The world spun around TsuYa in a murky haze. Though he grappled with it, disorientation filled his mind, leaving gaps in his memory. Often, he would find himself standing somewhere and saying something, but had no idea how he got there or who he was talking to. The haze grew increasingly, ever since the day he claimed Nefol, gripping his mind further and further.
Whenever he was afforded a moment of clarity and began to question the situation, his thoughts were instantly replaced by a burning ambition and an anger he didn’t even know was his own. Part of him recoiled at the sensation. Yet, it felt so good to give into the desires and more and more often, and he just stopped questioning.
Is that really so wrong?
When TsuYa stopped questioning, he ended up like he was now — his father’s scythe in one hand, the blade leveled at his brother’s deceiving throat. Shifting shadows stood at his back, the people who were members of the Council that were revealed as those from the Ghost Clan, long-time enemies of his father’s people.
They seem loyal enough.
Before him stretched the dim lines of a rift circle, presided over by looming dragon statues, much like those in the Host Gate. A new threat now rose on every side – strange winged warriors, some who bore metal armor and weapons that were more than a match for their bone and leather. However, the warriors behind him were not intimidated in the least. If anything, the sight of the winged warriors only increased their fury and bloodlust.
The order sounded through TsuYa’s mind. His hands were sweaty where he gripped the scythe.
“Destroy them…” his voice echoed the order quietly. He couldn’t fight the compulsion. His words and actions were not his own.
The Ghost Clan needed no invitation. They swept forward in a chilling silence, the ghost-light in their eyes and along their runed bodies growing more intense with the fervor of upcoming battle. TsuYa felt himself moving with them, enraptured with the idea that a group of warriors were following his commands. All thoughts of his brother and aunt trickled out of his mind as the pulse of battle grew hot within his chest.
The winged warriors swooped into the battle from above, light glittering from the sharp edges of their blades. There was little mercy in their eyes for their ancient enemies, and even less reluctance to meet in battle.
Despite his years of weapon training, TsuYa had never been in a full-out onslaught before. He found himself within a sea of motion and men, jostled and stumbling, struggling to clear the shadowy haze that pressed in on his mind. Luckily, the winged warriors were not targeting him, as if they knew that TsuYa wasn’t one of the Ghost Clan.
He fought to make sense of the shouting and the shapes and the shifting, but it was all happening too quickly for him to decipher. Before TsuYa knew it, he found himself on the outskirts of the battle, rather than at the front leading it.
What are you doing? Get in there and show them what you’re made of, TsuYa!
He gritted his teeth and chided himself. If he couldn’t prove that he was a warrior worthy of leading, he knew the Ghost Clan would turn on him, no matter who was supporting him as leader of Nefol.
Off to one side, a familiar and feral war-scream drew his attention. The armored shape of XaNi leapt from one of the cliff-sides, charging towards SoYa and his rearing mount.
The spark of concern pulsed briefly in his mind, only to be consumed by the shadows that wound ever tighter around him. But for a moment, just that moment, TsuYa had responded on instinct. An instinct that wanted to protect his brother.
“JouKa!” the name rang over the battle on a powerful voice. The leader of the winged people emerged from the fray, motioning with one hand towards XaNi’s fleet decent.
“I’m on it!” came a shouted answer.
One of the winged people, a woman, rushed forward to intercept, her dual blades sweeping in front of her to ward away the Ghost Clan attacker. XaNi danced back, seeming to flicker in and out of vision, frustration written at the other woman’s interruption. Her black bone blade sang with speed, matching JouKa’s strikes one-for-one. As the two women’s eyes met, equal fury mirrored. Then the battle shifted, moving them from TsuYa’s sight.
“Are you looking for a fight, boy?” the golden voice sounded again, closer than before.
TsuYa turned, lifting his black blade in response. His eyes narrowed.
The leader of the winged people approached, his own weapon drawn. His face was obscured in a half-helm, only the wizened green eyes glittering from between the slits. The metal of the plates seemed to glow with its own internal light, even where the shadows drew around him. Tiny fields of pulsar glow shifted across the armor as he advanced, his steps sure and unafraid.
“Do you really know how to use that blade?” his voice came again, softly taunting.
“Yes,” TsuYa answered shortly. He was not one to mince words with friends, much less enemies.
“Show me,” the leader planted his heel back firmly on the ground.
-Show them all.-
TsuYa leapt forward, face contorted into a wicked snarl. Despite the size of his weapon, the scythe felt almost weightless within his hands. Though the other warrior appeared seasoned and experienced, he was foolishly allowing TsuYa to advance with the first blow. Throwing all of his strength forward, he would make it count.
The scythe slammed down upon the chain of the other man’s weapon with impossible speed. The winged leader caught the blow, but TsuYa could see his surprise as he struggled to cast the blade off.
-Do you feel the strength within you?-
Breathing heavily, TsuYa pressed forward, sending the other man reeling backwards. Somehow, the winged warrior managed to keep hold on his weapon and not lose his footing. Still, his eyes were wary now, sizing up TsuYa as a greater threat than he originally accounted for.
-Make him fear you!-
With an envigored shout, TsuYa swept forward, spinning forward with a lethal sheen of blade. It suddenly felt so natural, so right – the motions came to him without thought. He advanced on the winged man without fear, the shadows seething around his feet, enhancing his speed.
Despite TsuYa’s overwhelming blows, the winged man did not give ground. He danced with measured certainty, dodging the huge black blade and striking in return when he saw an opening – which happened far too often for TsuYa’s liking.
“Sloppy form, Tsu,” the man told him, conversationally ducking the sweep of the scythe.
“What?” TsuYa breathed out the word before realizing it.
He knows who I am?
“You’ve obviously got the potential to do better,” the leader told him.
Who is he?
TsuYa held his scythe out in front of him, eyes never leaving the other man’s face. Waiting for the next strike.
-He’s the enemy. That’s all you need to know.-
Once again, TsuYa curiosity was overwhelmed with the desire for battle frenzy. But something about it felt forced this time, as if someone else was pulling strings.
But I want to know…
Taking advantage of the momentary hesitation, the winged warrior pressed forward, his blade singing. It was TsuYa’s turn to fall back, the speed and the power of the assault unexpected. The man whipped his weapon’s chain around the haft of the scythe, entangling it with his own.
As TsuYa struggled to maintain his grip, he became briefly aware of the sounds around him. The battle was winding down and the Ghost Clan was on the retreat. The winged people pressed after them, sending them scattering into the darkness that shifted on all sides.
Desperation flooded TsuYa’s mind.
They can’t do that! I’m the leader here!
The other man’s weight bore down on him, threatening to push him to his knees. The sound of metal on metal was shrill in his ears as he fought to keep hold of his weapon.
I didn’t order a retreat!
With a snarl, TsuYa did the only thing he could think of at that moment. With both hands on the haft of the scythe, he threw all his strength forward, slamming the grip against the bottom of other man’s chin. The winged warrior gave a cry of surprise and pain, as the blow dislodged the straps on his armor and sent his helm flying.
Instantly, TsuYa rolled forward, pressing his attack and leveling his blade at the other man’s head. As the winged warrior turned and his face became visible, the world around TsuYa stopped moving for a moment’s breath.
He knew that face.
Even though he hadn’t seen it in so many years, he still knew it.
His hands began to shake, the weapon’s tip quivering and lowering. His voice was hoarse in his ears, sounding no more than a little boy’s, “Father…?”
-Do not falter!-
The voice resounded in his mind, almost a roar. Confusion struggled in his chest. The voice wanted him to strike against his father?
I can’t do that!
“TsuYa,” Father’s own voice was winded, but familiar. There was softness in his eyes for his wayward son.
-Don’t be fooled by this trickery!-
TsuYa staggered, dropping his weapon. The voice in his head was painful now. The shadows that had once sped his advance now writhed around his feet, ready to devour him.
“Father… I…” the words came through the pained clenching of teeth.
-We made a deal, TsuYa!-
The darkness in the distance wailed, tearing through his mind.
I won’t do it! I won’t attack Father!
Staggering back, he clutched his head. It was hard to breathe. The shadows gripped him from within and trickled from his mouth between his pain-contorted lips. TsuYa could feel it… the terrible realization that something was happening to him, transforming from the inside.
-You belong to me, now!-
He could faintly see the shape of his hand reaching towards the blurry vision of his father’s face. TsuYa forced the words to hiss between his lips, “Father… help me… please!”
Then he felt a sudden warmth — his father’s hand taking his own. The shadows around him screeched and reeled back from the winged man’s touch. Fury and frustration twisted the sound, clawing at TsuYa’s mind, struggling to keep him in dark possession.
Then his awareness of the world faded away, replacing the pain and desperation with welcomed sleep.