Zemi felt everything as Luccious ripped JouKa’s wings away. He felt each feather as it was shred, reduced to his essence energy, and then consumed by the spirit light. The connection that once flowed between him and the girl shattered, and a spark of real pain flashed over his awareness. Though he struggled to protect her with his magic, he felt her light flicker out.
He didn’t have time to search for her. It was all the Dreigiau could do to hold back the mists that threatened the three remaining Earthians who stood at his side. NaDo worked as quickly as he could to shut down the machine that powered the rift. Zemi sensed that it was a delicate process, for the machine was linked directly to the Vision Stone’s energy. There was no telling what would happen if he disabled it too quickly, when it was still connected to a rift on the other side, where their people waited anxiously for them to arrive in the new world.
Seeing what the mists did to JouKa, Zemi also knew there was no way in the Seven Universes he could allow Luccious to access the rift. So he stood between the Sygnus and the stone, struggling to maintain his wavering energies.
“Lucci. Why are you doing this?” his voice rasped, such a small sound in the face of the howls that raged around them.
To Zemi’s surprise, he received an answer, though it wasn’t from Luccious. Shadows condensed at the young Sygnus’ back, and the familiar, gloating presence of Zeromus filled his mind.
-Because he’s a good boy. He does as his father asks.-
“You took him!” the Dreigiau showed his fangs. “You’re making him do this!”
-You took him first,- came the cold reply. –I created him. He had a purpose, and you tried to steal that from him. I’ve simply shown him the potential of what he was meant to be. The rest was up to him.-
“I don’t believe you. Lucci would never do this on his own,” Zemi retorted.
-Oh? Is that what you think? His Earthian side is still… fragile. What do you think years of living with your people, people who scorned and rejected him, does to the Earthian emotions? Did you ever stop to think that your choices for him only made him miserable?-
“We cared for him. We gave him a place to live and tried to teach him the right things,” Zemi protested, feeling more frantic. “Why would he be miserable?”
“Lucci was sad, Zemi,” Maru’s voice rose from one side.
In the middle of the exchange, the Dreigiau forgot the others were there. The fact that Maru, one of his own people, was agreeing with the Chaotic Arweinydd took him aback.
“I don’t understand. Why?”
“Because they all hated me,” the voice came from Luccious now. It was distorted and overwhelming, as the spirits who raged around him echoed his words with a thousand tormented voices in unison. “Everyone wished I was dead.”
“We didn’t hate you, Lucci,” NaDo offered. “We were always your friends.”
The Sygnus stood silent for a moment, considering the words. Then he responded, lifting his black blade, “Maybe. Or maybe you were just a tool the Dreigiau used to keep me pacified.”
“That’s not true, Lucci,” SoYa took a step forward to defend their argument.
Luccious wasn’t listening. He spoke again, this time, his voice intertwining with the shadowy mind-voice of Zeromus. “I spent my whole life trying to fit into this flawed, broken world. You didn’t tell me the truth, Zemi. You held me back on purpose. You were afraid that I’d realize I could consume your power, take your world from you and Remake it to perfection.”
The Dreigiau heard the Earthians around him gasp, a sound that echoed his own shock.
Was this Zeromus’ plan all along?
Because the living world refused to be shaped by his twisted and power-hungry hands, he wanted to Remake it to become a world that fit his specification. Just the same as Arweinydd Remade other Arweinydd who didn’t conform. In creating a Sygnus who drew power from death, Zeromus made the perfect weapon to focus his envy and revenge on Zemi and his people.
“This isn’t you talking, Lucci!” the Arweinydd tried to reason.
“I’m sorry, Lord Zemi,” he lifted his black blade in response. “I have to sever your connection to the planet. I need that energy to Remake this world.”
Red Chaos-magic gathered along the razor edge in waves of Distortion, flowing to Luccious’ command. Zemi took a step back, realizing why Sygnus was considered so dangerous, beyond the internal instability.
He’s controlling the Chaos!
Where Chaos and Creation were powers that used Arweinydd as hosts, and sometimes swayed their very nature to become something different, the Sygnus was unaffected. In fact, the Earthian side of the Sygnus enabled Luccious to not only withstand, but channel the energy.
Now, the Chaos gathered to consume the Dreigiau.
His flickering light-shield shivered, pitiful under the shattering blow of the long black blade. Zemi threw every last bit of his will outward, struggling to hold out and protect the Earthians there, and on the other side of the rift. Distortion shockwaved from the blade, a black mirage that warped the white ghost-mist, sending even that scattering.
Zemi’s vision began to dim. Or the shadow was just that overwhelming that it filled his sight. He felt his form growing watery as what remained of his power was sucked into the growing vortex that bore down on him.
Then, from the darkness, a second light came. Soft and violet, it sprang up along the arc of Zemi’s weakening shield, tracing a grid of support along the inside. It merged with his energy, strengthening the defense, and began to push back at the Chaos.
Surprised, the Dreigiau glanced over to see SoYa at his side. Both of his arms were upraised, determination marking his brow with sweat. For a passing moment, it felt as if Zento was still there with him, reimagined in his young, courageous son.
-You again!- the voice of Zeromus snarled, displeased at the turn of events. For all of his sneering, time and again, the Dark Arweinydd was thwarted by the stoic hearts of the Earthian kind. This time, he commanded, -Consume the child of ZenToYa! Let him become my next Champion, as he was always meant to be!-
Luccious swept his sword back, gathering strength and energy before spinning directly into the shield. His full attention was on SoYa, who was standing too close for Zemi to intercept. The strike ripped through the shield. Distortion leapt from the edge of his blade and channeled straight into SoYa’s form.
“Let your spirit be bound to the Chaotic fate of Nefol!” the Sygnus commanded.
The Athrilyth crumpled and dropped to the ground, face contorted in a soundless scream. Shadows and mist rose in a tidal wave that crashed upon his limp body, spreading a sickly color over SoYa’s skin. To Zemi’s eyes, it happened in slow motion, as if time itself stopped to watch the tragedy unfold. Horror flooded his senses, overriding the gnawing guilt and feeling of failure.
Then came anger.
No! I won’t see another one taken by the Chaos!
Burning. Expanding. A Dragon’s rage that filled Zemi’s mind and form with a hot, searing light. Power he didn’t realize waited there.
-Zemi…- A soft whisper carried on the mists that rushed forward, streaming by his feet towards the crackling rift. It was the familiar voice of Luccious’ old spirit friend, Kaz.
The Dreigiau turned his head, just slightly, looking for the spirit’s manifestation. Instead, his teal eyes fell on a discarded spear that once belonged to a Nefolian soldier. There was nothing out of the ordinary about it. Yet, it waited there, as if for a reason.
-There’s more to you than you realize.- The soft voice encouraged before it faded, dragged into the sea of ghosts.
The Arweinydd lifted the spear in his hand, though the weapon was far too small for him. He never needed a weapon before. Now, however, with the shadow of Zeromus gloating above SoYa’s broken body, Luccious’ attention turned back to the Dreigiau.
I refuse to give any more to you!
The black sword lifted. Again it whistled, slicing the air and leaving streaks of Distortion in its wake.
I will defend these people!
Zemi moved to meet the blow. As the spear streaked forward, propelled within his grip, it began to change. The gold light that burned through Zemi’s form consumed wood and metal. Both the grip and the blade transformed, growing longer, becoming a lance that flamed with Dragon fire and the essence of Creation.
When Zemi’s swing met Luccious’ blow, the ground shook and the air around them ceased to exist for a split second. Distortion glittered along the edge of Zemi’s red blade, the black sword catching between the curve of the now ornate Dragon-head grip. The universe fell silent as the two vast forces locked gazes, neither giving ground.
Silver eyes narrowed as Luccious’ brows furrowed. An Arweinydd didn’t withstand the strike of a Sygnus. It didn’t happen. History made that very clear. Zemi knew it, too.
It wasn’t the time to question it, though. Instead, the Dreigiau roared and drove the lance forward, throwing the bewildered Sygnus back into his own shadows and mist. This gained him enough ground to stand next to SoYa’s unmoving form.
Luccious caught his balance, gripping his blade with both hands. He peered through the curtain of hair that hung down in his eyes. The spirit voices around him whispered in agitation.
~Not possible! Not possible!~
With a heavy, hissing breath, the Dreigiau advanced, the light of his lance gaining brilliance as his determination grew. He knew now how the Earthians felt. What it was like to face an impossible adversary, and despite that, reach down inside and muster the courage to fight.
It was a new, different kind of strength. It was a power that the very planet responded to – that of the true Patron. Even Zeromus was silent, the Chaos’ churning less eager and more wary.
Battle motion came to him, like borrowed memories from a time before his knowledge. His body knew what to do. How to balance the great weapon. How to lunge and dodge and strafe. Luccious met his advance stroke for stroke, his motions mirroring Zemi’s in a strange, distorted harmony. Wherever this knowledge came from, it was something innate in them both, though how an Arweinydd could fight like a Sygnus was mystifying.
“Zemi!” NaDo cried his name in a tone of warning. “Mechanical failure! The rift machine took a hit! We’re losing the connection!”
“No,” the Dreigiau breathed the word with an incredulous tone. “I need more time!”
Not now. Not when I can end this.
“I can’t give it! The rift is closing!” the scientist called, grabbing Maru’s shoulder and moving towards the stone. “We have to get through!”
We can take it all back!
Zemi focused on the shivering ghost lights that hung around the Sygnus’ shoulders. He knew the answer now. He didn’t know how or why, but he knew he had the strength to overcome the Chaos. That could be enough to drive back Luccious and defeat Zeromus.
“Zemi!” Maru’s voice sounded frantic. “Please! You have to get SoYa out of here!”
The name stopped his longing advance. His eyes fell on the pale, washed-out form of the Athrilyth who gave everything to defend his Patron. Somewhere in the choking shadow, Zemi now sensed that SoYa was still alive. The darkness spread over his form, skin growing sallow as the will of Zeromus worked to bend SoYa to his command.
The mists feasted on his form, eating away the feathers of his wings, rendering his limbs almost transparent. Though SoYa was strong-minded, he could not hold out against the combined attacks of the Chaos and mist-world energies that sought to claim him.
If Zeromus takes an Athrilyth Champion…
Zemi didn’t want to think about unleashing that horror, next to the already fatal Dark Sygnus.
I promised Zento. I promised I would evacuate the people and protect SoYa.
Everything in him was reluctant to turn his back on this battle – a fight that he might win. Yet, the words of the Others still echoed in his memories. That he wasn’t the one who was destined to finish this battle. Looking at the fading rift and SoYa’s struggling face, he knew it was one or the other. As much as his pride wanted this victory, he had to let it go.
Leveling his lance in warning at Luccious, the Dreigiau scooped the mind mage up and took him carefully under one arm. His lip curled as he turned and rushed towards the fading riftlight. He felt the rift energies receding, drawing into the world beyond, as the connection faltered. NaDo and Maru beckoned to him, reaching hands forward to help him with SoYa’s limp body.
As the Dreigiau sprang through the rift, he caught one last look at NaDo’s face. The scientist’s expression changed to a look of horror and warning. Then the blow came, Chaos ripping through the rift as the Dark Sygnus attempted a final strike at the retreating Arweinydd’s back.
NaDo and Maru moved forward. Away from the rift. Intercepting. Then Zemi felt his form propelled with the force of the blast as the connection with the Vision Stone shattered and Chaotic light burst through the rift.