For a while, there was no sound within the chamber, except for JouKa’s soft sobs that came every now and then. TsuYa couldn’t bear to look at her and couldn’t pull his dark eyes from the streaks of shadow that were drawn across the crystal tiles of the floor. Something within him felt heavy and not victorious at all.
But… KoGuRai is our enemy. He wouldn’t have hesitated to strike me or LuShi down. How can I even question if what I did was right?
It was a warrior’s instinct. Strike while the enemy was unaware. Maybe it was a little underhanded, but when the lives of other people were at stake, there was no such thing as hesitation. TsuYa wanted to tell himself that he struck to defend others, and not to fulfill his own desires to see KoGuRai defeated.
If it was the right thing, then why do I feel so rotten about it?
Aur sat unmoving next to JouKa’s collapsed form in the doorway. Though he outwardly showed little trace of emotion, the way he stayed by the girl’s side, whiskered nose poking down at her bowed head, was almost a posture of concern and care. Every now and then, his tail flicked up and down, golden eyes never blinking.
Man… I just never win.
Zazo came to stand at his side, in turn. Her white fur was frosted with the glitter of blue and silver light as it streamed from the runes above and below. Her mouth was open in a lolling half-pant as one large paw lifted. Placed on the right spot in the small of his back, she nearly threw TsuYa flat on his face.
“Argh! Zazo! What was that for?” his protest broke the silence as he turned and shot a glower at the She Wolf.
-You fight well, Earthian. Don’t doubt that you did what you had to do,- she informed him.
I wish everyone saw it that way.
-There is, however, just one thing you overlooked.-
And what is that?
-The Sygnus boy,- Zazo’s tail flipped back and forth, encouraging him to lift his head and look around the chamber.
“He’s gone?” the warrior sputtered out loud. “Where did he go?”
“I saw the boy travel through one of the Pathways during the last moments of your fight,” Aur lifted his head slowly, ears tilted forward.
“Did you see which one?” TsuYa asked. As his gaze brushed over the ornate designs that scrolled over the floor, he realized there were quite a few of the strange, pulsing tiles.
“Yes, I did. There is nothing to worry about.”
“Nothing to worry about? How about the fact that LuShi’s just flickered off somewhere, and he’s getting further and further away. Again!” the warrior scowled, spreading his hands in a wide motion over his head.
-Relax,- Zazo snuffed. -We caught the Sygnus boy once. We can catch him again.-
“Yeah, but now, he’s so far away from Ceiswyr, how are we supposed to get him back to the Islands?”
“Who cares,” came the broken reply from where JouKa slumped next to the doorway.
“What?” TsuYa turned slowly, displeasure written over his face.
“I said… who cares…” she wiped her face on the hem of her cloak and shook her head. Her face was all red from crying and fighting the show of tears. There was bitterness. And anger. And a mesh of a million other emotions.
For a moment, TsuYa didn’t want to argue with her. Afterall, he was the one that caused the pain. The next moment, he shook his head with balled fists and dark, slitted eyes.
“Look. I don’t know what you came here for, JouKa, but I’m here to find LuShi and bring him back home safely,” the young warrior told her, pacing a few steps closer. “I don’t know what sort of connection that you have with KoGuRai, and I don’t care. The man’s a monster… our enemy. If he gets in the way of us again, I’ll kil–”
“TsuYa!” she suddenly shrieked, finding her feet. In a blind rush of emotion, she ran at him and slammed both of her fists against his chest. Again. And again. Sobbing and cursing him before shoving away one final time and rushing out the door of the chamber.
“JouKa?” Aur’s deep voice rumbled after her.
She didn’t stop. The warrior, the wolf and the lion were left standing in the chamber, staring at where her pale form vanished into the darkness beyond the threshold.
“This isn’t going well at all,” Aur sighed finally.
“I told you we shouldn’t bring her. She’s nothing but trouble,” TsuYa snuffed with crossed arms at Zazo.
-If I do recall, it was the girl who just saved your life.-
“What are you talking about? I had everything under control!” he protested.
-Of course,- the She Wolf loped a few steps across the chamber, nosing the glowing tile where the Champion vanished.
Suddenly, there came a high pitched scream from outside of the doorway. Before any of them could respond to the sound, JouKa came running back in with a wide-eyed look. “Esgyll! They’re swarmin’ the place outside! Won’t be much time before they notice tha doorway!”
TsuYa choked, “We better get moving then. Which of the portals did you say LuShi stepped on, Aur?”
“Wait! I don’t want ta go with you!” JouKa spat at him, far more vicious than he had ever seen before.
“Where else do you think you can go?” he retorted with a deep scowl.
Her eyes flickered towards the tile where KoGuRai vanished.
“You gotta be kidding me!”
“What if I’m not?” she lifted her chin with a defiant scowl in his direction.
“I don’t get you! The guy would have killed us!” he argued.
But she would have none of it. She simply turned away with a bitter murmur, “Of course you wouldn’t understand.”
As TsuYa stepped forward to retort, the runes along the walls grew stunningly bright. Gone was the pale silver sheen and the angry blue glow. A pure white light touched every tile, every rune, lighting it with a strange, otherworldly radiance. Somehow, TsuYa could sense this was how the chamber was meant to be.
In the center of it all, a shape began to take form. JouKa scrambled a few paces back, her eyes wide as the light began to draw in on itself, pulsing and growing with each breath. A long slender neck stretched upwards, lifting the wedge-shaped Dragon’s head, bright teal eyes reflecting down on them with an unreadable expression.
“Lord Zemi,” the words rolled out of TsuYa’s mouth before he knew what he was saying. Head craned back, he watched the great white Dragon form, taking a shape much like what he was used to seeing in the Host Gate.
It feels like it’s been decades since then.
-It’s about time you showed up,- Zazo shook out her fur disdainfully with glowering eyes. -This has become a real mess, Zemi. The Sygnus boy is gone again. He’s been very difficult to capture.-
Great, I bet he’s here to chew us out for screwing everything up.
“As I figured he’d be,” Zemi lowered his head to peer at the group in the chamber. There was something about the way he spoke that left TsuYa to think that the Arweinydd had something more on his mind than scolding them for mistakes.
“I see that the Dreigiau has knowledge of the Cynosure,” Aur spoke slowly, his golden eyes reflecting the light from above.
“I had a few ideas about this place, but not exactly what it was, no,” Zemi replied. “Now that I do know, I’m here to seal this place and its power once you’ve gotten where you need to go.”
“What? Why?” JouKa demanded, forgetting exactly who she was talking to.
Zemi, however, didn’t take offense. Instead he blew a soft breath in her direction, a deep rumbling sound purring through his voice, “Because now Zeromus is aware of the Cynosure, too. The last thing that I want is for him to have access to something that will allow him to send his troops out of the Inner Realms.”
“So, this place really is a rift?” TsuYa asked with a frown.
“Not just a rift, but hundreds of rifts,” the Dreigiau replied. “Could you imagine what Zeromus could do with this means of transportation for himself and his creatures?”
TsuYa didn’t say anything more. He just shivered and kept his dark thoughts to himself.
“Exactly,” Zemi bobbed his head slowly. “That’s why I’m closing it once you’ve gone to follow Lucci.”
-Then how are we supposed to come back?- Zazo spoke sharply, a thought that hadn’t dawned upon TsuYa yet. -We don’t even know where that portal will take us. What if we get dumped far outside of the Inner Realms somewhere? You going to send Dragons searching for us?-
“I won’t leave you stranded,” his words were simple.
“But aren’t we supposed to bring LuShi back to the Islands?” TsuYa inquired, picking his words carefully and fighting back his frustration. It wasn’t a good idea to yell at the Arweinydd who could simply choose to cast him off into the black void at a personal whim.
“There’s been a change of plans,” Zemi spoke slowly. The weight of the words were immense, almost knocking the breath out of everyone in the chamber. Everyone except Zazo, of course.
JouKa forgot her anger and peered over at TsuYa with a concerned, questioning look. The young warrior could only shake his head and shrug, fighting to keep his temper from showing. Aur remained silent, his tail flipping back and forth occasionally. Either he knew what Zemi was coming to say or he didn’t care about it.
When the obvious question was not asked, Zemi took it as his cue to continue, “Things are becoming more dangerous in Ceiswyr. I don’t think that it’s safe for Lucci to stay there. It’s obvious that Zeromus will do everything he can, even send his Champion, to take Lucci away from us and turn him to his own bidding.”
TsuYa pursed his lips with a scowl of deep displeasure.
“You were there, TsuYa, when they attempted to wake Lucci’s power in the worst possible way,” the Dreigiau said quietly. “The child is facing the aftereffects of that attempt. It’s not been easy for him or anyone around him, and I fear that more attempts will be made as long as Lucci remains within Zeromus’ grasp in the Inner Realms.”
“So why didn’t you just load ‘im up on a Dragon and send ‘im to Wyndor?” JouKa asked, putting a hand on her hip.
“That’s a pretty obvious place to send him. Right to where danger can follow and find those who have Migrated,” Aur spoke quietly.
“Yes, that’s true,” Zemi nodded lowly. “But also, I think that Lucci is taking on a pro-active attempt to stop this war from its source. I’m sure that he’s seeking something that will allow us to strike at Zeromus and take him down for good.”
“Mmmmm….” a sound rumbled in the back of Aur’s throat. But he didn’t speak.
“You mean there’s something we can use to defeat Zeromus?” TsuYa’s eyes widened.
“Like… kill-kill? Like DEAD?” JouKa chimed in, coming to stand next to him.
“It’s very possible,” the Dreigiau answered.
“Why didn’t anyone mention something as big as this before?” the warrior asked with a furrow of his brow. Something about this seemed unusual to him, but he couldn’t put his finger on what it was.
“Because we didn’t know if we could find the items that would make this possible,” Zemi replied slowly. “It seems that now, he’s found some outside… help… that’s revealing the information that we need to make it happen.”
Another rumble rose from the back of Aur’s throat. TsuYa couldn’t tell if it was a growl… or what it meant. There was an exchange of looks between the Guardian and the Arweinydd that followed shortly after. When Aur finally turned to look away, there was a submissiveness to the motion of his head.
-Then we can finally beat some sense into Zerom, and end this ridiculous battle,- Zazo snuffed. -What do we have to do, Zemi?-
“I need you to follow Lucci, just as you have. Don’t try to capture and return him,” the Arweinydd ordered. “I want, instead, for you to do what you can to keep him safe from any attempts Zeromus may send after him. Make sure that Lucci finds what he needs to help us end this war.”
JouKa nodded slowly, “Sounds good to me.”
“Yeah,” TsuYa rubbed the back of his head with a frown.
Almost too good. I wonder what sort of information LuShi is getting… and where he’s getting it from?
Though Aur’s head was still bent away from the Dreigiau, his voice rose one more time, “Zemi, are you certain about this?”
“I am most certain,” the Arweinydd replied, teal eyes bright as they focused on his Apprentice, “And I’m appointing TsuYa as the leader of this mission.”
“Me?” the warrior’s eyes widened. All questions flew straight out of his mind at the thought of new-found responsibility.
“Yes, you, TsuYa. Are you up to it?”
TsuYa straightened, his chin lifting. It was all he could do not to let his smirk show, “Oh, most certainly, Lord Zemi. I’ll get it done!”