The Arcana Institute Of Xerophylla
The Arcana Institute Of Xerophylla
Published on 10 Dec 2022 03:01

rating: +37+x

Dramatis Personae

Our narrator, JAMES NO-NAME, abandoned to the Fundamentum at the tender age of seven, now eleven and on his way to the Arcana Institute of Xerophylla to become a Phlegm Trooper and fight the hordes of Darkest Evropa

FRIAR ALTO CLEF, caretaker of SCP-6248 and our NARRATOR. Plays the Ukulele. Introduced our hero to Jesus Christ. May have a deeper relationship with Jesus than it seems at first…

LI, a redheaded young woman who knows she is to be of the Social Fire in the Blood Class at the Arcana Institute.

ASHEWORT NOWAK, a vain young man who perhaps has hidden depths, who has been groomed all his life to stand as a noble of the Burning Hollow in the Choler Class.

ALLISON, of the Sorrow Fall and the Bile Class. Daughter of a Professor at the Arcana Institute — but which one?

The Story So Far:

The Beginning: Our narrator, James, is abandoned at Holy Site-6248 and adopted by the kindly Friar Alto Clef, who raises him in the ways of the Fundamentum but also in the forbidden lore of Jesus Christ.

The Start of the Journey: Upon coming of age, James and the Friar set out on the open road to the Arcana Institute, where he meets the people who will shape his years to come…


The cliffs upon which the Arcana Institute stood, from afar.

Our journey soon brought us to the Great Spyres, upon which the Arcana Institute stood. They loomed high above us, a dark and dreary campus upon jagged cliffs shattering the sky. From our low angle, only the towers of the Institute were visible, twisted spirals and reaved helixes piercing heaven, like inverted thunderbolts.

Each Class had at least three towers — one for students, one for professors, and one for graduated soldiers and alumni.

The Friar pointed out a set of towers glowing pink under the moonlight. I imagined that under a clearer light, they must have been white.

They were the three towers of the Cold Reservation, he'd stated. The students' tower was nothing special. The Professors' tower was tall, stretching into the sky. He said that as far as he knew, there were neither stairs nor arcana in the professors' tower, but only a ladder, so only those who had mastered the Cold Reservation of the White Phlegm could ascend it. The Soldiers' Tower, by contrast, was stout and wide near the ground. It was more important for the Phlegm Troopers to be able to deploy at a moment's notice, rather than being kept in shape passively or to hide forbidden knowledge.

I asked him how he knew of his. He smiled mysteriously, as he often did, and I wondered, yet again, if perhaps he was lying to me, as he did just as often.

Our draft-beast pulled up to the end of the road, where it met the cliff. The cart-tracks of generations before continued, straight into the sheer face of the stone.

"Hmmm. Let's see," the Friar said, digging through his utility belt. "Let's see… let's see… let's see where I put that gift Cog gave me… Ah. Here it is."

He pulled a small card out of his belt, an Arcana. It was a burnished bronze in the red moonlight, though it seemed to coruscate, ripples of bronze and silver and gold rippling over its surface. I could see two sets of inscriptions upon it: VIII VIII II at the top, DCCCLXXXII at the bottom.

"In the name of the Fundamentum, in the name of Xerophylla," said the Friar as he stood, his voice clear, holding the card aloft. "In the name of the Council Thirteen. Indeed, I bid you open the gates to the Arcane. I bid you open the future."

His voice echoed against the stone, reverberating across the caravan with unnatural clarity. The Arcana in his hand flashed bright orange, casting rays of light across the caravan, dancing across the cliff face. Then, the ground rumbled.

The stone folded in upon itself, natural-seeming rock shaping into perfect crystalline cubes, like bismuth crystal commanded by a hidden mechanism, until a perfectly black portal into darkness appeared in the cliff face, pierced only by the light emitted by Arcana-DCCCLXXXII.

The Friar snapped the reins of the draft-beasts, urging them forth into the inky blackness. They seemed hesitant to go, for their echo-pings went forward forever, meeting nothing but mystery.

"Let us journey," the Friar shouted over the crowd, "Into night!"

As we journeyed forth, through the darkness of the tunnel, he hummed a little ditty to himself, off-tune. As it echoed through the tunnel, combining with the heaving breaths of the draft beasts and the clattering of the wheels, it felt like a melody whispered from the heart of a great machine.

"Journey, journey into night
Into shadow beyond the light
Where the humors twist and twine
Future ours or future thine."

We emerged from the tunnel upon the campus of the Arcana Institute.

"This," said the Friar to me and the other foundlings, "is where we must part ways."

He bade us disembark from the caravan, and the other students did likewise. The Friar remained behind, holding Arcana-DCCCLXXXII aloft, keeping the passage lit. We stood, huddled there, and processed to the grand gates of the Great Nexus of the Arcana Institute. The Grand Nexus was a great pyramid, atop which stood a capstone colored rubedo red.

I stood alone; the other Foundlings of the Phlegmfont had found their own way in, but us first-years had to enter for our Announcement. I spotted among the first years Li, who had mingled with a group of six others, and Ashewort, who had gathered some equally snobbish hanger-ons. Perhaps I recognized some of the others from those who had journeyed to the Phlegmfont over my four years of custody; but if so I did not dwell upon them.

The grand doors slid open, great gears and hydraulics grinding them slowly open and up. Awaiting us was a stern-looking woman, her white hair tied in a bun. As ageless as the Friar was.

"Greetings, students. My name is Professor Light. I am the Matron of the Phlegm Class, Holder of the Horizon Arcana, and your professor of Shining, Physical Fitness, and Theology," she said.

I wondered whether she was a true scholar of theology, or merely a propagandist in service of the Fundamentum.

"In your ten years here at the Arcana Institute, you shall achieve great heights and fall to the absolute depths of the depravity within your souls. You shall achieve the heavens for the break of day, or fall into the dark night of the soul. All of you have known since birth of your destinies as great Talents, in great service to Fundamentum and Xerophylla."

She sounded quite grave. "Now, if you please. Arrange yourselves by your Class. Stand forth, and prepare to meet your future."

We arrayed ourselves in four lines, each by class. I was struck by how different we all were, in bearing and demeanor.

I found it jarring, though ultimately unsurprising, that Li was a typical member of those of the Blood and the Social Fire. Her friends — I couldn't tell if they were newfound or not, for she spoke and bantered with them easily, as if comrades from a hundred wars — were all as gregarious as she. They wore the modest clothes of merchants and clerks and the burgeoning city-folk, diverse colors but not opulent. Of course, they looked nothing alike beyond that, and were united solely by the ease in which they spoke among each other as old friends despite having met only briefly prior on the caravan. To them, this was an adventure for sure. Their families had sent them away instead of inducting them into the family trade, for being a ward of Xerophylla, a DeClassus by Abscession, was a noble service that could become power.

Those of the Bile were more subdued. Allison was not among them, for she had already entered the Grand Nexus with the other older students. Like those of Blood, many were there by choice, either their own or their families'. I could tell, by how some looked at the Grand Nexus and the spires of the Institute with ambition and gleaming eyes, and how some looked at the rocky earth with dread. Allison had told me that the Sorrow Fall was the power of the mind — I wondered how one could know that potential at an age as tender as ours.

But there was a reason to doubt learned men and the hubris of your own thought. Although Christ had given his first sermons at scarcely thirteen, barely older than I was now, I dared not bear the hubris of thinking myself like him. I would defer to those of the Bile, but I would also have to question them.

Those of the Choler were largely highborn. They carried themselves with nobility and poise. I was surprised to see that of them, only Ashewort Nowak and his immediate friends seemed to be so brazen with their arrogance, so cavalier in their detestation for their lessers. But at least Ashewort was honest. The other Highborn Choler might not have been openly sneering at us, or looking down their noses, yet I could tell they condescended to us all the same. I had seen many of the kind at the Phlegmfont, many noble families convinced of their superiority through their birth. Many whose children stood besides me now.

I knew they were here for impure motives. They wanted status and power, not to serve the Fundamentum. I could emphasize, frankly. Although I served the Fundamentum, I served a higher master above it, the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, who had said it was easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of Heaven.

The Phlegm were the most diverse of all. There were some who were the highborn sons and daughters of noble families — I recognized the Thereven family crest upon one's robes, thirteen blackbirds arranged in a spiral. They were the Phlegmnobles, those sacred few who prized their ability to partake of the Phlegm and ensured it would be passed down through the generations. I wondered if they knew of the true source of the Phlegm, and if any of them were believers in Christ — or if they wholeheartedly believed the Fundamentum's lies, of how the Phlegm was stolen from Yvith.

Many of the rest of us were arrayed in rags. Some even had scars on their wrists from now-absent manacles, and even more wore Scranton Collars about their necks, forcing them to inhabit a world of mundanity. We were the believers, the foundlings, the downtrodden, the poor. Lifted from short and brutal lives by the taste of Phlegm — in truth, the gift of Jesus Christ. The only thing that united us was the ability to drink the Phlegm, and our usefulness to Xerophylla because of it.

Perhaps one day I could change that.

We marched through the grand gates in our lines. The inside of the Grand Nexus was filled with staggered layers, with long tables on each layer. It was as if there was an inverted pyramid within the large one. We made our way to the center of this inverted pyramid, and stood, arrayed in four lines, to greet our superiors.

"I am proud to announce," Professor Light said, "the next generation of Arcanists!"

The crowd burst out into wild applause.

"Students, repeat after me," Professor Light said to us, arrayed before her. "Morituri Te Salutant!"

"Morituri Te Salutant!" we all shouted. It seemed clear to me that most of my fellow first-years did not understand the Latin we spoke, but Friar Clef had insisted on my education.

We who are about to die salute you.

The Romans, I had been told, had been an ancient people. In the True Bible of Christ, they had been a vicious, cruel, and imperial people who had killed Christ with the most devious of inventions. Bureaucracy. They were an empire that fetishized death, and so when one who could undo it arose, they crumbled in His wake.

The crowd roared. Then, they cried to us as well.

"Morituri Te Salutant!"

And once this cheerful greeting had been made, some older students came down to lead us to our seats.

When we were seated, food appeared on our tables, carried by magic fey pixies bound to service by the Arcana Institute's Anderson-Mab Pactiron Generators.

There was phlegmbrick melted over bread, and phlegmbrick melted into a hot slurry that meats and breads might be dipped in; phlegmbrick and macaroni; phlegmbrick paste with herbaceous mosses, phlegmbrick melted into rice, phlegmbrick baked into bread, phlegmbrick in vinegar, and all sorts of other treatments of phlegmbrick. It was a verifiable cornucopia.

The older students dug into the food with gusto, though the other first-years seemed confused and hesitated. Many of them had not seen phlegmbrick in such preparations before — Friar Clef had made all of these at least once for me — but once they saw that I enjoyed the food they joined in.

When we were finished, Professor Light banged her staff against the floor, and the room fell silent.

A rather wiry middle-aged man stood. He was bald.

"Students. Welcome," he said robotically. "I trust that those of you who have survived are prepared for another year of tribulations here at the Arcana Institute."

Only Li laughed, from the Blood section. Nobody else seemed to find it funny.

"I am Professor Charles. Ogden. Gears," he continued. "I am the Headmaster of the Arcana Institute. It is my duty to see that the strong among you serve the Fundamentum to the fullest and the weak among you become strong or die. "

This time, nobody laughed.

"The Stricken Professor has been put to death again. Should you encounter him, do not approach and alert a professor. One of us shall restrain him. "

I had never heard of the Stricken Professor, but I heard an older student muffle a sob. Their antics clearly had left many scars.

"Madame Jones has asked me to remind you that all library books must be returned on time, and that if they are not, she is always looking for volunteers for early deployment. Professor Rights has asked me to emphasize that the existence of our foundling ward should make it clear that parental duties will not exempt you from military service. Professor Kiryu has asked me to state that her butterflies are not toys and that Kondracki's exile was a direct consequence of his abuse of power. "

Professor Gears pointed at a man in the finest suit moon- sanctified silver could buy, yet even his finery could not disguise his pockmarked leer and mismatched eyes. Frankly speaking, he was hideous, and I shuddered to even gaze upon him.

"Mr. Filia is not a member of our staff. He has graciously agreed to witness our opening ceremonies, as he always does, to impress upon you the gravity of your role here. For where Death goes, Mr. Filia follows."

The student body seemed to collectively shudder. Mr. Filia seemed to enjoy that, his vermine tongue dancing between the gaps in his crooked sneer. His eyes darted about the Grand Nexus, dancing from one section to his next, occasionally fixating on single students. I shuddered. He seemed to be the kind of monster I had seen come to Glastonbury and the Phlegmfont many times before, the kind of man who took a morbid joy in drawing blood and bearing bodies, the kind who anticipated the deaths of children with glee.

"You are dismissed," Professor Gears said.

It was not until after I had climbed into my bed that I realized that I ought to have searched for Edmond Tarry. That nigh-forgotten specter of my youth, whom Friar Clef had said had gone to the Institute early.

It was a mystery for another day, like so many others. A secret wrapped in riddles and schemes, woven by a schemer I would not see for years to come.

rating: +37+x
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