Lucian King counted stars. It wasn’t fun or easy, but it was his, and no matter how life changed, as long as the stars lit the night sky, he could do it.
Life had changed a great deal in the last few years. He’d lost his Mother to a mad man who’d wanted to kill him and steal his soul. He’d learned of hidden powers he didn’t know people had, let alone that he’d possess. He learned that ghosts, mages, and monsters were not only real but required policing. He was on the cusp of becoming someone who put themselves between the world of monsters and that of humanity. Humans that called themselves the Choir.
His new place of choice for counting stars was the roof of Mary Kyle, his guardian within the Choir organization. Mary’s daughter Donna, who usually went by Don, and her partner Allie had been instrumental in saving his life, and Mary had seemingly leaped at the chance to become Lucian’s guardian. So for three years, Mary had been a surrogate mother to Lucian, helping him to settle into his new life within the Choir.
This night, Lucian’s star counting came about because he was particularly pensive. Everyone in the Choir who wanted to become an agent had to follow the same road. The road lead through the Academy, a special school designed to train the children born with powers, called the Blessed, to use them properly. It was the sort of thing dreamed about by normal kids.
He’d been that kid once. That kid would have loved to go to a secret school for kids with powers if only to escape his old life. Now he was living that fantasy, but the price he’d paid to get here made it hard to enjoy.
“Lucian?” Mary’s warm voice rose from the backyard. Mary was tolerant of Lucian’s little hobby, but not so tolerant of how late he’d try to indulge in it.
“I’m here, Ma’am,” Lucian called back.
“It’s getting late, and you have a big day tomorrow. It would be best if you were well-rested.”
Lucian looked over the edge of the roof into Mary’s well-maintained backyard. It wasn’t a large amount of space. Just enough for a small garden of various flowers and a sitting space to enjoy them. In the middle was Mary, with an expression that, while kind, offered slim chance that an extension of the night’s activity would be tolerated. She was neither big, nor little, but instead markedly average, with swarthy skin and dark brown hair cut into a long bob. “I’m not tired yet,” He said.
“Be that as it may, you don’t want to be tired tomorrow. I can promise you’ll regret it,” Mary said as she pointed towards the ground. “Now come. I can make you some warm milk. It’ll help.”
Lucian nodded and looked around. He had used his power to get up here and would get down the same way. Limited use of powers was allowed before starting Academy, but he wasn’t supposed to be showing his off because of how unusual it was. At night, however, he could get away with a bit more.
He crouched at the edge of the roof and held out one hand, flexing a now-familiar muscle in his mind. A black, pentagonal plate roughly two feet wide formed in the air just below the side of the roof. It hung there, unmoving as Lucian eased himself onto it. He was more worried about the roof than the stability of the plate, as he’d been told his nighttime hobby would end if Mary lost any tiles off her roof. His plates just required focus, and by now, he could hold them without thinking. He formed another, a foot lower, and stepped on to it before releasing the first one. This was trickier, but if he kept it to just two, it wasn’t difficult.
“You know, neither of mine could sleep the night before they joined Academy,” Mary said as Lucian made it finally to the ground. “Donna was so excited, but my Dominic was scared. He wasn’t a typical physical type and was pretty deep in his own head about the work and responsibility the Academy meant.” Mary didn’t talk about Don’s older brother often, so when she did it was usually with a purpose. “He had this look when he was thinking hard about something important. You could see the gears turning. Always turning. You remind me of him right now.”
“Is it really obvious?” Lucian asked. Lucian was known for being mostly expressionless, but for some reason, Mary was always able to pick up some little clue something was bothering him. He wondered if it was a power that you picked up from raising kids.
Mary made a little sound of acknowledgment. “What’s the matter? You’ve been training so enthusiastically for this. I would have expected more excitement, not this-” She gestured in a circle around his face. “Whatever this is.”
His Uncle Jack, better known to the world at large as Evandrus, the seventh scion of the abomination, had put him on a fairly strict, but effective training regiment as anyone joining the Academy would be expected to have a certain level of physical prowess. Jack had remarked that he wouldn’t allow his nephew to be outdone. Lucian was a diligent student and enjoyed his training. He’d found himself to be quite strong in little time and looked forward to sparring with his Uncle when he made his occasional visits. Without his Mother’s interference, Lucian had found immense joy in training to fight, which brought him back to why he was so preoccupied in the first place.
“Is this okay?” Lucian asked.
“Is what okay, dear?”
“I want this. Not being in the woods. Going to the Academy. Having powers. It’s really cool.” Lucian rubbed the back of his head, trying to find the best words for what was in his head. “I’d wished for something like it since I was little and boom, here I am. It’s like destiny, and I love every second of it.”
“My Mom would have hated it. She’s have hated every bit. The training to fight. School with other kids. The whole idea of the Academy and for sure the Choir. She’d have never allowed it.”
“And that fact bothers you?”
Lucian thought for a moment. “Shouldn’t it? A little? I think it’s more than that, though. It’s more like I’m happy she can’t stop this. I’m happy she can’t keep me in the woods anymore,” He said softly. “I’m happy, but something feels wrong. It feels like I shouldn’t be so okay about her being gone. It’s almost like I don’t care that she’s dead even though I love her.” Lucian wrinkled his nose. “No. It’s more like I can’t seem to care. Does that make sense?”
Mary’s expression froze. It wasn’t a dramatic thing. It was hardly perceptible, but Lucian had grown skilled at seeing emotions in people’s faces. He knew when he’d touched a nerve, and he’d touched one in Mary. As quickly as it happened, it faded and was replaced by a look of profound sadness.
“Lucian,” Mary said as she took the young boys face in her hands, “different people have different circumstances. These circumstances define us. Color us. They inform how we react to the world. You are so unique, Lucian, and so are the circumstances that made you. It would be unfair to expect you to react like everyone else.”
“I’m unique.” Lucian turned the idea over in his mind for a moment. “So something in my circumstances makes my reactions normal?”
“Normal for you. It’s not for me to say, Dear,” Mary said as she casually looked to the side, her expression suddenly unreadable.
“And that’s okay?”
“It has to be,” Mary said gently.
Lucian nodded. He wasn’t stupid. He knew something was being hidden from him. He saw it in Mary’s face often. He saw it in his Uncle’s face every time he left after a visit. He’d tried to ask before, but the answers he got were as straight as a tree’s roots. The truth would have to wait. For now, he’d have to be content with his new life, and it’s nagging secrets.