Authors: Aron Sethlen
“Yitch was in on the robbery and my parents’ death?”
“Ding ding ding,
we have a winner.”
Pard lowers his head and turns away as it all sinks in. He strolls toward the frosty window and remembers back when his parents were alive. The way Yitch and his parents interacted, and the way Yitch treated him. “He was always pleasant to me.”
“What did you say?” Miles says.
“I said, he, Yitch, was always pleasant with my parents and me when I was younger. He never treated me like he does now. He’s only been on my case for the last few years since he became headmaster and when I moved to the upper school.” Pard turns around and stares at Miles.
Miles slowly rubs his hands together as he nods, the gears in his head turning as a devious scheme is clearly forming in his mind, his mischief-filled intentions etched on his handsome face. “I think we need to visit the condor’s nest and inspect that locket. Is there anyway you can tell for sure if the one in his office is your mother’s?”
Pard scratches the side of his head, racking his brain to remember, and then an image of
forms, reflecting off the gold. “GVV is engraved on the back of the locket, it was the initials of my great grandmother, though I don’t remember her name. She was a voyante something or other.”
“So are you down for a little mischief?”
Pard’s lips curl into a sly grin. “Definitely.”
“It will be risky. The condor rarely leaves his roost, and the doors to his office are triple locked. It will take some ingenious detective work and delicate planning if we’re going to pull it off. You realize what will happen to you if we’re caught?”
Pard shrugs. “As if I’m not already on the verge of being tossed out of school anyway. The question is, Lord Marlow, do you realize what will happen to
if we’re caught.”
Miles flicks his head toward the door. “Let’s do this.”
“Yeah, follow me.”
A MARLOW SECRET
Pard follows close behind Miles through the fourth floor corridor. “You know it’s not term week yet, and it’s already well past ten so we’re not supposed to be out in the halls except to go to the bathroom. What if someone sees us?”
“No one will see us,” Miles says, “and if they do, they sure won’t stop me.”
Pard’s nervous eyes bounce from wall to wall.
Sure, as if we’re not walking straight down the middle of the corridor and we’re invisible
. Pard peeks back at the bathroom door. “Maybe we should do this tomorrow.”
Miles grips the gold knob attached to the bannister leading down the marble staircase. He swings his body in a wide arc, and he steps onto the first step. “Maybe you should just trust me, professor, you have your expertise, and I have mine.”
Pard gulps. “All right. I can trust you.”
This is so crazy, what the hell am I doing? I may be expelled and now I’m roaming the halls past curfew with the Lord of Mischief and Mayhem Marlow. This can’t end well
“Here we are,” Miles says, exiting the staircase onto the third floor. He strolls to the end of the hallway and slips a black skeleton key out of his pocket.
“What are we doing here?” Pard says.
—best be quiet on the third, lots of prying ears on this floor.” Miles slides his key into the silver lock of a glossy oak door with the crest of two swords crossed over the outline of a bear on the center panel. The lock clicks, and he pushes it open. “Welcome to Miles Manor, professor.”
Pard steps into Miles’s quarters, warm and a good four times the size of his own, large window almost as big as Yitch’s which also overlooks the school grounds, lake, and forest. On the left wall, a large fireplace; to the right, a living room with a couch and small table for dining, and a door leading to a separate bedroom and private bathroom. “Nice, Miles, so it’s just you that lives in this room?”
Miles tosses his backpack on a circular table and it bumps into a large silver bowl loaded with apples and oranges. “You bet, me, myself, and I. Matter of fact, I inherited this room from my older brother last year. Before, I was forced to live down the hall with a roommate from Elemerin, total bore, but kind of a Marlow rights of passage to see how the other half live. My father is all about the character building thing.”
Pard’s jaw drops as he stares at the head of a bearinef fixed to the wall above the fireplace, a species of bear only found in the mountains of the northern territories of Bastin and Lasteane, and it’s at least four times larger than any other species of bear. They are known to hunt and eat anything, to include man. Its round face is as big as the table. Next to the bearinef head, the Marlow shield depicting the family crest of two swords crossed overtop a bear. Pard continues to stare at the fangs and bulging black eyes.
Miles chuckles. “Impressive, isn’t it?”
“Very,” Pard says, not taking his eyes off the creature.
Miles pinches his chin. “I think it was my great-great-great-great-grandfather that killed the bearinef, or it was his father. I don’t know, it was so long ago I forget. Once I get past three greats it all goes out the window and it’s all the same.”
“So your entire family attended Fairstone?” Pard says.
“They say that Fergie Fairstone created Fairstone School, but the Marlows built it. Every Marlow male has attended Fairstone since its inception, same as every Marlow girl attends the Lorse School in Wellingtin, the girl’s version of Fairstone.” Miles opens his arms and spins in place. “And every eldest male currently at the school gets the great honor of living in this pleasure palace in the middle of pompous privileged purgatory. Aren’t I blessed.”
“Yes, you are,” Pard says with a shrug.
Miles stops spinning, and his arms drop in a whoosh. “I guess you’re right, anyway—” He pivots away from Pard and heads to the left side of the fireplace.
Pard’s eyes narrow as they follow Miles, first passing over a pile of chopped wood and then the glowing embers in the fireplace.
Miles scoots his desk away from the stone block wall.
“So what are you doing? How does this help us get into Yitch’s office?”
Miles smiles at Pard and then presses his palm in the center of a stone block with three deep scratches on it. “I did say my family has lived in this room for a thousand years and built this school, right?” He leans into the wall with his body and the stone wall decompresses and a false wall pops open with a facade of thin stone laid over a metal door. A cool gust of musty wind and dust puffs into the room.
“You have your own passageway?” Pard says with a snort. “How come I’m not surprised.”
“I guess you can call it my personal walkway through this magnificent school. Some of my snobbish ancestors didn’t like to mingle with the others attending Fairstone. Also they wanted a secret means of escape in case they or the school was under attack.” Miles pushes through the stone door and enters the dark passageway. He unhooks a torch from the wall and reenters his quarters, lights the oily tip in the fireplace, and flicks his head toward the corridor. “You ready to check out Yitch’s office?”
“Does Yitch know about these tunnels?”
“I don’t think so, come on.” Miles steps into the black, drafty corridor.
Pard’s shoulder brushes up against the wall and a dust cloud explodes into his face. He coughs and covers his mouth and nose with the crook of his arm. “This tunnel, it really leads to his office?”
“His office and to a lot of other places in the school.” Miles extends the torch and the passageway illuminates. A tight hallway a quarter of the size of the normal hallways in the school extends as far as Pard can see. And if Pard extended his arm straight up, his fingers would graze the ceiling.
Pard chuckles. “So do they call this the Marlow Tunnel?”
Miles waves the torch side to side burning the cobwebs. “A few of the other families with permanent rooms know of it, though it is strictly forbidden to tell outsiders.” Miles suddenly whirls around and faces Pard. He raises the torch in front of him. Miles’s face half-lit and half-dark, he projects a ghost-like appearance. “Once, a student found out and told another student, and they both disappeared forever. Poof, gone, without a trace.”
“What happened to them?” Pard says.
“They found out about the passageway and told people they shouldn’t have. And the people they told disappeared too. Ancient families with power don’t like their secrets exposed to their lessers, and they will do anything to protect them.”
Pard gulps. “But you told me, and I’m an outsider.”
Serious, Miles tilts his head to the side and looks at Pard. “Are you going to tell the world of the Marlow Tunnel, Professor Wenerly?”
, no, of course not.”
“Then we’re all good.” Miles shrugs and smiles and then spins away from Pard and continues through the passageway.
Pard scratches the back of his head. “Okay, we’re good.”
This is such a bad idea. As if the light and Yitch and Blaine and Nox and Sully and terms and a trial weren’t bad enough, now I know about this stupid tunnel for the elites that if they find out I know, they’ll make me disappear.
Well, at least I may find out about the locket in Yitch’s office before I die.
“Did you say something?” Miles says, slowing.
“Nope, nothing, all good back here, just enjoying the trusting stroll in the dark.”
They continue to travel through the labyrinth of black and dust. Every once in a while a faint echo of light peeks through a crack or pinprick in the stone. The musty aroma of sawdust and damp peat lingers in the air. Occasionally the footsteps of the night hall monitors clap the wooden floors on the other side of the stone wall, and Pard holds his breath.
Miles pauses and brushes his hand over a stone block above a false door. Dust and debris rain to the ground, and Pard steps away and covers his mouth so as not to sneeze. Miles angles the torch to the block etched with
. He smiles at Pard and whispers, “Herman Marlow, second headmaster of Fairstone.” Miles jams the torch into a rusty metal holder jutting away from the rock, then he grips a wood lever and yanks it down.
The wall cracks open an inch, and Miles peers inside the office. He turns back and whispers, “I think we’re good.” Miles pushes the door open and slithers into the room.
Pard takes a shallow breath and holds it in as he slips through the crack, and he immediately bumps into Miles.
Miles teeters to keep his balance and extends his arms out to the side.
“What is it?” Pard says.
Pard’s eyes lower to the ground and they find Maximus glaring up at them with its wide bug eyes, sharp little teeth exposed, and foam oozing over the dog’s thin purple lips.
“We’re good,” Miles says, “relax, professor, we got this. Good little Maximus, good poochy, or whatever the hell you are.”
Maximus’s body pulses forward in little hops.
Pard shakes his head and backs away.
I knew this was a bad idea.
Miles lowers his hand to Maximus to calm him.
“I don’t think that’s such a good idea, Miles.”
Miles ignores Pard, and he wobbles his head while talking to Maximus as if a baby. “There you are, good little wretched pooch you are. Just relax, you ugly vermin.”
Maximus leaps up and nips Miles’s hand, drawing blood.
“Shit!” Miles snaps his hand away. “The nasty Yitch rat just bit me.”
“I think we better go,” Pard says with a shaky voice.
“No way, we came here to see your mother’s locket, and we’re here now, so let’s check it out.”
“Maximus,” Yitch says in a sweet voice.
Pard’s and Miles’s jaws drop and they both freeze.
“Come back to bed, sweetums.”
“Yeah, I think it’s time to go,” Miles says, a hint of fear poking through his confident demeanor.
Pard backs away with one foot in the passageway. “
, yeah, good idea, wish I thought of that earlier.”
The mattress springs squeak and the floor boards creak as Yitch gets out of bed. “What’s gotten into you tonight? We had all the mice exterminated last week—they can’t be back
Pard’s eyes widen as the far end of the room lightens from a flickering candle glowing brighter. He slowly moves farther into the passageway while tugging on the back of Miles’s sweater.
Miles shuffles his feet backward, not taking his eye off the light until his hand finds the edge of the stone door.
“What’s that light in my office?” Yitch says, seeing the faint flicker of Miles’s torch. “Maximus?”
Miles grinds the stone door shut as Maximus glares him down with nose pressed against the crack.
“Sweet Maximus, what is it? What’s gotten you so wound up tonight?” Yitch stands in front of the false door and looks at the gnarly pug-nosed dog still focused and foaming and determined, not taking its eyes off the crack that Pard and Miles just disappeared through.
Suspicious, Yitch’s eyes narrow as he scans the stone wall, placing his palm on the false facade.
Pard and Miles, frozen in place feet away from the condor, they hold their breath, separated only by a thin veneer of stone and a thousand-year-old wooden door.
Yitch crouches and lowers his candle to the floor, a thin veil of dust covers the immaculate surface, blown in from the Marlow Corridor. He circles his red velvet slipper in the dirt. “
“Looks like the cleaners missed some dust today. Shame, I was getting used to the new help, but if you can’t even clean a floor if you’re a cleaner, then what can you do?” Yitch turns away from the false door. “Come on, Maximus, remind me to fire the cleaners in the morning.”