Prologue 1

The stony hillside gave way to an alien metal that glittered coldly in the light of the two moons. A mangled and unwanted contraption of flickering magelectric lights and crackling static twisted up through the earth, reaching into space. Waiting for contact.

Kip’s upraised face was highlighted with a slight crimson hue from the red moon’s closer proximity to the Blue Planet. It was the moon’s orbit that brought him to this place, called there by a message from his people.

They call themselves Lunars now, he thought with distaste.

The once-great society of mages and scientists were now nothing more than space refugees. They borrowed this “Lunar” name from the moon they slumbered upon. He discovered the majority of the population now lay in cold sleep until they could find a new world to colonize. Perhaps it would be upon the Blue Planet, the homeland of the humans.

How was I supposed to know they had  survived?

The crackling static gave way to a high-pitched whine. His green eyes shifted to the machine, where a flickering hologram began to form.

“You underestimate the will to survive, KiNaTu,” a familiar, smooth voice intoned.

Kip turned with a shiver. It had been a long time since someone called him by that name. He spoke a name in return, “Zemus.”

If I’d known it was him contacting me, I wouldn’t have…

“Who else did you expect?” the image of the dark mage gave a slick grin, pushing up his glasses with one slender finger.

“Someone less annoying,” Kip retorted, crossing his arms.

Zemus began to slowly pace the short length of the metal hologram platform. “There is no one else, if you don’t count our fearless leader and his muck-up of a brother.”

“KluYa,” he breathed slightly, feeling a hint of hope at the thought that at least one old friend had survived. “I thought this machine bore familiar handiwork. He’s here on the Blue Planet, then?”

“Yes. Though it’s a lot of good he’s done for any of us.”

“What’s your point?” Kip frowned, keeping his defenses up.

“In all this time he’s been there, how often did KluYa visit your little… development… with the humans?” He waved his hand dismissively.

“Never. I didn’t know you or any of the others were still alive.”

Zemus flashed a knowing smile. “Ah, so nice of your old friend to include you in his plans of inter-human colonization, hmm?”

“I’m sure he had his reasons.” Kip shook his head and turned his back to the conversation. He knew how this worked. How Zemus loved twisting situations to turn people against one another.

“Reasons. Of course. Like his new family.”

“Family?” The word resounded in Kip’s mind with a sharp pang of loss.

Flickers of memory. Of his wife’s last frustrated expression as she closed the front door behind her. Of searching for his son as the world crumbled under his feet. Of fire. Of dying screams. The roar of ship engines. The silent ring of red that spread from the planet’s surface a moment before the complete implosion.

Zemus pressed on, not acknowledging the turmoil he’d caused. “KluYa has become entranced with the world of the humans. He’s left his people to languish, locked in this death-sleep. How much longer must we wait, KiNa?”

“Surely, there are plans?” Kip shook himself out, coming back to the conversation.

“Sending KluYa to scout out the Blue Planet was the plan.”

“And you? What are you doing?”

“I’m closed off in cold sleep, too.” Zemus’ eyes flickered with a slight green glow. The gaze caught Kip’s own, locking him down, even across the distance. There was power there. “I’m doing something right now. I’m coming to you.”

Kip fought to pull his eyes away, but he couldn’t. “What can I possibly do from here? Find KluYa and give him a thrashing for you?”

“No. I’ve given up on him to bring our salvation. It’s going to fall to us, KiNa.”

Sudden images pulsed through his mind, put there by an outside force. By Zemus.

A dark silhouette of a tower that floated through the clouds. Several smaller structures – perhaps little metal islands – floated, bound by chains to the face of the structure. Something about the image captivated him, burned into his thoughts, and stirred his imagination.

“It’s been a long time since you’ve worked to your true potential, KiNaTu,” Zemus’ voice almost purred to him. “You’ve isolated yourself among the humans, tinkering about with childish technology in hopes to provide a better life.”

Kip sucked on his bottom lip, blinking away the mind-image. This was true. But what else was there left for him to do now that everything he loved was gone?

“Maybe it’s time you put your skills to work for us. For your own people.”

He looked down in silence.

Zemus was also silent for a long moment. His next words came unexpected. “Did you know that most of the survivors sleeping on the Red Moon are children?”

Kip’s chin jerked up, eyes focusing on the hologram. For just one flickering moment of hope, he breathed the name of his son, “NaTu?”

“I can’t confirm anything,” Zemus replied. “But is this really the life you want for these children? They’ve already lost so much.”

It almost sounded as if the dark mage was genuinely concerned. Almost. But then, Kip reminded himself of who he was talking to.

“No,” he responded slowly. “But what can I do about it?”

“Build us a place on the Blue Planet. Being trapped in sleep pods on the Red Moon is not finding these children a home.”

Kip squinted. “Place? Like a ship?”

“Perhaps. Or a floating structure. Somewhere safe from the humans. Somewhere we can begin by observing and learning.”

“Floating structure?” his mind flickered back to the image of the tower.

“Yes,” Zemus almost hissed the word. “You know exactly what I’m hoping for.”

“A floating tower?” Kip put the idea into words. His tone sounded doubtful. Ships were one thing, but an entire self-sustained tower in the sky?

“I need you to design it. Make it a reality.”

“It won’t be very mobile,” he warned.

“It doesn’t have to be.” Zemus shrugged.

Kip gritted his teeth, “Something like that’s going to take…”

“Material and man-power are of no concern.”

“Oh?”

“Can you do it?” Zemus pressured.

“Can I do it?” Kip echoed, knuckling his chest with a determined frown. “Of course I can do it! You’re talking to Kip, the one and only master technician!”

“Ah, yes. That pet name the humans gave you.”

“Hey, if you can change the name of an entire race, I can change mine, too.”

“Mmm…” the sound almost rumbled in Zemus’ chest. “Very well… Kip. Do I hear that we are in agreement?”

“As long as I’m in complete control of this project’s oversight.” Kip jabbed a finger at the hologram.

“Don’t worry. I wouldn’t dream of stepping on your creative little toes.”

“So, about those resources…”

“I was getting there,” Zemus frowned. “If you’d allow me?”

Kip shrugged, spreading his hands impatiently. Now that the idea was taking root, he knew he’d have to work fast to capture the concepts that boiled through his mind in a storm of creativity.

“Feel alongside the communication pedestal,” the hologram instructed, motioning to the metal structure. “There’s a hidden compartment.”

“Oh?” Kip traced his fingers over the cold metal. He was rewarded with a soft click as a hidden door opened on the side. “How’d you know–”

“Is there a device inside?”

“Yes.” The mind mage pulled out the small box-shaped machine. He identified it. “A tracking device? It’s been there for some time, though. Might be depowered.”

“Get it working,” Zemus instructed.

“Sure. No sweat.” Kip tried to ignore the fact that he was being ordered around by a hologram. Instead, he channeled a tiny static bolt of energy through his fingers into the device’s charging connectors. The dust-covered screen flickered, then lit up, emitting a low hum.

“Excellent.”

“I’m tracking something?” Kip inquired with an arched eyebrow.

“Do you think that you and KluYa are the only ones from the Red Moon who have come to the Blue Planet?” Zemus answered cryptically.

“How should I know?”

“Many turns ago, I sent someone to the Blue Planet to carry out these exact plans. However, KluYa intercepted and prevented it from coming to pass.”

Something about this sent a chill over Kip’s skin. “Are you sure this person is still…”

“KluYa is many things,” Zemus answered. “But he is no killer. The fact that he left the tracking device here indicates he meant to revisit this.”

“Alright. I’ll see what I can find,” the mind mage frowned. “How can I contact you again?”

“I will contact you.”

Then, just like that, the hologram was gone.

Kip looked down at the tracking device in his hand. He looked up at the crimson light of the Red Moon for a long time.

Then, he began walking, following the hum of the device.

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Prologue 2

Everything about this development set Kip’s nerves on edge. While it all seemed legit enough on the outside, he remembered how Zemus always made the most nefarious things sound beneficial in the beginning.

He played the ‘kids’ card. I should know better when he goes straight for my throat like that. He knows about ShiKon and NaTu… he knows how to get what he wants from me.

The humming on the tracking device grew louder as Kip walked, leading him in the right direction.

Still… what do I do? Let him drag me around, right into whatever he’s got planned.

His feet stumbled over the rocky ground, scrambling to keep balance.

I could always stop right here. Refuse to do this.

But the image of the floating tower consumed his thoughts… the way building his old ship once did. It had been so long since he took on a project of this magnitude. In fact, he’d never attempted anything this ambitious before.

That’s exactly why he was so caught up in the idea of the challenge. Well, that, and for the welfare of his people.

If any of that is actually true. With Zemus, you can never be sure what’s real and what’s just everything you want to hear rolled up in a warm, toasted bun.

Finally the humming reached an almost painful crescendo, alerting Kip to the fact he’d arrived at his destination. Turning off the device to ensure he didn’t go deaf in the near future, he paced the length of the rocky terrain. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary.

If KluYa planted that tracker there, that means he’s probably hidden whatever it is somewhere that could easily be overlooked.

With a frown, Kip began to scuff away at the dirt under his feet. Before long, he found what he was looking for, the sound of sand scratching across metal.

Here we go. Something more than just rock under here.

It took him a while to brush away enough dirt and rock to find the outline of the metal door planted in the ground. Next to the door’s frame, he cleared away a small square indentation, undoubtedly meant for a key.

Kip glanced at the square shape of the tracking device, visually traced the outline of the indentation, then reached down and fit the two together. With a huge groan, the door began to rumble, sending pebbles dancing down the hillside as the metal folded back.

The mind mage moved away, watching with cautious curiosity. When nothing lethal leapt from the depths, he crept forward and peered inside. He recognized what he saw there instantly.

A cold sleep pod.

All caution aside, Kip hooked his legs over the edge and dropped down inside. As the jolt of the drop left prickles in his calves, he glanced up to see the much more accessible ladder along the other side.

Good to know… in case I need to make an escape.

He wiped his hand over the pod’s aged glass, squinting for a look at what was inside. There was nothing but shadow, given no help from the moons, which were now hanging low in the night sky.

I guess I’m just going to have to take that chance.

Kip reached over, turning the decompression key on the side of the pod. A familiar hiss filled the tiny chamber with cold misty air as it rushed out of the device, beginning the waking process. He crouched low next to the pod, watching the ever-widening crack between the lid and the base.

Finally, after what seemed forever, came a stirring from within the pod. A dark-skinned hand clutched the side of the pod with a grip that left a crack in the material. Then a growling hiss became a groan, and a dark shape sat up inside the pod.

Kip took a stumbling step back as his eyes flickered over the creature before him. Sickly gray skin, dark green inverted eyes with burning white pupils, wild dark hair with a shock of white splashed over one eye. He knew this thing. He’d seen it before a long, long time ago.

“You… you were… in the… Man…or…” Kip struggled to voice his surprise.

But as the dark eyes focused on him, he felt all his thoughts evaporating from his mind. Like something catching hold of the memories and devouring them, leaving nothing but a muddled blur in their place.

He fought against it, but even with his mind mage abilities, he couldn’t stop what was happening to him. Then suddenly, a calm fell over him. The blur was gone, as if it had never happened.

Kip didn’t remember that he had forgotten.

Instead, his eyes fell on the creature, seeing it again for the first time, feeling the aura of fear that surrounded it. His breath began to rasp as he fought against the desire to run. His heart nearly pounded out of his chest as the unnatural terror fell over him.

The creature’s inverted eyes regarded him silently, almost bored. It had seen this all before. Hundreds of times. Maybe thousands.

The creature dismissed him, speaking with a curled lip, “Relax, kid. I’m not going to do anything to you.”

Kip wheezed out a sound, trying to make sense of it.

This fear… it’s not normal. It’s not me… It’s something from it… him.

“You were the one he sent to wake me, huh?” He asked, almost conversationally. He then hefted himself out of the pod, struggling to find his footing.

“Can’t stand… yet!” Kip warned, instinctual concern overcoming fear in a spurt of courage. He reached out towards the other person… creature… thing… catching his arm as he stumbled off balance.

“Cursed cold sleep!” He spat, showing gleaming fangs in his displeasure.

The mind mage felt faint at the sight.

Then the strange eyes flickered over to Kip, studying him a moment. There was recognition in his gaze. The face of someone who knew someone else, even if Kip didn’t.

Should I?

Then the person… creature… thing… looked down at the mind mage’s offer of help. The supporting hand on his arm. His brow grew stern as he righted himself with a disgusted look, pulling away from Kip. “I’m fine. I don’t need your help.”

“S-sorry…”

“You’d think a mind sucker would have more control over fake fear than this,” he grumbled.

“Fake… fear…” Kip repeated. Then he blinked slowly. “Did you just call me a mind sucker?”

“Yeah. Whatcha gonna do about it?” the dark eyes narrowed at him.

“No…thing. I just never heard…”

“He’s recruited you to build crap, hasn’t he?” Complete derailment.

“Yes. How’d you know?”

“That’s what you’re good for, isn’t it?”

“I uh… yeah.” Kip gave a frazzled look. Stuck at what else to say at the moment, he grasped for an introduction. “I’m Kip.”

The creature gave an unfriendly look. Then he snorted. “TsuMeTai.”

Introduction

Aur’s vision was met with a towering wall of silvery Mist, which fought to turn the air in his lungs to ice. Where sight failed, his senses told him all he needed to know – his now-enemy, the Sygnus, was just ahead of him. Moments before, there was a battle-dance between Sygnus and the Dragon warrior, Kudako. But now, battle was silent as the frozen Mist rose to its master’s call.

Aur respected Kudako’s battle prowess, and had no doubt that under more normal circumstances, the Dragon could hold his own even against the raw might of the boy-Sygnus. But Lucci was no longer Lucci anymore. He’d chosen his path, and was now something else. Something that was once Lucci.

Luccious.

While others flinched at the thought of striking out at what had once been a child in their care, Aur did not. He had lived and died through this kind of battle time and time again. He knew the danger and the power of this enemy. He did not shy from his duty to strike a Sygnus down.

Within his mind, he could sense the outline of the tall, lanky body and the long, unfurled wings. His blade was silent as he swept forward, straight into the Mist. It grasped for him, the breath of the dead, just the way it grasped for the living. But the Mist of the otherworld had no hold over one of his kind.

A golden warmth emanated from his form, pushing back the Mist in great ripples. Aur may have lost much of his power over his long sleep, but there were still things that came to him innately.

The curved golden sword dropped in a whistling arc, meeting with feather and bone. Blood splattered with the blow, burning away in the hungry Mist. Not even its master’s blood was sacred to it. A ripple of mild disappointment washed over the Watcher as the Sygnus turned, mostly unharmed.

Next time, I must strike deeper.

As Luccious’ silver eyes locked met Aur’s golden-eyed gaze, the Sygnus took a moment to size up his new adversary. It was enough of a distraction to allow Kudako the time he needed to fight his way out of the Mist that held him.

There was almost a look of surprise on the Dragon’s face as the matching gold eyes recognized him. “Aur. You shouldn’t have followed me here.”

There were many things the Watcher could have said at that moment. So many that he chose to say nothing at all. It was more important to focus on the silent rage that twisted the Sygnus’ face as Luccious leveled the long, black blade at Aur.

Sygni always think they are immortal.

The sword spun in the Sygnus’ hand, a motion unknown to the wielder, but known to the blade. Aur recognized it. It was a dangerous weapon. Something forged by Dragon blood in the Time Before, meant to slay the Arweinydd who rose against their captors in a mass embrace of Chaotic power.

The Arweinydd were not the only ones to create Sygni for war. When the Dragons realized the power and potential the half-breeds held, they made some of their own.

Aur slipped under the enraged arc of darkness as the blade howled through the air. The deaths of so many corrupted Arweinydd, the unkillable Chaos, had stained the sword black over the years. The last Sygnus to wield it had given into the whispered temptations of power, fully embracing Distortion, which consumed him.

When I told Zemi of the sword’s existence, this was not what I intended for it.

Aur darted around to the Sygnus’ other side, a catlike motion that carried him faster than a man his size should move. He spun and slashed, looking for any kind of opening in Luccious’ advance. But the sword knew too many battles and too many tricks. It probably even tasted the blood of his own kind at one point.

Which is problematic.

Kudako was moving again, pressuring Luccious to divide his attention between Dragon and Watcher. It was with grim satisfaction as Aur’s blade struck home, slicing a raw line of red across the Sygnus’ upper arm. Hardly enough to wound such a creature, but proof that the two of them could whittle him down.

Perhaps with enough stalling, Zemi will find his truth… it may be enough to tip this battle.

However, despite Luccious’ inexperienced mind, the Sygnus quickly realized the battle for what it was. A ruse. A distraction. Something to buy enough time for a miracle to happen.

Dripping sweat and blood, multiple wounds soaking his clothes crimson, Luccious lifted his hand in a motion of command. The earth itself moaned as the Mist churned into frightening reality. No longer merely vapor, spirit forms began to take shape inside, the tormented souls bound to blade and to boy. All that died at the Sygnus’ hand was doomed to walk at his side in the Mist.

Kudako’s face was unreadable. Aur let nothing show in his hooded eyes. But this… this was something he knew he couldn’t fight against. Destroying the soul of a once-living was strictly forbidden to his kind.

The spirit Mists rose up over him, like a breaking wave, pausing for a single breath before crashing down over him and Kudako. There was cold. An unnatural cold. And so much rage… sorrow… vengeance. Fed by Chaos and death, the swelling tide of tortured emotion could only serve to torment and twist its master even further.

Aur felt the biting cold press in around him. Drawing his mind within his core, the pain of his dying physical form was nothing but a distant, unpleasant sensation. For his kind, it was natural – merely shedding one skin to step into another.

And in between the transformations came the familiar, long darkness. A dreamless sleep.

Waiting.

Watching.

***

 

“Aur?” A sound called his name. A gritty, familiar voice, working so hard to coax him from the depths of soul slumber.

His form felt light, suspended in air, as if weightless. Or in a place without mass. He was distantly aware of the feeling of arms. Fingers. Curled around legs. Bent legs. A curled position.

Why would he be in a curled position?

“Aur, wake up!” The voice didn’t command. He never commanded. It wasn’t Zemi’s way.

There was a hint of buried desperation in the tone that stirred something within Aur. He felt his mind unfolding, giving way to senses, waking to take in the world that waited for him.

His golden eyes opened, fighting to focus his blurry vision. Then, he realized, it wasn’t his vision that was blurry, but that the pocket dimension around him was unformed and struggling to maintain itself.

Just like the form of the Dreigiau that floated in a false self-confidence before him.

Dressed in red robes trimmed in gold, his white mane-like hair wavered in a breeze that only seemed to touch him. His face was lined, not with the passage of time, but with the maturity of spirit, replacing the once youthful naivety with what could almost pass for wisdom. His teal-flecked eyes were just as deep as always, like staring into the depths of the universe.

At the sight of his Watcher waking, Zemi cracked a fangy smile that didn’t touch his eyes. Always that carefree, cheerful outer image that hid his true nature. It worked for the Earthians, but it didn’t work for Aur. He saw the truth in everything.

Though Zemi knew this, he maintained his outer masquerade.

“There you are,” the Dreigiau grinned wider, placing emphasis on the last word of his pun. “Not much of a morning person, yes-no?”

“My Lord?”

Behind that smile was the weight of grief. Age touched his face now, giving him the look of someone who had experienced loss. Someone who understood the difference between life and death.

Zemi was no mere Arweinydd anymore. And the experiences, though strengthening spirit, had weakened him in every other way.

“Still just as stiff as always, I see. Some things never change,” the Dreigiau reached out and promptly patted Aur on the head.

The Watcher had little time to ponder his master’s alterations, because that’s when he noticed his own. Aur lifted his hand and observed as his fingers flexed. This wasn’t the hand of a battle-worn warrior. The fingers were small and slender, the skin young and new. When he looked quizzically at Zemi, he realized the Dreigiau towered over him as an adult would a child.

“No. Some things have changed,” the Watcher held out his hand in proof. “May I inquire what’s going on?”

“I was getting there, if you’d let me. Sheesh!” The Dreigiau gave an almost authentic pouty face. “What ever happened to: Hi, Zemi! How’re you! Good to see you again!”

Then, Zemi turned and paced a few steps away. His thoughts twisted through the pocket dimension, which darkened in response to emotions. Very real emotions of grief.

“I had a son,” he got straight to the point.

Aur felt his breath catch in his throat. The realization of what that meant weighed heavily on him.

“I know you think I’m crazy for it, but I had a reason,” Zemi grit his teeth, still not looking at the Watcher. “We needed someone who could stand against the coming of the Darkstar.”

“So you created your own Sygnus.”

“He wasn’t just a Sygnus… he was my son.”

“You know the danger.”

“He was different.”

So many times, Aur had heard that same proclamation. They almost always ended up the same way.

But in this case… it might be true.

“Has… something happened?” the Watcher asked with hesitation.

The twisted memory of Luccious’ enraged face flickered through his mind. If there was another Sygnus, and in the line of the Dreigiau, he wondered if there was a hope to defeat it this time.

“My son is dead.” The words creaked from between Zemi’s lips.

Aur froze, not having expected that answer. He stared at the hunched and nearly defeated shape of the Dreigiau, and thought he could almost see the hint of tears in the Arweinydd’s eyes.

His mind cast about, struggling to find a proper emotional response, “I’m… I’m sorry. For your loss.”

Zemi closed his eyes, speaking in a bitter tone, “It happened as we knew it would.”

Aur didn’t know what that meant. He knew many things, but he still didn’t fully comprehend what passed for thoughts in an Arweinydd’s mind. Asking to fill his curiosity would be rude. So he remained silent.

“We have to protect his sons,” the Dreigiau told him. “My grandsons.”

“Sons?” The Watcher choked on the idea. The sons (plural!)… of a Sygnus… from the line of the Dreigiau. All this could mean nothing but danger.

“Yes. My son, KluYa, had two children,” Zemi explained quietly. “One was hidden safely with the humans who live on the Blue Planet. However, the eldest… was captured by Zeromus’ forces.”

“Then we must act quickly to go and retri–”

“No.” Zemi held up his hand with a pained face. “I don’t have the power to challenge the Chaos right now. I’ve fallen out of view for a reason. If Zeromus discovers that I still exist, he will come to end me. If I fall, there will be no one to guide these children in the future.”

Aur sighed, pondering Zemi’s explanation. He didn’t know if it was a sound idea, but the Dreigiau was much more knowledgeable and aware of happenings than he was. There had to be a reason for whatever he chose to enact.

“Very well. What do you need me to do?” the Watcher asked.

“This boy may be destined for Shadow, but I refuse to let his soul his become tainted with darkness,” the Dreigiau said. His eyes narrowed with deep thought. “Zeromus will try to twist him and distort him. To take his hidden powers and use them to wage his wars. We can’t allow Zeromus to destroy the child’s spirit the way that he did…”

Luccious.

It was unspoken, but the weight of the grief in Zemi’s eyes said it all.

He’s trying to do this again. To protect a Sygnus child. This is his grief talking.

And yet, Aur couldn’t help but respond with his own emotion. Agreeing to help. “I understand.”

This unspoken offer seemed to perk Zemi up. He dropped a big, friendly hand on the boy’s head. “Good! Because I’m sending you there to protect him as my Watcher!”

“Wha.. what?” This was not the expected turn of events.

“To do that, you’ll have to live with the humans, disguised as one of them. That’s the reason I gave you this new form.”

“A… child’s form? Certainly, a warrior would have fit better,” Aur protested.

“It’s sometimes the small things that go most unnoticed,” Zemi wagged a finger at him. “Besides, I need you to earn the boy’s trust. It’ll be easier to become his friend if you appear closer in age.”

The Watcher sighed again, “Very well.”

Then, the Dreigiau did something unexpected. He reached down with both hands and gripped Aur’s smaller hands in his. A pleading expression of worry wrinkled his face, making him once again seem older. “Aur. Please protect my grandson. Don’t let the darkness take him. Help him find the strength within to fight the temptations of Chaos.”

Taken aback, the boy nodded, at first in dumb silence. Then, he said, “It’ll be as you command.”

“Thank you.”

The voice echoed through his mind as he felt the world around him twist. Aur fought to hold on to internal clarity – the one thing that kept him calm and unfeeling within his core. But now, something strange was happening.

First, find the boy. His name is Benjamin.

Zemi’s mind-voice followed him, though Aur could no longer see the Dreigiau. He was moving forward, lifted off his feet.

He’s been taken to the tower called Zot.

With sudden speed, Aur burst through the wall of the pocket dimension, meeting with a crisp wind. Below him, he could see a vast expanse of green that rushed into the distance, where it met the blue sky.

Oh, before I forget. There’s one little limitation to your human form.

Then, he was falling, a trail of glittering light following in his wake.

For your protection and his.

Hazy blurs began to fill his memory, blotting them out and obscuring the past. Calmness gave way to something unknown – real emotion. Fear? Panic?

You won’t have any memory of who you really are.

And with that, a golden light exploded in the heart of the forest below. When the light faded, all that remained was the unmoving form of a small sandy-blond boy, dressed in plain human clothes.

Chapter 1

“Centaurs,” Kip grumbled to himself.

They seemed like a good idea at the time, back when the foundations of Zot were first being built. They were as intelligent as humans, with all the coordination – if not more—as any person. But they had the strength of their equine other half, which made them excellent for manual labor and defense.

It didn’t take much to convince them for their so-called loyalty. Wherever there was food, the centaur would follow. Still, just like any wild creature of the Blue Planet, they were crude, barbaric, and (to borrow a term from TsuMe) knavish.

I don’t know why we kept them around after the building was done.

Zemus suggested the brutes were good for basic defense and tower upkeep. Kip argued that Zemus wasn’t the one who had to horse-sit the herd every time the beasties need to go to the surface for their romping and hunting.

And the things that they’ll eat… ugh…

It was enough to convince him that they were more beast than men. Not that any of them cared a lick about Kip’s opinion. They only loosely listened to him because it was made plain that Kip was above them in the pecking order. If it wasn’t for that, the mind mage was sure that he’d end up murdered in his bed by one of the brutes some night.

If they have an attention span long enough to plan something like that.

Today, Kip came with his centaur troop to gather information and interesting specimens from the Blue Planet. While they hunted… or did whatever distasteful things centaur did. Because of that, the mind mage almost didn’t pay any mind to the herd’s excitement.

Not until he heard the word “human” cast about.

Furrowing his brow, he walked towards the ring of horse butts. They were all focused on something that held their interest, and with all the bulk hustling about, it was hard for Kip to make anything out.

What do they have there?

“Is it some sort of animal?”

“Of course not, you dolt. It’s a human Youngling.”

“Are humans on our specimen list?”

“I don’t think so.”

“Does that mean we can eats it?”

Nickering laughter rippled through the horse-butt circle.

“It’s it still alive?”

“It’s breathin, ain’t it?”

“We can fix that.”

Another round of guttural laughter.

Kip hoisted himself down from a log and addressed the group of brutes. Putting on his toughest act, he steeled his voice with a hint of mind magery. “Now, now. Clear out. You know the rules.”

One of the centaur snorted at him through the nose.

The mind mage cut the air with one hand. “No killing humans on scouting missions. Let it have some room.”

Grudgingly, the horse-butts dispersed, allowing Kip access to their discovery. There were mutters under their breaths, but they did as they were instructed.

In the middle of a clearing lay a human child. He couldn’t have been more than ten or eleven passes at the most. He was thin and somewhat small-built, with sandy-blond hair that reflected the dappled sunlight.

Kneeling down, Kip tapped his head with one finger, asking, “Hey. Can you hear me?”

The boy began to stir, giving a slight groan, “Uhnn…?”

“Ah, good. You’re still alive.”

The child slowly sat up, rubbing his eyes with one fist. He squinted around at the strangers that surrounded him with an expression of surprise more than fear.

“Where are you from, boy? Where are your parents?” Kip asked as kindly as he could.

He sat there for a moment, one brow furrowed before shaking his head. “I don’t know.”

One of the centaur barked a laugh. “He doesn’t know. That just means no one will miss him.”

Kip shot a dark look over one shoulder before turning back to the boy. “Does that mean you’re lost?”

“No, sir. I mean I don’t remember.”

“Don’t remember what?”

“Anything,” the boy said, voice cracking slightly.

The mind mage narrowed his eyes. Focusing on the boy’s thoughts, he could sense it – a whole lot of nothing. As if some cloth had come and wiped all his memories away.

“Very strange. I’ve never sensed this kind of amnesia before.”  Kip got to his feet, musing half to himself. “There’s also no sign of a human settlement anywhere near here. Where did you come from?”

“He’s just a scrawny little thing,” one of the centaur noted. “Hardly make a snack for the Shadow Dragon.”

Kip watched the child shiver at the word “dragon.” He almost did the same. Why they kept such a ruthless beastie in Zot to begin with… well… that was one of Zemus’ things. He stayed out of it.

The mind mage lowered his brows, motioning at the chuckling centaur in a display of authority. “Enough! One more word out of any of you, and we’ll see if the dark serpent has a taste for horse meat!”

The boy watched in concern, “Please, sir, don’t feed me to the dragon!”

“Now, now. I wouldn’t do something like that,” Kip reassured him with a friendly grin. “Besides, kids give the Shadow Dragon heartburn anyhow. You really don’t want to see a dragon with heartburn.”

“You… promise?” Big, soulful, gold eyes stared up at the mind mage, seeking for any sign of safety and protection.

Kip swallowed, his own mind slipping backwards, to images of his son. Then, shaking himself out, he nodded, “I promise. You’ll be safe. Trust me.”

He stood on a moment of silent indecision. Zot was no place for children – certainly the Young Master and his temper tantrums were more than enough to deal with. But, if Kip left this boy here, days away from any human settlement, he would surely die just as quickly as he would in a dragon’s lair.

I can take him aboard, get him cleaned up, then drop him off at the next human settlement we find. As long as he doesn’t actually see our approach to the Tower, it shouldn’t be a big deal.

The centaur were already pawing the ground restlessly. If he didn’t maintain some illusion of control, the boy could still end up horse feed.

“Bring me a blindfold,” Kip turned towards the herd with a sharp glare.

“You don’t intend to bring that scrawny thing with us?” One of them frowned.

“Did I stutter?”

“No, sir!” Snapped one of the better behaved ones.

“I thought not. Do as you’re told and don’t ask questions,” Kip instructed taking the strip of cloth that one of the centaur offered. “Now, hold him.”

The boy looked terrified as the huge hands clamped around his arms, keeping him from running away.

Kip walked forward with a somber expression, showing the child the blindfold. “Part of protocol. It’ll be over soon.”

“Why not just kill him? Don’t need to go through all this trouble,” noted one centaur.

The mind mage cast around for the most authentic fib he could find. Then he spouted, “He may be of use to the Young Master.”

This got them to silent down. Any reference to the Young Master always did.

Gently, Kip tied the blindfold across the boy’s eyes, covering most of his face. Ensuring he could still breathe, he placed one hand on the child’s back, calming magics spreading from his fingertips.

That should keep him from crying or trying to run away.

“Let’s move,” Kip instructed, looking up at the sky in calculation. “The tower is due to shift at phase seven.”

The sound of many hoof beats echoed in his head as he led the boy forward. So many things to worry about. So many things that could go wrong. But none of it could show on his face. Any sign of weakness would be the opening the beasties needed.

On the Blue Planet, the boy’s life depended on Kip’s ability to appear to be in control. But, once they got to Zot, his command could not be questioned.

Chapter 2

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…”

“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.”

“Really?”

“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.

Chapter 3

Darkness was a place for brooding. Shadows belonged to the emo kids. Neither brooding nor emo ever got anyone anywhere as far as TsuMe was concerned. But, there he was, sitting in a darkened room while skritching a sharpening stone along the curved blade of his scythe.

It was one of the few soothing activities he engaged in. The rhythmic skritch… skritch… scritch… was a methodical sort of zen. He’d done this for so long that now his strokes were perfect. He knew just the right amount of pressure along every little curve of the blade. He didn’t need light to show him the things already burned into his mind.

Darkness was better. It hid what he was. Not just the ugly appearance – he’d adjusted to the loss of his Nefolian good looks a long time ago. It kept the shadows that lurked within him, the ones he couldn’t control, from seeing through his eyes and destroying everything he touched.

Watching TsuMe sharpen his scythe must have bored Zerom to tears, because it was one of the few times the hovering presence didn’t weigh down the back of his mind. Even Chaos had to rest sometimes, he figured.

Then, his perfect silence was invaded by the sound of the sliding door. Light spilled in across the room, glittering coldly off the edge of his dark blade. A shadow cast from within that light, Kip’s goofy grin infiltrating TsuMe’s solitude.

I don’t know why you’re grinning. You’re in a lot of trouble.

“Ah, TsuMe. Here you are,” the mind mage even gave a slight wave, as if he was honestly happy to see him. “I should have guessed you were sulking around. Sharpening your weapon in dim light is bad for your eyes, you know.”

Turning on the light is bad for your health.

Of course, that’s exactly what Kip did. With a wave of his hand, he commanded, “Lights on!”

TsuMe didn’t let his internal grumble reach his throat as the orbs above lit in a cheerful glow. His dark eyes remained fixed on his weapon, black and white streaked hair falling across his grey-skinned face.

The first time Kip saw him, the mind mage responded just like everyone else. With disgusted horror. Normal fear was magnified by the Marked-made fear aura he bore. Very few normal people could stand to be around him without responding to it. It took time and a lot of guts to overcome the warning signals the fear aura filled the brain with.

For some reason, Kip did just that. Almost as if he actually wanted to befriend TsuMe.

He’s just a weirdo. That’s all.

Kip launched into small talk, as usual. “Today’s scouting mission was mildly successful. We managed to find a few new specimens and…”

“Including a human child,” TsuMe interrupted, cutting straight to the point.

“So, you already heard?” Kip responded, trying not to sound surprised.

Of course I heard. Zerom watches everything that comes in and out of the Tower.

TsuMe didn’t answer. He simply continued in a grouchy tone. “What are you thinking by bringing a human child here? The one whelp we have is more trouble than we need already.”

“He was lost and had no memory of where he came from,” Kip answered, pouring himself a glass of kantal. “He would have died out in the forest.”

Unmoved, TsuMe muttered, “You should have done us all a favor and put him out of his misery.”

The mind mage’s hand shook slightly as he placed the bottle down on the counter. His voice was choked and disturbed. “You can’t mean that. He is a human, but he’s still just a boy!”

“Exactly. There’s no place for children of any sort in this tower.”

“This is only temporary. I’ll return him to the Blue Planet as soon as I can find a good point of departure,” Kip took a long sip of his kantal. “Until then, the boy has a purpose here.”

“And that is?”

“He can be company for the young Master.”

TsuMe snorted through his nose. “In case you’re forgetting, this is not Happyland Childcare Center! We aren’t supposed to cater to that boy’s every whim and pacify his temper tantrums.”

“Fine,” Kip pretended to examine the fingertips of his gloves. “You try and keep him under control. His tantrums won’t always be limited to lighting books on fire.”

“He should have been punished for that.”

“How?”

“Do I look like I’m here to baby sit?” TsuMe huffed. “You’re the one who knows about kids.”

“That’s right,” Kip waggled a finger. “So give me some room to work with him. The last thing we need is for the young Master to become uncooperative and bitter.”

“A few nights in the Pit should straighten him out,” the Marked suggested.

“Or make him more angry,” the mind mage corrected. “If he’s anything like his father, that’s not something you want to do.”

“There’s still ways to teach him manners when he’s acting like a brat. He’s just a kid.”

“Who is the direct descendant of Zemi Dreigiau,” Kip reminded him.

TsuMe sat silently. It was a reminder he didn’t need. He could hear the waver in the mind mage’s voice. Kip was more afraid of the dormant Sygnus in the child than he wanted to let on.

After a moment, he continued, “It’s one of the reasons this tower exists – it’s a place away from the Blue Planet where we can teach him before the Sygnus manifests.”

Zerom fed you that slop, and you guzzled it right up. Wishful thinking.

“Do you really think that’s going to stop the inevitable from happening?” the Marked asked.

“Who says it’s inevitable?” Kip frowned.

TsuMe didn’t answer. He’d seen this all before – how they tried so hard to deviate the fate of the Bane. It led them all to their destruction, and cursed him with the form he had today.

He spoke quietly, “Perhaps it’s better to remove the threat before it manifests.”

“You don’t think that it could be different this time?” Kip pursed his lips.

“I gave up on that kind of optimism a long time ago.”

The mind mage just sighed. But he looked nervous. For a very good reason.

“This human boy I found,” he finally said, “He might just give the young Master something to think about rather than his perceived captivity.”

“You’re so convinced the kid can calm the whelp down.” It wasn’t a question.

“Better than that,” Kip’s easy grin returned. The one that tried to prove how clever he was. “If the boys become friends, we can use the human to control the young Master.”

He’s trying too hard.

“Face it,” TsuMe snorted. “This is all an elaborate cover up as to why you can’t bring yourself to abandon a kid.”

Kip’s contorted face proved his point instantly. Even his attempt to protest was weak. “That’s just…”

The Marked just gave a short laugh of triumph. Then, his tone turned serious again. “If the kid stays, he’s your problem. If Master Zemus asks, you answer for it. Not me. Fine?”

“Fine!” Kip agreed looking cheerful again.

“I wouldn’t be smiling if I were you.”

“Why’s that?”

TsuMe glanced up at the crystal at the far end of the room. “It’s your turn to feed the whelp tonight. Judging by the light of the crystal, you’re already half an hour late.”

The mind mage’s eyes widened as he gave a satisfying strangled sound of concern.

TsuMe couldn’t help but bark a laugh again. If there was anything Kip was good for, it was making him laugh.

“You think this is funny, don’t you?” he protested.

“Exceedingly.”

Kip just huffed as he turned and rushed out of the doorway. As soon as he did, the lights in the room began to slowly dim.

Tch. What a fool. He actually believes the whelp is going to live long enough to become the Master of this tower.

-You sound so doubtful, TsuMe.- The voice bubbled out of the shadows.

It wasn’t a surprise. TsuMe felt the pressure of Zerom’s presence with him, drawn by his conversation with Kip. It was part of the reason he preferred to be left alone – Zerom always pried when he associated with other people.

-There is a reason why I keep KiNa alive. He knows far more about raising a child than you ever will.-

TsuMe just grunted.

-Don’t get any ideas. If I hear thoughts of destroying the Sygnus, you will be the one with problems. Do I make myself clear?-

TsuMe grunted again. Suddenly, he felt a sharp pain as his head jerked back, something unseen grabbing him tightly around the throat. He bared his fangs, trying to contain his response behind a snarl.

-I said… do I make myself clear?-

“Yes.”

-Yes… what?-

“Yes… Master.”

Finally, TsuMe was released. He fought back the instinct to gasp for air. It didn’t work very well.

-Your spirit is endearing. It’s why I keep you around.- The presence began to move slowly across the room. –Don’t get too rock-headed or I may find an appropriate replacement. There are many humans on the Blue Planet. Some of them even more useful than you.-

TsuMe just narrowed his eyes in a dark glower.

-Now. On the topic of the human child that Kip has discovered.-

The Marked grimaced, waiting for the command that would end the boy’s life.

The voice turned surprisingly whimsical. –I’m interested in him.-

TsuMe blinked.

-I sense something… different… about the boy. I want to know what it is.-

“Wonderful,” the Marked muttered.

-He will remain in the tower, and you will observe him.-

“Kip expects to return him to the Blue Planet.”

-He will remain in the tower,- the voice repeated.

“Kip won’t agree with that,” TsuMe repeated.

-Since when does what KiNa want concern you and override my command?-

The hint of pain streaked over his shoulder, warning him of impending punishment. The Marked bared his fangs. “He may become suspicious.”

-Then make sure you are subtle. You do know how to be subtle, don’t you?-

“And if he argues?”

-KiNa is replaceable. Do it.-

With the final command, the shadows shifted away, leaving TsuMe in silence and solitude.

Chapter 4

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.

“Well, I…”

“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.