A Word of Caution

Welcome to the realm of the Unseelie Court. Feel free to wander and browse, but know that the content you will find here is not for the faint of heart. The visions portrayed are often darkly erotic, even disturbing, and should be traversed only by those with the appropriate character and mental age.

You have been warned.


Tales From the Fae – Part V: The Academy of Dana

Chapter 44 – Combat Finals

I half expected to cross paths with Petra as we entered the halls around the arena, and found out only much later that she had been sent to the Healer’s Wing after her match. Michelle and I waited quietly in the ‘ready’ area around the Refinery’s East door, listening to the sounds that managed to leak out from the large room. It was intimidating to hear in this way; deep muffled explosions, cries of pain. At one point, there was a quick series of low thunderclaps, and the whole room shook slightly. I watched a tiny stream of dust drop slowly from the ceiling, and though I knew it wasn’t one of our group in there, I wondered which pairing from the leader board was dishing out the pain, and which was receiving it. We’d heard sounds coming from beyond the big green door before, but now that the only the strongest combatants were left, those sounds were all the more impressive. A faerie seated across from us seemed mostly unaffected by the reverberating impacts until there was a long series of booms that just seemed to go on forever. I noticed that dust and a few small pebbles were rolling toward the portal due to a leakage of gravitational change coming from the arena and the fae woman’s brows went up. After the seventh thunderclap, there was a sudden silence, and we all looked to the green door. With a loud clack and a hiss of escaping air, the vault-like doors opened, signaling the end of another match. To our surprise, a dark, strange smelling smoke drifted from the room as fresh air was pumped in. At first, I didn’t recognize the smell, but when I did, I stiffened. It was a combination of burnt hair and burnt human flesh.

Just then, a pair of figures appeared in the doorway our of the arena. They were wearing flat-black leathers and boots. It was Grace Leavey and Chris Allarez, the previous year’s arena champions. Michelle recognized them first, and was standing slightly in front of me before they were even a dozen paces away. I found myself standing as well, though I wasn’t sure why, and finally even the faerie rose.

“Temperment, girls,” said the faerie simply, reminding everyone of the rules.

Grace’s face was impassive. She looked calm, even bored. “First,” she acknowledged Michelle as she stopped in front of us and eyed the glowing symbol on our foreheads. They smelled of ash and sulfur, and I saw a small whisp of smoke coming from Chris’ gloves as the pair eyed us.

Michelle made a slight bow of her head, keeping her gaze fixed on the two as was just considered polite. “Fifth.”

Grace turned to look at me and I saw her nostrils flair. “Do us a favor and win your match, Stuckey. Then we’ll get the honor of crushing you and your dog.” She started to leave, but Michelle stepped in her way and I held my breath.

“I’ve watched you, Grace,” she said simply, her face confident and almost happy as she locked eyes with the slightly taller girl. “You’re strong alright, but you’re also arrogant and sloppy. You won’t last ten seconds again me.”

There was a very tense moment when I thought that Leavey might test that claim right then and there. But then she turned to her partner and said, “This place stinks. Let’s find some fresher air.” Pushing past Michelle, the pair left the room. Both the faerie and I breathed a deep sigh of relief.

“I hate combat finals,” she said mostly to herself as she took her seat again.

Our wait was short. The arena was cleared and reset a full five minutes before the listed start of our match, even though Grace and Chris’ had gone uncommonly long. Still, time has a way of slowing when you have adrenaline pumping through your veins.

“Relax,” said Michelle next to me. “The Fourths against us are both Dòrn. They’re pretty good, but their technique is flawed. They almost always open with a quick series of spells to distract their opponents and get in close enough to make magical shielding mostly ineffective. Be ready when the doors first open, but then get lost. Use that fancy flying of yours to hide yourself out of reach until they turn their focus on me. Trust me, it won’t take long. I’m going to make things difficult for them real fast.”

I nodded.

“You can do whatever you think will help after that, but just remember that I’ll probably be engaged real close, so… don’t miss.”

“Aww,” I said in mock disappointment. “I was hoping for some fireballs ala Chris Allarez.”

Michelle snicked. “Smart ass. I think it’s almost time. You ready?”

I did a little dance with my fingers and my MOS shifted into combat mode. As an added precaution, I pulled out a series of shielding spells for easy access and grinned.

“All set.”

A second later, the orb above the door went amber and the large hatch swung inward. I knew from the sound I was hearing from within the room that our opponents had already cast their first set of spells zooming across the arena and pulled Michelle back as she was about to drop down into the path of the incoming magic. I tossed three separate shields out in front of me as I pushed out ahead of her, and was glad I hadn’t entrusted it to just one. The wave of heat curled around the dome-like field of force I had put in its way, but collapsed a second later when some other spell hit it and took it down like a house of cards. A second volley of flame impacted on my backup shield, and then it too shattered. Not knowing how many variations on this theme they had sent out, I decided that it was time to move as Michelle had suggested. I flicked my wrist and sent a doppelganger image of myself running along the ground to the left, while at the same time dropping down a quick spell to vanish both Michelle and I as we split off in different directions. She went out to the right, and I shot up to the roof of the chamber. The rouse wouldn’t fool them for long, but it didn’t need to.

I took up a position that would let me see how my partner was doing and was ready to release a few modified versions of Penelope’s trap to help tangle things up when I glanced down and gasped. Michelle was laying face down in the center of the arena floor in a puddle of blood.

“Shell!” I screamed and started to drop back down to help her. I was halfway to ground level when I abruptly stopped. Something wasn’t right. My heart pounding in my ears, I searched the room for my adversaries. They were nowhere to be seen, and I knew that wasn’t good. The doors out of the arena were closed, so they were there somewhere, just cloaked, just as Michelle and I had done. I looked back down at my partner and felt an unbearable need to come to her aid, as if her very life depended on me getting to her side as quickly as possible. I started to move down again, and stopped.

“No,” I said aloud. “Not that fast. She’s better than that.” I popped back up to the ceiling and tried looking at the scene in a different way. I let my vision fade and concentrated on the various masses in the room. Suddenly a very different picture developed and I could clearly make out that what I thought was Michelle’s broken body was just an illusion; an image and nothing more. I suspected that there might be additional magic at play to enhance my fear and drive me to want to help her as well, and sure enough, when I cast some simple charms to protect me, the urge vanished at once. I let my view scale out and ‘found’ them. All three were engaged in tight combat just off to the right where Michelle was supposed to be. In short, the image on the floor was purely a trick to get me to waste time (which it had) and to get me back in range when they had finished off my partner (which they were having much more trouble with). Now that I knew where they were, it wasn’t hard to dispell their cloaking, and seeing that Michelle had been hit with something that slowed her down as though she were swimming in molasses, I knew I had better change the game quickly.

Since I already had Penelope’s spell at hand, I dropped it right at the first girl’s feet. Her body did a little jerk, and while she was working the charm to cancel the trap, I dropped three more copies to keep her busy and then used a variation of her own vanishing spell to fade her out of view.

Michelle took a hard clip to the head, and my efforts to cancel the slowing effect weren’t working. I’d figure it out eventually, but Michelle would be toast in the meantime. I needed more time, so I changed tactics.

“Turn-about’s fair play, I’d say,” I commented to myself and cast out a quick illusion while I shut off my own cloaking. A figure appeared in the air about ten meters from me and began thrashing about. It wasn’t just that it looked like her partner that distracted the girl pounding on Michelle, but also the fact that it was almost completely engulfed in flames and screaming wildly.

“Oh my god…” she gasped, stunned. “Gale?”

I juiced the illusion for all it was worth, real heat radiated down, as well as the smell of burning flesh… a smell that was still very much fresh in my mind from our encounter with Grace and Chris. Then, while I had her distracted, I concentrated hard on the spell that was hindering Michelle.

“Gale! No! WHY DON’T THEY STOP IT?!” Screamed the freaked-out girl.

WHAM! Michelle’s foot snapped hard into her chest and knocked the wind out of her. A split second later my partner, no longer held in the bondage of the slowing spell, whipped around and clubbed her hard at the base of the neck. Her eyes rolled up and she crumpled like a sack of potatoes.

I was slowly settling to the ground right in front of the other girl, who, much to my chagrin, was still trying to break free of Penelope’s tricky creations.

“You sick bitch! I’m going to…” I cut her off by placing a small bubble of force around her head and started sucking the air out. When she realized what was happening, her eyes grew wide and she struggled briefly, but was then quiet as she too passed out from lack of oxygen. I canceled the bubble just as the room went red. When we were free to move again, I cut off the screaming illusion and checked on Michelle. She had a nasty cut just below her left eye, which was puffing closed.

“Ow… I’m so sorry…”

She tilted her head at me. “Huh? Why? You did great! That illusion of Gale Binkenson on fire was amazing. For a moment there your had ME convinced.”

I frowned and helped her dab at the blood dripping down her face. She hissed as I touched another tender spot. “Yeah, but I completely missed that slowing spell.”

“What are you talking about? You broke it just fine. Miranda, I thought that match went pretty much according to plan. You didn’t even fall for that stunt of theirs to get you to come down off the ceiling.”

“I started to,” I confessed.

“But you didn’t, and that’s what counts. Look, forget about my eye. I’m okay, really. You can’t be combat track and not get beat up once in a while. I’m used to it. You were perfect. If they had any brains at all, they would have used a spell similar to the one you used on Gale and taken me out quickly. Instead, they wasted time using me as a punching bag. I can take a lot of abuse, Ran. They were stupid.”

“Congratulations, Firsts,” said one of the faerie arbitrators as she settled to the ground at Michelle’s side. A single touch to my partner’s face and the puffiness started to recede. The cut was already closing visibly as well. “Please check in at the Healer’s Wing on your way back to insure that any other wounds are taken care of.”

I saw that the Gale and the other girl were being carried out. Michelle stopped them briefly.

“They will be fine. You were merciful, considering…” answered one of the faeries before she could ask. Her reputation for checking on the status of those she had taken down was well known by now.

We left the arena and started the walk back up toward the halls. “How did you do that, by the way,” asked Michelle as I helped her up some stairs.

“Do what?”

“You know, that fire illusion thing. That was seriously wicked.” She chuckled. “She’ll be having nightmares for weeks.”

I frowned, considering that I might have scarred the girl emotionally. “Fire is actually pretty easy. It doesn’t have to look like much to be convincing. It would have been much harder to duplicate her just standing there normally.”

“Huh. Well it WAS certainly convincing. And the screams?”

I smiled. “That was actually me. I just moved my voice and then repeated the loop.”

“Oh man, that is so cool. You have to teach me to do that some time.”

“Sure…. uh…” I had been cut off by several faeries who hustled us both into the Iron Mountain’s infirmary and to separate rooms. A different healer saw each of us, and mine wouldn’t take no for an answer when I tried to explain that I was fine and hadn’t been injured. The Fae woman seemed almost disappointed that I wasn’t on the edge of death. I’m sure they got a lot of extra business during the games, so it was probably a good time for up and coming healers to practice. Twenty minutes later we were both extra ‘fine’ and walking into the Great Hall. The sudden cheers from our classmates were deafening.

“You did it! Yelled Petra grabbing Michelle and I by the arms as we floated up to the others. “You are now officially tied for at least third place!”

“Third? Really? But that means…” I started.

“Yeah, Maria and I finally lost one. We did good, but it was over quick. At least we didn’t get hurt. I wish I could say the same thing for Penelope. She’s still at the healer’s wing. Jennifer said she got clobbered pretty bad.”

I frowned. “We just came from there. She must have come in right after we left.” Checking the boards, I saw that our next match wasn’t for another hour, which was actually about an hour sooner than I expected. Usually the matches ran like clockwork. I also noticed that we were to fight Delaney Safil and Mavin Diggory, both of whom had ties with Shaina.

“Maybe things get accelerated during the final rounds,” suggested Michelle, shrugging. “Come on. Let’s get something to eat, I’m starving.”

The mood during lunch was jovial, but serious at the same time. It was hard not to be excited by the fact that the games were almost over. In fact, for most of our group, it was just a matter of waiting to see where the finalists placed. By the time Michelle and I had finished our afternoon meal, even that was no longer much of an issue. A loss by Candice and Shawn sealed their final position at fourth place.

When their names on the board went red, I was both sad and relieved. I hadn’t relished the idea of having to go against my own roommate. At least she had placed, so getting into the Troggeyder guild wouldn’t be an issue for her anymore. I was finishing off the last bite of my sandwich when I saw a faerie float up and talk to Petra. When she left, our leader looked solemn and angry. Then, catching my eye, she strode directly to where I was seated.

“Miranda, you should know… Candice is in the healer’s wing. She was hurt pretty badly. Burns. She’ll be okay, but she’s probably going to be there a few hours.”

I nodded and the girl left.

“Who…?” I quickly checked the leader board and saw Grace and Chris’ name in glowing green. Visions of Candice’s body engulfed in flames filled my imagination and I suddenly found it hard to breath. Michelle saw what was going on and took my face in her hands, forcing me to look her in the eyes.

“Ran, listen to me. Candice is going to be fine…”

“They burned her!” I stammered as tears started to cloud my vision.

“Yes. And I’m sure they did it on purpose.”

I was livid with rage.

“They probably pushed it right to the limits of arbitration,” continued Michelle. “JUST because they knew it would unsettle you.”


“NO. Don’t let them have that advantage, Ran. Set those emotions aside and THINK! Candice is in the hands of the best healers in the whole entire world. She got hurt, that’s all, just like I did. She’ll be in here this very evening laughing and joking about it over dinner. STAY FOCUSED.”

She released me and I took a few deep breaths, my emotional control returning.

“Thanks, Shell. This whole thing has really got me conflicted inside.”

She nodded. “Understandable. I have one bit of good news for you, look… Douglas is out as well.”

I nearly knocked over our bench to see the leader boards. Sure enough, my lover was listed in eighth place and out of the running. “Oh, that’s too er, bad.”

“Eighth place is pretty damn respectable for a First, I’d say, especially this year. I want to ask him about his secret weapon, but it will have to wait until later. We need to start heading down to the arena.”

I found the boy among the others, laughing at some story being told by Brian. I smiled, relieved that he was no longer in danger from the likes of Grace or others.

“Okay, I’m ready.” I said to Michelle. “Let’s go.” Together, we quietly slipped out and headed to our next match.

This was it. The last two matches would decide the first second and third place winners.

“Any thoughts on Delaney and Mavin?” I asked as we navigated the halls again.

She tilted her head. “Well, they’re not Combat track. Both South house, I believe. I think I heard that…”

“Heard what… huh?” I followed her gaze into the ready room and frowned. The far door was open and the small orb above the vault-like portal was flashing amber. “Uh, did we get the time wrong?” I thought back and pictured the leader board in my mind.

“I… don’t believe so,” she replied. We both ran up to the opening and peered into the room. It looked empty, but I knew that looks might be deceiving. Then I saw that all the other doors were open as well.

“Early maybe? Perhaps they haven’t reset the room yet.”

Michelle wasn’t convinced, and shook her head. “Something else is going on here. There wasn’t even a faerie in the ready room. I want to check it out.”

“Uh… I suppose,” I replied as I followed her into the large green-walled room. “Lets be careful though, okay?”

She nodded and started to walk toward the other side of the arena with the intention of looking into the other ready rooms. We weren’t halfway there when there was a heavy click. Turning, I saw that the East house door was closing behind us.

“Uh… Shell. I don’t like this,” I commented, thinking for the first time that perhaps we had just done something really stupid.

“You and me both. Lets get out of here,” she agreed and started to head directly across the room to the West house door. But as we neared it, we could see that there was now a figure standing framed in the light of the ready room beyond.

“Leaving so soon?” said a voice I didn’t recognize right away. When I did, my heart sank. “But you’ll miss all the fun.”

“Shaina,” I said simply. “Of course.”

“Ran…” Michelle was trying to get my attention, and when I looked at where she was pointing I could see figures in North and South house doorways as well. As if from a nightmare, Delaney Safil and Morgan Diggory stepped into the room from one side, and Grace Leavey and Chris Allarez from the other. Grace had the same passive look on her face as she had before our last match, and I felt my stomach knotting.

“What do you want, Robles,” I heard Michelle ask in an angry tone.

The dark haired girl smiled. “What I want, is to stand and watch while my friends here kick the living shit out you, traitor.”

“This is insane,” I said as my brain went into overdrive. “What do you accomplish by attacking us? Do you really think the Headmaster is just going to sit back and ignore something like this?” I really didn’t care about her answer since it was obvious that they had already considered what it would mean and decided that for whatever twisted reason, it was worth it. I was busy with my hands. It’s not easy to control your Ob’ilar without looking like you are trying to control your Ob’ilar, but I was fortunate in that it didn’t need to move very much at all to make serious things happen. To stepped a little closer to Michelle and whispered very quietly, “Stall. I need thirty seconds.”

“The Seelie court will finally be rid of your vile, putrid infection, that’s what it will accomplish.” She spat.

Michelle took a step forward to put herself between me and the others, which caused me to groan since I wanted her close. My plan wouldn’t work if she was more than a few feet from me. “Is this all about what happened in Song Circle?” she asked. “The Telling? You do realize it wasn’t even her talking, right?”

“Lies!” Screamed the other. “Do you really expect us to believe that a first year student could do all the things she does? She is a careful plant by the Unseelie Court to infiltrate this academy in preparation for war!”

Michelle turned to Grace. “And you believe this as well? You’re willing to toss away the last five years of your life here on her word?” She flung her hand back at Robles.

“Don’t waste your time, Stuckey,” interrupted Shaina. “It was Grace who saw your roommate here talking with none other than Cailleach herself in the Market. Why don’t you ask her. See if she denies it!”

Michelle frowned and turned to me. Whether she was just acting, or actually doubting me I couldn’t tell. “Is this true, Ran? Did you speak with the leader of the Unseelie Court while we were at the Market?”

I said nothing. I was concentrating far too hard on what I was doing with my MOS to even speak. I’d have tranced-out, but I needed to be aware of the situation and where Michelle was in relation to the others. Standing there in silence was the hardest thing I have ever done, and probably the most risky as well.

“Miranda?” repeated my friend.

“SEE! She won’t deny it because she CAN’T! You’ve been fooled just like the rest of your idiot pack of children; conned into following a TRAITOR! I bet you even believe that the silly mark on your forehead was to your benefit, don’t you. Tell me, Stuckey, did anyone other than her take a look at what was in that little spell? You all let her put an unknown mark of power on you without even questioning what might be contained in that charm? Didn’t you even consider that it was the perfect delivery mechanism for a spell designed to befuddle and confuse you?”

“Ran?” My roommate sounded desperate.

I needed only a few more seconds.

“She won’t answer you because there’s nothing she can say. She knows I have found her out and is just stalling in the hope that someone will come and rescue her. But no one else is coming. No one in your group even knows that you’re not in a match. They’re all waiting to see if she if she wins or loses, unaware that the board that they see is completely different than the real one. How else do you think I could get you to an empty arena? There are no arbitrators here to keep you from getting hurt, I assure you. Don’t believe me? Delaney and Morgan even forfeited their match at the last minute, just so that there would be a hole in the schedule.”

“Ran,” pleaded my friend. “Please say something.”

I took a slow breath. “Michelle, if you have ever trusted me, then just take my hand.”

She hesitated, and in those two long seconds I was convinced that I had lost her to Shaina’s poisonous words. But then, her face changed and she smiled, even as she reached out and took my outstretched palm.

“She’s casting!” screamed Shaina. I realized that my MOS had become visible as relief flooded through my being. Grace Leavey snapped her arm around to launch an attack, but it was too late. It took only the slightest flick of my wrist to release the spell I had been preparing once Michelle was within safe range. It had seemed to take an eternity to get the magical amplifier up and running, something I was going to have to talk to Candice about later, and I knew I would only get one shot, so it had to be a good one. I also didn’t want to end up killing anyone, but I couldn’t risk any kind of spell that could be easily blocked. Grace and the others weren’t stupid. They hadn’t reached that level in the games by being unprepared. They’d have shields up to block almost anything that I could throw at them. So whatever I did, it had to be something they weren’t actively blocking. Heat, cold, even gravitational pulses would all be shielded against, but they still needed to breathe.

You could shield against blasts of air, but it wasn’t something that anyone usually bothered with because it was mostly ineffectual. Most people couldn’t put enough force behind such a blast to make it any more than a minor distraction. But I could. The second I flicked my wrist, a donut of air pressure blasted out around us with the force of a small, half-second hurricane. The thunderclap shattered the space of the arena with such violence that instant clouds of vapor formed in strange patterns between us and the helpless figures caught in the blast’s path.

And the room went red.

This surprised me. I’m sure it surprised everyone. One moment we were standing in the gray-green room, then next we were all part of a giant jello mold, perfectly frozen in a thick mass that resisted almost any motion of our bodies beyond breathing. And that was a bummer for me because it meant that although my blast of wind still hit everyone, it was kind of like being pinned against the back wall of a wind tunnel; buffeting, but not dangerous in any way. In short, my entire effort had just been made insignificant with a single spell.

“THAT WILL DO!” Bellowed a voice that everyone in the room recognized at once. Moving with painful slowness, we all lifted our heads to see five figures hovering at the ceiling. Four faerie arbitrators, and in the center, the Headmaster himself.

“That will quite do,” he said more calmly.

I noticed, with continued surprise, that the four faeries were none other than the four Principalities of the Seelie Court; Kiela, Ananha, Verith, and Driel. They dropped down and stood behind each of the upper class girls, placing a hand on their shoulders. The implication was clear. They were tapped out. My blast would have caused them serious damage or even death.

“NO!” Screamed Shaina from the West House ready room. Apparently she hadn’t actually been inside the room when it went red, and so was unaffected by the same spell that held the rest of us immobile. My gust of air had knocked her back, but had not had the same effect as it would have had she been closer. “You will NOT get away from me! Not after all I have done to get here!” She pulled something from the pocket of her coat and flicked out her hand.

Headmaster Brightly’s warning came just too late. “KEILA… STOP HER!”

The faerie moved like lightning, but the small, ornate box popped open and released its glowing glyph-like spell before she could reach the girl. Shaina crashed to the ground with the faerie pinning her, even as the magical ball of magic streaked across the arena. I watched in almost detached fascination, unable to move, as the swirling object came straight at me in slow motion. It had an almost terrifying beauty, and I gasped just once as it hit me square in the chest and vanished. A second later, the red holding spell that suspended me was canceled and my limp body crumpled to the ground as if dead.

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