Shadows & Lights
All Rights Reserved; This publication may not be reproduced in whole or in part, nor transmitted by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopy nor otherwise without the express consent of the Publisher.
Valiant Digital © 1995 in Association with Aberdare Multimedia © 2009
Copyright © 2006. Johanez Johnston
This First Edition Published in Canada in 2012 by Valiant Digital.
The author asserts intellectual property rights of all materials contained within.
My mind seemed to be lost within a dream of what could have been a future, but seemed to be shrouded with a familiarity that only a history could invoke. The 5th of November drew my mind into images of a long dead King, and the plot to assassinate him. But the real terror behind that date revolved around the Chamberlain’s office, and how false accusations had lead to both self and imposed exiles. The last three hundred years would soon be nothing but written pages as the methodical tapping of the falling rain against my window awoke me from a deep sleep.
“Only nine more days.” I thought to myself, as Annie gently knocked and opened my door. The previous week seemed to have glided past all of us in a blur.
“Hey, Narissa, You awake?” Annie asked quietly.
“Yes, I’m awake.” I replied. “Is Cathie still asleep?”
“You two can’t sleep either, huh?” Cathie answered.
“What time is it?” I asked, still a little tired.
“It’s just before 5:30.” Annie answered.
“I’m going for a run.” I responded. “You two better get dressed, if you’re interested in joining me.” My dressing table was empty and I fumbled in dresser drawers for exercise clothing, and got dressed. My wand bounced beside me, as I was busy tying my shoes when Annie and Cathie joined me. Together we were soon striking a quick pace along the drive leading off the estate grounds, as the morning sunrise would be at least an hour to break thru the clouds above us. Barely visible from the estate, we skirted the road as we headed towards a small hamlet. The first thing to meet our gaze was a modest Inn along with a post office. Next to it was a local Constable’s Office and another building that resembled a store. The numerous tire tracks and disheveled state of the building indicated it was either recently filled or emptied. I was more inclined to think it had been both.
“Now we know where everything came from.” I stated.
“You think they left anything behind?” Annie asked.
“Probably not,” I replied. “But might be worth a look after breakfast.”
“Well now.” Cathie mentioned. “Sounds like someone has her appetite back.”
“Starved.” I added. “We continued our run and returned to the estate, as I noticed several others partaking in a similar activity as our own. The communal showers welcomed us and as per my normal routine, I stepped into the shower fully clothed. I pondered what could possibly become a new routine with the estate now being our residence. As we exited the common area, I paused to wring out my wet clothes before climbing the spiral staircase to the floors above. I found my dressing table set with my school uniform as only Ferule could have done. I wasted no time in getting myself dressed and prepared for our excursion off the state grounds. Moments later I was descending the staircase in the servant’s passage with Annie and Cathie close behind me.
“Good Morning, Ferule!” I greeted Ferule as we entered from the servant’s passage into the kitchen.
“Good Morning.” Ferule responded. “I trust you three wish the usual?”
“Your compatriots are waiting for you to join them in the alcove.” Ferule responded as he slipped three plates laden with food towards each of us. “Your cutlery is already set at the table.”
We found Deanna, Nyssa, Rachel, Valerie, Vijay, Tessa, and Zoë were already seated. The only person missing was James, but he was probably having breakfast in the main hall with everyone else.
“Everyone feel like a walk this morning?” I asked as we took our seats.
“A day out would be excellent.” Deanna stated.
“Then a day out it is.” Vijay answered.
“Where we going?” Valerie asked.
“I think we have an old store in town that’s worth a look inside.” I stated.
“I can not agree more, ladies.” My uncle stated. “Karl could use your help today.”
“Do we have anything else on our agendas for today?” Nyssa asked.
“You all have an engagement at four o’clock sharp.” Uncle Vlad replied. “Don’t be late, ladies.”
“Well, that settles that.” Tessa mentioned. We made our plans for today and once our plates were empty, much to the chagrin of the staff, we deposited our dishes into the scullery and departed before being scolded. The sun had already broken thru the clouds and was trying to warm the air, but with the turning of the leaves and a brisk autumn wind, there was little doubt that the day would be much warmer than it was now.
“Good Morning, Lassies.” A gentleman greeted us from the front stoop of the Inn. “Nice to finally meet some of you.”
“Good Morning, Sir.” We all returned almost in unison.
“It’s nice to know Aberdare Manor is finally being occupied.” He commented. “My name is Vincent Boone.”
“Nice to meet you, Master Boone.” I replied. “I’m Narissa…”
“Yes, Miss Narissa, and Miss Annie, Miss Cathie, Miss Deanna, Miss Nyssa, Miss Rachel, Miss Valerie, Miss Vijay, Miss Tessa and Miss Zoë.” Master Boone interrupted. “Nice to know Aberdare Manor will once again be a Boarding School. I’m guessing your Professors will be arriving soon.”
“Yes, Sir.” I responded, although I suspected Master Boone was not who he appeared to be.
“Is there a book shop close by?” Annie boldly asked.
“As a mater of fact there is, ladies.” Master Boone answered. “Some fellow just moved into the old store next to the Constable’s Office.”
“We should introduce ourselves.” I responded. “Nice to have met you, Master Boone.” We scurried off before being detained further by Master Boone and arrived to find Karl laboring furiously inside the old store.
“Relocating closer to your favorite students?” I stated thru the open door of the old store.
“Oh, nice to see you ladies.” Karl stated without even looking away from his focus. We didn’t waste a moment and dived into cleaning the disaster that welcomed us, and by mid morning we had the floors, walls and lastly the windows in a close resemblance to Karl’s bookshop on Talbot Avenue. Karl bade us to take a breather as we finished hanging window skirts and blinds. Karl poured tea from a service set. As we lingered over tea, a large lorry arrived with several men and began unloading bookshelves. I overheard several comments from the men, and none of them were very flattering as they grunted under the heavy bookshelves they unloaded. Two men stayed behind when the lorry drove off as a second lorry arrived. Like a painter with a blank canvas, we directed the workmen to arrange the bookshelves so as to best utilize all the available floor space while still keeping a modest size reading area. I was totally surprised when the bookstands for the texts arrived with the remaining furniture. By lunchtime, all that was missing to make it look complete were books to line the shelves with. Finally the last lorry arrived, filled with boxes of books. We dived in and though they we heavy, we managed to unload the lorry in record time while the workmen instead chose to take their lunch. The now empty boxes and filled shelves greeted the workmen as Karl returned with two servers laden with lunch for the ten of us.
“I’d like to show you ladies my appreciation with lunch.” Karl announced as the two servers set down their heavy trays and departed.
“Thank you, Karl!” We all confessed. Karl departed as we dived into the large decanter of soup and the platter of sandwiches. By the time Karl returned we had the platters cleared and set beside the front door.
“We need to be getting back.” I mentioned. “Can we drop these platters off at the Inn on our way back?”
“Please, and thank you for your help today.” Karl returned. “And on your way back, you can leave this for Master Boone.”
“Oh?” Annie quipped taking a letter from Karl.
“He likes to be kept abreast of what goes on.” Karl returned.
“We’ll let him know your teapot is in need of some polite company.” Annie added as we left the bookshop. Our return trip to the estate we briefly paused at Master Boone’s residence.
“Nice to see you ladies again.” Master Boone responded. “I shall have to see if he has anything I might need.” Master Boone replied and Annie handed him the letter from Karl. “Good day, ladies.”
I thought it was a little odd that Master Boone did not open the letter from Karl, but instead chose to quickly depart his residence. Instead of dwelling on the strange response, we made our way back to the estate. As we approached the estate entrance, a car drove past us. By the time we’d made it up to the front doors, the waiting car was only now driving off.
“Looks like we have someone else staying.” I mentioned.
“You are correct, ladies.” I heard a voice announce. “You may bring my luggage inside.”
“I don’t mean to sound too presumptuous, but…” I responded to the demand. “Here at Aberdare Manor, we ask.”
“You are to do as you are told.” Was Master Boone’s only reply. “I am not in the habit of having students dictate to me.”
“While I may be a student. I am the mistress of this manor.” I sternly replied. “We ask, therefore I suggest you get used to it.” I firmly stood my ground and defiantly faced the Master Boone.
“You position here is of no consequence, and unless I receive instruction from the Lord of this Manor, you shall do as you have been instructed.” Master Boone stated.
“Ferule!” I demanded. Now very unhappy by having to let Aberdare Manor’s newest resident know where his place was. Everyone else nervously watched as I defied his demands. Ferule arrived moments later.
“Ah, Master Ferule. Please inform these ladies who I am, and why I am here.” Master Boone stated.
“Most certainly, Professor.” Ferule replied. “May I introduce you to the Mistress of Aberdare Manor. Lady Narissa Beatitas Laurifer DeWitte, this is Professor Boone.” I noticed Professor Boone’s posture was unchanged and regarded the ten of us as nothing more than students who openly defied him.
“Your accommodations are in the east wing, Professor.” I responded with a proper courtesy. “Dinner is served at seven sharp. Please be dressed.”
Together we quickly filed past Professor Boone. I made a mental note to be wary of him until we learned more, though I suspected the envelope Karl had us drop off was a confirmation letter. I also noted his luggage remained where the driver who brought him to the estate had deposited them. We quickly filed upstairs and disappeared into our suite.
“I know he’s a professor, but how absolutely rude after our greetings earlier!” I exclaimed.
“I have to agree.” Zoë answered. “But we could see what he’s up to.”
“Anyone up for a quick trip thru the servant’s passages?” Tessa asked.
“That would not be wise, Mistress.” Alvida mentioned as she emerged from the corridor and into view.
“Why is that, Professor?” I asked.
“As Governess of the Students, it is my task to see to it, that he has little contact with you outside of classes.” Alvida responded. “So please do not make my task any more difficult by antagonizing the man.”
“And does our four o’clock appointment today, have anything to do with him?” Valerie asked.
“It unfortunately does, Mistress.” Alvida responded. “Please be ready for class. I will escort you to the east wing.”
“Yes, Professor.” We all responded. Alvida was truly earning a place very close to me as her open honesty and frank responses showed she cared. As it passed the bottom of the hour, Alvida appeared with ten leashes and a hatchling attached to each of them.
“Today’s lesson will be basic training for your Familiars.” Alvida announced. “Professor Boone’s purpose is to teach you how to effectively communicate. Please be mindful of his purpose.”
“Yes, Professor.” We all responded.
“As this is a lesson, will we be required to give up our wands?” I politely asked.
“As Professor Boone has not made that specific request, I don’t see why you should.” Alvida responded. “But keep in mind you do know the rules set down for formal instruction.”
“Then it’s best we show him that while we are students, we have higher standards than he is accustomed to.” I added in return.
“It is time, ladies.” Alvida announced as the clock gently chimed the quarter hour. We set off towards the east wing in an orderly fashion with Alvida leading. We arrived at a large room with a vaulted ceiling, and noticed the rack mounted to the wall, just inside the doorway. We deposited our wands, and found ourselves each a seat. The room had been arranged with our seats in a semi circle with a lone podium in the centre. We waited for the hour to chime and rose from our seats and waited. Professor Boone was five minutes late.
“Good afternoon, Ladies.” Professor Boone announced as she entered. “Please take your seats.” I remained standing.
“Professor.” I announced. “It is customary for a teacher to not keep their students waiting.”
“Miss Narissa…” Professor Boone began and it appeared he had attempted to cast a silencing binding that failed miserably.
“And it does not earn a Professor the respect of their students.” I finished. My statement made an impact upon him, and from my observation, his failed binding made him very wary of me.
“Miss Narissa.” He began once again. “I was unavoidably detained. Please take your seat and we will begin.”
“ Communicating effectively with your Familiar is a task that begins soon after you’ve been introduced to each other…” Professor Boone’s lesson was perhaps the most boring lesson I’ve ever had the displeasure to date. The hatchling near my feet not only responded to my voice, but also received my projections with ease.
“And have any of you chosen a name for your hatchling?” Professor Boone asked. The hatchlings had still not matured enough to either accept a name, or name themselves.
“Excuse me, Professor.” I asked.
“Yes, Miss Narissa.” Professor Boone responded.
“I know it may be several years before these hatchlings are old enough to take a rider, but when is it customary to teach them to accept a bridle or even a halter?” I asked.
“An excellent question.” Professor Boone responded. “At this stage in their development, a collar is the only accepted accoutrement.”
“Thank you, Professor.” I responded, but quickly bit my tongue to respond with anything further.
“If there are no further questions, Class is dismissed.” Professor Boone announced. The class lasted less than the allocated period and I also noted Professor Boone exited the classroom before any of us had the opportunity to rise, as is customary when a teacher enters or exits a classroom.
In an orderly fashion, we exited in single file and retrieved our wands as we passed the door. As I was the last to leave, I extinguished the lamps and closed the door behind me. As though following my lead, everyone dropped the leashes and I noted my hatchling pickup the end of the leash. We continued walking in single file, and each of our hatchlings stayed close to each of us. We sedately made our way to our own lodgings to prepare for dinner. As we rounded the corner into the main hallway, we found Alvida being berated by Professor Boone.
“As Governess it is your responsibility to discipline the students!” We overheard Professor Boone state very loudly, as we quickly shunted ourselves into the nearby servant’s passage, and out of view.
“Professor Boone.” We overheard Alvida calmly respond. “We can discuss your views on discipline at another time.”
“How dare you dismiss me as though…” We heard Professor Boone’s voice trail off. We paused briefly to find Alvida was close behind us.
“Ah, Miss Narissa.” Alvida calmly stated. “A word in your quarters, if you please.”
“Of course, Professor.” I answered. We soon emerged from the servant’s passage into our suite. Our hatchlings scurried into the cloaks we had left for them on the floor and promptly went to sleep.
“Professor Boone wishes to lodge a formal complaint of your behavior in his class.” Alvida stated.
“I have a really silly question…” I began.
“This is serious, Miss Narissa.” Alvida interrupted. “Professor Boone has been sent from the Ministry of Education, and unless you apologize, he will be filing an official complaint against you with the Counsel.”
“Sorry, but I have done nothing that would warrant an apology.” I responded. “The only thing I did was to point out to Professor Boone that students must not be kept waiting. I also dispersed his feeble attempt at a silencing he tried to bind on me.”
“I see.” Alvida acknowledged. My statement seemed to have Alvida thinking intently.
“I will apologize to Professor Boone, but only as a means to find out why he is here.” I stated.
“An excellent idea, Miss Narissa.” Alvida concluded. “I believe you will find Professor Boone in his quarters.”
“I will meet him outside his quarters before dinner.” I responded. Alvida gave me a wink before she exited our suite, and I quickly dressed for dinner. Annie, Cathie and I chose to wear our matching black outfits with striped tights. My wand trailed behind me as I exited the suite and bounced on my shoulder before finding the hidden pocket. I stood outside Professor Boone’s quarters for a considerable amount of time. His tardiness was becoming a habit.
“Good evening, Professor.” I greeted Professor Boone.
“Good evening, Miss Narissa.” Professor Boone responded.
“Walk with me, Professor.” I calmly asked.
“I’m sorry, Miss Narissa. I have an appointment before dinner.” Professor Boone replied.
“Walk with me Professor.” I now stated calmly. “I believe we have gotten off on the wrong foot with one another.”
“Miss Narissa. I do have a prior appointment.” Professor Boone attempted to protest.
“As Mistress of Aberdare Manor, I am not in the habit of being told someone is too busy to walk with me to dinner.” I calmly spoke. “As a resident under this roof, there are certain obligations that are expected and assured in return.”
“Miss Narissa, I have an appointment I have to keep.” Professor Boone interrupted.
“Professor Boone, unless you are meeting with the Master of this Manor, there is nothing more important than our present conversation.” I calmly spoke. “You have been here barely four hours and have not only shown disrespect to your position, but have attempted to silence me once already. Please do not insult me further.”
“I…” Professor Boone began, but was instantly silenced. I sensed the binding cast upon him and knew the ghosts now bound to the estate were responsible.
“Regrettably, your behavior has evoked the ghosts who dwell within the confines of these walls to impose their discretion.” I calmly continued speaking. “You will find the more you try to fight their evocations, the more they will impose themselves upon you. Desist and you will be released.” I sensed Professor Boone’s cease his struggling against the wills of the spirits surrounding him.
“I offer you my apology for not having you properly acquainted with us, before having you scheduled to be teaching.” I spoke.
“I hope you found my lesson intriguing.” Professor Boone asked.
“I found the subject matter tedious, but your method of instruction is quite distinctive.” I responded.
“I have been instructing students on how to care for their familiars for a long time, Miss Narissa.” Professor Boone added. “I presume your last familiar was a mature dragon.”
“You are not completely correct, Professor.” I responded. “He was four hundred years old.” The look of complete disbelief that registered on Professor Boone’s face was nothing less than priceless. “And he was not my familiar. He was my teacher and my companion.”
“I sense you are a very powerful witch, Miss Narissa.” Professor Boone stated.
“Indeed, Professor.” I calmly spoke as we now approached the dining hall. “ I am the twenty-seventh of my line.”
“Professor Montay was your Tutor?” Professor Boone asked.
“Yes, she was.” I replied. “I do not remember seeing you at her chronicles.”
“I was unavoidably delayed in arriving.” Professor Boone responded. “I would have very much liked to have been there.”
“You knew Professor Montay?” I asked politely.
“Miss Narissa, everyone who is a member of the family knows who Professor Montay was.” Professor Boone answered.
“Then you already know the policies set down by our late Congressus.” I stated.
“Yes, Miss Narissa.” Professor Boone conceded.
“The Domus will be arriving tomorrow to discuss nominations for Congressus.” I calmly spoke. “We can discuss this further following dinner, Professor.” Together we entered the dining hall and Professor Boone found a seat next to Alvida. I found a seat with Annie and Cathie. The head table was conspicuously vacant until Uncle Vlad arrived and sat in the middle of the head table. Along with him were several older gentlemen. Dinner was served as soon as the head table was fully occupied.
“How was your conversation with Professor Boone?” Cathie whispered to me.
“I think Professor Boone has a new understanding of how things work around here.” I responded.
“Do either of you know who is seated at the head table tonight?” Annie whispered.
“I recognize the Superintendent of Schools, but I don’t think we’ll have to wait long to find out who the others are.” I answered. As desert was being served, Uncle Vlad rose and began introducing the men seated with him at the head table. They included the Minister of Education, the Superintendent of Schools and several members of the Board of Governors.
“I have the pleasure of announcing that Aberdare Manor is being certified as a Boarding School.” Uncle Vlad announced. “Following the Sabbat, Aberdare Manor will become the only certified school that is not controlled by the Chamberlain’s Office, or the Council.”
The applause that immediately followed was almost deafening. The idea of the estate being a boarding school was obviously meant to prevent the Chamberlain from expropriating the estate for unpaid taxes. It would be interesting to know who would be the headmaster, but I suspected it could be our existing house leaders. It was logical to conclude that their experience would be invaluable as teachers. The applause continued until my uncle raised his hands for silence.
“It seems the students we have present are eager to meet their teachers.” Uncle Vlad concluded. “But not to worry, the Superintendent has assured me that you will all be meeting them soon.”
With the announcements now over, and dinner concluded, we escaped to the library. Together with Annie and Cathie, we reviewed several old texts. Professor Boone entered the library and did not immediately notice us sequestered above in the gallery.
“Can I help you, Professor?” I asked as I now descended the spiral stairs from the gallery.
“I was told by Master Griffin this library has an extensive collection of texts pertaining to History.” Professor Boone replied.
“Yes, Professor.” I answered. “The texts are sorted alphabetically.” I guided Professor Boone thru several areas.
“This will be sufficient, Miss Narissa.” Professor Boone replied as he grabbed a volume from one of the shelves and quickly sat in one of the wing back chairs and began leafing thru the book he had taken off the shelf. I noted the particular section he had drawn the text from was exclusively reserved for history of magic. The majority of these texts were translations or copies of the originals, as the entire library had been destroyed in the fire that destroyed the original estate. Just then a courier arrived with a large packet that he promptly signed for and exited the library. As Professor Boone had departed so quickly that the courier as unable to give him a copy of the receipt for his delivery. He did however leave it behind on the table next to where Professor Boone had been seated. I suspiciously eyed the receipt.
“That was rather curt.” Annie mentioned.
“Take a look at this.” I calmly stated, as I noticed it was an official document receipt from the Chancellery Repository. “Professor Boone signed for copies of title deeds for property owned by the family.”
“What does he need with those?” Cathie stated.
“Perhaps I can assist you with that thought.” Uncle Vlad remarked. “Professor Boone is acting on my instructions. Now before you ask any questions, I know he is a difficult man to deal with, but his results speak for themselves. Professor Boone has been hired to be the Vice-Principal. His primary task is more administrative than actual teaching, and it will not be easy for him as his abilities in the craft are almost non-existent.”
“That explains a lot.” I concluded. “He tried to cast a binding that failed miserably.”
“I shall have a word with him, but please refrain from antagonizing him.” My uncle replied. “I’ve given him some responsibility that is well suited to his abilities.”
“Ok. We promise.” I responded while winking at both Annie and Cathie. The clock gently chimed the hour and it was time to turn in for the evening. Together we retired to our suite.
I had changed into pajamas, and was just about to climb into bed, when Alvida rushed into my bedroom.
“I apologize for the intrusion, Mistress.” Alvida spoke. “I noticed Professor Boone has left the estate grounds. I know Master Griffin has empowered him with certain duties, but it seemed irregular given the hour.”
“Thank you, Professor.” I answered. Alvida disappeared into the servant’s passage as I donned a robe and grabbed my besom. Moments later I was airborne and easily found Professor Boone as I circled overhead. I lost sight of Professor Boone as he entered the foyer of the Inn. I quickly descended onto the roof and dismounted. I hid my besom and found the roof door unlocked. I found the stairwell deserted save the sound of footsteps trailing off below. I quietly followed the sound and soon found myself in the Inn’s basement. The sound of footsteps halted and I heard the sound of a heavy door on creaking hinges being opened. Moments later I stumbled upon an open iron door and the sound of voices from inside.
“No one suspects.” I distinctly heard Professor Boone’s voice.
“And you’re sure this passage leads directly into the catacombs under the estate?” I heard a woman’s voice.
“Yes, the maps show this passage exits directly into the third level of the catacombs.” Professor Boone replied. “But it will take some time to locate the exit as it was sealed years ago.” I heard footsteps approaching and quickly hid in the shadows of the passage outside the open doorway. It appeared the men who approached were carrying a heavy wooden crate.
“Ah, they’re finally here.” The woman’s voice announced. “Make sure they are properly stored and ready for use when they’re called for.”
“Master Kovar said there are twenty to a crate.” One of the men stated.
“Just make sure you have them all moved before morning.” Professor Boone stated angrily. “The young Master Brule has ordered everything moved and made ready for use.”
“Yes, we know.” The woman’s voice replied. “He is acting on her orders, but has not told anyone what it is all for.” I couldn’t help myself any longer, as it was apparent everyone was carrying out the preparations for the plan I had asked James to prepare during the first week of school.
“Perhaps I can offer you the information you are seeking, but are you ready for the price that information will cost?” I politely, but commandingly asked as I stepped into the open doorway.
“Welcome, Miss Narissa.” Professor Boone announced. “I did not expect to find you here at this late hour.”
“My Uncle did say he had given you a task that best suited your abilities.” I concluded.
“These old passages were originally built as storage facilities.” Professor Boone mentioned. “But finding the entrances has been very difficult.”
“They were cleverly disguised.” I added.
“Yes, they are, Mistress.” The woman replied.
“Return to you duties.” I spoke. “Professor, walk with me.” I noticed Professor Boone’s previous demeanor had dropped, and he was actually quite a pleasant man.
“You may need to keep up your character performance when you give your next lesson.” I concluded. “And your compatriots will not remember I was here.”
“That is very strong magic, Miss Narissa.” Professor Boone replied.
“It is indeed.” I responded. “But not of my doing. The only thing I will take the responsibility for is making a suggestion to the spirits that protect and serve the Family.”
“And once it becomes common knowledge, the binding will be lifted?” Professor Boone asked.
“Of course, unless the releasing of the binding will cause harm to the person it has been cast upon.” I added.
“So, may I conclude you were never here?” Professor Boone asked.
“I don’t think that will need to be evoked, do you?” I asked politely.
“That may impair my abilities.” Professor Boone replied.
“I have to agree, Professor.” I added. “I will leave you to your task.”
“Goodnight Miss Narissa.” Professor Boone stated. I did not tarry long and departed. After returning to the estate, I quickly turned in for the night.
The sun had yet to rise when I woke up and the clock on the wall had yet to chime 6:00. The last few days were more about establishing a routine than preparing for the Sabbat. After getting dressed in my exercise clothes, I sat at my desk in the sitting room twirling my wand as I waited for Annie and Cathie to wake up.
“Hey, Narissa.” Cathie greeted me.
“Morning, Cathie. Ready for a run?” I asked. Over the last several days, the estate became the new home of the upper class students of Linwood, in addition to Deer Lodge students, and several others who were former students of other schools. The sound of our running feet in the morning was now part of our normal routine.
“Hey, you two!” Annie greeted us. “Alvida told us not to be late this morning.” With Annie’s comment, I stood and my wand scuttled up my arm before rounding my back and finding the hidden pocket.
We found a large number of students waiting for us in the main foyer as we arrived and began to lead everyone in a pre-exercise warm-up. As we finished our warm-up, Alvida arrived and had us all quickly form up. We exited the main hall thru a side entrance and into the crisp morning air as we set a modest pace. Our run was the reverse route taken by the boys under Professor Boone’s lead, and we passed them near the mid point. Immediately following exercise, the communal showers were a hive of activity as each of us had just enough time to get changed into robes and meet in the dining hall.
The new robes we now wore, were the traditional clothing worn by students, but were so outdated that we often scuttled about mimicking penguins. Our book bags while convenient, were somewhat clumsy, in addition to the hideous shoes that seemed to match them. This was the only clothing we were permitted to wear during the day. During the evening, our old Linwood uniforms were the prime choice, as though voluntarily segregating us. The population of Aberdare Manor had grown substantially with the ratios between male and female students were almost equal. The Superintendent and his entourage were present each morning with their clipboards. This morning, the Superintendent interrupted breakfast.
“Good Morning Students.” The Superintendent greeted us, as his staff seemed to be hovering with their clipboards. “This morning it is my duty to oversee you select candidates for a Student Council.”
“Excuse me, Sir.” One of my junior classmates interrupted. “We won’t be needing to do that, as we already have a Head Boy and Girl. We also have Class Leaders appointed.”
“We do need to document your Student Council Elections for the School’s Advisory Board.” The Superintendent stated.
“The Board of Governors has already approved the Student Council and the Advisors.” I heard Alvida’s voice announce. “If you need to know their names, I ask everyone to rise and state your names for the Superintendent, starting with Miss Narissa.”
“Narissa DeWitte, Head Girl.” I stood and stated.
“Nathaniel Van Mussen, Head Boy.” Nathan stated.
“Catherine Van Swieten, Class Leader.” Cathie stated.
“James Brule, Class Leader.” James stated.
“Annette DeWitte, Class Leader.” Annie stated.
“William Maurer, Class Leader.” Bill stated.
“Valerie Meyer, Class Leader.” Valerie stated.
“Fred Kuznetsov, Class Leader.” Fred stated.
“Rachel Meyer, Class Leader.” Rachel stated.
“Robert Wechsler, Class Leader.” Robert stated.
“Deanna Bachmeier, Class Leader.” Deanna stated.
“Johan Kladivo, Class Leader.” Johan stated.
“Nyssa Kuznetsov, Class Leader.” Nyssa stated.
“David Hofmeister, Class Leader.” David stated.
“Tessa Von Braun, Class Leader.” Tessa stated.
“Gary Brandt, Class Leader.” Gary stated.
“Vijay Cerny, Class Leader.” Vijay stated.
“Kevin Couture, Class Leader.” Kevin stated.
“Zoë Schwarz, Class Leader.” Zoë stated.
“Victor Fuchs, Class Leader.” Victor finished, followed by everyone except myself taking our seats.
“Everyone who concurs say ‘aye’.” I asked. The ‘ayes’ rang out across the dining hall. “Is this acceptable, Superintendent?”
“Well done.” The Superintendent praised, as the scribing of his assistants on their clipboards ceased.
“So, what else can we be doing for you, Superintendent?” I asked politely.
“Well, since this is already done, and your fellow students have all concurred, I give you back to your Governess.” The Superintendent stated as he proceeded out of the dining hall.
The Domus who comprised the Advisory Board had quickly arranged class schedules and formal lesson plans in the last week, and starting today we would be attending formal classes. Becoming a private boarding school had been a task my Great Uncle Vlad had taken the lead to ensure its smooth transition as he also headed the Board of Governors.
Alvida was busy passing out class schedules as we continued to linger over breakfast. I looked around the dining hall and estimated the student body approaches four hundred students. By also estimating an average class size of twenty students, Aberdare Manor would be needing the services of at least twenty teachers. Given the core subjects of Mathematics, Physics, Chemistry, History, Geography, and Language studies, in addition to Fitness, Economics, and Astronomy, everyone had been given what Ferule likes to call Station Jobs.
Ferule’s sense of humor is apparent as these station jobs included everything from cleaning windows to cleaning the stables. These Station Jobs were meant to relieve some of the staff and also give responsibilities and obligations to all of us. The Station Jobs were scheduled to rotate on a weekly basis, though I also suspected the dirtiest and least desired Station Jobs would be used as deterrents to disruptive behavior. Being the first week, Annie, Cathie and I all drew the stables.
“At least the stables are outside.” Annie quipped. I was definitely not looking forward to cleaning out the stalls, but it could have been worse, although the only station job that came to mind that could be worse, would have to be cleaning the musty passages of the catacombs which incidentally are not on the list of station jobs.
“Looks like we have Language Studies, History and Chemistry this morning. Cathie added.
“And Economics and Mathematics this afternoon.” I giggled. The schedules had us with five, fifty-minute periods everyday with a sixth period twice a week. In total, the schedule listed thirty-two classes on a rotating six-day schedule. The sixth class was astronomy and was scheduled for later in the evening.
“At least we won’t be bored with the same classes everyday.” Cathie giggle along with Annie, as we checked to see how the other days of our schedule was.
“Classes begin in ten minutes. I suggest you be on time.” Alvida announced. Each of us quickly gathered our breakfast dishes and headed for the scullery before exiting the dining hall and using our time to find our classroom. Our Professors had obviously been chosen long before the schedules had been passed out to us. There were a few familiar faces amongst our Professors, but a few more I did not recognize at all. Language studies was our first class and our Professor introduced herself once we had all been seated.
“My name is Professor Riedesel. I will be teaching you Latin. Your classes will be split with Professor Colavincenzo teaching you French and Professor Hanes teaching you English. You will have two classes with each of us. Late assignments will not be accepted.” Professor Riedesel stated, and she passed out a seating chart and bade us to fill in our names in the appropriate spaces as she continued her lesson. Once the seating chart had been completed, the last student to write their name passed the seating chart to Professor Riedesel. After quickly scanning the seating chart she makes mental notes of each of our names.
The remainder of the morning passed quickly and we soon found lunch welcoming us. Our Professors took their lunches separately from us. The kitchen’s serving area had been arranged to maximize serving as many of us as possible in the shortest amount of time with two lines for hot entrées, two more for soup and sandwiches, with a fifth line for cold cut and salad plates. I was truly amazed how quickly everything seemed to flow with so many of us to serve.
Following lunch we had some spare time before the start of afternoon classes, so it was the perfect time to deal with several student complaints, mostly from those who felt the Station Jobs were beneath them. The complaints were actually quite comical when they were told they could switch with any of us. Immediately following the suggestion, the students who were complaining decided their Station Job assignments were perfectly suited to them.
After afternoon classes, Annie Cathie and I changed into dungarees, plaid shirts and high boots before reporting to the Stable Master for our Station Jobs. Following a very brief instruction on cleaning the stalls, we dived into our task and had it completed in less than the hour and a half that had been allocated. After the Stable Master had made a cursory inspection, we exited thru the servant’s passages and quickly showered. We decided to take the time we had left over for some extra study at Karl’s bookshop and after raiding our wardrobes for comfortable clothing we walked the short distance into town. Karl greeted us with a fresh pot of tea and I noticed he was examining a set of maps of the estate.
“This is interesting.” I mentioned as Cathie and Annie now examined the maps and floor plans with me.
“What-cha-find?” Annie quipped.
“These floor plans of the catacombs are actually copies.” Cathie stated. “But there are references to some sort of numbering system.”
“You’re right.” I concurred. “Almost like a combination.”
“By Jove, I think we’ve got it.” Annie quipped.
“Notice how the adjoining rooms are not consecutively numbered?” I asked. “And how there are pairs of doors numbered together that don’t necessarily belong together?”
“Like each level of the catacombs are combination locks?” Cathie deduced. Together we deciphered the pattern of the doors and found what appeared to be an ingenious method of concealing a hidden doorway or passage.
“I have been trying to decipher those plans all day and you ladies solve the riddle of them in just a few minutes.” Karl stated.
“You two thinking what I’m thinking?” I stated.
“Like we need to explore this passage before dinner?” Annie quipped, pointing to a passage that appeared to terminate directly under the bookshop.
“I have been trying to locate the entrance to that passage all day.” Karl remarked.
“That’s because this passage terminates under the Inn, not here.” I stated.
“And just how do you know this, Narissa?” Cathie mentioned.
“Oh, remember me asking James to prepare some plans for me?” I giggled.
“Yes, we remember.” Annie quipped.
“The besoms are stored in that passage now.” I answered.
“Of course!” Karl exclaimed quietly. “I’ve been trying to locate the entrance to that passage, thinking the maps were drawn to scale.”
“There’s a heavy iron door in the basement of the Inn.” I stated. “The other end needs to be unlocked from inside the catacombs.”
“You ladies had best leave the discovery of the exit into the catacombs for another time.” Karl remarked while pointing to his grandfather clock dominating the reading room. “You all need to be getting dressed for dinner soon.”
“You’re right.” I noted, as the clock would soon be chiming the bottom of the hour before dinner. “Could you talk to Uncle Vlad about giving us access to the catacombs?”
“I can, but the catacombs are not a place for students.” Karl replied.
“I think we’ve earned our chance to navigate the catacombs.” I stated. “Otherwise everything that stands on top of the catacombs would still be ruins.”
“A very persuasive argument. Your Uncle just may be convinced.” Karl answered, as he rolled the plans and maps into a tube for us to carry with us.
“See you after dinner!” The three of us sang as we exited the bookshop and headed back to the estate. Some of the other students were just finishing their Station Jobs as we returned, and by their reactions they seemed to think we had the better deal. Small disgusting job, versus the menial jobs they had been assigned. We quickly alighted the stairs to the upper foyer and into our suite where we all found Ferule has set out our formal robes to be worn to dinner.
After several tedious moments and curses under my breath I had managed to get dressed and even tie my boots without using my wand before the clock chimes began announcing our call to dinner. Together we arrived as the other class leaders arrived. Ferule had us wait in a small alcove adjacent to the dining hall while everyone else was ushered in. We could easily hear the bustle of conversation while we waited. After everyone had been seated, Ferule re-entered the alcove and led us into the dining hall. All eyes were upon us as we strode the distance from the doorway to our seats. We were seated at the head table this evening, and our Professors were also in attendance. Dinner proceeded normally until just before desert a messenger was escorted into the dining hall.
“Narissa DeWitte.” The messenger stated. “The Governing Council has sent you a message.”
“Please proceed.” I stood and spoke. The messenger fumbled in his satchel and produced a rolled parchment with the Council’s seal affixed.
“In accordance with the Vorfarecht, The Council has denied your request for your Family’s seat on the Council. The Council has also issued a Warrant for your Arrest.” The messenger spoke aloud while handing the parchment to Ferule who had escorted the messenger into the dining hall.
“What conditions did the council place upon the Warrant for my Arrest?” I demanded.
“The Council has granted you until after the Sabbat to surrender yourself and answer to charges of Sedition.” The messenger replied.
“Thank you.” I replied, dismissing the messenger.
“Mistress, my wand is yours.” The messenger proudly announced. It was then I noticed the sabre he carried, as a Messenger of the Council.
“Draw your sabre.” I commanded to the messenger. He did as I had commanded, and upon drawing the blade from its scabbard the blade shone brightly against the gaslights.
”You do not need to offer me your wand, when you carry a blade of the Black House.” I responded as I walked calmly within striking distance of the messenger. “Please, tell me your name.”
“Alexander Kuznetsov, Mistress.” The messenger replied. “This Sabre has always served the Family.”
“Read the date on the blade, Master Kuznetsov.” I asked.
“The date, Mistress?” Alexander asked. “There is only an artisans mark on this blade.” With a swirl of my wand, directly beneath the artisans mark appeared the roman numerals MDCV
“The year 1605 dates that blade as having been forged by our ancestor Sir William DeWitte and was a gift from Lady Narrisa to her husband Etienne Brule on the occasion of their wedding by the Jesuit Priest Nicholas Aubry in 1611.” I stated.
“My wand is yours to command, Mistress.” Alexander replied.
“Having you return a blade of the Black House is more than sufficient an oath of allegiance.” I spoke. “Welcome, Master Kuznetsov.”
“Thank you, Mistress.” Alexander proudly replied.
“Lodgings will be made available for you under this roof, Master Kuznetsov.” I quietly commanded. Ferule led Alexander from the dining hall.
With dinner now almost over, I broke the seal on the parchments handed to me from Ferule and read them. The Answer from the Council was clear and the Warrant for my Arrest was even clearer.
“That’s a complete outrage!” Annie stated.
“I have to agree.” Cathie added. “What’s next?”
“I will personally deliver an answer to the Council immediately following the Sabbat.” I mentioned. “Have everyone meet me in the Library.”
I quickly found Uncle Vlad enjoying a glass of sherry and his pipe in his study and after a few short minutes he conceded to let James and Professor Boone have access into the catacombs. I found everyone in the Library as I had asked.
“Good, everyone is here.” I stated as I closed the Library door. “Tomorrow night is the Sabbat, and as we all know it is the single most important celebration of the year.”
“Yes, Narissa.” Zoë mentioned. “We know that, but what are you planning?”
“Immediately following the formal ceremonies, we will all fly to the Capital and send a message to the Chamberlain and the Council.” I stated. I spent the next few minutes assigning duties to everyone and James produced the flight plans he had prepared. James spent the better part of the hour briefing everyone on the plans, and the required logistics.
“Ok.” I asked. “Everyone clear on what we need to do tomorrow night?” The only response was silence, but approving looks from everyone. “Until tomorrow night.”
“James, meet with Professor Boone and take this with you.” I whispered and handed James the maps of the catacombs with my hand written notes on them. We retired to our suite to find Ferule waiting patiently.
“Master James will be needing the assistance of the three of you in the catacombs if he is to succeed with the task you gave to him.” Ferule Mentioned. “And Miss Alvida is waiting below for you.”
“Yes Ferule.” We responded and after changing into much more appropriate clothing we navigated the servant’s passage to meet with Alvida.
“Quickly.” Alvida stated. “Follow me.” Alvida descended several flights of stairs and corridors until finally we caught up with Professor Boone and James.
“These maps make no sense at all.” James replied in frustration.
“As I mentioned to Professor Boone. These maps are not drawn to scale.” I stated. “You have to look at the corridor and the door numbers. See?”
“I see it now.” James finally deduced. “The doorway we need to find is located somewhere along this wall.”
“And these numbers here must mean some sort of combination to open the doorway.” Cathie added.
“Everything we need for tomorrow night is here. We just need to find the entrance.” Professor Boone stated.
“Why can’t we just move it all here?” Annie mentioned.
“The items must not be seen entering the estate.” Alvida answered. “Lest the Chamberlain’s spies see it.”
“So all we need to do is figure out this combination and open the passage.” James concluded.
“I am so stupid.” I finally stated. “Level three, door number seven. Don’t you see it? Annie, Cathie, wands!”
“Ostendo!” we commanded together. The outline of a door appeared sunken into the wall.
“Ostium-aperio-obfirmo!” We chanted together striking the door thrice with our wands and the door slowly shrank into the wall and opened the passageway.”
“It is done.” I stated “We can have everything moved into the cellar, and be made ready for tomorrow night.”
Annie, Cathie and I left Professor Boone and James, and with Alvida’s assistance we found ourselves return to the servant’s passage. Once back inside our suite, I noted the wall that seemed to be a little off.
“Let’s try something.” I mentioned. “Just like we did with the door in the catacombs.”
“Ostendo!” We chanted together, and struck the wall thrice.
“Ostium-aperio-obfirmo!” Together we witnessed an opening in the wall reveal a hidden closet. Inside were three sets of robes, and a hand written note that bore no seal, or mark indicating who might have written it.
Lovingly stored for three.
The Oraculum is within your grasp.
“Well, looks like we have robes to wear tomorrow night. I looked at the formal robes lying on my dressing table, and how they paled in comparison to the robes neatly stored within the hidden closet. In the dim light, the robes seemed to reflect light like prisms. The primary colors of red, yellow and blue with their intermediaries of orange, green and violet intermixed. Brown and black appeared last, as though opposite of the brilliant white material the light was reflected from. They were the most brilliant white and made of the finest possible fabric I could have ever imagined. The form fitting corset style vest and loose fitting leggings with a high collar cloak seemed to beg to each of us to remove them from their hiding place. Our Family coat of arms embroidered in gold thread upon the right breast of the cloaks was the only decoration. It seemed the only thing left to do was to wait for the celebrations of the Sabbat to begin.