I woke up secured to a table with Nat secured on another table beside me. What the fresh hell is this? Professor Garian came into my vision, glad to see me awake. He says he doesn’t usually use humans down here, too messy. I try to tell him that Nat isn’t like me, that she won’t be useful to him, but he just laughs and says I’m not the only special one.
He wiggles his fingers and strange little man appears, floating above his hand. What are you? I wonder in the strange monster tongue, but it just giggles, and together, they walk over to a glowing orb. Oh man, not another one. The strange little man puts his hands on the orb and everything goes white with pain. There is only screaming.
For a very long time.
After an eternity of pain, Maribeth’s voice creeps into my head. I must be hallucinating, and all I can do is scream in response. Over and over again. Her voice comes and goes, time doesn’t mean anything. Eventually, mercifully, darkness claims me.
Then I am awake, removed from the table. There is fighting all around, but I can barely stand. Nat is still unconscious, so I go to her. She’s still breathing, but barely. I pull her out into the hall, away from all the fighting and shouting. I think Malden is in there with all my friends, but I cannot bear to look.
Soon enough, they all come out into the hall wondering if it is finally over. That’s when Professor Rictus arrived. Everyone starts arguing about killing us for knowing about Garian’s experiments. Rictus starts to cast a spell on all of us, but Malden blocks him. Challenges him to Certimun. Nonononono! Not Malden! He can’t die for us! He’s the only one who cares about us, who believes us.
Rictus leaves and everyone babbles at Malden, but I just stare at him, unable to process the words. He ushers us all up to see Raltus in the infirmary, and I have to levitate Nat to get us there. I don’t know how I manage it, but I do. Everything is a blur until I wake up the next morning.
This can’t be real. Nothing about the last six months can be real. I didn’t get magic. I didn’t go to mage school. I haven’t been putting my life in danger every damn day to save people. This is not my life. I don’t get charged with Treason. I’m just a silly little girl. This has to be a dream. No, not a dream, a nightmare worse than every nightmare I’ve had so far. Treason? Certimun?
The others scramble to study and learn – trying to find a way to help. Trying to decide if we should run. Run now, or run if things go poorly. We can’t. There’s nothing we can do. Rictus is too powerful. We head down for breakfast. I decide, since it’s my last day on earth, that I get to eat all the sweets I want. I spend the day in the dining hall, drowning all this year’s pain in pastries.
When evening comes, I put on my most formal dress and we all head to the Theatre. It is packed full of people. Even my parents have come, along with everyone else’s. The don’t look concerned, though, just confused. James, Philomena, even Klyce who didn’t come with us, is there. We all have to stand along the back of the stage. Aleria, once she gets us in place, waits for Rictus and Malden. Malden is slow to arrive, his age weighs on him. He looks so weak beside Rictus.
Aleria tries to get Rictus to back down, but he will not. Malden refuses as well, he will not let us be killed. Aleria has the basin filled with mana, now more precious because we have destroyed the machine that fueled the fountain. She casts the ritual, closing the circle, and the Certimun begins.
Malden immediately animates, moving just as quickly and fluidly as Rictus. The battle rages fast and furious. Too fast for us to follow. To fast to know what is being cast and countered. We’ve been in fights before, but nothing like this. Nothing that took this long. They cast and counter, cast and counter faster than we can turn our heads.
The mana is nearly gone when they both pause to take a breath. Malden casts a single line of blue at Rictus, and rejoices in his hit. Rictus, however, seems unphased and casts a green bolt at Malden. Malden begins coughing. Coughing up dust. Dust and more dust, and then he begins to turn to dust. Malden’s entire form turns to dust and then nothing.
There is a stunned moment of silence before Aleria steps forward and announces Rictus as the victor. Rictus smiles for the first time, and turns to all of us, raising a hand. A blue light flashes behind his eyes, and he turns away, back towards the crowd.
He declares that he has no further grievance with us, that we are innocent of all charges, and under his protection. Any who seek to harm us must first go through him.
Everyone stares, stunned. Maribeth and I start sobbing, and the boys usher us all backstage. There is a babble of voices around me. He did it? He dominated him? Can it be broken? What does this mean? We should stay out of trouble. We don’t need to deal with the fae that escaped. We should just go to class tomorrow. I don’t understand, I just cling to Maribeth as we head back to the dorm and to bed.
In the morning, they tell everyone that classes have been cancelled indefinitely, due to lack of sufficient professors. If they can’t find enough professors, the year will be declared complete. Those who wish to stay, may do so, as the school remains open until a final decision has been made. Professor Rictus has taken a sabatical of indeterminant length.
What do we do now?