Book 4 Chapter 8

“ShinRe,” Kudako shook his head slowly. “I thought you were killed in the Raze!”

“I thought the same about you, Kudako,” a welcoming smile spread across the leader’s face. He wasted no time in embracing his brother and ushering him through the doorway. “I looked for you, but I never found you. I could only assume you were lost to the flame.”

Well, that’s a good sign.

Zemi arched his eyebrows and followed, making a subtle motion at the two behind him. There was no need to waste a perfectly good invitation and opportunity.

In fact, this is working out better than I could have hoped.

The Dreigiau cast a quiet glace at Aur as they walked through the door. He couldn’t tell if the Watcher knew of the relation between Kudako and the Clan Leader before now. None of Aur’s reactions offered a hint to what he was thinking, but it was very hard to believe that it was a coincidence.

We’ll discuss it later. There are more important things.

Like everything else in the spiral, ShinRe’s home was circular in build. Much like his younger brother, he had no lack in cleanliness and organization. A round woven rug fit snugly within the circumference of the main room, looking to have once been speckled with many colors that were now dull with age. A heavy round table stood in the center of it all, lit with a few slender candles. Many books lined a narrow shelf on one wall. Another wall was dedicated to a myriad of unusual looking musical instruments, all crafted from warmly painted wood.

The guards who escorted them there were already rearranging the circular stools that ringed the table. A few baskets of nuts and fruits were placed out as a sign of welcome.

“Please,” ShinRe motioned forward. “My home is your home.”

Zemi picked a seat opposite of the leader’s chair, hoping to get a chance to observe the man that Kudako called brother. They hardly sat down before the clans men appeared again, placing broad, wooden dishes in front of each of them. One at a time, they began to fill the dishes with a soft blue colored liquid.

When the servant came to Zemi’s chair to pour, the Dreigiau quickly put his hand over the top of the dish.

“Please, Lord Dreigiau. Allow me,” the clans man asked politely, looking a bit concerned at the denied hospitality. Maybe even worried that he’d done something wrong.

“No, don’t waste it,” Zemi told him in an assuring tone. When the man looked all the more puzzled, the Arweinydd added, “It’s all right. I don’t eat.”

“Uh,” clearly, the Dreigiau’s explanation only confused the man all the more. He glanced over at the head of the table for instructions.

ShinRe was also giving Zemi a rather strange look. The Arweinydd simply offered a smooth smile and shrug in return. The Leader then nodded and the clans man moved around to the next unfilled dish.

Hanging out with the locals might just be a bit of fun after all.

Once they were settled, ShinRe spoke again, blue eyes studying his brother momentarily, “How did you find us here? We have done much to remain secure and separate from the rest of the Spiral.”

When Kudako opened his mouth to reply, Zemi quickly interjected, “Lord Zemi Dreigiau knows many mysterious things.”

The Dragon warrior turned towards the Arweinydd with a droll frown. One ear twitched, but he held his tongue.

ShinRe responded with interest, seeming to be impressed, “Then Lord Dragon of the North Clans is just as wise and cunning as the stories say.”

“Or more,” Zemi’s fangy grin grew wide.

“Modesty is not one of his stronger virtues,” Aur murmured under his breath.

SoYa sniffed to cover his chuckle, flicking an amused glance across the table.

“And you said you are a warrior of the Nefolian Patron?” ShinRe asked quietly.

“Yes,” Kudako finally found a word in the conversation. Only one.

“I heard that Lord Dreigiaubestows upon his servants great gifts of power,” the Leader’s statement held a hint of underlying question.

“It depends,” the Dragon answered, picking a fruit from the basket and biting into it.

“That would explain the… ah… changes…”

Not one to beat around the bush, Kudako stated quickly, “I’m a Dragon.”

“Dragon?” ShinRe echoed, eyebrows lifting.

“Dragon,” Kudako confirmed, taking another bite out of the fruit. Then he added shortly, “It was the agreement.”

“You agreed to become a Dragon?” he asked.

“It was better than the alternative,” came the answer. Then a short pause before, “I will discuss it with you at a later time. There is business to attend to.”

ShinRe leaned back in his chair, a quiet half smile playing over his broken lips. “Always business, Kudako. Some things never change.”

“We’ve been working on him,” Zemi offered waving a finger in the air. “It’s just taking him time, but we’ll get him there.”

“I should like to be there the day that you do,” the leader laughed, a quiet near soundless laugh. There was a tiny speck of mirth in the depths of his eyes, an openness that wasn’t seen often in the people of the Spiral.

This one isn’t so bad, really. I think we can get along.

“Before I forget my manners,” the Dreigiau said, as if he had manners to forget, “Let me introduce you to a few fine fellows.”

ShinRe sat watching with the appropriate amount of polite interest.

Zemi waved his hand around, “This is SoYa, the son of ZenToYa, who is my Champion and founder of Nefol. And this is Aur, who is acting as the ambassador between the North Clans and the current Spiral establishment.”

“I welcome you both to my home,” ShinRe said before he pursed his lips. Then he continued, “Am I right in hearing you say that some sort of negotiations have begun between Nefol and the Spiral?”

“Yes,” Kudako answered. “The Armsmaster was slain. Nefol has been working with the people to reverse the effects of the Implants. Aur has done a satisfactory job in working to make connections between the cultures, as difficult as that can be.”

“This is a very interesting turn,” the leader leaned forward again.

“The Spiral is finally free, brother,” the Dragon told him quietly. “It is as you wished, is it not?”

“It is good to see your optimism, Kudako,” he said. “But do you think the deep old magics that bound the minds of our people can be undone so easily?”

There was a moment of silence that was only interrupted by Aur’s subtle clearing of throat. At first, Zemi didn’t pay it much mind. Until Aur did it again. The Dreigiau shifted his attention to his Watcher with a thoughtful frown. The golden eyes flicked towards ShinRe, then back to Zemi again.

Did I miss something?

The Arweinydd paused, mulling over the leader’s last few words, looking for the secrets that the Watcher seemed to indicate he should see. It took a few minutes, but then it came to him.

“Did you say magic?” Zemi found the words on his lips before he pondered the consequences of asking.

Magic was not something widely known or used by the Earthians. In fact, it was Nefol that claimed the first real magic users in the known history of their lands, something that Zemi helped nourish from the start.

If there was something that considered magical within the Spiral that dates back that long ago, it must be something pretty significant.

“I don’t know if it was technically magic in the same sense the Nefolians use, but it was certainly something supernatural in nature,” ShinRe replied.

“You seem to know a lot about the Nefolians for having lived in the Spiral all this time,” SoYa ventured, completely missing the important topic at hand.

Can’t blame the boy for trying.

“That’s because I learned as much about the Nefolian providence as I could. Most of it was hearsay, of course, as I could never really see the city,” the Leader answered with a whimsical smile. “How I would have loved to. As it is, I used what I heard about your government and education as a foundation, if you will, for our own Encampment. I hope you don’t mind?”

“No, sir. Not at all,” SoYa shook his head. He, too, seemed curious about ShinRe and his methods of adaptation.

That would all have to wait for another day.

“Can you tell me more about this supernatural phenomenon that existed in the old Spiral?” Zemi folded his fingers into one another and balanced his chin on top.

“I will tell you as much as I can, Lord Dreigiau,” ShinRe’s expression grew more somber. “Our father was taken from us far earlier than I would have liked. Being the eldest son of the Clan’s Leader, I moved up to take his position. I didn’t have much time as the leader before the Razing took everything from us. During that time, I was brought into the circle of Elders and taught some of the Mystic Ways, as they liked to call it. I will repeat, I didn’t have a lot of time to learn of the secrets that the Clan Leaders passed through generations. What I do know, I find no fault in sharing with you.”

“Thank you,” the Dreigiau tilted his head. “I know that I’m asking a lot. I don’t mean to poke my nose in things that are considered clan secrets.”

“Those days are over,” he spoke slowly. “The secrets that were held were dark ones. Ones that were dictated by the intimidation of the Armsmaster over the family leaders. Perhaps it is time that the Spiral comes to know the truth of our history so such self-enslavement never repeats in future days.”

Pretty heavy stuff.

Zemi pursed his lips and nodded. There wasn’t much he could add to that. So he just let the leader keep talking.

“There are, indeed, sources of energy locked under the surface of the Spiral that one might call almost magical in nature. We don’t know where these sources came from. We do know that there was a connection to these energies and the great Golden Lion that offered our people council and guidance,” ShinRe explained.

Zemi glanced over at the Watcher. Aur was playing a poker face to die for.

“Did you ever get to see this Golden Lion?” the Arweinydd asked with a teasing grin.

“A few times, actually. Yes. Yes I did,” the Leader replied looking somewhat proud. Then his face grew somber again. “The people of the Spiral were not good listeners. They took the council of the Lion and chose to twist the message into something that they wanted to believe in. I really do not believe that our Guide wanted us to wage war against the Clans of the North in the way that we did. I doubt he supported planting the Implants in our warriors to achieve this emotionless so-called perfection.”

“You are correct,” Aur spoke quietly. “The war culture that the Spiral became was driven by one man’s bloodthirsty drive for pointless violence.”

“Yes, exactly,” ShinRe furrowed his brow at the Watcher curiously.

Aur said nothing more, hooded eyes watching the leader in silence.

Seeing that the Watcher had nothing more to add, ShinRe continued, “The Implants were structured from tiny fragments of a crystal-like stone that held a strange, magical property. Initially, these fragments allowed the Armsmaster to have unnatural suggestive control over the Spiral warriors, in the manner that mind mages are said to have.”

SoYa blanched and sucked on his bottom lip.

“But the prolonged side effect of the Implants caused people to grow more and more emotionless. Soon, the Armsmaster saw this as a great perk, for warriors without fear or true remorse were nothing more than killing machines at his command,” the Leader paused and gave Kudako a long, sad look. “Just as you saw with the Annihilators who crossed the Inner Realms’ borders.”

“So, it’s fragments of this stone implanted into the warriors that caused this?” SoYa’s face became more pale the more that he heard. “Does that mean that Kudako was…”

The Dragon frowned sharply, “A sliver of stone does not dictate my fate, nor control my allegiance.”

“No, no, of course not,” the Athrylith swallowed and fell silent.

By now, Zemi had other interests. He now understood why Aur directed them there. “So tell me, do you know the origins of this strange stone?”

“Not precisely,” ShinRe answered. “I never visited the Stone Lair, but I heard enough about it to have an idea of where to find it.”

The Arweinydd didn’t speak, mulling over the proper words for the situation. Then he said, “I know it is a lot to ask of you, after you have already shared so much of your history with us. The outsiders as we are. Our situation is difficult and somewhat desperate.”

The leader frowned at the sudden turn in the conversation.

“There is a darkness brewing on the other side of the Dragon’s Cleft,” Zemi explained. “A darkness that not even the warriors of Nefol could stem. Our people and cities have fallen to this foe, and it now stands on the other side, attention bent on finding a way to reach into the Spiral.”

“This is grave news you bring, Lord Dreigiau,” for the first time, a hint of concern shown in ShinRe’s eyes.

“I tell you this because we have very little time to mobilize our people. We must find a way to work together to stop this darkness.”

The leader nodded in understanding.

“I also ask you to help us to find the source of this ancient power you’ve told us about,” Zemi placed his palms on his knees, leaning forward. “I know it was a source of sorrow and destruction to your people. I believe that there are secrets that have yet to be unlocked, and under the right hands, may prove to be a power that we can use to protect your people instead.”

ShinRe seemed a little less understanding about this. He glanced over at Kudako, as if seeking his input.

“I cannot tell you what you should do with the Spiral’s secrets,” the Dragon told him quietly. “I stand by Lord Zemi, however. I believe as he believes. I hope that you will consider joining us. I have seen the destruction of Chaos. I don’t want to see it pass into these lands as well.”

The Leader leaned back with a grim, thoughtful expression. He remained silent for a long time. When he responded, his voice was heavy with uncertainty. “This is a lot to ask. May I have the night to sleep on it before I decide?”

Gnawing impatience pained the Arweinydd at the answer. He knew there was nothing he could do to urge the leader. Not at the risk of losing the already shaky alliance.

“Of course,” Zemi dipped his head slightly.

“Thank you. I will make my considerations tonight,” relief colored ShinRe’s expression. He then lifted a hand to them. “We will make accommodations for you until the morning.”

Zemi dipped his head in a polite bow again. There was nothing else he could do but wait.