The morning light bathed the tower room in a golden glow, catching in shimmers across the slick stone floor. Aur didn’t realize he’d fallen asleep in Ben’s room again after the second round of excitement during the previous night. When he woke, daylight was strong outside the window and Ben was already up.
The white-haired boy sat curled on a pillow-chair, a feather pen in one hand. He scribbled intently in a notebook, only pausing now and then to peer up at the ceiling for inspiration. Aur didn’t want to interrupt Ben’s work – he seemed very intent on writing down whatever was on his mind — so he hooked his arms over the end of the bed and waited to be noticed.
In the morning’s silence, he began to work through all his cluttered thoughts and fears. Aur still wasn’t sure if he was safe or if Ben had the authority to protect him, as the boy claimed. In fact, he wasn’t sure what Ben was, and if he wasn’t just as dangerous as the other things in the tower.
After a while, the other boy’s green eyes wandered from his page to acknowledge Aur’s existence. His expression turned concerned, “Hey?”
Aur startled, not expecting the sound of spoken voice.
Ben noted that, and asked, “Are you okay?”
The golden-eyed boy sat up, trying unsuccessfully to hide his apprehension, “I’m… ah… um…”
“You look spooked. Did Kip creep you out that much?”
“Kip? What’s that?”
“That’s the name of the white haired man that brought you here,” Ben clarified with a look of distaste. It was obvious that the boy had no liking for this Kip.
“Oh. Well, he is a little scary.”
“Not as scary as some of the other things in this tower,” the boy muttered. Then, seeing that didn’t help his new friend feel better, he added quickly, “Sorry.”
“You saw those creatures, too?”
“Yeah. They don’t mess with me,” Ben nodded, then began writing in his notebook again. “Just stay close and they won’t mess with you, either.”
Aur took a deep breath and finally blurted, “Is that because you’re the Master?”
The other boy stopped writing, a stricken look crossing his face.
When he didn’t answer, Aur pressed, “You are, aren’t you? That’s what they call you.”
Ben took a deep breath and motioned with his feather pen, “I really don’t know why they call me that. But I promise, I don’t want to be the Master of anything.”
“Why? Is it a bad thing?” Aur asked.
“I don’t know,” the boy looked thoughtful. “I don’t think they’ll hurt me. If I ask for something, they usually bring it. But, they won’t let me see my family or leave the Tower. So it’s not like they totally obey me.”
“What about the strange language you spoke?”
“What strange language?”
“Last night, you were talking to Kip. And he spoke it back to you.”
“Oh, you mean old Mysidian!” Ben answered, tipping his notebook to show Aur the symbols scrawled across the page. None of it made any sense to him.
“It’s a language I learned from my Dad, and my Dad is from the city of Mysidia. I’ve always been able to speak it, ever since I can remember.”
Aur crept forward to inspect the writing on the page. Then he admitted, “I’ve never heard of Mysidia.”
“Whaaat?” Ben seemed genuinely shocked. “You’re kidding, right? Everyone’s heard of Mysidia! It’s only the biggest school for magic arts on the Blue Planet!”
“Magic…” Aur echoed the word with a hint of trepidation.
“Yep. The whole city was built around the magic school there. Mages from all over come to learn from our Elder.”
“Does that mean that you know how to use magic?” Aur asked, thinking back to the strange glowing green light that Ben seemed to control the night before. It was all pretty scary to him.
“Of course!” Ben answered as if it was the most normal thing in the world. Then he asked, “Don’t you have magic?”
The other boy furrowed his brows, squinting at his friend. “I bet you do. You just don’t know it yet.”
“What do you mean?” Aur shivered under the green-eyed gaze. It was almost like Ben was staring at something deep within him. Something he didn’t even know existed.
“You’re different somehow. I can sense it. It’s something in your eyes.”
“I…” Aur stammered.
“It’s okay,” Ben tried to sound reassuring. “I’ll bet you remember it all again soon. Then when Dad comes to take us back to the Blue Planet, everything will be just fine. You’ll see.”
He reached a hand out, placing it on Aur’s shoulder. Aur didn’t know why, but his first reaction was to jerk back in apprehension.
Ben also jerked back, looking stunned. Then, his expression turned a bit sad. “Wait… Does it bother you that I’m a mage?”
“I don’t know,” he admitted.
“It’s not a big deal. I’ve always had magic. Dad says it’s just a part of who I am,” the boy tried to explain. His voice seemed a little anxious, as if he was worried he was going to lose a friend. “I don’t ever use it for anything bad. You believe me… right?”
“I… I think so.”
“Though, I’d get in trouble back home if I wasn’t careful. Like the time with the neighbor’s apple tree…” He broke off, lost in thought.
Aur watched him a moment, curious. When the story didn’t continue, he prompted, “What happened with the apple tree?”
“Well, I wanted to see if apples tasted good warm,” Ben recounted with a somewhat quirky expression. “But I ended up lighting the whole tree on fire!”
Aur covered his mouth.
“Oh, the neighbor was sooo mad! Yelling and everything! I tried to put it out, but the fire was too big, spreading all over the tree.”
“I ran away and hid. I didn’t know what to do!” He spread his hands. “But Dad could always find me, no matter where I hid.”
“Were you in trouble?”
“With the neighbor, yes. But Dad hardly ever got angry at me. He’d usually sit me down next to him and we’d talk,” Ben said with a faraway look. “He always told me how important it was that I was careful with my magic. He knew the right way to fix things. Like helping plant new apple trees for the neighbor.”
“He sounds really nice,” Aur couldn’t help the strange pang in the back of his mind – one that made him wish he also had a father who was kind and wise. Then, he wondered where his parents were, and if they were looking for him.
“He is. I keep hoping that he’ll find me. But sometimes I get really afraid that…” the boy broke off, as if not wanting to admit to his secret fears.
“Afraid of what?”
“It’s nothing,” Ben shook his head.
“Don’t worry. You said your Dad’s coming to get us soon, right?” Aur broke into a smile, doing his best to keep his friend cheered up.
“Yeah, you’re right!” he snapped out of it quickly. “He’ll be here any day. And then, you can meet my whole family. I can show you the Academy and…”
In the observatory, the Ben’s holographic image smiled confidently, confiding his hopes to the new boy, Aur. “Then we can look for your family, too. I bet they miss you.”
Though the projection machine could only capture an image from one location and display it in another, the honest, innocent emotion came through. Kip stood on one side of the display, his fist clenched. TsuMe stood not far away, looking unmoved as always.
This is wrong.
Pure, overwhelming guilt moved Kip’s hand to punch the power button. The holograph wavered, then vanished. It was the first time the mind mage had a chance to observe Ben interacting with an emotion other than bitter frustration and anger. It was the first time he saw how much the boy was like his father.
I don’t care about Zemus’ explanations.
This wasn’t anything like the monstrous Sygnus he was led to believe the boy would become.
This is all wrong.
“Why’d you turn it off?” TsuMe observed him closely, a darker look to his eyes than normal. “The whelp was finally starting to talk.”
“Leave the children to their peace, TsuMe.”
“I have to admit that your idea to give him a human companion has worked well,” TsuMe’s voice was level, almost emotionless. As if something else was speaking through him. “This is the first real information we’ve got out of him.”
“What about the boy’s father? KluYa. He keeps asking for him,” Kip peered over with a hint of sadness.
“The boy’s family is dead.”
The words. So matter of fact. Not an ounce of regret or sorrow. They dropped like a weight on Kip’s shoulders.
“KluYa is dead? Are you certain?” he exclaimed in shock.
TsuMe blinked in an odd way, as if waking from a strange sleep. When his eyes met Kip’s shaken expression, he seemed surprised himself. Like he was hardly aware of the words he just said. “Mmm?”
“Why wasn’t I informed of this!” Shock turned to anger as Kip stepped forward to confront the other General.
“You’re asking me?” TsuMe said, smoothly recovering to cross his arms in front of his chest.
“You knew about this!”
“TsuMe!” Kip shouted his frustration.
“Look, I had nothing to do with this,” he lifted his chin, eyes glowing slightly with a warning expression. “If you have a problem with what’s going on, you better take it up with Master Zemus.”
Kip let out a quick breath. He could tell that TsuMe was telling the truth. That he had nothing to do with the deaths that he so coldly discarded.
The mind mage turned with a glower. “You know what. I think I will. It seems Zemus’ communication skills are severely lacking.”
Before TsuMe could follow up with a snarky retort, Kip turned on his heel and stomped out the observatory. Whatever Zemus’ game was, he intended to get to the bottom of this.
For the children’s sake.