Once Walked With Dragons

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Chapter Sixty Six

The crimson demon lay motionless on the ground outside in the freezing air. He was dead, but then, he had never really been alive to begin with. Scander stood over its lifeless body, quite frustrated.

‘Why are they still dying?’ Scander asked, more to himself than any of his servants standing there with him.
‘Perhaps we didn’t perform the ritual correctly.’ one suggested.
‘The ritual was perfect.’ Scander sneered.
‘Then perhaps it was the formula.’ another suggested.
‘There is nothing wrong with the formula!’ Scander exclaimed. He did not appreciate his work being doubted.
‘What do you think it might be, master?’ another servant asked.
‘If I knew, they wouldn’t be dying.’
‘Scander!’ a voice shouted in the distance.
Scander looked up from his dead experiment.
‘I have to go. Get rid of the body.’ he turned and walked away, leaving his servants to carry out his orders.
A moment later, he approached Sharzak, ‘Yes my Lord?’
‘Where have you been?’ Sharzak demanded.
‘Just been making sure that everyone is doing their job.’ Scander replied.
‘Why? You don’t need to keep watch over my subjects. They are very loyal to me.’
‘Yes, but with my Lord’s absence, I wanted to make sure they continue to follow your orders.’
‘Well, I’m not absent anymore. There’s no longer a need for that. You should be at my side now.’
‘Yes, my Lord.’ Scander gave a small bow. He didn’t seem very happy with Sharzak’s tone.
‘Now, can you tell me why there are so many Mortags here?’ Sharzak wanted to know.
‘They are drawn to you, my Lord.’
‘I am aware of that. Why are they still alive? And so many of them. They should’ve been destroyed centuries ago.’
Scander shrugged, ‘They managed to survive, my Lord.’
‘Yes I can see that.’ Sharzak said impatiently.
They walked around the castle grounds, before Sharzak spoke again.
‘We should get rid of them.’ Sharzak stated.
‘My Lord?’ Scander had an inkling of distress in his voice.
‘They are too unreliable. We must get rid of them.’
‘But they are so powerful, my Lord. Our enemies will easily be struck down by them.’
‘Yes, and the moment the sun comes up or a fire is lit, they will turn and run to cower in the darkness.’ Sharzak said, ‘Get rid of them.’ he walked away, leaving Scander behind.
Scander’s breathing grew erratic. He was angry. These creatures had survived for centuries. They were destined to be allies. Sharzak could not simply get rid of them.
‘Scander.’ Sharzak called, still walking away.
Scander snapped out of his thoughts, and quickly followed Sharzak. He decided he would find a way to keep them around.

Deryck had brought the Raven family into the castle, to the great hall for dinner. Adin, Caitlyn, their daughter-in-laws, son-in-law and the children would be leaving in the morning and Deryck decided they should have a proper meal before they set out on their journey. Even Keara was present, despite her current state. She had not regained much colour, but she appeared to be much more calm. She was even smiling and taking part in meaningless conversations.
‘You sure you don’t want to stay a bit longer, Adin?’ Deryck asked.
‘Thank you kindly for the offer, Deryck. But we really should be getting home. We have been here much longer than we intended. And it will start snowing soon. I want to get the children home before then.’ Adin explained.
‘There’s more than enough room for you all to stay here. And warm clothes can be made for you and the children.’ Deryck said.
‘Thank you, again. But this is not our home. I’m sure you understand.’
Deryck just nodded with a smile.

It was after midnight when Keara decided to take a walk in the field again. Though, she wasn’t just wandering around. She was heading to the tower where they had imprisoned Artemis. She walked up the steps and opened the door to the room. Glaring at her, were no longer the human eyes of the king, but the eyes of a demon after power.
‘You never gave me your name.’ Keara said, leaning against the door frame.
Artemis just looked at her with deadly eyes. He couldn’t speak, he had been gagged.
‘But I don’t suppose it really matters. You’re gonna die anyway.’
She pushed away from the door frame and walked over to Artemis, bending down and looking him straight in the eye.
She took the chain from under his shirt, ‘I just came for this.’
She removed the chain from around his neck. At the end of it, was a key; the key she needed to disable the traps in the archive.
‘You won’t be needing it.’ she said as she tucked it into her pocket.
Artemis struggled against his restraints, but she just ignored him.
She was heading back to the door, ‘Did you really think that the Mother of the Golden Elves wouldn’t protect her greatest secrets from the likes of you?’
She closed the door behind her and headed down the stairs.
She made her way back to the castle and to Artemis' study. She stood there in the middle of the room, 'There must be a way in from here.' she said to herself.
She started searching; moving objects, pressing against the walls, until a wall finally slid open behind the desk.
'This must be the other passage.' she muttered to herself and stepped inside. The wall closed behind her again. Once inside, she started fumbling her hands over the wall. She tried to slide several bricks and pushed a few of them as well, but none of them moved, until she finally found the right one. She pushed the brick in and another slid open to reveal the keyhole. She took the key out of her pocket and placed it inside the keyhole. She turned it and heard all the traps deactivate and the gap in the floor close up. She removed the key and put it back in her pocket. Then she walked down the passage towards the archive.
Zarra was still sitting by the table, but she had gone into Reverie. The book she had been reading still lay open in front of her.
Keara stepped inside and only heard the steady breathing of a person resting. She walked over to Zarra and looked at the open pages. It was some kind of ritual. She looked at the other books on the table, then took the biggest one, lifting it up to her head and dropping it loudly on the table. Zarra woke up with a huge fright, jumping to her feet, immediately grabbing her dagger. But before she could react, Keara grabbed her hand.
‘This is the reason you need to rest; in a bed; in the barracks.’
‘You scared the crap out of me.’ Zarra complained.
Keara just smiled.
‘I can see you’re feeling better.’ Zarra said curtly, sitting down again.
‘Not really. Just tired of letting something like this get the better of me.’
‘So you are feeling better.’ Zarra said again, then realized no traps had activated, ‘How did you get down here so quietly?’
Keara smiled and pulled the key from her pocket, letting it dangle on the chain.
‘Wow. You really have been down here for too long.’
‘What?’ Zarra didn’t understand.
‘I got it from Artemis.’
‘He gave it to you?’ Zarra couldn’t believe it.
‘No. I took it. After we chained him down in the tower.’
‘What now?’
‘The imprint manifested completely. It has now taken over Artemis. He attacked me; about a day ago. We restrained him and took him to the tower where we chained him down. Until I can figure out how to perform the exorcism without killing him.’ Keara gave Zarra a quick summary, ‘Oh and by the way, my brothers and father are back. And my family’s going back home tomorrow.’
‘How long have I been down here?’
‘Very long. You didn’t even come to dinner.’
‘Dinner?’ Zarra had a vague expression on her face.
‘We had all been invited to dinner in the great hall. Michael was here to tell you about it.’
‘Yes, yes, he was.’
‘Why didn’t you come with him?’
‘I was still busy.’
Keara raised an unconvinced eyebrow.
‘I told him I’d be right along.’
‘And you weren’t.’
‘It’s okay. I’m not hungry anyway.’ Zarra said, but then her stomach growled.
Keara just looked at Zarra, ‘Right.’
‘Well, I wasn’t then.’ Zarra tried to convince herself as well.
‘Right.’ the sarcasm dripping from Keara’s voice.

By morning, the entire family was gathered at the gate, ready to head home. Everyone said their goodbyes and before long, the family was on their way.
The Ravens walked back to the barracks, and for a change even Zarra was present.
They all sat in the common room.
‘It’s so quiet now.’ Saresse finally spoke.
Keara just smiled.
‘How do you get used to the silence?’ Saresse asked.
‘We don’t ever really get used to it. At the Raven house, there is never silence.’ Alexander stated.
‘Why didn’t you ask your family to stay?’ Saresse asked to no one in particular.
‘It’s safer for them to be at home.’ Alexander said again.
‘And though we can’t be there to protect them, it’s better for them not to be at the focus point of war.’ Jonathan explained.
‘I see.’ Saresse said, ‘That’s very sad.’
‘Yes, it is.’ Michael paused, ‘But things will be different once this is all over.’
Everyone fell silent for a moment.
‘So what do we do now?’ Joseph asked.
‘We get Artemis back.’ Keara responded.
‘Right.’ Jonathan started, ‘And how do we do that?’
‘Without killing him.’ Alexander quickly added.
‘Draw out the Golden Elf gene.’ Keara said simply.
‘And how are we gonna do that?’
‘You are not gonna do anything. I am.’
‘You can’t do this alone, Keara.’ Michael said forcefully.
‘I have no intention of doing this alone. But drawing out the gene is not a five-person job.’
‘But you’re too weak to do it.’ Alexander remarked, ‘One of us can do it.’
‘None of you can.’ Keara said matter-of-factly.
‘How would you know that?’ Jonathan sat on the edge of his seat, thinking his sister arrogant.
‘Despite what you may be thinking, Jonathan,’ Keara started, sensing his thoughts, ‘I really am the only person who can do it. Because of this.’ she pointed at the golden veins.
‘I don’t understand.’ Jonathan admitted, ‘How does that make you different from us?’
‘This is an infusion of Golden Elf history, magic and DNA, created by the Mother of the Golden Elves herself. It has melded with my own DNA, making me capable of drawing out the gene in Artemis.’ Keara explained.
No one said a word.
‘Why didn’t you tell me sooner? We need to find a way to get those veins off.’ Michael started.
‘They cannot be removed. It is a part of me now. It has even melded with my markings.’ Keara said, pulling up her sleeve. The mark of the creature was now shaded with gold; when it was visible.
‘Okay.’ Alexander finally broke the silence, ‘But how are you gonna draw out the gene?’
‘For starters, I have to enter his mind.’ Keara said.
‘So this is gonna be a mind game, literally.’ Alexander joked.
‘Pretty much.’ Keara smiled.
‘You’re not strong enough.’ Michael said.
‘Excuse me?’ Keara was getting irritated.
‘You’re too weak to face a fully manifested demon imprint. Your mind is not strong enough for that.’ Michael said.
Keara just looked at him in disbelief.
‘You should not have opened that book. You should have brought it to me, so that I could carry this burden.’ Michael finished.
‘Wow. You really are something.’ Keara started, ‘I have gained almost complete control over Crucis Salerra and escaped Sharzak’s horrific mind games and control. I’m still standing after seeing every terrible image that Thessandria endured. Yes, I am weak now, but I am still alive. Not many people would survive those trials, not even you. Admittedly, for a while, I didn’t think I would either.’ she looked away from Michael, ‘I never said I wouldn’t need your help with what I am about to do. But if you have so little faith in me, I don’t want it.’ she stood up and headed outside. She could no longer look Michael in the eye.
‘Why do you doubt her so much?’ Joseph asked, then got up and left the room with Saresse.
Slowly, everyone left Michael alone in the common room. He started thinking about what he had said, about what Keara had said. He found it hard to believe that how he felt was wrong.

Keara was walking in the field, clearing her mind. She needed to gather energy before she faced Artemis. She could wait until her current state improved, but she didn’t know how long that might take, and unfortunately, time was running out. She needed to find the dragons, but she couldn’t leave the human kingdom with a possessed king. Slowly she started getting stronger. Her complexion changed and her eyes were not as pale anymore.
For a moment, she couldn't understand what was happening, until she looked down and noticed energy travelling up her legs from the earth.
'Didn't know I could do that.' she said. She took a deep breath. She finally started feeling like her old self again.
‘Keara.’ someone called from a distance.
She turned and looked in the direction the sound had come from. It was Deryck.
‘I’ve been looking for you everywhere.’ he said as he approached.
‘Just needed to get away for a while.’
‘From what?’ Deryck asked, but continued before Keara could answer, ‘Wow, you look different.’
‘You mean better?’
‘Yeah.’ Deryck’s cheeks flushed.
‘I feel better.’
‘When did this happen?’ Deryck asked with a happy tone in his voice.
‘Just now.’
‘I called upon the energy of the earth.’
Deryck smiled, ‘I’m glad you’re feeling better.’
Deryck’s smile faded when he saw the tower in the far distance, ‘You’re still planning on performing an exorcism.’
‘I’m afraid so.’
‘There must be another way.’
‘There isn’t, Deryck.’
‘But he’ll die.’
‘He won’t.’
‘How can you be so sure, Keara? I’ve never heard of a human surviving an exorcism. Our bodies and souls are not as strong as you Elves.’
‘True. A human’s body and soul is not as strong. But yours and your brother’s is.’
‘What are you talking about?’ Deryck didn’t understand.
‘What do you know about your mother?’ Keara asked.
‘Not much. I pretty much only know her name. My father told us stories about her when we were very young, but I can barely remember any of it.’
‘Did you know that your mother was a Golden Elf?’ Keara asked.
‘What?’ Deryck’s heart seemed to stop beating.
‘The Mother of the Golden Elves.’ she added.
Deryck didn’t know what to say, ‘How?’ he finally managed, ‘Why?’
‘Your mother decided that the secret should be kept to protect the two of you.’
‘But Artemis...’
‘The demon that invaded your brother’s mind did not do so because it knew you were half elven. It was looking for me, because Sharzak was looking for me.’
‘But now...’ Deryck was still stumbling over his words.
‘The imprint is suppressing the Golden Elf gene in your brother. That’s why it feels like he is lost. But if I can draw it out, Artemis should survive the exorcism.’

Keara and Deryck returned to the Raven barracks. Everyone was surprised to see Keara looking so much better all of a sudden.
‘You can thank mother earth for that.’ Keara said, ‘Is Zarra here?’
‘She’s on her way.’ Michael said without looking up at her.
‘You sure you wanna do this tonight?’ Alexander asked.
‘With each passing day, the imprint grows stronger. If we don’t act soon, there won’t be much of Artemis left to save.’ Keara explained.
Deryck’s heart jumped at that statement.
‘We won’t let it go that far.’ Jonathan said when he noticed Deryck’s turmoil.
Deryck just nodded.
Zarra finally arrived at the barracks, ‘I have everything we need.’
‘Okay. Then let’s go.’ Keara said.
Everyone headed to the tower in the field. They were all nervous, but then, who wouldn’t be. What they were about to do, was very dangerous, even for elves. And they didn’t know how things would turn out.
They all walked into the room. Keara sat down cross-legged in front of Artemis. The imprint was starting to physically manifest; parts of Artemis’s skin had changed and his eyes had become reptile-like. His fingers were forming claws and his hair was starting to fall out.
Keara kept looking at Artemis, her eyes revealing nothing. Zarra helped her set up a few things between her and Artemis. Keara mixed a few things together, then tossed a match into it. It exploded, breaking down the mind barrier.
‘Remember, this is only temporary. After a few hours, the barrier will be up again.’ Zarra explained.
Keara nodded. She finally closed her eyes and breathed deeply. She was beginning to focus her mind; pushing everything else aside, everything that was weighing on her mind. All that mattered now was saving Artemis.
Deryck and the Ravens waited anxiously to see what would happen. They didn’t know when the gene would be drawn out or how it would look, or if it would even show at all. They just waited.
Keara was inside Artemis’s mind. The hostility was almost overpowering. But it didn’t scare her. She started searching for a way to draw out the gene, though she wasn’t at all sure how she would do it.
Hours had passed and still nothing had happened. Beads of sweat were rolling down Keara’s face, but she didn’t even twitch. Artemis didn’t like having another consciousness in his head. He wanted her out, and made it clear with a physical struggle. Deryck kept watching both of them, not sure what to do. The Ravens wandered about the room.
Suddenly Artemis started screaming, but it was not just his voice, the other was the demon. His eyes became human again and the irises turned gold. Every physical manifestation seemed to disappear in an instant. His scream was one of excruciating pain.
Deryck wanted to do something, but the Ravens made sure he kept his distance.
Keara finally opened her eyes, breathing heavily.
‘You did it.’ Michael said, trying to keep the sound of disbelief out of his voice.
She looked at him and just nodded as she stood up and removed Artemis' gag.
‘Keara,’ it was Artemis, ‘Help me. Please. Or kill me. Just don’t leave me like this, please.’
Everyone looked at him. Keara bent down in front of Artemis.
‘We won’t leave you like this. We just needed to make you stronger before we could do anything.’ Keara explained.
‘I can’t take it anymore, Keara. He’s too strong for me.’
‘You’re not fighting him alone anymore.’ Keara stated.
“You will not get rid of me!” the voice of the demon, moving Artemis’s lips.
‘We’ll see about that.’ Keara started.
They started with the exorcism. It took long gruelling hours. It seemed as though Artemis’s screams of pain would never end. Deryck couldn’t bear to watch his brother suffer, but at the same time, he couldn’t leave him.
Keara and the others were tired, but they wouldn’t give up. They couldn’t.
Finally they succeeded. The imprint took form outside Artemis’s body, ‘He will not survive without me.’ the horrible creature uttered.
‘Even a half-elven being can survive an exorcism.’ Keara said.
Michael and his brothers plunged their swords into the demon before it could escape or attack. It let out a great, deafening howl, then turned to dust and blew away with the breeze passing through.
Artemis was unconscious, but he was definitely alive. It would be several days before he was up and about again, but at least he would be himself again; even though the awakened gene had changed some of his features.
With everything finally over, Artemis was carried back to the castle. He was put to bed and Deryck decided to keep watch over him until he woke up. The Ravens went back to the barracks, each retiring to their own room, even Zarra.
She was just about to close the door when Michael called her name.
‘Can I come in?’ he asked.
‘Sure.’ she said tiredly.
He walked in and she closed the door. She lit a candle that softly illuminated the room. Then she sat down on the bed across from Michael.
‘I just wanted to say I’m sorry.’ he started, ‘I’m sorry I doubted you. I’m sorry I had no faith in you.’ he paused, ‘It’s just, I’ve always protected you and watched over you. And with everything you’re achieving and with how powerful you are becoming, it feels like you don’t need me anymore. I guess I just wanted you to have a reason to still want me around.’
‘You’re my brother, of course I still want you around. And nothing is ever gonna change that. And just because I decided to handle certain things alone, does not mean I don’t need you. Sometimes it is necessary to carry a burden alone.’
‘But you don’t have too. You have four brothers who would willingly carry your burdens for you.’
She smiled, ‘But you all have problems of your own.’
‘Don’t you want us to help you?’
‘I want you to support me, not try to take over something that is not yours to carry out.’
‘That’s not gonna be easy.’ he admitted.
‘I know.’
‘But I’ll try.’

Several days later, a servant arrived at the Raven barracks requesting the presence of Keara and her brothers in Artemis’s chamber. They all looked curiously at each other, not sure what to expect, then got up and followed the servant to Artemis. They shuffled into the room and Deryck closed the door behind them. He took Keara in his arms and kissed her softly. They hadn’t seen each other since the exorcism as Deryck had decided to stay with his brother until he woke up.
Artemis was indeed awake, sitting up in his bed, looking a little pale, but healthy.
‘I have to apologize, to all of you.’ Artemis started, ‘I was aware that the imprint was starting to manifest, but I never told anyone. I thought I would be able to handle it on my own, but as it turns out...’ he trailed off, ‘My point is, I’m sorry. For everything. I will understand if you all hate me. And I’ll understand if you choose to leave; I would just ask you not to leave before the impending war. My kingdom will not survive without you.’
The Ravens listened intently to Artemis’s apology. They were upset about everything that had happened, but they harboured no hatred.
‘We don’t hate you, Artemis.’ Keara finally said, 'We know your actions weren't really your own.'
‘Can you ever forgive me?’ Artemis pleaded, seeming to be on the brink of tears.
‘There’s nothing to forgive.’ Alexander said, ‘We just would’ve preferred if you had told us rather than try to deal with it yourself.’
‘And we’re not leaving.’ Keara said, then rephrased, ‘Well, we’re not abandoning you.’
‘If we had a grudge against you, we would’ve left long ago. We’re the Ravens remember?’ Joseph said.
Artemis smiled softly, ‘Thank you, for what you have done.’
The Ravens appreciated Artemis’s gratefulness and apologies.
‘Deryck told me that you performed an exorcism on me.’ Artemis started, ‘I just have to know, how is it that I’m still alive?’
‘I think Keara is best suited to answer that question.’ Michael said, looking at his sister and touching her back softly.
She looked up at him and smiled. He smiled back.
‘Please tell me, Keara.’
‘Sure.’ she sat down in a chair next to the bed.
Her brothers decided to leave them to their discussions and find something to keep themselves busy with.
Deryck sat down next to Keara and took her hand in his, ‘Are you okay?’ he whispered loudly.
‘Yes, why?’ she looked at him.
‘Your hands are so cold.’ Deryck remarked.
‘I’m just regaining my strength.’ Keara said with a smile, ‘I’ll be fine.’
‘What happened to you Keara?’ Artemis asked with sudden concern.
‘What do you mean?’ Keara was confused for a moment.
‘The gold on your face.’
‘Oh. Yeah. Long story. Part of the explanation of how you survived, actually.’
‘This should be interesting.’ Artemis commented.
‘Indeed.’ Keara replied.
Keara proceeded to explain to him from the beginning. She told him how she had found the book and how she had been lead to it. What had happened when she opened the book and everything that had happened since. She explained to him that their mother was a Golden Elf and that she had appeared to her. Artemis’s features had changed slightly since, but he didn’t know until she handed him a mirror. By the end of her story, both Artemis and Deryck were quiet. They had learned many new things. Many of those things, they never would’ve guessed.
‘There is something else you should know about your parents as well.’ Keara said after she allowed them a moment to process all the new information.
The two brothers just looked at her.
‘There’s more?’ Artemis couldn’t believe it.
‘Your mother wasn’t just a warrior; she was also a peace seeker. She always believed in trying to solve problems peacefully before turning to violence. That’s why she founded the Golden Crests. And that’s why the Rorins never travelled without the Golden Crests, even to this day.’ Keara explained, ‘The crest they wear is the crest of the Mother of the Golden Elves. Your mother was a queen; not just in your world.’
‘Then why was she among humans?’ Deryck asked.
‘Because she loved your father. And he loved her. A relationship between a human and an elf, especially a Golden Elf, is usually frowned upon. But your father’s love was so pure, that her people gave their blessing.’
‘I would like to see the Golden Elves. Perhaps they can tell us more.’ Artemis said.
Keara drew a sharp breath, ‘I’m afraid that might not be possible.’
‘Why not?’ Artemis asked.
‘The Golden Elves were almost wiped out during the last Great War. The few that survived went into hiding. They haven’t been seen or heard from since.’ she explained.
‘But they were great warriors, weren’t they?’ Artemis reasoned.
‘Well, no. Golden Elves governed most of the proceedings of the world. They were not suited for battle, which is why so few survived. Your mother was the exception; a diplomat and a warrior.’
‘But we can go searching for them, can’t we?’ Artemis hoped.
‘Finding them, would be even harder than finding the Night Elves. And you can only find them when they want to be found.’
‘So, you’re saying there’s no hope.’
‘I’m sorry.’
Artemis just looked down at his hands.
‘You have to understand how important their survival is.’ Keara started, ‘If even one race or specie is wiped off the face of the earth, be it good or bad, the whole world will be thrown into disarray. So they will not show themselves, because they know how important it is to survive.’
Artemis considered this for a moment, ‘But what about Sharzak’s subjects?’
‘Many of those beings were created and have disturbed the balance. They must be destroyed.’
‘I understand.’ Artemis paused, ‘Do you think that after the war, the Golden Elves might reveal themselves?’
‘I honestly don’t know. But it’s not impossible.’ Keara answered.
‘So you do think there’s hope?’ Artemis’s face lit up a little.
‘Maybe. But I would suggest that you don’t set your hopes too high. I don’t know what will happen after the war.’ Keara said.
‘If we don’t have any hope, what are we fighting for?’ Artemis asked.
Keara didn’t answer. She understood what he meant; she just didn’t want him to hope for something that might not happen.

Keara left Deryck and Artemis to contemplate the information she had given them and decided to go for a walk. She pulled her coat tighter around her body as it was quite cold. She sat down next to the pool where she had spent so much time healing and looked down at the surface of the water.
‘What’s on your mind, Keara?’ Korian asked from a branch above her.
‘Do you think I’m strong enough to do what must be done?’ she asked softly without looking up.
‘So Michael finally got to you.’ he knew as he jumped down.
‘No. It’s not him.’ she sighed, ‘I just don’t know if I can do everything that must be done.’
‘You’ve never been the kind of person to doubt yourself.’ he was concerned.
‘I’ve never had so many burdens placed on my shoulders at once.’
‘I know it’s not easy, Keara.’
‘I wanna ask my brothers for help, but I’m not sure they can.’
‘Your brothers will bend over backwards to help you.’ he stated, ‘But you’re right, they can’t.’
Keara just looked at Korian. Cat eyes staring intently at her.
‘This is your journey, Keara. Only you can walk this path.’
Keara looked back at the water. She didn’t know what to say.
‘You shouldn’t doubt yourself so. You saved Artemis’s life and made him stronger. You are more powerful than you think.’
‘It’s not just that.’ Keara started, ‘The Golden Elves expect me to avenge their destruction during the Great War.’
‘Many creatures expect you to avenge their destruction during the Great War. Even me.’
Keara looked at Korian with wondering eyes.
‘I’m the last of my kind, Keara. And my time is drawing to a close.’
‘What?’ Keara said suddenly, hoping that she heard him wrong.
‘Everything dies, Keara. Nothing is truly immortal, not even you.’
‘I know, but you can’t die. You’re my guardian, my, my friend.’
His eyes seemed to smile a sad smile, ‘Yes, I am. But unfortunately I can’t live forever.’
‘Will you still be here after the war?’ tears started to fill her eyes.
A tear rolled down her cheek. She looked away.
‘I will travel with you when you leave to find the dragons. But I will not return with you.’
‘You already know when you’re gonna die?’ her voice trembled.
‘Strange, isn’t it?’
She sniffled, trying to stop the tears from falling and swallowed hard.
'But what about the balance?' Keara thought.
'A natural death will not upset the balance.' Korian stated.
'But if you are the last of your kind...' she trailed off.
'I do not pretend to know how mother earth works, dear one.'
The snow finally started falling, something that was usually so beautiful to her; something that normally made her feel like there was new hope. But now it only saddened her. She was losing a life-long friend, a grandfather, her angel of hope.

Her brothers were happy to see the snow. To them, it felt like the end of an era. New things would start to happen now. They might not always be good, but at least it didn’t feel like they were fighting a never-ending battle.
Keara was not as happy, though. She simply could not forget her conversation with Korian. She sat on the edge of the fountain, her legs crossed. She watched as the water froze.
‘What has upset you, Keara?’ Michael asked as he sat down next to her.
She looked up at him, her expression confused.
‘The water is freezing.’ he said, when Keara didn’t answer.
‘It’s winter and it’s snowing.’
‘True. But this water is freezing too fast to blame the weather.’
Keara just folded her arms. She tried to look away from the water, but her gaze slowly shifted back.
‘What’s wrong?’ he asked again.
‘I don’t wanna talk about it.’
‘Maybe you’ll feel better.’
She looked at Michael, ‘This isn’t one of those cases.’ then she looked back at the water.
‘That sounds severe.’ Michael remarked.
She just shrugged.
‘Will you come talk to me when you’re ready?’
She nodded her head.
She nodded again.
‘Promise?’ he asked again.
‘Yes.’ she answered.
‘I promise.’ Keara said annoyed. She knew he made her say it, so she would definitely talk to him.
‘Okay. But try not to think too much about it.’ then he smiled, ‘It’s snowing.’

Deryck and Artemis spent most of the day discussing what they had heard about their mother. Unfortunately any information in the archive, regarding the Golden Elves were protected by spells, so they could not read it. But what Keara had told them, was enough for now.

For a change, Zarra was not in the archive. She had reactivated the traps before she left to ensure that not just anyone would wander down there. She decided to spend some time with Keara and her brothers. And enjoy some time in the newly fallen snow.

That evening, everyone was with Artemis and Deryck in the great hall. Artemis thought it might be a good idea to have dinner with the Ravens, especially after everything that had already happened. Most of the night, everyone just had meaningless conversations, purposely avoiding the subject of the coming war. But the question had to be asked at some point.
‘What are you gonna do now, Keara?’ Artemis asked after everyone had gone quiet.
‘I have to find the dragons, among other things.’ Keara answered softly.
‘When are you planning on leaving?’ Artemis asked.
‘I’m not sure. But it should be soon. We don’t have a lot of time.’ she answered.
‘It would be a shame to not have the Ravens at the castle for an undetermined amount of time.’ Artemis said regretfully.
‘You won’t be without them.’ Keara said.
‘What?’ her brothers exclaimed simultaneously.
‘The kingdom will need you.’ she said to them.
‘But what about you?’ Jonathan started, ‘You can’t do this alone. It could be dangerous.’
‘I won’t be alone. Korian is coming with me.’ Keara informed.
‘But Keara.’ Michael started.
‘I made the decision to go alone, long ago.’ she acknowledged.
‘But that doesn’t mean you won’t need us.’ Alexander agrued.
‘Of course I’ll need you.’ Keara exclaimed, ‘But this kingdom will need you more.’
‘We won’t be able to convince her otherwise. She’s already made up her mind.’ Joseph remarked.
‘I have. I’m sorry if that upsets you, but you never know what Sharzak might do if we’re all gone.’
Michael just nodded his head. He didn’t want to accept her choice, but the decision had already been made. Her other brothers were also a little upset with her decision, especially since she had never discussed it with them, but they still understood.
‘Will you at least stay in contact with us?’ Joseph asked.
‘As often as I can.’ she answered.
Joseph smiled softly.
Deryck wasn’t sure what to say. He took Keara’s hand, squeezing it softly. She looked at him and he smiled at her. There was sadness in his eyes. He knew that no matter how hard he pleaded, she would not let him go with her. He watched her smile back at him and his heart broke. The possibility that he might never see her beautiful smile again was almost too much to bear. He quickly excused himself and disappeared from the great hall.
A few minutes later, Keara found him wandering down the passage near the great hall. His eyes were red. She walked up to him. He saw her coming and immediately put his arms around her, holding her tightly against his body. He didn’t say anything. He didn’t have too. She knew what he was thinking. She felt the same. A silent tear rolled down their cheeks. They could only hope that they would see each other again once this was all over.

Zarra stayed in the Raven barracks that night. She decided it would be best if she was there to support everyone. Deryck didn’t leave Keara’s side. He was going to spend as much time with her as he could before she left. Her brothers also hovered around her. Normally that would’ve annoyed her, but this time, she welcomed it. She didn’t know how long she would be gone and if she would even come back at all. Saresse helped her to pack the most essential things. It wasn’t much, considering that it would be better if she travelled light, but she was grateful. She was afraid of the journey she was about to take. She looked at Korian curled up by the fireplace. This was to be his last journey. He wouldn’t be coming back with her. And she didn’t even know where during the journey he would pass on. Tears started filling her eyes and she tried to think about something else. She didn’t want to start crying in front of everyone.
She had been lying against Deryck’s chest. He held her tightly as though it would stop her from leaving.

‘Are you sure you don’t want any soldiers with you?’ Artemis asked the next morning.
‘I’m sure. They will only get in the way.’ Keara answered.
They were standing at the gate. A thick white blanket covered the ground and the snow was still falling. Everyone was wearing heavy, warm coats to ward off the cold.
‘They could provide a little protection.’ Artemis reasoned.
‘It’s alright.’ Keara replied, ‘We’ll be fine.’
‘I insist, Keara.’
‘Thank you, Artemis. We’ll be fine.’ Keara said again.
Artemis reluctantly nodded his head.
Keara and Korian said their goodbyes to everyone. Her brothers hugged her tightly and didn’t want to let her go. They didn’t want her to face this journey alone, but she had made her decision. Zarra even shed a tear, as a friend, not as a servant of the Drow Queen. Deryck embraced her and held her so tightly, imagining that it would keep her safe from harm.
Finally she climbed into the saddle and motioned Legacy into a slow walk. Korian walked beside Legacy.
She didn’t look back as the gates closed. If she did, she might have turned back.
‘So, now what?’ Zarra wondered.
‘Now we wait.’ Michael answered.
‘For how long?’ Zarra asked softly.
‘As long as it takes.’ Michael said and turned around and started walking in the opposite direction.

Keara and Korian were silent. There was nothing to talk about, or at least, nothing to lift their spirits. Korian kept looking at her, sensing that all was not well with her.
‘You seem ill at ease, Keara.’ he observed.
‘A little.’ she hesitated.
‘Why?’ he asked, ‘Because of the journey that lies before us?’
‘I guess.’
‘That’s not it.’ he realized, ’It’s because my journey is coming to an end.’
She didn’t say a word or even look at him.
‘Do you feel that I’m abandoning you?’ he asked.
‘A little.’ she admitted.
‘You’re leaving before the war that will change everything.’
‘This is not my war, Keara. It is yours.’ Korian said softly, ‘I have no place in it.’
‘What if your absence changes the outcome of the war?’
Korian seemed to smile sadly, ‘I doubt that my presence or absence will change anything.’
‘It will be comforting to have you there.’
‘I’m afraid we don’t have that luxury anymore, dear one.’ Korian pointed out, ‘This is a stand you must make without me by your side.’
‘What if I can’t?’ she doubted herself.
‘You must. Without you, the world is lost.’
Keara swallowed hard. Why had so much been placed on her shoulders? She simply couldn’t understand it.
’You have great sacrifices to make. And the time will come that you need to make them. But you will be ready.’
‘What if I’m not? What if I can’t do what everyone expects of me?’
‘You shouldn’t doubt yourself, child. There is no more space for weakness. Now it’s time to show everyone how strong you really are. But if you can’t do that on your own, I have failed as a guardian.’

Deryck was in his chamber in the castle, pacing up and down. Keara had barely been gone for half a day and he had already grown concerned for her wellbeing. He considered going after her, but he knew she wouldn’t want him too; she wouldn’t want him to be worried about her. He had to do something to get his mind off her and there were probably a million things he could do now, but nothing would take his thoughts away from her. Soon the silence grew too much for him and he flung the door open. He breathed deeply and stepped outside, closing the door behind him. He headed straight for the Raven barracks. Before he could even decide what to say, he knocked on the door. A moment later, Joseph opened the door and didn’t seem surprised to see him standing there. Without a word, he stepped aside to let Deryck in then closed the door again.
‘What should we do?’ Deryck asked as he forced himself to relax into a chair.
‘About what?’ Michael asked.
‘About Keara.’ Deryck said anxiously, ‘Shouldn’t we help her? She might need our help, or something.’
‘We can’t help her.’ Alexander started.
‘What? Why not?’ Deryck was about to go frantic.
‘Because this is a journey that she must take alone. We cannot interfere.’ Alexander remarked.
‘Yes, we can. She can’t do this on her own.’ Deryck ranted, trying not to scream.
‘She can, Deryck.’ Michael responded, ‘And she must.’
‘Believe me, we really do wanna help her. But we will only get in the way.’ Jonathan said.
‘No, we won’t.’ Deryck argued.
‘If we went along with her, she wouldn’t be focused on her journey, she would be concerned about our safety. And such a distraction could mean that she would never achieve what she set out to do.’ Jonathan explained.
‘But what if she needs us and...’
Michael interrupted Deryck, ‘She’s Crucis Salerra, and though she will not yet accept it, the Drow Queen.’
‘She doesn’t want to be Drow Queen.’ Deryck pointed out.
‘I’m well aware of that, but many things will only be achieved once she accepts that part of her destiny.’ Michael said, ‘She will be much more powerful.’
‘But she’s already so powerful.’ Deryck didn’t understand.
‘True, but she hasn’t reached her full potential.’
‘I don’t understand.’ Deryck admitted.
‘She’s denying the very essence of who she is, so she’s also denying her full power.’ Michael explained.
‘But the other day, you told her that she was as strong as she was ever going to be.’ Joseph said.
‘I know.’ Michael admitted, ‘But I hadn’t considered the gene that makes her royalty.’
‘Perhaps during her journey, she will learn to accept it.’ Alexander replied.
‘I certainly hope so.’ Michael added.
Deryck looked at them, ‘So? What? We’re just gonna sit here and do nothing?’
‘Yes, Deryck. Keara wants us here and since she has no idea how long she’ll be gone, we need to be here to protect the people who need it.’ Michael finished.
Deryck wasn’t at all happy with their resigned attitude towards the situation, but he knew there was nothing he could say to change their minds. So he leaned back in his chair and tried to relax, but every muscle in his body was tense with the thought of Keara being out there without him.

Purple flames burned brightly against the white snow. Keara rested her back against Legacy who was covered in blankets. She pulled the blanket tighter around her shoulders, hoping it would provide a bit more warmth. Korian didn’t seem to mind the cold, but shape-shifters had ways of regulating their body heat. She was tired from the day’s journey, but she tried hard not to fall asleep.
Korian watched Keara as she tried to keep her eyes open, ‘You can rest, Keara. We are quite safe here.’
‘Have to stay alert.’ she was so tired, she could barely even speak in full sentences.
‘No one’s foolish enough to attack a sleeping Drow. Your reflexes are much too fast for that.’
Keara didn’t look at him.
‘And I’m sure you will wake up before someone can even get close enough to attempt something like that.’
She yawned, ‘Okay. Just for a little while.’ she closed her eyes and almost instantly went into Reverie.
Korian watched her for a moment longer, then put his head on his paws and also drifted off to sleep.

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