City Hall in the town of Minde seemed to be the only sane place left. At least that’s how it felt to the people who were taking refuge there. No one knew for sure what was going on outside. At first the people had come there for a sense of unity in their fragmented town, but now masses of raiding parties went around the streets, gathering all manner of objects. Ever since one of the people who had been sent out to survey the situation had turned up dead on the steps of town hall (where his body remained, as no one was brave enough to venture out after the corpse,) the hundred or so people inside the building had grown more and more insecure. They had long since boarded up the windows, and there was no sign of the outside world except the occasional crazy beating on a door, yelling obscenities.
Somehow, word had gotten around that a mob of the townspeople had brutalized Jerry Patterson, who was the acting sheriff at the time. No one except those who were present at the Great Shavo Restaurant knew exactly what happened or who was involved, but slowly a few definite names had arisen. To those in City Hall, though, it didn’t matter that all of the accused had been close friends all their lives, or that some of them were even family members. No one knew that Jerry Patterson had committed murder right there in the middle of town, in the glow of the flames from a fire caused by his own stupidity.
Now this San fellow had come to town, and no one inside City Hall knew what to expect from him. He had arranged two public meetings since his original gathering at the Masonic Lodge, and the last of them had been staged right on the steps of City Hall so that everyone inside could hear the cheers and excited roars from the population of people who remained out on the streets. The people inside (known as ‘Hallers’ to the people on the outside, who were in turn known as ‘Crazies’ by the hallers,) had no idea what this blind preacher of propaganda wanted with them, but it was obvious that he was using powerful and persuasive speeches to sway the minds of those who remained on the outside. It was as if he was trying to pit them against the Hallers.
The man on the inside who had attempted to take authority was Ron Parsons, an able minded enough gentlemen who had once served as the mayor of Minde in the nineties. The problem with Ron was that he really didn’t’ have much of a backbone, and in matters that really affected the well being of those taking refuge under his keep, he deferred to someone else and usually the decision would end up being made by a number of younger folks who come to an agreement, then give him the verdict to deliver to the group. He was timid, nervous, and had a loud speaking voice but tended to taper off at the ends of his sentences, which often left people towards the back confused and irritated.
On the occasion of San’s speech on the front steps of the Hall, several people had been gathered in the main entrance hall playing cards when they began to hear the murmur of a large crowd outside the boarded up windows and door. Parsons was informed that a large group of people seemed to be waiting outside the doors, and instantly his pessimistic cowardliness began to show. The first thing he proposed was that an assault was being planned, and that the group of people outside the door were in fact probably waiting to bash in the door and storm City Hall. Many of the other elders and adults of the town found this most irresponsible to voice in the open, in front of children and teenagers who had nothing better to do than gossip while confined in the walls of the Hall. Before other people got to voice an opinion on the matter, word had already spread amongst the youth that an attack was imminent. This caused a panic, of course, amongst some of the younger and more feeble children. But there were also those children who saw it as an opportunity to show their worth to the adults of the town. Most who held this mentality were The Orphans, a group of teens who had allied after their family members were identified as participants in the Patterson fiasco.
These kids had left their homes, most of them after having heard firsthand the accounts of that terrible night from their parents. Considering how much Minde teenagers seemed to rebel against their parents anyways, it was really not such a surprise that more than a dozen had left home to seek refuge with the other sane people at City Hall. The unfortunate result, however, was that they formed what could best be described as a gang.
They went everywhere together, used their numbers to secure an abandoned office as their personal quarters, bullied the younger kids, and there was a suspicion going around the Hall that they were responsible for some of the food that had come up missing recently. All in all, they were just mischievous teenagers, frustrated at their lots in life and trying to re-find a sense of family. But most of the adults did not see them that way, and so on the day of San’s speech, when everyone still thought they were going to be ambushed, it was The Orphans who came forward first to offer their services as the Front Line, just inside the door with weapons, waiting to attack anyone who came through the door.
The leader of the Orphans was a boy named Alfonse LeBray, the only child in a wealthy family which was believed to own almost half of the town (the building of City Hall was funded by Al’s grandfather, Theodore LeBray,) a fact that Alfonse loved to brag about all too much. He was much more humble than the rest of his family had ever been, though. He acted as if he should be the leader of the group, but in all other respects he treated the other Orphans as equals, kids who had been cast into the same terrible state as he. In many ways, Al led the Orphans much like San led the Crazies, except he had earned his leadership through sheer force of charm and intelligence. No one disputed that he should be the leader of the group, the representative to the adults who controlled all of the supplies and anything else needed on the inside.
Alfonse knew, of course, that no one in his group had stolen from the cellar where all the Hallers had gathered what they could bring with them of canned goods and dried food. After all, they had to live on the stuff too, and stealing it would only lead to confiscation and eventually punishment, which would no doubt consist of going without food for at least a day. On the day voices had been reported outside the Hall, he had decided that this was the only opportunity to show the other Hallers just how loyal the Orphans were, and how they could be a valuable contributing factor to the survival of the people inside the City Hall.
“I know this is scary for some of you,” he was saying to the Orphans in their little office hideout. They had closed and locked the door for privacy, as they were holding what they considered to be like a council meeting. The four oldest of the Orphans, Alphonse LeBray, Marilee Sabien, Martin “wick” Cunningham, and Jared Black gathered
in a corner and discussed what they had heard about the door. When they had all reached a unanimous decision, then they would all go forward and represent the collective opinion of the ‘elders’ to the other eight or so teenagers who crowded into the office.
Marilee, who was actually the oldest of the group by an entire year, began the discussion. “We know that many of you want to prove your worth to the rest of the town,” she said. “I know that many of you must feel like we do, that we are outsiders here, loved by no one, and that the other Hallers would rather us just leave. But we have decided to stay, and we are happy, are we not?”
A few scattered murmurs of agreement came from the small group of teens.
“But we now ask of you something that we could never demand,” she continued coolly. She was the speaker. Al had a clever mind, and did most of the thinking, but he always left it up to Marilee to deliver the speeches. She was beautiful and charismatic, and the Orphans always seemed most keen to listen to her. From behind and to the left, Alphonse smiled slightly at his speaker’s tact in words. She always knew how to make something sound as if it would be the most honorable thing in the world to do.
“There seems to be a mass of people gathering outside our door,” she went on. “No one knows yet what they want, but considering the hostility they’ve shown us and the violence they’ve displayed toward our scouts, it would be a pretty safe bet to assume they’re planning something involving breaking into City Hall.”
Many of the Orphans began muttering amongst themselves, proposing different motives to each other for why the crowd would be there. They were quickly silenced, though, by Alfonse raising his hand to call them to order. “People,” he said, “we could sit here and speculate all day long but there is a point to be made here. That point is we must defend the door. I know some of you have never even been in a fist fight, and therefore the idea of battle might frighten you, but it is the only way to restore our honor. With that being said, I must ask all of you who are willing to arm yourself and report to the entrance hall for the defense of this Hall.”
The teens had slowly began to murmur again, and when Al stopped speaking the tone rose and the chatter became an almost deafening racket. The only difference was that now the kids were fighting over whether or not it was reasonable to risk their lives for people who barely trusted them and thought they were all thieves. It was obviously split fairly evenly. Half would gladly fight, and half would just as gladly stay out of it, and a few even suggested the atrocious idea of locking themselves in the office and allowing the other Hallers to defend themselves.
None of the elders were going to go for that. This time it was ‘Wick’ Cunningham who spoke on behalf of the leaders. “Hey!” he yelled, clapping his hands once loudly to draw their attention back to the front of the room. “All of us know that no one here stole any food from the cellar, much less the amount they are accusing us of. We know that we are respectable people, just like them, and we know we care for their safety. But they do not know this. We’ve tried every simple way to win their support that we can, but you all see the way they look at us in the Meetings. They begrudgingly allow us to stay. The only way for us to really prove ourselves is at hand, and we must offer ourselves to defend that door. Just the fact that we try will win loads of support from some of the people, if not all of them. We will be worthy refugees after that, instead of just the twisted offspring of our murderous parents. We didn’t kill Patterson, we didn’t kidnap the sheriff or any of the other things the Crazies did in their attempt to bring anarchy to our town. We had no connection to all of that besides our blood, and I don’t know about you but I am sick of everyone here thinking I am a bad person just because my father helped in the murder of that cop. We can earn our equality, people.”
“We shouldn’t have to earn it,” a boy in the back said.
“That is true,” Marilee popped in. Al had been feeling that they were losing control of the interest of the Orphans, and he was glad to see her step back up to the plate. Maybe she could ‘bring them home.’ “But sometimes people get put into unfair situations, and its only those who try in spite of the unfairness who actually succeed in finding better lives. We do not expect all of you to fight. But some of us will, even if its only the four who stand before you all. Just know this: we will be earning the respect of the other Hallers, and only those who earn will be able to bask in that. So if only half of you Orphans go to the defense of your Hall, then only half shall gain respect. The other half will have to find a new place to sleep, because the Office will no longer be open to them. They will no longer be a part of the Orphans. Allowing them to stay in our group would just be allowing freeloaders to bask in the respect that they were too cowardly to earn.”
Silence. Al suppressed his physical smile, but inside he was grinning like a fool. Good old Marilee, she always knew how to lay on the thickest of guilt trips. Alfonse didn’t know quite how she always found the right words, but either way, to Marilee speaking had been reduced to an art and refined to a science.
“Then what are we waiting for?” asked a tall, thick girl in the back. She couldn’t have been much more than sixteen but to Alfonse she looked like someone he would never want to meet in a fight. Perfect for a soldier. “I found where they keep a supply of spare broom handles. You know, for the janitors. I think if we use the rough stone floor of the Cellar Landing, we could probably sharpen them up.”
All of a sudden she realized that everyone was watching her, and in fact for most of them it was the first time they had heard her speak and so they wore a face of shock. She flushed red and lowered her eyes. “Its something a friend and I used to do as kids. Sharpen broken broom handles into spears and play fight.”
“But would they be good enough?” the boy in the back from earlier asked.
“Well,” the big girl continued. “Once we were playing and he tripped and the sharpened handle went through his shoulder. That’s why we had to stop playing together, and he got made fun of after they amputated his arm so they moved away.”
It seemed many of the boys had suddenly become interested in the newly gory tale, and even some of the girls were looking on with concerned faces.
“The spear had been sharp enough to sever an important artery, and they would have been able to fix it but the soft wood had splintered inside the wound, basically ravaging all of the veins there. They tried to fix it, but in the end the arm had to come off because the broom handle had been so dirty that infection had set in.”
She was still looking at her hands, and the flush of her face had been replaced by a pallor, and the nervous shake in her voice had become a suppressed sob, until she couldn’t speak without swallowing in the middle of her words. Two girls got up from their seats and went to comfort her.
“So that’s what happened to one armed Pete,” the boy from the back said with a sneer. What happened next Alfonse didn’t see coming. The large, sobbing girl burst from the arms of her comforters and launched herself at the boy. She landed on top of him and they both sprawled out of the chair onto the floor. The boy was in the middle of asking what the hell all this was about when the big girl’s fist, oversized for a girl of her age, came down on his face and smashed his nose.
“IT’S PEOPLE LIKE YOU THAT MADE HIM HAVE TO GO AWAY, SO YOU JUST SHUT THE HELL UP!”
“His name was Peter, not One Armed Pete!” the girl yelled, pounding his face once more before Alfonse and Wick made it over to pull her off.
“Whoa, whoa, hold on!” Alfonse yelled, his arms around her waste in a futile effort to pull her off. Luckily Wick was much bigger than he, and between the two they got her off of the boy and back into the arms of her girlfriends (who seemed to be very much in favor of the beating the boy had just received.)
“What the fuck, man?” the boy said, looking at Alfonse and clutching his bloody nose. “Punish that bitch!”
“I am not a ruler,” Al said. “Nor am I a marshal or any other sort of disciplinarian figure. You provoked her, and so I can’t say anything. Except perhaps that next time you should think before you speak ill of the maimed, especially when in the company of someone who obviously cared about the person.”
“Bull shit,” the boy said, wiping blood on his sleeve. “That bitch is crazy, and you people are too if you think you can defend this place with sticks.”
“We don’t even know if we’ll have to yet,” Wick said. “But its noble to offer to try and that is the only point we’ve been making. You don’t have to join us. But you have already been told the consequences.”
The boy snorted, or rather he tried to unsuccessfully with all the blood in his nose, and retorted, “Oh woe be to the person who doesn’t get to be cramped up with a bunch of babies and wannabe-officials. Screw this place. While you’re all getting slaughtered I’ll be laughing in the safety of the kitchen, giggling about the stupid children spilling their blood on the porch. This right here is all the blood I plan to spill on behalf of you lunatics, or on behalf of anyone else.”
With that he took his hand, now covered in blood from his broken nose, and smeared it across the wall. “Enjoy your deaths,” he said, and then walked out, slamming the door behind him. There was momentary silence as the remaining Orphans mulled over what the rude boy had said. While you’re all getting slaughtered… I’ll be laughing. Everyone of course knew that death was a possibility, but the difference between every other Orphan and the one who had just stormed out was that he was the only person who didn’t realize that they were probably going to die there anyways. The others had realized that it was better to try to survive than to just sit there and wait for the imminent doom.
“Well,” Alfonse said. “Anyone else of the same opinion as that boy?”
“Michael was always a brash and unreasonable guy,” said the blonde boy who had been seated next to the rude one, Michael. “He’s my brother, so I know. We’re probably better off without him. I think what she said is probably our only shot. There are hardly any weapons in here besides the ones being held by the security guards, so sharpened broom sticks actually sounds a hell of a lot better than trying to use any of the other stuff at our disposal.”
“He makes a point,” said Alfonse. “We need to have something. If anyone breaks through, it is likely that they will be older and probably bigger than us. We have no chance at defense hand to hand. But I also don’t think we should just make spears. You….um…”
“Lindsey,” the big girl said. “Don’t worry, I’m used to people forgetting my name.”
“Well, Lindsey, I will try my best not to forget again. In the meantime, I need you to take all the girls down to the store room you found and gather eleven broomsticks. Also keep your eyes peeled for anything small but heavy, like a metal paperweight or anything of that sort.”
“Okay,” the girl said. She wiped her nose on her sleeve, drawing a grimace from the two girls comforting her, and stood up. “Come on, ladies. Lets go.”
Obviously the snot-sleeve thing wasn’t too gross, for the girls once again took on their adoring stare and tagged after Lindsey, and the other girl who had been sitting on the other side of the room got up to go with them. All of them seemed to be older than her, but Lindsey had them beat by about a foot and a half. Alfonse watched them go and went to lock the door behind them.
“Now,” he said to the boys who remained. “Are we sure there isn’t anyone else who would like to leave now?”
Everyone looked around at each other, but none of them made any motion to leave or said anything about wanting to drop out. Good, Alfonse thought. He had expected at least half of his followers to leave him upon hearing what he wanted them to do. Instead I only lost one, and he was probably the weakest link anyways.
Al smiled at his group of young men and Marilee.
One is better than six.
Laura had learned and seen some pretty interesting things over the long years growing up in Hayvan, but never had she seen anything like the breaking of the binding sigil. At first, for about a minute, it seemed to Laura that nothing was changing. The symbol was still glowing red, the walls were still solid and no doors had mysteriously opened. But then the color on the back of Laura’s eyelids became more violet than red, and when she peeked through squinted eyes, she could just barely see the blue light seeping out of hers, Ku’s, and Fusa’s fingers, mixing with the red lines of the diagram and overwhelming it. As her thoughts drifted away from the long conversations with Benny, she noticed the blue light coming from her own fingers would start to dwindle, and only when she focused her mind on those happy memories would the light begin to creep back in. She began to realize how their efforts worked on the sigil. It was filled with the deep evil and hatred of Vonwell, and by using their own spiritual energy, imbued with positive thoughts and emotions, they acted as a repellant to the ‘darkness’ spoken of in the engraving around the seal. The evil apparently manifested as red light, and the positive, hopeful emotions manifested as blue.
It was difficult to keep from looking, but whenever she opened her eyes she would get caught up in the mechanics of both the binding spell and also the process they were employing to break it, thus causing her concentration to lapse and her own contribution to the blue light to diminish. Laura found herself in a personal struggle of self control, trying to keep her eyes closed but being overwhelmed with curiosity to the point that her eyes seemed forced open. On the third instance of caving to temptation, she decided she would try to find a way to keep her thoughts focused and appropriately positive, while somehow allowing her visual faculties to perceive the process for later recollection.
She took a deep breath and opened her eyes. The light inside the sigil was now too bright to look at, but all around it the blue was creeping out, first revealing hidden red lines, then turning them into blue lines. As she watched she became aware of a rhythm, but at first tried not to focus on it too much so that her thoughts did not become too distracted. One way she kept her positivity flowing forward was to think about just how beautiful the blue color was. As it pulsed out, it would find invisible binding lines and turn them a crimson purple color, recede, and then pulse out again, turning the lines into the luminescent blue of positive emotion. Each time this pulsing repeated, out then back in then out again, it would spread out farther and farther. Laura allowed herself to be filled with the wonder of their collective power.
Squinting so she could look back toward the sigil, through the light she could see that her own light was still going strong, perhaps even brighter than that of the other two. Laura looked over at Fusa and found him completely absorbed in thought, mouth hanging open and eyes closed. He looked almost asleep on his feet. Then she turned toward Ku and was not surprised to see him peeking at her through his right eye. He grinned and made a slight tsk! tsk! noise at her before jerking his head back slightly, as if to draw her attention to something behind him.
If you won’t close your eyes and concentrate, at least see the wonder of this terrible room, came Ku’s young, manly thought-voice in her head. Apparently he was recovering after having gotten out of his bindings.
She turned her head a little more to the right so she could look over her shoulder and at first she was confused but then she became fascinated. All around the room, on the ceiling, on the walls, on every inch of the floor, there were those lines, crisscrossing in bizarre yet perfectly executed patterns. At various points on the walls and floor there were more drawings like the binding sigil, but they were much larger and seemed to be composed entirely of lines all around the room. There was only a small amount of red left now, at the far end of the room where Natas had left. Turning back toward her hands and the binding sigil, she found that her eyes had adjusted to the light enough to see that every single line in the room, all several thousands of them, radiated outward from the circular binding sigil. The way they had placed their hands, all of the taking up part around it until they had it entirely surrounded, allowed them to not only fill the sigil with positive energy, but also every single line flowing out from it, and thus every line in the room. In a strange way, Laura could feel the connection between herself and the room, and occasionally she would get a flash in her mind of a man screaming amongst the glowing red lines, clutching his head and curling into a ball on the floor. He was young, but something about him looked familiar.
Before she could pursue the thought anymore though, the light from behind seemed to swell. Laura started to turn to see what was happening, but she got a sharp negative in her head from Ku. So instead she finally closed her eyes and focused once again on Benny and all the things she was going to tell him eventually, all the days just like long ago when they had talked for hours and hours.
A hissing noise started behind them, quiet at first but growing gradually louder. Laura wanted to put her hands up to her ears, but she knew that this would disrupt her connection with the sigil and the lines, so instead she decided to hum as loud as she could to hopefully counteract the hissing. Just as she’d begun to hum her favorite childhood nursery song, there was a loud pop from behind and Laura jumped. Luckily her hands didn’t move much from their places, but once again she was in the state of wanting to see what was going on back there.
This one didn’t startle her quite as much, but it was louder and hurt her ears more.
One from the left, one from the right.
The last one was from above, and it caused the whole room to shake and sounded to Laura like some sort of cannon blast. She opened her eyes and saw the last of the blue light creeping out of the sigil and into the lines. Then it went black and within seconds the wall no longer showed signs of having any marks at all, except for the engraving As long as his darkness fills me, none shall leave. It looked odd and out of place now, just a ring of words between their hands, dead and devoid of all light.
Ku was the first to move his hands, of course, for he was the only one who knew when the process was complete. “Shame, really,” he said with one of his slight chuckles. “This room has served to protect the Inner from many a diseased man, and I never thought I would be the one to break from it. I designed it, after all.”
“What?” Laura asked incredulously. “You helped make this place?”
“Well, of course. I helped rebuild this town after the terrible battle that threatened to overcome the Inner, and there were more than one person guilty of heinous crimes at that terrible era in time. The miracle of this room was that it could be activated to hold several inmates at one time, without any of them being aware of the other prisoners. It could also work as a sensory depravation cell, a hallucinatory torture chamber, and a large number of other clever ideas of mine. But the most important part was that it was bound by the power of good, and no evil person put here could ever leave without truly repenting in their souls and being granted access to lower level security holdings by the Overseers. That is, until we caught the Madman.”
“What happened?” Laura asked. She was about to tell Ku about the man she had seen in her visions when Ku held up his hand to silence her.
“Not now, child,” he said. “That is a tale for later, perhaps. Right now we should be happy that we succeeded in breaking the seal!”
At that moment they both realized that Fusa was still standing with his hands on the wall, seemingly half asleep. Laura just barely had time to register Ku’s hand moving to his mouth before she could put her own hands over her ears, a split second before the most earsplitting whistle imaginable rang through the air. Fusa started and jolted out of his semi-trance, quickly dropping his hands and taking in his surroundings. Laura looked around the room too and was astonished to find that all of the larger sigils were now gaping holes in the walls, and the lines that still showed were only faintly blue. The rest had faded away like the binding sigil, leaving not even the smallest trace that they had been there. Bits of rubble littered the room from corner to corner, except the side where they had stood, for there was only the small sigil and not the larger ones.
“You see,” Ku began, “what we did was pretty much overload those large sigils I pointed out to you, Laura. They took all the energy from the lines and amplified them, sealing all the walls, but when the Madman changed their polarities all those years ago, they became red and no longer reacted to the commands of the Overseers, nor did it respond to the good of things. It became a tool for his sinister purposes alone. He should have known that I could break free, but I suspect he didn’t expect you two to best him. The plan was to lure you here, and I regretfully confess that I could have broke free much earlier.”
An indignant snort from Fusa, as if he had already suspected as much and found it typical of his father.
“But I needed someone here to fight for me,” he said. “I could not risk an escape attempt with him at full power, and inside this room I was powerless to bring him down. You see, I was one of the main people who first imprisoned the man who had been calling himself Sanrunai, that same man who called himself Vonwell not so long ago, that atrocious Natas. He always hated me for it. After centuries of eluding captors, he was finally caught and he was helpless in this room. After the terrible day of his impossible escape, I am quite sure it was always his plan to throw me in here and subject me to as much terrible activity as he could. I should have sounded the warning alarms when he first appeared in Hayvan, but I was curious. As much as the man looked like Natas and felt like Natas, he claimed to have the Royal Authority of the Council of Valence, and that didn’t seem to add up to me. How could Natas be in such a position of power? So I allowed things to continue, watching as he grew closer to your father. Foolish old man, I was.”
Laura could feel him become more sullen and down on himself as he talked, as if this had been his fault, but she knew it had not been. The council of Valence ruled all things political within the Inner, and they were charged with keeping order between the different sections, the billions created by the minds of living men in the Upper Realms. If they had been somehow fooled into believing that this man was really someone called Ardemeus Vonwell, then they were the foolish ones who should blame themselves. Once their approval and immunity to the law was granted, no one could question the grantee. It seemed to Laura that Ku had done the prudent thing by watching and waiting, instead of voicing charges which were sure to be shot down in any court of law. The only thing she really wondered about was how Natas could have taken such a construction as Ku’s cell and turned it to his own purposes. But then again, she figured, he could probably take any number of things and turn it to his own will.
“Don’t worry, Ku,” she said. “I don’t think you did anything wrong. The fact that you stayed here knowing you were under the shadow of the devil himself is brave and honorable enough.”
The old sage looked at her and smiled. Then Laura could tell he finally truly noticed how much she had grown. “You never stop being beautiful, do ya?” he said with a smile. Then he turned and headed toward the hole in the far wall, the wall through which Natas had passed when he came to confront them face to face. “Through here,” he said.
Fusa grabbed his supply bag, pulled out a couple of smokes for him and his father, and then proceeded with Laura through the hole. They immerged into a wide hall, with pillars that ran down the sides. It was surprising to Laura just how much their seemed to be of the mansion that she had never seen. She thought of an iceberg, with just barely any showing above the surface and the majority hidden beneath the waves.
“We’ve got a ways to go,” Ku said as they caught up to him. “Leaving the mansion will be the easy part. Once we get out, we must catch up to the third echani.”
“We’re going to find Benny?” Laura asked excitedly. She felt light headed at the thought of actually seeing him again after everything that had happened to her, and probably to him to.
“Yes,” the old man replied. “If he can stay alive long enough for us to get to him.”
The people of Hayvan didn’t see it coming. The vents that ensured oxygen got from the trees to the town had been under maintenance for weeks, under the orders of Ardemeus Vonwell. Supposedly the Council of Valence had granted him the funds for the refurbishing, for they believed the old system to be showing signs of beginning to malfunction. So for about sixteen days people could look up and see scaffolding high above their heads, with men walking to and fro, repairing the supposed damage.
After the black out, of course, everyone wondered what would happen to their air supply. The mystical trees in the back of the LeVille mansion supplied plenty of oxygen, of course, but without the air ducts the oxygen didn’t disperse very fast, and people on the borders could easily suffocate before the power came back on. Many people had started small makeshift bonfires on the streets to provide light, and at intervals all around the city groups could be found gathered together, sharing some common light source and overall trying to keep each other calm.
The first sign of something wrong came when the purple light from behind the Mansion faded to black. Then a gentle whirring sound had begun, sounding much like the air circulators, but since there were no other signs of power and definitely no sign of the oxygen producing trees, everyone quickly realized that either it wasn’t the circulators or they were circulating stale air. Either way, it seemed to most people that it was a cause for alarm. Some number of people had suggested seeking refuge in the Willow Forest, where they technically weren’t underground and where there should theoretically akways be oxygen. This was quickly shot down, however, by the obvious observation that the Willow Forest was an illusion created by the trees into an empty non-space, and there was now no longer any sign that the trees were even active anymore. Therefore it would only be foolish to risk everyone’s lives by going out into that place. They might just find the opposite of existence and go mad.
They didn’t have long to think on this, however. From the farthest corner of Hayvan, an earsplitting scream rang out. It was soon followed by yet another scream, and then several more from around the same area. Then the screams stopped entirely for about five seconds. Everyone closer to the mansion listened, peering around into the darkness expectantly. Soon the screams started again, only this time it was closer.
A group were sitting right outside the gates of Einsqua Circle, enjoying a nice fire when the screams first started. The second set seemed to be extremely close, perhaps only a few blocks. Looking in that direction, some of the group began to notice flashes and what looked like smoke. Then there was an explosion directly in front of them, about thirty yards away. There had been a group there, but then they appeared to see something coming their way and they had begun screaming. As they ran from their campfire, around the corner slowly crept a green fog. As it touched the flames, it combusted and made a brief explosion, expelling the fog away from the blast only long enough for more to follow it down the street. A teenage boy had been sleeping against the corner of a store near the fire, and the explosion woke him. He saw the green cloud and the bodies littering the road with the fog, and tried to make a run for it. But the fog seemed to be coming faster now, and it quickly surrounded him. He fell to the ground, instantly choking on the green air. The people of the group closest to the mansion watched as his body convulsed in on itself, breaking his spine before racking him forward, the spasm being so violent that he bloodied his face on his knees. After that the boy went silent and laid still.
That’s when the shock broke and that last small group began beating frantically on the gates of the LeVille mansion, screaming “Help us! Please! There’s nowhere to go!”
A calm, silky voice came on the intercom. Very few of that last group recognized that voice, but the ones who did instantly understood the meaning of all of the construction on the air circulators as soon as they heard the voice of Ardemeus Vonwell.
“Goodnight, sheltered children of Hayvan. Your sacrifice is much appreciated.”
It had been an entire day since Benny and Brun’s confrontation with the henchman and woman of Natas, and blissfully Brun had allowed Benny a break from training exercises. They merely traveled along through the forest, discussing mundane things for once. But eventually talk would always come back to the concepts of the Inner. Benny was finding that there was a lot to comprehend when trying to adjust to the duality of worlds, but slowly things were beginning to make sense. The way he understood it, the existence of man was split into two levels, the Upper where Benny had grown up, the physical or conscious world, and the Innner, that subconscious level that exists within all minds and all spirits. When he had inquired as to what happens to the internal ‘double’ when the Upper human dies, Brun had said that the double simply starts its life over again as its body is renewed in the Upper Realms. Benny thought of it as reincarnation, but Brun had not recognized the word as being a valid definition of the process.
Apparently, at some remote and distant time, there had been three echani who had been created by the universe to create the race that would inhabit the Inner, and to create their two separate levels of existence so as to also populate Earth in the Upper Realms. At first, the doubles had always been as twins. They had communicated much as Benny communicated with Laura when he had still been within his own physical body. Supposedly the doubles had even been able to switch places if they wanted to, with the Inner person taking over the physical body and the Upper person remaining within the Inner or so called dream world. Mostly, however, the Upper double would simply visit the Inner during the dream state if they chose to.
But a travesty had occurred. The sorcerer who would one day become Natas had committed great crimes with his double while visiting the Inner realms. The echani had noticed his slow perversion of spirit throughout the ages of his incarnation, and they had expected it when he finally became immoral enough to break the peace. They had punished him by restricting his Inner double solely to his own lot of the Inner (something which at the time was unnecessary; people lived as neighbors above and below, and respected the privacy of others, therefore making restriction unneeded.) They also forbade the Upper double from ever visiting the Inner ever again, even in the next three physical incarnations, until his spirit had shown signs of true repentance and change.
But the young sorcerer was impatient. Through years of training, he re established contact with his Inner twin once again, and arranged a bargain. He promised that if the Inner double switched places with him long enough for him to gain the power he sought within the Inner, he would make a physical body for him on the surface that he could use at will, and he also promised to break the binding placed by the echani so the Inner double could go wherever he pleased.
This all of course sounded very pleasing to the Inner Natas, who quickly agreed and took over the physical body. At first no one noticed the switch, not below and certainly not above. But then something started happening. People would turn up missing, and their lots would become part of Natas’ land. When the echani went there, expecting to find the Inner double, they were confronted by Natas and barred from access by several strange spells which he had apparently brought with him from the Upper Realms. No one could enter that dark land. After a short time, he had consumed almost fifteen inner lots, and in the Upper Realms the Inner double was using the body to dispose of the twins.
When their twins had been disposed of, the Inner double demanded to be compensated and to return from the physical world to freedom. But the sorcerer had never planned on making good, and through some manner which even the echani had never understood, Natas killed the Inner double and regained control of both his physical body and his augmented lot of the Inner.
A war was fought, and in the Inner it went on for thousands of years. In the Upper Realms this was only a few centuries, but it reflected the turmoil going on inside the minds of men. Through some clever manipulation of the laws of the universe, Natas had found a way to never have to restart his cycle as others did. His Inner twin was dead, and the Inner twin was the thing that was supposed to continue the life force, entering the physical world and receding, then repeating. This caused lapses in memory on both levels, but Natas had cut this part out. He was able to become virtually immortal, living mostly within the Inner and refreshing his Upper body. When it began to decay, he would find a new suitable body.
Because of his blatant use of the trust of others, restrictions had to be placed on all beings. Travel between lots of the Inner was no longer permitted, and barriers had to be placed between the Upper and Inner realms so as to quell Natas. Somewhere around the eighteenth century, these restrictions finally paid off and Natas was stopped from returning to the Upper realms. Feeling trapped, he had made several bold and wreckless attempts on the newly formed Council of Valence, resulting in his capture by the echani Ku On Hu. The upper realms began to return to a state of peace.
But then Natas got free. No one really knew all the details of what happened next, but the result was well known. Natas ravaged as much of the Inner as he could as a sort of vengeance for his incarceration. In the upper realms this was the early twentieth century, and once again the turmoil began to seep through to the Upper Realms.
The echani, together with the Council of Valence, realized that things were spiraling out of their control. Natas was seemingly unstoppable after his escape, and now that people were scared, he was gaining followers who would rather serve than die. The three architects of the Two Realms, the echani, decided it was necessary to incarnate in the Upper Realms before the inevitable return of Natas. They knew his plan was to regain access to the Upper Realms, and from their once again attempt his conquest of both of the realms. They wanted to be there to stop him when he came.
It was all incredible to Benny, who was supposed to be one of those three Higher Beings. He could remember no such things, and even though he understood that this was normal, especially for someone his age, it still frustrated him and brought his confidence down. If only he could remember something from the time when he was a master of this Inner place, then everything would seem a lot easier.
But he had settled for simply practicing anything he could. The thing that came easiest to him so far was levitation. He had a suspicion that he had not thrown the giant log by sheer strength, but from a combination of strength and telekinesis guided by his will. So every time they had stopped moving to take a break, Benny would take a rock and hold it in his palms, focusing on trying to make it lift. The first few attempts had been fruitless, but finally he had gotten the small pebble to float about three inches above his hand, turning lazily in the air for about a minute before his concentration broke and it tumbled to the ground.
Now Benny found himself sitting beside Brun at the top of a tall cliff. He had chosen a slightly larger stone this time, and once it was successfully hovering a few inches above his fingertips, he slowly began willing it out away from him. It was an odd sensation, like trying to push it away while also trying to give it enough lift to stay in the air.
“As the stone floats out,” Brun said, watching the pebble, “the increased distance between the ground and the rock will seem to increase. But this is an illusion…”
Benny felt what he was meaning, like the rock was becoming more heavy as it drifted out into the open air over the valley below. It was now about five feet in front of him, almost clear of the rocks below their feet.
“The pull of the earth is always the same, and you must realize that in this world it does not matter to you. You have a mind, and therefore can affect the physics of this world. The stone can not. Without you, it would fall. You keep it up. You are the most important component to that stone’s remaining on this cliff. Breathe, Benny from Away.”
Benny had been holding his breath, concentrating as hard as possible on keeping the stone aloft. As it had drifted farther out, clear of the rocks, Benny had become aware that he was levitating a rock some five hundred feet above the ground, and the weight had seemed to increase tenfold. His head was beginning to strain with the ache when Brun told him to breathe, and he knew if he inhaled to quickly he would get a head rush and drop the rock. He tried to focus on what Brun had said about the rock needing him, aobut him being what kept the rock up and free from the effects of gravity. Slowly he pulled in his first breath, clutching to the thought that the rock was like this world which he had supposedly helped organize in the farthest reaches of history. He was supposed to be one of those original three who structured the manifested universe and maintained its order, and the rock was like that universe. Without him, it would fall to the depths, instead of remaining on the cliff where it belonged.
The first breath complete, he slowly exhaled, being sure to give himself enough time to avoid any head rushes.
“Very good, Master Benny,” Brun said. “Now bring it back home. Return the stone to its rightful place of rest.”
Benny began reversing his thoughts, willing the rock back toward him, pulling it slowly back away from the long drop. Benny saw the rock beginning to dip while it was still about ten feet away, and he caught himself holding his breath again. He consciously forced himself to start breathing slowly again, taking deep full breaths and focusing on the rock. It leveled back out and glided toward him.
Suddenly, when it was about five feet away, it darted toward Benny like a bullet. He raised his hand in front of his face and gasped, expecting to get smacked with the rock at least on the hand, but after a moment of no impact he moved his hand and saw the rock floating just inches in front of his forehead.
“Very, very good,” Brun said. Benny recognized the note in his voice. It was the note that said Benny had done something Brun had not expected him to be able to do.
“All I did was stop the rock,” Benny said. “I don’t know why it came at me to begin with… Maybe I was too excited that it was almost back?”
“No,” Brun replied. “I tried to hit you with the rock, and you managed to regain telekinetic control and stop it instead. Now, this could be in part because moving things with my mind was never my strongest point, but I think all in all it was because you have mastered the basic fundamentals of this world, namely that as long as you keep your connection to this place clearly in mind, no one can take control away from you. Your kind share ownership of massive amounts of the Inner because you constructed it. You don’t remember this, perfectly fine, but it is still true and therefore you have an internal knowledge, hidden deep within the recesses of your soul’s secret memory, which allows you to be a virtual god here. Most people of the Inner would have a hefty bruise between their eyes from that one.”
Brun smiled and flicked the rock toward Benny. Benny once again stopped it in mid air, laughed, and sent the rock sailing out off the cliff, into the forest below. As the abilities he was supposedly imbued with began to show themselves, he felt more and more confident that perhaps he could indeed take his body back, help Brun save his sister, and somehow put things as close to normal as was within his abilities. He truthfully didn’t care if Natas was killed or not, as long as he could return to some semblance of a normal life.
There was, however, that part inside which told him things could never be normal as long as The Madman roamed. Even if things seemed to go back to peace, it would only be a matter of time before Natas would find some new scheme for stirring up trouble. So the inevitable eventually sank in and Benny no longer resisted it.
He, or someone with his aid, would one day have to kill Natas.
Mary Jorgens had not spoken to anyone since she had turned up at city hall. She had been badly shaken, and she spent her days staring at a wall in blank silence. When she had first shown up, she had been hysterical and raving about her son killing her husband. No one knew if this was true or not, of course, but it corroborated with the stories of earlier witnesses who had claimed to see Benny Jorgens committing murders around the town. Also, the boy’s father had not yet shown up at City Hall, and the two people stationed at the strategic peepholes around the hall had so far reported no sightings of him. So as far as anyone knew, she was telling the truth and Benny Jorgens had truly gone off the deep end.
Most people just thought it was from whatever traumatic experience it had been that turned his hair white. Surely something so horrible as to change the pigment in your hair could cause enough mental scarring to lead one to kill, right? But Mary made no comments and offered no opinions to the gossip. It was really no wonder to the people who knew her and who believed the story; if it was true, Mary had lost her son to madness and her husband to that mad son. Her entire family in Minde was now dead. She had relocated from across the country, and now that anarchy had sealed its clutches all around the exterior of City Hall, it did not seem that she had much of a future to look forward to.
Indeed, every one of the Hallers had decided she would never speak again. Most of them had tried to offer their condolences, but they all just walked away feeling as if they didn’t know if she even heard what they had to say. It appeared that no one could get inside her wall and get her to open up again. But then, on the most unusual day so far for the Hallers, Mary had responded to the sound of the crowd gathered outside the doors of City Hall.
She had been about ten feet from the door, staring across the entrance hall toward the twenty or so people who had formed into two circles for poker. But her monotonous stream of internal lamentation was broken by the sound her son’s voice. She had jumped up and walked over to the large wooden door, pressing her ear to it to hear what was going on. This was, in fact, how the other Hallers had been alerted to the presence of the gathering crowd. No one had heard anything until one of the poker players noticed her with her ear pressed against the door.
After hearing the voice of her only born for no more than five seconds, Mary didn’t hear it again. All she could hear was the bustling of the crowd gathering on the street at the foot of the City Hall lawn. There was a man who was acting as tournament director for the people playing poker, and since he was not involved directly in the card game, he went over to see what Mary was listening to. He hadn’t even approached the door fully when he heard the murmuring of the crowd. “What is it, Mary?” he asked. His name was George and he had run a weakly funded card room in the middle of town, but his gambling persona did not keep him from being loved by many of the townspeople. There were even some of the ‘crazies’ who had wished he would stay on the outside, so that poker could continue. As it was he wanted nothing to do with the rebellious murderers roaming the streets, so he had grabbed all of his fancy chip-sets and playing cards, stuffed them in an oversized trunk, and come to City Hall.
George didn’t really expect Mary to reply, as she had not spoken since she had shown up at the Hall. Much to his surprise, however, she replied in a quiet, but firm, voice. “It’s my son,” she said, still staring at the door as if she could see through it. “Or rather, it’s what is left of my son.”
She suddenly turned to look at him with an intense look in her eye. “Please,” she pleaded, grabbing the front of his shirt and pulling herself closer to him. “You have to believe me. Something has taken over my son, and it’s out there right now. He’s capable of so much more than my son was. I know it can’t be him in there. Something has him, and its…evil. Please… no one will believe me so you have to warn the others. If it wants to get in here, it will get in here. His strength… its…”
She suddenly became choked up and George instinctively put an arm around her, disregarding the stares of the players a few yards away. He knew they couldn’t hear them, the acoustics in the entrance hall being absolutely atrocious, so their curious stares didn’t really bother him that much. This episode of Mary’s obviously had something to do with the murder of her husband, and he couldn’t deny even to himself that there did indeed seem to be a massive crowd directly outside the doors of City Hall, so he was determined to calm her down and hear what all she had to say. Even if it did sound insane.
After a few moments her sobs subsided, and with her face against his chest she muttered one sentence that would cause George to sound the alarm to the others and bring the crowd to the attention of the rest of the Hallers.
“It caved my husband’s throat with one hand, and somehow I know, I just know that it is coming to kill all of us; the women, the men, and I see no reason to think the children will be spared.”
The thought of George’s daughter Emily came into his mind, and with that he let go of Mary and went off in the direction of the main hall to spread the news. This is what set into motion the chain of events which would cause the disturbance in the small town of Minde to become an all out war.