Once they were certain the Shadows wouldn’t notice them leave, the Ravens departed from the Home of the Woodland Elves and put as much distance between them and the sanctuary before the Shadows realized they were no long there.
Despite the departure of the Ravens, the Woodland Elves still kept a vigilant eye on the Shadows, fearing they might find a way in and attack.
It seemed as though the Shadows were about to make their own entrance into the sanctuary; or at the very least try, when suddenly, they turned away. Something else had caught their attention, and they seemed to be heading towards it.
Keara felt the aura of the Shadows turning towards them; they had discovered their departure sooner than she had expected.
‘They know we left.’ Keara said to Michael.
‘We won’t lose them before we get home.’ Michael said over his shoulder.
No one attempted to argue.
Keara and Michael immediately broke off from the group and headed in a different direction. They kept a steady pace in order to keep the Shadows close to them and away from any potential victims.
Deryck and the remaining Ravens soon made it home. Their family was happy to see them again, however became somewhat distressed when they realized that Keara and Michael weren’t with them.
‘Where are they?’ Adin asked urgently.
‘Shadows followed us from the Home of the Woodland Elves. Keara and Michael separated from us to lead them away.’ Jonathan explained.
‘What if they don’t come back?’ Caitlyn asked, becoming more worried for her children.
‘They’ll come back, mom.’ Alexander sounded more confident than he felt about his statement.
The sun was setting. Keara and Michael were still leading the Shadows away from everything and everyone. Their surroundings seemed to be completely uninhabited, so they stopped there. Just as Keara and Michael dismounted, the Shadows approached. They unsheathed their swords, ready for an attack. The Shadows gathered around them in a half-circle. Scander seemed to have all his attention on Keara.
Alexander, Jonathan and Joseph along with several other Woodland Elves were putting up a ward around the Raven house. The family needed much more protection, now that Keara was to return home. The ward would shield everyone’s auras and keep enemies out.
The Shadows attacked, but Keara stood her ground. Michael was amazed that Keara had become so powerful, though he could tell that she was still not using her full power, but he couldn’t understand why not. She was defending herself well against the Shadows; even defending him.
Scander kept attacking Keara. It seemed the silent feud between them was still going on.
Michael was growing tired. The last time he fought a Shadow, he had barely survived. Without Keara fighting by his side now, he would probably be dead.
The house of the Ravens was deathly quiet. With every passing hour, they grew more anxious, fearing that Keara and Michael might not return.
Keara struck Scander down. Their enemies had finally been beaten down.
‘Come on, Michael. They won’t be unconscious for long.’
They sheathed their swords and mounted their horses.
‘We have to get away from here fast, Legacy.’ Keara started.
Legacy stomped his hoof on the ground in response. A moment later, he started growing wings, as did Michael’s horse. He flapped his wings a few times before becoming airborne. They rose up just above the trees and headed home.
Alexander, Jonathan and Joseph were patrolling the perimeter around the house. They tried to keep their minds off Keara and Michael, knowing that dwelling on their situation and what possibly happened to them, would drive them mad.
They landed on the road leading up to the house. The horses’ wings slowly retracted. The horses were tired and were in great need of rest. Keara dismounted, limping towards his head; she stroked his neck, ‘You did well, Legacy. You can rest now.’
Michael had also dismounted. He and Keara had been badly injured in their fight against the Shadows, but at least they were far from death, and much better off than their enemy. Leading their horses home, they slowly limped along the road. Joseph saw them first. Seeing their injuries, he ran up to Keara and hooked her arm around his neck and wrapped his arm around her waist. She just smiled at him, thankful for the support. Alexander did the same for Michael. Jonathan took the reins from both horses and lead them towards the stables.
Deryck was sitting at the table. He had waited for Keara to return but he had grown weary and had fallen asleep.
Her parents were so happy to see her. Caitlyn couldn’t stop crying. They had so many questions to ask her, but knew that now wasn’t the time.
Joseph sat Keara down in a chair by the fireplace. She relaxed and closed her eyes.
Michael also sat down by the fireplace, ‘You’ve become very powerful, Keara.’
She opened her eyes and looked at him.
‘You’ve obviously been through a lot.’ Michael continued, ‘You seem more, in control.’
‘I’m getting there.’
Keara rolled up her right sleeve, revealing the mark, ‘The mark still comes and goes. I don't have complete control yet. But it is becoming easier.’
‘How did you gain control?’ Zarra asked, having only just joined them.
‘I don’t have full control yet, Zarra.’ Keara admitted.
‘But how did you manage it?’
‘To be honest, I’m not really sure.’ Keara started, ‘When I awoke, the mark seemed to be more stable, not fading as often as it used too.’
‘I think I may know.’ Michael thought.
Zarra looked surprised. If anyone was to know anything about Crucis Salerra, it was her, or supposed to be, ‘You do? How?’
He looked at Keara, ‘When you were still healing, I was standing in the water next to you. I touched your hand and started seeing things. You were battling a demon; I’m guessing that’s how you needed to gain control.’ he explained.
‘That’s very interesting. I’ve never heard of it happening that way before.’ Zarra admitted.
‘It’s different for everyone who came before me.’ Keara stated.
‘But none of this has ever been recorded.’ Zarra stated.
‘It won’t be.’ Keara started, ‘The whole process tests your sanity and your ability to control, expel or command evil that would be a threat to you. Being on the brink of insanity; it’s not something you want everyone to know about.’
Zarra considered that for a moment, ‘I guess you’re right. But what about those who come after you? They will need guidance.’
‘Like I said, it’s different for everyone. What I went through was not what Queen Ethera went through, or the queen that came before her.’ Keara finished and rested her head against the backrest of the chair.
‘I’m gonna get some rest.’ Michael said, ‘My injuries are gonna take some time to heal. And I can’t ask any one of them for help considering that they put up the ward.’
‘Isn’t there water nearby?’ Zarra asked.
‘No.’ Michael answered shortly.
‘The ward is very strong. They must’ve used up all their energy.’ Keara remarked.
‘It has to be, to protect our family.’ Michael added.
Keara just nodded in agreement.
‘You should get some rest as well. You also need time to heal.’ Michael said to Keara.
‘I know. I will.’
‘Will you still be here in the morning?’ Michael wanted to know.
‘Yes, Michael.’ she answered softly, ‘It’s never been my style to take off in the middle of the night.’
Deryck had finally woken up, realizing that he was still sitting at the table. He went over to the fireplace, rubbing the sleep out of his eyes. He stopped dead in his tracks when he saw Keara sitting there, staring into the fire.
‘Keara.’ he gasped. Seeing the flames dance in her eyes and illuminate the contours of her face was more than he could take.
She looked in his direction. She smiled softly, standing up slowly. But before she had even straightened up, Deryck embraced her, holding her tightly but carefully so as not to hurt her already injured body.
‘I’ll, um, leave you two alone.’ Zarra said awkwardly and headed upstairs.
Neither of them replied, they just stood there in each other’s embrace.
A moment later, Deryck was staring into Keara’s eyes, softly stroking his fingers over her cheek. He leaned in and kissed her.
The Shadows were slowly heading back to the Haunted Castle. Once Sharzak knew they had found Keara, but had failed to return with her, they would most definitely be punished. They feared nothing, except for Sharzak. He was pure evil, and he knew no mercy. A fate worse than death awaited them.
Deryck helped Keara clean her slow-healing wounds. She was already looking better than she did when she arrived home. She put on some clean clothes and sat down on her bed. Deryck sat behind her and started brushing her hair. He cared for her deeply and he knew there was nothing he wouldn’t do for her.
He propped up the pillows against the wall, leaning against them, with Keara sitting between his legs, resting against his chest. She had gone into Reverie. Deryck pulled the blanket up to her shoulders and wrapped his arms around her. He continued to stare out the window at the stars until he fell asleep.
She stood barefoot in shallow water; feeling the stones and dirt beneath her feet. Toe rings and ankle bracelets decorated her feet. She wasn’t wearing any of the usual Raven attire; instead she wore a long, flowing, midnight purple dress; a high slit revealing her legs. Her long black hair flowed down her neck and elegantly fell over her shoulders. Her eyes, a mixture of red burning fire and lavender purple, and completely calm. Great wings framed her body.
She looked down at her reflection. But instead of seeing herself, she saw two images; her former self, before realizing that she possessed the Gene, and Crucis Salerra in its absolute purest form. She just stared at both reflections, confused, but somehow completely aware of what’s going on. A moment later, the two reflections started fusing; becoming one. Now her reflection showed who she really was. She wore an ear-cuff over her left ear, made from silver, specially designed for the Drow Queen. At the bottom of the ear-cuff, dangled a piece of jewellery that came down to the top of her shoulder. The top of the ear-cuff spanned out a bit to the front and farther out in the back.
Standing with sword in hand, she had become the Warrior Queen.
Keara opened her eyes. Still lying against Deryck’s chest, she looked out the window; the sun was just starting to rise. She knew exactly what she had seen. She knew what it meant. And though she still had a long way to go, she knew she was becoming one with Salerra.
Artemis was awake long before the sun started rising. Though he seemed very weary, he had become too afraid of falling asleep. When he closed his eyes, he felt imprisoned. Someone played with his mind, making him relive his saddest and darkest memories; scratching around for valuable information.
He deeply wished for his brother’s return; the only person he could trust.
Perhaps the Ravens could explain what was happening to him, but as he did not know if they were still at the Home of the Woodland Elves and having not received any messages from them, he wasn’t sure if it would be such a good idea to send them a message.
For the first time, he had become frightened in his own home. He found it hard to carry out his every day duties; he couldn’t focus anymore.
Artemis found himself spending most of his time alone. He barely left his bed chambers. He had become completely withdrawn from everything and everyone.
Keara found it somewhat odd to be spending time with loving people again. Having been with Sharzak for so long, had deprived her of the goodness of others. She enjoyed being amongst her family again. She had missed them very much. No one asked any questions regarding her time with Sharzak, and she appreciated it. For a short while, she could forget about everything. All that mattered now, was being around her family.
But during the evening, the unavoidable questions came from her father. She had hoped he wouldn’t ask, but she knew it was important for him to know. So she explained everything as well as she could remember. Her father listened intently. Her mother decided that she didn’t want to hear of all the hardships her daughter had had to endure.
Sicily had also arrived sometime during the day and was now listening intently to every word Keara said. It was also important for her to know. She needed to know as much as possible in order to help her friend.
‘You should leave soon.’ Keara said to Michael while they were sitting by the fireplace. Michael just looked at her, not sure what she meant, and she noticed that, so she added, ‘For Varden Castle.’
‘Oh.’ Michael realized, ‘Aren’t you come with us?’
‘Not until all the rumours have been laid to rest.’ Sicily started, ‘She can’t help anyone unless they trust her.’
‘That’s true.’ Michael understood.
‘But you’re always welcome at the castle, Keara.’ Deryck added.
‘Only welcomed by you and your brother.’ Keara remarked as she looked down at Deryck who sat on the floor, at her feet, holding her hand. She softly ran her fingers through his hair, ‘None of your people trust me anymore. I first have to right all the wrongs.’
‘But then we’ll go with you.’ Alexander started.
‘No. You’re not coming with me. You have to return to the castle. I can’t help feeling that Artemis desperately needs his brother.’ Keara replied.
‘What do you mean?’ Deryck became tense and started squeezing Keara’s hand a little.
‘You know what I mean. You’ve been feeling it too.’
‘I thought I might just be imagining it.’
‘You’re not imagining it. Something is disturbing the peace in the castle, and it’s also disturbing your brother’s sanity.’ Keara reported.
‘How do you know that?’ Jonathan asked.
Keara looked at him, ‘I’m not sure. But I can’t shake the feeling.’
‘There might be a spy in the castle.’ Zarra suggested.
‘Yes, there might.’ Sicily agreed, ‘How else would the Shadows have known where to find you?’
‘It’s possible.’ Deryck thought, looking up at Keara, ‘Artemis wouldn’t give such valuable information away; not to anyone.’
‘Isn’t there a possibility that someone perhaps overheard you when you spoke of the Home of the Woodland Elves?’ Sicily enquired.
‘I don’t remember sensing anyone nearby; or hearing anyone for that matter.’ Joseph stated, ‘No one could have heard us.’
‘Something very sinister is going on at the castle. Be careful when you get there.’ Keara cautioned.
‘Of course.’ Michael replied.
‘But what about you? I know you’re powerful and everything, but solitude is not good for the mind.’ Alexander started.
‘I’m well aware of that, Alexander.’ Keara replied, ‘Having been in Sharzak’s presence for so long, I have a fairly good idea of what true loneliness can do to one’s mind. But I won’t be alone.’
‘You won’t?’ Michael asked.
‘No. Sicily and I have already discussed it. She’ll be going with me.’
Sicily smiled, ‘Someone has to keep her sane.’
‘I could also be of service.’ Zarra suggested.
‘I know, Zarra. But for now, I need you to stay here.’ Keara stated, ‘Just for a while.’
‘What am I to do here?’ Zarra wanted to know.
‘Watch over my family.’ Keara said, ‘When I return to the castle, you will return with me.’
‘As you wish.’ Zarra sounded somewhat dismayed.
The next morning Sicily and Keara were getting their horses ready. Deryck and the brothers were also preparing their horses as they were leaving for Varden Castle.
‘You must be excited to see your brother again.’ Jonathan said to Deryck.
‘I am. I just hope he’s okay, especially after what Keara said.’ Deryck replied.
Jonathan didn’t respond. There was nothing he could say that would comfort Deryck. And he had the feeling that words of comfort would be rather inaccurate after what they had sensed last night.
‘Do you think we could maybe just send him a message to let him know we’re coming? Maybe it would set him at ease to know we’re on our way.’ Deryck wondered.
‘I suppose so.’ Jonathan remarked.
The windows were open, but the curtains were drawn. Artemis was lying on the bed. The breeze blowing into the room was rather chilly, but despite that, he didn’t cover himself with a blanket. He seemed to be asleep, but with light filtering through the curtains, it revealed his tired, but open eyes. He was completely haggard; exhausted, but afraid to fall asleep.
A soft pink substance with leaves slithered into his room, circling around his head. He looked up at it. It was a message from the Ravens, saying that they would be at the castle by the end of the day. For the first time, his eyes seemed to sparkle, though only for a mere moment. Perhaps now he could allow himself to fall asleep; in a short while he would no longer be alone.
Artemis closed his eyes, drifting off to sleep. He seemed to be at peace. But it didn’t last long. This latest information had been uncovered in his mind. The entity invading his thoughts seemed to laugh at him. It started taunting him; placing images in his head he would not even see in his worst nightmares.
Heavy tears started streaming from his eyes. He started wishing for death, when he felt his mind being released. He opened his eyes, blinking the tears away. He would not dare to fall asleep again. He could no longer take the taunting.
‘You will have to shield your aura.’ Zarra suggested
‘That’s probably not a bad idea.’ Sicily agreed.
‘Okay.’ was all Keara could say in response.
‘I could do it for you.’ Zarra offered.
‘Sure.’ Keara responded.
Zarra quickly started the spell. It wasn’t very easy, considering how powerful Keara had become. She then turned to Sicily, and repeated the spell.
‘Your aura has become quite powerful.’ Zarra admitted to Keara, ‘I’m afraid I can’t shield it completely. But this will do.’
‘That’s alright. A little bit of shielding is better than nothing.’ Keara acknowledged.
‘Well, we should be off.’ Sicily suggested, ‘Penance waits for no one.’ then she gave Keara a mock-evil smile.
Keara just made faces at her, ‘She’s right, though. It’s time for us to leave.’
They all said their goodbyes. But Deryck was rather reluctant to let Keara go. He held her tightly. It felt like he was losing her all over again.
‘When will you be back?’ he asked.
‘I’m not sure. But hopefully soon.’ she answered, still holding him tightly, resting her head against his chest.
‘I don’t want you to go without me.’
‘But I’m never without you.’ she pulled away a little, showing him the necklace he had given her. He was a little surprised that she still had it. She had kept it hidden under her shirt.
‘Glad to see you still have it.’ he said with a smile.
Without saying another word, he pulled her close again, and held her one last time. He truly hoped he would see her again soon.
Not long after, Keara and Sicily were on their way. Deryck watched them leave as the remaining Ravens approached him with their horses.
‘This is the second time I’ve had to watch her leave.’ Deryck started, ‘What if she doesn’t come back this time?’
‘She was killed by a Shadow; brought back to life and mentally and physically tortured by Sharzak; she very nearly killed herself and went through a mental battle, but somehow she survived. She’ll be back.’ Michael explained, with a lot of confidence.
Deryck just sighed.
‘It’s time for us to go.’ Jonathan said as he handed Deryck the reins of his horse.