Once Walked With Dragons

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Chapter Seventy Seven

The dragons landed several miles away from the nearest entrance to Surendorn that Keara was aware of. She dismounted and walked over to Legacy and rubbed his nose.

‘We’re still miles away from the nearest entrance.’ she said.
‘For you maybe.’ Vale said, ‘But here lies the only entrance we can pass through.’
At first, Keara couldn’t see anything, she only saw forest.
Vale whispered something in elven and a crack started to form before the ground made way to reveal the dragon entrance.
Keara looked at the spectacle in amazement. By the end, all she could say was, ‘Wow.’
‘The dragons and the Drow were once companions. How do you think we got to Velmoura.’
‘Makes sense.’ was all she could manage to say.
They all entered Surendorn. And travelled in the darkness for a long while. They were moving significantly slower now that they weren’t flying anymore.
After a while, they decided to rest for a while. The dragons all made themselves comfortable to get a few hours’ sleep. Keara rested her back against Vale’s paw and Legacy lay down beside her, resting his head on her lap.
For a moment, she pondered how far she had come. Admittedly, she didn’t always think she would succeed, but she had found the dragons and they had returned with her. Soon she would have to face the Dark Elves. She wasn’t really looking forward to that, but she knew it had to be done. She had to take her place as Queen. And though she didn’t want to do that either, she knew she wouldn’t get the forces behind her that was necessary, without taking that step.

The Ravens arrived back at the castle; all with morbid expressions on their faces. The battle had been lost and as a result, the return journey felt much longer. The brothers retired to the Raven barracks and the Woodland Elves that had come back with them, went back to their camps. Deryck went to see Artemis; after he had a bath, of course.
Artemis was happy to see his brother alive. The news of their loss shocked him to the core and it saddened him to learn how many lives had been lost, but he was glad that Deryck and the Ravens had come back alive.

They were moving again. All around her she heard movement. She knew they were being watched, by the same creatures that had followed her down to Velmoura during her first trip through Surendorn. Just like the last time, these creatures kept their distance, but seemed to be fascinated by the beings passing before them.
Keara could hear activity not too far ahead. It made her a little nervous. She knew what was coming. And she had dreaded it from the very moment she had started this journey.
‘It is time, Keara.’ Vale said.
She looked up at him. Even though it was completely dark, she could see him as clearly as she would in the light. Her grip on Legacy’s reins tightened. She really didn’t want to do this. She thought she would be ready when the day came for her to take her place; but now that day was here and she wasn’t even close to ready.
‘I don’t think it would be wise for us to go with you at the moment. We will wait here, and join you when the time comes.’ Vale said.
She looked out ahead of her.
‘May you be in the favour or the gods.’ he said.
As though she wasn’t nervous enough already, he had to go and say that.
She took a deep breath and motioned Legacy into a slow walk. She pulled her hood over her eyes, but her long black locks still dangled from her shoulders.
She had hoped the Drow wouldn’t notice her; or at least not so soon, but their attention was immediately drawn to her. Instead, she just tried to focus on the task at hand, and made her way to the castle to challenge the king. A crowd gathered, following her up to the castle; curious to see what would happen.
She was rather surprised that the guards allowed her to enter the castle without stopping her or taking her weapons. They closed the door behind her and for a moment, she didn’t move. Legacy sensed her nervousness. He neighed softly and she stroked his neck.
So many things were running through her head. There was a very real possibility that she could die. But it wasn’t death she feared. Her greatest concern was; what would happen to everyone else if she failed. The dragons and the Drow wouldn’t unite as long as the king was in power, and so much depended on their alliance.
She took a deep breath and shook her head, trying to get those thoughts out of her mind. She climbed out of the saddle and stood next to Legacy, touching his neck.
‘I would tell you to go find a safe place until I’m done. But I think you’ll be much safer with me.’ she said softly.
Legacy seemed to nod in agreement.
She smiled softly, ‘Guess it’s now or never.’
She took his reins and headed towards the throne room.
By the time she had reached the door to the throne room, her nerves had all but vanished. She breathed deeply and calmly, approaching the door. To her surprise, the guards opened the double doors as though they had been expecting her. They did not obstruct her or attempted to take any of her weapons. They didn’t even object to Legacy following close behind her.
She couldn’t understand what was going on; until one of the guards looked her in the eye.
‘It’s time, my Queen.’
She was surprised to hear him speak.
‘Take your place.’ he finished and went back to staring out in front of him.
She looked in front of her, seeing the inside of the throne room, with people gathered around the edges of the room and at the very centre, sat the king on his stolen throne.

Scander was continuing with his rampage; attacking unexpectedly, then withdrawing without warning, leaving several survivors to tell the story.
Sharzak saw the army returning one day. It didn’t make sense to him. He didn’t remember giving any kind of order for them to depart. He was about to ask them where they had been and why they had left the castle grounds, when he saw Scander approaching them. He watched as Scander spoke to them. He was already discussing their next target.
Sharzak realized what was going on. He looked as though he would burst an artery. He wasted no time in confronting Scander.
‘I am simply discouraging potential allies to our enemies. To ensure our victory. We can’t wait forever to attack.’ Scander defended.
‘We have already started attacking.’ Sharzak stated.
‘Attacking the humans; and attacking only once, isn’t enough. We must attack the stronger species; the elves.’ Scander explained, ‘We need to show the rest of the world that the elven races don’t stand a chance against us. That way we will be met with easy submission and virtually no resistance.’
Sharzak gave Scander a long, intense look, ‘I don’t care what you think you are accomplishing. You will not do anything else without informing me first and I will give the order. Is that understood?’
Scander reluctantly nodded, ‘Yes, my king.’ Scander forced himself to say.
‘And I know you’ve been conducting experiments in the dead of night, when you think I wouldn’t notice. But even now I can smell the rotting flesh of the dead Drow in your chambers. These experiments were our downfall last time. It ends now.’
‘As you wish, my Lord.’
Sharzak turned sharply on his heel and went back inside the castle.
Scander stared at Sharzak as he left. He clearly wasn’t happy with how this conversation had gone. He dismissed his army and headed to his chambers. Closing the door behind him, he finally lost his temper; becoming nothing more than a mindless wild animal as he threw a tantrum, destroying everything in his path.

The double door slowly closed behind her and she looked upon the king; her expression unreadable.
‘I knew it would only be a matter of time before you returned.’ the king stated.
‘I think the time has come for me to rule my own people.’ she saw several faces light up.
‘The rule of Velmoura is mine.’ several lights went out again.
‘I have heard how you treat your own kin. And I’m surprised that they have not yet tried to kill you in your sleep.’
A few found that statement rather funny, for whatever reason, and put their hands over their mouths to hide their silent laughter.
Even in the darkness of Velmoura, she could see the king’s face turn red as though he might explode.
‘Step down quietly, and your life will be spared.’ Keara uttered, ‘Which is much more than you deserve.’ she knew that wouldn’t be the case, but at least she said it.
At first it seemed like the king would scream, but then, his demeanor became calm, ‘I have the favour of the gods on my side. There is nothing you can do to me.’
‘That may have been true in the past. But many things have changed now. You are no longer in the favour of the gods. Even your own kin doesn’t want you here anymore.’
The king looked around at his subjects. At first, their expressions seemed blank to him, as they had always seemed. But then he looked closer and noticed the hatred in their eyes. He couldn’t believe what he was seeing. Had his subjects always felt this way? Or had it only started recently? Was there a way he could change it? Probably not. Once you’ve earned a Drow’s distaste, it wasn’t easily changed.
He gathered himself, trying to think of a way to avoid what was to come. But there was no way.
‘You know I won’t step down quietly. And as such, I request a duel. The only honourable way we can determine who is worthy of the throne. If you win, I will step down and leave without protest. But if I win, I want your Devil Gene.’
‘You do know it’s not something I can actually give away, right?’ Keara asked.
‘I’m sure I will find a way to extract it.’
‘Very well.’ Keara said.
Someone came up to her as she removed her coat. She handed it to the person, as well as Legacy’s reins, then withdrew her sword from the scabbard, tied to Legacy’s saddle. The person stepped back, leading Legacy away from the impending fight.
The king took a bit longer to get ready; especially since he had more items to remove and a few to put on.
She looked at him, ‘Really? Armor?’
‘Just a precaution.’ the king said, ‘I’m sure you have armor hidden underneath your clothes.’
Keara lifted her shirt to reveal her stomach, showing that she wasn’t wearing anything of the sort.
The king didn’t seem to be even a little embarrassed over the fact that he was taking such precautions.
She waited patiently as they fastened the armour to his body, thinking to herself that it looked a lot like lacing up a corset. She smiled at that thought.
After what seemed like forever, the king was finally ready.
She readied herself. She had a firm, but relaxed grip on her sword and kept a vigilant eye on the king who was circling her like a vulture.
‘If I didn’t know any better, I’d say you haven’t done this in a while.’ Keara said.
‘I have had no need. I assumed the throne shortly after Ethera’s death and no one tried to oppose me; not even in the years since.’
‘Because they were all mourning Ethera’s passing. Unlike you.’
‘I saw an opportunity and I took it.’ he said as he circled behind her and decided to attack.
‘Yes, I can see that.’ she said as she blocked his attack.
He scowled at her. She just gave him a sarcastic smile. And finally their fight was underway. The king wasn’t a bad fighter, but she noticed that the only way he could get ahead, was by using a cheap shot or cheating in some other way. She was growing rather annoyed. She had received several minor injuries because of his cheap shots and he was wasting her time, by making this an unfair fight.
He sliced her skin open at the waist and she groaned.
‘You didn’t really think you would take my throne from me, did you?’ he started, ‘My power and abilities have been enhanced to match that of twenty Drow. You cannot defeat me.’
She didn’t like being beaten back, but then, who did? The king thought that he had won superiority and beating her down would be a very simple task. He started getting cocky. And Keara let him. He circled her as though she had been defeated. She was bleeding, but some of her wounds were starting to heal. She eyed him every time he passed in front of her.
Once behind her, he raised his sword above his head, ready to deal the final blow. But before his blow could land, Keara turned and moved in close, behind the blow; one hand closing around the king’s neck.
‘Honour is not gained by defeating your opponent while their back is turned.’ Keara said, gripping his throat even tighter and tossing him out a nearby window.
He landed hard and rolled several feet before coming to a brute stop. Slowly, he got to his feet, looking for his sword. He looked up, and saw Keara crouching on the window pane, watching him. He readied himself, expecting her to grow her wings and attack him from an airborne vantage point. But she didn’t. She jumped out the window, landing behind the shrubbery. Then everything went quiet. He heard movement, but not from where Keara had landed. He looked around, keeping his sword ready for an attack. When he turned back, he almost fell over his own feet from fright; Keara was standing beside him and she had startled him.
The Drow inside the castle started gathering outside; some leaning out the windows to see what would happen.
They fought. By the end, she disarmed the king and held the sword to his throat. His hands were up in defence and he cautiously eyed the sword, then Keara.
‘The throne is mine now. Leave quietly and with whatever dignity you might have left. You are no longer welcome here.’ she spoke.
He backed away slowly, until she lowered her sword.
‘As you wish, my Lady.’ he said.
She eyed him sharply, then turned her attention to the people gathered around her.
He took this as an opportunity, pulling an enchanted blade from his boot and charging at Keara.
The people started yelling, telling her to look around. Just as she turned to look at him, Vale landed directly behind her, making the earth shake beneath her feet; and he roared. The sound bellowed through Velmoura. Her hair blew out in front of her by the sheer force of it. But it didn’t seem to bother her, though. The roar echoed throughout Velmoura and Surendorn for some time before finally dying down. Her hair fell back over her shoulders.
The king had staggered back, covering his face, until the roar died down. He slowly moved his hands away.
Keara just stared at him.
He looked up at the dragons, and gasped, ‘You.’
‘You lead them to us. And allowed that unnatural beast to kill one of our own. And told lies to your kin about us.’ Vale bellowed.
‘I didn’t think that he would truly be able to kill her.’ the king defended.
‘It doesn’t matter what you thought. You still betrayed us.’ Vale’s voice thundered through Veldorn.
‘Wait.’ she turned sideways to look at Vale and pointed to the king, ‘He’s the one who started all of this? I thought it was Sharzak and Scander.’
‘No Keara. He’s responsible for everything; even the alliance between the Drow and Sharzak.’
She looked at the king.
‘They said I would be rewarded if I could convince Ethera that they could be trusted.’ the king informed.
‘And was it really worth it?’ she asked.
‘They gave me the kingdom.’ he had a smug look on his face.
‘No.’ she disagreed, ‘You stole the kingdom. And now, I am taking it back.’
‘No!’ the king snapped, charging at her.
She readied herself, but before the king got within arm’s reach, Vale’s head crashed down in front of her, enveloping the king. Vale lifted his head again; Keara following it with her eyes. He chewed a few times, muffling a horrid scream that quickly died down; and swallowed.
Her mouth hung open, ‘You just ate him.’
‘You were taking too long to kill him.’ Vale said.
‘I was trying to avoid that.’ she stated.
‘I know. But as long as he lived, there would never be peace between us.’ Vale said.
‘I guess that’s true.’ she admitted, ‘You feel better now?’
‘The grudge against him, can be buried now.’
Vale looked around at the Dark Elves as the other dragons moved out of the shadows.
‘It’s time that you address your people, Keara.’
She looked around her, and for the first time, she realized how big the responsibility was that she had chosen to take upon herself; and she was finally willing to do it.
She was somewhat surprised that the Drow welcomed her so warmly. She explained to them the situation she found herself in and the trouble it was causing the surface dwellers. At first, of course, being the Drow, they couldn’t be bothered about the surface dwellers. But she continued to explain why it was so important that they help and what they had done for the surface dwellers in the past. She also explained that if the Drow chose to do nothing, the world would fall out of balance and chaos would ensue. A great war was coming and she did not want her own kin to become mere casualties.
The Drow immediately set out to prepare for the coming battle. Shields and armour were fitted and weapons re-enchanted. The Drow Mages took to re-learning spells and enchantments that had long since been forgotten.

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