Once Walked With Dragons

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Chapter Forty Four

‘Have you noticed that Lady Elayne has barely left Artemis alone since the day we got here?’ Jonathan pointed out.

‘She never leaves him alone anymore.’ Michael added.
‘Maybe she wants to marry him.’ Joseph thought.
‘She does wanna marry him.’ Alexander replied.
‘He’s the king; what human girl wouldn’t?’ Michael added.
‘You think maybe she’s trying to keep him away from us?’ Alexander asked, looking at Jonathan, who raised the point.
‘Well, not more than she usually does,’ Jonathan admitted, ‘but she comes by his chambers a lot more often than I remember.’
They were sitting on the balcony in one of the chambers that had been provided by Deryck. He had insisted that they stay in the castle, since they had become the personal body guards of the royal brothers.
They were looking down at Artemis who was sitting in the garden with several other people, including Lady Elayne who constantly looked up at the Ravens with pure distain and poison in her eyes.
‘There does seem to be something different about her.’ Alexander thought to himself.
‘So, I’m not the only one who’s noticed it.’ Jonathan responded.
‘Well, she’s always been hostile towards us. She has always tried to keep everyone away from us.’ Joseph pointed out.
‘Yes, but now it doesn’t seem like she’s just trying to keep us away from Artemis; she’s trying to keep everyone else away from him as well.’
Joseph looked down at Lady Elayne, rubbing his chin, ‘We are sure she’s human, right?’
‘Yes. Why?’ Jonathan frowned.
‘Just because she looks human?’ Joseph asked again.
Jonathan opened his mouth to speak, but considered the question and realized that Joseph had a point.
Lady Elayne kept staring at the Ravens. She had protested their presence in the castle, but Artemis had no interest in her complaints and accusations, especially since they had kept him safe from the demon who had imprisoned him in his own mind.

The next morning, several of the townspeople had arranged a cart for all the gifts Keara and Sicily had received, as well as supplies. Their journey back to the castle was not going to be a short one, especially since they had so much to take with them, and they still had to stop by Keara’s home to get Zarra. Many of the people had provided the two friends with freshly baked bread, bottles of water and tea and even milk. Others had provided them with blankets and bedrolls. Some had even made clothes for the friends.
Keara walked out the stables with Legacy following closely. She noticed that two of the townspeople were sitting on top of the cart, with the reins in hand, ready to depart.
Keara just looked at Sicily, pointing to the people sitting atop the cart.
‘They’re coming with us.’ Sicily answered.
‘They insisted.’ Sicily shrugged her shoulders in defence, ‘Besides, it is their cart.’
Keara threw her hands up, ‘Not a problem.’
Sicily just smiled, ‘Besides, I figured they could head straight for the castle while we swing by your house to get Zarra. Then we could meet them on the way.’
‘Works for me.’ Keara agreed, ‘What about them?’
‘I’ve already spoken to them. They’re fine with it.’
‘Good. Shall we get going then?’
‘Yes, definitely.’

Keara was glad that their journey back to the castle was uneventful. After about six days, Keara and Sicily broke off from the road and stopped by her house to get Zarra and give her parents a big hug. By the end of the third day, they had caught up with the cart and its owners. Their companions had already started a fire and made dinner. They had meaningless conversations deep into the night, all of them wrapped in blankets to ward off the forest cold. By the end of another four days they reached the castle walls.
The announcement of their arrival quickly travelled across the castle grounds. They thought it best to head towards the Raven barracks, but her brothers intercepted her as soon as they found out of her arrival. She dismounted and happily greeted them. Deryck scooped her into his arms, so happy to see her again. He kissed her and brushed the hair out of her eyes. Artemis was also there, happy to see his brother smile so widely.
Their companions offered to unload the cart in the Raven barracks and when Keara and Sicily offered their help, the owners of the cart abruptly refused, saying that it was the least they could do after everything they had done for their town.
Afterwards, Keara and Sicily took a stroll over to the castle. Her brothers had left them alone and told them that they would be waiting in the castle.
‘You’re leaving, aren’t you?’ Keara finally said.
Sicily looked surprised, ‘How did you know that?’
‘You’re my best friend. You can’t hide things from me.’
Sicily hesitated for a moment, ‘Yes, I am.’ she hesitated again, ‘My people need me. And I’ve given you all the help I can. You no longer need me to protect you, like when we were kids.’
Keara just smiled, ‘When are you leaving?’
‘If possible, tomorrow morning.’
Keara just nodded her head. She didn’t want her friend to leave, but she also understood that others needed her.
‘Are you going into the mountain sanctuary?’ Keara asked.
‘Most probably, yes.’
‘So, you’re leaving for good?’
‘I might come back. Nothing is ever permanent.’
‘But how will I find you?’
‘I’m afraid you won’t. Not until all of this is over.’
‘But that could be years from now.’ Keara pointed out.
‘I know. But there are very few of us left. We have to protect our existence.’
‘I know.’ was all Keara could say.
‘If we ever need your help, I’ll send you a message.’
Keara chuckled, ‘You won’t need my help.’
Sicily just smiled, ‘True. But I would’ve asked you to come with me, to protect my people.’
‘But there are people here who need me more.’
Sicily nodded.
‘Now, shall we go join your brothers and hear the story?’ Sicily changed the subject.
‘Oh yes, let’s.’ Keara said sarcastically.

Her brothers explained to her why they were lodging in the castle.
‘So that’s how the Shadows knew where we were.’ Keara realized.
‘Yeah.’ Michael replied.
‘Uh, Keara, what are you wearing?’ Joseph just had to ask.
‘Gifts from the townspeople.’ Keara said with a smile.
‘You got gifts?’ Joseph almost sounded like a little boy.
‘Did you not see the cart?’ Keara frowned.
‘That was all your stuff?’
‘Our stuff.’ Keara gestured to both her and Sicily.
‘Nice, isn’t it?’ Sicily smiled.
‘Yeah.’ Joseph sounded a little dismayed.
‘Keara,’ Michael started, ‘Stories have been floating around that you have been fighting the Shadows in different towns. And that you always arrived there, just before they did.’
‘I didn’t always make it.’ Keara admitted.
‘But how did you know where to find them in the first place?’ Michael wanted to know.
Keara sighed, hesitating for a moment. She looked at Sicily before she answered, ‘I kept having, visions of them.’
‘Say what?’ Michael said.
‘At first I thought they were just dreams, but when I investigated, the Shadows were always there.’
‘But how is it that you could always have such accurate visions?’
Keara shrugged.
‘Maybe it’s because she’s royalty, Michael.’ it was Zarra, ‘It has always been said that the Queen of the Dark Elves has untold powers. Maybe this is one of them.’
‘Nu-uh.’ Keara started.
‘Don’t completely shoot down the idea. You don’t know what you’re capable of.’ Zarra remarked.
‘It’s not that, Zarra. I know it’s not one of my abilities, because it has stopped happening.’
‘Oh.’ Zarra responded.
‘We thought that it might be because of Sharzak’s life-force that had once kept her alive.’ Sicily thought.
‘Or maybe he just really wanted me to see what he planned to do.’ Keara added.
‘Perhaps you still have a link of some kind.’ Alexander suggested.
Keara just looked at him, ‘I really hope you’re wrong.’
‘It’s just speculation, Keara. But it is something you have to consider. It’s the only logical explanation.’
‘True.’ Keara admitted, ‘Still doesn’t mean I like it.’
‘I can understand that.’
She had considered the possibility of the link and then froze in horrible realization, ‘Wait, if I get visions of Sharzak’s plans, does that mean he can see my future actions as well?’
‘I don’t think that’s likely, Keara.’ Alexander thought.
‘Why not?’
‘First of all, you possessed his life-force, not the other way around. It’s like a one-way street. And you say the visions have stopped.’
‘Good point.’ Keara admitted.
‘Just to be sure, you weren’t attacked on your way here, were you?’ Jonathan enquired.
‘No.’ Keara answered, ‘And we travelled on the roads.’
‘Then you don’t have to worry about him seeing your thoughts.’
‘Okay.’ Keara relaxed a little.
Deryck put a hand on Keara’s knee, ‘I’m really glad you’re back. And I’m glad you got here safely.’
She just smiled at him, also very happy to see him again.
‘I’m also glad you’re back, Keara.’ Artemis started, ‘And I’m glad you turned the tide with the people of this country. Right now, however, we have bigger problems.’
‘Ah yes. There is a spy?’ Keara enquired.
‘Yes. A demon of sorts.’ Michael replied.
‘There is only one way it could’ve gotten beyond the ward unnoticed.’ Keara knew.
‘Only problem is, we don’t know who it’s wearing as a shield.’ Michael pointed out.
‘Then we’ll just have to draw it out.’ Keara stated.
Michael took one look at his sister and knew exactly what she was thinking, ‘No. We are not doing that.’ he said matter-of-factly.
‘Doing what?’ Joseph asked. He and his Woodland brothers looked puzzled.
‘It’s the fastest way.’ Keara argued.
‘It’s also the most dangerous.’ Michael countered.
‘What is?’ this time it was Jonathan.
‘You have any other suggestions?’ Keara asked, already knowing the answer.
‘Yes. A few.’ Michael answered.
‘Name one.’
Michael tried to come up with a quick answer, ‘Well, I can’t think of any right now, but there are other ways.’
‘Guys.’ Alexander interjected, ‘What are you talking about?’
‘Capturing the demon.’ Keara answered.
‘Well yeah, but could you fill us in on a way to do that?’ Alexander started, 'Cause it seems like you guys already have an idea.'
Michael gestured to Keara, ‘Go ahead.’
‘There is a way to draw out the demon.’ Keara started.
‘A very dangerous way.’ Michael added.
Alexander ignored Michael and asked, ‘What way?’
‘By dangling what it wants most in front of it.’ Keara said simply.
‘And, you have what it wants most?’ Alexander tried to make sense of it.
‘And what might that be?’ Alexander became almost too afraid to ask.
‘The Gene.’
‘What?’ her brothers exclaimed simultaneously.
‘You actually intend to use yourself as bait?’ Joseph started, the pitch of his voice going a little higher than he would’ve liked.
‘In a manner of speaking, yes.’ Keara answered.
‘Are you nuts?’ Joseph looked as though he was going nuts, ‘It’s a demon we’re talking about. Do you know how powerful they are?’
‘Of course I do.’ Keara answered.
‘You could die, Keara. I’m sorry but this is a stupid plan. It seems you being out there without us for so long has dimmed your reasoning.’ Joseph said.
Keara just looked at Joseph. At first he didn’t notice how intense her stare was, but he soon realized that she wasn’t going to look away, or even blink.
‘Do you really think that I haven’t considered the complications?’ she finally started, ‘Every time the Shadows attacked, I had to consider how many people could get caught in the crossfire. I made no irrational decisions, because it wasn’t just my life that was on the line.’
‘I’m sorry, Keara.’ Joseph apologized, ‘But this is reckless.’
‘No, it’s just dangerous.’ Keara disagreed.
‘You know the Gene is not something that you can give away, or be taken after your death.’ Michael said.
‘Come on, Michael. I’m not a freakin’ idiot. I know that, but the demons don’t.’ Keara exclaimed.
‘But the demons are rather intelligent themselves. How can they possibly not know that the Gene can’t be given or taken?’ Deryck wanted to know.
‘They’re not that intelligent.’ Joseph snorted.
‘Certain beings don’t always think clearly when they greatly desire something.’ Keara answered.
‘And the demons have always desired the Gene.’ Zarra started, ‘For thousands of years they have believed that by cutting out the heart of the Drow Queen and consuming it, they would become Salerra herself.’
‘That can’t actually happen, can it?’ Deryck became uneasy.
‘What? The part where they kill me, or the part where they become Salerra?’ Keara asked him.
‘Well,’ Jonathan started speaking before Keara could even open her mouth, ‘Keara is stronger than most in her transformed state.’
‘So, that’s a yes?’ Deryck said nervously.
‘It’s a maybe.’ Keara stated.
‘Don’t sell yourself short, Keara.’ Jonathan argued.
‘Even if I manage to gain complete and unquestionable control over Salerra, there will always be someone or something stronger. That’s just how it goes.’ Keara explained.
‘You know, that’s not exactly very comforting to hear.’ Joseph retorted.
‘I know, but it is the truth.’ Keara replied, ‘A demon could kill me, but none of them could take the Gene and become Salerra.’
‘So how do we draw the demon out?’ Artemis finally asked.
‘You let everyone know that the Drow Queen has arrived.’ Michael answered.
‘It’s that simple?’ Artemis couldn’t believe it.
‘As much as I dislike being called the Drow Queen, yes. It is that simple.’ Keara answered.
‘But how?’ Artemis couldn’t understand.
‘One of the things that make a demon so powerful, is its instinctive drive to gain more power.’ Sicily explained, ‘Fortunately they never gain more power. But because their desire is so powerful, they will abandon everything to feed it.’
‘So if it is still here, we’ll know who it’s been using as a vessel before daybreak.’ Keara added.
‘Just be cautious, Keara.’ Michael warned, ‘This one is quite powerful. We only saw it once; chasing it for hours, but it still got away.’
Artemis instructed several servants to spread the word of Keara’s arrival as the Drow Queen. And then, they waited. Keara had removed the shielding around her aura as an extra measure, hoping the demon would sense it.
Deryck put an arm around Keara’s shoulder, ‘You sure you wanna do this?’
‘There’s nothing else we can do.’ she answered.
‘You were already taken from me once, I can’t let that happen again.’
‘I’m not gonna die, Deryck.’ Keara reassured him, snuggling up to him, ‘I’m just gonna get rid of a demon.’

It was almost midnight. Everyone now knew of Keara’s presence, but so far, the demon had not exposed itself.
Keara had instructed Joseph to stay with Deryck and Artemis while she and her other brothers, along with Zarra and Sicily spread out among the castle passages, keeping a sharp eye in every corridor and every door to every room. But so far, nothing had happened. She was looking at the window when Michael came walking down the corridor towards her.
‘I think it knows we’re trying to draw it out. I don’t think it’s gonna show up.’ Michael admitted.
‘You may be right.’ Keara agreed.
‘He may only be half right.’ Sicily turned the corner, walking towards them, ‘It knows we’re trying to draw it out, so obviously it would know that this is all just a trap. But it won’t pass up the opportunity to kill the Drow Queen.’
‘I beg your pardon?’ Michael started.
‘It doesn’t know how long she’s gonna be here.’ Sicily explained, ‘It won’t risk the possibility of her leaving before it could get a chance to kill her.’
‘So you don’t think we’re just wasting our time?’ Michael asked.
‘No.’ Keara and Sicily said simultaneously.
‘But it’s already midnight.’
‘I know. Just be patient.’ Sicily said, ‘The demon will show up soon enough.’
‘Alright. I’ll get back to my post.’ Michael said, then looked at Keara and put a hand on her shoulder, ‘Be careful, okay?’
She nodded and smiled at him, ‘You too.’
He smiled back and squeezed her shoulder before leaving.
‘I have to get back to my post, too.’ Sicily said, ‘Be careful, friend.’
‘Likewise.’ Keara replied.
Keara started patrolling the area she was in, turning a corner, but staying alert. All her weapons were strapped to her body, and so far, none of them had been unsheathed.
She found herself wondering how she could not have known of this demon during her service to Sharzak; especially since he loved to inform her of all his hideous plans and what information his spies provided him with.

Lady Elayne was walking down one of the corridors. Her shadow crawled over the walls as she passed each lit lantern; the flames dancing across her near-perfect complexion.
‘Wandering in the corridors at this late hour, Lady Elayne?’ Alexander asked as he turned the corner.
She had not expected to see him or any of the Ravens, for that matter, in the corridors at this time, ‘I could ask you the same thing, Raven.’
‘You do know that the king has requested that everyone remain in their chambers till morning.’ Alexander pointed out.
‘Not as long as you’re around.’
Alexander smiled, despite her curtness, ‘You, just like any other person in the castle know that my brothers and I are here for your protection, to the king, the nobles, and his subjects. For that very reason I am, wandering in the corridors.’ his smile faded, ‘And for that very reason, you have no business being outside your chamber doors. Please return. It’s too dangerous for you to be out here, especially at this hour.’
‘The only thing that’s dangerous is that you Ravens are still breathing.’ she turned to leave.
‘And I am so very fond of you as well, Lady Elayne.’ he said sarcastically, ‘Now please go back to your chambers.’
She stopped in her tracks. She wanted to say something, but Alexander’s sarcasm had caught her off guard. So she just continued to walk away.
Alexander didn’t move from where he stood until he was sure she wouldn’t return.

It had gotten deathly quiet in the castle; unnatural silence drifting down every passage. A different aura started stirring; emerging from the darkness.
Alexander was the first to notice. Unsheathing his sword as he slowly headed in the direction of the disturbance.
Michael and Jonathan then noticed the shift in the atmosphere; then Zarra. All of them unsheathing their weapons and becoming more aware of their immediate surroundings.
Zarra bit her lip as she became ever more vigilant; thinking to herself, just because she was a Dark Elf, it didn’t mean she was a good fighter. She was of course, she just didn’t know it; she had been an archivist for most of her live, after all.
They were all too far apart to communicate with each other, so instead each of them decided it would be best to follow their instincts and stay alert.
Joseph sensed his brothers’ alertness, as well as the reason for their sudden, complete awareness.
‘What is it?’ Deryck asked. He had felt something, but had thought nothing of it until he saw Joseph become alert.
‘The demon has revealed its aura. It is no longer shielding itself.’ Joseph answered and got to his feet.
‘Where are you going?’ Deryck asked, also standing up.
‘I’m going to find the body it used.’
‘But Keara asked you to stay here.’ Artemis said.
‘The demon is now after the heart of the Drow Queen. It has no interest in you or your brother.’ Joseph answered and slowly inched the door open.
‘But why are you going to look for the body?’ Deryck asked.
‘If they fail to stop it, at least we’ll know who it’s using as a vessel.’
‘Just be careful.’ Deryck cautioned, ‘Don’t get caught in the crossfire.’
‘Gotcha.’ Joseph said, stepping out and softly closing the door behind him.

Keara was still allowing her mind to wander as she turned the corner. It took her a moment to realize that only two lanterns were lit, but not long ago, she had walked down this corridor and it had been well lit. She quickly realized that it had been a mistake, allowing her mind to wander for so long. But now she was fully aware of her surroundings, finally sensing the dark aura that had emerged. Placing a hand on the hilt of her sword, she turned around just as a horrible hand closed its long fingers around her neck; lifting her off the ground; hitting her head hard against the wall, breaking off a piece of it. Keara groaned as she struggled to breathe. It was much stronger than she had anticipated.
‘It was very unwise, Drow Queen, to call me out.’ the demon said in its horrid voice.
The demon lifted its free hand and plunged its long fingers into her chest. She let out a smothered scream, feeling the fingers move close to her heart. Out of desperation, she grabbed its arm, stopping the fingers from borrowing deeper into her chest.
‘Fighting me is futile, Drow Queen. You will only prolong your own defeat.’ the demon growled.
Blood dripped from her lips. She had to do something, but with her back against a wall and her feet off the ground, there was not much she could do, but she knew she had to try. She lifted her left leg; with her knee bent, placing her foot in the middle of the demon’s chest and forced him away from her, pulling his fingers out of her chest and loosening his grip around her throat. With her free leg, she kicked up towards the arm with the hand around her throat, bending it upward, breaking it at the elbow. The demon let out a shriek of pain, dropping her to the floor.

Michael looked in the direction of the shriek. Unsheathing his sword, he broke into a run, fearing that his sister might be in danger.
The others also heard it and immediately headed towards it.

Keara landed on the floor, hunched over, coughing and trying to keep the blood gushing from her chest.
The demon wailed; its arm hanging at its side, ‘How dare you!?’
Keara didn’t answer. She took a few deep breathes.
‘Sharzak should never have kept you alive.’ the demon wailed and ran for the window.
The demon leaped out the window, with shards of glass following it to the ground as her brothers along with Zarra and Sicily entered the corridor from different directions.
Before anyone could utter a word, Keara forced herself to her feet and followed the demon out the window. Michael gave orders to the others before following Keara.

Joseph was quietly creeping through the corridors, searching for the abandoned body that served as a vessel and a shield for the demon. He did not enter any of the chambers. Instead, he simply placed his hand on each door and closed his eyes. His hand started glowing a light green as he focused on the life-forces omitted from the people inside; this allowed him to see whether the body behind the door was alive or dead.
So far, he had not found the vessel. He was growing impatient with himself. And because he didn’t know if the others had already tracked down the demon, he was afraid that it might embody its vessel again.

Michael found it hard to keep up with Keara; he could only follow her by sound. As he tried to keep track of her, he found that she had dropped her sword. At first he assumed that she had lost it and chose not to go back for it, but then he found her coat. Now it all made sense to him. He had trouble keeping up with her because she had transformed.

Just when Joseph thought that he had failed in his search, the green glow around his hand turned grey. He quickly removed his hand from the door as though it burned him. He gripped the handle of the door, hesitating for a moment, before slowly opening and peeking inside. He opened the door all the way, staring out before him. He stood in the doorway, staring at the body.
‘Well now. That explains a lot.’ he said to himself.

After a while, the others had finally caught up with Michael.
‘Where are they?’ Alexander asked.
‘I have absolutely no idea.’ Michael answered.
Jonathan noticed that Michael was holding Keara’s coat and sword, ‘Is that Keara’s?’
‘Yeah.’ Michael said.
‘She’s defenceless.’ Jonathan started.
‘She has other weapons strapped to her body; not that I think she needs them anymore.’ Michael stated, ‘She transformed. Which is why I wasn’t able to keep up with her.’
‘We should go after her.’ Alexander said.
‘I agree. But I have no idea how to find her.’ Michael admitted.
Sicily looked around for a moment, ‘This way.’
Michael looked at her, ‘How do you know?’
‘Well I have spent the last few months around Keara’s unstable aura.’ Sicily explained as she followed the direction she chose, ‘Since she escaped from Sharzak, her aura has never quite been the same, for obvious reasons, but especially when she’s in her transformed state. You can tell she doesn’t have complete control, yet.’
‘But I only sense the demon’s aura.’ Michael admitted, ‘The other one is, strange, to say the least.’
‘That would be Keara.’ Sicily replied.
They followed Keara’s aura for a while, until Sicily stopped dead in her tracks, putting a hand to her head. Michael stood next to her.
‘What’s the matter?’ he asked.
‘She doesn’t want us to follow her.’ Sicily answered.
‘What? No.’ Michael didn’t believe it.
‘I hear her voice in my head.’
‘Well ignore it. We’re going after her.’ Michael said.
He took a step, but stopped.
Don’t follow me
This time they all heard it.
‘But we can’t just leave her.’ Alexander argued.
‘I think if we do find her, we’ll just be in the way.’ Sicily said.
‘Well, she is the Drow Queen. She can handle this on her own.’ Zarra pointed out.
‘We’re actually just gonna leave her?’ Jonathan couldn’t believe it.
‘No. We are just respecting her wishes.’ Michael stated.
Soon they were back at Artemis’ chambers. Joseph had anxiously been waiting for one of his siblings to return, so he could show them what he had found.
‘Michael!’ Joseph exclaimed, ‘I found something I think you would want to see.’
Michael looked puzzled.
‘Just come with me.’ Joseph said.
The others stayed at Artemis’ chambers.
‘I guess now we wait.’ Jonathan said as he sat down.
Joseph opened the door and revealed the demon’s vessel. Michael couldn’t believe his eyes.

It was about an hour before dawn by the time Keara returned to the castle, still in her transformed state. She had been injured; it showed all over her body, but it didn’t seem to bother her.
And she was not alone. Behind her, dragged the demon. She had a tight grip on his good arm. For a demon, he seemed to be in a lot of pain. It wasn’t any wonder. He was gravely injured, and the hilts of Keara’s many daggers were protruding from his body. These, like her sword, rejected evil and burnt the skin of those who touched it with evil in their hearts. The daggers seemed to be searing his skin and would not stop.
She stopped moving and looked up; almost directly above her, was Artemis’ balcony. She flapped her wings and became airborne, though the massive weight of the demon slowed her down a bit. She dropped him on the floor of the balcony with little grace and landed, crouching on the balcony railing.
He didn’t move, only groaned.
‘Found him.’ she stated the obvious.
‘We know who he has been using as a vessel.’ Joseph stated.
‘So do I.’ Keara added.
‘How?’ Joseph wanted to know.
‘He has been quite forthcoming with information. It seems demons aren’t as immune to pain as they claim to be.’ Keara stated, ‘What he hasn’t explained to me, is how he got hold of her body in the first place.’
She jumped off the railing, looking down at the demon, ‘I’ll make you a deal, demon. For every piece of valuable information, I’ll remove one dagger, But if you lie to me, I’ll put one back. And there are quite a few, so start talking.’
The demon didn’t say anything, but from his demeanor, he seemed to agree to those terms.
‘For how long have you been using Elayne’s body as a vessel?’ Keara asked.
‘Since the night she entered the stone ring.’ the demon grumbled.
Keara removed a dagger.
‘How did you manage it? We would’ve sensed your aura from miles away.’
‘I had used, another vessel.’ the demon struggled to breathe, ‘There were so many people, I knew you would not notice an extra one.’
Keara removed one of the daggers. The demon groaned, but did not move.
‘But why?’ Michael had to know.
The demon hesitated. Keara waited, but when she realized it would not answer, she plunged one of the daggers back into its body. It screeched in pain, the dagger burning its skin.
‘It was an order from my master.’
‘Sharzak?’ Michael asked.
‘Why?’ Keara asked.
‘He wanted someone inside the human kingdom.’
She removed a dagger.
‘Why?’ she asked again.
‘He wanted the one with the Gene.’
Keara froze. How long had Sharzak known of her existence?
Michael saw that the demon’s answer had taken her aback.
‘Why did he want my sister?’ Michael asked.
‘At that point, he didn’t know that she was the one who possessed the Gene, he just wanted it.’
She plunged a dagger into the demon’s body again, regaining her composure a little.
‘That wasn’t the question.’ she retorted.
‘I didn’t know.’ the demon pleaded, ‘It was only after Scander brought you back to the Haunted Castle that I found out why.’
Keara removed a dagger again.
‘He wanted control.’ Keara replied.
‘Yes.’ the demon agreed.
‘For how long have you been invading Artemis’ mind to provide Sharzak with information about us?’ she asked.
‘Not very long. I simply had to wait for your brothers to leave.’ the demon said, ‘But it wasn’t always easy. Keeping that woman’s body from decaying took more strength than I would’ve liked.’
‘So you’re the spy he was always referring too.’ Keara realized.
‘So he has told you about me.’ the demon smiled sickly.
‘Not really. He was constantly complaining that he wasn’t getting enough information from you. The spy who is apparently even stronger than Scander.’ Keara said, ‘You don’t look all that strong to me.’
‘Remove the daggers and I’ll show you just how strong I am.’ the demon challenged.
Keara plunged a dagger into the demon’s body, once again, ‘When this fight started, you had a death-grip on my throat.’ she stood up, ‘Now you’re lying at my feet in agony. The only thing still keeping you alive is the thought that you might get my Gene.’
‘Maybe you should ask him what Sharzak is planning.’ Jonathan suggested.
‘He won’t know.’ Keara said.
‘How do you know?’ Jonathan didn’t understand.
‘Aside from the fact that it always looked as though Sharzak didn’t really know what he was doing, he never disclosed any of his plans to anyone, not even Scander.’ she explained.
‘But then he’s useless to us.’ Alexander said, referring to the demon.
‘Pretty much.’ Keara agreed.
‘What are we gonna do with him?’ Alexander asked.
‘I have a request.’ the demon uttered.
‘Really?’ Keara didn’t find it all that surprising.
‘Kill me.’
‘Sorry what?’ Joseph couldn’t believe a demon had actually made such a request.
‘If Sharzak finds me, he’ll do much worse.’
‘You say that like you thought we would let you go.’ Keara pointed out.
‘Are you not?’
‘Did you really think after all you have done you would simply be set free?’ Michael asked.
‘Please, just kill me. Sharzak will find out soon enough that I have failed. You can’t even begin to imagine the things he’ll do to me.’ the demon pleaded.
‘Oh I think I have an idea.’ Keara said. She knew very well how Sharzak punished insubordinates. She was one of them. But somehow, she found it hard to believe that this demon was really afraid. True, he was pleading for his life, but Keara didn’t buy the act.
‘Of course you would know.’ the demon smiled faintly, ‘How often he had punished you for being insubordinate.’
Keara didn’t say a word. She wasn’t surprised that the demon knew of her punishment. Michael, however, did not take it. He kicked the demon hard in the side. It groaned, catching it’s breathe.
‘Maybe we should send him back to Sharzak.’ Alexander speculated.
Everyone, including the demon reacted; except for Keara, ‘What?’
‘You can’t send me back there.’ the demon said.
‘Why would you wanna do that?’ Jonathan asked, alarmed.
‘He seems to be afraid of Sharzak. It would be a harsher punishment than just killing him.’ Alexander explained.
Keara didn’t stop looking at the demon, though the demon didn’t seem to notice. But Michael did. And he started to see what she was seeing.
‘No.’ Keara finally said, and the arguing that was starting to rise, quickly died down. Everyone looked at her, ‘He’s not afraid. He wants to go back.’
‘No, no, I don’t.’ the demon tried to counter.
Sicily finally saw past the demon’s lie. She knew her friend was right, and she also knew what Keara planned to do. Taking Keara’s sword from Zarra, she slowly carried it over to Keara, where she stood still as a statue. Without turning to look, Keara gripped the hilt of her sword. Sicily moved away.
‘He’s waiting for you, isn’t he?’ Keara asked, not really expecting an answer.
‘I don’t know what you are talking about.’ the demon was still sticking to its story.
Michael realized what Keara was planning to do and, standing on the other side of the demon, he gripped the hilt of his sword, slowly unsheathing it, ‘If you ever got back, he would know everything.’
The demon finally dropped the act, ‘What makes you think he doesn’t know it, already?’
‘You’re still here.’ Keara said.
‘You will not win this fight, Salerra.’ the demon spat, ‘You will beg for death before the end!’
Both Michael and Keara had raised their swords above their heads, and simultaneously plunged it into the demon’s chest. The demon gasped for air, giving Keara a dark look; its eyes fading from yellow to black as its life-force dissipated.
They pulled out their swords as the sun started rising. Keara’s wings retracted once again. Soon, the sunlight poured over the balcony and covered the demon, turning him to ash, Keara’s daggers clattered to the ground.

Artemis had arranged a funeral for Lady Elayne the following day. He had decided it would be best if the people in the kingdom didn’t know the true circumstances of her death and simply decided to say that her heart had given in.

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