Lucci’s breath rasped within his ears as he raced away from the Compound. The weight of the scythe was heavier in his hands the longer he ran. A trail of shimmering silver mist followed him as he sped forward, mind searching for any trace of Master TsuYa.
Though the great dark shadows spotted the sky everywhere he looked, so far, none came for him. Streaks of color whizzed through the clouds, challenging the shadows and lighting the heavens with Dragon fire. The boy could feel the vicious flight of the Dragons against the Esgyll. Striking. Colliding. Sometimes, a desperate fall.
He could hear the sounds of the Marked in battle. Somewhere in the distance he knew that the Awakened were rallied in defense of the Compound. Part of him wanted to be there with them, fighting the battle that he trained for and proving that he was on the right side.
The other part of him was glad that he was far away from the battle, searching for Master TsuYa, and he didn’t know why. Maybe it was fear? But then, it certainly took more courage to run across the battlefield all alone, didn’t it?
The boy pushed the stream of questioning thoughts aside as a pressure in the back of his mind alerted him to danger. Silver eyes swinging to the west, he could make out a flash of white and dark blue against green.
Efforts redoubling, Lucci turned in mid stride, sprinting hard down the hill. Master TsuYa crouched low and ready as a pair of Marked circled him. A third Marked lay smoldering in an oily pile a yard or so away.
Though the warrior was unarmed, his hands were raised high above his head, crackles of energy racing up and down his form. A wide ring of blue pulsed in a circle around him, just a foot outside of his arm’s length. Random strikes of lightning played from the sky, commanded by the raw determination of his uplifted face. His eyes were almost as dark as the Marked’s as they hissed and paced, deterred by the fierce flow of power.
Lucci knew that Master TsuYa was a magic user of sorts, but this was the first time he saw that power at work. As strong as it was, the boy knew that it took a lot of energy to maintain, and soon the ring of magic would fail.
“Master TsuYa!” he shouted as he stumbled towards the battle. Pulling up short, he fought to catch his breath in deep gasps.
The warrior turned at the sound of his name, an expression of surprise washing over his face. Obviously, the last person he expected to see there, carrying his weapon, was the boy Sygnus.
“LuShi! What in the name of the Seven Universes are you DOING?”
“I came to help!” Lucci replied. Without another word, he flung off the cloth wrapping to the dark bladed scythe and cast the weapon towards the warrior’s waiting hands.
Master TsuYa caught it with practiced ease, eyes slitting as his focus returned to the Marked. The creatures were already fearfully backpedaling, even though they had no mind or awareness to fear for their own safety.
“What the…?” Master TsuYa murmured with a furrowed brow. Then his gaze turned, falling on Lucci with a long, heavy stare.
They’re afraid of ME?
The warrior didn’t ask any more questions. He raised his scythe, the blade traced with glowing blue light, and leapt without mercy at the retreating forms of the Marked. Lucci watched with morbid fascination as the creatures turned to meet him, instinct alone driving them to put up a defense. The boy’s throat tightened as black spray flew out over the green of the hills.
Master TsuYa… the way he moves… it’s just like the Marked.
It was over quickly, nothing left standing but the dark form of the warrior, scythe held horizontally in both hands. Master TsuYa breathed heavily, his coat splattered with thick oily residue. The bodies of the Marked lay at his feet, now unrecognizable.
The air crackled with fading blue light. For a moment, Lucci stood there frozen, uncertain of whether to approach him.
Finally, Master TsuYa turned to him. His face was grim, similar to an expression that Master ZenToYa gave. Except for the dark eyes. His voice was gritty and distant, “Thanks, kid.”
Lucci perked up, a momentary thrill rushing over him. It wasn’t often that someone earned thanks from the quiet-spoken warrior. The boy nodded quickly, chancing a few steps closer.
“What’s going on? Where’s Dad and SoYa?” Master TsuYa asked as if he wondered why one of them hadn’t come in Lucci’s stead.
“Last I saw, they were in the Compound. It’s being attacked by the Esgyll,” the boy explained quickly.
“Did they know you were coming out here?” he frowned.
“Sorta?” Master TsuYa echoed, wiping his blade in a patch of clean grass.
“I don’t think they wanted me to, but I came before they could stop me,” Lucci answered.
The dark eyes flicked up towards the boy, studying his face. He gave a short laugh of approval, “Heh.”
They stood there, watching each other for a moment. The world was framed in sparks of light and seeping darkness. The grass swayed under the touch of a putrid breeze.
“Alright,” Master TsuYa finally said. “Let’s get back to the Compound. I’m sure they can use our help there. Do you have a weapon?”
“Ah-heh?” Lucci gave a sheepish grin, attempting to hide the sheath that he had taken from the wall in Master TsuYa’s room.
The warrior’s eyes fell upon it anyhow. A grimace crossed his face.
“I’m sorry. I didn’t have time to go find my own,” the boy stammered.
“Forget about it,” Master TsuYa muttered, crouching low as he ducked into the cover of scraggly bushes. “It’s probably best to head to the back side. There’s more cover that way.”
The warrior was already heading towards the Compound, seeming to find a second wind now that he had his weapon. The boy ducked and scrambled after him, staying close as large hazy shadows of the sky battle criss-crossed above.
A deep rumbling sound vibrated through the Island as they crested the final hill near the gardens. Master TsuYa poked his head above the brush to get a view of what lay between them and the final stretch of the run. A sharp hiss escaped his lips as he dropped back down, face tinged a bit blue around the eyes.
“We… can’t go that way…” he choked, hands gripping the haft of the scythe tightly to his chest.
“What, why not?” Lucci popped his head up through the bushes to get a look.
An Esgyll hunched over a pile of red and grey, the huge black maw buried deep into its kill. A sickly snapping sound reaching Lucci’s ears as it tore pieces away. Only the scattered white feathers over the grass indicated that was an unlucky Cyngan soldier who had strayed too far from the Compound. A macabre sort of curiosity froze him there, watching with sickened fascination as the beast devoured the remaining bits.
Master TsuYa grabbed at the back of his tunic with a hiss. With a powerful jerk, the boy felt himself yanked into the bush. “You want that thing to see us?”
The boy shook his head fervently, pushing his back against the soiled upslope of the hill. His voice fell low as he glanced over towards the warrior, “How are we going to get around it?”
“I don’t know,” the other admitted, teeth gritting. His breath was coming in labored gasps as if panic was taking its toll.
Lucci, however, felt perfectly calm.
“Ahhhhh,” a quiet, smooth voice floated down to them from above. “TsuYa! I thought I recognized you.”
Taken by surprise, the two jerked their heads towards the sound. A tall, dark-winged shape perched on the crest of hill with its back to the sun. Its face was concealed within the shadows, a long blotch of darkness stretching from where it crouched.
Master TsuYa’s brow furrowed as if searching for some source of recognization, for the shape had spoken his name quite clearly. Though it possessed wings it felt nothing like the Cyngan of the Island. Though Lucci could feel the deep shadows and sickly decay about the creature’s form, it held itself differently from the other Marked.
“Who are you?” Master TsuYa growled.
With a flourish of dark wings, the creature dropped down from the hillside. Before Lucci could get a look at its face, the shape gave a low, mocking bow. A bow meant for Master TsuYa.
Long black hair fell down in a thin, ragged stream from over a strange part-helmet that framed its face. The body was wrapped in a black cloak and thick leather gloves and boots. Only the metallic clank that sounded at the dip of the bow belied the armor that lay underneath.
Large black wings rose from its back, but instantly Lucci knew that these wings were different than the wings of Zemi’s people. They felt somehow less substantial, as if they were a dark projection struggling to become reality.
As the figure straightened, the boy got a look at its face. It was a man of some sort… or it had once been. Like the Marked, his features were sallow and grey, two pools of darkness glittered where eyes had once been. Yet, somehow, this creature retained intelligence, making it far more dangerous.
Master TsuYa gave a strangled sound, an expression of shock flooding his face. “KoGuRai?”
“This must be my lucky day,” the other man gave a slick grin. His right eye twitched as a drip of oily black liquid trickled down his face. One hand reached out towards the boy, “I’ve finally found you. Lord LuShi, it’s time to take you home.”