-Something terrible has just happened,- Zeni informed Suzume with a quiet chirrup.
The girl already knew. She could feel it, deep in her soul, but she didn’t know what it meant. Somewhere in the distance, she could hear the mourning howl of a wolf. The sound sent shivers over her body.
-Sister,- the Arweinydd spoke grimly.
“You mean, Lady Zazo?” Suzume asked with a slight gasp. As long as she spent getting to know the youngest of the Trine, she didn’t know much about the eldest sister.
-Yes. That means we are very close. Now come,- the bird fluttered across the road and into a narrow crevice between stone buildings.
Suzume had no choice but to follow. She didn’t know where they were or where they were going. She could only rely on Zeni’s senses to take them ahead, just as she did all along the length of the journey.
The two of them flew and flew and flew, until Suzume felt she couldn’t fly anymore. The lands beneath them changed from deep forests to open grasslands with scattered trees. The villages were built in strange, spiral patterns, with many colorful banners and tall stone buildings. Zeni told her that the place was called the Spiral. It was something that Suzume had heard before in the talk of grownups.
I’m not sure what the Spiral has to do with finding Lucci.
She was just glad to be on the ground again, and to have her person form back. Not that she minded being a bird, but when Zeni figured out a way to reverse the transformation, Suzume was completely for it.
Afterall, Lucci won’t be able to recognize me if I’m a bird.
She didn’t stop to think the problem would be more along the lines of whether she could recognize him. So when the tall, silver-haired man strode past their hiding place, Suzume was shocked to see the dark sword that was haunting her dreams, strapped to a stranger’s back.
“Zeni!” the girl gasped, poking her head out into the street to stare.
-Be careful,- the Arweinydd warned her softly. She didn’t try to stop the girl.
Suzume felt her knees shaking as she raced after the figure, her short legs working hard to keep up with his long strides. At first, she doubted whether this could really be Lucci. Perhaps her mind was playing tricks? Perhaps she just wanted to see him so much that she imagined this sword was the same as the one in her dreams.
It’s hard to believe Zeni would bring me all the way here if it’s not him.
She finally gathered up all of her courage, focusing on one short word. Her voice quavered as she called his name, “Lucci?”
The figure stopped. She held her breath as he slowly turned around, silver eyes shifting down to rest on her. For a long moment, they simply stared at each other, both with a look of mutual surprise.
Lucci was all grown up. His form was strong and tall, stern face holding only hints of the best friend she once knew. As he towered over her, Suzume felt like she was shrinking. With a start, she realized she hardly reached up to his waist. There were strange silver markings all around his face, and his silver eyes were eerie when they focused on her. She wasn’t afraid of her friend before, no matter what everyone else said, but something about him now left a chill over her body.
Suzume felt like crying.
No! Lucci! He’s so different!
It was worse than all her fears could ever concoct.
I should have never left him alone! This is my fault!
The girl didn’t realize that she was crying until she felt the wet heat on her face, and heard his startled exclamation.
“Suzume!” Before she could react, Lucci dropped to his knees in front of her. His long arms reached around her, swallowing her smaller form in a gentle embrace. She could feel him choking, too, stricken by emotion and uncertain what to say.
For a long time, he just hugged her, and during the embrace, she felt the tension wash away. Then she knew that she was hugging her best friend, the same as he was before, in all the ways that counted.
“Lucci,” she whispered, pulling back from him a little. Inspecting his face. One small finger traced a silver rune along his cheek.
“I missed you so much!” his face contorted with a boyish look.
“You did?” she couldn’t hide the surprise in her voice.
“Yes, so much,” his smile was genuine. If being a grownup changed the way Lucci saw her, he certainly didn’t let it show.
“I missed you too, Lucci!” she told him, laying her cheek against his shoulder.
“But, how did you get here?” he asked as if the question just dawned on him.
“I flew,” Suzume answered cryptically. She would fill him in on the details later, but there were more important things to talk about. “Because I’ve been worried. I’ve had a lot of bad dreams about you Lucci. About you and the sword.”
Lucci paused, glancing over his shoulder at where the hilt rose. “The sword?”
“It’s a bad thing, Lucci. My dreams show it all shadowy and dark. I’m really scared of the sword!” she told him, blurting it all in one long line of words.
Much to her surprise, he replied in a calm voice, “I know.”
“You know?” her eyes widened. She pulled back from him a bit, staring. “Then, why don’t you get rid of it?”
“Because it’s the only thing that can stop Zeromus,” he replied somberly.
“I don’t think you should even use it to fight Zeromus. I think something awful will happen,” Suzume shook her head.
“Something awful has already happened,” Lucci frowned with a troubled look. “And it will keep happening until I stop it.”
“What do you mean? What happened?” the girl felt a sinking in the pit of her stomach. She knew that he spoke of had something to do with the terrible feeling of dread that washed over her earlier, back when Zeni told her something very similar.
Lucci took a deep breath and shook his head. He spoke like someone with a lump in his throat, “I don’t know the details. We just got in the Spiral earlier today. No one seems to have all the news. Zazo says she thinks something has happened to Lord Zemi. And to Ceiswyr.”
“She says that they were attacked by Zeromus, and it’s gone,” a look of pain flooded his face. “I was… too late to help them.”
Suzume opened her mouth, the sting of loss flushing her cheeks. “Ceiswyr? Gone? That’s… that’s not possible. Nothing can take down Lord Zemi, right?”
Lucci turned his head and looked the other way.
“No… no… Lucci… it…” as much as the girl wanted to deny it, she felt it within. The heavy sorrow in her chest made sense. It all clicked in her head, and she knew that what he said was the terrible truth.
Lucci’s words were not as comforting. He rose to his feet, peering down at her. “I’m not going to let Zeromus get away with this anymore. I’m going back to the Inner Realms, by myself, and I will defeat him.”
“What?” Suzume stared up at him in surprise. “Lucci, you can’t!”
“I have to,” he responded, beginning to take a few steps away from her. “I know that you don’t like it. I know that they don’t like it either, that’s why I ran away from them. I’ve dragged them into enough danger.”
“Who?” she asked, doing anything to try to stall him there.
“Suzume, I have to go. They’re going to be looking for me. They’ll catch up to me as soon as they realize I’m not in my room anymore,” he told her with a hint of intensity to his voice.
“Wait! Lucci! Take me with y–” her words were choked, cut off as something large and strong snaked around her throat. Suzume gave a strangled squeal as she found herself lifted off of her feet. Darkness rose behind her. Darkness and the scent of decay, something that was so frighteningly familiar.
Lucci spun on his heel at the sound of her alarm. In a heartbeat, everything about her friend changed. His face grew cold and spiteful, silver eyes sharp and angry. His hand was on the hilt of his blade, ready to draw, his body tense, poised for deadly battle.
“It’s not them that you should worry about finding you,” a smooth, cold voice spoke. The owner of the arm that captured her and held her by the throat.
“KoGuRai! No! Not this again! You wouldn’t DARE hurt her!” Lucci snarled, plumes of wafting silver mists starting to rise about his feet.
“Oh, wouldn’t I?” the voice chuckled. “Do you think that one little girl has any meaning to me?”
“Unng!” Suzume couldn’t speak. She could feel a cold sharp edge of a weapon against her cheek. Terrified, she stared at Lucci, eyes pleading.
“Wha… what do you want?” Lucci suddenly didn’t seem so confident. In fact, he looked quite afraid.
“One little girl is that important to you?” KoGuRai sneered.
“Let her go,” his voice rasped, looking hopeless. “Please, don’t hurt Suzume.”
“I think we can make a deal,” came the smirked reply. The point of the weapon came away from her cheek, motioning towards Lucci instead. “I want that sword. You will give it to me.”
“Is Zeromus that threatened by it?” Lucci grit his teeth, his hand tightening on the haft.
“You should know, you’re the Bane,” KoGuRai barked a laugh.
“He thinks if you take the sword that I won’t find another way to destroy him?”
“I didn’t say that,” the Dark Champion’s voice was smooth as he added, “Perhaps I would like to be the one to use it against him.”
“Huh?” Lucci’s face fell stunned.
“The fall of Zeromus would restore my freedom,” KoGuRai smirked slowly. “Do you think I want to live the rest of my life out as his Marked slave?”
“Then let me through. Let her go! If you want to see him fall, let me defeat him!”
The Champion laughed again. “No… no… nonono. It doesn’t work that way, LuShi.”
“What? Why not?”
“Because, I will take his power. Chaos will be mine and I will reclaim Nefol as my own, as it should have been,” the dark eyes flickered with a hungry light. “I will destroy anything that tries to stop me. Especially you, boy-Sygnus.”
Suzume felt the tip of the blade press against her cheek again.
“Now,” KoGuRai began to walk forward, sounding conversational. “Stick that sword down into the ground, right here in front of me. Unless you want to be sucking the soul of your little girl friend in about ten seconds.”
She gasped, eyes wide.
Lucci’s face was horrified. His hand shook as he drew the blade from the dark cloth sheath. For a moment, it looked like he was calculating, considering if he could strike at the Champion and still save his best friend. Frustration marred his brow as KoGuRai’s grin grew wider.
Slowly, Lucci planted the point of the blade into a sandy area of the road, in front of the Dark Champion. His face was filled with loathing and bitterness as he took a step away. “Okay. So, let her go…”
KoGuRai didn’t respond. His smile just grew all the more twisted as his hand reached for the pommel of the blade. Just as his fingers made to close around the grip, the Champion reeled back with a shout that turned into a frustrated screech.
A spray of black colored the wall next to him and Suzume found herself suddenly free. With a mad dash, she ran to the safety of Lucci, who was already snatching the blade back up out of the ground and away from the Champion’s grasp.
TsuYa stood perched on top of a stone pile only feet away, face livid as his dark eyes focused on KoGuRai. Dark blood dripped from the edge of his scythe as his hands tightened on the grip. His voice was dark and threatening, the gleam of fangs showing as he growled, “Aren’t you forgetting about someone? You’re gonna have to go through me.”