Chapter Forty One
They could see the castle in the distance. They had made good time. The sun had barely started setting.
But something wasn’t right. Their surroundings were unnaturally quiet. The Ravens grasped the hilts of their swords; cautious and alert.
They kept riding towards the castle walls. Only a few hundred yards and they would be safe. But all of a sudden, the horses were no longer carrying their riders. They had been attacked and thrown from their horses.
Deryck was a little disorientated. The only occasion where he had experience such strength, was when he trained with the Ravens. He slowly stood up, shaking his head a little and drawing his sword. He stood back to back with the Ravens. They were surrounded; by Shadows. They defended themselves well, but they were outnumbered.
The guardsmen patrolling the top of the huge castle walls saw what was happening and attempted to assist them, shooting arrows at the Shadows. It barely had any effect; but the Shadows’ attack quickly became a retreat. Michael still stood on guard, breathing heavily, trying to make sense of what had happened.
They took a moment to gather themselves, then got on their horses and quickly headed towards the gate. They could contemplate about what had happened once they were safe.
Deryck immediately headed towards Artemis’ chambers. Artemis hadn’t been waiting for them as he usually did. Everyone said that they hadn’t seen him in several days. He refused to leave his chambers. Deryck knocked on the door, waiting for an answer, but none ever came. He knocked again and waited a few more seconds before slowly opening the door and walking in.
The room was dark and cold. He looked around; finally seeing a figure in a chair near the windows. He opened the curtains, allowing the light of the setting sun to pour in. He turned to the figure, but got a fright, realizing that this haggard figure was in fact, his brother. He bent down in front of Artemis.
‘Artemis.’ Deryck whispered, but his brother didn’t react.
He reached out and touched Artemis’ hand. Artemis looked at Deryck, finally acknowledging his younger brother.
‘Deryck?’ Artemis said as a tear started running down his cheek.
‘What happened to you?’ Deryck asked.
‘So many bad things. So much pain. So much sadness. The images won’t leave my mind.’ Artemis sobbed with more tears streaming down his face.
‘What are you talking about, Artemis?’ Deryck was getting very worried.
Artemis was crying as though he was just a little boy, afraid of the dark.
‘Artemis, please calm down. Please.’ Deryck said and embraced his brother.
He held his brother in his arms until he finally calmed down.
‘I can’t take it anymore. They’re taunting me; laughing at me and I can’t escape.’ Artemis rambled.
‘You have to get some rest, Artemis.’ Deryck said urgently.
‘No!’ Artemis yelled, ‘No! I can’t sleep. I can’t close my eyes!’
‘Okay, okay, okay.’ Deryck held his brother again.
When Deryck finally managed to calm his brother down, he sent a servant to inform the Ravens that he requested their presence.
The Ravens soon arrived at Artemis’ chambers. Michael knocked on the door. Deryck opened the door and allowed them all inside, closing the door behind them.
‘Is he alright?’ Joseph asked upon seeing Artemis.
‘No, he’s not.’ Deryck answered, ‘I tried talking to him, but he just keeps rambling on about them.’
‘Them?’ Joseph wondered.
Deryck shrugged his shoulders.
‘What was he saying?’ Michael wanted to know.
‘They’re taunting him, and he can’t escape.’ Deryck started, ‘And when I suggested that he get some rest, he started yelling that he can’t sleep, he can’t close his eyes.’
Alexander looked from Deryck to Jonathan, who said, ‘Maybe if we calm his mind, we might figure out what’s going on.’
‘Maybe then we can find some answers as to how the Shadows knew where we were.’ Michael added.
‘Maybe.’ Jonathan agreed.
‘How are you gonna do that?’ Deryck asked.
‘Sit him down in the chair.’ Alexander gestured.
Deryck was confused, but turned to Artemis, helping him up from the bed, leading him to a comfortable chair and gently sitting him down.
Alexander stood behind Artemis, letting his head rest against the back rest of the chair. Artemis looked up at Alexander; only sadness in his eyes. Jonathan and Joseph stood on either side of Artemis. Alexander placed his hands on the sides of Artemis’ head, while his brothers each placed one hand on Artemis’ shoulder and one on his forehead.
‘What are they doing?’ Deryck asked Michael.
‘Just watch.’ was Michael’s only answer.
A faint glow was emitting around them. Artemis’ haggard body seemed to rejuvenate. He started breathing more deeply; all the muscles in his body relaxing.
A moment later they all removed their hands. Standing over him, waiting to see how he would react. Artemis lifted his head, blinking a few times, as though he had never done so before. The colour had returned to his skin and he no longer looked an inch away from death. He looked around, looking at everyone intently, ‘When did you get here?’
‘A while ago.’ Michael answered.
‘Don’t you remember?’ Deryck asked, ‘I’ve been here with you for at least two hours.’
‘I don’t remember you even coming in.’ Artemis admitted.
‘That’s probably because most of your thoughts weren’t your own. You were hiding in your own mind.’ Alexander explained.
‘What do you mean?’ Artemis had no idea what he was talking about.
‘I have a theory.’ Alexander started, ‘But there are some things we need to know before I can say for certain.’
‘What things?’ Artemis asked.
‘You didn’t happen to mention to anyone that we were going to the Home of the Woodland Elves, did you?’
‘No, of course not. It’s not the kind of information you just give to anyone.’
Michael looked at Alexander.
‘And our arrival? Did you inform anyone that we were coming?’ Jonathan asked.
‘I didn’t even know you were coming.’ Artemis stated.
‘We sent a message just before we left.’ Jonathan informed.
‘If I had received it, I don’t remember. I only remember never leaving this room.’
‘Deryck said you told him that “they” were taunting you. What exactly did you mean by that?’ Alexander enquired.
‘I honestly don’t know. I remember that a while ago I wasn’t sleeping well. I kept having nightmares.’ Artemis explained, ‘At first it was just bad memories, but soon the dreams became, horrific. It was difficult to wake from them. A part of me was afraid of falling asleep. It was the strangest feeling; when I closed my eyes, it felt like I had become a prisoner.’
Michael looked at Alexander again. The Ravens all shared the same look. They knew what was happening.
Finally Alexander uttered what they were thinking, ‘There’s a demon in the castle.’
‘What?’ Deryck and Artemis said simultaneously.
‘That’s not possible.’ Artemis responded, ‘The ward around the castle grounds does not allow any evil to enter.’
‘Not unless it has a shield.’ Jonathan thought.
‘And a very good one at that.’ Joseph added.
‘What are you talking about? What shield?’ Artemis wanted to know.
‘A human body.’ Michael answered bluntly.
‘You mean, like being possessed?’ Deryck wondered.
‘No. I mean someone who is dead. The demon commits murder, waits till the life-force is completely drained and then takes over the body.’ Michael explained.
‘Oh.’ Deryck replied, 'But isn't that like possession?'
'Not quite. In this case, the body has just become a vessel to gain access. Possession would be more like, being alive, but being trapped.' Michael explained, 'Demons don't necessarily need a vessel to take physical form, they already have that. The vessel just makes it more difficult to track them.'
‘But what does that have to do with what happened to me?’ Artemis asked.
‘The demon broke down the barrier of your mind, making it much easier to access your thoughts, without requiring you to utter a single word.’ Alexander explained.
‘I suspect that when it found the information it was seeking, it taunted you, simply for its own amusement.’ Jonathan added.
‘But it will stop, now that you’re here, right?’ Artemis asked, hopefully.
‘We’ll protect you as best we can, but I’m afraid we can’t fight an opponent that we can’t see, or even sense.’ Michael stated.
Artemis’ expression became one of hopelessness. He had regained his sanity thanks to the three Woodland Elves. But for how long would he remain sane if they could not protect him? He knew he would lose his mind again if he didn’t have a way to defend himself.
‘But we can stay with you for a few nights; keep watch. Maybe we can scare it off or even capture it.’ Michael added.
‘You think you could capture it?’ Artemis asked.
‘I can’t say for certain. We don’t know how powerful it is. But at least we’ll be able to sense it, if it enters your room.’ Michael explained.
‘But I thought you said you can’t sense it because it walks around in a human body?’ Artemis recalled, ‘The ward around the castle walls couldn’t even keep it out. How do you intend to find it, or sense it?’
‘It has to leave the body in order to carry out its purpose.’ Jonathan answered.
‘So if it enters your room, we’ll know.’ Joseph added.
‘So now, you can get some much-needed sleep.’ Michael said.
‘I’ll be grateful for that.’ Artemis admitted.
Keara and Sicily were resting by a fire. Keara was lying against Legacy, her eyes closed. She seemed to be much calmer than she was the last time Sicily had seen her.
Sicily was sitting cross-legged, staring into the fire. After a while, she turned her gaze to her friend.
‘How are you so calm, Keara?’
Keara opened her eyes, ‘Why wouldn’t I be?’
‘The clan already knows what has happened to you.’ Sicily revealed.
‘Wow, news sure does travel fast.’ Keara sat up a little, making herself comfortable before leaning back again.
‘With everything that you’ve been through, it seems like you’ve already made peace with it. Like you accept it.’
‘What else am I supposed to do, Sicily?’ Keara started, ‘Seek revenge for possessing the Devil Gene?’
‘That’s not what I meant. It’s just, it seems as though you’ve accepted your fate all too willingly.’
‘I haven’t accepted anything, Sicily. If I did, I’d still be with Sharzak, doing his bidding.’ Keara pointed out, ‘Yes, I didn’t want this, but there hasn’t exactly been time for me to mourn my curse. I’m still in the process of mastering it, and it won’t be any easier if I’m constantly trying to reject it.’
‘I just don’t wanna lose my friend, that’s all.’ Sicily replied.
‘You’re not going too.’ Keara smiled.
Sicily relaxed a little and leaned back on her hands, ‘Putting those rumours of you to rest is not gonna be easy.’
‘Any idea where to start?’
‘No.’ Keara admitted, ‘Zarra would suggest that I claim the throne of the Dark Elves.’
‘But that’s not gonna help you on the surface.’
Keara nodded, ‘I know.’
Sicily tsked, mocking Keara a little, ‘You Drow, always think everything can be solved by force and violence.’
Keara just made a face at her.
Sicily smiled, ‘Seriously though, you have any ideas?’
Keara sighed deeply, ‘Not one.’
‘So I guess we’ll see how this plays out as we go along.’ Sicily thought.
Keara just nodded.
‘This will be such fun,’ Sicily said sarcastically.
Keara just made a face at her again.
Lady Elayne was walking down the hall to the king’s chambers, but stopped dead in her tracks when the door opened. She was somewhat surprised to see Deryck step outside. The last she remembered, was him leaving along with the Ravens. She was not aware that he had already returned. She corrected herself and strolled up to him.
‘Prince Deryck, you have returned.’
‘Lady Elayne.’ Deryck hadn’t expected to see her, not in this part of the castle, anyway, ‘Yes, I arrived a few hours ago along with the Ravens.’ then he added as an afterthought, ‘Why are you still here? I thought you went back to Citimar with your father.’
‘I wanted to stay. In fact, I insisted. I thought King Artemis would appreciate my company.’
‘Ha.’ was Deryck’s only reaction.
‘So, the Ravens are back.’ she twitched.
‘Of course. The king is in need of protection. And who could protect him better than the Ravens.’
Lady Elayne twitched again, ‘They are not to be trusted, Your Majesty. They are pure evil.’
‘That story is getting old, Elayne. They have only ever been loyal to us. They are our friends and I suggest you start treating them as such.’
‘But their sister has betrayed us.’
‘Keara has not betrayed us.’ Deryck said forcefully, ‘She has made mistakes, like we all do. But now, she is trying to redeem herself.’
‘But all those villages.’
‘She was not in control at that time.’
‘She is a demon!’
‘That’s enough!’ Deryck had finally lost his patience, ‘Keara has risked her life time and again to protect this kingdom, including you. You have no other choice but to accept her. And you will not insult her or her brothers like that again. Am I clear?’
‘Yes, Your Majesty.’ Lady Elayne answered dismayed.
‘Good.’ suddenly Deryck realized that it was already passed midnight, Lady Elayne had no reason to be up, let alone near the king’s chambers, ‘Elayne, why are you wandering around the castle at this hour?’
‘I wish to see the king. He could use my company.’
‘Now? It’s past midnight. He’s getting some rest. He doesn’t want any company. Perhaps you can see him tomorrow.’
She glanced at the door for a moment, then after another moment’s hesitation, she gave a shallow bow, ‘I must’ve lost track of time.’ she turned and walked away.
Deryck watched as she disappeared around the corner, before he headed in the opposite direction.
Joseph and Jonathan were sitting outside by the fountain, watching the moonlight reflect off the water. Joseph lay back, putting his hands behind his head, completely relaxed.
‘I am so hungry.’ Joseph moaned.
Jonathan didn’t even bother to look at him, ‘You’re always hungry.’
‘But we haven’t eaten since this morning.’ Joseph complained.
‘You mean, this afternoon, after we arrived.’ Jonathan corrected.
‘Felt like this morning.’ Joseph mumbled.
‘Oh, just be quiet. There are more important things going on right now than satisfying your stomach.’ Jonathan stated.
‘But I’m so hungry.’
Jonathan just rolled his eyes.
‘I’m gonna look for something to eat.’ Joseph got up and started walking towards the castle.
‘You’re not gonna find anything this time of night.’
‘I can try.’ Joseph replied, ‘Don’t underestimate a hungry man.’
Jonathan just smiled and shook his head.
Michael rested in a chair while Alexander was on watch. They were still in Artemis’ chamber. They thought it best to stay in close proximity for the time being. Perhaps then they would be able to see who was tormenting the king; as no one knew they were in the castle.
Alexander walked out onto the balcony for a moment. Though everything seemed quite peaceful, he knew this was only temporary.
Joseph had reached the kitchen. He quickly entered, but did not expect to find anyone there.
‘Joseph.’ Deryck said with a mouth full of bread.
‘Deryck.’ Joseph responded, ‘Food?’
‘Bread.’ Deryck held up a big plate stacked with loaves of bread.
‘That’ll do.’ Joseph said with a smile.
Deryck tossed Joseph a loaf and they both sat happily in silence on top of the table, enjoying their food.
Artemis was still asleep, but now became restless. Alexander felt a disturbance near Artemis. He turned around and walked back inside, seeing a figure shrouded in darkness, standing over him. The figure was not aware of Michael or Alexander, until Alexander came closer. The figure immediately spun around and screeched; its pitch so high, Alexander had to cover his ears.
‘Michael!’ he yelled.
But Michael was already coming out of Reverie, and upon seeing the figure, he unsheathed his sword, going in for an attack. But before he could do anything, the figure attacked Alexander and flung him over the balcony, falling with him. Alexander landed hard on the ground below. The figure ran off without hesitation.
Michael ran to the balcony, peering over, seeing that Alexander was slowly getting up.
Jonathan had seen what happened from where he sat by the fountain, and ran to his brother’s side with sword in hand.
Artemis was just behind Michael, ‘What was that?’ he asked urgently.
‘The demon was here.’ Michael answered.
‘What?’ Artemis sounded frightened, ‘Is that where that horrible scream came from?’
Michael just nodded.
‘Are you okay?’ Jonathan asked, helping Alexander up.
‘Yeah, I’m fine.’ Alexander answered, ‘Where’s Joseph?’
‘Went looking for food. He has an insatiable appetite.’
‘Find him and get back to Artemis. Michael and I will go after the demon.’ Alexander ordered as Michael jumped over the balcony and landed softly on his feet.
Jonathan immediately headed for the kitchen. He knew that’s the only place Joseph would be, despite the late hour.
Alexander and Michael went after the demon, hoping to track it down quickly and dispose of it.
‘This is good.’ Joseph said as he took another bite.
Deryck just smiled, enjoying the meal as much as Joseph.
Jonathan burst into the kitchen, ‘The demon attacked.’
Joseph and Deryck abandoned their food and quickly made their way to Artemis’ chamber.
‘Are you okay?’ Deryck asked his brother upon arrival.
‘I’m fine.’ Artemis answered.
‘Where are the others?’ Joseph asked.
‘They went after the demon.’ Jonathan answered.
‘Then we must help them.’ Joseph said.
‘No. We must protect Artemis.’ Jonathan stated.
They followed the tracks left by the demon for quite some time, but they could not find it. It had somehow disappeared into the night. And what’s more, they didn’t know whose body was inhabited by it.
Joseph was pacing the floor with frustration. He wanted to go help his brothers, but he also knew he had to stay where he was.
The door opened. Jonathan and Joseph unsheathed their swords, but relaxed when they saw Michael and Alexander step inside.
‘We lost it.’ Alexander said.
‘What?’ Joseph started.
‘It was really fast.’ Michael added.
‘Any idea whose body it’s using?’ Jonathan asked.
Michael shook his head, ‘No.’
‘It knows we’re here now. Finding it now, is gonna be much harder.’ Alexander stated, ‘And it will try to get you alone.’ he said to Artemis.
‘So, no matter what, you cannot go anywhere without us.’ Michael insisted, ‘And that goes for you too, Deryck.’
‘What?’ Deryck was surprised.
‘You’re the king’s brother. That alone puts you in danger.’ Michael explained.