A small child was curled up in the corner of a rapidly falling apart room, surrounded by flames getting closer by the second. He couldn't be more than five years old.

Hot. Hot. So hot…

Tears streaked down his face. The approaching flames sent a burning pain over every inch of skin. Panic was fast setting into his mind.

Hot… I have to leave. I could die… but mommy said to stay here. She said absolutely not to leave until she and daddy came back… Why haven't they come back? That was hours ago… Hot, so hot. It hurts… It burns. I'm going to die! Where are you, mommy?

CRASH! The door fell in. The young boy screamed and stumbled backwards as the flames suddenly doubled in size and rushed at him.

Have to leave! I don't want to die! Mommy wouldn't want me to die, she wanted me to hide! I'll have to go somewhere else to hide.

The door had actually smothered the flames directly in front of it, creating the smallest of paths. The child licked his chapped lips and crawled on all fours out the door.

The floor was burning hot, and soon the child's hands and knees were blistering. The child fought back tears and kept going, even when the path seemed to all but disappear. The child was very small and could crawl under most of the smoke. Unfortunately, there was still enough to clog his lungs and make breathing the hot air even more painful. But the little boy bravely continued onwards, through the fire, through the pain, through his fear.

Mommy, where are you? Daddy, help me! It hurts! But… but… Not here… I'll find them. First have to get out. I can do this. I won't die.

It was probably inevitable. The house started to collapse before the child could get out. The boy heard a crack and turned in time to see a huge beam falling down on him. A scream broke from the child's mouth as it fell right on top of him, only just not crushing him because a piece of a rafter that had been tied to it kept it about 8 inches off the ground.

MOMMY! DADDY! Where are you? Help me! Someone help me!

The child took a deep breath, realized he was not crushed, and choked back his screams and sobs. He again started forward. There was a yank on his waist. He realized in terror that he had gotten stuck on something.

Come on! Come ON! I have to get out of here! SOMEONE HELP ME! I'm going to die!

He struggled, but couldn't get loose. Hot tears again poured from his eyes. He fought to turn around to see what he was caught on. But he couldn't, not with so little room underneath the huge beam.

The fire was closer than ever. The child's skin was burned badly just from his proximity to the open flames. The smoke was worse than ever, and the child started coughing painfully. The pain began in his burning lungs and shot its way up what felt like a bleeding throat, ripping chapped lips, and swollen mouth.

I'm going to die… I don't want to… I don't want to!

With the last of his strength, the boy managed to turn himself over. Something ripped his side, but now he could see what he was caught on. His eyes were dry and burning, even with the hot streaks of tears pouring from them. He fumbled for whatever was holding him with his blistered hands. They closed on something familiar, a loop of something that had somehow gotten wrapped around him as the beam fell. Examination told him it was a chain. A long thin one, intricately woven and very strong.

I know this… It held mommy's chandelier. The big, pretty one in the sitting room... I'm so close to the front door!

The metal burned charred marks into the child's hands, but the child ignored the pain as best he could as he yanked on the brittle chain. The weakened metal links burst into pieces at the pressure, but the boy still wasn't free. There was something else.

Something's got me… What am I caught on?

He felt around again, and came to a series of spikes. Nails. A huge one was punched through the last link of the chain, attaching it to the beam, but ones even larger, and for architectural and structural purposes beyond a child's comprehension, were sticking in all directions. Another rafter or something must've fallen from the beam, tearing the nails halfway loose, but that certainly wasn't important to the child at that time. In his desperation, he only vaguely recognized that it wasn't just his clothing that had been pinned, but some of the nails had stabbed right into his body. That was what had been tearing at him earlier, not that he could allow himself to think about it as he struggled for his life.

Now that he had located what was pinning him, quite literally, he set his tiny hands over the huge nails and pulled and pushed and twisted and bent. This metal also scarred into his hands, and where it had pieced him it burned with a fiery pain almost on par with his actual burns, but the small boy kept on, growing in desperation as more of the house collapsed around him.

I want to live! I have to live! I have to find mommy and daddy!

His efforts were in vain.

The fire crept closer. The smoke got thicker. More pieces of the roof and walls fell, the crashes echoing, the vibrations sending a painful ripple through the child's body.

I'm going to die.

The child's body was getting heavy, his head ached, and he felt darkness closing in on him with each painful breath of polluted air he took. He continued to yank fruitlessly at the enormous nails, but his efforts were slowing down as he began falling into unconsciousness.

Going to… die…

Suddenly, a new sound started. A whoosh of water, the flap of heavy blankets or something similar, sounds of dozens of strong, healthy men shouting instructions and exchanging information.

The boy was past trying to think of what was going on. He hurt. He still thought he would die. Hope was here, but he figured it was too late for him.

A shattering sound, a wall falling outwards, and a rush of fresh, cool air.

Air…

The child blinked open his eyes and took a deep breath. The cool air worked wonders and the pain in his lungs and the fog in his mind cleared just enough for his struggles to begin anew.

Maybe… maybe won't die. Live! I want to live!

"That ringing was definitely coming from this room!" called out a deep voice, and a man in some sort of heavy leather overalls came into view, coming through the busted wall, sword in hand.

Soldier. Fire squad…

"Help…" whispered the child, in a cracked voice that certainly couldn't be heard over the crackling fire and crumbling structure. He whimpered and tried again. "HELP!" he cried out, in a scratchy voice, breaking but audible.

The man rushed over.

"Counselor! I found him!"

The soldier hefted the beam off the child, and the boy struggled not to cry out as the nails tore at him. The huge man bent down and quickly took hold of the child, cradling him close to his chest. The soldier rushed out of the building as quickly as he could while watching his step and keeping an eye out for more falling beams and similar hazards.

Outside. Air. Cool. Not going to die. Not going to die…

The child felt no joy at the realization. Just incredible, overwhelming relief.

Not going to die… Need to find mommy and daddy… Where are they?

The man rushed the child over to a group of other men in fire squad uniform, who quickly stripped the child naked and began administering first aid. Buckets of water were poured over the child's head to get off the worst of the ash and debris, then more gently hands and rags began seeing to his hands, his knees, his sides and back, everywhere that hurt. They cleaned the wounds, rubbed healing creams in, and bound them snugly. Someone forced water down the child's throat, which set off a coughing fit, but after that the boy eagerly drank several gulps. One soldier gently wrapped him in a long blanket and brushed the child's dripping black hair out of the way.

"Thank god," whispered a tenor voice. "If we'd lost an empath, King Ralt would have had a fit. If that blasted couple had just cooperated, they could've been spared and we could've avoided this whole mess."

The boy blinked a few times, frowning. His senses told him he did not have to fear these men, that they would help him, that they were honest people that had been looking for him and had been worried about him, and were incredibly relieved to have found him … Still, the small child had difficulty comprehending what the man was speaking about. His oxygen-starved brain was still recovering from the trauma.

Empath… they know I'm an empath? Mommy said that's a secret. Did I mess up somewhere? I hope not… Daddy told me to be careful! … I wonder what couple he's talking about. Couple means two, right? Two… I think it also referred to married people. 'Blasted couple not cooperating… avoided this whole mess…'

Wait!

"My… parents?" whimpered the child, struggling a little. The movement set off pain that rippled through his body, causing tears to spring to his eyes. With the adrenalin from trying to escape the burning house quickly running out, every burn and wound now screamed its existence at him, not dulled at all by the healing creams and bandages. On top of his well-founded fears of the man's reply.

"Dead," answered the tenor voice, not bothering to be gentle with the news. "They would not tell us where you were, and things got out of hand." The faces of the soldiers surrounding the boy looked over at the man speaking, a tall, thin man in counselor's robes. Their expressions were confused and a little upset as his cruel words, but they kept silent.

The boy could not sense any lie in those words, though he desperately struggled with his powers to find any trace of deceit. None. Just irritation at… at his parents. Relief and excitement for having found an empath. And, as he reached further, a sadistic heart that took pleasure in this entire situation. That was delighted about… about…

He struggled upright, shoving aside the pain, and looked around with horror. So great was his shock, he couldn't even gasp or whimper. How could he have missed this? The entire city was burning. Many buildings had already burnt to the ground. Now that the boy was paying attention, he could hear screaming and shouting as dozens of people fled for their lives. His neighbors, his friends, his parents' friends…

"What…?" the child finally managed to whimper out.

"A lesson had to be taught. No town can be allowed to think they can hide away something like an empath from their king."

The child's breathing quickened as trauma set in.

This is… this is my fault? My fault for not telling? My fault for being an empath? People… people are dead! Mommy and daddy are… are…

"But they … they didn't know!" cried the boy, his voice cracking over the strain on his still damaged throat.

The man looked down at the child, disgust on his face. "Stop saying such stupid things. You were in this town. You were not presented to the king when your powers became known. That is enough."

"But…"

"Shut him up," growled the man in the counselor's robes, turning on his heel. A gloved hand covered the boy's mouth, and he was hefted up in a soldier's arms. The soldier set off steadily after the counselor.

Mommy. Daddy … dead? No! It's not true, right? They're hiding somewhere, right? Not dead! This is a dream, has to be. But dreams don't hurt… and that man wasn't lying… I'm scared. Mommy, I'm scared… Daddy, help me…