“So, tell me boys, what’s the game plan?” Aunt SaRa cornered the two men immediately.
“Game plan?” Zento asked innocently.
“Morh-SaRa, I have no idea what you’re talking about,” Kudako added in an evasive tone.
Though Aunt SaRa was dwarfed standing next to the two of them — especially Kudako — it hardly seemed to bother her.
“What do you think I am?”
She crossed her arms with a discontent face.
“Deaf, dumb and blind?”
Her eyes narrowed sharply.
One finger lifted, waggling back and forth, giving each man a fair dosage of scolding.
“Run by the unwitty male mindset?”
AsaHi winced, watching Aunt SaRa handling the situation quite firmly.
“Well…” Zento grimaced.
Kudako looked unaffected.
“All this hurry-scurry to and fro. As if we couldn’t tell that there was some nonsense going on,” the winged woman glanced back over her shoulder, fixing an eye on AsaHi. “Right, child?”
AsaHi straightened, not expecting to become a part of the conversation. Pursing her lips, she did the only thing she could think of that wouldn’t flaw Aunt SaRa’s attack. She nodded silently.
“There now. You see? It’s even obvious to the girl.”
“Women,” Zento huffed. “Most dangerous when they come at you in packs.”
Kudako grunted softly.
“I heard that, ZenToYa!” Aunt SaRa chided.
“Heeeeeh!” he grinned brightly. “You know I love ya, SaRa.”
“I know. That’s why you’re going to tell me what’s going on,” she replied sweetly.
Kudako grinned slightly, “She’s got you pinned, Zento.”
“Why don’t you just encourage her?” he grumbled over his shoulder at the Dragon.
“So?” Aunt SaRa crossed her arms.
Zento flopped himself down haphazardly on the nearest ledge along the wall. “We don’t have anything set in stone–”
“Well, give me a roundabout.”
“I’d get there if you’d let me talk,” Zento grumbled.
Aunt SaRa closed her mouth quickly, lips pressing together. Kudako watched them, mildly amused.
“Zemi says that we’ve done nothing but put a patch over Tsu’s situaion. He says that his energies are too close to Zerom’s to have a true reversing effect,” Zento offered a worried frown. “In fact, he claims that Zerom’s Marked might not be too different in nature than the Awakened.”
“I see,” Aunt SaRa gave an almost identical frown. “So what are we looking at, exactly?”
“Tsu’s spirit has been weakened and is susceptible. He must not stray from the borders of this city. Otherwise, he’s fair game for Zerom’s powers to take him again,” Zento explained gravely.
“How?” AsaHi’s asked quickly. “I mean, isn’t he Zemi Dreigiau? Isn’t he supposed to be able to do anything?”
“Morh-AsaHi,” Kudako’s voice was very low and smooth. “He is very powerful, but even those of his kind have limits. I hope that it always remains that way. Those who have unchallenged power tend to end up corrupt. And that would be a dark day for the Earthians indeed.”
AsaHi swallowed. “I… I… guess so.”
“The fact remains, this is how it is. Zemi can’t do much more to heal Tsu. And it seems like he’s gotten it into his head to find Zerom and stop him,” Zento’s final words trailed off.
Aunt SaRa lifted her head sharply, “Why would he go and do a foolish thing like that? Doesn’t he know that a battle between two Arweinydd here on Earthian grounds could be disastrous?”
Kudako’s own face was troubled, “Considering we know absolutely nothing of the nature of this Zerom, I’d say it’s best to trust Lord Zemi’s judgment.”
“Oh, sure,” Aunt SaRa rolled her eyes. “And you know what that will be. Zemi’s going to go in there with a knee-jerk reaction, and he won’t even realize what he’s caused until it’s too late.”
“Maybe. But are you going to talk him out of it?” Zento pointed out. “Besides, we can’t be for sure that Zemi plans to start a fight. He knows more about Zerom than any of us. So, I agree with Kudako.”
“That’s a first,” the Dragon noted.
“It happens every now and then,” Zento shrugged.
“Well, if Zemi is on the warpath, does that mean that you’re going with him?” Aunt SaRa coaxed the conversation back on track.
“Actually, no,” Zento shook his head.
“No?” she echoed.
“You heard me. Zemi’s got his own agenda.”
“You’re just going to let him go out on his own?” Aunt SaRa frowned.
“He’s a big boy. I think he can take care of himself,” he chided softly.
“That’s debatable,” she frowned. “If you’re not going with him, then what are you doing?”
“We’re going to look for a cure for Tsu,” Zento answered.
“Cure? Is there such a thing?” AsaHi’s eyes were glued to the winged man, hoping to read something from his expression.
“I don’t know. But Zemi says it’s possible.”
“A power that can rival Arweinydd energies. Where do you plan on seeking this cure?” Aunt SaRa prodded. She didn’t look too convinced.
“The Outterlands,” Kudako offered quickly.
“Outterlands?” AsaHi tilted her head. “Where’s that?”
“That is where I came from, the lands beyond the Inner Realm,” the Dragon said.
“What makes you think you can find something there?” Aunt SaRa’s face was quizzical and somewhat sad.
“There are things in the Outterlands that go beyond the knowledge of our people. Things that have been there since long before the first people came there,” Kudako spoke quietly, his golden eyes turned away in a distant gaze. “Mystical things. Powerful things. Things from the Time Before.”
“Time Before?” AsaHi blinked at him. It all sounded so very important.
“Yes. Like in Lord Zemi’s story. The Time Before the near-death of this world.”
Aunt SaRa’s eyes glimmered slightly, “And you think something out there could hold some sort of cure for Tsu?”
“I have to try, SaRa,” Zento pushed himself to his feet. “Otherwise, he’s bound to spend the rest of his life stuck here in Ceiswyr.”
“I understand,” Aunt SaRa nodded slowly. “I suppose you want me to stay here and watch over him.”
Zento’s eyes flickered up to his sister’s face. “I was hoping that maybe… well… yes? He needs someone here that he’s familiar with. Someone he can trust. There’s not too many people he does.”
“No,” the winged man shook his head.
“Why not?” Aunt SaRa asked gently.
“SoYa is coming with me.”
His tone of voice left a sinking sensation in the pit of AsaHi’s stomach. She balled one fist at her side, body quivering as a million thoughts ran through her mind. Only two words managed to squeak their way out between her lips, “He is?”
Zento turned to AsaHi. “Yes. I want him close to me.”
“Is it… it… because of…” she trailed off, not knowing the word to put to the situation.
“Athrylith?” he offered, looking surprised. “You knew about it?”
“No, no… I didn’t know. But since he’s been here in the floating city, I’ve just felt something about him that was…”
“I see,” Zento offered no other words. His face was lost to thought.
“Athrylith,” AsaHi felt suddenly very queasy. Though she didn’t know exactly what the word meant, she did know it wasn’t a good thing. “So… that’s… what he is?”
“Yes, child,” Zento’s face grew more gentle.
“I… didn’t… know…” her voice wandered weakly. “He never told me.”
“Not too many people knew. It’s not the sort of thing you want to go spreading about yourself,” he told her.
“No, I guess not,” her eyes were fixed on her feet.
“So what do you want to do, AsaHi?” Aunt SaRa’s voice was soft. “He is your Promised, isn’t he?”
“Yes, but… I…” the girl bit down on her lip.
Zento reached out and gently placed a hand on AsaHi’s shoulder. “I’m taking SoYa along so that I can make sure that he gets proper training. No one’s tended to that yet. You’ll have nothing to fear once he gets it all under control. He’s done a fairly well job of that, considering.”
AsaHi remained silent.
“Besides, him going on this trip gives you two a little time apart, yes?” he continued. His eyes were fixed on the girl’s face, watching for some hint of hope. “That way you have a chance to think things through and ge–”
“I’m going with you,” AsaHi’s eyes flashed up.
Zento froze, “Hrm?”
Kudako leaned back against the wall, indicating he was washing his hands of the situation.
“I am. I’m going with you,” she repeated, voice growing more determined.
“Now, AsaHi… I…”
She pressed quickly, “I’m sorry, Master ZenToYa. Maybe it’s disrespectful. But I made it all the way here to the city! I’ve faced a lot of things! I know I don’t have power like the rest of you, but I can’t just sit here and wait. I want to help SoYa and TsuYa!”
Aunt SaRa arched one eyebrow at the girl. Then she turned towards Zento, waiting for his answer.
“I’m not afraid!” AsaHi added, softening her voice a bit, “Please?”
Zento’s face seemed rather choked.
“Zento,” Kudako muttered quietly. “She might do your boy some good. He’s going to need all the support he can get. You know what sort of thing he’s going through.”
The winged man turned to peer at the Dragon in disbelief, “Since when have you ever agreed to let a girl join our party?”
Kudako shrugged offhandedly.
AsaHi looked at him too. Her chin was lifted, face fixed and resolute. When Zento glanced back at her, he must have recognized the expression.
“Very well,” he gave a long sigh. “But only under one condition.”
The girl perked up.
“If you’re coming with us, you are under our protection and bound to my command. Things could get dangerous and we need everyone to stick together,” his eyes grew stern. “You have to give me your word that you’ll follow my orders, no matter what they are.”
She nodded quickly, still too surprised to speak.
“Good,” Zento grumbled slightly. “Now, you better go get your stuff ready. Chances are, we’ll be leaving at sun up. If you’re not ready, you get left behind.”
AsaHi’s eyes widened in realization. Giving a little gasp, she dashed down the hall towards her room.