TsuYa woke to the distant sound of sobbing carried on the wind. His dark green eyes peered into the looming shadows with only the dying glow of the dim fire to outline the quiet campsite. Just as the sound came, it was gone, and he shook out his head, wondering if maybe he imagined it.
On the crest of a hill, he could make out Zazo’s nearly translucent form against the sky. She was unmoving, guarding their sleep, as she did every night. He knew that the sobbing didn’t come from the She Wolf, as Arweinydd had little in the way of sorrow. Or, so it seemed when it came to her.
He sat quiet for a while, listening hard to the distant rise and fall of the ocean waves. After a time, he was rewarded with the sound of sobbing again. This time, TsuYa crept out of his bed. Peering around, he counted heads, and quickly saw that one bed was empty.
So much for the watch wolf.
With a quiet huff under his breath, he pulled his jacket on around his shoulders and inched his way into the brush. Eventually, he found a small inlet of water, an offshoot of the larger ocean, surrounded by walls of rock on every side. Peering down, he could make out the shadow of someone sitting on the edge, highlighted against the glow of the moons on the water’s surface.
At once, he was of two minds of what to do.
I know she’s still mad at me, but…
She just seemed so alone. TsuYa rarely, if ever, saw her cry before.
I doubt she’ll see anything I try to do as a friendly motion. She’ll probably send me back to the camp with a slap in the face.
Despite these grouchy thoughts, TsuYa quietly made his way across the damp stone to where she sat. He paused a few feet away, realizing that she hadn’t heard his approach. And he certainly didn’t want to startle her.
The girl turned quickly, face burning and eyes angry. Her hands scrabbled to wipe away the traces of tears, to hide the scene from him. The curve of her mouth was unfriendly and spiteful.
“TsuYa! What do ya want?”
“I uh,” he didn’t know how to answer. Anything he said would only make her all the more embarrassed. “I woke up and noticed you weren’t at camp.”
“So ya stalked me out ‘ere?”
“Stalked?” he gave a ruffled look. “I wasn’t stalking you! Excuse me for being concerned.”
“I don’t want yer concern, TsuYa. Go away,” JouKa answered, curtly.
He paused, a bit stung. Everything told him to simply turn around and walk away. To follow her wishes and leave her to cry to the cold ocean winds. But he couldn’t. Because he knew he was the cause of her tears.
“No,” TsuYa finally said, looking down. “I can’t just leave you out here by yourself… crying.”
“I wouldn’t be cryin’ if it wasn’t fer ya,” she snapped, staring back out at the ocean.
“I know,” his voice was quiet and level.
Apparently, that wasn’t the answer she had expected. It seemed to make her all the more furious. “All the crap I put up with for ya, all this time. This is what ya do to repay me?”
TsuYa stood silently, dark eyes reflecting the moonlight. He forced himself to stand, like a wall, hoping that if he just used his imagination, the blows of her anger would bounce off. But on the inside, it didn’t feel so easy. He really wasn’t that strong.
“I wish I ‘ad never seen yer ugly face!” she spat, rounding on him.
“I wish I ‘ad never met ya!”
“Look, I’m trying to–”
“I ‘ate ya! Get out of my sight!” she hollered, rising to her feet. There was the look of aggression in her face, as if she wanted to throw him right off the side of the rocks. He wouldn’t put it past her to do something like that.
“JOUKA!” TsuYa lifted his own voice in a powerful, shaking rush, “I’M SORRY!”
She froze, staring at him with wild eyes for a moment. Then she shook her head and turned her back on him. “That’s not good enough this time, TsuYa.”
“I know it’s not,” he took a few steps forward, finally able to get a few words into the conversation. “I know you hate my guts. I know, to you, I’ve done something horrible. But I really didn’t know there was anything between you and KoGuRai!”
The girl gave a sudden choking sound. Then, as if the whole conversation was too much, she covered her face.
“JouKa?” He was at a terrible loss, not knowing how to even begin to approach her without causing more of a fight than there already was.
“I ‘adn’t seen him in over twenty turns,” her shoulders suddenly slumped, wings drooping, so uncharacteristic of her. “And now, when I see ‘im again, ‘e’s become this…”
“A lot can change in twenty turns, JouKa,” he pointed out, trying to be as gentle as possible without straying from the hard truth.
“But THAT much?” she intoned with a slight wail of sorrow.
It was enough to make him really feel bad for her. Frowning slightly, he asked, “Were the two of you… you know… together?”
Considering KoGuRai’s marathon track record with women in Nefol, I’m surprised that he would stick with one girl long enough to be that serious.
“Well, it was never anythin’ official. Sorta unspoken. Ya know what I mean?”
“So nothing set in stone?” TsuYa inquired with arched eyebrows.
“It couldn’t be. ‘E came from Nefol. I lived in the Gatherins,” she took in a raggid breath. “If anyone knew that we were seein’ each other, that I was fond of a Bane-using Neffie, they would ‘ave thrown me to the wolves and probably ‘unted ‘im down, too.”
TsuYa pursed his lips, not trusting himself to say anything.
“But,” JouKa turned around with an appealing look, “I loved ‘im. An I’m pretty certain ‘e loved me, too.”
Maybe. But I still can’t imagine KoGuRai really dedicating himself to one girl.
His expression must have shown his doubt because she lifted her hands, imploring, “Isn’t that enough?”
TsuYa leaned back on his heels, peering at her through the moonlight, “What happened?”
“I don’t really know,” JouKa lowered her eyes. “Somethin’ just changed. I think it ‘appened about the time that ‘is father disappeared.”
KoGuRai’s father was a fearless and legendary warrior in his time, one of the founders of Nefol. He was known not just for his skill but for his compassion and dedication to the people of the School. In their younger days, JinRai was considered as ZenToYa’s right hand man – there was never an important battle where the two did not fight side by side. However, all of that changed the day that JinRai set out on an expedition into the Outter Lands, and never came back.
TsuYa knew that his father had grieved the loss of his closest friend for a long time. Father had even made his own trips out of the Inner Realms to try to find JinRai, but he always came up empty handed. One day, Father simply accepted that his brother-in-arms was lost.
KoGuRai could never accept it. In fact, it was about that time when the son of JinRai was elevated to take his father’s place in the Council, and something changed his heart.
“Yeah. I think it was hard on KoGuRai when Master JinRai vanished,” TsuYa agreed, somewhat reluctant to sound too sympathetic.
“‘E was always at odds with his father,” JouKa told him, still not glancing up. “At the same time, it ‘urt ‘im that ‘e couldn’t be what ‘is father wanted ‘im to be. ‘E didna want to be a warrior, you know?”
“Could have fooled me,” he answered.
“Yes, well, obviously, ya didn’t know ‘im that well,” she crossed her arms.
“Well, I could say the same about you,” TsuYa crossed his arms in return. “You said you haven’t seen him in over twenty years. You want me to tell you what he was doing?”
“No!” her word rang out sharply, but he paid it no mind.
“He blamed the loss of his father on my dad! He did everything he could to destroy my family, and destroy the foundations of Nefol in the meantime,” he barked sharply, striding a few steps forward.
“I SAID I don’t wanna ‘ear it!” JouKa glowered, face turning red in the darkness.
“Well, you’re GONNA hear it anyway!” TsuYa half growled in return, eyes seeming to darken, deeper than even the shadows of the night. “He set members of the Nefol Council against each other, and played his politics games until the whole structure of the School was fragmenting away!”
“TsuYa!” she drew back, staring into his face.
Angry, he couldN’t stop, “KoGuRai was the driving force that exiled my father from Nefol, started the hunt for his life when he first Awakened, and then led us to believe he was dead! Because of him, I HAD no father for most of my life, a fitting punishment for the loss of his, maybe?”
JouKa flinched back when TsuYa threw his hands in the air to accent his point. But this did not faze him, either. In fact, to see the smug rage wiped off of her face, that she was forced to listen to his anger after having been the brunt of hers for so long, made him feel good. Powerful.
“He spent years dropping hints about what he would do to off my brother and take his position as High Guide of Nefol. All those years, I spent training to be his rival,” his voice had taken on a deeper, more threatening tone to it. “To be strong enough to protect SoYa if KoGuRai really did make a move!”
She covered her mouth, eyes wide, breathing in panicked gasps.
“And now he’s the Champion of Zeromus!” TsuYa thrust his finger at her. “He would have just as soon as killed all of us. I did what I did to protect us all, and all you’ve done is given me grief , when you don’t have the slightest idea of what’s been going on!”
JouKa lost her voice completely, staring at him in the moonlight. He paused, breathing in rasping hisses, and for the first time realizing the look of open fear on her face.
“S..stay away… stay away from me, TsuYa!” She choked, stumbling back, side stepping along the edge of the rock as if terrified to come any closer to him.
“What? What are you–”
Before he could finish his question, she was off, Running and scrambling as fast as she could down the slope of the stone wall. Stunned, TsuYa threw up one hand, imploring with a shaken voice, “JouKa! Wait!”
Was I really that harsh on her?
Then his gaze fell on the back of his upraised hand. A startled gasp broke from between his lips. It was fading now, now that anger was replaced with fear. But he was sure that he saw it. Sure that there was the hint of claws, that his skin had been darker. Darker than even grey. As he stood there in shock, TsuYa could only wonder what exactly JouKa saw in his face that sent her running in fear into the night.