“It’s good to see you finally come out of your hidey hole,” chirped a familiar voice.
Zento turned to find himself face to face with a flicker of his past – the cheerful face of his old friend, NaDoTu. He didn’t know how many decades it was since he had last saw the funny freckles, easy grin and odd looking lenses of the strange little scientist. But it was a welcome sight.
“NaDo!” the warrior exclaimed, doing a roundabout in mid-step. He quickly rushed up to the other man and took him by the shoulders. “What are you doing here?”
“Probably the same thing you are,” NaDo answered with a quip. “I’ve been playing chauffeur for a certain young Sygnus who happened to find his way to the Vision Stone. You wouldn’t happen to know anything about that, would you?”
“Not much, actually,” Zento frowned at the mention of LuShi. “It was pretty much all Zemi’s doing.”
“I see,” the scientist nodded, walking along next to the warrior.
The streets in the Spiral were strange and slightly curved, leading between simple gold-stoned buildings that rose from the earth on either side. It had its own sort of charm, Zento decided, but was still difficult for him to get used to.
Especially after spending so long being an enemy of these people.
When NaDo spoke again, his tone was more somber, “How have you been, Zento?”
The warrior swallowed, searching for the words to answer, “I’ve been better.”
“I heard about…”
NaDo put his hand on Zento’s shoulder and gave it a light squeeze. “Just let me know if I can do anything at all to help out.”
“Thanks,” the warrior answered. “I think I’ll pull through.”
“You always do, Zento.”
“Well,” he attempted a lighter sound, “Now that you’re here, I’m going to expect a little bit of that Tu miracle-working magic.”
“Hah!” NaDo quipped loudly. “I leave the magic to Maru.”
“How is she, and the little one?” Zento asked with a slight smile. It was strange to think of the high-strung NaDoTu actually settling down, finding a wife and raising a child.
“They’re fine… they’re fine,” the scientist perked up in the manner of a proud father and husband. The glimmer in his eye told Zento that he was in for a loooong explanation, “Augh! You should SEE KiNa! I wish I had an image sphere with me. He’s getting so big now! And he’s mastering flying like it’s no one’s business. He’s a natural in the air!”
“Yeah, they grow up fast, don’t they?”
“Sure do… sure do…” NaDo leaned back as he walked, folding his hands behind his head.
Just then, a string of shouts from down the street broke into their conversation. With a worried frown, Zento glanced at NaDo. Seeing the scientist mirroring his concern, the warrior began to walk faster, making his way towards the source of the commotion. He could hear the dismayed shouts, coupled with another sound, something akin to barking.
Did a wild animal get in here or something?
There were very few times Zento saw people of the Spiral fleeing. So as he watched the golden haired men scatter, ushering women and children out of the street, the warrior could only imagine the great, terrible dangers he might find around the next corner.
What a day to leave my weapon back in the room.
“Maybe we should go find some backup,” NaDo suggested with a shaky voice.
Zento pressed his back to the wall, inching forward along the side of one of the stone houses. “Let’s see what we’re up against, first.”
“Augh, you and your warrior’s pride!” the smaller man complained.
The warrior didn’t say a word. Instead, he reached out and pulled his friend next to him, flattening him along the stone as well. Carefully, Zento snaked his head around the corner, getting a good look into the streets ahead of him.
It took him a moment to figure out what he was seeing. A terrified group of Spiral people huddled at the far end of the square. The huge glowing wolf form of the Arweinydd, Zazo, as she loomed over them. One man was pinned under her massive paw, the wolf nose pointed down into his face. Then with a flip, she released him, barking with snapping jaws as he ran away in terror.
“Whoa,” NaDo was staring over his shoulder. “The angry Trine strikes people down!”
“No,” Zento muttered with a frown. “Something’s wrong.”
Before the scientist could protest, the warrior slipped out from their hiding place, closing the distance between himself and the raging white wolf. The frantic Spiral man rushed past him, heading in the other direction, shouting warnings about the beast’s wrath.
“Zento!” NaDo called. “What in the name of the Seven Universes are you doing?”
“I have no idea,” the warrior breathed, trying to push the apprehension out of his mind.
The Arweinydd was already reaching for another one of the Spiral commoners, a fevered light in her green eyes. The Champion rushed forward, intercepting, only to find the huge paw yanking him forward instead. It happened in an instant, then he was pinned to the ground with, the canine nose jabbed straight into his face.
“Zazo!” Zento exclaimed.
The She-Wolf glared at him for a long moment. Then she flipped him out from under her grasp with a short bark.
-Impostor! You aren’t Tsu, either!-
Zento rolled across the dust, wings curled around his body to lessen the impact. When he pushed himself up to his palms, he gave her an incredulous look, “Of course I’m not Tsu. I’m Zento!”
Zazo just gave a low growl, then turned back towards the group of Spiral commoners.
The warrior leapt up and grabbed her bushy tail. It may mean a death sentence, but he knew he couldn’t let the Arweinydd keep carrying on. “What are you doing?”
The She-Wolf spun around with a snap, pulling Zento off of his feet. -Be gone, Earthian!-
Seeing a chance to make a break for it, the Spiral commoners ran, scattering across the square. Leaving the white haired Champion to his own demise.
Now Zazo was really furious.
-They got away! After I spent all morning searching, I’m going to have to start all over again!-
“Searching?” Zento grit his teeth, staring into her slitted eyes. “Searching for what?”
-None of them are Tsu!- she proclaimed with a hint of a whine.
“Of course not,” the tension began to drain out of his body. Zento released her tail and dropped to the ground as understanding dawned on him. “You’re looking for Tsu.”
-Good for nothing Earthians! None of them are!-
“Zazo,” the Champion attempted the softest voice he could manage. “TsuYa is gone. He’s not here.”
-NO!- The She-Wolf almost howled. -No! He has to be! He can’t be gone!-
Zento lifted his hand slowly.
So much grief. She doesn’t know how to mourn, does she?
Carefully, he reached out and placed his palm along the side of her neck. The translucent fur was soft, but somewhat duller than he remembered. As if even her inner light had diminished, wrapped in the grips of sorrow.
“Zazo, listen to me.”
-Zerom can’t have him! Tsu belongs to me!- she snarled, the fur rising on the scruff of her neck.
Something about that left chills over his skin. Still, Zento attempted to push it aside with calm reasoning, “We’re going to try to find Tsu and get him back.”
-I was the one who watched over him when he came to the Host Gate as a child! I was the one who watched him come there to practice… I was the one that watched over him as he grew up!- the She-Wolf proclaimed, fangs bared into the Champion’s face.
“You did?” Zento stared back with a stunned expression. He felt that there was some connection between the Arweinydd and his youngest son, even from the moment she first appeared in the physical world. But he didn’t know why, and he doubted that Tsu knew, either.
Zazo didn’t answer. She simply continued with a low whine. -Zerom had no interest in the Earthians until now! Why did he take mine? He should go and find his own!-
Seeing that nothing he said seemed to be calming her, he took a different approach. One that seemed to work with women… at least, in his limited experience, “You know what, you’re absolutely right.”
The She-Wolf stopped, nose slowly turning towards him. Then she agreed, -Yes. I am.-
“Zerom should go get his own Earthian. He has no right to take Tsu away,” Zento coaxed. It seemed to be working, for she had quieted down significantly, allowing him to stroke her neck.
-Absolutely! That’s exactly what I’ve been saying! But no one listens,-she whined again softly.
“I’m listening,” he told her. “I know exactly how you feel. I miss Tsu a lot, too.”
-I miss him more!- she answered, indignantly.
“Yes, I’m sure you do,” Zento agreed with a sad look. “We all miss Tsu. But you miss him the most.”
-I want him to come back,- Zazo peered at him with the most forlorn expression that a giant Arweinydd She-Wolf could possibly give.
“I do, too,” he said quietly. “I think we can make that happen. But we’re going to need your help.”
-Of course you will,- she shook her head out, tone shifting, sounding more and more like the Zazo that he knew. -And you have my help. So what are we waiting on?-
“Well, we have to make a proper plan,” Zento told her between pursed lips. “And we have to wait to see what sort of information Zemi brings back with him when he returns.”
-Why wait?- she snuffed with a flip of her tail. -Zem’s already returned.-
“He has?” the warrior furrowed his brow.
-Yes. What sort of Champion are you if you don’t know something as simple as where your Patron is?- Zazo paced around in an uneasy circle.
“Well, I… don’t usually…” Zento frowned then shook his head. There was no need to get into a struggle of wit with the She-Wolf. He knew exactly who would win that one. So he changed the approach, “Do you know where he is?”
-Simple.- the Arweinydd sniffed the ground a moment before lifting her head, ears perked forward. -Follow me. And tell your cowardly four-eyed friend to come.-
NaDo poked his head from around the corner with a scowl, “Heeeey. What did I do to deserve tha–”
“Shh!” Zento hissed, snagging the scientist’s sleeve. He whispered sharply, “Come on. Before she changes her mind.”
“Fine… fine…” NaDo waved his hands in the air towards the She-Wolf. “Lead us, oh mighty and beautiful Patroness of the Trine.”
-That’s better,- Zazo almost cracked the hint of a wolf smile at the antics. -Now come.-
The Arweinydd rounded once and with a flick of her tail raced off down the winding streets, leaving the two men to their own devices to follow.