“Should I have handcuffs or something?” FuSoYa inquired of his nearest captor. He was the one who chose to carry Fu’s bags, a most fitting occupation for someone disruptive and knavish.
“You are not a prisoner,” the Manorite answered drolly.
“You have fooled me, then,” Fu sniffed back, glancing from side to side. There was nothing but pressing darkness. It could prove to be a boon in his escape plan… or a danger to his survival.
They would have to choose night time to make this trip. Knaves. All of them.
“We told you. The Manor has chosen to honor you with knowledge and teaching. You should be grateful,” the man grunted, shifting the weight of the bags on his shoulder.
“Grateful for a choice I did not make. Of course. Perfectly logical,” the boy retorted, kicking a loose stone at the back of the man’s heels.
The Manorite felt it and glanced back with a disapproving look. He knew better than to comment about it, though. After all, Fu could quite easily crush his measly will with his mind mage strength. In fact, he could crush them all. Only… the time wasn’t right yet.
And Mother asked me not to.
There were very few times in his life when Mother backed down from a fight. He wasn’t sure why she decided to that night, but it must have been something important to her. Either that, or she believed in Father’s influence within the Manor that much.
FuSoYa wasn’t as sure. He knew enough about Father to recognize that his timid and good-natured spirit often earned him an express view of the underside of other people’s boots. That wasn’t the route that Fu planned to take in life. He had power and he planned to use it.
Just… not yet.
“It’s not all bad, you know,” the man continued to attempt casual conversation.
A conversation that Fu was not interested in. He gave a low grunt, hoping the other would get a clue.
He didn’t. Instead, the Manorite took it as a signal to press on. “No, really. They teach a lot of pretty cool things in the city.”
“Pretty… cool?” FuSoYa echoed the unfamiliar slang. The man certainly talked weird enough.
The Manorite didn’t catch the disdain in his voice that time either. “Just name it. Magic. Weaponry. The Masters teach it all.”
Fu rewarded the man’s enthusiasm with a scowl, “So you would not be upset if you were in my place?
“What? No. Why would I be?” the man shrugged under the weight of the bag. “I’ve worked for the Manor for as long as I’ve been able to properly hold a sword.”
A swordie. No wonder he’s so dense.
“Then, perhaps, you do not know the difference,” the boy told him.
The Manorite paused for a moment, the first trace of thought actually touching his eyes. Then he answered with sincerity, “Maybe not. But it hasn’t been a bad life.”
This time, Fu didn’t offer any sound in response, hoping that would bring the dull exchange to a close. For a while, he was rewarded with silence, and silence was good for plotting escape. He knew that there wasn’t much time if he was going to make a break for it. The soft glow of the city lights lit the horizon line in the distance and he could sense the prickle of strange magics and many people just beyond the rise.
“Is it true you’re a mind mage?” the Manorite’s voice broke through his concentration once more.
“Yes,” FuSoYa narrowed his eyes at the back of the man’s head.
“Funny. I thought you’d look a lot more…”
“Deadly or something.”
“Deadly?” Fu echoed, then added, “I am deadly.”
The Manorite laughed with a flash of smile over one shoulder, “You? You’re just a kid.”
“Excuse me?” his brows lowered sharply.
“You are,” he reiterated.
“And you are not?” Fu frowned at him. The more the man talked, the more the boy realized that the Manorite wasn’t all that much older than him. Maybe a bit on the tall side for his age. But mentally…
“Not like you,” he grinned.
“Oh, really? And is that why you are the one stuck carrying the baggage?” the boy pointed out.
The Manorite closed his mouth with a click as his two companions, who previously remained quiet, snickered from somewhere ahead. The man grumbled, “You’re a mouthy little one, aren’t you?”
“Yer both mouthy,” retorted one of the other Manorites. “Close it, why dontcha. We’re getting close to the Main Concourse and no one wants to hear your yapping.”
Fu’s breath came in a hiss and a silent curse.
We’re that close already?
All dreams of escapade were rapidly vaporizing from his thoughts as the tall night-trees rose above them on either side. The Manor rose tall in front of him, the stretch of city drowning out all thoughts of mind mage bravado. Instead, the gravity of the situation fell heavy on his shoulders.
In the square ahead, Fu could sense, more than see, the people awaiting his arrival. Much to his relief, he felt the familiar presence of his father among them.
Maybe Mother is right. Maybe Father will stop this after all.
A nagging thought in the back of his mind told him that he couldn’t allow the Manorites to see any sign of weakness. Fu did his best to hide all expression from his face. Still, he knew that weariness trickled through after the long walk to the Manor from home.
As they approached, Father stepped forward out of the out of the waiting men. For a fleeting instance, a look of longing crossed his face. Silence was heavy between them. No words came.
Then, another man approached the two. He didn’t wear the normal garb of the Manorites, but rather a long, blood-violet robe, trimmed with a striped sash around his waist. The symbol of the Manor was embroidered into the fabric, directly over his heart. Something about the man gave Fu the chills, even on first glance.
It may have been the boy’s imagination, but the man’s smile almost seemed to hunt out his discomfort and enjoy it. “Greetings and welcome to the Manor. You are young FuSoYa, correct?”
Fu nodded slowly, “I am.”
“I can tell,” he replied, glancing between father and son. “You do resemble your father.”
Less than you think.
The boy only pressed his lips together silently.
“I know I may have met you before, or seen you from afar,” he continued. “I am known as Zemus, a Master here at the Manor.”
Fu merely gave a half-bow, half-nod, trying not to seem too disrespectful in his bitterness.
Zemus paused a moment. The boy couldn’t shake the feeling that this man could read every inch of his body language, no matter how much he fought to hide it.
Finally, he spoke, inviting conversation, “You seem tentative, FuSoYa. Are you nervous?”
The boy took a deep breath, eyes flickering over to his father’s silent face. So far, Father didn’t offer a single word or sign of what he was thinking.
I must take this into my own hands, then.
“I would like to protest this arrangement,” Fu took a bold step forward, staring up into the face of Zemus. The moment he did, he wished he had not. The chilling sensation grew stronger, rippling over his body with a fear like he never felt before.
“I see,” the man merely reached up and pushed his glasses further up the bridge of his nose. “I think that you will change your mind in time. The education provided at the Manor is far more beneficial than living a rural life in the middle of nowhere.”
Fu bit back the retort that threatened to slide through his lips.
“Don’t you think, SoYa?” Zemus turned to regard Father with an intense gaze.
The boy took in a sharp breath and held it. Waiting. Hoping.
Tell him no, Father. Tell him you’re going to take me home!
But Father didn’t say a word or turn to meet his stare.
Don’t let them do this! Mother said you’d make it right!
No words of protest. No motion to take Fu away, to save him from the very establishment where he worked every day.
The moment came and passed, dictated by Zemus’ gleaming smile. “It’s getting late. I’ll have BikKuRi show you to your new quarters.”
You didn’t even try…
Fu could feel the flush of anger rising in his cheeks as he watched the unmoving figure of his father silently standing in the shadow. One fist clenched at his side, his teeth bared.
You’re a coward…
“Yes sir,” the Manorite nodded in response to Zemus’ orders, lifting the bag once more over his shoulder. He turned with one upraised eyebrow. “Come on. Follow me.”
His feet moved as if weighed down with lead. They were the hardest steps Fu ever took, following the cloaked figure of BikKuRi’s back. One last try. One last heated look.
Father! I know you can hear me! Why are you letting them do this?
Still, Father didn’t acknowledge him. As the corner of the building obscured his view, a new, unsettling thought rose in the boy’s mind.
Perhaps… just perhaps… Father didn’t protest because he agreed with the Manor.