Book 3 Chapter 56

“TsuuuuYaaaa!” KoGuRai’s face contorted in an animalistic snarl. His dark eyes focused sharply on the warrior, full of hate and fury.

TsuYa smirked and coolly wiped his blade off on the edge of his coat only to find, to his dismay, the black ooze ate right through the cloth.

This time, this is it.

“Turn around and walk away. This is between me and LuShi,” the Champion sneered.

“Then why are you dragging little girls into this? I suppose it figures, considering the kind of coward you are,” he sneered back.

This time, you’re not walking away alive, KoGuRai.

TsuYa ground his heel against the stone, poised and ready to strike. KoGuRai took a step back, nursing his wounded shoulder, both fists clamped tightly around the haft of his naginata. Before any blows were exchanged, a shout rang out across path.

“TsuYa! TsuYa, wait!”

The warrior gave a quiet curse under his breath. Things were about to get even more complicated.

“JouKa?” KoGuRai paused, turning. It was strange how the Marked Champion could throw out scathing threats with the same voice that could sound so concerned.

The winged girl rushed into the center of the fray, eyes wide as she stared between them. Then she stopped, peering straight at KoGuRai for a long, long time. For once, she seemed completely lost for words.

KoGuRai also stared at her, lowering his weapon just a bit. The silence between them was awkward and heavy. Finally, he took a step towards her. “JouKa, I’ve finally found you. Have you come to me at last?”

TsuYa made a blech face.

“KoGu… what… what… ‘ave you done?” she shook her head, taking a step back.

“I can explain. Just give me a chance to…” he approached, with hands wide in a gesture that spoke of harmlessness.

“Explain? Explain what? The village ya razed? All of the people ya killed?” her voice was quiet, nothing more but a shaken whisper. “‘Ow can you possibly explain somethin’ like that?”

“Village?” his face grew as pale as a Marked complexion could. “No, that wasn’t me, JouKa! I swear!”

“Then who was it, KoGu? Someone that looked like you and yer pet Esgyll?” she retorted hotly.

“If you’d just let me, I could tell you.”

“Then tell me about Mister NaDo. And about takin’ him ‘ostage. Splittin’ his back straight open. Tell me that wasn’t something that ya did, KoGuRai?” JouKa gave him a sick, pained look.


“You didn’t ‘ave to ‘eal those people — I did!” she snapped, not allowing him a moment. “I saw what came of it all, and I just can’t believe you could…”

KoGuRai fell silent, looking down at his fists, gripping the haft of his naginata. His hands were shaking as if fighting back some kind of internal violence.

“What’s ‘appened to you?” tears shone in her eyes. “I wanted to believe in you, but after what I’ve seen, all I can think is… you really ‘ave become a monster!”

The Marked Champion’s head snapped up with a bitter glare. The expression that had been concerned and shocked had turned cold and distant.

“I see what’s going on here,” KoGuRai’s voice grew low and gravely. His dark eyes shifted from JouKa to TsuYa and back again. “TsuYa’s turned you against me, hasn’t he? You’ve fallen for him while I was gone. You’ve fallen for him and you’ve betrayed me, haven’t you?”

“What in the name of the Light are you talkin’ about?” she shook her head with a frustrated and confused look.

“You know what I’m talking about!” before she could pull back, his hand shot out, grabbing her roughly around the wrist. The air crackled red, furious Chaos. KoGuRai was losing himself. “All this time I was trying to find you again. He promised he would give you to me, and we would take Nefol together! But you’ve ruined it all! You’ve run off with TsuYa!”

“KoGu!” JouKa’s voice lifted an octave, for the first time, real fear reflected in her eyes as he loomed huge above her. “It’s not like that at all!”

“Are you Promised to him?” KoGuRai almost roared, fangs gleaming as he pulled her closer.

“NO! KOGU! Yer ‘urtin’ me!!” the winged girl yanked back in pain. TsuYa could see the strength of the Marked Champion’s fist closing tighter around the girl’s arm, and he knew exactly how strong a Marked could be.

“STOPPIT!” TsuYa leapt forward with a snarl of his own, slamming between JouKa and KoGuRai. “LET HER GO!”

The winged girl stumbled back, knocked free from the terrible grip, just at the same moment the Marked claw slashed out, leaving long, bloody gashes straight through TsuYa’s shoulder. He gave a choking gasp at the unexpected pain, dodging as the claw came for him again.

Somewhere in the distance he heard JouKa’s scream and the choked cry of Suzume. The world wavered and shifted around him as his senses tunneled. Fury began to burn within, everything focused on the dark winged figure. His rival. His enemy. One who would kill and destroy all that his family sacrificed everything for – Nefol… his people… his friends…

I won’t let you hurt them!

KoGuRai bore down on him with blade in hand, a dark maelstrom of hate. His wings stretched wide, the twisted taint of Chaos choked the air. Animalistic insanity and bloodlust transformed the Marked Champion’s face. If there was anything left of the son of JinRai, it was impossible to see it.

TsuYa floundered back, barely deflecting the blows that came again. And again. And again. His shoulder was in shreds, wounds open and burning with the acidic nature of the Marked attacks. His chest grew tight, breath rasping in his lungs as he fought to keep his feet under him.

I… can’t. I can’t hold up under this! He’s so strong!

Pain exploded along his left side. TsuYa watched, to his horror, as dark crimson fountained from KoGuRai’s blade as it tore into his body. His cry was wretched, so unlike the warrior he trained to be. For years and years and years. All the hardship. Everything that he strove for… to be like his father. His brother.

And I will die like this, on the end of this monster’s blade?

Eyes darkening, TsuYa’s face broke into a snarl of his own.

I refuse!

With an agonized groan, he pulled himself off of the point of the naginata. KoGuRai loomed over him, a smug look of triumph stretched over his face. The battle was won in his mind. He was merely toying with TsuYa now, doing everything he could to make the warrior’s death as shamed and futile as possible.

That’s your biggest mistake!

Distantly, he heard the sound of voices. JouKa and LuShi calling frantically. TsuYa could only watch with horrified, blurry eyes as Suzume rushed forward, little wings unfolded. She darted in, face angry and determined, yelling at KoGuRai as loud as her child-voice allowed.

Kid! What are you doing!?

Something grew deathly cold within his chest as he saw the glint of KoGuRai’s blade flash. The naginata lifted into the air, poised above the child’s head. So deliberate. The Marked Champion’s expression did not change, as if it was nothing more to him than swatting away a meaningless irritation.


Fingers digging into the ground, TsuYa drove himself back up on his feet. He couldn’t breathe. He couldn’t speak. His body wasn’t responding. Everything felt so cold, as if all the heat had rushed out of his body.


A dazzling white light suddenly flooded the world. In the brilliance of the flash, he could make out KoGuRai reeling back, wincing against the blinding radiance. Suzume shouted, falling back in surprise, but unharmed.

His arms were around her. Just that sudden. TsuYa was there. The little winged girl was safe, cradled against his chest.

Suzume stared up at him with awe. TsuYa could see his reflection in her dark eyes, and he realized that the light was coming from him. Her voice was hardly a whisper when she spoke, “Wings…”


Stretching wide around him were wings of luminous white. Wings that belonged to him.

No way! I’m…

Wings that looked exactly like Father’s. So much like Father’s, in fact, that TsuYa almost gave a shout for joy. For once, he could feel it, the endless possibilities. The potential within himself. That he could be exactly what he had always dreamed of being, what he worked so hard to become.

I’m Awakened!! I’m-

The sharp sound of a crack shattered his world. Pain. Terrible burning pain suddenly rushed through every inch of his body. The look of delight and awe on Suzume’s face shifted instantly to fear. With a strangled sound, he released the winged girl, stumbling away from her.

“TsuYa! Are you all right?” she called to him.

He tried to answer, but no words came. Nothing in his throat but a low, terrible growl. It bubbled and frothed its way out of his mouth, then shattered the air with an animalistic shriek. He clutched frantically at the source of the sudden pain, at his throat, just under his shirt. His fingers came away bloody. Blood that slowly turned black. Black like Marked blood.


Where Aur’s protective medallion once hung around his neck, there was nothing left but a warped piece of blackened metal. He realized, in horror, that under the pressure of his Awakening, the amulet broke.


With its destruction, his protection against the darkness fled. Not even the power of Awakening was enough to hold it back.

Please… please help me…

It felt like something was tearing him from inside out. His blood burned and froze. His body trembling as he convulsed, dropping him to his knees. He tried to cry out in agony, but nothing came except hisses and growls.

-No one can help you now, TsuYa. You are MINE.-

TsuYa’s flesh had darkened to grey, spotting black. His skin began to split as dark spikes burst through. A sharp rip as his coat gave way, his form growing and expanding far beyond his normal size. Black blood streamed from the bubbling wounds… from his eyes… his mouth… his nose… the Mark along his cheek. The darkness bled into his hair. Along the lines of his wings, until black feathers dripped with thick ooze.

Then the terrible voice sounded in his mind.

-My Champion, greatness waits for you. Now come to me.-

He fought it with every bit of strength in him, snarling and shrieking against the voice that invaded his thoughts. Everything was a blur. The world spun dizzy around him as the pressure of Chaos closed in on him. The sound of metal clashing, shrieks and battle were so distant and far away.

When he finally found breath again, it was rasping hisses. He stared down at his hands, now nothing more than beastly claws. Thick black blood ran over them. He realized the blood was not his own. Looking down, he saw the mangled and motionless form of KoGuRai’s body, the silver helm bent under the heel of his boot.

Is he… is KoGuRai… dead?

Sickness welled up in the pit of his stomach. Sickness as he saw the blurred and twisted reflection of his face in the smudged sheen of the metal helm. KoGuRai was not rising. A pool of black spread around him where he lay in the dust.

TsuYa won the battle. He took the life of his enemy, but he was lost now, in return.