“Go on, Kin. I know you can do it.”
Despite the confidence in Kon’s voice, Kinjra didn’t look so certain. Father and daughter sat cross-legged on a comfy patch of mossy green earth. They faced each other, with the large bag of seeds that lay on the ground between them. Kon’s fae entertained a group of young ritili by ringing and twinkling nearby, while Kinjra’s fae finally joined them after investigating each tree that surrounded the grove. He floated just above one of her hands, glowing brightly. She held the hand before her with a knuckle-sized seed clutched in her fingers. Kinjra’s grimace reminded Kon of the look on her face at the start of today’s test. Before she even started, his daughter glared at the seed in defeat.
“It’s not about me, Dad. He isn’t sure he can do it. He’s only ever healed dying plants and made healthy plants bigger. Bringing a seed to life, though? It feels… different.”
Kon masked his surprise with a gentle smile. Throughout the evening, Kinjra’s ability to understand her fae had grown exponentially. His daughter had told Kon that when he wasn’t looking, she often closed her eyes to witness that blinding sensation. The first few times, she told him she lasted no longer than a handful of seconds. By the thirtieth attempt, Kinjra could bear it for more than a minute. Kon had not progressed half that fast.
Eventually, Kon found his words. “I think you two might be surprised how much you can accomplish. Earlier, I told you what my fae can do with stringed instruments. With wind instruments, her magic is completely different. The fae are versatile, as much as they are powerful. Just ask him to try. Ask him to believe.”
Kinjra blinked at her father before pushing the seed into the ground. The girl frowned as she pierced the soft moss. Her frown deepened as she used a finger to dig a bigger hole, then again when she packed the upturned soil over the buried seed. Kinjra closed her eyes. Her face was relaxed, compared to her earlier tension. No veins pushed against the side of her neck, not even as her oblong green fae lowered to the ground. The fae glowed brighter as he nestled himself in the moss-less dirt. In seconds, the glow spread around out him, then seeped deeper into the earth. Kinjra opened her eyes just in time to see the flash of bright, verdant light. The air sparkled with emerald luminescence, attracting the eyes of the small ritili that were playing nearby.
They all stared at the budding sprout as it lifted Kinjra’s fae into the air. The flower shined vibrantly as it grew taller, sprouting glowing leaves around its growing bud. When the growth slowed, the bud unfolded into dozens of finger-thick petals. They danced in a spiral as Kinjra’s fae rose into the air. The shining glow faded as the fae drifted to Kinjra’s side, revealing a bright yellow sunflower with countless seeds budding on its head.
Kon smiled as Kinjra’s jaw dropped open. Despite her fae’s use of magic, he glowed even brighter than before. “See?” Kon prodded. “That wasn’t so hard now, was it?”
Kinjra reached out and plucked a seed from the sunflower’s head. Her fae watched her inspect the relatively small kernel. Though the plant wasn’t finished growing, it seemed it would be soon.
“I can’t believe this,” muttered Kinjra. “If my fae did this to every seed in this bag, we could fill this entire grove with sunflowers. The ritili would never run out of food!”
Kinjra’s gleeful voice made the world around her seem brighter. It took a moment for Kon to realize that was because of his fae’s magic. The twinkling orb had led the friendly ritili to the humans. Kinjra gave the ritili a thumbs-up, prompting Kon’s fae to sing with a gentle ring of affirmation. A few of the tiny creatures climbed up onto Kinjra’s shoulders to the sound of her giggling laughter. The rest scattered between them, some taking turns at jumping and plucking the newly-grown seeds, while others scampered over to the bag that Gul lent Kon.
Quick yet careful, Kon stopped the ritili in their tracks by placing his hand against the bag’s opening. A handful of whiskerless-boys and slightly-whiskered girls looked at him in stunned silence. Their bulbous eyes seemed widened with fear until he smiled lightly, then began plucking a few seeds from the bag. He gave them to the creatures one-by-one. The ritili scampered off as they cracked open and gnawed on their tasty gifts.
Kon popped a seed in his mouth and chewed it before speaking. “I’m not sure your fae will be up to filling this entire grove, but I thought if I helped you plant the seeds, he could blossom some, and the rest could grow up naturally. The next time the Pale Hawks pass by these woods, I’ll bring us out here again to check up on them.”
Kinjra’s eyes lit up with the idea. The ritili on her shoulders jumped off her, each one attempting to grab the sunflower’s head. When the last one succeeded and pulled the seeds down to her brethren, she met Kon’s gaze. “You promise?”
“I promise,” he answered. “About a year from now, you and I will come here. We’ll see how far we’ve come, and figure out what we do next. You’ll nearly be fourteen by then. Not so far from being your own adult.”
Kinjra’s face sagged at the mention of adulthood. Sixteen was getting closer, and the girl loved her life as it was. No responsibilities other than school and the occasional chore. Most days she spent her time hearing lessons from her teachers and playing with friends while the flock migrated. At sixteen, she would be expected to harvest passing resources with Jrana. Belen would help his dad tend to the flock’s steers, and Etal would assist his father with his clinic.
Pink mist drifted on the wind between them, prompting memories of Kon’s wife and his mother. Kinjra breathed and grinned weakly as the last of the ritili claimed their seeds and departed. Her fae hovered over to the flower’s slightly-bent stem. With a glimmer of light, the plant straightened as it healed.
“Come on,” Kon said. He uncrossed his legs and used leverage from a hand on the bag to push himself up, then bent down to grab Kinjra’s hand. His daughter’s breath oofed out of her as she pulled herself to her feet.
Together, the father and daughter picked up two handfuls of the sunflower seeds and split up to plant them in a mostly open, mossy field. Kon wandered toward the pond, where the water lapped against the soil and made it more fertile. He planted a line of seeds along the pond’s edge, past the tree-bridge and the stalks of burgeoning ringreeds. Like the thin blade of light in the sky, the sharp, translucent reeds shone like polished steel.
Behind him, Kinjra ran around the grove with her fae drifting in her wake. Each time she stopped to lay a seed in the ground and command her fae to bring a flower to life, she looked less and less guilty for digging holes in the earth. More ritili were jumping off tree branches to collect and gather food. Kon watched over a hundred of them carry armfuls of seeds to the Clanmother’s tree. The ritili placed the seeds in a pile, stacking it up higher and higher.
If the creatures were more patient, their food would grow twice as large, but Kon wasn’t sure how he could explain that to them through song. This would have to be enough. The sunflowers would grow more seeds, and Kinjra’s fae would grow more sunflowers. Kon’s daughter walked over to the first seed he planted by the pond. Her fae landed and started glowing. His sudden flash of magic was more vibrant than before.
Kinjra cheered as her father went to the bag to collect another handful of seeds. Older ritili formed a crescent around the bag. Without rigid shields on their bare fronts, the ritili were able to slouch forward and lay their tiny arms over the top of their bulging stomachs. Patient as they were, Kon decided to reward them. He emptied half the bag on the ground for the critters to take freely. They chittered what Kon guessed to be thanks as they ran up and filled their mouths to the brim with seeds, not chewing, but only storing. They picked up the scraps and cradled them in their arms, then scampered off to add their gifts to the pile.
Another bright flash drew Kon’s eyes back to his daughter, just in time to see it flicker out. The green glow of her fae paled as he used his magic, leaving the sunflower half-grown and lopsided. As powerful as the fae was, he seemed to have reached his limits. Kon took a deep breath as he surveyed their work. Over a hundred seeds had been planted, and fifteen and a half sunflowers had been grown.
Kon joined his daughter by the pond. In the palms of her cupped hands, her fae shone weakly. When he tried to fly, he faltered. Kinjra parted the frills of hair on the center of her head and laid her fae there, between tiny keratinous quills. When she let go of her hair, his pallid glow became faintly visible beneath Kinjra’s deep brown locks.
“I’m proud of you,” said Kon.
“I’m proud of him, too.”
“He worked hard,” Kon said, nodding in agreement. “But so did you. By how fast you two are learning, I’m beginning to think you’re better at this all than me.”
Kinjra smiled, though she delivered her response with a shake of her head. “I don’t think so at all. You didn’t have someone like you to tell you what to do and encourage you, but I did. I love you, dad.”
Kon kneeled down so he could hug his daughter. As Kinjra wrapped her arms around him and buried her face in his shoulder, he gently pat the back of her head, careful not to disturb her fae. “I love you too,” he said while blinking away tears. In spite of him finding out his daughter was a budding Seer and Jrana dredging up memories of his brother, Rin, Kon could say with a hundred percent certainty that he was happy. All his life, he had two dreams. One, to be a musician and share his heart with the world, and two, to settle down and have a loving family. Kon had everything he wanted and more. He and his daughter had been granted the power to make the world a better place, and they would do just that. Wherever they traveled, they would find a place like this and inspire new life to flourish. It was a nice dream.
When his fae began whistling in shrill panic, Kon realized a dream was all it was. In the ritili’s hushed silence, he could hear the creatures scatter into the trees and under their roots, seeking shelter. Though Kon could neither see or hear the explosion of silver light, he knew exactly where to look. Near the center of the skyblade, a piece of the rock had shattered. As the meteor entered Tairn’s atmosphere, the spiritfire brightened. On it, a dark silhouette flickered across the meteor’s surface. Like fae, wraiths were only visible to those with the Sight.
“Da-ad?” Kinjra mumbled, her voice muffled by Kon’s sweater. Instincts made him clutch his daughter protectively, to shield her from danger. He loosened his grasp of her and quickly stood up. “What’s happening?” she shrieked.
There was no time to answer. Kon grabbed Kinjra by the waist and lifted her to her feet. Her brow glowed a pale green as her fae peeked out the fringe of her hair. Together, they looked up at the sky and saw it. The meteor wasn’t large, but it was falling quickly. Judging by the arc of its steep trajectory, the impact would happen not far from-
“-The camp!” Kon yelled. “We need to go now! Leave the seeds for the ritili, and help me grab some things. I can’t run for long with everything on my back.”
Kinjra nodded. Kon’s fae left a trail of glittering sparks as it rushed to join them by his worn leather sack. He quickly dug through the contents, retrieving his amorphlora lyre, his harmonica necklace, and his unpolished steel flute. The extra clothes and bottles of water were non-essentials, but his bodhrán? Kon unwrapped the wide, round drum from one of his extra cold-weather tunics. He quickly handed it to his daughter with a bone-shaped piece of wood.
Kinjra held the traditional instrument at a safe distance, frowning with uncertainty. Kon had brought it to show Kinjra more of his fae’s magic, but in these circumstances, it would make for a decent club and shield. If not for the ritili’s protectors, he would have never had the idea and left the drum behind, no matter its value.
As Kon rose, he gave his brother’s telescope what might have been his last look.
“Stay behind me,” he said. “And watch your feet. My fae will lead the way.”
In response, her ridged, metallic shell chimed and sparkled to life. As she sang, Kon’s fae shined brighter like a star in the night.
Kon spared the meteor one last glance. Against the force of the wind, the meteor was being torn to pieces. The fragments burst with a colorless light before fading, leaving tiny, pallid scars in the night. Still, the shadow flickered on the rock’s surface, even as the wind ripped it apart. A shrill whistle pervaded the air as the meteor plummeted closer. Kon took off running as his fae soared on ahead. At the grove’s untangled entrance, he told both his fae and his daughter to wait and brace for impact. Kon sat on the ground and leaned back against a tree, then clenched his daughter in his arms tightly.
His fae began circling the air above them, leaving a trail of shimmering light that froze in the air, coalescing into a sphere of silence. Even muffled, Kon heard the meteor’s whistling grow louder until it became a bloodcurdling wail. Through the veil of dim light, he witnessed the meteor drop past the treeline. In the span of a blink, the earth roared as the air was cast a bright white. Spiritfire bloomed over the horizon. The ground trembled beneath them as a powerful gust rushed into the woods, bending the trees and breaking a few sticks. They blew across the grove alongside loose and wind-torn leaves. As soon as a stick hit their bubble of silence, it popped. Kon shuddered with fear as the ritili chattered. Loud as the creatures were, he could swear he heard shouting in the distance.
After sitting down, the man found himself unable to move. He could hear each of his breaths, but for a lingering moment, Kon couldn’t feel them. As he trembled with Kinjra in his arms, a realization came over him. Fate was forcing his hand too soon.
He wasn’t prepared for this. He was almost forty and out of shape. He was a musician, a teacher, and a father. Not a Seer, even if he had the sight. The Seers of the nearby eyrie… they were all sent north, where the first meteor landed. They must not have seen the other one coming, but how?
“…Dad?” Kinjra coughed out the word as he clutched her. When he let go of her, she quickly stood up on her own. “It’s over. I can see where the spiritfire is rising. It looks half a league away from our camp.” Kinjra glanced away from the towering pyre of gray flame to meet Kon’s misty eyes. He blinked the moisture away, then took Kinjra’s small hand for a boost to his feet. “Let’s go,” said Kinjra. Her tone was curt with determination. As soon as the words filled Kon’s ears, resolve swelled within him.
Together, the father and daughter grasped their instruments. In the dark of night and the shade of countless trees, they chased Kon’s twinkling fae across unbroken, uneven ground. With each step, the distant shouting grew louder until it was all the two could hear.
The joy they shared in the ritili’s grove soon faded into memory.