“Mirrors should think longer before they reflect.”
— Jean Cocteau
It was Reflection Day.
The High Court called it the Day of Determination, but to everyone else, it was Reflection Day – the annual ritual for when every citizen who had turned eighteen that year would gaze into the magical mirror to see their worth.
Dert didn’t quite know what this meant. Even with magic, how could a mirror know what you were worth? Not too many elders talked about what they had seen in the mirror, only that it determined your status in the city. Some people were born to wealth and money – and then after Reflection Day, turned out into the lower streets as a humble trash collector. There was no inheriting status, no birthright to your worth: only the mirror.
Would he see himself surrounded by gold? By the iron fires of a blacksmith? Perhaps on a ship at sea wearing the uniform of a naval officer? Dert bit his lip. He loved the ocean.
The line was long, arching out of the main court and into the foyer. A few people were murmuring to each other, but most sound was lost in the high ceilings and broad walls. It made Dert feel small.
Perhaps it wasn’t as straightforward as images. Maybe his reflection would be pure color, with a series of blues and greens that somehow meant he was going to be a carpenter or something.
Dert was jerked out of his thoughts as he followed the line into the main court, which was a sharp contrast from the elegant foyer. This room was small and dark. Black curtains hung everywhere, and there was a black room divider keeping the line from progressing more than a few dozen feet. He couldn’t see it, but he knew the mirror was beyond the divider, along with the High Court officials who would be judging him. Judging his reflection.
His heart pounded faster, and he tried to return to his musings. Maybe he had it all wrong; maybe the mirror didn’t show your future, but who you were now. An image that showed whether you had any potential in the first place, not what you might have.
Who was he? What worth did he have?
There were only a few people ahead of him now. Besides the slight sound of speech beyond the divider, it was stiflingly quiet.
Dert prided himself on being a good worker. His family wasn’t rich, but they weren’t poor, either. No one besides the High Court officials seemed to know the magical mirror’s criteria, so hard work and perseverance were prized above all else. It certainly didn’t seem to hurt anyone’s odds. Only a few people never returned from their Determination, and it was rumored that they became High Court officials or spies or even part of the royal family. Dert didn’t wish for any of that, he’d be happy just to stay at the same level as his family – but to go on the sea was his secret, desperate wish.
Maybe the mirror looked at your heart? Your deepest desires?
It was his turn.
His stomach rolled, and Dert stepped past the divider, glancing at the silver-clad soldier standing by the opening.
This side of the room was larger than the other, but not by much. There was a group of seats where shadowed figures were sitting – the officials – and a single chair off to the side. In it sat an stern-looking elder woman.
Directly in the middle was the mirror. Dert was rather surprised by how plain it looked. It was taller than he was, but rather narrow. Another soldier with a gleaming sword directed him to the marked space in front of the mirror.
Dert kept his eyes down as he reached the spot, staring at his worn shoes. His legs trembled, and he took a deep breath – and looked up.
The mirror stared back impassively.
Dert’s breath caught in his throat.
There was nothing there. No, not that he was all alone, with no gold or ocean or colors. There was nothing.
An empty mirror, reflecting nothing but the curtained wall behind him.
“What do you see?” asked the stern woman.
Dert couldn’t say anything. He just stared.
With a sigh, the elder got up from her chair and came around to stand near him, close enough to see into the mirror without it seeing her.
She stared at it, then at Dert, meeting his wide, startled eyes, and then looked away.
“Empty,” she announced. She stepped back.
If it were possible, the room seemed to go even stiller. Dert could barely hear his own heart, which he knew was beating madly in his chest. Empty? What did that mean? Was it bad? Was it good? He glanced breathlessly at the elder, who seemed to be waiting for something.
Yes, he thought wildly, maybe he was special! Chosen to be an official or a spy or royalty or –
So consumed by his thoughts, Dert didn’t notice the reflection of a gleaming sword, nor when it came down.
Don’t you just love a happy ending? 8D
I really liked writing this! The idea came from a Tumblr prompt, and it’s something I think I’d like to expand on in another, longer story. Maybe another “invisible soul” could escape Dert’s fate? WHO KNOWS