The sun started setting by the time the Ravens finally arrived home. They were more relaxed now that they were among familiar surroundings. Their horses were lazily trotting down the dirt road leading to the house. High up in a tree, near the road, a black panther was sitting on one of the branches, looking down on the siblings, seeming content with their passing.
There were children playing outside the house; young boys and girls. They were the children of Alexander, Jonathan and Michael. As soon as they saw the Ravens riding up the road, they all started shouting happily and running towards them. All the adults inside the house stepped outside to see what was going on. Smiles grew on their faces at the sight of the tired but content Ravens.
As the children approached them, they were all greeted with smiles and hand-shakes. Some of the younger children were lifted up into the saddles and rode all the way to the house. The others skipped along with the trotting of the horses.
The children were a mixture of human and elven. Some had more prominent elven features, such as Michael's eldest son who had silver hair, and Alexander's one daughter who had bright green, almost luminescent eyes.
Once in front of the house, the children scattered back to their games and the Ravens climbed off their steeds, where they became siblings with a huge, loving family and not comrades with weapons and unknown power.
Michael and Alexander first embraced their wives with gentle hugs and soft kisses. Jonathan embraced his husband, and kissed the foreheads of their three adopted children; two Woodland Elves and one human. Keara and Joseph hugged their tearful mother, all too joyful that her children had come home alive, and their strong father, proud of what his children had become.
They all stood outside talking; asking questions about their journey and what had happened since the last time they had seen each other and what was happening at Varden Castle, hoping to find a piece of interesting information.
‘Keara!’ a voice shouted from out of nowhere.
‘Oh yes, I forgot to tell you.’ Keara’s mother started.
Keara just looked at her mother, not sure what to make of the statement, until a pixie leapt into her arms, curving arms around her neck tightly.
‘Keara!’ the pixie shouted again.
Keara almost stumbled and had to take a few steps backwards to keep her balance, ‘Sicily.’ she complained, but still hugged her back. Sicily finally let go.
‘It’s good to see you again, my friend.’ Sicily said, holding Keara at arms-length.
‘It’s good to see you too.’ Keara said with a smile.
They hugged again, but this time it wasn’t as intense.
‘Dinner will be ready in a short while.’ her mother said, ‘Why don’t you take your horses to the stables and get them settled for the night.’
‘Sure.’ the Ravens seemed to agree.
Keara took Legacy’s reins and started leading him towards the stables, chatting with Sicily all the way. Her brothers followed her example.
‘So, what brings you here, Sicily?’ Keara finally asked.
‘Can’t I just drop in to see my best friend?’ Sicily pretended to be offended.
‘Of course you can.’ Keara answered without sounding apologetic about her question, ‘But considering that you will be starting your life journey soon, this is the last place I expected you to be.’
‘The life journey has been placed on hold.’ Sicily informed.
‘Since when?’ Keara couldn’t believe it.
The life journey played a great part in the future of Sicily and her people. When they reached a certain age, they were sent out into the world, with a certain amount of supplies and as much time as they desired, in order to make their own way. Some had come back to their people, greatly enlightened and open minded, becoming great leaders and serving their people well. Some experienced the journey differently. Some found that they were able to communicate with plants or animals. Others could hear the whispers in the wind and understood the stories the earth told. For such a journey to be put on hold, something very big must’ve gotten in the way.
‘Since ten days ago.’
‘Oh.’ was all Keara said. She knew exactly what that meant.
‘You were there, weren’t you?’
Keara hesitated for a moment, ‘Yes.’
‘Then you know how severe this is.’
‘It’s one of the reasons we came home. We need to consult with our father.’
‘I thought you would.’ Sicily said, ‘Which is why I came here. I knew you would come eventually.’
Keara fell silent for a moment, ‘Is it our fault that he broke free?’ she had to ask and now prepared herself for the answer.
‘No. It was bound to happen eventually.’ Sicily answered.
‘But why? Isn’t a ward like that supposed to remain forever impenetrable?’
‘Technically yes. Unless you know how to break down the spell over time.’
‘And, I’m guessing someone did.’
‘Yes.’ Sicily replied, ‘Sharzak had poisoned the ward; slowly breaking it down, until eventually, it could no longer hold the evil inside.’
‘How was he even able to do that?’ Keara asked as she started grooming Legacy.
‘He performed a ritual, and a rather simple one really.’
‘Really?’ Keara stopped brushing Legacy for a moment to look at Sicily.
‘Yes. He knew he wouldn’t be able to destroy the ward outright. No conventional magic would.’
Keara just nodded her head, then looked at her friend, ‘How do you know all of this, Sicily?’
‘We felt the disturbance early on. So we went to investigate. We found some lasting traces of the ritual and the residue of your aura. That’s how I know you were there. You need to hide your aura more efficiently, by the way.’
‘I know. Just, at that time, hiding my aura was the last thing on my mind.’
‘I know.’ Sicily replied, ‘I found your blood too.’
Keara continued to brush Legacy, ‘So what should we do?’
‘I don’t know.’
Keara stopped brushing Legacy again and looked straight at Sicily, ‘So you came all this way to tell me, we have a new enemy that we have no way of defeating.’
‘I thought I’d give you the heads-up.’
‘Thanks.’ Keara brushed Legacy.
‘And I also happen to think that you might be the only being who might be able to beat him.’
‘Really?’ Keara felt flattered for a moment, ‘Why?’
‘Because of your genes.’
‘My genes?’ Keara didn’t understand.
‘Yes. You are capable of becoming amazingly powerful. I don’t think anyone can do what you’re capable of.’
Keara wore a mask of confusion, ‘What are you talking about?’
Realisation dawned on Sicily’s face, and now more than ever, she wish she hadn’t said anything, ‘Michael hasn’t told you, has he?’
‘Told me what?’ Keara’s eyes grew dark. She didn’t appreciate her family keeping secrets from her, and now she found out that her best friend was also keeping secrets from her.
‘I’d rather have Michael tell you. It’s not my place to say anything.’
‘He won’t, so you might as well.’
‘I’m sorry, Keara. It’s not my place.’ Sicily said and quickly left the stable before Keara could say anything else.
After the horses had been tended too, everyone gathered inside the house for dinner. Sicily felt rather awkward after she had almost spilled the beans on a secret that everyone seemed to know except Keara. Michael could tell that something was eating at Keara, but he couldn’t figure out what. Though sometimes when Keara would flash a look at him, it almost seemed as though he could discern what was going on in her mind.
She tried to put it out of her mind, but it bothered her greatly that her own brother had told her best friend, but avoided talking to her about it. And she thought that it would be more important for Michael to talk to her rather than her friend.
As night fell, the children were playing by the fireplace where their fathers listened to every unimportant word a child had to say, and smiled.
Meaningless conversations took the family deep into the night. Children were put to bed after a secret kiss had been place on their foreheads by their fathers. And the conversations continued even deeper into the night. Eventually the rest of the family retired to their rooms and the only ones who remained around the fireplace, were the Ravens.
‘It’s good to be home.’ Michael said softly.
‘It most certainly is.’ Alexander agreed.
Keara was sitting in the chair closest to the fireplace. She didn’t say anything but she was also very happy to be home; unconsciously fumbling with the necklace around her neck. She had managed to put the thoughts of the day out of her mind, hoping that everything would be revealed to her soon enough.
‘We still have to tell dad.’ Joseph noted.
‘We’ll do that in the morning.’ Keara started, ‘I don’t think dad wants to hear bad news the moment his children arrive home.’
‘She’s right. We’ll leave it till morning.’ Michael agreed with Keara.
He looked in her direction, and though her demeanor seemed to have changed and softened as the night wore on, he couldn’t help but feel like there was still something she was upset about.
They all stared into the fire, when Jonathan said, ‘It feels a little strange to be so relaxed.’
‘Enjoy it while you can. Circumstances might be getting very tense very soon.’ Keara commented.
‘I know.’ Jonathan admitted, ‘In a short time, the world will not be a safe place anymore.’
There was a pause, then Joseph said, ‘What are we gonna do?’ he sounded a little uneasy.
‘I don’t know. But perhaps, dad can help us.’ Keara said, looking at Joseph, and just like that, she was reminded of this afternoon. She knew it wasn’t really a betrayal, but to her, that’s exactly what it felt like.
Sicily didn’t say a word regarding the matter. She thought it best to keep quiet and only mention the most relevant details. And she didn’t want to make the situation worse than it already was.
Keara noticed that Joseph was starting to get uneasy, ‘Try not to think of it now, Joseph. It’s not the time to be worrying about things that have not yet happened.’
‘I’ll do my best, Keara.’ he said with a little smile.
The next morning, when the sun just started peeking over the horizon, Keara and her brothers were already outside, training; making sure their skills and senses stayed sharp during their reprieve. Their mother, Caitlyn, came down to the kitchen and heard swords clashing. Frantically, she burst through the front door to find her children practicing. She breathed a sigh of relief and walked over to them.
Sicily was standing to one side, watching the siblings spar when she noticed Caitlyn, ‘They were already at it before the sun even started rising.’
‘Why are you out here so early? You should still be in bed.’ she exclaimed with motherly love.
‘We are always out here so early, mom.’ Keara said.
‘That’s true, even when you were children. But I had hoped that I would see you coming down the stairs when the sun is high in the sky, rubbing the sleep out of your eyes.’ Caitlyn said.
‘We don’t sleep, mom.’ Michael said.
‘Yes, I know, son. You go into Reverie.’ Caitlyn knew, ‘Come in and have some breakfast.’
‘Sounds like an excellent idea.’ Joseph said, putting an arm around his mother’s shoulders.
‘Any suggestion of food is an excellent idea to you, Joseph.’ Keara remarked.
Everyone chuckled along with Keara at that remark.
Sicily stopped Keara on her way inside, ‘I’m sorry about yesterday. I didn’t mean to upset you. I never knew that Michael had never told you.’ Sicily apologized.
‘It’s alright, Sicily. I wasn’t angry with you. I was angry because he told you and not me. It’s become more necessary than ever for him to tell me, but he still refuses.’ Keara explained.
‘What do you mean?’ Sicily didn’t understand.
‘You don’t wanna know.’ Keara said, ‘Come on. Let’s get some breakfast.’
Not long afterwards, Keara and her brothers were having breakfast with the rest of the family. After breakfast, Keara’s father, Adin, sat the Ravens down in the living room around the fireplace. He was somewhat concerned for his children as he had noticed something was wrong from the moment they arrived home the previous day.
‘What seems to be bothering you children?’ Adin started.
For a moment, none of them knew what to say. They hadn’t realized that their father had sensed the discomfort. They all looked at each other, not sure who should start, then everyone looked at Keara. She jumped, realizing that everyone expected her to say something.
She sighed, ‘When we were escorting Lady Elayne to Varden Castle, we were attacked by a group of Dark Elves.’
‘When did this happen?’ Adin asked concerned as he knew that Dark Elves can be very ruthless.
‘Ten, eleven days ago.’ Keara thought.
‘Do you know why?’
‘No.’ Keara shrugged.
‘You didn’t give them a reason, did you?’ Adin knew the answer, but he had to ask.
‘Interesting.’ Adin considered this piece of information.
‘But that attack was the least of our problems.’ Alexander started.
Adin looked at Alexander, ‘Sicily had mentioned that an old enemy had risen. Is that what you mean, Alexander?’
‘Well, I haven’t heard what Sicily had to say, but I’m assuming it’s the same thing.’ Alexander admitted.
‘Who is this old enemy?’ Adin asked.
‘Sharzak.’ Keara answered.
‘He’s still alive?’ Adin couldn’t believe it.
‘Yes, but it wasn’t he who was chained down beneath the surface of the forest.’ Keara stated.
‘Yes, I heard that one of his allies had been punished in his place after he escaped his sentence.’ Adin said.
Keara just nodded her head.
Silence fell upon them for a long moment, then Adin spoke, ‘You kids know you can’t just leave it there, right? Even though it wasn’t your fault, it is your duty to track him down and bring him to justice.’
‘Tracking him down won’t be so hard.’ Michael started, ‘He will be at the Haunted Castle. It has always been his lair. Bringing him to justice will be the hard part.’
‘And it’s not like we’re gonna receive any help from the other elves, anymore.’ Jonathan said.
‘Why not?’ Adin wanted to know.
‘We don’t really know why, but ever since that day, the other elves have been less tolerant of us. The Wild Elves attacked us for the first time yesterday when we were passing through their territory. They’ve never done that before.’
‘I can see why you’re concerned.’ Adin said.
‘You wouldn’t happen to have any suggestions, would you dad?’ Keara hoped.
‘I’m afraid I don’t, Keara.’ Adin said, ‘I’ll try to find some information upon what you’ve told me. But unfortunately, the history of the Dark Elves is very vaguely known to the surface people.’
Keara looked at Michael. He was well aware that she was looking at him because he refused to share his knowledge with her or even his father.
After the conversation with their father, they went into the woods for even more training. Keara was fighting quite fiercely against Michael; so fiercely that Alexander, Jonathan and Joseph stopped their training to observe the fight.
‘Aren’t you attacking with a little too much force?’ Michael said as he dodged a lethal blow.
‘You can never attack your enemy with too much force.’ Keara said through gritted teeth and kept attacking.
‘Well, just ease up a little. One of us could get hurt.’ Michael suggested, and added as an afterthought, ‘And I’m not your enemy.’
‘Are you sure about that?’ Keara just kept powering forward.
‘Come on, Keara. Ease up.’ Michael said again.
‘Of you? Yes.’ Michael admitted.
‘Good.’ she replied and kept on attacking.
‘Good?’ he barely had time to breathe when he had to block another deadly blow, ‘What is with you, Keara?’
She pushed him far away from her with the force of her attack, making him stumble.
‘Why won’t you tell me about our history?’ she asked forcefully, ‘The Dark Elves are as much my people as they are yours. I have a right to know.’
‘I’m trying to protect you, Keara. Knowledge of our kin is dangerous, and you’re not ready yet.’ Michael answered as their blades locked again.
‘Secrecy is even more dangerous, especially secrecy of the Dark Elves’ history. And how am I not ready?’ Keara wanted to scream.
‘Guys.’ Alexander tried to distract them.
‘Our kin is evil and brutal, Keara. The less anyone knows about them, the better.’ Michael said, ’The less you know about them, the better.’
‘I don’t believe that for a second.’ Keara replied.
‘Why not!?’ Michael exclaimed, ‘Why can’t you just accept it!?’
‘Because I know you’re lying, and I know you’re hiding something from me.’ Keara answered, ‘It’s not a good idea to keep secrets from your family, Michael; especially when those secrets are about them! You know what happened to me that night at the stone ring; you can’t keep secrets from me anymore!’ Keara finished and walked away.
With her sword still firmly in her hand, she walked off into the woods, hoping that no one would follow her.
Michael and the others stood there watching her leave, knowing that it would be better to leave her alone. Keara didn’t often get mad at her brothers, but when she did, they knew it was best to let her cool down by herself.
‘She’s right, Michael.’ Alexander said, ‘I think it’s about time you tell her. She has to know what she turned into that night.’
Alexander, Jonathan and Joseph left Michael to think about it and made their way back to the house.
Keara kept walking deeper into the forest. Too angry to care where she was going, but absentmindedly, headed to the home of a very old friend. Amongst the hills in the forest, there was one with a cave not too easily seen by the human eye and covered with just enough vegetation to let some light in.
What this friend is, is indiscernible, as a shape shifter has no true form. But Keara came to know him as Korian; in the form of a black panther.
She often went to him for counsel and he helped her where others couldn’t, as his great age made him very wise.