Act V, Scene 2
Grace slowly sat up. Her head was pounding, and her body shook, as if she had a high fever. It was unusually dark, too dark for her to have been in her own room.
The sheets of the bed she was in smelled funny, and overpowering floral stench, and they made her itch. She was allergic to perfume. At home, her father always used detergent that didn't smell like anything except clean.
"Dad?" Grace called out. "Sebastian?"
There was no answer. Although she still could not see, she slowly stood, feeling her way from the bed to the wall, and then around the corner of the room.
Her fingertips brushes a lightswitch, and she flicked it on. The room she was in was stark and empty. White walls, no windows, blue carpet and blue bedding. A closet was open, and in it hung four white dress shirts, four blue skirts, a blue blazer, a rain jacket, and a dark blue sweat-suit. Every piece of clothing appeared to be her size. A dresser even supplied her with underwear and socks.
There were also several composition books, a stack of pencils, a pencil sharpener, and an eraser in the room. Grace pocketed the pencils and stuffed one of the composition books under her arm. It seemed like something she might need.
She glanced at her own reflection in the mirror over the dresser. Her fingertips drifted towards her father's lucky charm, which was still on its chain around her neck. It was hard to imagine that it was part of a staff that had once belonged to Prospero himself, one of the most infamous sorcerers in history. It was harder still for Grace to believe that she was related to Prospero, directly, through her mother... and that her mother had once been the head of the Order of Neptune.
Why she had given up that life was something Grace's father said he didn't know, but Grace understood. Although she could not remember her mother, she loved her father. He was a good person. It would be easy for anyone, even a powerful sorceress, to love someone like that.
Grace grimaced, trying to brush her hair with her fingers. It kept falling in her eyes, and her skin still itched from the detergent on the sheets. She hadn't changed her clothes before going to bed. She was still wearing what she'd worn to school, her Dresden Dolls t-shirt, fingerless gloves in black and white stripes, a red and black plaid skirt, black knee socks with skulls on them, and her battered Converses, which happened to be bright pink. All of the Saints and Sinners dressed like rock stars, and Grace never wanted to be outdone.
The conservative, preppy clothing in the closet was the exact opposite of who she was. If the people who had kidnapped her actually thought she was going to wear it, they were crazy.
Grace took a deep breath. She walked over to the door and turned the knob, expecting it to be locked.
She opened the door slowly and stared down the long hallway. There were dozens of rooms. Some of them had their doors open. Girls about her own age were everywhere, dressed in the same uniform she had seen in her closet. Some of them were reading books or working on computers. Others were whispering and staring at Grace. They all looked like snobby rich kids.
"Can anybody tell me where I am?" Grace demanded, interrupting all of the whispering that was going on around her.
"You're out of uniform. You'll get in trouble for that," one of the girls, a blonde who looked like she belonged in a magazine advertisement commented, not answering Grace's question. She was wearing earrings that might have been real diamonds, and her long fingernails were manicured.
"I'm going to get in trouble?" Grace scoffed. "I've been freaking kidnapped!"
"That's ridiculous," the blonde girl rolled her eyes, and her friends giggled. "This is a very exclusive school. Your parents must have paid a lot of money for you to go here. Did they have to sell their trailer?"
"I don't even live in a trailer, you bitch. And I've got better things to spend my money on than fucking bleach and fake fingernails," Grace retorted.
The girl seemed surprised as she pushed past her.
"Ooh, Serafina got burned," one of the other girls cackled.
Grace continued down the hall.
At the end of the hall was a staircase leading down. It met with another staircase coming from the opposite direction on a small landing. A very tall boy with his arms full of books stopped on the landing. He had very dark skin and short-cropped hair. He was dressed in a white shirt and blue slacks, a male version of the same uniform all of the girls wore, but he had something around his wrist that caught Grace's eye, a colorful bracelet made of bright string and cowrie shells.
It was a simple thing, and something about it seemed good to Grace.
"You'd better put your uniform on. You're going to get in trouble if you go downstairs like that," the boy said. He had a strange accent. It sounded like it might be African or Caribbean.
"I don't care," Grace paused. "Where am I?"
"You don't know?" The boy seemed surprised.
"Well, I have a couple of ideas. But the only thing I know for sure is that I've been kidnapped. Somebody brought me here last night when I was asleep," she replied.
"Are you serious?" He hissed. "Why would someone do that?"
"Because they wanted me to go with them, and I refused," Grace paused.
"Well, this is Academie della Otto Fiume," the boy replied. "But... where it's located, well, nobody knows."
"You don't know where your school is?" Grace put her hands on her hips. "Seriously."
"It's safer if we don't," the boy replied. "I wouldn't lie about this. There is a bad energy around you. Very faint. I think most people won't notice it, but someone does mean you ill."
"Super," Grace snorted. "That's awesome."
"I'm Jabari," he introduced himself. "Prefect."
"Grace," Grace replied. "What's a prefect?"
"I guess they don't have those in America. It's a student leader. I'm in charge of the boys that live in this dormitory." He pointed to the door behind him.
"How long have you been here?" Grace wondered.
"Since I was eleven. I was very lucky to get accepted," Jabari replied.
"So you really want to be here?" Grace pressed.
"More than anything. When I graduate, I will be able to get a good job. I will be able to take care of my mother and father when they are old, and all of my brothers and sisters will be able to go to good schools," Jabari nodded.
"I guess that makes sense," Grace nodded. "Well, I hope you don't get in trouble for talking to me."
"Pretend we didn't have this conversation," Jabari whispered. "But if somebody did kidnap you, you'd better go find Master Ridden. Not everyone around here is a good person, but he is."
"Thanks," Grace smiled.
"Good luck," Jabari nodded.
Grace continued down the second flight of stairs. A set of double doors opened into an enormous common room, which was full of students. Grace smelled coffee, and noticed that there was a small cafe in one corner of the space. Her stomach grumbled, and she remembered that she hadn't eaten anything since lunch.
The common room was very impressive, dominated by huge marble columns that looked Greek, with silver and blue octopuses swimming around in the stone. The prickling sensation that washed over Grace as she walked past them warned her that they were magic.
She stared up at the chandeliers. There were no windows anywhere that she had seen, but the crystal cast light everywhere, that made the entire space look a little bit like the bottom of a swimming pool lit from above by the sun. The common room was encircled by balconies filled with bookshelves going up several stores, and in the center of a mosaic floor was a massive fountain.
It was carved in the shape of an ancient storm spirit, an almost human-looking creature with long, spiraling horns and feathered wings. The storm spirit was depicted as bound in chains, and seemed very macabre in what was otherwise a calm environment.
In front of the fountain, floating in midair was another strange creature that looked almost like a dragon. It didn't have any legs to speak of, but it had fins, and seemed to move by writhing through the air like a snake. It reminded Grace of a wolf eel she'd seen in an aquarium once, simultaneously airy and watery.
Two boys were standing in front of it, and one of them held a black wooden staff leveled at the creature. He uttered a word of command and a beam of light shot from the staff. The creature howled in pain.
"What are you doing? Stop it!" Grace stomped forward. She seized the staff from the boy, who looked very surprised to see her standing behind him. Before he could take it back, she hit him on the head with it. He winced and swore, rubbing his head.
"Who the hell do you think you are?" The boy demanded, in the same arrogant tone of voice that the blonde girl, Serafina, had used in the dormitory. When Grace considered his appearance, she realized that the two might even be related. They were very similar-looking, and they both seemed to think they were more important than anyone else. "You can't just take my staff!" He snapped.
"Can, and did, jerk," Grace replied, hitting him with the staff again.
The other boy grabbed hold of it and tore it out of her hands. He handed it back to the bully.
"I'd make you regret that, but I don't hit girls," the boy warned.
"No, you just hit defenseless animals! Like a real man," Grace put her hands on her hips and gave him a condescending look.
"It's not a defenseless animal, it's a summon, you idiot! If you want it to do your bidding, you have to demonstrate that you have power over it," the boy rolled his eyes. "Otherwise, it will probably kill you."
Grace ignored him. She could see the creature, hiding in the shadow of the fountain. "It's all right, little guy," she whispered, holding her hand out. "I'm not going to let that stupid bully hurt you again."
The creature hesitantly crept forward, sniffing Grace's hand. Its whiskers tickled her skin, and she laughed. The creature felt cold and wet, a little like a frog, but there was also something sweet and dog-like about it. It made a warbling noise and licked her face.
A crowd of students gathered around the fountain. Most of them were staring, and Grace wasn't sure if it was because she wasn't in uniform, or because she'd so easily tamed the creature.
A shadow loomed over Grace. At first, she'd thought it was just the fountain, but then it had moved, blocking the light from a different angle. She heard the sound of chains grinding against stone, and slowly looked up. The fountain was alive. The storm spirit she'd thought was a statue was breathing. It could not move its wings. It couldn't even turn its head.
Grace climbed up on the edge of the fountain. She could barely reach the storm spirit's shaggy chin. All she could think was that she had never seen anything more monstrous. How could all of the students walk past something so terrible, casually sipping their coffee?
"Who did this?" She demanded. "What kind of monster did this?"
"It's... been that way for hundreds of years," a student replied. "That's the storm spirit that caused the Tempests. That's Ariel."
Ariel looked down at Grace. His eyes were blue and full of pain. When she stroked his downy neck, she heard heard him speak very clearly in her mind.
I am innocent.