Small Gifts

A character anime manga portrait of Zahn, a resident of Luzmeria's The Shade.

Zahn wandered down the rain-slicked streets of The Beach, fog drifting in his wake. He was glad to be out of The Shade for a while.

In a thick patch of mist, he bumped into someone – a guy he knew in passing from back home. Life in The Shade had left its mark, but recognition lit his eyes for a moment as tension eased.

“Sorry about that.” Zahn mumbled, shoving hands into his pockets
The guy shrugged. “No problem. Don’t see too many of our kind around here, huh?”

Zahn grinned. “Not lately. Good to see a familiar face though, Shade brother.”

They studied each other in silence, sharing an unspoken kinship. Hard lives had taught them secrets were best kept close…but some were meant to be shared.

“We should meet up again in a few days,” the guy suggested. “There’s a cafe a couple blocks from Vaun’s place we could check out.”

Zahn’s eyes lit up. “That’d be great. Meet you at Sol’s in three days?”

The guy nodded, a knowing look and faint smile. “See you then, brother.”

Zahn laughed. “See you.”

Zahn headed into The Beach to grab a book he’d ordered. The familiar streets were damp with rain, mist clinging to everything. This part of town was always changing like the rest of the city pressing in on all sides, but The Beach stayed uniquely itself. It was a spot where opposites came together without clashing, kept separate yet connected.

Zahn slowed his steps, tuning into the flow of water through pipes beneath the pavement. His kind could sense the tides of life and danger alike drawn here, where dark and light wove into one. But today wasn’t about life changing events, today was .

Echoes rippled out from where he walked, taps and trickles discerned and dismissed. Messages would come for him here where differences didn’t matter for a time, calling on gifts of healing and renewal…but not now. Now he was simply running an errand.

The Beach absorbed it all within its quarter, sustaining in balance what must stand apart elsewhere. Designs from The Gleam melded with ones from The Shade, plus other traces unique to this place alone. Styles from everywhere collided in a way that gave The Beach a flavor like nowhere else.

Zahn browsed bookshelves under golden lamps, fingers trailing worn spines. His attention snagged on a title, tugging like an undercurrent in the stream. He slid the book from its slot and flipped through creased and stained pages, scanning words that resonated and clung.

Zahn browsed the shelves of Vaun’s bookstore, fingers trailing worn spines under golden lamps. Vaun smiled, inhaling familiar scents of paper and ink that clung to every book, safeguarding memories within. The neat rows stretched into shadows.

Vaun’s gift let him see 12 seconds ahead, solving puzzles in his mind quicker than real time. The Director of CDI had recruited him as a code breaker, though he still sought a quiet life…with a touch of intrigue.

“Find anything interesting?” Vaun asked Zahn, studying subtle tells in his posture and expression. Curiosity and questions were woven into Vaun’s nature, seeking insight into what shaped people and their choices.

Zahn slid out a book, tracing the cover. “This one called to me, like an undercurrent tugging.” He flipped through crisp pages, scanning words that resonated. “How do you do it, Vaun, when part of you is always ahead in possibilities?”

“The future is always changing.” Vaun rested a hand on bookcases anchoring him to the present. “My gift only shows what might be, if nothing alters course in the next moments. I’ve learned not to cling too tightly to any strand, but watch where they join and unravel.”

“You watch the forest, not the tree?” Zahn asked.

Vaun smiled, “Exactly.”

Vaun’s fingers traced wood grain, following the path of rings back to a seed that contained all the tree might become. “The secret is appreciating each step of the journey…not just anticipating where the path may lead.” A wry smile. “Even when part of you is always a bit farther along.”

The book tucked safe in his coat, Zahn clasped Vaun’s hand with a squeeze of thanks. As the old books flavor the air with the scent of dust, old paper, perfume and tobacco, Zahn said “I’ll try to remember that.” with a quiet grin.

Zahn was walking down the street when he spotted a little girl crying so hard outside a store that she couldn’t even tell him what was wrong. He hated seeing kids sad like that.

Zahn focused, reaching out to the fog and rain with his mind. Drops came together, forming into a small unicorn made of mist. It pranced around, dancing on air for the little girl.

She hiccupped, staring with huge eyes as her crying slowed. The unicorn gamboled over, bowing its head as if listening closely.

Zahn crouched down. “What’s your name?” he asked her.

“L-Lily,” she stammered. Her gaze stayed locked on the magical creature.

“Lily, this is a friend of mine.” Zahn smiled, nodding to the unicorn. “Would you tell her why you’re so upset?”

Lily hiccupped again, wiping her eyes. “I-I lost the necklace my grandma gave me. We looked and looked but couldn’t find it anywhere!” Fresh tears welled up.

The mist unicorn nuzzled Lily gently. Zahn asked, “Where did you last see your necklace?”
“At the park. But it’s been hours and hours!” Lily started crying again. “Grandma will be so sad I lost her present!”

The unicorn leaned in close, lifting Lily’s hair delicately with her horn. There, caught around a strand in the back, was a silver chain. Lily’s necklace, safe and sound the whole time.

“I think my friend found your necklace.” Zahn grinned as the unicorn bowed, holding out the chain.

Lily threw her arms around the unicorn with a shriek of joy. “Thank you thank you!”
Mist and magic faded as rain summoned its own back to the clouds. Zahn stood up, hands in his pockets.

Lily flung her arms around him next. “And thank you for helping me! Can you tell your unicorn friend I said thanks a million times?”

Zahn laughed. “I’ll be sure to let her know. Now run along—I’m sure your grandma will be happy to have this back safe with you.”

Lily raced off, necklace in hand and heart light with wonder at the unicorn that had chased away her tears. Zahn watched her go, smiling at how little it took to turn despair to joy.

Zahn finally made it back to his place as the rain cleared up for good. What a day! First swinging by Vaun’s shop; and of course, helping little Lily with her missing necklace, or rather his mist unicorn friend did. Using gifts to make things right in hidden ways, without any big fuss — that’s how it was meant to be.

He unlocked the front door, stepping into warmth and light. Home sweet home! The smell of spaghetti and meatballs wafted from the kitchen. His stomach rumbled, reminding him he hadn’t eaten anything since that granola bar hours ago.

“Zahn, is that you?” His mom poked her head out of the kitchen, smiling in welcome. “Come sit down, dinner’s almost ready. I made your favorite!”

“Awesome, I’m starving!” He shrugged off his coat, hanging it up to dry, and kicked off soggy shoes by the heater vent.

Zahn headed into the kitchen, breathing in spaghetti sauce and a hint of perfume, already planning on a second helping.