Miranda and Marek ate quietly for a long time. They exchanged occasional glances and smiles. They could be seen reaching across the table to play with each other’s fingers and then quickly shy away. They remained enamoured and silent with each other until they were almost done eating. Then Marek spoke.
“I want to spend my life with you.”
“Then you won’t be leaving?”
“I must still leave, it is only right for the protection of this city and it’s people.”
“Then how do you intend to be with me?”
“I expect you to come with me.”
“These people and the hospital need me now more than ever. I couldn’t possibly leave.”
“You have trained the healers well, the hospital can be run on it’s own.”
“This has become my home, these people my family. My life is here, as a healer.”
“There will be plenty of opportunity to apply your skills where we are going. Should we be successful then we will be able to settle wherever you want to and start our own family.”
“Why are you so intent on looking for trouble?”
“Trouble has already found us Miranda. It was no accident that this town was attacked. There is an evil out there that is trying to take over the world. This evil has already deemed me a hurdle to it’s plans. Whoever it is, is specifically trying to kill me at this point. When they are not able to kill me who do you think they are going to go after?”
“You think they would try to hurt me?”
“Not just you, anyone I’ve ever been close to. But yes, it is only a matter of time before they come after you.”
“I cannot leave these people.”
“I cannot beat this evil without you. You are the greatest healer in this land. If I recall you’re pretty good with a sword too. I need a full team, but I need you more. I beg of you to join me.”
“You will find a suitable replacement for your team members among the men here. I love you, but I will not go with you. I am starting to be reminded of the last time you left.”
“Things are different now Miranda. When I left before I was young and in search of fame and fortune. That is not why I go now. Somebody must face this new evil and I am the only one who has the capability to figure out who it is, and possibly stop them. But I can’t do it without the very best by my side. Also, I can’t protect you if we are apart, and I will not lose you again. I nearly died when I thought you were gone forever.”
Tears were now streaming down Marek’s face. His emotions seemed to be amplified but he did not see Dynast anywhere around, in fact the lunch hall seemed remarkably empty. Tears started to fall from Miranda’s face as well. She cried out.
“Marek for years I wondered if you were alive, or if I would ever see you again. You never sent word to me. You could have at anytime. Instead I had to hear of your exploits from friends or acquaintances, who had heard stories from another source. That was if I got any information at all. How do you think that made me feel? Why should I believe your feelings now? How can I know that you won’t abandon me again?”
“Go with me and I will make sure that we are never apart ever again. I would rather die than to be without your touch in my life. I love you.”
It was the first time Marek had said that aloud. The stood almost touching face to face, both heavily breathing. The tears dripped from their faces into the same space on the floor. Miranda sputtered.
“I must let you go. Come see me tonight if you wish to say goodbye, but I will not leave here.”
With that she turned and walked away. Marek dried his face and went out to follow her, but she was gone. He dropped to his knees. He did not have the strength to stand. He felt as though his heart had been eviscerated. He could not understand Miranda’s rejection, and it was eating him alive. He did not move for a long while. People would pass by, but they would leave him be. Eventually he stood. He looked about. People were going on with their lives. They were taking care of all the things that the city needed to revive itself. He hung his head in shame. He thought he was being selfish, he knew that there was much to be done, but all he wanted was Miranda. He became angry with himself and found the closest horse he could. He jumped on it and rode hard out of the city. He did not stop or let up on the horse until he was several miles away. He pulled the reins and brought the horse from a gallup to a slow walk.
He looked about again it was quiet, and peaceful. A few birds flew overhead and the sun was trickling down the sky. He could barely make out the city walls from where he was. He came to a tree near a small puddle and tied the horse off. The horse drank deeply and Marek walked a few feet away. Once more he took in the scenery and then he accepted his foolishness in chasing Miranda. He closed his heart off and berated himself once more. When he was done with his mental flagellation he reached into his belt and pulled out the crystal that he had used to control Razoun.
He took the crystal and raised it to the sky with both hands. He did not know why he did this, but he thought it may be best. He shouted in his mind.
RAZOUN! RAZOUN! It is I, Marek! I have need of your guidance. Speak to me.
Marek waited and found nothing but silence. He called out again. This time he shouted with his voice.
“RAZOUN! If you can hear me, now is time to speak! I seek your wisdom. Please talk to me!
Nothing. Marek felt stupid. He grasped the stone and prepared to throw it as far into the distant sand as he could, but something stopped him. He sat quietly and held the stone close to his chest. He tried to drown out all of the noise. The birds chirping, the horse drinking the water, he put the noises out of his head. He took in each breath slowly and deliberately. It was a technique that the elves had taught him. He listened to the wind and eventually even put that out of his mind. He closed his eyes and continued to exist in this blank state. Keeping the stone to his chest he finally whispered in his head.
Razoun, I beseech you once more. Please speak to me. If you are there, I must hear your words once more.
I am here Marek. came an almost indecipherable noise in his head. It is a weird thing to no longer have my body. I am alone with my thoughts, and I do not like it. I do not wish to be this way.
Razoun, I need to know more about who has taken over the dragons.
I do not know much, but there will be time for that later.
I must know now.
We dragons do not know where he came from. He simply appeared one day, washed up upon our shores. How long have I been dead?
Two days, why is that important?
I have no sense of time here, it is a most peculiar feeling. I cannot see anything, I can only sense things. Other entities, but they do not speak with me. It makes me sad. I was happy to hear your voice.
I’m sure your were. Now can we continue the subject at hand.
I am tired, did you know the dead could grow tired. I did not. I will talk to you later. Goodbye for now.
It was silent again. Marek knew that he would not get Razoun back for the time being. He went back to his horse. The sun was getting very low in they sky. The colors were melting from blue to red to orange. He started to ride back. Not as hard as his trip out here. He considered the matter of Miranda closed. He planned on meeting Barsheel for dinner so he could discuss what had happened in the afternoon. He would then meet with Trax and the other men. As soon as Xenon and Zamir returned from Avaxia they would leave the city. He pondered where they should go first.
As he came upon the city walls he noticed a group of riders approaching from a far distance. The dust coming from behind them was in the direction of Avaxia. He was surprised they were returning so soon. Perhaps this was good news. He calculated they would be at the city before the evening was over. He headed quickly for the hospital to find Barsheel and Trax.
They ate together. Barsheel seemed to think that Razoun’s words and attitude were perfectly normal. He also suggested that they attach the crystal to a necklace so that it would always be near Marek’s chest. Barsheel was impressed by Marek’s technique to quiet his mind and asked him to teach him if he could. He thought it might help with his ability to perform magic. He also thought that communicating with Razoun would get easier over time and that both Marek and Razoun would need to practice as much as possible. Marek agreed that he would try speaking with Razoun on a daily basis.
Some of the people who were gathering supplies from around the town discovered several barrels of wine and this had lifted the spirits of the survivors greatly. Trax also noted that many bunkers were full of people and several hundred more survivors were found. All in all it sounded like the recovery process was going quite well. Soon the three men started drinking and were becoming quite boisterous. The remainder of Marek’s men were quick to join in and very quickly they were making a very amusing scene. Dancing with each other and as many observers as they could ensnare. As the night quieted down Marek noticed that Miranda was not around. It was just as well he thought. He did not want to have a messy goodbye. He would write her a note tomorrow. Shortly thereafter there was a disturbance just outside the hospital area.
Xenon and Zamir were back and it was not good news. Marek had to sober up very quickly. The men were being looked over by several of the healers. There was a crowd gathering as well, and quite a bit of noise was being made. Marek quickly instructed his men.
“Get these people back. Let the healers work.”
Marek rushed forward. To see what was the matter. The men were ghostly white. The could not speak, and the councilman was not even moving. There seemed to be several lacerations on who must have been the councilman’s advisor. He waited as the nurses worked. His men did an exceptional job at keeping the crowd back. Finally Xenon sat up and Miranda motioned for Marek. Marek hurried over.
“It was awful.”
“Tell me what you found.”
“What do you mean nothing? Were they unwilling to help? Did they attack you?”
“I mean nothing, no, and no.”
“Speak sense Xenon.”
Xenon reached for a drink of water. Marek still had a goblet of rather strong wine in his hand, apparently he hadn’t sobered up as much as he thought. He offered it to Xenon. Xenon downed it in a single gulp and threw the goblet away.
“We approached the town and expected to be greeted at the gate. We were not, that should have been the first sign that something was wrong. We did not see anybody even around the gate. We found it odd, but we went in all the same. It was oddly quiet. None of the sounds that one would expect with a city. We approached what should have been the market, and there was nobody there. It was completely empty.”
“Were they dead?”
“No. They were gone.”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean they were gone. The entire city was empty. There was no one there. It’s as if the entire population of Avaxia disappeared into thin air. They were gone.”
“Perhaps they evacuated for some reason.” Marek postulated.
“I thought so at first, but there was no evidence of this. There were no tracks leading out of the city. Things were left going on in the city. The market was completely open. Wares were left out. Pots were left boiling, but there was no one there. No dead bodies, nothing. It was eerie at best. But then it got worse.”
“Well we decided to search the city as much as possible. We assumed that they must be hiding somewhere. We started going into buildings. We opened every door we came across. All of them were empty. We decided to split up Zamir went with the assistant and I went with the councilman. We had hoped to search the city twice as fast. It was not long before we heard the screaming.”
“The advisor? What happened to him.”
“Yes the advisor. I can’t say exactly what happened. I can only describe what I saw.”
“Please describe it as best you can.”
“I ran toward the building and burst through the door. Zamir was being restrained but I could not tell by what. Something was cutting, no not cutting, eating away at the advisor.”
“Eating, what sort of beast would do this?”
“I don’t know. It was invisible, just as the restraints on Zamir were. We could not tell what was causing it.” The room was empty except for the four of us. But something was attacking all the same.”
“How did you get away?”
“I’m not sure. I pulled out my sword and started swinging at the air around Zamir. He was released, at that point the advisor was dropped from mid-air and in the state you see him now. We came back as quickly as possible.”
Marek pondered for a moment this information. He told Xenon to rest, and that they would be leaving as soon as they were able. He went to see Barsheel next. He told him everything that Xenon recounted. Barsheel was quiet for a few moments a then spoke.
“I’m sorry, I don’t understand.”
“There are rumors of the worst types of magic. Spells that make even the darkest mages cringe. Spells that are so inherently evil that we do not speak of them. The Mist is one such spell.”
“What does the Mist do?”
“I’m not exactly sure, but essentially it will devour anything in it’s path, and it does so invisibly and without warning. It takes an incredible amount of power and sacrifice to enact this type of spell. I do not know of any mage in the land who could perform it, let alone want to. These men were lucky to escape. If I had to guess I would say the spell was wearing off when they arrived. I doubt Xenon’s sword had anything to do with the matter.”
“Tomorrow I would like you to gather whatever supplies you will need for our journey. We will leave the day after next.”
“Where will we be going?”
“I do not know yet, but we must get out of this city. I cannot put their lives at risk any further.”
Marek bid Barsheel a good evening, and went to find Miranda. She was just getting ready to retire for the evening when he caught up to her. He walked her back to her quarters.
“Please Miranda, what can you tell me about them.”
“Your men will be okay, as will the councilman. The advisor’s body seems to be resisting treatment, but he is resting right now which is probably the best possible thing for him.”
“When do you think Xenon and Zamir will be able to depart?”
“After a good sleep, any time you need them too.”
“Then I will be leaving after tomorrow. I still wish for you to come with me. I know you will refuse, but I have to let you know.”
“This matter is not up for discussion Marek. Each moment that passes convinces me more and more that I must stay and help these people.”
They had made it to her domicile. She bid him goodnight, kissed him on the cheek, and closed her door. Marek stood there for a while holding the spot she kissed. It was cool and moist, but seemed to burn through him. Eventually he walked away and found a comfortable place to sleep off his drinking from the evening.