Chapter 1: Surprises
Content warnings: Semi-graphic description of human sacrifice by fire, the attendant Emotions that come with witnessing that, and underage drug use.
The Unseelie Court’s Samhain dinner, perhaps the most prestigious social event of the year, was threatening to bore Kay to death. As a birthday present to himself, he waited until nobody was looking, got up, left the banquet hall, and walked as casually as possible through the Center.
He hadn’t been given a satisfactory explanation for why the entire Ranch household had packed its bags and made the journey through the hills to the Center, but he was determined to enjoy the change of scenery regardless. He’d spent most of his life on the Ranch and was excited to be anywhere else, not least because the Center had spectacular views of the ocean and ‘Angeles.
When he’d found his way onto the roof, the last rays of sun were glinting off the sea and the surviving windows of the ruins spread out below. Enough time had passed since the Fall that the records and stories passed down were horribly incomplete and contradictory, and Kay wasn’t at all sure which parts were true. It had been difficult to believe that so many humans had ever existed, let alone lived in the same place. Seeing ‘Angeles himself, though — looking at the towers and streets and long ribbons of the highways — made him revise his opinion. Clearly he needed more information.
He stayed until it was too dark to see much of anything. Once again indoors, he let Marcus herd him back into his guest room, lecture him about the proper behavior of a fourteen-year-old (mostly consisting of not wandering away from his keepers), and lock him in.
Kay read until shortly before midnight. Then he put on the robe he’d stolen from the Contracteds’ laundry, picked the lock on his door, and snuck through the Center to get outside.
It was colder than he’d expected. He didn’t typically go out at night, and never on the last night in October. But the cold was new data, and that was good, even if the robe wasn’t very warm.
He was slightly disappointed that so far the disguise was unnecessary, but whatever event was happening wasn’t inside the exhibition halls or even in the plaza, and had called away even the people normally assigned to monitor the Center. There were lights ahead at the garden terrace, and Kay slunk towards it, curiosity burning.
Normally, he wouldn’t bother to attend social events. Normally, he spent his birthday happily reading in the comfort of his room, or talking with his tutors, or just sleeping. But on top of forbidding him to go, Lupe and Marcus had refused to even tell him the name of this event. His disobedience was their fault; if they’d just told him, he’d have stayed in bed.
Nobody stopped him as he approached the terrace; they shouldn’t, with the ways Kay had been observing the Contracted and learning to copy their behavior patterns. They flowed between knots of the Fair Folk, bringing and taking away dishes, flutes of champagne, warm towels. Kay found an unattended tray and used it to go where he pleased; accepting empty glasses was easy enough and added to his cover. Soon, Kay was enjoying the fact that nobody, including his tutors, looked at him closely enough to recognize him.
He made his way to the far edge of the terrace, and stole glances down the hill. There was something happening at the Circle, though the shrubs were screening it from his view. Kay was still sizing up the best path down when a short melody sounded throughout the whole Center. The horn music stopped everyone in their tracks, dozens of conversations cut off mid-word, and then Fae and servants alike started to move across the terrace and towards the Circle. It was eerie, seeing everyone going to the same place, but not enough to keep Kay from following.
When they reached the Circle, Kay almost stopped dead in surprise. The upper levels were being occupied by the Fae from the party, yes, but the lower levels were absolutely packed with humans.
This wasn't just any party. Kay had never seen so many people of either kind in one place, and the Folk never socialized with humans in groups like that.
In the wall between the two groups, Kay found a narrow alcove, wedged himself into it, and kept watching. There was a pond at the center of the Circle, over which stood a raised concrete slab, and on the slab was a hollow structure of stacked logs.
This was all highly unusual. Kay was so delighted to be experiencing so much novelty that he barely noticed how his disguise itched.
The crowd, which had been murmuring with dozens of conversations, suddenly fell silent. All eyes turned to the bridge over the center of the waterfall. Kay risked a peek and caught a glimpse of the King dismounting his black stallion, cloak billowing behind him despite the still air, darkness radiating outwards from his presence. People near him swallowed and loosened their collars, but no one dared show more discomfort than that, and all bowed before him.
The King only showed up to the most important events. Kay's mind raced through the possibilities.
“Soon it will be midnight,” the King said from behind his mask, heavy voice somehow everywhere, “and our subjects will show fealty with their tribute. So it has been, so it shall be.”
“So it shall be,” echoed the crowd as one. Kay started to get a bad feeling about that.
Next to the King, a woman in pearl gray armor dismounted her horse. She was tall, powerfully built.
“Elle?” Kay’s question went unnoticed as two Contracted stepped forward with torches and set the wooden structure in the Circle ablaze. It caught quickly, suggesting either magic or some kind of accelerant.
As the woman walked, Kay became sure. It was Elle, the only other uncontracted human living among the Fae. Elle, who'd left the Ranch without a word weeks before. Elle, who Kay admired for her clarity of thought and physical strength and devastating one-liners. Elle, who'd tracked down an ancient Varadhan book because Kay had mentioned an interest in probability.
She mounted a set of stairs behind the King. Kay hadn’t noticed that addition before, but the stairs led to a catwalk that reached from the bridge across the water, spanned the waterfall, and came almost to the center of the Circle. The one that was currently on fire.
Kay had a very bad feeling about that.
From the look on the face of a dark-haired boy near Kay’s hiding place, he wasn’t the only one.
The King was talking again, but the fire was roaring very hot and loud, and Kay’s dread was making it worse. Then Elle said something, then the King again. That repeated a few more times, and then Kay barely managed to stifle a scream as Elle took three running steps and leapt onto the fire.
The shout was from Kay’s other side, and he turned just quickly enough to see the nervous boy — Cassian — try to flee. He was grabbed almost immediately by a man with a stone face and sandy hair, presumably the one who yelled.
Elle started screaming. Kay couldn't move. He could barely breathe. He needed to get away, he needed quiet, but he couldn't move.
Cassian struggled, but the man hissed something in his ear, and the boy slumped in the man’s grip, let himself be faced towards the fire. Kay watched him clutch his own elbows, knuckles white, dark eyes staring at nothing.
Kay both felt that he should look at Elle — that he owed her his attention in her final moments — and had never been more afraid of anything in his life. He saw what watching her die was doing to Cassian, and he hadn't even known her.
Elle's dying howls couldn't have lasted more than a minute or so, but it seemed like an eternity.
Then it was over. The King spoke, closing the ceremony. Everyone but the fire keepers left the Circle.
Kay still couldn’t move, but sometime after everyone was gone, he regained the ability to think.
Most humans, generally speaking, didn’t like being near the Fae. Certainly not as many who had been at the ceremony. That, and the man dragging Cassian back, suggested that attendance had been mandatory for everyone but him. He was fairly certain Cassian was younger than he was, so Kay’s age couldn’t have been the reason he’d been forbidden.
Age. Kay shared a birthday with Elle. And while they weren’t related by blood, she’d called him ‘brother’ more than once. Just like Benton — another uncontracted human living with Kay and Elle until Kay’s seventh birthday — had called him, as he’d called Elle ‘sister.’
Finally, Kay brought his eyes to the fire. There wasn’t much to see, at that point, just a slightly rounded shape in the center of it.
Kay threw up on the gravel. He’d need more data to confirm it, of course, but he was at least eighty-five percent sure that he was next in line for the fire.
He thought, briefly, of running away. Stealing a horse, a boat, going across the ocean until he hit land again. But he’d seen the Wild Hunt find a contract-breaker across mountains and rivers, knew that if they had a possession or lock of hair or some other token from someone, could find them anywhere. And that, he realized belatedly, was probably why they’d drawn a tiny vial of blood from his arm just three days before.
There was no escape.
Kay’s thoughts became jumbled then, circling over and over back to his inevitable death, back to Elle’s screams, back to his guilt for never realizing what had happened to Benton. By the time he could focus on his surroundings again, the fire had collapsed into a smoldering heap half its previous height.
The sky suggested that it was sometime near dawn. If Kay was right about the frequency of these...events, he had just under two thousand, five hundred and fifty-seven days to live.
He planned to spend the next one screaming at his tutors and getting very, very high.
Once he recovered from that, he was going to make a prioritized list of everything he wanted to accomplish before he died, and then he was going to start working towards his goals.
Chapter 2: Remnants
After years of study and training, years of minor defiance that only chipped away at the Fae’s stranglehold on humanity, years of swallowing his anger, Cassian had finally begun the mission that would end in open rebellion.
Posing as a Contracted servant at the University was the first stage of that mission, and it made some parts of his job much easier. One of them was that if he claimed to be on an errand for the Fae, no one questioned it as long as he was careful to make it look legitimate. Some nights, he didn’t even have to speak to anyone, just let them assume.
In other ways, it was more difficult. For example, the Fae only permitted each of the Contracted to participate in one night of Las Posadas. The custom was an excellent excuse to be away from the University for the hours Cassian needed, especially since the moon was nearly full on his night, but it meant that he would miss Posadas for the year.
It was a small thing, to miss one evening of observing the old ways with others who remembered them.
Cassian had known for a long time that life was mostly small things.
He shook himself. He had a job to do. If he did it right and was very lucky, he might be able to attend all nine nights next year.
Wearing both of his jackets against the December chill and keeping an eye out for rattlesnakes, it took Cassian a few minutes to reach the crumbling Pacific Highway. From there it was a bit more than half an hour to the west, then down an offshoot to reach Saw’s house.
A century or two ago it must have been a beautiful structure, all elegant lines and high-quality materials. The underlying shapes of the house were still intact, thanks to the sturdy concrete walls, but everything else was decayed, missing, or covered with something else. The roof, for one, had long since been repaired with a mishmash of tiles salvaged from other buildings. In keeping with that principle, someone had reinforced the outer wall with scavenged cinder blocks and embedded broken bottles inside their hollows to discourage climbing. Cassian would have dismissed that as paranoia if it hadn’t been for the bullet holes and scorch marks all over the gate.
Cassian, sensibly, did not approach the house. He hid in the shadows where he could watch the road, and waited.
A few minutes later, a familiar hooded figure came hurrying around the corner, and Cassian stepped out of hiding. The figure waved, and when she was close, Cassian jerked his chin at the house. “Ready?”
Jyn, looking grim, nodded. She didn’t touch any of her weapons, but the way she held her arms told Cassian she was definitely thinking about it.
Cassian couldn’t blame her. He himself hadn’t stopped thinking about his own knives, crossbow, and grenades. Not that those would completely neutralize Saw’s patron, if the stories were to be believed, but they might help.
Jyn and Cassian made it all the way to the gate without being challenged. That put Cassian on edge; the last he’d heard, Saw had at least three mercenaries on his payroll, and he’d expected at least one of them to be on watch.
Jyn cleared her throat. “Saw!” she yelled. “It’s me, Jyn! I need to talk to you!”
No answer. Cassian’s worry was rising, but he almost wanted to laugh. En nombre del cielo, os pido posada.
Jyn called out again. Still nothing. Had Saw left? Where would he have gone?
Jyn took out one of her batons and banged on the paved walkway. “Hey! I know you’re in there!”
Another few heartbeats, and Cassian was almost ready to nudge Jyn away when a gull flew up and perched on the gate, feet somehow avoiding all the glass and nails, gray and white plumage glowing eerily in the moonlight.
“Jyn?” the bird rasped in a human voice.
Cassian tensed, trying to decide which weapon was best suited to defense against the familiar, but Jyn only stood up straighter and glared at the bird. “Finally! Yes, it’s me. Are you going to let us in or not?”
“I know you.” The gull bobbed its head at Jyn, then turned to glare critically at Cassian. “Who is he, and why shouldn’t I curse him where he stands?”
Cassian didn’t move or speak. Si me enfado os voy a apalear.
“Cassian is my friend,” Jyn said, sounding more and more frustrated. “He helped me escape a contract.”
The bird continued to scrutinize Cassian. He couldn’t tell if it was just his own nerves or if the creature really was examining his soul.
“Well?” Jyn said after a moment.
“Enter freely, and leave intact,” the bird said, and flew away, just as the gate creaked and opened for them. There was nobody on the other side.
“Entren, peregrinos,” Cassian murmured.
He shook off his increasing sense of unease and took in his surroundings. The front courtyard was a mess: there was most of an ancient car and some torn fishing nets and a dozen arrows abandoned halfway through fletching, and plenty of sand, and succulents growing in crevices everywhere. There wasn’t any space big enough for a person to hide, though, and if there were more familiars, Cassian wouldn’t see them unless Saw wanted him to. He dismissed the courtyard and turned his attention to the house. It looked much like the outer wall, broken glass defenses and all.
And the sound of the ocean was inescapable, this close, an endless crashing roar.
Jyn arrived at the house proper, and that door opened on its own, too. She and Cassian went inside. A fallen chandelier half-blocked their path and the staircase to the upper levels. The steps going up had been reinforced with scrap over the years, while the stairs leading to the lower levels of the house echoed with the heaving of the sea. Cassian wouldn’t have been surprised if there was a tide pool on the lowest storey.
Skirting the entryway, the two of them went farther out into the main room. It was largely empty, only one solid chair at the far end, one that looked like it had been ripped out of an ancient medical clinic.
In it, staring out of the broken hole in the wall that had probably once been a window, was Saw. With his greying hair, hunched posture, and scarred face, he looked like a man no longer formidable, but Cassian knew better. Indeed, when he looked closely enough, he could see that the warlock’s prosthetic leg was attached not with cloth or leather straps, but dark strands of something that seemed to writhe when seen from the corner of his eye.
“Jyn, my child,” the old man said, one hand extended. Jyn approached, but stopped before she was within arm’s reach. Saw kept his hand open for a long minute before he sighed. “It’s good to see you, even if I mean nothing to you.”
Jyn huffed. “I’m glad you’re not dead. That’s more than I care for most people.”
Saw brightened under Jyn’s gruff affection. “Well, my dear. What did you want to talk to me about?”
The tension in Jyn’s posture eased a little. Cassian had never seen her relaxed when talking about feelings. “We heard there was a helmsman who’d broken his contract.”
All warmth drained from Saw’s face. “The Unseelie thrall. Yes.”
“We heard he came here,” Cassian said, unable to hold himself back any longer.
“He did,” Saw said, shaking his head. “He’s still here, though he won’t be much use to you.”
Jyn’s face went dark. “Don’t tell me you left him down there at high tide.”
Cassian didn’t like the sound of that at all.
“I’m afraid so,” Saw said. “I couldn’t be sure he wasn’t a Court spy, otherwise.”
Jyn made a disgusted noise, turned on her heel, and started stalking back towards the entrance. Cassian, following her backwards to keep an eye on Saw, felt his own urgency rising.
“What’s going on, Jyn?”
Jyn was sizing up the stairs to the lower level. Apparently finding their state acceptable, she started down. “His patron,” she explained. “The one who gives him his powers? It’s. Um.” She cleared her throat. “Hungry.”
Heart turning to lead, Cassian drew his crossbow and followed her down.
The stairs had one landing, and as he turned it, Cassian tensed. The entire lower level of the house was half-submerged, the sea heaving in and out through the broken row of windows. The moon had lowered somewhat in the sky and begun to pull the tide back out, exposing the barnacles stuck to the walls, and the whole thing smelled strongly of rot.
Wedged between a stack of crates and the ceiling was a cage made of sections of wire fence lashed together, and in the cage was the shape of a man. Surf washed in and out of the cage, and Cassian froze on the steps when he saw the long, black tentacles reaching into the cage from the water.
“Jyn, stay back!” he barked, though she was up to her waist in seawater and halfway to the cage already. “There’s something in the water!”
“It’s going to be the one getting back,” she snarled, and pulled something out of her neckline. Before Cassian could see what she had, it shone with a light so bright that he had to shield his eyes.
When he opened them again, the tentacles were gone and Jyn was cutting the zip ties holding the cage together.
Crossbow held high out of the water, Cassian took a deep breath and waded into the icy cold water, heart hammering at the sudden drop in temperature. He let the tide current pull him forward and refused to think about the possibility of the tentacles coming back.
By the time he got to the cage, Jyn had jammed the door open with a plank ripped from somewhere. She was crouched in the cage next to the man, checking him for injuries.
“Nothing broken,” she said, and looked up at Cassian. “You get his left side.”
Between the two of them, he and Jyn fought the current to haul the man across the room. Water spilled from their clothes as they carried him up the stairs, using the handrails and taking care not to slip. When they reached the main level, panting, Cassian’s hackles raised at the empty room.
“Are we making trouble by taking him?”
Jyn shook her head. “No. Saw’s arrangement with Bor Gullet doesn’t include other humans.”
“Good to know.”
After she and Cassian caught their breath, they carried the helmsman out into the courtyard, squelching through the detritus, and then the road.
Once in moonlight, Cassian could see the man didn’t have any visible wounds. What, then, had the creature been feeding on? Cassian shuddered.
“The Temple?” Jyn asked, once they were on the Highway again.
“We can’t carry him that far,” Cassian said, already tired.
“I rode. Stormy will take two.”
Slowly, Cassian nodded. The Guardians had the space and supplies to care for someone. More importantly, they’d be willing to help the man, whoever he was, whatever he’d done, and whatever had been done to him. Though it wasn’t actually a crime to harbor a contract-breaker, plenty of people thought they were bad luck.
The Guardians didn’t. Dichosa la casa que alberga.
The fifteen minutes carrying the helmsman and then wrestling him up onto Jyn’s pale gray horse felt very long, but soon enough Cassian was alone again on the path back towards the Ranch. He moved quickly to stay warm in his wet clothes, and made better time for it.
Alone, the fear that they’d been too late came rushing back. The man who’d broken contract, he was the one who knew the message. The one who held the secret that could, potentially, break the Court’s power. And if he’d suffered brain damage — if the message had been forgotten or he couldn’t speak —
Cassian’s hands tightened into fists. He had to keep his head. Even if the helmsman couldn’t tell them, the one who’d sent the message in the first place still existed. As long as Cassian and the others stayed ready, there was still hope.
Even if he himself didn’t see another Posada, someone else would.
Chapter 3: Sabbatical
CW: Being forced into a scary suit of armor, loss of bodily autonomy, panic, non-consensual magical body modification, mention of a sexual relationship between a captive and captor, suicidal ideation.
Kay’s twenty-first Midsummer Day was starkly different from its evening.
The essential daily tasks of the Ranch, the University, and the rest of Malibu were the same as always. The Solstice festivities were familiar, too: the inter-Guild baseball game was played (surprisingly enjoyable, given that the Tanners beat Couture in an upset), the barbecue feasts were eaten, the celebratory beer and mead and rosé were drunk, and then everybody cleaned up. People stumbled home happily drunk, and the livestock that hadn’t been feasted upon were themselves fed.
Kay was free to enjoy all that normalcy (as much as a human sacrifice whose presence tended to dampen festive moods could), but it only made what was to come more strange. He had to be back on the Ranch by sundown to put on the armor.
He’d worn armor before, as part of his combat training (number eight on his list), but that had been the kind that human guards or sheriffs used: mostly leather with a few pieces of salvaged kevlar for those who could afford it. It was light, too, and flexible, intended to facilitate fast movement. The Teind armor was nothing like that. It encased its wearer completely in a hard shell and (appropriately enough) discouraged running.
And, unlike practical armor, the design was different for every Teind. Kay could still remember Elle’s armor, pale gray with a few green accents. Benson’s had been the same brown as the hills, though Kay didn’t remember it in much detail. And he’d seen images of previous Teinds, none of them the same.
He hadn’t been given details of how it worked, or who had made it, or how the design was chosen. He did know, from a patchwork of memory, research, and probing questions, that it would change him somehow. Though he hadn’t realized it at the time — she’d taken to wearing a long cloak pulled tightly around herself — Elle’s had made lace of her neck and lower back. Benson’s had elongated his jaw into almost a snout, deadened his hearing, and given him an incredibly sensitive olfactory capacity.
All of that terrified Kay. Dying was one thing; being fundamentally, unpredictably altered was another entirely.
The only consolation he had was that once the armor was on, he could finally begin the highest-priority item on his list: the Los Angeles Central Library was too radioactive for humans to enter safely, but the armor would protect him well enough for him to explore the institution.
The sun almost kissing the sea, Kay climbed past the University and up over the ridge to the Ranch.
The collection of buildings had been either preserved or rebuilt just as it had been before the Fall: a larger central building for the common areas (dining hall, great room, classroom, practice room) and numerous smaller cabins that served as individual dwellings. Kay's was the farthest from the House, almost on the ridge overlooking the sea, where it was quietest. Switching to that one from the more centrally-located cabin where he's spent his early childhood had been his first successful negotiation with the Fae.
However, he wasn't going there yet. He went instead to the practice room.
The Ranch, once upon a time, had been a real working farm, but between that and the Fall, it had been a 'luxury wellness resort.' From what Kay could extrapolate from the surviving documentation, that meant it was a place for very rich people to endure near-starvation and grueling exercise while also sleeping on the finest linen and having servants attend to their every desire.
The practice room, with an entire wall made of glass, had been where the elite would go to practice meditation and yoga. For the Fae and the Teinds, it was for physical combat training, sparring, dance lessons, anything involving physical movement and the need for space.
Kay arrived just as the last rays of sun were disappearing from the roof. There was no one else inside yet, just the usual equipment and an intricately carved wooden chest.
Just as he was contemplating what they'd do to him if he peeked inside the chest, the back door opened and Ventesel came gliding out. He was alone, and that sent a wave of dread through Kay. The Fae never performed manual labor.
Unless there was a magical reason not to.
“Teind,” said Ventesel. “We begin.” He opened the chest, and Kay finally saw his armor.
It was black, no gloss to the surface, enough that it soaked up light and looked like it had depth. The shape of it was geometric, minimalist, no frills or embellishment. If not for what it was going to do to him, he’d have liked it quite a bit.
When Ventesel buckled on the sabatons, they felt perfectly mundane over his boots. As soon as both parts of the left greave closed around Kay’s lower leg, however, he started to feel a faint buzz. Not on his skin, as if the armor were vibrating, but deep, like something had invaded his bones.
Kay told himself it didn’t matter. That his body changing wouldn't affect the rest of him.
He’d never been a very good liar, least of all to himself. His breath started to speed up.
The second greave, and the now the buzz was in both lower legs, and stronger, too. The poleyns and the cuisses didn’t increase the intensity, but they did pull the sensation up his knees and thighs. The breast and back plates, and then the buzzing was in Kay’s chest, breaking his self-control, and he jerked away from the attendant, heart hammering, chest heaving in its prison.
Ventesel tossed his head in annoyance, rich chestnut tresses rippling across his shoulders. “Be still,” he commanded, and the magic in the words wrapped around Kay and froze his limbs. Only his heart and lungs kept moving.
“Come back,” the Fae said, and Kay’s body returned him to his place. He had no say in the matter at all. “Stand to be armored,” and his arms held themselves away from his torso, ready for the vambraces, gauntlets, revebraces, and pauldrons.
Kay wondered what would happen if he passed out. Would his unconscious body continue to obey, standing until the attendant was done? Would he just collapse into a heap like a rag doll? Ventesel might let him, if he was annoyed enough.
Kay tried to run probability equations in his head. He started with equations for which of the Contracted servants would be hung over tomorrow. Individual predictions were often pretty imprecise, though, so he worked out the percentage of people hungover instead.
Finished with his arms, Ventesel picked up the fauld. Kay thought about how much corn and rice was likely to be harvested that year. By now the buzz was present throughout Kay’s body and slowly increasing and decreasing its intensity. The gorget, and he could almost taste it.
Then only the helm was left. When it was lowered over his head, there was darkness, and the amplified sound of his ragged breathing in his own ears, and then Ventesel partially visible through the eye slits. He buckled the last strap and the buzz peaked into an intense pulse through Kay’s whole body before vanishing completely.
“It is done,” the Fae said. “You are free to go.” The outside control of Kay’s body disappeared, and Ventesel left the armory.
Kay fell to his knees laughing.
Sometime in the small hours of the morning, Kay discovered that the armor could be removed like any other.
Shortly thereafter — half an hour? — Kay’s bones started to hurt, a deep, widespread pain that started as a deceptively mild ache. He let it build another ten minutes, twenty, thirty, until it was nearly unbearable.
When he buckled the armor back on with shaky hands, the pain didn’t lessen until every piece was in its place. Then, and only then, did it evaporate, leaving only its memory.
Kay certainly remembered.
Exhausted by the pain and the panic, Kay returned to his room. He lay down, armor an all, disliking immensely how deeply he sank into the mattress and how the sheets caught at the plates.
Struggling up, he shifted bedding onto the floor, which at least didn’t try to swallow him up. It took much longer than normal, but he did eventually drift off to sleep.
The summer sun beat down onto the pavement and reflected off the empty glass towers of Downtown ‘Angeles, attacking Kay from every angle with light and heat. He was sweating profusely under his armor and had been for the last hour, but carrying it in his arms would be worse even without the threat of pain. Until he reached the Library, he paced himself and took frequent sips from his canteen.
The streets of the abandoned city were silent but for his own footsteps crunching and scraping broken glass against the asphalt. There were pockets of inhabitation elsewhere in ‘Angeles, Kay knew, but those were near water and away from the worst of the radiation. Most likely he had not just the Library but the whole neighborhood all to himself.
When he found it, he stopped to take in the sight: The outside of the Los Angeles Central Library was remarkably intact. Only a few windows were broken, and the worst that had befallen the mosaic-decorated pyramid crowning the structure was dust. It looked almost exactly like the painting in the Ranch’s school room. It had been that painting of a beautiful building standing amid ruins that had intrigued Kay and made him want to visit even before he could read.
He wondered how the Library had survived. Perhaps, even during the Fall, people had been trying to preserve its knowledge and cultural history. However it had happened, Kay was grateful.
The large, heavy main doors were sealed shut. Kay circled the building, found a less imposing (and less beautiful) door, and pulled his pry bar from his pack.
When he pushed on it to test the strength, the door cracked open with a shriek of metal, bouncing against the wall and the doorframe twice before Kay reached out to stop it.
He looked down at his vambraces and gauntlets. They looked the same as ever, but he hadn’t been anywhere near that strong three days ago.
Each evening, Kay returned to his keepers at the Stadium base camp. At the great entryway the Fae guards would cleanse his armor and any books he brought back, and then he was permitted to go inside the crumbling structure and out onto the field that had once seen a sport played by people whose job it had been. The human Contracted would feed Kay and help him change into a clean undersuit, and then he would lie down on the outfield among the succulents, scrub grass and peanuts growing there. He watched the stars and listened with half an ear to the Contracted's conversations until he felt too lonely to continue, or eavesdropped on the Fae until their talk of fine clothes, hunting and social drama bored him to sleep.
Each morning, he woke, ate breakfast, loaded himself with as much water as he could reasonably carry, and went back to the Library.
After the second week, he'd begun to wake increasingly earlier each day, and so it was just as the sun was beginning to rise that he arrived at the Atrium on the one hundred and fifth day remaining to him.
Some of the colorful glass sculptures had fallen and shattered on the tile floor, but it had only been a few hours’ work to sweep the mess out of the way. It was worth it, given how frequently Kay passed through the Atrium: once-mobile metal staircases cascaded down the long space, each landing an entrance to a different level of the Library. All but the highest and lowest levels of the building were accessible from there, and it was a good place to stop and think, or take advantage of the natural light and read what he’d found.
He’d been delighted to discover that the books were organized by a numerical system, and in under a day he’d made himself a key. Now he was almost finished with a set of notes on the building itself: how to get from one place to another, which rooms lacked enough ventilation to use a lantern, the location of the dangerously open elevator shaft, where to dispose of waste, where and how to store food and water. Everything, really, that an explorer might need to know.
He might have been done sooner, but he spent about half of his time reading the most interesting books that caught his eye and making a collection of what he thought might be useful to the people back in Malibu. It would depend on what he could carry but it was worth trying.
So far, he’d accumulated books on horticulture and terraforming, books about solar- and wind-powered electrical generators, books recording more traditions than Kay had known existed. He’d long since checked item number twelve on his list — attend all human holidays and celebrations at least once each, except the ones too close to the end of October — and some of those experiences were among those he valued the most. He wanted to ensure their continuation, and, if Malibu was interested, their expansion. It might even count as item number fifteen: creating, spreading or perpetuating something that had an above 70% chance of lasting a century or more.
Knowing how easily he could lose himself in the mathematics section, Kay only allowed himself to go there once a week. Today would be his fourth visit, and he didn’t plan on doing any mapping unless something particularly hazardous came up.
From the just-brightening Atrium, Kay went to Level -2. He picked up the lantern and firelighter he’d left at the entrance, but peering into the stacks, realized he didn’t need it.
Well, there were worse transformations. He’d gotten off easily so far, with just the strength and night vision and increasing height, though it did make him wonder what invisible effects Elle and Benson had experienced; wished, for the thousandth time, that they’d left behind journals to make his way forward a little easier.
He’d started keeping one on his sixteenth birthday. So far, the Fae hadn’t found it, or else didn’t care that he had one. The trick would be getting it to the next Teind.
He’d figure that out later. In the meantime, he was going to indulge in some ballistics equations.
Kay collected dictionaries and grammar guides for all of the languages he knew people in Malibu spoke. He read plays, poems, and novels by authors of all kinds, and the armor continued to transform his body into something less and less recognizable:
Not only did he no longer need a step stool to reach the highest shelves, he needed to duck when walking through low doorways, though the armor fit just as well as it had at the start.
He’d stopped getting hungry, but still ate a little each day. He wasn't quite ready to see if he could do without food entirely.
And, perhaps as a consolation, at night he could feel moonlight on the armor like a cool breeze.
He got distracted in the history section trying to find any mention of the Fae’s first appearance; when that failed, he searched for information about the wars of the Fall. He read all six books in one sitting. The basement didn’t have windows, so he didn’t realize until later that three and a half days passed while he was doing it.
When he returned to the Stadium, saving the guards from a retrieval mission, he actually felt hungry. When he took off his helm to eat, the humans startled, stared, and then averted their eyes.
“What?” Kay didn’t really have patience for politeness on this topic.
“Your, uh, your face, sir,” was all Sasha managed.
“What about my face?”
Janelle took a small mirror from her belt pouch and held it up so Kay could see himself. He started at what he saw.
His ears were more pointed than round. His cheekbones were standing out a lot more. And when his jaw fell open in surprise, he could see his teeth had become just a bit too sharp.
In short, he looked Fae.
Pushing the mirror away, he picked up a fork and started stabbing at his food. He would've preferred a snout.
After eating, Kay slept a few hours and then, restless, returned to the Library. Moonlight spilled through the windows and skylights of the Atrium, creating columns of light and darkness to mirror the stone ones holding up the roof.
Kay hadn't arrived with a specific plan. For perhaps the first time since he'd learned how, he didn’t feel like reading.
Exploration it was, then. The Library was huge, and there were entire rooms dedicated to things other than books that Kay had noted and then ignored.
He wasn’t going to ignore them now. He started at the top of the building, Level Four. There wasn’t much of it, just a secluded room with an enormous table in the center and excellent views of the desolation outside. He poked around a bit, finding only the sorts of things people used to use in meetings, and took the stairs back to the third, then the second level.
The Rotunda was beautiful, and he’d visited it multiple times already. It was hard to see the murals at night, though, so he merely continued on to the galleries. The paintings he couldn’t see, but the sculpture gallery occupied him for a good twenty minutes.
It didn’t do anything for his agitation, though, and he moved on. The shop, cafe, security checkpoints, classrooms, and computer rooms on the first level didn’t hold his interest longer than it took to sweep through them. He passed through more galleries without really looking at anything, and then he was at the doors to the Auditorium.
Unlike the Atrium, the Rotunda, or any of the galleries, Kay’s footsteps didn’t echo as he walked down the central aisle of the Auditorium. There were a few rows of padded, folding seats in a semicircle around the stage, wood paneling along the walls, carpet.
Sitting on the edge of the stage was a single book.
It was a bit out of place, but it was a library, so Kay didn’t have a strong reaction. When he went to pick it up, though, he was suddenly much more interested.
It wasn’t a machine-made book like all the others in the library. It was bound in a thick piece of soft leather without a title or any writing at all on the cover, and the pages were fibrous and uneven. He’d seen dozens like it in the book-and-stationery maker’s shop in Malibu.
A thrill ran through Kay. Someone had been in the Library after the Fall, and relatively recently.
Kay scoured the Auditorium for more such books, found none, and took it out to the Atrium. He sat down in a moonbeam, then got up again to bring a lantern, then, when he could see colors again, opened the book.
The first page had only the name Rogelio hand-written in ink. It sounded familiar to Kay for some reason but he couldn’t place it.
The next page started with a date — roughly fifty years before Kay’s expedition — and then began to describe the sea, the hills, and how much the writer had enjoyed his picnic at Malibu Creek.
It was a journal. The journal of someone intimately familiar with the same area Kay lived in. Heart beating fast, he read faster than he ever had in his life.
The first third was pretty standard journal fare, daily activities and moods and small interpersonal interactions. It confirmed Kay’s guess that the writer had been human. He was also fairly well-educated and seemed to have plenty of leisure time, which suggested he’d been born to a Favored house.
Then Rogelio met Lanithroel, a Fae woman he described at excruciating length. The smallest interactions between them were likewise over-analysed in the next entries. Kay sighed in disappointment; infatuation was boring.
Rogelio’s pining lasted about a month, and then Kay could almost taste his joy:
I never thought she would lower herself to a human level. I almost feel that I should be sorry, but I can’t. I’m far too happy to be hers to regret any of it! I’ve never felt anything so amazing, not just physically but in my heart, too. I’m in love, and it’s such a beautiful gift to be loved back.
Kay’s irritation curdled into dread. Happy about it or not — hell, magically compelled or not — Rogelio hadn't been in a position to consent.
Kay was abruptly very grateful that most of the Fae found him boring.
Still, he read on (skimming the bits about sex) and then, just after the halfway point of the book, stopped dead.
It’s almost October. Yesterday I mentioned the Teind and she became so distressed I could hardly bear it. She cried and I held her and daydreamed about running away together.
I thought I had prepared myself, but Lanithroel’s love has made me regret my early death. I would spend eternity with her if I could.
Kay sat, stunned. Rogelio had been a Teind.
“Well, this is a terrible way for my wish to come true,” he muttered.
Discomfited though he was, he kept reading. Rogelio became increasingly conflicted, Lanithroel increasingly weepy, and by the time he'd finished most of the journal Kay was considering burning it.
He reached the last entry.
For the longest time these journals have been only for myself, but now I’m changing that. I hope, of course, that in whatever future this is being read, the Fae no longer enact the Teind. Realistically, I hope this journal reaches the hands of a Teind after me.
I’m sorry. I know you must think very lowly of me for loving my warden. I think lowly of myself, after all. But the heart wants what it wants, and in addition to comfort and solace in the last few months of my life, our affair has given me knowledge.
Lanithroel wanted me to understand the Teind the way she does. It was very important to her that I know my death is not a whim or a religious obligation or a simple instrument of terror.
She told me that the Fae are not the source of their magic. They are the shapers, the wielders, but in the same way that humans shape and wield knives: the raw material has to come from somewhere else.
It comes from the Teind. Because I was born at the right time, because I’ve been educated and trained, because I’ve been prepared with the armor and the isolation, my death will be suitable fuel. I always thought that my comfortable lifestyle was a consolation, or a nod towards compensation, but it’s not. It’s like fattening a pig for slaughter.
I wish I could say I’m going to run or fight, but I can’t. They would catch me and kill any humans I’ve spoken to as punishment.
And I want Lanithroel to have magic. It’s some small comfort, knowing that part of me will be with her.
If you’re another Teind, I’m sorry that you share my fate. I wrote this because you deserve to know the truth. I hope that this journal has at least made you feel a bit less alone. Maybe, if we’re both very lucky, you’ll somehow be able to use this knowledge against the Fae.
Kay turned the page and stared at the blank paper. He turned all the remaining blank pages, and then he sat staring at the book in his lap.
“You hoped someone else could take them down.” He drummed his fingers against the cover of the journal. “Not that you have any idea how. Just that if I know what you know…”
He trailed off. If the ritual was also necessary, there was an exceedingly simple solution. “If I died before the ceremony — not too long, maybe an hour? — then it would fail. Their magic would fail.” He crossed his arms over his chest, the armor making a faint scraping sound he already knew wouldn't result in damage. “But I don’t know if the age of the Teind is a make-or-break factor. Being trained and educated is like being a fat pig, but if you haven’t got a fat pig, you kill a lean one.” Like the next Teind, twelve-year-old Bea. In the last year Kay had tried to distance himself, but he was still inordinately fond of her. She hated when people mistreated animals and there was nothing so cheering as watching a tiny round girl absolutely destroy an asshole’s shins. “Could I keep Bea safe and kill myself?”
The more he thought, the diceyer the logistics looked. And that was assuming it mattered when and where he died. Allowing his expedition would be a foolish risk if an accidental death could foil the Teind.
He was not optimistic about his odds.
For a week Kay attacked the problem of the Teind from every angle he could think of.
All possible solutions involved more than one person, which meant he'd found no solution at all. Not when he had no one he could really trust. The Fae made sure of that by making sure none of the people he came into contact with were stationed with him for longer than a season.
Defeated and tired, he decided to return early. He wanted to see the ocean again, the hills. Wonderful as the Library was, he didn’t want to spend the last two months of his life surrounded by dead things.
Culling his book collection to something small enough to carry back to the Ranch was a day of hard choices. He also made a copy of his exploration guide and left it, Rogelio’s journal, and a lantern on a map plinth in the Atrium.
Then he went home to await death.
Chapter 4: Remedies
CW: Narrowly-averted trauma flashback
Malibu Canyon Road wound from the town north through the hills, crumbling like everything else left over from Before. Residents of the Temple and Malibu alike helped repair cracks, when they could; tar was within the modern world's capabilities. The stretches of pavement that more closely resembled gravel, however, simply couldn't be rebuilt without heavy machinery. Since everyone but the very richest got around on foot or horseback, restoring ancient road construction equipment wasn't worth the effort.
Decomposing or not, it was the most direct route to the Temple. Just before the sky turned from deep blue to black, Cassian made his excuses to the University's manager and began the journey.
It was dark enough, that late August evening, that he decided to cut back through the scrub behind the University and along the Ranch road. It was still almost two hours of walking, and that on top of his long work day had him weary before he even arrived at the Temple.
It had been a holdout, once upon a time. The last human-controlled institution, a gathering place for multiple human religions, free for almost seventy years before the Fae had gotten bored of skirmishes with peripheral resistance. Some ten years before Cassian was born, they'd made a full assault on the place, breaking the intricately-sculpted towers, desecrating the marble floors with shod feet, robbing the idols and decorations they liked, and burning what they didn't. They could have razed it to the ground, or magicked it onto a remote mountain peak or to the bottom of the ocean, but they felt that a simple physical attack would get their point across: they didn't need magic to defeat humans.
That was only partially true, Cassian thought bitterly, since the attackers had all had superior, magic-enhanced armor and weapons.
After the Fae's victory, however, they apparently decided that magic was suitable as a punishment, and cursed both the Temple grounds and the survivors. No matter how much work or how many resources were poured into the building, on each new moon it would always revert to the state it was in at the time of victory. People still worshiped there, but they did so under the open sky, or the shelter of tarps stretched across gaps in the walls and roof.
And the humans? There hadn't been many survivors, and Cassian hadn't met most of them. But the two he knew the best, who had fought together so effectively it had almost been as if they shared a mind, had been cursed to see each other's differing beliefs as fundamentally wrong.
Cassian smiled to himself as he crossed the boundary of the Temple grounds and touched the guardstone to bypass the wards. The Guardians might both be stubborn and irrationally certain, but that hadn't yet separated Baze and Chirrut.
The Temple itself had never been a residence, used exclusively for worship, and so the Guardians lived in the same bungalow as their predecessors and the pre-Fall priests before them.
Cassian knocked on the door twice, waited a beat, then twice more. A moment later, the door opened.
“Welcome, Little Brother,” said the imposing man on the other side.
Like they always did, those words sent a pang of mixed pain and joy through Cassian, and he clapped a hand on Baze’s arm. “Thank you for your hospitality.”
Baze nodded, let Cassian step past, and then closed and locked the door. “The fool is in the study. Bodhi’s in the kitchen.”
Cassian nodded and gestured to his pack. “Kitchen first. I brought some more herbs.”
The house had long ago been divested of the wall-to-wall carpeting common before the Fall, replaced by salvaged tile, a different variety in every room. The kitchen retained its original sheet of smooth vinyl flooring, but it was in such bad repair that the Guardians had been planning to replace it for years. They had yet to agree on where to get more tile, though, or what colors they’d prefer.
The kitchen had also been fitted with electric appliances — stove, oven, dishwasher, refrigerator. The dishwasher made a decent drying rack, so it stayed, but the stove and oven had been replaced with a brick oven built by the Guardians before Baze and Chirrut. Those predecessors had also dug a cellar pantry under the house, putting the door in the space once occupied by the refrigerator. The formica countertops, the wood paneling on the walls, and the pale pink cabinetry still functioned exactly as they had a century before, if sun-faded and peeling here and there at the edges.
Cassian didn’t see Bodhi from the hallway, and knocked on the countertop to announce his presence. “Hello, Bodhi. Are you in the cellar?”
“Cass! Hi!” came a muffled voice from below. “Yeah, I’ll be up in a sec!”
Casssian opened his pack and started pulling out plants, most of which he’d grown in his own garden. There was turmeric for the heart and liver, calendula for inflammation, rue for menstrual discomfort, and plenty of chiles serranos for Baze’s cooking. With string from the now-familiar drawer, Cassian wrapped a bundle of turmeric roots together to hang from the overhead rack to dry.
He’d just finished the knot when the sound of footsteps preceded Bodhi up the stairs.
"Cassian!" Bodhi grinned as he approached with open arms, waiting like he always did for Cassian to accept the embrace or not. "It's good to see you."
Cassian smiled and wrapped his arms around his friend. He would always be grateful to Bodhi not just for being careful of his boundaries, but also helping him discover that he actually did enjoy physical contact if he had control. "You, too. How's the wind turbine project?"
Stepping back again, Bodhi gave an exaggerated sigh. "Until I can get my hands on enough aluminum pipe for the blades, it isn't."
Cassian scoffed. "You're already working on the blades? Does that mean you got the tower built? You hadn't even started last time I was here."
The corner of Bodhi's mouth turned up. "When you put it that way, maybe it is going well. Even if I do wish I could wave a hand to finish instantly."
"That would get us electricity sooner, sure," Cassian conceded. He put a hand on Bodhi's arm, trying to convey how important his work was. "But this way you're proving we don't need them, Bodhi."
Bodhi’s eyes darted around, reflexive behavior after five long years as Contracted, but then he visibly pulled himself together. Sighed. “There are still plenty of other things we can’t do at all.”
“Yet.” Cassian started tying twine around the stems of the chiles. “Tech-based electricity will open up other possibilities. Maybe we won’t see direct results for a while, but you’re changing the world.”
Skepticism and hope were warring on Bodhi’s face as he started bundling the calendula. Then he turned a calculating look to Cassian. “If you’re so fired up about this, how about putting the word out for materials? After the pipe I’ll need broadcloth, ball bearings, loads of copper wire," he said, counting off on his fingers as he went, "armature, if it can be salvaged, or the help of the blacksmith if not, cooling fans, an air filter—”
Cassian laughed. “It will probably take a while, but make me a list.”
The small, shaky smile on Bodhi’s face solidified into a grin. “We’re gonna do this.”
After they’d hung the plants and Bodhi had convinced Cassian to make hot chocolate (his own recipe with just the right amount of chile), they shared news in the living room with Baze and Chirrut. Cassian learned that Jyn’s secret combat training sessions were getting more and more participants, that Lyra’s travels confirmed the elders’ recollections of Fae behavior in previous Teind years, that one of the farmers’ hidden gardens had been grazed to the roots by some wandering cattle. There were still other gardens tucked into the clefts of hills — and not a few thriving in mirror-lit cellars — but it would still affect the yield of the un-taxed harvest.
Cassian shared news of the town — who was still collaborating with the Fae, who looked like they might be turned with the right conversation or one too many abuses. The deaths and births in the last month, and the women far enough along in their pregnancies to worry about giving birth on Samhain. Cassian was careful not to mention Saw by name, and since Bodhi had grown up in San Pedro he didn’t know enough to be indirectly triggered. Cassian didn’t have to tell Baze and Chirrut; like the rest of Malibu, they knew Gerrera was the most effective warlock in the region and that the most desperate mothers usually turned to him.
As the evening deepened, Bodhi yawned and excused himself halfway through Cassian’s re-telling of the Tanners v Weavers game. After their good-nights, Bodhi disappeared into the back of the house and Cassian took another few minutes to finish the story and the rest of his chocolate.
“So,” he said in the silence that followed. “How’s his recovery?”
Chirrut sighed. “Very good, emotionally. He still has nightmares, of course, but they are less frequent. He is becoming skilled at re-setting himself after breakdowns, and better at avoiding them.”
Cassian nodded. “I’m glad to hear that.” And he was. But that hadn’t been all he was asking.
“His memory is the same as last time,” Baze supplied.
Disappointment dragged Cassian’s eyes closed. He hadn’t expected much else, really, given that Bodhi had been sure to tell Cassian when he’d remembered that he’d broken contract to tell the would-be insurgents something vital to their mission’s success, but it was still hard to hear that he still couldn’t remember what. Especially since Cassian was more and more worried, as they drew closer to the Teind, that those missing details would be fatal to the mission as it was currently planned.
He knew it grieved Bodhi, too. The only time Cassian had asked him directly, Bodhi had clearly been furious with himself and on the edge of despair. He’d wished aloud that he could have taken Cassian’s place and thus the potential risk, but that was impossible. It had taken another hour to convince him that he shouldn’t be involved in the mission at all, that he was more valuable to the resistance hidden and working to procure resources.
Cassian was glad for that. Bodhi had suffered enough for their cause. Hell, Bor Gullet still gave Cassian nightmares, and he hadn’t been its victim.
A hand rested on Cassian’s arm, and he opened his eyes. Chirrut was leaning close. “I believe he will remember in time. His namesakes will guide us.”
Baze snorted. “That his parents knew what bodhisattvas are doesn’t mean they’re real.”
“Oh ye of little faith.”
“Oh ye of little logic.”
Cassian sighed and stood. The husbands could argue for hours, and he needed to get back. “Thanks for the talk. It was good to see you all.”
“Likewise, Cassian,” Chirrut smiled, then went right back to making fun of Baze for his disbelief. Cassian might have been worried if he hadn’t seen the fondness in his and Baze’s expressions.
He was worried enough, he supposed, about Bodhi’s still-undelivered message.
Back outside, the moon had risen. It made Cassian’s walk back to Malibu faster than the journey there, now that he didn’t have to worry so much about his footing, but it put him on edge to be more visible himself. He walked as quietly as he could, looking over his shoulder at the slightest sound.
All in all, the moon wasn’t helping his overall mood.
If Bodhi had learned some fatal flaw that would render the mission entirely useless, it wouldn’t just curtail their chance at freedom; if things went badly enough, they would all be caught. Cassian was ready to die, but he couldn’t abide the idea of his friends joining him.
Those worries hounded him all the way to the Ranch road shortcut to the descent to the University. As long as he stayed out of sight of the Ranch’s gates, he ran little risk of being spotted.
Of course, that only helped when he wasn’t so absorbed in his anxieties that he came within a few yards of someone standing on an outcropping before he realized what was happening.
He froze. Heart hammering in his chest, he ducked silently behind a boulder, straining his ears and cursing himself.
For an eternal moment, nothing happened. He cautiously peered around the rock. Then he stared.
He’d known the Teind armor would transform the wearer; remembered the last Teind in all too much detail. But he was still unprepared to see Kay after the armor had had its way with him. Was unprepared to see a once-familiar man grown to a height that seemed naturally impossible; with limbs stretched to uncanny proportions; with a perfect stillness that no ordinary human had ever achieved.
Cassian wondered if it had hurt. If the Fae han’t put Kay in a magical state of calm, at the very least he must have been afraid.
More horribly, Cassian found himself wondering what the process had been like. Had it happened all at once, or gradually? Santa María, was it even over? Would Kay be ten feet tall when he died?
Cassian’s hands curled into fists. Even if everyone else had lived without fear, the Teind and all the practice entailed were more than enough justification for the mission.
Able to move again, Cassian took one step back, ready to sneak back the way he’d come and take the long way to the University. But though he was careful, his foot somehow landed heavily. Audibly.
Kay didn’t even turn to look, just sighed. “It would be easier to ogle me in daylight.”
Cassian swallowed. He didn’t know if Kay had seen him. He’d never spoken to Kay, either, and Cassian had no idea how he felt about the Fae. Some Teinds were cozy with their captors, while others openly hated them, and Kay was reclusive enough that nobody really knew where he stood. It was harder still to predict a Teind’s behavior after the armor. All of which was to say that Cassian needed to figure out if Kay would report him.
“Not going to run?” Kay spoke again. “That makes you braver than most. Or maybe just stupider.” He turned around then, to face Cassian fully.
Dread washed through Cassian. Kay’s eyes were glowing like the moon.
“Oh, it’s you,” Kay said, as if he and Cassian had a relationship closer than public figure and assistant head of the University’s security.
Cassian didn’t know what to make of that.
“I hadn’t pegged you for the type to stare at the Teind,” Kay continued, voice growing heavy. “I suppose there’s no telling about people.”
He sounded so bitterly disappointed that Cassian found himself speaking before he knew what he was saying. “I didn’t come to stare at you.”
Kay turned back, curiosity replacing the unhappiness in his voice. "Then why are you out here?" He hadn’t moved towards Cassian, but the way he was leaning in his direction suggested he wanted to, and his eyes were fixed squarely on Cassian’s face. Even after a few seconds, he didn’t drop his gaze the way most people would.
That, Cassian knew from hearsay, was one of Kay’s natural characteristics. The completeness of his attention, when he gave it, had unsettled numerous Contracted and Favored (and, gratifyingly, even a few Fae). Some people claimed it was a sign that he was part Fae himself, but Cassian knew better. Malibu’s records-keeper stared too, and her shock of red hair and the distinctive freckles in her eyes linked her indisputably to both of her very human parents.
Jerking himself back from that tangent, Cassian swallowed and gave Kay the same story he’d told the manager: “The moff sent me to find evening primrose.” It would hardly be the first time a Fae sent someone on an errand they were wildly overqualified for.
Kay’s head tilted slightly. “It’s a good night for it.”
Cassian wasn’t sure how to interpret his tone. He needed more information. “What about you? Trouble sleeping?”
Kay took two steps forward, then stopped right as Cassian shifted his weight to step back. Cassian forced himself to relax.
"You're the first to ask me that in years,” Kay said. “I don’t sleep or eat much these days.” He gestured at himself, a flick of the wrist indicating his armor from greaves to helm. Then he pointed to the moon. “I can’t be certain, but I think I somehow gain sustenance from moonlight.”
The detachment in his voice disturbed Cassian more than suffering would have. “That’s horrible.”
Kay shrugged, eye contact still unbroken. “In some ways. But the armor is surprisingly comfortable, and I never much cared for sleeping or eating. It was always time I could have spent reading.”
So it didn’t hurt, then; or if it had, it was over now. “What do you read?”
Kay’s posture straightened, making him even taller. “Anything I can get my hands on, but math is my favorite.”
Cassian hadn’t been fully aware that Kay had been slouching. How tall was he? Six foot ten? Seven feet? More? “Algebra and calculus?”
“Yes!” Cassian could hear the smile in Kay’s voice. “Among others.”
Cassian tried not to dwell on the odd feeling that hidden smile gave him. “You aren’t reading now.”
“No,” Kay sighed, and was back to slouching. “For some reason, I’ve been having a hard time concentrating. Can’t imagine why.” His voice grew acerbic. “And soon enough I won’t be able to read anything ever again, so no, things have not exactly improved. Thanks for pointing that out.”
Licking his lips, Cassian stepped closer. “And you’ve accepted that?” He kept his voice low, nonthreatening. He shouldn't have allowed himself to fall into more than the bare minimum of contact with the Teind, but now that he had he might as well try to learn more. For example, if Kay was going to do something that might upset his mission. “Would you run?”
He immediately regretted that. It was too direct. What was wrong with him? He was even clumsier than his disappointment and exhaustion could account for.
“You think I haven’t tried?” Kay said flatly. “Wherever I went, the Wild Hunt found me before I made it more than ten miles." He huffed in frustration. "It’s even possible that the armor wouldn’t let me leave. It won’t let me lie.”
Cassian ignored his admiration for Kay's escape attempts. “That must be inconvenient.”
Kay shrugged. “I was never any good at it before, so that wasn’t the big change. That would be my ability to sense lies.”
Cassian went cold.
“I find it fascinating,” Kay continued, “that you lied about the primrose but nothing else.”
Cassian swallowed. “I get restless sometimes.” It was technically true.
He shifted his weight slowly so that it wouldn’t look like he was getting ready to run. “Have people really come just to stare at you?”
“I’ve been back less than a full day, and I’ve already caught five teenagers and three adults,” Kay said dryly. “I can hardly blame them, I suppose. I haven’t been around since Midsummer and it will be much harder to get a good look while I’m burning to death.”
Awful memories surged up in Cassian's mind, ones he only barely managed to wrestle back down again. Even then, they left his chest tight and his heart rate elevated. “I should go.”
"Wait," Kay said, went to the edge of the outcropping, bent down to dig at the earth, and returned to approach Cassian. He stopped an unremarkable arm’s length away, but it was still the closest they'd ever been. His height was even more imposing close up.
Cassian's heart sped up again. He didn't move back.
"Your alibi." Kay held out both hands.
Tearing his eyes away from the uncanny helm, Cassian saw what was offered and blinked.
Held delicately in Kay's gauntlets was a small plant, roots and all, with a single white flower open to the moon: evening primrose, a night-blooming flower good for certain skin problems.
Cassian huffed a laugh as he accepted it. "Thanks."
Kay inclined his head. "Good evening to you, Cassian."
Hearing Kay say his name made all the hairs on his arms stand on end. But he held a relatively prominent position now; he had to get used to people knowing his name.
He steadfastly ignored the part of himself unsure if that was the entire reason for his reaction. "You too, Kay.”
Chapter 5: Strategies
Content warnings: the surveillance state; discussion of a potential suicide mission including suicide bombing
Passing through Malibu during the busiest part of the morning meant that quite a lot of people stared at Kay; after all, even if they'd seen another Teind in their lifetimes, he was fairly sure none had ever watched one walk through town, unnaturally tall, magically armored, and easily carrying a large chest in front of himself. Kay could only hope that people would get their fill and stop bothering him at the Ranch.
And, though he wouldn’t have expected it, the staring was easier to take than it had been the day before. He wasn’t sure why; maybe it was his new project taking his mind off things.
Maybe it was knowing that at least one person would still talk to him like he was human.
Yes, he realized as he approached the Archives. Last night’s conversation was a steady presence in his mind that didn’t require his attention to be appreciated, like a banked fire giving off a gentle heat.
Once he’d made it to the small building, a pre-Fall house converted into a small library of sorts, he ducked through the front door. He negotiated the chest well enough, but hadn't expected the bell, which clanged off of his face guard. Neither the Library nor the Ranch had any of those.
“Welcome to the Archives,” came Rose’s voice from the back. “I’ll be with you in a moment.”
Kay put the chest carefully on the floor. The bookshelves lining every wall from floor to ceiling were the same as always, just like the battered table and chairs for people to use as they read, and the freestanding shelves using up more floor space. It was a place as familiar to him as his own room at the Ranch.
As he waited next to the table, he felt his slouch becoming more pronounced, his hands opening and closing with nerves. Rose was the closest thing he had to a friend, and she hadn’t seen him since Midsummer.
“Ok, sorry, I had to finish the line I was working on,” she said as she came down the hall. “How can I help…”
The question died on her lips as she took in Kay. He swallowed, and was glad she couldn’t see his expression.
Her own was rapidly transitioning from one emotion to another: shock, confusion, understanding, horror, sympathy. That was, Kay supposed, better than just horrified fascination.
Rose shook herself. “Kay! Hello. Sorry, I...wow. That’s all very…” she tried, and gestured to his body, “different.”
Rose winced. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to rub it in. What can I help you with today?”
Kay relaxed a little. Make that two people who still thought he merited conversation. "I brought books from the Library."
Rose perked up, then gasped when she saw the chest. "That looks like a lot! Is it a lot? Oh, that must have been amazing, I'd love to hear all about it!"
Smiling, Kay opened the chest. He'd packed carefully, stacking books by size to maximize the interior space, and there was hardly a cubic inch that wasn't occupied.
Rose was staring at the books, eyes huge. "Oh my god. This is more pre-Fall books than we've acquired in the last decade. This is incredible!" Her hands hovered over the titles, skimming from one to the next as she read them aloud to herself, only stopping when she'd run out of visible spines.
She stood staring at the books a moment longer, then whirled to face Kay.
He startled. There were tears in Rose's eyes.
"You've single-handedly expanded our collection by something like twenty percent," she said, voice thick. "This is— you are— what's going to happen is so wr—"
Alarmed, Kay opened his mouth to try to drown out Rose's words, but she caught herself before he had to. He darted a glance to the moff's watchful northern harrier talisman fixed over the door, but it was quiescent. Rose shook her head in chagrin.
After a few deep breaths, she looked up into his eyes again. Hers were still full of tears. "Most of Malibu won't know it, but we're losing an important archivist in you, I don't care if you never officially apprenticed." Her lip trembled. "You know, I've tried to follow your lead and stay professional but I think it's pretty clear that I failed at that."
Kay carefully laid a hand on her shoulder. "Thank you."
Rose took a few more deep breaths. After a moment, she nodded to herself and stepped back. "Did you want to read today?"
He nodded. “I was hoping to look at birth, adoption, school, apprenticeship, death and marriage records from the last thirty years or so.”
Rose smiled shakily. “I was just indexing last year's. Come on back.”
Mostly, people who weren’t the Archivist or her assistants weren’t invited into the Archives themselves, but Kay had been coming there since he was twelve and knew what was and was not alright to touch. On her part, Rose never asked why he wanted certain information, or questioned it if he went back to the same material within a short period, or ever said anything about what might look like strange or random combinations of topics. More and more often over the years, Kay wished they could have had real conversations, but they were always too well-watched for that.
Down the hall were several smaller rooms, each of which was likewise lined with shelves and equipped with places to sit. One room had not books, but hundreds of little cardboard boxes, inside each a roll of film with miniaturized pre-Fall records. In the middle of the room was a strange device, a box with a glass window that was dark until someone sat on the stationary bike attached to it and began pedaling. If you pedaled fast enough, you could build up enough electrical charge to light the screen. It was the most exhausting reading experience Kay knew of, but he’d learned so many fascinating things that way.
They passed that room and went into the one farthest back. It housed the records the Fae cared the most about, and so each shelf was a fireproof, low-humidity cabinet under lock and key. Rose opened the doors to the ones Kay had asked for and pointed out the shelves and volumes Kay would want. “I'll be sorting the new books, but don't hesitate to interrupt if you need something." Then she returned to the chest in the front room.
Kay looked over the shelf. He'd learned a long time ago that consuming large swaths of information both dissuaded Fae interest in his research — 'pre-Fall road construction methods' got yawns while 'which lesser-used roads out of the area are likely to still be passable' would have immediately raised suspicions — and sometimes gave him insight that specific searches would not. Thus his need for thirty years' and hundreds of people's worth of records when what he really wanted was a few details about one specific person.
He spent most of the morning reading birth records, skimming the names of all the most recent babies, being reminded of people he already knew. It was the second time he'd gone through them, though it had been long enough that he didn't remember much beyond the fact that there weren't any records for October 31, 2103. Or any other October 31, for that matter.
It was just past ten when he passed the earliest possible year Cassian could have been born and still hadn't found his record. Just to be safe, though, Kay kept reading through another decade.
As noon approached, he reflected that before he would have gone back to the Ranch for lunch, or just eaten whatever portable food he’d brought with him (outside, of course; Rose did not abide crumbs in the books). As it was, he just reshelved the last birth book and sat down with the adoption book.
There were many fewer adoptions than births, so it went much faster. In only twenty minutes he found Cassian’s record:
Child: Cassian Jerón Andor Estrada
Birth date: November 30, 2104
Birth parent(s): Jerón Andor Ortega (deceased, 2110); Felicia Estrada Garces de Andor (deceased, 2110)
Other family: unknown
Place of birth: East ‘Angeles
Adoption date: March 2, 2114
Adoptive parent(s): Davits Draven
After he’d finished the adoption book, he read apprenticeship records. Cassian had been officially apprenticed at age fifteen to Draven, who turned out to be the head of University security, and gained yeoman status two years ago. Draven had several other apprentices, though none of them shared his name, nor had he adopted any of them. Kay presumed they all had parents of their own.
Then marriage records. Draven had been married six years before adopting Cassian, but had been the only one on the adoption record, so he was either divorced or a widower. Cassian, like most nineteen-year-olds, was unmarried.
After that there was still time before the Archives closed, so Kay reviewed death records (where he found Draven's wife) and school records. Cassian had attended the town secondary school between ages ten and fifteen, and had excellent grades, nine counts of rules infractions for fighting during his thirteenth year, and seemingly no involvement beyond the academic.
Walking home with the sun low in the sky, Kay reflected. Cassian was from East ‘Angeles, an area nominally under Moff Tarkin’s control but functionally run by what the Fae called gangs and the locals called co-ops. There had been no data on where Cassian had been living the four years between his parents’ deaths and his adoption, but given that he hadn’t been enrolled in the Malibu primary school, he suspected it was East ‘Angles or somewhere between the two. Who had taken care of him? The chances of a small child surviving alone were low under the best of circumstances, and East ‘Angeles was certainly not that. Kay could imagine rougher origins, but not by much.
Kay climbed to the final ridge above Malibu, and returned to his favorite outcropping, right at the bend in the road. Cassian had been coming from the north, and returned to the University afterwards. Kay had thought of various possibilities for his errand and his cageyness, and discarded most of them.
Someone with no living blood family, for example, wouldn’t have been sneaking away from his place of indenture to visit a sick grandmother. Nor did an unmarried man have a reason to keep his sexual liaisons clandestine. Cassian could have been visiting friends, Kay supposed; there were a few homes scattered through the hills to the north. Or perhaps he was seeking some kind of spiritual guidance at the Temple? But in both cases, the dark of night seemed like an odd time to do those things.
Perhaps Kay was jumping to conclusions, but not having loved ones to worry about would make it much less risky to move against the Fae. And while there were other reasons for Cassian to have lied about his night activities, asking Kay if he was going to run didn't seem to have any other explanation.
No. Cassian was most likely up to something. And if he was, Kay wanted in.
Over the next two days, he became increasingly frustrated as he made and discarded plan after terrible plan to communicate with Cassian in a way that didn't endanger him. Eventually, sometime in the middle of the third night after their first meeting, Kay went out onto the ridge again to try to clear his head.
The moon was good, he supposed. Pretty, still felt nice on the armor, and he had another two cycles left to enjoy. He wondered if Cassian was using the light to sneak around again, or if he was doing something else. Sleeping, maybe, like a sensible person.
He had yet to see Cassian close up in daylight, he realized. A fleeting glimpse from a dozen yards away one afternoon at the University; moonlight three days ago; firelight at Elle's Teind. He wondered what Cassian looked like in the sun, if it would soften the sharp lines of his jaw and cheekbones, or lessen the depth of his eyes.
On Kay’s next blink, Malibu disappeared, replaced by a large, dilapidated room. Kay started, turned in a circle, looked down at himself. Everything about himself seemed normal, but the space around him...there was something off about it, though nothing he could discern from first glance.
Was it a vision? An incredibly vivid hallucination? A Fae illusion to confuse or torment him? He had no idea, and no idea how to tell the difference.
For want of answers, he examined the space more closely. The room had a peaked ceiling, a low stage at one end, a wall almost entirely occupied by windows looking onto a dark room beyond, and dozens of tables with attached benches. Everything, from the windows to the stage to the tables to the floor, was covered in dust, broken, or both.
On the wall opposite the stage was a faded mural depicting a stylized coyote winking at the viewer and a banner with the words, “Go Chavez Coyotes!”
Through dirty windows, he saw it was still night. It was all very strange, but he was at least starting to doubt it was Fae meddling. He couldn't think of how an illusion of a Fallen school would figure into their agenda.
He started walking, wondering if his body was still, like in a dream, or if he was about to trip over something and go tumbling down the hills. Dying of a broken neck would be quicker and less painful than fire, though, so no worries there.
The school was dark, and silent but for Kay’s footsteps. They weren’t as loud as they probably should have been, given the armor and the school’s hard floors.
Kay wandered out of the dining hall. He followed the corridor past doors hanging on their hinges, some leading to offices, others to classrooms.
There was a piece of brightly-colored fabric hanging in a doorway. Curious, Kay pulled it aside, surprised at how light it was.
The room on the other side had a kitchenette, an ancient sofa, a few tables and chairs. But unlike the other rooms, this one looked like it had seen recent use: one table had been pushed into the corner, a blanket draped over it, and through a gap in the cloth Kay could see a pile of cushions and blankets. On top of another table were a soccer ball, the first plastic container Kay had seen outside of a picture, a toy car, and a neat stack of children's books. There were more toys on the floor, and the walls had shaky drawings on them from hip height down.
It seemed fairly clear that a child lived there. Kay wondered if it was a vision of a real place or some kind of metaphor.
Moving on, Kay continued down the corridor. He turned another corner, which put him, impossibly, back at the start of the first corridor. That made the whole thing seem like a dream, though Kay was fairly sure he was still awake.
He heard the murmur of voices in the next room. He followed the sound, and opened a door. The cafeteria again, except now it was daylight and there was a gathering of people on the stage, most of them sitting around a table. None of them noticed Kay, so he came closer.
"...not good enough," a gruff, stone-faced man was saying. "It will be another seven years before we get another chance like this. Do you want to wait that long?"
Kay was close enough to see who was at the table: Stoneface, a woman in white, a ghost, and Cassian.
Hope sparked in Kay's chest. If he was very lucky, it might be Cassian’s dream.
"I'd rather wait seven years than see everyone executed," Cassian was saying. "The message could be anything. We shouldn't proceed until we know what's in it."
"Has anyone tried taking Bodhi to the curandera?" said the ghost. She was a middle-aged woman dressed in pre-Fall clothes, a badge clipped to her suit jacket proclaiming her as school staff. "Someone with mind-healing magic."
"Yes," Cassian said grimly. "He had a panic attack before we even arrived, and I don't blame him."
The ghost said something in Spanish, possibly an expression of disappointment.
"What about you?" Stoneface looked directly at Kay. "Got any ideas?"
Cassian glanced up. "Oh, good, you're here." He waved Kay towards a chair. "I think we're stuck on the question of the message for now. But Kay, you know the Fae better than any of us."
Curious that Cassian seemed to be expecting him, Kay approached the table and sat. "Was there something in particular you wanted to know?"
"Are they really vulnerable to cast iron, or is that a myth?" Stoneface leaned in. Something about his intensity reminded him of the man who’d grabbed Cassian at Elle’s Teind. "Do they have other weaknesses?"
The Fae, as far as Kay knew, had no way to spy on dreams. Still, it felt dangerous to say, "Iron hurts them more than most things, yes. Why? What are you planning?"
"The mission is to get me onto your Samhain security team,” Cassian spoke up, “and then when the king comes to the Circle for the Teind, I'll be close enough to take him out."
Kay reeled back. "You're trying to— this is ridiculous," he said, all the dozens of reasons why it was a terrible idea crowding his head. "You'll be killed before you leave a scratch!"
The ghost leaned in and put an insubstantial hand on Kay's arm. "That's why Cassian needs you."
"No, it's why you need a completely different plan!" Kay made a cutting gesture. "There will be Honor Guards between human security and the king. He'll have magical armor of his own, and probably that flaming sword of his, and let's not even start talking about all the magical wards and shields and counterspells! He isn't someone you can just stab or shoot with a mundane weapon, even an iron one!"
"What about explosives?" Cassian was far too calm. "It would be fast, strong, and we could use iron nails for shrapnel."
Kay surged upwards — and that was a lot of surging — to stand one step closer to Cassian, whole body shaking. "First off, other Fae have tried and failed to kill him, so what terrible malformed idea has possessed you into thinking you’ll succeed?"
"If he's defeated other Fae, he won't expect a human to try it," Cassian said. "And as far as I know, no one's tried a bomb."
Kay threw his arms in the air. “Arrows won’t penetrate his defenses. You’re willing to risk a slow, painful execution on the hope that a bomb would work?”
Cassian nodded. “Yes, though there’s a chance I’ll have to carry it to him, in which case it will be over for me fast."
Kay recoiled. "This really is suicide, then.”
“The hope is that it won’t be, but it’s an eventuality I’m willing to plan for.” A thread of frustration ran through Cassian’s words, though he was doing an excellent job of remaining the calm persuader. “We have a lot of backup plans, but even if it comes to that, it will be worth it.”
Kay was shaking his head. “I can’t believe— you don’t have to die!” Suddenly, he was shaking with anger. “You get a choice . And you’re choosing to throw your life away?!”
Cassian’s eyes widened, then softened. He put a hand lightly on Kay’s arm. “If we win, there won’t be any more Teinds. And if we’re very lucky, we can maybe even save you.”
“You can’t,” Kay snapped, and turned around. He started walking away, too furious to talk.
Of course, he still wasn't in a real place, so though the dining hall melted away around him into the ridge above Malibu, Cassian was still right by his side.
Kay refused to look at him, staring instead out at the sea.
“Kay,” Cassian said, voice finally starting to betray his stress. “You have every right to be angry. I’m not asking you to act like everything’s fine, because it’s not.” He moved around to stand in front of Kay. “Just, please, help me. You might be the difference between success and failure.”
Kay's mouth twisted. Given their height difference, he could have easily gone on looking at the ocean, but something in him wouldn’t let him ignore Cassian any longer.
When he looked down, he saw that there was less than a foot of air between them. Cassian's face was tipped up to look at Kay, expression just as serious as usual but simultaneously far more open. Kay could see desperation, hope, determination, regret.
"Would you even listen to me?" Kay's voice was sharp even to his own ears. "I'm not going to help if you're going to stick with bad ideas after I've warned you about them."
Cassian spread his hands. "There are going to be things neither of us can control, but aside from those, yes, I'll listen."
Kay pursed his lips. "And if I told you to scrap the plan entirely?"
Cassian crossed his arms over his chest. "If you have a better idea, I'm all ears, but you're not going to convince me to give up."
"I could try," Kay muttered, but suspected Cassian was right. The way he was staring stubbornly up at Kay suggested as much.
Kay was going to die. He’d known it for a third of his life, tried to escape it, accepted it, planned for it. There was nothing he could do to change that.
But Cassian could live. And, powers, if the two of them could somehow hurt the Fae, strike back at those motherfuckers keeping everyone quiet and afraid—
"Fine,” Kay said at last. The single word carried the weight of a vow. “I'll help you make a less ridiculously dangerous plan."
Cassian’s smile transformed his face. "Thank you,” he said, leaning forward. Before Kay knew what was happening, Cassian had wrapped his arms around Kay and rested his cheek against his chest plate, his body pressing the armor more firmly against Kay's.
Kay didn't move. He was relatively sure that hugging an ally on the second meeting was not something Cassian would do while waking.
He was also fairly sure he himself had thoughts on the matter, but something about Cassian touching him was making it impossible to be rational.
Impossible to do anything but carefully lay his hands on Cassian’s shoulders.
Like the rest of the armor, Kay’s gauntlets were made of a hard material (metal, ceramic or something entirely unnatural, Kay hadn’t been able to figure out) that were meant to be worn over thick garments to protect him against bruising and pinching. This under-armor, he’d discovered, could be removed for any length of time without triggering the armor pain. Given that turning pages and taking notes in heavy gloves was clumsy if not impossible, he’d done away with them and learned to move his hands in such a way as to not be hurt or irritated by the bare armor.
All of which meant that when he touched Cassian, there was only a shirt between them.
Cassian was warmer than Kay had expected, like he’d been running or sitting out in the sun; or maybe he just ran hot. And it was astonishing, really, how Kay could feel the softness of his skin and density of his muscles, the shape of his bones, all from just that simple touch.
Was that the dream’s doing? Or just not having touched anyone else in so long — when had it been? The last time he’d hugged Bea, almost eight months prior? Or maybe it was yet another effect of the armor.
Cassian hummed in approval when Kay returned the embrace. He shifted in Kay’s arms, snuggling closer, and murmured something against his chest.
All at once longing and affection expanded painfully in Kay’s chest. Even if he’d had words, he wouldn’t have been able to get them out. Instead, he pulled Cassian even closer.
Cassian squeezed Kay’s waist, pulled back, smiled up at him.
Though Cassian couldn’t see it, Kay smiled back.
Cassian disappeared, along with the sourceless light Kay hadn’t even noticed, and he stumbled forward at the change in balance. The ridge looked the same as always, and Malibu, and the sea.
What the hell had just happened? Cassian waking? Kay thought about that for a moment, what Cassian would look like just awoken, his hair in disarray, his expression soft.
No. What the hell had Kay been thinking? Sure, nobody knew of any way the Fae could intrude on people’s dreams, but he was sure they hadn’t revealed all of their tricks to humans, and what about the armor? If they could use that as a conduit, he’d just signed Cassian’s death warrant.
Kay let himself collapse into sitting, digging the gauntlets’ claws into the ground. Was there any way to be sure? More importantly, was there any way to send warning?
Cassian was Contracted. The Wild Hunt could track him. Unless maybe Kay could find the Fae’s vault of Contracted talismans and take or destroy Cassian’s, but if the Fae knew about it they’d just collect more. Kay would have to warn Cassian and destroy the talisman, and he was not very optimistic about the success of either task.
Just as he was spiraling down into despair, his hand closed around its fistful of dirt and he realized there was a plant in the mix. Looking down, he saw a primrose standing up between his fingers.
The primrose. Fae magic took gifts very seriously, he suddenly remembered. They created connections between the giver and the recipient. And a night flower, under the moonlight, dug up by Fae armor and touched by both Kay and Cassian—
His stomach was still sick with worry, but his heart and lungs slowed down to think that there was at least a good chance he hadn’t exposed Cassian to the enemy.
Kay thought of something he’d heard Rose say when she found mold in the crafts section and wasn't sure if she'd have to destroy almost a hundred books.
"We are in this universe," he whispered to himself, "and the universe is in us."