“Master ZenToYa? I’m sorry to bother you,” AsaHi approached him with hesitation.
The man turned his head in a playful, half-upside-down manner and peered at the girl where she peeked shyly at him from behind a tree branch. She just happened to stumble upon him while exploring the wonders of the strange floating islands.
“No bother,” he assured her, a fatherly smile creasing his face. “But what did I tell you about calling me Master? Seriously, just Zento is fine.”
“But everyone else called you Master,” she answered. “At least, they did when they came out to greet us.”
He shook his head, “They weren’t greeting me like that. There is only one Master of Ceiswyr.”
“Master of Ceiswyr?” AsaHi’s mind reeled, “I’m not sure I understand.”
The man nodded gently, patting the grassy spot next to him in invitation. His wings fluttered once, stretching to relieve the kinks, like a person stretching their arms after a long sleep. Sucking on her lower lip, the girl made her way to stand shyly next to the man of Nefolian legend. In a simple, cross-legged manner, she sat.
“Where do you want to start?” his tone was suddenly very serious.
AsaHi realized that Zento was finally allowing her what she had been yearning for — the chance to ask the millions of questions that clouded her mind. Just as suddenly as she gained this right, she found herself facing the dilemma of what to ask first.
Finally, she took in a deep breath and began, “How did you get here? Everyone thinks you’re…”
“Dead?” he supplied.
The girl nodded.
“I don’t know that the question should be ‘how did I get here,’ but rather ‘why am I here.’”
She gave him a puzzled look.
“I assure you, I haven’t been snuffed out just yet. It wasn’t my choice to allow anyone to think I was dead… that was all the work of the Council in Nefol,” he said.
AsaHi blinked, “The Council? But why would they do something like that?”
“Their authority was founded on my good name,” Zento leaned back, squinting into the sky, as if he, too, was looking for an answer from above. “I suppose they’d rather see me go out in a blaze of glory than to fall into shame. At least then, the legend that founded Nefol would be remembered with pride through the ages.”
“Why would the Council see you as shameful?”
“Because of these,” the man thumbed back over his shoulders, stretching his wings once again.
Her eyes widened. “They know about…”
“Yes. Some of them do,” Zento looked away. “They didn’t see this as a good thing. Called it a curse or an infection of the Bane. Whatever they believe, the Council turned on me. Whether that was just an easy excuse to supplant me, I don’t know.”
AsaHi reached out, placing her hands over one of his. Something within felt so terribly sad for him, “And you just left?”
“At the time, I was running for my life. No one had experienced an Awakening before — I was the first,” he said.
“But, SoYa and TsuYa think that you’re dead! Couldn’t you have at least told them?” she spread her hands in protest.
“Nowadays I wouldn’t be so afraid to show them. But back then, for all I knew, I was becoming the monster the Council claimed. I’d never heard of an Awakening before. I knew nothing of it,” Zento’s eyes grew distant. “In this city, Awakening is something wonderful and beautiful, something to be celebrated. But my own Awakening was very frightening.”
“Why didn’t you come back… or send word… or something? Why let them think…”
“You’re right. That would have been the most rational thing to do. I will admit, despite what all the stories tell you, I’m not always the most sensible person,” a grim look spread over his face. “I was also worried that if they knew the truth, my family may have been in danger from the Council. They were both so young… too young to fight that fight.”
“Don’t you miss them?”
“With all my heart,” he nodded. “But I believe that one day they’ll both find their way here. I know I’ll see them again.”
AsaHi looked down, “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have–”
“No. Don’t be sorry,” Zento’s smile was reassuring. “That was then — it’s over and gone. I look forward to the day when I will meet my sons. And I’m not unhappy here. So please, no sadness on my account. Besides, I hate seeing a sweet little girl in tears.”
She wrinkled her brow at him.
Zento winked with a teasing grin.
The girl cleared her throat, trying to hide her own smile.
“Now what else is there you’d like to know?” the man asked.
“The wings… the Awakening, you called it? What’s this all about?” AsaHi asked, eyeing his wings.
“That’s difficult to explain. Where to start?” ZenToYa leaned back, staring up into the shifting light between the branches above. “Zemi once told me that everything began with a terrible accident.”
She gave a hissing breath, “You mean Lord Zemi?”
He arched an eyebrow at her, “Funny you call him that now.”
“Uh..?” AsaHi shot him a strange look.
“But yes, anyhow, there was a Mistake. No one’s quite sure of what it was, but it messed a lot of things up. Apparently before we ever existed, there were other civilizations, lifetimes, beings… it’s referred to as the Time Before,” he spread his hands as if to illustrate the magnitude of it all.
AsaHi tilted her head, leaning back on her palms. Her green eyes were wide with imagination.
“Who they were and what they were like, I don’t know that we’ll ever find out. All I do know is when this Mistake happened, it took almost everything with it.”
“What caused the Mistake?” she asked.
“Zemi never really said,” Zento shook his head. “All I can be sure of is that many of the living creatures were destroyed, including most of the Arweinydd themselves. A group of young Arweinydd were somehow protected managed to make it through… again, we don’t really know how.”
“Is that where Lord Zemi came from?” AsaHi asked.
“Yes. It seems that when an Arweinydd comes in contact with a potential living planet, they can make a connection,” ZenToYa chose his words carefully as he spoke. “The Arweinydd taps into the flow of the world’s energies, a sort of symbiosis that helps the life on the planet flourish and develop. Through this connection, the Arweinydd also grows stronger and becomes a Patron.”
“Ohh…” she pursed her lips as she tried to take it all in.
“And that is what is happening now,” he concluded.
“I’m not sure I understand,” AsaHi breathed softly.
Zento paused for a moment, recollecting his train of thought. When he spoke again, his voice was level and sure, “Zemi once told me that in the Time Before, some Arweinydd and the Earthians sought harmony. When they came together, both the people of the planet and the Arweinydd began to grow together and become as they were meant to be.”
“And what is that?”
“Ultimately, we become Awake,” he explained, wings stretching once again. “And when we Awaken, the wings appear.”
“Awake…” AsaHi echoed.
“The people of this city, the Cyngan, are people that once lived in the Gatherings, and even in Nefol. They are not so different from you,” he told her. “But through the natural blending of knowledge with the power of Zemi Dreigiau, they’ve changed. The wings are just an outer visible mark of this change.”
“Then this city…?”
“It is a refuge for the Cyngan,” his voice grew quiet. “Those of us who spend enough time understanding our forms can hide our wings when we need to. Some choose to return to the ground to find others as they Awaken and lead them here for safety. I’m afraid that most of the people on the ground would misunderstand what we’ve become.”
“I see,” The girl shifted her weight back and forth nervously.
Sensing her discomfort, Zento gave her hand a gentle squeeze, “I’m not talking about you, AsaHi. You’ve got higher connections here than most do.”
AsaHi frowned at him, “What do you mean?”
“Hmmm, well,” the man pursed his lips. “Some things are beyond me to discuss.”
“You’re talking about Kaze, aren’t you? He has some sort of connection to this place, doesn’t he?” AsaHi pressed.
He simply gave a soft, sad laugh, “You do have some fire in you, I see.”
AsaHi furrowed her brow up into his grinning face.
“If you want to know where to find the answers, I’ll give you a hint.”
“Okay?” the girl straightened slowly, a question mark forming on her face.
“It’s nothing you don’t already know, mind you,” Zento rose to his feet, looking down at her.
AsaHi stood up too, sucking on her bottom lip.
“His real name isn’t Kaze. Find out what it is, and you will have the answer to all your questions,” the winged man told her with a nod.
She opened her mouth, eyes widening. Somehow she did know that. But it never occurred to her to start there — with a name.
“That’s all I can tell you. If you want to know more, you better start asking him,” Zento raised a hand causally before he turned to walk away, leaving the girl lost to her thoughts.