𝅘𝅥 The ‘Talk’ 𝅘𝅥
Five weeks earlier…
Eighteen students watched their teacher move around the classroom with mixed expressions of defeat and despair. Kon, however, wore a smile as he handed them each a test. Five short answer questions on the front, and one essay question on the back. Even if the kids didn’t believe in themselves, Kon had enough faith to spare. He knew they could pass.
With each brief exchange, Kon had to be careful not to look at his student’s fae. They were lively creatures, invisible to most, but not to the very young or those who were granted the Sight by Fate. Kon was 39 years old – much too old to become a Seer – yet only last season, he began seeing the ethereal spirits. His own fae started growing, slowly hardening into a gold and silver knot of lutestrings. With a thought, he told it to wait by his desk. Its glittering shell hovered beside his chair.
Like the children, their nascent, shimmering fae got antsy whenever they were put in confined places. As Kon handed out the tests, blurs of different shapes and colors flew around the classroom, dancing with and darting toward one another, as if they were playing a game of tag. It was easier for Kon to look at his student’s faces than risk accidentally staring at the dynamic light show. Though Fate had chosen him to fight in the War, he chose to remain in hiding with his family. Only his wife, his best friend, and his daughter knew his secret. If word got out, he would quickly be taken away to serve in the Fated King’s army.
Kon’s daughter, Kinjra, bounced in her seat as he handed her a test. Her fae – oblong and green – lay between her boots, nestled within a tuft of grass that poked through a crack in the floorboards. The contradiction of emotions told Kon that his daughter was more nervous than she was showing. It had not taken long for him to realize that fae often reflected the emotions of their human counterpart.
“You can do this,” Kon told her.
“I hope so,” Kinjra whispered.
Kon mussed his daughter’s short brown fringe, inciting a groan. Stuck to her scalp, he found a prickly burr and plucked it, then left it on her desk. Kinjra smiled as she picked the burr up, inspected it, then pocketed it.
Still grinning, Kon approached the boy sitting beside her: her friend, Belen. He was a year older than Kinjra, though a recent growth spurt made him look closer to fifteen. His fae – in contrast – was a tiny, copper burnish. It floated above his shoulder, vibrating anxiously, as Belen’s fingers thrummed a beat against his desk.
Kinjra wasn’t so lucky in the growth department. The white, flower-embroidered jacket Kon bought for her tenth nameday still fit his daughter snugly. She was wearing it now, though it was less white than not, marred with dirt and grass stains, both old and new. Kinjra preferred it that way, just like she preferred to walk outside with her feet bare. The girl loved nature like Kon loved music. He could see that love in the verdant glow of her fae.
Kon handed Belen a test, then moved to their other friend, Etal. He was older than Kinjra too, but only barely taller. While she still had most of her baby fat, Etal was skin and bones. Beneath his tight maroon robes, he seemed smaller, though Kon was sure the boy would grow up to be as lanky as his father, Imet. The physician’s son was just as stiff and proper, already. Etal’s voice was crisp with confidence as he took his test from Kon’s hands. “Thank you,” he said. His fae – a thin, bright sheen, like a coin’s edge reflecting light – was spinning above his head as his eyes scanned the questions.
“My pleasure,” Kon said, leaving the boy to his test. Etal and his sister, Rota, were already writing by the time Kon took his seat at the front of the class. “You may now begin,” he announced. “Twenty minutes should be enough. Behave, and I may give you an evening recess.”
The rest of the children – Kinjra excluded – grabbed their quills and began scribbling answers. With arms crossed over his lap, Kon watched the student’s fae gather above their desks, enthralled by their concentration. Kinjra grimaced, her red, puffy cheeks wrinkling. Like her brown hair, she had gotten her cheeks and her olive skin from her mother. Meanwhile, the only thing she had gotten from Kon was her stubborn fat and her pale yellow eyes.
Those same eyes stared at her test in defeat. Kon tried to will determination in her like he willed obedience into his fae, but it was to no avail. Kinjra blinked at the page blankly as her fae rustled in its tuft of grass.
All week long, his daughter had spent her evenings studying with Etal and Belen. Of the three, Etal was the most academically inclined, as a consequence of growing up with his father. Unlike Rota, who would rather help her friends cheat, Etal was a voluntary tutor. So far, only Kinjra and Belen had taken his offer, but in the passing weeks, Kon was already seeing improvements.
You can do this, Kon thought. His fae chimed a bright note in response. Though Kinjra couldn’t hear it, she flipped over her page at the very same moment. Her eyes lit up as she read the essay question. Discuss the long-term environmental problems caused by the fae, Decay, after the Battle of Vaska Toma.
Kinjra finally picked up her quill, inked its nib, and got to work, joining the rhythm of words pouring onto paper. Kon sat back in his chair, relishing in the sound. It was like music to his ears.
Unconsciously, Kon’s eyes fell on the lute propped up beside his desk. In his youth, he never imagined becoming a teacher. For most of his adult life, he had been a bard, making a living off song and dance. It was that which brought him to Jrana, in her roost’s most popular lounge. After Kinjra was born, Kon eventually settled into the humbler profession. It didn’t take long for him to find a way to teach with song. In truth, teaching and performing weren’t very different. Both involved the expression of ideas, whether they be emotion or information.
Kon stared at his lute for a long while, imagining the weight of it in his hands. He could almost feel the grainy, polished wood in his palms, or the hard, rigid strings at his fingertips. In his mind, he was plucking away at the instrument with the nails of his right hand. They were grown long and dulled at the end of their natural curve, making them look less like nails, and more like talons. Just one consequence of humanity evolving from prehistoric raptors. That had been a much lighter subject to teach. Kon used his fae to make birds sing in accompaniment with his lute-assisted lecture.
As Kinjra hastened the scratching of her quill’s nib, so too did Belen. They flipped their pages almost simultaneously. Etal had noticed, too. He smiled widely, writing at a smooth-and-steady pace. Etal was the first to finish as Kinjra struggled to fit her long-winded answers on the first page’s shorter bars. The essay had surely jogged her memory, though her thoughts were often rambly, rather than concise. By the time she was done, Kon could see the entire page glistening with green ink. Kinjra and Etal shared a momentary glance before she began doodling in the blank white corners. Drawing floral patterns, most likely.
Belen had faltered at the essay question, along with several others. Etal’s sister, Rota, glared daggers at Kon as she read the back page. She had dark circles around her eyes, and her stare was almost vacant, save for the flicker of resentment. Despite what she might think, Kon didn’t consider his daughter’s love of nature when writing the question. The Last Talon – Vaska Toma – was just known as the Deadlands, now. In the wake of Decay’s rampage, the fae left the region nothing more than a festering scar. Kon had spent multiple days teaching about the environmental aftermath. The question shouldn’t have come to Rota as any surprise.
You can do it, Kon thought with a nod of encouragement. Of her own accord, his fae drifted over to Rota’s desk. Compared to Rota’s fae – a bluish shimmer, like rain streaming on glass – Kon’s fae was practically solid. Though invisible, it had grown enough of a physical presence to slightly nudge his students, whenever Kon needed it. He gave the order, and his fae tapped Rota’s quill gently. Not long after, she started writing. Belen had begun staring into space. With a faint brush of his hand, the boy’s attention snapped back to his test. They weren’t the only students to lose momentum.
“Ten minutes,” Kon said. His voice was tuned gently, though he spoke loud enough to fill the room. “After that, you can play outside while I grade them. How does that sound?”
Other than Rota, Kon’s students perked up, elated by the idea. Belen returned to his test and finished it with a dramatic flourish. Smiling, the boy laid his arms over his desk, then dropped his head with a sigh of relief. Kinjra giggled and Etal’s smile faltered as they both watched Belen collapse into his biceps.
Kon quickly hushed them.
“If you’re already done, be considerate of the others. Keep your eyes on your own desks and please, remain quiet.” He made sure to keep his voice airy to show that he wasn’t angry. Rota, however, glanced back at her brother with a frown. Kon cleared his throat. Slowly, his students dragged their attention back to their papers. Rota just stared at the page, her cheeks flushing in frustration. The circles around her eyes deepened as the ten minutes passed by. She left her quill on her desk without writing another word.
Kon checked the watch on his wrist one last time. “Time’s up,” he said. “Bring me your tests. I’ll call you in one at a time to discuss your grades. Please don’t wander where I can’t see you from the windows.”
Eighteen children rose with a clamorous racket, chairs scuffing floorboards and voices chattering in a mixture of anxiousness and relief. By consequence of imposed seating arrangement, Rota reached Kon’s desk first. When Kon had caught her and her friends cheating on a previous test, he had no choice but to separate them. Being their leader, Kon made sure to put Rota in the front row.
Kon shook his head when the girl tried to hand her his half-written test. “You can sit back down and finish it,” he said. “I can tell you’ve been having trouble sleeping, Rota. I’m happy to give you the extra time.”
The girl startled, her curling eyebrows rising to brush her dark tan bangs. “If I could have finished it, I would have,” she replied curtly.
“Just try?” Kon asked. “For five more minutes? I only want you to pass, Rota. Please?”
Rota grumbled as she returned to her desk, passing by her friends, and eventually, her brother Etal.
“You can do this,” he told her.
Kon chose to ignore the swear uttered beneath Rota’s breath.
He collected the next few papers with a soft grin and thanks. When Etal reached him, Kon briefly checked over his test. “You can stay, Etal. I’ll grade yours first. I don’t think it will take long.”
The boy nodded, quickly taking a seat in front, as Kinjra and Belen bumped shoulders, their papers outstretched in a struggle to reach Kon’s desk first. Kon laid Etal’s test down separately, then added Kinjra and Belen’s to the pile. “Can you please minimize the roughhousing, you two?”
The pair nodded meekly as they departed. Belen’s long, brassy hair bounced on his shoulders as he led Kinjra outside. As comparatively big as he was, Kon knew he was always careful when they played. But if Kinjra returned to their nest with another bruise, he knew Jrana would get upset.
The kids’ nascent fae drifted behind them, Kinjra’s leafy-green, and Belen’s a dim burnish. One by one, the remaining children and their ephemeral companions departed, leaving Etal and Rota alone with Kon. As soon as the door closed behind the last of Kon’s students, he addressed the siblings.
“I may have had ulterior motives in asking you two to stay,” he admitted. Etal’s face softened while Rota looked up, her jaw clenched. “How are you two feeling?” he asked. “How is your mother?”
Judging by their expressions, the answer wasn’t good.
“Mother is improving,” whispered Etal. “It helps that we’re not currently migrating. It was hard for her to rest when our nest was rumbling beneath her, but now that she can sleep during the day, father says she is recovering.”
Rota grumbled a swear so quiet, Etal couldn’t even hear it. Kon, however? His fae – the ball of lutestrings – was listening intently. The words reverberated through the fae’s essence, and through their connection, came ringing in his ears. Through his fae, he could hear each of the children’s breaths, as well as the voices of his students shouting outside, in spite of the shut windows and closed door.
“You don’t agree?” Kon asked the girl. Rota huffed, scowling. She dropped her quill on her desk as she stood, leaving the essay page quarter-empty. Rota no longer seemed interested in finishing.
“I don’t,” she said. “And I think it’s ridiculous I have to be in school when my mother could die any minute.”
Kon and Etal shared a frown. Did I overstep? he wondered. Their father and him weren’t exactly friendly, but that didn’t mean Kon didn’t care about their well being. The problem was Imet wasn’t talking to the rest of the Pale Hawks about Rela’s sickness. All Kon knew was that she’d been ill for almost two weeks, unable to leave her bed, even as their flock traveled. Belen’s father – Leb – had contributed an extra steer to pull their nest with her still in it. He was the only person Imet had asked for help, and he wasn’t talking much either.
“Father doesn’t want us disturbing her,” Etal added. “Doesn’t want us to miss out on our education, either.”
“My mom is dying, and I’m sitting here, writing about more dead people.” Rota scoffed, then followed it with a third swear. This time it was loud enough that Kon couldn’t let it go unanswered.
“Young lady. Please watch your language.”
Rota crossed her arms. “Whatever.”
Etal’s frown deepened, his eyes drooping. Kon could tell he was sorry for his sister’s outburst.
“Do you think Imet would mind it if you two came home early? I can send you now. I’m sure Rela would appreciate it.”
“That would be great,” Etal said. Rota glanced away, her eyes peering through the window at the students playing outside. Kon looked and saw Belen and Kinjra climbing up a tree at the edge of the camp’s clearing. He tried not to get upset, even as his daughter bumped her head on a branch while Belen helped her ascend.
“I’ll tell you two your grades tomorrow, then. Let your parents know that Jrana, Kinjra, and I have you four in our prayers..”
“Of course,” Etal said. His lips were smiling weakly, though his eyes still frowned. Rota gave Kon her test and walked out without a word. “Thank you,” Etal whispered before following her outside. His thin-and-bright sheen of a fae chased after Rota’s misty glimmer. In their rush, the door was left ajar. The natural music of warbling birds and buzzing insects filled the classroom with the sounds of laughter. Kinjra and Belen waved for Etal to join them, perched in a tree where they could look down on the others.
Rota stormed off, and Etal ran to join her. “Sorry,” Kon heard the boy call out. Not with his ears, but with his fae. Etal waved his friends goodbye, then departed for their nest.
Kon left the remaining children to their fun. He had eighteen papers to grade, and he intended to take his time.
If Rota would have finished her essay, the girl would have earned perfect marks like her brother. Both of Imet and Rela’s children were among Kon’s best students. It was a shame to give Rota anything less than a ten out of ten.
Belen had earned an eight, while Kinjra earned a seven. Of Kon’s eighteen students, only two got less than a six. Kon would make sure to speak with them last, since those talks would go on for the longest. In the meantime, he would let the others leave early. The sun was only a few hours away from settling beneath the eastern horizon. Gul would open the canteen soon for dinner, and he prepared the kids small cakes as a dessert, at Kon’s request. During these hard times, it was the least they deserved.
Everyone could feel the tension building since the Seers ordered the Pale Hawks to halt their journey northward. That very night, a meteor shower was Divined to fall along the coastline their flock was heading towards. The Seers assured their flock would be safer here, camped out in the Sallow Woods. They’d been still for four days already, and that was four days too many. The adults – Kon and Jrana included – were restless.
Kon’s fae wandered from the open door to his desk. It really was hard not to stare, especially when its metallic shell glinted in the sunlight. The fae… they were living miracles. Spiritual companions, born from the planet alongside each human, with the sole purpose of watching over them. Every young child was capable of seeing them, but only Seers were granted by Fate to form a connection and help them grow. Through that connection, a Seer could manifest their fae into a wondrous creature, shaped entirely by the human’s imagination. Kon could tell his fae was nearing its metamorphosis. Once that happened, he doubted he could hide for long.
Jrana, Gul, and Kinjra would help prolong that day, but still, Kon worried. The last thing he wanted was to be taken away from his family. Kon was a musician, a teacher, and a pacifist, at that. There was no place for a man like him in a war.
Kon silenced the thought and returned to his student’s tests. As he graded them, he organized them into four piles – ranked by scores – and began calling them inside, highest to lowest. Alija, Meik, Ferl, then Belen. Like the two kids before her, Ferl ran to fetch the boy from the tree. As soon as he heard his name, he dropped from his perch, landing on unsteady feet.
Kinjra leaned against the bough of their tree as her friend departed, her dirt-and-grass-stained coat and olive skin blending easily with the bark. She was peering into the canopy’s green foliage, her fae unseen, nestled between the leaves. A strong wind blew, stirring Kinjra’s fringe and bending the tree beneath her. Though it didn’t move far, she clung to the branch tightly until it settled back into place. The wind stilled. She leaned back and closed her eyes, her breathing slow as she drifted into a world of dreams.
Kon smiled as him and his fae listened. The floating, glittering orb returned to his desk when Belen filled the doorway, blocking Kon’s view. “How’d I do, Mister Kon?” he asked. The boy approached Kon’s desk with a pip in his step, the muscles of his arms rigged beneath the sleeves of his dusty gray tunic.
“Eight out of ten,” Kon smiled. “You should be very proud. I bet Leb and Nelat will be, too.”
Belen’s puffy cheeks swelled as he grinned. His face was the only part of his body that kept its fat since his growth spurt. “Are you serious?” he asked, grabbing his test with his dusty hands. “I was expecting a seven at most! What did Kinjra get?”
“Seven,” Kon answered with a smile of his own.
Belen cooed. “I can’t wait to tell her!” He laughed. “She’s going to be so mad.”
“Don’t ruin the surprise,” Kon warned, his tone deepened. When Belen’s eyes widened, Kon met his gaze with a smile. “You can gloat after I give my daughter her grade. Deal?”
“Deal!” Belen exclaimed. He stopped to look at the numbers scribbled on his page. “What did I get wrong?” he asked, flipping over to the back. Kon had left notes below his essay, which Belen quickly took an interest in reading.
“Just a few minor inconsistencies,” Kon told him. “Your comparison of the festering soil to the spectral ash left by spiritfire was very well thought out, however, you didn’t even mention the lingering toxins. Kinjra’s answer was very thorough, so maybe when you’re done gloating, you can ask her what she wrote. Her essay scored a five out of five.”
Belen nodded with a smile. The boy was just as motivated by competition as Kinjra, but he could still be proud of his friend. They had both studied diligently under Etal’s tutelage. “I’ll make sure to do that,” he said firmly. “I’m guessing Etal got perfect marks?”
“He did,” Kon said brightly.
“How is he?” Belen asked. “Rota and him… they left in a hurry.”
Kon glanced outside, considering his answer. As he watched his daughter nap in peace, his lips curled softly. “Etal is doing okay. Maybe see if you can talk to him about his parents a bit. His mother is feeling a little better, but she’s still ill. It would be great if he knew you were there to talk, even if he decides he isn’t ready to open up.”
“I can do that,” Belen said, a fist clenched in resolve. In the last few years, the older boy had taken Kinjra and Etal under his wings. The three of them were kindred spirits, much like Kon and Gul had been, growing up. It warmed Kon’s heart knowing that his little girl had people she could rely on.
It was those friends that helped Kinjra get through the hard days, while Kon and Jrana were there to get her through the hard nights. The past year had been more challenging than most. The Battle of Vaska Toma cut off their journey in the west, forcing them to return eastward for the next safest path to Northern Tír. That had been a long, cold journey, as Burn gave way to Barren in the south. The Waistlands were more comfortable, but only enough to keep the Pale Hawks from shivering at night. Most of the flock lived to chase the warmer seasons of Bud and Bloom.
“Thank you, Belen,” Kon said, glancing from Kinjra to her friend. “I’m glad she has you and Etal. It’s hard not to worry about her, especially when she’s struggling in class.”
“I’m glad to have her too,” he said with a grin. “Who do you want me to get next?”
“My daugh-” Kon began.
The sound of Kinjra quietly yelping ripped Kon’s gaze outside. In the midst of her nap, a strong gust had pushed the girl off her tree branch. Belen didn’t seem to hear her, nor did the other students, who continued playing. Their fae – like Kon – noticed, however. Kinjra’s blur of a green light rushed down to the ground beneath her. With a surge of vibrance, the dirt sprouted a thick bed of grass. Her fae looked dimmer for the effort, though the air still sparkled with magic. Kinjra fell into the grass with an oomph.
Kon’s heart dropped, his mouth sagging with it.
“Mister Kon?” Belen asked. “Are you alright?” The boy turned to follow his gaze.
Outside, Kinjra rose to her feet, her face eerily calm. She held her hands out in front of her, cupped to create a soft bed for her fae. It floated up to and landed in her palms. As far as Belen could tell, she was inspecting herself for damage after her fall. It was a miracle he didn’t notice the newly grown patch of grass.
“Kinjra,” Kon said. “I need to see Kinjra, next.”
Belen hesitated, perhaps surprised by Kon’s tone. “Is everything okay?” he asked.
“Yes,” Kon lied, forcing a smile. “I just remembered something important for us to discuss.”
“Okay,” Belen said. Still clenching his test proudly, the boy ran to meet Kinjra, who was already walking across the field. Too tired to fly, her fae rested on her shoulder.
“It’s your turn,” Belen told Kon’s daughter.
“I had a feeling,” she replied. Kinjra was looking over Belen’s shoulder, straight into Kon’s eyes through the open doorway. “How did you do?” she asked. A clear attempt to stall.
“We’ll talk about it after,” Belen said. “Your father said he remembered something important.”
Kinjra nodded, though her frown betrayed skepticism. “I’ll be out in a bit,” she said. Her tone rang wary in her wake as Belen watched Kinjra close the door behind her.
“Dad,” she greeted him.
“Kin,” Kon answered.
“Let me guess,” she whispered. “Seven out of ten?”
Kon shook his head. “Kinjra,” he warned. “Don’t avoid this. You know how I feel about communication.”
His little girl shrugged, her gaze briefly flicking to the green ball of light that rested on her shoulder. Kon’s fae circled around the pair curiously, until Kinjra shooed it away with a wave of her hand.
“How long?” Kon breathed, incredulous. “How long have you had the Sight?”
His twelve-year-old daughter frowned. Kinjra dropped her head as one arm clasped the other by its elbow behind her back. Kon’s fae returned to his side as he waited for a reply.
“This morning,” Kinjra told him. “I woke up and the fae were suddenly… there.”
Kon shook his head. “Tell me the truth, Kin. This isn’t a game of White Lies. How long have you been keeping this from us?”
“A couple weeks,” she admitted. “A little while after we found the…”
Kinjra didn’t need to say it. Their brief discovery of a Carrion ravaged encampment was still fresh on the Pale Hawks’ minds. Still, Kon couldn’t believe what he was hearing. “Why didn’t you tell us?” he asked.
“Isn’t it obvious? Mom would make me hide it anyway, just like she makes you. There is no point in her knowing – it would only upset her more – and if you knew, I figured you wouldn’t be able to keep it a secret.”
Kon shook his head. His jaw was clenched and his lips were pursed, making the skin of his cheeks feel tight. “I can’t,” he sighed. “We need to tell her. Tonight.”
“Do we, though?” Kinjra kicked her heel against the floorboards, inciting a piercing creak. “Mom isn’t going to understand. She’ll just get more upset.”
Kon hoped that wasn’t true, but as much as he wanted to argue, he didn’t have much ground to stand on. Jrana’s relationship with fae and Fate was far from amicable. “Secrets only grow sharper with time,” Kon told his daughter. “And a family like ours? We should never keep secrets. Not from each other. Nothing can hurt us more.”
Kinjra’s frown deepened, prompting her father to let out another sigh. “Can it wait, at least? Until the meteor shower is over, and our flock is on the move again? I don’t want to be locked up in the nest all day until we leave. We both know that’s what she’ll want the moment she finds out.”
“I don’t think you’re being fair to your mother,” Kon said. “Let me talk to her. I won’t let that happen.”
“You promise?” Kinjra asked. Her crusted lips were pursed. Not a smile, but at least she no longer wore a frown.
“I promise,” Kon said. “In fact, I might even have an idea. Can you tell Belen we have plans tonight? I imagine Etal will spend the evening with his family, so maybe he can do the same.”
“…Sure,” Kinjra said, her lips half-parted in a smile. She stood frozen, anticipating. Kon showed her a warm grin in return. “Question Four Question?” she asked. “But I just have two.”
Kon nodded, leaning back in his seat. He was always happy to play the game with his daughter. “Ladies first,” he said.
“I saw Rota storm off. Etal looked sad. What’s going on?”
“I’m assuming he’s talked with you about his mother,” Kon began.
“A little,” she said with a slight nod. “He said she was getting better.”
“Rota doesn’t seem to think so. Imet hasn’t let anyone see Rela since she fell ill, and he’s refusing to tell any of the adults anything. I worry that he is too afraid to admit the truth. Etal would believe anything his father says, but Rota and her mother were always closer. It’s clear she’s not coping well.”
Kinjra blinked, considering. “What can I do?”
Kon tsked. “You know the rules. I have to ask my first question before you can ask your second.”
His daughter groaned. “That’s not my original question, anyway. I have a different one.”
Kon shook his head. “Then I guess we’re going three rounds. Do your friends know you have the Sight?”
“Not yet. But I think Etal may reach the conclusion soon. He’s caught me staring off ‘at nothing’ a few times.”
“Okay. I’m not going to tell you to keep it a secret from them. I just want to make sure you stress the gravity of what telling them means. I expect Belen and Etal to watch over you in this. They shouldn’t want the Seers to take you away as much as your mother or me.”
“…I can do that. Thanks, dad.”
“Gul was a big help in me figuring this whole thing out. I trust your friends will do the same for you.”
“Me too,” Kinjra agreed, smiling. “Does that mean I can tell them about you, too?”
“That’s four questions, Kin.”
His daughter groaned.
“You can tell them. If they slip and word gets out, I’ll find a way to handle it. They are as much your family as your mother and I. Just please, make sure they understand the consequences.”
Kinjra nodded, her lips pursed. “So what can I do for Etal?”
“Rota is family, too, as much as any other member of the Pale Hawks.”
Kon’s daughter sighed. “That doesn’t answer my question.”
“Kin. You can help them by being there for them, just as you would want them to be there for you. I’ve seen how Rota treats you, and how you treat her in return. Holding grudges won’t get you anywhere. Show them kindness, and gently inquire. Let them know you’re there if they need to talk. No judgments. Only support.”
“Easier said than done,” Kinjra grumbled under her breath.
“Sometimes peace isn’t easy. Sometimes people need to step up and offer the first olive branch. Even if Rota breaks it, you can’t whack her with the remains. You’ll have to give her time to process, then offer her another.”
“I’ve tried before, for Etal’s sake. It never works.”
“‘True strength is measured in perseverance.’” Kon quoted.
“The Heavenly Knights were born in very different times, Dad. They’re practically a fantasy.”
“How can you say that when your fae just used magic to make you a cushion of grass?”
Kinjra shrugged while her sharp mouth curved in a wide grin. “Got you,” she exclaimed. It was rare for her to get Kon to ask a question he didn’t mean to. Kon laughed softly. When she spoke again, her smile faltered. Her tone was severe. “I’ve never seen a real fae before,” she whispered. “Just what the bad ones can do.”
The father and daughter shared a frown. Their flock had been on the border of the Last Talon when the Carrion began to ravage the land. They’d seen the fleeing refugees, and the corpses of those afflicted with bloodrot. It was that very horror that had awakened Kon’s Sight.
“I saw real fae when I was young,” he admitted, thinking of the last time he’d seen that much death. “I would tell you about it now, but other students are waiting. You have one more question?”
“Yeah,” Kinjra said. “You said to tell Belen we have plans tonight. What would those be?
Kon smiled. “I know a place we can go, not far from here, where we can practice. Learning what my fae could do was what helped me learn how to keep it from acting without my consent.”
“Impossible,” Kinjra huffed. “Mom won’t let it happen. Tonight’s the meteor shower. She never lets us out of her sight when the skyblade starts crumbling.”
“The meteors are Divined to fall many leagues north. You and I, we’ll be heading in the opposite direction. If anything, we’ll be safer.”
“You don’t have to convince me,” Kinjra said. “Convince her. Until you do, I won’t get my hopes up.”
Kon nodded, then handed his daughter her test. “You were right. Seven out of ten. I’m very proud of you.’
“Could be better,” she grumbled. “Belen got a higher grade, didn’t he?”
“Eight,’ Kon admitted.
“I could tell by the way he was hiding it from me. I bet he can’t wait to rub it in my face.” Though her tone was jaded, Kon’s daughter was grinning.
“He lost two points on the essay. You can lecture him about it after you grab me Nom. Tell him and the others to be quick, so I can let you all go early. We can talk more at dinner.”
Kinjra nodded as she pattered for the door. She grasped the handle and hesitated. There were tears in her eyes as she looked back. “Thank you, Dad. I love you.”
“I love you too, Kin.”
Father and daughter took a moment to clear the moisture from their eyes. Both wore a smile as light flooded the classroom, and both held them as Kinjra departed.
Happiness sang in Kon’s heart.
𝅘𝅥 The Nature of Secrets 𝅘𝅥
Kon took his time pushing chairs under desks and shutting the classroom’s blinds. Outside, Kinjra and Belen were playing, tossing a bruised seabell back and forth like a ball. The pale blue fruit squished and leaked juices, sticking to their hands and leaving stains on their sleeves and arms. Though neither of the kids cared about the mess, Jrana would likely get upset at Kon for letting their daughter get so dirty on his supervision.
Darkness filled the classroom as Kon closed the final blind, leaving only a sliver of light as thin as the lunar ring in the sky. His fae – the orb of woven lute strings – was lingering by the crack in the door. The ridges of its gold-and-silver shell glittered as she rang like a bell, drawing Kon’s attention. Kon followed his fae through the door and locked it with a key on his belt.
The Pale Hawks’ school, much like their nest, was a round, domed structure built to be raised on wheels. Nearby, a hitch protruded from the side of the building, fit with ropes to be pulled on Leb’s steers. Kon glanced at it briefly, then to Leb’s son as he tripped and tumbled to the ground. He laughed as he caught the seabell in the crook of his arms, crushing it against his chest in the fall. A deep blue stain was already forming on his gray tunic.
“Whoops,” Belen huffed with the last of his laughter.
Kinjra jumped in the air, her arms held high. “Game over!” she exclaimed. “I told you I would win! You’re too big for your own good!”
At the comment, Belen rushed back up to his feet, discarding the flattened seabell on the ground to instead brandish a pointed finger. “I caught it!” he retorted. “This game isn’t over until one of us fails a catch!”
Kinjra crossed sticky arms over her coat and grinned. Slowly, her eyes moved from Belen to the seabell, flat and discarded. “Sure looks like you failed a catch to me,” she chuckled.
Belen’s jaw dropped in protest. Before he could shout another word, Kon made his presence known by stepping forward and loudly clearing his throat. “You should go home and clean yourself before dinner, Belen. You don’t have to worry about Kinjra. I’ll accompany her to the canteen, tonight.”
The boy’s pointed finger dropped to his side. “Will do, Mister Kon. But Kin! This isn’t over!” Belen took off running, then glared back at Kinjra and shouted. “Rematch! Same time tomorrow! I’ll find a fruit! You be ready!”
Kinjra curled her hands around her mouth to project her voice further. “You’re on!” she yelled back.
Belen waved as he turned and disappeared between two nests. By cutting through the middle of their ringed encampment, he would reach his home and his father’s stables sooner.
Kon and Kinjra needed to go the opposite way. Their home wasn’t far, so they left at a leisurely pace. “You should clean up, too,” said Kon. “Get the dirt and fruit pulp off you, then put on some nice clothes. Your mother is probably home already. I’ll talk to her about tonight while you get ready.”
Kinjra nodded, her lips faintly curled into a smile.
“I think I’ll talk to your mother outside,” he mumbled. “Where nobody can hear us.”
Kinjra frowned, groaning. “You’re no fun!”
“If you want your privacy to be respected, you need to respect other’s privacy, too. Promise me. No eavesdropping.” Though Kon’s tone was airy, he delivered his words with a firm gaze. Kinjra’s speckled yellow eyes observed Kon intently, before drifting on ahead and abruptly widening.
“I promise,” she whispered.
But Kinjra’s whispers weren’t the only ones Kon heard.
Only Miss Sut – Kon’s boss, and the Pale Hawks’ other teacher – lived between his nest and the school. The pair worked on alternating schedules, though as of late, Kon was filling in for the old woman more often than not. For the first time in days, Miss Sut had left her nest. Kon could see her standing outside his home, engaged in conversation with his wife.
Though Jrana and Miss Sut were the same height, the widow stood with her back so crooked and her shoulders so bent that she ended up closer to Kinjra’s size. With her face buried in a giant, purple, feathery robe, the widow’s voice was muffled. Jrana whispered a response before cutting their conversation short. She had bladed her body so she would see when Kon and Kinjra approached.
Husband and wife made eye contact. Kon smiled, though Jrana’s sharp face bore no hint of joy or humor. Her long, curling eyebrows were raised, forming spirals over her furrowed brow.
“She looks mad,” Kinjra said beside him. “And not at me, for once. What did you do?”
“I’m not sure,” he replied. What possible reason could Miss Sut have to talk to Jrana? Kon searched his mind and returned nothing. The two rarely spoke, and most often, they were only pleasantries. Miss Sut had never been the social type.
The old woman retreated into her three-story nest with an innocent wave. Her home towered over the rest of the flock’s, tripling as her office and a library. At that height, the curved structure looked more like an egg, balanced on top of an even break. In the ring of nests that surrounded Gul’s canteen, Miss Sut’s home stood out, more so than the school, stables, or Imet’s clinic.
No more than a hundred steps away, Jrana leaned back on one heel as she waited, her free foot tapping impatiently. Kinjra let Kon pass her, then went around his back to put herself closer to the nest. “I’ll let you two have your privacy,” she said, then pattered through the open door of their nest and slammed it behind her. Kon had no illusions of his daughter rushing to clean up. His fae could hear her breathing not far from the door.
Kon approached Jrana warily. Her bright, cerulean eyes shone as she observed him. Though she would have finished work much earlier, his wife was still wearing her dirty overalls. Like Kinjra, her hands were stained with dirt and fruit juice, too. She stood with her arms crossed in front of her. When Kon reached for her, Jrana pulled her elbow out of the way.
Kon dropped his arm. “Let’s go for a walk,” he said. “It seems I’m not the only one with something to talk about.”
“Smart man,” Jrana replied. Hard as she tried to mask her feelings beneath a severe exterior, Kon could hear the anger bubbling on her tongue. “Where do you have in mind?”
“The school,” he said. “I need to show you something.”
Jrana didn’t lead the way, though she didn’t let Kon take the lead, either. Side by side, the husband and wife walked. Not so close that they touched, but close enough that Kon could feel the hairs standing on Jrana’s bare arms.
Kon’s fae glided between them, pursuing Jrana’s clam-shaped, blue-gray cloud. Even for humans without the Sight, their fae still grew minutely with age. Typically, their shapes became more fixed or rigid. The main difference between her fae and Kon’s was their transparency. Kon could see through Jrana’s misty essence like a veil.
“You should go first,” Kon said, breaking the silence.
“Oh?” Jrana asked. “What if I still want you to sweat?”
Kon stopped in his tracks, halting Jrana with a slight brush of her arm. “Honey. I’m serious. I want to handle this first. What did Miss Sut say?” As he spoke, Kon left his hand floating between them.
Jrana reached for it, her fingers slipping neatly between his. She pulled herself so close that her swirling, cerulean eyes filled his entire vision. Tears were forming in her eyes as she blinked. Her lips parted, then closed. Reconsidering. Kon reached to wipe the tiny stream as it fell down her cheek.
“Why didn’t you tell me about Rin?” she whispered. Kon closed his eyes and drowned in her voice. “Why would you keep that from me?” she sniffed. “How could you not trust me?”
Kon let go of Jrana’s hand and took a step back. He looked over his shoulder – first at Miss Sut’s nest, then at his family’s – before gazing back at his wife. The Pale Hawks were gathering at the canteen, and neither the widow or their daughter were visible in the windows. Those facts did little to comfort him, but then again, nothing would. Not when he talked about his brother.
Judging by Jrana’s reaction, she would have already heard some details. Kon spent his entire adult life avoiding thinking about Rin for a reason. But how could he ever explain that to his wife after all the times he preached about honesty? Jrana would think of him as a hypocrite. A man who sets rules, only to break them.
His wife began tapping her foot impatiently, pulling Kon’s focus back to the present. Jrana was frowning, her painted yellow lips shining in bright contrast to her dark olive skin. With her chin tilted and eyes squinted, her gaze cut through Kon like a blade. Jrana’s long, chestnut hair billowed around her, tied in loose braids. A chilly breeze had passed them, prompting the woman to shiver.
Kon began handing his coat over the next second. Underneath his thin, paper-white teacher’s coat, he wore a comfy wool sweater. Jrana thanked him as she shrugged the coat over her shoulders. When she finally straightened, Kon found his voice.
“How much do you know?” he asked. As much as he hated it, he had to know. “I won’t know where to begin, otherwise.”
Jrana shook her head, her eyes and mouth wide in disbelief. “You don’t get it, do you? I don’t want to know what happened. I just want to know why I’m hearing about my husband’s brother from anyone other than himself. I’ve told you about all my demons, Kon. Why are other people telling me yours?”
Kon couldn’t blame Jrana for being angry. He was just as angry with himself. “Please, Jrana. Let me have a moment to think. There’s a good reason I buried my brother in the past. I just need to find the right words to articulate it.”
Jrana stared at him, unmoving, like a statue. When she let out a breath with a nod of her head, Kon let go of his, too. He looked around, but found no comfort in the empty field and paling sunlight.
“Can we have this conversation somewhere else?” Kon asked.
“Stop being paranoid. Nobody can hear us.”
Kon shook his head. “Please,” he begged. “Can we talk while we walk, at least?” He proffered an elbow with a sad grin.
Jrana sighed before taking Kon’s arm. As they walked along the treeline toward the school, his wife lightly stroked his shoulder through the sleeve of his sweater. Even if she was upset, she could still feel pity.
“I’m sorry,” Kon said. “I know those words don’t mean anything right now, but I truly am sorry.”
Jrana sniffed as she whispered. “If you’re sorry, then prove it. Help me understand.”
Kon took a deep breath. In the distance, he could see the bed of grass that Kinjra’s fae had created. He led his wife in that direction. As they walked, he tried to speak, but still, the words froze on Kon’s tongue. His suppression of his past had let a profound regret harden like ice, somewhere deep in his heart. He could feel the cold tension seeping through his veins with every pounding beat of his heart.
“My brother, Rin…” he began. Jrana looked at Kon in his peripherals, trusting him to guide her to safety. His eyes never left the ground. The stretch of treaded dirt seemed to go on for an eternity.
“Yes?” Jrana prodded.
“Rin was three years older than me,” Kon sighed. “Nine, when I was six. I was still young enough to have the Sight, back then. My brother-” Kon continued, the words stumbling. Just outside the school, he halted and faced his wife. “Rin never lost his.”
Jrana’s eyes fluttered with understanding, each blink grounding her. Helping her process. “He was a Seer,” she muttered, her voice breaking mid-sentence, no doubt matching the break in her heart.
Kon nodded his head, guilt swelling in his chest. Every breath felt heavier than the last, forcing his lungs to work harder and harder to keep him conscious. Jrana’s upbringing had given her good reason to resent the Seers, Fate, and fae. If she had known Kon and his kin had the potential too, she would have never opened her heart to him in the first place. With tears in his eyes, Kon stepped away from his wife, his back to her as he faced the lone patch of grass. Each blade was as thick as his fingers and as tall as his calves. He stood there for a long moment, listening only to the flock gathering at the canteen. His wife was utterly silent. Kon waited for her to leave him.
Jrana took a step, then another. Toward Kon, not away from him. “You didn’t think I would love you,” she said. “You thought I would leave you if I knew.”
Her voice poured out of her like an overflowing river, the splash of cold water to Kon’s face startling him into motion, the stream of words carrying his gaze back to her. It killed him to see her face a damp haze. Both of them were crying.
“Kon…” she whispered, stepping closer. Jrana put her forehead against his so there was nothing else for him to see but her eyes. Swirls and ripples danced across her oceanic-blue irises. Kon could sense his fae float closer, nestling itself in the space between their bodies. The sounds of flockfolk chattering and insects buzzing quieted, then, leaving Kon with just him and his wife’s breathing. When she spoke, her voice made him shiver. “That is literally the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard. You idiot man.”
Kon’s body shook against his will as Jrana tightly embraced him. No matter how hard he tried, he couldn’t utter a word.
“That changes nothing,” Jrana continued, drowning out the silence. “You keeping this from me? It changes nothing. I chose to love you. I chose to marry you. Not because Fate told us we were destined for each other, but because you are the sole person in this world that can inspire me to be better. Even now, after all these years traveling the world along your side, I have not met a single person that’s half as kind, considerate, or understanding as you. Where you come from doesn’t change that. It’s the human you became, on the other hand. If anyone knows what it’s like for others to hold your family against you, it’s me. I would never – not in a million years – stop loving you. I don’t care if Fate has taken an interest in you and decided to choose you, too. I will not let it come between us.”
Kon sobbed, even as Jrana kissed him, their wet, shelled lips slipping between each other perfectly. It was impossible to know how much time passed as the husband and wife held each other, sharing each turbulent breath. Kon’s arms were looped tight around Jrana’s waist. Jrana scratched Kon on the back of his head delicately, in that spot just behind his ear. Like his mother used to scratch him, before that terrible night.
Ever since Kon heard his wife utter Rin’s name, he couldn’t get those images out of his head. The meteor falling and the spiritfire blooming. The wraith lunging for Rin and Taking him. The Rin-wraith playing with the Pale Hawks’ lives like it was a sick, cruel game.
“It was never about keeping a secret from you,” Kon uttered, the words broken by his ragged breaths. “It was about keeping a secret from myself, really. When I was young I decided if I could just shut that whole part of my life away, it would be like it never happened. I could just live on happy, no longer terrified by the idea of outliving more of my family.”
Kon carefully pulled himself out of Jrana’s arms.
“If I didn’t,” he continued, “I would have never been able to fall in love. Not with you, and not with music. We would have never met, and our precious baby girl would have never been born. At that point I had everything I ever wanted. I buried my old family beneath my new one. Talking of it would only dredge up more darkness. It was much easier to just bask in the light.”
Jrana wiped her face with the sleeve of Kon’s coat, then reached again for his hand. “I understand,” she told him. “You don’t need to worry. I would never force you to speak of what happened.”
Kon took his wife’s hand as he dabbed the water off his face with his sweater. “I don’t know if it’s something I can ignore, anymore. I might need to talk about it… some day.”
“That’s what you have me for,” Jrana assured him, with a gentle peck of his wrist.
“I’ll let you know when I’m ready.”
“No pressure. No rush.”
“Thank you,” Kon breathed. “But I’m afraid there’s more we need to talk about.” Jrana rose an eyebrow, then frowned as Kon led her to the patch of overgrown grass. “Our daughter has been keeping a secret from us, too.”
Though the sparkle of magic had long faded, the fae-grown patch of green stood out vibrant against the chewed, yellowed clippings scattered among dead leaves, mud, and tree roots.
“Can you see that?” Kon asked. For all he knew, the grass was as invisible to Jrana as the fae who made it. None of the other children had noticed. Not even Belen.
“See what?” she asked. “You mean the long grass?” Jrana clenched his hand tighter. “I’m surprised Leb’s steers missed a spot…” she tried. Kon could hear the hollow of doubt in her words. Jrana made the connection between conversation and context. She just didn’t want to admit it.
The confirmation inspired an equal mix of relief and worry in Kon. Jrana being able to see the overgrown grass meant everyone else could, too. If their daughter didn’t learn how to control her fae soon, it would only be a matter of time until the others found out.
Kon sighed, letting go of Jrana’s hand and crouching. “They didn’t miss it,” he told her while ripping the dense blades of grass out of the ground by its roots. “This wasn’t here when we arrived. It wasn’t even here an hour ago,” he mumbled.
Jrana huffed a frustrated breath. “Kon. What are you saying?”
There was no easy way to put it. Kinjra having the Sight would only prove Jrana’s fear that Fate was determined to take everyone she loved away from her. “Can you help me?” Kon asked instead. After a moment of silence, he stopped what he was doing and look back up at his wife.
Without Kon’s hand to hold, Jrana began clasping the seashell necklace that hung from a string around her neck. Her mouth was open – words on her lips – but she was motionless. She wore a grimace like she was stricken.
For a long time, they remained like that. Still. Quiet. Kon took a deep breath as Jrana held hers.
“Please,” Kon said. “Help me protect our daughter.”
Jrana’s eyes flooded with realization. The breath she had been holding rushed out of her like a stream. The sky was getting darker as the sun retreated under the eastern horizon. Though the heavens were still lit in blues and purples, the dense canopies of the Sallow Woods cast the flock’s encampment in shadow.
With another wipe of her face, Jrana knelt down beside Kon, grabbed two handfuls of grass, and tore them from the earth. It wasn’t even a hundredth of the mass, but it was a start. Kon joined his wife in silence. Though he harbored no doubts Jrana’s mind was swimming with questions, he would give her all the time she needed. The pair were almost nearly finished when she finally spoke up.
“How long?” asked Jrana. It had been the same question Kon asked Kinjra, at first.
“Not long after we found the Warbler’s remains. Please don’t blame yourself for not noticing. Kinjra managed to hide it from me too, even with my Sight. I only found out when this happened. Her fae did it to protect her when she fell out of the tree.”
Jrana nodded as she unearthed the last of the evidence. With tears in her eyes, she tore the grass further, then tossed it to the wind. Kon helped shred and scatter the rest. In silence, they worked. The fear distorting Jrana’s expression never left her.
“It’s inevitable,” she whispered, barely audible. Kon only caught the words as they reverberated through his fae. The orb of coiled lute strings floated closer to her, as if to give her comfort. Jrana’s clam-like fae landed on the ground beside her, its misty, oceanic light dimming a little with every torn blade of grass.
“You know I heard that. Don’t you?” Jrana dusted her hands clean before looking Kon in the eyes. “What do you mean by inevitable?”
Jrana sighed. With no work left to keep her going, the woman sat back and folded inward, her shoulders sagging with defeat.
“Jrana, honey. It’s like you told me, before. This here,” he said, lifting a handful of torn grass. “It changes nothing. We became a family long before Fate decided to give Kinjra and I the Sight. We still have a choice. I won’t let Fate take me anywhere, and I won’t let it take our daughter, either.”
As he spoke, Kon crawled closer to his wife, still on his knees, and wrapped his arms around her. Though she didn’t hug him back, Kon pulled his wife tighter. With one hand stroking her hair and the other gently caressing her back, the husband gave his wife all the comfort he could.
“I’m not going anywhere,” he repeated. “Kinjra isn’t going anywhere.”
“Who are we kidding?” she sobbed. “Thinking we can defy Fate? Thinking we can live on, happily ever after?” Her voice was so bitter that Kon’s mouth sizzled in pain. “I don’t want to be alone,” she cried softly. “I hate being alone.”
“You’re not alone now,” Kon assured her. “And I promise you, Jrana. You never will be. Between Kinjra, the Pale Hawks, and me, I can promise you that. If you can’t have faith in Fate, then have faith in me. Believe in me.”
Kon wasn’t even sure his wife could hear him. Not over the sound of her sniffing and the racking of her chest as she fought for air.
Slowly, Jrana pulled herself out of Kon’s grasp. Her cerulean eyes gazed into his. Her lips parted as she steadied her breath. “Don’t do that,” she whimpered while wiping her face. “Don’t make a promise you can’t keep.”
“I promise,” Kon insisted. Jrana’s eyes shimmered as he leaned closer, lifting her sharp chin up with the tips of his fingers. His lengthy nails faintly brushed the side of her neck as he drew her into another soft kiss.
“I love you,” Kon whispered. The words filled his wife’s mouth in search of her heart.
“I love you too,” she echoed back. He could feel the warmth of her voice tickle the back of his throat, like sound waves vibrating.
Kon leaned back and took his wife’s face in his hands. The smile on his face was too meager. Jrana frowned as she saw it. She grabbed Kon by his wrists, then dragged his hands down to his lap.
“What?” she asked curtly. “Please don’t tell me there’s more.”
“Listen to me, okay? Do you remember what it was like when my fae first started growing? How it would use magic against my will, whenever I played music?”
Jrana clenched her jaw and nodded.
“Gul took me somewhere private,” Kon said. “Helped me figure out how to control my fae. If we’re going to hide Kinjra, that means I need to help her learn, too. If she doesn’t, another incident could happen like this one. With an Eyrie so close, we’re in Seer territory, now. We can’t waste any time. Kinjra and I-“
“-No,” Jrana interrupted. “I know what you’re going to ask, and my answer is no.”
“Please,” Kon begged. “Just hear me out.”
Jrana leaned further back. Her gaze drifted to the sky, and the thin sliver of light that was carved across the heavens. Darkness was already creeping amidst the vibrant colors of dusk. Jrana began to rise, prompting Kon to get up and help her to her feet. It was getting late, and Kon could hear his wife’s stomach grumbling.
“I’m listening,” she said. Jrana turned away from Kon. Her gaze settled on Miss Sut’s nest, which stood between the couple and theirs.
“Thank you.” Kon took his wife’s hand as they walked, side by side. “Kinjra’s fae is strong,” he said with a quiet intensity. “It’s a miracle no one else saw it happen. If any of the kids had the Sight, there’s no way they would have missed that glimmering flash of magic.”
Jrana sighed as she wiped the last of her tears from her face. “Absolutely not, Kon. How can you even ask me this, on tonight of all nights? In this place, of all places?”
“Technically I haven’t asked you yet.”
Jrana glared at him, unamused.
“Don’t you see it? That’s exactly why it has to be tonight. For whatever reason, Fate had chosen for all these things to happen today, of all days. The Seers of Coastwatch Eyrie will be leagues away to the north, waiting for the meteor to crash wherever it was Divined. If Kinjra and I head south, there’s no chance of them finding us. All we need is one evening. If you give that to us, I’ll make sure Kinjra’s fae never puts her at risk again.”
As they walked, Jrana shook her head. “I can’t sit through the meteor shower alone. Not after what the other mothers told me about what happened to-“
Kon’s wife cut herself off, not wanting to upset him. “The canteen will be open late for the adults tonight. You could wait there with Gul, Cres, and the others. I will come straight to you the moment we’re back.”
“I don’t know.”
“Please. I just want to protect our daughter.”
Jrana didn’t respond until after they reached the door to their short, yellow nest. In the shade, the structure looked more like graybark than sundlewood. As Kon took a look around, he noticed the world seemed less vibrant. Clouds gathered in the sky as the sun continued descending.
“If I let you two go, what do I get in return?”
Kon gazed into the swirls and ripples of his wife’s eyes. Though Jrana was no longer crying, her stare leaked sadness. “Besides our family sticking together?” he asked.
Jrana let go of his hand and crossed her arms over her chest. “Yes, Kon. What do I get besides the fulfillment of your wedding vows?”
Kon shrugged, his grin uncertain. “What do you want?”
Jrana opened her mouth, but before she could answer, the front door of their nest creaked open behind Kon. He had been listening to his wife so intently that he didn’t even notice Kinjra looking out the window as they approached.
“Are you two almost done?” asked Kinjra. Jrana’s stomach wasn’t the only one that was growling. Kinjra’s oblong, green fae hovered between her bare feet, glowing dimly. She had changed into a nice white shirt and shorts long enough to reach her ankles. “I’m starving,” she declared. “Can we get dinner before it’s cold? Please?
Kon and Jrana shared a glance, then nodded to Kinjra in unison.
“If I’m going to let you two go out tonight, I’m expecting a pleasant, family meal. Hate to break it to you, Kinjra, but you’ll be eating with your parents tonight. Belen and Etal can wait until breakfast to see you.”
Kon and Kinjra shared a glance, then smiled at Jrana in unison.
“Seriously?” Kinjra breathed.
“Seriously,” answered Jrana.
Kinjra stared at her father, her mouth and eyes both opened wide. Her fae between her feet was rising, growing brighter. His daughter really didn’t believe Kon would convince her mother. “Let me get cleaned up and change,” said Jrana.
Kinjra stepped outside, giving Jrana space. “You really did it,” she said. “Thank you, Dad. I love you.”
Kon nodded, smiling widely. “I love you too, Kin.” He knelt to her level, then spread his arms out wide. Kinjra pattered into him, giving him a hug.
By the time he let go and stood, Jrana was finished getting ready. She joined her husband and daughter in the brisk dusk, then locked the door of their nest behind her. Hand in hand, the family and their fae departed for the canteen, where they would share a pleasant meal.
Happiness sang in Kon’s heart.