“We cannot go out there,” Ku said suddenly. He had been reaching out to open the door at the end of their long trek upwards from the dungeons of the mansion. Laura had thought she would hear the murmur of the town, still panicking about the power outage and murmuring in the darkness. But as they came to the end of the long hall which Ku had identified as being the way out of the mansion, there was nothing but the gentle pulsing sound of the air circulators.
That’s odd, Laura thought. The circulators weren’t running when I left. The power was out.
That’s when she noticed the faint, hazy green mist that was seeping through the bottom of the door. Ku put out his arm to stop them and Fusa instinctively pulled Laura backwards, away from the strange green fog. “Its poison,” the old man said. “Go back. There is nothing left for us out there.”
With that he turned and began motioning for them to go. Laura looked back one last time before they turned the corner, and already the end of the hall by the door was almost completely filled with the green mist.
“What does this mean?” she asked as they half jogged down the hall.
“It means everyone is dead, child,” Fusa replied from behind Laura. “Natas has poisoned the air they breathe. Could you not feel it?”
Laura was silent as she realized with a hint of shame that she had felt nothing, besides noticing that the air circulators were running again. She felt herself blush as she thought about the fact that she had even felt some optimism, hoping the circulators were a sign that the power had been restored.
“It is okay, Miss Laura,” Ku said from just in front of her. She had long ago noticed that they often did this when they walked with her, placing her in the middle and walking on either side of her like barriers. She was beginning to feel short of breath, yet the old man in front of her seemed entirely untouched by fatigue in any way. She hoped one day she could be like him.
“Not everyone can feel the souls of others, like Fusa and I,” he continued. “But tactless as he may be, my son is right. I don’t know what purpose Natas has for all this murder, but no one in that once peaceful village now survives. I can only imagine what this means for the doubles of those citizens, who continue their existence up top. Dreamlessness. It is a shame. They won’t last long either, and then he will have even more death on his hands.”
As they rounded another corner, Laura suddenly realized where Ku was leading them. It made perfect sense, of course. She had helped Benny escape using her father’s Lana Sativa plant, and that’s what they were going to use to get out as well. Given it was still there, of course. Surely Natas would have figured out how she helped Benny escape and disposed of the plant.
But as they hurried down the long row of storage sheds, they passed the one which would hold the answer to her question, and after a few more doors had gone by, Ku stopped at one of them and pulled out a key from somewhere within his robe. The lock turned easily and the door swung open, revealing the nearly empty room beyond.
At first Laura couldn’t believe what she was seeing. It was a plant like her father’s, but instead of being wilted and small, this one was as tall as Fusa and radiantly bushy, its color vibrant and its branches swaying slightly as if to an invisible wind. The smell in the room was a dank, yet somehow pleasant aroma.
As they approached, Ku commanded them to grab hands. He didn’t actually speak the words, but within the room their thoughts all seemed to be linked together subtly. Laura felt her mind becoming slightly off balance, and her thoughts refused to focus into clarity. She vaguely registered that they had left the door open, and she looked back over her shoulder, intending to use telekinesis to close it. Just before it swung shut, she saw the green fog begin to creep around the corner. She quickly slammed it shut and turned back to the plant. They were within a foot of it, and suddenly she was being jerked forward.
She saw the world-between-worlds, Brynj, with its massive pillar stretching from the darkness of the subconscious world up into the light of the conscious realm. Laura was enjoying the view, still feeling slightly euphoric from the atmosphere of the plant, but she was curious as to why Ku had not propelled them all the way on through. They were lingering.
She soon got her answer, however, as the dark line far off in the horizon, stretching from abyss to sky, began to move closer. It was a strange sensation, as there was no physical feature to gage movement by, and thus the pillar seemed to move toward them when in all actuality they were moving closer to it. Laura felt her movement slow as they drew closer.
It was the first time she had ever been close to the Pillar in her entire life. Hayvan rested just below the Upper Realms, but not actually within the Inner, so she had gotten many opportunities to cross the abyss with her father, but she had never gotten to experience what it was like to approach the Pillar that held the two worlds apart.
From such a distance, the Pillar had looked thin and slender, but the closer they got the more Laura could grasp the sheer magnitude of the Pillar’s girth. It had to be at least two miles in diameter, and it was punctured all the way around by small holes that wound up its surface as far as her eye could manage to see.
As they drew closer still, Laura saw that the holes were no small things either. They were more like gigantic caves, and there seemed to be things inside it. Whatever they were, they were black and they seemed to be spreading some sort of dark puss-like substance over the rock. Where the slime touched the stone, a faint mist was rising and even though Laura could hear nothing, she imagined that the substance was giving off a hissing noise as it melted the rock (for that is indeed what it appeared to be doing.) Inside her head, she heard Ku say, It is as I suspected. He is trying to bring down the Pillar of Brynj. I am not entirely sure why, however. I have many suspicions, though.
With that, they rushed away from the Pillar of Brynj and left the between world, emerging at the place where Hayvan was connected with the Inner. It was the tall stone cliff Benny had awakened in front of with a bird pecking his head, and Laura could just dimly feel the remnants of Benny’s essence lingering in the material that made up the ground, but it was obvious that he had been gone for quite a while.
It was then that the weariness hit Laura. Within the halls of the LeVille Mansion, it was extremely difficult to gage the passage of time. But with the original attempt, Laura’s brief stop to go through puberty, the confrontation with Natas, the breaking of the binding sigil, and the even longer journey back toward the surface from the veritable underworld that was the dungeons of her family’s Mansion, Laura had spent nearly forty eight hours almost entirely on the move. Adding to that was the day leading up to Benny’s arrival and the subsequent hurry to get him out of Hayvan. Surely Natas had intended for Benny and her to be a part of the genocide which had just taken place there, but between Laura’s cleverness, Fusa and Ku’s brilliant leadership, and Benny’s natural knack of questioning very little but acting immediately, they had all managed to escape unharmed.
Natas was not going to like that, she reflected with a smile as she sat with her back against the cliff, watching Ku and Fusa brush the dirt and leaves off of their clothes. They both wore a plain sort of robe, made out of some form of linen and held together by a red sash. The fall had hit them harder than Laura, and they had considerably more debris to wipe from their clothes than she did.
The weariness which had been building up over the last few days, the burden of all the new information she was being forced to retain within her constantly growing brain, began to take over her mind, and Laura felt herself drifting off to sleep. She was used to having to try to keep herself awake by now though, so she jerked herself upright and was surprised to find Fusa and Ku staring at her, both of them with a slight smile on their faces.
“You have faced much, young daughter,” the old man said, and Laura was overwhelmed with the love she felt for his kind face. “Your body has gone through a great change in a very short time, and now you need rest. Close your eyes, child, and take some rest.”
She felt a blanket being draped over her. She looked up through her heavy eyelids and saw Fusa draping it over her. Laura went to sleep with the image of Fusa in her mind, and the words Young Daughter in her ears.
Brun had finally pointed out to Benny how precarious the situation with Beaner was. They had crested the top of a hill around the middle of the fifth day, two days after their encounter with Chase Morgana and Marcus Vonwell, and off in the distance Benny could barely make out the shape of the giant City-cart lumbering across the plains that bordered the great forest they were traveling through. Brun told Benny that Marcus Vonwell, the strategic planner of the group they had encountered, had probably assumed that it would be safer to confront the mighty warrior Brun in the sheltered forest, while he was alone with a new protégé, completely without his leader or his Clan. Brun knew that he himself was powerful, and the Clan as a whole with its protective, mobile fortress was strong in its defenses, but when you separated the two, neither looked so strong. Brun was a small man, able to use his mind to defeat his opponents when he was covered and able to concentrate, but without large numbers to guard him, he was very much at a disadvantage. He was a dwarf of a man, after all.
Benny shared Brun’s notion that someone must have betrayed their location as well as the times that they would be away from the rest of the clan, and the two were similarly in agreement that the most likely culprit was Brun’s sister. Or rather, what she had become.
Benny sympathized heavily with the story of Brun’s sister, for he too had been through a similar experience. He still hated knowing that his body could be doing any number of foul things in the Upper Realms, without him there to oversee. It had finally become commonplace, however, for him to think of himself not as a person, but as a force that existed on multiple levels. This, he knew, was the reason he was able to exist within the Inner; in the Upper Realms, his life force merely inhabited the body, but was not trapped there. It existed outside the body, while still being able to go into the body. So when his physical vessel had been taken over, his consciousness was left in there like a prisoner until Benny willed himself into the Inner. His life force now resided within the Inner, while some alien life force controlled his body in the Upper Realms.
There had been more dreams, and in them Benny had to watch as his own hands mutilated people, dragged them through the streets, and for some reason began lying them side by side amongst the trees on Bonhelm Hill.
But he hardly had time to think about those dreams, as Brun had kept him busy both physically and mentally the entire time they had been traveling together, for the most part. Now, as they sat staring out over the plains on the edge of the forest, Benny became startlingly aware that while they had been fighting the ‘Dynamic Duo,’ as Benny called them, the mobile village of the Vanjii tribe had been only a few miles away. It was satisfying to think that they had probably made an attack on the unguarded village almost impossible for the injured pair of fighters, and if Brun was correct about Marcus and Chase needing to take time to recuperate, then there was more time than either of them would have originally thought.
“We’ll need to keep them on their toes,” Brun said. “They thought taking us unawares in the open would be strategically beneficial for them, but really all they have done is cost themselves valuable attack time and alerted us to their rough position. We know that after our fight with them, we moved between them and the rest of the Clan. If they plan any direct assault on the village, they will have to either go through or around us, and neither option would be good for them. If they try to go around us, they will have to either move out into the open plain or move deeper into the forest. If they enter the plain, they know we will attack; if they try to move into the forest, it will slow their path too much and they will not be able to get around us, much less far enough ahead to be able to mount any real attack.”
“But wouldn’t it have been better to just chase after them in the forest when they first confronted us, instead of waiting for them to attempt to make another move?”
“No, no, young Master,” Brun replied calmly. “That would have been more along the lines of what they wanted to begin with. They wanted to catch us without the power of numbers, and sure enough they did, but I do not think they expected you to be advancing so far already. In the last week, you have learned a lot more than even I expected. I helped Beaner develop his powers long ago, even though he had figured out a lot on his own, but even he did not learn as fast as you. I can feel the doubt inside you, Benny from Away. You think that there is too much to do and not enough time. But you must realize that even though Natas is working with haste in the upper realms, he can never move fast enough if you keep up along the same path you are on now. We have seen in your dreams that he has already made a lot of progress in degrading the morality of your home town. But his progress was enhanced by the fact that many of the people in your town were weak of character to begin with. Aimless, stuck in a rut, whatever they would choose to describe themselves, they needed someone to show them something new. It was all too easy for him to start a little chaos and wait for the poor people of that town to need some sort of divine intervention. Then he answers the call. It’s very simple. Create a problem, wait for a reaction from the people, and then present the solution to them. The people think you are being generous, when really you are getting exactly what you wanted. His progress is great, yes, but not unheard of. It has only taken him forty eight hours to take that town from what you left to what you see in your visions. In Hayvan, where your double resides, perhaps three or four days have gone by, and here we have experienced just over a week since you turned up in the Inner, if my calculations based on your story are correct.
“I believe that whatever we saw your body doing,” Brun continued, “is the beginning of what Natas has planned for your town, and from the looks, it is some sort of dark magic that I wish not to speak of. But it will take at least two more Upper Realm days to fully achieve what he wants, which is the death of everyone in your town.”
“Why would he want that?” Benny asked. He had been asked to swallow a lot of things in what seemed, at least for him, like a single week. Now it was casually being told to him that everyone in his home town, all the people he knew, Geoff Wishenhower, his friend Jerry Carson, who he hadn’t seen since taking his first hit of pot… his mother; they were all on the hit list of a guy who Benny didn’t even truly understand his own connection with. If everything he’d been told so far was true, then he had always been one of the people charged with correcting things when this madman got loose. That was the reason he had been so specifically targeted, but nothing could explain the brutality being shown toward the people he loved the most.
“It is a long story,” Brun said. “And an interesting one at that. But also one for later. If my assumptions were correct about the flow of time, then we still have about a week here before his plans begin to come to fruition on the surface. For now, we need to focus on his plans down here. He has been an ambassador to Hayvan for a long time, and he has never really shown any inclination to attack it, but I fear that may have changed. You showing up there surely set off alarm bells for him, but he could not confront you in front of so many of the people he had fooled into believing he was this Vonwell character. I fear if he had any plans for that town, any plans similar to the fate your own home now faces, then he would have surely started them by now. As you see, he is also trying to get our Village. We can do nothing about your town in the Upper Realms, for now, nor can we do anything to help those poor souls in Hayvan; but we can save this one clan of people, and I promise you, Benny from Away, if you help me do this, if you open your mind and allow yourself to become what I need you to become in two short days, my people will help you save your loved ones. Keep in mind, however, that it highly depends on the ones you love surviving what Natas has in store for them. If they are alive, we will help you get them.”
“Suppose I wanted to ditch you now,” Benny said, looking out at the slow moving, village sized cart, pulled by its large group of children, “what then?”
Brun merely laughed.
“Then I think you would have a hard time even finding where to go, much less be able to get there in proper time,” he replied.
Benny knew this was true, of course. He didn’t know why he had asked, really, besides that he was feeling a little bit like none of this was his choice. Everything was his responsibility, and yet he had never wanted any of it. How could he always be expected to save the day when nothing more exciting or mystical ever happened in Minde than a group of kids playing Magic, the Gathering. Where he had grown up, people didn’t think about psychic abilities or the multiple dimensions of the human consciousness. They thought about how to feed their families and what they could do to break up the monotony on days of rest. But not too much, of course; people in Minde loved the fact that things never changed in that town.
Benny shuddered at the thought of how much things must be different up there. His own body was running rampant through the town, killing everyone in sight, for all Benny knew, and the strange series of events that all seemed to start with his first puff of marijuana had ultimately led to panic and discord throughout every square mile of his home town.
“Turn your thoughts from home, for now,” Brun said, turning his large magical eye in the direction of the cart. “I think the person you could benefit from the most is my sister. So for now I need you to pretend that nothing of importance is happening in the Upper Realms, and that your only goal at this point in time is to save that Clan, disillusion Beaner, root out whatever is lodged in my sister’s mind, and defeat Natas down here. Once that is done, we will show you how to achieve your goals.”
“I’m still not even totally sure where I need to go,” Benny said. He knew he must sound extremely pessimistic, but in all honesty he did not care. Fifteen year old boys simply were not supposed to be going through stuff like this, he thought. But, just as he knew would be the case, he had slowly grown to see that the burden was more or less his alone, and if he ever wanted to be happy in life again he would have to at least try to stop the man who he had originally referred to as the Blind Freak atop Bonhelm hill. The events leading up to his body’s takeover by Natas that day were hazy, but Benny could remember the man outright telling him that he would be under his control if Benny were to see his eyes. If only I had believed him, Benny thought solemnly.
“Calm your mind, Master Benny,” Brun said quietly. “Natas is almost always successful in his attempts at manipulation and control because he has had thousands of years to practice in the Inner, and centuries to bring those skills with him to the Upper Realms. It is no wonder at all that you, an unprepared adolescent boy at the time, were so easily brought under his will. Look at my sister. She had the strongest mind I had ever hoped to meet, and yet somehow she let her defenses down long enough to allow him or one of his henchmen to seep into her mind. Considering that he has had to be in Hayvan recently and has been seen on other errands for the corrupted Council of Valence, I do not believe that he would have had the time nor the mental capacity to do so many things all at once. It seems more likely that he has someone else working the controls inside my sister’s mind.”
Benny could think of no one who would fit the bill, but he also realized that he hardly knew anything about the Inner or any of the people within it. ”Any hunches?” he asked, absentmindedly levitating a rock up from the ground. He watched as it floated higher and higher.
“I have my suspicions,” Brun said. “I have given you clues as well, things you might have noticed if you had been paying attention.”
Suddenly Benny felt his control over the rock sever, and it came hurtling downwards at an alarming speed, connecting squarely with Benny’s forehead before tumbling to the ground.
“Hey!” Benny yelled, clutching his newly goose-egged head. “You did that, didn’t you? What the hell was that for?”
“You are supposed to train when we are training,” Brun said with a hint of ferocity in his normal eye and his magical eye gleaming slightly, “and when I am teaching, you are supposed to listen.”
Benny realized that an answer probably wasn’t what the little man was wanting at this moment, so he merely continued to rub his sore head and turned his attention back to the plains with the slowly lumbering village/child-drawn cart.
Apparently his assumption was wrong though, for Brun did not continue ‘teaching.’ Instead he just sat there, staring at Benny with his giant blue eye pulsing slightly with his heart beat. “What?” Benny asked after he could take the stare no longer.
“Well?” Brun replied. “Do you not have any guesses?”
“How could I have any guesses? I don’t know anyone down here.”
“I am not asking for names, Benny. Think back. There was someone I mentioned that fits the scenario, and is even more likely after we faced both Chase Morgana and Marcus Vonwell here in the forest. Think.”
Benny turned his mind back over the last few days, trying to remember every conversation they’d had. But all that was coming to him were several instances of passing out, being injured by Brun’s ferocious training style, but their long conversations at the ends of the days while smoking the Lana plant were more difficult to remember as Benny had not been trying to retain everything they said. “I’m sorry, Brun,” Benny said. “There isn’t a whole lot coming to me in the clues department.”
Brun made a disgusted noise in the back of his throat and turned away. He continued without looking at Benny, which Benny figured was probably some sign of scorn or disappointment. “When I explained to you about my sister and how I thought the things she showed us in Beaner’s tent were false,” the little warrior said slowly, “I told you that I only figured we were being followed by three people. Three.”
Suddenly it dawned on Benny. “The person you expected to see with Chase and Marcus? That’s who you think is controlling your sister?”
“How else would they even be able to track us? As long as I was there, I had nearly flawless cloaking spells and enchantments to keep people from even seeing us as we passed within yards of them, and yet somehow they were able to find us. It makes sense if she was regularly transmitting our location the whole time. I never suspected it would be this person. I admit, I am ashamed for not feeling it sooner and taking action. They did so well at subverting my sister’s mind slowly, over a long course of time, that I could only suspect things. She felt different, and that’s all I could say. Once she showed us that false vision and tried to set us up for an easy kill at the hands of Chase and Marcus, there was no doubt in my mind anymore.”
“So who is this mysterious third person?” Benny asked. He hated how Brun would tap dance around the point until Benny wanted to strangle him. He knew, of course, that it would never be a good idea to attack Brun, as small as he might be.
“There is no name for him,” Brun replied, his eyes suddenly seeming distant, as if he were seeing some place far off, perhaps in the distant past.
“Surely you call him something,” Benny said.
“We only ever call him the Unborn Son,” Brun said. “Those of us who know about his existence, that is.”
Benny felt as if Brun was about to launch into one of his long, overly deep explanations, and sure enough, the little man did not disappoint.
“You asked me before if Marcus Vonwell is related to Natas, an obvious question due to the name, and I chose not to tell you then because it did not have any bearing on the matter which was at hand. Now that we are close to the time when we must face them again, I shall tell you what I know about the Three Children.”
“Yes. That is what they are referred to down here by us mystics, who watch the world and see the terrible things. You must understand, before I continue, that most of the people down here are for the most part dim. They go about their lives, tend to their own parts of the Inner, and try not to focus on anything besides what is best for themselves. So back to the name Vonwell. Most people think of Marcus as the son of Ardemeus Vonwell, the pseudonym Natas uses for his political schemes. To the laymen of the Inner, Marcus Vonwell is a loyal soldier to the Council of Valence, and they think that makes him some sort of hero. But the council has been subverted. I don’t know who Natas has inside the council, but somehow he has secured himself unlimited access to the Inner and basically found ways to be granted Council approval on the most heinous of acts.
“Therefore Marcus Vonwell is no more than a soldier of a corrupt ruling elite, if he even serves the Council at all. But, as for the question of whether or not Marcus is related to Natas, I will say that he is only as related to the Madman as you are to this Laura you’ve spoken of.”
“So Marcus is Natas’ double, then,” Benny said. As far as he could tell, that’s what Brun was saying.
“Once again, Master Benny,” Brun replied, “I can only say that you are half correct. But, remember that Natas tricked his original double into being trapped in the Upper Realms, and the double eventually died. But this went entirely against the laws of the universe, as did your own birth without a double. Your imbalance was fixed by creating Laura for yourself, a companion in the mind. Natas did not need a partner, nor did he want one. He tried to fight the natural law, and he sought out and murdered the new doubles every time they would manifest, but they would always come back. Eventually he resorted to his black magic, and what happened was he created something which was of the Inner, but not. It existed here, yes, but it was not physical. It could pervade life forms, almost as if attempting constantly to manifest as a double for Natas, but the universe had made it an ethereal body, thus taking it outside the power of the Madman to destroy it. This was the Unborn Son, and after centuries of trying to incarnate to balance the dual nature of Natas, once it was finally in a state where no harm could be done to it, the ethereal son worshipped Natas as a Father God, and swore to do all that he commanded.
“Hopefully you understand enough about the personality of Natas to know how lucrative such a set up would have seemed, and to know that he would never stop there. The idea of doubles appealed to him all of a sudden, but the laws of the universe are set up in precise alignment, and no one had ever heard of creating more than one double. A triple and a quadruple was just completely absurd, as far as most smart thinking people were concerned. But he had to try. And he succeeded. Not only did he create the Unborn Son, his next creation was Marcus. Around that time, he somehow managed to dupe the Council of Valence into believing that he was this man called Vonwell. Most people didn’t see it, wouldn’t believe that upstanding Ardemeus Vonwell was one and the same as the Old Madman, Natas, but those of us who had been watching, expecting Natas to resurface at some point after his terrible rebellion, it was clear as day. That’s when people like the Vanjii tribe began to speak out about Vonwell, but the Council was so firmly wrapped around his finger and blinded by his false light by that time, that the only thing our tribe succeeded in achieving was to evoke the wrath of the Council of Valence. Since then our people have been on the run, hunted like dogs. Natas knows what my sister and I are capable of, and he knows that Beaner is really from the Upper Realms, and therefore more likely to be able to use those certain… peculiarities the Inner presents in the way of physics. In other words, it was not safe for him to have us around anymore. We were talking , we were attempting to rally support for our cause, and it was all too easy for Natas to convince the Council of Valence that we were no more than common Rebels who wanted to disrupt the peace which the Council is supposedly charged with keeping.
“That is why we built that giant, cumbersome thing you see down there,” Brun said, pointing at the cart, which had barely seemed to move at all. “Just so you know, you can only see it because I am allowing you to. Even from such a distance, I have been able to keep much of my enchantments strong, largely due to the preparations I made before leaving.”
“Is that why you said you might be tired the night before we left?”
“Yes,” Brun replied. “But when you wandered off into the night, I had to stop short. So unfortunately there are no actual physical barriers around the Village. It wasn’t so bad though, as the physical charms would have been the one’s which drained me, and as you saw, I ended up needing my strength.”
“Thank you, again,” Benny said. He still remembered the darkness creeping around him, and the cold red eyes floating amidst the dark mist. “I’m glad you were able to sense something. Up in my world, facing something like that in the middle of the night, no one would have felt something strange and come to my aid. I was glad you were there.”
“Well, really it was nothing,” Brun said, ever humble. “I had actually been partially monitoring my sister’s brainwave activity, and I happened to notice she was sending you some sort of thoughts. Then when I tried to enter your mind to see what she was showing you, you were already outside, running off into the woods. So I went, saved you, and then took you a safe distance into the trees, where my sister couldn’t lure you toward any danger. I had to return to get all of our stuff, you see.”
Benny had never actually thought about it when he had awoken from his faint, but now that he looked back on it, Brun had already pretty much set up an entire camp before Benny came to. Surely he would not have been able to do such a thing if he had been physically drained from important mental activities.
“So then it’s completely vulnerable,” Benny said. “Besides the ways you cloak it from sight, there is nothing actually protecting it. If Marcus and that lady already know the location at all times because they are somehow linked to this so called Unborn son, then what’s stopping them from attacking it right now?”
“Beaner,” Brun replied. “He is fat, yes, and he is easily swayed, for certain, but he loves his people with his entire being. He left everything behind in the Upper Realms, and has found comfort in these people who have grown to worship him. He is powerful because he understands the laws of this realm. Remember, most people born down here don’t know the abilities possible here, and even if they did it is much more difficult for them to bend the space of this realm because they form part of it. Beaner, and yourself, and Natas, all of you come from the Upper Realms, and therefore exist here only as forces. You are entities, capable of bending the physics of this dimension because you are not physically part of the Inner. Some of us are born with special abilities that seem super natural to those down here, but surely even you see by now that nothing I do is outside your abilities. Even in the Upper Realms, people are born knowing the fallibility of their physical laws, and they seem to break from normal physics to the point that people think it’s something special. In truth, however, it is not supernatural, it is just natural. If someone were to attack our village outright, they would find out what several centuries of Inner time can teach a man from the Upper Realms who holds loyalty to no one but his Clan.
“No, I think the plan was sabotage,” Brun continued, his tone becoming somber. “My sister is powerful, as I told you. The thing inside her is not quite as powerful, and it can’t utilize her abilities to their full potential, but it has managed to achieve one great feat which at first surprised even me.”
“And what is that?”
“You cannot see it now, young Master Benny, but I can. This eye has been a blessing ever since I first thought I was cursed with it, and in the direction our cart is traveling I see a great darkness on the horizon. But it is a hazy darkness, as if someone or something is cloaking that darkness in much the same way that I have been cloaking the Clan. That is why you cannot see it, and I believe those young, loyal children at the yoke don’t see it either. Beaner surely believes that the direction told to him by my sister is the most clear path to migrate, but really I fear that for quite some time now we have been drawing closer and closer to that large and terrible portion of the Inner which has been corrupted and taken over by Natas.”
Benny couldn’t see the darkness Brun spoke of, but he was beginning to understand that Brun had not only thought accepting this mission was necessary in order to stall Marcus and Chase, he had also used it as a chance to confirm many of the suspicions he had been harboring about his sister. Benny remembered the increased cheeriness of the little man after they were far enough that he could voice his opinions openly, with his voice instead of his mind, no longer having to fear intrusion from whatever was inside the body of his sister. Now, Brun was supposedly seeing for his self that his entire clan and the man who led them were being tricked and led into a trap. Benny wished he could see the darkness Brun spoke of, but all he saw on the horizon in front of the cart was the clear blue sky, dotted here and there with some light clouds. The mountains looked green and harmless, with only one of them being tall enough to even have signs of snow on it.
“Close your eyes, Master,” Brun said quietly.
Even though he wasn’t sure what Brun was getting at, Benny closed his eyes and listened to the faint rustle of the wind through the trees, waiting for further instruction.
“Remember the darkness of Natas,” Brun said, almost whispering. “Feel the way you were torn from your body, recall to your mind the feelings of torment that surrounded you in the place where you went to be separated from all command over your physical body in the Upper Realms.”
Benny remembered the pale eyes of Natas, with their faint red streaks and tiny pupils. He remembered the sounds of screams, and dampness all around him.
“Try to recreate that moment,” Brun continued, still talking in his quietest voice, presumably so as to not throw off Benny’s concentration. “Feel everything in your thoughts as if you were feeling it with your body.”
Suddenly the smell of gasoline came to Benny’s nostrils, and it seemed to him that it was a very weak smell drifting on the breeze. As he attempted to feel the damp cell and the cold chains, to hear the muffled screams through the walls, the smell increased. It was definitely coming from upwind, though, he thought, and was not part of his memory. He remembered that there had been the smell of gas, but the smell at the moment had grown too strong to merely be from memory.
“Do you smell that?” he inquired of Brun, keeping his eyes shut in case the exercise wasn’t over.
“Try to remember the darkness that surrounded you, for it was not physical darkness, but spiritual darkness heaped upon you by the Madman in order to keep you docile until he was ready to perform the operation which would strip you of your ability to move in the Upper Realms.”
Benny recalled the stifling blackness with all too much clarity, even though light was still seeping through his eyelids.
“Keep that darkness in your mind, Benny, and open your eyes.”
Benny did as he was told, and instantly on the horizon he saw the terrible darkness Brun had spoken of. The clouds for miles on the horizon in front of the Village were black, and indeed the air coming from that direction smelled of some acrid mix of gasoline and some other scent Benny couldn’t quite place a finger on.
Scanning the darkened horizon with a little more scrutiny than before, Benny realized that the mountain which had appeared tall enough to be capped with snow was in fact some sort of building. How this was possible, Benny didn’t know. He understood how the laws of gravity could be manipulated there in the Inner, but surely even then it would be difficult to build something the size of a tall mountain.
“What on Earth is that” Benny asked, awestruck.
“That, Master Benny,” Brun replied, “is the Mad Keep, the fortress of Natas.”