Kate's sense of relief after leaving the Baron and headmaster melted away as soon as she left the room. She didn't want to go near her locker, but it was really very cold especially now her power suit had gone. Wow, how she missed that. She decided she really needed her jacket and a little money to buy food. So with Hesrial in tow she headed for the Great Hall.
When she arrived, she spotted at least 20 kids playing and milling about, but they all stopped and simply stared at her as she walked by. She could take this, but the "spritely thief" painted in bold red letters on her locker was quite a bit harder to ignore. She grabbed some paper from a nearby bin and scrubbed the graffiti out, then threw open her locker, took her things and ran.
Through it all, Hesrial was uncharacteristically quiet, content to just trot along behind, looking around as if nothing was wrong.
The last thing Kate wanted was for anyone to see her cry, but the tears were about to flow from her eyes. She turned and ran down one of the small exit corridors from the great hall to the dark frosty night outside, and then over the fields towards the small barn where the school housed what few animals they possessed.
There, sprawled and dreaming under the evening sky, lay Mathylda the dragon.
Without thinking Kate ran over towards her, but when she was just a meter away she tripped in the poor light and fell into a sobbing heap at the dragon's feet.
At first, Mathylda tried to pretend she was asleep. Humans were so small, but somehow small humans were so loud. It was a mystery…
Mathylda had learned over the ages that the best way to deal with the wee things was to pretend they were not there at all, and mostly it worked, but there was something about this one and, well, once Kate started wailing like a moor banshee being exorcised, she saw no alternative but to engage.
She opened a single dinner plate-sized eye, her scally brow twitching in time with each wail until it formed into a thunderous scowl.
With her head in her arms, Kate paid it no mind, but Hesrial felt her blood draining down to somewhere near her feet.
"Ah Kate," said Hesrial, “I--I really wish you'd be a little quieter around the mean looking, freshly-woken dragon. Do you think that maybe you could? Please… for me?”
"What?" shouted Kate suddenly very angry. “Why? What does it matter if the blasted sugar-addicted beast wakes up? What's it going to do - eat me?”
She then turned her boiling rage onto Mathylda.
"Go on, I dare you, eat me. See if I care." With that she plucked a handful of grass and threw it at the dragon. “Eat me, go on, put me out of my misery. Just EAT ME already!”
The single eye was now wide as a rising harvest moon, a yellow disc with a saber-shaped pupil that bore down on Kate while she continued to taunt it with fistfuls of grass. The grass on the other hand appeared not the least bit interested in inflicting any damage on the house sized dragon.
At first nothing happened, then the sides of the dragon began to shake. The grass beside her shivered in response as the shaking grew more violent. At the same time, Hesrial made spluttering sounds, which quickly graduated into giggles. Then with a squeal, she fell to the ground next to the convulsing dragon as they both roared with laughter.
It didn’t end quickly.
Mathylda hadn't laughed so hard in 130 years. Not since she spotted the headmaster sleepwalking in the late Mrs. Snowmaine's underwear.
It took at least five minutes before the two finally managed to get themselves under control, and by that time Kate’s was standing in a large puddle of dragon's tears.
Hesrial managed to stand with tears running down her cheeks as the dragon caught her breath. Kate stamped her foot and yelled "What's so funny?" water splashing everywhere as she did
At the site, both Fae girl and dragon fell screaming with laughter. Hesrial was crying, the dragon could hardly breath. Kate tried really hard to be angry but in the end the laughter was too much. She threw herself against the dragon's enormous fore paws and just laughed until her belly hurt.
"Oh my dear," Mathylda finally said, wiping a tear from her eye with a massive claw.
"Helping to fix my toothache was one thing, but a laugh like that is priceless! Before I eat you", at this Kate dug an elbow into the mighty dragon's side. “Oh my, I'm wounded,” intoned the dragon dramatically. “As I was saying, before I eat you, you'd best tell me what brought this dramatic turn about.”
The girls told Mathylda all that had transpired. The dragon's brows furrowed deeper as she listened. Finally, she was genuinely livid.
"What, and the fools actually think you had something to do with stealing that sceptre? Why, I think I actually might eat me some elves." She turned a truly menacing gaze onto Hesrial. “What's that father of yours thinking? I thought he was the sensible one?”
Kate interjected quickly. "I don't think he believes I did it. He, well, he let me go. He said something about needing me to stay here for the next couple of days and to use the time wisely. Whatever that means."
"Well, my not-so-clever morsel, he means for you to solve the mystery, of course. Honestly girl, if you're going to be all devious and pretend to be human, at least use that head of yours. He's an emissary here, he can't go running around trying to sort this mess for you. You've got to do that yourself."
"There are not so many people here who will help a half-Fae, but if I were you, I'd start with Professor Brahms. He knows a thing or two about, ah well, a thing or two."
Kate knew better than to press the grumpy dragon any further, but there was clearly something she wasn't telling her. "Alright. It's a place to start, I suppose. Thanks, Mathylda, and sorry for calling you names." She started back down the path to the school.
"Oh, don't think anything of it, darling, but do come back by lunchtime tomorrow," she said inspecting one of her 30cm needle talons. “I'll be hungry by then. Oh, and do bring your friend...”
Kate hadn't seen much of Brahms during the year, but unlike nearly everyone else in the school, she had no fear of him and felt excited to have a reason to visit.
It was very hard for a young half sylph witch to have a clear opinion of a teacher that lived mostly underground (no-one had ever seen him leave the cellars), and about which there were so many rumours.
"He's got a skin condition." said one.
"He's got very bad allergies and has to stay inside or he'll sneeze himself to death."
"He's a lycanthrope" (werewolf, a wearbat, a weartiger--Kate had heard every combination).
"He was a war veteran who'd lost his family and now lives like a hermit."
"He was a king, fallen from grace and banished from his homeland."
But to Kate he was an enigmatic, perhaps lonely teacher who had shown insight, intelligence, and kindness when they first met. She trusted him, and closed her ears against the rumors.
Unfortunately it wasn’t possible to do that with Hesrial.
After the encounter with the dragon, the Fae girl had gone into total babble meltdown.
Kate now understood the expression "off with the fairies". She was seriously thinking of sending the girl away when she had a thought. “Wind”, she whispered, “are you there?”
"Here, no here, wait, there." came the immediate reply.
"Would you be so kind as to carry her prattling away from me? But be discreet, don’t be obvious. I don't want to hurt her feelings.“ Almost instantly, the sound of Hesrial's incessant prattle diminished such that it was barely above a whisper to Kate's ears.
For the first time in a long time, Kate smiled. "I can do this," she thought.
They re-entered the school by the same passage, and passed briefly through the grand hall. Kate gave a quick whistle and then a quite "Fizz - you there". In a second her little wisp was dancing in front of here.
"Hi Fizz, can you light the way to Brahms please? And Fizz, quickly."
With a brief nod and tinkle the beautiful orb dashed off, the girls skipping along behind.
When they arrived at the cellars, they found Brahms by his desk, frowning down at the nearly black goo in his hands. It was oozing between his long fingers like a melted night sky, complete with twinkling stars and even a small moon.
"Too much bitumen, but otherwise perfect" he muttered, then looked up at the girls with a smile. “Ah, Kate. And if I'm not mistaken, Lady Hesrial. You're just in time. Care to join me for supper?”
Brahms didn't seem the least surprised to see the two together so late on a school day. Kate wondered what he knew. Everything, she suspected.
"Hmm," Brahms said, looking at Hesrial's moving mouth with a perplexed expression. “Normally Fae girls speak louder than this. It's getting them to be quiet that's truly difficult.” He looked intently at Kate.
"Oh, ah, ah, choo!" Kate quickly feigned a sneeze. As she turned away, to grab a nearby tissue, she whispered, “Wind, stop now.”
With no subtlety whatsoever the wind abruptly stopped carrying Hesrial's chatter away.
"...and then the giant fletanids scurried away into the night, leaving the small child behind without so much as a bite. Can you imagine such a thing?"
"Oh, yeah," agreed Kate. “really ah, incredible.”
Brahms quirked one eyebrow at her. "Ahem. Come, let's eat. This way."
The girls followed the professor, past a heavy oak doorway and down a long corridor, carved through the ancient rock beneath the school. Kate didn't realize until she set foot in the torchlit tunnel what a wondrous tour it would be. Every 4 meters was an alcove that contained a beguiling vision she could scarcely believe was real.
In the first a transparent spinning globe, inside which a pair of unicorns raced in perfect unison amidst long, translucent grass. Reflected in the globe, a scarlet sunset glistened over the sea of crystalline grass.
In another, a stream of lava flowed steadily from the ceiling towards the floor. On the way it split into 12 perfect columns forming the bars of a large cage, before pooling together again at the bottom. Inside the cage, a fire djinn raged and cursed Brahms in a guttural tongue. Kate hurried past, very glad she couldn't understand a word of it.
Further on, two spheres--one crystal clear and other ebony black--circled each other chaotically, their orbits changing frequently as if they were locked in a crazy game of catch-me-if-you-can.
"Awesome!" Hesrial cried. “Mood globes. I've never seen them outside of books. Did you make them yourself?”
Brahms simply flowed on as if he didn't hear. Kate found his movements at once captivating and creepy. He seemed to make the barest hint of movement with every step, and if not for the clinking of chains around his hands and feet Kate thought he would not be moving at all. Humans often found the Fae similarly fluid, but they were not this spooky. Kate always imagined that he was riding some kind of magic carpet under his robes. She smiled and wondered what the truth was.
When they arrived at his chambers, she found a table laid for three, full of fruits, sweet carrots, juicy tomatoes, Fae delicacies - in fact it looked very much like the banquette that had been laid out earlier. Had he been expecting them? Did Mathylda send him a message?
"I didn't want all this to go to waste after the events above, so I thought we should enjoy it. I'll be eating well this year." He said with a wry smile.
The girls realised they were very hungry and the three sat and ate quietly for some time. Brahms ate sparingly, only feeding himself a grape or an apple slice now and then, and was content to simply gaze at the pair with a complex expression.
Finally as they slowed he decided it was time for conversation.
"It’s lovely to see you Kate of course, but rumour has it, you’re in a spot of bother so I can’t help but think that you’re not here for my scintillating personality?"
As she suspected Brahms clearly knew most of the events that had passed, but before she could acknowledge that, Hesrial jumped in and told it all at a frightening pace, indeed if words were bullets Brahms would be swiss cheese.
Brahm's raised a slender hand, which was wearing a twisted gold, silver and platinum band on the ring finger --Kate wasn't sure if it was a call for silence or to ward off the torrent of words, regardless Hesrial actually shut up--a feat in itself.
"Wow, she said, “that's a lovely ring."
Ignoring Hesrial, Brahms turned to Kate. "How may I help you, then? I think it's fairly clear what needs to be done."
Kate hung her head. "I know what, but I don't know how. I'm a first year student and no mage, what can I do?" She sounded whiny, even to herself.
Brahms steepled his fingers. "Very well, perhaps I can help you bring things into focus. You will gain some clarity, and from there direction then resolution. Tell me, what do you know for sure?"
"Well," Kate began, “everyone thinks I'm a liar.”
He waved his hand. "Let's not go over the obvious. Tell me about the incident."
"Sorry, professor." She stopped, tried to calm herself. What did she know?
"I saw a person leaving the visitor chambers. I believe they were carrying the sceptre. At the time, all Fae except me were accounted for, and a human can't hold the sceptre." She paused. “All year there have been incidents where I've been blamed for something I didn't do. I think...someone wants me expelled.”
The professor nodded.
"The Baron said stealing the sceptre is an act of war, but if it was, why put it in my locker where it could easily be found? No, this was another personal attack on me. It must be."
Kate spoke faster, becoming surer by the minute. "The attacker isn't subtle--I mean, it all seems too obvious, so I'd think it's a student. Except all the students are human and couldn't have stolen the sceptre."
"Very good," Brahms interjected. “And there's the riddle.: How could a human student magician find a way to steal a sceptre that can't be touched by a human?”
"Simple," said Hesrial around a mouthful of Trefneys (a sort of Fae nut smothered in a sweet beat sticky sauce), “they don't touch it.”
Kate felt her forehead wrinkle. "What are you talking about?"
"You're wizards," said the Fae girl, shrugging. “You must have a charm or some such for picking up a sceptre without using your hands.”
Brahms sighed again focusing on Kate. "My dear, who are you, what are you?"
"Are you a young twitty human girl babbling incessantly about Fae Fury, or are you a half-Fae mage with determination, skills and some preternatural talents?"
"Really Talents -, like what?" said Hesrial, suddenly very interested.
Kate was starting to realise that the whole "off with the fairies" thing that Hesrial had going was not the whole truth. She may look distracted, but she saw and absorbed more than she let on.
Kate opted to ignore her, it was safer.
"How we see ourselves is critical before we commit to any action," Brahms was saying. “If you see yourself as beaten you’re beaten - but I don’t think that’s true of you.”
"Be what you are: not an imposter but a half-Fae. Use your abilities: your mind, magic stealth, and cunning, and find out how a human student could pull off this trick."
They had finished supper, so Brahms served coffee then motioned to the door. "You don't have much time. Go solve this riddle before the consequences catch up with you."
"Yes," said Kate, standing up. “Thank you, Professor. I'll try and do as you ask.”
Brahms gave her the same thin smile she’d seen before and bowed his head slightly to say goodbye, but Kate, with a cheeky smile, ducked in and kissed him lightly on the cheek, winked and said "You’re really great professor."
Feeling more confident than she had before (for reasons she couldn’t really explain) she grabbed Hesrial and quickly left.
The wind whispered in her ear, "so scary, so handsome, don't worry... we'll help"
"Of course", thought Kate, “first I'll use the wind.”
"Hesrial," she said, turning to her friend, “let's go to the main hall and sit on the benches. I need a rest and I want others to see that I'm not in hiding.”
For once, Hesrial said nothing and just followed her.
The main hall was moderately quiet when they arrived anyway. Normally the school would be completely empty by now, but with a Fae delegation staying plus the unexpected events of the day, there were still straglers plus there were a reasonable number of kids that stayed in the school for the week, returning home only on weekends.
High in the roof overhead, the wisps were flying around like thousands of shooting stars buzzing from one place to the next. Kate had never seen them so animated.
"Well of course they come alive at night," said Hesrial, as if reading her thoughts.
Kate plunked herself down on a large wooden bench tucked into one of the many alcoves that lined the hall. It was fairly dark and no one was paying her attention. She didn't know if her anonymous nemesis was still at the school, but she hoped they were.
She settled down and whispered, "Go, bring me conversations from around the school--anything that might help,". She crossed her legs adopted something that looked like a lotus position and waited for knowledge to arrive.
"Well you are stranger than an Albatross whale in rut" said Hesrial. You gonna add some chanting in with that pose.”
Kate opened one eye and signed. It was impossible.
The wind just whipped around, calling her name, telling her random things about kitchens and wisps, clocks, lost shoes. My God, no wonder nobody talked to it.
"Oh my god" bellowed the wind “Timothy Johnson just farted - run for our lives!
And that was the last sensible thing it said.
Hesrial prattled on next to her, seemingly oblivious to the fact that Kate was desperately trying to concentrate. The added stress of her constant conversation bore down on Kate's fraying patience, until finally, she snapped, "Oh, please just shut up!"
Kate had meant the wind, but she realised her big mistake. Hesrial looked liked she'd been slapped. Kate was expecting a tantrum or some defiance, but instead the Fae girl just stood, tears shimmering in her eyes, and walked away.
Kate immediately ran to her new friend and hugged her. "I'm so sorry," she said, “please don't go. I'm sorry, I wasn't talking to you. I was angry with the voices in my head. You know, the silent arguments? Please don't go, Hesrial.”
The Fae girl turned to her her eyes shining with tears but with a big smile.
"I'm sorry too, it's been quite a day and well, I really can't shut up even when I want to." she laughed “How can I help my hae-fae friend?” She bowed low.
Kate just loved her at that moment.
She couldn’t really tell her the truth. "Oh Hesrial please just sit here while I chat to the air will you? The air does what I ask it to". Yeah - that wasn’t going to work.
In the end she gave her as much truth as she could.
"Hesrial, I need to think, to try to work something out. Could you just stay here and give me a little space? I won't be too long. I promise."
Friends again, the two girls settled back down. Ok, she couldn't just ask the wind for help, it was too random, chaotic. She needed more ordered information, but it was terribly difficult, because whenever the wind thought that it had her attention it would start shouting at her, like a thousand little children yelling her name.
She needed to clear her head, so she withdrew her attention. She sat down and focused on breathing from her belly, just as they taught her during spellwork class. After a few deep breaths, her focus narrowed as she entered a light trance. Entering a trance was an essential first step to many spells, but Kate had found it nearly impossible, to the point she was worried she'd fail basic spells.
When practicing before, she'd start to clear her mind and quickly she'd find the wind's babbling would start to disappear. The problem was, at the same time, she'd started to hear conversation and ambient sounds from all over the school, which in turn would distract her enough to break her trance.
Well, now she knew that she needed to find and hold that state, and the urgency of the situation made it even more difficult.
Hesrial noticed her difficulty. "You're trying to go into a trance, aren't you? I've seen my father do that sometimes when he needs to commune with nature."
Kate let out a long exhale. "It's not exactly easy for me to concentrate, not when there's so much noise around."
"Well, sometimes all you need is a little push." Hesrial took one of her hands in both of hers.
"Shh. Here's what we do back home. It's called anchoring. Just breathe like you would, but focus on the feeling of my hands. There, that's it. Relax and focus."
Kate slowed her breathing and focused on the feeling of Hesrial's hands on hers. The hands felt so warm, and somehow she could feel the pulse of Hesrial's heart. "Breath with me," said the Fae girl.
Together they sat there quietly, head's bowed together, breathing. Hesrial's breath had the same smell of grass and flowers that Kate’s mother's had. Her scent and the rhythm of her breathing calmed Kate, and slowly the babble in the halls receded and the world around her dimmed from view.
The experience amazed Kate beyond anything she'd ever felt before (Later in life she would write about this being an inflection point, the first time she realised that she was not destined to be a witch in the human sense). She quickly fell into a near-dream state where she was aware of the smell of flowers and a warm hand in hers.
This is magic, she realized. Not human magic, but Fae. She felt it now, for the first time, deep inside her, always there but never noticed. The magic of her mother's people: raw, chaotic, and powerful.
"Hello", she whispered, and felt shivers run up her back. When she felt the magic rush up her spine, as overwhelming as a tidal wave, she just focused on Hesrial's warmth, and the energy shrunk back into a gentle stream.
Kate knew what she needed--to find whoever had set her up. She needed to find conversations about that, and almost the second she phrased the question in her head, the answer came. She could hear voices echoing and strangely distorted, as if coming out of a long tunnel.
"Hold still," said a testy voice. “I'm trying, but the wisps are zipping around and it's throwing all sorts of shadows, and don't get cross with me. It was your idea.”
"And it worked, but now we need to clean up. If anyone finds our little workshop they may be able to work out how we did it"
"Don't be silly, no-one will find this place."
And that was it, Kate got so excited that she'd found the people, two people a boy and a girl. It must be them that set her up. As soon as she started to think about that, the trance broke and she was back looking with wonder at Hesrial.
"Wow, t-that was perfect!" Kate hugged Hesrial tightly and kissed her cheek. “Hesrial, thank you. I couldn't have done it without you.”
"Done what?" said Hesrial. “Girl, you're possibly even more trippy than I am.”
"Come on." Kate jumped to her feet. “We need to have a chat with the wisps.”
Kate had no time to explain. She ran to the centre of the great room and called to Fizz, making the same tinkling sound she'd mastered over the course of the year. The little ball of light flew down. Quickly, she explained what she'd heard.
"Please, can you find out where this place is? I know there are wisps there."
Without a word the little wisp flew to the ceiling to where the other wisps had gather. They bunched together as if conferring, then exploded in all directions in a frenzy of activity. Over the next half hour, wisps went whirling and swirling throughout the highways and byways of the school. Kate had never seen such activity.
But after half an hour had passed with no result, she felt like giving up. Were they even really looking? Perhaps the little thing hadn't understood her properly, or perhaps they lost interest, flighty as they were. She realised she didn't know all that much about them.
Just as her mind was drifting into thoughts of the nature of wisps, her friend came shooting back.
"Follow", it jingled to her.
It led the girls down familiar corridors before finally taking a little used passage that led towards the vegetable gardens behind the kitchens. Kate was extremely glad for the wisp's light, for the long hall was dark, cold and narrow , with an uneven floor and wooden benches scattered along its length.
Finally they emerged into a bitterly cold, moonless night, bright with millions of stars. Their ball of light bobbed and weaved it's way across the field to the old wall behind the gardens. At a point in the wall there was an opening, presumably once a gate but now crumbled with age.
Kate and Hesrial could see perfectly well by starlight , but the place still seemed creepy. On the far side of the the wall, ten meters from the crumbled opening, they found a shallow depression with water in it. Not a pond so much as a watery bog with reeds and lots of dead tree branches. A fog croaked quietly, his large eyes looking flat and evil in the soft light from their glowing companion.
Silently, the girls followed the wisp as it led them deeper into the old bog. The going was relatively easy, if somewhat slow, the floor was covered with dead leaves but not much of anything else. The canopy of leaves overhead made it difficult for anything to grow below. They walked in silence, the wet leaves making hardly a sound as they passed.
After following the dark path for perhaps 10 minutes, the wisp stopped and jingled softly. Kate had difficulty understanding the complex message, but it seemed there was a hut ahead, the wisp was heading on to see if it was empty. It returned after just a few minutes and jingled the all clear. The girls strode forward to investigate.
By the light of the wisp, they found a small, dilapidated hut that smelled of must and rotting wood. Moss and mushrooms grew everywhere and there was one small crooked window that had been boarded over recently with new planks. The door was barely hanging from a pair of rotting leather hinges.
Inside, though, things got interesting. On a sturdy table they found a hooded lamp, a low bench, some books on a variety of magical subjects, and an alembic.
Kate looked over the books. It was almost too easy because the book had been carefully earmarked to allow whoever was using them to find their place.
She opened it to the tab and found instructions for a telekinesis spell.
"Well, that answers that", said Kate. “I'll simply take this to the Baron and he'll know it's not me.” But the moment she thought that she new she was wrong. This doesn't prove anything, not yet. I have the means, but now I have to catch the culprits.
The girls walked back in silence. Kate was delighted that she'd come this far, but not sure of the next step. How to catch a thief after the fact? There was no rule forbidding students from practicing this kind of magic. No, she needed a plan.
1 small Ketchup packet like you find at burger restaurants (mustard or soy sauce packet will also do)
1 litre empty plastic bottle with cap.
Pour tap water into the plastic bottle almost until the brim.
Place the ketchup packet inside. Make sure that the packet floats. If the packet does not float, add 3 teaspoons of salt into the water and try again.
Put the cap back on the bottle.
Squeeze the bottle gently and watch the packet sink. Experiment with the pressure to get the packet to rise and sink according to your whim. You can even pretend to use your other hand to command the packet to rise and fall or stay steady.
This is about "buoyancy", which describes whether or not objects float in a substance, and how it is affected by changes in density. The more dense an object is, the more likely it will sink, and the lighter it is the more likely it will float.
Inside the packet is a little bit of air, which is lighter than water and thus will cause the packet to flat. In case it doesn't, we simply add some salt to the mix in order to make the water denser.
By squeezing the bottle, you also add a little pressure into the mix. This causes the bubble in the packet to shrink, which makes the sauce packet more dense, and thus will sink down in the water. Of course, releasing the pressure makes it rise up.