The Professor of Forbidden Criminology at Vulane’s College of Elements was a hive of bees.
“The Church of Tyr would have you believe that there are seven ‘Vile Vermin,’” the hive buzzed as the students sat around the enchanted tree that held it. “In truth, there are eight!” It then issued a staccato buzz in such a way as to convey a laugh.
The three students who were gathered around the Tree - as familiar as they were with the more hidden elements of the world - shuddered as a few bees crawled out of the hollow and buzzed furtively on the Tree’s dark branches. The mirrors hanging from the branches clanked against each other in the cold breeze as the snowfall increased.
It was Reynardmas night, and the students gathered in the dark around the Tree could see lights from the Reynardmas procession leading out of the main hall, headed by the Dean of Dark Magic herself, wearing her traditional silver stag skull.
The buzzing from the hive grew quiet for a moment as Remi - the professor’s favorite student - raised her hand.
“I suppose that’s because the eighth was never defeated, professor?”
“You are clever beyond your years, young raccoon.”
A tabby: “Who else knows, professor?”
“Certain creatures who hide behind silver masks know this best of all...”
The head of the procession glanced in the direction of the clutch of trees, catching a few glimpses of candlelight. She knew that there was a lecture going on at that moment: and she wondered what the subject was on this holy night, when most of the vulpine students were attending mass.
“Who... who was the eighth Vile Vermin, professor?” Remi asked, timidly.
“If you could answer that, you will have answered the question that haunts Tyr Himself... I myself only know the monicker He used when He roamed the world.”
The bees danced - avoiding the hanging mirrors - as an unnatural wind suddenly blew through the gathered ‘coven’. The vixen in the silver stag head and short-cut dress in deep blacks and violets had decided to appear.
“Here - awake - I find you, Professor Ralick,” she said, her voice magically echoing through the branches and leaves. “Teaching on a day of rest.”
Selthia’s cool violet eyes could be seen in the eye sockets of the once-holy stag skull, whose silver reflected the candles for Reynardmas in the distant school towers.
The bees retreated into their hiding places and the professor’s voice echoed through the magical branches.
“I meant no offense, Dean Selthia. I shall continue the lecture at a later time, my students.”
Selthia grinned and winked. “You are not in trouble, dear professor.” She watched with a twinkling eye the mischevous students who would bother attending class on a holiday, including one of her best students who had deconverted from Staterianism to join the College. Remi was a raccoon who took an avid interest in one of the school’s burgeoning fields of study: Archaeomancy.
Selthia herself went back to join her husband at the Temple of Virtue on the docks. She walked down the streets of Vulane, past the charming stone fruit gardens of the peasantry, thinking of warm fur, warm words, and slow heartbeats.
She looked up and delicately took her silver stag head off of her own, gently placed it underneath her arm, and gazed at the distant neon-blue shimmering light emitted by the Veilwinter Temple.
She could hear the message emitted by that place wafting through the air:
“Abide in us all, Lord, as morningtide rises...”
She trotted down the staircases and secret hallways that led to the bright halls of the Temple of Virtue, the pirate lodgings of the arch-bishop of Reynard: Her mate. The lights danced and creatures laughed and made merry as she entered and nodded shyly to those gathered. The Admiral of all the Reynardian Pirates: ArchBishop of Reynard, Captain Softbrush, stopped to give a toast without a hint of irony:
“Gentle-creatures of all faiths, allow me t’ toast my own Maid Marion: Selthia!”
There was a ripple of sardonic laughter mixed in with the “hurrahs!” as Selthia sidled up to her beloved. With her dusk colored fur and purple eyes, she made quite a contrast to her own tall, bright-orange mate. He leaned down to her after drinking his Veilwinter wine (which had been graciously provided the other day) and said, in his warmest tones: “I love you so much, my dear.” They let their snouts enjoy each other’s companies as the crowd cheered.
He turned back to the crowd and continued:
“--And to any allied-but-also-somewhat-fright’nin’ Temples as well!”
There were definitely some “hear, hears!” and a few concerned looks weaved through the wave of clapping.
“And I ‘ave an announcement.” The room quieted. “I ‘ave received a vision from, n’ conversated with: the angel Socaru.”
There were gasps. Socaru, the angelic raven messenger trusted by both Statera and Reynard, had not been seen in about half a millenia.
“I ‘ave an idea for a new form of government that I wish to discuss with me lieutenants... time n’ drink permittin’.” He had a rogueish smile across his maw as he sipped another glass of Veilwinter chardonnay. There were cheers from the crowd, even if they weren’t sure what he was speaking about.
Selthia felt her heart stop for a few seconds, but still gave a supportive pat to her mate’s large left arm: She herself would have a surprising new ally, soon.
Someone who saw the threat that Tyr posed to all life.
Someone who was not threatened by old, mysterious temples who were only trying to assist and liberate.
She relaxed and returned to the equanimous demenour she was famous for.
On the other side of town the winds whipped around the ever-changing streets of Vulane. Remi walked up the snowy stone steps to her room: She was one of the few who stayed on campus during the holidays. While others sailed back to their respective homes, she stayed behind more and more. She half-heartedly opened a parchment from her hometown near the old river:
‘Hello sweetheart: We haven’t heard from you in a while...’
She read the opening sentence before her eyes drifted. It all seemed so quaint, now. Her mind had become busy with ideas that were beyond the reach of her old friends and teachers.
Remi opened the oak door to her room, plunked down his books and lit a candle on her desk. She had several assignments from Professor Ralick and Dean Selthia to finish. She went to her bed to find some cowmeat she had hidden away, only to glimpse a bee struggling on her windowsill. It was dying, but it croaked out the answer to a riddle as it did so.
“Mmmmmyriad, the Traveeelerrrrrrrrr...”
As it died, it could hear the beautiful bells of Veilwinter tolling the hours in the distance until the red darkness in the edges of its vision began to claim it, and it lived its last three seconds as a true bee with an unclouded mind.