Eighteen students watched their teacher move around the classroom with mixed expressions of defeat and despair. Kon, however, wore a smile as he handed them each a test. Five short answer questions on the front, and one essay question on the back. Even if the kids didn’t believe in themselves, Kon had enough faith to spare. He knew they could pass.
With each brief exchange, Kon had to be careful not to look at his student’s fae. They were lively creatures, invisible to most, but not to the very young or those who were granted the Sight by Fate. Kon was 39 years old – much too old to become a Seer – yet only last season, he began seeing the ethereal spirits. His own fae started growing, slowly hardening into a gold and silver knot of lutestrings. With a thought, he told it to wait by his desk. Its glittering shell hovered beside his chair.
Like the children, their nascent, shimmering fae got antsy whenever they were put in confined places. As Kon handed out the tests, blurs of different shapes and colors flew around the classroom, dancing with and darting toward one another, as if they were playing a game of tag. It was easier for Kon to look at his student’s faces than risk accidentally staring at the dynamic light show. Though Fate had chosen him to fight in the War, he chose to remain in hiding with his family. Only his wife, his best friend, and his daughter knew his secret. If word got out, he would quickly be taken away to serve in the Fated King’s army.
Kon’s daughter, Kinjra, bounced in her seat as he handed her a test. Her fae – oblong and green – lay between her boots, nestled within a tuft of grass that poked through a crack in the floorboards. The contradiction of emotions told Kon that his daughter was more nervous than she was showing. It had not taken long for him to realize that fae often reflected the emotions of their human counterpart.
“You can do this,” Kon told her.
“I hope so,” Kinjra whispered.
Kon mussed his daughter’s short brown fringe, inciting a groan. Stuck to her scalp, he found a prickly burr and plucked it, then left it on her desk. Kinjra smiled as she picked the burr up, inspected it, then pocketed it.
Still grinning, Kon approached the boy sitting beside her: her friend, Belen. He was a year older than Kinjra, though a recent growth spurt made him look closer to fifteen. His fae – in contrast – was a tiny, copper burnish. It floated above his shoulder, vibrating anxiously, as Belen’s fingers thrummed a beat against his desk.
Kinjra wasn’t so lucky in the growth department. The white, flower-embroidered jacket Kon bought for her tenth nameday still fit his daughter snugly. She was wearing it now, though it was less white than not, marred with dirt and grass stains, both old and new. Kinjra preferred it that way, just like she preferred to walk outside with her feet bare. The girl loved nature like Kon loved music. He could see that love in the verdant glow of her fae.
Kon handed Belen a test, then moved to their other friend, Etal. He was older than Kinjra too, but only barely taller. While she still had most of her baby fat, Etal was skin and bones. Beneath his tight maroon robes, he seemed smaller, though Kon was sure the boy would grow up to be as lanky as his father, Imet. The physician’s son was just as stiff and proper, already. Etal’s voice was crisp with confidence as he took his test from Kon’s hands. “Thank you,” he said. His fae – a thin, bright sheen, like a coin’s edge reflecting light – was spinning above his head as his eyes scanned the questions.
“My pleasure,” Kon said, leaving the boy to his test. Etal and his sister, Rota, were already writing by the time Kon took his seat at the front of the class. “You may now begin,” he announced. “Twenty minutes should be enough. Behave, and I may give you an evening recess.”
The rest of the children – Kinjra excluded – grabbed their quills and began scribbling answers. With arms crossed over his lap, Kon watched the student’s fae gather above their desks, enthralled by their concentration. Kinjra grimaced, her cheeks going taut with the effort. Like her deep brown hair, she had gotten her severe face and olive skin from her mother. Meanwhile, the only thing she had gotten from Kon was her stubborn fat and her pale yellow eyes.
Those same eyes stared at her test in defeat. Kon tried to will determination in her like he willed obedience into his fae, but it was to no avail. Kinjra blinked at the page blankly as her fae rustled in its tuft of grass.
All week long, his daughter had spent her evenings studying with Etal and Belen. Of the three, Etal was the most academically inclined, as a consequence of growing up with his father. Unlike Rota, who would rather help her friends cheat, Etal was a voluntary tutor. So far, only Kinjra and Belen had taken his offer, but in the passing weeks, Kon was already seeing improvements.
You can do this, Kon thought. His fae chimed a bright note in response. Though Kinjra couldn’t hear it, she flipped over her page at the very same moment. Her eyes lit up as she read the essay question. Discuss the long-term environmental problems caused by the fae, Decay, after the Battle of Vaska Toma.
Kinjra finally picked up her quill, inked its nib, and got to work, joining the rhythm of words pouring onto paper. Kon sat back in his chair, relishing in the sound. It was like music to his ears.
Unconsciously, Kon’s eyes fell on the lute propped up beside his desk. In his youth, he never imagined becoming a teacher. For most of his adult life, he had been a bard, making a living off song and dance. It was that which brought him to Jrana, in her roost’s most popular lounge. After Kinjra was born, Kon eventually settled into the humbler profession. It didn’t take long for him to find a way to teach with song. In truth, teaching and performing weren’t very different. Both involved the expression of ideas, whether they be emotion or information.
Kon stared at his lute for a long while, imagining the weight of it in his hands. He could almost feel the grainy, polished wood in his palms, or the hard, rigid strings at his fingertips. In his mind, he was plucking away at the instrument with the nails of his right hand. They were grown long and dulled at the end of their natural curve, making them look less like nails, and more like talons. Just one consequence of humanity evolving from prehistoric raptors. That had been a much lighter subject to teach. Kon used his fae to make birds sing in accompaniment with his lute-assisted lecture.
As Kinjra hastened the scratching of her quill’s nib, so too did Belen. They flipped their pages almost simultaneously. Etal had noticed, too. He smiled widely, writing at a smooth-and-steady pace. Etal was the first to finish as Kinjra struggled to fit her long-winded answers on the first page’s shorter bars. The essay had surely jogged her memory, though her thoughts were often rambly, rather than concise. By the time she was done, Kon could see the entire page glistening with green ink. Kinjra and Etal shared a momentary glance before she began doodling in the blank white corners. Drawing floral patterns, most likely.
Belen had faltered at the essay question, along with several others. Etal’s sister, Rota, glared daggers at Kon as she read the back page. She had dark circles around her eyes, and her stare was almost vacant, save for the flicker of resentment. Despite what she might think, Kon didn’t consider his daughter’s love of nature when writing the question. The Last Talon – Vaska Toma – was just known as the Deadlands, now. In the wake of Decay’s rampage, the fae left the region nothing more than a festering scar. Kon had spent multiple days teaching about the environmental aftermath. The question shouldn’t have come to Rota as any surprise.
You can do it, Kon thought with a nod of encouragement. Of her own accord, his fae drifted over to Rota’s desk. Compared to Rota’s fae – a bluish shimmer, like rain streaming on glass – Kon’s fae was practically solid. Though invisible, it had grown enough of a physical presence to slightly nudge his students, whenever Kon needed it. He gave the order, and his fae tapped Rota’s quill gently. Not long after, she started writing. Belen had begun staring into space. With a faint brush of his hand, the boy’s attention snapped back to his test. They weren’t the only students to lose momentum.
“Ten minutes,” Kon said. His voice was tuned gently, though he spoke loud enough to fill the room. “After that, you can play outside while I grade them. How does that sound?”
Other than Rota, Kon’s students perked up, elated by the idea. Belen returned to his test and finished it with a dramatic flourish. Smiling, the boy laid his arms over his desk, then dropped his head with a sigh of relief. Kinjra giggled and Etal’s smile faltered as they both watched Belen collapse into his biceps.
Kon quickly hushed them.
“If you’re already done, be considerate of the others. Keep your eyes on your own desks and please, remain quiet.” He made sure to keep his voice airy to show that he wasn’t angry. Rota, however, glanced back at her brother with a frown. Kon cleared his throat. Slowly, his students dragged their attention back to their papers. Rota just stared at the page, her cheeks flushing in frustration. The circles around her eyes deepened as the ten minutes passed by. She left her quill on her desk without writing another word.
Kon checked the watch on his wrist one last time. “Time’s up,” he said. “Bring me your tests. I’ll call you in one at a time to discuss your grades. Please don’t wander where I can’t see you from the windows.”
Eighteen children rose with a clamorous racket, chairs scuffing floorboards and voices chattering in a mixture of anxiousness and relief. By consequence of imposed seating arrangement, Rota reached Kon’s desk first. When Kon had caught her and her friends cheating on a previous test, he had no choice but to separate them. Being their leader, Kon made sure to put Rota in the front row.
Kon shook his head when the girl tried to hand him her half-written test. “You can sit back down and finish it,” he said. “I can tell you’ve been having trouble sleeping, Rota. I’m happy to give you the extra time.”
The girl startled, her curling eyebrows rising to brush her dark tan bangs. “If I could have finished it, I would have,” she replied curtly.
“Just try?” Kon asked. “For five more minutes? I only want you to pass, Rota. Please?”
Rota grumbled as she returned to her desk, passing by her friends, and eventually, her brother Etal.
“You can do this,” he told her.
Kon chose to ignore the swear uttered beneath Rota’s breath.
He collected the next few papers with a soft grin and thanks. When Etal reached him, Kon briefly checked over his test. “You can stay, Etal. I’ll grade yours first. I don’t think it will take long.”
The boy nodded, quickly taking a seat in front, as Kinjra and Belen bumped shoulders, their papers outstretched in a struggle to reach Kon’s desk first. Kon laid Etal’s test down separately, then added Kinjra and Belen’s to the pile. “Can you please minimize the roughhousing, you two?”
The pair nodded meekly as they departed. Belen’s long, brassy hair bounced on his shoulders as he led Kinjra outside. As comparatively big as he was, Kon knew he was always careful when they played. But if Kinjra returned to their nest with another bruise, he knew Jrana would get upset.
The kids’ nascent fae drifted behind them, Kinjra’s leafy-green, and Belen’s a dim burnish. One by one, the remaining children and their ephemeral companions departed, leaving Etal and Rota alone with Kon. As soon as the door closed behind the last of Kon’s students, he addressed the siblings.
“I may have had ulterior motives in asking you two to stay,” he admitted. Etal’s face softened while Rota looked up, her jaw clenched. “How are you two feeling?” he asked. “How is your mother?”
Judging by their expressions, the answer wasn’t good.
“Mother is improving,” whispered Etal. “It helps that we’re not currently migrating. It was hard for her to rest when our nest was rumbling beneath her, but now that she can sleep during the day, father says she is recovering.”
Rota grumbled a swear so quiet, Etal couldn’t even hear it. Kon, however? His fae – the ball of lutestrings – was listening intently. The words reverberated through the fae’s essence, and through their connection, came ringing in his ears. Through his fae, he could hear each of the children’s breaths, as well as the voices of his students shouting outside, in spite of the shut windows and closed door.
“You don’t agree?” Kon asked the girl. Rota huffed, scowling. She dropped her quill on her desk as she stood, leaving the essay page quarter-empty. Rota no longer seemed interested in finishing.
“I don’t,” she said. “And I think it’s ridiculous I have to be in school when my mother could die any minute.”
Kon and Etal shared a frown. Did I overstep? he wondered. Their father and him weren’t exactly friendly, but that didn’t mean Kon didn’t care about their well being. The problem was Imet wasn’t talking to the rest of the Pale Hawks about Rela’s sickness. All Kon knew was that she’d been ill for almost two weeks, unable to leave her bed, even as their flock traveled. Belen’s father – Leb – had contributed an extra steer to pull their nest with her still in it. He was the only person Imet had asked for help, and he wasn’t talking much either.
“Father doesn’t want us disturbing her,” Etal added. “Doesn’t want us to miss out on our education, either.”
“My mom is dying, and I’m sitting here, writing about more dead people.” Rota scoffed, then followed it with a third swear. This time it was loud enough that Kon couldn’t let it go unanswered.
“Young lady. Please watch your language.”
Rota crossed her arms. “Whatever.”
Etal’s frown deepened, his eyes drooping. Kon could tell he was sorry for his sister’s outburst.
“Do you think Imet would mind it if you two came home early? I can send you now. I’m sure Rela would appreciate it.”
“That would be great,” Etal said. Rota glanced away, her eyes peering through the window at the students playing outside. Kon looked and saw Belen and Kinjra climbing up a tree at the edge of the camp’s clearing. He tried not to get upset, even as his daughter bumped her head on a branch while Belen helped her ascend.
“I’ll tell you two your grades tomorrow, then. Let your parents know that Jrana, Kinjra, and I have you four in our prayers..”
“Of course,” Etal said. His lips were smiling weakly, though his eyes still frowned. Rota gave Kon her test and walked out without a word. “Thank you,” Etal whispered before following her outside. His thin-and-bright sheen of a fae chased after Rota’s misty glimmer. In their rush, the door was left ajar. The natural music of warbling birds and buzzing insects filled the classroom with the sounds of laughter. Kinjra and Belen waved for Etal to join them, perched in a tree where they could look down on the others.
Rota stormed off, and Etal ran to join her. “Sorry,” Kon heard the boy call out. Not with his ears, but with his fae. Etal waved his friends goodbye, then departed for their nest.
Kon left the remaining children to their fun. He had eighteen papers to grade, and he intended to take his time.
If Rota would have finished her essay, the girl would have earned perfect marks like her brother. Both of Imet and Rela’s children were among Kon’s best students. It was a shame to give Rota anything less than a ten out of ten.
Belen had earned an eight, while Kinjra earned a seven. Of Kon’s eighteen students, only two got less than a six. Kon would make sure to speak with them last, since those talks would go on for the longest. In the meantime, he would let the others leave early. The sun was only a few hours away from settling beneath the eastern horizon. Gul would open the canteen soon for dinner, and he prepared the kids small cakes as a dessert, at Kon’s request. During these hard times, it was the least they deserved.
Everyone could feel the tension building since the Seers ordered the Pale Hawks to halt their journey northward. That very night, a meteor shower was Divined to fall along the coastline their flock was heading towards. The Seers assured their flock would be safer here, camped out in the Sallow Woods. They’d been still for four days already, and that was four days too many. The adults – Kon and Jrana included – were restless.
Kon’s fae wandered from the open door to his desk. It really was hard not to stare, especially when its metallic shell glinted in the sunlight. The fae… they were living miracles. Spiritual companions, born from the planet alongside each human, with the sole purpose of watching over them. Every young child was capable of seeing them, but only Seers were granted by Fate to form a connection and help them grow. Through that connection, a Seer could manifest their fae into a wondrous creature, shaped entirely by the human’s imagination. Kon could tell his fae was nearing its metamorphosis. Once that happened, he doubted he could hide for long.
Jrana, Gul, and Kinjra would help prolong that day, but still, Kon worried. The last thing he wanted was to be taken away from his family. Kon was a musician, a teacher, and a pacifist, at that. There was no place for a man like him in a war.
Kon silenced the thought and returned to his student’s tests. As he graded them, he organized them into four piles – ranked by scores – and began calling them inside, highest to lowest. Alija, Meik, Ferl, then Belen. Like the two kids before her, Ferl ran to fetch the boy from the tree. As soon as he heard his name, he dropped from his perch, landing on unsteady feet.
Kinjra leaned against the bough of their tree as her friend departed, her dirt-and-grass-stained coat and olive skin blending easily with the bark. She was peering into the canopy’s green foliage, her fae unseen, nestled between the leaves. A strong wind blew, stirring Kinjra’s fringe and bending the tree beneath her. Though it didn’t move far, she clung to the branch tightly until it settled back into place. The wind stilled. She leaned back and closed her eyes, her breathing slow as she drifted into a world of dreams.
Kon smiled as him and his fae listened. The floating, glittering orb returned to his desk when Belen filled the doorway, blocking Kon’s view. “How’d I do, Mister Kon?” he asked. The boy approached Kon’s desk with a pip in his step, the muscles of his arms rigged beneath the sleeves of his dusty gray tunic.
“Eight out of ten,” Kon smiled. “You should be very proud. I bet Leb and Nelat will be, too.”
Belen’s puffy cheeks swelled as he grinned. His face was the only part of his body that kept its fat since his growth spurt. “Are you serious?” he asked, grabbing his test with his dusty hands. “I was expecting a seven at most! What did Kinjra get?”
“Seven,” Kon answered with a smile of his own.
Belen cooed. “I can’t wait to tell her!” He laughed. “She’s going to be so mad.”
“Don’t ruin the surprise,” Kon warned, his tone deepened. When Belen’s eyes widened, Kon met his gaze with a smile. “You can gloat after I give my daughter her grade. Deal?”
“Deal!” Belen exclaimed. He stopped to look at the numbers scribbled on his page. “What did I get wrong?” he asked, flipping over to the back. Kon had left notes below his essay, which Belen quickly took an interest in reading.
“Just a few minor inconsistencies,” Kon told him. “Your comparison of the festering soil to the spectral ash left by spiritfire was very well thought out, however, you didn’t even mention the lingering toxins. Kinjra’s answer was very thorough, so maybe when you’re done gloating, you can ask her what she wrote. Her essay scored a five out of five.”
Belen nodded with a smile. The boy was just as motivated by competition as Kinjra, but he could still be proud of his friend. They had both studied diligently under Etal’s tutelage. “I’ll make sure to do that,” he said firmly. “I’m guessing Etal got perfect marks?”
“He did,” Kon said brightly.
“How is he?” Belen asked. “Rota and him… they left in a hurry.”
Kon glanced outside, considering his answer. As he watched his daughter nap in peace, his lips curled softly. “Etal is doing okay. Maybe see if you can talk to him about his parents a bit. His mother is feeling a little better, but she’s still ill. It would be great if he knew you were there to talk, even if he decides he isn’t ready to open up.”
“I can do that,” Belen said, a fist clenched in resolve. In the last few years, the older boy had taken Kinjra and Etal under his wings. The three of them were kindred spirits, much like Kon and Gul had been, growing up. It warmed Kon’s heart knowing that his little girl had people she could rely on.
It was those friends that helped Kinjra get through the hard days, while Kon and Jrana were there to get her through the hard nights. The past year had been more challenging than most. The Battle of Vaska Toma cut off their journey in the west, forcing them to return eastward for the next safest path to Northern Tír. That had been a long, cold journey, as the season of Burn gave way to Barren in the south. The Waistlands were more comfortable, but only enough to keep the Pale Hawks from shivering at night. Most of the flock lived to chase the warmer seasons of Bud and Bloom.
“Thank you, Belen,” Kon said, glancing from Kinjra to her friend. “I’m glad she has you and Etal. It’s hard not to worry about her, especially when she’s struggling in class.”
“I’m glad to have her too,” he said with a grin. “Who do you want me to get next?”
“My daugh-” Kon began.
The sound of Kinjra quietly yelping ripped Kon’s gaze outside. In the midst of her nap, a strong gust had pushed the girl off her tree branch. Belen didn’t seem to hear her, nor did the other students, who continued playing. Their fae – like Kon – noticed, however. Kinjra’s blur of a green light rushed down to the ground beneath her. With a surge of vibrance, the dirt sprouted a thick bed of grass. Her fae looked dimmer for the effort, though the air still sparkled with magic. Kinjra fell into the grass with an oomph.
Kon’s heart dropped, his mouth sagging with it.
“Mister Kon?” Belen asked. “Are you alright?” The boy turned to follow his gaze.
Outside, Kinjra rose to her feet, her face eerily calm. She held her hands out in front of her, cupped to create a soft bed for her fae. It floated up to and landed in her palms. As far as Belen could tell, she was inspecting herself for damage after her fall. It was a miracle he didn’t notice the newly grown patch of grass.
“Kinjra,” Kon said. “I need to see Kinjra, next.”
Belen hesitated, perhaps surprised by Kon’s tone. “Is everything okay?” he asked.
“Yes,” Kon lied, forcing a smile. “I just remembered something important for us to discuss.”
“Okay,” Belen said. Still clenching his test proudly, the boy ran to meet Kinjra, who was already walking across the field. Too tired to fly, her fae rested on her shoulder.
“It’s your turn,” Belen told Kon’s daughter.
“I had a feeling,” she replied. Kinjra was looking over Belen’s shoulder, straight into Kon’s eyes through the open doorway. “How did you do?” she asked. A clear attempt to stall.
“We’ll talk about it after,” Belen said. “Your father said he remembered something important.”
Kinjra nodded, though her frown betrayed skepticism. “I’ll be out in a bit,” she said. Her tone rang wary in her wake as Belen watched Kinjra close the door behind her.
“Dad,” she greeted him.
“Kin,” Kon answered.
“Let me guess,” she whispered. “Seven out of ten?”
Kon shook his head. “Kinjra,” he warned. “Don’t avoid this. You know how I feel about communication.”
His little girl shrugged, her gaze briefly flicking to the green ball of light that rested on her shoulder. Kon’s fae circled around the pair curiously, until Kinjra shooed it away with a wave of her hand.
“How long?” Kon breathed, incredulous. “How long have you had the Sight?”
His twelve-year-old daughter frowned. Kinjra dropped her head as one arm clasped the other by its elbow behind her back. Kon’s fae returned to his side as he waited for a reply.
“This morning,” Kinjra told him. “I woke up and the fae were suddenly… there.”
Kon shook his head. “Tell me the truth, Kin. This isn’t a game of White Lies. How long have you been keeping this from us?”
“A couple weeks,” she admitted. “A little while after we found the…”
Kinjra didn’t need to say it. Their brief discovery of a Carrion ravaged encampment was still fresh on the Pale Hawks’ minds. Still, Kon couldn’t believe what he was hearing. “Why didn’t you tell us?” he asked.
“Isn’t it obvious? Mom would make me hide it anyway, just like she makes you. There's no point in her knowing – it would only upset her more – and if you knew, I figured you wouldn’t be able to keep it a secret.”
Kon shook his head. His jaw was clenched and his lips were pursed, making the skin of his cheeks feel tight. “I can’t,” he sighed. “We need to tell her. Tonight.”
“Do we, though?” Kinjra kicked her heel against the floorboards, inciting a piercing creak. “Mom isn’t going to understand. She’ll just get more upset.”
Kon hoped that wasn’t true, but as much as he wanted to argue, he didn’t have much ground to stand on. Jrana’s relationship with fae and Fate was far from amicable. “Secrets only grow sharper with time,” Kon told his daughter. “And a family like ours? We should never keep secrets. Not from each other. Nothing can hurt us more.”
Kinjra’s frown deepened, prompting her father to let out another sigh. “Can it wait, at least? Until the meteor shower is over, and our flock is on the move again? I don’t want to be locked up in the nest all day until we leave. We both know that’s what she’ll want the moment she finds out.”
“I don’t think you’re being fair to your mother,” Kon said. “Let me talk to her. I won’t let that happen.”
“You promise?” Kinjra asked. Her crusted lips were pursed. Not a smile, but at least she no longer wore a frown.
“I promise,” Kon said. “In fact, I might even have an idea. Can you tell Belen we have plans tonight? I imagine Etal will spend the evening with his family, so maybe he can do the same.”
“…Sure,” Kinjra said, her lips half-parted in a smile. She stood frozen, anticipating. Kon showed her a warm grin in return. “Question Four Question?” she asked. “But I just have two.”
Kon nodded, leaning back in his seat. He was always happy to play the game with his daughter. “Ladies first,” he said.
“I saw Rota storm off. Etal looked sad. What’s going on?”
“I’m assuming he’s talked with you about his mother,” Kon began.
“A little,” she said with a slight nod. “He said she was getting better.”
“Rota doesn’t seem to think so. Imet hasn’t let anyone see Rela since she fell ill, and he’s refusing to tell any of the adults anything. I worry that he is too afraid to admit the truth. Etal would believe anything his father says, but Rota and her mother were always closer. It’s clear she’s not coping well.”
Kinjra blinked, considering. “What can I do?”
Kon tsked. “You know the rules. I have to ask my first question before you can ask your second.”
His daughter groaned. “That’s not my original question, anyway. I have a different one.”
Kon shook his head. “Then I guess we’re going three rounds. Do your friends know you have the Sight?”
“Not yet. But I think Etal may reach the conclusion soon. He’s caught me staring off ‘at nothing’ a few times.”
“Okay. I’m not going to tell you to keep it a secret from them. I just want to make sure you stress the gravity of what telling them means. I expect Belen and Etal to watch over you in this. They shouldn’t want the Seers to take you away as much as your mother or me.”
“…I can do that. Thanks, dad.”
“Gul was a big help in me figuring this whole thing out. I trust your friends will do the same for you.”
“Me too,” Kinjra agreed, smiling. “Does that mean I can tell them about you, too?”
“That’s four questions, Kin.”
His daughter groaned.
“You can tell them. If they slip and word gets out, I’ll find a way to handle it. They are as much your family as your mother and I. Just please, make sure they understand the consequences.”
Kinjra nodded, her lips pursed. “So what can I do for Etal?”
“Rota is family, too, as much as any other member of the Pale Hawks.”
Kon’s daughter sighed. “That doesn’t answer my question.”
“Kin. You can help them by being there for them, just as you would want them to be there for you. I’ve seen how Rota treats you, and how you treat her in return. Holding grudges won’t get you anywhere. Show them kindness, and gently inquire. Let them know you’re there if they need to talk. No judgments. Only support.”
“Easier said than done,” Kinjra grumbled under her breath.
“Sometimes peace isn’t easy. Sometimes people need to step up and offer the first olive branch. Even if Rota breaks it, you can’t whack her with the remains. You’ll have to give her time to process, then offer her another.”
“I’ve tried before, for Etal’s sake. It never works.”
“‘True strength is measured in perseverance.’” Kon quoted.
“The Heavenly Knights were born in very different times, Dad. They’re practically a fantasy.”
“How can you say that when your fae just used magic to make you a cushion of grass?”
Kinjra shrugged while her sharp mouth curved in a wide grin. “Got you,” she exclaimed. It was rare for her to get Kon to ask a question he didn’t mean to. Kon laughed softly. When she spoke again, her smile faltered. Her tone was severe. “I’ve never seen a real fae before,” she whispered. “Just what the bad ones can do.”
The father and daughter shared a frown. Their flock had been on the border of the Last Talon when the Carrion began to ravage the land. They’d seen the fleeing refugees, and the corpses of those afflicted with bloodrot. It was that very horror that had awakened Kon’s Sight.
“I saw real fae when I was young,” he admitted, thinking of the last time he’d seen that much death. “I would tell you about it now, but other students are waiting. You have one more question?”
“Yeah,” Kinjra said. “You said to tell Belen we have plans tonight. What would those be?
Kon smiled. “I know a place we can go, not far from here, where we can practice. Learning what my fae could do was what helped me learn how to keep it from acting without my consent.”
“Impossible,” Kinjra huffed. “Mom won’t let it happen. Tonight’s the meteor shower. She never lets us out of her sight when the skyblade starts crumbling.”
“The meteors are Divined to fall many leagues north. You and I, we’ll be heading in the opposite direction. If anything, we’ll be safer.”
“You don’t have to convince me,” Kinjra said. “Convince her. Until you do, I won’t get my hopes up.”
Kon nodded, then handed his daughter her test. “You were right. Seven out of ten. I’m very proud of you.’
“Could be better,” she grumbled. “Belen got a higher grade, didn’t he?”
“Eight,’ Kon admitted.
“I could tell by the way he was hiding it from me. I bet he can’t wait to rub it in my face.” Though her tone was jaded, Kon’s daughter was grinning.
“He lost two points on the essay. You can lecture him about it after you grab me Nom. Tell him and the others to be quick, so I can let you all go early. We can talk more at dinner.”
Kinjra nodded as she pattered for the door. She grasped the handle and hesitated. There were tears in her eyes as she looked back. “Thank you, Dad. I love you.”
“I love you too, Kin.”
Father and daughter took a moment to clear the moisture from their eyes. Both wore a smile as light flooded the classroom, and both held them as Kinjra departed.
Happiness sang in Kon’s heart.