The Heir of the Dragon
Elly was having a crummy day. Most of her days weren’t very good, but this one in particular was going bad from the beginning, and was only going to be getting worse. For starters, in Physical Training today, they would be practicing with swords. Elly had never held a sword in her life, and her half-elven body was fragile. Whoever she was paired with would probably beat her black and blue by accident. Or if it was Sabine, just for fun.
But that was just what she had to worry about in the future, she had plenty of problems right here and now, like her test scores. In her Intro to History and Magic Law class, they’d had a surprise practice test for the midterms, and gone over the answers in class. Elly had not done well. With how much she’d have to study now, knowing how poorly she’d done… She shook her head and rose from her seat to head out to lunch.
“Hey, Elly,” Blake called out to her as she stood up, nearly causing her to fall all over herself in surprise.
“B-Blake!” Elly gasped, turning to him. He never talked to her, or anybody! “Um, yeah?”
“That test was hard, wasn’t it?” Blake asked, leaving his backpack where it was and picking up his duffel bag. “I barely got any of them right. What about you?”
“M-Me? Um…” Professor Reycom’s tests were difficult, and with her limited knowledge she’d gotten only three questions right. “Not… not well…”
“Oh, I see,” Blake said, his face softening. Elly was surprised, it wasn’t often that she saw him look so soft.
She swallowed the tension in her gut and looked around. The room was mostly empty, everyone headed off to lunch already. Wendy and Melody had already left, and the only people still in the room were Audrey, who was reviewing her answers, and Chloe, doing what Chloe always did, sleep. So… it was safe to talk.
“Why… why do you ask?” She asked, gulping a little.
“Oh, nothing,” Blake said, shrugging his shoulders. “I’ve just been studying with Reed Rivers over the last few days… and she’s been helping me a lot. And since you looked like you were going to throw up while you were taking that test…”
Elly shrunk back and lowered her head, hiding behind her bangs. She… she had been that bad?!
“So I was wondering if, um… you’d like to join us?” Blake asked. He was stumbling over his words and looking away. Elly could tell he wasn’t used to asking stuff like this.
“I, um… I was gonna study with my roommates, can… can they come too? Wendy and Melody?” Elly asked, raising her head and searching his eyes for some hope. But he winced.
“O-Oh, sorry, I just… I’m not good around a lot of people, so…”
“Oh…” Elly looked down quickly again. “Sorry, I didn’t want to presume…” That was a downer, she really wanted to study with Reed! But could she really just break a study session with her friends? What would they think of her? They’d call her a liar and whisper about her behind her back and then treat her just like everybody else and not want to be her friends and pick on her and-and-and-
Elly’s brain began to spin in circles. Stop it, you’re getting too caught up! Wendy and Melody are your friends, they wouldn’t do that!
“If… it’s okay, I’d like to,” Elly panted, giving Blake a shaky smile. A chance to study with her idol, her friends would understand.
“Okay, well, uh, meet outside the dining hall, after closing, we’ll see you there, then,” Blake said, and for a second she wondered if she had maybe gone a little too weird. He left quickly after and Elly composed herself, straightening out her thoughts. She picked up her bag and slung it over her shoulder, heading out of the classroom-
And running right into Sabine Scarlet!
Elly stared up into the girl’s cruel green eyes and froze, beginning to shake. Oh, no, I thought they had already left! Were… were they waiting for me!?
“Hey, aren’t you going to apologize?” Sabine snapped, crossing her arms in front of her chest and narrowing her eyes into a glare.
“A-A-Apologize?” Elly stuttered, feeling a desperate need to get as far away from the redhead as possible. But her legs refused to listen!
“Yeah, say you’re sorry for bumping into me,” Sabine said, holding her hands out and shoving Elly. Elly dropped her bag and her back thudded against the wall. “That was really rude. What, do knife-ears like you not know to look where you’re going?”
“You really should apologize,” Mindy said, nodding in agreement with Sabine. Jasmine said nothing, looming over Elly like a statue with her golden eyes affixed in a cold stare.
“You-You-You-You what?” Sabine mimicked her voice with a mocking jeer, taking a step closer to her. “Got something to say?”
“I’m sorry…” Elly whimpered, looking down and squeezing her eyes shut. She hoped they would just go away. Elly tried to block out Sabine’s words, building a barrier in her mind that she could hide behind until the other girl left.
“Sorry for what?!” Sabine demanded, slapping her palm against the wall beside Elly’s head, breaking through her flimsy mental barrier and causing her to jump up in surprise.
“S-S-S-Sorry for b-bumping into you!” Elly said, feeling the shame burgeoning across her face. Sabine’s lips curled into a smile, but her eyes were still glaring and they only made Elly shake more.
“No no, what else are you sorry for?” Sabine demanded, leaning in so close to Elly she could smell the girl’s expensive perfume, her friends drawing in closer as well.
“I-I don’t know!” Elly wailed, willing to say anything to just make them go away and leave her alone.
“What, are you stupid?” Sabine said. “Oh, or maybe you’re not really sorry at all, are you? You’re just messing with me, aren’t you?”
“I’m really *hic* sorry!” Elly said, her eyes squeezed tight to hold back the tears. Why. Why was it always her? Every day it was always her. You know why, a cold voice in her heart reminded her. Because you deserve it. Because you’re pathetic.
“Are you crying right now? How pathetic,” Sabine echoed the harsh voice in Elly’s mind, causing her to nod her head sheepishly in reluctant agreement.
“Sabine, don’t you think that’s enough?” Mindy asked, Elly cracking an eye open to see the blonde girl looking around warily. “We still need to talk to Eve about that studying thing, right?”
“Well, I don’t know,” Sabine’s voice was the scariest kind of playful. She knocked Elly’s hood off and reached up to tug on her ears. “We can leave her alone, after she apologizes. It’s for her own good, after all, knife-ears like her need to understand how we humans do things. It’s for the good of our whole cohort that she learns what she did was wrong, and says she’s sorry!” She emphasized that last word with a sharp yank that made Elly wail.
“I’m sorry!” Elly cried. “Whatever I did I’m sorry!”
“Say you’re sorry for running into me,” Sabine said, her voice almost gentle and encouraging, like this was all for Elly’s own good. But Elly could hear the anger.
“I’m sorry for running into you,” Elly said through sniffles, beginning to cry.
“Good, good,” Sabine said, patting Elly on the cheek. “Now say you’re sorry for not looking where you were going.”
“I’b sowwie for nod looging where I’b goink,” Elly blubbered.
“Good, now that wasn’t so hard, was it?” Sabine smiled, wiping away Elly’s tears with her fingers. The cruelty in her eyes and her sickeningly sweet voice was terrifying and made Elly want to start crying all over again. “Now then, how can we make sure that this won’t happen again?”
“Wh-What?” Elly gasped.
“I said,” Sabine growled, grabbing Elly’s bangs and yanking them up out of her face, “how can we make sure that this won’t happen again? I don’t want you running into me and getting me hurt because you knife-ears can’t see where you’re going. So how do we make sure that you’ve learned your lesson?”
Holding Elly’s bangs up with one hand while tapping against her cheek with the other, Sabine’s lips curled into a terrifying smile that made Elly shake.
“I know how!” Sabine sang out. “Mindy, can you get the scissors out of my bag in the classroom, please? Let’s get these ugly bangs out of the way so she can see where she’s going next time.”
Elly felt her heart stop for a second before it began pounding again, rapidly. Sabine was coming after her… with scissors? That was so much worse than anything she’d done before, until now she’d settled with name calling and insults, and the occasional shove or threat. She wanted to cry for help, but her voice wouldn’t come out. And even if she did manage to scream, who would come help someone like her? Who would stand up to Sabine Scarlet over someone like her?!
“Oh, man, that’s such a good idea!” Mindy gasped, rushing into the classroom while Sabine continued to explain her plans.
“So here’s what I was thinking, after we take care of these bangs, I should help you with the rest of your hair,” Sabine decided, sounding like she was discussing dinner plans. “Let’s cut it up aaaaaalll nice and pretty, so that boyfriend of yours really likes it! Wouldn’t that be nice?” She kept tugging, and it kept hurting.
Boyfriend? Elly didn’t have a boyfriend. The word “boyfriend” was about as far from Elly’s dictionary as possible.
“I-I don’t have a-“
“I think Blake would just love to see the new you, don’t you think?” Sabine snarled. “You knife-ears want to look your best, right? So you can seduce humans into your beds?”
Elly could see some serious loathing in Sabine’s eyes. Blake? She thought Blake was her boyfriend? That’s why she was doing this? Elly couldn’t understand, she just closed her eyes and prayed the redhead would stop with her hair and not move on to other places when she was done. Hearing the sound of approaching footsteps, she resigned herself to her fate.
“Perfect, Mindy, let’s get this little knife-ear slut all- gah!” Sabine’s shocked gasp came with the feeling of her hand releasing Elly’s hair, Elly slumping backwards in surprise. She took another peek, and saw that Mindy had not returned alone. The tan girl stared down at the ground, cowering behind Audrey Angelique, austere features twisted into a cold glare, with a look in her eye that Elly recognized all too well.
But for once in her life, not aimed at her. Audrey stared at Sabine and Jasmine, both girls shrinking away from Elly.
“What’s going on here?” Audrey demanded, the stern tone of her voice like those of the professors.
“N-Nothing,” Sabine snapped, quickly regaining her composure after the initial shock had worn off. She fixed her face into a glare that matched Audrey’s, crossing her arms in front of her chest. “We were just giving Elly some advice, that’s all. Some tips to help her open up to the class more and keep her from making any mistakes. No big deal.”
“Is that right?” Audrey said, narrowing her eyes. They were such a bright red they were practically glowing.
“Yeah, it is!” Sabine growled. “And it’s none of your business! Ask her yourself!”
Sabine turned to Elly, the look in her eye ordering Elly to keep her mouth shut.
It was a terrifying look, so Elly kept her mouth shut.
“They-They were just helping me,” she muttered numbly, looking down at the ground. “I-I ran into her in the hall, so she was telling me that when I mess up like that I could really hurt someone…”
Her voice got smaller and weaker as she continued, wanting this whole mess to just be over. Audrey clearly didn’t believe her anymore than she believed Sabine’s lies, but she didn’t say anything. She just stared at Elly with the cold glare, Elly feeling her guilt stir itself in her chest as she looked down shamefully.
Why couldn’t she be as amazing as Audrey? No one ever picked on Audrey. Because you’re pathetic and weak, that inner voice told her again.
“You three get going,” Audrey growled.
Sabine opened her mouth to say something, but the terrified look in Mindy’s eye and the frantic way she shook her head must have made her rethink it. She muttered something under her breath, turned, and stomped away with Jasmine, Mindy quickly scurrying after them.
That just left Elly alone with Audrey.
“Elly?” Audrey asked, holding out a hand to her. But Elly refused to take it. Because Audrey was frightening in a different way. Those red eyes, so devoid of warmth and affection, they made her feel so uncomfortable. Unlike Sabine, Elly had known Audrey for some time. Whenever people would pick on Elly, Audrey would glare at everyone involved and break it up, so Elly definitely admired her. And she did feel grateful, every time.
But those red eyes that looked past her, like nothing she said or did mattered, those eyes made it hard for Elly to even look at her.
“What?” Elly muttered, hoping Audrey would just go away.
“Can I help?” Audrey asked, her voice stern and commanding rather than gentle and kind. “Are you being bullied by those three?”
Every part of Elly wanted to scream “YES!” at the top of her lungs, but she couldn’t. What was Audrey going to do? Give Sabine and her cronies a stern warning, like she just did? Sabine would just do something even worse to her next time, when Audrey wasn’t there. If Elly told on her, things would only get worse. And even if, somehow, Sabine was punished and she stopped, then what? Her life would magically be all flowers and rainbows? No, someone else would come along and take Sabine’s place. Sabine was just the latest. Elly had spent the last fifteen years keeping her head down and taking whatever abuses anyone wanted to shove on her, because she deserved it.
“It’s fine,” Elly sighed in resignation, shaking her head. “It doesn’t matter.” She was already retreating behind her mental barrier.
“It isn’t fine,” Audrey snapped, grabbing Elly by the shoulder and shaking her a little. “If you’re being picked on again, then you need to stand up for yourself! Or come get me! Those girls won’t mess with me, I promise.”
“There’s nothing wrong!” Elly cried. Who did Audrey think she was?! It was easy for her to come in with her magic eyes and shiny sword and archduchess status, chasing off the bullies like some big hero, but what did she know? She didn’t have to live Elly’s life! She could leave any time she wanted, Elly was stuck here! And Audrey stepping in like this was just going to make it worse! This time, Sabine had just pulled on her hair and ears, next time she might seriously hurt her! And it would be all Audrey’s fault for interfering!
“Just leave me alone!” Elly shouted, pushing away Audrey’s hand. The normally stoic girl was stunned for a moment, Elly’s outburst apparently leaving her at a loss for words. Elly felt a little guilty. She knew Audrey was just trying to help. She just wished there was some way that she COULD help. “Sorry,” Elly halfheartedly muttered.
“…If you’re okay with that, then,” Audrey nodded, her face turning sour. “I’ll see you in our afternoon classes.”
Audrey pressed her arm against her waist and bowed, which Elly found to be an odd gesture to give to a bastard half-breed like herself. But Audrey was always polite. She turned and walked down the hall, her sword rattling in its hilt.
When Audrey was gone, and Elly was finally alone, she let out the breath she’d been holding and slumped back against the wall, sinking down and curling up. Pulling her hood back up to mask her ears, she began to cry.
Why? She asked anybody listening. Why do I have to be the one to suffer like this?