Raised in the world-leading Academy of magic rather than by his absentee parents, Mitch has come to see it as his home. He’s spent more time with his friends than his family and the opinion of his maths teacher matters far more than that of his parents.
His peaceful world is shattered when a devastating earthquake strikes and almost claims his little brother’s life. This earthquake is no natural phenomenon, it’s a result of the ongoing war between Heaven and Hell. To protect the Academy, one of the teachers makes an ill-advised contract with a fallen angel, unwittingly bringing The Twisted Curse down on staff and students alike.
Mitch gaped at the new girl. It had been two years since a student last transferred into the Academy and Nikola had at least had the decency to come from the Munich Academy of Magic; Hayley had come from Auckland Girls’ Grammar. Who cared if she was a genius at maths? Mitch and his team would have won the interschool competitions if it weren’t for her. Not that that mattered at the world’s premier school of magic.
Mitch knew most of the school, he knew many of his year mates better than he knew his own family, he’d certainly spent more time with them, and all of them had been enrolled since birth. Many of them came from families that had attended the Academy for generations; Mitch himself was eleventh generation. All of them were gifted magicians. Hayley was just a gifted wet blanket; Mitch didn’t recall ever seeing her with any friends.
How long? he scribbled in the margins of his book, tilting it so that his best friend, Bates, could read.
One week max, Bates wrote back, his tidy hand highlighting just how messy Mitch’s was. Mitch looked at where Hayley stood awkwardly at the front of the classroom. The inter-school competitions were largely pointless, their teachers had some bullshit reason about learning to interact with non-magicians but the accelerated curriculum taught at the Academy meant that they outstripped their opponents by miles. They were rarely willing to make friends after that. Mitch was willing to concede that Hayley was indeed a genius at maths but she’d never be able to catch up in everything else. It was only a matter of time before their teachers realised that and sent her to study at another of the magic schools. He thought the closest was in South Africa.
Hayley turned away from Mr McCalis, flipping long black hair over her shoulder. Mitch had overheard some of her classmates calling her Angel Girl. With that curling black hair and darkly tanned skin she didn’t look much like the traditional image of an angel but what little he’d seen of her suggested that she was cold, remote and flawless.
She looks nervous. Bates wrote.
She should be. Mitch scrawled back. It wasn’t just academics she’d be behind in, even Mitch’s baby brother would be better at magic than she was. They’d grind her into the dust by the end of the day, the first magic class of the term was always dangerous and for once Mitch was looking forward to it.
“Why don’t you introduce yourself Miss Lake,” Mr McCalis said, signing off on the last of the paperwork she’d given him, “and then we can get started.”
“Hi,” she plastered a smile across her face, “my name is Hayley. Doctor Dalman offered me a place at your school last year and I’m excited to be here.” She almost sounded sincere. At least she wasn’t saying ‘it’s nice to meet you, let’s all be friends’. Nikola had been here for two years and he hadn’t made any with the possible exception of the infirmary staff. Mitch had never met anyone so sickly.
“Thank you Miss Lake,” Mr McCalis said, “please take a seat.” He walked around the classroom distributing worksheets and there was a collective groan as they recognised the questions from last year’s exam, the hard ones that had been at the end, though Mitch noted that he’d changed the numbers in case anyone had thought to memorise the answers. “I’m not going to let you lollygag around just because it’s the first day of a new year,” Mr McCalis said. Anything you don’t finish now you can complete as homework.” There was another groan; they’d had better things to do over the summer break than revise maths. Mitch had spent most of the holidays at the beach with his new surfboard. A glance at the front of the room showed Hayley already hard at work, no doubt the final questions would trip her up.
“Earth to Mitch,” Bates said, prodding his arm when he failed to respond, “not all of us are maths geniuses you know.”
“Genii,” Mitch retorted. He set his work out clearly, even though he could do it in his head, so that Bates could see what he was doing. Mitch glanced around the room, running a hand though sandy blond hair; everyone else was still working or having whispered conversations that were probably not about whatever question they were on. Hayley had finished and was standing by Mr McCalis’ desk as he marked her work. Mitch scowled and began the final set of problems, his work bordering on illegibility.
“It’s not a competition Mitch,” Bates said, “slow down, I can’t follow what you’re doing.” Mitch kept working; of course it was a competition, he’d been first in maths for years and he wasn’t going to let Hayley take that away from him. He scribbled out the final answer and handed his work to Mr McCalis.
“I should make you rewrite this,” Mr McCalis said. Mitch stared at the desk where Hayley’s work was neatly laid out, every question correct. “But you may go,” Mr McCalis said, ticking the final answer, “Miss Lake could use a tour of the school.”
Mitch scowled, that wasn’t what he’d had in mind. He glanced at where Hayley was seated, did his best to ignore the sniggers around him and waited impatiently while she put away her book, a year nine text on magical theory.
“Where are we going first?” Hayley asked once they’d stepped outside.
Mitch shrugged and ran through his friends’ timetables in his head. Perhaps he did have to show her around but he didn’t have to be seen doing it.
“The zoo,” he finally decided. It would be empty at this time of year. Theory always came before practice and the animals were brought into the habitats as they were needed for Cryptozoology instead of being kept at the Academy. It was probably a logistical nightmare. The gardens and greenhouse for Cryptobotany were next, again empty.
“Do you want to see the lake next?” Mitch asked, shoving his hands into his pockets.
“I can see it just fine from here,” she said fiddling with something hidden under her sleeve. Mitch sighed and led the way towards the Alchemy workshops. Hayley didn’t seem to be impressed by the view of Mount Ruapehu or Lake Moawhango or even the old buildings. Mitch had been told that they were amongst the oldest in the country and the then-principal had ensured that the army base would be built nearby. Nothing discouraged the curious like live weapons testing.
“You know we’re not allowed jewellery right?” Mitch said. She was still fiddling with whatever it was in her sleeve and the brief flash of gold almost blinded him. He’d never been sure why jewellery was forbidden, one of the first things they learnt was that anyone who needed magical nick-knacks and toys would never be more than a second rate hack.
“You mean this?” She pulled out a long golden feather tipped with a white eye.
“What is that?” Mitch asked, “some kind of mutant peacock feather?” He’d never heard of gold peacocks before and he was reasonably sure that real animals didn’t have ‘shiny’ versions like Pokémon did. Hayley shrugged.
They passed the Alchemy workshops and Mitch turned them towards the mundane classrooms, pointing out the blocks where their lessons on Teratology, Ancient Languages and Xenobiology would be held.
“Did you have to do languages at your school?” Mitch asked.
“They insisted, I spent the last two years learning French.”
“They give us a new one every year,” Mitch said. He probably half remembered more French than she did. Their teachers were very big on the linguistic underpinnings allowing him to pick up the sentence structure of most languages easily even if he was lousy at the vocabulary.
“So do you remember me, Angel Girl?” he asked. The library was next and while Mitch supposed he could explain the shelving system used for the magical texts he didn’t really want to go indoors.
“Surfer boy was it? Or skater boy? After a while all of the sore losers start to blend together.” Mitch scowled, after a summer spent surfing he could hardly complain about that one, he certainly looked the part, but he wouldn’t be caught dead on a skateboard with his jeans hanging around his knees. He would never understand normal kids.
“I guess I deserved that, Hayley,” he said realising that she might actually be fun to torment. Nikola had ignored their efforts to tease them and it had quickly become boring.
“It’s Mitchell isn’t it?”
“Yeah.” Technically it was Bartholomew but he would go by that when Hell froze over and his classmates would laugh themselves sick if he started to go by his middle name, Harry. They’d provided him with a complete set of the Harry Potter books when they discovered it and followed it up with the Dresden Files a few years later. And as for the family tradition of naming your first son after your father? It would be a cold day in Hell before he named any child of his Archibald.
“What do you want Mitchell?” she asked, “You’re not showing me around out of the kindness of your heart.” She slipped the feather back up her sleeve, twisting it around her arm. Mitch would have suspected magnets if it had been sturdy enough to support them.
“I’m just trying to be friendly since it’s your first day and all,” Mitch said, forcing himself to meet her pale blue eyes. He thought they’d been a shade darker before but it was probably just a trick of the light.
“I never said I was good at it,” Mitch mumbled, “but surely we can manage a friendly conversation.”
“I’d settle for intelligent,” Hayley replied.
“Yeah, sure, I can do that,” Mitch said, realising as he did so that he sounded like a complete idiot. Hayley’s tiny smile said that she agreed. “Err…” how did one go about talking to people they didn’t know. He’d spent the last ten years with the same 32 people – 33 now, he corrected himself, and his year was one of the larger ones. He found it easier to talk to them than he did his own family; with the exception of Nikola of course, he’d prefer another awkward family dinner to that.
“It’s a nice day,” he managed. Dear god, did he really just say that? Maybe he should just give up on intelligent conversation. Hayley certainly didn’t seem inclined to help him.
“It was.” How was he supposed to respond to that? Point out the perfectly clear blue sky or the fact that Ruapehu had stopped spewing smoke into the air. Or possibly just take the not so subtle hint that he should get lost. The bell would be ringing for second period soon and they’d seen everything interesting.
“The Academy is very exclusive you know,” he said, “some of the others aren’t going to be happy about you getting in.” Why the Hell was he warning her? He was one of them and he’d just committed social suicide. Well, maybe not, it seemed unlikely that Hayley would ever be close enough to their classmates to tell them about it.
Hayley shrugged, “I’m used to it. Anything else?”
“Umm,” he racked his brain, trying to remember what else normal kids did that was different here. “No cellphones,” he said at last, “magic interferes with wireless.” TV and radio had never really caught on in the magical world and even DVD remotes were completely useless. God help them all the day someone invented wireless electricity.
“Only in the library,” Mitch said with a shrug. He’d never had much use for it.
“I’ve got Alchemy next,” Hayley said a second before the bell rang. It sounded like a cross between a fire alarm and a dentist’s drill and Mitch was certain that it was higher pitched than last year.
“That way,” he pointed and happily set off in the opposite direction until he remembered that his next class was Xenobiology. He’d always hated biology, he doubted its magical cousin would be any better.
Mitch didn’t see Hayley again until lunch time, surprising given the size of their classes. She was sitting alone in a corner of the dining hall, the rest of the students having made it clear that she wasn’t welcome. No one talked to her. He was beginning to think that Bates’ estimate of a week was overly generous, the teachers would see that she wasn’t fitting in and send her somewhere else. Mitch snorted; if they were going to do that they would have sent Nikola away years ago. Mitch couldn’t see him anywhere, he was probably sick again, neatly ruining any chance of Hayley making a friend.
“Do you want in?” Mindy asked as he slid into his place between her and Bates. They glared at him but shuffled aside, no one wanted to spend lunch watching them make out and this was the only reliable way of stopping them.
“How long before the new girl calls it quits?”
“Most of the good ones are already taken,” Bates said, “but there are still a few slots left.”
Hah, it hadn’t occurred to him that Hayley might leave. He wondered if they would let her. There were plenty of magic users out there who never attended school but most of them were losers with no real power and questionable ancestry. Hayley never would have been admitted if she lacked raw power.
Mitch scanned the list of names and dates and whistled softly to himself; Bates had half the Academy listed here. Adnan already had a red mark by his name, he had lost when Angel Girl stuck around after second period. No one expected her to last till the end of February.
He glanced up at where she was sitting, eating with one hand and leafing through a book with another. It must have been a damn good book, most visitors gawked at the ancient oak beams supporting the ceiling or the stained glass windows before feigning nonchalance. Maybe she just didn’t appreciate the architecture.
“Put me down for the end of the term,” Mitch said, he was pretty sure she could stick it out a month and once she did they wouldn’t want to transfer her until the Easter break. He’d already seen enough to suspect that she’d hold out until graduation but he could just imagine what Bates would say to that.
“You sure?” Bates asked with a raised eyebrow.
“You’re insane,” Bates said, “just look at her.”
A couple of girls were walking past her table. Gwen ‘slipped’ on the hardwood floor and her glass of orange juice went flying as her companion helped her regain her balance. The juice splattered across Hayley’s shirt, staining the previously white cloth a sticky yellow. It shouldn’t have, Hayley had slid out of the way but the juice had followed her with the tenacity of a homing pigeon. Mitch quickly scanned the room and Bates did the same, technically they were allowed to use magic out of class but that probably didn’t extend to ballistic juice attacks.
“Oh, I’m so sorry,” Gwen said, “I can’t believe I did that, I’m not normally such a klutz.”
Neither could Mitch but Gwen was a much better actor than he was and she managed to sound sincere. Angel Girl brushed them off and left, taking her half eaten lunch with her as the room filled with sniggers and whispered conversation.
“Are you sure you want the whole term?” Bates asked, watching her leave. Not that there was much to watch, Angel Girl really couldn’t afford to miss meals. Gwen on the other hand…
“I’ll give you till the end of the day to change your mind,” Bates said, completely derailing his train of thought, “assuming she lasts that long of course.”
“I’m sure,” he replied, returning his attention to his food. “What do you have after lunch?”
“I had that this morning,” Mindy said, “it’s basically social studies with monsters and we aren’t even getting to the monsters till next term. The teacher’s a real bore as well.”
Mindy proved to be right on both counts. Once Dr Henly had finished reading out the class roll, first and last names, he informed them that they would spend the term tracing their genealogy back ten generations, including illegitimate lines, and then pick an angle of the family history on which to write an extensive report. At least the report wasn’t due until the last day of term, but Mitch thought the entire thing sounded unbelievably tedious. Who wanted to write a report on ten generations of Archibald and Bartholomew Mitchells?
At least the legitimate lines would be easy enough, the Academy library maintained extensive records on past students and notable wizards, but he preferred not to think about illegitimate lines and what his parents and grandparents may have got up to before he was born or they were married. Hayley raised a hand.
“Is there a problem Miss Lake?” Dr Henly asked.
“I’m adopted sir.”
“Well then this is an excellent opportunity to learn a little more about your birth family,” Dr Henly replied. Adoptions were common enough in the magical world. The life of a trained magician tended to be short and exciting or long and boring and many of their fellow students had been raised by their grandparents or aunts and uncles.
“No one knows who my birth parents are,” Hayley said.
“Adoption records can be unsealed,” Dr Henly said, “I believe you’ll be able to look up the proper procedures in the library.”
Hayley flushed, her eyes seeming to pale. “I was abandoned, no one knows who my parents are,” she repeated. Mitch and Bates exchanged glances; that was unusual though it did explain how she’d gone unnoticed for so long.
“Well, I expect a thorough investigation will turn up something,” Dr Henly replied, rubbing his hands together and turning his attention to the rest of the class. He clearly didn’t want to deal with any more awkwardness. “I suggest you get moving. I very much doubt you will find the information you need in here.”
Chairs scraped across the floor as everyone repacked their bags and headed for the library. Forewarned by Mindy, Mitch and Bates hadn’t bothered to get anything out and were the first to leave.
“What do you think?” Bates asked once the door closed behind them, “she could be from one of the old families.”
Mitch shrugged, he actually felt a little bad for her. At least he had ten generations of family to research, no matter how boring and inglorious they proved to be.
“You have to realise that she’ll never make the whole term now,” Bates added, “as soon as this gets out everyone will make her life a living Hell, remember some of the things we used to do to Nikola?”
Mitch grunted; he’d never done anything to Nikola but he hadn’t wanted to risk becoming a social pariah by befriending him either.
“Yeah, and look where that got us,” Mitch said aloud. Nikola had ignored them right up until the day he thrashed Richard, a monster of a guy who was easily twice his size. Everyone had left Nikola alone after that but he had a hard time imagining Hayley breaking anyone’s nose. He threw his weight against one of the library’s heavy double doors and shoved it open, wondering for the hundredth time when the Academy was going to replace them. They were ancient and badly balanced and more than one unsuspecting student had been bowled over by them. While most of the Academy’s fixtures were updated and well maintained, the library doors were a torture instrument in disguise.
Bates followed him in and they trooped up to the third floor where the Academy’s historical records were kept, trying to find their families before anyone else arrived. He found the M’s and leaned on the railing to watch as the final members of their class trailed in and headed up the stairs. Hayley started tapping away at one of the computers instead, waiting for the sluggish network to log her in. Supposedly the Academy had the most up to date equipment but that couldn’t make up for the fact that they were in the middle of nowhere and none of their teachers actually knew how to maintain the technology.
“Seriously Mitch?” Bates asked, following his gaze, “you keep this up I’m going to start thinking you like her. Is that why you bet on her lasting the term? I was stuck with her in Xenobiology and she’s cold enough to make interstellar space look warm.”
“Of course not,” Mitch protested, swallowing uneasily. His first Xenobiology lesson had been alright but it was only a matter of time before they got to the blood and squishy things. “I’m just trying to work out the best way to win everyone’s money.” He turned away and opened the book at random.
Bates laughed. “You won’t get very far with that.” He pointed to the open page and Mitch scowled; ‘Mara Malik 1500-1567 AD’ the heading read.
“Neither will you,” Mitch retorted returning to the table where he’d left his bag and flipping to the right page.
He had just finished documenting the short and surprisingly uneventful life of his great grandfather, Archibald Mitchell the no-one-could-be-bothered-counting-any-more, when the fire alarm went off. He exchanged puzzled looks with Bates; drills were never held this early in the year and it was usually a couple of weeks before anyone started experimenting with Pyromancy. They hadn’t even had their first magic classes yet. The rest of the class looked just as puzzled.
The alarm kept ringing, loudly and annoyingly. Bates shrugged and in contravention of every fire-drill they had ever had they started shoving their notes into their bags. They left the books on the table; it was an emergency after all and there was no telling when the library might spontaneously combust.
Together they wandered onto the field, staying well away from any burning buildings that had yet to start smoking. There were more people than he had expected milling around in small groups, he hadn’t realised how big the year nine class was this year. The vice-principal, Mr McCalis, was yelling for everyone to line up in their classes for roll call while some of the more practical teachers simply walked through the crowd checking people off as they broke up conversations.
“Any idea who set it off?” Bates asked Mindy when she worked her way over to them.
Mindy shook her head, “Our Cryptozoology lesson was about lake monsters not fire sprites.” Mitch looked across the field to where there was still a definite lack of smoke and billowing flames and wondered what the penalty was for setting off the fire alarm.
“Think it…” Mindy cut off as the ground heaved.
“Earthquake!” someone yelled unnecessarily as the ground continued to heave up and down.
Mitch staggered and fell, next to him Mindy and Bates were desperately using one another to stay upright. They failed and Mitch barely scrambled out of the way in time to avoid being flattened by Bates. A minute later the shaking stopped but Mitch could still feel the ground trembling, promising more. It was a good thing the fire alarm had gone off when it did. He gulped and lurched to his feet, the primary and secondary campuses weren’t linked, his brother would have been inside.
“Oi, what do you think you’re doing?” Bates yelled. Mitch glanced over his shoulder in case Bates tried to stop him and saw Mindy and several of the other students following his lead; those of them of who had younger siblings.
There was a low fence separating the two halves of the school but it was meant to keep the younger students in. Mitch cleared it easily and charged across the field to where the primary kids were clustered together while their teachers tried to restore order.
“Cal?” he yelled as he panted for breath, “Cullum?” The other students caught up and started doing the same thing, some of them receiving answering shouts and pushing their way into the crowd.
“Cullum?” he screamed again. There was no answer. At his side Mindy was becoming increasingly frantic as she shouted for Sarabella with no response. He scanned the crowd and failed to see Cullum or Sarabella. He grabbed Mindy’s arm and towed her over to a harassed looking teacher.
“Where are Cullum and Sarabella?” he demanded.
“Cullum Mitchell and Sarabella Lamdon,” he repeated, his hand tightening on Mindy’s arm. “Where are they?”
“I…” the teacher looked around wildly and ran a hand through already dishevelled hair, “I don’t know, one class hasn’t made it out yet.”
Mitch swore and tried to think. It didn’t have to be Cullum’s class, he could have been injured while escaping. The ground buckled underfoot and he reflexively tightened his grip on Mindy’s arm in an attempt to stay upright that only succeeded in pulling her down on top of him. The children were screaming and crying and the teachers were trying to calm them but the only way they could make themselves heard was by shouting. It was a nightmare, the youngest students were only five, many of them away from home for the first time and the ground wouldn’t stop shaking.
It did finally and Mindy pried herself free of his hand and rose unsteadily to her feet.
“I’ve got you,” Bates said, closing his arms around her. Mitch blinked and looked around. The rest of the secondary school had followed and were trying to calm the children. They were notably more successful now that the ground had stopped shaking. A group of senior teachers were huddled in an impromptu conference and the school doctor was deep in conversation with Nikola, though as far has he knew Nikola didn’t specialise in healing magic.
“What are you waiting for?” Bates asked, “go find them.” Mindy was crying softly in his arms.
God he was an idiot; one of the first spells any magician learnt was how to find a blood relation. It was usually used to find lost children on shopping trips since it was more or less useless at long range. Unless that was just him of course; he was terrible at ranged magic and it had taken him weeks to learn how to do it properly. Their teachers frowned upon using incantations and the like but he wasn’t calm enough to do it without them, he muttered a quick spell under his breath and set off at a run, following his blood ties to Cullum.
The ancient building had not stood up to the quake well. There was dust and broken glass everywhere. Holes gaped in the ceiling where the panelling had fallen down and water seeped out of the bathrooms. The lights flickered fitfully and made it seem like a scene from one of those horror movies Mindy liked so much. Mitch ran past it all, swearing every time he tripped or caught his clothing on something. He found a door that hung crazily, one of the hinges having pulled away from the wall. For once he was glad of his speciality in self-manipulation, it gave him the strength he needed to rip the door aside. He wished he’d thought of that sooner, maybe if he had he wouldn’t have grazed palms, a skinned knee and an ankle that refused to take his weight.
He hesitated but his brother was definitely down there. Mitch just couldn’t work out why; there was nothing in the basement but darkness and storerooms. And dust, he coughed as his irrational speed down the stairs added clouds of the stuff to what was already falling from the ceiling. It wasn’t enough to slow him but the dark was. It was years since he had last come down here on a dare and almost got lost, there was no telling what it was like now.
He choked out another spell and his hand started to glow softly. He could just imagine the lecture his teachers would give him if they heard his improvised incantation. They had been taught how to make light with a second’s concentration but all he could concentrate on now was his brother. He didn’t even care about the inevitable teasing he would get for having a hand that glowed in the dark. He held his hand up like a torch and resumed running, it wasn’t far now, Cullum was just ahead.
A door stood open to his left, faint light spilling out of it and Mitch felt a second of relief, his brother was through there. He braced himself on the door-frame and stared into the room panting. He threw up a hand to shield his eyes as a torch swung around to point at him, almost blindingly bright after the gloom of the corridors and his luminescent hand.
“I need the torch Abby,” said a soft voice.
“Someone’s here to rescue us,” Abby said as the torch swung away. Mitch blinked and lowered his hand, desperately scanning the room for his brother and all too aware that Cullum should have said something by now. Other than Abby’s high piping voice and the occasional pain filled whimper it was silent, almost eerily so after the cacophony outside.
“I told you someone would come,” the voice replied, it was maddeningly familiar but Mitch’s eyes still hadn’t adjusted to the gloom and he couldn’t place it. He longed to rub the dust and flashing afterimages from his eyes but he knew that that would be the opposite of helpful.
Finally his vision cleared and he was able to confirm his worst fears. The room was small and narrow, occupied by a huddle of kids his brother’s age but no Cullum. There was a gaping hole in the ceiling and a pile of rubble where the rest of the room should be. The blood tie pointed directly to the pile of rubble. Mitch gulped, the blood tie just told him where his brother was not if he was alive and Mitch couldn’t imagine anyone being alive under that.
Two boys and a girl that he vaguely recognised stared at him through fear-widened eyes while the torch-wielding Abby kept its narrow beam fixed on a whimpering boy who was cradling a broken arm. Mitch felt his stomach lurch, there was a piece of bone sticking out of the boy’s arm. If that had been him he would have been screaming in agony, or unconscious; the latter he hoped. He looked away before the sight could make him throw up but not before he saw Hayley crouched at the boy’s side, doing her best to fix his arm in place with strips torn from her cardi. He swallowed again, the Academy gave them all regular first aid training but he had always known that he’d never actually be able to use any of it. Mindy had laughed at him for that, she was good with blood and with her affinity for necromancy she would make a great evil scientist one day.
“What are you doing here?” he asked, carefully not looking at the boy with the broken arm. He couldn’t understand how Abby was managing to hold that torch so steady.
“Trying to get them out,” Hayley replied. “How is that?”
“It still hurts,” said the boy.
Mitch heard movement and forced himself to look in their direction, Hayley was helping the boy to his feet. It didn’t look so bad now but there was still far more blood and bone on display than he was capable of handling.
“That’s Mitchell,” Hayley said, ushering the rest of the children to their feet. “He’s going to help everyone get out aren’t you Mitchell?”
“Yeah, sure,” it wasn’t as if he could do anything else and their teachers knew better than to rush into a collapsing building during an earthquake.
“Take his hand Adam, that way you won’t get lost or separated.” Adam shuffled over and silently took his hand. Mitch couldn’t imagine Cullum doing that, you didn’t hold your brother’s hand when you were twelve years old. Of course Cullum had never had a piece of bone sticking out of his arm.
“Give me the torch Abby, I’ll follow you out.” Abby handed over the torch and came to stand by Adam, the other children crowding around.
“Mitchell… Mitchell,” Hayley repeated when he failed to respond. He shook his head slightly, trying to think or at the very least focus on something that wasn’t the pile of rubble that had buried his brother. “You need to lead the way out,” Hayley instructed. Mitch nodded, even covered in dust from head to foot she looked good, her eyes, so pale they were almost white, shining in the gloom. It seemed almost perverse that he should be so aware of her now when Cullum…
Her eyes widened, “RUN!”
Mitch jerked into motion, tugging Adam along behind him as another quake struck. He half ran down the corridor, doing his best to ignore Adam’s cries of pain and his own injured ankle. They would all hurt a lot more if the ceiling came down on them. Thankfully he didn’t trip on the heaving floor though he had to catch himself more than once as he almost fell. He could hear the children and Hayley panting along behind him, guided only by the light of his glowing hand. Maybe she really did deserve that name, Angel Girl, he couldn’t imagine anyone else coming down here for a bunch of children they didn’t know. If it weren’t for Cullum… he pushed that thought away and pounded up the stairs. He would have taken them three at a time if he could have but Adam had a death grip on his hand.
They made it to the top of the stairs and staggered along the corridor, keeping one eye on the ceiling and the other on the still shaking floor. Surely it would stop soon. A chunk of ceiling fell and he stopped so suddenly that Adam crashed into him with a cry of pain but it was better than being squashed like… no, he needed to keep moving. He edged around the rubble and resumed his staggering run, not noticing when the shaking ceased, not stopping until they were clear of the building and had been engulfed by familiar faces.
It was only then that he realised Hayley wasn’t behind them.