Book 3 Chapter 17

“TsuYaaa!” the name ripped from Zento’s hoarse throat as he swooped down towards the splayed body below. He searched up and down the western edge of the main Island for any sign of his son. What he finally found didn’t leave him with any comfort at all.

TsuYa lay face down in the grass. There was blood, both black and red, everywhere that the winged man looked. His terrified eyes couldn’t measure how much of it belonged to his son.

Light. Please… please… don’t let him be dead. I’ll never forgive myself if…

The winged man dropped to his knees, reaching both hands down to support TsuYa’s limp head. He fought back the threat of tears that blurred his vision and made it so hard to tell whether his son was still breathing.

“Tsu, please. Please stay with me. Zemi will be here soon,” Zento pulled him up, cradling his head against his chest. His hands shook as he stroked through the dirt-matted hair.


The winged man drew in a choking breath and turned towards the crest of the hill. His gaze met with the unblinking green eyes of the giant white wolf.

“Lady Zazo?”

~If awards were given for theatrics, you would certainly have won something tonight,~ she gave a panting laugh.

Zento found himself gritting his teeth at her casual disdain. He wanted to yell at her. To get her to understand that the life of his child was more than just a game.

Zazo’s tail flicked back and forth, as if his agitation only amused her all the more.

The Champion balled his fist, “When Zemi gets here, he’ll–”

~Relax, ZenToYa. You don’t have to threaten me with my brother’s so-called ire. Your son is alive. I personally brought him here and saw to his wellbeing.~

Zento’s mouth shut with a click.

She gave a wolfish grin at his sudden turn of discomfort. ~Now tell me again. What will Zemi do when he gets here?~

“Nothing,” the winged man turned his head, focusing back on the quiet face of his son.

Is Tsu really okay? He’s so still…

~It’s the nature of what he’s become.~

“What are you talking about?” Zento glanced up at her, holding TsuYa closer to his chest.

~Certainly you notice. As much as Zemi and his pet Watcher say otherwise, your son has begun to change.~

“No,” he shook his head, fingers tightening on the cloth of the blue coat. “You’re wrong.”

~Am I?~

“Aur created a cure for Tsu.”

~Aur created a delay.~

“What do you mean?”

Zazo shook out the ruff of her coat. ~I felt it in TsuYa today as he fought. I feel it in him now. Until Zeromus is completely gone, the threat to your son remains.~

There was far too much truth to the words. Zento felt his will sag and his body slump forward, still cradling his youngest son.

~Don’t start that now. There’s still time.~ Zazo gave him a very serious look.~Just don’t be fooled into believing that a band aid is a cure.~

The winged man peered at the white wolf. Once again, something in her words rang true.

TsuYa uttered a low, guttural sound, something between a groan and a growl. Zento felt the speckle of goose bumps rush over his skin. As his sons’ dark eyes fluttered open, he did everything he could to suppress the encroaching feeling of uncertainty.

She’s right… I can’t… let myself doubt.

Unruffled, Zazo paced forward and shoved her nose right up in TsuYa’s face. ~Lazy Earthian. Wake up!~

TsuYa jerked back with a startled shout, accidentally jabbing his elbow into Zento’s stomach as the two of them scrabbled in the grass. Much to Zazo’s obvious amusement.

~I knew there was a reason I came here today.~

“Zazo!” TsuYa choked, eyes flicking around frantically. Then he seemed to realize that Zento was there, too. “Father?”

“Tsu, are you okay?” the winged man choked down the flood of emotion that threatened to overwhelm him.

“I’m… I’m alright, Dad,” TsuYa nodded in response. Then, much to Zento’s surprise, he added with a quick breath, “I’m so glad you’re here.”

Against his son’s better wishes, the winged man pulled him close into a long, relieved hug.

TsuYa gave a long, broken breath, sitting silently to collect his thoughts. Then he gave a shudder, like a skittish animal, and took a hold of Zento’s robe. His voice croaked out one heavy word, “LuShi?”

Puzzled, the winged man shook his head, “I didn’t see LuShi here. Only you.”

“LuShi?” the young warrior turned, stammering at Zazo when he didn’t receive the answer he was looking for.

~I got you away from there before things got too dangerous,~ she informed him. ~Zemi is taking care of the boy Sygnus right now.~

“What? Why?” Zento’s chin jerked up as a sick, heavy feeling began to churn in the pit of his stomach. For the first time, he began to sense that something about the air felt wrong. Up until that point, he had been so engrossed in his son’s health that he had completely overlooked everything else.

~The enemy attempted to awaken the boy Sygnus’ innate power.~

If the whole Island fell down on his head, Zento didn’t think he could have been more shocked. This was the first time that an Arweinydd acknowledged that LuShi did, in fact, pose a threat.

“Innate… power?” the winged man choked. “What innate power?”

~We don’t know yet. That’s what Zemi is checking on right now,~ she replied with a warning cock of her head.

I… KNEW it! I KNEW something like this would happen all along!

Zento’s fingers tightened upon his son’s shoulder. He gave a hiss of displeasure.

“Dad…” TsuYa groaned. “Dad, that hurts?”

“Huh?” the winged man pulled his hand back with a jerk. “I’m… sorry, Tsu.”

Zazo interrupted with a well-jabbed nose, straight into his son’s face.~TsuYa, what caused this?~

Instead of answering her, the young warrior rose to his feet and gave Zento an incredulous look. “Dad, you’re never going to believe this. I saw KoGuRai!”

It was so out of the blue that he completely lost all track of angry thoughts. He found himself standing, too. “KoGuRai?”

“He’s one of them… he’s the one who did this to LuShi,” TsuYa looked down, shaking his head. “KoGuRai… looked like one of the Marked. But he was different. He could talk… had a mind of his own. The same old attitude, of course. And he had wings. Except… they were black.”

“I see,” Zento couldn’t think of anything else to say.

~Zerom has a Champion?~ Zazo’s tone seemed surprised.

“Champion? Is that what happened to KoGuRai?” TsuYa asked. His knees were wobbly but he held on with iron will, ready to face the dark winged Champion if he appeared. “Where is he now?”

~I left him there to reap the darkness that he attempted to sow,~ the she wolf finally spoke. There was a nasty gleam to her fangs as her lips curled back in pleasure. Or displeasure. He couldn’t tell which.

“Is he dead?”

~Doubtful. The boy Sygnus has power, but he is not yet strong enough to destroy the Champion of Zeromus.~

“Darn,” TsuYa muttered under his breath.

Just then, a soft galewind kicked up the stray grass around them, sending it scattering up into the sky. Zento craned his head back to see the lithe golden shape of KaiShi backwinging down for a landing only a few yards away. He could hear the joyful shout of SoYa as the winds died down.

Only a moment later, the Athrylith slid down the Dragon’s shoulder and rushed over to greet them. “Father! Tsu! Tsu – you’re alright?”

“Of course,” TsuYa gave a grimace at all the fuss his brother was making.

“Why do you always have to go running off alone like that? You had us worried SICK!” SoYa scolded momentarily. Then he grasped TsuYa by the shoulders, shaking him around good-naturedly.

“Yeah… yeah…” the young warrior rolled his eyes in mock exasperation. But he didn’t protest too much when his brother gave him a pat-on-the-back hug.

Zento let out a long breath, allowing the tension to drain out of him. With a grim face, he strode up to KaiShi. She was also watching the two brothers, an unreadable look on her face.

“Hey,” he said quietly, trying to capture her attention.

“Zento,” she acknowledged, tilting her head down towards him.

He reached up and touched her nose with the palm of his hand. An appreciative gesture. “You saved my hide back there. Thanks.”

“Nonsense,” she flicked her tail slowly. “ZenToYa always has everything under control.”

The winged man laughed, “Of course. That’s right. I forgot.”

They stood together quietly for a while as the sound of the battle faded into the distance. The shadows crossed the sky less often and plumes of smoke grew weaker as fires were tended. Not far away, SoYa and Zazo seemed to be prodding TsuYa on some matter while the young warrior mock protested with crossed arms.

“It’s over?” he heard himself ask of no one.

“The battle is. For now, we’ve held Ceiswyr,” KaiShi replied. “Still, there’s trouble with LuShi, it seems.”

The golden Dragon had adopted a wait-and-see stance on the issue of the boy Sygnus. Though she never verbally rebuked Zemi’s choice of raising LuShi on the Islands, neither did she seem to completely agree with the decision. Like Zento, she was a leader of her kind, and her thoughts hovered on what was best for those she was responsible for.

“I guess I better go see what damage has been done,” the winged man sighed grimly. “I’m sure things will need tending.”

“Would you mind if I joined you, Zento?” KaiShi asked quietly.

Taken by surprise, Zento realized that he wouldn’t mind. Not one bit. As he turned back towards the waiting Compound, he told her so.