An ocean stretched out before them, as far as TsuYa’s eyes could see.
I’m pretty sure that’s what it is, though I’ve never seen the ocean before.
The Inner Realms was a completely land locked area. It had no access to bodies of water larger than Lake Tawelu, and even that was a solid two day’s travel from Nefol during the good season.
It’s hard to believe something this large actually exists.
Water without end, shifting in white-flecked wavetops. The scent of moist salt was strange and exhilarating to his acute senses. The sight took his breath away and made him feel very small. More than ever, it told him that stepping through the rift took them somewhere truly far, far from home.
Zazo shook out her fur, nose pointed down to the sand. She gave a snort as she roamed in circles, leaving not so much as a ripple in the grey waters where she passed. Finally, after a short time, she returned to the group, her expression unreadable.
“So?” TsuYa prompted.
-I don’t know.- Came the answer. It wasn’t the answer he had been looking for.
“What do you mean you don’t know? We did take the right Rift, didn’t we?” TsuYa groaned, leaning back against a tall hole-pitted stone with a look of disgruntled frustration.
-Yes. Unless you’re suggesting that Zemi sent us in the wrong direction?- Zazo flipped her tail back and forth in similar agitation. Looking just as unhappy about trotting through the dark wet sand, she lifted her paws and shook them out, one at a time.
“Well, who knows? He did just change the game plan in the middle of the chase,” the warrior jabbed his finger towards the giant wolf’s muzzle. “I thought you told me that you never lost a scent?”
-Never… IS a pretty strong word.-
“Come on. Just admit it. You’ve lost LuShi’s trail,” TsuYa crossed his arms with an annoyed scowl.
Which means we’re stuck out here without any direction at all.
-Are you accusing me of getting us lost? Aren’t you the supposed leader of this expedition?- The She Wolf loomed over the warrior in return, fur bristling.
“Yeah, but you’re the one that’s supposed to be able to sense the Sygnus. Not me,” he stretched his hands out in protest.
“Ugh! We’re getting’ nowhere with ya two pitchin’ a ‘ollar all day long!” JouKa stomped between them, scattering sand wherever she went. “I should ‘ave known better than to follow a bonehead know-it-all!”
“Excuse me?” TsuYa sneered.
“Don’t talk to me!” the girl sneered back. “I ‘ave nothin’ to say to ya!”
“Because of what? KoGuRai? Still?”
“Yes, KoGuRai. Still!” JouKa grated, looking like she wanted nothing more than to plant a slap across his face.
“Are you stupid?” his voice lifted in irritation, “Can’t you see he’s our enemy? He’s one of them?”
“Yeah, well, then what are ya?” the girl retorted back at him with a steely look.
TsuYa opened his mouth, face growing a bit pale. After the last battle with KoGuRai, with the way he matched the Marked Champion’s power, he found himself hard pressed to answer.
JouKa gave him a cold and relentless look of expectation. Her hands were planted firmly on her hips. Any sympathy or friendship that he won from her seemed completely wiped away, all with that one swing of his scythe.
“Pardon me?” Aur’s quiet voice carried over the rise and fall of ocean waves in the distance. Somehow, he always managed to turn irate attention away from arguments and back to the situation at hand. “It seems as if the boy-Sygnus was carried away.”
The others peered over at where Aur crouched, hands spread outwards as he studied the marks in the sand. No longer needing the speed of his travel shape, he returned to his normal form.
Not to be shown up by a mere Watcher, Zazo shoved her way over to him. -Yes. Of course he was. I knew that. But that doesn’t change the fact that we don’t know where he’s been taken to.-
“There is still a way we can follow him,” the golden-eyed man replied, straightening. One hand lifted in an expressionless motion, somewhere to the east.
“Wait,” TsuYa pushed past JouKa’s scowl, focusing on the direction Aur was pointing. It was hard to believe that the Watcher would indicate something so substantial without something real to back it up. The warrior gave a puzzled frown. “How do you know?”
“I have sensed this energy before,” came the quiet reply. “From flying ships that visited the researchers in the Spiral.”
“Flyin’ ships?” JouKa echoed, walking closer as well. “What do ya mean?”
“They are hard to describe,” Aur answered. His hands moved, as if trying to draw a shape in the air to help communicate the picture. “It’s a large machine that has wings. It’s made of a light metal and can fly. I have seen the researchers use it to transport materials and people.”
“Why would anyone want to use a machine to fly? What when we’ve all got wings or Dragons?” the girl asked with a frown.
“I was under the impression that these researchers came from a place that was quite distant from the Spiral. In that case, a person or Dragon may tire. A machine would not,” he spread his hands, as if it was the easiest thing in the world to grasp. “Besides, it was not just people they brought. As I said, they carried materials for items they were building.”
“Wow… I wonder why Dad never mentioned anything about this,” TsuYa rubbed a hand through his hair.
-Things like that don’t matter to him? ZenToYa is not the most academically minded man in the world,- Zazo snuffed.
“What are you trying to say?” the warrior gave her a put-out frown.
-That he’d probably be more interested in proving he could out-fly the machine than use his head to figure out what good use it could be put to.-
“That’s not true! My father is a brilliant man!”
“There is a reason why certain people are researchers, and other people are great warriors, TsuYa,” Aur offered with a straight face.
“Oh, now you’re siding with her?” he crossed his arms.
“No. I just know your father well enough,” something behind the golden eyes shimmered. Just slightly. The hint of mirth.
“I still don’t get ‘ow this is supposed to help us track down LuShi,” JouKa gave her best unimpressed sniff, lifting her chin in the other direction.
“Well, if you will listen, I will explain,” Aur answered, once again crouching down to look at the marks in the sand. He waved one hand over an area that was pressed down by something that had a great weight. “If it’s true that one of the flying ships took the boy-Sygnus away, then chances are, he may be in one of Zemi’s research stations. Possibly one located nearby.”
“Great. So you’re saying that Zemi sent us out here after the kid, but instructed someone else to pick him up?” TsuYa’s face grew sour.
“I don’t know,” the golden man shook his head. “But if that was the case, then there must be a reason for it.”
“Figures,” the warrior grumbled. “So we can’t track LuShi is because he doesn’t have a trail on the ground anymore.”
-No. There’s something else going on here. I wasn’t tracking him by scent, Tsu.- Zazo butted in with narrowed eyes. -I’m not sure how, but it’s as if his presence is being hidden.-
“Is it Zemi?”
-I don’t know. Like you said, it would be awful strange for Zemi to send us out here to help LuShi, and then to hide him from us again.-
“Yeah, well, Zemi doesn’t make sense about 95 percent of the time,” TsuYa shook his head.
“Anyhow,” Aur spoke quietly, trying to coax the conversation back on track, “This doesn’t mean that we’ve lost track of the boy-Sygnus completely.”
“I’m not sure what they use to make the machines run, but it has a power source of magical energy,” the hooded eyes lifted, giving Zazo a meaningful look. “A source that has a very apparent energy signature, which makes it rather easy to track down. Only within a certain time period after it passes. Surely you sensed that trail, Lady Zazo?”
–What?- Zazo’s ears perked up, then flopped back again. -Yes! Of course I sensed it! Don’t be silly.-
“Aur!” JouKa pressed her hand together, “Ya’re simply brilliant! Do ya know that?”
The Watcher fell silent, looking at the girl. He seemed not to know how to respond to the compliment at all, therefore, simply did not respond at all.
The girl sighed and suggested, “Ya can say ‘thank ya’ if ya’d like?”
“Ah?” Aur pursed his lips for a moment, then imitated her words, right down to the accent. “Thank ya.”
“And to think,” JouKa muttered under her breath, putting a hand to her forehead, “I was considerin’ ya for the only other sane person in this group.”
“We’re wasting time,” TsuYa’s voice broke into the exchange. The warrior slung his scythe over his shoulder with a cold, serious pressing of lips. “If that trail is only going to last for a little while, we better follow it. Fast.”
Without another word, or so much as a warning, the huge She Wolf slid up under the warrior, and TsuYa found himself astride Zazo’s back. It was second nature now, holding the crest of fur along her shoulders. Leaning down against her neck for speed. For a warrior who had very little training in mounted battle, he felt he was doing pretty well in his grasp of wolf-back riding.
Zazo flicked her tail and turned over one shoulder, directing her gaze at Aur. Her tone was teasing as she stressed the first word of her question to him, -ARE you coming?-
The Watcher took one look at her wolfish grin before drawing a deep breath. With one step forward and a feline-like stretch of his body, his form suddenly melted and flowed into the shape of the great golden lion.
I’m never going to get used to this sort of stuff.
Aur’s golden form was already plunging ahead, carrying JouKa off over the sand and spray. Zazo launched after them, not to be outdone, leaving nothing but a reflection of her sprint shimmering in the waters below.