The early morning sun shone down past nomad clouds before bathing the city below in warmth. A gentle breeze drifted through the grass and birds sang in every tree.
Trey walked slowly through the empty streets of Pastrino while assessing the last few weeks. They had gone by so fast and there had been so much to do that all of the recent events still had not fully sunken in yet.
After the battle at Lanstiro, they had all gorged themselves in a well deserved feast before resting in the mass of rooms that littered the fortress city. Those who could stomach food and find sleep from the waking nightmares anyway. The host of animals had left as soon as the last living Forukk had been butchered. When the morning arrived the grief of loss came with it. Every person that still lived had lost a friend or family member and were only now able to properly mourn the dead.
Work had been done to collect and burn the enemies’ bodies before preparing their own dead to be transported. The journey had been long and hard and almost had not seemed worth it after arriving back at the ruins of Pastrino.
Buildings lay as rubble and bodies still littered the streets. Ashes formed the top layer of soil for miles around the city and all but the strongest trees had died. The taint of the Shadow Lands had been brought with the Forukks and was only fading slowly. There were no crops, no food left in storage and staying warm in the winter months had become a problem.
A vast graveyard had been constructed for the victims of the war and all of the bodies were buried, including Sarah and even Zendek. Xion had been left to rot where he had fallen. Almost two thirds of the city would never return home beyond that grave-filled field. The Yuxova and Onlasarian armies had left Pastrino after only a single night’s rest before heading out to return their dead to where they belonged and rebuild their own homes.
Every able bodied person was tasked with tilling the fields so that crops could be planted and grown to insure their survival over the coming months. Then the construction began and consumed every waking hour until every house with living occupants was fully rebuilt.
These efforts were ongoing; even now as Trey walked the streets he could see half finished buildings. Trey had worked from sun up to sun down, as had every other Pastrinian. Every other waking minute had been spent training with Zenbou. Without the pressures of a battle the sword was near impossible to control but he was learning, slowly but surely.
Between Zak and the Heptalli Elder he had learned that Zenbou was the mark of the Sword Summoner. That marked Trey out as a warrior of legend, however much he wanted to avoid it. People were suddenly placing titles upon him and were bowing on sight while others now pushed him to step up and be the grand saviour that they expected him to be. Trey just wanted to sit alone and forget it all. That was not an option any longer. He pushed these thoughts from his head.
From the fires of war and death, strong bonds had been formed between the peoples of the cities and desert. Liam and Dawn had become representatives of their people and worked tirelessly with Pastrino to rebuild Farava into one great nation.
Trey stepped through a shining gate and walked among the rows of gravestones until he had arrived at the one he was looking for. He knelt down next to his mother’s grave and placed a single flower on the mound. He had come here every day to talk to Sarah and inform her of how things were going.
“Hey Mum, it’s only me. Things are going well. Our house is almost back to normal and we’ve also fixed all the things you always complained about while we were at it.”
“Billy has recovered well, both physically and mentally, as has everyone else. Life is good but I still miss you so much,” he said to the stone. “Liam was given a position as a sergeant in the Onlasarian army and is finally gaining the respect of his peers. I think he is finally starting to enjoy life. There’s still no message from Htaed and Lily on their hunt for the Alpha Forukk but we’re keeping our ears open.”
“You have to stop talking to yourself, people will think you’re crazy,” came a voice from behind Trey. He turned to see Blake.
“Oh, hey Dad. I was just talking to Mum,” replied Trey. “Did anything come up in the reports?”
“Nothing of note,” Blake answered. “I have gotten further with the books from Dill’s old house but they don’t help us a great deal. They chronicle the fall of Lanstiro and fill in a lot of the past but don’t mention anything that is relevant to us now. It’s funny, Dill’s descendent was a prince who escaped the city after realising that the corruption was consuming everything. He was the last heir to that land and so cut off Lanstiro’s growth. By going back there, Dill unwillingly set everything back into motion. I still have no idea what the coming storm was that he mentioned.”
Too much had not been answered. What was the threat that pushed Zendek to harden Farava? Where had Maklar and the Alpha Forukk disappeared to and when would they return? Was Mellow truly dead or still alive as Dawn believed? Just what was the smiley-faced reaper they had seen in the desert? Too many questions.
Trey sighed, his eyes drifting up to the clear sky. “It is strange to think that a strong man with a pure heart and dreams of peace could be warped so badly by something out of his control. I guess in the end we are all weak to fate.”
“Maybe,” shrugged Blake. He knelt down beside Sarah’s grave.
“Any news on your end?” he asked while he offered up a prayer to his wife.
“Yeah, you have to become our new leader.”
Blake raised an eyebrow. “Oh really? Why is that?”
“They tried pushing it onto me but I refused. If you don’t take it then Zak is the only one who wants the job,” said Trey with a smile.
“I can see your concern,” laughed Blake. His face became more serious as he continued. “You know how I said we need protection against future enemies? Well I have talked it through with some select people and we have decided we need something more than guards, peasant militia and hastily built armies. We need a group of strong warriors who are willing to fight for peace. I just can’t shake Dill’s final words about strengthening us for the coming storm. Are you in?”
“I suppose I have to as the new Sword Summoner,” sighed the teen, still not used to the idea of being a legendary warrior.
“Not at all,” smiled the man. “Although I’m sure that the other members would be very sad if you didn’t accept.”
“Other members?” questioned Trey.
“Yeah. I picked people who had proved themselves worthy during the war. I think you may know them.” Blake whistled loudly then a group of people entered through the gates.
At the front of the group were Commander Nakai and his Lieutenant Suzy Fireblood. Behind them came Billy and Zak who were closely followed by Liam and Dawn. Pux stood proudly upon Zak’s shoulder. Lieutenant Gapon arrived last. They walked over to Sarah’s grave and greeted the two already there.
“We made a few suggestions for a name but we wanted you to make the final say,” said Blake.
“Okay,” said Trey, not fully sure what was happening.
“We thought of ‘The Order of the Blue Sword’. What do you think?” asked Dawn as she tried to keep a straight face at Trey’s reaction.
“Sounds good to me,” chuckled the teen.
“Good,” said Blake with exaggerated relief. “It would have been bad if you hated the name after we had already gotten our tattoos.”
“Yes,” Dawn smiled. She pulled up the sleeve of her right arm to reveal a finger-length image of Zenbou inked into the skin of her inner wrist. The glorious blue of the blade appeared slightly illumines, almost glowing in the early morning sun. The others raised their sleeves too and showed off identical copies. Nakai’s was the odd one out on his left wrist.
“Think of it as a badge of honour, a mark of our rank.”
Trey didn’t know what to say. He just stared at the blue blades that would be a part of his friends’ bodies forever.
Blake clasped Trey’s shoulder. “Come on then. There’s a lot still to do, least of which is giving you a tattoo as well. We can’t have our leader go without, can we?”
“Right. Just give me a minute alone please,” asked Trey.The others nodded then left him to finish talking to his mother.
He smiled reflectively. Things really were moving fast. “Times will be tough and stronger enemies will always try to shatter the peace but I will protect everyone. If I had been stronger that day then you may never have died and I can never forgive myself for that. I will get stronger though and shield my friends from all harm. This I promise to you, Mum.”
He could feel Sarah’s presence at his side and knew that she would always watch over him.
“I will not fail you again.”