Zazo and TsuYa slipped through the bronzing late afternoon, nothing more than a shadow in the forest trees. The She Wolf’s head pointed straight as an arrow as she ran. He was just along for the ride.
This whole chase was based off of Aur’s logic. He pointed out two major facts: Firstly, Zazo was not able to locate Lucci for some unknown reason. Secondly, KoGuRai was also chasing the youth, just as they were, through the Inner Realms.
Aur noted that though KoGuRai caused what random and chaotic damage to the village, he did not linger once freed, and was travelling in a haphazard manner. It was as if he was hunting down something else. Eventually, they all agreed that following KoGuRai might lead them to Lucci’s location.
It’s not as if we have any other leads at this point.
Zazo volunteered herself and TsuYa to trace the path of the Marked Champion. He knew better than to try to involve JouKa in any of this. The girl changed, just that quickly, after seeing the destruction left by the one that she once loved.
Part of him was glad that she finally came to her senses about KoGuRai’s false nature. Trying to hold on to him would only lead her to destruction in the end. The other part of him felt pity. He didn’t have to be a mind mage to sense the sorrow and struggle in the girl’s heart.
TsuYa didn’t argue when JouKa opted to stay behind in the village. Healing the wounded gave her something constructive to work on. Aur chose to remain behind, as well – whether it was because he still held disapproval for TsuYa’s recklessness, or if he sought to offer JouKa companionship, it was hard to tell.
-Hold tight, Tsu! We’re getting closer!- Zazo’s mind-voice echoed in his head, pulling him from his thoughts.
TsuYa leaned down closer to the She-Wolf’s back and gripped her scruff, readying himself for the burst of speed. “How close?”
-Close close. Don’t you feel him?-
“Do I look like a feely sort of guy?” TsuYa grumbled with a scowl.
-You’re in a rotten mood today. I thought you would be eager to get the chance to face down KoGuRai again. – the She Wolf observed.
“Yeah well, it’s not that easy,” TsuYa said, half under his breath.
It wasn’t. Because this time, he knew that if he wasn’t careful, if he relied too much on the leaking Marked powers to help him fight, he could very well cause the already fragile medallion around his neck to shatter. Fighting KoGuRai would be more of a test of his patience and control than something he eagerly awaited.
Unfortunately for TsuYa, he wasn’t big on either patience or control.
The sooner we can put KoGuRai down, the better. He’s going rabid, and he’s got to be stopped.
-Tsu! Pay attention! Hold on!- Zazo gave a sharp bark as she lunged forward.
Jolted, the warrior noticed that the world around them changed. Instead of deep forests, they were now racing over stark white sands. TsuYa’s dark eyes squinted between the She Wolf’s ears as the crash of ocean waves grew louder. That’s when he realized they were running right out into the bay, towards some kind of building that sat cradled within the ocean waters.
Before he could protest further, the Arweinydd leapt straight into the waves. TsuYa cringed, waiting for the enviable feeling of the wash of ocean waters that would come. But they didn’t.
The warrior cracked his eyes open, peering with amazement as the waves passed along underneath them. He didn’t know if they were flying… floating… hovering… or whatever it was that Arweinydd She Wolves did. Not taking any chances, he gripped tighter to Zazo’s shoulders.
-Do you see it?- she asked him, careful to stay away from the other sensory questions.
TsuYa squinted ahead. At such a distance, it was hard to make out anything beside the stone structure in the bay. As much as he didn’t want to admit, he could feel it. There were dark creatures ahead. KoGuRai and something else.
“Esgyll? Out here? How?” the warrior grit his teeth. “I thought we left them trapped back in the Inner Realms?”
-I did, too.- Zazo answered quietly, her body shifted as she moved to approach the structure from a less obvious direction.
TsuYa felt something cold in the pit of his stomach churn and sink. He saw the great winged beast hanging from the side of the structure, three claws latched into the stone. To his horror, he madeout the form of a person with white wing held tight in the monster’s front claw.
He heard the sound of cold steel striking and sparking. A battle was taking place on the steps of the structure. On one side, TsuYa could see the dark winged, black garbed form of KoGuRai, wielding his vicious naginata. It took him a moment to recognize KoGuRai’s opponent — the tall silver form, bearing a long, slender sword.
“LuShi! Is that really…?” TsuYa couldn’t keep the shock out of his voice.
-It would seem our little boy-Sygnus has grown up.-
“Yeah, it would seem so,” A lump formed in his throat as he watched as his once-student spun and struck with the long blade in perfect form. Moves he knew that he never taught the boy. Moves that he didn’t even recognize. A trickle of fear shivered through TsuYa’s body as he thought about the new danger… that maybe his father was right to fear the power of the young Sygnus, after all.
-For now, it still looks as if the boy is fighting on our side. We may as well take all the advantage we can get right now.- Zazo advised.
“That’s true,” a little bit of hope returned.
-He seems to be handling KoGuRai fine on his own.-
“Well, what about that other guy?” TsuYa motioned to the man who was trapped in the claws of the Esgyll. “He looks like he could use some backup.”
-I agree. And Esgyll are such a thrill to chase!- Zazo gave a wolfish grin as she bounded up over the top of the cracked structure, then dove straight for the back of the winged monster.
TsuYa felt the exhilaration of battle and speed rush through him. His hand reached back, gripping his scythe and pulling it free. His eyes narrowed, focusing on his target, measuring the wind as he rode. With a snarl and a heave, TsuYa drew a long bloody gash through the Esgyll’s wing, fountains of black-red spraying into the late afternoon air.
The creature reeled and the scythe met its shoulder, the wing crumpling useless. Zazo’s body arched up and around, ripping with gleaming fangs and shredding claws. The creature’s dark maw opened in turn, lashing desperately at wolf and rider. Somewhere beyond the pounding of battle adrenaline, TsuYa could hear the hoarse and frightened shouts of the beast’s captive.
Just hang in there, buddy. You ain’t seen nothing yet.
The warrior rose up, knees gripping the spiraling wolf for balance. A second later, he was off, springing from Zazo’s back, straight towards the imprisoning claw. He dodged the snapping fangs of the beast, only a second before the She Wolf took hold of the Esgyll’s snout. Viciously, she raked at the oozing black eyes and tender nostrils.
With the monster preoccupied by the Arweinydd, TsuYa drove his blade home, slicing into the wrist. The scythe rang with a jarring blow as it cut straight to the bone. Though he was disappointed that it didn’t cut all the way through, the warrior was relieved when the shock caused the claw to fall limp, releasing the winged man.
“Alright! There you goooooooooooo–” TsuYa’s voice trailed into a shout. In his haste and excitement, he didn’t foresee the Esgyll’s reflexes. Dropping its captive, it now swung back with the wounded claw, sending both warrior and scythe flying off with a snap.
The She Wolf was busy, snapping and lunging between claws and maws. She gave a somewhat frantic look when she realized that her rider was flung.
A woosh and flutter of wings surrounded TsuYa as he fell. In his surprise, he stared up, straight into the face of the winged man that he had just rescued. His shout rang out above the crash of the waves below, “Hold on, lad! I’ve got you!”
TsuYa’s first reaction was to ask the stranger who he was calling “lad.” He decided better of it, considering he could still end up dropped into the churning froth of ocean if the winged man decided. Instead, he kept a tight hold on the scythe and let the man guide them back to the top of the structure. They landed on a ledge that served as the arch to the doorway, overlooking the battle that raged on below.
Both were out of breath. Both observed each other with curious looks before they spoke simultaneously, “Are you a friend of Lu–”
They paused. The winged man blinked. TsuYa just relaxed his grip on the scythe.
“I guess that answers it,” the warrior replied.
“It would seem so,” the winged man nodded.
A shrill cry pierced the air and the structure began to groan under their feet. With the two of them safely out of the reach of the Esgyll, Zazo now attacked the winged beast with a relentless fury. Perhaps it was a trick of the light or the blur of battle-weary eyes, but TsuYa swore she seemed larger somehow, more vicious… chaotic.
“Zazo! Be careful!” he found the shout bursting from his throat before he realized it. Though he wasn’t quite sure what it was he was warning her against.
“Zazo?” the winged man choked, staring over at TsuYa. “Do you mean Zazo of the Trine?”
“Yeah,” the warrior answered, eyes never straying from the fight. “That’s her.”
“Ooohhhh,” he let out a long, awed breath.
With a final scree and thrashing wings, the Esgyll peeled off of the stone wall and plummeted into the ocean. The huge white wolf followed it all the way down, jaws snapping and tearing, only to leap back up at the last moment as the foam rose to claim the dark winged form. A thick oily shadow spread into the water where the beast disappeared. It didn’t rise again.
A frustrated howl rang from the midst of the battle below. KoGuRai’s face was furious as he saw his mount defeated and driven into the waters. His moment of distraction was a fatal one.
LuShi’s sword stabbed forward, his motions calculated and focused. The sheen of steel glowed with a silver light, leaving a trail behind it. The glow matched the cold, ruthless burning behind the young Sygnus’ eyes. TsuYa felt himself shiver, aghast as he watched LuShi’s blade drive straight into KoGuRai’s shoulder, exploding from his back with a spray of black blood.
The Dark Champion let out an animalistic roar, writhing on the end of the blade. His face contorted with hate and desperation. As he glared up at the young Sygnus, his dark eyes held the look of someone who saw terrible death looming over him. In a frantic move, he ripped himself off of the point of the silver sword. A down-swoop of wings carried him into the air.
LuShi gave chase, his expression cold and vicious. Though he didn’t have wings of his own, he leapt up the side of the crumbled stone wall without abandon.
TsuYa rounded on KoGuRai as he appeared on the door ledge. Though this was LuShi’s fight, and he knew that he had to be careful of how far he allowed the Dark Champion to manipulate him, he wasn’t going to pass up the chance to finish off the already wounded enemy.
“TsuYa!” KoGuRai bellowed, rage crackling around him in streaks of red.
“Give it up, KoGuRai!” TsuYa retorted, moving forward quickly. “We’ve got you cornered! You’re not getting out of this one!”
“Augh!” He backed up a frantic step, towards the safety of the sky, only to be met with a snarling She Wolf from behind.
LuShi also appeared on the ledge, brandishing the length of his blade, dripping black with the Champion’s blood. “I’m going to send you back to your Master, just not the way you want to go.”
TsuYa arched an eyebrow.
The kid’s learned some class.
Then it happened. So quickly. Everything that KoGuRai did was born of desperation and survival. One black-clawed hand lashed out, locking around the other winged man’s throat. The hostage gave a choked squeak, lifted straight off the ground with the Champion’s naginata poised and threatening.
“Master NaDo!” LuShi gave a hoarse shout. His voice was different now, but the quality was the same, pleading and boyish. He obviously cared a lot about the man.
Master NaDo? That’s Father’s old friend!
“Don’t move!” KoGuRai hissed showing his dark fangs. “That goes for your pet wolf, too!”
Zazo paused where she was creeping up from behind. Her expression spoke volumes about not caring about sparing the life of the one, mere winged Earthian. For some reason, she didn’t strike, though she didn’t look happy about being commanded.
“KoGuRai! You coward!”
NaDo blinked up with a nervous stare at his captor, “KoGu? You’re JinRai’s boy?”
“Shut up!” he hissed, looking more than displeased that his father’s name was pulled into the situation.
“Stop hiding behind hostages!” TsuYa snarled.
“All’s fair, as they say,” the Dark Champion gave a slick grin, fist tightening with an iron grip. “Now move.”
“Forget it! You’re not going anywhere!”
“You don’t have a choice,” KoGuRai’s voice was smooth as the point of the blade touched the winged man’s face.
I know he’ll do it. That’s just the sort of person he’s become…
TsuYa spat out a curse as the Dark Champion backed away, holding NaDo secure in the crook of his arm. LuShi, too, was still and silent. There was anger in his face, but he didn’t dare move.
When KoGuRai finally stood, balanced on the edge, TsuYa demanded, “Let him go!”
“So you can do what? Follow me?” KoGuRai gave his gleaming smile. It left a chill over TsuYa’s body, a chill that told him something bad was about to happen. “No. I don’t think so.”
The Dark Champion launched upwards, wings flung wide. At the same moment, he hurled the winged man away from him, face down at the stone. The dark blade naginata slashed down, ripping through bone, feather and limb.
A terrible cry rang out as NaDo plummeted and landed in a pool of blood on the stone. The cry was echoed by LuShi’s furious shout, which turned into a choked half sob as he rushed to where the broken man laid. By the time they recovered from the shock, KoGuRai was gone, winging off into the dying day.