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After his Melding Rite, during the slow days of healing, Zirix twisted in and out of dreams. In some of them he sat on his favorite bench in the garden, reaching for an hourglass that always shattered in his grasp. In others he washed his face, then gazed into the water. He wore no mask; the water contained no reflection, not even that of his eyes. Suddenly furious, he smashed the basin aside.
In the worst ones, his father, Y'Kir Starstrider, sat by his side, a tall, impassive presence. Even in the dim light, Y'Kir's shadow was agonizingly bright. Not once did Y'Kir say a word to Zirix, whether to comfort him or chide him.
When Zirix surfaced closer to consciousness, he suspected those weren't dreams at all.
At last he woke. His face throbbed dully. The unbearable scorching pain of the Rite had passed. This--this he could endure. It wasn't as if he had a choice.
Thankfully the person who sat at the bedside was not Y'Kir, but his friend Belisara. ‘You're awake,’ she said, as if he didn't know that. ‘I'll get--’
Zirix caught at her hand, then let go. He stared dully at the sheen of metal. The Rite had succeeded after all. Now he, too, possessed a sandshield. He need never again rely on water like the children did. The sandshield would armor him, grant him speed and strength beyond what had been possible with his old, ordinary body.
He would have foregone it all in exchange for a father who cared about him.
‘Help me get up,’ he said.
‘You're still weak,’ Belisara said.
‘Not much of a Rite, was it?’ Zirix said.
‘Don't,’ she said in a hushed voice. But she helped him stand.
‘I want to go to the garden,’ he said.
‘All right,’ she said. ‘But let me tell the guards to notify your father.’
This accomplished, they headed to the garden. Neither the breeze nor the shade made any difference to Zirix. Heat coiled within him, artifact of the Rite. It would always accompany him now.
He led Belisara past his favorite bench and all the way to the center of the garden, where there was a single limpid pool surrounded by fragrant purple-green grasses. The pool itself was one of the city's great treasures. Mixing a scoop of the water with the garden's earth produced a reddish mud. He applied it to his mask as though it were paint.
‘That's where the scar is,’ Zirix said. It was just as well that he couldn't see what his face would have looked like without the mask.
Belisara's answering silence worried him. Had he alienated her? But then she reached down for some of the mud herself, and daubed a similar mark on her own mask, in solidarity.
‘Your father will not be pleased,’ Belisara said.
‘Then he should have thought of that before abandoning me to Eyos's mercy,’ Zirix said. ‘Some mercy it was. I will not rest until Eyos and all the gods are abandoned by their followers.’
Despite everything, he could not hate his father. Family was family.
The gods were another matter.