If I turn out to be first to post a Bran Hambric story in its new category, this message stays and I will cheer mentally for all I'm worth. :D
This spoils both books. It stars Thomas (because he's AWESOME), Bran-as-a-kid, Emry, and (YAY!) Baslyn—the last mostly because I am mad that he's dead. Ah, well.
~A Break From Research~
"I just need you to watch him for an hour."
He growled. The tenderness that had been in his voice before was greatly diminished. "I have no interest in the boy, Emry. He's a liability to the Project. God forbid what he could tell the Magic Investigational Police if ever they found him…"
"Thomas. It's an hour. I…" She faltered. "…have to go somewhere, and he won't be safe there."
"Baslyn would agree with me. He says you've gone soft since he was born, and I'm inclined to agree."
"Never mind Baslyn!" Emry stormed, startling Thomas more than he would be inclined to admit. "Bran is not a threat to the Project. He's just a little boy… and your son! For just this once, can't you show some fatherly compassion?"
Thomas wanted to give her the answer that first came to his lips. He glanced to the boy sleeping in her arms, four years old in a few days. He hardly ever had any contact with him, only partly by his own choice. The other members of the Project were always watching. These days, that was not a reassuring thought.
And speaking of watching…
Yes, there was Elspeth, standing some distance away—but in hearing range nevertheless. The dress she wore was scarlet; her hair slapped about in the wind like a black sail, with one white imperfection. When her blue eyes met Thomas's gray ones, he knew that she was just waiting for him to carelessly spill his heart. Spill it, so that she could go back to Baslyn with the remains.
Thomas sighed. He loved Emry, but lately he had been hurting her more than helping her; and it would not be changing today, it seemed. Fate really had it out for them, lately. But protecting the unsuspecting Emry from Elspeth's cold stare was more important than making her smile.
"'Fraid I can't," he replied at last, airily. "But I can certainly watch him for an hour, if that calms your soft heart." One of the many things I love about you.
Emry's posture stiffened. Her brown eyes chilled to a degree colder than that of Elspeth's. She stretched to her full height (still shorter than him) and lowered her voice to a hiss.
"At least I have a heart to soften." Her voice trembled, briefly, with emotion. "You're a horrible father."
She had said it to him before—and Thomas had flinched that time. It really had hurt.
But God forbid if he flinched this time, with Elspeth watching. He'd be damned if that woman ever had a reason to think him weak. He had to protect Emry… and Bran. Even from himself.
"You've said that to me before," he murmured, as calmly as possible.
"And it won't be the last time, I fear," Emry said, and handed Bran over. Thomas took the boy hesitantly into his arms (he hardly ever held him) and watched as she walked off as silently as she had come.
"Tell Baslyn I resent him taking you from me so often," he called after her, with a smirk on his face to hide his true feelings on the matter.
"I'm not going with Baslyn," she called back. "I'm going alone."
She turned and was gone, just like that. Turning around, Thomas realized that Elspeth was gone too. Figures.
He took Bran into the building with him, with the boy not stirring in the slightest, and returned to his research notes. Fearum wasn't going to come back to life and dictate the meanings of his words to him, after all.
Bran woke a few hours later—the hour Emry had promised had come and gone, and Thomas still studied the old pirate's words. Honestly, at first he didn't even notice that the boy was awake.
He jumped; partly from being startled, and partly because some foolish part of him had half expected the boy to call him Father.
"Yes?" He turned to face the boy. Bran was small for almost four; it was almost cute, the way his hair flopped into his face.
Thomas blushed; he hardly knew himself. Elspeth or no, he suddenly regretted his earlier tone with Emry. What with how dangerous and secretive the Project had become, one never knew if they would come back alive from an outside assignment.
Abruptly sick with fear, he sought to soothe any fear that might bloom in the child.
"She's away for now," he said. "But she'll be back soon."
This seemed to satisfy Bran; he yawned, rubbing his eyes and gazing around Thomas's room at all the gadgets and papers strewn and tossed around. He's engaged? Yes. Back to the notes, which I need to be engaged in.
Thomas, in fact, became so engaged that he did not notice Bran slipping up to stand beside him—until he tapped his father on the shoulder.
"Ahhh!" Now he jumped, put his hand over his heart. This boy would be the death of him, he swore it. "Don't do that, Bran! You frightened me!"
"Sorry." Bran looked down, and Thomas felt a twinge of unease. People that inspired too much sympathy should be illegal. "I just wanted to know what you were doing."
Thomas smiled. "I'm reading the notes of a very old, very dead man."
The boy's round brown eyes went wide. "What for?"
How to explain the Project to a child? But he was spared a lightning-fast brainstorming session; someone knocked on his room's door.
Please don't let it be Elspeth.
But it was much worse: Baslyn came in, his black robes whipping up a storm behind him.
Warning lights flashed in his brain. Emry had come to him once, wild and hardly sane, a month after her son's birth. Don't let Baslyn take our son, she'd begged him. Bran doesn't matter to him; he sees no benefit in him. He'd kill him if I left him alone. Thomas, don't let him take Bran!
Instinctively Thomas's eyes moved to find Bran. The boy was examining some pictures of Emry and Gary that were on the desk. He smiled—an innocent smile, but Thomas felt his hand curl momentarily into a fist.
I really need to destroy that photo.
…Well, wasn't he still jealous.
"Baslyn…" he said softly, tearing his eyes from the child. "This is an unexpected surprise."
"Hello, Thomas." There was a mysterious smile on Baslyn's face. "Playing baby-sitter?"
Bran now noticed Baslyn. He froze, looking to his father for directions. Thomas nodded, and Bran gave their leader a nervous smile as he answered at last. "Nah. Caretaker until Emry returns from…" He trailed off and growled inwardly, cursing his own lack of knowledge.
"Out by East Dinsmore," Baslyn said, equally helpfully and vaguely. "The desert. How is your research coming?"
"Fearum was one twisted man."
"Was he? I rather considered him a genius."
Thomas sighed. "He certainly found out about some pretty sketchy things. Things the Mages Council would hate to get out—become common knowledge."
And then Thomas realized: the conversation so far was merely a clever ruse on Baslyn's part.
Baslyn adored Fearum's years-old research, and never lost a chance to insert his interpretations on it into conversation—any conversation. And he hated the Mages Council—never missed a chance to rail against them, or else throw a barbed insult to them in on what he might say. To ignore one trigger was a fluke; to ignore both was tantamount to a declaration of distraction.
And what was Baslyn distracted by?
Thomas already knew, and whirled fully away from his work. The boy.
Bran was staring straight at Baslyn, eyes filled with wonder. Baslyn was staring back, and a new smile was taking over his face. He pulled out his elaborate wand, snapped his fingers, and a glowing blue light appeared. It started circling Bran faster than the child's eyes could catch up with it.
Thomas didn't remember standing later, but suddenly he was doing just that.
"What are you doing?"
Baslyn's dark eyes gleamed. "Playing with him. Aren't I, Bran?"
"Yes," Bran said meekly, very softly. But he looked at Thomas after he said it, and the latter saw uncertainty in those brown eyes.
"He shows some potential," Baslyn mused. "I've been watching him… and I've had a rather intriguing thought, Thomas. If he took after his mother… if he had Emry's power—"
"He doesn't." Why was he defending the child? "Bran hasn't shown any sign of powers yet—not near Emry's level, anyway."
"Come, now. You've no idea what missiv he might be?"
Thomas hesitated; if he were to be completely honest, Bran might have inherited his mother's darkly-tinged powers. He had once put out a fire that had started near his hand, just by crying for it to stop; another time, he had created an illusion of himself while he and his mother were playing hide-and-seek. Emry was so distraught upon finding the fake Bran that Thomas had had to find the real one.
Baslyn gave him an expectant look.
"We… think he may be a Netora," Thomas said at last. "Or I do at least. He's shown some budding telekinetic skills." And, seizing upon an idea, he picked up a ball that Emry had left with him and called: "Bran, catch." And he threw it.
Bran yelped—the ball was about to hit him in the head, and it didn't promise to be gentle. At that very moment, the ball slowed in midair, and froze entirely as if someone had grabbed it. Then the magic broke, and Bran caught the ball in his tiny hands.
Baslyn looked amazed.
"You see." Thomas pointed to him, inwardly sighing with relief. "I had no hand in that."
"I know you didn't," said Baslyn softly. "You would have let the ball hit him."
Bran's father had nothing to say to that.
"That's not nice," Bran murmured. He was still holding the ball.
Baslyn ruffled the boy's brown hair in the most affectionate gesture Thomas had ever seen from him. "Your father is not a very nice man."
"Is so," Bran murmured still more quietly, defiantly. Thomas felt his ears heat—the boy hardly even knew him, yet defended him…?
Something in him rebelled at the thought of the boy feeling any more fear, and he reached for his wand (brick red with a golden gem), seeking out its Archon magic. He found it and promptly released a little: a small, harmless ball of fire leapt out of his wand and started to bounce around the room. Thomas hoped it would distract Bran, and it did—the boy ran after it, trying to catch it between his hands.
More importantly, Bran ran away from Baslyn.
"Hey! Come back!"
"Oh no," Thomas teased, and levitated the ball beyond his reach again. There was no way he'd let his plan to keep Bran away from Baslyn fail so easily…
But now he had to deal with the consequences.
Baslyn was looking at Thomas, and his eyes were steely. "What was that for, exactly?"
Thomas, don't let him take Bran!
"Whatever problem you have with me, Baslyn, you can take it out on me and leave the boy out of it."
"The boy interests me, too," Baslyn said simply. "And I have no problem with you, Thomas—except that I haven't seen you enough lately."
Thomas blinked, recognizing the lies. "You visited me last week."
"Hardly satisfactory. I heard today that you'd made quite the find in Fearum's notes."
"I… didn't tell anyone that." So how do you know?
"No? Well, Elspeth knew."
Thomas cursed mentally. She's been watching me more closely than I knew.
"So?" Baslyn prodded, his eyes half following Bran.
Bran doesn't matter to him.
He told Baslyn of the equation and the spells he'd discovered, keeping one eye on his son. When he was done, Baslyn clapped his hands together.
"Closer… we're getting closer. Thanks to you… to Emry… to Elspeth… to countless others, we are close to achieving our goal."
"Glad to know I'm a help."
Baslyn paced the room, thinking to himself. Thomas tensed every time he neared the still-fire-chasing Bran, and pretended that he wasn't nervous. At last Baslyn glanced from the boy to the man and smiled thinly.
"It's… good that you haven't let the boy distract you from your work."
Thomas was nonplussed. "Why would I?"
"You'll understand when he's older, I'm sure." Baslyn lingered a moment before heading to the door. He lingered there too, before saying "Good-bye, Bran."
Bran paused, with the fireball coming to a stop above his head, illuminating him. He glanced at Thomas for a brief moment before whispering, "Good-bye."
Thomas snapped to attention again.
"Keep the boy out of the way of the Project, or he will… become a liability."
He'd kill him if I left him alone…
Thomas sprang up angrily, realizing that Emry's desperation had some foundation after all—and that he didn't like it one bit. "Now wait just a minute, Baslyn—!"
"I speak only the truth," Baslyn said smoothly. "Keep Bran Hambric out of the way. Come see me again in two days, and we will talk…privately, yes? Send Emry to me when she returns."
He opened and closed the door in a loud, final way. Silence descended on the room. With a sigh, Thomas lowered his wand and stopped the flow of Archon magic that kept the fireball in existence and in the air; it fell and fizzled out before it hit the ground, or his son.
"No fair," Bran said quietly, his disappointment obvious. "Bad fire."
Thomas ruffled the boy's hair, feeling solemn. That's not the only thing that's bad.
"Thank you, Thomas."
"That was much longer than an hour. In fact, I believe it was eight."
Emry sighed. "I was… delayed. Significantly. But I have a lot to show for it."
"What, sand?" Tenderly he brushed some off of her collar. He really was glad to see her again.
Emry collapsed into the nearest chair. Worried, he moved to her, stood over her, and started to massage her shoulders. Her sigh this time was satisfied.
"Very much so."
"Anything interesting happen while I was away?"
"Baslyn paid me a visit. He wants to see you."
"Wh-what? Baslyn was here? With you and—Thomas, did he hurt Bran?"
Thomas shook his head, noting the wild look in Emry's eyes—and, now, understanding it wholly. "Not at all. He didn't dare, with me there. But he seemed very curious about Bran."
Emry glanced at Bran—he was now sleeping in Thomas's bed, to the man's earlier dismay. "Bran didn't… give you any trouble, did he?"
In his mind, Thomas went over the last eight hours. Bran's inquisitiveness, his innocence before Baslyn's might and intimidating figure, his budding magic, and his loyalty to the father he barely knew.
"No," he assured her. "He was just fine."
"And you're saying this?" Emry stared incredulously at him.
"Really, Bran was fine. I hardly believe that I could have sired an angel, but that he is."
Her eyes sparkled. "You underestimate yourself."
"The boy certainly doesn't. Emry, why do you have this boy walking around, putting me on a pedestal? Someday I may have to betray him for the Project, or leave him, or—"
She shook her dark hair. "Don't say that! It'll come true. And of course Bran puts you on a pedestal, Thomas. You're his father—whatever I may have said before."
It was an apology, and Thomas nodded soberly to it. Said, "Bran hardly knows me."
Emry put her hand on Thomas's arm soothingly. "He knows enough."
She got up then, resigning herself to a meeting with Baslyn; but she stopped as Thomas laid his hand on her arm.
"…I have to go."
"Do you? Only when you return, Baslyn said. Did anyone see you arrive?"
A smile came over her face. "No, I didn't sense anyone… but I'll stay here, just in case."
Temporarily free of her responsibility, she settled down next to Bran on Thomas's bed, stroking her son's hair. "Bran…" she murmured, and he stirred momentarily before subsiding into sleep again. "…Sleep well, then."
Thomas watched them and found himself unable to be impassive. But just as the silence of the moment seemed absolute and unbreakable, Bran rolled over—and gave a loud snore.
Emry gasped (she had been falling asleep), and then started to snicker as she recovered.
"Well—that's it, then," Thomas said, with the air of deciding the fate of the universe. He settled next to his wife and son on the bed, and wrapped one arm around them both. "He is definitely my son. Angels don't snore."
Emry's laughter as they went to sleep was a soothing rush.
So… guess I go back to waiting for the third Bran Hambric book to come out, now? …Yeah.
Feedback, come to me!