Chapter 26:

Chapter 26: Family (Elly)

The Heir of the Dragon

It had been a little over a month since Elly’s release from the infirmary and she was invigorated with a new resolution to get tougher and find her place in school, so she could hold her head high and enjoy her time here.

And for the most part, things had gone fairly well. She still wore her hood everywhere she went, but at the same time, Sabine’s harassment had completely dried up. She wasn’t shooting her dirty looks or accosting her in the hallways, and the word “knife-ear” hadn’t been said even once! It was as if when Elly resolved to try and be more confident, the world had answered her by making things easier.

“I’m gonna tell him today,” Elly told Wendy and Melody insistently at breakfast that morning, biting into a forkful of salad. There was a fire in her heart that wouldn’t quench, she needed to talk with her half-brother Lance and tell him thank you for saving her from Derek Lyder. Maybe he had gone a little too far in attacking him, sure, and maybe just remembering what had happened still made her a little frightened of him, but it didn’t matter! He had saved her and she was going to thank him for it!

“Sure you are,” Melody said, not even looking up from her eggs.

“I’m gonna!” Elly insisted.

“Elly, honey, you’ve been saying that every morning for the last month,” Wendy said, her voice kind even though she was obviously trying to avoid laughing.

“I mean it, I’m gonna thank him this time! Swearsies!” Elly wailed, frustrated that her friends were teasing her like this.

“Look, there’s the prince right now,” Melody said, glancing up from her plate. Elly froze, trembling a little as she suddenly became very interested in her boiled potatoes. Yes, no need to talk to her brother right now, she had potatoes to eat! And it was certainly not because she was afraid of seeing him! The new, confident Elly that Reed Rivers believed in could talk to her half-brother, no problem!

She just didn’t want to right now!

Elly stared at her potatoes until Lance walked past their seats, and then let out the sigh she’d been holding.

“See, Elly? You’re still nervous around him,” Wendy said gently, staring at Elly with those worried eyes. “We know you’ve been trying to get bolder since Derek hurt you, but what about something easier, like eating some bacon or something? It tastes good…”

Wendy held a strip of meat up to Elly, the smell almost making her gag.

“Elves can’t eat meat,” Elly reminded her friend while pinching her nose in disgust. “It makes us barf.”

“…Oh,” Wendy turned red with shame and pulled her fork back, while Melody suppressed a giggle.

“I thought you were miss know-it-all, Wendy?” Melody chuckled. Wendy shot her a hot look.

“Melody, come on! How am I supposed to know something like that?!” She wailed.

Elly laughed as her two friends played around, her heart feeling lighter than air. She’d never had friends she could joke around with before coming to this school. Without Sabine to harass her, it was almost like living in a dream.

But I’m still weak, she couldn’t help but remind herself. While her days spent with her friends were bright and sunny, her progress with her magic was still limited. I’ve got to keep trying. I’ve always been so meek and scared, but I don’t want to be like that anymore. I don’t want people like Derek and Sabine to hurt me anymore. I need to become stronger!

And not just a stronger mage. Elly knew she needed to be strong enough to face her half-brother. No matter how strong of a face she put on, in her heart she knew that until she did that she wouldn’t really be any stronger.

I’m going to tell him today, definitely, Elly promised herself. So what if her hands were shaking? Her heart was firm, and that was what was important.

A week had passed, and Elly was finally going to tell him! She had managed to ask Est where the prince was, and walked all the way to the library and everything!

But she’d been expecting him to be studying alone, not… not playing chess with Ark Greenland of all people!

Lance and Ark were seated across from each other, studying a chess board. Elly didn’t like chess. Lance always tried to make her play it with him, but it just made her feel like an idiot every time he would beat her. She hated it! Even watching this game, she had no idea what was going on.

Ark moved one of his tall black pieces in a diagonal line, looking up at Lance. Without a single hint of emotion in his voice, he calmly stated “your next move will be mate.”

“Has anyone ever told you that your arrogance can get rather insufferable, Ark?” Lance asked, smirking.

“…Often,” Ark replied, nodding.

Lance took the white dragon piece and moved it in an L-shape back towards the white king, which made Ark’s eye twitch. Lance raised his eyebrows and his smirk widened.

“…The correct move for you should have been the queen,” Ark said, sounding irritated.

“Well, I couldn’t exactly move where you wanted, could I?” Lance asked sarcastically. Elly hung back, afraid to interrupt their game. She forced herself to stay where she was, taking the opportunity to keep stoking the fire of courage in her chest. If she let it sputter out now then she’d just run away again!

It was a few more turns before Lance beat Ark, the pale-skinned boy calmly tipping over his black king.

“You made several questionable moves that ultimately ended up paying off,” Ark mused as he stared at the board. “Interesting… Another game?”

“Normally I’d be happy to, but I have some other business to attend to.” Lance turned and looked back at Elly, and when their eyes met that familiar flinch shot through Elly again, no matter how badly she wished it wouldn’t.

“…Understood,” Ark said, getting up. His face was as impassive as always, but Elly could see that his eyes were sulking.

Lance’s eyes, though… she couldn’t look at them. But she had to force herself to try. She pushed down the fear welling up in her stomach and the beat of her heart that was pounding in her ears and looked her half-brother in the eye.

She didn’t see any hate there. Pain, certainly, like she always saw whenever he looked at her. A cold, distant pain, like just looking at her stung. And of course it would, with everything she’d done to him. But… but maybe…

Was it possible he didn’t hate her after all?

Elly let out the breath she hadn’t realized she’d been holding, and finally opened her mouth.

“My prince… may… may I speak with you?” Her words came out like a choked whisper. When was the last time she had spoken to her half-brother? It must have been many years ago. While speaking, she saw his eyes brighten, but… what was that light? What did he mean with those eyes when he looked at her? She’d spent so many years turning her gaze away from him that the eyes staring into hers now were those of a stranger.

“Certainly,” Lance said, looking around the library. When he saw they were alone, he gestured to the seat across from him. Elly took it, keeping her eyes on his the whole time. She just knew that if she broke the gaze, the confidence she’d been building up for all these weeks would snap with it and she’d run again.

It took longer than it should have for Elly to realize they weren’t talking. For some reason, the words just weren’t coming out! How could it be so hard? Was she really that weak and pathetic that she couldn’t even manage to say “thank you” to the boy who’d protected her, just because of some bad memories?

When Lance spoke first it made her feel even worse.

“I’m surprised that you came to talk to me, Elly,” Lance said. His voice was so gentle that Elly couldn’t believe it was his. He’d always sounded so harsh and cold whenever she heard him speak, this wasn’t the half-brother she knew at all. “After all, you’ve been avoiding me for so long.”

“Th-THANK YOU!” Elly shouted far too loudly for a library, startling not only herself, but Lance as well. Elly felt her face go red and her hands shot up to cover her mouth. She hadn’t meant to say it like that, it had just… slipped out. She’d worked herself up so much that it had just burst!

I-I yelled at Lance, at a prince! Elly was aghast at what she had done, jerking up from her seat and turning to run.

“Elly, wait!” Lance cried after her, and Elly froze halfway up.

What am I doing? She asked herself. I was really about to run from my half-brother again, wasn’t I? Didn’t I tell myself that I was going to stop doing this? That I was going to stop being so afraid?

Elly sunk back down. She was still feeling shaky, but she promised herself she wasn’t going to run away. She dug her fingers into her knees and the pain spurred her on, forcing her to turn her eyes back to his.

“Sorry for shouting like that,” Lance apologized. He apologized to her? After how rude she just was?

“N-No!” Elly blurted out, feeling compelled to correct him in spite of her fears. “I’m the one who’s sorry! I just yelled at my prince, and-“

Lance’s wince cut her off. Had she said something wrong?! When she said the wrong thing she usually started babbling but right now she was too frightened to do even that, letting her words die in her throat.

“You don’t have to call me prince,” Lance quietly said, sounding hurt. What did he mean by that? It didn’t make sense.

“But… but you are my prince,” Elly wanted to say, but ignoring the request of a prince would be unthinkable!

“I told you before, remember? You can just call me Lance.”

Elly gasped. How many years ago had that been? It felt like a lifetime. Back when she was a little girl, and had spoken to the prince in the library. So long ago she wasn’t even able to read the words, just look at the pictures. Back at a time when his eyes had looked so clear, untouched by any of the pain and hatred around him, when she didn’t know how much she’d hurt him.

He… he remembered that? How could he? Elly could barely remember!

“That… well, that was…” Elly shut her mouth, she knew she was about to start babbling again, and didn’t want to embarrass herself.

“I remember I saw you looking at books in the library,” Lance said wistfully, his blue eyes glazed over with nostalgia. “I was curious because I had never seen ears like yours before, so I asked my mother about you. She said… not to talk to you.”

Elly winced. She knew the queen had probably said much worse.

“But I was still curious, so I went to see you anyway,” Lance continued. Elly didn’t understand why… why was he telling her this? Why was he talking about such ancient history? “You were so… nice. You asked me if I wanted to look at the picture books with you.”

Elly gasped. She’d said that?!

“I-I-I asked… the-the prince… to-to-to r-read with me?” Elly felt the world spin. She couldn’t believe she had done something so impertinent as a child, could she have really been that naïve? And yet, the more Lance told her, the clearer those distant memories came, pushed down for years by the scorn and hatred laid upon her.

“You don’t remember?” Lance asked, surprised. Then his eyes darkened. “Yeah, I guess… things have been rough for you.”

“That’s-! No, I mean… c-compared to what you’ve been through, I… it-it’s what I deserve, so…” Elly hung her head, unable to look her half-brother in the eye. She deserved what happened to her, but the prince? People talking behind his back, saying that he was a bastard, that his mother had cheated on the king out of jealousy, he didn’t deserve any of that. She was the one who was wrong, if she’d never been born, then…

“You said your name was Elaindra,” Lance said, his warm nostalgia cutting through the cloud of misery filling Elly’s thoughts. She looked at him, surprised. “And I said my name was Lancelus.”

That brought another memory to the surface, and before Elly could wrestle it into submission it jumped out of her lips. “I couldn’t pronounce it, and you said I could call you ‘Lance’ instead.” She gasped again, squeezing her mouth shut.

Lance laughed. He laughed! “That’s one of my better memories,” he admitted. “Even though what happened after…”

Elly remembered the next parts well. It had been around that time that she became aware of how different she was from the other girls. How nobody wanted to play with her, how people looked at her like she was… less than they were. How even the prince would stare at her with such painful eyes, and force her to play games with him like dragon hunting and tree climbing. Forcing her around people who kept looking at her with those eyes…

The prince’s face was pained, these memories no doubt taking as harsh a toll on him as they were on her. She couldn’t stand to see him so wounded. That pain was her fault, after all. But what could she say to make him feel better? Words of comfort were not something she was accustomed to, neither hearing nor speaking them.

There was only one thing she could think of that might make him feel better. And luckily, they were words that she’d been practicing in the mirror for over a month now.

“Thank you for saving me.”

Had it really been that easy? Just five simple words. When she spoke them it made all the work and stress and effort seem so pointless in hindsight. They’d come out so naturally she couldn’t believe it.

The way the prince’s face brightened made her relieved she had finally said it.

“That… that was…” his face flushed and he glanced down. He had actually turned away from her? She couldn’t believe it. This conversation hadn’t gone at all like she’d imagined. Years of cold looks from the prince, from everyone around him, had convinced her that this would be a nearly-insurmountable endeavor, apologizing to her half-brother. She imagined that he would respond with cold indifference at best, if not anger at her for presuming to speak with him!

But this…

“I didn’t mean to imply… I’m sorry if I offended you, my prince!” Elly sputtered, desperately trying to make some sense of what was going on.

“Lance,” he said, turning up to her with that pained look in her eye. She swallowed, and nodded her head in resignation. It felt so wrong to say it, but…

“Lance,” she squeaked out, terrified of some harsh reprimand. The last time she’d said his name, the queen had roared at her for her impudence! She’d never made that mistake again. But no such rebuke came.

He smiled. Lance smiled. Not some smile brought on by memories past, or a smirk of triumph at victory over an opponent, but a regular smile. And it was aimed at her. The warmth in his eyes melted through the pain in her heart, Elly feeling stunned as she looked at him.

She swallowed.

“You don’t need to thank me for saving you,” Lance said. Of course! That was impudent of her, to expect he would care one way or another for her gratitude! Surely, that smile was just a mistake on her part. “Of course I’ll save you if you’re in trouble. You’re my sister.”

Elly’s mind stopped working when she heard that word. Sister. It sounded like a swear word. She had thought of the prince as her half-brother, but never had she once presumed to think of herself as the prince’s sister, or even half-sister.

Lance looked troubled. He continued, “I know I haven’t… been like much of a brother to you, but… I’m not really sure how to do it.”

Elly still didn’t know what to say. Everything was numb and she stared listlessly at him, listening to his words with no idea what he meant. Lance still looked troubled. It was a face Elly recognized it well, considering how often she wore it herself. He looked like he wanted to ask her something, but wasn’t sure how to do it.

“Elly, why do you always run the other way whenever I try and talk to you?” Lance asked, relaxing when he finished speaking. That was what he had found so hard to ask?

Elly wasn’t sure what to say. Why wouldn’t she run from someone who hated her, and kept trying to make her spend time with him anyway? Just like Derek Lyder who would beat her, or all those mean girls that had called her names.

“I… I didn’t want you to bully me,” Elly said, just the thought of it making her shiver. She tried to keep the tremble from her voice. “Everyone… everyone who looks at me, they hate me and scorn me, people like Derek even hurt me, and you… every time I looked in your eyes, it looked like you were staring at me with such anger and pain, so I just… I didn’t want to think about what would happen if you actually tried to hurt me, so I just… ran.”

Rage surged through Lance’s face and he leapt out of his seat, slapping his hand against the table. “You think I would actually hurt you, like that piece of-?!” He sputtered out, cutting himself off. His eyes widened and he pulled back, looking horrified. Elly herself felt terrified seeing that anger in him. It reminded her of when he’d attacked Derek. Lance quickly calmed down. “I’m sorry for yelling like that,” he said contritely.

The two sat in silence for a moment before he continued.

“I knew that you were bullied,” Lance winced. “Whenever I saw someone hurt you, I tried to stop them. But when my mother found out what I was doing, she told me to stop, that I would just make the rumors about me worse if I showed concern for you. How pathetic is that? I’m a prince, and yet I couldn’t even stop people from picking on my sister because I was too afraid of what they would think of me.” He laughed bitterly, shaking his head. He wasn’t looking Elly in the eye.

Elly was aghast. He thought that way?!

“You aren’t pathetic at all!” Elly protested, shaking her head. “I… I… never mind!” She realized she had been about to talk about those awful rumors and hurt him again, and she couldn’t bring herself to do that. She calmed down, and continued. She really wanted to make him feel better, somehow. “I heard… all about those awful rumors. How… how you’re not the king’s real child, and…”

Even as gently as she could, she couldn’t say it. But Lance said it himself, which surprised her.

“The Lightning of the King,” Lance murmured, raising his hand and staring at it. Elly wanted to cry with how painful his voice sounded. “I have my father’s blood in my veins… and yet I can’t use the Bloodline Magic… I can’t summon a single spark.”

Roland the Great Uniter and First King of Saekoria could summon lightning from his hands, a magic passed down through the bloodline of Eldaria. The king could use it; the first prince could use it, but Lance… Lance had never been able to. The king’s child couldn’t use the royal Bloodline Magic? That unthinkable reality had been at the heart of the rumors surrounding his heredity.

“I’ve been trying to summon it for so long, and seeing how skilled everyone here is… and I still can’t…” Lance’s voice trembled, and so did his hand. He took a breath and raised his head to look at Elly. His eyes were filled with pain. “But… that’s not important right now. I still need to apologize to you, Elly, if I had kept an eye on Derek, then none of this would have-“

The prince? Apologizing to her?! Elly shook her head frantically, her eyes widening in disbelief. “No! No!” She frantically protested. “You don’t need to apologize to me at all!”

“If I had realized how much I was frightening you, I wouldn’t have approached you like that,” Lance said, his voice filled with remorse. “I just… I thought that if we weren’t in the palace anymore, then maybe… maybe I could actually look out for you this time, without drawing attention, keeping people like Derek and Blake away.”

“Blake?” Elly asked, stunned. “But… but Blake’s nice! I like him!”

Lance looked surprised, and nodded a little. “Oh… okay.”

Elly still felt very awkward. She wasn’t afraid of her half-brother, not anymore. She was just… confused. Today hadn’t been like she’d expected, not at all. She needed some time to think about what had happened. But she knew that she felt a little warmer now than she had that morning. She held her head a little higher. And the light in Lance’s eyes was a little brighter as well.

“Um, I’m… I’m going to goooo…” Elly said, rising from her seat. She wasn’t running this time, and Lance wasn’t moving to stop her. “Look, I don’t… know what to think, so… I’ll see you tomorrow in class, I guess…”

“Maybe we can talk again,” Lance said quietly, a slight tinge of hope in his voice.

Elly nodded shyly, not entirely sure, but not seeing anything wrong with it. “Yeah… maybe.” And with her head held high, Elly walked out of the library and headed down the hall and out into the quad, feeling like an immense weight had been lifted from her shoulders. She was smiling. She was actually smiling! Her thoughts were a jumble, but she knew she had grown a little, somehow. Maybe she was becoming a little more of the girl Reed thought she could be.

The sounds of a struggle in the quad shook Elly from her reverie. She looked around, straining her ears to listen closer. A struggle! And that was definitely a shout!

“Get off me! Let me go you piece of-!”

Elly froze. It wasn’t just any shout; it was a shout that belonged to a voice she recognized well. Sabine Scarlet. Her eyes landed on a shock of red hair. Sabine was struggling, there was someone grabbing her, pushing her against a wall. There were other people around, but Elly’s focus was on Sabine.

Elly’s first instinct was to run. This was none of her business, and she didn’t want to draw Sabine’s attention. But she couldn’t leave. She could see what was happening clearly. Sabine was being attacked by somebody.

What could Elly do, though? She was so weak and pitiful, she couldn’t save the girl. She could run and get help, and…

Elly couldn’t believe that with all her confidence from before, she was scared now. Meek little Elly running away again?

Well, she was running alright. But running towards Sabine, not away from her.

“Hey!” Elly shouted, her voice stronger than she’d ever heard it as she reached the crowd.

Then crimson flames roared in front of her eyes, and her world burned in agony.

Real Aire