The Heir of the Dragon
Elly’s heart was pounding in her chest as she walked to class. The hallways were especially wide and empty this morning, without the sound of footsteps and teens gossiping. She enjoyed the quiet. The sounds of her peers filled her with anxiety; people had been talking about her behind her back for as long as she could remember. She preferred the peace and quiet of her own thoughts. It was why she’d woken up when Wendy and Melody were still asleep for an early breakfast while the sky was dark, arriving just as the dining hall was opening so she could eat her meal in seclusion.
Now, she was making her way to the classroom while the sun was just starting to rise, and the shadows dancing along the walls startled her as she passed them by. It was unnerving to learn that she was still scared of shadows on the walls, but maybe it was this empty castle that changed things. Growing up she had lived in a castle much grander than this one, though the Rem Magic Academy could never be found wanting in terms of majesty.
But in the Sky’s Keep, there was never a moment when she felt this emptiness. There were always people, servants and guards, nobles and advisors, court mages and parishioners of the Celestials walking down the hallways, standing at doors, talking in the rooms, no matter where she went she wasn’t alone the way she felt here. They may not have been a presence she liked, but it was still better than this feeling of vulnerability of being the ONLY one there.
A skittering sound rolled over the stone floor, Elly jumping in surprise. Her eyes caught a black shadow with shiny gold eyes that stared right at her. The black tomcat looked at her for a moment and then darted down the hall, disappearing around the corner before Elly could even regain her breath. She held her chest and tried to slow down her pounding heart.
Settling down, Elly continued her walk, consulting the student handbook she’d been given, specifically looking at the map. If she was following it right, then the classroom for the first year students in the Stars cohort was somewhere around the corner. They would be attending all their classes in that room, with the teachers coming to teach them. She turned left where the cat had turned right, and arrived at another hallway. She took a look at the rooms on the right side of the corridor, and sighed in relief.
The hallway was shorter than the previous one, barely long enough for four rooms. Above the first door hung a sign with the picture of the Sun emblazoned on it. The next room down was a crescent moon, and there, the third room down, was a star. She walked to the third door, not sure if it was locked or not. It wasn’t. Elly turned the door and silently slipped into the room, which was cast a dim reddish-orange in the rising sun.
Much to Elly’s surprise, in spite of how early she had woken up, she wasn’t the first student there. Sitting at a desk in the back row was Chloe Bellajean, head buried in her arms and snoring away.
What… what’s she doing here? Elly asked. How… how early did she get up?
Elly walked into the room quietly. She was tempted to ask the girl, but she wasn’t the sort who could just bring herself to wake someone up while they were sleeping, or even talk to her when she was awake. But Chloe definitely made the right call in sitting in the back. Elly would sit in the back too, and hopefully no one would bother her. That was okay, right? There wasn’t any registered seating, right? Elly looked at the desks. There were five rows of six desks each, and there weren’t any nametags or anything, so she figured it was okay for her to sit wherever she wanted. Chloe had sat in the back, so it was okay, even if it wasn’t as far back as she would have liked.
Elly sat next to the window and set her bag down, pulling out a book and flipping it open, burying herself in a story about a brave adventurer descending into an ancient ruin and hoping it would keep the attention away.
Elly didn’t know how long she had been reading, but the sun had fully risen by the time the next student walked into the room. Elly peaked up over the pages to see Evangeline Moonshadow walk in. She met the blonde girl’s blue eyes from across the room and ducked back behind her book, surprised at how quiet her footsteps were as she walked closer.
“I thought I would get here first,” Evangeline said, Elly glancing up at her again. She didn’t seem mad about Elly being here… Her eyes were more generally dismissive than outright scornful.
“Don’t apologize for something like that. Why are you here so early?”
Was… was Evangeline trying to be friends with her? Elly didn’t know how making friends really worked. Wendy and Melody had talked with her yesterday and they were her roommates now, so… were they friends? What about Blake and Amy? Were they friends? They had talked a little over dinner, but Elly didn’t want to presume that they were friends. …No, those eyes didn’t say “friend”.
“I just, um, wanted to do some reading,” she said.
That was the end of the conversation. Clearly, Evangeline wasn’t a social person. Elly looked down, turning red in embarrassment at the misunderstanding.
Elly blinked. She looked up at the girl. “Huh?”
“My name. Eve Moonshadow.” Her answer was brusque, and her eyes were still cold, but she’d given her name all the same.
Elly’s eyes widened behind her bangs. She wished she wasn’t feeling as hopeful as she was. She didn’t want to be disappointed again.
“Elly,” Elly timidly tried. Eve nodded, but didn’t say anything else to her. She turned and walked over to Chloe. This time the conversation really was over, right?
“Why is she sleeping?” Eve asked.
Elly flinched, knowing that the other girl was talking to her.
“Um… I don’t know… she was sleeping when I got here…” Elly said, setting the book down and glancing at Chloe. Eve was standing over her, seemingly unfazed by the fact that there was a sleeping blue-haired girl just sitting there for what she presumed was several hours.
Eve clearly didn’t share Elly’s tentative nature. She reached out and shook Chloe awake.
“…Snrok… hrk… huh… wha?”
Chloe raised her head and glanced at Eve, her eyes bleary with sleep.
“…What are you doing in my room?” Chloe yawned, her dull eyes glancing between the girls.
“…You’re in the classroom,” Eve said.
Chloe blinked, looking around the room.
“…Huh.” She yawned. “Must’ve come here in my sleep… tired now…”
Still yawning, she crossed her arms on her desk and rested her head on them, falling back asleep.
Eve didn’t say anything. She took a seat next to the sleeping girl and reached into her bag, opening the oldest book that Elly had ever seen, a worn tome with cracked pages yellowed with age, bound within a dark leather cover. Eve sat too far away for her to see what sort of book it was, and Elly wasn’t bold enough to ask.
Over the next half-hour, more students filed into the room. Amy waved her way and plopped down next to her, a big smile on her face. Elly gave a shaky smile back. Wendy and Melody sat near her, too, and Elly felt herself starting to relax a little more. At least she and her “friends” were together… right? So maybe she wouldn’t be entirely alone in class.
That hope was dashed when the professor walked into the room, and told them that there was, in fact, assigned seating. Elly went pale.
The structure of the seating was organized so that each column alternated between boys and girls. Fortunately, Elly had managed to find herself in the very back of the classroom again, though no longer beside the window. She had shifted over a seat, and now Blake was sitting there instead, which came as somewhat of a comfort. Chloe ended up in front of her, somehow managing to get across the room in her sleep. The boy on the other side of her had ebony skin and his dark hair was so short he was practically bald. Elly remembered that his name was Morgan. She glanced his way and he gave her a warm smile, which she cautiously returned before whirling her head back to face the board. A stranger!
It… it could be worse, right? Unfortunately, Amy, Wendy, and Melody were all near the front, but at the same time, she wasn’t sitting anywhere close to the prince or any of his friends and Sabine, Jasmine, and Mindy were all on the other side of the room. So yeah, it certainly could be worse.
Now she just had to keep her head down for the rest of the year, and hope that she didn’t make any more enemies than she already had.
Elly tried to pay attention to what Professor Darkflame was explaining about the cohort, she really tried. But she was distracted by the duffel bag sitting beside her desk, the one Blake had lugged in behind him. The one he still carried with him. It had those… those eggs. Reed Rivers had said they were dragon eggs, but that… that couldn’t be true, right? There were no more dragons or eggs. She had to have been mistaken; they must have belonged to a beast of some sort. But Blake was a member of the Harker Family… the noble house of dragons… so was there a chance? While she would never ask him outright (how rude!) Elly couldn’t stop her curiosity. She just… she had to know, she just had to! That was why her thoughts were so jumbled. The idea of dragons was something she couldn’t keep out of her thoughts if she tried!
Elly thought about what had happened last night. Reed Rivers was something of an idol of Elly’s. Even in the capital they were talking about her, and while Elly hadn’t ever wanted to BE a mage (she would need talent for that) she had looked at the prodigy girl with an envious eye. She could do so much that Elly couldn’t, she had skills and talent that Elly didn’t, and meeting her in person? It had been amazing. She was so cool, Elly couldn’t imagine ever being able to compare to someone like that, and Elly actually knew her now? It was like a dream…
“…But I see Ms. Elaindra is more focused on her seatmate’s bag than on discussing our cohort’s schedule.”
Elly froze, hearing her name being called. She was staring right at the duffel bag. She raised her head to see Blake glowering at her, and slowly turned to look across the classroom. Everyone’s eyes were focused on her, including those of a particularly stern-looking Professor Darkflame. Elly felt her face heat up with shame and she slumped down into her chair, embarrassed.
She didn’t say a word or look away from the professor for the rest of the Cohort Meeting. After they got through the syllabus for the coming quarter, the professor cleared his throat and glanced at the large hourglass he’d set on his desk.
“There is still a little time left in this period, so to that end I believe it would not be problematic to start our Fundamentals of Magic class a little early today.”
“As your Cohort Leader, I will be handling your Fundamentals of Magic class, and I’m also the professor for Intro to Combat Magic. After our meeting today, I’ll see you again later on this afternoon. For now, let’s get started.”
The professor took another hourglass out of his robe and set it on its side beside the larger hourglass still trickling down. Did he not know this room had a clock in it?
“As the name implies, ‘Fundamentals of Magic’ is an intro course to learning the fundamentals of magic. How we use mana to cast spells, and exploring the question of what magic really is. To start this, I’m going to administer a test.”
A chorus of gasps rang out across the classroom, Elly’s voice included within it. A test? Like, a test test? Before now, Elly had never taken any formal education or gone into schooling. She had been taught to read and write by a tutor, one of the few kindnesses her father had shown her, but beyond that she had no experience. That she could use magic at all was thanks to her mother showing her. But Elly didn’t know a damn thing about magic, she hadn’t studied at all, it was her first day of class! Was this normal?
“You don’t need to be so worried,” Professor Darkflame assured them. “This isn’t a test I’ll be grading you on. I just want to assess how much you are capable of, what you know about magic, so that I know where you are in terms of knowing magic.”
Well Elly could answer that question for him right off.
Everyone else sighed in relief, but Elly still felt tension in her chest. The professor passed out the tests, and with them, quill pens. Elly looked at it quizzically, and then glanced at her desk, but there was no inkwell. She looked around the room, but it didn’t seem like anyone else had one, either. How was she supposed to take the test?
Elly raised a shaky hand.
“The test hasn’t begun yet, Ms. Elaindra,” Professor Darkflame said, raising his eyebrow. Elly dropped her hand, wishing she could ask him to call her Elly but not wanting to make an even bigger scene of herself.
“Um… professor… I don’t have an inkwell…” She stuttered out.
The professor stared at her, and she swallowed. Snickering broke the blanket of uncomfortable silence wrapping around her. Elly glanced to see Sabine looking at her, whispering to her tall friend. Elly’s ears perked up, and she heard her saying faintly “what a surprise, she’s never used a magic pen before.”
“Ms. Elaindra, that’s a magic pen,” the professor informed her. He walked up to the black board and withdrew a pen from the sleeve of his robe, long and sharp and the color of midnight. He held the tip of the feather against the board, light shining out from it as it touched. He wrote his name across the board in shining script.
Elly felt ashamed at having asked such a stupid question. But… but she hadn’t known any better. She slumped down in her seat, her face turning hot.
Elly’s ear twitched and she glanced to her left, to see Blake looking her way.
“…I didn’t know what it was either,” Blake admitted, averting his eyes from her. His face was red. “Thanks.”
Elly’s heart fluttered with relief. She wasn’t as big a fool as she thought. But that wouldn’t help her get through the test.
The professor turned the other hourglass over.
“Begin. You have until all the grains have fallen.”
Elly turned the paper over and swallowed, looking at the first question.
“What is Mana?”
Elly let a long stream of relief out through her nostrils. At least that one she could work out the answer with.
“Mana is the energy that exists in all things, living and nonliving, the force that unites us all,” she wrote. It was a quote from one of her favorite characters. Hopefully the author wasn’t being poetic.
The next question quickly took the wind out of her sails.
“What is the value of a person’s Mana Level as it pertains to their ability to use magic?”
Now that Elly did know the answer to, though she was loathe to admit it. Mana levels were a touchy subject where she was concerned.
“The higher a person’s mana level, the more mana they have in reserve. This means they can both cast more spells, and spells of greater power.”
The third question was another easy one: “What are orica?” Elly briefly wondered if they would all me knowledge this common.
“Orica are crystals capable of storing magic. When mana is channeled through an orica, the orica invokes the spellcraft and the spell is cast.”
The fourth question began to get into territory that Elly wasn’t fully assured of.
“Describe the nature of Elemental Magic to the best of your ability.”
Elemental Magic. Elly had no idea what Elemental Magic was. She was pretty sure “magic relating to the elements” was not the sort of answer that the professor was looking for. She searched the recesses of her mind for potential answers. What were the elements? Lightning was an element, and so was Metal. Growing up in the palace, these two were obvious ones. Fire, she knew that one as well, and Air, of course, but that was sometimes called Wind… Or were those different elements altogether? She thought she’d heard something about Water and Ice being different elements too, but she wasn’t sure.
“Elemental magic is magic that allows a wizard to control the elements of Lightning, Metal, Fire, Air, and Water.”
That was what she knew. She didn’t know more elements, maybe the ground? Was that an element? What about plants? Those were things that existed, sure, but were they considered elements? She added “Ground” and “Plants” to her growing list anyway. Those were all she could think of, and that was where she left it.
And that was just about the last question she could begin to develop an answer to. She didn’t know different kinds of magic besides Elemental Magic, she didn’t know which spell of the options presented was a basic spell, or even what a “basic spell” was, or who the first known mage to develop Enchantments was, or which of the listed spells was “forbidden” magic. The only thing she could hazard a guess at was the amount of mana needed to cast a basic Fireball spell, and even then it was her optimistic hope that it wouldn’t be much mana that led her to guess the lowest answer of 50.
By the time the test was done, Elly felt woefully exhausted. She had gotten through all the questions, but she doubted she got many correct.
“Time is up, pens down and please pass your papers forward,” the professor said, tilting the hourglass over. Elly passed her paper forward. Chloe didn’t take it. Her head was down. She dropped it on the girl’s head, and she didn’t even stir. Elly heard snoring. She sighed, stood up, and walked around her desk, taking her paper and Chloe’s. Chloe’s paper was blank. She passed them both up to the next girl and returned to her seat, raising her hands and massaging her temples, feeling like the idiot she was. That test told her what she already knew; she didn’t belong here. She knew nothing about magic.
“It’s okay if you didn’t know the answer to many of these questions,” Professor Darkflame assured the class, but it felt like he was speaking to her. She brightened, her ears perking up. “You’re all learning, of course. But by the end of this class, you’ll be able to answer all of those questions flawlessly.”
A student in the front row raised his hand. Elly was pretty sure his name was Ark Greenland? She wasn’t even close to knowing everybody in class yet.
“And yes, I’m sure that some of you have managed perfect scores already. That isn’t important. I’m trying to discover how much basic knowledge you have as a class. For those of you in need of some extra challenges, I’m sure we can find a way to accommodate you.”
The boy dropped his hand.
The professor set the tests down on his desk and checked the hourglass. Elly squinted at the clock instead, estimating how much time was left in the class period. It wasn’t a lot, that test must have taken longer than she had thought.
“Your readings for tomorrow are to read the first three chapters of your text,” the professor said, sitting down at the table. He didn’t even raise his head to look at the students. “Because we have another twenty minutes left, you may spend the time in private study doing your reading homework. Congratulations, looks like you’ll have some free time tonight.”
Elly gulped. That didn’t sound like a joke. Like the other kids were doing, she began digging through her bag, finding the text “What is Magic?” by Sadie Maeventide. She flipped it open, but before she could start reading, a tap on her arm nearly made her jump out of her seat. She whirled around to see Blake looking her way.
“Sorry, didn’t mean to startle you,” he said, looking a little embarrassed. It was an expression she knew well from her reflection.
“Wh-What?” She whispered, glancing at the professor’s desk. She wasn’t sure if they were supposed to be talking.
“I, uh… I kind of forgot my textbook back in my room,” Blake admitted. “…All of them.”
Elly’s eyes glanced at the duffel bag between their desks.
“…Grabbed the wrong bag, huh?”
…That was what Elly would have said if she was a girl like Amy who joked around and was easygoing. Instead, she just said “oh.”
“So, um, I was wondering… can I look at your book with you?” Blake asked. “You know, read together?”
Elly hadn’t been asked that sort of question before. It took her a second to think about it. She nodded.
Elly scooted her desk over, Blake moving his duffel bag out of the way so that they were sitting closer, and she slid her book into the center of the desk so that she could both read it. It was fine, right? If he asked that, maybe they were friends after all? Maybe Elly could hope for something like that. At the very least, he was asking, not taking, and she would like to make a friend.