“So you are TsuYa, the son of ZenToYa?” the deep, calm voice intoned across the expanse of the Gathering Room. Now that the welcoming festivities were over, sound seemed to carry and stretch through the open space in an unusual way.
“Yes, that’s right?” TsuYa gave a startled glance up from his thoughts and lingering after-scents of dinner, not having realized that he wasn’t alone. The golden-eyed stranger stood there – a man who was only quickly introduced to him earlier. All that TsuYa knew was that he went by the name of Aur. “Why?”
Without so much a word of explanation, the large man reached out one hand and took TsuYa firmly by the chin. With a slight twist of the wrist, Aur forced the Apprentice to tilt his head back until the bandaged area on his cheek was exposed.
“Wha.. what do you think you’re doing?!” TsuYa protested with a sharp snap, trying to dislodge himself from the stranger’s grasp.
At that moment, Father appeared in the room, returning from helping put away the dishes from that night’s big supper. The winged man took one glance at his son’s struggle and quickly demanded, “Tsu… hold on! Don’t!”
TsuYa already recoiled a good three feet away from the golden-eyed man, crouching low and ready against the assault. As the sound of the voice rang out, the Apprentice turned, giving his father an odd stare, “But he’s…”
“He’s trying to help you, Tsu,” Father glanced between the two of them. There was something about his stance that seemed on edge, as if a lot was riding on whatever was about to take place.
Aur just watched him with quiet, hooded eyes.
“What do you mean?” TsuYa turned back to the stranger with a frown.
“I haven’t had much time to explain, I know,” the winged man answered. “But just give me a chance here… let me try?”
The Apprenticed nodded, falling silent, though still stiff and at ill ease. It was true that there was very little time to talk after the Dragons’ arrival. There was a huge reception in the compound with lots of celebration and a big feast that followed. All the things that lingered on TsuYa’s mind to discuss were pushed far out of his reach for as long as the festivities continued. But now that dinner was over, things were quieting down.
Maybe now, I can get some answers.
Father spread his hands toward the stranger with a respectful motion. “I know that you were only quickly introduced before. I’m really sorry about that. As you know, this is Aur. He has traveled back with us from the Spiral where he was originally…”
Why the words trailed off, TsuYa didn’t know. Even Aur was watching the winged man with a hint of curiosity.
“Well, he was…” he paused again and glanced over at the golden-eyed man. “You know, I don’t even really know what you were? We always just called you something like the ‘Creature from the Time Before’… but that sounds awful… I dunno… weird to use as an introduction?”
TsuYa felt his choked surprise before he heard it.
The Creature from the Time Before… the Golden Lion that they spoke of? The one that might have the power to…
Shoving all of his racing thoughts aside, the Apprentice stepped forward, hands spreading wide as he asked, “You are the one that Father went to look for, then?”
“And you are the son that he worries greatly about,” Aur gave a slow nod to confirm. Then he added, “ZenToYa has requested that I help you.”
TsuYa’s whole being responded, perking up at the words. Once again, the bubbling sensation of hope rose in his chest. “Can you?”
“Perhaps. But I must be allowed to survey the illness first.”
“Oh?” he said slowly. One hand inadvertently touched the bandages as he realized what that would include, “You mean… take off my…”
“Yes,” Aur nodded. “I sense infection.”
TsuYa choked further at the term.
Infection? Is that what you call it?
“What infection?” Father’s glace grew concerned, his hands clutching nervously at the back of the nearest dining chair. His eyes were puzzled as they studied his son’s face.
So far, TsuYa was able to escape explaining the meaning of the bandages on his face. But not for much longer.
Still, if this guy can really do something to fix me… then it’s worth it.
“May I see?” Aur asked politely. Obviously he now understood that the Apprentice didn’t like to be forced into touchy-feely situations.
TsuYa swallowed and nodded slowly. “Alright… it’s not pretty though.”
“I did not think it would be,” came the grim answer.
TsuYa’s hands shook a little as he began to fumble with the bandages on his face. Despite the fact that he was often the one to dress his own wound, somehow, exposing it like this made the process far harder.
What will Father think of me when he finds out everything that’s been going on? Will he be ashamed of me for being so weak? Already he’s put his life on the line to bring me a cure for this mess I made for myself.
The sticky sound of gauze peeling away from skin was loud in his ears. Carefully, he pulled back the white cloth to reveal an underside stained black with frothy, thick liquid. As soon as the bandage was pulled away, the gashes on his cheek began to ooze freely, an uncomfortable wetness that he was compelled to wipe away constantly.
Father’s eyes merely widened, just ever so slightly. Though it was obvious to TsuYa that he was fighting to suppress his real reaction.
“It is a Mark,” Aur stated quietly.
“Mark?” TsuYa’s eyes tore away from his father’s reaction to the grim-faced stranger. “What’s that? What does it mean?”
“When Arweinydd choose to take a servant, that servant is Marked in some way,” Aur explained, the fingers on one hand spreading in represenation. “For example, the marking that Zemi uses is in the eye color of those who serve him.”
“The golden eyes?” TsuYa asked. Then he realized, for the first time, that Aur’s own eyes were golden.
“That is correct.”
“But this Mark, Aur, what is it?” Father’s voice creaked between his lips, his knuckles growing white where he gripped the chair’s back increasingly tighter.
“I assume it is the Mark that Zerom has placed upon your son,” Aur replied grimly. “And by the nature of the Mark’s manifestation, it would seem that… Chaos… has taken root.”
“Chaos? In Zerom?” the winged man hissed, eyebrows lowering.
“Yes,” the one word seemed to hold the weight of all the fears of the world within it.
TsuYa had no idea what that meant. But the pressure of silence that fell over the room spoke all that needed to be said.
Something big is going on… and it has to do with Zerom.
It took a while before Father aligned his thoughts well enough to speak. When he did, he asked, “Tsu, how did you get this Mark? You didn’t leave the city, did you?”
“No, I didn’t!” the Apprentice spoke up quickly, shaking his head.
“Then, what happened?”
His glance flickered back and forth between Father and Aur, thoughts churning through his head.
I wonder… if I should tell them about what I saw in my dreams? I don’t know if it was real or not. I’m not even sure what I did see, but maybe it’s important.
TsuYa took in a deep breath and began to speak. At first, it came slowly, difficultly. The very thing he fought so hard to keep secret was elusively complicated for him to finally put to words. He told them as much as he knew about the nightmare world… and of the things he saw there… of Zerom… and eventually of the thing in the globe that XaNi called Zerom’s son.
That was the point where Aur stopped him, “Did you say… son of Zerom?”
“That’s what she called it. But I don’t really know how it could be his actual son – I mean, it was being developed in this glowing globe,” TsuYa mimed the shape of the globe with his hands.
After a moment, Aur turned to look at Father. His voice was graver than ever, “Do you realize, ZenToYa, what this may mean to us?”
Father shook his head, giving the golden-eyed man his full attention.
“If there really is a creature, even created, that is the son of Zerom,” he paused before he continued, “We may well have the creation of a Sygnus on our hands. Along with the possibility of a Chaos-touched Arweinydd.”
“Hedd-ynad,” the winged man whispered.
“I thought it was Zemi who would bring such a threat,” Aur intoned.
They talk like I’m not even here in the room…
TsuYa frowned, digging at the floor with the toe of his boot, “Well, like I said, it was just in my dreams. So I don’t really know how real any of it is.”
“That Mark on your cheek is real enough,” Aur pointed out. “This is not something to take lightly, even if it was just a dream.”
“What should we do?” Father turned and asked. His tone gave the impression that this situation was far too large for him to handle on his own. And that in itself gave TsuYa shivers.
“This… is not what I would normally suggest. But I really do not see a way around it,” the golden-eyed man grimaced. “I believe we should inform Zemi of this, right away. As much as I do not support the idea of Arweinydd fighting Arweinydd, and as unstable as either of the two may be, the truth is that it will take a power such as Zemi’s to combat something of this magnitude.”
Father gave a long, ragged sigh, one hand rubbing at his chin. Then he turned to look at TsuYa, “We need you to come with us, to Zemi. He needs to hear everything you can remember from your dreams.”
The Apprentice closed his mouth with a quick nod, a sudden overwhelming feeling rising in the pit of his stomach. One line of thought echoed and repeated through his mind as he watched the other two men make their way out of the Gathering Room.
What have I gotten myself into?
The dim silence offered him no answer. There was nothing else that TsuYa could do except follow them and move forward. Approaching the dark unknown one step at a time.