Zemi wasn’t sure if Zerom would respond to his summon. He did know that his brother wasn’t foolish enough not to see this for what it was. That was part of the reason he called for his sisters, Zeni and Zazo, to bear witness to their meeting at the Host Gate.
If Zerom didn’t show, it was a sign of guilt, if he could feel guilt, which was somewhat doubtful given the current situation. If Zerom did show, then Zemi would move ahead with the confrontation as planned. He knew that once he revealed the truth of his brother’s treachery against the Earthian people, his sisters would turn to support him in the confrontation.
Zeni was the first to appear at the Host Gate that morning, her form a tiny white bird. She twittered her excited greeting at the sight of her brother, ~Zemi! Zemi! Zemi!~
“Zeni,” he answered, walking quickly towards where she perched. “I see you’ve chosen a spirit form.”
Before Zemi could reach out to his younger sister, a sharp jab sent him stumbling to the side. He turned to peer straight into the face of a giant white wolf. Her fangs gleamed from where her lips peeled back menacingly, a translucent shimmer outlining her snowy fur. Though Zemi had not seen this form before, he knew his other sister the moment he saw her. It didn’t surprise him that she chose a wolf.
~And you have taken the forbidden form,~ she snarled at him, her tone just as haughty as ever.
“Good to see you, too, Zazo,” Zemi offered an easy grin.
She didn’t seem amused. ~What’s this? You know this is against the rules.~
~Against the rules,~ Zeni parroted.
“Well maybe I think the rules are stupid,” Zemi retorted quickly.
~Rules are stupid,~ Zeni repeated.
The she-wolf jabbed her nose forward, nudging Zemi backwards again. ~We all made this choice a long time ago. Taking a spirit-form is acceptable. Taking physical forms that matches Earthians isn’t.~
~Not acceptable,~ Zeni nodded to herself.
“How am I supposed to communicate with the Earthians if I look nothing like them?” Zemi crossed his arms.
Zazo made a motion to answer, but her words were cut short with another’s arrival.
“Yes, I agree,” Zerom’s smooth voice took control of the conversation.
His brother’s form appeared wavery, but person-like, clothed in deep purple robes similar to the Nefolian style. Every inch of his body was covered, wrapped in some sort of cloth, leaving only a gleaming white smile from under the depths of the robe’s hood. As he approached the cave, the plant-life shrank away from him, wilting in a profound sense of fear.
Even Zeni didn’t make a peep.
It wasn’t often that something took Zemi off guard, but this did. For some reason, he never considered what form his brother would take and it didn’t occur to him that Zerom might choose to become Earthian-like as well. For a moment, Zemi wondered if this was the same sort of surprise that the Others felt at the sight of his own form, if they felt surprise at all.
“You came,” Zemi covered his surprise in smooth words.
“Of course. I wouldn’t miss this for the world, brother,” Zerom’s words were just as smooth. “We finally get to discuss the opportunity that lies before us.”
“I have a few things to discuss alright,” Zemi grit his teeth, forcing down the rising flush he knew was anger. “Namely, what are you doing in my city?”
“My city. These are my people, Zerom. They’re under my protection and what you’ve done is unacceptable,” the Dreigiau stated bluntly.
Zazo and Zeni watched, falling silent.
“Ah, I see. I have, perhaps, been misunderstood,” Zerom said quietly.
“Help me understand, then,” Zemi narrowed his eyes. “How can you justify working with the enemy of Nefol, the Ghost Clan? How can you justify the Marked?”
“Working with? You speak as if this is mutual. They are merely things that may have use, and if they don’t, they can be disposed of,” the robed figure strode forward, moving his arm in an offhand manner. “The Ghost Clan infiltrated your Nefolian Council of their own agenda. That’s something that happened without my presence. I simply recognized them for what they were. Who do you think the Marked once were?”
“The Ghost Clan members?” the Dreigiau frowned.
“It’s a fitting end for the enemies of your people, don’t you think?”
Zemi paused for a moment, considering it. Then slowly shook his head, “Even so, they were people.”
“They gave their will to seek dark ambitions and became the reflection of what they really were,” Zerom spoke softly. “You of all people should know how this works. Those tainted with the Deep Magics did not fare as well as the Awakened when connected to Arweinydd power.”
“And what of TsuYa?” he frowned deeply. “I’ve seen what you’ve done to him.”
“TsuYa was unfortunate,” the robed figure stopped walking, peering into the distance of the Host Gate. “He was alone and yearned for the power to protect his father’s city. I saw his plight and thought if I strengthened him the way that you once strengthened his father, he would rise up against the enemy of his people.”
Zazo flicked an ear backwards. Zemi couldn’t tell if she believed the words or not.
“What he became is what he made of the power,” Zerom turned towards Zemi. “Earthians are foolish. His burning ambition and desire led him to overthrow his own brother and attempt to kill him. The darkness you see is what he’s chosen.”
The Dreigiau stood quietly for a long moment.
“I can help him,” came the offer.
Zemi’s eyes flicked upwards.
“Let me help him. I can release him from the powers that seek to change him, since he seems to be so important to you,” Zerom reached out one hand. “Let me help you. Certainly, our knowledge and powers combined can drive out the Ghost Clan and regain rule over Nefol.”
“Rule over Nefol?” Zemi echoed in disbelief.
Zerom didn’t translate his brother’s tone of voice correctly, for he continued as if it was a positive cue, “All this time, you’ve been telling us of the wonders of this world, the realm of Earthians. I was blind to it for a long time, just like the Others. They don’t understand you or listen to you. I’ve seen for myself and I believe you, now.”
“Well, I don’t believe you,” the Dreigiau spoke slowly, the hardest words he ever spoke.
“What?” the tone was almost genuinely astonished.
“You spin a good story, Zerom, just like you always have,” Zemi said. “I might have fallen for some of it, except that you want me to believe that TsuYa would willingly turn against his family. I know Zento and his boys. I know that TsuYa’s spirit is good. Something goaded him to do what he did… and I believe that something was you.”
“Brother!” Zerom even had the shocked back-step down. He turned towards his sisters with an appeal, “Do you see the way Zemi blames me for terrible things? He wasn’t there to see what really happened. Why don’t you ask him where he was at that time?”
Zazo’s ear flipped forward and she prompted, ~Zemi?~
“What does this have to do with anything?” the Dreigiau protested. “Don’t change the subject!”
“He was with a girl. An Earthian girl,” Zerom stated. “One he went to specifically find.”
Zemi froze, realizing the implications of the statement.
~Is that true?~ Zazo’s green eyes observed him carefully.
“I was… I was just… protecting her,” Zemi answered.
“While your people were struggling and the son of ZenToYa came to the Host Gate to seek your help,” Zerom pressed. He turned to Zeni. “You can confirm this.”
Zeni gave a soft peep, ~I’m sorry, Zemi. It’s true. SoYa came to find you but you weren’t there.~
“Why would you do this?” the robed figure took a step closer. “Is it because of your feelings for the girl?”
Zemi drew in a sharp breath, “Now hold on!”
~You know that’s forbidden, Zemi,~ Zazo didn’t look happy.
“It’s not like that, Zazo!” the Dreigiau spread his hands. “Are you really going to listen to Zerom… after all he’s done? He’s turning Earthians into monsters and he’s taken control of my city!”
~Your city?~ the she wolf merely blinked in return. ~Do you hear how you sound, Zemi? If you keep this up, you’ll make me worry that Chaos is taking you.~
“Yes, that is a deep worry,” Zerom nodded with what appeared to be concern.
~And you!~ Zazo turned towards the robed figure. ~You’re no better than he is! It’s no wonder the Others have deemed you both Rhoi’r!~
The two fell silent instantly.
It meant “Banished One” in the old language. It was the worst fate imaginable by the Arweinydd, for to be banished was to be hunted. To be found was to be Remade.
Remaking was not something that had ever happened in recent history. Zemi wasn’t sure of the details of such a process, but he did know that its purpose was to take those who strayed too far near Chaos and change them into what the Others judged was acceptable for their kind.
~You know that the Mistake of long ago can’t allowed to happen again,~ Zazo told them grimly. ~ Creating and altering is too close to Chaos and Creation, the powers that nearly destroyed everything.~
“Ridiculous!” Zerom snarled, the first real hint of anger rippling across his form. “Who are they to tell us about things they don’t know anything about at all?”
~Maybe they’ll take you back, if you both come away from this world, away from those insignificant little creatures. Come back to the Wayfringe, and swear never to return to the Earthian world again. It might not be too late.~
“I can’t do that,” Zemi heard himself answer.
~Do these creatures mean so much to you?~
“Yes,” he said. “I suppose they do.”
~Zerom? Certainly you can be sensible?~ Zazo asked.
“The Others have made their choice already,” he snarled bitterly. “If it’s a hunt they want, it’s a hunt I’ll give them.”
A flurry of shadow swept around the hooded figure, too quick for Zemi to respond. When the darkness broke away, Zerom was gone.
The whole plan was falling apart in front of Zemi’s eyes. He had expected his sisters to support him and had even hoped to talk Zerom back to his senses. He didn’t expect the Others to make such a drastic choice against them. It was all a terrible mistake and he was deemed guilty by association with his brother’s actions.
“Zazo, please let me explain,” Zemi reached a hand towards his sister.
~You’re both out of control. I will have nothing to do with this,~ she answered, rising to her feet. Once Zazo decided something, it was almost impossible to persuade her otherwise.
The tiny white bird paused, seeming uncertain. ~Zemi.~
~Come, Zeni-dear. Getting mixed up in this will only get you in trouble, too,~ Zazo warned.
Zeni sighed softly, gave a rueful glance at her brother, then took wing to follow the vanishing form of the she-wolf. Silence gripped the Host Gate, the place where Zemi once spoke and connected with so many others. Now, that all that was gone, and Zemi found himself completely alone.