Book 3 Chapter 22

There isna much time…

JouKa strapped her well-worn kukri along her hip, making sure that the buckle was fastened tight. Before the last battle on the Islands, few seemed to have any faith in the strangely shaped weapon, laughing at it if it had been nothing more than a big knife. She showed them.

In fact, she had fought so well that she gained recognition by the troop leaders. Despite the fact that she was seen as nothing more than a renegade civilian at first, her skills in both fighting and healing earned her a permanent place in the fighting forces of Ceiswyr.

No one laughed at her kukri anymore.

Though TsuYa doesn’t pay any more attention to them than ‘e ever did. But what do ya want from ‘im, I spose.

She threw her pack over one side of her shoulder, working to balance it around her delicate axillaries. Wings made it harder to carry things, and they didn’t help much for flying when you were weighted down with a pack, either. Overall, she rated having wings a 5 out of 10. About half the time they were more of a pain than they were worth.

JouKa crept out of her room with a shifty look around. The hallway outside was an absolute mess with people rushing up and down frantically. Everyone was so busy searching for the Sygnus boy that no one noticed the one small winged figure creeping out the door.

Which is just as well. I don’t wanna be tryin’ to explain this to no one.

How could she? Even if she tried, would anyone understand? She could hardly explain it to herself. She just knew that sitting there on the Islands was not giving her any answers or moving her any closer to resolving the weight that dragged at her heart. There were just so many reasons that were driving her towards the Ground Portal of Ceiswyr.

Not that she was one-hundred percent certain about taking on the Mainland by herself. She purposely shoved that thought out of her head, which was the reason why she needed to act now and act fast.

Hitchin’ a ride with TsuYa on ‘is mission is the only chance I’ll get…

It was strange that the instructions were for everyone to search for the boy Sygnus on the Islands. It seemed to her that they were all pretty sure that LuShi took the rift down to the Mainland.

I wonder what Zemi is doin’ making all tha troops look around up ‘ere like this. If I didn’t know better, it feels like a diversion.

JouKa passed through the last arching doorways of the Compound out into the night air. Here and there she could see the shapes of Dragons swooping over the Island, also searching.

Why would ‘e be doin’ something that would ‘elp the Sygnus boy escape? Especially after Zemi sent a real search party out to find ‘im?

After they discovered that LuShi was missing, Zemi put together a small search party to scout out the Mainland. KaiShi was to do what she could from the skies, which was normal enough. However, the duo that was chosen to scout the ground paths was a little more surprising.

TsuYa insisted on making it his personal business to find the boy Sygnus. Even though it about gave ZenToYa a heart attack, the young warrior would not be swayed. JouKa didn’t know if TsuYa simply felt responsible for the boy’s disappearance because it happened on his watch. Or if he felt responsible because he spent a lot of time teaching the boy over the past weeks.

Probably jus wants ta prove something to someone. Nothing ever changes.

TsuYa did know the Mainland quite well. He was also rumored to be the best when it came to slaying the Marked. Word in the Compound said that during the last attack, he held off three of the creatures at once, completely unarmed. JouKa didn’t know how true the rumor was, and TsuYa wouldn’t answer for it when she asked. His fighting abilities were starting to be compared to his father’s, with favorable outcomes.

The second member of the search party was none other than Zemi’s own sister, the She Wolf Zazo. While JouKa could only muse why an Arweinydd would dirty her fur doing such a mundane job, Zazo could sense and track down the boy Sygnus.

But that makes me wonder, too. ‘Ow ‘ard do they really think it’s gonna be to find ‘im and bring ‘im back ‘ere?

She could only shake her head. Things just weren’t meshing together, and most of them pointed at reasonings that only the Dreigiau could come up with.

Not like my own reasons make much more sense…

No doubt, if she did manage to catch up to TsuYa, he was going to throw a major for butting in where she didn’t belong. This was the only chance she had to go to the Mainland.

It might be my only chance to see ‘im, too…


It was no secret that KoGuRai was in the last battle against the Islands, and now served as the Champion of Zerom. She had not personally seen him, but TsuYa’s accounts of the fight were blunt enough. Something inside of her reeled at the thought, that in the time she was away, KoGuRai had changed so much.

Maybe if I see ‘im again, I can put things right.

JouKa paused, her back pressed against the dark side of the tree. Peeking around the wide trunk, she could make out figures standing around the rift to the Mainland. It looked to be guarded. Pulling back to the safe shadows of the tree, she hissed a curse under her breath.

Great. What do I do now?

The way she saw it, she had three options. Talk. Rush them. Talk first and if that didn’t work, then rush them. None of them gave her much in the way of hope to succeed.

I can’t be stopped ‘ere.

Pursing her lips sharply, JouKa decided to see what she could do with talking. Not that she was really any good at it. Her thick accent made her stand out, or considered somehow inferior to those who weren’t familiar with it.

With her head lifted, wings tilted back, hands firm at her sides, she walked out towards the rift. Three other Cyngan leaned against the tall stone pillars that served as a doorway to the rift. They gave her curious glances as she walked up to them.

“Excuse me. You can’t go in there,” one said with a firm look.

“And why not?” JouKa asked, lifting her chin belligerently.

“We’ve got a runaway. We’re under Lord Zemi’s orders.”

“Under Lord Zemi’s orders to do what?” she gave them a sharp look.

“Watch the rift,” came the frowned reply.

“So Lord Zemi ordered you specifically to stop people from usin’ this rift? Do I look like a run-away boy Sygnus to you?” she put one hand on her hip.

One of the other Cyngan caught sight of her pack and gave her a suspicious look. “Where are you going? The Mainland is too dangerous just to let people wander down there without clearance.”

JouKa grit her teeth, fist tightening on the strap of her pack. It looked like she was going to have to fall back on the second part of her plan.

Too bad. I didna want to ‘ave to ‘urt them.

“I’m going to have to ask you to return to the Compound,” the first Cyngan frowned.

“And what if I refuse?” her eyes began to glitter with a dangerous light.

The three Cyngan stared up. Then with a startled look, they took a step back. Some took more than one step. They were all wide eyed and silent with surprise.

Boys. You put the pressure on. They crack every time.

JouKa could only give a satisfied smirk.

Until a large hand dropped on her shoulder from behind.

The girl turned with a startled sound, coming face to face with what she realized the troops were really backing away from. He was extremely tall. Strange manelike sandy-brown hair. Eyes that were so deep, yet reflected like burnished gold.

She recognized him as one of the important people that often took part in the Assemblies of the Trine. Somewhere she heard that he was a leader or representative of the Spiral nation. She didn’t know anything else about him. Not even his name.

His eyes were upon her, peering down without so much a ripple of emotion. There was a chilling feeling as she stood, captured within his gaze. The feeling that he could see everything about her in that one glance. That he knew every truth about her, even the reason why she was trying to leave the Island.

“Lord Aur?” one of the Cyngan stammered, bowing low. Obviously, they knew his name.

Great. I’m not just busted. I’m super busted. Can my night get any worse?

His hand tightened a bit on her shoulder, the golden gaze slipping past her to fall on the others. They recoiled all the more. Then a voice, deep and rich sounded in her ears, “I ask that you do not hinder our passage to the Mainland. It is by Lord Zemi’s orders that the rift must be opened.”

They just peered at him for a moment, mouths hanging slightly ajar.

JouKa tried not to look as dumbfounded as she really was.

Aur arched a slow eyebrow, watching the inactivity before him with a mute sense of amused patience. “Were my words unclear?”

“N-no, Lord Aur,” the second Cyngan began to scurry, motioning them both towards the rifting area. “Please. By all means”

JouKa felt a pressure on her shoulder gently prodding her forward. Her steps were stiff and somewhat shaky, thoughts racing through her mind.

Who exactly is this guy? Why is ‘e ‘elpin’ me out? And why is Zemi orderin’ someone else to go down there anyway, when ‘e’s already sent out one search party? This is making less and less sense.

She didn’t stop walking. Nor did she dare to turn around. Something about the golden eyes frightened her. She didn’t like it when it all her deepest secrets were laid out on the table for someone to see. Especially not a stranger.

I’m gettin’ caught up in somethin’ I shouldn’t, I figure.

JouKa closed her eyes as the light of the rift flowed up around her form. No matter how many times she used those things, she could never quite get used to the feeling of sudden displacement. Then it was over. Still, she didn’t know that she wanted to open her eyes. She had a good idea what she’d see – her homelands shattered under the darkness of Chaos.

And the stranger.

When she finally gathered up her courage to open her eyes, it came at her, exactly as she thought it would. A wasted and sickly landscape where there had once been summer’s green mantle. A dark, unnatural storm boiling in the sky above, violet lightning cracking across the heavens sharply. A still and decayed feeling, as if anything that had once been alive was destroyed or changed into something as dark as the land itself.

JouKa put a hand to her mouth. She had not expected it to be so difficult to bear.

The stranger was there, though she momentarily forgot about him. He stood near, watching her reaction with a flat, grim face. It was as if nothing that he saw resulted in emotion from him. Not even sympathy for her suffering.

“We must move,” Aur told her finally. “The longer we wait, the further ahead they will get.”

JouKa turned towards him, giving him an uncertain expression. “Look, I don’t know who you are. Or why you ‘elped me. But thanks. I can be takin’ care of myself from ‘ere.”

“Ah,” he replied simply. But something in the way he said it spoke that he didn’t think so.

“What’s that ‘posed ta mean?” she craned her head up at him.

“Ah means simply ah,” he informed her. Then he began to walk towards the looming darkness. “Now, let us make haste.”

“I don’t think you ‘eard a word I said,” she stamped one foot insistently.

Aur paused and turned around. One look of his deep, hooded eyes made her shiver. “Yes. I heard what you said. But it makes no sense at all.”

“In what way?” JouKa was practically biting her tongue to hold her temper.

“TsuYa is traveling upon the back of the Arweinydd, Zazo. Even if you flew non-stop at full speed, you could not catch up with them,” he stated logically.

Something choked in the back of her throat. She found she couldn’t argue against that. She could only stare at him with a complete and utter loss for words. Not something that happened often.

“Now. I have a travel form that may match her speed. If you desire to catch them, I suggest that we make haste,” Aur was watching her with an unreadable face.

When she realized there was nothing else left to do, JouKa nodded.