Kon followed Ebi through Underfall’s paved streets, his eyes squinted against the mist. It lingered in the air, frigid, clinging to everything it touched. His clothes felt heavy, weighing him down as if he was still carrying his belongings on his back. Lafer had been kind enough to take them from him when she left to join Vigor and the others at the pavilion. Alone with the older Seer, they made their way to her nest on the lake’s shore, just beside the waterfall and the cliff.
His fae drifted on ahead, basking in the sound of water crashing, splashing, and rushing. A rain-like patter resounded against her nest’s metal roof. Streams poured down gutters, feeding into basins dug into the ground and a moat small enough that it could be stepped over. Even without closing his eyes and opening his fae’s senses, Kon found all the noise terribly overwhelming. He had no idea how people could sleep in a place like this.
The nests themselves were made of stone, not wood. In an environment like this, rot would set in too easily, but that also meant their homes were immobile. If danger came, they would not be able to uproot themselves easily.
Ebi only had to push on her wave-painted door to make it open. No locks. Not even a doorknob. With a smile, she walked in and welcomed Kon inside. He had no idea how she could seem so at ease. How are you not terrified?
Kon's nod was slow. He stepped past her and toward the curtain of blue streamers that hung in the center of the room, enclosing their family’s bed. Tall wooden chairs stood facing a window and a table built into the wall. Beyond the glass, the lake roiled underneath the waterfall. Kon wandered in that direction, giving Ebi room to close the door behind him. No bar on the inside either, he remarked, staring at the door.
The inner walls looked no different from the outer. Intricate patterns of waves and rivers had been carved into the painted blue furniture as well. Candles inside stained-glass cups were scattered around the room. The colors on the walls seemed to ebb and flow in the flickering candlelight.
“The ladder’s this way,” Ebi told him, motioning him toward the opposite side of the nest. She gripped one of the ladder’s rungs as she waited beside it, a small baking kiln and a closed pantry nearby. “Mind climbing first?” she asked, pointing at the bottom hem of her robes. Kon nodded in understanding.
He grasped one of the smooth rungs and pulled himself up, his eyes never leaving the open hatch above him. A stained-glass window was set in the middle of the ceiling, depicting a stylized rendition of Flow curling around and looking in a pool of still water. Through the pool, Kon could see the dark sky and a few stars beyond the gathering clouds. It was a small miracle the Skyblade was covered, though Kon swore he could feel it perched there, glaring. A guillotine biding its time before it fell.
Kon lifted himself onto his feet as soon as he could, stumbling toward a collection of bookcases that curved along the walls. He glanced at them briefly, noticing several tomes labeled with geological or geographical terminology. Out of respect, Kon stopped himself from prying further. He turned to face the ladder, but instead, his gaze settled on the tall standing mirror behind the woman’s desk. In a notch on the mirror’s side was set the funnel-like staff he saw Ebi wield the previous night. She finished ascending only to find Kon staring at his reflection. She walked toward the mirror, stepping between them. Both had frowns as their eyes met.
“Are you sure there’s nothing I can help you with?” Ebi’s lips are painted blue, he realized. Jrana had worn a brighter shade of the same color on their wedding day and many days after. Lighter hues contrasted beautifully against her sundarkened skin. Ebi’s complexion was paler, her face round like flockfolk, but as tears began to pour from his eyes, he only saw Jrana’s pointed face and severe expression.
“I’m sure,” Kon told her, wiping his face.
Ebi nodded carefully, exhaling a held breath. She turned to the mirror to softly rap four of her knuckles against it rhythmically, sending ripples across the reflection. Swaths of black, silver, gold, and red bled out of the mirror’s edges, pouring into it to swim, swirl, and splash like the water outside her window. At one side, a thin figure of clarity stepped into view, the swarming colors parting around her translucent shape. Lucid was already bowing, her frame stiff. Despite her face bearing no visible features, Kon recognized guilt in her body language.
“I’m sorry,” Lucid sang, her voice soft. “I had no idea that mirror would break, and I should have been paying more attention to your journey. Is your ankle better?”
Kon let out a breath of exasperation. “It is. You know about that?”
“I do. A lot happened today, so I hope you understand why I couldn’t watch out for you the whole time.”
“Ebi told us what happened. It’s fine,” he lied. “I had Lafer and Vigor to take care of me.”
“You did and still do,” Lucid agreed. “So you’re not upset?”
“Not about that, no.” Kon glanced at Ebi, meeting her wondering gaze.
“I’ll join the others at the pavilion,” she told them, understanding his intent. “I trust you can see yourself out, Kon?”
He nodded, then waited for the woman to leave. His fae continued to hover behind him as he walked across the room to the woman in the mirror. She watched Kon quietly as he listened for the door to close below. When he heard the click, he gazed into Lucid’s eyes - or, at least, the place where her eyes would be, if she had any - and sighed.
“You can see Fate, right?” he asked, tone low and serious. “At least some of it,” he clarified. “Things like this conversation?”
“I can,” she replied. “Not that I like to, especially now. It’s too easy to get lost in the future, or apparently be deceived. I prefer to exist in the present. To be aware of what is happening in the world, yes, but not oppressively so. I’ve learned most humans aren’t comfortable talking with someone who already knows what they’re going to say and how things will end. But if you would like, I can look, if it makes things easier?”
“It wouldn’t,” he muttered.
“Then know that I’m here with you now. What can I do to help?”
Kon shook his head. “You really don’t know, do you?”
Lucid waited in silence, as if considering her words. “Know what?”
He paused to steady his breath. “I want to know why you gave me the dream,” he whispered. “Why would you show that to me?”
“Dream?” the fae asked. “I didn’t give you a dream. That’s not- My magic doesn’t work like that.”
It doesn’t- what? His mind sputtered. “But I- I asked her,” he said, gesturing to the orb floating behind him. “My fae told me that you did it.”
“Kon,” Lucid began, her crystalline voice hushed, as if underwater. “It appears you and your fae had a misunderstanding. What do you mean by she told you?”
Kon turned to look at his floating companion. As the conversation unfolded and his confusion formed, she went to hide behind Ebi’s desk, only visible by her dim gold-and-silver glow. “When I asked her about my dream, she drew me to my reflection in a window. I said your name and she nodded, like Vigor taught her. Up and down for yes.”
A moment of silence again. “Kon’s fae,” Lucid softly chimed. “Can you please come to me?”
“…Why?” he asked.
“I want her to touch her shell to the mirror. It would help me see her clearer.”
His fae was reluctant. Perhaps Kon was too, though he was the one to relent. Go, he told her, and she did. The fae slowly floated into the palm of Lucid’s raised hand, inciting a melodic hum.
“I can tell she is strong,” Lucid began. “Smart too. But Kon... I don’t think she is as strong or as smart as you think.”
Though her tone was gentle, Kon almost felt insulted. “What do you mean?”
“You may be wise beyond your years, but she is still young, and her mind… it's still developing. Nascent, unnamed fae like her - even ones belonging to long-time Seers - they can’t understand or perceive the world the same way that you do. They’re more like an infant or a loyal animal. If she responded to my name, it wasn’t in the way you think. But now that I’m holding her in my hand? I may be able to help you understand. You might not like it, though.”
Kon didn’t know which fae to look at. The ‘trustworthy’ companion that forced him to relive his heartbreak, or the unknowing figure that spoke on her behalf. Neither one of them felt like his friends right now. He almost felt like he’d been betrayed. “Why do you say that?”
“For the same reason she wanted you to see that memory,” Lucid told him. “When you said my name after looking at yourself in the window, she didn’t mean me. She was telling you to reflect. Young fae deal in emotions and ideas, not words and thoughts. I can sense that she feels like you’re repressing something important, and it's affecting her too. She can feel that it’s hurting you. She only wants to help. For you to be happy.”
Kon laughed despite himself, feeling dizzy. Without realizing it, he grasped the desk beside him. He was leaning into it to keep himself upright.
“How could I possibly be happy?” he asked, his voice soft and his tone hard. “Fate took me from my family and condemned me to fight in a war for our very world. I know that it’s important. I understand that I have a duty to my people that must be fulfilled. But my wife and I… we never wanted this. Our daughter-”
Kon stopped himself, wiping the tears from his face.
“We didn’t want her to grow up without me. Not like I grew up without my father. Not like Jrana grew up without hers.”
Lucid nodded her head, spilling hair that Kon didn’t realize she had. Tiny strands of clarity fell around her shoulders, only to settle in and blend with the sides of her neck and her shoulders. “Jrana,” she began. “She is your wife, yes? Jrana of the Wallowing Shores?”
Kon blinked at the figure in the mirror, barely able to see her through the moisture welling in his eyes. His fae glittered against Lucid’s open palm, her glow dim. He felt her guilt in him as much as he felt his own.
“I know Lord Jred and Lady Anant,” Lucid continued. “I met them both frequently, though Jred did not study in our Academy. He was a loyal Seer, if troubled.”
Kon wouldn’t dignify that with a response. Couldn’t, knowing how that man went on to raise his children. The wraiths had mangled his body and crippled his soul. Turned him into a monster like the rest of them.
“Their son, Anjre? He was one of our best. His loss was felt in the hearts of so many. The Fated King still mourns his death.”
Kon could at least agree with that. Anjre had died when Jrana was Kinjra’s age. She’d been old enough to have a lot of good memories of him, before Fate gave him the Sight and their father sent him to Southsea Academy. The last time Jrana had seen her brother alive had been at his graduation. He lasted in the Fated King’s army for nearly two years. Not even a week before he died, Anjre sent his sister a letter saying he would soon visit. It was no wonder Jrana was upset when Fate took her husband, too.
“Can you tell me about the dream?” asked Lucid. “It would make explaining things easier.”
“Didn’t she already?” Kon asked, motioning to his fae. “You already mentioned the memories. That I was repressing.”
“I can only tell you what she’s feeling at the moment. The memories- those were a deduction. What you experienced last night is what we call a Seer Dream. A dream shared between a human and their fae, in a place where their connection is the deepest. If I wanted, I could reach for Nise right now and pull him into a realm of our memories together. That’s what your fae did - or tried to do - with you. What I can tell you is that she didn’t want to hurt you. She thought she was helping.”
“Well she wasn’t,” Kon said, his voice cracking. “She only made it worse.” The words tasted bitter in his mouth.
Lucid’s voice was soft as his fae’s shell dimmed further. “If it helps, she is profoundly sorry.”
Kon shook his head. He could feel his companion’s guilt like a nervous fluttering in his soul. It didn’t help. Not much.
“I’m not upset,” he lied. “Just… Can you help my fae understand one thing?”
Lucid didn’t even skip a beat. “Of course. What is it?”
Kon stepped back and stared at both fae as he slowly parted his lips. “Today was just the first day, and it was undeniably hard. I almost died on three occasions and it doesn't look like I'll be any safer until we reach the Academy. If I don’t keep moving forward, I don’t know how I’ll survive this. Whenever I look over my shoulder or think about the past, it feels like my heart starts bursting out of my chest. I can’t hide that from Lafer or Vigor, and I don’t want them to worry. Even if it might hurt me to ignore it, I know that if I don’t, I’ll stumble eventually. After last night? I can’t afford to stumble. If I fall to my knees again, I don’t know how I can pull myself back up.”
“You know Vigor’s magic will leave you sorer later,” Lucid warned. “Nise gave you an extra day for situations like this. You deserve the rest, Kon. You can sleep here tonight.”
“I can’t,” he intoned with finality, frowning. “So all the strange events that are happening now…” Kon began. “You or any fae else really didn’t see them coming?”
Lucid shook her head. “It’s subtle, but I can see a hint of what’s happening. If you imagine Fate is a window, I can see it becoming smudged, like handprints on glass. With every change, the glass becomes blurrier. Multiple layers of smudges. Each dirtier than the last.”
“Then it’s especially important I get to the Academy,” Kon said. “Before anything else happens, and while I still have time to learn. Until I do, I know I’ll keep feeling like this. Lost, confused, scared. I feel like I’m drowning in my own head.”
“Maybe you’re right. I honestly can’t tell you what’s the right decision. Not after what happened last night and what happened today. I trust Lafer and Vigor’s judgment, as well as yours, Kon. If it ever gets to be too much - even if you don’t realize it, but they do - you should listen. I’ll continue to guide you to safety like today, and I promise that I will pay more attention. You’re not alone in any of this. My Seer and I? We’re just as lost, confused, and scared as you. We all just need to keep our faith.”
“How can you say that?” Kon asked, his voice louder than he anticipated. “Have faith in what? Not Fate, surely. How can we trust it anymore?”
Lucid stared at him in silence, her expression blank.
“I’m sorry,” he said. “I just-” he began. “I just miss my family so much.”
“I know you do, Kon. Ebi knows what that’s like too. You should talk with her. She could help you a lot.”
Kon searched for Lucid’s eyes. When he couldn’t find them, his fae drifted into his vision, then settled in his palm. Without realizing it, his hand opened and brought itself to his side. Her light still dim, her shell cold to the touch. She trilled a soft duplet of somber forgiveness. In spite of the frown on his face, Kon nodded. He knew he shouldn’t be mad at her. It wasn’t her fault. Like his many students, the fae was still learning. Getting upset about their mistakes would only make it worse.
“That may be another misunderstanding I can clear up,’ Lucid continued. “Fate, that is. She’s not as perfect as most folk think. She was never meant to be, but now the belief is too far-rooted. Knowing would only break people and their resolve.”
“What do you mean?” Kon asked. His resolve felt on the brink of breaking itself.
“Fate- She isn’t a person, like humans prefer to imagine. She’s more like a fae if anything, but if fae were something greater. An incarnation of our very world itself. Even so, She doesn’t think like us, or perceive reality like us. She sees things not just in one time, but all times, spreading Her power as much as she can and granting us visions to guide us. Understanding Her is sometimes impossible - or, at least, only possible in retrospect. In a lot of ways, it seems her mind is no more developed than a nascent fae’s, and in others, it feels like She’s the maestro of an orchestral symphony. No matter what, though, She has humanity’s best interests in mind. She’s the very reason why us fae have humanity’s best interests in mind.”
“What about the fae, like Decay?” Kon muttered. “The Carrion Seers and their troupes of monsters?”
“They obtained their Sight through vile means. The process left their fae corrupted.”
Kon leaned further into the desk, catching his breath. “Why not tell the world that either? Why do the Seers keep so many secrets?”
“If some people knew murder could give them magical powers, then we’d just have more problems to deal with. I’ve foreseen the results of that myself. It’s not pretty.”
“And what about Fate?” he asked. “Why lie to us about Her?”
“If anyone lied to anyone, it was humanity to itself. Older civilizations didn’t have to deal with the reality of the War, knowing it was so far away. They raised Seers and trained soldiers to fight gloriously, only to feud and turn on each other with no concerns for the legacy they left behind. The misconceptions about Fate they created… I would change it, but that happened long before my time. Humanity’s faith has become so rooted in an ensured victory that telling them any different? I’ve foreseen the results of that as well, and they’re no prettier. Everything the Seers are doing are for the best. I can promise you that.”
“And Lafer knows this?” Kon asked. “All the Seers know this?”
“Not Lafer or any of the children. Tradition has dictated that it’s for the mentors of a Seer’s first post to clarify the details.”
Kon shook his head, grimacing in pain. When did my brain start throbbing? With a hand on the desk and the other cradling his fae, he rose upright so he was face to face with Lucid. “How can any of them fight, knowing any of that?”
“That’s exactly why they can fight, Kon. Why we do. If we didn’t, then the wraiths win. Everything humanity has done, everything they created, it would be gone forever. Without us, Fate’s dream could never come true. What you’re feeling right now? It’s the same thing every Seer has felt when they learn more about Her. Us fae? We feel what it’s like through you. We all understand.”
Kon searched Lucid’s featureless expression for a hint of understanding. When he found nothing, his eyes fell down to his fae. She was glowing brighter, and her shell felt warm against his skin. She trilled a similar duplet, though it rang slightly different. Support, rather than forgiveness.
“Speak with Ebi. Lafer too, if it would help, but only if she can handle this information. I trust you’ll know when the time is right. If it isn’t and you can wait, there are resources for you at the Academy. The Headmaster and Armsmaster, as well as our Professors and the Seers who live in and defend the roost at our doorstep. If you ask them to share why they fight, you might find your own reason. If you ask me, though? You and your fae already know what it is.”
“My family,” he whispered.
“That’s right. Ebi was and is a lot like you, Kon. A lot like your wife too, from what I understand about their histories. She could really give you some insight.”
“I’ll think about it,” he said, stepping away from the mirror. Though he felt better - steadier, even - he still held onto his fae, worried that if he let go, he might lose himself again. He needed a clear head.
“Is there anything else I can help you with?” Lucid asked. Her crystalline voice reverberated with concern.
“No. We should be leaving soon. The fresh air will help more than anything.”
“Alright, Kon. I’ll be watching over you the best I can. Don’t forget to look, though. I can only shine that broken mirror so bright.”
Kon nodded as he walked to and lingered by the ladder. After a moment, he looked back. He thought Lucid had already left.
“Yes?” she asked.
“I’m sorry. I hope I didn’t upset or offend you. I’m just… not feeling like myself.”
“There’s nothing to be sorry for. I’m neither upset nor offended. I would prefer you talk to me as much as you're comfortable, and in any way that you’re comfortable. Every thought you humans have… it’s a part of you. A little snippet of your existence. Living proof that you’re real. Even if those snippets aren’t as great as some others, it’s okay. Painful feelings are valid in times of stress. The fact that you pulled yourself together after all this and chose to keep on moving, despite the challenges that lie ahead? I think that says more about you than you’re giving yourself credit for, Kon. Fate wouldn’t have chosen you if She didn’t believe you could bring peace to this world. Even when things aren’t working in our favor, every Seer knows they were picked by Her for a reason. I think more than anything you just need faith in yourself.”
Transparent as she appeared to be, Kon found himself shaking his head. I don’t know if I can. I don’t know how to be a hero or a soldier. I don’t know how I can believe you… or myself.
In response, the light and warmth in his hand blossomed. His fae sang a fluttering quadruplet, blending the notes together, then scattering the melody apart. Kon remembered the tune well. He had played it for the ritili and his daughter.
Unable to speak or not, she managed to get the point across. Kon let go so she could take flight, then clenched both his hands into fists.
If he put the whole past behind him, he would lose the good memories, too. It wouldn’t take long for him to forget the reason he was alive after that. More than anything, he wanted his family to have a long and happy life. Knowing that Fate wasn’t infallible didn’t change that. Kon still loved them and would do anything to protect them.
“Safe travels, Kon. Tell Lafer and Vigor I look forward to speaking with them next chance we get.”
“I will,” Kon said, descending the first rung of the ladder. Just before he was gone, he looked into the room one last time. Both the swirling colors and Lucid had vanished from the mirror. Though reality seemed dimmer in the flickering candlelight, at least his fae still glittered like a star in the night. I forgive you, he thought.
Her light shone brighter as they departed.