Book 1 Chapter 10

-Find the girl called AsaHi. Bring her home to Nefol.-

Those were the final instructions that filled TsuYa’s mind as he left the Council chamber. He was now left to himself, and to seemingly internal silence, staring at the dark shape of his father’s scythe that was propped in the corner of his room. Half of the time, it was like facing down a snake ready to strike. The rest of the time, it was like caressing sweet triumph.

It’s funny how the Council members KoGuRai bought off were so quick to turn on him.

The first thing TsuYa did after claiming Nefolian leadership was to put the Council in its place. He wasn’t sure what he was going do with KoGuRai yet, so he simply allowed his rival to leave the Spire without attempting to detain him.

I’ll deal with him later. KoGuRai may not have the backing he had before, but he’s still trouble.

With all of that done, the questions that stood gaping before him were more difficult to answer.

What do I do now? What will SoYa… and Aunt SaRa… think?

TsuYa peered over at a picture on his mantle where the doofy image of his brother’s face smiled back at him. Would SoYa understand why he did what he did? That he had to do it?

I had no choice.

Perhaps it was all for the best. SoYa never aspired to leadership — not the way Father did. Not the way TsuYa did. If he could only find the chance to explain to his brother, if he could just prevent an argument or a fight. SoYa was not normally aggressive, however, this was something different. TsuYa had just taken his brother’s position, and even SoYa, as meek as he was, would certainly find fault in that.

If I can locate AsaHi and bring her back, I can pardon her of whatever trouble she’s in.

TsuYa’s eyes flicked up and away from the picture as the thoughts came to him. It was all starting to make sense — why Lord Zemi commanded him to find AsaHi and bring her back to Nefol.

I can protect AsaHi from the Council. I can protect SoYa from the Council. Then they can be together and happy… just how they’ve always wanted.

He swallowed down his excitement as everything clicked within his mind.

And I… I can ensure the city remains in our family’s hands… just like Father would want it.

TsuYa placed the picture back on the mantle, taking a slow, deep breath. Things would be all right. He could make sure of it.

I have to find AsaHi first, though. I have to bring her back before SoYa returns. Maybe if I talk to her, she’ll help me convince SoYa this is the right thing for us all to do.

He took two paces across the room, towards where the scythe waited in the corner. As he reached one hand forward, TsuYa realized it wouldn’t be that easy. He couldn’t leave Nefol in the light of what he’d just done, not with the Council in tatters and KoGuRai still prowling the halls.

Not to mention AsaHi has a head start and I have no idea which direction she’s travelling.

Before he could ponder the problem further, a knock sounded at his door. TsuYa froze, starting at it, unaccustomed to the sound. Very few people came to his room, after all. It was something that would probably begin to change with his new-found position.

“Yes?” he called, trying to make his voice as official as possible.

“Sir, may I enter?” a quiet, female voice asked from the other side.

“Yes,” TsuYa answered, feeling somehow less regal in repeating the same word twice.

The door swung inward smoothly, XaNi’s shape sliding through the door frame. The room felt somehow darker with her presence, and the strange gleam that lit her eyes back in the Council room still shown. Though TsuYa wasn’t afraid of very much, he couldn’t help but feel a little uncomfortable at being alone in the same room with her.

“Is there something I can help you with?” he asked, hoping to get to the point and get her out of his chambers quickly.

“Actually,” she stepped forward with a confident stride, “I came to offer my help to you.”

“I see,” he answered, trying to stand his ground. “I appreciate the offer, but I think I have things under control.”

“Oh really?” XaNi leaned forward, breaking every last rule of personal space for him.

TsuYa didn’t know if that was supposed be appealing to him, but it wasn’t. It just creeped him out all the more. He asked curtly, “Do you think I don’t?”

She seemed to feed off of his uncertainty, her smile spreading, “What I see is the young and handsome son of ZenToYa… who has just taken his first step into leadership and may feel a bit over his head. Am I right?”

“Are you trying to flatter me?” he grit his teeth, eyes narrowing in return.

“You are a tough one, aren’t you? I understand why you were chosen,” XaNi took a merciful step away. As if testing him.

“I don’t trust a word you say,” TsuYa told her bluntly. “Your father may have served my father as a member of the original Nefolian Council. But you’ve given your services to KoGuRai ever since. You and KoGuRai’s groupies are the first people I’m removing from power once I get the chance.”

Her eyes stole up to his face, a momentarily flicker of irritation smouldering within. Quickly, she replaced it with a more humble expression, “Why do you think I’m here? I want to offer my allegiance to you.”

“You’re here because you got tangled up with a loser,” he huffed under his breath. “And now you don’t want to face the consequences of your choices.”

“I can prove my loyalty,” XaNi said quickly. “I know what you seek.”

“And what’s that?” TsuYa planted a hand on his hip.

“AsaHi,” she leveled her gaze on him again.

Prickles rushed across his skin. This was the second time that day that XaNi knew something that she really shouldn’t have known.

“Don’t tell me you’re one of those mind-sucking Athrylith mages,” his top lip curled upwards.

“Of course not,” she answered, tapping her fingertip against the metal buckle on the front of his coat. “But tell me that I’m wrong.”

TsuYa turned away, peering down at his feet for a moment. It would be good to have capable help – and he knew that XaNi was a very able fighter. Possibly a good tracker, as well. Since he couldn’t search for AsaHi himself, it made sense to put someone else in charge of it.

“No, you’re right,” he admitted. “I need someone to find AsaHi and bring her back to Nefol.”

She leaned towards him again, watching him with her spooky eyes, “I can do that for you. Just give me the order.”

TsuYa recoiled a bit, nodding out the words, “Find AsaHi and bring her back. We’ll discuss other things later.”

Despite obtaining what she wanted, XaNi seemed content to remain standing there, far too close for his comfort. Finally, the sound of someone clearing their throat broke the tension in the room.

The wash girl, ShiKon, stood in the open doorway, watching them both with a droll look. She balanced the laundry basket under one arm, her free hand planted on her opposite hip. One eyebrow arched, casting a gaze far more daring than a servant should.

“Your command will be done,” XaNi’s own face turned hard and unpleasant. She gave a stiff bow to TsuYa, then with an arrogant flip of her hair, she strode out of his chambers.

“Wow, Tsu,” ShiKon noted teasingly, “I didn’t know you liked them like that.”

“I don’t,” he grumbled back.

Though ShiKon was about his own age, she had been a servant of the Ya family for as long as he could remember. TsuYa was used to her teasing by now –she had an endless sense of humor and always found something to snark about. Despite being the wash girl, she was one of the few people he allowed to poke fun at him… mostly because it wouldn’t do any good to try to stop her anyhow.

She was already loading up the laundry in her basket, making quiet comments to herself. That’s when she caught sight of the scythe propped along the far wall.

ShiKon straightened, a worried look on her face, “Is that what I think it is?”

“Yeah,” TsuYa answered, dropping with a plop and a sigh on his bed.

“Tsu… what are you getting yourself into now?” she gave him the eyebrow.

“It’s a long story,” he rubbed his head with a grimace.

“I have time,” she paused for a moment, leaning her hip against the wall.

TsuYa looked up at her, almost taking the invitation. While it would be nice to have someone to talk to, he doubted she would believe everything that had happened to him. Instead, he shook his head, “It’s all right. I can handle it.”

“Well, if you change your mind, you know where to find me,” ShiKon sighed and messed up his hair fondly. “I’ve got the wash duty today.”

“Thanks,” he told her, fixing the damage to his misplaced bangs, just as he always did.

She shot him a worried smile before leaving, closing the door behind her. As silence closed around him, TsuYa was left alone to face the cold glittering scythe once again.