Book 1 Chapter 48

A forlorn howl rang across the calm of the shadowed-shrouded hills, startling AsaHi out of her half-asleep state. Frightened, her green eyes darted across the fire towards where the others were sitting.

Kudako’s ears were flattened back against his skull, a rather frightening scowl twisting his normally quiet face. Zento took notice of the Dragon’s reaction as well, for he was the first to break the stillness.


SoYa stared out into the darkness, eyes deeply disturbed. “Could it be one of the Marked?”

“It was much bigger than that,” Kudako replied.

AsaHi swallowed, “What sort of things are out here?”

“Who knows,” the warrior answered. His face was still troubled as he began to prod the fire with a stick.

“Sheesh, Kudako. Why don’t you just make the kids feel really secure?” Zento grated.

“Okay, fine,” the Dragon retorted. He waved his hand to dismiss the shadows. “There is absolutely nothing out there. That howl you just heard was a figment of your imagination.”

“You know what I mean.”

“What do you want me to do? Sugarcoat it?”

“Listen, don’t go around scaring the begeebies out of the poor kids,” Zento pointed across the fire.

“I can handle it,” SoYa offered.

It was obvious that neither of the two warriors was paying the Apprentice any attention.

AsaHi sighed, huddling deeper under her blanket. Zento and Kudako were at it again.

The way those two argue could scare away the monsters in itself.

She used to be under the impression that older adults had some sense of maturity, but at any given chance, the two warriors simply squabbled like little children. In fact, the more time AsaHi spent with them, the harder it was to believe that they were who they said they were.

ZenToYa, once the great leader and founder of the School at Nefol. High Myfyriwr to Zemi Dreigiau. And KudakoRe, a Dragon Servant who was once a feared Annihilator. How’d they end up acting no better than the punk-nosed little boys I used to baby-sit?

The girl began to tune out the newest argument, eyes gazing into the blurry light of the fire. She really couldn’t complain. After all, even though Zento and Kudako had more than their fair share of conflicts, AsaHi felt safe with the two warriors there. If there was something big and nasty out in the Cleft, she was sure that it was nothing that they couldn’t handle.

Besides, there are always the Dragons.

She paused, uncertain why she suddenly thought about them again.

The Dragons. They frightened her the first time she encountered them at the Cleft, but it was simply because she didn’t know they who they really were. Zento explained it to her later that night — the Dragons in the Inner Realms were under command to make sure that their group remained safe through the journey.

Which was a nice, drowsy thought.

The murmuring of voices over the rippling firelight was enough to ease the girl into a comfortable, hazy sleep. Her eye lids gave way to the heaviness within her mind as the warmth of the blanket settled upon her in a secure embrace.


The girl’s eyes snapped open as the voice echoed through her mind.

What? What… was… that?

Her breath came in a huge gulp as AsaHi peered across the fire to see if her companions also heard the sound. She could tell by the way all three of them were engrossed in their conversation that they did not.


Fear pounded within her ears. She clutched the blanket closer to her chest, eyes staring into the distant shadows. AsaHi couldn’t make anything out in the darkness. There was no sound except for the echo of Kudako’s stern voice as he continued to chide Zento.

Who are you?

She didn’t know why she responded in thought. She wasn’t an Athrylith like SoYa or Zento, and she couldn’t speak with thoughts alone. But something within her was repulsed by the thought of answering aloud or alerting the others to the existence of the voice that knew her name.

-AsaHi… please…-

A quick breath rushed through her, fear scattering as concern rose to take its place. The voice in her mind was in so much pain. AsaHi wasn’t sure how she knew, but it sounded as if something was calling for help.

Where are you?

The girl stood up, letting the blanket fall from around her shoulders. It was strange how no one else seemed to notice as she walked towards the camp’s edge. Trained warriors as they were, one even a Dragon, they should have sensed her sounds or motions. But they didn’t.

AsaHi stepped beyond the firelight into the shadow. It took a moment before her vision cleared, adjusting to the darkness. One step. Then another… then another… then… a strange shifting sensation rushed over her, turning her stomach inside out. The girl stumbled, barely catching her balance. When she looked back towards camp, the fire was gone. The trees around her looked nothing like they had just a moment before and a small rocky hill rose up ahead of her in the moonlight.


Fear jolted through her. She ran her tongue over her lips.

I… I didn’t walk that far! I just took a few steps away from…

Just as she opened her mouth to call back to her companions, she felt the tickle in the back of her mind return. Her thoughts died instantly as her name resounded through them.


It seemed closer now. Stronger.

The sound of the plea was suddenly unbearable. It wrenched at her heart, tightened her chest and left her throat choked. Her hands began to shake as her feet started to move of their own accord, her footsteps very quiet in the damp night air. The shadows from overhanging leaves dotted her face through streams of moonlight.

It might have been chilly outside, but AsaHi couldn’t feel it. There was only one thing that registered in her mind — the call.

Finally, her feet stopped moving. She didn’t know how far she walked. She didn’t know the direction that she moved in. There was no way for her to figure out where the camp was from this point. But for some odd reason, she felt very calm.

“Asa…Hi…?” the voice was strangled, and vocal, now, no longer in her mind.

“Where are you?” the girl turned around in a circle, squinting through the darkness.

Something moved within the shadows of the bushes. Something large, with a presence that was simply too overpowering to break away from. A tall, wild silhouette separated from the line of trees, moving towards her in a long, heavy gait.

AsaHi’s eyes widened as the features grew visible in the moonlight.

“Kaze!” the girl choked. Then she caught herself in correction. “I… I… mean… Zemi?”

He looked horrible — his hair was a wild mess, the fanged face twisted. The way he carried himself was like a great wounded beast struggling against devastating pain. His eyes. His eyes were the most haunting, two teal slits that reflected the ghostly moonlight fearsomely.

“Zemi?” she heard herself whisper his name, if only to remind him who he was.

An immense shadow fell across her as the Arweinydd reached forward, his fingers splayed wide. It looked more like a claw than a hand. AsaHi jerked away with a shocked gasp, stumbling back against the trunk of a scraggly tree.

“AsaHi… please… don’t…” the choked sounds finally met with coherence. His voice sounded so ethereal that it only caused her to shrink back all the more.

Instantly she could sense that this was nothing like the Zemi that she knew. Nothing like the cheerful, romping Kaze that had accompanied her through the forest trails. Nothing like the grand Dreigiau upon his throne in the gardens of the floating city.

This was something deeper. More fearsome. More genuine.

The earth reeled at each approaching footfall, as if writhing in agony from the Arweinydd’s touch. The night had fallen deadly still, the only sounds present were the frantic drumming of the girl’s heart and the gasping of her panicked breath. Upon recognizing the scent of her fear, the Dreigiau’s shadow froze. A forlorn sound rose plaintively from his throat, shattering across the moment.

With knowledge beyond her senses, AsaHi gathered all of her courage and reached out to him. It wasn’t until their fingers met, that she realized he had been reaching for her, too. As their palms pressed together, a tremendous wave of energy shot through AsaHi’s body. For a split second everything froze — heartbeat… thought… breath.

A vast release burst through the air, a radius of astral wind shredding the stillness of the night forest. With terrible awe, the girl found her grip tightening on Arweinydd’s large hands, despite the fact the momentary maelstrom did not so much as stir a fold of her tunic. Within the breath’s moment, it was gone, and AsaHi found herself staring up into the familiar features of Zemi’s face.

When she finally found her voice, she could only speak his name. “Ze…mi…?”

What was that?

The Arweinydd’s eyes were still bright, but they had lost the wild fierceness that blazed only moments before. His gaze was now calm and somberly burdened. It fixed first upon their interlocked fingers, then traced up to the stricken girl’s face.

“Z… Zemi? Are you okay?” her voice was small to her ears. Small under the speckled sky and tiny under the gaze of the immense Dreigiau.

“I… I’ll be fine…” Zemi’s voice was husky and full of broken emotion. She knew instantly that he would not.

“What happened?” she attempted another approach, something to focus away from his feelings.

“I slipped up,” he finally admitted.

“Slipped up? What do you mean?”

“I confronted Zerom,” his voice choked.

“Was there a fight? Did he hurt you?” A chill of concern ran over her body.

“No… nothing like that…” the words broke off.

AsaHi fell silent, staring at their hands, still pressed together. The pleasant scent rose to her senses as it always did when she was close to him, a sign that whatever had stricken Zemi so wild had passed.

Curiosity burned within her mind.

“You were the one that called me here.” It was a statement more than a question.


“Why? I can’t do much to help you against Zerom.”

“No, it’s not that. I called you here because I knew you wouldn’t… turn me away.”

A flush rose through her cheeks as she remembered her initial panic. How she had almost ran in fear from him, how she had almost turned him away. Why Zemi had so much confidence in her, AsaHi didn’t know. “I don’t understand.”

“I know you don’t,” the moonlight now reflected from his eyes in a gentle manner. His voice had grown smooth and soothing, like mountain water.

Underlying it all, there was the feeling of unspoken words in the air. She waited in the pressing silence.

“I am Rhoi’r,” Zemi finally admitted into the stillness of the night. It was a blurt, like someone attempting to say everything in three simple words, hoping it would be the explanation to all.

AsaHi frowned slowly. Part of her was glad that he would speak so openly. Part of her was frustrated at herself for not comprehending something that was obviously so important to him. “I’m sorry. I… don’t know what that is.”

She could feel his fingers quivering slightly between hers. He was fighting to keep his composure. “It means… my people have banished me. Even my sisters have turned me away.”

Her mouth fell open. Shame marked her face as she realized a moment too late that this wasn’t exactly the most reassuring reaction to Zemi’s situation.

“Banished you? What do you mean they banished you? Why?” her brows drew down sharply.

“Because, even in the realms that I come from, there are rules. I have broken them.”

“By doing what?” AsaHi protested.

“Being here.”

Something within her heart sank at these two simple words.

Zemi is banished from his home because of us?

“Is it… our fault?”

“No! No it’s not!” he spluttered quickly. “I want to be here. I like it here much more… than I liked it there.”

“But Zemi, we’re nothing like the Arweinydd,” she reasoned.

“Exactly,” his gaze gently locked with hers.

AsaHi was suddenly at a loss for what to say. It was the last thing she would have expected from Zemi Dreigiau. She found herself perplexed at the fact that she really didn’t have much to offer in the way of comforting answers.

“I’m sorry,” she lowered her head, finding nothing but the well-worn words to express her feelings.

“It’s okay. Not like I wanted to go back to that dulls-ville Wayfringe anyhow,” he quipped, trying his best to shed a bit of humor on the situation. It didn’t seem to work very well. The laughter didn’t touch his eyes.

“Yeah, well,” AsaHi stuck her chin up, following his lead. “It’s just their loss anyhow.”


“Even if they can’t see how great a person you are, we can! We want you here with us, Zemi.”

His eyebrows arched up in surprise and his face slowly lit with wonder, “Are you sure about that?”

Such a powerful reaction was not what AsaHi had not expected from so small a statement. She followed it up with determination, “Are you going to make me repeat myself?”

“No,” the Dreigiau gave her a mildly amused look. “I guess that’s all I really needed to hear from someone.”

The girl congratulated herself silently for finding the right thing to say, for once. Then she gave him a little, hopeful smile, swinging their hands between them in a playful manner, “I’m glad.”

At that moment, Zemi realized their fingers were still woven together. A strange, whimsical expression flickered over his features as he glanced down at AsaHi. The closest thing to embarrassment the Dreigiau could show.

AsaHi arched an eyebrow as they pulled their hands apart. She watched him closely for a moment, almost afraid that the sudden wildness might return. Then she chided herself for imagining that she might have played any part in Zemi’s return to his senses.

“It’s late,” Zemi’s voice interrupted her train of thought. “You look tired. Why don’t you rest beside the fire?”

The girl turned to object at the fact that there was no place to rest, only to follow the wave of Zemi’s hand. An inviting fire now sat upon the rocks in the clearing, cheerfully blazing against the depths of night.

“What about the others?” AsaHi asked.

“They’re fine. Don’t worry,” he reassured her.

AsaHi peered at the camp’s fire thoughtfully.

“It’ll be just like old times?” Zemi prompted with encouragement. “Like we used to do…”

“Like we used to do…” she found herself repeating.

Before there was Zemi Dreigiau… the floating city… the Marked creatures or the Dragons.

When AsaHi turned back to him, she saw the reflected face of Kaze – warm, cheerful and friendly. She found herself smiling, caught in a moment of the familiar. She gave the Dreigiau a nod and made her way towards the warming light.