The guards shoved them into a bare room that smelled of fermented turnips and had dubious stains on the floor. “Hey! My sister is sick – she needs help!” Thomas protested.
“Should have thought about that before bringing her to camp to cozy up to the guests.” The guard slammed the door shut.
“Thomas, I don’t feel good,” Katherine whimpered from where she was huddled on the floor.
“I know, Katey.” Thomas swallowed his anger and turned his attention to Katherine. He moved to her side and pulled her long blonde hair up, trying to let cooler air reach the back of her neck. “Just take deep breaths, nice and slow, okay? Like this.” He demonstrated, coaxing her to follow his example.
Katherine took a breath, then another. With a panicked cry she hunched over, her stomach clenched, and her body rejected the remaining alcohol.
“Shhh…” Thomas soothed her as she started to cry. He untied his apron and used it to gently clean her face. “It’s all right, Katey. I know you feel bad, but it’s not going to last.” He gently moved her away from the puddle of watery vomit.
“Did I do something wrong?” she sniffled. She knew he was upset and she was afraid she was the one who made him angry. “I’m really sorry, Thomas.”
Thomas shook his head. “No, Katey. You didn’t do anything wrong.” He took a deep breath to calm himself and instantly regretted it when the smell of the room hit him. “I’m the one who should be sorry. I shouldn’t have left you alone.”
“Oh, you’re going to be sorry, all right.” The door swung open and a massive guard lumbered into the room. “Eugh! It reeks in here!”
“My sister needs water,” Thomas said calmly, keeping his attention on Katherine.
The guard stomped closer to loom over Thomas, his arms folded across his chest. “Two of those men you attacked had to be taken to the Med Center. The other two are going to be laid up for at least a week. You just pissed off four of the most powerful families in Thelos.”
Thomas seemed to ignore the guard’s words. “She’s going to dehydrate. She needs water.”
“Are you listening to me?” The guard shouted. “Those people are going to own your crappy little life! And that’s after you get out of the detention facility.”
“My sister needs water,” Thomas repeated.
“What she needs is to be locked up – stupid little retar..”
The guard never finished what he was saying as Thomas sprung to his feet and shot a hand out towards the guard. A sudden, continual blast of air shoved the large man back against the wall and kept him pinned there. “You do not talk about my sister like that,” he snarled.
The door opened again and a man and a woman walked in, both wearing guardian uniforms. Thomas shot them warning glances but kept his focus on the guard, maintaining his spell all the while.
“Impressive control, Mister Shelton.” The man’s expression was serious but Thomas got the impression he was trying to suppress a grin. “If you would please release the overgrown swamp ape, I would like to speak with you.”
Thomas lowered his hand and the rush of air suddenly stopped. The guard flopped onto the floor and lay there whimpering a moment before scrambling to his feet and running out of the room. Thomas remained standing, his head bowed and his chest heaving with exhaustion. He looked as if he were about to pass out, but when the woman moved towards Katherine, he turned to face her and raised his hand in warning.
Instantly both the man and woman stiffened and bubbles of white light formed around the both of them. Thomas’ eyes bugged and he dropped his hand. “Paladins?” There was a touch of awe in his voice – as well as a hint of fear. “Both of you?” His mouth went dry. The situation was serious if Dawn’s Light sent a paladin. He must really be in trouble if they sent two.
The paladins both dropped their shields and the woman continued to Katherine’s side. “Come on, dear,” she said gently, soothingly, as she helped the girl up. “Let’s get you home and cleaned up.” Something about the woman seemed to calm Katherine, and the girl gave her brother a slight, still-sick smile before climbing unsteadily to her feet.
The man approached Thomas. “You must be ready to fall over after that display.” He took Thomas’ arm as if to haul him away, but the grip was more to support the young man rather than control him. “Don’t say anything as we head out. We’ll handle everything.”
The paladins led the siblings out of the room and through the security office. Thomas was the epitome of defiance as he passed the security guards, his head held high and his chin thrust forward. In truth, though, he was grateful for the paladin’s support and wasn’t sure he would have made it more than a few steps without falling. Thomas and Katherine were placed in the back of a car and watched as the paladins issued orders to waiting guardians. It wasn’t until they were driving through the gates of the camp that the man introduced himself and his companion: Timothy Baker and Angela Brooks.
As soon as they arrived at the Shelton house, Angela helped Katherine to the bathroom and began running water in the tub. Thomas moved to go to his sister but Timothy stopped him. “You can trust Angela with your half-sister.”
“Sister,” Thomas corrected him.
Timothy arched a brow. “Our records indicate your mother married Eli Winters when you were 6 years old and Katherine is his daughter. Is that correct?”
Thomas nodded. “Your records are right. But there is no ‘half’ when it comes to family. She’s my sister – period.”
The paladin bowed his head in acquiescence, a slight smile curving his lips. “You obviously know who we are and what we can do. Your mother forbade us contacting you or her after your father disappeared, so we didn’t know if you were aware of Dawn’s Light nor what sort of impression she may have given you about us.”
“My grandmother left me the family records. Mother never knew about them.”
Timothy smiled. “Your grandmother resigned before my time, but the Sheltons have a long history with Dawn’s Light and your name is well-respected. I would like you to consider joining us.”
Thomas blinked. “Consider…? You mean this visit isn’t about what happened tonight?”
“Oh, your actions tonight have everything to do with this offer. It isn’t every day the scion of our founder takes out four of the most spoiled, overgrown brats in the world with a single spell.” Timothy looked amused. “We’ve already seen the surveillance and know everything that took place. You were clearly defending your sister. Those men pushed the confrontation – they have no grounds to complain and could face repercussions themselves if they really wish to draw further attention to the incident.”
Thomas looked relieved at the assurance he would not be locked up away from Katherine. But there was a heaviness to his sigh of relief. “I can’t leave my sister. Dawn’s Light was my dream since I was a kid, but Katherine has to come first. I’m all she has.”
“She can come with you.” Though Timothy spoke the words as a reassurance, they seemed to punch Thomas in the chest. “You would have your own family quarters and arrangements can be made for someone to stay with her when you are training or on a mission. Surely it will be better than staying here just the two of you.”
A sound drew their attention to the bedroom door. “Excuse me,” Angela apologized for interrupting their discussion. “Katherine is ready for bed. I thought you would want to say goodnight.”
Thomas excused himself and went to his sister’s bedroom. Katherine was cleaned up and already tucked into bed. Her color looked better and she gave Thomas a drowsy smile. “Thomas, I like these people. They’re nice.” She spoke in a loud whisper as he bent over to kiss her forehead.
Thomas paused. “You like them?”
She nodded. “Angie sung me a song. They’re from that Light Place you talked about going to.” She got a small, confused pout. “But you don’t talk about it anymore.”
“Would you like to go to the Light Place?” Thomas sat on the edge of the bed. “They asked me to go, but I’m not going anywhere without you, Katey. If you want to stay here, we can stay here.”
Katherine’s eyes lit up. “We can go with them?” she asked eagerly. “We can stay at the Light Place?” She sat up in bed, bouncing with excitement, ready to hop out of bed and go right away.
Thomas laughed and tried to calm her down. “We’re not going anywhere right now. You need sleep. I need to talk with Mister Timothy some more about it, so no promises just yet.” He settled her back in her bed, pulled the covers around her, and gave her another kiss on her forehead. “Good night, Katey.” He turned on her nightlight and quietly closed the door.
Thomas returned to the living room where Timothy and Angela were waiting for him. He took his seat once more and leaned forward, his elbows resting on his knees, his hand hanging down as he thought. “So she can go with me.” He raised his head to look at Timothy. “What happens to her if I don’t come back from a mission?”
“She’s family,” Timothy replied. “She’ll be cared for the rest of her life. We won’t abandon her.”
Thomas took a deep breath and let it out slowly. “All right,” he nodded, “I’m in.”