The Heir of the Dragon
Eve awoke with a yawn, the morning light rolling over her face. The sun was out! It was a refreshing pleasure wake up at a reasonable time of day for once.
“Oh, you’re up,” Josie noted, the stringy-haired girl glancing up from her desk. A smirk spread across her face. “Get a good night’s rest? We’ve only got about ten minutes before class, guess you’ll have to go without breakfast.”
Josie was an unpleasant sort, Eve knew that much her first day here. But Eve was too refreshed to pay the gaunt girl any mind.
“Good morning, mistress.” Eve turned her head to see a tall woman dressed in the black and white clothes of a maid, arm wrapped across her waist in a bow. A look of composed dignity gave her features a sharpness to match the stern stoicism in her dark eyes, and her glossy black hair was tied in an efficient ponytail that hung down her back. Bell was an austere picture of propriety, a rather amusing contradiction to the image of a demon.
“…Good morning, Bell,” Eve addressed the maid, concealing her words from Josie’s ears as she got out of bed.
“I shall remain in your service for another 14 hours and 42 minutes precisely, mistress,” Bell replied. “Please inform me if you have any need of me.”
“You’re a spirit,” Eve dryly replied, finishing putting on her uniform. She grabbed her bag and headed out, ignoring her roommate. Josie enjoyed being late to class to make a statement anyway.
“And for another 14 hours and 41 minutes I shall provide whatever service I can as a spirit.”
Levi may have been clingy, but Bell was a different kind of irritant. All her favorite girls were varying levels of annoying.
Thankfully, Bell seldom spoke without being spoken to, which made her the most tolerable of the lot. Eve had important things to deal with, and didn’t have time to spend on babysitting a demon spirit. Today was when she would make her first foray towards becoming Sabine Scarlet’s friend. For the past few days she had been studying the noble and the girls who followed her, Jasmine and Mindy, planning her avenue of attack. She had multiple plans she could implement. Friendship with Sabine was a necessary step in learning more about Blake, so she had no problem putting on a false face and pretending to be another vapid bully.
She was an illusionist, playing pretend was her forte.
Eve’s plan hit its first snag with the revelation that Reed Rivers would be assisting in some of their classes today. She was wary of the girl. Eve had worn enough faces to recognize a fake smile when she saw one. The girl was always smiling, all the time, and Eve didn’t trust it for a second. And the way she cozied up to Blake could only lead Eve to one conclusion.
Reed Rivers was a threat.
That day, her cohort got its first taste of real magic. The professor had been teaching them how to use the Fireball spell, and Eve had to be careful not to draw too much attention to herself. If she caught Sabine’s eye, that would be good, but she wouldn’t be able to do her duties if she became a topic of gossip. Luckily, she happened to be in a cohort with a few standouts. Chloe, Ark, Lancelus, they were all drawing attention off of her.
“Well done, mistress,” Bell complimented her with her usual lack of emotional investment. “You performed that spell most admirably. If you continue to practice you will far exceed your peers with your current level of experience.”
Eve rolled her eyes. She’d purposefully disrupted her mana so as not to do her best.
“Is the Demon Queen of Sloth supposed to be so impressed with hard workers?” Eve muttered under her breath.
“Why certainly, mistress. A diligent master or mistress is most appreciated. As the Queen of Sloth it is my responsibility to punish those who wallow in indolence and torpidity. So those like you and the master who rely on their own strength are most welcome contractors. Please continue your hard work.”
“Remind me never to contract your lazy ass,” Eve sighed, firing off another imperfect fireball.
“Is that an order, mistress? Please state precisely what time you would like me to-“
Bell went silent. Eve fired another fireball. Feeling the professor’s eyes on her, she barely put in any mana, the fireball exploding in midair.
“Ms. Moonshadow, you want to make sure you’re putting in the appropriate levels of mana,” the professor consulted her. “Your prior fireball was adequate, try to make sure you can maintain that mana output consistently before increasing, otherwise the spellcraft will be sloppy.”
It was good advice, but Eve didn’t need it. Her fine mana control was a thing of perfection; for an illusionist attention to detail was everything.
“Thank you, professor,” Eve replied, performing a slightly better fireball for the professor’s eye, as though she was putting his advice into practice. He nodded approvingly and walked on. I should probably keep my mana levels under control, in case I need to cast some illusions later, Eve reasoned. She had quite an abundant reserve, but she always wanted to keep some mana available just in case of an emergency.
After Intro to Combat Magic, their next class that day was Physical Training. Eve wasn’t exactly thrilled. She wasn’t a fan of physical activities, so she would cast an illusion to make it look like she was participating with the others. The problem was, if she did that she’d spend the period, maybe even the rest of the day, listening to Bell admonish her for her laziness.
Eve hadn’t yet decided which of those options was worse. But she filed out onto the field with the rest of the cohort, Miss Esterwind greeting them in front of the track.
And Reed Rivers was there, because of course she was, smiling that fake smile of hers.
“Alright you brats, listen up!” Miss Esterwind barked, narrowing her eyes into green slits. “We’ve been working on building up your strength and stamina these past few weeks, and to my surprise, most of you are in better shape than I would have thought! So consider this a little bit of a reward from me.”
The teacher turned to Reed, who waved.
“First, the announcements. Starting next week, we’ll be moving past basic workouts and onto something a little more meaty,” Miss Esterwind declared, her lips curling into a smile that made even Eve feel wary. “You’ll be having the chance to participate in combat drills! We’ll be training with swords, how does that sound?”
Murmurs rose up from the students, they certainly sounded excited at the prospect. Eve could understand why. Coming off the high of using magic in school for the first time, now they would get to practice with swords? Definitely something to be excited about.
“But that stuff is all for next week,” the teacher confirmed, leading to a few groans that were quickly silenced by her glare. “Today, we’re going to be doing something a little different. Let’s call this a… practical fitness test, yeah, that sounds good.”
Audrey raised her hand, Miss Esterwind brazenly ignoring her.
“For our practical test, we won’t be using our usual training area, no,” Miss Esterwind continued, shaking her head. “We’ll be working in a more… suitable environment.” The teacher jutted her thumb over her shoulder, pointing at the large forest at the edge of campus. Confused murmurs rose up again, once more silenced by a glare. At some point the class would learn that drill sergeant of a teacher didn’t put up with talking.
“Now, I’ll turn things over to my assistant for today, Reed Rivers, who I’m told you’re all acquainted with already. Rivers, they’re your responsibility for now, tell’m what’s what.”
“Thank you Miss Esterwind!” Reed chirped, walking up and clapping her hands together. “Hey guys! I know you’re a little exhausted from practicing magic this morning, but it’s okay! Today, we’re going to be playing a game!”
Eve’s ears pricked up at that. A game?
“We’re going to be playing ‘Dragon Hunting’!” Reed cheered. “Isn’t that just the best?”
Audrey raised her hand again.
“Yes Audrey?” Reed asked.
“Forgive my confusion, but isn’t Dragon Hunting a children’s game?” Audrey asked. “What does that have to do with training?”
“Why, quite a lot,” Reed said. “It’s a fun game, and one of my favorites. But yes, this version might be a little different than the one you’re used to, let me explain. I’ll be playing the dragon, okay? And you guys all try and run and hide in the forest, while I try and hunt you down! And when I tag you, then that means you’ve been eaten! Raar!” Reed raised her hands and gnashed her teeth together like a dragon, a few people giving her giggles out of what Eve could only assume was pity.
Audrey kept her hand up. “But… we get to hide in the whole forest? Isn’t that kind of unfair? I mean, there’s only one of you, so…”
“It won’t be a problem, I promise,” Reed assured her, shaking her head. “All you have to do is keep me from tagging you.”
“So wait, we just start running, trying to get away from you?!” Amy asked excitedly.
“Exactly!” Reed nodded. “Now, the first thing-“
“Alright, let’s go!” Amy wasn’t listening. She raised her hands and her legs flashed for a moment, augmented with mana. “High Dash!”
“Wait, I didn’t-“ Reed opened her mouth but Amy ran past her and dashed towards the forest before she could finish, moving so fast that she became a speck in the blink of an eye. “…Say start.”
Reed sighed, flashing a rueful smile and shrugging her shoulders. With a snap of her finger the space beside her began to warp and distort, a large hole appearing beside her as she used her transportation magic. She stuck her arm inside.
“Wuup! Hey! Waah!” Amy’s surprised voice echoed from inside the portal, and with a tug Reed yanked her out by the collar, the stunned girl falling in a heap at her feet.
“Now, I know you might be a little excited, but I haven’t explained the rules yet,” Reed chuckled.
“Amy, what did I tell you about irresponsibly using your magic like that?” Miss Esterwind snarled. Amy flushed in embarrassment and curled up into a ball.
“It’s okay! No harm done!” Reed said, clapping her hands to dispel the tense atmosphere. “But Amy certainly had the right idea! I’m going to count to 300, and while I’m doing that, you guys run for the forest as fast as you can! Run, hide, whatever you can to keep from being eaten by the dragon for twenty minutes! If I tag you, then I’ll send you back here and you’re ‘out’! Whoever manages to last until the end of the game without being eaten gets extra-special bonus points!”
Eve had no idea what “extra-special bonus points” were, and didn’t rightly care. Not having grown up with any other children, Eve had never played this game before, but she had initially assumed that Audrey was right about the forest’s size giving the students an unfair advantage.
But after seeing Reed’s little transportation trick, though, Eve suspected it wouldn’t be nearly big enough for everyone to hide, a sentiment clearly shared by the rest of the class.
“Now, when I say start, then you get running! Sound good?”
Audrey, for the third time that day, had a question.
“Earlier, you stopped Amy from using her magic,” Audrey said. “Am I right in assuming we’re not allowed to use magic?”
“Hmm? Oh, my, not at all!” Reed said, shaking her head. “You may use whatever form of magic you wish to escape from the dragon, provided it isn’t used to harm another student, or myself. How does that sound?”
In a second, the reluctant looks on everyone’s faces flipped around. Now, the whole class was thrumming with excitement. They’d just used magic that morning, but it had been clinical practice magic with prepared spells, and a strict guide. But several of the students, including Eve herself, had their own forms of magic that they had learned one way or another, and the prospect of being able to use your own magic in a game seemed way more exciting than just flinging fireballs at a wall, and Eve didn’t even like games.
“Ahem,” Miss Esterwind interrupted the excitement, clearing her throat. “One other thing. These grounds are campus property, and that includes the forest. So when using magic, make sure you aren’t causing any excess damage, understood?”
Eve doubted highly that many students would have the magic available to really do that much damage to the forest right now. Then again, they all HAD learned the basics of the Fireball spell today…
“Okay! I’m too excited!” Reed said, holding her hand over her eyes. “Let’s play already! Start! 1, 2…”
As Reed began to count, the cohort broke into action, everyone running as fast as they could, with Amy faster than any of them. To Eve’s amusement, Blake was still lugging that heavy bag behind him, which meant he’d probably be the first one to get caught.
Well, maybe not.
Eve was still standing on the field, shrouded in illusion while a copy of herself headed for the forest, but there was another student who hadn’t moved an inch. Chloe Bellajean was snoring away in the grass, dead to the world.
“Mistress, will you not be participating?” Bell asked, raising an eyebrow in a way that made her emotionless face look just judgmental enough.
“I have more important things to do,” Eve replied, glancing at the counting third-year. “While my double is hiding, I’ll be following Reed. To judge her for myself.”
If Reed Rivers was going to be a threat, Eve wanted to see what she could do close up. And this was an opportunity unlikely to come again.
“And… 300!” Reed finished counting, lowering her hand and looking around. “Well, everyone’s nice and hidden! …Or not.” Reed looked down and saw Chloe curled up in the grass. She reached down and tapped Chloe on the shoulder, shaking her awake.
“Hm?” Chloe asked, slowly waking up.
“Caught you!” Reed hummed. “You’re out.”
“…Oh.” Chloe promptly went back to sleep.
“See, Bell? You could be working with her, would she be better?” Eve asked.
“I have no reservations serving you, mistress,” Bell replied.
“Now then!” Reed said, stretching. “Twenty minutes? Better get started!”
Reed snapped her fingers and formed a large portal in front of her, stepping through. And Eve followed quickly after her.
Traveling through the dimensional portal was an interesting experience. For a short few seconds, Eve felt completely weightless, not able to see anything, and the moment she got used to it, she found herself lying in the grass, the sunlight blinding.
“We have arrived, mistress.” Bell’s voice lifted Eve to her feet, taking a cautious look around. Her illusion hadn’t been broken by the portal. Taking a moment to take stock of her surroundings, she found it hard to believe that this much wilderness was so close to the school. The streaming sunlight through the leaves above, the rustle of the cool wind blowing through the branches, the mighty trunks, reaching up to the sky… Eve had never been in a real forest before, but it was just like she’d always dreamed. But what she hadn’t imagined was the smell. So warm and fresh, a strange damp aroma of mint and dew. She was so distracted by the rush of natural life so alien in Tartarus that she’d forgotten all about Reed and the game before a wail snapped her back to reality. Jerking her head around, her eyes quickly landed on the blonde, who had already tagged two students.
“Please return to the track, the dragon has eaten you!” Reed chirped, sending the disappointed boys off. She closed her eyes and took a deep breath, sniffing at the air.
As Reed focused, Eve studied her. Reed hadn’t even blinked when she formed a portal that led her right to those two students. Which meant that Reed had a type of magic that was especially annoying. Reed could sense mana, which meant that wherever the other students were hiding, she would be able to sniff out their mana and track them down. This really wasn’t a fair game at all.
Luckily my illusions are special… if I was an average illusionist she would have found me right out. Eve’s illusionary abilities let her conceal even the sensations of mana. But most weren’t so skilled.
Reed was on the move! She hadn’t summoned a portal, so her next target must be close! Eve jogged after her, watching closely.
“Hello there!” Reed jumped over a large rock, hearing a girl’s scream from the other side. There went Meghra. The painter glumly trudged around the rock, her head lowered. Eve dodged around her and followed Reed, who had already crafted another portal.
This time, Reed and Eve dropped down from the sky. Reed was right above Audrey, extending her hand. But the silver-haired girl rolled to the side before she was tagged, much to Reed’s surprise.
“Hoh, that was a close one,” Reed noted, touching down on the ground. “Ah, right, you’re an Angelique, aren’t you?”
“Indeed.” Audrey’s red eyes flashed.
“My, my, those eyes of yours are going to be a troubling thing,” Reed mused.
“If you wish, then you may continue,” Audrey calmly replied. “Or you may depart.”
“Well, if you really can see the future with those eyes of yours, then you already know just what I’m going to do, don’t you?”
Eve turned to look at Audrey. Had Reed just said what Eve thought she’d said? …Yes, yes, that’s right, she’d heard about that Bloodline Magic before. The Angeliques were a noble family that had risen to their position as archduke due to the magic of some of their members that let them look into the future.
…Perhaps the honor student’s good grades are because she cheats on all her tests, Eve mused with a smirk. That would be delicious, wouldn’t it?
“Well, I have quite a few other students to track down, and I don’t quite have the time to go hand to hand with a girl who can see the future,” Reed smiled, shrugging her shoulders. She raised her arm. “Can you see where this is going to come out?”
Audrey’s eyes flashed red and Reed snapped her fingers. Audrey sprang up off the ground, dodging the portal that spun to life right where she’d been standing. A second later and Reed would have sucked her in!
“H-Hey!” Audrey gasped. She’d reached the apex of her jump, and was frozen there. Eve whirled her head to see another portal, at Reed’s side, with her other arm entering it.
“Trying to see where my portals will appear before I make them is a rather brilliant move, fitting a talented girl like you,” Reed praised her captured prey, pulling Audrey back through the portal and helping her to her feet. “But I can make more than one portal at a time. Keep practicing with those eyes of yours, and keep honing your reflexes!”
“Yes, ma’am! Thank you for the advice!” Audrey said, bowing. She walked towards the forest entrance, head held high.
Eve continued studying Reed. It was pretty clear why she was one of those Sky Crest people. Magic of that caliber was impressive.
“Now, it looks like there aren’t many other people around- oh!” Reed turned her head and Eve felt it too. Her sensing ability wasn’t even close to what she suspected her senior’s was, but a child could have felt that surge. Eve let out a breath, which turned to steam in front of her mouth. She wasn’t just mistaking things, it had gotten colder; a lot colder.
“…Well that’s interesting,” Reed said. Eve had to agree, stunned at the sight. Rising up over the trees was a massive chunk of ice, shimmering in the sunlight.
Moments later both girls arrived at the edge of the small mountain, Eve squinting as the glistening wall. It looked like there was something inside, but it was a little too deep to see.
“Ark, is that you?” Reed asked, knocking on the wall of ice. “…My, my, such skill. Not even my portals can get through there. That’s one way to avoid being tagged, I suppose.”
Reed shrugged her shoulders and headed off, Eve taking a moment longer to gawk before following after her. Was that really Ark’s magic? I heard he was a genius, but… what in the hells of Tartarus is a guy with Elemental Magic of that caliber doing at a magic school?!
The cold air from the ice magic wasn’t the only thing making Eve shiver. Seeing something like that was enough to shake even her confidence a little. She decided to stay away from Ark’s bad side. She didn’t want to end up being flash frozen.
Reed ducked into another portal, landing right in the center of three familiar faces huddled together behind a large tree. Eve watched Sabine, Mindy, and Jasmine react to the blonde appearing in their midst, and in the time it took the girls to shout Reed had tagged the bunch. “Try not to remain so clumped up next time!” Reed laughed.
It continued that way for a while. Reed would pop in, tag whoever it was that was running or hiding, and then warp to the next place while Eve followed behind her, trying to learn everything she could about the odd girl. Most of it was intimidating. Reed was skilled, and not just with her magic. She moved with the grace of a dancer, and struck with the instincts of a predator.
Eve was looking for weaknesses, and was coming up distressingly short. It had been about eight minutes by Eve’s estimation, and Reed had already tagged out over half the class.
It wasn’t until Reed stepped in front of Prince Lancelus that she faced an actual challenge.
“Well now, prince, come along like a good boy and let the dragon eat you!” Reed said, smiling and raising her hand, cocking her leg to the side. Eve had studied her movements enough to know the meant she was about to leap forward.
Lancelus narrowed his eyes and lifted his hand, and to Reed’s surprise a magic circle appeared in his palm, shining a sterling silver. From the circle emerged a sharp blade, the prince grasping it tightly.
“…I don’t suppose magic to summon weapons that could be used to hurt you is allowed?” Lancelus asked. Reed thought for a moment and then shrugged her shoulders.
“Blunt it?” She suggested. “That should be no difficulty with your magic.”
Lancelus nodded. Clutching the sword tighter, the metal began to stretch and shift, twisting into a long pole.
“There it is, Metal Elemental Magic,” Reed purred. “The queen’s specialty, I believe? Nicely made. No wonder you got a grasp of the Fireball spell so quickly, my prince.”
“Lance is fine,” Lance scoffed, narrowing his eyes. “You sure you won’t need a weapon?”
“…My, no, not necessary,” Reed said, flexing her fingers into a fist a few times. “After all, if I had to take a guess, you aren’t planning to hurt me, right?”
“You can head back through that portal any time you like,” Lance replied, pointing the end of his staff at the blonde.
“Trying to play at more trouble then you’re worth? I like that,” Reed admitted. Lance couldn’t see the portal Reed was forming behind her back, but Eve could. “But you’re right; I really can’t be wasting too much time!”
Reed flung her arm backwards, her hand vanishing into the portal. But Lance’s reaction was stellar. As her hand reappeared behind his shoulder to tag him, he tilted to the side to avoid the grab, turning his staff up and striking her wrist. Reed yanked it back with a yelp, nursing the redness while managing to keep her smile up.
“…You wouldn’t happen to have a set of red eyes yourself, now would you?” Reed chuckled, shaking her hand. “Well-played.”
“You got Audrey already?” Lance said, his eyes widening slightly. “That’s not an easy task, I would imagine.”
“She didn’t duck as fast, that’s all,” Reed shrugged.
“Or maybe it’s because she was predicting the future, while I was predicting you,” Lance smirked. “A game like this, with magic like yours, the best strategy is to strike at the hardest place to guard, the back. Am I getting that right?”
“Abbbb-solutely!” Reed nodded. “Now, let’s get to the fun part!”
Reed charged forward, raising her leg and swinging it at Lance’s head in a high kick. Lance raised his staff to block the strike. He flicked his wrist and sent the end of the pole towards Reed’s chest, but she jumped back to keep out of his range. Pushing off the ground, she waved her hand and disappeared into a portal, coming out above Lance’s head.
Lance jumped back himself, swinging his pole at Reed as she landed on the ground. She raised her arms to block the blow, dropping her leg in a low kick at Lance’s feet. Lance dodged her attempt to trip him up, bringing his staff down towards her head, and for a moment Eve thought he had her. But no, Reed had gotten him. The tip of his staff dipped into a hole in space, causing him to lose his balance. At the same time, another portal sent the end of his staff up into the side of his foot, causing him to trip.
“And there we are,” Reed said, rising up to catch him, slapping her palm against his chest. “Don’t forget. I can transport myself through space with my portals, but I can also take your weapon and use it against you.”
“…I see,” Lance said, glowering at her.
“You did a great job,” Reed assured him. “I especially liked that you realized a pole’s range would be a better tool against me. You’ve got a good head on your shoulders, my prince.”
Lance looked at her, his expression softening for the first time Eve had ever seen.
“…Yeah,” he muttered, nodding.
Reed waved him good bye, snapped her fingers, and went after the next student, with Eve following behind as usual.
“Ah!” Reed dropped out of the portal, her face brightening up as she laid eyes on a certain someone. Eve frowned. Blake Harker, of course, hugging his duffel bag as he stormed through the brush. His face soured as he spotted her, Reed greeting him with a wave. Blake turned and ran in the other direction, only for Reed to step out of a portal in his path, swinging her hand at his face. Eve was surprised at Blake’s reflexes. He ducked under her hand and tried to run around her, but Reed stuck her leg out and tripped him, sending him tumbling into the bushes. But she still hadn’t tagged him yet.
Reed hummed as she strutted over to Blake, staring down at him. Eve circled closer to the two, watching the exchange cautiously.
“Hey there~” Reed chirped, tilting her head to the side and flashing a coy smile. “You hid for quite some time, Blake!”
“Ugh, just tag me and get it over with,” Blake groaned, staring up at her.
“Well, maybe…” Reed purred, stroking her chin. “But then, we could arrange a deal?”
Eve glanced at her suspiciously. A deal?
“What kind of deal?” Blake growled.
“Simple, simple,” Reed laughed. “Just one peek at your dragon eggs? Please? Just let me hold one again! Just a touch! Then you can go, the dragon guarantees it!” She winked.
Eve scowled, not a chance that was going to happen. The dragon eggs, it was always about the dragon eggs with her. She knew Blake wouldn’t go along with it, but just to be sure, she had her own hand to play.
Reed turned her head in the direction of an illusionary Eve, brought to life to serve as a distraction.
“Get away from him!” The fake Eve said, holding up her hand and casting a fireball at Reed. Not close enough to hit her, of course, just the ground by her feet.
“Oh!” Reed gasped in surprise. “You’re Eve Moonshadow! Hello there!”
“Run, Blake!” Eve made her duplicate say, throwing another fireball. The flames began to lick across the grass, or at least, they appeared to. In reality, the grass was perfectly fine. The fireball itself, like the Eve who had thrown it, like the flames that it spawned, were all just illusions cast into Reed’s and Blake’s minds.
Blake picked himself up and ran while Reed stomped out the flames, not too bothered. “I’ll come see you soon, Blake!” She called after him, turning to the copy of Eve. She chased after the illusion, with the real Eve close behind, luring her away from Blake. It was quite a tricky prospect. If Eve wanted to, she could make Reed run in circles until the sun set. But that would be too much of a giveaway. No one would believe a mage of Reed’s caliber had been stumped by a nobody like Eve, that much was clear from the time she had spend observing the girl. Eve needed to keep her illusions secret. So Reed chased her image for a few seconds more, before Eve allowed her image to be “caught” by the dragon.
“Sorry young lady, but that was a brave thing you did, sticking up for your friend,” Reed said, patting the fleeing copy on the back. Eve didn’t let dignify that with a response, sending her copy silently towards the edge of the forest. It would take a bit of focus to maintain the illusion around the other students, but it shouldn’t be that much trouble. She drew closer to Reed, expecting her to transport herself again, but she paused. Reed seemed to be pondering something.
“Hmm… I could catch up to Blake… but then, those three sources of mana are pretty close by… a detour then!”
And with that, Reed suddenly threw herself into another portal, Eve just barely managing to slip in behind her before it closed up.
Eve came upon an interesting sight in this next clearing, Elly and two other girls huddled together in a large bush, a barrier of light wrapped around them. Reed was standing in front of it.
“Smart thinking, Elly!” Reed clapped. “If I can’t tag you guys, then you’re safe! Ark had the same idea! But you know…”
Reed raised her hand and slipped it through a small warp in space. Another portal appeared behind the barrier, her hand sticking out and patting each girl on the head.
“…If you want to protect yourself from transportation magic then your barrier should at least be a big ol’ hunk of ice a few dozen feet thick next time, ‘kay?”
Elly hung her head and sighed, even the way her barrier crumbled looked dejected. The three girls walked away, the other two patting Elly on the back and telling her that she tried her best.
“Now, I believe I had an appointment with-“
“OUTTA THE WAY!”
A wild shriek and the thump of footfalls rang through the forest. Startled, Eve jumped to the side, preparing an illusion out of reflex before reminding herself that she was already invisible. Bursting out of the brush came what Eve guessed was Amy, but it was moving too fast to be sure. Then her foot caught on an outstretched root and her legs stopped moving, sending her tumbling forward in a roll, and Eve was certain. Amy crashed into the very same bush Elly and her friends had been hiding in, burying herself all the way up to her socks. Reed walked over and grabbed her legs, giving her a hard yank to pull her free.
“Oh, thanks a ton, sorry, I just couldn’t con…” Brushing leaves and twigs off her clothes, Amy’s gratitude faded away as she looked up at her savior, Reed responding with a wave. Amy wailed, “awww, seriously?! But I was going so fast, too! I ran like… so long!”
“’Fraid so,” Reed shrugged, giving an apologetic smile. “Listen, Amy, you’re quite fast with that High Dash magic of yours, but next time don’t run so fast you can’t even see where you’re going, okay? If that had been a rock you’d crashed into, well…”
Reed gestured at the bush that had been mangled by Amy’s tackle, and Amy’s face turned a little green, no-doubt thinking about what else could have ended up being smeared across the forest floor. She gulped.
“Y-Yeah, thanks, m-maybe you’re right,” Amy said, nodding. She walked out of the clearing, moving slower than Eve had ever seen her.
“My, not a lot of time left,” Reed murmured, staring up at the sun. “And only a few students left to hunt down!”
Humming to herself, Reed snapped her fingers and summoned another portal, stepping through it and out onto a dirt path winding up through the trees.
And standing below her was Blake. Eve stepped back to let the two do their bizarre dance.
“Hey Blake!” Reed waved. “I don’t have much time; I got a bunch more students to hunt down! Have you thought about my offer?”
Blake clutched his duffel bag tighter to his chest.
“Come on, Blake! Please?” She pouted, skipping down the path until she was face to face with him, Blake flinching and stepping back.
“Please, stop,” he said, staring at her. Eve drew closer to the two of them, seeing the troubled look in his eye.
Reed sighed again.
“Maybe next time,” she said, giving him a smile. She reached towards him and he drew back, but she lifted her hand away from his duffel bag and cupped his cheek. “Head on back.”
Curious. Reed might have been smiling, but her body language seemed a lot more somber. Disappointed, that Eve could understand, but Reed almost looked… sad.
Eve shook her head, now wasn’t the time to think about stuff like that. Whatever it was Reed wanted from Blake, it was only getting harder for her to understand. She’d hung back to study Reed, but she was coming out of this game with more questions than answers. She learned a lot more about what she was capable of, but the girl herself remained a mystery.
When the game came to an end a few minutes later, Eve was surprised that Reed had not, in fact, managed to catch everyone. She had caught most of the class, true. But there were a few students who had managed to elude her somehow, the most notable being Ark. Eve suspected he’d remained within that ice barrier the entire time.
But the other three victors were surprising.
“It goes without saying,” Shaune said, gesturing at the PT uniform he wore, decorated with strange symbols that cast a light glow over his dark skin. “This uniform? Specially decorated by my own hand! Weaving together an enchantment that conceals me from your senses! Indeed, any who wear it is hidden from all forms of detection! No wonder I emerged the winner!” He threw back his head and let out a hearty laugh.
“…We can see you though,” Meghra dryly replied. Shaune turned to her and adjusted his glasses, rolling his eyes.
“Well, certainly you can see me! What good are my designs if no one can bear witness to their craftsmanship? Honestly, such a shallow appreciation of art in this cohort…” He shook his head and sighed. Meghra’s eye twitched.
While Shaune was busy making a scene of himself, Eve was more fascinated with the other two students who had managed to elude Reed’s nose, Caelia Auburn and… Morgan? Yeah, that sounded right. They were rather quiet, in contrast to Shaune. She was curious what they had done to stay out of her way. Caelia in particular she was seeing in a new light. The slim girl looked flawless, not a single strand of brown hair out of place, the fringe hanging down over the left side of her face undisturbed even by sweat. What of Caelia’s face could be seen looked pensive, as though it was no big deal, escaping from Reed’s watchful gaze. Eve was quite impressed. Maybe she had potential as a friend after-
Oh, that’s right. I almost forgot. Eve still needed to get in good with Sabine and her posse. Sabine was busy complaining about how unfair it was that her hair got tangled playing “that stupid game” but Eve wasn’t paying attention to her mouth. While Miss Esterwind was explaining the merits of the activity and how they had probably learned more about their danger responses and necessity of hiding and escaping or some other inane drivel that Eve couldn’t care less about, Eve’s thoughts were focused on what she would say to Sabine. She needed to become her friend somehow, or at least improve their relationship… she thought about it all the way back into the changing rooms before deciding on an idea.
“Sabine,” Eve called out, catching up to the trio as they left the changing room. Sabine’s eyes skipped over Eve and her face locked into a scowl.
“Yeah, what?” She asked. Clearly this wasn’t the best first impression Eve could be making. Eve put on her happy face, a mask she based on Reed’s fake smiles, and asked Sabine if she could eat lunch with them.
A derisive snort followed by mocking laughter wasn’t the best response.
“Like I’d waste my time with a commoner like you,” Sabine said, her cackles echoing down the castle halls as she walked away.
Well, that plan failed. Eve would need to try a different approach.