(Author's note: my website was reviewed by Web Fiction Guide, and they gave me three and a half stars out of five, and the biggest problem stated was the small font making it hard on the eyes. I have taken it into consideration, and this week I have attempted to correct that. I hope this is a little easier to read, and to all those who have made it this far, you have read 362 pages of the 600 I have written :) thank you tons.)

Chapter Nine

     The cellar had become a dungeon, and on each side there were rows of barred cells, and when it came time to rest for a brief moment, Laura and Fusa went into one of the cleaner ones that had been abandoned. The first thing Laura noticed was that one corner in particular was darker than anywhere else in the cell, but it was on the far side of where they were sitting, so she decided as long as she faced it she’d be okay with not seeing the area there.

     Fusa pulled out a canister and two small cups and began pouring some thick brown liquid into each of them. Laura had never seen the stuff before, but even from the distance she was at, she could tell that it smelled ten times better than it looked. Kinda like beef stew, she thought. He handed one of the small silver cups to her and began drinking from his own.

     Laura looked down into the cup. Sure it smelled nice, but it just looked so disgusting.

     “What is it?” she asked.

     “It is a sustenance drink that my father used to make all the time,” Fusa replied. “Luckily there were still jars of it left. Its easy to transport and one small cup will keep you sustained for half a day, minimum.”

     “Huh,” Laura said, still only half convinced. “Well, bottoms up then, I guess.”

     She took in a breath and drank down the brown liquid in the cup. It tasted surprisingly good in her mouth, but it was nothing she could put her finger on. All she knew is that it tasted how a good dinner should smell: a combination of several flavors with neither overpowering the other, simply blending together into a perfect dinner smell. It was kind of thick, and she struggled a bit trying to make it all go down quickly, but as soon as it began trickling down her throat, she could feel her hunger going away. By the time all of the drink had been consumed, she felt downright full, as if the small cup of liquid had expanded into three bowls in her stomach.

     “Well you’re right that it works,” Laura said and laughed. Fusa chuckled slightly, but obviously had his mind on other things.

     Suddenly a raspy voice issued forth from the dark corner Laura had been fearing. “You’ll never save your father. He’s probably already dead.”

     Both Laura and Fusa turned quickly, startled by the sudden new addition to their conversation. “How do you know about my father?” Fusa demanded. “And who are you? Why are you hiding in the shadows?”

     “If you want me to answer questions, you have to pause in between asking them first,” the voice said, and was followed by a wheezing sound that Laura took as being the man’s attempt at laughter. “So I’ll answer them all at once. I know because I know everything that happens here. I am a prisoner of this prison. And I’m not showing myself because I can’t move my body.”

     Fusa pulled out a small flame driven light from his bag and lit it. The light was just enough to light the cell, and there in the corner was chained what only vaguely resembled a man. His right leg was missing and both of his arms were chained up to the wall above his head, and judging by the size of them, it appeared that he hadn’t been fed in several days. His shirt was torn and below it Laura could see the man’s ribs, just barely concealed by the thin layer of flesh that went over them. Whoever was the prison-keep didn’t do a very good job at taking care of the prisoners.

     On the man’s head was a strange mark that Laura had never seen before, and she made a point to ask Fusa later, if it didn’t come up before she got the chance. It was a circle with strange designs on the inside, and it appeared to have been burnt into the forehead of the prisoner. His head was hanging down on his chest, and it appeared that he no longer had the strength to even lift it as he spoke.

     “You will die in here, just like me,” he continued. “I am sure that the door you entered through is no longer there, and it will take you years to find a way out of this maze. You probably aren’t even aware that you’ve already taken several turns, or which way you turned, are you?”

     “We’ve been going straight the whole time,” Fusa said.

     There was another burst of the wheezing, rasping laugh that slowly became a cough. “That is how the enchantment works, yes. You think you’ve gone straight but you have not. Not at all. And I don’t think you’ll be able to find your way to your father or back to the surface. No… You’re stuck here now too.”

     He began laughing again.

     “Shut your mouth, heretic,” Fusa said, getting to his feet.

     “Ah, so you know what this mark means?”

     “It means you blasphemed against our home, and were put in prison for it. You deserve to be here, and that’s why you will rot here and we shall not.”

     “You don’t even know me, and yet you judge me? And what is the basis for your discrimination of me? It stems from you thinking I am talking bad about you, when really I am merely giving proper credit to the work of the mad designer of this place, commenting on how evil he can be. You judge me for talking about the thing which you hate so much? You don’t even know my story. You think this mark tells you everything.”

     “It does.”

     “No,” the man replied calmly. “It does not. That is what the Black Ones wanted, and it appears that they succeeded. I tried to stop the terrible LeVille who came before the current one from giving poisoned food to a school of children, one of which was my own. They called me a heretic and said I had interfered with the actions of the state. I was put in prison and from a later prisoner who has long since died, I heard that the children had gotten sick mysteriously and all had perished. That is when I decided that I didn’t care if I rotted in this place. I had nothing to go back to, and this mark on my head means I will never be trusted or respected again.”

     “My grandfather poisoned children?” Laura asked incredulously. “But… he was so sweet before he died…”

     “Oh he was a very charming and friendly man, to say the least,” the prisoner said. “So you are the newest LeVille, eh? Well… I can say that I never had an issue with him until I realized that he’d follow any order given, even one to poison children for the sake of saving the town money. I suppose it worked, and the economy balanced back out when the parents no longer needed to care for children, but look at the cost at which such a miracle came? So many young lives… I tried so hard to stop it…”

     The man began weeping, and in the light Laura could see no tears. He must have been too dehydrated to be able to produce tears. Suddenly she was no longer afraid of him. The depth of her ‘family’s betrayal to their own people was becoming more apparent, and she wanted nothing more than to reverse it. “Is there any way I can get you out of these chains?” Laura said, moving towards the man to try to free him. But as she approached, Fusa stopped her hand. “Fusa, he’s innoc—“

     “No,” the man said. “He is right, young miss. I cannot leave this place. If I even attempt to move myself or be moved, I will probably break. I am so frail that I cannot even risk moving for fear of rupturing blood vessels or breaking bones, but I now see a way to make amends for my terrible crime, and to end my life knowing that I did not come to this place for nothing. God wanted me to come here, and so I was sent after defying the state. Now I see my purpose, after all these years. I see how I can help you, and at least somewhat bring peace to my guilty mind.”

     “But you’re not guilty!” Laura protested.

     “Hush, sweet girl,” the man said gently. “I have not much time left, and so I need you to just accept it and listen so that I can go in peace. I have hung on all this time hoping I would have some reason for being here before I died, and now you have come to me. I know many things, and I know that you seek your father and ultimately to kill the dark one, the evil man, this Natas who calls himself so many things. And I know how you can kill him, and bring an end to his terrible and bloody legacy.”

     “What do you know?” Fusa said, lighting a cigarette. Laura quickly grabbed it and put it out.

     “Can’t you see he’s dying?” she hissed quietly.

     “I know that he is aging, and he is growing weak,” the man said. “And he can no longer preserve his body without the death of others. This is why his reign of death has grown exponentially over the years. The more lives required to preserve his, the more lives he took. But to cut off his plans, to keep him from taking any lives, would surely lead to his death. Two more things before I go.

     “First: his eyes are his power. Never let him show them to you, I beg you. Or else your fight will end very quickly and you will be no more than his new pawns. If you can somehow get rid of his eyes, stop their awful power, then you will take his awesome power of persuasion forever, and he will become a much smaller threat. But he will still be powerful. Mark that. He will still be powerful.

     “Last thing: I was not lying about the hall you’ve been walking down. It winds continuously to the left, going deeper and deeper until you can not get out. However, there is a way around this that I have heard the guards speak of. Every fifteen steps, turn ninety degrees to your right and continue forward, repeating after fifteen more steps. This will keep you on a straight path, and eventually you should come to what they call the Great Cell. That is the closest this place has to maximum security, so be careful. Now, I have told you what I know that can help you, and it is up to you to use it. I felt the need to try to stop the poisoning, and failed. But I was sent here and now you’ve come, and I know that this was the reason I was persuaded by God to protest in the first place. Please… Use what I’ve told you…and….succeed.”

     There was one last weak cough and the man was dead. One single tear betrayed Laura’s eyes, and she quickly wiped it away before Fusa could see.

     “Come,” he said. “We now know our course, and we must make haste. I am beginning to fear for the surface.”

     “Hayvan?!”

     “Yes. If you did not catch why, then it would be a good lesson for you to think on it.”

     Laura was confused but decided not to protest and to try to remember on her own. They grabbed their things, and with one last moment of silence for the deceased man who had probably saved them from being lost forever, they began the last leg of their trip to the Great Cell.

     At least now they knew where they were going. But Laura still didn’t feel good about the situation at all.

     Not one bit.

**

    

     Brun had kicked Benny’s ass at combat training once again, and Benny was extremely sore. It didn’t help that they had been walking for about three miles before they even began ‘training’ and now they were back to walking again. If Brun had his way, they would’ve been running and bouncing up rocks and from tree branches. Lil bastard’s a damn monkey, Benny thought as he watched the little warrior swing from a branch and land upon a rock that was going to take Benny five minutes to clamber up, maybe even more with the condition of his muscles.

     “What are you waiting for?” Brun asked from his vantage point on the rock.

     “It might be easy for you, but I’m not used to this sort of thing,” Benny said, trying his best to not sound as winded as he felt. “I’m doing the best I can just to keep you in sight.”

     “Its more like I’m doing the best I can just to stay in your sight,” Brun said before laughing childishly. He then turned and bounded down the other side of the rock, leaving Benny to struggle his way up the rock in silence.

     He was beginning to think that this training wasn’t such a good thing after all. Maybe he would’ve been able to find Natas on his own, and figure out a way to get his body back on his own, without all of this painful and redundant training. Who am I kidding? He thought. I would’ve gotten to him and probably lost control of my mind to him too. Of course maybe that wouldn’t have been so bad, considering then I  wouldn’t even really be aware that I  wasn’t free anymore.

     Would you stop your childish thinking and climb, for goodness’ sake, came Brun’s powerful mind voice, booming as always into Benny’s already sore head.

     “Yeah, yeah, yeah,” Benny grumbled beneath his breath. “Maybe I’d go faster if you’d let me rest every now and then.”

     “When you learn that the body always has enough strength to do what you want it to, then you will see that the only thing which you need to do anything at any time is the proper motivation and the strength of will,” Brun said, popping up over the rock again. “When you feel tired, your mind will try to convince you that the body lacks the strength to continue, but this is simply the minds way of tricking you into giving it some rest. You must learn to dominate your own mind, so others can not, and so you can use it to control your body. You in particular, Benny from Away, have the ability to make your body do almost anything you want it to, but before this can be achieved, you must have control over that which controls the body. So for now, I will not let you rest, and since I have your pack, if you want to eat or drink or smoke when you take a break, you had better catch up and keep up with me, or else you will have nothing.”

     Benny realized that Brun was fundamentally right, and he knew that his body could take another step and then another and another, and it could make one more lunge up the rock and then on the other side it could keep walking forward to wherever Brun happened to finally stop. He felt tired, and his mind kept telling him he would pass out soon if he didn’t take a break, but his legs did not feel like caving and his lungs were not on fire yet, so what indication was there that he couldn’t go on? Only his mind, insisting that he couldn’t. The truth of what Brun had said came into full sight in Benny’s mind, and with a smile he pushed forward up and over the rock.

     Just as he got to the top, he saw a certain little man, naked and jumping off the rock. There was a splash from the other side and Benny rushed forward. There, spread out before him, was the freshest looking natural pool of water Benny had ever seen. He pulled his shirt up and over his head and dove in. As soon as he hit the water, all of his fatigue felt like it was gone. The heat had been getting to him so badly, that the cool pool was like a breath taking contrast, and he stayed under for a good six seconds before swimming toward the top.

     As he broke the surface, Brun was treading water a few feet away and he said, “You see, Benny from Away? If you had allowed your mind to have its way, we would’ve rested back before that last small obstacle, and then when we began walking again we would’ve had to bypass this sweet spot. But since controlled your mind and allowed the strength of your body to carry you through to the end, the reward was much greater. It is that way in life, Benny, and its also that way in combat. I have seen many defeated simply because they refused to believe that they could go on, and therefore they couldn’t go on. Its as easy as that. So my lesson today, Benny, is always push toward the end, and at all costs, know that you have the strength and all you need is the will.”

     “Of course,” Benny replied. “I would’ve just about cried if we had had to pass this up, so thank you for encouraging me to go on.”

     “That is the task I have been appointed, is it not?” the small man asked cheerfully. “Now, what was my last Lesson, Benny from Away?”

     Benny climbed up on a rock and stood in the sunlight, the light warm upon his shoulders. It was nice to be wet and feel the sun slowly drying him, to breathe the (spring?) air and to feel the warm breeze in his wet hair. It occurred to him that it had been fall the last time he’d been in control of his body, and he wondered if it still was up there. Surely it couldn’t be spring already in Minde, could it? Over here he knew he’d been around for about two weeks, but up on the Minde side, shouldn’t it have only been a few days? Week tops, he thought. But if that had been enough time for the Hell Benny saw in his vision to break loose, then maybe it didn’t matter that time ran slower in the upper realms, because it appeared that Natas also worked faster up there as well.

     He took in a deep breath of the seemingly springtime air, and trying to use a somewhat serious voice, he replied, “That I must always have faith in the idea that everything can and will turn out in my favor, or the favor of which I seek the events to turn.”

     “Good,” Brun said, diving back into the water. Apparently he’d only been checking to see if Benny remembered at all. Benny didn’t want to waste any of the time he had at this precious pool, so he dove back under the water and basked in the cool feel of the water around his face and body. It was so refreshing being in the water after all the walking in the relatively dry forest. There had been moisture, but no actual water. The one stream they had come to was extremely dirty, and they had followed it as far upstream as they could manage without getting off of their precisely timed route, but it had been persistently brown as far up as they traveled.

     The water here was remarkably clear, and Benny could see that it was deep in several places. Somewhere down in one of the deeper spots he thought he saw Brun swimming around, but he couldn’t be sure. He swam down towards the place he thought he had seen him, and was almost taken off guard by the sudden change in temperature of the water. The deepest spot, where Benny thought Brun was, turned out to be more of a deep hole at the bottom of the pool, and as Benny began swimming into it, it became considerably darker and colder with every foot deeper that he went.

     He wasn’t sure what it was, if it was Brun or something else, but something rubbed up against his back towards the surface. He turned and looked up and saw nothing. No Brun, no strange creature swimming around above him. Content that he must have just rubbed up against one of the roots that jutted out of the sides of the giant hole, Benny turned back around toward the blackness. Except this time there was a light. A fantastically pretty, bright blue light that bobbed up and down slightly, like a lantern in a dark forest. He began swimming towards it again. It was so bright and so pretty. He jus had to know what the source was. Something about that shade of blue seemed so familiar, but he couldn’t think of from where. All he could think about at that point was how pretty the object must be to give off such radiance, and that whatever it was would surely be a good prize indeed. Brun might even commend him for his find, cook up something extra nice to celebrate a rare find.

     The light was finally close to hand, and Benny was beginning to see the bottom of the hole behind the light, reflecting that pretty blue back. The bottom seemed to be made out of some entirely different material, which looked shiny and smooth, with small cracks throughout. The light appeared to be just that…a light. He could not see a place where it was solid, it just all looked like light.

     He was beginning to run out of air, but he hadn’t really ever smoked anything up until a few weeks prior, and so his lungs were still pretty fresh, and he knew he had at least another half a minute, and it would only take him ten or so to swim to the top. He continued to examine the light, but got tired of trying to float above it, so he used the wall to pull himself down to the bottom, so he could stand there eye level with the light. It just bobbed there, not seeming to want to do anything. Certainly didn’t seem like a fluorescent fish or anything like that…

     Where had he seen that before.

     He slowly began to realize that his feet were on yet another surface, some type of material that felt almost like round poles laid down in rows below his feet. He looked down and saw what they were, and wished he hadn’t. Suddenly the memory of where he had seen such a pretty blue light came back to his mind.

     The Discovery Channel.

     A certain show about fish of prey that use lights to attract smaller fish and then eat them as soon as they get close. He also became aware of the thin strand coming from the blue light and going down to the bottom. That shiny bottom of “different” material was actually skin, and the things that felt like bars under his feet were actually the large teeth of some…thing… that was hiding in this hole. He sprang off the teeth with all the force he could muster, kicking violently for the surface, and just before his feet left he felt the teeth separate below them. He looked down and there were the two biggest compact eyes Benny had ever seen, staring back at him and reflecting the light in them. Below was the teeth lined pit, dark and void, that was the creatures mouth.

     For a brief moment, another tickle of recognition came to him, but this was not the time for contemplating where else he could have seen that blue. Right now he needed to swim and swim hard, especially if he wanted to get himself out of the stupid situation he had gotten himself into.

     How could I be so stupid? He asked himself. The surface seemed to keep moving away from him, like in certain dreams he’d had before. He wished desperately that it would stop, allow him to break the surface and cry for the help of the small warrior man, because he saw absolutely no way out of this. Luckily the creature didn’t seem to fast, but Benny wasn’t exactly able to move fast either. For some reason the agitation with which he kicked his limbs was causing the opposite of what he wanted. He wanted to go up, but each paddle of the arm seemed to slow him down and sometimes even push him back towards the creature. He began to get the strong feeling that this was how it is to face death. To know that its coming for sure and in only a few short seconds. He began to hope that maybe he could pass out from oxygen deprivation before he’d have to feel the thing first bite through his legs and then sequentially farther up until he lost enough blood to finally die.

     He looked down just in time to see the eerily slow moving creature begin to close its teeth around his foot. He yanked it up and just barely managed to raise it high enough to avoid losing it. But the creature didn’t recede after its bite. It just kept moving slowly forward, the sides of its enormous fish-like face rubbing smoothly against the sides of the hole.

     I can’t win, Benny thought, as his struggling limbs used up the last of his oxygen supply. I’m going to die here because I was too stupid to sense a trap. This must be the way it is.

     His vision began to go black and he stopped struggling. He felt the teeth slowly surround his torso, and as the sharp points began sinking through his skin, Benny got his wish and fainted.

**

     Laura wasn’t exactly sure what was going on. Fusa was in chains against the wall, Ku On Hu was sitting, bound in some strange cloth with weird symbols embossed all over it, and by the look on his face, Laura could sense that they had either drugged him or were doing something to keep him thoroughly incoherent.

     They had come up to the giant, strange cell door with its abstract pentagram carved in red on the front, the door with so much screaming from behind it. Before they had entered, Fusa had explained to Laura that the legend of the Great Cell had always been thought of as that and only that: a legend. He had never heard any really compelling evidence to support its true existence, but there it was staring back at them, and as they approached the markings on the door seemed to begin to glow, and Laura had been surprised suddenly by the door opening automatically and allowing them entrance.

     When they had walked into the giant room, the first things they were greeted by were screams of pain and pleas for help from all sides, and along every room, there were cells with intricate designs on the front. Fusa had been in the process of explaining that he figured they were containment sigils, when darkness had fallen on the room and a loud raucous had ensued somewhere right in front of Laura. She heard Fusa hit the ground and then be flung against the wall, and the chains had seemed to drop from nowhere, down from the ceiling, and Laura then heard them pull tight against the wall and a muffled ‘unhh’  as the chains forced some of the air out of Fusa Gon Ku.

     And then there had been silence. The lights had returned and all the cells were silent. Laura looked around hesitantly and saw that there were no longer any cells at all. It had all just been an illusion, perhaps an attempt at confusing them or catching them off guard, she wasn’t sure. All she knew was that all the walls on all sides were covered with more strange symbols, many of them resembling pentagrams but actually being far different and more intricate. If they hadn’t given off such an obvious air of threat, Laura might have found them very interesting and even a little pretty, but right now the glowing red symbols just seemed like menaces, staring at her from all sides, telling her she was trapped. Fusa was chained up, several across his chest and legs and what looked like a downright knot of chains around his wrists and forearms. Apparently whoever was doing this was not in the mood to see just how many more tricks this Fusa warrior had left up his sleeves.

     Laura found that she was not just frozen by fear. She couldn’t move her body whatsoever. She looked toward Ku, and even though his eyes had always been little more than slits, and she couldn’t quite tell if they were open or not, she got a slight impression that he was looking at her, despite his lack of motion and appearance of sleep. She returned his gaze and tried desperately to reach out to him. When she was first becoming acquainted with Ku, she had first come to his attention by speaking into his thoughts and being receptive when he did it back, and it had actually been Ku On Hu who had first told Laura of her male Upper Double and taught her how she could talk to him if she was close enough to the border world, Brynj.

     It had been weeks since she had been allowed to see Ku, and she mentally beat herself up for not realizing sooner that this alone was suspicious. However, she knew deep in her heart that two weeks would not be enough to break the connection which had been forged between the old man and herself. But right now her head just felt so groggy, and she could suddenly imagine how it must feel for poor Ku, wrapped up in paper with the binding sigils Fusa had been starting to mention when all of this had happened.

     There isn’t much time, girl, came the soft and familiar old voice of Ku On Hu into the back of her mind. He definitely did not sound as clear and strong as he normally did, and for once the voice in her head actually sounded like she had remembered his actual speaking voice sounding, instead of the young and confident voice he had always adopted during their long mind conversations. He is coming and you must help if any of us are to survive, including yourself, and, I fear, even including your Benny boy from the Upper Realms. He MUST survive, Elle.

     Elle…. She had almost forgotten that he called her that. Suddenly she felt very much like the little girl she had resembled up until recently, and she felt like crying very much but the tears just would not come.

     What can I do? She asked Ku, pushing the thought at him like she had been trained. Even though she could barely see his eyes, Laura knew that they were lighting up at the sound of the girls sweet voice, and Ku seemed to push a feeling on her more than a thought. A feeling that he had been deeply concerned and was very relieved to see her but had no time to express it in words.

     He will come, Laura, he will come and he will face you and he will try every means of making you ask to see his eyes. You must NOT give in. He is crafty and will try every sort of hypnotism, but he knows that he is weak. His only persuasive power is his eyes, and as part of a punishment long ago, the beast Natas was restricted to a point where he could only show his eyes and use them on others if they asked to see them. He has to be asked about them, to have express permission from the victim to show his eyes, in order for it to work.

But what can I DO? Laura asked again. I understand how to resist him, but what can I do to help this?

     Let me finish child, the man said, and for a brief moment his voice took on some of its old power and Laura knew that it was because the old man was frustrated and needed her to shut up and pay special attention. You have a very unique mind, and he can not gain access to it. He must reveal his eyes to win your mind, or to even begin to read  your thoughts, and you must resist. DO NOT LET HIM EVER FEEL YOU THINKING ABOUT THAT GUN AT YOUR HIP. You must be very brave, Young Elle, and I know it is wrong for you to have to be in such a position, but I have faith in you. He will try to convince you, and at one point you must ask him to see his eyes, but only after I’ve given you the word in your head, you hear?

     Yes, sir.

     Good. Now you must think and react quickly, young Elle. Begin your link with your gun and your bullets long before I give the word, and have your focus aimed squarely on his glasses the whole time. You must memorize where his face and eyes are in comparison to your own, for I need you to do a blind draw, trusting entirely in the bond between yourself and your weapon. Understand?

     I think I’m beginning to.

     As soon as he goes to take off his glasses, you must close your eyes right at the last moment and shoot for one of his eyes. It must be late enough, though, or you will hit the glasses, which are not by any means ordinary. They are special and I suspect that nothing could break through them. Something as valuable as those eyes is something to be protected dearly, especially if you’re a mad man bent on control.

     I will do my best to keep a barrier around your mind and my own, the old man continued. This way he does not suspect what is coming. But do not try to pretend to be afraid. He knows you do not fear him. And he wants to see you dead very badly, so don’t be cocky either. Controlling is not the only thing this man is capable of. If he had a middle name I’m sure it would have something to do with destruction.

     Laura suspected that this was supposed to be a subtle joke, but she could not bring herself to laugh. The coldness of the gun, link already in progress, was filling her body, and she felt the gun warming beside her as she poured her own essence into it.

     Be glorious, pretty Elle, Ku said, and then Laura ceased to have the feeling of his eyes on her. He had gone back to his half dead look, and Laura was glad to see that at least part of the old man’s crippled state was an act. Damn Ku, always so admirable.

     Suddenly the red lines of the diagrams all around the room began to waver and become unstable, and directly in front of her, the wall seemed to separate and melt off to the sides, leaving a gap the size of a door there. Through it walked her life long “family friend” Mr. Vonwell, who she now knew was the Mad Man of the Inner, Natas.

     “Hello, Miss LeVille,” he said with a sneer. “I know that it was you spying on your father and I that night, and I know also that it was you who aided the boy in his escape.”

     “That’s not and never was my name, nor was that monster ever my father,” she said coldly, wanting very badly to spit for dramatic effect but finding no saliva in her mouth.

“Oh is that so?” Vonwell said. She couldn’t see his eyes, but Laura got the impression he was looking her over. She covered her chest and felt her cheeks go red as she realized that she actually had breasts now… “You’ve grown, child. Well, well, the presence of that boy really did have quite the effect on you, didn’t it?”

     He threw back his pale head and began laughing.

     “What the hell’s so funny, mad man?” she asked, glaring at him.

     “You, of course!” he said, still guffawing. “He might as well be your brother, and yet you’re in love with him. Actually…its more like he’s your real father, and you have inappropriate little girl feelings for papa! Oh, you are priceless, you silly girl.”

     Laura realized that she must have breached her own security of mind, allowing some of her thoughts to slip through. She continued trying to remain blank except for the anger, actually trying to push it through so that he wouldn’t suspect that he was being blocked. She kept her eyes on his glasses, like she’d been told, and all the while she was forging her own spirit with the matter of the gun. Some part of her had finally realized that her telekinesis came from her ability to put part of her soul into objects, and to feel the bits of soul that have also come in contact with said objects.

     She could feel it there, against her hip, warm.

     She could feel the position of her neck, the exact direction towards which his face was.

     She could feel her blood boiling as she craved to blow this man’s eye out the back of his skull.

     “It was really quite silly sending your friend out into the Unalla woods,” he said. “So many of that forests creepers and crawlers are mine, doing my bidding, I’d be surprised if he’s still alive at all. He probably got about a mile before he was picked off by a Fog or something equally as pleasing.”

     “You know that’s not true,” she said defiantly, still looking him right in the glasses. Just barely she could see herself reflected in them, even from the distance, and she was scared to see the bloody, dirty girl she saw there.

     “I suppose it might not be. But what fun would it be if you thought you were a success, little girl?”

     “Stop calling me that. I’m not a little girl.”

     “Yes I can certainly see that!” he said with a smile, and laughed again. Laura could just barely feel his eyes on her breasts as he made the joke. Her clothes had grown far to small over the past day since Benny had arrived, and she felt ashamed at how much of her chest was visible now.

     “You know, I can help you make him love you,” he said coolly, kneeling down to her level, but for some reason still staying a short distance away. “I can make you into the most desirable girl he’s ever dreamed of, you know. Then there will be no resisting you.”

     “If I want him, I won’t need your help to get him, thanks,” she said. This time she really did spit in his face. He stood up and pulled off his glasses. At first she thought he was disobeying the rule Ku had spoken of, and she glanced at him briefly only to get a sharp hint of Wait thrown at her mind, but it seemed that either it was not possible or Natas was not planning to do so, because when he removed the glasses she looked back and found that his eyes were closed. He wiped the glasses off and then replaced them before wiping off his face. He didn’t exactly look angry, but one thing Laura had known about this man long before she knew of his danger was that he would remain calm on the surface, but his angry vibes would boom out from his body, and all her life she’d felt it but been told it was just her. Right now she felt that same feeling again, and knew that something about being spit on particularly angered this man.

     “I don’t know why you’re being this way,” he said. “The boy is a threat to you and your town, so really I was trying to do you a favor. I’m not sure why you insist on being so stubborn, just like every other LeVille I’ve ever dealt with. One after the other on down the line, I’ve had them in my hand, as I’m sure you’re already more than well aware of. All of them eventually tried to resist me and found their ends. No place that I choose to have will remain outside my grasp.”

     That’s when Laura realized another thing that could make this man angry. “You’ve never been able to have Hayvan, and you’ll never be able to,” she said, eyes still locked firmly on his glasses. “You’re too weak for such a majestic place to be yours.”

     With lightning speed, he was down in her face with his hand around her jaw, bringing her face close to his own. She could just barely see the hint of his eyes behind the glasses, and she could subtly feel the pulling effect they caused, but apparently whoever had designed the glasses had done a pretty good job, for she was quickly able to shake it off. “You know nothing you pathetic little girl,” he spat, actually spraying Laura with spittle as he forced the words out of his mouth. She was genuinely afraid at this point, but knew that she had to keep up a strong front if any of this was going to be believable. Defying Vonwell, the Puppet Master as he had been called by some of the parents around Hayvan, was something that Laura had always done, and he’d be more suspicious if she didn’t be a smart ass than if she continued as she was.

     “I know that if you could have this town you would have already,” she said. “And I know that you are weak for not possessing it. So much rich life, so many people you could have fun with, but you’re just to weak, aren’t you, Puppet Master?”

     She could see that he was trembling just the slightest bit. His anger was certainly booming out now. She was surprised that he was keeping his composure at all. Still, she did not look away from his glasses, despite the ghostly white irises she saw vaguely behind the dark glass. The gun was now positively hot by her side, and she knew that she had poured as much of herself into it as was possible. Luckily he still didn’t seem to be aware of the gun. Or if he was he was doing a good job of not showing it.

     Laura decided she’d keep piling on the coal to the fire. “Or is it maybe that you yourself are just a Puppet, and not the master at all?”

     This one struck a nerve. He punched the ground by her legs and it splintered, separating some of the lines from the diagram. It automatically lost its light once the diagram was broken, and the circle that had been on the floor all around her faded to black. Part of the stone of which the ground was made flew up and hit her leg considerably harder than she would’ve liked, but she managed to stifle her cry in her throat long before it had any time to escape and betray her lack of courage.

     “You would do best to shut your mouth, girl,” said Natas with the most bitter smile on his face that Laura imagined he was able to muster. “My affairs are none of your concern. Shortly this entire town will be gone, and the only reason you are not dead yet is because I need you.”

     “Need me for what?” she asked.

     “Nothing that I have to tell you, stupid little girl.” Lie. She could feel it. This man didn’t really have a plan for her. For once, she was pretty sure that this master of the mind had actually allowed his own mind defenses to lower momentarily.

     Laura gathered her courage and pushed on. “Somehow I think I’m just like Hayvan,” she said. “You want to possess me, maybe even to destroy me, but for some reason you can’t.”

     Couldn’t,” he said. “Management is changing, bitch girl. Your father is no longer head of this Mansion and thus the LeVille line is broken, for I am the heir to his thrown, considering he didn’t produce a filthy runt of a son, like every other one before him. Now I can take Hayvan, since he is out of the way for good. Once I have Hayvan, the Council of Valence will grant me my freedom, and if they do not, I will use the souls of your dead townsfolk to storm Valence itself, and then I will have no chains to connect me to those feeble old men.”

     “Y-you’ve been doing everything under the command of the Council of Valence?” she asked. This was a ridiculous statement. The Council was supposed to be the protector of the Inner, stationed right on the very edge of Brynj, just like Hayvan, and working as a fortress against invaders from the Upper. How could it be that any of his bloodshed had been ordered by the council? How could they be the puppet masters that she had just spoken of herself?

     “Oh boo hoo, you all-too-smart girl,” he said, breaking out another one of his creep smiles. “They never wanted to be in this world, and they never needed to be here, but they were stuck and so the only way to effectively control the people here was to convince them that they needed protection. They’ve pretended to protect you all for quite some time now, and then I came along. They liked the thought of me.”

     “And just what makes a blind freak of a man with unhealthily pale skin so special?” she asked, cracking her own sarcastic smile. “You’re just a two bit blind magician, to me.”

     “I am not blind,” he said. “I can see perfectly well and my eyes are perfectly functioning just like yours. Would you like to see them? They are quite normal.”

     The part of her which had grown up with this man and always wondered about his eyes almost convinced her body to shake its head yes, but somehow she managed to resist. “I think I’d probably vomit if I had to see more of your ugly face,” she said. She spit again, but this time he was prepared and with a flick the spit flew sideways and splattered on the wall, sizzling as it touched the red diagram.

     “Don’t try that again or I will be forced to hurt you,” he said.

     As if to show her a taste of what would come if she tried again, he snapped his fingers and there was instantly a burning sensation in the small of her back, like a bad itch that’s become a pin prick of pain. Then, just as quickly as it had begun, it was gone, leaving behind a mild tickling. She wanted to scratch it quite badly, but she knew that her hand had to be ready to move to her gun in the event of an emergency, so she put up with it.

Now was the time. He was getting angry and seemed to be getting to the point where he simply wanted to end this, just like Laura. She knew that it was now or never.

     “I do want him to love me,” she said, allowing herself to look away just enough to make the comment believable. It wasn’t hard, because she secretly did want the boy to love her, but she did not want to force it upon him like Natas had suggested. “I just don’t see how you can help me with that, that’s all.”

     “All it would take is for you to look deep into my eyes,” he said. “I could then help you become exactly what he wants, nothing more and nothing less.”

     Laura had so many angry and vicious thoughts in her head in response, but she knew better than to let any of them come to full wording in her mind. She needed to keep the link between her and the weapon hot, ready to go, and to keep her thoughts on those glasses. She had decided that since she was a right handed shooter, it would be best to try to cross fire at hisright eye, because her hand seemed to naturally shoot slightly to her left each time and so this would be the easier target when trying to shoot on the sly and with speed. No room for error, as far as she could tell. It was either do the deed or make this man mad enough even to betray his own masters.

     “Yes,” she said, trying to sound as forlorn about Benny as possible. “I want him but he doesn’t even see me as a possibility. Until just recently, I looked too young for him, and now that I’m finally the full beauty of my age, he’s gone and will never see me. I don’t even know where he went.”

     “I know where he is,” Natas said coolly. “I always know where he is. He thinks he can escape me but its just a futile goal that I’m allowing him to keep sight of just for some kicks. I think it’ll be fun to see how far he can get in this hell hole of a world. I can show you to him, and give you everything you need to win him.”

     “Would you use me as a tool to get him?”

     “Why yes, of course. But then you’d be his love and even though you’d both be mine, you’d be together as well. I could make it forever, here in the Inner. You could be happy for all eternity, and he’d never question your love. Large payment and reward for simply helping me keep him in one spot. You’d get what you want, and I wouldn’t have to worry about another Echani coming to fuck up my plans anymore like the last two have tried.”

     “It’s a small price to pay,” she said dreamily. “I want that, Mr. Vonwell. I want that very much. Show me your eyes, please, Mr. Vonwell!”

     “Please,” Natas said, moving a hand up to his glasses. “Call me Natas.”

     Slowly he lowered the glasses and Laura was just beginning to see the white and red of his eyes when Ku boomed into her head NOW ELLE!

     She had began to feel the pull, even worse than when he’d been up close to her and she could see the eyes through the dark shades, but Ku was so loud in her head that it overpowered Natas and she quickly closed her eyes and called the gun to her already outstretched hand. In a split second, the gun had flown there, and just as she felt the trigger slide under her finger, she squeezed and heard the gun fire. The backs of her eyelids were momentarily lit up a bright orange, and then there was the worst and most piercing scream Laura had ever heard, like the banshees of old fairy tales.

     For at least another five seconds, she sat there with her arm outstretched, trembling all over and expecting the worse. But no words of scolding came in Natas’s all too familiar voice, and no random stings of pain started anywhere on her body, and the only sound was her spit from earlier, which was still sizzling on the wall.

     “He is gone now, my child,” came the warm and recognizably raspy voice of the sage Ku On Hu. When she heard it, it hit home just how long she had been apart from him. She had missed him so badly.

     She lowered the gun and opened her eyes. The door through which Natas had come was no longer there, and there was nothing but wall and the red glowing markings. Her first instinct had been to drop the hot gun, but as she looked at it she remembered that part of her soul was now animating the thing temporarily, and it had apparently done its job to the best that it could be hoped to do. Somehow she felt that dropping it would be highly disrespectful to a thing that just saved her from an eternity of Puppet-hood. So she slowly lowered her violently trembling hand to the ground and set the gun there gently, trying her best to send her gratitude to it without allowing herself to let all the fear she had held at bay come flooding back.

     But as soon as the gun touched the ground and her hand left it, the tears came and all of her emotions came back with it. That’s when she came to another revelation about her powers of connection… Not only did the object take on her spirit, she took on some of the traits of the object as well. She had been cold and ready to kill, like the gun; she had been locked into place and ready to go off, just like the gun; and most of all, she had been cold and completely free of regard to the life which she was trying to take. But now that the gun had left her hand, she began crying and shaking and could no longer resist the urge to lie down and curl into a fetal position.

     Her dismay and bad emotion was augmented by frustration and anger as she realized that her dress had become to small to cover her properly while lying down, and since at heart she was a lady and two men were in the room, she could not just lie there like that. So she got up and the frustration filled her, making her lash out at the nearest wall. As she hit it, she tore open her knuckle and blood oozed out. But the thing that caught her attention more than the pain was the way the glowing diagram flickered when she had punched it. Her blood on the seal sizzled just like her spit had done, but to the touch the diagrams were not hot at all. To the contrary, they felt slightly colder than the stone on which they had been drawn, or etched, or whatever had been done to create them.

     She decided right now she didn’t want to begin thinking again just yet. She wanted to be upset and cry. She lowered herself down the wall and wept.

     “You did splendidly, my child,” Ku said.

     “Obviously not,” she said. “His body isn’t here, which means he probably is still out there somewhere, only now he’s pissed off at me and wants me dead.”
     “Elle, sweet girl, he wanted you dead since the day Sir LeVille claimed you as his own daughter. You see, Natas knew all along where you came from, and sought very much to destroy you. All in all this is the reason my family and I stayed here; to protect you.”

     “But why? What have I ever done to deserve protecting?”

“It is not a matter of what you have done yet, Laura, it is a matter of what you shall do and what you are capable of doing. I don’t believe Natas himself wanted you for any particular reason, but I do however believe that the Council of Valence has been after you for quite some time. This is why Natas was stationed here, I am sure. For all these years, the Wise Ones of Valence have known that a girl would come to Hayvan, a girl who was born from a boy and who was neither Upper nor Inner. She would be purely a product of the third Echani, and the appearance of her would mark the appearance of that final Echani.

     “I had come here on my own business, dragging my boy, and when we got here this last time, it was obvious that you were the girl. You didn’t age, a problem caused by the separation you and Benny experienced due to your ‘father’s meddling. Also you began to display certain powers similar to myself.”

     “Wait…go back…” she said. “Benny and I were separated because of my father? I was told it was because he got too old and stopped believing in me…”

     “No, no, my dear,” Ku said. “He never forgot and almost no day went by that he didn’t try to talk to you, and I know the same is true for you. It is a sad story to me, both of you sitting on the edges of two different worlds, so close yet so far away, unable to even be aware that the other is still there, on the other side, trying to communicate through the veil between worlds.”

     That made her resentment of her good for nothing father grow even more. All that time she had cried and been devastated and he had pretended to care, when really he had been the cause all along. And now, to find out that Benny had never forgotten her, had never gone away… It was too much for her to absorb without loathing her wannabe father.

     “Anyways,” she said, swallowing back any tears that may have threatened to spring out. “Back to my abilities.”

     “I began to notice that you shared certain…gifts… with myself, and the only reason I could think to explain it is basically the same way I can explain the phenomena my son Fusa Gon Ku displays…”

     “And what is that, father?” She looked at him expectantly, thinking he would tell her not to call him father or something along those lines, but apparently he didn’t mind, because he simply answered, without hesitation, as if her calling him father was perfectly normal and didn’t phase him one little bit.

     “It is simple,” he said. “I am the first of the Echani, and Fusa is my offspring. His powers are limited but he has many of them, just like you. He is not echani but he is of an echani. So then you understand how you came by yours, yes?”

     “Because Benny is an Echani and I’m his creation?”

     “Precisely.”

     Laura had never known the echani actually existed, but she had heard many stories of them. Supposedly the greatest had been Neonokin, who had stopped the evil wizard Sanrunai from destroying the Upper Realms. She had especially not ever suspected that one of them had been living in her own home, and she had barely believed that Benny was really one of them, and still found it hard to believe. The only reason she did believe is the fuss they had put up over him. Suddenly she remembered an interlude between her father and Natas while he had been known as Vonwell. It was the conversation that had made her feel the urge to rush Benny out of Hayvan. She remembered Natas saying “You promised me you wouldn’t let another one of those damned things interfere with my plans,” or something along those lines. He had then gone on to say that the echani must be taken care of immediately.

     Fresh tears welled up as she realized that they probably hadn’t been talking about Benny at all. If she had only known the Ku was one of the echani she could have gone and warned him and he wouldn’t have been put through whatever he had been put through while down in that hell. From the looks of his skin, it appeared that he had at the very least been tortured, though why they would need to, Laura knew not.

     “Forgive me, father, I didn’t know that you were one of them. I could have warned you in time if I had known. I heard Natas give the order to my father calling for them to imprison you.”

     “Do not be fooled, my sweet child,” Ku replied kindly. “That man who paraded around saying he was Artemeus Vonwell knew very well that I knew who he was, and he knew who I was though he pretended not to. You see, natural good and natural evil have a way of calling to each other, and if you are truly a good person, Miss Laura, you will always know a bad person.”

     Laura suddenly realized that in her selfish woe, she had forgotten to even unchain the two men. She got up and headed over to Ku first, since he was actually conscious. However the man stopped her with a short and harsh hiss, something he had taught her that meant “stand back.” She moved away from him and watched, curious as to what would come next. Ku was always full of fun little tricks.

     The old man with his fu man chu closed his eyes and began chanting in the same way Fusa did when he was gathering great amounts of spiritual energy. The air in the room began to move around it, and since it was sealed off, it was more like a cyclone. Laura felt the hair whipping slightly against her face, and she could see the small amounts of thin white hair on the top of Ku’s head being blown back and forth. Fusa seemed like a rock, his short hair and tight clothes barely moving at all.

     As Laura watched, the symbols on the cloth which bound Ku began to glow a bluish green, and increased in intensity for several seconds until Laura could no longer bear to look. She looked around the room and as the green light spread outward from the symbols on the binding cloth, it seemed to be picked up on the wind and traveled around the room, appearing to wipe away the symbols and runes that had been carved into the walls. The light from all around and the dusty wind combined to make it impossible for Laura to look. She buried her face in her arm and waited.

     Eventually the wind stopped and she heard the dirt from the walls finish hitting the ground. She looked up and there, three or four feet away, stood Ku On Hu, the great master she remembered, standing so tall and brilliant for his age. Now that the cloth was no longer around his body, his face seemed to have its old vitality and he once again had the atmosphere she was used to: aged and wise but full of youth and ready to take life on to the very end.

     He smiled at her and walked to Fusa and raised his hands out above his son. He was still smiling and stood with a cool confidence that Laura would have never thought a parent could maintain in such a position, with their child chained up below, apparently unconscious and possibly even dead. He closed his eyes, breathed in deep, and then gently said in a voice just barely loud enough that Laura could hear, “I am not dead and so you are not dead. Arise and be completely refreshed, a new man, ready to continue life by my side. Arise and be well, my son.”

     The dirt around Fusa was moving gently, and Laura suspected that if she could see energy the way she could see her ‘connections’ then she’d probably see the energy circling Fusa, massaging him back to health, arousing his spirit from whatever deep place it was lost in.  Slowly the man began to stir, first moaning and frowning as if in a bad dream, then relaxing and breathing normally. Finally he opened his eyes and seemed thoroughly confused at what he saw.

     First he saw his father and relief hit his face first, but then it seemed to dawn  on him that he didn’t know how things had gotten to this point, and he instantly looked around the room for Laura. She smiled, face covered in the black blood from the small creatures, and he then looked around the room, at the etchings on the walls which had long since ceased to glow red. All of a sudden he winced and closed his eyes, moving his hand to his temple to massage the pain that was apparently there.

     “Father, what—“

     “Shhh, my child,” Ku broke in. “You must not speak for a while. Just know that you did very well. You found me, but by the time you got here Natas had been informed long before of your approach and was waiting with an ambush. I believe his chains were meant to kill you, but I don’t think he has yet become aware of our bond. He still believes we are merely son and father, which is a good sign for us. We have covered our tracks well. Laura here was the one who won the battle though.”

     “And the war?” Fusa asked in a whisper.

     “Still far from being won, I am sad to report. I think miss Laura here may have hurt the man quite severely with her gun though. Look here.”

     He began to move toward the wall through which Natas had made his entrance. As he moved out from between them, Laura and Fusa came into sight of each other and Fusa smiled at her. She couldn’t read his thoughts exactly, her specialty was telekinesis, not telepathy, but she was pretty sure he was trying to say with that smile: I’m glad you made it. Part of it seemed sad though, and she also kind of sensed that part of it was trying to say I’m sorry that I wasn’t there at the most crucial time I was needed.

     She didn’t blame Fusa at all. When they had walked in, Laura hadn’t even known what was going on before Fusa was trapped, so how could she blame him? If she had seen it coming and felt that the man could have done something more to save himself and her then she might have had those sort of feelings, but to the best of her recollection there was nothing Fusa could have done. So she tried her best to return his smile with a smile that said I’m alright, and I don’t blame you. Thank you for everything.

     They turned their attention back to Ku On Hu and found him examining the wall where the mysterious door had been. He was almost nose to the wall, squinting with intensity as he searched for…something. Laura couldn’t think of what he might be looking for, and judging by the look on Fusa’s face she guessed that he didn’t know either. Then the frail old man smiled his vibrant smile and pulled a small pair of tweezers out of his pocket.

     “Well, miss Laura,” he said. “I don’t think he’s blind, but I think you succeeded in exactly what we had planned.”

     He turned to her and brought the outstretched tweezers to her. She leaned in and examined the red thing that he held between it. It looked half white and half red, definitely covered in blood, and there was a small piece of what looked like some sort of human nerve tissue.

     “What is it?” she asked.

     “This, young miss Laura,” Ku replied with his full grin, “is the piece that you shot off of Mr. Natas’s eyeball.”

     “Nice,” was all Fusa said.

     “Sick,” was all Laura could think to reply.

     Ku’s response was rather different. “This is the first wound anyone has inflicted upon Natas since Neonokin. Good shooting, tex.”

     The old man then laughed uproariously and began scanning the walls. Before he moved too far, however, he pulled out a small vial and put the piece of the eyeball inside it. Then he set about his work, tracing the inscriptions on the walls and whistling while he worked, all the while smiling his big smile and occasionally laughing at some joke in his head. That was the good old Ku Laura was used to. He always seemed to be on his own little mission with his own thoughts, and they were always exceedingly pleasing thoughts, if his constant grin and occasional chuckles were any evidence.

     Fusa clapped his hands as loud as he could, only once, just enough to get the attention of his father. The old man jumped slightly. Laura thought it was strange that after being brave through so much in his life, a simple little clap still startled him. “What, insolent boy?”

     Fusa made a motion to his throat.

     “Oh, lord child. Its up to you, ya know. I told you not to talk because you were basically dead for about ten minutes and your damned thick skull couldn’t take it. If you want to risk it and talk now, then talk.”

     The old man irritably went back to his searching, and was quickly whistling and having just as much fun as normal.

     “Wha—“ Fusa began to talk and then apparently was caught off guard by some fluid for he suddenly had to stop and cough briefly. “What are you doing?” he finally managed to ask his father.

     Laura always marveled at how they loved each other so much but hid it well behind their façade of grumpy father and angry son. It always made her smile.

     “I am trying to find a way out, my boy. If that is okay with you?” He looked at Fusa with a grin and resumed searching when Fusa rolled his eyes at him.

     “Grumpy old coot anyways,” Fusa said, making his first attempt to stand up. “Should’ve left you down here to rot!”

     His attempt failed, and he slid back down to his butt rather forcefully, and then winced at the pain in his head.

     Ku cackled and said, almost ominously, “You and I both know rotting isn’t what would’ve happened to me down here.”

     “Whatever,” Fusa said, still irritable.

     “I thought I’d lost you,” Laura said from across the small room.

     “I don’t die quite that easily,” Fusa said.

     “And that’s because I don’t die easily,” Ku said before chuckling.

     Fusa sneered in his father’s direction and turned back to Laura. “What does he mean by that?” Laura asked.

     “He means that I cannot be killed as long as he is alive,” Fusa replied. “And if he were killed while away from me, I would die as well.”

     “Why though?”

     “It is simple,” Ku said, still nose to the wall like a child on time-out. “He is not really my son, Laura. He is like you.”

     “Like me?”

     “Yes,” Ku said. “I am the original Echani, Susan Delgado was the second, and Benny the third. Fusa is my creation the same way you are Benny’s. Understand?”

     “I think so,” she replied, not really sure of her answer. “But I thought the second was Neo or whatever? Neo knockin’ or something…”

     “Neonokin was not always Neonokin, you know,” the old man replied simply. He must have felt her confusion, for he continued, “She was once just a normal girl, like…well not like you, but you get my point. She knew not that she was anything special, but one day she took her own life and the ancient God Osiris told her of her abilities and of her duty to mankind and returned her to life, better than before. From then on she was Neonokin, the One New Great Relative, Sister to All as she was sometimes called. But inside she was always Susan Delgado.”

     “What happened to her?” Laura asked.

     “She chased after Natas while he was still calling himself Sanrunai, and she thought she had destroyed him but really she had not. She had merely banished him to the Inner, forcing him to stay out of the Upper Realms for what was believed to be eternity. But somehow he has gotten into the good graces of the Council of Valence again, and somehow either they have allowed him out or he has found a way on his own.

     “Seeing how you and Benny were forced to stop talking, I am guessing that Vonwell used the Great Trees which work as Hayvan’s defense. That is the place where he would have been closest to Brynj and thus closest to the Upper Realms. This would be the reason your father stopped allowing you to go there so often. He knew that Natas was up to something, and it involved your Benny. Since your father has a deep seated dislike of your creator, I’m sure he was more than willing to aid in putting up blocks between you.”

     “Benny said that he had been talking to me for several days in a park at his home,” she said. “I told him it wasn’t me and that’s the truth. But someone convinced him it was me. Do you think it was Von…I mean Natas?”

     “It is quite likely,” Ku said, intrigued enough to turn away from the etchings. “That fills in some of the pieces I had been missing. If Benny felt he finally had you again, he would have tried very hard to make you as real as possible, but since it wasn’t you that he was talking to, his efforts went toward manifesting Natas instead. That must be precisely how Natas made his way to the Upper Realms. Poor Benny. The thing that has caused him so much turmoil already was brought on by his own desire to see and talk to you. He unleashed Natas upon his own world without even suspecting a thing.”

     Laura looked at the ground. Poor Benny, indeed. How could her father have pretended to love her so much and then allow such things to happen? If Benny was killed, then she would be killed as well, so how could he love her and allow danger to come to her double? It made no sense, besides that maybe he never loved her one little bit. All the memories she had with her fake father meant nothing now. He was a traitor to her and nothing more.

     While looking at the ground she happened to notice that her dress had become more of a mini skirt. She was rather pleased with the way her legs were turning out, and they reminded her of the legs of some of the waitresses in the LeVille private dining room. They were muscular and toned, but still had the pallor that accompanied all the people of Hayvan (except for Ku and Fusa, of course, who had naturally darker complexions.) However, her panties were biting into her rather harshly, and she was beginning to feel as if the dress was just barely concealing her. It had already torn at many of the seems, and the blood and dirt made her look rather like an impoverished prostitute.

     She took comfort only from knowing that now maybe Benny wouldn’t be so awkward around her. She had felt it when he was with her, holding her hand. He had wanted a girl his age, but had only found a mature child. Now maybe she would be closer to what he wanted. Inside it made her burn that Natas had picked such a sensitive subject to prod her with. She really did want Benny, but she was sincere when she said that she wanted him to desire her of his own accord. She didn’t want there to be any forcing or manipulating involved.

     If he loved her, she would love him back.

     If he never loved her, then she would still love him and support him always. He was her creator, and he was the one friend she’d ever had besides Ku’s family.

     The silence was suddenly broken by Ku jumping and saying “Ah ha!” extremely loud and chuckling. Both Laura and Fusa jumped at the sound and instantly turned to Ku for an answer. The old man was staring at a particular engraving, and from her distance it just looked like a circle to Laura. She got up, being as precautious as possible to not flash her panties at Fusa, and walked over to the old man. Before she even had a chance to register what the circle was, she noticed that she was looking down on Ku. She had never been even as tall as Ku, much less taller. That’s when she realized just how short the man was, and how short she herself had been. No wonder it had been awkward for Benny.

     The circle the old man was examining was actually an inverted pentagram with several symbols Laura didn’t recognize running around the rim. In the dim lighting she could see that it was still just barely glowing, flickering occasionally, but it was certainly still going. “This is the seal on the room,” Ku said. “It was feeding off of Natas’s power and feeding the other engravings, which are also binding sigils. Now, to understand how this little guy works you must understand that these sigils cannot bind without drawing force from somewhere. My belief is that the majority of these sigils here in the room were drawing directly from this symbol which was drawing from Natas himself. Its rather clever, actually. He could never make so many sigils draw from him so instead he made them all draw from another sigil, which he then had feed off of himself. When he left, this main sigil ceased to be able to feed all of the others. But as you can see, it still has energy left in it and that is why we see no way out as of yet. However, you notice that it is flickering, no?”

     Both Laura and Fusa nodded their heads.

     “That is because Natas is a very gifted sorcerer, and he infused part of himself into this design. I hate admiring the work of a mad man, but he’s so efficient you can’t help but marvel at it. I can’t see him believing we’d do something like we did today, but I can see him taking precautions anyways, and that is precisely the point of him putting part of himself in here. However, now that we have injured him and he is no longer here for it to feed off of him, his small piece of soul is vulnerable and open to attack. The bind on this room was considerably strong with all those engravings feeding each other energy, but now there is only this one little circle. His Soul Circle, we shall call it. The advantage we have here is being pure of soul. All except Fusa here.”

     He grinned sideways at Fusa who merely snorted and went back to staring at the pentagram. “You see these carvings?” Ku asked. “They are saying that as long as the Darkness of Natas fills this symbol, the room will never open. Here is our way out, I would say.”

     “But how is the thing which binds us a good route of escape?” Laura inquired.

     “Because it is worded wrong, and therefore he did the spell wrong. It says as long as his darkness fills me, none shall leave. The key there is the darkness. We have pure souls, and the thing about an evil soul is that it cannot stand to be near pure souls. They are opposed to each other, and just like light fills the dark and makes black into white, so we can fill the darkness of this sigil. We fill it with light, and his darkness will be driven out. Make sense?”

     They both nodded again.

     “Well then. Now to the deed. Both of you, gather around.”

     Fusa got up and moved next to the other two.

     Ku turned and smacked Fusa on the head with what looked to Laura like more than a love tap.

     “What the hell was that for, father?” Fusa demanded, rubbing his head.

     “I told you to never repeat my mistakes,” the old man said. “So I ask you what the hell have you been smoking for? And I’m assuming you didn’t get the cigarettes from anyone else, so you must be smoking mine.”

     “Forgive me, father,” Fusa replied, showing the respect that always lingered beneath the surface of their silly fights. “I needed comfort, and your smell is all that could do it. I smoked because I needed to feel like you were near. Yes they were your cigarettes, and I apologize. I will pay you back for them.”

     Ku reached out his withered hand and waited expectantly.

     After a confused pause, Fusa said, “I don’t have the money with me now, fath—“

     Another sharp crack to the head.

     “I want one of my damn cigarettes, you fool!” the old man said.

“Oh!!” Fusa said, suddenly realizing what the expectant hand was for. He looked around the room and located his pack. It had fallen off when he’d been thrown into the wall. He rummaged in it for a second and found some of the smokes. He handed one to Ku On Hu.

     “Thank you,” the old man said. He took one and snapped his fingers and the stick of tobacco instantly lit up. He inhaled the smoke and took his time breathing it out. “Excellent. Good thing you brought them with you. Been down here for over four hours now, and if I had to walk all the way back to the surface smelling smoke on your damn fool’s clothes I think I might have to kill you.”

     Fusa laughed but for once the old man didn’t. He was too focused on his cigarette.

     “Now then,” he finally continued. “Now that I have fixed the turmoil I was having inside, I shall tell you what our course of action is. Both of you, place a hand by the symbol. DO NOT PUT YOUR HAND DIRECTLY ON THE SIGIL!!!” he exclaimed as Laura almost placed her hand directly on it.

     “Why not?” Laura asked.

     “Boy you ask a lot of questions,” Ku said, giggling and rubbing her head like he always had. “If you place your hand on it, you will complete a circuit and all the energy from Natas which is held in this circle will instead go to you instead of dispersing into nowhere like we want it to. If that happened, he’d just have one more pawn to play with and we’d get nowhere in a hurry.”

     “Sorry,” Laura said, placing her hand below the circle, next to Ku’s, which was already in position to the left of the drawing. Fusa placed his to the right and they stood there waiting.

     “Now I need you both to think of something that makes you a better person,” Ku said. “Anything which makes you strive to be better than you are.”

     Laura knew exactly what she’d use. The one person she’d always strived to be better for. She knew it was childish to feel the way she did, but her choice of visualization was Benny Jorgens, her creator. She held his image clear in her head and tried to think of all the reasons he made her want to be better.

     She looked at Fusa and he had his eyes closed. She wondered what he was thinking about, and ended up deciding that it was probably either his wife Veela or his father. There’s no denying you love someone who you just ripped several small creatures in half to get to. She then turned her head to Ku and he winked at her. As usual she caught just the smallest hint of his thoughts.

     Ku On Hu was thinking about his love of cigarettes.

 


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