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“Serena,” Talia said from the doorway, “Parents have been chosen for the children. They are here. Are the children ready?”
“Oh, yes, of course.” Serena cleared her throat and looked at the children, a little sadly. It had been over a year since they had been placed in her care. Sometimes, that happened when the appropriate parents were not deemed ready. She was glad that they were finally going to their permanent homes, but she knew she would miss them. They were playing with sea shells, so she took each child by the hand and turned to Talia. “We’re ready.”
Talia nodded and backed away from the door, allowing the couple to enter. Serena caught her breath as she recognized the Glemoran king and queen.
“Your majesties.” She bowed her head, immediately. “I didn’t realize it was you.”
The queen laid eyes on the little girl and smiled. “She’s perfect.” She scooped her up without a second thought, forcing Serena to release her hand. “Isn’t she beautiful?” she asked her husband, who nodded.
“We couldn’t have asked for a better heir,” he agreed.
Serena held fast to the boy’s hand as she waited for them to leave so his new parents could enter. They turned to go, but Talia stood in their way.
“Forgive my rudeness,” she said, “but Spiro says you are to take the boy, as well.”
The king and queen seemed to be frozen solid for a second. Slowly, they turned back to look at the red-tailed boy whom they had been content to ignore before. Now, they faced him with identical looks of horror.
“You can’t be serious,” the king said, “We can’t be expected to raise such a creature.”
Serena held the boy’s hand more firmly at their words, not wanting to give him to such people.
“You know that Spiro’s word is final,” Talia spoke firmly, “He says that you must take the boy, as well, or you will not take the girl, nor any other child. He says you must take both or you will be left with no heir, at all.”
They glared at her as if it was her fault. There was a long silence as she returned the cold gaze. Finally, the king spoke, “Very well. We will take him.” He turned back to Serena and took the boy by the arm.
She held onto his hand for a moment longer, not wanting to give him up to such a person. He looked up at her with his big, dark eyes, not understanding what was happening. She offered him a warm smile as she released his hand.
The queen held the girl as they left with the king dragging the boy behind them. Serena watched them go with a pit in her stomach. A minute after they left, she had a vision. It was more intense and painful than any she’d had before. She cried out and doubled over.
“Serena?” Talia rushed over and placed her hands on the girl’s shoulders. “Are you okay?”
“We can’t let them take him!” She struggled to pull away, but Talia wrapped her in a firm hug.
“We don’t have a choice,” she said, calmly, “It’s Spiro’s decision.”
“You don’t know what’s going to happen to him,” Serena insisted.
Talia took a breath and held her close. “Yes, I do.”
Serena looked up at her, barely able to breathe. “You saw it, too?”
“I probably saw more than you did,” Talia admitted, “But there’s nothing we can do about it.”
“We can stop them and bring him back!”
“No.” Talia shook her head. “We must trust Spiro’s decision, no matter how difficult it is.”
“We can’t…” Serena felt her voice fading with her strength. “How can we allow that?”
“Because we are the seers,” Talia said, “This is our duty.”
Two boys held Alizarin’s arms and pushed him to his knees, holding him there by his shoulders. One looked back at Alexander. “What now?”
Alexander held up a small, brightly-colored object. “I found this earlier. It took me a little while to figure out how to use it, but look.” He clicked a button and a small flame shot up.
The other boys stared at it in wonder. “Is that…”
“Fire,” Alexander confirmed, keeping the button pressed down, “Now, hold him still. I touched this thing earlier and it hurt. I want to see what kind of damage it can do.” He knelt beside Alizarin and held the flame under one of his bare arms.
Alizarin struggled against the hands holding him, but to no avail. The flame burned through his skin quickly and he had to bite his tongue to keep from crying out.
Alexander released the button and the flame disappeared. “Confess what you were doing to the princess and promise not to do it again or I’ll do your other arm the same.” When Alizarin remained silent, Alexander clicked the lighter on again and held it under the other arm, watching the skin sear on the heat. He removed it again and noted that Alizarin’s breathing had become labored. “Confess, red-tail.”
There was more silence and Alexander lifted Alizarin’s hair to expose his neck. Careful not to burn his own hand, he clicked the lighter on and brought the flame to the exposed skin.