Chapter 3 - Enter Faulkner
On Sunday morning Seti and Sydria were driving to the city of Maybell.
Sydria found out about his wind light when they ate last night. Thinking she was invisible to all working eyes, she got caught picking her nose. Seti would have loved to see the color of her face when he told her to stop, all while looking down on his plate. Being able to see when people thought he wasn't looking could do wonders for him.
He hoped his wind light could grow, or expand because it was like permanently living in a world without the sun and only a flashlight on hand. He repeatedly had to propel wind at himself to reduce the level of frustration.
Seti still hadn't confronted Sydria about contacting their father, nor had she mentioned that she did so. While it was the Shepherds that pushed towards Cassie's expulsion, it was Sydria's loud mouth that allowed everything to happen in the first place. She needed to learn that her thoughtless actions had consequences.
At the same time, Seti remained conflicted about feeling bad for Cassie at all. She placed a geas on him without his permission, and the feeling of helplessness gnawed him. But it did ultimately help him, in more ways than one. Regaining the dream memories gave him an idea of why he went blind, and he also believed that the remembrance geas had helped create the wind light.
The thing that struck most odd to Seti was that his father still hadn't said a word about his blindness to him. Perhaps pops would say nothing until Seti got home and informed him in person. That sounded like something he would do. He was grateful that his father wasn't home after he finished moving out of the dorm. Had his father been there, it was likely Seti would experience a berate session about his desire to learn more about his adept abilities.
"We've passed at least three temples already," Sydria tried saying again, "why does it have to be the one halfway across the galaxy?"
"This one is the best," Seti said once more. He had not told her that he picked the Maybell temple specifically because his counselor mentioned it. Temples tended to reject people if they were too low tiered, as he was. If the counselor saw something in him, then maybe the recommended temple would see something too.
"I don't know, I can't see why it would matter," she said.
"When you learn about your abilities and decide to train them, then you'll understand."
Sydria said nothing.
He was at least pleased that she focused on this topic rather than him deciding to train his wind before trying to restore his eyes again.
The three-hour drive was painfully long. There was only so much in the car for him to look at with his wind light. He tried testing his ability further by using the wind light outside the car window. But unfortunately, the real wind outside overpowered his so he never got to see past the interior.
He brought his earphones and plugged them into his cellphone. Sydria had helped him navigate to his music playlist, giving him some semblance of normalcy.
A game he played in secret was pretending to sleep while he gently used his wind light on Sydria. He didn't think she noticed the wind, but just as she was about to habitually pick at her nose, she slowly turned her head and saw his semi-hidden hand. He roared with laughter as she kept hitting him and calling him a wind pervert.
When they finally arrived in Maybell, Sydria slowed the car down, followed by a comment or two about her hating cities. She kept glancing down at her phone to make sure she didn't miss any turns before they arrived.
"It's closed," Sydria said. They were driving as fast as a car could when one didn't press the pedal. Since Seti couldn't see, he wasn't able to know if a car was behind them, forced to match their speed.
"Maybe because it's a Sunday," Seti commented, "but that makes no sense; temples don't close. This makes it all the more annoying that they didn't have a website or a phone number to call them with." Perhaps he should have asked Mr. Adams for more information about the temple. It would be quite embarrassing to drive three hours and have nothing to show for it. Maybell only had one wind temple, according to the online maps, but perhaps Mr. Adams meant something else.
"There are two people in front of the gate, just standing there," Sydria said.
"What do they look like?"
"The guy looks like a punk, like the real meaning of the word punk. Your age, maybe? And a little girl."
"Perfect, let's park and go talk to them." Better to get what information they could before making the decision to drive back.
It took her another five minutes to learn the wind temple had no other entrances or parking spots, so Sydria had to pay the parking meter for two hours. She took Seti by the arm and led him towards the temple gate.
Using his wind light outside was harder than he thought it would be. The world's natural wind would push Seti's away if it was heavy enough. He couldn't get used to seeing his sight bend out of shape before it flickered off.
When the natural wind was gentle he managed to get a glimpse of his surroundings. The temple grounds barred entrance with a brick wall all around. It went as high as ten feet if he had to guess.
A moment later they were at the gate where the punk man leaned against it and the young girl loitered. Seti wasn't sure if the two were actually with the temple until the man grumbled when they stopped before them.
"We're closed. Get lost."
The man had a piercing chain from his nose to his ear and four piercings on his lips. He also wore a trilby hat and a vest over his dress shirt. The sleeves of the dress shirt were rolled up, showing off a well-defined forearm. His clothes became him. This man was fit.
Seti did what he could to not draw attention to his hand. He had a tinge of uneasiness when he focused his wind light on the man, expecting him to react; Cassie had said it felt oppressive to her. Fortunately, nothing happened.
"If you get lost, make sure you find yourself right after," the little girl said in a chipper voice. She was probably ten years old, dolled up with her hair in curls and wore a dress.
"When is it open?" Seti asked.
"Never," the punk man replied. "Closed indefinitely. Read the sign. Or are you blind?" He gestured towards the gate. Seti adjusted his wind light to see a piece of paper taped to the door.
"He is, as a matter of fact," Sydria snapped. "Are you always so rude or did that happen when someone pierced your brain?"
The punk man clapped his hands together and pushed himself away from the gate. He slowly separated his hands and a dagger formed between his hands. It looked solid to Seti, but he knew that it was ethereal. A phasm weapon—the crafter's spell. The man took a step forward. Sydria gripped Seti's arm harder but stood straight in defiance.
It would be nice if he could go home alive.
"No, you are in the wrong, Melvin," the little girl said as she pulled on his vest. "You can't go calling blind people blind and then not expect them to get mad."
The punk man, Melvin, clicked with his tongue and leaned against the wall again. He flicked the dagger up and watched it dissipate into the air.
"I am so sorry," the girl apologized. "We meant no disrespect. Please accept our apologies." And she bowed a bit to that.
"I need an aeromancer to help me," Seti tried again. "I'm blind but my wind lets me see when I use it. I'm hoping to someone could give me a pointer or two, then I'll leave right after."
"Listen, kiddo," Melvin started, looking down at Seti's hand, "I don't care if you can summon the lightless or are a mancer of every element known to man. You ain't getting in."
"I was told to come here," Seti said.
Melvin's face twisted. "Who told you that?"
"A counselor at Lambsgard University, Henry Adams."
Seti almost missed the reactions between the little girl and Melvin, since his wind light didn't have a large view. Melvin himself frowned deeply, whereas the girl's eyes opened wide.
"Never heard of him," Melvin said. He crossed his arms and tapped his finger. The little girl looked at Melvin in confusion, then realized something and nodded as well.
It couldn't have been more obvious that they were lying. He wouldn't be stopped here just because a punk guy said they couldn't get in.
"I recommend taking some courses on acting. I don't think anyone here is fooled," Seti said. "I don't know how you know Mr. Adams, but I drove three hours to get here. I'm going to talk to someone."
"Actually, I drove," Sydria whispered.
"Pissin' abyss you are," Melvin spat back. "I decide who goes in and who doesn't. Your ugly face better not be here in thirty seconds."
Seti had his wind light focused on Melvin, waiting for him to get physically aggressive. He wanted him to calm down but couldn't think of anything clever to say. Sydria, however, didn't forget the presence of the little girl.
"Please," Sydria pleaded with her. "We just want to talk to someone."
The girl moaned with indecision. She kept stealing glances at Melvin looking for a cue. "If Henry said—"
"Dora. Be quiet." Melvin glared at Seti for a moment longer before he heaved a sigh. "I better not get in trouble for this. Go get Elder Poe."
"Finally! Something interesting to do." The little girl saluted and trotted to the gate, opening it. It creaked heavily, indicating its weight, but she had no problem.
The natural wind of the world picked up, disabling Seti's sight temporarily. They waited in silence until the gate creaked again.
"This is them, grandpa!" Dora said.
"Greetings," an older voice said. "It is a pleasure to meet you. I am Poe."
"I am Seti. This is my sister, Sydria. We were recommended here by Henry Adams." Seti kept trying to get his wind light started again, but the natural gust wouldn't allow it.
"Dora here says you are blind and capable of seeing with your abilities? Are you an adept or a mancer?"
"I'm only a tier one, so an adept."
Seti felt his cheeks flush. While the term adept applied to all tiers between one and four, an unspoken belief existed that tier one people should be given a different title altogether. The purpose was to disassociate them from the rest of the ability users.
"May we test it?" Elder Poe asked.
He tried to start his wind light again but watched it die off quickly. "I can't while there's a strong breeze."
"Or a yawn," Melvin supplied.
"Melvin! You can't make fun of people just because they're weak," Dora said.
Dora, for all her considerations, wasn't helping.
Suddenly, "Holy!" Sydria yelped at his side.
"It would appear that you are indeed blind," Elder Poe said. What just happened? "Please, come inside. Dora, if you will."
Dora took Seti's hand and guided him forward, with Sydria close behind. He grimaced when Melvin blew air at him and laughed. Once they went through the gate Seti felt the breeze die down, so he turned on his wind light. He still couldn't see very far and barely glimpsed at anything beyond Elder Poe. He had yet to see the temple. Melvin wasn't with them, so he likely remained at the gate.
Elder Poe was wearing a traditional temple outfit. His hands were invisible behind the overly long sleeves. He was a bald man with a long beard growing from his chin.
Once they crossed a wooden bridge over a small stream, Elder Poe turned around, halting their progress.
"This will do. Thank you, Dora," the elder gave a meaningful look at the young girl, but by time Seti moved his wind light to her she was only smiling happily. "Now then, let me see what you can do."
Dora let go of his hand and stepped away. Elder Poe instructed Seti to face another direction, then detect how many fingers the elder was holding up. With the wind light, it was the easiest thing for him to do. Elder Poe continued the tests, alternating hands and sometimes informing that his "guess" was incorrect, but Seti knew better.
"Fascinating. Your perception is quite high," Elder Poe said. "Though I am unsure if the word perception is correct."
"What do you mean?" Seti asked.
"How do you see with your wind?"
"Like an image in my head, but without any color. I can't read the words on a piece of paper, or see the image that a TV displays, but I can see the shape of those objects."
Elder Poe stroked his beard. That was when a woman walked into Seti's view, to the elder's side. The first thing Seti noticed about her was that she was wearing some bandage wrappings around her eyes, covering them completely. Maybe she was blind, too?
She clasped her fist into her other hand a bowed slightly; her bob stylized hair swayed forward. "The young master wishes to meet with the guest." Her voice was mature; most likely in her late thirties. She wore a suit with a tie, a deep contrast to the elder's temple garments.
Elder Poe frowned. "He just wants to delay the meeting. Tell him that I will handle this personally."
The blindfold woman held her bowed position. "Yes. He said that when you say that, to say: 'I want to meet them anyway.'"
This young master reminded Seti of a spoiled brat. Maybe he was the same age as Dora.
Elder Poe countered again. "Tell him he can't meet anyone and should focus instead."
"Yes. The young master said that when you say that, to say: 'breaks are necessary to relieve stress.'"
"Bah, he has no stress. Regardless," Elder Poe started, taking a glance at Seti, "there is a risk to bringing the… uninitiated into the temple."
"Yes. He said that when you say that—"
"Yes, yes." Elder Poe waved his hand dismissively. "Lead them if you wish."
Sydria returned to Seti's side and took his arm again during the conversation. He would have felt bad for being the uninvited guest, but a larger picture was at play here: Seti needed to better his wind light skill.
Seti and Sydria followed the woman down the temple grounds until they stood before the patio. The patio began to sink into the ground, or at least that's what he thought until Sydria exclaimed.
"Wow! You're a geomancer."
He looked around at their feet and learned that it wasn't the patio that was sinking, but rather they were the ones that rose up. The ground they stood acted as an elevator to the second floor of the temple. When the floating rock (or pillar, Seti didn't know) stopped moving, the blindfold woman created a geo-made bridge and walked forward into the temple.
He expected to pass other people, like temple maidens or butlers, but there were none. The area was quiet.
After walking through the large temple, their guide finally opened a paper door and gestured for them to enter. The room was stuffy and smelled of wood.
"Welcome! Welcome, indeed."
Inside the room were three elders, all dressed in a similar fashion to Elder Poe, and the man who was presumably the young master. The young master also wore a suit, with no tie, and instead had the top three buttons of his dress shirt undone. He wore his suit jacket like one might a cape, with the empty sleeves hanging. His hands were in his pocket while he leaned against a window, with his dress shirt sleeves rolled up. And just like with Melvin, the young master wasn't lacking in muscles. His long hair was tied back in a ponytail.
He grinned through the cigarette in his mouth. "Do you know who I am?"
Seti shook his head. He had difficulty identifying people he already knew as it was, so a stranger he may have seen in the past was definitely out of the question. Sydria also shook her head.
"I am Faulkner. Does that ring any bells?" The young master was expectant. Though called the young master, he wasn't young in the way that Seti thought; in fact, he was probably the blindfold woman's age.
Again the two siblings shook their head. The elders exchanged glances.
"Ah, I'll pretend I'm not disappointed. Our temple may or may not have been on a reality TV show a few years back, but I suppose all fame dies out eventually. Now then, with whom am I speaking?"
Seti introduced himself and Sydria. "I was recommended here by Henry Adams. I'm hoping to get some help with my wind."
"Of course!" Faulkner gestured wildly with his hands. "Shame on us if we don't help those in need. Isn't that right, Elder Narn?"
One of the elders sighed. He must have taken that as a reason to leave because he led the other two elders out of the room. The entrance door remained open with the blindfold lady still there.
"So you'll help me?" Seti asked.
"Now wait a moment," Faulkner raised up a finger. "If we're going to waste time we'll have to do it right. Let's start from the beginning. Come, come. Sit."
Faulkner brought them to a short table without chairs. He sat crisscrossed on one end and indicated that the two of them should do the same.
The blindfold woman was gone by time Seti turned his hand to see her. He took the opportunity to look around the room with the best of his ability. It was fairly empty, excluding the table they sat at now and a gym mat at the other end of the room. A display of swords rested near the mat, and an open window helped clear the stuffiness of the room.
Sydria poked him sharply on the side. Seti focused back to Faulkner, who had been watching his hand.
"Interesting." He puffed on the cigarette and exhaled the smoke. Seti expected the smoke to hinder his wind light in some way, but there was no issue. "Not only sight, but it messes with emotions, too."
Seti tilted his head in confusion. Was he referring to the taste of his air, that Sydria and Cassie mentioned?
"Huh," Sydria said. "I can't smell the cigarette."
Now that she mentioned it, he realized that he couldn't smell it either. Faulkner's grin grew.
"When you become as good as me, you'll be able to do more than this."
"So you're an aeromancer?" Seti asked.
He took another puff. "I don't like titles, but if I had to choose between calling myself one or not, then yeah, I'm a master aeromancer. Best in the world. King of the skies. Emperor of the clouds. But who likes titles?" He shrugged. "So you know our good buddy Adams?"
Shanna, the blindfold woman, came into the wind light view suddenly, causing him to jump. She had a tray with three cups on it and placed it before them. It smelled like tea.
"Young master, you must remember that we aren't aware of him," she said.
"Oh. Right. Who's this Adams guy? I don't know him." Faulkner peered into the contents of each cup. "What's this? Where's my stuff?"
"Elder Narn prepared them." Shanna stood straight and held the tray at her side. How was she able to see with her blindfold?
"Tch." Faulkner lifted a cup and smelled it. "It's probably poisoned with something. Return it; guess I'll just die of thirst."
Shanna bent down and collected Faulkner's cup, but left the other two. "You will not die. I'll try to get you something you like, but it will take me a little bit."
"That's why I love you, Shanna."
Shanna didn't react at all and left the room.
Seti cleared his throat. "Maybe I should mention that I'm a tier one adept. I'm not looking to do anything amazing; I just want to help expand my—uh, sight, I suppose is the way to say it."
"So you got the worst of both worlds: tier one and a wind user."
Sydria sipped her tea. "Why is it a bad thing to be a wind user?" She asked.
"Nobody wants to be one!" Faulkner said as if it was the most obvious thing in the world. "For example, even a tier one fire adept can be useful. Fire is fire no matter how 'weak' it is. Only you can prevent forest fires! For earth users, they have the best employment opportunities; I'm sure you can imagine the need when constructions abound, roads to fix, debris to clear after a battle, and so on. Those silly mafians," He smiled to himself. "And with water, it can shape the environment and help plant life. So what can air do? Be an air conditioner? It's useful on a hot day, I'll admit that."
Seti picked up his cup. He pictured what it would be like if he was able to manipulate water instead of air. He could have easily weaved the tea directly from the cup to his mouth, all without touching the cup itself. That sounded cooler than what he was able to do with his wind if he excluded the wind light.
"Can't wind suffocate people?" Sydria asked. "Like, remove air from a spot."
"We went from career choices to killing people," Seti noted.
"Killing people with abilities are what most people care about," Faulkner said with a laugh. "As for the void technique, you'd think so, but any aeromancer that tried knows it's quite the task. At best, what we're capable of is limiting the amount of air a person could breathe. Nothing too fancy."
Faulkner waved his hand dismissively. "But all this talk about how to expertly kill someone with wind dampens the mood. Around here, tiers and numbers don't mean much. If you're strong, you're strong. Doesn't matter what your mancy is."
"Melvin thinks otherwise," Seti said.
"Melvin couldn't even beat Eustuss. We made fun for days. Don't worry about him; let's talk about your ability. Were you always able to see with wind?"
Seti explained his situation. From his pre-blind state and how his wind worked in comparison to now. He told Faulkner what rules he knew and limitations; that included how natural wind could push aside his wind and disable it. He made it a point to not mention Cassie and the geas; people tended to freak out when it came to unauthorized geas use.
Faulkner rubbed his chin and stared into space. He expected the young master to ponder on how he could see with the wind now, and not before, but the line of questioning went somewhere else. He asked Seti how the blindness came, to which Seti answered about details regarding Dream Eater. The irrelevant information, like pretending to be a Shepherd in the dream, was left out.
"I've never heard of someone being able to enter dreams," Faulkner said. "And I'm well versed in the unique mancer skillsets of the world. I even know of a vivamancer that doesn't need to physically touch someone to work on them, but he can't enter dreams."
Seti thought about Cassie pricking his finger with a needle. She needed access to an injury to scan his body. If a healing mage didn't need to touch someone to place a geas on them, then that person would be a powerful individual indeed. He wondered what the countermeasures were for that.
Shanna reappeared again, this time with only a single cup. Faulkner flicked his cigarette towards the open window, though Seti couldn't see quickly enough if it made it outside. Shanna placed the cup before Faulkner, who beamed back at her as she left. Seti was curious to know the contents of the cup, but he wasn't able to smell anything. The young master had claimed he could control smell with use of his aeromancy, which was something Seti had never considered possible.
"You said my wind messes with emotions?" Seti brought up.
"Yes, it's your niche," Faulkner said.
"Niche? I've never heard that term used with a mancy before," Seti said.
"No? How familiar are you with aeromancy?"
Seti considered how to respond. He used to fanboy over wind mages and other mancer skills in general, but after his father pushed those fantasies away Seti avoided that knowledge like the plague. He did, after all, want to "grow up."
"I only know what I knew when I was a kid. I don't know the science behind it since it wasn't relevant to my life anymore."
"That's unfortunate," Faulkner said, then considered for a moment. "Or fortunate, from a certain point-of-view. That makes you a blank slate. A niche is something unique to each person, separate from their mancy. Take Shanna for example, she's a geomancer. Geomancers, by default, are very slow to use their mancy. Her niche counteracts that and allows her to mold earth freely. She's instantly a star by that alone—if you exclude her inability to kinetically throw rocks."
Huh. Seti didn't know about another layer to mancer skills. The focus was always on what element a person used or what craft they could make. Or maybe this was what they meant when people spoke of an aeromancer specializing in twisters while another could fly effortlessly. It was no wonder the word mage was replaced with mancer; mage implies spells at their disposal, but a mancer with a specific niche was isolated to their boundaries.
"A niche with emotions could probably propel a person to feel a certain way, though I'm not sure of the logistics behind it. I don't imagine it to be terribly powerful if it wasn't noticed at your tiering." Then Faulkner stared off into space. "Oh. How nosy. I don't imagine Henry recommended you to Prestige as well?"
"As a matter of fact, he did. I don't think he did the paperwork though, I didn't exactly give the impression of joy and happiness." Seti changed sitting positions and leaned forward. He was all ears to hear more on the subject. However, Faulkner remained silent and didn't offer anything further.
Sydria, on the other hand, wasn't silent. "You were recommended to Prestige? As a tier one? They'll never let you in."
Faulkner only smiled.
"So, my wind, are we able to train it?" Seti asked, ignoring his sister.
"Of course," Faulkner replied. "The wind light is a simple matter, actually. Let's do it now. Ready?"
Seti nodded and stood, hopping in place to get the blood flowing through his legs again, all while Faulkner remained sitting.
"You can sit; we aren't going anywhere." Faulkner gestured him back to his seat. "Okay, now with your wind light, from what you've told me it works like a flashlight, sending information directly to your brain. Up until now, you've been focusing on the point of impact; I want you to try to focus on the light itself. Get a feel for it."
"A feel for it?"
"Yeah, your wind is a conduit of information, and I believe you can control it."
Seti closed his eyes instinctively. It did nothing, of course, as his sight came from his wind. He zoned into the wind light, attempting to see if it would respond to any prodding. Then, like a filter applied to a picture, he felt that his wind consisted of thousands of tiny dots—air particles, maybe—all flooding towards Faulkner and vanishing as it collided.
"Whoa, okay, I can sense the makeup of my wind. They feel like dots."
"Try to imagine control of one of those dots and move it away from the rest," Faulkner suggested.
Seti did just that. A small particle left the highway of light; it shined like a star in the dark night. He made the particle dance in a circle above his other hand, and then made it crash into his palm. The light particle vanished and, for only a moment, he could see that part of his hand.
Seti spent the next few minutes testing what he could do. Sydria, now bored, talked with Faulkner, who was content to let him practice on his own. He realized he could move several particles around at once and tested his control over them. It wasn't long before he commanded the entirety of the wind light to spread out.
Thousands of dots went in its own direction, eager to obey his directive. Some towards Faulkner, lighting the young master in his mind once more, while others hit Sydria, who had been out of his original view; neither reacted as the air struck them. The freed particles zoomed on as shooting stars in the night sky until they hit anything they could, crashing into walls and the ceiling. Particles that hit objects vanished shortly after, sending the information to Seti's mind. In a matter of seconds, the entire room appeared in his mind.
The opened window had a ladybug on the edge. Above them, a ceiling fan that Seti missed completely, and a fly rested on one of the blades. The gym mat across the room rippled where people had stepped, each and every wave detailed like the ocean.
"I can see everything!" Seti excitedly interrupted them. His heart beat wildly. He could see! The world remained colorless, but that was a small vice to a view of the entire room.
Just as quickly as the room lit up, it darkened. It took a moment for Seti to realize that no one had flicked the light switch off, but instead, his wind light stopped working. His world was darkness. He was back to being fully blind.
"Umm," Seti started, "I can't use my abilities anymore."
"Of course you can't," Faulkner said. "Our mancer abilities are like muscles. If you don't use them, then they deteriorate. If you work them out, they tear and repair. Right now your abilities are in repair mode." Seti heard a clap from the other side of the table. "Congratulations, you have taken your first step in the world."
It wasn't long after when Faulkner insisted that they stayed to eat. Seti was quick to accept the offer, whereas Sydria didn't want to impose more than necessary, claiming she didn't want to incur the wrath of the four elders. Especially when it was clear the two siblings interrupted a meeting.
"This is a once in a lifetime event for me," Seti argued silently. "And you heard Faulkner, he needs a break."
Seti was still fully blind since his abilities hadn't repaired itself yet. Faulkner gave reassurance that he had expected this to happen. The aeromancer compared Seti to a toddler who learned to walk for the first time. He should be able to use his wind light again by the next morning.
And when his abilities did come back? Seti knew that his wind light had become something else entirely. The view of the entire room had been available from every angle, which surpassed all expectations. He would effectively have eyes at the back of his head.
Melvin and Dora entered the courtyard for dinner. Shanna was grilling hamburgers at Faulkner's behest, using Seti's blindness as an excuse.
"It's easier to eat a hamburger when one's blind, right?" Faulkner had said.
Dora, eager to be useful, led Seti to a picnic table on the temple grounds. Melvin stole the grill from Shanna, saying it was a man's duty to make the meat right. Sydria was about to renew her parking meter when Faulkner said that they would lift the car with aeromancy and bring it into the grounds.
"You guys can do that?" Sydria asked, marveled.
"Of course," Faulkner said. "This is the wind temple. We can do anything you can imagine."
"The young master is lying," Shanna said. "I'll move the car to our garage. Give me your keys."
Dora left Seti's side to go with Shanna, leaving him to his thoughts. He had already accomplished the first part of what he wanted to do at the temple, which was to expand his wind light. The niche, as Faulkner had put it, was something else he would like to learn. Emotion inducing air, how would that work? Would he be able to control people using their emotions? Make a depressed person happy? Calm an angry man?
Seti jumped as Sydria grabbed him by the shoulders. He cursed.
"Sucks being blind, doesn't it?" She said.
"It sucks having you for a sister," Seti replied.
Truthfully, having to identify where everyone was using their voice and soft footsteps wasn't appealing. He knew his eyes would get fixed when he found a proper healing mage, no offense to Cassie, but the current plan to train his wind light before healing his eyes seemed like a poor choice at the moment. Not because he wasn't excited to train his wind, but because he was enveloped in a darkness he couldn't dismiss and because he couldn't use his air to calm himself down. The emotion would pass, he knew, once his abilities started working again.
Faulkner left for another meeting until it was time to eat; in which case, only Faulkner and Elder Poe remained. Melvin may be rude and condescending, but he knew how to grill. Seti was certain he had never tasted a burger this juicy, though he preferred chalking that up to his sense of taste improving.
They all sat around the table. Seti, unable to see, was trying to figure out where everyone was using the conversations he heard. Dora was with Melvin, and was wasting pickles. Sydria talked with Shanna, asking about her relationship with Faulkner.
"We're lovers," Faulkner said.
"We are not." Shanna was monotone in her reply.
"How do you see?" Sydria asked.
"She uses echolocation," Faulkner said.
"I do not."
"How do you guys all know each other?" Sydria didn't get an answer to Shanna's blindfold. Frustrating.
"We're all former inmates on the run."
"We are not."
Elder Poe sat next to Seti and struck up a conversation. "Seti, tell me about your family. What do your parents do?"
Seti gulped his food down to respond. "Father owns Event Horizon, a technology company dealing with 3D images. My mother separated a few years back and moved across the country. She's with one of the defensive teams over there."
"The Shepherds?" Elder Poe asked.
Seti snorted. "I hope not. No, she's with the Guild Association. The Sentinel Guild, I think? They work closely with the Shepherds but they aren't the same thing. She's a bit… her job makes her paranoid."
"Hmm." Seti pictured the elder stroking his long beard. "You don't like the Shepherds I take it?"
"I hate them," Seti spat. The venom in his voice caused other conversations to die down, making him regret being so careless. He didn't want to ruin the mood.
"Oho?" Melvin mumbled through a mouth full of food. "Maybe you aren't so bad."
"Melvin! You're disgusting," Dora said.
"If I may, why do you feel so strongly against them?" Elder Poe asked.
Seti hesitated. "They're selfish. They're willing to ruin lives, coerce, and blackmail people, all for their own benefit. But everyone says they're the good guys. A student got expelled at Lambsgard because she… helped me, and they would only let someone else into Prestige as long as she went too."
The table was quiet except for Sydria's murmur, and he remembered that he hasn't told her about Cassie's expulsion yet. He hated being blind at moments like this. What face did they have? Were they mouthing words to each other? He couldn't tell if they agreed or disagreed with him, though his imagination of Melvin nodding approvingly was welcome.
"She sounds like a catch, almost as good as me," Faulkner said. "Was she a vivamancer?"
He wondered if Faulkner had some affiliation with the Shepherds. "Tier three, so an adept only. She did say that she could heal all mana damage, though."
"It's wrong," Seti asserted. "She had a whole different career planned and they ruined it to make her a Shepherd. Not to mention they put another person's future on the line to bait her."
"Philosophical question for you, then," Elder Poe was quiet enough that Seti had to strain his ear to hear. It was likely he whispered to draw attention. "Would you be willing to sacrifice one life to save two? Two to save four?"
Seti pursed his lips. The statistical approach. Reducing lives down to a number was possibly the easiest way to reduce guilt.
"What about one life for a hundred?" He continued. "Forcing a career change of a single vivamancer could save hundreds. And what's being exchanged is a career, not a life. Vivamancers with a unique niche is desirable by all parties."
"So you're saying they should have permission to do whatever they want since they 'know' best? Why not just set up a draft and create an army while they're at it?" Seti's nostrils flared. He wished he could make eye contact.
"Sometimes," Elder Poe said, "it is best to view things from both sides. Only then can we understand one another."
Seti opened his mouth to argue more but closed it instead. Truthfully, Cassie had done the exact same thing: forcing a geas on Seti to do what was "best" for him. She explained herself, to be understood, and Seti could see her reasoning. But for whatever reason, the Shepherds left a bad taste in his mouth.
Side conversations picked up again near the end of the meal. Melvin left the table immediately after finishing his food, but everyone else stayed—at Faulkner's insistence—to chat further. Whatever meeting they were having before the siblings showed up, Faulkner wanted little to do with it.
Faulkner cleared his throat. "Seti, I have a proposition if you would be willing to entertain it."
"Young master," Elder Poe said firmly, "I recommend thinking through this further."
He ignored the elder. "Would you be willing to stay for the week to learn more about your niche?"
Seti snapped his head towards Faulkner. There was only one answer.
"Holy moly!" Dora shouted. "Faulky is getting a disciple? Melvin! Melvin come here!"
"He is not," Shanna said.
"Indeed, he isn't. And mind your manners, Dora," Elder Poe said firmly.
"Yeah Dora, my name is Master Faulky."
Elder Poe sighed.
"But why me?" Seti asked.
"Why, this is a wind temple of course! Shame on me if I don't do my duty to the world."
The table shook when Sydria stood quickly. "Seti, can we talk?"
Right. She was his ride home.
The two siblings left the table with Sydria guiding her brother. She brought them out of earshot.
"You've been acting weird ever since the clinic," she said, turning them around, slowly walking back to the picnic table.
"I don't know, you've been… This isn't like you. Going to a random place hours away from home to train even though you know you're a tier one. I get you can see with your wind but you'll see again normally once your eyes get fixed."
He scoffed. Of course, it was family that would try to bring him down. What else was family for? This was an opportunity that he wanted to take no matter what. He needed to know if there was a life he could achieve using his mancy—a life beyond the corporate world.
"Why is it so weird that I want to do what I want, instead of what dad wants? Eyes can get fixed anytime, but I'm finally talking to a real aeromancer who wants to train me. If you want to go home feel free. I'm staying."
Seti disconnected his arm from hers and walked forward blindly. He didn't know where the picnic table was but he was determined to walk anyway. A small drop on the ground made him stumble. An arm grabbed him and steadied his balance.
"I'll stay with you, then." Sydria.
He knew they arrived when he heard Faulkner speak.
"Have you reached a verdict?" He asked.
Up until now Seti had obeyed his father and dropped his fantasies of being a wind mage. He denied himself that identity and accepted the predestined life set before him. It wasn't noticeable at first, but he became colder and quicker to snap. However, if he had to describe what he was feeling now it would be that he was thawing—returning to an identity he had always wanted.
"Let's do it."