And so it begins…
If you are jumping into the middle of my Fae stories, then I highly suggest you at least read the chronological predecessor to this story first before proceeding, as it explains a lot about the characters and plot that you might otherwise miss. As with many (most) of my tales, this story is being written in pieces, usually a few chapters at a time, and is subject to random changes as the plot surprises even me now and again. Thus is the price of free online works. I hope you will enjoy reading this, the second installment of the “Academy” series, as much as I am enjoying writing it.
I should just mention that I am going to drop the “Part” aspect of the titles for this and future books regarding the Academy of Dana. The various parts were really only for my own internal reference, and can be confusing. So they go.
There were four other precursors to the actual start of the academy. Some of them are covered in Poppins’ Return, and even, to a certain degree, in the two other Fae stories Faerie Tale and Little Lost Nymph. I formalized things in Tales From the Fae: Songsmith.
Tales From the Fae – Unseelie Summer
Chapter 1 – Home Again, Home Again
With the end of the previous school semester, the entire Academy was suddenly a bustle of frenetic activity. The portal into the main reception area was in almost constant use, with humans and faeries coming and going in a steady stream, though most of the humans were outbound. Over the next few days, the greater percentage of those attending the Academy would be going to visit relatives or friends for the summer. Those that had passed the necessary tests could travel through the portal on their own, without a faerie escort. The rest of us had to wait for someone to open the proper receiving location and get led through. I was envious of my senior classmates as they laughed excitedly before vanishing into the swirling mist, only to reappear at some other location on the planet, literally stepping out of a tree.
“Are all these yours?” asked Ananha with a smile. The faerie principality was dressed in jeans and a t-shirt, with the same outrageous straw hat hanging on her back that I had first seen her in. It was so alarmingly contradictory to the garments that I had come to expect that I couldn’t help but stare.
“I know,” she said looking down at herself with a sigh. “I don’t think I’ll ever get used to current human fashion trends.”
A gaggle of giggling girls raced past us, bowing and mumbling apologies to the faerie as they stumbled over and around my boxes and bags. I too, was a little surprised at how much junk I seemed to have acquired in the short three months I had been at the Academy of Dana. To be fair, most of what was gathered around me was books and other study materials that were required for my classes. My single original duffel bag was slung over my shoulder.
“Yeah,” I answered her original question, ducking as a messenger sprite zipped by in a flash of orange light and was gone before I could blink. “I guess I’m a bit of a pack rat.”
“Well, no matter. Your new residence should easily accommodate your belongings… Let me help,” she added as I started to lift one of the boxes. A quick swish of her hand and the whole group of parcels drifted from the ground and hovered around us. “Normally, I recommend that students try to refrain from using magic as a replacement for manual labor…” At that moment there was a loud “OOF!” as a boy and a girl nearby crashed into each other, knocking them both down and sending an assortment of odd goods flying in all directions.
“…But right now I think it would be more prudent just to get you out of here as quickly as possible.”
I nodded vigorously, and together we set off through the halls and away from most of the noise.
“I really should caution you though, Miranda,” continued the Principality as we made our way toward the entrance to the permanent dwelling quarters. “That you should try to get in the habit of reducing what you collect whenever possible. Otherwise, you’ll find that after a few hundred years, you’ll be buried in useless nicknacks that no longer have any real meaning in your life. You should have seen the Headmaster’s office a few years after he moved in. Talk about a pack rat.”
I smiled, remembering a myriad of strange gizmos that filled his personal space. When we came to the large spiral staircase that led up to the permanent quarters within the Academy, Ananha snapped her fingers and sent my boxes around the corner.
“Your belongings can use the cargo chute,” she explained, taking my duffel bag from my shoulder. She set it in the air and it too floated to join the other heavy items. “We had to reconfigure the lift so that it wouldn’t work for humans, as students were finding the free ride a little too irresistible.”
“I bet,” I said, grinning.
“But the stairs won’t strain you,” she continued. “They’ve been enchanted as well.” She started up the stairwell and I followed, slightly awed when I noticed that it took almost no effort to rise on the fairly steep incline.
“You changed upward inertia along the stairs,” I said to myself as I laughed softly in wonder. It was almost the same as walking on level ground.
“That’s right. Be careful the first time you head down. Just remember to walk normally.”
We moved ‘up’ the stairs, spiraling around and around, and passing a number of exits that I took to be levels like that in a tall building. It was a weird analogy though, considering we were deep underground. I was just going to ask how much further it was when she stepped onto a landing.
“Ah, here we are. Fourth tier East,” she said. I noticed that my belongings were hovering next to an ominous hole in the wall nearby and realized they must have come off the ‘lift’, which was really just a long tube with null gravity. Such a passage would indeed be fun and I began to wonder how hard it would be to override the security.
“I’m going to pretend I didn’t just hear that thought,” mumbled the faerie with a half grin. “You’re right down here, number seven,” she indicated as she led the way. “Miss Stuckey is right across the hall, and Mr. McBride is next door in nine. Candice is ninety degrees counter- clockwise from center and in number five.”
I was a little surprised. “We each get our own room?”
“Room? My dear, these are permanent dwellings. You can request a relocation if you wish, and for the most part they are pretty much all the same, but these are hardly the dormitories you were housed in while a First. You’re Fae now… officially. You have rank and privilege. You may someday choose to live outside the Seelie Court if that is what you desire, but so long as you live, you will always have a home here, Miranda.”
“Really? So this is a… house?”
She squinted in a cute sort of way. “Well, in human terms I suppose they are closer to apartments, but yes.”
We walked together down the hall, passing a number of doors, some of which had obviously been customized in various ways either with paint, or placards, or in a couple of cases, plants.
“You are completely free to decorate or change the furnishings however you wish. If you need to remove something, just let me know and I’ll arrange it. Here’s seven, that’s you…” She indicated a somewhat ancient looking wooden door with a small copper “7” embedded near the top. “Each residence is secured by magic. This door has been cleared by the Headmaster and is almost ready to imprint to you.” She placed her hand on the wood and moved it in a slow circle. There was a slight flash of soft blue light, and she backed away. “Okay. Go ahead.”
“What do I do?” I asked, still not quite understanding what was being given to me.
“Just turn the handle, child,” she said smiling.
And so I did. There was an odd tingling in my fingers as I made contact with the metal latch, and with only a little effort it turned with a click, the door quietly swinging open.
“The spells that protect this section of the Iron Mountain are part of the old magic… That which was here before the original fall of the Tuatha. We still don’t quite know how it works, but the door will only open for you, and no one else… with the possible exception of the Headmaster in an emergency. Go on,” she urged, smiling.
A soft light gradually filled the space beyond from somewhere near the ceiling, though I could see no fixtures, and I stepped slowly into Number 7, Fourth tier East… and gasped.
I expected something a bit bigger than the dorms we were in as Firsts. Instead, I found myself staring in awe at a fully furnished living space that was almost as big as my mom’s whole house, and that was only the part that I could see! The faerie giggled a bit as she squeezed past me so she could give me a tour, and I got the impression that she really enjoyed this particular aspect of her job as my counselor.
“This…” I stammered with my mouth open, “is all mine?!”
She nodded, happily. “Sharing quarters makes sense as Firsts, but not now that you are officially members of the Fae. Remember, Miranda, you are an ambassador.” She took my hand and held my eyes. “I know that it can be difficult to understand, but your days as a simple mortal are over. You can expect to live as long as you choose to now, free from aging or disease. Although the human aspect of the Fae is still young, only a few decades really, there are many members of the Fae who are hundreds, if not thousands of years old. We want you to be comfortable!”
I looked back to ‘my’ residence and laughed softly. Ananha just grinned and started to point at things. “The master bedroom is back there, along with the study. There is another smaller room that many use as a library as it has a number of built-in shelves. You’re not alone in the number of books you collect. Being a bibliophile would seem to be a Fae trait… The main room here can be rearranged any way you like of course, but…” she took my hand and led me around a beautiful couch and table to the far side of the space. “This was added just this year…” She surprised me by opening what appeared to be a shuttered window, and my breath caught as a soft morning light shone in and bathed the whole room in warm oranges and yellows.
“It’s an illusion like the one found in the Headmaster’s office. There’s another smaller window in your study as well.”
I was simply staring out at the grassy field that appeared outside, a slightly swaying forest beyond that. It was beautiful, even if it wasn’t real. The faerie seemed to pick up on my thought.
“Actually, it is real, though it’s not really outside your window here. The illusion that you see is actually taking place somewhere on the surface. It has been recreated here, complete with weather. It also changes. I opened my own window yesterday to a mountain slope and found snow collected on my sill. The day before that we had a bit of a rainstorm.”
I was in awe. I shook my head, unable to comprehend the magic necessary for such a wonderful thing.
“Come on,” said Ananha taking my hand and pulling me reluctantly away. “There’s still so much more to show you. I love that they put the window right next to the breakfast nook, even if you don’t end up having many meals here. Most inhabitants of the Iron Mountain eat in the commons a lot, if only for the company. Still, there is a kitchen of sorts, though it might not be entirely what you’re used to.”
“How do you mean?” I asked, following her.
“Well, most modern appliances have been replaced by magic. Anything placed in the cupboards for example, simply won’t rot or spoil. Even bread stays fresh. Baking is more difficult, but not impossible. Professor Cho gives a very good Fae cooking class which I highly recommend you take if you can.”
I had to laugh. After that, Ananha showed me the master bedroom, which had the biggest bed I had ever seen in my life, and then the study, which sported the second window. She answered the question that came to my mind before I asked it.
“Yes, it’s synced with the bigger window in the other room, and no, you can’t jump out and run around. Sorry.”
I made a face.
“Is that… a bathroom?” I asked, looking through a doorway.
“Yup,” she replied smiling. “I was saving that for last. Humans seem to be the most impressed with this feature for some reason.”
“Holy shit!” I exclaimed somewhat ironically, as I stepped into the sculpted stone space. “This is bigger than the whole dorm!” There were the usual amenities, plus a massive stone tub, a shower, a bidet and even a small rock bowl that Ananha demonstrated could act as a fountain for a steam sauna.
“I… I don’t know what to say.”
“Do you like it?” she asked, hopeful.
I just stared at her for a bit. “You’re kidding, right? What’s not to like? I… I’m just not sure I deserve it.”
The faerie’s face softened and she reached out her hand to lightly touch my cheek.
“Oh, Miranda… After all you have been through? Tell me, how goes your one true fear?”
My eyes widened a bit and I stepped back. We were both surprised.
“You still haven’t come to terms with your own destiny yet, have you?” she asked in a whisper.
Did she know? I felt my heart suddenly begin to pound in my chest. The Principality looked briefly confused.
“Your path is so ethereal, unsettled. By the end of their first year, most student’s futures can be seen so clearly. But not you. With you, there is a deep and powerful mystery, as though you are just waiting… to see who you really are. I can sense that you want so badly to be ‘normal’, but you know you’re not… and that you will never be. And yet you won’t accept this. Why?”
I turned and faced away from her, unable to look her in the eyes any longer. For a moment I had the wild notion to just tell her everything. But as quickly as the idea came upon me, I felt the presence of my grandmother in my mind, holding me back. Relenting, I sighed.
“Hope,” I answered softly, almost to myself.
“That you will be like everyone else?” asked the Principality.
“No.” I said, my throat staring to close off with emotion. “That I will survive to lead a life of my own choosing. By holding on to the dream of a normal life, it allows me to see a future beyond that ethereal veil. Even if it’s an unrealistic one, at least it’s one in which I am alive.”
“Oh, child…” she replied sadly. “I knew your fear was deep, but… I had no idea. The events of the last twelve weeks have really taken a toll on you, haven’t they? So much has been asked of you… and done to you. You have been forced to change too quickly.”
I spun around and stepped closer to her so that I could clearly watch her face.
“What would you do if you were me? When I came here, I thought that it might normalize me somehow. I thought that because we were all having our lives turned upside down that I might be a little less of a stand-out. But the Fae has only amplified my differences, not homogenized them. Do you have any idea what that’s like?!”
The faerie was silent for a time, her face a mask of sorrow. Finally, I saw a tear slowly roll down one cheek, and she spoke.
“Long ago, when I was first made a faerie, I passed through a period we call Rish’tu. It is a condition that affects only new changelings as their mind struggles to accept that they are no longer human. For most changelings Rish’tu is brief, only a few hours at most, and then they come to be at peace with their new form and they let go of their humanity. In a few, this process can take longer. They fight the change, they resist. Sometimes Rish’tu can go on for days, during which time the changeling is in emotional agony. And in rare cases, a changeling will simply refuse the change. When this happens, the new faerie will gradually wither and eventually die, consumed by grief and loss, and fear.
“When I was changed, I resisted, utterly afraid of what I had become. I was unfortunate, you see, in that I had retained some of my human memories. I simply couldn’t let go. I spent almost two full weeks in Rish’tu, and was very close to death. Many faeries tried to console me, urging me to let go of my humanity and embrace the Fae, but they only made things worse. Finally, when the others had all but given up and were simply waiting for my suffering to be over, another faerie came to me and spoke words that gave me the strength to finally let go.”
“What did she say?” I asked, my own tears welling in the corners of my eyes.
“She said that although my humanity was gone, it need not be forgotten, and that no matter how frightened I was of my new form, I would never have to face that fear alone.”
She took my hand and held it in hers. “You’re not alone, Miranda. You have people who love you and will stand by you. There are many here, myself included, who would gladly give up our lives to protect and shelter you.”
“But why?” I asked, the emotions finally breaking through to the point that it became almost impossible to speak. “Why would you do that?”
“Because that is what the Mother has put me here for. I am a protector of her living creatures, especially those of the Fae. But even more than that, I would give up my life for you because that is my choice. I choose to be a part of your life, as much as you will allow. The same things that make you different, also give you an increased capacity to change others. You seem to effortlessly raise those around you to potentials they never dreamed of, and that is a rare gift indeed, and something very much worth protecting.”
I sniffed back my emotions as best I could. “You said I’m waiting to see who I am…”
“When am I going to know? How will I know when it’s time to take that step and become what I’m supposed to be?”
Ananha looked slightly surprised at my question, but then smiled.
“When you’re ready, and only then, it will be obvious,” she answered. “And Miranda,” she added, “there’s no rush.”
I quickly pulled her into a hug, holding her tight. I needed it to release some of the emotion I was feeling, but more than that, I did not want her to see my face at that moment, which reflected a knowledge of just how wrong she was. My time was very short indeed.
Later, she helped me to get my belongings from the lift and then said she needed to attend other matters.
“But, I will meet you by the entrance portal at two, though, to escort you home. I am looking forward to meeting your mother.”
I took a deep breath and let it out slowly. “Frankly, I’m not. I have a lot to explain I think. I really don’t know how she’s going to take it.”
“If she’s anything like you, I think she’ll be fine.”
Just as she reached my door to leave, I recalled something.
“Ananha… If I might ask… the faerie that helped you through Rish’tu. Who was it?”
Her eyes twinkled and she smiled, obviously knowing I was going to eventually ask her that.
“It was Cailleach.”