TsuYa felt his throat tighten, struggling against the nausea that turned his mouth nasty on the inside. His face was damp with sweat and his eyes stung from the putrid odor that hung heavily over the battlefield. The fight was sickening enough before, but the appearance of his old rival took it to a whole new level of disgusting.
What happened to him?
KoGuRai wasn’t focused on him, however. His twisted hand reached out to the boy Sygnus.
LuShi stared at the outstretched hand, then looked up to study the strange, discolored face. With a motion that spoke louder than words, the boy shook his head.
TsuYa felt himself release a breath he didn’t know that he was holding.
“I’ve come all this way to find you, and this is the welcome I get?” KoGuRai gave one of his trademark dramatic sighs. The compelling poet-voice continued with a measure of softness, “I know you feel it in your essence… that you don’t belong here.”
LuShi’s gaze fell as the words struck home.
“You try so hard to be one of them. To fit in. But they always treat you like an outsider, don’t they?”
The boy nodded in return, face thoughtful. “It’s because I’m different. I’m the Bane.”
“Is that what they tell you?” KoGuRai frowned.
“Isn’t it the truth?” LuShi asked, searching the man’s face, hoping for an alternative.
“It’s a load of nonsense,” TsuYa finally interrupted.
LuShi may have rejected KoGuRai’s first offer, but the man had a way of charming the unaware. That’s how he manipulated his way to the front of the Council years ago. That was something they couldn’t afford to happen with LuShi.
“Oh?” KoGuRai turned his focus on TsuYa with a slowly tilted head. The dark eyes bore into his face with an unblinking stare. “And you don’t think he’s the Bane?”
The warrior swallowed, trying to hide his hesitation. “I think the kid can make up his own mind what he’s going to be. He doesn’t have to listen to what you or anyone else says.”
“You didn’t answer the question, TsuYa,” KoGuRai’s said in an amused sing-song tone. He flashed a charming smile as he turned back to the boy Sygnus. “That’s how they lie without telling a lie, Lord LuShi. The truth is, even TsuYa feels the same.”
The boy’s silver eyes flashed over to him with a pained expression.
I should have just said “no.” Why didn’t I say “no?”
“That’s not what I said! Stop putting words in my mouth!” TsuYa ground his teeth together, struggling to find a way to undo the damage he’d just done.
I just… don’t know if all this Bane Sygnus stuff… is true or not.
“You doubt him, don’t you? Tell the truth, TsuYa,” KoGuRai latched on to the moment of weakness, smearing it out for the boy to see.
LuShi stood in silence, watching him with a rapidly sinking expression.
The warrior took a deep breath through his nose, immediately wishing he hadn’t as the scent of melted flesh and decay shot through his senses. He gripped his scythe, searching for proper words, words like his father said. Even in this situation, Father would have known the right thing to do.
“The truth is…” TsuYa peered at the boy. “I don’t know much about this Sygnus stuff. But I do know you, LuShi. I know you’re a good kid and you’re trying hard to do the right thing.”
LuShi’s face lightened a bit with hesitant optimism.
“I also know that KoGuRai is a sweet-talker, just like the one who sent him,” TsuYa’s brows lowered. “They’ll tell you anything you want to hear to get you where they want you to go. Trust me, it’s not where you want to be.”
“It’s not so bad. My Master gave me power and position in Nefol,” KoGuRai’s dark wings unfurled, rising to the sky. “That’s more than Zemi ever did.”
“Is that the kind of mess that Zeromus fed you? I thought you were smarter than that, KoGuRai,” the warrior scowled.
“Ahhhh,” KoGuRai gave a quiet laugh. “Poor TsuYa. You came so close to having Nefol for your own, didn’t you? But you couldn’t handle the power Master Zeromus offered. And now, is that jealousy I hear?”
“What?” the warrior fumed in return. “Jealous? Of you?”
The winged figure took a slow step forward. TsuYa realized that KoGuRai was a good head and shoulders taller than he remembered. “You passed up your chance to become Master Zeromus’ Champion, and the position has fallen to me. As has the control of Nefol.”
“You think you’re really something, don’t you? You should see yourself from out here… no better than any of the other Marked.” TsuYa sneered back, “Pretty fitting. You’ve always been rotten through and through.”
KoGuRai’s mouth thinned into a pressed line of disapproval, “You’re still the same arrogant, self-entitled knave, aren’t you?”
“Heh,” he merely smirked in return, letting the attempted insult wash off of him.
The Champion turned his attention once more towards LuShi, working to salvage the situation. “The company you keep leaves a lot to be desired, Lord LuShi. Time grows short, and Master Zeromus offer is both generous and fleeting. Though these winged people speak ill of you, I doubt that you want to see anything happen to the islands.”
TsuYa grit his teeth, seeing the new tactics at play. “Oh, that’s low. Even for you.”
LuShi, however, responded with an intense look, “If I came with you, would Zeromus leave the Islands alone?”
“He lies,” the warrior cut in sharply. “Don’t even think for a second you can trust anything he says!”
“Then we’re two of a kind, aren’t we, TsuYa?” KoGuRai’s smile was infuriatingly calm despite the accusation. He then reached out to the boy again, “So what’s your answer? Will you come back to the place you belong?”
LuShi’s voice was soft, “I’m already here.”
So much determination. So much belief in the three simple words. KoGuRai’s brow wrinkled, seeing that his efforts had fallen short and all that he offered remained undesired.
The kid’s got more guts that I gave him credit for…
Black eyes glittered from under the swaths of dark hair. One lip curled as KoGuRai’s smooth, coaxing voice grew hissing, “I see. I was warned that Zemi Dreigiau may have worked his powers on your mind, young Lord. I had no idea that it was this far gone.”
TsuYa felt a chill spread over his skin. The hair on the nape of his neck stood on end, hinting at danger.
One dark-gloved hand reached up, a signal to something just over the hill. A low moan carried on the wind as a group of Marked scuffled towards them, cowering away from both the boy Sygnus and KoGuRai. It was only the single command that kept them moving forward.
They held the slumped and battered body of one of the Awakened soldiers. His wings were shredded streams of flesh and feathers, his face mauled beyond recognition. His sword arm was nothing but a gristly stump that frothed a flow of dark blood. The suffering moan indicated that he was still alive.
Is he taking a hostage or something?
A cold smile touched KoGuRai’s lips as the broken Cyngan was thrown at his feet. “One of yours, yes?”
Is he trying to make some kind of exchange?
TsuYa ground his teeth.
I don’t get this.
LuShi watched the grim procession with unblinking eyes.
Metal shown suddenly in the hazy sunlight. KoGuRai drew his long-hafted naginata, the wicked serrated blade pointed down towards the bloodstained grass.
“What are you doing?” the words rushed out of TsuYa’s mouth as he gripped the black bladed scythe more tightly.
“I’m giving Lord LuShi his wings,” KoGuRai’s voice was low but triumphant.
It happened so quickly, the flash of the blade only seconds before it plunged straight through the Cyngan’s back. It exploded in a crimson flow down through his chest. The body arched backwards writhing as it crumpled on the cruel weapon.
A shout broke from TsuYa’s mouth and he felt himself surge forward. His scythe swung up over his head, gaze locked upon the monstrosity that stood before him. The dark winged creature only smiled silently down at the pool of demise that spread around his feet.
From behind, he could hear LuShi’s voice crack in a sudden hoarse cry. The sound was chilling, like the wailing of something beyond the dead. More ghastly than even the shrieks of the Marked, it was the sound of one fated as the Bane.
TsuYa felt his feet ripped out from under him as chilling silvery-white filled his vision. Knocked back against the side of the hill, the scene that unfolded before him was haunting and unreal.
LuShi hovered above the ground, a thick pulsating mist swirling and condensing around his form. His head was thrown back, eyes clamped shut, mouth wide open in a soundless scream of agony. A slender tendril of silvery-white rose from the sprawled body of the slain Cyngan, streaming directly into the mists that surrounded the boy, as if LuShi was feeding from death itself.
Terror froze every inch of TsuYa’s body, eyes wide and locked on the deadly awakening. There was nothing he could do to stop it.
Is… it… the Sygnus?