Vibrations ran through the white marble walls. Inhuman shrieks leaked into the conference room from beneath the door.
“I knew I should have left for the other province,” muttered the man in the blue shirt. He paced the length of the room on this side of the table.
Michael watched the brown leather boots. Eighteen steps. Stop. Thirty-six steps. His own shoes dangled over the edge of his chair seat, his legs barely long enough to reach that far.
Michael’s father sighed and leaned on the chair arm between them. “The other provinces are just as bad, if not worse. At least here, the Thanmir will protect us.”
“The Thanmir who dragged us into a war?” The man in the blue shirt snorted. “Might as well throw ourselves to the monsters. We are dead either way.” Seventy-two steps.
A thud shook the room. Cracks raced along the floor tiles. Michael tucked his knees to his chest. Potential crack combinations: one-hundred-thirty-two. Structure integrity: ninety-two percent.
The man in the blue shirt kicked a chair. “I should be finding a way to escape this death-trap palace while the monsters are occupied.”
Thirty chairs. One-hundred-nineteen chair legs.
A loud crack bellowed from above. Structure integrity: seventy-eight percent. Michael clamped his hands over his ears and rocked back and forth.
The man in the blue shirt stomped closer. One-hundred-forty-four steps. “Why is he screaming?”
Michael’s father rose and blocked the man’s path. “He is scared.”
The man jabbed a finger in Michael’s direction. “Control your child.”
“Yelling will not help the situation.”
“Find a way to silence him.”
Michael’s father knelt in front of him and stroked a hand over his hair. “Shhhh, Michael. Listen to me. Calm down. Nothing bad is going to happen. Please, stop screaming.”
The man sneered and shook his head. “If he were my son, you would never see him acting like that.” One-hundred-fifty-five steps.
“Good thing you have no children.”
The cracks spread further, branching off into the wall before climbing their way toward the ceiling. Structure integrity: sixty-three percent. The hand on his hair petted rhythmically, matching his rocking.
The man in the blue shirt scanned the room. “We need to get out of here.” He stalked to the door and reached for the handle.
No! Structure integrity: fifty-nine percent. Removal of door support—integrity: thirty-one percent.
“Michael!” His father grabbed at his arms. “Calm. Down.”
The man with the blue shirt opened the door. Another vibration struck the building. Stone buckled. Red marred the white marble floor.
Michael’s father rushed to the rubble pile. He snatched a display spear from the wall and wedged it beneath the stone.
Wrong angle for appropriate leverage.
A second wall started the tumble. Michael’s father danced backwards, dodging falling rocks. Michael looked at the wall behind them. They could escape if they applied pressure to the cracks. Structure integ— His father yanked him close. At this rate, they would be buried alive! Why was that so hard to see? He squirmed, but his father clutched tighter.
Michael, whispered a voice within his mind.
He froze. Impossible. The history tomes hold no record of nonverbal communication between two human minds.
The little voice laughed. Have you read all the history tomes?
All available in the palace library. The floor shuddered. Is this conversation pertinent?
I can help you. The voice swirled through his mind.
Michael swallowed. The books. He had read about relationships between humans and… Are you an elemental?
Yes, and I want you to be my guardian.
The room creaked. Another ceiling chunk fell. Will you transport us out if I accept?
I wish I could.
Then how can you help?
I know about your condition. I can—
There is nothing wrong with me!
No. There is not. The voice caressed him, loving and thoughtful. But I can help you talk to your father.
At what cost?
His father squeezed tight. “I want you to know, I love you. If we die…”
No. That would not happen. I accept.
The world shifted and his senses expanded. Tears touched his cheeks and a lump lodged in his throat. “W-We can escape.”
His father tensed. Hands tightened on his shoulders and pushed him out to arm’s length.
Michael looked into his father’s brown eyes for the first time. Wrinkles gathered around them, just beyond the reach of graying eyebrows. They widened enough to show the whites around the edges. Fear, amazement, hope. How many emotions had he missed before now?
“Michael! You…” His father stilled, smile faltering, gaze locked on Michael’s bicep. His thumb grazed the new black mark printed on the skin, and his throat constricted. “You are a guardian?”
Michael slid from his father’s grasp and pressed against the wall behind them. “Help me push.”
His father nodded and leaned into the wall. Cracks spread and the wall bowed outward. The stone gave way with a loud crash, and they tumbled through into another room. His father scooped him up and started for the hallway door.
Structure integrity: twelve percent. “No!” Michael squirmed, and his father stumbled to a stop. Sunlight poured through a window to their right. He pointed. “There.”
His father changed direction, grabbing a chair in transit. He set Michael on his feet before slamming his elbow through the glass. A quick hoist and Michael was through, clambering down the wall into the open gardens. His father climbed free and together they ran.
Monsters shrieked in the distance. Michael inhaled, savoring the sweet scent of blossoms.
His father raked a hand through graying locks. He looked so worn, so tired. “Now what?”
Michael shrugged. “That is up to my mistress.”
“Mistress?” His father glanced toward the palace. “Who is she?”
Michael closed his eyes and sought out that tender voice from earlier. “Her name is Cera.”
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Copyright © Loni Townsend 2014