2.10 Charred Hope

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The more Alex thought about fighting an army of Torth, the more the ceiling seemed too low, and the walls too close. He might as well be imprisoned.

You will fail, his inner mind whispered. The Torth are ready for anything you can do.

If he only needed to protect himself, he felt reasonably sure that he could shield himself from bullets, steal a vehicle, and maybe even get somewhere. But the whole village of Duin? Hundreds of people needed to vanish beyond the reach of the Torth Empire, like wherever Jonathan Stead had set those prisoners free a century ago. Alex didn't have any clue where to go or how to get there.

"I need Thomas's help," he said, reluctant. "Is he really the only one who knows how to fly Torth vehicles?" Maybe Margo could pilot a flying transport, or a spaceship. He looked to her with hope.

"We need Thomas," she affirmed. "And honestly, I'm concerned about his health. I don't think he's taken his medicine. I've offered to administer it to him, but he argues every time."

"Then stop offering nicely." Alex's mother gave Margo an unimpressed look. "Whatever his issues are, we don't have time to coddle him. I think we need to force him."

"No. He's just ..." Margo shook her head, searching for the right words. "Isolated. Whatever he experienced as a Torth, I think he's still going through some of it. We need to figure out how to reach him."

Alex thought that was a very sweet way of saying that Thomas was a jerk.

"He hasn't been eating, either," Margo added. "The villagers noticed. They're talking about how he refuses the broth and everything."

"He's such a joy." Alex's mother stood and dusted off her knees. "Well, which one of us goes to beg His Royal Torthness for cooperation, this time?"

Margo looked reluctant. She had approached Thomas numerous times, and helped him with a few bodily functions, but it seemed she was getting worn down.

Alex was also tired of begging Thomas for help and failing to get it. And he didn't like crawling around in a cave sized for ummins. So he looked at Kessa.

She tapped her fingertips together, as if uncomfortable being the center of attention. "I am sure Thomas will help us," she said doubtfully. "I will go and talk to him."

She trotted towards the ever-present crowd around Thomas.

"We might only need Thomas for lessons," Alex's mother said. "He can teach us all how to be pilots, or whatever. We just need vehicles. And then maybe a spaceship."

Alex's recurring nightmare from the prison flashed through his mind. A mountain of corpses. At first, he'd assumed they were all Torth, since they wore red armor, but as he made his way down the heap, he stepped on limp arms and legs and torsos, and he began to recognize faces. They were dead friends. Dead people he knew. One was his mother.

"Alex." Margo touched his arm. "Thomas will help us. I'm sure."

Alex nodded as if he believed it. He had to believe it. The nightmare meant nothing. It was just floating anxiety, caused by that helmet.

Sudden shouts echoed, and the flickering torch glow flared. A wall of flames rushed across the hard-packed sand-and-rock floor, racing towards villagers, who fled.

Alex jumped to protect them, to extinguish the flames. He whacked his head against the ceiling.

Wincing, he leaned on his hands and sent his awareness into the air, remembering that he didn't need to jump or run to use his powers. He would have instinctually remembered how easy it was, if only he had a few more days of practice.

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