AsaHi grinned in delight as her voice echoed back at her from the cleft below.
It’s not such a spooky place now that I can see it in full.
In fact, Dragon’s Cleft was rather inspirational. The fissure was so wide that the other side was only a hazy blur. The stone walls were near vertical in steepness, but the manner of plant life that resided along the edge was simply astounding.
Long, graceful vines burst into colored bloom, draping the face of the wall in a brilliant rainbow curtain. Numerous small nests were tucked safely within the leafy bunches. The tiny bright yellow birds that populated the nests flittered, diving from one end of the crevice to the other in perfect ease, their soaring song ringing warmly through the chasm. Stocky flowering bushes sprung up along the cliff, only skidding to a halt inches from the rocky rim. They were full of life, especially attracting small swarms of luminous blue butterflies. Prism-winged maiden-flies skimmed the top of the flowing grass and darted away from AsaHi’s shadow.
She didn’t know why she was drawn to this place. After watching the blotch of darkness grow on the horizon on their travels day after day, AsaHi felt that she had to investigate the Dragon’s Cleft. As soon as they made camp near enough, the girl excused herself on pretense of helping to gather brush for the fire. Instantly, her explorations led her here. Now, AsaHi found herself standing at the edge, bathed in a wondrous flow of radiant color.
I never imagined a place like this existed. And to think, Zemi made it!
It nearly sent her mind reeling with the size of it all. She could only speculate at what it must have been like, the earth splitting open at a single word from the Arweinydd.
Or maybe it only took one thought?
It was difficult for her to imagine Zemi doing something so unbelievably vast. All she could remember when she thought back to the Dreigiau was the quirky smile and quick laugh. AsaHi’s mind began to wander as the wind whistled through the chasm below.
I wonder what Zemi’s doing right now… if he’s really going to confront Zerom.
A pair of yellow birds darted above her head.
I wonder if Arweinydd can get hurt. Maybe if they’re fighting each other, they can.
The girl sucked on her bottom lip slowly.
I hope he’ll be okay…
A frown drew over her face as she shook out her head.
Wait, why am I worrying about him? I mean, he IS Zemi Dreigiau. If he’s powerful enough to make something like the Dragon’s Cleft, then I’m sure he can handle this situation. Right?
AsaHi sighed, peering up into the spread of the sky.
What in the name of the Seven Universes have I gotten myself into?
Everything was moving so fast. There was hardly enough time for her to keep up, much less catch her breath. She was just getting used to life up in the city of the winged people. And then, all this suddenly happened — TsuYa being dreadfully ill, finding out that SoYa was a mind mage, the attack of the strange Marked creatures and meeting KudakoRe, one of the Annihilators of ages past.
AsaHi didn’t really know why she demanded to come on the journey. There was very little that she could offer in the way of help. But something about the way SoYa looked ever since he arrived in Ceiswyr… it tore at her heart. She made it her personal mission to pull SoYa out of his slump.
Mind Mage or not, I won’t have him feeling sorry for himself!
It was hard, though, especially because of Zento. The winged man had taken it upon himself to whip his eldest son into shape through the use of mind-strengthening exercises. Days of training and travelling often left the Apprentice exhausted. AsaHi could see it on his face as the two of them trudged back to camp after hour-long sessions at twilight.
He’s always tired. This journey has been rough on him.I suppose it’s for SoYa’s own good, but why doesn’t Zento see that SoYa is not like TsuYa?
The girl let out a long, wandering sigh. It sounded loud in her ears. That’s when AsaHi realized that the world around her had grown strangely quiet. A prickle of unease shifted across her skin. Green eyes flickering warily, AsaHi backed away from the chasm one slow step at a time.
The air suddenly charged with a new energy as motion broke the stillness. Sweeping winds whooshed past the girl’s face, the force catching her off balance. AsaHi fought to draw breath, her steps faltering as she stumbled, barely catching herself before she fell. A huge shadow cast down on her, blotting out the sun. Her eyes lifted skyward as a hissing gasp ripped from between her lips.
A Dragon rose up out of the chasm.
Two huge wings beat the air, spreading so wide over her head that she could hardly see the sky. The body was long and sleek, built for motion. The soft hide shown like burnished bronze, shifting to deep sable at the tip of its muzzle and each clawed limb. The slender head was crowned with an array of small horns and fins. A streaming black mane ran from the top of its head, spreading out around its shoulders, and continuing all the way down its back to the tail-tip.
A pair of bright, golden eyes focused on her. Its expression was one of knowing, the creature’s face reflecting intelligent curiosity and interest.
AsaHi felt her whole body grow stiff. A strange, static rush nearly swept her off of her feet. Balancing only on the toes of her boots, her eyes met the gaze of the magnificent beast. Something within her, a part that she couldn’t quite identify, reached out to it.
The girl had never seen a real Dragon before, not counting the spectral image of the white Dragon in the Host Gate. Everyone knew that the Dragons were highly respected and revered servants of Zemi Dreigiau. They were also rumored to be protectors of the people of the Inner Realms. AsaHi always approached this fact with a good deal of doubt. After all, how could Dragons protect anyone if they were never present?
Seeing one of these mystical creatures in person now left her standing dumbfounded, staring fearfully, mouth too dry to speak. The Dragob remained effortlessly hovering in mid-air, its slender head craned down to peer at the stricken girl.
What is it doing here?
Mesmerized, AsaHi couldn’t bring herself to break away from its gaze. Something within her moved forward. One step. Then another. A silent yearning jolted through every inch of her body. Her hand reached upwards, fingers spread towards the brilliant burning bronze.
Just one touch…
The Dragon snaked back its head. The motion was graceful, the sunlight mirroring off of its hide in blinding reflection. The girl’s breath caught.
Golden eyes narrowed. Then the great maw opened, a nerve-splitting roar resounding through the entire chasm. AsaHi was knocked to her knees. Huddling among the wavering grasses, she threw her hands up to cover her ears. It felt as if her limbs had been rendered to nothing more than jelly and now refused to cooperate in aiding her escape. For as beautiful as the Dragon was, running was now the only thought that filled the girl’s mind.
What did I do wrong? Why is it angry with me?
The creature reared back, shattering the air with another tremendous roar. AsaHi’s breath caught. Every hair on the back of her neck stood on end. Her dazed face lifted, looking beyond the great wings of the beast before her, looking even higher in the sky.
It, too, came from the chasm — a second Dragon, nearly twice the size of the first. It was very similar in color, hide glowing with a hue a bit more crimson than bronze. The light of its deep gold eyes alighted on AsaHi’s crumpled form for a moment. Then it reared back, a huge billow of white flame erupting from its mouth.
AsaHi screamed, covering her head with both arms. The heat was overwhelming as the molten spray shot through the air, and much to her surprise, far over her head.
A chorus of screeches echoed her. The girl whirled her head at the sound, eyes widening. The clump of bushes only twenty feet away burst into ashes. A number of hissing, melting figures leapt from the heat of the flame, howling in agony before they puddled away. AsaHi caught sight of one before it was consumed, face growing instantly pale.
In the bushes.
Her breath caught in a choke.
How did I not realize they were there?
The flames died almost as quickly as they caught. There was nothing left for yards but long streaks of black ash along the ground.
The Dragons… they…protected me?
It might have been her imagination. But she could have sworn that the larger of the two gave a polite nod before it winged away into the sky with a graceful twist. The other followed with a ringing trumpet. AsaHi could only stare, watching them until they were nothing more than specks in the sky. Then she began to run. She did not stop until she reached the camp.