“You think the dude’s gonna be alright? He’s just been sitting there staring at his amulet all day,” Palom’s voice rose from the other side of the half open door. Try as the boy might, it was impossible for him to keep the sound down. It was followed promptly by the hissing shush of his sister.
“I hope so,” Chase’s somber reply was enough to make the Master Wizard lift his head.
People were worried about him. It was a strange occurrence.
Ben wanted to speak out to the children, but he had discovered it was difficult to find his voice since he had returned from Mt. Ordeals. Though he had not passed the trial on the mountain, something else had happened. Having seen the image of his father’s spirit, something had changed within him. Though he didn’t have the words to describe it.
He didn’t have words at all.
All he had been able to do was study the soft gleam of the medallion in his palm. And run the words and images through his mind until they all became a blur of emotion.
Father said I had to make my own way. That it wouldn’t be the same as Cecil’s. Maybe all this time I’ve been measuring myself up to something I could never become… something I was never supposed to be. But still…
Walking away from the summit, Ben had discovered he didn’t know. He really didn’t know. What it all meant. Who he was. Who he was meant to become. So many more questions had sprang up in his mind… when he had gone there to find the answers.
But there was one answer that had become clear to him while watching the terrible shift of memory and magic within the trial on the mountain. It was the one sure thing he took away from it all.
I’m not the Dark Lord Golbez anymore. I’m Benjamin Ya…
As if on cue, another voice added to the small conference outside in the hallway. The sound of welcome from the children to a familiar face. And the door slowly creaked inwards, permitting a shock of white hair and deep green eyes to pass within.
Ben’s mouth opened slightly as he managed one quiet word, “Cecil?”
The young Paladin King’s face had grown softer since they returned from Mt. Ordeals, if only a little. Though his eyes were still serious, still carried the weight of his nation, there was something kinder there when he saw his brother. As if having attempted the trial, even in losing, had brought some sort of new kinship between the two.
Despite this, there was still a hesitance, “Golbez… you weren’t down for lunch. Rosa wanted me to check on you.”
“Oh,” Ben didn’t know how to answer the concern. He rolled the medallion around between his fingers a few times before adding, “Uh… um… thanks?”
“Did you get anything to eat?”
“I…” he shook his head slowly.
Cecil paused. Then he dropped the indirectness that was so awkward to uphold. “Are you alright, Golbez?”
There was genuine worry there. So much that Ben’s eyebrows lifted in surprise.
The young Paladin King made his way to the chair across from the bed and sat down. Propping his boots up on foot stool, it was probably the most casual that Ben had ever seen his brother. At once, he wondered what was wrong.
“I’ll be fine Cecil. I just…” his voice trailed off, contesting the content of his words.
“I don’t know what you saw on the summit,” came his brother’s quick reply, “But I understand how it makes you feel. How you start to question every fabric in your body. How you are more confused after it’s all done than you were when you went up to the mountain.”
Ben’s mouth fell open. Then he nodded slowly. “Yes… yes. Exactly.”
“At the risk of sounding harsh… don’t dwell on it too much, Golbez,” Cecil murmured. “It’s been five and some years since I took the Trial. I still haven’t found all the answers to the questions that I walked away with.”
A lopsided smile crossed the Master Wizard’s face, “You’re only 25 years old, Cecil. You’re not supposed to have all the answers.”
The Paladin paused for a moment, mulling the thought. As if he never considered his youth in the midst of all the other pressures of the world. His green eyes flickered up and he gave a similar smile, “Well, neither are you.”
Ben’s smile broadened to a grin in spite of himself, “Logic well played, brother.”
“I suppose I’m good at something sometimes?” Cecil almost gave a laugh.
So they sat for a moment, on the edge of something that resembled brotherly kinship. On the edge of a smile and a laugh. Things they had rarely had the chance to enjoy. They both knew the next words that came would shift the tone. And that it wasn’t something either of them could avoid. So silence was kind for a short time.
Cecil was the first to speak again, “There’s been reports of strange happenings across the Blue Planet.”
“Oh?” Ben’s eyebrow rose slightly. “What kind of happenings?”
“Things that shouldn’t be… rain storms in the Damcyan, ices in the forests of Troia, heat scorching the island of Eblana,” came the grim answer. “It’s because of the Crystals, isn’t it?”
The Master Wizard nodded slowly. “Yes… it’s difficult for the Blue Planet to maintain elemental balance with only one dark and light Crystal existing. And the pull of the other Crystals of the Moon is still connected, so far away.”
“That’s… kind of what I thought,” Cecil sighed and began to fold and unfold the hem of his cloak. Though he was adverting his eyes now, the sound of his voice gave him away.
“There’s something else going on, isn’t there?” Ben asked, slowly sitting up.
The Paladin sighed again, his expression searching for the right words. When he spoke, it was slow and calculated, “Rosa and I… and the others… talked about it. We weren’t so sure that you were ready after everything on the mountain… but…”
The elder brother nodded, encouraging Cecil to continue.
“We probably can’t do this without you. And it is your Crystal… so…”
“What’s this about, Cecil?” Ben finally interjected.
“We’ve had word,” the Paladin paused again. “From Leviathan in the Underground.”
“Edhan brought news that the final Dark Crystal is missing. Someone has managed to take it, though we don’t know how,” Cecil frowned, finally putting it all out between them.
“Oh no…” his voice fell low as the brunt of the news fell on his shoulders. “That’s all they need to…”
“I know,” the Paladin’s face was grim.
“How long ago did you…”
“About an hour or so. Edhan just got here and came immediately to make his report,” Cecil answered.
“How long have they…”
“I’m not sure. I know that they sent word as soon as they found out. But it may have been missing longer than they were aware of.”
“Do you always know what my questions are going to be before I finish asking them?” Ben gave a droll look.
Cecil paused with a sheepish look. “Sorry?”
Ben fell silent for a moment, thoughts deepening. They had not wanted to tell him, to worry him more… and had spent precious time debating on if he should be included. Now that he was, he knew he couldn’t just sit by. No matter how confused. No matter what his feelings were.
Father’s last wish was to protect this world… that’s what I have to do.
Cecil was watching him with an uncertain face. As if he didn’t know whether or not they had done the proper thing by breaking the news. He watched quietly as his brother struggled, then silently lifted his head.
“Where is the Crystal of Fire right now?” Ben finally asked.
The Paladin gave out a long, relieved breath, knowing the question was an attempt of moving forward. That Ben had decided to take action.
“It’s been taken outside of the city, to an underground location in the desert. Edward knows how destructive the other Crystals have been… and with the elements acting crazy… he decided it was too dangerous to risk keeping the Crystal in the city,” Cecil answered, detailing in a very straight voice. “It’s under heavy security, though. And the place it’s being kept is relatively secret to everyone outside of the Damcyan royalty and the royal guard.”
“Good idea…” Ben murmured. “But do you know where it is?”
“Not… exactly,” the Paladin winced slightly.
“But you’re the King? Shouldn’t you know these things?”
“Yes, but you don’t go asking other kings to divulge information on national secrets and security?” Cecil spread his hands. “I never needed to know the location of this place until now.”
Ben groaned, “Humans…! So difficult!”
“We can head to Damcyan anyhow. I’m sure once we get there we can get the answers we need.”
“And lose time going through the whole process and flying there?” he grimaced more.
“What else could we do?” Cecil asked, meeting frown for frown.
“If I knew the location, I could open a rift there.”
“Oh, the rifts again,” it was Cecil’s turn to groan.
“Well it’s a lot faster than a ship. But I can’t do it if I don’t know–”
“Ben!” the sound of Chase calling his name from the hallway outside broke through the conversation.
The two men turned, both rather surprised that the young Page could muster such a strong voice. Before either of them could make a response, the group of children came bustling into the room. Led by a wide-eyed Chase, Palom and Porom both gave anxious looks and open mouths.
“I’m sorry! I’m sorry for interrupting, Your Majesty,” the Page was the only one to think of propriety at the moment. But his apologies were mowed over by his more gregarious companions.
“DUDE! She was a bird! And now she’s a girl! It’s a bird-girl!” Palom stammered, then added. “She’s a chick!”
Porom didn’t miss a beat to elbow him in the chest.
“What?” Cecil just stared at them with the most puzzled expression that his brow could make.
A quiet voice from the doorframe caused the room’s confusion to fall silent, “I am here.”
Ben’s chin jerked up, staring at the girl that stood there. Long dark hair framed her pale face, streaming down over the shoulders of her dark black robes. Her eyes were endless black pools as she folded a pair of small black wings at her back.
It’s her… it’s the girl that appeared during the meeting we had when I first got here. The one that seems to know about…
“Sygnus,” the girl peered past the children, towards where the two brothers sat. It wasn’t apparent which one she was addressing. “The time is drawing to a close. The last Blue Planet Crystal will be destroyed. And then the Crystals of the once-Red Moon will follow. When that is done, the Bane will be released over your lands.”
“I don’t understand…” Cecil had gotten to his feet, eyes never leaving the vision in front of him.
“Of course you don’t,” she replied curtly.
“Who are you? Where did you come from and why are you here?” the questions rushed out of the Paladin’s lips. It was obvious that he recognized her, too. And this time, he didn’t want her to get away before he had his answers.
The girl just gave him a long, quiet look. It was obvious that she had no fear of Blue Planet authority. Nor would she answer to demands.
“Please…” Ben tried a different approach, softening his voice as he would talking with children. “What is your name?”
Afterall… she looks like a little girl. So she might be one?
To his surprise, she did respond to the shift in tone, “You may call me Sparrow. And I have been sent here to guide you.”
“To Incrytan?” Ben asked.
“To the Crystal of Fire?” Cecil echoed.
Sparrow gave a tiny smile as she spoke, “To your birthright.”