Mark stayed up after his shift, thanks to a strong latte he had made for himself with some of the supplied they had picked up in town. He usually woke up early anyway, so going back to bed did not seem very appealing. That would mean he would have a little time to himself before the others woke up. It also meant he would not have any more dreams. That was the main reason for staying up. Mark was tired of trying to figure out the strange dreams he had been having.
Lately, they had been getting darker, with scenes of strange people dying, and other events. The strangest part about them, however, was the voice that seemed to be calling him. It felt sinister, yet inviting. It frightened him, because he felt like he had no control over these dreams.
Mark turned away from thoughts of his creepy dreams and started looking for something to make for breakfast. He figured the others would be up soon, and he knew exactly what he wanted to fix.
Luke smiled, taking in the scent of biscuits and gravy. How his friend had managed to cook biscuits all the way through over a fire was beyond him, but he was not complaining.
He got out of bed and dressed, hoping to explain why there was a strange man in the cabin. He saw it as part of his job, as the leader. He had also been the one who found the man.
When he walked in the kitchen, Luke was irritated to see that Alix had already beaten him to telling Mark. He noticed the strange man sitting at the table, looking uncomfortable. Luke glared at Alix’s back, wishing he could set his fire on him.
Mark looked up from the gravy he was stirring. "Good morning, Luke! Breakfast is ready, if you want to holler at my sister and Megan." Mark sounded very awake, but had dark circles under his eyes, and his face looked very drawn. Luke frowned, figuring it was from the dreams.
Mark cocked his head. "What’s wrong? Did you have a good night?"
Luke smiled. "Yeah," he wanted to mention Mark’s current state, but decided not to in front of Alix and the messenger. "Hey, I’ll be back. We’re probably leaving today, so be ready, please." He glanced at the messenger, then left. That man still had a lot to explain.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
During breakfast, the council spy explained that the council had members in town waiting for them. They would lead them to the Council’s headquarters, where they could educate the wielders and help them understand their powers.
"Can you leave us for a moment?" Luke asked the messenger. "We would like to discuss this privately before making a decision."
The messenger smiled at him, then glanced at the others.
Mark returned his smile. "This should only take a few minutes. Thank you."
The messenger grinned at him, then left.
As soon as he was gone, Luke turned to Alix. "Okay, you have just as much explaining to do as he does. How about you begin with telling us what this Council is, how they know where we are, and why they would send a messenger after us."
Jackie glanced at Mark, behind Luke’s back, and they both snickered. It was annoying, yet mildly amusing the way Luke was acting with Alix.
Alix cleared his throat, glancing briefly at Luke, then turning to the others, as well. "The Council is made up of twelve wizards that govern the magic in Rotieva. They are supported by the King, and anything that goes wrong with magic, or when a new magic user comes into use, they find out about it. They have known about our swords for a long time now, since the first ones were created. They..."
"Hold up," Luke interrupted him. "So what you’re saying is, this Council wants to control anything that has to do with magic. What if someone uses magic, but decides they want to do it on their own?"
Alix nodded. "I’m not quite certain how much control they have over people like us, who are not using wizardry. I don’t think the Council has seen anything else in Rotieva. I believe their main goal is to support and help magic users, not control them. I also think it is safe to go with this messenger."
Luke looked at the others. "What do you guys think of all this?"
"I think he’s telling the truth, from his reaction to us, and from what Alix said," Jackie smiled at Alix, which made Luke frown.
He turned to Mark and Megan, who both agreed with Jackie.
"Okay, I guess we are all in agreement to go with this guy," Luke stood up. "The first sign that he may be lying, he’s dead."
Alix looked shocked. "You would..."
Mark laid a hand on his arm, rolling his eyes. "It’s just a figure of speech. Luke wouldn’t kill him."
Luke smiled, glad he was able to cause Alix to worry. "I guess it’s settled, then. Let’s go find the messenger and get ready to leave," Luke sighed, then turned to clean up from breakfast.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
The messenger handed a map to Alix, so he could verify they were going the correct way, then mounted his horse. Alix rode next to him with his sword in reach, just in case he turned on them.
They rode until the late afternoon, then stopped for a break.
Getting off his horse, Luke turned to Alix. "Is he still legit? How much longer is it gonna take us to get there?"
Alix studied him for a long moment, frowning. "Why don’t you trust me? It would make things a lot easier," he turned away, slipping the bridle off of his horse’s neck and letting the big bay eat. "Anyway, he is trustworthy. I’ve worked with his group before, and they have never led me wrong. If he turns out to not be who he says he is, I’ll take care of him. You and your friends don’t have to worry about anything. Just follow me."
Luke nodded. "Okay. I’ll take your word for it. How much longer until we reach this town?" He repeated the question from a few moments before.
""Well, we could keep going until dark and reach the next town tonight," Alix sighed. "I would be fine with that, as I am sure you probably would, also." He glanced at the others. "I’m not so sure about Megan or Mark, in his current state. Jackie might be okay. It’s up to all of you."
Luke looked at Mark. "I think it would be a good idea to stop and get an early start."
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
That night, Mark had nightmares about being pulled away from the others by the power of his sword. He tried to resist it, by was unable to. He was led to a dark castle, where he handed his sword over. He got a sense of relief that the sword was gone, but woke up to find it still beside him on the grass.
Feeling someone watching him, he turned to see Alix. The auburn haired man was standing over by his horse, brushing the gelding. He turned away when he noticed Mark watching him.
"You should go back to sleep," Alix moved on to one of their horses. "It won’t be time to leave for a few more hours."
"I usually get up this early," Mark protested.
Alix nodded. "I know, but you haven’t really been sleeping lately. I’ll wake you up again when I wake everyone else."
"What are you doing up?" Mark smiled at the older man. Sitting up, he studied Alix. When he didn’t get an answer, he smiled, changing the subject. "So, where are you from? How long have you been using a sword?"
Alix glanced at him. "I’m from Northern Rotieva, in the mountains. I’ve been practicing swordsmanship since I was 11." He seemed tense when talking about that particular subject.
"I see. Do you have family around here?" Mark knew he was getting personal, but couldn’t help his curiosity.
Alix turned away, his lips pursed. "Not anymore. They were taken by the Crimson Temple," he looked at Mark. "That’s where the Council will send us to defeat the man who is in charge. He is our enemy, Bordekai. I’ll kill him someday," he added quietly.
Mark turned around again. "Thank you." He didn’t know what else to say. Closing his eyes, he tried to stay awake, but dozed off, despite his best efforts.
Two hours later, Alix woke them all up, as he had promised. The messenger, Corren, started leading them again after a light breakfast of some sort of mush Alix had fixed for them. It wasn’t as good as Mark’s cooking, but it was filling.
They reached Hanlewey by that afternoon Alix offered a forced smile to the messenger, Corren.
"So, where were the Council members meeting us?" He dismounted and stretched his long legs. "I need to know, in case we need rooms."
Corren smiled. "They should be here soon, so you will not be needing rooms. They said they would be in a tavern called The Red Haren. Do you know of it?"
Alix frowned. "Sure, I know of it. They couldn't have picked a better one to meet in," he said, his words dripping with sarcasm.
Luke grinned, still glad to see Alix uncomfortable. "Well, shall we go to this lovely tavern?"
Alix grimaced. "Yeah, as long as they hurry and get here."
Luke laughed, glancing at his friends. Jackie smiled back at him, shaking her head at Alix.
They entered the tavern, which turned out to be as dirty and loud as Alix had implied. They found a booth that was halfway clean. After fifteen minutes of waiting and avoiding the drinks offered, they were approached by three men in long robes.
Standing up, Alix shook the hand of the man in charge. "Thank you for meeting us, sir."
The man smiled, glancing at the others. "It is my pleasure to finally meet you all. If you will step outside with me, I will take you to the Wizard Council headquarters. We can talk more about the situation there."
Alix smiled at the others. "Anything to get us out of this tavern."
The man grinned at him. "Let us leave, then."
They were led to the outskirts of the town, where a portal was standing open. One of the wizards stepped through first, followed by Luke, then Megan. Jackie looked at her brother before entering the portal.
"Are you okay? You seem a bit worried."
Mark offered her a small smile. "I'm fine. Go on through. I'll be right behind you." He took a deep breath, feeling the same foreboding sense he had when first touching his sword. Ignoring the feeling, he stepped through the portal. Alix watched him go, then followed.