Bae, Ask About Me
At my words, Rika’s frown twisted into a defiant scowl.
“What’s going on here?” Ashley’s voice called out, cutting Rika off. It felt ominous as she sauntered toward us with Terra in tow. The crowded hallway became quiet, the loud chattering of our classmates turned into quiet whispers as Ashley passed by them, only the clap of her boots against the ground could be heard. “What are you guys doing, making a scene out here like this?”
I shivered a little, a hint of fear rising within me. Ashley’s aura, when turned on me, made me feel tense—even though I could tell she was constricting most of it to her body. Making a scene were we? If anything, Ashley’s appearance now would exacerbate the conflict. No one was really paying attention until she shouted from across the hall.
Tentative, Rika was the first to speak. “We were just—”
“Finishing something that should have been handled a while back,” Terra cut in.
“What?” Ashley gave Terra a questioning glance.
“We’re tired of you guys picking on Katherine,” Tiffany explained. “This has gone on long enough.”
Ashley frowned. “If you had a problem you should have come to me, privately,” she said. “We don’t air out everything in front of the entire school. You know that.”
Entire school? People were watching, but it’s not like the everyone would know of our group’s infighting. Well, not yet. That would change by the start of the next class period.
Tiffany gave a dry laugh. “Yeah, too late for that. If you handled shit like promised, we wouldn’t be here.”
“What’s your problem?” Lorie asked, stopping when Ashley raised a hand.
Ashley evaluated Tiffany for a minute before her gaze shifted to me. “Are you sure you’re talking about Katherine?”
I bit my lip. I knew what she was getting at. Pain started to bubble up inside me, as I thought about my ex.
Tiffany glared at her. “Who knows? After how many times you’ve given us your word, I’ve lost count.”
“We were getting Katherine’s diary back from Rika,” I said, speaking up—more than happy to move on to something else. I didn’t want them to bring up Timothy. Not here. Besides, there was no telling what Ashley would do if Tiffany pissed her off enough.
Ashley gave Rika a look. I could tell she was angry but she kept her emotions tightly under control, her expression mostly blank—the only thing revealing her dissatisfaction was her deepening frown and thin lips.
“She stole it from me,” Katherine spat, her voice filled with resentment.
“It was a joke, we were messing around,” Rika said, annoyed. “She dropped it with her book bag earlier. We were going to give it back.”
Ashley’s gaze slowly changed from annoyance to disappointment. “You lied to me, Rika.”
Rika wanted to say something else, but before she could defend herself, Ms. Frazzle made her way toward us.
“Shouldn’t you all be headed to class?” Ms. Frazzle asked, impassively glancing at each of us. Observing the hallway, she gave a stern look at some of the other students that were eavesdropping and hanging around nearby. She shooed them away. “That goes for all you, go to class!”
“Now,” returning her attention to our group, she asked, “What’s all the commotion about?”
Everyone was quiet, most of the girls sneaking worried glances at each other before turning to Ashley, hoping she would come to our rescue.
“Don’t tell me you girls were harming a student again,” Ms. Frazzle said. “After I explicitly warned you.”
Ashley sighed, moving from away Terra to stand in front of us and the rest of the girls—shielding us from Ms. Frazzle’s growing wrath. “We… were in the process of returning Katherine her diary.”
Ms. Frazzle seemed mildly surprised. “Oh really? I wonder about that, Ashley. Considering how I’ve seen you and your friends treat Katherine before, I’m hard-pressed to believe it.”
“Believe what you want.”
“You’re always sticking your nose in student affairs. I’m handling it.”
“Sounds like you wouldn’t mind handling a detention, either.”
“It’s true, professor,” I said, getting their attention. I didn’t want Ashley and Ms. Frazzle to start arguing in the middle of the hallway, where everyone could see. “We were just handing it back.”
Ms. Frazzle paused at my admission, briefly looking me, Tiffany, and Nathan over. She noticed the book in Nathan’s hand. “Alright… Fine. Give Katherine her diary and get to class.” She evaluated the others. “That goes for all of you. No lollygagging.”
“Aye aye, teach,” Terra said with a smirk, as Lorie, Brittany, Diana, and the other girls scampered away—getting out of dodge. Ashley remained in place though, giving Ms. Frazzle a calculated look.
Rika shoved me as she elbowed past, bashing into my arm. She didn’t do it hard enough to knock me over, mind you, but it still hurt. “This isn’t over,” she whispered.
“Wanna bet?” Tiffany whispered back with a snarl. Before she could chase Rika down, I grabbed her wrist, holding her in place. Though she looked back with a frown, I simply shook my head.
Nathan took the time to give Katherine here diary back, being gentle with the book as he handed it to her. “Sorry about that. Here you go.”
Katherine accepted it from him, holding it close to her chest. “Thank you… Thank you.”
Ms. Frazzle eyed her, carefully. “Are you alright?”
“I am… now I am.”
“Good.” Ms. Frazzle gave us all one last look before she left, telling off Ashley about her attitude and urging her to go to class. She warned the rest of us that we better be seated in her class within the next five minutes.
“Thanks.” Katherine faced us, sniffling. “For sticking up for me.”
“No problem,” Nathan said.
I put a hand on Katherine’s shoulder and squeezed gently. “I wanna give you a hug. Can I do that?”
Katherine huffed with the hint of a smile and then nodded in acceptance.
“C’mere.” I wrapped my arms around her in a tight embrace. Katherine let out a choked sob. Tiffany stood by my side, rubbing Katherine’s back in support. After a moment, I let go, Katherine removing herself from my grasp. I could see tears welling up in her eyes.
She wiped them away, giving me a broken yet happy smile. I smiled back.
Tiffany smiled as well. “Well, I’m glad that’s been dealt with.”
“I wouldn’t be so sure,” Nathan said. “This is probably gonna cause a huge shitstorm during lunch.”
Terra chuckled. “It’s nothing Ashley can’t handle.”
Ashley seemed amused. “What makes you think I’ll do anything at all?”
Nathan snorted. “If Rika and the others start some bullshit, it’s going to cause hell for you. Trust me. And I know you wouldn’t allow anything to ruin your ‘perfect and pristine’ social image.” Nathan smirked. “What would you do without your group of followers?”
Ashley waved him off. “Please. I was getting tired of the little status games we play here anyway. Most of the people that associate with us are absolutely boring.” She sighed. “It might be fun to watch as our little clique implodes on itself.”
Tiffany made a sound annoyance and folded her arms. “You know, that’s just like you. To have such a shitty personality.”
Ashley gave her a nasty smile. “I could say the same for you.”
Ashley didn’t wait for a response. Instead, she left us, walking to her homeroom. I frowned as she strode off, all of us looking at her back in silence.
Done with math class, I found myself in the girl’s restroom washing my hands as I prepared for lunch. We agreed on doing something a little different today; we were inviting Katherine to eat with us at our secret spot on the school roof. Okay, it wasn’t a secret, but we really weren’t supposed to be there and the forbidden element of it added a little excitement. Nathan wanted to walk there together, but I told him to go on ahead. Hopefully, he along with Terra and my sister would nab some food from the cafe before I met with them. I dried my hands, the soft paper from the dispenser feeling pleasant against my skin as I rubbed them dry. With a flick of the wrists, I removed the access water from my hands and made my way out.
“Mercy,” Ashely called out, spotting me exit the bathroom as I entered the hallway filled with students heading to the cafe. She was alone, our other friends nowhere to be seen. “Walk with me.”
Was she waiting for me? I didn’t see her around before I entered the bathroom. “I was planning on eating with Tiffany and the guys, on the rooftop.”
“You know we’re not allowed up there.”
“Yeah… but we wanted to eat with Katherine and she doesn’t feel comfortable eating in the cafeteria yet.”
“That’s understandable…” Ashley trailed off. “I think I’ll join you then.”
I hummed, thinking of the reactions of the rest of the girls. “What about everyone else?”
“They can live without me for a day.”
We walked together at a slow pace, with me leading the way slightly.
“Say, Mercy, what do you think of me?”
“What do you think of me? You can be honest.”
“You mean personality wise?”
I wondered if she was thinking about what Tiffany said.
Ashley nodded. “Do you think of me as a sociopathic tyrant, one that doesn’t care for those that she presides over?”
“Not really.” I frowned as we continued to walk, glancing up and away in an aimless manner to buy some time as I thought of the best way to answer her. “I mean… you can be kinda arrogant at times. I get it, with you being a ruler of a nation and a Valterian dragon god of the world and all, but…”
“I’m not the god of this world. Here, I’m only a simple girl.” Ashley chuckled. “But I understand what you mean. My older sister would often say the same.”
“Is that the same one you were talking about before, the one that learned from Kazuya with you?”
“What’s she like?”
Ashley took in a deep breath while looking up in thought, away from me. It was hard for me to guess what she was feeling. “Arden is… courageous, dutiful, a being with the strongest will I have ever seen. The current king of Valteria.”
“Wait a minute. King?”
“Shouldn’t she be the queen?”
“It’s a traditional title, bestowed upon her by father because he acknowledges her strength. Her power. She is only the second person to ever receive it. She holds that title out of respect, regardless of its masculine nature.”
I gave Ashley a thoughtful glance, warmth budding in my chest. I’d never seen her talk about someone in such a heartfelt way before. “You sound pretty fond of her, you must love her a lot.”
Ashley scoffed. “Don’t speak of something you know nothing about. Do I love her? Love… hate… those words are too simple to describe the relationship we have. It’s not like yours with Tiffany.”
We talked for a little while longer, the hallways and stairwells now empty making the school seem like a ghost town. We reached the roof, our friends sitting down near the fence at the edge. Both Tiffany and Nathan both held a lunch tray in their lap, Terra had his sandwich in hand. Someone important was missing.
“Where is Katherine?” Ashley asked as we moved closer to the trio.
Nathan shrugged. “I told her where we were going to have lunch here, but I guess she didn’t want to come. I couldn’ t find her anywhere after class.”
Tiffany glanced up from where she was sitting, next to Terra. “Ems!” She handed me an extra turkey sandwich from her tray along with a bottle of water. “I can’t believe you managed to drag our perfect queen all the way up here.”
I sat down next to her Indian style before digging in.
“I was in the mood for a different kind of atmosphere,” Ashley said, curling the end of a strand of hair with a finger. “Besides, now I can talk to Terra seriously.”
Terra took a bite of his sandwich. “What up?”
“Let’s talk Avalon matters. The witch told me about your cousin, that he had a Fallen Star and used its power to go to Avalon during the battle between the Guardian and Duskan forces in New York. Are you still in contact with him?”
Irritation flickered in my the chest at the way Ashley referred to our teacher. Supposedly, Ms. Frazzle was a witch, but I didn’t like the venom I heard in Ashley’s voice.
Terra paused from eating, unassuming. “All know is that he made it out of the battle, okay and that he’s safe and sound with Guardian.” He took another bite of his sandwich. “How about you?” he asked, his mouth full. He swallowed. “How’s Artisans?”
“My country is fine. Doesn’t that woman keep you up to date?”
“Trinity isn’t really focused on your country at the moment.”
“Hmm, that’s debatable.”
“Seriously, you have bigger problems down south. BRIM is making moves, they might make a big one soon.”
“I’m well aware.”
“I’d expect you to be. Just saying.” Terra’s lips cured into a smirk. “I have another cousin on Avalon, you know.”
“From BRIM, I presume?”
“How perceptive. His name is Roman. Roman Hatchell.”
Ashley’s eyes widened. “BRIM’s third strongest Elite Guard?”
“And he happens to the brother of Davis.”
Ashley took a moment to parse the info Terra dropped on her.
“Mind sharing with the rest of the class?” Nathan asked, glancing between both of them.
“Yeah,” Tiffany agreed, giving Terra and Ashley an odd look. “What the hell is BRIM?”
Ashley walked over to fence at the edge of the rooftop and she leaned on it, close to where Terra was sitting by Tiffany. She examined the school grounds below like she was looking for someone before facing us. “BRIM is a human country on Avalon, close to Artisans. It was formed sometime after the First Great War. Or the first Human-Monster war as they like to call it.”
“Human-Monster war?” I asked.
“It was a different time, thousands of years ago. The humans on Avalon were at constant war with rest of the Avalonians. War threatened to destroy the planet until, we—the Valterians intervened.” Ashley laughed. “The Elder Gods wouldn’t let their finest work go to waste.”
“Nope,” Terra said, nodding. “The leaders of both sides eventually decided that it would be better if the human were separated from the rest. Most of the humans were moved to Earth.”
Nathan and Tiffany looked as stunned as I was.
“Are you saying that everyone from Earth was from Avalon first?” Nathan asked.
“No.” Ashley moved past Terra and Tiffany and kneeled next to Nathan so she could sit by him. “Earth was already populated by that time. The number of humans on Avalon had dwindled, most escaping here. But not all of them made it. The unlucky ones were left behind, to become slaves of the other Avalonian races.”
“It was brutal,” Terra said. “Humans were almost driven to extinction. But they survived, increasing their numbers slowly after generations. They created BRIM a military group made for hunting ‘monsters’ and whatnot. They conquered a patch of land near the Duskanian empire and eventually turned it to their own country. They’re quite successful nowadays.” Terra smiled at Ashley. “Successful enough to constantly pick fights with Artisans and the other Gaurdianite allies and Duskanian nations.”
Ashley rolled her eyes, her cheek resting on her fist with her elbow leaning on her thigh. “I wouldn’t put it past those idiots to start the Third Great War.”
Terra laughed. “If they were going to do it, they would have done so already. They’ve always had a rocky relationship with other Avalonian powers,” Terra finished his sandwich and balled up the wrapping paper. “I think that’s enough for today’s history lesson.” Terra gave Ashley a knowing look. “So, how’s the Nathan experiment going?”
Nathan narrowed his eyes at Terra, affronted. “The hell you mean?”
Ashley smiled. “We’ll get to that. But first,” Ashley faced me, her gaze steady. “There’s something I want to talk to Mercy about—and by extension, everyone else here.” She paused, allowing us to take her words in, her eyes still on me. “You’ve been a bit reckless with your online searches.”