“Quick! This way!” SoYa grabbed AsaHi’s hand as the Esgyll swooped down out of the flashing skies above. He led her towards a nearby grove of trees, just on the fringe of the Compound.
“Zento!” she cried, looking back over her shoulder at the lone winged warrior.
The name almost made SoYa’s step falter, but he forced himself to keep moving. He knew if he looked back, he’d never follow his father’s instructions. He’d want to stay and face the danger instead of leading AsaHi to safety.
If there is safety anywhere on the Islands now.
“Keep going!” Father’s shout was strained with the sound of intense battle. A flash of brilliant light from behind told SoYa that the winged man called on the power of his Arfogaeth. “I’ll come to find you! Just don’t stop no matter what!”
We’ll find help and come back for you, Father. I’m not leaving you alone here to face the Esgyll by yourself!
Not that the winged man wasn’t perfectly capable, wounded or not. The moment Father leapt out of the doorway, he slashed through the waiting creatures on the other side. The Esgyll fell to Father’s blade with a gurgling shriek before SoYa had a chance to gather his wits. But that called the attention of more Esgyll, and seeing the demise of one, these would not make the same mistake.
The sound of leaves crunching under his boots told him they had reached the tree line. The swooping Esgyll must have responded to Father’s diversion because they didn’t follow. Still clinging tightly to his hand, AsaHi collapsed in the thick underbrush, fighting to find her breath.
“Zento,” she sounded more afraid than he had ever heard before.
“I know… I know,” SoYa wrapped his arms around her protectively, stroking his hand through her hair to calm her. It was all that he could do not to join her lament.
This wasn’t the way this battle was supposed to happen. We weren’t ready again. There are a lot more of them than there were the first time.
Something in SoYa’s mind chided him that he should be out on the battlefield rather than hiding in the brush. Gazing upon the destruction— the crumpled walls of the Compound, the thick oily smoke that spoke of fire getting out of hand, the splurts of flame that shot across the sky, and the flickers of white that indicated the approaching Cyngan troops — it all seemed too big for him to take in.
SoYa could make out the lumbering shadows of the two Esgyll on the field. Every now and then, a flash of brilliant blue spoke of Father’s presence. Though SoYa fiercely believed in the strength that his father possessed, he could only suck on his bottom lip and wonder how long it would be before the wounds weakened the winged man’s blow.
Where do we go? Maybe we shouldn’t have left him out there.
Just as his mind began to swing towards disobedience, he heard a muffled gasp escape AsaHi’s lips. She grabbed tightly to the sleeve of his robe and jerked once to get his attention. “SoYa! Look!”
The girl pointed up towards the churning clouds. The Athrylith’s eyes lifted opening wide. Two huge shadows bore down upon the battle near the Compound with a blinding speed.
“Father!” SoYa choked, stumbling towards the edge of the brush.
“Wait!!” AsaHi grabbed the edge of his cloak, yanking back with all of her strength. “SoYa, they’re Dragons!”
The two shapes corkscrewed down through the parting clouds, a glint of gold reflecting against the blue. Wide, elegant wings. Silken spun mane. The Dragon form of Lady KaiShi skimmed the tops of the bushes as a plume of flame erupted from her open maw. The blast took one of the Esgyll by surprise, causing the creature to rear back, writhing as its back ignited and burned in a flare of greasy smoke.
In the glow of flame and darkness, SoYa saw Father’s form peering up at the sky. His wings glittered silver as his hair swept back in the warrior’s knot, hair flung by the blast of air from the Dragon’s wings. Standing next to the great battling beasts, he looked so tiny.
AsaHi gave a shout that sounded like a combination of joy and a call to get the Dragons’ attention. SoYa almost reached to stop her as she rushed out of the treeline, waving one hand around wildly. Then he realized that Dragonback might be their only way out.
A tremendous roar shook the Islands, cutting off AsaHi’s cheerful display. SoYa’s hands flew up to his ears, pressing against them desperately. Though the girl fell silent, she remained out in the open, head raised and eyes fixed with a glittering light on the sky above. He could feel it, the pressure of a huge presence that swept around him as the winds whipped through the trees.
The glimmering white Dragon was suddenly above them, just barely cresting the tops of the trees. SoYa felt his breath ripped from him as the thunderous sound of beating wings reverberated the ground. The creature was so huge that it seemed as if SoYa could reach up and touch the white scales, despite the distance from the ground.
“Zemi,” AsaHi’s awed voice was tiny to SoYa’s ears.
But then, everything was tiny in the wake of the Dreigiau. It felt so unreal, as if time itself had come to a stop to watch the Arweinydd’s approach.
The white Dragon’s great head reared back, gleaming fangs showing in the firelight. A stream of pure white light burst from the Dreigiau’s maw, so huge that it would surely take out the entire Compound in one blast.
SoYa felt his throat tighten as the world was bathed pure white. The light was cooling, healing and gentle. He felt it race over his limbs, strengthening both body and spirit with a rush of power. For just a moment, he wondered if that was how Awakening felt.
When the light faded, the Esgyll were gone. Not even a charred body remained in the field. Simply gone. Where the light healed those who followed the Dreigiau, it blew away the darkness of their enemies.
SoYa craned his head back as the enormous white Dragon landed. The Dreigiau’s wings stretched towards the sky, towering far above the blue and silver of his Champion. Though he wasn’t really afraid, even AsaHi seemed hesitant to approach.
“Trying to take on the whole army by yourself again, Zento?” the deep rumbling voice filled their ears with a droll, amused tone. The huge white head lowered until it lay unceremoniously on the ground.
“Did you expect anything less, Zemi?” Father grinned back, approaching the Dreigiau without a hint of fear. He placed one palm upon the white nose, a smile of gratitude playing on his lips, “You’re late.”
“I’m right on time,” Zemi replied with a twitch of his ears.
“Late,” Father repeated.
“You’re not dead. Therefore, I’m right on time,” came the half purred response.
AsaHi gathered herself up, chancing an approach. SoYa got to his feet as well, not wanting to appear the only one as shaken as he was.
Everything will be okay now. Right?
Not far away, the golden Dragon of Lady KaiShi stood watching, proud head arched back, testing the winds. Somehow, she gave off a sense of comfort and encouragement.
“Father,” SoYa’s voice croaked in concern.
The winged man turned at the sound. For a moment, the Athrylith thought he saw a strange blueish light glimmering around him, but it was gone with one passing blink.
“SoYa. AsaHi,” Father walked towards them, hands outstretched. Any wounds he suffered from the fight were completely gone. “Are you alright?”
AsaHi nodded. Then with a quiet sound, she ran up to the winged man and hugged him tightly, choking with relief.
Father’s face was awash with surprise. “Now, what was that for?”
The girl didn’t answer. Instead she broke from the embrace and stumbled up to where the Dreigiau’s head lay in the grass. Somewhat shyly, she placed both of her palms up upon his muzzle. After a testing moment, she placed her cheek against it, too.
SoYa coughed, feeling a strange, biting emotion rise up in his chest. An emotion that he fought to strangle down as quickly as he could. Afterall, Zemi did just save their lives.
And I would be a real Grade A idiot to even think like that…
Instead, the Athrylith shook his head, forcing his focus back on the winged man, “What about Tsu and Lucci?”
Father’s face grew grim, his green eyes shifting towards the two waiting Dragons.
“What is this about TsuYa and Lucci?” KaiShi asked with a slow flick of her tail.
“TsuYa is out there by himself. We returned to the Compound after training before he did,” Father winced, attempting to skirt around the details the best that he could. From the look on the golden Dragon’s face, he wasn’t pulling anything over on her. “And LuShi ran out into the battle to bring him his weapon.”
Lady KaiShi unfolded her wings, “I didn’t see them as we flew over. But, I wasn’t looking for wayward boys in the forest.”
“We must find them,” Zemi’s head slowly lifted, a rumbling sound of concern in his throat. “There are worse things attacking the Islands than the Esgyll.”
What does that mean?
SoYa shifted uncomfortably under the weight of the statement. But before he could say anything, the large form of the golden Dragon was crouching next to him on the field. “Come with me, SoYa. You’ll be safer if we fly together.”
His reply caught in his throat as he blinked at the creature’s gentle face.
“Are you afraid to fly?” she asked.
“No, Ma’am. Of course not,” SoYa shook himself out.
“Then let’s go and find your brother,” Lady KaiShi extended one slender claw to him.
Hoisting himself up on the claw, he grabbed the silky mane and pull himself on the golden Dragon’s back. It took a moment to find his balance. He was still nowhere near as skilled at Dragon riding as AsaHi was, but he was learning and getting better.
There seemed to be silent words between the girl and the Dreigiau, for neither said anything as AsaHi climbed up his great shoulder. With a practiced motion, she was mounted, her fingers woven into the wild white mane, face unafraid. As if the huge beast was an extension of herself — a source of power and comfort.
Father was already winging up from the broken ground into the dizzying heights above. SoYa watched his father’s movements, wishing for the courage and the surety that the winged man always had. He was jolted from his thoughts as the golden Dragon shifted, rising to her feet. As the wings spread, the Athrylith gripped the mane tightly, lying flat against her back.
In a smooth sweeping motion, the ground vanished underneath them. The sound of vast wings flapping told him that the Dreigiau was not far behind.
Brother, we’re coming. Just hang on.