“Lucci! Lucci, you CAN’T do this!” Kaz’s voice pleaded from behind him. The cry was so desperate. So hoarse and filled with fear. It was so unlike how his friend usually sounded.
Lucci turned, pausing just a moment on the long, broken stairway to look back. The Sygnus’ long silver hair swayed with a ghostly quality, blending into the flow of mist that billowed around him, gleaming along the outline of his tall silver wings. The mist was always there now. They were always there in the mist. There was no getting rid of Them.
No running away from what he was. They traveled long across the now-barren lands of the Inner Realms, all the way to the darkened heart of Nefol. There was no turning back. He knew what he needed to do.
“I have to stop him,” Lucci answered in a boyish way. But his voice was not a child’s voice anymore – he was no longer the boy that Kaz once guided. “There’s only one way. You know that.”
“No, Lucci. Look at yourself!” the spirit motioned with both hands. “This sword, these wings! You’re not thinking straight!”
“I’m fine!” the Sygnus snapped back with a tone he never used with his friend before. Instantly, something deep inside him felt ashamed, and he lowered his voice. “When I get done, it’ll be over with, Kaz. Then no one will have to be afraid anymore.”
Kaz just looked stunned and older somehow. His eyes were sad, ringed with worry and the inability to stop what he saw unfolding before him. But he tried one last time, “Please, Lucci-boy. Come home with me.”
It was the wrong thing to say. The spirit realized it with a blanch the moment that the silver light sparked in the Sygnus’ eyes.
“Home?” Lucci flourished the long slender sword in one fist. It gave off a cold and victorious light, feeding into the mists. Into the chill that surrounded the silver-haired young man. “Home? In case you didn’t notice, there is no home to go back to. The Islands have fallen! Wyndor will be next! There will be nowhere to go to! This must stop!”
Without further words, the Sygnus wheeled around and began to storm up the stairs. The structure that loomed before him was tall, tilted to one side and cracked up and down its length. It was what was left of the once-great Spire of Nefol. Now that the Inner Realms was completely under the sway of Zeromus’ taint and darkness, there was little left of the former beauty and light of the land.
If he was nervous about what he knew was coming, Lucci didn’t show it. He simply gripped the long dark blade in one hand. With the other hand he adjusted the shoulder of his light armor,which he had pieced together from plates that belonged to people three sizes smaller than him.
Not as if that matters now. I doubt I’m going to be walking away from this fight.
He was the cause of every pain, darkness and death that the Sygnus knew. Time after time. Battle after battle. Little by little, the dark, ruthless force had chipped away at the last of the light held within the people of the Dreigiau. With Ceiswyr gone, hope plummeted, just like the Islands from the sky.
But now that I have this sword. I can defeat him. Whether or not he really is my…
That didn’t matter now. Whether or not the people of Ceiswyr believed in him. Whether or not he had any chance against the shadow that was so much greater than him. He was going to fight it. Just like he promised Lord Zemi he would.
And maybe then, they’ll like me.
The way ahead was blocked at the top of the stairs, but this didn’t concern Lucci. The huge doors crashed inwards at a flick of his hand. The rock cracked and crumpled into a pile on the other side of the doorway as if it was nothing more than brittle bread. He stepped over it, his tall black boots crushing the rubble as if he bore an immense and invisible weight.
Kaz stopped, frozen on the other side of the doorway. Lucci didn’t say anything, but he could feel the lack of his guide behind him. In response to his thoughts, an answer came, low and sad.
“I’m not strong enough to enter Zeromus’ Keep. This is as far as I can go, Lucci-boy,” the spirit intoned with a heavy sound. Unshed tears glittered in his eyes, if such a thing could really exist within one who passed into the Mists.
“Thank you for everything, Kaz,” the young Sygnus paused. He looked back a last time, wishing he had not. The sight of tears was almost too much for him. Almost enough to make the child he once was want to rush back and embrace his old friend. Steeling his emotions, he pursed his lips instead. “I won’t forget.”
Lucci could hear the sound of Kaz’s weeping as he turned away again, “I won’t forget you… either…”
As he walked, the anguished sound was swallowed up by the pressing darkness that surrounded him. The only light was the swirling of the silver mists and the dim glow that trickled from his wings. Even that seemed to struggle to remain. Breath also came hard in the depths of the Spire, as the very air there was too tainted and decayed to breathe.
The young Sygnus couldn’t see where his steps led him. All he had was the depths of his senses. The overwhelming knowledge of where his enemy, his father, was.
If Zeromus could be called a father at all.
I was nothing to him, nothing but a weapon.
Lucci sucked in a long breath, pausing as a shaft of light appeared somewhere in the distance. The first thing that since entering the structure.
A low hiss echoed across the darkness of the chamber. In the lone shaft of light, Lucci saw the hunched forms of shadows loping towards him. Only the slightest glimmer of black eyes, then they were gone. The room was filled with the sound of animalistic hisses and half screeches.
The Marked! They weren’t supposed to be here! I thought they’d all be in the Spiral!
The creatures of Zeromus were awake and on the prowl. Though usually the Marked were very little challenge for him – in fact, they were often too scared of Lucci to even attack him – these advanced with a particularly aggressive air.
This could be a problem.
Claws and fangs gleamed sharply as they paced just on the fringe of the shrinking cloud of mist around the Sygnus’ feet. Lucci fought his share of Marked, but now he was on Zeromus’ turf, where these creatures were fed directly with dark power.
I wonder if they’ll attack. And if they do, can I beat them?
The stench of decay grew too overwhelming for Lucci to bear. He drew his collar up over his nose, backing away slowly, his blade held tightly in his other hand. His silver eyes darted around, looking for anything he could use to his advantage. But there was nothing. Nothing but darkness and the wicked things that grew there.
The Marked began to fret and hiss as he moved. Some lashed at his feet with black dripping claws, reeling back as the silver mists turned away their strikes. They shrieked from it, like a creature scathed, and began to strike more fiercely at the offending mist, advancing closer and closer.
Suddenly, a tremendous, soul-freezing sound shattered the air. A large winged shadow swept out from walls of darkness, alighting deftly in the center of the streaming light. Another shriek erupted from its mouth as it raised a flashing, black-bladed scythe over its head. A weapon that was all too familiar to the young Sygnus.
“M…Master TsuYa!” Lucci staggered back at the sight. For the first time, real fear began to break through his façade of bravery.
The rest of the Marked scattered at the sound of the great shriek, commanded back to their darkness once again. It was obvious that the winged Champion held a lot of power over the lesser creatures. Once the other Marked were gone, the vicious black eyes focused on Lucci. The young Sygnus recoiled more, this creature was hardly like the Master TsuYa he remembered.
Last time I saw him… he was Marked but…
The winged Marked was far larger than Lucci remembered, wrapped in the drape of cloth that was torn and shredded where his form out-grew it in places. His skin was a dead grey color and mottled with seething gashes of ooze where many thick black spikes erupted through his flesh. His hair was also dark, except for the one shock of white that fell across his brow and partly obscured his face. Wide wings of black spread from his shoulders, dripping in decay.
Lucci’s stomach twisted in revulsion and grief. One of the things he had hoped to do by facing Zeromus was to free his former teacher from the curse of the Marked.
Maybe, I’m too late now.
“Put the sword down, boy,” TsuYa’s lips curled back, a showing of fangs. His clawed hands gripped the scythe in warning.
Lucci suddenly realized that he was holding his own weapon ready, as if to take on the Marked Champion. Just as quickly, he dropped the point, shivering to think what might happen if he went head to head with Master TsuYa’s battle prowess.
“You can still talk?”
Another snarl, “Of course I can.”
“Master TsuYa, I–”
“That’s not my name anymore,” a low growl erupted from behind black eyes.
Lucci took a step back in surprise. His mouth opened, but no sound came out. Afterall, if he wasn’t supposed to call Master TsuYa by his own name, he didn’t know what to call him.
“Nevermind,” the Champion gave a snuff, grounding the butt of his scythe by his boot. “Follow me. Master Zeromus is expecting you.”
“You mean, you’re going to take me to him?” the Sygnus asked.
“Those were my orders.”
“Oh?” Lucci said, feeling the prickle of unease over his skin.
Before he could ask any more questions, Master TsuYa already heading towards the single dark outline of an arched doorway ahead. The Sygnus followed quickly, not wanting to be left behind when the other Marked crept out again.
Unlike the previous chambers, this one was alight with an eerie silver glow. A familiar sort of light, the kind that Lucci always saw in the mists around him. Only, this silver didn’t belong to him. Or the mists. It was something else. As he stepped inside, he saw the glow was contained in a large glass-like globe.
Zeromus was nowhere to be found.
“What’s this?” the Sygnus asked, turning towards the Champion.
The way that the silver reflected off of Master TsuYa’s hollow eyes was unnerving. Just as unnerving as the silence. The winged Marked said nothing. He simply back-stepped out of the room. Before Lucci could argue, the arched doorway shut with a thunderous sound, leaving no door in the wall.
“WAIT!” Lucci shouted, fear beginning to bubble up within him. He pounded on the wall with one fist, but it was closed solid. “Master TsuYa! Don’t leave me here!”
There was nothing but silence as his answer.
Maybe there’s another way out…
Lucci peered around the strange chamber cautiously. His limbs felt suspended and his motions, even walking, odd and under-watery. Light seemed to flicker through draping veils of various color from above, casting skittering shadows upon the wall. The floor under his feet, looking to have once been polished to a shine, was far too grimy now to give up his reflection.
The humid stench of death and long-rot draped over the room, seeping into his pores. Death of a very violent nature. Long, stiff figures lay crumpled against the far wall, some seeping dark pools that charted rivers across the grimy floor. Faceless, they were covered in long white squares of cloth, bearing the splattered remembrance of once-living things.
Why does this place feel so familiar?
In the center of the room was a display of technological wonder. Everything about it was eerily alien — a strange spiral of life tangled within death. The structure emanated a pale, ghostly light as if infused by the lost souls of the pooling figures on the far side of the chamber.
Why do I think that I’ve been here before?
“Because,” a distant voice rose to greet him. A voice that he knew without knowing. “This was the place where you came into existence, LuShi.”
The Sygnus turned quickly, gripping his sword more tightly. “Zeromus.”
“Yes, that’s right.”
“Come out and show yourself!” Lucci ground his teeth, turning around again. There was no sight of the bearer of the voice.
“My son, are you so ready to take this step without knowing all there is to know?”
He shook his head, “I’ve seen enough. I know enough. And I’m not your son!”
“You can deny many things about yourself, child. But you cannot deny that,” the voice chuckled softly. It was so calm. Bearing so little ill will.
But Lucci knew it had to be a trick. “I’m here to put an end to this. You’ve taken… you’ve killed… too many people!”
“And you think you have not?” came the ripple of an answer.
The Sygnus grew stiff, a cold feeling bottoming at the pit of his stomach. When he answered, it was with slow words, “No. I’ve never killed anyone.”
“Are you sure, LuShi?”
“Yes! I’m sure! I’ve never hurt anyone! I’ve never killed anyone! Nothing except for your Marked, but they’re already dead,” he replied, becoming a bit more frantic.
“Ahh, but that is where you are unaware.”
“Unaware of yourself. What you are. And what was done to create you.”
Part of Lucci reeled back in revulsion. Did he want to know? For knowing, once unlocked, could never be taken back. Everything he learned in life only stole away the innocence that brought him happiness.
It was too tempting. There were so many questions. So many things he wanted to know.
“I brought you here to give you a gift, my son,” the voice was coaxing. Almost warm. Almost fatherly.
Much to his dismay, something within Lucci responded to that voice. Something that he found he had very little control over.
“You see, you may not have killed anyone by your own hand, child. But hundreds upon hundreds died to bring about your creation,” the words intoned, burning into his mind. “To feed your soul and give it awareness, to bind you to the world of the Mists. Where death is your power, and your one hungry desire.”
Lucci began to shake.
People… died? He killed people to create me?
“Yes. I know you’ve felt it, LuShi. You can’t escape what you were born to become. Already, it’s begun. The wings are just the start,” the voice told him gently. “You’ve fought and fought to be like them. All they will ever do is reject you. Because you are so much more, you are the embodiment of all that the living fear.”
“No,” his voice cracked with pain. The pain of realization. That what Zeromus said was true. As much as he hated it. It was all true.
I wasn’t born. I was made.
His eyes lifted, darkened by the churning shadows that drew nearer and nearer. That crowded his mind. Twisted his thought.
I was made with this curse. This curse powered by death…
The strange silver light held within the globe in the center of the room churned in time to the darkness outside. He felt strangely compelled to walk towards it. One hand reached up, towards the calling light.
I was made to become exactly what he wanted me to be — the Bane.
“That’s right. Here is your gift, my son,” the voice urged him. “Take it. Receive your real wings.”
Real wings? But I already have…
Lucci withdrew his hand quickly. It was a moment too late. Cracks were already forming along the side of the globe, the silver light was compelled to move towards Lucci just as much as he was to it. That’s when he realized that locked within were the spirits of all those who were destroyed in order to create him.
“NO!” he pulled back with a sharp breath.
The orb shattered, sending a spray of glass across the room. Shards slashed into his flesh, but Lucci didn’t feel it. The only thing he could see was the churning silver light as it rose up over him like a cresting wave. As it crashed down on him, he could feel an immense power rush through his limbs, lifting him up, even as a cry of despair rang from his lips.
He was losing himself.
He saw hundreds of lives flash before his eyes.
Joy. Sorrow. Discovery. Loss. All of it drew into him.
All of it filled every inch of him, squeezing him from inside until he felt like he would burst. Squeezing him until all that was himself could no longer be told apart from that which was so many others.
When he looked into the last remaining crest of glass, where the round orb once stood, he saw a reflection that he didn’t recognize. Blood streaks. Long, ragged silver hair. A dark sword in one hand. And the large arcs of silver wings rising from his back.
No matter how intently he looked, he couldn’t remember his name.
A soft voice rose up, tickling the back of his mind. He thought he should know it. He thought that there was something about the voice that was important. Perhaps it was the reason he was standing there in that strange room to begin with?
None of that mattered as he listened with new delight. For the voice was offering him something he lost — his name.
“Luccious. My son, you have come back to me.”