-Quickly, Lucci-boy! Quickly!- Kaz’s voice echoed in his mind.
We’re too late! The Marked are everywhere!
Lucci’s breath whistled through his nose, every inch of his body burning from the long run back to the Spiral. The moment they entered the city, the Spiral warriors scattered into smaller groups, rushing to cover as much ground as they could. In the middle of the confusion of battle, Lucci got separated from the rest of the ranks.
-It’s not too late. There are people who need you here.-
“I know,” the young Sygnus answered quietly, his fist curled tightly around the grip of his dark blade. There was one person in particular that he needed to find – he had to make sure that Suzume was okay.
He slipped through the streets, hearing the echoes of battle in a distant part of the city. The Marked weren’t a threat to him since they avoided battle with him whenever he met them. So searching for Suzume wouldn’t be too difficult.
The city was on fire, there were no people left in the hollowed streets where he roamed. The shapes of Dragons and Esgyll tangled in streaks of light and shadow across the sky. Every now and then, the earth rumbled under his feet, groaning at the plight of its people against the spreading Chaos. He stepped over the ruins of fallen walls and toppled buildings.
Then as he turned the corner, Lucci came to a sharp stop.
Dead bodies were strewn down the street. Some of them were puddles of melting Marked, but most of them were people who lived in the Spiral. The commoners who would fight to the death to defend their homes and families. A lump caught in Lucci’s throat. For the first time, he felt something deep and terrible at the sight of death.
His mind shifted quickly. Remembering. Where people died, there was the Mists. And the Mists were always drawn to him, their spirits, memories, and very being. He was a creature created to harvest the souls of the fallen and grow more powerful from their grief and anguish.
It’s the kind of thing Zerom wants me to do.
Lucci backed a step away.
He backed another step away.
I won’t do this to them!
He needed to get far away, he knew.
I don’t want to see this. I don’t want to know this! I don’t want to take them!
Lucci stumbled as he backed away, falling against the wall as his feet caught on something slick and heavy. Looking down, he could see the body of one of the fallen men laying there. It was only when the man gave a quiet groan that the young Sygnus realized that he was still alive.
How? How can that be? Marked don’t leave survivors.
To his surprise, he realized that he felt the sense of life within most of the unmoving in the streets. It was very faint. Very distant. As if they were hanging on to the mere edge of vitality.
They’re alive? I don’t understand!
That’s when he first noticed it. The shifting of Mists around the bodies as it came to claim their final breath. It glimmered then grew dark, shifting into a strange sort of shadow. Lucci’s skin began to prickle with an unexplained dread as he watched it creep over them.
This is not natural.
The man closest to him uttered a long, broken moan. As his mouth opened, the gleam of cold fangs shown, followed by a gush of dark ooze erupting from his throat. It happened so fast – eyes glazing black, skin turning ashen grey, claws forming from fingers. The low growl bubbling into the piercing shriek of the Marked.
Within seconds, the man was no longer a man. The street that was dead moments before began to rise again.
Zerom’s Chaos! He’s transforming them as they die!
Lucci spun on his heel, running back the way he came. His breath came in panicked gasps as he rushed to find Kudako. The Spiral warriors. Anyone.
He doesn’t want to destroy the people here, he wants to harvest them for his own Marked army!
Despite the exhaustion that burned through his limbs, he forced himself to run. He didn’t know if his warnings would come in time, but he knew that if the Spiral warriors fought and died, they would be taken.
Just like Master TsuYa was.
Lucci raced through the narrow streets, breaking out into a full run as he entered the Spiral square. He didn’t know his way around the city very well, but he did know his way to the Lion’s Keep.
If people will gather somewhere, it will be there.
Before he had a chance to survey what kind of danger waited, his vision was blinded by a brilliant white light. Lucci reeled back, covering his face with both hands, expecting the worst. Where there was light, there was usually flame. Or energy. Or magic of some sort.
When no pain came, the young Sygnus uncurled, daring to peek.
The huge form of an Esgyll stood not far from the steps that lead up to the Lion’s Keep. The terrible dark beast was shaking its head back and forth. To Lucci’s horror, there was something hanging from its mouth. It looked like a person.
“NO!” Lucci’s shout resounded sharply.
The Esgyll stopped at the sound of the command, dropping its prey. White feathers rained down across the square. And though her face was streaked with blood, Lucci could recognize the winged woman.
“Aunt SaRa!” his cry was hoarse as his hands tightened on the grip of his blade.
She wasn’t moving. The crimson-touched feathers alighted in the spreading pool of her blood.
Images flashed through his mind. Images of all the times that Aunt SaRa was there for him. The fudge that she made. When she bandaged his cuts. Or mended his clothes. The stories she told, and the songs she sang to him at bedtime.
Now her blood-streaked face, marred with pain.
No! This can’t happen!
His body began to shake. A pounding force rose behind his ears. A searing heat burned through his veins. But hotter still were the runes that marked his face. The black blade between his hands began to shiver. Awaken. Glow with a frightening silver sheen.
She can’t die!
The Mists frothed and boiled around his feet.
Screams and laments of those who passed before echoed through his consciousness.
His blade swept forward in a terrible command.
The Mist billowed upward, releasing Them. The power of the tortured. The anguished. The lost. All focused as Lucci lunged at the great black beast with a wild war cry.
The weapon seemed to move of its own accord, slicing down through the thick trunk of neck unhindered. Lucci didn’t even feel it as the blade went clean through. The Esgyll wavered for a silent moment before it toppled. The huge body crashed down in the center of the square as the head landed some distance away, at the foot of the wide Keep stairs.
It was only then that the pounding receded. The wailing in his mind dimmed, but didn’t vanish. They deemed the beast’s death satisfactory, but Their suffering demanded more. More that Lucci wouldn’t give them.
“BE QUIET!” his hoarse voice commanded Them. His face was hot with tears, and the flickering silver runes on his face stung where the streaks of his anguish ran.
Finally, They fell silent again.
The young Sygnus stumbled forward, gasping for air as he reached for the broken form of the winged woman. Sobs racked his body. His hands were sticky with her blood as he tried to lift her. It was only when he touched her that he felt the last flicker of her life still there.
“Aunt SaRa!” Lucci cried, silver head bowed as he hugged her to his chest. “Don’t die! Don’t leave us!”
Her eyes cracked open at the sound of his voice, soft and green. She struggled to smile. “Lucci. Be a good boy.”
“I will!” he promised through the sting of hot tears. “Just don’t go!”
He could feel her body shudder in his arms as her head rolled limply to one side.
“NO!” he held her closer as if it might hold her there. Change something. Anything.
All of his sobbing meant nothing. Not even the streaks of his tears on her face. Distantly, he heard voices calling his name. A voice that sounded like Kaz…
The young Sygnus wiped at his eyes, still clinging to the limp form of Aunt SaRa. That’s when he realized there was no light. No mist. The shadows were starting to gather around them.
Zerom’s Chaos was coming for Aunt SaRa.
No! No, not this!
Lucci’s will suddenly focused, strong with determination. Anger. Desire to protect. He wasn’t able to save Aunt SaRa’s life, but he wouldn’t let Zerom take her in death.
The shadows fought him, tendrils of Chaos reaching for her motionless form. The Mists rose up in response, lashing at it, driving it back. Fighting for time. The world around them filled with Mist, until it blotted out the darkness of the night. Swirling forms roved at the edge of his sight, the waking world twisted and shifted into the world of the Passed.
When Lucci looked up, he saw an image of Aunt SaRa standing over him, a shimmering vision of soft light. She was younger somehow, completely unmarred by sorrow or pain. Her smile was warm as she reached out to touch his cheek, wiping away his tears.
He watched her, unable to find the words to say. His breath caught in his throat, but he commanded. He commanded with every inch of power within him. The Mists parted, creating a long silvery path that led to a single pulse of comforting light in the far distance.
Zerom won’t take her.
Aunt SaRa nodded and turned, walking down the path.
And the Mists cannot have her.
Slowly, her image became more and more hazy. The world of the Passed and the world of the Waking began to blur and blend once more.
She will go Beyond, as she was meant to.
Then the vision faded. The light, the Mists, and Aunt Sara’s receding form were gone.
Lucci found himself kneeling upon the golden stone of the square. Her body was limp and cold in his arms, but she wasn’t taken by the Marked. Grief still welled in his chest, but there was a peace there, too, knowing that she was safe.
The sound of the battle around them didn’t touch Lucci for a long time. Not until he heard the hoarse cry of a familiar voice.
The young Sygnus lifted his head slowly, face still puffy from crying.
Master ZenToYa stood on the stairs to the Lion’s Keep, body taut as he stared at the motionless form of his sister. Then he glared at Lucci, a smoldering anger rising in the depths of his eyes. “You!”
Master Kudako was there, holding the winged man back with a stern grip. His face was pale and unreadable. He, too, stared at the winged woman’s form in open disbelief.
Master ZenToYa was beyond explanation. Beyond understanding. Beyond rational thought. His voice lifted in terrible accusation, the very words slicing like hot razors, “You TOOK her, didn’t you?”
Lucci’s own eyes widened, hands beginning to shake as he realized what he was being accused of. “NO! No, Master Zento! I would never do that!”
“You monster! Get away from my sister!” with a forceful jerk, the winged man broke away from the Dragon’s hold, bearing down on the young Sygnus.
Lucci reeled back as he was shoved forcefully away. He pled one last time, “I didn’t hurt her! I swear!”
The winged man didn’t hear. He fell to his knees and gathered up his sister in his arms. His wings curled around her as if to protect her from the evils of the world. Hunched over her body, he cried. Long, terrible heart-rending sobs, laced with the mangled sound of her name. Over and over again.
Master ZenToYa, I tried to protect her. Please… believe me…
Tears sprang in Lucci’s eyes as he watched the anguish. Tears of hurt that he would be blamed for the death of someone he loved just as dearly. Tears that froze into bitterness and fear, fear of what would happen if people believed he was really at fault for her death. That he would really do something so terrible as steal her spirit away.
I can’t stay here.
Before he realized what he was doing, Lucci picked up the dark-bladed sword, and raced away into the depths of the mournful night.