AsaHi was beginning to wonder if Kaze was avoiding her. For days after her discussion with Zento, she was left on own to explore the floating islands. While the place was wondrous, AsaHi still couldn’t get past the feeling that she was out of place among the winged people.
That’s what Zento called them. She wondered if the word meant something or if it was just a name they chose.
The Cyngan never treated her differently. They appeared to enjoy setting aside their task, no matter what it might be, to tend to her concerns. Over time, the girl found herself growing warm towards the winged people, just as they were warm towards her. Not sure how she was certain, AsaHi knew that the Cyngan were deserving of her trust.
Maybe Kaze left me alone so that I could learn about them.
AsaHi didn’t know why Kaze vanished, but after their last talk out on the balcony, he did not return. At first she wondered if he knew what Zento told her and was avoiding her prying questions. Or maybe it had something to do with the way he left her the last time they talked. A tingling sensation rose within her chest as she remembered.
I wonder what he meant by “I feel?”
Something about the way he said those two words left her with shivers. But what was even more troubling was the way her own pulse quickened when he drew close to her. She’d never felt that way before, a giddy nervousness that left her grinning afterward.
AsaHi trailed her fingers along the stream of mist-moss, watching as it evaporated and shimmered back in place elsewhere on the tree branches. As beautiful as the world was. As kind as the people were. As astounding as everything was…
She couldn’t help but miss Kaze.
She found her thoughts straying back to the strange, fanged-smile. She wondered where he was. She wondered if he was okay. She wondered when she’d see him next. Sometimes she even imagined the coarse barking voice coming from above, and turned to see that no one was there.
With great shame she realized she thought more about Kaze than she did about being back home. Or even about SoYa.
The girl took off her silver-strapped sandals as she wandered upon a passing brook. Laying them aside in the grass, she lifted her robes and began to walk over the rocks along the water’s surface.
SoYa would like this place. It’s so peaceful. So contemplative. Though…
She wrinkled her nose as the image of the small man came to mind. It took a lot of effort to superimpose the image of great snowy wings on his back. They just didn’t seem to fit.
A school of dancing fish began to follow her, all the hues of the rainbow under the dappled sunlight. AsaHi laughed as a few of the bolder ones began to wiggle their fins up through the water’s surface for recognition.
The girl bent down and reached her hand towards them. Instantly they scattered, swinging around in a wide arc to swim back towards her, a spray of silver water shooting into the air. AsaHi gave a squeal as she was squirted.
A low-throated chuckle rose from behind her, “I think they like you!”
The girl stood up, turning instantly at the voice, “Kaze!”
He grinned in return.
When she saw him, AsaHi could only stutter broken sounds, stricken speechless by his appearance. His common half-cloak was replaced by a highly ornate flow of red, black and gold robes. Runes traced up and down the hem and in the very center was an intricately woven image of a great rearing dragon. The man’s long white hair was pulled back into a highly decorative full wrap — a sign of great rank and power, something that was fit for a High Guide, if not the Arweinydd themselves. It was a mark that demanded great respect.
AsaHi tried not to stare, but found herself woefully unsuccessful, “Kaze… where have you been? Why do you look like this?”
He pursed his lips with a strangely subdued light in his eyes. She crossed the remainder of the stream to stand on the bank, keeping some distance between them. Something about his demeanor set her on edge.
Kaze rubbed the back of his head with one hand, “So many questions. I suppose I don’t blame you.”
“Are you going to tell me the truth this time?” she quickly put him on the spot. He wasn’t getting away without finally answering some of her questions.
He gave a forlorn frown.
“I mean, I don’t even know your real name,” AsaHi added.
“I tried to tell you my name from the start,” he spread his hands with an innocent plea. “You persisted on calling me what you pleased. I didn’t correct you since you seemed quite happy with the name you picked out for me.”
“That’s an excuse and you know it,” she planted her hand on her hip. “Not to mention you left me here alone, when I don’t know anyone at all.”
“You know Zento.”
“Not very well,” AsaHi huffed and scolded. “After everything that’s happened, you vanished without a word!”
“You were worried about me?” he gave a wide grin, unfazed.
“If you want to know, yes. I was,” she shot him a flustered look.
“Sunshine,” he gave a pitiful look. “I’m sorry. I suppose I should’ve told you I was being called away.”
“Called away? To do what?”
“My people wanted to meet with me,” he answered simply.
Something about the way he said it sent a chill through her body. Instantly, her bold tone grew more somber, “I… don’t understand.”
“I know. It’s my fault that you don’t,” Kaze looked honestly apologetic. “But seeing how so much has happened already, I wanted to give you more time to rest and find your footing.”
“Your people?” For some reason, she was stuck on those two words.
“Yes, my people. Those who live in this city. It would be poor of me not to spend some time among them, as much as they’ve given up in my name,” Kaze nodded slowly. “I didn’t want to disappoint them. They’ve waited so patiently.”
AsaHi’s eyes studied his robes, then his hair. Her words came slowly, “So you are a very important person here?”
“You could say that, I suppose,” he offered a fangy grin.
A growing meekness flushed over her face, “I didn’t know.”
“Hey,” he reached a hand out, dropping it on her head in his familiar manner. “Don’t get all shy on me now.”
She found it very difficult to look at him, “So you were the one that they were welcoming when they said Master?”
Kaze gave a little frown, taking her shoulders between his hands and gently pulling AsaHi around to face him. “What did I just say? You wanted the truth, yes? And I’m telling you the truth. I am no different than the day we met in the forest.”
She didn’t answer. Her hands shook as they touched the rearing dragon insignia on the front of his robe.
“This isn’t going over half as well as I hoped it would,” he admitted. “Maybe it was too soon for me to return. I just couldn’t stand to see you fret.”
The girl’s mind staggered with the impossibility of imagination. As if he was aware of her thoughts, Kaze took a slow step backwards.
“I…” he stammered, “I need to go.”
The complications of his words didn’t dawn on her until she looked up to find herself alone. Her whole body quivered as her mind reached back, striving to remember…
His name… Zento said to find his name. When I asked him that first day… what did he say?
A rising cadence filled her mind with one word.
Kaze… Kaze… Kaze…
She shook her head.
No… that wasn’t all there was to it. It was more like…Ka… ze… mi…
Her eyes squinted, running the sounds through her mind.
Kazemi. KaZemi…KazeMi? KaZe Mi? Ka… Zemi…
The world around her faded away as realization rushed over her.