Chapter 15 - Partnership

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As soon as Guardian Eska dismissed them, Zain left. He went back to his room and leaned against the headboard of his bed. He focused on nothing particular, perhaps his sword leaning against the closet doors, but while he focused aimlessly, he spun the crimson envelope between his index finger and thumb. A trial on partnership. Are the Twelve mocking me so soon? It seemed like he had always been a puppet of irony—from Ava and him sharing a moment considered rare and beautiful and lucky by many (that of seeing Rhayna flying) to her dying on that very same mountain to this, a trial testing partnership when he had just killed his best friend.

Looking toward his sword, he remembered all the times he had fought Zakk. The times he won were slim. I had to do it. I had to. Zain let the card fall in between his legs, and he reached beside him for a pillow. He put it to his face and screamed. As he screamed, he cried. The screams tapered off, the tears soaked into the pillow, and then only heavy breathing remained. His wrist vibrated, and soon a lofty beeping filtered through the air. Who's calling? Zain removed his face from the pillow and checked the telecommunicator on his wrist. Jamaal?

Zain activated the call by pushing the device's crown. A miniature hologram of his brother's face, no larger than the size of his fist, hovered above the clock reading. A green laser scanned Zain's face, transmitting it to Jamaal.

"Jamaal? Why are you calling?"

Jamaal looked away, and then refocused on him. "Zain, I . . . I have some bad news for you."

A knife jabbed Zain's stomach. "Is it Dad? What happened to him?"

"No. No. No. It's not Dad. We received a letter yesterday from him. It seemed rushed, but he seems to be fine."

Zain breathed. "What is it then?"

"I'm . . . I'm . . . not sure how to tell you this . . . but . . . Zakk's dead . . . at least . . . that's what reports claim."

Zain wanted to break down in tears again, but he kept it together. "How . . . how do you know?"

"Someone from Gazo's called us today. Zakk is listed under our sponsorship, and they asked us why he hadn't been in this past week. . . .We didn't know, so we checked with the owner of the apartment you two have together. . . . They examined the room and found it cleaned for the most part . . . like . . . like he was leaving for somewhere." Jamaal looked down and then returned his gaze to Zain. "Zain . . . did you see him while waiting at Lake Kilmer?"

Zain tightened his neck. "No." He shook his head as well, as if even he needed to convince himself. "Why do you ask?"

"Well, every applicant for apprenticeship needs a sponsor; you know that. It seems that Zakk applied as well. And Klum Barrata sponsored him . . . if I remember correctly. . . ."

The headmaster sponsored him? Zain had been too timid to ask him for sponsorship, instead receiving it from his trainer, who had since become an aerial guard for Lady Liliana Voux on Mistral—Baron Gaul.

"How do you know he is dead though? And not just missing? You know he's lived on his own before."

"A body hasn't been found, but . . ."

That's because it's at the bottom of Lake Kilmer. Zain looked down toward his hands, and his side ached. "But what?" He wiped a tear from his eye as he looked at his brother.

"There is no response from his telecommunicator. . . . It's been turned off or broken . . . or something. It can't even be traced. Zain, I . . . I don't know what to tell you. It . . . isn't looking good. I know you two were close. . . ."

We were more than close . . . we were family. Zain put his hand to his eyes and wiped the tears away.

"Zain, keep your head up. How are the Trials going so far?"

"They aren't. Our first one is tomorrow."

"Oh, I'm sorry. Use this as strength. . . . Listen, before I go, I have one more thing I need to talk with you about."

"What's that?"

"Mom thought that with this news, you could receive an early present; your birthday is only a month and a half away now, you know. Dad had something in the process of being made for you before he left on business. Mom says he was going to give it to you when he returned, and even though he isn't back yet, it might cheer you up."

"What is it?"

"A secret. Make sure I have proper permission to arrive; I plan on delivering it while I am en route for Agrost."

Zain nodded but remained silent.

"Listen, Zain . . . I know it's not what you wanted to hear, but . . . keep your head up. I'm Possible, isn't that your corny Gazo's saying?"

Zain smiled a little bit. It was corny, but it was meant to show that even when things seemed impossible you just had to believe in yourself and say, I'm Possible. "Yeah . . . it is."

"Is everything all right now?"

"No . . . nothing is right. But I'm going to try and make things better. And I won't stop 'til they are."

"Take care, Little Bear."

Zain smiled and plugged a loose tear with his thumb. "You too, Big Bear."

The communication ended, and Zain tilted his head back against the headboard. He turned his face to the right and looked out to the night sky. Through the purple sky, stars resembled the jewels his father worked with. Zain felt closer to home.

When he was younger, his father had told him that he built the sky himself, and it was really a giant's cape laden with jewels. The giant hadn't paid him yet, because he wasn't finished, but the payment would be great—he would be rewarded in the rays of Axiumé. Upon death, his father would live in Axiumé, making jewels for the lost Ancients and creating stars everyone could see.

A star fell. A bad omen.

Zain turned his head to his hands and flexed his fingers. His side ached.

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