“SoYa, are you back?” AsaHi called, wiping her hands on a rag as she walked out. The plates Lucci placed were sitting on the long table, though one already had a number of missing sandwiches.
I swore I heard SoYa’s voice. He’s always late for lunch, or just eating and running.
“Lucci!! No!” As if in answer to her thoughts, she heard a shout from the side hall. There was no mistaking the sound of SoYa.
AsaHi thrust her head through the door. Zento and SoYa stood there, both staring down the hallway. Following their gaze, she could make out the silvery-white form of the boy as he vanished around the corner, despite SoYa’s upraised hand and shout.
Before she could finish, the floor began to quiver. A vicious jolt sent her sprawling against the back of the winged man. Behind her, she could hear a clatter as the long dining table tipped over, spilling sandwiches and plates everywhere.
Somehow in the middle of feathers and limbs, Zento managed to twist himself around well enough to catch AsaHi. She gave a choked gasp, peering up into the worried light of his eyes for a moment before she felt her feet touch the ground again. A strong, steady hand held her firm.
“SoYa, you alright?” Zento’s voice was direct as he cast a glance around for his son.
“Owww!” came the reply, “No, I’m not!”
SoYa’s fall was broken by the large planted sticky-tree that served as a decoration outside of the door. Hung up by his robes, he struggled to pull himself off the jagged branches. His hat was cast halfway across the room.
“Hold on,” she told him. Quickly, AsaHi rushed over and grabbed his hands, helping SoYa down and to his feet.
His voice murmured, “Thank Light that you’re okay.”
“What was that?”
“We’re under attack!” he told her urgently.
“We should find Zemi — she’d be safest with him.” Zento frowned and added quickly, “Then we need gather the troops and form our defense.”
“How?” SoYa’s voice wavered. Even to AsaHi, it sounded like a big undertaking.
“The Dragons are already dispatched. I can hear them fighting outside,” the winged man informed them. “That should give us some cover and possibly transportation.”
A thunderous crash resounded down the hall near the living quarters, back the way that Lucci had run. AsaHi was thrown forward, clinging tight to SoYa’s robes as she felt the Islands once more give way under her feet.
The moment that they caught their balance again, they were moving. Waved on by the urgent motions of Zento, they rushed back towards the kitchen.
The walls behind them groaned and buckled as if bearing a great weight. The structure held for a moment before the stone exploded inward, a huge grey claw coming down through the roof of the dining area. The table splintered to pieces as the rest of the monstrous body burst through. Then a blunt, eyeless head snaked down through the hole, massive jaws opening in a silent, chilling hiss.
“Keep moving! Go! Go!” Zento shouted.
Then, a piercing, high pitched screech shattered the air.
“Father! They’ve got Marked with them, too!” SoYa voiced AsaHi’s deepest fears.
“Marked riders. Figures,” Zento pressed a hand to one side of his head from the sound as he ran.
She fought down the rising panic that bubbled in her chest as they skidded around the corner into the long kitchen chamber. Pots and pans lay skewed in every direction, jumbled by the unsteady ground. Food that she was preparing splattered over the counters and across the floor. All of this went unnoticed by the warrior as he led them rapidly towards the door at the far end of the room.
A seething shadow fell over the rows of double windows.
“Down!” Zento shouted, lunging for the two. He grappled SoYa by the shoulders and pulled them both down to the stained floor, his silver-blue wings arched over them like great feathery shields.
The pressure in the room tightened before all of the windows blew inward. A sharp spray of glass flew across the room leaving tiny red streaks over the back of the Champion’s wings. AsaHi flung her hands over her head, huddling into SoYa’s chest for protection. Through squinted eyes, she could see tiny crimson streams dripping from the tips of Zento’s feathers.
SoYa’s face was ashen as he stared into his father’s face. If Zento was in pain, he didn’t let it show. There was nothing but a stoic determination written there, something that reminded her instantly of Kudako.
“Stay down,” his voice was hoarse.
From back down the hall, she could hear the sound of creatures approaching with a shuffling gait. From outside the shattered windows, the shadow of the waiting Esgyll grew large and pronounced.
“Father. The Marked,” SoYa warned in a low tone.
“Are they armed?”
The Athrylith twisted his head to look. “Some of them are.”
“Good,” Zento answered, much to AsaHi’s surprise. Then he rose to his feet, wings outstretched in challenge. “We need to borrow their weapons. Are you ready, SoYa?”
AsaHi’s fingers latched tight on the front of his shirt, unwilling to let go as he rose to his feet. SoYa murmured reassuring words to her as he freed himself from her hold, “Stay close, AsaHi.”
She took a step back, face flooded with concern.
The Marked leapt from the shadows, their motions jerky and mechanical. A stream of thick oily darkness trailed after them over the floor, their lifeless eyes focused unwavering on their prey. Blistered and torn lips curled back, a spluttering hiss rasped through the air as they charged.
A blur of motion, ZenToYa reached over towards the nearby counter and grabbed a long wooden-handled broom. He spun it between his fingers as if to test the balance of his new-found weapon, then he leapt forward to meet the nearest Marked with a battle cry.
The Champion swung forward, now armed with the very same broom that she often used to sweep up the kitchen in the late afternoons. A resounding crack shook the air as Zento dodged under the swish of the Mark’s blade. Splinters flew in all directions as the broom handle made contact with the creature’s decayed head. The blow ripped part of the face completely off.
A spray of black exploded across the kitchen. A gurgling shriek echoed from the stone walls. Zento quickly disarmed the flailing creature and planted its own blade straight into its chest.
The other Marked didn’t notice the demise of their comrade. Instead, they leapt straight for SoYa and AsaHi, vicious nothingness etched into their faces. The Athrylith quickly drew himself up, both hands spreading in front of him.
A blinding flash of light burst from SoYa’s open palms, causing two of the three Marked to reel back. The flash of a rusted blade indicated that Zento bore down on them. The resounding screes were cut short.
SoYa’s eyes narrowed on the final charging Marked, an electric green light flickering from their depths. With bared teeth, he thrust out one hand, all fingers pointed forcefully at the creature. His voice rose up, like sudden thunder as he barked the mind command.
The sound reverberated within her skull, sending AsaHi stumbling back against the slick counter. Both hands cupped over her ears against the power of the word.
The oncoming Marked jerked back as if a great, invisible hand caught it around the neck and flung it headfirst. Cartwheeling through the air, it landed with a fatal thunk over the top of the center counter. Its back arched, broken, the head hung limply upside down. Black ooze dripped from its open mouth to puddle on the floor.
“Uuugh…” SoYa covering his face with the threat of illness.
Gathering her wits about her, AsaHi rushed to his side, catching his arm and touching his face with one cool hand. “Are you alright?”
“I’m okay,” his voice was hoarse, eyes watery when he finally looked at her. “You’re not hurt, are you?”
“No. I’m fine,” she reassured him.
He nodded, catching his breath and choking all the more from it. The whole room reeked of Marked decay.
“SoYa,” Zento’s voice called.
The Athrylith turned towards his father with a questioning face.
“Well done,” the winged man nodded with the ghost of a smile. He tossed a bent-up pole arm over the counter. “Here. It’s not much, but it’s better than nothing.”
SoYa caught it with trembling hands. He gave the weapon a grimace.
“AsaHi,” Zento strode over to her. He held out a short, blunted staff. “Just in case.”
She took the weapon between both hands, wrapping her fingers around it with a determined expression. When she looked up at the warrior, she could still see the streams of blood that ran from his feathers. “Are you hurt?”
“Later,” he murmured. “There’s an Esgyll outside and it knows we’re here.”
SoYa made a frightened sound in the back of his throat.
“Are you ready?” the winged man asked, giving his son a prodding look.
The Athrylith nodded weakly, holding tightly to the haft of his weapon.
“Okay. Let’s go,” Zento pivoted on his heel.
The last thing AsaHi saw were streaks of red-on-silver as the warrior drove head-on into the shadows waiting outside the Compound.