AsaHi’s tiny fingers folded over the back of Zemi’s broad hand as he strained to draw the rifting energy into the Cynosure chamber. He was shaking. Every now and then, a spasm racked his body, nearly causing him to fall. Every time, Kudako or Aur were there to offer him strength to stand.
The loss of Zento was more than just a painful, emotional void for the Arweinydd. He lost a part of himself, his Champion who shared his power and bridged the connection to the planet itself. What was once so easy and so careless to Zemi now took his full concentration to even attempt. It broke AsaHi’s heart to watch the Dreigiau struggle so hard just to fail again and again as the rift energies slipped right through his fingers.
All she could do was stay by his side and offer him her strength. It was so difficult to keep from breaking down at the news of Zento’s death. Even though nothing was formally finalized, the winged warrior always treated AsaHi like a daughter. He brought hope and guidance to everyone who knew him, and to those who even knew of him.
She almost didn’t want to think of it. She watched the strained composure on his face as he reached out to comfort Zemi in the midst of his own grief.
He’s become so much like Zento. I know he must be hurting so much right now.
She couldn’t imagine what it felt like to be in his shoes, to watch his family be torn away, one by one. It was the reason AsaHi didn’t have the heart to argue when he raced away on the back of the She-Wolf in a desperate attempt to save his brother, the last true family he had left. If there was anything left there to save at all.
The sound of murmuring from the far side of the chamber caused AsaHi to peer back over one shoulder towards the entrance. Her mouth opened a bit, though no sound escaped as her eyes blinked, trying to figure out what it was she was seeing.
The She-Wolf Zazo padded into the room with a scoffing look, nudging her way past any of the winged people who weren’t quick enough to give her the space she desired. Draped over her back was a dark, slumped figure, streaming black ooze across the Arweinydd’s hind quarters. The moment her eyes locked upon him, AsaHi could feel the prickles of fear racing over her skin.
TsuYa? They really found him! They managed to capture him! But how?
The answer appeared, only a moment later.
I don’t believe it!
It was SoYa. His clothes were torn with the struggle of battle, lines streaked across his body where wounds were once inflicted. Somewhere along the way, he lost his hat and his hair hung about his shoulders in wild wisps of untamed curls. His eyes were deep and penetrating, flickering with an internal light that she often saw when looking at his father. A pair of vibrant white wings arched from his back, shimmering with a luminosity that few other Awakened had.
Something awful must have happened…
AsaHi remembered how SoYa had hesitated the first time he saw her wings. She remembered the look of awe and doubt that spread over his face. How he stammered with uncertainty, trying to find the things to say. She felt that way now. Everything she always knew he was deep inside was now so plain for the world to see.
There was also battle-worn exhaustion written on his brow and in the way he leaned against his staff for support. AsaHi felt her concern outweighing her doubt as he stumbled up to the rifting stone, stopping to stand silently next to her. Everyone was watching him, though he seemed too tired to notice.
“SoYa,” her voice seemed tiny to her ears. “Are you hurt?”
He shook his head slowly, “I’m alright. Don’t worry about me.”
AsaHi reached out and gave his arm a gentle squeeze. When he turned to look at her, she forced a weary smile. Quietly, he returned her smile, it was the same SoYa-smile that she always knew, warm and comforting. No words were needed. Her fears were put to rest.
“Should we find shackles for the Marked?” Kudako’s low voice intoned from somewhere behind.
-Shackles? Are you implying that I don’t have this completely under control?-Zazo gave a snuff.
“No, Lady Zazo. It is just the thought of precaution,” the Dragon bobbed his head politely.
-Well, for your information, everything is fine. Or perhaps your little Earthian eyes cannot perceive that,- she continued gruffly.
“He appears to be dripping on your fur,” Aur’s commentary was so smooth that it was impossible to accuse it of being the humor it really was.
-I know that!-Zazo barked. –I gave him permission to!-
“I see,” the Watcher lifted his eyebrow and gazed drolly at Kudako. The Dragon just nodded and crossed his arms.
-Overgrown mountain lion!- the She-Wolf sneered, bringing her burden up to where the Dreigiau stood.-Zemi. What’s the hold up? Haven’t you gotten that rift open yet? Your Sygnus pet is going to be here soon!-
“I’m trying, Zazo,” Zemi muttered.
-Not hard enough!-
“Would you like to do this?” the Arweinydd scowled.
-If I were doing it, it would have already been done,-she retorted.
“Then how about giving me a hand?”
-Fine! Since you can’t do it yourself!- Zazo barked back. Then, before anyone could say another thing, the She-Wolf poked her nose forward, right into the small of the Dreigiau’s back.
AsaHi jumped, yanking her hand away as the Arweinydd’s form burst into a brilliant shaft of white flame. She shouted his name, backing away, but everything that was Zemi and Zazo were lost within the sudden vortex of light.
The runes along the floor pulsed as the chamber rumbled. Multicolor tiles spread throughout the room, casting brilliant shafts of energy, bounding and rebounding from the etched glassy walls. Finally, the light merged and centered, feeding into the luminous glow of the rifting platform before them.
AsaHi’s breath caught in her throat as the wild spiral of light and shadow drew inwards for one short, shaky moment. Then with a wind that smelled of salt and sea, the huge spiral rift burst open, streaming sunlight and a vast arch of blue sky above them.
The darkness of the Wyndor caves melted away, the earth shifting under her feet. As she felt herself dangling in a moment of misplacement, her hand reached frantically for something solid and firm. She fell back, only to be caught by SoYa’s strong arms.
What just happened?
When AsaHi finally found her breath, her green eyes flicked around in wonderment. She was leaning heavily against SoYa’s chest, her knees quavering more than she wanted them to. SoYa, too, looked a little stunned and disoriented as the cooling sea breezes ruffled through his hair.
Soft dunes of white sand billowed out in all directions around them, the quiet sound of rushes and reeds playing in the wind. The sea forests shown brilliant green, vivid and full of life. It was so different from the fear and decay of the underground chambers they just left. As the seascape stretched out in a quiet majesty before them, it was hard to believe that anything they just experienced was more than a bad dream.
“I know this place,” JouKa’s voice was hardly above a whisper. “We’ve been ‘ere before.”
“Yes,” Aur agreed. “We have.”
“Lord Zemi, can you walk?” Kudako inquired, reaching down to gather up the drooping Arweinydd.
Only the slight sparks of energy lingering in the air around Zemi’s form showed that anything happened at all. Zazo, on the other hand, had the appearance of a summer time poof-ball flower. Her fur stood on end in every direction except for where the oily black blood of the Marked continued to drip.
-Sure. Sure. Be concerned over him,- she grumbled. -No thanks to me for getting us here.-
“Thank you, Lady Zazo,” SoYa offered quietly.
-Did I tell you that you could speak to me?- the She-Wolf huffed and stuck her nose up in the air. -We’re wasting time. Let’s go.-
“Go where?” AsaHi asked.
-To that ridiculous Shellab place. Where else?- Zazo began to pad across the sand, flicking her feet and grumbling.
“What’s a Shellab?” AsaHi whispered back over one shoulder to SoYa.
His puzzled look and slight shrug spoke his own confusion on the situation. Instead of answering, SoYa simply walked forward and offered Zemi his shoulder for support from the other side. The Dreigiau gratefully took it.
Then Zemi did a double take, teal eyes opening wide. He exclaimed with just as much surprise as anyone else, “SoYa! You’ve Awakened!”
The Athrylith gave a calm laugh in reply as they made their way forward over the sands, “Well maybe, just a little bit.”