The call of power

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They'd given him some training already. Having never been to school, Tarn found it quite novel to be around adults who were trying to help him and teach him. The only assistance he'd ever had was in his dreams, when his mind had been slowly massaged towards awareness and ambition. Though he was still far from understanding it, he understood now that it had been Aera in his thoughts from the beginning, nudging him towards the light, gifting him words and offering him hope. He'd seen a hand reaching out of the darkness, never knowing that it was her's, and never for a moment thinking that he would one day meet his mentor. When Tarn traced his route from the machine rooms to his rooms at the base of the spire he could feel himself become adrift in the past, unsure of how events conspired to bring him there, with his friends, against all likelihood.

A knock sounded at the door.

Opening it revealed Tranton Seldon, waiting outside with a grim expression. He smiled wryly at Tarn. "You're the talk of the town, kid."

Moving aside, Tarn gestured Tranton inside. He hadn't seen the explorer for days, not since they'd first met Aera at the top of the spire. He couldn't remember what exactly had happened but the others had told him afterwards.

"Everyone is very nice here," Tarn said, expecting Tranton to interrupt and disagree. When the older man said nothing, Tarn swallowed loudly and continued. "They want me to take over from Aera."

Tranton laughed: short, sharp and dismissive. "So they've landed that on you already?" He shook his head.

"They've been training me," Tarn said, "so that I'm ready."

"Ready?" Tranton turned towards him, eyebrows raised. "Do you even know what you're getting into?"

Tarn held up his hands. "No, no - I haven't made a decision yet. They just want me to be ready, for when I say yes."

"You mean if you say yes."

There was a pause as Tarn thought over the other man's words. Tranton always seemed so perceptive, as if he could see things happening behind people's eyes that were invisible to Tarn. "Exactly. What you said, Tranton."

With a deep, tired sigh, Tranton let himself fall into an armchair. He wasn't wearing the heavy coats that he had favoured in the valley and on his travels; instead he wore the same slender, thin garments provided by their hosts. They were remarkably warm, despite their appearance.

"You just escape from one prison," Tranton said. "Do you really want to lock yourself into another one?"

Gazing out of a window, Tarn frowned in confusion. "How is this place a prison? It's wonderful. If I became the next leader I could do whatever I wanted."

"Power's just another kind of prison, Tarn. A nicer one, absolutely. But it traps you in other ways. If you'd met Kirya's father you'd know what I was talking about."

"But he's the king! Everyone has to do what he says. And he lives in a palace, and has airships, and rules over a whole city. The whole valley! He's the most important man in Lagonia."

Tranton leaned forward and poured himself a glass of a thick, yellow fruit juice from a carafe on a low table. "Listen, this might be hard for you to get, but Lagonia is a kingdom of nothing." He spread his arms out wide, a drop of liquid spilling from the glass. "It has no bearing on anything! It has zero impact on the outside world. Guijus knows this. He's spent his whole life trying to hold together something that doesn't matter."

"That's why they were all so excited about you arriving," Tarn said, unsure of whether he should also sit, or remain standing. Tranton clicked his fingers and pointed at him. "You got it," he said. Tarn beamed, feeling a warm pride that he'd understood something without it being explained to him first.

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