(Author's Note: Harsh language.)
“I should’ve killed that fucking little brat when I had the chance,” Natas said to the white haired Benny now sitting in front of him. “I don’t know how they managed to pull that little stunt off, but they’re going to wish they hadn’t.”
“Awww, is poor little Sanrunai getting angry that he was beaten for once?” said the thing that was inhabiting Benny’s body.
“Don’t push me, Chi,” said the sorcerer. “You’re nothing but a spirit using that body and I can always always send you back where you came from.”
“Alright, alright, cool your jets. Its not like I was being serious. I’ve just never seen you get so worked up over something. And I’ve especially never seen you with blood pouring down your face. Its kind of hot.”
“Don’t say shit like that to me while you inhabit a man’s body.”
“Well, what are you going to do now? You’ve already got half this piss ant town in your grips, I’ve taken care of a number of them, and the rest are going to go down without much of a fight. Your plans are laid, so why be all downer Debbie over a little scratch?”
“Because now I can’t get him and her when they come to the Upper Realms. And trust me, I do think they’ll find a way. The little brat who shot me is probably close to escaping that cell with one of the echani, and then I’ll have two of those fucking things on my tail.”
“And what of the last one, Susan?”
“If my people did what they were supposed to, then she shouldn’t be bothering me. But I feel our time growing shorter, Chi, and we must act now. Begin phase two, and be quick about it.”
“Yes, sir,” the thing that looked like Benny said with a grin. “My pleasure.”
When the spirit left, Natas looked into his little fire and said, “Here it comes, you little bitch. You’re going to go down and so is everyone you love. I hope you suffer so I can enjoy it.”
He began laughing hysterically. His favorite part of the job was finally upon him.
Benny was getting a little weary of Brun’s over the top methods of training. There had never been a deep dark hole, there hadn’t been any pretty light other than Brun’s eye which he’d made glow to attract Benny, and there had never been a huge creature at the bottom of said hole either. The whole thing had been just an illusion from Brun, and in actuality Benny had sat at the bottom of the pool flailing like an idiot. Brun was in the process of explaining how and why Benny should have known that it was a fake.
“First of all,” the man said, “it was highly improbable that a hole such as that would have formed in such a place. There’s geologically no way it could have happened.”
Benny merely grumbled under his breath as he massaged the bump on his head, which was the only injury he had sustained.
“Second,” Brun continued, “how could such a monstrous creature such as that have wormed itself down there like that? Also, it would have been very anti survival of it to have done so, for surely the only food it would lure down there would be small fish which would be far from nourishing enough to a creature of such magnitude.”
“Yeah, yeah,” Benny muttered.
“Third, why would I have not sensed it and responded immediately, avoiding the whole scenario entirely?” Brun asked. “It makes no sense. I’d have been there long before you even suspected the creature, and certainly would never have let you go down into such an obvious trap. I am actually quite surprised at you.”
The small man then laughed heartily, making Benny’s already aching head pulse more. He just didn’t understand how the little bastard could find it so funny, and also he was getting quite annoyed at himself for passing out each time he’s faced with death. It made him feel truly weak, and definitely nothing like this great super man that he was supposedly ‘training’ to become.
“How am I supposed to get out of an illusion like that, then?” Benny asked. He was tired of being told what he’d done wrong and never what he could do better next time. It felt more like criticism than training.
“You must recognize the signs, see what is impossible but clearly before you, and once you’ve determined for sure that it is an illusion, you must search for the illusionist. In this case, I figured you would at least recognize the color of my eye. You’ve seen it so many times, I thought for sure it would be my dead giveaway.”
I knew I recognized that color from somewhere besides the damn discovery channel, Benny thought. Shit.
“I was taken by the good feeling, I guess,” Benny said, immediately realizing how stupid his own words sounded. “I was enjoying myself and wanted to see what was down there. I kind of always had a thing for caves and deep water… I don’t know.”
Benny knew he was grasping at straws and decided to revert back to simply sitting and rubbing his swollen head. Stupid training.
“Look,” Brun said. “You must not beat yourself up over your failures, either. Each one that you survive through brings some new bit of experience to your history, and what will make you special is not merely surviving, its learning to take what you learned in the trial and applying it to future trials. That is the key. You cannot merely fight and rush into the next fight. No matter how often you survive, you will not be learning anything and one day you will lose. You must take what I have told you and learn from it. Nothing more. Do not fret over how you failed or how you should’ve known it was me. It matters not. What does matter is what you learned. Understand?”
“I think so,” Benny said. He was pretty sure he understood, but his head hurt too much to really think. Brun had lit a fire and Benny sat by it with his little bag. He rummaged through it and found that Beaner had supplied him with a decent amount of what looked like jerky. He pulled out a strip of it and put it in his mouth. It was extremely juicy, and the flavor filled his mouth and even went into his nostrils a tiny bit. It tasted like the saltiest, most flavorful meat he had ever tried, even better than the giant bird Brun had killed. Not only that, it was filling as well. He only ate one strip and could already feel it filling his stomach. Benny was pretty sure most of the food he’d had while in the Inner was better than the Upper realm’s food. Most definitely.
Brun got into his own pack and pulled out a bundle wrapped in some sort of skin. He opened it up and pulled out some light colored meat. “I kept some from the Rokmon bird,” he said. “If you’d like some you are more than welcome. I have plenty for both of us. I think we could both eat our fill four times over, so this should be good sustenance for a few days. Here, try. It is even better when its dry.”
He handed a piece of it to Benny. It seemed to have been prepared in the exact same way as the jerky he was eating, and Benny suspected that maybe it was some meat curing secret that the Vanjii tribe held. Whatever their method was, it was damned good.
The bird meat was just as succulent as the other type, and Benny let the taste sit in his mouth for several seconds before even attempting to swallow any of it. Something that they did to the meat made it seem dry and yet moist all at once, like the outside had been cured to make a wrap to hold in the moisture. After the one piece from his own bag and the piece of the bird meat, Benny was pretty well full for the time being and instead began searching for his Lana stash.
He wasn’t sure quite how much he had smoked, but it didn’t seem to have even touched the surface. But with how many strange things he’d seen, Benny wouldn’t have been surprised if there was some sort of spell to make the bag last longer or be bigger inside than it looked outside. Who knew. All he knew was that he had plenty, and right now he wanted to smoke it.
He loaded up his little pipe with a far bigger bowl of the bright green plant than he’d ever really done before, and began puffing on it slowly. He offered it to Brun, but the small man seemed to be concentrating deeply for some reason upon the fire. So Benny sat and smoked his pipe, looking into the flames himself. He wanted desperately to know if Laura was okay. It had been almost a week and a half, maybe even two since he had first left Hayvan, and he was sure that if anything bad were going to happen it surely would have already, which left him not really knowing whether to be worried or to just deal with the fact that anything he had to worry about had already passed. He decided he’d ask Brun, just in case the little guy had anything that might appease his mind.
“She may very well still be in the thick of the danger,” Brun said in reply to Benny’s enquiry. “You see, Hayvan is so close to Brynj which is the between world, that time sort of leaks over into Hayvan. Just as time runs much slower up top, so it does in that town as well. They may have only been through a few hours in Hayvan since you left, and they may have gone through days. Chances are this Laura girl you speak of feels as if you only left a few hours ago, and is probably worried about you in the same way, because she probably doesn’t know if you’re well away from the danger or not. One thing I can tell you… I feel something strange from that place. It is far off from here, yes, but when you ask or talk about it, I feel as if something terrible may be about to happen there. It may well be several more of our perception of days before the hours pass there between now and the danger that awaits that city. But remember… Natas has a way of destroying towns that he sets his sights on, and he has been casing Hayvan for as long as I know. If he has chosen that now is the time to strike, it may be too late for your friend.”
Benny sat smoking in contemplation, not wanting to think about what fate may have befallen or be about to befall his double. Benny didn’t know about the life connection between himself and his double, and maybe if he had he would have not worried quite so much about her and worried a little more about himself, but he did not know and so he was worried down to his very bones. His friend forever, who he’d thought he’d lost and apparently had only lost contact with, might be dead or dying or about to be killed or any number of bad scenarios. He felt like crying, but his face just wouldn’t do the job for him.
“That is a good sign, Benny from Away,” said Brun suddenly, not looking up from the flames. “You would like to cry and know perhaps that it is a time where crying would be warranted, and yet your body and mind are stable enough to resist. Crying clouds the eyes and fogs the mind, much more than simply being sad. I am sad quite often, but I never cry because I need my mind sharp at all times. The thing is, Benny from Away, whether you believe it or not, your mind could be ten times as sharp as mine. It is a good sign, at least to me, that you can not find the ability to cry. I believe that right at this moment it would be in your best interest to keep your mind sharp, so for at least the next few moments, I think you should probably set aside the Lana and just think.”
Benny started to question, but decided he better start treating Brun like his teacher if he was going to learn anything. So he set aside the pipe and sat looking into the flames. The few hits he’d taken slowly snuck up on him, and he decided he’d just put the pipe away for now. He sat thinking about all the things he’d been told about how this place was the stuff of dreams, and how he could supposedly manipulate any matter he could see or visualize in this place. He didn’t quite understand all the mechanics of it or all the intricacies, but he knew what it had been like to dream lucidly when he was still in his body, when he could dream without getting horrible visions of whatever the thing in his body was doing at the moment.
Suddenly Benny got the urge, or rather the downright command of his body, to lay down. He did and right as he leaned back an arrow flew in front of his face. Brun was already on his feet and diving behind a tree trunk, just as something long and black flew past his face. Something landed in the fire and sparks flew everywhere. Benny didn’t have much time to think, so he just decided he’d follow Brun’s example and take cover. He jumped behind another fallen tree, just as one of the black things which had narrowly missed Brun flew by him, hitting the ground where he had just been with a big splat! The ground where the stuff hit (it was apparently some black goo that had been launched at them) the area where it landed began sizzling. Small tendrils of smoke or steam began rising from the black puddle, and as Benny watched the stuff, it slowly ate into the ground.
Stay as hidden as possible and keep your mind as clear as you can, came Brun’s voice into Benny’s head. I do not feel a psychic presence in either of them but they may be masking it well. So stay on your guard. You see a chance to attack in any way that is relatively safe to you, then take it.
I understand, Benny tried to send back to Brun. He wasn’t sure if the little man got it, but across the clearing Benny saw Brun retreat into his little hiding spot between the log and some bushes. Benny hunkered down and made himself as hidden as possible, and for a few moments there was only silence.
Then, slowly, a man emerged from the shadows. He was deathly pale, and Benny was reminded of the pale skin of Natas, but this man was certainly not Natas. He wore a black tank top and black pants, and his arms were covered top to bottom with tattoos of some sort. His hair looked to Benny to be a fiery red, and was cropped low to the man’s head like a military style crew cut. Over his back was a weapon Benny had never seen before. It looked like some sort of automatic, but as far as Benny could recollect, it was not any model that existed in the Upper Realms.
“Come out, come out, wherever you are,” the man hollered in a sing-song voice. “I wouldn’t have thought the great Warlord Brun Loncula would flee into the shadows like some sort of coward.”
Benny didn’t hear any response, but he could tell by the expression on the man’s face that Brun was probably speaking into his mind at the time. Benny always seemed to forget that Brun could choose exactly who he wanted to have hear him and who he didn’t want to have hear anything.
“Ah, come on, Bruney,” the man in the black tank top said. “Its not like you haven’t proven you can defeat me before. Why don’t you come out and let me give you a little rematch, see just how rusty you’ve gotten in the last ten years.”
More silence, presumably as Brun replied.
Suddenly the man laughed and pulled out his gun.
LAY FLAT!! Brun’s voice boomed into Benny’s head. For a moment his mind stalled, but he recognized the feeling of freezing up and consciously tried to break free of it. He laid down flat on his stomach, almost knocking the wind out of himself by flopping onto his front side rather harder than he had intended to. He didn’t have much time to think about the feeling, however, for the man sprayed bullets in a wide arc all the way around the clearing, and the bushes which had been at head-level with Benny exploded into several splinters and a blur of green matter. He muttered, “Shit!” under his breath and covered the back of his head. He looked up and saw something moving in the thicket in the area where the man had emerged, and even though he couldn’t see it, he knew somehow that someone was aiming something at him. Whoever was there in the bushes had either seen him move or heard him say shit, he didn’t know which. All he knew was that someone had seen him.
Not thinking about where he’d go, Benny rolled to his side and got to his feet as quickly as possible. A jet of the black fluid coated what remained of the decimated bush and instantly it began to sizzle, droop, and eventually become a pile of goo itself. He ran in the direction opposite their camp, seizing momentarily upon the impulse to lead the new assailant away from Brun. Benny had a feeling his little teacher had enough on his hands with the pale man with the gun, and didn’t need another opponent.
For about a hundred yards Benny couldn’t tell if his plan had worked, for he heard no rustling in the brush behind him or shouts from a pursuer, but then he began to hear rustling from above. He came to a stop and looked up just in time to see another one of the strange black globs fly past him and hit the ground in the spot where he would have been had he kept running. Suddenly something was falling through the trees toward him, something bigger than one of the masses of black goo. Benny rolled to the left and narrowly avoided being kicked from above by his unknown attacker. As the person landed with an impossibly hard thud, concaving the soft ground with the impact of the fall, Benny had only the briefest of seconds to register that it was a dark haired woman, with pale skin like the man. Only a moment after landing on the ground, she looked up and quickly flung her hand towards Benny. Finally, Benny saw where the black goo was coming from. It seemed to erupt from her finger tips, and she flung it with enough speed and precision that Benny was caught off guard. He tried to lean out of the way of the spray, but it was too late. A terrible burning erupted on the side of his head and quickly spread to his cheek and jaw.
He landed on his side, connecting with a stray log that dug into his ribs as he landed on it. He was pretty sure he was screaming, but the ringing from his left ear was too loud to make out anything else. Somehow he managed to open his eyes. The woman with the black hair was advancing on him, but extremel slowly, as if moving through water.
I can’t do this for much longer, Benny From Away, came Brun’s voice in Benny’s head. Even the ringing in Benny’s ear couldn’t stifle the little man’s powerful telepathy.
The woman was trying to raise her arm up for another attack, and Benny could just make out in the dim forest lighting the agony on her face as she strained against whatever force Brun was imposing upon her. This is it, Benny thought. He sat up and grabbed the log from underneath him. It seemed too big to lift, but if any of the things Brun and Beaner had told him were true, then he figured there must be a way. Grabbing the couple of branches on the side of the log, Benny closed his eyes and envisioned the log tearing through the woman, severing one half of her body from the other as he swung through it. He felt all the muscles in his body clench at once with the strain of lifting the log, but he clung to the image of victory despite the seeming impossibility of lifting the log, much less swinging it. As he opened his eyes again there was a strong feeling inside of urgency, probably emanating from Brun, and he saw that the woman almost had her fingers extended to a point of being able to launch another volley of goo at him. Suddenly he felt his muscles lock into place, and there was a subtle ripping noise as the log dislodged from the moss covered forest earth. He concentrated with all his might on directing the flow of strength from his legs up to his back, then out through his solar plexus to his arms. The log lifted from the ground and as it did, the built up strain of Benny’s muscles released in the direction of the woman, still straining to stand upright.
The sound of gunfire erupted from the sound of their camp, just as the log flew through the air in an arc toward the dark haired woman. Suddenly the hold on the woman was lifted, and she raised her arm in front of her and launched her attack at the log instead of at Benny. At first the log seemed to change its lobbing course, but it was too little too late. The log struck the woman on the shoulder and knocked her backward before tumbling off into the brush.
GET BACK HERE NOW! I NEED YOU! came the call in Benny’s head.
He instantly broke into a dash toward the camp, but was dismayed to find his muscles instantly beginning to cramp up after the exertion of throwing the log. This caused him to be able to achieve little more than a jog, but nonetheless he finally broke through the brush into the clearing with the scattered campfire.
As he sprung out into the open, he caught movement from his left and instinctively ducked. The tree next to him splintered as the automatic gun fired, missing Benny. When he looked up the man was gone, and Benny guessed that the shot had been meant as more of a distraction than anything. He quickly jogged to the far side of the clearing to where Brun had been hiding. He had forgotten about his head wound, and as he came to a stop on the far side, all the pain seemed to rush back in, along with the incessant ringing noise. I’ll probably never hear out of that ear again, Benny thought.
“They’re gone,” came Brun’s higher pitched physical voice. He seemed to be in the same spot Benny had left him, but by the way the bushes all around that area were ravaged and broken, Benny got a sinking feeling that perhaps this wasn’t a good thing. “But they will not stop following us. Come. Help me out of here.”
Benny went to the bush where the voice seemed to be coming from, and the first thing he saw was blood on the leaves. Then he saw a small hand reaching out to him, accompanied by the subtle telepathic command to pull him out, and not to worry about hurting him. With a tug which seemed far too simple in comparison to a two hundred pound log, Benny managed to pull the tiny man from his hiding spot in the brush. He laid Brun on his back near where the fire had been before the ambush, and began to assess the situation. But, as was usually the case, Brun had already observed much more than Benny.
“Your head,” Brun said feebly. “You’ve been wounded.”
He managed to lean up slightly, just enough to look closer at the side of Benny’s head, at the place where the dark haired woman had managed to strike him with whatever the acidic goo had been. “That’s the work of ‘Chase’ Morgana,” he said. “She is not human, but holds an attractive female body. Acid courses through her veins, and long ago she learned of a way to control the flow of it, to direct it. Once she became militarized, it of course became her most special weapon. Yes, I know all about those two.”
“I can’t hear out of my left ear,” Benny said.
“It will never completely heal,” Brun said. “But luckily she only got your ear, and not your entire damned head. You’d be little more than a fat covered skull with a plump human body by now. You will heal enough, young Master. I was watching through your eyes… Very nice work, young one.”
“Thank you,” Benny said. “But you’re wounded. We’ll have time for battle stories later.”
“Yes,” Brun said, closing the smaller of his two eyes. “I look forward to exchanging combat stories with you, Ben. You bear the wounds of Chase Morgana, I bear those inflicted by that slime ball of the Rebellion, the puppet of the puppet of the puppet masters, Monsieur Marcus Vonwell.”
“Vonwell?” Benny exclaimed. “You mean he’s a relation of Natas?”
“Yes and no,” Brun said. “Fetch me my bag. It seems to have missed the majority of the bullets from that mad shooter, so if we are in luck there will still be all the medicine we need to survive this without getting infected with some forest disease, or worse. We will talk more about our attackers later. They are the ones who have been following us, and there will be more. Even they themselves will return again. We may have bought some time. I created a psychic resonance within Marcus’ mind, sort of a telepathic feedback, and with your blow to Morgana’s head, I believe they will need to take at least a few days to recover. Its actually rather fortunate for us that they got their surprise attack out of the way early.”
At this Brun laughed heartily, and as Benny handed him the bag, it was not the medicine he pulled out first.
It was the Lana plant.
(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.)
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.”
“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.”
“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?
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?”
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.
“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.”
“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.”
“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.
(Author's Note: This week I have decided to give a treat to some of my faster readers. I have posted two chapters this week, and so the first one you see listed is chapter eight, but remember to read chapter seven first. Or else you will have a big blank spot and not a lot of stuff will make sense. I would also like to state at this time that I have just finished reading the entire manuscript so far, and there are a few continuity errors which I will correct in the editing phase. They still appear in the online version, as I am just copying and pasting from the Word Document of my manuscript. So please enjoy, know that I will fix some of the errors, and if there are any glaring ones which you would like to point out, please leave it in the comment section and I will take it into consideration. Thank you all, who have bothered to get this far. I hope you're enjoying thus far. -Sam)
The only sound Laura could hear now was the steady dripping of water. She didn’t have the foggiest clue where water would be coming from down so far beneath the mansion, but she supposed that maybe it could have been a broken pipe deep in the walls somewhere. They were in pitch darkness, and the only way Laura knew she was still with Fusa was by the feel of his belt beneath her fingers. He had told her to hold onto it so they wouldn’t be separated in the dark, and she had obeyed diligently, clutching harder each time she heard another unrecognizable noise.
About five minutes prior, the screaming had slowed to a stop. Either whoever was being tortured finally got a break, or had died. Laura shuttered at the thought, and tried her best to push it from the forefront of her mind. Right now she just wanted to have hope, hope that this could all turn out right somehow eventually.
A few times Laura had been sure she had heard someone sneaking around in the dark, but she was never quite sure. It could have just been her own footsteps echoing off the unseen walls. But on one or two of the occasions, she had thought momentarily that Fusa was hearing it too, for he had momentarily halted, listening for just the briefest moment before resuming his confident stride forward into the darkness. She would be scared if he didn’t keep moving forward, but so far he had never stopped for very long at a time.
The gun was still clutched in her hands, both of them wrapped around it as if to bring herself more security. She had strange mixed emotions about the thing… part of her never wanted to have to use it if she didn’t have to, and part of her actually kind of wanted someone to jump out and attack just so she could use the damned thing. It felt very much like money did…for one purpose and ready to be used. She ran a finger over the chamber, feeling its round sleekness, the cool of the metal beneath her finger. She had never really fired a gun before, and especially not a pistol. She felt a little bit stronger now that her body had grown into its proper age, but she still feared the recoil that would be waiting after she pulled the trigger.
Suddenly Fusa stopped dead in his tracks and even put out an arm to make sure that Laura came to a stop herself. He had his head turned to the side and seemed to listening with all his might, and Laura almost chuckled as she got an image in her head of Fusa listening so hard that the veins on his neck began to show. But then she heard what Fusa must’ve, and it wiped the laughter clean out of her mind. This wasn’t just something moving in the dark.
This thing was slithering.
Or at least that’s how it sounded to her. Something smooth was definitely sliding along the ground, one unbroken sound, moving closer from ahead the whole time. Instinctively she raised the gun and stood ready, just behind Fusa. “You might need to use that thing, so be ready,” he said, without taking his eyes off the darkness. He must not have noticed that she was pointing it straight ahead from his right hip. They continued their slow trek forward, and they eventually came to an area that was subtly lit by a single light far above. They stopped just outside it and waited.
The slithering noise had been growing louder, but it hadn’t shown itself yet. Laura was beginning to think that whatever it was had been considerably farther away than she had originally thought, and now that it actually was approaching, it seemed to her that it must be considerably larger than she had originally thought, as well. But she began to think that the noise wasn’t really slithering at all…
“There are going to be a lot of them,” Fusa said suddenly. “I want you to just keep shooting, and stay behind me, but try not to shoot me too, okay?”
“O-okay,” Laura stammered. A group?
All of a sudden three beings came into the light that Laura at first thought were children. I can’t shoot children, she thought. Then Fusa began screaming “Shoot, damn you!” and as he did, two of the creatures lifted their beady little black eyes to face them, the orange light casting eerie shadows on their green faces. One opened its mouth and let out a loud hiss, and the others followed suit. They darted forward and as they did, Laura saw two more emerge from the darkness. Her body thought much faster than her mind, it turned out, and good thing too. The gun went off right as the first one was lunging at her, and somehow Fusa managed to rip the other one in half. The blood was barely hitting the floor before he dropped the carcass and grabbed the next one.
Without another hesitation, Laura began shooting the gun, focusing on the movement of the creatures, feeling her arm slowly become one with the gun. After a few rounds she began to understand the bullets, and how they flew. They were….telling her how to hold the gun. She couldn’t quite understand how they were telling her, and she didn’t hear any voices or anything, she just somehow knew what the bullets were telling her they needed. It was almost as if they were telling her what to do to them to make them do what she wanted.
Three creatures were now dead by her hand, and each one oozed some sort of dark fluid that only vaguely resembled blood. She could see the gun glowing, that sweet bright blue that meant she understood the gun, and the gun understood her. She thought with all the will she could muster, telling the gun and the bullets where to go. As one creature after the next darted out, she swung around to meet it, usually either landing the bullet somewhere in the neck or chest. She kept trying for a head shot, but it just didn’t seem to be happening.
But dead was dead, and she didn’t need to have the satisfaction of perfect kills. Fusa had moved away from her slightly, and was using a mix of some flowing version of karate and the manipulation of energy to make the creatures fly out of sight. For a moment they seemed to have stopped going for Laura, and she knocked open the barrel and pulled out some of the bullets she had managed to stash. The rounds were hot and she burnt herself on the first but with the rest she just dumped them out.
She began fumbling the new rounds into the chamber, but was once again burnt by the chamber itself. Three of her fresh bullets went onto the ground, and the other two that she had pulled out fell back into her pouch. She quickly knelt down and tried to find one in the darkness, but the light wasn’t quite enough for her. She heard a hiss from towards Fusa and she looked up to see one who had lost interest in the impenetrable warrior begin to run headlong toward her. The feet of the creatures looked like boneless frog feet, flapping along the ground, barely keeping the things up. This made their dash comparatively slow, but their jump was still pretty formidable for some reason. She saw it jump over the carcass of one of its mates, and she fumbled even faster on the ground for one of the fresh cartridges.
Come on, come on, she thought frantically. The creature had momentarily been stopped when his foot got stuck in the belt of one of his fallen companions, and this gave her a brief window of opportunity. She made a large sweeping arc of the floor, and felt two of the bullets bounce off of her finger tips and into the darkness farther. But suddenly she knew that it didn’t matter where they were anymore… she had felt them, and somehow in that brief second she had been able to sense what they were like, how they were formed, how it would feel to be one… she suddenly saw one of them glowing blue in the darkness, and she instantly willed the bullet into the chamber. It moved with a stealth she had not expected, and her hand actually jerked a little from the force when the bullet met with the chamber. She slammed it shut and looked up. The creature had already freed itself and was just feet from her, but its foot seemed to have been hurt when it had gotten stuck in his friend.
She had always been against execution, but right now it was kill or be killed, and she knew of one quick way to take care of him with one bullet. She raised the gun and it lunged. She managed to compensate just enough that its teeth missed her fingers, but went firmly around the barrel of the gun. The thing bit down hard, apparently thinking the gun was an extension of the girl, and Laura heard a few of his teeth crack. She would have shivered at the sound under normal circumstances but right now her reptilian complex and her muscles were working of their own accord and at their own rate. As soon as she heard the teeth, she pulled the trigger, and the back of the creatures head burst outward, a good portion of it landing on Fusa’s back. The cloud of blood back sprayed some, leaving several droplets on Laura’s face.
There was a dull thud as it hit the ground, just inches in front of Laura’s outstretched arm. Fusa threw one last dead creature off to the side, and then turned to face Laura. “You did well,” he said, flicking blood from off of his face. “I don’t know if that was the last of them or if we just got a break, so lets keep moving.”
“Wait!” Laura hissed. “I need to reload. I didn’t manage to get ‘em all in. Just give me a moment, will ya?” She had already begun doing it, fishing the bullets out of her pouch and finding the other one she had touched on the ground. She only had five bullets, but by the time they were done being loaded, they were all glowing that pretty blue color that she was coming to appreciate so much. Even the gun itself gave off a faint hint, and to her it felt like it vibrated right along her wavelength, like an extension of herself. No longer did it feel like a cold weapon of death in her hand… it now felt like a warm and welcome tool of survival.
Both her and Fusa had considerable amounts of the black blood on them, and it smelled heavily like old axle grease or something of the sort. Laura had sometimes smelled a similar scent when the Cart Men of Hayvan would stop to grease up a squeaky axle now and then. As they moved forward cautiously into the darkness, Laura pulled the small handkerchief which had been wrapped around the bullets in the pouch. She used it to wipe the dark, thick liquid off of her cheeks and almost gagged as some went on her lip and out of reflex she accidentally licked it. The taste instantly filled her mouth, and she could think of nothing in the world to compare it to. It was simply the worst thing she had ever tasted, and hoped inside that she would never taste anything worse, god forbid.
Meanwhile, ahead of her, Fusa was coughing lightly into his hand. “Are you okay, Fusa?” Laura asked with genuine concern.
“I am fine, young miss Laura,” he replied. “I just swallowed some of the blood and it makes you sick very quickly.”
“What were those things, anyways?”
“No time to explain entirely,” he said, “but I can tell you they are creatures that are created. They are created here in the lower realms when immense amounts of pain are being inflicted on people up above. That maniac must be making trouble up top, as well as down here. To make those things we just saw, to make a Feerel, as they are called, is entirely forbidden by all the supreme councils, at Valence and all the other High Places of Order. His insanity goes further than I would have ever guessed if we are facing these. They are very dangerous to create, you see, especially to the one creating them. Only a man who fancies he has nothing to lose will try such an atrocity. It just pains me to know that each one of those things we just killed probably took two or three human lives to create. Augment that with the pain of a dozen and you have one Feerel. Now imagine the scale of pain and misery he must be inflicting up there if he has hordes of these things to throw at us. Its sad that creatures which take so much to create can be killed so easily.”
Laura began to feel a little less proud of her kills. Each of the Feerel she had killed came at the expense of at least one human. She looked around at all the carcasses of the beings, and all of a sudden tears began to leak from her eyes, mingling with the little bits of the dark fluid that was still on her face. She could no longer support herself as her legs became weak, and she sank to the ground, soaking the clothes around her knees with the dark blood. She dropped the gun and just sat there, weeping and looking at the creatures.
How could I be proud of this? She thought. Was stuff like this what it would take to save Ku and help Benny? Now that she had tasted death, and felt the realization that somehow, through obscure association, she had killed other people. Even if it was merely taking the lives of creatures that were created from the lives of humans, she was still taking that life, and she felt the coldness of it sinking in. She began crying harder and harder, the tears no longer leaking but flooding. Fusa came to her and put a hand on her shoulder. “It is why these things are forbidden, Laura. They are used only for evil, and come only from evil. I have only faced them once before, long ago, and it was the same situation. They will tear you to shreds if you do not attack them first, and quick. You did what you had to or you would have been just another pointless death in a long string of them. By saving yourself and killing them, you halted the chain of death and freed the souls used to create those beings. You should remain proud, Miss Laura. You did just fine.”
He tilted her head up and wiped her cheeks with his hands (which, Laura noticed, were impeccably clean for having just torn apart a dozen black blood-filled creatures,) and when she looked at him he smiled. It always caught her off guard when he smiled. He was so pretty. Him and his father both had beautiful eyes. They were a bright blue that contrasted with the tan complexion of their skin. She half heartedly returned the smile and picked up the gun from the ground. She stood up and began wiping it off.
“Here,” Fusa said, holding his hand out with the thumb and index finger pinched together. “Lets try this.” He sprinkled some powder on the gun and on her hands, and then took the gun gently from her. At first she instinctively became defensive, but he assured her that she would get it back promptly and that he would bring no harm to the gun. After he had the gun, he told her to clap her hands as hard as she could. She obeyed and as soon as flesh met flesh, the powder seemed to burst and give off a bright flash, and when the small puff of smoke was gone, Laura was pleased to find that so was the blood.
“I rather like that stuff,” she said with a grin. But Fusa did not hear. He was hunched over the gun, mumbling with his eyes closed. The powder on the gun was slowly beginning to glow, and eventually small tendrils of smoke were issuing from it on all sides. After about a minute, his hand was consumed in smoke, and it drifted up around his face, making him look quite creepy to Laura in the dim light. His chanting slowly came to a halt, and after a few moments of silence, he began blowing away the smoke. The gun was gleaming and beautiful, and Laura thought it looked much more clean and flashy than when she had first acquired it. My father would have killed for that stuff, with his silly gun collection, she thought. But then she remembered that her father was no more than the man who had raised her, probably under the sight of the Vonwell creep the whole time, and his memory now only brought bitterness to her heart as she became more understanding of the fact that he was only a puppet.
“How did you do that?” she asked Fusa. “Doesn’t it require an impact of some sort? Or heat or friction or something like that?”
“Yes and no,” he replied, standing up and beginning to move into the dark once more. “It takes a great deal of energy, and the force of the kinetic energy of motion suddenly stopping and be changed into heat energy is usually the easiest and most effective way, but when you are dealing with weapons such as guns, which can be set off sometimes by an impact, it is best to use the will to gather the Ch’I, and to direct it through the hands and into the powder. As you do this, heat will flow to the area you desire, and if your will is forceful enough, you can affect the same change as with a collision or spark of some kind. It’s a little slower, but it works in tricky situations. I don’t know how old those bullets are or how touchy either, so I did not want you or myself to take any chances. Here you are.”
He handed over the shiny, newly polished weapon to Laura. She almost felt bad wanting to shoot it again, because that might dirty it up. It just looked so damned pretty right then, like something that truly deserved to be up on a mantle for everyone to view. Yet inside she knew that soon enough it would be called forth to bloody itself up once again, and it would react in the same cold, obedient way that it always would until the end of its mechanics. Some sort of bond is developed between owner and weapon when the owner knows their life is only continuing because of the aid of the weapon. She never wanted to let it go again, or ever go anywhere even slightly unsafe without it.
“Now come,” Fusa said, lighting a cigarette. “I think we have more yet to face before we find my father, and we need to hurry up and face it as soon as possible so we can get to my father before its too late. I fear that the Madman may already be trying to draw my father’s powers, even as we speak.”
“Draw his powers?”
“It is a long and complicated story, Miss Laura. Maybe a tale for another time. For now we have some walking to do, and since I want to somewhat enjoy this cigarette before my hands are tied again, I regretfully ask you to stop talking and humbly offer my apologies for being so bold.”
Laura laughed and began walking with him. She had always thought it was silly when people treated her like she was some high and mighty princess who would run to daddy and have them hanged for offending her. She liked Fusa, and she was more than positive he had saved her plenty of times tonight without ever asking for recognition, and in her opinion, it would take something pretty atrocious to make her want to seek any sort of retribution from Fusa Gon Ku.
But right now the gun felt more like money than ever… Burning a hole and craving to be used as soon as possible.
Brun had just kicked Benny square in the stomach, and now Benny lay on the ground clutching the spot, longing for more blood flow in that area. “Get up, you weakling,” came the high pitched voice of the small man. “I told you to believe in the advantage, not lie on the ground as if all hope was lost.”
Benny wasn’t as dumb as Brun was assuming though. One thing he’d learned in the few Karate classes he took was that an unsuspecting enemy was an easier target, and if you can convince the opponent that you feel defeated when really inside you’re just as confident as ever, then the opponent will be that much more easy to beat. Finally, Brun turned his back, just the opportunity Benny had been waiting for. “Get up,” Brun said over his shoulder, unaware that Benny was already up and moving toward him with a stick. He raised it and was just beginning his downward swing toward Brun’s tiny head when, with a speed Benny had only slightly anticipated, the warrior slipped around Benny and cracked him on the back of the legs with his own small staff, bringing Benny to his knees. The blow to the back of the knees was followed quickly by one to the back of the head, and Benny fell forward onto his face.
Things were out of focus and slowly going black, but he was determined to not black out. He had passed out so many times in the last few days that he was beginning to doubt his own strength and integrity. Through the blur that had become his vision, Benny saw some small, moccasin covered feet moving around to in front of him. They stopped in front of him and Brun stood there over him, feet together and looking smug.
One thing Benny knew for sure was how a fighter should never stand…
“Rule number one,” Benny said, his breath kicking up small puffs of dirt. “Never stand close to an enemy with your legs close together.”
Benny lunged out with all the speed he could muster in his weakened state, and apparently it was enough. He just barely managed to get his arms all the way around Brun’s legs before the small man reacted and tried to retaliate. But Benny already had enough of a hold on his legs that his attempted kicks became mere jerks of the legs. Benny bear hugged them like he used to do to his little cousin, squeezing as hard as he could to make sure Brun couldn’t wrestle free, and with one big heave, he rolled over, pulling the little man with him. Short as Brun was, it wasn’t a far trip from standing to the ground. Benny had managed a pretty decent spin, and the man hit face first in the dirt, just like Benny had done just moments before.
The clearing seemed to be filled with an ominous silence as the dust settled around the two dirty fighters. Benny gathered himself for a defense as he saw Brun slowly lift himself to his knees and begin dusting himself off. Benny knew that he was no psychic himself, but even from the short distance, he could feel the shame and embarrassment that was coming from Brun. Benny started to stammer out an apology when the little man began clapping. He turned his dirt covered face toward Benny and there was a large grin shining through the dirt and darkened skin. “That was truly good, my friend!” Brun exclaimed, moving over to clap Benny on the back. The thing that scared Benny was that even though he was just clapping him on the back, if Brun had been trying to attack him, the movement would have been more than fast enough.
I can’t even foresee his friendly strikes, Benny thought.
“I am a most formidable foe, Benny from Away,” Brun said. “Many have fought me and never even touched me, much less gotten me to the ground. And somehow you managed to keep me from knowing that you were going to pull that little stunt. A clever combination of psyche and soma, my friend!” Brun clapped him again and let out a hefty laugh.
“I think it was just because I was about to pass out,” Benny said.
“Nonsense,” Brun said. “I was getting all of that about passing out from you, I felt as if you were afraid and defeated, and never once did I feel that you were planning an attack. Very nice, very nice.”
“Well…thanks, I guess,” Benny said as he regained his feet. “I wish I could be as fast as you.”
“That will come with time, training, and exercise,” Brun replied with a slightly smug look on his face.
“I want you to run, Benny from Away.”
“I said run…”
A small but sinister looking bolt of electricity sparked from Brun’s larger, magical eye. It hit the ground right near Benny’s feet, making him jump, and the soil there instantly dried out and set on fire. As the bolt left his eye, the color temporarily faded, and Benny was already beginning to see the blue light slowly building back up there, and he didn’t want to wait to see if Brun would be a better aim this time around.
He turned and ran, and Brun followed after him.
Benny turned around a small thicket of trees, and thought that somehow he could pull the old cartoon gag and hide while Brun still thought he was running. But as soon as the idea had been formulated in his head, the tree behind which Benny was taking shelter shattered low to the ground, and with an ear splitting crack it began to fall toward Benny.
“Hey!” he shouted as he ran to the side, out of the line of the tree. “What the hell? Is this a training exercise or are you tryin’ to stamp me out, Brun?”
The small warrior man was nowhere to be seen, but clear as ever, the words came into Benny’s head, If you ever expect to defeat foes who live in a world which is composed sixty percent by your thoughts, then you had better learn to close your own chunk of that world off to everyone else, or I and every other slightly telepathic being will be able to see your every plan long before you even know you’re formulating one.
Benny jumped behind an already fallen tree as a thick bolt of blue light whizzed over his head, missing him by mere inches and setting a small group of bushes aflame. “Unfortunately, pal,” Benny said. “I don’t exactly know how to do that, or else I’d be more than happy to!”
Stop making excuses and find a way to lose me, came Bruns powerful mind voice. Benny imagined that Brun was using the mind voice because he would not have been loud enough at a distance with his normal speaking voice, and also for the dramatic effect one needs to thoroughly drive home a point.
Benny wasn’t exactly sure how he was supposed to keep Brun out of his thoughts, like he had during their previous sparring match, so instead of trying to think he tried the opposite. He allowed his eyes to see and process his surroundings, and for his body to react to what was seen by the eyes, but did not allow the thoughts to become much more than impressions. It was difficult trying to keep his thoughts from forming into words and pictures and schemes, but he was determined to be successful.
Suddenly the trees in front of him took on a blue hue and before his mind could even think about it, his body ducked and got him out of the line of fire. Instead of falling to a stop, he attempted a sort of barrel roll, but it went sadly awry when his pants caught on a fallen branch and sent him head long into a log.
“Ah, come on—“
I SAID GET UP!
Another flash of blue light, except this one was clearly only meant to scare him. It hit the log by his head, and with a hiss the wood began smoldering. Benny hopped to his feet and bolted over the log. This is never going to work, he thought.
Stop thinking so much, its quite annoying.
“Ah shut up,” Benny murmured as he jumped off a small ledge.
This day is going to be quite fun, came the deep voice echoing from nowhere into Benny’s mind.
The Crazies were gathering at what used to be a Masonic Lodge, #313 to be exact, in order to hear the first of San’s anticipated speeches. Most of the people there had never seen the man, and had only heard by word of mouth that he was there to rid them of their bad reputation and help them restore their place in the town of Minde. No one knew what his plan was, or exactly what he was going to ask them to do, but all those who had met this San fellow had guaranteed everyone else at the meeting that he was as close to a Messiah as they were ever going to experience, and that now was the time to heed his warnings and take his advice.
The atmosphere in the room was one of reserved anticipation, and everyone seemed to be buzzing to everyone else. There was only one man who didn’t seem to be talking to anyone else, who was off by himself and seated in a corner, quietly awaiting the words of this new Prophet of Minde, talking to no one and not attempting to start any conversations either. No one seemed to be paying attention to him anyways, because everyone had noticed the subtle dimming of the lights and were now proceeding to hush each other, knowing that the time must have come.
As the room finally died down to an eerie silence, a dark figure slowly approached the podium which had been set up on the small stage. The light was too dim for anyone to really make out much, but all could tell that this man was dressed from head to toe in black. He wore a hood as well, and as he approached the podium, the light slowly spilled onto his pale skin. He pulled back his hood and if anyone had been close enough to them, they would have seen him smirk as more than just a few of the ladies in the room audibly took in breath at his beauty.
The stranger in the corner chuckled to himself, unimpressed.
“My fine friends,” the man on the stage began. “Many of you know me or know of me, and have heard why I have come to you in this time of need.”
There was a barely audible murmur of agreement throughout the room.
“It is true that I am not from your wonderful town,” the man continued. “And it is true that I know hardly any of you. It is also true that I have no attachments or ties to this town whatsoever. With all this being true, you might ask ‘why would this man desire to help us then?’ My answer to you, those who question, is ‘Why not?’ I came to this town almost dead, with no money to my name and having been without food or water for three days. Several of you took me in, heard my thoughts, and made me feel welcome. Then I was told of a great wrong done to you fine folks.”
Many of the people were shifting around in their seats, either because they were uncomfortable or because they were anxious. To the stranger in the corner, it was obvious that this man named San was speaking to a split audience of believers and wanna-believers. Maybe it would be harder than San had anticipated to get this crowd in the palm of his hand.
“It was told to me that certain misfortunes have befallen this town.”
A few snickers and sarcastic you-can-say-that-agains.
“And it was also told to me that many of the fine folks I see here before me have taken much of the blame for said atrocities.”
‘You bet your ass,’ and ‘damn right we have!’
“But you know what I think? I think the blamers are to blame, not you upstanding citizens!”
‘Here Here!’ ‘You said it man!’
“Now they hole themselves up, hording their food and pretending they’re the real town. But really, in all honesty, you are the town of Minde, you are the ones out here making sure your streets are safe, you are the ones who truly deserve to inherit this town and rule it as equals, brothers in the glory of a New Minde!”
Loud cheers this time, with some of the people actually stamping out their agreement on the ground, just for added emphasis.
“We must take back what is reasonably ours,” the man said. “We must take it like we took the things that they’ve dared to charge so much for over these years, the things we couldn’t afford and which would’ve helped us support our families. But we have only started the process by taking what has been kept from us through inflation; yes, folks, we must go further still.”
Murmurs and excited chatter as people whispered to each other excitedly.
“We must take the City Hall, and all the food and supplies they’ve been with holding from us!”
“We must cast out the fiendish people who once dared to call themselves our friends but who now treat us like worthless scum in our own homes.”
‘YEAH!’ ‘Preach it, brother!’ ‘They deserve to be outcast, not us!’
“Go, my brothers. Go my sisters. Gather your weapons, whatever you may have, and bring them before me. Together we will march on City Hall, and take back what is rightfully ours! Damn anyone who gets in the way!”
Many of the people in the crowd were now on their feet, clapping and cheering their new leader on. This man understood them. He knew their pain, and he wanted only to ease their suffering. They could all feel it. He had come to save them.
A voice suddenly came out of the crowd, “What happened to your eyes, San?”
“Oh that is a boring story,” the man they called San replied. “Surely not for a meeting such as this.”
The people in the crowd seemed determined, and many joined in, wanting to see and hear more about this beautiful man who stood before them.
“Well then,” he said. “I suppose I can give you the brief summary then, if you really want.”
Several cheers for him to go on.
“I tried to stop a man from killing his own child, and he scolded my face with hot water. Luckily my skin was saved, with a little work, but sadly my eyes were ruined, and I can no longer see.”
There were several ‘awwww’s from the crowd, followed by various questions along the lines of ‘How do you get around?’ ‘How can you tell where things are?’
“Friends, friends,” the dark haired man continued. “Don’t get excited. Its all very simple. I just simply learned to hear things, that’s all.”
The stranger who had been sitting by silently in the corner suddenly betrayed himself by letting out a small snicker. Several people turned and glared at him, but he was still looking at the ground.
“Do you doubt my words, young son?” San asked.
“Oh not at all,” the stranger replied, still looking at the ground. “I just don’t need to hear any more of this garbage, that’s all.”
He got up and turned his back on the crowd and the man on the stage. “To each his own, young son,” the dark haired prophet said. “You can go join the others at City Hall, if you’d like.”
The stranger paused briefly, snorted, and walked out the doors.
“Well now,” San said. “Wasn’t he an optimistic little bundle of sunshine?”
The crowd laughed, and the attention was once again brought back in full to the man on the stage.
“Would you like to see the damage that can be done by evil, selfish people like those who hole themselves up at City Hall?”
Agreement from the crowd.
“Then I shall show you.”
The man with the dark hair whom they called San slowly raised his hands to his glasses. He slowly removed them and revealed his white strange eyes. The expressions of the people in the Lodge became completely devoid of anything resembling free thought. They sat staring forward at their new master. Their savior.
Their New God.
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.
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.
“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.”
“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.
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.
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?”
“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.
Let us try to imagine what the parents of Benny Jorgens must have been going through in that troublesome time. Their son had one day gone to hang out with his friend Jerry, much as he had done every day for the last three years or so. Then later that night they get a phone call informing them that one of the boys Benny had been with was dead, Jerry and Benny were missing, and so was the cop who went searching for them.
It was hard for either parent to face the idea of losing their son, but as far as they knew, some mad murderer had stumbled upon them and poisoned them all or something. Their paranoid case was not helped by the fact that no one in the whole damned town was qualified enough to say much except for Geoff Wisenhower, and he had been rather averse to the idea of talking about that night. In his words, “It just gives me the heebie-jeebies.”
Then, just when they were about to lose hope entirely of ever hearing from their son again, he had turned up, a completely changed boy. He no longer showed any signs of personality, and his looks were so different that it was hard to recognize him without looking directly into his eyes (and they didn’t particularly want to do that either, because he just stared blankly ahead, and one could tell that he was not perceiving them there in front of him one single bit.) Their neighbors weren’t the only ones who had taken to comparing him to a vegetable. They had done it too. And why not? The boy was no longer what anyone would consider a person.
He was a shell. A blank, lifeless shell. Nothing more.
Once again, they had reached the point of losing all hope once again, this time of their son ever recovering from whatever traumatic experience he’d been through. This is where we now find them, hopeless on a day that showed no hope of sunshine. The rain bleated against the window and the two parents simply whiled away their time by staring into the fire. They had recently heard the boy muttering various nonsensical things in passing, never more than a word or two, but for some reason this did not bring either of them any sense of hope whatsoever. It merely increased their fears that their son was forevermore insane.
But then the sound of rain was broken by something falling. Something falling in the direction of Benny’s room. Neither of them even seemed to comprehend that whatever it was that had fallen was either glass or china, because movement from Benny’s room meant movement from Benny. Which meant improvement. The boy had not moved for days since returning. He just sat on his bed, staring forward.
Both of them shoved aside their little comforter blankets and immediately made a mad dash for his room. They turned the corner into his doorway and there he stood, fists bloody and the ground in front of him covered in glass and blood. The shatter had apparently come from the large mirror that used to sit on his dresser but which was now in several pieces on his floor.
“Benny, are you okay?” his mother asked.
The boy looked up slowly, face in some sort of sick grimace. He reached up and wiped his nose on his arm, smearing the blood from his hands all over his face. When he made eye contact with her, it was frightening and she would’ve screamed if she could’ve found the motivation. Yes it was her son, and yes it was amazing to see him standing and moving once again, but something about him just looked… evil. She couldn’t think of any other way to describe him, with the blood on his face and the menacing gleam in his eye.
“I’m fine, mother dearest,” Benny said with a monotone, dead voice. “It just needed breaking, is all.”
“But why would you want to break your grandmother’s mirror, Benjamin?” His father this time. He moved forward instinctively, between the new ugly Benny and his mother.
“I just didn’t like the way it made me look,” the boy said in his eerie, distant sounding voice. I really wish he’d stop talking like that, his father thought. “And while I was looking, an interesting thought occurred to me, oh sweet parents of mine.”
He grinned a grin they had never seen on their son in his life, and some of the blood from his face dribbled down into his teeth. For some reason, neither parent could find the ability to ask their own son what he meant.
So he continued anyways, not waiting for an answer. “It occurred to me while I was looking at my wretch of a self, that you two are the ones who made me look like this. I’ve got your ugly nose, father, and you’re even more repulsive blue eyes, mother. I’m not sure any sane mother could love a child that looks like me.”
“You shut the hell up!” Benny’s father said. If there was one thing Victor Jorgens hated, it was males insulting females. And this was his wife the mad boy was talking to. Benny would never talk to his mother that way. Somehow, Victor just knew that this was not their Benny.
It can’t be, he thought.
Either way, this boy was not going to keep insulting his beautiful wife any longer.
“Oh, father, father, father,” the creepy non-Benny said. “I don’t think you know what you’re dealing with here. But if you really want a confrontation, I guess that can be arranged.”
Victor Jorgens started to retaliate, but before he could even form his mouth into one word, he was thrown violently backwards, popping the door open and spilling him out into the hall. He hit his head on the door and instantly could feel a warm trickle of blood there. His wife screamed and began backing away from the boy.
“Aww, what’s wrong, pretty mother?” he asked. “Can’t you stomach a little violence?”
“Don’t you dare touch her,” Victor said from the floor as he attempted to regain his feet. “I don’t care if you do look like my son, whoever you are, I will kick your ass.”
“Yes, I believe we just got a demonstration of that, now didn’t we, pops?”
“I don’t know what you just did,” Victor said. “But it was cheap. And the Jorgens don’t play cheap. Now fight me like a man.”
“Oh believe me, father, I really wanted a girl’s body. But you two just had to make me this ugly little vessel. It’s a shame I can’t smash the mirror into even smaller pieces. I can still see the ugly nose and the ugly eyes.”
Victor lunged forward as fast as he could (and to him, it seemed pretty damned fast indeed,) but it wasn’t fast enough. Without even looking up from the shattered mirror shards, the boy reached out and grabbed the considerably larger man’s neck and stopped him dead. The force of the sudden stop almost caved Victor’s wind pipe, but not quite. That would be too easy of a way for this bastard to kill me, he thought.
“Oh father, you foolish man,” Non-Benny said. “You just don’t get it do you? There is no way you can defeat me. Hell, there is no way you can even touch me without me touching you a million times first.”
“Just…leave her…out…of this…” Victor said, trying his best to stay conscious as the blood flow to his brain began to slow.
“Hmmm…” the boy said. “I don’t know, father, she looks awfully fun to me. I might want her to be very much a big part of this.”
He directed his sinister, menacing glare on Mrs. Jorgens. She cowered back even farther from her husband. She wanted to run, but she couldn’t seem to run while Victor was still alive. He was all she had to live for, and what’s the point of running when you’re everything is still alive and can still be saved? So her mind and her emotions kept her frozen.
“Tell you what, pops,” the boy said. “If you let go right now, just die nice and peacefully in my hand, without me having to waste any more of my strength on your pathetic excuse for a life, then I’ll let her live. Or rather… I’ll give her every opportunity to live. If she doesn’t manage to survive on her own… well that’s outside of our bargain, now isn’t it?”
“Victor…” she stammered. “I—“
“JUST GO!!” he managed to yell, even though his trachea was half compacted by then. Seeing her husband’s blood red face, eyes bulging with fear and worry and pain, made Mary Jorgens very afraid indeed. He was always so strong… yet now this boy who looked like their son but who acted nothing like him was strangling her man… And he was telling her to run.
Please don’t die, please don’t die, please don’t die, she thought over and over again, even as she turned and fled and even as she ran across the bottom floor of the house all the way to the front door, and even as she heard the large thump as her best friend and lover fell to the floor.
Please don’t die, please don’t die, please please please…
So far, the one thing Benny found to be good about the suicide mission Beaner was sending them on was that the entire population of the cart, including the children who were pulling the cart, had turned out for a feast. They obviously didn’t like to ever stop the cart, but the children were more than willing to trade off with each other, accommodating all of them so they could constantly travel forward but everyone could still be involved in the feast, given to honor the bravery of Brun the Warrior and Benny of the Upper Realms.
Most of the food was comprised of things Benny had never even seen or heard of before, but not a single thing that he tried turned out to be bad tasting. A few items had a funny texture or something of the sort, but the flavor of every dish was pleasing and almost intoxicating. Everyone sat around a long table set up in the very center of the cart, and the only person Benny didn’t see sitting at the table, laughing and sharing the wonderful food, was Lauren, Bruns (older?) hypnotizing sister. Even now, when there was so much food to focus on, Benny felt his mind being drawn back to her, like his thoughts constantly wanted to center around her and only her. But Benny was a persistent guy, and just like when he used to attempt meditation in his free time, he now shoved the thought away over and over, patiently pushing it out of mind every time it surfaced.
Beaner was sitting at the far end of the table, Brun at his left hand, smiling around at his family, or clan, or whatever it was he’d chosen to call them. Occasionally one of them would catch his eye and say something to him, and he’d smile his squinty smile and respond, just quiet enough that Benny could never quite make out what was being said. Next Benny turned his gaze to Brun, expecting to see the small man looking proud and honored to be at this magnificent feast, right hand to the Leader himself. Instead Benny saw a different sight. The little man had not just the one but both of his eyes trained on the small room from which Benny had sensed the strange feeling, and he seemed to be downright glaring at it. No one seemed to be paying any attention, but now that Benny had his attention drawn to it, he noticed that the feeling from earlier was back. In fact, it had been there the whole time, every time his thoughts went back to Lauren, but he hadn’t noticed it because each time he thought about her, he was focusing on her and not the feeling in his stomach.
He looked over toward the room where he guessed Lauren was staying, and at first thought he saw nothing. But then he realized, as his eyes adjusted to the distant corner, that the air around the room seemed somehow…darker… He couldn’t think of any other way to really describe it… The lines of the wood which made up the room seemed to waver just slightly enough that a sharp eye could perceive them. I wonder how Brun sees it, Benny thought. He wasn’t sure, but he guessed that the large magical eye saw a lot more than any human ever could. To Benny, it merely looked as if he was seeing the room through a heat shimmer like on roads during the summer, except subtle enough as to be almost unnoticeable. Whatever the strange energy from over there was, Benny was sure that Brun was seeing it well enough.
The little man suddenly looked up and realized Benny had been looking at him. Benny flicked his eyes over to the room, and he wasn’t sure if it would be enough of a signal for Brun to respond, but apparently it was because the dwarf leaned forward a little, as if to talk to Benny. Surely it would be too loud in the room for him to be heard from such a distance, Benny had thought, but of course the man had never actually spoken a single word the whole time Benny had known him. Just as they did any time Brun spoke to him, the words came loud and clear right into the center of his thoughts, pushing all others aside. It was the first time Benny realized how powerful Bruns ability to be inside his mind was. It was kind of scary. He also saw for the first time some of the similarity between Lauren and her smaller sibling.
Come, we must talk, the little man said, nodding his head slightly, indicating to Benny which way to go. Benny quietly excused himself from the table, and tried to avoid Beaner’s eye as the big man noticed the two of them departing. Surely this must look suspicious, Benny thought.
No matter. If Brun felt comfortable enough to bring him away from the feast so they could talk, then surely it wasn’t an offense that would anger the Clan Chief, or whatever he was to these people. He followed Brun over to a room similar to the smoking room they had occupied earlier in the evening, except this one was considerably smaller.
Brun’s private quarters, Benny assumed. The little guy opened the door and Benny crouched his way through it. Once the door was closed, the room was immersed in darkness. Then a small light flicked on, a small flame like a lighter, and Benny watched it move across the room and as it went, one flame and then another was lit, until the whole room was rather well lit by some thirty candles.
Brun waved his hand towards a chair in the corner that was obviously placed there for bigger people. It stood out in the room because it was normal sized when everything else was just slightly smaller than average. Benny felt just as out of place as the chair looked. This must be the reverse of what he feels when he’s around big people, Benny thought. Once he had seated himself, Brun took up a place on a small, highly decorated chair in the center of the room, almost as if he had built his own little thrown to make up for his life as the right hand man.
“My sister is dangerous,” Brun said. Said it. This was a much different voice than the powerful masculine voice Benny heard in his head. This was indeed much more the sort of voice Benny would expect from such a small man. It was high pitched and almost like a child, but laced with a strong tone of knowledge and age that was unmistakable. It sounded more like a very clear, crisp voice of a toddler who had been trained to speak at a level much higher than his age. “I can only barely manage to keep her out of my head. And you must understand, Benny from Away, that my mind is very well controlled, and it takes quite the powerful being to make me have trouble with my thoughts. Any creature which is that powerful is a dangerous creature. Like me. I am important here because I keep the clan safe, I am their warrior, but I am feared. The children do not talk to me, the adults fear me, and the only friend I have is a man who commands me like a puppet. But I can’t ever leave this place, because he saved me and my sister all those years ago, and I fear I might invoke my sister’s wrath if I dare suggest doing something as ungrateful as running away from our savior, when I’m the only one who can protect his tubby ass.”
Benny laughed at this, and even heard what resembled a chuckle echoing deep within his mind, but he knew somehow that this joke was only meant to lighten the mood slightly, not to draw attention away from the seriousness of the situation. He pulled out his tiny smoking pipe and began taking small puffs. Benny remembered his own stash and decided to follow suit. If there was one thing Benny for sure liked about this traveling town he found himself in, it was their profound love and respect of that sweet leaf.
Brun seemed to deem his puffs satisfying and returned his little pipe to its pouch. He stared off into a corner as he continued. “But I have been feeling something strange from within my sister as of late. And I think you felt it too, am I correct?”
“Yes,” Benny replied after blowing out his own cloud of smoke. The room was quickly filled with the aroma of the Lana plant. “But I didn’t know how to take it. All I could think of was that it felt strange… like she was trying to draw me in.”
“That is a side effect of my sister’s awesome power,” the small man said. “She has the power to attract indefinitely, and I fear this is the only reason our master feels the need to marry her. She is beautiful, yes, but she is so young, if he wants to retain any honor with his people he will have to wait a considerable amount of time before it will no longer be considered taboo for them to be together. But he is dead set on having her. But something about this new darkness that has come over her is making me extremely nervous. I do not feel love in her mind any more when she looks at me, and I do not sense the admiration for these people that she always had. She seems cold, and she seems to dislike me… For outsiders, this must look like normal, healthy sibling rivalry. But to me, who has been by her side for many a year now, it is highly unusual. My sister loves me.”
For the first time, Benny saw this little warrior look more like a child then a small man. There weren’t really tears in his eyes, but they were definitely more shiny then they had ever been, and Benny didn’t think it had anything to do with the few hits of Lana he had taken. Obviously Brun had loved his sister very much, as well, and it must have been horrible for him to slowly feel as if his sister no longer returned the feeling.
“Anyways, I do not trust her anymore,” Brun said, visibly attempting to gather his composure. “And that is why I am not truly honored to be sent on this mission. You have already heard me mention that I am the only one strong enough to protect this clan, I have been a part of it since before the wars, and if I am not here, it leaves this place very vulnerable. If my suspicions are correct, then my sister just might be under some sort of control, and if that’s the case then we can’t be certain that there even are any people in the mountains. Making us see what she wants us to see is one of her specialties, and even with a mind as strong as my own, convincing us that we are seeing something completely real would not be a hard feat for her.
“So now I am left feeling very uncomfortable, because whatever evil is growing inside my sister, whether its of her own devising or from an outside source, is becoming stronger at an alarming rate. I don’t know just how far her clutches will go into the mind of Master Beaner before it is too late. He is a very resilient man, that is for sure, but he is overall weak, especially to the temptations of women. I fear one day I may have to attempt to show him exactly what she is, but it will be too late and he will betray me in order to remain faithful to his beautiful blushing bride to be. Then I will be forced to leave and this cart will surely be taken by the people that I know actually are following us.”
“So you aren’t sure she even showed us real people in her vision earlier?” Benny asked, smoking more of the Lana.
“I am not sure, but I do not detect the large group of people she showed us, and the people that I know in my heart are actually following us are but three, and they are much farther back than she made them look. She knows I see such things, her little lies, and she is becoming wary of me. I think this is why she has sent me away. Once I am gone, there will be no protection, and she will strike. But see, Brun here is not just a small brain in a small body. I think. And I plan. And I think I have a plan now. But it will take very much of my magic, and a large amount of my strength to appear ready for a trip. For really I will be drained, and as soon as we leave this place as indeed we must, I may need you to carry me. I am a bit heavy, but you are much stronger than you know yet. That is the only good I can see coming from this trip… you shall be trained by me, a competent warrior, and if you listen and do as I say, you shall truly be one of the best. And you shall be ready to take on anything you might face. Believe me, Benny from Away, you will be asked to face many trials, many foes, and I don’t think you are ready for any of that just yet. No offense.”
None taken, Benny thought. One thing I’ve known since this has begun is that I am definitely not ready for any of this.
“Then we are on the same page, as you say up there,” the little man said. “Tomorrow at dawn we will set out, and tonight I will stay up making my preparations. I cannot tell you of them here, nor can I really even think about it, for her mind is connected to my own stronger than to anyone else’s. But tomorrow when we are a distance away from here, I will tell you what will have been done by that point. For now, alter your mind as you see fit-“ (he raised his pipe to his mouth.) “-and sleep well, for tomorrow we will be doing very much traveling and plenty of training in all the ways I see fit as we go, so get your rest. You will need it.”
The two of them sat and smoked together a little while longer and then proceeded out to the dining area. Even though they all tried desperately to hide it, all eyes were on Benny and Brun, the Hero Warriors of their homes.
Back in Hayvan, Laura was learning for the first time the awkward new skill of being able to put in her own sanitary protection while on her period. Fusa’s beautiful wife, of whom Laura had always been secretly jealous, was showing her and explaining why it was necessary to use and change one of the small cotton contraptions regularly while on her period. Laura had often dreamed of the day when she’d reach maturity like the other girls in the town (most of whom she was older than,) but she would certainly have never wished it to come at such and impertinent time.
Fusa was standing outside the hut smoking (Veela, his wife, disapproved very highly of smoking, and only allowed Ku to do it because he was an elder and highly respected.) Laura could sense even from a distance that the man was becoming impatient. Truthfully so was she, and she felt terrible for holding up their mission as she was. He didn’t seem to be mad at her for the sudden onset of bleeding, he just seemed irritated. Either way, Laura had vowed to always be as good to this family as they had been to her, but right now she only felt like a nuisance and nothing more. However, Veela seemed downright giddy, giggling every time she thought about it, and she made a point of showering Laura with motherly praises, like “oh you’re growing up so fast” (which was absurd) or “who’d have thought you’d make such a lovely woman.” Then she’d smile and giggle and go about whatever she was doing.
Overall the process wasn’t hard, and it merely made her uncomfortable, but she felt confident she could adjust fairly well. It would take a little more than some simple bleeding to put Laura Feen off course. She had just finished a cup of herbal tea that Veela said would “ease the stomach snakes” during her period. So far her downstairs and stomach just felt kind of warm, other than that, it was like normal tea. As she was swallowing the last of the warm, sweet liquid, Fusa’s deep voice rang in from outside the hut. “Are you about ready in there? Time is short, I’m afraid.”
There was still a lot of raucous from the town still, but more and more light was being shed as people lit their torches and candles and anything else they could find to brighten up the enormous, dark cavern. The town had never experienced such a thing as a black out before, and Laura did not find it surprising that even an hour after the lights had gone out, there still came a scream or two from the darkness. Probably as someone opened their curtains to find the outside mysteriously darker than their homes.
“I think I’m ready to go now,” Laura said, getting up from the couch where she’d been enjoying her tea. “I hope this thing will last a while, because I don’t know how long this is going to take us.”
“I make these myself,” Veela said, “and I do believe that it should last you at least until tomorrow. But you must change it tomorrow as soon as possible, or you risk getting yourself sick, you hear?”
“I hear,” Laura said. She darted over and gave the tall lady a hug before setting out to do what they had to do. “Thank you,” she said, almost tearing up at the thought of not being able to return to this place to see her again. After all, Laura was well aware of how much trouble she had caused, and if anyone was to be ‘gotten’ that night, she suspected it would be her, and not the tall warrior Fusa or his equally tall and beautifully terrible wife.
After one last smile over her shoulder, she and Fusa set out at a run for the store in which was located the secret passageway to the mansion. The man who owned it said he’d leave the door open for them because he was going home to be with his family. No one knew quite what was going on, but everyone seemed to know one thing for sure.
Something was going wrong.