Chapter 35:

Chapter 35: Confronting the Past (Elly)

The Heir of the Dragon

Elly struggled to keep the tremble in her heart from reaching her face.

Learning that the confidence she’d gained from testifying on Sabine’s behalf had not made her immune to uneasiness and anxiety had been bitter medicine indeed. She thought she was growing confident enough to hold her head high, but in the end…

In the end, thinking about what might happen, I’m still shivering.

“Hey, Elly, you okay? You look a little shaky.” Elly felt a gentle hand on her shoulder and turned to see Wendy’s smiling face brimming with concern.

Elly brightened, her heart set at ease by her friend’s gesture of kindness.

“I guess I’m just a little nervous,” Elly admitted. “Last game we managed to scrape by without me having to do much of anything, but I don’t know if this game will be the same.”

Elly looked around the chamber they’d set for their home base. Lance, the King, was lost in thought as he studied the magic board tracking the positions of all their pieces, and that made things tense. He had explained that unlike the previous game he had chosen a more offensive arrangement.

That meant that as the Rook assigned to protect him, Elly would have to do a really good job if they wanted to win.

So yes, she was definitely feeling the pressure. The fact that she actually would have felt better if Sabine was with them spoke volumes for Elly’s confidence at the moment.

“Don’t worry, Elly, you just focus on your barriers,” Wendy said, giving her an encouraging thumbs’ up. “Leave it to my wind blade to fight off everybody!”

Elly smiled a little. Wendy’s optimism was definitely helpful. Unlike…

“Need to get the lettering right,” Melody mumbled, writing words on the tile with her magic pen. “Make sure no one can get in…”

“…Melody’s trying her best, too,” Wendy added, laughing awkwardly.

The third Pawn in the “Protect the King!” group was Meghra, wearing her painter’s smock. The short brunette didn’t seem all that interested in talking. For one reason or another she’d brought a canvas and paint set with her, and rather than prepare some defensive magic or strategizing with the others, she was just painting.

Elly held her head high. She needed to do her best, too!

“Okay, that’s enough time,” Lance murmured, startling her. Elly turned back to see him write something, sending orders through the board. A few seconds later, a loud crash echoed in the distance. Elly gasped in surprise and turned to see a massive hunk of ice shooting up into the air on the other side of the battlefield, nearly hitting the ceiling of the large room their arena stood in.

“Was-Was that Ark?” Elly stuttered.

“I’m having him play decoy,” Lance replied, setting his pen down and returning to studying the board. “Everyone saw that. And from the last game, they know Ark’s a Rook. So if a Rook is using such powerful magic in his own territory they’ll probably assume that he’s defending the King. Which means they’ll focus their efforts on him, and our position will be secured.”

Elly wasn’t sure if that made sense, but she trusted that her half-brother knew what he was doing.

“Magic like that’s gotta be pretty exhausting though,” Wendy said, her voice filled with worry. “Will he have enough to fight?”

“Ark will be fine,” Lance assured them. “He’s more than skilled enough, anyone can see that.” Lance barely sounded bitter when he said that! Elly was happy for his growth. But she was concerned by the worried look in his eye.

“Everything okay?” Elly asked cautiously. She was still a little afraid of making the prince angry.

“I’m just concerned,” Lance replied. “Est and Jacen were both eliminated and their side got 8 points. They were both Pawns, which means that their Queen, Taylor, was the one to do it. I was sending those two out to scout for their King. I assume that means their Queen is using the same strategy as in the first game, sticking to the King like a shadow.”

“Is… that good?” Elly asked. “I-I mean… I mean, we’re still ahead, so…”

“I chose an offensive strategy for this match because in the first game the Moon Cohort’s weak offense let them easily be routed by Taylor and that mana blade of hers. But something’s still bothering me…”

Then, the board beeped, and Lance gasped in surprise. One of their pieces had been captured!

“Amy just dropped out,” Lance scowled. “She was scouting close to that area. So we’ve definitely found their Queen. But she wasn’t able to get away? That’s- What in the hells!?”

More flashes on the board. Three more lights had just switched off, meaning three more pieces had just been captured. Elly gasped in shock. There were only two pieces left in that section, Sabine and Blake!

“Shit!” Lance growled, slamming his fist against the board. “I miscalculated the offensive power of that girl, to think she could take out four of our pieces that fast! Shit!”

“B-But… Blake and Sabine are still there!” Elly said, trying to turn his mood around. “That’s good, right?”

“Yeah, Elly’s right! Those two are pretty tough!” Wendy nodded in agreement.

“Shit… I’ll have to tell those two to fall back, we can’t lose any more points!” Lance groaned. “If she captures them, that’s the end of the game! I should also send Caelia Auburn in to support, as well…”

Lance was typing up his orders, when Elly’s wristband suddenly flashed.

“Incoming!” Elly whispered frantically, searching the entrances. “Someone just got within range! Four people!”

Lance’s face darkened in frustration and Elly gulped. She agreed that this wasn’t good, but his decoy strategy should have worked, so-

“There they are!”

A voice Elly knew all too well rang out from behind her, and her blood went cold. Of course he would be the one who came to capture their King.

“As I thought! The little knife-eared bitch is huddling in fear beside her protector!” Derek Lyder cackled, stepping into the chamber. “Don’t you realize a Rook is supposed to protect the King, not the other way around?”

As if Derek alone wasn’t enough to intimidate Elly, three other students joined him. A tall willowy boy, a short girl with a cold look in her eye, and a taller brunette girl with stern eyes and a scowl.

“They found us!” Melody gasped, firmly stating the obvious. “Magic Script: Explosion!”

The words beneath Derek’s feet flashed with mana for an instant, preparing to conjure the explosion that Melody had prepared. But nothing happened.

Derek threw back his head and laughed. He patted his short blonde teammate’s shoulder. “Hah! What a pathetic trick! Looks like I was right in bringing a Rook with me! Not only did she help us find where your little gang was hiding, that defensive anti-charm of hers worked perfectly!”

“N-No!” Melody gasped. But before she could get back in time, Derek was on her. A golden glow wrapped around his body and he raised his fist, hitting Melody in the stomach with a painful-looking blow that made Elly wince. She knew those punches well.

“Melody!” Wendy shouted. Derek slammed Melody against the wall, her wristband smashing against the smooth surface and transporting her out.

“Derek! You just cost our team 2 points!” The brunette snapped at him, narrowing her eyes into a glare. “Recklessness like that-“

“Shove it Sarri, who gives a damn about points?!” Derek cackled, stomping into the room, his muscular body glowing brightly. “As long as I pound that King of theirs into a paste, it doesn’t matter how many points we get!”

“Tyler said-“

“You think I give a shit what that bastard wants? Or his slut of a sister?” Derek roared at her. There was a fury in his eyes Elly had seen countless times before. His voice was dark and menacing. “Our King and Queen want their enjoyment? Well for me, paying that ghostie-loving scum of a prince back for what he did to me is what gives me enjoyment! So you lot get out of the way and let me have my fun!”

“Wind Blade!” Wendy shouted, holding up her hand. A magic circle appeared in front of it, sending a blade of wind at the boy’s wristband. For a moment, Elly had hope, but like all her past hopes it was quickly dashed by Derek Lyder’s overwhelming power.

“Hah! You think something like that will work against someone like me?!” He laughed, swinging his massive arm and smashing the blade like it was just a light breeze. Wendy’s face went pale and she stepped back, and Elly felt similarly petrified.

Move! Move! What are you doing?! Elly demanded as her legs refused to listen to her. Derek’s hulking figure… it was too much. As strong as Elly thought she was getting, seeing him again somehow made her forget all about the new Elly. All her brain could think on were those meaty fists beating her bloody so many times. She felt herself shrink away from him. Derek was just too much. She couldn’t fight against that.

She didn’t have to. Without saying a word, Lance stepped in front of her, arms raised defensively. She couldn’t see his face, but she could imagine that hateful glare, the same he had worn that day.

“Oh, look, how pathetic is that?” Derek sneered. “The prince coming to protect his little ghostie. Why pick someone that worthless as a Rook, anyway?! A cowardly knife-ear like that has no value other than lying on her back!”

“Don’t you dare talk that way about her!” Lance snarled. Elly could see from the way he was shaking that he wanted nothing more than to throw himself at Derek right now, but he couldn’t do that! Not even Lance could beat Derek with his magic!

“Fine, let’s forget all about her,” Derek growled furiously. “More important than some knife-ear, I need some payback for what you did to me.” His face reddened with rage and he cracked his knuckles together, stepping closer to Lance. “And this time, there won’t be any tricks. With my family’s Golden Light Magic, even a prince doesn’t stand a chance!”

In spite of his boasts, though, Derek was still keeping his distance. Elly didn’t understand why. He could have smashed them in seconds, but…

But he was Derek Lyder. Elly could see in those awful eyes of his how much he was relishing this moment to make them hurt.

“Then again, you aren’t really a prince, are you?” Derek’s booming laugh rang through the room as Elly felt Lance tense up.

“That’s none of your-“

“You remember what they call you, right?” Derek bellowed, interrupting Lance’s angered protests. “The Failure Prince. Because just like that pathetic ghostie of a half-sister of yours, you’re just some failure who can’t even use bloodline magic!”

Elly wanted to cry, feeling her brother shake as she clung to him. It wasn’t fair to call Lance a failure! He was trying his hardest, he always tried his hardest.

I’m pathetic. I keep thinking I can be tough, but in the end, I’m still just a coward, Elly cursed herself. I’m still just running away. Hiding behind Lance like he’s my savior when months ago he was one of the people I was hiding from. Lance and Blake… even Sabine… they’re all trying their best, and I… I’m just…

I’m just pathetic.

“But I’ll tell you what,” Derek smirked, throwing his arms out wide and slapping a meaty hand against his chest. “Give it your best! Let’s see that lightning of yours, Lancelus!” He waved at the monitoring orica hovering above the labyrinth. “Show our audience out there that you aren’t the failure we think you are.”

Lance’s hands curled into fists and Elly wished that it would just stop. But the bully’s harsh words kept coming in spite of her pleas. It was always like that, of course. No matter how much she wished and pleaded, Derek would never stop. His blows would just keep coming, and all she could do was sit back and take them.

“Elly… you have a habit of thinking the worst about yourself, you know that? But maybe if you put your head to it, you might find you’re stronger than you think.” Reed’s words from before echoed from deep within Elly’s heart.

“Didn’t you want to be strong?” The voice inside of her asked. “Didn’t you want to stand up to bullies like him?”

Elly had almost forgotten. In her panic, she’d almost forgotten the strength she’d gained that day. Standing up for Sabine and telling everyone what Calum Arslow had done had taken courage that Elly never believed that she could have.

And what was standing up to Derek, in comparison to that?

He might hurt her. But he was going to hurt her anyway. And if that was the case, then was she really just going to keep being that pathetic girl who would just let him hurt her, without standing up for herself at all?

The answer to that question sang in Elly’s heart as she stepped in front of her half-brother and held her arms out.

“Don’t… Don’t talk badly about Lance!” Elly shouted as strongly as she could. “He’s always trying his best, I’m not going to let you talk down to him like that!”

The look of shock on Derek’s face confirmed to Elly that she had made the right choice. Even as it morphed into a look of disgusted hatred.

“So, the little knife-ear comes to the failure prince’s defense,” Derek growled, smiling dangerously. “Just perfect. After I take out my satisfaction on you for a little, you can watch me put him in his place!”

The light around Derek burned brighter, but Elly didn’t shield her eyes. She knew it was going to hurt, but she wasn’t going to take it without doing anything! Derek pulled back his fist and swung it at Elly with everything he had. But instead of flinching like she had those countless times before, Elly used the one spell she knew most of all.

“Barrier!” Elly shouted, holding her hands up and creating a dome of light around herself and Lance. Derek’s fist struck the barrier, and it held, much to Elly’s joy. “I… I did it!”

“Don’t think stopping one blow is enough, you little knife-eared bitch!” Derek roared angrily, pulling back and punching the barrier again. Cracks began to spread across the barrier, much to Elly’s horror. Then he broke through, slamming his fist into Elly’s chest and knocking her into Lance, the two hitting the viewing board hard.

“Elly!” Lance gasped. “Are you okay?!” Elly felt a little woozy, but the sound of concern in her half-brother’s voice strengthened her. She shakily tried to stand, when suddenly she felt a surge of power run through her, more mana than she’d ever felt.

“Wha-? Huh?” Elly was so startled by the boost to her mana that she barely saw Derek’s incoming attack.

“Elly! Use your barrier again!” A voice called from beside her. Elly barely had time to recognize that it was Meghra’s voice as she just managed to conjure another barrier. Derek punched it in frustration.

“I’m getting sick of these games,” he snarled, winding back to punch it again.

A flash of orange drew past Elly’s eye. Bright orange paint smeared itself across the barrier. When Derek’s fist struck it, he let out a grunt of pain.

“Maker’s Mark: Orange,” Meghra said. Elly turned to her, stunned. The painter had put her canvas aside, and held her palette up with one hand, her brush in the other. It was dipped in orange paint. Meghra glanced at Elly, and winked. “He won’t break through it.”

“H-How?” Elly asked, stunned. Derek was pummeling the barrier with all his might, but unlike before the wall was unyielding. All four of them were safely behind the shield. Elly had never created a barrier this strong.

Meghra smirked, and pointed at Elly. She glanced down, and gasped. A smear of red colored her shirt. “My shirt!”

“My Maker’s Mark: Red gives a massive boost to your mana,” Meghra explained. She gestured at the orange paint smeared across the barrier. “Mixed with Maker’s Mark: Yellow’s strengthening effects, Maker’s Mark: Orange greatly improves the strength and resilience of any spell. Thank you for providing me such a great canvas, Elly!”

“That’s so cool!” Wendy gasped in amazement. “What else can you do?”

“My art grants countless abilities,” Meghra proudly boasted. “Capturing magic in artwork, truly it-“

THAT BARRIER WON’T LAST FOREVER!” Derek roared, his rabid voice shaking Elly, but she held firm and kept her mana flow stable. Her mana control made it surprisingly easy with the reserves of mana Meghra’s paint had granted her. He turned and shouted at the shaken Rook. “YUNIIII! Do something!”

“…Art is truly wasted on such philistines,” Meghra scowled.

“It doesn’t matter,” Lance said. Elly glanced back to see her half-brother was smiling confidently. “He’s out of time.”

A magic circle appeared in the center of the room. Elly gasped as she saw it. Transportation Magic?

“Thank you for being so easy to bait, ranting and boasting like that, Lyder,” Lance smirked, stepping up next to Elly. The anger she’d seen before was still present, but controlled. “You may not have known this, but there’s another rule about Rooks than just being able to sense pieces in a 50 meter radius. When ordered in an emergency, a Rook can transport themselves to the King’s side. I sent the order just as you got here, but there’s a five minute delay. Luckily, you’ve got quite a big mouth.”

Ark Greenland appeared seconds later in the center of the circle, the students from the Sun Cohort paling in shock. Even Derek looked stunned.

“Ark, take care of these guys!” Lance shouted.

Ark nodded and raised his hands, a chill falling over the room. In a flash, a blast of ice erupted from him, slamming into all of the opposing pieces.

Elly lowered her barrier. She still shivered, but it wasn’t out of fear anymore. It was hard to fear someone who was half-frozen in ice.

“Let me out of this! Free me, you bastard!” Derek roared angrily, struggling against his bonds. But with most of his body iced over, his great strength was worthless.

“…I-I guess that’s a difference of power, alright…” Wendy said, looking as stunned as Elly felt. Ark turned to Lance.

“What now?” He coldly asked.

“Free their wristbands,” Lance said. “Wendy, Meghra, break them.”

The Pawns nodded, smashing the orica of their wristbands.

Derek Lyder’s was saved for last.

Elly walked up to him, seeing him squirm and writhe. He cursed her out, spat hateful slurs her way, but none of them touched her ears.

“I’m not afraid of you anymore,” she told him. It wasn’t quite true, she was still a little scared. But she was more confident than she was frightened, and she stood tall as she stared at him. “I’m only going to get stronger from here. I’m not the scared little girl you hurt anymore, you got that?”

“You’re still a weak, pathetic knife-ear-“

Wendy smashed his wristband and Derek was transported away before he could finish his insult.

“…Piece of shit,” Wendy muttered. Elly smiled at her.

“Thanks Wendy. I was about to do that myself,” she admitted. “And then we wouldn’t get any points.”

“We’re 28 to 22 now,” Lance said, looking up at the scoreboard. “One more captured piece and we win.”

Lance glanced at the screen positions, showing Sabine and Blake were still in the game. Elly could see the anxiety in his eyes, because she felt it herself.

Hopefully those two will be okay, she thought. It was an odd feeling, cheering for Sabine.

Real Aire