Book 4 Chapter 24

The Marked army of Zeromus was on the move across the Outterlands, fast and with renewed purpose. Zemi didn’t question. He knew there was only one place Zeromus would strike next – the mountain city of Wyndor.

With Ceiswyr in ruins, Wyndor was the last bastion of safety to those who migrated from the Islands. It was the place where the women and children went to take refuge. It was just like Zeromus to strike at the defenseless in order to tear at the hearts of those who had the power to fight the darkness.

Looking back over his shoulder, Zemi only needed to get a glimpse of the haggard, lined face of Zento to know that was true. Zeromus’ tactics struck home with the death of SaRa, leaving the winged Champion in shambles.

Zemi didn’t pause to wonder how much fighting will was left in Zento. There was no time.

The moment the Dragons and scouts from the Spiral reported a mass motion of the Marked army away from the Spiral proper, Zemi knew what it meant. He gathered what Dragons and men remained and ordered a direct high-speed flight after the shadowy forces in attempt to intercept the attack on Wyndor.

The Spiral warriors, without wings to fly, opted to stay behind, working to clean up their city and hunt down any straggler Marked. There was also the strange report of one smaller band of Marked that turned back and re-entered the Inner Realms by way of the Passage. Whether the report was true or not didn’t concern Zemi. The fewer Marked laying siege to Wyndor, the better.

Zemi’s whole being was focused forward, the great white war Dragon’s wings stretched, bending the wind around him as he flew with unearthly speed. His mind was locked on the movement of Zeromus’ armies. The heat of anger and vengeance coursed through his form, leaving light-flecked shimmers in the sky behind.

SaRa was one of his own, like a child that he raised. He knew her since she was very small. Though he didn’t teach her as much as he taught Zento, he still watched her grow up to become a leader at her brother’s side. The thought that he would never hear her warm, chiding voice or feel her kindly hugs again left a hollow sensation in the depths of Zemi’s being. Something that he could only define as the Earthian feeling of grief.

Someone would pay for this loss. Someone would feel the same grief that he did. And that someone was Zeromus.

“Zemi,” Zento’s voice struggled to be heard above the wind. His fingers gripped the thick white Dragon mane where he lay against the Dreigiau’s neck. When Zemi didn’t respond, the Champion called louder, “Zemi!”

-I hear you, Zento.-

“Zemi, this is crazy!” Zento tugged back on the mane to accent his words. “The men are exhausted. We’ve just come through one battle and have had no rest. No sleep! You’re flying them too hard!”

-There is no time. Wyndor will be under attack and the Marked move quickly. They will not rest, and neither should we.-

“The Marked are nothing but soulless beasts! Of course they need no rest!” Zento half snarled.

-Soulless beasts? Is that what you would call your son? –

A deep silence fell from behind. Instantly, Zemi regretted his thoughtless words. Still, it was the truth, unspoken or not. Zento should know that, he should be realistic about the situation.

Finally, when the Champion spoke again, his tone was broken and somber, “Our men are not Marked. We can’t keep this pace. Maybe you can go without resting, but the Earthians can’t.”

The Dreigiau gave a rumble of impatience and slight frustration. Taking a break would put the Marked armies even further ahead. Soon, there would be no interception, and allowing the Marked into the halls of Wyndor was not permissible.

Receiving no reply, Zento pressed further, “What do you expect our men to do, even if we do reach Wyndor in this condition? An evacuation takes planning, time and energy. That’s another long trip, likely with the Marked nipping at our heels.”

-Evacuation?-Zemi couldn’t hide his tone of surprise.

“Right, evacuation. That… is… what we’re going to do, right Zemi?”

-And just give up Wyndor to Zeromus the same way we lost the Islands?-

“You certainly don’t mean to fight! Not after all of this!” Zento answered incredulously.

-What other options do you think we have?-

“That’s not what you were instructed to do, Zemi. Fighting Zeromus has done nothing but lead us to loss and destruction! We’re just not strong enough!”

-I will make that decision for myself! No one instructs Zemi Dreigiau to do anything!-

A roar of frustration bellowed from Zemi’s throat, breaking the clouds in front of them. He could feel Zento’s hands shake just a bit where they still held fast to the white mane. Then the grip grew solid and resolved again, there was about to be an argument.

“What more do we have to lose before you realize this is not working, Zemi?” Zento choked, forcing the words between his teeth. “We’ve lost a lot of men. We’ve lost SaRa.”

-Are you blaming that on me, now?-

“No! I’m blaming that on that Bane Child Sygnus that you protected all this time. And now it’s just as I said it would be!” the Champion snapped with a grating voice. “This is just the beginning. He’s going to destroy us! He’s going to destroy you! And you’re going to walk straight into it, taking all of our people with you because you can’t see that–”


“Don’t you tell me enough, Zemi Dreigiau!”


“I am your Champion because you don’t understand enough about your own people to know what’s good for them!” Zento retorted. “Well, I say enough! I am a Champion, and I champion my people! I refuse to watch you lead them into destruction because you’re too stubborn and proud to accept good advice when you’re given it!”

Zemi gave a grudging growl, scolded and annoyed. But he gave ground knowing that the winged warrior spoke parts of truth. Zento sacrificed much to follow the Dreigiau’svisions, and he always acted as a bridge between Earthian and Arweinydd kind. It was an easy road for the Champion and his family. It was rare that Zento’s advice regarding Earthians was wrong – he had an exceptional judge of character.

-Zento…- the Dreigiau approached with a quieter tone, -This has been difficult for us all. You are responding and talking out of your grief.-

However, trying to sympathize only earned the opposite reaction to what he had hoped.

“Zemi Dreigiau!” the Champion fumed, tone growing angry. “Don’t you dare tell me that I’m talking out of my head! I’m the only one making sense here!”

-And I don’t make sense just because I want to defend what is ours?-

“There’s a time to fight and a time to cut your losses,” Zento muttered. “We tried this with Ceiswyr. Honestly, we had a better chance at defending the Islands than we do fighting in a giant hole in the ground. But we still lost. We’re going to lose again, Zemi. This isn’t going to work.”

-You don’t know that.-

“Do you have some miracle up your sleeve that I don’t know about?”

Zemi fell silent. The truth was, he didn’t. He had nothing but the rage of justice within him, and the loyalty of his people to back him on his rampage.

For just a moment, a trickle of doubt traced through Zemi’s mind.

“You don’t, do you?” Zento’s voice was grim.

-I’ll think of something.-

“The time for thinking is over,” the Champion intoned brokenly. “Zeromus has taken most of my family from me. I will protect the one I have left, no matter what.”

-I see.-

There was no arguing with that, not once Zento got something into his head. Still, times were much too dangerous for Arweinydd and Champion to be divided in heart.

After a time, Zento spoke again, “I’m sorry if I’ve disappointed you.”

-You’ve never disappointed me, Zento.-

“I know what you’re thinking right now. You can’t fool me, Zemi.”

-I can’t fool you,- the Dreigiau admitted. -But I’m not disappointed in you. I chose you as my Champion because of your fearless spirit and potential. I knew that you would always do what you felt was right.-

“I try,” the Champion sighed. “I know you try, too.”

That sounded positive. At the least, that Zento wasn’t still angry. He was never the kind to stay angry long. So it was a good time to pursue things.

-If you don’t think we should defend Wyndor, what do you think we should do?-

“Evacuate,” Zento answered.

-Evacuate to where? Zeromus will hunt us and find us. You know that.-

“We should try the Vision Stone. Like the voice in the Lion’s Keep suggested.”

-And how do you know about that?- Zemi asked quizzically. He hadn’t talked a lot about his experience in the Stone Keep and the voices that spoke to him who claimed to be Arweinydd kind from the Time Before.

“Let’s just say I pick up on more than you give me credit for, Zemi,” the Champion’s voice had a slight smirk to it.

Zemi sighed. -So you trust in what some unknown voice instructs me to do?-

Zento was quiet for a moment, “I don’t know, but there might be something to it. I saw the images on the wall, Zemi. Someone knew about us before we existed.”

-How do we know that “someone” means us well?-

“I suppose we don’t. Sometimes you have to have a little faith in the unknown,” the winged warrior answered softly. “I don’t see how it means us ill if it was suggesting a way to escape from Zeromus.”

-Perhaps, but even if we did make the journey to the Vision Stone, there’s no promise that we’ll find any help there. We’d be in the same situation as before, with no strategic ground to defend,- Zemi reasoned.

“I suppose that’s true, too. I just have a hunch. Call it warrior’s Earthian intuition.”

-Aren’t you the one telling me not to rely on feelings, Zento?-

The Champion didn’t answer.

They flew on for a short while, the Dreigiau’sspeed significantly slower than before. Something within Zemi yearned to find peace and unity with the winged warrior – Zento was by his side through so many things. It very well could be that this was their final stand together.

-Why don’t we give defense of Wyndor a shot? Then, if things start to look bad, we’ll head towards the Vision Stone,-the Dreigiau reconciled.

“Is that possible? Once we get in those caves, aren’t we going to be trapped?” Zento asked with a worried frown.

-Do you really think I’d hold my ground in a place that I couldn’t escape?- Zemi responded with a sly tone.


-So what do you say?-

Zento paused before answering, “The men need rest if you want them to go into battle. Even if the Marked get there before us, it’ll still take them time to figure out how to breach the mountain fortress, right?”

Zemi was silent. Zento was silent.

Then with a short backwing, the Dreigiau turned about face towards the army behind him. His voice filled the sky, rolling off the clouds, seemingly effortlessly.

-We will stop to rest here for a time. Tend those who need tending. Eat if you need to. Sleep for a short time. Then we move on to defend Wyndor!-

A grateful sound from men and Dragons came in response. Wings of feather and scale began an exhausted spiral down towards the ground for a much-needed rest. Zento offered a tired but thankful smile as Zemi’s wings folded, carrying them down for a short landing.