3.6 Temper

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Kessa pressed her earhole against a wall, to hear muffled rumblings.

Every explosion up there probably meant death. It was easy to imagine that the villagers were the ones dead or dying amidst the wreckage of their huts. That was the usual punishment.

The chief elder had a helpless, accusatory look. It was how Kessa would feel, if her entire neighborhood in the slave Tunnels got murdered. She couldn't even be with her people while it happened. Only the quickest runners and best hunters were in the huts, aim their slingshots at Torth. Anyone slower would just get in the way.

The cave air dropped in temperature, and Kessa shivered. Frost began to form on the wall.

"Torth," the chief elder said in a controlled tone. "What are you doing?"

Thomas was fixated on the wall, his yellow eyes unblinking. Pebbles spilled onto the floor as the frost heaved fracture-lines into the wall, marring the ancient petroglyphs. Before each line finished, another line began, and another. They looked almost like sketch lines drawn with charcoal.

"Torth, you must stop." The chief elder blocked the wall with her arms, but she was too short. "You don't have permission to leave your mark on the sacred walls of Duin."

The sketchy fissures began to form an image of two heads. Kessa gasped as she recognized them, rendered in exquisite detail, with speedy skill. The head that faced everyone was Thomas. Alex was the other, looking off to one side. Both portraits seemed noble and determined.

"Why would you deface their holy wall?" Margo sounded stunned.

The drawing ended, and Thomas backed away, as if to admire what he'd done. Some of the villagers looked horrified. The rest studied the newly carved drawing with curiosity.

"A renegade super-genius is unique in Torth history," Thomas said. "A lot of people will demand to collect that etching, so future generations can study it." His gaze swept over the villagers. "Your sacred walls will be traded in relic forums long after your children's children die from old age. The Torth have a reason to remember you."

The chief elder seemed furious, but she kept her beak shut. Slaves yearned to be remembered, to not disappear forever. They couldn't ask for more than that.

"The Torth will blame me for what happened. That—" Thomas gestured at his etched face on the wall, now free of frost—"adds proof that I'm responsible. Do your panic trick," he told the villagers, "and the Torth might figure you're all innocent and deserve to live."

He added something else in the human tongue, and Kessa figured she must be the only person who understood what he said in that quiet voice. "It helps that you hate me."

She wondered if she was only person who didn't hate the lone mind reader.

"Let's go." Thomas's voice was as rough as sandstone. "Gather your things and follow." He floated towards the exit.

Kessa picked up her supply pack, allowing others to go ahead of her. Alex looked particularly relieved to crawl out of the cave, although the tunnel was so narrow for him, he had to contort his shoulders.

Kessa studied the drawing Thomas had etched, and marveled that such a physically weak person could carve stone with such ease. It was hard to believe the majority of Torth rejected these hereditary powers. Were the Torth so sated with indulgences that they welcomed any excuse for limitations?

That didn't mesh with Kessa's experiences. Even if the Torth Empire collectively outlawed Yeresunsa powers, each individual Torth probably yearned for personal power, in secret.

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