Kon wiped the moisture from his eyes. A gray veil hung between him and Morus, obscuring the boy’s face as he turned. Despite the blur, Kon saw him lift a hand to adjust his glasses.
“You need my help?” Morus asked, his tone flat. “Now I know the Headmaster sent you. Only he would hatch a plot that crazy.”
Kon straightened and shook his head, taking a step toward the magical veil. “He didn’t send me. I haven’t spoken with the Headmaster yet.”
“Lucid then. It’s basically the same thing.”
“She didn’t send me either. Neither did Lafer, if you’re wondering why Vigor is here. I asked him to accompany me. My name is Kon, and I come of my own accord. I need your help, Morus. And if it’s not too much trouble, I’d like to shake your hand.”
Kon tried to reach through the veil, expecting his fingers to pass through like the memories in his dream. Instead, he felt a soft pressure of resistance. The veil trembled at his touch. With a shudder, Kon stepped back. Morus quickly dropped his raised hand, and a moment later, the veil retreated toward him. The closer it got to the boy, the blurrier his features became. The veil moved like it was alive.
“In the future,” the boy muttered, clutching the veil in his hands and quickly wrapping it around him, “please refrain from touching my fae.”
“Your fae?” Kon quietly stuttered.
Vigor chuckled over his shoulder. “Yup! Morus’ fae is atypical. Most take shapes like eggs or orbs, but his is-”
“-A membrane,” Morus interrupted, his voice and face still unreadable.
Vigor bent down to whisper in Kon’s ear, “I was going to say blanket.”
Despite being too far to hear, the boy turned on his heel, striding away as an incoherent blur.
Kon took a step to follow after Morus, then halted to face his excitable companion. “Vigor,” he said, his voice loud enough to reach the boy. “Thank you for bringing me here. Your job is done. It’s time for you to go.”
Behind him, Morus’ soft footsteps vanished. Kon turned to look. Somehow, the boy was gone. None of the ceiling mirrors lit up elsewhere.
“Are you sure?” Vigor asked, his armor dimming. His eyes, which were now coals with rings of flame, remained focused on where Morus had just been. Exactly where he had just been. The giant nodded in that direction.
“I am,” Kon said. “My questions for Morus are of a personal nature. They involve my daughter, if you remember her.”
“I do,” the giant rumbled, understanding. “Then I won’t stand in your way any longer. I’ll see you later, Kon. Morus— it was nice almost seeing you.”
Kon waited as Vigor departed, taking his aura with him. The moment Kon was no longer basking in its warmth, his muscles tightened and loosened at once, causing him to go slack and fall into the nearest bookcase.
Meters away from his face, a loose book in a wide gap shuffled back and forth, then fell toward the floor. He could see Morus startle and spin, the movement stirring his fae’s camouflage. Though he couldn’t see the boy’s eyes, Morus’ focus wasn’t on him.
Bracing for more pain, Kon dove.
Morus knew exactly what tome was falling. After finishing The Core of Gravity, he had returned it to its place on this very shelf, then left it alone without its sister, The Edge of Space. In the corner of the library, she waited, collecting dust on his favorite desk. Morus had no choice but to abandon her, though it filled him with regret.
Before his eyes, the precious tome plummeted. He stared across the distance so intently, he didn’t even see Kon lunge. Flinching at the sound of the crash, Morus watched the man slide a meter. The tome rested on his upper arms, its spine pressing into his shut eye and wincing cheek.
Morus froze again. His fae tightened around him, shrouding him from Sight.
With The Core of Gravity cradled in his hands, Kon had trouble rising to his feet. For a second, Morus almost ran to assist him. He’d seen that agonizing grimace before, during the worst flares of his dad’s arthritis. Morus couldn’t help dad then, so he didn’t try to help Kon now. Besides, that would mean putting himself within reach.
Even without assistance, the strange man put the tome back in its place, then made sure it was stable. It was Morus’ fault that it was so loose. Usually he paid better attention, but he had been too eager to read the sequel.
Kon catching it at his own expense, and therefore correcting the mistake? For Morus, that meant something.
Still cloaked by his fae, he walked forward. Kon searched for Morus’ eyes, frowning once he realized proximity didn’t make them any clearer. Meanwhile, his vision remained uninhibited. He could see the man clearly as he found his balance, one hand on a shelf for support.
“Are you okay?” Morus asked. His fae parted before his lips so she wouldn’t muffle his words.
“I am, thank you,” replied Kon, his other hand scratching behind his left ear. “Just sore and tired. Lafer and Vigor escorted me on a three-day journey from the western coast. But don’t worry, I’m fine.”
Morus wasn’t so certain. Kon’s weathered face was tense with grief, and his eyes were half-lidded with sorrow. Though the man had addressed Vigor, Morus had heard him mention his daughter. Morus was smart enough to make the connection. He recognized the lonely agony in glimpses of his own face in Westwind’s numerous mirrors.
“You don’t seem fine,” Morus insisted, turning and waving his hand. “Come. I know somewhere we can sit.”
Kon inhaled loudly. “You’re going to talk with me?”
“Not necessarily,” Morus intoned coldly, attempting to make his voice sound grave. It did little good. To his own ears, he always sounded like a child.
“What do you mean?” Kon asked, following from a distance. After Vigor had left, the enchanted mirrors transitioned into a gradient of sky blue and sun gold.
“I’ll listen to what you have to say, but I won’t guarantee that I’ll reply. If you want my help, you’ll have to convince me. Like for starters: what can you do for me?”
Kon hummed, his fae echoing the notes at a higher octave. “That depends on what you want,” he said, still hanging back as they walked. Morus was glad for the extra room to breathe, though it did little to ease his suspicion. The man could still be a therapist, albeit an unusual one.
Morus waited until they reached the far corner. Four rectangular desks the size of picnic tables sat there, just before the window and the mountains beyond. In his rush, Morus had left The End of Space opened beside his Seer Manual and his personal copy of The Price of Redemption. Morus rushed to flip it over, glad the back only showed the text written on the hull of the Prince’s starship. On its front, the Shallow Prince was depicted, shirtless and in shackles.
Morus sat down quickly and lifted the still-open tome. “You may sit there,” he commanded, pointing to the furthest seat of the furthest desk. With his eyes already flickering across the Lush-grown pages, he buried a tiny smile. “I’m listening.”
Kon choked on his breath.
Kon tried to mask his reaction by clearing his throat. Once again, he found himself surprised by his expectations. During their short conversation, Morus had already defied them as easily as the other Seers. Lafer had been right about that, too. This was no ordinary 11 year old boy.
Not wanting to ruin his chance, Kon obeyed. He tried not to stare while Morus flipped through the giant tome’s pages. Across its deep-violet cover, ‘The End of Space’ was embossed in a near-imperceivable black.
“My older brother would have loved to read a book like that,” Kon said. He hoped that would be enough to spark the boy’s interest, but rather than inquiring, he only flipped another page. “His name was Rin,” he continued, not letting himself be discouraged, “and he was also growing up into a Seer. His fae was like a nebula. Purple and black, like that and the other book’s cover.”
Surprisingly, Morus reacted to that. “You mean the one you caught?”
“The Core of Gravity, right? I saw you reading it in the mess.”
The boy made a muffled sound. “What happened to your brother?” he asked, his voice still without any color, as he used one hand to flip the page and adjust his glasses. Kon could barely see Morus’ eyes above the brim of the large tome.
“A wraith Took him,” Kon whispered. “Rin was only 9 years old.”
Morus took his time grasping the corner of his next page, as if hesitating in thought. “I’m sorry for your loss.”
“Thank you,” Kon said through a meager grin, inflecting gratitude. He hadn’t meant to bring up something that depressing. The point had been to relate with the boy. “Though I have some fascination with space thanks to my brother, I’m not here about that. I’m here for my sake, and for my daughter’s.”
If the ice was broken before, Morus refroze. Instead of turning another page, he waited, his face hidden from view, even as Kon leaned further across his desk. The Edge of Space remained propped up while Morus’ hands and head faded into the background.
Kon took that to mean he was listening. Though he didn’t know what the boy’s fae was exactly capable of, he was sure Morus was still there.
“Before I get into specifics, I need to ask you something important.”
Morus reappeared to sweep half of his fringe behind an ear. Silent, he waited.
“Can I trust you with a secret?”
Morus finally turned a page. “You can,” he replied, though he seemed just as disinterested.
Looking at his fae for confirmation, she trilled a gentle duplet of agreement. Though neither Kon nor her could read the boy’s voice, they decided to believe him. Somehow, it was easier admitting the truth to Morus than it was to Lucid. Worried that she could be listening in the blue-and-gold mirror on the ceiling, he raised a hand over his lips. His fae hovered between his fingers, twinkling with magic to direct his voice.
“My daughter is twelve years old,” he began, pausing to make sure Morus could hear him. The boy dropped his book a little, showing blurry glasses under his gray-blue hair. “She was recently granted the Sight as well. Three nights ago, an unforeseen meteor landed near my flock, carrying a wraith. My daughter helped me keep the monster distracted until Lafer and Vigor arrived to finish it off. The Commander of the local Eyrie arrived too late to see my daughter’s magic, and without my asking, Lafer and Vigor helped to keep it a secret. To protect her, I let them bring me, leaving her back home with her mother.”
Kon stopped to take a breath, then dabbed his eyes with his one good sleeve. He barely managed to hold back his tears. “As the days went by, I found myself wondering… did I make the right choice, leaving them behind? Or did I just make another terrible mistake? I could ask Lucid this, or the Groundsmaster, peculiar as he is. I could ask Lafer, Wilm, Rej, and Gaj. But after speaking with them all, I don’t think they would understand.”
Sighing, Morus gently closed his tome, laid it carefully on his desk, then lifted his arms slightly above his head. His fae drifted off of him, hanging between them as a veil. Kon realized she was constantly trembling to remain blurry and gray.
The boy was staring now, though he didn’t say a word. Instead he waited, his expression imperceivable.
Does he want more?
Responding to the thought, his fae chimed softly beside him.
Kon took another breath while drying his face. “I won’t be at Westwind for long. Lucid told me I have three weeks to graduate. Considering how long it took me to get here, my wife and daughter would take at least a week, and that’s only if the Headmaster would let a Sightless parent come to Zephyr’s Cradle with her. It would mean I get to see them when I’m not training, but in no time at all, I will be sent away to join the Fated King’s army. I guess what I’m asking is, if you were in my daughter’s shoes, what would you want your father to do?”
At that, Morus closed his eyes. Not sleeping, Kon hoped, but deep in thought.
Morus contemplated his answer.
Without the light to stimulate his vision, he nearly dozed off while counting off the pros and cons. There wasn’t enough time in the days for reading, studying, dealing with people, and sleeping. He sacrificed the last two more often than not.
Morus opened his eyes to find the man’s grief-stricken expression. Wrinkles deepening with his frown, Kon waited. Both him and his fae were quiet.
What do you think I should do?
In response, her gray veil lifted, shrinking and gathering by Morus’ side.
“Let me get this straight. You’re asking me to decide if your daughter should come to Westwind?”
“Not decide, no,” Kon stuttered, exasperated. “But I value your opinion. I believe knowing how someone my daughter’s age sees this place will likely match her own perspective. In the interest of honesty, it personally fills me with terror.”
Morus sniffed, then quickly tilted his chin, loosening his fringe so it would fall over his eyes. To keep his expression stiff, he softly bit down on the insides of his cheeks. I’m not terrified, he insisted. Stop treating me like I am.
Recognizing the lie for what it was, his fae huddled closer.
“If you value my opinion, then listen closely. I won’t give it so freely again. Either decision is terrible. No matter what you choose, you and your family will suffer.”
Kon leaned across his table. Morus had the man’s complete attention, yet he didn’t shy away. His fae draped herself over his shoulder, comforting him. It was enough.
“If you continue to keep your secret, your wife and daughter will go on with their lives without you. Fate comes first, after all, and She is relentless. Eventually your daughter will get pulled into an Academy like this one, and eventually, she’ll go to War anyway. Depending on when that does happen, she could be grossly unprepared.
“With the alternative, the Headmaster would let your wife come and provide her a room in a communal nest. You and your daughter would be able to visit her in your off time, but otherwise, both of you would be living up here with the rest of us. That means your daughter will be running into Lili and Ora every time she goes in and out of her room, which frankly, I wouldn’t wish upon my worst enemies. More importantly, it means you’d have to say goodbye again. Your wife and daughter would be stuck here without you.”
Morus paused, catching his breath. With his chin tilted, his glasses had begun to slide down his face. Quickly, he pushed them with two fingers by their frames, then crossed his hands over his lap. “Before I get into specifics, I need to ask you something important. Can I trust you with a secret?”
Seeing Kon startle at the quote nearly brought a smile to Morus’ face.
“Of course,” he said. Though neither Morus or his fae understood why, they decided to believe the man.
“As far as anyone knows — my parents and the Headmaster included — I was granted the Sight on my 11th nameday, the same day my fae’s magic was revealed in public. In truth, I kept my Sight a secret from a roost full of Seers for a year. While living in fear at the very thought of being caught, I can still say, with absolute certainty, that it was the best year of my life.”
Morus turned his head, covertly wiping his eye on his shoulder. It took a second longer than he calculated to steady his breath.
Kon nodded slightly, as if to say ‘go on.’
“It was only then I began to realize how much I had taken for granted. My parents did everything for me without complaint, despite all their burdens and pain. Instead, I spent all my time avoiding them, burying myself in studies and books. Realizing that, it was like all my priorities shifted. I knew I wouldn’t get forever with them, but I could still enjoy the time I had left. After school, I would help my dad cook dinner and clean up. When my mom got home from work, I would hug her and talk about our days while braiding her hair or making a puzzle. I saved all my books for the night, when my family could read them together. Though your daughter’s situation is certainly different, I can imagine she’ll feel very much the same. If I was in her shoes, knowing all that I do now?”
Morus raised his chin, allowing gravity to move his hair out of his face.
“I would be happier living with the lie.”
Kon nodded. His deep frown and half-lidded eyes almost made it seem like he could understand. “Thank you, Morus. I appreciate you sharing that with me, and promise to keep it safe.”
Definitely a therapist, Morus remarked. At least he’s more tolerable than the last one.
“If you want, I can let you know what I decide.”
“No need,” Morus told him. He saw the man’s expression shift from lost to resigned. The decision had already been made. “Is that everything?” he asked in the midst of resisting a yawn. “Or is there something else I can help you with?"
Kon blinked, feeling very out of place. Beneath a beam of golden light, he leaned back into his seat while realizing the strangeness of this conversation. Kon had been told Morus was smart, but not that the boy was this mature and articulate. Both factors combined made it seem like he was speaking with a professional. For a moment, he just stared at the dark circles around the boy’s eyes.
Where do I begin? he thought. Beside him, his fae shook haphazardly, drawing Morus’ gaze.
“It’s getting late. If you don’t hurry, I’ll need to go to sleep. I have a very busy day planned for my Enday break.”
Kon nodded as fast as his stiff neck would let him.
“My last request is more about me. Earlier I mentioned that I have three weeks to graduate. Lafer told me you passed half of your academic exams shortly after you arrived. In my mind, that makes you the resident expert. I want to be sure that I leave this place with every piece of knowledge that I can handle. To do that, I need your help.”
Kon watched Morus’ empty gaze. Raising a hand, the boy covered his mouth to stifle a yawn.
“I’m not asking for much,” Kon continued. “Really, all I need you to do is point me in the right direction. Once you do, I’ll get out of your hair. I promise.”
Still holding his hand in front of his face, Morus stood up, grabbed his green-and-gold Seer Manual, and started walking. His fae unfolded as he stepped through her, draping around his body until he was just a blur.
Morus approached quietly, his free hand removing a folded paper from his manual’s pages. He left it on Kon’s desk before quickly striding away.
“What is this?” Kon asked.
“Read it and think for yourself before you ask any questions,” the boy said promptly, returning to his seat. “As your tutor, that is my first lesson to you. You may start with the notes in your hand.”
Kon opened the gilded paper, taking note of the angular embroidery that was stitched beside its foiled edges. Though it only bore hand-written text, a rip along its side marked it as a page taken from a rather expensive book. On both sides of its vertical fold, names of books were scribbled, tiny yet legible. Each title ran parallel to a dozen or more ranges of numbers.
A Heavenly Purpose, Origin of Souls, How to Master: Meditation Edition. Kon skimmed over the rest. “Are these page numbers?” he asked, incredulous. Many of the number ranges were in the thousands.
“Line numbers,” Morus said. “You’ll have to find the books and those pages yourself. The act of searching for them will help commit each one to memory.”
“Alright. That seems reasonable enough.”
Morus blinked at him, his expression otherwise hidden. “I suspect that the Headmaster will bring you to his Mirror Room soon. If you want to maximize its effectiveness, I recommend you study the passages from those first three books ASAP. Find me at the same time, right here on Valday, and I’ll quiz you on what you learned before I give your next assignment. If Professor Meir’s lesson confuses you, I can try my best to get you up to speed. We’re currently learning about crystech.”
Kon nodded while skimming through the list again, trying to take it all in. “Are each of these books in the library?”
“No. You’ll find more than half in your room’s bookcase. All editions of How to Master can be found by the library’s entrance. You shouldn’t be able to miss them. Unlike most of the books here, they aren’t made with fireproof paper. You’ll see them wrapped in a transparent cloth. The Meditation Edition is more colorful than the others.”
“Thank you, Morus,” Kon said, rising from his seat. He folded the gilded page and stuck it in his pocket. “I’ll do that now. I’m sorry for bothering you.”
“Don’t be sorry,” Morus said. “So long as you're paying, I’m glad with the disturbance. Find me in the mess tomorrow morning with ten plumes. That’s the fee for giving you my study notes, and for every tutoring session from Valday on. I expect you can handle that much for my troubles?”
Kon’s chuckle quickly tapered off. Morus had gone still and was starting to fade.
It seemed the boy was serious.
“Alright then. Ten plumes it is. I’ll see you tomorrow morning.”
Morus picked up his book, not bothering to grunt or wave. A second later, he was already flipping pages.
Kon frowned and nodded to his fae. Together, they quietly drifted away.
Over the top of his book, Morus saw Kon’s bald head bow to his fae. The man was gone in seconds. 11, to be exact, before his footsteps no longer reached him, bookcase echoes and all. His fae peeled away from him, then floated in their direction. Not following, but settling as a veil in the space between. Once the man and his fae were gone, Morus breathed a sigh of relief.
Unable to focus on the fascinating passages before him, he laid The Edge of Space down and leaned into his clenched hands. With a sigh, he closed his eyes, attempting to gather his thoughts.
Though Morus remained skeptical of Kon’s visit, the man’s words appeared to be genuine, as did the agony he wore on his face. Out of kindness, Morus had put his tome down to look the sad man in his pleading eyes. Unless Kon was as good an actor as his dad was, Morus was certain he was telling the truth.
All too familiar, Morus’ stomach tightened, feeling suddenly heavy like his bodily fluids just solidified into rock.
I gave him the right advice, didn’t I? Considering everything he knew, Kon keeping the secret was undoubtedly the most logical choice.
Unable to communicate, or perhaps unwilling, his fae hung motionless until the mirror above them went dark.
Morus waited in the silence. By the library’s entrance, Kon’s golden light swiftly vanished. Only ringlight remained, pale gray and lifeless.
Finally alone, his fae drifted toward him, wrapping herself around him like a blanket. The comfort gave him the strength to open his stinging eyes and lift the heavy tome. Dealing with Vigor and Kon had set him back at least one hundred pages.
So much for sleeping early, he mused. The bad joke inspired no amusement.
Ignoring the pit in his gut, Morus pored over the words before him again and again. Eventually, he was immersed in his studies.
The heavy feeling soon departed.