TsuYa sat at the edge of the Island.
Every morning he came to watch the fog burned away. It unfurled in a silent ritual until the mountains below emerged a deep green-grey, like a gift offered up, cupped in the palms of the earth. The clinging mists continued to shift, rising to play beaded dew upon the blades of grass between his fingers. Sometimes a streak of rainbow shone, flitting between the shadows of birds.
This was the world of his distant captivity. The earth below, though majestic in its rugged resolution, was dim in contrast to the vitality of Ceiswyr.
In the middle of the silence of his morning, the voice came. “So, yer the big lousy brute that made lil’ Suzume cry!”
“What?” TsuYa jerked his head around.
One of the winged people stood there — a girl with pale green eyes staring daggers into every unprotected area of his body. Her face had the look of one who spent a lot of time in inhospitable lands and survived. Short-cropped white hair fell into her eyes in unmeasured clumps, not messy, but not tame either. She wore men’s slacks and a small overshirt, looking not in the least bit girly.
Her hands were fixed sternly to her hips, a fact which he was glad about. Otherwise, it looked as if he might have been in danger of getting a fist in the face.
“You ‘eard me! What’s the big idea sending a lil’ girl off in tears!” she grated at him.
“That’s none of your business,” TsuYa frowned darkly.
Usually one scowl was enough to make most people think a second time before talking down to him. It didn’t even ruffle the winged girl’s confidence. Instead, she shoved a finger straight into his face.
“I’m all about knowin’ what’s goin’ on with the child! She’s been left in my care,” the finger wagged with each accented syllable.
“Your care?” TsuYa brushed at an invisible strand of grass on his tunic front, making it very obvious that her display meant absolutely nothing to him.
“You ‘eard me right. I’m the one that’s lookin’ after her.”
“How come you’re never doing your job, then?”
“What?” her tone turned dangerous. Fists balled at her sides, working in irritation. “Are you callin’ me negligent?”
“Actually, I was looking for that very word.” He smirked, “Thanks.”
TsuYa ducked back the moment he saw her fist flashing towards his face, just in time to avoid the tactical feint towards his nose. But he was not fast enough to realize the real blow was coming in a powerful upswing to his stomach.
TsuYa buckled over the ball of her fist with a sharp choke, face contorting in absolute shock.
“Yer welcome to it anytime.”
The winged girl flipped a strand of short hair as she pivoted on one foot and strode away. The very clouds parted in agitation as she passed through. The Apprentice couldn’t bring himself to blink until she had disappeared around the corner of the far building.
Then he fell to his knees with a low groan. He knelt there for a while, struggling to get his wits about him. It was certainly not what he had expected when he had set out to take a short walk that morning.
What kind of monster did Aunt SaRa put in charge of Suzume? No wonder the kid wants to hang around me all the time.
“My, my Tsu. You are quite handy with the girls, aren’t you?”
A scowl crossed the Apprentice’s face. It took a moment of squinting into the sunlight before he could make out the shape that stood peering down at him.
Great… she saw that. Now I’m never going to live it down.
Her face was marked with a droll sort of concern. “Are you okay?”
“Yeah,” he grumbled. “I’m fine.”
“Of course you are, dear.”
He winced, sitting up. The motion made him nearly sick to his stomach. “Come on. It’s not that bad.”
“I’ll take your word for it,” she gave a sly smirk.
TsuYa gave a long, painful breath as he hoisted himself to his feet, “What got into her? I thought these winged people were supposed to be all good and nice and stuff.”
“Good and nice?” Aunt SaRa grinned. “Zento has wings. You tell me the last time your father ever been good?”
He paused for a moment, “Point taken. But, still…”
“You’ll live.” She placed a cool hand on his forehead clicking her tongue, “But you really need to do better than that.”
“What do you mean?” he huffed.
“You don’t just go out of your way to insult people who come up to address you, Tsu.”
“Address me? She was practically ready to tear me apart from the first word!”
“She was just upset about Suzume,” Aunt SaRa frowned.
“Hey, I told you. It was just a joke. I didn’t mean anything by it,” TsuYa grimaced. “And I certainly didn’t do anything bad enough to deserve having my stomach relocated a foot higher in my internal body cavity!”
“She’s a tad… eccentric.”
“Yeah well, what’s Miss Eccentric doing taking care of the Little Girl from the Black Void?”
“Tsu,” she chided. “Be good.”
He huffed and glowered at his feet.
“She needs the responsibility.”
“You trust her with a little girl?”
“She’s well-meaning. Just a bit over protective,” Aunt SaRa replied. “She’s also hasn’t quite adjusted to life in Ceiswyr.”
“Well, neither have I, but I don’t go around punching people in the stomach.”
“No, you just scare the little children with your big pointy weapon.”
TsuYa fought to hide his grimace with a growl, “And that gave her the right to punch me? Seriously? I don’t even know her name!”
“Do you want to?” Aunt SaRa eyed him.
“No,” he snorted. “She could drop off the edge of this light-forsaken city for all I care.”
He frowned in return, “Aunt SaRa, tell me something.”
She peered at him silently. Waiting.
Bitterness welled up within him. His words stung as he bit them off one by one, “Why does everyone hate me before they even know anything about who I am?”
When Aunt SaRa finally answered, her voice was stern. “That’s not entirely true. However, why people act the way they do is something you’re going to have to answer for yourself, TsuYa.”
“That’s what they all say. I think it’s just a bunch of–”
“Her name,” she interrupted, “Is JouKa.”
“I told you I didn’t want to know.”
“Too late. You know now whether you like it or not.”
His dark eyes grew narrow.
“And you better figure out a way to deal with her.”
“Because you’re both going to be helping watch over Suzume.”
“What?” his eyebrows shot up, then swept down in a deep scowl. “What do you mean watch over Suzume?”
“She requested you.”
“Requested me?” he demanded. “I thought the kid was scared to death of me. Why would she request me?”
“I don’t know, but she did. We asked her who she wanted as a caretaker and she pointed you out,” Aunt SaRa’s voice was obviously well pleased.
“Don’t I even get a say in this?”
“Because it would be good for you to do it.”
“What if I refuse?”
“It’s partially because of you that she’s here to begin with,” the winged woman answered quickly. The expression of self-shock afterwards indicated that she let something slip.
TsuYa peered intently at her. His lips spoke the words, though something within him warned sharply that the answer was better left unknown, “What do you mean?”
“We… will discuss that at a later time.”
“No. I want to know,” he demanded. “I want to know what happened!”
“It was back in Nefol, when I didn’t have control of myself, wasn’t it?” his face grew sharp. “And whatever it was still scares that kid senseless…”
Aunt SaRa fell silent.
“What is Llofruddiaeth?” TsuYa insisted.
Her face grew pale, “Where did you hear that word?”
“It’s what the kid called me before she ran off the other day.”
“What does it mean?”
“It’s… a terrible thing… to call someone else. I don’t know how she came by such a term.”
Aunt SaRa peered up at him with a slightly defeated expression on her face. “It translates loosely into ‘murderer’. It holds a connotation of the murderer being of highly twisted and evil intent.”
“Why would she call me that?” Something about it sent a chill racing through his whole body. His mind began to run wild in thought. “What… did I do to her, Aunt SaRa?”
The winged woman peered down with a saddened look, “Tsu, I just made a fresh batch of cookies. Why don’t you come to the kitchen so we can talk?”