With his chin high and gaze focused onward, Kon walked confidently to meet Lili, Ora, and a poorly-disguised Dowen in tattered rags and a wide-brimmed hat. While Lafer walked beside him, matching his slow pace, his fae soared above and between the park’s unusual bushy canopy. The teenage onlookers sitting on the branches failed to see her, as well as the other colorful lights dancing between the foliage. At least two dozen pairs of eyes were staring, while a handful of mouths whispered anticipation of a fight. Kon wouldn’t let that happen, though he was sure they could see his anger on his ridged brow and drawn-in eyebrows.
“Lafer,” he muttered, quiet enough that only she could hear. “What can you tell me about Dowen’s fae?”
“Not much,” she whispered back. “He keeps her a secret from everyone, but she’s always rummaging in his bag or one of his pockets.”
“I noticed that. Do you think she could have used magic to snatch my wallet somehow? I had it in my hand one second, then didn’t the next. Nothing moved by me as I turned away from the tables. Nothing I could see, at least.”
“I’m sorry, but I really don’t know. If Dowen asked Zephyr to, she could theoretically have done it. She wouldn’t have, though. She knows theft is illegal.”
“Ask her? What do you mean.”
“She can hear through the wind. The Professors use her to pass out papers and quills to students when they need them. She doesn’t mind helping students if they need to carry a lot of books. Little things like that.”
Good to know, thought Kon.
The trio were too close for them to speak any further. Not about things he didn’t want them to hear, at least.
“What’s the punishment for theft anyway?” he asked. Loud enough for Lili, Ora, and Dowen to laugh at, but not for the teenagers above to hear. Kon’s fae rang out quietly among the foliage to keep his voice from carrying to their ears.
“In Zephyr’s Cradle, or the Academy?” asked Lafer.
“Both, I’d imagine. Assuming double jeopardy is a thing for Seers.”
“It is,” Lafer affirmed with confidence. “I can’t tell you the specific length of community service, but I’m certain a week of it would be suffering for the thieves in question. They also wouldn’t be allowed to graduate for another year after their sentence finishes. The Vice-Commander of the Coastwatch Eyrie was stuck at this Academy until he was 36 because he couldn’t stay out of trouble, and he said that of all the punishments, that was by far the worst. Frankly, I agree. I couldn’t imagine being a Student for a day longer than I needed to— oh, look, it’s Lili and Ora. Sorry ladies. I didn’t even see you there.”
Both girls snarled at the comment. Leach peeled further away from Lili and began writhing, absorbing her color and strength. Already, her skin was starting to rot and flake away in ashy patches.
They’re putting on a show, just like before. Only this time with an audience. Witnesses, yet somehow, the teenager's leering faces made Kon worry they were on the trio’s side. If Lili, Ora, and Dowen were here on an early Enday morning, it likely meant they frequently visited the place.
To Kon’s surprise, heavy footsteps marked the approach of Ekim, the Lidkhin merchant who sold his wares in the center of the park. “What’s going on, Lafer? Are these three giving my valued customers trouble?”
“No trouble,” the girl muttered. “Not yet, at least.”
“Ekim,” Kon greeted. “Thanks for coming to check on us, but we’re fine. These three are colleagues of ours. We’re just having a conversation.”
Ekim grunted. With arms crossed, he peered into the trio’s faces, as if to memorize them. He turned and grumbled, then ran off to greet the four teenage boys closely inspecting his wares.
Though unnecessary, it was comforting to know someone present had their backs.
“Dowen,” Kon greeted. “I didn’t realize you could leave the Academy with another student’s supervision.
“He can’t,” offered Lafer. Then, as if realizing what he just said, startled. “Dowen!? Is that you! I could barely recognize you with that hat. How did you get past the guards?”
“I’ve no clue what you’re talking about, strange lassy. ‘Til now, I never even heard of the lad.”
If not for his fae listening in from above, Kon might have actually believed the boy’s rural accent. His tone and inflection were completely different, the notes of his voice reverberating in a lower octave.
Lafer quickly snatched the large hat, revealing Dowen’s sharp face. Sighing, the boy straightened, adopting a more noble pose. The bag on his shoulder was half-open and rustling. His eyes darted between Kon and his wallet.
“Oh wow. Is this yours, Kon? I just found it rolling in the wind. Didn’t even realize you were here.”
Kon sighed at the blatant lie. “I’m not sure how you did it, but you took that right out of my hand, Dowen. And for the record, my name is imprinted on the cap."
“Huh,” Dowen huffed. “So it is.”
“Still sticking with your story?” asked Lafer.
“Nah. I’ll admit it. I’m sorry, Kon, but when I see a perfect opportunity I just can’t help myself. I was going to give it back to you. Seer’s Honor, I swear it.”
Kon frowned at the trio, studying their hostile expressions. He’d expected Lili or Ora to have made a remark by now, but neither snapped or growled a word back.
“Here,” Dowen said, prodding the leather cylinder in Kon’s direction. He stared into Lili’s eyes as he took it, wondering why he was here. She wouldn’t have allowed the boy to draw his attention unless she wanted it.
What’s your plan? he thought, lowering his empty hand.
Kon’s frown deepened as he spotted the wallet in Dowen’s grip. He hadn’t seen or felt anything.
“How’d this get here!?” the boy exclaimed.
Laughter burst from above. The teenage onlookers were shaking their branches in excitement.
Chuckling, Dowen slid the wallet into Kon’s empty hand. “I truly am sorry, but you know how I am with opportunities.”
When Kon glanced at Lafer, she quickly shrugged a response. She hadn’t seen what happened either.
The pouch on Dowen’s tunic rattled with the sound of jingling keys.
Kon watched himself slip his wallet into his left trouser pocket. On a whim, he checked the right, and found his own key missing. He looked and found Dowen inspecting it in his hands.
More laughter and motion erupted from the canopy, twigs and leaves falling like raindrops.
“Silence!” Lili snarled up at the branches, sweeping her arm to the side and hitting Dowen in his side. “All of you leave, now!” In response, startled yelps echoed from the trees as the onlookers jumped down and fled out of the park.
Kon gazed at Lili’s grimace of pain as Leach wrapped himself around her stomach. The fae’s slimy body dimmed as the girl’s flushed with life. Her skin repaired itself quickly, shedding the last of the rotting flakes, as she straightened her posture and raised her chin high.
“Lili,” he greeted, snapping her vision to him. “Ora,” he said, nodding to the dreadlocked giantess. “Dowen,” he finished louder, plucking the golden key from his hands.
“What!?” he exclaimed in surprise, though he wore a wide grin. “There was no name on this one, Kon. I checked!”
“Lafer,” he said. “Watch the pouch on his tunic. His fae is fast, but she’s in there now. Make sure she doesn’t leave.”
To Kon’s surprise, Dowen’s wide grin shifted into a deep frown. He checked his pockets twice to confirm everything was there as he slipped his key in, then let his hands hang over them in protection.
“Neat trick.” Lafer giggled. “Is that new?”
Dowen opened his mouth as Lili’s outstretched hand cut him off. Expression sullen, the boy shrunk into himself. It seemed his little show was over.
“Kon,” Lili snarled. “I see why you infuriate me now. You practically reek of Laferils.”
“Not cool,” Lafer remarked.
“Not cool,” hissed Lili, her voice draining the warmth from the air. Kon shivered, wishing Vigor could get closer. The fae’s aura was unable to reach him over Ora’s immense shoulders.
Lafer chuckled. Unlike him, her flushed skin had not prickled, too warm to be affected by the sudden change in temperature. Watching the two Seers quietly glare into each other’s eyes, Kon had a feeling they were something like rivals at Westwind. Despite that, Lafer had never talked ill of the girl.
Allowing them their moment, Kon glanced up at the giantess’ cold eyes. “How are you doing, Ora? Did you get enough rest after Wilm took over as Barracks Officer?”
Ora huffed, refusing to utter a word.
Something had changed. Kon could see the trio’s facade crumbling since Lili had dismissed their audience. He found the girl’s slender gaze fixated on Dowen as she released a sharp breath of annoyance. Lili didn’t have a plan, after all. The boy seemed to have snatched his wallet of his own volition, and now they were caught with him somewhere he wasn’t supposed to be.
Leverage, Kon thought. Lili frowned as she met his eyes, as if she knew what he was thinking.
“Lafer?” he asked, staring at the hat in his friend’s hands. “Can you give this strange boy his hat back, please.”
All four pairs of eyes widened in surprise.
“What are you talking about, Kon? This is Dowen.”
“He doesn’t have to be, on one certain condition.” Kon stared into Lili’s pallid lilac eyes. Stretching a hand toward Leach, he smiled gently. “Truce?”
The girl scoffed in his face. “You can’t be serious.”
“I am. I wasn’t kidding when I said I was hoping we could be friends. This is the one and only chance I’ll give you, however. Starting tomorrow, I’m not just another student, but I’ll be one of your Professors too. Headmaster Nise agreed to it this morning.”
“He’s serious,” chuckled Lafer. “These boxes are filled with instruments.”
Dowen’s face lit up for a moment, quickly dismissed by a slash of Lili’s arm.
“What are you saying, exactly?” asked Lili. “What kind of a truce?”
Straight to the point, Kon thought. Good. “When Lafer and I walk away from here, we put everything in the past and act like it never happened. The next time we see each other, we can properly introduce ourselves, and show each other respect. For whatever reason, Fate selected us to defend our world from the wraiths. Like it or not, we all have to bear a responsibility we never asked for. I myself had to leave my wife and daughter behind, and the simple thought of them worrying about me is a constant, terrifying reality I live with every waking second. Life is hard enough as it is without us complicating things with our peers.”
“Bullshit,” Ora growled. It was her first and only word today.
Dowen eyed Lili’s snarling face with genuine curiosity. Sighing, Leach parted from her stomach to wrap around Kon’s hand. He swallowed his disgust as he shook the fae and slid out of his slimy grasp.
“Instruments?” the girl huffed out as Leach retreated, burying his teeth into her flesh.
“That’s right. I was a bard before I became a teacher. I’m proficient in every instrument you could imagine, though unfortunately our class’ selection will be rather limited. Starting tomorrow, during the second hour of our after-lunch break, we’ll be meeting to learn the basics of each. When you find the one you like the most, I’ll teach you advanced techniques and entire songs of your choosing.”
“That sounds ridiculous,” groaned Lili.
Dowen shook his head as Ora let out a short, grim laugh.
“Depends on how you look at it. I see it more as a pleasant break from all the mindless studying and vigorous exercise.”
Vigor chuckled loudly in the background, making his presence known.
“Dowen,” Kon began, drawing the boy’s startled glare. “I better not see you outside the Academy again, or I’ll have no choice but to report you. Rules exist for a reason, and as your Professor, I can’t let you break them. You will come with Lafer and me now, and you’ll show us exactly how you got past the guards. I’ll keep them busy if I have to, but after that, we’ll never speak of the matter again. Does that sound like a deal, or does this need to get more complicated?”
Instead of answering, Dowen gazed up at Lili. Even Ora was staring at her snarling expression, waiting for a response.
“It’s a deal,” Lili intoned softly. With those words, the leverage she thought she had was relinquished.
Kon breathed a sigh of relief. Smiling, he pulled Lafer aside, then gestured for Dowen to join them. “Lili. Ora. I hope you two enjoy the rest of your Enday. Just please try to stay out of more trouble. Whatever fun you think you’ll have is never worth the resulting stress.”
“Okay, Dad,” Lili scoffed with a hollow laugh. Ora’s expression darkened as her crossed-arms fell to her sides, glaring sideways at the older girl’s scrunched-up face.
“I’ll need the books you three stole returned as well. I don’t know how you got them out of my barracks chamber, but they better be sitting in front of my door by the end of the day, unmarred and intact.”
Lili’s face remained taut as she nodded her head to Dowen. She traced a finger across her lips, then locked them with an invisible key.
“I’ll take care of it,” the boy muttered, facing Kon but staring at his leader’s stern glare. It didn’t seem like he’d be getting much out of Dowen today.
“Come on,” he said, waving for them to follow. “I have a class to prepare.”
Neither Ora nor Lili stepped out of the way for Kon, Lafer, and Dowen to pass. The giantess flicked the boy in the back of his head as he darted beneath her rising arm, though Dowen did not yelp or lose his balance, simply moving on without so much as a goodbye.
Out from underneath the bushy canopy, Vigor greeted them excitedly. “Kon, Lafer. Who’s the boy?”
“Not now,” sighed Kon. “This isn’t the time for jokes.”
His fae soared out of the branches and leaves to rejoin him, lingering in the space between him and Dowen. “You take the lead,” Kon told him. “Straight to the Academy. No detours.”
The boy marched on, proud and silent. Though Lili might have been angry because of his prank, he behaved like a victor. He moved with the posture of a noble, as if he were untouchable.
“I’m very disappointed with you, Dowen.” Kon’s amplified whisper caused him to jump slightly, fumbling to adjust his stride. The magic ringing in his ears must have caught him by surprise. “When we first met, I had taken you for a pleasant young man. I can tell you’re quick and clever, and you’re a Seer, no less. So why do you pretend to be a hoodlum?”
“I’m not pretending,” the boy mumbled. Realizing that he’d just talked against Lili’s orders, Dowen startled again, then hastened toward the Shady Quarter down the road.
Vigor’s aura provided Kon the strength to keep up. He wasn’t going to let Dowen go on believing himself a victor. Like the teenager’s laughter, it would only encourage him into thinking doing the wrong thing had no repercussions.
“I don’t get the impression you’re the same as Lili and Ora. You only seem unhappy when they’re ordering you around.”
The boy quietly hastened into the shade. Vigor groaned as he veered down another street, presumably to meet them on the other side.
Lafer was surprisingly quiet. It seemed she was letting Kon take the lead on this. Instead of overtly listening, she hung back, providing them ample space to talk.
Kon waved a hand until he gained Dowen’s attention. With a quick glance back to signal their distance to Lafer, he stumbled onward, his pain expressed only through a bent frown. Outstretching the same hand, he raised a weak smile. “We can have our new first interaction now, past slate clean. My name is Kon. It’s nice to meet you…”
“Dowen,” the boy offered, grabbing his hand, shaking it once, and letting it go in the span of a second. His eyes squinted as he peered down the shadowy road ahead, then abruptly widened. “Uh-oh,” he mumbled, pointing to a gathering of refugees outside the elderly fabric seller’s nest. “Guess we’ll need to take a detour after all.” Dowen immediately turned the other way.
“No,” Kon ordered, halting the boy with his voice alone. He scanned the crowd of Lidkhins for Rox’s face as Lafer walked up and did the same. Neither could find him. “Watch Dowen,” he told the girl, prompting a reluctant nod. “I’m going to find out what’s going on.”
“We’ll be right here,” she assured him, patting his shoulder forward.
His legs and back shooting with pain, Kon jogged to the crowd and squeezed his way between the old merchant and an elderly man. Despite looking as thin and frail as Lili, the Lidkhin man stood proudly, like the gnarled skeleton of a king dressed in rags. Kon immediately thought of the Fated King’s second fae, Reap, and his menacing statue in the center of the Training Grounds. It wasn’t hard to imagine a rusty scythe in this man’s hands.
“What’s going on here?” Kon demanded, glancing at each of the crowd’s weathered faces.
“Nothing that concerns you,” groaned the old man. He only looked Kon over for a second before resuming his piercing stare at the merchant.
“I’m not so sure,” Kon said, jingling the contents of his right pocket. His fae waited beside his hand, tuning the sound to draw their attention. Each pair of eyes were drawn to Kon’s hand as he lifted his golden key into the air. “I’m a Seer,” he told them, his voice tuned with magic to suppress any doubts. “It’s my job for this to be my concern.”
“You’re a Seer?” the merchant croaked, pushing her torso up from her rocking chair. “I knew I hated you for a reason. I demand you get these dirty thugs off my property this instant!”
Several of the white-haired Lidkhins snarled, only to be cut off by their leader’s sweeping arm. “You’re the one that Rox mentioned,” he grunted. “How could you let her treat my son so poorly?”
“I—” Kon began, struggling to gather his thoughts. “When I arrived, Rox was already walking away. I tried to purchase the garments for him, but she didn’t allow it. Her attitude was the entire reason I left and took him elsewhere.”
“We know the story,” the old man spat. “But we expected more. All my kin came here for was an apology, thinking you’d have taught this merchant her manners. Instead, she tried whacking me in the face with her broom.”
“You were swarming on me to steal my things! Don’t try to act innocent!”
“Stop,” Kon demanded. His fae added weight to his voice, allowing the words to sink in deeper. A quick glance showed both the elderly merchant and the grim crowd had slouched, perhaps feeling ashamed. “I want the truth. And I want it from one person. Miss?” he asked, turning to face the startling merchant. “My fae can detect lies. Be honest, or there will be repercussions.”
The old woman swallowed, falling back into her chair. “I’ve suffered too much for anyone to deserve my apologies.”
“We’ve suffered too,” called out a young woman from the crowd, one hand pressing back a grimacing teenager with a single fist clenched. His other arm was missing from his shoulder down, and his left eye was horribly scarred.
“We all have,” Kon said, rolling up his sleeve to reveal the dozens of pale marks on his forearm. The Lidkhins eyed them attentively, each bearing their own wounds, fresh and old. “And this is just what you can see on the outside. No wound I’ve suffered compares to the family I have lost or been separated from because of the wraiths and their War.”
The old merchant grumbled under her breath, though she didn’t raise a word in protest.
“It’s easy to get angry when you’re in pain,” continued Kon. “It seems like the easiest outlet for our suffering, but really it’s the hardest. Lashing out at each other will only make it easier for the wraiths to rip us apart by our seams. None of us want to see our beautiful world burn. We all deserve paradise.”
Not one person listening moved or spoke a word. Kon placed his key back inside his pocket, silently observing each one of their faces.
“What is your name?” he asked the gnarled man.
Xol bowed his head slightly, clenching his jaw to emphasize his sharp underbite.
“And you?” Kon added, looking back at the elderly merchant.
“Nol,” she grunted with disdain, as if upset by their similar names.
“So long as we are alive, it’s our responsibility to coexist. This is a pillar of Fate’s Tenets. I’m certain you all know them.”
Nol grumbled further as the crowd nodded their heads.
“If any of you have children, or hope to someday, it’s our job as parents to make this world better, not worse. I myself have a wife and daughter more than a hundred leagues away, and with every passing day, they keep getting further. Have you seen Xol’s granddaughter, Nol? After you turned his son Rox away, he told me she’s only 7 years old.”
Nol shook her head. Her mouth hung slightly open, unable or unwilling to respond.
“Do you have any kids? Grandkids?”
The merchant blew a wisp of light gray hair out of her eyes. “A daughter and grandson. Not that either have visited me since their pap’s funeral.”
“Where are they now?” Kon asked.
“Chasing Bloom in the north. Our flock is the Green Beaks.”
“Then you must know Hazen or his parents, Zena and Hael.” The Merchant glared at Kon with surprise, clearly recognizing the names. “My flock is the Pale Hawks, and we’ve often experienced wrongful discrimination when visiting large roosts. How would you feel if your daughter and grandson were reduced to rags and treated like scum by some roostfolk merchant?”
“I’d be furious,” she muttered, the words almost difficult to say.
“We’re genuinely sorry about your husband,” Xol intoned loudly, taking rein of the conversation. “But that doesn’t excuse you treating us like dirt. This paranoia about our people carrying death with us is ridiculous, and it needs to end today. The few of us who survived were kept in quarantined hospitals for a season before coming to Zephyr’s Cradle. The Seers wouldn’t have let us live and work here if we bore any sickness.”
“Is this not common knowledge?” Kon asked.
“It is,” the one-armed teen from the crowd spat.
The young woman that kept him back sighed. “Apparently people need a reminder.”
Kon nodded firmly, meeting twenty pairs of eyes. Lafer and Dowen had lingered closer to listen from the sidelines, both watching the scene intently.
“I’m on my way to the Academy now. I will speak with the fae Lucid at once and inform her that an announcement needs to be made to the Cradle. In the meantime, please go back home to your families and enjoy the rest of your Enday in peace.”
Though not every Lidkhin seemed to have their anger sated, Xol grunted and waved the crowd to leave before turning to shake Kon’s hand.
“Thank you for buying my granddaughter those fabrics. If you come back next week to visit, you’ll find that she’s knit you a gift. It was her idea, not Rox’s or mine.”
Joy tugged at Kon’s lips. “Thank you for making this easier, Xol. I promise to do whatever I can to ensure you and your kin are welcome in Zephyr’s Cradle.”
The gnarled man in rags departed, leaving the young woman and the one-armed teen to step up in his place.
“That was a good speech,” the woman said, bowing politely. On the way down, she tugged on the boy’s arm to make him join her. “My brother and I are friends of Rox and Rize, and when we heard of your great kindness, it was like a warm beam of life had shone on our hearts.”
His bow half-hearted, Kon couldn’t help but notice the teen roll his eyes at the comment.
“When I met Rox, I realized I could have been him, in another life. I’m grateful that Fate afforded me the opportunity to help him and his daughter.”
“Yes, yes, I couldn’t agree more,” the woman replied, nodding a bit too eagerly. “You are a good man, Sir Seer. My brother and I are very grateful to have crossed your path.”
Perhaps sensing his discomfort, Lafer walked closer from the sidelines, dragging Dowen by his wrist. “Hey, uh, Kon,” she began, joining his side. “We really need to get back.”
“As do we.” The young woman chuckled awkwardly, exhaling a breath as she quickly took a step back. “Pleasure to meet you! Really!” Knocking her brother in the head, both of them suddenly took off running. Not toward Xol and his departing kin, but away from them and down the empty street. A leather wallet was clutched tightly in the one-armed teen’s fist.
Kon didn’t have to check his pocket to know it was his.
“They stole that, didn’t they?” Dowen asked.
Grumbling, he took off running after the thieves. Lafer blinked, as if lost, as Dowen shouted at Kon’s back.
“Don’t waste your breath! Both of you close your eyes, and I’ll take care of it.”
Kon halted, obeying. He opened himself to his fae’s senses, hearing a powerful - yet not deafening - boom. After a moment, a razor-thin slice of sound cut by him and back. The bag on Dowen’s shoulders rustled as he let out a quiet chuckle.
“Those amateurs are still running. I wonder how long it will take them to realize we took it back.”
Kon opened his eyes to find the wallet pointed directly into his face. He took it gratefully, making sure the rest of his belongings were in his pockets. “Thank you, Dowen. I appreciate it.”
“No bother,” he said, striding down the empty street to resume leading them to the Academy. “I mostly did it to teach those amateurs an important lesson. Rogue’s Rule No. 4: Never take your eyes off the prize.”
Lafer chuckled as she motioned Kon onward. The bright sunlight at the end of the path meant the sun was approaching its peak. Beyond, Vigor’s aura glowed warm and inviting. Kon yawned as he followed, his sleepless night and exhausting morning finally catching up to him.
At the foot of the grassy hill that led up to the emerald castle on a mountain cliff, Kon, Lafer, and Vigor stood watch as Dowen climbed up the windows between two four-story nests, leaping back and forth until he was perched on a curved roof.
“Go on without me!” he yelled down, his gaze on the path to Westwind Academy. “You can see how I get there from above, but don’t make it obvious for the guards that you’re watching!”
Kon and his fae sensed he was honest. “Just be safe! If you fall and get hurt, I don’t know how we’ll get you to Vigor.”
“Don’t worry about me!” the boy shouted, laughing haughtily as he vaulted to the adjacent roof. Clinging to the round top with one arm, he waved them off.
Vigor began climbing the hill first, huffing steam for Kon and Lafer to speak and look around without their faces being seen from above.
“So…” the girl began. “Did you see her?”
It took a moment of straining his mind for Kon to understand. “No,” he replied, frowning. “Did you?”
“I might have peeked,” she whispered, chuckling softly. “She definitely isn’t what I expected.”
“I’m not even sure I should ask. Why did you do that, Lafer? Dowen must conceal his fae for a reason.”
“He says he hides her because it gives him an advantage. Armsmaster Topek agreed it was a valid combat strategy and allowed him to maintain the secret. We are on his side, though, so what’s the harm?”
Kon sighed. Lafer was right that they were Dowen’s allies, but he still would have rather found out by gaining his trust. Unfortunately, starting tomorrow, the boy would be one of his students. With Lili, Ora, and an audience of other young Seers, Kon was certain Dowen would act up for laughs. Unless he stared at him the entire lesson, his fae would be free to play any prank he desired.
“Tell me,” he mumbled, prompting an excited cheer from Lafer.
“It’s honestly a little hilarious,” she babbled, her voice hushed yet loud as she cupped her hands over his right ear. “She glitters like gold and is shaped like a tiny hand, only the fingers are the talons of a bird. She was so fast that if Vigor wasn’t pumping me with adrenaline, I wouldn’t have seen her grab your wallet from the thief's hand.”
Kon nodded intently. When he’d opened his senses, he’d heard Dowen’s fae soar by him. She was undoubtedly fast, but not as fast as sound.
Hovering above his shoulder, Kon’s companion glittered brightly, chiming an uplifting duplet. They'd be able to handle the boy and his fae together.
In silence, Lafer and Kon watched Dowen leap across domed rooftops. Light as he was, he barely rattled their foundation or made a sound, even as he crashed down onto a lower, wider communal nest. As Dowen neared a guard tower built into the hill, he lowered himself down onto windows and jumped his way closer in the shade. Neither of the guards on the platform noticed the boy as he swung on the rungs of their tower’s ladder onto the hill behind them. Unseen from their perch, he quickly scaled up into the cliffs, where he used natural grooves to ascend toward Hazen’s gardens. Sturdy vines had been gathered and wound into a rope for Dowen to climb into his barracks room’s ajar window.
“Wow,” uttered Lafer. “Honestly, that was awesome. I’m not even mad at him for sneaking out.”
“I am,” Kon said. “All it takes is one slip for him to fall and break his neck. I’ll need to figure out a way to make sure he doesn’t leave the Academy without proper supervision again.”
“I’ll tear down the vines, and get Rugged to mold the cliff so it's too rough to climb.”
“That might help for now, but Dowen is clever. I’ll need to give him a reason not to find another way.”
Lafer smiled, her eyes opened wide in curiosity. “What are you thinking?”
“Lili and Ora might not be able to bring Dowen into the Cradle, but surely you and I could, once I get my identification. Right?” The girl nodded, seemingly eager for the chance. “I think Morus would appreciate it too. We could take him to buy his cards for that game and see if Dowen would like to play with him.”
“We can certainly try,” Lafer chuckled. “I’m not sure how willing either of them will be.”
“Dowen’s only a couple years older. Based on my interactions with them, I think they’d make excellent friends.”
“Oh man, Kon. No offense, but you really are old. Morus and Dowen are completely different, and more importantly, they’re prepubescent boys. Trust me when I say that forcing them together won’t mean they’ll easily get along. And that’s not even considering the Lili factor. She’d rather watch him all day in the Academy then let him go into the Cradle with us.”
“We’ll just have to see then,” Kon mumbled. He never thought he would hear Lafer so pessimistic. Her gaze drifted away as her lips pursed in silence. “Are you okay?”
“I am. Just remembered that I have to talk with Saiet.”
“Don’t worry,” rumbled Vigor, stopping and looking back as Lafer and Kon caught up. “I’ll be there with you, in body or spirit.”
“Yeah.” Lafer took a breath as they continued marching on.
They were all close enough to hear Corporal Bola reprimanding Private Stad at the Academy’s half-open gates.
Kon’s hand lingered on the handle of his half-open door. Again, his chamber was unlocked. Instead of sitting on the floor outside, the three missing tomes had been placed back into his shelves. Sighing, Kon locked the door behind him and his fae, then joined her at the desk with Origin of Souls in his hands.
After a short check-in with Lucid and an hour of unpacking and tuning instruments in his new classroom, Lafer had parted with Rugged to remove Dowen’s escape route. He could hear them both shouting below his open window. With a thought, his fae silenced the room. Kon picked up Morus’ study notes and flipped to the relevant pages. He would finish this last tome, eat lunch with his friends, then finally get some rest.
Bright and early tomorrow morning, Kon’s training would finally begin.