Though the Tower floated high above the Blue Planet, time passed the same for the sky-bound travelers as for those far below. In what felt like a blink, the world turned from green to gold to white to green again. As the moons passed, things became more bearable for the residents of Zot.
Ben and Aur had become best friends. You’d hardly see one without seeing the other. They were also given more room to move around the Tower at their own leisure. Of course, there were still places that were off limits for them, but they weren’t forced to remain in their rooms exclusively.
Part of this was because Ben had stopped planning to run away. He seemed to trust Kip’s promise to make contact with his father, and stopped viewing his time in Zot as one of a prisoner. He embraced the knowledge and training that Kip provided, and the Athrylith opened the boy’s mind to all sorts of magic that the Mysidians would have been jealous to know existed.
For Aur, Kip gave the magical knowledge of learning to read. Once the letters began to make sense to his eyes, he began to devour books left and right, even challenging Ben’s learning desires. The boy recognized that a wide new world of fact and fiction was now open to him, and he didn’t waste the opportunity. Zot was filled with books to explore, most from the Blue Planet, and a few even in Lunar writing.
The boys also received physical training. While TsuMe would have been far better a choice, the Zot General didn’t have time to waste sparring and training children – so he said. Kip’s skills weren’t stellar when it came to battle, but what he did know, he taught the boys.
Aur took up the blade as if his hand was made to hold a sword. The skill and raw talent he displayed was a bit alarming to Kip. It was almost as if the boy was drawing on knowledge from some secret inner mind.
Ben, on the other hand, was growing taller, and was strongly built. His lanky size worked against him as he struggled to take up staff fighting and figure out how gangly teenage arms worked when it came to battle. Though it was obviously not his strong area, he always put his best efforts forward, and Kip applauded his dauntless determination to learn.
In their down time, Kip spun stories of the Lunarians and life on the world of Runne. At first, it was hard to sort through all the memories, especially the ones that hovered on the hazy vision of his lost family. He discovered as time went on, the stories were easier to tell, as if revisiting good memories was helping to heal things within him. Things he didn’t even know were broken until now.
As much as he hated to admit it, the two boys were also a healing influence for him. While they were not a replacement for his own wife and child, having people to care for, protect, and teach restored something within him he thought he left behind on Runne.
Maybe this was part of the reason why his guilt became stronger and stronger. As his own fatherly instincts grew, and he became attached to Ben and Aur, he became more sharply aware of the lies and the misleadings he had wrapped the children in.
That’s why I have to do this.
Kip monitored the Tower’s flight pattern, watching as it aligned with the nation of Mysidia. This was something he avoided to the best of his ability. He didn’t intend to break his promise to Ben, but putting it off also delayed the inevitable. The day he’d have to tell the boy that his family was dead.
I know this will hurt him, but he’s a good kid. He deserves the truth. And I’ve been a rotten rat to keep it from him.
The man readied his single-pod ship, slipping the flight goggles over his eyes. The engine hummed under his touch, and the desire to take to the winds filled his body with anticipation. He loved flying.
I just need more information before I approach him with it. It’s not good enough to tell him they’re gone. I know Ben. That’ll prompt him to want to go to the Blue Planet and find out what happened.
Locking down the security belt, he instructed the ship to launch. It responded with a burst of speed, the blue and green of the planet suddenly spiraling into his vision.
It was glorious!
For that one suspended moment, Kip forgot everything else except the feeling of flight.
Then, he saw the city of Mysidia come into view. Pulling himself together, he directed his path just a little beyond the human establishment, somewhere he could hide his ship and move undetected.
Luckily, almost everyone in the town wore strange robes and hats. Pulling his own hood over his head, Kip discovered that he could easily blend right in with the humans. He’d spent enough time among humans to know how to interact on the most basic levels. Though different humans from different places had different cultures, there was an overarching similarity about the race as a whole.
Using carefully sculpted questions, he began to put out feelers to find out where KluYa’s home once was, and information about the last time people last saw the Lunar. Responses were overwhelmingly concerned and confused.
It was over a year ago. He simply didn’t come to teach his normal class one day. No one knew what was wrong at the time. As days passed and none of his family came to the city, someone made a house call to his place, which was somewhat on the outskirts of Mysidia, nearer the ocean and forest.
They found the place burned and in shambles.
Kip reiterated in his thoughts as his path took him away from the human settlement, towards the Ya family home.
There was nothing subtle about it.
As far as people knew, KluYa had no enemies that would have acted in such a way. He was on friendly terms with important people in both Mysidia and Baron. His teaching was lauded in the school and his mechanical skills were appreciated in the ship yards.
No known reason for an attack. No known attacker.
The whole family just vanished including father, mother and two children.
Two children… I’ll have to ponder about that later.
The dirt path to the family home was growing over as the fringe of summer touched the balmy land. Kip saw the building from quite a ways away. A single black smudge in the middle of the green and blue. One water well sat forlornly out front, a broken rope dangling, no bucket in sight.
Kip couldn’t help but think how ordinary and human it all seemed. It was not a large house. It wasn’t lavish in any way. Just a tiny commoner cottage with a well, a garden and a free view of the ocean beyond.
Simple life. He kept himself under cover as best as possible.
Maybe that’s why it seemed all the more tragic as Kip’s boots met with the crunch of burned wood. The man balanced for a moment, testing to see if the structure would crumple under his weight. When it held, he cautiously poked his head inside.
Something still found him, though.
Nesting birds scattered from their roosts, leaving flying shadows capering over the buckling wood floors. Rain had come inside, causing just as much damage as the fire.
The humans seem to believe this was a wild animal attack. But what wild animal lights a fire?
Kip inspected some large claw marks along the side of a half-shattered dinner table. They didn’t look like normal animal marks. At least, not the kind of animals he knew from his studies of the Blue Planet. With all the specimens they gathered, he had a pretty working knowledge of the different creatures that lived there.
Things aren’t adding up.
He reached down, lifting a plush toy in the shape of a purple chocobo. It was obviously a much loved toy before being left behind in the fire.
How is it that a whole family vanishes in the space of a day? Then, Ben ends up in Zot immediately afterwards – not a mention of it spoken to me.
Kip inspected the plush smile and the bead eyes.
How did Zemus know about this in time to intercept? Why does Ben view his time in Zot as a prisoner, and not as someone rescued from some attack?
The smell of charcoal filled his nose as he slowly scanned the room. There were far more questions here than answers.
I find it hard to believe Zemus was a passive force in all this. He seems far too eager to hold Ben in the Tower, for all his talk of nurturing a possible Sygnus.
A charred baby cradle sat under the far window, tugging at something in his chest.
Still, Zemus is stuck on the moon in cold sleep. It takes all his focus and energy to even communicate with us in the Tower. I just can’t see the connection.
That when a strange sensation filled his mind. A warning. The feeling of being followed and watched. Kip’s head jerked back, and though he couldn’t see much through the broken window pane, his mind could reach beyond what his eyes could view.
Three of them. Unfamiliar humans, but humans who were obviously there for their own, coarse reasons.
One was a tall blond man, largely built, well-muscled, but with a vapid look to his eyes. Another man was far shorter, somewhat sickly complexion with strange reflective orange eyes. He had an almost unhuman feel to him, as if altered from something he was long ago. The third was a blonde woman, young and rather attractive. She was dressed mostly in yellows and browns, and held herself conservatively.
In his mind’s eye, he could hear them talking amongst themselves.
“Okay, Tane. You cover the back exit,” the sickly man said to the muscled one.
“Yeah,” the warrior answered.
“Valice and I will flush him out from the front and send him your way,” the man continued, indicating the woman. “Sound good to you?”
“Are you sure this is a smart idea, Rubin?” Valice asked the sickly man.
Kip squinted, sensing more than seeing. He recognized her voice. She was one of the mages he talked to in town.
They must have trailed me here. What do they think they’re doing?
“That guy… when we saw him in town… he gave me a really weird feeling,” she continued, confirming Kip’s suspicions.
“Exactly why this is a good idea,” Rubin told her in a voice that bordered on impatience. Like explaining something to a child.
“Besides, did you get a load of his clothes?” Tane added. “He’s gotta have some cash stowed away somewhere!”
“You set your sights far too low, Tane,” the other man chided. Talking to amateurs.
“Why? What do you think he has?” Valice asked.
“I don’t know yet. But I sense this guy could lead us to something big,” Rubin responded with a rather scary gleam in his eye. “Why else would he come out here to the old Ya place?”
By now, Kip had his back pressed up against the wall, staff clutched between both hands.
Did your senses ever tell you that you spend far too much time talking and not enough time planning? Stupid human.
“Be careful, Tane,” the woman said with some concern.
The larger man was already moving to the back side of the house, “Let’s do this!”
As Tane snuck through the bushes in the back, Kip reached down to pick up a random book from the floor of the house.
You want to play games? Alright. I’ll bite. I won’t spoil your fun yet. In fact, how about I join in?
The tingle of magic grew heavy in the air. The other two were mages.
Rubin produced a strange, sickly-shaped staff, hung with orange beads and trinkets. As he moved his fingers, spider-web like streams of energy spun between them and his staff, drawing runic shapes.
The air itself came alive as Valice walked forward, lifted slightly off the ground. She commanded the wind, which grew visible with her power, glowing a light pale blue.
“Ready…” Rubin paused for a moment. Then he made a flourish with his staff, “GO!”
Magic leapt from the runic weavings. The woman swing a small scepter forward in unison, sending a blast of air that strengthened the golden light. Together, they burst through the front wall, shattering the doorframe and sending Kip leaping for the far end of the room.
There’s more power to them than I thought.
“He’s on the run! Close in now!”
Kip heard the sounds of running footsteps from outside. The front. The back. They were closing in on him.
His leap dropped him on top of the lop-sided table, where he balanced and waited. A large grin spread over his face as his opponents caught sight of him. Then, he clutched the book in his hand close to his chest, making the motion as visible and important as possible.
Kip turned towards the back door, which was now the only exit not blocked. Tane would be waiting to ambush him there, he knew. The other mercenaries watched with hopeful expectations. He could even feel their thoughts of victory as he appeared to be running right into their trap.
The Lunar broke out of the back door at a full run. The large shadow of Tane’s waiting form leapt at him from one side, brandishing a heavy looking battle axe. The other two rushed from behind, positioning themselves around him in a circle.
“Give it up! We’ve got you surrounded!” Rubin demanded.
Kip played along, putting on a pretend-frightened face. “What do you want from me?”
“Everything you got,” Tane demanded, showing him the gleaming edge of his weapon.
“What makes you think I have anything?” Kip asked, once more holding the book close to his chest.
This time, they took note of it. Three pairs of eyes focused on the book, all coming to the conclusion that it must be something important.
“You’re way outnumbered. So just hand over the book,” Rubin finally said, voice cold and leveled.
“Not a chance!” Kip took a shuffling step back.
“Take it.” The man commanded.
That’s all the encouragement Tane needed to launch straight for the much smaller Lunar. Kip saw him coming and threw up his staff in defense. The blade crashed down on his weapon, the strength of the blow jolting through the mind mage’s entire body.
But the man was close enough for Kip to turn the tables.
A moment of concentration. Sparks forming at either end of his weapon, like a lightning rod conducting pure, raw energy. Kip channeled it forward, through his staff and directly into the metal of Tane’s axe.
The man froze in place, his hands locked on his weapon as the energy blasted through him. Then, Kip sent a second jolt, that knocked the bigger man backwards with all the care of a lightning strike.
“Tane! No!” the woman screamed. She obviously cared about the man.
The wind howled around her form as she focused it, sending several small strikes that left dents in the ground on Kip’s every side. Like arrows of wind. He dodged somewhat haphazardly, caught unaware by the strength of her elemental control.
She’s one talented air mage!
He didn’t like it. But her magic was relentless. He didn’t have much of a choice. It was her or him.
Kip lifted one hand sending out a mind command. Unlike the people of Runne, he discovered that humans knew nothing of mind magery. While some may have had natural strengths and defenses, it was an area of magic humans didn’t even dare to dream of, much less understand.
That meant that humans were generally much weaker to his powers. Much easier to control.
Valice’s face turned ash-white as his mind closed around her own. She choked, struggling for air, and dropped her scepter at a single flick of his finger.
You belong to me now.
Her eyes widened, and he knew she heard his mind-speak.
“Valice?” Rubin took a step back, staring in awe. Kip could tell that the man had never seen anyone do something like this before.
The mind mage didn’t wait. Rubin’s defenses were down. Kip commanded his energies once more, slinging violet blasts of light at the other mage.
For all of his dumbfounded look, the human was fast to react and pull it together. Fingers spread, weaving a weak, but effective net of magic that shielded him from the incoming blasts. As the magics collided, Rubin was sent stumbling back against the wall of the house.
“Let my sister go!” Tane demanded.
Kip could sense his motion from behind. The warrior closed in, his weapon whistled through the air. The Lunar dodged, leaping to the side as the axe slammed down into the ground right where he once stood.
Thanks for playing. You were not a winner this time. Don’t try again soon!
He let the mind-speak echo around Valice a moment before he released her from his mind grip. She slumped right there, gasping for air and shivering all over. The normal responses to a mind mage’s forced control.
Kip sprinted away from the group, stifling his quipping laugh. To add to injury, he dropped the book in the grass, then vanished into the treeline.
“He’s getting away!”
“Forget him! We’ve got the book!”
A moment of silence as they scuffled for their treasure. Kip couldn’t help but send his mind vision to peek at the outcome of his plan.
They were eagerly crowded around Rubin, who opened the book with shaking hands and victorious smile.
“What is it?”
“Is it a treasure map?”
Then, the man’s face fell as his eyes skimmed over the title page. “It’s…”
“Marnie’s Happy Day at the Park!” Tane read the title out loud. Kip was honestly surprised the man could read at all.
“What?” Valice’s face also dropped at the sight of the worthless children’s book.
“Cool!” the big man seemed pleased with their find.
“Shut up!” Rubin snarled, smacking Tane with the book to accent his frustration. “We’ve been duped!”
Kip laughed all the way back to his ship.