The morning light shone peacefully upon the Exile Encampment, leaving dappled patterns across the wooden platform where SoYa stood. A delicate wood railing traced the edge of the overlook, for which he was grateful. It helped to give him the courage to take a moment to look out over the edge.
When he did, the view took his breath away.
It felt as if he was standing on the roof of the world. Below him, the Encampment stretched out along the ancient winding branches in every direction. He watched the small figures of the clans people moving along the ramps and out on the wood balconies of their homes. Though they faded off into the distance through the shimmering leaves, there were some that SoYa could make out well enough to identify.
Off to the right, he saw Kudako and his brother ShinRe, taking breakfast on the leader’s morning overlook. They sat quietly, each on their own side of a smaller round table. SoYa couldn’t tell if they were talking, eating or just sharing company, but he was glad to know that Kudako was reunited with his older sibling.
The Athrylith sighed softly, fighting to try to keep thoughts of his own brother from surfacing too much.
We’ll get there when we do, one thing at a time.
To another side, he heard the cheering laughter of children. SoYa took a few steps forward, peering curiously over the edge. Down below, a group of children stood ringed around Zemi, watching him with delighted faces. The Athrylithcouldn’t tell what was being said, but he could see the children clapping and cheering at whatever the Dreigiau was entertaining them with.
Somehow, that’s not surprising. Zemi strikes me as the kind to enjoy the company of children.
Much to their elated amazement, the Dreigiau snapped his fingers before them, a spark of light appearing above his hand. The light slowly stretched and took the form of a small glowing dragon, one that SoYa saw Zemi create before in the past. This one, however, was pale and transparent, lacking much of the vibrancy of the Arweinydd’s usual magic. The children didn’t know this, so they cheered all the more.
SoYa, however, couldn’t help but feel worried.
Has Zemi really become that much weaker? If so, how can some shards of magic stone from the Spiral help?
“You of all people know that there is often more under the surface of things than it first seems,” a deep, quiet voice told him.
SoYa turned to see Aur approaching, walking towards him from the other side of the platform. He felt a momentary loss of words – besides a short time in Wyndor, SoYa didn’t have a lot of contact with the creature from the Time Before. This became even less since the Watcher became the ambassador between Ceiswyrand the Spiral.
None of this appeared to concern the big man as he stopped to stand silently next to the Athrylith. The golden eyes remained unblinking, staring out over the Encampment just as SoYa had done only moments earlier.
“It is a pleasant place,” the Watcher remarked.
“Yes, it is, Lord Aur,” SoYa answered, fumbling to figure out what extreme of formality he should to address the man. The Athrylith chose to go with over formal rather than under. After all, the way that the Watcher held himself spoke of wisdom and knowledge that deserved recognition.
Aur’s reaction seemed to disagree, “Since when was it been mandated that you address me with such a title?”
“Well, I just thought…”
“I hope that we can establish a level of companionship similar to that which your father and brother established with me in the past,” the Watcher wasted no time getting straight to the point.
Wow, that has to be the most complex way I’ve heard anyone say “Let’s be friends.”
SoYa’s eyebrows arched as he still struggled for a loss of words.
Aur paused, glancing over with hooded eyes. “I apologize. I should not have mentioned TsuYa.”
“No,” the Athrylith shook his head. “No. It’s alright. I have to face the reality. There’s no need to avoid talking about things.”
The Watcher stood silently, gathering his thoughts before he asked, “Then, would it be alright if I talked with you about this situation?”
“Sure?” SoYa furrowed his brow. He didn’t know what was more surprising – that the Watcher was seeking out conversation from him, or the tone of voice that hinted at deep and quiet emotion behind the golden eyes.
“It is difficult to find the words,” Aur began. “I hoped that an Athrylith could understand.”
He nodded in return, “I’ll do my best. Just say whatever’s on your mind.”
“It is awkward to ask for concern when I feel as if I have wronged you and your family.”
“Wronged us?” SoYa frowned. “How?”
Aur took a long breath through his nose and explained slowly, “Your father came to the Spiral, as you know, to find me and to bring me back to Zemi. He held great hopes that I could protect TsuYa from the shadows through my enchantments. Though I warned your brother near the end to be careful, my strength was not enough to pull him through. And for that, I am deeply regretful.”
The Athrylith’s mouth fell ajar in an expression of mute surprise. He struggled to gather his thoughts before replying. The Watcher was content to give him the time that he needed.
“Aur,” he started, almost wincing at the lack of formality. “I don’t believe this happened because you lacked strength. I don’t believe that you have, in any way, wronged my brother or my father. I don’t think anyone else believes that, either.”
The Watcher didn’t reply. He simply peered down in contemplation that spurred SoYa to continue on.
“If anything, you gave Tsu a second chance at things. You gave him more time to fight and search for an answer,” the Athrylith looked down sadly. “You gave the three of us a chance to be a family for a little while. It was more time than we would have had without your help. You did all you could. If anything, we should be thanking you.”
Aur appeared to reflect on the words for a while longer. Then he responded, “Your words are kind. You are much like your father in that way.”
“No,” SoYa shook his head with a sheepish face. “It was always Tsu who was most like Father.”
“You might be surprised,” the Watcher told him with a serious frown. “There is a reason that you were asked to journey here in his stead.”
The Athrylithleaned forward on the rail, cupping his chin in one palm. “I had a feeling that it was more than just because of the wing issues.”
“That was a consideration, too. But you are correct,” Aur spoke heavily. “There are many who are concerned for your father’s wellbeing. We felt it was better to leave him to his thoughts than to request his attendance on this journey.”
“I see,” SoYa pursed his lips. He felt worried knowing that even Aur and Zemi were anxious about how well Father would overcome the loss. At the same time, he was a bit honored, too, knowing they chose him to stand next to them as the representative of his people in Father’s stead. “I hope I’m doing this right. If something can help to ease Father’s burden, I’ll do whatever I can.”
“I wouldn’t worry too much about that, SoYa,” the Watcher offered him a slight smile. “You are well liked and well-spoken of. You honor your people without needing to try. You are a natural leader. Like your father.”
“Of course,” Aur responded to his surprise with gentle encouragement.
“But I’m not the great warrior like he and Tsu are.”
“You are a good leader in a different way, in a way that suits you,” he explained. “Just like in so many things in life, leading your people begins with an understanding of yourself. Both strengths and weaknesses. Don’t underestimate the potential that you have simply because it does not match the potential of those who have come before you.”
“Wow,” SoYa mused with a smile of his own. “Where do you find all these big things to say?”
“I have been around for longer than I probably should have been,” Aur answered, a hint of amusement in his voice. “So, do the ‘big things’ I say help, just a little?”
“Yeah. They do. Especially considering you were the one that wanted to talk to me first,” the Athrylith rubbed the back of his neck.
“There is nothing wrong in exchanging encouragement,” the Watcher said. “We need more of that if we are going to pull through these troubled times.”
Before SoYa could expand on the train of thought, another voice joined them, interrupting the calm, reflective moment, “Hey! There you are! Guess what!”
They both turned to see Zemi making his way towards them with a wide fangy smile. There was a hint of excitement to his step and a faint twinkle in the depths of his teal-flecked eyes. The moment that the Dreigiau came within arm’s length, he gave them both a vigorous shoulder shake.
“He said yes!” the Arweinydd announced as if it was the answer to all the problems of the universe.
“Who? What?” SoYa just stared up, dumbfounded.
“ShinRe!” Zemi exclaimed. “He’s agreed to come back with us and help us locate the source of energy within the Spiral! Isn’t that great?”
Aur let out a long breath. “I expected as much.”
The Dreigiau waggled a finger at the Watcher, “I assume that you expected just about everything that happened here. Didn’t you?”
There was no reply. But Zemi didn’t seem the least bit ruffled.
“That’s fantastic news!” SoYa responded, trying to muster up as much enthusiasm as he could for the self-stoked Arweinydd. “So what’s the plan?”
“As of the moment, we’re just waiting on ShinRe to get things together. Once he’s ready, we’re going to head back to the Spiral to see what we can figure out,” Zemi answered.
He makes it sound so easy, but this couldn’t have been simple for ShinRe to choose. Not after having been in exile for as long as he has. I doubt he’s even had any contact with the Spiral until now.
The Athrylith kept such thoughts to himself, not wanting to dampen the turn of good spirits. It was true what Aur said, in times like this, every bit of encouragement and good will was needed.
Keeping Zemi in good cheer is important, too.
SoYa smiled slightly as he watched the Dreigiauparade around the platform, piecing together impromptu dance steps. The Athrylith could only hope that it was a sign that things were starting to look up.