“But that can’t be right,” Maeza muttered, looking through the paperwork before her.
Veru, who was seated opposite her at the desk, glanced up from her own paperwork. “Hmm?” was all Veru offered.
Maeza shook her head. “Just going through a few records here.”
“Is it regarding Tungsten last night?”
Maeza raised an eyebrow. “No. What happened?”
Veru rolled her eyes. “Bloody fool got intoxicated – and not just on alcohol – and was found wandering around campus last night, screaming as though he had a limb chopped off.”
“Oh my,” Maeza said, her stomach feeling queasy.
“He had vomited all over himself, too. He was taken back to his room and put under sedation. It’s a miracle he didn’t die from an overdose.”
Maeza shook her head. “I feel sorry for whoever had to write—”
“And that would be me.”
“—that report. Ugh. Sorry, Veru.”
Veru shrugged as she continued scribbling notes. “Nothing to be done about it now. I tried interviewing the night shift nurses about it, but they were mostly useless. No one saw Tungsten get out or roaming around.”
Maeza considered this. “What about Rigo and Von?”
Veru scoffed. “The custodians? Bunch of dolts, they wouldn’t recognize the Holy Thiat if he threatened to expel them.”
Maeza nonchalantly looked over her shoulder, making sure no one was within earshot. She then dropped her voice to a whisper. “Veru, is it true?”
Veru rolled her eyes so hard Maeza thought she was having a seizure. “Me and Rigo? Oh Thiat, no!” Realizing she spoke louder than expected, Veru lowered her voice again. “I don’t know how that rumor started but it’s biggest piece of bollocks I’ve ever heard.” Veru made a show of pointing at herself. “Me? And Rigo?”
“To be fair, you did seem to be having a hard time with your breakup with Marcus.”
Veru’s jaw dropped. “But Rigo? I’d rather get with Tungsten.”
Maeza whistled. “Fair enough.”
Veru shook her head. “So, what were you on about earlier?”
“You said ‘That can’t be right’ or something like that.”
Maeza nodded. “Oh! Yes. The charts.” She scratched her forehead. “I was looking into what you said about room 52. I’ve been looking through charts over the past two months. And I found a few that have redacted information.”
Veru looked puzzled. “Redacted? On a chart?”
Maeza sighed. “Yes. Very few, but they were from a couple of months ago. Right around the time we received…” Maeza looked aside in thought.
“What is it?”
Maeza looked back at Veru, realization in her eyes. “Around the time we received the new patients. Khloe and the other one.”
“You think they’re related somehow?”
Maeza shrugged. “I don’t know. But I intend to keep digging until I do.”
Aedyn stared into the fire, the crackle cutting into the silence of the dark.
He looked up, glancing at the stars, the sky clear and wide. The moon hung full in the distance, the silver disc swallowing the horizon in impossible size. He looked back at the fire, and in it he saw among the dancing flames his own reflection.
I don’t recognize my own face.
Aedyn looked across from him, and there sat an older man, with a full pale beard streaked with dark lines. His hair was equally pale, in tightly wound locks that framed his full russet face. The man’s piercing brown eyes were clearly visible despite the darkness, reflecting the flames if not in color then in brilliance.
“Have you heard a word I’ve said, boy?” the man said, not unkindly.
Aedyn nodded, not so much against his will as remembering a part in a play. “I have, sir.”
“Then what was the last thing I said?”
This brought up Aedyn short. He reached into his memory and found a confabulation of thought that made little sense to him.
Roué. An explosion. Khloe. Fire.
“My memories are broken, Master Inkhosi,” Aedyn said, his voice sounding alien to his own ears.
Inkhosi chuckled. “Now that is a rather profound problem to have, son.”
Aedyn frowned, feeling every bit his age. “You don’t believe me.”
“On the contrary, I do,” Inkhosi said. “I believe that you believe your memories are broken.”
“Is this another one of your conundrums? Another lesson for me to figure out?”
“Do you want it to be?”
“Then look into the fire.”
Aedyn did as his master instructed, and in the dancing flames. He saw himself, a young boy of fourteen years, and his elder master, silhouetted against the impossibly large moon.
“What do you see?” Inkhosi asked.
“I see us.”
“But do you see us as we were?”
Aedyn pondered the question, and after a moment shook his head. “No.” Then, looking back at Inkhosi, continued, “Are we in one of your Thoughtspaces?”
Another chuckle from the elder. “No, Aedyn. Look back into the flames.”
Aedyn did, and he saw himself again, but no longer as a young man. He appeared as he did now, over thirty years since those days.
“You’re dead,” Aedyn said flatly.
“And for a long time, from my estimation of your face.”
Aedyn opened his mouth, then closed it in surprise. He then said, “Are you making fun of my age?”
“I’m dead. I don’t get to do anything.” Another chuckle.
“I miss you, old man,” Aedyn said, the words heavy with respect and emotion.
Inkhosi looked back at the fire, and a silence settled between them. At length, he spoke.
“When I was a young man, I discovered, as you did, that I had special abilities. I had talents few could understand, and even fewer who would acknowledge them without fear. At first, I was frightened. They took me and locked me away. In a place for… others. People who had talents like mine, or maybe not so much like mine. Only the Tai’Hiera were the ones allowed to openly display their powers, and if you did you were pressed into service for their Order of Saints.” He said the last word with a tinge of disgust. “They tried to take away more than my abilities. They tried to take my mind.”
“How did you resist?”
“Our talents are a pathway to more than just physical strength. You know this. We are always in tune with our… arts… even if we don’t feel them.”
“That doesn’t answer my question, Master.”
Inkhosi smiled. The honest, warm, fatherly smile that Aedyn had lacked for so much of his life. And he suddenly realized how deeply he missed Inkhosi, how much of a void in his life was left when Inkhosi passed away. It brought a flood of emotions that Aedyn was not prepared for.
“I did answer it. You just don’t—”
“—realize it yet. Uh-huh. You never change, do you?”
“Would you really want me to?”
“Never.” Aedyn was surprised at how quick and honest the words came.
Inkhosi nodded. “You must go. “He paused. “We’ll see each other again two more times in your life.”
Inkhosi shook his head. “Soon enough, son.”
Aedyn awoke with a start. His body felt sluggish, his muscles aching and reacting slowly as he found himself in a wheelchair and tried to sit up. He noticed the functional room with other people, some in wheelchairs, others sitting at chairs or tables staring off into nothingness. Aedyn found that he was sitting at a table himself, and before him was a chess board filled with pieces, as though a match was just beginning. He noticed the dark-skinned young man across from him with cerulean eyes, patiently staring at him.
“Your move,” Izem said.