Once Walked With Dragons

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Chapter Seventy Five

Days later, Scander had finally arrived at Surendorn. Time was running out. He knew that if he failed now, all his plans would fall apart.

He cast a spell to reveal the entrance to Surendorn and before long, the entrance revealed itself and they slipped into the darkness. They snuck around Surendorn, moving very slowly until they reached Velmoura. Though they were creatures of darkness, they couldn’t see nearly as well as the Drow. They had to use sear stones to move around. Once inside the walls of Velmoura, they started stalking their prey.
‘Which one do you want, Master?’ one of Scander’s subjects asked.
‘It doesn’t matter. They’re all the same on the inside.’ Scander said, ‘Just hurry. We don’t have much time.’
They inched toward the nearest Drow; a young male, sitting on a rock, examining his weapons and minding his own business. They snuck up behind him, moving very slowly, barely breathing, so he would not hear them. Scander readied his blade and without warning, lunged at the young Drow. But he was too slow. At the last second, the young Drow slipped off the rock and sprang into action.
‘It’s gonna take more than that to catch a Drow off guard.’ the young Drow said.
A fight ensued. The young Drow fought diligently, but made the mistake of getting too cocky. Scander drove his weapon through the Drow’s heart, twisting it to ensure it would be a quick death so the Drow could not call for help.

Keara immediately came out of Reverie, opening her eyes wide, clutching her chest. She wasn’t sure what had just happened, but she knew it couldn’t be good.

Scander withdrew his blade and the young Drow dropped to the ground like a ragdoll. One of his subjects, picked up the Drow’s lifeless body and tossed it over his shoulder, heading back the way they came.

Korian noticed that Keara seemed rather upset when they were travelling again.
‘Something woke me out of Reverie last night.’ she started.
‘Did you have a bad dream?’ Korian asked.
‘Then what was it?’
‘I don’t know. It just, felt, strangely familiar.’ she started, ‘The night I died; Scander plunged his blade into my body and twisted it, making my heart stop almost instantly. That same feeling woke me; like someone died exactly that way.’
‘It could very well be that someone did. It could be a Drow that died.’
Keara’s face went pale for a moment, ‘How did you get to that conclusion?’
‘You’re destined to be the Drow Queen. And as the Drow Queen, you can feel anything that your kin feels.’
‘That’s very unsettling.’ she admitted.
‘I know. And I wish I could say something to make it better, but...’
’But there is nothing you can say to make it better.’

Keara had been day dreaming for most of the day when something caught her attention. She could’ve sworn that she had seen a shadow moving in one of the dark corners of the passage. But the energy that she felt was so subtle and calm that she gave it no further thought and simply continued with her journey.
Thrax and Aric were still complaining, but now they mumbled more and spoke under their breath. They had noticed that Keara was starting to get quite irritated with them and their complaining and they were afraid of what she might do to them if they pushed her far enough.
As the day wore on, Keara started noticing that more shadows were moving around them. At one stage she was even sure she saw a pair of eyes staring at her. She didn’t feel particularly threatened, but the feeling of being watched did make her a little uncomfortable. She tried to ignore it and just press on, but after a while, it felt like even the walls of the cave were watching her. She slowed down a bit so Korian could walk next to her.
‘You know, it might just be me, but it feels like someone’s watching us.’ she whispered.
‘You’ve noticed it too.’ Korian replied.
‘So it’s not just me.’ she said.
‘No, it’s not.’
‘Who do you think is watching us?’
’It might not be a “someone”.’
She looked at Korian, ‘You think it’s a creature.’
‘It might be.’ Korian started, ‘It can’t be an elf. Only Dark Elves can move as quietly as animals do.’
‘What kind of animal would you find this high up in the mountains?’ Keara wanted to know.
‘I don’t know. Perhaps one that hasn’t been seen for centuries.’ Korian thought.
‘You know, they could just come forth.’ she thought.
‘Is it making you feel uncomfortable?’ Korian asked.
‘Yes. Very.’ she answered.
‘I’m sure that whoever or whatever is watching us will show themselves soon enough.’ Korian tried to make her feel better.
She just sighed.

Some hours later, they were exhausted and set up camp. They quietly ate their dinner and soon fell into Reverie with the fire still burning warmly.
By the time the fire was nothing more than smouldering wood, the beings who had been watching them, crept out from the shadows to investigate the newcomers who had decided to brave the cold passages of the mountains. Cats, covered in thick fur, along with snow leopards and foxes padded around these newcomers, sniffing around their belongings. One of the cats slowly climbed onto Keara’s stomach, padding up to her face.
Keara felt the movement and opened her eyes, wondering what could possibly be on her person. As she opened her eyes, she looked straight into the cat’s face and got a fright from the sudden surprise. The cat quickly jumped off and ran into the darkness, along with its other companions.
Korian woke just in time to see the last of them disappearing in the shadows.
‘You did see that, right?’ Keara quickly asked.
‘Yes Keara. You’re not dreaming.’ Korian answered.
‘Just making sure.’ she said with some relief. She looked in the direction the creatures had disappeared in, ‘What were they trying to do?’
‘I don’t know.’ was all Korian could say.

The next day as they finished packing up their things, Keara wondered if they should perhaps follow the creatures that had visited them the night before.
‘Maybe we should follow them.’ she said.
‘But we don’t know where they went.’ Korian pointed out.
‘True, but we know in which direction they were headed.’ she stated.
Korian considered that for a moment. It did make sense. It was better than going in no particular direction.
Soon they were on their way, heading in the direction they had seen the creatures disappearing. Though the chances of finding anything was very slim indeed, they decided it couldn’t do any harm, especially since they were travelling blindly anyway.
As they carried on, they found other passages leading away from the road they had decided to travel on, but they didn’t waver. They just kept going straight.
It had been hours since they had started walking down this passage and Keara was beginning to think that they might have made a mistake, but before she could consider turning around, she heard movement around her. They were on the right path; now she was sure of it.
The farther they travelled the more movement she heard around them. Some distance in front of them, she could see light. She wasn’t quite sure where it lead, but she couldn’t come up with any better ideas, so she kept heading in that direction and everyone continued to follow without question.
As they came closer to the light, Keara’s eyes started burning from the bright light. They had been in darkness for so long, that she had forgotten how painful the light could be. She pulled her hood over her eyes, but it didn’t help much. She started thinking that her eyes would start bleeding at any moment. But still they kept going. They couldn’t pass up the chance of meeting beings who could perhaps be of assistance to them. She slowed down as they got closer, just to be cautious. She put her hand on the hilt of her sword, thinking that it might be necessary. But before she could react, the creatures were upon them, ready to attack should it become apparent that these newcomers didn’t have peaceful intentions.
‘We are not here to harm you.’ Thrax said cautiously, wishing they were back in the darkness.
Korian shape shifted into Keara’s beloved black jaguar and readied himself for a fight. But what happened instead had everyone a bit dumbstruck. Whispers floated among the animals until one finally said, ‘He’s one of us.’
Keara’s jaw dropped. She knew who they were referring too. Her hand slipped off the hilt of her sword as she waited for Korian to respond.
The creatures around them shape shifted into different elven forms. Only then did Korian relax and shape shift back to his Drow form. He couldn’t believe that others of his kind really still existed.
‘You take the Drow form willingly?’ the one in Golden Elf form asked.
‘Of course I do.’ Korian answered, somewhat offended.
They looked over to Keara, then back at Korian.
‘You travel with the Drow Queen.’
‘I am her guardian.’ Korian stated.
They looked at Keara again and back to Korian again.
‘Very well.’ the shape shifter Golden Elf hesitated, looking at Keara, ‘You must be exhausted. Come with us. We will give you a place to rest.’
For the first time, they felt like they might just reach their goal. Perhaps there would be someone who could help them find the dragons.
Keara looked around as they followed the shape shifters. All around them were beautiful flowers and soft grass, green trees and so much warmth. She looked up to the sky, but there was no real sky. She could see the ceiling of the cave. All the light around them was artificial light.

Aric was quite anxious to get back to his people and live his life in peace; that was the reason he had decided to join Keara on her journey after all. Before he even realized it, he had asked the shape shifters if they knew where the Golden Elves were.
‘They will receive you momentarily.’ the shape shifter Golden Elf said.
Aric was so excited after hearing that, he could hardly contain himself.

They didn’t have to wait very long. In the distance, they could see a set of stairs leading to a big porch, with wooden chairs and many small tables standing all around. Throw pillows and fluffy blankets lay all around the porch and down the stairs and even on the soft green grass beyond that. And all around, were the Golden Elves and little elven children running around, playing. All of them with golden blonde or golden brown hair and golden yellow or light brown eyes.
The shape shifters scattered among the elves, either remaining in their elven forms of shape shifting into an animal.
Korian was very happy to find that his kind still existed and for the first time in several hundred years, he felt content and wanted to stay where he was.
Aric and Thrax were very ecstatic to be united with their kin once more.
A male Golden Elf got to his feet, ‘Please join us. You are all welcome here.’
Korian, Thrax and Aric didn’t need to be asked twice. They joined the group almost immediately, but Keara hesitated.
The male Golden Elf noticed her hesitation and walked over to her.
‘You are welcome here, Keara.’ he said in a soft tone, ‘You don’t have to be so hesitant. I am Soren.’
Keara wore an expression of surprise, ‘How do you know my name?’
Soren smiled, ‘We have been visited by the Night Elves many times. They informed us of your pending arrival.’
Keara couldn’t hide her surprised expression.
‘Please join us. You must be exhausted from your travels.’ he took her hand and started leading her toward the porch.
But she hesitated, holding tightly onto Legacy’s reins.
Soren noticed it, ‘Don’t worry about Legacy.’ he gestured to another elf, ‘He will be given every luxury.’
But still, she hesitated.
‘He will not be harmed, Keara. You will always be able to see him during your stay here.’
She finally let go of the reins and stiffly followed the Golden Elf over to the porch. She sat down in one of the chairs trying to get comfortable. But she had never felt so out of place. Though everyone carried on with their conversations, they were all looking at her.
A young female elf was looking at her in pure fascination, ‘You wear the mark of Thessandria.’
Keara’s hand absentmindedly reached up and touched the veins on her face.
‘The world really is in danger.’ a Golden Elf said.
‘And the lives of her children were in great peril.’ Soren said, ‘Even more so than they are now.’
Keara was surprised, ‘How did you know that?’
‘What was it like seeing her history through your eyes?’ a snide Golden Elf asked.
‘What’s that supposed to mean?’ Keara knew exactly what was going on.
‘Owen, we talked about this.’ Soren started, ‘She’s the Drow Queen. She’s certainly not like the others of her kin.’
‘Oh, so I wasn’t imaging the hostility.’ Keara said.
‘I’m terribly sorry, Keara.’ Soren said.
‘I don’t know how much you know about Thessandria’s history, but despite what you might be thinking, the Drow had nothing to do with her demise.’ Keara said.
‘Really?’ the young female asked.
‘Yes. She died on the battlefield, during the war against the Corrupt King. I felt her dying pain as my own.’ Keara explained, ‘The things she had seen, is too much to take; even for a Drow. It still haunts me.’
Owen bowed his head, feeling guilty for being so mean to her.
‘You’re very brave for choosing to complete her tasks.’ another one said.
‘Thank you. But it wasn’t really a choice.’
‘What do you mean?’ Soren asked.
‘It just kind of happened. I don’t know if she really would’ve chosen me.’
‘Nonsense. Only a great hero would be able to wear that mark.’ Soren stated, ‘I admit, I did not expect the Drow Queen to be wearing it. But she chose you for a reason and your name will be written in the stars.’
‘I don’t care about that.’ Keara said.
‘You don’t want fame for what you might achieve?’ Owen asked.
She looked at him, ‘I just want peace.’
‘As do we all.’ Soren added.
‘Tell us about your journey.’ the young female elf said.
‘What do you wanna know.’ Keara asked.
For a moment, Keara didn’t know what to say, but then just decided to start at the beginning. Everyone listened intently as she and her companions told their story. By the end, all the young elves watched them, wide-eyed and fascinated.
‘It must have been quite an adventure.’ the young female elf said.
‘It has been.’ Keara admitted.
‘But for some of us, it is now coming to an end.’ Korian added.
‘So it seems.’ Keara knew what he meant.

A short while later, Keara and Korian went for a walk.
‘So you intend to stay.’ she finally said.
Korian hesitated, ‘I do. Thrax and Aric have also decided to stay.’
‘I thought they would.’
‘But you hoped I wouldn’t.’
‘Yes.’ she admitted.
‘You knew this day would come, dear one.’
‘I know.’ she sighed, ‘I guess; I guess I just hoped you would change your mind.’
‘My journey is coming to an end, Keara. You’re all grown up now. You don’t need me anymore.’
‘Of course I do. You never stop needing a friend.’
Korian smiled and took Keara in his arms, ‘I am always with you, even if it is just in spirit.’ he let go and wiped her tears away, ‘This was always your journey. ’

The artificial sky had turned dark, with stars dotting the darkness and a moon hanging lazily to one side. She lay in the tall grass, looking up at it, pondering everything that had happened to her over the last while.
She heard movement in the tall grass and sat up slowly, watching as two beings approached her.
‘I was wondering when I’d see you two again.’
‘Hello Keara.’ Adriel said as she elegantly sat down next to her on the grass.
‘It’s nice to see you again.’ Kydriel said, joining his sister and Keara on the grass.
‘So, what have you come to tell me?’ Keara asked.
‘We thought we’d give you a bit more insight into the Sharzak – Drow history.’ Kydriel stated.
‘Really?’ she was surprised.
‘Yes.’ Adriel started, ‘You obviously know Queen Ethera’s side, but we thought we’d explain Sharzak’s side.’
‘Should I care about his side?’ Keara wanted to know.
‘You’re not interested?’ Adriel asked.
‘No no, I could do with a good story.’
‘Sharzak had always wanted control over the Dark Elves. It has always been the strongest elven race to ever exist. But of course, he didn’t just want that. He wanted control over everything. World domination.’
‘Every villain wants world domination. What’s new?’ Keara asked.
‘Yes, that’s true. His goals are nothing out of the ordinary. But taking control of the Dark Elves was never his ultimate goal.’ Kydriel said.
Keara looked at him, ‘Explain.’
‘Sharzak wants the dragons.’ Adriel said.
‘Does he now?’ Keara replied.
Adriel just nodded her head, ‘But there is something else he wants as well.’
‘And what is that?’ Keara wanted to know.
‘That is yet to be discovered.’ Adriel answered.
‘You’re not going to tell me?’
‘It’s not our place to tell.’ Kydriel responded.
‘Okay.’ Keara started, ‘Can you tell me why he wants the dragons?’
‘Dragons are the strongest beings on earth. They draw their power from the earth and the sky.’ Adriel said.
‘Then how did Sharzak manage to slay one?’ Keara wanted to know.
‘Simple.’ Kydriel started, ‘Scander had created a creature that was even stronger than a dragon.’
‘Are you serious?’ Keara asked.
‘Unfortunately, yes.’
‘Turns out, he’s quite the scientist.’ Kydriel answered.
‘Haven’t you ever wondered where the Mortags came from?’ Adriel asked.
‘Of course I have. I tried to find some answers, but a lot of that history had been erased from Artemis’s archives.’
‘It was such a dark time. The humans didn’t want to be reminded of that dark history.’
Keara just nodded her head, ‘So, did Scander create the Mortags?’
‘Yes. It had taken him a while to figure out how to keep them alive for more than a day. But once he did, many Drow died.’
‘What do you mean?’ Keara didn’t understand.
‘He used Drow blood to sustain them.’ Adriel said.
‘What?’ Keara couldn’t believe it, ‘Is that even possible?’
‘No one would ever have thought that it was, but he found a way.’
Keara considered this piece of information for a moment, ‘I think he might be at it again.’
‘He is. He has been experimenting for quite a while, but he is nearing his goal.’ Kydriel said.
‘I have to stop him.’ Keara said, moving to get up.
‘It is already too late, Keara.’ Adriel put a hand on Keara’s arm, ‘He is almost finished. Even if you left now, you wouldn’t be able to stop him.’
‘Then what?’ Keara wanted to know, ‘With an army like that, he would make Sharzak invincible.’
‘They are not invincible.’ Adriel said matter-of-factly, ‘There is a way to destroy them.’
‘There is?’ Keara was surprised.
‘Yes.’ Kydriel answered.
Keara waited for them to tell her what it was, ‘And? What is it?’
‘Dragon’s fire.’ Kydriel stated.
Keara raised an eyebrow, ‘Really?’
Kydriel just nodded.
‘So, back to the Sharzak – World Domination story.’ Keara finally said.
‘He knows that if the Drow submit to his rule, they would follow him blindly and help him conquer everything or, if Scander has his way, they would become the key ingredient in his dark creations.’ Kydriel said.
‘And you should know quite well how strong his dark creations can be. You have faced such a creature at least once.’ Adriel pointed out.
Keara looked at her for a moment, then uttered, ‘The Crimson Demon. The one that had nearly drained all my energy.’
‘Yes.’ Adriel said.
‘He died shortly after your encounter. But Scander can make many more. And with Drow blood, he can make them live for a thousand lifetimes.’ Kydriel said.
‘This just keeps getting better and better.’ Keara said exasperated.
‘I fail to see how this is better.’ Kydriel said, clearly not grasping the sarcasm in her voice.
She looked at him, ‘Sarcasm.’
‘There’s something else you should know, Keara.’ Adriel started.
‘Even more?’ Keara tried to make light of everything she had heard.
‘As before, Sharzak has been using very dark forces to achieve his goals. Darker than any of his subjects had even seen. They will drag you to hell, if they have the chance.’ Adriel explained.
‘But they would drag him to hell too, if they had half a chance.’ Kydriel added.
Keara just looked at him, ‘What do you mean?’
‘The dark forces are loyal only to themselves. Right now, they assist Sharzak because he has made a bargain with them, but also because he has something to lose.’
‘What did he bargain with?’ Keara wasn’t sure she really wanted to know.
‘The soul of Crucis Salerra.’ Kydriel answered.
Keara’s eyes grew wide, ‘What?’
‘He didn’t want you under his control purely because you were his only true arch-nemesis.’ Kydriel said.
She took a few deep breathes, taking in the information, ‘Is that why he killed Ethera?’
‘Yes, but the body without the soul, is not the true being. They wanted her alive.’ Adriel said.
‘As punishment for his failure, they allowed him to be captured.’ Kydriel added.
‘But he escaped.’ Keara pointed out.
‘Yes, so Scander was imprisoned in his place.’ Kydriel said.
‘But the dark forces would not allow Sharzak to get away completely unpunished. So they locked away all his powers along with Scander, making him essentially human.’ Adriel finished.
‘A human with a very long lifespan.’ Kydriel added.
Keara couldn’t believe what she was hearing, ‘But he’s bargaining with the dark forces again.’
‘They have given him one last chance to hand over Crucis Salerra, alive.’ Adriel said.
‘But why do they want me?’ Keara didn’t understand.
‘Because like Queen Ethera before you, your family consists of more than just Dark Elves. You are not prejudice and that makes you dangerous. You try to bring all the beings together, to fight as one. And against that, the dark forces don’t stand a chance.’
‘So they want me out of the picture, so they can have everything their way.’
‘Yes.’ Adriel answered.
‘But that’s not gonna happen.’ Kydriel said.
There was a moment of silence between them, allowing all the information to sink in.
‘It is time for you to leave, Keara.’ Adriel said softly.
‘I know.’
‘You realize that you will be alone.’ Kydriel said.
‘I do.’
‘Perhaps we can convince one of your companions to go with you.’ Adriel suggested.
‘There’s no need. You already know they won’t go.’ Keara said.
Adriel gave her a sad smile.
Keara opened her eyes, pondering all she had learned.

Thrax found Keara near the stables, fastening Legacy’s saddle and tying her bedrolls and rucksack to it.
‘Are you leaving?’ he asked her.
‘I’ve been here for two days already. It is time for me to go.’
‘Things could be different, you know. You could live out your life here, in peace.’
‘This peace will not last if there isn’t someone to stand up to the chaos.’ she replied, ‘And I can’t abandon my brothers.’
Thrax just looked at her.
‘You must understand that the darkness will find you, if I fail.’ she said softly, not looking at him.
‘I know.’ he answered softly, he paused for a moment, ‘You must think I’m a coward.’
‘Of course not.’ Keara answered. She turned to him and put a hand on his shoulder, ‘You became the Kenami to protect what you believed in. You sacrificed a good deal of your life for that. That’s not cowardice; that’s bravery.’

A short while later, she was standing at the entrance they had come through only days before. She was about to leave, but not nearly ready for it. Everyone had gathered around to see her off and wish her well. Some of the children had made her jewellery and other small trinkets. The grown elves provided her with food and drink and hoped that her journey would go well.
She said her final goodbyes to her companions, feeling as though this really was the last time she would see them. She took Legacy’s reins and lead him into the darkness beyond the home of the Golden Elves.
Though the darkness felt good to her sensitive eyes, she felt more alone than ever.
She walked aimlessly for several hours, when she felt a cool breeze blowing through her hair. She looked out in front of her and noticed the red snow that gave the mountain its name. She walked towards it and came out at the very top of the mountain. She left Legacy in the mouth of the cave and climbed up to the very tip of the mountain, sitting down in the snow and staring out at everything below. With a deep sigh, she thought to herself that she could really use some help, especially since she had no idea where to go from here.
‘I don’t know what to do.’ she whispered into the air.

Scander soon arrived back at the castle with the dead Drow. He quickly made his way back to his chambers and started with his experiments. All his research had been destroyed when he had been chained up in his eternal prison, but he still remembered the basics.
The Drow’s blood would make his creations quite powerful, but first he needed to get the formula right. It had been so long since his research had been destroyed, he hoped that he would be able to figure it out before Keara returned.

She still sat in the red snow, looking out over the world that seemed so peaceful from so far away, still contemplating where to go from here. She thought that maybe she should get up and start searching the many passages inside the mountain again. But she had been through almost all of them and there had been no sign of any dragon. She was out of ideas.

Scander was slowly progressing with his experiments, but his time was growing short. Sharzak was becoming reckless.

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