Chapter Five

     Benny was baked once again.

     So was Beaner.

     Honestly Benny guessed that everyone sitting in the tiny room (about ten people all together,) was baked. Unless they weren’t breathing. The one person in there who didn’t seem phased at all by the high quality “Lana” was the little guy, Brun, who sat not more than a foot from Beaner at all times, staring at Benny with his one big eye while the other eye watched everyone else.

     Benny couldn’t help but feel that maybe Brun was monitoring his thoughts to see if he was having any thoughts of rebellion against their not so legendary leader, Beaner. This was probably true, but Benny did not feel any desire to be hostile toward the man, or any of his clan, and even the strange feeling he had gotten upon arrival was slowly subsiding. But still… he couldn’t help but wonder what Beaner had been told by the servant boy who had run in so urgently.

     As if in response to this, the boy from before entered the room once more. He looked flushed and exhausted, but also relieved about something. “It’s done, m’lord. She is ready.”

     “Good,” Beaner said. “Bring her in now. All of you, get out now.”

     The other people in the room, except for Brun, of course, quickly vacated. Benny got the strong impression that Beaner was the type of leader that was good and caring and would protect his clan until the end, but also the type who would punish severely anyone who dared be ungrateful enough to disobey an order. It was kind of comical seeing some of the larger tenants bowl over the smaller ones in their attempts to get out of the room. Apparently it was an honor to get to sit in the room with Chief Beaner, but it was something scary to be the one who waited long enough to invoke his wrath.

     When they were all gone and the door was shut, Benny asked, “Why do they all seem to fear you so much?” He pulled out the small pipe Beaner had stored in his pack for traveling and loaded some of the Lana plant into it. Benny still wasn’t totally sure if it was weed or not, but it smelled, tasted, and made him feel like marijuana did, but its look was a little different… the crystals on it looked like little bits of amethyst, the most pleasant purple ever.

     Beaner leaned back on his little bed of pillows and closed his eyes, a large toothy smile spreading across his face. “To them, I am almost a god. Once you understand the uniqueness of our ability to even exist in a realm such as this, and realize the things we can do by knowing what this place is, you can do amazing things. I believe you have yet to find this out, but I assure you my friend, you will learn. You must learn, for the sake of the Inner and now, apparently, the Upper Realms as well. My people live in a sort of innocent paranoia about me. They know I can always protect them, but they do not want to anger me for fear that I may retaliate like some vengeful god, leaving them all stranded. I’d never do such a thing, of course, but truthfully I don’t mind them being a little afraid. Keeps them loyal, keeps them willing to do what’s right for all of us, and it keeps me in quite the life of luxury.” He laughed loudly at his own humor, but to Benny it wasn’t that funny.

     This man might be nice, and he might be hospitable, but he had used Benny, used him for his own selfish purposes. Now he was using these people as well. Benny liked Beaner quite a bit, but he did not trust him.

     “No need for trust, my friend,” Beaner said with a big grin. “I can do what is needed without your trust, and I think we will get along quite fine.”

     There was a light knock on the door of the smoking room, and Beaner stood up.

     “Ah,” he said. “Time for you to meet my most esteemed pupil and clan mate, my future bride, the amazing Miss Blanca.” He spread his arms wide and the door opened up.

     Benny felt the same feeling he’d gotten upon entering, like something was watching him but didn’t quite like him, and he momentarily had to look away from the door because just looking in that direction made him fill up with chills. But he knew he couldn’t stay like that forever, staring dumbly at the floor, so he forced himself to look up.

     What he saw both amazed and intrigued him.

**

     The sight back at the LeVille Mansion was an eerie one to say the least. First thing that struck her as weird was that all the lights in the whole town were out, but not the ones in the LeVille Mansion. From outside, all appeared normal because the curtains on all the windows were thick enough to block out the light from inside, so to the rest of the town it appeared that even the LeVille Mansion had lost power. But it had not. For the first time in her life, Laura LeVille started to feel like taking on that name may have really been an insult to herself, a mark of shame on her life. At that moment, standing in the light that apparently only she and the closest servants of her father were allowed to enjoy. Never had Laura felt like she was any better than any of the townsfolk, yet now she was slapped in the face with the realization that her father surely did. However the power to Hayvan had been shut down, it was done on purpose.

     The Idiot Madman Vonwell probably thought it would slow Benny down. Laura felt a pang of satisfaction knowing that Vonwell might still think Benny was somewhere in town, when really he had been helped away by her several hours before. She couldn’t believe that on every day prior to that one, she had considered “Mr. Vonwell” one of her family’s close friends.

     What kind of family had she been brought into if Ardemeus Vonwell, or whatever his name really was, could be considered one of their friends? She had heard with her own ears as the man ordered the elimination of her double. But she had also heard something very useful that she was quite certain Vonwell did not know she had heard.

     Benny, her double from the Upper Realms, her technical creator, was one of the Echani. Somehow, she just had to get to Benny and tell him this. Maybe he’d figure it out on his own, but somehow Laura didn’t think that the boy knew enough about the Inner to figure such a thing out on his own.

     She had brought Fusa to the most hidden entrance she knew of: the trap door at the back of Sheed’s Need ‘n’ Feed. Apparently the building was a secret store house for the Mansion long before it was ever turned into a store. One day she had gotten lost in the halls of the Mansion and in an attempt to get to any place familiar, she had taken a passageway that was cleverly concealed. There was a corner in a certain hall, and the wall from one side overlapped the wall from the other, leaving a small and barely noticeable pathway just out of sight. Most people in that area were in a hurry (it was right outside the kitchen) and the lights were dim enough that most people breezed right by without even starting to notice the tiny gap in the two overlapping walls.

     So she had found herself a perfect and hardly noticeable way out of the Mansion (something that came in handy when every person in Hayvan knew your name and were more than willing to tell your father that they’d seen you leaving,) and as far as she knew no one had ever seen her take it or discovered it besides her. The only person who noticed anything at all was Sheed, the owner of the store to which the passageway led. He was a nice old man, and he liked Laura, so he had never tattled on her for any of the times she mysteriously walked out of the back room after never having entered.

     This was the entrance they took into the Mansion on the day when all the power went out. It was a long and dark journey, one that no one could make without getting covered in cob webs, but it proved to be most effective in hiding their entrance. They now stood staring from between the two walls, feeling the unfair light on their faces, scanning the passageway for potential threats. Laura couldn’t see anyone and didn’t really think anyone would be there (the kitchen crew was probably still asleep for the night, unless the screaming had been loud enough to enter the peaceful mansion,) but she left that decision up to the much more well trained Fusa Gon Ku. Laura had no clue where the man and his father had come from, but one thing she knew for sure was that they knew all kinds of mystic secrets and tricks that she had never even imagined. He now closed his eyes and pointed two of his fingers together in front of him, looking almost as if he were in prayer. He began humming extremely quietly under his breath, and she began to see his eye lids flutter as his eyes rolled in their sockets.

     For a moment she considered asking what he was doing, but she was reminded of a certain day when she had angered Ku On Hu by questioning why he had began chanting, much like Fusa was now, when she had asked for his aid in healing a wound. He had told her harshly that concentration was most important in any work of magic or energy, and that to break the concentration of a Ku was to sabotage the good will of God. Something along those lines.

     Point being, she never interrupted Ku On Hu ever again, and she shut her mouth quickly before she made the mistake again of angering a Ku. Fusa Gon Ku wasn’t as scary as the Ku On Hu, but he was at least somewhere near as powerful, and she didn’t want to find out if he could be as scary as his father on the one day she saw him get angry. She guessed that yes, he probably could be just as scary.

     After all, he’d been trained all his life by Ku On Hu.

     She began searching her pockets for anything she may have snuck earlier in the day to eat. Nothing. Her stomach was beginning to growl and she started to worry that maybe the growling would interrupt or upset Fusa, but luckily he ceased his chanting and turned toward her. Outlined by the sliver of light, he looked deeply troubled.

     “What is it, Fusa?” Laura asked. She didn’t like this more recent, depressed Fusa at all. The Fusa she remembered had been stern but always confident. Always optimistic. Like Ku On Hu.

     I must find him, she thought forlornly.

     “I can feel someone nearby, but I can’t see them,” Fusa said, lighting another cigarette (How many of those things does he have, anyways? Laura thought.) “We could go out there blindly and face whoever it is, or we can try to wait for them to leave. Either way I don’t think we’re going to be getting very far any time soon.”

     “We can’t just sit around and do nothing, can we?” she asked, failing to mask the growing sense of urgency in her voice. “I don’t know what Vonwell is up to, but I don’t think its good and I don’t think we can wait much longer. Somehow I don’t think this blackout is the extent of whatever his plan is… I think this might just be the beginning.”

     “Do you know something you’re not telling me, Miss LeVille?”

     “Don’t call me that!” she snapped.

     In the small sliver of light, Laura could see that he looked slightly hurt. And why shouldn’t he? After all, she had just snapped at him for calling her the same name he’d always called her. “I’m sorry…” she said. “I just… I just don’t feel like I want to be a ‘LeVille’ anymore. Please… Just call me Laura, if that’s okay Fusa.”

     The large man seemed to accept this, and after he took another drag off of his smoke, he said, “Well then, Miss Laura, what have you got on your mind? I’m well aware of why I hate Vonwell, but I’m not clear on why you do, so why don’t you tell me? Maybe you know some things that I don’t, and maybe we can enlighten each other.”

     She began telling him about everything that had happened since she had sensed Benny coming into the Inner, right up to the point where she helped him escape. Luckily, Fusa was a sharp guy, and he remembered quite clearly how she had spoken of Benny in years past, the pain she’d gone through when she could no longer go sit in the big fake forest and talk to her friend, and so she didn’t have to spend much time explaining who he was. So she simply told him everything that seemed pertinent, including the conversation she had overheard in her father’s study.

     In the end, he didn’t say much. At least at first he didn’t. He simply stared out into the light and smoked another cigarette, taking care to blow the smoke in any direction but hers. Really she didn’t mind the smoke… It reminded her of Ku On Hu, and so it comforted her. She was kind of glad he was smoking. After a while of silent smoking and contemplation, Fusa said, “Echani, huh?... I haven’t heard anyone talk about them in ages… No one knows what happened to the race known as the echani… Either they left or are staying quiet. No signs of them. Not since the great lady Neo.”

     “Neonokin?”

     “Yes,” he said. “The great Sage Lady, the Sister of All. Neonokin. You have heard the legends?”

     “Briefly.”

     “Well anyways, if your friend is anywhere near what the great Neo was, then this bastard Vonwell might be able to be stopped yet.”

     He took a much larger, slower drag than usual before saying, calmly, “You told me your reasons for hating and fearing this Vonwell man, and now I suppose its only proper for me to explain to you my reasons. But first, I must have your acknowledgement that this man is not part of, or friends to, your family. You see now that he is merely a murderer and an illusionist, right?”

     Laura nodded her head. She didn’t know if he saw her, but he must have, for he continued, “Well, when my father, the great Elder Ku On Hu, brought me to the Inner, I was but a child. I grew up not knowing my past, my heritage, not even where I came from. All I could remember from my childhood was blood, and flames… and screaming… I don’t know if it was my mother, but that scream haunts me every night. And I could remember a face… yes… an ugly, white, freakish face, staring down into my bed as flames engulfed the room. And his laughter…. I can never forget that laugh…

     “I did not know who he was, but my father did. He said that as far as he could tell, the man was the stuff of legends, not from this world but entirely of this world, if that makes any sense. He told me the legends of a terrible man, one who traveled the Inner in a bloody conquest to capture as much territory as he could. Remember, the Dreamscapes are very important and are the direct link to any human conscious mind, so really this was a conquest of control. He would slaughter the Inner Doubles and somehow found a way

to move up through Brynj, the between darkness, and into people’s minds. No one on this side knows what this meant for the Upper Realms, but my father… well my father came from the Upper Realms. He was a great sage there, and he had been tracking a “demon” for most of his adult life when he finally managed to come across the secret that allowed him access to the Inner. I know not what this secret is, but I do know that once my father found this place, he quickly discovered how this “demon” worked… By absolute control, from the inside of the mind outwards.

     “The man in the legends was called Natas.”

     Laura gasped… Natas was the stuff of nightmares, a story told to children of the Inner to make them afraid to stay up at night, and all her life Laura had always thought  of it as just that… a story. But never would she think Mr. Vonwell would be such a devil of myth… He was a man of reality, flesh and bone. But it all made an eerie kind of sense…

     “My father first became suspicious of the man when he refused to take his glasses off while in the company of an elder,” Fusa continued. “For a long time, I just thought father was holding a grudge for that very reason, just because he thought it was disrespectful. But over the years and after the things my father uncovered, it became clear that whenever there was a great disaster in the Inner’s long history, somewhere in the witness reports there would turn up stories of a man, a man with pale skin and dark hair. Usually this man had glasses on, and no one associated him with the name Natas. However, the descriptions of Natas himself fit the descriptions of the pale man with glasses, except the glasses of course.

     “Now this is where it starts to make sense, for in all the tales of Natas, it is invariable that he had a certain power. Some deemed him the Master Hypnotist, but really this was more than hypnotism. This demon would get into people’s minds and remove their souls, and then with the empty shell that remained, it was said that he’d summon evil spirits into them and use them as puppets for his murderous deeds. Sometimes he’d only kill one person and then use their corpse to create a warrior that would do the rest of the job for him, destroying whatever town he had decided to take victim that time.”

     Laura was beginning to feel very, very uncomfortable. A demon who went around ravaging towns for some unknown reason…

     Ravaging towns…

     “The way that the demon Natas got into peoples heads,” Fusa said, “was simply by looking at them.”

     Laura’s stomach lurched. The glasses, she thought.

     “This is why the man known here as Ardemeus Vonwell will never ever take off his glasses for anyone. And believe me… everyone should be very glad for that. In fact, father and I followed ‘Vonwell’  for a long time, undetected as far as I know, and one day our following brought us to this little mirage town, Hayvan. Yes, you heard me right,” he said, noticing the look of surprise on Laura’s face. “A mirage town. This place does not exist as you or anyone here knows it. This place is a cave, a cave with a mansion in it, and the garden of trees is real. But the giant willow forest is not the only illusion created by those mystical trees, young miss Laura. You may wonder how we know this place is a mirage, and I can only say that we were here before the LeVilles or Vonwell.”

     Fusa paused here, allowing Laura to soak it all in. This was all terribly troublesome. Almost made her want to smoke one of those damned cigarettes.

     “After following the man for many years, we followed him back to here, our old home. And this ‘city’ is what we found. I’m sorry you have to be learning all this under such dire circumstances,” he said, and she believed it sounded sincere. “I know we need to be moving, but I do not know what danger awaits us outside this passageway. For all I know the man standing approximately one hundred feet away down the hall might be the

Man himself, but somehow I don’t think he’d have stood still for so long. Probably a sentinel, more likely. Bet you didn’t know your father had a secret service looming around all this time, did ya’? My point is, now is the only time I see that I can tell you all this for sure. There might not be a later for me, but I assure you I am going to do everything I can to get Ku On Hu and then get you both out safely.”

     “We’ll all get out safely,” Laura said optimistically.

     Fusa smiled. “I hope so.”

     Just then they heard footsteps coming down the hall. This was it… the moment of truth if ever there was one. Now that the man from down the hall was walking toward them, Laura realized why Fusa had made them wait and have their talk; the man would come around the corner, and not knowing that there was a gap in the wall, Fusa could strike from behind as the man came around the corner. Much more effective than running headlong into danger like she had been planning.

     Fusa put his pack over his shoulder and hunkered down. “Be ready,” he said quietly.

     Laura stood to her feet and hunkered down, ready to bolt off at any second. She knew it was probably much more safe to remain scared, but she just couldn’t help but feel excited. She never got to partake in anything remotely dangerous, and this was all so new and fresh.

     The man was getting closer… his footsteps louder…

     Laura’s excitement was mounting until she began feeling something in her lower regions that she’d never felt…

     “Um…” she began hesitantly. “Fusa?”

     “What is it? I don’t really have time to talk… I need to be ready. Here he comes…”

     “Fusa…”

     “He’s almost to us, are you ready?”

     “Fusa, wait…”

     The man turned the corner and passed their hiding spot. Fusa was getting ready lunge when she had held him back, with her words and with her hand pulling his shirt.

     “Oh for Cristo’s sake, what—“

     He looked at the small girl he’d known for quite some time now… He knew she was special and was created under special circumstances, and he knew that’s why she had never apparently aged, and as he looked at her, hand raised before her eyes in amazement, he realized how much older and taller she looked… Yesterday she was a little girl, today she was…

     A teen…

     “I think something’s wrong, Fusa.”

     Laura was holding up a hand and staring at it. Fusa pulled her wrist into the light and saw that her fingers were covered in blood. “Are you injured?” he asked.

     “I don’t know… I—“

     He pulled her farther into the light, knowing what he’d probably see. Sure enough, the crotch of her pants was leaking blood.

     “Fusa, what’s wrong with me?”

     “Nothing’s wrong with you,” he said. “You just chose the worst time imaginable to start your period, that’s all.”

**

     The girl who stood in the door to Beaner’s little apartment was, by all meanings of the word, beautiful. Her skin was pearly white and she seemed to glow in the dim room. Her robes were made of brightly colored silk, and her face was heavily painted. After a few moments of thought, Benny realized where he had seen girls that kind of looked the same: the pictures of Geisha girls from his school.

     But this girl was not Asian, and the whiteness of her skin appeared to be completely natural, not a product of make up. She looked at the ground as she walked slowly towards Beaner, and since she kept her head perfectly straight, she gave the appearance of walking with her eyes closed.

     “Ah…” Beaner sighed happily. “Benny, I would like you to meet my future wife, Lauren.”

     Benny’s breath caught in his chest as the similarity in name finally connected the dots for him… He now knew why this girl looked so beautiful and so familiar as well. It wasn’t from the Geisha pictures at school… No not at all…

     This girl looked like Laura after she had aged a bit.

     He suddenly realized he was being silent and rude after being introduced, so he stammered out, “I-its nice to meet you.”

     Without taking her eyes from the ground, she angled her head slightly towards Benny and nodded while almost imperceptibly saying, “Thank you very much. Pleased to meet you as well.”

     “Benny here is on a quest to win his body back from the mad man!” Beaner said, a little more cheery than Benny thought was necessary considering what he was saying.

     “I wish him well, m’lord,” she said. Again, Benny could just barely hear that she was even talking at all. At first he thought she’d said “I wish him hell” but then his mind caught up to his ears.

     “Yes, yes…” Beaner took one last hit off his pipe before returning it to its little pouch. “Anyways, my dear, I hear you have some news for us?”

     “Grave news, my lord.”

     “Well, lets have it then. I’m prepared for the worst.” He laughed again, and Benny came to the conclusion that the pot, Lana, whatever it was, made him happy enough that nothing could phase him.

     “Yes, m’lord,” she said softly as ever. She lifted up her arms and the silk hung down below her arms like shining beautiful curtains. Benny was admiring the patterns and colors of the silk when he began to feel like maybe his eyes weren’t working right. The patterns were starting to move and he could swear some of the colors were changing. Maybe he smoked too much of the Lana plant.

“Watch closely, my friend,” Beaner said, grin still fixed permanently on his face.

     Benny looked back to the pretty girl who looked way too much like his Double, Laura LeVille. The girls eyes really were closed this time, and the colors on her robes were quite literally pulsating now, changing from one color to the next in a flawless, constant transition. It was almost mesmerizing. Then the colors started to settle into the patterns and together they began to form pictures… A moving picture, more like.

     At first it was all a blur to Benny, but then he began to see trees covering a valley, and the view was like a bird traveling over mountains. The image became clearer until it was like watching a high quality movie projected onto her robes. The view zoomed into a dirt road on which was traveling what looked like a small building. The cart they were riding in, of course. Then it went back to being high above them, only to swoop back down on a mountain top. There was a clearing and a trail of smoke was coming up from it. As the camera zoomed closer, Benny saw a group of men, or something like men, gathered around a fire. At one edge of the circle they formed, a man in dark black clothes was apparently delivering a speech to the hundred or so assembled creatures. He had black hair and pale skin, and for the first time in a while, Benny saw him without glasses on.

     “Natas,” Beaner said, not masking the loathing in his voice one bit. “He’s closer than I thought.”

     The girl lowered her arms and the picture faded. She opened her eyes and said, “As you see my lord, we are losing ground. If we don’t go faster he will surely catch up to us soon. I do not know exactly how he has been able to keep on our trail so well, because I took all the precautions I could to ensure a stealthy travel.”

     I sure didn’t hear you, Benny thought.

     “Perhaps if little brother went and pulled the cart for a while?” she asked calmly.

     “Don’t be silly, Lauren,” Beaner replied. “Brun is my number one soldier and therefore the most fit to protect me. You are quite wonderful, Brun.”

     He smiled at the small man with the bulging eye, who nodded and said, into their minds as usual, Thank you, my lord. It is a great honor to be chosen by you.

     “Don’t mention it,” Beaner said, clapping the small guy on the back. It was a hard slap, and Benny expected the little guy to be half thrown across the room (the Gods knew that he sure would have been,) but the blow didn’t seem to phase Brun at all. He just sat there, now staring at Lauren with all his concentration.

     “Oh, stop it, little brother,” Lauren said. “You can’t get in there.”

     For the first time, Benny saw the girl look up from the ground. Her eyes were the most striking blue. Violet was a more appropriate description, he thought. She leveled a look at Brun, who narrowed his one normal eye into a little slit.

     “Alright now, alright,” Beaner interjected. “Enough with the fussing and the sibling rivalry mumbo jumbo. I’m sorry, Lauren, but I need Brun in tip top shape in the event of any surprise attack, and I can’t take the risk of letting him get worn out pulling the cart. Yes, his strength is incredible and it might get us going a little faster, but suppose we’re heading toward danger and not away like we think? No no, I do not want to take that chance, my dear. I’m sorry. Any other suggestions?”

     “Well, my lord,” she said, resuming her gaze at the ground. “I suppose if you’re determined to use him for his fighting abilities, there is something I can think of him to do.”

     Benny was under the impression the Brun’s eye could not get any more squinted, but somehow he pulled it off. He was shooting some serious eye daggers, as Benny’s mom used to be prone to saying.

     “Well?” Beaner did the twiddling of his finger thing again, clearly his staple sign that he wished for someone to get to the point.

     “If he must be used for his good in battle, then why not send him back to meet our little troop of followers?”

     Brun grunted, and it appeared to Benny that this was the first noise he’d actually heard the dwarf make with something besides his mind. Beaner didn’t look like he was very fond of this idea, either.

     “I don’t know, Lauren…”

     “It only seems fitting, my lord. And seeing as our special guest here needs a little… training… I think they could both go. It would be quite the learning experience.”

     “But there were about a hundred of those damn things!” Benny shouted. He had been patiently biting his tongue, but now that he was being dragged into it, he decided to speak up. “I’ve never even been in a real fist fight before, and you’re expecting me and this guy here to go and prevail against such a large number?”

     “He has a point, Lauren,” Beaner chimed in. “The numbers are dangerous. They would never survive.”

     “You underestimate my little brother, I think,” the girl said, calm as ever. “Have you forgotten how he performed back in the whole Valence Conflict?”

     Beaner seemed defeated at this notion. He lowered his head and began scratching the stubble on his face. “Yes, I remember. I don’t know… It just feels risky for some reason.”

     “Have I ever led you astray, my lord?”

     “No, but…”

     “And have I ever given you advice without feeling that it was completely achievable advice?”

     “No, I guess n—“

     “And that is why I think you should listen to me now. With all due respect, my lord.”

     Am I the only one who hears the smug tone in her voice? Benny thought. Obviously Beaner did not, for he looked about ready to agree to sending Benny and Brun off to their deaths. But then Benny looked at Brun, who was positively red in the face, and now even his large magical eye was squinting at his sister as well.

     No, Brun didn’t seem to like the idea at all.

     “Then its settled,” Beaner finally conceded. “Brun, you shall take Benny hear to the Unalla Mountains, where our pursuers are currently taking rest. Show him everything you can that is pertinent to his combat abilities, you hear?”

     Brun was still glaring as hard as he could at Lauren, but he let out a little sigh and color began returning to his face. Yes, my lord, as you wish, he said.

The beautiful girl, the one who claimed she was Brun’s older sister, smiled thinly and once again Benny couldn’t help but feel like she was being smug, as if there was something deeply satisfying to her about this whole thing.

     “I promise you won’t regret this, my lord,” she said. She looked up at her little brother one last time before leaving. “Be a good little monk, now.”

     With that she let out one single, quiet chuckle, and walked out the door. Immediately a servant came and closed the door behind her.

     So now he had met the source of his feeling upon entering the cart. With powers like that, Benny wouldn’t have been surprised if she was monitoring his thoughts as he came in, just like Brun had done. They were siblings, after all, so maybe they shared the same powers.

     They sure do seem different, though, Benny thought. The only thing that seemed brother-sisterly of them was the bickering.

     But in all honesty, Benny believed there was something deeper to their resentment of each other. Something he hadn’t been told about because, he had a feeling, Beaner himself did not know either. Maybe he could ask Brun about it whenever they set out to do whatever it was that they were expected to do.

     It must have been hard for someone who only speaks into people’s minds to keep all his angry thoughts from leaking into other people’s heads. Benny thought that maybe this is why the little guy’s face had gone so red, from the exertion of trying to hold his thoughts back.

     Now the guy looked perfectly normal, albeit a little bit more grumpy then normal. For the first time since he’d been escorted into this little smoking room, Benny saw the dwarf mage Brun pull out what looked like the smallest pipe in the world. It was already loaded and he took one single hit off of it before returning it to whatever pocket he’d pulled it out of.

     This is when Benny realized the silence in the room. He looked up at Beaner and was confused about what he saw. The huge man was staring at the floor, muttering incoherently under his breath, still stroking his stubble. “Sir?” Benny asked hesitantly.

     Beaner started a little bit and looked around. After a moment of simply looking dazed, the man smiled and opened his arms wide. “What can I say? She puts me in a bit of a daze, that’s all. She’s so beautiful!” He laughed again.

     Yes, Benny thought. Dazzlingly beautiful.

     He looked up at Brun and found the man already staring back at him.

     Benny imagined that Brun had heard his thoughts perfectly clear.

 


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