SoYa hissed as a sharp, stinging pain sliced through his upper arm. His defenses fell as the last of his concentration shattered away. The pain leapt on him from every direction, long, thin slits of agony rippling across his body. If the weapon had been a blade, the Apprentice he would have been slashed into a million pieces, but no sword was in use.
It was only the power of mind magic.
“Father!” he choked, “Father, stop!”
The command pounded through his mind, shaking his entire body with the force. During training, his father didn’t allow verbal communication. Only mindspeak. SoYa flailed out weakly, a desperate plea ringing through his thoughts.
-Put your shields up.-
I… ca…n’t… Father… please…
-Put your shields up!-
A broken cry escaped the Apprentice’s lips as his knees threatened to buckle.
-Defend yourself, SoYa!-
The Apprentice’s mind had gone too numb for the words to register. His pleads had fallen upon deaf ears. His face was streaked with sweat.
ZenToYa didn’t move a muscle. His eyes simply narrowed.
-If you can’t defend yourself, you will die out there.-
Finally released from the power, SoYa slumped in the grass. The Apprentice remained laying-face down as he attempted to gather his wits. He choked and gasped as the taste of dirt and sweat filled his mouth. A cooling breeze swept over him, tousling through the top of his matted hair.
SoYa expected training to be easy. He even looked forward to the first lesson with pride. He thought that he’d finally get the chance to show his father exactly what he could do. Only, things didn’t work out exactly as he thought they would.
For all the time that SoYa had believed himself to be strong in the area of mind magic, his own strength paled next to the power of ZenToYa. He didn’t know his father was versed in the mind sphere of magic, so it came as a shock when their minds first met, and SoYa crumpled pitifully under the weight of superiority.
And so it went. Day after day. Father would demand a training session. SoYa would return later that night, mind exhausted and confidence dwindling.
He could faintly hear the sounds of measured footsteps approaching him. A voice sounded next to his ear. He was thankful that it was not mindspeak.
“Others will not be merciful, SoYa,” Father’s voice was sorrowful yet stern. “That is the law of the Athrylith.”
SoYa bit back his words. His throat was too dry with grit to speak. He wanted to tell his father that he never wanted to be Athrylith to begin with. That he didn’t want to live by such vicious laws. That he never wanted to learn how to use this dreadful power. That he was happier simply being plain old SoYa…
But Father would not listen, and the Apprentice didn’t have a choice. He was what he was.
“Zento,” Kudako’s voice was gruff.
SoYa raised his head weakly. The Dragon perched silently upon a tree stump, his golden eyes watching the two of them intently. Father didn’t turn to acknowledge him.
“You do not build someone up by tearing their self-confidence down,” Kudako murmured. His fingers were busy knotting some of the slender ropes used as parts of their animal traps. “You know that.”
Somehow, the fact that the elusive warrior would speak up on his behalf left SoYa stunned. The Apprentice never knew the Dragon to show much affection for himself nor his brother.
“You never held your hand in training me,” Father stated firmly, planting a hand on his hip. “I turned out fine.”
“I knew your limits, Zento. This boy is not you.”
SoYa squinted at the Dragon in curiosity.
“He must grow or die,” Father’s voice lifted as the scowl widened on his face. “He doesn’t have a choice now.”
“People grow in different ways,” Kudako crossed his arms.
“His last display of power might have left them mind-wiped if we hadn’t found them soon enough.”
SoYa choked, “M…mind…wiped?”
Both of them turned to peer down at the Apprentice.
“Yes,” his father answered carefully. “During the ambush, you lashed out at the Marked., and you successfully took them down. However, you also nearly took out AsaHi’s senses, as well as your own.”
“I… I… didn’t know.”
“Do you think we’re doing this for nothing, SoYa?” He spread his wings before folding them again with a sigh. “I know you don’t understand, but I’m pushing hard because it’s important. There’s danger all around us, and you have to be focused enough to strike the right target next time. There will be a next time sooner than you think.”
SoYa pushed himself up on his palms shakily. Silence rolled through his mind. It felt good.
“Do you understand what I’m trying to say?” Father pressed. His voice was somewhat more gentle, his face lined deep with concern.
“I think so.” The Apprentice felt some of his anger washing away as his mind came to grips with his father’s explanation.
The words sounded so apologetic, so deeply worried. The light in the winged man’s eyes shown in sincere pain as he gazed down upon his son. “You can’t protect AsaHi if you end up hurting her every time you strike at the enemy.”
Something about that statement chilled SoYa to the bone.
Am I really that dangerous?
“That’s why it’s important that you get back up and fight,” Father placed a hand gently on SoYa’s shoulder. “No matter how hard it is, you can’t run away from the truth anymore.”
The Apprentice’s eyes flickered up. Somehow, the mere touch of his father’s hand seemed to ease his pain and exhaustion.
“Maybe so, Zento,” Kudako frowned. The sound of his footsteps was heavy as he strode towards the fire pit. “Still, be careful. Bitterness easy-earned is an anger that burns with little worth.”
Father grimaced. Before he could open his mouth to reply, a frightened shout from the distance overrode anything he was about to say.
Kudako perked up, head swiveling instantly at the word. Father, too, turned around, his eyes fixed in the direction the cry had come.
SoYa knew the voice instantly, “AsaHi!”
Father and Kudako were already on their way. Ever fleet, the two of them dodged through the bushes, leaving SoYa to pull himself together. The Apprentice grimaced, letting out one long breath.
It didn’t take very long before they returned. Ushered between them was AsaHi, shivering and very shaken.
“What happened?” SoYa demanded, voice cracking with worry.
Father pulled a blanket from the packs, wrapped the girl within it, and led her over to sit next to the fire. AsaHi began to try to detail her encounter in a half-babbling, half-sobbing voice. Her hands shook violently as she gripped the blanket. Her words trembled over one another as she fought to make sense of the story through her fear.
A lump began to form in SoYa’s throat as he came to sit at her side, face painted in stricken shock. He had never seen AsaHi so afraid before. Ever.
“That was very close, Morh-AsaHi. You would do well not to venture so far from camp in the future,” Kudako noted sternly.
“I didn’t know,” she choked. Her hands gripped the hem of SoYa’s robe, as if clinging for his strength. “I didn’t know the Marked were there…”
“I didn’t think those beasts would give up so easily,” Father’s tone dark.
“I thought we took them out at the pass?” SoYa blinked up in concern.
“Apparently not all of them. We’re going to have to be more careful. They’re getting tricky on us,” the winged man answered. “It was a good thing the Dragons were watching. I doubt we would have been able to come to AsaHi’s aid in time. ”
The Apprentice’s eyes flickered to the shaken form of the girl. She huddled under the blanket, eyes never leaving the light of the fire. The thought of AsaHi being attacked, and him not being able to protect her left SoYa trembling along side of her.
This is too much…
The Apprentice bared his teeth, eyebrows slanting down. A strange feeling began to spread within him, as if at the sight of AsaHi’s fear, a spark was kindled. A spark that had never been there before.
-Too much?- Father’s mindspeak was clear and sharp. SoYa could sense that he was angry about the attack as well.
When they try to hurt AsaHi… it’s too much.
-What are you going to do about it?-
Kudako peered over at the two of them.
One of SoYa’s hands balled into a fist.
Teach me how to protect her!
Father’s eyebrows lifted.
I want to learn to fight them!
SoYa’s gaze strengthened. When his eyes met his father’s, it seemed as if all weariness from the previous training had disappeared.
ZenToYa nodded to his son. A slow smile of approval crept across his face.