Michael came out of Reverie and sat up in his bed. He pushed the covers aside, slowly getting up so he would not wake his wife, and walked over to the window, pulling the curtains away. The wind was blowing hard and the tree branches were bending to the wind’s song. It seemed to be quite peaceful, but Michael could sense that something was disturbing that peace. Just outside the safety of the ward the Woodland Elves had put up, he saw the faint silhouette of a dark figure. The disturbance seemed to be originating from this figure. It looked as though it had frozen in time; no movement originating from its limbs.
Michael kept staring at the figure, almost entranced, until his wife moved. He looked at her, seeing that she was still asleep; she had merely turned on her side. He looked back out the window, but the figure had disappeared. But its presence still seemed to be disturbing the forest.
He stared out the window for a moment longer, trying to see if the figure had merely moved into another position, but there was no sight of it. Closing the curtains and climbing back into bed, Michael decided to put it out of his mind. He wrapped his arms around his wife, pulling her closer and slowly went into Reverie.
Keara was in Reverie. She had read almost every page of the journal, but Deryck had asked her to put it down and get some rest. So she had put the journal down beside her, allowing Deryck to cover her with a blanket and wrap his arms around her; stroking her hair until she faded away.
Joseph was patrolling the perimeter of the Woodland Sanctuary. He simply could not go into Reverie. He kept sensing the presence outside. Saresse was watching him while sitting with her feet in the stream. She was growing concerned for him, well aware that he was trying to keep all of them safe by himself. And though he knew it wasn’t necessary, he still continued to do so. She stood up in the stream; the water reaching just under her knees; holding her dress in her hands, keeping it from getting wet, she stepped onto the edge and out of the water, letting go of her dress, allowing it to drape over her legs and bare feet. She slowly wandered over to him, but he didn’t seem to notice. She reached out and touched his hand. He turned around, still holding her hand, seeing the concern in her eyes.
‘I think it’s time you get some rest.’ Saresse started.
‘I’m fine my love.’
‘You’ve been patrolling the perimeter for days. You have not yet gone into Reverie, and you have barely eaten anything. You are not fine anymore.’
Joseph stepped closer to her and embraced her, ‘I just wanna keep you safe.’
‘If you don’t get some rest, you won’t be able to keep any of us safe.’ Saresse pointed out, ‘And you’re not the only warrior around here. This is not something you have to do alone.’
‘I know.’ Joseph said, holding her tighter, ‘It’s just my nature.’
Keara suddenly opened her eyes, lifting her head off Deryck’s shoulder. He looked away from the flames dancing with the wind, his attention completely on Keara now.
‘What’s the matter?’ he wanted to know.
Keara reached for her sword next to her and slowly unsheathed it, getting up and taking a few steps towards the edge of the forest.
Deryck and the soldiers that were awake were more alert than ever; watching Keara as she kept moving closer to the forest.
She tilted her head, hoping to hear better. Her eyes searched the deep darkness of the forest.
The figure stood in the darkness, carefully watching her, looking Keara in the eye, though she didn’t realize it. It didn’t dare move while she stood so close, knowing that she would immediately sense its movements.
Keara turned her head, searching the darkness in other directions. But though she could sense something in the forest, she couldn’t see anything or pin-point its location. She relaxed a little bit as she turned her back to the forest and the moment she did so, the figure jumped out from the shadows, attempting to attack her from behind.
Deryck and several soldiers screamed, trying to warn her. She immediately reacted, swinging her sword around to block the attack.
For the first time she looked upon the being; the very one that had been in so many bedtime stories. It was tall; much taller than Michael, with pale grey skin. Its only piece of clothing, a pair of pants, had been worn and dirtied with time. Quite muscular and with certain features, though disturbing, seemed to be very similar to those of an elf; pointed ears, but yellow pupil-less eyes. It didn’t have hair; instead, where hair should have been there was long, thick, white porcupine quills hanging far down its back. It had no weapons, only very long, razor sharp nails, not unlike Keara’s in her transformed state, and fangs like a wolf. Scars covered its body, most of them very old and faded. Keara stood there with her mouth hanging open a bit, forgetting that the being had attacked her only moments ago. She kept looking it up and down. It wasn’t human or elven, but it looked almost the same. Seeming to have no mind of its own, but not completely stupid either.
It attacked again, swinging its long, dangerous claws at her, trying to slice open any piece of her body it possibly could. Keara had dodged it just in time, and after she gathered herself, she was able to fight back. But the being retreated back into the darkness of the forest before it could sustain any kind of injury.
‘What the five hells was that!?’ one of the soldiers exclaimed.
‘I don’t know.’ Keara replied, slowly walking backwards towards the fire.
‘Are you alright?’ Deryck asked as soon as she was standing by the fire.
She looked at him and answered, ‘I’m fine.’ before looking back at the forest.
‘Is that what Lenora was talking about in her journal?’ Deryck wanted to know.
‘That’s how she described it. But she doesn’t have a name for it.’ Keara replied.
‘Did she say anything about where it came from?’
‘According to her, nobody knows. Apparently they’ve been around for centuries. But I have a feeling Zarra might have some answers.’
She sat down, getting comfortable and took a few long moments to consider her next statement before speaking it aloud, ‘As soon as the sun rises, we retreat back to the gate.’
‘But what about the ward?’ one of the mages started.
‘It has officially become too dangerous to be out here, especially at night.’
‘All the more reason to get the ward fixed.’ another mage stated.
‘I don’t know how many of those things are in the forest. According to Lenora’s journal, when she was young, she had seen so many of them, she lost count. And I don’t know if I’ll be able to protect you against every single one of them.’
‘Perhaps if we mimic daylight within a contained dome around us, we might be able to keep it away. Daylight does seem to keep it bay.’ the first mage suggested.
‘You’re talking about permanent daylight?’ Keara didn’t like the sound of that. She could barely make it through a normal, bright, sunny day.
‘Yes. Just until we are done.’ the mage answered.
‘What about just mimicking the daylight on the outside of the dome and keeping the inside dark?’ Keara asked, hoping it was possible.
‘We could do that, but it would take more power and at the rate we are currently working, we would just barely have enough power for creating such a dome at the end of every day.’
Keara sighed. She wasn’t sure how long she would be able to go with constant daylight, but fixing the ward was important. She couldn't just push that aside.
‘Very well. But is everyone okay with staying out here despite the obvious danger; soldiers included?’ she asked the critical question.
There was only silence. Everyone had suddenly realized that they had to make a decision now. If anyone had decided they didn’t want to stay, Keara would make sure that everyone retreated back to the gate; she would not leave anyone behind.
‘I’ll give you some time to think about it.’ she said, resting her head against a log, closing her eyes and going into Reverie, enjoying the darkness, knowing that it could be the last time for a long while.
Sharzak opened his black, pupil-less eyes staring at the ceiling of his dark bed chambers. At first he seemed to be half asleep, but he was really worried. Something that even he had not expected. He pulled the covers away and got out of bed, draping his long, old, worn-out robe over his shoulders and walked out onto the balcony. Looking down, he saw that all his subjects were hard at work, preparing for whatever he had planned. But the commotion would die down soon; the sun would start rising in a short while and everyone would disappear into the darkness, as though they feared the sun.
The worried expression on his face stemmed from the disturbing fact that the Shadows still haven’t tracked down Keara or any of her brothers.
They had been punished repeatedly for their failures. Scander had grown rather tired of these punishments, having to take time to heal every time. He found it had become harder to do so; perhaps Sharzak had cast a spell over them, as part of the punishment. But he was no longer interested in finding Keara; she had only proven a nuisance to him; causing him injury and evading his grasp. He looked up at Sharzak, growing more disgusted with the being that had power over him.
Everyone had decided to stay and finish their job, and at the end of each day, the mages would construct the light-dome.
Keara had grown increasingly bored in the last few days. It had already been over a week and only half of the ward had been repaired. She found herself constantly flying around, visiting nearby towns, playing with the children and listening to the stories some had to tell.
One night, Keara was wandering around just outside the light-dome. Having spent so much time in daylight, real and magical, had taken its toll on her mood as well as her eyes. She had grown accustomed to living on the surface with daylight. But the light had always come to an end, allowing her eyes to rest from the strain of each day. However, with the light-dome’s creation, she had spent much more time in the light than her eyes could handle, causing her to get severe headaches, even for a Dark Elf and that in turn caused her to be somewhat agitated and short tempered; which was most likely the reason she had spent so little time with the humans during the evenings.
She had her sword in hand, though for no purpose. She was swinging it back and forth, aimlessly slicing long pieces of grass as she wandered around in irregular patterns. She had decided to check the area outside the dome; at least that’s the excuse she used to get out of the light. Standing still for a few moments, she looked up at the darkness, closing her eyes and breathing deeply, appreciating every second of darkness that was within her grasp. Allowing nature to relieve her headache and calm her sore eyes; she began to relax and feel a little less agitated.
The forest had seemed quite peaceful the last few days. It seemed as though they had left behind the being that had attacked her. That or it was just keeping its distance. Either way, she was thankful for the reprieve.
Deryck walked out of the protection of the dome, standing still for a moment while his eyes adjusted to the sudden darkness. Once he could see properly, he walked over to Keara who had stuck the tip of her sword in the ground and leaned against it. She was still enjoying the peacefulness of the night. She felt at home in the darkness. He stood behind her, wrapping his arms around her and resting his chin on her shoulder.
‘Are you feeling better?’ he asked softly.
‘I noticed that you were a bit agitated earlier, among other things.’
‘Oh. Yeah.’ she hadn’t realized that he had seen her discomfort.
‘So are you feeling better?’ he asked again.
‘A little, yeah. A little more peaceful.’ she answered.
‘I’m glad.’ he replied, kissing her softly in her neck.
‘I don’t know how much longer I can do this.’ she said after a few seconds, ‘The arguing mages; the competing soldiers.’ she paused, ‘The never-ending daylight.’
‘The daylight bothers you?’ he was surprised.
‘More than anything else that’s currently going on.’
He didn’t quite understand, ‘But you grew up on the surface, living in daylight.’
‘Yes, but after each day, the night came as a reprieve. And it didn’t feel like my eyes were constantly on fire.’
‘But I thought you’d be used to the light by now.’
‘Just enough to get me through the day.’ she replied, ‘It’s bearable then. But this...’ she trailed off, struggling to find the words.
‘I understand how you feel. The constant daylight makes it hard to just get some rest.’
‘This is not just about rest. My kin has lived underground for millennia. The only light down there is the luminous glow reflected from the sear stones. And even that’s not much. You’d constantly keep walking into walls if you were down there.’
‘It will be over soon.’ he tried to reassure her.
‘I sincerely hope so.’ she started, ‘The headaches are starting to get worse.’
Deryck immediately turned her around, the look on his face was one of distress, ‘Why didn’t you tell me you were getting headaches?’
Keara put her hands on his cheeks, ‘Because there’s nothing you can do about it.’
She interrupted him, ‘The headaches are not the worst part.’
‘What do you mean?’ he became more distressed.
‘My vision is failing.’
‘What!?’ he exclaimed.
‘It’s just because of the constant light. Once I’ve spent a few days in darkness, my eyes will heal and my vision will be better than it was.’
‘But Keara...’ Deryck wanted to complain.
‘Deryck,’ she interrupted him again, ‘I’ll be okay. Being out here in the darkness helps, even if it’s just a little.’
‘I just don’t want you to be in pain.’ he said, pulling her closer.
She just smiled, resting her head on his chest.
They stood there in each other’s arms for a few seconds, when they heard voices coming from the dome.
Deryck gave an exasperated sigh, ‘They’re arguing again.’
Keara just closed her eyes, ‘I believe it’s your turn to sort it out.’
‘Yeah, I’ll take care of it.’ he held her tighter for a moment before heading back to the dome. He was halfway between Keara and the dome when he turned and asked, ‘Are you gonna stay out here all night?’
‘No. Just a little while. I’ll be back once I’m ready to face that again.’ she answered, referring to the arguing voices inside the dome.
‘Don’t take too long. Don’t know how long I’ll be able to stand them by myself.’
Keara just smiled. She understood completely. When the mages started arguing it made her ears want to bleed.
Men dressed in black coats were riding different coloured horses along the coastline. They seemed to know exactly where they were going and didn’t waste any time getting there.
Their numbers were growing slowly as they passed through towns and different regions. It was clear that these men were thieves and bandits. Every town they passed through, they stole from the people, calling themselves by a name that stunned people into silence and disbelief. Very few believed them to be who they claimed to be, others were not so sure.
But what these bandits didn’t realize, was that soon the stories of their raids would reach Varden Castle; something that most people would rather try to avoid.
Keara had gone into Reverie during the day, resting against a big rock with her hood pulled far over her eyes. She was trying her best to cope with the people around her.
Deryck sat down on the rock beside her, softly touching her shoulder. She got a slight fright, turning her head very slightly.
‘Thought you might like some tea.’ Deryck said as he handed her a cup.
‘Thank you.’ Keara said, taking the cup, but keeping the hood over her eyes, ‘How many days do we have left?’
‘Well, at the rate they’ve been working and the distance we still have left, I’d say about two or three days.’ Deryck answered.
‘Please let it pass quickly.’ Keara begged.
‘You’re growing quite tired of this, aren’t you?’
‘You think?’ Keara was too tired to even sound sarcastic.
‘It’ll be over soon.’ Deryck said as he started rubbing her back.
‘Not soon enough.’ Keara stated.
‘How about we take a walk through the forest? As far as is safe. I can really use it, and I’m pretty sure you can too.’ Deryck said.
‘That sounds like a good idea.’ Keara said.
Deryck smiled, getting up, taking Keara’s hand and pulling her up. He informed the soldiers that they were going for a walk and ordered them to stay with the mages. One of the Soldiers insisted on joining them, Deryck was the prince, after all, and he needed to be protected. But he had been ordered to stay behind.
The forest was completely peaceful, and shaded. Keara pulled her hood back just a little, just enough to look upon the beauty of the forest. Deryck held Keara’s hand. He was grateful for the peaceful, uninterrupted moment he could have with her, away from the complaining and competing. And she really seemed to be enjoying herself.
Moments such as this didn’t come along very often, especially with everything that had been happening in the world. Even Keara enjoyed being able to take in the scenery of the moment, being able to stand next to Deryck, looking upon perfect harmony.
Zarra was still sitting in the library. She had rarely left there. Buried under piles and piles of books, it seemed she might have come close to finding answers. She, of course, was oblivious to the time that had already passed. According to her, she had only been there for a day or so.
To one side, she had neatly stacked several books she found both interesting and possibly relevant.
It was the morning of the last day outside the castle gate. Keara had stopped moving around almost completely. Her vision had dissipated almost completely. It was not the loss of her sight that rendered her almost completely immobile, her other senses were sharp enough for her to get by without the need of her vision. Her eyes had become a light pale blue; her pupils had faded to a light grey, almost blending in with the colour of the iris. She kept her hood pulled far over her eyes; she would barely be able to see anyhow. Searing headaches had taken over her thoughts; she could no longer think straight. Her mind had become a jumbled mess of thoughts and images. Nothing made sense to her anymore. This is what had rendered her immobile.
Deryck wasn’t sure what to do. He could provide her with comfort, but that barely helped her at all; it didn’t ease the pain and it didn’t improve her vision. He had never seen Keara in such discomfort.
He sat down next to her, putting his arm around her, pulling her closer, ‘We’ll be back inside the castle walls tonight.’
Keara only nodded her head. She would be glad once this was over. The light had become unbearable, so much so that she wouldn’t be able to stand another day with constant light.
The sun started setting. Everyone was near the gate, busy packing the last of their belongings. The gate had been opened, but no one had passed through yet. Keara just stood around, waiting for them all to finish up.
Finally they slowly started walking towards the open gate. Deryck held Keara at her waist, trying to provide some guidance, though she didn’t need it. Then suddenly, she stopped and turned to face the forest, unsheathing her sword. Deryck touched her shoulder, but she just ordered him to get everyone inside the gate. She tilted her head, listening to the sounds in the forest. She took a few cautious steps towards the forest, listening intently for the sounds that were coming from within the shadows.
The sun had almost disappeared below the horizon. Still she took another step towards the forest.
The last rays disappeared and night fell. Several beings burst from the shadows, attacking Keara. She couldn’t see them, but she was holding her ground.
Deryck ran to assist, but she just ordered him to get back.
‘Stay behind the ward!’ she ordered.
One had caught her off guard, swiping her over the stomach with a backhand, slicing her clothes and cutting her skin. She went sliding over the ground, managing to at least hold onto her sword. The beings all attacked at once, and for a moment it seemed like she would lose the battle. But a giant black bear had come to her rescue, ramming itself into the beings, flinging several to one side, standing over Keara, protecting her with its body. More attacked. The bear fought back, ripping one to pieces and swiping others with its great claws. Quickly looking at Keara.
‘Get inside the ward, Keara!’ it ordered in the voice of Korian.
She immediately picked herself up off the ground and made a run for it. Halfway towards the gate, Deryck met up with her, taking her hand and leading her inside the ward.
‘Close the gate!’ the bear ordered again.
The guards operating the gate did not waste any time asking questions and started closing the gate, with the help of the soldiers. The bear came running towards the gate, transforming into a panther just before passing through the narrow space between the huge doors.
Everyone stood there for a moment, considering what had just happened. The soldiers helped the mages carry all their belongings to their living quarters.
‘Good to see you again, Korian; or, hear your voice.’ Keara said.
‘Good to see you as well, Keara.’ Korian replied.
Keara turned to Deryck, and though he knew she could not see him at that point, it felt as though she was looking straight at him, ‘Your brother will probably be expecting a report from you.’
‘Yes, I know. But I have to get you to the hospital wing first.’ Deryck stated.
‘There’s no need. I’ll be fine.’ Keara replied.
‘I’ll be fine, Deryck.’ she said again, softly.
Deryck nodded and kissed Keara on the forehead before reluctantly taking his leave.
‘Where to now, Keara?’ Korian asked.
‘Water.’ she sighed.
She put her hand on Korian’s head and he led her to the secluded pool of water.