Chapter Seventy Six
Keara still sat at the top of the mountain, looking down at the vast island, surrounded by the Sleepless Ocean. She still pondered her options. If she turned back, the world as she knew it would cease to exist. But if she kept searching she might never find the dragons, and the world would still fall into darkness.
A part of her cursed the fact that this burden had been placed on her shoulders. But her doubt and resentment soon passed.
She closed her eyes and took a deep breath. She had decided long ago, when she took the oath of the Ravens, that she would protect all that deserved it, even if it meant dying. She had no intention of breaking that oath.
She opened her eyes again, still breathing deeply. It was peaceful where she sat. And her thoughts lazily drifted around her head.
But something distracted her. She heard something. Where it came from, she couldn’t be sure; it seemed to be coming from all around her. She even looked down at the bottom of the mountain, but she didn’t see anything. Suddenly, she froze in place; hearing wings batting behind her. She slowly turned around. She barely had a chance to see what was behind her, when she was rammed off the top of the mountain. She landed hard in the snow, several feet down from where she had been a moment ago. Her vision was blurry for a moment. She shook her head, propping herself up on her arms and looked around. Through the clouds she could see something heading towards her at great speed. It took her a moment to realize what was going on and she scrambled out of the way, but it caught her leg and dragged her into the air, upside down and screaming. She looked toward her foot to see what had caught her. For a moment, she was completely dumbstruck and forgot what had just happened. It was a dragon. Her mouth was hanging open. She couldn’t believe what she was actually seeing.
Everything became very real, very quickly. She realized that they were attacking her, and if she didn’t react, she was gonna die. She started growing her wings, but before they were fully formed, she was slammed into the side of the mountain. The dragon let go of her leg after dragging her a few feet up against the side of the mountain and she rolled a few feet down again. She was completely disorientated. Looking up, she saw that Legacy was still standing in the mouth of the entrance; and her sheathed sword was still hanging from his saddle. She scrambled up towards him as fast as she could. She was just out of arms’ reach when her feet were pulled out from under her, slamming her face-first into the snow. She was dragged off the mountain again. Her long nails came out and she sliced into the dragon’s leg. It screeched and randomly dropped her. But instead of hitting the ground again, she flapped her wings and swooped down to Legacy, grabbing her sword. She flapped her wings harder to gain some air. By the time she was high enough, she looked around her and noticed that she was surrounded.
She knew she didn’t stand a chance, but she wasn’t going to give up without a fight. Even though these were the creatures she had been looking for, she couldn't just allow them to attack her without doing anything to defend herself.
It was a horrific battle. And by the time it was over, she was badly injured and unconscious.
She lay motionless on the side of the mountain. One dragon swooped down and took her in its claws. Another swooped down and picked up Legacy who neighed, but seemed to be calm.
She awoke with a whopper of a headache and lying on her back, staring up at the ceiling of what she assumed was a cave. The area was lit from a distance. She sat up slowly, and in the process, her head started throbbing and she felt completely disorientated. She brought her hand up to her head and noticed that she was chained up. It was made of the finest iron she’d ever seen; and it was unbreakable. She also noticed that she had a collar around her neck. She touched it; it felt ice cold even though her skin was warm. No chain was attached to it, so she didn’t really understand the purpose of it.
The air was warm; she thought that maybe it was coming from where the light was. Slowly she stood up, careful not to disorientate herself even more. She started moving around a little, though the chains didn’t allow too much movement. She was trying to see where the light was coming from and paid no attention to her footing and before she realized it, she tripped over the chains and fell face-first into the ground. She propped herself up on her forearms and shook her head a little in order to get rid of the disorientation.
She corrected herself and for what it was worth dusted herself off. It took her a moment to notice that there were voices approaching.
She tried to grow her nails so she would have at least some form of defence, but nothing happened. She looked down at her hands and tried again. And again, nothing happened. Her wings wouldn’t grow either. Crucis Salerra lay dormant.
‘Your transformation will not take place as long as you are wearing that collar.’ a voice said, coming from the direction of the light.
She looked up as the owner of the voice rounded the corner. It was a dragon; and judging by its size and particularly bright colours, it was a young one.
‘The elders are not pleased with your presence here.’ a dragon named Chudo said.
‘The elders?’ Keara didn’t quite understand.
‘The oldest and wisest of the dragons.’ he answered.
‘I am amongst the dragons?’ she couldn’t believe it.
‘Foolish little Drow. Did you really think we wouldn’t find out about your presence on our mountain?’
‘I had hoped you would. I’ve been looking for you.’
‘You want to slay one of our kin again? Taking our oldest dragon from us was not enough?’
‘I didn’t come here to slay any of you. I came to ask for your help.’
She had barely finished her sentence when she had to duck out of the way as Chudo breathed fire in her direction.
‘Lies! The last time we assisted the Drow, one of us died!’
‘That was not the fault of my kin.’ she started, ‘That was Sharzak.’
Again Chudo breathed fire and she duck for cover.
‘Your kind had chosen to trust him.’ he said.
‘Everybody makes mistakes.’ she said as though she was a child trying to avoid punishment from her parents.
Chudo was surprised to hear that reply. It just looked at her.
She looked back, not knowing what to expect.
‘The elders will see you. And they will decide what will become of you.’ he finished, turned around and left.
While she waited for the elders to finally see her, she tried to occupy herself, and keep her mind busy.
Scander was close to completing his formula. And he would’ve been finished already, if Sharzak didn’t keep him as busy as he did, lately. He couldn’t understand it. Suddenly Sharzak needed him for everything and just a few days ago, it was as though Sharzak didn’t even know he existed.
‘You Drow have a knack for scratching where it doesn’t itch.’ a dragon named Hanat said.
Keara just looked at him. He was one of the biggest dragons she had ever seen; not that she had seen any before now. But they had taken her to a different cavern; a much bigger one. She had been brought before the elders.
She gaped at Hanat. His voice droned through her body. Only when he spoke again, did she snap out of her trance and close her mouth.
‘Well?’ Hanat bent down to look her in the eye.
She looked up at Hanat, ‘Well what?’ Keara dared to ask.
‘Why are you here?’ his voice bellowed through the cavern.
‘I was looking for you.’ Keara said.
‘That much is obvious.’ another dragon named Echida said, ‘But why would the Drow Queen be looking for us?’
Keara started gaping as her too, but quickly snapped out of it, ‘I’m not the queen.’ she paused for a moment, ‘How could you even tell that?’
‘Queen Ethera’s features were much like yours; the black hair and purple eyes.’
‘And of course the transformation.’ Echida said, ‘Now, why are you here?’
‘I came to ask for your help.’
Laughter roared through the cavern.
‘Why would we ever help you?’ another dragon named Ilea asked, ‘Don’t you know about the history between our two species?’
‘I do.’ she answered.
‘And still you chose to come here?’
‘I would’ve left you in peace if there was any other way. But as it happens, my kin has made a lot of mistakes and if you don’t help me, the whole world will pay for it.’ she finished.
‘So you expect us to fix what you have broken.’
Keara was silent for a moment, ‘Scander has broken out of his eternal prison and now walks free. And with it he released Sharzak’s power. They are building an army bigger than any I, or Queen Ethera have ever seen.’
‘So you have gained all Ethera’s memories.’ a female dragon named Rora said.
‘So you have gained full control over Salerra.’
‘Not full control, yet. But if my transformation atop the mountains wasn’t enough, I could demonstrate again.’
‘It seems Ethera chose her successor well.’ the elder dragon Vale said.
‘Indeed.’ Ilea replied.
‘I have no intention of taking the throne.’ Keara stated.
‘Really now?’ Hanat started after a moment of stunned silence.
‘You don’t crave power?’ Echida asked.
‘No.’ she answered simply.
‘Now that really is interesting.’ Rora started, ‘A Drow would kill for a chance to possess great power.’
‘I’ve noticed.’ Keara started, ‘When I first went to Velmoura to find answers, I was almost killed by the reigning king.’
Rora looked at her, ‘King? No, no, no, my dear. The Drow don’t have kings, they have queens.’
‘Well, they have a king now.’ Keara stated.
‘Must be because of Ethera’s premature death.’ Hanat thought.
The dragons started talking amongst themselves, seeming to forget that Keara was still there.
‘Excuse me.’ Keara started, ‘I’m still here.’
The dragons just looked at her. It seemed they really had forgotten that she was there.
‘You say you know of the history between our two species.’
‘I know some of it. What Ethera experienced and what I’ve been told.’ she answered honestly.
‘Then you must know that we wouldn’t help you, even if the fate of the world depended on it.’
‘The fate of the world does depend on it.’
The entire cavern fell silent.
‘Give us one good reason why we should believe you, let alone, help you.’
‘I have no reason to lie. I have already lost my parents who sacrificed themselves for people who don’t know the meaning of the word. Right now, I don’t even know if my brothers are still alive. I’ve had to say goodbye to too many friends already. The whole world hates me because of what I am. My own kin wants to kill me.' Keara said, then, sheepishly added, 'And I don’t know where my horse is.’
For a brief moment, it seemed like some of the dragons would sympathize with her, but the moment soon passed.
‘You will be kept here until we can decide what should be done with you.’ Vale said, ‘Take her back to her cavern.’
Keara walked up and down the cavern. She waited and waited. It felt like she had been there for days and that she was gonna die of boredom when Vale poked his head through the entrance to her cavern. At first it gave her a fright, because only his head could fit. If she stood right in front of his mouth, she would not be able to see over the tip of his nose.
‘We have been contemplating your situation and your story.’ he said.
She waited for him to continue, ‘And?’
‘We haven’t come to a decision yet.’
‘You can’t decide if you should help me?’
‘We can’t decide if we should let you live.’
She sighed, ‘Really?’
‘I know that wasn’t the answer you were hoping for.’
Keara just dropped her head, ‘Nothing about this journey was what I expected it to be.’ Keara admitted.
‘I would like to hear about this journey.’ he started.
Keara was surprised, ‘Really?’
‘I like stories. Yours must be a rather interesting one.’
‘I guess.’ she wasn’t sure what to say.
‘Would you tell me your story?’ he asked.
‘I guess I could. What would you like to know?’
‘Everything. From the earliest days you can remember, until you came to be with us.’
'My entire life story?' Keara asked incredulously.
'Yes.' Vale answered shortly.
Keara thought about it for a moment; then started telling Vale about the earliest days of her life she could remember and how her life progressed from there. He apologetically interjected occasionally to ask a relevant question or to ask for a proper explanation, then fell silent and allowed her to continue. He seemed fascinated by her story and how different she seemed to be from the others of her kin.
At the end of her story, the dragon looked intently at her, ‘You really aren’t like the others of your kind.’
She just looked at him
‘I will speak to the others. And see if I might convince them. But don’t get your hopes up too high.’
She nodded her head.
‘You do realize that if we do choose to help you, we will need the Drow by our side. And you will have to become their queen.’
‘I am aware of that.’
‘It doesn’t sound like you have given it much thought.’
‘I figured I’d worry about that later. I first had to find you and somehow convince you.’
‘Well now you have me on your side, and I will help you convince the others. So start thinking about taking your place as the Drow Queen.’
‘Um, is there a possibility that you could maybe remove this?’ Keara tugged at the collar.
‘I’m sorry, Keara. But I can’t remove that yet.’
‘It had been placed around your neck for our safety.’
‘I seriously doubt there’s anything I can do to hurt you.’
‘We had known Ethera since before she had taken her place as queen. We had been there during her transformation, while she struggled to gain control. We are fully aware of what a young Crucis Salerra is capable of. That’s a lot of raw power, that’s not always easy to control.’
‘I guess I can’t argue with that.’ Keara admitted.
‘Don’t worry. You’ll be out of those chains soon enough.’
She just nodded.
But the fact was, she wouldn’t be out of those chains very soon. The other dragons had heard her story, but they were still very skeptical and it bothered them that a Drow could convince their oldest dragon that she had good intentions.
Vale visited her again; and though she was disappointed to hear the news, she was not surprised.
He came by several times during each day and they would have a conversation while he made sure she had something to eat.
On one of those days, Keara finally decided to ask a question that had been bothering her for some time.
‘Why is there such a huge feud still going on between the Drow and the Dragons?’ she started, ‘Everyone knows it was Sharzak who slayed your eldest dragon. And he was punished for it; sort of. Why isn’t there peace between the two strongest species in the world?’
‘It wasn’t Sharzak, Keara. But you are thinking along the right path.’
Keara just frowned. It didn’t make sense to her.
‘The Drow had indirectly assisted them to create one of the most unnatural creatures to ever walk the earth. You must have seen it during your time with Sharzak.’
‘I never saw it, but I heard it growling. They just called it the beast; quite unimaginative.’
‘So, the dragons hate the Drow for indirectly helping Sharzak create the beast, which is said to have killed the first dragon.’
‘Not Sharzak. But yes. But it was also because the Drow had trusted him and his subjects so blindly. Something that no one would’ve expected, since your kin isn’t the trusting kind.’ Vale explained, ‘It was only when he tried to prove his illusionary superiority that the Drow decided to do something. By then of course, it was too late.’
‘Why didn’t they do something sooner?’ she wanted to know, ‘Surely Queen Ethera would’ve done something sooner.’
‘She was a great queen. But she didn’t quite fit the description of a Drow. Like you.’
‘What do you mean by that?’
‘You grew up with different values. And you respect life; all life, not just that of your kin. You see things differently and violence is your last resort.’
She was silent. She had never thought of herself in such a way.
Vale continued, ‘Ethera was very soft-hearted. And though she was a great queen, she did not have a very strong will. She was very keen on giving people second chances, no matter how horrible their crimes were.’
‘So, she gave Sharzak or, whoever a second chance after slaying the oldest dragon in history with an unnatural creature.’ Keara concluded.
‘She was very kind.’
'She was very foolish.' Keara said.
'She believed that nothing was unforgivable.'
‘Not something you’d expect from a Drow.’
‘No. And ultimately, that was her own downfall. If she had dealt with our enemies, we’d still be allies, she’d still be alive and a male Drow wouldn’t be ruling Velmoura right now.’
‘And the fate of the world wouldn’t depend on your answer to me.’
He was about to agree with her, but cut his sentence short when he realized what she was saying, ‘You already have our answer, Keara.’
‘And I refuse to accept it.’
‘There is no other option for you.’
‘There is. I’ll keep asking until you say yes.’
‘Then you will surely die.’ he said mournfully.
‘You can’t scare me like that. I’ve been brought back from the dead twice already.’
‘Ah yes. You mentioned that. But this time you might not come back.’
‘Then so be it. At least then I wouldn’t have to stand around and watch the world be destroyed because the dragons refused to help.’
Vale looked at her intently, ‘You’re really not afraid of death, are you?’
‘You really are quite intriguing.’
‘I’ve never, in my entire lifetime met a creature that wasn’t afraid of death.’
‘When you live on the brink of desolation, you find that there are more important things, than just your existence.’
‘How old are you, Keara?’ he asked.
Keara looked strangely at him, ‘Twenty five, but how is that relevant?’
‘Most elves only begin to talk like you, when they reach a hundred. Cause by that time, they have experienced many things.’ the dragon explained, ‘But you have experienced more in your twenty five years than most elves do in a hundred.’
‘The Golden Elves living in the mountain probably don’t get much excitement.’ Keara pointed out.
‘Ah yes. They came here long ago, seeking sanctuary. There was only a handful of them left and not one of them are fighters, or adventurers.’
‘Yeah, I noticed. It seems the shape shifters aren’t that adventurous, either.’
‘Your friend was; until he found sanctuary.’
She just nodded her head.
‘I’ve been meaning to ask you something.’ Keara said.
‘You’ve been asking us for help since you got here.’
‘No, I don’t mean that.’
‘Oh. Then what is your question?’
‘Why is it called the Scarlet Snow Mountains?’ Keara asked, ‘I’ve been at the very top of the mountain and I’ve seen white snow falling, but the moment it touches the mountain, it becomes red.’
Vale was silent for a long moment, ‘The mountain is tainted with the blood of the dragons who died in the past. It serves as a memory for those who gave their lives so the rest of us could live in peace.’
‘And, are you happy here?’ she wanted to know.
‘We are content.’
‘Our way of life protects our existence. Our numbers have increased significantly. Most of these dragons know no other life.’
‘But do you really wanna spend the rest of your immortal life in a cavern, deep beneath the foot of the mountain?’
‘Not really. But here we are safe.’
‘And completely bored.’ she added, ‘I do understand why you have chosen to go into hiding. But if I had to choose between a thousand lifetimes of hiding and safety and one lifetime of living, I’d choose living.’
‘I understand what you’re trying to say, and just so you know, I’m not the one you need to convince.’
‘Well none of them will see me, so you have to convince them for me.’
‘We’ve been through this, Keara.’
‘And we’ll keep going through this until I get the answer I want.’
He sighed, ‘The best I can do, is try to convince the others to see you, so they can hear your story; told by you.’
‘You’re the oldest dragon. Why don’t you just make them?’
‘Things don’t work that way in our society. All the elders must agree upon something. Or nothing will be done.’
‘So this could go on for a while.’ Keara said more to herself.
‘I’m afraid so. But I will do my best to get you an audience with all the elders.’
‘Thanks.’ she just sat there, wondering how long she would still be there, until the Dragons finally made a decision.
More days went by and Keara still waited. She hadn’t seen Vale since their last conversation, and she was beginning to think that he might not come by again. She started picking at the collar around her neck. She had tried to break the lock, but no matter how hard she tried, nothing happened.
More time had passed and she thought they may have forgotten about her. She was sitting cross-legged on the ground, tracing her finger along the lines on the cavern floor when Chudo entered.
She looked up, ‘I was beginning to think you had forgotten about me.’
‘The elders have demanded your presence. They have decided your fate.’ Chudo said simply.
Keara just looked at him. This was probably not going to end well. Had Vale been there instead, she might have had a little more hope; but she doubted that would help her now.
Before long, she stood before the elders and waited for them to finally say something. But they didn’t even look in her direction. They talked amongst themselves for some time before they diverted their attention to her.
‘It seems you managed to get into Vale’s head, and convince him that your intentions for being here are pure.’ Echida said.
‘Is it really that hard to believe that I would tell the truth?’ Keara asked.
‘We believe that there may be truth to what you have said, but it’s not enough for us to trust you.’
Keara gave an exasperated sigh, ‘What more do you want me to do? I’ve been waiting patiently by myself for days. I haven’t tried to escape, though I felt like I would die from boredom.’
‘Even if you wanted to escape, you wouldn’t be able too. That collar around your neck prevents you from using any of your abilities and also locks away your strength.’ Echida informed.
‘I’ve noticed.’ Keara said dryly.
‘We will not help you.’ Hanat said, ‘You will be lead outside and your horse will be returned to you.’
‘He’s okay?’ Keara felt as though her heart started beating again.
‘You will be free to go home. But don’t seek us out again. We may not be so generous next time.’
‘Excuse me?’ Keara couldn’t believe what she was hearing, ‘You think you’re being generous?’ Keara’s anger started flaring up, though the collar stopped her eyes from burning red with fire, ‘You think this war would not find you here? You are wrong. If I could find you, the war certainly would too. You are the oldest living creatures, and you’re supposed to be the wisest and strongest. You could turn the tide of war in an instant, but instead you choose to cower in the mountain like a bunch of ants. How the mighty have fallen.’
‘You’re one to talk.’ a dragon named Cetus said, offended, ‘You’re destined to be the Drow Queen, but you refuse to take your place.’
‘I know what I must do, and if there’s no other way, I will. But at least I’m not hiding under a rock.’
Cetus’ anger flared up and breathed fire in her general direction. She cowered in a corner, shielding her face from the heat. She was not too proud to admit that it had scared her. But at least she got a different reaction from them. Once the heat died down, she lifted her head to look at them.
‘Don’t you dare belittle the choices we have had to make.’ Cetus said, smoke rising from his nostrils.
‘Are you still happy with the choices you have made?’ Keara asked.
She was passed the point of counting her words.
‘Why wouldn’t we be?’
‘Because you are prisoners in your own home.’
‘We are content.’
‘You are afraid.’
Another wave of heat came her way and she duck out of the way.
‘Do you want to die?!’ Cetus was losing his temper.
‘How can you say we’re afraid? You haven’t gained full control of Salerra, because you’re too afraid to use your full ability. If you were truly in control and unafraid, you could have broken free already.’ Ilea said.
‘Of course I’m afraid. If I lose control of Salerra, the gods only know what will happen.’
‘Ethera had much better control.’
‘She didn’t have to learn control in such a short time.’
‘I believe she was stronger than you.’ Hanat said.
‘Perhaps she was,’ Keara admitted, ‘You seem to speak very highly of Ethera, despite how much you hate the Drow.’
‘Time changes many things, Keara.’
‘I can see that.’
‘The truth is, the Dragons and Drow were companions. Closer than any you could hope to find. But the Drow did not seek out retribution when our oldest and wisest dragon was slain, in her sleep; just like Ethera.’
‘This is essentially a thousand year old grudge. You know, most companions would’ve made peace by now.’
‘The slaying continued, Keara. The humans followed in those footsteps.’
‘That is also in the past. And the dragons were the weak ones if they allowed themselves to be slain by humans.’ Keara said, ‘You know for being the oldest and wisest creatures in existence, you sure are stupid.’
‘Choose your next words wisely, Keara. They may very well be your last.’ Cetus warned.
‘Threats?’ Keara started, ‘That’s very wise of you.’
‘I am warning you, Keara. Don’t push us.’
‘Don’t push you?’ Keara had officially snapped, ‘The fate of the world is hanging in the balance, and I’m pushing you?’
The Dragons looked at each other. Keara’s tone had changed completely.
‘Sharzak and Scander are coming for domination. They will convert or destroy everything and everyone in their path and the balance will cease to exist. Thousands and thousands of innocent people and creatures are gonna die, and the world will fall into complete chaos, and you’re holding on to some petty grudge?’ her anger started burning in her eyes.
She grabbed hold of the collar around her neck and started pulling, ‘You all can sit here and keep to yourself while everything around you falls apart, but the only way you’ll stop me from doing something, is if you kill me.’
She kept pulling at the collar as the dragons finally lost their temper and they all breathed fire together, ready to kill her. But she broke the lock of the collar and tore it from her neck just as she was engulfed in flames.
The flames died down and they expected to see a burned-beyond-recognition body, but instead, she stood there with her wings spread behind her and fire burning in her eyes.
‘I am Keara Crucis Salerra Harpstrom. And you are going to help me.’ Her voice was oddly calm.
The dragons calmed down, ‘Now you have full control.’
‘We will help you.’ Rora said.
‘Your resolve is strong.’
Vale spoke, ‘Forgive us for pushing you so far.’
‘It was necessary.’ Keara said.
‘You’re not mad at us?’ Rora asked.
‘I would’ve been, if I hadn’t seen Ethera’s memory just now.’ Keara answered, ‘You did the same with her.’
‘It is not a desirable method, but it is an effective one.’ Cetus said.
‘Ethera truly was a great queen, but she was not strong. It took her years to master Salerra.’ Hanat said.
‘Now that you have us on your side, what will you do now?’ Echida asked.
‘Destroy this petty grudge and unite the dragons and the Drow.’
‘We have tried to make peace with them, Keara.’ Vale said, ‘We have forgiven them for what they had neglected to do, but they now hold the grudge against us. They blame us for what happened.’
‘Guess they need someone to blame when they’re in denial.’ Keara said.
‘You will have to take your place as queen, if you ever hope to convince them.’ Ilea said.
‘Then so be it.’
Before long, the dragons were making preparations, getting ready to leave their home.
Keara had flown up the cavern and settled herself on a high ledge. She didn’t wanna get trampled by accident. She looked around at the dragons moving around, getting everything ready.
‘Is it just me, or do you all seem a little nervous?’ she asked Vale.
‘We are.’ he answered, ‘We haven’t left our home in a very long time. And now we’re not only leaving it, we’re going to fight a war; alongside the Drow, no less.’
‘I’m sorry.’ Keara apologized, ‘I know it’s hard.’
‘No need to apologize. It was bound to happen sooner or later.’
‘Yeah.’ Keara sighed.
He looked at her, ‘You miss your family, don’t you?’
She just nodded.
‘I’m sure you’ll see them again soon.’
She sighed again, ‘Yeah.’
‘Is something wrong, Keara?’
‘No.’ she shook her head, ‘It’s just; I’ve been thinking a lot about my brothers these last few days. I wonder if they think I abandoned them.’
‘I’m sure they don’t. They knew why you had to leave, didn’t they?’
She nodded, feeling a lump in her throat.
Elsewhere, her brothers were fighting a few battles of their own; when they weren’t fighting with each other.
Sharzak had started sending out small troops to attack small villages and unsuspecting towns. It kept the Raven brothers rather busy. Thanks to their horses’ ability to fly, they could travel fast, but it wasn’t always possible to save everyone. Some battles were won, and some were lost.
Most of the brothers’ fights were meaningless and pointless. Some days the others would get mad at Michael for being as reckless as he had become.
‘No wonder you and Keara have so many fights. You’re impossible.’ Joseph had said the one day, which had just set off another string of fights.
Deryck had kept himself outside those fights, especially since the brothers would raise a fist here and there. He just looked upon them and thought to himself that they seemed more like children rather than the warriors they usually were.
He had started spending more time on his own, continuing his meditation. His elven tattoos became clearer as he became stronger. The farther he progressed, the more the colour of his eyes started changing.
There wasn’t much for Keara to do while she waited for the dragons. Before long, she found herself sitting on the high-ledge, reading Thessandria’s book. The mark on her face seemed to have settled, but she still touched it, absentmindedly.
‘You’re in Salerra form more often now.’ Vale observed.
‘It’s become effortless.’ Keara said with a soft smile, ‘See?’ she showed him the mark of Crucis Salerra. It no longer faded.
She went back to reading, still touching the veins,
‘Does it still hurt?’ he asked.
She just looked at him.
‘The mark of Thessandria.’
‘Not so much, anymore.’ she answered slowly, ‘How did you know about that?’
‘I knew Thessandria. And she told us one day someone who wears the mark would seek us out.’
‘She knew I’d come looking for you?’
‘No. She didn’t know it would be you. But she knew with everything that was happening, it would only be a matter of time before someone did come looking for us. She had even consulted with the Night Elves; just to be sure.’
‘So, she was here?’
‘Just before she passed.’
Keara just kept touching the veins absentmindedly.
‘The people in Moura said that a Golden Elf hadn’t travelled on this path in centuries.’ Keara remembered.
‘That is true. But I believe she had her own way of getting here without being noticed.’
‘I sure would’ve liked to know what way that was.’ she admitted.
‘She was quite remarkable. A Golden Elf; a creature of diplomacy who was also a warrior. I imagine her sons each got one of her traits.’
‘How did you know about her sons?’
‘She was one of my closest friends. She had told me about them when she was here. But back then, they were still only children.’
‘Well, they’re all grown up now.’
‘You know them well?’
‘You could say that.’
‘Tell me about them.’
‘Artemis is the older one. He’s the king of Edlenna, the human kingdom. He’s a good ruler and he is strong, but he is not a soldier. Deryck is his younger brother. Also strong, but like a warrior. Don’t know if he’ll ever enjoy ruling the kingdom.’
‘He is yours, isn’t he?’
‘How could you tell?’ she was surprised.
‘The tone in your voice.’
She just smiled. But it was a sad smile.
‘You’ll see him again, Keara.’
‘I hope so.’
There was a moment of silence before Vale decided to speak again, ‘Are you ready to head back to Velmoura?’
‘Not even a little.’ Keara answered.
‘It’s time for you to take your place, Keara. You’ve been avoiding this for long enough.’
‘I know.’ Keara’s reluctance was clear.
‘Everything is ready.’ Chudo informed Vale.
‘Thank you.’ then he looked at Keara, ‘I will be right back.’
She just nodded. She had waited so long that she had fallen asleep on the ledge. Vale woke her.
‘We are ready to leave.’ he said.
Keara looked him up and down, along with several other dragons. They were all wearing armour or saddle holsters of some sort. It took her a moment to take in the sight. Legacy hovered just above their heads, happy to see his companion again. He flew up to her and she touched his nose.
Scander had started unleashing his own armies upon the world. The first places he attacked, were all the elven species. He chose to start with the Woodland Elves. Knowing how Keara would react to his first choice. He revelled in that.
The Woodland Elves scouted the area surrounding their home and discovered the army heading their way. They were not fighters, and though their power was great, they didn’t hold much hope that they would survive this attack. They sent word to the Ravens, who immediately made their way to the home of the Woodland Elves. Even Deryck had gone with them. He would’ve taken soldiers with him, but Artemis barely had enough to spare. Even the Woodland Elves that had travelled to the castle had come with them, those that could be spared.
‘Climb on my back.’ one of the younger dragons named Dargon said, ‘We have far to travel and very little time to get there. And neither you nor your horse can fly as fast as a dragon.’
Keara considered the offer, ‘I’m not gonna argue with that. But...’
Vale interrupted her, sensing what she was about to say, ‘One of the other dragons will carry your horse. He will not be left behind.’
Keara relaxed a little bit, happy to hear that.
She lowered herself to the cavern floor and climbed into the saddle of Dargon, retracting her wings and making sure she would be warm during the trip.
Before long, they were outside, in the open air, flapping their wings and rising into the air. Some of the dragons, turned and dipped down over the island, swooping over the area Keara had travelled during her journey.
She yelled in excitement. She was sitting on the back of a dragon.
The Black Spear Tribes looked on as the dragons flew overhead. Some of them were amazed to see them. They heard Keara’s excited yell and knew exactly where the dragons were headed. They waved at them and wished them well.
Some of the dragons landed and asked the Tribes if they would be willing to join the fight. There were those who jumped at the opportunity and climbed into the saddles, but there were also those who respectfully declined. They were priests and priestesses and they knew they wouldn’t be much use on the battlefield.
Keara was thankful to all of them, even those who chose to stay behind. They were willing to help, and some of them were travelling with her.
The brothers had barely made it in time, before Scander’s army arrived at the Home of the Woodland Elves. Some of the Woodland Elves tried to make the wall stronger. Others just readied themselves for battle, not knowing if they would make it out alive. The Raven brothers stood atop the wall and watched as Scander’s army approached. All of them silently wished Keara was there, and even hoped that she would show up at the last minute; but they knew she wouldn’t. Right now, they weren’t even sure if she was still alive.
They all tried to put those thoughts out of their minds and focus on what was happening before them.
Michael looked upon their enemy as they closed in. There were Mortags, trolls and ogres, even a few Shadows. Among them, he saw crimson skin.
‘Oh no.’ he said.
‘What?’ Jonathan asked.
‘There’s more of them.’
Jonathan looked at the enclosing army and after a moment, noticed what Michael had been looking at.
‘Crimson Demons.’ Jonathan said.
’Just one had almost killed Keara.” Michael said, ‘Make sure they don’t touch you.’
Jonathan spread the word to ensure every Woodland Elf would know to be careful of the Demons.
Scander’s army came to a halt. For a long moment, both sides stood on the brink, waiting for the other to make the first move. But they didn’t have to wait long. Scander’s army stormed the wall surrounding the Home of the Woodland Elves and started preparing to erect ladders. The trolls mindlessly bashed at the walls. Ogres swung their huge axes at the wall, attempting to cut it away, piece by piece.
The elves fought them back as diligently as they were able; after all, they weren’t really fighters.
Some of the enemy had managed to breach the wall after climbing over on the ladders. Now that the elves had enemies inside the wall to contend with, they couldn’t focus on the ones climbing up the ladders and so, more breached the wall.
The ogres still tried to chip away the wall, but thanks to the ward, that proved impossible.
Some of the elves started using the ability to control the earth element to slay their enemy. And it seemed as though it was working.
Michael cut down every Mortag and Shadow in his way. He had left the wall to assist the elves on the ground. Jonathan was still on the wall, along with Alexander. They were using their ability to combat the enemy still on the outside of the wall.
Jonathan saw a wave of red heading towards the wall. At first he didn’t pay too much attention to it, until he saw them jabbing their hands into the wall. It took him a moment to realize what was happening. They were draining the energy from the ward. As it weakened, the ogres started chipping away pieces of the wall. Jonathan shouted something and moved to get the Crimson Demons and ogres away from the wall. But with the energy they drew from the wall, they would not die.
He had managed to get a few away from the wall, but by then, it was too late. The ogres broke through the wall. Scander’s army streamed in and the tide quickly turned. Many Woodland Elves were slain. Deryck and the Raven brothers prepared themselves for death; some of them had been badly injured already. But then, everything stopped. Scander’s army retreated, for no reason.
The brothers were too dumbstruck at the sight to do anything. They could only watch their enemy retreat.
Once the spectacle had passed, they turned their attention back to the battlefield. Elven bodies were strewn everywhere. It was horrific.
Jonathan, Alexander and Joseph quietly set out to heal those who were still alive. A few of the other Woodland Elves managed to get out of this fight without serious injury and helped the brothers heal others. Michael was amazed that Deryck had barely been harmed. He had seen Deryck fighting diligently alongside the others, but he was still human. But for the first time, he noticed something different in the royal brother; something he had not seen before. His physical appearance had change a little, but it wasn’t that. Michael couldn’t put his finger on it.
Michael and Deryck started gathering the carcasses of their enemy and piled it up outside the wall.
Keara’s eyes widened and for a moment she lost her breath. Vale noticed that her calm demeanor had changed to silent panic.
She held on tightly to the saddle on Dargon’s back, feeling like she would fall if she didn’t.
‘What is wrong, Keara?’ Vale asked.
‘It has begun.’ she said. Her voice was little more than a whisper.
‘Then we have no time to waste.’ Dargon said, ‘Hold on tightly, Keara.’
No need to tell her that. She was already holding on so tightly, her knuckles had turned white.
Dargon flapped his wings a few times and they started moving faster.
Her hair whipped behind her; the flowers braided into her hair, blooming and brighter than ever.
Her mind was racing. She didn’t know where the first hit fell, but she knew it was devastating. She wished that she had been by her brothers’ side. She knew that they would be there to fight.
’Be sure to burn the bodies.’ Alexander said tiredly as he stepped outside the wall, ‘I don’t want Sharzak to resurrect them again.’
‘I agree.’ Michael said, ‘But we’re in the middle of the forest. It’s rather dangerous to start a fire with everything so close together.’
Alexander lifted his hands and concentrated on their immediate surroundings. At first nothing happened, but a moment later, the trees started lifting their branches away, revealing the grey, winter sky. Their roots began to move as though the trees had come to life and started walking, until they left a big clearing in their wake. Even the grass retracted from the area surrounding the bodies, until there was nothing but dirt.
Though Michael was already used to his brothers’ ability to manipulate nature, he never grew tired of the sight. He looked over to Deryck and told him to start gathering fire wood. It took them a while to gather enough since the surrounding area didn’t have any dead, fallen branches, as it was so close to the Home of the Woodland Elves. They set the bodies alight and it burned a deeper red than Michael had ever seen. They watched the fire, until all that was left, were ashes. At least a small portion of their enemy would not be resurrected. Michael manipulated the water from the stream nearby to wash away the ashes. Alexander moved everything back into the clearing. When he was done, he looked upon the forest, as though nothing had been changed.
The remaining Woodland Elves set to fixing their broken wall and raising the ward.
Though no one said anything, they all knew why they had been left alive. Their enemy wanted their story to be told. They wanted everyone to know what a ruthless battle it was, and that others might not be as lucky as they were.
The Raven brothers helped out as much as they could until there was nothing more for them to do. They gathered up their weapons and what little else they had with them and began their journey back to Varden Castle.
Everyone was quiet for the most part, but Michael had a few questions to ask of Deryck, since this human had turned out to be a much stronger adversary to their enemies than he had expected.
‘There’s something different about you, Deryck.’ Michael pointed out.
Deryck just looked at Michael, waiting for him to continue.
‘I’ve noticed it for a while now, but I never would’ve been sure, had I not seen you fight.’
Deryck looked at Michael for a long moment. He wasn’t sure how to explain what had changed within him. Eventually he just looked away, hoping to leave it there.
‘Well?’ Michael started, ‘Don’t you have anything to say?’ he wouldn’t leave it there.
‘There’s nothing to say.’ Deryck said, ‘Something has changed.’
‘You’ve improved significantly.’ Alexander said.
‘Even your appearance has changed.’ Jonathan added.
‘What have you done?’ Michael asked.
‘I’ve drawn forth my elven gene.’ Deryck revealed, ‘As a result I’ve become stronger and faster. My body has started healing more rapidly. I even feel healthier.’
‘What about all those markings?’ Joseph wanted to know.
‘It started appearing after I drew forth the elven gene.’
‘What do they mean exactly?’ Joseph asked again.
‘I don’t know.’ Deryck admitted, ‘But it can’t be bad if it’s the markings of my mother.’