Part One

The Special Ones

Royiora

“Why are you sitting out here like that?”

 

Royiora looked up at the man, licking his dry, cracked lips and squinting at the sunlight, 

“I’m sorry, I’ll move.”

 

“That’s not - why are you sorry?” the man asked, squatting down to the boy’s level. The man was barrel-chested, with a neatly trimmed black beard and mustache. He had the bearing of a soldier but wore the white and yellow robes of a healer. 

 

“I’m in the way,” Roy said, shuffling back into the alley, out of the market, “I’m sorry.”

 

“Wait,” the man said, reaching out.

 

Roy flinched away, shoulders hunching and eyes closing against an anticipated blow.

 

The man’s blue eyes widened, and he lowered his hand, “I didn’t think you were in the way - I just wanted to talk to you.”

 

“Why?” the boy asked, pulling his knees up to his chest.

 

“Why wouldn’t I?” 

 

“Because I’m cursed,” Roy said, mumbling into his knees, “Everyone says so.”

 

The man frowned, looking around before inching closer, “Why do they think you’re cursed?”

 

“Bad things happen around me. I’ve started fires and broked chairs. It’s not safe.”

 

The man sighed - he was familiar with this kind of situation in smaller towns like this. 

Slowly, he held out a hand, “Well, I know how to use magic, so why don’t I see if I can lift your curse?”

 

Slowly, Roy unfolded and reached out, putting his small hand in the large, gloved hand of the healer. 

 

“My name is Phalianeon,” the man said, drawing the boy forward as he stood, “What’s yours?”

 

“Royiora,” the boy replied, shuffling close to the healer as he came into the light. He was emaciated, with matted, dirty black hair, wearing only a thin, stained long shirt. 

 

Phalianeon frowned, and leaned down to carefully pick the boy up, “When was the last time you ate, Royiora?”

 

The boy shrugged, not struggling as he was lifted and carried - he didn’t seem to have the energy, mismatching green and brown eyes listlessly staring at nothing. 

 

“Let’s get you a meal,” the healer said, striding confidently towards his carriage - he was staying at an inn in a larger town nearby, and was certain they would be more accommodating of his new charge than the one that had decried him as cursed, “What kind of food do you like?”

 

Roy shrugged again, exhaustion eating away at his consciousness as the man stepped into the shade of the carriage.

 

“Who’s this?” a woman inside asked. She wore robes as well, but in orange.

 

“Royiora - they think he’s cursed,” Phalianeon replied, sitting next to her, “Roy, this is my match, Korila.”

 

The boy nodded, eyes heavy.

 

“He looks half-dead,” the woman said in a hushed, disapproving tone. 

 

“I know,” the healer replied, “He’s probably a mage of some kind - but we best see to him in Dallior.”

 

Korila nodded, mouth a thin line as she looked out the other side of the carriage. 

 

“Don’t go setting anything on fire, love,” Phalianeon said, smiling fondly.

 

“Of course not,” the woman replied, “Driver, get moving!”

 

Roy fell asleep as the carriage started forward, having no idea that he would not be returning.

 

When he woke, it was in a soft bed. 

 

“Oh, there we are,” Phalianeon said from a chair next to the bed, closing a book and setting it aside as he rose, “I figured you could use the sleep - let’s go get you that meal, hm?”

 

The promised meal was a thin meat broth, as the healer knew Roy was unlikely to hold down anything stronger for a while. Then came a bath and haircut - it was easier and less painful than trying to work out the mattes. New clothes, another bowl of broth, and a second nap later, Phalianeon and Korila sat across from the boy on the floor. 

 

“Now, I know I said I would try and lift your curse,” the healer started, “But the truth is, I don’t think you’re cursed at all. I think you’re a mage, like Korila and I.”

 

“I’m a battlemage,” the woman said, “Well, not that you know what that is.”

 

“See this bruise?” Phalianeon asked, gently cupping the boy’s forearm in his hand, “I can heal it. Can I heal you, Royiora?”

 

The boy nodded hesitantly.

 

The healer nodded back, and his eyes briefly glowed yellow as he spoke an unfamiliar word and then dimmed. 

 

Roy took back his arm, staring at the now gone bruise in amazement - it no longer hurt, either.

 

“Lian uses divine magic, which is what lets him heal,” Korila said. She held out her hand and spoke another strange word, and a flame appeared above it as her eyes glowed orange, “I use elemental magic, which lets me do a lot of things. You’ve summoned fire too, right?”

 

The boy nodded, staring at the flame wide-eyed. 

 

“But I can also do this,” the battlemage said, and the flame disappeared, replaced with a small ball of water after another word. 

 

Roy leaned forward intently, then suddenly jerked himself back, “I can’t do that.”

 

“Are you sure you can’t?” Phalianeon asked, “Or have you just not done it?”

 

Korila dropped her concentration, and the water splashed over her hand, “That’s a little advanced, Lian.”

 

“Alright, alright,” her soulmate replied, smiling at her. Then he turned back to their charge, “Do you want to try summoning fire? That way, we can tell for sure if you’re a mage.”

 

Roy bit his lip, then shrugged. 

 

“Think about heat,” Korila said, “And say ‘nostra’ - it’s the elemental word for fire, and summons it from that plane.”

 

The boy held out his hand and hesitantly spoke the word while thinking about heat. The fire that he summoned was three times the size Korila’s had been, and Roy stopped it immediately, burying his head in his knees. 

 

Phalianeon and his soulmate looked at each other in alarm, then the healer cleared his throat. 

 

“Wow, you’re a really powerful mage, Roy,” the man said, gently placing a hand on his charge’s shoulder, “I’m sure they’d be happy to have you at the Royal Academy. That’s where Korila and I trained.”

 

The boy peeked his head up, seeing the adults smiling at him encouragingly. He looked down, “Really?”

 

“Really,” Phalianeon asserted.

 

“I wish I had as much talent as you do at your age,” Korila added, “It was really hard for me to get accepted, but they’ll love to have you.”

 

Roy buried his head in his knees again, then shrugged, “Okay.”

Kalo

“You are all here because you are special,” the Instructor said, “You have a gift that can serve our people as none other can.”

 

Kalo looked at the other children around him. He didn’t see anything that made them all special - they had different skin colors, horns, and eye colors; nothing seemed to connect them. 

 

“You are all what we call Nulls,” the woman went on, arms folded behind her back, “Because you can all nullify magic.”

 

Kalo didn’t know what the word nullify meant, but he did know he could stop people from using magic around him, so it was probably that.

 

“You can also use that magic you nullify to fuel special abilities, like this,” the Instructor went on, and suddenly she wasn’t in front of them - she was on a balcony above them, “Among other skills we will teach you.”

 

The children started whispering excitedly amongst each other. Kalo turned as his cousin Aty grabbed his arm. 

 

“Isn’t that so cool, Kalo?” she asked, grinning, “I thought we wouldn’t get to do anything cool without magic!”

 

“Me, too,” Kalo agreed, grinning back. He wished Rela, his sister, were there, so he could tell her about it. They said they would get home visits, though, so he could tell her then. 

 

The Instructor reappeared in front of them and clapped her hands, “Hush now, hush - I know this is all very exciting, but we have a lot of ground to cover and a lot of things to teach you before we get to this point.” 

 

The Instructor and other adults started taking them into side rooms to interview them - determining which dormitories they would be assigned to, which would in turn determine their class schedules. Or so they were told.

 

“I hope we’re in the same dormitory,” Aty told her cousin, “It’s hard being away from home, and you’re so smart!”

 

“Thanks, but I’m not that smart,” Kalo replied, looking around at everyone else again. They all seemed to be about the same age as he and Aty were - he wondered if anyone else was related. 

 

“You look stupid,” another kid said, overhearing them. She walked over, standing a few inches taller than Kalo, and crossed her arms, “I bet they’ll send you home for it.”

 

Aty growled at the other girl, tail smacking the ground behind her, “You take that back! Kalo’s really smart - smarter than you!”

 

“There’s no need to fight,” Kalo said, putting a hand on his cousin’s shoulder. 

 

“That’s right,” the girl said, pushing back her curly silver hair, “Backwoods trash like you should know your place.”

 

“And what makes you so special?” Aty demanded.

 

“My mother is a Shaitarn,” the girl replied with a sharp grin, “I was born special.”

 

“I don’t think that matters here,” Kalo said, pushing his cousin behind him to keep her from jumping the purple-skinned girl. 

 

“What?” said girl demanded. 

 

“The Instructor said we’re all special, and were brought here to serve the Trinity,” Kalo replied, “So I don’t think it matters who our parents are.”

 

The girl laughed, throwing back her head, “Oh, you really are adorable, kid. Kalo, was it?”

 

“Yeah,” the boy said, tensed in case of a fight.

 

“Well, I’m Hult,” the girl said, leaning down, “And you’ll learn how the real world works - some people were just born better.”

 

“Kalo Porla?” 

 

Hult huffed, walking away. 

 

Kalo sighed in relief and ran over to the adult that had called his name. 

 

“This way,” the man said, leading him back into a small room with six more adults inside. Each had an earring in their left ear that Kalo knew signified the type of magic they used - there was one adult for each kind. Each earring was a thin, flat rectangle of metal with the symbol of the different magics stamped on it. 

 

Then there was a man in the center of the room, sitting cross-legged, with a black earring. There was only an empty circle stamped inside his earring - Kalo didn’t know that symbol.

 

“Still across from me - it’s Kalo, right?” the man in the center asked. 

 

The boy swallowed his nerves, and did so, mirroring the man’s position, “Yes.”

 

“Don’t be nervous - the interview is really easy. All you have to do is sit there - and hold my hands,” the man said, holding out both hands.

 

Kalo scooted forward so that he could put his hands in the man’s. 

 

The man looked to the mages around them and nodded. 

 

The one with the red earring stamped with the nine-pointed star of Guulruf - the symbol for infernal magic - stepped forward first. Her pupilless white eyes turned red as she held out a hand and set the pair on fire. 

 

Kalo jerked in surprise, but the man held him in place. The fire didn’t burn either of them - it couldn’t. It was the black flame of infernal magic, rather than a natural red.

 

The woman waved her hand and it stopped, and she wordlessly stepped back.

 

And so it went - the elemental mage also set them on fire, but with natural flames. The arcanist hit them with pure force, the divine mage with healing light, and the druid with anger. 

 

Through it all, the man stared at Kalo intensely without speaking. The boy wasn’t sure what to make of it - or what the man was looking for. 

 

When the last mage stepped back, the man released Kalo’s hands. 

 

“Null,” he said. Then he nodded to Kalo, “You can go now.”

 

The boy nodded and hesitantly got to his feet. He turned to see the adult that had led him into the room was still there, and they took him away from the first room. No one had returned so far, so Kalo wasn’t surprised to be taken somewhere else. 

 

They entered a circular room with five archways leading into dormitories. Kalo noticed that each had different plants in them - color-coded to match their magic type, he supposed. 

 

His guide went to the wall between two of the arches and pushed one of the bricks, and a circle in the center of the floor shifted sideways to reveal a staircase. 

 

“This way,” the man said, walking down. 

 

Kalo frowned, looking at the dormitories in confusion before following after. 

 

At the foot of the stairs, the man held out an arm, “This is the Null dormitory - your dormitory.”

 

“I thought there were only five dorms?” the boy asked, tail lowering to the ground in uncertainty. 

 

“That’s because we don’t want the other children to feel bad,” the Instructor said, suddenly stepping into the entranceway with a smile, “You see, some of you are more special than the others - most Nulls are only really good at absorbing one kind of magic. But you and your dorm mates are really good at absorbing all of them.”

 

“Oh,” Kalo said, supposing that made sense. 

 

The woman held out a hand, and that was when the boy noticed she also had a black earring, “Come on, let me show you inside. What’s your name?”

 

“Kalo,” he said, taking her hand and looking around. The Null dormitory was full of mushrooms and very pale plants, some of which seemed to glow. 

 

“Well, Kalo, you are very special indeed,” the Instructor said, leading the way back. 

 

There were only two other children there so far, and only about a dozen places total. 

 

“Why don’t you take this pad, hm?” the woman asked, leaning down in front of the boy. She put her hands on his shoulders, still smiling pleasantly, “You’re going to do great things, Kalo - the Trinity has a lot of faith in you already.”

 

“I’ll do my best, ma’am,” the boy said. 

 

The Instructor chuckled, ruffling his hair as she stood, “I know you’ll be fantastic.”

 

Kalo watched her leave, then turned to the pad they’d stopped before. He stepped into it, and the soft earth was cool beneath his clawed feet. He dug his toes into it, all four sinking in easily. 

 

He sat down and felt it with his hands, marveling at how high quality the soil was. It was dark and loamy, unlike the soil his family used. 

 

Then the Instructor led Hult in, and the girl sneered at him in passing. 

 

Kalo sighed in resignation - it couldn’t all be good news, he supposed.  

 

Royiora

Royiora looked at the kitten meowing weakly at its mother’s side, pressing into the lifeless cat’s body uselessly. The other kittens were strewn about her, and the boy wasn’t surprised at the cruelty of people.

 

“Roy!” Phalianeon called out, eyes searching the market place - he’d only lost sight of the boy for a minute, “Roy!”

 

The boy looked up at the sound of his name, then back at the kitten. It was the smallest one there, just a tuft of dirty white fur. He reached down and scooped it up, walking towards the entrance to the alleyway. 

 

The healer spotted him right away, sighing in relief. After a few weeks of food and care, the boy was looking much better, though he was still underweight. Lian jogged over - it would be another few weeks before they reached the capital, and then they could enroll Roy in the Royal Academy, where they would know how to care for him better than a couple of old war dogs. 

 

Roy looked down at the kitten and wondered if it was hurt. He stroked its soft, soft fur, and said the word Lian had used before healing him. 

 

Phalianeon stopped dead as he saw Roy’s eyes light up yellow, healing magic pouring into the animal in the boy’s arms.  He suddenly felt cold under the blazing sun and approached his charge slowly. He leaned down, and put a hand on Roy’s shoulder as he looked down at the kitten, “What happened, Roy?”

 

The boy looked back down the alley and pointed at the mother and the other kittens. 

 

“I see,” the healer said, then swallowed his nerves, “Well, I’m sure they’re hungry. Let’s see if they have anything back at the inn, ok?”

 

Roy nodded, still petting the small creature, oblivious to Lian’s sudden fear. 

 

When they reached the inn, the healer grabbed his soulmate and their charge and went back to their room with milk for the kitten. 

 

“What do you mean he healed it?” Korila asked in a hushed tone.

 

“I mean he healed it,” Lian replied, “He said the word, his eyes lit up, and… how can this be?”

 

“Don’t ask me,” his match replied, shaking her head. Then she groaned, putting her hands to her temples, “We can’t send him to the Royal Academy now, Lian.”

 

“I know,” the healer said, looking over to the boy. 

 

Roy was busily feeding his own charge, from a modified waterskin. 

 

“I just… what else can he do, you think?” the healer asked. 

 

“Lian,” Korila said disapprovingly. 

 

“What if he can use everything?” her match replied, “How do we help him then? We might have to send him to the Academy.”

 

His match sighed heavily, considering. She shook her head, “No. Too dangerous - at least until he knows how to defend himself. We know mages of all magics - mages who can keep things to themselves.”

 

“What are you saying?” Lian asked, “We should… take him in?”

 

“Why not?” Korila replied, “It’s not like we can have our own. And I know you always wanted to be a dad.”

 

“Kor-” her match started. 

 

The battlemage put a hand to his cheek, “Calm down, you softy, I’m not feeling sorry for myself and I know you love me just as much either way. I just don’t see a better option.”

 

Lian sighed, putting a hand over hers and turning his head to kiss her palm, “What do we know about raising a kid?”

 

“Did I do something wrong?”

 

The adults flinched and turned, finding their charge looking up at them with his mismatched brown and green eyes. 

 

“No, Roy, you didn’t do anything wrong,” Korila said, walking over to his side and tousling his hair, “It’s just… most people can’t do what you did today.”

 

“Lian can heal,” the boy mumbled, looking down at the kitten.

 

“Yes, and it’s wonderful that you helped this little guy,” the man said, moving to sit at his charge’s other side. He wrapped an arm around the boy’s shoulders, “But I can’t call fire like you and Korila can.”

 

“And I can’t heal,” the battlemage added, “And we know you’re a good kid, but there are people who might be scared of that.”

 

“And bad people who might try to make you do things you don’t want to do,” Lian said. He took a deep breath and looked at his match. 

 

She nodded, smirking.

 

He rolled his eyes, “So we were thinking that instead of going to the Academy, you could… stay with us.”

 

“We could teach you what we know,” Korila added, kissing the top of Roy’s head, “And we have friends that can teach you anything else you can do.”

 

Roy frowned down at the kitten, then looked up at the adults, “I could… stay with you?”

 

“If you want,” Lian said. 

 

Korila smacked him upside the head. 

 

“What?”

 

Roy kept staring, then his eyes welled up, and he started crying.

 

“What? What’s wrong, Roy?” Lian asked, putting the boy in his lap. 

 

Korila took the kitten, who meowed in protest. 

 

Roy wrapped his little arms as far as he could around the big man, “Ididnwahnnagwo!”

 

“What?” Lian asked, pushing his charge back gently by the shoulders.

 

Roy sniffled, wiping at his nose with his sleeve, “I didn’ -hic- I didn’t wanna -hic- go.”

 

“Oh sweet thing,” Korila said, reaching out and rubbing her charge’s back comfortingly. 

 

The healer blinked in surprise, then sighed and hugged the boy back, “You should have told us, Roy. We would have let you stay.”

 

The boy shook his head, sobbing against the man’s chest.

 

“Of course he’d want to stay with us,” Korila said, “We’re the first ones to show him any kindness. You dummy.”

 

“Hey,” Lian said, then sighed, “We’re going to need a house. Loft above the barn isn’t big enough for a kid - especially not this kid.”

 

“Good thing we’ve got enough favors and money stored up to live just about anywhere,” 

Korila snorted, “Somewhere in the country would be nice.”

 

Her match nodded, stroking their charge’s hair as the boy’s crying calmed, “Cities are too crowded anyways. Doesn’t Kaln have a big place out in Guleria?”

 

“You want to move in with Kaln?” his match said, leaning back and petting the kitten.

 

“She and Falla can’t manage that place all by themselves, surely,” the healer replied, “Besides, Kaln’s an arcanist - it’ll be less… you know.”

 

“Suspicious?” Korila asked, then sighed, “Yeah, I guess. And Gorfaliscalian is the local lord, isn’t he?”

 

Lian nodded, “That’s four of the five. And if we need a feywyldling, we can just send word to Jorwrath.”

 

His match nodded, then sighed, “I guess I’ll go to the city to report the census data since you’re clearly the favorite here.”

 

“Kor,” the healer said, rolling his eyes. 

 

“I can,” Roy paused to take in a breath, “I can really stay?”

 

Lian sighed, “Of course, Roy. You can keep the kitten, too.”

 

“What do you want to name this little guy?” Korila asked, giving the animal back to her charge. 

 

The boy accepted, cradling it as he slumped against the healer in post-cry exhaustion, “... I dunno.”

 

The battlemage tousled his hair, “Well, you’ve got plenty of time to think about it,” She looked up at her match, “I’ll meet you at Kaln’s then?”

 

Lian nodded, shaking his head as he watched Roy fall asleep, “Are you sure this is the best thing for him?”

 

“No,” Korila shrugged, “But we’ll manage. We always do.”

 

Her match smiled up at her, “We certainly do.”

Kalo

School was fun for Kalo - mostly. He liked all the reading - his principality’s school hadn’t had a very big library, and Null School would even let him check out extra books he didn’t need for his assignments. 

 

He didn’t like the fighting classes, though. 

 

“I know how you feel,” Dret, one of his male dorm mates with green skin, said, “But we’re going to be soldiers for the Trinity, you know?”

 

“My dad is a soldier,” Tulla, another dorm mate with snow-white skin added excitedly, “Soldiers are the first line of defense against the barbarians on the outside!”

 

Hult scoffed at them, “Kalo’s just a wimp - don’t waste your time on him.”

 

Kalo sighed, turning to Tulla, “Has your dad fought a lot of barbarians?”

 

She laughed, “Oh, tons! Did you know they don’t have horns or tails?”

 

“Weird,” Dret said, shaking his head and drinking water from a leaf cup. They were taking a break between exercises, catching their breath on the side of the training grounds. Dret and Tulla were sitting on either side of Kalo on one of the benches, while the last member of their dorm - Grio - sat on another bench alone. 

 

Hult, standing in front of them, pouted at being ignored, then smirked, “Careful, you’re insulting Kalo’s soulmate.”

 

The red-skinned boy clapped a hand over his soul writing in response, even though it was covered under a leather wrap like everyone else’s.

 

Tulla frowned, scooting closer to Kalo, “You aren’t supposed to look at someone else’s soul writing, Hult.”

 

The other girl snorted, putting a hand on her hip, “Who cares? We all know we aren’t each other’s soulmates already.”

 

“I mean…” Dret shrugged, “You still shouldn’t - it’s…”

 

“Private,” Tulla said, sticking out her tongue. 

 

“Is your soulmate really a barbarian, though?” Dret asked, poorly trying to hide his curiosity. 

 

Kalo shrugged, “I guess. It’s… my soul writing isn’t in Healvithi, anyways.”

 

“I’m sure they’re one of the good barbarians,” Tulla said, nodding knowingly. 

 

Hult’s tail smacked the ground, “Yeah, sure, that’s so much better. I’m sure some dumb, ugly barbarian is just what Kalo deserves.”

 

The red-skinned boy sighed, deciding not to reply. 

 

“Alright, break’s over, kids,” the fighting instructor said, clapping to get their attention. 

 

The others made their way over quickly, but Kalo paused as Grio bumped into his shoulder. 

 

“You shouldn’t let her push you around like that,” the blue-skinned boy said. 

 

“Nothing I say will change her mind about me,” Kalo replied, “So what’s the point of fighting?”

 

“If you say so,” Grio shrugged, heading over with the others. 

 

After fighting lessons was magic theory and strategy, and then they had free time. As was usual for him, Kalo went to the library. 

 

What was unusual was Grio sitting next to him. 

 

“My soulmate isn’t Healvithi either,” the other boy said, taking out a piece of paper and drawing on it. 

 

“Oh,” Kalo said, not sure how to reply.

 

“Do you really think the outside races are all barbarians?” Grio asked. 

 

The other boy shrugged, marking his spot in the book about General Mard, “I never gave it much thought.”

 

“I don’t think they are,” his companion replied, continuing to sketch, “I mean, how could we have soulmates that are unthinking brutes?”

 

Kalo hesitated, then set his book aside, “Can you read your soul writing?”

 

Grio frowned, “Of course not. Can you?”

 

The other boy shook his head, looking at his dorm mate’s sketch, “What are you drawing?”

 

“You,” the blue-skinned boy replied, “You should probably give it to your family - if they actually let us go home.”

 

“You don’t think they will?” Kalo frowned. 

 

“Why should they? We’re already here.”

 

“But… why wouldn’t they let us go home?”

 

Grio sighed, looking up at his classmate and back down, making adjustments, “Why would they put us in a school like this? Away from our families, not even being able to write to them?”

 

“Because we’re special,” Kalo said, “We’re Nulls.”

 

The other boy snorted, “And what do you think a Null can do that other people can’t, Kalo?”

 

“I-”

 

“Kalo!” Aty called out, only to be hushed by a librarian. 

 

Grio shook his head, hunching over his work. 

 

“Kalo, there you are!” his cousin said, sitting across from them and beaming, “How are your classes going?”

 

“Well,” her cousin replied, “Do you need more help with arithmetic?”

 

Aty’s tail swished bashfully, “Yeah - I’m just no good with numbers.”

 

Kalo walked around the table, “Let me see.”

 

His cousin pulled out her work, gaze straying to the table’s third occupant. 

 

Her cousin noticed, “Aty, this is my classmate, Grio. Grio, my cousin Aty.”

 

Grio made a noise of acknowledgment. 

 

“He’s cute, Kalo,” the girl whispered as quietly as she could. 

 

“He has ears,” the blue-skinned boy said. 

 

Aty’s tail swished harder in embarrassment. 

 

“Let’s just focus on numbers,” Kalo said, though he’d secretly had the same thought. 

 

Grio leaned back from the table, catching the matching - though subdued - tell-tale swish. The boy smirked, going back to his drawing. 

 

“It’s so cool you’re in a special dorm and everything,” Aty said. 

 

“You told her?” Grio asked, looking up.

 

“Everyone talks about it,” the girl defended, “Kalo didn’t have to tell with your ‘secret’ dorm right below ours.”

 

The blue skin boy inclined his head in acknowledgment, “Your cousin should learn to pay attention the way you do.”

 

Aty’s ears and tail perked up at the praise, while Kalo’s tail swished in embarrassment.  

 

After free time was the baths, and then it was time for bed. Kalo was usually exhausted by that time, but he roused at someone else joining him on his pad. 

 

“Move over,” Grio said, laying back to back with the other boy. 

 

“Wha’ y’doin’?” Kalo asked, yawning and making room all the same. 

 

“You’re cute, too, you know,” the blue-skinned boy said.

 

The other boy’s tail whipped back in surprise, hitting Grio. 

 

Grio wrapped his own tail around Kalo’s, “Not that I expect your cousin would tell you that.”

 

“... do you think we’ll meet our soulmates?” Kalo asked, “Ever?”

 

The blue-skinned boy sighed, scooting closer to his classmate, “No, Kalo, I don’t. I don’t think they’ll let us.”

 

The other boy sighed, “I guess it is unlikely - we don’t even know what they’ll say.”

 

“And they probably don’t know what their soul writing says, either - since it’ll be in Healvithi,” Grio agreed, “We could meet them and never know it.”

 

Kalo sighed again.

 

“Hey, Kalo.”

 

“What?”

 

“Want to be pretend soulmates?” 

Royiora

Phalianeon knocked on the door to the farming cottage, looking down to give Royiora a reassuring smile. 

 

The boy squeezed his hand nervously in return - he did like the healer, but he missed Korila.

 

The door opened to reveal a short, redheaded feywyldling woman, her long ears twitching as she broke out in a grin, “Lian! It’s been ages!”

 

“Hey Falla - is Kaln around?” the man asked, leaning down to accept the woman’s hug.

 

“She’s out back, I’ll get her,” the redhead replied, then noticed Roy. She leaned down, “Well hello! Who are you, dearling?”

 

“I’m Royiora,” the boy mumbled, hiding behind Lian. 

 

“I was shy as a child, too - but don’t worry, you have nothing to fear from me, little one,” Falla said, standing. She walked in, and waved the other in after her, “Come in, come in! Kaln! Kaln, Lian’s come to visit!”

 

“Lian?”

 

The man led his charge inside by the hand, and in Roy’s free arm, the kitten mewed. It was cleaner and fatter now, and had a blue ribbon tied around its neck with a bell. 

 

The cottage was spacious, with very simple furnishings and a large stone fireplace. Falla disappeared into the back and returned with a tall, black-haired woman in a farmer’s rough shirt and breeches.

 

“Wasn’t expecting to see you until the next war,” she said, holding out her arm - one of hers was missing, the sleeve tied closed. 

 

Lian sighed with a smile, accepting the hug, “How are you, Kaln?”

 

“As well as ever,” the woman replied, and looked past the healer. She had blue eyes just like he did, and arched a brow, “And who is this?”

 

The man went back to his charge, squatting behind the boy and putting his hands on Roy’s shoulders, “Royiora, this is my twin sister, Kaln. Kaln, this is Roy - Korila and I… decided to adopt him.”

 

“So I have a nephew, huh?” Kaln asked, squatting down in front of Roy. She reached out and pet the kitten, “And who’s this?”

 

“Bluebell,” the boy said, hugging the cat closer. 

 

The kitten mewed in protest and wiggled out of Roy’s grasp. It wobbled over to Kaln and rubbed against her leg, purring.

 

“Little on the nose, huh?” the woman said, scratching at the corner of a scar that covered her right cheek. 

 

“Roy’s a mage, Kaln,” Lian said, then hesitated before continuing, “Can you teach him the arcane word for fire?” 

 

“You think he’s an arcanist?” his sister asked.

 

The healer opened his mouth, then sighed, and shook his head, “You’ll see.”

 

Kaln’s brows rose again, but she held out her hand and spoke a word, a purple flame appearing above her hand as his eyes glowed the same color. 

 

“Go on, Roy,” Lian said, squeezing his charge’s shoulders. 

 

The boy looked up at him, then cupped his hands and looked down at them. He spoke the same word, and a larger flame appeared over them, his eyes glowing purple as well.

 

“A powerful one,” Kaln said. 

 

Her brother held up a hand, “Now show her the others.”

 

Roy looked up at the man, then back down. He spoke another word, and his eyes glowed yellow, a white-yellow flame replacing the purple one. 

 

Kaln closed her hand in surprise, flame going out.

 

Roy spoke another word, eyes shifting to orange and a normal, red flame replacing the yellow one. Then he dropped his hands, losing the flame.

 

“Lian, explain,” Kaln said, looking up at her brother. 

 

“You must be hungry, Roy!” Falla cut in, grabbing the boy’s hand and pulling him away, scooping up Bluebell as well, “Let’s get you and your pet a snack, hm?” 

 

Roy looked back at the healer.

 

The man smiled encouragingly, “Go on - me and Aunt Kaln need to talk.”

 

“Ok,” the boy said, following along. 

 

Lian watched after him a moment more, then sighed and scratched the back of his head as he stood, “I don’t know.”

 

His twin stood as well, “Can he use everything?”

 

“I don’t know,” her brother replied, holding out a hand uselessly, “Korila and I were… doing the census thing and I found him in an alleyway. His village thought he was cursed so…”

 

“So you stepped in to play the hero like always,” Kaln sighed, “What were you thinking?”

 

“That he was probably a mage and we could enroll him in the Academy,” Lian replied, walking over to a couch and sitting down, “I thought he was an elemental like Kor because he said fires started around him, but then he found that kitten and healed it and…”

 

His sister sat next to him, sighing as well, “So you brought him here instead of the Academy. Yeah, alright, that was probably for the best. Only you and Kor know?”

 

“And Falla,” the healer replied, shaking his head, “I was thinking we could talk to Fali, too.”

 

“He still comes by for dinner about once a month, and invites us up to the manse sometimes,” Kaln said, “If I let him know you’re in town, I’m sure he’ll pay a visit. Korila on her way?”

 

“She’s delivering the census data in Joluup, then she’ll be on her way,” her brother said, “We were thinking of writing to Jorwrath to check feywyld.”

 

“You’re welcome to stay, of course,” the arcanist said, patting the man’s knee, “I know Kor’s family is no help, and Falla wouldn’t hear otherwise, in any case. Not after you stole her heart with some cute kid.”

 

Lian snorted, shaking his head, “She probably knows more about kids than me and Kor do.”

 

“Me, too,” Kaln sighed, shaking her head. Then she stood, “Let’s go check on them.”

 

Her brother nodded, and the pair went into the kitchen to find Roy seated on the counter eating bread with honey on it and Bluebell happily lapping up a dish of milk. 

 

“Kor and Lian are moving in, Falla,” Kaln said, without preamble. 

 

“Of course they are!” her soulmate replied, hugging Roy, “Honestly, the lot of you are utterly hopeless around children!”

 

“That’s why we came to the expert,” Lian smiled, taking a seat at the table. 

 

Falla turned to Roy, cooing over him, “You see, Kaln and Lian didn’t have parents - they were orphans taken in by the Academy for being mages. I, on the other hand, grew up with six siblings - and I’m the oldest, so I know all about taking care of cuties like you!”

 

The boy leaned back as the woman poked his nose, then slipped off the counter and climbed into Lian’s lap.

 

Kaln snorted, and reached over to tousle the boy’s hair, “A daddy’s boy already, huh?”

 

“Seems so,” her brother replied, leaning back in his seat to accommodate. He sighed, turning to his sister-in-law, “Do you have some beer, Falla?”

 

“No, but I do have some wine Fali gave us as an anniversary gift,” the feywyld woman replied, going to a cabinet to retrieve it.

 

“The infused wine?” Lian asked, “He sent Kor and I a bottle, too.”

 

Falla nodded, getting out three cups, “He’s so considerate!”

 

“None for me, love,” Kaln said, wrapping her arm around her match’s waist and kissing the other woman’s temple before walking away, “I’ll send word up to the manse - I’ll pick up some beer in town.”

 

“Thanks, Kaln,” her brother said. 

 

Roy looked up at the healer, “We’re staying here?”

 

Lian tousled his charge’s hair, “Yeah, we’re staying here.”

 

“Okay,” the boy said, then looked at Falla. He looked down, then up again, “Can I have more honey?”

 

Falla gasped, covering her mouth, “Oh, dearling, of course you can!”

 

“Don’t spoil him,” Kaln called out, pulling on a coat in another room.

 

“It’s to make up for lost time!” her match replied. 

 

Lian smiled at their banter and felt at ease. 

Kalo

The tip of Grio’s tail curled around the end of Kalo’s as he sketched away next to his pretend match. 

 

Kalo had finally stopped being self-conscious about the contact and was reading about how the original Trinity enlightened Healvithi. 

 

“Aren’t you two cute,” Hult said, sitting across from them with a stack of books, “Good thing you came to your senses and decided to settle.”

 

“I feel bad for your soulmate,” Grio replied, “They’ll have to settle for you.”

 

The girl’s tail smacked the ground, “At least my real soulmate is Healvithi - unlike the two of you.” 

 

“Did you need something, Hult?” Kalo asked, trying to keep the situation from getting worse. 

 

“What? Like your stupid cousin?” the girl snorted, opening her own books, “No. But it was sit here or sit with someone from one of the inferior dorms, so you two can have the blessing of my presence.”

 

“She thinks using big words will make her sound smarter,” Grio said, leaning into Kalo, 

“But I saw her test scores - she’s only third-best in our dorm.”

 

“No you didn’t,” Hult said, glaring at the blue-skinned boy. 

 

The boy grinned, wrapping an arm around his pretend-match's waist, “Guess who had the best scores?”

 

Kalo sighed, shaking his head, “It doesn’t matter,” he said, trying to focus on his book. 

 

“You did,” Grio said anyways.

 

The red-skinned boy already knew that, but didn’t see the point of bringing it up.

 

Hult scowled, then smirked, “Sure, maybe at book stuff. But he could never beat me in the ring.”

 

Once they’d gotten the basics down, the instructors had started having them fight each other in practice bouts. Kalo was by far the worst at it - he didn’t want to accidentally hurt anyone, after all.

 

Grio huffed, scooting over again and returning to sketching, “He could if he tried.”

 

“Grio,” the red-skinned boy sighed. 

 

“It’s true,” his pretend-match insisted, “If you stopped holding back, you could be the best at testing and in the ring.”

 

“How about this, wimp,” Hult said, leaning over to poke Kalo in the forehead, “If you actually beat me, I won’t make fun of your cousin anymore. Or your little fake relationship.”

 

Kalo sighed, rubbing the spot, “Fine - we’ll partner up tomorrow, and then we can all stop talking about it.”

 

Grio hummed happily, smiling as his tail curled further up his pretend-match’s.

 

Later, at bedtime, Kalo spoke up as Grio snuck into his pad again, “Stop picking fights with Hult for me.”

 

“Well it’s not like you’ll do it yourself,” the blue-skinned boy said, wrapping himself around 

Kalo’s back. 

 

The cuddling always made the red-skinned boy feel less homesick, and his tail wound its way around Grio’s, “Because I don’t want to.”

 

“Ignoring her doesn’t make her stop,” the other boy replied, “You know this.”

 

“What if fighting her makes her worse, though?” 

 

“What if it makes her better?” Grio shot back, “You won’t know until you beat her.”

 

“If I beat her,” Kalo insisted.

 

“You will,” his pretend-match said, yawning, “I know it.”

 

The other boy sighed and settled in for sleep.

 

The next day, Kalo and Hult faced off. 

 

“This should be good,” Tulla whispered to Dret, grinning.

 

The green boy’s ears twitched in irritation, “Hult will beat Kalo, easy.” 

 

Tulla pouted, “But I think he’s actually going to try this time. Wouldn’t it be fun if he won?”

 

“I think so,” Grio said, smirking. 

 

“You would,” Dret replied, tail smacking the ground.

 

Kalo sighed, trying to ignore them as the instructor reminded them of the rules. It wasn’t like they heard them every day or anything. He tightened his grip on his wooden batons, clearing his mind. 

 

Hult smirked at him from across the ring, idly tossing and flipping one of her batons as she waited. 

 

“Alright,” the instructor said, “Begin.”

 

Kalo knew Hult was overconfident - but that she was also good. So he didn’t charge in, but readied his defense - which worked, as she threw her twirling baton at him and charged after it. 

 

Kalo ignored the thrown baton and ducked down before sliding to the side and aiming for Hult’s middle with one baton. She caught the blow between hers - but not the tap on her back. 

 

“Point for Kalo,” the instructor said. 

 

Hult growled and rammed her shoulder into her opponent. Kalo let her, falling backward and kicking her over his head while shoving a baton into her stomach. 

 

The girl grunted in surprise, grabbing the front of Kalo’s shirt and pulling him out of the ring with her. 

 

“Match one is a draw,” the instructor said, “Back to your places.”

 

“That was better than I thought it would be,” Dret admitted, as the pair went back to opposite sides. 

 

Hult collected her abandoned baton, glaring in the green-skinned boy’s direction as she took her place.

 

Grio winked at Kalo as his pretend-match met his gaze. 

 

“Begin,” the instructor said.

 

Kalo threw his baton this time, and Hult scoffed as she hit it away - only to stumble back as her opponent teleported into midair to grab it and hit her in the head.

 

“Match to Kalo,” the instructor said. 

 

“What!?” Hult demanded, a hand to her head, “He cheated!”

 

Kalo walked back to his place, sighing at Grio’s grin. 

 

“No one said you couldn’t use powers,” the instructor said drily, “If you’ve figured out how to do it, go ahead. All of you have at least a small store from the initial testing, unless you wasted it.”

 

Hult growled, then squared up against her opponent again. 

 

“Begin.”

 

Hult teleported immediately, and Kalo stumbled back. They built up a pace as they traded blows, working around the ring. 

 

Kalo didn’t want to win - he didn’t want to hurt anyone, not even Hult. But, if there really was a chance it could make the girl leave Aty alone, he guessed he had to at least try.

 

So he tapped into his divine magic store and turned invisible. 

 

Hult froze, ears pricking up as she listened closely. Kalo walked softly as he could - then tossed his baton at the ground. 

 

Instead of turning towards it, Hult struck out in the opposite direction - but Kalo had anticipated that, and struck her in the head on the same side that he’d thrown the baton.

 

“Match to Kalo,” the instructor said, “Kalo wins. Next up, Grio and Dret.”

 

Kalo panted, looking down at Hult, who was crouching and holding her head. He offered her a hand, “Are you hurt?”

 

The girl slapped his hand away, getting up and stalking away, “I’m fine.” 

 

Grio squeezed Kalo’s shoulder in passing, “Told you you’d win.”

 

His pretend-match just sighed, walking off to sit on one of the benches. 

 

Tulla came and sat next to him, “Well done, Kalo! I knew you had it in you!”

 

“Thanks, but I don’t want to hurt anyone,” the boy replied, setting his batons down. 

 

“Then why’d you do it?” his classmate asked. 

 

“Hult said she’d leave Aty alone, and stop talking about me and Grio.”

 

“I think you two are cute,” Tulla said, swinging her legs as she watched the other boys spar, “It must be hard, knowing your soulmate is a barbarian.”

 

“Sure,” Kalo said, finding it harder knowing he’d likely never meet his soulmate than their nationality. 

 

Tulla shook her head, “And Grio’s from such a good family, too.”

 

“What?” 

 

“He hasn’t told you?” the girl said, then shrugged, “Well, it doesn’t really matter here, anyways. He doesn’t look it, but he’s half Frezian. I only know because my family works for his. He asked me not to say, but I thought he would have told you.”

 

“Oh,” Kalo said, and went back to watching the fight. 

 

That night, Kalo faced Grio when he laid down. 

 

“Are you really half Frezian?” 

 

The blue-skinned boy blinked, then sighed, “Tulla?”

 

“Yeah,” Kalo said, “She thought you had told me.”

 

“No, she didn’t,” Grio replied, “She likes stirring the pot. Yeah, I’m half Frezian - but I’m completely illegitimate. Otherwise, I doubt I’d be here.”

 

“Why?” 

 

“You’re not mad?” 

 

The red-skinned boy considered, then shook his head, “It doesn’t matter.”

 

Grio smirked, “That’s one of the things I like about you, Kalo - you actually do know what matters.”

 

Kalo’s tail swished in embarrassment, stirring up dirt. 

 

His pretend-match shuffled closer, wrapping their tails together, “Let’s get some sleep.”

 

The other boy nodded, closing his eyes and forgetting to ask why Grio didn’t think he would be sent to Null School if he was legitimate.  

Royiora

Roy liked his aunts, he decided, even as he sat on the couch and watched them bustle about. Bluebell was in his lap, and he pet the kitten as it purred.

 

“It’s just Fali,” Lian said, even as he obediently dusted the highest areas in the house. 

 

“He’s still a lord, Lian,” Kaln replied, rolling her eyes, “He appreciates the effort.”

 

“He appreciates everything,” her brother grumbled, then sighed and looked over at his… son. He walked over and leaned in front of the boy, “You’re not nervous, are you?”

 

“Don’t ask him that!” Falla said, sweeping, “It’ll make him nervous.”

 

“I’m not nervous,” Roy said, even though he was. He didn’t really like meeting new people, but Lian and Korila were good, and so were his aunts, so their friend should be good, too, he reasoned. 

 

His father reached out and tousled his hair, “It’s ok to be nervous, the important thing is to make sure it doesn’t stop you from doing the things you want to do.”

 

“Okay,” the boy said. 

 

“Do you want to play outside?” Falla asked, “It’s getting pretty dusty in here.”

 

Roy thought about it, then shrugged and stood up, setting Bluebell on the couch. 

 

The kitten grumbled but stretched and curled up again.

 

Lian tousled his son’s head again, going back to cleaning. 

 

Roy watched a moment longer, then went outside. He liked it around the farm - there were a lot of shady trees, and a stream nearby he could soak his feet in. It was always cool - Lian said that was because it came down from the mountains, and was mostly melted snow. 

 

He wasn’t out very long before he noticed someone riding a horse down the road from town. The boy dashed back to the house and rushed inside, scooping up Bluebell and disappearing into the kitchen.

 

“Roy?” Lian called after him, but was interrupted by a knock at the door. 

 

Roy peeked out of the doorway as Falla opened the door, greeting and hugging the man on the other side. The man walked inside completely and smiled when he spotted the healer.

 

“Lian!” he said, holding out his arms. 

 

“Fali!” the healer replied, walking over and accepting the hug in greeting. He pulled back, grinning himself, “How’s the return to noble life?”

 

“It has its benefits and drawbacks,” the other man replied. He was shorter than Lian, with black skin and dark brown eyes. He had his hair cropped close and wore tailored but simple black clothing - except for a bright red flower in his breast pocket. 

 

“It’s a little warm for all that, isn’t it?” Kaln asked, shaking hands in lieu of a hug. 

 

“I think it makes me look rather dashing and formidable,” Fali replied, adjusting the jacket, “Besides, it’s spelled.”

 

“Of course it is,” Lian said, rolling his eyes. Then he spied his son peeking in and walked over to the kitchen, gently pushing the boy into the main room, “Fali, I’d like you to meet Kor and I’s adopted son, Royiora.”

 

The other man walked over, kneeling down with a flourish of his coattails and holding out a gloved hand, “An honor to meet you, Royiora - I’m Gorfaliscalian, an old friend of your parents.”

 

Roy looked at the man’s hand, then put Bluebell down to hesitantly reach out and shake, “Hello.”

 

“Since none of us mince words, let’s get right to it,” Lian said, squatting down behind his son, “Fali, could you show Roy how to summon infernal fire?”

 

The nobleman arched a brow, but held a hand up all the same. He spoke a word, and his eyes glowed red as a black flame appeared over his palm. 

 

“Why is it always fire?” Roy asked, looking up at the healer with a frown. 

 

“Fire is the easiest to summon,” Fali replied, and danced the flame through his fingers before snuffing it out, “But the hardest to control. That is why it is used to test magic ability.”

 

The boy sighed, then cupped his palms and spoke the infernal word, a black flame appearing in his hands. Unbidden, he ran through the other fire spells he knew - arcane, elemental, and divine. 

 

Lian whistled, “It really is looking like he can use all of them.”

 

“Is that why you adopted him and brought him here?” the nobleman asked, cupping his chin. He was the first one Roy had shown his powers that didn’t seem surprised by them.

 

“Well, we originally thought to take him to the Academy, but-” the healer started.

 

“No, I agree,” Fali cut him off, standing and tousling Roy’s hair, “Kor is on her way?”

 

“From Joluup,” Lian confirmed.

 

“Have you sent word to Jorwrath yet?” the noble asked, taking off his gloves and tucking them into his jacket pocket. 

 

“Let me get that,” Falla insisted, helping the man shrug it off. 

 

“Thank you, Falla,” Fali said, offering her a brief smile. 

 

“Not yet,” Lian answered, shrugging, “Figured we’d see if he could pick up arcane and infernal first.”

 

“Fair, I suppose,” the noble said, “Let’s sit down to discuss this, shall we?”

 

The adults moved to the kitchen table, and Roy picked Bluebell back up before taking his usual spot in Lian’s lap. 

 

Fali smiled at them, “He’s quite taken with you, isn’t he?”

 

“So I’ve noticed,” the healer replied, smiling wryly. 

 

The noble looked at the boy, “How old are you, Roy?”

 

Roy shrugged.

 

“His home village thought he was cursed,” Lian explained.

 

“I see,” Fali said, “So I take it no school, then?”

 

Roy shook his head, tilting his head so that his hair fell into his face, covering it. 

 

“I’ll take care of that,” the noble decided, still speaking to the boy, “Until you’re old enough to control your powers, we need to limit the amount of people you come into contact with - just in case.”

 

“... okay,” Roy said. He wasn’t used to adults addressing him like that - usually, they just talked to each other about him. 

 

“Have any of you designed programs for teaching Roy about your schools of magic?” Fali asked, looking up at the adults, “We’ll have to align our scheduling.”

 

“See, this is why you’re the commander and we’re the soldiers,” Kaln said drily, “This is more like a briefing than a discussion, sir.”

 

“I prefer that,” Lian said, shaking his head, “This has all been… a lot to work through.”

 

Fali nodded, “My library should have any texts you need, and if it doesn’t, I can always send for a copy. Did you plan to stay on the farmhouse?”

 

“Yeah,” the healer said, “Seemed reasonable.”

 

“And secluded,” the noble agreed, turning to Falla and Kaln, “If you need help getting an extension added-”

 

“You know we don’t need charity,” Kaln said, though not unkindly. 

 

“But we do appreciate the offer,” Falla added, “Of course.”

 

Lian held up a hand, “If the house needs extending, Kor and I have plenty of savings. Since it would need extending for us, it makes sense we should be the ones to pay for it.”

 

“Damn straight you should,” his sister said. 

 

“I propose we each devise a lesson plan, and then work the scheduling out together at a later date - after Korila has returned and we have determined if Roy can use feywyld magic as well.”

 

“Sounds like a plan, sir,” Kaln said, smiling just the barest amount. 

 

“In the meantime,” Fali said, rising from the table, “I need to run to town - I’ll be back in a few hours for dinner. Don’t worry about preparing anything.”

 

“He’s always so succinct,” Falla said as the noble left, immediately setting about preparing dinner. 

 

Kaln shook her head, but stood and stretched, “Wonder what he’s bringing back.”

 

Her brother shook his head, “Who knows? I’ve never been able to get a read on the way he thinks,” Lian grinned, “That’s why he’s the commander.”

 

Roy looked up at his father with a small frown, feeling as though he’d missed something, but unsure as to what. 

 

When Fali did return, it was with a trunk of clothing for a growing boy, toys for the same, reading and writing exercise books, a receipt for the construction of an additional bed - and a case of mulled wine to bribe the adults into accepting it all. 

 

Having Bluebell chase after a wooden pull horse, Roy decided he liked his “uncle”, too. Even if the writing in the books didn’t look anything like the writing on his arm.

Kalo

Hult kept her word, to Kalo’s surprise. But - as he’d suspected - it didn’t make her better. She was twice as vicious at sparring practice, forcing Kalo to give his full effort unless he wanted a concussion - recovering from the first one was bad enough. 

 

It wasn’t long before the Head Instructor learned of their powered fight - Grio thought it was odd they were never told their instructors’ names, but Kalo wasn’t sure what difference it really made. The woman had observed their next few days of class, being a quiet, smiling shadow in the back of the room. 

 

Grio also thought the way the woman was always smiling was creepy, but this Kalo agreed with.

 

After those few days, she called them all together in their dorm.

 

“Well, I must say I am surprised at how quickly you all are progressing,” the Instructor said, clasping her hands together, “You must be the smartest, toughest class we’ve had in the past ten years! Perhaps ever!”

 

Tulla’s and Dret’s ears perked up at the praise, while Hult smirked and crossed her arms as if it were to be expected. Grio didn’t seem to care either way, and Kalo was no longer sure how he felt about the abundant adulations. 

 

“And because you’re all so talented,” the Instructor went on, “We’re going to start the next phase of your training early! And, as an added reward, you’ll have a week to yourselves - doesn’t that sound nice?”

 

“Yes, ma’am!” Tulla said, grinning. 

 

Grio subtly smacked the end of Kalo’s tail with his own, and his pretend-match could practically hear him say Suck up.

 

After the blue-skinned boy had pointed it out, Kalo had noticed the way Tulla was extra attentive and nice to the instructors, even though she would complain about classes with the rest of them in free time or the dorms. According to Grio, it was the way she’d always been.

 

“We just have to take care of one little thing before that,” the Instructor said, “But don’t worry - it won’t take long, and you’ll have free time until we call you. Enjoy your week off!”

 

The Instructor left then, taking Dret back first.

 

“Let me guess - the library?” Grio asked, collecting his art supplies from the trunk in front of his pad. 

 

Kalo considered, tail swaying thoughtfully, “How about the garden?”

 

Hult scoffed, shoulder checking the red-skinned boy as she walked past, “With that attitude, I’ll surpass you in the ring in no time.”

 

“You’re going to train on your off time?” Tulla asked, end of her tail wiggling in amusement as she tittered, “It’s no wonder your family is so high ranking, with such a diligent daughter.”

 

“Obviously,” the purple-skinned girl replied, retrieving her batons - they each had their own set, though Hult often went through replacements. 

 

Kalo noticed the way her tail hovered low above the ground as she said it - as if she were forcing it not to drag. He knew she had taken her loss in the ring hard - but he felt like maybe there was more to it.

 

“Are you grabbing a book?” Grio asked, tail briefly curling against his pretend-match’s ankle as he passed. 

 

“Yeah,” Kalo said, and retrieved his latest read - a text outlining the times Guulruf and Pelzz had left their planes to interfere in the mortal one, with meticulous first-hand accounts of the gods’ actions and stated motivations. 

 

The pair went to the garden, which was really a courtyard in the middle of the school building. Kalo laid on a padded stone bench next to the pond, while Grio sat on the ground and leaned back against it. Moonlight bathed the large, pink leaved willow tree in silver light, and frogs croaked trying to catch the glowing torch bugs. 

 

They passed a few quiet hours before an instructor came to find Kalo, and the red-skinned boy left his book with his pretend-match as he went with them. They took him to the part of the school usually reserved for administrators and had him sit down on a stone chair. 

 

The Head Instructor was there, and she sat across from him in another chair. She smiled, holding out a goblet, “Here, drink this, Kalo.”

 

The boy sniffed the dark brown liquid, but couldn’t smell anything. He started to drink, but almost spat it out at the horrible taste - only to have one of the other instructors hold him in place and tip the goblet up, forcing him to finish the drink. 

 

“I’m sorry, but you really must finish it all,” the Instructor said, ears falling in empathy, “It’s for your own good.”

 

Kalo coughed and wheezed as the drink was taken away, and he felt incredibly woozy. His limbs felt suddenly heavy, his head falling to his chest as he failed to hold it up. His vision blurred in and out, and he could hear his heartbeats in his ears. The other instructor strapped his legs and arms to the chair - but not before removing the leather wrap covering his soul writing. 

 

The boy watched but found he couldn’t muster the energy to protest - not even verbally. From a corner of the room, another instructor appeared and poured something viscous over the writing.

 

“Now, this may seem extreme,” the Instructor said, walking over and gently pulling Kalo’s head up, cradling it, “But it’s for the best - being as special as we are, our first duty is to the Trinity. This will just make it easier for you to accept that.”

 

Kalo’s body spasmed, back arching as the instructor lit his arm on fire. He gasped and choked, unable to scream as the smell of his own burning flesh reached his nose. He felt nauseous, but had no power to do more than struggle against his bonds.

 

And then water was dumped over the fire, dousing it. A salve was spread over the burn, followed by a wrapping and then his leather wrap was replaced. Throughout it all, the Head Instructor stroked his hair and cooed over him, until he was unstrapped and picked up by another instructor to be carried away. 

 

Kalo woke up on his pad, still drowsy. He didn’t remember being carried there, but the soreness in his arm assured him it had been real. Still, he felt compelled to force himself up, clumsily trying to take off the leather wrap hiding his soul writing. His fingers felt too big and refused to do what he wanted. His eyes felt hot as they welled up, tears of frustration leaking out. 

 

And then familiar blue hands took over, gently undoing the leather wrap and pulling it away, and doing the same for the cloth bandage beneath. 

 

Kalo stared at the angry, white burn that was his arm for what he thought must be a stupidly long time. He looked at the ground next to him and tried with a shaky finger to trace out the foreign letters he’d committed to memory.

 

Except it wasn’t there. He could only scrawl messy, unintelligible symbols that meant nothing.

 

His breath hitched, hands starting to shake more as tears came more readily. Grio rewrapped his burned arm and replaced the leather wrap. Kalo was barely aware of it.

 

His pretend-match pulled him into a hug, rubbing up and down his back, “They did it to everyone.”

 

The red-skinned boy couldn’t respond - the most he could do was wrap his arms around Grio’s waist as tightly as possible and sob into the other boy’s shoulder. 

 

It wasn’t that he’d ever thought he’d meet his soulmate - but knowing they were out there, maybe hoping to meet him one day, had been a part of who he was for as long as he could remember. It felt like someone had ripped off one of his limbs, and he had no way to vocalize that ache. 

 

Grio didn’t ask him to - he just held him. 

© 2020 by Aurora Lee Thornton
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