Once Walked With Dragons

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Chapter Fifty Two

More and more of these wandering creatures seemed to be arriving at the Haunted Castle. Most of his subjects were quite unnerved by the spectacle, especially due to the history of the beings. Scander, however, seemed to be at ease with their arrival. He wasn’t sure why they had suddenly appeared, but he knew that they’re presence would not be a waste of space.

Sharzak stood on his balcony, overlooking the spectacle taking place on the ground below. More of these beings were arriving every day. He knew very well what they were and why they had arrived. Though he was not yet sure to what ends he would use them.

Keara and Zarra gasped as they walked deeper into the archives. Zarra nearly fainted from excitement. Keara just looked around, with her mouth hanging open. The only archives she had ever seen were that of the Dark Elves, and even then she didn’t have the time to admire the beauty of the structure and the sight of the many books stacked in the shelves all around the building.
Sear stones had been placed all around the archive, illuminating the giant rooms with a soft blue-white glow, that wouldn’t harm the eyes and also wouldn’t risk the possibility of any books being burnt.
‘Now, if we don’t find the information we need in here, it doesn’t exist.’ Zarra stated.
‘Yeah.’ all Keara could do was agree. She was still rather overwhelmed by the sight.

Zarra had immersed herself in the many books lying on the table in front of her. Keara’s attention had also been completely drawn into the books she had been reading, but they had been there so long that she started growing tired. Sitting still for such long periods, was not really Keara’s idea of absolute fun. She had leaned her head on her hand, but she had started drifting into Reverie. She came too, when her head rolled off her hand.
‘How long have we been here?’ Keara asked when she rubbed the sleep out of her eyes.
‘Mmm, I don’t know. A day?’ Zarra speculated.
‘Really?’ Keara couldn’t believe that they had already spent so much time there. She got up and stretched her arms above her head, while walking over to Zarra, ‘Have you found anything yet?’
‘Looks like it. We might actually have a way of... Oh no.’
‘What?’ Keara wanted to know.
‘You’re not gonna like this.’
‘Do tell.’ Keara said sarcastically.
‘The magic that had been incorporated into the ward was not just that of the dragons, though their magic was the most powerful and is what is still keeping the ward alive. They were working with other beings at the time, also quite powerful, but much more dangerous, because of their uncontrollable rage.’
‘Oh no.’ Keara closed her eyes for a moment, ‘I think I know where this is going.’
Zarra hesitated for a moment, ‘They were Dark Elves.’
‘We are so done for.’ Keara said, leaning against the table. She threw her head back, looking up at the ceiling that seemed to be so far away.
‘Well; there is one thing you could do.’ Zarra started.
She turned her head towards Zarra, ‘What?’
‘You could take your rightful place as queen.’
‘Not gonna happen.’ Keara said and looked back at the ceiling.
‘It’s the only way you’ll be able to gain control over the Dark Elves.’ Zarra reasoned.
‘It won’t make a difference anyway.’
‘What do you mean?’
‘Without the help of the dragons, there’s not much we can do.’
‘But we’ll be able to keep Sharzak at bay.’
‘We can’t keep him at bay forever, Zarra.’ Keara started, ‘Sooner or later, he is gonna triumph. Unless we do something drastic.’
‘I do realize that, Keara. But if you don’t have the Dark Elves’ loyalty, your chances of defeating him, becomes that much less.’
‘We’ve been through this before, Zarra. It’s not happening.’
‘We are your kin, Keara. You can’t keep running away from us. You can’t keep denying who you are.’
Keara sighed. She knew that Zarra was right. The more she tried to run away from what she was, the more it became apparent that she would have to embrace it sooner or later.
‘We should probably be getting back. Sooner or later, they are gonna start looking for us.’ Keara said.
‘You go. I’ll stay here. They’ll start looking for you. They won’t even notice I’m gone.’
‘Are you gonna be alright?’
‘Yeah. I’ll be fine.’ Zarra said without looking up.
Keara started walking towards the door, ‘Oh by the way,’ she paused, turning back to look at Zarra, ‘See if you can disable the traps. I really don’t wanna go through this every time.’
‘Sure. I’ll get right to it.’ Zarra said, not really paying attention.
Keara just stared at Zarra, somehow knowing that she had already forgotten about it. She shook her head and headed back the way they had come.
Before heading back on their original way in, she first decided to head down one of the corridors she had seen along the passage. Wanting to see where it lead, she tread carefully, but still managed to set off a few traps.
Eventually, in the distance, she noticed a faint light trickling in. She quietly approached and realized that it was the original entrance the had found where the soldiers stood guard.
She wondered if there would be a more direct path to the archives from inside the castle, following a different passage. Before long, she stopped before a big gaping hole near a wall, much like the one they had jumped over when they entered.
She looked at the wall on the other side, hearing muffled voices. She thought she might know where that lead, but decided to turn back and head out.

Deryck had covered almost the entire castle grounds, searching for Keara. He had asked around for her, but no one had seen her. He had even looked in places he had not expected to find her, hoping that she might be there. He had soon given up trying to find her and returned to the castle; wandering aimlessly down the passages when he noticed someone on the far side of the passage, sitting on one of the window panes, staring into the darkness. He walked towards the person and soon found that it was Keara, who was not paying attention to anything or anyone, simply just staring out into the darkness.
‘Keara.’ he called out as he approached her.
She slowly turned her head to look at him, noticing him, but not really paying attention.
‘How long have you been sitting here?’ he asked as he leaned against the wall, looking attentively at her.
She looked back into the darkness, ‘Not long.’
‘Where have you been?’ Deryck asked.
‘Around.’ she answered, completely nonchalant.
‘I’ve been looking for you everywhere.’
‘I’m sorry. I’ve been preoccupied today.’
‘I can see that. What’s on your mind?’ Deryck wanted to know.
Upon looking at him, it became clear that Keara was in no mood to have a conversation with him, though he didn’t understand why.
‘We’ll talk later, okay?’ Keara climbed off the window pane, wandering down the passage; leaving Deryck by the window.
He wasn’t sure why Keara had walked away from him without touching his hand or looking in his eyes. He wanted to follow her, but had decided that it may be a better idea not to do so.

She wandered aimlessly down the passage, looking at the art, allowing her attention to be drawn completely to it, letting her guard down. She was trying not to think of what had happened. She had been lied too.
She was suddenly drawn out of her thoughts, looking in the direction the voice had come from.
‘I’ve been looking everywhere for you.’ Artemis said as he approached her.
‘You too?’
‘Beg your pardon?’
‘Deryck.’ Keara simply answered.
‘Oh, he found you?’
‘Just a few minutes ago.’
‘Where is he now?’
‘I don’t know.’
‘I thought he’d be with you.’
‘No. He’s not.’
‘Is something the matter, Keara?’ Artemis asked.
‘I’m fine.’ Keara answered, ‘Excuse me.’ she ended the conversation without giving Artemis a chance to say anything else. She walked away, trying her best to keep herself calm, despite the storm growing inside her.
Keara’s muscles had started relaxing when she reached the fountain where she had so often sat, thinking about everything that had been going on around her. She sat down on the edge, crossing her legs, looking up at the stars and embracing the breeze that was blowing through her hair and for a moment blowing away all her anger. She closed her eyes for a moment, then lay down on the edge of the fountain, dropping her hand into the water. Her breathing seemed to slow, as though she had gone into Reverie, but actually, she had just relaxed.
Suddenly her eyes burst open as she heard the voices of the guards at the gate. There was a commotion around the area at the gate, more guards arriving, preparing for battle, should the need arise. She made her way there, quickly climbing the stairs to see over the top of the wall.
‘What’s going on?’ she asked as she approached one of the guards.
‘There are hundreds of them. They just came out of nowhere.’ the guard answered.
Keara looked down and a moment of surprise flashed across her face. The beings that had attacked her, were swarming at the gate.
‘You recognize them?’ the guard asked.
‘You don’t?’ Keara started.
‘Don’t tell me these are the same things that attacked you the other day.’ the guard hoped.
‘Yes, they are.’
‘What are they?’
‘I don’t know.’
Keara had read the book that Lenora had given her so many times already, but she still didn’t know what those beings were.
They were mindlessly bashing against the wall and gate, but it didn’t really seem as though they were trying to get in; it was more like they were just trying to make their presence known. Then all of a sudden, they ceased their bashing and disappeared into the forest, all marching in unison.
‘Where are they going?’ the guard asked, obviously not understanding what was happening.
‘A great evil calls to them.’ Keara said.
‘A greater evil than you?’ the guard asked, and upon seeing the look on her face, added, ‘No offence.’
Keara shook her head, ‘None taken.’
The guard wasn’t sure if he should say anything else after insulting Keara, so he just stood there looking at the spectacle of the beings slowly disappearing into the forest.
Zarra had also heard the screams and it was enough to tear her away from the new-found treasure. She ran up the stairs and joined Keara high up on the wall to see what the commotion was about. She looked down and for a moment, her heart seemed to stop beating as her eyes widened. She quickly regained her composure, but Keara did not miss the sudden gasp and wide eyes. She looked at Zarra suspiciously.
‘You know something?’
‘What do you mean?’ Zarra pretended not to know what Keara was talking about.
‘You know what they are?’ Keara asked.
‘I’ve; I’ve never, never seen them before.’ Zarra stumbled over her words, and she made sure to avoid eye-contact with Keara.
Keara eyed Zarra, still with the suspicious look in her eyes, ‘Have you ever heard of them?’
‘Um; no.’ Zarra finally answered after shaking her head for a moment.
‘You better not be lying to me, Zarra.’ Keara warned, ‘There’s already enough of that going around.’
Zarra didn’t say a word, if she dared utter anything, the tone in her voice would betray her thoughts. Keara never looked away from Zarra, but she knew she would not get anything out of her at that moment.
Keara looked at the guard, ‘Let me know if they come back.’
‘Will do.’ the guard agreed.
Keara left Zarra to her own thoughts, deciding she will go find the information she needed on her own. She head back to the secret archives making sure that no one had noticed the direction she was heading in and also that she wasn’t followed, not even by Zarra.

Keara reached the door of the archives, with a grunt and breathing heavily, pulling arrows out of her body, ‘I thought she had taken care of this.’ she said to herself.
She pushed the door open and stepped inside, ‘The trap layout changed.’ she said to herself, again.
Not sure where she should start looking for answers, she decided to sit down at the table where Zarra had been busy earlier. There were so many open books on the table; she wasn’t sure which one to read first. Instead, she quickly read the open pages of each book. She pulled one book out from under another, but she did not expect to see the illustration on the page with such intricate detail. It was the beings wandering in the forest. She turned a few pages back, to read the story of these beings. She wasn’t really surprised by the information, but it still upset her. She had only been reading for a short while, when she sat back in her chair and rubbed her face.
‘I don’t believe this.’ she said.
‘I really should disable the traps.’ Zarra said as she entered the archive.
She did not yet know that Keara was already there.
Keara heard Zarra’s voice and looked in her direction. Zarra turned the corner, getting ready to continue her reading, but stopped in her tracks when she saw Keara staring at her. She didn’t say anything, she just stood there looking at Keara, whose eyes had started turning black.
‘Mortags.’ Keara finally uttered, ‘Failed experiments.’
Zarra still didn’t say a word, her eyes just widened.
‘Conducted by our own kin, without the queen’s knowledge, right before she was murdered. Probably the reason I didn’t know of them until the first time I saw them.’
‘What do you mean?’ Zarra dared to ask.
‘Oh come on. You can figure it out, can’t you?’
‘The previous queen’s memories gets passed over to the next one, when she starts mastering Crucis Salerra.’ Zarra uttered.
‘But Queen Ethera never knew of the Mortags. And it seems there were a lot of things she didn’t know. I didn’t think the Drow would keep secrets from their own queen.’
‘The Drow would never do that.’ Zarra argued, not daring to raise her voice.
‘Obviously they did.’ Keara stated, ‘Just another reason to never become queen.’
‘But you can change things.’ Zarra started, for a moment, forgetting the rage growing in Keara’s eyes.
‘Don’t.’ Keara raised her voice, then paused for a moment to compose herself, ‘How long have you known about them?’
‘I’ve never known all the details, but...’ Zarra tried to explain, but Keara simply wasn’t interested.
‘How long?’
‘Since I became the archivist.’
‘And how long ago was that?’
‘Almost a hundred years.’
Keara tried to contain a fit, ‘You knew they were roaming the surface?’
‘I didn’t know where they were.’
‘But you knew?’
‘Yes. But I never told you, because it had never been necessary.’
‘I don’t care about the fact that you didn’t tell me when it was irrelevant. But it became relevant about an hour ago when we were standing on the wall. You lied to me.’
Zarra just stared at Keara. She didn’t know what else to do. She had lied to Keara’s face, even while Keara was aware of the lie.
‘Deryck and Artemis have already lied to me about something that, as it turns out, is very crucial to our survival as well as theirs. It’s understandable. They’re human. But that doesn’t mean I’m okay with it. But someone from my own kin. How can you expect me to become your queen, when you’ve already showed me that I can’t even trust the archivist?’
Zarra opened her mouth to answer, but Keara just shushed her, ‘Don’t answer that.’ she walked towards the door.
‘Where are you going?’ Zarra wanted to know.
‘For now, away from you.’
‘Keara, I’m sorry. But I didn’t find it relevant for you to know.’
‘They attacked us when we were still mending the ward. I didn’t think anything of it at first, which is why I didn’t ask.’ Keara explained, ‘But only a short while ago, you stood next to me on the wall, looking down on hundreds of them, and you told me you didn’t know what they were. If they had gotten through the gate, not a single person on the castle grounds would’ve been left alive.’
‘They’re gonna die anyway, Keara. They’re only mortals.’ Zarra said.
‘Indeed they are. But when their lives should end is not for us to decide. You will do well to remember that.’ Keara said and walked out the door.
Zarra stood there by herself, considering Keara’s words; realizing that if the one who carried the Gene would utter such words, she was wrong to place such little value on the humans around them.

Keara made her way to the Raven barracks. Because she was the only Raven currently on the castle grounds, a room had been provided to her inside the castle. But tonight she felt that she needed to get away from the people living there, even if it was just as far as the barracks. She closed the door behind her and stared at the dark, empty common room. It felt strange to be completely alone in such a big building, but she welcomed the solitude. She walked down the hall to her bedroom, swinging the door closed and kicking off her boots before lying down on her bed, allowing the mattress to embrace her. She stared out the open window, relaxing a little more as the cool breeze filled the room. It would be winter soon. The stars seemed to be winking at her, lulling her into Reverie.

A few hours later, the activity outside on the castle grounds had died down, and silence had settled into almost every corner of the kingdom. Keara opened her eyes, feeling a presence in her room. She looked in the direction of the presence.
‘Who are you?’ she asked.
The figure stepped into the moonlight, revealing a long midnight blue gown and pale skin, ‘I am Princess Adriel of the Night Elves. You have been searching for us.’
‘No, I haven’t.’
‘Your mind has been so restless that your thoughts have reached us within the mountains. You seek our guidance.’
‘That I do.’ Keara replied, after a moment’s consideration.
‘A council of Night Elves will be awaiting you in the forest within three days.’ Adriel stated, then handed an item to Keara, ‘This belonged to Queen Ethera. She often used it when she was in need of our guidance. At any given time, it will lead you straight to us. We’ll be waiting for you.’
Keara looked down at the item. It was a dragonfly, made from dark metals, almost glowing in the moonlight. She rubbed her thumb over it, admiring the simple beauty of the creation. She looked up at Adriel, but she was gone.
Keara opened her eyes. She had been dreaming. She sat up and stared out the window; the moon was still high in the sky and everything was quiet. She lifted her hand, looking at it. The dragonfly was lying in her palm. The Night Elves had contacted her while she was in Reverie. She had doubted that they really would’ve tried to make contact with her, but she was glad that they had.

The next morning, Deryck was sitting in a comfortable chair in Artemis’ chamber. He was staring out at the rising sun.
‘Don’t you think we made a mistake, lying to Keara?’ Deryck asked.
‘I think we did. And I’m afraid of what she might do if she finds out.’ Artemis said, leaning against the door of the balcony, also looking at the rising sun.
‘Keara isn’t the type to bare a grudge.’
‘Maybe not. But the secret archive contains all the information she’s looking for. Everything she needs to keep the balance of this world in order. And we told her it doesn’t exist, because we’re too afraid of trusting anyone with something so valuable.’
‘Don’t you trust her?’ Deryck sat up, never thinking that he would ever have to ask his brother that question.
‘I do trust her, I just...’ Artemis didn’t know how to put his thoughts into words.
‘You don’t trust her completely. On account of what she did back when Sharzak still had control over her.’
‘Yes.’ Artemis admitted. ‘And no matter what, she is still that creature.’
‘Back then, she was just another one of Sharzak’s minions. Now she is Crucis Salerra; in control of her actions. It’s a part of her as much as your soul is a part of you.’ Deryck defended Keara.
‘I know, Deryck. But hundreds of years of history, has made me sceptic.’
Deryck realized what Artemis was thinking, ‘This isn’t about Keara being Crucis Salerra, is it? It’s about her being a Dark Elf.’
Artemis turned to Deryck, ‘I’m sorry little brother. I don’t mean to be prejudice towards the woman you love, but it’s common knowledge; where the Dark Elves are, destruction is sure to follow.’
‘That’s not always the case, Artemis.’ Deryck was a little angry at his brother, ‘She has risked her life many times in order to keep us safe. She even risked her life to save yours. She’s not just any Dark Elf, she’s the Queen. She doesn’t just care about the survival of her own kin; she cares about everyone around her. I thought that you, being the king and all, would’ve been more open-minded about that.’
‘It’s not my job to worry about the fate of the Dark Elves, Deryck.’ Artemis started.
In that moment, Deryck saw something dark flash across his brother’s face; something he had not seen before.
‘Or even the other elven species.’ Artemis continued, ‘My duty is to the humans of Edlenna.’
Deryck sat forward in his chair, suddenly getting very serious, ‘Before I met the Ravens, I probably would’ve agreed with you.’
Artemis looked at Deryck. He was surprised that his brother didn’t agree with his decisions.
‘But after spending more time with them, I realized that every living being relies on each other. One cannot exist without the other.’
‘Are you trying to say that if, for some reason, the Dark Elves died out, we would cease to exist?’
‘Think about it, Artemis. If Keara and her kin didn’t exist, what would’ve happened to us if Sharzak had come for our kingdom?’
‘I guess we wouldn’t stand a chance.’ Artemis admitted.
‘We wouldn’t.’ Deryck agreed.
‘But I still can’t tell her about the archive. It’s too valuable and too dangerous.’ Artemis said.
‘Do you honestly think that I would take the information and betray you?’ Keara said, standing by the open door, arms crossed. Her eyes were even darker than they were the previous night.
Deryck quickly got to his feet and looked at her. Artemis was completely surprised by her sudden presence, even more so that he had left the door open, and could only utter her name.
‘My kin may be considered to be evil, but our existence is also on the line. And we tend not to stab people in the back. Unlike humans.’ she was trying very hard to contain her anger.
‘I didn’t mean it like that, Keara.’ Artemis tried to defend himself, but the tone in his voice betrayed him.
And in that instant, Keara saw what Deryck had seen. Something that didn’t seem to be a part of Artemis, flashed across his face and reflected in his eyes.
‘Really? It sounded like that was exactly what you meant.’
‘Well; if you only heard the last few sentences, of course that’s what you’re gonna think.’ Artemis didn’t sound like a king in that moment, more like a liar trying to hide the truth.
‘I heard it all, Artemis. I am a Dark Elf, you know. I have excellent hearing.’
‘I’m sorry, Keara. I never meant to offend you.’
‘I’m sure.’ Keara said sarcastically. She was so angry, she knew that if she stayed there any longer, she might hurt one of them, ‘And by the way, we found it. It’s easy to tell when you humans are lying. At least now, we have a chance of survival.’ she turned and walked away at a fast pace. Her left hand clenched in a fist, purple fire prickling at the edges; trying hard to contain it.
Deryck looked at Artemis, then turned and ran after Keara.
‘Keara!’ he called after her.
‘Not now, Deryck.’ she said, still walking away as fast as she was willing to move without breaking into a run.
‘I’m sorry, Keara.’ he grabbed her clenched fist, but quickly pulled away, ‘Ow.’
She stopped and turned to face him.
He held his slightly burned hand, but didn’t really pay attention to it, ‘I really am sorry. I wanted to tell you, but I swore to my brother I wouldn’t. I know that’s why you avoided me last night.’
She removed the flowers from a vase standing on a table near them. Taking his burned hand in hers, she poured the water from the vase over his hand and covered it with her other hand, healing the burns.
‘Yeah, I was angry. You obviously had your reasons. So we went looking for it ourselves. That wasn’t the right thing to do, either, but...’
Deryck interrupted her, ’You had your reasons.’
She nodded.
‘You’re upset about what Artemis just said.’ Deryck knew.
‘Of course I am.’ Keara admitted, ‘I could atone for my previous actions for a hundred years, but that wouldn’t matter. Because the only thing people would ever see when they look at me is pure evil.’ She let go of his hand, the burns were completely healed.
‘But you’re not evil, Keara.’ he said, stepping closer to her, softly daring to put his hand on her waist, hoping she wouldn’t object.
And she didn’t. She welcomed the touch, ‘You’re the only person who believes that, Deryck.’
‘Isn’t that enough?’ he wanted to know.
‘Under normal circumstances, that would’ve been perfect. But those who see me as evil are also the ones who expect me to fight this war for them; so unfortunately, just your acceptance is not enough.’ she replied, turning around and walking down the steps, towards the door leading outside.
Deryck followed her, taking her hand in his.
‘You mean Artemis, don’t you?’
‘Among others, yes.’ she answered, ‘He’s become quite close-minded, hasn’t he?’
‘He has, but I don’t understand why.’ Deryck said, ‘After that demon crept into his mind, he has never been the same.’
‘I know. The human mind cannot withstand such torture. He should not have survived. Had we given that demon one more night, your brother would probably be dead.’
‘But he survived because of you. He should trust you with his life.’
‘Not everyone is capable of such trust.’
‘But I thought he would be.’
‘Yeah, me too.’ she admitted, ‘But let’s not talk about that anymore.’
‘That’s a good idea.’ Deryck agreed, ‘Um, where are we going?’
‘The stables.’ Keara answered shortly.
‘You wanna go for a ride in the field?’
‘Uh, no. I’m going into the forest.’
Deryck stopped walking and pulled Keara’s hand, forcing her to stop, ‘Why do you wanna go there?’
‘The Night Elves want to meet with me in the forest in three days. Considering that they live in the mountains, they will probably meet me halfway. But then I have to leave now.’
‘I’m coming with you.’ he said.
‘No, you’re not.’ she objected, ‘You have to stay with your brother.’
‘But what about you?’
‘I’ll be fine. But Artemis needs you.’
‘But Keara.’
‘Please Deryck. I’ll be fine. I need you to keep an eye on your brother.’
‘Very well.’ he agreed reluctantly, ‘But please be careful.’
‘Of course.’

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