The burning in his chest tore TsuYa from the darkness of his sleep-haze with a sickly choke, his breath wheezing between his lips in labored gasps.
Again… this dream…nightmare… whatever it is…
He didn’t need to open his eyes to know where he would find himself. Part of him wanted nothing more than to remain curled in his own silence, hoping that if he didn’t look, didn’t see, the place around him wouldn’t exist. But the burning along the surface of his skin told him otherwise.
How long have I been here?
Laboriously, he forced his eyes open. They were now dark as the lurking shadows of the chamber’s hidden corners.
“Ahh!” TsuYa jerked back at the sight with a startled, raspy exclamation.
His reflection shone back at him from the surface of a looming glass structure — part of the strange silver globe that stood in the center of the chamber, just as it always stood in his dreams before. Only, this time, it was TsuYa’s own image that had changed. His complexion was darker, skin and hair taking on a sickly shade of grey.
“No!” he pushed away from the image, hands rising up before his face as if to shield his eyes from the terrible vision.
It was then that he saw his hands before him, perfectly fine, untouched by the darkness of his reflection. With a choking hiss of breath, TsuYa flicked his eyes back to the image in the glass, only to find his reflection once more unaltered and normal. Dark green eyes peered back at him, white hair, his skin even more pale than usual from rising fear.
What was that!?
Fighting to regulate the thrumming of his heart, TsuYa remained staring at the glassy surface of the cloudy silver globe. His breath came less labored as, for once in the dream state, the burning in his chest actually began to lessen.
Just a trick of the mind…
The only sounds within the chamber were his panting and the low hum of the strange mechanism that occupied the center of the chamber. The air was still and stale, not even a whisper of motion passing through the long dark streams of cloth that draped from the obscuring shadows of the chamber’s ceiling. There was still a heavy feeling of death lingering upon the stone of the walls, but it was old death, now. A haunting kind of death that shifted among the strange mists and drifted to caress the surface of the glassy, silver globe.
This place is full of mind tricks…
As the light of the globe shimmered in the depths of his eyes, there was movement from the soupy depths of the liquid within. Startled out of his self-thoughts, TsuYa jerked back in a quick crouch, ready for flight-by-instinct. Once again his pulse began to race faster, a sharp feeling of dread tingling through his limbs.
Something in there is alive?
Each time that he visited the dream before, there was a presence within the globe. The presence continued to grow more powerful, more dreadful with each return. This time, the whole room felt tight, wound with tension and trepidation.
Nothing’s ever moved inside that thing before.
As if in response to his thoughts, the movement came again. Just a shadow flickering from within the silver glow. The mists parted and swirled throughout the room, chilling his skin on touch.
TsuYa found himself taking another step back. Still, he couldn’t find the will to pull his eyes from the center of the globe. A terrible fascination drew him to watch, just as all of his logic screamed through his mind in warning.
This feeling… it’s… so…
A dull thud resounded through the chamber as the shadow moved within the globe again. This time he could make out a shape. It was a tiny hand, pressing against the glass of the globe, from the inside.
A gasp escaped TsuYa’s lips as he startled back, his daze split apart through sheer surprise. Just as quickly as the shape formed against the glass, the hand withdrew and vanished.
Another shiver wracked his body. A different sort of shiver. Not one that came from the pressing of the silver mists, but one that was familiar to him all the same.
“Welcome, TsuYa,” a woman’s voice resounded through the chamber. It turned his stomach inside out with familiarity. “I see that you’ve come to visit us again.”
She stood there, bathed in the depths flowing shadows, deathly blue light shimmering and pulsing across her skin. He grappled with surprise that she still remained there, alive, within the Nefolian spire.
TsuYa’s voice came in a hoarse rasp, “XaNi.”
“You left us, TsuYa. Lord Zerom was not pleased with that,” a slow, deadly smile slithered over her lips. “But I have proven my loyalty to him in a way that no mere Nefolian could. He’s appointed me the caretaker of his son.”
Son? No. She can’t mean…
TsuYa’s eyes darted towards the flickering of shadow within the silver mists of the globe.
“Yes. This is LuShi, the child-creation of Lord Zerom,” one hand lifted, motioning to the globe in the center of the chamber.
A deathly cold shiver rushed through TsuYa’s mind again, rendering him speechless.
His mouth grew dry, stinging eyes fixed on the globe once more, the sense of foreboding growing more and more sharp with each passing second.
In the old language, that translates to mean…
Echoes of his last argument with JouKa rushed to fill his head. The things that he dismissed so casually suddenly reared their head at him in fierce round-about.
The impossibility of the creature encapsulated in the silver globe, just a mere few feet away, numbed his body cold. Yet all he could do was stand there. Stand there and stare.
All this time, as I’ve been dreaming… Zerom has been creating this thing?
XaNi’s slick, dark voice rose around him, “This child will grow to mark a glorious victory for Lord Zerom and the Ghost Clan. Together, the Chaos and the Deep Magics will bring Zemi to his knees.”
“You want to fightZemi?” shock and surprise colored TsuYa’s voice.
“Lord Zerom warned Zemi, as I am warning you. For whatever reason, Lord Zerom still seeks you as his champion,” her voice turned cold as stone. “Where will you stand in this battle?”
“I will not betray…” he grit his teeth in response, fists balling.
“You still have a chance, TsuYa,” XaNi’s tone changed, now smooth as dark silk. The feeling of Zerom’s will wrapped around his mind, as her voice distorted, no longer her own. “The School. Nefol. Everything that your father and brother are forsaking… these things can be yours.”
A sudden jolt rushed through his limbs at the words. Nefol. His home… the School… everything that he worked for years to secure in the memory of his father. What would become of it now that the leaders fled? What of the people… of the teachings… of his position… his birthright?
“Indeed, it should be yours. No one has cared for it as much as you,” the darkness purred to him, the sound hovering closer, feeding into his emotion.
“That’s… true…” the words of agreement hardly sounded like his own. So distant, TsuYa could not feel the motion of his lips as he spoke.
One slender hand reached towards TsuYa, a welcoming motion. Compelled, the Apprentice felt himself moving forward. One wobbly step towards the rising silver mists.
“It can all be yours, TsuYa. You don’t need them to tell you how it is done. You don’t need them to tell you how to live your life.”
Zerom’s lying to you! Fight it!
His teeth bared, streams of struggling sweat trailing down TsuYa’s brow. Somewhere in the depths of his chest, the burning began again. The flickering image of his reflection, transformed — black-eyed, dark-haired – flashed through his mind.
You’ve fallen to his tricks before! Remember what happened the first time?
The extended hand groped further, becoming less welcoming and more demanding as Zerom felt his efforts being repelled. “TsuYa… you cannot escape what you are meant to become…. my Rhyswyr.”
This time revulsion grew so strong that TsuYa’s voice exploded through him, “No! Never! I’ll never bow to you!”
“You speak as if you have a choice,” a grim smile slipped over XaNi’s cold, white features as Zerom’s words passed through her lips.
As her fingers splayed wide, the pain within the Apprentice’s chest exploded in sharp sparks, rushing throughout his entire body. TsuYa’s head slammed backwards, reeling on the fragile length of neck as a ripping burst of wetness split open his lower cheek. His voice gurgled from gape-mouthed torment, fighting desperately to sound the agony that consumed him.
Reeling on the tips of his toes in a broken-back arch, his eyes rolling back into his skull, TsuYa felt his senses swim and scatter out of his reach. He heard a scream… a scream that didn’t belong to him. A woman’s scream, and the feeling of movement around him in the phasing darkness that swept over his vision.
Time and again, voices called his name. He felt himself shaken roughly, the pain intensifying, welling up until he could no longer bear it. An animalistic screech ripping from his throat, a sound so chilling, so inhuman, it seemed impossible that it came from him.
Jolted fully awake at the sound, TsuYa’s eyes flipped open, and the blur of his own room in Ceiswyr slowly filled his vision. Winged people stood staring at him from the threshold of his doorway, eyes wide with fear. JouKa and Aunt SaRa stood among them, their faces reflecting the same apprehension and concern.
“Tsu…Ya…?” Aunt SaRa finally spoke, voice wobbly and wary.
He gave a low, uncomfortable groan at the sight of so many people staring at him.
“Go on, now. Get back to yer beds!” JouKa turned instantly on the prying eyes, waving them away with wide sweeps of her hands.
Slowly, the people filed out, but not without a few wandering stares in TsuYa’s direction. Finally, JouKa pushed the door shut, turning her own pale face back towards the happenings of the room.
“Hedd-ynad… TsuYa…” Aunt SaRa approached him carefully. “Are you going to tell me that this was just another bad dream, too?”
“What… are you talking about?” he grumbled, fighting to regain his senses. The room wanted to keep spinning, leaving him too dizzy to grip his normal defenses against his Aunt’s kindly prying.
Aunt SaRa silently pulled a cloth from one side pocket. Folding it into a square, she reached out and gingerly dabbed at his cheek.
“Ow!” TsuYa hissed, suddenly aware of the terrible stinging that enveloped the whole left side of his face.
As she pulled the cloth away, he could see it was wet — covered with a thick black liquid. “I’m talking about this?”
One hand instantly shot up to his face, the stinging intensifying for one blurry-eyed moment. His fingers met with a number of long, yawning gashes that traced the entire lower area of his cheek. When he finally pulled his hand away, it too was covered with a slick black liquid.
His hand began to shake as he stared down at it.
What is this?
Gently, Aunt SaRa’s cloth was there, wiping the darkness from his fingers. And her voice broke through his panicked silence. “TsuYa, I think we need to hear what is going on now.”
Even after the darkness was wiped away, he couldn’t bring himself to drop his hand.
“Com’on, TsuYa. Let us ‘elp ya…” JouKa prodded, hands planted on her hips.
After a long moment of stunned silence, TsuYa looked up at them numbly. To his surprise, he heard himself choke in agreement, “Okay.”