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. To Kon's surprise, no other fae were in Sight. “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.