Chapter 10 - The Power of Passion
Sweat beaded down Faeron’s brow as he parried a series of blows left-right-left.
“Actually,” he panted, “I was there.”
Lydia, his sparring partner, paused. Her short pink hair was tied back in a ponytail and her skin glistened with sweat. Here, her status as an art student was less apparent, as she wore the same white sparring robes as Faeron. “You saw the Forgeworks flame go out!?”
“Between us...” said Faeron, lowering his voice. “It was kytra related.”
“You mean you—” Lydia cut short with a gasp, looking past Faeron. In the mirrored-wall behind her, Faeron could see the reflection of Saitum stalking toward them, a judging glare in her eyes. Marching up to Lydia, Saitum pointed across the mats to her previous sparring partner, a year-eleven girl now standing alone.
“Okay!” said Lydia, understanding instantly. With a wave to Faeron, she ran off to practice with the girl.
Saitum took Lydia’s spot and raised her fists.
“Hold, you two… just a moment!” Bennehym hobbled across the mats toward Saitum and Faeron. As always, the aged scholar wore a friendly smile beneath his long braided beard. “Kel Bora…” he said, and a look of recognition swept across his daughter’s face, “the waking meditation, as we call it today. Mathas tells me you have conquered the basics.”
“Enough for him to let me shape,” said Faeron proudly as his heart still pounded from the workout.
“Well,” said Bennehym, “may I see it?”
“Of course,” said Faeron, glancing over to where Lydia was trading blows with the year-eleven. When he was certain she wasn’t watching, he closed his eyes. Faeron’s body thirsted for oxygen but he forced himself to breathe long slow breaths. His brow cooled, his muscles numbed, and the sounds of the sparring room died away as he hunted down each thought. When Faeron’s mind was silent, the light of Peridom appeared. Like a far off tram on a starless night, the distant light drew nearer, and as it approached, it shone ever brighter. It grew into a brilliant pearlescent wave and swallowed Faeron in its shimmering current. For a moment, he was carried in its streaking colors.
Open your eyes, he told himself. Blinking, Faeron returned to reality, but the mats, mirrors, benches, lockers, and every other surface of the sparring room now shimmered softly like the wave of light.
Bennehym eyed him for a moment. “I may not witness the light as the kytra do, but that look of yours I know,” he said, proudly, “distant… only here in part. Your mother, Vox, Mathas, they all wore it the same.” Then, without warning, he raised his cane and struck Faeron sharply on the arm.
“Ow!” cried Faeron, as the light of peridom vanished from the room. “What was that for?”
“Your connection to the light is as fragile as it is powerful,” said Bennehym. “To master your craft, you must harden your psyche, learn to ignore pain and emotion alike.”
“How am I supposed to not feel pain?” asked Faeron, rubbing his sore arm.
“My grandpapa told stories of the Arborals,” said Bennehym, “kytra protectors of the Nylkwood and the Monastery of the Old Scholars. It was said that the Arborals would maintain Kel Bora throughout their daily routines, even whilst training in Bo Kora. By this practice, the Arborals were able to wield the light in hunts and, when need be, in battle.”
“I thought the Old Scholars were a peaceful people. They had warriors?” asked Faeron. Their conversation had begun to draw curious eyes and no doubt ears.
“Peaceful and isolated a people as they were, the Old-Scholars were also well protected,” said Bennehym. “Nylk’s forest was a formidable defense for my ancestors, but even the Old-Spirit is not without limits. Just as Host Cresh brought the Old-Spirit Rhun to heel, Nylk was, on occasion, subject to the ploys of men. The Arborals were those kytra who learned to hear her voice and act upon her will.
“All this to say… you want me to meditate while I spar?” concluded Faeron.
“Every day,” confirmed Bennehym, “now, and so long as you practice this art.”
“Can’t promise I’ll be dodging blows, but I can try,” said Faeron. Once again, he cleared his mind. When his connection to peridom was restored, he opened his eyes and turned to face Saitum. The light cast an aura about her, as if radiating through her dark skin. “Go ahead.”
Saitum was lightning quick. Faeron hardly had a second to ready himself as her fist crashed into his awkward block. The strike was followed by three more in quick succession. Each hit hammered back the light, and, within seconds, Faeron’s connection to peridom was gone.
“Hold on,” he said, and her assault relented. “The light. I need to get it back.”
Once again, Faeron performed the waking meditation as Bennehym and Saitum watched. “You know,” he said, opening his eyes, “maybe I should start with someone a little easier.”
“Until you can return a blow in meditation, you won’t offer much experience to your classmates,” said Bennehym, “Saitum will do well enough for now. She’ll just have to hold back a little bit.”
“Maybe more than a little bit,” mumbled Faeron.
From the fiery smile on Saitum’s face, Faeron doubted she’d hold back much.
By the time the bell rang, Faeron’s arms were red and sore from Saitum’s onslaught. In the hour he had left, he never once managed to block more than a punch or two before losing his connection. Of course, his half absent blocks didn’t help.
“Faeron!” called Lydia as he exited the locker room in his academy blazer. Her pink hair fell about the shoulders of her white printed jacket. “Alright, you’ve got a couple minutes,” she said, running over to him, “here to the elevator… what exactly happened last night at Forgeworks?”
“This stays between us,” said Faeron, quietly.
She nodded, her cheeks red as they often were after a long class of sparring.
“Crazy enough,” said Faeron, “it all started with a game of Deity…” As they left the classroom and made for the elevators at the end of the hall, Faeron filled her in on all the events of last night, from discovering Caidus was the nomad champion to the confrontation in front of Forgeworks.
“That’s…” Lydia seemed lost for words. She stood in front of the elevator, looking awestruck at Faeron. “I never imagined either of you would have that kind of power. I don’t know if I should be scared or impressed.”
“Hey, I can barely catch a ball out of the air,” laughed Faeron. “Besides, it was an accident. Even Auri has no clue how she did it.”
“Kinda makes it scarier…” said Lydia, “though… really puts it in perspective. If that’s an accident, imagine what you can do once you master your art.”
Suddenly, a bright blue ball of light appeared, bobbing up and down in the empty space between them.
“Apologies for interrupting,” said Serris warmly. “Faeron, you have a call from Auri Lem.”
“Go ahead,” said Faeron, noticing Lydia’s eyes slant at Auri’s name.
The index expanded until it shaped itself into a perfect image of Auri wearing a Deity-themed sweatshirt and long black pants.
“Hey,” said Auri. “Come up to study room fourteen. It’s about last night. I think I’m onto something.”
“Be right there,” said Faeron, and Auri disappeared. Turning back to Lydia, Faeron smiled, “Looks like I’ll be riding up with you today… for a few floors at least.”
As if on cue, the elevator doors slid open and Alannah announced, “Going up.”
There were only five other students in the spacious elevator, but Faeron and Lydia huddled close in the corner, continuing their conversation in whispers. The floral scent of the dancer’s perfume masked the workout they’d both just endured.
“You know, Faeron,” whispered Lydia, her arm pressed to his, their hands inches apart, “someday, when you’re off saving the world, I’m gonna get a kick telling people I knew you back when you were a regular ol’ scruffy headed teen.”
“Won’t have to tell ’em anything if we’re still hanging out together,” suggested Faeron, a funny fluttering settling in his chest.
“Yeah,” said Lydia, “I like the sound of that.”
“Floor sixty-six, Lydia Ephenna,” called Alannah.
“Hey, before I go…” said Lydia. “I haven’t forgotten my promise. Just a few weeks left in this show and then I’ll have time to visit the Athenaeum, I swear!”
“That was a promise?” whispered Faeron, his chest tight.
“Wasn’t it?” teased Lylliana. “Well… it is now.”
“Floor sixty-six, Lydia Ephenna,” called Alannah again.
“See you tomorrow,” Lydia slipped from the tram, and Faeron watched her skip down the hall until the doors shut tight and the elevator once again began to rise.
Faeron got off the elevator on floor eighty, stepping into a mostly empty Rec Room. The Deity tables were vacant, though several of the study rooms around the perimeter of the open area were lit up, including number 14. Through the window, Faeron could see Auri studying a projection on a wide square table.
Striding across the quiet open space and past the deity tables, Faeron knocked on the door. Through the window, he saw Auri beckon him inside.
The back wall was a window ceiling to floor, looking out on a wide stretch of the northern wall. Far across the city was the nature reserve tower and, at its peak, the statue of Host Sombara standing among tall stalks of corn. Inside the study room, Auri was leaning over a projection of a desert keep rising out of a low square table.
“You recognize this?” asked Auri as Faeron entered the cozy study space.
“That’s the keep from Prophet’s Guard, right?” said Faeron, “From the Cresh challenge a couple weeks back.”
“Exactly,” said Auri. “Sit. Look.”
Faeron sunk into a stool across the table. “Look at what, exactly?”
On the table he saw the familiar battlefield. Soldiers flooded Cresh, but the Warrior Host was undaunted. Not yielding a single step, Cresh held fast against an onslaught of arrows and blades, slamming any soldier foolish enough to come within range of her stony fists.
“She doesn’t look calm, does she?” asked Auri as she watched the Warrior Host, a look of admiration in her bronze eyes.
“No,” said Faeron, “it’s a war, after all. I wouldn’t expect her to be calm.”
“But then how is she shaping?” asked Auri, looking up at Faeron directly. He could tell from her glare that this was about more than just Host Cresh.
“In class today,” offered Faeron, “Bennehym told me about the Arborals—”
“Using the waking meditation in combat, I know,” said Auri. “He came by my Aur Poro class earlier. This isn’t that, though. Cresh is doing more than just ignoring pain and distractions. In fact, it looks like she’s doing just the opposite. Watch her…”
Cresh leaped into a pack of shielded foes, bashing them a dozen feet across the sands. With each swing her golden eyes flared brilliantly.
“She’s embracing her emotion,” said Auri, “shaping with it!”
“Like you… last night,” said Faeron, knowing exactly where she was going with this.
“Think about it,” said Auri, “it makes perfect sense. I was in a bad mood to start, then those idiots in the park… they… they just… pushed me over the edge. There was no thought or reason to it… I didn’t even see the flame burst. My mind went blank, and when I came to, everything was dark.”
“It could explain how you’ve been fighting back the crimson,” offered Faeron.
“I was thinking that, too,” grinned Auri. Her eyes flicked to the window, scanning the empty rec room. “So,” she said mischievously, “wanna try it?”
“Shaping?” asked Faeron.
“No dummy,” scoffed Auri, “just meditating, of course. But… just in case, we should probably do it out there.” She pointed to the door.
They scampered out into the vacant Rec Room and stood opposite each other in a spacious area beyond the deity tables.
“So, you just need to lose control, right?” asked Faeron.
“No… not control… just…” Auri squeezed her eyes shut and clenched her fists at her sides.
“Just what?” asked Faeron.
Auri breathed faster, her chest rising and falling rapidly as she gulped down air.
“Are you sure that’s a good idea?” asked Faeron, watching her hyperventilate.
She ignored him, her breathing only growing sharper, faster. Her brow wrinkled, her lip curled menacing, and her fists clenched so tight they’d begun to shake.
“You’re gonna pass out if you keep that up.”
“IT HAS TO WORK!” she screamed. Auri’s eyes shot open, her irises ablaze with brilliant bronze light. The wild light in her eyes was every bit as brilliant as that of the hosts or the dancing girl from Faeron’s dreams. Before Faeron could find words to express his awe, the light dimmed and disappeared from her eyes. Auri teetered backward, collapsing onto a nearby canvas bench.
“You okay?” asked Faeron, stepping to her aid.
“Yeah… I think,” she panted, waving him away. “We…” she took a moment to breathe, “we need to go tell Mathas.”
“Absolutely,” agreed Faeron.
The end of day bustle meant the elevator was packed to the brink, and throngs of students littered the two blocks between the Academy Tower and Mathas’ Athenaeum.
With homework and research projects on the rise, the Athenaeum steps were crowded tonight. Auri and Faeron had to fight their way up the stairs to the wooden double doors. A steady trickle of students shuffled back and forth between the halls on either side of the lobby as they perused the shelves beyond.
“Suppose Mathas is getting the workshop ready?” asked Auri softly.
“Let’s see,” said Faeron. He crossed the lobby to the classroom door and tugged hard. It was locked. Lightly, Faeron knocked.
When there was no reply for several minutes, Faeron knocked a second time. “Give it another minute,” he said.
A soft humming sound filled the quiet space as the elevator descended from the floor above.
“Faeron, look!” said Auri.
Faeron turned to see the unmistakable hooded figure of Caidus Proud riding down the glass tube. When the elevator stopped he swept across the foyer and joined them at the door. Beneath his shadowed hood, Caidus’ grin was an odd mixture of human and capillum features.
“You,” he said, pointing at Auri. “You scare me… you know that?”
“Good,” Auri beamed back. “You get home alright?”
“Nope, died twice on the way back,” said Caidus. “Heard you knocking. Looking for Mathas?”
“Yeah,” said Faeron. “We have to tell him something very important.”
“’Bout last night?” asked Caidus.
“Yeah,” said Auri. “We know why the flame—”
“Not here,” interrupted Caidus. “Up in his office.”
“Sure,” said Faeron, and the three of them boarded the elevator.
As they rose to the second floor reading room, Caidus pulled his hood down further. The room was busier than the lobby downstairs. Students of all ages were gathered around a squat table, whispering to each other as they studied from large tomes, and a few older regulars spotted the few remaining chairs.
Caidus led Faeron and Auri down the southern corridor, the afternoon sun through the colored windows painting the half-capillum’s hood like a canvas. In the small reading room at the end of the hall, a group of younger students sat in a circle, all reading the same book. As Mathas unlocked the door to his office, one of them spotted Faeron and Auri behind him.
“Ooh!” he announced. “They’re in trouble!”
Mathas turned to the boy and raised a finger to his lip. “Quiet,” he whispered, then led Faeron and the others inside.
The scent of paint greeted Faeron as he entered the familiar room with fantastical canvases hanging all across the walls. Mathas, dressed in an apron, was washing off a brush in a small metal sink beside his easel where his most recent painting sat uncovered. The canvas featured a dead black backdrop and a creature, much like an elk, lit in the blue glow of its wide fanning antlers.
“Woah,” said Auri, catching sight of the painting. “Is that real? In Roana?”
“At’ll be a kelvoa,” said Caidus.
“A what?” asked Faeron.
“Inhabitants of Roana’s lightless forest floors,” said Mathas, placing a cup of clean brushes into a glass-faced cabinet. “While predators evolved to hunt on sound, not sight, the kelvoa instead adapted their luminous antlers.” He tightened the paint lids and lined the jars up orderly on the middle shelf. “From the treetop residences of Gau, they appeared like stars in the void of the forest below.”
“Speaking of luminous,” interjected Caidus, “can I politely ask… what in the world happened last night? Not to change the subject, but I’ve never seen anything like that, even here in your paradise city. It was like you popped off and the flame went wild… What was it? Some kind of brain scanner tuned to the fire?”
“No, nothing like that…” said Auri, “but it’s actually why we came… only…” she looked at Caidus, a bit sheepishly, “it’s a private thing.”
“Didn’t seem very private last night,” pointed out Caidus.
“Caidus would be happy to give us the room,” said Mathas, looking at Caidus pointedly. “Whatever makes you feel comfortable, Miss Lem.”
“Wait… Lem?” asked Caidus. “Lem like… Vox Lem!?”
“You know my dad?” asked Auri.
“Who doesn’t?” asked Caidus. “He’s the reason the Roane trade routes exist. Seeing as we’re the only crew with an alca, he’s hitched a ride with us more times than I can count. At least as far as Port Korva”
“You’ve traveled with Dad!?” said Auri, looking awed. Any nervousness she had was shed in that instant as her normal bravado returned. “Well… if he trusts you then so do I! It wasn’t any kind of tech that made the fire go out… it was emotion.”
“Emotion?” asked Caidus skeptically.
Mathas locked the cabinet and turned with a look of intrigue.
“I got fed up, like you said,” Auri began, “and then I shaped. I didn’t mean to… I wasn’t in control then, but I’ve figured it out now.”
“I don’t understand what any of that meant,” said Caidus.
“You can repeat this?” asked Mathas, ignoring Caidus’ comments.
“Not the shaping, not yet” said Auri, “but I can do the waking meditation.”
“It’s more than that,” piped Faeron. “When she does it, her eyes burst with flames like the Hosts.”
“What are you on about?” asked Caidus. “I didn’t see no fire eyes.”
“It’s not something you would have seen,” said Mathas, “but it is quite the development. To make any sense of it, I’ll need to see it for myself. Let’s move this conversation to the workshop.”
“Well, this is goodnight for me then,” said Caidus. “I really should be on my way before I’m locked in. You all have fun with your magic fire eyes now.” He retrieved a large backpack from behind Mathas’ desk and slung it over one shoulder.
Caidus rode the elevator with the rest of them and said goodbyes in the foyer.
“Later, Caidus,” said Faeron.
“Yeah, try not to die any more times on the way out,” said Auri.
“I’ll do my best,” said Caidus, pulling up his hood. He hoisted open the broad front doors, and, with an animated wave, strode out into the evening-lit park.
When the doors shut, Mathas retrieved the key to the classroom from his pocket and led the pair straight back to the workshop.
“Serris, can you get the lights?” asked Mathas as he strode into the dark workshop. The lights flickered on and Faeron followed to find the workshop looking exactly as it had the day before.
“A quick clarification,” said Mathas as he ambled toward the mats, “Faeron, you said her eyes appeared aflame, like those of the Hosts. Do you mean to say they were gold in color?”
“I wouldn’t say gold, exactly…” said Faeron. “It was just like how they show in Prophet’s Guard, but more bronze, like her eyes normally!”
“I’d have to see to know…,” mumbled Mathas, seemingly to himself.” Perking up, he said, “Auri, would you mind if I invited Bennehym and Eamon to join us by index?”
“Not at all,” said Auri. “They both should know.”
“Serris,” said Mathas, “could you summon them please?”
“Just one moment,” said Serris. Two bright blue balls of light popped into the air and began to pulse lightly as they followed alongside the kytra.
Reaching the mats, one of the two index lights began to expand until it took the form of Faeron’s father.
“Evening all,” grinned Eamon, standing in perfect detail beside them. “Perfect timing on your part. I just finished up for the night.”
The second index light expanded as well and Bennehym took form.
“So many kytra,” said Bennehym, sounding a bit taken aback as he looked between Faeron and the others. “I’m honored to be in the presence of such old souls. How may I assist you tonight?”
“We have a unique situation that might benefit from your wisdom,” said Mathas. “Auri, it’s your show from here.”
“Alright,” she said, “where to start…” Once again, Faeron and Auri gave a summary of their night, each piping in to ensure neither missed a single detail. Aur then recounted her afternoon revelation and her breakthrough with Faeron in the Rec Room. “Having done it myself…” she said, “it’s so obvious now when I watch Cresh that she did the same thing… shaping with emotion, with passion. I can show you.”
Auri stepped back on the mats and closed her eyes. Once again, her breathing quickened. Fists clenched, brow furrowed, Auri wore a look of pain.
“Miss Lem—” began Mathas.
“I’m fine,” she barked between sharp breaths. Auri was clearly mumbling something under her breath, but Faeron couldn’t make out any words. With a stomp, Auri’s eyes shot open, her irises alight with brilliant bronze flames.
“Incredible,” gasped Mathas.
The spectacle ended and Auri stumbled. This time, Faeron was prepared, and he dashed forward, catching her arm.
“You good?” he asked.
“You saw it, right?” said Auri, pulling her arm free.
Faeron grinned and nodded.
Her face lit up, though he could see tears still running down her cheeks.
“Don’t gawk,” she hissed. “I don’t cry. You saw nothing.”
“I know the color won’t transmit,” said Mathas, looking to Eamon. “But did you see the blur?”
“Serris, can you replay that bit, slower,” said Eamon, squinting off toward the empty space beside him.”
“Blur?” asked Faeron.
“When recorded by index,” said Mathas, “peridom’s light won’t appear in color, but it will leave a mark, a slight blurring.”
“I can see it now,” said Eamon, eyes squinted at something on his end. “A shimmer in her eyes. Is it… like mine should have been?”
“There’s no guaranteeing the accuracy of our modern portrayals,” said Mathas, “but the color is not what I’d expect of the Hosts. In paintings, we’ve always seen a consistently vivid gold. This is darker… more of a bronze.”
“Is it because she shaped with passion?” asked Faeron. “The girl from my dreams certainly seemed passionate in her dance, and her eyes glowed in every color imaginable.”
“In a song, passed down through my family, there is a word,” stated Bennehym, “Ellueffi. The verse goes, ‘Ellueffi, eyes of wisdom, burning bright, oh elder soul.’ Until now, I had thought Ellueffi to be a name. But, given the circumstances, I wonder if it isn’t something else… perhaps a state of meditation.”
“We still can’t rule out any possibilities surrounding Glavius and the Hosts,” said Eamon. “There’s no telling what to expect now that the Hoststone is gone.”
“Until we have more evidence to point to the Hosts,” said Mathas, “I’m inclined to believe we should explore this passion shaping.”
“Really?” said Auri, who’s breathing had slowed. She was beaming.
“Every text that Evolice translated tells us that serenity is the path to shaping,” said Bennehym, “but we still know so very little. I agree it must be explored.”
“Then it’s decided,” said Mathas. “We’ll begin tomorrow. Auri, Faeron, I want you two to report to the Athenaeum an hour earlier from now on. As your practices grow in spectacle, I fear they will prove a distraction for your peers.”
“What about Quinn?” asked Faeron. “He’s older. We won’t distract him.”
“The twins are way worse distractions than we are,” added Auri.
“Quinn looks up to you two,” said Mathas. “As you two have mastered the arts in record time, Quinn has pushed himself to catch up. The more effort he puts into impressing you, the more difficulty he has in meditations. It has been a problem for some time now. Your move to shaping provides a perfect opportunity to not only give you the privacy you need but relieve Quinn from your pressure.”
“But—” said Faeron.
“Listen to Mathas, Faeron,” said Eamon. “I know this isn’t what you want, but it’s what’s best for all the kytra.”
“Fine,” said Faeron, though he didn’t want to be the one to have to tell Quinn.
Bennehym suddenly began to rub his temple, his eyes appearing glazed. “I’m sorry,” he said, “I’m afraid I’m needed here at home.”
“Of course,” said Eamon seriously, seeming to understand something Faeron didn’t.
Bennehym flashed out of existence, and Faeron shot Auri a confused look.
“What was that about?” asked Auri, voicing his thoughts.
“A private matter,” said Eamon, brushing aside their question. “As for you two, would you be up for dinner back at home? I’ve got faux-ribs.”
“Sure,” said Faeron, eyeing his father suspiciously. Faeron spent quite a lot of time around Bennehym and had never seen the Bo Kora instructor do anything like that before.
“It’s settled then,” said Eamon, “see you two in a bit.” His projection cut out.
“Auri,” said Mathas.
She turned to him attentively.
“You did an exceptional thing last night,” he told her, a proud smile on his face. “These are new waters you’re testing, but I have full confidence that you will tread with grace.”
Faeron had never seen Auri’s cheeks redder as she fumbled to respond. “I… Oh— well, do you really?”
“Last evening, you shaped the light by being your entire self and standing up for another,” said Mathas. “It sounds like an Old-Scholar philosophy. Maybe it is, written in some tome deep beneath their monastery. The only way we can hope to understand the process, however, is through repetition and observation. Last night, and again today, you’ve proven to be a pioneer, Miss Lem.”
If Faeron didn’t know better, he’d swear Auri was about to cry again; she looked so happy.
“Alright you two,” smiled Mathas. “Let’s not keep Eamon waiting.”
Faeron and Auri said their goodbyes and exited the workshop through the classroom. As they reached the foyer, the large double doors opened and bright-faced Quinn strolled in.
“Hey guys, look!” he announced, swinging his backpack off his shoulder and digging around inside. “I built a body for logic in tech lab. Come on, I’ll show you in the classroom.”
“Erm, Quinn…” started Faeron, “because we’re shaping now, Mathas wants us to do class an hour earlier.”
“Did I miss it!?” asked Quinn looking panicked. “But I have tech lab up until class normally starts!”
“Not you or the twins,” said Auri, “Just Faeron and I.”
Quinn stared at them for a moment as if processing her words. “But…” he stuttered, “but what about… we’re not going to walk home together anymore?”
Faeron didn’t know what to say. As he watched genuine sadness settle deep into Quinn’s brow, Faeron wasn’t sure what consolation he could offer. “We can hang out more outside of class, during our off days,” he said.
“As it is, we only ever hang out if we’re coming from class,” said Quinn glumly.
“Quinn,” said Auri, sounding very serious. “There’s something I need to tell you.”
Faeron shot her an inquisitive side eye.
“Alone,” she said, this time addressing Faeron. “You head home to Host Eamon and get dinner started. I’ll join you shortly.”
“I see how it is,” said Faeron, trying to lighten the palpable tension. “See you tomorrow, Quinn.”
“Night, Faeron,” said Quinn flatly.
Faeron stepped into the quiet night and had Serris call him a tram. When a nearby transpo tube flashed yellow, Faeron boarded and rode straight back to the Violet Tower.
Several minutes later, the doors opened and Faeron stepped into the most familiar part of the city. The ninety-ninth ring of the tower was cast in rays of colorful light, as the flames roared above the stained glass ceiling. Faeron had spent many nights staying up late with Auri, gazing up in awe at the glass mural above them. It depicted a boy in a temple of reds and browns, standing before a violet doorway.
The homes on this floor were all two-stories tall. They sported welcome mats and planters beneath windows, rocking chairs and standing umbrellas. None of the neighbors were out tonight. Some of them he hadn’t seen since well before Cropsun began.
Faeron’s childhood home, 9914, was far across the ring. Outside were two carved totems, gifts Vox had brought back from Roana. The door was unlocked, and Faeron entered into the well-lit front hallway.
The hallway had soft white carpeting and framed photographs were hung all along the walls. The first few photos were just Eamon and Evolice. They looked young, and posed in all number of exotic locations, ocean fronts, deep in a lush jungle, a rooftop in an endless city. Even in the first photographs with Faeron, when he was just a baby, his parents didn’t look any older than he was now. These photos and the ones that followed were all within Eredith. The hallway opened up to a kitchen and a dining area with a more casual living area further back. Beyond the kitchen, to the right, a set of carpeted stairs led up to the second floor where the bedrooms were located.
The sounds of sizzling meat greeted Faeron’s ears as he entered the tiled kitchen. His empty stomach was gripped by the decadent aroma of the cooking ribs as Eamon manned the stove.
“Long wait for the trams?” Eamon asked, setting aside a shaker of seasoning to greet his son with a hug. “And Auri… where is she?”
“She’ll be along in a minute,” said Faeron. “She stayed behind to break the bad news to Quinn.”
“Well, dinner has still got a little bit,” said Eamon, glancing down at a saucepan on the stovetop. “Come on, let’s snag a seat and you can tell me about class.”
They went to the living room, its floor the same soft white carpet as the hallway. On the left wall was a long white sofa and a dark wood coffee table with a set of tall and narrow ceramic vases. Across the room was a set of large comfortable chairs with a wide window between them. Outside, Faeron could see the upper ramparts of the Nylkgate and a starry sky above. He sat on the long couch, his father pulling a seat from the window over to the coffee table.
“Tell me about class,” he said, nestling into the black and silver-trimmed chair.
“Physics is going great,” said Faeron. “I got assigned my…” as he was speaking, a book on the coffee table caught his attention. The title read, Quizzicle. As far as Faeron remembered, the book had always been here, but tonight, something about the grinning face on the cover captured his attention. The man had fair freckled skin and fiery red hair. As Faeron continued to stare, his head began to spin. Faeron’s vision blurred. A feeling of déjà vu washing over him. Suddenly, a vivid image filled Faeron’s head, a memory from his dream. It was gone as quick as it had come, but he swore the man on the cover of this book was there.
“Faeron?” asked Eamon, and Faeron rushed back to reality.
“Sorry,” said Faeron, “I just had this flashback to a dream.” Faeron held up the book, for his father to see. “I think he was there.”
“Elliot Jae?” asked Eamon excitedly. “Quizzicle was only around a few years before the plague. Wait… this is perfect! What else do you remember? Was it a vid? Was he there, in person?”
Faeron closed his eyes, trying to reconjure the memory. Just then, he heard the front door open.
“I’m home!” called Auri from down the hall. “You two in the living room?”
“Yep, just chatting,” replied Eamon.
Auri’s heavy footsteps drew nearer and she emerged around the corner. From her pleasant wave Faeron guessed her conversation with Quinn couldn’t have gone too poorly.
“I need to grab something from my room,” she said, “I’ll be back down in a second.”
When she ran upstairs, Eamon turned his attention back to Faeron.
“Did you remember anything?” asked Eamon.
Faeron held up the book and studied the face. Closing his eyes, he did his best to picture the man from the cover.
“Nothing,” said Faeron after some time.
“What if you meditate?” asked Eamon encouragingly. “Your mom did it whenever she wanted to help someone remember.”
“I can try,” said Faeron. He cleared his mind, and when the light of peridom enveloped him, he looked back down at the cover of the book, studying Elliot’s face. The déjà vu hit him even harder this time, the overpowering notion he’d seen this man before. Faeron closed his eyes and saw a room unlike any he’d ever seen. The room didn’t look built, but rather grown right out of a tree. The flash he saw was still, as if he were looking at a picture of his memory.
“I see him at a table,” said Faeron, trying to focus on as many details as he could. “There’s someone else too… a capillum I think. They’re in the strangest room I’ve ever seen.”
“Like the nook of a tree?” asked Eamon, a knowing smirk settling on his lips.
“Exactly,” said Faeron.
“And this is from a recent dream?” asked Eamon.
“Last night, I think.”
“Then mystery solved,” declared Eamon triumphantly. “I know when Jakob lived.”
“Because of him?” asked Faeron, looking at the book in disbelief.
“Because your mom and I watched that same VUE,” answered Eamon, clapping in delight. “The dead coast… It was an unforgettable segment. In another life, I may well have tried to solve it myself, but that’s beside the point. Newsun, just a year before the plague. I can’t give an exact date, but that’s the approximate when of your dream.”
“So that proves it,” said Faeron excitedly. “Mom did go after Jakob! He’s out there!”
“Hold your roll,” laughed Eamon, leaning back in his chair. “All we know is that Jakob may have lived to see the plague. We don’t have any idea if he made it through.”
“But if not that… then what?” asked Faeron.
The bubbling from the stove grew louder.
“A good question,” said Eamon. “One I’ll ponder while I get the ribs ready.”
“Okay,” said Faeron. As soon as his father stood up, Faeron dashed upstairs to tell Auri. He knocked on her door to no response. “Auri?” he asked, trying the knob. It was unlocked. “Auri, you good in there? Auri? I’m coming in.”
Faeron pushed open the door and entered Auri’s well organized room. The ceiling lamp was turned off, but purple light from the flame just above filtered through the long window on the far wall. In the low light, Faeron could make out Auri, sitting up against her headboard. Her head was buried in her knees.
“Auri,” asked Faeron, coming closer. He sat at the edge of her bed and placed one hand on her knee. “You good?”
“I’m fine,” she sniffled. “Just let me…” Auri wiped her eyes and exhaled deeply as she sat back. In her lap, Faeron could see a picture frame.
“It’s her, isn’t it?” asked Faeron. “Your missing her helps you do the meditation.”
“It’s both of them,” sniffed Auri. She placed the picture down on the bed beside her. Tinted violet by the starlight, the picture was a family portrait from when Auri was just an infant. Vox looked brilliant as ever, strong featured and sporting a confident grin. Auri’s mother, however, looked decades older than she truly was. Myrial Lem’s hair was thin and grey, her stance was slumped, and it was clear that Vox’s embrace was the only thing keeping her up. While Vox’s right arm was wrapped around Myrial, supporting her, his left cradled baby Auri. “I miss her, and I wish I met her, but it’s these months and months without seeing Dad that I can’t take. I never know if he’s going to be another month or… if something went wrong… I’d never know. Would I?”
“I understand,” said Faeron. He climbed across her bed, sitting just beside her. “Believe me, I understand not knowing.”
“And that is why you’re my best friend,” said Auri, smiling at him. “I have news, by the way.” She sniffed loudly. “I really should get it out now before you find out from Quinn.”
Faeron raised a brow. “Well, I have news, too, but you should definitely go first.”
“Don’t you dare react,” said Auri, “but I asked Quinn to Unity.”
“You what!?” gasped Faeron, completely blindsided by her revelation.
“He was all worried we’re just going to abandon him,” sighed Auri. “So… I told him that even though he wasn’t allowed to ask me, I was asking him. Just to prove we’re still going to be friends.”
“That’s awfully nice of you,” said Faeron.
“What can I say, I was in a generous mood,” said Auri. “Now please, let’s change topic. You had news, too?”
“Dad figured out when Jakob lived,” said Faeron excitedly. “Last night’s dream was just a year before the plague. That’d make Jakob in his fifties today.”
“You really think your mother went after him?” asked Auri, knowing him all too well.
“Think about it, what else could have made her leave?”
“But it’s been…” Auri began before she stopped herself. “Nevermind. You ready for dinner?”
“Starving,” said Faeron, rubbing his growling stomach.
“Then come on,” said Auri, rising from the bed. “I haven’t had your dad’s cooking in ages.”