Melise swore silently as she pulled her travel bag up the stairs. What idiot had thought of the idea a school needs a widespread staircase in the front of the school's courtyard? She cursed again as she climbed another step. Each step on its own wasn’t high. Maybe the combined width of two of her fingers. Instead, they were wide and the whole staircase spread out like a giant courtyard of its own.
As much as Melise was annoyed with the staircase, it was just the sacrificial lamb that garnered the dubious honor to be the stand in for the real targets of her anger.
She climbed the last steps and it came into view. The royal school. The place where everyone wanted to be. Princes and princesses. Sons and daughters of every rung of the aristocratic ladder. Children of high merchants or wealthy mages. Everyone save for one. Melise would like nothing more to turn around and storm off. The question was to what? Her mother had sacrificed everything to get her here. Her wealth, dubious fame, and legacy. More so she had sacrificed Melise legacy as well. Snuffed its flame before it could blossom.
Her mother wanted her to have a good life. The right life. Not the shunned one she had. It left her here. The one place she didn’t want to be. Grumbling and cursing she started to move again.
First was the lower reception area. The one for not high borns. She was shown by a servant to her quarters. A small room in a dorm favored by mages or mages to be. How ironic. The one discipline she was interested in was the one she had already learned. On top, it wouldn’t be taught here. Not in a million years. Even some aspects of necromancy were taught here. Not hers. It was shunned like the mages that wield it. But in secret. Oh, how they loved it. Everyone with money came soon or later. Not that they would admit it.
A gentle knock announced that she had a visitor. On her bidding, a servant came in. “The dean would like to see you. Now.”
She might have felt threatened if it wasn’t for the fact that she knew it would happen. Part of the deal her mother made to get her in. It looked like her unpacking had to wait. She grabbed her most dear possession, her private lexicon, and headed out.
She followed the servant to the main building. A monstrosity that could be as well a castle. Dozens of floors, stairs, and hallways. It appeared as if the servant led her through each and every one of them.
She arrived finally before the dean’s office. Just in time to wait for three hours. ‘Now!’ must be a relative term around here.
When she was led in she nearly overlooked the dean. Behind a huge and opulent decorated desk perched a slim looking man. His haggard figure had all the signs she expected. Arrogant and snobbish. Drunk on the power that his little fiefdom gave him.
“Miss Melise of the famous Arnier mage family I presume.”
She gave him her best cutesy. “Melise Arnier. That is all I can call myself now.”
“Ah yes right. A wise choice on your mother's part. Nevertheless, I have to ask for your lexicon.”
Melise hesitated. Just for a moment. Reluctant to hand over her prized possession. Still, she did what she had to do.
The dean weighted the heavy book and took a look at the cover. Then he flipped open the book and paged to the first cataloged item.
“Now Miss Arnier the key please.”
She stifled a sigh and told him her elaborate system to mark what item was in her possession and which did not.
Systematically he examined each page. In the end, he grunted.
“Just eight items? I thought the Arnier's family portfolio was bigger. Many of these .. things .. still have the Arnier family listed as an owner.”
“That was true. You see the families in this trade always try to get exclusivity. In order to get me into this school, my mother sold every exclusive we had. What is left are these common ones nearly every family owns,” Melise admitted. Her voice sounded calm and collected. But within she was furious about that very fact.
“I see. Well, I guess it's a clean break from the past. However, should you ever go back to old family habits please know that it is part of the deal that I know every item you possess.”
Melise gave a curt nod.
“Dismissed Miss Arnier.”
Hastily she stood up and left after grabbing her lexicon.
It was three months later that a servant disrupted Melise class. She wasn’t much into auric manipulation anyway, but with limited options, she had to choose something. The servant whispered something to the teacher who glanced to Melise. Definitely not a good sign she decided.
“Melise. Please put away your materials and follow this servant to the dean’s office.”
She swallowed. Three months. Her mother had given everything away for measly three months. However, she was determined to not let her disappointment to be shown. She packed her things and followed the servant out. However, she quickly noticed that it wasn’t the way to the dean’s office.
“Where we going?” she asked.
“Your dorm room Miss. I was told that you need a lexicon of some kind.”
Melise silently cursed. If she needed her lexicon a bad situation just hit catastrophic. At what point had she messed up? What noble had she been run afoul of? With this school, it could be anyone. It was a cauldron of intrigue and deception. Wealthy low borns mixed in an environment with high borns. This was an opportunity to rise above the mob by marrying an aristocrat. Those, however, had their own little plays and intrigues to play. Melise had to find out in whose conspiracy she had stumbled and fast.
After retrieving her lexicon she was led directly into the dean’s office. No pompous waiting game this time. Another bad sign. Again she was greeted by the sight of the haggard dean. New was the lad of maybe nineteen and his parents. Wealthy clothed. Highborn for sure. Their usual arrogant gaze missing. Open hostility showed there instead. Melise frowned for a moment. She had seen that boy maybe one or two times from afar. How could she have angered him?
“Ah, Melise. Please take a seat and hand me your lexicon,” the dean greeted her.
“How can you be so calm? She ruined our son. Throwing her in jail might be the least she deserves,” the father of the boy demanded in an angry and stern voice. Melise recognized it. Someone was used to getting what he wants.
“I assure you, Baron of Kelis Islands, that I take this matter quite seriously,” the dean calmly countered.
Melise did as told. Picking apart the small exchange told her everything she needed to know. First off it was not an intrigue she had stumbled into. She was accused of using her learned profession. The very same her mother was giving up. The good news was that she was innocent. Bad news, however, was that she might not get a chance to prove it.
The Dean opened the lexicon and flipped through it. Clearly, he was searching for something. Melise wet her lips in anticipation and hesitantly made a suggestion. “If you tell me what happened I might be able to help.”
“Oh, you know very well what you did!”
“Baron, please. Let's remain calm and civilized. Please entertain her with giving her the facts.”
Maybe Melise had misjudged the dean. That guy had a spine after all. Was it her salvation or doom? Melise couldn’t tell yet.
The Baroness answered instead of her husband.
“A servant found undergarments hidden in his room. Female ones. Confronted by us he admitted to wearing them! Hidden and while in public. He even admitted receiving pleasure from doing so. How can that be not her meddling? He was fine before we send our son here. It was a mistake dean. No fetish mage should be allowed here.”
Melise kept her cool on the outside. On the inside, her heart and mind were racing. With opportunity comes hope. And this was the mother of all opportunities. With a false calmness, she addressed the dean.
“That sounds to me like a cross-dressing fetish. On the matter of me being accused, I can easily debunk any claim. If that shouldn't be enough I am willing to swear by a contract mage.”
Melise knew she had them. They just didn’t know it yet. The dean meanwhile found the page. His brows furrowed as he read the details.
“Yes here. Hmm. Her family never claimed to be in possession of this particular fetish. Melise why don’t you tell us your proof so we can get past this as fast as possible.”
Now she had to be careful. One wrong word and the doors of opportunity might close. She wet her lips and started to explain.
“There are two ways a fetish mage can give another person a fetish. The artificial way is hard, fast, illegal, and easily detectable. It is for all purposes mind control and treated as such. Every fetish mage apprentice has to sign a contract mage enchanted document before receiving training. Making it impossible to use the pure artificial way against anyone.”
She gave them a short moment to stomach those details. Then she continued.
“That leaves only the natural way. It is slow, but a lot less detectable. In order to share a fetish, the mage would need to have the cooperation of the target. For an inexperienced fetish mage as myself, it would take hours to do this and your son would have noticed. With your son having servants and other entourage it is easy to ask around. They all will tell you that I haven’t spent time with your son…”
The glaring showed her that they didn't believe her fully. It didn’t matter to Melise. The opportunity was still there. Ripe for her taking. Now she had, so to speak, to go in for the kill.
“A usually unknown fact is that fetish mages as myself can remove them as well. In fact, I’d be delighted to remove it from your son. I wouldn’t even request payment. Just a few other things. I assure you those would be in your interest too.”
Melise knew she had them. She had to try her hardest to not show a wolfish smile. She still that the hatred in their eyes. The doubt.
“Nothing is for free,” replied the baron. “What are those other things?”
“A contract mage. We all will sign a document forbidding us from telling anyone what fetish I removed, as well as that no one can tell of whom I removed it. You should recognize that with contract mages magic this incident here will remain forever a secret. No one of us could tell. Willingly or unwillingly. I just require one more thing. Part of the contract has to be that you all give up any claim to the ownership of the fetish.”
“Whatever that means. Gladly,” the Baron added. "Just get it done."
After hashing out some detail a contract mage was called. He would inscribe the contract onto their very souls. No breaking of the contract possible. Ever.
Then Melise had to do her part. Facing the son she had to go into a trance. Diving deep down into the mind of the target. The poor fella didn’t even know how much she would violate him. With him never speaking a word Melise recognized the signs why he might have developed a fetish. The mind was complex. Capable of many things. If hindered or blocked it will find a way to free itself. Him being grown up with rules and regulations to make him into a perfect heir his mind was plenty of opportunities robbed.
A fetish like the one she was chasing now down was for all purposes a way to break the mold. To have something for only himself. And now Melise would rob him of it. To alter him and taking away his only escape of the harsh ruling of his parents. To let him sink back into the boringness of his normal mundane life.
She felt bad. However, not enough to stop her. Slowly she cut the fetish loose. Disconnected every little strand from the host's mind. It took long. Hours even. By the time she was done the last traces of sunlight vanished behind hills. Now it was hers and hers alone.
The baron’s family couldn’t get out fast enough. Away from her. It was good acting, Melise had to grant them that. While in trance she had probed them. Just a little. A peek if you so will. Both parents had work done by at least three of the more famous fetish mage-families. The signatures unmistakably. Of course, they weren’t alone. Fetishes were spices to improve one's lives. And if one group had the means to indulge themselves it was those rich with title or trade. Without them, fetish mages would have long vanished.
Then she showed it the dean. His eyes going wide.
“You didn’t just remove it. You stole it,” he accused her.
“How else would fetish mages acquire new ones?” she asked him in a calm voice.
“I see now why you decided to bind us by contract. Dismissed Miss Arnier,” he told her.
The dean looked grumpy. Maybe it was because she outsmarted him for once. She took her lexicon and headed out. Just before she reached the door the dean once again addressed her.
“I hope you don’t plan to start trouble Miss Arnier. I’ll be keeping an eye on you.”
“I wouldn’t dream about it.” The lie flowed over her lips without conscious thought.
She left the main building and looked around. With nightfall, the courtyard was nearly deserted. She walked over to a bench and set down.
With a little bit of concentration, a spider web of light appeared over her open hand. This was it. Her newest item. Rendered visible to the naked eye. A fetish mage might see more. The fragile construct that linked concepts and actions. Desires and needs. Every little nuance of the fetish. It was a blueprint. Ready to be copied into the mind of others. It was small for a fetish. In its infancy. Complex yet simple.
She could see the main parts that formed it: attraction to the panties of women and the excitement of having something hidden.
The second part was what made it exceptional. Cross-dressing was known well enough. Most of all the Bernard family called it their own. But theirs was different. Their fetish was open, over the top and flamboyant. Hers was the opposite. Hidden and well guarded. It was common yet elusive. With people hiding it, it was hard to find someone possessing it. It had proofed to be impossible to acquire. No one had been willing to part with it. Until now.
Melise grinned and looked down on her treasure.
The fetish could use some growth. In the right host, it could mature into something more. To include more garments or to be bolder in taking risks while wearing things hidden. But to do this she needed hosts. People volunteering that she could trust or control. The younger the better. Best if they just left puberty behind.
She looked around. All the dorms around her were filled with prime candidates. All she had to do was to pick some and find means to control them.
Suddenly she had to laugh. All this time she never had felt she belonged in this school. It was filled with intrigues and hidden plots. Now she was scheming herself. What irony. She had become one of them. Not that she minded. It was the break she had hoped for. Her mother had robbed her of her family's legacy. Now she had the chance not to win the old one back, but to start her own. Grinning she headed to her dorm and to bed. There was suddenly much to do and she hardly could wait. When she was done panties will be part of the school uniform and not just for the girls around here.
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