“Can you sense Tsu anywhere?” SoYa asked, holding tight to the scruff of the She-Wolf’s neck.
-No, everything is distorted in here. It must be the Sygnus energy.-
“Then how do you know that he’s even here?” the Athrylith asked.
-Are you doubting me?- she snapped with a sharp tone.
“I didn’t say that!” SoYa’s voice rose an octave in alarm. “I just wondered!”
-Because of the way the Marked act,- Zazo answered. –They’re coordinated and unified whenever TsuYa controls them.-
He couldn’t help but shiver, “You think Tsu can really control those things?”
-I don’t know what else you would call it, but he does something to the Marked. Something that is obviously valuable to Zeromus,- the She-Wolf growled under her breath. -We’ve got to take him back.-
SoYa knew that she was partially right. The longer that Zeromus held control over his brother, the harder it would be to try to reverse what was done. While others gave TsuYa up for lost to the shadow, SoYa did not.
If we’re going to evacuate, I’m going to make sure TsuYa is with us, no matter what that takes.
-Hold tight,- Zazo warned him suddenly. -We’re going to break through my barrier.-
Before he could ponder the meaning of the Arweinydd’s words, the She-Wolf gathered herself up in a powerful leap. Light and shimmers burst around them as they met with a web of silvery-blue light strung across the hall, a shield of sorts.
SoYa shivered as the energy passed around him. The moment they broke through the barrier, the world changed. Death and decay slammed his senses, almost knocking him from the She-Wolf’s back. He could feel it everywhere — the Marked and their haunted aura, the violence and bloodshed, the faint echoing screams still lingering of those who were cut down in a desperate flight.
If Zazo was affected, she didn’t show it. Her long, ground-eating strides were unbroken as she continued forward. Though her rider wavered, she instinctually moved to balance him, keeping SoYa from losing his grip.
-Can you keep your head?-
The sound of her voice between his ears shook him from his stupor.
“I…” SoYa stammered, choking on the thick death in the air. “I can.”
-Good. Then act like it,- she snuffed, rounding a corner. -I will take care of the Marked. You must find TsuYa. He doesn’t recognized me, but he might recognize you.-
“Why do you say that?” SoYa grit his teeth.
-Because he had the chance to kill you once already and didn’t,- Zazo informed him gravely. -You might be able to bring him to his senses long enough for us to capture him. Unless Zeromus has strengthened his grip on TsuYa’s mind.-
The Athrylith swallowed, “How am I supposed to fight him? What if he attacks me?”
-Is it worth the risk to try to save him?-
“Of course it is!”
-Then just don’t think about it!- Zazo spun in a sudden turn, sending SoYa stumbling from her back. -I will make the diversion. He will come.-
Before he could argue, the Arweinydd leapt at full speed down the far hall, lifting her head back in a wild challenging howl. It was answered by the feral screeches of Marked somewhere deep in the heart of the mountain passages. SoYa jumped at the sound, gripping his staff tightly between both of his hands. With the She-Wolf gone, the only light within the hall was the dim pulse of the stone on his staff.
This is not exactly what I had in mind!
It was only moments before the low rumbling growl rumbled against the glassy stone walls. SoYa turned around quickly, holding his staff higher, trying to get a better look at what was approaching.
“Tsu?” his voice quavered.
The staff’s light reflected off the dead black eyes of the prowling Marked — none of them were Tsu.
“Oh no! ZAZO!” his shout was cut short as the creatures sprang for him.
It was impossible to tell how many there were, the darkness folded and reeled and lashed out at him from every side. SoYa screamed as he felt the rake of claws and the piercing pain of the screeches slam through his mind. He swung his staff with all of his strength, only to find the weapon torn out of his hand as he was slammed against the wall.
The swell of shadows leapt on him. In desperation, he lifted his hands and lashed out with raw power alone. Driving his full will forward, he felt them lifted and flung back. He heard the sound of cracking bone and bursting flesh as they crunched against the far wall. The screes and struggle of the dying dead.
Breathing heavily, SoYa opened his eyes. His staff lay not too far away, covered in grime. The walls and floor were painted black, misshapen mounds that were once Marked slumped on the other side of the hall.
The Athrylith choked, grabbed his staff and started to back away. He felt the bile rising in his throat, stomach churning from the sight and stench.
I’ve got to find Zazo!
Just as SoYa turned to make his way back down the hall, a voice rang through his mind, jerking him to a stop.
-Why do you run, SoYa? The thing that you are looking for is right here.-
With a blink, the Athrylith stopped, peering around for the source of the sound. The shadows began to part, almost reluctant as a huge dark figure shambled forward.
It was just like the terrible vision he had, once long ago. A creature that was his brother, but not, twisted by chaos and hatred into a mangled shape of rage and terror. Huge black wings spread, tipped with shadow and dripping darkness. Grey, mottled skin bore open wounds that wept black blood from battle and the many wicked spikes that had erupted from within his body. Dead black eyes focused on him as his lips curled back in a fanged hiss.
For the first time, SoYa found himself doubting the possibility of his brother’s restoration.
-Yes, you are powerful, aren’t you, SoYa?-
As the voice rose again in his mind, SoYa realized it was not coming from the Marked Champion, but rather an awareness that hung in the shadows. It was a pressure in his mind that he felt long ago. A feeling that he denied.
-You were the better choice of Champions. Could you imagine a Marked who bore the power of an Athrylith such as yourself?-
“No,” SoYa whispered, gripping his staff more tightly.
-No, of course not. Maybe it was because you were Athrylith that it didn’t happen. You denied me. So your brother will take your place.-
-He suffers like this because of you, SoYa. Because you denied me, and he could not.-
The shadowed form of his brother groaned as the skin around one of the spikes cracked even more, freely oozing thick and black. Something kept Tsu from decaying and falling apart like the other Marked, but his body still bore the brunt of the chaotic power.
“You tricked him!” SoYa’s hands began to shake.
-Did I? Or was the power something he wanted? Was his desire for your position enough to push him to reach for what I offered him? Perhaps he wanted you out of the way so that he could take the robes of Nefol for his own.-
“I’ll never believe that,” the Athrylith grounded his teeth together.
-Really? Well, I’ll let him tell you that for himself.-
There was a long moment of silence. The only motion was the tendrils of darkness that spun in silent patterns in the air between the two brothers. When the voice came again, the command was absolute.
The Marked Champion rose up to his full, tremendous height, brandishing the familiar black bladed scythe between both hands. The animalistic screech was deafening, leaving SoYa’s entire body weak from piercing pain. Before he found his bearings, the creature lunged, moving faster than his eyes could follow, the great weight on the Athrylith’s chest, pinning him to the floor.
“TSU! TSU STOP!” SoYa cried out. The only thing holding off the point of the scythe was the length of his staff. His arms trembled as he felt the force of a strength that far outmatched his own bearing down upon him. “IT’S ME! IT’S YOUR BROTHER! PLEASE!”
There was nothing there. No recognition in the black glassy eyes. No thought or free will. Nothing but the savage and feral drive to follow the command of the Chaotic Arweinydd.
SoYa screamed as the huge claws slashed, raking across his chest, leaving boiling red streaks across his flesh. The wounds began to spread outward, ripping across his body unnaturally. Crimson blood fountained across the floor as he felt the air crushed out of his lungs. His voice choked to a gurgling cry as his arms collapsed.
Faintly he heard the sound of metal hitting the floor as the staff dropped from his hands.
The world was growing dark.
Coldness gripped his body.
He could hear the struggling thrum of his heart within his ears. A pressure within his mind began to pulse in time with the sound.
Suddenly, a sharp awareness gripped him. Then, began to expand.
Tingling spread through his body. He could feel it rush through him, a strength and light and sense of knowing.
The pain retreated. The darkness reeled away. His shoulders ached and burned as the pounding in his mind became almost unbearable.
With a howling cry, SoYa threw his hands forward. He felt the weight lifted from his chest. The sticky wetness along his body vanished as the pain dimmed. A brilliant light filled his vision.
When the light faded, he found himself standing in the hall once more, his staff gripped between both hands. TsuYa was splayed against the wall, hissing and snarling, fighting to rearm himself with the scythe that was knocked from his grip.
-You’ve Awakened? I see. Very good, SoYa. This will be interesting, indeed.-
Breathing heavily, SoYa peered down at himself. His vest and shirt were still in tatters from where the Marked claws torn at him. But the wounds were nothing but scarred lines across his body.
That’s when he noticed the new strange sensation and shimmering light that gathered and pulsed around him. With a choked sound, SoYa dared to peer behind him. The Awakened wings were there, arched from his shoulders, just as he saw on so many others before. Everyone but himself.
The Marked screech pulled his mind back from wonderment. TsuYa swung the scythe back, already in mid-lunge. A pang of fear leapt through SoYa’s body as he threw up his staff in defense.
Much to his surprise, he caught the strike of the scythe, and his defense held. With wide eyes, he realized that what would have driven him to his knees before, he suddenly found the strength to deflect.
SoYa’s green gaze turned, focusing on the Marked Champion. Snarling in frustration, TsuYa lashed out again.
Again, the Athrylith saw the motion of the strike and met the blade with his staff.
I can… do this?
Furious, the Marked broke the air with a mind-rending screech. There was still pain, but it was pain that SoYa could bear. Shoving the sensation to the corner of his mind, it was his turn to strike.
The stone crowning his staff burst in full flame, a blinding white light that blasted away the shadows in the hall. The screech turned into a sound of pain and surprise as SoYa swung forward, slamming the staff and full mind’s will straight into his brother’s dark form.
“THIS WILL STOP!”
The Marked Champion reeled back with the smell of singed flesh and hair. Then he crumpled to the ground and collapsed, twitching on the floor. With a howl of frustration, the presence of Zeromus was also driven back, fragmented by the light.
Breathing heavily, SoYa stared down at the dark shape sprawled across the stone. His hands were shaking, a new fear rising in his chest, worry that he caused more damage than he intended. “TsuYa? Are you alright?”
Before he reached forward to check, the sound of Zazo’s frantic voice reverberated in his mind.
-TSU! Tsu, I’m here!-
The She-Wolf leapt into the hall, nosing down at the Marked Champion in a motion of concern. Then her green eyes narrowed on SoYa in disgust.
-What happened to YOU? And what did you do to him?-
“I…” SoYa stammered.
She didn’t allow him to explain. Zazo was already gathering TsuYa on her back.
-We’ve got to hurry. The Sygnus draws close.-
“Uh…” he tried again.
-Or do you want to wait here for him to come?-
“No,” he shook his head.
-Then hurry up!- Zazo commanded. She promptly turned her tail and began padding towards the Cynosure chamber, the unmoving form of TsuYa draped over her back.