-You can come down from there, now.- Zazo’s voice resounded in her mind. –They’re all gone.-
AsaHi looked up from where she was curled up in the crook of one of the tall trees. Uncurling her wings, the girl leaned out over the edge of the branch, looking down. The huge white She Wolf sat at the base, peering up at her with slitted green eyes.
“The Marked are gone? Are you certain?” AsaHi asked, letting herself down for a slow glide to the ground.
-Yes.- Zazo answered, sounding strangely disappointed. –I searched everywhere down here.-
The girl landed on her feet lightly, offering a slow frown, “Why?”
-I felt TsuYa.-
AsaHi opened her mouth. “Oh.”
That’s right, Zazo seems to like Tsu.
-I felt TsuYa. I’m sure of it. When I got here, all I found was his wimpy brother!-Zazo whined.
“Hey!” AsaHi exclaimed, ruffled. “SoYa isn’t wimpy!”
-That’s your opinion.- And with that, the She Wolf rose to her feet, nose in the air as she pranced into the forest.
AsaHi took that to mean that she was leading her back towards the entrance of the Stone Lair. So the girl followed quickly, asking, “Is SoYa okay?”
-He doesn’t matter to me,-was the short answer.
“Well, he matters to me!” AsaHi huffed with puffed-out cheeks.
Zazo paused with a canine snuff. –He’s fine. I found him stuck up in a tree.-
“In a tree?” AsaHi answered.
-Light knows how the Earthian got up there.-
TsuYa, you put him there, didn’t you? To protect SoYa and keep him out of the reach of the Marked.
The She Wolf paused, glancing over her shoulder with a sharp look. AsaHi forgot that Zazo often read thoughts without shame.
-What was that?-
“N-nothing,” the girl shook her head and trotted faster to keep up. She quickly changed the subject, “What about JouKa and Suzume?”
-They’re safe. They told me that you were out here.-
“You said the Marked are gone. Does that mean…”
-I think the battle is over for now. But something else seems to be happening. I think we are going to have to leave the Spiral.-Zazo told her.
“What? Why? And go where?” AsaHi’s voice rose in surprise.
-I don’t know the whole story, but I heard that over grown mountain lion saying that he thought the attack on the Spiral was just a diversion,- the Arweinyddanswered with a note of impatience.
“You mean Aur?”
-I meant what I said. Overgrown mountain lion.-
“What kind of diversion?” AsaHi pondered.
-You ask way too many questions. I don’t understand what Zemi sees in you!- Zazo gave a final flip of her tail as the forest thinned out, revealing the opening that would lead back to the surface.
AsaHi’s face flushed with embarrassment at the She Wolf’s last comment. When the girl saw SoYa there, she tried to hide it. And hide any thoughts she had about her meeting with TsuYa.
Somehow, he wasn’t completely under Zerom’s control. He helped us get away.
SoYa wasn’t paying attention to her thoughts. He was already stumbling over rocks and roots to reach her. When he did, he swept her up in his arms, hugging her tightly.
“AsaHi, I’m so glad you’re alright,” he choked. She could see that his eyes were ringed with red. He was crying.
“Were you that upset about me?” she teased him gently, touching his cheek.
He didn’t respond to her chiding in the normal way.
“SoYa?” AsaHi’s voice grew concerned. “What happened?”
“Aunt SaRa,” he answered, his voice cracking. “She’s dead.”
AsaHi knew that gasping wasn’t the most comforting reaction to SoYa’s pain, but she was so stricken with disbelief there was nothing else she could do. It felt as if the world had suddenly stopped spinning, or all the stars had fallen from the sky. Aunt SaRa was timeless in her wisdom, comfort, and care. To think that AsaHi would never see the winged woman again left a sharp pang in the center of her chest.
SoYa was fighting back another round of tears. AsaHi threw her arms around him and hugged him until they both cried.
-Hrmph,- Zazo’s disdainful voice cut into their grief. She shoved her nose between the two of them, pushing them apart. –She’s safer where she is now than you are. You better get moving before they leave you behind.-
“Behind? Why?” AsaHi creaked, wiping her eyes.
-Zemi gave the orders. We’re leaving for Wyndor.- the She Wolf answered curtly. –But if you want to stay here, I don’t really care.-
“Wyndor? But what about our stand here in the Spiral?” she asked.
-More questions. More questions.- Zazo grumbled, padding towards the dark stairway to the surface.
“Urf!” AsaHi responded with a sound of frustration. “Just answer me!”
That’s when the giant white wolf stopped, whipping her head around. With a sharp jab of her nose, she nudged AsaHi back. -Do NOT make demands of me, little Earthian! You may be Zemi’s favorite pet, but you mean nothing to me!-
AsaHi froze with a furrowed brow of heated anger. She rubbed her shoulder where the Arweinydd shoved, massaging the ache there. As much as she wanted to clash wills, AsaHi chose to remain silent and let the She Wolf have her win. After all, SoYa was still hurting, and fighting had no place in the middle of grief.
With a flip of her tail, Zazo vanished into the shadows, heading back to the surface.
SoYa was there. His arms wrapped around her, one hand stroking her hair. “Are you okay?”
“I’m fine,” AsaHi told him. “I’d take her on, but there’s no point in arguing amongst ourselves right now.”
He gave a faded laugh, “Yes, I know. You’re not even afraid of Arweinydd.”
AsaHi paused, realizing that more or less, it was true. Besides Zerom and his Chaos, she wasn’t afraid of the Arweinydd anymore. Not after spending time with Zemi and watching him change in so many ways.
He’s changed again, here in the Stone Lair. Something’s given him a different sort of power. I know he’ll still fight to protect us, no matter how he changes.
She frowned at the shadows of the stairway where the She Wolf disappeared.
That’s the difference between Zemi and the otherArweinydd. That’s why our connection with him can make him strong again.
“You’re thinking too hard,” SoYa told her quietly. Trying his best to support her and keep her moving forward, just like he always did. Even when he was the one that was hurting inside.
“Oh, SoYa,” was all she could say. She half wrapped her wings around him as they began to climb the stairs together. “We’re going to make it through this.”
“Yes,” he answered. Then he paused. Though she couldn’t see his face in the darkness, she could hear the sadness in his voice. “It’s just… things will never be the same, will they?”
AsaHi hugged him tighter, leaning into his chest. She couldn’t lie to him. “No, they probably won’t be.”
She felt his faint nod. His coming to terms. As emotional as SoYa was sometimes, there was a part of him that was very logical, too. A part that made sense when nothing else seemed to. He would struggle through this, she knew, but he would sort it out in time.
“We must be there for your Father,” she didn’t know why the thought came to her.
She knew that Zento wouldn’t be taking this well, especially not after the loss of TsuYa. It was hard to decide what was worse… the death of someone you loved, or knowing that someone you loved was still alive but suffering under the blight of Chaos.
“You’re right,” SoYa sniffed, trying to breathe in deeply through his nose. “Father… he’s going to be a mess.”
They didn’t say anything else the rest of the way, simply walked, leaning shoulder to shoulder up the flight of long stairs. For some reason, this time, it felt longer than AsaHi remembered. When they arrived at the top of the stairs, the inside of the Lion’s Keep didn’t seem as radiant as before.
The first thing that AsaHi heard was the soft sound of music. Voices lifted in quiet song. As they made their way out of the Keep, a heart wrenching vision spread out before them. People and Dragons stood ringed around the open area of the square, just at the foot of the Lion’s Keep. Their heads were bowed, voices somber in parting song.
They laid the bodies of the fallen on beds of brush and sticks, both Spiral and Nefolians alike. Friends and family gathered around each pyre, torches in hand. Some sprinkled faded flower petals over the fallen. Some laid the most precious possessions beside their loved ones.
AsaHi’s eyes filled with tears once again. There were so many to mourn. The battle in the Spiral took so much from them all.
SoYa walked with her, keeping his head down as they made their way off to one side. The feeling of so much grief was overwhelming to an Athrylith, even on top of his own.
Aunt SaRa lay with her hands folded over her chest, surrounded by Cred flowers. To one side, Zento stood unmoving. Like his son, his eyes were fixed on the ground. Next to him, Kudako and Zemi stood, both holding the torches. Others were there as well – JouKa and Suzume. NaDo, KaiShi and Brunswik. Other Nefolians and Dragons, those who Aunt SaRa cared for in life.
Before AsaHi could ponder the thought more, SoYa released her and walked up to the pyre. With trembling hands, he reached out and touched the winged woman’s arm. For a long moment, he stood there, looking down at her. Then he took a step back to stand next to Zento, having said his goodbye.
There were no words as Kudako and Zemi walked forward, lowering the flaming torches to the wood. The fire leapt up, catching quickly, burning with a strange hint of multi-colored light, reflecting off the bowed heads of the Nefolians and Dragons that paid their respects.
Soon, there was nothing left but flame and smoke. Other streams of smoke rose up into the sky, lifting the sorrow of the Earthians into the heavens. Carrying the songs of the final plight of the mortal soul up to the uncaring starlight.