𝅘𝅥 A Friendly Face 𝅘𝅥
Sweat prickled on Kon’s skin as the warmth of Vigor’s crimson aura retreated. Beneath him, the ground rumbled with each of the giant’s heavy footsteps. Once Vigor had finished off the wraith, the spiritfire it controlled had died with it. Outside the fae’s magic, the land around them was still unnaturally bleak and frigid. It would take some time before the world fully recovered.
Things were only worse off in the distance. Where the meteor had impacted the earth, spiritfire continued to pour outward, desolating countless trees in pallid flashes of light. Even the massive shadow cast by Presence’s silhouette did little to smother the flames’ luminescence. The fae strode toward Kon, not toward the meteor. Behind him, the walking lighthouse – Outlook, he supposed – took position at the treeline, where it cast its searchlight across the spreading inferno. Neither of the colossal fae seemed able to snuff it out.
On the northern horizon, a pair of blurs descended from a dark layer of clouds. A pair of wings covered in midnight-blue feathers swept out wide, revealing the circular face and crescent beak of a massive owl. Clutched in its talons, a serpent glimmered like a stream in the sky, with what seemed like water rushing underneath its translucent scales. If not for the faes’ soft glow, Kon might not have seen them, no matter his keen eyesight.
“That’s Nightowl and Flow,” said Lafer. When Vigor had left, his Seer remained. She walked around Kon’s shadow and stepped into view. Her eyes were on the horizon, staring at the soaring fae. “They’ll take care of the spiritfire. Edos and Nightowl are locals, but Ebi and Flow travel frequently. Those two have spent the better part of their lives chasing after meteors Divined to fall in the Waistlands.”
Kon nodded, unsure of what to say. Suddenly he felt very awkward for sitting, but when he tried to stand, Lafer glanced back at him and took a seat on the ground nearby.
“I can feel your heart pounding,” she said, her voice quiet, tense. To explain, she pointed a thumb over her shoulder. Her shadow had returned to normal when Kon’s had not, allowing her to see her departing fae. All Kon saw over his looming reflection was the giant’s aura moving southward, away from his flock.
“I don’t mean to intrude,” she continued, drawing his gaze back to her pale lavender eyes, “but I’m guessing you’re scared. I’m pretty new to this too, so I think I might understand. If you want to talk about it, that is.”
“You mean talk about the wraith, or…?”
“Anything. And don’t worry about Presence listening in. He can’t hear anything through our shadows, only generally sense our positions.”
Kon scratched behind his ear. Before, he was content to stare at anything but his distorted shadow and just get lost in observation. What might be his last moments as a free man were spent shivering on the hard dirt, his sweater and trousers soaked in cold sweat. Helping Lafer and Vigor save the Pale Hawks from the wraith should have been a cause for celebration. Instead, he only felt dread.
“My wife and daughter,” he said. “They’re back there with the others. Can you see them? They both have dark hair and olive skin. My wife is wearing yellow leggings, and my daughter is dressed in a large, grass-stained shirt.”
Lafer nodded, glancing back. “I see them. They look worried. Your daughter seems to be talking with a group of friends. I saw one of them point this way. Your wife is a few steps away from the others. A couple are standing behind her, but they are talking only with each other.”
“Thank you,” Kon breathed. “If I’m scared of anything, it’s knowing the next time I talk to them, I’ll be saying goodbye. But mostly I’m just glad they’re okay.”
“I get that,” whispered Lafer. “Goodbyes are pretty terrible. Not the worst, but…”
“What?” Kon prodded. The girl’s eyes had wavered, prompting her to face the fae to the north and frown.
“I don’t want to be a bummer,” she said. “What I want to do is thank you. When Vigor and I were running, we worried about finding the worst. You did good work. Your flock is still alive because of you.”
Kon opened his mouth in protest, his words failing him. With a sad grin, he shook his head. “It’s you I should be thanking. The wraith had gotten past me, and there was nothing my fae could do to get it away from my family. If you didn’t show up when you did, they would all be dead. It’s you and your fae who saved my flock’s lives. Not me.”
In spite of the dismal slant of her eyes, Lafer expressed a faint smile. Her skin was constantly flushed like she had a fever, though she did not sweat. The chill did not even seem to effect her. “There would have been no one to save, if not for you. Plus, me and Vigor were only able to strike the wraith in time because you hit it before it leaped. Vigor was planning to tackle it in the air, which could have been messy, but you saved us the trouble. Really all we did was finish it off. If you want my honest opinion, I say all four of us deserve the glory. No reason we can’t share it.”
As Lafer rambled on excitedly, Kon’s sad grin shifted into a genuine smile. What caught him by surprise, however, was her inclusion of his fae. The girl looked at the orb of gold-and-silver lute strings thoughtfully. After a moment, her eyes fell on his flute.
“How does her magic work?” Lafer asked. “Transmutes music into blasts of kinetic energy?”
“I- uh. I don’t know. Maybe? But she can do more. Percussive instruments result in defensive blasts, wind instruments offensive. Stringed instruments are… supportive, I guess. When I play them, she can inspire emotions and ideas in people and animals. She can use magic on her own by imitating sounds, too. Project voices. Maybe silence them completely. I haven’t tried that last one, yet, but I think she could do it.”
Lafer whistled in exaggeration, then found herself chuckling at the sound. “Sounds versatile,” she said, then startled, chuckling again. “Pun not intended.”
Kon grinned at the girl, blinking away his confusion. When he first saw the Seer in her blood-red armor, he never anticipated her to be this easygoing. “Is that strange?” he asked. His eyes were fixed on his fae’s sparkling shell.
“Not for nascent fae,” she assured him. “At the moment, yours is just a tiny ball of brimming potential. When you name her, that potential will be channeled into a single concept and come to embody it. If you have a vivid imagination, you’ll be able to shape her, otherwise she’ll develop from your subconscious perception of the name, mixed up with your inner childlike wonder. Or at least, that’s how it usually is, but I’ve not heard of a grown man gaining the Sight in his… thirties?”
“Two seasons from forty,” he offered.
“Yeah. Most Seers develop around puberty. They usually say if you’re sixteen and don’t have the Sight already, you’ll probably never get it. The one exception I’m aware of is soldiers. Especially the ones who fight alongside Seers. There’s a lot of veterans throughout history that gained the Sight late. One instructor at Westwind Academy was a Knight in his late twenties before he began seeing fae.”
Kon was decades from puberty and the furthest thing from a soldier. What could possibly make me an outlier?
“My brother. He was three years older than me. Nine when I was six. He never lost his Sight. I- I watched him die, that same year. Could that have played a part in it?”
Lafer shrugged. “I’m sorry. I don’t want to say something wrong or mislead you. You’ll need to talk to someone with more experience, because I really don’t know. Did I mention that I’m new to this?”
“You did.” Kon’s voice tapered off with a weak laugh. “How new are we talking?”
“Well, considering I just graduated last week and this is my first mission? I’d say pretty new,” she said, chuckling quietly. “But! I do come from a family of Seers myself. Mother, father, uncle. Three brothers, two sisters. A few of them never grew out of their Sight when they were kids. Me? I had to wait until puberty. Still, each one of us got it. Were either of your parents Seers?”
Kon scratched behind his ear, considering. “My mother, definitely not. My father died of drylung a year after I was born. If he was a Seer, I doubt he would have let a disease get in the way of him and his family.”
“Sun bless you,” Lafer breathed. “You lost them all by the time you were six? I’m so, so sorry. I can’t begin to imagine how hard that must have been.”
Kon shook his head and blinked against welling tears. “I still had my flock and my best friend. It was hard – is still hard – but I wasn’t alone, and eventually I found love and had a family of my own.”
Lafer’s gaze drifted behind her, back to Jrana, Kinjra, and the gathering flock. Kon could hear the Pale Hawks chattering among themselves, but with his fae on the ground in front of him, he couldn’t pick out the words. Language was impossible to understand, even if he closed his eyes, so he left it alone.
After a moment, Lafer glanced at what Kon figured was the fist-shaped crater Vigor left in the wake of his attack. In spite of her rigid, blood-red armor, the girl looked scared. Like the wraith might crawl out of the crater any second.
“You okay?” he asked.
“Yeah,” Lafer answered. “Just processing the fact that we killed an actual wraith.”
Kon scratched behind his ear, his gaze again shifting to the spiritfire burning on the horizon. “I’m having trouble believing it too,” he said. He could not help but wonder if he could have saved his brother and his mother, if only he’d had the Sight when he was younger. “Imagining fighting an army of those monsters is just…”
Kon met Lafer’s eyes and nodded. “Still, that’s not even half my worries. I don’t want to leave the people I love behind.” Though he spoke loud enough for her to hear, his tone was quiet. Not quite hushed, but exasperated. The words came out with an exhalation of breath.
“For what it’s worth, you might not be apart for long.”
The words sparked hope in Kon’s heart. “What do you mean?” he asked. His voice was livelier than before.
Lafer’s, however, was solemn. “Normally Seers attend one of the Academies until they’re sixteen. Not everyone graduates at that age, but that’s the minimum. Because you’re older, I’m not sure how long the Headmaster would give you to train. But after you complete your exams and trials, they could station you at an Eyrie, like Coastwatch. There’s usually settlements nearby to support them. Your family could stay with you there.”
Kon watched as her red lips curve into a frown. “There’s a but, isn’t there?”
Lafer took a breath as she nodded.
“More likely, they’ll send you to the Fated King’s army. Eyries are usually for the retired old Seers to watch over young graduates and mentor them. Knowing Old Spook, she’ll probably recommend you join the army as soon as you graduate. The Battle of Vaska Toma inflicted heavy losses to the Fated King’s army. They’re in need of more Seers.”
In the blink of an eye, Kon’s hope was smothered. He almost wished the girl never mentioned the Eyries at all.
“Don’t look so glum,” she whispered. “The Carrion are even worse off, and we still have a couple years before the meteors start falling more regularly. Whenever the Fated King isn’t marching off to complete his Trials, the regiments take shifts patrolling the area and training with the Knights in Kolod Vor. You and your family would be given an apartment in one of the residential towers, so whenever you’re not on patrols, you’d get to be with them. I know it’s not the flock-life, but I’m sure your family would adjust in no time.”
As okay as it seemed, Kon wasn’t reassured by the thought. Kinjra would hate being confined to the towers of the capital city, and that close to so many Seers, it would only be a matter of time until she was discovered and sent to an Academy, too. Just like that, his family would be torn apart again. Kon struggled to find a way to ask without tipping Lafer off about his daughter. It was a small miracle she and her fae hadn’t seen the magic sunflower.
“That doesn’t sound so bad,” he lied. As far as Lafer should be able to tell, his voice sounded genuine. “But I’m assuming it’s dangerous.”
“Not often,” Lafer assured him. “Only when things get really bad. Last I heard, the next two years have been Divined to be mostly-peaceful.”
“What happens then?”
Lafer shrugged, frowning. “Don’t know. Commanders and Headmasters are the only ones filled in ahead of time, besides the Fated King himself. Newbies like us are just told the general shape of things, and then to follow orders.”
“Seems… shady,” Kon replied. His eyes were on Presence’s looming silhouette. “Pun intended.”
Lafer chuckled softly. “Good one.”
“I’m serious, though. If they’re not telling anyone, it’s got to be bad, doesn’t it?”
“I’ve been told Fate is clearer the closer Seers look. A part of it might be they don’t want to spread unclear or fluctuating information. As good as Headmaster Nise and Lucid are at seeing Fate, whatever they do learn is probably as cryptic as Herald’s old Prophecy.”
“If that’s true, how do you explain that?” Kon gestured toward the meteor pouring spiritfire upon the horizon. Presence was closer now. The fae could only move as fast as his Seer, bound to her by her shadow.
Lafer sighed quietly. “I honestly don’t know. I’m hoping Ashet and Outlook might have an idea. They look so devastated.”
“They?” Kon asked.
Lafer pointed to the lighthouse standing over the fire. “See the man standing on her collar? He lives up there. Has a little room and everything. He’s leaning over the rail, staring at the spiritfire.”
Kon squinted past the darkness. Sure enough, the upper torso of a man was visible on the lighthouse’s ‘collar.’ As if he could hear Lafer mentioning him, Ashet glanced toward them. His pupils shined with a bright golden light that reached Kon in spite of the great distance between them.
Lafer waved a hand, and Ashet actually waved back.
Kon swallowed. “How did he do that?”
“His Fae’s Outlook. They’re all about looking out and seeing things from other people’s perspectives. Especially this close, she can sense whenever someone thinks about them.”
“Huh,” Kon huffed. Ashet waved to him too, prompting him to return the gesture.
“He’s a good guy. I have a feeling you two might get along, if you get a moment to talk. Like Ebi, Ashet travels a lot. I don’t know if he’ll be able to stay long enough to properly meet you. This is my third time meeting him in two years, though, so I won’t be surprised if you two cross paths again.”
Kon nodded, his eyes on the blazing horizon. Nightowl and Flow were soaring over the inferno. The winged fae swept low as the serpent sprayed luminescent water out of a fangless mouth. Each clash of the spiritfire was met with a soundless eruption of pallid light.
The pair was extinguishing the flames from the outside in, preventing them from spreading any further. Though the meteor continued to spew spiritfire, it was not able to breach the glistening ring of soaked ash that surrounded it. Instead, the inferno rose into the sky, licking at Flow’s snaking tail. The serpent cut off its stream to let out a loud hiss of pain.
Nightowl flapped its wings to bring them higher, allowing the sea serpent to hang straight down without risking getting burned. The spiritfire flared angrily as a spray of mystical water poured onto the meteor like a torrential storm. With each splash and flash of light, the world seemed a little brighter. Flow’s luminescent water evaporated, filling the sky with a gentle azure hue.
“You’re zoning out a lot, Kon. Uh- whoops. Is it okay if I call you Kon? In return, you can just call me Lafer. I can’t stand hearing people struggle with titles. I’m just a person, fae or not.”
Kon glanced at the girl and nodded, prompting a gentle smile. “Sorry if it seems like I’m not listening. I assure you, I am. I’m just a little in shock.”
“I can stop talking, if it’ll help-”
“-Oh,” he interrupted. “No. Please don’t. It’s helping me a lot. It’s hard not to feel uneasy with shadows looming on both sides of me, but talking helps me forget he’s there. If only for a moment..”
“Presence is like that for everyone. It feels like no matter where you look, you know he’s right there, looming. Your eyes and mind will keep being drawn to him. Normally it’s worse than this, but Sap is being merciful, it seems. She was angry at me for leaving my post, but I think she’s more angry at herself. Normally, she doesn’t attend missions like these.”
Kon found himself staring at the approaching silhouette as she talked. “Did she say why she went?”
“A mix of reasons. Besides Edos, her other Seers have been giving her… trouble, I guess. This is one of the safest areas, due to the number of meteors that fall into the ocean and drown. For the most part, the Coastwatch Eyrie is staffed by the unmotivated and immature. As for Edos… he was Carrion. Sorta. A lot of his family died in the Battle of Vaska Toma, and what he saw his kin do… it was enough to get him to change sides. He played a large part in the Fated King’s victory, but a lot of the other Seers – especially the immature ones – don’t like or trust him. It’s upsetting, honestly. Edos is probably one of the kindest people in the world. He deserves better.”
With Presence standing between them and the Pale Hawks’ camp, Kon was unable to see any other Seers approaching. If Nightowl and Flow were here, he expected their Seers to be somewhere nearby. “You two sound close,” Kon offered. “How long have you and Edos been friends?”
Lafer chuckled warmly as she rose upright and stretched. “Not really. I met Edos for the first time yesterday, so I wouldn’t say we’re close. But he and his fae are nocturnal, and I was up all night, too nervous to sleep, so he showed me around the Eyrie and took me out on a short patrol. I don’t know if he’d think of me like one, but I consider everyone I meet to be a friend. There’s too much negativity in the world already. Someone has to be the one to step up and spread some positivity.”
Kon watched the girl carefully as she spoke. When she mentioned negativity, her lips momentarily twitched. Kon could hear a pang of pain in her voice.
“I like that,” he said. “I feel the same way. Before I settled down with my wife and we had our daughter, I was a traveling bard. For a few years, I even toured with a band. I wanted to spread positivity too, and music was how I did it. It’s probably why I work so well with my fae.”
Lafer grinned at him softly. “It’s like that for most Seers,” she told him. “They’re connected to and thrive off our very essence. Our thoughts and feelings, our desires and passions. I can’t play any instruments, but I love dancing to music. The first time I heard the word vigor, it was in the lyrics of a song. It was like the name clicked in my soul.”
“Is it like that for everyone? I haven’t even considered naming my fae, but I think about music all the time. Nothing has clicked in my soul, as far as I’m aware.”
“I think searching for a name is a part of it. Being open to the connection. It helps if you talk with your fae, too. Sometimes it might seem like communicating with her is like communicating with a baby, but they form personalities of their own. You’ll have to get to know her more before anything clicks.”
Kon nodded. “I’ll have to think about it, then. Where did Vigor go, by the way?”
“Old Spook sent him back to the Eyrie. Told him to make sure the place isn’t being attacked or burned down while it’s unguarded.”
“Ah. Makes sense.”
Lafer hummed in agreement. In the silence, both of their gazes drifted to the titan of darkness.
The Commander of the Coastwatch Eyrie, Sap, was now close enough for Kon to see her face clearly. Though her pale, wrinkled skin was taut- and her posture was both stiff and aggressive – she looked at least twenty years older than the sixty-year-old Miss Sut. Like Imet, she was more bones than flesh, yet she was half as tall. Kon remembered how the old woman had towered over him. Now he was taller than her by a head.
Despite that, Sap looked intimidating. Her tight, matte black leathers revealed a muscular frame against the pitch black backdrop of her fae. She wore a whip around her waist, tied into a loose knot around a small loop on her left hip. Her boots clanged loudly against the dirt with each step. Kon wondered what the point of wearing an outfit that blended in with her fae was when she also wore steel-soled boots.
“We should probably stand up,” said Lafer. “Want help?” she asked, offering him an outstretched hand. Kon wasn’t sure how she could pull him up when he was still sitting.
“No thank you,” Kon said, folding his legs under him and standing up on his own. Lafer was up on her feet in a second. “But thank you. Really. Everything feels a little less hopeless now. I still wish none of this happened, but I’m glad it meant I got to meet you.” With a smile, he offered a hand of his own.
Lafer shook it happily, grinning widely. “I’m glad I met you too, Kon. If it’s cool, you’ll probably be seeing a lot of me for a little while. If Sap sends you to the nearest Academy, she’ll probably send me as your escort. That’s Westwind, where I studied. You’ll like it a lot, I bet. But for now…” she said, tapering off as she let go of his hand. Lafer folded her hands behind her back as she turned to face the approaching Seer.
“For now,” she whispered, “we deal with her.”
𝅘𝅥 An Angry Grimace 𝅘𝅥
As far as Kon could see, the sky was an endless void. With the colossal silhouette of darkness looming above him, he couldn’t see the sky at all, nor the silver blade of light that cut it in half. Presence’s upper body had stretched over the trail when Sap detached from him, presumably to drown them in shadow. Kon could barely see his own hand in front of his face as the woman approached them. Beside him, a vein on the side of Lafer’s neck glowed a faint red before it receded. She took a deep breath to get a hold of her fear.
Kon knew it was fear by the way he was feeling. He watched the black-leather clad Seer carefully, his body growing more tense with each of her resounding steps. Her skull was visible through her pale, gaunt face, and her irises were blacker than her pupils. Kon peered into them and felt his fear flare. Rather than startle, his body froze. He could feel his own shadow standing behind him, waiting for him to run. Instead, he stood his ground. It was the only real option he had.
Lafer shifted beside him, bringing one hand up from behind her back. She placed two fingers against the center of her forehead and bowed slightly. “Commander,” she greeted. Though her voice did not tremble, Kon could see the hand behind her back shaking a little as she held the salute.
The Commander of the Coastwatch Eyrie seemed in no rush to salute back. Her strut was slow and methodical, and her eyes were fixated on Kon, not Lafer. Does she expect me to salute her too? Kon studied his new acquaintance quickly, then struggled to memorize the details of her stance. By the time he felt comfortable enough to move, the leather-clad Seer was but a few steps away from him. Sap returned the salute, cutting it quickly. On her weathered face, she wore nothing but an angry grimace. Lafer cut her salute shortly after.
Before the Commander spoke, she glanced at Kon’s fae, who sat near his flute. In a blink, she made the connection. “Order your fae to roll away from the instrument. Now.”
Kon swallowed. With a thought, the orb of lute strings began rolling across the dirty field. Her shell remained clean despite it, though her glow was so dim that it was hard to tell. She was suppressing her light – and thus her magic – for Kon’s sake.
“Now that that’s done, tell me who you are,” the Commander demanded. No thank you, and no greeting. Just straight to the interrogation. “If you two managed to kill a wraith by yourselves, then you must have had the Sight long before tonight. Exactly how long have you been hiding, avoiding your duty to our world, like a sniveling coward?”
The man could not respond. As the Seer yelled at him, he felt detached from his own body. Though his posture did not slacken and his limbs did not quiver, his voice was barely within his control. “A season,” he mumbled. “Just a season,” he repeated, louder this time, but still meek. Kon doubted he could have mustered the confidence to lie if he wanted to.
“An entire season!” the Commander shouted, her hands grasping the whip tied around her waist. “No wonder Outlook didn’t foresee the second meteor! Fate despises cowards as much I do. If only it was less merciful. I would have not let you survive just to prove a lesson to the world.”
Kon’s heart pounded, the sound muffled by the Commander’s shrill voice. Still, it rang in his ears, and Lafer’s, apparently. In the corner of his eye, he saw her glance his way.
“Commander Sap,” she began. “May I please speak?”
“No you may not, Private Laferil. You’re not a princess anymore. You’re a Seer. So long as you remain attached to my Eyrie, that makes you my subordinate. Pleasantries will not get you anywhere with me. So no. You may not speak.”
Laferil? thought Kon. Princess?
The young Seer did not waver as the Commander chastised her. The glowing vein on the side of her neck glowed and bulged as she clenched the hands behind her back into fists. “Then I guess I’ll speak without your blessing,” she responded firmly, fighting against her fear. “I will not let you mislead this man into believing he’s the one at fault for all this. That’s not how Fate works, and you know it. It would never deliberately lead us astray at the risk of innocent lives.”
The Commander seemed to shy against Lafer’s angry rebuttal. Her face went slack – perhaps with disbelief – but only for a moment. The fear Kon felt retreated with her scowl, then redoubled itself two-fold when she glowered at the girl. Her lip had a bit of a snarl to it, betraying her anger, but surprisingly, her protests had been silenced.
“If anything, you should be thanking Kon,” Lafer continued, the vein on her neck still large and molten red. “Because of him there were zero casualties. If he wasn’t here, most of his flock would probably be dead. Look at them all, Commander. Look how grateful they are.”
The Commander glared past Kon and his shadow. For a brief moment, he swore her scowl had softened. When her eyes darted to him, her expression instantly hardened. “I would never thank any Seer for fulfilling what’s expected of them. All I will say is you’re lucky Fate has a plan for you, Kon.”
Am I, though? He felt the complete opposite of lucky. Kon glanced at Lafer and took a breath in search of his confidence. “If it matters at all, I’m not hiding now. I kept my flock safe, and I stand before you now, willing to accept the consequences of my delay. You do not need to worry about me running or resisting. If you will let me stay with my wife and my daughter for one night, I promise I’ll come to your Eyrie in the morning to turn myself in.”
Kon had thought of his suggestion as reasonable, but the leather-clad Seer clearly disagreed. Her short burst of laughter was as shrill as her voice while twice as mocking. “You think you can barter with me, coward?” With a swift flick of the Commander’s wrist, Kon felt a cold, oily sensation on his. His dark reflection had grabbed him, then pulled his arm back behind him. “You forsook your say in the matter when you tried to defy Fate. If I wanted to, I could make Presence escort you now, just like this, every step of the way.”
Kon looked up at the silhouette’s blank expression. As the shadow tightened its grasp, the towering fae of darkness just looked off in the distance, utterly indifferent.
“Commander,” Lafer exclaimed. “That isn’t necessary. He’s told you he’s willing to go, and I could tell if he was lying. If my word as a Seer means anything to you, then allow me to vouch for him.”
The woman’s jaw clenched as she inspected the girl’s face. Kon couldn’t believe how hard she was fighting for him. It seemed Commander Sap couldn’t, either. Her hand fell to her side, and his shadow let go of him. He felt it dissipate behind him, like a great weight was being lifted from his shoulders.
“It isn’t necessary, no. Presence and I have other matters to attend to, and I still have you to punish you, as well. You will ensure this man collects everything he needs, then you will escort him to the Eyrie. If you are both not back within an hour – well, I guess we’ll just have to see what happens.”
Lafer glanced at Kon, as if seeking for approval. He nodded his head slightly, causing her to look up at the Commander. Sap was the same height as her – and thus shorter than Kon – yet it felt like she was looming over them both.
“Understood,” Lafer told her. Behind her back, she opened her fists. Chain mail gloves clattered softly against the inside of her crimson gauntlets.
“Headmaster Nise will hear about your insubordination, too. I intend to recommend that he send you here permanently, so that I may teach you a thing or two about following orders and respecting your superiors.”
Lafer did not seem phased by the threat. Her posture remained stiff, and her hands did not clench back into fists. Instead, she nodded in sullen silence.
“So Kon is your name?” asked the Commander. “Why does that seem familiar?”
Kon swallowed, then looked the elder Seer in her eyes. Her void-like gaze felt so cold. Before he could speak, he needed to focus on anything else. Neither her black-painted lips or the whip around her hips made him feel any warmer.
He glanced at Lafer briefly, and that helped a little. When Kon looked back at the leather-clad Seer, he did his best to imitate the young girl’s unrelenting courage. “We met when I was a child,” Kon told her. “Thirty-three years ago, give or take. A small meteor fell in this area and my flock – the Pale Hawks – were in the area. My brother… he was possessed by a wraith. I remember you and your fae. You two stopped the monster before it could kill the rest of us.”
“Is that so?” the Commander asked. Above them all, Presence began nodding. Though she could not remember that long ago, her fae appeared to.
“His name was Rin,” Kon continued. “There were other Seers with you. One that rode on the back of a behemoth, and a woman in scarlet robes with a cane that shot a stream of fire.”
The woman snapped at him, quickly slicing her hand to the side to silence him. “I don’t need you to remind me of my own life. I remember your brother. The gravity boy.”
The gravity boy, he thought. You couldn’t even bother to call him by his name?
Like Lafer, Kon was beginning to feel more angry than scared. Though he tempered his tone, the anger made it easier for him to speak.
“I was too afraid of you and your fae to thank you then, but I’m not afraid anymore. Thank you for saving my flock, Commander.”
Just as Kon hoped, the statement pushed against her fae’s magic, diminishing the fear that was suffocating him before. Courage had helped Lafer break free. Now Kon was free to speak and move as he pleased.
The man took a step forward, causing the woman to take a step back. Between them, he outstretched a hand. Commander Sap eyed it suspiciously, expecting a threat. Kon was grateful his shadow did not rise again behind him.
“Private Laferil,” the woman commanded. “You will teach this fledgling Seer how to properly salute. If he does not have it down perfectly before you return to the Eyrie, then I will find another way to punish the both of you. Is that understood?”
Lafer nodded energetically, then saluted. “Yes ma’am!” she declared with a hint of disdain or sarcasm.
Commander Sap grimaced, not at all amused. Her deep, dark eyes lingered on Kon for a long moment before he noticed Lafer glaring at him underneath her hand. With a quick breath, he imitated the position. Head bowed forward, waist slightly bent, his left hand on the arch of his back and his right pressing two upturned fingers against his brow. His stance was imbalanced, and his spine ached uncomfortably.
“Terrible,” the woman said. “Absolutely terrible.”
Despite the malice in her voice, Commander Sap saluted them back. When their arms all fell back to their sides, the imperious woman unhitched the whip from her belt.
Kon swallowed, resisting the urge to step back or raise a hand in defense.
Commander Sap turned, then strutted back into her shadow. As soon as her body vanished in Presence’s darkness, her footsteps became utterly silent. Above, the colossal fae looked over his shoulder, then forward again, his gaze fixated on the mountain to their south. Despite his Seer’s departure, he did not move. Not until the giant bird had burst out of his chest.
Nightowl hooted loudly as a pair of dark-purple wings carried her across the sky. Flow was no longer clutched in her talons. Instead, the eighty-year-old Seer clutched the hilt of her whip in one hand, the other end knotted tightly around Nightowl’s leg. As the two of them soared away, Presence was pulled into the sky by his feet, becoming a dense cloud of darkness. Kon turned to follow them with his gaze, and finally glanced at his family in the distance. Judging by the Pale Hawks’ nervous voices, they could see the darkness too. Even if Presence was invisible to them, his effect on the world was not.
As soon as the Commander and her fae were gone, Kon’s fae had taken flight of her own free will. She began to sing, and her shell began to glow. It was bright enough to push against the darkness around them, though it did not reach the flock, further down the trail.
Kon took the moment to face the young Seer, Lafer. Instead of watching Commander Sap leave, she was staring at the Pale Hawks’ camp. Flow was there, alongside a woman in long, cascading robes that shimmered faintly against her fae’s azure glow, as well as a man with pale skin and dark leathers that glinted with dozens of small purple-threads. Kon guessed them to be Ebi and Edos. Both of their shadows had been given life, though now they were returning to blots on the earth.
Ashet was still on his tower, and his shadow remained alive beside him. Outlook had not moved an inch, though her light soon flicked the other Seers’ way. Ebi and Edos looked up into the lighthouse’s dome, and neither of them seemed to have their vision burned or blinded. The light darted back to the woods quickly, then continued scanning the distance. Ashet’s shadow dissolved as he stepped out of sight.
“That’s not everyone, is it?”
Kon’s voice caught Lafer off guard, making her startle, then chuckle. “Not even half. The others must be in the north with the Vice Commander, Levatis. They might have run into some trouble. Is it cool if I speak with the others while you get your family and flock to return to their homes? Old Spook wouldn’t want me to leave you alone, but that’s okay. I’m sure you don’t want me shadowing your every step.”
Kon could not resist meeting Lafer’s smile. “Pun intended?” he asked.
“You know it!”
The man laughed quietly, and as his laughter filled the air, so too did the light of a clear night sky. Presence was gone, and the heavens were again visible. So beautiful, and so vast, but still cut down the middle by that infernal lunar ring.
“It’s cool,” he told her, feeling awkward for using the phrase. “I’ll try to be quick so you don’t get in any trouble. And thank you. I can’t even begin to explain how grateful I am that you stood up for me.”
Lafer’s puffy red cheeks parted wider as she swept a hand aside in exaggeration. “It’s nothing. Really. I just did what I thought was right. You didn’t deserve any of her nonsense. Though my many friends think me naive, I know a good person when I see one. If the situation was reversed, I knew you would have done the same thing for me.”
Kon was not so confident. But as he thought about it, he decided she was right. He did not think the girl was naive. In the short time he knew her, he would call her compassionate, strong-willed, and brave. She’d saved the life of him, his family, and his entire flock. Even if she was young, Lafer was the definition of a hero.
“And don’t worry about being quick. I don’t care if we’re late. Old Spook may be loud and annoying, but she can’t do anything to hurt us. That said, the sooner we get there, the better. Her rage will only brew darker with time,” she finished, emphasizing the pun by nudging his elbow with hers.
The two of them laughed, then shared one last smile. Kon held out his hand for her to shake. “Seriously,” he began. “Thank you.”
Lafer accepted his appreciation with a smile, then shook his hand vigorously. As she walked off, Kon took a moment to breathe, and made a decision. Someday he would repay the young girl for all she’d done for him. For now, he turned to face his wife. He would need to find a way to repay her, too.
Jrana was not going to be happy.
𝅘𝅥 Moving Forward 𝅘𝅥
Kon walked away from his flock. Even if he wanted to, he could not bring himself to look back. Commander Sap’s dark rage had paled in comparison to Jrana’s unbridled wrath. It was simply better to let the memory fade behind him.
Instead, he focused on the trail ahead, where Lafer was half stepping, half skipping. Despite sprinting leagues in her heavy armor – and being separated from Vigor – the girl was still filled with energy. Her skin was cast in a soft pink, flushed with warm blood.
Kon felt cold and hot at once, between the bleak air and his burning muscles. He had spent most of his energy trying to survive the wraith. Now that he carried a sack on his back that contained half his clothes and instruments, he felt like he was reaching his limit. They were still a league away from reaching the Coastpeak – the lone mountain in the west that overlooked the nearby sea – and Kon worried he would not be able to reach it on his own.
Gul had given him the sack after promising to retrieve Kon’s belongings from the grove in the morning. Though he was glad to have something of his best friend’s to take with him, Kon knew it would not help him miss Gul any less. Saying goodbye to him had been… difficult, yet less difficult than some others. His wife, Jrana-
Don’t think about it, he told himself. Think about anything else.
After dropping off the Commander, Nightowl had returned to Edos and flown him up to join Ashet on Outlook’s collar. According to Lafer, the four of them were ordered to remain with the Pale Hawks overnight so they might sleep better. No one knew how the second meteor passed by Fate undetected, so it was an extra measure of safety, too. Commander Sap did not want to be caught off guard again.
As for Ebi and Flow, they had left on their own. The serpent was apparently capable of flight, though compared to Nightowl, he could neither rise high nor soar fast. As Flow slithered eastward, over the woods, Ebi rode on his neck with her arms and legs tightly clutching his sides. The woman was closer to Kon’s age, and had a family of her own to go home to. Meanwhile, Kon was the man who left his home and family behind.
“You okay?” asked Lafer. The girl turned to face him, her brow creased in worry as she continued walking backward. No doubt she could feel the ache beating in his chest.
Kon nodded, knowing fully well that if he said yes, Lafer would recognize it for the lie that it was.
She did not seem to believe him anyway.
“That conversation sounded… less than pleasant,” she offered. “I didn’t overhear a word, so I don’t think your daughter did, either. Please don’t think I’m trying to pry, but I guess I’m just saying, I’m here if you need someone to listen.”
Kon replied with a sad grin, blinking the tears from his eyes. “I think I’d rather talk about anything else, honestly. But first let me thank you for watching over Kinjra while my wife and I… spoke. I hope our daughter was on her best behavior.”
“She was!” Lafer exclaimed. As he talked, Kon had caught up to her, prompting her to walk along his side. “Kinjra is a delight. We talked a bit about her friends, and a lot about the trees. She was so upset about all the death the spiritfire caused, though she admitted being glad to see the school burned down. She also mentioned a nearby clan of ritili and how much she wanted to catch one for a pet, though I explained to her why that would be a bad idea.”
The man let out a quiet sigh of relief as he listened. Jrana had lectured the girl to not look at or mention the fae and their magic, but a small part of him was still worried she might have let something slip to Lafer. As much as the girl had done for him so far, he was not sure what she would do with the information. For now, it would be better for everyone if he kept it a secret.
“That sounds like Kinjra.” He laughed weekly. “But I’m surprised she was glad the school burned down. She liked her classes – most days, at least – and now that her best friends are old enough to help their fathers with their professions, school allows them to be together.”
Lafer frowned. “She did mention you were a teacher there. It came up offhand, but I got the feeling it was related. Like she would rather avoid thinking about it and escape. I think that’s why she brought up the ritili.”
“Ah,” said Kon. It was the only response he could muster. The idea of her dealing with his departure the same way he was, it only made Kon feel more guilty. Again, tears were forming in his eyes.
“I’m sorry,” Lafer whispered. “I hope I didn’t make things worse.”
Kon shook his head, his hazy vision focused on the ringlit stretch of dirt ahead. He blinked until he could see the blades of grass, rocks, and dusty footprints clearly. “Don’t worry,” he said, then took a deep breath. “You didn’t make anything worse. Just… can we maybe talk about something else? It’d help if I know what to expect, going ahead.”
Lafer frowned as she gazed at him for a long moment. No doubt realizing just how alike him and his daughter were.
“Going ahead like, literally?” she asked, pointing toward the tunnel yawning at the base of the lone mountain. “Or going ahead as in, like, what happens next?” The girl punctuated the statement by waving her hands in the air, the chain mail gloves rattling against the inside of her gauntlets.
“Both,” Kon answered. “Both would help.”
“Well, literally, there’s a hidden passage not far inside the tunnel that will take us to the inner chambers of the Coastwatch Eyrie. Vigor should meet us there to open it, but Old Spook is keeping him busy with chores. It’s getting pretty close to an hour, so I think she expects us to fail. Vigor is telling me she hasn’t left her tower in a while, but last he heard, she was mumbling about a ‘fun, new punishment.’”
“Telling you?” Kon asked. The rest of her explanation did not surprise him half as much.
“Yeah. When you name your fae and she undergoes metamorphosis, you’ll be able to communicate with her telepathically, no matter the distance. Not just ideas and orders, but actual words… like hearing your own thoughts. Spook thinks she is punishing me by keeping me and Vigor separated, but I’m perfectly content speaking with him like this. She can’t do anything to separate our souls.”
“So this entire time, you’ve been having two conversations?”
“Off and on, but pretty much. Vigor says hi, by the way.”
“Hello Vigor,” Kon greeted, waving a hand at Lafer, prompting the girl to chuckle.
“He can’t see you, but he appreciates the gesture. He also says he looks forward to speaking with you and your fae more in the coming days.”
“Speaking with my fae?”
“Well. Sort of speak. When Vigor mentioned he could feel her soul singing, she apparently began tuning the rhythm, trying to express ideas on a spiritual wavelength. He didn’t get enough time to figure out anything more than her greeting, but he thinks he could glean more with time. By the sound of her soul alone, he says she is beautiful. He’s glad to have met her on this near-tragic night.”
Kon’s fae chimed a bright note in response, her shell flashing. The air sparkled as they passed through it, continuing down the path.
“I’m guessing that means thank you,” she said cheerfully.
Kon stared at his floating fae and nodded. “I think she’s glad to have met you too, Vigor.” Lafer and him shared a smile, then gazed down the trail. The conversation had distracted him enough to forget what he was doing. Kon was surprised by how far they had already walked, and more surprised that he was still walking.
“As for what happens next,” began Lafer, “I don’t expect Sap to let us sleep overnight. Once the other Seers return, she’ll probably send us off. With Vigor, we’ll be able to march for days without rest. It’s a three-day journey, but I doubt Headmaster Nise will mind if we take an extra day or two for sanity’s sake.”
“Nise…” Kon whispered. “As in the Seer who discovered and adopted the Fated King?”
“That’s the same man. He and Sap were students at Westwind together. They’re the last of their generation alive, which makes her think she gets more leeway than she should.”
“Does she?” Kon asked. By the sound of it, the Commander had all the power here, and was rarely confronted.
“Honestly? Maybe. But I’m sure it’s for a good reason. Everything Headmaster Nise allows to happen is for a purpose. His fae, Lucid, is our world’s best Diviner.”
“Yet Lucid didn’t see this coming either,” Kon commented.
And just like that, Lafer’s mood dampened. “Seems so,” she muttered.
“Do you have any theories?” Kon asked, his tone serious. Both of them were gazing toward the approaching mountain. The man resisted the urge not to look up at the skyblade.
“About the second meteor?” Lafer asked. “I should probably mention that I was not a good student. I passed all of my academic exams with bare-minimum scores. Theories aren’t really my forte, but mine and Vigor’s instincts? It’s telling us the wraiths hid that second meteor intentionally so they could separate the Seers and strike them where it hurts. If you and your flock hadn’t caught the wraith’s attention, it could have attacked the others from behind or attacked the Eyrie while they were away.”
“But how is that possible?” Kon asked. “The wraiths aren’t that coordinated, are they?”
“Of course they are,” Lafer replied. Her voice was as tense as her cheeks were taut over her clenched jaw. “It wouldn’t be much of a war otherwise. Each meteor that falls and each wraith that falls with it… they have a kind of purpose, or mission.”
Kon’s pace had slowed down. More because of the conversation than the cold air, a shiver ran down his spine, leaving vibrating pains in his lower back. Kon took a moment to stop so he might tighten the straps around his shoulders.
“Sun bless me,” Lafer exclaimed. “I’m an idiot! Kon, let me take that for you, please. You’ve had a longer night than me. I can handle it.”
Kon nodded, grateful for the relief. His pride was not enough to push him through his pain and exhaustion. After loosening the straps around his shoulders, he let it softly crash into the dirt behind him. Lafer picked it up easily as he stretched and cracked his back. Kon’s neck too had a kink in it, though not even massaging it with his hand eased that pain.
“Thank you,” Kon said. “I feel much better.”
“Vigor is coming to give us a little boost now. He finished the last chore Spook gave him and she still hasn’t left her tower. He says it’ll take him three minutes to get here if he runs at top speed, but I don’t think he’s fast enough. He’s asking if you want to get in on our little bet?”
“I’m not much of a betting man,” he chuckled.
“Fair enough. Let’s get moving, then. We’ll meet him faster if we walk in the meantime.”
Kon stared at the gaping mouth of the fae-made tunnel until Vigor’s aura began to radiate within the darkness. At first, his body was but a dot of molten light. As time went on, however, that light formed into the giant’s blazing armor. Vigor was sprinting faster than Kon could see, his arms and legs both blurring as they carried his nearly-immobile head and torso. The fiery eyes beyond his visor swirled and bubbled like pits of magma.
Lafer and Kon kept track of the time as they walked on. Though no longer bearing the weight of his belongings helped Kon with his weariness, basking in Vigor’s light was like a rush of caffeine mixed with a full night’s rest. As the giant jumped to disrupt his momentum and slid on the ground beside them, kicking up dirt, Lafer and he cheered. While the young Seer went to high five her fae, Kon approached slowly, relishing in the revitalizing warmth.
“Two minutes and fifty-seven seconds!” Vigor exclaimed. “And to think I won even when my own human was doubting me.”
“I didn’t doubt you for a second!” she replied, laughing. “I knew proving me wrong would be all the motivation you needed. Plus, it’s not like we didn’t help by walking your direction…”
Vigor crossed his arms, hot metal armor casting sparks as the pieces clashed and clanged against each other. The way he shifted his weight and looked down on Lafer reminded Kon of Jrana whenever she got angry or upset.
The blazing knight uncrossed his arms. Both his eyes and Lafer’s turned and found Kon with tears in his eyes.
He could see his flock’s camp far off behind them. Every now and then, the nests lit up with Outlook’s spinning light.
“Well that bit failed before it started,” commented Vigor quietly.
“Bit?” Kon asked.
“Ignore him,” said Lafer. “We probably shouldn’t waste any more time. Now that Vigor is finally here, do you think you could run alongside us? We’ll keep your pace, so don’t worry about struggling to keep up with his aura.”
Kon quickly nodded his head and turned. As he ran and the others followed, his fae drifted toward the friendly giant. In silence, he let the two communicate as Lafer ran by his side. She could tell Kon was pushing himself through his pounding heart and ragged breaths, but she seemed content to let him embrace the endorphin-induced catharsis of exercise. It made for a sufficient distraction.
Like that, they reached the mountain in less than ten minutes. Kon stopped at the mouth of the tunnel, too wary to enter the darkness beyond. Vigor and Lafer led him as his fae rejoined him, glowing happily. He didn’t get the feeling she communicated with Vigor successfully, but he could sense her overjoyed by the progress. The emotion swelled in him as soon as her bell-like chime reached his ears.
Just as Lafer said, the hidden passage was not far from the tunnel’s entrance. As far as Kon could tell, the wall was utterly ordinary. Vigor grasped two dents in the rock with his gauntlet’s massive fingers and pulled, dislodging a large, flat chunk from a matching hole. Beyond it waited a smaller, darker tunnel. Kon’s fae lit their path for him and Lafer as Vigor closed the passage behind them. The walls were too close for the giant to pass by them, so instead, he remained in the rear while Lafer guided them up a sloping path. Kon’s fae rejoined the giant soon after.
“Are we going to make it in time?” Kon asked.
“It’s been ninety minutes already. By my estimate, we can reach the Eyrie in six minutes at our current pace. The path will get harder to climb before it gets easier, but with Vigor, I think we can beat Old Spook with some time to spare.”
By we, Kon knew Lafer really meant him. The young girl carried several stones worth of his belongings with ease, and Kon had a feeling Vigor would never run out of energy no matter how hard he tried.
“Do you think she’s still in her tower?” he asked. Kon remembered seeing the tall spear-like structure in the daylight – and ignoring the giant man of shadow that stood beside it. He could imagine the Commander of the Eyrie had the best view there.
“She’s walking downstairs now to meet us in the foyer, actually,” answered Lafer. “I can feel her heartbeat. It’s slow but heavy. Tense. She’s in a worse mood than before. I’m sure of it.”
“We should probably hurry,” rumbled Vigor.
Both of them looked at Kon expectantly. Taking a deep breath, he nodded, allowing Lafer to start jogging. The incline was beginning to grow steeper already.
Kon tried to keep the time in his head, aligning the ticking metronome in his mind with each of his footsteps. Even seconds for his right foot, odd seconds for his left. Quiet as they were, it helped Kon hush the anxiousness that buzzed inside him.
At the end of the tunnel, a light bloomed outward, bisected by a dark silhouette. Too small to be Presence, who surely remained outside. As soon as he made the mental connection to the Commander, dread surged through Kon. Instead of letting it slow him down, he hastened his pace. Lafer nodded her head and joined him.
Together, the four of them stepped into the light of the foyer. Lanterns flickered at the edges of the wide chamber, lined with a pair staircases that went up past the ceiling on the north and south sides. Dark-blue-and-black banners hung from the ceiling as the room’s only decoration. As for the foyer itself, it was carved from the dark gray stone of the mountain and left unpainted. Splashes of dry blood shone to life on the floor as Vigor’s crimson aura washed over them.
Without her fae, Commander Sap only seemed half as scary. Though she was still clad in her leather armor, her whip was no longer with her, perhaps left up in her tower. Her posture was aggressive, upright, and bladed at an angle. In her hand, she clutched a small, round mirror. As Lafer approached, she threw it at the girl like a discus. The girl turned it over in her hands to inspect her reflection.
Kon stepped closer, then glanced between the mirror and the Commander. “What is this?”
“What does it look like?” the Commander sneered.
Before Kon could respond, the old woman cut him off with a fake, raspy laugh.
“What that is is a mercy,” she continued. “You two are no longer my problem. Do with your night what you want. Lafer, you know where the barracks are. As for you, Kon, you may return to your flock so long as you meet Lafer at the tunnel by dawn.”
Kon huffed a breath of exasperation. “You can’t be serious,” he mumbled, unable to suppress his anger.
“Excuse me?” asked the Commander. “Do you look like I’m kidding?”
Kon inspected the shadows of her skull under the pale skin of her face, then the deep, dark pits of her eyes.
In Lafer’s hands, the mirror began to shine in a vibrant kaleidoscope of colors. If the light had not caught his attention, Kon may have said something he would regret. Vigor had taken position over Lafer’s other shoulder. Commander Sap turned to leave the moment a thin figure of clear light stepped into the center of the swirling patterns.
“Lafer,” the fae in the mirror greeted, her voice like singing crystals. “Vigor. Kon. Sap. Aren’t you forgetting something, Commander?”
At the foot of the stairwell that led up to the Commander’s tower, the woman had halted. Her hand lingered on the rail. She clenched tight enough for her knuckles to turn white. “Ah, yes. Nise ordered me to thank you all for your acts of bravery tonight.”
As if mentioning Nise’s order was enough to count, the small woman retreated up into her tower. With Presence elsewhere, she had no shadows, despite multiple sources of light.
“Lucid,” Vigor greeted eagerly. Kon looked and found the giant waving at the fae in the mirror.
“Nice to see you, friend. You as well, Lafer. But could you please hand me to Kon? I would like to properly introduce myself.”
“Sure thing!” exclaimed Lafer. She proffered it toward Kon, practically sticking it in his face.
Kon took the mirror in his hands like a small child. He had to focus on keeping his hands from trembling, too worried about dropping the mirror and hurting one of the most powerful fae on Tairn. The Divine Clarity, Lucid.
“Hello Kon,” the mirror sang.
“…Hi,” he replied, more than a little nervous. Lucid had been the fae that led Nise to save the young Fated King from certain death. Without her, the war would have been lost a century before it started.
“Nise is resting now, but he’s asked me to thank you on his behalf. When he found out about the obscured meteor, he immediately worried, but I managed to catch some vague reflections in your flute. You and your fae did well.”
Kon nodded, too surprised for words. If he’d been looking, would he have noticed the shimmer of clarity in his flute’s reflection? It was both comforting and concerning to know such a powerful fae had been watching over him.
“Don’t worry,” she told him. “I won’t invade your privacy. This mirror is for Lafer to keep and use to reach out to me with updates as you travel. If you have any questions in the morning, all you need to do is look into the mirror and say my name five times fast.”
Kon blinked in disbelief.
“That was a joke,” Lucid sang gently. “Only wanted to brighten the mood. Just tap on the mirror a few times, and I’ll feel the ripples. When you start seeing colors and patterns, you’ll know I’m coming.”
“Thank you,” Kon said, forcing his best grin.
“Goodnight, Kon. Lafer. Vigor.”
The thin shimmer of clarity disappeared beyond the edge of the mirror, leaving the vibrant kaleidoscope to fade out behind her.
Lafer took the mirror from him with a sad grin. “I’m sorry Sap brought you all the way here just to say you can go back. Vigor and I would be happy to escort you home and pick you up again in the morning.”
It was a kind offer. With Vigor’s aura, Kon could be home within half an hour. He could lay down and rest beside his wife and daughter for one more night-
But that bridge had been burned down, already.
Kon shook his head. “Thanks, but I don’t think Jrana would let me in. The last thing she told me-”
Lafer nodded, understanding. “There’s an empty room near ours if you want it.”
“That would be great. Thanks.”
“Once you leave Vigor’s aura, you’ll be more tired than you were before. Just the price we have to pay for working our bodies over time.” As she spoke, Lafer led Kon to the stairwell against the wall, opposite of where Commander Sap had climbed. His fae drifted near Vigor as they followed their humans up the steps.
“Don’t you mean my body?” he asked. “I noticed you’re full of energy even when Vigor isn’t around.”
“It’s not any different, really. The same magic that empowers his aura courses through my soul. He can snuff and flare it when I please, like he can snuff and flare his aura, but at the end of the day, I’m still putting my body through more strain than I can handle. All things considered, today could have been worse.”
“Yeah,” Kon replied, his voice drifting into silence. He gripped the rail tightly as he climbed, his eyes on the distant floor behind it. With the ceiling as high as it was, it took them more than a hundred steps to reach the second floor above the foyer. At the top, a corridor stretched on for the length of the fortress. On the left, windows pointed toward the sea, where the waves crashed upon the Coast Lord’s private beaches. On the right, more halls branched out, interspersed with stone doors on their right sides.
Lafer took the fourth turn into the scarcest looking hall, then led Kon to the third and final door on the end. Vigor waited beside the second room, his aura of warmth just wide enough to reach them. Lafer pushed the door open – there was no lock on any of them, it seemed – then stepped out of the way for Kon to pass by.
The room inside was just as sparse as the Eyrie. There was no furniture, just a dusty, old hammock hanging from rusty nails in the corner. There were no lanterns, either. Only a small window facing the trail to the north. Ringlight streamed into the room, filling it with a dim, silver sheen.
“They’re all like this,” Lafer told him. “I plan to ask Lucid about getting this Eyrie actual beds in the morning, but for now, this is what we have to deal with.”
“It’s okay,” Kon lied. “I just want to rest.”
“Let me just give you this, then,” she said, unstrapping his belongings and handing it to him through the open doorway. Kon took it and placed it beside the door, then gave her a soft grin. “Goodnight,” she said.
“Tell Vigor I said goodnight as well.”
Kon closed the door behind him. As his fae flew to the window, he wasted no time searching his bag for his night tunic and changing. Without Vigor’s aura, his muscles were beginning to tense up, particularly in his back and legs. Lying down in the cradle of frayed ropes was actually a relief, despite how much it scratched against his exposed skin.
Kon glanced at his fae by the window. “Goodnight,” he told her, ignoring his flock’s camp in the distance, and the giant limbed lighthouse that stood beside it. He turned to face the wall and shut his eyes, not opening himself up to his fae’s senses, but numbing them. All he wanted to do was sleep. Dealing with reality could wait until the morning.
Not long after, Kon’s mind slipped beyond the darkness. The man swore he could hear Jrana tapping her foot as she waited for him in his dreams.
He could not avoid the memory any longer.