Keara returned to the house, said her goodbyes to her family, hoping that it would not be the last time she saw them, then set out for Surendorn.
She passed through various territories quickly and unnoticed. Those territories started getting more and more dangerous, the closer she came.
Michael and the remaining Ravens were already on their way to Varden Castle by the time the sun started rising. Each of them restless in their own mind, wondering if Keara would find the answers she was looking for.
By late afternoon, the Ravens arrived at the gate of the castle. Soon after their arrival, King Artemis was informed and he met them on their way to the throne room. Deryck was with him, in hopes of seeing Keara again.
‘Isn’t Keara with you?’ Deryck asked, knowing that she wasn’t but hoped that she was at the Raven barracks.
‘Sorry Deryck. But a different duty called her away.’ Michael replied.
‘What duty?’ Deryck wanted to know.
‘I’ll explain later.’ Michael promised, ‘But, for now, we have to focus on the matters at hand.’
Artemis invited them to his study, where they could discuss these strange occurrences.
Keara and Legacy were taking a break from their quest and relaxed in the setting sun. She was lying against Legacy with closed eyes, when she heard movement a short distance away. She was instantly completely alert, deciding it was time to move on.
‘Come on.’ she said to Legacy, getting up, Legacy also getting up, ‘Let’s go.’
Once Legacy stood up, Keara climbed onto his back and they were off again. Their pace was slow at first, but once night fell, they were quickly making their way towards Surendorn. Keara dropped her guard a little, but quickly realized that it was a bad idea when they almost strode into the camp of several Wild Elves. She tugged Legacy’s reins just hard enough to make him come to an instant stop and they froze in the darkness to be sure that no one had seen or heard their approach. Once she was certain that she had gone by unnoticed, she nudged Legacy into a run, making sure that they avoided any signs of light.
‘This could very well be Sharzak’s work, Artemis.’ Michael suggested, ‘He was once a very powerful ruler with many extraordinary powers; until he betrayed the Dark Elves.’
Artemis was surprised to hear that the Dark Elves could be betrayed, especially since they were such a sinister, dangerous and untrusting race.
Michael realized that Artemis’s thoughts had wandered towards that point and said, ‘Yeah, I know. It’s hard to believe that the Dark Elves could actually allow themselves to be betrayed.’
‘But, that doesn’t explain all the strange things happening around here.’ Deryck stated, ‘Do you suppose that all these things are happening because he wants revenge against the Dark Elves?’
‘It is a possibility.’ Michael admitted.
‘But then, why here? I mean, Velmoura is days away from here.’ Deryck stated again.
‘That is true, Deryck. But Keara and I are frequently in this area, and a lingering aura does leave a mark. He must have noticed. Especially with Keara, who is the most powerful Dark Elf to walk the surface of the earth in thousands of years. She just doesn’t know it yet.’
‘Does this have anything to do with the creature she turned into the other night?’ Deryck wanted to know.
‘Yes.’ Michael answered after a moment of silence, ‘I think she’s even more powerful than the ones who came before her.’
‘Is that even possible?’ Alexander had to ask.
‘Nothing in history has ever suggested that all their individual powers would be equally matched.’ Michael said.
‘But back to the matter at hand.’ Artemis suggested, ‘Why are all these things happening here?’
‘Well, the Haunted Castle is not far from here, and no doubt he inhabits it again.’ Michael thought, more to himself, ‘And perhaps because he knows the Drow Queen walks the surface, he assumes that all the Dark Elves do, and is using all these strange happenings to draw them out. But those Dark Elves that attacked us during our travels have long since disappeared back into Velmoura.’
‘I see.’ Artemis said.
‘The Drow Queen?’ Deryck started.
‘Yes. Only royalty possesses the Gene.’ Michael said.
‘What gene?’ Deryck asked.
‘In the common tongue, it’s called the Devil Gene, or the Cursed Gene.’
‘Okay, but who do you think is Drow royalty?’ Deryck didn’t understand.
‘Did I not mention that?’ Michael was surprised.
‘No, not really, Michael.’ Alexander said; even his brothers were confused.
‘Keara. She possesses the gene.’ Michael said.
Everyone was dumbstruck.
‘How do you know she possesses the gene?’ Alexander asked.
‘How do you even know she might be royalty?’ Joseph asked before Alexander had even finished speaking.
‘Well, technically, I don’t really know, I just think so.’ Michael admitted.
‘Okay. Explain.’ Alexander said.
‘Well, according to legend, the Devil Gene can only exist in the royal bloodline.’ Michael said, ‘And the last Dark Elf who possessed the Gene, was Queen Ethera, the queen who Sharzak had assassinated. And she lived just about a thousand years ago. Her family now rules over Velmoura. And if the rumours are true, a male descendant has assumed the throne.’
‘That sounds like it’s a bad thing.’ Artemis pointed out.
It is.’ Michael replied, ‘Velmoura has always been ruled by a female Drow.’
‘That’s interesting.’ Artemis admitted, ‘Why?’
’Well, aside from the fact that the Gene only exists in the royal female bloodline, the female Drow is in general more powerful than the male. The Gene enables the queen to manipulate all four elements and greatly enhances her own natural power. And upon gaining control over the Gene, there can be no better ruler.’ Michael explained, ‘And in the world of the Dark Elves, the female Drow is much more level-headed than the male Drow.’
‘That would explain your stubbornness.’ Joseph said without even hesitating.
His brothers just chuckled.
‘Do you think the current royals would welcome Keara as the Drow Queen?’ Alexander asked, suspecting that he knew the answer.
‘Not a chance.’ Michael said, ‘According to the rumours, the king killed off half his family to obtain the throne. I doubt that he would relinquish it so easily. And also, considering that Keara grew up on the surface, she would just be another outsider.’
After another day of riding, Keara reached the entrance to Surendorn.
She dismounted Legacy; walked to the entrance that would look like an ordinary boulder to anyone, other than the Dark Elves. Keara studied the boulder for a moment.
‘The touch of a Dark Elf.’ she murmured to herself, thinking about the conversation she had with Michael before departing on this journey.
She lifted her hand, staring at it, considering those words, then placed it on the boulder and closed her eyes. A moment later, the area around her hand started glowing, markings all over the boulder started glowing in purple. After a few seconds, the boulder began to move. Keara removed her hand from it, walked back to Legacy and climbed back into the saddle.
‘The touch of a Dark Elf.’ she merely confirmed to herself that it was indeed what had revealed the entrance. Then she slowly urged Legacy forward and together they moved through the entrance and it slowly closed behind them.
‘Let’s try to stay out of sight for as long as we can. We can’t be certain how they would react towards us when they discover we’re outsiders.’ Keara whispered to legacy.
Legacy neighed as if to respond in agreement.
Keara and Legacy made their way through Surendorn as quickly and quietly as they could. Keara seemed to know exactly where she was going even though this was her very first time there. She tried to keep her attention on the road ahead, but she could not help feeling that something was watching them. The path down to Velmoura was a long one, and at first, she assumed that her mind was just playing tricks on her. But she soon realized that she really wasn’t alone in the darkness. Every now and then, she would see eyes staring at her, or a head peeking out from behind a boulder, and something scurrying away. Their presence felt dangerous, but none of them attacked her, they all just kept observing her.
After about half a day’s ride, she saw high walls in the distance, with passages running down them into Velmoura. And towering over everything else was the castle. She pulled on Legacy’s reins and he came to a stop. From here, she could see the layout of Velmoura. So she scanned the area and found another huge building not far from the castle. Keara guessed that it would be the archives. So she dismounted and lead Legacy to the side of the road.
‘Stay here.’ she told Legacy, but before she could take one step, Legacy grabbed the hood of her coat with his teeth. With surprise, Keara stumbled backwards. And as she stumbled, Legacy pulled the hood over her head. Keara stood there with the hood covering half her face, ‘Thank you.’ she said, then corrected the hood, ‘Keep yourself hidden.’
Legacy turned and hid himself between the bushes and boulders.
Keara studied the walls for a moment, then, making sure the hood covered her eyes sufficiently, she approached. She walked down the narrow passage and before she knew it, she was inside Velmoura. For a moment she didn’t move. She took in the sight of Drow life happening right before her eyes. Admittedly, she did not expect it to appear so normal. But she quickly shook herself out of the surprise and started moving towards the building, trying to draw as little attention as possible. Many Dark Elves saw her go by, but didn’t pay much attention. After all, she wasn’t the only Drow walking with a hood over her eyes.
Finally she stood before the building, feeling a bit nervous. She wasn’t sure what to expect, but she really hoped that she would find the answers she was looking for. She leaned on the heavy doors, pushing it open, pausing for just a moment before stepping inside. Standing in the doorway, she was inspecting the room when a woman behind a desk spoke.
‘Can I help you?’
Keara looked at the woman, ‘I need to get into the archives.’
‘Family name?’ the woman asked, looking down at a page in a huge book lying in front of her.
‘Family name?’ Keara repeated.
‘Yes. Your family name. It’s just to keep track of who goes in and out of the archives.’
‘Harpstrom.’ Keara answered shortly.
The woman looked up, ‘That’s a human name.’
‘It is my father’s name.’
The woman studied Keara for a moment, ‘Who are you?’ the woman stood up.
‘My name is Keara.’
The woman’s eyes grew wide, ‘You’re a Raven.’
Another female Drow peeked her head out from behind the inner archives door, amazed at the sight of an actual Raven. She was fascinated. The female Drow behind the desk, however, was not.
‘Leave while you can. Access to the archives is not permitted to outsiders.’ said the woman behind the desk.
‘You could always ask permission from the king.’ the other woman peeking out from behind the door suggested.
The woman behind the desk turned and looked sharply at the one behind the door, ‘Very well. You take her there.’
Keara didn’t have time to waste, but she couldn’t afford to cause any unnecessary problems when she was in a place she didn’t really belong.
The woman who had peeked out from behind the door, was now escorting Keara to the king’s castle.
‘It’s an honour to meet you, Raven. Your reputation precedes you.’
‘Thank you.’ Keara replied.
‘I’m Zarra, by the way.’
‘I know.’ Zarra could barely contain her excitement at meeting the famous Raven.