Book 4 Chapter 17

“Please, Master Kudako, let me come with you,” Lucci begged, dogging the Dragon’s steps as he strode up and down the line of the assembled Spiral warriors.

Master Kudako didn’t reply. In fact, he didn’t let it show if he heard the young Sygnus’ request at all. He simply pulled the leather of his gauntlet tighter on his wrist. It was the first time that Lucci saw the Dragon dress in a full set of armor.

“Master Kudako, I saw what might be out there. This was my dream, and I’m not afraid to face it,” he continued, spreading both of his hands in a plea. “Master TsuYa might be out there. There might be something we can do to–”

“If anything happens to you under my watch, I will have all sorts of people upset at me,” Master Kudako finally answered, pausing in mid-step.

Lucci froze, a little stunned by the revelation. “They would… care… if something happened to me?”

“Of course they would,” the Dragon told him, gold eyes peering back over one shoulder. “You have friends and near-family, people who raised you. Don’t let the know-nothings and the nay-sayers color the truth of those who do love you.”

They young Sygnus looked down, half shameful. It was true, his focus was always on who didn’t like him. Who didn’t trust him. Who thought he was nothing more than a child. Or just the Bane-to-come.

But if someone like Master Kudako says it’s so, then it must be.

When Lucci lifted his head again, his words were determined, “And I love them, too. That’s why I want to fight to protect them.”


One hand reached back and drew just a gleam of the dark blade from over one shoulder, “I can fight, Master Kudako. Let me prove it to you. Let me prove it to everyone. It’s what Master TsuYa would have wanted me to do.”

The Dragon’s lips were pressed into a firm line of silence. The warrior in him couldn’t deny the honor of another. “Very well. Remain close to me at all times. And if things turn bad, you will follow my orders, no matter what they may be. Is that understood?”

Lucci nodded vehemently. Something inside of him was both afraid and excited.

Here’s my chance! Now I can show them all what I can really do. Then maybe they will trust me.

Master Kudako was having none of it. His gruff voice snapped quickly, “Fall in.”

Lucci straightened, giving the Dragon a puzzled look. “Fall in what?”

“Fall in line,” Master Kudako sighed and pointed to a spot in the ranks next to one of the Spiral Warriors.

“Oh!” the young Sygnus back-pedaled, moving to stand with the other soldiers.

Their blue eyes gave him strange sidelong looks — the one spot of silver in a sea of golden warriors. A boy among men. Lucci offered them bright, friendly smiles, trying to break the ice. When he earned no response, he quickly learned to mind his own business and imitate the stiff posture of the men around him.

This… might not be so much fun afterall. Everyone here is so serious.

After what seemed an unnecessary eternity of waiting, Master Kudako finally strode back up to the front of the ranks. His gold eyes were sharp, studying each man in turn as he spoke quietly, “We may be going to face a great evil today. Our mission is to scout and bring warning. Not to fight. Light be with us that we find nothing to bring warning about. Now let’s move out.”

Instantly, the Spiral warriors swept forward like a wave of deadly gold and steel. There was no sound. Nothing but pure, precise motion. Lucci was hard pressed to keep up.

At Master Kudako’s back, they navigated the forest. The pace was grueling in speed, though it never a seemed like any of the men were running. Or even jogging. Though Lucci was taller by most of the men by head and shoulders, his long legs almost served to make him more awkward and clumsy than helped him stay in rank.

How can they move so fast with so little effort?

By the time he was out of breath, none of the Spiral warriors even broke a sweat. Something about the way they moved was almost frightening. Almost mechanical. Lucci knew that if these men met with the dead-minded Marked, it would be a terrible fight to behold.

Master Kudako knew exactly where to go. Where Lucci could only guess at the location of the Passage through the Cleft, the warrior cut a straight shot through forest and hills and streams. He moved with the grace of the Dragon, even more effortless than the warriors around him, if possible.

I wonder how far it really is from the Spiral to the Cleft.

Ahead of them, the horizon was dark and heavy. It wasn’t the sort of darkness that was ordinary to the oncoming night. Something about it filled Lucci’s heart with a sense of dread. A dull pressure grew in the back of his mind, and before he could think about it, the ground around them was heavy with silver mists that clung to their feet, awaiting his command.

No, I can’t do this here! I want to fight on my own. I don’t want to rely on the spirits to fight for me.

If the rest of the warriors felt uneasy about the mounting shadows ahead, they didn’t show it. In fact, they didn’t show anything. They swept forward without hesitation, straight into the heart of the waiting Chaos.

They heard the screeches of the Marked before they saw them. The terrible, piercing sound of a soulless body, mangled with the hatred of destruction. Lucci threw his hands up over his ears, knowing that just like in the past, nothing could shut the pain of the sound out of his mind.

The Spiral warriors drove forward, unaffected. Their only reaction was to draw their weapons, growing ready for the battle to come.

“We must scout,” Master Kudako reminded them. “Fight to defend yourselves, only if you must. We must bring word back to the Spiral of what it is that we are facing. Remember!”

Obedient, the ranks slowed to a crouch, inching forwards through the thick brush to try and get a glimpse of what they were up against. Clumsily, Lucci imitated their motions, carefully parting the leaves of the nearest bush to try and get a look.

It wasn’t necessary. The creeping Mists told him all that he needed to know, unexpectedly acting as his eyes and ears.

“Marked,” the words passed through his lips, a voice almost not his own. “There are hundreds of them.”

Master Kudako lifted a hand to stop the advance, turning with a slow frown towards the young Sygnus.

“Zerom took not just the people, but the animals,” he continued somberly. “There are about ten or so Esgyll out there as well.”

“I see. We will need some Dragons to back us up, then,” Master Kudako’s face grew grim. “What are they doing?”

“Waiting,” Lucci answered. “There is something strange about the way they act. It’s not the same as the way the Marked were before.”

“In what way?” the Dragon asked.

The young Sygnus frowned, trying to figure it out, “I don’t know. Like they have some sense of organization. They’re not just roaming around and–”

-Lucci-boy! Watch your side!- Kaz’s familiar voice rang in his mind.

He was able to give a moment of warning before the shrieks rang out, “They’ve sensed us!”

The forest burst upon them in a torrent of decayed bodies, lashing fangs and claws. Animal growls and screeches echoed through the air. There were no sound of the men’s screaming in return. No scream but Lucci’s own.

As the young Sygnus stumbled back, he saw the swelling wave of golden Spiral warriors rise up to meet the onslaught of the Marked. Where normal men would buckle under the fear aura or trembled under the force of the mind-rending shrieks, the warriors pressed forward without a flinch. They cut through the Marked with fluid flashing blades, splattering the forest in the black blood of their enemies.

Something was different about the Marked, too. The Marked that Lucci remembered fought in a fever of feral frenzy, a rushing kamikaze with no fear or mind for their own wellbeing. Though there was no fear of death still, there was a sense of intelligence that wasn’t there before. Even the idea of this ambush was unlike anything that the Marked could do in the past.

This is dangerous.

They were using rudimentary tactics. Joining in numbers to take down stragglers. Focusing attacks and pulling back when taking too much damage or becoming outnumbered. Slowly, they were driving the Spiral warriors further and further into the forest, away from the main encampment.

They’re fighting with a warrior’s sense. Maybe now that Master TsuYa is leading them…

And for some reason, none of them were interested in fighting Lucci.

They must know who I am. Maybe Zerom told them to capture me without hurting me.

The young Sygnus drew his blade with bared teeth.

I don’t know, but it’s not going to work. I’m going to find Master TsuYa.

Just as he moved forward, a tight grip took his shoulder from behind. Lucci spun around to meet the intense gaze of Master Kudako.

“We are not here to take on the entire Marked army. We must fall back to the Spiral. We must warn them,” the Dragon ordered, ears folding back to accent the scowl on his face.

“But Master TsuYa could be right–”

“You are not going to save TsuYa if you get yourself killed. Now follow my orders and fall back!” Master Kudako snarled, his grip tightening a little.

Lucci’s mouth fell open in mute shock. It was rare to see so much emotion come from the Dragon. Everything in him didn’t want to tangle with the power of that gaze.

Just then, Kaz’s voice sounded in his mind again, sharp with warning, -Lucci. A group of them are breaking away!-

“What?” Lucci answered out loud, forgetting about his current company.

-The main part of their force appears to be moving towards the Spiral. I don’t know if they were waiting for you to come out here before they did, but whatever they’re doing right now, can’t be good!-

The young Sygnus’ chin jerked up, staring straight at Master Kudako, “The Marked are moving for the Spiral!”

“Are you certain?” Master Kudako bared his fangs.


“Yes!” Lucci echoed.

For some reason, the Dragon didn’t question his information further, “Then this ambush is a diversion. All men, full retreat! We make for the Spiral, post haste!”

Lucci didn’t have time to object. Master Kudako pulled him along for the first few yards before the Dragon broke out into a full run. Spiral warriors flanked him on either side, keeping him safe within the middle of the formation. Lucci didn’t know if they were ordered to protect him, or if it just happened that way.

Unrelenting, the Marked chased them, bounding and lashing after the retreating men from all sides. Their shrieks were deafening, the scent of decay overwhelming. The Spiral blades flashed every now and then, painting the forest floor black as they struck. The warriors rarely missed their target.

Every now and then, the Marked would catch the heels of one of the running men, slashing at them. One of the warriors fell just to Lucci’s left. There was no expression on his face. No scream as the swarm of darkness leapt on him with tearing fangs and claws. The young Sygnus turned his head, choking.

No… no…

Lucci felt exhaustion rising. His breath burned his throat as he fought to gasp. His legs ached with the effort of speed. To stop would to mean death, if not for himself, then for the Spiral warriors that would certainly turn to defend him. And maybe for the people who waited for their warning in the Spiral city not that far ahead.

Must… keep… running.

Dismay filled him as his silver eyes lifted to the horizon. The Marked moved in fast, propelled by the forces of their Esgyll. Shadows darker than night rose up over the glimmering golden city and the Lion’s Keep. Zerom’s Marked army invaded the Spiral.