“Just one more stairwell,” Vigor rumbled, his tone as unlively as his pace. Though Kon was more focused on the steps beneath him, he knew every time the fae winced by the sound of his armor rattling. Lafer was upstairs, obeying the Armsmaster’s barking orders, which apparently included dragging every piece of furniture out of her room, sweeping and mopping the floor, then dusting each individual object before she brought it back in. It seemed unnecessary considering that all the students needed to do was open their windows for Zephyr to do the work, but a clean room wasn’t the point. The Armsmaster insisted it was about Good Order and Discipline.
Earlier, Vigor had admitted he was upset that he couldn’t help her. He would burn anything he touched, after all, other than the stone flooring. Kon had encouraged the fae that his invigorating magic did plenty for his Seer. In response, Vigor had fueled her with more of his fire, dimming his armor’s molten light. As a consequence, Kon had to stick close to the giant while they descended, which meant he needed to match Vigor’s lazy strides.
That wasn’t much of a challenge, for Kon felt dejected himself. Knowing that his wife and daughter were safe with his flock should have been enough. He should have felt relieved, if not happy, but after seeing the dark circles under Morus’ eyes and his half-finished meal, Kon realized that would be selfish. Jrana and Kinjra would not be relieved or happy for a long time. Especially not tonight, as neither had the comfort of Lucid’s magic.
But that doesn’t need to be true. Does it?
He looked over his shoulder at his knotted companion and found her own flight slow and meandering. Having no good answers, she didn’t bob, nor make a sound.
If Kon just told the Headmaster about his daughter’s Sight, he could ask Lucid to reach out to her and tell her that her father was okay. If possible, maybe she could let them see each other and actually speak. It sounded like a perfect solution to his problems, yet Kon was uncertain. If they knew about Kinjra, they’d surely bring her to Westwind too. Kon needed to know more about the Seers and their Academy before he could make that decision. It would mean breaking his wife’s heart again, and tearing his daughter away from her friends.
That was half the reason Kon wanted to speak with Morus. The boy was the closest student in age to Kinjra, which meant he understood better than anyone what her time here would be like. He would also know if Jrana could feasibly come with her, for surely the boy had a family. Admittedly, Kon also thought he could make a good friend for his daughter. Morus reminded him a lot of Etal, Kinjra’s best friend. Both were quiet and studious, though Morus had none of Etal’s confidence. Kinjra had been a big part of Etal finding that, and maybe she could do the same for Morus. Again, he needed to know more about the boy before making a decision. If he could help it, he would ensure his daughter had new friends.
The other half of the reason Kon wanted to speak with Morus was that the small boy with the sunken eyes reminded him of himself during the worst years of his life. After losing his mother and brother, Kon had spent many nights crying silently in a small attic guest bed until his mind finally succumbed to fatigue. In those days, Kon had lived in fear every time he’d seen a person’s fae, his own terrifying him the most, for she was the reason he was Fated to go to war with the wraiths.
Kon couldn't imagine coming to Westwind as a child, let alone bearing the responsibility of a Seer. As a grown man, he was undeniably intimidated. For a kid as young as Morus, the whole situation could be horrifying. It would explain the sleepless nights, as well as why he’d run off as soon as Kon had addressed him. Lafer, Wilm, Rej, and Gaj had all said the same thing: Morus never spoke with anyone he didn’t have to, preferring to keep the company of books. Even his fae went out of her way to obscure him.
“We’re almost there,” Vigor sighed. Kon lifted his eyes and confirmed it.
Beyond an intricately carved archway in front of the stairwell, a floor-wide room opened up, three of its four walls covered in windows that beamed with dim ringlight. The library seemed to be a maze of bookcases, the paths reflected down from mirrors set into the tall ceiling. Most of the room was too dark to see, but near the far-right corner, one of the mirrors was shining a tranquil blue, illuminating the area like a pane of light.
Vigor stepped into the library, filling a small portion of it with his own light. As Kon followed behind him, the mirror far above their heads glowed a molten red. When Vigor caught Kon staring, he began chuckling, his aura growing brighter. “Lucid enchanted these mirrors to glow when reflecting motion.”
“Makes sense,” Kon muttered. That meant it was Morus under that tranquil blue light. At least tracking him will be easy.
His fae chimed a bright duplet that echoed into the room. Seconds later, the light in the corner of the room went out.
“Vigor?” he asked. “Does that mean if we go still, the mirrors get dark?”
The fae chuckled as Fate answered. Their own mirror’s light immediately blinked out.
Kon waited, his eyes on the lightless corner. It seemed Morus was planning to hide until they went away.
“Vigor? We may need to split up for a while. I have a feeling that he isn’t going to let us corner him.”
“Are you sure you can handle that?” he asked.
Kon’s fae bobbed up and down for him. “Let’s try to stay together as long as possible. We’ll try that flanking maneuver again, like we used on the second pack of treelions and on Lili and Dowen upstairs.”
“Sounds fun,” the giant said, his eyes blazing into torches. As soon as the excitement came, however, it left him. His aura glowed weaker than it had before. “But I got Lafer in trouble. I shouldn’t be having fun.”
Kon sighed, moving his hand to scratch behind his ear, and thus invoking the mirror’s light. “Don’t think of it as fun, then. Think of it as an important mission.”
“But missions are fun too!” Vigor exclaimed, his armor flaring. “Lafer and I met you on our first mission, remember? Bringing you here was our second.”
“Not a mission, then,” Kon conceded. Thinking of the strict Armsmaster, an idea came to mind. “How about an order, then?”
Vigor puffed up, crossing his arms over his chest. “You’re not my Seer,” he said, exhaling steam. “And she outranks you otherwise. Why would I take an order from you?”
“Because I’m an adult,” Kon intoned. “I’m technically Lafer’s senior. Plus, I was hoping that us being friends might count for something.”
Vigor dropped his arms to his side and nodded. “It does,” he said. “I’ll think of it as an order. If you could shout it like the Armsmaster, that would help a bit.”
“I can’t,” Kon informed him, frowning. “I would never shout at my friends.”
After a moment of silence, two flames burst from Vigor’s helmet, licking at the top of his visor. “Alright then,” he rumbled. “Let’s do this!”
Morus waited, still in the dark silence, praying to Fate that Vigor would just give up and leave. He’d told Lafer and her fae countless times that he was fine, but neither ever believed him. The Headmaster didn’t trust him either. Most days he wished Lucid and the others would just leave him alone.
Across the library, the mirror above its entrance dimmed. Vigor’s light was still reflected in it, revealing the man that had sat in front of Morus in the mess. A ridged orb was floating beside him, which meant that by process of elimination, she was the one that had just made that musical sound.
What does he want with me? Morus thought. The man was a Seer, that much was obvious. But he was also middle-aged, and nothing like Armsmaster Topek, the former Knight. The strange man didn’t seem like a mass murderer, but Morus knew that was the only way for an adult to gain the Sight. Though Lucid didn’t want him to know, he had found the truth in the Academy’s old records.
Vigor’s aura momentarily flared. A moment later, the strange man lifted his arm. The mirror above them shined brightly, dismissing their reflections, as they talked. Morus could hear the furthest bookcases rumbling with the giant fae’s voice.
What was his name again? Morus strained to remember what he had heard the Armsmaster yell while hiding behind The Core of Gravity. The recent passage had been too fascinating to shift his focus away, though as usual, he’d tried to listen and observe.
Morus’ fae descended, unfolding to drape over him. Kon, came the thought.
Again, he found himself asking what the man wanted from him. Was he another therapist, sent by the Headmaster? Considering how poorly the last one did, it would make sense to try a Seer this time.
Lost in thought, Morus almost missed Vigor’s aura flare across the room. “Let’s do this!” the giant shouted. His loud voice caught Morus by enough surprise that he startled, resummoning his mirror’s light. He’d requested Lucid to use that color to remind him of the view of the sky from his family’s condominium in Kolod Vor. It was meant to calm him, and yet in this moment, all it did was fill him with dread. He went still, his fae settling over him like a cloak. Ten seconds later, the darkness enveloped him again.
Meanwhile, Kon and Vigor were quickly getting nearer, casting the library in a trail of blazing mirrors.
Kon sent his fae to scout ahead while he and Vigor rushed deeper into the maze of bookcases. Despite the giant’s initial resistance, he had taken his order too seriously. Kon had not wanted to scare the boy. Now it seemed to be too late. With a thought, his fae soared over the bookcases, leaving sparks of gold and silver light in her wake. “Morus,” Kon said, “please wait there. We just want to talk.” His voice crackled across the room with each fading spark.
“We just want to talk,” the diminishing sparks crackled. Morus’ parents and Professors always used that phrase, so he already knew it never meant anything good. If Kon and Vigor wanted him to wait, then Morus would have to do the opposite. Drawing the membrane-like veil of his fae tighter, he quietly slipped off his chair, then left his books to tip-toe into the darkness. It didn’t matter that Morus couldn’t see a thing — he knew this library like the back of his hand. It was his Sanctuary.
Kon had to yell to get Vigor to slow down, despite his previous statement of never shouting at his friends. After reminding the fae how scary he could be, his aura dimmed with his quieting footsteps. Kon slid to a halt before he could run into the giant’s blazing armor.
“When I said corner him, I didn’t mean like this.”
“But you said ‘like we used on the second pack of treelions and Lili and Dowen upstairs.’ I’m just following my orders, Kon.” Vigor crossed his arms, huffing. “It’s not my fault if your instructions aren’t clear.” Although the giant looked serious, his tone was lighthearted.
“This isn’t time for jokes, Vigor. I need your help to make him feel safe.”
“Fine,” the blazing knight said, turning and striding between the bookcases. “Oh Morus!” he shouted. “We’re not going to hurt you! Promise!”
Kon sighed, walking after Vigor. “That’s not going to help at all. And move faster, please!” The open paths were just wide enough to fit Vigor and a meter of space. Kon could squeeze past him if he wanted to, but he would rather stay close. He wasn’t looking forward to being sore again.
He glanced up. Even though Vigor had started running, the blue light in the corner of the room hadn’t gone off again. No other mirrors shined either, meaning that Morus was still waiting. Especially now, Kon worried the boy was frozen with fear.
Why did this have to go so wrong?
His fae soared on, hoping to illuminate Morus, and ease him with song. Instead, she trilled with concern. Kon understood immediately.
Morus was no longer there.
“Vigor! He got away somehow.”
“He tends to do that,” the giant rumbled. “Whoops. I guess I should have warned you about his fae.”
Kon stuttered a breath. “Are you deliberately sabotaging your orders?”
“Not deliberately,” the giant insisted, waving his hands. “I’m sorry, Kon. My head’s just in another place.”
“It’s fine,” Kon sighed. “Then please help this time. He should still be in here somewhere."
Morus wandered soundlessly, the gray veil of his fae quieting his wary steps and soft breaths. Kon and Vigor had stopped moving and begun talking, close enough to Morus for him to hear their conversation. As Vigor mentioned treelions and two of his tormentors, Morus hastened as quickly as he could. He moved a little slower than a crawl, but he was close to passing his pursuers. While they went to the corner he’d been previously, he would sneak around their flank and over to the stairwell. Then he could run up to his room and lock himself inside; at least there, people would leave him alone.
“Hey Morus,” Vigor called out, his voice loud but not half as overbearing. “I’m sorry if I spooked you, little buddy. Can you please stop hiding now? I just want you to meet my new friend. He’s a really nice man. You can trust me.”
For a brief moment, Morus considered revealing himself. Despite Lafer and Vigor’s frequent intrusions, he did like the pair well enough. The fae was a lot like the Crimson Lord from one of Morus’ favorite books, only genuinely kind and not nearly as manipulative. Still, that didn’t mean he could trust Vigor. The Shallow Prince didn’t trust the Crimson Lord. Not even when he’d saved the Prince’s life, or when they finally joined sides. He certainly didn’t trust any strangers, introduced by an acquaintance or otherwise.
I’m not paranoid, Morus thought, quoting the Shallow Prince. Call me Mr. Pragmatic.
Having responded with silence, Morus was forced to move faster. Vigor and Kon were practically jogging. They closed in quickly, calling out his name in soothing voices. The pair acted like he was scared.
I’m not scared, he thought. His fae clung to him closer, offering her support. We just want to be left alone.
Though Morus grew up reading about heroes like the Shallow Prince, that never meant he wanted to become one. All he wanted was to stay with his parents in the capitol, living a normal life with other kids his age. Instead, Fate decided to grant him the Sight. His anxiety attacks had become worse after that, which led to his fae revealing her magic to his parents. He’d nearly kept his Sight a secret for a whole year.
‘The Seers can help you,’ his father had told him.
‘You’ll live in a world of magic and wonder,’ added his mother. ‘Just like in your books.’
Morus told them he could do it with them. The Fated King had even visited their condominium, offering to arrange them transport to a roost in Zephyr’s Cradle.
We can’t go, his mother had said. We’ve been here our entire lives. More than sixty years only knowing one way to thrive. We’re too old to go with you, Morus. I know it’s scary, but you’re a strong boy. You can do this on your own.
His dad had nodded the whole time, unable to talk as he sobbed uncontrollably.
And so Morus had gone. Though he loved his parents dearly, he also understood that they were in a lot of pain. He wouldn’t hurt them more, or put their lives at risk. After a week of endless hugs and read-alouds, a local Seer had escorted him on a train all the way to the Hinderland Eyrie. From there, they’d ridden a convoy to Zephyr’s Cradle. If Morus’ parents had been there when the Carrion intercepted their carriage, he was certain they would have died of fright. After all, he had almost died himself.
Morus missed them so much. The world had seemed so much brighter with his father’s expert narrations and his mother’s beautiful lullabies. No one read or sung to him now.
Too busy reminiscing, Morus lost track of his measured steps. He turned, and instead of entering another path, he crashed into a bookcase. Though made of the same enchanted stone as the Academy’s walls, it shook enough to free a loose book from its clutches. Morus reacted quickly, diving to catch it. A dreadful blue light exploded above as a large tome pulled Morus to the floor.
Too heavy for him to lift, it pinned him down.
Seer Psychology, Volume IV, Morus read upon the cover. I always hated Dreuf’s work. If not for all his long-winded fluff, his research and results could have been condensed into a 500 page text. During his second read-through, Morus had done just that. He’d still learned nothing useful.
Morus could hear their footsteps. Kon and Vigor were splitting up. At their half-hurried pace, they would surround him in less than a minute. With so little time, Morus and his fae found the strength to lift the book. Grunting, he hefted it over his head, sliding it back home, snug among its siblings.
He took a moment to listen. Only 18 more seconds now, he calculated. With his fae wrapped tightly around him, the boy was more aerodynamic. He ran as fast as he could.
While Vigor’s pace had quickened, Kon was slower and unsteady, his strides resounding like a broken metronome. Morus ran toward the strange man instead of his fae, hoping to get past him. Then his fae could leave him to block off Kon’s path.
Seven seconds, he thought. If Morus was sleepy before, he was wide awake now. Vigor turned around the corner far behind him, his light too dim for his aura to reach him, yet Morus hastened anyway. The thrill of the chase was enough to get his blood flowing and his adrenaline pumping.
Three… two… one!
Just before the intersection, Morus leaped, his fingers on his chest. Gently, he peeled his fae off his skin, uniform, and hair.
Centimeters from the back of his head, an arm covered in scars reached for him. Morus looked back as he landed, expecting to see Kon trying to grab him. Instead, he saw the man waving and laughing as he collapsed onto his knees. Pain winced across his round face, emphasizing the wrinkles around his lips, and the veins on his hairless head. That marked him a husband, or an unfortunate victim of genetics. Though Kon really didn’t seem like a mass murderer, Morus figured that was exactly how the man lured people in.
Thus he ran.
There was a single factor that Morus failed to consider, however. When he turned forward again, his third pursuer was already waiting.
The ridged orb that Morus had seen before was floating at the next turn, her gold-and-silver shell nicked with hundreds of minuscule, dark grooves. Like a bell, she rocked back and forth, ringing out softly. A veil of silver light pervaded the air, engulfing Morus in less than a second.
It must have drained the adrenaline right out of him. Suddenly tired, Morus stopped running, halting in the center of the two intersections. As he listened to the faint music, he grabbed the nearest shelf for support. Bathed in silver and sky-blue light, the rhythm of the fae’s melody reminded him of his mother’s lullabies.
“That’s enough,” Kon said, panting and struggling to rise until Vigor and his aura reached him. Morus assumed he was talking to him, but the man’s fae went silent. Then, with a soft pair of stuttering notes, she flew over Morus’ head to rejoin her Seer.
The path before him was open again.
“Hey Morus,” Vigor rumbled guiltily. With all of his focus on escape, he’d failed to notice the fae’s arrival. “I’m sorry if I scared you. Can we please just talk?”
Without thought, his fae stretched between them, blurring their view of Morus as he straightened, slightly shaking his head. The light shining on him was red now. Vigor’s aura was close enough.
His eyes on the empty intersection, Morus took a step forward.
“Please, Morus!” Kon called out, his voice stuttering in that same way his dad’s would each time he cried. “I need your help.”
Morus’ body froze, his head turning.
Of all the scenarios he had anticipated, the strange man pleading with tears in his eyes was not one.