chapter 12

to catch a thief

Morning was upon them and now there was very little time left.

Kate felt her stomach twisting into knots, and coupled with her exhaustion -- well, she was an utter mess.

Long hair lay like a limp rag, bags under her eyes, and her mouth tasted like something died in it.  "I actually have confin breath” she thought to herself with a wry smile.

Fluttersquawk had suggested she give up all pretense at being all human since everybody knew and there was no point in hiding, so now her skin was it’s natural light blue colour.

She felt naked, and looked like a shipwreck survivor, like some poor soul who had been fished out of the Arctic Ocean, blue with cold.

Now she had one shot to clear her name. There was no time left for second chances.

Earlier that day, she had instructed her wisp to keep close watch at the hut in the bog, in case the culprits should appear. Then she'd sent word through Mathylda to tell her parents that she was staying at school for the night at Fluttersquawk's invitation. She knew her mom would be worried sick, but there was nothing for it.  Hesrial had disappeared and not returned, leaving Kate very much alone.

"Oh dear," said Fluttersquawk as Kate came out of the guest room next to the Professor's apartment. Her gaze travelled up and down the sorry sight before her.

"Oh no, you can’t been seen like this on your first day as well - you. . Come inside a moment."

Kate obeyed quietly letting Fluttersquawk lead her into her apartment and position her by a large window overlooking the sunny South gardens. Here, suspended from a huge oak beam that crossed the room, was a large pyramid illuminated by the morning sun, that seemed to be made of polished quartz.

Kate looked at it nervously. It must have weighed hundreds of kilograms and seemed to hang from a thin silver thread, no thicker than a chain Kate would wear around her neck. The thread itself shone like a beam of pure sunlight.

"Stop fidgeting girl and drink this," said Fluttersquawk, offering her a beaker filled with clear liquid. “People scoffed for years, but I knew that with sun refracted just so, and the right evanescent to channel the power--well, you'll see.”

Kate took the beaker and drank down half in a gulp. At first nothing happened, then for a brief moment she felt slightly nauseous. Just as she thought she’d hurl chips, a tingle started at the base of her spine and rushed up towards her brain.

Her eyes nearly popped out of her head as the jolt hit her. It felt like being force-fed raw energy, like biting into a live electric wire.

"Ow Zow WOW!!" she gasped.

"Egads, perhaps that dosage is a little much for a half-Fae. OK let's not overdo it or you'll cook your brain." Fluttersquawk took the beaker hastily away.

"That’'s totally awesome!" exclaimed Kate.

"I know. I thought I was going to be rich when i invented it, but sadly the coven banned it. Said I could keep one pyramid to experiment with but that they simply couldn't have people running around charged up like thunder clouds. Idiots."

"Anyway, don't tell -- really don’t ever tell -- and no you can't use it again. And stop giggling."

Kate found that the excess energy was making her giddy, and everything around her seemed funny. She started roaming the room with her hands outstretched. The wind, seeing her fun, blew a gentle breeze around her, so she really did feel like a plane in the air.

She piped down when a knock on the open door showed Professor Brahms standing at the threshold. Kate had never seen him outside the dungeon but she guessed he couldn’t live there forever.

"What's wrong with Kate?" he asked, regarding her closely.

Fluttersquawk waved her hand. "Oh nothing, she’s just doing some ah, ahem, stress release exercised. Stressful week and all that."

"Well, I'm afraid I have some grave news," he said. “It seems the other parents have heard of your lineage and are calling for your expulsion. Some of them have gathered in the Great Hall, speaking with the Headmaster. So if you have a plan you must act now, or you may not get the chance.”

"Right then," replied Fluttersquawk, her mouth forming a hard line. “Let's get to work.”

The three proceeded down to the great Hall. It was packed with people all talking loudly, however silence quickly fell the moment they appeared.

Fluttersquawk headed directly to Snowmaine, who was having an animated conversation with a group of parents.

All turned towards Kate, some parents with angry expressions, as they arrived.

Snowmaine rushed over. "I can't delay calling an investigation any longer. The Baron has given me till first light to hand over the thief. Have you got anything?"

"A terrible headache," moaned Fluttersquawk theatrically, touching the back of her hand dramatically to her forehead.

Snowmaine gave her a hard look.

With a chagrined expression she said, "Ok, fine Yes we do. Listen to this."

Fluttersquawk was about to speak but Kate was so full of energy she sprang into action.

She leapt onto the plinth supporting a large statue of the Fae lord Mare-Newton and shouted as loud as she could.

"Everyone, listen. I know you have lots of questions, but first you need to know a few things. The Baron gave me a day to clear my name. I now know that the thieves used a telekinesis spell to steal the sceptre and softening slime to push it into my locker.

"Professor Fluttersquawk assures me that once we have the items used to cast the spell, we can use Sherlock Magic Fingerprints to determine who was the caster."

Snowmaine whispered to Fluttersquawk, "Sherlock Magic Fingerprints, eh?"

"We're stalling for time, sir," she whispered back. “Let's give the child a break, hey?”

"Everyone is to stay here while all bags, lockers and buildings are searched."

A parent yelled, pointing at Kate, "Outrageous. We all know who did it - you!"

"Yeah, put the sneaky sprite thief in the dungeon!" shouted another.

"Now, now, we're a school, not a penitentiary..." Snowmaine started to say, but others started yelling as well and no one could get a word in edgewise. It was turning into quite the commotion when...

"ENOUGH!" boomed a huge voice from the back of the Hall. The Baron strode in, wearing full elven regalia. His silver scaled armor made him resemble an upright walking dragon, his cloak flying behind him like mighty wings. His entourage followed close, dressed in horned helms and red cloaks in the tradition of fire unicorns. They wore their golden ceremonial swords on their belts.

"Wow, he's wonderful," Kate said dreamily, a really silly expression sliding her face.

"Note to self," Fluttersquawk muttered, “never use the pyramid on half-Fae teenagers.”

The Baron stood at the center of the hall, commanding all attention. "The girl is a suspect," he said, “and since I'm the wronged party, I've given her the chance to clear her name. As such, I accept her plan. We'll find the thieves or drag her off to the grand dance. Does anyone care to challenge?”

The Hall fell completely silent. No one in their right mind would challenge a Fae baron, but even Fae barons would think twice about challenging Avicenna.

Kate realised that the electrifying effect of the professor's device was just beginning to wear off and she needed to move.

Just then, Fizzle came hurtling towards here like a shooting star. The trap had been sprung.

"Professor, it's time." she said, stepping down from her stage.  She turned to the Baron. “Follow me please, your Grace.”

Kate led the way while the rest of the assembly followed her to the woods.

Kate whispered to the wind, "Quietly, carefully, softly, fly ahead and make sure they don't leave. Go."

" Yesss, swiftly, softly", sighed the air from around the woods. She was getting a little more control now.

Seeing the hut, Kate rushed ahead of the crowd, eager to finish this drama. She spared her mother a thought, knowing she must be sitting in the kitchen right now, wringing her hands as she waited for news. "Just wait till she heard the truth." she thought. “I’m so dead. Perhaps I should just run away with the fae for the long dance.”

As she cleared the small rise in front of the shed, she saw that it was surrounded by an intense tornado. The wind had picked up whole branches and loose shingles and was hurling them around the battered hut. Kate guessed that whoever was inside must be cowering in fear.

"Quit it," Kate commanded. Luckily she was far enough ahead of the crowd that the dust had mostly settled before they arrived.

For a moment she felt excited, elated even. Finally she'd face her tormentors and she was going to give them some.

But then the door to the shed opened and out they walked, covered in dust, coughing, and wiping their eyes.

Gilda and Nathan.

The world spun and just for a moment, Kate felt she’d surely fall. "This can't be happening." her brain was in denial. “Nathan had never been kind to her, true, but Gilda?”

Kate realised they'd not noticed her nor the gathered crowd watching them. The wind had half-blinded them and they couldn't hear a thing.  

"Quick," shouted Gilda, still half blind, “we've got to trash this stuff before it's found, I'm not doing the long dance for that smug little half Fae filth.”

As the words left Gilda's mouth, Kate's anger hit.

"How could you?" she shouted. “You’re my friend - my best friend!”

At her anguished cry, Gilda and Nate froze. They peered around and realised that the entire school, including the Baron and Snowmaine was watching them.

"This...this is all a mistake," Gilda quietly said, but even she knew it was too late to take back what she said. Everyone had heard.

"You were my friend," Kate went on. “I trusted you!”  

"Yeah, just like we trusted the Fae, right before they wiped out our village!" shouted Nate, staring straight at the Baron. “You hid your heritage from the school and made us think you were one of us. You were playing us all along.”

"It's not like that!" Kate cried.

"Oh yes it is," said Nathan savagely. He stepped forward, as if ready to tear the Baron limb from limb. “ And for what? So you can get ahead of us with your abilities? So you can spy on us for your Fae friends? The school has no right making us study with a half-breed traitor. Never trust a Fae.”

"Enough!" commanded Snowmaine - rare steal in his voice. He stepped forward, and put his enormous presence between Kate and the two students. “Take them to my office now” he ordered with more authority than kate had ever heard.

Kate was numb. Having nothing left she simply turned and walked away, exhausted. She felt more sick in her heart than anytime in her life.  

Seeing the tears streaming down her face, the crowd simply parted. When Kate reached the back, however, a warm hand took hers and spun her into a tight hug.

"I'm your friend and I'll never betray you." said lady Hesrial.

Then a strange thing happened. The other children from her class came forward and one by one hugged her.

"I'm your friend", they said, one after the other.

"This is so bizarre", Kate thought, smiling as tears poured down her cheeks.

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