8. The Hunter becomes The Hunted

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Athulya's POV

"Hey, a new chick there. Come," a voice called out, drawing my attention to a group of kids gathered nearby.

"What's your name?" questioned another voice, the tone laced with skepticism.

"Athulya," I replied, trying to keep my voice steady despite the unease creeping over me.

"Too arrogant to survive here. No worries, we will work on it," came the dismissive response, accompanied by snickers from the group.

Ignoring their comments, I continued walking forward, casting glances at the curious eyes of the other children around me. It seemed like everyone was sizing me up, trying to place me in this unfamiliar environment.

"Be careful, baby," someone whistled with an amused tone, causing me to turn back just in time to catch sight of a rope stretched across my path. Before I could react, I stumbled and fell to the ground, my uniform becoming dust-covered, and my knee throbbing with pain from the impact. Blinking back tears, I pushed myself up, refusing to let them see my vulnerability.

"Why did you do it?" I questioned, my voice tinged with frustration and hurt as I folded my hands across my chest, facing the tall boy who seemed to be at the center of it all. He was surrounded by other girls and boys, none of whom appeared Indian like me.

"What did you say? Huh? Repeat it again," he taunted, pushing me back with a smirk playing on his lips. Though his shove wasn't too forceful, it ignited a fiery determination within me, and my fingers curled into a tight fist.

"D-don't push me," I warned, trying to hold my ground despite the fear gnawing at me.

"Oho, what will you do? See, I am pushing you again, and again," he mocked, advancing towards me with deliberate steps. With a final shove, he sent me sprawling backward, my body hitting the ground with a thud.

Gritting my teeth against the pain shooting through my knees, I pushed myself up, my gaze locked with his as I closed the distance between us. Without a second thought, I swung my fist, landing a solid punch on his face. He stumbled back, clutching his cheek in shock, and for a moment, the laughter from the group fell silent.

Ignoring their stunned expressions, I turned away and continued walking ahead. Despite the beauty of the surroundings, with a shimmering swimming pool in the distance, I couldn't shake the ache of longing for my parents. Already, I missed Mamma and Dadda more than words could express.

As I sat beside the pool, dipping my feet into the cool water, memories flooded my mind like a relentless tide. I traced the reflection of my figure in the rippling surface, the image distorted by the turmoil within me.

"Dadda, I promise, I will never fight again. I'll be a good girl, I'll never cause any mischief. Please..." My voice trembled with emotion as tears streamed down my cheeks.

"No, you've lost that chance. It's only been a few years since you started school, and every school has given you a transfer certificate," echoed the stern voice of my father, his words a heavy verdict.

"I'm sorry, Mamma. Please don't send me away. I won't disturb you anymore, I promise. Please... I don't want to go... please," I pleaded desperately, my heart breaking with each rejection.

"You're going, and that's final. Nothing more to say. Go to your room right now!" My father's voice was firm, final, crushing my hopes with its authority.

"Dadda, please... please... mat bhejo mujhe boarding school,please dadda, see I-i am trying, I-i am trying to be a g-good girl, please mat bhejo na" My pleas fell on deaf ears as their resolve remained unyielding, sealing my fate.

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