what i remember about my mentor before they burned him alive.

I had someone I loved, too, once. I met him at the university where my parents taught when I was little.

I couldn’t have been more than five years old when I first met A. He was there as a student, and I was the tag along my parents trusted the library to babysit. That’s where he found me, nestled in the books about biomes and the manipulation of life systems, reading all of it, understanding some.
He was small, maybe five feet tall and thin in the way you get when magic burns in you too long. I remember, too, that he was blind.

See, Oleander, he said, his hands running over the upraised patterns on the pages, reverent and purposeful. (Later I would wonder if he would ever trace my spine like that, read the contours of my body with his hands alone.) The systems of the human body, of animal bodies, of plants, of water and sky. These are the most beautiful things of all.

It would be easy to blame myself for what happened later. Should have looked harder, should have seen the signs. Should have heard the fervor in his voice, noticed the sign, the smell of fell sigils burned into his flesh. But blaming myself would just be another way of trying to retroactively control the things I couldn’t change, and to me, his voice had always been calm and steady, full of light and quiet joy.

Maybe I was blinded. I was young, after all, and he’d had centuries to perfect his stories.

Systems are beautiful, Oleander, he whispered. Even in death—especially in death, frozen, slowly decaying—they are beautiful. Just like you.

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