The evening came, and everyone had returned to their respective quarters, everyone except for Benjamin. Having escorted Avera back to her room for the night following a full day of touring, festive gathering, and new acquaintances, he pulled the door shut behind him, leaving her to rest.
'Folklore, eh? Well... perhaps.' He chuckled quietly to himself as he made his way to the boardroom.
Once there, he sat, the weight of his body sinking down into the chair. He leaned back, crossing his legs and resting his heels on the broad table in front of him before letting out a sigh, his arms hanging limply over the arms of the chair.
'I am tired. Such a shame I shouldn't sleep.'
He stared up at the ceiling a while before letting his face fall to the side. There was a certain tension lately with the disappearance of their military contact and the arrival of their guest, a tension which had been weighing on him heavily. Thoughts swirled around in his head as his analytic mind worked to unravel the twists and knotted strands of a puzzle known only as time, and again he sighed.
'This is all far too much for me to handle. I'm afraid you'll have to help me. This business with Avera, this rendezvous with the Colonel come morning... it may all prove much more dangerous than anything. Still, I think it only proper to attend, and if Tyberion is, in fact, Avera's father... I may owe it to them both to discover what's happened to him, if indeed something has happened.
'Supposing his position were compromised, however, and they had discovered he was working with us, that might complicate things, because, if that were the case, it would lend itself to the possibility that Avera is working as a spy, presumably in an effort to secure her father's safety, but... of course, I don't believe that.
'When Dorcus told me a girl was coming to see us, though wittingly or unwittingly she could not say, she instructed me to receive her with the same kindness my father would have. It was an advisory, not a warning. Avera is harmless, a young woman in need of belonging... and a home... for some reason.'
'Howbeit, I... do understand Kypher's concern, particularly with regards to the Colonel. There is so much uncertainty during this time. Besides, it is his charge to be cautious for my sake. Not that the others would have me in any form of danger, certainly not, but... I know Kypher still holds himself responsible for what happened. There would be nothing more devastating to him than to see it all happen again.
'This meeting... perhaps it is foolish of me to attend. I know Kypher is reluctant to let me go. He wishes I wouldn't. But... if there is a chance that the Colonel may be there, that he may be in danger, that he may be in need of our help... I cannot deny him, not for the sake of anybody.
'Still,' he smiled, wearily amused, 'I am having trouble wrapping my tired mind around this complex mess we find ourselves in.'
He chuckled to himself scornfully and sighed. "Blast!" he exclaimed, springing himself from the chair and slamming his hand against the table in front of him. "Would that Webber were here. He would have me sorted out handily." He paused with consideration. "Perhaps by morning," he muttered with a soft smile. "But then," he added, his gaze set intensely on his hand, "perhaps not. No matter, though. I was determined that I should go before and I will not be dissuaded of it now."
'No use second guessing things.'
'Isn't there?' a voice like an outer thought replied, and he felt a chill run through him. 'Because, it seems the people who say they care have gone and left you on your own, all alone to navigate things. There's no one else to blame. If you fail, you'll have disappointed them sorely, and they will leave you, also.'
"They wouldn't," his voice responded to the words, and his eyes scanned around him as he remained stone still.
'Oh, wouldn't they?' the whisper replied as if mocking. 'It seems that they already have. They aren't here, and why should they be? There's nothing special about you. Nothing but the guilt of blood.'
Benjamin swallowed, feeling increasingly uncomfortable, his body tense. "It's not like that," he muttered by means of a quiet protest.
'Isn't it, though? All those people, all that death... aren't you to blame for it? Couldn't you have prevented their deaths with your own? Selfish child...'
'It was never as you say,' he thought the response, unable to speak and utter it.
'Wasn't it? You didn't see the raids, Ben, but they were all your fault, weren't they?'
He shook his head, fighting the weight of grief and condemnation. 'No! No!'
'Yes, yes... in fact, it's better that you had never been born to begin with, but you can't help that now, can you? Except by your death. I assure you, it is not only a death better for everyone, but it is a death long overdue. So, what do you say? Shall I kill you? Or, perhaps, you'll have a part?'
He would have said no, but he had gotten caught up in the thinking and hesitated. He tried to move, but he found himself held in place by some unseen predator as it sucked the life out of him. He felt himself grow faint and began to fall forward, catching himself on the table in front of him.
'No one wants this, Ben. Die peaceably and let the suffering end right along with you.'
He found himself struggling to breathe and choking on his own breath, his skin slowly turning to a ghastly pale grey as his life force left him.
Suddenly, there was the sound of footsteps as the door opened and a familiar voice came, stern and proper. "Enough! You no good, murderous liar! Get your hands off him!" she commanded, and he felt the thing depart from him, his strength and breath returning.
"Ah! Dorcus," he said , still breathing heavily as he continued to rely upon the table for support.
"Thought wanderers are nasty things, Ben. I suggest you not entertain them," she warned him, reminding him of what he already knew.
"Yes, of course," he said. "My apologies, and my thanks." He smiled up at her, the color returning to his cheeks.
"Ben," she said softly, drawing near and placing a hand on his shoulder as she looked him in the eyes, "you are not to blame for any of this. We each chose on our own. Those who died and those who killed them, each chose on their own. Everyone who's here today, we chose to stay. No one forced us. No one even asked us. We chose. Eliezer and I, we love you as our own flesh and we would never leave you. That being said, you are not responsible to bear the weight of our decisions, nor anyone else's. Do you understand? You give hope, Ben. Hope that no one else can."
He smiled. "Yes, I understand," he said with a polite nod of his head, but his heart betrayed him and the weight of guilt began to seep back in again, his face displaying his displeasure at himself.
"Don't you feel guilty, Ben," Dorcus said softly, wrapping him in a hug, her voice gentle and soothing. "You're not to blame, and all is well, as Eliezer would rightly assure you."
He closed his eyes and smiled at the kind words of his friend and mentor as he felt her love soak into him. "Thank you, Dorcus," he said to her, "your help is invaluable to me, as always."
"Not at all, Ben," she said, releasing him from the light embrace. "You weren't the only one having trouble with the thought wanderers tonight. Avera was having quite a time with them, too, and while they won't always try to kill you, they are more than happy to feast upon any negative emotions they might manage to conjure up."
He offered a slight smile, and she stopped, putting her hand tenderly on his cheek. "I am proud of you, Ben," she quietly assured him. "You've grown up beautifully."