Book 4 Chapter 3

What is this place?

Lucci peered around the strange chamber, taking a cautious step forward. His limbs felt suspended and his motions were sluggish. Light flickered from above through draping veils of various colors, casting twisted and eerie shadows over the walls. The floor was caked with grime and decay, somewhat squishy as he walked over it.

Why is this place familiar?

Long, deflated figures lay crumpled against the far wall. Dark stains molded with age charted rivers across the floor. Faceless, the figures were covered in long rotted squares of cloth that writhed with the squiggling infection of death, vermin, and bugs. The stench was overwhelming, turning his stomach inside out.

“Ugh!” Lucci covered his nose and mouth, fighting the bile that rose in his throat. As he did, he stumbled, slipping backwards against something cold and metal.

Peering over one shoulder, he could make out some sort of machine. One long, slender capsule, stood upright within its fixtures. Except for the small glass area near the top, it was completely enclosed in a featureless black case. Numerous clear tubes and snaking wires ran into the shell from a small boxlike device.

His eyes traced the spiderwebbing wires, peering away from the first capsule to observe the second. It looked to have once been some clear, glass globe. Now it stood shattered, pieces scattered over the molding floor. Looking at it left a cold chill in the pit of his stomach.

I’ve got to figure out where I am, and how to get out of here.

Just as the thought brushed through his mind, Lucci heard the sound of a low, guttural growl. Prickles spread across his skin as he stiffened. There were not many things that the young Sygnus feared, but something about this sound left his breath cold in his chest.

Silver eyes turned, peering across the room. A shadow stood there. The outline of a man.

No, it can’t be!

The shape began to approach, the growl growing louder, reverberating within Lucci’s mind. The young Sygnus pressed back against the cold metal of the machine, his hands scrabbling over the slimy surface as if to find something to fend away the darkness.

As it came nearer, Lucci began to make out the features. Intense, dark eyes. The shock of side-swept hair. Mouth curled back in a disgruntled scowl, showing the hint of fangs. A strange scrawled Mark ran along one cheek.

“Master TsuYa!” he gasped. It was Master TsuYa, as he was before that terrible day. Before the transformation had taken him. Lucci reached his hand forward. “Please, come back with me! Whatever has happened to you, we can fix it. You just have to give us time!”

Master TsuYa reeled back, shattering the air with a piercing, inhuman shriek. The sound ripped through Lucci’s mind with a terrible, searing pain. Though the young Sygnus clamped his hands over his ears, nothing could shut it out. He found his own voice rising in a tortured scream.

Through squinty eyes he could see it happening all over again. The darkness creeping over Master TsuYa’s form, bleeding through his skin, into his hair. Wings bursting from his shoulders with a sickly sound. Skin erupting as black spikes tore through flesh and cloth. Thick black blood splashing across the wall and the floor.

Hollowed black eyes burning with a terrible, haunted light.

“No! Nooo!” Lucci felt panic taking him as he backed away. He slipped through the grime, gagging as he breathed mouthfuls of the putrid decay with every gasp. “Please!”

The Marked Champion of Zerom stood over the young Sygnus, the shadowed wings extended, black-bladed scythe held between clawed hands. A low rumbling growl shook the room as the creature advanced, a trickle of black streaming from the reflectionless depths of his eyes.

Then, the growl began to form words, “You shouldn’t be here, kid! Get out!”

Lucci didn’t know what was more shocking: the fact that he wasn’t getting mauled, the fact that the Marked could speak, or the fact that Master TsuYa seemed aware enough to recognize him.

So there really IS something of Master TsuYa left.

Lucci heard his retort, foolish and idealistic even to his ears, “No! I’m not leaving without bringing you back!”

The growl shifted into a nasty snarl, “It’s too late for me, boy. But if he gets his hands on you, it’s too late for everyone!”

“That’s not going to happen!” Lucci protested, taking a slow step forward.

“Don’t be ridiculous! You can’t possibly–” Master TsuYa’s argument fell silent as the dark eyes shot one quick glance over his shoulder. When he rounded his attention back on the young Sygnus, the bladed scythe lifted. “No time, he’s come! Get out of here! And don’t come back!”

“Master TsuYa! Wait!” he stumbled back, hands lifting in feeble defense.

The Marked Champion’s face twisted in a snarling roar, the scythe lashing out at lightning speed. Lucci was knocked back by the raw strength of the blow, a searing pain jolting through his body. His frightened cry echoed from the cold walls, falling muffled before rising up strong again.

“Lucci!” Suzume’s shout suddenly rang in his ears. He could feel someone shaking him, fighting to bring him back to reality. “Lucci, wake up!”

Reality, where he found himself sprawled on the floor next to his bed, face drenched with fearful sweat. He struggled to sit up, his shaking arms having a mind of their own. His silver eyes focused on the frightened face of the dark haired girl who stood over him, little fingers still holding fast to his shirt front.

She looked like she might start crying at any moment.

“Suzume, I’m all right,” he tried for his best comforting tone. He couldn’t hide the fear that seeped into his voice.

The girl was already checking him over, pulling up his sleeves and yanking up his shirt.

“AH! Suzume!” Lucci protested with a rising flush of embarrassment. “What are you doing?”

“You had a nightmare, didn’t you?” the dark haired girl sniffled. “Master TsuYa had them, too. All the time! And he got that terrible Mark, and his skin turned colors…”

“Whoa, whoa! Suzume,” he captured her little hands in his. Though he was shaken by the instant connection she had made between his nightmare and Master TsuYa, he continued to do his best to calm her down. “Look at me.”

Suzume gave a little hiccup and looked up at him.

“I’m all right,” Lucci told her, silver eyes searching her dark ones. “Okay?”

The girl didn’t respond. She simply gave a choked sound and threw her arms around his neck.

It was difficult for her not to be afraid, he knew. She saw Master TsuYa’s transformation. Sometimes she even seemed to blame herself for it. Though Lucci did the best he could to keep the girl company, she knew more than anyone else what he really wanted to do.

She knew how he wanted to take the dark blade he found at the peak of the Obelisk and embark on a personal crusade across the Cleft. How he wanted to challenge the darkness of Zerom, how he wanted to destroy the Chaotic Arweinydd that now devoured their homelands.

But they won’t let me.

Despite the fact that Lucci held the weapon that could bring Zeromus down – perhaps the only thing that could truly threaten him – they wouldn’t let him return to Nefol to fight the final battle. No matter how he argued. No matter how he pleaded, pouted, fumed and implored. They wouldn’t listen to a word he said.

They still treat me like I’m nothing more than a child.

Lucci looked at his hand where it lay gently on Suzume’s head. It was broad and strong now, large enough to wield the length of his sword. Powerful enough to challenge the one who claimed to be his father.

But no one believed in his strength.

No one trusts a Sygnus.

Just then, a hesitant knock came at the far door. Both turned to look at it, stopped in mid-thought and mid-sniffle.

Suzume’s eyes widened, “That’s right! I came to find you because Master SoYa and Lady AsaHi wanted to speak with you!”

“What?” Lucci sat up with a jolt.

It was so long since he saw either of them, not since before he left the Islands on his journey. His gaze fell on his tousled reflection in the mirror as he scrambled to his feet.

They can’t see me like this!

“Lucci?” Suzume gave him a funny look as he began to dig out a fresh pair of trousers from his laundry stack.

“Tell them I’ll be out in just a moment!” both hands on her shoulders, he gave the girl a gentle nudge out the door.


“I’m changing!” he exclaimed, quickly shutting the door behind her.

He could hear Suzume’s flustered huff from the other side as she went to relay his message. He was too busy scrambling to find an unwrinkled shirt that he could still fit into. Fixing his long silver hair, Lucci scowled at his face in the mirror and scrubbed at the strange silver markings along his cheek.

What are they going to think of me?

Both Lady AsaHi and Master SoYa were so kind to him, ever since he remembered. They both believed in him even when so few did. It was difficult to face them now that he was so obviously more like the Sygnus, the Bane of their legends.

I suppose it’s a good sign that they came here to talk to me. Maybe there’s something I can do to help them, and then they’ll like me.

With one long breath, Lucci straightened the front of his tunic. Checked his boots. Rolled up the uneven end of his sleeves. Studied the hem of his now-too-short-cloak.

Then promptly lost all courage to reach for the doorknob.

“Lucci-boy,” Kaz’s soft voice intoned from somewhere on the far side of the room.

The young Sygnus glanced over.

“Don’t be afraid,” the words spoke without form. Kaz could manifest whenever he felt the need to,but even then, he didn’t always appear.

“I’m trying.”

“I get the funny feeling something important is happening,” Kaz continued. “I think they need you.”

“Really?” Lucci’s face spoke uncertainty.

“Why don’t you go and find out.”

Just that quickly, he knew that Kaz vanished.

“Find out,” Lucci echoed. Then working up the last of his courage, he reached out and turned the door knob.