Darkness was a place for brooding. Shadows belonged to the emo kids. Neither brooding nor emo ever got anyone anywhere as far as TsuMe was concerned. But, there he was, sitting in a darkened room while skritching a sharpening stone along the curved blade of his scythe.
It was one of the few soothing activities he engaged in. The rhythmic skritch… skritch… scritch… was a methodical sort of zen. He’d done this for so long that now his strokes were perfect. He knew just the right amount of pressure along every little curve of the blade. He didn’t need light to show him the things already burned into his mind.
Darkness was better. It hid what he was. Not just the ugly appearance – he’d adjusted to the loss of his Nefolian good looks a long time ago. It kept the shadows that lurked within him, the ones he couldn’t control, from seeing through his eyes and destroying everything he touched.
Watching TsuMe sharpen his scythe must have bored Zerom to tears, because it was one of the few times the hovering presence didn’t weigh down the back of his mind. Even Chaos had to rest sometimes, he figured.
Then, his perfect silence was invaded by the sound of the sliding door. Light spilled in across the room, glittering coldly off the edge of his dark blade. A shadow cast from within that light, Kip’s goofy grin infiltrating TsuMe’s solitude.
I don’t know why you’re grinning. You’re in a lot of trouble.
“Ah, TsuMe. Here you are,” the mind mage even gave a slight wave, as if he was honestly happy to see him. “I should have guessed you were sulking around. Sharpening your weapon in dim light is bad for your eyes, you know.”
Turning on the light is bad for your health.
Of course, that’s exactly what Kip did. With a wave of his hand, he commanded, “Lights on!”
TsuMe didn’t let his internal grumble reach his throat as the orbs above lit in a cheerful glow. His dark eyes remained fixed on his weapon, black and white streaked hair falling across his grey-skinned face.
The first time Kip saw him, the mind mage responded just like everyone else. With disgusted horror. Normal fear was magnified by the Marked-made fear aura he bore. Very few normal people could stand to be around him without responding to it. It took time and a lot of guts to overcome the warning signals the fear aura filled the brain with.
For some reason, Kip did just that. Almost as if he actually wanted to befriend TsuMe.
He’s just a weirdo. That’s all.
Kip launched into small talk, as usual. “Today’s scouting mission was mildly successful. We managed to find a few new specimens and…”
“Including a human child,” TsuMe interrupted, cutting straight to the point.
“So, you already heard?” Kip responded, trying not to sound surprised.
Of course I heard. Zerom watches everything that comes in and out of the Tower.
TsuMe didn’t answer. He simply continued in a grouchy tone. “What are you thinking by bringing a human child here? The one whelp we have is more trouble than we need already.”
“He was lost and had no memory of where he came from,” Kip answered, pouring himself a glass of kantal. “He would have died out in the forest.”
Unmoved, TsuMe muttered, “You should have done us all a favor and put him out of his misery.”
The mind mage’s hand shook slightly as he placed the bottle down on the counter. His voice was choked and disturbed. “You can’t mean that. He is a human, but he’s still just a boy!”
“Exactly. There’s no place for children of any sort in this tower.”
“This is only temporary. I’ll return him to the Blue Planet as soon as I can find a good point of departure,” Kip took a long sip of his kantal. “Until then, the boy has a purpose here.”
“And that is?”
“He can be company for the young Master.”
TsuMe snorted through his nose. “In case you’re forgetting, this is not Happyland Childcare Center! We aren’t supposed to cater to that boy’s every whim and pacify his temper tantrums.”
“Fine,” Kip pretended to examine the fingertips of his gloves. “You try and keep him under control. His tantrums won’t always be limited to lighting books on fire.”
“He should have been punished for that.”
“Do I look like I’m here to baby sit?” TsuMe huffed. “You’re the one who knows about kids.”
“That’s right,” Kip waggled a finger. “So give me some room to work with him. The last thing we need is for the young Master to become uncooperative and bitter.”
“A few nights in the Pit should straighten him out,” the Marked suggested.
“Or make him more angry,” the mind mage corrected. “If he’s anything like his father, that’s not something you want to do.”
“There’s still ways to teach him manners when he’s acting like a brat. He’s just a kid.”
“Who is the direct descendant of Zemi Dreigiau,” Kip reminded him.
TsuMe sat silently. It was a reminder he didn’t need. He could hear the waver in the mind mage’s voice. Kip was more afraid of the dormant Sygnus in the child than he wanted to let on.
After a moment, he continued, “It’s one of the reasons this tower exists – it’s a place away from the Blue Planet where we can teach him before the Sygnus manifests.”
Zerom fed you that slop, and you guzzled it right up. Wishful thinking.
“Do you really think that’s going to stop the inevitable from happening?” the Marked asked.
“Who says it’s inevitable?” Kip frowned.
TsuMe didn’t answer. He’d seen this all before – how they tried so hard to deviate the fate of the Bane. It led them all to their destruction, and cursed him with the form he had today.
He spoke quietly, “Perhaps it’s better to remove the threat before it manifests.”
“You don’t think that it could be different this time?” Kip pursed his lips.
“I gave up on that kind of optimism a long time ago.”
The mind mage just sighed. But he looked nervous. For a very good reason.
“This human boy I found,” he finally said, “He might just give the young Master something to think about rather than his perceived captivity.”
“You’re so convinced the kid can calm the whelp down.” It wasn’t a question.
“Better than that,” Kip’s easy grin returned. The one that tried to prove how clever he was. “If the boys become friends, we can use the human to control the young Master.”
He’s trying too hard.
“Face it,” TsuMe snorted. “This is all an elaborate cover up as to why you can’t bring yourself to abandon a kid.”
Kip’s contorted face proved his point instantly. Even his attempt to protest was weak. “That’s just…”
The Marked just gave a short laugh of triumph. Then, his tone turned serious again. “If the kid stays, he’s your problem. If Master Zemus asks, you answer for it. Not me. Fine?”
“Fine!” Kip agreed looking cheerful again.
“I wouldn’t be smiling if I were you.”
TsuMe glanced up at the crystal at the far end of the room. “It’s your turn to feed the whelp tonight. Judging by the light of the crystal, you’re already half an hour late.”
The mind mage’s eyes widened as he gave a satisfying strangled sound of concern.
TsuMe couldn’t help but bark a laugh again. If there was anything Kip was good for, it was making him laugh.
“You think this is funny, don’t you?” he protested.
Kip just huffed as he turned and rushed out of the doorway. As soon as he did, the lights in the room began to slowly dim.
Tch. What a fool. He actually believes the whelp is going to live long enough to become the Master of this tower.
-You sound so doubtful, TsuMe.- The voice bubbled out of the shadows.
It wasn’t a surprise. TsuMe felt the pressure of Zerom’s presence with him, drawn by his conversation with Kip. It was part of the reason he preferred to be left alone – Zerom always pried when he associated with other people.
-There is a reason why I keep KiNa alive. He knows far more about raising a child than you ever will.-
TsuMe just grunted.
-Don’t get any ideas. If I hear thoughts of destroying the Sygnus, you will be the one with problems. Do I make myself clear?-
TsuMe grunted again. Suddenly, he felt a sharp pain as his head jerked back, something unseen grabbing him tightly around the throat. He bared his fangs, trying to contain his response behind a snarl.
-I said… do I make myself clear?-
Finally, TsuMe was released. He fought back the instinct to gasp for air. It didn’t work very well.
-Your spirit is endearing. It’s why I keep you around.- The presence began to move slowly across the room. –Don’t get too rock-headed or I may find an appropriate replacement. There are many humans on the Blue Planet. Some of them even more useful than you.-
TsuMe just narrowed his eyes in a dark glower.
-Now. On the topic of the human child that Kip has discovered.-
The Marked grimaced, waiting for the command that would end the boy’s life.
The voice turned surprisingly whimsical. –I’m interested in him.-
-I sense something… different… about the boy. I want to know what it is.-
“Wonderful,” the Marked muttered.
-He will remain in the tower, and you will observe him.-
“Kip expects to return him to the Blue Planet.”
-He will remain in the tower,- the voice repeated.
“Kip won’t agree with that,” TsuMe repeated.
-Since when does what KiNa want concern you and override my command?-
The hint of pain streaked over his shoulder, warning him of impending punishment. The Marked bared his fangs. “He may become suspicious.”
-Then make sure you are subtle. You do know how to be subtle, don’t you?-
“And if he argues?”
-KiNa is replaceable. Do it.-
With the final command, the shadows shifted away, leaving TsuMe in silence and solitude.