The Vision Stone was cracked, a slice that cut straight through the clear, flat face in the place where the rift once reflected. The soft glow of the crystal spluttered, broken, weakening from its cankerous wound. No longer did it protect the land, which was now marred by the darkness and the mists. Its power was waning. The Stone was covered in blood.
The last gift it gave was the deepest, most terrible curse on the one who struck it.
Luccious lifted the two broken bodies in his arms, hugging them to his chest one at a time. Both were limp and lifeless. Their spirits were ripped from their flesh, trapped in the mists, just as his own sanity was.
They were dead. NaDo. Maru.
He couldn’t remember who else. Everything happened in a terrible blur of raging power and destruction. He knew people were dead. And they were dead because of him.
As the Stone’s last light gave his mind a momentary clarity, the Sygnus collapsed next to the two unmoving bodies. He sobbed and wailed brokenly, like a child, his fingers tearing at the blood-stained grass.
Luccious became the very Bane that the people fearfully foretold. Now, the people he loved most were dead, and he was alone.
-Why do you cry, my son?- the hissing voice crept into his mind. -They gave their lives to give you power for a bigger and better plan. For this world’s Remaking and our domination.-
He lifted his tear-streaked face as the darkness took shape. What appeared there was not person nor Arweinydd. Whatever Zerom was once, so long ago, was consumed by the Chaos and the Hatred. Now, that Hatred was a part of Luccious, too.
“You made me your weapon! You made me kill these people!” Luccious’ voice started out low, growing in strength.
-I gave you the power to reach for your own destiny. I didn’t control what you did with it,- the voice told him smoothly.
“You knew this would happen! You knew what the spirits and Chaos would drive me to do!” he struggled to his feet, fists balling. “I would never have hurt them! I would–”
-Why? Because you loved them?- Zeromus sneered. -Do you really think they had any love for you? Do you really fool yourself to believe that you deserve their love?-
A low laughter rang in his ears. Tears streamed, hot and furious down Luccious’ face.
-Love is an illusion for the weak, Luccious. And we are not the weak,- the voice goaded him smugly.
“No,” Luccious answered, suddenly finding the cold grip of the black blade in his palm. “We’re not the weak.”
Silver eyes flashed with a terrible wrath as the Sygnus leapt forward, lunging towards the gloating figure. The slender blade struck, hissing and crackling with fury, ripping down through the darkness, splattering black ooze and hissing shadows across the silent glade.
Luccious’ cry of redemption mingled with Zeromus’ screech of shock and pain, echoing from the darkness of the overhanging sky. Then with one final flicker, the blue light of the Vision Stone faded on the old world.
Zemi walked for what felt like an eternity. The form that was once tireless, flawless and so formidable now flickered and faltered. He was growing weaker, and he could feel it in every inch of his being.
His power was linked to the Nefolian world, a world that was now far, far away. He was bound to the energy of that living planet. Together, he and that world developed and grew strong. He became a Patron, a defender of the creatures of that land.
That was all gone now.
This strange, new world, felt nothing at all like his home planet. There was life and beauty there. Peace and silence. But the connection that once strengthened him was gone. And his people were gone, too.
The Dreigiau carried the limp form of SoYa in his arms. His breath was shallow, but he was still alive. Perhaps the distance between the worlds also weakened the effects of the Chaotic magics the Sygnus attempted to inflict on him as well.
Something happened when they jumped through the rift. Something unexpected and awful. There was a cracking sound and a bright light, then when Zemi was finally able to gather his awareness, he found himself there with only SoYa at his side.
SoYa wasn’t the same. He didn’t shown signs of waking, but Zemi could feel it. The wings that once graced the Athrylith’s shoulders were gone. Simply gone, ripped away, as if he was never Awakened at all. The feeling around SoYa was distant, like a stranger. As if Zemi was never his Patron, and there was never a connection between them.
In the drifting patterns of the Athrylith’s dreams, Zemi sensed the same thing. Memories were dull, a whole lifetime of experiences unmade and torn from SoYa’s mind. It was the last strike of the Sygnus. If he couldn’t destroy the Nefolians in body, he erased their knowledge and destroyed the connection to their Patron.
If this happened to one as strong of mind as SoYa, the rest of the people, wherever they ended up, were in the same state or worse. There would be no finding them all and no reestablishing things. Not easily. Not now.
Perhaps it’s better this way.
It was a terrible, anguished thought. Still, as Zemi peered down into SoYa’s sleeping face, he wondered if the people of the Inner Realms would have been better off without the intrusion of Arweinydd.
All we caused was their death and destruction. Now they have no home. They have no past. They, too, are alone in the loss of their identity.
A long, ragged breath escaped Zemi’s lips.
I made a promise to watch over Zento’s son and keep him safe. I will fill that promise.
He stopped walking, having reached his destination.
Maybe the only way I can keep them safe is by not being here at all.
Zemi’s teal eyes lowered, falling on the tiny curled up form in the grass. AsaHi. She, too, was without wings, but still radiant. Still beautiful. Just the same as the first day he saw her. Something in his heart ached as he knelt down, placing SoYa at her side.
Slumping to his knees, the Dreigiau gathered them both into his arms. They were his people, his children to guide. And he failed them.
I will make sure that if you have nothing else left, that you will have each other.
Though he felt himself weakening, the Arweinydd reached around them, gathering the last of his power. Within that embrace, he wove a new knowledge for them. The distant memories of each other. The love that they shared. The courage they possessed to stand by one another, no matter the dangers they faced.
Zemi’s form began to flicker and shimmer, tiny particles of light drifting upon the alien winds. He laid them down in the grass, side by side, and with a tired and sorrowful breath, the Dreigiau faded away.
He opened his eyes. The world blurred, vision swimming. His mind was cloudy, waking very slowly. He pushed himself up on his hands, feeling the cool blades of grass under his fingers. Then he peered around.
He wasn’t sure where he was, but it didn’t seem like a bad place to wake up. Everything was quiet. It smelled of earth and flowers and trees. He heard the buzzing of busy insects as they made their rounds over the fern-like bushes. Somewhere not too far away he heard the sound of running water.
A water splash across the face sure did sound like a good idea.
As he rolled over to look around, he noticed he was not alone. A girl was curled up in the grass beside him. He was surprised at his feeling of surprise regarding this fact — was it odd to find a girl sleeping in the grass? Maybe it was. Maybe it wasn’t. After all, everything felt somewhat odd.
He leaned over her to get a better look at her face. It was obscured by waves of pale white hair. Specks of grass and flower petals dotted the soft strands making her feel like something that belonged there. Something of the natural world.
He reached forward to pull her hair from her face, and the girl began to stir. She slowly rolled over, bright green eyes fluttering open. It took a moment for her vision to focus, peering up at his face.
He expected her to respond in surprise — after all, he would have been surprised if someone was staring down on him when he woke up. But she didn’t. Instead, she gave a wide, beautiful smile.
“SoYa?” she asked.
He blinked once, then realized that was his name. And that he knew her name, too.
“AsaHi?” he asked in a similar tone.
“Hi?” she answered, looking a little shy.
“Hi?” he responded, brushing the stray curly hair from his eyes.
AsaHi reached up and also stroked her fingers through his hair, moving along with his own. She pushed herself to sit up next to him.
The sound of voices carried along the breeze. There were other people there, somewhere. SoYa felt them. Sensed them. He didn’t know how he knew. He just did. The feeling of slight confusion and wonderment. People waking up, just as they did.
“There’s other people here,” AsaHi gave him a quizzical look.
“I know,” he told her and nodded.
Then he got to his feet and helped her up. As he walked forward, he sensed something funny. Looking down, he could see AsaHi’s little hand wrapped around his own. Something about that felt right.
The sound of the ocean was more mournful now, though Oren couldn’t understand why. The darkness lifted from the forests, but even so, left only a pale shadow of what the land once was. As he rode along, even Drok seemed restless, ears twitching in nervous agitation.
Something really bad has happened here.
He knew it had to do with the strange white haired people. Even after the KoGuRai creature was slain, they were always in a bustle to get to one place or another. No one took the time to explain what the trouble was.
Just like the people of the Inner Realms. Thinking they’re so much above the rest of us because of their wings.
The people of the Spiral were also on the prowl, heading further south than before. The golden haired men were never one for conversation, though, and didn’t offer any information either. They just seemed to be searching and searching.
Whatever they were looking for, they don’t seem to be finding it.
Drok suddenly lurched to a stop, nearly sending Oren sprawling over his neck.
“Hey! What do you call that?” he complained, punching the creature on the shoulder lightly. “You need to warn me!”
Drok simply shook his head all the more and snorted. Squinting up the steep incline towards the forest, Oren saw a glimmer of something white along the stones. Swinging down from his mount, he frowned and made his way towards it.
“You stay here,” he said back over his shoulder. “Not like you’d move anywhere anyway. Lazy thing.”
The closer Oren climbed, the more his astonishment rose. Soon his eyes picked out the features of a person. A white-haired woman. Someone he knew all too well.
“Well, now. If this isn’t déjà vu,” he murmured under his breath.
Kneeling down, he checked her over for any sign of injury. She was still breathing. She didn’t seem hurt. But the wings that she once had were missing.
Something strange is definitely going on here.
Oren pursed his lips and gathered her in his arms. Carefully he picked his way back down the incline towards where Drok waited.
The creature flicked its ears forward with an expression of smug expectation.
“Yeah, yeah. I know. You’re good,” Oren huffed, securing the woman on Drok’s back. “Let’s get her back to the camp and see if we can figure out what happened.”
Camp wasn’t too far away. It was a cave they found in the side of the stone near the ocean. It was somewhat damp and the fire was stubborn at times, but there wasn’t much more one could expect when it was high tide.
Oren covered her in a hide blanket, did his best to make her comfortable among the saddle bags and put some fish on the fire to fry. He hoped that the smell of food would bring her around. She didn’t look like she had eaten anything in far too long.
Eventually, hunger must have taken its toll, because she did start to stir. He leaned forward to watch her, a big grin spread across his face.
“Good morning, beautiful,” he teased.
Expecting a disgruntled jab in return, he braced himself. Instead, she merely blinked at him in confusion.
“JouKa?” he gave a concerned look.
She didn’t respond to her name.
“JouKa?” he asked again.
This time, she turned to him and asked slowly, “Do ya mean me?”
“Yeah,” Oren frowned. “That’s your name. JouKa. Don’t you remember?”
“Oh. Yes, of course,” she answered. “JouKa.”
Drok snuffed from the far corner of the room.
“’Oo are you?” JouKa asked with a moment of hesitation.
He blinked, then gave a wide joking grin to cover his own worry, “I’m Oren. I’m the love of your life!”
Certainly THAT will get a reaction!
Her mouth opened wide. Instead of the customary shout, she mused in wonderment, “Really?”
Oren fell over backwards, nearly upsetting the frying fish. When he uprighted himself, he waved his hands around, “Okay! Now I KNOW you’re really sick!”
JouKa looked down at herself, clutching the hide blanket tighter about her shoulders. “I… don’t think I’m sick.”
“Then, what’s wrong?” he asked.
“I don’t know,” she told him.
“How did you get here?”
“I don’t know.”
“What happened? Was there a fight?”
“I don’t know!” this time tears began to shimmer in her eyes.
“Whoa! Whoa! Wait, I didn’t mean it like that!” he waved his hands around.
Good job you insensitive lug!
There was a long uncomfortable silence. Then he scrubbed his fingers through his hair and slowly slid over to sit next to her.
“Look,” Oren said. “It’s okay if you don’t know.”
“It is?” she asked with a sad face.
“Yeah. It’s fine. You’ll be alright,” he promised her. “I’ll take care of you and we’ll figure this all out. Okay?”
JouKa didn’t say anything. She just nodded and leaned her head against Oren’s broad shoulder.
He grinned widely. Drok gave him a long, flat stare.
Oren cleared his throat and motioned forward, “So. Uh. I hope you like fish?”