Book 2 Chapter 23

“He’s not responding to anything,” AsaHi’s worried eyes lifted as SoYa entered the room. “What do we do?”

“Still?” the Apprentice frowned, setting a tray down on the stone wall-table. He brought in a small bowl, the scent of warm herbal soup rising with the shifting steam. He also had a pitcher of drink. Though the first drink wasn’t touched yet.

“What do we do?” the girl repeated, turning to peer at the bed where the strange man lay.

As soon as Zento and Zemi arrived in Wyndor, they brought the sandy-haired stranger to one of the side chambers and placed him in bed. AsaHi was charged to watch over the man, and she quickly agreed, stationing herself loyally at the stranger’s bedside while he slept. At least, she thought he was sleeping.

He didn’t speak after waking. Like one that did not understand the language, his face showed no change, no matter what she said to him. He simply watched her with calm, hooded eyes of gold.

Golden eyes. The mark of Zemi’s servants.

Over time, his silence began to seem more defensive. He gave the impression of someone misplaced, taken from a proper abode and forced into a place totally unfamiliar. Maybe it was for this reason the man didn’t accept food or drink. AsaHi wasn’t certain about his intentions, but she was feeling increasingly frantic.

Searching for Zemi yielded no finds. He seemed nowhere within all of Wyndor.

Just when we really need him, he vanishes!

SoYa’s abilities returned no result. As much as he said he hated prying, the Apprentice already tried to “read into” the stranger’s mind, hoping to find some way of helping the situation. Afterwards, he told AsaHi that there was a mind block there, a mental wall that even he could not reach beyond.

And so they were left to find normal conventions of tending to the stranger.

“Please, Mr. Aur,” AsaHi said to him, using the name that she was told that he went by. She held a cup to his lips, “Just drink a little something. You’ve got to be thirsty? It’s only water.”

Normally, liquid in the mouth would cause a person to swallow. And yet, no normal response came. The water simply trickled away, a little stream down his chin, which she caught with a towel while fighting frustrated defeat.

“Why won’t you drink?” she implored. “Do you think we’re trying to poison you?”

The golden eyes simply watched her, unmoved.

SoYa strayed to the other side of the room, pulling the curtains closed to block the glaring of the late afternoon sun. Experience told him to keep a safe distance from the heat of the girl’s ire.

“You’ve got to eat! You’ve got to drink!” AsaHi demanded. Over the long afternoon, her patience was chipped away while a pounding headache began to throb in the back of her head. “I don’t know if you’re sitting here trying to kill yourself, but you’re under my care and I’m not going to let you waste away!”

“AsaHi…” SoYa coaxed, taken aback by the fire in the girl’s voice.

“No,” she retorted sharply. Then she fell silent, the silence before the storm. When her voice returned, it left no room for bargaining, “SoYa, come over here and hold him for me!”

What?” he stared with a round-eyed expression. “What are you going to do?”

If he won’t drink it by choice, I’ll make him drink it!

“Help me!” the girl ordered. That no-nonsense voice.

Even the Athrylith knew better than to challenge the no-nonsense voice. With an apologetic look, he came around to the other side of the bed. He placed his hands firmly against the stranger’s shoulders, holding him back against the upright pillows. Though the golden eyes flickered to observe SoYa for a moment, the man did not attempt to fight against the hold.

Quickly, AsaHi grabbed the man’s nose and held it in a pinch, forcing his mouth open. He gave a startled sound, responding for the first time, pulling his head back. But the girl held him firmly, fingers on the nose, cup at his lips, using his recoil as a means of tilting his head back further. Aur’s exclamation turned into a gurgle as the water filled his mouth. Then he started to cough, water spilling out over AsaHi’s hand.

Undaunted, she clamped his mouth shut, fingers forcing his chin up, “Swallow it! Come on… swallow it!”

He struggled, hands reflexively clutching up at his throat. His expression was blank, as if lost as to what she wanted him to do. Then, as his reflexes suddenly kicked in, he swallowed. A dry, painful swallow. Like someone swallowing for the first time.

AsaHi released his nose as he doubled over, still coughing. SoYa supported him on one side. The girl attempted to hold him on the other, her face flushing with sudden guilt.

Maybe I shouldn’t have done that…

“What’s going on here?” a concerned voice rang through the room from the doorway.

She looked up into the strained expression of ZenToYa.

“He… he wouldn’t drink… or eat… or anything!” AsaHi attempted to explain. “I’m trying to take care of him, but how am I supposed to do that when he won’t even take some water?”

Zento’s mouth opened in surprise, “What did you do?”

“I… forced him to drink it,” she admitted meekly. Wondering at the severity of the winged man’s reaction.

Forced him?” the warrior echoed, face paling.

“Father,” SoYa interjected, “He won’t respond to anything we’ve tried to do for him…”

“Of course not,” Zento let out a long breath, eyes never leaving the stranger’s face. “He doesn’t know how to.”

AsaHi, too, stared at the man. “What do you mean?”

“I don’t think he’s ever needed to eat or drink,” the winged man picked his words carefully. “He’s never had a physical body to maintain before.”

“Uh…?” SoYa’s face was blank.

“This is Aur,” Zento explained. “He is the creature that came from the Time Before… you know, the one that lived in the center of the Spiral? The Golden Lion?”

“WHAT?” AsaHi jerked back, pulling her hands away from him fearfully. “No one told me that!”

Hedd-ynad!” SoYa’s voice echoed her shock.“How can that be?”

“Zemi gave him this new form… because… well…” the warrior sighed. “It’s a long story.”

WHAT did I just do? Forced a glass of water down the throat of a being that came from an Age of the Time Before!

“I… I.. didn’t know!” the girl backed away a few steps.

Having finally recovered, Aur’s hooded eyes fell upon her again. No sense of malice came from the gaze. Just a steady, silent observation.

“I’m sorry!” she told him, voice tremulous.

She knew why she was afraid. This was nothing like facing Zemi. Even the Dreigiau had more of a feel of humanity about him than this creature did. Zemi could laugh, could show anger, could show pain. This creature showed nothing. As if emotion was as inaccessible to him as his vast knowledge of the cosmos would be to her.

“The girl’s right, Aur,” Zento stuck up for her. But at the same time, his concern for the sandy-haired man was evident, “This is a game you’ve never played before. In an Earthian body, you’ve gotta do certain things to sustain your form. She was only trying to help.”

AsaHi nodded, quickly. Repeatedly. Frightened. Again she apologized, “I’m sorry!”

The golden eyes closed, slowly. Heavily. When they opened again, they focused squarely on the girl’s face. She could see the reflection of her apprehension from their metallic depths.

“I understand,” Aur spoke, for the very first time. His voice was solid and deep in a rich way, like the distant sound of thundering waves upon the seashore.

The girl’s breath caught in her throat. “You… do?”

“Do not fear,” he replied in almost a resigned manner. If he even knew what passiveness was. “I wish no harm against you… or anyone else.”

SoYa was staring, wide-eyed and uncertain. “You’re a Servant of Lord Zemi, now? But if you were the Golden Lion, then… how did…?”

Aur fell silent. Unresponsive again.

“Zento,” AsaHi pulled her gaze away from Aur. “What happened?”

The winged man simply motioned for them to follow him. When they did, he led them out to the hallway a few paces away from the door. His face seemed troubled.

“I don’t know how Zemi did it,” were his first words. Obviously this was something he had been thinking about. “He made me leave the Keep after I broke the wards. All I know was… when I first saw Aur, he was something that resembled a small golden light. And now…”

“He’s a person?” AsaHi finished for him. “And a Servant to Zemi? Why would he want to make Aur a Servant?”

“One question at a time, Sweetie,” Zento lifted his hands, wincing. “I don’t know everything, obviously. I can confirm that Aur was very weak when I saw him. Zemi told me that he didn’t have much longer to remain. I suppose in essence, Aur was dying. Zemi said that he wanted to preserve him, to help him… to link to him.”

“It’s like the Dragons,” AsaHi heard herself say. Not sure of how she made the connection. But there it was.

“What do you mean?” SoYa turned to her.

“Zemi told me about the way he makes the Dragons,” the girl tried to explain. “That he comes to a person right upon the brink of their passing, and offers to give them a second chance at life. He makes a Dragon form for them, and they become his Servant. Wouldn’t that be sustaining their lives in the same way as he’s doing for Aur?”

“Possibly,” Zento mused.

“Aur… doesn’t seem very happy,” AsaHi said quietly.

“He seems to believe Zemi is up to no good in our world,” Zento frowned, scratching his chin. “I’m not sure exactly what all he’s seen in his time, but no, I don’t think he’s too happy. I think he would have rather wasted away.”

“Really? It’s that bad?” the girl asked, face growing sad.

He sighed, “I plan on talking to Aur once he’s a little more settled. I hope in time we might be able to bring him around. He doesn’t seem like a bad fellow… just… he’s probably the furthest thing from our kind as it gets. It’s not gonna be easy for him to adjust to this.”

“So, now he’s Earthian, just like we are?” SoYa asked.

“As far as I know, yes,” Zento’s eyes glinted as he peered at AsaHi. “So try not to drown him, okay?”

AsaHi flushed.

“It’s alright,” the warrior gave a soft grin, clapping one hand on her shoulder. “Just keep in mind he’s gonna need all the help he can get right now.”

She nodded, “I’ll do what I can…”

“I know. That’s why Zemi left him to your care.”

AsaHi blinked at this statement, taken aback.

“Anyhow, I’ve got a few errands to run,” Zento told them. “You think you can hold the fort down for a little while longer? I’ll try to be back as soon as I can. I’m sure Zemi will be coming around, too.”

“What should we do?” SoYa gave a concerned face.

“The best thing to do is simply… show him what our people are really like. What life is about,” he shrugged, turning on his heel.

That’s hard enough to do for myself…

AsaHi took a deep breath as she watched the winged man disappear around the far corner.

But we owe it to Aur to try.

“Come on,” the girl looked to SoYa. “Let’s see if we can get him eating. Maybe if he finds out food tastes good, it won’t be so hard?”

“I hope not,” the Apprentice didn’t look convinced. He quietly followed her back into the room.