Once Walked With Dragons

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Chapter Seventy One

It was after midnight when they decided to rest. She started a small fire as usual and settled down for the remaining twilight hours.

As the skies slowly grew lighter, Korian looked upon their bleak surroundings. In the distance he could see a bit of green, though it was not much because of the snow. He knew that they were almost there and a series of new events waited for them just beyond the wall of trees.
Keara had come out of Reverie and noticed that Korian’s attention was elsewhere.
‘What are you looking at?’ she wanted to know.
‘The forest is only a few miles away.’ he answered.
She looked in the same direction, ‘So it is.’
‘At least it doesn’t feel like we’re walking in circles anymore.’ he pointed out.
‘Yeah.’ she agreed.
‘You’re really not a morning person, are you?’ Korian observed that she wasn’t really interested in talking.
‘Never was.’ she confirmed.
‘Alright then.’ he said.
‘I think we should pack up and head out.’ she suggested.

‘How long before we can head back home?’ Deryck asked Michael from across the dying fire.
‘I don’t know.’ Michael answered.
‘We’re heading in the direction the bandits had come from.’ Alexander pointed out.
‘Yeah. So we might just be dealing with some hostile people.’ Michael said.
‘But we’re here on Artemis’s authority.’ Deryck said, ‘We shouldn’t get any trouble.’
‘Artemis’s authority doesn’t count for much out here.’ Michael pointed out.
‘Let’s just hope they changed their opinion about us.’ Alexander said.

Keara pulled Legacy’s reins as they reached the line of trees.
‘What’s the matter?’ Korian wanted to know.
‘I have a bad feeling about this.’ Keara stated as she looked at the trees that were towering over them.
Even before they entered, they could already see the mist hanging low and heavy among the trees. They could feel the presence lurking inside the forest. Though Keara was not entirely sure what to expect; judging from what had already come to pass, she knew that it would be dangerous and they would have to be careful if they wanted to make it out alive.
Korian studied the wall of trees before them, ‘Shall we?’
She didn’t answer. She only looked at the trees. Thrax rubbed his catlike head against Keara’s leg. She looked down at him and his expression showed that he would be there with every step.
She took a deep breath, ‘Let’s go.’
She motioned Legacy into a slow walk and though he felt uncomfortable about going into the forest, he complied.

It seemed as though night had fallen instantly in the forest as darkness filled every corner. Behind them they could still see a faint twinkle of daylight, but when they looked ahead of them, there was nothing but darkness. To make matters worse, the mist was so heavy that even Keara with her elf-eyes could not see far before her.
‘Where is your dragonfly friend?’ Korian asked after a short while.
‘I haven’t seen it for a while.’ Keara answered.
‘Doesn’t that worry you?’
‘It didn’t an hour ago, but it does now.’
‘We can probably make it through the forest without it.’ Korian didn’t feel as confident as he sounded.
‘I hope so. Cause I have no idea where we’re going.’ Keara didn’t even pretend that she felt confident.
‘At least we have Thrax.’ Korian started.
‘Yes, but I don’t think that will really improve our odds.’
Korian didn’t like the sound of that; first Keara started doubting her sense of direction, and then she doubted that the fabled Kenami would be of any help. He felt his heart sink, but decided he would try his best to stay positive; for Keara.

Artemis stood on the balcony of his study, looking out at his kingdom. He was trying hard to keep everyone positive and confident, but unfortunately there were some people who just didn’t believe his words.
He found solace in the recruits that entered their gates every day, though it wasn’t enough to make him forget about the darkness rising from the Haunted castle. And being able to see it on the horizon didn’t help to calm his thoughts either.

They had finally entered the last town the bandits had been in and half-expected to be shunned right away, but instead, people didn’t even give them a second look. Michael and Alexander looked at each other, seeming to be a little surprised, but tried not to dwell on it too much. They all dismounted and lead their horses to water where they were left while they entered three different buildings, followed by several soldiers, trying to get as many recruits as possible without taking too much time.
Again, to Michael and Alexander’s surprise, many people; men and women volunteered, even after they found out that the recruiters were Ravens. The volunteers simply stated that they had heard the rumours coming from the other towns.
The two Ravens exited the respective buildings and looked at each other with confusion, but just shrugged it off. They gathered their horses and headed to the next town, sending a single soldier back to the kingdom with the new recruits, as they had been doing since they started.

Keara kept looking around the forest, hearing sounds, thinking that she might see where it was coming from. But everywhere she looked was just more mist. Sometimes she thought she saw something move past her, but when she looked in that direction, there was nothing. It was not in her nature to get anxious, but now she was getting anxious. Her heart was pounding in her ears, and every time something would seem to pass by her, she had to catch her breath.
Every now and then, she would look around her to make sure Thrax and Korian was still there and they would do the same. She looked behind her to assure herself that there was still a way out, but she could no longer see the light just beyond the trees. Turning to face the front again, she took a deep breath and tried to calm her pounding heart.
‘So,’ Korian started, ‘How far do you think it is before we get out this forest.’
‘I have no idea.’ Keara admitted.
‘We should just keep heading straight, then we should be fine.’ Korian remarked.
‘Yeah.’ she agreed, ‘Just keep going straight.’

Joseph had decided to take a little time off with the training to spend time with his wife. He felt bad. They had only been married for a short time and he couldn’t even devote his time to Saresse. But he was happy to know that she supported him and helped him with the preparations.
Normally they would have gone for a horse ride in the field, but it was now filled with soldiers from every corner of the kingdom. So instead, they went to the secluded pool of water where Keara had so often been. It wasn’t much, but at least they had a little time for themselves. The water was frozen and everything was covered in snow, but that didn’t put them off.
Joseph put his hand down on the snow and it glowed a soft green. After a moment, he removed his hand and a bright green stem pushed through the snow, forming a bud at the end before opening up and sprouting red, orange and yellow pedals.
Saresse looked at the flower with a smile, ‘I don’t think I’ve ever seen a flower like this.’
‘Because this one is unique.’ Joseph said, ‘Just like you.’
He leaned over and kissed her.

She had no idea what time it was. She wasn’t even sure how long they had been travelling in the forest. Their pace had been slowed considerably as they could not see more than a few feet in front of them. She looked down at Korian in his wolf-form. All his muscles were tensed-up. He seemed anxious. She didn’t blame him. This was the first time since they had started their journey that they had absolutely no idea where they were going. She still looked around anxiously, hoping that they would be able to pass through the forest unnoticed. But those thoughts wouldn’t last. She heard a growl coming from a few feet in front of them. Legacy stopped in his tracks; he wasn’t easily spooked, but he was visibly frightened now.
‘Did you hear that?’ she asked Korian.
‘I’m afraid I did.’ he answered.
‘We have to get out of here.’
‘I agree. But how?’
They heard another growl, this time coming from another direction. Gradually, they heard more growls. Thrax took a few steps forward, growling at the mysterious foe. Keara watched him, hoping that he would be able to protect them, but suddenly he disappeared into the forest to her right after being attacked. It took her a moment to realize what just happened. She started seeing movement around them; beings moving around them at great speed, yet still remaining quiet. She followed a particular sound, noticing that it was coming closer. As she turned to the direction the sound was coming from, she was tackled off Legacy’s back.
Korian only heard a yelp. When he turned to look at her, she was gone. Legacy was visibly anxious and now that Keara was no longer with him, he did not remain so calm. Korian transformed into the male Drow and took Legacy’s reins and slowly started leading him forward through the forest. He didn’t get far before he too was attacked. He managed to smack Legacy on the rump before he disappeared into the forest with his new foe. Legacy took off in one direction and just kept running.

Scander was pacing in his chamber. He had all but ceased his many experiments. Everyone who had come to his chamber had been chased off with no explanation. In the corner of his eye, he noticed movement from beyond his window. He pulled back the shredded curtain and looked out at Sharzak who was walking around amongst his soldiers, scowling at them as he went along.
There came a knock on the door. Scander was so fixated on watching Sharzak that he commanded that the person at the other side of the door enter without even realizing it.
‘What do you want?’ Scander asked, still watching Sharzak.
‘The last of the crimson demons just died, master.’ his servant said, cowering behind a chair, should he be the target of his master’s anger.
‘It was only a matter of time.’ Scander said without looking back.
‘You’re not angry, master?’ his servant seemed almost too afraid to ask.
‘It was inevitable. Their DNA was not sustainable.’
‘If we had a Drow, they would be sustainable.’ the servant pointed out.
‘Yes, but we don’t have one. And if we have to depend on Sharzak, we will never have one.’
His servant didn’t say anything, he just stood there watching him.
‘Look at him out there. He’s scowling at the soldiers that returned after the attack against the humans. He hasn’t even fought a battle in a thousand years. The humans aren’t what they used to be. And they have Crucis Salerra on their side.’ Scander sighed deeply, ‘We might have to do something soon, if we want to win this war.’

Everything around her was shrouded in mist. She had somehow managed to lose her winter coat and the coat she usually wore was still with Legacy, but she wasn’t cold. She groaned as she stirred. She had landed on fallen branches and loose rocks. She was covered in cuts and bruises, but that was not her biggest concern. She had no idea where she was and what’s worse, she had no idea where Korian, Legacy or Thrax was. And still she heard things moving around her. She knew she was being watched, but she didn’t know what was watching her. She pulled a dagger from her left boot and a smaller dagger from the glove on her left hand. She looked around for her sword. One of her two belts had been torn off her waist when she rolled over sharp rocks and it was the one with her sword. After searching and watching her surroundings, she finally found her sword. The sounds around her seemed to be getting closer, so she decided to pick a direction and keep going that way until she got somewhere. But no matter how much ground she covered, the sinister sounds of the forest kept following her and though she had started running, the sounds continued to come closer to her. She didn’t know where she was going, but she didn’t care; she just wanted to get out of there.

Thrax was covered in scratches and bite marks. He had not yet seen his attacker. He didn’t even how many there were. He had no idea what had happened to Keara or Korian, he only hoped they would make their way through to the other side of the forest. He didn’t know what else to do, so he decided to just start attacking his opponent blindly, hoping that he would live to tell the tale.

She kept running, still not entirely sure which way she was going. She wasn’t going back, that’s for sure; she would have reached the line of trees already. She had managed to avoid being hit by a branch or running into a tree, but it wouldn’t last. She heard growling and took a sharp turn, running into the side of several protruding branches, bouncing back and hitting the ground hard. For a moment she didn’t move; one of the rocks she had landed on had pierced her skin and the wind had been knocked out of her. She coughed, trying to get her breath back. She rolled off the rock that had pierced her skin and blood streamed out of the wound. There she lay on her side, taking deep ragged breaths. Eventually she managed to push herself up to her knees. She looked around her and scrambled for her sword as quickly as she could. But with every movement, pain shot through her body. She finally forced herself to her feet. For a moment she stood there, looking in every direction, trying to figure out which way to go.

Korian had a nasty cut on his forehead. He slowly regained consciousness, but wished that he hadn’t. His body ached and his head was throbbing. He got up painfully slow, trying to ignore the pain. He looked around, trying to figure out where he was, but all he could see was mist.
Before long, he remembered what had happened. They had all been separated. He needed to find Keara, but he had no idea how to find her. After taking another limited look at his surroundings, he picked a direction and headed that way. He knew that Keara would keep heading to the other side, though he wasn’t sure if she was still even alright.
The first few minutes of his lone journey, it seemed rather quiet, even peaceful. But it didn’t last long. Soon he started hearing strange sounds around him, and among those sounds were growling noises. He stopped in his tracks and looked around. But he couldn’t see anything. For extra measure, he transformed into the wolf and kept his guard up.

For a moment, she thought she heard Thrax’s voice. But that wasn’t possible. As long as he was in the form of the Kenami, he could not speak, only growl. She tried to ignore the voice that seemed to be beckoning her and kept moving forward. She was breathing heavily. As she walked, the mist around her became thicker and it became even harder to see where she was going. After a while, she heard Korian’s voice call her name. She stopped in her tracks and listened more intently. She wasn’t able to discern where his voice was coming from.
At first she hesitated, but then finally called out his name, ‘Korian?’
She heard his voice in the distance again.
‘Korian?’ she called a little louder, ‘Where are you?’
Finally she saw a figure walking towards her through the mist. She unsheathed her sword, holding it in one hand and the scabbard in the other. The figure came closer and finally into full view. But it wasn’t human; it didn’t even seem to be alive.
‘You are a great failure.’ it uttered in a raspy voice after it stared at her for what seemed to be a lifetime.
She was so shocked that she didn’t know what to say or how to react.
‘You have failed your family and your friends. All that’s left for you is to die.’
‘My journey isn’t over yet. I refuse to die before I complete my task.’
‘You will not be leaving this forest.’ the raspy voice uttered.
Before she realized what was going on, she was being attacked. She staggered back in an effort to defend herself. Before long, she was kneeling on the ground, bleeding from various wounds. She was completely out of breath and felt like all her energy had been drained.
The figure stood over her, ‘Your friends will meet you in the afterlife.’ it lifted its staff above its head and swung towards Keara’s head.

Thrax was bleeding badly, but he had managed to beat his attacker. He limped through the forest, hoping that he would reach the other side soon and meet up with his companions again. Sometimes he thought he heard Keara calling him, but it was just a mere echo, so he just kept moving, trying to ignore the beckoning voices around him. Sometimes he strayed, prolonging his journey, but he managed to stay on course. Until he heard her voice again and this time it was much closer. He decided to go looking for her where he had heard her, but he did not expect to come across another opponent. He stopped dead in his tracks, realizing that he might not make it out of this fight.

Michael kept looking in one direction, though there was nothing there to see, aside from trees and the occasional animal passing by. He kept feeling something drawing him to the direction he was looking and though he tried, he simply couldn’t shake the feeling.
Alexander noticed that Michael was somewhat absentminded during their journey to the next town.
‘What are you looking at?’ Alexander asked.
‘Nothing.’ Michael answered.
‘Then why do you keep looking in that direction?’ Alexander wanted to know.
‘I don’t know. Just feels like something’s drawing me into that direction.’ Michael stated.
‘Well, that is roughly the direction Keara headed in when she left.’ Alexander pointed out.
‘I think she needs me.’ Michael finally said.
‘I think she needs all of us.’ Alexander added.
'I shouldn't have let her go alone. How could I let my sister go alone?' Micahel started.
‘Michael.’ Alexander was getting tired of hearing it.
‘What?’ Michael immediately picked up the tone in Alexander’s voice.
‘She's our sister too; we feel the same as you. But we had to let her go. Just keep her in your thoughts and hope that she’ll be okay.’ Alexander finished.
‘Okay.’ Michael said, like a little boy.

Blood was streaming from Keara’s head where the staff had landed. Her head was throbbing and her vision was blurry. She drew a little water out of the mist to heal her wounds, or at least make them less life-threatening. She sat up slowly, looking around, though she couldn’t see much. It seemed as though her opponent had left her there, probably thinking that she was dead. Once she had the throbbing in her head under control, she slowly stood up and gathered her weapons. Once again she chose a direction and started walking.

The figure stopped in its tracks, sensing the spirit he thought he had extinguished. It turned and headed back, this time to make sure that she wouldn’t wake up again.

Korian finally made it out of the woods, though he wasn’t entirely sure how he had gotten there. But he didn’t care; he was glad to be out of there. He collapsed on the ground and took a few deep breaths to calm his nerves. He shape-shifted into a Drow as that was the form in which he healed the fastest. Lying on his back, he looked up at the quickly darkening sky. Keara and Thrax were still in the forest somewhere, and he had no idea how to find them. He decided to wait for them, thinking it might be best to stay where he was. But he was also worried that Keara would call him a coward for his decision. Finally he pushed those thoughts aside as simple paranoia, deciding that she would want him to wait, rather than go looking for her.
After a while, he closed his eyes as exhaustion overtook him.

Thrax tread softly, hoping to avoid his enemy through stealth. But his efforts proved worthless when another Kenami approached him. He was somewhat relieved. He lay down on the ground; his legs could no longer support him.
The other Kenami came up to Thrax and put a paw on his head. Once again, they were in the realm where Thrax had first spoken to Keara.
To the far side, a tall, lean Golden Elf stood, ‘Why are you here, Thrax?’ the elf asked, ‘This is not your realm to protect.’
Thrax sat on the floor, looking as bad as his Kenami shape in the real world, ‘I am travelling to the Home of the Dragons, with Keara and her guardian, Korian.’ he explained.
‘You travel with Crucis Salerra; the cursed one.’ the elf pointed out.
‘She wears the mark of Thessandria.’ Thrax said.
The elf’s jaw dropped, ‘That can’t be.’
‘Well it is, Aric.’ Thrax said, ‘Surprised that Thessandria picked the Drow Queen?’
‘A little. Never would’ve expected a Drow to be worthy of such valuable memories.’
‘I didn’t either. But she’s different. She has compassion, and values, and love for those around her. And she helps people. Which is why she is on this journey.’
‘It must be a mistake.’ Aric thought.
‘Thessandria didn’t make mistakes.’ Thrax said, ‘Everything she left behind, could only be found and understood by a soul that is worthy.’
‘Is that why you are travelling with the Drow Queen?’ Aric asked.
‘She’s not the Drow Queen yet. And yes, that is why.’
Aric looked at Thrax for a long moment, ‘You were always very fond of Thessandria, weren’t you?’
‘I swore an oath to her. That I would protect the wearer of the mark. And that’s just what I intend to do.’
‘Then why are you not with her now?’
‘Because your little friends of the forest attacked me.’
‘Two reasons for that.’ Aric held up two fingers, ‘First, you don’t belong here; you belong in the Crystal Spires. Second,’ Aric paused, ‘they’ve even started attacking me.’
‘What?’ Thrax couldn’t believe it.
‘Strange, I know.’
‘No. Impossible.’
‘I thought so too. But evil is rising, getting stronger. And it has thrown the world out of balance completely.’ Aric explained, ‘I sincerely hope that Thessandria hasn’t made a mistake. I hope that this future queen is everything you say she is. I hope she is capable of doing what needs to be done. Because there is no question that she is our very last hope.’
‘If she fails, there are always the dragons.’ Thrax pointed out.
‘The dragons keep to themselves, as they always have. If evil is allowed to prevail, the dragons will die. Remember, they are everything that is good in this world.’
‘I must find Keara. I cannot allow her to die.’ Thrax said, starting to sound a little frantic.
‘I will help you find her. Just pray that she is still alive.’

She was growing tired of not knowing where she was going. She was growing even more tired of the irrational fear her mind had conjured up. She pushed it aside as much as she could and continued her journey, hoping that she would finally make it out of here, moving a little faster with every step.
Though she was now moving faster than she had been since they entered the forest, she was still cautious of her surroundings as she could still barely see anything and the forest was gradually getting darker. She realized that the sun was setting. It was then that she knew she really was running out of time. If she didn’t make it out of the forest soon, she never would.
Before long, she saw the silhouette of a figure forming in the mist. She still had no idea what it was, but it was definitely the one that had attacked her only a few hours before. It had been waiting for her, ready to attack when she was close enough. She barely had enough time to unsheathe her sword to block the first attack, making her stagger backwards. She was still a little disorientated from the blow to her head, but she stood her ground.
Just as she thought she was about to lose this fight, the forest started whispering to her. It encouraged her to use it; use the forest as a weapon. At first she hesitated; knowing that when she first started using this element, she wasn’t very good. But she quickly pushed her doubts aside, dropping to one knee, slamming both hands against the ground. The forest reacted instantly and her wings grew. She stood up again, with her wings spread out, and started directing roots, branches and vines in all directions, blocking every possible attack from the shadowed figure. A strong wind blew around her and the mist disappeared. To her horror, she saw that the shadowed figure was still just a shadow. There was no face and the parts of the body that weren’t in shadow, seemed old and decayed. She ignored the sight and continued with the attack and before she realized, the fight was over.

Aric stopped in his tracks, feeling that somewhere in the forest, the tide has turned. A shadow figure had been defeated. He changed direction and headed towards the energy. Thrax didn’t know what had happened, but he knew the great burst of energy was something important.

Her wings retracted. Once the wind died down, the mist formed around her again. The forest was completely dark now and though she as a Dark Elf thrived in darkness, she knew it wasn’t safe to stay in the forest. She had to find a way out, and fast.
Suddenly she got an idea. After realizing what she had just done to defeat her opponent, she knew that she could do much more. Roots started growing under her feet, slowly lifting her towards the treetops. Soon she looked out over the top of the trees, noticing the mist reach just above the top leaves. In front of her, some distance off, she saw where the forest ended and what looked like water. At least now she knew that she had been going in the right direction. She looked around the forest below her and saw several shadows moving around in the direction she needed to go.
Rather than risk facing another opponent, she decided she’d rather move among the treetops, thinking that it might be safer. She started walking and as she did so, branches grew together, creating a sturdy foothold and disappearing again after she lifted her foot again.

Aric and Thrax changed direction again when they felt the great energy moving.

Korian opened his eyes again. It was completely dark. He sat up, looking for any wounds he might have had, but instead saw the colour red over parts of his body. For a moment it frightened him and he started brushing it off. But he quickly realized that it was only sand. The smell of sea water filled his lungs. For the first time, he took notice of where he was.
By moonlight, he saw that the beach sand was dark red. There was no snow. In fact he hadn’t seen any snow since they first entered the forest. He looked out over the sea, the water was restless. It was scary, but at the same time mesmerizing. He was so drawn to the sight; he almost didn’t hear the sounds around him. He heard neighing. He slowly looked around and saw Legacy a short way off. He quickly approached him and started talking to him to reassure him. Legacy neighed and allowed Korian to touch him.
‘I’m sure she’s okay. She’ll find us, or we’ll find her.’ Korian said, more to himself than to Legacy.

Keara was almost at the edge of the forest, still moving with the tree branches forming under her feet. She still had no idea what had happened to Korian, Thrax or Legacy. The sea rumbled in the distance and she knew that it was the next leg of their journey.

Thrax and Aric exited the forest, setting foot on the red beach for the first time. They both started glowing a faint gold and slowly started changing shape. They looked at themselves, moving their hands and legs this way and that. They were Golden Elves once again, but now they were completely naked and feeling a little exposed.
‘What happened?’ Thrax asked.
‘I have no idea.’ Aric answered.
‘We’re no longer Kenami.’ Thrax said.
‘I don’t understand.’ was all Aric could say.

Keara reached the end of the forest and climbed down the branches as they formed steps all the way to the ground. She took a deep breath, taking in the wonderful sea air. She looked down at the red beach and immediately an entire scene started playing out before her.

Golden Elves on the beach with their backs to the water. The enemy coming through the forest. Extremely tall figures, all of them wearing long black cloaks and carrying long swords and crooked wands. The battle was horrific. Thousands of Golden Elves died that day; their blood stained the beach sand red. Thessandria stood up, despite her injuries and joined hands with several other priests and priestesses. She drew power from her fellow elves and cursed their enemies to become mere shadows and mist in the forest. But this also came at a great loss. Many of the Golden Elves sacrificed their souls to turn their enemies to shadow and trap them in the forest. Their souls would forever be in turmoil, but at least the remaining Golden Elves would be safe. The Kenami would be created and protect every Golden Elf who passed through the forest.

A tear ran down her cheek. Thessandria nearly died casting that curse, but she did it to protect her kin. Though she wouldn’t admit it yet, Keara would’ve done the same for her kin. After a moment, she looked around, but she saw no one. So she took off her boots, rolled up her pants and took a few steps into the sea water. She allowed the water to travel up her body and heal any wounds she had. While she stood in the water, tears rolled down her cheeks and she allowed herself to cry while she had her moment of solitude. She cried, not just for the Golden Elves’ sad history, but for all the people she loved and missed, for everyone who had died an untimely death, for every child that grew up in such a dangerous world. Her heart broke for them, but she would not allow anyone to see it.

‘We need to find some clothes.’ Aric said.
‘I agree, but where?’ Thrax asked.
‘There should be a town in that direction. But we won’t make it before sunrise.’ Aric said, ‘Thrax?’
Thrax was no longer listening to Aric, ‘Don’t you hear that?’
‘Hear what?’ Aric strained his ears.
‘Think that’s Korian.’ Thrax said, looking in the direction he heard the voice and started heading that way.
‘Thrax, the town is in the other direction.’ Aric protested.
‘Well, I can’t leave them behind.’ Thrax stated.

Korian was talking to Legacy and though Legacy couldn’t talk back, he would make sounds to let Korian know he was listening.
He stopped in his tracks, pulling Legacy’s reins, ‘Did someone just call my name?’
He listened more intently, ‘There it is again.’ he said, ‘I think I’m going crazy.’
‘Korian!’ came the voice again.
Korian looked around, ‘Hello?’
‘Korian. It’s me, Thrax.’
‘Now I know I’m going crazy. Thrax is a Kenami.’
‘I’m not anymore, Korian.’ Thrax said as he and Aric approached him.
Korian regarded them suspiciously, ‘Why are you in elven form?’
‘We don’t know. We’re still trying to figure that out.’ Thrax said.
‘And you’re naked.’ Korian stated the obvious.
‘We know.’ Thrax said.
Korian looked away, feeling somewhat awkward. Then turned to Legacy and undid the bedrolls tied to the saddle and handed it to the two naked elves. They wrapped it around their waists.
‘Is Keara with you?’ Thrax asked.
‘I haven’t seen her since we got separated in the forest.’ Korian answered.
‘That means she could still be in there. That means she could be dead now.’ Thrax spoke.
‘Keara’s not one to give up so easily.’ Korian pointed out.
‘I felt a strong presence leaving the forest not too long ago.’ Aric stated.
‘I’m sorry, you are?’ Korian wanted to know.
‘I’m Aric. The Kenami who guarded this forest.’ Aric introduced himself.
Korian just looked at him.
‘Thrax has told me about you. You’re the guardian to the Drow Queen.’
‘Yes, I am.’ Korian said proudly.
‘I think we should go look for Keara. That strong presence you felt was most likely her.’ Thrax stated.
‘Yes. Let’s go.’ Korian said and started walking.
Aric and Thrax fell into step next to him and Aric explained where he had felt the presence.

Keara was still standing with her feet in the water. She was almost completely healed and she had wiped away the last of her tears. She took a deep breath and embraced the wonderful ocean air. She was listening to the restless waves when tiny wings buzzed around her ears. She looked around to see her dragonfly buzzing around.
‘And where have you been?’ she asked as she lifted her palm to the dragonfly.
The dragonfly landed on her palm and looked at her.
She looked at him, ‘Well, I’m glad you’re still alive.’
The dragonfly quickly took flight again and brushed its wings against her cheek.
‘Happy to see you too little friend.’
She got a fright when a hawk suddenly landed on her left shoulder, ‘I see you brought a friend with you.’

Deryck still had Keara’s ring hanging around his neck. And he frequently found himself admiring it.
‘She hasn’t forgotten you.’ Alexander said as he watched Deryck.
‘I know.’ Deryck’s voice was almost silent.
‘I’m sure she thinks about you just as much as you think about her.’ Jonathan said again.
‘I just wish I could’ve gone with her.’
‘We all do.’
‘You don’t suppose she might have returned to the castle by now?’ Deryck wondered.
‘Unfortunately, I doubt that.’ Alexander said, ‘But she is still alive.’
‘How can you tell?’
‘We’re family. We can always sense each other’s presence. No matter how far apart we are.’
A soldier rode up to Michael, ‘We should start thinking about turning back.’
‘Why?’ Michael looked confused.
‘There is only one town left to visit and it’s on the outskirts of baron wastelands. And it’s also known as the town of thieves.’
‘Then it would be wise to turn back.’
‘And have any of these thieves ever made it to the castle at any time?’
‘There have been occasions.’
‘Did they harm anyone?’
‘Some more severely than others.’
‘Were any of them ever captured and arrested?’
‘A few of them.’
‘I see.’ Michael said, ‘Excuse me a moment.’
Michael rode up to his brothers and Deryck, ‘The town of thieves is up ahead.’
Alexander looked at Michael, pretty sure he was reading his mind, ‘What are you thinking about?’
‘According to a soldier, they are responsible for most of the violence that have taken place near the castle.’ Michael informed.
‘You wanna play vigilante, don’t you?’ Alexander knew.
‘Yes. They’ve caused others pain in the past. Now it’s their turn to suffer.’
‘Exactly what do you plan on doing?’ Alexander wanted to know.
‘Just show them that the Ravens mean business.’ Michael said.
‘They probably don’t even know who we are.’ Alexander pointed out.
‘If they’ve been to the castle, they know who we are.’
‘Exactly why do you wanna do this?’ Alexander enquired, ‘It's not in the Raven nature to attack someone unprovoked.’
‘They have harmed people. This will not be unprovoked.’ Michael said.
‘Keara would do it.’ Deryck added.
‘Yes.’ Michael agreed.
‘No, she wouldn't. Keara doesn't start fights.’ Alexander said, ‘And not everyone in that town would deserve such a thing.’
‘The innocent will be spared.’ Michael said.
‘I don't believe you. That makes you no better than them.’ Alexander said angerly.
‘Perhaps we can recruit the innocent.’ Deryck thought.
‘We were just talking about turning back.’ Alexander pointed out.
'I cannot leave that town to thrive. Go back if you want, but I am doing this.' Michael turned away.
Alexander was fuming. But despite how angry he was, he would not leave his brother, 'Send your soldiers back to the castle.' he said to Deryck, 'There's no need for them to witness what we are about to do.'

The sun was slowly rising and it burned Keara’s eyes. And as it reflected over the water, it hurt even more. She raised her hand to shield her eyes from the blinding rays, but it didn’t help. The pain became so bad that her eyes became red and started tearing. Finally the hawk hopped onto her head and put a wing in front of her eyes.
‘Why thank you.’ she said.
The dragonfly landed on her knee.
‘You wouldn’t happen to know where the others are, would you?’ she asked the dragonfly.
Suddenly it took flight again and flew away.
‘Where are you going now?’ she asked, but it didn’t turn around.

‘Still no sign of Keara.’ Thrax said.
‘She has to be around here somewhere.’ Korian said.
‘What if she is dead?’ Aric considered.
‘She’s definitely still alive.’ Korian stated.
‘Whatever you say.’ Aric said.
‘You really should meet her. I’m sure she’ll just love you.’ Korian said sarcastically.
He tried to keep to himself, hoping that they would find Keara quickly. It took him a moment to notice the dragonfly buzzing around his head.
‘Oh, hello little one.’ Korian said, ‘Do you know where Keara is?’
Aric and Thrax looked at him, thinking that he might’ve lost his mind, talking to a dragonfly.
The dragonfly turned and flew the other way, waiting for them to follow him. It wasn’t long before they saw someone sitting cross-legged on the beach, with a hawk on top of her head.
‘That looks like Keara.’ Thrax said.
‘I told you she’s still alive.’ Korian said and walked out front, leading Legacy back to his master.
But Legacy didn’t wait for Korian to get there. He started galloping and neighed as he neared her.
She turned to look and saw her horse coming towards her. She jumped up from excitement and ran up to Legacy. The hawk took flight and flew alongside her, keeping the sun out of her eyes as much as it could. She threw her arms around Legacy’s neck and he put a leg around her waist to hug her. She let go of Legacy and hugged Korian tightly, happy to see her guardian alive.
He put a hand to her cheek, ‘Are you alright?’
‘It’s just the sun.’ she answered.
‘You should put your hood on.’ Korian said.
‘Yeah.’ she turned to Legacy and opened the rucksack tied to Legacy’s saddle and pulled out a sleeveless hooded bolero. She pulled the hood far over her eyes and immediately felt relief.
‘You wear the mark.’ Aric said.
She looked at him, ‘And you are?’
‘His name is Aric.’ Thrax said, ‘He was also a Kenami. He was the guardian of this forest.’
‘Oh.’ was all she said, then she looked at the blankets around their waists, ‘Why are you wearing my horse’s blankets?’
‘We don’t have any clothes.’ Aric stated the obvious.
‘When we set foot on the beach last night, we changed back to Golden Elves. And you don’t seem to be so surprised by it.’
‘Because I know what happened.’ she stated as she took Legacy’s reins and lead him to the water.
She removed the saddle and the reins and walked into the water with him. She didn’t go very deep, but she stayed in the water, while Legacy rolled around and played in the breaking waves. She couldn’t help but smile.
Korian transformed into the panther and joined Keara in the water. Aric and Thrax followed them to the water and dipped their feet.
‘How could you know what happened?’ Thrax asked.
‘Courtesy of Thessandria.’ she answered.
‘What do you mean?’ Aric asked.
She looked at them, ‘Don’t you know your own history?’
‘Not all of it, it seems.’ Thrax said.
She looked back to Legacy, ‘You are standing on the blood of your ancestors.’
‘What?’ Aric seemed to freak out a little.
‘Many Golden Elves lost their lives on this very beach while protecting their kin against those who cursed the forest and who in turn became cursed by Thessandria.’ Keara said, ‘The sand turned red with the blood of thousands; those who were murdered, and those who were sacrificed. And a silent promise was made to every Kenami protecting the way; should they set foot on the red beach, their burden will be lifted and their true form returned.’
‘How can you possibly know this?’ Aric demanded.
‘I wear the mark, remember? I have all Thessandria’s memories.’ she said, ‘And when I stepped onto the beach, I saw what happened that day. I saw what she did for her kin. And I’m amazed that she survived.’
‘She was quite a woman.’ Thrax said with a smile.
She looked at him, ‘You liked her, didn’t you?’
‘I was very fond of her, yes. But she didn’t feel the same about me.’
‘She loved someone else.’ Keara said matter-of-factly.
‘Yes. A human.’ Aric said with distain.
‘One of the greatest kings the human world has ever known.’ Keara remarked.
‘Did you know him?’ Thrax asked, sounding very interested.
‘No. But my father did. And I know his sons.’
‘Dark Elves don’t have parents.’ Aric pointed out, sounding as though he was trying to make her angry.
‘She’s not just a Dark Elf, she’s the Drow Queen.’ Korian interjected.
‘Still, even the Drow Queen doesn’t have parents.’
‘I was raised by the Ravens with my brothers. You obviously haven’t heard of us.’ Keara spoke.
‘Oh, I have.’ Aric stated, ‘I find it disdainful for elves to mingle with humans.’
‘Then you have no place in this world.’ she responded and took a few steps deeper into the water, ‘Things are changing, Aric. And if you don’t become more accepting, you will be left behind.’
‘I cannot accept inferior beings as readily as you can.’ Aric said apologetically.
He knew that what she was saying was true, but he was set in his ways, ‘I didn’t grow up among them. I’m not able to see what you see.’
‘I never said that you should.’ Keara stated, 'I merely stated that you would get left behind.'
‘We had better get going.’ Thrax said, trying to lift the heavy atmosphere, ‘Aric says there’s a town, not too far from here.’
‘Good. You could get some clothes.’ Keara said.
She put Legacy’s reins on, undid the rucksack and flung it over her shoulder with her boots. Korian transformed back into a Drow and picked up the saddle. They walked along the shore line; Keara, Korian and Legacy keeping their feet in the water. Thrax and Aric followed along on the wet sand. The hawk flew along, occasionally resting on Legacy’s back and the dragonfly remained perched on Legacy’s head.
‘So where to next, Keara?’ Korian asked.
‘The Forbidden Island.’
‘How do you plan on getting there?’ Aric wanted to know.
‘The town should have a harbour. We’re bound to find someone who will take us there.’ she said.
‘We might have to bribe someone.’ Thrax said.
‘You’re going with them?’ Aric asked.
‘Of course.’
‘Would you like to join us?’ Korian asked.
‘Well; I wouldn’t mind going home.’ Aric admitted.
‘Then, come with us.’ Thrax said.
‘Would you let me?’ Aric directed his question to Keara.
‘If that is what you wish.’ she answered.
‘Thank you.’

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