-Aur is sure not much of a mountain lion, is he?- Zazo scoffed as she sprung spryly from stone to stone up the face of the mountain.
TsuYa didn’t say a word. It was all he could do just to hang on to the Arweinydd’s back as they made their way further and further from the safety of the ground. If it wasn’t for the mere seconds that her feet touched the rock before the next launch, he would have considered it flying.
I’ll leave the flying to the Awakened, thank you…
Somewhere below them, he could hear the sounds of Aur as he made his best attempt to follow in Zazo’s impossible paw prints. Of course, the She Wolf was having the time of her life, not a once stopping to remember exactly why they were climbing the mountain.
Not like I really know what we’ll find when we get there. I don’t know why LuShi came all this way just to get himself cornered in the mountains. There’s gotta be something here he’s after…
A particularly rough jolt sent him sprawling closer down against Zazo’s back. TsuYa gritted his teeth, pinning her sides more tightly between his knees. “Will you watch it!”
-You think too loud, Earthian. Keep quiet. You’re breaking my concentration.-
“I thought mighty Arweinydd didn’t need concentration,” he snuffed.
-Would you like to experience the sensation of free fall?- Zazo growled.
He wound his fingers tighter into her fur, “Don’t you dare!”
-Then you’d be smart not to…-
From somewhere above their heads, a bright pulse of silver light flashed brilliant into the storm-darkened sky. The mountain began to shake under Zazo’s steady strides, though the wolf continued upward, unhindered.
Aur and JouKa weren’t so lucky. TsuYa could hear the girl’s shout coming from below. Though he couldn’t make out her words, he could tell that the tremors were making their climb far more difficult.
“Zazo! We can’t leave them back there!” TsuYa protested.
-They’ll be fine. We can’t afford to lose time,- she replied sharply.
-We weren’t the only ones who saw that light.-
Before TsuYa could ask the Arweinydd to clarify her words, a twisted shriek shattered the air over the mountainside. He reeled his head back just in time to catch the blurred dark-winged creature swoop down and vanish into the rocky cliffs above them.
“Crap! Esgyll!” he spat from between clenched teeth.
Zazo was already bounding up the cliffs, wide open mouth showing gleaming fangs. TsuYa laid as flat as possible to give her speed, hanging on in hopes that a mis-step didn’t send him tumbling off to the depths below.
Finally, one last great leap sent them surging over the edge of the ledge like the breaking of a huge white wave. For a moment, TsuYa felt himself lifted through the air, hovering inches above the She Wolf’s back. The next thing he knew, they were face to face with the looming dark form of the Esgyll.
“Zazo!” TsuYa’s shout was hoarse. One hand pulled his scythe from over his shoulder, dark eyes focused with deadly intensity on the monster before him.
Fearless, the Arweinydd shot forward, carrying him on a streak of white towards the massive shadow. His hand tightened on the haft of his weapon as it burst into a defiant deep blue flame.
With a rush of wicked exhilaration, TsuYa felt his blade carry forward and up. His strike was focused and lethal, slicing into the under-jaw of the creature as it brought its head down. Zazo’s fangs ripped into the throat, the momentum of her leap tearing a huge gash through the decayed flesh.
The Esgyll shrieked a gurgling cry as it thrashed back from their attack. The motion caught on the hook of TsuYa’s scythe, shredding the lower half of its maw as the warrior fought to pull it away. For a moment, TsuYa felt himself knocked from his mount. But one deft turn of the She Wolf in midair caught him before he could fall.
As if the huge winged monster meant nothing to her at all, Zazo leapt past the writhing form, towards what looked to be two huge doors in the side of the mountain. All sorts of runes and writings were lit up along the pillars that made up the threshold. They were moving so fast that TsuYa didn’t have a chance to see anything else before the shadows of the chamber beyond filled his vision.
Where are we going? That thing’s not dead yet!
-Then we’ll give Aur a little present once he gets up here. There are more dangerous things to deal with.-
The intensity of the She Wolf’s tone told him to sit down, hold on and shut up. So he did. It didn’t take long before TsuYa understood exactly what she was talking about. A deep, choking darkness rose up before them in the heart of the mountain, spreading with dark wings that blocked out the silver glow of the chamber ahead. Wings that were familiar…
“KoGuRai!” TsuYa hissed between bared teeth.
Though his voice was low, the Champion still heard. KoGuRai’s head turned, misshapen face appearing to TsuYa’s vision. The darkness behind his eyes was more intense, more unstable, almost neurotic in nature. An animalistic snarl broke over his lips as his focus fell completely upon the young warrior.
A soft cry echoed through the chamber, drawing TsuYa’s attention away from his rival. For the first time, he noticed that LuShi was there, struggling against the powerful grip of the winged creature. Though the boy Sygnus was tall, KoGuRai possessed far more strength. LuShi was nearly pulled off his feet, but so far, he seemed unharmed.
We got here in time.
Hands tight around the grip of his scythe, TsuYa sprang at full speed from the back of the She Wolf. For once, he could feel Zazo’s astonishment instead of it being the other way around.
-What are you doing?-
This one is mine… stay out of it, Zazo!
-You are insane, Earthian! He is the Champion of Zeromus… you cannot beat him by yourself!- Zazo wheeled about, snapping at him with her teeth as if to catch him and pull him back.
We’ll just see about that.
Dark eyes glittering as he met KoGuRai’s equally dark gaze, a slow smirk broke over TsuYa’s face. For years, the Apprentice had to sit by and bite back the frustration and disgust he felt at KoGuRai’s near-treasonous tendencies in Nefol. And now, TsuYa was finally getting the opportunity to repay the treachery.
I’m going to enjoy every second of this.
The Champion threw LuShi roughly against the nearby pillar and drew his weapon with a low growl. His dark wings stretched wide over his head as he stalked towards his rival, blade held low and ready to strike.
“You honestly think you have any chance against me, TsuYa?” KoGuRai snarled, a twisted glower covering his face. “You don’t even have your Daddy’s wings yet, little boy.”
“I don’t need wings to rip yours to shreds,” TsuYa sneered in return, crouching low and watching the motion of his opponent’s blade carefully.
“My, are we arrogant,” the Champion’s voice was smooth and taunting. “Just because you’re growing into your Marked powers doesn’t mean you can take me on.”
Growing into my what?!
“Why, TsuYa, didn’t you notice?” there was a gleam of victory in KoGuRai’s dark, soulless eyes. “You don’t believe that Master Zeromus’ power will be turned forever by a worthless little enchanted trinket.”
“Shaddap! I’m not here to talk!” TsuYa spat, making the first strike.
His scythe whistled through the air far faster than he believed possible, a burning blue flame trailing behind. As the naginata rose up to catch the blow, sparks of blue and sickly red-black exploded between the two weapons.
“You’re only fooling yourself,” the Champion intoned in an offhand way. He was far stronger than the warrior could have imagined. “Especially since now, Master Zeromus’ power is growing. How long do you think you have before you will bow to him… and to me…”
“FORGET IT!” a cry of fury broke from TsuYa’s throat as he began to swing, blow after blazing blow.
A heated anger rushed through his limbs, carrying his blade forward with a blinding speed. Suddenly, he found himself matching the Champion’s strength, strike for strike, even knocking the startled-faced KoGuRai back with a few of the more focused blows.
The Champion didn’t respond, though the sounds that issued from between his black teeth were ones of wonder and frustration. No more banter came from his side of the battle as he gathered all of his concentration to hold his ground against the wrath of the relentless scythe.
-Well… well… you’ve got more to you than I thought, Earthian.-
The runes that spread over the floor began to flash and respond as TsuYa pressed the winged creature back into the center of the chamber. They dimmed the moment that KoGuRai stepped near them only to be relit with a blue, angry light as TsuYa claimed the ground. Sparks rained across the room as time and again their weapons clashed. Energy crackled around their two forms, exchanging blows that went unseen by the eye.
A powerful sweep of the scythe sent a stream of blue flame straight over KoGuRai’s shoulder, through one wing. Where TsuYa expected to be met with the resistance of feathers and bone, he found nothing but a ripple of darkness that parted, then drew back together again. The warrior’s dark eyes narrowed as he drew in a sharp breath of realization.
“Your wings,” TsuYa hissed. A twisted smile broke over his face, accenting the Mark on his cheek with the glow of blue from below. “They’re not really real.”
“Don’t be foolish!” KoGuRai snapped, reeling back from the words. That’s all that was needed to gage the truth. “My wings were a gift from Master Zeromus himself!”
“Just an illusion,” the warrior snorted. “Boy does he have you strung along with his pretty offers…”
“They’re REAL!” the Champion’s voice rose up in furious intensity. He was nearly frothing at the mouth, flecks of dark spittle dotting his lips as he hissed.
Man… he’s touchy about this. He should have never let me know.
“What a poser,” TsuYa taunted with an off-handed flip of one wrist. “You and all your talk of controlling this or that. I bet you’re not even a real Champion.”
KoGuRai gave a wild shriek, wings spreading vast over TsuYa’s head. A hungry dangerous shadow filled the void of his eyes as he threw up his weapon, point-down, aimed to spear the warrior from above. The motion was so unexpected that TsuYa found himself twisting in a desperate attempt to throw up a defense against the blow. Something told him that it wasn’t going to be fast enough.
“KoGuRai!” a high, frightened voice screamed out the Champion’s name.
And just like that, it all came to a complete stop.
Bathed in the soft light of the pillar runes, JouKa stood in the doorway. Her own wings were spread, a hint of terror in her face as her green eyes drank in the scene within the chamber. One hand grasped at the stone of the pillar as if her legs were threatening to give way. There seemed to be tears in her eyes, something TsuYa had rarely, if ever, seen since he had met her.
“Jou…Ka..?” KoGuRai stammered with a strangled sound. His face turned towards her, an expression of distress and dismay.
“RRRRRAHHH!!” TsuYa’s battle shout broke the stillness of the room.
It didn’t matter how they knew each other. It didn’t matter what was going on between them. All that mattered was that KoGuRai, his enemy, was standing prone in front of him. And he wasn’t going to pass up this chance to make his strike.
JouKa gave a sharp cry as she saw the flash of the dark scythe slash upwards.
The Champion reeled back with a choking gasp as a spray of black burst from his midsection. He stumbled, slipping on the slick floor, straight back onto one of the pulsing tiles. Unlike the other tiles, this one didn’t go dim upon his touch. Instead, it lit up with a brilliant flash. When the light faded, KoGuRai was gone.