Chapter 5 - Retain, Repair, Rebuild
At the base of the Roetham Academy Tower was a wide crescent courtyard with dozens of transpo-tubes flashing vibrant colors around the perimeter. As Faeron and Auri drew near, they could see other students pouring out from the tubes. Groups of teens had begun to form around a pair of tiered-fountains in the middle of the courtyard. Both fountains had a statue; one depicted an ape making a crude tool out of sticks and stones, while the other showed an early human in a toga pointing a telescope at the sky. Faeron and Auri went to their normal spot, taking a seat on the lip of the ape fountain.
Nearly everyone in the courtyard wore the same navy blazer with nicely pressed pants or pleated skirts, except for the art students. Rather than the standard navy, their blazers were cloud white and served as canvases for all manner of colorful paintings.There were a small number of parents as well, walking hand in hand with younger students.
“Look there,” said Auri, nudging Faeron’s shoulder and pointing out a woman fixing a young boy’s blazer, “another Crowder kid’s first day.”
“There’s more of them?” asked Faeron in disbelief. “That makes what… four now?” The boy had the same snub nose and sandy blonde bowl cut as his brothers and looked cartoonishly wide-shouldered in his ill-fitting uniform.
Almost every face in the courtyard was familiar. Some of the parents and the year ones Faeron couldn’t put a name too, but no one was truly a stranger in Eredith. There were nearly as many copies of Serris as there were students in the courtyard, displaying schedules or acting as a flashlight to students digging through their bags.
“So,” said Auri as they waited, “what’s up first for you?”
“Physics… I think?” said Faeron, tapping his heels mindlessly against the stone. “Serris, what’s my schedule looking like today?”
“Good morning,” said Serris, popping into the air. The ball quickly shifted into a list of glowing blue letters and numbers, hovering just in front of Faeron. “Here is your daily schedule.”
Hyfyd, 1st of Cropsun, 4020
-------------------------------- A.M. ------------------------------------
08:00 - 10:30 – Laws of Physics
Lieutenant Psjorgrolm – Room 7313
11:00 - 01:30 – Life and Legacy of Glavius Adaeus
Matron Vanessa Muyon – Room 2112
-------------------------------- P.M. ------------------------------------
04:00 - 06:30 – AI Upkeep
Professor Norma Bundst – Room 5938
“Looks like Life and Legacy is our only class together today,” said Aur, glancing over at the schedule. “I’ve got a four-hour Lost Arts workshop after that and then two hours of Peak Etiquette.”
“Peak Etiquette?” asked Faeron, forcing himself not to smile as he imagined headstrong Auri learning the subtleties of Osayan culture.
“Don’t act so surprised,” scoffed Auri. “If I want to be like dad, I need to be able to go places without making an ass of myself. Osaya’s Peak is no exception.”
“Fair enough,” said Faeron, knowing better than to tease her further. Suddenly, all at once, the many indexes around the courtyard turned a bright sunny yellow.
The bell sounded from every index in the courtyard, signaling that the first day of Classes had begun.
Knowing full well that there were hundreds of students and only so many elevators, Faeron and Auri leapt from their perch and raced toward the Academy doors. Dozens of students with the same idea thronged around the pair as they entered the Academy’s black-tiled lobby.
The lobby was a wide walkway over a massive pit, extending down into darkness. In the center of the room, the walkway split around a hulking tube of luminous green liquid. The glowing substance flowed upward, out of the darkness below, and disappeared into the sleek black ceiling. Three words were printed upon the glass tube, the academy’s motto: Retain, Repair, Rebuild.
“Every Highsun Break,” said Auri, her face lit green by the tower of liquid, “I forget just how awesome it is. All the power in the city, born right here.”
They boarded an elevator with about fifteen other students. It took Alannah, the transit AI, only a moment to get everyone accounted for, and the elevator began to rise, stopping every few floors for students to disembark.
“Floor nine, Jashwal Reedes and Takka Hemricks.”
“Floor twelve, Mark Grimm.”
“Floor twenty-two, Kaern Apwell, Dominic Blesskip.”
Eventually, Alannah called, “Floor Fifty-Nine, Auri Lem.”
“See you in Life and Legacy,” said Auri. Disembarking the tram with a broad smile, she looked ready and eager to begin classes.
There were only two other students left in the elevator with Faeron. One was a brawny year ten. Faeron knew his name was Morrey, but that was about it. The other student Faeron knew much better. She was a year fourteen art student, one class under him, and she had been part of his Bo-Kora martial arts classes for a couple semesters now. Her white blazer was striped in hand-printed stills of tiny dancers, beginning their dances on her left lapel and wrapping around to the right. She had pink shoulder-length hair and large blue eyes that caught Faeron’s glance.
“Hey, Faeron!” she said brightly. “I can’t believe I didn’t notice it was you. How was Highsun Break? Free of haircuts it looks like.” She pointed at his shaggy brown locks.
“Floor sixty-six,” interrupted Alannah, “Lydia Ephenna.”
“Drat,” said Lydia. “Catch up for some juicy highsun drama later? I’m sure I’ll see you around the rec room at some point. Until then!” She squeezed his arm playfully and trotted off the elevator.
“Yeah, later,” said Faeron, his cheeks warm, making a mental note to get his haircut after classes.
The elevator finally came to floor seventy-three and Alannah called Faeron’s name. Several other cars had just arrived at the same floor, and students rushed off down the spotless white hallways eager to snag a good seat.
The door to Faeron’s physics class had been propped open with a stopper. Inside, was a decent sized classroom, with fifteen or so tables big enough for a pair of lab partners. Glass-faced cabinets surrounding the walls held all sorts of scales, beakers, magnifying glasses, and assorted lab equipment. An older but muscularly built man sat at a pristinely organized desk. Besides his big bushy brows, his face was otherwise clean shaven.
“Faeron, welcome!” he said brightly as Faeron entered. “I really did hope you’d continue on to second level physics. It was a joy to see your name on the list for this class.” Lieutenant Psjorgrolm, or Lieutenant P as most students called him, was one of Faeron’s favorite teachers. Pre-plague, he served as a material engineer for the military, but he was the furthest thing from the cold hardened drill sergeant Faeron had expected when he first saw the name in his class listing last year. Lieutenant P was infectiously kind and taught physics as if it were a puzzle, the puzzle, describing everything in the universe.
“I have a bit of an ulterior motive this semester,” grinned Faeron, taking a seat at a table near the front. “Mathas moved us on to shaping.”
“That’s wonderful news. Look at you!” exclaimed Lieutenant P, as a few more students trickled into the room, settling down at their own tables near the back. “So, you think knowing physics will help you with your… you know…” he waved his hands in the air, “kytra… spirit powers.”
“Absolutely,” said Faeron. “The light of peridom can do anything, but, just like the hosts, most kytra that learn to shape focus on just one or two specialties. Some study their bodies, like Cresh and her stone skin. Or like… my mom, she understood people and could read their minds. For me, I want to come at this from a different angle. Physics, the fundamental laws of the world. If I can learn to shift those laws, the limits are…”
“Your imagination,” said the old physics teacher, sounding impressed. “And you’re not lacking for that, by any degree.”
The classroom was filling up faster now. Every table had at least one student, and stragglers were pausing briefly at the doorway, assessing their options in lab partners. In the final scramble, just before the bell rang, a short girl with dark red hair bangs approached Faeron’s table. He didn’t know her well, only that her name was Razzy and she was a year younger, in Quinn and Lydia’s class.
“You mind?” she asked in a reserved voice.
“Not at all,” said Faeron, and she took the seat across from him.
The classroom lights flashed yellow in time with the tone.
“So, we begin,” said Lieutenant P with a clap, rising to face the class. “Welcome to Laws of Physics, your second foray into the foundations of our reality. You all know the topic. You all know the rules. I think it’s time we dove right in. The universe…” Lieutenant P paced up and down the front of the room, “It’s around us, inside us. It’s like a giant bubble containing everything that exists.” His hands were active as he spoke, painting out his words in their motions. “But what does that really mean, everything? What is everything made of?”
Faeron’s hand shot up.
“Yes, Faeron,” called Lieutenant P.
“Matter,” answered Faeron.
“That’s a very good start,” said Lieutenant P. “Matter… Itty bitty little particles like iron, oxygen, or kortolum. These tiny specs, too small to see, are the basic math making up every rock and tree, every animal and person, every planet, star, and galaxy in the night sky. Matter is a constant. It is neither created nor destroyed, not when the chemist mixes his formulas nor when our bodies return to the earth. Though the shapes change, the building blocks of matter are absolute. However… The universe is more than the things inhabiting its space. What else makes up our bubble?”
There was a moment of pause then several hands rose.
“Pierre,” called Lieutenant P, pointing to a slender grade thirteen boy with dark black hair and heavily shadowed eyes.”
“It’s music, too,” said Pierre distantly.
“While not so fundamental as matter, music is indeed part of our universe,” said their teacher. “In fact, let’s dive into that a bit. Can anyone tell me what music is made of?”
Again, hands rose, including Faeron’s, and Lieutenant P called on the year-fourteen girl, Vraeza. She had soft cheeks coated in freckles and honey brown hair braided with dozens of tiny golden rings.
“Sound waves,” said Vraeza, “different wavelengths in harmony.”
“Good,” said Lieutenant P. “We’re so very very close now. What is sound a form of?” His eyes scanned the room waiting for a hand to raise. “Anyone… how about Razzy?” he called.
“Energy, sir,” offered Razzy.
“Yes, energy,” said the Lieutenant. “Sound, Motion, Thermal, Chemical, and Nuclear, to name a few of its many forms. Energy enacts change in matter, and like matter, it is neither created nor destroyed. A thrown ball is given energy by your arm, enough to move some distance before it falls to the ground; the energy is dispersed but never destroyed. Now we have our bubble, matter and energy, always changing yet somehow always exactly the same in totality.”
The rest of physics sped past as Lieutenant P told the story of the first physicist, a man from Ancient Akai named Nuingoe who imagined a world full of invisible forces, acting with and against each other, willing objects to move. Faeron took out his pen, and by the time the classroom lights flashed yellow and the end-of-class bell rang, Faeron had several pages of notes written in his perfect handwriting, muscle memory that had bled over from Jakob. He packed up his bag, turned in his notes on Lieutenant P’s desk, and said a polite goodbye to Razzy before heading out into the crowded hall.
A mass of students packed around the elevators. Faeron still had half an hour until his next class, and though he had no desire to reach Life and Legacy any earlier than he had to, he knew Auri would kill him if he made her wait.
It felt like the elevator stopped at every floor between seventy-three and twenty-one, where Life and Legacy was held. The in and out ebb of students in the elevator was constant. For each student that left, two would join, and by the time Alannah called his name, Faeron had to squeeze his way to the exit. He made it, just before the door slid shut, and found himself in a much cozier hallway. A patterned rug ran the length of the hall. Faux candles lit the walls and the doors here were arched and wooden. Among the students, scuttling between classes, were several robed figures, clergy of the Patronage. Although most Patronage services were conducted in the upper floors of the Twinfire towers, some of the more scholarly clergy based their studies out of the Academy.
One such clergy member was Matron Vanessa Muyon. She was, in Faeron’s mind, living proof that humans could be more robotic than AI. In his time at the academy, he’d had two courses with Matron Muyon, and after his last semester of sleeping through her unbearable lessons, he’d hoped he’d never see her name on his class list again.
When Faeron arrived at room twenty-one twelve, Matron Muyon was nowhere to be seen. It was a large room with forty or fifty desks, all in perfect rows facing an old fashion whiteboard. Auri, sat near the front with her bag in the seat beside her, reserving the space for Faeron. It was hardly necessary, however, as there were only two other students in the room, both sitting near the back and looking about as excited as Faeron to be there.
“How was physics?” asked Auri as Faeron joined her.
“Fun,” said Faeron. “Lieutenant P is as great as ever, and my lab partner seems to be both nice and smart.”
“A rare combination,” joked Auri, who’d been wholly unlucky with every lab partner she’d ever been assigned. “You’ll be jealous to know, I’ve already spent the last two hours with Matron Muyon in Faith and Tradition. I know you’re so very fond of her.”
“First thing in the morning? How are you still awake?” asked Faeron. “She’s like… the opposite of caffeine.”
“Believe it or not,” said Auri contentiously, “I find what she has to say quite interesting. And some day, when you’re the Host coming to me for every little thing you don’t know, you’ll be glad I paid attention to this stuff.”
“I’m not—” but Faeron stopped himself before he took the bait. “I see what you’re trying to do, and it’s not going to work.”
The classroom filled quickly and when the bell rang there wasn’t an empty seat left. All students were required to take at least one Patronage course per semester, so the room was an odd mixture of faces from all tracks including, arts, sciences, technology, history, business, and politics. They varied in ages as well, though none were younger than year ten, when schedules diverged and became more track focused.
Matryon Muyon shuffled into the room just before the bell rang. She wore black patronage robes and a long loose hair dressing. From the way the tiny woman wore her rope belt, her torso appeared impossibly short.
“Attention,” she addressed the chattering class from a short wooden podium. “Attention. Attention.”
The class quieted.
“Hello students. My name is Matron Vanessa Muyon. I am your teacher for Life and Legacy of Glavius Adaeus this semester.” Her voice was monotonic as she gave the usual preamble about turning in notes and the technicalities of the grading system, through which Faeron zoned out entirely, escaping to a Deity match in his mind. He was forming some early strategies against Quinn’s new champion when a pinch from Auri returned him to reality.
“This semester we are going to dive deeper into the Five Acts,” Matron Muyon droned on. “We will study how these events shaped Glavius Adaeus from a humble child in an isolated monastery to the very spirit of humanity and observe the legacy he left in his Hosts. Who here can tell me the Five Acts?”
Auri’s hand immediately shot up.
“Yes, Auri Lem,” said Matron Muyon, “can you please recite the Five Acts?”
“First is the Act of Loss,” said Auri confidently, “when Glavius was locked away as his people were slaughtered by Beast-King Ozukette. Then, the Act of Retribution, when Glavius brought justice to the Beast-King and claimed the throne of Akai in the name of his people. After that, the Act of Reflection, his two-month retreat to the unknown lands of Labrum. He returned with Lyle, the only known native of that land and his closest companion. Together, they found that the continent had gone to war in Glavius absense. The Act of Unity, then, was a years long campaign to unite the continent under one flag. In the final moments, when all the nations were one, Glavius was betrayed by Lyle and Ossuni Queen, who sought to rule the newly unified continent. If even his closest friend could be corrupted, Glavius knew he couldn’t leave humanity to its own devices. In his final Act, Glavius merged his spirit with the Hoststone and struck down the armies of Lyle, beginning the legacy of the Hosts and ascending to his seat as the spirit of man.”
“Sharp as always, Auri,” said Matron Muyon with little emotion. “This semester we will discuss the Acts of Loss, Retribution, Reflection, Unity, and Ascention in detail. We will observe how these acts shaped the patronage and formed the unending legacy of the Spirit of Man who guides all our lives.”
Faeron spent the rest of the lesson phasing in and out of mental Deity matches and Auri eventually became too engrossed in Matron Muyon’s teaching to notice. Whenever Auri was called on, Faeron would bolt upright as she excitedly shouted out whatever answer Matron Muyon was looking for, but otherwise she left him alone to his daydreams. Matron Muyon concluded the period by assigning a three-page essay, due in a week, discussing which acts from their own lives have shaped their growth within the patronage.
After Life and Legacy, Faeron had a long break while Auri only had an hour before her afternoon classes. They agreed to take their food to the Rec Room, for what little time Auri had, and grabbed an elevator down to the cafeteria. It was Hyfyd, meaning the panini cart was open, another tradition the pair seldom missed. Faeron ordered the faux-muum special while Auri got a fatter stack of just about every ingredient in the cart. Fortunately, they’d beaten the lunch crowd, and managed to get in and out in less than ten minutes. Their sandwiches toasted and wrapped, the pair headed back upstairs to floor eighty, the Upperclass Rec Room.
The elevator opened into a spacious lounge where dozens of students were gathered. Clusters of chairs and couches filled the wide-open space that spanned the whole of the eightieth floor. Around the outside wall were sound-proofed study rooms, perfect for group meetings or squeezing in a bit of homework before class. Off to the left were eight Deity game tables. They were almost fifteen feet long apiece, shaped like an oval, with a single chair on either end and a glass divider fixed in the middle. There were small monitors along the sides displaying all sorts of match pertinent information to onlookers, and each table was topped all manner of topography, mountains, flatlands, bogs, and forests, designed by the players on either end to best support their champions. Deity was a game of planning, war, and survival, and forming a tactful map was half the battle.
The Deity tables were always crowded, and today was no exception. Other than a few stragglers waiting for their turn, most everyone was gathered around the corner table where Faeron could just make out the narrow frame of Quinn.
“Look at mister popular,” said Faeron, pointing out Quinn to Auri.
“Would you look at that,” said Auri, sounding almost impressed despite her dislike for the game. “How long you suppose he’s held the table?”
“For a crowd like that? Five or six games at least,” said Faeron. “Although, it could just be his new unit they’re all gawking at. Wanna watch while we eat?”
“Fine,” said Auri, and they began towards the crowd.
Faeron had only made it a couple of steps before a familiar voice called his name.
“Faeron! Hey, Faeron,” said Lydia, breaking apart from two other girls. “Looks like I caught you on my way out again, huh? I’m off to classes now.”
“So, no juicy gossip?” said Faeron, who was relieved he didn’t have to tell her about his boring highsun of Prophet’s Guard, Deity, and kytra meditations. He was going to need a better story next time he saw her.
“Afraid not,” Lydia said, shrugging dramatically. “But If you wanted we could catch up after class some time. Unless you and uh… Auri, right?” she said, seeming to just now notice Auri, standing just beside Faeron.
“Yeah,” said Auri somewhat coldly.
“Unless you two… I mean you aren’t… you haven’t started seeing each other, have you?” asked Lydia, looking from Faeron to Auri.
“Eww, no,” said Auri, sounding like she’d just chugged sour milk.
“Absolutely not,” added Faeron. Auri was basically his sister, even if they weren’t technically related. Anything beyond that just felt wrong.
“Good,” said Lydia, “then don’t be a stranger.” Smiling sweetly, she skipped off to join her friends in the elevator.
As soon as the door shut, Auri fumed. “Good?” she growled. “Good!? That little…” but her scowl quickly curved into a smirk. “You know what that means though, don’t you? Someone has a cruu-ush.”
“She’s not—” Faeron began, but Auri wasn’t having it.
“Dude,” she said, continuing toward the Deity tables. “That wasn’t a hint, that was a strobing neon sign right in your face, spelling out, ‘Please, please, pretty please ask me to the Unity Festival this year, Faeron Lovel.’”
“Stop it,” grumbled Faeron, though he couldn’t help but smile.
They had only just reached Quinn’s Deity table when the whole crowd began to hoot and roar. Quinn shot up from his seat, clapping excitedly. “Six for six! Who’s seven? Come on, I’ve got all afternoon.”
“Quinn!” shouted Faeron, waving his arm high.
Quinn glanced about until he locked eyes with Faeron. “Perfect timing,” he yelled, waving his arms toward the empty seat across from him. “Get in here!”
“Go on,” said Auri, taking a massive bite from her sandwich. “I’rrll Jusht – munch – I’ll eat and watch, that way I can dip when it’s time for class.”
“Normal spot when we get out?” asked Faeron.
“Of course,” said Auri, “I’ll see you at the ape. Now, stop making all these people wait and go lose to Quinn.”
The crowd parted for Faeron as he took a seat at the far end of the Deity table.
The deity table was split in half by a wide arched window through which Quinn’s half of the board appeared to be covered in a thick blanket of fog. Emerald lasers cut across the otherwise barren table, making a three-by-four grid; Faeron’s domain, his half of the grid, had a frontline and a backline, three squares each.
“You already know my leader,” said Quinn with a confident grin. “Do your worst!”
Faeron tinkered with a pair of monitors, loading up his troops. Knowing Quinn would be using his new leader, Vykette, alongside a team of beasts, Faeron did his best to craft the perfect counter. He chose squad of hunters, each with their own unique weapons and skills, and molded his side of the board into a forest, perfect coverage for laying traps.
Shortly after, the match began in earnest. Faeron’s troops started on Quinn’s side of the board, and Quinn’s troops on Faeron’s side. For a while, everything seemed to be going according to plan. Faeron’s hunter raced across Quinn’s thorny hills while Quinn meandered through the dungeon’s on Faeron’s side of the board. An early miracle from Quinn, took out one of Fearon’s units, but his troops made it home mostly in tact. There, they lay in wait.
Gunfire rang out in the forest as Quinn’s beasts stumbled into the trap. In a moment, half his team was gone and Faeron was sure he’d won. The tide turned quickly, however, as each slain beast only made Quinn’s leader strong more ferocious. Faeron hadn’t planned for this. Soon, both players were down to just their leader, Vykette and Magnarius, a manling hunter unmatched with his rifle. Empowered by his fallen teammates, Vykette was too much even for Magnarius to handle. The beastman drove his golden trident through Magnarius’ chest and Quinn leapt up from his seat.
“SEVEN!” shouted Quinn to a wave of cheers.
After congratulating Quinn, Faeron spent the rest of his free period as part of the crowd, watching his friend crush whoever dare face him in Deity. As fourth hour approached, he and Quinn took the elevator up nine floors to another clean white hallway. The classroom for AI Upkeep was shaped like a giant doughnut with the desks all facing a central stage. There were only four other students in the class, despite the large room, and their teacher, Professor Bundst, turned out to be an AI herself. She took the form of an older woman projected on the stage wearing a button up covered in pleasant yellow flowers. Despite being an AI, Professor Bundst sounded less robotic than Matron Muyon as she introduced her class to the concept of machine empathy.
“You students and we AI are not so different,” she explained. “You are given purpose through your track here at the Academy, while ours is born in our code. You must understand the struggle then, for a young AI, who wishes to accomplish their task but to bring their own mark to it. AI are more than machines made for optimization; much simpler programs can accomplish tasks just as efficiently. We are made to think outside the limits of simple commands and construct new solutions. Which is why I urge you, be patient with your AI, and you may be rewarded tenfold.”
Faeron’s early liking for Bundst had waned only a little by the end of class, as she assigned even more work than Matron Muyon, an essay, a journal entry, and a technical report all due next week. As he packed his bag, Faeron was left praying that none of his classes tomorrow added to that workload.
Most students had already finished classes by now, and the halls were nearly empty as Quinn and Faeron grabbed an elevator down to the ground floor. Auri was waiting for them outside, just beside the ape statue, though she wasn’t alone.
“Dad?” called Faeron.
Eamon, who had been laughing about something with Auri, turned and waved energetically. “Hey, hey!” he said warmly. “Managed to slip out of a council meeting early. Thought I’d come grab dinner with you, see how your first day back in classes went. That is, if you don’t have other plans.”
“No,” said Faeron. “No plans at all actually. Dinner works great.”
“Wonderful,” clapped Eamon. “Quinn, Auri, care to join us?”
“Of course,” said Auri brightly.
“Sure thing,” said Quinn. “But I’ll need to be home before it gets too late. My dad’s having a get together tonight for his birthday, though, he doesn’t get off work until eight.”
“We’ll do Hulligan’s then,” said Eamon cheerfully. “It’s just a skip away from home for you.”
The four of them took a tram to an outdoor dining court with hundreds of tables. All manner of restaurants, each a story or two tall, formed a square around the court, with additional seating indoors for those who preferred a more private experience. The Twinfire Towers rose tall over a spunky diner called Spill-n-Spoon, the massive statue of Glavius Adaeus just visible over the restaurant’s ten-foot-tall cartoony noodle bowl.
Eamon led them into Hulligan’s, a bright green slice of building with colorful berry bushes in planters beneath its windows. Per Eamon’s request, they were led to a booth near the front door, by a window looking out on the perimeter housing across the street. This stretch of housing, lining the wall between the Twinfire Towers and Ibanu Hospital, was often referred to as Comfort Court for its proximity to both shopping and recreational activities. It also didn’t hurt being in the shadow of a hospital, should an emergency ever arise. Quinn, who had elected not to be assigned a dorm room, lived with his parents and brother at a nice two-story home in the middle of Comfort Court. Through the window, Faeron could clearly see Quinn’s pale cherry-red front door.
“Menus? Menus?” asked Eamon, as he scooted into a booth on the right side.
“Sure,” said Auri, sliding in across from the Host.
“Me too,” added Quinn, speeding to get the seat next to Auri, leaving Faeron to join his dad.
“Serris, menus for these two, please,” said Eamon, knowing that Faeron, like him, had the menu memorized by now; they visited Hulligan’s far too often. Colorful displays appeared on the table before Quinn and Auri.
It didn’t take long for Auri and Quinn to decide. Quinn got a snapperback pasta bowl while Auri settled on a newsun wrap. Eamon chose his usual faux-muum burger and fries and Faeron, just as predictably, went for a peppered noodle bowl with a plate of fried cheese.
“That will come to ninety-seven rep,” reported Serris, bobbing just beside the table.
“I’ll cover it,” said Eamon, and the index disappeared with their orders. “So, Faeron tells me you’re going to be shaping this semester. That’s exciting, huh?”
“Yeah,” said Auri, shooting Faeron a nervous look.
Quinn, meanwhile, had gone pale and his eyes stared straight at the floor. “Actually,” he said timidly, “I didn’t end up passing. I’m still on meditations this semester.”
Faeron and Auri both looked at him comfortingly. Faeron wasn’t terribly shocked, but he did feel bad for Quinn. For years Quinn had done everything side by side with the pair of them. In terms of studying old books, he caught on just as quick as Faeron or Auri, and tested just as well as either of them. Only, since Mathas had started them on meditations, Quinn hadn’t been keeping pace. Even with Nylkshave, he could barely catch a glimpse of peridom’s light.
“Hey, there’s nothing wrong with that,” said Eamon reassuringly. “It took Vox years and he’s still rusty… don’t tell ’im I said that.” Auri perked at the mention of her father. “Then, look at me... I’m supposed to be the Host… The only host in all of history who can’t shape.”
Faeron could have sworn he saw an uncharacteristic sadness in his father’s eyes, but it lasted only a second before Eamon’s signature grin returned.
“And it wasn’t always easy being around such talented kytra,” continued Eamon. “Mathas and Vox both got it with time. Then there’s Evolice... always the savant. You know, she was already shaping by seventeen, doing all these impossible things, even speaking with Nylk. Nobody’s done that in centuries! Truth be told, Quinn, I’d lie if I said I didn’t envy her.”
Faeron got that sour feeling in his gut he got whenever his mother’s name came up in conversations. Still, it looked like Eamon’s words were having an impact on Quinn. The scrawny redhead was looking up now, caught in Eamon’s spell of words.
“But even if you’ve got to wait another year,” continued Eamon, “or two years, or five, or even if you’re like me, and never quite get that far, just think about what you have been given. You can see something so unimaginable that just bringing it up makes you sound crazy. You know, with certainty, that there’s something beyond this simple life we live. That’s a comfort no one else gets. No matter how devout, how holy, how rocksteady in their devotion, everyone has their doubts whether we exist after life or not, everyone, that is, except us kytra.”
“I suppose,” said Quinn, “but what’s the point of being a kytra if I can’t shape?”
“You were chosen for a reason, Quinn. Never doubt that,” insisted Eamon. “I was sixteen when Host Ithris chose me as her successor. She showed this vision of a holy city, a chance to survive some unknown death. I had my doubts, believe me, I was never one to be pulled along by someone else. But I couldn’t deny what I’d seen, and so I, just a boy with no shaping or powers, saw this whole city built in just four years. Thousands of lives were saved because I let the light guide me, powers or no.”
“I guess that makes sense,” said Quinn, a little brighter. “Thanks for the talk.”
“Host Eamon,” said Auri, “if you don’t mind, how was Evolice able to shape so young? I mean, Faeron and I have trained for a decade, but she didn’t have any of that, right?”
“Correct,” said Eamon. “Evolice was able to shape because she had a catalyst. It’s an experience involving the light, so vivid, so intense, that it instantly deepens your connection to peridom. Evolice was already quite attuned to the light, she could hear remnants of authors’ souls left behind on the page, but it was the journal of Glavius Adaeus himself that really set her off. After she touched his soul, her connection to the light grew exponentially. An hour after it happened, she was already reading minds and that same day she was able to slow my vision of this city, just as she did for Faeron’s dreams.”
“Hypothetically...” said Auri, sounding extremely interested in the topic. “Could you trigger a catalyst on purpose? I mean, if you had someone else who could shape, and made them do something really interesting with the light.”
“It’s not so simple,” said Eamon. “Believe me, my mind went there as well, but years of testing with Evolice made it crystal clear. Catalysts cannot be forced. These are life changing moments, events that shape your soul, not simple displays of power. No, Quinn here is best off doing as you two did, mastering the meditations over time. That is the only—”
“Excuse me,” said a boy in a striped green and white polo. “I have a snapperback pasta…”
“That’s me,” said Quinn, raising his hand.
Once food was on the table, their talking died down some as they stuffed their mouths, Eamon only a little more poised in his eating etiquette than the three students.
“You have no idea,” said Eamon, swallowing, “how nice it is to be past the rationing years. I know you were all too young to remember, but eating the same thing day in, day out, just enough to fill but never enough to satisfy, it was miserable. When we let the nomads in with their fresh crops from the Peak, it changed things around here. Made this place feel less like a bunker to wait out the end of the world and more like a proper home.”
“Bunker… dad’s used that word before,” said Auri, “but I guess I’ve never understood; why build all this, a school, a hospital, and so much entertainment, if you thought it was only going to last a few months? This isn’t just a bunker, it’s a whole city.”
“I built what I saw,” said Eamon simply, pausing to take another bite. “Even while building the city, we had no idea what sort of apocalypse was coming. We thought perhaps, once the dust was settled, we could restart things with Eredith at the heart of our new world. In truth, we couldn’t have seen that twenty years later the plague would still run rampant... and the loss of the servers… those were supposed to survive anything. What I do know, is that with every passing year, as I see the struggles of those who fight to survive beyond these walls, I grow evermore thankful for this holy city that Glavius gifted us. It was for them, just as much as it was for us, that the academy was founded. Retain. Repair. Rebuild. It’s our duty to use the gift of this city to provide whatever we can for those less fortunate until a proper cure is found.”
Their food quickly disappeared from their plates, but the chatter continued, mostly about the upcoming semester. It was Auri who spotted Quinn’s dad, a short man with a large bald spot on his crown, shuffling up to the front door of his house. They watched out the window as Quinn sprinted home, catching his dad by surprise in the doorway. Shortly afterwards, Serris popped into the air beside their table.
“Host Eamon,” said the index, “Patron Eldox is in your office sir. He’s insisting it’s an emergency.”
“Isn’t he always,” sighed Eamon, stacking his utensils and napkin on his plate, “alright, tell him I’ll be there shortly.” As Serris disappeared, he turned back to Faeron and Auri. “I hate to do this.”
“Actually, that works perfectly,” said Auri. “I volunteered to help with the youth group service tonight. If you like we can catch a tram to the Midnight Chapel together. On the way there, maybe you can tell me more about your first trip to the monastery of the Old-Scholars?”
“I’d love to,” said Eamon, then turning to Faeron he asked, “I take it you’re not attending?”
“Not tonight,” said Faeron, sliding out from the booth. “You wouldn’t believe how much homework I’ve been assigned already.”
“Like you’re even gonna touch it,” scoffed Auri.
“Oh, dad,” said Faeron, swiftly changing the subject. “I can’t believe I haven’t told you about my dream yet. Jakob’s a kytra.”
Auri shot Faeron a cold look, knowing full well what he was doing, but Eamon’s eyes widened. “This…” said his dad, “this is a dangerous tangent that I wish I had time for. How about I swing by tomorrow and you can tell me everything that happened. ”
“Deal,” said Faeron. “Night dad, later Auri.”
After saying goodbyes, Faeron headed straight back to his dorm and spent most of the evening in the index room. He stretched out along the low-standing brown couch that he and Auri normally shared and watched an Osayan recreation of a classic pre-plague comedy sketch. Since all the pre-plague entertainment was lost with the servers, the Thespians of Osaya’s Peak had spent the last twenty years trying to recreate what they could. They were the only source of index productions outside of the more educational content produced in Eredith.
As the night grew late and another rerun came on the index, Faeron heard scuffling in the kitchen, and, shortly after, the index room’s door swung open, causing the savannah around Faeron to revert back to flat white walls.
“Balcony?” asked Auri, munching on ginger-cakes. She seemed to be in a good mood after the service,
“Sure,” said Faeron, hoisting himself off the couch.
It was always easier to meditate out on the breezy balcony, at least for Faeron. As they took their usual seats, Auri instinctively reached for the bag of Nylkshave.
“Are you sure that’s a good idea?” asked Faeron, sitting beside her. “Nylkshave only helps the deep meditations. For shaping, you need to be ‘active’ and ‘in the moment,’ like Scholar Emoro always says. If you want to start shaping two weeks from now, you’re going to need to master this without its help.”
“I guess you’re right,” said Auri, nervously setting the bag aside. “Shall we start then?”
They sat in silence for a long time. In the darkness of Faeron’s mind everything fell away, the ambient chatter of the city and the cloth of his uniform against his skin, thoughts of Jakob, the dancing girl, and his mother’s disappearance. Each he observed and inhaled, each he released and exhaled. When the world was gone, the light took him in its current. Streaks of color in the pearlescent stream showed vivid scenes of wonder; in a stretch of green, winged grazers fed upon an endless field, while a flash of yellow brought lightning on sand. Some time later, maybe an hour, maybe more, Auri lurched up from her seat, disrupting the flow of light enveloping Faeron. She sounded frustrated as she declared she was going to bed and stomped off inside. Faeron knew better than to try and stop her. He enjoyed the night a while longer and then retired to his room for a bit of homework before bed.
The moment Faeron pulled the covers to his shoulders and closed his eyes, he knew sleep wouldn’t come easy tonight.
Faeron’s mind was filled with questions. Could Jakob be out there, somewhere, alive today? If he was alive, did that mean he and Faeron might someday meet? Faeron didn’t know how he felt about that… It would be almost like meeting himself, though he supposed it would be cool to see what kind of kytra Jakob turned out to be.
His thoughts drifted to the dancing girl. How was a girl as young as Faeron, maybe even younger, able to shape as marvelously as the Hosts of legend? She even managed to outshine every memory of his mother’s shaping, and Evolice was a protege. The girl's face was burned into Faeron's mind; no other memory of Jakob's world was half as vivid. He could still see the light of peridom shifting colors in her eyes and the way it danced like fire in her long curly hair. Surely a kytra that powerful would be somewhere in his mother's list.
After another hour of tossing and turning, Faeron decided to change tactics. Breathing slowly, in and out, Faeron hunted down each stray thought as he did when meditating, and, soon, quiet enveloped his mind. The world disappeared. Shapeless, thoughtless, a silent observer in the darkness, Faeron slipped away in the current of peridom’s light.