Theonite cover

 

THEONITE

Book I: Planet Adyn

by M. L. Wang

 

Text Copyright © 2016 Miracle Wang

Cover Art Copyright © 2016 Miracle Wang

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Prologue 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 Planet Adyn ebook

 

 

Chapter Ten:

The Silent Sky

 

Daniel and Robin did not come back the next week. Or the next. I waited by the window every day after school, every morning as the sun rose, peering down the block at the Thundyils’ house, searching for any signs of activity. Sometimes I would think I saw a flicker of light in the windows and my heart would leap in excitement, but it would just be the reflection of some passing headlights.

A few times a car pulled partway into the driveway only to back out and turn around. When the third car used the Thundyils’ driveway for a y-turn, I punched the window frame and heard wood crack. Normally, I didn’t lash out physically, but tamping down on my nyamaya was making me insanely irritable. It had felt alright for the first few days, but on the fourth day, it started to itch. By the time a week was up I wanted to kill myself. My skin felt too dry one moment, too sweaty the next. My muscles got sore and then twitchy. My chest wound itself into a knot of perpetual of tension and I started to get throbbing headaches.

For the first time in my life, I got sick. For nearly a week, I stayed home from school with a fever so high, I probably could have charged the info-com device on my forehead. During the night, I woke up with my teeth grinding together so hard they felt like they might break. During the day, my hands shook, sometimes so hard I could barely hold my pencil without dropping it. I felt if I could just use my powers for one thing—one burst of wind, one tiny little flame—the tension would go away. But I remembered Robin’s warnings and controlled the impulse. It wasn’t worth dying.

After the fever had passed, the stress got easier to deal with—or at least, I started coming up with ways to deal with it. Sometimes rubbing my hands together or holding them under running water helped. But my real savior was the cello. I hadn’t played much since my grandpa died, but now I found myself forging through every song I knew as loudly and emphatically as I could, letting the strains reverberate through my fingers and roll through my chest. With my cello between my knees, I could bring the discomfort from a sharp screaming in my bones to a dull ache in the pit of my stomach.

But even the cello did little to ease the anxiety of all that waiting. The only way I could even begin to cope with that madness was to bury myself in the Yammaninke learning material Robin had left me. At least that way, I felt like I was building to something. At least that way, every time I got up at dawn to look over at their house and found it standing dark and empty as ever, I could tell myself well, at least that’s one more day of Yammaninke practice. I’ll be that much more prepared.

The touchscreen was tricky to use at first, but after a few days my fingers warmed up to the patterns of tapping that I needed to take me to the few documents on it. The device was small enough to hide in a big pocket, but Robin had told me to keep it a secret, so I didn’t want to risk taking it to school where kids sometimes got their cellphones confiscated in the halls, or even downstairs where my parents might catch a glimpse of it.

Keeping the info-com device hidden meant that I had to copy down any of the material I wanted to study outside my room by hand. Writing right to left in an unfamiliar alphabet was an agonizingly slow task but, day by day, I forced myself to get faster at it.

There were two thousand words in Robin’s Yammaninke dictionary. Within three weeks I had them all memorized. Being my grandfather’s well-trained little linguist, I even figured out the etymology behind some of them, like the words for the different kinds of theonite. Ka was one Yammaninke word for ‘person,’ ja translated to something like ‘spiritual energy,’ ta meant ‘fire,’ ji meant ‘water,’ fonyo meant ‘wind.’ So, a ta-ja-ka was a person of fire energy, a ji-ja-ka was a person of water energy, and fonya-ka (shortened from fonyo-ja-ka) was a person of wind energy.

I had always considered myself a gifted language learner—I was fully bilingual in English and French—but Yammaninke was hard. It wasn’t like any language I knew. The sounds felt clumsy on my tongue and even after I worked out the pronunciation of each word, I struggled to string them together into sentences.

To make a noun plural, sometimes you added a ‘lu’ to the end, but sometimes a ‘nu,’ and sometimes a ‘wu,’ and I always seemed to have it wrong. There were a multitude of little words—‘ka’s and ‘ma’s, ‘ye’s and ‘be’s, ‘te’s and ‘de’s—that I constantly mixed up even though they all meant totally different things.

Then there was cultural stuff that I couldn’t begin to figure out from the manual alone. Like, instead of using ‘Mr.’ and ‘Ms.’ to be respectful, they used a whole bunch of prefixes: Koro, Jali, Numu, Senku… They weren’t based on gender, but I couldn’t figure out what they were supposed to distinguish. The manual just said, ‘use the prefix ‘Koro’ if the person is a koro and ‘Jali’ if the person is a jaseli,’ but nothing in the manual would tell me what a koro or a jaseli was.

Eventually, I found some song lyrics in one of the files that used the prefixes in a parable:

 

Koro Ba ran through the bush pursued by a beast

Koro Ba came upon an iron rod             

Koro Ba took up the rod and struck the beast atop its head

With a blow so mighty, the creature fell dead instantly

So seize the nyama

 

Jali Ba ran through the bush pursued by a beast

Jali Ba came upon an iron rod

Jali Ba took up the rod and struck it against some rocks

In a ringing rhythm so sweet, the creature stood still to listen

So seize the nyama

 

Numu Ba ran through the bush pursued by a beast

Numu Ba came upon an iron rod

Numu Ba took up the rod and forged a trap

So well-crafted that the beast was crippled and stopped in its tracks

So seize the nyama

 

I understood the song’s message about nyama: that one object could have different kinds of potential power depending on the person who used it. But I couldn’t really tell what the prefixes were supposed to mean within the story. There were a hundred things about Yammaninke—like those prefixes—that I just couldn’t figure out.

The frustration only fueled my mad scramble to learn as much as I could. I didn’t bother with homework or even my own reading anymore. I ignored all my classes to drown myself in Yammaninke, charging the info-com device in the toaster at night, and shutting myself in my room with it all day, mouthing words and scribbling notes to myself. Whenever I left my fortress of solitude, my notes came with me, so that I could read through them in spare moments throughout the day.

I didn’t sleep anymore. Sleep was impossible when every time I closed my eyes, I saw the imprints of Yammaninke letters, faceless figures between flashes of lightning, and fantastical images of what Duna might be like. No one seemed to notice the change—not my teachers, and certainly not my parents.

There was one time Drew leaned over to look at my notes and said “What is that? Klingon?”

“No,” I said wearily, rubbing one of my eyes. “It’s… um…” but I was too sleep-deprived to come up with a good lie, so I shrugged and told him, “I made friends with some inter-dimensional superheroes, and I have to learn their language before I go visit their planet.”

“Fine, don’t tell me then,” Drew said and went back to doodling monsters in his notebook.

After that I was more careful about hiding my papers under the table in school.

The longer I went without a glimpse of Daniel, or Robin, or anything remotely theonite-related, the more obsessed I became. By the time a month had passed, I started to have these moments—horrible moments on the way to school, or in the middle of class, or just sitting by myself in my room—when I suddenly wondered if I had dreamed up the Thundyils. It had felt so much like a dream—all too good to be true—and, like a dream, I was afraid it would slip away if I didn’t wrap my mind around it as tight as I could.

The only times I was not studying Robin’s Yammaninke manual or staring achingly out the window hoping for some sign of the Thundyils, I was trying to think about what I would say to my parents. I would write them a letter, I decided, hand it to them in an envelope or something and then leave the room. It would be easier than looking them in the eye and trying to explain. But I couldn’t figure out where to begin. By October, I had started at least a dozen drafts. Some of them began with ‘I’m sorry I’m leaving,’ ‘I’m sorry I ruined your lives,’ ‘I’m sorry for everything.’ Some said ‘I’m not sorry for anything.’

By November, my desk was covered in pages of Yammaninke practice and failed drafts of that stupid letter. But I kept going, kept rereading the Yammaninke manuals, kept restarting the letter, because I had forgotten how to do anything else. I couldn’t even remember—didn’t want to remember—what life was like without the promise of Duna.

 

........

 

When the Thundyils did come back, it was two months late, and it wasn’t anything like I had imagined. Like the first time, the weather changed with them. But this time, the change didn’t come in the form of swirling winds or crashing hail. Instead, I woke up to a tense, absolute quiet. The stillness was so thick, I lay glued to the bed, my eyes wide open with an inexplicable feeling of dread. When I did get myself to move, the sound of the covers as I pushed them back and the shuffle of my feet on the carpet seemed too loud. I held my breath, weirdly afraid that exhaling would stir up the waiting air and trigger—something. What exactly, I wasn’t sure. But I was scared.

Mama didn’t notice. She was making breakfast as usual when I got downstairs, even humming distractedly to herself.

I finished my breakfast quickly, kissed Mama goodbye, and headed out the door. The sky was overcast solid white. The wind was holding its breath. I was still looking up, lost in that sky, when a hand closed on my arm. I gasped sharply.

“Sorry!” Daniel exclaimed, snatching his hand back in a soft flutter of heat. “Sorry, I didn’t mean to scare you.”

“Daniel!”

I had imagined my reunion with the Thundyils a hundred different ways these past months. In some versions I was relieved, overjoyed, I told them how happy I was to see them. In some, I yelled at them for staying away, for making me suffer for so long. In others, I launched right into the long list of questions that had been building up in my mind. But as soon as my eyes met his, I knew something wasn’t right. This creeping unease wasn’t just in my head, it was in him too. He looked frayed, tense, like he hadn’t slept any more than I had recently. So there wasn’t any yelling, any anger, any joy—just this hushed dread.

“Daniel, what’s happening?” I asked, my voice too loud to me even as I whispered.

“’I don’t know,” he said, matching the tense quiet of my voice, “but it’s going to be okay. We’re getting out of here.”

“We?” I said uncertainly.

“Yeah. You, me, and Dad.”

“So, me too?” I said, barely able to breathe. “I’m coming too?”

“Yeah, that’s what I just said. Dad says it’s the only way to make sure you’re safe now that you’re on Mohan’s radar.”

“I’m on his radar?”

“Apparently we all are. That’s why we don’t have much time. We have to go as soon as Dad gets the pod prepped.”

“H-how long does that take?”

“Four hours at most.”

“So, before school is even out?” I wouldn’t get to see my parents.

“Yeah. We’ll sneak out after lunch.”

“If we’re not even going to finish the school day, why not just skip school altogether?” I asked, not liking the idea of venturing too far from the neighborhood and Robin’s protection. “Wouldn’t it be safer to stay here? With your dad?”

“No, Dad says it’ll be less conspicuous if the two of us go to school and just act normal, like we’re planning to stay.”

“How is that less conspicuous?” I asked.

“I—I don’t really know,” Daniel conceded wearily, “but Dad says he has a plan.”

“Daniel!” a voice called and the two of us turned to see Robin making his way down the sidewalk toward us with his usual calm smile. “And Joan, it’s good to see you. I’m so sorry for making you wait this long.”

“Dad, what are you doing here?” Daniel asked, confused.

“Were you just going to leave without saying goodbye?”

“I thought you were busy with the pod.”

“I’m never too busy for my son. Anyway, you forgot this.” Robin held out Daniel’s English textbook.

“What?” Daniel looked at the book and then over his shoulder at his backpack, puzzled. “I thought I… never mind.” He took the textbook with a faint shake of his head. “Thanks, Dad.”

As Robin watched his son unzip his backpack and nonchalantly cram the book in between its fellows, his expression faded into something broken. His smile didn’t waver, but I had never seen anyone’s eyes so full of pain. Then, just as Daniel straightened up to look him in the face, Robin leaned in and scooped the boy into a clumsy embrace. Daniel stiffened in surprise.

“Uh… Dad?”

“I know these past weeks have been hard on you,” Robin said all in one oddly strained breath. “I was hard on you, but you should know that you’re an extraordinary young theonite, and I’m proud of you.”

If Daniel had been surprised before, he looked shocked now.

“I love you,” Robin said softly, his face buried in his son’s hair.

“Um—yeah.” Daniel reached up and patted his father on the back, looking touched, if a little confused. “Love you too, Dad.”

“Have a good day.” Robin released Daniel and stepped back, his face rearranged into a fond smile. “Just because you’re skipping out in the middle of the day doesn’t mean you get to zone out in class. You make sure you learn something—and try not to make it too obvious how confused you are.”

“I’ll be fine. I’ll have Joan with me.”

“That’s right,” Robin nodded with a short, direct look at me. “You take care of him now.”

“I will,” I said.

“Have a good day at school.”

“Yeah. See you, Dad.”

“Goodbye.”

And Robin was gone in a warm rush that blew my hair back from my face and ruffled my sweatshirt.

“So, if you’re—if we’re going back to Duna, does that mean your dad finished what he came here to do? Did he stop Killer 31?”

“I think so. I mean, he must have. Firebird doesn’t leave work unfinished.”

“And you still don’t know who this Killer 31, Mohan, guy really is?”

“No,” Daniel said as we started walking, “but what I do know is that we left him far behind. Dad said it would take him at least a day to figure out that we’ve returned to this location. Until then all we have to do is behave normally, not draw any unnecessary attention, and we’ll be gone before he knows we’re leaving.”

“But it feels like…” It feels like he’s already here, I wanted to say, but that would sound insane. How would I know that when Robin had years of experience in hunting killer theonites and all I had was this choking knot of dread inside me?

“So, where have you guys been all this time?” I asked instead. “Or is that classified?”

“No. I’d tell you if I remembered the names of all the places,” Daniel smiled.

“So, you’ve been to a bunch of different places?”

“Yeah. We were moving around a lot for a while—a few weeks—but Dad seemed to think that wasn’t working, so we spent the last month out in the middle of nowhere.”

“The middle of nowhere, where?” I asked.

“Some state called California, in this really hot, dry desert valley in some kind of giant nature preserve thing. Nice place, but it was completely deserted. I guess because there are no tajakalu on this planet—well, except you—there’s no one around who can deal with that kind of heat.”

“Hold on a second, are you talking about Death Valley?”

“That’s the one.”

“You’re telling me you guys lived in Death Valley? For a month?”

“Yeah.”

“That’s the hottest place in North America!”

“It’s actually kind of cold at night.”

“Wait—but—how did you survive out there? I mean, I get that the heat didn’t bother you, but how did you get water?”

“Dad rented a truck. After he figured out how to drive it, he’d take it into town, like, once a week for supplies. I mostly stayed out in the sand.”

“What were you even doing out there all that time?”

“Training, mostly.”

“Training? As in like—”

“Combat training. You know—or, I guess you don’t if you grew up around adyns. It’s a thing you do when you’re a koro theonite, especially if your dad’s a part-time crime fighter.”

“Okay.” So, that explained why Daniel could move like an acrobat and effortlessly dodge punches. “But why in Death Valley?”

“It was isolated, a good place to hide. Dad seemed to think Mohan wouldn’t follow us there, and I guess he was right because we didn’t have to move again. Not until Dad decided we were coming back here for you.”

“Why come back now?”

“I don’t know,” Daniel shrugged. “Believe me, if I knew, I would tell you. But he really hasn’t told me anything. He’s been weird lately.”

“What do you mean? Weird how?”

“Well, like, with the whole training thing… I don’t really know how to explain it to you. Most koro parents train their kids to fight. Some of them are really hard on their kids—they’ll do anything to make them strong, but Dad’s never been like that. He never forced me to fight, not until Death Valley.”

“What do you mean?”

“He just whaled on me. He didn’t go easy, didn’t give me any time to find my feet or catch my breath, he just went after me like he wanted to kill me. And don’t get me wrong, I can take it. I like fighting, but…” Daniel paused to look down at his clenched fist and I noticed that his powerful knuckles were worn and bruised, “…he had me fight him until my legs wouldn’t hold me up anymore, and he didn’t let me stop.” Daniel ran a thumb over his battered knuckles. “Day after day, it was like that. He had me fight him until I collapsed.”

“Whoa. That is weird.” It certainly didn’t seem like Robin. Nothing about this day seemed right.

As we walked on in silence, my sense of foreboding kept growing. I didn’t say anything about it to Daniel. I wanted to, I just couldn’t find the words to bring it up, and after we reached the school, my window of opportunity was gone. I had eavesdropped on enough dumb conversations to know that a crowded hallway wasn’t a good place to discuss anything you wanted to keep a secret.

I thought I might get a chance to whisper to Daniel in English class, but once everyone was in their seats, I was dismayed to find that, of all days to show up to class, Drew had chosen this one. Seriously, since when did he show up to three days of class in a row? I had been counting on his absence and yet there he was, sitting in his place between Daniel and me as Ms. White began passing back our reading worksheets.

“Hey man, where you been?” Drew asked.

“I… I was—”

“He was sick,” I said before Daniel got a chance to come up with something unconvincing.

“Whoa, really?” Drew said. “For, like, two months?”

“Yeah,” I said as Daniel whispered an irritated, “I can come up with my own cover story,” through his teeth.

“What’d you say?” Drew asked, turning back to Daniel.

“I was just saying—that sneezing thing I had… it turned out to be really serious. I had to spend forever in the hospital getting it treated,” Daniel said and then shot me a pointed look as if to say ‘see?’

Fortunately, that day was a discussion and reflection day—a nicer way of saying a day of Ms. White just talking at us while no one listened—which meant that Drew would be fast asleep before the end of class. It seemed to take him forever though. I watched impatiently as his eyelids drooped and his head bobbed for what felt like an age before he finally nodded off onto the table.

As soon as he had put his head of unwashed hair down on his arms and his breathing had slowed, I leaned past him and whispered, “Daniel?”

“Yeah?”

“I have a bad feeling.”

“What do you mean?”

“I just—I have this—I feel like something terrible is going to happen.”

“Yeah, well,” Daniel gave me a wry smile. “You might want to get used to that if you’re planning on hanging out with me and Dad. Terrible things tend to follow us around.”

“No. It’s more like I can feel someone here, all around us, like, not like I can see or hear them. I can just sense them, like I sense metal or water. I know it sounds crazy.”

“Not that crazy,” Daniel said. “Lots of theonites can sense people with strong nyamaya—or nyamaya that’s similar to theirs—when they’re close.”

“Yeah, I know that, but…”

“You’re probably just sensing my nyama.”

“No, no.” I shook my head. “It’s not yours.”

Daniel’s nyama was all made of leaping, fluttering warmth, and I could only sense it when I was near him. What I felt now was a cold, absolute presence that sprawled over the entire town with a kind of alert stillness that brought to mind a waiting predator.

“Are you sure? Not to say you don’t know what you’re talking about, but if you haven’t been using your nyamaya for a couple months, you’re probably over-sensitive to things like—”

“Daniel, the thing I feel, it’s in the sky.”

“What?”

“Quiet in the back please,” Mrs. White said and Daniel and I both did our best to look like we hadn’t just been conversing in whispers. Daniel waited until she had turned back to the blackboard to lean in again.

“Usually, you can only sense someone else’s nyamaya if they’re really close, like, in the same room. And it shouldn’t be in the sky. That doesn’t make any sense.”

“Maybe it’s just me being weird.” I hoped so.

“Maybe. Either way, you don’t need to worry. Dad will have it under control.”

I knew I should believe him, but I couldn’t stop thinking of the way the clouds had felt—the way they still felt, even through the school’s roof and ceiling—closing above us. Even in the stillness, there was that same feeling, that same anger I had felt in that first storm. It was tamed now—simmering instead of thundering—but it was the same flavor of rage from those two nights of rain and hail, from the night I had woken up drenched in cold sweat and staggered to the window.

“Daniel,” I whispered as another question occurred to me. “Is there anyone else who came to Earth with you, besides Mohan?”

“No,” Daniel looked at me in confusion. “Why would you ask that?”

I looked at him for a moment, chewing my lip before choosing my next words. “That night I visited your house and you fell asleep on the floor, you didn’t wake up at all?”

“No, not that I remember.”

“I think someone else was in there. In the window, I saw—”

“Everyone get out your books and turn to page fifty-seven,” Ms. White’s voice cut me off.

After I had hastily pulled out my textbook and opened it to the right page, Daniel was still rummaging through his backpack.

“I know it’s in here somewhere,” he muttered, emptying most of the contents of his bag on the table in front of him. “I—ah. Here it is.” He met my eyes and I could tell he was burning to ask me what I had been about to say, but Ms. White’s eyes were on the class now and we couldn’t risk it, so he set about shoving folders back into his backpack.

“Organized, aren’t we?” I teased, attempting a smile.

“Oh, shut up,” Daniel snapped, stuffing books and folders back into his bag. “I’m not used to dealing with this many books.” He picked up his English textbook as though about to open it, but paused, staring at the cover with his brow furrowed.

“What is it?” I asked.

“I just… I could have sworn I put this in my bag before I left.” Daniel sighed and let the book slide from his hand onto the table with a dull thud. “What’s the point, anyway?” he pouted, thumbing glumly through the pages of print. “I can barely read a word of—huh?”

“What is it?”

“Look.” He flipped the book open to reveal an envelope sandwiched in between two pages of an excerpt of Henry IV Part II.

“What’s that?”

“Don’t know.” Daniel picked the envelope up and ran his thumb over a red bird stamped on its front. “But it’s Dad’s. This is the Firebird insignia.”

Daniel had just put a finger under the flap of the envelope to open it when a deafening boom shook the entire classroom. For the first time ever, all the chatter ceased. The whole class looked around in shock at the noise.

Then everyone started talking at once.

“What was that?”

“What’s going on?”

“It’s an earthquake!”

“There are no earthquakes in Wisconsin, dumbass. It was thunder.”

“No,” someone else piped up. “It was an explosion! Someone’s trying to blow up the school!”

“Uh… guys.” Drew, shaken awake by the noise, stood slowly and pointed out the window. “Look.”

All heads turned in the direction of his pointing finger. Rising above the rooftops in the distance was a cloud of smoke, ten stories high—and I recognized those rooftops.

“Daniel!” I whirled around to grab his arm as most of the class rushed to pile up at the window. “That’s our street!”

“Dad!” Daniel crammed the unopened envelope into his pocket and stood, throwing back his chair. He was out the door before it hit the ground, leaving behind a flurry of papers swept off the tables in his wake.

“Daniel, wait!” Glancing back to make sure that Ms. White and my classmates were all preoccupied gaping out the window, I leapt to my feet and took off after him.

I skidded into the hallway, narrowly avoiding crashing into the lockers, just in time to see one of the school’s side doors bang shut behind Daniel.

“Wait!” I scrambled after him as quickly as I dared on the slippery hallway floor. Reaching the door, I threw it open to a frozen gust of wind that stung with sleet. The rage wasn’t lying in wait anymore. It was out in full force, thrashing the trees and darkening the sky. Pushing my way out into the wind, I rounded the corner of the building and caught sight of Daniel already speeding across the field away from the school. I raced after him, ignoring the needles of ice against my skin.

In my whole life I had never dared to run as fast as I could, but I did now, pushing my legs to move me faster, faster, until the ground beneath my feet was a gray and brown blur and my hair was whipping straight out behind me like I was on a motorcycle.

No one had told me running fast would hurt like this. After only a few seconds my legs were screaming in protest and a sickly burning feeling had pounded its way into my lungs. As a knife-like pain lodged itself in my side, it distantly occurred to me that this must be why my classmates hated running the mile so much. And in spite of all my efforts I wasn’t gaining on Daniel. By the time I made it across the soccer field and onto the sidewalk leading to our neighborhood, he was rapidly shrinking ahead of me.

I had no idea how fast I was going, only that my legs were moving so furiously they were almost stumbling out of control. With the sidewalk flying by under me, I felt like I was just one misplaced foot away from careening off course and smashing into someone’s house with the force of a speeding car. As I rounded a corner, I found myself swerving off the curb, far into the road. I caught myself against the side of a parked car and pushed off to keep running.

I didn’t need to outrun Daniel, I reminded myself. I just needed to get there, to see what had happened. I needed to know that everything was okay. Panicked thoughts flew every which way through my head. Did this have to do with the Thundyils’ pod? Had it exploded? Had something happened to Robin? What if—my heart lurched for one horrible moment before I remembered that my parents would both be at work by now, miles away from here. Mama was safe.

Now that I was nearing our neighborhood, I could see just how big the cloud of smoke was. It towered above the rooftops, stretching outwards to block out what little light the overcast sky had to offer. As I cut through the park, vaulting over the toppled jungle gym, I found the smoke creeping along the ground in ashy gray tendrils. At first they scattered before me, swept away by the speed of my sprinting feet, but the smoke was thickening.

Turning the last corner, I caught a glimpse of Daniel’s heels, only to see them vanish into the clouds of gray. Even though I already felt like I could barely breathe, I plunged into the smoke after him—but it wasn’t regular smoke, I realized as I heaved the stuff into my ragged lungs. It was a frigid mixture of dust, ash, and water vapor.

How had an explosion produced a cold mist like this? Where was the fire? The heat? I slowed to a stumbling halt at the end of our block and sucked in a gasp that clenched around my heart.

The Thundyils’ house, the last and biggest on the block, was gone. Just gone, its pieces flung in all directions across the streets and into the sides of the neighboring houses. All that remained of the luxurious suburban home was a jagged heap of wreckage, a few half-standing walls, and the garage. Broken glass crunched under the soles of my shoes as I took a hesitant step forward.

There were no flames, no sign that anything had burned except the eerily cold smoke rising from the rubble, shrouding half the block in darkness, shutting us out from the rest of the world.

I caught sight of Daniel at the fringe of the devastation, standing before what seemed to be a thin, four-foot-tall pole of glass—or no, it was ice, glinting briskly in the gray light. But Daniel’s eyes were not on the sharpened top of the pole. They were fixed on something on the ground at his feet.

My gaze followed his down and I felt my whole being seize up in shock. The shaft of ice wasn’t standing straight on its own. It was buried in a man’s chest. I felt a scream rise from my lungs, but it caught in my throat, choking me as my unwilling eyes took in the rest of the body.

Robin Thundyil’s lips were parted. His eyes that had been so raw with emotion only an hour earlier were glazed and empty, staring past Daniel at something they could no longer see. I slumped sideways against a van parked at the curb, unable to think, unable to breathe. He was dead.

Robin Thundyil was dead.

 

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