Michael had been mostly silent since we had resumed our trek. He’d speak only if I said something and even then he’d only give a terse response. This time we were walking, just in case he lost it again. I was used to him being quiet. Ever since we were little, he had always had his silent moments. This time… this time it worried me. He was still shaky and wasn’t sure if he could keep flying if he had another attack.
What did he mean when he said he had a “sense of incompleteness.” Was it related to why he’d suddenly collapsed? I couldn’t help but be concerned. Even his voice sounded shaky.
“How long until we reach Orontios?” I asked, trying to sound fairly cheerful.
“We will arrive in approximately three hours, twenty four minutes and fifteen seconds,” he answered. “Assuming, of course, that we maintain our current velocity and do not stop. I apologise in advance if we do not arrive at the projected time due to my condition.”
“Don’t worry about it,” I said. “I don’t think a delay would really hurt.”
The morning came all too soon and I found myself in front of a squadron I barely knew. There was one more body than there should have been. Callie, I knew, had donned a suit of armour and surreptitiously joined the ranks. She’d show herself when we were well on our way and I couldn’t very well insist that she leave.
I spotted her in the crowd, those bright eyes glancing directly at me. I chose to pretend I hadn’t seen her. Even if I was fine with her tagging along, I knew it would cause trouble if everyone else found out before we left. After all, we were both part of a world with strict protocol and we were both breaking it. But it gave me comfort to know that she was there, looking out for me.
Lais approached before we left with someone I’d never expected to see in tow. It was Michael, looking rejuvenated, packed up and ready to go.
“Michael?” I asked. “What are you doing here?”
“I have come to offer my assistance,” he stated. “Commander Elivy has assigned me to your unit. I trust that will be acceptable?”
“Absolutely,” I said. “But I thought you were…” I paused. It could very well be a problem if I said it “I thought you had other business to attend to.”
“I have not given up on that business,” Michael stated. “But I have concluded that experience in a real battle will be a step toward finishing it.”
I nodded. “Makes sense. Join the vanguard and don’t stray from the group. We have to fight as a unit.”
He nodded. “I will observe proper military protocol. Do not concern yourself.”
We rode. We didn’t ride at full gallop, not wanting to exhaust our horses, but we still rode quickly through the great forest and towards Relna. I felt pretty good. Michael and Callie were both in my unit and I knew the three of us could accomplish remarkable feats.
We were approaching the Orontios with a fair amount of speed, considering. I was feeling significantly better, perhaps the fall earlier had been due to stress. It was somewhat disconcerting that Athena herself had implied that I should be here. But I believed in her benevolent intentions.
Surely, she knew that the age of draconians was drawing to a close. Perhaps she had a plan for me that would serve some good before my fall. Perhaps she wished to delay the inevitable. Perhaps she intended for me to unearth the secret of constructing living beings in a laboratory and propagate my species artificially.
Ultimately, however, her reasons did not matter. As long as I would still be able to accomplish my purpose, I had no objection to being put to work for whatever her goal for this scenario was.
“Can we rest for a moment?” Illyana asked.
“Certainly,” I stated. “I can not complain after the delay I caused. And I should have been attentive to your status.”
“No, no,” Illyana said. “I’m fine. Just a little tired. You’ve been perfectly attentive.”
I led her to a fallen log that she could rest on and we sat on it. I noted that she was perspiring and offered her some water, which she accepted.
“It’s been a while since we sat together like this,” she mused.
“It has,” I concurred. “Truthfully, I did not anticipate seeing you in person again after I left Wicadia. I am glad that I was in error.”
She waited exactly thirty seven point three seconds before responding. “I did get that impression but I didn’t want to bring it up.” She sighed. “Can I ask what exactly happened?”
“There is not much to tell,” I said. “I fought Sadow. When it became apparent that I could not win I attempted to use the binding breath spell. He did not notice, but my elven friend interfered and, unknowingly, prevented my plan.”
There was a more substantive pause. “I’m glad,”Illyana finally said. “Not because I don’t want him brought down, understand, but because I don’t want you to sacrifice yourself to do it.”
“I have considered methods that I could use to end him for his crimes without losing my own life in the process,” I said. “However, I do not know if I am strong enough to defeat him under normal circumstances. Please, understand my plight.”
We sat in relative silence for a substantial amount of time. It was broken, not with words, but with movement. Illyana grabbed my arm. She was surprisingly rough, given her fragile build. “Maybe that’s why we’re going.” She stated. “To get stronger. There are plenty of people who would be willing to fight by your side. Don’t try to do it alone.”
“I do not have any desire to see anyone injured or killed at my behest,” I said. “It is preferable for me to face him alone. Furthermore, I, more than anyone else, have the right.”
There was another substantial pause. It was beginning to grow disconcerting. “Maybe you do,” Illyana muttered. “But that doesn’t make it worth throwing everything away.” She stood up and rubbed her hands on her robes. “Let’s keep going.”
“Very well,” I concurred. I was well aware that she was ending the conversation in order to compel me to contemplate her finishing words. I decided to allow it.