Chapter Thirty Four
New rumours were spreading in the villages surrounding the forest. People told of screams emerging from the forest during the late hours of the night. Some said it sounded human, others said it sounded like a monster, seeming to be in great pain. The villagers grew more cautious; renewing the fences and performing all sorts of different rituals to strengthen their wards, hoping to keep the monster at bay. Several hunters ventured into the forest every morning, hoping to track this monster down; searching in caves, even trees; looking for anything that might lead them to a slumbering and wounded creature. Every day, just before nightfall, the hunters returned home and every day, they returned empty-handed. Not so much as an indication of the creature’s whereabouts could be found, no footprints, no claw marks; nothing at all.
“Perhaps the creature moved on.” they said. Some believed it, for no villages had been terrorized by any sort of monster. Others believed it was still near, lurking outside the gates at night.
No one dared venture too deep into the forest. They believed that the forest was enchanted somehow. And in a way, it was; considering all the different creatures that called it home.
But this monster that everyone was hunting; this creature everyone believed was trying to find a way into their villages, did not exist. This monster was merely a creation of the human mind; a figment of their imagination.
It had been several days since Keara had dragged herself into the water. She was exposed and in very real danger. She could be attacked at any moment and she would not be able to defend herself.
It seemed that her surroundings knew she was vulnerable. Roots and vines beneath the surface of the water started creeping towards her, growing around her, forming a cocoon, providing her with safety.
‘We might find the monster if we go deeper into the forest.’ one of the hunters said.
‘It’s too dangerous to go deeper.’ another hunter stated.
‘If we want to keep everyone safe, it’s a risk we have to take.’ the first hunter said, ‘We’ll be fine as long as we stay together.’
The other hunters reluctantly agreed, and together they all headed deeper into the forest.
An hour or two had passed. The hunters were now extra cautious. They had never tread this deep into the forest. Not knowing that they were getting closer to where Keara was healing.
Moments later, the hunters passed Keara, completely unaware that the bushes surrounding the stream in that particular area had not grown there over time. The last of the hunters disappeared into the distance.
Once it was quiet again, the Woodland Elves emerged from their hiding places. And the bushes around the stream slowly disappeared to reveal the cocoon Keara was nestled in.
‘Humans never come this far into the forest.’ a Woodland Elf said.
‘It seems they do now.’ Elodin said as he emerged from behind a tree.
‘But why?’ another Woodland Elf asked.
‘I don’t know. But they must have a very good reason for coming so far, and going farther still.’ Elodin stated.
‘We have to move her, Elodin.’ a female Woodland Elf stated.
‘I agree. We have to keep her safe.’ Elodin agreed.
The Woodland Elves gathered around both sides of the stream. They raised their hands to the water, palms facing down. A moment later the vines and roots drew away from Keara, exposing her completely. The elves started walking up the stream, their palms still facing down. The underwater vegetation started moving her along up the stream.
A short while later, the Woodland Elves arrived where all the trees and bushes had grown in close proximity. Elodin lifted his hand, touching the trunk of a huge tree which had grown over the stream; its roots reaching deep down to the bottom. The tree trunk started separating down the middle, its roots forming steps inward, toward the other side. The elves stepped through; the trunk closing up as the last elf stepped on the ground on the other side. Once the elves came to a stop, the underwater vegetation covered Keara again, forming a cocoon around her again.
The Woodland Elves had brought Keara to their sanctuary. It was very beautiful. The elves lived in and around the trees. Stairways leading up into the higher parts of the trees were roots and branches that were slowly manipulated over time so as not to harm the trees. Everyone lived in perfect harmony with their surroundings.
Once everyone settled, Elodin stood by the stream, looking down at the cocoon that contained Keara. One of the elves walked up to him.
‘We have to inform her brothers.’ the elf said, ‘They need to know that she’s alright.’
‘I’ve already sent a message through to them. I thought it best to notify them as soon as possible.’ Elodin stated.
Deryck found it much easier to keep up with the Ravens now. His muscles had gotten used to their immense power and he himself had gotten more powerful. It no longer felt as though his bones would shatter whenever their blades locked. Jonathan walked up to Michael who was standing to one side, watching Alexander and Joseph battle against Deryck.
‘I’ve received a message.’ Jonathan informed Michael.
Michael looked at Jonathan, ‘What message?’
‘It’s about Keara.’
The battle between Alexander, Joseph and Deryck ended instantly. Deryck quickly walked up to Jonathan, ‘What have you heard of Keara?’
‘Elodin has informed me that she is alive; however she was gravely injured.’ Jonathan started.
‘Could it have been another Drow attack?’ Deryck asked.
‘He doesn’t know. He just said that she was already healing when he found her.’
‘Where is she now?’ Michael asked.
‘The home of the Woodland Elves.’ Jonathan answered.
‘At least she’s safe.’ Joseph said.
‘Can we go to her?’ Deryck asked hopefully.
‘We can.’ Michael started, ‘But I’m not so sure if the Woodland Elves would allow a human into their home.’
‘We can try.’ Deryck pleaded.
‘I’ll send a message to Elodin, informing him that we’re coming; and that we are also bringing a guest.’ Jonathan stated.
‘When do we leave?’ Deryck asked.
‘Tomorrow morning.’ Michael answered.
A young female Woodland Elf, named Nenya, approached Elodin. She sat down next to him, ‘Do you think she was attacked?’
‘I’m not sure.’ Elodin answered, ‘I can’t imagine how she would’ve survived if she really was attacked.’
‘What do you mean?’
‘You don’t attack a Dark Elf unless you are completely certain of their weaknesses. And the only weakness that anyone knows of, is that a Dark Elf could die if they are not near water to heal grave injuries.’
‘Then, what do you think happened?’ Nenya wanted to know.
‘I don’t know, Nenya.’ Elodin admitted, ‘But her dagger is covered in blood, and the magic in the blade seems ill at ease.’ Elodin was holding the weapon in his hand. He had brought back all Keara’s belongings.
‘The magic in the blade?’ Nenya didn’t understand.
‘The weapons of the Ravens are enchanted, so their enemies can never use their weapons against them.’ Elodin explained, ‘The magic also prevents any evil being from touching it, as it burns away the skin almost instantly.’
Nenya was silent for a moment, then asked, ‘But don’t you think that her enemy could’ve found a way to use her weapon against her?’
‘I don’t know. But it is a possibility we have to consider.’
‘She was not attacked, Elodin.’ Korian reported as he approached.
‘Korian.’ Elodin spoke and stood up to take a bow, ‘How do you know she wasn’t attacked?’
‘Because her gravest injury was self-inflicted.’ Korian informed.
Elodin’s expression was one of surprise, ‘You mean to say she stabbed herself?’
‘Yes Elodin. It was the only way she could rid her body of Sharzak’s life-force.’
‘But she could’ve died.’ Elodin protested.
‘Yes, she could have, but she didn’t. Unfortunately it was a risk that Keara had to take.’ Korian stated.
’You told her to do it, didn’t you? Elodin knew.
‘I gave her the option. She was strong enough to do it, she just had to see it for herself.’
‘Don’t you care that she could’ve died?’ Elodin asked.
‘Of course I care, Elodin. I’ve been her guardian since before you even knew of her existence. Do you honestly think that I would’ve given her that option if I knew she wouldn’t survive?’ Korian was growing agitated.
‘Of course not, Korian. Forgive me.’
‘It’s quite alright.’ Korian calmed down, ‘I do understand your point of view. We are all depending on Keara.’
‘You lead us to her, didn’t you?’ Elodin smiled slightly.
‘Indeed I did.’ Korian answered, ‘She needed more protection than I alone could provide.’
‘Well, she’s safe now.’ Elodin stated.
‘Lord Elodin,’ a male Woodland Elf started as he approached, bowing to Korian before he continued, ‘We have received a message from the Ravens.’
‘What did they say?’ Elodin enquired.
‘They are coming here, and they’re bringing a human along.’
‘They say it’s the brother of the king. One of Queen Thessandria’s sons.’
Elodin considered the information for a moment, ‘Was there anything else?’
‘No, Lord Elodin.’
The elf bowed and walked away.
The sun had barely started peaking over the horizon when Deryck knocked on the door of the Raven barracks. Alexander opened the door a moment later.
‘You ready to go?’ Alexander asked.
‘Yeah.’ Deryck answered.
Not long after, the Ravens, along with Deryck were on their way. Deryck was very anxious to see Keara. He had to see for himself that she was still the Keara he remembered.
The Ravens arrived at their home just before sundown. Though everyone was still mourning for Keara, their family was very happy to see them. Zarra greeted the Ravens; relieved to see them again.
Korian had made himself comfortable on a patch of grass next to the stream where Keara was. He reached out a paw and placed it in the water. Once his paw was submerged he felt the water pulsing with the slow beating of Keara’s heart. He removed his paw, content that her heart was beating.
‘What brings you here, darlings?’ Caitlyn asked, all too happy to see her children again.
‘We’re on our way to the home of the Woodland Elves.’ Michael stated.
‘Why son?’ Adin asked.
Caitlyn served hot drinks to everyone, before sitting down next to Adin.
‘We received a message from Elodin yesterday.’ Michael answered.
‘It’s about Keara. She’s alive.’ Jonathan said.
Caitlyn’s eyes grew big and her mouth opened, but no words were uttered.
‘What?’ Adin started.
‘According to Elodin, she’s gravely injured, but very much alive.’ Jonathan explained.
‘How is this possible?’ Adin asked, almost too afraid to believe it.
The Ravens fell silent; they weren’t sure how to explain everything that had happened since the night Keara was killed.
‘I sense there’s a lot you haven’t told us, yet.’ Adin assumed.
‘A lot has happened since that night, dad.’ Alexander said.
‘How about telling us?’ Adin suggested.
They were all quiet for a few more moments, then Michael started, ‘The reason we didn’t bring Keara’s body back on the night she was killed, was because the Shadow who had killed her, had taken her with him. We went after them to avenge her death. But when we finally found the Haunted Castle, we discovered that, she was, alive.’
‘What?’ Caitlyn didn’t understand.
‘Sharzak had performed a resurrection ritual on Keara.’ Alexander explained, ‘His life-force has kept her alive. And this also allowed him to control her.’
‘That’s why she attacked us.’ Joseph added.
‘She attacked you?’ Caitlyn started.
‘Not off her own free will.’ Joseph pointed out.
‘But she had no intention of actually killing us.’ Michael added.
‘What do you mean?’ Adin asked.
‘Keara had become Crucis Salerra.’ Michael started, ‘That night by the stone ring when Keara transformed, she had become a lethal weapon. Her attacks were precise and fatal. If she really had intended to kill us, we would not be here now.’
‘After that, stories started spreading that Keara was attacking villages along with the Shadows; but during the last few weeks, we’ve heard nothing more about her, until yesterday, when we received a message from Elodin.’ Jonathan spoke.
‘Keara will need our help.’ Zarra stated.
‘Indeed. I’m just not sure if she’ll take it.’ Michael admitted.
‘Why wouldn’t she want help from her brothers?’ Caitlyn couldn’t understand.
‘Well, if the rumours are true, Keara has earned a very bad reputation.’ Michael started, ‘I expect that if she wants to change people’s opinion about her, she’ll want to do it by herself.’
‘But she doesn’t have to do it by herself.’ Caitlyn objected.
‘I know, mom. But that’s how she’s always been. She would never burden any of us with her problems.’ Michael explained.
‘I am well aware of that, Michael. But Keara can’t always face everything by herself.’ Caitlyn said.
‘I agree with your mother.’ Adin said to Michael.
‘So do we, dad.’ Alexander said, ‘But Keara wouldn’t allow us to help her. And we can’t force her to accept it.’
‘At any rate, we don’t even know what state she’s currently in. It’s possible that she wouldn’t even want us near her.’ Jonathan added.
‘Why wouldn’t she?’ Adin asked.
‘That night Keara attacked us; she looked at me. For a split second, I thought I saw sadness in her eyes, as though she might have felt like she betrayed us.’ Michael struggled to explain.
‘We should just give her time. She’ll accept our help when she’s ready.’ Joseph said after a moment of silence.
‘Perhaps I should go with you tomorrow.’ Zarra suggested.
‘Actually Zarra, I think it would be better if you stay here.’ Michael thought.
‘Why? I could help with Keara.’ Zarra suggested.
‘We’ll bring her back. But I want you to stay with our family. Keep them safe.’
‘As you wish, Michael.’ Zarra reluctantly accepted.
‘How long do you think it will be before she wakes up?’ Elodin asked Korian who was still sitting by the stream.
‘I’m not sure. It’s not just her body that has taken great strain; it’s her mind and spirit as well.’ Korian answered, ‘And that might take a little longer to heal.’
‘I understand. But some of my people are growing restless with the creature in our midst.’ Elodin informed.
‘I thought your people supported Keara and her brothers.’ Korian’s tone held a hint of scolding.
‘We do. But taking recent occurrences into consideration, Keara is a great threat to us, especially in our own home.’
‘She is no threat to you in her current state.’ Korian’s voice grew a bit deeper.
‘It is not her current state that has everyone restless; it’s when she awakes. My people are afraid that she might try to harm us, after we gave her sanctuary.’ Elodin told Korian.
‘She will not harm you or your people. She is no longer under Sharzak’s control, and so, no longer a threat to you.’ Korian said firmly.
Elodin didn’t respond to Korian’s statement. He could only trust that Korian was right. He stared into the water, wondering when she would finally awake; and if everyone would truly be safe when she did.
Later that evening, fathers were found with their children and wives. Spending as much time with them as they possibly could. Every minute was precious. Joseph spent time with his parents, and when they decided to go to bed, he spent the rest of the evening with Zarra and Deryck and discovered that he enjoyed her company more than he expected. She was, after all a Dark Elf that had grown up in Velmoura. Michael, Alexander and Jonathan put their children to bed and spent precious time with their wives.