On the usual afternoon for the capital elders’ weekly meeting, the sky was brilliantly sunny and the air was fresh, like an early sample of autumn. Michael let the sun soak into him, using his light sympathy to store it up for the long evening of work that he foresaw ahead of him. His grandfather strode next to him on their way to the Government Center. Even into his seventies, Gerhope Tate still had the long, easy stride of a man accustomed to broad spaces. Often Michael had to push himself to keep up with the elder, although almost fifty years of age separated them.

From the right, a woman trotted toward them. Rosamund Fulke was a school teacher, which kept her late on weekly meeting days. “I made it, Gar!” she gasped as she caught up with the two men. “Won’t they all be shocked!” She had been a teacher for twenty years, but an elder for only four years, and the other elders had accustomed themselves to the need to wait for her on these occasions. 

“Was it a half-day?” asked Michael.

“Yes, fortunately for me, and since Rusza graduated, I haven’t had a single student I needed to keep afterward for a serious talking-to,” she laughed. “So here I am!”

Rosamund had been Michael’s teacher and, although he had been out of school for nine years, he still had trouble not calling her “Miss Fulke” or “ma’am.” The reference to his younger brother prompted him to reply, “I’m not sure whether I should apologize to you for Rusza.”

“No need. He’s a marvelous boy, provided one knows what to do about all of that energy. It is a slight shock, though, transitioning from him to Lyndon. Lyndon is so quiet! I hardly know he’s there most of the time. And as for girls, well! Day and night, those two, day and night!”

Elder Tate, as grandfather of these boys, shook his head. “If it weren’t for little Linnie, I’d worry about Lyndon spending the rest of his life completely alone. Those two always have been inseparable, of course, but I could never tell if they saw each other as siblings or something else up until last year, when she graduated early and went with Coralie to prepare for service. Then Lyndon came to Archet and to me one morning, just after she had left, and he said he missed her so much that he had made up his mind to marry her, once they both finished their service. When he came to us, it wasn’t even for a consultation; he had made up his mind and wanted to let us know of his decision.”

“That explains so much,” replied Rosamund. “He’s difficult to understand, even for someone with my sympathy, but if that’s just how he goes through life, then I’ve been trying too hard. I’m afraid I’ve been comparing him with Fineas.”

“They’re both quiet, but Lyndon is far more willful. Fineas, poor boy, is just more used to being invisible to others, falling between Michael here and Rusza as he does.”

“Do I make him invisible?” said Michael, troubled.

“Not on purpose,” answered his grandfather, “but you as firstborn had all the accomplishments first. Then Rusza came along and charmed everyone, leaving Fineas in a kind of void.”

The three of them had reached the Government Center’s front entrance by that point. They entered the elders’ council chamber, a high-domed round room with benches aligned with each of the eight points of the compass.  Because Garden District was in the northeast quadrant of the capital’s second ring, Elder Tate and Rosamund took their seats in that section. Michael as assistant sat immediately behind them. Not many elders had already arrived, but remarks about Rosamund’s “early” arrival came from all quarters. Elders and their assistants continued to drift into the chamber a few at a time. 

From her place ahead of them, Metal District elder Allimae Cram was noting each arrival as if expecting someone in particular. Michael leaned forward to murmur to his grandfather, “Elder Stone still hasn’t turned up, I see.” 

“That has never been uncommon,” Elder Tate replied, “but neither Echo nor Helena has come with his apologies, which is strange. Those two, at least, are more punctilious than this. That’s the main reason Conneran has them as his assistants.”

From across the aisle, Allimae said, “Am I that obvious? But it isn’t Conneran or his young keepers that I’m seeking. Where is Charles Wingate? That’s what really troubles me.”

Michael twisted all the way around in his seat, but he was forced to admit that the Earth District elders, both of them, were absent also. When he remarked about this, he received a silent look from Allimae Cram that made him drop the subject.

After a full ten minutes had passed without any new arrivals, Allimae stood up. “Since it appears that as many who are coming have come, I move that we begin.”

Elder Tate stood. “I second that.”

A general murmur of agreement swept the chamber. Another elder called out, “Motion confirmed.”

Michael’s grandfather sat back down, but Allimae Cram remained on her feet. “I have new business to present that will not wait. May I proceed?”

The general murmur this time held undertones of disquiet. Ingali Safi of Ice District said clearly over the indistinct voices, “What’s wrong?”

“Two days ago,” Allimae began, “I was approached by young Charles Wingate… who is missing from our number today,” she added, and then paused. “I hope there is no connection, but he wanted to discuss with me some misgivings he had regarding the leadership practices in Earth District. Specifically, he said he was concerned about the latitude given to…” She paused again.

This time, Michael heard the myriad footsteps approaching from the foyer. 

Allimae Cram seemed resigned, not surprised, when a crowd of youths intruded into the elders’ council meeting. “Stalworth and Glory Glazmere,” she said. Her tone made it difficult to tell whether she was finishing her previous sentence or announcing the arrival of the two siblings who stood at the fore of the intruders’ party.

“Elder Cram,” said the young man Stalworth Glazmere. “Apologies for interrupting your speech.”

Allimae waved away this obvious piece of insincerity with her wrinkled hand. “Where is Charles Wingate?”

“Oh, I wouldn’t know,” Stalworth answered. His tone suggested more a lack of concern than of knowledge. “I myself have new business to present to the elders’ council. We thank you for your service, but new times demand new, more effective leadership.” He lifted two fingers in a self-consciously elegant gesture of command.

Several of the young men in the crowd stepped forward. These clearly all possessed energy-based sympathies. Michael recognized them by feel. He possessed the energy sympathy pertaining to light, but his younger brother Rusza was a broad-based energy sympathist and unintentionally had taught Michael how to recognize thermal, electromagnetic, and mechanical energy sympathies as well. None of these seemed as strong as Rusza, but then, few were. 

“No harm will come to any who cooperate,” continued Stalworth. 

When the aggressors moved forward, Michael instinctively stepped out to confront them, but his grandfather snagged him by the wrist and pulled him back. Elder Tate still had the powerful grip of a farmer accustomed to long hours of manual labor. He did not speak.

Around them, other young assistants were also moving forward, but these were merging into the ranks of the intruders. Others had looked to Michael and stood still as he did.

Stalworth announced, “You’re welcome to join us.” He locked stares with Michael, singling him out of the holdouts.

“I stand with the rightful elders.”

“Yes,” said Stalworth, “Mica said you would say that. See them to their new chambers.” 

At this command, the aggressors rounded up the elders and their remaining assistants. Now captive, Michael stayed close to Rosamund and Allimae as they were herded to a service stairwell that led to the basement. His grandfather’s hand remained steady against his back, reassuring him. They came to an open doorway into a dark room and were pushed through into pure darkness. On impulse, Michael stuck out his hand and focused some of his stored sunlight through it. 

His light fell upon rows of tall bookshelves. The elders were crowded into a central aisle between two sections of shelving. The door slammed behind them. A heavy bolt clanked in the lock.

“Thank you, Michael.” Allimae patted his arm. “Nanja, would you take over?”

Nanja Mhina, an elder from the Lightning District, began to radiate a gentle, steady light. The elders gathered close. As if she had never been interrupted, Allimae said, “Charles told me he has been increasingly concerned about how Milla Glazmere leaves her duties to her grandchildren, and events have proven him justified in his concerns. Milla was put forward as elder when her husband died because we believed her to share in his upright character. What do you all say now?”

“Is it possible that they have imprisoned her, as they did us?” asked the glowing Nanja.

“I believe it to be unlikely. From what Charles told me, Milla approves everything they do. They would have no need to imprison her. It cannot be denied that those two Glazmere children are instrumental in corrupting other children as well.” Allimae looked from face to face. Her gaze lingered longest on the faces of elders whose assistants had abandoned them. “We must consider what should be done.”

Michael listened to the continuation of the weekly meeting, but with only half his attention. He moved amongst his peers who had remained loyal, speaking a soft word here and there, gripping a shoulder or patting a back in reassurance. He let his light output dim until he glowed like Elder Mhina. Thus preoccupied, Michael did not notice when Rosamund Fulke glanced back in his direction, frowned, and touched Elder Tate’s hand. She tilted her head toward Michael and whispered a few words in Elder Tate’s ear.

“I move that we suspend further discussion,” said Elder Tate, “until we have seen to the young ones in our care.” The others murmured assent. He corralled Michael while the other elders collected their own assistants. “Are you worried?”

“How can I not worry?” said Michael with simple honesty. “Who knows what they mean to do with us?”

“Do with us? My boy, we are here because we chose to be here. Because you chose to stand with us, we’ll take good care of you.”

Michael gave his grandfather a close scrutiny. “What do you mean, you chose to be here?”

His grandfather smiled. His smile broadened into a soft laugh. “Perhaps you’ll see. In the meantime, let’s have a look at our new accommodations. For some reason, being in a basement always makes me feel cozy…” He led Michael on a tour of their impromptu prison. “I see where we are,” he said at once. “The family books archive. We’ll have plenty of reading material, if nothing else. What do you think, Elder Safi?”

“A dry, cool basement room,” said Ingali Safi. “Excellent for keeping books, not so good for keeping people. Elder Cram, do you sense any weakness in the walls? If I have a gap, I can draw water through it, but they built this foundation with good, solid stone.”

“Mostly good, solid stone,” said Allimae Cram, running her hand along the wall. “I can feel the care they took to choose it. But age wears away all things, even rocks. Especially when helped by healthy tree roots. Gar?”

Michael’s grandfather set his hand on the wall next to Allimae’s hand. “I can sense it. It must be the old sycamore on the east side. Good root network. It’s very healthy. In fact, even without a clear gap, I think I can persuade it…” He leaned his forehead against the wall.

After several seconds, the stone cracked with startling abruptness. It was only a small crack, less than a hand’s-breadth long, but when Michael’s grandfather backed a step away and Elder Safi stepped forward to take his place, a droplet of water ran down the wall almost as soon as she touched the stone. Another droplet followed, and another, until a steady trickle ran from the crack.

Elder Cram dropped to one knee with a grunt. “The floor is nowhere near as good quality as the wall. I wonder why.” She pressed her hand to a certain patch of tiles. “This will do.” Her hand raised and then fell, and that area of tiles dropped several inches into the ground. 

The trickle of water summoned by Elder Safi ran down into the basin formed by Elder Cram. “That will do, given enough time,” said Elder Tate. “What next?”

Before anyone could answer his question, the heavy bolt slammed back from the lock and the door swung open to admit half a dozen soldiers in full combat gear. 

Michael found Elder Fulke pushing him insistently farther back toward the corner, and Elder Cram’s assistant Ekatsa with him. He understood. Ekatsa was the youngest assistant among them, a girl of prodigious ability who had already graduated from public school at fourteen but was still too young to serve her obligatory four years in the army. Michael moved to stand in front of the girl so that the soldiers couldn’t see her.

The squad leader held out a paper. “You have had enough time to consider your situation,” he announced. “Whoever signs this document declaring his resignation is free to go.”

None of the elders moved for that moment. Then someone said, “Is that all?” and the elders went back to whatever activity or conversation the intruders had interrupted.

This, as Michael clearly saw, did not sit well with the squad leader. Even obscured by helmet and balaclava, the leader’s face could be seen to twist in anger. “You seem not to realize your position,” he said in a strained voice.

“Our position,” echoed Michael’s grandfather. “You mean the fact that we are prisoners whom your group cannot afford to release even if we were to sign that document, because if we spoke a word to the public about your actions, not one of those actions could bear examination. That position?”

Uneasiness spread among the other soldiers. 

“Because, if you mean that position,” Elder Tate continued, “I assure you that we realized it sooner than your fellows here seem to have done.”

The squad leader hesitated only a moment longer. Then he reached out a hard hand to seize one of the elders by the forearm. Michael raised himself onto his toes to see who had been seized. It was Allimae Cram. 

But again, it was Gerhope Tate who spoke. “If you wanted to make an example of one of us, I don’t think you could have made a worse choice. Don’t you know what that person’s sympathy is? Mineral sympathy. And don’t you know what your own bones are made from?”

The now-enraged squad leader shoved Elder Cram from him so fiercely that she fell on the floor. 

Elder Magire from Air District spoke into the silence that followed. “I know you, Skye Taorri. You disgrace our district by your behavior.”

“Shut your mouth, old man,” snarled the squad leader. “You don’t know anything.”

When in his fierce anger Squad Leader Taorri took a step toward Elder Magire, Elder Mhina slipped between the two. She was still glowing as the only light source in the archive room. “No farther,” she warned gently.

Michael’s grandfather commanded in haste, “Cover your eyes!” 

Because Michael shared the same light sympathy with Elder Mhina, he knew what would happen an instant before the room was flooded with blinding light. The elder had released a burst of light right in front of the soldier’s eyes.

Everyone who had not obeyed Elder Tate’s command cried out in alarm and pain. Even those who had obeyed were blinking from the aftereffects of photo-bleaching. Squad Leader Taorri was on his knees on the floor with both hands over his eyes.

“You’ll need to guide him,” Elder Mhina was saying to the other members of the squad. “He won’t be able to see properly for a few hours, I’m afraid.” She had returned to her previous steady glow.

The soldiers retreated and bolted the heavy door after themselves. Rosamund Fulke helped Elder Cram to her feet. “Are you hurt?”

“I’m plenty sturdy, my girl. And that was not very kind, Gar, talking as though I would break that boy’s arm,” said Allimae. After a moment’s pause, she added, “Why, I haven’t broken anyone’s bones in decades!” She hobbled over to the gathered assistants and gave Michael a soft push so he would step aside. To her young assistant Ekatsa, Allimae Cram said, “All right, dear. All right.”

The elders scattered through the archive room in twos and threes, leaving their assistants at the back of the room. Michael found himself near some familiar companions: little Ekatsa; Holst Meier and Sarajane Young, both assistants to Elder Ingali Safi of Ice District; and Synova Lin, assistant to Elder Daube Rahalinin of the same district. Holst made a gesture for Michael to sit next to him. He had taken over the task of persuading the little trickle of water that his elder had coaxed through the cracked wall. “I still see spots,” said Holst grumpily.

“That will last a little while, even from this distance,” said Michael. “It takes less time if you close your eyes.”

“You’re so lucky,” Sarajane said to Ekatsa. “You had your face hidden behind Michael’s back. He’s tall enough to be a good shield. But why aren’t you half-blind, Michael?”

“Thanks to my sympathy. Light sympathists can look into the sun without damage if we like. We’re made a little different from the usual.”

Holst already had his head tilted back against the wall and his eyes closed. “I don’t like this. What do they think they can do by shutting up the elders in a cellar like this? Do they believe everyone as disrespectful as they?”

“I can’t imagine what they think,” Michael replied.

“I can.” Synova Lin spoke rarely, so this interjection took the others by surprise. Her flaxen eyelashes sank and rose in a thoughtful way. “A little, anyway. Corwin has said things from time to time, never in a purposeful way but enough to give me an idea. He has such an admiration for Mica Locke,” she added with a sigh, “that I wasn’t surprised by his defection. That group doesn’t listen to any but their own voices. It would not shock me at all to learn that they believed everyone thinks as they do. The special privileges of human thought and human soul sympathies! Noblesse oblige, that’s how they see their actions.”

“I wondered,” Michael said, “when I heard Worth mention Mica’s name, but that makes even less sense to me. Father Everard is one of the preeminent human thought sympathists in Haazak, and he would never stand for an attitude like that, especially from his own son. And even apart from that, Mother Coralie is likely to half kill Mica when she finds out.”

Synova let her pale, stern face ease into a grim smile. “I expect young master Locke is finding himself in a precarious spot, now that his associates have decided to act. Didn’t you notice his absence in the council chamber earlier?”

They lapsed into their private thoughts for a time. Around them, the elders were keeping busy by rearranging the furnishings of the archive room. Michael watched them with interest but not much comprehension as they shifted whole bookcases, contents first, from their original rows to new and odd configurations around the room’s edges. Some of the bookcases got lined up directly across Michael’s line of sight, obscuring the entrance. Elder Rahlinin beckoned to Michael and Sarajane. “Load those back on the shelves, if you would, as a favor to me.”

Those turned out to be several dozen massive family books, heaped into a small mountain in the nearest corner. Michael picked up the top volume and opened it to the first page. “These pertain to Garden District. I wonder if my family book is in this pile.” He had plenty of opportunity to investigate as he carried armloads of books to Sarajane, who sorted them by surname and shelved them.

They were half an hour or so into the task when Sarajane exclaimed, “This one says ‘Tate;’ is it yours?” and handed him a thick volume bound in chestnut-red leather.

“Ah…” Michael took it from her hands and began to read. 

Elder Tate seemed to materialize at Michael’s elbow. “You found it,” he noted. “I haven’t looked at our book in years, not since I had to update it after your mother’s death. Look here…” He leaned in and pointed to the page that Michael had just turned to. “Danna Tate. That’s my father’s father. He had light and thermal energy sympathy. He married Okusa… what was Grandmother’s maiden name… there, Okusa James. She had plant sympathy. Our family usually develops along one or the other of those two lines.” The old farmer added, “Something like what’s going on now happened during their time as well. Grandfather Danna was an assistant to a Garden District elder of his day, Elder Goodrow. Elder Goodrow was beaten to death,” he said quietly, “standing between those young people who remained true to the appointed elders and those who wanted power for themselves.”

Sarajane gasped, “No!”

“He was a big man and very strong,” Elder Tate continued, “and he wedged himself in the open doorway to prevent the malefactors from entering the room where the elders and their assistants had taken shelter. No matter how the attackers hurt him, he refused to stand aside. Grandfather Danna told me that story every year on the anniversary of Elder Goodrow’s death, the story of watching a good man being beaten to death before his young eyes. It affected him so much that even in his old age, he couldn’t tell it without tears.” Elder Tate exhaled and then added, “I am telling you children this for a reason. You must not pass this line of bookcases. We are here to protect you, but if it comes down to the worst, I don’t want you to have to watch.” He slid the Tate family book onto its shelf. “Now finish loading these books back where they belong. It isn’t good for them to stay on the floor like that.”

Michael obeyed mechanically. “I believe in my grandpa,” he said in a hushed voice, “and in the other elders. I know they’re strong. But until now, I never thought what that might end up meaning.”

Warm, sniffly breath touched his left arm. Ekatsa stood close, crying. Michael slung his arm around her thin shoulders in a quick, fortifying hug. “It’ll be all right,” he said, despite his own anxieties. 

“Where is Helena?” the girl whispered. “Do you think she’s safe?”

“Ah,” said Michael, “I was trying not to think about that part.”

Sarajane said quickly, “Elder Stone is looking after her, wherever she is. I’m sure she’s safe. After all, he knows all about that thing between her and Glory Glazmere. If nothing else, he will make sure they can’t get at her.”

Holst interrupted, “What do you mean by ‘that thing’?”

“Glory has been trying to get Helena to join her silly group every since she heard she has human soul sympathy, but Helena told her she had too much work to do and didn’t have time to play secret societies.”

“That didn’t go over well, I wager,” noted Holst with a wince.

“No,” Sarajane agreed, “it didn’t. And it sounds worse the way I tell it. Helena wasn’t being rude, not outright. She was just tired. But it put Glory in a nasty temper, and she refuses to speak to Helena ever since. I’ve heard Glory’s little lackeys saying horrible things about people who used to be Outsiders and how they don’t belong and shouldn’t be allowed to hold responsible positions, all that sort of nonsense.”

As he slid the last book into place in its shelf, Michael led Ekatsa back to their grouping around what now was a tiny fountain spouting from the crack in the wall. “All that about former Outsiders is rubbish, especially where Helena Jeru is concerned. Calm down, Holst, or we’ll all end up soggy. Elder Stone is too canny to put Helena into danger.” 

“Are you in any position to speak to me about calming down? You’re more worried about her than I am, you great mother’s-help.” Sharp tone notwithstanding, the other young man smirked at Michael. “At least I’m being useful here.”

“Are we starting that again?” said Sarajane. “I swear, your competitive spirit never takes a rest, does it?” She nudged her work partner aside and took over the little trickle.

It wasn’t until several hours later that their fragile peace was disturbed again. The other assistants had dozed off long before. Michael could tell, thanks to his sympathy, that it was very early in the morning of the next day, hours before dawn. A few of the elders had started a hushed conversation nearby. One of them was Josefa Dhalaa, one of the Water District elders. She had awakened Michael’s grandfather, and a couple more elders had clustered around while Elder Dhalaa spoke too softly to be overheard from where Michael sat. 

Michael wondered what could have agitated Elder Dhalaa so much. She had an animal sympathy renowned for its strength, and she served as a popular veterinarian in her district. She had never seemed to him to be an excitable sort of woman, but the tenor of her voice was clearly upset.

Before Elder Dhalaa had finished telling the other elders what she had to say, the bolt that secured the door slid back. The heavy door opened, but not very far. A bag, large and weighty, was flung through the gap to land with a meaty thump just inside the archive room.

Michael, purely out of reflex, lifted his hand to direct a little of his stored sunlight in that direction. 

The bag wriggled. Then, emitting snarls of rage, it shredded from the inside to reveal a medium-sized dog. Glints of a viscous substance bubbled at its open jaws.

Elder Tate sprang up with more dexterity than a man his age ought. He did not lift his voice, but he crossed the floor in front of the rows of bookcases, bent low, and struck two of the sleepers briskly. “Up,” was all he said, but that single word held a jolting level of intensity.

Two figures rose from the floor. The air shimmered. Then a channeled burst of flame shot from each of them to engulf the dog. To the side, Elder Dhalaa kept repeating, “Poor child… you poor child.”

Holst sat up in alarm. “What’s happening?”

Michael shook his head to discourage speech. Meanwhile, other elders were responding to the crisis. Michael saw Elder Kontali, also of Water District, pacing up and down the barrier of bookcases. Each time the elder passed, Michael felt a draft of cold air.

Rosamund Fulke came to join Michael and his companions. She started stroking Ekatsa’s long brown hair with a consoling hand. “It appears that everything is under control,” she assured them. “Don’t be afraid.”

“What’s happening?” Holst repeated his earlier question with no less fervor. “All of a sudden, I wake up to a room full of fire!”

“Someone decided to send us a sack full of infected dog,” Elder Fulke answered with candor. “But Elder Dhalaa sensed the dog and knew something was very wrong with it, and she told Elder Tate, and he took the appropriate steps to deal with it. That’s what is happening.”

“Infected?” Even buoyant Sarajane drew a little closer to the elder at that word. “Isn’t that horribly serious?”

“It is,” said Elder Fulke. “Someone among the Glazmere contingent has access to a source of the Decay, and fairly nearby at that. Those children are tampering with danger they don’t understand. This is, as you put it, horribly serious.”

No one slept much for the remaining hours of the night. Holst kept asking Michael for the time, until Michael said, “Why don’t I just chime the quarter-hour for you?” It was then just before dawn, though only someone with light sympathy could tell as much in that windowless cellar.

“Fine, I won’t ask anymore,” Holst grumped.

“For at least a quarter of an hour,” quipped Sarajane.

Her attempt at humor failed to mask the tension that had everyone listening for the telltale sliding of the bolt in the lock. The elders with heat sympathy had kept the fire burning for hours to ensure that not a particle of the Decay survived. Those with air sympathy kept a small whirlwind moving around the fire, to prevent particles and smoke from escaping.

Michael had the opportunity to greet nearly all the captives, elders and assistants alike, as they came to drink and splash water on their faces at the makeshift basin and faucet controlled by Sarajane and Holst. It appeared that everyone had decided that the day should begin. The water was greatly in demand, since no one among them had eaten since midday the previous day.

Elder Tate came around for his turn. He gazed into Michael’s face. “Are you still anxious?”

“A little,” Michael admitted, “but mostly hungry and tired.”

“I can’t fix the first, but I will sit with you for a time if it helps you sleep.”

“Like when I was little?” Michael smiled. He shifted his body and leaned so that his head rested on his grandfather’s shoulder. He was asleep within minutes.

“Like a baby,” said Holst, but not unkindly. “I’ve heard that light sympathists get extreme insomnia sometimes, but what kind of knack do you have, Elder Tate, to send him off so easily?”

“The insomnia is a fact, but this wasn’t sympathy-induced. This developed after his mother died. Michael was just sixteen, and the other boys much younger than him. Archet was in no condition to look after them, devastated as he was, so when the younger three woke up crying in the night, it was Michael who sat with them and soothed them. I found out months afterward that he wasn’t sleeping more than an hour or two each night, so anxious was he that none of his brothers should wake up alone and grieving in the dark. I asked him why he didn’t tell his father, and Michael said his father was already burdened more than he could bear. So we came up with a secret plan: Michael kept watch during the early night hours, and then I would come over– this was before Archet and the boys moved back to the family home– and sat up for the rest of the night, often with Michael resting on my shoulder like this. He worries so much,” added the elder with an affectionate sideways glance at his grandson.

“Was he staying up to look after us?” said Holst in some amazement.

“Likely so.”

“This idiot.” But Holst slipped out of his jacket and spread the garment over Michael.

Michael slept for a little more than two hours. Then he sat upright, blinking as if under a bright light. “It’s eight in the morning,” he said.

“What do you know,” Sarajane said, “he does chime the hour!”

“Nothing has changed,” Elder Tate informed his grandson, “but how do you feel now?”

“Ravenous,” said Michael. “If it were an option, though, I would settle for sunlight on my face at this point. It’s two minutes past eight.”

“Enough,” said Holst, “I’m sorry I ever asked!”

A gentle ripple of laughter spread among the nearby listeners. Elder Cram called out, “Sunlight or no, you do my heart good, Michael Tate, you with your sunny disposition. Gar, if you are finished with your duty there, then we should gather our thoughts and decide on a course of action.”

The elders congregated around the fire that their fellows were maintaining. They held their voices down so that the assistants could not make out exactly what they said. The muted conversation went on for only a few minutes before the elders all fell silent at once. Rosamund Fulke spoke aloud. “There are two people just outside the door.”

“Their attitude?” asked Allimae Cram.

“Excited and afraid.”

One of the elders maintaining the fire said in a sharp tone, “Someone has activated heat sympathy on the other side of the door. It’s strong. Probably an army specialist.”

Despite what they knew to be the elders’ wishes, the assistants crowded at the gap between the two halves of the bookcase barrier. Everyone stared at the heavy wooden door, which developed a large glowing spot as the wood heated to flash point. Soon the entire door was engulfed in fire. The hinges glowed red with the heat. Then a wave of cold air smothered the flames, and a boot kicked its way through the charred door. Pieces of smoldering wood flew into the room as another kick cleared the doorway enough for a soldier to step through. “It’s better than we hoped, young miss,” he called back over his shoulder.

A slender girl leaped through the wreckage of the door. Her gaze fell upon Elder Tate, and she exclaimed, “Grandpa Gar!” She ran to hug him.

“Linnie!” For the first time since the incident had begun, Elder Tate seemed shaken. “So Coralie must have returned.”

“Mom is outside, taking care of those… those…” Crystallin Locke, or Linnie as some called her, was crying copious tears of relief, but her thickened voice held anger. “She sent me to look for you. Oh, and this is Captain Yeardley, who helped me.”

“August Yeardley,” said Elder Tate, “how long has it been? You’ve grown into your sympathy, I see.”

Michael came out from behind the bookcases and threw his arms around his cousin Aug. “What are you doing here?”

“Mother Granite wanted a ride sooner than her combat staff would be ready, so my friend Edmund and I offered to give her a lift.”

“Edmund Haigh?” said Elder Tate. 

“That’s the one. He’s helping her clean up as we speak.”

“We will go out and support her. Michael, go check at the house to see that all is well there, and while you’re checking, see if you can find Conneran Stone or his two apprentices. Take Linnie with you.” Elder Tate handed the girl over to his grandson. “We will be busy here for quite some time, if I’m not mistaken.”

Linnie hugged Michael. “I’m glad you’re all right,” she declared. “Can we go see Lyndon now?”

Michael grinned. “I see where your motivation really is. Fine, let’s reunite you with your husband-to-be.”

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