Everything SoYa heard about the Vision Stone was true. It rose up before them, pulsing with brilliant blue light, bathing the glade in a glow where even the darkness didn’t touch. Something about this place felt safe and protected, but SoYa didn’t know how much longer that would last.
The machine NaDo set up next to the Stone was a marvel of technology, even more so than his ships and the endless lines of gadgets. All wires and hums and tall flat screens, it tapped directly into the vast energies of the Vision Stone. Under the right hands, NaDo said, the Stone’s power might even be bent to the user’s will.
It’s hard to believe that a child can trigger all this.
KiNa’s hands were little, but the right ones. The moment the boy placed his palms against the slick touch pad of the machine, the stone burst into a brilliant light. The distant sound of ancient song rustled through the winds of the glade, and the tallest crystal face along the side of the Vision Stone flickered with an image.
Just as NaDo described.
The picture wavered, glowing before them, showing a land that was not their own, but a living world just the same. There was no sight of city nor structure. Just a rolling forest and long green hills. A place that gave the feeling of peace, and perhaps safety, if hidden away from the searching eyes of the Dark Sygnus.
As the three Arweinydd focused their powers around the machine next to KiNa, the image of the distant land became more and more clear. More stable. The shimmering ripples of a riftway spread across the face of the stone and became a gateway into this strange new world.
Now, the winged people filed through this rift as quickly as they could. Soldiers assisted the women and children, feet shuffling up the slick crystalline incline that lead to the rift. Their faces were haunted with the fears that hung just over the edge of the forest. They all felt the pressure of surging death coming ever closer. No one dared to hesitate as even the completely alien land before them was less frightening than the Dark Sygnus’ wrath behind.
There were so many people. So little time. Knowing that Kudako and Aur could only hold the Sygnus at bay for a short while, SoYa wasn’t sure how they would get everyone to safety.
“AsaHi,” the Athrylith took her by the shoulders and nudged her towards the stream of moving people. “I want you to go.”
“I’m not leaving you here,” she protested instantly, just as he knew she would.
“I’ll follow you. Don’t worry! I just have to know that you are safe,” he tried to reassure her. At this point, they both knew that nothing was promised.
“SoYa,” AsaHi gripped his arm, struggling to put words to her feelings, even if she didn’t need to.
“It’s my job to make sure everyone else gets through safely. That includes you,” he told her stoically. “It’s what Father would want me to do.”
“I understand,” AsaHi said, trying to keep the waver out of her voice. Despite the courageous words, she threw her arms around his shoulders, and buried her face into his tunic. It was the hardest thing, to let her go, but he did, giving her a gentle kiss on the forehead.
One of the soldiers gently took her by the upper arm, “This way, Morh-AsaHi.”
“Be careful!” she called back to him as she walked towards the rippling face of the Stone.
SoYa watched her, his heart aching. Then, in a flash of soft blue light, AsaHi stepped through, fading into the crowd of winged people. Lost to his sight.
“Keep going,” NaDo coached. “We’ve almost transported everyone. We’re doing better than I expected.”
Despite the positive words, SoYa glanced back over his shoulder with a worried frown. The shadows and mists were moving again, and approaching fast.
“NaDo. Maru. You should take KiNa through. The rift is stable for now,” Zemi’s tone was concerned. He, too, saw the motion in the forest behind them.
“Just a little bit more, Lord Dragon,” NaDo assured him. “We must make sure the machine is properly dismantled and the rift shut, or there’s a chance Lucci will follow us. That would defeat the purpose, wouldn’t it?”
“Do we have enough time for that?”
“Leave that to us,” the scientist told him, evading an actual answer.
As the winged people gathered at the gateway, SoYa saw a lone figure dressed in civilian attire helping to motion them through. The short hair swept back, catching the blue light in glistening flashes.
“JouKa, what are you doing?” he came over to her. “It’s time for everyone to get through the rift.”
“We’re beginning the dismantling process,” NaDo announced, as if to accent SoYa’s words.
JouKa turned, “Not everyone’s here yet. I’m makin’ certain we’ve accounted for all.”
SoYa boggled at the girl, struggling to understand how anyone with the opportunity wouldn’t be jumping for the rift. If it wasn’t for the fact that people were relying on his leadership, he’d be right there with them. “That’s helpful, but I think we’ve got this. Go ahead and get through.”
When she turned, her large, haunted eyes peered at the pulsing riftlight with the look of one who stood on the edge of two equally undesirable destinies. She didn’t move.
“JouKa?” SoYa prompted her. “I know it’s scary, but we’ll be alright.”
“I’m not scared,” the girl responded in a low, flat voice. “It won’t be alright. You keep sayin’ that, but I know better.”
“You can’t stay here,” he reasoned.
“Maybe it’s better that way,” her voice trailed off.
He took her arm, trying to lead her towards the rift, “There’s nothing to gain by dying here. After all the battles and struggles, are you just going to give up?”
“No. I’m gonna fight,” She jerked her arm away quickly, and drew her weapon. It took a moment for SoYa to realize she was brandishing it at the coming darkness. “Everything I ‘ad is gone. KoGu is dead. TsuYa is Marked. Our ‘ome is destroyed. People are dyin’! If this is ‘ow it ends, I want it to be with my blades.”
“Power down, eighty percent!” NaDo’s voice warned.
Before he could attempt to reason with her again, a deafening crack broke the sky above.
The shadows and mists rolled in, pressing against the brilliant blue protection light of the Vision Stone. SoYa watched as the ghostly storm swept across the land, stripping life from everything it touched. Trees turned sickly white, cracked and groaned, then burst into brittle dust within seconds. Contorted faces of ghostly rage and fury pressed against the barrier, staring with hollow, hungry eyes at the living creatures just beyond their reach.
“Light help us,” NaDo breathed, face growing pale as he gathered up KiNa in his arms.
“Everyone in the rift! NOW!” Zemi commanded, also staring at the boiling spirit storm with a horrified expression.
“Only seventy-five percent! We can’t go yet!”
Maru’s pleading voice rose from behind. “Take KiNa! Take him, Lady Zazo!”
-Don’t you think I have enough to carry?- the She-Wolf growled as she carried TusYa’s Marked form towards the rift.
“He’s just a little boy! Please, take him!” a mother’s cry.
Even Zazo couldn’t deny that. With a huff, the Arweinydd clamped down on the back of the child’s tunic, lifting the boy between her teeth.
“Mommy!” KiNa cried, little wings stretching and straining, reaching for his parents. “Daddy!”
“GO! GO!” NaDo shouted, slamming his fist on the machine as if to speed up the power-down process.
The She-Wolf whipped around, lunging for the rift, carrying child and Marked through the flickers of the Vision Stone light. A tiny white streak followed, Zeni’s sparrow wings reflecting, then fading into the distant riftland.
As the final soldiers scampered through behind the Arweinydd, SoYa stood on the threshold of light and shadow. It was time for him to join the others, find AsaHi and lead the people to safety within the new waiting lands.
When he glanced back, he saw that Zemi remained standing firm, holding the rift stable as NaDo and Maru worked to dismantle the machine. To one side, JouKa stood with her weapons ready, as if her will alone could defend them against the spirit storm. Stripped of his Champion, all of his Dragon servants missing or dead, weakened with grief of those he lost, the Dreigiau refused to leave if that meant leaving any of his people behind.
In a trick of the light, SoYa almost thought he saw the fleeting memory of his father, standing proudly next to the Patron, weapons in his hands. He realized then that being a Champion was so much more than just a special title, the ability to lead and powerful fighting skills.
It was about dedication. To the people. To Zemi. To following through with the right thing, even when the right thing was the scariest, most foolish act imaginable. With Father gone, the Dreigiau had to face the Dark Sygnus without the guidance and balance that an Earthian Champion provided a Patron.
Swallowing the lump in his throat, SoYa knew what he needed to do. His next steps didn’t take him into the safety of waiting riftlight. They took him, instead, to stand in the place where his father should be, at Zemi’s side.
The Arweinydd turned, and a look of surprise spread across his face, “SoYa. It’s time to cross over with the others.”
“No,” the Athrylith answered, leaving no room for argument. “I’m not leaving until you do.”
“The people on the other side need you,” Zemi still argued, anyway.
“They need you more,” SoYa glanced at the boiling whiteness that seethed on the fringe of the blue light. He didn’t know how long it would hold, or what the mist would do to Arweinydd and Earthian. “Father would never leave you here to fight this alone.”
“I know I’m not ZenToYa,” he responded quickly. “I’m SoYa, and I will give everything I have to protect our people and our Dragon Patron. Just as he would.”
The Dreigiau fell silent at those words, a glimmer of thanks in his tired teal eyes. SoYa saw recognition there, something he never saw before, as the Arweinydd acknowledged him as the next true leader of the Nefolian people. Perhaps a Champion in his own right. But most of all, a true friend.
Zemi nodded as the pressure on the other side of the dome built up. SoYa didn’t know what was about to happen, but whatever it was, they would face this together.
“What is that thing?” JouKa moaned under her breath. Her hands shook where they gripped her blades, and her eyes were fixed on the mists.
An unearthly wail answered as the protective light of the Vision Stone shuddered and gave way. It shattered like glass, and the mists rushed in, sweeping over the glade in a maelstrom of frigid decimation. Zemi moved forward to intercept, but the spirits were faster. Sickly fingers of white latched on to JouKa, who stood with a frozen look of horror at the oncoming storm.
SoYa’s mouth went dry as he watched her being lifted off her feet. Feathers flew in every direction as her wings disintegrated, turning into shimmering Zemi-light, which was sucked into the heart of the boiling shadows. Then, JouKa was gone, her screams dying as her limp body became a receding shape cast away across the glade.
Zemi’s presence was enough to hold back the oncoming mist, protecting NaDo and Maru where they huddled against their machine. SoYa gripped his staff with both hands, fighting against grief, shock and the desire to move closer to the Dreigiau for protection.
Then, the Dark Sygnus stepped into the glade, trailed by a stream of unending agony and nightmare. Huge ice-flecked wings stretched, shadowing over them, each feather traced with Chaos and death. His expression was unreadable, and SoYa felt a shiver wrack his body as the haunted silver eyes brushed over him without recognition.
He reeled back from the intensity of the vast Sygnus mind. It was wide open to him, like staring into a void of bent memories and distorted thoughts. Layer upon layer of voices, hundreds from every direction, rang through SoYa’s mind. The land around them faded to white as the spirit realms began to replace the living world, spreading further each time Luccious took a step.
If there was anything left of the boy SoYa knew, it was mangled and lost within the confusion of millions of tortured lifetimes. The spirits who feverishly fed the Sygnus with power also warped his sanity, leaving nothing but a hunger and desire for more. In the middle of that, the Chaos of the Dark Arweinydd spurred him on, also feeding from the destruction and Earthian misery.
There was no reasoning with this, SoYa knew. No fighting it. Their final stand was to ensure that the Dark Sygnus didn’t make it through the rift to the other land.