Chapter Sixty Four
Keara found it hard to put the book down since she started reading, despite the pain it was causing her. She knew that it would give her the answers she so desperately needed. Every few minutes she would stop reading, just for a few seconds, in an attempt to process the horrific images in her mind. But it was growing increasingly harder. She thought that she would be able to easily lock it away because of what she had gone through whilst under Sharzak’s control, but this was quite different. She couldn’t trick herself into hiding from the images, nor could she simply disregard them. She knew that they were of some kind of importance, but she couldn’t decide what it could possibly mean. She saw flashes of passed enemies and some that looked familiar, though their appearances were quite blurred. And the more she read, the more the images seemed to become part of her own memories. It started feeling as though she was reliving past experiences. Soon she would not be able to distinguish between her own memories, those of Queen Ethera and those that had been forcibly placed inside her mind.
Finally her head started aching so much that she simply had no other choice but to close the book. She leaned back in her chair and closed her eyes for a moment; but only a moment, for the images became more vibrant when she closed them. Finally she stood up and walked out her room. She started walking down the passage, but before she could take more than a few steps, she staggered in pain, leaning against the wall, clutching her side. She moved her hand away, expecting to see blood, but there was nothing, even though it felt as though someone had just stabbed her. A horrifying realization came upon her. The images in her mind weren’t just flashes of memory. They were also of true feelings, happenings and experiences. She dearly hoped that she wouldn’t experience the pain of everyone in those memories. It seemed more painful, than reality. She took a few more steps, then suddenly bent over backwards before falling to the ground, as though she had been struck in the head. She lay on the floor for a moment, dazed. She looked up at the ceiling, but her gaze seemed to follow someone who stood over her before moving on. Slowly, she got to her feet. She leaned against the wall, slowly taking one step at a time.
She finally made her way to the common room. She stood there, looking and feeling completely out of place; looking at everyone, but seeing other people sitting among them and moving around the common room.
Michael had been sitting by the fireplace, just staring into the fire, anxiously waiting for the next day to come. His brothers and father would be returning on the morrow. But as soon as Keara stepped in the room, he turned to look at her, sensing that his sister was distressed. He stood up and kissed his wife before walking over to Keara. He touched her arm softly. She seemed startled. Her eyes wild. She kept looking around her. She seemed afraid.
‘Keara.’ Michael said in a low tone, hoping not to startle her again.
She looked at him, but she seemed not to recognize him.
‘You wanna take a walk?’ he asked.
For a moment she hesitated, then finally nodded her head and they headed towards the door. Michael moved to open the door and a great gust of wind rushed in. It blew the hair out of Keara’s face. She shivered for a moment, then walked out the door once she calmed. Michael followed her out, closing the door behind him.
They walked in silence for a little while before Michael finally spoke. ‘It’s getting worse, isn’t it?’
She just nodded her head. Her side and head were still aching. It wasn’t as painful as it would’ve been had it been real, but the pain didn’t feel completely superficial either.
‘Are the images becoming more?’
Again, she nodded, ‘And more horrific. And real.’
Michael looked at her, ‘Real?’
For a moment, she hesitated, ‘When I walked down the passage, it felt like someone had stabbed me in my side, and after that, someone struck me in the head.’ she paused, ‘But it wasn’t really happening. But it still hurt.’
He grew silent. He didn’t know what to tell her to reassure her that she would be okay. For the first time, he didn’t know how to protect his sister. He examined her as they walked. The golden veins had spread even farther. Some had moved down the side over her neck, seeming to go across her shoulder under her clothes. Others were moving toward her chest. Some had curved around the back of her ear, making its way to her back. Some were moving into her hair, over her scalp. Some even seemed to be melding with the strands of her hair. Her complexion had become even more pale than it had been before.
‘Maybe you should stop reading that book.’ he finally said, ‘And find a way to remove the gold from your skin.’
‘You can’t remove what’s a part of me.’ Keara said, staring into the distance.
‘It wasn’t always a part of you. We can still do something before it’s too late.’
‘There is no way. The magic chose me to carry this burden.’
‘Maybe I should’ve been the one to open the book.’ Michael said.
‘It would not have chosen you.’
‘How do you know that?’
‘I just know.’
‘Your spirit is not strong enough to carry this burden.’
Keara stopped walking. It took Michael a moment to realize that she was no longer next to him.
‘I may not be strong enough, but neither are you. And you are not the one who decides how strong I can become.’
‘I only wanna protect you.’
‘Maybe you should stop trying.’
Michael’s eyes grew big. He had not expected her to say that. He looked deep into her eyes; she was in great pain, but she was not lost.
‘But; you’re my sister.’
‘Some burdens are meant to be carried alone.’
‘You can’t expect me to just stand by and watch as you lose yourself bit by bit.’
‘Sometimes you have to lose yourself to find your stronger self.’
‘I think you’re as strong as you’re gonna get.’
‘Maybe. Maybe not.’ she said, ‘But that I have to discover for myself.’
‘Then what am I supposed to do while you discover that?’
‘Live your life. Let me worry about myself.’ she said, and deciding that she had said enough, she stepped past him and continued to walk.
He stood there for a moment. How could she just expect him to stand idly by? As the oldest, it was his duty to watch over his younger siblings. He turned and followed Keara, slowly catching up to her. They walked in silence. And all the while, Michael continued to ponder her calmness over the situation.
Deryck had decided to stay with Keara during the night. Though it seemed like she didn’t always know he was there. He desperately wished he could do something to ease her mind and her pain, but he knew there was nothing to do. And even if there was, she wouldn’t let him. So he would just support her and comfort her as much as he could. He would be there every step of the way. He would be there if she needed him. He lay in bed next to her. She had gone into Reverie, but he simply could not fall asleep.
The moonlight shone through the window and played across the golden veins. He looked at her more intently. She was not resting easy. He watched as she started scratching at the veins as though she was trying to remove them. She broke the skin and soon thin threads of blood were running down her cheek, her fingertips were covered in blood. But she continued to scratch the veins, but no matter how hard she tried, they would not budge. He took her hand and with a struggle managed to pry it away from her face. He kept holding her hand and she held his tightly. After a moment, her grip loosened. He let go and slowly got up. He picked up a cloth on her dressing table, then sat down on the bed, took her hand and cleaned the blood off her fingertips. He then leaned over her and bit by bit wiped the blood off her face.
The sky had barely started growing lighter by the time Adin and his sons were travelling again. The bandits had now completely ceased their complaining and there were no longer any remarks or insults being whispered under their breaths. The few volunteers that were left had also grown tired of the long journey. But despite everything that had happened, they didn’t regret making the journey. They had gotten to know the Ravens they had been travelling with for so long. Alexander and Jonathan often shared stories of their past adventures with their two brothers and sister; the dangers they had faced and the people they had met. Some had asked about Crucis Salerra after they had seen the transformation, but Alexander and Jonathan refrained from talking too much about it. Mostly because they felt it wasn’t their place to tell stories about something that most people wouldn’t understand. They were proud of Keara for slowly learning to gain control over Crucis Salerra, even though it wasn’t complete yet, but they knew it was something she still needed to accept completely, especially because of what it could mean for the future of the Ravens and the future of the world.
By early afternoon, they finally arrived at the castle gates. The gates opened and as the Ravens entered, soldiers approached them and took the bandits into custody. The volunteers were directed to the tiny inn where they would be able to stay and the Ravens continued onward, first to the stables to finally let their horses rest and then to the Raven barracks. Everyone was excited to see them. They had finally returned, and more importantly, they were alive. Everyone was in the common room, except Keara.
‘Where’s Keara?’ Alexander asked, ‘Is she okay?’
‘She’s alive. But she’s not okay.’ Michael said.
‘What do you mean? Where is she?’ Alexander asked again.
‘She’s in her room.’ Michael answered shortly, ‘Come on. She’ll want to know you’re all safe.’
Alexander, Jonathan and Adin followed Michael down the passage to Keara’s room. He slowly opened the door.
Keara was sitting on her bed, leaning against propped up pillows and a blanket wrapped around her. She seemed to be staring at the wall. The scars from the previous night still on her face. She was completely pale, even her hair had lost its vibrancy. Deryck was sitting on the foot of the bed, watching her. He refused to leave her alone.
For a moment, none of them knew what to say. Michael walked up to Deryck.
‘What happened?’ he asked softly.
‘She scratched herself, trying to remove the gold, in her sleep.’ Deryck answered without looking up at Michael.
‘The dreams have rapidly gotten worse.’ Michael realized, ‘We have to do something.’
‘You will do nothing.’ Keara suddenly said, still staring into nothingness, her voice soft and low.
Michael knelt down next to her, ‘It’s getting worse, Keara. It’s gonna kill you.’
She finally turned her head and looked Michael straight in the eye, ‘Things always get worse, before they get better. And if it kills me; so be it.’
‘Has she completely lost her mind?’ Alexander exclaimed.
She looked up at Alexander, ‘No. But sometimes it’s easier to just accept your fate, rather fight against it.’ then she added, ‘I’m glad you’re safe.’
Alexander knelt down next to Michael, who was still completely stunned, ‘But you have to fight against it.’ Alexander pleaded, ‘We can’t win this war without you.’
‘Of course you can.’ Keara said, doubting the statement herself.
‘You know we can’t.’ Jonathan said from behind everyone.
She looked at him. Her eyes were tired. She wanted to close her eyes and never wake up again. Finally she looked away and closed her eyes. She started breathing deeply, trying in vain to go into Reverie.
Her brothers slowly made their way out of her room. Before Adin could leave, he sat down on the bed beside Keara. He took hold of her hand, holding it softly between both his hands. She didn’t react.
‘You’ll get through this, Keara.’ Adin’s voice was almost a whisper, ‘You’re stronger than all of us. You know it’s true.’
He put her hand down and slowly got up to walk out the door. A little way down the hall, Adin saw his sons talking, most probably about Keara and her current state.
‘Was that gold on her face?’ Alexander asked.
‘Yes.’ Michael answered shortly.
‘How did it get there?’ Jonathan asked.
‘That’s a long story.’ Joseph said.
‘Why is she acting so strangely?’ Alexander asked again.
Michael struggled to find the words, ‘It’s complicated.’
‘Will she get better?’ Alexander started piling on the questions.
‘I sure hope so.’ Michael exclaimed.
‘She looks sick. She looks withered. Are you sure she’s gonna get better?’ Alexander insisted.
‘I don’t know.’ Michael threw his hands up, ‘I’m not even entirely sure what had happened to her and why she is suddenly so content with dying. I just know she found a book in the archives and she started acting differently the moment she opened it.’
‘So the book was cursed?’ Jonathan asked.
‘No. I don’t know.’ Michael admitted, ‘I mean, I don’t think so.’
‘Which is it?’ Alexander was still as short-tempered as he had been during the last few days of their travels.
‘I don’t know.’ Michael said a little more forcefully, ‘I just know the book’s name is Thessandria and no one can read it, except Keara.’
‘So we can’t even read the book to find out how we can help her.’ Jonathan concluded.
‘No, we can’t. I don’t think there is a solution in there, anyway.’ Michael said.
‘Why not?’ Jonathan enquired.
‘If there was, Keara probably would’ve found it by now.’ Joseph answered.
‘But there has to be a way to help her.’ Jonathan said.
‘Though, even if there was, she wouldn’t let you help her.’ Michael pointed out.
‘Why wouldn’t she want our help?’ Alexander didn’t understand.
‘She got this idea in her mind that this is a burden she has to carry alone.’
‘That’s ridiculous.’ Alexander said.
‘Is it really?’ Adin started as he approached his sons, ‘Would any of you have done it differently if you were in that situation?’
‘Yes, I would’ve.’ Alexander answered, before taking the time to think about it.
‘Really?’ Adin didn’t believe him, ‘Would you really want to burden your family with a possible danger when they already have so many concerns? Would you really make them worry when you yourself don’t feel worried? And though they would happily carry your burden, would you really want them to suffer?’
Alexander didn’t know what to say. His father had caught him completely off guard with these questions, ‘No.’ he didn’t look his father in the eye.
‘Then why would you expect Keara to do that?’ Adin asked.
‘Okay, I can accept that, but she doesn’t have to push all of us away.’
‘Whoever said she’s pushing us away?’
‘It’s obvious, dad.’
‘I don’t think she’s pushing us away.’ Adin suggested, ‘I think she’s just learning how to deal with this in her own way. And she has to be given the space and time to figure it out.’
Alexander fell silent. He hadn’t considered that possibility.
‘Before you all start judging Keara for her decisions, perhaps you should consider why she made them in the first place.’ Adin said and slowly pushed past his sons, leaving them in the hall to consider his words.
‘Hey dad.’ Joseph said, before Adin could walk too far.
‘You really think Keara isn’t worried about her situation?’
‘No. Some aspect of it does bother her, but she doesn’t seem to be worried. And so you should not worry.’ Adin said, then turned and walked away.
‘Dad’s right.’ Jonathan said, ‘If Keara’s not worried, we shouldn’t be worried. We should support her and be there for her when she needs us.’
Alexander just nodded his head. Their most recent trip had brought out the worst in him. He never thought that he could act the way he just did. He could just kick himself.
‘In the meantime, I think it would be a good idea if you get some rest.’ Michael said, looking at both Jonathan and Alexander, but longer at Alexander.
‘I agree.’ Jonathan said with a yawn. He greeted everyone and went to his room.
Alexander just mumbled, ‘See you later.’ and avoided eye-contact as he made his way to his room.
Joseph and Michael went back to the common room, sitting with their wives, taking in the warmth that came from the fireplace.