Three days later Connor and Jerry were over their hangovers.
Connor kept jumping and looking around. “Why the hell am I so jumpy over squirrels?”
“Because they’re creatures of the devil.” Sam growled. “I can’t even close my eyes and ignore them, damned little zigzags of light . . . what’s your problem?”
Connor closed his mouth and swallowed. “That’s what I see. It’s like they’re on fire. And the rabbits and the wolf. All of you, except Xen. He’s darker instead of lighter.”
Sam drew himself up to his full height and glared down at Connor. “You. Are. Not. Han!”
Jerry walked up and stood beside Connor. “No, we’re both Thornes. And I’m seeing those flashes too. Just a couple of days after we got dosed with something that removes shemofazing. And suddenly I think there may be a non-genetic reason why ‘the Thorne blood is weak.’ We’ve been systematically poisoned.”
Connor nodded. “A low dose, I suppose.”
Sam glowered. “Don’t be silly. Why the hell would the Bushy. . . want AnnaKarina to not have much magical backing . . . to threaten his supremacy.” He staggered over to a log and sat down. “Generations of magicians ruined!”
Rael frowned. “It blocks nerve impulses in the brain. They couldn’t possibly give it to a child!”
Connor nodded. “Yeah. Bad for the brain. You know, I was a brilliant student until puberty hit, and suddenly my grades were sliding and I . . . just couldn’t . . .”
Rael turned at a mental slash of pain. Not directed . . . Mike Watson was sitting on the ground, tears running down his cheeks. “Mike?”
“My wife was a Thorne,” he whispered. “She got her annual shot two weeks before our daughter was born, premature with nervous system degeneration. Is that how they did it?”
Sam looked ill. “They say they customize all the vaccinations according to people’s sensitivities, individual health histories, genetics, and local pathogens.”
Rael shivered. “And that’s why you have such a miserably low birthrate. Any one with magical potential gets the special vaccination. Except for a few Han, a few descendants of Jaejong, who might be useful to him. And if they get uppity, they get honored with a judgeship.”
Sam winced. “Idiots like me, trying to get ourselves noticed and promoted.”
“Ordinary people too, to keep the population down to the size he can control, I’ll bet.” Rael looked at the younger pair. “So how about some morning meditation, and basic magic lessons?"
It became part of their morning routine.
Then hunting or building.
Not that the young guys could slice, but Sam and Mike picked up the technique and two more cabins and Cali and Mike’s tree house went up in just two weeks.
Rael kept an eye on Xen, and could see his magic recovering, his dimensional reach increasing.
A drenching thunderstorm, and no one’s roof leaked.