Chapter Seven

     Minde was finally at ends with itself. The majority of the town had decided it would be best if everyone who was part of the murder of the young police officer was rounded up and at least put in jail, if not badly punished in a more physical way themselves. Groups could be seen going from door to door, inquiring about who was where on what night, and sometimes neighbors were simply accused because another neighbor decided that they didn’t like him or her. It was a terrible time for that small rural town.

     To those who had been accused, it was like the witch trials that scarred the history of our earth, with innocent people being accused and persecuted for seeming crimes that they didn’t even commit. Where there used to be a sense of well being and peace in the town, now there was only gloom and fear. No one really went out on the streets anymore except the druggies and looters (usually one and the same.) If one did dare venture onto the streets without at least a couple of friends, that person was risking getting robbed, beaten, or worse at the hands of the continually growing gangs of hoodlums and wrong doers who were seizing the opportunity to live the rebel life while there was still no police force in Minde.

     The majority of people in the town who had nothing to do with the crimes that now lingered over the town had gathered in the town hall, easily the largest building in town, and had begun a sort of shelter where they could keep each other safe with their numbers. Every once in a while a looter tried to break through a window or something of the sort, but the attempts were few and short, usually ending when the would-be robber would see the mob of half frightened children and angry, aggressive fathers. For the most part the people lived in peace, and by the second week, all the windows were boarded up and as much food as everyone could gather had been packed into the store room at the back of the hall. No one knew exactly how any of this was going to end, or if anyone would stumble across that desolate town and report its demise to some sort of authority who could actually come help. All they knew is that they were afraid, and when people are afraid, they gather.

     This was the place that Benny’s mother found her way too after whatever had become of her son had brutalized her husband. She had nowhere else to go… God only knew what was going on with her deranged son, and for all she knew he had killed her husband. That meant everyone she knew in that Godforsaken town was unable to do anything for her, and she knew of no way to leave the town without getting mobbed or raped by increasingly more hostile hoards of freeloaders that were ‘coming out of the woodwork,’ as the saying went.

     No one in the room seemed aware that at least three amongst them had partaken in the brutal murder, and this was probably due to the fact that all the people in the room had hands free of blood, so they knew not who killed and who did not. The people who were involved knew, though. Oh yes, they knew quite well. And they were probably the only people in the whole group who didn’t feel at ease in this place.

     But all that is unimportant. What is important is that the people of Minde were split severely into smaller factions: the hidden and innocent, the dangerous and open, and the scared and immobile. What they truly needed was a savior. Yes indeed, they needed an absolutely godly man or woman to come and save them from their perils. Who on earth, they wondered, could possibly save them from this plight?

     There answer was approaching. He came directly from the heart of town, descending Bonhelm Hill like some sort of god coming down from the heavens. Those who saw him were obviously those out in the open, the dangerous. They saw him and were in awe of him from the start. Surely this was the dark man who had haunted the hill for so long. Finally, after so many years of watching from his roost, the man was finally coming down to them. Coming to be with them.

     Coming to save them.

     He introduced himself to the first person he met as San. Nothing more, nothing less. This ‘San’ character who seemed so charismatic to them wore a dark suit and had hair as black as coal. His skin was white and he walked with a cane. Most people who watched him stroll up Main Street that glorious day of his arrival figured the cane was because he was blind.

     Why else would he wear sunglasses during the day?

**

     Laura and Fusa had made their way back to the little place behind the wall, and according to Fusa there was no one in the hall this time. Good thing, too. This thing Veela had put inside her to absorb the blood was most uncomfortable, and Laura found it quite hard indeed to walk, and so she found herself lagging considerably behind Fusa every now and then, hardly noticing until he’d bark a sharp whisper telling her to hurry up. They made their way out of the hiding spot and quickly jotted down the hall to a small servants corridor that led back toward the kitchens and the stairway to the cellar. Laura wasn’t certain, but she believed that there were a lot of empty rooms down there, and if anywhere would be the proper place to work as a sort of dungeon, the cellar would be the place.

     Fusa seemed pretty confident that he felt his father’s presence underground somewhere, and he trusted Laura to show him the best way to get underground where he might be. But he warned her that there was no way they’d not have any security around Ku On Hu, so she should expect something at least close to a fight. She knew she could take his advice and just stay behind him, allowing him to fight off whatever is in front, but while Fusa had been away sometimes, Ku had taught her a few things as well. The incredibly knowledgeable old man had somehow gathered legends in his travels, and some of them talked about the echani and their equally significant Inner Doubles. He had taught her that she was a creation entirely of Benny’s mind, and therefore she was not limited by the things the Inner people were. She could tap fully into the powers available to someone who had crossed over from the Upper Realms, (such as Beaner, Vonwell, Ku On Hu himself, and even Benny.) She was from the Inner but of the Upper, that’s what Ku used to say. It had never made sense to her until she saw some of the incredible things Ku and Fusa were able to accomplish with their powers. Really they were no powers at all. The Inner was a purely Ethereal realm, composed purely out of the stuff of dreams, and it was only held solid by the constant working of the Upper minds, and when one of them entered this world and became aware of just how malleable the Inner really was, they could do all kinds of things.

     Laura couldn’t recall ever dreaming, and that was probably because she existed in the very place where most people have their dreams. There was no Inner Inner. But Ku had said something about how when one dreams they are usually not in control or aware that they are in a dream, but when one becomes aware and in control, there is virtually nothing they can’t make happen with the right amount of will. He called it Lucid Dreaming. Supposedly it worked the same for outsiders, and even for her because she was a special creation of an outsider. She had slowly begun the process of learning how to see the world as there, but not there. Real, but imaginary. And one day something had happened.

     She had made a glass come off the table and hover for a few moments before she had laughed and sent the glass hurling across the room. From that day forward she had practiced constantly to perfect her ability to move things with nothing more than a look and a thought. Ku had warned her that this was something she must keep as very sacred, not a power to show off to the world, but only to keep as a secret weapon. He knew that one day she would need this ability, and most importantly she would need for absolutely no one to know about it.

     Especially when dealing with a mind-molester like Vonwell.

     “Hurry up, Gods damn it!” Fusa hissed down the hall. He had reached the door to the kitchen and was resting with his hand on the door. At first Laura thought he must have been exhausted but then she realized he had his eyes half open like he did when he was concentrating. Finally he opened his eyes and sighed a small sigh. “There are two in there, one seems to be making a sandwich and the other seems to be standing guard in front of a large iron handled door. Is that the door?”

     “Sounds like it,” Laura whispered. “Its been a while since I’ve seen it, but I remember it stood out as looking extremely old compared to the stainless steel kitchen, and as a child it always scared me because it looked so creepy.”

     “I’m sure that’s it,” Fusa said, receding a bit from the door. “When I go in, stay behind me and move away from the cellar. They’ll be expecting someone to come in that direction, so stay back and once I take care of the guy I’ll signal for you to follow me, okay?”

     “Sure,” Laura said, intending to do no such thing. She was not going to be simple baggage along for the trip. No way would she allow that. She was going to do her part, and if she had any say in it, she was going to do her part well. She couldn’t wait to hear some sort of praise from Fusa. Anything at all would be nice.

     Fusa looked away and seemed to be gathering his confidence and also catching his breath before winding himself more. Laura guessed that his wheezing was from the half a pack of cigarettes he’d smoked in the last hour. She wanted to be sure that once she got in there she would be able to use the skill Ku had helped her bring out of herself, so she pulled a coin out of her pocket and placed it in her open palm. She imagined all of her consciousness moving down into her hand, and tried to envision herself as the penny. Slowly she began to try to lift herself up. Looking closer at the shiny piece of silver, she saw that it was glowing slightly. Sign number one that her mind was successfully one with the coin. No one else would be able to see the glow, but it served to let her know that part of her mind was in the coin.

     She closed her eyes and tried to recall the feeling she had always gotten in her stomach whenever she had successfully moved something. Slowly she began to feel the slight tickle, and as soon as she did she imagined jerking herself up violently, and in the darkness she heard a tink as the coin hit the ground and then began rolling on the floor. She opened her eyes and smiled as she realized it was no longer in her hand. She looked up to see if Fusa had seen and she found him staring, wide-eyed and face red, directly at her. “You stupid little girl!” he hissed, just before the door to the kitchen burst open, propelled by powerful feet.

     The two men came storming out, and in their hands were things that she had only seen pictures of. She believed they had been called guns, and she knew that in the Upper Realms they were the most prevalent and dangerous form of weapon, but she had never actually seen one and in particular had never seen any this big. Both men looked separate ways and as soon as the one on their side spotted Laura, he began a quick swing in her direction. Fusa was up faster than lightning and kicked the guard’s gun just as a bullet was dislodging itself from the muzzle. Laura screamed as she heard the bullet ricochet in the hall around her, and quickly she dove in the door as Fusa grabbed the man and forced his gun into the air. All at once everything became slow motion in her mind. She landed on her back, facing the door. There was brave Fusa, wrestling with the man, holding his gun into the air with one hand and punching the man in the face with his free one. She saw the other man turning his gun on Fusa, ready to strike, and she screamed as loud as she could, “Fusa, look out!” Somehow the man heard her and registered her command all before the man had managed to pull the trigger. Laura didn’t know exactly what happened, but all at once Fusa’s body seemed to glow and then as the gun fired its deadly pieces of metal, there was a blinding flash and every one of the bullets went astray. Fusa knew he could waste no time, and continued focusing on trying to get the gun from the first man.

     The guard who had tried to cheaply shoot Fusa in the back was quickly working to reload another clip, but he seemed to be having trouble with his gun. Laura saw her chance and seized it. With all her might she imagined how cold it must be to be a gun, and yet how hot the muzzle must get. She imagined the mechanics inside her that made her deadly. She looked up and saw the gun just barely glowing, hardly at all. The man finally dropped the clip he was struggling with and began loading the next one. Suddenly she was filled with fear… Fusa didn’t seem to sense the man’s activity at all. He was too preoccupied trying to wrestle the gun out of the other mans hand. She couldn’t watch him die. She absolutely couldn’t.

     She closed her eyes and imagined what it would be like if he was shot right there in front of her. Then she imagined the image as a solid thing and pushed it as far back in her mind as possible, because she didn’t want that to happen at all. She forced it as violently back into her mind as possible. From the hall, instead of the gunshots she was expecting, she heard a loud clatter as metal hit stone.

     The gun hitting the wall.

     She looked up and just managed to catch a glimpse of a brightly glowing gun disappearing down the hall as it skidded away. For a moment the man who had been holding it looked confused, and this was just enough time for Fusa to turn and see what had just happened. He turned and looked at the man he was wrestling with. He put two of his free fingers on the mans chest and whispered something too quietly for Laura to hear. Fusa’s fingers seemed to burst with light, much like the muzzles of the guns, and the man released his grip and was thrown violently backward, where he hit the wall and fell to the ground, either dead or unconscious.

     With a motion almost too fast for Laura to even see, Fusa turned the gun on the man and pulled the trigger. Three rapid shots sounded off and the man fell backwards, blood spurting from between his lips. Fusa dropped the gun and went over to Laura, who was still frozen on the ground.

     “I don’t know what you did to his gun,” Fusa said, “but thank you. I might be dead right now if he had managed to hold onto it any longer.”

     “Y-you’re welcome,” Laura managed to stammer out. As far as she knew she hadn’t done much. The little process Ku had taught her was far from her mind when the gun had gone flying… what had caused her powers to work anyways?

     Maybe later she’d ask Ku, if they ever found him. Right now wasn’t the time to go sticking Fusa with random questions though, so she stood up and brushed herself off. Fusa had already begun to hide the bodies in a closet just inside the door. She was extremely worried about the blood being a dead giveaway as to their location, but Fusa was, as usual, one step ahead of her. After packing the bodies neatly into the closet, he pulled out a small vial of powder and began sprinkling it on the ground. Not much, just a pinch. As he spread the white powder, he muttered under his breath and his eyes took on a foggy, distant look to them. She was always awed by the way he and his father concentrated when they were working their magic, or whatever it was. They always seemed to be totally in their own world, working their minds and disregarding everyone else, the only thing in their sights being the goal. It was truly amazing, and they always managed to produce amazing results.

     As she watched, the powder landed on the blood and began to glow red, sort of pulsing with his words as he chanted under his breath. She began to hear a slight hissing noise, and the ground under her feet seemed to be vibrating ever so subtly, and before Laura had a chance to cover her nose, her chest and mouth and nostrils were filled with the most repugnant stench she had ever experienced.

     She was just beginning to finally take somewhat of a breath when Fusa stood up and jumped into the air. For such a big man, his jump was high and graceful. He lifted his feet up as he jumped, and Laura was pretty sure that he could have jumped over her if he had wanted to. But that wasn’t what he was doing. She watched as, all in a split second, he spotted his landing and drove his feet downward as forcefully as possible. He slammed into the ground, and the red glowing powder puffed up all around her in an all consuming cloud, propelled outward by the force of his stomp. Then, before she could even think to complain, it was all gone. She looked around and didn’t see any powder whatsoever. Next she examined the ground where so much blood had been previously. None.

     “That was pretty good!” Laura said.

     “Eh,” Fusa grunted, whipping his hands on his pants. “Banishing powder. Great for getting rid of all kinds of useless stuff, but overall not much better than a parlor trick.”

     “Well it certainly did the trick, didn’t it?”

     “I guess so, miss Laura, I guess so. But it will only buy us a certain amount of time. Eventually those bodies will start to smell, and surely there will be other guards who will realize that someone is missing. So we must go and we must make haste. Come.”

     He grabbed her hand and began pulling her toward the cellar door.

     “Wait!” she said suddenly. She pulled free of his grip and ran back to the closet where the men were stuffed.

     “What are you doing now?” Fusa hissed from the cellar door.

     “You may be strong and powerful and all that cool stuff,” Laura said. “But I think I’d like a little something more for myself, ya know?”

     She turned around and in her hand was a pistol from one of the guards. Fusa shook his head slightly but decided to allow it. “Whatever you need to feel safe.”

     With the gun in hand, she happily trotted along after him. He pulled on the big old door with one great heave…and nothing happened. He put one of his huge feet against the wall and tried pulling with the extra help from his leg. Still nothing. He was really starting to turn dangerously red, she thought.

     “Are you not good with telekinesis?” Laura asked.

     “As a boy I wanted to train as a soldier, and I neglected my studies in moving things,” he replied. “Believe me, I wish I had paid more attention. I can move small things but certainly not this door. We may have to look for another way.”

     “There is no other way,” Laura said. She knew she had to try. “Let me help.”

     “Miss Laura, I really don’t think you—“

     “I said I want to help,” she affirmed, with a little more force. It was the tone she used when she wanted to remind someone that she was the son of the mayor of their town, and therefore she was like royalty. It was her snobby little rich brat tone. She hated using it, but for the people of Hayvan, it was quite effective. “Please Fusa… just let me try to help. What harm can come of trying?”

     Fusa sighed and told her it was fine if she tried, but to not get her hopes up.

     “Lesson number one,” she said, somewhat smugly. “If you had paid attention you’d know you should always get your hopes up in matters of moving things. If you don’t believe that its going to happen, it will not happen.”

     She stood back a bit and raised one hand in front of her. She began doing the things she had learned, pushing herself into the door and trying to simply move herself, instead of trying to think of moving the door. “Come on Fusa, I didn’t mean I wanted to move the door myself, I said I wanted to help. Which means you can start tugging on that door anytime you want.”

     Fusa smiled and went to the door and began trying again. Laura was focusing with all her might, wanting the door to just move. Then she suddenly heard Ku On Hu’s voice in her head, as clear as she remembered it always being. You must be able to envision what the goal is, the voice said. If you try to move something without ever having a reason to move it, the thing will not budge. You must have a relationship with the objects around you, and if you give it no reason to move, then it will not move. Keep your goal firmly in mind, and keep in mind why you wanted to achieve that goal to begin with. Then you will find the object in question much more willing to move than ever before.

     She thought of the old man, so sweet and kind and knowledgeable, and of the danger he might be in. She wanted to save him, to bring his sweetness back into her life. She saw in her mind what Fusa would be like without his father, and also what he would be like with his father. She wanted him to be happy. She wanted to be happy herself. But most of all she wanted to help someone who was in grave danger. “Pull harder, Fusa!” she encouraged.

     She closed her eyes and imagined the door moving just for her, in order to help her save Ku and hopefully stop whatever madness that was being planned for the only home she’d ever known. She needed that door’s help, and she reached out with all her soul, telling it how she felt about Ku and about how important it was to save him. She wanted to see his smiling old wrinkled face just one more time. At least one more time.

     There suddenly came a faint creak as the door started to budge. Laura opened her eyes and there was Fusa, more red than ever before, veins sticking out on his neck and forehead. “A little more, Laura!” he said through gritted teeth. “Its almost there.”

     She opened her eyes and was surprised to find that the door was glowing the bright shade of blue that meant she had successfully linked up with it. She could feel the stiffness of the door, the coldness on the cellar side and the warmth from the kitchen side. She felt Fusa’s powerful grip trying to pull her open. She tried to let go of the ‘Laura’ mentality entirely and just be the door, take full possession of it. Suddenly, she knew she was there. She knew she was the door. She felt Laura’s pain and urgency, and she felt the desire to help. She tried moving herself as the door, and distantly, in the small part of her brain that was still Laura, she heard more creaking and even some snapping. Apparently the door had been closed for quite some time. She could feel the joints straining, and somewhere distantly in the cellular memory of the door she could recall the last time it had been opened, and unfortunately, she did not sense Ku in the memory at all. She gave one final push of herself, and she heard one long loud creak as Fusa opened the door all the way.

     This time when she opened her eyes she was looking at a dark doorway, with dank moisture coming out and filling the air, stinking up the once pleasant smelling kitchen. Somewhere way deep down in the darkness, a single scream rang out. “Father!” Fusa yelled, and without waiting for Laura he charged down the stairs. She started to follow and then stopped at the door and whispered, “Thank you,” before following at a quick pace.

     Somewhere in her mind she could have sworn she heard the door tell her that she was quite welcome. She could hear Fusa ahead of her, but moving away the whole time. She braced one hand against the wall and ‘put on an extra spurt of steam’ as her father used to say. Finally, some progress. The scream could’ve been anyone, but it sure seemed like it had belonged to Ku.

     She felt the cold gun still clutched in her hand. She wanted to go find whoever was making Ku scream, and she wanted to use that cold weapon of death on them. She never thought she’d be able to deal with violence, but at that moment, one thing was for sure…

     She wanted to shoot whoever would make such a sweet man scream like that.

**

     More people were dying. How could this be? After all the things that had already happened to Minde, now more people were turning up dead. Someone had reported seeing Benny Jorgens doing some of the atrocious killings, but anyone who had known the boy or who had seen him return from his disappearance could’ve confirmed that the Benny they knew and the Benny they saw return would never do that. One of them never would because he had a heart, and the other they couldn’t believe was even capable of going to the bathroom on his own, much less go around killing people with what was apparently en extremely brutal strength.

     The people in the shelter chalked it up to the crazies who were running around town.

     The ‘crazies’ chalked it up to certain members of the Hallers (the new term for those who sought refuge in the town hall,) secretly starting a vigilante group that killed the ‘crazies’ out of spite and fear for their own petty safety. Neither side dared send representatives to the others to talk this out, and in truth the Crazies didn’t even have enough of an organization for such a thing to be possible. The crazies were out for themselves, no one else. Not even other crazies. What was best for the individual was best for the whole, that was the Crazy motto. ‘Take care of thyself and all shall be taken care of.’

     But that was soon to change. Now San was here, and San was smart, and San wanted to save them. He told the Crazies that this town would be theirs to rule if they cooperated with him. And he assured them that they were not the crazies. Only crazies would hide in their little rooms like cowards and abandon their supposed ‘homes.’ Only crazies would sit back with the guilty and point fingers at the innocent. Only crazies would refuse to show themselves in such dire times, when their town needed them. Yes, he assured them, the Hallers were the crazy people, not those poor wandering souls that wanted nothing more than to live life to the fullest while they were faced with such a golden opportunity.

     To the newcomers, this new San fellow was quickly becoming their leader, if they were ever going to claim one. He was suave, he was calm, and he knew what they were feeling.

     And besides…those glasses just made him look so cool.

 

**

     Benny found that he wasn’t able to sleep at all that night, waiting for the next day when they’d go after whoever it was that was supposedly following them. What he really didn’t understand was why they were going to go back to the place where the pursuers were if Brun was so sure that they didn’t even truthfully exist. But he knew that the little man was a far better planner than himself, and if anything he had gathered was true then this small package was quite the skilled warrior.

     That was something that Benny certainly was not. He had been into one or maybe two fights his whole life and he really didn’t think he was going to be able to become some bad ass warrior now. Everyone seemed so sure that he was this amazing being, some super man from another world, and they all felt positive that he would save them from the darkness that had slowly been engulfing the Inner. But in all honesty, Benny didn’t feel like a hero, a warrior, or any of that mumbo jumbo. Benny felt like Benny. Nothing more but certainly nothing less.

     It was all very stressful, he thought. All he wanted to do was to get his body back, and now that he had begun trying, it was slowly becoming apparent that he would first have to help the Inner people with their demon, for it seemed that Benny and the common folk seemed to have the same goal… destroy the madman who had caused so much damage both above and below, and then set to work reversing all of his terrible damage. It was a daunting task, with even just the primary goal seeming to loom like a mirage in the distance that continually moves farther away from the one seeking it. But Benny was determined, and he had a strong feeling that all the people of the Inner felt the same way, ready to sacrifice everything to bring things back to the way of the Right.

     Now he laid in his little room which had been prepared for him, and he thought of Laura. He wished he could somehow know what was going on with her… Had Vonwell figured out that she had helped him escape, and if so, had she been punished? The thought of his poor little pretty friend Laura LeVille being punished by the dark man made Benny shake with anger. Surely Natas, or Vonwell, or whatever the hell is name was, would punish anyone who even attempted to be a hindrance to his plans, and Benny felt growing dread and guilt at knowing that he had allowed himself to just leave her there in order to chase his own selfish desire to get his body back.   

     But that’s what she wanted for me, he told himself. She put herself in danger to help me, and the best I can do is to make sure that it wasn’t in vain.

     That’s when he heard a giggle. It was a familiar giggle, and even though it was cute and innocent sounding, its loneliness in the night time silence brought a slight chill to his heart. It was definitely a laugh he had heard recently.

     He he he he…

     Laura. It was definitely Laura’s giggle.

     Benny got up, quickly but quietly, from his undersized cot and crept to the door. The laugh had sounded like it had come from just outside the door but he really couldn’t be sure. All he knew was that it wasn’t in his room anywhere, and the only way out was through the door, so logically he decided to go out that direction to see if he could locate the laugh.

     His heart was pounding and he suddenly realized just how excited he was getting at the idea of seeing Laura again. It had only been a day or so and yet he missed her more than he could remember missing anyone, besides his mother, of course. He didn’t think that it was very likely that Laura would have followed him to this place, much less managed to sneak onboard the mobile village.

     But it’s possible, he thought.

     He looked up and down the big main corridor of the building sized cart, and couldn’t see any signs of movement or traces of any people. But then the giggle came once again, clear as ever, and this time he was positive about the direction from whence it had come. The door. The small side door beside the huge chain drawn gate. It was cracked just slightly open, held shut by a few small chains that bound it to the wall. Benny crept over to the door slowly. Just as he approached it, he managed to catch just the smallest glimpse of a small girl running into the bushes. He quickly began loosening the chains on the door, and as soon as he’d removed the last one, he bolted out as quick as he could, determined to catch up to whoever the girl was. He was so positive that it was Laura… It just had to be.

     His heart still racing, he dashed into the group of bushes where he’d seen the girl disappear. He put on as much steam as he could, running faster and faster until he felt his legs might give out below him. Finally he broke through the thicket and into a clearing, lit only by the soft moonlight up above. Benny looked around, hoping for even just a glimpse of the girl disappearing at the other side of the clearing, but there was nothing to be found. Not a single sign of any human life whatsoever, just trees, grass, and moonlight. A sinking feeling settled into the pit of his stomach as he realized that if the girl had been Laura, surely he had lost her by now.

     The question of why she had led him on a wild goose chase still gnawed at him. If she had really wanted to see him, why hadn’t she just asked him to meet her outside or maybe even stopped once she had gotten out, waiting for him? It just made no sense to him. She had wanted to see him, hadn’t she?

     “Oh, you are a foolish boy,” came a familiar, but not altogether recognizable female voice.

     Benny wheeled around, expecting to see some pretty girl who he’d instantly remember once he saw her, but instead what he saw was nothing but a black mass… It hovered in front of him and two red points loomed out through the darkness, almost as if something with red glowing eyes was waiting just inside. Before Benny could even really comprehend what it was that he was seeing, the darkness stretched out with a startling speed and engulfed him. He looked all around but could see nothing but darkness in all directions.

     Except directly forward… Forward all he could see were those red dots, seeming to stare right at him, soulless and blank, just boring into his soul. All of a sudden the darkness turned extremely cold and began to press in on him, making Benny’s chest feel as if a belt had been tightly wound around it. Very quickly he found that he could not breathe, and his limbs started to ache from lack of oxygen. He asked himself what the hell had just happened, but inside he knew that it didn’t matter now. It was too late.

     Off to Benny’s left a blue flash suddenly illuminated the night, and it was even bright enough for Benny to see it through the dense darkness that surrounded his body. The blue light rushed forward into the black cloud, and as it came closer, Benny was able to see more of what was casting the light.

     Brun… he thought, feeling his consciousness slowly slipping away. The last thing Benny saw before fainting was the small warrior man, his one huge eye blazing with lightning blue light, darting forward and slicing at the two red dots with what appeared to be a dagger, but it was glowing the same color as Brun’s eye. As the blue blade passed through the red dots, the black cloud was turned momentarily purple, and then Benny saw the red dots burst and felt the darkness release its pressure on him. Oxygen came flooding back to his head and body, and Benny hit the ground before Brun even landed from his attack.

**

     When Benny awoke, he was instantly greeted by a blaring headache as the light of day flooded into his eyes. He could feel moist grass under his neck, and the smell of trees was thick and dank. With one arm placed protectively over his eyes, Benny laid there in the grass smelling the air. Slowly he began to smell smoke and something else, something sweet, mingling with the smells of the forest.

     He opened his eyes slowly as he sat up, and when he looked around, he at first thought he was alone. But then he spotted Brun off in the distance, standing nonchalantly by a fire that was surely bigger than the man himself. Roasting over the flames was what looked like some oversized game bird.

     Ah, Benny! Brun said into his mind. Once again, Benny was amazed at how loud the little man could make himself sound, even when they were still twenty feet away. It is a good thing you woke up so soon! This is truly a good day. I’ve caught us a Rokmon Bird! A fine and rare treat indeed. Come! Sit by the fire and smell the sweet smell with me, Benny from Away!

     Benny slowly made his way across the small clearing to where Brun was preparing his bird. The thing looked weird, like a mix between a turkey and a massive hawk, but if it tasted anything like it smelled, then Benny guessed that Brun was right about it being a treat. The smell was meaty yet sweet, like it had been pre basted with honey before cooking.

     Yes, Benny my friend, Brun said into his mind, that is indeed how they smell, cooked one hundred percent free of anything. I plopped it over the campfire, turn it now and then, and these birds basically cook themselves. We are lucky we came across one!

     “Brun,” Benny said, rubbing his head. “What happened back there? All I could see was blackness…and then you…”

     Yes, I did save you, but there is no need to get sentimental now… I was sent with you for that very reason; to protect you until you are strong enough to fight on your own.

     “Still…thank you…”

     You are quite welcome, Benny from away, the dwarfish man said. Benny looked at him and realized what looked so different about Brun… he was smiling. That’s when he realized it was the first time he had ever actually been aware of Brun smiling. He had often got the feeling that the man was smiling inside, but to his recollection, Benny had never seen Brun smile. It was kind of strange, but kind of nice at the same time.

     “What are you so happy about?” Benny asked, hoping it sounded more lighthearted than it felt coming out of his mouth.

     “You must understand, Benny from away,” Brun said, setting down his fire poking stick and wiping his hands off, “it has been many a year since I was allowed to venture away this far from the Village. It is quite exciting for me, you see.”

     He smiled again, and Benny found himself once again wondering what was different. Besides the smiling, of course.

     “You will eat some of my catch, will you not, Benny from away?” Brun asked, moving the bird off of the fire and onto a neatly laid out skin.

     Then Benny figured it out. Brun had been talking into his mind, but once he had been asked why he was happy, the little guy had begun to talk with actual vocals instead of silently into his thoughts. “It’s because we’re far enough away now,” Brun said, without Benny even having to utter the question. “My sister cannot slip into my mind while I’m concentrating on speech anymore, so I can be a little bit more lax now. Before, I had to constantly stay within my mind in order to safeguard it from her.”

     “Why has she become a threat if she is your sister?” Benny asked. “I thought siblings were supposed to care for each other and support each other, not try to manipulate each other’s thoughts and use whatever powers they may have against each other.”

     “You’ve never had any siblings, have you?” Brun asked, before letting out a small chuckle befitting his size. “Well, its more complicated than you’d think. As small children, it was all about who was the stronger telepath, but then after we grew something changed in her. Particularly in the last few months. I’ve sensed something more dangerous, more hateful than my sweet sister ever was, and that’s why for quite some time now I have suspected that she is not, in fact, my sister at all. At least her mind isn’t. Her body still seems to be her, and her soul might be somewhere in there, ‘cause I can still feel her, but something or someone has taken over the part of my sister that calls the shots. Now the abilities my sister possessed are being used by whatever thing is controlling her.

     “Of course, I’ve had to make it look as if I suspected nothing,” Brun continued. “You must understand how difficult of a task that can be when you yourself have a very open mind, and your sister has a great ability for getting inside such open windows. I’ve had to constantly safeguard my thoughts, and at every second I could feel her poking and prodding, trying to find some place where she could sneak in and gain control. But whatever is controlling my sister has one weakness… it is not my sister, and I know that. I have the upper hand just by having that knowledge, but also I know how my sister was so gifted. Yes, the parasite in my sister has managed to do a fair job at utilizing the powers of it’s newly acquired body, but it lacks certain fundamentals that my sister mastered. They were things like strategy, creative touch, natural instinct. In short, things that only a mind can keep. Which is why I think my sister is still intact within that body... If she had been absorbed, the creature inhabiting her body would have those same practical skills and knowledge, but it doesn’t seem to. Therefore my sister might still be alive, and somehow I might be able to fix her. It seems we have similar goals, Benny from Away.”

     “How do you mean?”

     “You want to kill the Nameless Wanderer, this one who goes by Natas or Sanrunai, among many other aliases, so that you can regain your body, which is under his control somehow. I want to kill him so I can return my sister to normal, regain her body which now seems to be under his control as well. That is all I want, and I think regardless of what you may tell others, deep inside you want nothing more as well.”

     Benny said nothing. He stared at the fire and breathed in the sweet smell of the bird. His body was all he wanted. But was that really so bad? Why should he desire to save a world he never even knew?

     “What about all that stuff about you being the guardian of your little mobile home there?” Benny asked. “I thought you wanted to protect them for welcoming you and your sister in?”

     “Come now,” Brun said gently yet firmly. “Everything I’ve ever done has been for my sister. She is the only thing I have left in life, and as long as she was in that moving village, I was going to protect it. But I only protected all of them because she was a part of that all. Also, I feared what Beaner might do to my sister and I if failed to use my powers for the good of the village.”

     “Then I guess we really aren’t that different, like you said,” Benny replied after a while of thought. “I just don’t even have the slightest clue how I can help either of us achieve any of our goals.”

     Brun took out the larger of the two knives he kept strapped to his legs, and began carving up the over sized bird. “That will come with time, Master Benny from Away,” he said. “For now, you must eat or you aren’t going to be saving anyone.” He began to chuckle and shortly Benny joined in the laughter. It was nice to look at some good smelling food and know that for once maybe he was on the right path. If anything, at least now he had someone to travel with, someone who could help direct him when he found himself lacking a plan. Benny took the plate of meat Brun had prepared for him, and timidly put some in his mouth. The sweet taste was like the smell but ten times better, filling his mouth and nasal cavity with the smell and taste, and the meat was more juicy than any chicken or turkey Benny had ever eaten. Soon he was shoveling it into his mouth as fast as he could, and Brun just sat by, smiling and slowly eating at his own.

     The two of them sat there, eating the bird and drinking some of the peculiar drink Brun had brought along with him, laughing and exchanging stories. After a few hours of this, Benny realized that the sun had been setting behind them, casting an orange glow across all of the land. Had he been passed out all day long?

     “Yes, sir,” Brun confirmed. “You didn’t come to until about ten hours after you lost consciousness. Truthfully, with how surrounded you were, I’m surprised you survived at all. For about five of those ten hours, I would’ve thought for sure that you were going to die if it hadn’t been for the feelings of your nightmares.”

     “Nightmares?” Benny asked. That didn’t make sense.

     “Yes.”

     “But how can I dream if I’m in the place where my dreams happen already?”

     “I am not sure, Benny from away. But I have a guess, if you’d like to hear it.”

     “Of course I want to hear it.”

     “If while up there you experience your dreams down here, than wouldn’t it be a fairly logical conclusion that while down here you dream of what is going on with your double up there?”

     “But I don’t have a double in the upper realms,” Benny said. “Only my shell of a body. But before I left, I couldn’t even move, and after a while my body stopped moving itself too. I was forced to stare at the same point on the wall for hours. Wouldn’t my dreams just be of staring at the wall if I had really returned to my body in them?”

     “Perhaps,” Brun said. “Unless your body has been mobilized.”

     “Mobilized?”

     “Sent into combat, if you will,” Brun said ominously, looking at the ground as he did so. Benny caught the faintest hint of a blue glow from Brun’s magical eye.

     “I still don’t understand.”

     “No…. Of course you don’t. I shouldn’t have expected you to. But perhaps after I show you what I saw in your dreams, you will understand what I mean. But I warn you, you might not like what you find.”

     “Do I need to know it?” Benny asked. Maybe it was something trivial that he need not worry himself with yet. That’s what he was hoping, but inside he knew that wouldn’t be the case.

     “I’m afraid that it is something you must know, Benny from away,” the small man said quietly, still looking down. The blue glow was getting brighter as Benny watched. Slowly Brun lifted up his head, and as he made eye contact with Benny, everything was instantly gone and Benny felt his thoughts being pulled into Brun’s powerful mind, almost seeming to merge completely with them. For the briefest moment, Benny was once again shown the vision of the great see of darkness, covered by a clear sky, with a thin line reaching from the depths of the darkness up to where it disappeared into the brightness of the sky above. Then there was a flash and he was looking out of his own eyes, seeing his own house.

     But he was not in control.

     His body was moving and it was moving fast.

    

     flash­

     He saw his father, looking at him with a mixture of fear and loathing, but also with pride. Benny felt his own fingers squeezing against the throat of his father, collapsing his trachea. He wanted so badly to control himself, to make it stop, but there was an intruder in his body now. A voice kept laughing… a cold, dead laugh. It was a girl, but she sounded like no girl Benny had ever met. No girl could have such a pretty voice but laugh so devilishly at such a cruel act as this.

     flash

    

     His father was laying dead on the ground of his bedroom, blood slowly seeping out of his neck. Apparently his throat had been ripped clean out. As he watched, the view panned sideways to look out the window. He saw his mother running across the lawn and out the gate, up the street away from the thing that had become of her son. The real benny felt relief, but he felt the thing in control of his body filling with hatred and anger, but it was shortly followed by that creepy girls laughter again.

     I will get you, mother woman, said a female voice, presumably the same one that had been chuckling at all the violence. Benny felt his body smiling, despite his own growing sense of horror… His own father, killed by his hands… his mother helpless and possibly being pursued by the girl who had taken over his body… this was all too much, and it was all happening in a place where he was helpless to doing anything at all, except look blindly out of his own head.

     All of a sudden it was too much for Benny to take. With all the might he could muster, he screamed in his mind Noooooooo!

     Suddenly Benny felt the attention of the girl shift to him, searching all corners of the mind to find where the intruder was hiding. Then he was being pulled back, up and out of his body, through the roof of his house, and into the night. It was pitch black, and the noise of the darkness was deafening, seeming to push into his ears with great force, but before he could even register it enough to begin to raise his hands to block out the sound, color flooded into the black, one at a time, and slowly his surroundings returned to normal.

     “Was that real?” Benny said, barely managing to hold back the tears of both anger and grief that threatened to burst out of his eyes.

     “I know not, Benny from away,” Brun said sadly. “But I know that my hypothesis is quite probably correct, and I think we can waste very little time if we are to spare your mother of the fate that befell your father. That was your father, I’m assuming?”

     “Yes…” Benny said, looking into his hands. How could his dad be dead? They had a big camping and fishing trip planned, and they were going to road trip all the way to the Great Salt Lakes and hit all the good fishing spots along the way… His father was even going to let him drive on some of the long flat desert roads. How could all that be gone, and so quickly?

     “Then you should know that if that vision was really a true insight into the actions of your body up above, you need to know that your father died to give your mother time to escape. He did not die in vain, and we must not allow your mother to be caught, or else your fathers memory will always be a scar to you, reminding you that you had an opportunity and you didn’t take it.”

     A tear finally crept out of Benny’s eyes.

     “How much time do we have?” Benny asked, rubbing the moisture from his cheek and attempting to collect himself.

     “I do not know. I don’t know where your mother went, or how fast that thing can travel inside your body. Also I don’t know if it knows where she has gone. All those can be determining factors in the amount of time it would take for them to catch her. But my guess is that Natas will not inflict his strangle hold on your town completely for another couple of Upper days, so I’d say on this side, we have about two or three weeks to restore you to your body.

     The ever increasingly more familiar sinking feeling returned to the pit of Benny’s stomach. There was no way he was going to be able to accomplish anything in just a few short weeks… Somehow inside he knew that he was going to fail and everything would go to hell, just like that bastard wanted them to.

     “Instruction number one to you, Benny from Away,” Brun said, a large chunk of the bird still in his mouth, “you must never think that the outcome will ever be outside of your favor. Cockiness is not needed, but confidence is. You can do yourself great harm just by thinking you will not succeed. Its part of the reason you could not penetrate that darkness back there before you fainted. You did not have the will to, because somewhere inside you had already decided that it had you, that everything was all over, that you were going to die there. But had you been confident enough to know that somewhere outside the shroud you had been put into the regular world went on, you would have been able to pass right through it, like I did. Always assume you are better than your enemy, that you can defeat any enemy, that the outcome will always be in your favor. What is lesson number one, Master Benny?”

     “The outcome will always be in my favor,” Benny said, half heartedly.

     “No,” said Brun, crossing his arms over his little chest.

     “What? But you said—“

     “I said you must always believe the outcome will be in your favor, but I did not say that it always will. The skill, young Benny, is to learn to remain confident even after a great defeat. Know that you are strong, even if only for having survived the encounter. Do you feel stronger?”

     “No.”

     “But why not? You stood up to the Cold Dark for longer than most people, and that counts for something.”

“But you still had to save me. I would have died just like anyone else if you hadn’t showed up to my rescue.”

     “Needing help surviving does not make surviving any less noble. You experienced one of the many mysterious and dangerous creatures that roam these woods. We call them Darkens, but for thousands of years before they were simply called the Black Fogs. They find wanderers and often will attract them with the light of their eyes, but sometimes, as in the case of you, they sneak right up behind and begin to consume almost before the person even suspects anything from behind. Their bodies are composed of loosely bound carbon and some sort of acid that reacts to human skin, and they consume their pray by dissolving it slowly. Most people lose their consciousness pretty much immediately, just as soon as some of the acid gets into the blood stream through their lungs. Somehow you managed to be in there for quite some time. I bet the damned creature was quite upset at you for being so hard to digest. When I got there, I thought for sure it was too late. But I was underestimating you. You are special after all, and between my almost right timing and your persistent resilience, we managed to get away just fine. They don’t like aggression, so one good swipe from me sent it seeking its next victim.”

     “What about the Village?” Benny asked, thinking of all the children that would be walking right out in the open, completely vulnerable to such an attacker.

     “My sister and I have put up very strong defenses,” Brun said. “If she wants to stay on the good side of the man she is trying to suck into marriage, then she will make sure the enchantments hold. If anything were to happen, Beaner would instantly know it was betrayal from within.”

     “Okay,” Benny said. He was still thinking about his mother. And his poor, mutilated father. Benny remembered the feeling of his throat between his fingers and shuddered. Suddenly he was not very hungry. He tried to eat more of the Rokmon bird, but had no success. He politely excused himself from Brun and went back to where his bed sheet was laid.

     Gotta love bein’ a fucking hero, he thought, pulling out his pipe from the bag and beginning to smoke some of the Lana plant. Slowly and silently he allowed himself to weep, taking in some of the sweet smoke whenever he felt his breath being steady enough. He’d never been so scared and upset and angry all at the same time ever in his life. The feeling was exhilarating, and it made him feel as if facing Natas and his bitch puppet was the only thing in the world he desired to do, but he didn’t like it. He liked the peace and quiet of home, of dinner with his family. All that was gone now.

     “Benny,” Brun called over to him from the fire. Benny looked up and wiped the last of his tears from his eyes. “I have finished packing up what we shall take of the bird, and it is now time for us to relax until tomorrow, when the journey officially begins. Come, forget about your troubles for the time being, and sit with me. The Lana plant is always better enjoyed around a fire.”

     He smiled and beckoned Benny over. Benny smiled back, and went to sit besides his tiny little teacher, smoking the Lana plant and attempting with all his heart to know that somehow the outcome of all of this would be in his favor.

 


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