It passed into deep night before Aur finally fell asleep, right there on Ben’s bed. Ben could tell that the other boy was very tired. Eventually, exhaustion overcame Aur’s fear, leading him to slumber.
Ben wanted to think that something he said helped put Aur at ease. At least, for a little while. He didn’t know why Kip brought the other boy to Zot, or what plans the General had for Aur. However, Ben was determined that the boy would be taken safely back to the Blue Planet where he belonged.
Maybe I’ll have a chance to escape then, too.
Escape was something that was always on Ben’s mind. He’d tried to navigate the twisting dark halls of the Tower many times. So much, in fact, that Kip developed a little drone that was tasked to watch the halls and alert the Generals to the boy’s errant behavior.
Ben thought about giving the bot a bolt to the face, but when he actually saw it, it was far too cute to blow up. So, he resigned to his room, plotting his next big escape.
If Kip doesn’t take Aur back to the Blue Planet, I might have help with my plan. All I need to do is get to the ship dock…
Not that Ben knew the first thing about the strange mechanical ships. Well, other than that they could fly (~!) and they were the means of transportation between the Blue Planet and the Tower (which also could fly~!).
Under better circumstances, all of this would have been amazing and wondrous to him. The Tower, the magic that he sensed within the structure, the flying ships, the various creatures that inhabited the structure – it was a veritable playground for a young, curious mage. Just not when that young curious mage was being held there against his will.
They’re going to be really sorry when my Dad gets here.
Something bad had happened the day Ben ran away from home, carrying his younger brother to the safety of Baron city. It was something that Ben knew his father had sensed. Something that even he could sense. Something dark and powerful that came from the sky, hunting him and his family.
The memory of his mother was still strong in his mind, her long golden hair swaying in the unnatural wind as she folded his baby brother in his arms. She told him to take the Road to Baron. She would guard the road and make sure nothing followed them.
But something happened. The shadows still got through. They still followed Ben as he raced frantically through Baron to find somewhere to hide. Quickly, he realized that the shadows honed in on him, and not his brother. That’s when he left the toddler with his father’s friend, Master Cid.
Ben did the best he could to lead the shadows away. They followed him. And though he struggled, they captured him.
The next thing he knew, he was there in the tower. A place of dark magics and machines, overlooked by the two Generals. Kip was the General that Ben saw most often. He tended to meals and tried to make cheerful small talk that the boy had no interest in.
General TsuMe was a different story. Everything about him felt terrible, and Ben found himself holding his breath anytime the man was near. He wasn’t human in the least, and the darkness in his eyes held knowledge that the boy shuddered to think about. The less he saw of General TsuMe, the better.
All of that brought him back to his current situation. Captured and locked away in Zot.
General Kip tried to make it seem casual. Like he wasn’t being held against his will. Like there were wonderful things Ben could learn about magic and the mysteries of the Tower, if only the boy would give it a chance. All that ignored the fact that he was far, far away from his home and family. And he had no idea if any of them were okay.
Ben quickly corrected himself, shaking away the dismal thoughts.
Of course they’re okay. Father wouldn’t let anything happen to them. And as soon as he figures out where I am, he’ll come get me.
Patience. It’s all about patience. That’s what Father always said.
The boy cupped his hands together, drawing on a trickle of inner light. He focused hard, trying to fill his mind with the thoughts of patience and calm. As he did, the green energies webbed out from between his fingertips, slowly shifting, multiplying and forming a sphere.
The surface of the sphere also began to take shape, some areas becoming more dense than others. What started out as a magic-doodle was becoming something more – a recreation of the Blue Planet’s globe, complete with the two orbiting moons.
Ben watched the slow rotation, amused by his own cleverness. He studied his Father’s hand-drawn maps so much that he was sure he had every little island of the world memorized.
Just as the boy was entranced enough to consider marking in the water with a shift of blue energy, the door to the bedroom opened. His concentration broken, the illusion shattered between his hands. The sound of the sliding door also woke Aur, who blinked groggily at the hall light that pierced the darkness of the room.
“Good evening!” Kip greeted them in an overly cheerful tone, carrying a tray of food.
There were double the rations, indicating he was aware that Aur and Ben would be together. Or maybe it was a lucky guess. Either way, his grin turned Ben’s stomach, making him scowl.
“And how is the Young Master? I see you met the friend I found for you,” the General said smoothly.
Ben didn’t answer, but he did see Aur’s face turn pale, even in the dim light.
“Are you boys getting along well?” Kip asked.
Ben just continued to glower, even as the man brushed away the remains of last night’s burned book to find a place to put the food tray.
When neither boy spoke, Kip continued with a friendliness that only made Ben feel cold all over. “If not, we can always dispose of this one and find you another friend.”
Aur instantly clutched the blanket in a defensive motion. Open terror was written on his face.
Ben’s look got darker and darker. He wasn’t stupid – he could sense exactly what Kip’s intentions were.
He’s doing this on purpose. He’s trying to use Aur to make me talk.
The stubborn streak within him wanted to hold on to the silent treatment he’d been giving the General for the past three days. But it was terribly unfair to Aur, who was now caught in the middle of their fight.
“Well?” Kip prompted, giving a fake concerned face. “Is something wrong?”
Fine! You want me to talk? I’ll talk!
Ben dropped out of the bed and stomped forward, swinging one hand through the air. Even at his young age, he was nearly as tall as Kip, and had no trouble looking the General straight in the eye.
“Why did you take Aur from the Blue Planet?” the boy demanded. “He doesn’t belong here! What did you do? Take him from his family, too?”
“Now, now. The boy doesn’t remember where he came from,” Kip’s calm answer was overly logical. “We found him alone in the forest with no human habitat nearby. Would you have liked me to leave him to starve?”
The level tone only served to frustrate Ben all the more. “Why didn’t you take him to a town? You have flying ships. You could have done it!”
“I was short on time. The Tower was set to move,” Kip’s slight smile was victorious. Ben was talking. He had won. “Besides, I had troops with me. Considering they found him, he’s lucky to still be alive.”
Ben just curled his lip feeling the heat and energy rising up through his form.
“So, is he a suitable friend, Young Master?”
A sudden burst of green light flashed through the room as magic sparked and blazed around Ben’s form. His anger leapt around him in a million specks of charged sparks, and his voice took on a powerful, echoing sound. “I WANT YOU TO TAKE HIM BACK! He doesn’t belong here!”
Kip looked completely unmoved. “You know I can’t do that right now. Protocol says…”
“I don’t care about your stupid protocol!” the boy snapped, balling one fist. “You can’t just keep taking people from their homes!”
“Now, now, Young Master,” the General’s tone became firm. He wasn’t smiling anymore. “You’re scaring your new friend.”
“Huh?” When Ben turned to look, he could see Aur’s horrified face. He didn’t know if it was Kip, the yelling, the magic, or what. But the boy was beside himself, stammering and gasping for breath.
“Ben… You’re the Master?” Aur finally squeaked.
“Please don’t dispose of me! I’ll… I’ll… do whatever you want me to do!” the boy began to plead.
The angry magic around him vanished instantly as concern replaced his frustration. He turned reaching one comforting hand towards the other boy. “No! No… you don’t understand! I don’t want anyone disposed!”
“Are you sure? If he’s not acceptable…” Kip began to rub it in, knowing victory was his that night.
“NO!” Ben rounded on him. He may have won this round, but he wasn’t getting away completely unscathed. “I’m not like the things you keep in this tower! You’re all just a bunch of monsters and murderers!”
This seemed to shake the General, his face twisting into a sincere expression of unease.
Ben decided to push it a little further. He stared Kip in the eyes and demanded, “Where is my father?”
The man didn’t respond. Ben could sense the struggle on the inside, though. Something about the words bothered Kip.
Ben demanded again, “I want my father!”
This time, Kip turned away, just in time to hide the pained expression on his face. He began to punch the pattern on the door’s keypad.
“Answer me!” Ben shouted. Then he shifted languages, into the Mysidian dialect that his father taught him. For some reason, Kip understood this language, too. “Where is my father!”
The man paused at the sound of the other language. When he answered, it was in Mysidian, and a tone more serious than usual. “I don’t know. I’m sorry.”
“You lie!” Ben snapped.
Aur just stared between them with a curious look, unable to understand what they were saying.
“You lie!” Ben shifted back to speaking in Common. “And when my father comes to get me, you’re going to be in so much trouble!”
Kip didn’t say anything. The door simply shut behind him.
Frustration overwhelmed Ben, hot tears threatening to spill down his cheeks. Fighting them back, he rubbed his eyes, then grabbed one of the rolls on the supper plate and shoved it in his mouth.
Aur approached, somewhat warily, golden eyes wide. “Ben? Are you okay?”
Ben didn’t say anything. Instead, he just handed his new friend the second dinner roll.