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 23 – The Refinery

Once I understood what Gaia was telling me, it was all I could do to keep from passing out. The entity in the form of my grandmother waited patiently for me to gain control of myself, her own tears left to fall to the black cloth cape that she wore. She looked a bit like a catholic priest, complete with the white collar. At last, I was able to push all the spinning parts of my mind into the background, so that what was left was just a quiet and unfettered version of myself. I would pay for the “mental override” later in some form, probably a week’s worth of traumatic nightmares or some such, but it was necessary. There were still questions I needed answers to at once.

“When,” I asked simply, staring at my feet.

“Not for a bit. I can’t be certain of course, but I think you still have a few years.”

I looked up, genuinely surprised. “Really? I thought you were going to tell me a week from Tuesday or something.”

The woman smiled. “Well, like I said, I can’t be sure. And the Fomorians won’t be passive during that time, I can assure you. They will continue to seek entrance through the gates. The worst part, I fear, is that they will succeed.”

“What? But I thought you said they would come from orbit?”

The weariness on Gaia’s face was really starting to show now.

“Oh, they will, Miranda. The massive ships that will one day streak in to intercept my slow journey around the sun are already on their way. They will be capable of literally cracking me apart. But they won’t kill me. Their job is to exterminate my life forms, remember.”

“But… then why send forces through the gates at all?”

My Grandmother shrugged. There are many possible reasons. Diversion, perhaps. Remember that they can not see the future. If you were going to make an attack of such magnitude, wouldn’t you want a backup plan?”

“I suppose…”

“Those ground forces will certainly keep us busy. While time-sight is not within their ability, they do have powerful magic. My Unseelie faeries are just holding them off as it is. It won’t be long before they are overwhelmed.”

I was fear stricken. “What can we do?”

“What indeed,” she sighed. “Miranda, I can’t give you all the answers, because I simply don’t have them. I know that you will face the Fomorians alone, but I also know that your friends will be involved in the battle as well, especially Michelle.”

I let that sink in for a moment. “But how am I supposed to repel an entire interplanetary invasion? Sure, I’m good with magic, but not THAT good.”

“You are stronger than you think,” she replied cryptically.

“The amplifier project,” I said as the pieces suddenly fell together.

“Yes. Its potential is even more significant than time sight, Miranda. You do not yet realize what you are capable of.”

I let my head fall into my hands. “I don’t want this burden! I don’t want to be the savior of mankind, I just want to be an average girl with average problems!”

“It’s not to be, child. And despite what you might think, you would never be happy in an average life. Not now that you have seen and felt the curse of intelligence. Accept who you are, Miranda. Be at peace with yourself.”

“I don’t know if I can,” I whispered more to myself than to her.

We were both silent for a time, Gaia apparently giving me some space to absorb everything she had said. Somewhat abruptly, her soft voice filled the still air again.

“I am releasing the restrictions on your Ob’ilar.”

“Pardon?” I asked, confused at the strange term.

“Your MOS,” she replied. “I understand that you wish to create your own system of control…”

I was a bit stunned by the topic change, and had forgotten the whole point of why I was in the main reception room in the first place. My face brightened as understanding seaped in at last.

“Really? You can do that?… I mean, of course, it’s YOUR system after all. Boy, do I feel like an idiot.” And I felt the change even as she raised a hand and placed it to my shoulder. It was as if I had suddenly put on a more comfortable pair of undergarments or something. They were the same controls, just looser. I knew that it would only take a small act of will and I could completely shift the system into one of my own design. It was a little scary.

“See,” she said smiling. “You’re human after all.”

I caught the double meaning in her words and stared back into her dark eyes, wishing fervently to return to the forest where I grew up so that she could tell me just one more story like she had so long ago.

Reaching up, she placed a hand on my cheek. It was warm, and soft, and surprisingly, safe.

“Me too, child,” she said softly.

“Miranda! Hey, wake up girlfriend,” said Candice shaking my shoulder lightly. I jumped a bit and looked up in confusion. My grandmother was gone, and once again I had no idea how long I had been sitting there. The hall was filled with students leaving various classes, some off to late-night studies, and others ending the day. My roommate had a worried look on her face.

“Shit…” I commented, remembering. “What time is it?” I asked a little frantically as I collected my books and rose.

“Fifth hour,” replied the girl. “Uh, are you alright?”

“Yes… no. I’m late. Michelle is going to kill me… Sorry Candice, I’m supposed to have my first look at the combat arena tonight.”

“Lucky. Shawn and I don’t get in there until day after tomorrow… Say, you look like you’ve seen a ghost or something. Are you sure you’re okay?”

I turned to look at Candice so abruptly that she took a step back. Did she know? No. She wouldn’t know unless Gaia had wanted her to.

“Yeah, I’m a little frazzled, that’s all. See you later, alright?”

“Sure. Hey, don’t forget that we’re going to go to that music thing later…” said the girl offhandedly to my retreating back. I just waved in response.

The combat arena, or the Refinery as it was known by the students, was a massive bowl-like room on one of the lowest levels of the academy. It was far enough down that geothermal heat made it just a little uncomfortable for humans. Michelle asked a Fourth-Year at dinner one night if it was the heat that gave the place its nickname. The older girl just smiled and replied, “Actually, it’s because a whole lot of crap goes in, but in the end, what comes out is purest gold.” Which meant of course, that only the very best fighters within the Fae ever won competitions.

I met Michelle outside the huge portal that led into the arena, completely out of breath. She was one of the last in line to get in, and was frowning when I jogged up and leaned on her to catch my breath.

“Damnit, Ran,” she said, half scolding me. “I hope you’re not too spent to pay attention in there. I still want to win this thing.” A girl with short black hair in front of us guffawed. Michelle just ignored it and urged me forward. I recalled that no First-Year had ever won a combat tournament. For that matter, scant few had even placed. I thought momentarily about Candice’s desire to get into the Troggeyder Guild early and shook my head. There was a reason most of the combat finalists were upperclassmen.

Before we were shown to the arena itself, we were first led into the rooms used by preparing combatants to don whatever protective gear they wanted. There were few rules about what you could or couldn’t wear into the arena, and as explained by Grace Leavey, the Fifth leading our group, everything from light leather to full plate armor had been tried, but that nothing would ultimately protect you from a magical attack, except possibly magical armor. She continued to explain that most combatants wore basic knee-pads and a soft helmet to ward off the worst of the bruises and scrapes. “The faeries acting as arbitrators will keep you from getting killed,” she said with a wicked smile, “but a broken leg hurts just as much whether or not it’s magically mended.”

As I watched the other pairs of students, I knew that we were all from the same House, and that there would be four identical sets of “prep” rooms around the arena complex itself, assumably so each House could have its own. The games were not just for personal placement, but a matter of House pride as well.

Our Guide had us crowd around a small hallway of sorts, which had, at the far end, a very odd looking grey-green door. I noticed that there was another matching door at the front of the small room, but that it was apparently propped open. From the dust that had settled over its top and surface, it looked like it hadn’t been moved in years, and as I pondered the material of its construction, I couldn’t help but think that it looked vaguely like the kind of portal you might find on a bank vault.

“During an actual match, a competing Dòrn Lèir pair will enter this passage and each touch the door to signal their readiness for combat. In one of the other preparation rooms, will be another pair. When this orb glows amber,” she said pointing to what looked like a cue ball embedded in the wall. “The doors will unlock and you will be permitted into the arena, as will your opponents, but not a moment before.”

“What happens if you don’t enter the arena,” asked a short, scared looking girl in front of Michelle. Her name was Tiffany, and we shared several classes. I recalled her to be a decent crafter, but her control was so spotty that she had once splattered bright blue ink over half the class when an elementary levitation charm got out of hand during our second week.

“A combating pair has exactly two minutes to enter the arena or they forfeit the match, but that hardly ever happens. They’d never hear the end of it from their own House.” The Fifth looked down at Tiffany as though she suspected that the girl might risk it. From the way she was shivering, our guide might have been right.

“From the moment you enter the arena,” continued the Fifth, “you must be ready to face whatever your opposition throws at you. There are limitless ways in which you can choose to begin combat, but like defensive armor, almost everything obvious has been tried. See the logs available in the House library describing various attack forms tried against us, but remember that the books must be checked out with preference given to class seniority. There are a number of basic guides covering the most elementary forms of attack, which you should read first before wasting your time and everyone else’s while you look up something pointless.”

From the tone of the older girl’s voice, I got the impression that she would personally see to it that no First ever had a chance at those books during normal hours, and that she was only telling us about them at all because she was required to. I understood this bias. Even though the greater percentage of the students at the Academy were above average in intelligence, most were still only infants when it came to power within the Fae. As such, a lot of the upperclassmen tended to think of us as basic nuisances that needed to be tolerated but not coddled.

“Once in the arena, the doors out will be closed. The faeries like to keep things fresh and will change what you find within the arena itself from time to time. Last year, in one of my matches the doors opened to an arena with no formal gravity at all. It was quite a shock, especially when it abruptly changed and sent tons of stone as well as us combatants crashing to the ground.”

“I’ll bet that made a mess of the floor, snickered Tanya Roberts, a tall blond girl standing just in one of the corners.

“Actually,” said the Fifth smiling. “The rock crumbled nicely, but did absolutely nothing to the arena itself.”

“An illusion,” asked Tonya, visibly impressed.

“No. The rock was real. In decades of combat, no student has even been able to mark the surface of the arena in any way.”

“It’s been there for millennia and it’s still completely undamaged,” asked the blond incredulous. For that matter, so was I.

“Oh, I didn’t say that,” replied our guide, grinning. “There are countless scratches, pot marks, and even a few sizable cracks, but none of them was caused by anyone still living. Neither I, nor any faerie I have spoken with has any idea what could have caused that damage. But one thing is definitely agreed upon, and that’s that we hope we never have to fight it in combat.”

There was laughter all around. When things had settled, Fifth Leavey continued. “As I was saying, the doors will close, and will not reopen until one or both teams have been defeated.”

“Both?” asked a confused girl at the front of the pack.

“Yes,” replied the Fifth with a smile. “It doesn’t happen often, but on rare occasions, both teams are simultaneously disabled or rendered unconscious. When this occurs, the match is a draw and a second round is scheduled for a later time. Like I said though, it’s very rare. More often, it comes down to one remaining combatant from each Dòrn Lèir pair facing off until one or the other is eliminated.”

“Eliminated?!” Gulped Tiffany with wide eyes.

Our guide grinned down at the smaller girl wickedly. “Don’t worry, First. The faerie arbitrators won’t let you get killed. They follow the paths of time, just ahead of the combatants, and will tap you out before any lethal blows are cast.”

Michelle startled me when she spoke up loudly from where we stood at the back. “Tap you out? I heard that term used by someone in combat training. Is that like the ‘yield’ tap used in friendly sparring?” I also noticed that the room as a whole grew oddly quiet the moment my roommate began speaking. Low rank or not, the rumors about Michelle’s fighting abilities were well respected, even, it seemed, by the Fifth, who nodded at the question before replying.

“Not exactly. In friendly sparring, a tap out is performed by the one yielding. In the arena, the faeries are the ones who do the ‘tapping’. When one or more of the four arbitrators sees a lethal time-line approaching, they intercept and will either physically tap you on the shoulder, or perform a charm that fills the room with a bright red light. When this happens, you are to cease all combat at once and remain where you are. One of the faeries will then move forward and place her hand on the shoulder of the combatant who would have been lethally attacked and will escort them from the arena. They will also intercept if they see an attack that results in permanent bodily damage, or severe trauma to the head. One thing I must stress to all of you,” and she swept the group as whole before continuing. “Is that you abide by the decisions of the faerie arbitrators without question. Even if you can’t see how you could have been hurt or killed, they are never wrong… ever. Don’t try to argue or complain, just shut your mouth and leave. Any resistance, and the match will be called in favor of your opponents. And I can assure you that the disappointment you may feel over having lost the fight will be nothing compared to the wrath you will receive from your fellow Housemates. Is that clear?”

Everyone nodded solemnly.

“You will never be faulted for trying your best, but whiners are not tolerated. I won’t say that winning isn’t important, because it is. Each victorious match will earn you a combat point, which are carried with you and accumulated over the course of your schooling and even beyond. Those points, as well as other factors, including your overall academics, go into determining your combat ranking within the Academy and to a certain extent, within the whole of the fae.”

A dark-haired girl with a pointy nose and twin braids down her back asked the question I’m sure many of us were thinking right about then, myself included.

“Fifth Leavey, if it is permitted… What is your rank?”

The older girl regarded her for a moment, then smiled and stood up a bit straighter.

“In my five years at the academy, I have placed three times in the games. The last two years I managed second and first, respectively. Even with those accomplishments, I currently rank only twenty-second in terms of human combat rank. However, I do currently rank first among Fifth-Years.”

The girl’s eyes widened. “You won last year’s games,” she asked in awe.

“Yes,” she replied simply. “And I plan to win this year’s as well. Who knows,” she continued, the slightly evil grin returning, “the finalists usually don’t end up being from the same House, but perhaps I might even fight you, yes?”

The other looked as though she might crap her pants, and backed away a step before catching herself. She tried to put on a brave face, but she wasn’t fooling anyone. She was scared shitless over the possibility of combat against such a proven opponent. And so was everyone else in the room, except possibly Michelle, who, I alone noticed, was grinning like a child on the night before Christmas.

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