Marek awoke with the sun shining brightly in his eyes. He ate breakfast quickly and set out to gather his men. He ran into Dynast and found himself instantly smiling at the boy.
“Dynast, do you still wish to join me and my men.”
“Yes, very much so.”
“Barsheel has agreed to take charge of you. Find him and have him meet me and the other men near the hospital as quickly as possible.”
They child beamed, “Yes sir!” Dynast ran off with haste.
Moments later Marek came across Trax and asked him to gather the men immediately. Within the hour they were all near the hospital. Miranda and the other nurses were busily about trying to convince Xenon and Zamir that they both needed more rest. The advisor already looked much better, but was still in bad shape. Xenon and Zamir joined the rest of the men as Barsheel and Dynast arrived. Marek spoke loudly enough for Miranda to overhear.
“We will be leaving at this hour tomorrow morning. We face an unknown enemy with an unknown amount of force at his fingertips. The first place we will be going is Avaxia. Eventually we must go to the Island of Smoldoun, for that is where this evil currently resides. Make no mistake, this evil is bent on world domination and it will use whatever force it can to keep us from stopping it. But stop it we must. Prepare all the necessary supplies today and transition any recovery efforts to the people of this city. I will see you all at the dinner table this evening.”
The men immediately set to work. Trax started spouting orders to them. Some of them started sharpening and coating the weaponry with the dragon’s claw. A few more started working the dragon’s scales into the armor. Others started gathering horses and nourishment. Barsheel went with Dynast to gather some scrolls and other materials necessary for spell casting. Barsheel, it seemed, was intent on making Dynast his apprentice. While this was going on Miranda caught up with Marek.
“Marek, I do not wish for you to go to Avaxia.”
“Why shouldn’t I? I need to see it for myself to understand what is going on here.”
“I heard what Xenon had to say. You are dealing with forces that you cannot understand or handle alone.”
“I have my men, and Barsheel, and the boy is coming with us too.”
“But he is so young…” Miranda’s words trailed off.”
“Like it or not, I must go. If I’m to discover who or what is behind all of this, I must go to Avaxia.”
“Marek, I fear for you. I care deeply about you and I am afraid I will lose you for good this time.”
“That may be, but perhaps that is for the best. You were right, you are needed here. You do not need a distraction such as myself. I still need you, but I have resigned myself to remembering the time we had together. I love you.”
Marek kissed her lips softly. She pulled away and ran off in tears. Marek did not chase her. He checked up on his men and then went to get lunch. After lunch he found a quiet room in the city and sat down inside he. He attempted to communicate with Razoun. He slowed his breathing as before and started to push the sounds from his head. After a long while he reached out.
Razoun, can you hear me? Razoun are you there?
Such sadness I sense in you. You long for Miranda?
How do you know???
I told you before that you can no longer keep secrets from me, we are connected.
I do long for her, but she has rejected me.
Does she desire another?
No, she desires me, but it is not meant to be.
I do not understand. Two beings desire each other but are not together. Human courtship confuses me.
This is not courtship and this is not the discussion I wanted to have!
You want to know how to get to Smoldoun?
You will need a ship.
Then why do you ask?
I need to know what awaits me and my men there.
Nothing but despair.
Could you be more specific?
Not now, maybe later. Now I must rest.
It was silent once again. Marek did not try to reconnect, he knew it would be a fruitless effort. He returned to check on the status of his men. Everything seemed to going along on schedule. He asked Trax if he had any suggestions for the final position on their team. Trax did not seem to have anybody in mind and he disagreed with Marek’s decision to bring Dynast.
“I know you see the risk, I do as well Trax, but Barsheel sees something in him.”
“I trust your judgement, but if he endangers us in any way…”
Marek cut him off, “If that happens then I will send both Barsheel and Dynast away.”
“That may be the most sensible thing. What about finding another man?”
“We shall have to be 19 strong behind myself. This city needs all of their men anyway. We will be fine with who we have. I will see you later tonight.”
Marek went to look in on Mazen. His recovery was coming along. When he found him Mazen was already trying to stand without aid. This pleased Marek.
“Perhaps when I return you will be walking again.”
“Do you think you’ll return?” Mazen asked.
“Do you fear that I will not?”
“I do. I heard what Xenon and Zamir encountered. This is unsettling to even the hardest warrior.”
“I agree, but we must face it all the same. To do nothing…”
“To do nothing would be even more dangerous, it would be to invite the evil among us. I understand why you must go. I only wish I could be there to have your back. You will need all the help you can get.” Replied Mazen.
“I wish you could be with me as well. You have always been a shrewd and considerate colleague. The men respect you deeply. I promise that I will return, and that one day we will fight side by side again.”
“Until we meet again then.”
They hugged openly as brothers and then parted ways. Marek thought to himself I will see all of these people again, especially Miranda. On that thought it was getting late. He realized that time was passing quickly and he had forgotten all about lunch. Evening was approaching and he was hungry for dinner. It was early, but he found some of his men at the dinner table who were sitting with the council members. Marek had finally learned their names. The man who spoke most on their first evening meeting was Gehan, he was the councilman who accompanied Xenon and Zamir. A shorter much stouter man, who questioned Marek on the slaying of the dragons was named Shiloh. The third man, who Marek had not interacted with at all, went by Aten. The lone woman among them was Hesta. Marek ate hastily as he spoke to the group.
“How goes the recovery efforts?”
Gehan spoke, “Very well. Your men have done an amazing amount of work for us, even while preparing to leave tomorrow.”
Shiloh cut in, “Indeed they have. With their leadership and yours we feel confident that we can continue the efforts they have started.”
“You have our utmost gratitude and thanks.” Aten said.
“What of your efforts Hesta? I know you have been busy.” Marek raised his eyebrows at her.
“Yes, I have found homes for most of the identified orphans. I also believe that we have identified most of whom we have lost. There are only a few still missing or that we are unsure of. This helps with grieving process our people are experiencing.”
“I want to thank you all for keeping us for so long. We will be leaving tomorrow as promised, but I see hope on the horizon for this city. I know that you will lead these people to a full recovery.”
Gehan stood again, “As I said before, it is you who has done much for us. When you return our city will welcome you with open arms.”
Marek nodded. The council members finished their meals and left. The rest of Marek’s men arrived and they started to discuss the morning plans and their strategy for Avaxia. Barsheel and Dynast were listening intently. Barsheel relayed his knowledge of The Mist to the men, just as he had to Marek. He assured them that by now the spell will have worn off and that they need not fear it’s affects. But that didn’t mean that there wouldn’t be other dangers. Marek guessed that the town was cleared for a specific reason. Either to be inhabited by another force, or because somebody was searching for something there and did not want to be bothered while looking for it. One of the men suggested it was retribution, much the way the dragons of this city were. Marek dismissed as much. Avaxia was a peaceful city and did everything they could to avoid confrontation. They were masters of diplomacy. He did not believe that this was done to punish them. There was one other dark thought that Marek kept to himself. It was possible that all of this was just meant to get his attention, and that it was another trap laid out just for him. But he did not want to put stock in the idea that somebody would murder every citizen of a city just to get at him, so he stayed silent.
Trax wondered where they would go next after Avaxia. Marek did not know. His decision would depend on what they found in Avaxia, even if that was nothing. The men finished their meals and slowly started heading to bed. It was quite late in the evening. Marek toyed with the idea of saying goodbye to Miranda. Instead he wrote a short note promising his love and his return and slipped it under her door. He did not want to leave on a sour confrontation and knowing how Miranda felt he thought that seeing her again would only end in anger. He found some strong wine that had been left over from dinner and fell asleep under the stars again.