SoYa heard the air whoosh out of Father’s lungs as the warrior caught himself against the railing of the practice yard. Fighting to keep face, the winged man shoved himself back into the fray a moment later. SoYa had already backed off and released the mind powers that they were sparring with.
“That was a good shot, SoYa,” Father said with a quavering smile. “You’re really getting a good grasp on this.”
“Father…” the Athrylith intoned quietly, hinting in one word that he knew something else was going on. Something that left his father in a state of preoccupation and worry for days on end.
I know he’s worried about Tsu, but I wonder why this much?
When the winged man saw that his son was putting away the sparring equipment, he gave a slow frown. A frown that showed his age, just for that moment. “Are we calling it so soon? You were just starting to get moving!”
Tsu’s been down to the Mainland for weeks at a time on his own and Father never fretted this much.
The Athrylith shook his head gently, brushing his fingers through his thick curly hair, that was coming out of its tie-back. It wasn’t quite the warrior’s knot that his father wore, but it was the closest to it that he could hope to earn.
Despite his disappointment, Father didn’t push the issue. He simply splashed water over his face and dried it on a waiting towel. Quickly, SoYa approached in imitation, hoping to catch his father in conversation before the winged man was swept off to do something more pressing.
Father arched an eyebrow, catching a glimpse of the expression on his son’s face. Not being one to wait around, he started, “Is something on your mind?”
“Actually,” the Athrylith toweled off his face, bright green eyes peering over the soft cloth. “That’s what I was going to ask you.”
“Me? Why?” he gave a short laugh. Just like SoYa knew he would.
“You’re not up to snuff with your sparring,” he joked. It was something that Father often would say when either he was daydreaming or not paying attention during lessons.
“Is that so?” a slow smile crossed the winged man’s face. It was a relief to see. Father spent far more time with a furrowed brow than a warm grin lately.
“Yeah,” SoYa smiled in return. But then the smile faded. “You’re worried about Tsu, aren’t you?”
The Champion glanced over at his son and gave a grimace. “Does it show?”
“Well, I was trained by the best,” the Athrylith broke a gentle grin.
Father laughed, long and low, clapping one hand on his son’s shoulder. He shook his head for a while, the lines at the corners of his eyes softening just a bit.
SoYa leaned back against the fence, taking a long, cooling drink of water. Lately, his sparring outfit looked more and more like his father’s. With the warm weather coming, and no real physical weapons being used, that usually included a pair of loose knickers and a tank shirt.
Father also leaned against the fence, peering out over the distant compound. The laughter was gone again, short lived. It seemed like he was trying to figure out the best way to begin. SoYa didn’t interrupt. He was just happy to know that Father was considering discussing something with him at all.
“It’s not just about this trip,” the winged man finally said, folding his hands in front of him along.
The Athrylith glanced over, giving all of his attention while leaving as much room as he could for Father to continue. If there was any area that they were alike, it was in how neither of them liked to burden others with the troubles that weighed on their shoulders. Even when there was a willingness to discuss things, words came hard and slow.
“I thought…” Father struggled shaking his head. “I thought when Aur created the amulet for Tsu that everything would be alright. Maybe it was foolish to believe that something like that could cure him completely. He hasn’t had any more bad dreams. The dark patch on his chest hasn’t changed. He’s been able to leave the Island without worry for over a year now. So when I hear that Tsu might not be well, still, it was a real shock to me.”
“Not well?” SoYa echoed, a numbness creeping over his body as he digested his father’s words. After a moment, he was able to swallow the heavy lump in his throat.
“You didn’t know about it either, then?” Father glanced over at him, watching his reaction.
“No,” the Athrylith croaked, a pained light to his eyes. “Is Tsu going to be alright?”
The winged man balled one fist and took in a ragged breath. “I’m sorry, SoYa. I probably shouldn’t have said anything.”
SoYa shook his head mutely. It was an awful thing to hear. But then, he wanted to know. He wanted to be able to share in his father’s burden of knowledge. He wanted to be there for his brother if Tsu really was still in trouble.
Maybe there’s a chance we can find a real cure then…
Father’s sad eyes flickered over to him, sensing exactly what his son was thinking. “You’re always the optimistic one. I’m glad.”
“Where did you hear that Tsu was still sick?” SoYa asked thoughtfully. “Just like you, all this time I thought he was doing better.”
The winged man drew in a deep breath and rubbed his cheek with one hand. “Zazo told me about it after the attack on the Islands.”
“Yeah. I’m curious about that, too. She always seems to have one eye on Tsu, especially when things get dangerous,” he mused. “Makes me wonder why Zemi sent both of them out together to bring LuShi back.”
Poor Tsu. Zazo’s got her eye on him?
SoYa gave a short laugh.
“What’s so funny?”
“Nothing…” he waved one hand sheepishly. “Keep going, what else did she say?”
Father sighed. “Just that she could sense things in Tsu were changing. She said he would keep changing, and that nothing but the destruction of Zeromus would be able to cure him for good.”
“Oh,” SoYa frowned. The lump had come back in his throat, making it hard for him to say anything more coherent.
“She also said not to give up on him. That Tsu had a strong, fighting will,” Father was obviously having a lot of trouble speaking at this point.
“He does!” SoYa offered quickly. “She’s right about that, Father. Tsu won’t back down from a fight… he never backs down from anything.”
Father nodded, blinking back his emotion. His hand opened and closed, hanging over the side of the fence. When he finally spoke again, his usually fearless voice was broken, “It’s my fault, isn’t it, SoYa? It’s because I left you when you were younger.”
“What?” genuine shock echoed in the word. Staggered, he could only stare at his father’s grieved features.
“Maybe if I hadn’t left, Tsu wouldn’t have…”
SoYa quickly stepped over and grasped the winged man’s shoulder. “What happened years ago when you first Awakened… that wasn’t your fault. It was the Council who ran you out. It was KoGuRai who lied. You did the best you could, given the situation!”
He knew he had to speak carefully on this topic. Most of what he knew about what happened to Father was learned from Aunt SaRa. Father rarely ever spoke about the experience, but SoYa knew that there was a lot of pain associated with the first Awakening. Father bore a lot of regret being exiled and forced to leave himself and TsuYa behind.
Father blames himself for what’s happened to Tsu. That’s why he always fights so hard to find an answer.
And now, despite all their efforts, TsuYa still wasn’t cured. SoYa could understand why Father would feel discouraged and full of remorse.
Father sighed and waved one hand. “All that I’ve done was never good enough.”
SoYa shook his head slowly, “Tsu wouldn’t want to hear you talking like this. You can bet that he’s going to fight this till the end. Even what he’s out there doing right now is a form of him fighting against this. We need to keep fighting alongside him.”
Father hunched over the fence railing for a moment. When he answered, it was slow and composed. “You’re right, SoYa. I can’t let him down.”
SoYa stood quietly, feeling the soft summer breeze on his back. He wanted to add something more to the conversation, but Father was lost in thoughts, and the most important words were already spoken. After a while of silence, the sound of approaching footfalls drew their attention. Down the path, they caught a glimmer of blue and gold.
“‘Dako?” Father lifted his head, watching the approach. With one deft leap, he cleared the top of the fence and strode out to meet his old friend.
SoYa chose to use the proper gate and followed at a distance. He could hear the two exchange a quick greeting before somber talk.
Then again, with Kudako, everything is somber talk.
“I know you won’t like what I’m going to say,” Kudako leaned back on one heel, giving his once-student a stern look. “But you must hold yourself together better than you have been. The people here rely on you to lead and fight.”
“I know, ‘Dako. I’m trying…”
“Very well,” the Dragon nodded. “There is news of your son and the search party.”
Father straightened instantly, “Is everything okay?”
“They are fine, Zento,” Kudako replied. “They had a run-in somewhere in the mountains, but it seems your son was victorious against KoGuRai.”
“Was anyone hurt?” the winged man asked in concern.
“That’s not all of it. Let me finish.”
“Their travels have taken them beyond the boundaries of the Inner Realms,” Kudako intoned slowly.
SoYa blinked in surprise. He could see surprise on Father’s face, too.
But they’ve only been away for a week and some days!
“They’ve gone into the Spiral?” Father asked quickly.
“No. Lord Zemi said that they’ve gone somewhere else. Not the Spiral,” the Dragon gave something similar to a shrug.
“How can that be?”
“I am not the one to ask for clarification, Zento. I’m just relaying what Lord Zemi spoke.”
“Zemiiii…” Father gave a frustrated sigh. “Alright. I’ll go see what the Dreigiau is up to now. I just wish he’d warn me about these things, especially when they have to do with my son.”
Kudako nodded curtly, but said nothing else. There was a gleam in the Dragon’s golden eyes that said that his silence was for a good reason.
Though Father seemed like he was about to walk off in his usual hurry, he paused. Turning slowly, he gave SoYa a soft smile and a soft mind-touch that spoke his thanks and his love.
Then with a flourish of feathers, ZenToYa strode off towards the Dreigiau’s chambers.