They were falling into the blanket of rumbling darkness below. In some areas, the clouds exploded upwards, massive pillars that spun into the sky. That was where the Islands of Ceiswyr fell through, leaving a trail of stone and dust in their wake.
AsaHi knew that under those clouds lay the cold, distorted earth that was once the beautiful lands of the Inner Realms. Her homelands, the places she once traveled and loved, were devoured by darkness and Chaos.
Now, the one safe place, Ceiswyr, was gone. The loss was tremendous, not only within her heart, but also to its Patron.Weakened by the blows of Chaos, the Dreigiau was falling. She was falling with him.
“Zemi! Zemi, wake up! Please!” tears streamed over AsaHi’s cheeks. She clutched at his chest, shaking him with what little strength she still owned. He couldn’t hear her. She couldn’t feel a trickle of awareness, not even the hint of a connection between them.
I’m so sorry, Zemi… I’m so sorry…
The Chaos struck at the heart and soul of the Arweinydd, and ripped it away. He was not waking up, and she didn’t know what to do.
I wasn’t able to save you. I wasn’t able to stop the Chaos from taking everything. In the end, Zeromus still won.
AsaHi’s breath came in panicked gasps as the air grew colder. She hugged close to Zemi’s chest, partially in fear, partially in resolve.
But, no matter what happens to me, I won’t leave you here alone. I promise, Zemi.
The cold seeped into her skin, a chill that felt like death. She clamped her eyes shut, shivering all over, her hands feeling numb with the cold as she tried to keep her grip. She couldn’t feel anything beneath her fingers anymore, and her breath was coming hard, as if air had no meaning.
She gasped again.
Am I dying?
The world was denying her breath.
Zemi! Help me!
She was suffocating!
She wanted to scream, but no voice came. It was as if she didn’t exist at all.
I can’t… I can’t!
She felt as if her lungs were ready to explode. One second more would be the end.
Light filled her vision. A beautiful, warming light that came from within. It shone from between her fingers, bursting from her torso and along her shoulders. Spreading from her back. A soft, translucent white that slowly, slowly began to condense.
To her shock, AsaHi saw feathers. As she looked beyond, she saw even more.
Her wings. They unfolded from her shoulders, growing solid and strong against the wind. Strength slowly spread back through her limbs. Breath rushed into her lungs again. Feeling returned to her fingers. And her vision cleared…
She could see now. Not with the same eyes she had once before, but really and truly see.
As the realization swept over her, she shivered. The world came back into focus. Though only a space of a few seconds passed since she crossed the line of Awakening, the clouds below were coming closer and closer.
AsaHi discovered very quickly that her wings knew exactly what to do, even if she had never flown before. She gripped the front of the Dreigiau’s shirt, bracing herself with renewed determination, and spread her wings wide. Much to her surprise, they began to descend more slowly.
It’s almost as if Zemi doesn’t weigh anything at all.
Looking down at his pale form, she could only feel worry at that discovery.
Please, Zemi, hold on a little longer. I’ll get us to the ground.
Her wings swept back, softly parting the darkness of the clouds as they came through the bank. The winds howled, growing more vicious, throwing them around in the rise and fall of turbulence. Though her wings burned and ached from the strain, AsaHi held them fast, fighting through the storm, never letting go of the Dreigiau’s limp form.
Finally, they broke through the line of dark clouds and the lands below came into full view. It was raining across the broken earth. Everywhere AsaHi looked, rubble and cracked pieces of the Islands were strewn, leveling the forests that once stood there. The rain was cold and fitting, but it made flight more difficult for her. The further away she came from the moment of Awakening, the more she found herself floundering and struggling.
The sound of people and Dragons rang out across the desolation. AsaHi turned her flight in that direction. Slowly, she felt exhaustion washing over her body. She knew that soon she had to land, whether it was safe or not. When she caught sight of the first Dragon, she doubled flight speed, heading straight for it.
“Hey! We’re over here!” AsaHi shouted, so overjoyed that she forgot the danger of flying close to the forest. Before she knew it, tree branches whipped her from every direction, catching in her wings, tearing out feathers and leaving a trail of white behind her. “OW!! OW!! OWW!!”
AsaHi’s first landing was very unceremonious, a stumble and a flop, careful not to fall on Zemi. She was just glad to finally be back on the ground again, even if her whole body stung and bled.
Voices surrounded her. When AsaHi looked up, she found herself within a ring of battered and haggard faces. The winged soldiers of Ceiswyr stared down at her as if they had never seen another Awakened before. Then their gaze fell upon the unmoving form of the Dreigiau.
“Someone! We need a healer!” the girl exclaimed with little patience for their staring. “I think Zemi is hurt!”
That was enough to goad people into action. The shout went up for a healer, not that there weren’t enough other people that probably needed healing there. Coupled with the words “Zemi is hurt,” a response came fast. The surrounding group of winged men parted as a familiar figure rushed in with wide green eyes.
“SoYa?” AsaHi had forgotten that besides being an Athrylith, he was also a practiced healer.
He was unscathed from the battle — no doubt that KaiShi took good care of him. His hands were sticky with blood of other men, and she knew from the tired light in his eyes that he was already making rounds to heal the wounded.
“Zemi!” he shouted, leaping over the rubble to get closer. His eyes fixed on the impossibility of it all. That their Patron, the Dreigiau, could be lying there, unmoving upon the broken remains of the once proud city of Ceiswyr. His voice came again in a whisper, “No, what happened?”
“The Chaos,” AsaHi told him, face lined with pain. “Zeromus. He struck down the Islands. And when he did, it hurt Zemi, too.”
“I don’t know what I can do for him,” SoYa knelt, already feeling across Zemi’s chest for wounds. Of course, he would find nothing there, since the wounds that the Arweinydd bore were not physical. AsaHi realized it was true, there was probably little that any healer could do for him.
AsaHi knelt down on Zemi’s other side, placing her hands over top of SoYa’s. Her wings unfurled slowly, cupping over the three of them protectively. For the first time, the Athrylith stared up, seeing them. He was so focused on Zemi, and she was displaying her wings too obviously. Until now.
A shocked sound passed between SoYa’s lips. His eyes widened as his mouth fell open in that dumbfounded way he sometimes had. For a long time, he just stared, and AsaHi could see her reflection in the clear light of his eyes.
For the first time, the girl began to wonder… worry… about what her Promised would think of it all.
“A… A…” he stuttered.
This isn’t starting out well.
Finally, SoYa shut his mouth, and tried again. “AsaHi… you’re… a…”
“A really bad flyer, I know,” she joked with a soft face, trying to put a few of her disheveled feathers back in place.
AsaHi lifted her hand, placing a finger on SoYa’s lips. “I’m not important right now. We have to take care of Zemi. And the people.”
He blinked before slowly nodding, his eyes still wide as he stared at her. “Yes, we do. Father said we need to move the troops and leave the Inner Realms.”
“Leave?” she breathed, the word full of sadness.
SoYa wiped his face on his sleeve. “We’ve lost this battle, if we stay here, we’ll be hunted. We have to try to make it to the colony in the Spiral.”
Tears suddenly sprang in AsaHi’s eyes as the impact of his words struck her.
That’s it? Just like that? After all we’ve done… how hard we’ve fought…
“We’re not giving up yet, AsaHi,” SoYa reached out to her gingerly, as if he wasn’t sure if he should touch her. “We just have to get to safety.”
She nodded and looked down, “Do you think it’s a good idea to move Zemi when he’s like this? I mean, taking him out of the Inner Realms. Would that make him worse?”
A raspy, rough voice gave a cough then a mutter, “You talk about me like I’m already gone…”
AsaHi and SoYa both stared down in amazement. Zemi peered back up at them, his eyes hazy, face lined with pain and weakness, but he still managed to smile.
“Zemi!” AsaHi breathed in a long happy sound of relief. Before she realized what she was doing, she threw her arms around his neck, hugging him fiercely.
SoYa watched awkwardly. Though his voice was thick, it was obvious that he was glad that the Dreigiau was reviving. “Zemi, are you going to be okay?”
“It was only a little Chaos. I’ll pull through,” the Arweinydd told him with a slight wink. Still, when he tried to push himself up on his palms, he found he needed help to sit up.
“You must take it slowly,” AsaHi advised.
The Dreigiau, however wasn’t listening. He was staring up at her wings, running his finger along one of the feathers. There was a distant look of delight on his face. The girl almost could swear she heard a soft purr in his throat.
“Zemi?” SoYa interrupted with a frown.
“Oh? Yes! Well,” the Arweinydd shook his head out. Then he glanced over at the Athrylith, voice cracking as he spoke. “Tell your father to follow through. Ready everyone who can travel. He’s right, we can’t stay here. We’ll take shelter in the Spiral, and from there, figure out what to do.”
SoYa nodded grimly. Then he turned and disappeared into the amazed crowd of winged people who stood watching over the Dreigiau.