Chapter II - "Barren Thrones"
A vast room with towering, ancient windows normally welcomed trusted visitors, family and friends. But this Starsday was not graced with such luxuries. Twelve Zell (dragon) warriors planned to regroup at castle Kessoshaero to assess their strategies.
Inside this hall, sounds of steam, hisses and clicks seemed to suggest machinery and inner-workings of apparatus yet unseen.
Centrally placed, an ornate oval table (intricately inscribed with ‘Dragonspeak’ all along its edges) was clearly meant to be the focal point of this conference chamber. There were a dozen seats surrounding the charcoal and ivory ellipse, all similar in magnificence.
Twelve empty thrones.
Elder Leijimoto entered the door to this chamber which hosted the Table of Twelve, and rushed toward his seat. But upon nearly passing a noble, ‘grandfather’ clock, Leiji slowed his pace, and carefully listened...
Full stop. In near-silence, the intricate timekeeper continued at pace and rhythm unfettered, but Leiji hardly breathed. Its stone and wooden framing blended with dozens of precisely placed crystalline engravings, boasting both mastery and magnificence. The clock snapped and sibilated as six gears pivoted underneath their cylindrical pins. These pins controlled six corresponding outer indicators, which wove circular paths at various speeds, traveling both counter and clockwise.
It was a device not meant for humans to understand.
Leijimoto inhaled with a patient pause, and turned to face this unique timekeeper. He stared, fixated. The sonorous chronograph churned, but seemingly no differently today than yesterday, yesterweek nor yesteryear. Same as it would tomorrow. But for some reason, behind his circular bifocals, Leijimoto glared with peculiar eyes as it cranked out a solemn cadence. He swallowed. Elder Leijimoto studied the grandfather clock’s smokey emanations. Strangely, as if compelled, Leiji addressed the device as if it were sentient:
“Ziwalos. Do you reveal tragedy... or triumph this Starsday?”
No response. Clearly, this timekeeper--this ‘Ziwalos’--had no answers for anyone. How could it? It was but an object--a machine. A creation of artistic wonder for certain, but merely an artifact. One without voice, except for that of steam, shifting gears, and ticking arms. After Leijimoto had yielded respite for even a delayed ‘reply’, he submitted to the relative silence, whispering in dejection.
“Very well then... keep your secrets.”
Distracted by the heavy burden upon his mind, Leijimoto turned away from ‘Ziwalos’. He reposed himself at the elliptical Table of Twelve, perched into the lighter-shaded of the two primary thrones.
Time passed, and soon enough... sounds! From the very door Leijimoto had stepped through not moments ago strode a dignified, magisterial, golden dragon. This venerable old Zell bore locks of wondrous white and grey hair all about his face, and his milky eyes exuded great wisdom. However, Artemis was blind.
No Zell--young nor old--detected the difference between Artemis’ methods of navigating land and air even when compared to their own. The thaumaturge functioned as if his eyes were as clear as Taelondria’s waters at dawn. None at Kessoshaero understood when nor how Artemis lost his physical sight, but it hardly seemed to matter. Perhaps it was at birth, or hundreds of Epochs beyond his younger days. Many probabilities. Still, none who knew Artemis seemed to have an answer--nor did they care--as, he was possibly the most intelligent of all Zell within the weathered walls of Kessoshaero. Ironically, he often ‘saw’ what others could not.
Just beyond the stone and crystalline hallway, this snow-bearded wizard emerged from the darkness. He was soon within line-of-sight of Leijimoto’s leathery form. From a short distance, he greeted his dear friend with a subtle nod and formal Dragonspeak: “Ra Shulodd”. Leijimoto gestured in return, replying with a more contracted: “Shulo”. This speech was called ‘ZellSpohs’ in their own language. Literally: ‘Dragon Words’.
The mystical Ziwalos hissed and clicked with complexity. Its six indicators spun, and each arm continued to rotate at individually unique speeds. Three tines here, three more there...
Six. Three and three.
As Artemis approached, he passed the towering isochronon. His own demeanor (much like Elder Leijimoto’s) also shifted with a heaviness unseen. As the blind, aurelian Zell neared the darker side of the Table of Twelve, he could detect (or more accurately, sense) the ten barren thrones. Time churned away, sparking with puffs of smoke. Despite the absence of their allies, Artemis soon found his own seat, far opposite of Leijimoto’s. With exception to Ziwalos’ rhythmic sibilance, an uncomfortable silence filled their ears, hearts, and minds.
Leiji’s eyes valiantly fought but failed to avoid gazing upon one cold, empty seat in particular. Inhaling a somber breath, he fidgeted with his silver cane (which already sat upon the Table). Leiji soaked in the pain as his eyelids draped over his glassy eyes. As he exhaled in silence, his clenched jaw spoke volumes. Zell had fallen, but he could only wonder which of his ten family members would soon return. He’d lost track of so many during the fracas, it was unfathomable to accept that many would likely never return home.
As if to ease Leijimoto’s subdued anguish, Ziwalos bellowed, sputtering mist and flames! It was impossible for any other except a Zell to deduce what Time was declared by the clock, but Elder Leijimoto stood with serious authority, placed his open claws over a closed fist, nodded, and proceeded precisely on-schedule:
“CHI-YONG TA SUUST. (Thank you for silently waiting.) I fear to ask... but... just us this Time?”
Artemis paused. Clearly, Leijimoto desired confirmation. The old leader was aware that some would fall, but Nae, not ten--impossible--not all ten. But Artemis stared at Leiji--as if he could see him through his shrouded, silent eyes. In solemn reverence, the weathered wizard subtly nodded.
Ten. Leijimoto dropped his metallic staff back onto the Table of Twelve. In utter shock, he swallowed a broken, stuttered breath, and dared to peer at a second barren seat. The hollow pain seared like a breath of fire. Shattered, he quietly fought to accept it: the fates of ten warriors were now forever sealed. Not a deathly whisper later, Leijimoto’s teary gaze fell upon Ziwalos once more.
Ten empty thrones. Ziwalos’ six tines churned with finality, rotating behind glassy facets. Three and three.
Elder Leijimoto slumped into his seat once more, and sighed a despondent release. Flash floods of memories rushed in, and Leiji recounted innumerable events. Histories. Friendships. Beloved heroes and family at Kessoshaero: gone. Ten dragons could never again complete conversations with him, redeem favors owed or offered, or even resolve petty arguments. So many had fallen--too many--and far too quickly. But another deep breath seemed to help. Some intangible force re-steeled the earthen dragon’s will. Leijimoto exhaled with fortitude, and steered his focus to the present. It was a struggle, but he fought to undertake initiative. Action--and that right soon. He lifted his crimson and cobalt cane once again.
“But there is always tomorrow. What of the young ones, Artemis? Hopeful?”
Artemis inhaled as he painstakingly rose from his dark seat, and exhaled.
“Zi... many Bo Zell remain. Most... unfortunately now without family. But, some indeed may bring us... Eyayeli!”
Leiji gripped his helical spire and his insides stirred. ‘Eyayeli’. This was a word which Leijimoto was sorely in need of hearing. A word which had not recently been spoken by any Zell--not for Sunsdays nor Moonsdays nor Starsweeks alike. It was a word which humans could not fully comprehend, but the closest translation was akin to ‘spiritual tidings’, or, in this particular case: hope. A storm inside of Leiji’s heart brewed.
“Some...? Or one?”
Artemis smirked. This generated fierce adrenaline within Leiji’s veins. It wasn’t common for the copper-shaded wizard to register a smile without serious reason, so, when he did (and his ivory beard and brows perked), it clearly meant something extraordinary was nigh!
“Leijimoto... why don’t you gaze into their Jee and judge for yourself, Amal...?”
Leiji’s eyes glowed as he fixated upon his old friend. Almost as if he had been hiding a secret, Artemis reached toward the Table of Twelve’s center and clutched a silken shroud. In a whisk of six claws, he uncloaked a large crystal, which was cradled in a metallic frame. This hefty gemstone was in the shape of what a human might define as a ‘salt rock’, or salt lamp. But this was no ordinary stone of crystal, nor was it comprised of salt. Transparent and full of clarity, it boasted a blend of so many sparkling varieties of jewels, it was unclear where one began and another ended. The twelve facets of this sizable gem radiated... and, speaking of faces...
Artemis invoked ZellSpohs (Dragonspeak): “ZI WA SHULO BO ZELL!”. Loosely translated: “Reveal and greet our young dragons!”.
FACES! Images of young Zell magically materialized in the colorful facets of this crystal of communications! These young dragons (and one dragonfly!) were: Jackralvian, Link, Raeniya, Elliott, and Mestrius. All were well-known by both Artemis and Leijimoto alike. All of whom you shall learn of as our tale progresses...
Elder Chi-Zell Leijimoto stood tall, his spirit revitalized; his ‘Eyayeli’ overrun with adrenaline unequaled! He leaned upon his metallic staff. Carefully and closely, he inspected the Bo Zell within the gemstone. Curious, the old patriarch removed his delicate glasses, now mere claws-lengths away from the glassy rock. Leiji’s bare, cerulean eyes glowed, studying the faces within the facets.
Ziwalos steamed, and all six pointers triumphantly spun their course: three West, three East.
Leijimoto’s face ignited aflame with a toothy smile. Inside of his mind and his alone, the seasoned leader seemed to see and hear ‘beyond’ the mere images of the dodecahedron’s facets. Echoed whispers of Kessoshaero’s Past called out... all within his mind! But, more importantly, Leijimoto could taste and feel something else carefully folded between the fabrics of their Futures...
Ziwalos roared its precise and mighty call, proudly sputtering a blast of both Flam and Frol.
Raising his arms and cane in triumph, Elder Leijimoto stood upon his throne and majestically proclaimed: