Aur couldn’t see anything but shadows and shifting colored light from behind the blindfold. The cloth was so large that it obscured his entire face. He could easily breath through it, however, the cloth was growing damp and uncomfortable around his nose and mouth.
It was cooler, filtered of humidity in the way regulated air was. His sock-feet felt a chill, slick surface under them. By the changing sounds of the white-haired man’s footsteps, Aur could tell it was made of some sort of metal.
Silence was peppered with strange hums, beeps and distant vibrations that the boy couldn’t identify. It all sounded mechanical and frightening, leaving pinprickles running up his bare arms. Through it all, the man guided him with a firm hand on one shoulder and the occasional, accented word.
Aur didn’t know why he was taken captive. He didn’t know who the man was, or what the terrifying creatures that he commanded were, either. There were so many things the boy didn’t know or remember. In the middle of the vast confusion, he did all that he could not to let fear overwhelm him.
Finally, after walking for a very long time, the man’s hand pulled him back gently. “Stop here.”
The boy did as he was instructed. He felt fumbling with the blindfold, then gasped as the white cloth was removed.
Everywhere he looked was a world of technical marvel. Long, metal halls stretched off into darkness, some bearing door-like portals along their sides. Streams of blue light pulsed along the floors and bottom walls, as if trying to light the way into something unknown. Panels of multi-hued symbols and buttons decorated the hall in random places. Strange hexagonal patterns flickered across the slick floors, changing as Aur moved his head.
“Are you okay?” the man’s voice broke through the moment of wonder. “Sorry about the blindfold. It’s all protocol, you see. Can’t have curious humans figuring their way here. The less you know, the better off you are.”
“Where are we?” the boy asked, not really expecting an answer. It seemed the man was trying to keep things secret.
Aur was right. The man didn’t answer. Instead, he leaned forward, placing his hands on either side of the boy’s shoulders. His face was genuinely concerned as he spoke quickly, in a low voice. “Listen. I don’t have a lot of time to explain things. You’ll be alright here if you just do as I say, and don’t ask too many questions. Okay?”
The boy gave a tiny nod. He was scared again, but he tried to be brave and not let it show.
“This is only temporary. While you’re here, you’ll be serving the young Master.” The man turned away and began tapping a series of buttons on one of the wall panels. “So, look sharp. Whatever he wants you to do, you do it. Understand?”
“M-Master?” Aur squeaked. This wasn’t the first time someone mentioned the Master.
“That’s right,” he answered, watching as what looked like a door slide sideways, opening. Beyond that was a dark inner room. The strong hand nudged Aur inside. “I’m afraid I don’t have time to make a proper introduction. But you seem a likeable guy. Just do the best you can if you run across him before the morning.”
The boy stumbled, almost falling face-first into the shadows. Turning over his shoulder, his eyes wide with fear, he stammered a protest, “B-but!”
It was too late. The sliding door closed behind him with a heavy thunk. Aur was left alone in the cold dark room of the strange mechanical tower.
Master? I have to serve the Master? What if he’s some sort of monster? Like the ones that brought me here?
For a while, he crouched there, on hands and knees, struggling to control his frantic breathing and racing heartbeat. He knew being afraid wasn’t going to make this situation better, even if everything around him was big and scary. In time, his eyesight began to adjust to the darkness, and he realized it wasn’t all as dark as he thought.
It’s just night outside.
Gathering up his courage, Aur got to his feet and crept into the room. His feet met with something soft. When he looked down, he saw the edge of a cloth rug. Though the room was small and narrow, it was furnished with everything someone needed for comfort: a single bed with blankets and pillows, a writing desk and chair, some wall-mounted shelves, which were empty, and even a long, rectangular window which provided a stunning view of the night sky.
As he came closer to the bed, a small globe that hung from the ceiling hummed with a friendly sound and lit up, bathing the narrow room in a warm glow. For the first time, Aur could see that there were two doors in this room: one that led to the hallway, and one that connected to the room next door.
He was too tired to worry about much at that point. The bed looked inviting and the room seemed safe enough from the scary creatures and white-haired men. When Aur flopped face-first into the soft covers, he sank slightly into the bed in a comforting way. The little light above seemed to know he wanted to sleep, and slowly began to dim over time, until only the light of the two moons filtered through his window.
Despite the soft blankets and pillows, Aur’s sleep was fitful and sporadic. He found himself waking almost as soon as sleep was about to take him, eyes darting around the room to check if he was still in that strange place. Every time, he was.
Finally, just as he was about to doze off for good, a sound carried through the night. The sound of someone crying.
Aur sat up, shivering in response. His mind reeled, crafting all kinds of scary scenarios, from someone begging for release from a torture chamber to a weeping ghost who wandered the dark halls. After some time, he pinpointed the sound — it was coming from the other side of the door.
Creeping towards it, the boy noticed that the panel on the wall was much simpler than the one next to the door in the hallway. He reached his hand up and touched the slick black metal, only to be rewarded with a cheerful beep and activity from the sliding door.
Aur held his breath as it rolled back, revealing another much larger room on the other side. This one was draped in dark curtains, the walls filled with shelves of books. A huge bed took up much of the space in the middle, along with a few chairs and a wooden desk at one end.
The crying broke off with a choked sound, alerted by the door’s beep.
“Hello?” Aur called quietly, poking his nose into the room. Whoever was crying was hidden off in the shadows on the other side of the bed. “Is someone here?”
The heavy scent of smoke filled the boy’s nose as he turned towards the desk. He could see the charred remains of what seemed books and parchments, left smoldering from a fire that was lit not that long ago.
“N-no,” finally came a choked answer from the shadows. “Go away!”
Aur stopped where he stood, surprised at the sound. It was the voice of another boy.
“Are you okay?” he asked.
The sniffles returned. And so did something else. Something strange. Green shimmering lights began to fill the air, floating across the room’s darkness.
Aur took a step back, observing one. When it didn’t seem harmful, he swallowed and snuck forward, peering around the corner of the bed.
A boy sat there, curled in a defensive position. His arms were locked around his legs, head buried against his knees. He wore rather plain clothes of white and green, and like the strange man who brought Aur here, the boy also had white hair. It was long and tied back into a pony tail, indicating that this boy was older than Aur. He was bigger, too.
“I heard you crying,” Aur told him, peeking with concern. The strange green lights seemed to condense around the other boy’s form, as if created by him.
Hearing Aur’s voice so close, the white-haired boy’s head lifted sharply. His eyes narrowed, focusing on Aur, glowing with a burning green light from within.
Terrified, Aur reeled back, letting out a long shout. To his surprise, the glowy-eyed boy also recoiled, shouting in unison with him. He pressed his back against the far wall, gasping to catch his breath.
After a moment, the boy accused, “THEY sent you, didn’t they?”
“They?” Aur choked out the word, then shook his head. “They who? No one sent me here. I was in the other room and I heard you crying.”
“Other room?” the boy peered at the door. Then his green eyes focused back on Aur. They didn’t glow so much anymore. “Then, who are you? Why are you here? In the Tower, I mean.”
“The white-haired man brought me here. He said I needed to serve the Master. But I don’t even know where he is,” Aur explained in a rush, relieved to have someone else to tell this to.
“The Master?” the boy echoed with a slight frown.
Maybe he knows who that is!
“Yes, can you tell me where to find him?”
“I don’t want to get in trouble. Please, I’m really scared…”
The boy sat there and watched him for a long moment. Then, he didn’t answer. Instead, he asked another question. “What’s your name? Where did you come from?”
“My name is Aur. I woke up in a forest, and that’s where the white-haired man found me.”
“Forest. Then, you’re a prisoner from the Blue Planet, too.” The boy’s expression turned dark.
“I’m… I’m a prisoner?” Aur squeaked. “That wasn’t what the white-haired man said!”
“Of course not. They never tell the truth.” The boy just looked grumpy for a long moment.
Aur did everything he could not to hyperventilate right there.
Seeing his fear, the other boy reached out with a sudden kind expression. His hand was strangely comforting as it fell gently on Aur’s shoulder. His voice was also comforting in a strange, coaxing sort of way.
“Hey. Don’t be scared. My Dad is going to come to take me home really soon,” he said, encouragingly. “And when he does, I’ll ask him to take you back with us. Then we can figure out where you came from and find your parents, too.”
“You’d… you’d do that?” Aur blinked at him, surprised.
“Sure!” He beamed the smile of someone being cheerful to give hope to someone else.
“How will he know where to find my parents? I don’t remember anything about myself.”
“He will. My Dad knows everything! You’ll see!” the boy told him confidently.
“What if the white-haired man comes back?”
“Then I’ll tell him to leave you alone,” he pumped a fist with an ever wider grin.
“You can do that?” Aur asked with upraised eyebrows.
“The people in this tower listen to me.”
“Well, most of the time. I won’t let them bug you, okay?”
“Sure… thanks,” Aur blinked down, finding himself feeling better despite everything. Then he looked at the other boy again. “So, what’s your name?”
“Me? My name’s Ben.” Then, he smirked. It was a troublemaker’s smirk.