SoYa sat bolt-upright in bed, a haze of sweat and fear clouding his eyes.
“Just a dream!” he gasped. “A dream! It couldn’t be real, it was all just a…”
His voice wavered, grew weak and faded.
No. I’m still here.
He was sitting in the white-gray room, in the white-gray structure, in the city in the sky. His fists balled up the bed coverings as his body grew rigid.
It wasn’t a dream.
After AsaHi led him to his room, SoYa decided to lie down for a few minutes to try and calm himself. Somewhere during that time, he must have closed his eyes, directly into an exhausted sleep. He didn’t know how long he slept, but there was no comfort found, even in the realm of dreams.
It wasn’t a dream…
Memory flashed behind his eyes, pain growing sharper and sharper within his chest. The image that he could not shake — the dead expression that met his own when he looked into his brother’s eyes.
Tsu, what happened to you?
Weakly, he pushed himself to his feet.
I’ve got to find him. I have to know what’s going on.
Padding quickly across the room, SoYa reached towards the door. It seemed little more than an outline on the wall.
How did this thing work for AsaHi?
His fingertips met with the smooth surface, brushing over it lightly. He could feel a shift in energies and hear a soft hum. Like a ripple across water, the wall wavered until an opening appeared across its surface.
Okay, now that’s really weird.
He eyed the opening suspiciously. It remained unmoving. Cautiously he stuck one toe over the door frame. When nothing happened, he rushed through quickly. Looking behind him, SoYa watched as it calmly closed.
Obstacle one down. Now…
Now he was left in the long expanse of hallway.
The walls were iridescent white and curved slightly inward, as if the building was constructed in a domelike manner. Though the architecture was all very simple, it appeared extremely complex to his mind’s eye. It felt as if he was walking through a living optical illusion.
Everywhere was an image of comfort, which only led him to feel the opposite. Just as he approached a wall, it would suddenly fade back into another hall, leading in a different direction. Only the swaying red and gold silks that hung on the walls gave him any sense of time or place. Otherwise, every hall looked very much like the last, and most of the time he couldn’t tell where the doors were.
SoYa had no idea how long he wandered before frustration set in. He eyed the nearest wall hanging with a somber face. The rearing gold dragon upon the cloth was familiar. Too familiar.
I’ve gone in a circle? How can that be?
His hopes were sinking.
And even if I do find my way through here, I still have no idea where they took Tsu.
He slumped with his back against the wall, a discouraged look on his face. Without even thinking about it, he muttered the plead-phrase that was so common to despairing young Apprentices, “Lord Zemi, help me.”
The world suddenly jolted, twisting around him. SoYa stumbled backwards as the wall he was leaning against vanished. Very unceremoniously, he ended up sprawled out on the cold white floor.
At first he thought maybe he’d leaned against a door without realizing it. Then, as his eyes darted to take in his surroundings, he saw that this was not simply another room. The way the walls sloped was different here, and something within the air pushed away the façade of comfort for the truth of reality.
At the end of the chamber, there was a single door.
SoYa looked at the door for a very long time. Something tickled the back of his mind — a pulse of warning. Though soft and evasive, it was enough to quicken his heartbeat. After all, he didn’t know where he was or how he arrived there.
Either I stay here, or I go in. Staying here isn’t going to get me back to my room, much less help me figure out where Tsu is.
Pushing himself up on his palms, SoYa got to his feet. His footsteps were eerily quiet as his feet met the floor. His hazy, upside-down reflection stared at the far wall, twinning his own expression. One hand reached out to touch the surface of the door. It opened with a quiet hum, just as the other door had before.
It was such a stark contrast on the other side that SoYa nearly backed out at once. Darkness. Darkness so thick that it choked the air. It crawled up the walls, clung to what had once been furniture and oozed against the window portal as if trying to claw its way out of the room.
Oh… hedd-ynad! I shouldn’t be here!
The door promptly closed behind him, shutting him inside.
SoYa spun around to face the now-blank wall. He hadn’t remembered taking a step into the room. His throat constricted as fingers flung demandingly against the surface. It did not respond. His palms slammed against it, demanding stronger. Sill yet, the wall remained solid.
Let me out of here!
He began to scrabble at the wall frantically. The last thing he wanted was to be there with all the…
SoYa peered down. The darkness was gone. Pressing his palms further against the wall, the Apprentice levered himself around to face the room behind him. All color drained from his face as his eyes focused on the figure in the center of the room.
It almost didn’t look like him, it was so hard to pick out anything recognizable. But even in such a state, SoYa knew his own brother. TsuYa lay, suspended in mid-air, hovering off the ground at chest height. His arms and legs were extended straight and still from his body, hair swaying lightly to a breeze that touched nothing else within the room.
Hundreds of long, thin tendrils of multicolored light spun across the room, meeting in a vortex of energy. Each strand was embedded into various places on TsuYa’s body. His flesh was so white it seemed to glow in frozen transparency. Patterned runes of light and shadow spun and capered like living creatures just under the surface of his skin. His eyes were open and unseeing, only hollow darkness churning where his soul once shown.
“No!” SoYa felt his insides retch up, as one hand shot up to cover his mouth. His other hand reached forward, stretching towards his brother’s form.
Maybe I can… maybe I can do… something…
“Don’t touch him.”
SoYa jerked back at the sound of the voice. Running his tongue nervously over his lips, he lowered his hand.
“The darkness that you saw is real and actively searching for a new host.”
“It doesn’t like being confined.”
“Confinement? Is that what you call this?” SoYa’s voice quavered as he slowly turned to face the direction of the voice. He froze as his eyes met the gaze of the creature perched in the corner of the room.
Pure pulsar energy radiated visibly from the core of the being. His eyes burned so brightly in contrast to the darkness that SoYa was afraid of shriveling away to nothing within the power of their light. The Apprentice flinched away instantly, panic written ten different ways upon his face. His mind shrank back from attempting to comprehend, as if knowing the truth was far worse than leaving the questions unanswered.
“SoYa, son of ZenToYa,” the light behind the slitted eyes intensified.
A frightened breath broke between the Apprentices lips.
“You asked to see this. Now what do you plan to do about it?”
“Me? Plan… to… do?”
“Yes. He’s your brother, correct? What do you plan to do about it?”
“You… know who I am?”
As the light subsided slightly, the outline of the face and sharp eyes became visible. “Of course I know, SoYa. How many years have you been my Apprentice?”
“L-Lord Z-Zemi?” SoYa couldn’t have been more shocked if someone had yanked the ground out from underneath his feet. His hands began to shake as a trickle of sweat instantly sprung to his brow.
The form shifted and rose to full height, a wild-haired shadow towering far above the young Apprentice. As the last of the light finally swept away, the Arweinydd’s full features were revealed. His face reflected a calm, almost concerned expression. “Now, then, don’t be alarmed.”
SoYa could only squeak, much to his dismay. Wide-eyed he clamped a hand over his mouth before he could do something to worsen his already mortifying situation.
Zemi’s mouth curved up, a single sharp fang showing at the corner. A deep, warm chuckle rippled through the room, the very air shifting in response. One large hand reached over and dropped on SoYa’s curly head, “You are indeed your father’s son.”
The Apprentice opened his mouth, peering up at the Dreigiau and scrabbling for something sophisticated to say. Unfortunately, his mind had totally jumped ship five minutes ago. “Is that a good thing or a bad thing?”
“Depends on how you look at it,” Zemi grinned impishly.
SoYa just stared up at him, staggered.
“Well?” the Arweinydd tilted his head.
“Uh! Uh… Lord Zemi… I…” SoYa began to bow, realizing that was probably what the Dreigiau was waiting for.
“Whoa, hold on!” his husky voice chortled. “I’ve seen you do that far enough back at the Host Gate. Can’t we get past that?”
Wha… what does that mean?
Zemi stuck out a friendly hand towards the Apprentice.
SoYa stared at it in disbelief.
I’m going to die, aren’t I?
Very carefully, he reached out, took the Arweinydd’s hand and shook it.
“I’ve wanted to meet you, all of you, for a very long time,” the Dreigiau peered down with a quiet look, releasing SoYa’s hand from his strong grip.
“You have?” SoYa blinked back. “Why? I mean…”
“Why not?” Zemi grinned. “You certainly lead interesting lives.”
“I suppose so,” the Apprentice turned his head slowly, eyes falling on the form of TsuYa once again. “You brought me here, didn’t you?”
“You asked me to help you find him, yes-no?”
“Ah,” SoYa coughed for a moment, thinking back to the quiet swear-plea he had uttered in the hall. “That… wasn’t supposed to be taken literally.”
“Well, it was.”
“I… I noticed.”
“Besides, you weren’t going to find TsuYa looking where you were. He was in a whole different building,” the Arweinydd nodded.
“I kinda figured,” the Apprentice peered at the lines of energy that streaked in every direction out from his brother’s body. “What are you doing to him?”
“I’m trying to save him, SoYa.”
The voice was so grave. So grim. It set his teeth on edge.
“What’s wrong with Tsu, Lord Zemi?” SoYa swallowed.
“Something has taken root within his body and it is very hard to remove.”
Zemi glanced down at the Apprentice with what almost seemed like a tired face, “Yes. The darkness.”
“You can fix him, can’t you?”
“I don’t know,” he admitted.
SoYa’s head jerked up, staring at the Arweinydd in astonishment, “What do you mean?”
“It was a dark seed planted within him by another of my kind. It’s very powerful, very potent and done in such a way that to remove it directly would kill him.”
“There has to be something?!” desperation barked out the sentence more sharply than he meant to.
The Dreigiau lifted his hands, palming at SoYa to coax him, “As you can see, I am doing all that I can to siphon it. But no matter what I do, my power is so similar in nature to Zerom’s, I cannot overcome this alone.”
“Zerom,” it was a name that SoYa had heard before.
“He’s the one who did this to your brother.”
Zemi looked down quietly, “I’ve yet to discover the whole story for myself.”
An overwhelming heaviness choked SoYa’s breath.
“SoYa,” Zemi’s words broke through his train of thought gently. “I didn’t bring you here to tell you that the situation is hopeless.”
“What can I do? I’m… I’m just an Athrylith,” the Apprentice’s sucked on his bottom lip as he admitted it. It seemed so pale and useless for the situation. “And my healing skills aren’t strong enough to touch something like this.”
“It is not healing skills that your brother needs now.”
“He needs someone who will fight for him.”
SoYa’s mouth opened slightly as he struggled to make sense of the words. “What do you mean?”
“I can’t describe everything at this moment, SoYa. I will just tell you that I can only sustain him like this for so long before I have to release him. And when I do that, it will only be a matter of time before the darkness begins to take him again,” Zemi’s voice was very grave. “We need to find a permanent cure.”
“Is there one?”
“I don’t know.”
SoYa stared down at the floor for a long moment.
“But I also can’t say that there isn’t,” the Arweinydd added quietly.
The Apprentice’s eyes grew slowly sharp and knowing. “I… understand. What do you need me to do?”
“Zento and I were hoping you’d say that,” Zemi’s face reflected down at him with what seemed to be relief. With a nod he strode towards the door. “Come with me.”
SoYa took a long, slow breath. Peering one last time at his brother’s form, he attempted to gain what was left of his composure. His mind was still swimming in drunken spirals as he followed the Arweinydd out of the room.