The door to the Royal Chambers rumbled inwards, lacking the agonizing squeal that normal castle doors usually possessed. It was obvious that someone had been taking great care with the upkeep of the room.
Most likely Rosa.
Ben’s feet met with the gentle plush of a deep-cushioned carpet as he stepped over the threshold into the room. The rug was a soft sea of cream that spanned from the massive doorframe all the way to the huge canopy bed on the far end of the room. The tall, west-wing windows were cast wide open, allowing for the late-afternoon breeze to caper through.
Everything from the draperies to the gauzy bed curtains was hung in soft creams and muted browns. A tall set of mirrors spanned across the far wall, standing over what looked to be a small vanity desk. The surface of the desk was dappled with brushes, powders and other hair fixings. A blueprint marked “The Enterprise” was scrolled upon the other wall, hanging with a sense of pride. The greenery of flowers and vines hung about, sculpted to grow delicately along the window perch and from ceiling urns above.
The essence of Paladin was so strong in the room that it made Ben’s eyes sting.
Chase stared around in mute surprise. The page had obviously never seen the inside of the royal cambers before and was taking it all in with wide eyes.
Standing there in the middle of the Royal Chambers was Nodd. The Kit was crouching, ears pointed forward and twitching with intense curiosity. His green eyes were round and unblinking as he stared into the open doorway to an adjoining chamber.
“Nodd,” Ben half-hissed. “What are you doing? You… not to mention I… can get into huge trouble if anyone catches us up here!”
The Kit’s tail twitched once. His eyes remained focused into the gloom of the other room as he said simply, “There’s something here.”
“Don’t you know better than to sneak around in the king’s room?”
“The king must keep strange pets…” Nodd murmured.
“What do you mean?” Ben pursed his lips.
“’Cuz there’s some really weird sounds coming from this other room. If you’re real quiet, you’ll hear them…”
“What sort of sounds?”
“I don’t know… they’re sorta scary…” the Kit blinked a few times.
“Ben…” Chase swallowed, looking uncomfortable. “I think we should go back now.”
“Yeah… come on, Nodd,” the Half-Lunar motioned toward the doorway with one hand, “I’m sure that whatever you heard is Cecil’s business not ou–”
A soft, eerie moan wafted across the room, shifting from the darkness of the side chamber. Ben froze at the sound of it, a deep sense of dread filling his chest.
“Beeen!” Chase wrapped his arms around the Half-Lunar’s legs, hiding his face once again in the long green cloak. “Ben… can we go!? Please!”
Nodd’s eyes narrowed. He began to creep slowly into the side room, the fur on the nape of his neck standing on end.
Despite Chase’s insistence, the Half-Lunar slowly began to follow the Kit. Though the other room appeared to be commonly used as some sort of study, the shades were now drawn, casting the chambers shadow. In the middle of the room sat a make-shift litter, swathed deeply in white sheets.
It wasn’t until Ben drew closer that he realized the white cloth was spotted black.
“S-sh-shiva!” Nodd hissed as he peered up at the bed and back-stepped, jarring right into the big Half-Lunar.
As the scent of acid and burnt flesh leapt to his senses, Ben found himself struggling not to choke. He didn’t need to look to know that the bed held someone who had been wounded during the elemental Dragon attack.
But why… would Cecil be keeping someone up here and not in the infirmary?
Taking one last step forward, a twisting sensation curdled his gut. There was not one, but two people in the bed. Both were marked with the same wounds as he saw on the mages that were scattered in the hall. And both were…
“Children…” the Half-Lunar choked. “They’re nothing but children.”
A boy and a girl lay there. Being nearly identical in features, they were obviously siblings. Due to muted tingle of magic rippled over the wizard’s skin, he could also sense that they were mages.
“They’re Mysidians…” Chase whispered, “They’re wearing Mysidian seals on their uniforms.”
As Ben stood over the bed, the light behind his eyes shifted… a flicker of something embedded so deep, yet lost to time. Nodd gave a quiet hiss as the Half-Lunar’s fingers reached out to trace the golden seal upon the hem of one of the tattered robes.
Flashes of distant memory — the sound of children playing in the streets… children who had dressed in a very similar manner… children of Mysidia.
Ben had once played along the same streets when he had been a child.
Chase was sniffling softly and pulling on the wizard’s cloak, asking to go back into the other room.
The Half-Lunar found himself unable to move. His eyes were still fixed upon the twin faces that lay before him, children lost to pained slumber. It looked as if all manner of healing spells had been attempted upon them already – to no avail. The sound of his own thoughts shifted through his mind with a haunted, chilling finality.
Their time is marked.
“H-hey…” Nodd’s voice was hoarse next to him. “What’s wrong with them?”
“They were struck down by the Elemental of the Water Crystal,” Ben answered slowly, his words very distant to his ears.
“And that’s what’s wrong with the rest of the Mysidians?”
“Yeah… And some Baronians, too.”
“What happened, Ben?” Chase blinked up fearfully, “Why did the Dragon attack our city?”
“It’s because someone stole your Crystal, isn’t it?” Nodd blurted quickly.
“You have a Crystal?” Chase stared up at Ben in surprise.
“I used to, but…”
“Someone came and stole it!” Nodd’s ears flatted.
“Stealing is baaad…” the page frowned.
“Yeah, it is…” Ben finally managed to get a word into the conversation.
“Especially when it’s stealing a Crystal,” the Kit added.
“Like a real Crystal? An element Crystal?” Chases’ eyes were wide.
“It’s similar… but not quite,” the Half-Lunar answered, “I think that whoever took my Crystal has used it to destroy and absorb the power of the Mysidian Crystal of Water.”
Chase’s mouth fell agape. “That’s…. really bad… isn’t it?”
Ben nodded somberly.
“What about the Dragon?”
“I believe that the Dragon was the elemental guardian locked away within the Water Crystal. It was sealed there to prevent things like this from happening.”
“Well, it didn’t seem to help much,” Nodd grumbled.
“Things do not always end up working out as originally planned.”
Chase took in a deep breath, peering down at the Mysidian children. “They can be healed, right?”
Ben felt the weight of his silence fall through the chamber. The Half-Lunar’s eyes closed slowly. He could do nothing more than turn away.
“You can’t leave them like this,” the boy protested. “They’re hurting a whole lot!”
The wizard took a deep breath.
“You can do something?” Chase pressed, becoming more desperate.
“Chase…” Ben’s voice grew thick, “I’m a Dark Wizard. Not a Healer…”
“But…” Chase’s eyes were round and pleading. “You’re the bestest wizard in all the world, right?”
The Half-Lunar’s mouth fell open slightly.
“You can fix them. If no one else can fix them… you can!” the boy chanted with conviction.
But I’m no White Mage. Holy Magic drains me just to be around it, much less to try and use it…
The breath rose within Ben’s throat shallowly. Chase was watching him, eyes full of hope.
But if Chase says I can do it… then maybe I really can? It’s supposed to be impossible for the boy to lie, afterall.
Nodd was watching him, too.
Still, they’re only a couple of humans. Why should I car…
The mantra of indifference suddenly fell short within Ben’s mind. For the first time, he couldn’t bring himself to finish the thought.
‘Why should I care?’
They were the words that he had used for so long to shield himself away from the uncertainty of his own emotion. For it was easier not to feel… not to confront the pain that came with knowing compassion…
But now he had found the answer to this question.
He had found the answer in the pain of the Mysidian children that lay wounded before him. In the moaning bodies of the mages strewn upon the castle floors in front of the infirmary. In the grief of the Baronian people as they had worked to gather what was left of their shattered lives in the streets below.
He had found the answer in the light of Chase’s eyes and the hope of his words – ‘You’re the bestest wizard in all the world! If no one else can fix them… you can!’
The Half-Lunar looked down at his open palms and saw something there he never had before. More than just his own power… he saw promise born of possibility.
He saw a strange, newly-realized hope.
I should care… because I am Golbez.
“I… will try,” Ben finally said.
The Kit blinked in disbelief. Then he grinned, “All right!”
“Go, Ben!” Chase’s face beamed brightly.
Ben gave a weak smile of his own, slightly abashed at their reaction. There had been very few times he remembered in his life that he had said or done something that had been met with a joyful reception.
Something inside of him grew lighter. And almost warm.
“Though…” the Half-Lunar peered around, his face growing serious. “I will need a Crystal’s aid.”
“Why?” the page chirped, face confused.
“The only way to undo something done by a Crystal is to use another Crystal to nullify it,” Ben patiently attempted to explain. “That’s why the White Mages are having no luck healing those wounded in the battle.”
Chase’s face lit up. “Ohhh… so we need a Crystal that–”
“But… where are we gonna find one?” Nodd frowned.
“I know! Hold on!” Chase waved one hand and darted out into the other room.
Ben watched him disappear, brow furrowed. A scuffling sound came from the other room. When the page finally reappeared, he was carrying what looked to be a sword. Though the blade of the weapon was sheathed in protective leather, the rounded stone in its grip gave off a soft light.
Cecil’s Sword! Of course! It has a Crystal in the pommel!
“Will this work?” the boy offered, struggling with the weight of the weapon as he brought it to the Master Wizard.
“I don’t know… but we could try?” Ben tilted his head with a musing expression.
The Half-Lunar took the sword from the boy’s arms, careful to not to handle the exposed steel of the weapon. He then balanced it against the bed, lifting his hand to hover inches above the Crystal pommel stone.
No need to touch it longer than I have to… A Paladin’s holy blade has little love or mercy for a Man of Darkness.
A soft hum began to rise from the stone as the Half-Lunar shifted his awareness into the first thread of connection with the Crystal. He could feel the burn of the holy light as the uncomfortable warmth began to touch his open palm, a sharp tingle of dancing pinpricks waltzing across his skin.
I must not pull away…
Multicolored threads of light and shadow spun off in every direction. Each held its own signature sound and feel, though some were easier for him to hear than others. As his will turned to focus upon them, a warm harmony began to take form within his mind. Carefully, Ben worked to sort through the threads, reaching to the furthest boundaries. Somewhere in the far distance, he could sense the purest white of Spirit.
He commanded the Light.
It balked and slipped through his grip like sunlit water.
Again he reached, this time commanding more aggressively.
Again, it balked, swerving as his presence sent the Light spiraling away from him.
This time he seized it… clawed at it… fighting to keep hold, and to wrap his mind with its energy. It burned like raw, white flame.
A silent, mental scream ripped through Ben’s essence as the holy energy filled him. It tore through every inch of his body, struggling like a creature desperate for escape. Fighting to balance the flow, the hum of the Crystal stone grew more insistent, changing its pitch to harmonize with that of the Light.
As the sounds merged, there was no thought, no idea, just a sudden quietness within. The words came of their own will, the soft accented lilt calling forth the syllables.
“Dia liom, mo chroi… Athair an oich… Gan ghruaim. Dia linn… Dia linn… Dia linn…”
Then came the release. What might have proven an irregular, tsunami of power by his normal standards instead trickled gently out through the Crystal’s balance.
The harmony was sweet enough to draw tears as the Light intensified. Lost within mind’s eye, Ben could feel more than see it drizzling down, washing the scars and torn flesh away. Thread upon thread wove and passed until the children were restored to their former unscathed state.
Passage of thought shifted through the wizard’s mind.
There are more that were wounded. Their time is also marked…
“Quickly!” Ben’s voice did not seem real to his ears. It was soft and flowing, only a hint of lilt coming through. “Get me something… anything!”
Chase gasped and reached down to grab the closest item he could find – a small white piece of cloth. Leaping forward, he shoved it into Ben’s hands. As the wizard’s fingers passed over the material, he channeled the last of the spell’s energies, locking them into the weave of the cloth.
Just as suddenly, the Light was gone.
“Tekume,” Ben croaked hoarsely. Then the Half-Lunar reeled forward, collapsing on the floor.