SoYa was sitting there, just like every other time that TsuYa woke.
His mind faded in and out, carried on waves of restless sleep and nausea. Everything was fuzzy in his vision. Everything was faded in his memory. He knew that time had passed, but he couldn’t tell how long he had been asleep.
This time, TsuYa stayed awake. Though his thoughts were sluggish and hazy, he could keep his eyes open. His whole body felt weak. Heavy. Unmoving. Images flickered through his mind, seeming too bizarre to be true.
What happened to me?
SoYa looked as if he was about to doze off. His head propped up on one fist, there were deep circles of unrest and worry under his eyes, and his hair was more disheveled than normal. TsuYa couldn’t help but wonder how long his brother remained at his bedside.
Himself, hands gripped tightly around the haft of a black-bladed scythe. It was once been his father’s blade. He was dressed in his father’s robes. The point of the weapon was leveled at SoYa’s throat.
Shivering, TsuYa grasped weakly at the edge of the covers. One word resounded sharply through his mind. Though his memory wavered, there was one thing he remembered clearly.
A mind mage.
A mage with the power to rip the mind apart — to use, to control, to destroy other people. They were hated. Hunted. Slain. And his brother had secretly been one of these mages all along.
How can this be? All this time, SoYa let us believe he had nothing more than healing powers. That he’d never be strong enough to claim the School. But…
TsuYa gave a ragged breath.
In the end, he was much more powerful than anyone could have imagined. Even more powerful than me.
Which was a strange thought. As they grew up, TsuYa was considered the more talented of the two brothers. It was always secretly whispered that SoYa would never be the one to inherit the School simply because he lacked power and confidence. Now the reason for the cover-up seemed too obvious.
His face grew troubled. SoYa was the last person he could believe held such a terrible secret — the last person that should have the power to enslave the mind others around him.
“Why did you never tell me?” TsuYa’s voice was weak and hoarse. He could hardly recognize it.
Almost instantly, SoYa startled awake, his eyes flickering open. The Apprentice stammered, gaze falling on his brother, “Wha-what? Oh… Tsu! I must have dozed off. How long have you been awake?”
SoYa leaned forward, “How are you feeling?”
“I don’t know,” TsuYa answered honestly.
“You don’t know?”
“I feel… sorta… strange,” he tilted his head to get a look around the room. “What happened? Where are we?”
“How much do you remember?”
“Not a whole lot. Just little flashes.”
SoYa pursed his lips. It looked like he had something to say, though he seemed to decide against it, “It’s okay. It’s probably better that way.”
Because you don’t want me to know.
TsuYa frowned slightly. He found that his face hurt when he did, “No, it’s not okay. Tell me what happened.”
“I’m not completely sure myself. You don’t remember anything at all?” he seemed very uncomfortable to approach the topic.
Not that TsuYa blamed him.
“Just… a voice.”
“Voice?” SoYa squinted. “What kind of voice?”
“In Nefol. I first heard it around the time you left,” TsuYa grimaced. “It wanted me to take Father’s place in the School. That’s probably why I thought it was Lord Zemi at first. After the voice came, I don’t remember a whole lot… there’s this big blank spot in my mind.”
“The voice must have been Zerom.”
“It’s a long story,” SoYa gave a soft sigh. “And I don’t even know if I understand the whole thing. Suffice to say, Lord Zemi told us that you were under the influence of another Arweinydd.”
“What?” he choked. “How?”
“I’m not sure. That’s just what Lord Zemi says,” he spread his hands quietly.
“So, you did get to see him at the Host Gate?” TsuYa asked.
“Well, not exactly…”
“Then how do you know this?”
“That’s sorta a long story too,” SoYa scratched the back of his head.
“Does it look like I’m going anywhere?”
“What if…” SoYa leaned forward again, voice lowering. “I told you that Lord Zemi is living right here with us? That this place is Lord Zemi’s city in the sky? That he’s taken on a physical Earthian form and that I’ve actually spoken to him face to face?”
“I’d wonder what you’ve been drinking and I’d ask you to order me one,” TsuYa replied with a straight face.
SoYa gave a little smile. It was the first one so far.
“And?” TsuYa pressed.
“Well, it’s true.”
“You want me to believe that?”
“It’s crazy sounding, I know,” SoYa waved his hands around quickly. “But you just have no idea. Lord Zemi is nothing like we thought he would be!”
“Sounds like a running theme around here then,” TsuYa muttered softly.
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“Do you really want to ask?”
“I just did.”
He was not the hesitating type. But for some reason, at that moment, it was so hard to bring the words to his lips. It wasn’t as if he didn’t already know the answer. Still, it just wasn’t the sort of thing you said to someone else, especially your own brother.
“You are an Athrylith.”
SoYa’s face grew deathly pale as every inch of his body froze stiff. He looked like he wanted nothing more than to shrivel up and die right there.
“Aren’t you?” TsuYa’s voice was quiet.
His brother simply wrung his hands, just like he always did when he was too stunned to speak.
“Yes?” he prodded.
“Yes,” SoYa’s voice wavered.
Suddenly TsuYa regretted bringing it up. As much as the Athrylith were hated and shunned, his brother’s reaction struck an emotion within him that he didn’t even know was there. He lifted his hand towards his brother, “SoYa… hey…”
SoYa’s gaze fixed on his lap, shame and struggle plainly written across his face. He looked like he was about to fall apart right there.
“I know what you’re going to say…”
“Hold on a sec–”
“I don’t blame you,” he choked. “I wouldn’t want to be in the same room as me either.”
“Now, I didn’t say tha–”
“You’d probably rather talk to Father anyway,” SoYa got to his feet shakily. “I’ll go get him.”
His brother turned away without a glance back and made a hurried rush for the door.
“SoYa!” TsuYa’s voice grew more pleading and hoarse, “Don’t leave!”
One palm flat against the wall, SoYa froze.
Seeing that he finally had his attention, TsuYa pressed on, “I wasn’t accusing you of anything!”
“You don’t have to…” the voice was broken and miserable.
“What are you talking about?”
“The whole Council knows. They saw me,” SoYa choked. “I took their minds, Tsu. I’ve never done anything like that before, but I did it then.”
Took their minds?
“The Council that–” he paused. “You don’t remember, do you?”
Faint flickers shifted back to him. He couldn’t grasp the details of the situation, things were far too murky in his mind. The only thing that he could clearly remember was that SoYa was an Athrylith.
“Not much.” A sinking feeling gripped the pit of TsuYa’s stomach, “SoYa, what did you do?”
“Ghost Clan. They… they… were attacking Aunt SaRa and I lashed out!” he moaned softly. “I just wanted to protect her, I swear! I never meant for it to go that far!”
It’s just like SoYa to be regretful over what has to be done to save someone’s life…
“Did you protect her?” TsuYa let out a long breath. The tenseness was slowly draining out of his body.
SoYa fell silent.
“I… guess…” he looked down.
“Were they really going to hurt her?”
“I think so. I really, honestly believed they were.”
TsuYa said softly, “Then you’re a hero.”
SoYa froze. “Hero? Me? After doing that?”
“Generally if you save someone else’s life, you’re considered a hero, right?”
“But what about the people I hurt? I don’t consider that very heroic,” he argued.
“You didn’t kill them, did you?” TsuYa’s eyes began to focus more readily.
“I certainly hope not,” the answer was meek.
“Then why are you worried about it?”
TsuYa paused for a moment, “Actually. No.”
“No?” SoYa turned around slowly, eyes thoroughly puzzled. “Why not?”
“Because I know you,” TsuYa stated quietly. It was the one moment he didn’t want his uncertainty to show through.
Oh Light, SoYa… I hope I know you.
His brother just stood there in silence.
“You’re just not like that,” TsuYa added.
SoYa’s hand slipped down from the wall.
“Okay?” TsuYa held his breath, hoping for a positive answer.
SoYa’s voice was hoarse when he answered, “Okay.”
The two of them watched each other in equal silence. There was a grateful expression on SoYa’s face.
“Now,” TsuYa chided softly. He was beginning to feel a bit more like himself. “What’s about this place you call Lord Zemi’s city?”