Emotion pulled SoYa in many different directions. Joy at seeing his father’s face again. Deep concern at watching the strange transformation sweep over his brother. And growing fear at the deep thundering darkness that rose up in the east, blotting out the stars.
They defeated the Ghost Clan, but it’s not over yet.
Father turned, green eyes falling on his son. Softness touched his features before it faded into grim seriousness. Carefully, he laid the slumped form of TsuYa down on the stone ground.
“SoYa,” his voice hadn’t changed, even with all the time that stretched between memory and reality.
“Father…” SoYa choked on the word, unsure of what to say next. He had no time to figure it out.
The winged man rose to his feet, strode over and thrust the grip of his weapon into his son’s hands. Father’s tone was heavy with urgency as he reached down to lift the black bladed scythe, “I need your help. We have to hold this off just a little longer.”
“What? But…” SoYa stared, blinking at the strange curve of steel of the Bhinod, gripped loosely in his sweaty hand.
However, Father wasn’t listening to his protests. He was already making his way quickly to where Aunt SaRa drooped against the side of the rhawn. “SaRa? SaRa, speak to me.”
The Apprentice watched as the winged man cupped her shoulders in both palms. Very gently, he shook her. Somewhere in the back of SoYa’s mind, he could feel the slightest tingle, an exchange of energy between the two.
Then Aunt SaRa’s eyes flipped open in a rare expression of open shock. She managed to stammer, “Zen…Zento!?”
“SaRa, listen to me,” Father attempted to get her to focus on his face.
“Zento? Is it really you?” she asked. Her hand reached up, stroking her brother’s face.
“It’s me. I’m here,” he reassured her gently. Tightening the grip on her shoulders, he tried again, “Listen to me. I need you to finish casting the rift circle.”
“Rift… circle…?” she gave him a disoriented look.
“Yes. There’s something dangerous coming and we’ve got to close this rift,” Father said with complete finality.
“Oh… the circle…” Aunt SaRa seemed to be coming around, understanding touching her eyes.
“Can you do that?” he asked solemnly.
“Yes,” she replied, slowly brushing her robes off. “Yes. Of course.”
“Alright, we’ll do what we can to hold them off.”
An inhuman howl sounded from the shadows of the stone outcropping. Close. Far too close. SoYa’s hands began to shake as he gripped the Bhinod, knuckles turning white. The other winged warriors began to form a ring around them, weapons held ready.
Then Father stood beside him, balancing the large black-bladed scythe in both fists. He murmured to the haft under his breath, “DuLlafn. It’s been a while…”
“Father, I don’t understand,” SoYa’s voice was low as he came closer. “Can’t you just create the circle? Aunt SaRa’s already exhausted.”
“Yes, I can. And, yes, I know,” he pursed his lips with a grave expression. “However, SaRa’s energies are already tied to the casting of the circle, even though it’s been interrupted. She has to finish the spell, or else it could leave the gate open to hostile powers. And in this case…”
Again, the sounds of nightmare shadows began to press in on them.
“I don’t think we want to leave anything to chance,” Father’s voice fell low as he crouched, moving towards the darkness.
SoYa’s eyes widened as the night rose up, seething like a vast ocean wave over the rock. Formless, but struggling for solidity, they were creatures devoured — once alive, now consumed and trapped within the unliving taint. Things that looked like claws… limbs… faces… pressed against the membrane of darkness from the inside.
Screeching. Struggling. Mad with the desire for release.
In the face of the storm, Father strode forward, a single pinpoint of light. His wings half-spread, he stood his ground. Then, the wicked dark blade whistled, a blur of shadow spinning at his side as Father leapt forward in silent advance.
The winged man darted into the pressing darkness, unafraid. Slashing. Dodging. Moving in harmony with the blade as if it were an extension of his body and will. As if it wasn’t a weapon that he hadn’t touched in over 20-some passes.
SoYa stared in mute awe. He’d forgotten just how amazing a warrior Father was. It was easy to see why legends were wrapped around his shoulders.
The sound of a nearby screech shook the Apprentice out of his stupor. Things were coming from the other direction, too. Bubbling. Frothing. Keening out of the shadows towards the edge of the half-lit circle. The other warriors engaged in their own battles, leaving him in the center of the circle to defend Aunt SaRa.
I can do this… I can…
With uncertain steps, SoYa rushed forward. The Bhinod was light, but awkward in his hands. With a click, the hooked blade came away from the wooden grip. The clanking of the strong, lightweight chain sounded in his ears, stirring memories of the past. Memories of watching his father practice in the yard, working through techniques with his newly crafted weapon.
Now it was in his hands.
SoYa met the onslaught of darkness with wide and frightened eyes. The blade glimmered with an encouraging light as he swung clumsily. And swung. And jumped back. And swung again. There was little skill and absolute desperation. He knew that no matter what, he couldn’t allow the shadows to pass into the circle.
Over his shoulder, he could hear Aunt SaRa’s tired voice speaking the magical words. The light under his feet began to grow stronger as she struggled to power the rifting circle. Then, once more, it began to fade. He could see her form slumped against the flank of the rhawn, wavering between determination and exhaustion.
She’s not going to make it!
Somewhere, the sound of Father’s battle shouts rang from the face of the uprising stone. It was hard to tell if he was simply getting warmed up, or if the battle had begun to overwhelm the winged warrior.
SoYa found himself pushed backwards, inch by inch. He recoiled as the Bhinod sliced through what looked to be some sort of darkened limb. It dropped off limply, disintegrating and splashing into a puddle of dark ooze at his feet.
There’s too many!
Once more, the light of the circle faded and fizzled. The runes grew dimmer and Aunt SaRa’s voice fell silent. This time, SoYa wasn’t sure if the winged woman would be able to make another attempt. The Apprentice pressed closer and closer to the center of the circle. From the sound of battle behind, he could hear that the same was happening to Father and the other warriors.
“SaRa!” Father’s voice shouted. “SaRa, stay with us!”
But she did not respond.
Stumbling under the pressure of the shadows, the winged man did something that SoYa never saw before. Father lifted his silvered head back, staring up into the sky. Though no sound came from his throat, the vibration of the single word within SoYa’s mind was vast and overpowering.
It roared down upon them, a bolt of lightning leaping from the depths of darkened sky. The world at once flooded brilliant white. SoYa stumbled away from it with a cry, his eyes clamping shut from the blinding light. The ground under his feet trembled with the coming of something immense, something that he could feel gathering in the air around them. It left prickles of anticipation over his skin.
When his vision returned, a tall pillar of white and blue spiraled up into the sky. The circle under their feet blazed with renewed power and life. The power churned at the feet of the tall figure that supported the motionless form of Aunt Sara.
Can it really be…?
SoYa stared breathlessly into the luminous expanse of light stretching in every direction. It burst through the writhing shadows, sending them screeching in agony, back into the depths of the forest.
“Zento,” a voice sounded from the star-lit figure. Though they had a distant, echoing quality, the words rang clearly to the Apprentice’s ears. “The Wayrift is open. Gather your family and pass through. Quickly!”
The winged man gave the scythe a final flip before he rushed back towards where TsuYa lay slumped on the stony ground. With a grunt, Father gathered him up in his arms. Then, his green eyes flicked back towards the tall, glowing pillar.
“What took you?” the warrior asked as if it was the most casual of conversations to have.
“I didn’t want to steal your fire,” came a surprisingly cheerful answer in return.
“Next time, feel free,” Father muttered. Then with a glance over his shoulder, he motioned towards the staring Apprentice. “SoYa! Gather close. We’re heading up.”
Needing no other urging, SoYa was already on his way towards the center of the circle. His voice could hardly be heard above the rushing roar of energy around them, “Heading up to what?”
His question hung unanswered as the light filled his every sense and the world around him faded away.