT alone. Sitting on the bed was a boy about her age. As usual, the first thing she noticed were the eyes. He had the most intense dark chocolate eyes she had ever seen, staring at her with a wide-eyed gleam that was one part curiosity and one part incredulity. The way he looked at her made her shiver, and for a moment she wondered if she’d made a huge mistake.
“I-I’m sorry!” She blurted out. “I didn’t, I mean… I know this is your room, but…”
She heard voices outside flinched, staring warily at the door. Rising on shaky legs she approached the boy so she could whisper.
As she got closer, she could get a better look at him. His hair was soft and fluffy, nearly as curly as hers, and a touch darker, like the color of fallen leaves. His face was stern, but he didn’t seem mean…
She felt uneasy, but staying here was better than going outside.
“I’m sorry… people are, um… looking for me,” she muttered out an explanation. “I’m… I’m trying to hide from them. Do you mind if I stay hidden here? I mean, I know it’s asking a lot, but it’s just… I mean…”
“Name.” The sharpness in his voice made her jump.
“My uncle taught me that when you ask a stranger for a favor, it’s common courtesy to give your name first,” he calmly explained. “That way we won’t be strangers anymore.”
“Oh! Um, my name is Elly!” Technically it was her nickname, not her full name, but if she gave her full name it could expose her heritage to the boy, and even if he was doing her a favor she wasn’t about to share that with a stranger.
“Just Elly?” The boy asked, raising an eyebrow. His lips pinched tightly together into a stern look that made her shiver. While his tone didn’t sound so strict, she couldn’t get a good read on him. Was he joking? Or serious? The couldn’t tell.
“Just Elly,” she confirmed with a nod.
“That’s something we have in common then,” he murmured. “I’m Blake. Just Blake. No last names or anything either.”
Phew. So he wasn’t the prying sort. That was a relief.
“Well, um, since we aren’t strangers anymore, do you think I could, um-“
A knock sent her jumping again. She stared shakily at the door, praying it wasn’t them, wasn’t him. But a sinking feeling told her otherwise.
Blake walked past her, startling her for a second. She was going to ask him for his help, but before she could get the words out his hand clamped over her mouth. She panicked and struggled for a moment, surprised at how strong his grip was.
As the knocking grew louder and more insistent, Blake held a finger up to his lips. She nodded.
“Bed,” he whispered. Elly ducked under the bed and pulled the blanket over her head for added cover. She made herself as small as possible and watched Blake through a gap in the sheet. Because of how tight the quarters were in the compartment, she was a lot closer to the door than she wanted to be.
Blake opened the door, exposing the room to the people outside. Elly curled up a little more, hoping that if she got small enough she could just blink out of existence.
“Hello there,” Rafe’s gruff voice echoed through the room. From her hiding place she could see and hear everything that was going on, and she hoped that didn’t mean they could see her, too.
“Can I help you?” Blake coldly asked. Elly couldn’t see his face, but she hoped he was glaring with those intense eyes of his.
“We’re looking for a girl.” The new voice belonged to Est. Shorter than Rafe but just as menacing, with blonde hair and stern golden eyes.
“Any girl in particular, or are you just feeling lonely and pent up?”
Elly had to stifle a shocked giggle at the absurd response. Est sized up the other boy, and whispered so softly Elly could barely hear it over the rustling of the train.
“Why don’t you say that again?”
The third voice was the one that made Elly wince. Not Rafe, not Est, those two were just jerks. But the third boy was who Elly was really worried about. Rafe and Est stepped aside to let the other boy confront Blake directly.
Lancelus. He was sterner than Est, and more aggressive than Rafe. He glared coldly at Blake with deep blue eyes flecked with gold, the same electric eyes that Elly hid behind her bangs. His hair was the color of midnight and touched his collar, parted in the center to frame a face whose handsomeness was frozen in an icy calm.
“The girl we’re looking for-“
“It’s a common courtesy where I’m from,” Blake interrupted, “to give ones name before asking favors of a stranger.”
Rafe turned purple and he stepped forward, grabbing Blake by the collar.
“Who do you think you’re-?!”
“Rafe!” Lancelus snapped, shooting Rafe a withering look that made the other boy’s ears droop. He let Blake go and stepped back like the dejected mutt he was. With that matter settled, Lancelus returned his attention to Blake.
“You’re correct. In my position it is important not to seem… discourteous. I apologize for my friend’s actions.” He extended his hand. “My name is Lancelus vi Eldaria IV, son of King Richorr vi Eldaria II, Second Prince of Saekoria.”
Blake didn’t take his hand. After a moment’s pause, Lancelus withdrew the offer.
“When a prince addresses you-“
“It’s fine, Est,” Lancelus assured the other boy. His eyes never left Blake’s. “Now, I’ve told you my name. Will you tell me yours?”
“Is that a command, ‘my prince’?” Blake asked, the sneer in his voice making Elly wince.
Lancelus’s lips turned up slightly, but the flash of his eyes said he was anything but pleased.
“The girl we’re looking for, her name is Elly,” Lancelus returned to the original subject. His eyes scanned the room, and when they landed on her she stopped breathing. “She’s a pale girl, on the shorter side, a little shy, with brown hair. Rafe over there saw her come this way, so we just wanted to check the rooms to make sure she wasn’t bothering anyone.”
“So your girlfriend ran away? Ever thought maybe she’s just not into you?”
The prince’s smile froze on his face, and the look in his eye made Elly freeze too. Why was Blake provoking him?! Lancelus was a prince, didn’t he get that?! That was why Elly had run in the first place! If he made an enemy of the second prince, that was only going to make things worse for himself! For both of them!
“You’re a funny guy,” Lancelus chuckled. “Any other jokes you have to tell?”
“…Nope, can’t think of any,” Blake said, shaking his head after a pause. “Are we done here?”
“…You still haven’t answered my question. Is Elly here?”
“Never met an Elly before,” Blake replied. “And a little advice, girls don’t like the clingy type.”
“That right?” Lancelus asked, taking a step closer to Blake. Blake stood a little taller in response. “Because my friend Rafe, he says he can smell Elly’s scent coming out of your room. So I’m going to ask you again. Is. Elly. Here?”
Elly sunk into the floor. It was over. Rafe’s dumb dog nose had found her out.
Much to Elly’s surprise, Blake didn’t back down. “And I’m going to tell you again, I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
All traces of affability drained from the prince’s face and he glared at Blake, the tension in the room as thick as fog. Elly prayed that he would just go, or that Blake would back down, something, anything to make this unbearable pressure in her chest stop. She was so tempted just to throw the blanket off of herself and surrender if it would keep Blake from getting dragged into a fight. She didn’t want to be responsible for getting him involved in her mess.
But she was too scared.
“I don’t know who you are, or who you think you are.” Lancelus’s voice held a threatening tinge. “But if you know what’s good for you, then I’d suggest you stay away from Elly, do I make myself clear?”
“My name is Blake, my prince,” Blake replied with a tone just as cold and threatening as the other boy’s, “and if you don’t know who I am, then I would suggest you tread lightly. A prince should know better than to make enemies of strangers.”
He let the words hang ominously in the air. Elly looked helplessly between them, wishing it would just end. This wasn’t how she wanted her first day of school to start.
“Lance, are you really going to take that from this guy?” Rafe demanded angrily.
“It’s fine, Rafe,” Lancelus said, staring past Blake into the room. She didn’t know if he could see her, but she could feel the pressure of his eyes. “Elly? If you want to come with us, now’s the time.”
Elly didn’t respond. She couldn’t. She didn’t know Blake all that well, and honestly she was a little of scared of him. But she knew she would still feel more comfortable here than she would if she spent the trip with the prince and his crowd. She’d had to put up with him her whole life, and she finally had her chance at freedom.
Blake looked back at her. Those eyes were warm, not cold like the prince’s. Yeah, much better.
“Looks like she isn’t interested,” Blake said, turning back to Lancelus. “Assuming, of course, that she’s actually here.”
Lancelus scowled, but didn’t press the issue any further.
“We’ll leave you to yourself then,” he replied. “Tell her I’d like to speak with her when we get to school.”
“Yeah, I’ll do that,” Blake nodded, his tone that assuring Elly he would do no such thing. Lancelus and his friends turned and walked away, and Elly let out the breath she’d been holding for who knows how long. He was finally gone.
Blake stared down at her.
“You can come out now.”
Elly had been so tense from that conversation that she jumped again. She slammed her head against the bed and a sharp burst of pain shot through her skull. When the room stopped spinning she groaned and rubbed the sore bump as she crawled out.
“Thank you…” she whispered. “I-I’m sorry I dragged you into this mess, Blake…”
“Don’t worry about it,” Blake shrugged, reaching out to her. Elly blinked, so surprised by the kind gesture she didn’t take it for a second.
“Oh! Um, thank you,” Elly said, standing up.
“That boyfriend of yours is a real ass,” Blake told her, climbing back onto the bed. Elly blinked. Wait, he thought…?
“What?! Boyfr-? Ew, no! Ick, ick!” Elly exclaimed, shivering in disgust. “The prince isn’t-!”
“Well, he’s certainly interested in you.” The way he stared at her made the playful words come off as suspecting. It was like those eyes could see right through her. She pulled her hood a little tighter, frightened that he could see her secret, that he would notice her ears and call her a freak like the others did.
“We aren’t… he doesn’t think of me like that…” Elly whispered softly. She could understand why he would think that way though. Looking at her, no one would ever draw the conclusion that the prince was so interested in her because he was her half-brother. That his continued torment of her was out of spite for being the bastard child of the king and a…
No, he could never have guessed that.
“Are you okay? You look… sick.”
Concern sounded odd, coming from him. It didn’t fit right. He didn’t seem so comfortable with asking, either.
“Ye-Yes, I’m fine,” Elly gulped down her insecurities and put on as bright of a smile as she could force. She looked around the room desperately for something to change the subject. “So, um… a private compartment? I’m surprised, I thought only, um, nobles rent these, and if you don’t have a last name, then that would mean you aren’t a- oh!”
She gasped, holding her hands over her mouth as if that could take back the rude words she’d just said. Whether the boy before her was a noble or not, speaking to him about his status? Someone like her? Why did she have to be so stupid? Stupid!
“I’m sorry, that was rude of me!” She quickly apologized. “You just helped me, and I said something so rude! Please forgive me!”
“No, no, it’s fine,” Blake said, shaking his head. “You’re right. I’m not a noble. I’m just a farm boy from the Gulchwood Elms.”
She was tempted to ask how a farmer’s son could afford a private compartment on this luxury train, but she bit her tongue. He clearly had his own issues, and she had no right to drag them out of him. She knew what it was like to hide things from others. She wouldn’t pry.
“Well, then, have you never been on a train before?” She asked.
“Never. Though I’m sure a girl from the capital must ride them every day?”
“No! No, that wasn’t what I…” Elly could feel her cheeks turning red. “This, um… this is my first time, too. I’m… I’m not a noble, I’m just a maid’s daughter…”
“Ho? Doesn’t the Rem Magic Academy have quite a steep tuition?” Blake asked, raising his eyebrow in surprise. “Your mother’s employer must pay quite handsomely.”
“Oh, um…” Elly’s ears twitched behind her hood. She hadn’t even thought of that. “I… I had a patron, so… I got in, even if I don’t really belong here…”
She looked anxiously at Blake, hoping this would be enough to sate him. He didn’t say anything else, he just nodded slowly.
“We all have our own circumstances,” he agreed. “Though I don’t think you need to worry about whether or not you belong here.”
Elly didn’t have the conviction to disagree, so she just meekly nodded.
“Anyway, leaving that aside, Elly, what are you planning now? You managed to get away from those guys, but we won’t arrive at school until tomorrow, right? Are you planning to hide out here all night?”
“Eeeh?!” She gasped, completely forgetting that the trip would take that long. She had been hiding out in Blake’s room, but she couldn’t spend the night, could she? And… was… was he planning to…?
Elly fearfully clutched her shoulders and backed up, crouching down.
“Y-you aren’t going to do anything to me, are you?!” She focused her mana and a field of energy crystalized around her into a thin screen, blocking herself off from the boy.
“What?” Blake gasped, surprised.
“I-I don’t know what you were thinking, but I’m not… I won’t… I-I-I-I-“ Elly was babbling, and she knew she was babbling, but the fear and embarrassment pounding in her chest was keeping her thoughts from reaching her mouth properly.
“No, I don’t care about that,” Blake rushed over to her. “But this, this is…”
He placed his hand against the barrier, and Elly could see the interest in his eyes. Not interest in her, but in the spell itself.
“This is Barrier Magic? Wow, it’s so stable! This is magic from the capital? It’s amazing!” Blake gushed, the tips of Elly’s ears turning pink at his praise.
“It’s, um…” her heart was in far too much of a tizzy to keep her mana stable. The barrier collapsed into shards of light that quickly dissipated.
“Oh, sorry, sorry,” Blake apologized, looking away from her. He blushed with shame. “I live in the middle of nowhere, so I don’t get to see magic very often. I guess I just got a little excited.”
“I… I’m not very good,” Elly admitted. “That… it’s all I can really do. Just one spell, magic to make barriers. I can’t do anything else. And even that, I can only keep it up for a little… There are other people here who can do way more impressive stuff, compared to them, I’m just…”
“Don’t worry about that,” Blake laughed. Like the concern from earlier, it didn’t sound natural. It reminded Elly more of the cruel, mocking jeers of the other kids than anything with real joy. He didn’t even smile. Elly blinked in confusion, peeking up at him through her bangs.
“I mean, just being able to use any magic at all, I think that’s pretty cool.”
Elly glanced down, her face burning and her stomach turning all queasy. She wasn’t used to getting so much praise. Or any praise at all, really. Most people she knew just looked down on her for not having that much mana, or any talent to speak of. So being told that what meager magic she had was something to be proud of…
She had absolutely no idea how to feel about that, but it made her feel all fluttery inside. Maybe even a little… proud?
…But that laugh before… was he making fun of her? That had to be it. He wasn’t really impressed; he was just mocking her for her lack of abilities. Although he did come from the Gulchwood Elms, a farming town, so maybe he really wasn’t…? He had seemed genuinely impressed with her magic earlier, so maybe…
She was getting nowhere thinking like this.
“Um, any-anyway…” Elly wanted to change the topic. If he kept praising her, she might actually start to believe that she wasn’t worthless. “If-If you don’t mind, can… can I stay in here? I mean, I-I don’t want to stay here with you, or, like, do anything, or anything, but just like, because you have a compartment, and I can hide out here safely, and like, I’d like to get to talk more, maybe, and I mean if you’re not okay with it…”
Babbling, she was babbling. Why was she babbling?!
“Don’t worry, I’m not interested in anything like that,” Blake assured her. She sighed, relief washing over her. She collapsed, the tension draining from her.
“Then, um, if you don’t mind, I can sleep here tonight, and, um-“
“No, it’s fine, you can have the bed,” Blake offered. She stared at him, not sure if she heard right. She was freeloading in HIS paid room, and he was offering HER the bed?
“Well, I assumed that you capital folk sleep on nice, comfy beds all the time, right? Even the maids’ daughters. ” Blake laughed. It was that harsh laugh again that made her wince, the one that wasn’t reaching his face. “Back home, I’d camp out all the time, I’m used to sleeping on the ground. So don’t mind it, I can probably put up with it better than you can.”
“Oh! Well, um, in that case… thank you?” Elly still couldn’t believe he was for real. His eyes were cold, like the prince’s at first glance.
But beneath that harshness, if she looked a little closer she could see warmth and sweetness deep, deep down. The more she stared at him the more her previous uneasiness was drowned in those eyes, all her worry and anxiety washing away. Even if he was a little rude to her sometimes.
All the boys she knew teased her or tried to hurt her, with Lancelus’s cold indifference to her being the worst of all. But Blake wasn’t like them. He treated her decently.
Because he doesn’t know. It pounded in the back of her head, piercing her chest. True, he thought she was some normal girl, some maid’s daughter, he didn’t know that she was a…
She was wary of getting too used to kind gestures, knowing how he would look at her when he learned the truth. Those traces of warmth would cool into scorn and disdain. It would crush her. But in the meantime, she was fine just accepting his generosity.
It was nice, to be looked at with kindness for once.