“Fall back! Fall ba–” the winged soldier’s words were sliced off in mid-sentence in a bubbling froth of blood and devouring silver mists.
Zento watched with wide horrified eyes as the man crumpled, then collapsed in a spray of red. Screaming and writhing, the mists surrounded him, ripping at the very fabric of his life energies and tearing the unwilling spirit from the once-living flesh. With a last jerky convulsion, they body lay still and slowly began to sink down, spreading into an oily dark patch of decay across the stone floor.
Within moments, there was nothing left.
Before Zento could shout a warning, the mists spread, a billowing cloud of death sweeping over the rest of his men. The chamber was filled with the sound of unearthly shrieks of the dying, mingled with the screech of the Marked. The winged man staggered back, holding his head as the sound traced piercing pain between his ears.
Dragon flame lit the room as the majestic creatures swung about, releasing blasts of fire over the surging shadows. The heat cut through the mists, which only seethed and boiled back, spreading through the room.
“We must retreat!” Zento cried, finding his voice and making a dash for the flaming Dragons.
“We’re holding the lines, Master Zento!” one of the Dragons responded.
“There’s something else here! Something more than the Marked!” the winged man shouted, grabbing on to the great beast’s foreleg.
“Lord Zemi ordered us to remain!”
“Lord Zemi wouldn’t want you to follow his orders to death!” Zento shouted back.
It was no use – the Dragons wouldn’t budge. They continued to blast at the swelling ranks of the Marked that now flooded the floor with dark ooze and decay. A pang caught in Zento’s throat as he took one look behind him, then rushed on ahead, searching for anyone who would heed his warning.
We have to evacuate!
Before he rounded the corner, he heard the terrible bellowing and thrashing of the Dragons from behind.
Those mists… This place is a death trap!
Rushing into the far corridor, Zento was greeted by the Captain of the internal troops, “Master? Have the Marked broken through? Are we to engage?”
The Champion reached out and grabbed the soldier with a wild look in his eyes, “Orders have changed. We’re to make a full out retreat to the west wing. Take every man and Dragon that you find to the Cynosure chamber for a full evacuation!”
“Master?” the captain’s face was grey and shaken. “I don’t understa–”
“Just do it!” Zento commanded, releasing the shaken soldier and drawing his weapon. He turned to face the dark corridors behind him, bracing himself for whatever evil tried to follow. Already, the silvery lines of mist creeped at the edge of the cavern doorway.
The men gave a dubious look, questioning their leader’s unusual behavior. Not a one dared to challenge ZenToYa once his blade was in his hand.
“You heard the orders! Fall back!” the Captain echoed the command, lifting his own weapon. Time was working against them.
The Marked moved fast with no Dragons to defend the passages and keep them at bay. The shadowy forms sprang in through the doorway, carrying the overpowering feel of dread and smell of decay. Claws and fangs and screeches filled Zento’s senses. Somewhere, distantly as his blade began to whistle and slice, he heard himself shouting for the men to keep moving, to press on to the evacuation.
The young winged Captain sprang up beside him, sword gleaming in one hand.
“What are you doing?” Zento demanded.
“I’m not leaving you here to fight this alone, Master!” he shouted.
“Follow my orders, soldier!” the winged warrior was already winded as he spun and slashed one hand over another to drive the Marked back. Just long enough to let the others get away.
The Captain’s brows lowered, “I’m sorry, sir, I can’t do tha–”
He reeled with a choke, back arched in a painful snapping motion as Zento watched a long, slick black blade burst up through the man’s chest. With a flip of the sword, the man was flung with terrible strength and splattered against the far wall. The moment the broken body hit the ground, the silver mists rushed over it, devouring, ripping, leaving nothing behind.
Zento stumbled back against the wall, the chains of his Bhinod rattling as his hands shook. Two slitted silver eyes, peering at him from within the heart of the seething mists, tearing into his mind, the pressure paralyzing even his strength of will.
I can’t… move…!
The Marked sprang for him, sensing an easy target, their screeches pound and tearing pain through his mind. Zento struggled to pull up a defense, to force his arms to move, to raise his weapon, but nothing responded to his command, even as the shadows loomed over him.
The long black blade lashed again, this time shattering the leaping Marked in a spray of dust and decay. Black streaks splattered the walls as their dying screeches choked into a gurgling hiss.
A scene of madness unfolded before him. Both winged soldiers and Marked alike were ripped to pieces before Zento’s eyes. The mists claimed it all, destroying without prejudice. In the middle of the massacre was a form twisted, yet too familiar.
Long silver hair hung ragged and wild, streaming down his back, into his haunted silver eyes. Blood, both red and black was splattered over his face, hands and body as the long black blade shown coldly in its unending thirst for death. His expression was contorted, caught between pleasure and disgust, his motions fluid and flawless as he tore through man after Marked without a hint of emotion. Huge, ghostly silver wings spread, half arched from his shoulders, so much larger than the boy that Zento once knew.
There’s nothing left of him…
Nothing but the fevered and delusional light in his eyes as LuShi drew more and more power from the death that surrounded him. He was now truly the Bane, a weapon of terrible destruction, crafted through Zeromus’ Hatred.
SaRa died because of you, you monster! You took her from us! I won’t let this killing continue!
With the Dark Sygnus’ attention pulled from him, Zento was able to move again. Teeth gritted, the Champion lifted his weapon, a challenging shout ringing from his throat, “LUSHI! FACE ME!”
The black blade lowered as the Bane stopped to turn. The cold silver eyes focused on him, tracing Zento’s face and searching for recognition. Like the Marked, there was so little left. It was much to Zento’s surprise when the Dark Sygnus began to speak.
“Master ZenToYa,” the name was uttered as if a sudden revelation.
“I can’t let you do this, LuShi,” the Champion leveled his blade, posing in a strong, defensive stance.
“Do you really think you can stop me?” LuShi asked, so casually. So offhand. As if nothing at all was wrong in the world.
The first blow took Zento off-guard. Like a snake striking, the black blade blurred forward, slamming him back against the wall with a terrible, bone rending strength. He felt something inside of him snap as he struck, a sharp pain piercing his side and ripping away his breath. Zento fought to keep his feet as his knees buckled, he saw the mists slowly surround him, lapping at his feet.
The Dark Sygnus took a slow step forward, voice low and dangerous, “How does it feel to have been right about me, Master ZenToYa?”
The blade crashed down on him again. This time, the Champion scrambled to throw his own weapon up, sparks flying from the chain of his Bhinod as metal struck metal. Sweat sprung out on his brow, his muscles aching with the tremendous effort it took to fend off the glittering edge of the Dark Sygnus’ sword.
“All I ever wanted was your approval!” LuShi hissed, bringing the sword down on him again and again to accent the last word. The final strike snapped the chain of the Bhinod, like a knife cutting through twine. “Maybe now, I’ve exceeded your expectations.”
Zento flattened his back against the stone, breathing heavy as the pieces of his weapon shivered in both of his hands. His green eyes narrowed, fighting the fear that threatened to drive him to his knees. Facing the Dark Sygnus alone and with the last of his honor.
“Could it have been different? Could this be prevented?” LuShi asked with a somber tilt of his head. “Can even you answer that?”
Then LuShi lifted his sword and drove it straight into the Champion’s chest.
Not a flicker of remorse. The pale boyish face stared down as the winged man choked, struggling for breath and staring at the blade in disbelief. With a flick of his wrist, the Dark Sygnus withdrew the sword, seeming to marvel at the sight of Zento’s blood on its tip.
A coldness crept over Zento’s body, numbing, washing away the pulses of pain. His face was heated by the sensation of tears. The pang of hopelessness, knowing that this time, he was leaving his sons behind him for good. The frustration of loss, of not having the power to avenge the death of his sister. Of not being able to stop the Bane and protect the people of Nefol, the nation that he built and nourished from the ground up.
My family… my people… Zemi. I wasn’t strong enough…
The haunted silver eyes simply watched from above. Eyes that saw the world of living and dead. A creature who commanded the power to enslave the spirits and force them to do his deeds of death, violence and destruction.
“You will… take me…” Zento gasped hoarsely, wincing at the pain of trying to speak. “Just like… you took… SaRa…”
The Dark Sygnus didn’t move. The mists hovered over the floor, but didn’t reach to devour him, even as the pool of blood began to spread and coldness took the feeling from Zento’s body.
Finally, LuShi spoke, “I didn’t take Aunt Sara.”
“I don’t… believe you…”
“I know you don’t,” the Sygnus nodded his head slowly. “But, I didn’t take her. And I won’t take you.”
The mists drew away, receding from the room as the Dark Sygnus leaned down over the Champion’s crumpled form. Carefully, somberly, LuShi placed the grips of the Bhinod in each of Zento’s numbed hands, arranging them in a way proper to honor a fallen warrior.
When he stood again, the silver eyes met green. LuShi’s voice was thick and struggling for sound. Again, he asked, “Could it have been different?”
Then, without another word, the Dark Sygnus lifted his blade and stepped over the fallen Champion’s body, heading deeper into the cave. In the direction that the escaping soldiers fled. Resuming his hunt.
“LuShi!” Zento choked, face contorting. His voice was too weak to carry. Soon, he found himself alone in the growing darkness, the only sound his struggling, gasping breath.