SoYa made his way double-time down the streets of Nefol. His green eyes watched warily over one shoulder as he rounded a corner.
Nefol. It had been SoYa’s home since he could remember. It was the first city of its kind, a civilization founded on hard work, courage and legendary skill. In Nefol, the magic arts first began to flourish and the knowledge of the arcane was offered to those who wished to learn secret truths. It was also there that fierce and powerful warriors were trained under the watchful hand of the mighty High Guide of Nefol – his father, ZenToYa.
For the first time in the history of the Inner Realms, people came to live, work and learn in an established city. When ZenToYa came to the Gatherings of old carrying the knowledge and strength of the Dreigiau with him, he turned society upside down.
In a land where cities had never existed, buildings now rose proudly, lining the streets of Nefol. Everything there revolved around the School and the structure that represented the ever-reaching ambitions of the Nefolians — the majestic tower known as the Spire. Even now, SoYa could see the shadow of the Spire stretching across his path as it presided tall and unwavering over them all.
Only, things haven’t been so good here, ever since father died.
Aunt SaRa would never say it outright. That father was dead. She always persisted in saying that he vanished or left. But everyone knew the truth – the Council proclaimed him dead. He had fallen in a valiant battle against enemies from the outside lands, and was remembered as a hero to the people he once led.
I wish he was here. He would know what to do.
In the shadow of his memory, ZenToYa had left two young sons. SoYa was the eldest, the one that was meant to follow in the footsteps of the mighty hero and become the next High Guide. It was no secret that the Council wasn’t too thrilled about the succession. Driven to greed by the lack of true leadership, more than one member sought to control Nefol for their own.
All that SoYa could do was keep his head down to ensure that he was not the target of that avarice. Still, he could sense when the Council held their meetings that it would only be a matter of time before they found a way to gain the power that they sought, even at his expense.
And now with what AsaHi has done, she will be caught up in it, too.
Since his talk with Aunt SaRa, SoYa felt a foreboding weight wherever he went, as if something dark and distant was watching his every move. From time to time, he could hear it – a whisper in the shadows. As much as he tried to ignore it or pass it off as imagination, it was only getting clearer. He swore he just heard it from a shadowy alley a few roads over… and this time, it called his name. Spooked, he made his way quickly to the closest place he knew to go. Somewhere that he wouldn’t be alone.
I’m sure Tsu won’t mind if I drop in.
TsuYa. The younger of the two brothers, and by far the more level-headed. If there was anyone that the Council saw as a strong potential leader for Nefol, it was surely the younger brother, rather than the elder. Strangely enough, TsuYa never made a move to take up that claim. Instead, he always defended SoYa, even protected him, from the Council’s scorn. Though he was tough and hardened by the loss of both mother and father at an early age, there was a true concern in the stern light of TsuYa’s eyes.
Still, I’ve been going to him for advice far too much lately. Who is supposed to be the oldest one here?
SoYa paused in front of the worn compound door. Before he could lift his hand to knock, the door opened. A hand shot out and grabbed his wrist, dragging him in.
“Wha-woah!” the Apprentice exclaimed as the door shut behind him. When he rounded, he was looking up into the face of his younger brother. “What are you–”
“No. What are YOU doing lurking around my door?” TsuYa crossed his arms with a dark frown. A scowl meant to hide strain and trepidation.
“I was coming to see you. Why?”
“There’s some crazy things going on,” he lowered his voice, eyes shifting around the chamber.
“Like what?” SoYa asked, swallowing the lump in his throat. He decided not to talk about the strange feelings that were haunting him, worried that he would put his brother even more on the edge.
“Like everything anymore,” TsuYa let out a long breath. Then striding across the length of the room, he pulled out a rolled piece of parchment from a hiding spot behind some of his books. “Check this out.”
The Apprentice took the scroll and unfolded it, eyes flicking over the contents. The further he read, the lower his brows dipped. “Children developing… wings? Wings!? And people coming up missing in the Gatherings? It sounds like some strange folk tale if you ask me.”
TsuYa rubbed the side of his face, “For all we know, it probably is.”
“Really then? If it’s nothing more than a folk tale, why are you so tense?”
“Listen, there’s not been anything confirmed on these reports, but I thought you should be aware of what some of the men are bringing back. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want rumors to start spreading all over.” TsuYa sighed, “You know how out of hand that sort of thing can get. Then you get the Gatherings riled up in the frontiers, spouting their Bane nonsense, as if things here haven’t been crazy enough.”
SoYa pursed his lips at his brother’s heavy-handed tone, “I suppose that’s true.”
TsuYa pulled out an extra cup and shook it out, examining its spotless condition. Then he set about fixing a cup of tea for his brother. There were not many cups on his shelf — he didn’t have people over often.
TsuYa was a serious child who grew into a quiet and solitary young man, especially since Father died. Not having known his mother very well, Father was his early childhood hero. Everything TsuYa ever wanted to become was in Father’s smile and approval. Though SoYa tried as hard as he could to help raise his brother, the only place TsuYa looked for love was in his father’s heart.
I wonder if what I’m doing now would make Father proud. I wonder what he would do if the Council turned against him.
SoYa’s thoughts trailed off as his brother brought him the cup of tea. TsuYa frowned, his green eyes fixed upon the dapple of light that played through the shifting reeds outside the window. There was an echo of apprehension on his face. For the first time, SoYa realized how pale it looked.
That’s when a soft melodic whisper rose to his ears, sending a prickle of fear running over SoYa’s skin. Then, it was gone.
“Hey?” he heard his brother’s voice reach out across the room, a strangely gentle murmur. “Are you feeling alright?”
“Wha..? Uh… yeah. I’m fine,” SoYa blinked once, the touch of the world running off of him like water on wax. He realized his hands were shaking as they gripped the cup. Some of the tea had spilt over the side, spattering his robe.
“SoYa,” TsuYa put his cup down and came to stand next to his brother’s shaken form. One hand reached out in silence, fingers dropping lightly upon the burdened shoulder. “What’s going on? Talk to me.”
When he answered, his voice was surprisingly weak, “I’m scared…”
SoYa didn’t trust himself to answer. Before he could find the words, TsuYa continued.
“Is it about AsaHi?”
“What… have I done wrong?” SoYa gritted his teeth, fighting to keep his voice level. “Is it all my fault?”
“You’re asking me?”
“Yeah,” he blinked up.
“It’s not your fault. AsaHi was responsible for her own actions. But the Council is probably not going to see it that way,” TsuYa answered grimly. “I think you could both be in danger.”
SoYa fell silent.
“Something else is going on, isn’t it?” TsuYa’s mouth curved in a downward slope.
Still only silence.
He leaned forward with a tilt of his head, “SoYa, you can talk to me. I’m your brother… if you’re in trouble, I want to help.”
SoYa gave a troubled look, folding his hands around the base of the cup. He promised Aunt SaRa that he wouldn’t tell anyone. But TsuYa wasn’t just anyone…
“AsaHi left Nefol last night.”
“What? Left?” his brother’s eyes widened. “What do you mean she left?”
“Aunt SaRa said there was a safer place for her and…” SoYa spread his hands, trying to explain.
“Well, this isn’t good,” TsuYa huffed.
“Running off… you know what that makes it look like? That AsaHi is guilty of something. That’s how the Council will see it,” he answered with a flustered sound. “It means she’s probably not going to be able to come back… not anytime soon. You realize that?”
SoYa lowered his eyes.
“Where did she go?”
“I… don’t know. I didn’t ask. I wasn’t even supposed to tell anyone she left,” SoYa answered quickly.
TsuYa just stood with a flushed frown. Then he took a long, solid breath, eyes leveling on his brother’s face. “Look. This is all really complicated. With the Council getting involved and everything… I think this is beyond us to deal with. We’re going to need some help.”
“What kind of help?” SoYa began wiping the spots from his robe with a spare napkin.
“I think you should go and talk to Lord Zemi,” the words dropped out of the air like a great weight.
The Apprentice blinked, turning towards his brother. It was the same thing that Aunt SaRa had suggested.
“I know it sounds nuts. But the only way the Council can nail AsaHi is if they can prove that she’s done something offensive in the eyes of Lord Zemi,” TsuYa explained with an intense look. “If you have Lord Zemi on your side, what can they do to her? Nothing. They’ll have no leg to stand on!”
“Tsu, if this is just another one of your ideas to upstage KoGuRai then–”
“Give me a break!” he snapped back, looking insulted. “I’m trying to help you here!”
“By sending me to the Host Gate where this mess started?” SoYa lifted his hands with a shake of his head.
“And why not? You don’t think Lord Zemi will help you?” TsuYa leaned back with crossed arms.
The Apprentice mulled the thought for a moment. “I don’t know. I’m here to serve him, not to ask for favors.”
“That’s not the way Father thought.”
SoYa found himself answering before he realized it, “Well Father’s not–”
There was an awkward silence between the two. The elder brother rubbed the side of his face, not daring to look over. He knew that he had slipped up.
Finally, TsuYa broke the silence. His voice was quiet and level, more than SoYa had a right to. “I know that. I just really believe that Lord Zemi will listen and help.”
SoYa peered up at his younger brother’s face. When he spoke, he spoke the truth as he believed it. And though TsuYa was sometimes hasty in his choices, it was rare to hear him encourage trust, even in the Patron that they both served. It was hard to deny that it all made sense.
“Are you afraid?” TsuYa asked.
“A little,” came the answer.
“How much do you love AsaHi?” was the unexpected question that followed.
SoYa fell silent, understanding what his brother was getting at.
“You chose to stick this out. So do something about it. For once, use your status! You can help her,” TsuYa murmured.
The Apprentice took a long, deep breath, staring down at his hands. “You’re right. I should at least try and see what Lord Zemi says.”
“There you go,” a slow smirk crossed the younger man’s face.