“Do I look okay?” Lucci asked Suzume, holding his arms out for judgment.
He spent a lot of time fixing the wrap in his hair and dressed in a set of light blue and white robes, trimmed with a silver lining. Though the hem was just a little too high at his wrists and ankles, it was the best outfit he had to wear. It was still nowhere close to the finery that Lord Zemi or Master ZenToYa wore to the Assemblies.
The collar itches
Lucci began to tug and scratch at the back of his collar, having just noticed the one fatal flaw in the whole deal. An itch like that wouldn’t go away over the hours they would be sitting in the meeting.
Suzume nodded, “You look great, Lucci!”
The girl wore plain black robes, long and flowing around her feet, the color dark enough to match her hair and wings. Unlike Lucci, she wouldn’t be taking part in the Inner Circle of the Assembly, so formal wear wasn’t mandatory for her.
I don’t understand why. No one wants me there.
That was just the plain truth. Not Lucci feeling sorry for himself or a statement of self-defeat. Just a fact that his admittance to the Inner Circle would cause a lot of friction at the Assembly. Which is why he wished that he could just sit in the little back area with Suzume and entertain her as he always used to do.
“Lucci,” Aunt SaRa had appeared in the doorway. “Don’t tug on your collar, dear. You’ll stretch the material.”
“But, it itches,” he told her.
“All ceremonial clothes do,” she gave him a small grin. “It’s part of the discomforts that come with position.”
He couldn’t tell if she was joking or if she was serious. Either way, it didn’t make him like his robes any better.
“Are you ready? It’s not wise to be the last ones in the Assembly Room.” Aunt SaRa gave Suzume’s hair a quick run-through with her fingers, and brushed specs of lint from Lucci’s robes that were invisible to his own eyes.
“…I suppose…” he replied only because he knew she was probably right.
Aunt SaRa gave a nod and one final encouraging smile before beckoning them to follow her. The halls were churning with winged people, all talking in low voices amongst themselves. Very few of the Cyngan were allowed inside during the Assembly, but everyone knew when the meetings took place. Everyone also knew that the choices made by the leaders of their city inside that room would affect the future for everyone living in Ceiswyr.
Would they stay on the Islands? Would they flee? Would defenses be placed around Ceiswyr? Or would they have to quarantine the whole of the Inner Realms? How far had the hand of Zeromus reached outside of the Cleft? What were these new, terrible winged creations that the Dark Arweinydd commanded?
The people had so many questions. So many emotions.
Lucci’s head buzzed with their intermingled voices. The moment that a few stray glances broke from the huddled groups of Cyngan and focused on him, the hall grew noticeably more tense.
Please don’t look at me…
Lucci’s eyes dropped instantly to the ground.
There were quiet murmurs of ‘Sygnus’ and ‘Lei’ Igro’ as Aunt SaRa led the way towards the Assembly Room. He could sense that they weren’t happy The Bane was included in such a vital Assembly. There was also blame in the eyes of those who felt that Lucci’s presence caused Zeromus’ creatures to threaten their peaceful Islands.
Few seemed to realize that such a thing would have happened whether or not Lucci lived in Ceiswyr.
At least, that’s what Lord Zemi says.
Though despite what Lord Zemi said, it still hurt. The thought that he was blamed for something he had no knowledge of at all. The thought that the Islands, the only home he ever knew, were in danger, and fingers were pointed at him as the source.
But, they’re wrong. I don’t know what the Esgyll are any more than they do!
Lucci did the only thing he knew to do — silently withdraw. Pretend that nothing around him existed. Afterall, nothing that he said would convince them to think differently, and he wasn’t very good at expressing himself through words. Chances were, if he did respond to their condemnation, he would only confirm that he was nothing more than The Bane.
I wonder if Lord Zemi thinks the same as they do. I wonder if that’s why he’s calling me to the Assembly. Does he believe I can give them some sort of information about Zeromus?
He could pretend not to see or hear, but what his mind could sense, he couldn’t run from. Every sneer was amplified tenfold within the thoughts of the one giving it. Every blaming glance wrote a list of grievances that spoke his apparent guilt.
If there is something that I know that they can use to stop Zeromus… then… I’ve got to go the Assembly… I’ve got to try.
Lucci’s eyes lifted from the floor at the feeling of Suzume’s fingers weaving through his own. Holding his hand, as she always did, to let him know that he wasn’t alone. He thankfully gave her hand a little squeeze of acknowledgement.
Maybe then, people will see that I’m not-
“Excuse me?” Aunt SaRa’s voice was firm as she brought them to a stop. She stared down a group who stood in front of the Assembly Room, blocking their way. When none responded, she spoke again, “Excuse me, we’re going inside.”
There was a heavy silence among the Cyngan twho stood in front of the door. Their glances were discontent and afraid at the same time, like those who were protesting and well aware of the danger the protest would bring.
When Aunt SaRa recognized this, she her voice grew solid, “What do you think you’re doing? You’re impeding the process of the Assembly.”
Lucci glanced around, looking over the faces that peered back at them, unwavering. There were a number of people that he knew, none of them very well, but all were Cyngan who spoke out against the Sygnus at one point or another. Some were rather influential in the Islands, not the kind to stoop to randomized troublemaking.
“I’m sorry, Lady SaRa,” one of the winged men finally answered. An older, more stout man, he held an air of authority, and obviously spoke for the group. “You know exactly what we’re doing.”
“This is foolishness,” she retorted bitingly, a tone that Lucci heard the winged woman use few times before. “If you have something to say, bring it up in the next Discussion… but don’t block the way of the Inner Circle. Do you want to explain yourselves to Lord Zemi?”
Sheepish, fearful glances were cast around, but no one moved away from the door.
“There shouldn’t be a Sygnus in the Assembly!” someone called from down the hall, obviously encouraged by the steadfastness of the group at the door.
Discontent murmurs broke out over the hall in instant agreement. Aunt SaRa’s voice was lost to the flurry of sudden protests. Though her hands lifted to motion for calmness, the crowd’s agitation was more than one steel-willed woman could control.
I’ve never seen them this angry before!
Suzume clung closely to Lucci’s hand, pulling close to his side. He, too, responded in a search for comfort in his friend’s touch, grasping her shoulder with his free hand. His mind churned, fighting the buzz of terrible emotion, and attempting to sort out the massive confusion-bordering-on-resentment that alighted on almost every face.
What if they try to hurt Suzume and Aunt SaRa?
That’s when one voice lifted above the rest. It was smooth and clear, and rang with immense power, “What’s going on here?”
The crowd fell mute and the clamor stopped as a strange tingling rose over the hall. A single set of footsteps echoed as the silence-tamed crowd began to part, opening a path for the approaching figure. Lucci turned, half expecting to see Master ZenToYa or even Lord Zemi. But the voice belonged to neither of them.
A man made his way towards the doors, looking as unassuming as a person could when an entire crowd was parting before him. Everything about him held a sense of firmness and control, the calmness and command of an Athrylith.
His robes were long and deep violet, the sleeves trailing down in swaths of flowing cloth to his feet. The design bordered on a happy medium between ornate and simple, embroidered with delicate, quiet designs that seemed to reflect the Athrylith’s nature, one that Lucci knew was gentle and kind.
Even to me…
Maybe it was because Master SoYa was Athrylith. Despite his position as the eldest son of Master ZenToYa, others still had a sense of uncertainty towards him and a fear of what the Mind Mage’s powers were capable of. He, too, wasn’t always welcome among the people of the city, as many of them still held on to old ways of thinking – rumors that the Athrylith were terrible, mind-sucking monsters.
Though he wasn’t publicly scorned, Master SoYa always seemed to understand Lucci’s situation. Never had a hard look or chiding word come from the Athrylith. Not even when his brother and father disapproved. Even in facing the crowd, Master SoYa was firm in where he stood.
“Good evening, Aunt SaRa,” Master SoYa greeted the winged woman with a warm smile, as if the others around him simply didn’t exist.
“SoYa,” Aunt SaRa replied in a slightly breathy tone, face a bit uncertain at the way the situation unfolded.
“Hello, Suzume. Hello Lucci,” the Athrylith gave them a small wink and a grin.
Suddenly, though Lucci didn’t understand why, things didn’t feel so bad anymore. Even Suzume didn’t cling so tightly to his hand, her fears slowly fading.
Mind powers… it has to be…
Master SoYa turned his attention to the group that stood in front of the doors. Already, some of them had vacated their spots. The ones who were left standing did so with an outward show of impending trepidation. However, there was no trace of anger in the Athrylith’s voice as he spoke.
“Now is not the time to be fighting among ourselves,” Master SoYa grimaced at them. “We have far too many things pressing us from the outside.”
A few more vacated their spots, stepping away in silence.
“I know the meaning behind Zemi’s choices are not always clear,” the Athrylith’s voice rose over the crowd one final time, soothing and evocative. “But you have to trust that he, as our Patron Guide, wants to protect all of us. Sometimes this includes doing things that may seem debatable, but every possibility must be considered, even the unusual ones.”
Master SoYa took a step forward, indicating without words that he was now going to enter the Assembly Room, and that no one was going to keep him from doing so. The moment that the Athrylith came near, the remainder of the crowd melted away, leaving the path to the doors completely clear.
As the doors opened, Master SoYa motioned them through and fell in beside the silver-haired boy. “You can sit next to me if you’d like, Lucci.?”
Surprised, the boy nodded slowly, blinking at the Athrylith. The light of gratitude flickered behind his silver eyes.
“Oh, and one other thing,” Master SoYa murmured quietly.
Lucci responded with a silent question mark look.
“If you loosen the fasten-clip on the inside of your collar,” the Athrylith informed him, pulling open the collar on his own robe as example, “It won’t itch so much.”
The boy’s mouth opened wordlessly for a moment, tugging on his collar only to find a similar clip on the inside. Then his voice came in an embarrassing croak, “Thanks?”
Master SoYa said nothing more. Just a simple grin and a friendly glance. Then they were walking across the Assembly Room towards the Inner Circle.