For a long while, there was no sound within the chamber except for the soft sobs of JouKa that came every now and then. TsuYa couldn’t bear to look at her. Couldn’t tear his dark eyes from the streaks of shadow that were drawn across the crystal tiles of the floor. Something within him felt heavy – not victorious at all.
But… KoGuRai is our enemy. He wouldn’t have hesitated to strike me or LuShi down. How can I even question if what I did was right?
It had come as warrior’s instinct. Strike while the enemy was unaware. Maybe it was a little underhanded. But when the life of people was at stake, there was no such thing as hesitation. TsuYa wanted to tell himself that he had struck to defend others… and not to fulfill his own bloodthirsty desires to see KoGuRai beat down and defeated.
If it was the right thing… then why do I feel so rotten about it?
Aur’s large golden form was sitting, unmoved next to JouKa’s collapsed form in the doorway. Though he outwardly showed little trace of true emotion, the way he sat by the girl’s side, whiskered nose poking down at her bowed head, was almost a posture of concern and care. Every now and then, his tail flicked up and down, golden eyes never blinking.
Man… I just never win.
Zazo had come to stand at his side, in turn. Her white fur was frosted with the glitter of blue and silver light as it streamed from the runes above and below. Her mouth was open in a lolling half-pant as one large paw lifted. Placed on the right spot in the small of his back, she nearly threw TsuYa flat on his face.
“Argh! Zazo! What was that for?” his protest broke the silence as he turned and shot a glower at the She Wolf.
-You fight well, Earthian. Don’t doubt that you did what you had to do,- she informed him.
I wish everyone saw it that way.
-There is, however, just one thing you have overlooked.-
And what is that?
-The Sygnus boy,- Zazo’s tail flipped back and forth, encouraging him to lift his head and look around the chamber.
TsuYa did. And he saw that LuShi was no where to be found. He made sure, turning around and around in the strange runic light. But time and time again, his eyes told him the same thing.
“He’s gone!?” the warrior sputtered out loud. “Where did he go?”
“I do believe I saw the boy travel through one of the Pathways during the last moments of your fight,” Aur lifted his head slowly, ears tilted forward.
“Did you see which one?” TsuYa asked. As his gaze brushed over the ornate designs that scrolled over the floor, he realized that there were quite a few of the strange, pulsing tiles. It was an assumption that led him to believe that the Pathway that Aur mentioned was tied to the glowing spots on the ground.
“Yes. I did. There is nothing to worry about.”
“Nothing to worry about? How about the fact that LuShi’s just flickered off somewhere that we don’t have any clue about… and he’s now getting further and further away. Again!” the warrior scowled, spreading his hands in a wide motion over his head.
-Relax,- Zazo snuffed. -We caught the Sygnus boy once. We can catch him again.-
“Yeah, but now, he’s so far away from Ceiswyr, how are we supposed to get him back to the Islands?”
“Who cares,” came the broken reply from where JouKa slumped next to the doorway.
“What?” TsuYa turned slowly, displeasure written over his face.
“I said… who cares…” she wiped her face on the hem of her cloak and shook her head. Her face was all red and streaked from crying… and fighting the show of tears. There was bitterness. And anger. And a mesh of a million other emotions there.
For a moment, TsuYa didn’t want to argue with her. Afterall, he was the one that had caused the pain that was written in her face. In the next moment, he shook his head out with a balled fist and dark, slitted eyes.
“Look. I don’t know what you came here for, JouKa. But I’m here to find and secure LuShi… and to bring him back home safely,” the young warrior told her, pacing a few steps closer. “I don’t know what sort of connection that you have with KoGuRai. And I don’t care. The man’s a monster… our enemy. And if he gets in the way of us again, I’ll kil–”
“TsuYa!” she suddenly shrieked, finding her feet. In a blind rush of emotion, she ran at him and slammed both of her fists against his chest. Again. And again. Sobbing and cursing him before shoving away one final time and rushing out the door of the chamber.
“JouKa..?” Aur’s deep voice rumbled after her.
But she didn’t stop. The warrior, the wolf and the lion were left standing in the chamber, staring at where her pale form had vanished into the darkness beyond the threshold.
“This isn’t going well at all,” Aur sighed finally.
“I told you that we shouldn’t have brought her. She’s nothing but trouble,” TsuYa snuffed with crossed arms at Zazo.
-If I do recall, it was the girl who just saved your life.-
“What are you talking about? I had everything under control!” he protested.
-Of course,- the She Wolf loped a few steps across the chamber, nosing the glowing tile where the Champion had vanished.
Suddenly, there came a high pitched scream from outside of the doorway. Before any of them could respond to the sound, JouKa came running back in with a wide-eyed look. “Esgyll! They’re swarmin’ the place outside! Won’t be much time before they notice tha doorway!”
TsuYa choked, “We better get moving then. Which of the portals did you say LuShi stepped on, Aur?”
“Wait! I don’t want ta go with you!” JouKa spat at him, far more vicious than he had ever seen before.
“Where else do you think you can go, JouKa?” he retorted with a deep scowl.
Her eyes flickered towards the tile where KoGuRai vanished.
“You gotta be kidding me!”
“What if I’m not?” she lifted her chin with a defiant scowl in his direction.
“I don’t get you! The guy would have killed us!” he argued.
But she would have none of it. She simply turned away with a bitter murmur, “Of course you wouldn’t understand.”
As TsuYa made a step forward to retort, the runes along the walls suddenly grew stunningly bright. Gone was the pale silver sheen and the angry blue glow. A pure white light touched every tile, every rune, lighting it with a strange, otherworldly radiance. Somehow, TsuYa could sense this was how the chamber was meant to be.
In the center of it all, a shape began to take form. JouKa scrambled a few paces back, her eyes wide as the light began to draw in on itself, pulsing and growing with each breath. A long slender neck stretched upwards, lifting the wedge-shaped Dragon’s head, bright teal eyes reflecting down on them with an unreadable expression.
“Lord Zemi?” the words rolled out of TsuYa’s mouth before he knew what he was saying. Head craned back, he watched the great white Dragon form, taking a shape much like what he was used to seeing a long time ago in the Host Gate.
It feels like it’s been decades since that time… with all that’s happened in between.
-It’s about time you showed up,- Zazo shook out her fur disdainfully with glowering eyes. -This has turned out to be a real mess, Zemi. The Sygnus boy is gone again. He’s been very difficult to capture.-
Great… I bet he’s here to chew us out for screwing everything up.
“As I figured he’d be,” Zemi lowered his head to peer at the group in the chamber. There was something about the way he spoke that left TsuYa to think that the Arweinydd had something more on his mind than coming there to ream them for mistakes.
“I see that the Dreigiau had knowledge of the Cynosure, then?” Aur spoke slowly, his golden eyes reflecting the light from above.
“I had a few ideas about this place. But not exactly what it was, no,” Zemi replied. “Now that I do know… I’m here to seal this place and its power away once you’ve gotten where you need to go.”
“What? Why?” JouKa demanded, forgetting exactly who she was talking to, obviously.
Zemi, however, didn’t seem to take much offense for it. Instead he blew a soft breath in her direction, a deep rumbling sound purring through his voice, “Because now Zeromus is aware of the Cynosure, too. The last thing that I want is for him to have access to something that will allow him to send his troops out of the Inner Realms.”
“So… this place really is a rift?” TsuYa asked with a frown.
“Not just a rift… but hundreds of rifts,” the Dreigiau replied. “Could you imagine what Zeromus could do with this means of transportation for himself and his creatures?”
TsuYa didn’t say anything more. He just shivered and kept his dark thoughts to himself.
“Exactly,” Zemi bobbed his head slowly. “That’s why I’m closing it down once you’ve gone through to follow Lucci.”
-Then how are you thinking we’re supposed to be coming back?- Zazo spoke sharply, a thought that hadn’t dawned upon TsuYa just yet. -We don’t even know where that portal will take us. What if we get dumped far outside of the Inner Realm somewhere? You going to send Dragons searching us out or something?-
“Eventually. Maybe,” Zemi answered.
What? What does he mean by MAYBE? Is he just sending us out there to be stranded?
TsuYa balled his fist, eyes glittering sharply at the shape of the white Dragon. The head turned toward him, responding, as always, to the heat of his thought. Zemi shook out his long white mane and blinked before speaking again.
“I will not leave you to be stranded,” his words were simple.
“But aren’t we supposed to bring LuShi back to the Islands?” TsuYa inquired, picking his words carefully and fighting back his frustration. It wasn’t a good idea to yell at the Arweinydd who could simply choose to cast him off into the black void at a personal whim.
“There’s been a change of plans,” Zemi spoke slowly. The weight of the words were immense, almost knocking the breath out of everyone in the chamber. Everyone except Zazo, of course.
JouKa had forgotten her anger and was peering over at TsuYa with a concerned, questioning look. The young warrior could only shake his head and shrug, fighting to keep his temper from showing on his face. Aur remained silent, his tail flipping back and forth occasionally. Either he had known about what Zemi was coming to say or he didn’t care much about it to begin with.
When the obvious question was not asked, Zemi took it as his cue to continue, “Things are becoming more dangerous in Ceiswyr. I don’t think that it’s safe for Lucci to stay there. It’s obvious that Zeromus will do everything he can, even send his Champion, to take Lucci away from us and turn him to his own bidding.”
TsuYa pursed his lips with a scowl of deep displeasure.
“You were there, TsuYa, when they attempted to wake Lucci’s power in the worst possible way,” the Dreigiau said quietly. “The child is facing the aftereffects of that attempt. It has not been easy for him or anyone around him… and I fear that more attempts will be made as long as Lucci remains within Zeromus’ grasp in the Inner Realms.”
“So why didn’t you just load ‘im up on a Dragon and send ‘im to Wyndor?” JouKa asked, putting a hand on her hip.
Is she not afraid of mouthing ANYONE?
“That’s a pretty obvious place to send him. Right to where danger can follow and find those who have Migrated… the one safe spot for the people that still remains hidden,” Aur spoke quietly.
“Yes, that’s true,” Zemi nodded lowly. “But also, I think that Lucci is taking on a pro-active attempt to stop this war from its source. I’m very sure that he is seeking something that will allow use to strike at Zeromus and take him down for good.”
“Mmmmm….” a sound rumbled in the back of Aur’s throat. But he didn’t speak.
“You mean there’s something we can use to defeat Zeromus?” TsuYa’s eyes widened.
“Like… kill-kill? Like DEAD?” JouKa chimed in, coming to stand next to him.
“It’s very possible,” the Dreigiau answered.
“Why didn’t anyone mention something as big as this before?” the warrior asked with a furrow of his brow. Something about this seemed unusual to him, but he couldn’t put his finger on what it was.
“Because we didn’t know if we could find the items that would make the defeat of Zeromus possible,” Zemi replied slowly. “But it would seem that now, he’s found some outside… help… that’s revealing the information that we need to make it happen.”
Another rumble rose from the back of Aur’s throat. TsuYa couldn’t tell if it was a growl… or what it meant. But there was an exchange of looks between the Guardian and the Arweinydd that followed shortly after. When Aur finally turned to look away, there was a submissiveness to the motion of his head.
-Then we can finally beat some sense into Zerom… and end this ridiculous battle,- Zazo snuffed. -What do we have to do, Zemi?-
“I need for all of you to follow after Lucci, just as you have been. Do not try to capture and return him, however,” the Arweinydd ordered. “I want, instead, for you to do what you can to keep him safe from any attempts Zeromus may send after him. And to make sure that Lucci finds what he needs to help us end this war.”
JouKa nodded slowly, “Sounds good to me.”
“Yeah…” TsuYa rubbed the back of his head with a frown.
Almost too good. I wonder what sort of information LuShi is getting… and where he’s getting it from? Why didn’t Zemi just send us out there instead of letting the boy Sygnus wander around in the middle of all this danger?
Though Aur’s head was still bent away from the Dreigiau, his voice rose one more time, “Zemi… are you certain about this?”
“I am most certain,” the Arweinydd replied, teal eyes bright as they focused on his Apprentice, “And I am appointing TsuYa as the leader of this mission.”
“Me?” the warrior’s eyes widened. All questions flew straight out of his mind at the thought of new-found responsibility. And position.
“Yes, you, TsuYa. Are you up to it?”
TsuYa straightened, his chin lifting. It was all he could do not to let his smirk show, “Oh, most certainly, Lord Zemi. I’ll get it done!”