TsuYa didn’t know why it was so cold in his room. He piled the fire until it roared within the wall cleft, but nothing he did gave any warmth to his quarters.
It had been that way since SoYa left on his journey to speak to Zemi Dreigiau. TsuYa knew that SoYa wanted nothing more than to give his sincere apology and ask for assistance on AsaHi’s behalf. There was always something candid and earnest in his brother’s manner — deception and spite were foreign concepts to SoYa.
But it is also his weakness. His lack of ambition will never lead him to his birthright. If something doesn’t change, he will never be able to empower the School the way Father did. The Council will take it from us first.
Despite his sharp manner, TsuYa couldn’t deny his fondness for his brother. SoYa was the one person that he shared so much with – no one else knew him better. Then again, there were not many people who really wanted to get to know TsuYa at all.
I’m harsh with him, I know. But it’s for his own good! We’ve seen all of Father’s dreams fade away at the hands of these political gamers!
TsuYa felt his teeth grind as he thought about the Council and how his brother never stood up to them. About KoGuRai and his snide words. About the men that his rival gathered near him in the all too obvious attempt to overthrow their authority.
If only he had a bit more resolve! If only he’d defend himself and our inheritance. It’s as if becoming the High Guide of Nefol doesn’t matter to him at all!
As the chill in the room grew more pronounced, TsuYa pulled his cloak further over his shoulders. His eyes shifted towards the windows to make sure they were latched and not the source of the frosty draft.
A whispering hiss shifted through the room. And he felt it — a strange touch tickling the back of his mind. Everything within him recoiled from the sensation, a deep queasiness rushing through him.
The Apprentice turned his head with a jerk. Though a voice had sounded right next to his ear, there was no one there. The sound, the feeling… everything… reminded him of what he saw at the Host Gate.
Did it follow me to Nefol?
“Why are you here?” he called out, eyes darting around the room. He thought he might find courage in the sound of his voice, but it only reinforced how afraid he actually was.
~To give you everything you could dream of… and more…~
This time the voice came from in front of him. TsuYa turned just in time to see the fire begin to swell. With an eerie quiver, the golden flame abruptly lost all color, bathing the room in a chilling white light. As all heat was drawn into the expanding vortex, the chamber continued to grow more and more frigid.
Stumbling back, the Apprentice lost his balance over a wayward footstool and sprawled on the floor with a loud thump. A ghostly waver drifted up from the heart of the flame, two wings stretching from either side as a serpentine head erupted with a soul-shattering roar. TsuYa shook violently as the image of a white Dragon grew distinct. Its red eyes turned upon him, head craning forward slowly.
~TsssuuuYaaa… now your time has come…~
It took a moment before he could gather his voice. When he did finally speak, it was a whisper of his own, “Lord Zemi? But how did you–”
~I am greatly displeased with your brother.~
“You mean SoYa?” he shivered, mind reeling in attempt to make sense of things.
~Yes. His heart is weak, his spirit is of no use to me.~
“I am sure that even at this moment he has is coming to you to seek forgiveness for the disturbance at the Host Gate! Please don’t –” TsuYa’s words melted in his throat as the heat of the flame back lashed in his face. A growing fury raged in the Dragon’s eyes.
~Worthless creature of flesh! Do not order me unless you desire the same condemnation your other has earned!~
“N-no, Master! That was not my intent!” he choked, trying to keep his voice level and his knees from quivering.
~Steel your heart, servant. Fear and soulful longing win no power. His limp mind and devastating compassion render him useless to me. Do not fall into the same trap of weakness.~
TsuYa bit down on his lip, still shuddering at the heat on his face. Without warning, his body jerked back as a vast consciousness shifted around him, caressing his mind in warm, tingling strokes.
~He has forfeited his natural birthright through his limitations. The time has come for you to rise above him and take these matters in your own hands.~
“Rise above…?” TsuYa’s vision was fading, becoming blurry. He tried to fight the feeling, but it was as if the voice was burning thoughts straight into his mind. Thoughts that were not his own.
~He is not worthy of his position. He would allow the Council to come and destroy all that was built in your father’s name. He would stay his hand as Nefol comes crumbling down.~
“SoYa..?” the word came as a hoarse, broken whisper. “But I can’t… he’s my brother. He’s the one meant to be…”
~Should not the strongest rule? You are obviously the one gifted with your father’s power and courage.~
~Don’t you think he envies you for this?~
A stricken expression flew across TsuYa’s face and he shook his head very slowly, “No, not SoYa.”
~Don’t be deceived. Don’t you think he sees you as a threat?~
The whispering coil wound around and around his mind, nearly choking him as each word sliced through the last susceptible areas of his heart. One hand lifted towards the Dragon spirit in a tormented grope.
~Can you simply stand by and watch the School and Nefol wither away?~
“No…” TsuYa croaked, “No, I can’t…”
~Then rise and take up your Father’s legacy! It’s your rightful place. It’s what you were born to become!~
“But what if SoYa objects? What if he fights me?”
~He will. And when he does, you must show no mercy, or else all of Nefol will fall.~
With a final hiss, the fire shuddered, melting back down into a low, dwindling amber flame. The room was darker, more foreboding.
~No mercy. I have spoken.~
TsuYa slumped forward, drooping with exhaustion as the vast presence faded away. The firelight illuminated the grief-stricken lines of his face, his voice hoarse and muted, “Brother…”