Green eyes flickered in waves of pale light, tracing the motion of a hundred life forces swaying below. The vantage point that Ben had discovered atop the castle battlements was breathtaking. Not only did he have the vast stretch of brilliant blue sky overhead and the dappled color of mountain-on-plains in the distance, but he found himself ruling over the passage of life of the people down below.
So fragile… yet so self-assured.
The first thing that struck him was the sense of freedom he had found upon the Blue Planet. Despite the fact that he was standing in full sight up on the castle tower, not a soul had turned to acknowledge his presence. It was as if they didn’t even realize. As if they couldn’t sense his eyes upon them.
So different from the Lunars… more so than I would have thought.
There had been nowhere to hide in the Lunar Fortress of Titlanus. Everywhere Ben went, he felt their watching minds pressing on him. Some in fear. Some in curiosity. Some in contempt.There had never been a time he had not been under the locked awareness of the other Lunars. No time except for when he had taken shelter beneath the city in his tiny hidden room within the ancient library. He had shielded the chamber from the senses of the rest of the Lunars. It was this desire for solitude that had caused him to hide away in his study so often.Only FuSoYa had access to his room.
And only one other had ever chanced to discover it.
She was the only Lunarian that hadn’t looked upon him with a constant flicker of fear. But then again, she wasn’t exactly what most Lunars would have considered to be the average, well-behaved girl. It was probably part of the reason that Ben found her somewhat enjoyable to spend time with.
Eh? With all this going on… why am I thinking about Joran?
The Half-Lunar shook himself out, fists gripping tightly along the top of the stone wall.
Lunarians… Humans… they’re all the same. And I… am neither.
A cold intensity filled his gaze as a passing breeze tangled through his long white hair.
Nor do I ever want to be…
There was a little tug on the corner of his cloak. Pausing in mid-contemplation, the Half-Lunar turned.
Chase blinked up, his golden eyes sheened with worry. One little hand gripped the hem of green timidly. Ben’s expression softened as their eyes met, the dark thoughts scattering and taking wing like startled roc-lings.
“What’s wrong, Chase?” Ben’s voice hinted with concern.
”I’m sorry to bother you…”
“You have my attention,” the wizard coaxed, attempting to be reassuring.
“It’s just…” Chase peered back over one shoulder into the darkened frame of the tower door. “Nodd.”
“Hun?” Ben’s head jerked up, instantly swinging about to stare across the tower’s crown. Where he had expected to be met with the Kit’s mischief, he found… absolutely nothing. It took half a moment for the dilemma to dawn on him. “Wait… where is he?”
“I don’t know! I didn’t see him leave!” Chase gave a troubled look. “He’s good at sneaking…”
Adjusting to life in the human castle had been a great trial for Nodd. The Kit was used to having his free-run of the halls in the Lunar Stronghold. No one had ever instructed him to sit still… much less remain in the same room for hours on end.
However, with preparations for the upcoming Meeting of Nations in full swing across Baron, FuSoYa had demanded that the troublemaking Kit be kept under close watch. Not to mention it was obvious that the humans were not used to seeing cat-like humanoid creatures scampering around their town. More than once had the situation resulted in a frightened mother or confused city guard.
It seemed that anything so out of the ordinary was quickly classified as a “monster”. Even if it was something as innocent as a Hummingway child.
“Wonderful,” the Half-Lunar gave a deep, grumbling sigh as he turned, making his way toward the waiting stairway. “He’s going to get himself hung out to dry if he’s not careful. I’ve tried to warn him that the people of this world just don’t understand…”
The boy winced, following with galloping steps and a shamed look on his face, “I’m sorry, Ben… I didn’t mean to–”
“Eh, Chase… no. I’m not upset with you,” Ben’s frown widened, blinking back over one shoulder, “It’s not your job to watch over Nodd. It’s mine.”
Chase pursed his lips, “Does it worry you?”
“Somewhat,” Ben admitted slowly. “But only because I’m afraid of what other people might mistake him for.”
Chase gave a concerned look, “Is he in trouble?”
“Trouble is Nodd’s constant companion, believe me.”
The boy gave a quizzical look, finally falling silent in his own pondering. When he spoke again, his thoughts had shifted, “Where are we going?”
“To find Nodd.”
“You know where he is?” the question rose with surprise.
“Yes. I can find him.”
The wizard waited patiently for the next most obvious question. But it never came. Instead, Chase gave a quiet, high-pitched gasp.
In making their way across the dark passages of the castle, they had stumbled upon the beginning of the infirmary corridor. It was as if they had suddenly crossed the threshold into a warped nightmare.
A haunted, collective moan rose and fell, dripping from the stone walls. Mages from Mysidia were piled in the hall, waiting treatment for wounds. Many were wrapped in ghostly sheets of white and splattered with black crusted blood. Some of the bodies lay absolutely motionless. Others were not so lucky, their broken minds flailing in twisted torture as consciousness faded in and out of being.
Ben found his own feet falter as the stench hit him. It was the same odor that had filled his senses when he had battled with the Elemental Dragon. There was little doubt the beast originally arose for vengeance against the city of Mysidia. But when the mages had evacuated through the Serpent Road, the dragon had followed, resulting in a full scale assault of Baron.
These people… are suffering with wounds beyond the healing of human hands. They have been struck down by an Elemental of the Crystal itself.
His eyes wandered, falling upon the fluttering of white and red robes that lay in the hall next to his foot. Cold and motionless, a pale hand spilled out from under the sheets. The skin was pitted black where the acidic waters had eaten away at the flesh.
Their time is marked.
A soft whimper called Ben’s attention back from thought. Chase had buried his face into the wizard’s cloak.
Something inside of the Half-Lunar’s chest tightened.
One large hand dropped on the boy’s sandy-blond hair as the Master Wizard pulled Chase closer to his side in a protective manner. Carefully avoiding the splayed limbs and robes that leaked across the floor, Ben led the boy through the hall. Long after they had turned the corner, the page refused to pull his face from hiding.
He shouldn’t have seen that…
A scowl rose over Ben’s face.
But how was I to know? I wasn’t even told that so many people were wounded.
He managed to take in a deep, ragged breath. The air had finally cleared.
And I’m sure that’s only a tiny fragment of what really happened. I didn’t see any of the Baronians among their numbers. And I know many warriors also fell in the streets.
His eyes narrowed.
And all for what? Incrytan? The Crystals?
His mouth drew in a slitted straight line.
These people had nothing to do with the one who stole Incrytan.
The tightening in his chest grew almost painful. The thoughts merged with the sound of Chase’s sniffles, echoing in strange patterns within his mind. Thoughts that had never come to him before.
Why did so many people have to be hurt… when they weren’t even involved to begin with?
An alien form of insight gripped him, a sense of strange awakening unfolded within the depths of his mind. Stricken by the power of the emotion, the Half-Lunar faltered in his step.
“B..en..?” Chase choked slightly, blinking up at the wizard in sudden concern. “Are you okay?”
Why… do I feel…?
“I don’t know?” the Half-Lunar answered slowly, attempting to hide his unease.
What does it mean?
The boy simply nodded, then laced his fingers into Ben’s in a quiet, familiar manner. The Half-Lunar studied the merger for a long moment before closing his own fingers around Chase’s hand with a gentle, reassuring squeeze.
“It will be okay,” the page nodded with confidence. “The White Mages of Baron are trained in the same way that Queen Rosa was. They’re the best!”
But the wounds can not be healed… not like that…
Ben’s lips parted as the dark realization drew around him. But the words would not come.
He has so much faith in his people… how can I take that away from him? He’s just a child…
The wizard closed his eyes and simply nodded. He knew anything he would say could only give the truth away – especially with Chase’s uncanny ability to see things that most people could not.
“We’re supposed to be finding Nodd, right?” the boy tugged at Ben’s hand.
“Eh… that’s right!” the Half-Lunar jolted up with a frown, grateful for the distraction. Once again, he began to lead them in the direction that his senses pointed him. “Wandering off like that… you can bet he’s up to trouble.”
“Trouble!” the boy echoed with a stern look on his face.
Ben finally paused, glancing up a nearby flight of stairs. His foot met the bottom step as Chase’s words rose up after him.
“Wait! We can’t go up that way!”
“That’s King Cecil and Queen Rosa’s room!”
“Hun?” Sudden thoughts of what the Hummingway Kit might be doing up in the royal chambers only served to quicken his pace.
“Beeeeeeeen! We can get in big trouble!”
“We’ll be in trouble either way.”
“But, we’re not supposed to go into the King’s chambers! It’s high-treasonable!”
“Eh?” Ben frowned back over one shoulder, unconvinced.
“High-treasonable!” the page held one finger up, staring from the bottom of the stairwell. “It’s a terrible punishment!”
“Let Cecil try.”
Chase gave a little gasp, hopping up the stairs with wide eyes. “But… but…”
“Besides…” Ben paused upon reaching the chamber doors. “I’m the king’s brother, right? So, that technically makes me a prince?”
“Uh… uh…” the boy blinked as the idea dawned upon him, his mouth falling open.
A slick grin crossed the Half-Lunar’s face as he turned the knob, “So go ahead and let Cecil try.”