Once Walked With Dragons

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Chapter Seventy Four

They were up early the next morning. Thrax and Aric seemed a little worse for wear and Korian couldn’t help but smile at that. Keara wasn’t doing much of anything; she only stroked Legacy’s neck. The tribe had provided her companions with horses so they would be able to travel faster.
‘Follow our directions exactly. Don’t stray from the path, even for a second. If you do, you’ll only make it easier for the Deveci to find you. And you must make it to the Great Temple before nightfall. If you don’t, you won’t survive the night.’ their rescuer from the previous day informed them.

‘This is a pretty long path to take. Isn’t there a shorter way?’ Korian asked, ‘Time is of the essence.’
‘I understand, but there is no other way.’ their rescuer said, ‘This path is protected. The Deveci can see you, but they cannot touch you so long as you stay on it. But it will only protect you until nightfall.’
‘Alright. But why only till nightfall?’ Korian asked again.
‘Because the enchantment dies down each night.’
‘What? Why?’ Korian didn’t understand.
‘Just the way the dragons preferred it, I guess.’ their rescuer answered.
Korian had a surprised look on his face.
‘The dragons laid out these enchantments centuries ago. Why they chose this specific path, no one knows. And finding the right path, wasn’t as easy as you might think.’
‘I can understand that.’ Korian said, ‘Thank you for your help. We’ll stay on the path.’

Lianna walked over to Keara, ‘I am terribly sorry for your loss.’
Keara turned to face her, ‘Thank you, for not lying.’
‘You’re most welcome.’
Keara looked away for a moment, putting a hand on Legacy’s neck, ‘So uh, I guess we won’t be seeing you again.’
‘Probably not.’
‘Well, thank you for everything you’ve done for us. It will not be forgotten.’
Lianna smiled, ‘May you find what you are looking for, Keara Harpstrom, even if it is just peace of mind.’
‘Thank you.’ Keara replied as she took Legacy’s reins and started leading him to the gate.

They travelled in silence for the better part of a day. Keara was lost in the thoughts of her parents, Thrax and Aric were still recovering from the previous evening and Korian just wanted to make sure that they stay on the correct path and that they reached the great temple before nightfall. But soon Korian could no longer stand the silence, even though he had so often been on his own in the past.
He pulled the reins softly, slowing his horse down so that Keara could catch up with him.
‘I’m sorry that you had to find out now.’ he said.
For the first time she remembered that she was not alone on this road, ‘I was bound to find out sooner or later.’
‘I would’ve preferred if you only found out after we found the dragons.’ Korian stated.
‘It wouldn’t have made a difference.’
‘At least this will make your resolve unbreakable.’ Korian said.
‘What do you mean?’ she didn’t understand.
‘As much as you’ve tried to hide it, I’ve seen your resolve waver.’ he noted.
‘Staying strong isn’t always easy when the world is falling apart around you.’ she defended.
‘Of course it isn’t.’ he said, ‘But you’re the only one who can fix it.’
‘You don’t have to keep reminding me, Korian. Most of the time, that’s the only thought that keeps me going.’
‘I just don’t want you to give up, Keara.’
‘I’ll never give up. I’ll never be able to face my brothers if I do. I would’ve dishonoured my parents’ sacrifice. And my Drow pride prevents me from quitting.’
‘Are those really the only reasons?’ he was shocked.
‘No. I do want this world to continue to exist.’
‘I’m glad to hear it.’ he breathed a sigh of relief.
‘And I must avenge my parents.’

It was early afternoon when they heard rustling in the bushes beside the road. Keara pulled on Legacy’s reins.
‘They’re following us.’ Korian muttered.
‘They can’t get through the ward over the road, can they?’ Aric asked nervously, and with good reason.
‘As long as we make it to the Great Temple before nightfall, no.’ Korian stated.
They decided to pick up the pace. They didn’t want to go another round with the Deveci, especially since they were almost eaten the last time.

The sun was slowly starting to set when the Deveci started approaching the road. They came closer and closer, knowing that once the sun set, they would get their prey. But it soon became clear that most of them were not very bright. They grew restless and started attacking, but only ended up running into an invisible wall; some with such force, that they died on impact.
She was not going to wait any longer. She urged Legacy into a fast run, followed closely by the other three.

The sun hung on the horizon by the time they reached the gate. Members of this Black Spear Tribe were already standing outside, waiting for them.
They opened the gates and allowed the newcomers inside.
Their reception wasn’t as hostile as the previous one. The gates closed behind them just as the sun disappeared below the horizon.
‘You made it here just in time.’ a tribesman said.
Keara had barely dismounted, when a member of the tribe approached her. He wasn’t very tall, but he was muscular. With long dreadlocks, much like those of Lianna, his body also glowed a faint gold and was decorated with black and white paint. He wore silver and gold jewellery, walking around barefoot.
‘Hello Keara. I am Avvan.’ he greeted.
‘Hello.’ she didn’t know what else to say.
‘We’ve been expecting you.’
‘I’ve been hearing that a lot, lately.’ she stated.
‘I take it you’re the oracle of this tribe?’ Korian asked as he approached, standing near Keara.
‘Yes.’ Avvan answered with a smile and raised his hands, ‘Welcome to the Great Temple.’

A short while later, they were sitting in the town square around a huge bonfire, having dinner. Korian was sitting next to Keara, keeping an eye on her, making sure that she was always safe. Avvan was sitting on the other side of Keara. He seemed to have taken a shine to her.
‘You must be quite brave to have come this far.’ Avvan said to her.
‘The world as we know it could be coming to an end. There is no room for cowardice.’
‘That’s true. Still, not many would’ve taken the risks you have taken.’ Avvan said.
‘I’m a Drow. We’re reckless.’ Keara responded.
‘But not you. You’re the Drow Queen.’
‘Yes. And you seem to be quite comfortable around such a dangerous being.’ Korian said, noticing that Keara wasn’t really interested in the conversation.
‘I’m well aware that she could snap my neck in a second. But that’s not why you are all here.’ Avvan said, ‘But I’m afraid your journey has been in vain.’
Keara looked straight at him, ‘Beg your pardon.’
‘You will not find the dragons. And we cannot help you.’
‘How do you know we won’t find the dragons?’ Korian asked before Keara could say anything.
‘Because even the people living on this island don’t know where they are.’ Avvan informed.
‘They’re in the Scarlet Snow Mountains.’ Keara said matter-of-factly.
‘There are caves and tunnels that span for miles within the mountains. And the dragons have the ability to camouflage themselves. In fact, there’s very little they cannot do. You could be searching your entire lifetime and never find them.’ Avvan explained.
‘It could go a lot faster if you helped us.’ Korian suggested.
‘We will not help you.’ Avvan started.
‘What?’ Keara snapped.
‘I’m sorry. But the dragons must remain protected.’
‘I’m sure they can take care of themselves.’ Keara said.
‘They came to this island to get away from everyone and so that no one could ever find them. How you even made it this far, I’ll never know. But we cannot expose them to the world again.’ Avvan said sternly.
‘We can’t leave here without them.’ Keara said.
‘We will see you to shore if you wish to go home. But if you wish to keep searching for the dragons, you will be on your own. You will not receive help from any of the Black Spear Tribes. And we will not protect you from any fate that might await you.’
‘Then we’ll do it without your help.’ Keara said as she got up and walked away.
‘I am sorry. But I think it would be in your best interest to go back home.’ Avvan said to Korian.
‘You don’t get it, do you?’ Korian started, ‘This war we are trying to fight, will just keep spreading. Eventually it will affect you too.’
‘No one will ever find us here.’ Avvan seemed very sure about that.
‘We did.’
‘With the help of the Night Elves.’
‘And they would not have helped us find you if they didn’t think it were necessary.’
Avvan wasn’t sure how to respond, ‘I am sorry, Korian. But you are on your own.’

Aric and Thrax turned in quite early. They were quite tired after the day’s travels. Korian was conversing with some of the other tribes’ people.
Keara had made her way up to the Great Temple. Before long, she was wandering around inside the temple, admiring the artistry and letting her mind wander around in thought. She had taken off her weapons and left them by the door.
A great golden dragon stood in the middle of the temple, its head held high with great majesty. She sat down on the floor in front of it and crossed her legs, admiring the beauty she saw before her.
A dark cloud started forming behind her, but she didn’t notice. More dark clouds started forming, rolling over each other, growing bigger, until it started forming a tall hooded figure. Only then did Keara start to notice that something might be behind her. She slowly turned her head to see what could be behind her and when she noticed the figure forming, she quickly got to her feet and headed for the door, not to run away, but to get her weapons.
The figure had formed completely, but before Keara could even turn around, the figure already stood behind her.
‘Hello Keara.’ the figure said.
She just held up her sword and dagger.
‘No need to be so cautious. I’m not here to harm you.’
Keara slowly started moving closer to the dragon statue, without looking away from the figure.
‘Who are you?’ she finally asked.
‘I am Neamos, guardian of the dead.’
‘What are you doing here?’ Keara asked without lowering her weapons.
‘I require your help.’ Neamos said.
‘Really?’ Keara didn’t believe him, ‘Why?’
‘It has come to my attention that certain beings are still walking the earth who no longer belong here.’ Neamos stated.
‘There are many beings who don’t belong here anymore.’ Keara added.
‘To be more specific, Sharzak and Scander.’
That statement immediately got her full attention.
‘Seems you know them all too well.’
‘They’re not exactly dead.’
‘They’re not alive either.’
‘There are many beings who live for thousands of years.’
‘Yes, but Sharzak and Scander were never meant to live this long. They were once human.’
‘I want them in the Underworld, where they belong.’
‘Then why don’t you just take them?’
‘I am the guardian of the dead. I can’t do anything in the world of the living, or in their case, the undead.’
‘What do you want me to do?’
‘Kill them.’
‘What the hell do you think I’m trying to do?’
‘Yes. But you’ll never achieve that in your current state.’
‘What are you talking about?’
‘You will become the Drow Queen, whether you like it or not, or you will die.’
‘I will not be queen. I have no interest in ruling the Dark Elves.’
‘You don’t have a choice.’ Neamos started, ‘Until you embrace your true self, you will never be as strong as you are meant to be.’
‘I can become as strong as I need to be without becoming queen.’
Neamos stepped closer to Keara, lifting his head higher, seeming to try and intimidate her, ‘You don’t have a choice. If you don’t become queen, the world will perish and everyone will blame you.’
Keara stopped listening, she attacked, no longer thinking straight. Neamos fought back diligently, but finally decided that he had had enough. He grabbed her by the throat and forced her up against the wall. Both Keara’s hands gripped his forearm. She was struggling to breathe. He had a very strong grip on her neck. The fire was burning in her eyes, but due to the lack of oxygen, she couldn’t think straight.
‘I do understand your reluctance, but believe me, you will not achieve what you are aiming to achieve without taking that power and responsibility. I cannot allow Sharzak and Scander to continue roaming the earth, but unfortunately I can’t drag them back to the Underworld without your assistance. Now, you have a choice, you can help me by becoming queen, or I will kill you and find another to help me.’
‘You can’t kill me.’ Keara struggled to say.
Neamos hesitated, ‘But I can make your life such a living hell that you would wish you were dead.’
‘You will never get your hands on them without me.’
He let go of her. ‘So is that a yes, Drow Queen?’
She dropped to the floor and coughed, desperately gasping for air, ‘It seems no matter what I do, there is no way I can escape it.’
‘You’re right. There is no way you can escape it.’
‘Very well.’ she rubbed her throat, bruises spreading across her neck.
‘Rest assured that you will have an honourable place in the afterlife.’
‘I don’t care.’ Keara said. She was still not able to talk properly.
Neamos just smiled. He knew she was quite annoyed, but he didn’t care. Soon he would have Sharzak and Scander in his possession; and that’s all he cared about.

The next morning, Avvan was explaining to them the safest way to get to the Scarlet Snow Mountains.
Keara was still rubbing the bruises on her neck. She knew that the guardian couldn’t kill, but she wasn’t aware that he could do such harm.
‘Why don’t you just come with us?’ Aric asked Avvan.
‘This is a journey you have chosen.’ Avvan started, ‘Though we commend you on your bravery, we don’t want any part in this.’
‘But if we don’t succeed, you will become a part of this.’ Thrax said.
‘Well, with an attitude like hers, I doubt she’ll fail.’ Avvan stated.
‘Shall we get going?’ Keara asked.
Aric turned to her, ‘Don’t you want one of them as a guide?’
She just looked at him, ‘They don’t wanna leave the safety of their village.’ she said, then rubbed the bruises on her neck again, ‘You can’t make people do something they don’t want too.’
Korian looked at her, finally noticing the bruises on her neck.
They mounted their horses and left the village, not looking back at the gates closing behind them.
‘So what happened?’ Korian asked, referring to the bruises on her neck.
‘The guardian of the dead paid me a visit last night.’
‘Yeah. Wanted me to help him kill Sharzak and Scander.’
‘Looks like the conversation didn’t go too well.’
‘I don’t wanna talk about it.’
Korian just smiled. He knew she didn’t wanna talk about it because she was defeated.
‘I really think they should’ve come with us.’ Aric complained.
‘Well, they’re not. They're not changing their minds.’ Keara said.
‘I just think it would be safer than blindly running along.’ he continued to complain.
‘We’re not blindly running along. They gave us directions.’ Keara stated.
‘Which could be wrong.’ Aric thought out loud.
Keara gave an exasperated sigh, ‘Why would they send us in the wrong direction?’
‘Because we’re trying to find the dragons.’ Aric said.
‘They don’t even know where the dragons are.’ Keara pointed out.
‘Maybe that’s what they want us to think.’
‘Stop being so suspicious.’
‘I’m just saying.’
‘Well, stop saying it. Not everybody understands the severity of our situation.’ Keara responded.
‘Yes, but is a little help really too much to ask?’ Aric asked.
‘They have helped us.’ Korian started, ‘They gave us food and shelter, instead of leaving us to face the Deveci.’
‘Yes...’ Aric started feeling a bit guilty, ‘Well... Nevermind.’

They travelled far, and tried to travel fast. The sun was still hanging on the horizon by the time they reached the foot of the mountain.
‘That’s a long way up.’ Thrax commented.
‘I think I see a path over there.’ Korian said, pointing to one side.
They all dismounted their horses, took the reins and started leading them up the narrow path. This path would span for miles around the mountain ascending all the way to the top. For days they ascended the mountain, finding different entrances that only turned out to be dead-end caves. By night, they took shelter in these dead-end caves to get out of the cold and wind, which only got worse, the higher they ascended, and the mist became heavier.

Scander had managed to slip away from Sharzak and the castle for a few days. He had taken a small party with him and they were heading in one direction; straight to Surendorn. Scander knew exactly what he wanted and also knew that his time to get it was running out. He hoped that they would reach Surendorn within the next few days.

Keara’s temper was growing shorter by the day. Thrax and especially Aric started complaining more and more each day. She really hoped they would find the right cave soon. She wasn’t sure if she would be able to take much more of their complaining. Korian tried his best to keep her calm, knowing very well how she must have felt. He himself had also started to lose his temper.
Soon night fell, and they had to find a cave to take shelter in. This one was a little bigger than most of the previous ones they had been in.
Keara sighed as she removed her hood. She tried very hard to stay calm. Korian looked at her.
‘I’ll start the fire.’ he spoke.
She just nodded her head.
‘Just be patient, dear one. We’ll find the dragons soon enough.’ Korian tried to reassure her.
‘We have to find the right passage first.’ she pointed out.
‘Well, we must be getting close. There’s not much higher to go from here.’
She sighed again, ‘Yeah.’

A while later, the fire was burning warmly, keeping most of the cold outside the cave entrance. Thrax and Aric had finally ceased their complaining, giving Keara some peace. Korian was cooking some dinner over the fire. Keara was by herself, off to one side, exploring the deeper part of the cave. She found that it didn’t end after a few feet.
‘Keara, come eat something.’ Korian called after her.
She slowly turned around and headed back to the fire.
‘Find anything of value?’ Korian asked.
‘This cave looks promising.’ she said as she sat down.

Keara spent most of the night investigating the cave they were in. She found many other passages. Some leading outside, some were dead-ends.
The next morning after a little Reverie, she told the others about what she had found and she had decided that they should continue down this passage. None of them complained. Anything was better than being outside in the freezing cold.
The journey had become much more tolerable now that there wasn’t any whining blocking her ears. And for a change, she felt at peace. Then out of nowhere, she started singing. At first it sounded like incoherent mumbling, but soon Korian realized that it was the song he had taught her as a child and started singing along with her. Their voices harmonized beautifully and the song seemed to lift everyone’s spirits.
But it didn’t last. By the time they set up camp deep in one of the passages, Thrax and Aric had started complaining once again. Keara sat to one side, rubbing her temples. She wasn’t sure how much more she would be able to take. She sincerely hoped they would find the dragons, or at the very least, other life forms, soon.

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