Once Walked With Dragons

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Chapter Sixty One

Another long day of travelling had passed, but it felt like they would never reach the castle.

Keara was lying on the ground, resting her head on Michael’s stomach, just staring up at the stars, allowing her thoughts to run around a bit. She started to close her eyes, hoping to go into Reverie for a while, but she soon opened her eyes again.
‘Do you hear footsteps?’ she asked Michael.
Michael looked at her, then concentrated on the sounds around him, ‘Yeah. It sounds like a big group.’
‘They’re heading this way.’ Keara said.
‘Curious.’ Michael uttered softly.
Keara looked up at him, ‘What is?’
‘They seem to be heading dead-straight for us; not straying off the path at all.’ Michael listened again, ‘Is there any way the townspeople could know which way we were going?’
‘Not unless they were following us from the very start.’
‘Maybe they have been.’ Michael thought.
‘Guess we’ll ask them when they get here.’ Keara said, relaxing again, looking up at the stars.

Joseph was sitting outside in the cold air, with the wind blowing through his hair. He was unable to relax or go into Reverie. Something was on the verge of happening. Not at the castle, but with his family who were still out in the forest. He knew that they would face great evil before finally returning, but he didn’t know what it would be and what it would take out of them. And he knew he wouldn’t be able to help them; he could only hope that they would come home safely.
And to make matters worse, he could feel that there was something lurking inside the castle walls. He wasn’t sure what to do about it, but he didn’t want to risk placing his family in harm’s way, especially while Keara and the others were still absent. Instead he decided he would just remain alert and keep everyone as safe as he could on his own.

It was almost midnight when Keara opened her eyes again. She lifted her head off Michael’s stomach, listening intently. She elbowed him and he awoke with a slight jolt.
‘The footsteps are getting louder.’ Keara stated.
‘Almost like they’re around us.’ Michael added.
‘Pretty sure they are.’ Keara replied after a moment.
Keara and Michael slowly got up, unsheathing their weapons and waking their brothers and father in the process.
The Ravens readied themselves for an attack, but instead they only saw a large group of people approaching them from the darkness.
‘You are the Ravens, are you not?’ one of the men asked.
No one said a word, but Adin answered after a moment’s hesitation, ‘Yes. And you are?’
‘I am Pavis.’ the man answered, ‘And these are my people.’
‘And why have you been looking for us?’ Michael wanted to know.
‘We heard rumours that you were travelling back to the Varden Castle through the forest.’ Pavis answered.
‘Wow. News sure does travel fast.’ Keara said sarcastically, not believing the story.
‘That doesn’t answer my question.’ Michael stated, ‘Why have you been looking for us?’
‘We simply wish to join you on your travels.’ Pavis answered.
‘We don’t allow people to join us on our travels.’ Adin said.
They kept watching the newcomers, knowing that there was something they were not seeing.
‘Then why are all these people travelling with you?’ Pavis asked smugly.
‘They’re prisoners.’ Michael answered.
‘What have they done to deserve that courtesy?’ Pavis asked again.
‘None of your business.’ Keara answered.
Pavis brought his hands up in defence, ‘It was just a simple question.’
‘Maybe you should stop asking.’ Keara sneered.
‘So may we travel with you?’ Pavis asked yet again.
‘You may leave.’ Keara said bluntly.
‘But we’ve been travelling all night. May we at least stay here until morning?’ Pavis didn’t want to take no for an answer.
‘Not often that you see a bunch of humans travelling through the forest at night.’ Keara uttered.
‘Indeed.’ Adin agreed, ‘You may stay here until morning. On first light, we go our separate ways.’
‘Very well.’ Pavis seemed to be very happy with the statement.
Keara turned to her brothers, never taking her eyes off the newcomers, ‘Keep an eye on them. Something doesn’t feel right.’
Her brothers all agreed with her. She turned and walked back to the fire, just as her father sat down. He was getting ready to close his eyes and drift off to sleep again.
‘Dad?’ Keara started.
‘Yes, sweetheart.’ he opened his eyes again.
‘Stay alert. I have a feeling we will not have such a peaceful sunrise.’
Adin hated to admit it, but he knew that they would face great danger before morning came. And to make matters worse, he could not protect his children against it; they would have to protect him if it became necessary.
None of the Ravens went back into Reverie after that, deciding they would rather go without rest than risk being attacked in their sleep. But they quickly grew bored and there was nothing they could do to make things better. They didn’t talk much. There really wasn’t anything to talk about. They kept watch over the bandits and ensured that the newcomers kept their distance.

Some hours later, the fire started burning out and the cold started creeping back. Alexander looked at the tiny flames and got up.
‘I’m gonna get more fire wood.’
‘I’ll come with you.’ Keara reached out a hand to him.
He took her hand and pulled her up. She straightened her coat and they walked off into the darkness.
Jonathan looked up from the fire, deciding that if he stared at it any longer he would fall asleep. He looked at the bandits who all seemed to have fallen asleep; they were all still accounted for. The newcomers sitting in the distance, around their own fire seemed to be fewer than they had been when they first arrived, but that could have been because some of them decided to go for a walk. Not entirely impossible since they had travelled through the night. He did a quick headcount of the volunteers. They seemed to be far less than he remembered.
‘Is it just me, or have the number of volunteers greatly diminished?’ Jonathan asked.
Michael looked up at his brother, then to the volunteers whose numbers had indeed diminished.
‘Where are the rest of them?’ Michael asked.
‘Perhaps they went to get firewood for their own fires.’ Jonathan suggested.
‘Most of their fires have already burnt out.’ Michael pointed out. After a long moment, he continued, ‘There’s a disturbance in the air.’
‘What kind of disturbance?’ Adin asked.
‘One we should’ve noticed hours ago.’ Michael said.

Sharzak watched in his mind’s eye. He was growing impatient. If the demons didn’t act soon, they would have to wait until the following evening. Morning was approaching; with the first ray of light; the demons’ strength would weaken again and they would have to fall back until night fell and their strength grew again. Sometimes patience was the better way to go, but Sharzak no longer had any patience. He was growing anxious, even worried. He was not at full strength, he hadn’t been since his powers had been released and it would take some time for him to regain all his former power. But there were other things concerning him. He tried his best to rid himself of those concerns, but he was finding it quite difficult to get to the root of them.

Keara and Alexander wandered rather far from the camp fire, searching for pieces of dead wood. They would not cut down any trees for this purpose, which is why they wandered so far. Looking back, the fire was a mere twinkle. Alexander picked up wood as they continued to wander even deeper into the forest.
‘Have you noticed the disturbance?’ he asked Keara.
‘For some time.’ Keara answered as she put a piece of wood in her arm.
‘Why didn’t you say anything?’ he wanted to know.
‘It’s been keeping a fair distance.’
‘You wouldn’t happen to know how long it’s been here?’ he wandered.
‘Since the arrival of the newcomers.’ Keara said.
‘You think they have something to do with it?’
‘I think they have everything to do with it.’
‘Especially if they’ve been travelling through the night.’ he considered, ‘But that doesn’t explain how they knew where we are going.’
‘We return to the castle with every trip we make. It’s a logical assumption.’ Keara replied.
‘True.’ Alexander considered that statement, ‘Maybe we should go looking for the origins of the disturbance.’
‘It’s all around us, Alexander.’
‘So then what? We just wait for it to close in on us?’
‘I’m afraid so.’
‘I don’t like that plan.’ Alexander admitted.
‘Neither do I. But we can’t go looking for something that doesn’t have a specific origin.’
Alexander just nodded his head. He knew she was right, but that didn’t make the circumstances any more tolerable.
They continued to wander deeper into the forest, still picking up pieces of wood, if they could find any. As the forest became darker, the disturbance grew stronger. Alexander made a point of staying near his sister. Not because she was so powerful, but because he wanted to protect her, should she be caught off guard.
Then suddenly; movement. Both Keara and Alexander looked in the direction of the movement. It had disappeared faster than it had appeared. Something moved to their right, then disappeared. Movement behind them, disappearing just before they turned around. They dropped the wood and unsheathed their swords. A bright, warm fire no longer mattered; immediate protection did. They stood back to back, observing their surroundings. There was faint movement all around them. The movement was coming closer. Then without warning, the darkness that had slowly been closing in around them, engulfed them as dozens of demons leaped onto them and they disappeared beneath the wave of demons.
Michael and Jonathan heard the faint yelp of their brother and sister coming from deep within the forest. They leaped to their feet, unsheathing their swords, getting ready to make their way into the forest. But before they could move between the trees, the newcomers and some of the volunteers attacked them.
‘What the?’ Michael started.
At first he couldn’t understand why the volunteers were suddenly attacking them, until he noticed their eyes. No human could have such eyes.
‘Well this explains how half the volunteers disappeared.’ he said to himself.
Before he could start attacking, the many demons tore away the human skin that hid their auras. Suddenly there was a burst of dark energy.
Keara and Alexander burst out from beneath the wave of demons, fighting their way out, desperately needing to get back to their family. Several more demons overpowered Alexander, forcing him to the ground. Keara fought back several demons surrounding her, then headed to Alexander to help him. She helped him fight off many of the demons and kicked the last one, reaching for Alexander’s hand and pulling him to his feet.
She yelled frantically, ‘Come on!’ and they ran back to the camp.
They quickly joined the small circle of the Ravens who were determined to stand their ground. Keara looked around at their enemies closing in on them, and noticed rags of human skin strewn about the forest floor.
‘Dead possession.’ she uttered under her breath.
‘Yeah.’ Michael responded, ‘And they just keep on coming.’ he then quickly glanced at Keara and Alexander, ‘Are you two alright?’
‘A wave of demons, deeper in the forest. We’re fine.’ Keara answered.
Their conversation slowly continued through the fighting.
‘They killed half the volunteers but didn’t touch one bandit.’ Alexander pointed out.
‘Because the bandits are not on our side.’ Keara said.
‘There are even more now than there was the last time they attacked us on the coastline.’ Jonathan yelled.
‘Whoever sent them, really wants us dead.’ Alexander said.
‘Who would send them?’ Jonathan asked.
Keara threw an opponent to one side, fighting another, and getting just a split second to say, ‘You’re seriously asking that question?’
‘What?’ Jonathan managed to sound innocent as he hacked an opponent to pieces.
‘Sharzak.’ Keara uttered and powered through several demons, cutting them up and throwing their lifeless bodies aside.
‘You think he’s behind this?’ Adin asked, trying as hard as he could to stand his ground.
‘I know he is.’ Keara answered.
‘Well, that does make sense.’ Michael agreed, ‘But then they’re not really after us.’
‘What do you mean?’ Adin wanted to know.
Keara managed to get some distance between her and the demons, ‘They’re after me.’
Her brothers and father all glanced at her, before continuing their respective fights. Keara turned her attention back to the demons rushing towards her.
‘But why would they be after you?’ Adin asked.
‘Sharzak would rather have Keara dead if he cannot control her. She’s the only nemesis he fears.’ Michael quickly explained.
‘We can’t let him hurt her!’ Adin exclaimed, just barely managing to stand his ground.
‘Just worry about keeping yourself alive, dad!’ Keara shouted.
Before Adin could respond, Keara arched her back as her wings grew and she took to the air. She fought diligently to protect her family, as well as the volunteers who were still alive and even the bandits. She seemed to be winning, until a demon, larger than the others, with a shade of crimson red flashing across its skin, plunged a hand, fingers first, into her chest. The sensation felt like dipping a hand in water.
Keara gasped for air. She wasn’t in pain, but she was becoming weaker. At first she didn’t understand what was happening; no demon was able to drain energy from another being, but then again, no demon she had ever seen had a crimson shade running across its skin.
The demon grinned horribly, seeming to read her thoughts.
She was holding onto its arm, trying to remove his hand from her chest. But she found it hard to even move. She had to concentrate to keep her wings flapping, so she wouldn’t plunge to the ground. Together with the demon, she slowly floated down to the ground, landing as softly as she could. She dropped her sword, no longer able to keep her grip around the hilt. Slowly she lifted her hand that had gripped the sword up to the demon’s arm. With both hands she tried to remove its hand from her chest, but her strength just kept fading, and the more she struggled, the weaker she became. She was breathing heavily, her hair was curling at a fast pace and her eyes and eyelids had become extremely pale.
‘My creator will be extremely thrilled to learn of these results.’ the demon suddenly smirked.
Keara looked up at him; she was already down on one knee. She tried to speak, but she could barely utter the word “What”. She tried to think, but so much energy had been drained from her body, that she started feeling the cold, pain and fatigue creep into her bones. The demon did not expect it to take quite as long as it did, but he was still happy with it.
In her mind, she wished that one of her brothers would come to her rescue. She wanted to scream, but she simply couldn’t utter a word, or even make a sound. She kept looking at the demon; its eyes seemingly hollow. It had complete power over her, and there was nothing she could do about it. She tried to fight back, knowing that she could not die, but the harder she tried, the faster her energy was drained.
Her lips had turned blue; her body was ice cold; her heart just barely beating. Her breathing was erratic.
Michael was finally able to catch a break and started searching for Keara. He scanned the dark skies, but couldn’t see her anywhere. He heard a breathless whisper coming from behind him, barely even enough breath to utter his name. He turned to see Keara on one knee, her hair curled and skin tone becoming even paler than it usually was. A demon standing over her; its hand in her chest. Michael wondered what the demon was doing, even as he quickly approached. He saw the demon’s hand in Keara’s chest, realizing in terrible horror what was happening. He ran towards the demon, raising his sword and in one swift movement, cut the demon’s arm clean off. The demon staggered backwards in surprise, but he didn’t appear to be in pain.
Keara slowly removed the hand of the severed arm from her chest. But it didn’t make much of a difference. She was weak, on the brink of death. Her body wasn’t getting warmer and she wasn’t regaining energy. Still standing on one knee, she leaned over, putting a hand on the ground to try and steady herself.
Michael stood in front of Keara, blocking the demon’s way back to his little sister. His sword was raised in front of him, ready to defend her.
The demon looked at his severed arm. This loss didn’t seem to bother him in the least. He kept grinning his terrible grin.
It unnerved Michael that this demon could be so calm after losing its arm. And what’s worse, it was grinning. His eyes widened in horror as he watched the demon’s arm grow back. He quickly looked behind him and saw that the severed arm was still lying on the ground in front of Keara.
‘The cursed one must not live.’ the demon uttered in its horrible voice.
‘You will not touch her.’ Michael said through gritted teeth.
‘She won’t live much longer anyway.’ the demon said, ‘I’ve drained enough energy from her body to leave her dying slowly.’
Michael lost his temper, started screaming and attacked the demon. They fought hard. Michael wanted to tear the demon apart, but he couldn’t get close enough without it trying to drain his energy.
Keara finally collapsed. Her eyes closed; eyelids so pale they almost seemed white.
The demon grinned again and signaled to the others that it was time to leave. And just like that, the demons disappeared into the forest and the fight was over.
The first rays of light started peeking over the horizon, casting light over the carnage that had taken place only moments before. The Ravens looked around, unable to believe that so many people could’ve died under their watch.
Adin was leaning against a tree. He had been badly injured, but he had managed to stay conscious and defend himself. But had the fight gone on longer than it had, he might not still be standing.
Michael turned and ran back to his sister, dropping his sword next to her body. He turned her over and pulled her onto his lap. He brushed her curled hair from her face. Her eyes were still closed. He leaned in; hearing her heart was still beating, but just barely. She needed water. She needed to heal. Her wings were hanging from her back.
Alexander walked over to Michael, kneeling down next to him. He put a hand on her cheek, ‘She doesn’t have much time left. She needs water. And she won’t make it at the pace we’re travelling.’
‘You have to take her back to the castle.’ Jonathan said as he slowly approached.
‘Take Legacy.’ Adin said, moving towards them very slowly so as not to aggravate his injuries, ‘He’s the fastest, on the ground or in the air.’
‘But I can’t just leave you.’ Michael said.
‘We’ll be fine. But she won’t be, if you don’t get her to water soon.’ Adin said.
Michael just nodded his head. He tried to wrap her wings around her, trying to keep her as warm as possible, but her skin had already turned a light shade of blue. He scooped her up and carried her over to Legacy. Michael let Alexander take Keara in his arms then climbed into the saddle. He then took Keara back into his arms.
‘Her survival is now up to you, Legacy.’ Michael said urgently.
Legacy neighed and shook his mane in response. Wings started growing from Legacy’s body and he quickly took flight.
The surviving volunteers and the Ravens gathered up their things and prepared to leave. Some of the bandits had died during the battle, but the ones who had survived were too shaken up to argue with their captives, so they quietly got to their feet and complied. It would be several more days before they would reach the castle and for the first time, the bandits wished that they were behind bars. At least then their lives wouldn’t be threatened by demons and other creatures they had once believed to be fictional.

It was already midday when Michael had finally reached the castle. Legacy could feel his anxiety and didn’t bother to land in front of the gate. He flew over the huge gate, startling several guards and landed in the secluded area where Keara had already spent so much time healing in the past. Legacy’s wings didn’t even have a chance to retract before Michael jumped off his back with Keara still in his arms. He quickly carried her into the water and lowered her in as the water reached up to engulf her. Her entire body became covered with the silver substance. Michael then removed her clothes before it could dissolve. He watched as Keara’s face disappeared under the silver substance, praying that he wasn’t too late. After a few moments, he finally stepped out of the water, sitting down on the edge. Legacy breathed on Michael’s neck, wanting some reassurance that his companion would be alright. Michael reached up and scratched Legacy’s chin, trying to reassure himself that his little sister would live.
Korian padded over to Michael, sitting next to him.
‘Where have you been?’ Michael asked, a little annoyed that Keara’s guardian wasn’t there to save her.
‘I’ve been watching over your family.’ Korian answered calmly.
‘Why weren’t you there to protect her?’
‘She asked me to protect your family.’
‘Joseph stayed behind to do just that. You should’ve been there.’
‘She’ll be fine, Michael.’
‘She was on the brink of death.’ Michael said with disdain dripping from his voice.
‘She is Crucis Salerra. She will face death many more times before this is over.’
‘You should’ve protected her.’
‘She will never become who she is meant to be if I’m always there to fight her battles. She wouldn’t want me too, either.’
Suddenly, a group of guards came running towards Michael, closely followed by Deryck and Artemis. When they realized who it was, they relaxed a little.
Michael didn’t bother to turn around and face them. Deryck quickly approached him, but stopped dead in his tracks when he saw a silver-covered body in the water and Keara’s wet clothes and boots lying on the ground.
‘I didn’t have time to stop at the gate.’ Michael informed.
‘Is that, Keara?’ Deryck asked slowly.
Michael nodded. Even her wings were covered in the silver substance.
‘What happened to her?’ Deryck wanted to know.
‘Her energy was drained. Almost completely.’
‘She’s still alive?’ Deryck hoped.
‘The water would not have reacted if she was not.’ Michael replied quietly.
Deryck desperately wanted to hold Keara in his arms, feel her heartbeat, feel the warmth of her skin, but he knew that he would have to wait even longer than he already had.
Artemis dismissed his guards and after staring at the body in the water for a long moment, turned and left.
‘Shall I inform your family that you have returned?’ Korian asked.
Michael just nodded. He didn’t really want anyone to see Keara in this condition, but he missed his family dearly and his mother would be very upset if she wasn’t informed of Keara’s state.
Korian turned and left, silent footsteps moving towards the Raven barracks.
Deryck absentmindedly walked into the water, never taking his eyes off her. The water was freezing cold, but it didn’t seem to bother him.
‘Can I touch her?’ Deryck asked.
‘She’s cold as ice. But you can hold her hand if you want too. It might comfort her.’ Michael answered.
‘Will she know I’m here?’
‘She might.’
Deryck stepped a little closer to her, and softly closed his hand around hers. In an instant, he was inside her mind. Her mind seemed to be quite still, making him wonder if she really was okay. He wasn’t sure what to think of it, until he heard her voice whisper in his ears.
‘I’m okay.’
Then he was back, standing in the water beside her, holding her hand tightly. He smiled softly, knowing that it was Keara who had spoken to him. She would be okay.
The family finally arrived at the water. Joseph was the first to reach the edge.
‘What happened?’ Joseph asked.
‘Unfortunate circumstances.’ Michael answered shortly.
Caitlyn stopped next to Joseph and gasped at the sight, ‘Keara.’
‘She’ll be fine, mom.’ Michael said, finally getting up and hugging his mother.
He was still wet from being in the water, but even despite that, Caitlyn hugged him back. He turned to his wife and embraced her tightly, giving her a long, warm kiss. A tear rolled down her face, happy to see her husband alive, but also terrified that Keara might not survive. He bent down and hugged his children.
‘She has been completely engulfed. Was she injured that badly?’ Caitlyn asked Michael.
‘She wasn’t injured, mom. Her energy was drained. But she’s still alive. She’ll be fine.’ Michael explained.
‘Yes, she will be.’ Deryck added thoughtfully, never looking away from Keara.
‘How do you know?’ Joseph asked.
‘She told me.’

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