Hace Matthews. Jovday, Libra 1st, 2353 AA. 5:31 PM. Arroyo (Matthews’ Residence).
“How should I come at you this time?” Ezzie asked.
“Anyway you like,” Hace said. “I’ll block it and walk you through how I did it. Don’t hold back.”
They stood in the small backyard of the Matthews’ residence. Sera had shooed them out of the small kitchen for poaching food and crowding her. Now they were whiling away time until Hace’s mother’s humble birthday dinner began. Glem and Drav had hoped to attend as well, but both of them were trapped by shifts at the mediclave, making for a smaller gathering than usual.
“No magic shit,” Ezzie warned.
Hace gave him a flat stare and raised his bare wrists.
“I’m not wearing my licenses, Ezzie. I can do less magic than you, right now.”
Ezzie had asked Hace to show him some basic self-defense techniques. Private investigation was risky work, and while Ezzie carried a Plato, he had never used it and didn’t intend to—guns brought a level of escalation that he always strived to avoid. He had bulked up considerably since Hace met him. He actually has the look of an amagia.
Ezzie lurched toward Hace with a comically telegraphed right hook.
But only the look.
Hace casually pushed Ezzie’s punch away, stepped past him, and smacked him in the back of the head with an open palm.
“Ow. I said no magic shit!”
“Do you know what you did wrong this time?” Hace asked with a smirk.
“You were faster than me,” he said sulkily.
“Why?” Hace asked.
“I dunno. Because you’re a fucking child soldier?”
“You telegraph your moves. I saw that punch coming from the way you shifted the weight in your feet, man. By the time you were actually moving your arm, I was ready to get out of the way.”
Ezzie nodded thoughtfully. He had proven himself to be a bitchy student—always whining and full of sass—but he took feedback well and improved quickly.
“I also could have hit you first and ended the fight with a single blow. You’ve got enough muscle to do the same. But stopping somebody’s attack and leaving them unharmed generally puts you in a better position to talk after.”
“Alright. Show me how to do that. What to look for.”
Hace started to walk him through the motions. There were nearly as many ways to counter a punch as there were to throw them, but Hace walked him through the most basic strategies for deflecting, blocking, and simply stepping out of the way.
A few minutes later, Sera emerged from the backdoor and nodded at the picnic table where they would be eating:
“If you chuckleheads are done playing slap-nuts, I could use some help setting the table.”
“Hey! I take exception to ‘chucklehead,’” Ezzie said mildly.
“Really? So you’re fine with ‘slap-nuts?’” Hace asked.
Ezzie bent at the knees and jabbed his fist at Hace’s groin. He jumped back laughing. Hilariously, that was a better attack than his first attempt. His aunt sighed and went back into the house. Hace refastened his licenses to his wrists and followed Sera with Ezzie in tow.
The three of them set the table quickly, a ritual they had practiced frequently throughout the preceding summer. It didn’t feel like the first day of Autumn to Hace; the hot air dried by Santa Anna winds. Sera repeatedly announced the theme of the meal was ‘cheap ingredients, fancy preparation.’ They had a cold cucumber gazpacho accompanied by an arugula and roasted chicken salad with parmesan, and a selection of sherbets for desert. Sivia emerged with one and a half bottles’ worth of white wine, and they all sat down to eat.
Sivia asked Hace how the dreaded ninth year was progressing. He recited his sundry commitments on autopilot, pointedly ignoring Adarcia, who, up until last weekend, was going to join them tonight. But he was unsurprised when his mother asked where she was, wearing an expression that said she clearly knew the answer already. Sera elbowed her sister, looking reproachful.
“Yeah, we… broke up,” Hace said wincingly.
“What happened this time?” Sivia asked.
“It’s not fit for polite company,” Hace said stiffly.
“I don’t see a problem,” Sivia said, appealing to the table.
Great. She’s already tipsy. Ezzie agreed enthusiastically. Sera sighed in resignation. Hace cleared his throat and spoke up, knowing it would come to this eventually. Sera had already needled it out of him earlier, which was the only reason she was trying to intercede now.
“I… We were… in bed. And I had an akratic episode,” he said, blushing and looking away. “And I kind of… brought Adarcia with me into the Faed.”
Sivia drew her head back and Ezzie’s jaw dropped.
“Were you…” Ezzie asked.
Having sex when it happened? Yeah.
“We were naked,” Hace said. “Ended up completely buck-ass in this Through the Looking Glass mushroom forest, and I had to guide her around these obese, wriggly faen caterpillars to get us out. After that, she decided that maybe akrasiacs aren’t so fun to date after all.”
Everybody at the table fell silent and tried to regain their composure. And that’s the part I hate about telling this story. He knew it would be funny one day. Hell, it’s already funny, but people feel obligated to feel sorry for me, which makes everything a thousand times worse. He liked Adarcia. Deep down, he recognized a familiar strain of weariness that had taken root in their relationship and knew they probably wouldn’t last much longer. But that’s not the way I wanted to end things. Easily my most embarrassing reason for a breakup yet and I have some hard walks of shame in my wake.
“Look,” Hace said. “Things weren’t gonna work out, so it’s for the best.”
“Isn’t that technically Illegal Transference?” his mother asked, earnestly curious.
“Siv, drop it!” Sera chided.
“It is,” Hace said, trying to keep things as matter-of-factly as possible. “But Fitz explained the situation to the Administratum, and Adarcia decided not to press charges.Which is good, because if she did… Well, I probably wouldn’t be drummed out, but I might lose my scholarship.”
“Well,” Sivia said primly. “You must have given her a very…. Satisfying performance.”
Jesus, mom. Hace glowed bright red andeverybody else at the table cracked up.
“How’s your sister doing, Ezzie?” Sera asked.
“Cel’s good! Thanks for asking. She landed a role in a sci-fi pilot where she’s playing a fae space pilot or something. Sounds like crap if I’m being totally honest, but there’s no accounting for taste where ratings are concerned, and television is a steady paycheck.”
“Do you remember the name of the show?” Sivia asked. “I’d love to watch her!”
“I honestly don’t,” Ezzie chuckled. “Hollywood’s done a real one-eighty where fae-touched actors are concerned. Inclusivity and representation are in. She’s got a good agent who’s really capitalizing on the trend.”
Hace smiled. It was nice to see more half-fae, fae-touched, and quirked faces on screen, even if there was something cynical about systematically monetizing diversity. Celice had struggled for the first year following the collapse of the Spring Court’s salon. Then somebody did a documentary about the Black Lotus murders, interviewed her and other members of the sex cult, and her face—adorned with antlers that formed an almost tiara-like circlet around her brow—caught the eye of a talent agent.
“And how’s the private eye business?” Sivia asked.
“No shortage of suspicious spouses in Century City,” he remarked, a touch sardonic. “But again, it’s a steady paycheck, so I really can’t complain. What about the bookstore?”
“We’re doing quite well, actually. The affiliation with Westmarque has brought a lot more attention to our little shop. And Westmarque is happy to sell us their remainders at a slight loss, which has given us a more stable stock.”
“That’s awesome!” Ezzie said.
“Yes. I’m not sure when we’ll…”
Sivia’s voice trailed off and her eyes lit with recognition, as if an old friend had appeared over Ezzie’s shoulder. She set her glass down on the table and a faint smile came to her lips. Everybody turned to follow her gaze, but nothing was there.
“Siv?” Sera said.
Sivia’s lips whispered something inaudible. Then she closed her eyes and fell limply out of her chair, striking the ground heavily.
Hace bolted up from his seat and rushed to her side. He placed his hand against her neck. Her pulse was slow, but steady. This is wrong. It looked like an episode, but in Hace’s memory, she had never fallen limp before. She simply became nonresponsive, or started interacting with things that nobody else could see. Oneirotics became prisoners of their own imaginations. They mistook their wyrd’s ability to produce illusions for reality itself, and trapped themselves in waking dreams. This is something different.
“Mom,” Hace repeated, touching her cheek gently and opening one of her eyes. Her pupil didn’t dilate against the light, and her body was now completely still. “Mom, come back to me. We’re all here. You just need to come back us.”
Sera knelt next to Hace, mouth hanging open.
“Has this happened before?” He demanded.
His aunt shook her head.
“How long has it been since her last episode?”
“About a month,” Sera said. “Four weeks. Maybe five.”
Shit. The longer the break between oneirotic episodes, the worse the inevitable relapses were.
“What can I do? Should I call an ambulance?” Ezzie asked.
“Sit tight,” Hace said, then started massaging his mother’s wyrd with his own.
There was absolutely no urdic pressure. No shred of volition behind her energy field. Normally, a person’s wyrd would react to external stimulus, even if they were deeply asleep.She still had a wyrd, and it was still respiring energy, but shallowly. It’s like her body is vacant.
Hace’s expression darkened. He looked between the clock on his symphone and the fading light of Libra’s first day. The sun was a perfect half circle on the horizon. We’re at a liminal threshold. This reeks of the fae. Something is happening to her on the other side of the Veil.
Hace stood, addressing his aunt and Ezzie.
He jogged inside, up the stairs to his childhood bedroom, which had been converted to a home office of sorts. But my bed is still there, so hopefully the spike is there too. He kneltin front of his old twin mattress and reached beneath it, searching for a shoebox. Bingo.
He sneezed as he opened the box, the scent of rusted iron making his eyes water immediately. Wrapped in cloth, there was an aging railroad spike made of pure iron that Hace had ordered off the arcanet in case he ever needed to defend his home from fae. Just looking at its exposed tip made his eyes ache, and when he threaded the bundle through the back of his belt, the metal was hot through the towel and his shirt as if it was hungry for his flesh. Heedless of its stinging presence in his wyrd, he returned to yard, where Ezzie and Sera waited, confused.
He knelt to Sivia’s empty body again and removed the locket around her neck. It was a humble white gold clasp with a picture of Hace on one side, and one of Sera on the other. Then he used a small edge of sorcery to snip off a lock of hair, and tied it around the locket.
“What are you doing? What are you going to do?” Sera asked.
“If I don’t come back in fifteen minutes, or her condition changes at all, call an ambulance immediately,” Hace said.
Before they could broach an objection or ask other questions, he threw himself out of reality.
— | —
The Veil was thin but dense, despite the liminal day and hour. Anxious, egregoric energies wriggled like eels against Hace’s wyrd and his abstracted physical body. He ignored them, focusing all his energy on the hair and the locket, beseeching its Inherence to seek out its owner. It was a reasonable focus; mementos were generally good for seeking abstractions—minds, spirits, wyrds—and the added physical sample of his mother’s hair would reinforce that sympathetic connection. Paired with Hace’s desperation, he had a strong fix on her position in the Faed.
He emerged in the far reaches of the realm, where the energies were mild and diffuse compared to most of the dimension’s intoxicating ambient energy.
A swirling tapestry of purple and indigo twilight hung overhead, stars thick as spilled glitter. No fewer than a dozen moons hung above, each shaped as crescents in impossible opposing angles. His shoes dug into a shore of cowrie shells before an endless ocean of clouds. He stood on one of many islands in the sea, each adorned with a towering light house of varying designs. One stood taller than the others, nearly half a mile away. Even without consulting the focus, he knew that’s where his mother’s spirit was being held prisoner.
Hace spotted a wooden dock at the far edge of the beach, where a lone rowboat waited with a pair of oars fashioned to resemble outstretched wings. Dashing across the shore of shells, he jumped into the boat and started rowing.
As his back arched against the oars, he could feel the railroad spike hot against the small of his back. The hated metal continued to burn, eager to consume the whole faen world around him. I can sympathize. Anybody else would marvel at the beauty of this impossible sky-sea. The multitude of moons and stars. But it is all made of lies. All illusions and empty promises. And it has no claim on my mother.
He had never rowed before, but the oars were enchanted and seemed to sense his intended heading. They guided his powerful strokes, and within seconds, he was propelling himself across the cloudy surf at a respectable clip.
Fae danced on the tiny islands around him, circling bonfires at the foot of the lighthouses, clad in spun reeds and crowns of tropical flowers. He could tell from the colors and scents that this was a demesne of Summer. I swear to God, if Síol is here…
The fin of some enormous beast cut through the clouds, and displaced the boat’s path slightly. Hace kept rowing, undeterred, but he consulted his focus quickly to make sure his instincts about the distant lighthouse were correct. And sure as the sunrise, there was a strong sympathetic pull tugging him toward that island.
As he continued to row, he caught glimpses of other creatures in the surf. Some were curious. Others seemed to be trying to challenge him. But Hace would not be distracted. If you want to fight me, fight me, else get the fuck out of my way. And when he was a little more than half way to the island, he could hear singing in the distance.
A wooden pier reached out from the base of the island, and behind it, a rocky switchback path led up to the plateau where the lighthouse loomed. Two fauns stood vigil at the end of the pier. Hace doubled and redoubled his speed, as if to scuttle the ship against the wood. Just before the boat could collide, he tore one of the oars free from its housing and jumped onto the pier, brandishing it at the two fauns.
“Greetings son of summer,” one of them said, bowing.
“We are proud to receive you,” the other confirmed.
“Receive this,” Hace said.
He cracked the first fae across the jaw with the heavy wing-shaped paddle, knocking it into the cloudy depths. The other tried to flee, but Hace swept his bludgeon against its weak, reverse knee joint, and it bleated pathetically as it fell on its chest. It gasped and rolled onto it’s back, begging for mercy.
“Peace! Peace, Hace Matthews!”
“No riddles. No half-truths. Where is my mother?”
“Above, at the foot of the light house. We only mean to honor—”
Hace drove the broad end of the oar against the faun’s throat, trying to decapitate the creature despite his weapon’s blunt edge. He nearly succeeded, crushing its windpipe, and breaking its spine with one thrust. The pathetic creature burst into a cloud of dust. He briefly considered bringing the oar with him as he started to ascend the switchback path, but decided it wasn’t worth the extra weight.
His back squirmed with pain despite the towel and shirt between his flesh and the iron. He turned the pain into fuel for his feet, and quickened his pace even further with sorcery. The singing continued from above, delicate, lilting, and beautiful. Regrettably, his licenses were empty. But that’s fine. I’m going to do this with iron and my own bare hands. Every last one.
When he emerged at the top of the island, he saw a group of six elves dancing around a bonfire in a circle. Behind the fire, he saw the translucent figure of his mother sitting next to a dryad with ornate, symmetrical antlers growing from her brow. His mother wore a crown of tropical flowers, and her eyes seemed unfocused. The dryad was whispering something to her.
Hace advanced on the dancers, who continued heedlessly even as they saw him approach. He drew the railroad spike from his belt, wrapped the towel around his palm, and gripped the spike firmly, even though its proximity seared his flesh with a twisting green rash. It was agony. He couldn’t hold it longer than a few moments without risking permanent nerve damage.
I don’t care.
He intercepted the first dancer, gripped her by the shoulder, and drove the spike into her stomach, deep enough that he could feel the wet, sucking heat of her guts around his fist. The wound erupted with brilliant blue fire. She shrieked, her ochre skin erupting into dust. He cast her aside and moved to the next dancer, still too stunned to understand what happened. He jammed the tip of the spike into the side of her neck, and ripped her throat out with one fluid slash. Arterial blood and dust spattered his face as another flash of blue-white fire erupted from the wound.
“Bane!” the other four shrieked.
They tried to flee, tripping over themselves and scrambling up the hill to the light house. Hace extended the point of the spike toward the closest one, channeled his wyrd into it and used it as a filter for his rage. A blue bolt of energy leapt from the spike and smashed into the back of the fleeing fae, incinerating her almost instantly. He fired at the next dancer, missed, and then flung the spike with sorcerous might. Its point struck the back of her skull.
By the time he had retrieved his weapon from her smoking corpse, the last two elves had made their escape. But the dryad next to his mother remained. He couldn’t tell if she was paralyzed with fear or outraged and preparing for a fight. Either suits me fine.
“Hace!” A voice shrieked.
It was his mother. She stared at him, horrified. She must have realized what’s happening.
“I’m coming!” Hace shouted, then aimed the tip of the spike at the dryad. “Get away from her you evil bitch!”
The dryad took two steps back, raising her hands.
“Peace Hace!” she said. “Your mother is precious to Summer, as are you.”
Hace walked up the slope wordlessly, heart pounding so hard that every beat rocked his skull like a drum.
“Please,” the dryad continued. “We merely meant to favor your mother on the day of her birth. There is important knowledge that we would impart to—”
Fae insights always cost more than they are worth.
Hace closed the distance with a sorcerous lunge and drove the spike into the Dryad’s eye. She shrieked. He twisted the spike, and yanked the shaft down so its tip scraped at her brain. The dryad’s entire head was consumed by a blue and white blaze. Before her body could completely disintegrate, he dropped the spike, gripped her arms, and flung her body into the bonfire, where it spectacularly exploded.
He stood there a moment, breathing heavily, shuddering with ecstatic, maniacal rage. And then he heard his mother weeping softly. He turned to her, and was surprised to see that her translucent ‘body’ was younger than the one she had left behind in reality. It was also dressed in faen attire to match the crown of flowers in her head. It’s not her actual body. Only her mind. That must be how she pictures herself.
He leaned toward her tenderly, and she recoiled violently.
“Mom, it’s okay,” he said, trying to re-assure her. “They can’t hurt you anymore.”
She sniffled and took another shuddering breath. Carefully, he reached out to her cheek, and was surprised that he was able to touch her. She continued to hyperventilate and weep. He pulled her close, and delicately removed the crown of flowers from her head.
“I will always bring you back,” He promised.
She hugged him, still crying, and he flashed back to reality.
— | —
The moment Hace reappeared, Sivia’s eyes opened and she took a deep, coughing breath, as if she had resurfaced from deep underwater. She remained non-responsive however, trapped in a waking trance state, which, while far from ideal, was still better than the comatose condition she had started out in.
Ezzie helped Sera and Hace guide Sivia into the car. He hugged the Matthews goodbye and repeatedly offered to help any way he could. He’s a good dude.
As Sera drove them to the Remington Memorial, Sivia started humming in the back seat. Her mouth whispered inaudible, ghostly syllables, but Hace recognized the melody as the same haunting tune that the elves had been singing around the bonfire.
— Hace Matthews | 9:27 PM | Remington Memorial Medical Center —
“We want to hold Sivia overnight for further diagnosis, but the preliminary scans have come back, and I am afraid I have some bad news.”
Sera squeezed Hace’s hand. He barely felt it. He was braced—body and wyrd—for whatever Medithurge Adel had to say.
“Based on our analysis of your mother’s wyrd, it seems very likely that Sivia is suffering from apopsychosis rather than oneirosis.”
Hace scoffed reflexively. Apopsychosis is an even rarer condition than akrasia. There were fewer than three hundred documented cases the world over. Oneirosis’ progression could be managed with medication, and clinical trials were making meaningful progress toward halting the episodes altogether. But there was no treatment for apopsychosis.
“I take it you are familiar with the condition?” Adel asked.
“Nobody is familiar with it,” Hace said. “I thought medicine looked for horses before zebras when we hear hooves.”
Adel seemed taken aback—possibly offended, not that Hace gave a shit. Are you seriously going to write this off as a rare, terminal condition based on a single incident?
“Time out,” Sera said. “I’ve never heard of apopsychosis before.”
“It is an exceedingly rare condition,” Adel admitted. “Unlike oneirosis, which is a cognitive and sensory disorder, apopsychosis is more akin to akrasia. The subject’s mind will subconsciously, and involuntarily stray into the Veil.”
“The episodes become increasingly frequent and prolonged until the connection between the mind and body is severed altogether,” Hace added, flippant.
“My god,” Sera said.
Yeah, scary shit to be sure, but this is not apopsychosis. Hace shook his head at Adel.
“Med, why the change? Her symptoms have been consistent with oneirosis for years.”
“You said yourself that you encountered Sivia’s mental projection in the Faed, correct?”
“Sure, but there are plenty of precedents of minds straying into the Faed, even outside of oneirosis. Especially among people who have been touched by the Faed before. And I’m pretty sure the fae I encountered called her there somehow.”
The medithurge opened his mouth to answer, sighed, and pursed his lips.
“You seem well-studied on the issue, so I’ll speak frankly. Are you familiar with Taleb-Diamond urdography?”
“Yes, and from what you yourself have told me; my mother’s waveforms have all the textbook hallmarks of oneirosis. Not apopsychosis.”
Again, Adel took a deep breath.
“The two conditions are very easy to confuse with each other. Up until this evening, we’ve had no reason to believe that your mother’s wyrd was apopsychotic. But these readings paint a different picture.”
Hace’s heart chilled as Adel tapped something on his keyboard. He rotated the monitor of his incanter screen to face Hace and Sera, revealing a graph of a sinewave, green on black, pulsing slightly. Adel gestured to a curiously uniform section of the waveform:
“Do you see this pattern here? The almost mechanical repetition of three crests and three troughs with about seven seconds of noise in between? That’s called a Cox-Braymore Pulse. And, so far as we understand the principles, it is the single most reliable indicator of an apopsychotic wyrd… behind firsthand testimony of a mind entering the Faed.”
Hace had not heard of Cox-Braymore Pulses. It’s not apopsychosis. He hadn’t researched apopsychosis in detail because the possibility was so remote. But this had him on his back foot. It’s not fucking apopsychosis!
“Isn’t the onset of apopsychosis typically—” Hace began.
“There is no ‘typical’ onset of apopsychosis, Mr. Matthews. It’s been observed in all ages ranging from teenagers to geriatric patients. The only common links are symptoms that present as oneirosis following prolonged exposure to the Faed.”
“Then why haven’t we seen this before?” Sera asked.
Medithurge Adel shook his head.
“I don’t know. The relationship between these conditions is unclear. One could be a preface to the other, or they might be completely distinct. Sometimes the pulses appear immediately upon the patient’s return from the Faed. Other times it takes years. We are in uncharted territory. All I can do is analyze the evidence.”
“What does this mean?” Sera asked. “I mean, what’s the prognosis for apopsychosis? What are our treatment options? Are there any clinical trials? Experimental options we can try?”
Adel folded his hands across his desk, and at length said:
“By our best estimates, she has up to three years.”
What? Hace froze.
“I will do what I can to see about clinical trials,” Adel said, continuing before Hace could finish processing the statement. “But every person who has developed a Cox-Braymore pattern has died within three years of exhibiting the symptom. Sometimes it happens… much faster.”
“How much faster?” Hace demanded.
What? The same useless word. The same useless silence after it. He realized Sera was crying.
“Is it possible that this is a one-off?” Hace asked. “My mom has gone to the Faed before. She had an akratic seizure in her sleep, the first time she went. Is it possible that this pulse is some kind of residual effect?”
Adel hesitated, and finally settled on:
“Anything is possible, Mr. Matthews. This is an admittedly precarious diagnosis. But I would be remiss to leave you uninformed.”
Hace’s body went completely numb as his mind raced for another explanation. This has to be the result of that ritual I saw. Which means that all we need to do is reverse it. Maybe that’s been the solution to apopsychosis all along, and to date, nobody has seen the Fae causing it. A second thought occurred to Hace. Glem will know what to do.
“Thank you, Medithurge Adel. Can you please compile a copy of my mother’s medical records? I don’t mean any offense, but given the precarious nature of the diagnosis, we’d like to seek a second opinion.”
Adel inclined his head, seemingly relieved that the conversation was drawing to a close.
— Glem Hughes| 11:37 PM —
I knew it was bad the second I saw him here in asfalis clothes. Hace always wears his uniform on campus. Glem was wrapping up his eleven-hour shift when Hace approached him, asking for a moment. And I’ve been dreading this conversation ever second since. And now that it’s happening… Glem’s heart ached. He felt sick.
I can barely hear him. It’s like I’m underwater. Or he’s underwater.
But they sat in an empty exam room, Glem still in his scrubs. He knew Hace was ‘arguing his case.’ He’s trying to negotiate with me like I’m an animus. But this isn’t a spell. The truth isn’t a contract. Its something more terrible than any monster or curse. And you can’t talk it away.
“…to be some kind of ritual, right? They called her there with the dance, or the song—hell, maybe the crown. But I figure if we can find out how they did it…”
How do you tell your best friend his mother is dying? Not merely sick. Not ‘eventually.’ Within three years. How do you get somebody who thinks they are infallible to face the facts? Hace thinks he’s always right because he can’t lie to anybody. Nobody except himself.
Hace held up a college ruled notebook, stained with the telltale splotches of his near-indecipherable shorthand.
“I wrote it all down while you were finishing up. The lighthouses. The moment it happened. The lyrics—so far as I could remember them—the answer has to be in here somewhere—”
“Hace,” Glem said.
Hace stopped talking and looked up.
“Please don’t do this to me,” Glem managed.
“It’s late,” Hace nodded sullenly.
“No. That’s not it. I’m here for you. Always. But… I need you as a friend, man. And if you ask me to sell you hope here, I’m afraid you’ll hate me forever after. So hate me now if you have to and please forgive me later—but Sivia is dying.”
The words seemed to permanently dim the light behind Hace’s irises.
Glem lowered his head and continued in a frenzy, trying to sprint through the worst of it:
“Even if it was a ritual that caused it—even if the fae plotted this somehow—that pulse means your mother has apopsychosis. And yes, it’s true, we don’t know how it works. We don’t know why it happens. And I will do everything in my power to help you search for a way out. But you need to prepare yourself for the likelihood that your mother will die.”
Hace sat down, clasped his hands in his lap and stared at them. I’m getting through to him. Glem wasn’t sure whether Hace would storm out of the room or really hear him. Glem knelt to him and held up the copy of the urdograph, pointing at the Cox-Braymore pulse.
“The math on this wave is bad. Mostly speculative. But we know the intervals between the pulses accelerate as her mind’s connection to her body frays. This isn’t a virus, or a deadly gene waiting to be expressed, or even terminal cancer. It’s a change we don’t know how to reverse. Something we only understand through time.”
Hace looked up red-eyed and fierce.
“So that’s it? You’re telling me to give up? Watch her die?”
“Don’t insult me like that,” Glem said grave, but delicate. As gentle as he could be. “Don’t hurt me like that, man. Because you know I would never say that to you.”
Hace swallowed, lip curling, and eyes welling with tears.
“We fight until the end,” Glem said. “We fight together until there is no hope left. But if you hope too recklessly, Hace, you will waste what time she has left.”
Hace looked away from Glem but remained seated.
“Talk to me, man,” Glem urged. “Talk to me about this as a friend, not a med. Because I can’t…. If I lie to you right now—sell you a promise that gives you something impossible to try for—”
“I’d forgive you,” Hace said, starting to sob again. “I’d forgive you for anything.”
Glem knew it was true. You put up with so much from me—my bitching, my sharp tongue, all the times I flake—and you ask for nothing in return even though you have so little. You’re a pain in the ass. You’re far too reckless with your heart. His aunt and mother were the same.
There was a warmth between the three of them, a joy and ease that was almost alien to Glem despite his comfortable upbringing. His mother and father loved him unconditionally. They were proud of him. But they would never look to him to learn something, or see him as a complete adult. It’s something he only realized after graduating early, and he was still wrestling with it. But Hace’s family existed on equal terms. Respect, responsibility, and love. It was something he had brought into Glem’s life. And I mean to practice it like you showed me.
“I wouldn’t be able to forgive myself,” Glem said. “Because if it were me, you’d tell the truth.”
“I’d want to lie,” Hace said.
“I know,” Glem said.