Lucci didn’t realize that his sword was drawn until he saw the quivering tip of the blade pointed at TsuYa. His hands were shaking. Tears stung his eyes. The whimper of Suzume rose to his ears from where the little girl hid behind his legs. JouKa sat, collapsed against a crate, her head covered with both arms, sobbing and hysterical.
KoGuRai stood no chance against the Marked form of TsuYa. Already his remains were decaying, sinking into the puddle of black oozing blood. It flaked away into dark dust, nothing left but the sheen of the silver helm pinned under TsuYa’s heavy boot.
What do I do? What do I do? I can’t fight Master TsuYa! But, he’s become…
One Marked Champion fell, only for another to take its place.
Maybe that has been Zeromus’ plan all along? Maybe he never wanted KoGuRai as his Champion. He was just using him, like bait, to push Master TsuYa into turning Marked.
A low growl rose from TsuYa’s throat as pure black eyes focused on them. He reached down and picked the helm up, shaking it free from the clinging darkness.
And it worked.
Lucci readjusted his grip on the blade, keeping himself between the girls and the newly Marked Champion of Zeromus. Something in his chest ached terribly. If he was only a little faster, if he’d returned with the sword to the Inner Realms sooner, maybe TsuYa would be spared this horrible fate.
Something else was there, something that Lucci could sense still boiling, battling, struggling under the mask of shadows that encased the warrior. Perhaps it was because TsuYa Awakened before Zeromus took him. Or perhaps it was because his will and desire for freedom was simply that strong. No matter the reason, Lucci could feel it still, something of TsuYa was there. Aware.
And he didn’t attack them.
Even, physically, TsuYa’s body fought to preserve itself. Though his hair and wings were dark, there was still one light streak running through his bangs, a shock of white that fell down into his eyes. Something left from before.
Zeromus chose a difficult spirit to capture.
Somewhere in the distance he could sense the Arweinydd Zazo and the Watcher Aur. They were coming, no doubt, called there by the release of energy, both Awakened and Marked. The smallest inkling of hope rose in Lucci’s chest, the thought that if there was something still left of TsuYa, that maybe he could still be saved. That the Marked might be contained.
If I can just keep him here, peaceful, long enough for them to reach us.
“Master TsuYa,” Lucci’s voice quavered as he took the chance to lower his blade just a little. “Master TsuYa, do you remember me? Do you know who you are?”
Dark eyes watched the young Sygnus, a low growl the only answer.
Please Lady Zazo, come quickly.
Lucci took another chance, slowly moving forward. His breath came in frightened gasps, eyes never leaving the dark, Marked Champion. He froze as the growl grew into a fierce snarl. Then the snarl somehow managed to form words.
“LuShi, stay back! Stay away from me!” TsuYa grated through bared fangs.
“Master TsuYa?! Please, just stay calm. We can help you.”
“Nooo,” he moaned. His voice was very much like his voice always was. Just more frightened. More strained. “Nooo. It’s over. I’m one of them. I’m…”
“Not yet! You can’t give into him,” Lucci encouraged, taking another step forward. “As long as there’s part of you still aware, we might be able to–”
Suddenly, TsuYa broke out in a terrible yowl, clutching his head between clawed hands. He buckled over, screeching in pain. “Get him out of my head! Get him out of my heaaaaad!”
Lucci jumped back in shock as the warrior began to stagger around, slamming himself against the stone walls. Suzume cried out, huddling next to the glassy-eyed JouKa, covering her face with her hands. The young Sygnus reached forward, trying to intercept, only to be shoved away.
“AHHHHHHHHHH!!!” the half-scream, half-screech was chilling. The sound of a soul being consumed. “GET HIM OUT OF MY HEAD!”
The glowing form of the white wolf sprung over the pile of crates at the far end of the passageway. Running all out, her green eyes held a look of worry that Lucci never saw before. With one great lunge she leapt up, landing square on TsuYa’s back. It took all of her force to wrestle him down and keep him pinned, even as large as she was.
He struggled and howled, face streaked with black tears as he fought. Choking and gasping, the words became less words as the darkness began to twist and taint his mind.
-TsuYa! No! Hold on to me! I can fix this! I can fix this! I promise! Just don’t go!- Frantic, the she-wolf shoved her muzzle down into his face. As if her will and words alone would be enough to save him.
“Nooo! Noooo!” He responded with terrified hisses and raking claws. If she was a physical being, he would have shredded her face in his struggle. “Stay away from me! Stay away from meeee! Arweinydd! Stay away from meee!”
– It’s me! It’s Zazo!-
But her words couldn’t comfort his panic as his body began to convulse again. More spikes began to shred through his skin, the transformation slowly growing worse.
Aur and Oren arrived, not far on the heels of the she wolf. The Watcher stood for a long moment, observing the pleading Arweinydd and the struggling Marked. For the first time, something like true emotion washed over his face. Pity. Sorrow. Sympathy. He seemed to have trouble breathing as he gathered up Suzume in his strong arms, covering her protectively.
Oren also came quickly, his ruddy face horrified as he recognized the Marked creature before him. Without a word, he retrieved JouKa’s limp form and carried her away. He murmured quiet words of concern under his breath as he gently brushed the hair out of the winged girl’s face.
-He’s not calming down!- Zazo was frantic as she fought to keep the Marked pinned under her paws.
“LET ME GO!” TsuYa’s voice cracked, half shrieking as his back arched in pain. With a gurgling sound, he turned the dark claws on himself, leaving long trails of dark gashes along his face and chest.
The Arweinydd gave a defeated cry, watching as he maimed himself, shoving her nose between his head and his claws. Doing everything she could to stop the unstoppable. Finally, with a great heave, TsuYa cast her off. The moment he was free, he leapt to his feet, wings spread wide. One hand clamped around the grip of the scythe that was lying in the street.
“Sta…aay… baack…” he hissed, holding the scythe in front of him as he crouched, ready to fight.
-Don’t do this. Come back with me. Zem and I, we can fix this! You have to believe me, Tsu!-
The Marked Champion reeled back, face lined with pain. The howl escaped his lips again, as he was driven to mindlessness, “He’s in my head! Get him out of my head!”
“Lady Zazo! Be careful!” Lucci gave a warning call. It was hard to tell if TsuYa was going to actually use the weapon, of his own free will or not.
Then, the black wings spread wide into the air. With an agile leap, the Marked warrior launched into the sky, dark scythe held between his fists. One bound placed him on top of the nearby roof. The next cast him up towards the dimming clouds.
“Waaait!” Lucci called.
It was no good. The Marked instinct was driving him. With nothing to lose, nothing left to hold him, TsuYa fled, leaving nothing but a stream of black along the stone wall.
For a moment, it seemed as if Zazo might follow. But as the winged figure grew smaller and more distant over the lilac trees, she only stood and watched. With a startling sound, the she wolf threw her head back, shattering the air with a long, mournful howl.
Lucci, too, only watched as shock numbed his body. Realization began to flood over him. Realization followed by a deep, rending sadness.
They lost Ceiswyr. They lost TsuYa. But the war was not yet lost.
I still have the sword.
Lucci looked down at the flat of the blade. The silver steel reflected his image coldly. Suggestively. And he knew exactly what he needed to do.
No matter what. I’m going to pay him back for all the people he’s hurt.
The young Sygnus’ hand tightened on the blade’s grip.
I’m going to destroy Zeromus.