Yeti picking flowers. Pat Dahn, 2018.
High in the Himalayas was a medieval structure that had served as an isolated outpost of wizards for over a dozen centuries. Made of large blocks of stone and dark, ancient wood assembled with magical spells that had been forgotten a half dozen centuries before, The Monastery was hanging on the side of a wind blown mountainside of the Himalayas. The massive structure was built into the mountain, the entryway doors lead out to a long winding stone stairway that clung to the mountain and lead to the only trail leading to an outpost of any sort. An outpost in a small village that was a three day hike over crevasses, across frozen rivers and along treacherous slopes. This monastery was not built for that hike, it was built for patrols through unmarked passes, along teetering ridges and through yards of snow.
Just through the grand front doors was a great hall lit by hundreds of dim candles and dozens of dusted over stained glass windows. The magic that built this room kept most of it in near-blindness, impossible to see from one end to the other. Because it was the central location of the structure, the great hall had become the meeting place of all the men, where they would take their meals and a staging place before and after the patrols that could last as long as a week or two.
For centuries, the main gathering place was the chapel, which was located at the top of the east tower and held dual roles. Displayed there was the prophetic Book of Cards, a prophetic text whose earliest writings date back to the building of The Monastery. This book would guide the patrols and politics of this outpost for centuries, it offered reference for a guide of spells to be used on the mountains and also offered philosophical writings. Over the past several decades the reading of the text had been restricted to the Commander and the Administrator and some had wondered if they had been misreporting it to their whims.
Phineas Dunforth was late for his first patrol. Out of breath and sweating through his thick coat even before going outside for his for the twenty-odd mile trek to Observation Hut G. The previous night his orders were delivered by owl, commanding him to the great hall at 6am to patrol with another wizard, Tom Brach. It took him until noon before he had found his way to the great hall to meet Tom as he stumbled through enchanted hallways through the dark, where one hallway could lead him to the same hallway or back out the door of the room he came from. This assignment came just a couple of days after arriving to the monastery when he was greeted by Administrator Chervil, a skinny and haggard older man, and the younger, shifty eyed giant Mr. Nilm.
Brach, Chervil, Nilm. These weren’t names Phineas grew up with. He came from a prominent wizarding family, attending and failing out of the finest wizarding boarding schools and blowing his chances at the most upstanding wizarding careers. He was freshly out of school and the curly haired blonde man was already out of options that didn’t exile him to the end of the world. Instead of fighting in a wizarding battalion of the Great War, his incompetence in wizardry had him lost in a magical maze of living hallways at the top of nowhere. He was so inept with spells and potions that he had practically been banished to the top of nowhere, to track, protect and contain the Yeti. While the Yeti Service of Wizards is advertised as an elite magical society working toward the service of magical beasts, the reality was that it was a dumping place of undesirable wizards, that weren’t so undesirable that they needed to be locked away in a prison. These were the wizards with nothing left to offer to the world of magic, exiled through lengthy work contracts.
“Thanks for showing up, did you at least bring your Guide of Mountain Spells? The new guys don’t tend to know the spells needed to survive out there off the top of their heads, and a lot of the old guys have never figured them out either,” Tom Brach leaned against his backpack.
“Uh, yes… I’ve got it right here…” Phineas fumbled with a burned red pocket sized book with a golden emblem of a mountain on the cover golden outlines of clouds blowing past the printed summit.
The Guide of Mountain Spells was a cheat sheet of some of the essential spells for tracking the Yeti. There were spells for healing bones and lacerations, melting snow and creating snow, creating a warming sphere to walk through extreme temperatures, a transporting spell, and a disarming spell. There was a spell to create the image of more Yetis to distract the real thing and spells to create white out conditions to obscure it from view of non-magical people and more. Almost no one had mastered all of the spells, or even half of them and no one aside from Commander Slee and Administrator Chervil had mastered any spells that did not appear in the Guide.
“Well, we’re going to have to hurry if we’re going to make it to G before nightfall… unless you know a transporting spell… do you?” Tom said.
“Uh… n-no…” Phineas said.
“Yeah, I did not think you would. No one here does, and based on your fancy name, I’m guessing you might have a lot more spells to learn to catch up to the rest of us “undesirables.” You high born wizards have always fallen further down the rungs of society to end up here. You really have to bullocks things up royally to make it so far away. Now did you make some trouble or flunk out of life on your lack of merits?”
“Oh good, you won’t be throwing fits and starting fights. Right? Don’t lie to me, we aren’t going out for a stroll, it is extremely dangerous out there. That’s why there’s two of us to handle patrols,” Tom flung open the front door to the howling of the frigid wind, “Thermious Bulwarken!”
A sphere of energy containing a somewhat toasty interior surrounded Tom and Phineas as they stepped out into the cold. It was so cold and windy that they still needed to wear their heavy jackets as a bit of the wind would trickle through the sphere. He was a young man of twenty and rather pale, tall and gangly, and despite his youth, Phineas was still sore from his trek to the monastery just a few days before even as that was a less strenuous hike on a beaten path. It was an odd sensation to wipe the sweat out of his crusted hair while surrounded by snow in every direction.
“The problem is that it is not suitable for seeing great distances around us!” Tom shouted over the buzzing hum of the energy sphere.
“And it’s loud!” Phineas shouted.
“Yes, that is a wretched smell! It’s also loud, too!” Tom yelled back.
Tom was a more seasoned snowshoer that lived up to his sallow, craggy, sun beat bearded face and grey streaks in his black hair made him a man decades older than his twenty five years of age. He could plow through without slowing his brisk pace as Phineas gasped for air to keep up in Tom’s footprints.
“Because you were late you missed the show. Slee and Chervil were really giving it to Nilm,” Tom let the energy sphere dissipate so that they could hear each other . “Slee was ordering a fifth straight patrol from another fellow, Greywell, who was so exhausted he could barely walk or speak. When Chervil claimed his patrols were necessary to a prophecy Nilm came in to defend the other man by questioning the accuracy of so many of the recent prophecies and that the rest of the men aren’t allowed to read it for themselves. To rebut these claims, Slee put a spell on him to expand his tongue so he couldn’t speak and Chervil levitated him into the rafters. It was a half an hour after Slee and Chervil left the chamber before anyone had the guts to come out of the shadows and reverse the spells because no one wanted to be seen helping him.”
“Wait, who is Mr. Nilm? I thought he was the lumbering gentleman with Administrator Chervil when I came in?” Phineas said. “What’s going on with them?”
“He wasn’t with Chervil. He likes to make himself known to everyone at our level in the monastery. He kind of deflects the abuse that Slee and Chervil would give to everyone else on himself. He fancies himself a bit of a leader of the resistance,” Tom said.
“The resistance? What, for late night drinking or sneaking off into town?” Phineas said.
“This isn’t boarding school. And it isn’t just that the headmasters have strict rules. They’re brutal here. Nobody leaves. No one has ever left. It would be like a prison break to escape. Slee and Chervil are by far the most powerful wizards in the mountains so we are stuck doing anything they command. They have taken possession of the Book of Cards and now preach it to it in their own image. I’m not even sure they were officially appointed to oversee the monastery. I think they took the positions for themselves about thirty years back and no one from the ministry has come to take back control,” Tom said.
“Oh god. I thought there was at least some sense that this was still a post to take as a service to the magical world—“ Phineas started.
“Wait, how did you get lost in the hallways again?” Tom interrupted.
“I, uh… it’s pretty confusing—“ Phineas stuttered.
“The halls don’t mess with wizards, it’s part of the spell that brings them to life. They come to life to confuse and distract any non-magicals that may stumble their way out there,” Tom said.
“They must have had some kind of mix up, I’m not very good at spell, after all—“ the color left Phineas’s face.
“No, no mix up. We’ve had some real magical ignoramuses come through this place, most of them ended up frozen at the bottom of a crevasse within a week, and none of them have been confused for a non-magical by the monastery. How did you do it? How did you get here?” Tom said.
“I am a wizard, I swear! I’m a Dunforth, we’re very well known, we get sorted into all the best houses!” Phineas said.
“Oh, I’d love to be sorted into a good house. I’d like to be sorted into any house,” Tom accused.
“I didn’t mean to say that—“ Phineas said.
“They wouldn’t let someone from a family like mine anywhere near a sorting hat for fear of spreading some kind of low-born parasite,” Tom said. “If only I could have been born to such a prominent family, or even a non-magical family. Or better yet, without magical at all, not knowing about the glamorous wizarding life that’s just in view, but completely out of reach.”
“And I can never have that either. I ran out of wizarding schools before I could graduate. My family sent me here to salvage any honor they could for the family.” Phineas said.
“To hell with honor! You aren’t a wizard, you’re a squib, a non-magical person born to a wizarding family. You have no place being tortured here. If they knew, they would finally understand why you failed out of school and I’m sure you could get a job in the human world,” Tom said.
“No! I can’t go back! I have to be a wizard or it would destroy my family! And if you know, you have to help me stay,” Phineas said.
“But a magical mistake here could mean someone gets killed or you lose track of the Yeti. It’s not about you anymore or your precious family that has everything all sorted for them,” Tom said.
“I have skills, they aren’t magical skills, but they can sure look like it. In the boarding schools I found ways to make illusions and I practiced and practiced my illusions when everyone else was practicing spells and potions that I was able to become a great illusionist. I was able to be so great that I was able to fool some of the greatest magical people into thinking I was a terrible wizard. The only subject I was able to excel at as well as any wizard was the study of magical beasts. I have a cousin who knew my secret and was skilled enough to put a charm on me to be able to see the magical beasts and it turns out that’s the only advantage one needs to study them. I thought that coming here I could actually do something with that knowledge. Maybe I’m wrong, but I have to try to keep up the illusion,” tears froze to Phineas’s cheeks. Tom stopped trudging through the snow.
“Alright, alright. I don’t think there’s any talking you out of it now. There’s two of us that know now, that’s a conspiracy. I like the sound of that. It’s almost like we have a plan for our secret,” Tom said.
“Our secret?” Phineas said.
“We’re going to have to keep each other alive and it sounds like you have something to offer even if it isn’t magical spells. I don’t think it will be taken too kindly if it is made known that I abetted your non-magical infiltration to the monastery so if you go down, I go down. On the bright side, that could be my ticket out of here,” Tom said.
“Don’t even joke about it—“ Phineas said.
“Alright, alright. Ha! No jabs, I can do that… I can try,” Tom said.
“Thank you, thank you…” Phineas gazed off in the distance. “How many Yeti are there anyway?”
“It’s THE Yeti, singular. There’s only one.”
“Are you certain?”
“There is no doubt about it, the Yeti has been wandering these slopes since we first came here just over a thousand years ago.”
“Then, what are those?” Phineas pointed.
Tom’s face sunk. Swinging his rucksack down and Fumbling through the pockets he pulled out an enchanted looking glass. A group of men in dirtied white pelts pelts struggled through the snow in the distance.
“We need to get back to the monastery, now!” Tom said.
“I thought I saw in the spell guide… can’t we just send a signal—“
“We can if you know an illusion to do such a thing. I don’t have that in my skill set. Hurry up, we’re over three hours away.”