“Are you feeling better now?” Zento asked his sister.
“Yes,” SaRa answered, sipping her tea slowly. The color in her face was already returning, supporting her words. “Thank goodness you found us.”
“Of course I did. You think Zemi wasn’t keeping track of who entered the area around Ceiswyr? Seems like even he’s more cautious lately,” he told her.
He turned one of the small wooden chairs around and sat in it backwards, propping his elbows on the back. For a time, he just watched his sister where she sat, curled in a blanket on a small couch at the other end of the room. After the heat of the battle, now that silence washed over the islands, Zento worked through the impossibility of it all. As much faith as he had that Zemi would hold his promises, Zento wasn’t always so sure if he’d ever see his family again. Now, they were there.
They’ve all come so suddenly.
It was a sign of dangerous times, he knew. But for now, Zento wanted nothing more than to relish a few moments of normalcy with his sister.
“You look well, Zento,” SaRa finally commented. It was one of those talking-about-the-weather conversation starters, but he decided to roll with it.
“Of course, I always look good,” he accented it with comical, bouncy eyebrows in hopes to make her laugh.
She smiled with that reserved smile she had, and he knew that he was at least partially successful. SaRa was always the more prudent of the two. Her mind was obviously on more serious matters.
“The Council… the Ghost Clan… what’s happening to Nefol, Zento?” she asked.
“I don’t know everything yet. Zemi’s gone to tend Tsu and should be back with more information soon. He seems to think he can figure something out from all this,” he answered with a grim look.
“Zemi…” SaRa’s voice trailed off. “So it wasn’t just a dream? Zemi’s really here?”
“Yeah. He’s taken an Earthian form and everything. It’s pretty crazy,” Zento said.
“He was always one for surprises,” she smiled faintly again.
“That’s true,” he nodded thoughtfully. “I’m sure he’ll be back here as soon as he has something to talk about. Zemi seemed pretty intent on getting some answers.”
“Well, until then, what shall we talk about?” SaRa invited.
“You know what I want to hear,” Zento scooched the chair forward across the floor until he could put his hands over hers. The warmth of the tea in her cup steamed lightly between their fingers. “Tell me how you’ve fared… and about the boys…”
“Of course,” she said.
SaRa began slowly, painting a verbal picture of recent life in Nefol. It was so long since Zento saw his two sons, and as much as he tried, it wasn’t always easy to get word from Nefol about his family. He hung on to her every word, grasping for memories and thought-images, knowing that in time, he’d have to face the two young men that were only boys when he last knew them.
Eventually, Zento’s questions were mostly answered and the daylight was growing thin across the far wall. The doorway finally opened, and Zemi strode in.
Maybe it was because Zento had known Zemi for so long that the Dreigiau’s new form was so striking. Through all of his years, Zemi was always that reassuring feeling in the back of Zento’s mind. Or the warm voice that sometimes accompanied a glittering image of the star-dragon within the Host Gate. To see the Arweinydd there, represented as an Earthian, was something that would take time for Zento to wrap his head around. He could see from SaRa’s reaction that she thought the same, too.
“Zemi Dreigiau,” she said, reaching a hand up. “Come here and let me see what you’ve done to yourself, Old Dragon.”
The Arweinydd smiled cheerfully, walking over to join them both. It was obvious that Zemi patterned his appearance after the people he’d associated over the long years in the Host Gate. Though there were a few flaws in the form, overall, he looked very much like the Nefolian people.
“You like it?” Zemi’s eyebrows lifted quizzically.
“You’re as handsome as ever,” she told him.
He just responded with a chortle.
Zento never prodded Zemi on the specifics of taking such a form. After all, they had enough to deal with as it was. His sister, however, didn’t seem to mind opening that can.
“How did you do this?” SaRa asked.
“The seal at the Host Gate was broken,” he replied. “This opened the way for me to come into your physical world.”
She mulled over his words, then seemed to connect things. “This has to do with what happened when AsaHi went there, doesn’t it?”
“Yes,” Zemi nodded slowly, taking a seat next to her on the couch. “AsaHi was the one who called me through the barrier and made the connection that broke the seal.”
“How can that be?” SaRa asked. “AsaHi was tested in Nefol… she’s never shown signs of magical ability.”
“Ah,” the Dreigiau leaned back with a smug grin. “Not all magic can be measured.”
“Does AsaHi know about this?” Zento eyed the Arweinydd.
“Not yet,” Zemi replied. “One thing at a time. It’s difficult enough for her to believe that I exist and that I am who I am.”
“I know. You had her hunting me down with questions,” he grinned a bit. “She’s a tough one.”
“Yes, she is,” the Dreigiau’s words trailed off thoughtfully.
SaRa quickly re-routed the conversation. It was a talent she had. “So, did you discover anything about what happened with Tsu and Nefol?”
Zemi’s face fell with an expression of deep regret. He turned towards Zento, spreading his hands, “Zento… I’m so sorry about your son.”
The winged man found himself swallowing the lump that abruptly appeared in his throat. It was partially out of concern for his youngest son and partially out of surprise at the Dreigiau’s unusual show of emotion.
While Zemi obviously cared a great deal about the people of Nefol and the Inner Realms, it wasn’t always easy for him, as an Arweinydd, to grasp the complexities of Earthian emotion. That was part of the reason that Zemi delegated Zento as his Champion in the first place. Zemi was quite aware of his weaknesses and needed someone who did understand Earthians to work with the people and carry out plans.
“Thank you, Zemi,” was all Zento managed to say.
“TsuYa didn’t do this of his own choice,” SaRa stated. “That much I could tell.”
“You’re right,” Zemi confirmed, his expression growing more regretful. “This is difficult for me to explain…”
“Because the one who’s done this was someone that I thought I could trust,” he looked down.
Zento sucked on his bottom lip, watching the response of his Patron. It was rare that Zemi needed encouragement, but perhaps that was just something that came when walking within an Earthian form.
“You can talk to us, Zemi. It’s all right,” the winged man reassured him.
The Dreigiau let out a long breath, then pushed forward. “I wasn’t the only one who came through the Host Gate when the seal broke. There are a few others, like me, who are interested in learning about the Earthians. Not many of my kind are. So when I found those I thought were a kindred spirit, I called them my brothers and sisters.”
“I see… It’s one of them who’s done this?” Zento asked.
“Yes. One that I thought was my brother. He named himself Zerom,” Zemi hesitated again, picking his words carefully.
“What did Zerom do?”
“I didn’t think that any of the others made connections to Earthians like I have. Certainly none have worked with your people to build things like Nefol,” he frowned. “But maybe I was wrong. I have suspicions that Zerom has been communicating with the group of people you call the Ghost Clan.”
Zento froze for a moment, chilled at the thought.
“That’s… very troublesome,” SaRa voiced in understatement.
“I also have suspicions that this has been ongoing,” Zemi murmured. “It’s not a new development. Also, I have reason to believe that Zerom found ways to allow members of the Ghost Clan to infiltrate the leadership of Nefol.”
“The Council,” she balled her fist.
“That explains a lot,” Zento scowled darkly.
“But up until now, Zerom’s reach was restricted, like mine.”
“Now that he’s free from the Host Gate…” SaRa began to piece it together.
“Yes,” Zemi nodded sadly. “He seeks domination over what we’ve built. He also seeks to empower a Champion to carry out his will.”
Zento’s face grew pale as realization dawned, “You mean to say…”
“TsuYa?” SaRa finished his question, speaking the name that he couldn’t.
“I believe that was his intention,” the Dreigiau answered grimly.
Zento’s hands began to shake where they gripped the back of the chair. Though unbecoming of the great warrior of legend, when it came to a threat towards his children, nothing was more frightening.
“Zento,” Zemi reached over and placed a hand on his Champion’s shoulder. “I won’t let Zerom take your son. I will find an answer for this. You have my word.”
They were all silent for a long moment before SaRa peered up again, “Can you help…”
“Remove the darkness within TsuYa?” the Dreigiau finished pursing his lips.
“It’s complicated. TsuYa had to give his permission to Zerom for things to have progressed this far,” Zemi said.
“Certainly, you’re not saying Tsu wanted this to happen?” Zento gritted his teeth.
“I doubt TsuYa understood the implications of his choice. Zerom has a way of cloaking his darkness with glowing promises,” he sighed, rubbing the back of his head. “He’s even done it to me, I suppose. Had me believing he was one thing when he’s really something else.”
“But you’ll try to cure him, won’t you?” SaRa set her empty tea cup aside.
“Of course. I’ll do everything I can,” Zemi reassured them. “I’m just not sure that what I do will be permanent. That’s why–”
“What do you mean?” Zento interrupted in a quick outburst.
The Dreigiau waved his hand in a calming motion and continued his statement, “That’s why I’m working on a backup plan.”
The winged man leaned back, closing his mouth.
“We may not have the type of energies we need to combat Zerom’s power. Much of the issues have to do with the fact that he’s an Arweinydd and I’m an Arweinydd. That makes our energies too similar,” Zemi tried to explain. “But I think I know of something that, if it still exists, might do the trick.”
“You think?” Zento echoed.
“It’s the best shot we have,” the Dreigiau pursed his lips. “Trust me on this, Zento.”
“All right,” the winged man lowered his gaze. It was obvious that Zemi was sincerely doing the best he could.
“In preparation for this, I’ve called for Kudako to return to Ceiswyr,” Zemi told them.
“Oh?” SaRa perked up instantly.
Zento just gave a suspicious look. “Why Kudako?”
The Dreigiau got to his feet, indicating that the conversation was coming to an end, “We’re going to need him as a guide. Plus, he’s always a good hand to have in battle, don’t you think?”
“Yes, of course,” the man nodded. “It’s always good to see ‘Dako again.”
“Well,” Zemi dismissed himself, “Let me get back to making preparations. I’ll let you know what else I come up with. Okay?”
“Thank you, Zemi,” Zento tried to offer a hopeful grin. It didn’t come easily.
“Sure thing,” the Dreigiau gave a fleet smile and strode out of the room.