Chapter 1:

Chapter 1: A New Life Begins (Elly)

The Heir of the Dragon


Dawn.Bookmark here

The sun shining on the horizon made Elly’s heart begin to pound in her chest. She swallowed the anxiety that threatened to burst out and swallow her whole. Today was the day when she would step on the train to the Rem Magic Academy, leaving behind the life that she knew well; and disliked. The cold, loathsome gaze of her stepmother, the lack of attention from the stranger she couldn’t call father, and worst of all, the look of 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. Bookmark here

Elly had spent the last 15 years of her 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. Standing on the edge of the island, looking out at the sky below her as she waited for that train to come, she felt as scared and alone as she always did even in the center of the large crowd of like-minded students. She looked around cautiously, peeking out from behind her brown bangs as she searched the crowd of people for a familiar face…Bookmark here

To hide from it.Bookmark here

Elly wasn’t all that 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 Elly 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!Bookmark here

Who was Elly fooling, really? She was no mage. She didn’t have any skill with magic, she only knew one thing, and it was next to useless. She had only gone because her mother had looked so happy when Elly had told her the news all those months ago. When her father, who barely spoke more than three words to her at a time, had called her before him and told her that he would be sending her off to the academy if she so desired, and that if she did she had best prepare, because he expected the best from her. She hadn’t wanted to. But that look on her mother’s face, that smile of hers…Bookmark here

She couldn’t bring herself to turn her father’s offer down after seeing that, as much as it might have worried her.Bookmark here

So now, here she was -trapped on a platform with the other students leaving from Stormstar, the capital city of Saekoria, finding herself 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-Bookmark here

A loud flap sounded out overhead, punctuated by a shrill whistle. Elly joined her soon-to-be fellow students in raising her head to look up at the sky, spotting a large shape moving through the clouds, slithering towards the island like a snake. Drawing closer to the station, Elly could spot the shimmering gold running along the lacquered black boxes of the train cars. The large black wings sticking out of the sides of each of the train cars held the great thing aloft, their powerful flaps propelling the long train through the sky and bringing it closer and closer.Bookmark here

“It’s here!” One voice cried out.Bookmark here

“It’s so amazing!” Another said.Bookmark here

“Totally amazing!” A third voice echoed.Bookmark here

Elly gulped. It really was amazing. She had seen the sky trains flying past her window in the distance many times, and heard the whistles as they stopped in town to pick up passengers, but having never even left Stormstar before, let alone the large island it stood on, she had never seen one this close. The size of those wings! They were enormous, far larger than those of the birds that sometimes would land on her windowsill. And they would have to be to carry such heavy-looking cars, no matter how much magic may have been used to keep the train afloat.Bookmark here

The train made its turn to pull into the station, and slid even closer, steam billowing out of the top. Another flap of the wings from one of the cars sent a gust of wind up through the crowd, nearly blowing over the students who had stepped over the platform line to get a closer look. The wind hit Elly in the face as well and nearly knocked the hood of her cloak off, but she clutched it tightly in her fingers and pulled it a little further over her face to avoid being seen. Her other hand held her bag tightly, terrified at the thought of it actually being knocked away. All of her stuff would fall out, and then while she scrambled to pick it up, everyone 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)Bookmark here

Although, she bitterly reminded herself, that would still be better than being-Bookmark here

The sharp whistle of the train cut her off that dark path and just jumped slightly. The train landed on the platform with a loud “thud” and its wings tucked in, the doors sliding open with a hiss.Bookmark here

This is it, Elly told herself, swallowing her unease as she looked at those thin doors and the steps unrolling from within them. I’m really going…Bookmark here

She wasn’t ready. She wouldn’t be ready in another five years, to be honest, 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 her daughter’s safety, a tinge of fear, even a tear in the eye, anything to tell Elly that she didn’t have to go.Bookmark here

But of course she didn’t see anything. Her mother wasn’t even there to see her off. She’d had to work that day, leaving Elly to walk to the station all by herself. Her mother… she was so excited for Elly to go to the Rem Magic Academy, but she wouldn’t even show up to see her own daughter off? Elly shook her head quickly to try and push those bad thoughts out.Bookmark here

No, mom is just working hard for my sake! She would be here if she could! But she can’t! Elly took another peek at the other students, who were currently saying their goodbyes to their families or already walking on board the train. She felt a pit in her stomach. Most of the children from Stormstar going to the academy were nobles from the capital, whose parents could take the time to see them off right. A lowly bastard daughter of a maid wouldn’t be so lucky. Even if she couldn’t blame her mother for her absence, it still cut a hole in her heart. That was it. There was nothing keeping her here.Bookmark here

She handed her luggage off to the porter and climbed aboard the train. Elly was actually a little grateful that the other kids were busy with their goodbyes. It meant she would only go that much more unnoticed. Stepping aboard the first car in front of her, she saw that 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 far more than she was. As she walked down the aisle, her eyes darting from side to side, she tried to make herself seem as small and unnoticeable as ever.Bookmark here

You’re going to love the academy, I’m certain of it! Her mother’s voice echoed in her thoughts. 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!Bookmark here

Friends? That was a laugh. Elly would be happy to get through her first term without making any enemies. Already an outcast from her peers in her normal life, she doubted school would be any better. From what she’d read on it, teenagers were cruel to those who were different. And it was hard to be more different than her.Bookmark here

But as she thought that, she imagined the sad look on her mother’s face when she returned home for the winter, telling her that she hadn’t made any friends in her first term. Her mother had been so hopeful, Elly… Elly could at least try to make some friends, right?Bookmark here

She glanced to her left and spotted a group of girls sitting together in a compartment, facing each other across from a table. There were four seats in the compartment, and three of them were filled. The empty seat 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 red silk. Bookmark here

The two girls seated across from her were a tall girl with dark colored hair and cold look on her face, and a tanned blonde whose shiny blue eyes carried the light of laughter at just a glance. They all wore the same uniform as Elly did, and their blouses and black skirts were so shiny and new it suggested they were first-years just like her. Bookmark here

Elly’s eyes shot to the empty seat and she opened her mouth to say something. Before she could ask “is this seat taken” she caught the eye of the redhead.Bookmark here

People always showed what they felt in their eyes, and how they looked at you. That was something Elly had learned quickly when she was little. 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 bright 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, unfortunately not fast enough to avoid catching the words uttered behind her.Bookmark here

“Ugh, can you believe that? That little mouse of a girl thought she could actually sit with us?” Elly didn’t see which among the trio that haughty, harsh voice belonged to, but she imagined it was the redhead.Bookmark here

“I know, right? That’s the huge bummer about not having a private room. Like, Sabine, what’s with that?” The high pitched response was probably from the blonde one.Bookmark here

“Daddy said that he wanted me to get to mingle with the other nobles, and so he only rented a compartment. That’s certainly better than someone of my status mingling 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.”Bookmark here

Elly’s face only grew hotter, her pace picking up in her desperation to get out of earshot from those cruel girls. Hopefully this would be the last she heard from them. If she had her way, it would be!Bookmark here

So focused on beating a quick escape, she didn’t see where she was going, and bumped into someone much bigger than her. She fell back, startled for a moment, thinking she’d gotten turned around and had crashed into a wall. But no, it was just a boy. She looked up at him, preparing a frantic apology, when her blood went cold.Bookmark here

“Well, look who it is,” the boy chuckled.Bookmark here

Elly gulped. Rafe! Bookmark here

Of the people who had picked on her growing up, Rafe Erikson was one of the worst. He seemed to take a special delight in tormenting her that the others didn’t. Perhaps as a malkin he felt the need to “prove himself” to his human compatriots, but even now he looked down on her with those shiny gold eyes like the wolf that had cornered the lone sheep. His ears twitched above his head and his furry brown tail began swishing back and forth with excitement.Bookmark here

“Hey, you were looking for Elly, right?” Rafe called out past Elly, into the car she had just passed through unnoticed. “Well she just ran into me a second ago, want me to bring her over?”Bookmark here

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 even her, Elly jumped to her feet and pushed past Rafe, the malkin boy stumbling back, thrown off of his balance by the surprising move. Bookmark here

Clutching her bag tightly to her chest, Elly ran into the next car, her heart pounding as she passed row after row of students looking up at her with shock and confusion in their faces. Elly barely saw them fly by, only focused on getting as far away as possible. Even knowing how pointless it was for her to try running away on a train, she couldn’t stop her feet from moving as she headed on to the next car, finding some way she could to avoid-Bookmark here

A door! She didn’t know where it went or why it was open, but it was the first thing she spotted, an open door. She turned on her heel and dove inside, slamming it shut behind her. She slumped back against the door and slid to the floor, panting.Bookmark here

Her immediate worries abated, Elly raised her head to look across the room. She had ducked into one of the private compartments 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. The first thing she noticed about him was his eyes. The most intense dark chocolate eyes she had ever seen, staring at her with a wide-eyed look that was one part curiosity and one part incredulity. The way he looked at her sent a shiver down her spine, and for a moment she thought she had made a big mistake in entering like this.Bookmark here

“I-I’m sorry!” She blurted out. “I didn’t, I mean… I know this is your room, but…”Bookmark here

She heard voices coming from outside and turned over her shoulder, staring at the door. She lowered her voice and turned back to the room’s original occupant. She gulped and stood on shaky legs, walking over to him. Now that she was closer, she could get a better look at the boy. He had soft hair the color of fallen leaves, nearly as curled and tangled as her own, and though his face was stern he didn’t seem mean, just…Bookmark here

She felt uneasy, but staying here was better than going outside.Bookmark here

“I’m sorry… people are, um… looking for me,” she explained. “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…”Bookmark here

“Name.” The boy’s sharp voice made her jump slightly. Bookmark here

“Uh… what?” Elly didn’t understand what he meant by ‘name’.Bookmark here

“My uncle taught me that when you ask a stranger for a favor, it’s common courtesy to give your name first,” the boy explained. “That way we won’t be strangers anymore.”Bookmark here

“Oh! Um, my name is Elly,” Elly replied. Technically it was her nickname, not her full name, but if she gave her full name it would expose her heritage to the boy, and that wasn’t something she was ready to share with a stranger, even if he was doing her a favor.Bookmark here

“Just Elly?” The boy asked, raising his eyebrow. His lips pinched tightly together into a stern look that made Elly shiver. While his tone didn’t sound so strict, she couldn’t be sure if it was a joke or not. But what she did know was that the look in his dark eyes wasn’t a glare, and that made her feel a slight wave of relief.Bookmark here

“Just Elly,” Elly confirmed with a nod.Bookmark here

“That’s something we have in common then,” the boy murmured. “I’m Blake. Just Blake. No last names or anything either.”Bookmark here

“Well, um, since we aren’t strangers anymore, do you think I could, um-“Bookmark here

A knock on the door caused Elly to nearly jump out of her shoes. She whirled around and stared at the door, feeling a shiver run down her spine. She hoped it wasn’t them, wasn’t him, but the sinking feeling in her heart told her otherwise. She glanced back at Blake, looking hopefully up at him.Bookmark here

Blake got up off of his bed and hopped down to the floor, startling Elly for a second. He was taller than she’d thought, almost a head taller than her. She opened her mouth to ask him for his help, but before the words could escape she felt his hand clamp down over her mouth. She panicked, a mumble escaping from her throat as she struggled for a moment, surprised at how strong his grip was.Bookmark here

As the knocking grew louder and more insistent, Blake held a finger up to his lips. Elly nodded.Bookmark here

“Bed,” Blake whispered. Elly ducked under the bed, and Blake threw his blanket over her for added cover. She curled up into a ball and peeked out from a gap in the sheet, watching Blake walk across the room to the door. Because of how tight the quarters were in the compartment, the bed was a lot closer to the door than she was particularly comfortable with.Bookmark here

Blake opened the door, exposing the room to the people outside. Elly curled up a little smaller, hoping that if she got small enough she could just blink out of existence.Bookmark here

“Hello there,” Rafe’s gruff voice rang in her ears and sent a shiver down her spine. From her hiding place she could see and hear everything that was going on, which meant they could probably see her, too.Bookmark here

“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.Bookmark here

“We’re looking for a girl.” That voice belonged to Est. Shorter than Rafe but just as menacing, with short blonde hair and piercing blue eyes that looked past Blake and into the room.Bookmark here

“Any girl in particular, or are you just feeling lonely and pent up?” Blake asked. Elly had to stifle a shocked giggle at the absurdity of the response. Est stepped up to look Blake in the eye, sizing up the other boy, and whispered so softly Elly could barely hear it over the rustling of the train.Bookmark here

“Why don’t you say that again?”Bookmark here

“Est.”Bookmark here

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 out of the way to let the other boy confront Blake directly. Lance 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 a cold stare.Bookmark here

“The girl we’re looking for-“Bookmark here

“It’s a common courtesy where I’m from,” Blake interrupted, “to give ones name before asking favors of a stranger.”Bookmark here

This sent a flash of rage through Rafe’s face and he stepped forward to confront Blake, grabbing him by the collar.Bookmark here

“Who do you think you’re-?!”Bookmark here

“Rafe!” Lance snapped, shooting Rafe a withering look that made the other boy’s ears droop. He released Blake and stepped back, cheeks tinged with shame. With that matter settled, Lance returned his attention to Blake.Bookmark here

“You’re correct. In my position it is important not to seem… discourteous. I apologize for my friend’s actions.” Lance offered his hand to Blake. “My name is Lancelus vi Eldaria IV, son of King Richorr vi Eldaria II, Second Prince of Saekoria.”Bookmark here

His hand remained extended to Blake. The boy didn’t take it. After a moment’s pause, Lance withdrew the offer.Bookmark here

“When a prince addresses you-“Bookmark here

“It’s fine, Est,” Lance assured the other boy, not even glancing in his direction. His eyes never left Blake’s. “Now, I’ve told you my name. Will you tell me yours?”Bookmark here

“Is that a command, ‘my prince’?” Blake asked, the sneer in his voice making Elly wince.Bookmark here

Lance’s lips turned up slightly, but the flash of his eyes told Elly he was anything but pleased.Bookmark here

“The girl we’re looking for, her name is Elly,” Lance returned to the original subject. Elly followed his eyes as they 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. My friend Rafe over there saw her come this way, so we just wanted to check the rooms to make sure she wasn’t bothering anyone.”Bookmark here

“So your girlfriend ran away?” Blake asked. “Ever thought maybe she’s just not into you?”Bookmark here

Lance’s smile froze on his face, and the look in his eye made Elly freeze too. Why was Blake provoking him?! Lance was a prince, didn’t he know that?! That was why Elly had run in the first place! If he made an enemy of the second prince, then he was only going to make things worse for himself!Bookmark here

“You’re a funny guy,” Lance said, laughing a little. “Any other jokes you have to tell?”Bookmark here

“…Nope, can’t think of any,” Blake said, shaking his head after a pause. “Are we done here?”Bookmark here

“…You still haven’t answered my question,” Lance replied. “Is Elly here?”Bookmark here

“Never met an Elly before,” Blake replied. “And a little advice, girls don’t like the clingy type.”Bookmark here

“That right?” Lance asked, taking a step closer to Blake. Blake stood a little taller in response. “Because my friend Rafe here, he says he can smell Elly’s scent coming out of your room. So I’m going to ask you again, is. Elly. Here?Bookmark here

Elly sunk into the floor. It was over. Rafe’s nose had found her out.Bookmark here

“And I’m going to tell you again,” Blake said, not backing down, much to Elly’s surprise, “that I don’t know what you’re talking about.”Bookmark here

All traces of affability drained from Lance’s face and he glared at Blake, the air around them an icy chill. Elly prayed that he would just go, or that Blake would back down, something, anything to make this unbearable tension in her chest stop. She almost threw the blanket off of herself and surrendered to keep Blake from getting dragged into a confrontation with the other boys. She didn’t want to be responsible for getting him involved in her mess. But she was too scared.Bookmark here

“I don’t know who you are, or who you think you are,” Lance coldly stated, his voice holding a tinge of threat to it. “But if you know what’s good for you, then I’d suggest you stay away from Elly, do I make myself clear?”Bookmark here

“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.”Bookmark here

He let the words hang ominously in the air. Elly looked helplessly between the two boys, just hoping for it all to end. This was not the way she wanted her first day of school to start.Bookmark here

“Lance, are you really going to take that from this guy?” Rafe demanded angrily.Bookmark here

“It’s fine, Rafe,” Lance said, taking his eyes off Blake to look past him, into the room. He wasn’t looking at her specifically, but it still felt like he was glaring at her somehow. “Elly? If you want to come with us, now’s the time.”Bookmark here

Elly didn’t respond. She didn’t want to. She didn’t know Blake all that well, and was honestly kind of scared of him, but she still felt more comfortable here than she would spending the trip with the prince and his crowd. She’d had to put up with him her whole life, she finally had her chance to escape from his cold gaze, the way he would always look down on her. Blake was much better than that right now.Bookmark here

Blake looked back at her. She stared into his eyes, though she didn’t think he could see hers. Those dark brown eyes were warm, not cold like Lance’s. Yeah, much better.Bookmark here

“Looks like she isn’t interested,” Blake said, turning back to Lance. “Assuming, of course, that she’s actually here.”Bookmark here

Lance scowled, but didn’t press the issue any further.Bookmark here

“We’ll leave you to yourself then,” Lance replied. “Tell her I’d like to speak with her when we get to school.”Bookmark here

“Yeah, I’ll do that,” Blake said, nodding, in a tone that assured Elly he would do no such thing. Lance and his friends stepped away from the doorway and headed back down the hall, and Elly let out the breath she’d been holding for who knows how long. He was finally gone.Bookmark here

Blake turned back to the bed, staring down at her.Bookmark here

“You can come out now.”Bookmark here

Elly had been so tensed up from that conversation that being addressed by him made her jump in surprise. 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 from under the bed.Bookmark here

“Thank you…” Elly whispered. “I-I’m sorry I dragged you into this mess, Blake…”Bookmark here

“Don’t worry about it,” Blake shrugged, reaching out his hand to her. Elly blinked, so surprised by the kind gesture she didn’t take it for a second.Bookmark here

“Oh! Um, thank you,” Elly said, standing up.Bookmark here

“That boyfriend of yours is a real ass,” Blake told her, climbing back onto the bed and looking down at her. Elly blinked. Wait, he thought…?Bookmark here

“What?! Boyfr-? Ew, no! Ick, ick!” Elly exclaimed, shivering in disgust. “The prince isn’t-!”Bookmark here

“Well, he’s certainly interested in you,” Blake said, and the way he stared at her made the playful words come off as suspecting. His dark eyes were shining in a way that made Elly gulp. They were so deep and piercing they seemed to be seeing 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 other boys did.Bookmark here

“We aren’t… he doesn’t think of me like that…” Elly whispered softly. She could see 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…Bookmark here

No, he could never have guessed that.Bookmark here

“Are you okay? You look… sick,” Blake said. Concern sounded odd, coming from him. Like it didn’t fit right. He didn’t seem so comfortable with asking, either.Bookmark here

“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!”Bookmark here

A shadow crossed the girl’s face and 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!Bookmark here

“I’m sorry, that was rude of me!” She said, lowering her head in apology. “You just helped me, and I said something so rude! Please forgive me!”Bookmark here

“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.”Bookmark here

Elly was tempted to ask him how some farmer’s son could afford a private compartment on this luxury train, but she bit her tongue. He clearly had his own secrets, and she was in no position to drag them out of him. She knew what it was like things from others, and she wouldn’t ask him anymore.Bookmark here

“Well, then, have you never been on a train before?” She asked.Bookmark here

“Never,” he said. “Though I’m sure a girl from the capital must ride them every day?”Bookmark here

“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…”Bookmark here

“Ho? Doesn’t the Rem Magic Academy have quite a steep tuition?” Blake asked, raising a quizzical eyebrow. “Your mother’s employer must pay quite handsomely.”Bookmark here

“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…”Bookmark here

She looked anxiously at Blake, hoping this would be enough to sate him. He didn’t say anything else, he just nodded slowly.Bookmark here

“We all have our own circumstances,” he agreed. “Though I don’t think you need to worry about whether or not you belong here.”Bookmark here

Elly didn’t think she belonged, but she didn’t have the conviction to disagree, so she just meekly nodded her head.Bookmark here

“Anyway, leaving that aside, Elly, what are you planning now?” Blake asked. “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?”Bookmark here

Elly blinked.Bookmark here

“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…?Bookmark here

Elly fearfully clutched her shoulders and backed away from Blake, crouching to her knees.Bookmark here

“Y-you aren’t going to do anything to me, are you?!” She cried, the air around her shimmering a bright bluish-white. A field of energy crystalized around her into a thin screen, blocking herself off from the boy.Bookmark here

“What?” Blake gasped, surprised.Bookmark here

“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.Bookmark here

“No, I don’t care about that,” Blake said, rushing over to her. “But this, this is…”Bookmark here

He placed his hand against the barrier, and through the field Elly could see the interest in his eyes. Not interest in her, but in the spell itself.Bookmark here

“This is Barrier Magic? Wow, it’s so stable! This is magic from the capital? It’s amazing!” Blake said, the tips of Elly’s ears turning pink at his praise.Bookmark here

“It’s, um…” her heart was in far too much of a tizzy to keep her mana stable, the barrier collapsing into shards of light that quickly dissipated.Bookmark here

“Oh, sorry, sorry,” Blake apologized, looking away from her. His cheeks were a little flushed, as if he were ashamed. “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.”Bookmark here

“I… I’m not very good,” Elly admitted. “That… it’s all I can really do. Just one skill, 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…”Bookmark here

“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.Bookmark here

“I mean, just being able to use any magic at all, I think that’s pretty cool.”Bookmark here

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 just being told that what meager magic she had was something to be proud of…Bookmark here

She had absolutely no idea how to feel about that, but she knew it made her feel all fluttery inside. Maybe even a little… proud? But with 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…Bookmark here

“Um, any-anyway,” Elly said, wanting to change the topic back in order to avoid any further praises of her lack of talent, fearing that the boy’s kind words would actually make her start to believe that she wasn’t worthless. “If-if you don’t mind, can… can I say 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…”Bookmark here

Babbling, she was babbling. Why was she babbling?!Bookmark here

“Don’t worry, I’m not interested in anything like that,” Blake assured her. She sighed, a feeling of relief washing over her as the tension drained from her body and she collapsed back down to the floor.Bookmark here

“Then, um, if you don’t mind, I can sleep here tonight, and, um-“Bookmark here

“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?Bookmark here

“Um, what?”Bookmark here

“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.”Bookmark here

“Oh! Well, um, in that case… thank you?” Elly still couldn’t believe he was for real, even as she was looking right into those eyes of his. They 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 crude at times, and had been rather surly at first, he had been so kind to her. All the boys she knew teased her or tried to hurt her, with Lance’s cold indifference to her being the worst of all. But Blake wasn’t like them. He treated her decently.Bookmark here

Because he doesn’t know, echoed in the back of her head, a stab of pain piercing her chest. True, he thought she was some normal girl, some maid’s daughter, he didn’t know that she was a…Bookmark here

Bookmark here

She was wary of getting too used to kind gestures, knowing how he would no doubt look at her when he learned the truth, how those traces of warmth would cool into scorn and disdain. That would certainly sting. But in the meantime, she was fine just accepting his generosity. It was nice, to be looked at with kindness for once.Bookmark here

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