Chapter 28:

Chapter 28: The Inquiry (Damien)

The Heir of the Dragon

Damien was horrified when he’d heard what had happened to Elly. She’d already been having a hard time in his class, being bullied by Sabine Scarlet, and in spite of his best efforts she would brush him off whenever he tried to help her.

After the incident with Derek Lyder, which had somehow resulted in no real punishment against the boy, the bullying seemed to have finally stopped. Elly had been starting to turn things around.

What a short month it was, for her to find herself back in the infirmary, with far more severe injuries. He thanked the Celestials and Leilandry that her injuries were not life-threatening; according to the nurse; with enough treatments they wouldn’t even leave a scar. But she would be in recovery for quite some time. Elly had been lucky. Leilandry had privately informed him that if not for the speed of Reed’s transportation magic, things could have turned out very differently.

With Elly’s life no longer in danger, the school turned their attention to the other pressing issue, getting to the truth of what had occurred that day in the quad.

The reports of the involved parties, as well as Audrey and Eve, painted two very contradictory pictures, and the forensic evidence spoke for itself. The crimson flames that had mauled Elly’s face could have come from no one but Sabine Scarlet; the only thing left to determine were the circumstances behind its occurrence.

The situation had gone all the way to the chancellor himself. A student using magic to hurt another student was an expellable offense, and that wasn’t taking into account Elly’s previous incident. The faculty had given Derek Lyder far more lenience than he’d deserved at the request of the queen herself, and now Elly had gotten even more badly injured by another student who had tormented her.

If this issue wasn’t handled with extraordinary care, the Rem Magic Academy could end up being accused of not caring about the safety of their non-human students.

So the chancellor had determined that there would be an inquiry to determine the truth of Elly’s injuries, and depending on what the testimony revealed, Sabine could end up being expelled.

This whole situation put Damien in a rather complicated position. Over the past few months, he had come to appreciate all his students in their own ways, even Sabine Scarlet. While she might have been arrogant and rude, she also had a passion for magic and the fire to learn, and when it came to her friends she was fiercely loyal. Her bullying of Elly was the real problem in her classroom demeanor, and to his appreciation that had stopped in recent weeks. He didn’t want to believe that Sabine was responsible for something like this, even if everything appeared that way. He’d never seen her get violent with Elly.

Which made the fact that he had been asked to sit on the review board for the inquiry even more problematic. The chancellor had asked him because he’d felt that it would be in everyone’s best interests to have a neutral party on the board, and as someone who cared for both Elly and Sabine, his position was neutral.

Whether Damien could actually be neutral about one of his students’ possible expulsion was another matter.

And that was how two weeks later he found himself sitting on a panel with Rio, Arthur, Luna, and Chancellor Markov himself, listening to the testimony of all the involved parties.

The Inquiry Room was set up much like the courtrooms of Saekoria, with the witnesses testifying on the dais before the five arbiters. Sabine Scarlet, the accused, sat at the defendant’s table, her hands clasped together and her eyes hollow. Even her hair was unkempt, a surer sign than any that she felt the weight of the events that were about to transpire.

Other students, many from Damien’s own cohort but some from the others, gathered together in the gallery, with Mindy, Jasmine, and Eve sitting right behind Sabine for support. They were all that she had, in the end. There were no advocates for procedures of this manner. The inquisition panel would hear the testimony, ask any clarifying questions that they had, and when all the testimony was collected they would pass sentence. It was often fair, but Damien felt that Sabine thought otherwise at the moment.

The most notable thing about the inquiry, and what Damien was most concerned about, was that Sabine had declined her right to testify to her own interpretation of events. With the exception of the victim herself, everyone else involved volunteered their testimony. For the accused to offer no testimony in her own defense was astonishing, given the weight of the charges and the evidence against her. Seeing the look of resignation on Sabine’s face, Damien wondered if she had already lost all hope.

The first student to testify was Calum Arslow.

“Mr. Arslow, do you swear that the testimony you give to this review board today will be the truth, as you so know it?” Chancellor Markov sternly asked the blonde student, who didn’t baulk at the man’s cold gaze. Calum smiled good-naturedly and nodded his head.

“I swear.”

“Then you may proceed,” the chancellor said, indicating to him.

“Well, Ronn, Edd, Dan, and I were walking towards the quad, on our way to go get a snack at the cafeteria,” Calum testified, his tone rather light considering the circumstances. “And that’s when we heard what sounded like some girls getting in a fight. We were just going to ignore it, but then I heard one of them cry out in pain, and someone else said, um…” He made a concerned face, looking around uncomfortably. “If the board will pardon my language, I heard someone shout ‘filthy knife-ear slut’.”

A few shocked gasps broke out among the crowd, and Damien winced at the slur. He saw Audrey Angelique slide her eyes towards Sabine with a fierce glare, and a few seats away from her Prince Lancelus was trembling with anger.

“Ahem, please refrain from using such… ‘colorful language’ in the future, Mr. Arslow, if you would,” Chancellor Markov said, clearing his throat.

“Sorry, sir, I just wanted to give an accurate testimony of what I saw,” Calum apologized contritely.

“You’re a filthy liar!” Mindy exclaimed, leaping from her seat. It was odd to see her look so angry. “You know damn well-“

“ORDER!” Chancellor Markov banged his gavel against the table, the loud crack echoing through the chamber. “The gallery will refrain from interrupting proceedings!”

“Mindy, sit down!” Sabine hissed, glancing back at the girl. Mindy made a sick-looking face and hung her head, sinking back into her seat.

The chancellor turned back to Calum, who Damien noted didn’t seem particularly bothered by the interruption. “You may continue, Mr. Arslow,” the chancellor instructed.

“So anyway, after hearing that, we knew we couldn’t just ignore what was happening,” Calum continued. “So we rushed around the corner and that’s when we saw them, Sabine Scarlet and two other girls, messing with the half-elf girl, pulling her hair, tugging on her ears, she was crying.”

“By ‘two other girls’ do you mean Melinda Cromway and Jasmine Redfern?” the chancellor clarified.

“Yeah, that’s them,” Calum automatically replied with a nod. “So, they were picking on her, calling her all sorts of awful things that I won’t repeat, and so naturally I shouted at them to stop, and to leave her alone. Well, when she heard that, Sabine turned to me and her face turned all angry and she told us to ‘mind our own damn business’. Now sir, you gotta understand, my mother taught me that it’s wrong to ever lay a hand on a lady against her wishes. But she also told me that it was my responsibility to protect people who can’t stand up for themselves. So I grabbed her and pulled her off of Elly, and she shouted at me ‘don’t you dare lay your hands on someone like me!’ and then she…”

His voice broke and he glanced down, his eyes watering.

“Go on,” the chancellor urged.

Calum’s voice was still a little cracked while he continued, and his hands were trembling. “Her hair got all… hot, like it was made of fire, and then she hit me with it. Just a little bit of burn on my arm, but it made me let go.” He looked down, and swallowed, fighting back tears. “I wish to the Celestials that I’d had the strength to not let go. Because the moment I did she pushed me away, and turned towards Elly, and then she…” he took a pause, swallowing again, and finished with a tearful “she hit Elly with a blast of flame redder than I’ve ever seen. The sound of that poor girl’s screams, the smell of her burning, it turned my stomach.”

“So you’re testifying that you saw Sabine Scarlet strike Elaindra with magic willingly?” Rio confirmed with the boy, who nodded his head.

“Yes ma’am. And just as it happened, this girl with a sword comes running up screaming, yelling at all of us, and thank the Celestials she did, because who knows what Sabine would have done to Elly if she hadn’t shown up? And after that… after that, everything’s kind of a blur.” Calum finished his testimony with surety in his voice, which made Damien suspicious. It had sounded very rehearsed.

“Does anyone have any questions for the witness?” Chancellor Markov asked, looking at the teachers.

Arthur spoke. “Mr. Arslow, you testified that Elly was being attacked by three girls, did you see what Mindy and Jasmine were doing when you grabbed Sabine?”

Calum shook his head. “No, sir, my attention was devoted solely on Sabine and Elly.”

Damien was the only other person who had a question.

“Mr. Arslow,” he began, looking over the reports, “it says here on my report that Sabine Scarlet’s blouse was torn, do you have any idea how that could have happened?”

Damien saw his eye twitch. Just for an instant, but it was clear.

“Well, sir, I suppose it must have happened while I was pulling her off of Elly.”

Calum was dismissed, and the next witness took the stand. The other three boys gave testimony identical to Calum’s, explaining how Sabine and her friends had been the instigators, and they had appeared on the scene to help. It was all very convincing.

And yet, Damien remained unconvinced. The other teachers knew of Sabine’s… incidents with Elly in the past, but from what he’d seen of Sabine over the past month, they were just that: in the past. She hadn’t done anything to the girl in a long time. It made the whole thing sound rather suspicious.

When Mindy Cromway took the stand, her testimony told a different story.

“Those guys are all liars!” She practically shouted. “That whole thing about Sabine picking on Elly was a bunch of-!”

“The witness will take care to not directly impune the testimony of the other witnesses,” the chancellor reminded her. “Restrict your testimony to your own recollection of the events, Ms. Cromway.”

Mindy sighed, and nodded her head.

“Good, then please continue.”

“Okay, so, like, me and Sabine and Jas, we were all like ‘what are we going to do now that classes are over?’ and Sabine was all ‘ugh, I have a headache’ and so I was like ‘oh, no, do you want to go see the nurse?’ and then she was like…”

Damien resisted the urge to sigh at Mindy’s grating recap of the day’s events. But when she got to the part where Calum and his friends accosted them, he became a lot more interested. The way she described it, Elly wasn’t even there.

“Excuse me, so your testimony is that you girls were just walking through the quad when Calum, Ronn, Edd, and Dan came up to you?” Arthur confirmed. “Elly wasn’t anywhere around at the time?”

“Yeah! Totally!” Mindy nodded, her eyes shining with energy. “See, Calum’s been, like, totally stalking Sabine for months, now, even though she’s, like, totally not interested in him, and he even proposed to her, and she was like ‘no thanks’ but he’s been bugging her and bugging her about it, so when I saw him come up to us I thought ‘oh, great, this is, like, totally going to be a nightmare.” She let out an exaggerated sigh to emphasize her point.

“What happened next?” Chancellor Markov asked.

“So Calum was like ‘hey, red, did you get the news? Our parents have come to an agreement, and now we’re officially engaged to be married!’ and you can bet that Sabine was not cool with that, not one bit! So she went ‘I already told you I’m not going to marry an arrogant, insensitive jerk like you who won’t listen to a word I say! I don’t care what my family has to say about it, you leave me the hells alone!’ and so I was like ‘yeah! You GO Sabine, show that jerk who’s boss!’.” She took a breath, panting for air. “But then he grabbed Sabine and he pushed her against the wall!”

A few people gasped at that, Damien’s eyes widening.

Mindy looked around, her face sharing the same shocked look as the gallery. “I know! And I was like ‘hey, let her go!’ and Sabine was all ‘get off of me you jerk!’ and Jas, well, I mean, Jas doesn’t say much, but she went to go stop him and then, like, two other guys grabbed her, too, and held her back! And me too! Like, one of them grabbed me, and he totally tore my sleeve! But Sabine was struggling against him, trying to get him off of her, and then he said ‘hey, come on, you’re going to be my wife pretty soon, we might as well have a little fun right now!’ and then I heard Sabine cry out for him to stop, and I heard this loud ripping sound, and…”

Mindy began to sniffle, wiping her eyes. The chancellor took the opportunity to get a word in, which was rather difficult where Mindy was concerned.

“So your testimony is that Calum Arslow was trying to assault the accused?” He confirmed.

“Yeeeaaah,” Mindy let out an exasperated sigh, staring at them like they were all idiots. “He totally was!”

Damien was stunned by this testimony. None of this had been in the girls’ reports, they had left them mostly blank and vague. But it certainly fit what evidence campus safety had collected. And something about Calum’s testimony had seemed off. Somehow, something about the way honesty seemed to pour out of Mindy like a fountain it was a lot easier for him to believe her side of things. From what he’d seen of her she didn’t have the guile to lie, at least not to this extent.

Damien turned to Sabine Scarlet to see her reaction, but he couldn’t tell. Her head was hung and her red hair formed a curtain that made it impossible to see her face. Perhaps she’d been too embarrassed to report what had happened, and asked her friends to do the same. Either way, Mindy’s testimony raised a lot of questions that no one had considered asking before.

It was Rio that asked the question that had been on Damien’s mind.

“So where does Elly come into all this?” She asked. “What you’re describing sounds horrible, but how does this connect back to Elly’s injuries?”

Mindy scrunched up her face and glanced upward, like she was searching the air around her for her memories. “Okay, so, like, I didn’t really see Elly there, I was more worried about Sabine. And Sabine must have been seriously feeling scared by what that jerk was doing to her, because she began using her magic! Sabine yelled ‘Get off me! Let me go you piece of-!’ and then she screamed really loudly, and I think someone said ‘hey’ or something, I’m not totally sure, and there was this big flash like a ‘woooooosh’ of red fire and then Elly screamed really loudly, and then the guy holding onto me let me go.”

“So you didn’t actually see the incident in question?” The chancellor asked.

Mindy shook her head, her face turning downcast and her eyes began to water. “No… I didn’t. I was too worried about Sabine. I’m sorry…”

Then she burst into tears.

“Uwwaaaaah! I jusht… I jusht wanded do helb my fwieeend,” she sobbed. “When Cawum wet her go I wan ober do her an’ she was shaking an’ I held her an… an… and I don’ wememberrrr! WAAAAAH!”

Damien had to suppress a smirk. Mindy Cromway lacked the guile for real in-depth lies. But using crocodile tears to elicit sympathy? She was better at that than her magic. He remembered how much she’d cried when he showed graded her last quiz, it had almost convinced him!

The other teachers never had a chance. They sighed and gave coddling sympathies to the girl, and even the chancellor looked a little misty-eyed. “That’s okay, miss, no one expects you to remember everything,” he gently assured her. “No one’s mad at you. You’ve been very helpful.”

“Bud… bud if I don’ wemember den eberyone’s gonna thing I’m lyinnnngg…” Mindy wailed, playing it for all it was worth.

If Mindy’s side of things was the truth, then Sabine had used her magic to fight off an assault from another student, which was one of the very few cases where leeway was permitted, and Elly had just gotten caught in the crossfire. It was believable, just as reasonable a story as Calum’s even if a bit more embellished.

Damien believed her story without any of the waterworks, and hoped that the others would be swayed. It was the explanation that made the most sense in his eyes. Calum’s story had some inconsistencies, and he’d reported it perfectly. Mindy’s side of things, on the other hand, while far from a perfect recollection of events, matched the physical evidence as the reports had bared it out. Even Audrey Angelique seemed to have been swayed, no longer looking venomously at Sabine. She currently looked a little stunned.

The other members of the board were also shaken by this testimony. What had seemed like a formality had been blown to pieces by Mindy Cromway of all people, and now some deliberation was in order.

“Well, thank you for your testimony, Ms. Cromway, you’re excused,” Chancellor Markov said, banging the gavel and clearing his throat. “Now, in light of this new testimony, I think we should call a recess for the day. We’ll meet back together first thing in the morning to continue taking witness testimony.”

Mindy’s face brightened into a triumphant smile and she got out of her seat, running over to Sabine. Ultimately, though, for all the good Mindy might have done in convincing the inquiry, Sabine’s refusal to testify was a serious blow to any defense that the blonde was trying to raise in her friend’s favor.

The chancellor must have sensed this too, because he added, “in that time, I would recommend that the accused give some serious thought to whether or not she wishes to maintain her position of not wanting to testify. This panel is now adjourned.” His voice carried a warning with that final bang of the gavel, implying that if Sabine wouldn’t testify on her own behalf, there was nothing to be done.

Real Aire