Kon walked down the corridor, his gaze fixated on the mirror-doors that led into the Headmaster’s office. He expected Lucid to appear and greet him at any moment, yet no bright lights or vibrant colors shone on the reflective surfaces. Instead, he watched himself march on, his posture straight and chin high. The tunic he wore today was one of his wife’s favorites, with a folded collar, long sleeves, and wavy seams. It was so dark a shade of green that it was practically black, which often saved him trouble after clumsily spilling food and drink. His trousers and boots were unwrinkled and polished, crafted from deep brown cloth and hide. With his jaw clenched, his too-round cheeks nearly appeared severe. I’m ready, he thought.
His fae cheered him on with a soft melody, hushed as to not disturb the elderly Headmaster stretching beyond the doorway.
Kon wasn’t afraid to make his presence known. He walked heavily, letting his footsteps resound off the emerald walls and other Professor’s doors. Groundmaster Hazen’s was obvious, made of mossy wood and wreathed with flowers. Armsmaster Topek’s was much less clear, a steel-gray depiction of two armored forces battling and dying, no lightning imagery at all. Professor Meir and Phantom didn’t seem to have an office, nor did any of the ordinary staff. Ebi may have, for one door was painted with a roost underneath a waterfall, but otherwise Kon recognized nothing. Still, he took note of them all as he waited for the Headmaster to notice his approach.
The Eldest Seer didn’t look at him, even as Kon stepped into the crack of the doorway. His back faced the entrance.
Kon peered around the office, finding mirrors on the ceiling and each of the walls. While the mirror above bled with a gentle light, four moving images shone on the others.
A port-city on a sunny beach; a storm-shrouded mountaintop; a skyline of Kolod Vor’s immense spires—
—And a familiar chasm in the earth, which Kon had just walked through.
He took another step, clearing his throat. Perhaps lost in thought, the Headmaster continued to twist and stretch, completely unaware. Despite his thin limbs and shriveled skin, the Seer was more limber than he seemed. Underneath the sweep of his robes, his feet were bare. Everytime he raised an arm, his giant sleeves fell to his shoulders, revealing faded scars. The Headmaster’s vision was cast toward the capitol roost, which lingered behind the only furniture in the wide chamber; his large, ornate desk - barren of quills or papers - and the upholstered chairs on both sides.
“Headmaster Nise?” Kon asked carefully, not wanting to scare the old man.
“Kon,” the man greeted, his voice creaking like a bending tree. Without turning, he bowed deeply and stretched his fingers to his toes. The Headmaster’s back popped thrice in quick succession, forming an eerie rhythm that cast shivers down Kon’s spine. “Welcome to Westwind,” he continued, wheezing a breath as he lifted his arms up in a wide v-shape. “Give me one minute.”
“Alright,” Kon said, stepping further in and gazing aside. As he waited, he watched the living storm, Tempest, flash and surge with purple lighting on one of the walls. Beneath the raging clouds, the roost of great scholars known as the Pinnacle lay hidden in a massive caldera, protected and empowered by their patron Spirit. After the death of his Seer, Tempest consumed her soul and ascended. The ominous, unnatural storm had become visible to even the Sightless.
Lucid was still absent, despite the numerous mirrors. After Kon had summoned her this morning to arrange the meeting, she had said to stop by whenever he was free. Kon figured that meant neither she nor the Headmaster would be busy. Apparently he had been mistaken.
Kon faced the Grand Rift, thinking of his family. Even his fae hovered near the edge of the yawning darkness, recognizing the scene from the photograph on his desk. Taking a deep breath, he blinked away tears, only to find the image had suddenly changed. The wind-swept dunes of a great desert had replaced it, a flat, craggy plateau looming at its center. Presiding over the scene, a blinding figure of sunlight floated, blurring the sky with the incredible heat that wafted off her body.
“You’re familiar with Solstice,” the Headmaster replied, stepping up silently beside him.
Kon practically startled out of his skin. It didn’t seem like a question, yet the Headmaster didn’t say more. “Isn’t everyone?” he asked, not sure how else to respond. The Sun Spirit had thawed their world to save humanity from premature extinction. Now she waited atop Plateau Sol for the Fated King to climb and claim her. Everyone knew it was his seventh and final Trial.
Headmaster Nise looked at Kon, revealing his pale brow and vibrant beard. Mostly white, the feathery hairs had been splashed with the bright colors of the rainbow, only scattered in overlapping splotches without any particular order. Over his eyes, the Headmaster wore a pair of large, round glasses, their lenses swirling in kaleidoscope patterns and hues. His fae, Lucid, glimmered radiantly as she walked across his vision. She disappeared from the edge of one frame to appear within the other.
“Hello, Kon,” the fae sang.
“You’re ready,” the Headmaster said, abruptly striding away. Instead of leading Kon further into his office, he wandered out into the corridor. The room went dark as each mirror’s image suddenly collapsed.
“Ready for what, Sir?”
At the speed he was walking, Kon had to jog to catch up, only barely catching his muttering. “Self-reflection,” he wheezed.
As if that clarifies anything.
“We’re taking you to the Mirror Room for an impromptu viewing,” Lucid chimed in. “Nise believes it’s important enough to interrupt your free day.”
Kon matched the surprisingly-spry Seer’s pace. While his gaze was hidden, he was focused on the stairwell, moving in a hurry. It almost seemed like he’d been stretching just for this.
“Is there time for questions on the way?”
“Questions later,” the Headmaster replied, slow tempo with a firm tone.
Kon nodded and followed in silence. Above his shoulder, his fae hummed quietly. Both felt some combination of awkward and nervous, unsure of what to make of the Eldest Seer and their current situation.
At the stairwell, Headmaster Nise grabbed the bottom of his robes and hiked them up to his knees, providing him enough maneuverability to ascend the steps. The elder Seer was somehow more flexible, able to climb easier than a much younger, albeit sore, Kon.
Minutes later, the Headmaster was pulling open a classroom’s gilded door. A nameplate clung to its surface, designating it as the Mirror Room. Stepping out of the way, he revealed a space no wider than Kon’s barracks chamber, deceptively round yet containing a hundred walls, each fit with a standing mirror. The same gentle light from the Headmaster’s office bled into the room from above.
“Stand inside,” the man uttered.
Kon took the statement as an order, though he was reluctant to obey. As he stepped in, Lucid’s bright silhouette appeared on each wall. She mimicked Kon’s movements, yet somehow walked a step ahead of him. After another moment of hesitation, he let her guide him to the center of the open chamber.
Headmaster Nise quickly shut him in. Not a single word of warning.
Kon spun around fast enough to make his vision blur. When it cleared, he no longer saw a door; just another mirror. Instead of Lucid, it reflected himself, yet noticeably different. His expression and posture were the same, yet he was wearing his sweater from yesterday. Its left sleeve was untorn, though it was rolled up. His arm still bore the same pale scars.
Kon’s eyes darted, finding stranger versions of himself. In one mirror, a muscular Kon loomed, wearing an outfit similar to Armsmaster Topek’s. His vest was larger and buttoned, successfully covering most of his stomach, though it still revealed swollen pecs and arms.
In another mirror, Kon was dressed in a suit of leather armor stitched and studded with metallic knots and threads. His harmonica was wrapped around his neck, while holsters for his drums and flute were attached to his belt. In a pouch over his left thigh, his lyre fit in snugly. His fingers strummed at its strings.
Lafer had told him about this place. Lucid’s magic showed realities that could have been, had Kon made different choices throughout his life. Realities where he exercised frequently, and realities where he’d already become a full Seer. There were versions of Kon that wore aprons or overalls, and versions where he was missing limbs or slouching half-dead. He wasn’t sure whether to be sad or elated by the fact that he was bald in every single one.
Of the hundred reflections, one caught his attention the most. In it, he was shirtless and lean with sun-darkened skin, his bare arms covered in dirt and scars. Around his neck, a locket in the shape of a heart was strung, its crystalline frame holding a small picture. Kon moved closer to inspect it, finding an image of his mother, brother, and him. The very same picture that was tucked in the pages of his songbook. Although the shirtless-Kon was smiling, he wasn’t sure how that man could be happy. If his locket didn’t contain Jrana and Kinjra, that meant they weren’t a part of his world.
“Hello?” Kon called out, his voice reverberating off the mirrors. Each reflection mouthed the words, though no words echoed back.
Despite him frowning, the reflection’s continued moving their lips. “I’m here,” Lucid’s voice began. “You may ask me anything you want.”
Kon glanced back at the picture in the locket, clenching a fist. “Why am I here? Am I supposed to be looking for something?”
Though he remained still, the reflections nodded. “You’re here to find yourself. What that means is different for every Seer. It’s not for the Headmaster or me to instruct, but for you to discover on your own. That said, I can provide you with details about your alternate selves, should you believe it will prove useful.”
“Details?” Kon mumbled. “What’s the deal with him?” he asked, pointing to his shirtless doppelganger.
“That’s you in a world where you never kept your Sight a secret. I can show other similar possibilities, if you’d like to focus on that criteria. There are more yous than I can fit on these walls, so I began with representations of appropriate categories.”
“I think I’d prefer it if you removed him and others like him,” he replied, a finality to his voice. Kon had already decided there was no good to come from looking too far into the past. It would mean losing sight of the present.
He stared at the locket as the reflection faded. Another Kon filled the space, dressed in the leather jacket of his old bard uniform, covered in patches of flags and symbols from various stops on his musical tours. A lute hung from a strap over his shoulder, its silver-and-gold frame sparkling with glints of light.
Kon’s fae, who had lingered out of sight behind him, drifted toward the lute, then trilled happily.
“Can you show me versions of my fae?” he wondered aloud.
“I’m afraid not. Fae do not typically have reflections.”
“Then can you tell me details about them, at least?”
Kon watched his disparate reflections frown, shaking their heads. “That is not something I, or any Diviner, is capable of, Kon. You must decide the name of your fae on your own. That's part of why you are here. To understand her better, you must first understand yourself.”
Kon’s breath stuttered, his thoughts spinning in uncertain loops. Neither A Heavenly Purpose or How to Master: Meditation Edition provided clarity on how to achieve that, which made him worry that Origin of Souls was the most important of the three. If the trio had not stolen it, or if he’d gone back to his room to read Morus’ copy first, he would have surely been more prepared for this. Kon shifted his gaze across the room, no idea where to look. Carefully, he inspected each reflection. Still, nothing came to mind.
“I’m sorry, Lucid, but I don’t know what I’m supposed to do here. Each of these faces only raise more questions, and there’s nothing I could ask that would give me any real answers. All looking at them helps me do is second-guess every decision I’ve ever made. At this point, I’d rather you just show me… me. Is that an option, at least?”
The reflections nodded in unison, fading in and out before his eyes. Kon walked to the nearest one, watching every stiff movement and wince of discomfort on his face. He traced the wrinkles around his mouth up to the furrows of his brow, then gazed for a long moment into the pale yellow slashes of his eyes.
“This is the only reflection that matters,” he intoned. “I’m the one that’s alive, that hurts and feels. The one that suffers every moment he’s away from his family. The one that has agreed to give his life to ensure their safety.”
Kon breathed in deep, catching his breath.
“I don’t need to see my reflection to be reminded of that, Lucid. I don’t need them to ‘understand myself.’ I live in my mind and body every day of my life. If this is supposed to be a test, then it’s the only logical answer.”
As the door creaked open behind him, the mirrors dimmed amidst the hall’s emerald light. “Upstairs,” the Headmaster commanded, waving him outside. “Questions after.”
Kon sunk into the seat’s green-and-gold upholstery, finding it just as soft as the bed in his chamber. It was a relief to get off his feet, and yet, his stomach was still knotted with dread. So far, his meeting with the Headmaster had been far from what he’d expected.
Across a mirror-topped desk, the Eldest Seer clambered into his own seat, nestling into a permanent imprint in its cushions. While Kon grasped his armrests, the Headmaster leaned forward, removing his glasses and laying them on his lap with his hands. No longer hidden behind the kaleidoscope of colors, a pair of dark and cloudy eyes narrowed in his direction.
“It is a pleasure to finally meet you, Kon.”
The breath he was holding came out stuttered. “It’s a pleasure to meet you too, Sir.”
“I apologize for taking so long to get here.” The Headmaster raised his glasses, showing him reflections on both sides. “Urgent matters demanded my immediate attention.”
“It’s not a problem, Sir. You’re an important person. I’m just happy for the chance to speak with you at all.”
“Oh?” the Headmaster asked, chuckling softly. His breathing was irregular, with a hitch in his right lung. “You do not seem happy, Kon. I am not so blind that I cannot see you are nervous. Tell me what is on your mind. As the Academy’s Headmaster, it is my duty to assist my students. There is no reason to be afraid.”
“With all due respect, Sir, there are many reasons to be afraid. In Underfall, Ebi informed me of the riots in the Talons, and of the Seer who was Taken by a wraith. How can I not be afraid when Fate itself is failing us? How can I not be afraid when meteors come falling down on my family?”
The Headmaster closed his eyes, frowning. “The Omens do indeed set a terrible precedent for our future. However, I can assure you that the source of those disturbances has since been dealt with. Have faith in Fate, and She will deliver.”
Kon’s eyes widened. “When?” he abruptly implored, not thinking. As soon as the question left his lips, he shrunk back into his chair.
“About three minutes ago,” the Headmaster replied, then lifted his glasses to show Kon his reflection upon their inner lenses. “I just watched my son execute the responsible Apostle. As I said before, there is no reason to be afraid.”
With a sigh, Kon untightened his grip of the chair. “I’m relieved to hear it,” he began, “though I don’t know what that means. What is an Apostle, and how can it possibly ‘disturb’ Fate?”
Instead of answering, three silhouettes of light erupted on the mirror-wall behind the Headmaster, drawing Kon’s eyes and immediately twisting into monstrous shadows.
The first showed the same wraith Kon had fought near the Coastwatch Eyrie. Tall, lithe, inhuman, it bounded on all four of its limbs, though it remained in place. The ex-Carrion Seer, Edos, had called it a feral.
Beside it stood a harbinger, visible only by the darkness cast over the face of a regular man. Like the strings of a puppet, shadowy threads pulled on his arms and lips, lifting a bloody sword and a slightly-off smile. Gray flames burned in the pits of its eyes, though Kon was certain that was embellished. When Rin had been possessed, his eyes had remained violet.
“Apostle,” Kon echoed, gazing up at the last monstrosity. It was humanoid, yet not completely, with an elongated snout and truncated horns piercing the hood of its black cloak. If the scale was to be taken seriously, the creature was more than twice Kon’s height. It loomed ominously, with dark gray mist wafting from its pale flesh.
“What do you know about wraiths, Kon?”
“Not much,” he admitted. “I only learned the difference between ferals and harbingers the morning after my flock was attacked.”
The Headmaster nodded, looking over his shoulder at the Apostle. “Wraiths are not limited to a single form. The more souls that a feral consumes, the more intelligent and powerful it becomes, eventually gaining the ability to blend in with our kind. If a harbinger survives long enough to gather sufficient power, they can likewise become an Apostle, which, similar to our fae, come in a variety of shapes and wield terrible magics capable of rivaling our own. The one you see before you had called itself Soothsayer. It was responsible for obscuring Fate. Now it is dead.”
As the final word left the Headmaster, each reflection faded, allowing the panoramic view of Kolod Vor to reappear. It seemed like Kon was looking down on the roost and its surrounding wetlands from a tall cliff. He scanned the mirror from right to left, tracing the outlines of the asymmetric skyscrapers. Each tower reached higher and grew wider until he glimpsed the largest of them all, rightfully known as the Throne. In its shadow, the other towers seemed as tiny as the smaller clusters of nests that lined the streets between them. Slashes of birds circled the sky while minuscule people walked below. At least a thousand farmers appeared to be working in the rice plantations surrounding the roost’s perimeter.
“Is this happening now?” Kon asked, recalling the live-viewing that Lucid had shown him of his wife and daughter in Gul’s canteen.
The Headmaster looked into his eyes and nodded. “At the top of our Eyries, there are towers built with rotating mirrors. The Commanders are responsible for protecting and positioning them, providing Lucid and me a view of the surrounding areas. From there, she is able to see glimpses of Fate to warn us of danger. This is usually how we discover impending meteors.”
In the blink of an eye, the view behind the Headmaster shifted to a familiar road that ran parallel along the western coast. On the wall’s left, the Coast Lord’s Castle was visible, nestled between long, sandy beaches and adjacent to a small, private port. A stone wall cut it off from the leagues of woodlands stretching to the far right corner. Split down the middle, Onali’s Trail lay vacant. The Pale Hawks were nowhere to be seen, although Kon spotted a luminescent rock in a large, ashen crater.
“You are thinking of your family,” the Headmaster muttered softly.
Well if I wasn’t then, I am now. Kon could still remember the horrible patter of his loved ones fleeing for their lives.
“Lucid tells me you want to bring them here.”
Kon fought himself from startling, swallowing his fear instead. Rather than reply, he blinked at the Headmaster until he clarified. The man raised one bony finger, pointing up and back. Kon had been too surprised to notice, but the mirror once again showed the view of the capitol.
“After graduating from Westwind, no time shall be wasted sending you to join my son in Kolod Vor. You and your family will be provided a condominium in the Throne, where you can sleep and live peacefully between missions and patrols. Your daughter will be enrolled in a specialized school of her choosing, and your wife will be free to select any kind of profession she enjoys, should she desire to work at all. Accommodations and food are provided for free, as one payment for your service to our world.”
“I…” Kon began, his breath stuttering. “I don’t know what to say.” Though it sounded like a good deal, the situation was more complicated than Headmaster Nise believed. Or appeared to believe, depending on if he was capable of deceit.
After a moment of awkward silence, Kon nodded. All he could do was trust his gut and take their word at face value. If it was a test or a trap, then he would just have to pray for the Headmaster to understand.
“Thank you, Sir,” he started, breathing in genuine relief. “I’m happy to know my wife and daughter will be taken care of.”
“If you would like, Lucid can search for them now.” Behind him, the fae’s shining figure walked over the roost, as tall as the towering Throne.
“My wife has a vanity mirror in our nest’s attic. If Jrana or Kinjra are awake and inside, they’ll probably be there.”
On the wall, Lucid nodded, then burst outward with colorful lights. Waves of green and gold crashed into both corners, rebounding back and rippling violently, filling the entire mirror with its swirling vibrance. As time passed, the colors began to settle and mix, eventually fading into a dim room, round and domed. Curtains were drawn over its windows, keeping most of the sunlight from getting in. A lone beam cut across the scene, however, illuminating his wife and daughter. Both were slumped against a wall, wrapped in their blankets and fast asleep. Kinjra sat on Jrana’s lap, a photo album clutched in both of their hands. Though Kon couldn’t hear them, he could imagine the sound of them breathing with their rising and falling chests.
“Thank you, Lucid. I’ve seen all I need to.”
The image of his nest’s attic quickly returned to Kolod Vor.
“Do you have any more questions?” the Headmaster asked, glancing at the mirror along the top of his desk. Numbers glowed on its surface, denoting the hour, minute, and each passing second. “My time is yours,” he assured Kon, perhaps noticing his reluctance. “Though I cannot answer everything, you are free to ask whatever you want.”
Kon nodded, thinking of his stolen books and his conversation with the trio last night. “Although I’ve only been here a day, I’m worried about some of my fellow students. I was a teacher for ten years before this, so I have some experience with reaching out to the struggling and forming support groups. I was hoping that given the abnormal circumstance of my age, you’d allow me to teach a class for the other Seers.”
“A class?” the man echoed, his tone wry with amusement. “What class would that be?”
Kon matched the Headmaster’s smile. “With the Pale Hawks, I called them ‘Communal Music Lessons.’ Should you allow me to implement them here, I can teach the other Seers how to play instruments and write songs to perform as a group. I have found it’s a useful tool for instilling empathy, camaraderie, and teamwork.”
“That sounds wonderful,” Lucid chimed in. Behind the Headmaster, a wide classroom was already depicted, her radiant figure standing atop a podium in the middle, surrounded by a ring of inward-facing desks.
“We have no instruments,” the Headmaster replied, taking a haggard breath. “I am willing to give you the funds to purchase some from the Cradle. There is, however, an important condition.”
Kon nodded, prompting the man to continue.
“I understand that your fae’s magic is most potent with music. Because you are just a student and not a full-fledged Seer, you will need both authorization and supervision for her to assist you in any way. As such, you must summon Lucid during each lesson to observe you and offer guidance. Currently, your study breaks last for two hours after lunch. Your class will need to fit into one of those hours. I’ll let you decide which of them works best.”
Kon leaned forward in his seat. “That’s perfect, Sir. Thank you for giving me this opportunity.”
“It is I who should thank you, Kon. Not the other way around.”
Lucid nodded on the wall. “I can already foresee the difference it shall make.”
Kon’s fae hovered near the shimmering figure, ringing happily.
“Vigor will show you to the Cradle,” the Headmaster continued, gesturing an arm beyond Kon. He turned and found the giant halfway down the open corridor, waiting, watching, and waving. Meanwhile, the Headmaster rummaged through his drawers, then pushed several purple-black plumes across the desk.
Kon picked the midnights up and counted. “700, Sir? I certainly won’t need this much.” Hands shaking, Kon plucked three of the seven quills, attempting to hand them back.
“You can keep the rest. Consider it payment for your lessons. Purchase more clothes or personal instruments if you wish. After you graduate, further installments of your salary will be handled by the banks in Kolod Vor.”
Kon blinked, incredulous. He hadn’t had this much money since he was single and touring. Somehow, holding that much terrified him as much as facing down a wraith.
“Thank you, Sir. If that’s all, I think I only have one more question.”
Nodding silently, the Headmaster waved for him to go on.
“The Mirror Room. Why was it so important that I go in that instant?”
Scratching his beard, the elder Seer wheezed a deep breath. “Admittedly, it was only to fill the time. I was unable to take my eyes away from my son, so it seemed like the easiest way to occupy you. I hope you can understand my concern, being a father yourself.”
Kon nodded, recognizing the lie for what it was. His fae heard a familiar reluctance between the creaking words. If not for the Headmaster’s importance, he would have pushed further. Instead, he let the man keep his secret. It had to be for a good reason.
Perhaps sensing that Kon was ready to leave, the Headmaster stood, then leaned across the desk to grasp his hand. “I look forward to seeing your progress. I see potential in you and your fae, Kon. Lucid has foreseen great things already.”
“Thank you,” he replied, shaking the old man’s hand. When he let go, he took a step away from the desk, then looked back. Remembering what Vigor and Lafer had taught him, Kon gave the Headmaster a rigid salute. It caught the man off guard enough to make him chuckle.
“None of that,” he insisted, sitting back down and slipping on his glasses. “Goodbye, Kon, and good luck.” The mirror lenses bloomed with colors as the Headmaster sunk back into his chair.
Kon walked away, his stomach fluttering, even after meeting Vigor beyond the open doorway. The fae waited until they were at the stairwell before raising his voice. Kon led him there swiftly, rejuvenated by his molten light.
“So how did it go?” the giant inquired, playfully emphasizing the first and last words.
Kon gazed at the plumes in his hand, then quickly put them inside his wallet. “Well… I think. He gave my permission to teach a music class to bring the other Seers together. Do you know any shops in the Cradle that sell instruments, by any chance?”
Flaring with light, the fae nodded his helmet eagerly. “I know just the place. We can go now and meet Lafer. She’s already squealing with joy. Specifically, the words ‘shopping spreeee.’”
Kon laughed as he marched Vigor downstairs. Around the next corner, the well opened into the tall, wide foyer with hundreds of colorful banners strung from its ceiling. A cursory glance revealed they honored Westwind Graduates across several generations, including unique patterns, their names, and their fae’s. Kon spotted Lafer and Vigor’s flag hanging above the Academy’s front gate, made of scarlet fabric and stitched with crimson veins. The massive, gilded doors below it were yawning open, filling the chamber with warm sunlight and glowing wind. Armed guards flanked both sides of the passage, wielding polearms with wing-shaped blades. Beyond them, Zephyr’s Cradle bustled and bellowed with life.
Kon’s fae soared on ahead, drawn by the countless sounds. Alongside Vigor, he ran after his companion; awake, eager, and unafraid.