Just hold your breath, stay quiet and hope that people forget you’re here.
Not likely, Lucci knew, but hopeful thinking was better than hopeless thinking. If nothing else, that’s what Lord Zemi always taught him – how to try and make the best of things. Something about life, lemons and lemon aid. Whatever that meant.
At least Lord Zemi’s here, now.
Lucci always felt protected when the Dreigiau near. Lord Zemi didn’t allow people to speak dark words or make fun of him. Unfortunately, with all the fighting going on, time with Lord Zemi was more rare.
Nothing would make me happier than for this fight to end.
If the battles stopped and people didn’t get hurt or afraid, they might give Lucci a chance to prove he wasn’t what they all thought he was. They said that the enemy of Ceiswyr, Zeromus the Dark Arweinydd, was his father. Lucci didn’t know how that could be true. He knew nothing of this Zeromus and the closest thing to a father he ever remembered was Lord Zemi.
If we can catch Zeromus and make him stop fighting, then people might like me!
Unlikely. But again… life, lemons and lemon aid. Whatever that meant.
When people started talking at the Assembly, thankfully, it wasn’t about Lucci. The boy heaved a quiet sigh through his nose, focusing on the Dreigiau as he headed the table.
“So, Aur,” Lord Zemi began, “What news from the Spiral?”
The golden-eyed man strung a glance down the full length of the room in silence, then carefully picked his place to begin. “We’re making headway in our research to reverse the effects of the Implants. With the help of the scholars who came from Nefol, and another who remains in the Outterlands, we’ve seen an improvement.”
“Then you’re getting close?” Lord Zemi asked with a hopeful expression.
“It’s still hard to say,” Aur replied with a slow, elaborate motion of one hand. In the time that the Creature spent among the Earthians, he’d picked up a number of gestures and expressions. “Sometimes what works well for one person doesn’t work so well for another. The best I can say is that we’re moving forward.”
“Sounds promising,” Master ZenToYa commented, the first words that he had spoken since the Assembly gathered.
“That is what we hope, too,” Kudako answered. “As Aur says, it is still in testing, but those who came from Nefol have certainly sped up the process.”
“How is the Colony doing?” AsaHi tilted her head, both hands pressed against the table as she leaned over to get a good look at Aur and Kudako.
“Foundations and basic buildings are established,” Kudako answered. “All is going as we scheduled.”
The Colony was the name of the new settlement that the refugees of the Inner Realms established on the mountainous outskirts of the Spiral’s forests. With Zeromus ravaging life down on the mainland, the first order that Zemi gave was to evacuate people living below Ceiswyr.
For the first few months, Master Zento, Master SoYa and Master TsuYa led search parties that hunted for people who escaped the fall of Nefol or lived in the gatherings. Zemi’s Dragons were able to transport people out of the Inner Realms to the safety of the Colony near the Spiral.
So far, Zeromus didn’t appear able to extend his reach outside of the Dragon’s Cleft. The people of the Spiral were commanded by Aur to watch the Passage for anything that seemed abnormal.
“I also must report,” Aur added, “Relations between the Colony and the Spiral people are improving. Though we do have our problems with a few renegade clans, for the most part, it seems as if understanding between the two people is possible.”
“That’s no easy thing,” Lord Zemi murmured, drumming his fingers on the surface of the table.
“Indeed,” Kudako nodded. “I think they both sense the danger present in the Inner Realms. The warriors of the Spiral know to seek out their true enemy. The people of the Inner Realms must trust those of the Spiral for a place to live. In the middle of all this, some differences are being set aside.”
Master Zento frowned gravely, “That’s more than we can say for some in the Inner Realms.”
“Is there still problems with the gatherings?” Kudako asked.
“Unfortunately,” the winged man replied.
“We’re still having… issues… evacuating some people,” Master SoYa peered over with a furrowed brow. “It should be obvious that it’s not safe to live on the mainland anymore.”
“Typical north-clan pride. I’ve seen it before,” Master Zento snorted. “They wouldn’t take our help, spouting off talk of Neffies and the Bane. Said they’d rather die than have anything to do with a bunch of cursed magic users.”
“What?” Master TsuYa broke his silence, with a troubled look.
“Their words, not mine.”
“What happened to them, Father? Do you know?”
“I don’t know. That was a few months back, Tsu. Things have gotten a lot worse down there since then,” Master Zento glanced over at the pale face of his son. “Why?”
“Nothing…” he returned his eyes to the table’s surface.
“Mmm,” the winged man watched his son’s reaction, but did not press the issue.
“I have heard word of attacks on the Islands,” Kudako flicked his ears. “What is this about new creatures that Zeromus has sent against Ceiswyr?”
“You mean the Esgyl? Lord Zemi replied slowly. There was a heavy distasteful frown pasted on his face, one fang gleaming in the pale light.
“Then it is true? There is something that challenges the Islands?” Aur inquired quietly, studying the Dreigiau’s reaction.
“They took us by surprise,” Master Zento interjected. “That’s all. We’ll be ready if they come again.”
“Which I’m certain that they will,” Lord Zemi spread his hands, though his tone was grave. A strange thing to hear. “We don’t know exactly what they are, but they were sent, possibly created, by Zeromus. They move in flight like the Dragons and are very clever in moving unseen.”
“They somehow got through all the shielding, the Dragons and the lookouts without so much as a whisper,” Master Zento added, balling one fist and opening it again.
“Casualties?” Kudako’s ears flatted.
“Yeah,” Master Zento admitted. “Too many… and too many wounded.”
“Which is why I say we really need to consider an evacuation of the city,” Master SoYa spoke up, glancing across the table. The tone of his voice said this was a topic that they touched on often before.
“I’m not leaving without a fight,” Master TsuYa met the Athrylith’s glace with a sharp-eyed look of his own. “We haven’t had a chance to meet them one on one yet. Just because we had one sneak attack doesn’t mean we need to throw up our hands and pass them the city like a plate of tundra peas!”
“At least get the children and the women to safer ground,” Master SoYa spread his hands with a reasoning tone.
AsaHi made a huffing sound in her throat.
The Athrylith sunk down in his chair a little, “I meant… the ones who need protection. There’s a lot of children here, and there were a few that we lost during that attack who weren’t warriors.”
“What the boy says has merit,” Kudako noted. “Noncombatants on the Islands will only give the creatures targets to strike. My suggestion is that evacuation of any unnecessary civilians is mandatory should you decide to continue to hold the city.”
Lord Zemi was nodding thoughtfully. “I think maybe you’re right. We don’t want to overcrowd the Colony more than we need. However, I believe that Wyndor has enough room and supplies to provide for the Cyngan.”
Master SoYa leaned back in his chair, seeming relieved that someone was finally considering something that he offered to the Assembly.
“I also believe that every person willing and able to defend Ceiswyr should have the opportunity to do so,” Lord Zemi’s tone shifted a little, his deep eyes falling upon Lucci.
The silver-haired boy shivered, realizing that the moment he dreaded was about to come. As if on cue, the focus of the room fell upon his lanky shoulders, and no amount of squirming could shrug it off.
“What are you saying, Zemi?” Master Zento’s tone held a hint of caution, as if he didn’t really want to ask the question. Or possibly that he was warning Lord Zemi to be sensible with whatever answer was to come.
Lord Zemi didn’t seem to notice. His eyes were still upon the boy. “Lucci-boy, how do you feel about joining us in the fight to protect Ceiswyr?”
The breath choked in the back of his lungs as shock washed over every inch of his body. Before he realized how he must have looked, Lucci bounced up in his chair, nodding vigorously, “I want to help, Lord Zemi! Just tell me what I need to do!”
The waves of silence rose up from the opposite side of the room, contrasting the sudden joyful outburst of the silver-haired boy. Lucci did not dare to turn his glance that way. He knew he’d see the heavy disapproval hanging over the heads of the others. Especially Master Zento and Master TsuYa.
“Well, that’s good to hear,” Lord Zemi’s grin was wide and warm. “I figure that you’re about the right age to start learning how to handle yourself in a fight. I’m sure we’ve got an extra weapon around here that we could train you with.”
Lucci simply beamed his brightest and most eager grin in return.
I can’t believe it! Lord Zemi wants me to help?
It was the first time ever that any of the adults in Ceiswyr acknowledged him as capable of doing the things that the other boys were allowed to do. Even boys who were smaller than him already had training in magic and weaponry. Everything he knew, he learned on his own secret time.
“Well, now that’s settled, we just gotta figure out who’s going to take you under wing…” Lord Zemi’s comment had an obvious target, the one man known as the best weapons trainer in Ceiswyr.
Instantly, Master Zento’s head turned the other way, a deep silence freezing his face cold. For a long time they remained like that– Lord Zemi watching the winged man, waiting for a reply. No reply came.
A sinking feeling washed all the cheer from Lucci’s body. He found himself hunching back from the clash of will between the Dreigiau and his Champion. Swallowing deeply, his silver eyes met the surface of the table, hope fading.
Does that mean… I can’t help?
“I see,” as if the Dreigiau could sense the disappointment, his gravelly voice rose again. “If that’s how it is, I guess you’ll just have to put up with my shoddy teaching, Lucci.”
The boy shook his head with a tiny hint of smile, his hope rising once again. All he had to make sure to do was not let himself look at the glaring disapproval of the winged man that sat across the table.
Lord Zemi and Master ZenToYa talked for a long time after the Assembly came to a close. Lucci couldn’t hear what they were saying, and he didn’t dare creep closer to the door, even if it was left slightly open. The rapid, low tones exchanged was all the boy needed to know.
Finally, after what seemed forever, Master Zento emerged, walking stiffly from the room. The chambers were now dark, any light cast from the Dreigiau’s magic faded with the weight of conflict.
Guilt welled in the boy’s chest, knowing that if the Arweinydd and Champion were fighting, it was because of him. Lucci peeked his head inside gingerly, his voice wavering, “Lord Zemi?”
“Lucci…?” The Dreigiau straightened instantly, eyes flicking up to see the silvery form of Lucci standing there at the other end of the table. His voice sounded concerned.
“I’m sorry,” the boy-Sygnus looked shamefully down at his feet. “I made Master Zento mad at you.”
“Nah,” Lord Zemi leaned back casually. “I can usually do that well enough by myself.”
“Everyone is upset lately.”
“People are just afraid. After the Esgyll attack…” the Dreigiau paused, then shifted in mid-sentence. Whatever he was previously going to say, he changed his mind. “Well, you have to give folks a chance to settle down after things like that.”
“It’s not just the Esgyll that they are afraid of,” Lucci forced the words out. “They don’t want me here.”
“Lucci…” Lord Zemi rose from his seat, walking around the table towards the boy.
“Maybe they’re right,” the boy stammered. “Maybe I am a threat.”
Gently, the Arweinydd reached one arm out and hooked it around Lucci’s slender shoulders affectionately. “Why do you say such a thing?”
“I don’t know much about the Esgyll, but I think they’re here because of me.”
“Oh?” the surprise Lord Zemi’s voice urged the boy to keep talking.
For the first time, Lucci spoke of the terrible feeling that haunted him in a please-don’t-hate-me plead of honesty. “I think… maybe they were sent here to find me.”
“I see,” the Dreigiau replied quietly. “You haven’t had any attempted outside-contacts since that one time, have you?”
The boy’s face reflected a moment of panic. He never liked to remember the day when, not long before the Esgyll attack, the Voices spoke to him. Voices without people.
“No, nothing like that,” Lucci finally found his voice with a shake of his head. “It’s nothing I know for sure. I just… have a feeling.”
“Well, sometimes feelings are warning enough,” Zemi tilted his head slowly.
“Is it true that I really came from Nefol? And that I’m Zeromus’ son?” he blurted out of nowhere.
The Dreigiau spoke slowly, “It’s true that you came from Nefol. I can’t prove whether or not you are Zeromus’ son. But… you know that I want you here with me, Lucci… right?”
The boy nodded, “I want to stay here with you, but I don’t think Zeromus wants to let me.”
“No, of course he doesn’t,” Zemi placed a large hand on the top of Lucci’s head and rubbed his hair around a bit. “But we’re not gonna let him push us around, are we?”
“No?” his voice didn’t sound so certain in his ears.
“You still want to help us fight against the Esgyll?”
The boy perked up quickly, “Yes! Of course I do, Lord Zemi. Are you really going to teach me?”
“Seems like I’m gonna have to,” Zemi gave the boy a wink and a quick flash of fangy grin. “And you know what else we’re gonna do?”
“No, what?” the silver eyes peered up at him, big and round.
“We’re gonna go out there and we’re gonna prove them all wrong about you,” the Dreigiau’s grin widened.
Lucci stared up into the Arweinydd’s confident grin. Then a calm smile of his own spread across his face.