When they all returned the night was well upon them. Marek immediately went to find Miranda. When he found her, he wasted no time in wrapping his arms around her, squeezing her tightly, and lifting her up ever so slightly.. She laughed and seemed genuinely happy that he was there. He kissed her without embarrassment. When she realized that others could see them she turned red and asked to be put down.
“What is all this about, Marek? There are people watching.”
“I do not care who sees us. I spent too much of my life denying my feelings for you. When I thought you were dead, it was my single greatest regret. Never again shall I allow this to be the case.”
Miranda blushed even further. “We must get something to eat. It is late, and I suspect you have not had anything to eat today.”
“I have not.”
They walked along together, hand in hand, to where the food was being stored and prepared. An amazing amount had been brought by the people Marek had found along the way. Marek had noticed considerable progress had been made on a temporary hospital area. As they sat down to eat he saw that Miranda still had a slight limp.
“Is your leg going to be okay?”
“It will be in time.”
“I am worried about you.”
“My wounds are considerably minor compared to some others, I will be fine. Now let us eat.”
They chatted in between bites, and several times Marek was caught in Miranda’s eyes. She filled him with a joy that he had long suppressed. He could not imagine life without her again. They were both apparently very hungry as they finished off a second helping of their respective meals. He reached out for her hand again and she quickly slipped her fingers between his. As he embraced her for what he thought would be a private, passionate kiss, footsteps approached. Trax quickly gathered what was happening and lowered his head.
“I am sorry sir, I did not mean to interrupt…”
Marek sighed, “It is okay, please tell me what you came to say.”
“I have gathered the men as you requested.”
“Very good, I appreciate it. I would also like you find Barsheel and bring him to where the men are gathered. Also please find out if any council members remain, I would like them to hear what I have to say.”
“I will do this right away.”
Trax quickly departed and Marek turned his eyes to Miranda’s.
“The mood is gone Marek and it seems you have plans that you must attend to.”
“I suppose you are right. Please I beg of you to join me. It will save me from repeating what I about to go discuss.”
“I would much rather attend to the matters of the hospital, but as it seems that is on hold for now I will accompany you.”
They walked quietly to the tent where the men were gathered. They did not speak but simply soaked up the energy between them. Marek seemed to be walking intently, as if he was thinking greatly about what was on his mind. Miranda could almost feel the thoughts flowing from him, like ripples in the air. His stride was long, slightly longer than hers. He carried himself as a man without fear, but she knew there were nightmares in his heart, if not in his sleep. He stopped and lifted the flap to the tent and urged her in with a wave of his had. She entered without pause and waited for Marek to begin.
“Thank you all for coming this evening. This has been a most tragic day for all of us. I know that not one of you is untouched by todays events. What I wish to discuss is where to go from here. I have asked Trax to give me a report on what has occurred today since I have been about the city. I will then let you all know what I have learned while I was away today. Afterwards I would like to discuss with the remaining council members how they might best rebuild things here. Trax, if you would.”
“We put every man who turned up to work on building or rebuilding the structures around here. Currently we have enough food to feed every person here for a month’s time. We have completed the walls for a temporary hospital area, and by mid-day tomorrow we will have a roof. A more permanent structure could be built within a month. We have multiple tents set up for those who have lost their homes and have set up teams of people to search the city for supplies and finding other survivors. As of last count we have over 300 men, women, and children alive and well. There are about 100 who are recovering. Among those people we have four council members, three men and one woman. We have 10 healers, with five of them being quite experienced. Several of the men and women have been ably assisting with clearing of surrounding area, providing comfort to the distressed, watching over the children, and preparing and serving portions of food. We were able to bring back the patients who were taken outside the city as well as guide others back who fled the city. There is currently a shortage of water, but we have two teams of three people each who are currently deployed in the city and looking to replenish our stock.”
Marek nodded in approval, “Very well then Trax, thank you for that report.”
Marek stood and everybody’s eyes followed his motion. They anxiously awaited his words.
“Given Trax’s report, how many people would you say have died or are missing at this time?” He directed his question to the remaining council members.
One of the men stood. He was as tall as Marek but much slighter. His clothes were torn but he seemed unharmed. His hair, that which remained was a fading yellow with patches of silver, and the wrinkles under his eyes revealed his age. He croaked.
“It is my estimation that we have lost over 5000, although that number may be high. There are several bunkers around the city where large groups of people can be safely hidden. It is also possible that more people fled for the nearest city.”
Marek replied, “I found one such bunker, it would be great if the others were safely full of people. When we are done here please relay to Trax the locations of these bunkers and we will search as many as possible. We cannot know how many people made it out of the city. However, if they are on their way to the nearest city we can catch up with them and indeed we will. Tomorrow I intend to send two of my men with one of you, and possibly a few others, to beseech the aid of Avaxia. That is the nearest city, is it not?”
The council member nodded. Marek continued.
“Good, I also suggest we set up two teams of men to find and bury the dead. If there are orphaned children we will need to find permanent caring families for them. Perhaps one of you could lead a search to index the extent of those children or find an appropriate person to do so. It is my belief that this attack was no coincidence and that it was deliberate retribution for my elimination of Slyfer. I cannot explain this with hard evidence, but after I killed one of the dragons…”
“You killed one of the dragons?” Squeaked another council member, in disbelief.
“Technically I killed two. One of the carcasses is in the city, the other lies just outside of it. But that is not important. What is important is that the second one spoke to me, and confirmed many of my suspicions that have been building over the last year. The only way your city will remain safe is if I leave. I will stay here for no more than one week, less than that if possible. At which point I will leave the recovery in your hands. It seems that my very presence has brought about this catastrophe, and for that I can only beg your forgiveness.”
The first council member stood up again. “Your forgiveness is a forgone conclusion. You have done much to help us, despite what you say. I agree that you must go, but I will be sad to see you leave. It is my hope that we will meet again.”
“It is only right that we may again meet, hopefully under more peaceful circumstances. I expect that your healers will be able to make use of the dragon’s blood and perhaps the cooks can use the meat. I will relay to your people where the bodies can be found, although they may be hard to miss. Now esteemed council members I must ask you to go as I discuss with my men our further plans.”
The council members bid their evening goodbyes and thanked Marek for all he had done. Miranda and Barsheel made to leave as well but Marek quickly asked them to stay. He made it clear that he needed their expertise and advice. But there was something else he needed them to hear.
“First there is the matter of Mazen and Godel. Mazen, while recovering cannot continue with us. Godel lost the fight against this evil and has died. This is not news to you as I’m sure Trax has done a superior job of keeping you all informed. However it does leave our team three people short, if you include our loss of Ulrich. They will need to be replaced if we are to be an effective force against what is coming next. That is of course assuming you wish to continue on with me. Those of you who do not wish to continue with me, may leave now. I will not think less of you.”
No one stood or moved for several seconds. Then Trax stood up.
“Sir I think I speak for all of us when I say, we are in this together and none of us would dare miss what is coming next.”
“Very well then. It is my humble request that we replace two of the members with the two remaining members in this tent. Barsheel and Miranda, I beseech you to join us.”
Barsheel blinked and said, “Why me? I am nothing special.”
“Barsheel, you have proven your worth no less than three times in the previous day. I could not have done what I did without you. I need your knowledge and your magic.”
“Then I am yours to command.”
“Miranda, what say you?”
“I will stay to hear what you have further to say tonight, but I do not feel as though I can go with you.”
“Then I shall have to convince you later.” Marek said as he turned back to his men.
“I ask each and every one of you be on the lookout for one or two men who might be fit to join us. I will expect some recommendations within two days time.”
Marek drew in a deep breath and collected his nerves. He did not know how his men would react to what he had to say next. Dragons were rare enough, speaking to one was unheard of. He did not have a plan yet for rooting out the evil he suspected, and he wasn’t even sure where to start. He began to recount exactly what happened with Barsheel and how he took down the attacking dragons. He gingerly displayed the crystal he used and the materials he gathered from the one corpse. He explicitly repeated the conversation he had with the dragon. He then spoke about his new found strength.
The entire time the men, and Miranda remained silent. They were somewhat awestruck by Marek’s tale and yet they knew it to be true. Finally Marek ended on a question.
“So where do we go from here?”
“Before we decide that I should tell you what I know about your condition Marek.” It was Barsheel speaking.
“Yes, your new found strength. The dragon was correct you will always be connected to him. The magic may have been drained from the crystal, but as long as it is in your possession you will have Razoun’s strength. This is not without it’s drawbacks, as you will always have a bit of a temper and superiority complex.”
“He’s always had a superiority complex.” Piped in Miranda.
The men chuckled. Marek silenced them with a stare. Barsheel continued.
“When Razoun said that you would always have his fire in your belly, this is what he meant. But there is more. I believe you can continue to communicate with Razoun.”
“How? He is dead.” Marek pondered.
“While it is true that his body is expired, his soul or spirit remains. There is more to us than our physical manifestations. We exist on several planes, dragons are much the same. I believe that if you called out to Razoun, he may respond. That is another way of interpreting his indication that you would always be connected. You will need the crystal in the proximity of your body of course since that is what connected you to him in the first place. There may be other consequences of your actions, but those remain to be seen.”
“Once again you have proven yourself useful to me Barsheel. I shall be most grateful to have you on the next part of our journey.”
Marek paused. He thought he heard someone outside the tent, but when he lifted the flap he saw no one. What he did not know was that the boy who he found with Mazen was listening in on everything that was being discussed inside. Marek spoke some more.
“It is late. I would like suggestions on where to go next and what our strategy should be for confronting this evil. Think about all we have learned today. We will meet again tomorrow evening after dinner. I want to know what you all think at that point in time. Goodnight gentlemen.”
Marek turned to Miranda and offered to escort her back to her quarters and she accepted his company. The night air was remarkably warm and Marek was extremely pleased with his company. When they made their way to where Miranda was staying Marek took pleasure in having the kiss he missed out on earlier. He did not leave her side for the rest of the evening, and they awoke in each other’s arms.
Image credit: rxan on deviantArt