Let us try to imagine what the parents of Benny Jorgens must have been going through in that troublesome time. Their son had one day gone to hang out with his friend Jerry, much as he had done every day for the last three years or so. Then later that night they get a phone call informing them that one of the boys Benny had been with was dead, Jerry and Benny were missing, and so was the cop who went searching for them.
It was hard for either parent to face the idea of losing their son, but as far as they knew, some mad murderer had stumbled upon them and poisoned them all or something. Their paranoid case was not helped by the fact that no one in the whole damned town was qualified enough to say much except for Geoff Wisenhower, and he had been rather averse to the idea of talking about that night. In his words, “It just gives me the heebie-jeebies.”
Then, just when they were about to lose hope entirely of ever hearing from their son again, he had turned up, a completely changed boy. He no longer showed any signs of personality, and his looks were so different that it was hard to recognize him without looking directly into his eyes (and they didn’t particularly want to do that either, because he just stared blankly ahead, and one could tell that he was not perceiving them there in front of him one single bit.) Their neighbors weren’t the only ones who had taken to comparing him to a vegetable. They had done it too. And why not? The boy was no longer what anyone would consider a person.
He was a shell. A blank, lifeless shell. Nothing more.
Once again, they had reached the point of losing all hope once again, this time of their son ever recovering from whatever traumatic experience he’d been through. This is where we now find them, hopeless on a day that showed no hope of sunshine. The rain bleated against the window and the two parents simply whiled away their time by staring into the fire. They had recently heard the boy muttering various nonsensical things in passing, never more than a word or two, but for some reason this did not bring either of them any sense of hope whatsoever. It merely increased their fears that their son was forevermore insane.
But then the sound of rain was broken by something falling. Something falling in the direction of Benny’s room. Neither of them even seemed to comprehend that whatever it was that had fallen was either glass or china, because movement from Benny’s room meant movement from Benny. Which meant improvement. The boy had not moved for days since returning. He just sat on his bed, staring forward.
Both of them shoved aside their little comforter blankets and immediately made a mad dash for his room. They turned the corner into his doorway and there he stood, fists bloody and the ground in front of him covered in glass and blood. The shatter had apparently come from the large mirror that used to sit on his dresser but which was now in several pieces on his floor.
“Benny, are you okay?” his mother asked.
The boy looked up slowly, face in some sort of sick grimace. He reached up and wiped his nose on his arm, smearing the blood from his hands all over his face. When he made eye contact with her, it was frightening and she would’ve screamed if she could’ve found the motivation. Yes it was her son, and yes it was amazing to see him standing and moving once again, but something about him just looked… evil. She couldn’t think of any other way to describe him, with the blood on his face and the menacing gleam in his eye.
“I’m fine, mother dearest,” Benny said with a monotone, dead voice. “It just needed breaking, is all.”
“But why would you want to break your grandmother’s mirror, Benjamin?” His father this time. He moved forward instinctively, between the new ugly Benny and his mother.
“I just didn’t like the way it made me look,” the boy said in his eerie, distant sounding voice. I really wish he’d stop talking like that, his father thought. “And while I was looking, an interesting thought occurred to me, oh sweet parents of mine.”
He grinned a grin they had never seen on their son in his life, and some of the blood from his face dribbled down into his teeth. For some reason, neither parent could find the ability to ask their own son what he meant.
So he continued anyways, not waiting for an answer. “It occurred to me while I was looking at my wretch of a self, that you two are the ones who made me look like this. I’ve got your ugly nose, father, and you’re even more repulsive blue eyes, mother. I’m not sure any sane mother could love a child that looks like me.”
“You shut the hell up!” Benny’s father said. If there was one thing Victor Jorgens hated, it was males insulting females. And this was his wife the mad boy was talking to. Benny would never talk to his mother that way. Somehow, Victor just knew that this was not their Benny.
It can’t be, he thought.
Either way, this boy was not going to keep insulting his beautiful wife any longer.
“Oh, father, father, father,” the creepy non-Benny said. “I don’t think you know what you’re dealing with here. But if you really want a confrontation, I guess that can be arranged.”
Victor Jorgens started to retaliate, but before he could even form his mouth into one word, he was thrown violently backwards, popping the door open and spilling him out into the hall. He hit his head on the door and instantly could feel a warm trickle of blood there. His wife screamed and began backing away from the boy.
“Aww, what’s wrong, pretty mother?” he asked. “Can’t you stomach a little violence?”
“Don’t you dare touch her,” Victor said from the floor as he attempted to regain his feet. “I don’t care if you do look like my son, whoever you are, I will kick your ass.”
“Yes, I believe we just got a demonstration of that, now didn’t we, pops?”
“I don’t know what you just did,” Victor said. “But it was cheap. And the Jorgens don’t play cheap. Now fight me like a man.”
“Oh believe me, father, I really wanted a girl’s body. But you two just had to make me this ugly little vessel. It’s a shame I can’t smash the mirror into even smaller pieces. I can still see the ugly nose and the ugly eyes.”
Victor lunged forward as fast as he could (and to him, it seemed pretty damned fast indeed,) but it wasn’t fast enough. Without even looking up from the shattered mirror shards, the boy reached out and grabbed the considerably larger man’s neck and stopped him dead. The force of the sudden stop almost caved Victor’s wind pipe, but not quite. That would be too easy of a way for this bastard to kill me, he thought.
“Oh father, you foolish man,” Non-Benny said. “You just don’t get it do you? There is no way you can defeat me. Hell, there is no way you can even touch me without me touching you a million times first.”
“Just…leave her…out…of this…” Victor said, trying his best to stay conscious as the blood flow to his brain began to slow.
“Hmmm…” the boy said. “I don’t know, father, she looks awfully fun to me. I might want her to be very much a big part of this.”
He directed his sinister, menacing glare on Mrs. Jorgens. She cowered back even farther from her husband. She wanted to run, but she couldn’t seem to run while Victor was still alive. He was all she had to live for, and what’s the point of running when you’re everything is still alive and can still be saved? So her mind and her emotions kept her frozen.
“Tell you what, pops,” the boy said. “If you let go right now, just die nice and peacefully in my hand, without me having to waste any more of my strength on your pathetic excuse for a life, then I’ll let her live. Or rather… I’ll give her every opportunity to live. If she doesn’t manage to survive on her own… well that’s outside of our bargain, now isn’t it?”
“Victor…” she stammered. “I—“
“JUST GO!!” he managed to yell, even though his trachea was half compacted by then. Seeing her husband’s blood red face, eyes bulging with fear and worry and pain, made Mary Jorgens very afraid indeed. He was always so strong… yet now this boy who looked like their son but who acted nothing like him was strangling her man… And he was telling her to run.
Please don’t die, please don’t die, please don’t die, she thought over and over again, even as she turned and fled and even as she ran across the bottom floor of the house all the way to the front door, and even as she heard the large thump as her best friend and lover fell to the floor.
Please don’t die, please don’t die, please please please…
So far, the one thing Benny found to be good about the suicide mission Beaner was sending them on was that the entire population of the cart, including the children who were pulling the cart, had turned out for a feast. They obviously didn’t like to ever stop the cart, but the children were more than willing to trade off with each other, accommodating all of them so they could constantly travel forward but everyone could still be involved in the feast, given to honor the bravery of Brun the Warrior and Benny of the Upper Realms.
Most of the food was comprised of things Benny had never even seen or heard of before, but not a single thing that he tried turned out to be bad tasting. A few items had a funny texture or something of the sort, but the flavor of every dish was pleasing and almost intoxicating. Everyone sat around a long table set up in the very center of the cart, and the only person Benny didn’t see sitting at the table, laughing and sharing the wonderful food, was Lauren, Bruns (older?) hypnotizing sister. Even now, when there was so much food to focus on, Benny felt his mind being drawn back to her, like his thoughts constantly wanted to center around her and only her. But Benny was a persistent guy, and just like when he used to attempt meditation in his free time, he now shoved the thought away over and over, patiently pushing it out of mind every time it surfaced.
Beaner was sitting at the far end of the table, Brun at his left hand, smiling around at his family, or clan, or whatever it was he’d chosen to call them. Occasionally one of them would catch his eye and say something to him, and he’d smile his squinty smile and respond, just quiet enough that Benny could never quite make out what was being said. Next Benny turned his gaze to Brun, expecting to see the small man looking proud and honored to be at this magnificent feast, right hand to the Leader himself. Instead Benny saw a different sight. The little man had not just the one but both of his eyes trained on the small room from which Benny had sensed the strange feeling, and he seemed to be downright glaring at it. No one seemed to be paying any attention, but now that Benny had his attention drawn to it, he noticed that the feeling from earlier was back. In fact, it had been there the whole time, every time his thoughts went back to Lauren, but he hadn’t noticed it because each time he thought about her, he was focusing on her and not the feeling in his stomach.
He looked over toward the room where he guessed Lauren was staying, and at first thought he saw nothing. But then he realized, as his eyes adjusted to the distant corner, that the air around the room seemed somehow…darker… He couldn’t think of any other way to really describe it… The lines of the wood which made up the room seemed to waver just slightly enough that a sharp eye could perceive them. I wonder how Brun sees it, Benny thought. He wasn’t sure, but he guessed that the large magical eye saw a lot more than any human ever could. To Benny, it merely looked as if he was seeing the room through a heat shimmer like on roads during the summer, except subtle enough as to be almost unnoticeable. Whatever the strange energy from over there was, Benny was sure that Brun was seeing it well enough.
The little man suddenly looked up and realized Benny had been looking at him. Benny flicked his eyes over to the room, and he wasn’t sure if it would be enough of a signal for Brun to respond, but apparently it was because the dwarf leaned forward a little, as if to talk to Benny. Surely it would be too loud in the room for him to be heard from such a distance, Benny had thought, but of course the man had never actually spoken a single word the whole time Benny had known him. Just as they did any time Brun spoke to him, the words came loud and clear right into the center of his thoughts, pushing all others aside. It was the first time Benny realized how powerful Bruns ability to be inside his mind was. It was kind of scary. He also saw for the first time some of the similarity between Lauren and her smaller sibling.
Come, we must talk, the little man said, nodding his head slightly, indicating to Benny which way to go. Benny quietly excused himself from the table, and tried to avoid Beaner’s eye as the big man noticed the two of them departing. Surely this must look suspicious, Benny thought.
No matter. If Brun felt comfortable enough to bring him away from the feast so they could talk, then surely it wasn’t an offense that would anger the Clan Chief, or whatever he was to these people. He followed Brun over to a room similar to the smoking room they had occupied earlier in the evening, except this one was considerably smaller.
Brun’s private quarters, Benny assumed. The little guy opened the door and Benny crouched his way through it. Once the door was closed, the room was immersed in darkness. Then a small light flicked on, a small flame like a lighter, and Benny watched it move across the room and as it went, one flame and then another was lit, until the whole room was rather well lit by some thirty candles.
Brun waved his hand towards a chair in the corner that was obviously placed there for bigger people. It stood out in the room because it was normal sized when everything else was just slightly smaller than average. Benny felt just as out of place as the chair looked. This must be the reverse of what he feels when he’s around big people, Benny thought. Once he had seated himself, Brun took up a place on a small, highly decorated chair in the center of the room, almost as if he had built his own little thrown to make up for his life as the right hand man.
“My sister is dangerous,” Brun said. Said it. This was a much different voice than the powerful masculine voice Benny heard in his head. This was indeed much more the sort of voice Benny would expect from such a small man. It was high pitched and almost like a child, but laced with a strong tone of knowledge and age that was unmistakable. It sounded more like a very clear, crisp voice of a toddler who had been trained to speak at a level much higher than his age. “I can only barely manage to keep her out of my head. And you must understand, Benny from Away, that my mind is very well controlled, and it takes quite the powerful being to make me have trouble with my thoughts. Any creature which is that powerful is a dangerous creature. Like me. I am important here because I keep the clan safe, I am their warrior, but I am feared. The children do not talk to me, the adults fear me, and the only friend I have is a man who commands me like a puppet. But I can’t ever leave this place, because he saved me and my sister all those years ago, and I fear I might invoke my sister’s wrath if I dare suggest doing something as ungrateful as running away from our savior, when I’m the only one who can protect his tubby ass.”
Benny laughed at this, and even heard what resembled a chuckle echoing deep within his mind, but he knew somehow that this joke was only meant to lighten the mood slightly, not to draw attention away from the seriousness of the situation. He pulled out his tiny smoking pipe and began taking small puffs. Benny remembered his own stash and decided to follow suit. If there was one thing Benny for sure liked about this traveling town he found himself in, it was their profound love and respect of that sweet leaf.
Brun seemed to deem his puffs satisfying and returned his little pipe to its pouch. He stared off into a corner as he continued. “But I have been feeling something strange from within my sister as of late. And I think you felt it too, am I correct?”
“Yes,” Benny replied after blowing out his own cloud of smoke. The room was quickly filled with the aroma of the Lana plant. “But I didn’t know how to take it. All I could think of was that it felt strange… like she was trying to draw me in.”
“That is a side effect of my sister’s awesome power,” the small man said. “She has the power to attract indefinitely, and I fear this is the only reason our master feels the need to marry her. She is beautiful, yes, but she is so young, if he wants to retain any honor with his people he will have to wait a considerable amount of time before it will no longer be considered taboo for them to be together. But he is dead set on having her. But something about this new darkness that has come over her is making me extremely nervous. I do not feel love in her mind any more when she looks at me, and I do not sense the admiration for these people that she always had. She seems cold, and she seems to dislike me… For outsiders, this must look like normal, healthy sibling rivalry. But to me, who has been by her side for many a year now, it is highly unusual. My sister loves me.”
For the first time, Benny saw this little warrior look more like a child then a small man. There weren’t really tears in his eyes, but they were definitely more shiny then they had ever been, and Benny didn’t think it had anything to do with the few hits of Lana he had taken. Obviously Brun had loved his sister very much, as well, and it must have been horrible for him to slowly feel as if his sister no longer returned the feeling.
“Anyways, I do not trust her anymore,” Brun said, visibly attempting to gather his composure. “And that is why I am not truly honored to be sent on this mission. You have already heard me mention that I am the only one strong enough to protect this clan, I have been a part of it since before the wars, and if I am not here, it leaves this place very vulnerable. If my suspicions are correct, then my sister just might be under some sort of control, and if that’s the case then we can’t be certain that there even are any people in the mountains. Making us see what she wants us to see is one of her specialties, and even with a mind as strong as my own, convincing us that we are seeing something completely real would not be a hard feat for her.
“So now I am left feeling very uncomfortable, because whatever evil is growing inside my sister, whether its of her own devising or from an outside source, is becoming stronger at an alarming rate. I don’t know just how far her clutches will go into the mind of Master Beaner before it is too late. He is a very resilient man, that is for sure, but he is overall weak, especially to the temptations of women. I fear one day I may have to attempt to show him exactly what she is, but it will be too late and he will betray me in order to remain faithful to his beautiful blushing bride to be. Then I will be forced to leave and this cart will surely be taken by the people that I know actually are following us.”
“So you aren’t sure she even showed us real people in her vision earlier?” Benny asked, smoking more of the Lana.
“I am not sure, but I do not detect the large group of people she showed us, and the people that I know in my heart are actually following us are but three, and they are much farther back than she made them look. She knows I see such things, her little lies, and she is becoming wary of me. I think this is why she has sent me away. Once I am gone, there will be no protection, and she will strike. But see, Brun here is not just a small brain in a small body. I think. And I plan. And I think I have a plan now. But it will take very much of my magic, and a large amount of my strength to appear ready for a trip. For really I will be drained, and as soon as we leave this place as indeed we must, I may need you to carry me. I am a bit heavy, but you are much stronger than you know yet. That is the only good I can see coming from this trip… you shall be trained by me, a competent warrior, and if you listen and do as I say, you shall truly be one of the best. And you shall be ready to take on anything you might face. Believe me, Benny from Away, you will be asked to face many trials, many foes, and I don’t think you are ready for any of that just yet. No offense.”
None taken, Benny thought. One thing I’ve known since this has begun is that I am definitely not ready for any of this.
“Then we are on the same page, as you say up there,” the little man said. “Tomorrow at dawn we will set out, and tonight I will stay up making my preparations. I cannot tell you of them here, nor can I really even think about it, for her mind is connected to my own stronger than to anyone else’s. But tomorrow when we are a distance away from here, I will tell you what will have been done by that point. For now, alter your mind as you see fit-“ (he raised his pipe to his mouth.) “-and sleep well, for tomorrow we will be doing very much traveling and plenty of training in all the ways I see fit as we go, so get your rest. You will need it.”
The two of them sat and smoked together a little while longer and then proceeded out to the dining area. Even though they all tried desperately to hide it, all eyes were on Benny and Brun, the Hero Warriors of their homes.
Back in Hayvan, Laura was learning for the first time the awkward new skill of being able to put in her own sanitary protection while on her period. Fusa’s beautiful wife, of whom Laura had always been secretly jealous, was showing her and explaining why it was necessary to use and change one of the small cotton contraptions regularly while on her period. Laura had often dreamed of the day when she’d reach maturity like the other girls in the town (most of whom she was older than,) but she would certainly have never wished it to come at such and impertinent time.
Fusa was standing outside the hut smoking (Veela, his wife, disapproved very highly of smoking, and only allowed Ku to do it because he was an elder and highly respected.) Laura could sense even from a distance that the man was becoming impatient. Truthfully so was she, and she felt terrible for holding up their mission as she was. He didn’t seem to be mad at her for the sudden onset of bleeding, he just seemed irritated. Either way, Laura had vowed to always be as good to this family as they had been to her, but right now she only felt like a nuisance and nothing more. However, Veela seemed downright giddy, giggling every time she thought about it, and she made a point of showering Laura with motherly praises, like “oh you’re growing up so fast” (which was absurd) or “who’d have thought you’d make such a lovely woman.” Then she’d smile and giggle and go about whatever she was doing.
Overall the process wasn’t hard, and it merely made her uncomfortable, but she felt confident she could adjust fairly well. It would take a little more than some simple bleeding to put Laura Feen off course. She had just finished a cup of herbal tea that Veela said would “ease the stomach snakes” during her period. So far her downstairs and stomach just felt kind of warm, other than that, it was like normal tea. As she was swallowing the last of the warm, sweet liquid, Fusa’s deep voice rang in from outside the hut. “Are you about ready in there? Time is short, I’m afraid.”
There was still a lot of raucous from the town still, but more and more light was being shed as people lit their torches and candles and anything else they could find to brighten up the enormous, dark cavern. The town had never experienced such a thing as a black out before, and Laura did not find it surprising that even an hour after the lights had gone out, there still came a scream or two from the darkness. Probably as someone opened their curtains to find the outside mysteriously darker than their homes.
“I think I’m ready to go now,” Laura said, getting up from the couch where she’d been enjoying her tea. “I hope this thing will last a while, because I don’t know how long this is going to take us.”
“I make these myself,” Veela said, “and I do believe that it should last you at least until tomorrow. But you must change it tomorrow as soon as possible, or you risk getting yourself sick, you hear?”
“I hear,” Laura said. She darted over and gave the tall lady a hug before setting out to do what they had to do. “Thank you,” she said, almost tearing up at the thought of not being able to return to this place to see her again. After all, Laura was well aware of how much trouble she had caused, and if anyone was to be ‘gotten’ that night, she suspected it would be her, and not the tall warrior Fusa or his equally tall and beautifully terrible wife.
After one last smile over her shoulder, she and Fusa set out at a run for the store in which was located the secret passageway to the mansion. The man who owned it said he’d leave the door open for them because he was going home to be with his family. No one knew quite what was going on, but everyone seemed to know one thing for sure.
Something was going wrong.