“Sooooooooooo what are you? The King of the Spiral?” Oren beamed his trademark grin as he hooked a friendly arm around Aur’s shoulders.
JouKa winced a little. It was not the sort of thing that one randomly did to the Watcher from the Time Before. Luckily, Aur didn’t appear to be annoyed by it, or maybe he was and he just wasn’t showing it. It was so hard to tell with Aur.
“What makes you ask that?” Aur glanced over at the red haired man with quiet, hooded eyes.
“Well, you know. Lion? King?” Oren waved his free hand around. “And just the fact that your face is practically plastered all over the banners around here. So what’s the deal?”
“Oren,” JouKa sighed softly.
“What? It’s just a question,” he arched his eyebrows in response. It was that hey-don’t-look-at-me innocent expression that drove her nuts the more she got to know him.
By definition, Oren was the embodiment of blamelessness. Or so he believed.
“I am simply the diplomatic overseer of the Spiral, acting on Zemi’s behalf. That is all,” Aur answered.
“Suuure,” the red haired man laughed, flopping down in the big cushy chair nearby. “That’s why they’ve got you decked out in a place like this.”
“I cannot help it if the people of the Spiral wish to make more of me than I am,” the Watcher intoned quietly.
“Someone should give this guy an award for modesty,” Oren just grinned. Then he leaned with one elbow on the previously spotless table top. “What do you think, Jou?”
“I think that I’ve told ya not to call me that,” she huffed, turning her head with a flutter of wings.
“Come on! I know you like it,” he responded, leaning even closer.
JouKa gave him a slight shove back. “Just who do ya think ya are?”
Oren just laughed all the more. His grin turned teasing in what JouKa called “his uncultured and brutish way.” But no matter what names she called him, it didn’t faze him one bit.
A slight smile touched Aur’s lips as he began to pace slowly in front of the large windows. A subtle interest shown in the way his golden eyes kept straying to watch their interactions.
Whether it was an act on Oren’s part was hard to tell. JouKa knew that he could be just as gentlemanly as he could be uncouth, it all really depended on what he deemed appropriate, she learned. Maybe it was because he reminded her of the people she grew up with in the Gathering, but something about his company was comforting in the midst of the turmoil. Though JouKa would never admit it out loud, she didn’t know what she would have done without Oren’s good natured bantering and optimistic outlook to keep her moving forward.
I just don’t know ‘ow ‘e does it.
As was the way of the people of that land, Oren had lot of confidence, even at a time when darkness was closing in on every side. When JouKa’s own spirits were crushed, he wasn’t content to let her sink in her sorrow. Though it was very difficult as of late.
I didn’t know ‘ow much it would hurt.
KoGuRai’s death at TsuYa’s hands. It was something that played in her mind over and over and over again. Her thoughts were haunted with the idea that maybe there was something she could have done to stop it. If she’d intercepted, somehow, maybe the fight would have never happened. If the fight never happened, maybe KoGuRai would still be alive, and TsuYa wouldn’t have become the next Marked Champion.
Instead, her worst nightmares came true. They were both gone, both far out of her reach. Nothing she did would save either of them now.
I don’t understand why terrible things ‘ad to ‘appen. They were both good guys once you got to know them. Neither of them deserved this.
“Hey. You’re thinking again,” Oren’s large hand cupped around hers. She realized she was wringing her hands again, an all too obvious sign to him that she was worried.
“Yeah well, ya don’t think enough,” JouKa attempted a weak retort.
“No one’s ever accused me of having half a brain,” he smiled, trying to keep things light.
JouKa didn’t feel like smiling. But she did anyways. For him.
They’ve taken good care of me. Oren… and Aur…
The golden haired Watcher glanced her way as if sensing her thoughts.
I know I’m very lucky to ‘ave them.
That’s when Aur’s deep voice rumbled, “We will have visitors soon.”
“How do you know?” Oren asked, leaning back in the big chair, one eye squinting.
The Watcher just gave him a long, silent look.
“Alright, alright,” the red haired warrior waved his hands. Then he turned to JouKa and teasingly informed her, “We’ll have visitors soon.”
JouKa almost snorted through her nose at his randomness. Instead, she just pushed Oren away again.
It wasn’t long before there was a knock at the door, just as Aur predicted. The Watcher rose to answer it, a polite exchange of words made through the doorway. When Aur stepped back into the room, Lord Zemi Dreigiau and his Dragon warrior, Kudako, followed.
JouKa rose to her feet at, giving a quick curtsey, “Lord Zemi!”
“Oooooh,” came Oren’s long, thoughtful sound. “THE Lord Zemi?”
The Arweinydd arched his eyebrow, hands folded behind his back. The Dragon warrior behind him appeared to be bored.
“Oren!” JouKa hissed over her shoulder. “Of course it’s THE Lord Zemi!”
“Of course! Forgive me, M’lord,” Oren echoed with a nervous laugh as he got to his feet and attempted a respectful bow.
The Dreigiau simply waved one dismissing hand as he took a seat, “No worries. Just relax.”
Kudako, however, looked less than relaxed. The Dragon shadowed the Arweinydd, standing sternly behind his seat with glittering, unblinking eyes.
“I’m glad to see you up and about, Lord Zemi,” Aur offered, sitting calmly across from the Dreigiau. “I heard there were some difficulties.”
“A few, but I’m working on it,” Lord Zemi answered.
“I knew you would,” the Watcher nodded. Then with a lift of his chin, he inquired, “What is it that you need from me, M’lord?”
“A little less formality, for one,” the Arweinydd grinned, the hint of fangs showing.
Aur sighed quietly.
Oren gave a little laugh, murmuring under his breath, “I think I like this guy.”
Before JouKa could chide, Lord Zemi flicked a bit of a grin at the red haired man. “An Outlander?”
“Yes Sir,” the warrior grinned back. “The name’s Oren. 100% Outlander. At your service, Lord Dragon.”
“It’s good to meet you, Oren,” the Arweinydd nodded. “It’s been a while since I’ve had contact with your people. They always know how to show good hospitality.”
“That we do, M’lord,” Oren pumped one fist with a proud look.
Kudako cleared his throat in a not-so-subtle hint that there were more important things to address at the moment. As if somewhat reluctant, Lord Zemi nodded and leaned forward, templing his fingers together.
“I don’t exactly know how to start this,” the Dreigiau said, eyes resting on his Watcher. “Other than to say that a spirit’s voice told me to seek you out for guidance.”
“Spirit’s voice?” Aur pursed his lips with a heavy brow.
“One of the spirits took up residence with Lucci,” Lord Zemi explained. “Apparently, this one has befriended the boy. Lucci’s even given him the name Kaz.”
Suddenly, the Watcher visibly stiffened. For one so emotionless, it was a serious over reaction.
Lord Zemi noticed as well because he asked, “Is that someone you know? The spirit claims to be from the Time Before.”
Aur’s golden eyes took a long, hard look at the Arweinyddbefore he answered evasively, “I knew a lot of beings from the Time Before.”
Oren exchanged a curious look with JouKa, but had enough sense to keep his mouth shut.
“I see,” It was obvious that Lord Zemi wanted more information, but when the Watcher didn’t offer further words, the Dreigiau didn’t push the issue.
“Why did this spirit voice tell you to come to me?” Aur asked instead.
“Because, I…” the Arweinydd stopped dead, glancing at Oren and JouKa. Something akin to embarrassment hung over his face.
“Because you…?” the Watcher prodded gently.
“Because something’s wrong,” Lord Zemi blurted quickly.
The teal eyes flickered towards them again, then focused on something outside the window, “Me.”
Aur’s voice was level and calm, “Now, was that so hard to admit?”
Lord Zemi ground his teeth for a moment. Then he answered, “Yeeaaaah…”
“Alright,” the Watcher leaned back in his chair. “Tell me a little bit more about what’s wrong. Maybe I can help you.”
“It might have something to do with Chaos,” the Dreigiau began. At the word ‘Chaos,’ he stopped and quickly backtracked, “Not that I’m going Chaotic or anything like that. I just think that maybe…”
Aur’s golden eyes focused on the struggling Arweinydd. He nodded gently over and over and over again, with an encouraging arch to his eyebrow.
“I think that maybe something happened to me when I faced Zerom. Something happened when Ceiswyrfell,” Lord Zemi finally said, biting the words off as if each one was something foul tasting in his mouth. “And I haven’t been able to… take…”
“…Take… my Dragon form… ever since the Islands fell,” the Arweinydd’s gaze lowered.
JouKa’s mouth opened slightly. She didn’t mean for Lord Zemi to hear her sound of surprise and concern. He must have, for he shot a glance in her direction, teal eyes glimmering with shame.
“I’m sorry,” the Dreigiau intoned quietly. “I know the last thing anyone needs to hear is how you all have a gimped Patron now.”
Something stirred in her chest at his disheartened half-droop. She’d never seen the Lord Zemi Dreigiau so open and honest, almost Earthian. Though she was bad at the sympathy thing, the winged girl felt like she needed to say something. Anything.
“No, Lord Zemi. It’s not like that at all,” JouKa told him.
“No?” he asked.
“No,” she shook her head. “When I was an outcast of my own peoples, ya brought me to your Islands and gave me a place to be. Maybe at first, I didn’t really think I fit in there. It was kinda ‘ard. But now that it’s gone, I realize what a special place ya made for everyone. And I know ya fought as ‘ard as ya could to keep it safe. I don’t think there’s anythin’ ya could do to make me think lesser of ya, Lord Zemi.”
The Arweinydd stared at her for a moment, too surprised to reply.
Kudako, however, found words for him, “Thank you.”
“Huh?” JouKa frowned.
“I’ve been trying to tell him that, but he will not listen to my reasoning. Maybe he will listen to yours,” the Dragon warrior grunted.
Lord Zemi just sighed, appealing to the Watcher once again, “So, that’s what I mean when I say something’s wrong. Do you have any ideas?”
Aur tapped his chin with one finger before nodding slowly. “It sounds like you’ve lost your unification.”
The Arweinydd’s head jerked up, “That’s a lot like what the spirit voice said, too.”
“I’m sure he did, Lord Zemi,” the golden haired man simply agreed.
“And so, how do I get this unification thing back?”
“Usually imbalances like this are restored in their own time,” Aur answered. “But in the case of Chaos having some effect, you may need to find outside assistance. Something to help you balance out your energies of Creation.”
Oren gave a soft whistle, “This is waaaay over my head.”
“Don’t worry. Me too,” JouKa whispered.
“Me three,” Lord Zemi added, much to her surprise. He leaned forward with a slight grin. “Aur, this all sounds great. Don’t get me wrong. But I don’t know the first place to go looking for something to help balance out Creation. Is that like a little walk-in hair salon or a downtown pub on the corner? Let’s call it Clyde’s Creation and More!”
The Watcher didn’t look amused. “I’m being serious, Lord Zemi.”
“So am I,” the Arweinydd spread his hands. “Throw me a line here. I’m sinking.”
“I suggest that you start by finding sources of power that date back to the Time Before,” Aur answered gravely. “You know as well as I do that there are still many of them here on this world.”
“That’s true,” the Dreigiau poked his finger in the air repeatedly. “That’s very, very true. In fact, if I remember correctly, the Spiral is one of the areas known for housing strange phenomenon. Like giant golden lions that came from the Time Before.”
The Watcher frowned all the more, “Yes. However, the pocket of energy that once sustained me was drying up. By now, it is probably nonexistent.”
“Where there is one pocket, maybe there are more nearby,” Lord Zemi debated.
“Perhaps, but do we have time to entertain notions without facts to back them up?” Aur asked.
Before the Arweinyddcould answer, Kudako interjected, “It is not just a notion.”
The Dragon warrior pursed his lips stoically. Then he continued, “There were old stories when I was young about the energies deep within the earth that powered the Spiral. Stories about why our home was founded here, of all places. Why the trees took such an unusual coloration. So many other stories that point to unnatural causes within these lands. These are things that only the Clan Leaders of old really knew about.”
“Which means?” Lord Zemi asked, leaning forward in anticipation.
“That I do not believe anyone here and now knows these old secrets anymore. The Clan Leaders were killed off when the Arms Master took control of the Spiral,” Kudako’s voice was low and grave.
“Perhaps, not all of them,” Aur answered unexpectedly.
All eyes turned questioningly towards the golden eyed Watcher.