Though TsuYa didn’t tell him where AsaHi was, his mention of Aunt SaRa was all SoYa needed to guess. The Apprentice made his way through the city as quickly as possible, skirting the quiet whispers that filled the halls. In his mind, it seemed like everyone was secretly discussing AsaHi’s fate from the shadowed corners. Whether it was true or not, SoYa knew it would only be a matter of time before word got back to the Council that something happened at the Host Gate.
TsuYa may be brash, but he was right about one thing – the Council was looking for any reason they could find to remove SoYa from the Spire, even if that meant using the people that he loved against him. SoYa knew that if he could guess where to find AsaHi, the Council could, too.
“Aunt SaRa?” he paused in the doorway of the dimly lit room, a palm on either side of the doorframe. He swallowed down his trepidation as the older woman glanced up with a familiar, worn smile. Encouraged by the warmth of her presence, he took an uncertain step into the room.
His eyes fell upon the figure lying motionless in the bed. Then all reserve broke as the Apprentice rushed forward, nearly tripping over his robes in the process. SoYa reached for her hand, “AsaHi? AsaHi, I’m here!”
There was no answer. No sound except for the echo of his cracked voice against the plain white walls. A gentle touch on his shoulder brought him reeling back to reality. Aunt SaRa’s motherly face hovered over the two of them, her expression lined with concern.
“SoYa. She can’t hear you. She sleeps within the Dragon’s Dream,” her melodic voice worked soothing tones.
Slowly the Apprentice lifted his head, eyes deeply pained, “Then what Tsu told me is true?”
The woman tilted her head in a girlish manner, “And what did that scamp say?”
“He found AsaHi in the Host Gate. She tried to summon…”
“She did more than just try,” Aunt SaRa reached forward, pulling out a sheath of papers. SoYa recognized the text from his Apprentice Tome, copied in AsaHi’s familiar hand writing.
The Apprentice could do nothing but shake his head, “I can’t believe she’d do something so… so… foolish! Why would she mock Lord Dragon like this? Why would…”
Aunt SaRa silently touched his shoulder again. She never needed words to put his mind at ease. Since their real mother had passed away when TsuYa was only three, she was the only mother figure they knew. One of SoYa’s most influential teachers from a very early age, she was a woman who inspired love in many and gave the sense of absolute protection. Now, with both of their parents gone, Aunt SaRa was the only real family that he and Tsu had.
“Could it be… this sleep is Lord Zemi’s way of punishing AsaHi?” he murmured.
Aunt SaRa looked at him a disapproving frown, “Where did you get such an idea?”
SoYa looked down, “I…”
She sighed, taking her nephew’s hand in her own, “SoYa, you’ve studied all these years. You teach the young who come to Nefol. And you can’t answer that question for yourself? Who do you think Zemi is?”
Aunt SaRa shook her head curtly, “The Council… Nefol… the whole School… they have it all wrong. Everything has gone completely astray. I know this is not the way that your father would have wanted you or anyone to think of Zemi.”
Guilt marred SoYa’s face, but he pressed on, “If that’s true, then why did Lord Zemi strike AsaHi down?”
“SoYa,” the woman gave a half sigh, half laugh.
He fell silent.
Aunt SaRa pointed to the sleeping girl, “She sleeps because if she didn’t, she may have died. The things that she subjected herself to, the things she saw… she was not trained to endure. Zemi is not punishing her, he’s preserving her.”
“What do you mean?”
“A lot of power is released into our world when the Gate opens. It’s for your own safety that you train to ready your mind. But the Council, they turn everything into some ritual, some political ordeal. It never used to be this way,” Aunt SaRa sighed again.
SoYa’s voice was quiet, “Will she be okay? I mean, she will wake up, right?”
“Her body has slowly begun to function on its own strength. I’m not sure how long it’ll be before she’s completely conscious, however. Zemi’s being very careful. I don’t think he wants to rush it.”
SoYa swallowed, “You talk as if he’s here with us right now.”
A secretive smile hovered upon Aunt SaRa’s lips, “You can never tell.”
“So what you’re saying is… Lord Zemi isn’t angry with her?”
“I don’t see why he would be. In fact, I think the old rascal is probably amused,” she answered.
The Apprentice stared at his aunt, surprised at how nonchalantly she talked about the Arweinydd.
Aunt SaRa just winked, “Zemi knows exactly what it’s like to be a youngster in trouble. Believe me. Many, many years of raising your father and I taught him all about it.”
He turned his eyes downward.
“She’ll be okay,” his aunt reassured him in a gentle tone.
“Even if Lord Zemi isn’t angry at her, what’s going to happen when the Council finds out,” SoYa spread his hands in a pleading gesture.
Aunt SaRa’s lips drew in a thin, unhappy line. He could see this worried her, too.
“You know what they’ll try to do. And it’s just… wrong…”
“I agree,” the woman nodded with a wistful look. Then she added, as if to herself, “There’s been a lot of wrong in Nefol ever since your father left.”
“Isn’t there something we can do?” the Apprentice gripped his knees between his hands. “Maybe if we appeal to Lord Zemi he could… er… I dunno… do something?”
They both fell silent for a long moment.
Finally, Aunt Sara spoke again, “You really love AsaHi, don’t you, SoYa?”
“I do,” he nodded. “Even if she’s little stubborn and a little wild… even if she doesn’t always agree with the things I work for… we’re Promised. I’ll honor that, no matter what.”
“I know you will,” Aunt SaRa placed a cool palm across his forehead, gently brushing his bangs out of his face.
“I don’t care what happens to me. My status here at Nefol… all this… doesn’t matter if she’s in danger. There’s got to be some way to help her,” his voice cracked in a desperate tone.
A distant look of memory trickled over the woman’s face. Then she nodded.
“My years of traveling have long since passed, but I can start the girl out,” Aunt Sara’s voice lowered to a rich murmur. “I know a place where she’ll be safe from the Council. But you must trust me to send her there, and you must speak to no one about it.”
SoYa nodded quickly.
“I thought you’d agree.”
“But, if she leaves, will I… ever see her again?” he paused, tracing a finger along side of AsaHi’s cheek with a longing face.
“Of course you will. Don’t speak such nonsense,” Aunt SaRa’s eyes glittered in the darkness. “Maybe you’ll even go to join her when you’re ready.”
Brow furrowed, SoYa squinted questioningly at his aunt, “What do you mean?”
“Nevermind,” she abruptly took his arm and led him towards the door. “There’s a lot I need to do to get her ready for the trip.”
Aunt SaRa pulled his face down so that they were staring eye to eye. “No questions for now. And don’t worry. You said you would trust me, yes?”
SoYa gave a meek nod.
“Good. Why don’t you consider a trip of your own, to speak with Zemi, like you suggested,” she encouraged.
“Maybe…” he wasn’t so sure about the idea. Still, SoYa was afforded one final glance over his shoulder at AsaHi before the door closed behind him.