I was minding my own business. Not bothering anyone. Just doing my own thing. I had no intention of getting involved, but unfortunately, my intentions were irrelevant.
Marilyn kicked at the leg of the table I was sitting at to get my attention. “Come on, Winter,” she practically sneered as she said my name. “Get up. Stop wasting time. We’ve got stuff to do.”
I let out the tiniest of sighs as I reluctantly did as she bade, shoving my History book and notes back into my messenger bag and getting up to do as her royal obnoxiousness bade.
She tapped her foot impatiently as I did so, as if somehow the 15 seconds it took me to do as she ordered entirely inconvenienced her life. The other two who were behind her, Abigail and Ryan, tried to mimic her posture. Not particularly a surprise, since they tried to mimic everything she did.
When I finished and slung my bag over my shoulder, Marilyn jerked her head towards the school cafeteria doors. “Come on. We got some hydras to deal with.”
I would have groaned or rolled my eyes if it would have made any difference, but it wouldn’t. I knew that very well by now. No one on our side of town crossed Marilyn because, well, she was Marilyn. Even the slightest hint that I wasn’t happy with her behavior would result in me getting yelled at back at the house and quite possibly lectured by any adult in town who spotted me for days afterwards.
Not exactly thrilled with my company, I followed after Marilyn as she reached the cafeteria doors. She did know how to make an entrance, I’d give her that – she slammed the double doors open with such force that everyone in the cafeteria couldn’t help but look over. Half of them, with a bit of awe, and half with disgruntled, unhappy looks. Oh, and then there was the handful on both sides of the room that looked uneasy.
Marilyn marched right down the center of the cafeteria until she stopped in front of a teenage boy with his own posse of two. She crossed her arms, sneering at him, while he glared back at her.
“I heard you caused some trouble for one of my people, Bill,” she stated in a tone that was both condescending and dangerous. “You maybe want to apologize for that?”
Bill rolled his eyes, doing his best to look bored. “Yeah, sure, as soon as we figure out how to walk on water and fly through the air. Ain’t gonna happen, she-goat. Don’t pretend it might.”
Marilyn’s eyes narrowed a bit. “I’m not asking,” she seethed.
Bill snapped his fingers, and one of his goons hissed, spitting out something on the ground in front of us. Acid and fire licked at the ground in front of us, barely an inch away from the toes of Marilyn’s very expensive boots.
“You think that scares me?” Marilyn smiled the kind of smile that made most of the other side of the room squirm uncomfortably.
Bill smirked at her, also not with a friendly type of smile. “If you imagine that I’m apologizing to one of your precious kapras, you’re delusional.”
They got into an increasingly heated verbal battle while I let out the slightest sigh again and then, when I noticed that the acid and fire were starting to spread and were threatening to actually damage the cafeteria floor, I splashed some water magic on top of them to put them out.
I might have splashed just a tad bit too much and gotten a tiny bit water on both Marilyn and Bill as a result. They both stopped mid-sentence and turned to look at me, equally as scandalized that I dared to get them a tiny bit wet.
“Oops,” I stated, clearly bored and not bothering to hide it. “My bad.”
Marilyn wouldn’t have cared if I’d just gotten Bill wet, but getting her wet – even if it was only a few drops – was a subtle challenge to her authority, apparently, and she was clearly not having it.
She smiled tightly at me. “Winter, how about you remind Bill and his friends here why kapras are boss? Hmm?”
It was my turn to narrow my eyes at her. I could have given her several reasons why that would be stupid, but I knew she wasn’t looking for more pushback.
“I don’t use my magic on people,” I pointed out. She knew that perfectly well, and sometimes I thought that was why she insisted on dragging me along to these stupid confrontations – she wanted to try to force me to change.
Granted, disobeying Marilyn was a huge deal. I could see the kapras on our side of the room murmur amongst themselves and knew I was going to get in trouble for this at home, but at the same time, Marilyn was asking for something she knew I wouldn’t do, so I kind of felt like this was all on her.
“Oh?” Her tone was too nice, too sympathetic to be real. “Right, I’d forgotten. Only – you just used some on us, didn’t you? So I think you’ve already broken that vow. Might as well do something useful for a change.”
I saw Bill and his hydras watching me, waiting to see what I’d do and readying themselves to respond if I did decide to throw some magic at them, while several of the hydras at the various tables were looking tense, too. One of the boys off on a table to the left opened his mouth like he wanted to say something, but when he caught my eyes, he looked away.
Meanwhile, on the kapra side of the room, there was this pause while they were all expecting me to do as she said. Because Marilyn said to, and no one disobeyed Marilyn.
I nearly snapped at her that I was surprised that she couldn’t tell the difference between using magic on other magic and having some of it splash against people as a result versus actually using magic on people, but pointing that out would be stupid. Somehow, I had to let her save face without actually giving into what she wanted.
I looked back at her, letting my apathetic expression out again. “I’m so sorry I accidentally splashed some water on you and Bill while putting out hydra magic,” I intoned. “And if you really want to see me get beaten up by some hydras, I suppose there’s no reason not to, since, you know, even if I did attack them, I’m not exactly practiced in using magic against people and there are three of them, so….”
And now the ball was back in her court. If she told me to attack them again, after I’d pointed that out, it would make some of the kapra onlookers gossip about how she didn’t care about one of her own “goons.” I mean, it wasn’t exactly a secret that I wasn’t an enthusiastic member of her group, but still, I was one of the chosen ones to be dragged along with her whether I liked it or not, so intentionally letting me get beaten up by hydras would damage her reputation.
Marilyn was smart enough to realize this would be a problem and tossed her hair as she turned her attention away from me. “Be more careful next time,” she said airily. “And you,” she glared at Bill, “if I catch you bothering any of my kapras again, I’ll make you pay for it twicefold.”
Then she flounced off as dramatically as she came in, the three of us trailing after her. Marilyn didn’t even look at us as she dismissed us outside the cafeteria door to return to our own things, although naturally Abigail and Ryan tried to follow her while I headed back to the library to study for my History test.
Maybe my brief act of rebellion wouldn’t get out, but I doubted it. Marilyn was the next kapra pride leader, or hunt chief. It got passed to the most powerful kapra of each generation, and unfortunately, for my generation that was Marilyn. Which meant that everyone in the kapra side of town – adults, kids, everyone – practically worshipped her and anything she said was gold. The idea of even thinking about refusing to do what she want would offend some of them deeply.
After all, we were at war with the hydras, right? We had been for centuries. We all needed to obediently follow our leader and her decisions in how to handle this war for the next generation.
I rolled my eyes as I plugged some headphones in, turned on some music, and returned to my studies. Yeah. A stupid, neverending fight between kapras and hydras. With the next generation of the fight run by the new leaders, Marilyn and Bill. Apparently, my entire life was slated to continue in this same stupidity of confrontations with Bill and his people – just because. Because kapras and hydras fought. Because that was how things were.
The good news for them was that our town was supernatural only – well, other than a handful of humans who were all protected – so they didn’t have to worry about hiding their spats from anyone. Not in town, not at school.
The town itself was situated on a lake, which made sense for both of our species. Kapras were a form of merfolk, while hydras tended to raise their young by water even if they didn’t need it as much as merfolk did. The war between kapras and hydras had started centuries ago, long before our town existed, but when our town was built, the territory had been fiercely contested between the two species. The end result was a town split in two – almost literally. There was a hydra side, a kapra side, and just a few small areas that were considered more neutral. You were in really bad luck if you happened to be a kapra on the hydra side or vice-versa. Chances were, if you came back at all, you’d be pretty beaten up and potentially permanently damaged in the process.
Each side had their own government, stores, almost everything. The only thing that the town wasn’t really able to duplicate was its schools. It tried, but both sides failed pretty miserably. There weren’t enough teachers in town to really cover two schools, not to mention some of teachers for one level might only come from one side or the other, so the separate schools tended to miss several years’ worth of material, at best. People had tried to hire outsiders to come in and teach, but for one thing, the town wasn’t really wealthy enough to offer competitive salaries, and for another, well…once anyone came to town to check out the school and realized they would be in the middle of a permanent war between kapras and hydras? They opted out as fast as they could. Other supernaturals weren’t stupid enough to hope that they’d be left out of the fighting and were fully aware that they’d be caught in the crossfire. The few humans that were in town were mostly people who were naïve enough to hope things would change and now felt stuck here and unable to leave.
When the town had grudgingly admitted that we really needed a combined school, somehow the school turned into a new battleground. Not really that surprising, given the hatred between both sides of town, but seriously, kids fighting the same battles as their parents – potentially lethal battles – was kind of ridiculous. Why couldn’t Marilyn and Bill and whoever just let us be kids for now? Let us deal with all the adult stuff later.
It wasn’t entirely a surprise to me that several of each younger generation would escape from town. Sure, some went to college and came back, but there were always some who left and never showed up again. Usually, they didn’t even come back for visits. I hadn’t decided yet if that would be me. I hated the whole stupid kapra versus hydra fight but then, I did have a good reason to stick in the area. A couple of reasons, actually.
Anyway, besides the whole Marilyn and Bill drama that apparently had to happen at least once a day, there were the teachers, too. Because some were kapras and some were hydras, inevitably, if you were a kapra in a hydra teacher’s class, somehow you’d have terrible grades even if you might be able to quote them back the material for the class. Not failing grades – because they didn’t want to see you again – but almost. And the kapra teachers would do the same thing with hydra students. Overall, it screwed up everyone’s chances at a scholarship to any college to get out of here and made it clear that schooling here was just a farce. In fact, a lot of students didn’t bother studying in classes with a teacher from their side of town – after all, why bother when you know the teacher is just going to give you top grades anyway? And for that matter, why bother studying for the other classes if you know your teacher is going to almost fail you no matter what? In my mind, the system was terrible because a lot of students came away from school with learning very little – there was really no incentive to study for any class at all.
The exception for that was our lone human teacher. He tried really hard to be a good teacher and I had to credit him with that. He did his best to be neutral and just, you know, be a good teacher. Tried to actually teach stuff and all that. I knew he had a lot of pressure from the hydra side – since he was protected by a hydra – to show favoritism towards the hydras, but so far he’d made a point to just be our only actual, legitimate teacher in all of high school.
That was part of the reason I was bothering to study for my History test. Not just because I knew he’d actually grade me on it, but because I wanted to respect his effort in trying to teach us something. The other reason I was studying, though, was that I really didn’t want to look like I had nothing to do so the other kapras would come up and whine to me about why I didn’t worship Marilyn like they did or the hydras would come over and try to start an argument. It was always better to look busy with studying, even if actually I was just listening to music and zoning out.
I was kind of staring out the window, eyes almost glazed over, when I spotted the hydra boy who’d briefly caught my eyes earlier. He was looking up at the library window, and when he spotted me, he glanced around, then held up his fingers briefly before stuffing his hands in his pockets and heading off.
The bell rang, interrupting my musings, and I sighed a little as I gathered up my stuff and headed to class. I wasn’t fully ready for this test, but it didn’t matter anymore – test time was here. Might as well get it over with.