Tap. Tap. Tap...
In Kon's dream, the sound was everywhere. A tap, tap, tapping that pounded in his head, his heart, and the darkness that surrounded him, so vast, loud, and pervading. It resonated in him, around him, and through him, guiding his feet in... some direction. Kon had no idea where it was taking him. Other than his body, which somehow remained visible despite the pitch-black emptiness, he could not see a thing. He walked not by his will, but by some unstoppable instinct. The tapping hastened with his rising breaths.
Tap, tap, tap, tap, tap...
Kon felt like he was walking on air, yet with every step, he could hear a faint hint of leaves crunching or sticks cracking beneath his weight. Other sounds slowly faded in ahead. Howls, wails, and screams. All distant, but growing louder as he walked closer to the source. The tapping became a hasty scramble, then. No rhythm to it, just haphazard panic. Kon would never forget the sound of his wife's flight of terror. He was certain the sound would haunt him for the rest of his life.
Tap tap, tap, tap-tap-tap, tap...
It did not take long for Kon to start running himself. He recognized each one of those distant howls, wails, and screams. Not just of the wraith from that night, but the wraith that possessed Rin, too. His brother's distorted voice growled, the words overlapped by a grinding, inhuman whine. His mother... he could hear her sobbing her last breaths, not for mercy, but for the child she had lost. His wife, Jrana, was yelling Kon's name and begging him to come back home. Kinjra shrieked, and Gul broke down crying. Cres, Miss Sut, Imet, Etal, Leb, Belen; every one of his students and their parents; the entirety of the Pale Hawks... all shouting in desperation for their lives.
A chaotic storm of thundering fear and torrential footsteps. A discordant symphony of horror and helplessness.
The sounds resounded through Kon's very essence, overwhelming his senses to the point of discomfort and pain. It was almost like he was listening to it all through his fae. Could that be why everything is so loud and dark? He sprinted, opening and closing his eyes with concentrated effort... to no avail. Darkness lingered inside and outside his eyelids, but with them shut, Kon could hear his fae warbling and whistling like a bird. Howls became shrieks. Wails became moans. And the screams... they were no softer, but there was a distinct ring of hope among their cracking vocal cords.
"Fate save us!" "Seers save us!" "Someone!" "Anyone!" "Please!"
Kon opened his eyes for the last time. There was a light at the edge of the darkness now; an orb of intertwining gold-and-silver luminescence that sparkled on the horizon. He chased after his fae's shine, yet no matter how fast he ran, she barely seemed to get any closer. His fae was moving too, he realized. Soaring through the black, heading for those shrieks, moans, and near-hopeful screams. The darkness rumbled as the beat of a drum met a blood-curdling roar. When the rumbling crashed into Kon, he was thrown onto his back. His fae turned immediately and soared over to his side. She beckoned for him to rise like a school bell.
We can do this, the thought rang.
Above him, the glowing sphere of wound lutestrings chimed an uplifting melody. Beneath him, a well of golden light burst upward, pushing him back onto his feet. Ahead of him, a cacophony of noise erupted in the darkness. Behind him, a wave of silver light swelled and carried him forward. Magic born from his fae's resolved humming. Kon added his own voice, and the wave carried them faster. He could almost feel the air rushing by him as they soared through the void. His fae rang again, and a new thought came with it.
Inhale. Hold... Release!
Kon breathed in, and the darkness retreated toward him. He held the breath in, and all became silent. When he blew, a gold blade of musical light shot from his lips. It cut the darkness in half. Clean down the middle. With another resounding beat of a drum, the silver wave surged behind Kon, casting him through the blinding slash of gold in the black. On the other side, he stumbled between a pair of trees and fell to his knees. Onali's Trail stretched before him. Pallid ash drifted over his vision, carried by the wind. When he looked up, he was already walking down the path to meet his wife, his daughter, and his flock. Jrana stood off to the side, her arms crossed and foot tapping an impatient rhythm. Kinjra and the others swarmed around him, drowning him with their voices.
"Dad! That was incredible!" "Good work, brother." "I barely understand what happened, but thank you." "Sun bless you. Sun bless us all." "You're stronger than you look." "Mister Kon! You were a Seer this whole time?" "So you're worth something after all." "...My mother says thanks."
And all throughout it, the relentless tap, tap, tapping...
Kon should have felt happy. When the lives of his family and his flock had been on the line, he’d answered Fate's call and given it his all to keep them safe. Instead, dread thumped in his heart as one by one, the Pale Hawks vanished before his eyes, leaving him alone with his daughter and his wife. Kinjra's joy melted as she glimpsed the anger boiling on Jrana's face. Trepidation burned in Kon's veins as his nerves buzzed anxiously. He had seen this scene before. Been a part of it, before.
What would happen if I just stopped or turned away?
Kon stopped... and he didn't. He watched his body walk on ahead of him, and he looked down to find his body remaining in place. The memory played out before him just as it happened, but this time, he was just an observer. The other Kon - the past Kon - reached for Jrana's arm. With tears in her eyes, his wife moved out of the way. Kinjra wandered closer to her parents, only for her mother to raise a hand and point the other way. The past Kon watched his daughter walk away.
The now Kon walked to intercept his daughter, but when he reached for her arm, she passed right through him. Not long after, she vanished too, leaving him alone with himself, his wife, and his fae. Her twinkling shell hovered close to him as the pitch-black emptiness began pouring out from the spaces between the trees. The void swelled and solidified, forming into looming walls on all sides. It pushed Kon closer to the memory.
Again, he fell to his knees. In the blink of an eye, they were confined to a patch of trampled dirt and grass no wider than their nest. He looked up and found a far-away window into the night sky, cut in half by a thin blade of silvery light. With the tight, dark walls on all sides, it seemed like he was at the bottom of a great pit. Or a grave.
"Jrana..." the past Kon began. As soon as his wife's name left his mouth, the real Kon's eyes snapped to her face. He tried to look away - to shut his eyes - but no matter how hard he tried, his body resisted. Kon could not even rise to his feet. Whatever this dream was... this memory... it was completely out of his control. Kon could not recall having this kind of strangely detached awareness in a dream before. He knew he was asleep, just like he knew every word that was about to come out of Jrana's mouth.
"I can see the words on your lips already," she whispered. "I won't hear it, Kon. I won't let it happen. You are coming back home whether the Seers like it or not. Fate be damned! You're just one man to them, but you're my husband. What gives them the right to take you away from me?”
"It's out of our hands now, Jrana. We kept this peaceful dream of ours going for as long as we could, but-"
"-No," she interrupted. "It's not out of our hands. It won't ever be out of our hands until they drag us by them, kicking and screaming."
Both Kon's let out a sigh of exasperation. Every breath, every blink, and every flash of fear or frustration... they were perfectly in sync.
"That old woman in leather? She's the Commander of the Coastwatch Eyrie. Her fae used magic to bring my shadow to life, then threatened to do just that. My wrist still hurts from getting twisted at an odd angle behind my back. She's threatened to do worse if I don't arrive at her Eyrie in the next hour."
"So we run. We run as far and as fast as we can, and you can use your fae's magic to help us do it. We run until we're out of her territory, and we keep running until we find a safe place to hide, far away from here. Eventually, the Seers will forget about us."
"You know they won't," Kon replied, sighing. "And even if they do, Fate surely wouldn't. It would just bring more demons to our doorstep. What kind of husband and father would I be if I kept putting our family in danger?"
"What kind of husband and father would you be when you're not even home, too busy fighting a war? What about when that war kills you and buries your corpse deep in the ground?"
"That Seer over there, with the bright red armor? She told me there won't be a proper war for years. Once I graduate from a Seer Academy, they'll find a place for us to live wherever they send me. This doesn't have to be the end of the world."
"But it is, Kon. I've seen what the life of a Seer does to them and their loved ones. I saw my father chewed up and spit out a broken man. I saw the half of my brother that was chewed up and left unswallowed. Our family deserves better than that. Our daughter deserves better."
"I couldn't agree more, and that's why this is the right decision. If we run, we won’t be making any friends. Only enemies. Eventually, Fate would find a way to pull us in, and it could end a lot worse than this. It's just as you said this evening. It's inevitable."
"What about what you said? 'I won't let Fate take me anywhere, and I won't let it take our daughter, either?'"
"I tried my best, Jrana. At least Kinjra is free. No one even suspects her."
"What about your promise? 'You never will be alone.'"
"You won't be. We'll still live together and be together on most days. You'll have Kinjra when I'm gone, and there will be other people wherever they send us. Families like ours."
Jrana shook her head. Tears poured from her eyes like a pair of rivers, soaking into the earth at the real Kon's knees. Both his eyes and the eyes of his past self flowed similarly. In the patch of sky above, clouds began to form. Rain pattered down relentlessly, quickly filling the pit with dark, frigid water.
Kon began floating as the memory continued to play out unaffected. He was helpless to move as the water reached his mouth and poured into his lungs. A stream pulled him down as his vision faded, leaving him, again, in darkness. Though he could not see or breathe, he was still conscious. Helpless, Kon had no choice but to listen. At least the frigid water helped make him feel numb.
"It wouldn't be the same," Jrana whispered. "Your daughter and I, we'd no longer be your top priority. The world must come first, right?"
"Everyone grows up knowing the prophecy. Everyone knows that if they gain the Sight, they will have a part to play in making that prophecy come true. That doesn't mean our family won't be my top priority, however. I would be fighting to save the world for the two of you."
"But you'd be gone when it matters. Kinjra would be gone when it matters. The end of the world would come, and I would be utterly, completely alone."
"There would be others with you. You'd be safe."
"But I wouldn't have my husband or my daughter. Would I?"
"And for that entire time, I'd never know for certain if you two would make it back alive."
"After tonight... I suppose you could never be certain."
"That's not the kind of life I asked for, Kon. It's exactly the kind of life you promised to get me away from."
"I know, Jrana, but things are different now. We're not a couple idyllic twenty-year-olds anymore. We have no options left, and fighting will only make things worse for us. This is our reality now. It's time for us to face it."
"I don't know if I can."
"Can you at least try?"
"I don't know if I can."
"Then what does that mean for us? What about our family?"
Jrana’s voice broke with exasperation. "...I don't know. I don’t know if I know anything, anymore."
Even numb, the words broke Kon’s heart. A profound sadness welled up inside him, too strong for him to ever dream of smothering it. Along with the aching beat of his heart, his fae keened a sorrowful melody.
Her music banished the darkness in a flash of golden light.