Maroshek wandered down the path among the Firs in the royal gardens. The acrid odor of smoke mingled with the fresh, crisp pine sap. Pieces of his armor dotted the trail behind him as if they were some twisted mushroom like blight in the perfection of the park.
He reached a small clearing and fell to his knees, no longer caring what his actions looked like to anyone who might see him. It was over. And she hadn't come. The fires twisted and danced through the battle for the city as if they were djinn from the old stories. But she wasn't there.
“Take me!” he screamed into the hazy night air as crazed shadows from the thousand fires twisted around him, “I surrender. I have failed in the one sacred duty of my House and have lost all honor,” his voice dropped to a hoarse whisper as he collapsed into the cool grass.
Maroshek jerked upright as the soft swish of a footstep penetrated his whirling thoughts. Out of the shadows a figure approached him. Just out of arm’s reach it stopped. A flicker of light flitted through the clearing illuminating the figure.
She smiled as she knelt in front of him, brushing his face with the back of her hand, “Maroshek. I knew you’d come. I knew you’d save me. Bring me back.”
“How? I. What?”
“Shh. You are paralyzed with questions, with doubts. But you held to the old ways. Your faith. Your sacrifice. That is what kindled the magic to complete my rebirth.”
“My sacrifice? You mean the old ways are real?”
“Yes. The old ways are real. I’ve learned much while I was gone. Our houses let the old ways die. What once were sacred rites became meaningless ritual. As the rites faded, the magic within my house dwindled. That is why the House of Phoenix nearly died. It was your sacrifice that completed the process and allowed my return. Just as the old ways prescribed.”
“What did I sacrifice? I still live, though I would have gladly died for you, right?”
“You still live. This is not a dream, nor is it heaven. But you were willing to sacrifice all that you are. The surrender of your essence, your soul if you will, became the offering. It opened the way for me to come back, not just touch this world from afar.”
Jaylen pulled him to her, his head resting against her chest. He was tired, so tired. With her new found powers, Jaylen washed away some of Maroshek’s fatigue. Just enough to allow him to finish his job within the city.
He pulled away after a bit, “What about the fires in the city? They are too great. The city is lost.”
“It is not lost. It is cleansed,” seeing the look on Maroshek’s face she continued, “Go. See for yourself. Then come back to me at the palace. Though the battle is won, there is much still to do.”