Just breathe, Clementine, there is no reason to panic. Like Grandma used to say, ‘The power to be brave is in you.’ It’s only the first day of senior year. Sure all the other students have always treated you like the dirt on their shoe, but maybe they have finally grown up.
I used to look forward to school a lot. But years of being picked on there because I am only half-human have taken a toll. It didn’t help that my mom refused to tell me anything about my father. He could be a troll for all I know. Every time I dared to ask my mom about him, she made up some lame excuse and ran off.
My friends, Basil and Thaddeus, would also be there, at least. They have been my only friends for as long as I could remember. I couldn’t blame most of the pure humans for their fear of me. People always fear what they don’t know. With my golden eyes and blood-red hair with strands of gold going through it, People had no clue what I could be.
“We are going to be late,” Thaddeus’ nervous buzzing cut into my musing. “You know that Miss Parsley hates when we are late.”
I stifled a sigh and shared a long-suffering glance with Basil, Thad was always such a worrywart. You would think a bumblebee would be a little more free-spirited.
My mother hurried in with my lunch in her hand. “Clementine, dear, you must get a move on. It is the first day of your last school year, I would think you would be a little more excited.”
“Oh, yay, yet another year of being bullied,” I muttered darkly, my hands shaking with nervousness.
Mom gave me a look, “You can’t let your fear lead you, Clementine. Like I keep telling you, you need to be strong.”
I forced a smile onto my face, “I will give it my best shot!” I hoped she couldn’t tell how scared I really was.
Mom’s face lightened, and she passed me my lunch pail. “Just be brave, dear. Now, hurry!”
She was right, we are going to be so late if we don’t get a move on. I hugged her tightly and headed out.
“Don’t walk so fast!” Basil objected, his silver quills vibrating, “You know my small legs can’t keep up!” He did have tiny legs, most hedgehogs do. But he would always object to being carried, so it was easier for him to keep up. ‘It was not dignified,’ he would say, turning his nose up.
We slowed down, but it was still not long before we were at school. The first day of my senior year. I just had to get through one more year of this madness, and then I would be free.
“Oh, look, the half-breed.” I heard sneered from behind me. And so it begins. It was Belladonna, the queen snob here at school. “Must we still have to be cursed with you? I would have thought that your goblin father would have come and fetched you by now. But I guess even a goblin wouldn’t want a deformed child.”
With that, she and her cohorts sauntered off, giggling at her insult.
“Don’t listen to her.” Basil looked up at me, his quills vibrating with annoyance like they always did when he was worked up. “She can only wish that she was as pretty as you.”
As lovely as it was for Basil to say that, we both knew it wasn’t true. Belladonna was from one of the wealthiest families in the kingdom, and her looks had no equal. Whereas my mom worked three jobs, and I had a giant ugly birthmark that marred both of my shoulders and back.
I said goodbye to my friends and made my way to Miss Parsley’s classroom. To my frustration, the only seat that remained open was the one right in front of Belladonna. I flopped into my chair, praying to whatever would listen that she would just give me a break this year.
“Ok, kids!” Miss Parsley was fluttering around the front of the class, her silver fairy wings glittering in the sunlight. “I have a wonderful surprise for your first day back! Principal Carson is allowing us to spend the last half of the day up in the magic forest. So that it will be safer, I am matching you up in a magic buddy system.” She went through the class roaster, giving everyone their ‘buddy.’ I was almost zoned out when I heard, “And that leaves Belladonna and Clementine to be buddies.”
“But Miss Parsley!” Both Belladonna and my voices rang out together, but before we could finish our objections, Miss Parsley was fluttering to the other side of the room. “Now, it is time to learn history!”
I zoned out again, mentally cursing Miss Parsley. Of all the people she could buddy me with, it just had to be Belladonna. From the thunderous look on her face, Belladonna wasn’t any happier about it then I am. She was likely going to make this trip miserable for me. Why did she have to act like she was so much better than me, as I got more and more worked up, my birthmark started to itch. I began to squirm in my chair, trying to use it to relieve my itching.
“Did the little half breed forget to shower this morning?” Belladonna hissed low enough for the teacher not to hear. “Or did you not have the money for soap?”
I gritted my teeth, I was determined not to lose my temper at this childish attempt to wind me up. Belladonna sat back in a huff, obviously annoyed I didn’t rise to her bait. The rest of the morning passed without any significant issues.
Before I knew it, we were on the carriage to the magic forest. I was happy to find that Thaddeus’ and Basil’s class was also joining us for our excursion into the woods.
We pulled up to the magic forest’s camping area and climbed out of the carriage. The principal was right about it being a perfect day for a long picnic. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky, the sun’s rays glinted off of the lake. Belladonna and her two minions, Bria and Rena, were over by the chariot loudly whispering, “You would think they would make the poor students take a different chariot. The poor stink in there was making me nauseous.”
I exchanged a glance with my friends, and then we headed towards the lake laughing. This day was too beautiful to let it be spoiled by those three princesses. The next few hours passed by rather quickly. My good time was soured when Miss Parsley came fluttering over with a concerned look on her face.
“Miss Clementine, have you seen your travel buddy?”
“Uhh…” I scanned the forest where I had last seen Belladonna, “Not...recently?”
Miss Parsley gave me a disapproving look, “You need to and go look for her. She was your responsibility, after all.” With that, she flew back to where my other classmates were lounging around.
Leave it to Belladonna to ruin my day by not even being around.
“Come on, guys,” I sighed, “Let’s go find the snob princess.”
“We could not and say we did.” Basil gave me a grin, “Let the forest take care of our massive headache.”
“We can’t do that!” Thaddeus buzzed down to stare at Basil disapprovingly.
Basil rolled his eyes, “I was joking, worry bee.”
I ignored my friends bickering as I headed to the woods where I had last seen the girls. I have really sharp vision; that is one thing I had to thank my father for whoever he is. I scanned the ground until I found where the ground was disturbed and showed signs of the girls passing.
I followed snapped branches and slight divots in the mud for what felt like a very long time. Where in the world were the girls going? I stood still for a minute, studying the ground. Something about the footprints was bothering me. I really should have paid more attention to my hunting class. There was something deep inside that was screaming at me to run. To get away from here.
Thad and Basil were still loudly bickering as they caught up with me.
“Will you both shush?” I whispered, my heart was racing, “Something is wrong. We need to get out of here.”
I turned and picked up Basil, he opened his mouth to complain, but the look on my face made him shut up. I hadn’t gone more than two steps back towards the lake when something closed around my ankle, and I was suddenly yanked upside down. Basil squealed as I drop him, as he hit the ground with a thump.
From the bushes came a very deep chuckle. “Another tiny morsel for our stew!” A shadow separated from the dark of the woods and revealed itself to be a colossal mountain troll.
That is what was wrong with the footprints! They were way too deep to be made by three small girls.
I looked down at my friends, Basil and Thad were both frozen, staring at the giant troll. Thaddaeus was clinging to Basil’s trembling spikes.
“Run!” I hollered at them, “Move!”
My voice shook them out of their stupor. Basil turned and dived into bushes on the far side of the trail.
The ground shook as the troll drew close to me, I let out a shriek as it caught the rope wrapped around my ankle and lifted me even higher into the air. It didn’t say anything to me as it grabbed me firmly by my ankles and turned as it strode deeper into the forest. Entirely too quickly, we had entered a large clearing. Belladonna and friends were in a massive birdcage at the center of the field, and there was another troll stirring a giant cauldron.
“Got some more meat for the stew.” The troll carrying me called to the other.
“No more room in the cage.” The cooking troll grunted. “Hang it from the tree.”
My troll nodded and tied the rope to one of the high branches of the trees around the cauldron.
The other girl’s faces were streaked with tears.
“Clementine!” Belladonna pushed her face up to the bars, “Tell me the teachers know where you went.”
I silently shook my head.
“We are going to get eaten!” Bria sobbed, “I am too young and pretty to be eaten.!”
The trolls were bickering about the seasoning for the stew. My troll turned and went to grab the rope. They are going to eat me! Come on, Clem, panicking wouldn’t do anyone any good. Be brave, be brave. You have to do something!
My heart was pounding, and my freaking birthmark was itching again. The sensation was making it hard to think. I whimpered, the itching was turning to turn to pain. What was going on?
Belladonna let out a gasp, her eyes on me. I wanted to ask her what was wrong, but a scream tore itself out of my throat instead. Nothing else mattered. The pain from my birthmark slowly spread itself to every inch of my body. The trolls suddenly sounded afraid, but what could possibly scare trolls?
I needed to get higher. I need to spread my wings; with a mighty push, I was airborne. Wait, wings? I opened my eyes, everything looked even sharper than usual. I was hovering well over the forest.
Looking down, reflecting in the calm lake, I saw a red and gold dragon. I saw myself. I suddenly dived, the trolls had thrown a spear at me. Rage filled me, How dare these creatures attempt to harm me? But I would need to get the humans out of the way before I could make them pay. I dove again, grabbing the birdcage and rocketing back into the sky.
“I am so sorry!” Belladonna was sobbing, “Please don’t eat me.”
*I have no intention of eating snob queens.* I found I could project my thoughts right to her. *Tell your snob princesses to hold on tight.*
At her order, all the girls in the cage clung to the bars.
I turned and dove towards the ground again. I took in a deep breath, feeling the fire gathering in my chest. With a loud growl, I set the field ablaze. These trolls would learn to fear me.
Well, they would if they weren’t burning right now. Let’s see how they liked being cooked. I scanned the field, the trolls were blackened and still. They would not threaten any more defenseless creatures.
After a few flaps of my wings, I was back to the lakeside beach. I gently set down my passengers and broke the lock with one of my claws. Everything was itching again. My vision went dark, and when I opened them, I was back to being me. Well, the human me. I was also very naked. Before I could do anything, Belladonna was there, wrapping her cloak around me.
“Thank you, Clementine.” She whispered in my ear, her arms wrapped tight around me.
“Get away from her, Belladonna!” Rena cried out from where she stood, hiding behind one of my other classmates. “She could transform again and eat you!”
All of my classmates looked so scared, the terror of dragon me in their eyes. Belladonna turned and looked at them all, her one arm still around me.
“If Clem wanted to eat me, she could have done that while she was still a dragon or even just left us in that clearing when she set in on fire.” She was staring down the whole class, “Clementine saved our lives.”
Belladonna turned back to me. “I am so sorry for the way I have treated you, Clementine.” Before she could continue, Thaddaeus and Basil were there by our sides.
“You had wings!” Thaddaeus buzzed excitedly.
“You were a dragon!” Basil’s eyes were wide, and his quills were vibrating.
“I am a dragon.” I corrected Basil. “I think.”
“What happened to the trolls?” Thaddaeus asked, nervously glancing at the woods.
“I cooked them.” Maybe I should feel guilty about that, but they were going to make a stew out of us.
Miss Parsley slowly fluttered close. “Thank you for saving the other girls.”
I fought a blush, “Of course I saved them. Belladonna was my travel buddy, after all.”
My other classmates were finally getting closer to me, their curiosity overriding their fear. They were asking me all sorts of questions.
“How did it feel to be a dragon?”
“Did the fire-breathing hurt?”
“Do you think you will be able to turn into a dragon again?”
Maybe both my Grandma and Mom were right. There is no reason to be scared, and the power to be brave was within me the whole time.