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 9 – First Fight

Before I had a chance to start brooding over the experience, I heard Candice’s excited voice calling me from across the outdoor patio.

“Miranda! You’ve got to come quick! Michelle’s going to fight!”

I was up on my feet immediately, and when I was close enough to stop my friend’s frantic gesturing, the three of us headed off toward the small arena. I looked to Douglas to confirm what was going on.

“We came out of the shop and saw her in the area for those preparing for combat. I called to her, but she wouldn’t listen.”

Sure enough, as we made our way closer to the circular area, I caught a glimpse of Michelle’s freckled face and long red braid among those waiting for a chance to compete. The girl was watching the current pair of combatants with the intensity of a cat who is about to pounce on an unaware bird or mouse.

“What do we do?!” Candice was obviously terrified, and for good reason. Every one of the other combatants was a fourth semester student or better.

“Stay here,” I commanded, indicating the two of them, and then turned to work my way through the cheering crowd. If I had any chance of getting my friend out of there, I was going to have to do it alone. I knew that if we ganged up on her, she’d shun us for sure.

A huge cheer went up from the mostly female group around me, and my attention was drawn to the current combatants. One of them had just been hit so hard, that she had flown back, smashing a part of the stands. The girl stayed where she fell, blood dripping slowly from her nose. Immediately, a faerie was at her side, lifting her out of the way and no doubt applying some sort of magical healing. The limp girl moaned and after a few moments, waved to the crowd to indicate that she would be alright. Another cheer rose up from the stands, and I saw people nodding and heading towards a small set of booths, some happily, some with regret. I realized they were betting on the games, and I renewed my drive toward the waiting pens.

“Just what the hell do you think you’re doing?” I demanded, when I was finally standing at the rail just behind her. She never took her eyes off the next pair of combatants that entered the twenty meter ring of bleachers.

“I’m going to fight,” she said, tersely, but without emotion.

I was silent for a moment, thinking.

“Why, Michelle? These are FOURTHS! You haven’t even got a full semester under your belt yet, so don’t tell me it’s for the experience.”

“You wouldn’t understand,” she replied.

“Bullshit,” I spat back at her. “You know what I think? I think you’re just trying to prove to yourself that it’s alright to be different from everyone else in your class because you have a rare gift.” Michelle turned to look at me, and I quickly continued. “In your mind, it’s okay to be different as long as you can justify it… As long as you can USE the gift, right?”

Confusion drifted over the girl’s face.

“I have to know, Ran. I have to know if what they say about me is true.”

“At what cost!! Can’t you take a smaller step than having your body beaten to a pulp to prove a point?!”

“Miranda, I don’t think I’m going to lose.”

I stared back at her, silent. She had spoken with such meekness, that I knew the words had come from her heart, and it scared me. She wasn’t just boasting to get me to go away, she was speaking with the same certainty that you get after having done something a thousand times before.

“Are you sure?” I asked with concern.

She sighed. “I think so, but that’s what I have to find out. I have to do this, Ran, please.”

I let my shoulders sag, resigned. “Go then. Prove what I already know about you.”

The girl instantly smiled again and started to turn just as the crowd burst into applause. The current battle was again coming to a close. Michelle would be next. I quickly reached out and grabbed her hand, turning her to face me once again.

“Prove it,” I said sternly, holding her eyes, “then get the hell out, okay?”

She smiled, and nodded.

“What’s going on? Where is she?” asked Candice as I walked back to meet them.

“She’s going to fight,” I said, showing concern, but not, I’m sure, for the same reasons as Candice. I was mulling something else over in my head.

“What!? Is she crazy? They’ll cream her!”

It was Douglas who first noticed the change in my features.

“You don’t believe that, do you, Miranda?” said the boy, softly, and as a matter of fact.

I continued to watch as the announcer introduced the next competitors, of which Michelle was one. There was a collective gasp when it was mentioned that she was a first semester student. There were also some barks of laughter. “No, I don’t. Candice,” I said quickly, turning to face her again, “I’d like to ask you a huge favor. I want to borrow the money you asked me to carry for you.”

“What in the world for?”

“I want to place a bet…”

Michelle stood somewhat awkwardly in the closer third of the arena as we made our way to some empty seats near the front rail. The crowd had thinned considerably when it was announced that a first would be fighting, but I had a hunch that those seats would be filling again very soon.

I could tell that the girl was having second thoughts now that she could see the number of people watching her, and I waved briefly. Catching my eye, and seeing Candice and Douglas smiling on either side of me, she visibly brightened.

Her competitor was a dark haired fourth wearing a deep blue wrap-like outfit that looked like something you might find in a dojo. I had noticed a few other higher-grade students all wearing the same garb, so I took it to be some kind of club or perhaps a status symbol.

Michelle on the other hand, was wearing a loose, and somewhat shabby-looking pair of canvas pants and a vest of the same material. It was what she called her training uniform.

The other girl moved with short, quick steps, stretching her limbs now and then, preparing to fight. She looked confident and eager to get what she viewed as a waste of time over with so that she could go on to a more important match. She had even complained to the ring owner about letting a first fight at all.

If anything, Michelle was strikingly passive. She simply stood there, her eyes focused on the dark-haired girl, her face lax. Her arms hung limply at her sides. It was as though she were simply waiting, and the worry I had seen only a few moments before was completely gone.

A short, strange looking man with a bald head and wire-frame glasses stepped up between the two girls and made a few comments, probably about rules or something. Then he stepped back dramatically and brought his arm down. There was a deep gong from over our heads, and the crowd around us cheered as the competition began.

The blue-garbed girl stepped briskly forward and dropped into a combat stance with her hands loosely raised. She was smiling, and I heard someone to my left say, “This’ll be a quick one.” Michelle certainly gave him no reason to think otherwise, for she continued to simply stand there.

“What’s she doing?” asked Candice, squirming. “Why doesn’t she fight?”

“Patience Candice,” I replied, my face as passive as Michelle’s. For a brief second, I had thought the other might be frozen with fear, but then I noticed her eyes again. Her body might be still, but those eyes were alive with motion. Our friend wasn’t stuck, she was just waiting… analyzing.

The other girl was obviously trying not to seem like a total bully and was attempting to goad Michelle into at least bringing up her guard. “Come on!” she yelled at her, and then made quick feints left and right as if she were going to strike. But the redhead was like a statue.

“Fuck this,” she said finally, and then stepped forward with a smooth and violent motion, her body spinning once around so that her outstretched fist would make contact just below the collarbone. The impact would no doubt have broken ribs had Michelle been still at that location. At the very last moment, the girl had stepped inward, perfectly in time with the other’s turn, so that she came out standing directly behind the dark-haired girl. There, she immediately dropped to a crouch and started to raise her arms.

I had held my breath the moment Michelle’s competitor had first moved in. Now I just wanted to scream. I could see the grace and perfect economy of motion in my friend’s defense, but it did nothing for the heart-pounding adrenaline rush that was thundering in my ears.

The blue girl was quick. She had already figured out the dupe and was snapping back around for a second run when Michelle caught her arm from below and created an arc of motion so quick that it seemed a blur in my eyes. One second her opponent was turning for another strike, and the next, she was twirling through the air, uncontrolled.

There was a heavy thud when she hit the ground, and she was obviously stunned. The crowd was equally stunned by the maneuver, and was suddenly up on its feet, and us with it. Some were calling for Michelle to attack again and finish her, but the girl had returned to her passive stance in the center of the arena.

Blue was up as well, and shaking her head to clear the obvious daze. Extreme anger abruptly masked her features as she saw Michelle waiting calmly for her.

“Arrrgh!” She screamed and charged forward. She took three quick steps and then twirled, her leg coming around in a powerful, and well-placed, roundhouse. Once again, the redhead waited until the other was committed and then stepped into the circle created by her spinning opponent and simply snagged her right out of the air. The momentum of the girl’s kick whipped her body around and then over as Michelle changed the vector of force. In less than a second, the fourth whistled over her shoulders and then smashed back to the earth, this time face first.

The stands were going crazy. It had become quite obvious that the first attack hadn’t simply been a fluke, and that something extraordinary was going on. People were gathering at the edges of the arena outside the stands, and the noise within was quickly escalating.

The dark-haired girl was much slower to get up the second time, and when she stood and faced Michelle again, it was confusion that masked her features, not anger. There was also something else in the girl’s eyes, something I didn’t understand until much later. It was fear.

Once again in a combat stance, she advanced on the now passive redhead much more slowly, a slow trickle of red snaking down her face from her nose. It was obvious that she wasn’t going to risk another high-energy attack against what she thought would be an easy mark. Now, her maneuvers were short and calculated so that when she did at last strike, Michelle was forced to finally make full contact.

It was a short, snap punch to the head, but it never reached the intended target. The other flicked up her arm and deflected away the attack harmlessly. Another followed right on its heels, then another and another. At the same time, the blue-garbed girl was mixing in quick kicks in an effort to trip her up. But each one met with a mirror-like block that deflected it to the side. This went on for ten full seconds, then twenty. For nearly thirty incredibly long seconds, the girl put everything she had into a flurry of complex attacks that were hard to even follow from the stands. But it was to no avail. Michelle just took each one and countered it effortlessly.

Finally, the pair broke apart for an instant, and the girl swung back around in an attempt to catch the redhead off guard with a quick kick. By that time, she should have known better. Michelle was already inside her circle of force, and instead of deflecting the girl’s leg she stopped it cold. After a very slight pause, she then dropped, her knee coming up hard into the other’s thigh, just above mid-length. There was a sharp crack that was loud enough to be heard even above the roar of the crowd, and the dark-haired girl gasped, her eyes flying wide. A second snapping sound brought the crowd itself to silence as Michelle’s closed fist struck the girl’s shoulder, sending her straight to the ground on her back with a dull thud. She just lay there, stunned, as the faeries hovering above started to descend toward the pair. We were close enough that we caught the words Michelle spoke as she leaned over the broken and shaking woman.

“Do you yield?” she asked simply and without emotion.

The other nodded briskly, tears of pain coming to her eyes as shock started to settle in. A pair of faeries drifted to the ground on either side of the humans and immediately started in with high-level healing spells.

As one of the faeries was lifting the girl, Michelle placed a hand on her arm.

“Will she be alright?”

The faerie looked startled, as if such a question had never been asked of her. She then closed her eyes for a moment, concentrating. Looking once again at her, she inclined her head and said with a smile, “Yes.”

I lost track of anything else that might have been spoken as the crowd applauded and cheered to both the combatants, Michelle, for having won a match that almost no one thought she could, and to the fallen, that she would heal to fight again.

“There she is,” squealed Candice, running to Michelle as the girl came out from behind the stands to join them. She was dancing and bouncing like a little child over the redhead’s victory. It was a good thing she had on the famous blue bauble, otherwise I’m sure she would have knocked herself out.

“You did it, you really did! I wasn’t sure for a while there, but you were incredible. That fourth never had a chance!”

“Uh, yeah… um, well…” Michelle was seriously at a loss for words, and I knew that I had better intervene.

“Come on, have a seat,” I said, urging her towards the outdoor table we had staked-out at the nearby pub. We arrived just about the same time as the brownie waitress who was carrying an impossible number of mugs on a massive silver tray. She started plunking them down around us as we found our chairs. We had just settled down and I was about to start a toast, when the short bald man from the arena came striding toward us, calling for Michelle.

“First Stuckey,” he said, panting as he reached our table. “You forgot your winnin’s,” and he plopped a large bag of coins on the table. “No one ever said that Aidrian McConnagal wasn’t a fair man.” His deeply irish accent had me grinning.

“My winnings?” Michelle just looked at the bag as if it might bite her.

“Aye. Thirty percent ‘a the house. Took a bit of a bruisin’ on you, I did,” and his gaze briefly fell to the three of us. I just smiled, but Candice found something interesting on the floor, and Douglas coughed into his hand. “But tha’ was some fine talent ya shown us tonight, and I’m certain ta make it up the nex’ time you come by. Mind ye, ya won’ get ten ta one again, but there’ll always be a profit in a good solid fight.” He clapped the girl on the shoulder and smiled. “Yes, indeed. Fine talent. G’night now.” And he was gone.

“Well…,” said Candice, gripping her beer, “He seemed like a nice, er… man, don’t you think, Douglas?”

“Huh? Oh, yeah. Very nice. I think he was actually a gnome, or maybe a half-gnome.”

Michelle was just staring at the bag on the table.

“What is it,” I asked her, already knowing the answer.

“I wasn’t fighting for a prize. I didn’t even know there WAS a prize. Look at this, Ran…” She opened the bag and started counting the pieces of gold and silver. “There’s more money here in one place than I’ve seen in my whole life!”

“Well, even thirty percent of twenty grand is a lot of cash you know…”

She turned her head to look me in the eyes. “How do you know it’s that much?”

“Well, it’s only a guess,” I replied, still smiling. “But I know for certain where at least fifteen of that twenty came from.”

A sudden realization struck the girl and her mouth dropped open as she swept her gaze to each of us in turn. “You bet on me?”

“Don’t look so surprised,” commented Douglas over his mug. “When Miranda wanted to borrow half of Candice’s stash, we just figured, either we had faith in our warrior girl or we didn’t.”

“Candice’s money?” She turned to the smiling blonde.

“Yup,” replied Candice, adjusting her glasses. “Besides, how often do you get to bet a sure thing at ten-to-one odds?”

“Ten-to… My god, Candice, you could have lost it all!” The tall redhead looked even paler than her normally freckled complexion allowed.

“No,” I interrupted. “We know you have the gift, Michelle, even if you yourself are still in doubt.”

The girl looked like she was going to burst into tears. “I guess I do deserve a bit of a prize, for courage in the face of stupidity or something.”

“Sure!” Chimed Douglas. “Besides, what you got is pocket change compared to what we all made. I didn’t have anything like what Candice and Miranda put in, but lets just say that I may have to go back to that book cart later tonight. I have a few dozen other tomes I might like to purchase.” His smile was contagious, and Michelle laughed. Then, almost as fast, her face became serious again.

“Uh, maybe this is a personal question, but just how much DID you win?”

I patted the girl’s hand. “Well, put it this way… Mr. McConnagal wouldn’t let us leave the collection booth without a faerie escort to take our winnings back to the Academy. We knew you would be out quick, so we hired the faerie to deliver our booty directly to Mistress Chang in Financial Services. I heard that she would hold student’s precious items in a secure location if needed.”

“That much, huh?”

I just shrugged. “Well, you figure it for yourself. I made a quick loan from Candice of around seven thousand in American dollars, plus her seventy-two hundred, plus Douglas’s three hundred. The house takes thirty five percent off the top, with thirty for the winner, and the remainder bet at ten-to-one odds against. That works out to…”

“You won ninety-four thousand, two hundred and fifty dollars!!” Michelle all but yelled the total across the marketplace. I saw Douglas wince, and Candice rolled her eyes at the redhead’s lack of tact, but I was staring at the girl for an entirely different reason.

“That’s about the gist of it,” said Candice smiling.

“I can’t believe it,” she groaned, shaking her head. “You guys are insane!”

“Hey Michelle,” I interrupted, “What’s the square root of seventy-seven thousand, eight hundred and forty-one?”

“Two hundred seventy-nine…” she answered at once, then added, “I guess.” She had this really confused look on her face, like someone had just spoken something to her in Swahili. The table was dead quiet.

“What…” she asked, looking to each of us to clue her in on the joke. I was grinning like a teenage girl at the mall who has just been issued a platinum Visa card.

“Shell, you’re a lightning calculator!” I stated across the table at her.

“I’m a what?”

“A lightning calculator… someone who can do math, even large and complex calculations, in their head.”

“But I suck at math,” she said, still thinking that she had done something wrong.

I shrugged. “Maybe working them out the normal way, but it seems that when you’re not trying, you can process numbers almost instantly. You just can’t think about it.”

“Awe man, some girls get all the luck,” said Douglas in jest, but Michelle still looked frustrated.

“Luck? Oh, great. I have this incredible ability to do higher math, but in order to actually use that ability, I can’t think about it. What the hell good is that?!”

“Don’t worry,” said Candice. “You’ll work it out. It’s kind of like your fighting skills. When you need them, there they are. You don’t think about them do you?”

“Well… I don’t know if I would go that far.”

“I would. For you, combat is as natural as breathing. You guide it and control it, but your mind and body react on their own.”

The redhead considered this. “I guess so,” she replied, not quite convinced. “Maybe now I can find a way to keep from failing math, yes?”

“That’s the spirit!”

I was mulling over what Candice had said about her gift with numbers being like her fighting. I had a feeling she was much closer to the truth than she realized.

« prev next »