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.

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

Chapter 52 – Epilogue

The Red Hat was packed with celebrating students that night, but we managed to snag our favorite table in the outer courtyard none the less. I had a feeling that my recent association with Cailleach might have had something to do with it, but I kept my mouth shut and just enjoyed the reveling.

After all that had happened in the Great Hall the night before, our graduation ceremony seemed downright mild in comparison. Each of us stood before the Seelie Queen and were asked if we would join the Fae and the Seelie Court itself. Upon acceptance, the faerie would simply reach out and place her hand on our head, uttering a few words and giving us new rank and privileges within the Fae. Technically, we were all considered Ambassadors, but that was only from those outside of the Fae realm. To the rest of the Academy we were Second Year students, or “Seconds” in rank, but there was little doubt that our class would continue to be known by the name we had given ourselves, Badb Catha. The marks I had placed on each of our foreheads faded, but we all knew that they were still there. Cailleach had called them the Mark of the Banshee. I’m not sure what that means, or how I managed to perform the ritual to inscribe them on my fellow classmates, but it seems the symbols were more than the simple magic I intended them to be. When it was finally my turn to stand in front of the Queen, I waited an extra few seconds before answering when she asked me if I would join the Seelie Court. I wanted them to sweat a little. When the faerie’s eyes widened I agreed and I think the rest of the Seelie royal court remembered to breath again.

The only other purpose of our graduation was to release us from having to use our Amulets to bring up our Ob’ilar. I hadn’t needed mine for quite some time, but wore it the same as the rest of my class until we had all been sworn in. Then, in another ritual, we all removed the simple jewelry together. A few wanted to keep it on so they could continue to hang out on the ceiling of the Great Hall. Candice said it best when she replied, “The Rooftop Club is there for the next batch of Firsts. We’re Tuatha now. We should be with the others.”

And so we were. Tuatha. The People. We were finally Fae, complete with a new, recently revised commitment and duty to protect Gaia at all costs. It was a little scary, especially when I considered what I knew my own part would be in the greater scheme of things.

“Here’s to the Babd Catha!” said Douglas enthusiastically as he held up an obscenely large tankard of beer. We all joined in and held high our own glasses, even Michelle, who doesn’t drink alcohol. I think she was having some kind of magically enhanced fruit juice, which meant that by night’s end she would be the only one of us sober and would no doubt be responsible as our ‘designated driver’ to get us back home through the portal and to bed in the Iron Mountain.

And so it was that I was discussing just that with the girl when I saw her eyes widen slightly as she looked over my shoulder. When the rest of our table grew quiet as well, I turned around and found Cailleach standing there.

“Mistress!” said Candice, rising. We all followed suit and bowed accordingly. It was really the first time we were able to use the formality outside of a Fae gathering, and it somehow felt… right.

“Congratulations, to all of you,” she said, smiling. “May I officially welcome you to the Fae.”

“Please, would you care to join us,” asked Douglas, always the gentleman. He was already moving over to make room when the faerie stopped him.

“Thank you, but I am only here for a short time. I do have some unofficial business with each of you, however…”

We looked at each other, mildly surprised.

“Let’s see, who first…hmm, you. Douglas isn’t it? Douglas McBride.”

“Ma’am?” he replied, startled.

“Don’t be so surprised. I make it my business to know important people within the Fae, even if they do not yet know it. As it turns out, I actually met your family once when you were just a tadpole. Very agreeable folk, and most kind.”

I don’t think I have ever seen my human lover look so stunned. He even stuttered, which was definitely a first.

“Y-y-you’ve m-met my gran?!”

“Indeed. I don’t think they knew who I was as I often travel outside of the Courts in disguise, but they knew I was Fae. They gave me shelter and welcomed me within their home, never asking if I was Seelie or non.”

“Mabel McBride would never have it. She knows better.”

“You must ask her sometime to tell you the tale of the Winter Fen. I’m sure she will remember it. For you, I have a delivery. As soon as it was made public that there is ‘cooperation’ between the Courts once again, we received a request at our library, which is much older and more complete than what you have here at Sliabh an Iarainn.” The faerie reached into the bag she was carrying and withdrew a medium-sized book. I never saw the title, but when Douglas read the cover, he gasped.

“Please see it delivered to Professor Poppins before you become too inebriated tonight, yes? She is expecting it.”

“Mistress!” He made a deep and elaborate bow that certainly impressed me. Cailleach smiled briefly and moved on.

“Candice, my dear. I wanted to properly thank you for the use of your garments and accessories.” Again reaching into her bag she this time withdrew a box about 60 centimeters on a side and half that deep. She set it on the table but kept a hand on it.

“You really didn’t have to,” began Candice, googling at the ornate gilding around the container.

“Being the head of my Court does have a few privileges, my dear. Inside are a few items you might find acceptable to your tastes, plus of course the things I borrowed. I heard a… rumor, that you have been accepted into the Troggeyder Guild? Additional congratulations are in order. That’s quite an accomplishment for a First. You might then also be interested in this box on its own. It has… unusual properties. I would only ask that you wait until after I have gone to look inside since I feel the contents could be a little distracting and I am somewhat short on time.”

Candice nodded, but I could tell from the way she held her body rigid, that the next few minutes were going to be some of the hardest of her life.

“Miranda,” she said turning to me and extracting a small envelope from her belt. “As promised, I present you with an open invitation to my Court under an internship for the duration of your summer break. In this, you will find a note saying as such as well as my mark of protection. You should take it to Marcus Brightly for full verification. While the mark is tuned only to you, I ask that you wait until we can speak again and arrange the details before enabling it. No doubt, the Headmaster will want to be present as well, should you accept of course.”

“Did you really ever doubt?” I asked, smiling.

“No,” she replied warmly. “But one should never assume. I look forward to seeing you again next week. Which leaves only one more item…” The faerie withdrew another envelope from her belt, and gently tapped it against her cheek. “Miss Stuckey.”

“Ma’am?” Michelle was genuinely surprised.

“I received this letter with the request that it be passed on to you specifically, and under normal circumstances I would do so and mind my own business. But this is no ordinary communication, because it comes from no ordinary entity. You see, although the envelope was delivered anonymously to me via a sprite, I recognized the seal it bore. In fact, I am one of only a few people who could have possibly recognized that seal, as most of the others who might have are all dead.”

“Who is it from?” asked my friend, frowning.

“That seal belongs to none other than the Queen’s Hand, my dear.”

“Good Lord!” exclaimed Douglas, looking alarmed. The rest of us were completely in the dark and so waited for someone to explain.

“Mmm. I thought you might know that title, Mr. McBride,” said the faerie. “Given your field of study. Suppose you enlighten your friends.”

Douglas looked quite nervous, but composed himself before continuing. “The last Unseelie Queen, before her death, was said to have under her command, a faerie of exceptional combat skill. So proficient at killing was this entity that it was generally thought that there was no one who could stand against her. The Unseelie Queen used her sparingly, and with great precision to take down some of the highest members of the Seelie Court, including our own previous Queen. She was the Queen’s Hand, an assassin, and the most effective tool of death in the history of the Fae.”

“You said, ‘was’,” I mentioned.

Douglas swallowed. “A few hundred years ago, the Unseelie Queen was killed during an especially brutal battle between the Courts. From that moment on, no one has seen or heard from her. It was thought that she may have perished with the Unseelie Queen. Apparently not,” he added, looking at the letter in Cailleach’s hands.

“What does she want with me,” asked Michelle.

The Principality frowned slightly. “That, is a very good question.” Extending her hand, she presented the letter to my friend. “I have scanned it as best I know how and see no magic, passive or otherwise. It should be safe enough to open.”

Michelle paused for a moment, and then reached up and took the nondescript envelope. With only a moment’s hesitation, she broke the seal and extracted the folded paper within. When she opened the note, she frowned again.

“I can’t read it.”

Douglas looked over her shoulder. “Well, I should think not… It’s written in Old Fae.”

“I thought it might be,” said Cailleach. “Shall I?”

“Please,” she replied, handing the letter back to the Fae woman.

The faerie browsed the note for a moment and then looked up at the girl. “I will have to paraphrase as Old Fae does not translate directly into English well… But it would seem that Miranda is not the only one being offered a summer internship.”

We all looked at each other. “How’s that?” asked Michelle.

“She is offering to take you on as a… student for the summer, and possibly beyond,” she continued as she read. “She says she will meet you here in four days hence for your answer. It says you can ask her any questions you wish at that time, but the conditions of her instruction are not negotiable.”

“I don’t understand, what does that mean?”

The faerie regarded my red-haired friend with gentle eyes. “In some of the Unseelie guilds, an apprentice must agree to the lifestyle and rules of that guild if they wish to be taught their trade. I think this may be what she is talking about. You either learn her way, or she won’t take you on as her student.”

The girl actually snorted. “Well that sucks.”

After a moment of silence, Cailleach folded the letter and returned it to the envelope, which she tossed to the table. “Michelle, perhaps it would help if you knew a bit more about who is making this offer.”

The girl nodded.

“Her name is Talise, though few know this, and fewer used anything save for the title when addressing her. I knew because of my position, of course, but even I only addressed her as Queen’s Hand, sometimes shortened to just ‘Hand’ in Fae common. From the very beginning, it was evident that she was a combat prodigy. Most faeries are able to pick up the martial arts with relative ease, but she was different. She didn’t simply master each form that she was given, she rewrote them. By the end of her first year of training, she was already well ahead of her instructors. When they could teach her no more, she trained on her own, shunning the normal channels and even challenges. She said the duels would serve no purpose. Some called her coward. She ignored them. It wasn’t until the Battle of Shilow that her true potential was seen. Over a hundred Fae warriors on each side were engaged in a terrible skirmish, with no end in sight, each Court holding its own, taking casualties, but healing them quickly enough to keep the battle raging for nearly a full cycle of the moon. But then the Unseelie Queen decided to send in Talise. She was still young, and untested in full combat, but the Queen had a hunch. She was worried when the faerie walked calmly to the top of a hill and merely stood, staring down at the battle below. The Unseelie captains said she was a coward, but the Queen stuck by her instincts. Finally, after nearly an hour, she jogged down the hill, without armor, without even a weapon, and entered combat.

“All I will say is that twenty minutes later, that battle was over and not a single Seelie warrior was left standing. After that, no one called her coward anymore, and she became the Queen’s Hand, doing her bidding solely. At first, she was sent out judiciously, even sparingly, and always she would return having removed the target she was given. When the Queen realized the power of the weapon she had at her disposal, she started to send out the faerie more frequently. Dozens more of her enemies were dispatched, hundreds… possibly even thousands. And oddly, after each assignment, Talise would return with a growing sadness. She could have been exultant, she alone could boast her victories, but instead she was consumed with an internal pain. Finally, while she was away on one of the Queen’s errands, the Seelie Court moved against the Queen while she was in the open, and they killed her. That was the one time Talise did not return to the Unseelie Court. Until today, it was thought that she had died, perhaps even of grief. In all her time under the Queen, she never took a single pupil.

“So, Miss Stuckey, you can understand my surprise to see that letter not only proving that she is indeed still alive, but that she wishes to teach you her art; you, a human… from the Seelie Court.”

We were all silent for a few moments while the Principality’s words sunk in. Finally it was Michelle who spoke. “I’ll meet her.”

“Shell, are you crazy?!” exclaimed Candice. “She could just be setting you up because you represent a possible threat!”

“Miss Mellions has a point, child,” added Cailleach. “You are a prodigy, just as she was. She might very well see you as a future enemy. Taking you out now, while you are still inexperienced would be a smart tactical move.”

“I don’t think so,” insisted my friend. “If she wanted me dead, she would have just done it. I’m certain she could have found an opportunity. Telling me not only where and when she wants to meet as well as who she is, gives me plenty of time to prepare or bring protection.”

“Uh, did I miss something,” asked Douglas. “She never told you who she was. The letter was unsigned.”

I saw what Michelle was getting at and smiled. She just shook her head.

“Of course she did,” she corrected. “Right there on the envelope. She knew exactly who would be delivering that message. Like Cailleach said, she was one of the only people who would recognize that seal. By doing it the way she did, she not only ensured that I would know who it was from, but also that the mystery of her death would remain a secret should the letter fall into the wrong hands. She’s brilliant.”

“Impressive,” said the faerie, smiling. “You’re right. Well, I am afraid my time is up. I must wish you all the Mother’s blessing and offer my congratulations once again on your acceptance into the Fae. I am eagerly looking forward to the coming weeks.”

We each rose and bowed again, and with a nod and a wink she was gone. I desperately wanted to speak to her more personally, but I knew it would have to wait.

“I think I need another drink,” said Douglas dropping back into his seat. “This is all happening so fast.”

“Welcome to the Fae,” commented Michelle.

Candice refiled her own mug from the pitcher on the table. “Well, at least you and Ran won’t have to figure out what to do this summer,” she said, taking a long drink.

My lover shook his head. “I’m not sure how I feel about you alone in the Unseelie Court.”

I squeezed his shoulder and considered how I was going to seduce him later. “I think I’ll be alright. It’s something I need to do.”

Michelle interrupted. “Hey, enough worrying about the future… Candice, open the damn box!”

“Oh my gosh, I forgot!”

The ornate container was held shut by two small catches on the front. She lifted the lid back and we saw a neatly folded green skirt with gold interwoven thread. Candice carefully lifted the garment up in front of her, her eyes wide.

“Wow!” I exclaimed, genuinely impressed. For once in her life, Candice was speechless. After a moment, she looked even more surprised and set the skirt in her lap while she reached to draw another from the box. This one was a deep blue, with embroidered patterns in red and orange, and countless little coins sewn right into the fabric. It was stunning as well. We were all a bit surprised when she extracted a third skirt in deep green, and then a beautiful vest of gold and blue… and then a small bag containing and assortment of metal fashioned bracelets, then an orange wrap that seemed to move and shimmer impossibly when the fabric was shifted. Finally, when Candice held up a collection of headbands, Douglas set down his tankard and rubbed his eyes.

“Uhnn… Either I’ve had way too much to drink, or that box is bigger on the inside than on the outside.”

“You’re not drunk yet, and you nailed it, McBride,” replied Candice grinning. “She said it had ‘unusual properties’.”

“I’ll be damned,” said Michelle as she stood and looked down into the container on the table. “She’s right! Girlfriend, that is freaky…”

I saw her reach down into the opening until I knew that her arm would be passing through the table and laughed.

“Six impossible things before breakfast…” I said mostly to myself, but Douglas must have heard me.

“Lewis Carroll must have known someone in the Fae,” he replied. I just giggled, enjoying the slowly forming buzz and the warmth of the friends around me. I knew that soon we would all have to go on our own paths to find new impossibilities… and new dangers. The way I figured it, the more strangeness I encountered, the more normal it made my own life feel. There was so much to be done, but that could wait until tomorrow. Tonight, we would celebrate!

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