The sound of the pattering rain against the window broke Arielle’s concentration for the first time since she woke up. Her stylus was still midway, trying to sketch out the perfect dragon possible. They were always her weakest drawings, where they might have looked good, but they weren’t fit for fighting. A crooked wing or an elongated tail could be the noticeable key point in taking it down, and her little sister Sapphire was always there to prove so. Sighing, Arielle leaned back in her chair, staring at the ceiling, with the stylus clutched tightly in her hand. Sapphire… The name was like poison to her ears, with her parents immediately doting over her the minute she was born. Meanwhile, Arielle was casted aside like a piece of trash. Though Sapphire lived with money showering over her head, Arielle always had to fend for herself.
Arielle set her stylus down on the desk, and stood up, tired of the pity party she was giving herself. Suddenly, the alarm clock on her bedside table chimed, indicating that it was 7 A.M. She groaned internally, as school was just another place where she was still overshadowed by Sapphire.
She quickly threw on her school uniform and combed her hair, giving a quick glance over herself in the vanity mirror. Her bright red, pink, and purple hair brought out the ocean blue in her eyes, and though she was seen has one of the prettiest girls in the school, she couldn’t beat Sapphire whose deep blue hair complimented her deep blue eyes.
Grabbing her tablet and stylus after saving the dragon sketch, she stuffed them into her backpack. With that, she headed out the bedroom door and descended the stairs to the kitchen, where the rest of her family was eating porridge by the kitchen counters.
“Arielle… you were late coming down for breakfast, so there’s only a granola bar left for you by the door,” her mother said, not looking up from her breakfast.
“If only you would wake up earlier sis ,” sneered Sapphire, her blue eyes glaring at Arielle. “But everyone knows you aren’t capable of most things, and this isn’t an exception.”
The last comment barely reached Arielle’s ears, as she had already reached the door, being sure to grab the sad granola bar on the writing desk. Honestly, she would’ve refused it altogether, but she knew she wouldn’t have anything to eat until supper came along. The rain had stopped, yet the air was crisp and cold against her face as she made her way to school, hopping over potholes in the road and ducking under multiple fence posts through the same shortcut she’s been taking for 14 years. It was only 8:00 A.M. when she made it to the Renee Cordier Private School of the Virtual Art District. Despite the chilly weather, Arielle proceeded to sit down on the stone bench behind the school, known only to those who were brave enough to wander around.
“Time for a little music…” Arielle mused as she quickly drew up a few violins, a cello, and a grand piano in a few seconds.
As soon as she hit the play button, the pixelated instruments started to form before her very eyes. With a few adjustments and modifications on her tablet, they soon began to play together, each instrument in harmony with the other.
“How fascinating. I didn’t know your students were this talented dear Evelyn.”
Arielle gasped as she whipped her head around, coming face to face with the Headmistress Evelyn with Queen Vera Raine beside her.
“Your majesty,” she said, dropping into a curtsy, before straightening and bowing to the Headmistress.
“I have to say child, you are one of the fastest artists I’ve ever seen, not to mention that your art is simply beautiful,” commented Queen Vera, whose voice was unusually sweet, though Arielle could sense a malicious tone beneath it. However, before she could further pinpoint the true message beneath the comment, a request entered her mind. “Won’t you draw a few animals for me dear?”
With another curtsy, Arielle quickly drew up a unicorn, pegasus, a lion, and a larger than life tiger. They formed with the colors of the stars, translucent with gold lines to indicate that they were still prancing around before them. It only took a few more strokes of the stylus until they truly had the colors of the galaxy. The purple, blue, and red swirled together, giving each creature a sense of elegance as they all leaped over one another, surrounding their artist and her superiors. Everybody had their own signature colors and these were Arielle’s. They represented the space beyond the world, where she would be able to express her art without the fear of them hidden behind the shadows of her sister’s art.
Queen Vera seemed genuinely delighted while Headmistress Evelyn gave a soft smile with a nod of approval towards Arielle.
“Oh how rude of me darling, what’s your name?”
Arielle momentarily took her eyes off Headmistress Evelyn and looked at Queen Vera. “It’s Arielle Luna, Your Majesty.”
“Oh Arielle, that’s a wonderful name indeed. Say, do you want to compete in the Midnight Trials? You have the skills and more to compete! Why, a person of your talents should not let them go to waste!”
Arielle’s eyes widened in shock, for she had never imagined herself competing in the Midnight Trials. They were a brutal game, formed when the founders of the Virtual Art District had wanted to prove their skills in virtual art, in which they went to the virtual world at midnight. Only one could be worthy of being the best artist, and they had hoped to prove that by killing each other using their creations. This spanned for a couple of weeks until the only player left was Raymond, who took the role of King. With a taste for blood without risking his own life yet again, he created the Midnight Trials, where he recruited 23 of the best artists to compete against one another, drawing wonderful images that would come to life and attack one another, until only one individual was left standing. That person would then obtain a coin, be transported back to reality, and throw their coin into the wishing well, having been enchanted with borrowed magic from the Spellcasters District. This wishing well was only open to the victor and would allow them to make one wish. Though Arielle had always wanted a chance to wish for a better life, she didn’t possess all the skills needed in order to win.
“Queen Vera, though it’s an honor, I’m afraid I have to refuse,” Arielle said, yet the moment the last word left her mouth, the Queen seemed to flinch, her hand gripping her own tablet harder.
“Now Arielle, are you sure you don’t want to compete?” Queen Vera’s voice seemed to harden as she sauntered over to Arielle, circling her. “It’s a great opportunity to change how you want your life to be from now on. Besides, your sister already accepted my offer and it would be shame to see her beat you yet again. Take the chance Arielle, you can be destined for greatness and finally overshadow your sister…”
As the last sentence was whispered in her ear, Arielle felt herself tensing up. The thought of beating Sapphire was tempting… perhaps too tempting.
The queen straightened as she stared down onto Arielle’s eyes. “I expect to receive your letter of acceptance two days from now. Prepare yourself Arielle, the competition starts in one week.” She glanced back at Headmistress Evelyn. “I expect you to fill Arielle in on the rules Evelyn. She’ll need it.”
With that, Queen Vera walked off, her guards rushing to her side from unknown locations. They were trained well, able to blend into their surroundings without anyone knowing.
“Come Ms. Luna, I need to give you the rulebook,” Headmistress Evelyn announced, shifting Arielle’s attention to her that was trained on the retreating queen and guards earlier.
Arielle quickly turned off her tablet and strolled behind Evelyn as they made their way up to the office. News spread quickly in the school and glances were sent her way as the students murmured to each other. Finally, the two reached the safety of Evelyn’s office.
“Sit down Ms. Luna,” Evelyn said, as she shut the large oak doors to keep from others’ prying eyes and ears. Her cape swept along the carpet and as she reached into her desk drawer, Arielle made her way to one of the chairs in front of the desk. The rule book was placed before Arielle, who wasted no time in grabbing it. She flipped through the yellowed pages, noticing how this rule book already had highlights through the words and bookmarks along its sides.
“That book belonged to my daughter, Melody. I think you’d have liked her,” the headmistress murmured wistfully as she stared at a picture frame on her desk.
“May I ask what happened to her?” Arielle asked, diverting her attention from the book to Evelyn.
“Because of that damn queen! Like you, Melody was forced to enter after Queen Vera saw her skills, yet she certainly wasn’t as good as the other contestants who displayed far more superior skills. In the end, she was struck down when the other contestants ganged up on her, something I’ll never forget.”
By the time Evelyn had uttered the last sentence, she was shaking with rage. Her face was contorted as she reminded herself of the horrific events that took her daughter away from her. It lasted that way for a few minutes, and as sad as Arielle was, she was getting quite uncomfortable too. What could she say though? However, she didn’t have to ponder about a possible solution for too long, as Evelyn suddenly raised her head to look Arielle straight in the eye.
“Ms. Luna, I will train you, but on one condition, you must win the competition.”
“But my sister, Sapphire, will also be in the competition. She’s a much better artist that I am, not to mention more ruthless.”
“Your sister is an exact replica of your mother, a heartless creature. I’ve seen how Sapphire treats you and your mother will certainly train her to overcome everyone without a single thought about you. She’ll sacrifice her own daughter in a flash, just like how she murdered her best friend’s daughter.”
“Headmistress Evelyn, you must be mistaken! My mother’s skills aren’t as great as those of Sapphire’s and she most certainly has never killed anyone!”
“That’s where you’re wrong Ms. Luna. SHE WAS THE ONE WHO KILLED MELODY AND I SWEAR BY THE ROYAL CROWN THAT I’LL GET REVENGE ON HER!”
“Headmistress please calm down. Please…”
It took Evelyn a few moments to catch her breath, and she regained her posture quite quickly, though new tears were brimming along her eyes. “Ms. Luna, you’re a sweet girl with a big heart. I’d hate to see you die from someone who has tortured you constantly, with the help of one who has tortured me. So, I suggest you take up my offer.”
Arielle was speechless. Did her cruel mother actually do that? There wasn’t much of a benefit for Evelyn to lie. For the first time in forever, she was given a chance for her to free herself. Was it worth it? Was it worth it for the weight on her shoulders to fade? Was it worth it to avenge Melody’s death? Nonetheless, she knew what had to be done.
“Yes. Headmistress, I accept your offer.”