Book 4 Chapter 34

The thick forests closed in over their heads as the group moved as quickly as possible towards the waiting Vision Stone. Though the Stone was within view of the Shellab, there was still a good distance to go. Unlike the winged people who already made their way to the destination, not everyone in their group had wings. Or, in the case of NaDo, could use the wings they had to fly.

Kudako saw the pale blue glow cast from the surrounding trees was becoming more and more prominent the closer that they travelled to the Stone. The deep hush within the forest kept his ears twitching and his staff held tightly in his hands. It was as if the living world felt their departure and mourned the loss of its Arweinydd Patron.

There is no other choice. It is escape or be hunted until death.

Kudako knew this sort of mentality. It was his once, long ago, when he was trained and unleashed on the white-haired peoples of the Inner Realms as an Annihilator. He knew the gripping power that others could have on his mind, even when instructed to do things which were against a his nature.

Despite all this, the Dragon felt no pity or mercy for the Sygnus. Zento’s words and warnings were proven terribly true, even at the cost of his own life.

This death is a meaningless sort. A harvesting of spirit power. A weapon of terror cast upon innocent people, tipping the world into Chaos. Perhaps the start of another great Mistake.

A calm silence drew around him as he felt a shadow fall across his back, reaching like a great dark claw that would rip the sun from the sky. The darkness that obscured the sky was not clouds, but something terrible and unnatural, spreading like a starless night over the land.

Where the darkness met the horizon, a ghostly silver mist churned and heaved forward, casting the world in a cold and featureless suspension. It was as if the living had stepped into the world of the dead. In the center of it all, Kudako could sense him — the Dark Sygnus — coming to claim the last children of Nefol.

“Keep moving!” Lord Zemi urged.

“Don’t look back lest your fears overtake you,” Aur added.

Kudako looked back despite this. He had no fear to overtake him. With Zento and SaRa both gone, he had little purpose left to him in the living world, save his loyalty and servitude to Lord Zemi. He was a creature who once breathed his last breath, given life again to amend for all the lives he took.

So far, Kudako didn’t think that he made up for that.

In serving his sentence, he was gifted far more than he gave up. He was given a reason. A family. A place to belong. Feelings and friendship. Love. It was more than a creature such as himself ever deserved.

“It is time to repay them,” the Dragon muttered under his breath.

“Did you say something, Kudako?” AsaHi gave him a questioning look, being the only one close enough to hear.

“Take care of Lord Zemi for me,” was his only answer. Then with a flick of his staff, Kudako swung about and leapt back in the direction they came.

“’Dako!” Lord Zemi’s voice echoed after him, strained and pleading.

“Keep moving, Lord Zemi! I will buy you time!”

Before anyone else could argue, he leapt into the dense cover of trees, speeding down the steep incline of hill. He heard their calls following him, then fall silent. Lord Zemi would know that they must keep moving forward. There was no choice but to let things unfold as they did.

This was his choice. No matter the cost. He would make a stand, the same as SaRa and Zento. Perhaps, this time, he would finally be granted the same peace.

Visibility was strained the deeper he ran into the pressing silver mists. A chill began to creep over his body, leaving his feet colder and colder, making it more difficult to pick his way. It felt as if all the energy within his body was slowly being drawn out, much the way the spirits of the dead were feasted upon in the Dark Sygnus’ wake.

His senses were warped. Sight, smell and even sound began to fail him. There was nothing but a vast expanse of mist and shadow in every direction.

“Sygnus!” Kudako lifted his voice in challenge. “Show yourself! Do battle with me if you dare!”

A low, cold laughter mocked him from every direction.

The mists plumed up and parted as the tall, ghostly figure of the Sygnus appeared. He walked forward calmly, a fevered glimmer in his eyes. Blood-spattered stains marked his form, marring the graceful silver feathers along his wings.

Kudako lifted his staff, grounding his heels downward for battle.

“You are worth nothing to me, Flawed Dragon,” the Sygnus spoke quietly. “You were born soulless. Your spirit was wrapped into the energies that gave you that broken body. There is no reason for me to waste my time on a creature that offers me nothing.”

“Perhaps you are afraid to fight one without a soul,” the Dragon’s eyes glinted in burnished, slitted gold.

Laughter came again, “Afraid? Kudako Re. You’re a skilled warrior, but you can’t take me down.”

“Nothing is invincible. You are setting yourself up for a fall if you believe you are,” he retorted.

“If that’s your choice,” the Sygnus shook out the long dark blade in one hand. “I hope that you will last a bit longer than your student did. Master ZenToYa was no fun at all.”

Kudako felt a low growl rumble in the depths of his chest. Whether he won or not, he would try. He owed that much to Zento and SaRa. If nothing else, he was rewarded with the thought that the Sygnus paused his advance to do battle.

Reckless as it was, the Dragon made the first leap forward, gathering all of his strength into the momentum of his strike. It was rare that he truly drew out his dragon-strength, except in the case of fighting something like the Marked. With this foe, he knew there was no holding back.

Ignoring the sluggish response of his frozen feet, Kudako lashed and spun and danced, drawing intricate battle-patterns in the air and dogging the slashes of the slender black blade.

LuShi was faster than he remembered. There was a strange and archaic method to his motions. It was not something that the Dragon had fought before, certainly not something that the boy had learned from training.

It must be linked to that sword. Perhaps if he were disarmed…

The Dragon’s ears twitched as he redoubled his efforts, this time, concentrating on landing blows meant to knock the weapon from the Sygnus’ hands. This was far harder than he imagined. LuShi struck hard and fast with the intent to kill. Far too often, Kudako found himself playing the defense just to keep his head on his shoulders.

His dance was perfected centuries ago. He, too, would not fall to any foe so easily.

It soon became apparent to the Sygnus that what seemed an easy target was not giving way to his blade. The longer the fight stretched on, the more impatient his blows became. The Sygnus was starting to realize that Kudako’s appearance was nothing more than a diversion.

“As much as I’d love to finish this the old fashioned way, I’m afraid my presence is expected elsewhere,” his silvery eyes finally narrowed, swinging with a tremendous blow that sent Kudako stumbling back.

As the Dragon fought to keep his balance, he felt a deathly chill grip his legs and begin to spread up into his body. With a snarl, he plunged forward, only to find himself held fast by the now-piercing claws of the mists. Long strips of torn cloth and blood began to form along his legs the more that he struggled against the hold. The cold, hollow laughter of the Dark Sygnus rang in his ears. The black blade lifted. Kudako’s arms couldn’t move in defense. There was a pause, long enough for the Dragon to ponder his fate. Too short to figure out a way to avoid it.

As the sword whistled down upon his exposed body, the Sygnus gave a shout of pain. LuShi reeled around quickly, the feathers of one wing scattering in a spray out over the misty hillside. Some of them dripped red with blood. Blood of the Sygnus.

A flash of gold burned through the mists as a shape nearly as large as the Dark Sygnus dropped down into the battle. It took Kudako a moment to recognize it through his distorted vision. The calm face, intensely deep eyes, long lion-tail hair… and the flash of a strange, curved blade burnished the color of gold.

“Aur,” Kudako murmured. “You shouldn’t have followed me here.”

The Watcher didn’t answer. He moved through the battle with the grace of the wind, matching the Sygnus’ otherworldly battle prowess move for move. Whatever the style and knowledge was, it must have come from the Time Before. When the mists rose up to claim the Watcher, it was burned away with invisible heat and golden glow.

LuShi wasn’t laughing now. In fact, he didn’t seem to be amused by his newest opponent at all. The more he was forced to concentrate upon Aur, the more the mists began to recede, until Kudako was able to shake himself free.

Released, the Dragon leapt back into battle, pressing the Sygnus from the other side. LuShi began to take the blows, unable to fend off the coordinated strikes from two very skilled warriors. Seeing that he was losing ground, his frustration mounted further until he finally lifted one hand in a ground shaking command.

The mists responded, no longer mere mists, but embodiments of things that once walked the living world, warped and twisted under the chaotic control of the Dark Sygnus. The sound of their wails and screeches was deafening to Kudako’s ears. The pulsing light within the mists began to fill his vision, distorting everything around him beyond recognition.

He couldn’t see Aur. He couldn’t see LuShi. He could hardly make out the brittle, ice-tipped shape of his own weapon in between his hands. All senses were failing him as the cold became unbearable. He found himself choking, struggling to find the air to breathe.

There was nothing but mist — mist where air should be. Mist were sound should be. Mist where sight should be. Kudako couldn’t feel it as his body collapsed underneath him. He couldn’t feel his arms or legs. He couldn’t feel pain. A wave of numb nothingness washed over him as the shadow of the Dark Sygnus flew into the dead white, resuming his hunt for the children of Nefol.

Zemi… run…