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Reading is Fundamental

© Carole Cummings


There was this tiny little room in the house—almost a manor, really—that Malick had bought, hardly bigger than a closet, just between Samin’s room and Shig’s. Some squirrelly soul who didn’t seem to have been in touch with reality had wedged a small couch against one wall, just beneath the one window, and jammed a chair in the corner behind the door; it prevented the door from actually opening all the way. Morin thought probably the furniture was now stuck in here for eternity, because he’d pondered it and couldn’t see a way to maneuver any of it back out the door without taking down a wall first.

Anyway, who cared? It was a nice change of scenery from his bedroom, and unlike the sitting room downstairs, he never had to worry about company if he didn’t want any. It was colder than the rest of the house, what with no room for a fire and too far away from the central chimney. But when the suns were shining, they hit the one window of the little room early in the afternoon, and Morin had enough heat and enough light to last him ’til the suns went down. Samin called it Morin’s Reading Room, which fit pretty well, because that was mostly what he did there.

A more fitting name, though, might be Jacin’s Hiding Place.

…Well, all right. It wasn’t as though Jacin really could hide, even if he wanted to. They all knew he came here, had started poking their heads in and around the door to the chair behind it to check when they couldn’t find him anywhere else. But with no place to sit, and what with Morin glaring a lack of welcome from the tiny couch, they never stayed to be the nattering, overbearing punters they tried not to be but were anyway. Morin made it a point not to natter at Jacin. Jacin seemed to appreciate it, because he kept coming back to curl up in the chair and play ghost-in-the-corner.

Morin felt a little pang even thinking that word—ghost—but he’d never seen the point in not acknowledging the truth of things. It only ever made those things harder in the end, because the truth always came out eventually, and if you’d invested most of yourself in believing not-truth, you were in for an unhappy acquaintance with devastation. Not that there was ever a happy acquaintance with devastation, he supposed.


Morin figured that was at least a little bit of Jacin’s problem, that refusal of everyone around him to acknowledge what he was, talking him into believing it, letting him know that their own happiness depended on him believing it. Sometimes Morin wanted to knock Joori cold for it. Sometimes Morin thought Joori had set Jacin up more inescapably than Asai had done. Sometimes Morin thought Asai had been able to do what he’d done to Jacin because of Joori.

And he was still doing it.

Then again, Joori was what he was because of Jacin, so Morin reckoned it evened out somehow in some unfair way that was still too real for the unfairness. Sometimes Joori called Jacin his other Self, which always gave Morin a morbid mental picture of two jagged halves of an unhealthy whole that just couldn’t fit together anymore.

Morin shook his head, glanced over at Jacin, watched him stare down into his tea for a while. Morin did not roll his eyes. He sighed instead, and opened his book, cramming his neck and shoulders into the crook of one arm of the tiny couch and draping his legs over the other.

“This one’s about some empress in Threcia getting rescued by a maijin,” he told Jacin, testing, because sometimes Jacin wanted to pretend he didn’t exist, and sometimes he wanted to know he did. “Did you know they call Temshiel and maijin Aeons and Sprites here?” Morin snorted. “Can you imagine anyone calling that Xari a Sprite? She’d probably show ’em their liver.”

He didn’t say that Asai would’ve been called a Sprite here, too; Jacin was probably thinking it right now, anyway.

“Mother used to call Caidi a sprite,” Jacin said in that rough-raspy voice he had now, because he’d ruined it screaming his grief over their little sister when Asai had splattered her on the dirty cobbles of an alley.

Morin found it a little hard to swallow all of a sudden, but he quirked his mouth in a half smile. “I’d forgotten about that.” Because he’d tried to. Which worked just as well as trying to pretend truth away, but Joori had his flaws, and Morin had his own. “I don’t think she meant it that way, though.”

“No.” Jacin took a sip from what had to be cold tea by now, but he didn’t seem to mind it. Or notice it. “The Adan had their own god and spirits before the moons came, and the people of Tambalon were migrated Adan before there was Ada. Sprites were the spirits of the elements. Tricky buggers, though. You could never tell if they were trying to help or hurt.”

Sounded like a pretty fair definition of a maijin to Joori. Temshiel, too, when he thought about it, Malick notwithstanding. By the tilt of Jacin’s mouth and the ironic look he flicked Morin, Jacin seemed to think so, too. Morin grinned. Jacin actually smirked this time before he took another sip of his tea.

You never could predict the things Jacin knew. He’d had an actual education while he’d been Asai’s… Morin wouldn’t think “property,” and “creature” just didn’t seem to fit; he shied from “pet.” Jacin was no one’s pet, and if anyone—

You know what? No. Morin was in a good mood, and so was Jacin, it seemed. No sense in spoiling it with a lot of morose navel gazing.

Morin held up the book with a lift of his eyebrows. “Want me to read it out loud?”

“Do you ever dream about it?” It was soft and rushed, like it had been ramming about in Jacin’s head for a while, and had blurted itself before he could stop it.

Morin blinked at the abrupt switch, but that was all. Jacin was just like that sometimes, and the more attention you paid to it, the more he looked like a bug pinned to a cork.

“Yeah.” Morin hadn’t meant to let his voice go as soft as Jacin’s, but it did. “I dream about all of it sometimes. And I miss them all the time.” Bitterly so. “And I dream about what happened. But….” He hesitated. Partially to swallow the abrupt lump in his throat, but mostly because he was pretty sure Jacin was listening. And Jacin didn’t always understand things the way you meant them unless they were worded in very specific ways that left him no room to add them to his reasons for hating himself. “I try really hard not to let it stop me from having what they wanted for me, because… well, because that seems like some kind of waste or something. Like the only thing left of them is what they would wish for me, and if I don’t take it, they’re gone for good.”

He fell silent, unsure he should have said any of it, but Morin, at least, wasn’t going to pretend with Jacin.

“And what…?” Jacin paused, chewed on his lip. “Does Caidi… talk to you?”

Morin’s eyebrows shot up before he could stop them. “Um… no.” He frowned. “Does she talk to you?” All at once focused, Morin leaned in. “What does she say?” Because, depending on what it was, it might explain why Jacin avoided sleep sometimes, and why he too often woke in a state of silent hysteria when he couldn’t.

Jacin seemed to be thinking it over, tense, like Morin had just taken skin off his back. Morin braced himself, because Jacin was too obviously making up his own meaning to the conversation.

It took longer than it should’ve, but Jacin finally whispered, “I’m sorry,” low voice brimming with regret, husky and poignant.

Well, poignant to anyone but Morin, maybe. To Morin, it was just annoying. Because Jacin really meant it.

“What are you sorry for?” Morin voiced the question for the sole purpose of getting Jacin to answer it out loud. Maybe one of these times, he’d figure out how ludicrous it sounded.

“For….” Jacin sighed, rubbed at his brow, then said exactly what Morin knew he would: “For everything, I guess.” Weary, and just… too genuine.

Morin definitely rolled his eyes this time. “Oh, quit it already,” he snapped. “You want to take the blame for the rest of the world being shitty, I can’t do much about it, but I don’t have to listen to it—Jacin-rei.”

It hung there, everything Morin meant by it crystal clear. Jacin didn’t say anything, but he didn’t flee, so Morin thought maybe he’d made his point. After several minutes of silence that felt a bit heavy, perhaps, but not choking, Morin waggled the book again with a lift of his eyebrows. Waited.

Jacin was watching him out the corner of his eye, intense but unreadable, before the downward slant of his mouth ticced then slipped upwards. “You’re kind of a prick, Morin.”

Joke? Not a joke? Who could tell?

“You’re kind of batshit, Jacin.”

It took another moment, but Jacin finally twisted the tiniest of smirks, let his head tilt back to rest against the cushions of the chair and shut his eyes. “Thanks.”

Morin had no idea if it was sarcastic or authentic, because you just never knew with Jacin, but it didn’t seem important. He shook his head, rolled his eyes at his brother, flipped open his book and began to read.



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