Categories > Original > Fantasy > Monster

Day 5

by Togot 0 reviews

The Kannin learn of Tyler's physical problems

Category: Fantasy - Rating: R - Genres: Drama,Fantasy - Warnings: [V] - Published: 2019-08-11 - 10975 words

Day five

Tyler didn’t see Alanna when he woke up the next day. He wasn’t sure if he should be disappointed or relieved. After his nightmare, seeing her would have been difficult. He ate his breakfast which had appeared on its own during the night, replacing his uneaten dinner. He considered it a sign that it was morning in the absence of any other indicator. Once he’d finished, he sat alone for a time, wondering if he should wait for Malenia or Alanna to show up. When neither of them came, he decided to go for a morning jog.

Tyler rolled his shoulders as he walked down the empty halls. His arms were getting stiff, and he thought he might get some katas in after he warmed up his leg muscles. Malenia said he was under her protection and safe, but he wanted to keep his skills sharp all the same. He walked through the main hall without any trouble. Most of the kannin ignored him, and the few that took notice didn’t approach. Their indifference seemed odd to him. Had the situation been reversed, any one of them would have been sent off to some government lab and dissected. Tyler frowned at the thought. What did that say about him that these scary monsters were treating him better than his people would have treated any of them? Well, aside from trying to kill him.

He found his way outside the castle walls and started jogging at a brisk pace. It was bright and sunny out yet again, but the chill in the air told him the sun hadn‘t been up long. Tyler looked up at the sky; he hadn’t seen a cloudy day since he’d arrived. Was it this nice year round? If so, this world would make a great vacation spot, provided you didn’t mind the locals.

He completed one lap, and sweat was beading on his brow. He could hear his heart pounding in his chest as his muscles started to burn. It was a good kind of pain which Tyler had learned to love. On his second lap, he tried to spot some the local wildlife, but there was nothing but flat grass all the way to the caldera. It struck Tyler as odd that there wouldn’t be anything in sight. No alien birds, or gophers; he didn’t even see any insects buzzing around his head. Malenia had mentioned a magical barrier around the place. Did it keep everything away?

Tyler’s eyes suddenly went wide with shock, and he clutched his chest with pain. His confusion only lasted a moment before he realized what was happening, but this time there had been no warning. His body cramped up as he fell to his knees. He let out a pained gasp as his face went pale. Tyler fought hard against the stabbing sensation in his heart, but an agonized groan forced its way through his clenched teeth before he finally collapsed face down in the dirt. The world slipped away from him, and for a moment, he dared to hope that he would wake up back home.

Then, there was a hand on his shoulder. He wasn’t sure how much time had passed. A second, an hour? His mind was too clouded to tell. He didn’t have the energy to open his eyes, and the words being spoken above him were just noise, but he knew that it was Malenia. Her hand was strong but gentle, soft, yet powerful. Her presence comforted him as he slipped back down into unconsciousness.

“I’m afraid I simply do not know enough about his specie’s anatomy.” It was the first sentence Tyler’s lethargic mind could make sense of, though it took him a moment longer to place the voice as Turell’s. “From what you described, I would guess it’s a problem with his heart, though I can find no sign of injury. It does look misshapen, but that could be normal for his race.”
“What caused it?” That was Malenia’s voice. There was a hint of anger, under her calm.
“I do not know.”

“I suggest you find out,” said Malenia with a little more of her anger slipping out.

“How am I supposed to do that?” Turell whined.

“Dear Turell,” said Malenia, and her tone changed. The edge to it was gone replaced by forced softness with a malicious undertone, and Tyler could just imagine that smile of hers. It was the same tone of voice she used when she was threatening someone politely, like a gentle warning not to try her patience. “That is your responsibility. If I could determine what ailed him and remedy it myself, why would I need you?”

“Ah, Yes, of course,” said Turell in a far more humble voice. “I’ll get to work on it right away.” As much as Tyler enjoyed listening to Turell being disciplined, He’d heard enough.

“Did it ever occur to either of you two geniuses to try asking me?” Tyler said. He made sure his voice was loud enough for them to hear despite feeling so weak. He did not have the energy to sit up, but he did open his eyes to see them both looking at him. Turell had never gotten up from his chair when the two of them had spoken the previous day, so Tyler was surprised by just how short the man was, especially in contrast to Malenia standing next to him. The doctor seemed slightly surprised, but Malenia looked as if she had known Tyler was awake the entire time. Tyler felt a little disappointed at that; he would have enjoyed catching her off guard for a change.

“Oh yes,” said Turell with a big fake smile and an overdramatic shrug of his shoulders. His voice was back to its usual high pitched, condescending tone. “Your delirious moaning was most insightful.”

Tyler felt an urge to punch the doctor, but he was distracted by Malenia. The look on her face seemed to soften, and she walked over to him, placing one hand gently on his chest as she asked, “Are you alright?”

Tyler wasn’t sure what to say. The only other time Malenia had touched him had been day one when they’d had there one-sided fight. Then her grip had been like steel, but now her touch felt gentle. He could still feel the strength behind it, the weight and power. Tyler knew that if she wanted to, Malenia could reach right through his ribs and rip his heart out without any trouble. The thought should have scared him, but at the moment, it was oddly comforting.

Tyler pushed that feeling away. The last thing he wanted was to be comforted or pitied, especially by Malenia.

“I’m stranded on an alien planet full of sociopaths,” Tyler said. “I don’t think alright applies to me anymore.”

“You were more helpful when you were delirious,” said Turell. Both Malenia and Tyler looked at the kannin at the same time. Tyler noticed his ears go back like a frightened dog, and he seemed to shrink away again as if expecting to be struck. “Very well then,” he said in a more subdued voice. “Could you explain what happened to you?”

Tyler sighed and turned his eyes back to the ceiling. “Well,” he said in an unenthusiastic tone, “You’re right about it being my heart. It’s defective, has been since I was born. Every now and then it…acts up.”

“Is it fatal?” Turell asked, though he didn’t sound very concerned.

Tyler looked him in the eye and said, “Yes. My grandfather had the same problem and it killed him at thirty five. Doctors say I’m even worse.”

“Why didn’t you mention that the other day?” Turell asked, sounding annoyed.

Tyler was tempted to say that it was because he hadn’t asked, but it seemed too dickish even for him. “Because there’s nothing you can do about it,” he said, turning to stare back at the ceiling. “You don’t even know what antibiotics are. How the fuck are you going to fix a heart condition that even hu…“ Tyler paused wondering if Turell knew what Malenia did. He decided it was better to be safe than sorry, at least until he found out for sure. “That even our doctors have trouble with?”

Turell made a whimsical sigh. “As if tiny creatures in your body that could kill you weren’t bad enough, now your heart could give out at any minute? Why does your body have to be so vexing?” He looked at Malenia and shrugged. “How am I supposed to keep this thing alive if its own body wants it dead? Malenia, you have given me an impossible task.”

“Yeah, poor fucking you,” said Tyler with disgust. Turell wasn’t concerned for Tyler’s well-being, only that it would affect him. At least Malenia didn’t seem sympathetic to the doctor‘s predicament.

She reached down and stroked the small man’s cheek before cupping his chin in her hands, forcing him to look her in the eyes as she brought her face close to his. “Turell, I would never give you a task I felt you could not complete,” she said, and her voice sounded both soft and threatening at the same time. “You are the only one who can tend to the boy. Do so, and I shall be pleased. Fail to do so,“ she smiled a little, revealing those big teeth of hers, “and I shall not be pleased.”

“Yes, Headmistress.” Turell’s voice was little more than a whisper.

Tyler watched the scene play out in silence, and he was suddenly very aware of the fact that he didn’t have his sword. Not that he could have used it in his condition. Hell, he doubted that he could have fought Malenia off even when he was at his best, but it was bad enough being in a room with such a scary woman. Being unarmed in a room with her was even worse.

Malenia held Turell’s gaze for a moment longer before releasing him and putting her happy face back on. “Excellent,” she said brightly. “Then I shall leave you to it.” She turned to leave but stopped by the door. “Oh, Tyler,” she said without turning to look at him. “You’re sword is next to the bed.” Tyler realized that he hadn’t been scrambling his thoughts, but he couldn’t tell if Malenia was upset with him or just trying to put him at ease. There was just no way to read this woman.

Malenia left Tyler alone with the good doctor, and Tyler didn’t feel any safer. Turell had a very queer smile on his face.

“Why are you so happy,” Tyler asked, feeling uncomfortable.

“Oh, don’t mind me,” said Turell as he came closer to Tyler. “Let us talk about this little problem of yours. You say that even you humans don’t know how to correct it?”

Tyler‘s eyes narrowed as he fixed Turell with a steady gaze and said, “Short of a heart transplant, no.”

“Transplant?” Turell said, making it a question and ignoring Tyler’s anger.

“You take the heart of a dead person and use it to replace the defective heart of a living person,” Tyler explained. “Problem is that there’s a long waiting list, you have to wait for an organ donor to die, they have to be compatible so your body doesn’t reject it, and even then things can go wrong.”

“Putting organs from one creature into another,” Turell said, and he smiled, “Tell me more.” It was the same creepy smile that he had during their first meeting. In the light, Tyler realized that with his red fur and tiny pointy teeth, this kannin resembled a fox. Tyler got the distinct impression that the doctor’s interest in organ transplant had little to do with him.

‘I really am in an insane asylum,’ Tyler thought to himself.


Tyler walked down the long empty hall feeling dirty. He had spent over two hours explaining surgery to Turell in uncomfortable detail. Tyler had noted with irritation that the creepy kannin had shown far more interest in an area of medicine that would likely do Tyler no good and he had the more practical problems Tyler knew he would face. There were no compatible organ donors on the entire planet, and even if there had been, there was no way Turell would have been able to perform an operation without using magic.

Tyler had no doubt that the doctor’s interest was personal rather than professional, but at least the conversation had given Tyler time to recover from his episode. Tyler caught himself placing his hand over his heart for the third time since leaving Turell’s office. He forced it to drop back to his side, though his thoughts lingered on the area.

Tyler had experienced chest pains since he was ten, but they had never been intense enough to make him black out before. Had it been caused by additional stress? Or had his condition worsened naturally. His thoughts turned to his grandfather, and the fate that awaited him. What if he really did die here?

Tyler winced as if the very thought had caused him discomfort. He shook his head, clearing it, and tried to turn his thoughts to something more constructive. The books he had read hadn’t helped, but there had to be something else. If Malenia didn’t have the answer, maybe someone else did. He hadn’t spoken to that many people after all, and most of the ones he had met belonged in a padded cell.

It also occurred to Tyler that the answer might be in another kannin clan altogether. Would another clan be willing to help him? Would they want something in trade? Would Malenia consent to exposing him to one? So many questions and no answers.

Tyler was so preoccupied with calculating the outcome of every scenario he could think of that failed to notice he had become lost once again. He looked around, trying to get his bearings, but it was just another nondescript hallway. No signs or paintings to make note of as landmarks, and no one around to ask for directions.

“I swear to god, I need a GPS just to find my own damn room in this place,” Tyler muttered to himself as he continued walking, hoping to find something to give him a better idea of where he was.

As Tyler walked around the maze of Haven’s halls, it struck him as odd that such a small group would need so much space. Aside from the little social areas that were scattered about, Tyler had hardly seen any sign of life in the place since he‘d arrived. Just over a hundred of them, yet the castle was large enough to house several times as many. Tyler wondered if there was some special reason, but at the moment it only served to make the place seem empty.

‘Would it kill them to hang some paintings in this place?’ he wondered and he turned a corner to stare down another stretch of bare walls. The kannin were certainly elaborate with their outfits, so they had to have imagination and creativity, but they didn’t seem to express it in any other way.

Tyler passed a few students, or possibly masters as he couldn’t tell the difference. He could have asked them for directions, but he felt awkward and embarrassed asking strangers. Not to mention that if they became hostile towards him, there was no Malenia around to break it up, so he just kept his eyes straight and walked past them without saying a word. They did much the same, ignoring him as if he were not there.

Tyler found his way to a window at the end of a hallway. Looking out, he saw that he was in the south tower, assuming the sun rose in the east as it did on earth. He could see the courtyard below and the tunnel leading out of haven to his left, facing the sunrise. Tyler closed his eyes, trying to bring up his mental map of the place. He knew that this was Malenia’s tower, and that his room was in the north tower. He wasn’t sure how he’d gone up so many floors when he was relatively certain that Turell’s office was below ground, but at least he now had some idea of where he was going again.

Tyler had only gone down two floors when he felt his chest tighten up. It wasn’t like before, only a small pinch, but it was enough to make him stop. ‘Again?’ he thought. ‘What the hell is wrong with me today?’

Tyler spotted a bench along one of the walls and set himself down on it. He wasn’t tired, but if his chest pains got worse it would be easier to deal with sitting down than standing up. Tyler leaned his head back and sighed with frustration. It felt like one problem after another, like just when things seemed as if they couldn’t get any worse, life just had to bend him over a little bit further.

Still, things could be worse. He might be the only human being stranded on an alien planet where the doctor belonged on an FBI most wanted list, but at least Malenia was helping him, though he still had no clue as to why. He rested a hand on his chest, feeling the fist-sized muscle beneath his ribs thumping away. Tyler’s heartbeat always sounded like the ticking of a clock to him. As he listened to the rhythmic pounding, his thoughts turned to his mother. He had been gone for nearly a week now. No matter how lousy his situation was, he knew that his mother had it worse, not knowing where her only son had gone.

‘I can’t die here,’ he thought. It was not a plea, but a personal promise. His mother had gone through enough without spending the rest of her days not knowing what happened to him. Tyler knew that raising a defective kid hadn’t been easy on her. Doing it alone had been worse. He at least owed her a body to bury for closure. ‘I won’t die here.’

The defiant thought gave Tyler an odd sort of comfort. He wasn’t giving in, he wasn’t giving up. He took in a deep breath and let it out slowly, letting himself relax. There didn’t seem to be anyone around, and being so hyper-vigilant couldn’t be good for him. He closed his eyes and let a song play in his mind. The one that popped to the forefront made him smile; me against the world.

It was a song of youthful defiance against overwhelming pressure for social conformity. It fit Tyler’s mood perfectly, and as it played, he felt empowered by the words, as if they were his own. Let the universe throw everything it had at him; he would fight his way through it. He would not let it break him. He felt his worries melt away to the back of his mind, pushed aside by images and memories conjured by the lyrics of the song. Tyler remembered all the times in school growing up, being mocked and ridiculed for one reason or another. It had always hurt, but he had survived, endured. He hadn’t given in to them, and he felt a strong sense of pride in that.

The sound of claws on stone made Tyler’s eyes spring open, and his head snapped to the side where a kannin stood staring at him with a very peculiar look on her face. It was the same hypnotic gaze that the others had given him the last time Tyler had been singing in his head, as if the girl were mesmerized by it. The intensity of it made Tyler want to go for his sword, but the girl was alone, and Tyler recognized her.

“Balla?” he said, making it a question with both his tone of voice and the queer face he made.

The girl’s eyes seemed to refocus, as if she had been looking inside of Tyler instead of at him. It was similar to someone who had been daydreaming. “Yes?” she said in a casual voice. If she felt any embarrassment she showed no sign of it. Any human would have felt awkward after being taken out of their daze, but Balla transitioned back to reality so smoothly that Tyler found it disturbing.

He stared at her, struck dumb by the unexpected situation. “What are you doing here,” he asked. He’d meant it as a conversation starter, but realized that it sounded like an accusation.

Balla either failed to notice, or simply ignored it as she showed no sign of being offended. “I was resting in one of the nearby rooms,” she said. “Master Deserae’s class was very…draining.”

“Deserae?” said Tyler with mild surprise. His expression darkened with understanding. “You mean her torture class.” Balla’s only response was to tilt her head in confusion, and Tyler remembered that kannin had no word for torture “Pain magic,” he said, clarifying his meaning.

“Yes,” said Balla with no hint of shame.

“Why would you want to learn that?” Tyler asked. He had assumed by Balla’s refusal to help Termall that Balla had morals, but it seemed that judgment had been premature.

Balla didn’t seem to understand the question. She tilted her head again and even frowned. “Because it’s a very powerful form of magic,” she said after taking a moment to choose her words.

Now it was Tyler’s turn to look confused. “How do you figure?” he asked. He had seen what Malenia could do. Compared to throwing blades of air at someone, just making them feel pain didn’t seem all that impressive

“It’s far more difficult to counter a spell when you cannot see it.”

‘I guess that makes sense,’ Tyler thought. He hadn’t considered using magic defensively before, but at least a dozen applications popped into his head. Conjuring stones or some other solid object to block projectiles. Bright light to blind an opponent, or darkness to hide in, and that was just conventional thinking. After what he’d seen Malenia do with her shadows, there was no telling what kannin were capable of.

“How do you do that?” Balla asked.


“Think of so many things all at once,” she said, as if in awe. “It was almost too fast for me to keep up.”

Tyler felt a knot form in his stomach. He hadn’t been censoring any of his thoughts during the conversation. He quickly corrected his mistake, and the affect was immediate. Balla winced as if in pain and took a step back. “I don’t like people reading my thoughts,” he said. He was more angry at himself than at her, but he still let it show in his voice.

Balla’s eyes glanced at the sword in Tyler’s lap and then down to the ground like a scolded child. “My apologies,” she said in a humble voice. “I was unaware.”

Her timid response made Tyler feel guilty which in turn made him feel confused. She’d just admitted shamelessly that she was learning pain magic, yet here she was, frightened of him. He’d just wanted to make it clear he didn’t want anyone in his head. He hadn’t meant it as a threat.
“Don’t worry about it,” he said looking away. He saw out the corner of his eye that Balla was turning to leave.

Perhaps it was loneliness, or that Tyler was desperate for information, but he wanted her to stay. “Hey, Balla,” he said, keeping his voice friendly. “Mind if I ask you a question?”

Balla stared at him for a moment with an expression that Tyler couldn’t read. She wasn’t tilting her head, but she still looked confused, as if trying to figure him out, and when she spoke again it was with a more assertive tone. “I suppose it will depend on the question.”

Tyler suspected that he was making her angry, not that he blamed her. He kept his more subdued tone, staring at the floor as he said. “I heard that Termall wanted your help in bringing me here, but you turned him down.” he turned his head and looked her in the eye. “Why?”

Balla seemed caught off guard by the question. She studied Tyler’s face as if tiring to read into his motives. When she spoke, her head was half turned, as though she expected to be struck. “Termall did approach me to assist him in his Endeavour, promising to share whatever he gained in exchange. He and the others believed that Malenia would only covet such a spell if it were dangerous to her, and anything dangerous to an elder would be very valuable.”

“So why’d you turn him down?” Tyler asked.

Balla hesitated, and from the look on her face as she considered the question, Tyler realized that it was something she hadn‘t thought about before. “I suppose,” She said slowly, “I’m less ambitious than most. Malenia has been very generous, more so than any other elder. I suspected that her true motive in hiding such a spell was that it was dangerous.” She looked at Tyler. “It would appear that I was correct.”

Tyler looked away, feeling ashamed which in turn made him angry. He was getting sick of feeling guilty over this.

“Did I say something wrong?” Balla asked, and there was a note of concern in her voice which made Tyler look at her again. She had turned further away from him, and he realized that what he’d heard hadn’t been concern, but fear. That realization annoyed him, and Balla’s eyes flicked down to his sword again, telling him that she was reacting to his emotions.

Tyler wasn’t sure how to feel about that. Was he really that scary? His thoughts again turned to the four dead kannin he’d left in his wake. Ok, maybe he was, but he hadn’t hurt anyone since then. It occurred to Tyler that the kannin hadn’t been ignoring him because they didn’t care, but perhaps because they were afraid of him.

He looked away, shaking his head. “No.”

In the awkward silence that followed, Tyler tried to think of something to say to defuse the tension he was feeling, but nothing came to him. He desperately wanted to talk to someone about something normal, something human, but what could he and Balla possibly have to talk about that wasn’t related to his situation? How could they ever relate to each other in a way that didn’t serve as a reminder of just how alone he really was?

It was then that Tyler’s colon caught his attention like a dog trying to cheer up its master by dropping a dead squirrel at his feet. It certainly took Tyler’s mind off of his social problems, but it created a far more immediate one. ‘Why now of all times?’ Tyler thought while trying his best to hide his distress from Balla. Tyler had quickly learned to find the way to the front door from his room, but he didn’t know how to get outside from where he was, and he didn’t think his stomach was going to be very understanding. Why was there only one toilet in a castle this big?

‘I really need to talk to Malenia about that,‘ he thought as he glanced at Balla. If she was aware of his plight, she showed no sign of it. She stood patiently, waiting for him to say something or dismiss her, or possibly for some other unknown reason.

“Uh, Balla? Could you do me a favor,” he asked, feeling embarrassed. “I’m still learning my way around this place, and I need to get to the courtyard. Think you could lead me there?”

Balla gave him another strange look. It was difficult for Tyler to read kannin facial expressions, but she seemed to be judging him, or at least something about him. Tyler had no idea why; he had garbled the reason he needed the escort, and he hadn’t said anything else all that important, so why the hesitation?

Whatever she was thinking, Balla seemed to come to a decision. She bowed her head and said, “As you wish, but I have a favor to ask in return.”

Her voice held a foreboding tone that made Tyler suspicious. “And that would be?” he asked slowly as a dozen possibilities ran through his mind, each more nefarious than the last. Did she want him to steal something, hurt someone? Perhaps she wanted to know things about the human race. Had Malenia sent her here for this purpose? It did seem an odd coincidence that he should run into one of the few kannin he actually knew in this place. He weighed the implications of each possibility as they occurred to him, deciding how willing he would be to pay the price, though he had few options at the moment.

“The sounds you were thinking about when I approached you,” she said, sounding almost bashful. “Would you do it again? It was very…invigorating.”

A smile slowly crept onto Tyler’s face, and he started to laugh. That was all she wanted? “Deal,” he said with relief as he got to his feet. As they started walking, Tyler flipped through his mental play list for something Balla might like. Not an easy task considering he hardly knew her, and she had never heard music before. Balla had called it invigorating, and he smirked as a song came to mind. Slither.

Tyler’s head started to bob slightly to the beat as he walked behind Balla. He noticed that her pace slowed down as she paid more attention to the song than where she was going. Tyler only hoped that she wasn’t so distracted as to forget where she was supposed to be leading him.

Balla led him down a floor and through a long hallway to another set of stairs. By the time they reached the next floor, the song was done, so Tyler just played it again. The music wasn’t just placating Balla, it was keeping his mind off of the growing urgency of his situation. It was an interesting exercise in mental discipline. Playing a song in his head while hiding his growing anxiety, or at least the source of it. He knew he couldn’t hide his emotions from Balla, but at least he could leave her guessing as to the cause.

As they headed down another hallway, Tyler was surprised to find that this one wasn’t empty. A lone kannin male walked toward them. He took no notice until Tyler got closer. As if he’d only now become aware of their presence, the kannin turned his head and stared at Tyler with an intensity that made Tyler very uncomfortable. It was such a slow, unnatural movement, and such an expressionless stare that it made Tyler’s skin crawl. Tyler‘s only comfort was that it gave him another piece of information; there was a range limit.

Tyler knew the cause of the student’s odd behavior was the music in Tyler’s head, but he hadn’t reacted to it until he’d come closer, which meant the kannin hadn’t heard it until he’d come closer. Whether or not that range increased as kannin grew older, more powerful, or whatever other factors may be involved, Tyler still didn’t know, but at least it was something.

Thankfully the male did not follow after them as they passed by, though a backwards glance told Tyler that he was watching them leave. Even as they went down another staircase, Tyler noticed the male hadn’t moved. Perhaps they could extend their range with concentration?

They headed down into yet another empty hallway, and Tyler had to ask. “Why is this place so damn big with so few people in it?”

“Few?”, said Balla, and for the first time Tyler heard genuine surprise. “There are over one hundred kannin within Haven. We are the largest clan in the world, over twice as many as Tarsus.”

“Yeah,” said Tyler, wondering who or what Tarsus was, “but this place could fit three times as many. I mean, just look at this hallway.” He gestured at the emptiness all around them. “We’ve gone down three floors and have only seen one person. Half the time it feels like this whole place is empty.”

Balla paused a moment to think it over. She made the same expression from before, revealing this was something that had never occurred to her before. “I suppose we don’t like being near each other,” she said. “The masters’ rooms are at least a floor apart, and all of them are in this tower, while most of the rooms, including yours, are in the other.”

“Why do that?”

Again Balla had to think. “Malenia likely did it to make it easier for the young ones to avoid the masters if they so choose.” Balla’s words came slowly as she worked it out in her head while speaking. “Malenia’s protection stops the masters from killing their students, but they are still allowed to assert their dominance.”

Tyler’s mind flashed back to his encounter with Deserae. He had thought that she was just a bitch, but it was sounding more and more like the norm. He realized that, aside from Malenia, all the other master’s he had met had been threatening to some degree. Turell, and Romat both came off as people who would kill him as soon as they looked at him. Were all the teachers here like that?

‘And I thought high school was bad. At least the teachers weren’t worse than the students.’ Tyler was still having trouble understanding the social dynamic of this place. The picture he kept getting was one where the teachers were free to abuse the students, but the students walked around as if they didn’t have a care in the world. These people just didn’t make sense to him.

As if on cue, Tyler heard someone scream in pain. He stood frozen, senses on high alert, straining to detect any additional sound. Tyler’s left hand had found his scabbard without him being aware that he‘d moved. His thumb was pressed on the guard, ready to break the lock. He felt the surge of adrenalin wash over his body like a hot breeze.

“What was that,” he asked in a tense voice.

Balla, who seemed completely unfazed by the noise replied casually, “I believe it was-” Her words were cut off by another scream, and Tyler was running towards the source.


Tyler ran down the hallway so fast that when he made a hard left at the end, he almost slammed into the wall. His only thought was that someone was in trouble and needed help. Another more agonized scream rang out, and this time Tyler was able to determine its origin. It had come from the only closed door in the hall, and Tyler charged forward, reaching for his weapon as he prepared for a fight.

He kicked the door open and burst into the room, drawing his sword as he entered. Tyler hadn’t thought about what he’d find. If he had, he might not have acted so rashly. He stood before a group of over twenty kannin, all of whom were now staring at him. They stood circled around Deserae and a young male who was on his knees before her. She, like the rest, stared at Tyler with mild surprise and uncertainty, though Deserae also looked annoyed.

It took Tyler only a moment to asses the situation and realize his mistake. “Let me guess,” he said, glancing at the young male kneeling on the floor, no doubt the source of the scream Tyler had heard. “Pain magic?”

Deserae’s eyes narrowed slightly, but the rest of her face remained set in stone as she replied in an icy voice, “You’re learning quickly.”

Tyler looked from Deserae to the kannin on the ground and back again. He found himself feeling conflicted. He knew what Deserae was doing to the guy, and the thought of just letting her do it sickened him, but it wasn’t being done against the kannin’s will. He had agreed to this. Did Tyler have any right to intervene?

As if sensing Tyler’s discomfort with the situation, Deserae smiled and said, “Did you come to watch?” She raised a hand as she spoke, holding it over her kneeling student like a priest bestowing a blessing. Without taking her eyes off of Tyler, Deserae made the male kannin scream out in agony again. Tyler couldn’t help but wince at the sound. The student curled into a ball of pain, collapsing to his side. The sight made Tyler sick to his stomach, which only made Deserae’s smile broaden. She was enjoying this.

Tyler tightened his grip on his sword as he resisted a strong urge to strike Deserae down. “He agreed to this?” he asked in a voice deep with controlled anger.

“Of course,” said Deserae. She looked down at her student with cruel joy. “He can put a stop to it anytime he wishes. Is that what you want, Brummel?” She lowered her hand, and the male gasped in relief as the pain apparently ceased. His body relaxed as if released by the unseen force that had been affecting it.

“No, Master Deserae,” said the male as he tried to recover. “I wish to continue.”

“Excellent,” said Deserae. She returned her gaze to Tyler, but something seemed to catch her eye behind him. “Balla dear, have you recovered your strength so soon?”

Tyler glanced over his shoulder to see Balla with her head bowed like a frightened child. “No Master Deserae,” she said in a subdued voice. “I was merely escorting Tyler to the courtyard.”

“Were you now,” said Deserae.

There was something in the tone of her voice that made the hair on the back of Tyler’s neck stand on end. It was something malicious, something vicious and threatening. Had he just put Balla in danger? Would Balla be punished because Tyler couldn’t be touched? ‘No,’ Tyler thought. He would not allow that to happen. He turned to his right in a way that placed him between Deserae and Balla, blocking the girl from view. He turned to glare at Deserae, warning her off with his eyes. He wasn’t willing to risk letting Deserae hear his thoughts, but he tried to convey his meaning with his emotions. If she took her frustrations out on Balla, she would answer to him.

“We’ll be going then,” Tyler said, giving one last glance at Brummel. He felt an odd mix of pity and disgust at the sight of him. No one deserved to suffer like that, but he was choosing to so that he could do the same to others. Why where kannin willing to endure so much to learn such a malicious spell?

He turned to face Balla and gestured with his eyes for her to start moving. She did so, and Tyler followed her out. The two of them walked in silence for a time until they heard another scream echo down the hallway from Deserae’s classroom. Tyler pushed any feelings he had on the matter aside. He’d chosen not to get involved, and that was that. He noticed that Balla didn’t react at all to the screams. She didn’t jump or flinch, or even change her pace. She just walked on as if she heard nothing. Tyler wondered if that was because she had become accustomed to the sound, or if she just didn’t care.

It wasn’t until they had gone down a floor that Balla’s pace slowed, allowing Tyler to close the gap between them. When he was close enough, she turned to look at him and asked, “Why did you do that?” It didn’t sound like a recrimination. There was no anger in her voice, only a mixture of confusion and mild curiosity.

“What,” said Tyler sarcastically, “run down the hall and kick a door open like a jackass? I duuno, guess I grew up watching too many action movies.”

Balla tilted her head and frowned. “I was referring to when you stepped between master Deserae and myself. Your emotions were very…potent.”

“Oh,” Tyler said sheepishly. “I didn’t want you getting in trouble for something I did, so I tried to warn Deserae off.”

Balla was silent for a long moment, and Tyler could see that she was puzzling over something. They walked in silence for a time until she looked at him and asked, “Why? How do you benefit?”

Tyler wasn’t sure how to answer her. It was a question that had never even entered his mind. “I dunno,” he said awkwardly. Balla stopped to stare at him, and Tyler sighed uncomfortably. “Look, I just don’t like letting people pay for my mistakes, and I don’t run away from a problem, ok.”

“But…why?” Balla asked, sounding more confused by his explanation. “If a problem can be avoided, is that not the preferable solution? As would allocating punishment to another.”

Tyler looked at Balla, and his expression darkened. He glared daggers at her as he said in a harsh voice, “You know, for an empathic species, you sure don’t have much empathy.”

Balla stared at Tyler like a deer caught in headlights for a moment before bowing her head and diverting her eyes off the to side like a scolded child. “My apologies,” she said. “I did not mean to offend you.”

Tyler’s eyes softened and he let out a tired sigh. “Forget it,” he said, looking away. He continued to walk down the hall, moving at a quickened pace as if distancing himself from the conversation. Balla resumed a slight lead, saying nothing else, and Tyler continued to study her face with sideways glances, but she was as hard to read as a doll.

She walked with an air of stoic professionalism, that made Tyler suspect she’d put on a mask, just like Malenia. He found it frustrating that kannin could hide their emotions so well and sense the emotions of others. It just wasn’t fair.

Tyler became lost in deep thought as Balla led him down another spiraling staircase. He hadn’t meant to get angry with Balla, but her comments had been so heartless. Was that really how she thought? Would she throw him under the bridge if it suited her? A bitter feeling of devaju came over Tyler as his thoughts went back to school. How many times had he made the mistake of offering a hand only to have it slapped away?

Then another thought occurred to Tyler. Balla wasn’t even human. Had he been looking at this the wrong way? Perhaps it wasn’t fair to judge her based on human morality, or rather Tyler’s morality. Few humans stood up in his eyes, but at least Balla had the excuse of being a different species. As he thought about it, the only kannin that hadn’t struck Tyler as a complete sociopath was Malenia, and Tyler was convinced that that was just an act. Maybe all kannin thought like this.

They reached the main hall, and Tyler realized that he hadn’t been paying attention to the route. He felt a moment of irritation with himself. He was never going to learn his way around this place if he didn’t map it out in his head.

“Thanks,” he said as he moved past Balla, heading to the front door. He stopped a moment, trying to think of something more to say. Finally, with a sigh, he turned back to the girl. “Look, sorry for getting angry with you before, and if Deserae gives you any shit because of today, let me know and I’ll deal with her, ok?”

Again Balla gave Tyler a queer look that he could not read. It seemed a mixture of confusion, distrust, and something else that Tyler couldn’t put his finger on. Slowly, the girl asked “Why would Deserae be upset with me? You’re the one who disrupted her lessons. Her anger was focused on you, not me.”

Now it was Tyler’s turn to frown. “Then why was she glaring at you?”

Balla considered Tyler a moment before answering. “I think that you may have misread her. She wasn’t glaring at me, she was merely taking note that you do not yet know your way around Haven and need to be guided.”

Tyler gave a bemused look and asked, “Why the hell would she care about that? I‘ve only been here a few days, and this place is huge. Of course I don‘t know my way around it yet.”

“One does not become as powerful as master Deserae without finding every possible advantage in a rival.”

“Rival?” said Tyler with a laugh. “I’m not even a member of your species, can’t use magic, and I’m trying to leave. I’m nobody’s rival.”

Balla expressing changed slightly. It only lingered a moment before she slipped back to her pleasant expression, but Tyler had noticed. It took him a moment to realize that she hadn’t known he couldn’t use magic, until he had told her. She was doing the same thing as Deserae; making a note of the information. He felt his chest tighten and his heart speed up as anxiety took hold of him. She really would turn on him if it suited her, and she was looking for every weakness.

“Then why did you challenge her,” Balla asked, and now it was Tyler’s turn to be critical. Why was she asking this? Was it idle curiosity, or did she have an ulterior motive? Then he remembered, that kannin didn’t have idle curiosity. If they wanted to know more about something, it was because they thought it might give them a practical advantage. Tyler weighed his options, but ultimately decided that he had nothing to hide on the matter.

“I didn’t challenge her,” he said. “I just tried to warn her off.”

“I see little distinction,” said Balla as she continued to walk without looking at him.

“The difference is I wasn’t looking for a fight, and I have no interest in getting into one.”

Balla seemed to consider Tyler for a moment. “I see.” she said thoughtfully. She eyed him for a long moment with that queer expression on her face again, as if she were trying to figure him out.

“Why do you keep looking at me like that?’ he asked, feeling self conscious under her scrutiny.

“I find it difficult to understand you,” she said. “You act dominant one moment and submissive the next. It is…confusing.”

Tyler found Balla’s bluntness surprising, and to a certain extent refreshing. Aside from Malenia, most of the kannin he had met didn’t beat around the bush like a human would. If you asked a question, they gave an answer, so he decided to be equally candid. “I’m not being dominant or submissive,” he said, smirking at the words. “I’m just being me.”

Balla tilted her head at his explanation, but Tyler wasn’t sure how else to say it. He wasn‘t trying to dominate anyone, he just didn‘t wanted to be on even ground. Why was that so hard to understand?

“look, I don’t care about all this domination, submission crap, ok? I just want to go home, so don’t worry about it.” Tyler began to walk away, half turning to add, “See you around, and thanks again.”

Balla gave a very formal bow, and Tyler headed out the door to address the increasingly urgent demands of his body. He had been trying to ignore it in the hopes of learning something important, and perhaps he had. As he stepped out into the sunny courtyard, Tyler contemplated his conversation with Balla, going over it again and again in his head, analyzing every word, both what she had said and how she had said it. He searched for any hidden meaning.

The main thing Tyler had gained was new insight into how kannin thought, at least as far as Deserae and Balla were concerned. They saw people as competition, and looked for any weaknesses that they could exploit. Tyler’s thoughts turned to Malenia’s warning about his trump card, and how he should keep it a secret, and he wondered if this was what she had meant.

What Balla had said regarding dominance suggested that social standing was important to them, but to what extent? What did being dominant get you? Higher position? Respect? Access to better spells? Just how important was it?

Tyler’s head swam with questions and no real answers as he walked to his makeshift outhouse. He had hoped that he and Balla would get along, but even she seemed to be sizing him up. Did she see him as competition, as a rival? Would she try to use anything she learned against him, or was it simply insurance. Was she just afraid of him because of what he’d done to the others? Why was it so hard to make friends with these things? Then again, Tyler had never had luck making friends even with humans. Maybe the problem was him.

Tyler found his personal toilet unoccupied. In fact the kannin seemed to avoid it, which made Tyler wonder if those muzzles gave them a shaper sense of smell. Whatever the reason, he was grateful. He felt exposed enough as it was without having to worry about being surrounded by people while his pants were around his ankles.

Tyler finished his business and used one of the rags that sat in a seemingly never-ending pile next to the seat. Tyler wondered if Malenia had made some kind of spell to replenish them, or if she actually checked to see if Tyler needed more. He didn’t see a new one pop into existence to replace the one he had used, but the thought of Malenia troubling herself with such a menial task was almost laughable. Perhaps she had delegated the job to someone else. Probably Alanna.

Tyler stepped back out into the courtyard with the intention of returning to his room to read through his books again, hoping to find something that he had overlooked the first time. He was surprised to find Alanna waiting for him outside the outhouse. She had an odd subdued look to her, almost gloomy. It was subtle, but enough for Tyler to notice, and for a moment he wondered if she really did restock the toilet paper.

“Hey,” he said as he stepped out of his bathroom. “What’s up?”

Alanna tilted her head and glanced skyward, taking Tyler’s question literally. “I mean what’s going on?” Tyler said, smiling with amusement.

“Nothing worth noting,” she said. “ I am merely resuming my duties.”

“You mean following me around,” said Tyler as he eyed her reaction. Something seemed off. “I figured you’d quit when you weren’t at my door this morning.”

“I admit I was lax in my duties,” Alanna said, bowing her head apologetically. “I felt that Malenia was being overly protective of you. After what you did to Termall and the others, I did not think you required my constant supervision. Unfortunately what happened to you brought my negligence to Malenia’s attention. It will not happen again.”

There was something in Alanna’s voice that made Tyler suspicious. “what did she do?’ he asked.

Alanna‘s eyes faltered, dropping from Tyler’s gaze as she answered, “Malenia was very displeased that I was not present when you collapsed. She…reminded me of my duties.”

Tyler’s expression darkened as the implications of Alanna’s words sunk in, and with a grave voice he asked again, “What did she do?”

“I told you, she was…displeased,” said Alanna as she raised her eyes to stare into Tyler‘s. Her expression hardened, or rather it became blank, as if any visible emotions drained out of it. “She disciplined me.”

Tyler felt a chill go up his spine under Alanna’s doll-like gaze. The lifeless look made her appear more alien than her external features ever had. Just what the hell had Malenia done to her? Tyler didn’t even want to contemplate what kannin defined as discipline, but what bothered him more was that it had been done because of him.

“Yeah, no,” Tyler said curtly. “Where is Malenia now?”

Alanna eyed Tyler suspiciously as she answered, “In her tower.”

“Take me to her,” said Tyler as he began heading back into the castle. “We’re getting this straightened out.”

Alanna bowed her head and followed him. Once through the entrance, she took the lead and turned to the left, going to the same tower Tyler had just been in. He followed behind while running through everyway he could imagine this conversation might go. He didn’t know how Malenia would react to him questioning her authority. She’d been overly accommodating so far, but he had just been given more evidence that her friendly persona was merely a façade for his benefit. What would happen if she decided to drop it?

They walked up several flights of stairs in silence. Alanna made no attempt at conversation. She didn’t ask what Tyler was going to do, nor did she express any reluctance to be around Malenia again. Tyler was too busy running through scenarios in his head to say anything, at least until they hit the sixth floor where he began to feel the strain on his heart and lungs. By the eighth, Tyler had to stop and catch his breath.

“This place needs a fucking elevator,” he said as he panted. He didn’t remember it being such a long walk the first time, but the room he had arrived in hadn’t been on the ground floor, and going down stairs to his room had been much easier than going up.

Alanna made no comment. She simply watched and waited patiently for Tyler to collect himself enough to continue. Tyler noticed that she didn’t seem the least bit bothered by the climb. She wasn’t even breathing hard. He wondered if she was used to it, or if magic had something to do with it. Probably magic.

Tyler took one last deep breath before straightening up and nodding to Alanna. She continued on but only made it several steps before stopping. She looked up as if listening to an intercom that Tyler couldn’t hear. After a moment of this odd behavior, she turned around and looked passed Tyler. He half turned around to find Malenia standing behind him, though thankfully she had listened to him about keeping a distance.

“Alanna said you wished to speak with me, little one?” she said while offering him a faint smile that Tyler found unsettling. Tyler instantly understood what had happened, and kicked himself for not thinking of it himself. Alanna had used telepathy to give Malenia a heads up, and Malenia had done the same to tell her that she was teleporting to them, probably after sensing that Tyler was tired. He hadn’t known the range of their mind reading abilities, but he should have asked before starting this climb.

“Yeah,” he said, turning to face her and straightening up. “I’m letting Alanna off the hook. She doesn’t have to be my babysitter anymore.”

“Oh?” Malenia said, raising an eyebrow. She began to circle around Tyler, moving slowly and calmly, practically gliding over the floor. “Has she displeased you?”

“No,” Tyler said and he turned to keep Malenia in front of him, “You did.”

“Really?” she asked as she moved toward Alanna, “And what could I have done that would cause you to dismiss Alanna? I fail to see the connection.”

“I don’t want her getting punished because of me.”

“She was punished because she disobeyed me,” said Malenia as she came to stand before Alanna. “For the second time.”

“Look,” said Tyler raising his voice, “I’ll admit having the person who brought me here as my own personal servant was appealing in a spiteful, ironic kinda way, but this is cruel, and I don’t want someone who has to wait on me all day everyday.”

“You are on an alien world and utterly ignorant of your surroundings,” Malenia retorted, speaking calmly. “Someone needs to keep an eye on you, and Alanna is the ideal choice.”

“I can take care of myself,” Tyler said flatly.

“I see,” Malenia said softly, bowing her head. “That is…regrettable.” Malenia moved around to Alanna’s back, sliding a hand over the smaller girl’s shoulder as she did so. Tyler could now see Alanna’s face, and noticed that she seemed very tense. Tyler was also feeling on edge. Something about this felt wrong to him.

“If that is your decision, then I suppose I have no choice.” said Malenia as her hand moved from Alanna’s shoulder to the front of her neck. Her fingers spread open like claws, and then Malenia’s actual claws seemed to grow just enough to emphasize the threat.

Tyler felt a knot form in his stomach as he realized how serious things had just become. His voice was choked as he said, “What are you…”

“When Alanna conspired to summon you here, she defied me.” Malenia said, speaking casually, “Normally I would have been forced to kill her for such behavior; however,” her eyes turned from Alanna to Tyler, and the look she gave him was so cold it turned his blood to ice, “I spared her on the condition that she be responsible for you, but if you do not want her,” Malenia’s fingers flexed, and her claws seemed to get longer and sharper.

“You’re going to kill her?” Tyler asked, unable to keep the fear and shock out of his whisper of a voice.

“I’m afraid I have little choice,” said Malenia, slipping back into her casual tone as if they were talking about the weather. She turned those cold eyes away from Tyler, and she looked at Alanna again with an odd sort of affection. “I cannot simply ignore her defiance.”

“Why not?” Tyler asked, seeing a hole that he might be able to exploit. “You’re the headmistress of this place, aren’t you? You can do whatever you want.”

Malenia glanced at him and smiled in a way that made his hair stand on end. “Cleaver boy,” she said. “Unfortunately it is not as simple as that. I cannot ignore Alanna’s defiance because doing so would only encourage others to be just as foolish. Her death, though lamentable, may serve as a warning to protect the lives of others in the future.”

Tyler’s mind raced for an answer, but he kept coming back to the same choice, let Alanna die, or save her by submitting to Malenia. Submitting, the word came to the forefront of his mind. Was that what this was about? Dominance? He looked to Alanna, hoping for some clue to a third choice. She looked frightened, but not nearly frightened enough. Her eyes held an odd, defeated look to them, as if she were resigned to her fate. There was no answer there, but he couldn’t understand why she wasn’t doing anything. Malenia wasn’t even touching her anymore; shy could at least try to get away. ‘Fight back,’ Tyler thought, ‘run, plead, talk your way out of it, don’t just stand there like a lamb waiting to be slaughtered. Do something!’

Malenia’s claws began to close on Alanna’s throat,

“Don’t,” Tyler said in a meek, pleading voice. He had spoken without thinking, reacting in desperation, but with that one word, he knew he was beaten. In his mind, he saw the queen taking the pawn and thought, ‘Checkmate.’ Tyler lowered his eyes in defeat, disgusted with himself. “You win,” he said bitterly. “She can follow me around. Just leave her alone.”

“Are you sure?” Malenia asked in a lighthearted voice that could only be described as mocking.

It was the last straw to make Tyler’s anger explode. “Yes I’m sure,” he yelled, “now let her go!” Tyler clenched his fists right. He wanted to hit Malenia so badly that he was shaking.

Malenia seemed mildly surprised by his outburst, but quickly slipped back into her motherly act as she took her hand away from Alana, and just like that it was a hand again, rather than a deadly weapon. “Excellent,” she said in a pleasant voice. She walked passed Alanna and passed Tyler, smiling in triumph as she walked by him. Tyler knew that she could sense his anger, and likely saw this as adding insult to injury. She passed him by without so much as a glance confident that she was untouchable, and tyler wanted to attack her all the more, if only to make her regret her bravado.

Before he had a chance to act on that impulse, Malenia spoke up behind him, and her voice was neither happy nor pleasant. She spoke in that same chilling tone from a moment before that sent a shiver through Tyler’s entire body. “Do not forget what happened here.”

After hearing her words, it took Tyler a moment to work up the nerve to turn around, but by then, Malenia was gone. Seeing that empty space made Tyler’s anger flare until he couldn’t take it anymore. He yelled in rage and drove his fist into the nearby wall. He felt powerless, and he hated it.

After his outburst, Tyler turned to Alanna. She looked more afraid of him than she had Malenia, and that only egged him on further. “Oh what, now you’re scared?” Tyler asked angrily as he approached her. “You didn’t seem too bothered when your boss was about to rip your throat out, or was she just bluffing?”

“Malenia meant what she said,” Alanna answered as she took as step back from Tyler.

“Then why the hell did you just stand there like a deer in headlights?”

“There was nothing I could do,” Alanna said flatly. “Malenia is stronger than I am. If she wishes to end my life, I cannot stop her.”

“You could try!” Tyler yelled, causing Alanna to shy away as if bracing for a hit.

“And I would fail,” she said flatly, keeping her eyes on the floor. “What purpose would it serve other than to prolong my suffering?”

“So you just roll over and die?” Tyler screamed. Even as he closed in on her, Alanna simply stood there with her eyes lowered, as if she were simply going to let him kill her as well. The realization shocked him out of his tantrum, and he remember the night they first met. As he had prepared to deliver the final blow, Alanna had had the same, defeated look in her eyes. She had simply given up the struggle.

“Well I’m not giving up,” he said as he turned his back on her and walked to the nearby window. He looked down into the courtyard at the half dozen aliens meandering about, and the gears in his head started turning. Maybe this wasn‘t checkmate after all. “That manipulative bitch thinks she’s got me trapped, but I’ll show her.”

“What do you mean?” Alanna asked as she came slightly closer. “How has Malenia trapped you?”

Tyler sighed with frustration and turned to face her. “She said that you’re alive as long as you get to baby-sit me, right? So what do you think happens if I go back home? She’s taken you hostage in order to keep me here.”

Alanna looked at Tyler for a long moment, as if studying him. Her expression remained mostly neutral, though there was a hint of confusion behind her inhuman eyes. Tyler was too preoccupied with his own thoughts to notice, so when Alanna spoke up, it caught him off guard.

“I do not know what hostage means, but why are you so concerned about keeping me alive?”

“I can‘t just let you die,” Tyler said. He found it frustrated that he had to explain something so basic.

Alanna seemed to think a moment before saying in a very cold voice, “I would.”

Tyler stared at he, dumbfounded before walking away, shaking his head in disgust.
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