Book 2 Chapter 7

“SoYa,” AsaHi folded and unfolded her hands in her lap. “I’m really worried.”

The Apprentice was taking his turn at the afternoon meal, cooking small slabs of meat on a wide, flat platter. The color was returning to his face after another night of rest. The morning found him able to move around with only the sparest signs of weakness.

“What’s wrong?” SoYa’s eyes flicked up at her for a moment before returning quickly to the food. He had a habit of burning things if he let his mind wander.

“I was thinking about the Marked…”

He drew in a sharp breath. Then covered up his reaction by flipping the slabs, one by one.

“And I was thinking about how they looked like they were people from Nefol…”

“AsaHi… don’t…” SoYa interrupted quickly, stopping her train of thought.

Something’s really bothering him.

She folded her hands one last time, peering at him closely. With just a few words, his whole disposition had fallen into distress. The way his hands jerked. The way his eyes settled on the fire and would not glance up.

He’s been like this since we crossed the Passage. I know he’s been sick but… it just seems like something more is going on.

AsaHi pushed forward before he could protest, “I’m scared for my family…”

SoYa’s head finally jerked up. The expression was one of surprise, as if she had taken the conversation a direction he had not expected.

What did he think I was going to say?

Finally recovering, the Apprentice stammered, “That’s right… some of them are in Nefol.”

“I don’t know. Most of them were probably away on Tasks. They’ve all passed into Novitiate status, after all,” she told him. Then she smiled, “None of them could sit still long enough to be Dragon Apprentices like you. My family has the wander bug, you know? Mother and Father could never settle down in a city.”

SoYa smiled slightly in return. Then his face fell grim again, “Well, that wander bug might have saved them for the moment.”

“Yes, but what of the other people? The outlying Gatherings? Is Nefol the only place that’s been affected? And how deeply has it gone?” AsaHi began to throw it all out on the table.

“I’m not sure.”

“How many were changed into Marked? Is the whole city taken? Did anyone get out?” she continued shaking her head. “I mean, obviously Zerom was able to influence TsuYa. And if TsuYa was wearing the robes of the High Guide, then that means that–”

There was a look of pained horror on SoYa’s face that made her stop, words trailing away into the smoke from the burning meat.

He looks so scared…

“I’m sorry,” she said quickly. And after a moment, “SoYa, you’re burning it.”

“Oh!?” he jerked his mind back to the present, pulling the platter off the fire with a mournful expression. His eyes lifted to her face as if to apologize.

“It’s okay,” AsaHi interrupted with a smile, trying to make him feel better. She stabbed at a slab of meat and put it on her plate. “I like mine well done.”

“If… that’s what you call it,” SoYa poked at another slab, turning it over to find the other side equally as black. He sighed.

Poor SoYa…

The girl took a slow bite out of her meal, grinning slightly. “Well, if you imagine hard enough, you can try to believe it once might have tasted like meat?”

“Thanks…” the Apprentice murmured in mock-offence.

I shouldn’t have brought up such depressing things. He’s only just beginning to recover.

“I see the logic at work here,” AsaHi continued. She cutting off a slice, stretched over the small fire and stuck it in SoYa’s mouth. “You burn everything in sight so that no one will dare ask you to take up the cooking duties. Right?”

SoYa coughed, working hard to try to swallow. “Wow… this is bad!”

AsaHi giggled, watching the expression on his face fluctuate through the various stages of chewing and swallowing something bad tasting. His eyes watered a little, mouth turned up in a teasing smile of his own. Then his gaze slid past her into the swaying branches and grass that stood tall behind her. Her breath caught as she watched his expression transform once more, the good-natured cheer melting into a sudden fierce anger. His pupils contracted, his face paled, and his hand rose from his plate, palm spread outwards, five fingers pointed forward.


“AsaHi!” he hissed.

It was the only warning she had before the shadow dropped out of the tree behind her. Motion overlapped motion. If time unfolded, she couldn’t see it. Everything became a blur. Something invisible brushed past her head. Her hair swept back as it might with the wind — only it wasn’t the wind. It was an unseen force that came from SoYa’s hand.

Mind Magic!?

Her senses reeled with the sudden realization that they were being attacked.

Whirling to her feet, AsaHi turned to face the ambusher who dropped from the tree behind her. He was a man of pale-yellow hair, dressed in some sort of strange battle armor. A spiraled mark was scrawled on his cheek in war-paint the color of blood.

As the girl’s gaze locked upon the attacker, she froze. An icy chill of shock rushed through her at the terrible vision unfolding before her eyes.

What’s happening to him?!

The short, curved blade dropped from his hand, the thud of metal meeting earth a dull pressure in her ears. With a gurgling cry, the attacker’s hands reached up to claw at his throat, like a man drowning in air. His eyes misted over, turning a milky white and rolling back into his head. Then with a heaving convulsion, he crumpled to the ground where his entire body began to writhe. Finally he lay still, as if his body had simply given up, his breathing coming in low rasping sounds.

AsaHi reeled back with a strangled gasp. Numbly, she turned to face the Apprentice. His hand was still outstretched, his face resolute in a way she had never seen before. There was a spark of sheer intensity in the depths of his green eyes. The power of absolute command.

“AsaHi, get behind me!” the voice hardly sounded like SoYa at all.

Staring into his face, AsaHi felt a lump of fear growing in her throat. Her legs seemed to turn to jelly, refusing her motion.

“Get behind me, now!” he ordered sharply, a tone frightening in its unfamiliarity.

SoYa rarely commanded anyone, not even back in Nefol. But now he stood before her, his stance firmly planted, not a hint of hesitation. His staff was upraised in one hand, ready to meet the group of attackers. Shaken, AsaHi scrabbled for balance as she stumbled across the glade. She could hardly feel her body, arms wind-milling as blankets, pans and packs all cast barriers in her path. With a final frightened gasp, the girl dove behind the safety of SoYa’s robe.

The attackers closed in, circling their camp. Through blurred vision, AsaHi could see them – big-statured warriors, all bearing curved weapons and ice-blue eyes. Each face was painted with various spiraled designs that seemed to twist through the haze of her overwhelmed senses.

“Back!” SoYa commanded, thrusting his staff forward. There was a power to his voice that made AsaHi shiver, despite the fact that the words were not directed at her. Absolute, raw, indisputable. Control.

The warriors froze in their advance. Commanded by the single word.

The Athrylith…

For the first time, AsaHi began to understand exactly what the word meant. This was what made the Athrylith so feared — the terrible power to control the minds of others.

SoYa’s upraised arm began to shake. His fingers were pale at the knuckles where they locked around his staff. The light from the staff’s stone wavered as the sweat beaded on the Apprentice’s forehead, the weakness of his illness returning.

“AsaHi… I can’t hold them…” his whisper was frantic, much more like the SoYa she knew. Still, his eyes never left the attackers. “You’ve got to run.”

“I’m not leaving you here!” she protested.

“If you go now, then–”

“No!” AsaHi clung to his sleeve. All her determination packed into one word.

“I can’t hol…” SoYa’s voice wavered. He stumbled, face bleached the color of his white shirt.

She fought to support him as his weight collapsed back on her. From over his shoulder, AsaHi could see the wolfish faces of the yellow-haired men as they resumed their advance. As if they knew all along that SoYa was weak and could not hold such taxing magic against them.

SoYa, please!

AsaHi found herself dragged to the ground, holding SoYa’s limp form against her chest protectively. She could see the patchwork light reflecting off the dim blades, points of dark, then light, as they drew near. No emotion. No reason. Simply death painted in spirals across their faces.

That’s when the sky opened up above her with a vast crescendo of deafening sound. The earth vibrated under her. The trees swayed as a tempest swept through the glade in the form of deep crimson wings.

It’s… it’s the Dragons I saw at the Cleft!

The first Dragon, the larger of the two, advanced on the warriors who were making their stand against the beast. A trumpeting roar shattered the air. AsaHi was convinced that it shook loose every bone in her body, but SoYa didn’t stir in her arms.

With a flurry of wild-eyed bravado, the group of warriors rushed the Dragon. They found themselves scattered with the first colossal swipe of claw, as if they were nothing more than annoying little insects at a picnic.

Though the great beast did not seem of vicious intent, it also didn’t mind dishing out a beating on anyone who was foolish enough to try to engage with it. Huge claws left imprints that spanned twice the girl’s height across the soil and tender grass. Trees gave way, crushed under the whip-lash of tail.

The thought of what might happen if it let loose with the breath of flame terrified AsaHi. Much to her relief, it didn’t.

The second Dragon, more bronze in color than the first, had not moved since it landed. Now that the yellow-haired warriors systematically began to retreat, it spread its wings with a practiced flourish and made a short glide through the glade.

The shadow fell over AsaHi before she realized, a large claw reaching down for SoYa. The Apprentice was pulled deftly from her arms. The girl was too stunned to do anything but watch as he was taken above the treetops, in the claws of the Dragon.

That’s when the great shadow came again. Her frightened eyes shot up, catching the blurred vision of the huge crimson claw closing in around her from above. AsaHi let out a broken sound of fright, hands wrestling uselessly against the powerful grip. Staring down, she saw the earth shift, then shrink below her.

What are they going to do to us!?

That’s when the Dragon’s voice came — vast, booming and jovial, “Sorry about that, Morh-AsaHi. Couldn’t leave you there. Those Spiral-folk were massing a swarm back in the forest around your camp.”

AsaHi nearly felt herself go faint right there.