So many conflicting feelings churned through SoYa’s mind. The information that NaDo gave him sparked joy at the knowledge that his father was alive and sorrow at the suffering he had to endure at the hands of the Council. Curiosity at the concept of Awakening. Fear at the thought that another Arweinydd sought to gain control over the city of Nefol.
The trip home was a long one, bubbling over with the pressure of thoughts and concerns. With no one there to discuss the revelations, the uncertainty welled up, almost unbearable within him. SoYa was relieved with the thought that soon he’d be able to speak with his brother, and together, they’d decide how to move forward.
Father is alive!
That within itself would change everything for them. Finding Father may be a difficult task, but he knew that TsuYa would be just as overjoyed about it as he was. SoYa’s heart pounded with exhilaration as he rounded the corner of the Apprentice’s quarters. Green eyes flickering with excitement, he lifted his fist and drummed on his brother’s door.
The Apprentice began to rock back and forth, impatiently waiting for an answer. Then, in a flurry of eagerness, he banged on it again. “Tsu! Tsu, open up!”
NaDo also told him that Aunt SaRa would be able to help. Though she may not know everything, she could direct them to the place where Father was now.
Somewhere called Ceiswyr, he said. The place where the Awakened go.
A slow scowl began to work over SoYa’s face. TsuYa wasn’t answering his door.
I guess he’s not home. Maybe the Council’s holding him up in a meeting.
SoYa made his way through the hall, down the stairs and outside into the warmth of the afternoon sun. As his green eyes squinted against the light, the small man extended his thoughts to seeking.
SoYa discovered at an early age that he was a mind mage, a magic user known as an Athrylith. Manipulating thoughts, reading mind patterns and sensing emotion was a rare ability among his people, and the most feared of all the magic spheres. Because so little was known about mind powers, those who had the abilities were often unjustly scorned. After Father’s disappearance, the Council chose to shun the teaching of mind magic and to restrain anyone who showed signs of using it.
SoYa told no one that he was an Athrylith. Not even his brother knew.
Years ago, SoYa promised his father that he would keep his abilities a secret, and he held to the promise at a high cost. He endured the baleful stares from those who looked upon him in disappointment — as the eldest son of the great ZenToYa, there were high expectations to meet. Though SoYa was best known for mediocre healing abilities, even those were very pale next to what some of the mid-ranking Apprentices could easily work. Only SoYa knew that healing was just a cover up to hide his true talent. For years he faced the disillusioned frowns of those around him. Even TsuYa had that light of pity in his eyes every now and then.
The passing thought rippled through SoYa’s mind as he located his brother’s consciousness in the distance. A flickering image pulsed in his mind’s eye. With a subtle nod, SoYa turned on his heel and made his way towards the Spire.
So the Council IS calling a meeting.
The streets were strangely quiet, a hushed feeling that forbade even the sound of his footsteps. SoYa didn’t see very many people outside, and the ones he did see made no attempt to acknowledge him. The closer he moved towards the Spire, the more uneasy he began to feel.
Something’s not right…
SoYa mounted the steps and reached for the tall double doors. The unearthly chill of the wood caused him to jerk back, staring at the door handle with concern.
Whatever touched this door recently doesn’t have good intentions.
SoYa carefully pressed one hand against the cold wood, hearing nothing but a stern silence from the other side. However, he could sense them inside, familiar members of the Council. And TsuYa was among them.
Fumbling under his robes, he drew out the small flat key that he always kept in his pocket. As quietly as he could, SoYa pressed the key into the lock. As the soft click sounded in his ears, another hand reached from behind him, stopping the motion. SoYa turned quickly – he was so intent on what was happening inside the Spire that he didn’t realize someone else was there on the steps.
“SoYa? Is that you?” The man who stood next to him was none other than KoGuRai.
“It’s me,” he said, hesitantly.
“Did any of the Council see you come in?” KoGuRai asked in a low tone.
“No. I’ve only talked to you,” SoYa answered quizzically. He furrowed his brow and asked, “What’s going on?”
“Come with me,” was the curt command. Without stopping to look if SoYa was following, the man turned and headed for the side of the building.
“What’s wrong?” a sinking feeling churned inside of SoYa’s stomach.
“You’re too late,” the other man narrowed his eyes shrewdly, slipping into the shadows behind the Spire.
“Too late? For what?”
“You’ll see,” KoGuRai said.
SoYa blew one stray curl out of his eyes and followed silently. They made their way to a small wooden door built into the back side of the building. Often used by housekeeping, SoYa was surprised that someone like KoGuRai even knew it existed.
He did know about it, however, and he even had a key to the door. Motioning behind him with one hand, KoGuRai urged SoYa to follow him up the single flight of wooden stairs. After walking a short while down some of the dark back halls, they began to climb the steps that led them to one of the balconies that overlooked the Council room.
At first, SoYa could only think about his precarious position, alone with his greatest rival standing at his side. But for once, KoGuRai’s attention wasn’t fixed on him. Instead, he pointed below.
Various colored robes dotted the room like quilt pattern, all facing inwards towards the dais. SoYa didn’t know the exact count of Council members, but the group seemed a lot smaller than he remembered. In the center of it all was something that looked like a perfectly round pool. It hovered a foot above the dais, overflowing with ghostly blue pulsing energy.
A low hiss escaped SoYa’s lips, “What is that thing?”
“I don’t know, but it creeps me out,” KoGuRai muttered.
SoYa choked, “Who called this meeting?”
KoGuRai scowled as his hand rose to indicate the men standing on the upraised platform, next to the eerie pool. A group of high-ranking Council members gathered on the dais, wearing their official scarves and sashes. But what caught his eye was the midnight-blue robe worn by the man in the center, standing with his back to the meeting.
That was Father’s! It’s the robe of the High Guide of Nefol!
“Shouldn’t that robe belong to you, SoYa?” KoGuRai asked quietly.
“I… well…” he blinked, admitting, “Technically, yes.”
“Then why is TsuYa wearing it?”
“Uh..!” SoYa couldn’t answer. He could only stare in disbelief.
Tsu… what have you done? Why…?
“The girl,” KoGuRai said, somewhat under his breath.
“Girl?” SoYa echoed, his question quickly answered in the unfolding scene below.
One of the Council led a little girl up on the dais next to TsuYa. She couldn’t have been much older than twelve turns, wrists bound in front of her and eyes concealed by a dark cloth. What drew SoYa’s attention was the pair of feathery wings that rose from her shoulders.
“She’s one of the Awakened!” he hissed without realizing it.
“The what?” KoGuRai glanced at him.
“Awakened,” SoYa swallowed. “But what are they doing to her?”
TsuYa’s voice intoned, low and strange to his ears. The cadence was so unlike him, as if someone else was speaking through his lips, “Members of the Nefolian Council… I trust that you recognize what you see before you.”
Murmurs rose in the room, some of the men behind him nodding.
“Even transforms the children…”
“We will ease the child’s suffering by removing the affliction from her form,” TsuYa told them. “Within the Pool, she will be purged, and welcomed as one of the people of the new Nefol.”
The members lifted their hands, a chilling sound of cheering lifting through the room. For the first time, SoYa could make out the strange runic lights that traced over their arms, similar to the ghost light that dripped from the hovering pool. Their eyes, too, were lit from the terrible glow, causing his mind to reel back to stories of old.
“It can’t be,” he whispered.
“What?” KoGuRai whispered next to him.
“Those are the marking of the Ghost Clan.”
“Ghost Clan? Here? Within the Nefolian Council?”
“What better way to keep an eye on your enemy, than spying and taking a seat of power within the city?” SoYa muttered to himself.
“No… that’s just…” It wasn’t often that KoGuRai looked so off guard. “How did I never know?”
I suppose I’d act that way too, if I found out the people I thought were supporting me were actually Ghost Clan members.
The cries of the little girl returned SoYa’s attention to the dais. There, the Council began stripping feathers from the little girl’s wings in a downpour of shimmering white. The men held her pinned down under the weight their booted feet as TsuYa’s gruff voice rose and fell in a timed intonation, words foreign and guttural. His hands rose high in the air, orchestrating it all with a twisted, uncharacteristic smile.
SoYa felt sick. Face painted with absolute revulsion, he grasped the balcony rail, knuckles white.
The others stepped away from the child as his brother slowly dropped his hands, then lifted one again. As he did, the girl rose from the wooden platform, floating in mid air. SoYa gaped openly, feeling KoGuRai’s similar reaction. This was not a type of magic that TsuYa possessed.
The girl’s white hair was cropped very short, sliced away as was the custom in handling prisoners from the old days. Only a loose-fitting, dingy white robe covered her slender frame. Blood ran from where the magnificent feathers once grew, dripping into dark pools upon the dais. The wilting child floated forward until she hovered directly above the swirling pool of energy. A chilled hush fell over the room, all eyes intent.
“It is only in dividing spirit and body, that she may be purified,” TsuYa slowly stretched his hands away from his body. His eyes were a dark, frigid green, his face set in a lifeless expression. He slowly opened his palm as if to drop an object from his hand. A frightened whimper rose from the child before she plummeted towards the gaping pool below.
SoYa suddenly found himself running down the stairs, taking them in leaps and bounds. As he raced for the dais, his mouth opened in a tremendous bellow. However, his call was drowned out by the jolting ground under his feet.
A dazzling flash of white blinded his vision as a churning nebulous of pure light erupted in the center of the hall. SoYa stumbled back, one hand held up to shade his eyes from the brilliance. As the light diminished, he could make out two people hovering in the center of the glow.
The pool of white energy was gone and floating above the spot where it had once been was a woman. Her hair billowed gracefully in every direction. Her face glowed with an internal light, features softened and ageless. Robes of silver and sky blue fluttered around her, trailing in streams through the air. A pair of silver-tinged wings spread from her back, folded outward in a motionless elegance.
Within her arms she cradled the motionless body of the little girl.
Relief spread through SoYa’s chest as the winged woman landed on top of a table, far away from the platform where the Council members watched. As her feet touched down and the warmth of the light faded from around her, a shocking familiarity appeared on her features.
SoYa felt his breath catch as he gawked, eyes tracing over the small motherly woman that had raised him from his younger years. Somehow she seemed different… different from the strong but caring face he had grown to love… different in a frightening sort of way. As the illusion shattered before him, SoYa could feel his whole world tipping and breaking away.
She’s one of the Awakened? How long has she…
TsuYa was also staring, a blank darkness deep within his eyes. Aunt SaRa met his gaze with unwavering challenge and SoYa shivered. He rarely saw his aunt look truly angry, and he certainly didn’t like to see it now.
TsuYa thrust one finger straight at Aunt SaRa, his voice echoing sharply through the room, “Take them! Both of them!”
SoYa didn’t realize he was running forward until he was already dodging around the toppled chairs and long wooden tables. No plan. No thought. Nothing in his mind except for the reeling impossibility of it all.
The Council members didn’t hesitate. The glow within their eyes grew more intense as they moved towards the winged woman. The runic markings illuminated and a cold light trickled from their fingers in a threatening, pulsing glow.
Aunt SaRa stood motionless. Her green eyes fixed, unblinking upon the men — especially upon the one robed in midnight blue. Her arms held fast to the cradled form of the girl. As flame erupted from the men’s palms, she didn’t even flinch.
SoYa flung himself forward, bounding on the table next to Aunt SaRa. Teeth bared, eyes narrowed, his own forbidden power leapt from him. The flame died instantly as the men reeled back under the tremendous force of his mind-will. Their eyes fell devoid of thought, mouths growing slack-jawed as they wavered, barely retaining their footing. He could feel it, the desperate flutter of their minds as his own closed in around them. Their bodies lurched backwards as if under a tremendous weight and SoYa knew he held them within his absolute control.
TsuYa’s face grew ashen as his eyes lifted to meet his brother’s. His voice traveled the distance between them, sounding more like himself than before, “SoYa…? How?”
SoYa’s hands trembled as he fought to retain his concentration. He’d never released his power over anyone else, and something about it felt terribly dirty and wrong. The Apprentice took a step back under the condemning stare of his brother. The men on the platform collapsed as he released them, where they remained lying, puddled and will-less on the wooden floor.
“Athrylith,” TsuYa’s hissed accusation shattered his heart.
A soft hand dropped on his shoulder. At the touch, his world shifted, focused, and cleared. SoYa lifted his eyes to meet the gaze of the winged woman.
“Are you going to stay here?” Aunt SaRa asked.
It was a simple question. Yet, in the answer, he knew, his life would be completely changed. He lifted his hand to her, and she took it.
“I have no choice now,” his voice cracked.
“Then let’s not linger.”
SoYa nodded and helped her down from the table. He turned towards the silent watching Council members. Those nearest to him flinched back as if he might hurt them by sight alone. No one dared to move, not even TsuYa from beneath his father’s robes.
Taking the weight of the broken child from Aunt SaRa’s arms, SoYa lead the three of them at a dead run out of the Spire.