Chapter 29:

Chapter 29: The Inequity (Eve)

The Heir of the Dragon

Eve walked through the dark hall, her thoughts on the inquiry earlier that day.

“I don’t understand,” Mami said, blowing a wisp of smoke from her pipe. The elegant demon wore a fancy black and red ball gown that stood out as odd in their current location. Between her dress and the braid of golden hair wrapped around the back of her head, she gave off an air of nobility; fitting for a demon so obsessed with wealth. “What gain would there be in your continued association with those humans? From what I saw, it seems like that red-haired girl is soon to be expelled. Would not a better use of your time be spent resting?”

Eve didn’t dignify Mami with a response. True, there was no tangible gain in going to see Sabine right now. But the inquiry had been a shock. It was the first she’d heard about Sabine’s assault. She’d suspected that to be the case all along, but hearing it had made her angry for Sabine’s sake; it was surprising. Had Eve grown that attached to the girl? In spite of her personality flaws?

“Knowledge is as worthwhile as your baubles,” Eve said, knocking on the door to the girls’ room. “I thought you would know that?”

Eve ignored Mami’s barking laugh as the door opened. Mindy peered out with reddened eyes. She’d been crying.

“Eve? What is it?” She quietly asked.

“I’m sorry to disturb you at this hour,” Eve apologized, lowering her head. “May I come in?”

“Uh…” Mindy looked unsure, and glanced over her shoulder.

“It’s fine, Mindy,” Sabine’s voice echoed from deeper in the room. She sounded so empty, nothing like the prideful girl Eve had come to know.

Mindy nodded obediently and stepped out of the way, letting Eve into the room. It was a picture of disarray, a reflection of its occupant. Eve’s eyes fell to Sabine, sitting listlessly on her bed, staring out into space.

Sabine was a mess. Her hair was an unwashed tangle of clumps and split-ends, something that Eve had thought would be unthinkable. There was nothing Sabine loved more than herself, and the part of herself she loved most was her hair. If she had fallen into disarray like this, then she really must have given up on everything. Eve glanced at Mindy and Jasmine. Both girls had defeated looks on their faces. No one liked seeing Sabine like this.

“And?” Sabine bitterly laughed, turning her hollow green eyes towards Eve. She saw nothing in them. Everything about the haughty girl was absent, like an empty shell. “Have you come to mock me?”

“Why would I do that?” Eve asked, raising her eyebrow.

“That’s what you commoners do, right?” Sabine’s face was locked in a vacant smile. “You love watching us nobles fall, don’t you? You can stop pretending to be my friend. There’s nothing to be gained from it, I’ll be leaving soon. Oh, wait. That’s what this is about. You’re still kissing up to me, because you know I’m going to be a duchess soon, is that it?”

Sabine climbed out of bed and her empty smile widened. She held her head high, but it rested on crooked shoulders.

“Bow before me, Duchess Sabine Arslow, commoner!” She commanded. There were tears in her eyes. “Bow before me and gain my favor!”

Eve didn’t bow. She just stared at Sabine until the girl’s smile faded, and she fell back onto her bed, defeated.

“It’s what I’ve always wanted, right?” Sabine muttered listlessly. “I’m going to be a duchess soon.” She raised her head and forced another smile. “Don’t you see… how happy I am? I get to raise my family’s status… all me.”

“Why don’t you testify then?” Eve asked, trying to keep her voice gentle so as not to upset the girl. “If you tell them what Calum did to you, then you might be able to convince them of some leniency, maybe even get him expelled, and then-“

“I thought you were smart,” Sabine said, spite seeping into her voice. “But no, you’re just a stupid girl who doesn’t know a damn thing about how the world works.”

Eve didn’t let Sabine’s words get to her. This was what she did, lash out at others.

When Sabine saw that she wouldn’t get Eve to crack, she slumped over with a sigh. “There’s a note on my desk,” she muttered, flinging her arm in the general direction of her desk, “why not take a look and then start telling me about how smart you are.”

Eve walked over to the desk and found a crumpled up piece of paper among the refuse. She unfolded it and read what was written there. It stunned her.

“This is…” Eve turned to Sabine, her pity for the girl swelling. No wonder she looked so broken.

My family,” Sabine said, her voice oozing with venom. “After I told them what Calum tried to do to me, after I pleaded with them to not force me to marry a man like that, after they heard about my inquiry, what I did to that half-elf, the fact that I might get expelled… What did they do? Comfort me? Tell me it was alright? Tell me that I didn’t have to marry a brute like that? That’s what a normal family would do, right?”

She stared accusingly at Eve, the bit of life in her eyes now filled with nothing but repulsion.

“I don’t know,” Eve admitted. “I don’t have a family.” Eve had never known her parents. Her master was the closest thing to a father that she had. So she didn’t know what parents were supposed to be like, but she knew, at least, that they weren’t supposed to be this.

“Well you read it yourself, didn’t you?” Sabine muttered, shaking her head. “They told me to keep my mouth shut. So I wouldn’t besmirch the reputation of my future husband! I’m going to be expelled, and they’re happy about it because that will make things convenient for them! And if I do testify? Then I’m done. They’ll be done with me. So you tell me, Eve, since you’re such a smart girl! What’s your brilliant idea for helping me?”

Eve lowered her head. She didn’t know what to say to that. Sabine laughed as she saw that, a cracked, broken cackle.

“You’d think I’d be used to it by now,” she murmured. “With everything they’ve taught me over the years, how to be the perfect lady? All so I could marry to improve our family’s status? And look where I am now! I should be so grateful to my mother and father!”

Sabine flopped back into bed, the room filling with her hollow laughter.

“My brother will be continuing our line, but me, I get the privilege of marrying a duke! And it’s all thanks to my parents being so diligent,” Sabine said, her voice turning into a high-pitched mockery of itself. “’Don’t play in the mud, Sabine, you’ll ruin your dress!’ ‘Sabine, a proper lady does not eat with her hands!’ ‘Don’t eat too much, Sabine, if you’re unappealing no man would ever want to marry you!’ ‘You’re only a marchioness, Sabine, if you’re going to marry a duke then you’ll need to do far better than this!’ ‘Sabine, a proper lady only speaks when spoken to!’”

Her voice broke, and she turned over in her bed, clutching her pillow to her face. She began to sob.

“Hah!” Mami threw back her head and laughed, illusionary smoke filling the room. “The greed of humans is outrageous! To sacrifice their child for their own gain? It’s pitiful.” Eve couldn’t agree more.

“Sabine…” Eve wasn’t sure what she should say right now, so her voice trailed off.

“I don’t need your pity!” Sabine spat, lifting her head and glaring at Eve. She sat up again and wiped her face, putting on a look of rage that lasted for all of two seconds before she gave up on it, her broken smile returning. She slumped back against the wall, shaking her head. “This is what I deserve, after all.”

“No one deserves this,” Eve gently assured her. She wanted to comfort Sabine, but things like showing concern and empathy came so difficultly to her she didn’t know how to start. She could fake the motions, and maybe that would do Sabine some good, but she got the feeling that even her best act wouldn’t do the girl any good.

“I brought this on myself,” Sabine muttered, staring out the window. “It’s ironic. I was so frustrated by my family pressuring me to get married that I took it out on that girl, just because she was so weak and pathetic that it disgusted me. I didn’t care who knew, because it just made sense that someone like that, some pitiful half-elf with no magic potential, be rejected. And now, when she’s been injured, no one will believe me that it was by accident. If I’d just left her alone from the start, none of this would have ever happened.”

“But… but you changed!” Mindy protested, the tension finally getting to her. She sprung out of her chair and ran to Sabine’s side, tears streaming down her face. “You stopped picking on Elly and told us to stop, too! You said you didn’t want to take your anger out on her anymore, that it made you sick!”

“Like that matters,” Sabine spat, rolling her eyes. “I just… I just wanted to be able to sleep at night.”

Eve stared curiously at her. That was the first she’d heard of that. Sabine had told them she wasn’t going to pick on Elly anymore, but Eve had assumed it was out of fear of Audrey Angelique’s wrath. “What do you mean?”

Sabine sighed, turning back to Eve. “When Derek Lyder attacked that girl… I was horrified. That night… and a while after that… I began having these horrible dreams… I was back there, on the practice field, only it was me that beating on Elly. My… my hands that were making her bleed.” Sabine raised her hands. They were shaking.

“But Sabine, you would never do that!” Mindy protested, vigorously shaking her head. “You would never hurt anybody like that!”

Sabine snorted in disbelief, and Eve had to agree. “You don’t think I hurt her? All those things I said, everything I did? You really are an idiot, Mindy.”

Mindy shrunk back, trembling. Sabine’s face softened and she sighed.

“Seeing Derek doing those things… that hate, just because she’s a half-elf… when I realized all those terrible things I’d said just because hurting her made me feel better… I tried to leave her alone, hoping that if I just… if I just let her be, then maybe… maybe I wouldn’t see that bloody face of hers in my dreams every night.” Sabine wiped her forehead, her eyes glassy. “And it almost worked. And then this happened. I finally get a taste of my own medicine. All that time I spent, tormenting a powerless girl who just wanted to be left alone, and thanks to what I did now I’m the powerless one. This is probably what she felt like, yeah? This empty, hopeless feeling, knowing that whatever you try to do, it won’t matter? It’s horrible. And I did it to her, without giving a damn. Elly must be laughing at me right now. I dug my own grave, and now I have to lie in it.”

Eve didn’t know what to say to this. There was so much about this situation that she didn’t feel equipped to handle.

“I’ll be testifying tomorrow,” she said. “I will-“

“You won’t say anything unnecessary,” Sabine snarled, glaring at her. She turned to Jasmine. “That goes for you, too, Jas. Thanks to Mindy and her big mouth over there.” Mindy sunk a little lower. Sabine sighed in resignation. “…There’s no use in telling you to keep quiet, I’m not going to make Mindy out to be a liar. But I don’t want to play this up. Please, just… I just want this to be over.”

There it was again, that vacant expression that made Eve wince. Sabine had really and truly given up.

At the inquiry the next day, things went about as Eve had expected. Jasmine gave a clearer, less embellished version of Mindy’s story, and when Eve testified, she did the best she could to speak on Sabine’s behalf while trying to keep her words as objective as possible. She was a witness but she was also Sabine’s friend, and didn’t want her testimony to sound tainted by that relationship.

But the most surprising testimony was Audrey’s.

Audrey Angelique had spent most of the inquiry the day before glaring contemptuously at Sabine, but her testimony was measured, and even, reporting very similarly to what Eve had testified to herself. It was less weighted in Sabine’s favor than Eve’s was, but Eve had expected the girl to lean hard in the other direction, to all but condemn Sabine herself.

Maybe the diligent honors student was doing her duty properly and not letting her personal bias cloud her testimony, or maybe hearing Mindy’s side of things had swayed her doubts. Eve wasn’t sure what the case was, but she was relieved that Audrey was, at least, not against them.

Then Chancellor Markov asked the question that Eve had been dreading.

“We’re aware that this is not the first incident between Sabine Scarlet and Elaindra that you’ve witnessed,” the chancellor said, eyeing Audrey inquisitively. “Do you have any perception as to the relationship between those two that you believe the review board might find pertinent, Ms. Angelique?”

Eve had been asked herself to explain Sabine’s prior incidents with Elly, and had tried to play them off as best she could.

Audrey was likely not to be so generous in her assessment.

Audrey sat on the stand in silence for a moment, her stern face an indecipherable mask. Then she asked a question. “Sir, is your question meant to inquire about the incidents of bullying that Sabine Scarlet perpetrated against Elly?”

“Yes,” the chancellor nodded.

“I see,” Audrey said, nodding back. “Indeed, over the course of this quarter I have observed many incidents that I would consider to be bullying or unwarranted harassment of Elly. Sabine would often shove her in the halls, refer to her with derogatory slurs both to her face and behind her back, made threats about Elly’s health and safety both veiled and direct, one of which included threatening to come after her with scissors, and once in a sparring session during Physical Training she aggressively assaulted her with a practice sword that caused excessive bruising and required the instructor to intercede.”

With each word, Sabine sunk a little deeper into her seat. Eve had thought she had already given up hope, but it looked like there had still been a little left in her after all.

“However,” Audrey continued, Sabine’s head raising a little in surprise that matched Eve’s own, “those incidents all occurred more than a month ago. In that time, I have not observed any actions of that kind from Sabine towards Elly, or any other student. It brings me to question why she would seek to resume those activities now, and to such a drastic degree. In light of the distance of time between these events, I would testify that no, there are no insights I can provide on their present relationship that come to mind as being pertinent to this review board,” she said, nodding respectfully. “Sir.”

Eve was stunned. It was indirect, certainly, but Audrey had actually almost… spoken on Sabine’s behalf right there! She couldn’t believe it, Audrey Angelique giving Sabine the benefit of the doubt? Sabine had sat up straight in her seat, and though Eve couldn’t see her face she could feel that maybe, just maybe, a bit of hope had wormed its way into Audrey’s heart.

Chancellor Markov nodded, rubbing his goatee thoughtfully. “I see. Thank you for your testimony, Ms. Angelique.”

“Sir,” Audrey said, rising from her seat and bowing her head. As she left the stand, the chancellor addressed them.

“We’ve heard testimony these last two days about the incident, and contradictory statements from the witnesses present. As the accused has not offered any testimony on her behalf, we find ourselves in a difficult situation of considering which witnesses to believe,” the chancellor explained. “However, another witness came forward last night, expressing her desire to testify. I believe that, with her testimony, we may be able to finally get to the bottom of what happened that day.”

Eve gasped, glancing at Sabine. Had Sabine decided to…?

But no. The chancellor’s next words confirmed that no such hope would be available.

“The review board calls Elaindra to the stand,” Chancellor Markov declared. The bang of his gavel made Sabine flinch, and she froze in her seat. Eve lowered her head in resignation. So this was it. Elly was going to testify.

Again, Eve didn’t have to see Sabine’s face to understand the despair she felt. After all the torment she’d inflicted on Elly, that feeling of hope that she’d gained, thinking maybe she’d be believed… Elly could now spin the harshest story she could come up with to be rid of her bully once and for all.

Eve glanced at the door to the inquisition room as it opened. Aided by Nurse Leilandry, Elly walked inside.

She looked awful, and why not? Her treatments weren’t nearly done. She wore her hood pulled over her head to hide the bandages, but the right side of her face was wrapped in them, covering one of her eyes. The other eye looked tired, sunken-in and hollow. With her pale skin and her infirmary gown she looked like a ghost; a specter, sent to condemn Sabine to her fate.

Real Aire