Sunlight Sonata: Part Five
Part V – Allegro Agitato: Starlit Night
Az walked alongside Sayang, glancing at her stubborn face every ten paces or so. It was irritating, being so close to her, yet being unable to ask her anything. She intimidated him. Her rough clothing, stained by soot, her fingerless gloves made of tough leather, with scars and holes in them, the goggles she wore on her forehead that kept her bright red hair out of her eyes. She reminded him of a fiery version of himself.
And he was a touch scared of her. It bothered him, fraggit.
“Come now, Azzy,” she said, startling him, “You want to talk. Out with it.”
“Um...” Az couldn’t form his thoughts into words. Technology was so much easier, in this regard. “I just wanted to know where we were going,” he said, his words lame even to his own ears.
Sayang grinned. “If Keben didn’t say it outright, neither will I. We’re going to a demonstration. That’s all you need to know.”
Az glared at her, but she didn’t seem to take any notice of it. “A demonstration of what, exactly?”
“Sloth’s might. Sloth’s glory. Something along those lines.” She shrugged. “Keben would know better. I don’t keep track of stuff as much as he does. I’m your counterpart, in a way. And before you ask; yes, Coru has a counterpart too. You’ll meet her soon enough.”
“What d’you mean, counterpart?”
“Weren’t you listening earlier?” Sayang ran a hand through her hair, ruffling it even more. “The dreamers. The planners. And us, the catalysts. The warriors, he should have said, but he hates that. I knew from how you fought those ‘bots that you were mine. You fight in a style that we haven’t seen since Sloth’s takeover.” Her voice quieted, and when Az glanced at her, she was looking away and down. “You use their style.”
“Whose style?” Az asked, confused. “D’you mean the magic?”
“Yes. Of course I mean the magic!” Sayang’s head snapped back towards Az, her dark eyes blazing into his. “Don’t you get it? They’ve got Faerieland quarantined! We can’t use magic!” Her voice dropped to a pained whisper. “That’s why we never got anywhere, trying to beat them. The Republic can’t do anything. We want to. But we can’t, because we can’t use magic.”
“Oh.” Az winced when the sound escaped his mouth. It sounded so useless, like he didn’t really care about Sayang’s troubles. But he couldn’t think of anything else to say. Sayang was quiet, and so was he. The silence felt awkward, but Az couldn’t think of any way to break it that didn’t seem stupid. And Sayang, it seemed, didn’t want to talk. She was looking down at the rocky ground, one hand holding the lantern, the other fiddling with something around her neck.
When they finally left the tunnel, Az was startled. The lantern-light was brighter than the sunlight. And there were people everywhere, all wearing the same kind of beaten up and stained clothing. The robots around the edges shone. Sayang snuffed the lantern, setting it inside the tunnel, next to another that was probably Keben’s. “Come on,” she said. “Keben’s waiting for us.”
She led the way, darting through the crowd. Az followed, hoping that Coru was behind him, like he should be. Though soon enough he stopped keeping track of Coru, instead focusing all his attention on keeping track of Sayang, his eyes on the ground and the crowd, so when she suddenly stopped, he ran into her.
“Fraggit,” she muttered. “The others are up ahead, but this as close as we can get.”
Coru spoke from behind Az, making the Draik jump. “Someone explain to me why splitting up was a good idea. It seems to have caused more trouble than it’s worth.”
“Because we have no other choice,” Sayang said. “Now look up there. This is what we came to see.”
Az looked. He heard Coru start swearing under his breath, and wanted to join him. Up on the platform, there was a blue Xweetok in clothing just as ragged as the rest, if not more. She was bound, each paw roped and tied to a different pole. A mutant Lupe stood next to her, his scarred face expressionless. “Friends, allies, and registered guests,” he said, his voice echoing through the suddenly silent plaza, “we gather here today to affirm Sloth’s dominion over the known world.”
The Lupe paused, probably for dramatic effect. “This Xweetok, who calls herself Setia -”
“Set!” the Xweetok yelled, cutting the Lupe off. Stifled laughter could be heard throughout the crowd. Az noted that Sayang didn’t say anything. Her expression, when he glanced at it, was dark, and her fists were clenched.
“Gag the prisoner,” the Lupe said to a guard nearby. He turned back to face the crowd. “Setia has proven herself an enemy to the Grand Empire of Our Lord Sloth. In accordance to the laws set down in the First Year of Our Lord Sloth’s reign, she will be... disposed of.” The Lupe bared his teeth in what could almost be called a smile. “And you are here to witness it! Long live Lord Sloth!”
The crowd roared in response. Az growled. “I refuse to let this happen.”
“So don’t. You have the wings and the blasted magic to stop it.”
Surprised, Az looked at Sayang. She was glaring at him. “Go!” she snapped.
Az leapt, spreading his wings. The roaring crowd instantly quieted, broken only by gasps of surprise and cries of outrage. Az smiled. “Come and get me!” he cried, his voice carrying over every other noise. The winged robots were already coming after him; a swarm of Korbats, a flight of Eyries, and even a few Draiks like himself. Az just laughed, diving down towards the ground.
The robots followed. Az skimmed just above the heads of the crowd, his insane laughter echoing as everyone ducked out of his way. He could hear the robots blaring warning messages. He didn’t care. The edge of the plaza was coming up, one of those metal walls looming. Az spun, pulling up, his mane brushing against the wall. The robots weren’t so lucky. He could hear, could feel, the explosions below him.
Diving towards the platform, Az’s laughter quieted. It was time to focus. There were only a few ‘bots left, and those could wait. The Lupe was shouting something about Sloth, but Az ignored him. He’d be dealt with soon enough, after all. Az hit the platform, letting loose a blast of fire that knocked the Lupe away and melted parts of the platform.
Leaping and spinning in midair, Az turned on the ‘bots that still followed him. Blue-white fire blasted them, melted them. None survived. All the robots down in the crowd were trying to keep it controlled. It didn’t seem to be working. Az gave a predatory smile, darting over to the Xweetok.
Focused streams of fire melted her bindings, though the chains still dangled from her paws. “C’mon,” Az growled. “Let’s go.”
“Keben brought you.” The Xweetok didn’t move at all. She just watched him with golden eyes.
Az sighed, disgusted. “S’yang. Na ca’ we go?”
The Xweetok leapt onto his back without another word, clinging to the mane on his back. Az dove off the platform, wings fully extended to try and compensate for her weight. It worked, barely. Az landed on the hard ground, bouncing and rolling, the Xweetok falling off his back. “Follow me!” she cried, landing on her feet and darting off.
Az growled, leaping after her. “Where th’ flame are ya goin’?”
“Somewhere safe,” she shouted, not turning a bit. “Where else?”
“Ha’ sh’ I know?”
“You’re worse than Sayang!”
They wove around a cluster of Krawks, darted through a flight of Pteri, dodged an angry Grarrl, and almost ran into Keben, Invi, Sayang, and Coru. “This way!” Keben called, and they were off again. Now, however, Az had an objective: Keep that blasted mage in sight. It wasn’t that easy, even with his bright white fur. The sheer number of people fleeing from the plaza made it difficult to keep him in sight.
Fortunately, it was quite easy for him to keep Sayang in sight. She seemed to be pacing him, keeping next to him in the same way he saw Invi shadowing Keben, or Coru and the Xweetok – Set? Was that her name? – sticking together, their brown forms almost becoming one. Sayang seemed to be enjoying the run, a fierce grin on her face. Az suspected his expression was similar to hers. Danger of any sort excited him, after all.
Finally, the six of them clustered together. Nobody else was in sight. Keben, Sayang, and Set were still running, and so they must continue to follow their guides. Az would have sighed, if they hadn’t been running. “How much further are we going?” he asked, not really caring who responded.
“As far as we need to go,” Sayang said, not seeming at all winded, unlike Az, Invi, or especially Coru. “Keben’s the only one who knows, and he won’t say anything, so don’t bother asking.”
Az rolled his eyes, but kept running.
When Keben did stop, it was at a door much like the one Sayang had brought them to after the robot incident earlier: featureless, in a row of other featureless doors. Like Sayang had done then, Keben opened it and gestured them inside. Set lead the way, Coru right behind her. Az glanced at Sayang, and she grinned at him, giving him a mocking bow. “You first, Azzy.” Az resisted the urge to stick his tongue out and entered the passage.
The soft sound of a flame igniting came from behind him, and Az glanced back to see Sayang holding a lantern that looked like the one they’d had before the demonstration. She started walking, passing him and leading him through the twists and turns. Ahead, he could sometimes see the light of Set’s lantern, but more often than not, there was a corner in the way. Az followed Sayang silently, unnerved by Invi and Keben. He knew they were behind him, but he hadn’t seen any light from back where they walked.
When the passage finally ended after an indeterminable amount of time, Az breathed a quiet sigh of relief. Sayang glanced at him and shook her head. “You get used to them, eventually,” she said. “And no speaking. We’re meeting Proteus himself now.”
“No speaking, I said.”
Az shut up, as much as he wanted to question her. Set and Coru were waiting, just ahead of him, and Coru seemed just as uncomfortable as he felt. Az hissed, trying to calm himself down. Sayang just watched him, obviously amused, which didn’t help at all. In the end, Az just gave up and glared at her. She grinned and shook her head.
Az jumped at the sound of Keben’s voice. Sayang laughed at him, and Az whacked her with his tail as he turned to follow the mages. In retaliation, he felt her pinch his wing. Az ignored that. They were approaching a well-lit cave, and inside, he suspected, was Proteus. Whoever that was.
Keben paused at the entrance, bowing. “Proteus, I present to you those whom I dreamed would return sunlight to this realm: Invidere, the shadowed Eyrie who is my reflection. Azimuth, the dark Draik who mirrors Sayang. And Coruscatus, the earthen Kougra who is matched by Set.” He turned back to them. “And to you, may I present Proteus, the leader of the Traitor Republic.”
To be continued...