She couldn’t stop staring at him even though she knew she should stop. She had never gotten so close to one of them before.
As we walked into the cafeteria, my eyes automatically strayed to his spot. The spot where he sat every day with his royal family. They never sat with anyone else, and the unwritten rule was that you didn’t bother them. You were only to approach them if they invited you, otherwise you would endure the wrath of their personal guards. The Elves didn’t come down from their mountains often. They were a secluded race for starters and they were royalty. Put those two together and you had a group of students that were untouchable.
“Eliza! C’mon. If we run any later the shifters are gonna eat all the food! What were you looking at, anyway?”
My friend Arabella was pulling me towards the food line. She was small like me, but stronger than she looked. We were both underdogs in this school.
“Nothing! Just taking in my surroundings.” I said innocently as I looked around. I knew she was going to give me a hard time about staring at him again.
“Really? That’s the story you’re sticking to?” Arabella asked as she arched a dubious eyebrow at me.
“Leave me alone Ara! I can secretly obsess.” I said as I rolled my eyes.
“Actually no, you can’t! The last person they found staring at him got the beating of a lifetime.”
“First off, that was a very sketchy looking Ogre. He looked like he meant the prince harm. Second, I’m just getting my fill for the day. Now come on, didn’t you say they were going to run out of food?” Her attention snapped back to her growling stomach just like I knew it would and she resumed pulling me through the cafeteria. Food was the best way to get her off my back. Arabella’s stomach seemed to rule a lot of her decisions.
After sitting down to eat my mind strayed to the royal that always circled my thoughts. I knew that the only reason they were here at all was because they were forced to be. We all were. Once we reached 15 years old our secondary education started at the Convergence School. Here we were supposed to learn how to be the leaders and fighters in this new world. The classes here went beyond grammar and arithmetic. We learned battle strategy, hand to hand combat, weapon training and we learned to hone our powers for maximum efficiency. Most importantly, we were supposed to learn and work with each other. This school was turning out leaders and warriors that would help turn the tide in the ongoing war with the demons.
I’ve been here for three years. In those three years, I have been secretly watching him. All my friends thought I was crazy. Elves were not known to be friendly. No outsiders have ever been let into their inner circle. The prince and his sister cooperated during class, but outside of class they were cold and apathetic.
Most of the students that I’d met were passionate about being there. Be it for the things they’ve been through, or because of the loss they’ve suffered. I fell into both categories. I lost both of my parents and have suffered personally at the hands of a sadistic demon. I was kept in a locked basement for weeks right after it killed my parents. My escape was pure luck, and I knew that if I survived, I would learn everything in my power to be a warrior. I would never be a victim again. I wanted to be out there fighting these demons and sending them back to hell.
Maybe the Elves wanted no part in this war, or maybe we just didn’t understand them. I was betting on the latter. I knew from personal experience that judgment could be passed with one glance. As a Sylph or Air Spirit, I worked hard against preconceived notions. We were small by nature and often assumed to be weak. There weren’t many left of my kind, which made me a mystery here. I got stares everywhere I went, and there was always plenty of gossip to be had on how I climbed the ranks of our programs. No one wanted to believe that I could be that good. There were only a select few within my rank that knew the truth and gave me the respect that I deserved. I wasn’t bothered by either the gossip or the dismissive attitudes. I knew what I was capable of, and that’s all that mattered.
Lately, I’ve caught him watching me. At least I think I have. I try not to look or stare for fear of being punished, but it’s almost like I could feel his eyes on me. I wasn’t sure what to make of it and tried not to give it much thought. For the most part that worked for me. Until the day that I got paired with him. I’d never been this close to one of them. My fascination with his race had more to do with my obsession with him than anything else, even so, it was thrilling that we were paired together. All around me, the other students were looking at me with pity or horror. He usually refused to participate in the pairing exercises. It must’ve been my lucky day. I was bouncing with excitement as he approached me. I tried to be serious, but I failed. Miserably.
As he walked towards me, he didn’t give anything away. He had his usual stoic mask on. In the 40 seconds it took for him to walk to my side of the arena, I allowed myself a good long look. He was a lot taller than me, but that didn’t mean much since I was only about 4 and a half feet tall. He towered over me by a good three feet. He had long white hair that was secured in a half ponytail, keeping his face unobstructed and leaving his pointed ears on display. I could finally see the delicate markings on his forehead that signified him as Elven Royalty. He was slim with an athletic build that was common among his kind. His movements were graceful and fluid. You never saw him appear awkward or unsure and he never fumbled as I often did. His face held delicate features that seemed in opposition to his personality. I sensed he hated that about himself. I’m not sure how I knew that. Maybe it was because he seemed to always show excessive force when he participated to offset who he was, and how he looked. He wasn’t next in line for the throne. As I understood it, he was fourth behind his three big brothers. Maybe he was angry for having to be here.
When he finally reached me, I smiled up at him like a lunatic. Seriously, I must have issues because I should’ve at least tried to appear unflappable, but that just wasn’t me. I was a glutton for punishment because when I said hello to him, he rolled his eyes at me. I should’ve known better than to think he might actually be civil to me. He has never been nice to anyone, why would I be the exception? After the teacher gave the instruction, we were set to practice. I was to protect him from an oncoming threat. Shocking right?
“What could you possibly do to protect me that I couldn’t take care of myself?” The arrogance and disdain that rolled off his tongue instantly ignited my anger.
“Why don’t you stop running your mouth prince boy, and start moving your ass, so I could show you.”
There were a collection of gasps around us. Oops! My face heated as I thought about what I said. I knew I wasn’t supposed to talk to royalty that way. I took a quick look around and didn’t see any guards running to behead me, so I thought I was in the clear. When I looked back at him, he had a slight lift to his lips as if he was trying to suppress a smile. “Prince boy?”
I snorted. “Yeah, okay. Don’t worry I’ll come up with a better one next time.”
The simulation started and a demon that looked like a wolf with a snake tail stalked us. At first, I thought this would be a walk in the park. He looked scary, but I should’ve been able to remove the threat with my tornado. I was creating a vortex when the thing started breathing fire at us. I shrieked in surprise as I felt the heat cover my body, the flames missing us by a foot. As soon as I collected my wits, I transported us with my wind right behind the creature. I left prince boy behind in my wind cloud and sprang forward while pulling my sword from my back sheath. I flew right over the meaty part of his body and arched forward with my sword slicing his head off with one quick blow. I landed primly on my feet as I watched the head roll to the side. I smiled at the sight; happy I was able to beat this simulation rather quickly. It was only when the simulation faded and left me back in the arena that I looked up to see the prince’s face. He was completely shocked as he stood there staring at me with his mouth agape.
I sauntered over to him, “are you ready for round two?” I asked saucily.
He stood upright and rigid as he squinted his eyes at me. “Bring it on, Tink.”
I flinched as his comment hit me. Tink! Really? Was he comparing me to Tinkerbell? What the hell! I mean yeah, I’m small, and my wings had the same shape as hers, but my wings were much prettier. They had an iridescent gloss to them that made them beautiful. My hair was brown not blond, and I didn’t run around in a skimpy green dress and slippers! I tried not to let my irritation show as I signaled for the next simulation to start.
This time the demon that came at us looked like a cross between a man and an insect. It had four spindly legs and a thin midsection. It’s human like head was attached by a long giraffe neck and it had a beak where the nose should be. As soon as the simulation started the insect man ran straight for us. Without thinking, letting only muscle memory rule my actions I pulled my sword and sliced the thing in half. Unfortunately for me, I missed the head. I saw the two pieces of body twitching on the floor pushing towards each other. I watched in awed horror as the two demon halves started to regenerate separately. The half without a head grew a new one. Great! Now we had two demons to deal with. They started scuttling towards us at a pace that was unnaturally fast. I knew I couldn’t dispatch both at the same time, so I created a wind tunnel to hold one while I flew to meet the other. Sword in hand I flew right above him and hovered for a minute. He was too fast, and I didn’t want to miss my chance and open myself up for a bite. This thing had some nasty looking teeth and was salivating a putrid green color. It hissed in irritation when it couldn’t get to me. I almost laughed until it realized it had another target available. Shit! Without further hesitation, I pulled against the demon with my wind power to stop his progression to the prince. It was hissing and screeching its dissatisfaction. I was within arm’s reach when the prince sliced his head off and smirked at me.
“Aren’t you supposed to be protecting me?” He taunted.
I didn’t have time to engage him. I knew we were being timed. I brought the other creature to me with my wind while staring at the prince. As soon as the writhing creature was before me, I halted my powers and let the demon drop to the floor. Without hesitation or ceremony, I promptly cut his head off. While all that was going on I never broke eye contact with the prince. When the head hit the floor, I made sure to kick it over to the prince for his snide remark. His eyes widened slightly before he thought better of it and schooled his features.
The next two simulations the instructor told us to switch off, and I was grinning from ear to ear. I was going to make this smug asshole protect me, and I wasn’t going to make it easy. I wanted to see that self-assured smile fall off his face. I may or may not have purposely put myself in harm’s way while he was busy. Nothing I couldn’t get out of myself, but I knew it just pissed him off. I snickered as I took down the last demon we were dealing with while he struggled to make it back to me. He sneered at me as he passed me and practically knocked me over. It was rude and childish, but I was no better. Frankly, I knew this was the only time I got to be like this around him and I wanted to take advantage of every minute. Everyone always tiptoed around him and made sure they never crossed boundaries. For me, in all honesty, I just kept forgetting that he was actually a prince and treated him as I would any other smug asshole. I wasn’t going to hold back on him because of his position. If he needed to step up his game than so be it. The demons weren’t going to take it easy on him because he was a prince.
We’d been going at it for hours and challenging each other to our ultimate limits and it was starting to show. We were both getting sloppy as exhaustion started to take its toll. The last simulation ended, and we were actually back-to-back leaning on each other probably more than was acceptable. As the last simulation cleared, I noticed we had amassed quite an audience. Everyone stood there in stunned silence. We both broke apart and stood upright in an instant as the instructor walked over to us clapping his hands.
“Well done! I haven’t seen that kind of teamwork in a long time. Great work Eliza! You seemed to push Prince Evindal out of his comfort zone. I have never seen him work so hard before. Prince Evindal, with respect, I am pleased at the work you’ve done today with Eliza. The way you guys worked off each other’s strengths and weaknesses was amazing. From now on, you two will be a permanent team. No sense in wasting time with other partners. You two were meant to fight together.
We both groaned simultaneously. Seriously? I was just trying to piss him off. Admittedly, I probably fought harder and faster today than I ever had. I sighed audibly not hiding my irritation.
“Well prince boy, I guess your arrogant ass is stuck with me.”
He snorted out a laugh. “I guess so Tink. This is going to be fun!”