𝅘𝅥 LAST SOON 𝅗𝅥
𝅘𝅥 Welcome to Westwind 𝅘𝅥
Kon read the words on the ground below him. Enclosed by a round path of golden bricks, ‘Welcome to Westwind’ was arranged in bushes of soft pink flowers, their fuzzy, featherlike petals flapping open in a glowing green wind. Though unusual to find in this clime and place, Kon recognized the flowers immediately. They shared their name with his friend, Laferil.
“Very funny, Hazen!” the girl shouted. Instead of walking the dirt path with Kon and Vigor, Lafer let gravity carry her down the grassy hill. Her blood-red armor rattled with each one of her bounding steps. “Where are you and Lush hiding?” she continued. “I know the two of you are around here somewhere!”
Without so much as a word of warning, Vigor ran to join his Seer. Hot dust was kicked up in his wake.
Kon halted immediately, shutting his eyes and coughing.
“Sorry!” the fae exclaimed.
Kon grumbled to himself as he waved the cloud of dust out of his face. When he opened his eyes, Lafer and Vigor were standing in front of the flowers, the former on her knees and grasping a bush like she was about to rip it free. The brick path continued on beyond them, stretching through a gap in the trees of a well-kept and flourishing garden. Every single tree was different, and as the path went deeper, increasingly more strange. Most of the trees Kon recognized shouldn’t have been able to grow here, and the ones he didn’t were unusual. Sparks of magic were glinting in their patterned bark and colorful leaves.
“I swear, Hazen, if you don’t show yourself now, Vigor will set every one of these flowers aflame!”
“…I will?” the giant rumbled.
Lafer shushed him, slashing the air between them with her free hand.
The former princess must have really hated her full name.
Kon’s fae glided on ahead, drawn to the sound of wood groaning, followed by an exasperated sigh. One of the trees behind the flowers was opening. Its thin layer of striped blue-and-white bark chipped and peeled as a crusted figure stepped into view, bits of wood falling as moss shed from the man’s skin.
Hazen was shorter than Gul and significantly more plump, his gut visible through a branch-woven tunic. Though most of his head was still covered in long, mangy hair, the top of his head was balding, making his wrinkled brow seem impossibly large. Various gardening tools were sheathed in numerous belts on his trousers, including a trowel, shears, and a hand rake. Jrana used many of those tools in her line of work. His feet were dirty and bare, as were his arms. His biceps drooped like he had recently lost weight.
Compared to every Seer that Kon had met so far, Hazen was a tad underwhelming. He didn’t look fit enough to fight in a war.
“I’m right here, alright? Don’t you dare harm those innocent flowers, Vigor. Lafer! It’s good to see you. But who’s this, standing awkwardly in the distance? Come say hello! You’re the whole reason I’m waiting here, after all, strange man!”
Hazen drawled out the words sleepily. Tiny bits of wood fell out of his blinking eyes, tumbling down his face and bulging stomach.
Behind the Groundskeeper, the tree he hid in continued to unfold and reform. Kon stared as the trunk wrapped backwards around itself, moss spreading out from its center while the branches lowered to its sides. Roots pulled themselves free of the earth, joining the branches as they coalesced and twisted into four distinct limbs. Leaves spiraled to the ground as the trunk molded into a slim torso. Not long after, a head with mossy skin and bushy hair sprouted at the top. Sap glistened in the fae’s eyes and on her smiling lips.
Lush’s voice sounded like rustling leaves. “Hello new friend,” she greeted, lifting an arm and a branching finger for Kon’s fae to land on. On contact, the orb of gold and silver lute strings trilled happily. The music beckoned for him to join them.
Kon obeyed, but mostly because he was at the edge of Vigor’s aura. If the giant had run any further, his body would have probably collapsed with exhaustion.
Hazen rounded the arrangement of flowers to, of all things, fist-bump Lafer. He turned to Vigor and gave him a lazy bow. As Kon approached him with a hand outstretched, Hazen turned suddenly, lunging to embrace him.
“Welcome to your new home,” the man said, his arms suddenly hanging over Kon’s shoulders. Fingers gently clenched his upper back. “I’m the Groundsmaster of our humble Academy, but I’m sure Lafer already told you that. I am her favorite. Aren’t I, Lafer?”
Kon sniffed as the man pulled away, catching a hint of aromatic smoke. Though Hazen was dry, his tunic smelt of earth soaked with rain.
“You know it,” Lafer replied, her voice tapering off with a giggle. The Groundsmaster proffered a fist for her to bump again, which she hit reluctantly, then bowed to Vigor, as if he was just seeing them for the first time.
Hazen faced Kon abruptly, then lunged to hug him again.
Stepping out of the way, he plucked the Groundsmaster’s hand mid-motion as it flailed out beside him. Clutching it firmly, he pulled him back and balanced him, then briefly shook it. “Kon,” he greeted, forcing a grin.
“Hazen,” the man answered, laughing as he grasped Kon’s hand with both of his. “Don’t worry about any fancy titles with me. Groundsmaster isn’t too bad, but Sir, Seer, and Professor are far too formal. Unlike my colleagues, I prefer to use the names our parents intended. Hazen, offspring of Zena and Hael of the Green Beaks. It’s a pleasure to meet you, Kon, offspring of…?”
“The late Kir and long-departed Non of the Pale Hawks,” he murmured, letting go of the man’s hand.
Hazen nodded as he straightened, his slack expression becoming sober in an instant. “I’m sorry for your loss.”
Before he could reply, Lafer cleared her throat, drawing both of their attention. “Hey Kon. How about you show your new professor your first Westwind Academy salute?”
Vigor chuckled at the look on Kon’s face.
“That’s alright,” Hazen interjected. “Save your first salute for someone more appropriate. Either Nise or Topek should do. I prefer normal human interaction.”
The Headmaster and the Armsmaster. Apparently Hazen was on a first-name basis with everyone.
And normal human interaction? In what way was this normal?
When Kon wasn’t looking, the Groundsmaster’s fae sneaked up behind him. He turned and startled at her moss-covered face.
“Lush,” she greeted. “I can sense your fae is ripe with potential. She’ll be so beautiful when she blooms.”
In the background, Vigor raised his arms and bellowed. “I said the same thing!”
Kon reached for Lush’s free hand. Instead, the fae used the other to place his fae on his palm.
Lafer stepped into view and cleared her throat again. “I’m surprised no one else is here to greet us. I’m sure the Headmaster is busy, but where’s Wilm and Rugged?”
“Nise is quite busy, yes. He’s currently holding a meeting with the Fated King and the other Headsmen. As for Wilm and Rugged, they’re serving as the Barracks Officer today.”
Kon cocked an eyebrow at the balding Seer.
“Don’t worry about that now,” said Lafer. “I’ll explain the B.O. to you later. How are you doing, Lush? Sorry about threatening to set your babies on fire. Vigor wasn’t seriously going to do it… right Vigor?”
He pumped a molten fist in the air. “I would never do such a thing! Promise!”
Lush sprouted a fan of leaves from her hand and swept it in their direction. “You better not. I’m doing well, Lafer. Thriving in fact. I’m glad to see you and Vigor made it back from your mission unblemished.”
“That’s all thanks to Kon,” said Vigor. “We killed our first wraith because of him. Kept it busy and crippled it just before we struck it down!”
“Really now?” Hazen grabbed Kon’s shoulders from behind, then pulled him down to embrace him. “Very impressive. Only a few budding Seers have managed to cripple a wraith. Ripe with potential indeed!”
Kon shook the Groundsmaster off him and gained distance. “Thanks,” he muttered, feeling restless. Unless he was performing a song, it was embarrassing to hear praise from a stranger. Especially one that was so touchy-feely. ‘A bit crazy,’ Lafer had said.
More than a bit.
“Any orders from above?” asked Lafer. “For me or your new student?”
Hazen strained his face, humming in thought. “Not that I can remember. Do you recall anything, Lush?”
“Lucid ordered Topek to leave his new recruit alone until Valday. In the meantime, Kon and Lafer have the next two days to relax and acclimatize. Topek expects his new recruit to meet his fellow students on the Training Grounds at sunrise, when everyone is back from Enday break.”
“Wait, really?” snorted Hazen. “I don’t remember any of that.”
Lush smiled and nodded at her Seer. “You must have not been paying attention. She told us while you were busy fawning over the new avokado sprouts.”
“Ohoho, I remember now! They’re so long already, it’s almost like we grew them with magic, but that wouldn’t be half as fun!”
As the exchange went on, Kon observed the Groundsmaster and Lush with scrutiny. It seemed that Kinjra’s fae shared many similarities with Lush, though she and Hazen couldn’t be more different. His daughter was only half as friendly with the people she was close to, and because of Jrana’s teachings, extremely wary of strangers. The excitement in his voice when he talked about his plants, however… It reminded him so much of Kinjra when she talked about nature; wondrous and full of love.
“Well, Hazen and Lush, as fun as it’s been catching up, we’re going to bring Kon to the barracks now. We’ve had a long journey and he’s very tired. Right, Kon?”
His heart had been pounding, so naturally, she felt it. “Oh, yes,” Kon said, nodding quickly. “Very tired indeed.”
Hazen peered into Kon’s eyes, blinking. “Alright then. We’ll have to wait ‘til Valday for us to speak at length. My class will be meeting here at Eleven. Don’t forget!”
“I won’t.” Before Hazen could try hugging him again, Kon ran to join Lafer and Vigor, who quickly led him around the flowers and into the garden. A quick glance back showed the Groundsmaster and his fae kneeling in front of the laferils. Hazen smiled as he poked at one of the unopened buds, oblivious to the world around him.
“Thank you for getting me out of there,” Kon said.
“No problem. At first, Hazen can seem a bit… much, if you catch my drift.”
“Yeah. He seems pretty harmless, though.”
“In that sense? Yes.”
Kon frowned. “What other sense is there?”
“Well, let’s just say that Hazen and Lush have killed more wraiths than the rest of the Professors at Westwind combined.”
Another glance back revealed the Groundsmaster lying among the flowers. Lush sat beside him as they watched their garden sway in Zephyr’s glowing breeze.
“You can’t be serious,” replied Kon, pointing a thumb in Hazen’s direction. “That man has killed more wraiths than a former Knight and a powerful Sorcerer?”
“Yup. Though the Headmaster has the second most. Seers can really surprise you if you let them.”
“I’ve heard the adage. Don’t judge a book by its cover, right?”
Lafer smiled and nodded, then looked ahead. Kon followed her gaze and was not disappointed. After their long descent into the valley, Westwind Academy was both closer and higher. They could only see the top two floors, yet it was three-times as tall as Vigor. The castle’s variegated, emerald walls shined with their own inner vibrance, though pale in the sun. On either side of a massive, half-opened door, panes of reflective gold cast back a surreal image of the gardens. Kon and his fae could hear multiple voices chattering inside.
“Right through those doors is the mess,” said Vigor. “Hazen and Lush grow all the food for our Academy. You’ll often see chefs picking ingredients from this garden. When Lafer had time, she would even offer to help, knowing fully well how sad I was that I couldn’t help too.”
“Whaaat?” shrieked Lafer. “Don’t you dare try to make me feel bad for being a good person! The chefs work hard to feed us humans every day! The least I can do is help them pick some fruits and vegetables!”
“Hey now,” Kon interrupted, waving a hand to get both of his friends’ attention. “There’s no reason for you two to fight, especially about something like this. Just calm down and-”
Lafer smiled. Torches flared in Vigor’s eyes.
“You two are messing with me, eh?”
Both nodded eagerly.
Kon flashed them a smile of his own. “In that case, I’ll have to retaliate.” He glanced at his fae. “You know what to do. It’s Quiet Time.”
“Quiet Ti-” Lafer started. Before she could finish, a loud ringing overpowered her voice. A faint sheen of silver light resounded from Kon’s fae and enveloped the both of them. Lafer’s lips continued to move, but no words came out. Vigor waved his hands, then grasped his throat, the torches of his eyes burning even brighter.
“If you two promise to behave, I’ll let you speak again. The second you break that promise, though? We’ll make sure you can’t speak for an hour.”
Lafer and Vigor nodded more eagerly than before.
Another loud ringing dismissed the effect.
Kon walked on proudly.
“When did you learn to do that?” Vigor exclaimed at his back.
“I’ve been thinking about it for a while now, though my fae and I never tried it before. A bit surprised it worked, honestly, but when you were fighting, she was genuinely worried, like me. Emotions make for stronger magic. Right?”
“Right…” muttered Lafer. “Sorry for making you two worry. I thought it would be funny.”
“It was,” Kon conceded. “But still, not cool. Especially when you promised to find me a bed.”
“Right! In that case, we won’t stop to get something to eat. By the sound of it, Lili, Ora, and Dowen are in there, anyway. Better that we just wave and walk on by.”
“Alright. You can take the lead then.”
Vigor ran on ahead instead, opening the thick emerald door with a quick sweep of his hand. As Lafer and Kon passed by, he bowed over them. “M’lady. M’lord.”
“Why thank you,” said Lafer, curtsying like a proper princess. Her armor rattled and shone bloody under Vigor’s light.
Within the wide, open space of the mess, breezes of glowing wind circulated near the ceiling. Every now and then, one would glide down to fetch empty bowls from the solely occupied table. As they were carried to the open counter of a kitchen, smaller winds caressed the ground and vacant tables, picking up dust and sweeping it outside. Kon felt a gentle tickle as the wind passed around his feet.
Kon recognized his fellow students immediately from Lafer’s explanation. Ora was the giantess sitting on the far end of the long table. Knotted dreads of obsidian black hair flailed around her as she hungrily gulped the contents of bowls in a single bite. The uniform she wore – emerald green with gold trimming – had its sleeves torn at her shoulders, revealing large arms dense with corded muscle. Whenever she finished a bowl, she left it tipped aside on the table for a bright pink glob of a fae to slide in. When the glob left them, the bowls looked as if they’d been licked clean.
Lili sat two seats beside her, her thin, sun-darkened figure slumped over the empty portion of the table. Wisps of grey hair curled down over a giant mass of writhing slime. Her fae, Leach, was wrapped around her midriff, his skin a cold blue that ran and glowed with crimson veins. Her Westwind Academy uniform was torn to give the fae access to her back and stomach.
By process of elimination, that left the small boy with the dirty blond hair sitting across from them as Dowen. Though Lafer had mentioned he was an orphan, he had the posture of a noble. With a napkin over his lap and a spoon in his hand, he ate from his bowl like a noble too. A rigid backpack was strapped to his back, which seemed to help him remain upright. It moved and jingled like an animal was inside it, playing with the backpack’s contents. More likely it was the kid’s absent fae.
“Hey you three,” Lafer shouted, drawing a glare from Ora and a turn of Dowen’s head. With a breathy sneer, the giantess yanked the boy’s attention back to his food, then began chewing her food louder than before. Lili didn’t even bother to look. “We’re still on a mission, so we can’t talk right now! I know you’re all excited to meet your new colleague, but he will have to introduce himself another day.”
For a moment, Dowen looked like he was about to turn again. A sharp look from Lili reached him first, causing his gaze to fall. She looked close to Lafer’s age, yet her face was as gaunt as Commander Sap’s. Her uniform hung loosely over her emaciated form. It seemed like Leach was draining her rather than feeding her. Her upper lip was drawn back as if in pain.
Vigor didn’t bother waving as he led them between two long tables. Through an open door, they entered a wide hallway.
Kon barely heard Lafer’s whisper. “Like I said. Not a very talkative bunch.”
They walked down the variegated corridor in silence, passing a gold door etched with the word Kitchen on their left and another with Professors’ Lounge on the right. Judging by the corridor’s length, both rooms were as large as the Mess. Clattering and rumbling could be heard on both sides.
Banners hung from above, spaced out along the tall ceiling, waving in a soft, glowing breeze. There were dozens of them, and each depicted a Seer and a fae. On one, Hazen and Lush were woven in root-thick threads as the silhouette of a plump man inspecting a leaf under a flowering tree with glassy eyes and a grin. On another banner, a bald man in green and gold robes with a long, colorful beard was slumbering in a bed under a mirror — an actual mirror, stitched into the cloth. Lucid waved a hand as Kon, Lafer, and Vigor halted underneath.
“You finally made it,” her voice rang. “I was wondering how long the Groundsmaster would keep you. I trust you’re all doing well?”
Kon spoke before Lafer or Vigor had the chance. “As well as we can be, thanks. Lush told us we don’t have to be anywhere until Valday, but I was hoping to meet the Headmaster sooner rather than later. If it’s not too much trouble, could you ask him to see me before then? I’m hoping to ask a few questions.”
Lucid chimed brightly. “I can do that for you, Kon. Nise is excited to meet you too, and he has many questions of his own. He’s already made time for you on Enday. Just let me know when you’re ready by using the mirror in your barracks chamber, and I’ll make sure he’s available.
“As for you, Lafer and Vigor, Nise would like to see you both at your earliest convenience. Your old chamber is ready for you. Wilm is waiting upstairs with both of your keys. The three of you go on and get some well-deserved rest.”
All three nodded in unison, prompting Lucid to fade. In her place, a dim sliver of light remained, as if the mirror was embedded with radiant silver.
Smiling, Lafer motioned them onward. At the end of the hall, four pairs of stairs waited, two sets going down, the other two going up. Steps half as tall as Kon sat next to steps that only reached his calves. It was only when Vigor began climbing the giant steps that he realized why, though Lafer bounded up them, too, glowing with brief flashes of strength.
Kon took the smaller stairs. There were a lot of them.
After what seemed like his most rigorous climb yet, Kon finally reached the next floor. At the lip of the last stairs, a statue of a man wearing nothing but a loincloth waited, his bare legs, chest, and arms jagged with muscle. Though not as large as Vigor, the statue had an aura of its own that made it just as intimidating. A kind of heaviness or resistance. Slowly, the statue turned its head toward Vigor. Its throat made a sound that resembled grinding.
“I heard you coming a league away. You’re getting slow, old friend.”
In a blazing flash, Vigor leaped up and crashed into the statue, hugging him at first, but eventually pulling him to the ground. Kon stumbled as the stone rocked beneath him, both palms slapping against the wall for support. Lafer ran up the remainder of the stairs to stop them.
“What are you doing!” she screamed. “Come on, Vigor, go for the headlock!”
Kon sighed deeply as he crawled up the last of the trembling steps.
“That’s enough!” boomed a voice from down the hall. “Vigor! Let go of Rugged this instant!”
Grumbling, the giant obeyed, unwrapping his arms and legs from around the statue and rising. Vigor clutched Rugged’s open hand and pulled him onto his feet.
At the end of a short hall, a figure was standing within an enclosed desk. Wilm’s face was stern as they leaned over the counter, both palms laid flat against it. Their Westwind Academy uniform was unblemished, compared to the others Kon had seen, although it was undeniably tight around the bulges of their arms, shoulders, and abs. Like Rugged, Wilm’s muscles were jagged, the angular edges making their biceps seem like boulders. Both wore long orange hair pulled back into tight ponytails, though in Rugged’s case, it was just painted stone that ran down his spine.
“I don’t care if you’ve graduated, Lafer! You know the rules: No roughhousing in the barracks!” Wilm’s voice pounded against Kon’s eardrums like a hammer. Though they sounded angry, they wore a broken smile. Multiple teeth were missing and replaced with dark, polished stones. “Get over here so I can hug you already!” they shouted. “You know I can’t leave the desk unless it’s an emergency!”
Lafer giggled as she burst across the room in a flash of red light. Kon blinked until his vision was clear. Across the hall, Lafer and Wilm were clutching each other by their shoulders, jumping up and down with glee.
Vigor and Rugged bumped fists before walking off, leaving Kon to stand in stunned silence.
What just happened?
Singing a bright duplet, his fae soared off to join them. Sparks of light beckoned for him to follow.
The Seers and their fae talked like best friends reuniting after years of separation. Kon caught bits and pieces of Lafer and Wilm’s tumbling whispers of gossip. It was as if they were trying to fit an hour-long conversation into the span of minutes. He could hardly keep up.
All was quiet by the time he reached the desk. Vigor and Rugged wandered down the hall on their right and began comparing biceps.
“Anywaaay, like I was saying. This man right behind me is Kon. He’s kind of awesome? I think you’ll like him a lot.”
Wilm straightened and appraised him. Though they were nearly as short as Lafer, they exuded that same aura of intimidation as Rugged. Kon hesitated before taking Wilm’s outstretched hand. He felt so heavy and small in their presence. Though Wilm’s palms were as rough as dirt, they clenched his gentle and quick.
“It’s a pleasure to finally meet you, Kon. It feels like I know you already. Lafer has told me so much about you.”
The girl chuckled beside them, bringing a smile to Kon’s face. “I’ve heard a lot about you as well. Vigor mentioned you do extra training sessions in the evenings. I need a lot of help if I’m going to get strong, so I’m hoping to get to know you better then.”
“You’re welcome to join us any day,” Wilm replied, their widening grin revealing more polished stones. “But don’t worry about that now. I know you’ve had a long journey. Vigor and Rugged will take you to your barracks chamber so you can finally get some sleep.”
“Perfect,” Kon said. “I assume you’ll be here if I need help?”
“For the next nine hours, at least. Ora is Barracks Officer tomorrow, though it was supposed to be Saiet’s shift. Bastard keeps paying the others to take his for him. I’m thinking of bringing it up to the Armsmaster.”
“Do it,” encouraged Lafer. “Let him burn.”
Wilm nodded, then suddenly looked beyond Kon. “Speak of the devil…” they muttered. “Greetings Saiet! When did you get here?”
“Only this very moment,” came a voice over Kon’s shoulder.
He startled and stepped aside, finding a lean young man wearing a pristine academy uniform that was trimmed with actual gold, not just golden string. Two pairs of diamonds glittered on his fingers and the hilt of the golden rapier on his hip. A wide mane of fluffed-up hair cascaded behind him in feathery patterns of white and yellow. As Saiet moved past Kon, his hair flapped against his lower back like a cape.
Soundlessly, he walked before Lafer and bowed deeply, his right hand clenched in front of his chest and his left arm bent up and over his back. “Seer Lafer,” he greeted, his tone gentle. “I’m pleased to see you’re in good health.”
“Well duh,” Lafer sneered, pointing at Vigor. “What else would you expect?” By the time Saiet rose upright, the girl had crossed her arms and taken a step back.
“I’m sure you’re eager to relax, so I won’t get in the way of your bed any longer. If it’s not too much trouble, I would also be pleased to walk the gardens with you on Enday eve. I’m very curious to hear about your excursion to the Coastwatch Eyrie, and truth be told, there’s a personal matter I’d like to discuss.”
“Not gonna happen,” she told him curtly. “I gave you a bridge and you burned it already. Go find someone else to walk the gardens.”
Kon had been watching intently enough to catch the momentary frown on the boy’s face. As if noticing Kon for the first time, Saiet looked and faced him. Perhaps expecting someone younger, he took a step back and blinked, then bowed formally.
“I’m sure you’ve heard my name already. Alas, I am not so fortunate. Who might you be, good sir?”
“Don’t answer him,” said Lafer. “He’ll just find a way to use your name against you when you least expect it. Right, Wilm?”
Wilm grunted noncommittally. “This is between you two, and frankly, this isn’t the place for it. Saiet, I assume you were going to your room? Don’t let us keep you. I just need to give our new rookie a rundown of how things work here real quick.”
Saiet faced Wilm and saluted, two fingers held against his forehead and his other arm crooked behind his back. Wilm returned the salute and dropped it quickly.
Without making a sound, Saiet moved toward the hall where Vigor and Rugged stood, their arms crossed as they leaned against either wall. As he passed by, he whispered. “We’ll speak another time, Kon. Get some well-deserved rest.”
The way he said it… Lucid had said those very words, hadn’t she? He knew his name too, despite asking for it. Had he been hiding and listening? If so, where? And why reveal it now? Kon stared as the young man squeezed his body through the gap between Vigor and Rugged’s hulking forms. Neither Lafer or Wilm seemed to hear his comment.
“Anyway, let’s just give him a few minutes to settle, then I’ll let you two go. Kon! Lafer told me that you’re a musician and that you’re interested in going dancing with us. Well, she and Vigor, to be honest. Rugged and I are usually standing at the edge watching everyone else like a couple of rocks.”
Kon smiled at the pair as Saiet faded into memory. “I’ll be standing at the edge with you, then. I’m assuming not a lot of people my age go to these events.”
Lafer chuckled. “I’ve met a couple of grandmas and grandpas, actually. I think you’ll find that Zephyr’s Cradle often defies your assumptions.”
“I’ll keep that in mind then. So, what’s this Barracks Officer thing? Some kind of guard shift?”
“Essentially,” said Wilm. “Every day, a student has to be here for twenty hours straight, though we do get a few hours of relief from a Professor shortly after midnight. It’s our job to make sure nothing crazy happens, like students breaking into each other’s rooms and setting everything on fire. It’s pretty nice because I get to miss classes and people bring me food every few hours, but it also means I can’t work out. I’m trying to use the time to study, but it’s kind of hard to focus. When it’s quiet, Rugged and I end up filling the silence with useless chatter. When it’s loud, it’s probably because Gaj and Rej are fighting again. I just yelled at them for roughhousing ten minutes or so before you got here. Your room is next to theirs, so don’t be alarmed if you hear one screaming in the middle of the night.”
“That’s alright,” Kon said. “My fae can use magic to silence people and enclosed spaces. Did Lafer tell you that too?”
Wilm smiled. “She did. Quiet Time? Love it. I’ve often wished for that kind of power when she gets maniacal. I suspect we’ll need it often during my training sessions.”
Kon looked at the girl. “You’ll be there?”
“Of course,” said Lafer. “Assuming that Lucid doesn’t give us new orders, Vigor and I will be there tomorrow. If you’re feeling up to it, you’ll likely find us there. Otherwise, I’ll send Vigor knocking on your door to keep you updated.”
He nodded. “Halls are separated by gender, I’m guessing?”
“Yeah. My room is the second door on the left in the hall behind me. Barracks Officer is here to stop anyone from crossing that boundary. You’ll have to send your fae to ring at my door if you want to find me.”
“Got it,” Kon said. “Sounds reasonable enough.”
A loud thump in the hall behind Kon indicated that Saiet had entered his room. After that, Lafer’s posture visibly relaxed.
“In that case, I may see you two tomorrow. Before I go, I just need to know one thing. When is food served in the mess?”
“Whenever you want it,” answered Lafer. “Thanks to Lush, we’re never low on ingredients, and the Headmaster pays the staff well enough to man the kitchens twenty hours a day, five days a week. You saw the counter for the kitchen, yeah? Just go there and ask for a menu. It changes day-to-day.”
“Got it. That should be everything, then. Does Rugged have my key?”
“He does,” said Wilm. “Rugged! Show this nice man to his chamber!”
“Wilco!” the statue shouted. It sounded affirmative, but Kon had never heard the term before.
He waved goodbye, then followed after the already-walking giants. His fae stayed behind to chime a bright melody. It took less than a second for her to catch up.
Kon’s room was the last one at the end of the hall. Ten doors stood on both sides, all golden with rectangular slots meant for placards. He passed Wilm’s room first, then Morus and Dowen’s. After a gap of empty rooms, Saiet’s stood alone, and after another gap, Kon found Gaj and Rej’s. One room, not two. Both were yelling, a sound like hands slapping on the floor reverberating through the emerald walls.
Across from them, Kon discovered his own placard. Vigor and Rugged stood on either side of him, the latter retrieving a golden key from a pouch on his loincloth. Kon took it reluctantly, glancing at the flapping cloth for only a moment, before unlocking the door. A wide, open room waited inside, its corners stirring with a gentle breeze.
Kon looked up at Vigor’s burning eyes. “Can you wait here until I yell that I’m in bed? I don’t want to pass out before I’m ready.”
“No problem. In the meantime, Rugged and I will say hi to Grit. He knows better than to let the twins get this loud.”
“Thank you,” Kon said. “You too, Rugged.” Facing the statue, he outstretched his hand.
Rugged appraised him much like Wilm had, though his gaze lingered on Kon’s gut, his lips curled with a hint of smugness. Though gentle, his giant hand was as cold as his stare. “I look forward to seeing you on the Training Grounds.”
“Me too,” Kon lied. Lafer, Vigor, and Wilm? Sure. But at this moment, he wasn’t excited to spend any time with Rugged.
“There’s a window you can slide open on the inside of the door,” said Vigor. “If you tie a string to the bolt, Rugged can close it when we leave. Has to be thin enough for him to snap though.”
Kon nodded as he stepped through the door. He had seen the golden windows from outside, but within, they were all transparent, with dark black curtains hanging in tied-up bundles at their sides. A lacquered desk stood beside a bookcase, the former stacked with notebooks and a green-and-gold manual, the latter filled to the brim with large tomes and texts. Two smaller rooms lined the opposite wall, their open doors revealing a bathroom and an empty closet. Beneath the windows, a rounded bed was set into the floor, covered in thick blankets and pillows.
Upon further examination of the desk, Kon found a one-legged, circular picture frame that spun top-over-bottom to reveal a mirror on the other side. Lucid had said he could reach her here. As he turned it back over to the empty frame, he considered what to put there. Kon had carried many photos with him, though he hadn’t looked at them since leaving his family behind.
Tomorrow, he thought. Right now, I need a string.
Kon unslung Gul’s sack and gently poured its contents into the empty closet. He would organize his clothes and instruments tomorrow, too. Whenever it was that he woke up, exactly.
From the haphazard pile, he dug out his oldest tunic, found its fraying sleeve, then slowly unraveled a string. At the door, he slid the window open, looped the string around its bolt, then closed the door.
“Good man,” said Vigor, stepping away as Kon threaded the string through the window. “I’ll turn around so you have some privacy.”
“Thanks again.” He watched the giant step back and spin, leaving the only visible part of him his molten backplate.
Beyond, Rugged began knocking at Gaj and Rej’s door. Kon waved to his fae, conveying the thought. She rang loudly, filling his chamber with silence.
It had been a long time since he last showered, rather than bathed. A decade at least. Not since Jrana’s and his honeymoon phase. He retrieved his best smelling sleeping tunic and washed himself up quickly, not pleased by the unusual sensation of bursting rain. A green-and-gold towel was folded on the sink, ready to dry him.
Fresh and clean, Kon stepped out of his bathroom a new man. Vigor was patiently waiting at his door, so he wasted no time getting to his bed. Before jumping in, he untied the blinds and let them fall. They slapped heavily against the foot of the wall, shrouding the light of the setting sun. Kon lifted a blanket with his foot, grabbed and pulled it to his waist, then jumped right in.
The bed felt heavenly. Kon was sure he’d never felt something this soft in his life.
It would be so easy to ask Vigor to leave and slumber, but there was still one thing he had to do. Kon beckoned for his fae, drawing her away from the instruments in his closet.
You want me to dream again, don’t you? To stop avoiding my reality and face it?
Slow, the orb of glittering strings nodded, keening softly. The sound rang in Kon’s ears like a request.
Alright then. Time to face the music, I guess.
His fae buzzed happily, then soared off to burst the bubble of silence.
“Hey Vigor! You can have Rugged shut the window now!”
“Got it! Sleep well, friend!”
“You t-” Kon began, only then recalling that fae didn’t usually sleep. Especially not Vigor.
The giant chuckled as the window suddenly pulled shut. In darkness, Kon lay.
But only for a moment.
𝅘𝅥 Looking Back No. 2 𝅘𝅥
Kon’s thoughts scattered and crashed as a torrential storm rushed through his weary mind. The dark mass of swelling mist had arrived suddenly, his plummeting body carried by a turbulent stream of emotions and memories. He drowned in an ocean of aching grief and deep-seated regret, leaving only the angry flashes of Jrana shouting to bring clarity to the noisy emptiness.
I’m not letting you go! I’ll drag you kicking and screaming if I have to! Fate has taken enough from me already. I won’t let you abandon me too!
Yet Kon had abandoned her anyway. Jrana had not dragged him kicking and screaming. Instead, he had walked away without so much as a kiss, a hug, or a word goodbye. There was a reason he kept pushing himself, in spite of Lafer and Vigor’s many protests. He had not wanted to sleep knowing it meant reliving that night.
From the beginning, you told me your greatest dream was raising a family! You told me over and over that you wanted a better life for your daughter. A million times you told me that you wanted a better life for me!
Raising a family was still his greatest dream. Kon didn’t want his daughter to grow up without a father like he had. He didn’t want Jrana to lose her husband like her mother lost hers. But it wasn’t like he asked for Fate to give him the Sight. As soon as She did, he knew Fate would take him eventually. The best he could ever do was delay. Delay he did, and thus he faced the consequences.
Was every sweet word you told me just a puff of wind? No truth? No substance? Just a few hours ago, you promised me that Fate wouldn’t take you anywhere! You asked me to have faith in you and I did! Maybe I was a fool, but either way, you were a liar! You’re nothing like the Kon I married. The man I fell in love with would never break his promises this easily!
Kon knew she was right. It stung, hearing Jrana tear him apart, ripping up the very foundation of his self. The decision he made went against everything he’d ever told her; everything he’d ever told himself. All lies, in the end. Kon wasn’t half as good of a person as he’d spent his life tricking himself into believing.
You’re a coward! If you weren’t, you’d… you’d run with us. I know what you can do with your fae. I know you can get us far away from here and hide us when the Seers come searching. Kinjra already knows the plan. She’s distracting that girl in armor as we speak.
In the noisy void, Jrana’s whispers were no quieter than her shouts. Like nails scraping against a chalkboard, the words carved agonizing furrows in his eardrums. The wounds continued to burn in the sudden lull of silence. A breath’s worth of consideration stretched out into a breathless hour. Kon struggled as he sank into the darkness, tightly gripping his throat. It took him letting go and shaking his head to finally breathe again.
If that’s your answer, then go. Get out of here and don’t ever look back. As soon as you’re out that door, you can consider me done and gone. I’ll take my daughter somewhere you can never find us. I’ll keep your promises for her and give her a better life. A life without her father, but a better life nonetheless.
Kon continued to drown in his own tears. It didn’t matter if he knew Jrana was lying. He could hear it in her voice then, when it was meager and broken. Now it exploded in his head. Even knowing they were lies, he cried anyway. Kon never wanted Jrana to hurt like this. Never wanted himself to hurt like this. Helpless and alone, he suffocated. As dark as the storm around him was, a deeper black started to bleed in at the edges.
Then, a sound. A gentle, melodic strum in the distance. A star in the void, helpless and alone like him.
Kon approached the light at speeds he could never dream to fathom. In seconds, it grew to fill his entire vision. Music swelled around him as he crashed into the swirling orb of gold and silver luminescence. It blinded him, searing his vision. He blinked the pain away furiously, panicked screams bursting from his lips.
Abruptly, the music vanished; soon too did the light.
Kon stood in dark silence. He was no longer falling. No longer alone. Before his eyes, his fae was hovering solemnly, twinkling faint sparks of silver and gold.
He reached forth. Took her in both hands and brought her close. Tears spilled off his cheeks, falling against her knotted shell like thick drops of rain. Each time one landed, a scream rang in his ears. Not Jrana’s, but two others. A pair of voices Kon hadn’t heard in a very long time.
His mother and brother.
Kon shut his eyes to hold back the tears. Again, he welcomed the darkness and silence.
He opened them again and found himself standing in his attic. In his hands, he held an open photo album. On one page, a dark cloth stirred like the writhing mist of a storm. On the other, a black and white photograph screamed.
A five-year-old Kon was clutching the leg of his mother, his eight-year-old brother leaning down and hugging his shoulders. The pain of sharp nails dug into the back of his head, just like it had on that day. Unlike his younger self, the Kon in the attic crumpled under it. Tears were streaming down his eyes and dripping onto the photo. Before the ink could smudge, he patted the image dry with his sweater, then with a sigh, wiped his own face.
Be stronger, Kon demanded. Be as brave as you were that day, and actually look.
His mother, Kir, looked so beautiful. She always looked beautiful, her eyes and smile forever radiant, but on that day, something was different. Light seemed to bleed from her very soul, filling her up like a vessel with endless warmth. Kon had been strong and brave enough to bear Rin’s nails because of her.
His brother had been beautiful too, in his own way. Even while he tried to make Kon cry as their photo was taken, Rin was staring off into the sky, his gaze as vast and unknowing as space.
Though none of their fae were visible in the picture, Kon could remember where they had floated. His mother’s was above her head, a ring of sunlight raised on its side. His brother’s lingered in front of his face like a cloud of shadow and velvet starlight.
Kon could remember his own fae, too. At the top of the photograph, she appeared, drifting from above. A dancing tangle of gold and white light that bloomed with rings of illumination, each ring brighter than his mother’s fae had ever been.
Terrible lies shone bright on that lone photograph. A childhood spent in denial, followed by an adulthood of repression.
The fae had always been there. Kon just refused to see them. His fae had always been there, but he let her cries go unheard for so long, she eventually grew silent. Because of his fear and his selfishness, his fae spent decades hiding where he couldn’t find her. It wasn’t until he witnessed the mountain-sized corpse rampaging across the Last Talon, Vaska Toma, that her voice cried out again. Again, he ran the other way. Too afraid and selfish to accept his Fate.
It was all built on lies. The foundation of his reality began to crumble. Kon could no longer avoid the colorful shapes dancing around his classrooms. He could no longer look at his wife and daughter and not see their fae. They often caught him staring into space and asked questions he couldn’t answer. Instead, he turned to his best friend. After all, Gul had known since the beginning.
Kon flipped the page.
Another photograph, still in grayscale. Gul’s parents stood above a pair of nine-year-old boys with bright, fluffed up hair. Though Lum’s hand was laid gently upon Kon’s shoulder, the kind woman could never replace his mother. No more of a father than his had ever been, Gin loomed above Gul, a proud spark in his eyes. Gin had always favored his actual son over the orphan that did nothing but make his life harder. It was a small miracle Gin’s face in the photograph had faded over the years.
At nine-years-old, Kon should have outgrown the Sight. Gul believed there was a reason, but Kon insisted on the contrary. He’d seen what the wraith did to Kir and Rin. Instead of helping, he’d just run away.
Gul never believed Kon lost the Sight, but after a long season of angry silence, he relented. His best friend encouraged his lies until they became a reality. Not long after, Kon started calling him brother.
He soon discovered his passion for music. That passion carried him across the world for years until he met the woman he would marry. At first, it was their many similarities that brought them together. With time, it was their stark differences that kept them together. So long as they had each other, they felt invincible. Like they could go anywhere and do anything they dreamed.
Both dreamed of having a family.
Kon choked on his own breath, unable to hold back the tears. For so long he’d spoken of the importance of truth and the nature of secrets. How lies could fester and grow so large they collapse into caverns so wide, they rip the closest people apart.
Kon flipped the page. On it, a vibrant photograph of himself, Jrana, and Kinjra was shining, depicting the three of them standing in front of a precarious ledge. Like in the picture with his mother and Rin, Kon actually felt brave despite the Grand Rift yawning behind him. In ignorance, their happiness gleamed in their eyes and their smiles. A few weeks later, the Battle of Vaska Toma would take place.
Suddenly the light behind the photograph dimmed, casting the scenery in darkness. The faces of his family were no longer visible, their bodies faint silhouettes in the glowering ringlight. Down by the Grand Rift, the Skyblade truly evoked its name, cutting apart the sky like a radiant scimitar, devouring the light of the stars it kept from reaching their world.
A great crack ran down the photograph, like a bolt of spectral lightning cast down from the crumbling Skyblade. The crack forked out like a trident, splitting his family apart. Jrana was safe, standing a little off in the distance, though Kon’s head was severed completely. One of Kinjra’s arms was in his hands. Spiritfire burned in the background.
Kon shut his eyes, relishing in the darkness. Why are you showing me this? His thoughts screamed.
Like the sigh of an angel, her voice resounded. Look.
Kon opened his eyes to brightness, then wiped the blurriness from his vision. In the picture, his family had been reunited. Although the Skyblade continued to glower with its hollow radiance, happiness still gleamed in their eyes and their smiles.
Together, his fae cried.
Kon sighed with understanding.
The greatest mistake Kon had ever made was not accepting his Fate. By cowering in secret, he’d only brought his dreams to ruin. But so long as he and his family were alive, there was still a way for them to be together. He’d met Ebi’s husband and daughter, seeing firsthand the kind of reality they had. It devastated him to see a family that resembled his, united and happy while his was divided and suffering. That had been the core of why he refused to stay the night in Underfall.
The experience seemed different in retrospect. It meant that he could have that too. All he needed to do was convince Jrana to accept their Fate, and they could be together and happy when he wasn’t being called away to defend their world.
Kon pulled the photograph out, then closed and dropped the album. A sensation like crying heralded the light of his fae, who began to pour from his eyes. Droplets of silver and gold liquid that coalesced into a sparkling orb. She beckoned for him to follow, flying around his head and across the chest-filled attic. At the open shaft of the ladder, she slowly drifted below.
Kon moved for the ladder, head high and chin straight. I don’t know how but I know what to do. So long as my family is alive, I can find a way to fix this. We can be together, and that’s what matters the most.
He would go down those steps and listen to Jrana scream at him again. He would memorize every word if he had to, just so he could understand the pain he had put her through. He would replay the words again and again until he knew exactly what to say to make her forgive him. He would do whatever it took to be by Jrana and Kinjra’s side.
Kon was determined. He could not fail. Together, his family would face the coming War and survive it. All three would bear witness to the paradise that awaited humanity’s victory against the wraiths. No matter what Fate throws our way.
Kon descended after his fae.
𝅘𝅥 A New Day 𝅘𝅥
Kon awakened to a radiant light and a cheerful duplet. His fae floated above his bed, shining like a bright star in the otherwise dark room. Her lute string shell — it was larger, somehow. Closer to the size of his fist than his eyeball. A significant physical growth to match an equally significant change in Kon’s self.
He had always been a Seer. For more than 30 years, Fate had been kind enough to let him live, while other Seers — like Jrana’s father and brother — suffered and died. Perhaps it was because She understood how much pain the wraith had brought him by possessing his brother and murdering his mother before his eyes. Or perhaps She knew he would be no good to Her, depressed and directionless as he was. Either way, Fate had given him a chance to find love and happiness. To find his reason to live again.
Kon realized now that on the night that Fate had been defied, She’d had no choice. If Her Seers had not come, the souls of his family and friends would have been devoured. No paradise for them. Only excruciating pain and then… nothing. Fate had given Kon more time than he deserved, but it was clear now that She needed him. His reason to live also needed to be his reason to fight. And so fight he would.
Just not today.
Kon’s body was beyond sore. The muscles in his arms, legs, and back were on fire, as if composed of magma. Swollen, too, though Kon only realized that after struggling to worm his way from underneath his blankets. Simply lifting a limb was like moving through a liquid thicker than water. Not impossible, but difficult, and more than a little exhausting.
Despite the state of his body, Kon’s mind felt well-rested, like he’d just had the best sleep of his life. It took barely any time for him to transition into reality. A hum accompanied his every thought, filling him with eager energy. Thousands of questions had been built up over his three-day journey, and now that he was finally at Westwind Academy, those questions felt ready to burst from his ears.
The answers found in his dream last night only made things worse. Kon could recall every moment of it vividly, but in the end, the revelation spawned a thousand more questions than it solved. Of them all, one stood above the others:
How are the people I love?
Grunting, Kon mustered the strength to rise from his bed. He opened the window’s pitch-black curtains to find Zephyr’s Cradle lit with the molten colors of the sunset. It seemed that since the darkness first hit him, an entire day had passed. That meant at least twenty hours of uninterrupted slumber.
Kon prayed to Fate that he hadn’t slept until Enday. His gut felt as cavernous as the Grand Rift, and his mouth was too dry to even gather spit. He moved as fast as he could to the bathroom, nearly stumbling along the way. There, he quickly drank from the faucet, only to recoil in discomfort. The water tasted of metal. Kon wasn’t used to roostfolk plumbing, but he was so thirsty. He forced himself to drink until his belly couldn’t hold anything more.
Kon would need a proper meal, and he would need it soon. For now, other matters awaited.
In his closet, Kon stumbled upon four uniforms hanging on the hooks in the back. He must have not seen them in his rush to find a string for Vigor. Kon grabbed a Westwind tunic and laid it against his front, then did the same thing with a pair of trousers. Both seemed fitted to his size already. He considered putting the uniform on, yet it didn’t feel like the right time. Instead, he selected his nicest earth-toned blouse and a pair of sand-colored slacks, then folded the rest of his outfits and stacked them on the shelves. That left a pile of instruments, his songbook, and a few ration pouches on the floor.
After dressing, Kon tried to chew on the nuts and seeds, but found them too hard to swallow. He brought the pouches to the desk along with his other belongings. His bells chimed as he moved them, attracting his fae’s attention. She landed on his lyre as he placed it on the desk, then strummed a merry duplet.
“Not now,” Kon told her. “I have to do a few things first, but I promise we can play some music later.”
The twinkling orb rose into the air and bobbed excitedly.
“For now, please give me some room to work.”
She rang in agreement, soaring over to the window to listen beyond its glass. Kon could hear birds chirping and people shouting above. Sounded like something was happening on the rooftop field. Wilm’s extra training session, he realized. Lafer and Vigor were probably there now. He figured the giant would be knocking at his door if he’d been sleeping for longer than a day, but still… Kon needed to know for certain.
He eyed the tiny green-and-gold book on the desk; the words ‘Westwind Academy Seer Manual’ were boldened and embossed on its cover. He opened it and briefly glanced at the table of contents, which included various sections for a course schedule, campus rules and regulations, something called the Seer Creed, and what seemed to be a short book written by Headmaster Nise titled The Clarity of Self.
Kon would read through that later, perhaps while eating dinner. For now, he pocketed the palm-sized manual and began cleaning up the desk. There was a free row on the bookshelf for the stack of empty Westwind Notebooks, and plenty of space on the back of the desk to line up his instruments. Bells in one corner, lyre propped beside it, followed by flute and bodhrán. Kon tied his harmonica around his neck out of habit. He’d needed it often since his journey began at the Coastwatch Eyrie.
Kon had laid his songbook beside the empty picture frame for a reason. After dusting the dirty white cover, he carefully opened it to the last three pages. Within each fold, a photograph was tucked away carefully. Kon caught a teardrop before it fell and marred any of the images.
Wiping his face, Kon placed each photo on the desk an equal distance apart. He had taken these three knowing they represented the most important people of his life. The warmth of his mother and the wonder of his brother. The best friend that supported him through the worst part of his life. The wife and daughter he loved more than anything, even more than his love of music. The picture frame was right there, empty and waiting.
As important as his mother and brother were, they were both long gone. Kon had come to accept that fact around the time he’d deluded himself into believing he’d lost the Sight. Though he knew it was important to be reminded of everything they meant to him, he also knew the danger of living in the past.
As grateful as he was for everything Gul did, his picture was a testament to Kon’s biggest regrets and greatest failings. After last night, he knew he couldn’t ignore them any longer, but he also knew he couldn’t dwell too much on them either. Time moved forward, not backward. His focus was better elsewhere.
The third photo… it fit into the picture frame perfectly.
Kon could not change the past. The future, however? That he could change. Kon would find a way to make amends with Jrana while fulfilling his duty to Fate. No matter what, he would find a way to be with her and Kinjra. Most importantly, he would find a way to keep them safe.
Resolved, Kon pulled out the desk’s cushioned chair. As he sat down and settled in, he turned his family’s picture over and checked himself in the mirror. Upon smoothing out the wrinkles of his blouse and slacks, he took a deep breath, then tapped on the mirror three times. Colorful numbers flashed in the middle, then counted down from 16.
He must have caught Lucid at a bad time. Still, when the countdown reached zero, she appeared as divine as always. A bright silhouette of a woman that radiated with colors. Today, those colors were green, silver, and gold.
“Good evening, Kon. I’m sure you must be wondering, so yes. It is still Gilday.”
“That’s a relief,” Kon breathed. “I trust since I’ve been asleep this long, the world isn’t burning? It’s hard to tell from the view of my window.”
“The world isn’t burning,” she assured him. “All is quiet on Tír.”
“No more surprises?”
“None so far.”
“I’m glad to hear it. It’s hard not to worry, considering everything that’s happened. Are you and the Headmaster doing well?”
“Kon. Out of respect, I’m going to be honest with you. I can’t hear your heart in your voice, though I appreciate the sentiment. If there’s something you want to tell me, you need not worry about how I’ll react. I promise it won’t change anything.”
“I…” Kon hesitated. “You knew I was going to ask about the day, didn’t you? Did you Divine this conversation?”
“I did not,” she replied curtly. “I can just see you clearly.”
Kon’s head fell, his breath stuttering. It wasn’t as easy to admit the lies aloud than it was to himself. Especially not to one of Tairn’s most powerful fae. He’d been determined before, but now the doubts crept in. What good would it do if you knew anyway?
A light twinkled in the corner of his eye. His fae was here, supporting him.
“Lucid. I’m not the man you think I am. I’m not the hero that people keep saying. I’m a coward and a fraud.”
Her prismatic head nodded, dismissing the kaleidoscope of colors. It was just Lucid in the mirror now. No more distractions, and no follow-up statement. She would give him all the time he needed.
“I’ve always had the Sight,” he whispered. “I chose to ignore every sparkling miracle until eventually my mind just stopped processing them, like the fae weren’t really there. I lied to myself and everyone I loved for nearly my entire life, and I- I’m not even sure I should be here.”
Kon’s heart sank when Lucid didn’t reply to him immediately. Her body language told him nothing. He would give anything to perceive an expression on her face.
“And why shouldn’t you be here? You are a Seer, aren’t you?”
He began choking on his breath. “You heard what I said, didn’t you? I’m a deserter of Fate.”
Lucid quickly vanished and reappeared three times, as if he was blinking. “I don’t see a deserter, Kon. I see a student ready to learn. I see a husband and a father who would do anything to keep his loved ones safe. That’s why you agreed to go with Lafer instead of running, isn’t it? To train and to fight so they never have to experience that kind of fear again?”
“I- how do you know that?”
“I can see possibilities, Kon. Even the most unlikely ones. I glanced at your Fate the moment I first saw your reflection. Not in the mirror, but in your flute as you battled that wraith. I knew you would defeat it even before I saw Lafer and Vigor rush into clarity. The face I saw that day? The determination? One look and I knew you would win. You are a hero, Kon. Maybe not before, but you are now.”
“33 years…” he whispered. “I neglected Fate for 33 years. How can you or Her forgive me so easily?”
“Because you stepped up when it matters. I told you this before. After the Battle of Vaska Toma and most recently, the unprecedented Omens, the Fated King needs every Seer he can get. Carrion, deserter, you name it. He doesn’t care. What Fate and him care about is that we are united and victorious.”
“But what of all the good I could have done if I wasn’t a coward? How many souls were consumed by wraiths because I hid in delusion?”
“If we could know, which we can’t, it couldn’t be changed anyway. Focus on the lives you can save in the future instead.”
It took an incredible amount of effort for Kon to nod his head. In and after his dream, he’d come to the same conclusion. Even so, it was still validating to hear.
There was still another truth he wanted to tell. The one regarding his daughter, Kinjra.
“Thank you, Lucid. I- hm. I was hoping you could check on my family and see if they’re doing okay.”
“I might be able to do more than that. I’ll need a reflective surface to peer through, though. It’s dark enough that windows could work, but the image would be blurry. Do you happen to know where they’d be?”
“We usually dine around this time. The Pale Hawks’ canteen, maybe? My best friend, Gul, should be there too.”
“I’ll see what I can do. Just give me ten seconds.”
Lucid faded, leaving another countdown. On the six, colors began rippling in from the edges. At zero, those colors formed into an image. A moving image.
Gul was standing by the canteen’s kitchen and taking orders from patrons while Cres glided between the many round tables to deliver meals. Leb and Belen were there, though Etal and his family were nowhere in sight. In the shadiest corner of the room, Jrana and Kinjra were pecking at their food in silence.
“They’re alive,” sang Lucid, walking into the image. Every fae in the canteen was visible, too. The oblong green seed at Kinjra’s feet glowed the brightest, though Lucid didn’t seem to notice, even as she looked at them. “I can see they miss you, but they’re both well otherwise. I hope seeing them like this helps ease your sorrows.”
“It does.” Kon felt lighter, like a great weight in his chest was suddenly lifted. “But it doesn’t erase them completely. I know this must sound selfish, but Lucid- you’re the best person I can turn to. How can I unite my family again?”
“Well that’s simple. Not in execution, sadly, but certainly in concept. Headmaster Nise has given you three weeks to graduate from Westwind. After that, he will do what he can to help bring your family together.”
“Three weeks?” Kon sputtered. “How can he possibly expect me to graduate in three weeks?”
“With a lot of help and encouragement. The Professors and their fae – him and I included – will be at your disposal to ensure you pass all your exams by then.”
“But why? I don’t understand.”
“Because we need you, Kon. Tír might seem quiet now, but us fae? Every one of us can feel something terrible brewing. The Fated King is brewing something of his own, and for that, he needs Seers like you and Lafer.”
Kon swallowed. Not for himself but for his friend. A battlefield is no place for a little girl, Vigor had said.
“She’s going to serve in his army?”
“Yes. But not yet. Lafer won’t leave without you. Nise’s orders, not hers. Though I don’t need to see the future to know she’ll agree.”
“Lafer doesn’t know yet?”
“No. She’ll come to the office after Wilm’s extracurricular training.”
Kon nodded, his eyes on the image of his wife and daughter.
“Thank you for everything,” he told her. “But I think it’s time I go. Seeing all the Pale Hawks eating has reminded me of the pit in my stomach.”
“I understand,” Lucid chimed, dismissing the image. “Is there anything else I can help you with, or anything else you wanted to mention?”
Kon shook his head. Knowing where Lafer and him were heading… he couldn’t drag his daughter into this. Not yet.
“Nothing I can think of, except for my meeting with the Headmaster. Can you let me know tomorrow what times would be best?”
“Of course. Turn the mirror to face the ceiling and I’ll flash it when I want to speak. Goodbye, Kon.”
The fae vanished, leaving only his reflection. Despite Kon’s swollen body, his face almost seemed thinner. Probably just gaunt from hunger, he thought.
Rising from the chair was as hard as rising from his bed, but as soon as he was on his feet, his fae rang an eager duplet that helped buoy his steps. In moments, Kon was unlocking and walking out his door.
A new day awaited, even if it was almost night.
𝅘𝅥 LAST SOON 𝅗𝅥