SoYa sat next to the communication stone, waiting in a shroud of nervous anticipation. He didn’t know exactly what the stone was, only that it was something that his father used to contact people – namely NaDoTu. Likely, it was a creation of the strange scientist, something that they set up in the far recesses of the Host Gate’s back cave during times when Father and his friends had to work together across great distances.
Though SoYa never used the device on his own, he’d seen his father activate it many times. He also knew that NaDo didn’t always answer right away. Sometimes Father had to wait for a return message, just as SoYa did now.
I hope Master NaDo is still there. It’s been so long since anyone’s heard from him.
SoYa was never quite sure how NaDo became a part of the Nefolian Founders. He was younger than both Father and JinRai and hailed from one of the unusual Tinker clans from the south. His people were known for their eccentric love of mechanical things, and NaDo was no exception. It was through his wit and knowledge that magic and technology were fused to create structures such as the great Nefolian Spire.
Though he was once best friends with Father, NaDo disappeared shortly after Father’s death. SoYa always thought that it was due to grief and loss of both of NaDo’s friends. However, the fact that the Arweinydd Zeni indicated that NaDo had important knowledge made the Apprentice curious if something more actually happened.
There’s nothing I can do now but sit and wait. I’ll give it a day, and if I don’t hear from him, I suppose I’ll have to return to Nefol and find a different way to approach this.
The Host Gate was strangely quiet with all Arweinydd presence missing from the vacant halls. The evening wore on, carrying SoYa along the fringe of a doze, until a crackling sound and calling voice jolted him awake. The communication stone lit the chamber in an electric luminance, pulsing to life with its own internal light.
“Hello!” SoYa jumped up, rushing across the room. He placed his palm against the flat of the stone, as if it could help the connection somehow.
“Zento? Zento is that you?” the distant, familiar voice asked. The faint outline of a figure reflected in the stone, growing more focused.
“Master NaDo?” SoYa inquired, squinting as the other man’s features flickered and solidified.
“Oh! Oh dear. You’re not Zento,” the man replied, as if to himself. One finger pushed the pair of eye lenses up on his nose, his mouth stretching into a thin line that would have been comical in any other situation. “SoYa? Is that you, boy?”
“Yes! Yes, it’s me!” the Apprentice answered, leaning forward in excitement. “I’m so glad you answered! Is everything okay?”
“Everything’s fine. Nothing to worry about,” NaDo assured him, seeming a bit confused.
“It’s been so long since we’ve seen you. Where have you been all this time?” SoYa asked, more out of genuine concern than really trying to pry.
“I’ve been on a job outside of the Inner Realms,” he answered, his face reflecting hesitation and uncertainty, as if he wasn’t sure he should be discussing these things. Just as quickly, he attempted to change the subject, “And you? How are you and your brother?”
“Not so good,” SoYa looked down.
“Oh?” NaDo frowned. “What’s going on?”
“Well, that’s sort of what I needed to discuss with you,” the Apprentice answered. “I was told to find you… that you’d know the truth. She said that you could tell me about the Awakening.”
The scientist froze, green eyes widening a bit behind the lenses, “She? She who? Where did you hear that from?”
“It was Lord Zemi’s sister. She told me to find you,” SoYa answered.
“Hmm… I was wondering why you were the one to contact me,” he turned away with a grave frown.
“Were you expecting someone else?” SoYa asked slowly, brow furrowed. His thoughts leapt back to the beginning of the conversation, prompting a new question. “You called me by Father’s name. Why?”
NaDo took in a sharp breath through his nose. SoYa had forgotten how easy it was to read the scientist’s reactions.
“Father’s dead. Isn’t he?” the Apprentice asked, his mouth growing dry.
“He’s… uh…” NaDo cleared his throat, grasping for a reply.
The lack of answer was all SoYa needed to begin to grasp the truth. Suddenly everything he thought he knew twisted inside out. His stomach churned, heartbeat beginning to race. SoYa’s palms gripped the sides of the communication stone, knuckles turning white. “Is… Father… alive…?”
NaDo coughed uncomfortably. He gave a watery smile as he looked up, flinching a bit when his gaze met SoYa’s. “I forgot… you have your father’s ability to read people.”
It was SoYa’s turn to grow pale.
The scientist didn’t notice. Instead he began to pace. “I’m sorry, SoYa. I can’t discuss these things. I’ve been sworn to secrecy.”
“If Father’s alive, I need to know! Please, Master NaDo, we need your help!” SoYa felt the words gush from his mouth. “Something’s happened here at the Host Gate… I don’t know what. Lady Zeni said…”
NaDo stopped pacing just as abruptly as he started, cutting SoYa’s words off quickly. “Zeni? Yes, I know that name. But you shouldn’t know it, unless what you tell me is true. You really have talked with another Arweinydd, haven’t you? One besides Zemi?”
“Yes,” SoYa answered with a deep swallow. “I know this is going to sound crazy, but…”
It was the only shot he had to persuade the scientist to help. Shyness aside, he pushed forward, telling NaDo all the things that happened. How AsaHi went to the Host Gate to summon Lord Zemi. How she was in danger from the Council, who were becoming more and more restless at the lack of Nefolian leadership. How when SoYa came to the Host Gate to talk to Lord Zemi, their Patron was no longer there. How Zeni told him of the broken seal between their worlds and of the one named Zerom, who may pose a threat to Nefol.
The scientist remained quiet for a while, digesting SoYa’s story. Then he nodded to himself, coming to a decision. When he turned back to the communication stone, there was purpose written on his brow.
“So it is, indeed, the time,” he began. “We’ve kept our silence and distance to ensure your safety and the safety of your brother. We hoped to secretly change Nefol from the inside out… but I have suspicions that we’re not the only ones with that idea.”
“We?” SoYa echoed.
NaDo didn’t offer an answer. He simply continued, “Your father didn’t die in that battle in the Spiral lands. He Awakened.”
“It’s hard to explain… defies logic… but is, for lack of any other explanation, when a person becomes aligned with their internal balance and potential. It’s a transformation in mind and body. It’s a…” the man paused in his enthusiastic description, frowning at the Apprentice’s lack of response.
SoYa’s face must have reflected his disbelief and confusion. The scientist was well known for rambling off on strange tangents, and this seemed to be one of them, “I’m sorry. What does this have to do with Father?”
“It has everything to do with your father,” NaDo told him, spreading his hands. “He was the first Awakened, which is natural, given he is Zemi’s Champion. Unfortunately, the Council used his transformation as an excuse to exile him.”
“Transformation?” SoYa echoed again.
The man sighed, “Okay. There’s no way around this, I suppose. Let me demonstrate.”
NaDo took a step back from the communication stone, until SoYa could see most of his form. He stood with his head down, scruffy white hair falling in his eyes, arms hanging loosely at his sides. Then, something impossible began to happen.
SoYa knew that NaDo wasn’t a magic user — his skills lay within logic and technology. However, a soft violet glow began to spread across his body, a power that seemed to come from within. The light stretched around him, struggling a little at first, before exploding from his shoulders in a pair of unfurled wings of light. For a moment, they remained nothing more than an outline of spirit-shape, before growing solid, each feather bearing a new incredible reality.
SoYa couldn’t find words, much less a voice to speak them.
NaDo’s eyes flicked up, the light within them calm and more clear, as if he didn’t need his lenses to see. His voice was more measured, but still familiar, “Why wings? I’ve often asked that. Perhaps this links us back to something we were once, in the Time Before our time. Perhaps it’s something we can only obtain through the connection of an Arweinydd power, such as Zemi. We don’t really know. Even Zemi doesn’t really know.”
The Apprentice released a long, whooshing breath that he didn’t even realize he was holding.
“Ah,” the scientist said, returning to his former cheerful tone. “You took that well. Are you ready to hear the rest of it?”
“The rest of it? You mean… there’s more?” SoYa boggled, struggling not to openly stare at the communication stone.
NaDo simply gave a lop-sided smirk in return.