Thomas and Rett chatted lightly throughout the drive, but grew quiet when they arrived at the detention facility gates. Though the guard greeted them with a smile and a wink at Thomas, she soon frowned as she entered their IDs into her console. “Sorry, sirs, but what is the purpose of your visit?”
“Paladin Theis has been cleared. We’re here to take him home.” Rett kept his voice even, but Thomas could feel the tension building in him.
“One moment.” The guard tapped away at her console and heaved a sigh of relief. “There we go. All set now. Sorry about the delay.” She opened the gates and waved them through.
They remained quiet as Rett drove to the squat building that made up the top level of the detention facility. He parked in front of the main door and turned off the motor, but neither moved to get out.
“Think there’s going to be trouble?” Thomas asked.
Rett took a deep breath before answering. “Too many things have gone sideways, upside-down, and backwards in the past year. At this rate, I can’t sneeze without it being some sort of plot twist.”
Thomas smirked. “Is it horrible that I’m nervous about seeing him?”
Rett tilted his head. “Have you seen him at all since Raqmu?”
The younger man shook his head. “He was already down when Marken shot me with the dart. I don’t remember anything after that until I woke up in the med wing in Arion.” Thomas cast a dark look at the building. “By that time they knew Socci was the traitor and they brought Theis straight here. I tried to visit, but wasn’t allowed any contact with him until now.”
Rett nodded. “Pretty much the same here.” He studied the younger man. “You’ve both been through hell, and that changes people. This won’t be easy for either of you, but you are still Thomas and he is still Theis. You’ll get through it.”
“Like you are still Rett and he’s still Ken?”
Rett closed his eyes and shook his head slightly as he muttered under his breath. “If it isn’t Meli it’s you. You’ve made your point, Mother, now let it go.”
Thomas nodded. “We’ve kept Theis waiting long enough.”
They walked into the admin office where a rather anxious guardian greeted them. “Paladin Sparks… Paladin Shelton… You got here fast. Umm… Paladin Theis isn’t ready for release yet.”
Rett exchanged a glance with Thomas before leveling his gaze on the sergeant. “Explain.”
“We just got word of his release a few minutes before you arrived at the gate. We haven’t had time to start out-processing. He’s still in his cell on the lowest level.”
The paladins both remained quiet, their eyes fixed on the desk officer.
“I understand, sirs, but we were ordered to take every precaution in holding him. We’re all glad that he’s been cleared and can go home.”
Rett folded his arms across his chest.
“I… I’ll get some clothes from storage for him to change into.”
Bearing the fresh clothes, Thomas and Rett rode the lift deep underground to the bottom of the holding facility. Passing through another security checkpoint, Thomas jaw clenched when the doors opened, revealing rows of green lights marking empty cells. A lone red light at the far end of the hall marked Theis cell. “He’s the only one down here. And you know they’ll have magic inhibitors on him, so there’s no need for this level of isolation. Putting him in the last cell wasn’t just a precaution. They were trying to demoralize him.”
“I know,” Rett’s voice was soft and grim. “The sooner we get him out of here, the sooner we can put it behind us.”
Thomas keyed in the command to unlock the cell, and the door slid open to reveal Theis sitting at a table, his back to them as he worked at a holographic 3D puzzle of the Lighthouse of Alexandria. “I know I don’t have a medical treatment scheduled today.” His rolling lilt was more pronounced with his distraction as he tried to maneuver a puzzle piece with the remaining fingers of his ruined hand. “So whatever questions you have for me will have to wait until I can get this into place. Part of my therapy, you kn…” His voice trailed off as he glanced over his shoulder and saw Rett and Thomas. He pushed his chair back and rose to face them, leaving the forgotten puzzle piece to hover in mid-air.
Rett knew Theis’ injuries and incarceration would change him, but he still had to bite back a gasp when he saw his protege. His mane of dreadlocks was gone: his head shaved for the sake of the myriad medical procedures required to rebuild the left side of his face. A pristine, newly-grown ear was attached to devastated skin. His sleeveless tunic revealed a puckered scar that ran down his arm to the remnant of his left hand. His deep bronze skin had a grayish cast and sagged slightly from lost muscle. But he still stood tall and proud, and his ice green eyes revealed that the pain and insults Theis had suffered had not quashed his spirit. His gaze darted between Rett and Thomas, and worry creased his brow. “What’s going on?”
“You’ve been cleared,” Rett answered. “We’re here to take you home.”
“Cleared?” Theis repeated uncertainly. “You mean it’s over?” He bowed his head and covered his eyes with his good hand as his shoulders began to shake.
Thomas dropped the clothes on the bed and stepped over to pat Theis’ shoulder. “Come on. Let’s get you out of here and back to the Lyceum. Evy is making sure everything in your apartment is ready for you to move in.”
Theis wiped a hand over his eyes and smiled at Evy’s name. “Little Girl is doing what now? Apartment?”
“Kroodles, they really didn’t tell you anything, did they?” Rett shook his head. “You and Thomas were promoted to paladin the day after Raqmu. Your quarters are on the floor below mine.”
Theis blinked and shook his head. “I knew Darris and Anne were promoted since they did most of my interrogations, but they didn’t give me much information. I knew you made it home from Raqmu, and I knew why they were holding me.” His voice tightened. “I know that duplicitous bastard is dead. But that’s about it.”
Thomas took a deep breath and puffed out his cheeks as he slowly released it. “Get changed. We’ve got a lot to catch you up on, but not here.”