The guards hauled them to the camp’s security center, and pushed them through a rusty door into storage room that had dubious stains on the floor and smelled of fermented turnips. Thomas stumbled as he was shoved from behind, but immediately regained his balance and rounded on the guard. “Hey! My sister is sick — she needs help!”
“Should have thought about that before you brought her to camp to cozy up to the guests.” The guard slammed the door shut.
“Thomas,” Katherine whimpered as she huddled on the floor. “I don’t feel good.”
“I know, Katey.” Thomas swallowed his anger and turned his attention to his sister. He crouched by her side and lifted her long blonde hair off the back of her neck, hoping cooler air would help her feel better. “Just take deep breaths, nice and slow, okay? Like this.” He coaxed her to follow his example.
Katherine took a sharp, panting breath as her stomach clenched, and doubled over as her body rejected the remaining alcohol.
“Shhh…” Thomas soothed 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 won’t last.” He gently moved her away from the puddle of watery vomit.
“I’m sorry, Thomas.” She looked up at him as she cried. “Did I do something wrong?”
“No, Katey-bug. 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 shouldn’t have left you alone. I’m the one who should be sorry.”
“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 them, his arms folded across his chest. “Those men you attacked had to go to the Med Center. Two of them are going to be laid up for at least a week. You just pissed off four of the most powerful families in Region Thelos.”
Thomas ignored the guard’s rebuke. “She’s going to dehydrate. She needs water.”
“Are you listening to me?” Piqued at being dismissed, the guard raised his voice and put his hands on his hips. “Once you crawl out of the detention facility, those people are going to own your crappy little life!”
“My sister needs water.”
“What she needs is to be locked up — stupid little retar..”
Thomas sprung to his feet and thrust a hand towards the guard. A torrent of air pinned the large man against the wall. “You do not talk about my sister like that,” he snarled.
The door opened again, and a man and a woman wearing guardian uniforms entered. Thomas shot them warning glances but kept his focus on the incapacitated guard as he maintained the spell.
“Impressive control, Mister Shelton.” The man’s expression was serious but Thomas caught a twinkle in the man’s eyes. “If you would please release the overgrown swamp ape, I would like to speak with you.”
Thomas lowered his hand. The rush of air suddenly stopped and the guard flopped to the floor. He lay there a moment, whimpering, before scrambling to his feet to run out the door. Thomas bowed his head and his chest heaved with exhaustion. He looked as if he were about to pass out, but reacted instantly when the woman stepped towards Katherine. He turned to face her and raised a trembling hand in warning.
The woman tilted her head and a bubble of white light formed around her. Thomas’ eyes bugged and he dropped his hand. He glanced to the man who was also protected by a shimmering shield “You’re 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 to her feet. “Let’s get you home and cleaned up.” Something about the woman calmed 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.” 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.”
Thomas was the epitome of defiance — his head held high and his chin thrust forward — as the paladins led the siblings out through the security office. In truth, though, he was grateful for the man’s support and wasn’t sure he would have made it more than a few steps without falling. The brother and sister were placed in the back of a waiting 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 as Timothy Baker. His companion was Angela Brooks.
Angela helped Katherine into the house to the bathroom as soon as the car stopped infront of the Shelton house. Thomas stepped in the door to hear water running in the bathtub and started for the door to help his sister.
Timothy stopped him. “You can trust Angie with your half-sister.”
“Sister,” Thomas corrected him.
The paladin arched a brow. “Our records indicate your mother married Eli Winters when you were six years old, and Katherine is his daughter. Is that correct?”
Thomas nodded. “Your records are right, but there’s no ‘half’ when it comes to family. She’s my sister.”
Timothy bowed his head in acquiescence, and gestured to the threadbare couch on the living room. He waited for Thomas to take a seat. “You know about paladins so you must have some idea what we do. Your mother forbade any contact after your father disappeared, so we didn’t know if you were aware of Dawn’s Light.”
“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 our Order, and your name is well-respected. I would like you to consider joining us.”
Thomas blinked. “Consider…? You mean this isn’t about what happened tonight?”
Timothy grinned. “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 overgrown, spoiled brats in the world with a single spell.” He pulled up a creaky wooden chair. “We’ve already seen the surveillance vids and know everything that took place. Those men pushed the confrontation and you were clearly defending your sister. We’ll make it clear to the families that if they pursue the incident, the full details will come to light and their sons will face repercussions for their actions.”
Thomas breathed a sigh of relief at the assurance he would not be locked up, but there was a heaviness to it. “Dawn’s Light was my dream since I was a kid, but Katherine has to come first. I can’t leave her — I’m all she has.”
“She can come with you,” Timothy assured. “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 the two of you staying here?”
Timothy’s words punched Thomas in the chest and long-dead dreams began to stir.
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’d want to say goodnight.”
Thomas shook off the shock of Timothy’s offer and excused himself. Katherine was cleaned up and already tucked into bed. Her color was starting to return 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 frowned slightly in worry. “But you don’t talk about it anymore.”
“You remember that?” Thomas sat on the edge of the bed. “Would you like to go to the Light Place? They asked me to go with them, but I’m not going anywhere without you, Katey. We can stay here if you want to stay.”
Katherine’s eyes lit up and she sat up, fairly bounding with excitement. “We can go with them? We can stay at the Light Place?”
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 yet.” He settled her back down and gave her another kiss. “Get some sleep, Katey-bug” He pulled the covers around her, turned on her nightlight, and quietly closed the door.
Thomas returned to the living room where Timothy and Angela were waiting. “My dad is proof that things can go wrong. What happens to Katherine if I go out on a mission and don’t come back?”
“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. I’m in.”