By the time KoGuRai regained control of himself, he was covered in blood. His first reaction wasn’t sutiable for a dark Champion of Zeromus. His head reeled back, body tense and contorted, and he let out an air-slicing shriek of agony.
What have I done?
He saw it all. He wasn’t spared one moment of gristly detail, even though his body responded to something that wasn’t his own desire. He could only watch, detached and helpless, as weapon, claws and fangs tore through villager after villager.
Those men… they were running away. Retreating. They weren’t even trying to fight me.
Of course, he wanted to escape from the cage. Of course, he expected resistance when he finally put his plan into action. Still, KoGuRai didn’t plan to slaughter people. Not after they provided him with a surprisingly hospitable amount of nourishment and healing.
What… what happened to me?
He felt sick. Like whatever last meal he ate was threatening to inch its way back up his throat. He wasn’t even allowed that luxury. Darkness still had its cruel grip on his mind. His body was only partly responding to his commands. Each second he didn’t know if it was his own, or if it belonged to something else.
-This sniveling is not befitting of you, KoGuRai.-
The cold, hissing voice filled his mind. His dark eyes rose to glare at the large, dark-skinned Esgyll that perched on a rock outcropping just a short distance away. KoGuRai didn’t know how a creature from the Inner Realm managed to track him down over such a distance. Of course, it was not as if it was merely a mindless beast.
This one watched him with red, intelligent eyes, animated by the awareness of his Master, Zeromus. The voice that rang through his mind was none other than the Dark Arweinydd, communicating to him through one of his own distorted creatures.
KoGuRai was locked in the jaws of the cage when the Esgyll swooped down with wings of black death over the village. It freed him from his confines and proceeded to destroy everything without remorse. It flattened houses, mowed through militia and started fires from the smoking totems.
Whatever dark spirit animated the huge winged monster also seeped into his own limbs, and urged him into a bestial rage that sent him tearing through anyone who came near.
I don’t understand why those people were killed. They had nothing to do with our goals. They were just protecting what was theirs.
The Esgyll gave a low snort and a lash of its tail.
-Perhaps you don’t comprehend how this all works yet, KoGuRai. The world will learn the fate that befalls those who attempt to hinder my Champion. Anyone who dares to defy our progress will be consumed.-
A chill rushed over KoGuRai’s body as he stared back at the burning red eyes. The sick taste rose up in the back of his throat again, hanging thick in his mouth, coupled with the pressing feeling that he was sinking deeper and deeper. In over his head.
KoGuRai wasn’t given a choice from the moment XaNi captured and brought him to Nefol. Zeromus offered him the position of Champion, though he didn’t know why, and he chose to take the position rather than die or become mindless like the other Marked.
Things had started out fairly well, considering all that was done to him. He was the leader of the dark forces, and the other Marked obeyed his commands. He was gifted with wings, enhanced speed and strength. He was promised a place as the new ruler of Nefol once the people of the Dreigiau were dispatched. Most of all, he was promised the hand of JouKa, the one that he longed to see again.
Something changed over time, and his command degraded into servitude. The promises were uttered less and less as the enhancements on his body began to fade. Like the other Marked, decay was showing. Only, he was aware that he was withering away, unlike the other Marked.
What happened at the village sealed it. His will was stolen, his choice completely taken from him. He became, as TsuYa had told him, nothing more than another one of Zeromus’ tools for destruction.
His black eyes slid up to the dark beast. A feeling of hopelessness weighed him down, knowing that not only had he lost his dignity, but also his humanity.
The Esgyll gave a quiet, calm look, answering the swirling tempest of doubts.
-I came here to help you and retrieve you from your prison. I did what had to be done to preserve you against great odds. The promises that I spoke to you I have not forgotten. You will receive your rewards for your loyalty, KoGuRai. Do not doubt that.-
He pursed his lips, face growing solid and focused once again. There was nothing left to hold on to but what the shadows offered him.
-Now, pull yourself up. Your power has returned, and you are once more whole. I have pressing business that I need for you to attend to.-
The tone of the voice was so unusual that KoGuRai paused in the middle of his self- assessment to listen to the mind-voice of the dark beast. Though he never heard true emotion from the lips of the Dark Arweinydd, there was a certain quality about the statement that came alarmingly close.
Something’s going on. It must not be good.
The Esgyll intercepted that line of thought before it started. If there really was some sort of trouble going on, Zeromus didn’t want to let him know the urgency.
-It’s nothing that you cannot handle, my Champion. Now, lift yourself up and be ready. We must find the trail of the young Sygnus again.-
“Sygnus?” KoGuRai murmured with a frown. “Is Lord LuShi here? In the Outter Lands?”
-Yes. In fact, all those who met in the Cynosure have come through to this side. They travel not far from this position.-
“TsuYa?” the Champion ground his teeth, brows lowering. Then pausing, he realized something more.
JouKa. She was there. She was there and she saw me. Does that mean that she’s here, too?
-Yes. The one that you seek has followed. However, she is meshed with those who wish to destroy you.-
KoGuRai felt something sink in the pit of his stomach again. Surely, no matter what he looked like, no matter what he was, JouKa would remember him. She called out his name at the battle in the Cynosure. The sound of it was one of longing and pain.
“JouKa wouldn’t,” he couldn’t bring himself to voice the rest of the statement. He wanted to sound sure of himself when he spoke of her character. It was so long since he last saw her. Now, she was one of the Dreigiau’s people, one of the winged people from the floating Islands.
Everything that she used to tell me. Everything that she once was. Has she really compromised it all to follow Zemi Dreigiau?
-Those are things that you have to find out for yourself, KoGuRai,- came the winged beast’s cryptic answer. If Zeromus’ goal was to reanimate his low-spirited Champion into action, he was off to a very good start.
“What do you need me to do?” the Champion pressed his lips together, slowly rising to his feet.
-As I said, the young Sygnus is here within this land. He searches for ancient relics of the Time Before, weapons that were once used by the Sygni of long ago to battle against the Arweinydd.-
“How is that possible?” KoGuRai’s frown grew more pronounced. “Master, I thought that nothing of the Earthian realms could be a threat to the Arweinydd.”
-Those who are wise know that spoken absolutes rarely exist in actuality.-
-The truth is, weapons were crafted that could be wielded against us. The Sygnus boy now seeks this weapon without knowledge of the consequence of what he is about to uncover. Previously, I sent you to persuade or capture the boy. But now, the game has become more dangerous, just as Zemi orchestrated it.-
“Then, Zemi sent Lord LuShi to find this item?”
-I cannot see how the boy would know about its existence any other way.-
“It seems a little self-defeating to instruct a Sygnus on finding a weapon that could be used against the Dreigiau as well,” KoGuRai mused, half to himself. Then again, he learned that Arweinydd rarely made much sense.
-My brother is a foolhardy soul. He always has been. His reckless nature will lead to the destruction of all that we have worked for, including your precious Nefol and the one you love.-
The Champion lowered his eyes in deep thought for a long moment. Then, he reached up, taking hold of the stringy flesh of the winged beast. In one sweeping motion, he mounted the Esgyll’s shoulders.
“I’ll capture the boy-Sygnus and bring him back to you, Master,” KoGuRai said, voice low and cold. His choice was made. There was no turning back now.