Once Walked With Dragons

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Chapter Sixty Eight

It was late afternoon by the time Keara woke up. She blinked a few times and pulled the hood over her face. The sun was still shining high in the sky despite the icy weather. She pulled her hand out the water and sat up. Her leg and arm had healed completely. She looked around for Korian, but he was nowhere to be found. The fire was still burning warmly. She scooted over to Legacy and he rested his head on her lap. The dragonfly had disappeared. She watched the butterfly flutter around her head before it dissolved into golden dust and scattered all over her, dissolving as it touched her skin. She looked on, confused.

‘It blessed you on your journey.’ Korian said as he returned to the fire.
‘Oh. Is that what happened.’ she said as she stroked Legacy’s nose after throwing a blanket over his body. She stared at the fire as the flames danced in the cold air.
‘I’m glad you’re awake.’ Korian said.
He had taken the shape of a snow wolf. He was now almost the size of Legacy, with grey fur in different shades and piercing blue eyes.
‘Where have you been?’ Keara asked as she examined Korian’s new shape.
‘I’ve just been scouting the area.’ Korian said as he settled himself next to the fire, ‘The road ahead seems to be covered in marshlands.’
‘Then we’re probably close to the next leg of our journey.’ Keara thought.
‘What’s next?’
‘The Necros Swamp.’ Keara answered, ‘Any idea what to expect?’
‘People don’t often travel that way, and those who do, don’t survive.’ Korian said.
‘So, no idea how to prepare ourselves?’
‘No. But remaining on your guard wouldn’t hurt.’
Keara just nodded.
The dragonfly returned, but this time with a big grey moth. Keara looked at it and guessed that it was their next guide.
‘Are you able to travel?’ Korian asked after a moment of silence.
‘Yes, why?’
‘I think we should get moving.’
‘After nightfall?’
‘We’ve already had to travel through the night once. And I think someone might be following us.’
Keara’s expression grew concerned.
‘It’s just a feeling. I might be wrong, but I don’t think we should leave that to chance.’
‘Okay.’ Keara agreed.
They gathered up their things, put out the fire and started moving. Keara removed two sear stones from a bag, hanging one around Legacy’s neck and one around Korian’s neck. She took Legacy’s reins and lead him down the road.
The dragonfly and the moth took the lead.

Adin sat by the fireplace. The whole family was fast asleep upstairs, warmly tucked into their beds. But he had barely slept since they returned home from the castle. Something big was coming; he could feel it. Something that could end many lives if it could not be stopped in time. Caitlyn sat down next to him. She had moved so quietly, he had not heard her coming down the stairs. She pulled the blanket tighter around her shoulders before leaning back against the back rest of the chair. She didn’t ask Adin what he was thinking about. There was no need. She knew very well what the future held. He took her hand and held it tightly, still staring into the fire. The conversation was imminent, but neither of them knew how to start.
‘You and I must return to the castle.’ Adin finally said.
‘I know.’ Caitlyn paused, ‘But what about the others?’
‘It’s best not to involve them.’ he answered.
‘They’re part of this world; they are already involved.’ she pointed out.
‘Yes. But they are not fighters. They should stay here, where they will always be protected.’
‘Keara would not be happy with our decision.’
‘I know. But she will understand. Especially after all the hard choices she had to make.’

Sharzak started putting some of his plans into action. He decided that it was time to reclaim his superiority. He would strike the first blow. But though he had enough reason to attack the Dark Elves, they would not receive the first attack from the Haunted Castle. The humans would receive a taste of his resolve. He decided that if Keara was indeed alive, she would see the lengths he would go to for domination. He was confident that the humans wouldn’t fight back. They were, after all, inferior beings. Especially those who the Ravens considered to be friends.
Within the next few days, his army would be ready for the first strike.

‘Have you heard anything from Keara yet?’ Joseph asked as he handed Michael a warm cup of tea.
Michael just shook his head, still staring out the window into the darkness.
‘It’s been a while since she left. I thought she would’ve sent us a message by now.’ Joseph stated.
‘Yeah. Me too.’ Michael replied.
Joseph took a few sips of his tea as he studied Michael’s demeanor, ‘Michael?’
Michael finally turned to look at Joseph.
‘What seems to be bugging you?’
‘I can’t sense her.’ Michael admitted.
‘None of us can. She shielded her aura. And she’s very far away.’ Joseph said.
‘Yes, but we’re both Dark Elves. I should be able to sense her through the shield. And she’s also my queen. The Drow have always had a very strong connection with their matriarch.’ Michael informed.
‘She’s on a dangerous journey. She has to protect herself.’
Michael was silent for a moment, ‘I should have gone with her.’
‘She wouldn’t have let you.’
‘I just don’t understand why.’ Michael paused, ‘She’s the Drow Queen. She shouldn’t have gone alone.’
‘First of all, she’s not alone. Korian is with her. And second, perhaps being the Drow Queen is the reason she decided to go without us.’
‘What do you mean?’
‘As the queen, she represents the Drow, the one race that the dragons absolutely hate. She’s the one who has to convince the dragons to fight alongside her. She’s also the only one who has the right to command your kin. And Golden Elf DNA is also laced with her own. If anyone should take this journey, it’s her.’ Joseph explained.
‘So what you’re saying is I should have more faith in my queen.’
‘If you really believe she should be queen; yes. But what I’m saying is, you should have more faith in your sister.’
Michael nodded softly, then turned his attention back to the darkness outside.

Most of the marshlands were covered in ice and snow, making it a little easier to travel through it. But even though everything seemed to be covered in snow, this was still an area Keara would’ve preferred not to be. Everything felt very eerie and even made her somewhat uncomfortable. Even Legacy seemed to be unnerved. She was now sitting in the saddle, urging Legacy forward, even though she would rather turn around herself.
‘At least there’s one good thing about travelling in this icy weather.’ Korian started, ‘Everything is frozen, so it’s easier to move across it.’
Keara stopped, looking out at the distance in front of her, ‘Well, not everything.’
Korian looked in front of him. In the distance, the swamp stretched out to both sides as far as the eye could see. But nothing was frozen or snowed over. It seemed to be a summer’s night, even though the air was chilly with a strong blowing wind.
‘Well now. Isn’t that interesting.’ Korian said.
‘That must be the Necros Swamp.’
‘How can you tell?’
‘There’s no snow. Nothing is frozen. The wind doesn’t even seem to be blowing.’ she pointed out, then sarcastically said, ‘It’s a wild guess.’
Korian ignored her sarcasm, ‘Shall we?’
She didn’t reply. She simply motioned Legacy into a slow walk.
The closer they came, the more uncomfortable they got. And they had to fight the urge to turn around and leave. Finally they entered the Necros Swamp.
Voices sang eerie songs. Bone-chilling howls came from every direction. Everything was misty. Keara had tried to keep her eyes on the road ahead, but she couldn’t help but watch every direction, afraid that something might jump out at any moment.
‘What are those voices? Sirens?’ Korian wondered.
‘Spirits of the dead.’ Keara answered.
‘We should move faster.’ he said, urgency growing in his tone.
‘We can’t. Legacy must tread carefully, or he might get hurt.’
‘I don’t like this place.’ he complained.
‘Neither do I.’
After a while, Keara began to relax a little. The voices and howls still made her uncomfortable, but nothing had happened to them, yet. She started thinking that they might get through the swamp without incident. But before she could start to believe that thought, the spirits started to gather around them. They continued to travel, though much more cautious.
Keara had removed her heavy coat as the Necros Swamp was rather warm. But now she considered putting it back on, as if it would protect her against the spirits that were slowly gathering around them as they moved along. In the beginning the spirits made way for the travellers to pass, but as they moved deeper into the swamp, the spaces grew more narrow.
Keara dismounted and joined Korian in the spongy water, trying not to think what could be swimming around her boots as she lead Legacy through the ever-narrowing space.
Finally, they stopped completely.
‘What’s going on?’ Keara asked softly.
‘I was hoping you could tell me.’ Korian said.
‘I, I think we should get out of here.’ Keara seemed to fall over her words.
She was afraid and it was showing on her face. Korian had taken the shape of a male Drow, taking her hand to comfort her, though he himself also felt afraid.
‘I agree. But how?’ Korian wondered. His voice started trailing off.
Keara kept looking around, feeling her mind slip a little, but she just shook her head, trying to keep her wits about her. Slowly, Korian’s grip on her hand started to loosen. By the time she turned to look at him, he was already stumbling away from her. He seemed to be drawn to something. She focused on what he was moving towards and upon realizing that it was the spirit of a beautiful woman, she grabbed at his collar, but missed. Soon he was in the spirit’s arms, embracing her like a long-lost lover and kissing her passionately.
‘Korian!’ Keara yelled after him.
She curved her arm around Legacy’s neck as though he was protecting her against the trance of the spirits. Korian seemed to have forgotten their quest altogether. He kept kissing and embracing the spirit that had bewitched him.
Keara started to get a little frantic. But before she could freak out, she herself became bewitched by a group of spirits. They were dancing around an imaginary fire. Their happiness triggered an emotion in her; a sense of peace. One spirit came up to her and took her hand. At first she hesitated, but then slowly started following it. In her mind she was among friends. She began to smile, feeling great joy.
Legacy came after her, biting her sleeve, trying to pull her away, but she just shrugged him off, enjoying the moment.
Now that she was under the complete control of the spirits, she started floating. Their hands laying her down on the ground. Above her, the night was fading; the sun would start rising soon. But she didn’t care. She was happy and that’s all that mattered now. She wanted to stay here, though she couldn’t remember how she had gotten here in the first place. She closed her eyes and breathed deeply, in complete ecstasy, unaware that silver daggers were coming ever closer to her throat. She was about to die and even if she had been aware of it, she wouldn’t have cared.
Suddenly the sun started peaking over the horizon. The sun touched Keara’s face. The spirits started wailing, becoming hideously ugly creatures before disappearing into the darkest parts of the swamp.
Keara slowly opened her eyes, still in a trance, just staring up at the brightening sky.
Korian hurried over to her, taking her in his arms, ‘Keara? Keara.’ he said softly.
She didn’t respond, she just lulled in his arms. Korian shook her and she finally came too.
‘What happened?’ she asked, sitting up straight.
‘It seems we were bewitched.’
‘We were both in a trance.’ Korian said, ‘I’m guessing that if the sun didn’t start rising, we would probably be dead now.’
‘That explains why no one lives to tell the tale of the Necros Swamp.’ Keara realized.
‘But we did.’
‘Only just.’ Keara said, ‘We were lucky.’
‘We should be more careful.’
Keara just nodded and got to her feet. Legacy put his head on her shoulder and she stroked his nose. She looked around. By day the Necros Swamp looked like any other marshland, aside from the fact that it was the middle of winter.
‘We should get moving. If we stay here another night we might not live to tell about it.’ Keara suggested.
‘I agree.’ Korian said, taking the shape of the wolf again.

The scouts and warriors Scander had sent after Keara had somehow managed to lose their way in the forest. They knew their first destination was Brokenstone Pass, but they had gone off course completely. They were now, unknowingly heading in the wrong direction. They were complaining and saying that they should turn back and head back to the Haunted Castle, but they also knew that they couldn’t dare set foot there if they failed their task. Especially because they had gotten lost. Every now and then they would change direction, sometimes travelling in their assigned direction, but then became unsure and changed direction again.

Kydriel watched in his mind’s eye as they travelled deeper into the mountains where they lived. They had decided to travel deeper as it would be safer. He observed the scouts and warriors on their quest and was amused by their stupidity. Though he was also worried that they might eventually find the right route, he knew that it wouldn’t happen anytime soon.
He turned his thoughts to Keara and her journey. She and Korian had finally made it out of the Necros Swamp, though it would still be a while before they exited the marshlands. They were slowing down, like they were getting ready to make camp. He didn’t understand. It was still early in the afternoon. They should have continued their journey.

Keara led Legacy to a frozen stream and thawed out a little pool for him to drink. Korian took the form of a Drow and started a fire. There was no shortage of wood, but he had some trouble getting the fire started. He muttered under his breath, annoyed with himself, saying that he was a thousand years old; he was not supposed to be struggling with such a simple task. She looked at him as he muttered to himself and asked if he needed help.
‘No. I can do this. It’s so simple.’ he replied curtly.
Keara just shook her head and turned her attention back to Legacy, stroking his neck. The moth sat perched on Legacy’s head. Before long, it took flight and hovered in front of her for a moment, then dissolved into golden dust and just like the butterfly, scattered over her. She looked around; everything was covered in snow. She looked back at the road they had already travelled. The tracks they left in the snow were already disappearing with the blowing wind and falling snow. At least if someone was indeed following them, they would not easily be found.
Legacy had finished drinking. He nuzzled Keara and she smiled softly, still stroking his neck. She finally turned her attention back to Korian who had finally managed to get the fire going. She lead Legacy to the fire and he laid down, where she then covered him in blankets before sitting down and leaned against him. She pulled the hood further over her eyes and threw a blanket over herself and went into Reverie. Korian watched as she drifted off, then covered himself with a blanket and rested his head on a bag, falling asleep. It wasn’t necessary for either of them to stay awake and keep watch. If something approached, they would awaken.
Keara opened her eyes, expecting to see snow-covered marshlands, a tiny fire and Korian and Legacy. But instead, she was sitting in a chair. She sat forward and looked around. Four walls with earthy decorations surrounded her. To one side, there was a huge wooden door. It opened and Kydriel stepped inside the room.
She sighed, exasperated.
‘You’re not happy to see me?’ Kydriel asked, noticing that her demeanor had changed.
‘Did you cast a spell on me?’ she asked, ignoring the question.
‘No. You are currently in Reverie.’ Kydriel answered.
‘What do you want?’
‘I want you to keep moving. It’s dangerous for you to be resting now.’
‘Even you won’t be able to travel for days without rest.’
‘You are being pursued. The rumours of your survival against Scander’s creation has spread.’
‘Scander’s creation?’ she didn’t understand.
‘The crimson demon.’ he informed, ‘The one that drained your energy.’
‘Scander created him?’ Keara was still trying to understand.
‘Yes. But that is not why I am here.’ Kydriel got back to his original point, ‘Sharzak demanded that scouts and warriors be sent after you, to confirm the rumour. For now, they have lost your trail. But it is only a matter of time before they find it again.’
‘We are allowed to rest, Kydriel, as much as we need too.’ Keara said sternly, ‘If they find us, they find us. But they still have to make it through Brokenstone pass and the Necros Swamp and anything else that we are about to face. And you said yourself they had lost our trail. For now we are safe; from Sharzak’s scouts anyway.’
‘How can you be so sure?’ he couldn’t believe that Keara didn’t seem to care.
‘You just said they had lost our trail.’ she repeated again.
‘Yes, but they could easily find it again.’ he urged.
‘I am not gonna worry about something that has not yet come to pass.’ she said forcefully, ‘Now if they should find us, we will be ready, but I have enough burdens on my shoulders as it is. I would’ve expected you of all people to understand that.’
‘I do understand, Keara, but...’
Keara interrupted him, ‘No, you don’t. You think you’re helping me by telling me that I should keep moving without rest? That’s not help, Kydriel.’
‘I only want you to keep moving because the distance between you and them is your only advantage.’
‘No. It’s my biggest advantage. But any kind of advantage doesn’t count for anything if you’re exhausted.’ she pointed out.
‘You’ll have plenty of time to rest when this is over.’
‘If I listen to you, I won’t make it through this.’
‘Keara...’ he started.
‘Kydriel, this journey has been laid out before me and me alone. How I go about it, is up to me, no one else. If you wanted things to be done your way, then you should’ve gone on this journey.’
‘It’s not my destiny to go on this journey.’ he said.
‘Then stop trying to make it go your way.’
‘Very well.’ Kydriel said after a long silence, ‘Good luck with your journey, Keara. I bid you good day.’
Keara bowed her head slightly. She opened her eyes, shaking her head a little and sighed.

Adriel watched her brother come out of his trance and immediately sensed that he was angry.
‘Why are you mad?’ she asked.
‘No reason.’ he said very curtly.
‘She told you to keep your nose out of her business, didn’t she?’ Adriel fought down a smile.
‘No.’ he hesitated for a moment, ‘Not in so many words.’ he didn’t make eye-contact with his sister.
Adriel couldn’t help but smile, ‘There’s a very good reason why Keara is suitable for this journey. Stop sticking your nose in everywhere it doesn’t belong.’
‘She never gets mad when you try to help her.’ Kydriel pointed out.
‘Well, I wouldn’t say she doesn’t get mad. I just tell her what she needs to know and leave the rest up to her.’
‘I did that and it didn’t work.’
‘Just because things are not done your way, does not mean it’s not working. Just leave her be. Everything will work out as it should.’
Kydriel didn’t want to just leave things to unfold by themselves. And though he knew he wasn’t actually supposed to interfere, he found it hard to just leave things to chance.

Korian woke up after a few hours. He rubbed his eyes and looked at Keara. The hood had been pulled over her eyes, so he could not tell if she was awake or still in Reverie.
‘How’d you sleep?’ she finally asked.
‘Considering the cold weather, not too bad.’ Korian answered, ‘How about you?’
She sighed, ‘Kydriel paid me a visit again.’
‘So, I take it, not well?’
‘What did he want?’
‘He just stopped by to tell me that resting should not be an option on this journey.’ she answered.
‘He’s never done something like this, has he?’
‘I doubt it.’
Korian stoked the fire and made them some tea and food. They didn’t say much, since there wasn’t much to say. The dragonfly buzzed around Keara’s head, waiting for her to get up and start moving.
‘Seems your little friend is quite anxious to get going.’ Korian pointed out.
‘It seems he is.’ she agreed.
‘Shall we?’ he said as he started packing their things away.
‘Sure.’ she got to her feet and started rolling up their blankets.
A short while later, they were walking again. The wind was still blowing and as it grew darker it became even colder. Still, they were rather quiet.
Finally Korian decided to speak, ‘So, what’s the next leg of our journey?’
‘I believe it’s called the Crystal Spires.’ she answered, ‘Any idea what to expect?’
‘None at all.’
‘Any dangers to look out for?’
‘I don’t know. But keeping your guard up, wouldn’t hurt.’
‘Same as always then.’
While they were walking, Keara decided to send her brothers a message. They would probably be worried and anxiously waiting to hear from her. She also sent a message to Deryck, letting him know that she missed him.

By nightfall, Adin and Caitlyn arrived at the gates of Varden Castle. The Ravens were surprised to see their parents again so soon; and at the castle. They simply explained that they knew something was coming and they wanted to be there to fight alongside their children when the time came.

Sharzak sent a small army through the gates with a powerful Shadow; though not as powerful as Scander, leading the way. He watched as they slowly moved beyond the confines of the gate. It would be several days before they reached the castle gates of the human kingdom.

Legacy was running at a fast pace with Keara on his back, following the dragonfly. Korian, in the form of a wolf, kept pace with Legacy. After almost two days, they had not yet reached the Crystal Spires, but Keara knew they were getting close.
She pulled Legacy’s reins and he immediately slowed down. Korian also slowed down until they finally came to a stop.
‘I think we’re close.’ she started, ‘Shall we keep going?’
‘I think we should first stop and have something to eat. Maybe get some shut-eye for an hour or two, then we can go on.’ Korian suggested.
‘Okay.’ Keara agreed.
She dismounted and thawed a bit of snow for Legacy to drink.
She then pulled her coat tighter around her body and headed in a direction to look for some firewood. She went wandering among the snow-covered trees, letting her guard down and taking in the icy beauty of her surroundings. As she went along, she picked up pieces of fallen wood. Suddenly she stopped dead in her tracks as a dark-furred creature approached her. It walked on all fours, standing almost as tall as Legacy. Slowly, it came closer, watching her closely with its dark eyes, seeming to wait for any sudden movements. Its snout was now only a few inches from her face. Its catlike ears and whiskers twitched as it took in Keara’s scent. Keara seemed to stop breathing as the creature examined her. She did not move as the creature circled her, its tail slithering across her back. Finally, it sat down in front of her, staring into her eyes. It scratched at her, like a dog begging for attention. At first, she wasn’t sure what it was trying to do, but when it put its snout against the palm of her hand, she realized that it had no intention of harming her. She slowly started stroking its snout and it started purring loudly.
‘You’re just a big cat, aren’t you?’ Keara said softly. She scratched it behind the ears, then continued to gather wood.
She returned to Korian and Legacy after a few minutes and threw down the wood next to the shallow hole Korian had dug for the fire. He was about to start preparing the wood when his eye caught a glimpse of a dark creature behind Keara. He got a bit of a fright and immediately asked Keara what that thing was.
‘What?’ she didn’t understand. She turned to see the dark yellow eyes staring at her. She jumped a little, then relaxed, ‘It followed me.’ she stated the obvious, more to herself.
‘I can see that. What is it?’ Korian was not as calm as Keara.
She scratched the creature’s chin, then said, ‘I don’t know. I thought you would know.’
‘I’ve never seen a creature like this before.’ Korian admitted.
‘Neither have I.’ she studied the creature, then looked back at Korian, ‘Are you gonna start a fire or just keep staring?’
Korian stared at the creature with a gaping mouth, then shook his head, as if he was coming out of a trance.
‘Starting a fire.’ he said and started packing the wood in the shallow hole.
Before he could try to light it, Keara flung purple flames onto the pieces of wood.
He just looked at her, ‘Thanks.’
She smiled and enjoyed the fire.

Michael immediately let everyone know that he had received a message from Keara. Everyone gathered round and waited to hear if she was still alright. The message was fairly brief. She told them that she was fine and that they were making slow progress with the quest. But she had wisely left out any dangerous and life-threatening stories. Michael had hoped Keara would inform them of any hardships she might have already endured, but he knew very well that she would never mention such things in a message, especially not one that had travelled so far to reach them.
Deryck received his message from Keara; the leaves softly brushing against his cheek. The message was brief, but it made him smile.

Adin and Caitlyn had been doing a lot of meditating since they arrived at the castle. They were increasing their strength as quickly as they could. They knew there wasn’t much time and they couldn’t afford to waste what little time they had; not even to explain to their children what they were doing. And they thought it would be better not to explain what they were doing and why they were doing it. They didn’t want to take the chance of their children trying to talk them out of it and sending them back home.

Zarra had not been spending as much time in the archive as she usually did. Joseph and Jonathan decided that the only way she would bring out her inner warrior, is if they immediately started training her; and being a bit forceful in convincing her to start. At first, she couldn’t stop complaining; constantly saying that she was an archivist, not a warrior. But they just ignored her and kept up with the training until she finally gave in and started learning. She surprised herself as much as she surprised them with her skills; despite being a Drow, she didn’t expect to be as good as she was. Sometimes, she would still try to get out of training, saying that she needed to search for more information for Keara, though she knew as well as they did that there was nothing more to search for.

A soldier came running into the throne room early one morning, announcing that an army was on its way to the castle. It was not a very big army, but it was clear that they were outnumbered, at least five to one. Artemis immediately assembled his own army and sent those who were too young or unable to fight into hiding in secret passages far below the ground. These passages carried on for miles, leading to many different places around the kingdom. By the time the enemy found those passages, the people would be long gone.

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