A dull, pounding numbness filled Zemi’s being. The heaviness of Chaos hung within the back of his mind. His eyes flicked down as a strange pulse rippled from the ground, tremulous through his wavering form. Everything within him responded with a terrible, stricken shock.
The realization of what he had just done.
AsaHi sat cradling SoYa’s limp body in her arms, head thrown back, broken wails shaking her body. Over and over she called the Apprentice’s name, the name of the one that was Promised to her.
The girl’s love seemed to take on a spectral appearance to Zemi’s senses, a shimmering glow that rose and fell with SoYa’s faltering breathing. All of her longing and desire wrapped around her Promised, a desperation and keening loss. A love that was tearing AsaHi’s soul to pieces before his very eyes.
A terrible sorrow placed upon her by his own weakness and short-sightedness.
Zemi could only watch, his breath turning cold in his lungs. It was as if he, too, could feel what death was like. The stillness that was neither joyful nor sorrow, but simply was. A spirit stolen away before its time, leaving a void within the living realms that should never be.
The Dreigiau’s hands were shaking — something that never happened before. And he knew. He knew exactly what just happened.
The shock of emotion pulled Zemi’s awareness from the grips of the Chaos that nearly took him. Somehow, the Earthian knew better than he… the Earthian as more aware than he… and acted with the only power he had to keep the Dreigiau from being swept away entirely.
SoYa was willing to sacrifice his life to do it. The single act was so fearless, it was staggering to the Arweinydd. Looking down on the still, small form of his Apprentice, he could recognize for the first time just how much the Earthians stood to lose. How priceless life was and how easily death came.
“Zemi… Zemi, please! Zemi, help him!” AsaHi’s face turned toward him for the first time. Her hand reached out, grasping his sleeve in desperation. Though he was afraid of what he might find when he met her gaze, Zemi’s glowing eyes turn downward towards the girl, ready to meet her verdict.
Grief as written in her expression, but not accusation. There was not a trace of the blame that he expected. AsaHi’s pleading jerked his thoughts from under the veil of numbness and self-accusation. A sudden pang of overwhelming emotion tightened his throat as his mind turned outward, shifting from guilt to concern.
Zemi felt his senses clearing, his connection to the Drei’distau returning as his soul responded to AsaHi’s biting agony. His shock and regret reflected in the tears that streamed down her face, warmness spreading through his chest once more.
“ZEMI!” Zerom’s furious howl shattered the air in the Spire. It rebounded from the walls, ripping to recapture his brother’s attention. To regain the hold that Chaos had nearly won over the Dreigiau.
Zemi’s headturned, taken aback at the sudden change in the other Arweinydd’s tone. For the first time ever, real rage and hatred broke through Zerom’s calm outer visage. That which had always been covered by the unmoving, emotionless mask now began to flake away, the terrible truth unfolding.
He felt AsaHi’s grasp tighten on his sleeve and heard her distant scream. The Spire groaned, a jolt ripping through the foundation as the howling winds of Chaos tore through the darkness of the chamber, a vortex fixed upon the distending figure of his brother.
Zerom’s form began to distort and change, the porcelain perfection cracking, consumed by the Chaos that he absorbed. Swaths of alien blue mutation surged outward to extend beyond the hem of his robes, growing tangled and groping. His face was twisted in hatred, no longer recognizable as anything Earthian or Arweinydd.
Zemi felt revulsion, followed by sorrow for the one that had once been Zerom. The one that he chose as his brother, now consumed by the Chaos and lost to the endless hunger of destruction that could never be fully satisfied.
“Zerom…us…” Zemi’s voice cracked as he spokeIt was too late. Zerom chose his path willingly.
“Fight me, Zemi!” the creature hissed as it rose up, looming and monstrous.
“No,” Zemi’s voice came as a hoarse whisper.
“FIGHT ME!!” the Hatred howled in demand. Waves of Chaos snapped forward, trying to cage the Dreigiau within the sway of darkness once more.
Zemi buckled back, attempting to resist, but the pull of Chaos was tantalizing and overwhelmingly desirable. He felt his fangs bare, a vicious snarl once more crossing his lips. He knew he was falling back into the hatred again. Back into the place from which he could not return.
Images of memory flashed through his mind…
…the smile of a young boy… ZenToYa… sitting on the stone floor of the Host Gate… …peering up with trust and love at the vision of the strange white Dragon… the creature whom gifted the boy knowledge of power that was far beyond the Earthians’ reach…
…visions of the early days of Nefol… the people who chose to leave their safe Gatherings to learn…. they would become his Apprentices…
…the children of ZenToYa… SoYa and TsuYa… the struggles and heartache that both had to live through due to their heritage… due to their destiny…
..the winged Awakened that awaited upon the floating Island….
…his beloved servants, the Dragons…. KaiShi… Kudako…. Brunswik… Islay…
…his sisters… Zazo… Zeni… so young in the ways of the Earthians, yet… would they follow the path of Chaos or Creation…?
…then the girl… AsaHi…
…the one who came to him mysteriously… the one who he knew would come… the one who opened the path to his freedom… the one who taught him the feeling of love…
…so many people… those who trusted him… those who he would hurt, just as he had hurt SoYa… if he fell to the Chaos…
A pinprick of light filled the confusion within mind. A gentle touch — it was AsaHi’s hand, touching his own.
The tiny girl sat, reaching out as far as her arm could. Light green eyes met his gaze — pleading, fearful, full of anguish. He felt himself pulled toward the light that he saw there.
The Chaos scattered from her touch. The darkness bled away from him, the Dreigiau safe and protected by her will, her strength, her understanding and her love.
A howl of tremendous rage shook the Spire as swaths of blue groped maliciously towards AsaHi, the thing that obstructed Chaos’ control. Seething Hatred spat forward, driven by the desire of destruction.
Her eyes turned from the Dreigiau, pale face luminous against the immensity of the shadow. There was no fear there as she watched what was once Zerom bear down upon her. The girl did not flinch. Her grip on his hand did not loosen.
She remained by his side. True. Solid. Unyielding.
Instantly, Zemi responded. A brilliant light bloomed from the midst of the wavering vision as his own form shifted and expanded, taking on the transformation of the Dragon. His white wings rose and spread huge, bursting through the fragile stone walls of the Earthian building. His majestic head reared back, his tremendous roar shaking the heavens.
“Zemi!” AsaHi gasped.
She was just a tiny shape on the ground, hovering over SoYa’s motionless form. Staring up at him in wonder and awe. For now the Dragon was far more radiant than white – his power strengthened from within by the bond between them. The Chaos shed away, melting as the Dreigiau reared up, the light of Creation burning in vast contrast to the dark.
The choice was made.
Gently, Zemi reached down with one enormous claw, carefully enclosing the two, protecting them from the onslaught of the Zeromus. Again, the approaching shadows melted away, like paper eaten by flame. Then with one effortless bound, the Dreigiau took to the skies, carrying them away. Though his once-brother’s enraged howl trailed after him, no longer did it have any influence over his being.
The churning clouds folded away at Zemi’s command, the Chaos scattering from the brilliant white light that now consumed him. The tiny form of the Zeni-bird wheeled and capered through the sky-mists nearby. This went unnoticed, for the only thought that hung within the Dreigiau’s mind was concern for the life his Apprentice, SoYa.