“These Dragons of yours are quite fascinating creatures,” ShinRe remarked to at Zemi. He brushed his shirt front with one glance over his shoulder at the Dragon who flew them into the Spiral Proper. The way he watched the creature, it was obvious that he saw few before, if ever, and none so close up.
“Why, thank you,” Zemi answered with a wide fangy, grin. “I think so, myself.”
SoYa noted that Zemi was leaving out the fact that he, himself, was also a Dragon. If one couldn’t tell by the name.
As they walked back towards the town, ShinRe leaned towards Kudako. With a smile, he asked, “So, you are one of those Dragons, too?”
Kudako almost missed a step. He quickly covered it by clearing his throat and a hoarse answer, “Not quite the same.”
“Oh?” the leader looked curious. “Well, you’ll have to show me.”
“Maybe one day,” Kudako answered grimly. He then walked forward with a quickening pace, leaving his puzzled brother to stare after him.
“Did I say something wrong?” ShinRe asked, looking over at Zemi.
“‘Dako’s just a bit sensitive about certain things,” the Dreigiau replied. He offered no other explanation.
There wasn’t time for it as SoYa watched people coming out to greet their return. He saw the large shimmering form of the She-Wolf, Zazo, observing them with a sharp face. Father was at her side, already making his way forward with comments for Kudako. There was even a hint of a smile on his face.
He’s looking a little bit better. I wonder what happened.
There was another winged man standing not far from the Arweinydd, a face that was somewhat familiar to SoYa. Though one he hadn’t seen in many, many years. As the Athrylith approached, Father pulled him over for an introduction.
“NaDo,” Father intoned, one hand clapped on his son’s shoulder, “This is my eldest boy, SoYa.”
“Well, now. Look at you!” the other man exclaimed with a wide, easy grin. “I remember back when you were just knee-high! Little SoYa, all grown up!”
“It’s good to see you again, Sir,” SoYa responded.
“He’s so polite,” NaDo just laughed and elbowed Father in the side. “Now where does that come from, I wonder? Couldn’t be from a scamp like you.”
Father just smiled quietly. Then he glanced over at Kudako, “So, are you going to introduce me to your company, ‘Dako?”
The Dragon opened his mouth, but was quickly overridden by Zemi’s excited chatter. The Arweinyddtook ShinRe by both shoulders proclaiming, “THIS is Kudako’s brother, ShinRe! He’s an old Clan Leader who leads the exiles that left the Spiral back when the Armsmaster took control.”
SoYa could only wince at the way the Dreigiau’s voice carried. Nearby Spiral people who had not already stopped to watch the group curiously did now. Their blue eyes studied ShinRe’s form with hesitation.
“I…. see….” Father said slowly, obviously noticing the attention they had garnered from the Spiral commoners. He quickly extended his hand, “I am known as ZenToYa — Kudako has been my teacher and friend for a very long time. It’s an honor to meet you, ShinRe.”
“ZenToYa,” ShinRe repeated in a quiet voice. Then he took Father’s hand with a low dip of his head. “Your stories have carried to the ears of my people. It is I who is honored to meet you.”
Father gave a soft laugh, “Now I see where ‘Dako gets it from.”
“Perhaps,” Kudako answered simply. Then he began to walk, following behind Zemi, who was already making his way down the street.
We must be quite a sight.
Spiral people watched from either side, faces wary but curious. With two Arweinydd – one in the shape of a giant wolf – winged people, Dragons and Aur, there was no getting through the town without gathering a crowd. Which is exactly what they did.
People paused in their daily tasks to turn and watch the procession. More often than not, they began to follow after, at first at a distance. Then as more people began to gather, they dared to come a bit closer, only a few paces behind Aur who brought up the rear.
Judging from Zemi’s expression, this was exactly what he wanted to happen.
ShinRe, however, didn’t seem so certain. He leaned over to Kudako in concern, “Is it really such a good idea to let everyone know who I am?”
“Relax,” the Dragon answered. “No one is going to try anything, not with Lord Zemi and Aur here.”
The leader didn’t look completely convinced. But he didn’t say anything against his brother’s lack of unease.
As SoYa got a good look at their surroundings, he realized that Zemi was leading them directly towards the tall golden pyramid of the Lion’s Keep. SoYa never went inside, but he knew from Father’s stories that this was the place where he first found Aur. Though Aur no longer remained inside, it was still a place that the people of the Spiral looked upon with reverence. A place of gatherings, meetings and important announcements.
I wonder what Zemi’s up to now.
One step at a time, the group ascended the wide stairs, rising above the growing numbers of the gathering crowd in the street. People watched from below with a strange hush, sensing that something important was about to happen. Anticipation almost crackled through the air. SoYa could feel it rising around him with each step he took.
When they finally reached the top, the stairway opened up to a wide gold-stone platform, a place once used for announcements made by the Spiral leaders. SoYa instantly found somewhere in the back of the group of bigger men, out of sight as best he could be. He then observed the quiet exchange between Aur and Zemi.
“Lord Zemi,” the Watcher intoned quietly.
“Is this what you want to do?” the Dreigiau asked with pursed lips.
“Yes. It is what should be done,” Aur answered. His golden eyes glimmered for a moment before he added, “One final roar.”
“Fine by me,” Zemi grinned widely. “Have at it.”
The Watcher nodded quietly before turning to the rest of them, inquiring politely, “Will you please step back?”
The others responded with a curious frown, but did as they were asked. No sooner did they clear the platform than Aur’s form burst upwards into a great flame of golden light.
Startled, SoYa pressed his back against the side of the Lion’s Keep. Below, the street was filled with sounds of awe and surprise. A wave of Spiral people on hands and knees, bowing low to the growing apparition at the top of the stairs. Even ShinRe dropped to his knees, head dipped low in reverence.
A tremendous roar shook the stone under SoYa’s feet. He stared up in mute shock at the vast form of the Golden Lion, the legendary protector and guide of the Spiral lands. Aur became the creature he once was, deep brazen voice carrying to the far reaches of the town.
“People of the Spiral, hear my words,” the Lion roared again, seeming to shake the heavens.
SoYa grit his teeth, hands cupped over his ears at the rumbling reverberation in his head. He doubted that anyone couldn’t hear. Anyone who wasn’t already falling over themselves to bow to the great Guardian beast certainly was now.
It’s just like the story that Father told us.
Shimmers of golden light flecked away into the breeze, contesting the sun in brightness. Squinting, SoYa could almost make out the Guardian’s hazy form – the huge paws, the long, swaying tail, streaming mane, and deep, deep eyes. At the same time, there was something wavering and ethereal, as if Aur was fighting to hold on to his once-majestic form with all of his strength.
“It has been a long, long time since I last came here to address you. I have always been here, watching. Hoping for a time of freedom and understanding for all tribes great and small,” his voice grew calmer, much like the Aur that they knew. “I am here again, this time to warn you that a great darkness is spreading across our lands. A darkness that I spoke against a very, very long time ago.”
The silence within the square was almost deafening. When Aur chose to speak, he had ways of being heard.
“That does not mean that it is a time to let our fears overcome us. It is, instead, a time to break away from hindrances that chain us to the past, especially past hate and prejudice. We must be forward-looking if to secure a future for ourselves and our children,” the Watcher rumbled, unblinking eyes gazing across the crowd below. “We must come together with newfound allies from over the Cleft. And we must come together internally, healing the divide amongst your people that serves no purpose but self-defeat.”
“Oooo…” Father whispered to Zemi with arched eyebrows. “I’m taking some notes.”
“He’s good, isn’t he?” the Dreigiau admitted. “But then, he’s been at it longer than we have.”
SoYa leaned forward, trying to hear beyond the banter of the Arweinydd and the Champion. He was captivated by the speech, despite the fact that Aur was not targeting him with the profound and elegant words.
“Only if you are willing to do these things do we have a chance to secure the future. So, tell me, is this something you are ready to attempt?” the Guardian’s tail swished slowly as he approached the question, words that resounded upon each individual, calling them to make their choice. “Can we come together and fight alongside of the North Peoples against the darkness that would threaten us all? Can we choose to welcome those of your own blood who were separated from you under a rule of tyranny?”
SoYa glanced quickly over at where ShinRe still remained, bowed down upon the golden stone. He could see the tension in the man’s posture and sense the cold edge of friction in the air. Aur may be the great Creature from the Time Before, but what he was asking was something big and difficult for a whole nation to embrace.
Aur’s right, though. There’s so little time to gather our forces. If we can’t come to a consensus, we’re all going to fall under the weight of Zerom’s shadow.
“These are not questions that I expect answers to immediately, of course. These are not choices that can be made with the lack of strong leadership or holistic goals. No matter your opinion of me, I do not believe that I am the one qualified to lead your plight,” Aur’s tone began to change.
For the first time, quiet murmurs of concern rippled up from the crowd below. This was not what they expected to hear from their legendary Guardian.
“Having freed yourself from the Armsmaster, it is only natural that your people search for another leader in his stead,” the Watcher spoke slowly. “During this time, I acted as an ambassador and a guide, working to mend relations between the Spiral and the people of the Inner Realms. However, my intention was never to become the leader of your lands. My nature is that of a guide and guardian, which is why I have decided to offer my guidance in suggesting the man to consider as the next leader of the Spiral.”
SoYa found himself releasing a breath that he didn’t even realize was holding. Green eyes wide, he watched as the enormous paw lifted, motioning carefully to the man who remained bowing throughout the whole revelation.
“ShinRe has proven himself as a skilled and innovative leader to those who were exiled during the Armsmaster’s reign,” Aur introduced. “He is a leader from the old Clans, but a man who understands the balance between the old ways and what is needed for the survival of his people. I believe that he has the wisdom and knowledge to face the trials that are yet to come.”
ShinRe looked like he might hyperventilate right there. Though in the face of all of the Spiral, he couldn’t let it show. As he was urged to his feet, his voice was slightly jittery, “L-Lord Aur. You honor me with your glowing compliments and kind words. But I did not come back to the Spiral to claim it under any sort of rule.”
“I understand that. This is my suggestion, but your leadership will be your own choice, and theirs,” the Guardian replied. “Know that the situation as I detailed is the truth. There are hard times ahead for us all, and if we do not have strong leadership and clear vision, times will be all the more difficult.”
“I understand that, M’lord. But…”
A sound rose from the square below, something like the crashing of the high ocean tide. The people were cheering, whether it was for Aur’s speech or the introduction of ShinRe, SoYa didn’t know. It was hard to say how long it was since the people were given a chance to accept their own leader. How long it was since there was fair and true leadership at all.
“It seems your people are speaking. What will you do to listen?” the Guardian asked.
ShinRe stood on the gold-stone platform, his face pale as he stared out at the cheering crowd below. If there was fear or uncertainty, he didn’t show it. He took one step forward, a glimmer of determination in his blue eyes. “I will do what is needed.”
The Spiral’s trust in the guidance of the Golden Lion was unwavering. It was not hard to see that they were all very willing to embrace his counsel, and face the new age that stretched across their lands.