Tales From the Fae – Part V: The Academy of Dana
Chapter 31 – Magnus Op
How plastered we managed to get did not completely sink in until we both snapped out of it some indeterminate time later. It was like someone had lifted a curtain to reveal an entirely unfamiliar scene. The Brownie Wine had certainly done its magic on us, as I couldn’t even place the room we were in, let alone how we had gotten there.
Candice was staring around the mostly empty space looking like someone who just woke up from a violent dream. To her added surprise and mine, she was topless.
“Oh, shit…” she said with a heavy sigh.
“That’s an understatement,” I replied. “Candice, have you seen this room before?”
She looked around. There wasn’t much to help her save for two wooden doors into the chamber, a tipped and broken bucket in one corner, and dust. Lots of dust. “No.”
“I think we’re in trouble,” I stated while I forced back the panic I was starting to feel.
“What do you mean? Trouble how?”
“I haven’t seen this room before either, and I have a very bad feeling that we aren’t on our own side of the Academy.”
“Our own side?… You mean we’re on the unexplored side? How? I thought the headmaster said it was blocked off.” She was hugging herself while she examined our only light source, a faintly glowing ball near the ceiling. It was a simple bit of magic that either of us could have pulled off.
“It is, but we weren’t on our own side when we started drinking.”
“You think we left Humble Hall?”
“It’s that or we took the Wonkavader. It’s too quiet for any place within the Academy proper.”
Candice looked terrified. “I don’t remember! Do you really think we could have operated the Greie Leeideilagh drunk?”
“I don’t know, but let’s hope not. If we simply stumbled out of Humble Hall, then we should be able to find our way back. But if we randomly picked a place off of Conference Room J…” I let the implication hang.
“What do we do?!” She asked, shaking slightly.
“First, we check the doors. We need more information.” Carefully, I walked over to to the first of the two portals and placed my ear against the old wood. It smelled slightly of mahogany. There were no sounds so I carefully tried the latch mechanism, trying to make as little noise as possible.
Locked, and from the outside, so it was very unlikely we had come in from that direction. Possible, but unlikely. I looked carefully at the ground and confirmed my supposition. There were two sets of footprints leading in from the other door. I pointed them out to Candice.
“I’m going to try the other one,” I said with what I hoped sounded like confidence.
“Where’s Michelle when you need her,” mumbled Candice.
“No kidding,” I answered as I placed my hand on the latch of the second door. On a hunch, I stopped and leaned my ear to the wood to listen as I had before but again heard nothing.
Then, with a slight click, I pressed down on the latch and slowly opened the door a crack. It was perfectly dark on the other side, and still there was no sound.
“Okay,” I whispered. “I think the coast is clear. I’m going to shed some light outside and see what…”
Candice’s scream cut me short and caused every hair on my body to stand on end. I had been opening the door as I spoke, but since the portal opened inward, I was forced to move back so that my view out was momentarily blocked. Not so, Candice, who was standing in the center of the room. She had been watching that doorway intently the whole time and was seeing something that froze her white with terror. Had I been thinking, I would have simply slammed the door shut again, but my dorm mate’s cry tripped my panic reflex and I made a fantastic adrenaline induced leap backwards about six feet. Scrambling, I finally got a good look at what was in the doorway and decided that Candice was probably justified with her reaction.
Illuminated in the dim light was a stocky figure in a hood carrying some kind of tall staff or weapon. It was obviously alive, as it was turning left and right as though startled.
“For the love ‘a Gaia will you stop that caterwallin’!!” Yelled the figure in a somewhat human tone. Candice did not stop her screams, but I suddenly realized that whatever it was outside the doorway wasn’t rushing in to kill us.
“Candice,” I yelled, trying to get her attention. “Candice!!”
The girl’s shrieking was fed by the slow advance of the figure through the doorway toward her. I saw at once that the tall object in his hand was a shovel of sorts, though I could easily see why it might be confused for a weapon.
“Candice, please,” I entreated as I placed my hand on her shoulder. She jumped violently and inhaled for another howl but I planted my hand over her mouth before she could start up again. “Stop! It’s not some monster, look…” I had to physically turn her head forward again so that she could see that the humanoid figure that had lumbered into the room was what I recognized from Rachael’s instruction as a dwarf.
Standing about four and a half feet high, the grizzled man pushed back his hood and exposed a braided brown beard and deep black eyes framed in a thick pair of square glasses. Part of his stocky appearance came from the large backpack he wore, and the sheer number of tools clipped to his person made him the look like a hairy, clothed christmas tree.
“Monster?” he puzzled as he looked up at Candice. “I’ve been called a lot of things in my day, but that’s one I’ve not heard since I was a little tyke.”
The dwarf had an accent that seemed slightly British to me. I think Candice noticed it too and I let go of her when I could tell she wasn’t going to run from the room in terror. Then I took a better look at the shovel tool he held in his left hand.
The top “flat” end did look like the typical digging implement, but the similarities faded quickly from there. The handle, as it were, was curved slightly and seemingly ripped right from the center of a tree. It had several obvious wrapped holding points, and was decorated with carvings and carefully inlaid metal in between. The tail end of the staff-like device was affixed with hooks and several metal rings, one of which had a finely woven rope clipped to it. The rope looped up somewhere behind the fae man where I suspected it was attached to some sort of harness or maybe the pack itself.
“Forgive the intrusion,” I said warmly as I carefully bowed as Rachael had instructed us. We seem to have lost our way.” According to protocol, it was important never to give too much information about yourself or your situation to another member of the fae whom you were not familiar.
The dwarf rubbed his beard for a moment and then it seemed his eyes widened slightly. “You’re students!” The dwarf it seemed, was completely ignoring protocol.
“Yes,” I admitted.
“Professor Brightly’s lot then. Well that’d explain a few things, only… by Danu’s fanny what in the blazes are you doing here?”
“That is a slightly problematic question since we’re not exactly sure where ‘here’ is,” I answered smiling. I noticed that the dwarf seemed to be staring fairly determinately at Candice’s breasts. To her credit, she didn’t try to cover herself, in fact, she smiled coyly at the man. It was a relief to see my roommate back to her normal self again. She had assessed the situation almost as quickly as I had, and realized that until we had more information we needed to play every advantage we had. Right now, those advantages were the bumps on Candice’s chest and the fact that our monster seemed to know about the school.
“You’re two levels down and about thirty coils from the nearest entrance, but how you managed to make your way past the wards is what’s got me curious. Students aren’t supposed to wander around over here. Too dangerous.”
I had no idea what a ‘coil’ was, and from the look of confusion on Candice’s face, neither did she. It was time to give up a little more info.
“Please sir,” I started, “I’m First Miranda and this is Candice, also a First, and as you mentioned, we are indeed students of Headmaster Brightly. We’ve been working on a project for the Professor in a large hall on this side of the Academy with his permission. We had a bit of a mishap and can’t seem to recall how we got here.”
“Mishap? I’ll say. I know the faerie’s have some spells that’ll make you forget, but I never heard of students using them. Must have been some special project for him to have put you into Unhallowed Hall. He mentioned there might be a couple of you over here, so I guess all is well.”
I briefly glanced at Candice and saw her mouthing the word “unhallowed.” Bowing slightly a second time, I took a step forward and asked, “You know the Professor then?”
The short man made a quick grunting noise and tapped the butt of his shovel staff once on the ground. “Of course I know ’em. He’s the one who set me to watch over this place. I’m caretaker. Name’s Magnus Op.”
Handshaking was a purely Western tradition that wasn’t known in the fae. Candice and I both curtsied. I was a little puzzled as to why he had given us his last name until my busomy friend repeated the name with a smile.
“Magnus… That’s a delightful name.” To which the dwarf looked suddenly quite embarrassed.
“Er… ’twas a bit of a joke by my parents.”
“A joke, ” I asked. “Forgive our ignorance, Mr. Op, sir. We’ve never met one of your race before.”
He scrutinized me a bit more closely, and there was a slight pause before he answered. “No. I suppose you haven’t. There aren’t many of us around any more. Done our work and all that. I doubt I’d be needed here at all if it weren’t for Professor Brightly wanting an occasional modification to a tunnel now and then. The joke was on me on account of how tall I am. Bein’ tall’s no advantage for a man who has to work in tight spaces… Well, come on then. Let’s get you two back where you belong.”
With that, the stocky man turned and started down the dark corridor. Candice and I looked at each other for a moment and then hurried off after him. We hadn’t gone more than a half dozen steps before we had to stop again. It was as dark as the inside of a grave and just as spooky.
“Uh… Mr. Op?” I called out tentatively into the blackness before me.
“Eh? What is it lass” came his rich deep voice some ten feet further into the darkness.
“We can’t see sir.”
“Why… Oh. Sorry ’bout that. I forget that most humans can’t see in the dark. Here,” he said and there was a heavy thump on the floor from what I figured must have been the end of his shovel. A soft glow filled the hallway and I heard Candice exhale in relief behind me.
I smiled warmly at the custodian standing a few paces away. “Much. Thank you, sir.”
“Right. Let’s be off then, and don’t lag behind. There’s enough magical clutter down here to wage a war, so stay close.”
We took Magnus Op at his word and kept within ten feet of the man at all times. It wasn’t easy. We passed some really interesting distractions. At one point I heard Candice’s footsteps pause behind me and turned to see what had brought the girl up short. Apparently Mr. Op heard her too because he turned around just as I did.
“Oh. Yeah, I suppose that bears some explanation,” he said as we all gathered at the entrance to a long hallway that formed a “T” with the one we were traveling down. Far in the distance was a mass of swirling lights, like someone were spinning around a christmas tree. “Feral sprites,” said our guide simply.
Candice, who had been watching the dizzy display with an almost childlike glee, suddenly frowned and turned to the fae man.
“Did you say ‘feral’?”
He nodded. “That’s right. Right wild, they are. They only live in dwarf caves, being creatures of magic and all. Nasty buggers. You’re damn lucky you two didn’t turn down that way when you got yourselves lost. That hive would’ve had you bound and bedazzled in a silver minute.”
“But… but…” Candice was nearly speechless to learn that there were unfriendly versions of her favorite magical creatures. “But how?!”
“Well…” started the dwarf, leaning on his shovel. “They all start feral, at least when they’re first hatched. But some just don’t mature and so, stay wild.”
“But they’re so nice…” relented my friend, her shoulders sagging in disappointment.
“Oh, don’t get me wrong. Feral sprite are pretty rare, and to be fair they’re very little like their fully mature counterparts. They can use basic magic, and seem to be able to communicate between each other, but they’re not fully sentient. Smart though, in a purely animal way. Dangerous if you don’t know how to handle them. Quite seductive to those not aware. We best be moving on before they take notice of us. Come on.”
I let Candice walk in front of me as we continued to follow our guide back to what he had referred to as Unhallowed Hall. I wasn’t about to stop calling it Humble Hall, but the revised name intrigued me. I made a note to ask Magnus about it if we had time, but as it turned out, we didn’t. A few more turns and we were suddenly standing before the large open doors of the hall. The warm happy light that billowed forth from within gave my heart a lift and I suddenly felt like I was returning home after a long adventure. I almost ran into the back of Candice when she stopped suddenly just outside the doorway.
“Hey, girl! What are you doing…. oh.” My comment was cut short when I saw the headmaster standing in the middle of the massive room looking furious.
“I take it, Magnus, that these two haven’t caused you too much trouble?” The headmaster was staring at the both of us with enough anger that there were visible sparks in the air.
“No trouble at all, Mr. Brightly. I was heading this way anyhow when I heard some voices. Good thing too, since they don’t seem to remember how they came to be where they were. Those tunnels are easy to get lost in.
“Indeed they are. Which is why I gave them specific instructions to stay out of them.” He took a deep breath, which he then let out slowly before turning to the dwarf. “I’m in your debt, Magnus,” he said as the cloudy wrath disappeared from his features and was replaced by a warm smile. He placed an arm around the shorter man’s shoulder and started him off toward Conference Room J. “If you have a few minutes, I have a bottle of Darmina ninety-two that I could open. I have something I want to talk to you about.”
Candice and I just stood there dumbfounded. We couldn’t have gotten off the hook so easily.
“I’ll talk to the two of you later,” said the Headmaster in an icy tone as if on cue. “Right now, you need to clean up here and then hop to Professor Keely’s for flight lessons. You’re almost late.” With that, he closed the door behind him and was gone.
I turned at once to Candice. “Flight lesson? I thought you said Brownie Wine only got you drunk for an hour? Our flying class wasn’t until late in the evening.”
My roommate was biting her lip. “I thought it was only an hour. I must have heard wrong…”
I started picking up the room, wondering how long we had to wait before the Greie Leeideilagh would let us in so we could get back to our own hall. “Hmmph. The biggest gossip collector in the whole bloody academy? I don’t think so.”
“Then how did we lose so much time?”
I mulled it over for a moment while I also tried to remember if Professor Brightly looked surprised to see the contents of the room completely reversed. I had just decided that if he had noticed, he did a damn fine job of concealing it, when another part of my brain went ‘ding!’.
“Maybe it was time itself that changed.”
“Pardon?” asked Candice, confused.
“Well, think about it. Time doesn’t work here the same way it does everywhere else. The school runs considerably faster. We’re compressing twelve weeks of study into a single normal week. But suppose not all the Iron Mountain is that consistent.”
“You mean, like we walked through a time warp or something?”
“No, just an area with a slightly slower time reference. To us, only an hour passed. To the rest of the Academy, it was more like three or four.”
“That’s kind of scary.”
“Yeah, it is,” I agreed. “And it’d be another good reason the professor needs to keep people out of this side of the Academy. Either way,” I said trying the door to Conference Room J, which opened and was eerily empty, “I think we better count ourselves lucky and stay away from exotic liquors in the future.”