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Chapter 11 Snapshots of Beranabus II

PART TWO - WARD DUTY

Chapter 11 Snapshots of Beranabus II

After the death of the Minotaur, the years of wandering began. Beranabus had no difficulty finding his way out of the Labyrinth. He had explored every last alley of the maze. It had been home to him and he knew it intimately.

Sunlight disturbed the boy. Having grown up in darkness, the world of light seemed unbearably bright. He tried to brave the glare, but the pain was too great. Weeping, he retreated. Not knowing about the outside world, he assumed it would always be this bright, the way the Labyrinth had always been dark.

When the sun dropped and the sky darkened, Beranabus cautiously crept out again. It was still a lot lighter than he liked, but he was able to adjust to the shades of the night world. He looked back once at the Labyrinth, feeling sad and alone, remembering the good times, riding high on the Minotaur's shoulders, feeding on the fresh blood and meat of the beast's kills. Then, reluctantly, he turned his back on his childhood home and set off to explore this new, peculiar world.

Beranabus was a simple child. He couldn't speak. He could understand some of what other people said, but not everything. Most of the world was a mystery to him, filled with beings who made a huge amount of noise and fought lots of battles for no reason that he could see.

He shouldn't have lasted long in such a hostile environment.

But Beranabus had a remarkable gift, which saved him when he first entered the world-he could tame the wildest of creatures and find friendship in the most unlikely places. Wherever he went, he was accepted. People took him into their homes, gave him passage on carriages and boats, fed and clothed him, treated him with kindness and love.

Many took pity on the boy and sought to keep him and raise him as their own. But Beranabus liked to wander. After the confines of the Labyrinth, the open space of the world intrigued him and he wanted to see more of it. So, without any real design or purpose, he always moved on, slipping away from those who yearned to root him, feeling nothing more for them than he did for the dirt beneath his feet or the air whispering through his hair.

One day, when the boy was on the brink of his teenage years (although he'd been alive for more than two centuries), he witnessed a demon on the rampage. The monster had crossed near a small village and was busy killing as many humans as it could before it had to return through the window of light to its own universe.

The demon reminded Beranabus of the Minotaur. He had come a long way from Crete and seen much of the world and its people, but this was the first demon he'd encountered. The savage beast amused him. It was shaped like an octopus, but with several heads of various animals and birds. He liked the sounds the humans made when the demon killed them, and the patterns their blood created as it arced through the air in streaks and spurts.

He watched the massacre for a few minutes as if enjoying a show. The demon saw him, but didn't attack, mesmerised by the boy's strange aura, as all other dangerous creatures had been.

Murder meant nothing to Beranabus. He didn't understand concepts of right and wrong, good and evil. His mind was a muddled grey zone. Many had tried to teach him, but all had failed. The only difference in his head between a living person and a corpse was that the former was more entertaining.

When the demon retreated, Beranabus was curious to see what the beast would do next, who it would kill, what sort of mischief it would get up to. So he stepped through the window after the demon, out of his mother's universe, into the much darker and spectacularly violent playpen of the Demonata.

Beranabus had a whale of a time in the universe of his father. The demons were far more bloodthirsty than humans. They could kill each other in ways men had never dreamt of. Death didn't have to be swift either. A demon master could torment a lesser demon for decades... hundreds of years... millennia if it wished.

Beranabus drifted with delight from one crazy realm to another. He didn't need to sleep much, or eat and drink. And he aged at an even slower rate than on Earth. He was part of a universe of marvels and it seemed he could go on enjoying it for as long as he liked.

He had to be careful of course. He could tame most demons, but some resisted his charms and tried to capture him. Beranabus was uneducated, but he wasn't stupid. He knew what pain and suffering were, and while he loved to observe the torment of others, he had no wish to become one of the tortured.

That was when he discovered his gift of speed. He could run faster than any demon that chased him. So, on the occasions where he could not tame a demonic beast, he fled, laughing gleefully as he ran, safe in the knowledge that the demon would soon lose interest in him and abandon the chase for easier pickings. In the Demonata's universe there was always something else to kill.

Windows were plentiful. Although demons could only cross to the human world with the aid of a malevolent magician or mage, many could travel from one zone to another in their own foul realm. Their universe was an endless parade of blood-drenched worlds and galaxies. Some of the stronger demons could even create infinite, self-contained zones of their own, which somehow nestled within the larger, unified demon universe.

Whenever Beranabus tired of a realm, he searched for a window and usually found one quickly. He never worried about what he would encounter on the other side. Uncertainty and potential peril were all part of the delight of his life.

Eventually, inevitably, he stepped through a window to the human world. He knew he'd crossed universes as soon as he sniffed the air-it was less charged with magic. Instinct urged him to retreat, but curiosity tempted him on. A long time had passed-he could tell from the buildings around him-and he wanted to see what the people were like, how they varied from those he'd known, if they died any differently.

In the demon universe, windows could remain open indefinitely. He assumed that was the case here as well, but he was wrong. He spent only a handful of minutes in the town-just enough to realise that demons were far more interesting than humans-but when he returned to the spot where the window had stood, it was gone. He was stranded, a captive of the world where he had first begun.

When Beranabus discovered to his dismay that windows of magic were incredibly rare on this world, he travelled with fiery intent, hitching lifts with armies and traders, riding and sailing to the furthest reaches of civilisation. He was desperate to return to the universe of the fantastical demons.

This was the first time Beranabus's brain stirred actively. Until then he had wandered neutrally, observing whatever he chanced across. But now he went in search of something specific and moved with a purpose, carefully choosing those he travelled with, deliberately setting out to explore fresh locations full of promise.

As his brain took its first developmental staggers forward, he unconsciously learnt a few words and mimicked the speech of those he hitched rides with, although most of the time he only uttered gibberish. His mind was still a confused, chaotic country, full of storms and whirlpools. But he had taken the first steps towards understanding and intent, and the world-the universes-would never be the same for him again.

Some years later the boy found himself on an island, set at the westernmost limit of the known world. Demons had broken through and established a permanent tunnel. Thousands of monsters had flooded the land. They were terrorising the locals, laying siege to the villages and towns, slaughtering all in their path.

Beranabus eagerly trudged around the country in search of the tunnel, admiring the torments perpetuated by the Demonata. But as he moved from one village to another, a dim sense of unease grew within him. He felt nothing substantial for the dead humans he saw every day, or the terrified living who would soon be butchered by the demons. But something about their plight troubled him. He had changed inside, and although the change was slight, it had altered his view of slaughter.

Human suffering was different to what he'd seen in the demon universe. On this world, those who survived mourned for the dead. Demons laughed at death, but people here cared about their families and friends. Beranabus found it hard to wring pleasure from their pain. It was too... human.

His unease made him more determined than ever to find the tunnel and leave this world. In the Demonata's universe he could revert to his old ways and simply revel in the merciless mayhem. He didn't like the way he was changing. The world was more fun if you could enjoy it with complete abandonment, untouched by the misery of others.

As he instinctively learnt and practised new words, Beranabus sometimes tried to mutter his name aloud. He could remember what his mother called him, but he couldn't pronounce it. The closest he could get was "Bran". Those who heard him took it to be his name. Having a name was a new experience and Beranabus found it oddly comforting. He started to mutter "Bran" every time he met someone new, so they would know what to call him, but his mind was still a jumbled mess and he occasionally forgot.

After a time, as he was resting in a village on a tiny island at the centre of a lake, Bran came in contact with a druid called Drust. Bran sensed that Drust was also on a mission to find the tunnel. So, instead of moving on, he remained in the village and even let Drust send him to find others to assist him on his quest. Bran didn't know that the druid planned to close the tunnel, and he wouldn't have cared if he did. As long as he could race through before it shut, back to the universe of the demons, he would be content.

Finding people to help Drust wasn't easy. The druid was very precise in his request, demanding not just warriors, but a being of magic. Ideally he needed a fellow druid or priestess, but failing that, he'd settle for someone who had a healthy magical talent, even if it was undeveloped.

Bran didn't understand all that, but Drust meddled with the boy's mind, magically implanting his requirements. Bran had the power to counter the druid's influence, to break the spell Drust had woven around him. But he needed Drust to find the tunnel, so he accepted the druid's orders.

He tried in his befuddled way to recruit a band for Drust at several villages without success. At most there were no people of sufficient magic, and at two where there were, the people dismissed him as a mad child.

Finally, late one evening, he came to a ringed fort. He could sense a person of magic within-a young woman-but had no great hope of attracting her to his cause. Squatting outside the village wall, he waited for the curious warriors to come and examine him, as they had everywhere else. But when the door opened, the magician accompanied the warriors, and for Bran everything altered.

The woman-little more than a girl-looked no prettier than any other her age. Her power was unremarkable. The land was littered with hundreds like her. In his time Bran had sniffed with disinterest at beautiful princesses and powerful priestesses.

But something about this girl struck him hard. He showed no outward sign of it, and couldn't even express his feelings clearly to himself. But the moment he saw the girl-Bec-he fell madly and completely in love. It was love he had not known since his early years with the Minotaur, love he would never know again until she returned to him after many centuries of captivity. And although he couldn't voice his feelings, he knew on some deep level that he would do anything for this girl, kill if needed, give his own life for hers if he must.

So it was that Beranabus at last, without intention or knowledge of what it would mean, put his demonic interests behind him and became a real human.

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