“Lucci, can we go now?” Suzume sighed, from where she perched on the crooked forest fence. She didn’t attempt to hide the boredom in her voice. Nothing could be more dull than this – watching someone doing the same thing over and over and over again.
I don’t see the fun in it.
There had to be something fun about hitting things with swords and sticks, though. All the grown-ups did it. And now, Lucci wanted to do it too, even though they weren’t supposed to. Kids weren’t allowed to play with the weapons, not even the wooden practice ones.
“Just a little longer,” the silver-haired boy replied. He lunged once again at the practice dummy he made from a branch. It looked pretty silly wearing a shirt with a pillow for a head. The wooden practice sword stuck into the pillow-head and left a streak of dirt in the lumpy cloth.
He was getting better at beating up the pillow. She didn’t know how much that would help if there was a real enemy, though. Everyone knew that Marked were fast and didn’t hold still like a practice dummy.
“I’m gonna tell that you stole the sword,” she complained. Of course, she wouldn’t have really tattled on Lucci. He was her best friend.
The boy knew that, too, and responded with his usual distant disconcern, “I didn’t steal it. I borrowed it. I’ll put it back.”
“You borrowed it the day before yesterday,” Suzume protested, dropping down off the fence. She walked over and took his arm at the elbow. “Can’t we do something fun today, like ‘sploring?”
Lucci looked down at her with silent silver eyes. He was so much taller than her now, even though when he first came to the Islands, he was almost the same age as she was. Maybe even younger.
But, that wasn’t for very long.
Over the matter of months, Suzume watched as her friend became a lanky and awkward adolescent. The taller he grew, the quieter and more distant he became. His lucid-silver eyes wandered over the world as if he could hear and see things that others could not. He also started to pay attention to new things, like the talk of battle and learning how to fight with a sword like the grown-ups did.
The thought of Lucci fighting in battles was scary to her. She didn’t want him to get hurt, even though she knew that he would probably be okay. Afterall, she knew that Lucci had powers, magic that he only used for good things. Like the first time she met him, when he cured her light-weakened eyes and gave her the courage to speak. That’s when they became friends.
Lucci’s expression softened a bit, as if sensing her thoughts. He lowered the practice sword and nodded to the girl, “Okay. What do you want to do?”
Excited, Suzume almost gave a squee, tugging on his arm all the more. “I just learned about this great place in the far-island forest! It has the prettiest flowers. Maybe we can bring some back to Lord Zemi.”
“Far-island forest?” he echoed looking concerned. “We’re not supposed to leave the main platforms.”
“Pah,” she snorted. “Because of the Esgyll attacks that never come?”
“Yet,” Lucci said patiently.
“We have the Dragons watching over us,” Suzume argued. “And Lord Zemi. You don’t think he’ll let anything happen to us, right?”
“No, of course not,” the boy still hesitated.
“Then come on!” the girl jumped at his momentary pause, pulling him along.
“Wait… wait… I have to return the sword,” Lucci protested, but didn’t attempt to stop her from leading him.
That’s when a new voice broke in, “You mean the one you stole, Lei’ Igro?”
Suzume stopped, peering at the group of winged children who stood on the other side of the fence. Awaken or not, she learned that children are children, no matter if they lived on a floating island. These children heard the whispering of the adults, and believed it.
They saw her dark wings and hair and called her Marked. They heard the adults say that Lucci would grow up to become the Bane, even if he didn’t have any wings. Set aside as strange and different, the other kids liked to make fun of Lucci’s awkwardness. That’s why it was Suzume’s job to be his best friend and defend him when he didn’t defend himself.
“He didn’t steal it,” the girl told them defiantly, stepping in between them and Lucci without realizing it.
“He did so!” one of the kids chortled, “And I’m gonna tell!”
Lucci’s silver eyes widened. Unlike when Suzume said it, he knew this boy would very willingly get him in trouble. That was the worst thing in the world, since he was always trying so hard to prove himself to Master ZenToYa.
“D-don’t tell,” Lucci stammered. The look on his face showed that he knew it was a hopeless case to plead.
“What are you going to give us to stay quiet?” one of the older ones asked with a snide grin.
“I… don’t have anything,” Lucci looked down at his thread-bare clothing. “I could give you my fudge. Aunt Sara makes it.”
This made the other kids laugh. It wasn’t a nice laugh, though, but the kind of scoffing laugh like when someone thought you were nothing but dumb.
Lucci understood the sound of that laughter and looked down at his feet.
“You leave him alone!” Suzume spat at them, bristling like a little sand-claw.
“Or what?” they laughed all the more.
“You gonna bite us, Marked-girl?”
“I’m not Marked, stupid!” she retorted, rolling up her sleeves.
“Suzume, don’t,” Lucci touched her shoulder. “You remember from last time. If you get into another fight you’ll be in a lot more trouble.”
“With who? TsuYa?” she glared back over her shoulder. “He’d give their heads a good knocking, too!”
He fell quiet for a moment. Probably because he knew she was right. When he did finally respond, his words took her by surprise, “I don’t want you to get in trouble because of me.”
At that, the group of kids broke into a round of “Ooooooohhhhh!” followed promptly by the chant of a kiddish love-rhyme.
“Suzume has a boooy-friend!” one of the girls teased.
“I do not!” her face flushed. Though she couldn’t see it, she knew it had to be bright red.
Lucci looked embarrassed, too.
Before Suzume could react, another, taller figure joined the group of children on the other side of the fence. A familiar grown-up.
“Who has a boyfriend?”
The chortling stopped silent when the kids realized they were busted.
Suzume felt relief wash over her as the mind mage leaned on the fence, watching the other kids with an expectant look.
“Um… no one, Master.” It was their turn to look embarrassed.
For a long moment, the kids returned his gaze in awkward silence.
That’s when Master SoYa mercifully suggested, “Don’t you have homework you’re supposed to be working on?”
If they didn’t, they made something up real fast. They stumbled over each other to excuse themselves and scuttled away from the scene of the crime. Once the kids were gone, it was Suzume’s turn to blink at Master SoYa uncertainly.
“Were they bothering you?” he asked with a knowing look.
Lucci just shook his head. Either he didn’t want to admit his trouble or he didn’t want to get anyone in trouble.
“Well, if you’re sure,” Master SoYa arched an eyebrow. “Some kids used to make fun of me when I was younger, you know. That looked pretty familiar to me.”
“They made fun of you?” Suzume peered at him. “But you’re important. And a mind mage! Who would be stupid enough to make fun of you?”
The mind mage laughed. “Sometimes, things like that don’t matter to bullies. Do they?”
Lucci just shook his head, still keeping his thoughts to himself.
“I came to find you,” Master SoYa told them. Then he indicated the wooden sword in Lucci’s hand, “I didn’t know you were busy practicing.”
The boy gasped and quickly hid it behind his back.
“Don’t worry,” the man laughed gently. “I won’t tell anyone.”
“You won’t?” Lucci gave a hopeful look.
“Of course not,” Master SoYa responded. Then he held his hand out, “I’ll put it back for you. Aunt SaRa asked me to send you to the chambers right away. She wants to get you dressed. You’re going to be attending the Assembly tonight, I heard.”
“Oh!” Suzume gasped. “Are you really?”
Lucci walked slowly over and handed the sword to Master SoYa. He didn’t sound so certain, “Lord Zemi asked me to. But I don’t know if it’s a good idea.”
“Master ZenToYa is…” the boy stopped. He didn’t need to finish the sentence. Everyone knew that Master ZenToYa wouldn’t be happy that the Sygnus joined one of the most important war meetings in Ceiswyr.
“Don’t worry about that,” Master SoYa responded with a surprisingly gentle pat on the shoulder. “Lord Zemi wants you there. And so do I.”
“You do?” Lucci blinked up.
“Yes, I do,” he nodded. “I think you can do a lot of things to help the people of Ceiswyr. It’s a good time to talk about that. And about your training.”
Suzume groaned a bit. More training stuff. Still, she couldn’t be too down about it, because now Lucci looked very eager and excited. And he was her best friend.
“Well, you better go find Aunt SaRa before she comes out here looking for you herself!” Master SoYa grinned.
“Okay!” Lucci perked up cheerfully, needing no other urging. Turning to Suzume with a grin he challenged, “Race you!”
And he was off, long-legged strides carrying him like a young Rhawn over the hills. The girl gave a howl of injustice and chased after him, their shadows intermingling and stretching long across the grass.