Chapter Seventy Eight
The throne had been moved to its original chamber; a much bigger room that had been specifically created to house even the biggest dragons.
Keara sat on the throne, resting her head in her hand that was being supported by the armrest; wearing the ear cuff that signified her royalty and rule. The advisors had hidden it away after Ethera’s death, fearing that the king might destroy it. She looked quite bored; and she was. Very bored indeed. The Drow advisors were telling her what they thought would be the best strategy, most of the time. They constantly argued among themselves, seeming to forget that she was sitting right there. She looked at them, finding it funny to a certain extent, but also feeling like she would die of boredom.
She leaned over to a Drow standing beside her, ‘Are they always like this?’
The Drow smiled an old and knowing smile, ‘They used to be. Before the king decided to cut off any connection we had with the surface world, they argued like this, quite frequently; and about anything.’
‘It looks like they’re enjoying it.’ Keara observed.
‘I believe they are. I think they might have missed it.’
Keara looked at the bickering advisors, nodding her head. Then she changed the subject, ‘So, the Drow have been living in solitude all this time?’
‘Yes. We’ve been living this way for hundreds of years. Some of the younger ones don’t know any different.’
‘I’ve noticed.’ Keara said, ‘They haven’t really objected to my rule, but they haven’t quite accepted it, either.’
‘They will. They don’t know anything other than the king’s rule. Reading up on our history was forbidden.’
‘I don’t find that surprising.’
‘But we have gathered all the young ones in the mess hall. Everything is being explained to them now.’
‘Isn’t there a chance that some of them might rebel?’
‘With such things there is always a chance. But I believe it’s highly unlikely.’
‘Really? How so?’
‘There have been whispers, since you first appeared in Velmoura.’
She just looked at him.
‘I remember when you first stood before the king. You had a much more rebellious air about you. Unwilling to accept things as they were. Determined to change what you didn’t like. Looking for answers you would only find within yourself.’
‘Things were different then.’ she responded.
‘Indeed they were.’ he agreed, ‘The threat of war was not upon us. And the demise of the king seemed very far away indeed. But you have changed many things for us.’
‘I hope it’s all for the better.’
They continued to watch the two advisors bicker. She didn’t understand what they were arguing about now. They had changed the subject completely.
One of the guards at the door stepped through and bowed to Keara.
‘Don’t know if I’ll ever get used to that.’ she said to herself.
‘A young Drow has requested an audience with Your Grace.’
‘I thought they were all in the mess hall.’
‘One must have slipped out.’ said the Drow next to her.
Keara simply sighed and nodded at the guard.
The guard stepped aside, allowing a young male Drow to pass by. But before he could step too close, the guard caught his arm.
‘It’s alright.’ Keara said.
The young Drow looked at Keara with intense red eyes. She waited for him to speak.
‘Is it true what they are saying?’ he asked, ‘You are the rightful ruler?’
‘You will address the Queen as Your Grace, or my Queen.’ said the Drow standing next to her.
‘My apologies, Your Grace.’
Keara nodded, ‘According to history, that is true.’
‘Then Your Grace really is Crucis Salerra?’
‘And everything the king had told us, was a lie.’
The Drow seemed to consider this new information, then he bowed, ‘Then I thank you for killing the king, Your Grace.’
‘You should thank him for that.’ she pointed at Vale, ‘He played a bigger part in that than I did.’
He bowed at the dragon, ‘Thank you.’
‘It was my pleasure.’ Vale said happily.
The young Drow looked back at Keara, ‘Is it true that we are on the brink of war?’
‘I’m afraid so.’
‘And we will have to go above to fight this war?’ he pointed a finger up towards the ceiling.
‘Then you have my life and my sword. And I will fight by your side until death may take me.’
The Drow bowed low, then excused himself and left the throne room.
Keara looked over to the advisors; her expression was one of surprise, ‘Are they still bickering?’
The Drow standing next to her also looked at them, ‘I don’t even think they’re arguing about the same thing anymore.’
‘I think that subject has changed several times already.’
A moment later, the guard at the door, stepped inside once again, ‘Your Grace,’ he gave a bow, ‘A few of your scouts have returned.’
‘That was fast.’ she said bluntly.
‘It helps when you travel with dragons.’ Vale smirked.
‘True.’ she agreed, ‘Any news?’
‘Many of the surface dwellers have already been attacked; most of them were elven species.’ the first scout said.
‘But not all of them were killed.’ the second scout added.
‘Were they taken as prisoners?’ Keara feared the worst.
‘No, Your Grace. They were simply left alive.’ the second scout said.
Keara narrowed her eyes, ‘What do you mean?’
‘I spoke to one of the survivors. They say that an army of trolls, ogres, Mortags and Shadows attacked them, destroying everything in their path. And then without warning, they just left.’
‘They were probably left alive to tell the story. They’re probably hoping for an easy submission.’
‘They also mentioned that there were creatures with crimson skin.’ the second scout explained.
For a moment, it felt like Keara’s heart stopped, ‘Crimson skin?’
‘Yes, Your Grace.’
She seemed to ponder what she had just learned.
The third scout continued, ‘According to several survivors, no one has submitted yet. But there are other creatures who wouldn’t hesitate if it means their lives would be spared.’
‘So there has been talk of conversion?’ Keara asked.
‘Only among the lowly creatures, Your Grace.’ the third scout said.
‘We’ve been told that the Ravens were there trying to keep the armies back. And they were accompanied by a human with dark, golden brown eyes and markings over his body. They called him Deryck.’ the first scout said.
Keara was very surprised to hear that, ‘But he wouldn’t stand a chance in a fight like that.’
‘According to the survivors, he’s stronger than any human they’ve ever seen.’
She thought about that for a moment. She didn’t know how he could become that strong, but considering everything she had heard about Thessandria and how she had drawn forth Artemis’ Golden Elf gene, she supposed it was possible for him to become that strong.
Scander waited impatiently for Sharzak to make a move. But nothing was happening; and it had already been several days. He had already begun to break down the masses, but with a delay such as this, all his work would go to waste. He looked down from the balcony to the troops below. Even they were growing impatient. Their impatience had grown to the point where they had started fighting each other and with every fight, there were several fatalities.
He had gone into Sharzak’s chambers only once to enquire why things were taking so long. What he saw scared even him.
Keara had a lot to think about and nothing else to do while she waited for her kin to finish their preparations. She wandered around her castle, followed by Legacy who lazily wandered along. She walked out onto the balcony and looked down at her people carrying out their tasks. Legacy also looked over the balcony.
‘Hello Sicily.’ Keara said.
Sicily slowly lowered herself from the top of the castle, hanging upside down from a rope, ‘Hello Keara. So glad to see you’ve finally become queen.’
‘It wasn’t an easy decision.’ Keara admitted.
‘Of course not. It was a very big decision to make.’ Sicily turned herself upright and sat down on the balcony, ‘Why is everyone still here? I thought they would’ve left for Varden Castle by now.’
‘They’re still making preparations.’
‘Well they should get done with it. Even with magic, it will take your ground troops two days to get to the human kingdom. I think Sharzak’s armies might be moving out soon, so it would be prudent for you to get going.’
‘How do you know Sharzak’s gonna make a move soon?’ Keara wanted to know.
‘The darkness is growing rapidly. Whatever he’s planning, it will happen soon.’ Sicily stated.
‘He’s already attacked the human kingdom. Why do you think he’ll do it again?’
‘It’s the only place that has always been protected by both Drow and Dragon magic. Some of the most valuable creations in the world, is stored in the humans’ archives.’
‘No, it’s not. Zarra and I have been through every single book in the entire archive. There’s nothing particularly valuable in there.’
‘It has been hidden.’ Sicily said matter-of-factly, ‘But Sharzak has always known it’s there.’
‘But why would he want it?’
‘Because the creation your friend speaks of is everything we dragons have been protecting since the beginning of time.’ Vale said, raising his head up to the balcony.
‘Where did you come from?’ Keara was startled, but she quickly gathered herself, ‘What is this creation?’
‘It is a crystal.’ Vale answered.
For a moment, Keara found herself wondering if the dragon was being serious, ‘What?’
‘It contains the essence of every living creature, every drop of water, every grain of sand. As a result, it has become a very powerful object.’
‘Let me guess; in the wrong hands, it could be very destructive.’ Keara said.
‘Yes, and if Sharzak gets his hands on it, none of us will stand a chance.’ Sicily added.
‘Why am I only hearing about this now?’ Keara asked sternly.
‘Because until recently, I believed that the crystal was buried in Velmoura.’ Vale said.
‘I’m the queen and you didn’t think it necessary to tell me?’ Keara started.
‘There had been no time, Keara.’ Vale said, ‘What would you have done with the information, anyway?’
‘I would’ve sent word to my brothers to protect it.’ she answered.
‘There is only one who can protect it.’ Vale said.
‘And that would be?’ Keara asked.
‘Simply put, this being would be called the Keeper. Thessandria was the last one I knew of and she had given the crystal to Ethera for safekeeping.’
‘Even with Sharzak here?’ Keara asked.
‘Ethera never told anyone that she had the crystal. No one ever knew about Ethera and Thessandria’s meeting, except for the dragons.’ Sicily explained.
‘So, they were friends?’ Keara couldn’t believe it.
‘Things were different then. There wasn’t the hostility that exists today.’ Vale said, ‘And if the crystal is in the human kingdom, Ethera must have given it back to Thessandria before she passed.’
‘Then that must have happened a really long time ago.’ Keara thought.
‘But how would we know who the Keeper is now?’ Sicily wanted to know.
‘Generally, it would be someone who has a great love for taking in new information. Someone who often gets lost in what they read.’ Vale described.
Keara thought about it for a moment, ‘I know who the new Keeper is.’
‘You do?’ Sicily asked excitedly.
Sharzak had been conjuring up forces so dark, not even the most evil being would come near it.
Scander ran out the chamber and quickly shut the door. He breathed heavily, trying to shake the numbing fear from his bones. He wanted to get away, but his legs would not move. Eventually his breathing calmed and his body stopped quivering. He straightened himself out and walked away as quickly as he could.
As he moved further and further away from Sharzak’s chamber, he started thinking about what he had seen. A part of it seemed familiar, but he couldn’t quite put his finger on it. Something from the past, perhaps.
He quickly made his way back to his chamber, hoping to find an answer in one of his books.
Zarra made her way down to the archives, for the first time since the attack. The table where she usually sat was still stacked high with books. A thin layer of dust had started gathering on top of them. She sighed. She knew those books wouldn’t give her any of the information she needed. So instead of sitting down, she started strolling through the shelves. Eyeing every cover thoughtfully, hoping she would see something she may have missed before. But she had gone through all of them so many times, there was nothing left to find.
She leaned against a wall, giving an exasperated sigh. She didn’t know what to do anymore. She desperately wanted to find something that could help Keara solve all the problems she was now facing, but she was out of ideas.
She stood up straight, ready to leave the archives, deciding her search had been futile. She ran her fingers across the wall as she made her way to the door from the far end of the room. As she walked, her fingers dragged along the wall at her hip. But something made her stop. She bent down to look at the stone brick in the wall. Something was different. She kept looking at this particular brick, then to those around it. There were no obvious differences at first. She touched it, then touched the other bricks. It was somewhat smoother than the rest, and it protruded from the wall by mere millimetres. She tried to move it outward with the tips of her fingers, but it wouldn’t budge. She dropped her hands, giving an exasperated sigh, not sure what to do. Then she got an idea. She produced a knife that had been hidden on the inside of the laces of her boot and forced the blade into the spaces between the bricks. She manoeuvred the knife a little until the brick finally started moving.
‘Ha.’ she smiled and repeated the process, until the brick was protruding enough for her to grab it with the tips of her fingers. She seemed to be concentrating very hard, as she finally managed to remove the entire brick from the wall. Before putting it down, she paused to see if the wall would hold without the brick, looking around a bit nervously. When nothing happened, she put the brick down and peered inside the hole it left behind. It seemed to be a stack of books. She reached in and carefully removed the books, one by one. She closed her arms around it and was about to stand up, when she saw something else that had been behind the books. She reached in and took hold of a dark bag, tied together at the top with a golden ribbon. She stood up and put the books down on the table. She wanted to see what was in the bag, but she was also curious to see what was written in the books. She brushed her hand across the top book and slowly opened it, afraid that it might fall apart due to age.
She scanned the first few pages and discovered it regarded the history of the humans and the Drow, before things changed. She closed it and put it aside to open another one. This one told of the companionship between the Drow and the dragons. How wonderful it had been and how they had come to the decision to put the ward around the human kingdom. It spoke of a crystal so powerful that it could create or destroy anything. And there was only one being who could protect it from falling into the wrong hands, and only a chosen few would ever know who this Keeper was. She looked at the dark bag, then back at the book. She closed this book and set it aside and looked at the last book. The cover was dark and felt a little rough under her fingers. She slowly lifted the cover. The first entry was in Drow. Diagrams had been drawn of the wall and its inner workings. She slowly paged through it. From what she could tell, the writings told of how the wall and the ward were first erected. There was another language. One that she didn’t understand. Here and there she could make out a word or two, but the rest just seemed like scribblings to her. Then she came to the part of the book that would change everything. The way to fix the ward. It described everything in perfect detail, explaining exactly what should be done. She was so excited, she could barely contain it. But her attention was drawn back to the dark bag. She eyed it for a moment, then slowly untied the ribbon and cautiously peered inside. She reached in and brought out a ragged shaped crystal. She was still admiring its beauty when it started shimmering. The light seemed to ignite something within her and she realized that now she had all the information she could ever want. She held the crystal close to her heart.
‘I’m the Keeper.’ she whispered, ‘I will protect it with my life.’
She put the crystal back in the bag and picked up the books, keeping the bag protected and ran out the archives. She had to tell someone.
The first person she ran into was Deryck. He was on his way to the Raven barracks. Since Keara’s departure, he had spent a lot more time there, specifically in Keara’s room. He missed her dearly and this was the only way he could be near her, short of actually being with her.
He looked at Zarra who was practically jumping for joy.
‘What’s with you?’ he asked.
‘I’m the Keeper.’ she said and held out the books for him to see.
‘Keeper of the books?’ he thought she had finally lost it.
‘No. I’m the keeper of the crystal. The most powerful weapon in the world.’
‘The crystal that contains the essence of everything on earth.’ she said, holding up the bag.
He reached out to touch it, but she pulled it away, ‘Only I may touch it.’
‘Okay.’ he said at length, ‘May I at least touch the books?’
‘Yes.’ she pushed the books into his hands, ‘I found a way to fix the ward.’
‘Really?’ he couldn’t believe it.
She nodded frantically.
‘Have you told Michael?’
‘Not yet. I have only just found it.’
‘Well, come on. Let’s go tell him.’ he said as Zarra turned to go to the barracks.
Keara was getting anxious to leave. She wanted to get back to her brothers; back to her love. She needed them to know that she had not abandoned them. But until her kin was ready, she could do nothing but wait. Some of the Black Spear Tribes and dragons shared her anxiety. The longer they waited, the more damage could be done.
‘Did you feel that?’ Sicily asked, pacing up and down the throne room with Keara.
‘I believe Zarra found the crystal.’ Keara answered.
‘How did you know it would be her?’ Sicily asked.
Keara just shrugged, ‘Just a hunch, I guess.’
‘Do you think she can protect it?’
‘If there’s one thing Zarra can protect and fight for, it’s knowledge.’
‘That’s good to know.’
Keara just nodded. It was becoming obvious that she was growing impatient.
‘We cannot wait any longer.’ Keara started, then turned to one of her advisors, ‘Tell the ground troops to get ready to move out, along with the mages. They will have to move fast if they want to reach the human kingdom before Sharzak does.’
‘Yes, Your Grace.’ the advisor informed one of the subjects to carry the message to the troops.
Within an hour the subject returned, along with one of the mages. At first Keara didn’t notice them, rubbing her temple with one hand, her eyes closed as though she were in pain.
‘Why did you ever come back?’ she asked Sicily, who was lounging in the throne chair.
‘Well I thought the Drow Queen might need my help, since I’m so powerful and all.’ Sicily joked.
Keara just smiled.
‘No, I;’ Sicily paused, getting more serious, ‘I didn’t just wanna sit and do nothing while you were fighting a war. I am part of this world. I should do my part to save it.’
‘But what about your people?’
‘They’re safe where they are. But this is where I should be.’
‘Well, I’m glad you’re here.’
‘Your grace.’ the advisor tried to get Keara’s attention.
She looked at him, ‘Yes?’
He gestured to the elven subject and the mage. They both bowed.
‘Everyone is ready to leave, Your Grace.’ the servant said, ‘It is only the mages that are keeping you waiting.’
She looked at the mage.
‘It is only because we can’t find the spells that we need.’ the mage pleaded, ‘You were very specific about the ward that must be repaired. The dragons claim that they know their part of the spell.’
‘Which we do.’ Vale confirmed
Keara just glanced at him, then back to the mage.
‘But we cannot find our part of the spell.’
‘I already have someone looking for that piece of information. She’s been looking for it, long before I even left on my journey.’
‘Begging your pardon, Your Grace. But are you sure she’ll find it?’
Keara looked sternly at him, ‘Zarra is looking for it. Your old archivist.’
The mage looked surprised, ‘We thought she was dead. We thought Your Grace had killed her the last time you were here.’
‘She is very much alive.’ Keara stated, ‘And if there’s anything to find, she’ll find it. In fact, I think she already has.’
‘Yes, Your Grace.’ the mage bowed.
He knew better than to continue arguing with one of great authority in Velmoura, especially Crucis Salerra.
‘Now get going. You cannot delay your departure any longer.’ Keara said.
Michael couldn’t believe what he was looking at. He was starting to think that these books never existed. He paged through them, over and over.
Zarra looked at him expectantly, waiting for him to react.
‘Where did you find these?’ he wanted to know.
‘In the archives.’ she answered.
‘I thought you had been through every book in the archive.’
‘I have. I didn’t find these in the book shelves.’
‘But you found them in the archives?’
‘Then, where in the archives?’
‘In the wall.’
Michael just looked at her, ‘In the wall? You’re serious?’
She gave an exasperated sigh. She knew he thought she was losing it.
‘One of the bricks in the wall was different from the other. When I removed it, I found these.’
‘Oh.’ he looked back at the books, ‘I can’t believe you actually found it. I was beginning to think this information was lost.’ he read a few passages from one of the books, ‘What is this about; a crystal?’
‘A crystal containing the essence of everything on earth.’ Zarra uttered.
‘Yes. What is this about?’
‘It’s about this.’ she removed the crystal from the bag.
Michael reached out to touch it, but she pulled away. He looked at her as though she had just stolen something from him.
‘You may not touch it.’
‘And why not?’
‘She’s the Keeper.’ Deryck said.
‘What is that supposed to mean?’ Michael asked.
‘I don’t know. That’s what she told me.’ Deryck said.
‘I have to protect it. I am the Keeper of knowledge.’ Zarra stated.
‘You love reading, that doesn’t make you the Keeper of knowledge.’ Michael agrued.
‘I can’t explain it. But somehow I know this is my task, and only mine.’
Michael wasn’t sure what to say. He didn’t understand. But stranger things have happened, so he didn’t argue.