Casting Stones

“Zento… about your son… I’m sorry,” Zemi intoned with a sound that was almost true regret.

“You apologize like it’s your fault,” the winged man lifted his head, his eyes remaining distant upon the horizon. From the moment he received word from SaRa of what had happened in Nefol, he endured the sharp pang of a father’s concern for a son in grave danger.

“In a roundabout way, you could say it was,” Zemi picked at a loose stone on the rock outcropping.

“Hey,” Zento’s head lifted. “What did I tell you about blaming yourself? Things just happen sometimes.”

“Well, if I had never–”

“Zemi,” the winged man interrupted quickly. “Unless I’ve sorely overestimated you, or you’ve got a few tricks up your sleeve I don’t know about, there was no way even you could have seen things leading to this.”

“This is true,” the Dreigiau nodded somberly. “I still can’t help but feel like there was more I could have done to stop it. And especially to stop him.”

“Him?” Zento frowned. “You mean TsuYa?”

“No, I mean the one who is forcing TsuYa to do these things,” the Dreigiau answered, picking his words slowly. “Your boy is not acting of his own will, Zento. He’s not the driving force behind this.”

“Then,” astonishment grew in his voice, “Who is?”

“You know how I’ve told you there are many more of my kind back where I came from?” an eyebrow arched.

“Yeah,” the winged man answered with a similar eyebrow arch. “But most of them don’t give a rhawn’s nether-side about us. I remember.”

“Well,” the Arweinydd leaned back for a moment. “That’s not the case anymore.”

Zento’s eyes widened, “What are you saying? That we’re up against another Arweinydd?”

“In not so many words, yes.”

Zento choked, “But…”

“Why?” Zemi finished the question for him curtly. “Not sure. Probably because he’s jealous.”

“Do you know him?”

The Dreigiau lowered his face, his voice heavy, “I named as my brother Arweinydd a long time ago. He calls himself Zerom.”

Zento’s eyes widened even more.

“Zerom probably finds it amusing to turn brothers against each other for his fight against his own brother. Seeing that your boys were the most influential powers in the School that I created, the School that he loathes, it was ironically convenient,” a fanged scowl broke over Zemi’s face. “He knew it would hurt me to see the children of my Champion set against each other.”

“He doesn’t like the School? Why?”

“Because Arweinydd believe we should not get involved with the Earthians,” he answered slowly, “The fact that I do makes me the odd one out. And the fact that I continue to gain power through my Earthian connections makes the Others terribly uncomfortable.”

Zento was quiet before he took a conversational detour, “AsaHi asked me today why you took such an interest in our people. I didn’t know how to answer her, to be honest.”

Zemi arched an eyebrow, “Hrum?”

“I don’t want to think everything we’ve done is all just about power,” the champion murmured quietly.

“ZenToYa, I am not my brother,” the Arweinydd’s voice cracked slightly. “You should know that by now.”

The winged man glanced over in silence, giving the Dreigiau a prodding look.

“I admit,” Zemi leaned back thoughtfully, “Maybe in the very early days, power was a strong persuasive factor. But that was before I understood Earthians and their compassion. Two children that wandered into my cave to take shelter from a snowstorm… they taught me all about that.”

“Hrmmm?” Zento’s eyebrow rose slowly.

“Strange isn’t it, how the students often teach their Master?”

“Yes, yes it is,” the winged man gave a hint of a smile.

“Still, the Arweinydd are wrong to think that the Earthians have nothing to show us,” Zemi’s grin widened. “Wisdom comes from an open mind… because even the smallest of people have so much to give to this world.”

“You mean AsaHi when you say that,” Zento approached the topic carefully.

The Arweinydd fell silent.

“She’s figured it out, you know.”

“She’s clever. I knew she’d put it together for herself,” Zemi finally nodded.

“Why didn’t you just tell her?”

“That would steal her control when she already feels small enough as it is,” Zemi frowned and rubbed the back of his neck. “For me to waltz up to her and say, ‘Oh, by the way, I’m Zemi Dreigiau!’ wouldn’t really have gone over well. This way, she can feel accomplished in something over me.”

Zento chuckled, “So that’s what it’s all about?”

“I’d rather she approach me in anger than fear.”

“I don’t know. Earthian girls are notorious for their tough tempers,” Zento’s eyebrows arched.

“I think I can handle it,” Zemi gave a broad grin.

“We’ll see about that,” Zento gave a slight grin in return. A grin that faded as the Dreigiau’s chuckle trailed off into a soft growl.

Zento shifted at the sound, his eyes turning back to the horizon. There, he could see the outline of two riders racing desperately towards the gates of the city. Just behind them, a storm of darkness swelled across the sky.

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