Chapter Fourteen (Epilogue)
The winter holidays were over far too quickly, and soon Damon and Naetili were passing through the corridor of Frank's Pub to a small town in England a bus ride away from Fernwood. In the bus, they reconnected with Alex and Arias, and Damon immediately launched into a heated critique of the football game with the werefoxes.
Naetili returned to his room only to find that Chaka had transferred out, replaced by a werecroc with disconcerting slit green eyes that followed Naetili as though he were a meal out of water. The faery spent little time in his room however, choosing instead to linger in the halls or on the benches outside as the cold winter months thawed into spring. His classes were familiar and no more challenging than before. IC was now the class Naetili looked forward to the most, as he spent it largely bantering with Damon and pretending they still had to do the work even though Karahalios was exuberant with the development of their relationship. Western History was still a challenge at times, human politics and justification for their conquests often muddied and unclear, but Damon was always ready to offer a helping hand and took all too much delight in critiquing Naetili's work for a change.
One afternoon in early spring, Naetili found Montag in his usual corner of the library, flipping idly through a copy of Magi through the Ages. The selkie glanced up and smiled as he approached.
"I see the lack of exams to study for has made you desperate for a good read," Naetili said.
Montag flushed. "I have read this book three times now, I suppose."
"If that doesn't say 'find me novelty' then I don't know what does. Do you read faerish?"
"Enough to get by."
Naetili fished out a few books from his backpack and lay them on the table. Montag perused the covers, eyes widening as he registered the contents.
"These are fae medical texts. My father gave them to me five summers ago when I first expressed my interest in the healing arts. I took them from home before I left. I'll need them back, but I've read through them a few times, and I'm willing to lend them to you if you promise to take good care of them."
The last sentence was more jest than anything, but Montag's fingers ghosted over the leather-bound volumes as if they might crumble under a single touch.
"Of course," the selkie said softly.
"I have something else for you," Naetili said after brief hesitation. He glanced around, checking for onlookers or eavesdroppers, then reached into his pocket and placed a milky opal stone on the table.
"This is a shenstein," Naetili said. "A moonstone. It is very rare and coveted among the fae. It allows the holder to amplify their magic-storing abilities, and has traditionally been used by healers during times of hardship so that they could heal many without quickly exhausting themselves. I think this will help you store enough magic to begin working on the practical side of the healing arts."
There was a brief silence as Montag reached out the touch the stone. He picked it up, weighing the artifact in his hand, then met Naetili's gaze with wet eyes.
"I… I don't know what to say," Montag breathed. "Thank you."
"You can thank me when you become a nah'gul," Naetili said. "It's a long, tough road. Even with that stone."
"Still, it's the faith you have in me, Naetili. Vaska is the only other faery who hasn't laughed at me for wanting to become a healer. It means a lot."
Naetili smiled and, after a moment's hesitation, reached out to gently pat the selkie's shoulder.
"You're welcome, then. However," his voice became quiet and grave, "you must promise me that you won't show or give this stone to anyone else. Even a friend. In the wrong hands, this stone could be used for very bad things, you understand?"
Montag nodded. "I understand. Keep it secret, keep it safe." He grinned, blushing. "Sorry, it just came out."
The selkie rolled his eyes. "I really need to lend you some Tolkien."
As the end of the year approached, Naetili became apprehensive. May had already insisted that he return over the summer should he need a place, but the faery was uncomfortable with imposing so readily on the Brankho family, certain that its house, in any case, could hardly afford to take on another occupant. He began looking for opportunities as a nah'gul apprentice in small European villages, but many already knew of his defection and did not reply, or else recommended he apprentice with a South African shaman, whom everyone knew still dabbled in the Shadow Arts.
"I knew what I was signing up for, when I left the Court," Naetili said. "But I thought I'd find something by now."
Vaska smiled sympathetically. "The healing arts, particularly the coveted position of nah'gul, is very fae-oriented. You know this very well, Naetili. Few societies exist where traditional healing arts are practiced without regard for Court rules, and most of those are not particularly well-intentioned."
"I could travel," Naetili suggested, suddenly. "As you did. Become a travelling healer, and visit villages and magi without local nah'gul."
"An admirable goal, but you are still too inexperienced of a healer, Naetili. As you know, I did not leave the Court until I was a fully-fledged and graduated mo'gul."
Naetili deflated, slumping back in the office chair. "Well how am I supposed to become an experienced mo'gul if I can't apprentice or go to a medical academy?"
"You know, the Adaptation and Integration Committee is considering a healing program at their Intermagi University in Latvia. They even approached me as a potential lecturer and practical instructor."
Naetili's eyes widened. "Have they? Are you considering it?"
The fae doctor shrugged. "It would be a novel opportunity. I have not lectured in many decades, and education is a career I am drawn to. However, the program has yet to be initiated. There are not yet enough faeries willing to divulge the secrets of the healing arts without compromising themselves."
"But you believe it is a possibility?"
"In the future? Who knows. The world is rapidly changing, even if the fae refuse to see it. Sooner or later, they will have to adapt as the rest of the magi have. In the meantime," Vaska looked at Naetili meaningfully, "I am willing to take you on as an apprentice, should you be interested. You could spent a few hours a week helping me in the hospital ward. It will be grunt work to begin with – mostly familiarizing yourself with the herbs, the poultices, and the theory." He raised a hand to silence Naetili's immediate protests, "I know you have already studied this, but practical applications require an innate appreciation for the theoretical. You will be practicing on animals before you touch a magi. I expect you, in return, not to try hastily before you are ready."
Naetili was both baffled by the sudden opportunity and slightly petulant at being treated as an incompetent child. He forced back his conflicting emotions and instead bowed his head, touching his fingers to his lips.
"I would be honored."
The rest of the year passed in a blur. Whenever Naetili was not in or studying for his classes, he was working with Vaska in the hospital ward, re-familiarizing himself with herblore and diagnosis, mixing medicines, and even learning basic human medicinal practices, including casting and suturing. Well into the second half of the semester, Naetili was allowed to apply poultices and suggest treatments, and even heal minor flesh wounds.
Summer finally arrived, announcing the end of another school year in which the students of IC breathed a collective sigh of relief and the rest scrambled out the dormitory doors with their hastily-stuffed bags flying behind them. Naetili spent the summer alternating between a more intensive internship under Vaska and regular visits to the Brankho household.
With the start of their third year, Naetili and Damon applied to become roommates. Naetili was half-apprehensive at the thought, certain that he would miss the quiet of his former rooming situation, but had capitulated to Damon's protests that Leo would molest him in his sleep and the twins would write on his face with a permanent marker.
After the first few weeks of class, Naetili realized that his situation was not as problematic as he'd thought. Having someone greet him every time he returned to his room, even if it was just a white-toothed grin or an exclamation of how much English lit was Damon's new least-favorite class, was pleasant and something Naetili had never realized he would come to anticipate on a daily basis. The only downside was keeping his libido in check and resisting the temptation to stare at or touch Damon when he was sleeping.
One afternoon, Naetili didn't realize he had dozed off until he was jerked awake by the sound of Damon cursing softly behind him. He glanced behind him, confused when he saw Damon standing close behind him, his breath ghosting over Naetili's face and his yellow eyes wide with surprise and guilt. Naetili felt lightheaded for a moment, trying not to focus entirely on Damon's slightly parted lips and the spicy smell of his hair product. Something flickered in the corner of his vision and he tore his eyes away from Damon. The tips of his wings were orange. Naetili straightened so quickly that Damon almost fell on his back.
"What the hell?" he snarled.
Damon's face was contorted with barely-concealed laughter. Naetili summoned fuscia magic in his hands, fuming.
"You… you bog-vermin!"
The phooka, failing to control his laughter, scrambled for the door and leapt out into the hall. Naetili pounded after him, cursing, and hurled a handful of magic at the laughing phooka.
Damon fell with a yelp, remaining prone for a few seconds before struggling upright.
"What the hell? You didn't have to throw your freaking bearing at me," Damon grumbled, rubbing his head as Naetili stalked down the hall in his direction.
"Oh, I didn't have to, now?" Naetili said. "Because I'm supposed to just lie low and not say anything about you trying to dye my wings orange?"
"Big deal! It's an improvement on their current color!"
"I quite like my wings as they are!"
"They're bright pink!"
Damon glanced around and leapt up, scrambling behind a casually-dressed boy and shoving him forward.
"There! You can't injure an innocent bystander!"
Naetili glanced briefly at Damon's live shield - a new student judging from his casual clothes and horrified expression.
"Stop hiding like a damn coward, Damon. Look, you've frightened the kid half to death!"
"Hey, back off," the boy said, pushing Damon's hands off of his shoulders. "I don't know what's going on here, but someone needs to explain those things to me." He gestured towards Naetili.
"See, even this guy thinks your wings are ridiculous," Damon said.
"You're being petty," Naetili snapped. "I apologized already! It was just a joke!"
"You called me bog-vermin! How many times do I have to tell you only kelpies live in bogs?"
"Aren't you supposed to be part kelpie anyway? Since when are you so sensitive about this."
"But I don't live in a bog, so it's a completely irrelevant statement."
"What were you trying to dye my wings for anyway?"
"It was just for fun, something I read in a book." Damon waved his hands before Naetili could deck him with another ball of bearing. "It's completely temporary. Look, they're already back to normal!"
Naetili glanced back at his wings, relieved to see they were their proper fuschia color. He noticed the boy Damon had harassed was now surrounded by a group of vampires pushing him against the wall.
"That kid must be new," Naetili said. "He's already gotten into a fight with Trey."
Damon glanced around the faery, his expression darkening.
"That arse. Hey, Trey!" The phooka raised his voice and began stalking towards the group. "Get your slimy hands off him!"
Trey turned towards them as they approached, his sallow face twisting into an ugly sneer.
"I didn't know the meat sack was yours, half-breed."
Damon snarled a curse and before Naetili could hold him back, the phooka had gathered magic in his hand and launched it at the vampire. Trey laughed and jerked aside, the bearing crashing into the wall above the boy. As he and Damon launched into a heated exchanged of insults, Naetili turned to check over the student. The boy, his race unclear, looked sick and pale, eyes staring past him. Naetili glanced over his shoulder, but saw nothing. He turned back, and the boy's eyes had rolled up and Naetili barely managed to grab him before he collapsed to the floor.
"Damon, you can finish you lover's spat with the blood-sucker later," Naetili snapped. "Help me with him, will you?"
Damon glanced back at him, surprised and confused at why the student was suddenly on the floor.
"Have fun with the blood-bag," Trey drawled and sauntered past them, groupies in tow. Damon crouched beside Naetili and glanced down at the boy, then back up at the faery.
"What happened to him?"
"I don't know. He collapsed. Help me get him to our room."
Damon obediently slung one of the young man's arms over his shoulder, Naetili gathering the other, and they staggered back to their room, dumping him on Damon's bed.
Naetili checked him over, but the boy looked healthy – not particularly dehydrated or exhausted – but no amount of poking or prodding would wake him.
"We'll let him wake up naturally," Naetili said.
"He's going to miss dinner if he keeps sleeping," Damon said.
"Then go fetch him some food."
"Why do I have to go?" Naetili looked at him pointedly and the phooka threw up his hands. "Alright, fine."
After Damon left the room and closed the door behind him, Naetili sighed, looking down at the sleeping boy's face. He was handsome, with auburn-brown hair and a square jaw. A celtic pendant hung from around his neck, the symbol old and somehow familiar. Now that he paid closer attention to the boy's smell, the subtlety of his features, Naetili understood. He was human.
"Welcome to Fernwood Academy, kid."
To be continued in: Fernwood Academy