It was a smudge.
It turned into a blot. That turned into a spot. That turned into a Mark. That turned into a puddle. That turned into a pool. That turned into his reflection on the still, inky darkness.
He was standing on it, staring at the world upside down. It passed him by, never seeming to notice or care. He reached out and pressed. Pressed against the surface. It was liquid. And solid. And liquid. And solid. Then gas.
His mouth tore open as his body arched back. The darkness filled his lungs, choking him, sending a stream of shadow behind him. Black wings. The smudge shifted into black wings.
Wings spread, cupping the air.
He glided. One never knew they were capable of gliding until it came to pass.
The world reflected above him. It was gray, hazy, faded out. Not the world that he used to know.
There were voices. They came to him every now and then. They rose and fell on the winds. Some of them he knew.
But Father is dead.
He was there.
No, he’s dead. They said he was dead.
They were wrong.
Is that possible? He left us. He went away.
A teenage boy stood all alone. He faced the window, staring out at the gray, rain-swept lawns. He was dressed in a long black robe. His face was hazy, undecipherable. There were streaks of tears on his cheeks.
He turned around. His brother was there. His big brother, SoYa.
Strange to think he’s older than I am…
SoYa had been bigger than TsuYa back then. But he was still gentle. Always gentle.
No! Not weak! Gentle.
A shadow of a handprint. On his shoulder. SoYa squeezed it firmly.
He was trying to help. He was always like that.
But now Father was dead.
Everything for Father. Father’s name. Father’s praise. Father’s happiness.
No — love!
I miss him.
“Tsu. Are you going to be okay?” SoYa’s voice was quiet. He, too, had been crying.
He was always such a crybaby. I used to have to stick up for him because he could never defend himself.
It was okay to cry now. Everyone said that. But he didn’t cry. He didn’t cry until he was alone.
“I’ll be fine.”
The words were distorted, as if hearing them through miles of static.
What could he say?
My world has fallen apart.
He couldn’t admit to weakness.
Father was never weak.
“I know what you’re thinking,” SoYa’s words were trying to be comforting.
Laughable. You couldn’t know. You don’t understand anything.
SoYa had known Mother. He grew up knowing Father, though the two had never been that close.
No, just different. He was always different.
Hiding. He was hiding something. I never knew until now.
Just afraid. Afraid that everyone would hate him if they knew the truth.
Just like me.
“We must uphold Nefol. That’s what you’re thinking, right?”
“Yeah,” his voice was distant static. Again.
“It’s a big job, but that’s what Father would have wanted from us. You know that, right?”
“Don’t be afraid, Tsu,” the words were meant to be encouraging. Even so, SoYa was only speaking to encourage himself. SoYa wrapped his arms around his brother.
But SoYa wasn’t Father. Father was dead.
A tear streaked down his cheek…
…dropping off the pained edge of his face to…
…ripple in the dark pool that stretched beneath him.
His reflection shifted.
The memory faded.
He was left with himself. And the darkness.
Streams of color spiderwebbed from his form. He was lying deathly still. His arms and legs were stretched out.
Something is sitting on my chest.
So hard to breathe.
-you are mine-
No… no… I am not!
Take it back!
I don’t want it anymore!
I want –
“Tsu, can you hear me?”
It can’t be…
“I’m so sorry, Tsu!”
Warmth. A hand.
Something pressed his hand. It was warm. Warm, unlike the bands of liquid color that spread through his vision.
“We aren’t giving up on you yet, I promise. We will fight.”
“You’ve got to fight, too. Please, please Tsu!”
Another pressure on his hand. Something wet.
Someone was crying…
A teenage boy stood all alone.
“Tsu, you can’t leave us. Not after I’ve finally found you again!”
He faced the window, staring out at the gray, rain-swept lawns.
“There’s so much I want to show you in this world… the city… the possibilities! All the things I’ve learned!”
He was dressed in a long black robe.
“I swear… I swear I’ll fight the one who did this to you! Arweinydd or not!”
His face was hazy, undecipherable.
There were streaks of tears on his cheeks.
Choking sobs. Absolute sorrow. Someone was crying. Crying his name.
A welling. Sorrow rising to meet sorrow. A sound vibrated through him, spilling from his throat. One word. A distant static buzz.
The black wings melted.
There was stunned silence. Then.
He was falling… falling towards the darkness of the pool below him. His reflection. It grew. It grew and shifted the closer he fell. Dark eyes burned out at him. Dark hair. Marked face. It was him, but it wasn’t…
“Father… help me!”
His hand — he could feel it! A warm, stern grip.
The pool of darkness fanned out below him. It couldn’t touch him. It was pushed away.
“Tsu! Tsu, keep talking to me!”
A touch on the cheek!
He coughed. He could feel the pain of a thousand pin pricks through his body. His lungs convulsed, thick liquid ran from between his lips.
The lines of color and light spun more frantically.
“Zemi!” a hoarse cry. “Zemi! Help me! Tsu — something is happening to him!”
Another set of hands — they burn! Touches of fire upon his forehead. His chest. His shoulders. His arms.
He could feel the entirety of his body. Pale. Cold. But there.
Blood struggled to move again. It fought against the bands of light and color. More liquid choked up from between his lips.
“Turn him over, quickly!”
Someone turned him on his side.
It dripped. It dripped. It dripped away. A murky taste. Murky like the pressure of darkness that had filled his breath.
“Tsu, hang in there! Stay with me, now!”
“Speak to me!”
A gurgling cry. It sounded so weak. So pitiful.
-is this what you’ve become-
I don’t care!
His body burned! The darkness didn’t want to leave him.
“What’s wrong with him?”
Father was upset.
No, I’m sorry! I’ll do better!
But the screech continued. Inhuman. It shouldn’t have come out of his mouth.
I promise! Don’t be upset!
Black eyes reflected up at him from the pool.
-you are mine-
No! That’s not me!
A gushing warmth from within. It emptied itself through his mouth. Liquid sound from below.
“SoYa, get me a bucket of water! Quickly now!”
Footsteps scurrying. And vanishing away.
Clawed fingers reached up from the pool below. They did not touch him. They couldn’t. The spires of light and color drove them away.
“Here’s the water!”
“Bring it over here, quick… good!”
Coolness. Water. On his skin.
The water sizzled on his skin.
Steam? Can steam rise from a living body?
-do you still believe you are what you once were-
A moan. Even that was static. Animalistic.
“What’s happening to him?”
“The Shadow of Zerom is taking him. He’s becoming like the Marked…”
“TSU NO! You have to fight this!”
..it’s Father’s will…
-he cannot save you now-
…I must… I can’t!
His body began to break apart. He could feel every inch shatter. His fingers tightened, clawlike. His mind reeled and screeched. His whole body arched forward. His shoulders burned for wings. The darkness pulsed through his form.
“ZEMI!” a shriek.
A new pair of hands. The color of starlight behind his eyes.
-you cannot take him!-
A terrible howl flung outward. It shifted, changing sounds until it became a scream.
-he is mine!-
“FAAAAATHER!” his scream ripped out of him. Air filled his lungs. He gasped.
He reached. Fought. Hands were upon him again. They held him down. His body was still on fire, though a fire of a different kind.
It was his own. Or someone else’s. He didn’t know.
His mind was so clear. Yet so fuzzy. So twisted. The weight rose from his chest. His body began to shiver, growing cooler.
“He’s coming out of it! Where’s SaRa?”
“I’m right here… oh… oh Light… Tsu!”
“SaRa, we need you to–”
“I know, give me some room.”
Icy cold. Two points of light behind his eyes. It was small at first, then it spread over his whole being. A coolness that was not uncomfortable. Not after the pain of the heat.
“Come on, Tsu, speak to me! We can’t lose you!”
“Calm down, Zento. Move over and let the woman do her work!”
Cool… then warm… rivulets… alternating. Revitalizing. He could feel the life seeping back through his limbs. They became heavy. He was sinking.
The floor touched his back. It was cold and slick.
Many pairs of hands reached for him. Voices overlapped each other. He fought to make sense of what they were saying.
One voice rose above all the others, “Tsu? Do you hear me? Can you speak?”
A soft groan issued from his lips. His nose itched but his hand was too weak to scratch it. His throat was parched and raw. But his breath was regular as the blood began to flow through his body once again.
“Father…” he breathed softly. “I hear you.”
“Oh, thank the Light!”
A soft touch on his face. TsuYa’s eyes opened. They were now a very dark shade of green.