For a long time, there was nothing but wavering darkness behind SoYa’s eyes. A stiffness hung over his body as his limbs refused to acknowledge his mastery over them. The feeling of time passing in long, deep sleep.
But then, something changed. A shift of consciousness within his mind. There came a stirring within him, responding to some unknown, outside power. It was an essence that SoYa had never felt before – both vast and strange. Though it pierced through the shadows that blocked his vision, calling him from the folds of darkness, something about it made his spirit cringe.
“Lucci? What are you doing?” a little girl voice spoke, hovering somewhere above him. “Master ZenToYa said that we weren’t supposed to bother him.”
Slowly, the Apprentice managed to force his eyes open. Sight came to him, blurry and dull. Shapes loomed over him, unfamiliar. Struggling hard, SoYa tried to force his body into compliance.
Another voice came, a child’s voice, too. This time, it belonged to a boy. “Master ZenToYa will be happy for this. Don’t worry.”
SoYa felt a small, cool hand upon his cheek. Then, miraculously, he found his vision clearing and the room coming into focus. Two small faces peered expectantly down upon him, as if he were some curious new discovery found out in a sunlit field.
One he recognized as the black-winged girl, Suzume. Except, he realized with a start, that for the first time ever, she stood looking down at him with her eyes uncovered. They were large and black — reminding him with a passing shiver of the eyes of the Marked.
The other face belonged to a silver-haired boy, a child that SoYa had never seen on theIslandsbefore. Unlike the rest of the children, he bore no wings on his back. It was the boy’s delicate, tiny fingertips that touched SoYa’s cheek.
The room behind them began to take shape as his senses began to function again, though everything seemed at first unfamiliar and seen through tunnel vision. A soft white glow filtered through the window to one side, drawing patterns of light over the sheets. There was the rainbowed blur of a pot of flowers sitting on the bedside table. A soft breeze filtered through the room, smelling of warm grass and summer ponds.
“Wow!” Suzume exclaimed. “He woke up!”
The Athrylith wheezed, his first stuttering statement completely out of the blue, “Suzume, you can talk?”
The little girl gave him an odd look. “Of course I can talk.”
Not that he hadn’t known that she could talk. It was just the first time that SoYa heard a sound come out of the girl. However, he left that question lying where it was with the realization that there were more important things to ask.
“Where am I? What happened?” SoYa inquired, blinking between the two children.
“You’re in your room, silly. In Ceiswyr,” Suzume replied with a wrinkled-nose face.
“How did I get here?”
Flashes of hazy memory lit his mind. The darkness of the Spire in Nefol. Of Zerom’s battle with Zemi. Of how he leapt between the two as the Dreigiau struck out against his brother. All of it was fuzzy in his head, and he knew it a miracle that he was still alive.
“Zemi brought you here,” the little boy told him, face quiet and serious.
“Zemi…” SoYa echoed. “Then Zemi’s okay?”
“Oh no!” Suzume sudden put her hands to her face. At first SoYa thought it was in response to his question. Instead, she went in a completely different direction. “We need to go teeeeeelll them that you’re awake! Lord Zemi would want to know!”
The silver-haired boy gave her an odd look when Suzume grabbed his hand, yanking him along behind her as she ran out the door. SoYa watched after the vanishing children with a quiet blink. Then he laid his head back against the soft pillows and took in a long, deep breath.
I’m still alive… How can that be?
“I realized what was happening at the very last moment. I was able to deter a good deal of the blast,” a gravelly voice answered from the foot of the bed.
SoYa’s head jerked up, giving a wince as the room spun dizzily. It took a moment before his eyes focused again, and he found himself peering up into the face of the Dreigiau. Involuntarily, SoYa reacted in shock and a tinge of fear.
“Relax, SoYa,” Zemi said, lifting both hands up as a motion of calming. “You’re safe now.”
Instantly, he found himself soothed by the gentle power of the Dreigiau’s voice, and by the fact here was Zemi, still very much himself, no longer caught in the grips of Chaos. His relief must have been very apparent, because the expression on Zemi’s face shifted, turning regretful.
“Zemi?” Sensing the heaviness between them, SoYa struggled to make a motion forward, only to find the dizziness returning.
“I… don’t know the right word to describe the feeling I have right now,” the Arweinydd admitted truthfully, glancing down at the floor, then up again.
“Earthians call it… remorse,” SoYa answered slowly, surprised at his boldness to reply.
“Remorse,” Zemi repeated. “It’s not a strong enough word to express this emotion.”
“Words rarely can,” the Athrylith nodded. “I suppose that’s a perk of being a mind mage. You don’t need to explain. I already know.”
“That may be true, however,” the Arweinydd blinked at him, “I wanted to speak it to you in my own words. I… don’t… know how that situation got so far out of hand. I don’t know how I was so easily pulled in by the Chaos… I shouldn’t have allowed it. I am ashamed – is that the right word?”
“Yeah, ashamed,” SoYa replied. “But, you shouldn’t be. It wasn’t completely your fault, Zemi.”
“Yes, yes it was,” Zemi disagreed. “I should have been able to fight it. Was I too weak?”
“No,” the Athrylith shook his head. “I don’t think it had anything to do with being weak. I just think that… living here among the Earthians, there’s one rule you have to learn.”
“Which is?” the Dreigiau peered over with curiosity.
“There comes a time when everyone needs a little help from the people around you who care,” SoYa gave a hint of a smile.
“And… are you… a person that cares… for me?” Zemi continued to watch the Apprentice quietly. “Even after the situation with AsaHi?”
“Well, I’m your Apprentice… I should–”
“No,” the Arweinydd interrupted. “I’m not talking about serving.”
“Then, what do you mean?” SoYa puzzled.
Zemi closed his eyes. “You risked your existence… I nearly took that away from you. I can’t tell you how… deeply… sorry and ashamed that makes me. Because I sense that you didn’t do it out of a servant’s loyalty. There was personal concern, too.”
The Athrylith let out a quiet breath, “I didn’t want you taken, Zemi. I mean, I know that I’m not much of a friend but…”
“Friend?” the Dreigiau stopped him with an upraised hand. “Yes…”
“Y..yes? Yes what?”
“I like that concept,” Zemi gave a slow fangy smile.
Before SoYa had a chance to reply, he heard the sound of many voices coming from down the hall. His attention turned, but for a second, and when he looked back again, Zemi was no longer there.
“SoYa!!!!” AsaHi was the first in the room. She dove for him, arms out stretched to ring around his neck, despite the fact that he still sat in bed. “You’re finally awake!”
“Uhh?” he was left speechless. He caught her up within his own arms, though the embrace was weak, and held her to his chest.
“Leave it to SoYa to get all mushy on the girl first thing,” a snort carried from across the room. TsuYa stood there, one hand on his hip and a mock-disdainful scowl on his face.
SoYa found himself doing a double take at the sight of his brother.
“Tsuuu…. what did you do to your hair?” the Athrylith choked on the words.
TsuYa always prided himself on wearing his hair long, in imitation of Father’s. And now, it was all been chopped short. There was nothing left of it except for a set of unruly white streams that fell in his eyes.
“Decided to get it trimmed,” TsuYa grimaced, looking out the window to avoid feeling the questioning glances of his brother’s eyes.
“Trimmed? Hewn off is more like it!”
“It is part of what Aur is working on as a cure,” Father interjected, now standing there, framed in the doorway.
“Cure?” SoYa sucked his breath in sharply. “A cure for Tsu?”
“It’s possible,” the winged man nodded. There was a lightness to his face, as if all the worries he carried for so long were working themselves out. His smile was warm and kindly as he strode over and put his hand on SoYa’s shoulder. “How are you feeling?”
“I’m… about as good as I can be,” the Apprentice nodded. One glance past his father showed him that the two children, Suzume and the silver-haired boy, were also peering in at the happenings within the room. “How long have I been asleep?”
“About four days,” Father answered with a frown.
“We were so worried,”AsaHi informed him, as if he couldn’t already tell. The tearful relief in her eyes as she remained in his arms filled him with a warmth and sense of comfort. “Zemi hardly left your room in all that time.”
“I know,” SoYa peered at her. “I already talked to him.”
“Really? What did he say?” she gave a concerned look.
“I think… it’s going to be okay,” he answered.
“Yeah,” TsuYa snorted, “If you don’t count the fact that we’ve got a Chaos-crazed Arweinydd running around down on the mainland.”
“Tsu,” Father gave him a look of disapproval.
“Hey, it’s true,” the Apprentice grimaced and leaned back against the wall.
“Well, next time, we’ll be ready for him,” SoYa stated, surprised at the firmness in his own voice.
“Hrm?” TsuYa glanced over, obviously surprised too. “Did you hit your head or something, SoYa? Or did you just say…”
“I said we’ll be ready for the next time,” the Athrylith nodded, then glanced at Father. “We’re not just going to let him take our city and the people without a fight, are we?”
AsaHi glanced over, wringing her hands in the blankets, “There are still people out there… like my family. They can’t all have been taken to become Marked, can they? They would need our help against Zerom, wouldn’t they?”
“Yes, you’re right,” Father nodded slowly, as if thinking back to something that he did not voice.
“See? Grown-ups are always so serious,” came the sound of child-talk just outside the door. Suzume was looking at the silver-haired boy, informing him of the truth of adulthood with a grim face.
“Suzume. LuShi. What did I tell you about coming near this room?” Father’s normal easy-going countenance suddenly turned stern. Rarely before had SoYa seen him speak so rigidly to children. As SoYa’s eyes tried to trace the path of his father’s gaze, he realized it wasn’t both of them that he was scolding.
It’s just the little boy?
The boy backed away a step under Father’s stern frown. Suzume, however, puffed up a lip, “We weren’t hurting anything. Actually, it was Lucci who woke Master So–”
Lucci poked the winged girl in the side with one finger, bringing her to silence. There was a pitiful sadness about his little face, as a child who was seeking approval but only got a scolding. “I’m sorry, Master ZenToYa.”
“The two of you go wash up. It’s almost time for supper,” Father instructed, not even taking notice of the apology.
Suzume gave a put-out look at the injustice of it all. Then she took a hold of Lucci’s hand again.
Who is he? He wasn’t here in Ceiswyr before this, was he?
As if the silver-haired boy could sense SoYa’s thoughts, he turned to peer at the Apprentice in silence. Feeling a little sorry for the stern approach of his father, the Athrylith offered a kindly, encouraging look. It was met with Lucci’s hopeful smile, just as the two children vanished around the corner.
“SoYa,” AsaHi gave a soft breathy sound, wrapping her arms around his neck again. The way she always did when she wanted to pull his attention away from something tense. “I’m so happy that you’re awake! I bet you’re starving.”
It wasn’t till that moment that SoYa realized she was right. He was ravenous, and his stomach gurgled an embarrassing complaint.
“I guess that answers it,” she giggled. Then she planted a soft peck on his cheek, “Let me go get you something from the kitchen.”
After AsaHi left, TsuYa arched an eyebrow, “Smooth use of bodily functions, Lover Boy.”
“Hush,” SoYa grumbled affectionately.
Father drew up a chair next to the bed. TsuYa settled down on the windowsill not far away. For that time, there was just the three of them — brother, brother and father – sharing a connection, a closeness brought by the strife.
“So,” Father was the first to break the silence. “How about you tell us what really happened in the Spire?”
SoYa took in a short breath. He ran his fingers over the hem of the sheets as his mind swam in attempt to find a starting place. “You’re not going to believe…”
Tugging restlessly at the end of his shorn hair, TsuYa gave his brother a half smirk. “Try us.”