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 27 – Tabletops

We met the rest of our foursome on the way to the grand hall: Douglas as he stepped out of his history class with Mrs. Brightly-Poppins, and Michelle a few moments later as she came around the corner at a brisk jog. The look on her face was deadly serious when I first glimpsed her, but quickly changed when she saw who I was walking with. I had the crazy notion that she almost seemed relieved.

It only took a few moments to realize that lunch was going to be a repeat of breakfast, and when the whispering started again I almost turned on my heels the moment we entered the massive hall. Michelle, Douglas and Candice all snagged my arms as I faltered and dragged me toward the back of the room where, quite conspicuously, there was one empty table waiting.

Most conversations paused or faded until they were indiscernible as we passed and I wished that I could have used some variant of my ego-exortus charm to render myself invisible. But I quickly quashed that idea considering what had happened the last time I let my subconscious take control in the great hall. There were so many faces glaring at me that I did a double-take when we passed a table of girls who where all smiling happily. I puzzled this for a moment and then saw Petra Kosilov waving. I absent-mindedly waved back and noticed that the girls seated with her were all first-years. Perhaps this was what she meant when she said cryptically that there were others who followed me.

Once I was seated, it was obvious that my friends were acting to protect me. I didn’t think anything of the fact that Candice offered to get my lunch for me, but when Michelle stayed seated as Douglas and my top-heavy companion went off quickly toward the queue of students, I knew there was more to it.

“Aren’t you hungry,” I asked Michelle as we waited in silence.

“Oh, uh… Douglas offered to get me lunch today. He owes me… since I helped him a bit the other day in combat.”

I frowned. “Michelle…”

“Okay, okay!” she blurted out. “We’re playing bodyguard for you. There, I’ve spilled the beans so can you stop pressuring me?!”

I had to laugh. Michelle might be a fighting prodigy, but she couldn’t keep a secret to save her life.

“Um… Thanks.”

“You’re not mad?” She looked so tense I wanted to reach over and straighten her shoulders out.

“Nah. Why should I be? Frankly, if you hadn’t shown up so surreptitiously this morning, I might have found myself on the disabled list… Hey, that wasn’t a chance meeting at all, was it?”

Michelle became so uncomfortable that she literally giggled in relief when Douglas and Candice came back a few moments later, each carrying two trays of food.

I let it go. If my friends wanted to watch over me, I knew it was because they cared. Besides, I really did feel a few extra bodies around might prevent an even bigger problem… that someone would succeed in provoking me.

Lunch started with quiet conversation that, joyfully, had absolutely nothing to do with me or my current set of issues. Candice was giving a rather bawdy recount of a spell she and Shawn Hems had been playing with. I was about to tell Douglas to close his mouth to keep the drool off the table when a phrase from a nearby couple caught my ear.

“…A Fifth in my house told me that the Stuckey girl is her lover. It’s not surprising considering the way she dotes over that traitor…”

Inwardly, I groaned. It wasn’t bad enough that I was being marked, but now it seemed that even associating with me got you a label. This was not good.

“…not to worry though. There are at least two houses vowing to see them put down in the first round, even if it means collaborating…”

The others at my table abruptly burst into laughter as Candice brought home the punch-line to her story. I played back the conversation in my head and was surprised that the girl wasn’t blushing. I was, and I was only half listening.

Something else was bothering me, but I couldn’t place it. Tentatively, I looked around the hall and saw nothing out of the ordinary‚Ķ well, beyond the fact that half the room was watching me. That though, was the norm of late, so it didn’t set off any alarms. Something else was nagging at me. It was like hearing the sound of a car coming through the fog down the road in front of you. You can hear it coming, and it doesn’t sound right, but your vision is obscured.

“…and I heard that Miss Octoberfest’s boyfriend was thinking of ditching her for a Second in West House. Doesn’t surprise me. Who would want to be partners with her…”

My heart sank. I had definitely become a burden. It’s one thing to stick up for someone, but why should they have to take the brunt of prejudice against me? It wasn’t fair, and I felt anger boiling in my gut. Slowly pushing it down, I took a deep breath and tried to concentrate on the food in front of me. I actively ignored the growing sense of apprehension that seemed to be building and instead focussed on getting a single forkful of salad into my mouth. It was then that I looked up and watched in slow motion as a large, Hispanic-looking Fourth boy came up behind Douglas, who was seated directly across from me. The second I saw him I knew where my apprehension had been coming from. Maybe it was the quirky smile on his face, or the improbable path he was walking, but I understood in that one instant that he was up to no good. The problem was, it was too late to do anything about it.

I had purposely pushed down my MOS with my anger. The last thing I needed was my subconscious running about on its own in my defense. So when I looked up, I was completely helpless as the boy feigned slipping and launched his entire tray of food and drink directly over Douglas’ head. I sat there in horror as a mixture of mashed potatoes, milk and three different kinds of vegetables crashed down on our table and sprayed all of us like a perfectly placed water balloon.

The room roared into laughter as quickly as our own table went silent. Stunned, we each sat there trying to decide if moving would only spread the various hot and cold layers of goo. By the time my own sense of time had returned to normal and I looked across the table at my friends doused in gravy and peas, my anger was already pushing my blood pressure through the roof. I felt a great welling of emotion rising up from my belly that couldn’t be stopped. The tight-queasy feeling in my gut made it clear that something was going to have to give. Either I would have to express my emotion in some physical way, or I would vomit-up the few mouthfuls of lunch I had managed to eat since we arrived. My fists were already balled tight enough to leave bloody marks in my palms, and I don’t remember raising them, but closing my eyes, I suddenly found myself bringing them down hard to the surface of the old, heavy, wood table.

“ENOUGH!” I screamed as my arms hit the cold, slick surface.

Slow time is a weird animal. It allows you to look at events taking place, almost as though you are watching them happen on TV. You can see where you went wrong, and you can see what’s about to happen, but you are still just as locked into the inevitable course of events you have set in motion as though it were a scripted program.

The moment my fists made contact with the table, there was an ungodly CRACK, followed instantly by the reverberating sound of what can only be described as thunder. There was no flash, no spark of electricity, but the four inch thick hardwood surface directly before me splintered just as though it had been struck by lightning. I knew my hands had passed beyond the place where the top of the table should lay, and my hair was blasted back by the sheer force of wind that had erupted from the splintering wood, but I was no longer aware of anything beyond the knot of sadness and anger that held me.

“Enough…” I whispered as I sobbed into myself and closed off the world.

Someone was whispering my name.

I was floating in a deep blue void of dreams, and for a moment I started to panic, thinking I was back in front of the Dominion Queen. But this dream was different. It was cold, but only because I felt so hot. It was also nearly quiet. There was a soft rushing, like the sound of a far off waterfall, but silent otherwise. The rushing wasn’t even however. It had a very gradual pulsing, with a lengthening interval and growing volume. I didn’t like the sound, but somehow, I was familiar with it. It was my heart, or rather, my blood, rushing through my veins. It grew louder and louder until I started to notice other sounds. Voices and the scraping of chairs on a hard bare floor, and the sound of at least one person sobbing. It was that last sound that brought me out of my dream place, for I recognized it. The person sobbing was me.

I opened my eyes and found myself staring at Douglas’ knees. There was an odd line on his shirt that puzzled me enough to nearly stop my sobbing short until I realized that it was a border of gravy that had been created like a paint stencil by the table.

The table! Where was the table?!

Wide-eyed, I looked around and groaned. The table had been split in two, and the shattered remains of each side where literally hanging in the air to my left and right. Whole, the enormous piece of furniture would weigh close to 600 pounds, so, despite the large chunks of wood on the floor, each of those floating sections would still be pretty damn massive. Magic was at work, I knew. But I also knew it wasn’t my own magic, nor that of my friends that held up the bulk of my handiwork. We weren’t even close to being able to manage that much weight yet. Oh, we could lift it, certainly. It was a simple levitation charm. But the heavier something is compared to your own weight, the harder it was to control it. Someone had snagged that table right out of the air and held it there. That kind of magic could only be accomplished by a faerie or…

“Mr. McBride, would you please help Miranda away from the table so I can set these down.” Headmaster Brightly was slowly walking forward, his face dark and cloudy with concentration.

“Oh, no… what have I done,” I whispered as my lover took my arm and urged me to rise. Michelle and a faerie were at a nearby table doing something to Candice, and when the faerie moved slightly I clearly saw the bloody gash down the side of the girl’s thigh and the corresponding shiny red pool on the floor. She was wincing as the fae woman removed several large splinters of wood from her flesh and then magically stitched closed the wound in realtime.

Stunned, I was momentarily startled by an echoing THUNK behind me as Professor Brightly set the destroyed table down on the floor.

“Now,” he said with a slight sigh of relief. “Douglas, Miss Stuckey… Please escort Candice to the Healer’s Wing so she can have that leg looked at more thoroughly. Miranda…”

His tone was not one of comfort, and I bowed my head so I wouldn’t have to look him directly in the eye. “If you would be so good as to follow me please.” With that, he simply turned and walked to conference room J, holding the door open for me.

I was well past the point of caring what anyone thought of me at that moment, but the chorus of whispers that accompanied me until I was within the small room with the door closed behind me was daunting. The Headmaster had not spoken again, and I knew it would be pointless for me to say anything until he asked me, so I just stood there in the painful silence, dripping gravy, peas, and milk, and tried not to remember the blood on Candice’s legs. I had done that. I had hurt her. I always thought that my lack of control would end up hurting an enemy, so it was a bitter pill that the recipient of my ineptitude should turn out to be my best friend.

After a moment, I realized that the professor was holding the door open for me again and I remembered where I was. Conference Room J was a portal. I was momentarily relieved to see that I did not have to go back out into the great hall with all its whispering eyes, but it was short-lived as I saw that it was the Professor’s personal office I was walking into.

He didn’t say anything for almost two minutes but just let me sit there in a rather uncomfortable chair directly before his desk after having handed me a towel. I’d much rather have lain down on the cushiony bench by the illusionary window and let sleep carry me into a dreamless place away from the pain and the guilt and the sadness that threatened to bring me to tears all over again. But he had waved me to the hardwood chair and plopped down with a whoosh into his own seat.

His silence was almost as painful as it would have been had he just yelled at me and told me to go pack my things. But when he did finally speak it was the very last thing in the world I expected him to say.

“The table’s destruction makes sense as an extension of the amplifier project you’ve been working on, but what I don’t understand is how you managed to bypass my security and replace your MOS without me even knowing. Was it some kind of virus?…”

I raised my head and looked at him in confusion. “Sir?”

“…I mean, you would have had to disable the checks for that, of course, and then made the system think the command was admin level…” He seemed to be talking to himself, and I understood in an instant that he wasn’t quiet and somber because he was angry with me about shattering the furniture or even hurting another student, but rather because he thought I had somehow gotten past his defensive programming. The whole thing was so ludicrous that I finally broke down and just started laughing.

That startled him enough to get him to focus on me, and when I saw the look of confusion and then sorrowful understanding in his eyes, it was just too much. My hilarity turned instantly to sobs again and I sat there and let out my grief without restraint. At some point he must have gotten up and come over to kneel next to me, because the next thing I remember he was gently stroking my head as he held me and let me wail into his dark purple robes. How long I cried is anyone’s guess, but if the large wet circle on his shoulder was any indication, then I must have really spilled my guts.

“I must apologize, Miranda,” he said when he finally returned to his seat behind the large ornate desk. “I was forewarned that you were in trouble, and I failed to act quickly enough.”

I stared at him with my mouth open. “But Professor… what I did to that table… to Candice! Oh god…” I felt a sickening sensation in my stomach as the images of her gashed leg came back to me.

“Relax child. Miss Mellions is in the best of hands, I assure you. There’s very little here in the Iron Mountain that we can’t fix short of death, and even that’s debatable.” His smile helped, but only slightly. “She will be as good as new before dinner, I promise.”

I sighed and tried to let the pressing adrenaline ease out of my system. I hadn’t taken a good look at the others before I was led away. “Was anyone else hurt?” I gulped.

“No, no. The effect was localized, it seems. Candice was only injured as a result of the shattering wood. Having been warned, I was ready enough to catch the table before it crashed down on anyone else.”

“I…. I’m so sorry…. I don’t know how it happened, what with the the whispering and the fight in the hall and then the food was everywhere and…”

“Miranda…”

“Sir?”

“I’m not mad at you.”

“You’re not?” I asked confused.

“Not at all. In fact, like I said before, it is I who should apologize to you. You bore the brunt of the past few days without complaint, and I was told that something like this was going to happen.”

“But what could you have done?”

“My dear, there are a dozen different ways I could have prevented what happened today, and most of them didn’t even require the ability to see the paths of time.”

“But…”

“Miranda, It’s my job to foresee these kinds of events and keep them from getting completely out of hand.” When I didn’t respond, he went on. “Oh, you and the rest of the First-Year students may think that the somewhat chaotic mishaps that occur at this school are merely random chance, but I can assure you that nothing could be further from the truth.”

“I don’t understand.”

“No, not yet. But I think by the end of the school year you will probably begin to see how time and chance within the fae are not the unknown entities that you grew up with. Here, it’s not so much how one goes about avoiding trouble, but setting up the board so that a student can learn the most effectively from it. Failure, challenge, even fear are enormous teaching tools, and we exploit them fully.”

I frowned. “Are you saying that my breaking that table in two was planned?”

“No,” he sighed. “That was a surprise to all I’m afraid. But we knew something of that nature was coming. Sheila-Kay told me specifically that you would have a breakdown of some sort. We weren’t sure how or when, but we knew it was coming. Had I been doing my job, I would have deduced your reaction might be a bit more extreme than most, as you yourself are a bit more extreme than most.”

“Tell me about it…” I sighed.

“Had I been doing my job,” he continued. “I would have had you watched more carefully so as to avoid… complications.”

“Candice,” I replied simply.

“Yes. But child, you needed that release. You needed it more than you needed the food that you were eating at that very table, whether you wanted it or not. I’m the one who placed so much pressure on you, what with the amplifier, your advanced level of study, and of course, the Telling. It’s a credit to your ability that you managed to stave off a breakdown as long as you have.”

He seemed to have no idea about my conversation with my grandmother and all its “complications,” and I wasn’t about to add that one to the list. “But I could have killed someone!”

“Possibly, but unlikely. Those kinds of events cast a much larger shadow on the paths of time and can be avoided more easily.”

After a few moments of silence, I asked quietly, “So what happens now?”

“Well…” replied the Headmaster leaning back in his chair. At that moment he looked quite older than I have ever suspected him to be. “You will join your friends in the healing wing, I should think. I’ve a pretty good idea that they’ll break down my door if I don’t send you to them shortly,” His lopsided smile told me that he was only half kidding. “And it will give you a chance to see that no real harm was done… and some good may possibly come of the whole thing.” He said the last with a cryptic far-away look in his eyes and I found myself jealous that my own ability to see into the future was so limited. “Do please pretend that I talked to you sternly and threatened you to within an inch of being expelled… There are appearances to maintain and such, you know. But in the meantime, I think I will go and fetch another dinner table, as I fear we are currently one short.”

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