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.

 Chapters

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

Chapter 41 – Divine Grace

A small bell sound brought almost instant silence to the main hall as the first round pairings magically appeared on the main board. Then just as quickly, the noise returned. Some, including many of the upper grades below, laughed out loud at what they considered an easy win. Others, including many in our own group, cursed as they saw who they were to face.

“Well, fuck…” exclaimed Carol Parker, causing our group to turn. “Fifth years?! Looks like we’re going out today, Diane.”

A number of others had similar concerns over their next match. I caught Michelle’s eye when I noticed we had another pair of Fourths to go against. It was going to get harder, and more brutal, that much was certain. It was the very nature of the games. The weaker, less competent players were being eliminated.

“Hey, Christine! Looks like you and Francis get to go against Emily and I,” said Rachael Lee smiling. Theirs was the only First to First pairing, and I waited to see how the others reacted. I needn’t have worried. Christine and her partner laughed and knew it would be alright. There was some playful bantering back and forth, but even when things got serious, I knew they would hold together. Between us, it wasn’t personal. We’d still try to win, but there was none of the hatred and fear that came from the other grades.

As the first teams left to head to the combat arena, I caught Michelle’s eye and pulled her aside. “You okay with the new strategy?”

She gave me a lopsided smile. “Are you kidding? I’ve been holding back on the verbal abuse because I thought it would distract you. On the streets, the one thing you learn real well is how to dish out and take insults. You’ll see, this is going to be fun!” She smacked her palms together and grinned wickedly.

About twenty minutes later we were all serious again, the levity replaced by genuine adrenaline as we waited in the ready-room watching the for the “go” light for our first match. I didn’t know too much about our opponents beyond the fact that they were Fourths, and that one of them had been mentioned by my Illusions professor by name. My heart was racing a mile a minute, but Michelle looked ever calm, even eager.

“Can’t keep my hands from shaking,” I said, offhandedly.

She looked over at me. “Don’t worry about it. It’ll pass a few seconds after you enter the arena.”

“You think so?” I replied, a little surprised at her confidence in my personal control.

The girl just shrugged her shoulders. “It did last time.”

I laughed aloud. “I hadn’t even noticed.”

There was a gong-like sound, and the orb floating above the large vault-like door turned amber. With a click, the door unlocked. I was ready to rush out, but Shell held me back. Then, pushing the door open slowly, she glanced through the crack.

“Can you make it dark in here,” she asked me.

I waved my hand and the light from the orb and the hall behind us was seemingly sucked away. To my surprise, we were now in total darkness. in other words, there was no light within the arena.

“A unlit match?” I asked.

“Maybe. The question is, do we make our own, and let them know where we are, or do we try to take advantage of it.”

I thought for a second, fiddling with my MOS. Then, I cast another spell on the both of us. A second later Michelle’s form faded into view as my eyes adjusted to the magic. Her face looked strange, her eyes being dark circles with no white, with light coming from her nostrils and mouth.

“Whoa…” exclaimed Michelle. “What am I seeing?!”

I smiled. “We learned how to shift our perception of the visible spectrum in my Illusions class. You’re seeing into the infrared.”

“What, like heat? That’s cool!…er, I mean…”

“And unless they mask their body temperatures, we should be able to see our opponents just as easily. They should actually stand out a bit against the cool of the room. Ready?”

“Almost. Will they be using this too?”

I thought about it. “Given that the room is still dark, probably.”

“Heh. Okay, follow my lead and act like you’re still blind, okay?”

Grinning, I nodded.

The doors to the arena were located about four feet from the floor. Why the builders choose such strange placements is not known, but it meant that you had to hop or float down to the floor below. In the dark, that made things a lot more interesting. We could see of course, but Michelle had me remove my light blocking spell so that it looked like we were just now opening the door and clumsily dropping over the edge with our hands out in front of us. I was chagrined to see that my fingers were no longer shaking.

Across the way, I could clearly see the glowing shapes of two figures standing against the far wall. I saw one turn and look at the other, who then nodded and started circling around to our left. The second was moving right. I also noticed there were four other figures floating near the ceiling. Faerie arbiters.

“Ran, where are you,” said Michelle in a horse whisper.

“How the hell should I know,” I replied, adding a little frustration to my voice while I kept my hands out in front of me. I found it interesting that my MOS was still completely visible to me, even though I was using an alternate spectrum. I was laying out a series of spells for quick release and guardedly watching my partner move in shuffling steps in the general direction of the right-most girl. My own target edged around the side of the arena, allowing me to pass completely before she moved out and began to generate a spell sequence. But before she could get the first one off, I let loose my own charm, which streaked backwards right through me and struck her square on. She hardly made more than a grunt before she was pressed against the wall again, this time held there by an invisible force and unable to move. Almost at once, my next spell hit her and she vanished. Simple invisibility charms worked just as well in the infrared.

As a safety, I hit her with a third spell, which caused her to become visible again, at least to Michelle and I. It basically marked her by ‘painting’ her with a magic that we were given permission to see. I took a brief moment to walk right up to her face and make a devilish grin. The girl, who I recognized from South House, was wide-eyed with surprise, and no doubt, fear for her partner, our ruse having now been exposed. Finally, I turned around and oriented myself again… just in time to see that the girl tracking Michelle had lifted quietly into the air and had just settled behind my her. I held my breath, hoping that Shell was aware of the maneuver.

Once, in our Sexual Arts class, Rachael talked to us about an Old Fae concept known as Pa-Ro. Basically, it translates to ‘divine grace’, and in the case of our Nymph professor, she was using it to describe the condition of perfectly arousing a lover. Michelle already knew the term, which surprised me at the time since I never considered her a very sexual person. Stix, her combat instructor, had used the ancient phrase in relation to her fighting style.

As I stood there and watched in mental slow-motion as the other Fourth wound up to hit Michelle in the back of the head, it was all I could do not to scream out. But then, just before her fist would have made contact, I saw my partner’s body begin to shift. It wasn’t simply her head that moved out of the way, but impossibly, her whole form. By ever so slightly changing her center of gravity, she moved in a way that let the attack breeze just past her left ear, the other’s fingers literally brushing Michelle’s sandy colored hair. And as her body continued to move, I could see that her energy was flowing in a perfectly directed choreography of muscle and motion, like water rushing down a steep, smooth incline. She turned, bringing her right arm up behind her so that she caught her opponent’s wrist, just as it had reached the end of its snapping arc, and the end of its energy. Still moving, she slid under the captured limb and continued the line of force, breaking the balance of her foe. Perhaps magic could have saved the poor girl, but she never had a chance to use it. She was suddenly upside down in the air, and Shell’s other arm was already descending toward her chest. The Fourth’s body slammed into the hard arena floor only a fraction of a second before the side of my partner’s open palm snapped against her, multiplying the force of the impact and no doubt cracking several ribs. The girl, still shocked and stunned, had gone from a perfectly orchestrated surprise attack, to laying on her back on the ground with Michelle’s knee pinning her throat, her body broken and defeated, all in the span of two heartbeats.

Pa-Ro. Perfect divine grace in its simplest and most beautiful form. That was Michelle, and it was stunning. The room filled with red light, and the match was over.

As she had at the end of every pairing, Michelle waited until the Faerie’s present had assured her that the injured girl would be fine. Only then would she be willing to leave. She knelt along side the gasping woman while the arbiters applied the first healing spells, quickly repairing the worst of the damage so that she could be moved to the infirmary. It took several minutes, and all the while, the defeated stared up at her in confusion, pain, and terror. For her own part, Michelle returned the gaze without emotion, saying nothing.

Her partner, having been released from my spells, was not so willing to let the loss go.

“Traitor! Unseelie scum! I’ll…” she yelled at my back as she was led away toward the exit hatch. I took a breath, ready to pour out a response, but Michelle was already speaking.

“You’re as weak as you are stupid,” she interrupted, her voice filled with venom. “If THIS,” she said, pointing to the injured female being floated out, “is the BEST that you can do against a couple of FIRSTS, then you don’t deserve to fight for the Seelie court.” She punctuated her words by spitting in disgust on the floor near the woman’s feet. Enraged, the other roared in anger, but was held back by the arbiters and moved out of the arena.

I was impressed. “Wow, Shell. When you said you knew how to insult someone, I thought you were just being rhetorical. That girl was majorly pissed. You really let her have it with that line about fighting for the Seelie…”

“I meant every word I said,” she replied loudly as she turned on me, the anger still ringing in her voice. “Ran, I know those two. They’re Combat track… Warriors! They’re taking advanced classes and they were fooled by a pathetic trick!!”

I sighed, suddenly understanding Michelle’s anger perfectly.

“They completely ignored everything that Stix has been drilling into them since they arrived here,” she continued, looking desperate. “…the most basic tactical rules. They had the knowledge and experience, Ran. They should have taken us easily!”

“I’m sorry,” I said softly, placing a hand on her shoulder. “For what it’s worth, I understand.”

“Do you?!” She retorted, her face bordering on depression. “How could you? I know you’re way ahead of the rest of us in magic, but how could you know what it’s like to be responsible for the defense of a people, knowing that your fellow combatants are completely unprepared?”

Her words literally took my breath away for several seconds. She waited.

“It’s… complicated,” I answered finally, knowing that my response was terrible.

“Complicated?! Shit… You mean, you STILL don’t trust me.”

“What? No, that’s not it at all…”

My friend was pacing. “Fuck… Damnit, Ran, I know I shouldn’t have walked out on you back in the infirmary, but I thought that we were past that.”

“Michelle,” I said with as much force as I could muster given that my throat was closing up and I was near to tears. “This is NOT about that, please believe me!”

“Then what IS IT, Miranda?! Why won’t you talk to me?”

Stunned, I dropped down to the semi-opaque green floor and covered my face, willing the whole situation to just go away. More than anything in the world, I wanted to tell Michelle about my Grandmother, and what she had said was in store for me… for all of us. But I could feel some part of me holding back, pulling the words away even as I thought of them.

“I… I can’t,” I replied, my fists balled up. I wanted to pound on that floor, release my full frustration into the indestructible green material where it would be unable to cause anyone harm. But I just sat there, weeping.

“Can’t?” Michelle’s voice was a bit more concerned. “Is someone preventing you from talking to me, Ran?”

My breathing was becoming more and more difficult, as though that aspect of me would rather I die of suffocation than speak. I glanced around the room nervously and saw that the Faeries had left. We were alone.

“Please,” I whispered, begging.

And then, from someplace deep in my head a voice not my own said, “Very well, child.”

Abruptly, the weight on my chest vanished and I could breathe. Even my vision seemed brighter. But more than anything, I suddenly knew that there was nothing preventing me from talking to Michelle. For at least this moment, I was free. I was surprised to find the girl kneeling next to me, her hand on my back.

“Ran, are you okay? Should I go get help?”

I turned to her. “NO! No… I’m fine…”

“You looked like you were about to pass out for a second there.”

I took a few deep breaths. “You better sit down. I need to tell you a few things, while I have the chance… Please,” I entreated her, holding out my hand. She stared down at me for a few seconds, then nodded, taking my hand in hers and dropping into a lotus next to me.

“I don’t have long before the next match, and I’m pretty sure that this is a one-time opportunity, so listen carefully and let me speak…”

And then, for the next eleven minutes, I spilled my guts out. I told Michelle about my grandmother, and her weird relation to me. I spoke of the Fomorians and their pirate ways, how they were on their way to Earth even now. I explained that it wasn’t the Unseelie Court that we needed to worry about, but that coming alien attack. But when I started to talk about my role in fighting the Fomorians, I felt myself being stopped.

“Ran, something wrong?” Michelle had been quiet until that moment. She had noticed the change.

“I… I think that my grandmother is restricting me, Shell. I don’t think she wants me talking about certain things. And I’m not sure how I feel about that.”

Michelle shrugged. “I’m sure she has her reasons.”

I thought carefully about it for a moment. “Perhaps…” I replied slowly. “I think it may be dangerous for you to know too much.”

“Well, she’s right,” answered Michelle at once, startling me. I blinked at her, “How…”

“Look, Ran. Anyone with half a brain can tell that you’re special. Most just assume that you’re smarter than the rest of us, and that’s what makes you so powerful with the magic. But it’s more than that, and now that I understand your connection with your gran, well, it only makes sense that you’re going to have a bigger role in the future of the Fae. I always knew you would, but the thing is, it’s likely that a lot of entities are eventually going to be working against you. If the Seelie Court has some grand part in this war, the fewer people that know the details ahead of time, the better.”

I thought about her words as we left the solitude of the arena. She was right of course, but the fact that merely knowing me and my history made me dangerous to be around, really sucked. It was yet another reminder of how different I was at a time when I wanted all the more to be like everyone else. It seemed that ignorance really was bliss. Michelle seemed to sense my sadness and clasped my shoulder.

“Come on,” she said. “Petra’s probably freaking out that you haven’t returned to the main hall yet.”

As the day progressed, it was quickly apparent that the small groups that we had seen that morning were definitely having an impact. By lunch, three more of our pairings had been eliminated. Arianna and Bridgett were actually sent to the healer’s wing, but were back in time to eat with the rest of us.

“I thought for sure I was going to die,” said Arianna, as she played with a section of her blond, curly hair that had obviously been regrown. The curls didn’t quite match the rest of her head yet. “When I saw that big fireball coming at me, I… I just panicked and ran. If I had just held my ground a might not have been burned.”

“Don’t be too hard on yourself,” answered Petra from across the table. “As the games advance, we are bound to see more difficult matches. One bit of good news, Penelope’s trap worked great against the third year buffoons Maria and I just went up against. Caught them completely off guard. They were still trying to break free when we left the arena.”

There were laughs all around, and Penelope herself looked ready to pop.

“No doubt they are even now informing the others,” commented Arianna. “At least we got in one good use. Goddess! I wish I could have seen the look on their faces.”

“It WAS pretty good,” replied Petra, smirking. “The first girl looked as though she didn’t believe it was possible. Surprise!” The Russian threw up her hands in illustration and the whole group laughed.

The soft bell indicating the end of another match sounded and we all looked to the scoreboard as one. I saw that Douglas and Brian were listed in glowing green and smiled. The rest of the group wasn’t so reserved and started whooping and clapping. When the pair entered the hall, they got a repeat treatment. Every match won now counted for a lot more, and my lover was strutting like a conquering hero as he accepted the praise and began recounting his match. I watched from a distance, not quite sure how I felt.

“He’ll be alright,” said Michelle, startling me slightly. I looked to her, confused. “When he finally falls,” she explained. “He won’t have a problem accepting defeat. If Douglas is anything, it’s flexible. I’m not so sure about some of the others.”

I turned back to our group and watched as he pulled out all the stops, telling the tale as though he and Brian had just slain a mighty dragon.

“Do you think it’s a good idea to let him rant so,” I asked.

“Let him have his fun. He’s an historian. Storytelling is what he does.”

“Well, it would appear that he’s also a pretty decent fighter…”

Michelle choked a bit on the juice she was sipping. I frowned.

“Okay, spill it. What am I missing?”

The girl looked a little caught off guard, but relented when I stared her down.

“Oh, alright, but you didn’t hear it from me, okay? Douglas would kill me if he knew I was the one who told you.”

This only peaked my interest all the more and I glowered viciously as I waited for her to explain.

“How do I say this… Look, McBride is an okay fighter, and Brian’s not too bad either… for historians. But neither is combat track, Miranda.”

I turned and watched as my lover continued his tale. He was really enjoying himself as he recounted, blow by blow how they defeated their more experienced opponents.

“He’s lying…” I said more to myself than to Michelle.

“He’s… embellishing.” She replied. “I don’t know what it is exactly that they have, but they aren’t winning those matches with their astounding combat skills. And neither is a high-class caster, so…”

“So, what?”

Michelle sighed. “Your boyfriend has a secret weapon.”

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