We arrived at Palefish yesterday morning, just like Julian said.
It was more of a to-do than I expected. Apparently, Palefish is on an island, and there’s only one ferry, and that ferry only runs once a week. We drove all night to get there.
The ferry is too small for cars, it’s a walk-on only situation. So yesterday morning we pulled into a tiny, sandy parking-lot. There were five cars in it, but no one around. There was a stretch of bent sea grass, and then a wide, sandy beach, with a long, rickety-looking dock. In the distance, I could see an island.
Julian had been driving all night because Neal, Jasper and the kid all drove in Jasper’s truck, and he was looking especially disheveled in the morning wind. It was cold enough that I had to steal one of his sweaters.
Neal basically fell out of the truck. I cannot FATHOM why Jasper drives that thing. I thought when I first saw it that it must have a spell on it like the rabbit, but nope, turns out its just a shitty, 40 year old truck. WHY.
The ferry, when it came, looked like an old fashioned steam boat you might see on a river in 1892. There were no other passengers, only the captain, a sleepy-looking man with a big walrus mustache and suspenders.
“Hey Mr. Buskirk,” Neal called, and the captain just tipped his hat, and didn’t say a word.
The ride took maybe 45 minutes. The kid did NOT like being on the ocean, and threw an entire fit the whole time, and poor Jasper didn’t really fare much better. And then we were pulling into a second little dock and disembarking onto a small, wind blown little island.
The island itself is very small with long, sloping beaches covered in driftwood and beach grass. According to Julian it was never densely wooded, and the nuns that used to live here wrestled with the wind for years before they were able to set up the orchard.
Apparently this place was a catholic nunnery for two hundred years, and then was suddenly abandoned for reasons I’m not super clear on, and left to molder for a decades before the legendary Lana found it, bought it, and turned it into — well, I’m not really sure what this place is exactly.
The main school is held in a gigantic cathedral, clearly built by people missing the medieval cathedrals in Europe. Which is to say that it’s enormous, and very intimidating.
It was a long walk up to the school. Okay it wasn’t really that long, but I’d spent the night in the back of the car and it was cold and I was not stoked about having to walk up that sloped hill towards the cathedral. Once we got a little closer the path was framed by cherry trees.
A small group of students were sitting on the steps. I think I expected the school to be more like a university, but these girls were probably 13, all wearing their uniforms in various states of disarray. All stared at us as we passed. Our poor kid slid her hand into mine and shrank against us.
The cathedral doors were open and we walked right inside, into the cool, dim hush of the school. There was a rustle and then the loud clack clack of a girl darting through the narthex, past the holy water font and into what used to be the nave (I did look up the architectural parts of a cathedral, thanks for asking).
At the head of the room, where in an ordinary church there might be something like… a Jesus, or whatever, there’s a big table, at which an older, bespectacled man in tweed was sitting, peering into an enormous old book.
He only looked up when the girl tapped his shoulder, and then he started, spectacles lopsided.
“Oh, it’s you,” he said. “I heard you were coming.” He didn’t sound terribly glad to see them. “I understand you’ve brought us a new student.”
He smiled properly for the kid, and she shrank behind Neal’s legs.
“What’s your name?” the man asked.
“She doesn’t have one,” Jasper said. “She’s Fenecan.”
“Oh of course,” he said, pushing up his spectacles. “They are a culture of earned names, aren’t they. Fascinating practice.” He smiled at the girl. “You haven’t yet earned a name, hm? That’s okay, you have plenty of time now.”
The kid peeled back her lips to show off her teeth.
“She’ll warm up to you,” Neal said. “She’s had a difficult month.”
“I imagine she has,” said the man. “I’m sorry, I’ve been very rude. Who are you?” He meant me.
“Protsman, this is Shiloh,” Julian said. “Shiloh, this is Stewart Protsman, our school’s resident… what are you exactly? Dean of students?”
“Oh I’ve stopped trying to convince anyone I’m worthy of title anymore,” Protsman said. He held out a hand to shake. “They’ve finally run me down, alas.” He didn’t seem run down at all though, he was quite robust for a man in his 60s. Maybe a bit bookish. “Where’s Lana? She was due to arrive on this morning’s ferry.”
“We haven’t seen her,” Neal said. “We thought she was here.”
At the time I didn’t know who Lana was, but I asked later, and apparently she’s the… Principle? Headmistress? I don’t really know what to call her, but she runs the place. Apparently. I still haven’t met her.
Protsman frowned and a crease appeared between his eyebrows. “I haven’t heard from her.” He took a breath. “I’m sure she’s on her way. Must have gotten held up.”
“That’s alright,” Julian said. “We don’t mind waiting.”
“Shiloh, will you be staying with us as well?” Protsman asked.
I had only the briefest moment to flounder before Neal slung an arm across my shoulders. “This one’s our problem,” he said, and I made a show of shrugging him off (even though I loved it, obviously).
It’s been 24 hours since then. Protsman brought us to the guest building himself, before excusing himself in an awkward, preoccupied way.
The school sort of sprawls among a bunch of different buildings, and almost all of them are from the original nunnery. Our rooms were in one of the smaller buildings, stone and roughly hewn, though weathered smooth. There’s this whole air of like… monkish restraint hahaha. But like in a sort of idyllic way, like the kind of room you retreat to study ancient text and like… eat fresh bread and hard cheese hahahaha. The floorboards creak.
At home the only thing older than a hundred years is the old coven house. I’ve never been in a place where I could so distinctly feel it’s history.
For the last 24 hours I’ve been so deep in this fantasy where I live in this little room and am a completely different person who has like worth ethic and no panic attacks, that I’ve been pretty immune to the slowly mounting anxiety.
Lana has still not shown up, or made contact.
“She should have at least checked in by now,” Lily said at dinner last night. Lily is the head of magics here at Palefish. Apparently she’s a super powerful sorceress, but I’d have never guessed that by her demeanor. She’s like the gentlest, shyest nerd I’ve ever met.
Neal and Julian are already getting antsy. They’re not as at ease as they were at the emporium. Probably because the students are like… always watching. Especially the younger ones, the “permanent residents” which is what they call the kids with powers that have nowhere else to go. They’re a bizarre group. Rook likes to call them the Fraidy Bunch because they’re all a little spooky. One of them has teeth filed to points. Another has side-closing eyelids like a lizard.
Like how I dropped Rook in there all casual, like no big deal.
I am NOT chill. I’m a MESS.
Everyone else has spent the last 24 hours worrying about where Lana is, and I have spent it obsessing about Rook.
In case you’ve forgotten, Rook is the boy I met at White Pyre. Remember him. I was immediately besotted?
He’s in the room down the hall from me, in the corner room with extra windows so he could be watching at ANY MOMENT.
Not that he is, probably. Probably he’s like… reading cool books or something. I don’t know what to dudes do when they’re alone and have no responsibilities?
Apparently the guys who are teaching him to hunt are here to teach an over the summer course, which means Rook’s been stuck here for like two weeks.
I of course have been pretending I don’t care about his presence while simultaneously caring the ABSOLUTE MOST. Neal has noticed. Yesterday after dinner he said, “so, Rook huh?” And I said, “You’re not allowed to ask me questions.” But he had the most knowing expression, and then Jasper asked him to come bonfire with us.
Julian spent all afternoon with Professor Protsman, but even he came down to the beach last night to bonfire. Rook’s mentors, Knock and Daryl, came down, and so did some of the teachers.
I mean it wasn’t quite awkward, but it wasn’t quite not awkward either. Everyone else knew each other and had stuff to catch up, and then it was just me and Rook and neither of us were drunk yet. We talked briefly about music, but it turns out that what sulky straight dudes think is cool is slightly different than what soft lesbians think is cool and I was totally out of my depth.
Plus — and this is the real kicker — do you know how hard it is to start talking to someone super hot when you have to be 100% honest with them? Not that I’m lying to everyone as I get to know them, but just like… I mean everyone tweaks their stories to make them shine a little bit more, right? Like yeah Rook, I did see the Pixies play, and yeah it did change my life — but he doesn’t need to know that I was 12 and my mom dragged me there, and I was actually mad at first because I wanted to see 21 pilots with Madelyn. That’s material for when we’ve been dating for a couple years and we’re like giggling under a sheet on Sunday morning or whatever (I don’t know what couples do).
Yeah, well imagine you’re at a bonfire, and Psychedelic Furs are playing, and you’re sitting on driftwood passing a handle back and forth with the broodiest, sulkiest, hot dude you’ve ever seen in your life, and it is absolutely unimaginable to tell a single story that makes you look like the helpless chaos nerd you are. And now imagine that sitting across the fire is the smuggest man in the world, and he can tell every time you tell a white lie.
I’m living a nightmare.
Not that I think Neal would rat me out. Goodness knows Neal respects the slutty hustle. But he’d KNOW. Horrifying. Unimaginable.
Anyways. That’s the story of how I’m doing. Julian’s living his biggest nerd dream. Neal and Jasper are babysitting and helping the poor kid get her bearings. Everyone’s low-key worried that this Lana character still isn’t back when she should have been. And I’m trying to fabricate some way to run into Rook.