Rain was falling hard; even through the thick overhead coverage of the trees. She had pulled her hood far over her eyes, but her hair was already dripping wet and her clothes were soaked through. Normally she loved the rain, but having spent weeks on the road, there was nothing she desired more than a hot bath and a warm bed.
Ber Mara forest seemed to be quite peaceful, but Keara couldn’t help but feel that something or someone was watching them. The farther they scouted ahead, the more uneasy she became and though the cold was partly to blame, she knew it wasn’t only because she was freezing and soaking wet. Legacy, her horse sensed her discomfort and neighed, wanting to turn back. But she nudged him forward and caressed his neck to settle him.
She looked around her, glancing at her brothers on either side of her. It was obvious that they were as cold as her, but they remained alert, also sensing a disturbing unpleasantness.
Just past her brothers, she could faintly see a few Rorins fanning out to cover as much ground as possible.
They were travelling with a rather large group of people. They had been commissioned, along with several Rorins, to escort Lady Elayne, daughter of Duke Prax, to Varden castle from her hometown, Citimar, within the mountains, located at the far side of Ber Mara forest. But they hadn’t anticipated that so many people would be travelling with her. Lady Elayne had insisted in not only bringing along her entourage, but also a battalion of soldiers to protect her as she believed the Ravens did not have the ability to do so. She would be meeting her father at the castle, whom had been there for several weeks, discussing business with the king.
Their most important task, was keeping everyone safe, which was why they were scouting ahead to ensure that the road ahead would be safe for the others to travel.
Not far ahead of them, she noticed a formation springing up from the forest floor that had not been formed by nature. The formation had been completely overgrown by nature. As they came closer, she noticed that it formed a ring and that the vegetation had not only completely grown over the stone of this ring, but also upwards, in a dome-shape towards the top. As they approached, Keara’s unease grew, and Legacy again tried to turn away in an attempt to keep her from possible harm. He shook his mane, as if to say, “moving forward was a bad idea”, but still she urged him towards the stone ring.
Keara had found herself caught in the middle of some complicated feelings; still trying to understand why she and her brothers were risking their lives for Lady Elayne and everyone she decided to drag along; especially since most of the people, including Lady Elayne, did not approve of the Ravens.
She and her brothers stopped a few feet away from the outer edge of the stone ring. All of them felt very uncomfortable, but none were entirely sure why.
‘What do you suppose this is?’ Keara asked to no one in particular.
‘I have no idea.’ Michael responded.
‘You don’t suppose it was part of a larger structure at some stage?’ Jonathan wondered.
‘No. There would’ve been other ruines here too.’ Keara stated.
‘True.’ Jonathan agreed.
‘What else could it be?’ Joseph asked.
‘I don’t know.’ Keara admitted.
‘Wanna step inside and see if we can find any clues?’ Alexander suggested.
‘Yeah.’ Keara replied.
Together they rode along the ring wall until they found the entrance, ‘Careful.’ Keara said; each of them gripping the hilt of their swords with frozen fingertips.
It seemed to rain harder as they neared the entrance. An itchy sensation crawled across her skin as they passed through the entrance.
‘What was that?’ Joseph said immediately.
‘You felt it too?’ Alexander asked.
‘It’s a ward.’ Michael informed them.
Now that they were inside, it seemed to have stopped raining. But when she looked up she noticed that the rain was still pouring down. But the ward was shaped like a dome and it prevented the rain from falling within the ring. They started looking around, but they couldn’t find anything that would possibly give them a clue as to why there was an overgrown stone ring in the middle of nowhere. She noticed that in the center of the ring, was an overgrown round-shaped stone slab. It had been so overgrown and worn away that it almost looked as though it hadn’t been placed there deliberately, but her elf eyes could see that it had not always rested there.
While her brothers were drawn to the inside of the ring as well as the warding, Keara’s attention was completely drawn to the overgrown stone slab and even though she would rather turn away and leave, something kept drawing her closer.
Michael had climbed out of the saddle to take a closer look at the inside of the ring. He softly pulled away some of the vegetation to reveal almost invisible words that had been carved in the stone. He tried to read a few words and discovered that it was in Ancient Drow. Upon further inspection, he realized that it was a spell; one that was only cast upon great evil.
‘We have to get out of here.’ Michael insisted.
‘Why?’ Keara wanted to know, though she would like nothing more.
‘Is it a tomb or something?’ Jonathan asked next to Keara, startling her a bit.
‘No.’ Michael started, ‘It’s an eternal prison.’
‘For who?’ Keara tensed up.
‘Or what?’ Jonathan added.
‘I don’t know. But whatever it was, it wasn’t good.’ Michael stated.
‘So there’s something beneath us.’ Keara realized.
‘Well, that stone slab didn’t move itself there.’
‘We should leave.’ Keara stated and headed for the exit.
‘I completely agree.’ Michael said, climbing back into the saddle and followed.
On their way back to their travel party, Michael eased his horse into a trot so he could catch up with Keara who was in front.
‘The ward is dying.’ Michael said as he slightly pulled the reins to slow his horse down.
‘What?’ she looked at him, surprised.
‘The ward is dying.’ he repeated, ‘It’s probably the reason we were able to get through in the first place.’ Michael told her.
‘Why would it be dying? It’s an eternal prison.’ she didn’t understand.
‘I know. I’m not sure what’s causing it.’ he admitted, ‘But something that powerful should not be letting anything in or out.’
‘So; what do we do?’ she hoped her brother would have an answer.
A moment later, a muffled rumble of rocks came from the stone ring. They all turned in their saddles to look back in that direction.
Keara and Michael looked back at each other.
‘The only thing I can think of right now, is we get everyone past that stone ring. And we give it a pretty wide berth. It’s not much, but it’s better than nothing.’ he finished.
‘Sounds good enough to me.’ she agreed.
Beneath the surface of the earth, in the moist darkness of the underground, lurked a presence which should have remained undisturbed. But with the sudden movement on the surface, that presence would no longer remain in its eternal slumber.
Not far from the ring, among the density of the trees, lurked another presence, but disappeared the moment the Ravens entered the ring. But now that they were leaving, it returned to watch them from a distance, curious about what their presence had done within the stone ring.
Upon arriving back at the travel party, a young Rorin with dirty blonde hair, quickly, yet cautiously made his way to the Ravens.
‘Lady Elayne requests a report from you.’ the Rorin informed Keara.
‘Really?’ Keara said sarcastically, ‘She requested?’
‘Well, not so much requested as, demanded.’ the Rorin replied.
‘She’ll get it soon enough.’ Keara stated, not hiding the disgust in her voice; she simply couldn’t learn to like Lady Elayne.
‘She’s not in a good mood.’ the Rorin thought she should know.
‘Is she ever?’ Keara asked rhetorically.
Without saying another word, Keara and her brothers rode their horses all the way to the stable boy and dismounted. Keara stood there for a moment, caressing Legacy’s neck.
Keara was very beautiful and the youngest of her siblings. Slender, but rather short, even for a Dark Elf. With long, black hair, bright purple eyes and fair skin, soft as porcelain, she stood out from the rest of her kin. She wore a black and metallic blue coat, traditional to the Ravens.
She stayed at Legacy’s side, until Michael spoke, ‘Are you ready?’
‘You know what’s gonna happen when we give her that report, right?’ she asked without looking away from Legacy.
‘One of two things.’ Michael started, ‘She would either want to stay at the stone ring, or scold us because we couldn’t find a safer route.’
‘It would’ve been safer if she didn’t bring so many people along. At least then we would’ve been able to travel a more direct path.’ Keara added.
‘And we probably wouldn’t have known about the stone ring.’ Michael finished.
She played with strands of legacy’s mane, ‘Can’t decide if that would really be a good or a bad thing.’
‘I know.’ he agreed, ‘Come on. Let’s go face the spoiled brat.’
‘Remind me again why we are doing this?’ Keara requested.
‘I only seem to remember King Artemis asking us for help, but I can’t remember why we agreed, or how we even got here.’
Keara couldn’t help but giggle. She stopped caressing Legacy’s neck, took a deep breath, turned to her brother and said, ‘Let’s go.’
Keara and Michael, the strongest of the Ravens, walked like two condemned souls towards a crowd, slowly making their way to the front to face one of the many people who could never approve of the Ravens and who had caused quite a scene upon their arrival in her hometown. Lady Elayne had refused to leave with them. She had sent a messenger back to the king and her father to request someone else, but both of them only responded by saying, “They are the best the kingdom has to offer. They will keep you safe.” She had only agreed to leave with them once she realized that neither the king, nor her father would be sending anyone else.
‘What do you have to report?’ Lady Elayne said very stiffly.
Lady Elayne was a rather beautiful young lady herself, and she used her beauty to her advantage. Even while travelling, she wore the best attire her father could provide and always had her red hair pinned up and out of her face. She was not much younger than Keara, but had the tendency to throw a child-like tantrum when she didn’t get what she wanted. She sat underneath a shallow tent, keeping herself dry, but everyone else around her, was completely soaked.
‘We found a stone ring not far ahead. It’s surrounded by a magic ward. From what we can tell, the ward is protecting an eternal prison. So it would be wise to steer clear of the ring and make camp about a mile past that.’ Keara summed up everything they had seen as shortly as possible.
‘Is it safe?’ Lady Elayne asked, seeming rather uninterested.
For a moment, Keara had a dumb look on her face, ‘I just told you it’s an eternal prison.’
‘And it’s warded.’ Lady Elayne added with attitude.
‘That doesn’t make it a safe place to camp.’ Keara stated.
‘And why is that, Raven?’
Keara looked at Michael with her mouth hanging open. He could see that her mind refused to accept such idiocy, just because she wasn’t liked.
‘The ward is facing inward, which means it’s keeping something inside. And the spells that were used to create the ward, was quite powerful. It would be in everyone’s best interest to stay as far away as possible.’ Michael explained.
‘You should’ve thought about that before you decided to take this road.’ Lady Elayne snorted.
‘It only became necessary to travel this road because you decided to bring so many people with you.’ Keara stated.
‘Yes. If we were fewer people, we would’ve taken a different road and most likely already be at the castle.’ Michael added in an attempt to back up his sister, ‘But regardless of which road we travel, we will still keep you safe. But you must take our advice. Stay away from the stone ring.’
Michael was the traditional face of a Dark Elf, with silver hair and blood red eyes. He was the oldest of the Ravens and the wisest; most of the time, except for their father. He was muscular and much taller than Keara.
‘I don’t take orders from you, Raven.’ Lady Elayne said with a smug look on her face, ’And if you try to order me around again, my father will hear it.
‘We are only trying to keep you safe.’ Keara spoke, ‘You and everyone else you decided to bring along.’
‘Everyone I brought along can protect me better than you can, which is why they are here. You are only here because the king and my father insisted. And I don’t have to listen to you. We are going to make camp at the stone ring.’ Lady Elayne announced.
‘Have you heard nothing we have said?’ Keara’s blood pressure started rising instantly.
‘Yes, I have. But like I said, I don’t have to listen to you. Everyone here takes orders from me and I say we camp at the stone ring.’
‘I strongly suggest you take our advice, little girl.’ Keara was losing her temper.
’I don’t much care about your suggestions. Remember, you’re only part of my travel party because of the king and my father. They really trust you, for some reason, but I don’t. And if I were queen, you would’ve been banished from this land long ago.’ Lady Elayne stood up, getting ready to go back to her carriage.
Keara reached the end of her patience and her eyes changed colour from purple to dark red and her eyelids changed colour from purple to grey, making Lady Elayne twitch. Keara attempted to hit her with the hope that it would knock some sense into her, but Michael stopped her before her blow could land. It took all the power he possessed to restrain her.
‘I suggest you keep your sister in check. You don’t want to lose what little respect the king has for you, because she hit his potential future bride.’ Lady Elayne said and walked away.
‘He will never marry you. You’re too annoying!’ Keara yelled after her.
Michael waited until Lady Elayne was well out of reach, ‘Can I let you go now?’
‘I suggest you do.’ Keara answered.
Michael quickly let go of her after hearing the tone in her voice. Keara turned around and looked at Michael, ‘You should have let me hit her.’
‘You would’ve killed her.’
‘Maybe that wouldn’t be such a bad thing.’ Keara remarked, ’And what was that all about? Is she just plain stupid or just deliberate?’she finished.
‘I think it’s a bit of both.’ Michael considered.
‘Maybe if you let me hit her, it would knock some sense into her.’
‘You would’ve killed her.’ Michael repeated.
‘And maybe that wouldn’t be such a bad thing.’ she repeated herself before walking away.
Michael stood there for a moment and considered Keara’s statement and had to agree with her.
Everyone started gathering up their things and started moving towards the stone ring.
Keara went back to their horses where their brothers were waiting for them.
‘So how’d it go?’ Jonathan said.
‘We’re moving towards the ring. How do you think it went?’ Michael said.
‘She really doesn’t like us.’ Alexander stated the obvious.
‘No, she doesn’t.’ Keara said, ‘But then, I don’t like her either.’
‘You should’ve just hit her. Maybe then she will think clearly.’ Joseph said to Keara.
‘I tried. But Michael wouldn’t let me.’
‘You would’ve killed her.’ Michael repeated himself again.
‘Maybe that wouldn’t be such a bad thing.’ Keara and Joseph said simultaneously.
Surprised that they had given the same remark, Keara and Joseph looked at each other. They both shook their head and mounted their horses and reluctantly followed the travel party.
‘Why did the king want us to go fetch her anyway?’ Joseph finally asked.
‘For the same reason we had to go fetch the other nobles.’ Keara said.
Joseph just looked at her with glazed eyes.
‘The king wanted to discuss some new security measures with them.’ Michael said.
‘But then why is she going?’ Joseph didn’t understand, ‘Her father’s already there for that reason.’
‘And it’s also the king’s birthday soon. They’re having a masquerade.’ Keara added.
‘Oh yeah. I forgot about that.’ Jonathan muttered, ‘Do you think we’ll have to attend?’
‘Yes. We were invited.’ Keara answered.
‘So? It’s not like we’re royalty, or even belong to this kingdom. We don’t belong to any kingdom.’ Jonathan didn’t sound very enthusiastic about the masquerade.
‘We’re not nomads, Jonathan.’ Keara pointed out, ‘And dad would want us to go.’
‘She’s right.’ Michael started, ‘It’s important that we be there. To show our support. The people cannot doubt what kind of allies the king has.’
Jonathan wasn’t happy about that. He had hoped they would be able to avoid it and just loaf around for a few days. With the upcoming masquerade, they hadn’t had a chance to rest at all. They had been to almost every corner of the kingdom to escorts aristocrats back to Varden Castle.
As they neared the stone ring, Keara quickly drew into herself. She didn’t speak to anyone; she didn’t even look at anyone. She just pulled the hood further over her eyes and kept to herself. She became more and more uncomfortable as night fell.
Not long after, they were at the stone ring. It had stopped raining; but for how long, no one could be sure. But everyone made use of the opportunity. The Rorins made camp in close perimeter to the ring as was possible. Lady Elayne’s people had set up camp for her inside the ring, and she seemed to be quite comfortable there, as did her entourage. Her soldiers made camp directly outside the ring. Most of them did anyway. Lady Elayne had brought so many with her, that they were scattered into all directions around the ring.
Keara and her brothers set up camp on the outer perimeter, partly because they chose to monitor the forest for any possible enemies and partly because they wanted to be as far away from the ring as they possibly could and still be within a safe distance, should anything occur.
In a short time, they already had a fire going and they were relaxing as much as the circumstances allowed. They had taken off their coats and laid it out in front of the fire to get it dry after the rain; also driving the chill from their bones as they made something to eat. Keara had not said a word since and was just staring into the flames; when she wasn’t staring into the dark abyss of the forest, seeming to feel as though something was watching them.
A Rorin wandered over to them. Not long ago, he had been sitting by a small fire with other Rorins, but it seemed he had grown bored and started wandering around the perimeter until he found the Ravens. He was carrying his belongings. He had grown a little nervous because he was about to ask them for their hospitality and he wasn’t sure how they would react. And they were also known as the most dangerous beings.
‘Hi.’ the Rorin said.
Michael looked up at him, ‘Hi. Can we help you?’
‘I was wondering if I could possibly spend the night here? I’ve grown pretty tired of my own crowd. And I would like to be as far away from Elayne as I possibly can.’ he explained.
Most of the Ravens chuckled.
‘Of course.’ Jonathan said with a friendly tone and gestured to the open spot between Keara and Michael, ‘Please, sit down.’
‘You’re not afraid of sitting with a bunch of Ravens, are you?’ Joseph asked; the youngest brother of the Ravens, just barely a year older than Keara. With white blonde hair and forest green eyes, he looked every bit like the mischievous brother.
‘Uh, a little.’ the Rorin said nervously.
‘There’s no need to be.’ Michael reassured him, ‘We’re not as ruthless as everyone assumes we are. Only on the battlefield.’
The Rorin just nodded, ‘I’m Deryck, by the way.’ he offered a handshake to Michael.
Deryck had dark brown hair, with brown eyes and olive skin. Around his neck, he wore a pendant which had been passed on through the generations as far back as he could remember.
‘Michael.’ he reached out and shook Deryck’s hand.
The others proceeded to shake his hand and introduce themselves.
Deryck’s eyes fell on Keara who was sitting just outside the circle of the fire.
‘That’s Keara. She’s the youngest.’ Michael said when he noticed Deryck looking attentively at Keara.
‘And also the strongest.’ Joseph added forcefully.
Deryck looked at Michael, ‘Is she alright?’
‘I’m fine, thank you.’ Keara said, offering a hand shake to Deryck.
He shook her hand and was reluctant to let go.
‘It’s nice to meet you.’ Keara said, drawing back into herself again.
‘It’s nice to meet you too.’ Deryck almost tripped over his words.
Deryck leaned over to Michael, ‘She looks a bit distant.’
‘She tends to draw into herself when she senses danger, or when she feels that a situation is unsafe.’ Michael explained, ‘Don’t worry, she’s not ignoring you.’ he finished with a smile.
Deryck was quiet for a moment as he felt his cheeks flush red, ‘I overheard the conversation with Elayne earlier.’
‘Yeah, she really doesn’t like us.’ Alexander said. He was the second oldest brother, with light brown hair and hazel eyes. Not quite as muscular as Michael, but he was taller than the average Woodland Elf.
‘She doesn’t even like anyone in the castle. She likes Artemis, but that’s only because he’s the king.’ Deryck wondered.
‘Yeah, I sure hope he doesn’t make her his wife.’ Jonathan added.
‘No chance of that happening.’ Deryck informed, ‘He likes her even less than we do.’
‘You work in the castle?’ Alexander asked.
‘You could say that.’ Deryck answered.
‘What exactly do you do?’ Alexander asked again.
‘This and that.’ Deryck said, and quickly changed the subject, ‘I understand that she doesn’t like you, I mean, she doesn’t like anyone. What I don’t understand is why.’
‘Because we’re the Ravens, which means we are better than the rest.’ Joseph smirked.
‘Joseph.’ Michael said sternly.
‘What? It’s true.’ Joseph said defensively.
‘We’re not under the command of the kingdom. We never were. We offer our help where it’s needed and when we think it’s appropriate to do so.’ Michael explained shortly.
‘I don’t understand.’ Deryck admitted, ‘Are you nomads?’
‘No.’ Michael said, ‘Though I can understand why many people think we are.’
’In previous generations of the Ravens, our services were given to other countries and kingdoms, because, at the time, they were fighting for a better cause. But as old kings pass away and new ones ascend the throne, those values tend to change and they’re no longer fighting for the greater good. That’s when we lend our services to the kingdom that is fighting for the greater good. That’s why they don’t like us.’ Keara explained.
‘What she said.’ Alexander said, pointing at Keara.
‘Okay. That makes sense.’ Deryck remarked.
‘That’s one of the reasons.’ Joseph added.
‘What other reasons are there?’ Deryck wanted to know.
‘We are elves, among other things.’ Jonathan said.
‘Probably because our values as elves are very much like those of a Raven.’ Michael stated.
‘You’re all Dark Elves, right?’ Deryck was curious.
‘No. Just Keara and myself. They are Woodland Elves.’ Michael corrected, pointing to his Woodland brothers.
‘But there are many Woodland Elves in the Rorins as well. Why would they have such a problem with you?’ Deryck didn’t understand.
‘Yes, but they don’t support Dark Elves. And believe it or not, most of those Woodland Elves don’t support us with the path we have chosen.’ Jonathan clarified.
‘Did you all meet when you became the Ravens?’ Deryck asked.
The Ravens smiled. It wasn’t well known that they were siblings.
‘No. Actually, we’re siblings.’ Jonathan said. He had dark brown hair with equally dark brown eyes. He was older than Joseph and also a bit taller.
‘But, I don’t understand. You two are Dark Elves.’ Deryck gestured to Keara and Michael. He was confused, ‘And you three are Woodland Elves.’ he pointed to Alexander, Jonathan and Joseph.
‘We were raised by the Ravens, so in essence, we really are family.’ Michael said.
There was a moment of silence, then Deryck started, ‘I’ve been meaning to ask you; how do you become a Raven? Does it work the same as becoming a Rorin? I had to go through a lot of training before I was even considered.’
‘No. It’s a family thing.’ Keara said shortly.
‘A family thing?’ Deryck repeated.
‘For as long as the Ravens have existed, they have only been in a single family.’ Michael began to explain in more detail, ‘Once the youngest generation comes of age, they become the next generation of Ravens. Some of our cousins have also become Ravens. But they are out at sea. They have been for years. We probably won’t ever see them again.’
‘Why not?’ Deryck asked.
‘Most people in our family didn’t agree with the decision our parents made the day they took us in.’ Michael said.
‘That’s horrible.’ Deryck said.
‘Such is life.’ Keara started, ‘You can’t expect everyone to accept who you are.’
‘But they’re your family. They should accept you as you are.’ Deryck stated.
‘Some just won’t. No point in breaking your head over that.’ Michael said.
‘They’re probably just jealous.’ Deryck smiled sweetly at Keara.
‘Of course they are.’ Joseph said with a smirk.
‘Joseph!’ the other Ravens said simultaneously.
‘What!?’ Joseph threw up his hands in defence.
Michael shook his head, ‘Some family members also disagreed with how we chose to conduct business.’
‘Because you chose who you wanna fight for?’ Deryck asked incredulously.
‘Many consider us traitors, but we’re not.’ Keara explained, ‘No one would want to keep fighting for something they don’t believe in.’
‘And that’s why we won’t.’ Michael finished.
A few hours later, most of the people were fast asleep. A few guards, as well as several Rorins were patrolling the perimeter
Alexander, Jonathan and Joseph were patrolling the outer perimeter. Everything looked alright, but they felt somewhat uneasy. Like something was watching them. They arrived back at their camp fire that was now only a small flame amongst burnt out wood, and brought Keara and Michael out of Reverie for the next shift.
After a few minutes of enjoying a cup of tea, Keara and Michael got up and started their patrols. By now, their coats were finally dry and they put them back on to drive away the chill in the forest air. Their first destination, as it had been with the others, was the horses.
As Ravens, and also by extension, Dark Elves, their horses were most prized, because there were only a few of these unique horses left in the world.
These magnificent animals had wings that would grow from their backs when it was needed. They were not easily startled by a rustle in the bushes. Naturally all these horses were black, as part of the reputation and style of the Ravens.
‘They’re very restless tonight.’ Keara noted.
Above, thunder struck again. And before long it started to rain. The look on Keara’s face, made it evident that she did not approve of the weather. She pulled the hood over her head.
‘Maybe it’s the weather.’ Michael suggested.
‘But they were fine this afternoon.’ Keara pointed out.
‘Or maybe they got spooked by something.’ even as he said it, he knew it wasn’t true.
‘You know as well as I do, they don’t get spooked by just anything.’
‘True. Then what do you suppose it is?’
‘I’m not sure. I’ve been feeling rather restless myself.’ she said uneasily.
‘Yeah, me too.’ Michael said, looking around, ‘Like something’s watching us.’
Keara came closer to Legacy and started stroking his neck, ‘What are you sensing that I’m not?’ she whispered.
After tending to their horses, they started patrolling the rest of the outer perimeter. They walked in silence, having nothing to say, especially regarding their current situation. Instead, they decided to keep their attention on their duty.
Suddenly, Keara stopped dead in her tracks, and gripped the hilt of her sword. She turned her head a little, listening.
‘Keara?’ Michael started, seeing her hand on her sword. He quickly realized what she was sensing.
He gripped the hilt of his sword and slowly unsheathed it, but a split second later, Keara’s sword swung in front of his face and stopped the blade of another sword from slicing through him. And the fight ensued. Keara swung her sword with enough force to throw her attacker to one side.
‘We’re under attack!’ she shouted, more to her brothers, but everyone else in the camp reacted and readied themselves for battle. Moments later, the forest floor came alive with Dark Elves; male and female. Their hair had been tied up, probably so it wouldn’t flail about while they were in the trees. Completely dressed in black, almost every part of their pale skin had been covered, except for their eyes.
The being lurking in the shadows of the forest, seemed to run for cover. Either afraid of getting caught in the crossfire, or afraid of the Dark Elves themselves.
Within seconds, the entire forest was a fierce scene of battle. Keara and her brothers were trying their best to defend the others against their current enemies as there weren’t many people in the travel party, or even in general who could stand against a Dark Elf.
Keara noticed that Joseph was being overpowered by several Dark Elves and started making her way to him as fast as she possibly could. But she wasn’t fast enough. Joseph took many hits and ended up lying on the forest floor, half dead.
The sight of her brother’s wounded body, oozing blood and pain, infuriated her; and her eyes started burning red with fire and her eyelids turned deep black as she sank to one knee, seeming to be in a lot of pain. Wings slowly and painfully started growing from her back. Her nails grew longer and became as sharp as blades.
Before the Dark Elf could deal the final blow that would end Joseph’s life, he was tackled by Keara who slashed at him.
She started dealing fatal blows to other Dark Elves with her sword and her razor sharp nails. Keara looked around, searching for her brothers.
In the corner of her eye, she saw a black panther pouncing on a Dark Elf. Teeth bared and claws exposed, the panther growled as it moved from one opponent to another. For a brief moment the panther made eye contact with her before moving on to its next opponent. Keara looked away from the panther and got to her feet to cut down her next opponent.
Once the Dark Elves realized that they were now fighting a losing battle, they retreated back into the depths of the forest until the only ones who remained, were the dead ones lying scattered around the camp.
Keara then started to calm down and sank to her knees while gasping for air as her wings retracted and her nails became shorter once again. She was covered in blood and most of it was that of her enemies.
The panther padded around the dead Dark Elves, with the hilt of Keara’s sword in his mouth. He came to a stop in front of her and dropped the sword at her knees. They briefly looked at each other in acknowledgement before the panther disappeared into the darkness of the forest.
Michael immediately ran to her side, putting his hand on her back. He knew what had happened, but wasn’t sure what to do about it.
‘Are you alright, Keara?’ he asked concerned.
‘Check on Joseph.’ she said in a low tone without looking up.
Michael remained motionless for a moment, then got up and as he removed his hand from her back, noticing that it was covered in blood.
When Michael got to Joseph, Alexander was already tending to his wounds, watching them heal as he moved his hands over them. The rain washed away most of the blood.
Jonathan went to Keara and started healing her wounds as best he could. Keara looked up at him, ‘Is Joseph okay?’
‘Alexander is tending to him now. He’ll be fine.’ Jonathan told her, then looked her up and down, ‘What about you?’
‘I’m fine.’ she groaned.
‘What happened to you?’ he wondered.
She hesitated, ‘I’m not sure. It was as though I had completely lost control of my body. I saw everything happening, but it was like someone else was experiencing it.’
‘You have to tell Michael.’
Keara remained on her knees, allowing the healing powers flowing from Jonathan’s hands to seep into her skin and flow through her body. She reached for her sword, which the panther had left at her knees, wiped the blood of the blade and sheathed it in the scabbard at her waist.
The other people of the travel party started tending to their wounded and gathering the dead. Lady Elayne was the only one who seemed to have remained unhurt as she didn’t fight, but was protected. She stormed towards Keara, yelling all the way.
‘What in the five hells was that!?’
‘An attack by Dark Elves.’ Keara answered as she got to her feet.
‘And what makes you think they were Dark Elves?’
‘Are you kidding me?’ Keara was almost instantly annoyed, ‘I am one! I think I would recognize my own kind when I see them.’
‘Then explain to me how you know.’
‘You’re joking, right?’ Keara looked at Lady Elayne as though she was a complete idiot.
‘Explain to me!’ Lady Elayne demanded.
Keara closed her eyes and gave herself a moment to calm down, ‘All Dark Elves carry the same mark.’
She proceed to remove the glove covering her left hand and a part of her arm, the bent down and showed the left arm of a dead Dark Elf lying near her, proving that the mark was the same, ‘And what’s more, they didn’t shield their aura’s, which is why we could sense them.’
‘Well then, tell me why would your kind attack us?’
‘I don’t know.’ Keara answered, ‘Maybe it’s because you decided to camp right inside the stone ring after we told you that it’s a bad idea. Or maybe they just don’t like you.’
‘How could you not know?’ Lady Elayne yelled again, trying to ignore Keara’s remark.
‘I don’t know. I’m a Dark Elf, not a Night Elf!’ Keara had finally lost her patience, and found herself yelling as well, ‘If you really wanna know, you should ask them; they’re the psychics of our race.’
‘Watch how you speak to me, Raven.’
‘No Elayne. Maybe you should watch how you speak to me. And my name isn’t Raven; it’s Keara. You will do well to remember that.’ she finished and walked away.
For the first time, Keara saw fear in Lady Elayne’s eyes and she knew the spoiled little rich girl would not try to challenge her again.
Jonathan quickly followed her, holding his hand close to her back, trying to heal her wounds as much as his remaining strength would allow.
Keara was walking towards the stone ring; the rain was falling down hard now. She sensed some kind of evil, and as much as she wanted to walk away, a part of her just wouldn’t allow her to turn and walk in the other direction. She stepped through the entrance of the ring; the ward was fading much faster than she had anticipated. Jonathan still followed her closely. By now, she was about six feet away from the overgrown stone slab when the ground rumbled beneath her feet. She stopped in her tracks and looked at the ground around her.
‘What was that?’ Jonathan asked, trying to sound calm.
‘I don’t know.’ Keara answered.
Again, the ground rumbled.
‘Get everyone out of here.’ Keara ordered Jonathan.
Jonathan immediately started ordering people out of the ring. Keara unsheathed her sword and moved even closer to the slab, even though she knew it was a bad idea; she couldn’t stop herself. Caution in every step. As she came closer, she saw cracks on the slab faintly glowing, then looked around to see if everyone was outside the ring. She finally convinced herself to leave and turned to do so, but the ground rumbled again and instantly gave in under her feet. She fell amongst the rubble and was covered by the remaining rocks and dust.
‘Keara!’ Jonathan shouted as he saw what happened.
Moments later, Keara started moving underneath the rubble, covered in dust that clung to her wet body. As she emerged, she quickly found and took hold of her sword. She was bleeding all over and found it hard to stay conscious. Her eyes had changed to a yellow-orange colour and her eyelids became a faded yellow. She was concentrating on her breathing when the crunching of rubble under heavy footsteps caught her attention. She looked up from the ground and saw a shadow approaching her. She lifted her sword, hoping she would be able to defend herself if she needed to.
‘Finally.’ the dark figure seemed to breathe a sigh of relief, ‘I’m free.’ it uttered as it came to a stop a few feet away from her.
Keara just looked at the figure. There was nothing else she could do.
‘I will re-join King Sharzak and make your kin pay for what you have done.’
Keara was trying to understand what the figure meant, when it continued, ‘You should’ve thought twice before betraying us.’
‘Sharzak? He’s dead.’ she finally managed.
‘Or so you thought.’
‘Who are you?’ Keara still didn’t understand what was going on.
‘Your nightmare.’ the dark figure started hovering above the ground and flew away, knocking Keara over.
Jonathan jumped down into the hole and caught Keara before she hit the ground. He sat behind her, letting her rest against his chest. By now, she was full of bruises and bleeding all over.
‘Are you okay?’ he asked, noticing that her injuries were much worse than before.
‘Yeah.’ Keara gasped.
‘Come on.’ he put her arm around his neck and helped her to her feet.
‘Give me your hand, Keara.’ Deryck said, extending his arm out.
She looked up. Without hesitation, she weakly reached for Deryck’s hand, who firmly took hold of hers and pulled her up with Jonathan lifting her from below. Above ground, she sat down on the ground with her feet dangling over the edge. Deryck sat down beside her and kept one arm around her to keep her upright.
Jonathan climbed out of the hole, sat down next to Keara and started healing the wounds that needed the most attention, using more of his strength than had intended.
More shadows were lurking in the forest now. Most seemed to turn and disappear, but one remained, getting closer and closer to the party. And no one seemed to notice. Everyone was quiet, cleaning up and gathering their things. Even Lady Elayne had fallen completely silent.