“Well, well. Look what the Dragon dragged in.”
At the sound of the voice, both AsaHi and Kudako turned, peering straight into the grinning face of ZenToYa.
“If it isn’t the prince of scamps himself,” Kudako growled softly.
“Who let your Dragon-breath in the city? I would have shut the gates if I had known you were coming,” the winged man smirked back.
They know each other?
AsaHi blinked between the two. Their voices were dead serious. Cold. Almost threatening. But their faces showed otherwise.
Her face must have shown her alarm because the Dragon’s eyes slid over to consider her, “The girl.”
Zento gave a weak laugh, “Oh, eh… hello, AsaHi.”
“What’s going on, Zento?” she swallowed.
Zento peered over at Kudako, then back at the girl, “Oh this? Well…”
“Those two boys are always like that. Don’t let it bother you.”
AsaHi turned. To her surprise, the quiet form of SaRaYa stood outlined in the arched doorframe, complete with wings. The woman slowly took one step. Then another. Her approach led her directly to where the Dragon stood. Kudako’s face stiffened slightly, eyes peering down on the small woman.
SaRa met his gaze strongly. Then she reached her arms out and wrapped him in a friendly hug, “KudakoRe… yours is a face that I’ve wanted to see again.”
“Morh-SaRa,” he spoke the word in a polite half-purr. “It has been far too long.”
AsaHi watched as Kudako’s sternness faded into what could only be nervousness. SaRa’s own laugh was warm and low. There was a mischievous twinkle in her eyes as she released her hold on the Dragon.
“You can deface Kudako later, Sis,” Zento huffed softly while rolling his eyes.
“It’s more than you can do even on your best days,” SaRa smirked at her brother.
Kudako cleared his throat with an amused sound. Zento just crossed his arms.
“So, Kudako,” SaRa turned back to the Dragon, her face more serious. “What’s the news?”
“I think you have a good idea,” he replied.
“You know me. I’m nosey. Give me some details.”
“Of course,” he answered quietly. “I’ve been summoned by Lord Zemi. I really shouldn’t keep him waiting.”
“Certainly not,” SaRa nodded in return. Then she grinned, “You can tell us about it along the way.”
They began to walk down the hall. Too uncomfortable to join the group, AsaHi followed behind the three, leaving them to their discussion. Snatches of phrases drifted back. Talk of Dragons. Of the Marked creatures. Of troubles and terrible disease spreading through the Gatherings of the Inner Realms. She couldn’t understand it all, but it seemed very scary. Very serious. And it left her feeling small and helpless.
Kaze… … … Lord Zemi…
AsaHi watched her reflection peer up at her from the floor beneath her feet. A different concern began to trickle into her thoughts.
What am I supposed to say to him? How am I supposed to act around him?
She was always a curious girl. Seeking the truth. Seeking answers. For once in her life, she suddenly wished that she didn’t know and that she had never found out about the Dreigiau or the city in the sky.
Now SoYa is here. I think he’s in trouble, but I don’t know for sure. Something terrible seems to have happened and it’s probably because of me. Because I had to find out the truth…
They stopped before a tall door inlaid with runes and decorations that were placed with great care. A strange sprawling language was scripted into the frame of the large arch. Two silken banners depicting rearing white dragons hung down on either side.
Kaze, why? Why did you have to be…
The place gave AsaHi chills to look at it. Just to think about it.
The door opened slowly, a magical hum filling her ears with soft vibrations. Peering shyly from behind Zento’s wing, she could make out a long, warmly lit corridor beyond. Curiously, it seemed to be a conglomeration of chamber and garden.
The walls were draped with soft golds and greens where ivy-like vines covered nearly every inch of the spiraling columns. A small stream trickled through an open area in the roof, splashing down across an earthy trench in the center of the chamber. A small wooden bridge led across to the other side where flowers of every color imaginable rose up to touch the sunlight.
AsaHi could not decide if the structure at the far end was a tall white throne or a garden gazebo. It seemed to be a bit of both. Either way, the man who occupied the seat was instantly familiar to her.
Zemi Dreigiau sat in the midst of the color and light. He seemed quite content, voice soft as he spoke, his eyes fixed on the figure sitting next to him on the arm of the throne. It was a little girl, and something was terribly wrong about her. The feeling was enough to make AsaHi stop in the doorway.
She almost feels like those Marked creatures.
As AsaHi looked closer, she could make out the similarities. The girl’s hair, though cropped very short in ragged streams, was black in color. Where a pair of wings once rose from her shoulders, only the slightest hint of feather tufts grew from the slender arcs. These, too, were absolutely black.
The most unnerving thing was her eyes. They were concealed behind a tie of white cloth that contrasted eerily upon the black. The cloth didn’t seem to block her vision, however. The moment that the group began to approach, she turned her head, following their motion across the room, as if she was watching them.
Who is she? And why is she next to Lord Zemi?
SoYa stood silently on the other side of the throne. He didn’t glace up at the sound of their arrival, his face lost to thought, just as he was every time AsaHi saw him. Normally, she would gladly come to sit next to him, but something made her pause, still outside the white, ivy-laced structure.
Instantly, Kudako approached the throne and lowered himself to one knee. His voice was raspy, “Lord Zemi! What have you done to yourself?”
“Well hello to you too, ‘Dako,” the Dreigiau tilted his head, peering down.
“You have taken an Earthian form!”
“Thank you for explaining the obvious,” he replied jokingly.
“But why?” the Dragon blinked up, trying to make sense out of the situation.
“Why not? I’m having fun.”
“Yeah. Fun. You know what fun is right?” Zemi smirked brightly. “Or, maybe you don’t.”
Kudako gave a little grunt, head still bowed low.
“Oh, come on, ‘Dako. Lighten up a bit!”
The Dragon lifted his head, face very grim. “Master, you didn’t summon me all the way here just for fun.”
“I suppose not,” Zemi leaned back with a sigh.
The little black-haired girl tugged on his sleeve quietly. When the Arweinydd turned to her, she pointed out into the garden.
With a soft smile, Zemi nodded, “I don’t see why not. Just make sure you don’t get wet, yes-no? We still have to find you a proper change of clothes.”
The little girl nodded back as she slipped down from her perch to the ground. She darted off into the garden and began happily chasing after one of the pale pink butterflies that skittered from flower to flower.
“Who is she?” AsaHi found her question finally voiced aloud.
SaRa turned over one shoulder, face grim. “She was the little girl that we brought here from Nefol for healing.”
“But I thought… wasn’t her hair white?”
“Yes. Something seems to have happened,” SaRa watched the child distantly.
“Why are her eyes covered? Can’t she see?” AsaHi blinked.
“She says that bright light hurts her eyes. As far as we know, her vision is normal even while wearing the cloth,” Zemi’s deep voice rumbled into the conversation.
AsaHi froze, suddenly afraid and not knowing exactly why. Her eyes flickered up to peer at the Dreigiau. She began to stammer, “Lor–”
“Zemi,” he interrupted with one raised hand. “Just call me Zemi.”
She looked away, unsure of what to say.
“AsaHi, come on. We spent all that time traveling together and you’re gonna suddenly get all formal on me now?” there was a pleading tone to his voice.
“But that’s before I knew that you were,” she tried to explain.
He shrugged. “What difference does it make?”
AsaHi choked, “It makes a big difference!”
“I am no different than I was when you first met me,” Zemi reasoned quietly. “The only thing that has changed is what you know.”
AsaHi peered down at her feet. Then, the girl finally mustered the courage to look straight at the Dreigiau, “Why didn’t you just tell me the truth from the start?”
SoYa stared at her. His face plainly spoke that he thought she was absolutely mad.
“I tried to tell you,” Zemi tilted his head.
“You let me believe that you were Kaze… you didn’t tell me that you were Zemi Dreigiau,” the words poured out of her mouth.
“And tell me what you’d have done if you knew who I was from the start,” he pursed his lips.
“I,” AsaHi swallowed. Then she looked down. “I don’t know.”
“Run away in fear?” he prodded. “Or grovel, sniveling at my feet?”
“I don’t know,” she repeated honestly.
Zemi rose and took a slow step towards her. Though he seemed somehow larger than before, his husky voice was soft and reassuring, “Do you think I would have enjoyed that very much?”
AsaHi squinted up at him in confusion.
“It’s not much fun when the person you want to meet wigs out on you,” he said.
AsaHi pointed to herself, “Me?”
The Dreigiau nodded slowly, “Yes, I wanted to meet you.”
“Why?” the word came out with so much disbelief that it even stunned her to hear it.
“Because something about you called to me. You broke the barrier that blocked me from this world. You freed me,” Zemi peered down at her, voice very level.
“I did?” she swallowed.
“At the Host Gate,” he confirmed.
“You mean, you’re not angry about what happened there?”
Zemi leaned down so close that she could smell the strange scent that always accompanied him. She always thought it was pleasant, and right now, it seemed soothing, “I can’t help but respect an Earthian-Child who would face me to find the truth.”
Her mouth grew small and round, a stricken expression trickling across her features.
“You have been, and will continue to be, under the protection and care of Zemi Dreigiau,” he placed a familiar hand on top of her head. “So, don’t be afraid.”