“Okay, Tsu. You take the back,” SoYa’s eyes were bright, the color intensified by the green foliage that framed his face. “I’ll distract him from the side.”
“I think I should come in from the side and you get him from the back,” TsuYa disagreed, his hands tightening on the haft of his weapon. “I tried jumping him last time and it didn’t work, remember?”
“That’s because he sensed you coming,” the elder brother pointed out.
“Gee thanks. So why’s this time going to be different?” a sharp frown accented the younger brother’s discontent.
“Because I’m going to muddle his senses,” the Athrylith murmured with a sudden hushing wave of his hand. “He’s coming! We have to decide on something!”
“Fine,” TsuYa muttered. “But if we get trashed again, next time we’re doing it my way!”
SoYa nodded and began to creep through the deep green forest bushes. Though he was careful to be as quiet as possible, TsuYa couldn’t help but wince as he heard the sounds of crunching leaves and heavy missteps.
His ears seemed to pick up sounds more keenly as of late. It took time for him to realize that just because he heard something, didn’t mean everyone else did. He always put that knowledge to good use.
TsuYa silently slipped between the dappling shadows on the forest floor, doing his best to blend in. He searched between the swaying leaves, then focused on the approaching figure in the clearing just beyond the tree line. Crouching low, he waited, measuring his opponent.
All senses focused. His mind was locked and silenced, for he knew that thoughts would give him away. His fingers were sure where they gripped his weapon.
For a moment, everything was frozen, a pulse of breath between the folds of time. Then, TsuYa launched forward, a blur of blue and white, teeth bared as he burst from the stillness of the forest shadows.
In unison, SoYa leapt out, sensing exactly when his brother was going to act. One sweep of his staff lit the clearing with a blinding flash of power. Though the spell wasn’t aimed at him, TsuYa could feel the condensing of air as the Athrylith released his will upon their target. A muddling spell, he called it.
Giving the spell a moment to take hold, TsuYa darted in, his weapon raised and ready. He gave a smirk of victory, seeing that the mind muddle must have worked – their opponent still didn’t seem to sense his approach. His strike came fast, despite the size of the weapon in his hand, a blow meant to topple his target in one shot.
If I don’t get him in the first round, there won’t be another.
The air hissed and crackled, a flash of light blue suddenly lashing out at the condensing energy of SoYa’s spell. A mental snap resounded through TsuYa’s frame, breaking the arc of his leap and driving his brother back a few shaken steps.
No! He broke the spell AGAIN!
A flurry of feathers and silvery white hair whipped around as TsuYa found himself face to face with his father. ZenToYa’s sharp green eyes of locked on him, the power of the gaze sending a shudder down the length of TsuYa’s practice weapon. He hardly had a moment to catch his breath before he reeled away from the flurry of strokes that would put the most boastful young warriors to shame.
Though TsuYa was fast, once Father caught sight of him, it was always over shortly. The most he could do was try to hold out as long as he could before he was driven into the ground by the raw power that the winged man possessed. Even without using magic, and only armed with a simple wooden practice weapon, ZenToYa was very much the Champion of the Dreigiau.
SOYA! I need some back up here!
Sometimes his brother was able to shake himself out of the mind stupor fast enough to get in another spell. Often times, he wasn’t.
Of course, Father wasn’t playing nice when it came to practicing battle simulation. Everything was supposed to imitate what real battle would be like, including the challenge of the attack. The two brothers decided to undertake the simulation arena, knowing full well that Father would push them to their limits.
When real battle came, it would be far less forgiving than Father.
Sweat streamed down TsuYa’s face as he darted and dodged, trying to put the trees and branches between himself and Father’s practice weapon. His breath came in hoarse rasps between gleaming teeth. Only by his speed alone was he able to continue to avoid stroke after blurring stroke that flew his way.
This had been the longest he had ever lasted, but it was taking its toll on him. Father didn’t seem to be breaking a sweat.
“Tsu!” He could hear his brother shouting his name. It was the only warning he had before the whole underside of the forest lit up in a brilliant, dazing light.
“Ah! No!” TsuYa staggered back, clamping his eyes shut. The world suddenly seemed to waver and melt around him. “Aim at HIM! Not ME!”
Shaking himself from the grips of the mis-cast mind magic, Father’s form rose up above TsuYa, wings spread wide. The young warrior braced himself as the blow came, a shattering strike that he caught the haft of his weapon. The strength behind the blow was still enough to force him to one knee.
“Tsu, oh no! I’m so sorry!” SoYa’s voice was distant in his ears. The pressure of the mind magic unraveled, but the damage was still done.
“Urhg!” TsuYa choked, fighting to regain his senses. Both of his arms fought to hold Father’s practice weapon at bay.
No, we never win! How are we going to fight against the Marked if we can’t even hold our own in one simulation training?
A flood of panic filled his senses. Followed by something strange – a deep and welling feeling, distantly familiar. The raw taste of fear in his mouth and his vision sharpened into painful brilliance for a split second. TsuYa didn’t know what his father saw in his face at that moment, but a flicker of alarm reflected in the depths of the winged man’s eyes.
TsuYa felt a surge of sudden strength flow through his limbs as his arms thrust forward. A moment later, TsuYa found himself staring at Father, who was fighting to regain his footing a few yards away.
SoYa was also staring, “Tsu? What did you do?”
“I… don’t know?” he replied, dumbfounded.
Father brushed himself off, wings folding out of dishevelment. There was a shaken look on his face that set TsuYa’s stomach churning with unease.
“The simulation training ends,” Kudako’s stern voice edged into the moment of tension. “The boys seem to be improving. Just slightly.”
Father gave a low grunt, “Takes time. You don’t win the first simulations. Sometimes not even the first hundred.”
“Hmmm,” a low rumbling sound rose in the back of the Dragon’s throat. Then the golden eyes fixed upon TsuYa. “That was a nice throw. You’re stronger than you look.”
“Uh… thanks?” TsuYa frowned, looking down at his hands in confusion. He had no idea what just happened, but compliments from Kudako were so rare that he wasn’t going to turn one down.
SoYa was still watching him with a puzzled look.
“Alright. You heard ‘Dako. Let’s call it for now,” Father nodded, taking a towel from one of the overhanging tree branches and wiping his face.
“Yessir,” SoYa gave a quiet nod and followed suit, leaning back with a groan. His fingers massaged his temples as if to ease away the pain of a headache.
After that flub, I should GIVE him a headache!
“I’m sorry, Tsu. I didn’t mean to… It was a mis-cast,” the Athrylith gave a miserable look.
It was always the same. SoYa had proven that he could handle very intricate magic, but never under pressure.
“Don’t worry about it,” TsuYa grumbled to himself and retrieved his own towel, wiping the grime from his hands.
Usually he’d give his brother a hard time for such a slip up. But right now, an uneasy feeling hung in the back of his mind. Something just happened, though he didn’t know what. When uncertainties like that came up, he never knew exactly what it meant.
As much as TsuYa hated to admit it, things had changed within him since the battle at Nefol. Though they stopped the progression of the Marked within him, he discovered strange side effects were developing as time went on. Heightened senses seemed to be one, but it was not the only thing he suspected so far.
“As long as you learn, boys. That’s the most important thing,” Father’s gentle voice slipped between the darkness of his thoughts, bringing TsuYa around. “I think you’re both improving quite a bit. I know the simulation battles are tougher than regular training, but the two of you make a good team when you work together.”
SoYa gave a hopeful smile.
TsuYa just scowled, “We still haven’t made a scratch on you.”
Father chuckled and rocked back on his heels. “I’ve had a lot longer to hone my skills. Be patient. Keep working. You know it takes time and practice.”
“I do… it’s just… we don’t have a lot of time,” he frowned quietly.
“We make do with what we are given,” Kudako muttered as he began to stalk away. “We have turned the last few scouts off of us, and foiled at least one that seemed a real attempt at attack. We have been fortunate to have this much time to make ready.”
The winged man sighed, watching the shadow of the Dragon slip away into the silence, down the path towards the waiting compound.
“Is it just me, or is he grouchier than normal?” TsuYa observed.
“Grouchy? You’re one to talk about being grouchy, Tsu?” SoYa’s eyebrows lifted.
“What? I’m not grouchy!”
“Then what are you?”
“I’m… just serious. There’s serious stuff going on, you know?” he folded his arms with a huff.
“Suure…” SoYa gave a slight smile.
Father cleared his throat with a hint of suggestion, a little curve tugging up at his lips as he watched the banter between his two sons. If anything, the training and simulations had given the three of them the chance to spend time together. To learn. To work side by side. And in a strange way, during this time of war, it gave them a chance to be the family that they had never had a chance to be… for a little while.
TsuYa turned towards the prompting, “Father?”
SoYa also stopped and turned with a questioning look.
“Boys, I have something I want to give to you,” the winged man spoke, voice low and quiet. As he turned to lead them into the shaded forest, they followed without question, both brothers sending glances towards each other.
They didn’t walk too far before Father came to a stop. There was a quiet clearing, cheered by sun that streamed down through the leaves above and the babbling of a quiet little rivulet just on the other side. Some stone outcroppings stuck their heads lazily above the fringe of grass. Wildflowers were in bloom, a myriad of color and scent, soaking up the kindness of the weather.
The whole place felt like a great big blotch of irony to TsuYa. He could only wonder if they felt the same.
Why did he bring us here?
SoYa glanced over and gave a nod in response to the passing thought. Usually, TsuYa would have been annoyed at the invasion, but he held his tongue, eyes fixed to the feathers of his Father’s shimmering white wings.
One day, I’ll be like him.
Father turned slowly, his gaze falling on TsuYa first, as if having heard the wish. He gave a slow, pained smile before turning to observe his elder son. “It’s hard…”
SoYa blinked in question. “What is?”
“Everything,” he gave a shake of his head, the sun reflecting from the strands of silver that marked his age. Even if everything else within the warrior seemed to fight time, the color of his hair gave it away. “You are both so young, but you’ve had to grow up so quickly. I wish war had never found its way into your lives.”
TsuYa lowered his gaze, focusing on the swaying grass at his feet. It was always difficult for him to know what to say or do when Father spoke in such a way. Awkward. It was far easier for him to bear the brunt of a training session than to stand before words of affection.
“But since we must deal with the days that have been dealt to us, I figured it was time for you to have this,” Father reached his hands out, one towards each of them.
There was a strange, round gem in both of his palms, the surface reflecting and rippling as if there were liquid inside. A deep blue one for TsuYa, a soft lavender one for SoYa.
TsuYa squinted at it, not understanding exactly what he was seeing.
Then his brother gave a quiet, breathy gasp, “Arfogaeth?”
The armor of will and spirit? Like the armor that Father has always had?
“Yes, that’s right,” Father nodded.
For the first time, TsuYa realized that the winged man was wearing his own armorstone in the medallion around his neck. Something about that left a twinge of worry in the back of his mind. Father rarely wore the amulet, unless he felt that battle was coming soon.
And now he’s giving us our own?
“I want you to take these,” sadness touched the light in his eyes as he held the stones out to his sons. “I didn’t get my armor until I was quite a bit older than you. Zemi thought it was best to begin to train you in using it. I don’t see that there’s any getting around it at this point.”
Wow! This is just… too awesome!
The deep blue stone rolled from Father’s hand into TsuYa’s cupped palms. His hands trembled in excitement and anticipation – very few Apprentices or Warriors of the Dreigiau were given such a gift. It was said that Zemi himself had to craft such armor to the will of its user and that only the owner of the stone could summon the spirit armor for protection.
TsuYa’s dark eyes flicked to where SoYa stood, his hands cupped in a mirror image to his brother’s. There was a look of humble surprise as he stared down at the lavender stone. A soft pulse of light answered the Athrylith’s questioning look.
Not one to be shown up, TsuYa threw all of his concentration on the stone in his hands.
Okay! Armor! You belong to me! Do what I tell you to!
And with all thoughts of masterful triumph focused, TsuYa squinted hard at the blue stone that sat still in the palm of his hand. And sat.
Come on! I want armor now?
Any day would be nice?
The stone only sat and reflected the darkening scowl that drew long over TsuYa’s face. “Great. I think mine’s busted.”
“Now, Tsu,” Father continued, pulling out of the solemn tone as he watched their reaction to the gifts, “It takes time and effort to learn how to use the armor. It’s not something that can happen overnight. It didn’t even for m–”
The words fell off in mid-sentence, the surprise in Father’s voice causing TsuYa to pull his attention away from the stubborn blue stone in his palm. His eyes sharpened a little as he fought back the sudden welling of bitterness that jolted through his chest.
SoYa was bathed in a soft purple glow. The stone in his hand seemed to be responding to silent commands, sending out tendrils of gentle light that wove together into the very faint outline of a gauntlet over his right hand. An expression of wonderment and bliss covered his face, making it even harder for TsuYa not to feel more than a little annoyed.
It’ll take years of practice, huh? Obviously not for Uber SoYa.
The moment that Athrylith realized he was being watched, all concentration shattered, the light from the stone scattering through the air and dying away. His bright green eyes blinked up at the two of them with a questioning look, as if he didn’t even realize what he had been doing.
“Well… there’s… always an exception to the rule, I suppose?” Father gave a tense smile.
“I’m sorry, did I miss something?” SoYa blinked at them.
“No. Nothing at all,” TsuYa muttered, closing his fist around the blue stone. Jaw clenched tight, he choked on the thick resentment that seethed from the pit of his stomach. With a grumble he began to pace away from the two, knowing full well he was being rude for not thanking his father for such a gift.
But right that moment, he didn’t feel thankful. Just shown up.
I take it all back. I liked SoYa better before he was the Athrylith.
“Tsu, wait? What’s wrong?” SoYa’s voice echoed after him, annoyingly oblivious.
He didn’t stop walking. Not even when he heard the sound of his father’s voice calling him to come back.
He suddenly just wanted to be alone.