Chapter 26 can be read below the cut.
It was the start of the fall semester. Veitlen stood at the entrance of the Tsurennupaiva Military Academy. Even with the hood of his coat pulled over his head, people would surely recognize him.
He took a breath and started walking down the path. People glanced at him occasionally. At first he thought it was because he was the only one wearing a hood, but he caught a few of their expressions and saw that they absolutely knew who he was.
People kept looking at him in his classes, but no one said anything to him. Veitlen wasn’t able to pay attention to anything any of the professors said. His attention kept wandering to what might happen if someone started talking to him.
“Uh, Veitlen? Are you mentally here?” Perturin asked.
Veitlen looked up at Perturin blankly. “No. What were you saying?” he asked.
“The lecture’s over. We’re doing group work now,” said Perturin.
“Really?” said Veitlen.
Nikkola Maelury, a student in Daidlis’s squad and one of the people sitting at the table with Veitlen and Perturin, sighed. “You haven’t been paying attention to anything today, have you?” he asked.
“No, not really,” said Veitlen. There were worksheets strewn all over the table. A beaker of liquid light magic stood on a scale in between the three of them. Veitlen stared at it. “Thanks for treating me just like everyone else.”
“What else would I be treating you like?” Nikkola asked.
Veitlen gave him a confused stare. “Haven’t you seen the news the past few days? Everyone’s been staring at me!” he whispered.
“You’re assuming I believe in that sort of thing to begin with,” said Nikkola. He shook his head.
“Right, you’re Ciniáne. No wonder you don’t care,” said Veitlen. He looked over at Perturin, who was writing something down on one of the worksheets. “What about you? You can’t use that excuse.”
“Why are you interrogating me about this?” Petrurin asked. Ze looked flabbergasted. “Shouldn’t you just be happy that I’m treating you the same as usual?”
“What’s with the hostility?” Veitlen asked. “Are you feeling okay today?”
“You aren’t doing what you need to be doing,” said Perturin. Ze tapped one of the worksheets.
Veitlen buried his face in his hands. “I know, I know! It was all a mistake! I really regret it.”
“Uh,” said Perturin.
“Whatever it is you’re talking about…you should probably talk it over with your therapist,” said Nikkola. “Not us.”
“Yeah, I know,” said Veitlen glumly.
When his classes were over for the day, Veitlen pulled his hood up over his head again. He walked toward the exit of the Military Academy as quickly as he could, hoping that no one would stop him or try to get his attention.
That, unfortunately, did not happen. Someone called his name and Veitlen turned around to see Temurlin walking up to him with a frown on his face. “Uh, hey,” he said quietly.
“What the hell is going on?” asked Temurlin. Thankfully, he looked more confused than angry. “You talk with the Avatar and then it turns out you’re an Avatar, too? Of a god that doesn’t even have a name?”
“Um. Yeah,” said Veitlen. “I took the Avatar test. But it’s not just me! I think it’s all of us witches-”
“Witches are Avatars. Yeah, I figured that out after talking to my dad. And now it’s been officially confirmed as much as it possibly can be,” said Temurlin.
They stood there in silence for a moment, staring at each other. Temurlin was the first to break the silence. “So,” he said. “That’s what you’ve been doing for the past two months?”
“Basically, yeah,” Veitlen muttered. He looked up at Temurlin sheepishly. “You’re not as mad as I thought you would be.”
Temurlin raised an eyebrow. “Is that why you’ve been deliberately avoiding me?” he asked.
“You noticed?” Veitlen blurted out.
Temurlin frowned at him in disbelief. “Did you think I wouldn’t? Do you think you’re sneaky? Because you’re not. At all,” he said. Veitlen let his shoulders slump. “I’m not exactly happy that you’ve been avoiding me, and I don’t really get why you did it, but it’s over now.”
“So you’re not going to be mad at me,” said Veitlen flatly.
“It wouldn’t accomplish anything at this point, so no,” said Temurlin.
Veitlen let out a sigh of relief. “Okay. Good. But I still need to apologize. I’ve been behaving really stupidly lately,” he said.
“No kidding,” said Temurlin.
They ended up walking to the nearest boba shop. It was one Veitlen had visited multiple times before, especially with Kallinu and Nymue when they’d been discussing Nymue’s plans.
Veitlen shifted in his chair and tapped his fingers against the table. “I really regret agreeing to work with the Avatar,” he said. “I don’t…I don’t even know why I thought it was a good idea. I wish I could take it back.”
Temurlin stirred his boba. “Dwelling on that isn’t going to accomplish anything. You can’t take back your mistakes, but…”
Temurlin paused and looked down at the cup. Veitlen curled his hands into fists and looked at him nervously. “And? Yes?” he asked.
“I really don’t know where I was going with that,” said Temurlin. It looked like he was deliberately trying not to meet Veitlen’s eyes.
“Oh, so helpful,” said Veitlen sarcastically.
“You know what I’m getting at,” said Temurlin with a wave of his hand. “Stop dwelling on your mistakes and take control of what you can actually control.”
“I am! I’m trying!” said Veitlen. He rubbed his forehead. “I can apologize to you, and I can prevent Chanda from talking to any more witches. But I can’t prevent anyone else from knowing I’m an Avatar. That’s going to follow me for the rest of my life. It’ll never go away.”
Temurlin let his chin rest in his hand. The disapproval was obvious on his face. “What did I just say?” he said. “You weren’t listening at all, were you?”
“Wha-” Veitlen started.
Temurlin pointed at him, still looking annoyed. “Stop wallowing in self-pity.”
Veitlen actually felt slightly hurt by that. “Where is this coming from?” he asked. “What the hell happened to you? You used to be such a doormat. You never would have said something like this before.”
“Yeah, I got sick of people treating me like that,” said Temurlin flatly.
“So it wasn’t just me who took you for granted?” Veitlen blurted out before he could stop himself.
“No,” said Temurlin strongly.
Veitlen rubbed his chin. “Okay, moving on…I, uh, have no idea what to do now. How to move on from this. Do I just pretend it never happened?” he said.
“Don’t ask me. I can’t make this decision for you,” said Temurlin.
Veitlen sighed and ran his hand through his hair. “I don’t,” he started. Rahka suddenly popped into his mind, and he gasped and covered his mouth with both hands.
Temurlin stared at him in confusion. “What just happened?” he asked.
Veitlen stood up. “I know who to talk to,” he said.
He left Temurlin there at the café, ignoring all of his protests, and hurried over to the prison. He paused in the lobby to catch his breath, then walked down the hall and into Temurlin’s room.
The glass separator was pushed aside, and Rahka and Nymue sat on the ground with papers and books strewn all around them. Veitlen stopped and stared at the sight, not sure of what to say.
“No, I don’t think that’s it,” said Rahka. He looked backward and raised an eyebrow. “Oh, Veitlen. What are you doing here?”
“What…what are y’all doing?” Veitlen asked in confusion.
Rahka looked back down at the book in his lap. “I’m helping her,” he said with a gesture at Nymue, who appeared to be too absorbed in whatever she was doing to notice anything else.
“Yeah, but with what?” Veitlen asked.
Nymue held up one of the books, still not looking away from the one in front of her. “Early Tsurennupaiva history. With all these books here, I might be able to figure something out,” she said.
Veitlen was still confused. “So…you…are you and the Avatar working together on this?” he asked.
“Yes. I made her agree to it in order for me to go public about being an Avatar,” said Nymue.
Veitlen frowned. “So you’re actually fine with everyone knowing this?” he asked.
“It doesn’t affect me at all,” said Nymue, “so yes.”
“How can you say this doesn’t affect you at all!?” Veitlen exclaimed. “Everyone’s gonna know about it! FOREVER.”
“That’s not my problem,” said Nymue calmly. She continued examining the book in front of her and flipped a page. “I don’t plan on letting this impact my life in the slightest. It will neither help nor hinder my plans.”
“You-” Veitlen started.
“You shouldn’t let it affect you either,” Nymue interrupted.
“Whatever,” Veitlen scoffed. “Rahka, I need to talk to you.”
“But why?” Rahka asked. He looked confused.
Veitlen threw up his hands. “Because! Ugh! Did you ever do that Avatar test Chanda made me do?” he asked.
“No?” said Rahka. “There’s no one else in the records with a silver spirit weapon. I wouldn’t be able to do that even if I wanted to, which I don’t. Knowing the results of that wouldn’t change my life in any way.”
Veitlen let his hands fall back to his sides. “I regret it,” he said.
“Wow, who knew that working with the Avatar and doing what she says would have such terrible consequences?” Rahka sneered.
“I know, okay. I should’ve listened to you,” Veitlen snapped. He sat down on the ground and crossed his legs.
“So are you done talking to me?” Rahka asked.
“No,” said Veitlen. Rahka opened his mouth again, but Veitlen managed to start speaking again before he could say anything. “How did you move past your regrets?”
Rahka looked confused, and stared at Veitlen with his mouth hanging open. “What are you talking about?” he asked. “Are you seriously having trouble with – do you really regret saying ‘yes’ to the Avatar that much?”
“Yes!” said Veitlen.
Rahka touched his chin and blinked, looking astounded. “Well…this sounds like something you have to work past on your own. Giving you advice would basically be like cheating-”
“What the fuck!?” said Veitlen. “Why are you like this, too?”
“Huh?” said Rahka blankly.
Veitlen clutched his head and screwed his eyes shut. “Why can’t you just tell me what you did to make yourself feel okay with killing all those people?” he groaned.
“You really just want a single, easy fucking answer to this, don’t you?” Rahka said irritably.
“YES!” shouted Veitlen.
Rahka sighed in frustration and rubbed his forehead. “Time,” he said. “It took me years to accept and move past it. But you…your ‘regret’ is infinitesimally tiny in comparison. I think you all you really need is to talk to a therapist.”
Veitlen sighed in frustration. “That doesn’t help me,” he said.
“Tough shit. It’s the only piece of advice I’m willing to give you,” said Rahka.
The two of them sat there, frowning at each other. Nymue finally looked up from her books. “Did you have anything else to ask, or can Rahka and I go back to our research?” she asked.
“Your research. Your research,” Rahka stressed.
“No, that’s all I wanted to ask,” Veitlen grumbled. “I’ll go now.”
He left the prison and, after walking around the city for a while, went back home. There was no one there, as usual. Ellis and Asha worked late most days and sometimes didn’t make it home before midnight. Veitlen assumed this would be another of those days.
Veitlen could barely sleep all night. He was still awake when the sun started rising, and lay in bed for about an hour before he got up. Neither Ellis nor Asha were awake by the time he made his way downstairs and stepped outside the townhouse.
He looked up and over the street, squinting in the bright sunlight, then sighed as he started walking.