Cover: Compound

“We’ve spent all of last week going over the periodic table of elements. It’s time to test your retention of those studies,” his father says. He turns and reveals a black and white poster with the periodic table on it, all 119 elements visible. Stacked on the side of the map are colored blocks, including red, orange, light blue, navy, teal, purple, yellow, green, pink and gray. All of the red, orange, yellow, and navy blocks have black dots on each of their six faces. All of the pink blocks have red dots on their faces. The green blocks have a mix of red and black dots, and one blue dot. Most of the teal and light blue blocks have black dots, but a few have gray dots. Purple has all black dots, save for one of them with blue. The gray blocks have no dots.

     “Use the blocks to successfully reconstruct all the element groupings. And when you finish, I want you to explain what the block and dot colors represent. You have five minutes,” his father says, starting his watch’s timer immediately.

     The young boy quickly rises and tries to yank as many of the green blocks as he can, but then the wall of blocks falls and scatters all across the floor. A red headed woman dressed in black and purple smirks down at him sinisterly. She even guffaws as she steps past him to join his father, kicking the blocks in her path even further away.

     The young man wants to panic, but he’ll lose too much of his five minutes if he does. He buries his fear and calms himself quickly, thinking of the woman who developed this process. He places the first green block in the spot for hydrogen, then remembers the upside-down staircase pattern of the other similar reactive nonmetals, like carbon and sulfur. As he moves on to the red and orange blocks, he makes the mistake of listening to his father’s conversation.

     “Why are you still using blocks? He’s ten years old now. You should be using actual diagrams of the chemicals’ makeups. Stop babying him.”

     “It’s not about babying him, Lia. He excels when he uses the blocks versus not. I prefer he learn, and will fuss less over how he learns. Besides, he’ll suffer enough once we start his swordsman training,” his father replies.

     “Your child won’t grow stronger if you go easy on him.”

     “Forgive me if I fail to count your experience as a parent as valid.”

     “I’m just saying, five minutes is too generous. He should be able to perform this kind of exercise in one minute, tops.”

     The young man nearly stumbles when placing a teal block. He refuses to look up, already aware that both their heads have whipped his way. He’s never challenged his father, but back when his mother was around, he at least had a barrier. Ever since he brought back Liamria, his life’s gotten even more hectic and stressful. He uses the exercise to work through his thoughts further. His mother was a bonded compound to his father that made him less rigid and sharp. Liamria has quite the opposite effect, doubling down on his edges and density.

     “I believe you have a point, Lia,” his father says. “Evic, stop right there. Back away from the poster, please.”

     He sees the look in his father’s eyes harden and knows better than to show any sign of resistance, keeping his head down and backing away from the poster as instructed.

     He fiddles with his watch, no doubt decreasing the timer. “Lia, would you mind doing what you do best?”

     “Gladly,” she says with a wicked grin that reaches her eyes. She kicks and throws the blocks all around the room, some vanishing underneath counters and furniture. She leans against his father’s shoulder, showing Evic a daring grin full of teeth, able to see his emerald glare from beneath his white hair.

     “You now have one minute to complete the exercise, Evic. And we’re not going to stop until you get it done in time. If this takes you longer than an hour to complete, you’ll go without dinner tonight. Begin.” He starts the timer.

Evic turns away from them and determines he’s not going to thrive if he doesn’t adapt. He’s been under their stringent guidance for a year without his mother, and he can feel that the warmth he inherited from her to be waning. He knows now that it’s for good reason. He cannot handle this lifestyle without the same edge as his father and Liamria. With his back to them fully as he pulls a purple block from beneath the couch, his eyes slowly gain the same cold, razor-sharp qualities as his teachers.

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