Once Walked With Dragons

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Chapter Eighty

Everyone waited in silence. The battle would start soon. It was unnerving, waiting for their enemy to arrive.

Without warning, they suddenly attacked. The Mortags and Crimson Demons went in first.
Michael instructed the archers to fire at will and those on the ground to be ready should the enemy break through the gate.
The Crimson Demons started draining the ward’s power. Michael instructed the archers to target the demons, but as long as they were drawing power they would not die. It slowed them down greatly, but it didn’t stop them.
The Mortags tried to climb up the wall, but each time they were shot, they fell and had to start over again.
Michael was hoping it would buy some time for Keara to return, but he knew it wouldn’t be enough.
They had managed to keep the enemy out for several hours, but the ward had been almost completely drained and they were running out of arrows.
Mortags were still climbing up the walls and Michael knew it wouldn’t end soon; it was only two hours after midnight. Ogres and trolls were banging on the walls, bare fisted and with weapons.
Michael looked up and down each side of the wall; the enemy stretched along the wall as far as the elven eye could see.
‘I think they have us surrounded.’ Michael said.
‘There are enough troops stationed at every tower to keep them at bay, aren’t there?’ Alexander asked.
‘Maybe. But the delay will only last for so long.’ Michael said,
Like clockwork; the moment he said it, the great wooden gate splintered into a million pieces.
For a moment, everyone was stunned at what had happened, but quickly recovered and reacted. The troops on the ground immediately retaliated. The Ravens jumped down from the high wall to join the battle below.
Before long, several walls were crushed, sending soldiers flying through the air, landing hard some distance away. Some merely landed hard and managed to get back on their feet; others were not so lucky.

They were almost there. Keara saw the enemy just continuing to pour in.
In the distance she saw her brothers fighting diligently to keep the enemy at bay, but they could only do so much. The snow was already strewn with the bodies of both allies and enemies.
She wondered when the rest of her kin would arrive and if her scouts had managed to gain a few willing and abled fighters. There was no time to wait and see if they succeeded, though.
Keara, part of her kin and their dragon companions were now overhead. But everyone on the ground were too preoccupied to notice. Until Vale and the other big dragons neared the scene. The flapping of their wings kicked up whirl-winds and was deafening to the ear.
The activity on the ground seemed to freeze in time as everyone gazed up at whatever was above them.
Michael couldn’t believe his eyes. It was the dragons. Keara had actually found the dragons. It was an amazing sight. Many gazed up in awe. Even the enemy.
‘You wanna get down there, don’t you?’ Dargon said.
‘Yes.’ Keara answered.
‘I’m sure you can jump.’
Keara looked at the other Drow, sitting in dragon saddles. They gave her a light nod, as though they knew what she was thinking. Then she looked at Sicily.
‘Don’t look at me. I’m not jumping. I’ll wait till we land.’ Sicily said.
Keara smiled, ‘See you down there.’
Along with her, they all climbed out of the saddles, timing their jumps so they won’t hit the wings of the dragons.
In that process, they each produced their weapons and braced themselves for the landing.
As they all landed, the snow gave way. And places where the snow had been kicked up, the ground cracked and dust went flying in every direction.
They had bent their knees, and ended up in a half-kneeling position to break the fall.
Keara stood up in front of her brothers who were staring at her, mouths hanging open. Though none of them would ever admit it, they all had a thought or two, that she might have been dead.
Several dragons landed among the frozen chaos. People on both sides couldn’t help but gape and stare, even at those circling above.
The chaos quickly recommenced. But now the dragons and several Drow were there, giving them a fighting chance. For the moment, the Raven brothers forgot about what was going on around them, rushing Keara, giving her a giant group-bear hug. They were so happy to see her alive. They all let go of her and re-joined the battle, as did she.
Deryck had seen her from far away, and was fighting his way towards her. She barely had time to notice him, when his arms were around her waist and his lips locked with hers in a warm embrace. Then he let her go.
‘I love you.’ was all he said before re-joining the fight.
For a moment, she didn’t know what to do. She felt like a teenage girl, who had only just received her first kiss.
He looked different, she thought to herself. His presence had also changed somewhat.
She quickly shook it off and joined the fight.
She shrugged off her coat and scarf, growing her wings and the fire burning in her eyes.
She saw the dragons were holding their own in the battle; some happily chomping away at the enemy.
‘Don’t let the Crimson Demons touch you. They’ll drain your energy if they get the chance.’ Keara said to several dragons and Drow who passed it along to the others.
Though they fought diligently, the enemy just kept coming. Some of her allies were starting to show signs of fatigue.
Scander watched from afar as the battle waged on. He was happy that his army was making such great progress. He had not, however, anticipated explosions to occur amongst the destruction. He couldn’t recall any of his soldiers building bombs or even knowing how to use it.
But the explosions were only happening in one area. He tried to see what was going on. He was greatly surprised and appalled by what he saw.
Amid the chaos, Crimson Demons were trying to drain Keara’s energy. Other demons merely desired her heart; still believing it would give them great power. But Keara was keeping them at bay.
Following the first Crimson Demon’s example, she jabbed her straightened hand into the chest of one of those demons. Keeping several others at bay, she focused and suddenly the demon started boiling from the inside out. She removed her hand from its chest, her fingers dripping with black blood. She moved away quickly to fight other opponents.
The demon didn’t move. It seemed as though its body had been frozen in place. Its body started glowing with fire until it finally exploded, taking several others with it.
Keara was admittedly a little surprised that it had actually worked. She didn’t really think it would. But now that she knew that it did, she used this ability over and over again.
Scander didn’t like this, she had actually found a way to destroy his greatest creation and he was furious. He turned and barked orders then turned back and waited for his orders to be carried out.
The ground started shaking, making everyone freeze in mid-battle. Everyone watched as a huge creature, hideous and wretched, approached. It was a little bigger than Vale, and it seemed quite powerful.
At first, Keara didn’t really know what to make of it, until she saw the deeply angered stare on the dragons’ faces. It was the creature that had slain the very oldest dragon.
Scander stood atop this beast, holding onto a rope, tied around the creature, to keep his balance.
The dragons attacked from everywhere, biting and scratching and breathing fire; putting distance between them and the creature when it retaliated.
Scander barked something incoherent and the creature spread wings. It took flight, and the dragon battle became airborne.
More and more soldiers just kept streaming in. She was starting to wonder if it would ever end.
Suddenly, the ground gave way beneath her. She quickly spread her wings to avoid falling.
Moments later, the Drow she had sent into the tunnels emerged from below. Weapons ready and thirsty for blood, they ran into the chaos, cutting down as many of the enemy as they could.
For a moment she thought to herself that they really might have a fighting chance.
Not long after the arrival of the Drow, other races of elves emerged from the forest, along with several Drow scouts.
The Woodland Elves among them, started healing injured allies as quickly as they could, with Wild Elves defending them as they did so.
Keara found it remarkable how well the different races could work together when everyone’s lives were hanging in the balance.
Above, she heard the pained screams from both the dragons and the creature. She only hoped that the dragons would win this battle.
Though Scander’s army had seemed endless at first, it seemed as though the tide was slowly starting to turn. Since his army would never retreat, they were slain. It was horrific. So many of her allies had also been slain. She hoped to herself that the fight would be over soon.
The first dragon fell. Keara looked up at the airborne battle. Her heart broke for the dragon who had fallen. There had to be something she could do. She leapt into the air, flapping her wings a few times. She caught one of Vale’s scales and hung on tightly as they all fought.
‘What can I do?’ she yelled.
‘I don’t suppose you can turn that thing into a giant bomb?’ Vale asked.
‘He’s too big for his whole body to explode at once.’ Keara observed, ‘But I could make parts of him explode.’
‘Anything that might work in our favour, Keara.’
She launched herself from Vale’s neck onto the creature and started crawling over its body like an insect, stopping every few seconds to jab her long nails into its thick skin; her hand disappearing almost completely; then moving on again.
Seconds later, parts of the creature started exploding. The creature didn’t stop attacking but the explosions had momentarily caught its attention. It was enough for the dragons to gain the upper hand.
The explosions barely did anything. Though it did injure the creature, however slightly, she hoped the dragons could defeat it. Or else she’d have to think of something else.
She continued the process, even when she saw Scander.
He left his position and started chasing her over the back of the beast. She tried to dodge every blow he tried to land, still continuing the process. She was mostly successful at evading him. But the creature shook and caught her off guard. She knelt down to keep her balance on its back. But when she looked up, there was no time to defend herself. He kicked her under the chin and she went flying overboard. She tried to stop herself from crashing into the ground, but she couldn’t react fast enough. She crashed into the ground hard.
A moment later, she crawled out of the hole she had created, a bit dazed. She didn’t really think she would survive that. She shook her head and tried to pull herself together.
Mere seconds later, Scander jumped from the creature’s back, landing hard, making the ground crack beneath his feet.
This was the final battle between Keara and Scander. They knew the outcome of the fight would determine the status of the war, still going on around them. There was nothing more to be said between them.
Dawn was approaching. All the Mortags slowly started to retreat; into the darkness of the forest.
Though Keara wasn’t terribly surprised that the final battle was between her and Scander, part of her didn’t really expect it.
Finally, the fight began. Their swords clashing, magic flying everywhere. Several of Scander’s soldiers were also attacking her. She was defending herself from every angle. Some of her allies helped her so she could focus on her fight with Scander.
Above them, the creature screeched. It seemed the damaged that she had done was starting to pay off. The dragons were slowly beating the creature back. Just as well. The creature had already killed several other dragons.
She had foolishly diverted her attention to the airborne battle for a mere moment. And that was enough for Scander. He attacked, relentlessly, beating her back and putting her on the defensive. She struggled to gain ground. He was much stronger than she remembered.
A darkness started swimming around him, despite the daylight peaking over the horizon. It made her uncomfortable. She didn’t know what it was, but she knew for sure that it wasn’t good.
The darkness whispered in his ear, ‘We want her. We want her. Give her to us.’
Scander simply nodded and attacked. The darkness seemed to fuel his attack, continuously making him stronger. She was finding it increasingly difficult to stand her ground.
The darkness started distracting her. She tried hard to ignore it, but it inevitably caught an ounce of her attention. That was the opening Scander had been waiting for. He lunged his weapon at her. She wasn’t able to dodge in time. The weapon struck just below her ribs. She sank to one knee, holding the weapon, trying to remove it.
Scander gave a horrible grin, ‘Exactly the way you died last time. Soon your brothers will join you.’ he said and pulled out the weapon.
Keara clutched the wound. She could feel blood trickling through her fingers. Blood moved past her lips and dripped onto the snow, staining it dark red.
The darkness was swimming around her, waiting for her to die.
He launched his weapon at her again, but this time she dodged it, cutting the spear in half with her sword.
Stumbling to her feet, she started moving her bloodied hand, melting the snow to create water for her wound. The water spread over her wound, creating the silver substance.
Scander’s expression became one of horror when he realized what she was doing.
‘Did you really think the fight would be over so soon?’ she asked, her eyes burning with fire.
‘How is this even possible? This fight should’ve been over before it even started. You weren’t nearly as powerful when you were still with us.’ Scander barked.
‘Picked up a few things since I left.’
The conversation ended as quickly as it had begun. Their fight would become the battle that would be remembered through the ages. None like it had ever been seen before and nothing like it would ever be seen again.
Soil mixed with snow exploded here and there, showering nearby spectators with clumps of mud. Everyone continued to fight around them, but paused to observe them as they passed by.
Scander’s expression was no longer one of confidence as it had been before. Keara had become much more powerful and even though he himself was also stronger, he was starting to doubt his ability.
In a moment of desperation, Scander swung his new weapon at Keara and using his magical ability, pushed her several feet away from him.
She landed hard and got to her feet, slowly. She cringed when she put weight on her one leg. She looked down and saw blood gushing out from a big tear in her skin.
She took ice, turning it into water, placing it over the wound. That already made it easier to stand.
She raised her wings, spreading them wide and started hovering just above the ground, in an effort to take the pressure off her leg.
While Keara was seeing to her wounds, Scander did the same. Silently he wished he had Keara’s ability to use nature to heal himself. But nothing in his entire being or nature coincided with anything around him. So he simply tore pieces from his coat and wrapped it around his wounds as best he could.
He looked up and was surprised to see Keara hovering in the distance, waiting for him to finish. He straightened his shoulders.
Another dragon crashed to the ground, close to where Keara was. She looked at it. It was a young one. She looked up at the dragons and the creature still fighting above.
‘Let’s finish this.’ he said and attacked.
Keara couldn’t agree more. She attacked first this time. She had had enough of the darkness hanging over the world. She had had enough of fear. This war had to end here. She would not allow future generations to still be fighting the same battle. She was not willing to lose this fight.
And Scander could see it. Keara was putting everything into her attacks, draining her energy much faster than she would like, but feeling it would be worth it if she could end this now.
He was losing. And he knew what would become of him if he lost. He knew what waited beyond the veil if he was to be defeated. He thought he was stronger but he had underestimated her resolve. He knew that strength and power alone would not be enough.
‘If you help me win this fight, I’ll give you Salerra and the Keeper and the dragons and anything else you want.’ Scander shouted.
She wasn’t sure what he meant by that, but she knew that statement wasn’t meant for her.
‘Anything?’ the darkness whispered sinisterly.
‘Yes, anything.’ Scander boomed.
‘Very well.’ the darkness said eagerly and started moving in a whirlwind frenzy of claws, eerie sounds and darker than black darkness.
The darkness engulfed Keara, spinning faster and faster.
Seconds later, it moved away from her.
Scander’s smile turned to an expression of horror when the darkness moved away.
Keara’s wings were folded over her body, covering every part of her body. Her wings had taken some damage, but they had protected her from getting shredded in the whirlwind of claws and darkness.
She moved her wings away. She had not escaped the attack completely. There were cuts all over her body. Not fatal, but very painful.
She was breathing heavily and losing blood.
She considered using more snow to heal herself, but it already took so much concentration that she simply wouldn’t manage it, and continue to fight as well. She breathed deeply, feeling her skin straining around all the cuts. She dropped the concentration on her healing. The wounds had healed a little, but not enough to stop bleeding completely. She took another deep breath. Drawing energy from the snow and nature around her, hoping it would be enough.
Scander wasn’t sure what Keara was doing, but the darkness knew exactly what she was doing. If they intended to drag her to hell, screaming, they would have to defeat her quickly. The darkness swirled up in the air and came crashing down on Scander. The scream that came out of his mouth as the darkness seemed to be absorbed by his body, was inhuman.
She readied herself, knowing that this was the turning point; win or lose. Now it would be decided.
The darkness disappeared into his body completely. He fell quiet. His demeanor had changed. Even his appearance had changed. His skin had become like the darkness and all she could see was his glowing eyes.
She prepared herself for battle, but wasn’t going to wait for the first attack.
Their fight wasn’t just land based; it became airborne as well and the creature had tried a time or two, to take a snap at Keara, but the dragons stopped that from happening. The beast was losing. Despite having disposed of several dragons already, it was growing weaker. The damage Keara had done wasn’t much, but it was enough to cripple certain parts of its body. The dragons were slowly gaining the upper hand.
Keara on the other hand, was growing tired. She did not have much energy left and was still losing blood.
Michael felt something wet on his face as he fought. He destroyed his enemy and touched his face. It was blood, but not his own. Another drop landed on his hand. He looked up. Keara was fighting directly above him. It was her blood on his skin.
He could see she was getting tired.
Alexander also saw what Michael was looking at.
‘She’s not gonna make it.’ Michael said.
‘We gotta do something.’ Alexander said.
And as though they were thinking with one mind; Michael manipulated the snow, turning it into water and making whips from it. Alexander made the ground rumble as roots came bursting from the soil, like tentacles. Together they manipulated their elements and grabbed hold of Scander. Rope-like strands of water and roots twisted around his body, dragging him from the air and crashing down hard on the ground.
It gave Keara a chance to breathe and gather herself. She waved at her brothers, thanking them for their help. They waved back, knowing she was grateful for what they had done.
Scander began to stir. The strands of water and roots tightened around him, but it didn’t seem to restrain him. He broke his restraints, but before he could get up, he was attacked by Deryck. He was able to stand his ground well enough, but Scander was too powerful. Their fight didn’t last long, but Deryck didn’t care. He had managed to buy some time for Keara. That’s all that mattered.
The others had fought to give her some time to catch her breath, but there was nothing more they could do now. She readied herself for what could possibly be the last thing she would ever do. She poured all her remaining energy into her weapon and it started glowing dark purple. Her long hair started curling and her eyes and eyelids grew pale. Even her complexion started losing colour. She flapped her wings to gain a little altitude, then turned and went into a nose-dive, wings drawn in, weapon at her side, still glowing. She came closer and closer to the ground and held her weapon ready to attack.
Scander had become too preoccupied with everyone attacking on the ground, to notice what was going on above him. But everyone around him had been paying very close attention and seeing Keara’s nose-dive from so high up, made everyone get out of the way, just before she reached them.
With her weapon ready to attack, she crashed into Scander. The ground exploded from the impact. The people who were closest to them covered their faces. They heard an enhanced weapon move through the air and slice through something a few times, but with all the dust in the air, there was nothing to see.
A terrible scream came from within the dust, but it wasn’t Scander or Keara’s voice. It was the darkness his body had absorbed. It rose high above the dust cloud screaming and cursing, before dissipating.
Above, the creature screeched. It wailed as though it was in great pain. Then, without warning, it stopped doing anything at all and crashed to the ground.
Finally, the dust died down.
Slowly the dust revealed Keara and the status of her battle. She was standing over a mangled body, weapon dripping and stained with black blood.
Everyone stood there, amazed. Keara didn’t do anything, but stand there. She didn’t even seem to be breathing. Finally she moved; her shoulders slumped and she collapsed on the ground. She drew in a few ragged breathes, trying to stay conscious.
The sun was already hanging in the sky, melting the snow and spreading the warmth.
Deryck was a Keara’s side in an instant, helping her sit up. Holding her so she didn’t fall over again. Slowly she got to her feet, Deryck holding her tightly, making sure she can stand on her own. He helped her out of the hole she had made and handed her, her weapon.
‘It isn’t over, yet.’ Keara said, ‘Many of his creations are still running around.’
‘We’ll take care of them.’ Michael informed, ‘You’ve done more than enough.’
Her brothers were off, cutting down their enemy as far as they went.
Deryck took her in his arms, holding her tightly for a moment, kissing her, then letting her go to join her brothers.
Alone, she turned to look at her fallen nemesis. A part of her found it hard to believe that one person could cause so much harm.
With the sun in the sky, the Mortags were nowhere to be seen. Any remaining enemy had either been slain or retreated, not caring in which direction they ran, just as long as they got away. The Crimson Demons still had some fight in them, but the dragons ensured they would be no trouble, dealing away with them as quickly as possible.
Zarra finally came up to Keara. She was battered and bleeding, but she seemed to be fine.
‘You found the crystal?’ Keara asked.
Zarra was surprised to hear Keara say that, ‘How did you know about that?’
‘It was not the only thing I learned on the journey.’ Keara answered.
Zarra had hidden the bag in her coat and removed it to show it to Keara. She undid the ribbon and revealed the crystal.
Keara made no move to touch it, ‘I was right. You are the Keeper.’
‘You’re not going to try and touch it?’ Zarra asked.
‘It’s not mine to protect.’

Keara looked at everything happening around her. She would’ve helped drive out the last of their enemy, but it seemed as though everyone was managing just fine without her.
In the distance, she saw a figure approaching. At first she thought she might be hallucinating, but other people stopped to look at the figure passing by, so she knew it was real. It was the guardian of the dead.
‘I commend you on your accomplishment.’ the guardian of the dead said.
‘Thank you.’ Keara said without a hint of modesty.
‘Take him. Before the soul has a chance to escape the body.’ the guardian commanded.
The darkness curled their hands around Scander’s mangled body and he seemed to start floating, before the darkness completely engulfed him.
‘He’s still alive?’ she asked in disbelief.
‘Only just. He was seconds away from death.’
‘And now?’
‘He couldn’t fulfil his bargain with the darkness. They will decide what to do with him and his creation.’
The creature was also engulfed in darkness and disappeared.
She looked around her, watching as everything seemed to gain new light.
‘Is it over now?’ she asked.
‘For now.’ the guardian started, ‘How it goes from here all depends entirely on the choices of the living. Don’t give another one such as him the chance to rise up.’
The guardian turned and walked away. It took Keara a moment to realize that Thessandria was with him. She smiled at Keara and bowed her head slightly before turning and walking away.
A tear rolled down her cheek before she could stop it and her breath got caught in her chest. Her mother blew her a kiss and her father waved. All she could do was stare at them. They smiled and quickly disappeared.
‘Dad always said you should never live with regrets and never let fear guide your actions in the future.’ Michael said softly, taking Keara, ‘I only really thought about the meaning after they passed.’
Keara just sniffed and forced back a tear.
‘They died without regrets and without fear of what would happen in the future.’
‘Are you trying to comfort me, so I won’t feel guilty about their death?’ she asked.
‘Yes.’ he admitted, ‘But it is also the truth. No one is to blame for their passing. And the best way to honour their memory, is to not regret their sacrifice.’
‘You’re right.’
‘The war is over now. And the future is looking quite bright indeed.’

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