Book 4 Chapter 27

The sound of dragon-alarms echoed through the depths of the Wyndor chambers, startling AsaHi from her restless sleep. She didn’t know how long she was sleeping or how much time passed since they arrived in the Dragon city, but it wasn’t enough to get things as situated as Zemi wanted for the defense against the Marked siege.

Next to her, SoYa was stumbling to his feet with a groggy look. He, too, must have attempted to get what little sleep was offered. His hair bushed out in all directions as he jammed the square-topped cap down over it. In better times, this would make AsaHi laugh, but for now, laughter was dimmed as the sound of battle flooded the hallways.

“AsaHi!” was all her Promised said before he took her wrist, urging her to move.

Getting her feet under her, she rushed to keep up with his longer stride.

They hardly walked half the length of the room when a looming shadow burst through the doorway ahead of them. AsaHi stumbled back with a yelp of surprise as SoYa’s staff leveled forward, lighting the room with a brilliant golden glow.

“SoYa! Put that out!” Zemi’s gritty voice groaned from where the Dreigiau squinted away from the light. “You’re going to alert every goo-dripper around!”

“Oh!” the Athrylith sounded abashed as he lowered the staff. “I was just–”

“Yes, I know. Very courageous, kiddo. Now come quickly, follow me,” Zemi beckoned.

“Where are we going?” AsaHi rushed after the Dreigiau without a moment’s hesitation. SoYa was a little less eager to move forward, peering down the length of the shadowy stone halls before following.

“We need to secure the last of the children in the west wing before the Marked get this deep into the caverns,” the Arweinydd answered shortly. “We tried to gather everyone earlier, but we just haven’t had enough time!”

AsaHi peered ahead in the shadows to see the huddling forms and frightened eyes of a dozen young winged children. Among them, were a few familiar faces, children she spent time with on the Islands before the Migration. Then, a dark haired girl rushed forward, waving a tiny hand in worry and calling her name.

“Suzume!” AsaHi answered back, coming to meet her.

“We’re under attack!” the little girl took AsaHi’s hand with shaky fingers.

“It’ll be alright,” she attempted to sound reassuring. It was difficult to keep the fear out of her voice.

-Yes. All will be well, but we must make haste,- a quiet voice echoed softly within AsaHi’s ears. Speech that was not speech.

A small white bird alighted down upon Suzume’s head, wings and tail flicking with what seemed to be agitation. Instantly, the girl recognized the shimmering sparrow form of the Arweinydd Zeni. If Suzume was surprised about acquiring the sudden feathered hairpiece, she didn’t show it. AsaHi wondered at the casual demeanor between child and bird. After all, it wasn’t every day that an Arweinydd landed to perch on someone’s head.

The roar of battle Dragons shook the walls, leaving AsaHi’s knees weak from the impact. Great voices and sounds of alarm came from the adjacent chambers.

“We’ve been blasting them down off the east wall, but they just keep coming!”

“How many are there? The lower chamber is nothing but black and stench!”

“Those things are tearing the wings off of people! I saw it myself!”

“Hold your ground! Ready the flames. Torch anything that comes from below!”

SoYa’s hand clamped around her wrist again, a frightened light to his wide eyes. He managed to squeak a few quavering words, “We better go!”

AsaHi nodded mutely, gathering Suzume with her free hand and rushing towards the group of shivering children who stood frozen by the seeping aura of fear that hung heavily in the air. The side halls burst into red flame as the screeches of the invaders met with the molten fire, claws and fangs of the defending Dragons. The girl felt her breath whistling between her lips as she broke into a sprint. However, the frightened children only stared at the inferno’s glow with horrified faces, unable to move.

“Come, children! Come with me! Follow me!” AsaHi’s voice was strained with fear. She motioned with both hands, like a person trying to herd a flock of chickens away from danger. Still, they did not move.

A pillar of white light burst up through the chamber. She turned to see Zemi’s great white Dragon taking form, wings unfurling over them protectively, deep teal eyes glowing with a brilliant internal flame under the stream of shaggy Dragon mane. The great maw snapped open with a gleam of fangs. A stream of pure energy shot across the room as the Marked shadows began to boil at the foot of the cave door.

If the children were frightened before, they were terrified now. It was enough to get them moving, running as fast as tiny feet managed. It was all AsaHi and SoYa could do to keep up and try to direct them to the same place. There were no signs of Marked ahead, only the screeches of battle and agony ringing out behind. The large, shimmering white form of Zemi followed distantly, driving the attackers off of their trail.

SoYa clutched his head now and then, squinting in pain as he ran. The sound of the Marked screeches were blood-freezing to everyone, AsaHi remembered, but were extremely painful to the Athrylith in particular.

She reached one worried hand over to grip his shoulder. Though she was too winded to manage words, he understood the motion.

“I’m fine, keep going,” SoYa replied through gritted teeth.

Before long, the winding halls forked off in many different directions, and AsaHi pulled to a stop. Though she spent much time in Wyndor, she never explored so deep within the mountain core. She wasn’t sure how to find the way to the west wing, as the Dragons called it.

A few of the children were sniffling, on the verge of tears as SoYa turned around in a circle. His brow was furrowed, too, “Which way?”

-Come with me!- chirruped the answer. A streak of white zipped over their heads and down the path to the left as the tiny white Zeni-bird pointed the way through the shivering halls and chambers.

AsaHi opened her mouth with surprise. Suzume was already tugging on her hand, pulling her forward.

“Zeni knows!” the little girl told them without a hint of doubt.

AsaHi peered at SoYa. The Athrylith only nodded.

The halls grew darker the deeper they traveled, making it more and more difficult to coax the children forward. Eventually, SoYa was forced to use his staff to light the way.

-Almost there. Don’t stop now.-The soft-spoken words brushed past her ear, somehow soothing. Renewing her determination.

“Zemi?” AsaHi turned with a questioning look. There was nothing there, no sign of the Dreigiau. She could feel his presence, and sense his awareness. She knew that the Arweinydd was there, watching and protecting his people with the dedication and concern that of a true Patron.

She could sense it in him, the pain and fear and struggle that Zemi shared with his people. A growing understanding of what it meant to live and die. To lose and mourn. To fight to protect those who didn’t have the power to protect themselves.

In the midst of the darkness, battle and invasion, this came as a comfort. AsaHi knew that whatever happened, Zemi found his way. He could hold his own against the threat of Chaos, now. The Dreigiau would stand against the darkness and protect his people, no matter the odds.

“AsaHi! SoYa!” a familiar voice called their name from the end of the hall.

The girl saw the beckoning form of JouKa, fully armed and looking ready to do battle. Without another word, the short-haired girl turned and pushed on the side of the rock face. There was a deep, startling rumble as what appeared to be a dead end in the hall began to open. A brilliant, multi-faceted light burst from the widening cracks in the wall, revealing a huge chamber of shimmering wonder.

Despite the ripples of fear that still gripped her, AsaHi gave a long breath of amazement. Multi-colored tiles glittered and pulsed along the floors, some emitting tall shafts of rainbowed light towards the vaulted roof. Tiny, pin-pricked runes and patterns traced along every inch of the rock, all focusing inward on one large, upraised panel of translucent stone. It was huge, big enough for even the Zemi Dragon to perch on. Staring into its swirling depths felt as if one had come face to face with heart of the universe itself.

“What is it?” AsaHi whispered.

“A major rifting point of the Cynosure system,” Zemi’s voice answered from behind her. This time she felt his hand on her shoulder as he walked past her into the room.

“A what?” SoYa echoed with a furrowed brow.

“It be our ticket outta ‘ere,” JouKa told them with a somber look. “That’s why we’ve been bringin’ all the kids and women.”

“Go ahead. You’re safe now,” Zemi motioned the newest arrivals forward.

For the first time, AsaHi’s gaze slipped past the brilliant glow of the Cynosure stone to see a much, much larger group of people huddled in the safety of the far end of the room.

Released from their guidance, the children scampered across the chamber, hopping over the runes and shimmering tiles to join the others.

“So what does it do?” AsaHi asked, carefully stepping through the doors.

“It’s a transportation system,” Zemi answered.

“Then, we’re going to evacuate?” SoYa inquired.

“If things start to turn against us, yes,” the Dreigiau nodded. “I promised your Father.”

“Then you better call the troops in now and get these people out of here,” a ragged and broken voice intoned from behind them.

AsaHi turned with a worried frown at the shape that emerged from the shadows. She knew the man, though they only met once before the attack on the Spiral, and she could not remember his name.

“You’re that spirit. The one who was Lucci’s friend,” she stammered slightly.

He looked too real to be merely a spirit now. In fact, he looked just as real as anyone else there. He bore the grime and tatters of someone who’d made a long and exhausting journey. His face was lined with a deep grief, the tips of his long ears quivering as they drooped.

“I am,” he answered hoarsely, leaning against the wall as if to catch his breath.

“How did you get here?” Zemi asked, lowering his brows.

“Are you alright?” SoYa asked at nearly the same moment.

“I’m fine,” the spirit nodded. “How I got here is irrelevant.”

The Dreigiau crossed his arms with a frown, “Not to me.”

“Zem,” the man breathed out with a tired, pained look. “I’m here to warn you. You have to get your people out of here! You have to go to the Vision Stone. It can tap into the Ways, and it might be the only thing that’s going to save you.”

“Save me? From what?” Zemi’s eyes narrowed. For some strange reason, the Arweinyddappeared to be taking the message of warning seriously.

“It’s Lucci. I tried to stop him,” the spirit’s voice wavered, almost to the point of weeping.

“Lucci! Did they find him?” SoYa’s eyes widened. “We sent a Spiral search party for him after the battle, but no one found him.”

“He w-went to face Zeromus,” the spirit choked.

“What?” Zemi moved forward, quickly gripping the other man’s shoulders. “Why did he do that without telling anyone?”

“He thought he could stop the battle. He wanted to defeat Zeromus… he wanted to protect people. But it turned out all wrong. The sword… the wings… Lucci didn’t even recognize me… I couldn’t stop him!”

“Wings?” SoYa breathed.

“Sygnus,” the spirit slumped forward. “Zeromus has Awakened the Dark Sygnus. Luccious is coming. He’s almost here.”