A/N: I'm not sure if I've mentioned it before but I'll be switching POV's every now and then but I'll be sure to make it clear when I do. Happy reading!
Soul peers out from the left wing of the stage. Even though the amphitheater is nearly empty, save for his parents sitting in the front row, he feels the familiar apprehension knotting his stomach, threatening to forcibly remove the little of breakfast he ate this morning.
He tries not to think about what's about to happen, focusing on his plans later today. He takes several deep breaths. Whatever happens today, at least you have that, he reminds himself in a vain effort to slow down his racing heart.
He nearly jumps a foot in the air when someone claps a hand on his shoulder. Soul scowls when he sees his brother grinning down at him.
"You ought to be a dancer if you could jump that high," Wes teases.
Scowling, Soul looks away to hide the growing blush on his face. "Go bug someone else, Wes."
"Now is that any way to treat your loving brother?" Wes says in mock offense. "You should show some respect."
Soul narrows his eyes at Wes. "I'll show some respect to my elder brother when his voice stops cracking like a whip."
"Oh, you'll pay for that!" Wes playfully puts Soul in headlock.
Soul struggles to break free. "You're going to make my hair all messy!"
"That's what you get!" Wes answers.
Wes releases Soul as Thomas, their music instructor, comes up from behind them. Wes bows low while Soul straightens the suit he was stuffed into earlier this morning.
Thomas returns Wes' bow as far as his old back can allow and gives Soul a curt nod.
Soul scoffs inwardly at Thomas' obvious affection for Wes and disdain for himself.
Then again, Wes' magic has never accidentally trapped their music instructor in a vortex of screaming shadows, something that forever sealed Soul and Thomas' mutual dislike for each other.
Thomas raises a wooden case he was holding. "Your violin, Master Wes." He turns to Soul, the look in his eyes turning slightly frosty. "And your piano is tuned to perfection, Master Soul."
"Excellent!" Wes says. "Come on, Soul! This is going to be our first duet in years." He gives Soul a smile and heads onto the stage.
Soul moves to follow him but Thomas stops him. "We won't be having any mishaps today, will we?"
"I haven't had any mishaps in a while," Soul says, glaring at Thomas' wrinkled face.
"Good," Thomas says smoothly. "You're perfectly aware that your parents, Lady Aria and Lord Hadrian, are out there and expect to see your magic under perfect control so keep it that way…"
Soul lets his mind wander, thinking if he has to spend another second listening to Thomas prattle on, he'll throw up on his shoes then and there and just skip the performance.
Finally, Thomas stops and lets Soul pass.
Soul glances at his parents as he takes his place on the piano bench. They sit directly in front of him. His mother, Lady Aria, wears a red dress, which makes her distinctive red eyes stand out even more. She looks even more nervous than Soul feels yet she gives him a bright smile when he makes eye contact with her. Lord Hadrian, his father, smiles as well, his white hair winking silver in the amphitheater's light.
As soon as Soul is seated, Wes begins to play. Soul thrums his fingers against the bench. His part comes later in the song but he wishes that he could just get it over with now. Out of the corner of his eye, he sees his parents listen with rapt expressions.
Wes plays his violin without any fear at all. Delicate and cheerful notes float into the air, weaving into a mesmerizing melody. Soul can't see Wes but he can imagine what he looks like from all the times Soul has seen Wes practice. Head slightly bowed, eyes closed and a serene look on his face like the music calmed his very soul.
Music has rarely meant peace for Soul.
Don't think about it, don't think about it, he chants in his mind as he waits for his cue to enter. Unbidden, an image flashes briefly before his eyes. Teeth sharper than his, contrasted against scarlet red skin and onyx black eyes that brim with malice.
All Soul wants right now is to run off the stage and never come back. But his parents won't give him up for a lost cause yet and Soul won't disappoint them by becoming a full-fledged failure.
Bright light above Soul's head catches his attention. The light bends and wraps according to Wes' music, making a magnificent display of the Evans' manor and the estate around it. Soul grins as two particular blobs of light take shape into two white-haired boys, chasing each other across the grounds. A mere three years older than Soul, thirteen year old Wes is already the master of creating lifelike illusions.
A slight hiss emanates from their music instructor, standing anxiously in the wings. The light forms of Soul and Wes run into the manor and disappear. Apparently, Wes' little show wasn't on the program.
Soul smiles. Wes can read Soul better than anyone and also knows how to calm Soul's nerves better than anyone.
Wes' music softens to a just a whisper, signaling Soul that it was his time to enter the song.
You can do this, Soul thinks determinedly as he began to play. His music doesn't sound nearly as beautiful as Wes' does. It's harsher on the ears and darker than Wes' music. Their instructor has tried countless times to change Soul's style but he's failed each time. It's just who Soul is.
He peers up, anxious to see if the illusion he envisioned is up there or something else.
To his immense relief, the town that lies just outside their estate is slowly shaping into existence. Elated, he throws himself more fully into the song, Wes following along to his beat. As he gets into further and further into the song without any mishaps, Soul allows himself to hope that maybe he'll get to get through one practice without any screw ups on his part.
He lets himself sneak a peek at his parents. His mother is beaming, joy and relief in equal parts practically radiating from her, while his father wears a slight but proud smile.
Soul bites down on his own grin and plays with even more fervor, without restrain. His music grows louder and louder as the crescendo of the song comes closer, drowning out Wes.
He doesn't notice the orb of murky darkness until it's floating right in front of front of him. Before he can do anything other than blink, two red hands push out of the darkness and latch onto Soul's hands.
Soul yells in shock as his mother cries out. Even though the illusion doesn't have any substance at all, it feels like something is weighing his hands down. He tries to stop playing but a strange feeling spreads through his hands, forcing him to continue.
"Play, Soul, play." The creature that Soul named Oni emerges from the darkness, a wide grin splitting his face. "You've got an audience to please."
Without his prompting, Soul's hands play faster and faster, going from loud to earsplitting. Shadows peel from the wall, coming to life.
Soul can hear his instructor yelling at him to react like they practiced but Soul can do nothing. He has enough trouble keeping Oni from taking control of his entire body.
He hunches over in concentration, sweat pouring down his face as he stares down Oni.
"The question is, Soul," Oni says, tilting his head to one side, "why are you fighting so hard?"
Soul ignores him, pushing harder against Oni's hold.
Oni raises an eyebrow, clearly amused. "You try hard for such a weak little boy." As if to drive his point home, Oni pushes his hold on Soul past his hands and up his arms.
"No!" Soul gasps. A maniacal cackle rips from his mouth. Soul bows low to the keyboard, panting hard. He's lost complete control of what he's playing, a riotous refrain over and over again.
He sees his mother trying to pull free from his father, her usually tan skin pale from distress. His father looks no better. It feels as though someone stabbed his heart. Soul closes his eyes, feeling his resolve slip with each passing second. I'm sorry I disappointed you, he thinks.
"Hang on, Soul." Wes' voice cuts through the cacophony of noise in Soul's mind. With a heavy effort, Soul lifts his head. Somehow, Wes is sitting at the piano bench with him. He lifts his violin to his shoulder and begins to play. A bead of light gathers around Wes' violin, the very opposite of Oni's darkness.
Oni hisses but doesn't release his grip on Soul.
Wes continues to play. The melody he weaves is quiet but it steadily builds, countering Soul's wild playing, until the beads of light have become the size of Oni. With a few notes, Wes releases the light, dispelling the shadows that Oni released.
"Looks like the fun is over," Oni sneers as he begins to fade away. "But don't worry, Soul. I'll always be right here."
With a final harrowing note from Wes, Oni disappears completely. Soul collapses on the keyboard, breathing hard. He feels his brother wrap his arms around him and pull him up, murmuring reassurances.
"Let me go!" Soul hears his mother break free from his father and run towards her sons, heels clattering against the floor.
Lady Aria practically vaults herself on the stage. She scoops Soul from Wes, brushing back the hair stuck to Soul's face. "Does anything hurt?" she asks Soul breathlessly, pulling away so she can examine him.
Soul nods, trying to untangle the words caught in his throat and failing. He feels too fatigued to do much of anything other than rest in his mother's arms.
Beyond them, his father is arguing with Thomas.
"You told us he had gotten better," Lord Hadrian says accusingly, his brown eyes darkening in anger. He gestures towards Soul and the piano. "What was that?"
"H-he had gotten better, my lord," Thomas stammers. "The stress of performing in front of an audience may have gotten to him, is all. Perhaps with more practice-"
Soul looks up at his mother. She looks livid, more angry than the time Soul and Wes ruined her favorite tapestry.
"This is the last time I will see him put through this," she says flatly.
"Aria, let's not overreact. This might be something he can still grow out of," his father says soothingly. "One bad perform-"
"Bad performance?" His mother's eyes flash dangerously. "A bad performance is hitting the wrong notes, forgetting the sheet music. Soul's own magic trying to take control of him isn't a bad performance. It is a disaster."
With a sudden movement, she stands, Soul still in her arms, and strides off the stage. Wes scrambles off the bench, at their mother's heels.
At any other time, Soul would have thrown a fit at being treated like a baby but he can hardly find the strength to keep his eyes open, much less protest. He juggles between fighting to stay awake and dozing off, the steady rhythm of his mother's pace lulling him closer to sleep.
Eventually the sleep pulling his eyelids shut wins and Soul drifts off into a dreamless sleep.
Soul wakes up to the glow of the setting sun. He sits up slowly, rubbing his eyes. His image, reflecting faintly in the window, shows how that he looks as terrible as he feels. His tan skin looks washed out and pale, his white hair sticking up everywhere. The red eyes he inherited from his mother stare dully at him.
He breaks the staring contest between himself and his reflection, wondering if he could just slip back to sleep.
A voice startles him. "How are you feeling?"
Soul looks for the source of the voice. Wes sits on a chair next to Soul's bed. Judging on the fact that he hadn't changed from the suit he was wearing for their performance, it looks like he's been there the whole afternoon.
Looking at him brings back the memories from earlier today. Soul pulls his knees to his chest, resting his chin on them. "I'm fine."
To his relief, Wes does not call him out on his blatant lie but nods instead, leaning back in his chair.
They sit there in silence for a few minutes. Soul winces as his mind insists on replaying every memory of his performance in excruciating detail. "Where is Mother?" he asks to distract himself.
Wes looks uncomfortable. "Uh, talking with Father probably."
Soul feels his face burn, embarrassment and shame sucker punching his stomach. Then he looks out his window again, suddenly remembering his urgent need to go to town. He throws back the covers and hoists himself out of bed. "I have to go."
Wes moves quicker than Soul anticipates, blocking him from the door. "No way," he says, shaking his head. "Mother said she'd skin me alive if she saw you up and moving."
"Then just say you fell asleep and when you woke up, I was gone," Soul says, glowering at Wes. He feints to the left and tries to veer around Wes.
"Nice try," Wes chuckles, grabbing Soul around the waist.
Soul tries to squirm out of Wes' grasp. "I've got things to do, lemme go!"
Wes lets go of Soul but doesn't move from the door. "What are you going to do? Try to convince Mother to let you play again?"
Soul tries not to pout, crossing his arms. "Right, because that worked out real well."
"You know it's not your fault?" Wes asks suddenly.
Soul sighs impatiently. "It's my magic that made Oni. And I'm not strong enough to control him. So now I want to do something else with my magic that won't risk conjuring him up." He looks pleadingly at Wes. "And if you don't let me go now, I'm never going to have this chance again!"
His brother stares at him for what feels like forever. He sighs, moving aside. "If Mother finds out, she's going to kill you and me."
Soul gives his brother a rare hug. "Thank Wes!" Then, he dashes out of the room as fast as his legs can carry him.
The sun has long set by the time Soul makes it to the Weapon Mage's house. He pounds on the door, praying that Sid won't be too angry.
The door opens and a short, blue-haired boy peers suspiciously at Soul. "Where were you today?" a squeaky voice booms.
"Hello to you too, Black*Star," Soul says, dodging the question.
"You were supposed to visit earlier," Black*Star sniffs.
"I, uh, couldn't sneak out of the castle," Soul lies.
"Excuses," Black*Star scoffs.
A woman in goggles and blue coveralls comes up behind Black*Star. "Who's at the door, Black*Star?"
"Hello, Mira," Soul says quickly. "I wanted to talk with Sid."
Mira pulls off her goggles and releases her black hair from the ponytail she had it in, staring at Soul with her crystal blue eyes. "He waited for you earlier this afternoon," she says, frowning.
"I know, I'm sorry," Soul says, ducking his head. "I wouldn't have left him waiting if I had had a choice."
Mira sighs. "Come on in then."
Soul enters the house. The room is a mix of Sid and Nygus' workshop next door, various weapons strewn about on an iron table in one corner while a haphazardly kitchen lies in the other corner.
Angela, the baby girl Sid and Nygus took in along with Black*Star, gurgles happily at Soul from where she sits in her high chair by the kitchen table.
Soul moves to follow Nygus to the kitchen but Black*Star latches onto Soul, dragging him away to sit at the weapons table. He talks a mile a minute, proudly showing off his work in the weapons he's worked on.
He's just finished explaining the finer details of the mechanics of a flute-sword he helped craft when Sid enters from a side room.
"Hello, Sid," Soul says, rising from the table.
The Weapons Mage raises an eyebrow and crosses his arms, faded burn scars from run-ins with the forge standing out against his dark brown skin. "You're lucky I'm a nicer man than most and I didn't give your scythe to the traders that came this afternoon," he says by way of greeting. Sid gives Soul a slight smile to show that he's joking. "You had me thinking you changed your mind."
"Of course not," Soul exclaims.
Black*Star interrupts. "Wait, change his mind about what?"
Sid laughs. "Of the things that have changed since we found you, your mouth certainly has not changed. Go mind Angela while Nygus goes to close up the shop."
Black*Star grumbles but slides out of seat and heads across the room.
"Follow me," Sid says to Soul. He turns and heads back to the room he came out of.
Sid opens the door and lets Soul enter first.
Soul takes a quick look around the room. It's less of a room than a miniature version of Sid and Nygus' shop. A small forge dominates one end of a wall while tools lie neatly on a rack on the adjacent wall.
What catches his eye, however, are two scythes lying on a metal table. The snath is gray while the blade is black and red, separated by a zigzag line.
The other one is black and white. Winglike extensions decorate the where the snath meets the blade. What really captivates him, however, is the blade of the scythe. Piano keys line all the way across the blade.
He gravitates toward the table, mouth slightly ajar. As he reaches out to touch the piano scythe, he feels Sid pull him back.
"I thought you'd like that one," Sid grins. "But no touching."
Soul scowls slightly but doesn't argue for now. "I thought you promised to make me a scythe, not two."
"I didn't make this beauty," Sid says, looking at the piano scythe with reverence. "The traders that visited me today said they found this out in an abandoned wagon out in the wilderness. I thought this would suit you."
"Then I can use it?" Soul asks eagerly, reaching out for the scythe again.
Sid bats his hand away again. "Now, you're going to hurt my feelings." He holds out the black and red scythe to Soul. "You're going to use this one. There are keys much like your piano in the handle. Won't give you as much power but it'll let you wield your magic at the same time."
Soul opens his mouth to argue but Sid cuts him off. "Didn't you tell me you had problems with your magic. At least with the illusion part of it?"
The events from today dance in front of Soul's eyes. "Yes," he mumbles.
"Then," Sid says, placing the black and red scythe in Soul's hands, "you train with this one first, improve your combat skills and then you can use the piano scythe." His voice softens. "I wouldn't do this for any rich little kid so you better not prove me wrong."
Soul wraps his hands around the scythe's handle. He gives it an experimental twirl, hitting a few notes. A weak sound vibration pulsates from the blade. He revels in the freedom of not having to funnel his music into something it's not, of not having to be ashamed of what it is.
He's finally standing on his own two feet.
Soul bows low to Sid. "I won't let you down."