“Zemi made all of this?” AsaHi slipped from Brunswik’s back into the light of the Great Chamber. For a moment, she was far too dazzled to even think, the prismatic embrace wrapping around her in a symphony of warm light.
“Well, he pieced together a bit of this and a little of that, but overall, yeah. He made it,” the red Dragon lifted his great head to study the room alongside of her. “Pretty cozy, you think?”
I don’t think that cozy is the word I’d pick…
AsaHi felt herself shrink as she walked into the hall.
The Great Chamber was the centermost point of Wyndor, a place of mystery nestled into the heart of the mountain itself. It reminded AsaHi of the gardens that Zemi kept back on Ceiswyr, except it was bigger. Maybe a hundred times bigger. It was hard to tell — the way that the light reflected from the multi-faceted walls made reality blend with illusion.
It seemed as if some gentle hand reached into the center of the highest mountain and coaxed the earth into a new form. Huge spiraled pillars of sparkling stone rose from the black-glassed floor to tickle the underside of a vanishing dome. The walls reflected in myriad-patched colors, a sweeping mural of gemstone and earth crystal more wondrous than any Earthian hand could capture in paint.
So beautiful… almost unreal.
At the top of the room was the grandeur of the sky’s vast dome. Even though AsaHi knew they were tucked away deep in the mountainside, when she looked up towards the stone roof, a pastel blue sky shown through. It seemed as if from the inside, the stone was invisible, though from the outside, it looked like a solid rock mountain.
The sunlight illuminated the vast Chamber, setting it ablaze in opalfire under dapples of capering cloud-wisp. A wide circle of tall stone platforms ringed the center of the room. Great globes of clear white hovered just above each, humming softly with their own, slumbering power.
And I thought Ceiswyr was something that couldn’t be rivaled. But here… now this…
Smaller archways branched out from the Chamber’s walls, leading off to separate living quarters for the Dragons. Some areas of the Chamber surrendered completely to carpets of soft plant life, mostly gathered around the single trickle of waterfall that pooled cheerfully in one corner, ringed in flowers of many colors.
AsaHi found herself drawn towards the pool. The flowers reminded her of Zemi for some reason.
He must really like plants a lot.
Her eyes brushed over the quilted brilliance. Most of the flowers were strange to her… except…
“Oh!” the girl leaned down quickly. “It’s a cred! What’s this doing here?”
The strange flower of the mountaintops, the one that Apprentices used in their meetings with the Dreigiau in the Host Gate. The flower she had quested after for many days, so that she, too could enter the Gate and…
…Try to prove that Zemi didn’t exist…
“Ah, that. It is one of Zemi’s favorite,” a silvery, warm voice came from the other side of the pool.
AsaHi jerked back, feeling at first as if she might have been caught doing something wrong. After all, cred were very, very rare. But here, they dotted the vine-like grass just as common as all the rest of the flowers.
A small woman sat watching her from a mossy rock next to the pool. Her skin was a warm, golden color, a few shades darker than the long stream of pale-gold hair that trickled down her shoulders. Her eyes were bright violet, shining with a friendly, welcoming light. Though she didn’t look much older than AsaHi, there was a feeling of timelessness about her that gave the impression of wisdom that ran the depth of the ocean.
She smiled a kind smile, gathering up her simple white robes as she rose to her feet. “Zemi only lets certain people find that flower, you know.”
AsaHi blinked a few times.
“Usually people he wants to meet,” her feet didn’t crush a sing leaf as she walked through the carpet of green. She lifted a graceful hand in a way of greeting. “And now, it is my honor to finally meet you, AsaHi.”
Absolutely dumbfounded, the girl could only stare. Such a beautiful vision… such a wondrous place… everything far beyond her imagination… yet…
Everyone knows who I am before I even meet them. It’s as if people here were waiting for SoYa and I to come.
AsaHi never learned much in the way of proper etiquette. She did the best that she could to give a polite bow to the strange, golden woman.
“No need to do that, child. If there’s one thing I agree with Zemi on, it’s that formality is for the birds,” she smiled. “And as you can see, we are Dragons. Not birds.”
“You’re a Dragon?” AsaHi’s stammered, her green eyes staring at the woman in disbelief.
“It seems pretty unlikely, doesn’t it?” there was a hint of laughter in her voice. “Don’t you ever let the world only be as deep as your vision can see. It’ll deceive you of the best, most wonderful parts.”
What should I say? I’m just making myself look silly now!
“My name is KaiShi,” the woman offered. “And I’m certain that you and I will come to know each other very well.”
“Oh?” was all that the girl could manage. Feeling dumb, she tried to force more words from her leaden lips. “Why… why do you look like a person if you’re a Dragon? Are you like Kudako… or do all the Dragons shift shape?”
“Like Kudako? You mean old somber-pants?” KaiShi laughed. It was an inviting laugh that made AsaHi feel a bit more easy. “No… Kudako is different from all the other Dragons. Even myself.”
“Oh,” AsaHi found herself saying again. Then chided herself for it.
“As for me, I’ve been gifted a form that the rest of my kind do not have. I lead the Dragons here in Wyndor, and an Earthian form proves useful when I need to spend time among people.”
“You’re the leader?” the girl blinked, heart sinking.
Great… she’s the leader and I’ve done nothing but been a bumbling dolt around her. She must think I’m a real dim-wit.
“I am. But to look around this place, sometimes you wouldn’t know it,” the woman wrinkled her nose. “Some of these guys are no better than a bunch of little boys who haven’t learned how to play in the sandbox together.”
AsaHi found herself smiling in spite of herself.
KaiShi smiled back, and gave a beckoning wave. “Follow me. SoYa is resting, but it would probably do you good to have a look at him, yes?”
Does she know about that, too?
A bit taken back, AsaHi followed the Lady Dragon as they strode across the black-glass floor towards one of the tall archways on the other side of the Chamber. The girl turned to wave her thanks to Brunswik, but the huge crimson Dragon was already in a state of deep slumber.
“That’s Brunswik for you,” KaiShi shook her head, then tapped her finger against her temple with a slight grin. “Nice enough fellow… sometimes a bit more muscle than mind. But well-meaning at heart, all the same.”
A soothing dimness fell over the girl as she walked under the archway into a long, smooth stone corridor. AsaHi expected that the adjoining passages wouldn’t be as polished as the main Chamber, but she found herself proven wrong. It was as if every inch of Wyndor was crafted with the most exquisite detail and care.
Only a few doorways down, KaiShi turned, leading AsaHi into a small side room. Here, the stone walls were draped with soft flows of off-white cloth. A large bed-like structure was coaxed out of the dip in the far wall. AsaHi wasn’t certain what was being used for a mattress, but the way that SoYa was sleeping, tucked between folds of cream on white, it certainly looked very comfortable.
“SoYa!” her voice came, unattended. AsaHi rushed over to the bedside, placing her hand against his forehead.
He didn’t stir as she touched him, but his sleep was deep and untroubled, as if he was healing very slowly as the moments of slumber passed.
“He’s going to be okay, right?” the girl peered up at the Lady Dragon.
“It’s only exhaustion,” KaiShi answered.
The woman reached her slender fingers out, combing them slowly through SoYa’s curls with a sad and familiar manner. AsaHi watched, uncertain what the exchange meant. Something about it stirred a feeling deep inside her.
Finally, the woman peered up, soft violet eyes drinking in AsaHi’s image. “He’ll be fine after a bit of rest. You should get some rest if you can, too. We’ll be serving a welcome dinner as soon as both of you are well enough to attend.”
A banquet… with Dragons? That would be a sight to see…
Her thoughts were interrupted by the slow motion of KaiShi’s hand as it lifted and gestured across the room. For the first time, AsaHi realized that there was a second huge, comfortable bed. And this one practically had her name written on it.
AsaHi crossed the room, smoothing her hands over the bedding, face lit up with great cheer. The knowledge that SoYa would finally recover, that the both of them were somewhere safe and beautiful… on top of the sight of the big cozy bed… allowed all the tension of the dark journey to drain away.
“For me!?” she squeaked, sounding more like a little girl than she meant to.
That’s when she first heard the sound of laughter – familiar laughter. The girl jerked her head around and saw him standing in the doorway. Her heart leapt into her throat, unbidden, every inch of her body suddenly going quivery and weak.
“Zemi!?” AsaHi managed to speak his name.
He leaned against the archway, looking much the way he did in Ceiswyr. She half expected him to take the vast, majestic Dragon form that Brunswik had described earlier. Instead, he stood there, dressed in his normal overrobes, hands tucked into his pockets, beaming a smile made just for her.
“Well, look who’s poking his nose in where it doesn’t belong,” KaiShi scrunched her face at the Dreigiau, breaking AsaHi’s daze. “Hasn’t anyone taught you to knock before you enter a bed chamber, Lord Dragon?”
“Sorry, not yet,” he gave a quick grin.
“Well, you certainly don’t look sorry,” the lady Dragon scolded gently, picking up a pile of washing cloth that was on a platform next to SoYa’s bed. “You should leave these children to their sleep. They’ve had a hard time of it.”
“That’s exactly why I was checking in on them,” Zemi’s smile widened.
“Of course it is,” KaiShi sighed, then turned to look at AsaHi. “I’m going to get some wash done, but I’ll return shortly. Is there anything you need?”
“No, I’m fine. Thank you,” AsaHi shook her head.
“Get some rest then,” the lady Dragon nodded. As she walked past the Arweinydd on her way out, she pointed a finger towards his midsection. “And you behave yourself, Zemi!”
AsaHi gave a quiet smile, watching KaiShi vanish through the doorway. That’s when she realized she was now all alone with the Dreigiau. And he was looking right at her.
“Hi, AsaHi,” he sounded strangely uncertain of himself. As if now that the girl had seen part of his secret, he wasn’t sure if she wanted to talk to him again.
But she did.
“Zemi? I’ve been worried about you!” she knew how childish it probably sounded to the Dreigiau. She said it anyhow, mostly because it was the truth.
“You have?” there was a hint of delighted surprise to the words. On cue, Zemi began to make his way towards her.
“Yes… I didn’t know if you were okay. You simply vanished,” AsaHi swallowed, fighting the apprehension and happiness that battled to get the best of her.
The warm, pleasant scent filled her senses as it always did when Zemi was near. Her mind could now picture the little sunlit pool garlanded with flowers, knowing that was where the scent came from. She couldn’t help but smile.
“Everything is just fine now, Sunshine!” a large, hearty laugh rippled along his words.
It made her wonder how much he was really holding back.
“So… what do you think about the digs, eh?” Zemi eyed her and changed the subject. “Pretty hi-res, you think?”
AsaHi found a pathetic lack of words to describe anything, her mind still trying to wrap around the immensity of the place. “It’s… it’s really something else, Zemi. I wish I could tell you how amazing it is. I never even imagined something like this… I just…”
The Dreigiau raised a finger, giving a simple nod. She knew he understood her, words or not. Zemi was just like that.
“Well, I’ll leave you to your rest, then. I just wanted to see if everything was okay on your arrival,” Zemi turned and began to make his way back towards the door. His steps were slow, obviously unwilling.
AsaHi’s throat tightened as she watched him. Her hands clutched at the white bedsheets, eyes never leaving the Dreigiau’s back. Finally, she managed to peep, “Zemi?”
The Arweinydd paused, peering over his shoulder. His face was questioning and hopeful.
“Thank you,” she offered. Simply because she didn’t know what it was he was hoping for and it made her feel bad.
“Sure thing,” he gave a wide, fangy grin, like the Kaze she remembered.
Just as he went to step out the door, she found herself calling again, “Z-Zemi?”
Again, the Arweinydd stopped. A quiet patience was written on his face. “Yeah?”
“I’m going to see you again, right?” AsaHi found herself asking, though confused as to why. “I mean, you’re going to be staying here in Wyndor for a while?”
I really never got to know you that well… and it’s not every day that someone has the chance to have conversations with the Arweinydd.
“I’m gonna be staying here. Yes,” he answered, face brightening. “We can hang out if you want. Anytime is good, okay?”
“Okay..?” she gave a small, uncertain smile.
“Sleep well, AsaHi,” Zemi said softly, as if he understood the concept of sleep. Then he turned and left the room in a swirl of crimson and gold.